Merry Christmas

I tried to think of some poignant, clever post to have ready for today as I move into the Christmas holiday with my family. I won’t be around, and neither will most of you, so I thought I’d take this last opportunity to tell you all how I feel about you and how rich and warm you’ve made my life with your cyber-presence.

But, I came up empty. I really don’t have anything. So I think I’ll simply say, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. God bless and keep you, and I’ll talk to you again in 2013.

Merry-Christmas-Everyone-christmas-17797712-514-370

Woman in Black — Movie Review

Well, lookit that! It’s the End of the World today! Woo!

So, in honor of the coming apocalypse described by the Mayans – now extinct as a race, if you hadn’t noticed – so long ago, I decided to do a little research on the alignment of the galactic core, the Earth (and yes, unless you’re using that word to describe dirt, it’s capitalized), and the Sun. You know what I found out?

Those three things align every winter solstice. Every one.

So, I guess I’m going to have to get up when my alarm goes off on January 2, 2013.

Grumpy Cat 1 - still here worst apocalypse ever

Well, thanks Mayans. Well played; make everyone run around being all apocalyptic and whatnot, while you laugh at us from the dim and savage jungle-y past.

‘Course, you’re extinct now…

Anyway, I also decided I’d like to watch a ghost story. On the off chance the Mayans were wrong, and I wasn’t going to miss Christmas due to world termination after all, I wanted to honor the ghost story traditions of the holiday and see a really good ghost movie.

Easier said than done. I’m also hankering for a good rendition of A Christmas Carol, so I’ll be scouting for that next.

Nevertheless, I wanted a good one. And that’s no mean feat. Most ghost movies are either farces or were too far ahead of their time for the technology to keep up with the stories. But on Thursday night – to close out my first day of vacation – I surfed through Vudu and found a “meh”-rated ghost story which, when I viewed the reviews, came up with one word which caused me to go “Hmm…”

That word: “Creepy.”

Okay, so into the queue it goes. After all, I just sat through Bad Moon last week. See my thoughts on that here, if you’re interested. What harm could it do to sit through a movie a horror site or reviewer called “creepy”?

But, to work up my horror hackles first, I sat through the cult-popular Ginger Snaps, because I’d seen the others but not the original. And I wanted to know what that was all about from the get-go. It was fun. Sorta. Not horrible. But it got ratings from the Vudu viewers similar to the movie I’d chosen, so I thought I’d get prepared.

With no expectations of a good story, acting, or movie of any kind in mind, I asked my beloved to sit and watch with me. She agreed, and after finishing some last minute kitchen chores, we dimmed the lights and sat down to watch a movie.

womaninblackposterThe title is The Woman in Black, and it features Daniel Radcliff (of Harry Potter movie series fame) as a 19th century lawyer based in London who travels to a town in the far northeast of the country to settle the estate of a manor for his firm. It’s his last chance before being terminated from the outfit, because while they understand his situation – a single father after the death of his wife during childbirth four years before – he simply doesn’t do enough to be considered for further employment. So this task is a last chance at redemption in the firm’s eyes for the young man.

The backstory unfolds with grace and only a touch of ham-handedness on occasion. And let’s face it, backstory’s not easy anyway. It’s hard to tell someone – viewer, reader, story observer, whatever – everything which led to this moment, the story’s moment, but this one did all right with flashback memories (eh – what’re you gonna do? these are clumsy), and casual conversation (very well done, I thought).

The movie opens with a fairly chilling scene, cuts to Radcliffe and gives us part of his tale, then goes on to the relationship between he and his son, and then the story’s off and running. It’s not a terribly long setup and isn’t at all boring, and once the young man arrives at the seaside town far to the north, things get rolling in no time.

The story’s a little predictable. Most ghost stories are. But it also had its share of starts (my wife leaped from her seat at least three times in the movie’s first half hour), and had fabulous creepy moments tossed in throughout. The tension builds nicely as the story unfolds, and at the movie’s climax, the twist, while not completely unexpected, certain is different for a movie like this.

I rated The Woman in Black five stars. I rated Daniel Radcliffe five stars as well. He did an amazing job and shows his acting chops. I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie – and never will – but the boy can act. He did a good job and the movie was very, very good.

The film gets highest marks from me for being atmospheric. The setting is amazing, every inch the 19th century ghost story, with great homage to the spiritism so prevalent during the Victorian era. It’s an excellent visual feast, I thought, and superbly done.

I’d recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see a well made, well written, well acted ghost story. There haven’t been a lot of those in my experience over the last fifteen years or so, and this one shouldn’t be missed. And, in the grand tradition of Christmas ghost stories, it was perfect for the season.

-jdt-

Thursday

Today is the first day of my vacation. I’ve got the next 12 days off, and I won’t see the inside of my ridiculous and infuriating cubicle until 2013. Neither will I have to deal with the childish angst of office gossip and rumor mills, and the back-biting, grammar-school popular-kid clique-ish attitudes. No, I will not miss them.

But I will continue on with my training video. I will also continue to think about and noodle with Appmageddon, because that sonuvab!tch is eating me alive. I have made some progress, but not enough to be impressive to anyone but me.

I’m going to try and get something published to Kindle, too. Probably just a rehash of one of my longer stories, but it’s what I got. I’ve let a lot of time pass without doing much in that regard. Now that I have a few days to myself, maybe I can get something done.

So, my posts will be spottier (if that’s possible) over the holidays. I’ve got a lot to do, and regrettably, the blog tends to take a hit when I get busy like this. Hope you’ll all understand. Besides, my traffic has tanked for some reason. I guess Google adjusted their sandwich algorithm and threw the switch away from me. Ah, well; nothing lasts forever.

Have a good weekend, and if I don’t see you beforehand, have a Merry Christmas (yes, with the CHRIST in it) and a Happy New Year.

-jdt-

‘Tis the Season…

We put up our Christmas decorations this weekend. Yes, this past weekend. They’re up. Tough if you don’t like it. We do. And you know what? It took me down memory lane. Big surprise there, huh?

Christmas tree lights ain’t what they used to be. I noticed this the first time back in 2010, when my loving spouse and I went Christmas light shopping for the first time in years. Most of them, at least at my local Walmart, are LED strings. While they’re bright and colorful, my wife nailed it when she said they’re “just as bright, not as sparkly” as the incandescents. She’s right, they’re not.

But this year, we found the more traditional (to us) incandescent strings of white lights, and I took a few hours out of my life Saturday to put them on our three miniature trees. (Yes, three.) Each strand of 100 added brilliance and warmth to the room. My back screamed by the end of it all, but it was worth it to see the kids’ eyes light up when they saw.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

Our kids hang the ornaments, Ness helps them with the tiny strings of bead garland, and they each put a topper on one of the trees. By the end, of course, the kids are bored senseless and just want it over with, but we have a good time until then. And next year the lights will already be in place so that hassle won’t be there. All in all, we have a good time.

I remember how unpleasant Christmas tree decorating used to be for me. Year after year it seemed to get worse. I think, in a weird way, that taught me how important it is to have, not a professionally-beautiful tree, but a joyful one.

Growing up, my mother always made sure we had a department-store perfect Christmas tree. My earliest memories are of a white artificial tree. My father inserted wooden “limbs” into the pre-drilled “trunk”, each peg and hole numbered with handwritten marker, to indicate where they went. I don’t know whether my dad numbered them or if the tree came that way, but artificial trees certainly aren’t like that now, are they?

My mother’s perfect trees demanded precision, exacting standards, and no compromise. Sometime before 1976, she started insisting on real trees in lieu of the old artificial one, with its fuzzy-shiny garland and fragile glass bulbs everywhere. The real tree couldn’t be a standard Douglas fir, either; no, it had to be a Blue Spruce or Cypress or some other conifer with small, delicate needles and none of the wide gaps between strata of limbs. It must be full, it must be without holes in the needle coat, and it must stand straight.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

And so we’d go to a Christmas tree lot every year and spend endless hours searching for the right tree, perfect and unblemished, and when the first search inevitably turned to failure, we trudged away to another lot, and another. Each time my mother openly criticized the vendor and his product and embarrassed us, until at last we found a tree upon which she could settle. Then we’d get it home and begin the fun-filled task of positioning the tree, so only the perfection in her mind’s eye, would show. Twist the stand this way, fool! Place that part there. More. More. Too much, damn you! No, hide that hole, you idiots! Don’t have that facing out! Then the beer or wine would flow and things went downhill from there.

She also demanded the smaller, more delicate indoor lights rather than the big, indoor/outdoor jobbies. Those were relegated to the eaves along the façade of the house. My father had to get up on the roof and hang over the gutters to nail them in place, while my mother stood hands on hips below and barked instructions on how the lights weren’t evenly spaced, or were crooked and pointed willy-nilly rather than straight down.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

When we moved to a new subdivision later, the house had a vaulted living room ceiling. And my mother, because she insisted on extravagance rivaling the Rockefeller Center’s annual tree, demanded taller and taller trees to fill the vertical space. And, of course, this meant more and more ornaments and lights to make the tree glow and sparkle as her mind’s eye envisioned. Which, of course, meant more shopping for ornaments – and not cheap stuff from K-Mart or Ben Franklin or Pay-n-Save. No, this meant department store ornament shopping, with price tags to prove it. She kept things reasonable when only my dad worked. In the 80s, she went back to the workforce, and felt free to spend freely. Very freely. So, the trees got bigger, the ornaments more expensive, and the gifts more plentiful. She spent years collecting a “Christmas Village” of tiny porcelain buildings, and Nativity sets which cost hundreds of dollars. And she’d drink and froth and slather and snarl to have the tree done just so by her slave laborers the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Small wonder then my dad seemed to hate the holiday season. He didn’t really, of course, he just hated the preparations. I can’t say I blame him; my mother didn’t really do much but supervise and get nasty. OH, and get drunk. Let me not forget that part. Beer in one hand, yelling and frothing for perfection as she slowly submerged into slurred speech and staggering.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

When finished, the trees were always perfect and beautiful. Every bow precisely placed, not too far from its neighbors, neither too near. Every ornament in the exact perfect spot such that no voids remained, every inch of tree treated the eye to a touch of beauty or whimsy. Thousands upon thousands of white lights covered the increasingly massive trees afforded by a vaulted living room ceiling, and it sparkled within and without, because my mother demanded we make the lights appear as stars. Cords ran up the trunk, hidden from view, and nowhere else.

The ever-larger angel figures my mother found to adorn the tops – the last one I  remember had its own power supply because there were so many lights – required an industrial ladder 20 feet long to place. My dad had to bring that ladder home from work every year to get the topper on the dizzying top bough of the tree. (Eventually, we learned to put the topper on first, while the tree could be laid on its side.) The displays were worthy of Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart Living magazine covers.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

And we hated it. We never wanted to see it again when we finished. We foresaw the anguish, the torture, of taking the monstrous beast down after January 6th, dry branches poking and stabbing to avenge the tree’s lost life. Each light strand had to be carefully stowed for reuse the following year, the ornaments each placed back in their original packaging to protect the precious gems. Each ribbon, every bow, had to be returned to its original state before being packed away in cardboard boxes which were tossed into the garage without a second thought, some of the treasures within crushed or chipped during their long slumber.

And while we plucked the delicate glass fruit from the precarious perches, and the creaking, dry timber of the tree shook dry, crackling needles into the carpet, my mother sat and watched and drank and barked and frothed and slathered below.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

So it is with great pride I say my mother’s gift of perfectionism passed down to me, and I haven’t in any way inflicted it on my family. The children place the ornaments without concern of “doing it wrong”. I guide them, gently, when they’re getting narrow of vision and only hang ornaments in one area of the trees, but other than that, they’re free to do it as it pleases them. The lights are my responsibility. My wife hates doing lights, and I don’t mind, so it works out. The rest of the decorating is her chore, and so far, so good. We’re happy, there are no fights, no one is an idiot, a fool or a moron, no one is slurring-staggering drunk, and the children don’t seem to hate doing the tree. They get bored and express that, but they still help. When we make them. Otherwise they’d rather watch videos on YouTube or play games. Who wouldn’t? (Me. I like this stuff.)

And they look forward to Christmas just as much as I did, with none of the trepidation about the torture and fighting and frothing, slathering, order-barking I dealt with growing up. In that, I take a great deal of pride.

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Ho ho ho, y’all.

-jdt-

Post-Christmas Blues

Ah, Christmas was awesome, wasn’t it? At least, ours was; I hope the same is true for you all out there, blogulars. Here in the Darc recesses, our children gave us joy and gladness and we gave them toys and games. They seemed happy. I wanted so much for there to be more – it looked like more, to be sure, when all boxed and wrapped and ribboned – but in the end, it was all a small pile of things we hope they’ll enjoy.

And Christmas day itself was filled with good eats (I mean, prime rib on Christmas Eve followed by a traditional turkey feast on Christmas day), good times, good people and loads and loads of love. I don’t remember happier times, even in my childhood. There’s something so much more special about being on this side – the grown-up side – of Christmas. It really is more blessed to give than receive, I suppose.

And today? Well, today I’ll be able to look back over the year that was and, for the first time in many years, I’ll be able to smile. The year didn’t get redeemed at the last possible minute, there wasn’t any floodgate opening to dump money on us like last year, but this year there was even more build-up, more anticipation, more hope, joy and freedom. Less pressure, less stress, and even though I have to log in to work a couple of times this week, I’m on vacation and will have a job to go back to when January rolls around. That’s a really, really nice feeling.

Now, however, is the part where I get a little melancholy because it’s all over. The gifts are unwrapped, all the new toys and games tried, all the paper stuffed into garbage bags and ready to be put out in the trash. The candles are blown out, the turkey carcass ready to be picked over for sandwiches (yum!), and the chocolates are eaten and gone.

This year, however, I don’t have the blues too bad. This year, I have that lingering joy, love and wonder of a Christmas made magical again. For the first time in memory, Christmas was a time to look forward to, a time to hope for and anticipate. And that little bit of warmth glowing inside will linger with me for a while, I suspect. I hope.

So I hope your day was blessed and as joyous as ours, and may the days left in 2011 be more of the same. And I hope for each of you the new year will bring only the best of life.

-JDT-