Some people collect stamps. Some people collect art. My husband and me? We collect movie versions of A Christmas Carol. You knew there was more than one, right? We have them in black and white, technicolor, animated, satired, new, old, musical – we’re always on the lookout for one we haven’t seen before.
Just in case you’re the one person in the world who is not familiar with A Christmas Carol, let me give you a quick introduction to this classic. Charles Dickens’ novella was first published in London in 1843. It’s the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old man that cares about nothing but money. He has some ghostly visitors one Christmas Eve that show him his past, the present, and shadows of the future. The impact they had on Scrooge was life-changing. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you in case you really haven’t seen it, but let’s just say his transformation will put a smile on your face. OK – so I gave a little hint about how it ends – but it’s really the stuff in the middle that’s so captivating. When done well, that is.
The story has never gone out of print, and the movies keep getting made. Henry Winkler, Kelsey Grammer, Patrick Stewart (yes, from Star Trek) and George C. Scott are just a few of the big names that have taken on the iconic role of Scrooge. Here are five versions that merit discussion.
Scrooge, 1951 with Alastair Sim in the title role. This version is considered a classic – in spite of the fact that it took some liberties with the original text. One of the reasons I like this version is because some of the familiar backstory we see in most versions has new facts tossed in and expanded roles of some characters. It’s a little more fleshed out than some of the earlier editions. While it was released in color in 1989, I’m still clinging to our black and white VCR copy. (Don’t snicker – there’s no shame in still having a working VCR, people!)
Scrooged, 1988 with Bill Murray. You know when you see the name Bill Murray we’re dealing with a comedy. While I found Carol Kane obnoxious and shrill in the role of Christmas present (similar to the character she played in the TV show Taxi prior), I found the fresh spin of this classic-turned-love-story and Murray’s zany wit a lot of fun.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol, 2009 with Jim Carrey as the voice of Scrooge. This computer-animated version can’t be beat for special effects. It combines humor with the drama. Even if you don’t have the 3-D version, you feel like you’re right there in some of the scenes. While I’m not generally much a cartoon fan, I think this is a must-watch!
A Christmas Carol, 1938 with Reginald Owen. We just watched this version for the fist time recently and it’s one of our new favorites. It’s well-done, has a joyous vibe to it, and some nice surprises. Like the Lockhart family roles (remember June Lockhart – the mom in Lassie? Well, she’s just a kid in this movie!) The DVD we have has some fun extra features such as a cartoon that takes you back in time, the original movie trailer, and a vignette called Jackie Cooper’s Birthday Party which included the big-name stars from that era.
A Christmas Carol, 1954 with Basil Rathbone. Here’s one you can SKIP! We excitedly sat down to watch this version which stated in the cover description (in reference to the character who played the ghost of Scrooge’s partner) “many consider this to be the best and most chilling portrayal of Marley ever.” The only chills we got were the nails-scraping-the-chalkboard type with all that high-pitched singing. In addition to the seemingly unrelated songs that would not stop, the ghost of Christmas Present came across as a morph of Will Ferrell and Jethro Bodine. I know – you’re probably wondering what I really thought of it!
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE VERSION OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL?
1. Pay down someone’s layaway. School counselors are a good resource for finding families who could use a helping holiday hand.
2. Bring a little Christmas cheer to someone who can’t get out and about. Take a mini tree and ornaments over to light up a corner. Whether they are alone, or family won’t arrive until the holidays, contribute to the happy glow.
3. Offer to babysit for that single parent or couple who are limited on funds so they can shop without the kids in tow.
4. Helping out with local food baskets? How about sticking in a card game if you know the recipient can use it and/or has children? They are compact and add a little entertainment to the mix! Skip-bo is a good one because two (or more) people can play, the cards are easy on the eyes, and you can find it at discount stores, drug stores, and games stores for under $10.
5. Send that neighbor on a tight budget an anonymous Christmas card containing a gift card to a nearby grocery store.
6. Bring your (well-behaved!) dog to a local nursing home. Of course you want to check with the appropriate person at the facility first to set up a good time and find out about any restrictions they might have. But it is well-established that animals can both lift the spirits of those who are down and calm down those who are agitated. Often seniors in nursing homes don’t have much opportunity to love on a pet – and many miss their own. When you see how much joy such a simple gesture can bring, you may want to extend your visits beyond the holiday season!
7. Offer to wrap gifts and/or hide them at your house for parents with inquisitive children who have little private time. My husband and I did this for years when we had next-door neighbors with little ones. We didn’t have family of our own locally and we fell into the tradition of hauling the gifts over to their house on Christmas Eve after the kids had gone to bed. After, we’d sit with the parents while sipping a Christmas drink, soft Christmas carols playing in the background, and enjoyed a wonderful chat. It led to a cherished friendship and lovely memories.
8. Donate blood. Donations are often down during the holidays due, in part, to all the added commitments that regular donors have. It’s a life-saving gift that costs you nothing but time. (And, for some, getting over the ewwwww factor of a needle being involved. But just remember – you get cookies afterward!)
9. Volunteer to walk the dog one day a week (or more?) for that elderly neighbor who has a mobility challenge. This is even more helpful on icy days.
10. Wrap up some small gifts (a box of chocolate, a fold-up umbrella, a mini flashlight), carry them with you, and give them spontaneously to strangers you pass that seem harried, stressed out or depressed with a smiling “Merry Christmas” (or the greeting for the holiday you are celebrating). WARNING: The joy of spontaneous gift-giving can become addictive!
Have a great idea for a holiday good deed or been the recipient of one? Tell us about it!
Children anticipate the holidays eagerly – gifts, special food, no school – what’s not to like? They are often oblivious to the stress adults may experience this time of year. Unless they have to divide their holidays between two warring parents. Nothing sucks the joy out of the season for a child faster than having to listen to divorced parents bickering about whose turn it is for visiting days, when the time should start, when the time should end, what their expectations are, and what their current (less than pleasant) opinion is of the other parent.
When I serve as a Guardian Ad Litem (an attorney who represents the best interest of the children during a custody dispute), one of the duties I am charged with is recommending custody and visitation plans to the Judge. I have had more opportunities than I would have liked over the years to hear about what stresses out children during the holidays that are split between two households. When talking to my children “clients” about their concerns, I often ask: “If you could tell your parents anything you wanted about this, and you knew nobody would get mad or have their feelings hurt, what would you tell them?” Following are some of the answers I hear often.
1. I don’t want to have to pick. It’s not your child’s job to come up with a holiday itinerary. Get with the other parent and have a plan that takes into account the special events you know your child would enjoy participating in even if it requires a deviation from the formal custody plan. Children are often very aware of the tension between the two parents. Asking them to select what activities or time frames they want to be at one house or the other sometimes makes them feel they are being asked to declare which parent they would rather be with. And they don’t want to. They don’t want to hurt feelings, tick somebody off, or create further conflict between the adults.
2. I don’t want to hear you say mean things about my other parent. Truth is not a defense to this selfish act. Badmouthing the other parent or making snarky remarks about their bimbo or controlling significant other is always harmful for your child. Doing so in conjunction with holiday plans robs the child of the joy that should come with such preparation.
3. It hurts me when you tell me what I’m missing out on. If you know the child can’t be with you for a particular event, whether it’s because it just doesn’t work out or the other parent is being totally unreasonable, buffer them from the hurt. Telling them how much they’ll be missed while the others are having fun, or how “but for” that other parent they could join in, doesn’t hurt the refusing parent – it hurts the child. It’s a cruel thing to do.
4. You make me feel guilty for wanting to spend time with my other parent. You should be encouraging a good relationship with the other parent. Undermining the value of that relationship with carefully crafted sentences such as “you have to go to your mom’s” or “we’ll do that when you get to come back home from your dad’s” does not go unnoticed.
5. You make me feel guilty about what I cost. Hearing references (digs?) about the limited gifts/festivities because you pay so much child support out, or don’t receive the amount you are suppose to receive, could have the desired effect of alienating the child from the other parent. But it could also result in the child feeling bad about himself, guilty about the lack you are suffering, and sad that he has to spend more time at your house feeling bad and guilty. Don’t talk about your child support gripes to or within the hearing of your child. Feel free to extend this rule past the holiday season.
6. When you’re late, it causes problems for me. You may not care how long your ex sits parked somewhere waiting for you to show up to the visitation exchange, but your child does. You have created a frustrating transition – your child now gets to hop in the car with a (potentially) angry parent who may be in a position of having to rush to get to specific plans. Not fair. Potentially not safe. Sure there are emergencies and weather issues that cause delays. But often being late is just a result of poor planning or vindictiveness.
7. I don’t like having to leave in the middle of things. Stop the tug-of-war over dividing the actual day if it is not easily divided or breaks into main-event activities. Instead of cutting the celebration short at the other parent’s house, celebrate the holiday before or after the calendar date. Your child does not mind having two celebrations. In addition, being considerate of your child’s time with the other parent gives you an opportunity to emphasize the spirit of the actual holiday – joy, thankfulness, generosity of spirit – that is being observed.
8. It’s not fair that you give me stuff then tell me I can only use it at your house. If it’s new, they want to wear it, use it, play with it and show it off. Having them take it off or leave it behind so that it “doesn’t get left” at the other parent’s is like taking the gift back. It’s either theirs or it isn’t. You refusing to allow them to take it with them (so they look forward to coming back? to ensure the other parent doesn’t benefit from it in any way?) is more about you than the child you gave the comes-with-strings-attached gift to.
9. Sometimes I’m super tired after leaving your house. But then, maybe that’s your intention? Do you want to start your own holiday visitation with a child who is so tired she’s dragging or crashes half-way through dinner, missing out on family festivities? Probably not. Don’t schedule so much while she is with you, or keep her up so late the night before the exchange, that she can’t enjoy the beginning of her visitation at the other household.
10. I don’t always want to talk to you when you call. He knows you love him. Calling him every day when he’s with the other parent or, worse, calling multiple times a day, intrudes on the activities of the other household. Setting specific times for daily calls has everybody watching the clock instead of enjoying their time together. I’m not saying never call. I’m saying make it reasonable and recognize sometimes (often?) the call is more for your sake than the child’s.
While most of these points are true at any time, the holiday season often evokes feelings that heighten the usual sensitivities when having to co-parent children from two different households and, possibly, with someone you don’t like. When in doubt about any behavior or words you are contemplating with regard to holiday visitation, ask yourself the following questions: Which course of action benefits my child more? Which creates the best memory for him?
Allowing your children a conflict-free holiday season – one where they are free to love and celebrate at both households – is the best gift you can give them.
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This November, one of the things I am most grateful for is the opportunity to visit with dear family members in (not-so) sunny Florida! While I am enjoying them, please enjoy this Thanksgiving encore!
With Thanksgiving as its finale, November is a great month to focus on the many people and things there are to be thankful for in our lives. The great food is just a bonus! If you and your spouse want to put the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving this year, here are 10 suggestions to get you started.
1. Send a Thank You note to someone who has affected your marriage. Is there a couple who set a fine marital example? A friend or relative that was supportive during a tough time? Send them a hand-written thank you note letting them know they made a difference.
2. Double tip – or triple tip. Let that food-server in your local diner know their service is appreciated and valued by going beyond the current ‘obligatory’ percentage with your tip. Breakfast servers often are up the earliest, hustling the most, and pulling in the least in tips. Just having coffee? Watch a face light up when you leave some bills instead of change as a thank-you.
3. Add a note to the tip jar. This isn’t instead of a tip, mind you. But if you’re at a place that has a tip jar out for counter service and you have something nice to say about your waitperson or the establishment, jot a note letting them know and put it in the tip jar with your cash tip.
4. Serve any day but Thanksgiving. Show your appreciation to a local shelter or ‘soup kitchen’ for the service they provide to the community by helping out. Some years back my husband was out of town for Christmas and I was alone. I decided to help serve the holiday meal at a shelter. Feeling virtuous, I called the shelter to let them know the good news – that I would be gifting them with my services. They weren’t nearly as impressed as I was. While such places need holiday help, many offer on those days – I actually heard the words “twice-a-year-do-gooders” uttered by a staffer. Often there are shortages of help at the beginning of the month (because people are saving their good deed for the holiday) or the Monday after – when everyone is good deeded out.
5. Place a potted chrysanthemum on your neighbor’s porch. Often we don’t interact with our neighbors other than to wave as we’re coming and going. ‘Good neighbors’ don’t have to be friends – they can be the person who let UPS leave your package at their house, the ones that brought your dog back when it got out of the fence, or the one who is respectful about only playing their drums before 7:00 p.m. Let them know they are appreciated.
6. Praise publicly. Give the waitperson who did a good job, a special teacher, your pastor, an inspiring community member a shout-out on Facebook or write a note to their employer. My husband and I were once in a Best Buy waiting a ridiculous amount of time to get help with buying a computer. A staffer heard us talking (read: grumbling) about the wait, apologized for it and spent the next half hour getting us connected to all the right product. When we checked out, the clerk ringing us up asked our helper what he was doing there on his day off. His day off? We wrote his supervisor a letter saying how impressive it was that an employee thought enough of his employer to protect their reputation in such a way and how helpful that young man had been. A week later we made another trip back to Best Buy. There, in their front entrance, was a framed picture of our helper with a banner that proclaimed him Employee of the Month.
7. Require thanks before the food. If you are hosting a dinner during the month, have a small paper and pencil by each place setting. Maybe printed out acorns or leaves? Instruct each guest to write down 3 things they are grateful for prior to eating. After everybody has been served go around the table and have each read their list. Allow discussion between the reads if it evolves.
8. Send someone a list of reasons you are grateful for them in your life. If it is a family member, divide the list to reflect both the natural relationship and the in-law relationship. With all the in-law jokes that abound, how nice for a mother-in-law/father-in-law/whoever-in-law to know the positive is celebrated.
9. Give them what they admire. Has somebody special in your life admired something you own? Is it an appropriate thing to gift to them? Years back when my parents downsized during a move, they gave us a lovely milk glass creamer and sugar set that I was fond of. One of my best friends admired it on a visit. She happens to have an interesting milk glass collection. She was delighted to later receive it as a gift – she appreciated the history of the objects as well as their beauty. And frankly, they looked better sitting on shelves in her living room with milk glass cousins than they did in our cupboard.
10. Gift the one who doesn’t get gifts. We often think to gift people we interact with regularly – our hair stylist, a colleague, a teacher. But what about the receptionist at the salon, the colleagues’ assistant who often helps out, a librarian, the janitors, the ‘lunch ladies’? Drop off a little something to that person who is often overlooked – letting them know they are indeed seen and appreciated.
Please add to the list of how couples can put the THANKS into Thanksgiving in the comment section below.
1. Creepy Finger Soap. Trade them out for the Irish Springs in time for their morning shower. Talk about waking up! Save one to drop in the pocket of the jacket they’ll be wearing that day – a little something to make them think about you later on!
2. Speaking of fingers . . . Packing a lunch for your mate? How about slipping in some of these distressed digits for dessert? Who knew sugar cookies and almonds could make such a gruesome duo?? [Click picture for recipe]
4. Jeepers, creepers – where’d you get those peepers? For a ghastly surprise, attach them to something in the closet. Be sure to unscrew the lightbulb so the glow in the dark feature is at it’s best. Just your Halloweeny way to say to your spouse: “I only have eyes for you, hon!”
5. Head in a Jar. In the refrigerator! You may want to have a camera set up for this one! I stumbled upon this last year and have waited patiently for a whole year to share this chilling delight. (I thought about including it as an illustration in the Deadhead Your Marriage post, but I wasn’t sure the humor would have been
appreciated appropriate there.) [Click pic for the gruesome how-tos]
There’s a reason bacon sizzles – it’s the food of love! In honor of National Bacon Day, here’s bacon five ways to get you and your mate sizzling, too!
1. Cheesy bacon bombs. Exploding with the passion of gooey cheese and crispy bacon. Is this a picture or what?! [Click for recipe]
HAPPY NATIONAL BACON DAY!
Who are those people responsible for this holiday where we get to take off work, eat hot dogs, watch awesome firework displays, and celebrate being a citizen of one of the most amazing, independent countries in the world? Here are five fun facts about that group of men to give you something to chat about as you flip burgers on the grill!
Of the 56 men who signed, only two never married and two become presidents. Can you name the presidents? (*Answer at bottom)
The signers sired a total of 325 children. It was believed that about 8 of the men didn’t have children. However, Carter Braxton, William Ellery, and Robert Sherman picked up the slack by having (respectively) 18, 17 and 15 children.
This was not a group of politicians – there was only one in the bunch. The others included 23 lawyers, 12 merchants, 12 farmers/agricultural work, 4 physicians, 2 manufacturers, a printer and a minister.
While most of the paintings we see depict a bunch of gray-hairs, the group wasn’t as old as you may think. Only 7 were over 60. Eighteen were in their 30s and 3 were in their 20s. Ben Franklin, 70, was the oldest of the group and 26-year-old Edward Rutledge the youngest.
Many of the signers put their money – and their health – where their mouth was. Some pledged their fortunes for the cause of independence, some lost their health, family members, property and wealth. And some lost their lives. OK – so that’s not a ‘fun’ fact – but it is a fact worth remembering.
GOD BLESS AMERICA! HAVE A SAFE AND
Between Mother’s Day, graduations, and weddings, your gift funds may be running a little low. And Father’s Day is right around the corner! You can still honor that special father in your life with a gift that will put a smile on his face – without having to scrounge under sofa cushions for additional funds. Here are five that range from $12.99 to $39.99. Just click on the pictures for more info about the products.
1. BBQ Grill Light. I happened to like the name of this one (Man Law BBQ Grill Light – they had me at “Law”) pictured here, but shop around – not only are there plenty to choose from, I saw $20 differences in price on the same models. (Best price I found on this one was $29.95)
2. Shower squids. I bet he doesn’t have one of these! It holds his shower items without the muck that accumulates when they’re sitting on a shelf. There is a short YouTube video that demonstrates how to extend the arms and ‘tentacles.’ (On the site there is a small picture with an arrow on it under the big picture) ($36.00)
3. Dad Caddy. Is he always looking for his keys or his wallet? Is he the keeper of the TV remote? Here’s a way to coral all the stuff he might be looking for in one place! ($39.99)
4. Shoe socks. With these shoes he can actually put his feet up on the coffee table without getting any grief! Note they come in loafers and casual tennies! ($18.00)
5. A fun read. Father and son. Bill and Willie Giest (news correspondent and Today Show host, respectively) teamed up to author Good Talk, Dad – the Birds and the Bees . . . and Other Conversations We Forgot to Have. Here’s how Amazon has summarized the book: “Told in a unique back-and-forth banter style, the hilarious father-son team will laugh together at the shared journey of their relationship. They’ll riff on fatherhood, religion, music, sports, summer camp disasters, driving lessons gone horribly wrong, being on TV, and their wonderfully odd family life. Think Big Russ and Me meets S*** My Dad Says, with humorous observations about professional wrestling as a worldview, raising a kid with television cameras in the kitchen, and anything and everything else that comes to their witty minds.” ($12.99-$25.00)
Earlier this month, when deciding what May celebration to talk about, I went with May is “Date Your Mate” month. But several other May celebrations that I wasn’t familiar with caught my eye. Here are 5 more that we still have time to celebrate.
1. Lucky Penny Day. (May 23) A day to celebrate and reinforce the belief that a lucky penny will bring good luck to the person who owns it. While I found numerous articles touting it, there was a general acknowledgement that the origin was unknown. To celebrate, get some friends to go on a penny hunt to see who can find the most in a given time. Winner takes all!
2. Tap Dance Day. (May 25) According to Wikipedia, this National holiday was signed into law November 8, 1989. The purpose of the holiday is to celebrate the American art from. The date was chosen because it is the birthday of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson – a significant contributor to tap dance history. Check with dance studios in your area to learn how it’s being celebrated locally.
3. Memorial Day. (May 26) This one is probably already on everyone’s radar. Getting a 3-day weekend is a great way to highlight this time of remembrance for those we have lost and celebrating with loved ones still with us. This brief article 10 No-Cal and Lo-Cal Memorial Day Ideas includes fun ideas that are quick to pull together – including a great game option for your holiday get-together.
4. Learn About Composting Day. (May 29) This 3-year old holiday creates an opportunity to ‘go green.’ Composting is a chemical-free way to fertilize plants and gardens using food scraps and household items that would otherwise be wasted. To celebrate the day, check out articles that explain why and how to make and use compost. Start with this one from the Tonegreen Blog.
5. National Macaroon Day. (May 31) In case you’re not familiar with this sweet, they’re small unleavened cakes with a moist chewy center and a crispy outer layer. They are generally cookie-size but not considered cookies because they don’t contain flour. It’s thought macaroons originated in Italy centuries ago. The most popular varieties are coconut, almond, and chocolate. I couldn’t find the origin of the holiday, but every article I read agreed that the way to celebrate it is to make a batch or buy some from your local bakery – then eat them. Pretty doable!
ENJOY YOUR MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND!
I wanted to send you an Easter smile. In deference to those who observe a somber Good Friday, I’m trading in the Friday Five for a Thursday Tickle. Following is a special Easter Parade of Easter-Bunny-Wannabes! (Or in some cases, Easter-Bunny-DON’T Wannabes!!)