Little Women and Christmas

On this day in 1868, Louisa May Alcott published Little Women, one of America’s best-loved children’s books.  It has been performed as a play and made into movies several times over.  The novel about a mother and her four daughters focuses on the themes of family, love and duty in Concord, Massachusetts.  Marmee (Mother) is struggling to care for her daughters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy while her husband is fighting in the Civil War.

The novel opens with the four sisters lamenting their poverty and inability to celebrate Christmas properly.  During their talk about gifts they’d like to have and what each could purchase with her small allowance, they hit upon a plan to pool their resources to buy gifts for their mother.  In Chapter Two, their mother gives the girls small books (to help guide them morally) under their pillows.  The story of sacrifice is lovely and memorable, making our material world look poor by comparison.

Later in the novel, family and friends contrive to make a Christmas celebration for Beth who has been suffering from scarlet fever.  I have included a YouTube clip of the scene from the movie in 1994 starring Winona Ryder; although, I much prefer Katherine Hepburn’s 1933 portrayal of the tomboy, Jo. That screen adaptation was directed by George Cukor, who later directed Gone with the Wind. Surprisingly, Cukor’s version was the third film of the novel, the first screening in the silent era in 1917 and 1918.

The novel is available online, but this is a link to the blog, All Things Christmas, which excerpts the first two chapters.


Song of the Week #11- It’s Beginning!

This song selection is none other than the intro to our podcast each week, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.  Another classic choice this tune was penned in 1951.  The Music Man himself, Meredith Wilson, wrote the song for that holiday season.  The first recording was by Perry Como and the Fontane Sisters.  It was immediately popular.  So popular that Bing Crosby recorded his version just one month later.  Composer Wilson used the song in his musical Here’s Love based on the movie Miracle on 34th Street.  The song was retooled with a different name- Pinecones and Holly Berries.  My favorite version is the 1986 recording from Johnny Mathis.  His version has ranked in the top 10 Christmas songs each of the last few years.  Give these versions a listen.

Perry Como– The original recording- classic!
Bing Crosby– Just as classic, but not the original.
Michael Buble– A studio recording from his 2011 album.
Johnny Mathis– The version I hear when I think of this song
Purdue Singers– A big huge production version

The Ed Sullivan Show and Christmas

Today in history, Ed Sullivan was born in 1901.  Interesting facts about Sullivan: he was born a twin, but his brother, Daniel, did not survive but a few months.

Sullivan was a journalist first and a performer on the radio.  Then, he began hosting a show, The Toast of the Town, in 1948.  In 1955, the show was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show.  In 1967, CBS renamed the Billy Rose Theater, from which Sullivan broadcast his show, the Ed Sullivan Theater. The show was cancelled in 1971, after 10,000 individual guest performances and 23 years.   Since 1993, David Letterman’s show has broadcast from the Ed Sullivan Theater.

Ed Sullivan is remembered for dominating the limited television offerings in the 1950’s and 60’s, establishing America’s taste.  The guests who appeared at Christmastime are many, including Bing Crosby and the Muppets. (The Muppets performed 25 times on his show.)  I’ve included YouTube videos of the Muppets performance  and Gayla Peevey’s  “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” in the early 1950’s. (The song was released in 1953.)

Ed Sullivan was known for supporting African American performers, and The Supremes were on his show 16 times.  They performed “My Favorite Things” in 1966.

Theres a DVD, “A Classic Christmas–The Ed Sullivan Show.” featuring many of Sullivan’s Christmas performers.  Here’s a link to the Amazon site to purchase.

R.I.P. Mr. Christmas

Yesterday we all received the sad news that after 84 years crooner Andy Williams had died.  This is quite a loss to the singing world, and especially the Christmas music world.  Andy was born in Iowa into a musical family.  He had a fortunate break to get connected with many powerful players in the music industry, like Bing Crosby.  He was so popular he hosted the Grammy Awards show 7 times in a row.  He won Grammy and Emmy Awards.  He even sang the National Anthem at the 1973 Super Bowl.   Andy was part of America and welcome into families homes on the Andy Williams Show.  He was even a friend to the Kennedy family.  Few probably know that he was a close friend of Robert Kennedy and was at the Ambassador Hotel when he was assassinated.  Williams sang at his funeral at the request of Mrs. Kennedy.  But it was when Andy sang the songs of Christmas that he sealed his place in all our hearts.

Andy Williams was known affectionately as “Mr. Christmas”.  This could be because of his annual Christmas Specials that ran regularly from 1962-1974 and intermittently into the 1990s.  These tv specials were hugely popular and a part of millions of Americans Christmas traditions.  It might also be due to his eight Christmas albums.  The albums were top sellers.  I can remember in my childhood the bright red album cover of the record and looked forward to hearing it on my parents stereo.  In college I had my own copy of the Andy Williams Christmas Album on cassette.  Today you can get your copies on iTunes.  Of all his Christmas recording, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is still the most popular.  It appeared on each and every one of his Christmas albums.  I can’t think of that song and not hear Andy Williams.   He will be missed.

A Very Brady Christmas

On this day in history, The Brady Bunch aired for the first time in 1969.  I think I can say with assurance that I have seen every episode, and I know that for the majority of the 1970’s, when my mom put on a turtleneck sweater, I would think that she looked just like Carol Brady.  The album, “Christmas with the Brady Bunch,” was released in 1970 by Paramount Records.  I’m pretty sure we did not own this album, but had I been a little older, I would have requested it for certain.

The Brady Bunch, a blended family headed by parents Carol, “a lovely lady who was living with three very lovely girls,” and Mike (with three sons), lived in the Los Angeles suburbs.  They had a modern house with a very cool staircase that was memorably the focal point of their living room.  The Christmas tree could be over-sized and was placed next to the staircase.

The series ended in 1974 after 177 episodes, and, according to Nielsen Ratings, was never popular enough to make the top 10, but in syndication, audiences continued to watch the show.  The family’s problems were simple and able to be solved in an episode’s 30 minutes–what to eat for dinner (pork chops and applesauce), braces on teeth, dating and getting a drivers’ license.

Years later in 1988, The Brady Bunch reunited for A Very Brady Christmas.  The story line begins with Carol and Mike each wanting to use their savings to take the other on a trip.  Greece?  Japan?  They decide that since they can’t decide, they will use the money to bring their children and grandchildren home for Christmas.  Each of the six children has a complicated life including problems like divorce, job loss, lying and more.  It’s really a depressing aftermath to the 1970’s series.  In retrospect, I think Carol and Mike would have been better off agreeing on Japan.  I don’t know why anyone would want to watch this, but it was the second most popular made-for-tv movie of the season.

At the end, Mike is trapped in the rubble of a building he designed (not his fault), and Carol begins singing “O Come all Ye Faithful.”  Blah!  Alice’s wayward husband appears as Santa, and all ends well.

I am including a YouTube clip from the movie.  It’s enough to convince you that The Brady Bunch is better left in the happy past of our memories.

Secret #3 for a Perfect Christmas

Remember that on the 25th of each month we will be revealing one of our secrets for the perfect Christmas in 2012.  Today we share Secret #3- Giving Time is More Important Than Giving Things!

One of the most over used sayings at the holidays is “It’s better to give than receive”.  This is often uttered by those trying to justify a less than expected gift or holiday experience.  I wish that we could all try to live this statement more than say it.  We have shared many ideas and thought throughout the year about the extreme joy there is in helping others.  Many ways to prepare and save to be able to help those in need have been written.  With less than 3 months until Christmas it is time to really think about how we can give to others.  So often the best gift of all is time and that is what secret #3 is all about.

Lots of us volunteer time and energy in December in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This is one of the most volunteer active times of the year.  Plan ahead now to spend some precious time helping others.  Do it as a family and make a new tradition.  Find that special community group or organization to add your energy in the mix or do more with your church.  Start looking for ways to help groups get ready for the holidays.  Help decorate local buildings, set-up the christmas pageant at church, or maybe stop by the hospital or local nursing home to see what is needed.  A great idea I read about was to start visiting a nursing home now.  Get to know some residents and really make a bond that will be so much more special to keep at the holidays and after.  I imagine so many seniors get excited about the rush of holiday volunteers and visitors only to have a depressing January when they are all gone.  Make a difference in someone’s life and be there.

I would guess that, for some, giving your own family the gift of your time would be a fantastic gift.  Plan your days to increase your time at home with the family 30 minutes a day until Halloween, then an hour a day until Thanksgiving, and then do fill that extra time with family interaction and fun!  Giving the gift of you and your time is really the most luxurious gift of them all.

Podcast #37- 90 Days to Go!

Podcast #37- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- crazy for tree toppers!

We are really getting close!  90 days to go and only 13 more podcasts?  There is still so much to do and discuss.  This week we get distracted by the bounty of options for tree topping and a little bewildered about or tree designing.  Listen to this week’s recording to hear all our lament about the coming decorating adventure.  Who will we bring and how will we do it?  You can be sure we’ll let you know all about it.  Join us on Election Day for our practice decorating of our trees.


Earlier today Natalie was showing me the fruits of her bargaining labor from yesterday.  In addition to boxes of wonderful ball ornaments, lights, and some glittery ornaments there was a glass tree topper.  You know, one of those long pointy ones, that I’ve never seen on a tree anywhere but the department store where they are sold.  I don’t mean to be judgmental but do people actually have those on their trees in their living rooms?  I just assume that everyone either has a star or angel.  A little research backs up my thoughts.  Angels are the most popular, closely followed by the star.  The topper’s significance is its representation of the divine birth, either as the angelic host or the guiding star of Bethlehem.  Some more crafty types opt for the large bow with the ribbons cascading down the sides of the tree.

Most homes keep a traditional display.  Growing up we had an angel on the tree and I do the same today.  In college I was on a budget so our tree topper was a cardboard star I cut out of a box and then covered in aluminum foil.  Classy!  A little searching on the web lead to some more non-conventional choices to top a Christmas tree.  Some choose snowmen, Santa, reindeer, snowflakes, and other Christmas type items.  Then there are the really unusual selections.  Antlers, dragons, fairies, teapot, flamingo, octopus, and my personal favorite- Yoda.  No matter what your choice be sure to put something on top of the tree- it just looks weird without anything.

Yes, Natalie, There is a Santa Claus!

Yesterday and today I visited the same yard sale.  I was eyeing the huge display of Christmas balls and ornaments, artificial trees and lights.  I had in mind to purchase some for our massive tree decorating project, but, frankly, even at yard sale prices, I would have spent too much.

At lunch, Jeremy said, “Why don’t you just ask?”

As Shakespeare would say, “Screw your courage to the sticking place!”  I did just that.  I returned to the sale and explained our Yule Log charity project to the homeowner and asked if she would consider a reduced price.  Not only did she reduce the prices, she threw in extra Christmas balls and ornaments for free!  Who would have expected such enthusiastic generosity?

Coincidentally, at lunch I had mentioned that the Newseum tweeted yesterday that September 21 was the anniversary of the most read and re-printed editorial of all time:  “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.”  This letter was first published in 1897 in the New York Sun in response to an 8-year-old’s letter to the newspaper.  Virginia O’Hanlon wrote that her father told her, “If you see it in The Sun, it is so.”  While all of us have heard the memorable line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” have you ever read the inspirational words of the letter? They’re worth a second look.  I have included the Newseum’s link to the letter here.

In part of the famous letter, newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote, “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”  

Here it is, a very warm day in late September, when just about no one is thinking about snow and Christmas.  All the same, I had my proof of Santa’s existence at a yard sale!


$11 Million Tree??













Natalie’s post yesterday of unusual trees got me searching for more unusual tree offerings.  In my hunt I came across numerous mentions of the “most expensive” Christmas tree ever.  The tree was displayed in 2010 at the Emirates Palace Hotel located in Abu Dhabi.  The huge artificial tree is covered with silver and gold bows, ball-shaped ornaments, and simple white lights.  The cost of the tree and the basic ornaments total about $10,000 in cost.  But that’s not what makes it the most expensive tree.  The $11,000,000 costs comes from the necklaces, earrings, and jewelry covering the tree as decorations.  There are over 180 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, and sapphires spread across the evergreen.  The display was created by the in-house jeweler at the hotel and was partly an attempt to gain an entry into the Guinness Book of Records.  Not too big of a stretch for a hotel with a golden ATM machine and an actual gold vending machine.  No, not made of gold, but where you can purchase gold things!  I like a really pretty tree, but this seems WAY over the top.

Oh, here’s a link to some more unusual trees to add to Natalie’s list: Most Unusual Trees.