NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fun Holiday Friday: Eartha Sings "Santa Baby"

You've probably heard this song before, but the original version isn't played as often as it should. No one gives it just the right blend of naughtiness and musicality as the peerless Eartha Kitt, who recorded it in 1954. As lovely as his voice is, what is Michael Bublé trying to prove by messing with the lyrics and addressing Santa as "buddy"? And don't even talk to me about Madonna's version, sung in an over-the-top Brooklyn slut-ese.

Why mess with perfection? Eartha's version is a little bit naughty, silky smooth, and 100 percent hers. Too bad this video doesn't show the fabulous Miss Kitt herself, but the voice is all you really need.

Every Friday this month I've brought you a memorable Christmas song. Click here to read the whole series.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fun Holiday Friday: Ashley Davis

This beautiful, haunting carol has no better interpreter than Ashley Davis. She's a Kansas musician who studied in Ireland to perfect her songwriting and vocals, which honor Celtic and other folk traditions. You can learn more about Ashley here, and download the album The Celtic Winter here. All her albums are marvelous.

The carol itself is a 17th-century English song. I love the melodic line and the juxtaposition of major and minor chords. Ashley's rendition perfectly captures the calm, cold spell that winter casts.

I'm bringing you a new carol each Friday in December. Click here to see the whole series, or search for the tag Fun Holiday Friday.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fun Holiday Friday: Tim Minchin

I may get a lot of flak for this because I'm supposed to be offering Christmas cheer every Friday, and this song seems at face value to trash the holiday.

But it really doesn't.

The thing is, whatever you may believe about the veracity of the Christmas story, there's no denying that the holiday has turned into a big commercial monster that starts eating its weight in tinsel on Thanksgiving evening and doesn't stop until it's burped its last on December 26. And that's after it's already dined on the post-Halloween appetizers, because that's when the Christmas trees pop up in our Kansas City-area stores.

What I love about this song is that Minchin reminds us that despite everything Christmas has turned into, we can still celebrate it in our own way and feel the warmth and love that it was all supposed to be about way back when. We can still drink white wine in the sun and welcome home our loved ones, and fill our stockings with a few chocolates and feel quite good about that.

It's also an inclusive message. Christmas doesn't have to be just for those who believe in the reanimation of a dead Palestinian. It's a holiday that anyone can embrace. At least, that's how I feel. Sorry if it offends.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pet Peeve: Desert vs Dessert

Blogfrogs, let's make this short and sweet, because I have Christmas shopping to do, and no doubt you have something else you should be doing too.

So: Speaking of sweet, dessert is that lovely course that comes at the end of the meal. Because it's so sweet, it deserves two s's. (See how I threw in that pnemonic? Aren't I just the bee's knees?)

But desert is so arid and dry, it's soaked up one of its s's and is left with only one. Also, it's a verb, as in "to abandon." Because, see, it abandoned one of its s's, and ...

Well, you get the picture.

This lovely bûche de Noël is a dessert:

This superdry place is a desert:

Got it? Swell. Back to the mall, after which I expect you'll have a nice cup of eggog generously laced with something nice waiting for me when I return.

images: Top: my very own photo of my very own bûche de Noël, which I make every Christmas.
bottom:  Desert near Marsa Mubarak, Egypt. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Of Dads and Birthdays

Yeah, go figure. It's my birthday again! Seems like we just did this last year. Some of you know what else this date commemorates, but I choose to think about these people

instead of this

not because I'm callous about Pearl Harbor, but because I can't help what day I was born and I choose to celebrate it. Besides, had I not been born on December 7, I wouldn't have heard this joke every year from my dad (pictured above):
"Yep, I was bombed twice--once in '41, once in '65."
Dad could be very funny. Sometimes.

Because he was an older dad--age 43 when I was born--he had a different take on life than other fathers I knew. He actually was enlisted in the Coast Guard in World War II, whereas my friends' dads were just kids during that war. So the Second World War felt real to me, not part of history. So did the Great Depression and horse-pulled milk wagons and penny postcards. Dad didn't talk much about the war, except to say that being on the Coast Guard Cutter Cactus was a lot like being in the movie Mr. Roberts. Without the funny bits.

I often wondered what it was really like. I know the Cactus performed search-and-rescue operations, and sometimes they lost men they tried to save. But I only learned that later, after Dad died, when I was looking through some news clippings he'd saved. He didn't want to remember the sad things--or if he did, he didn't want me to think about them.

As a young man, he was a class clown, occasionally mouthing off to teachers and then showing them up with his precocious writing skills. He played silly pranks and memorized romantic poetry (yeah, really) to recite to girls he was infatuated with. I would've loved to have seen the faces on the girls.

Dad was a writer, too. No one had a sharper vocabulary or deeper love for the language. His writing was clear, concise, logical. He had little patience for people who didn't respect the gift we'd been given, this fabulous English language. He didn't publish, though he would have liked to; he said he didn't have the discipline a professional writer requires.

But I have to wonder about that. He was disciplined enough to go to work every day, to do the best job he could--even at jobs he hated--and to provide well enough for us that we never doubted there would be presents at Christmas and a comfortable roof under which to open them. He wasn't always easy to live with, but he knew it. He did his best and was always ready with a sincere apology. My dad was hard on himself and hard on others, but a deeply emotional and caring man, and he wasn't afraid to show it. He did what other members of that Greatest Generation did: went to war, came home, built a life for his family, and delighted in all of it.

I think of Dad every year on my birthday. He's been gone for 9 of them now, but I still imagine him saying, "You always look sixteen to me." I miss the spaghetti dinners he made me and how special I felt, as the youngest child, to be The Birthday Girl for the day.

I miss you, Dad. Happy Claire's Birthday to you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fun Friday: Why Judy Sings It Best

Last month, you may remember (or not) that I wrote a gratitude post every Thursday to explain what I love about the writing life. Now that we've charged headlong into the holiday season, I'm going to share a bit of Christmas cheer every Friday of December. Yes, I said Christmas cheer, not holiday cheer. That's not because I don't honor Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, or Secular Commercial Month When You Plant a Tree Your Living Room and Snarl at the Nice Folks at Target. Those are all legitimate seasonal traditions too. But I grew up with Christmas, so that's what I'm celebrating.

Having invoked the phrase Christmas cheer, I may now confuse the issue by championing the original version of one of the most beautiful modern Christmas songs, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." If you don't know the words (really?), here they are:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
Next year, all our troubles will be miles away

Once again, as in olden days, happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more

Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
(music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane)

Sound melancholy? Yeah. It is. The song was written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland sings it to little sister Margaret O'Brien after the family learns that they'll soon be leaving not only their beloved St. Louis home, but also all their friends and the man Judy loves. So, yeah. She's sad.

This song perfectly captures the melancholy that often accompanies Christmas as well as the hope that things will get better. Never mind that Garland's beautiful, heartfelt rendition prompts Margaret O'Brien to burst into tears and knock down her snowmen in a fit of grief. No one can sing a song like Judy--just an opinion, but hey, I'm also right--and it galls me that we more often hear this hokey, cheerified version of her classic, which looks like this:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year, all From now on, our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
Next year, all From now on, our troubles will be miles away

Once again, Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us will be gather near to us once more

Someday soon, Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
I'm all for Christmas glee, but not everything about Christmas is happy. It's an emotional time that often is tinged with wistful thoughts. I love the ambiguity of the original song, and again I say, nothing can touch Garland's tremulous vocals. If you've never watched this scene, do it now:

And have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Read more about this holiday classic here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The December Luckies!

We all know that December is the luckiest month. Some of us were even born in that month. (Not that I'm naming any names. Or asking for any gifts. Much.) December is especially lucky for the very end of the "caboose"--the last two Lucky 13 authors whose books debut this month. Go on, fill out that Christmas list. You know you want to.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
December 10 (Disney Hyperion)
YA sci-fi/romance
Control by Lydia Kang
December 26 (Dial Books for Young Readers)
YA sci-fi

What's a Lucky 13? It's an author who was lucky enough to have her or his first book for kids or teens published in 2013. All year I've been tracking the Lucky 13s' releases! You can read about them here. The Lucky 13s blog can be found here.