Friday Book Whimsy: Mr. Dickens and His Carol

One Christmas movie I’m always committed to seeing is A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott. The ghosts are just scary enough, and I love the change in Mr. Scrooge after he decides to change his life. This novel is the story of how the story came to be written, at least from the perspective of author Samantha Silva.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the much-loved story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his three ghosts. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, defines much that we know about Christmas. But apparently Charles Dickens’ life wasn’t a bed of roses when he reluctantly wrote A Christmas Carol.

Samantha Silva’s debut novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, provides readers with a glimpse — in novel form — of what the famous author’s life was like around the time that he wrote the famous story of Scrooge and his ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Though he and his family had been living a very comfortable life, his most recent novel had been a flat-out bust. Money was tight, and the family members who had long lived by Dickens’ handouts, and the charities he had supported, are coming out of the woodwork asking for more funds. His wife is unaware of their dire straits, and is moving forward with their annual Christmas soiree despite its immense cost. Dickens is getting more and more frantic about his finances and his family responsibilities.

His publishers come to the rescue by suggesting, well, ordering really, him to write a Christmas story for the masses, something Dickens is loathe to do. He thinks Christmas stories are silly, and his lack of holiday spirit prevent him from writing the story that his publishers are seek Oh, if he only had a muse.

And then a muse appears in the form of an actress named Eleanor Lovejoy, who encourages Dickens to write a story with London as its background, and the Christmas spirit as its driving force. After much angst and many tries, the story Dickens writes changes Christmas forever.

Silva takes great liberties with Dickens’ story, and she admits as much in her Afterword. Her writing style reminds me of the style of Dickens himself. That, I’m sure was no accident. Dickens’ whining and moaning goes on a bit longer than necessary, but the ending, which has a surprise twist, makes up for the redundancy.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol was a wonderful Christmas story, making me want to reread A Christmas Carol.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

B-Ball
Cherry Creek High School is the largest secondary school in Colorado, and it is also the local school for my granddaughter Kaiya. I was very proud of her when she decided to try out for the basketball team. I was even prouder when she made the freshman team. Yesterday afternoon, Bill and I attended their first game, in which they played — and decidedly lost to — Columbine freshmen. Nevertheless, it was fun to see the young women playing their hearts out. Kaiya got to play some of the third quarter. She is small, but mighty. She really gives it her all against girls that are substantially taller than her. As for me, I always forget how much I enjoy watching basketball, even freshmen first-games-of-the-season basketball. I also forget how much I appreciate the teachers who spend their valuable free time coaching any kind of sports. The poor man coached the ladies throughout the entire game, admittedly sometimes with his head in his hands.

Silver Bells
It was dark when Bill and I made out way back home. It was fun to see all of the Christmas lights all around town. Some of the business centers seemed to have gone all-out this year with their amazing lights. It was the first time we drove into Wind Crest in the dark. It was absolutely beautiful. So many people have creatively decorated their balconies and patios. And the outside of all of the apartment buildings are lit up gloriously by the wonderful staff of Wind Crest. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Part Two
One of my favorite Christmas movies of all times is The Christmas Story. I had mixed feelings when I learned that there was going to be a part two to that movie. Actor Peter Billingsley — who played Ralphie in the original movie — plays a grown-up Ralphie who comes back home because his father has recently passed away. He is determined to make Christmas as special for his kids as his father made it for his family. I held my breath, because it could have gone either way, I’m happy to say that I enjoyed The Christmas Story Christmas very much. It lacks some of the nostalgic feeling of the original, but Ralphie is just as charming as he ever was. It was fun to see all of the original actors all grown up. I’m going to watch it again sometime before Christmas.

Bit By Bit
I’m getting a bit of Christmas shopping accomplished, thanks to Amazon. I’m taking it easy because Bill and I have had a lot of changes in our lives recently, and I don’t want to go too crazy. Or at least not crazier than I already am. What did we do before Amazon?

Ciao.

Honk

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you have no penny, a ha-penny will do.
If you have no ha’penny, then God bless you.

Traditional Nursery Rhyme

I grew up in a smallish Nebraska town but I wasn’t really a country girl. My parents’ business didn’t directly involve farming, though we sold plenty of baked goods to farmers every weekend when they would come to town to do their weekly shopping.

We lived right in town, in a small brick house on 18th Avenue, one of the main through streets in Columbus. Our house was about a quarter mile from Highway 30, a highway that runs all the way from New Jersey to Oregon and incorporates the famous Lincoln Highway which runs from NYC to San Francisco. While some of my uncles were hunters, my dad wasn’t. I don’t know if he was just not interested or if he simply hadn’t the time for a sport like hunting.

My lack of knowledge about the intricacies of nature became apparent when I was in journalism school. One of our mandatory classes was photography. Back then, most reporters — at least those who worked for small newspapers — took their own photos. I liked photography, though I wasn’t particularly good at it.

I don’t remember what our assignment was, but I remember the photo very vividly. It was a photo of a flock of geese swimming on and around a lake in Boulder. It was a pretty good photo, as I recall. I know I just said that I remember the photo vividly, but the truth is that the photo itself is a bit of a blur. What I remember vividly was the grade I received for the photo, and the professor’s comment.

A flock of ducks enjoy an afternoon swim on a sunny October day, my captioIn read.

“Nice photo,” said the professor. “But those aren’t ducks; they’re geese. Details matter. C-.

What the heck. I guess at that point in my life, I couldn’t tell the difference between a duck and a goose. Go figure. Nowadays, I would definitely know.

When we lived in our house in southeast Denver, we saw geese, especially if we were visiting a park. But near the foothills where we currently live, nestled inside of trees on all sides, the geese are here, and are making themselves known this time of year.

They fly in wonderful V formations, and I can’t help but stop and look at them as they fly overhead. Yesterday morning, one of those formations flew overhead as I walked back to our building after grocery shopping. I heard that geese calling and looked up. I wondered — and still do — how they pick a leader. There is always one goose leading the flock. Yesterday, one of the geese flew off course, and I’m guessing that all of the squawking had something to do with his casual attitude towards disciplined flying formations.

I see (and hear) geese flying overhead all day long. I’m not sure if they are preparing to move elsewhere for the winter. Those I saw yesterday were certainly not flying south. In fact, they were flying dead west towards the mountains.

Maybe that’s what the unruly goose was trying to tell them.

Toot

When Bill and I became serious about Wind Crest, we were driving here for the millionth time to look around and try to make a firm decision at last. Despite our many trips here, it was only then that I noticed that there were railroad tracks that ran past the development. I’m not talking about light rail, though there is a light rail line not far from here. I’m talking about heavy tracks for regular old choo-choo trains that haul goods and people (mostly goods here in the United States) from one place to the other.

“Ooo!” I said to Bill with excitement. “There are railroad tracks right here. I wonder if you can hear the sound of the train from the apartments.”

Bill didn’t know the answer to that question. But he did know that I wasn’t expressing concern about the sound of trains being a bother. He knows enough about me to know that the sound of trains would be wonderfully familiar to me.

I grew up in a midwestern community where trains came through town frequently. During my formative years in that community, I’m pretty sure Union Pacific ran a train through Columbus every 15 or 20 minutes or so. At least it seemed that often to me. I remember that it was never a good idea to run late if you were making your way from one side of the town to the other, because the chance of being stopped by a train were about as high as the chance of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center lighting up the first time it’s plugged in. (Although, to be honest, I can’t quite envision an electric cord running from the giant tree to a plug-in in the NBC news building.) There was only one viaduct in town by which you could drive over the train. Though the town was small, it still was inconvenient to drive over to the viaduct if you were in a hurry.

The trains were loooong. And at that time, they had a caboose, with a human on the caboose. That human likely had some sort of important job on the train, but as far as I was concerned, his only job was to wave to the kids standing near the tracks as it whizzed by.

I had a number of relatives who lived near the train tracks. In fact, one of my uncles lived literally across the street from the tracks. Another lived a couple of blocks away from the tracks. Shortly after Bill and I were married, we visited Columbus. My aunt and uncle graciously offered to let us stay with them. That night, Bill remarked on the frequency of a train passing by, tooting its train horn to warn cars and pedestrians that they were coming. He had difficulty sleeping, but the sound of the train was soothing to me.

After we moved into WC, I forgot about the train tracks. I forgot, that is, until the other morning when, for whatever reason, I heard the sound of a train whistle for the first time. I stopped what I was doing and could hear the sound of the train passing by on the nearby tracks. Since that day, I have heard the train every morning, and some afternoons. I don’t know why suddenly I can hear the train, but I will tell you that it makes me feel happy to hear that familiar sound.

Fill ‘er Up

A night or two after Bill and I moved into Wind Crest, we went down to dinner. We had made reservations but arrived quite early. At that point, we didn’t know the ins and outs of maneuvering the reservation system. At any rate, the restaurant staff — all of whom are high school students who work at WC — were very nice and asked if we minded sitting with another couple. Given that the alternative was to wait some time for a table, along with the fact that we were interested in meeting new people, we said we would be more than happy to share a table.

As we walked towards the table, I began to judge the couple before we even sat down. They didn’t look interesting and would probably provide boring company. In a lesson about judging books by covers (something I frequently do with ACTUAL books), the two people ended up being not only extremely pleasant, but very interesting. In fact, HE had been an astronomist in his professional career. She too had been a well-educated professional person but I can’t recall her career because ASTRONOMIST.

As the dinner progressed, the woman began pulling out storage containers from the sizable bag she carried with her. There were little jars and small-sized plastic tupperware containers. She looked at me and pointed out that every day that we eat a meal, we pay for a soup, a salad, two side dishes, an entree, and dessert. The price doesn’t change, she explained, if we choose to not eat soup AND a salad. No dessert doesn’t translate to a smaller bill. So both she and her husband order everything they are allowed to order, and take what they don’t want to eat home in the containers for breakfast or lunch the next day. By bringing her own containers, she wasn’t contributing to the problem with waste.

Wow. I wanted to be disgruntled, but I was too busy thinking that she was brilliant. I mean, he might be the astronomist, but she’s getting the most out of their money, and that’s no small thing. It isn’t cheap to live in our nice digs.

As the days and weeks have progressed, I have noticed that she is certainly not the only one who is bringing food home in containers they have brought to the restaurant. As I look around, many couples have large bags sitting on the floor beside their chairs that undoubtedly contain storage containers.

I will admit that I am taking baby steps towards that process. I confess that I have ordered soup and a salad, knowing full well that I’m going to take the salad home to eat for lunch with some tuna salad that I will make. Ordering dessert isn’t something that I thought I would regularly do, but if I take it home, Bill has dessert for lunch the next day and that makes him happy.

I still haven’t brought in my own containers, but I have been eyeing my many cloth bags that I have accumulated over the years and that managed to make the cut to move to WC.

Baby steps.

Saturday Smile: It Really Is Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

In an earlier post this week, I mentioned that it was really beginning to look a lot like Christmas around Wind Crest. I specifically mentioned just how creative the folks have been with decorating the shelves outside their doors.

My shelf makes me particularly happy…..

It looks like my tree is ready fall down, and the deer on the left looks like he just heard the sound of wood snapping indicating the possibility of a hunter. Still, I like my winter scene.

Many moons ago, my son Court made the nativity scene in his Catholic elementary art class. It’s a particular favorite of mine.

Have a great weekend. I’ll spend it trying to get my tree to stand up straight.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Redbird Christmas

I read this book every year because it’s one of my favorite Christmas stories. Enjoy this repeat review..

No one writes the South like author Fannie Flagg, and nobody can beat her when it comes to cozy stories as well. A Redbird Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas books, and I rarely miss a year of reading it. It doesn’t take long, as it’s more of a novella than a novel, but it’s well worth the couple of hours you will spend in Lost River, Alabama, with the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society and a redbird named Jack.

Oswald T. Campbell makes his annual visit to the doctor. There he receives a startling and depressing diagnosis: his emphysema has worsened to the point that he now only has a few months — at the most — to live. His doctor suggests he can perhaps lengthen his lifespan a bit if he doesn’t spend a winter in his hometown of Chicago. The doctor recommends a spa that his own father used to recommend to his patients. It is located in the southernmost point of Alabama in a town called Lost River.

Oswald isn’t very interested in spending his remaining time alone in Chicago, and so he telephones the spa, only to learn that it no longer exists. Still, the woman who answers the phone tells Oswald to come down anyway, and he can stay with her. He agrees.

What happens next is simply magical. Oswald’s life changes when he discovers a hidden talent, makes many friends, and comes face-to-face (or maybe face-to-beak) with Jack, a cardinal that the local shopkeeper rescued several years ago. Jack is the heart and soul of the small community, and has enhanced the life of many of the townspeople. One of Jack’s biggest admirers is a young girl, crippled from abuse, who comes to live in Lost River, and is saved as well.

A Redbird Christmas is, in a word, charming. The characters are quirky but loveable in the way that only Flagg can make her characters.

You haven’t really had Christmas until you have spent it with the people of Lost River, and, of course, Jack.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Turkey Day, Take Two
Bill loves Thanksgiving dinner. I mean the dinner. He also likes Thanksgiving, because who doesn’t love a time to gather with the people you love the most without having to buy gifts? But he loves the turkey and all its fixins’. So he was a very happy camper last night when we went to dinner at one of the restaurants at Wind Crest. He picked up the menu, and out fluttered a Thanksgiving Special. Turkey. Dressing. Mashed potatoes. Green bean casserole. Pumpkin and pecan pies. Done. Done. Done. Done. Sure, he very well knows that these were nothing more than leftovers from Thanksgiving Day. But given the fact that he could eat Thanksgiving dinner every week, he was very happy. By the way, their soup of the week was Turkey and Rice. Nice to know that even places like Wind Crest have to figure out what to do about leftovers.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Just outside of each apartment at WC is a little shelf that residents can decorate as they see fit. In fact, they could not decorate it at all if they are willing to be the subject of gossip at WC. When we moved here at the end of September, it was All Things Halloween. There were such creative decorations! And the wreaths on the doors were amazing. After Halloween, things changed a bit as we moved towards Thanksgiving. My decorations were fall in nature, so I didn’t make any change. I probably was the subject of gossip at WC. The Thanksgiving decorations were beautiful. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas came to WC. Not just to the shelves outside the apartments, but to all of Wind Crest. There are Christmas trees and pointsettias and lights and glitter everywhere you look. I took down my fall decorations and decorated our shelf for Christmas. My evergreen wreath went on the door. It’s been really fun to walk around and see Christmas come alive all over.

Career Paths
It’s been a week since three of my grands and one boyfriend decorated my angel tree. I can’t believe it’s been a week already. That night, we had some serious — and some not so serious — discussions about what we all wanted to be when we grow up. Addie, of course, is facing reality soon. She’s considering medicine. She would be a wonderful doctor or physicians’ assistant. Maggie Faith — a freshman this year — has four years to begin planning her future. As for Dagny, she is a junior this year, and her options are endless. She initially put forth to the group the idea of being a therapist. Her sisters quickly put a kibosh to that idea, citing the fact that you needed to be empathetic to help others with their emotional issues. Personally, I find Dagny as sweet as can be. Before the night was over, she had landed on being a mob boss. I’m going to try to steer her away from that career path.

I’m Ok. You’re Ok.
Every night around midnight, a WC employee (or several employees) walks the halls of Wind Crest and puts up a latch that is on each door. The next day, as soon as someone opens the door, the latch falls. If the latch hasn’t fallen by the end of the next day, it raises concern that something is wrong. Last Wednesday, just before midnight, Bill’s cell phone rang. As you can imagine, we both panicked, because no good news is delivered at midnight. I answered the phone, and it was someone from WC security. “Are you okay?” he asked me. I assured him that we were fine. He told me that when he was putting up the latches that night, he noticed ours had not fallen, indicating a possible problem. A light bulb went on in my head. I promised him that we were fine and explained that my grandkids had visited the night before. “One of them probably thought it would be hilarious to put up the latch,” I told him. I’m sure he was so amused that his sides hurt from laughing.

Ciao.

Let It Snow

We woke up yesterday morning to the ground covered with snow, and more coming down. It wasn’t a surprise since the weather folks have been telling us that it was coming for a few days.

What I really woke up to was the sound of snowplows cleaning the snow from our parking lots and sidewalks. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. My first inclination was to be annoyed. But even at 4 a.m., a couple of hours before the sun came up, I stopped myself from being annoyed and instead, was grateful for the hard work of those diligent workers. I think I must add that not only was it snowing, but the temperature was well below freezing. God bless those poor souls who were braving the bitter cold to keep the area safe for me and the other residents. In hindsight, I wish I had taken them a cup of hot cocoa.

As for me, I was not ABOUT to brave the cold and snow. I put a heavy sweater over my nightgown and a heavy blanket over my lap and waited for the sun to rise as I checked my email and read my novel and drank my big cup of hot coffee. When the sun finally came up, I opened our shades and looked out at the snow that was still falling. I was so grateful that I didn’t have a single reason to step outside.

The snow fell most of the morning. I finally convinced myself to get dressed somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 o’clock. Bill had already gone to play pool. He could get there without going outside. I’m not sure even the cold would have stopped him from meeting his friends to shoot pool because he has really grown to love the game.

Over the course of the day, I watched something like five Christmas movies, ranging from the amazing A Christmas Carol featuring George C. Scott to Christmas Kiss II, featuring actors I had never seen before. My favorite one was The Last Holiday, a Christmas movie starring Queen Latifa that will always score among my top five Christmas movies.

I took a break to make Bill and me some lunch, and then moved to the bedroom, where I nestled under the covers to watch the remaining movies. At 4:30, I came out of my bedroom with my eyes bleary and unfocused and told Bill I couldn’t watch another single Christmas movie.

Until the next snowstorm.

Hide and Seek

As many of you will recall, Bill and I had a great deal of help moving. Not only did we have the best real estate agent of all time, who figuratively held our hand throughout the process, but we had wonderful and caring movers, and amazing packers and unpackers. A new couple recently moved into Wind Crest just down the hall from us, and I observed that she had no one helping her unpack her boxes. Well, that’s not entirely true, as she had who appeared to be her children assisting her. But she had no professionals helping her unpack and put her things away.

As a result, when I greeted her late Wednesday afternoon, she looked very tired and discombobulated. When I asked what she and her husband were doing for Thanksgiving the next day, she looked sadly down at the empty boxes, and said, “I will spend the day unpacking more boxes.”

I will admit that there are plusses and minuses to the choice we made to have professional help. The major plus, of course, is that as it turned out, I had a pinched nerve which would have prevented me from doing any unpacking for days. The minus, however, is that to this very day, I have no idea where a lot of my things are.

Bill will ask me, “Do we have a tape measure?” I will answer, quite truthfully, that I’m 94.6 percent sure there is a tape measure someplace in this very apartment, but I have no idea where it is.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past two months I’ve had to try to put myself in the mindset of two women who barely knew me and guess where they would have put our things. Like our tape measure.

Most recently, here are some of the items that I’m certain are in this apartment but have absolutely no idea where….

Poultry shears. I discovered last night when I was preparing my Cornish game hens that my poultry shears were nowhere to be found. I searched my kitchen from top to bottom to no avail. I used regular scissors, which didn’t work as easily as you can imagine.

Pearl necklace and earrings. I literally can’t remember the last time I wore my pearl necklace. Bill gave it to me, along with matching earrings, shortly after we were married. I occasionally wore it when I worked hard for my money, but I just have no real reason to wear them now. Because they were such a romantic gift, I want to know where they are. I know where they were as we prepared to move, and I have no doubt they are here somewhere. But where? Alas.

Handle cover for my cast iron skillet. Obviously, the loss of this item isn’t the end of the world. Nevertheless, it makes me crazy that I can’t figure out where they put it. I’ve searched the drawer where they put my towels. I’ve searched the cupboard where they put all of my cooking pans and skillets. I’ve picked through all of the things they put in my pantry, but I have been unable to find the cover. I finally gave up and ordered another.

Colorful serving dish. I bought a small, adorable plastic bowl with bright colors with a sole purpose to hold guacamole. I recently made guacamole, but when I searched for the bowl, I was unable to find it anywhere. While I realize I threw away a lot of things when we moved, I am entirely certain I would not have thrown this away. It had a specific purpose, and I would have kept it for that purpose.

There are likely many more things I will find missing as the days and weeks go by. It is almost certain, however, that these things will show up. The apartment simply isn’t that big!