Song of the Week #16- Winter Wonderland

Hurricane Sandy brought lots of rain and wind to our area, but for some she brought snow.  Throughout the Appalachians and north to the Great Lakes there has been lots and lots of snow.  Seeing some of the photos made me think of this week’s song, Walking in a Winter Wonderland.  This song, considered a pop Christmas standard, was written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and Richard Smith.  Smith wrote the lyrics inspired by the Central Park in his hometown in Pennsylvania.  He actually did the writing from a sanitarium in Scranton, PA.  Smith was there being treated for consumption (Tuberculosis).  The song has become a must play for the Christmas season but there is actually no mention of the holiday in the song in any way.  Despite that fact, it has been recorded by more than 150 artists as part of Christmas albums or performances.

The first recording came from Richard Himber and the Hotel Ritz-Carlton Orchestra. The session featured many well know musicians of the time, including Artie Shaw.  Gaining notice by many, Guy Lombardo and his orchestra quickly found success in the 30s with a recording, Johnny Mercer in the 40s and on to Perry Como in the 50s. The 50s brought the first controversy with the song.  The lyrics include a verse the describes building a snowman, Parson Brown, to perform a marriage for the revelers.  This was a little risky and considered inappropriate for the kids to hear, so it was changed.  This is where we get the lyric about building a snowman and pretending he’s a circus clown.  Today when recording the song many artists include both lyrics.  I can remember singing this with my classmates in elementary and singing, incorrectly, the line “later on we’ll perspire, as we sit by the fire”.  I guess we were hot!  Listen to these recordings- they got the lyrics right:

Richard Himber– The original recording- lots of orchestration over lyrics.  
Andrew Sisters– A very 40s sounding recording from these classic artists.
Harry Connick, Jr.– While hosting the Today show he performs the hit with his daughter.
Ozzy & Jessica– Really strange duet between Osbourne and Simpson.  
Herb Albert– With the Tijuana Brass, this is a groovin’ version.
Eurythmics– This recording is another great one from the album A Very Special Christmas.




Arthur Christmas coming to DVD November 6

As I do not have young children, I missed last year’s Columbia Pictures and Sony Animation’s release of the animated Arthur Christmas, but the DVD will be released on November 6–the Walmart exclusive package will include Justin Bieber’s music video version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  This version of the Christmas Eve calamity–“Will Santa overcome an obstacle to deliver presents on time?–invokes our modern world of UPS and Amazon deliveries (where sometimes a package arrives on the same day as I place an order!)

An aging GrandSanta and his son Santa have turned over operations to a team of efficiency experts who now use a hi-tech sleigh (that looks suspiciously like a red Star Trek USS Enterprise).  They cruise the world, delivering presents to all boys and girls, thus answering the age-old question “How does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?” 

It’s to be expected that the delivery method cannot be 100% perfect, and when one little girl is overlooked by older brother Steve’s efficient elves, bumbling younger son, Arthur, must spring into action to get the gifts delivered.  Grand-Santa suggests a rickety old sleigh and eight reindeer.  What?  Sounds unlikely, but Arthur joins the old codger for the journey.  Note that older brother Steve is muscular and built similar to many animated headstrong/heart-weak characters of late. (Christmas camo, but I have a lot to say about this negative portrayal of gung-ho military types, including Colonel Quaritch in Avatar).  Arthur is the sensitive geek who actually reads Christmas letters to Santa and wears a series of ugly Christmas sweaters.  It’s no surprise that the magic of Christmas will be lost if technology rules the world.

Perfect stocking stuffer?  If you’ve seen the movie, please share your opinion with The Yule Log!

I have included one of the previews here.

Reviewers give it 7 out of 10, and it’s rated PG for mild rude humor.

Merry Christmas Sandy!

Unless you’ve been lost at sea or visiting a monastery high in the Bavarian Alps, you know the mid-Atlantic is bracing for the full fury of Hurricane Sandy.  Natalie and I did not make it in to the Altima Studios today for our podcast due to the weather conditions. Enjoy the time hunkered down with family and friends.  If you’re seeking things to do to pass the time, start on your holiday crafts (you did get your materials already like we told you to, right?).  Think of all the joy that will be here with Christmas in just 55 days!   We’ll be back soon.

Hallmark Countdown to Christmas and more unusual ornaments

In our urgent efforts to prepare for Hurricane Sandy, Roger and I went to the grocery store to buy flour (for waffles), bacon, and ice cream.  As we were bustling down my the aisle with Thanksgiving and Christmas cards, I spied a Disney Countdown to Christmas ornament.  As Jeremy and I have spent an entire year counting down, this looked like a great stocking stuffer–although it would be more suitable for Thanksgiving party favors.

Another item on the rack above the Christmas cards was a Christmas Merry-Okee.  This is a microphone with six pre-recored holiday songs and a songbook with original and silly lyrics.  Children (and goofy adults) can sing into the microphone, and the sound is transformed to sound like an elf.  I think that my grandson would LOVE this toy–and it seems like it would be an excellent children’s party toy.

A third item, is a Grab-N-Gabs Elf.  In this case, it’s like the old Mad Libs.  The child (or adult) records answers the elf’s questions.  Then the elf tells a story, inserting the funny answers.  I liked Mad Libs as an elementary school student, so I can see this appealing to the elementary set; however, I saw a YouTube video where the young person was playing with the Grab-N-Gabs, but the humor came using inappropriate words. That’s always a side effect Mad Libs.

My least favorite of Hallmark’s offerings is the Jolly in the John Snowman (on the heels of the Jokin’ in the John Ghost).  In this case, when the Snowman senses motion, he speaks one of four phrases.  I feel that there are plenty of items for the bathroom that are seasonally appropriate–star-shaped soap, pine scented candles, snowman and Christmas tree-ceramic soap trays, patterned towels and more.  I might even give in to holiday printed toilet paper.  I don’t need a talking snowman, though, to interrupt my privacy.

Christmas Light Exchange

Today I did a little searching to find out more about LED Christmas lights.  I discovered that for the last three years Home Depot has offered an exchange program for new LED lights.  The program is designed to replace your old lights with new energy-efficient lights.  In 2011 Home Depot offered a $5 off new lights coupon in exchange for your old lights.  You could get up to 5 coupons, a $25 value.  Here’s the catch: the 2012 trade-in event only lasted for ten days (11/3-11/13)!  Home Depot hasn’t announced any details for a 2012 exchange yet.  Keep your eyes open on those flyers for the dates and specifics for an exchange this year.  Lowe’s is expected to have a similar offer this fall.  I don’t currently own any LED lights.  I am considering a trade, but we’ll have to see what the offers are.  Maybe we should use LED lights for our Festival of Trees entries too, hmm…

The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Christmas!

At a Washington, D.C. event, we saw a PBS display in the lobby, reminding Roger that the next season of Downton Abbey is only two months away (can it be that we’re on the third season already?) and alerting me to the fact that PBS has produced another Christmas special featuring The Cat in the Hat.  This one is The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Christmas!

PBS stations around the country are advertising the first airing dates on PBS KIDS, which will begin around November 21 and continue through December 2012.  In this adventure, the Cat in the Hat takes Nick and Sally on a journey around the world to help a lost reindeer find his way home.  The Thingamajigger breaks down, and they depend on a variety of animals–African bush elephants to bottlenose dolphins–to journey home.  The press release promises “pull-out-all-the-stops musical numbers that will have families singing and celebrating all season long.”  I can’t imagine anything as memorable as “Cat, Hat.  In French–Chat, Chapeau.”

Barnes and Noble and other bookstores are advertising a new Little Golden Book titled, A Very Crabby Christmas, featuring the Cat in the Hat.  Here’s the the plot. “The Cat in the Hat has just received a special invitation! He and Sally and Nick have been invited to Mervin the Crab’s Crab Christmas Ball on Christmas Island. But soon after the Thinga-ma-jigger lands on the island, chaos ensues when Crab Nine (aka Sandy) goes missing. Is Sandy lost or injured? Will the ball go on as planned? Only readers of the book will find out!”  Strangely, the advertisement says that this story is loosely based on the new movie, but I don’t see much similarity.

In 2010, PBS released The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! holiday episode “Reindeer Games,” which helps children learn the science behind how reindeer use antlers to dig in the snow and find food.  On the PBS website, children can play several interactive literacy, science and math games related to the popular series.

Old school to the core, I prefer the original Cat in the Hat books that were published in the 1950’s and early 60’s, including the original television special that aired in 1971.  I can’t fault the current generation of children, though, for loving the big black and white cat as much as I did!

Must Have Toys

The Christmas season regularly brings about some must-have toy of the season.  This is THE toy that everyone wants.  The supply is much lower than the demand.  People become crazed with desperation to secure the item for Santa to bring home to their child and entrepreneurs scoop them up to resell at huge profit.  This isn’t usually the toy that was expected to well or advertised as the one to have.  It takes on a life of its own and might end with parents camped out at stores, searching the newspaper (Craigslist now), or hoping to win one in a raffle.  Let’s look back at some of the biggest must-haves from the past.

The craze for toys isn’t just a recent phenomenon.  The first rush came in 1934 for the Shirley Temple Doll.  Parents rushed to department stores to get this doll for their daughters.  In 1960 the rush was on for a Chatty Cathy Doll.  This classic beauty had a phonograph inside and spoke 11 different phrases  1964 had the first big must have toy for the boy, G.I. Joe.  These inexpensive figures were on every little boys wish list, and difficult to find.  Figurines were again a sought after gift in 1977 for the film Star Wars.  Kids of all ages had to have their own posable Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker.

What probably comes to your mind is the more recent crazes.  Remember Cabbage Patch Dolls?  These individually named little gems were flying off the shelves in 1983.  Fights broke out at the mall and black market dolls went for thousands of dollars.  In 1984 the shelves were stripped bare again but now for Transformers figures.  These robots in disguise were different from any toy before and store couldn’t keep them in stock.  If you wanted to be the popular kid on December 26th in 1985, you would have opened a Teddy Ruxpin the day before.  These story-telling bears sold for $68 dollars in the store if you could find one.  The average price for resale in newspaper ads was about $200.  In the 90s the dolls again were all the excitement.  Christmas ’96 found everyone lined up to get one of the new animated Tickle Me Elmos.  In 1998 over a million lucky parents purchased a Furby doll.  These weird-looking little alien creatures spoke their own language and slowly learned to speak English.  That million Furbys were all there were.  In the years after that first burst of demand saw more than 14 million sold.  Being the must have toy at Christmas this year can mean many future years of profit for a toymaker, contrary to what the “experts” tell us.  All the predictions in 2006 said that PlayStation 3 was going to be what all Christmas shoppers would want. But it was the Nintendo Wii that families lined-up for in the middle of the night.

2012 will likely have some break-out hit that everyone will be rushing to find.  Hopefully you get in on the rush early and make a child happy, or turn a tidy profit.  British super toy store Hamley’s published its 2012 Must-Have Toy List back in July.  Wonder how many of their selections will turn out to be hits or maybe become THE toy of the year.

What a woman really wants for Christmas

Yesterday, Jeremy wrote about the song of the week, “Santa Baby.”  In the song, the Christmas list Eartha Kitt (and later singers) presents includes rings, a platinum mine, a yacht, a fur coat, a duplex and signed checks.

What does that stuff really cost?

The exercise of calculating the costs reminded me of one of Jeremy’s first posts  where he found a website that calculated the total cost of the items related to the 12 days of Christmas. (See Jeremy’s post on December 27, 2011–a million years ago!)

I started with the song lyric “with some decorations bought at Tiffany’s.”  Tiffany & Co. boasts sterling silver decorations from mini mittens ($35) and a mini crystal teddy bear ($30) to a hand-painted porcelain ball ($225).  Unless I conducted my search poorly, there’s nothing collectible for 2012–but I guess the simplicity and elegance is all I would need.  I like the sterling silver Paloma dove ($175).  Of all the material demands the singer makes, decorations bought at Tiffany’s (at least at Tiffany’s online) won’t thrill me.

How about a fur?  I think the exact line is “slip a sable under the tree, for me.”  I went to local furrier Mano Swartz in Baltimore.  Not a single mink had a price tag–just “request more information.”  Darn.  I know that female mink pelts are generally softer and, therefore, more valuable than male pelts.  General sources (responses to curious women like me, I guess) report that a coat might retail for anywhere from $7,000 to $27,000.

I could price a yacht.  I chose to look in Newport, R.I. for dealers because I figure that’s where our rich and famous go to play (at least they did 100 years ago).  A 60-foot 2012 yacht from Bluenose Yacht Sales costs. . .wait for it. . .I don’t know.  “Contact us about this boat” is the best I can do.  I’ve embedded a video in case you want to drool.

I wouldn’t even know how to go about pricing a duplex–suffice to say that it depends on the city, and I figure she might have had London or Paris in mind.  Roger would be happy with Santa Fe.  I think an “out-of-space convertible, light blue” in 1953 (the year of the song’s publication) in today’s dollars is around $250,000.  Actually, I searched “1953 light blue convertible” and the first price I got was $4.00 on eBay–that’s for the plastic replica.  I don’t think that’s what the lyricists had in mind.

She ends with a “ring–I don’t mean a phone.”  If we go to local jeweler, Smyth (where Maryland gets engaged), and look at their signature collection, the settings alone are around $3,000–forget the diamond.  In this case, the website advertises, “Please call or come in for pricing.”

This exercise in excess has taught me  if I have to ask, I can’t afford it.  Thankfully, I don’t want it, either.

Song of the Week #15- Santa Baby

This week our focus song places the spotlight on the lighter, sillier side of the holidays.  Santa Baby is a tongue-in-check tune about a Christmas list including furs, things from Tiffany’s, and a deed to a platinum mine.  The lavish requests are all addressed to Santa, since she’s been an angel all year.  The song was written in 1953 by Philip Springer and Joan Javits (her uncle was NY Senator Jacob Javits, namesake of the Javits Center).  Santa Baby is one of only two top ranked Christmas songs written by a woman (the other is song of the week #9- Little Drummer Boy).  The original recording was made by Eartha Kitt with Henri Rene and his orchestra.  It was a huge hit and Kitt said it was one of her favorites.  Hundreds of live and recorded covers have been over the years.  One of the most well-known was the 1987 version recorded by Madonna for the album A Very Special Christmas.  The collection of songs raised money for Special Olympics.  Check out some of the recorded versions of the hit:

Eartha Kitt– The original recorded version from 1953
Madonna– 1980s cover from the material girl
Taylor Swift– a country sound for the tune
Miss Piggy– Even the Queen of the Muppets gets in on the act
Michael Buble– His version (for guys) changes it up to Santa Buddy and updates the lyrics

Podcast #40- 62 Days to Go!

Podcast #40-Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Sweaters, trees, and 80 degrees!

We’re back!  After a week off for our autumn hiatus we bring you the latest from the Yule Log.  This week we review our latest posts and discuss thoughts on advent chains, Christmas trees, holiday prep, and sweaters.  The Christmas sweater requires much more thinking and Natalie has some ideas she shares about how to turn wearing the ugly things into a way to do good for those in need. We also review our baking and cooking plans for the Yule Log and cookies are on the horizon!  Listen to hear more about our Christmas push and a plea to borrow some trees.