Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas 2008: A Photoessay

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Top 5/Bottom 5 Christmas Songs

One of the things that many of us are subjected to during the holiday season is Christmas songs. I've noticed that there are some Christmas songs that really set my teeth on edge, and others that I love. I thought it might be fun to put together a list of my 5 most hated and 5 favorite Christmas songs.

I was actually surprised to find that I had a tough time narrowing down each list. I can actually think of more than 5 for each, but I wanted to keep things somewhat brief. So, without further ado...

My Bottom 5 Christmas Songs

5. The Little Drummer Boy - I don't have a particular version in mind here. The rum-pa-pa-pum part just beats me down. Although I can almost hang with the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version just for the sheer weirdness of it.
4. All I Want For Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey) - I'm just not into the over-singing of Mariah Carey.
3. Santa Baby (any version) - This song is way too fixated on material excess for my liking. Also, songs that sexualize Santa kinda give me the creeps.
2. Carol Of The Bells (Trans Siberian Orchestra) - extremely cheeseball "metal" version of this song, with some of the worst guitar wankery you'll ever hear.
1. The Christmas Shoes - This is song is about some kid buying shoes for his terminally ill mother, or something like that. Too depressing for Christmas, and this song is trying way too hard to tug on the heartstrings. Which makes it suck.

My Top 5 Christmas Songs

5. Frosty The Snowman (The Ronettes) - A Christmas song with that vintage Phil Spector sound. Also reminds me of Goodfellas.
4. Father Christmas (The Kinks) - This is a really well done Christmas-related rock song. I love the guitar and drums on this one, and the lyrics are great.
3. Christmas Time Is Here (Vince Guaraldi Trio) - This is the song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. It has that kind of melancholy vibe that can sometimes be a part of Christmas, but in a good way, unlike number 1 on the worst list.
2. Blue Christmas (Elvis version) - I just love Elvis' voice on this one. The Porky Pig version makes a nice companion piece.
1. The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole) - There have been so many versions of this song, and a lot of them are pretty good. Like Mel Torme, for example. But I think Nat King Cole is the definitive version. That voice is like an intravenous injection of Christmas spirit.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Back Out West

I'm heading back to Arizona this week for Christmas with my family. I'm glad to be getting back to warmer weather!

I took this photo of an agave plant in my parents' front yard while I was there in November. I love the shape and textures of the leaves.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!

This past week I watched the Charlie Brown Christmas Special for the first time in several years. I had forgotten how much I liked it. It's just so perfect. It's a masterful blend of humor, pathos, contemplation, and joy. Who can't identify with Charlie Brown's disappointment at his empty mailbox? Or his dismay at the commercialization of Christmas? It moves at a pace that would be unthinkable in today's post-video-game world of cartoons, but I like that. It definitely suits the material. And that soundtrack is amazing.

I saw a link this week to an interesting article published in 2000 about the special. It seems that CBS hated it when they first saw it, and it almost didn't make it to air. Can you imagine that, knowing how beloved this show is now?

I also saw a really funny parody called Charlie Brown Ad Agency, which is posted below. This is how this show would be done today. And remember, people kid because they love.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Bit of Icing

We got a bit of a wintry blast yesterday. It actually started on Sunday night. The weather has been really topsy-turvy here lately. Sunday I was out in the yard with short sleeves on - it got to the upper 70s. I took advantage of the nice weather to plant the Japanese maple that I bought in my sideyard where it will get morning sun and afternoon shade. I'm a little bit worried about it now because it got so cold so quickly. A cold front came in Sunday night and the high temperature on Monday was around freezing.

Monday night it started sleeting, and Tuesday was extremely cold with the temps not getting above 23! I know for some of you that's nothing, but for north Texas that's pretty dadgum cold. There was a nice coating of ice on the roads. My workplace didn't close, however, so I got to experience the fun of driving very slowly to work yesterday. It took me about an hour and a half to go 30 miles, which is about twice as long as it usually takes. It was good that everyone was driving slowly though. Usually there is some idiot flying by who you just know is going to cause a wreck somewhere.

Last night we had freezing fog. Or as I like to call it - 'frog'. The roads weren't bad this morning though.

I didn't get the chance to take any pictures because I was either at work or in transit during the daylight hours. There really wasn't enough ice to be too picturesque anyway, just enough to coat the roads and bridges.

It's slowly warming up now, and Friday it's supposed to get up to 70! I guess it'll be back to short sleeves then.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bookworm Meme

The lovely and talented m. heart has tagged me with a meme! Here are the rules:

1. grab the nearest book.
2. open the book to page 56.
3. find the fifth sentence.
4. post the text of the next two to five sentences.
5. don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book or the intellectual one. pick the closest.
6. tag five people to do the same.

This is interesting because the nearest book to my computer is actually one that I haven't started reading yet. Right before Thanksgiving I checked out 4 books from my local library to keep me well-stocked with reading material. I've finished and returned 2 of the books, and I'm almost done with the third. That last one is the nearest one.

At this point I need to give a warning that if you don't like to mix politics with your blog reading, please skip this post.

The book is called Big Lies: The Right Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth by Joe Conason. This is what the sentences starting with the 5th one on page 56 contain:

Within weeks after Congress returned from the holiday recess, Republican leaders resumed their mugging of Daschle, feigning terrible offense at mild remarks he had made about the progress of the war against Al-Qaeda and the imperative of capturing Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban mullahs. Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, chairman of the GOP's congressional campaign committee, ranted that Daschle's "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country." Tom DeLay called Daschle's comments "disgusting".

Tom Daschle was a well-known U.S. Senator (and top-ranking Senate Democrat) from South Dakota , and the comments above come from 2001. In the 2004 midterm elections Daschle was defeated by a Republican challenger. You may have heard his name recently because Daschle was just nominated for the post of Secretary of Health and Human Services by President-elect Barack Obama.

Since I haven't read the book yet I haven't fully processed any opinions about it, but I think I can safely say that it provides a look at how divisive politics have become in this country, which is something that a lot of us are repulsed by. Somehow over the last 15 years it seems that political discourse has become so nasty and cutthroat. What ever happened to disagreeing in a civil manner? Unfortunately I don't see this changing any time soon, if ever.

This passage from the book refers to a practice that I find repugnant – that of questioning the patriotism of anyone who opposes the views of the Bush administration. The whole “you’re either with us or you’re against us” mentality. There was a lot of that going on in the U.S. after the attacks of September 11th.

For one thing, the world cannot be reduced to black and white or good versus evil. That’s a simplistic view that has gotten us into a huge mess over the last 8 years. Secondly, we have a concept in this country called freedom of speech. Calling someone unpatriotic or un-American because you disagree with what they are saying pretty much goes against one of the core founding principles of the United States. Of course you can disagree with someone, but I think we need to remember that we’re on the same side in the big picture. We should focus on our common goals and stop focusing so much on issues that mostly serve to divide us. I think it will be interesting to read this book in light of the fact that the leadership in this country will be changing soon. And it's also interesting to ponder where Tom DeLay is today.

And that’s all I have to say about that!

I'm going to refrain from tagging anyone since there aren't even 5 people who read this blog! But if anyone reading wants to play along, consider yourself tagged!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Red-Tailed Hawk

A few weeks ago I saw this hawk while I was on my way to work one morning. Since I had my camera with me I figured why not try to get a photo?

This is a red-tailed hawk. They are the only large hawk species that lives around here. I think they're territorial, so I see this particular hawk quite a bit near my house. They seem to have adapted quite well to urban conditions. There's one that I see often perched on lights above one of the busy highways in the Dallas area near my workplace. I guess there are lots of rats and mice to eat all over the place!


Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Successful Do-Over

Yesterday I made another attempt to go to Fort Worth to buy a couple of maple trees. And this time I actually made it! I purchased a teeny-tiny version of the Fire Dragon maple shown here. If I end up staying in this house long term then I will get to see it grow. I also purchased a Shaina Japanese maple, which is a dwarf variety that only gets about 5 feet tall. It has brilliant red fall foliage. There is a photo here (mine is much smaller). I haven't decided where to put it yet. It does best with morning sun and afternoon shade. I don't have a lot of options as to placement due to this, but I'm considering maybe trying to grow it in a container so I can move it around with the seasons.

It's amazing how just having everything go as planned made me so happy yesterday. I guess the utter disaster of my last attempt to go there made a successful trip seem like a miracle.

Last night's sunset was the perfect end to an almost perfect day.


Monday, December 01, 2008

All That And A Rainbow On Top

I can't believe it's almost time for me to go back home. Vacations always seem to fly by, don't they?

I think I got my mom hooked on Top Chef. I thought that a new episode was coming on at the regular time of 9PM last Wednesday. So I tuned in, and my mom was watching too. At 9 they showed the first episode of the season. Hmm, maybe they'll show the new one next. Nope, episode 2 came on after that. Finally the new one came on at 11. What the hell? We stayed up and watched it and my mom was asking when the next new one would be on.

We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner. My parents invited a couple that they are friends with to eat with us. Dinner consisted of the usual suspects - turkey, stuffing, cranberry dressing, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Pumpkin and pecan pies for dessert. Nothing fancy, but it was good.

It actually rained on Wednesday and Thursday. Big deal, right? But let me put this in perspective - they received 0.28 inches of rain on Thursday at the airport. Doesn't sound like much, but that was the fourth wettest Thanksgiving Day on record (going back 110 years or so). I guess there's a reason Arizona is a desert!

We were sitting around after Thanksgiving dinner watching football when I noticed that it was both raining and sunny. When I mentioned this, my mom said that maybe there would be a rainbow. So we went outside, and sho nuff - rainbow. We actually saw another one on Friday, but I didn't have my camera with me.

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