Archive for christmas

Home…or Away…For the Holidays

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2009 by erikball123

I just finished my Coffee Bean latte. I have this thing about “last drinks.” You know…when there is one swallow of beverage left in whatever receptacle you decide to drink out of? I can’t ever bring myself to swallow that one last drink, no matter how thirsty. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that it surely won’t be as satisfying as the several other pervious gulps. You see now it’s either watered down, muddied with back-wash or the remains of what should have been mixed throughout the beverage. No…that last drink never seems to be something I look forward to. I will admit, that I drank the last drink of my $3.56 latee today…and my friends, it was delicious. I was enjoying the drink so much, having just stepped in from the chilly 50 degree air of a Vegas Christmas, that it didn’t occur to me that this was the much feared “last drink” that I often dodge. After finishing my latte, I thought to myself “back-wash or not, that was delightful.”

There was a lady on the afternoon news today that the press stopped in the mall (reflecting on a piece about the 11th hour shopping crunch) who said plainly “we had decided not to do Christmas this year. We were going to Cabo. But, at the last minute we got roped into things again.”

This year also marks the first time in 11 years my wife and I didn’t pack up our wears and pets and fly or drive back to Michigan for the holidays. While I’ll truly miss seeing my family (including my Grandmothers, two neices who are growing like weeds and my newly married brother and his wife) I did look forward to a vacation of rest. Oftentimes the holidays tend to be as busy as a bustling Best Buy. Calendars are filled with obligatory visits to all four-corners of the family tree and subsequent journeys through slushy wonderlands in the four-wheeled drive sleighs, instead of watching snowflakes gently fall from the warm interior of one’s living room, conspiring and dreaming by the fire (as the pictures are painted so often in movies.) It’s become a double-edged sword. Living so far away, we don’t see family as often as we’d like, and yet, during a time of peace and love…our cups runneth over in the love category…but we return home tired, and rushed to return to normalcy before the break is over.

But, somehow, I felt obligated to offer my take on deciding “not to do Christmas this year.”

My wife recently took a pair of electric clippers and buzz-cut my hair. (Down to 1/2 an inch.) Why? I’m not sure. My love / hate relationship with my ever-growing receded hairline is marked in the annals of history…but I found myself thinking about how I could pull off a short hair-style. This year, with no family to visit, no scheduled appointments, and two-weeks to hate myself if it doesn’t work out…I decided to take the plunge. She clipped…and I sat silently convincing myself “you know, Patrick Stewart is quite dapper for a bald guy.” I didn’t shave my head, mind you. Just clipped…and sat…and then felt the peach skin that was my head afterward….then I went out and bought a hat.

Freshly Buzzed! (Me, not the pug.)

Is it bad? Well…it’s extremely different. It’s very, very different. I’m all about change, but people will tell you that I’m all about “the show” when it comes to the presentation of anything, including myself. (Call it vanity…fine. But when you’re this good looking….! JK)

I didn’t much care for the final result. Who knows…it might grow on me. Truth be told, some of my options are running out…so this might be one of those times that while right now it isn’t exactly what I want…down the road, this might help ease me into an otherwise ice-cold bath when my options are considerably limited. So…I’ll go with it. I’m ready for the barrage of questioning that will surely ensue upon my return to the classroom. (Everyone gets an “F” unless they say it’s fetching!)

I’m looking forward to the Christmas Eve service tonight. Christmas Eve candlelight service is always one to help set the right tone for the coming of the Christ child, and always helps me tune out the holly jolly, mass-produced commercial Christmas, and bring it back to the intimate manger scene on a night long ago. While I won’t be sitting next to my extended family this year, and I surely won’t awake to my niece’s knee in my ribs, jumping up and down shouting “it’s Christmas!” I assure you I will awake to my lovely wife, and the same feeling of joy in knowing that this is a celebration of the birth of the Savior who came to this earth to die for us.

My concern is that my family might think we’re lazy this year…or uncaring. My fear is that they think we would rather not be with them. Well, while that is certainly not true, as we get older and continue to move forward in our own lives we are interested in looking at what might be in the best interest of us, right here, right now. It may not seem like the best decision, or the most sensitive…or whatever, but, often times when a big decision needs to be made, there tends to be questions. So, I’ll insist that this year we made the right decision in staying home…and I’m having a brilliant, intimate Christmas with my wife and dogs….I’ll Skype my relatives and post status updates on Twitter…and we’ll make sure that Christmas cheer transcends time and space.

It wasn’t so bad taking that last swallow of latte. It wasn’t so bad, biting the bullet and lopping off my locks. Looking back, would I do it differently? Maybe. Getting “roped into things” is part of the spontaneity and thrill of having a family. But then again…change is good. Enjoy that last swallow of latte…thinking “who cares what others think. Gimmie a splash of bay rum!” That’s perfectly fine in my book. Just so long as you have a candlelight service to ground you into the true reason for the holiday above all.

To my friends and family, and to all others who are with family, or away from family this holiday season, MERRY CHRISTMAS.


Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, MY "TOP" LISTS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by erikball123

Before I get to the list…let me answer a few questions that are sure to come up in the attempts to spurn any potential backlash. I find that Christmas movies seem to be a personal staple to some people during the holidays and contain crazy things like “special feelings” or “nostalgia.” This list is not an attempt to smash your sugar plums or douse your red-nose. Merely an observation from a talky, simple, Lutheran Drama teacher who likes Christmas.

A few things to consider when reviewing the list:

  • One might perceive some of offerings on the list as “Christmas Specials” (more likely to be found on TV, rather than in the theatres or on DVD.) I say…deal with it. Anything that bring people together in one place at one time to enjoy something with a good message….that’s a MOVIE. (So, church is a movie, school is a movie…and anytime we eat at In-N-Out burger….a movie. Read the bottom of the cup.)
  • I do not have any Hanukkah or Kwanzaa films on here. Not because I don’t believe they deserve to be a part of a blog post like this…but because frankly, aside from “8 Crazy Nights” (which is a cinematic masterpiece!) I don’t know any!
  • I’m basing my choices on what my family and I ENJOY. So, feel free to disagree with me. I love commentary. Review your own list and challenge my views…but don’t say I’m wrong. These are opinions only.


I like this movie. I do. But, not that much. It’s good…the drunk Santa on the float remains as one of the impressions I like to do at Christmas parties the most…and the scene where the little, bratty girl is acting like a monkey is so annoying you just HAVE to laugh at it. It certainly has stood the test of time and people sometimes go ga-ga over the movie, but I personally could never connect with the Santa. He’s kinda pushy at times. Granted he’s elderly and we should learn to be more patient with the elderly…but he’s also Santa, a man of great status. More status requires more responsibility…and a smidge more patience. Smacking people with canes…yeah…I betcha he beats the reindeer too. Rudolph’s nose is bloody red because he “accidentally fell down the stairs.” Abusive Santa. Sheesh. And that janitor guy with the thick accent (“trow it on da floa!”) Gimmie a break. This one remain a Ho-Ho-Hum for me. But….I’ll keep it on a White Christmas Noise as I bake cookies.


Santa: I am happy you came!
Child: Ooh you ARE Sinterklaas!
Santa: Wlll yes of course
Child: I knew it, I knew you would understand me.
Santa: Of couse, tell me what you would like to get from Sinterklaas
(Missing from this clip is when she answers him ) I don’t want anything, I already have everything, I just want to stay with this lovely lady—
Santa: Do you want to sing something for me?
Child: SaintNicolas Little Rascal,
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!
SaintNicolas Little Rascal
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!

19. SANTA CLAUS: The Movie

You won’t begrudge me at least ONE “so bad, it’s good” movie entry, would you? This is a terrible movie, I’ll start off by saying that. However, it’s the only movie I like with Dudley Moore in it, and ANYTHING starring John Lithgow is gold. The movie’s beginning is actually quite clever in telling a unique tale of how Santa came to be. But plot lines rapidly misfire as soon as things are brought into the present. Homeless boys, lollipops that make you fly (with the help of reindeer dust, of course) and still, no one questions Moore’s silly accent. Lithgow is kinda funny at times and we all know he plays the bad guy REALLY good…but it’s one of those movies I tend to watch every now and then, because it’s so….I don’t know…inventive, at the very least. It’s a less-known movie, so subsequently people haven’t seen it. Tell me what you think.


Animal rights activists protested the movie saying that the “loop-dee-loop” scene was cruel to the reindeer. What they didn’t know is that the actual reindeer used in the film were computer-generated. In reality, the producers saved 15 reindeer from being slaughtered from a Dutch farm.

18. FROSTY The Snowman

As far as cartoons are concerned…this is simply not a well-made cartoon. I used to watch He-Man as a kid, growing up. I loved that stupid show…and recently watched a segment of an episode on the internet…and I thought to myself “why did I like this so much.” Frosty is kinda the same way. The story line is as delicate as a snowflake and offers a luke warm villain. (Kinda a cross between Disney’s Capt. Hook and an older Criss Angel in a bad tux.) The rabbit is funny…and the kid who wants to name the snowman “Oatmeal” is kinda funny…but aside from that, this is nothing more than a cartoon made from a popular Christmas song. It’s one of those shows that will be watched every year, as long as you keep putting them on television. I found myself watching it yesterday, in fact. The central theme of the movie is a good one, I’ll admit.


The Gene Autry cover of the song went to #7 on the contemporary charts the year is was released in 1950. In 2007, Kimberly Locke released a cover of the song and it bolted up to #1 on the US Hot Adult Contemporary Charts.


This is such a clever, revolutionary film that brought back the lost art form of stop-motion animation. Tim Burton is a genius and everything he touches turns to gold in my book. I love this movie and hope that it someday makes its way to the stage in some form. (Like Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.) This film earned a lower standing on the list only because it’s not a movie I readily think of when I think Christmas. It’s probably better suited as a stand-alone “good movie.”


Disney REALLY pushed Burton to allow the making of a sequel. They wanted to do a computer animated sequel where Jack visits Thanksgiving town. Burton responded quickly saying that computer animation would have never been an option, and that he’s very protective of Jack and the other characters. He felt that any sequels would cheapen the purity of the characters. I love Tim Burton.


Home Alone is one of those movies I could watch over and over. Not because I believe it is a cinematic masterpiece, but rather it falls into the same category as Caddyshack, Ghostbusters of Dirty Dancing. (I know…insert joke here.) But, every time it’s on TV, I stop and watch part of it. I say the reason the show is such a success has to do with the post Ferris Bueller genius of John Hughes and a wonderful comedic team of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern (who is under appreciated, in my book.) The scene where a tarantula is placed on Harry’s face…I still say is the world’s BEST onscreen scream ever. Brilliant. But, I like this movie as a holiday favorite because of the scenes involving the mysterious old man who salts the sidewalks in the neighborhood. Kevin and the old man’s eventual relationship eventually brings forth a genuine moment later in the film when the old man’s family greets him for the first time in years, that ALWAYS brings tears to my eyes. It’s gold.


The movie Kevin watches in the film “Angels with Filthy Souls” pays tribute to the James Cagny film “Angels with Dirty Faces.”


Here we are. I have a feeling my wife will be slighting upset that this particular show is lower on my list. It has become nothing short of a tradition in my house to watch this movie curled up on the couch, covered with our pets, sipping cocoa and admiring the roar of our gas fireplace that I turned on with a festive flick of a switch. I do like the story and find myself singing “..put one foot in front of the other…” at the weirdest times…but it’s not exactly my favorite. Which is odd, because I can’t imagine a Christmas without it. The one thing it DOES have going for it…I hate the villain. Burgermeister Meisterbuger is just heartless and stupid (bad combo.) In the movie when they say “and the Burgermeister’s kinda died off…” I’m like WOOT! (And if you’re ever face to face with the biggest threat to Christmas or good will….just gift him a choo-choo, and life is good.)


Watch the kids in town square when the Burgermeister is burning their toys. All of them are crying…but the one who says “We’ll never play again” is smiling…and remains smiling. What the stink is that about?


I might upset a few with this one as well. While I wouldn’t gather the kiddies around to watch this one on Christmas Eve, I would say that it’s one of the coolest of the “bad” monster movies. Great concept for a little monster set in the most innocent of settings. That creates instant mayhem. Keep in mind, I’m NOT a horror movie fan. Don’t like em. But this is just more of a creepy monster movie…and who can forget the infamous microwave scene?


There’s a plot hole at the beginning of the film. At the beginning of the film we have kids coming home from school. It’s Christmas Eve! Boy, school in that district must really stink!

13. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (George C. Scott Version)

There are a billion Christmas Carols out there. (Everything from a halfway decent Patrick Stewart version to a hyped-up musical theatre version with Kelsey Grammar to a Mr. Magoo version that’s boring after like two minutes.) One of my favorites has always been the George C. Scoot version. If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend it. It’s good, old fashioned storytelling at it’s finest, and Scott and darn good at playing the money-grubbing miser. The kiddies will find it boring, because anything in black and white is unwatchable, right? But, this is Christmas movie material to drink Egg Nog by, for sure.


Maybe I’m missing something…but in the movie Scrooge says that his father always held a grudge against him because his mother died after giving birth to him. And yet…he has a younger sister. What the….? The milkman?


You gotta love Bill Murray. He’s a great Scrooge, and the contemporary take on the tale is exactly what the 80’s needed. It has all the elements. FUTURE: Murray’s career has certainly take a HUGE booster shot since those days and is considered one of the greatest comic/tragi-comic minds of our time. PRESENT: Rarely does a Christmas go by that I don’t watch the movie at least twice. It’s on TV all the time and is still very funny today. PAST: Look at the cast of washed-up comedians who at that time were considered forces to be reckoned with. Carol King, Buster Pointdexter, Bobcat Goldthwait….there’s even a reference to Mary Lou Retton!! Hilarious.


In the movie when Claire gives Frank a business card it reads “Operation Reach Out.” When Frank visits the shelter, he walks by a sign that says “Operation Outreach.”


Jim Carrey as the Grinch seems like a perfect fit. Most people I talk to who are younger than me LOVE this movie. Most of the people older than me, hate this movie. I’ll agree that the plot is padded like a down-pillow to stretch it to two-hours. (I mean, does anyone REALLY care that the sex-pot Who winds up with the Grinch later? And, really…what’s the attraction?) The story revolving around Cindy Lou Who looking for the real reason to celebrate Christmas is a better choice and I would have been happy with just that plot line. (Any moment involving the “young Scrooge” which is obviously a little person in make-up….is just plain boring.) But every moment with Carrey in the cave…or interacting with Max…is very, very fun. (“Max! Pick out a bow!”) The one-liners are fast and hilarious…and I love watching it. I suppose every movie has slow parts, right?


Carrey sat in the make-up chair every day for hours to get “Grinch-a-fied” and was known to hum Christmas carols in a “dream-like” state as it was applied.


All I have to say is “they can’t ALL be at the top of the list people!” People LOVE Rudolph. I do too. But, this particular stop animation has such a deep nostalgia (I would argue) because of the cheesy-ness of it all. I love the Burl Ives link (who I still think sounds a little flat when he sings. Just me.) and the credits at the beginning that lists all the songs that he sings. I betcha that was in the contract negotiation. Such a big name, Burl Ives…now he tours with Lady GaGa.

I like in the movie how all the reindeer are JERKS. I mean Comet is every P.E. teacher us wimps hated in high school. (You know who I’m talking about…the teacher that would side with all the jocks an make fun of the weaklings.) Again…we have a jerk of a Santa. Why people like this guy in this movie, I have no idea. He back-talks Mrs. Claus (and check out the food on the dining room table….grey. Ick.) He disses on the elves during choir practice and makes a big deal over his one-man musical number “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle.” (“I’m the King of Jingle-ling!” Really? Where’s your crown?) I’ve met several Kings of Jingle-ling…and they’re usually performing one-man musical acts too. (They’re more like Queens…but whatever.)

Gotta love Yukon Cornelius…”I changed my mind!” (I still shout that throughout the house sometimes!) The Bumble is a fascinating character and the only beast I’ve known to be stopped dead in his tracks because of swift dentistry. And….finally, let’s brake the ice on Hermie. Ah, Hermie. Where do I begin? Purists will refuse to hear anything remotely insinuative about this character. (After all, it wasn’t unknown to mock those light in the loafers back in the day…take a look at the Cowardly Lion, another character I adore more than words.) But, we LOVE how eccentric Hermie is and it wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t witness him fixing the doll’s teeth or performing amazingly bad pig impressions. God bless Hermie.


All the female reindeer in the show have no antlers. Reindeer are the only deers where the females also grow antlers.

9. ELF

Elf is one of those movies that came at the height of one actor’s career and at the time was lumped together with other silly movies like Blades of Glory, Bewitched and Wedding Crashers. At the time…was it funny, sure…but was it considered anything MORE than that? Absolutely not. Just take a trip back in time and see what I’m talking about. One-hit Christmas wonders, who attempted to make a long-lasting Holiday movies that just didn’t “stick” after its first go. “Fred Claus”-Vince Vaughn…”Deck the Halls” – Matthew Broderick….”Surviving Christmas” – Ben Afflick…and dare I go there…”The Santa Claus” with Tim Allen. The only reason this lump of coal got so many sequels and airtime is because of the attachment to Disney. For the love of all that is holy, have you seen how many AIR BUD and LAND BEFORE TIME sequels there are??

Elf on the other hand has legitimate staying power in my opinion. It successfully satirizes the stop-motion animation of the late 50s and 60s (down to the Elf costuming!) and it has an endearing plot with a semi-decent ending. (Plus it has about a BILLION one-liners that are said throughout the household time and time again. Someone in your house at some time has said “Buddy, the elf…what’s your favorite color?” I guarantee it.


Originally, Jim Carrey was signed to play the part of Buddy. Also, in the beginning scenes at the North Pole, the elf Ming Ming….yup, that’s Peter Billingsly who played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”


I’m surprised at how many people HAVEN’T seen this particular special. It follows the Muppet Show gang to Fozzie’s mother’s country home for an “old fashioned” Christmas. Of course there is a blizzard, and havoc ensues…but what is unique is that it brings together all of the Muppet worlds which, at the time, remained quite segregated. Doc and the Fraggles, along with Sesame Street favorites are all part of the festivities. It’s fun to see the Swedish Chef and Big Bird have a dialogue about Christmas dinner…and all the while the Chef is fixing to cook up the giant bird! (It’s also funny to see how alike Henson and Oz’s collective voices are when you put their characters in such close proximity. Ernie and Kermit…Bert and Fozzie….wow.) It’s a simple storyline filled with gags…and sure there isn’t much substance, but again it’s only 1/2 hour of merriment. It’s good fun, and I have to watch it every year.

By the way…this year “Muppets: Letters to Santa” came out and is available on DVD. Not bad at all! I really liked it! (I love PEPE LA PRAWN. One of my new favorites!) It’s a decent offering with a fun storyline. I recommend it. “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas” however….skip it. New aged mumbo jumbo mixed with a healthy holiday dose of political correctness. Add Whoopi Goldberg…and you’ve got a taste in your mouth like bad egg nog.


This special has been riddled with edits since its original release. Entire songs of “Sleigh Ride,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Home for the Holidays” were cut due to complaints regarding music rights. While these cuts are unfortunate, this Christmas special remains quite enjoyable.


The Grinch is one of my favorite bad guys. He’s so upset and “heartless” because he’s forgotten about and isolated on a mountain top. That’s everyone’s biggest fear, isn’t it? Being alone. Especially at Christmas. I love how sympathetic this particular bad guy is and I’ve always had a connection to the story as a result. The narration is fun and Boris Karloff is brilliant. This, the original adaption of the book, focuses solely on the story of the Grinch only tying in Cindy Lou at one point. There’s something really okay about this in the sense that the later Jim Carrey version fails in having too much going on at once. I mean…who care about the Mayor in the Carrey version…and do we need another bad guy? This version is just right, and I cannot get enough of poor Max the dog. The shot of him as the Santa coat mannequin, clinching the pin cushion in his teeth is classic.


The lyrics to the song “Fahoo Forays” were made to imitate classical Latin. After the special aired, the studio received letters asking for a translation from people who believed them to be real Latin.


Everyone’s favorite blockhead always turns up around Christmas time in this whimsical special that follows the Peanut gang in their attempts to put on a pageant-like show. I love this show because the message is so very relevant and the characters (while little children) are still very much like everyone we associate with every day. There’s the domineering Lucy who has to be the Christmas Queen…Schroeder, the under-appreciated artist, Linus the one everyone’s quick to disregard, but the one with the most foresight, and of course, Charlie Brown…who can’t understand why Christmas has become so materialistic. I find the show charming, heart-warming and funny. (And my wife paid me the ultimate compliment the other night when we were watching the show and identifying the characters with our friends…and she said I’m Snoopy.)

Linus’ single-spotlit telling of the coming of the Christ-child is poignant and beautiful. One of the most magical, memorable moments from ANY Christmas movie and one I will cherish always. I fear one day, in a whirlwind of distraction, some executive will edit that part of the special out. At that point, my friends, from a media / commercial standpoint, Christmas will be lost.


During his famed speech, Linus, who is well known to be dependent on his security blanket, actually lets go of it when he recites these words: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” which is from Luke 2:10.


Chevy Chase. You either love him or hate him. Regardless of your feelings, one must admit that Christmas Vacation has earned a coveted spot in the traditional Holiday movie line-up. In my opinion, it’s the very best of all the Vacation movies (which, in hind sight, isn’t saying much….Vegas Vacation=barf) but it’s also very true to the burdens we all encounter from time to time in hosting family and tradition. Clark’s unwavering determination to make sure his family meets a “good old fashioned family Christmas” is nothing short of inspiring and in the end, (*spoiler alert*) while the Christmas miracle comes with a promise of a bonus check…and that’s about it…it still leaves you with a warm gushy feeling in your heart as abundant as cousin Eddie’s one-liners. A fast favorite for those who have never seen it. (It does have some swear words…but the name-calling scene is hilarious and rivals the swearing scene from “What about Bob?”)


The only Vacation movie to not feature the Lindsey Buckingham song “Holiday Road” throughout the entire film. Also, the actress who played Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) was the original voice of “Betty Boop.” This was her last appearance in a film. She passed away shortly afterward.


Okay…I have a thing for Muppets! Seriously, though, this is a fantastic version of the classic Dicken’s tale. (Of course, featuring the famous Muppet craziness and charm.) The Henson writing team is very clever and how they wrap a story around their army of kooky characters. (Fozziwig…The Marleys, Robert and Jacob, played by Statler and Waldorf…and of course, if you’re going to have a telling narrator, who better than the great Gonzo.) The role of Scrooge being played by Michael Caine (who was BORN to play the role) is a great idea. I believed his every move…unlike some special guests to the Muppet specials who look like they’re just going through the punches. It’s a warm, classic retelling that I love more than mistletoe and homemade gingerbread.


This was the first feature-length production in which Kermit’s voice was not provided by Jim Henson (who had recently died). Steve Whitmere took over the role. Also, Michael Caine to this day, considers Scrooge to be one of his favorite roles.


Stand back! Prepare yourself. This movie remains to be the most quoted movie in my household and one of our favorite movies of all time! It’s a brilliant and simple story with iconic characters we can identify with nuzzled in a time somewhat forgotten by today young ones. It’s nostalgia personified. The Red Ryder BB Gun is always at the top of my Christmas list, and I wouldn’t know what to do with the thing if I ever received one. But, just like the “Christmas Story,” our narrated character lays it all out for us in the hopes that we may connect in similar plights in our collective family / holiday journeys. Randy is such a lovable little dolt, Mrs. Shields is everybody’s elementary school teacher and the Old Man…if you can’t find something about this character that reminds you of growing up with your own father, then maybe you need to watch the movie again.


According to Director Bob Clark, Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, “The Old Man”. However, Clark didn’t learn of this until later and the studio didn’t want to pay Nicholson’s fee anyway, which would have doubled the budget. Regardless, Clark says that Darren McGaven was still the better choice and was born to play the role.


Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s offering is a brilliant old-school movie musical that never gets old. I love the off-beat shenanigans of Kaye, the droll set-ups of Crosby…and the goofy review-style productions they offer in grandiose fashion. The theatre geek in me would love to be transported back in time to just see the movie sets for these types of movies. Amazing, and a great story. True the buttermilk by the fire “counting your blessings” scene is cheesy…and I still get miffed at the nosey receptionist who misinterprets a phone call and turns events on their ears. But, what would an old-fashioned movie musical be without the sudden conflict and inevitable resolve at the end. The songs are some of my favorite of the season and I will follow this “old man” wherever he wants to go!


The “Sisters” comedy act that Crosby and Kaye perform was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set and the director thought it was so funny that it was written in.


I think Jimmy Stewart is so wonderful in this role, and this iconic story is one that will forever be the reason I get going when the going gets tough….look past the negative…and always be thankful for what I have in life. A bit overly dramatic? Perhaps, but seriously, this remains my favorite film of all time. The sentiment in each moment and the warmth in George’s devotion to the company and his family and the resolve that find him literally saying grace at the head of the table with his family and friends surrounding him. It’s a beautifully filmed movie with a brilliant script. Clarence, although goofy, is still simple enough to be thought upon as what an innocent, on-looking being from heaven might actually be like if among us. And the villain…the crippled Mr. Potter…is superb. He’s horrible in his selfishness and with an air of Scrooge and a hoarse rumble of the Grinch…he helps to generate a character we can all relate to. We get behind George from the very beginning and rally him at the end. It’s one of my favorite traditions to watch this movie on Christmas Day. I love it.


As Uncle Billy is leaving George’s house drunk, it sounds as if he stumbles over some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped some equipment right after Uncle Billy left the screen. Both actors continued with the scene (“I’m all right, I’m all right!”) and director Frank Capra decided to use it in the final cut. He gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”

For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman


Well, there you have it folks. I would encourage you to think about your top 20 Christmas movies (or top 10, or top 5) and post them here in the comments section. Maybe I forgot one or two, and the point of this blog post is to shine some light on some amazing movies that you and your family might enjoy this holiday season. I would like to wish you and yours Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

React…with JOY

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2009 by erikball123

If you’re anything like me, then you’re finding yourself buzzing through your everyday with the Christmas station on. You might find yourself oddly complacent with the fact that Aaron Neville’s “Let it Snow” and anything remotely “Christmas Beach Boy” related is considered fine music “for now.” I think the holiday season is the only time of year I find myself actively letting things fly with regards to things I absolutely despise. (I mean…does anyone actually like the dude who sings Feliz Navidad? Who is that guy? I heard a Jimmy Buffet version for the first time this year and almost wet myself with excitement!) Perhaps it’s the spirit of Christmas. Perhaps it’s good will toward man? Perhaps it’s the long lines, materialism and overpriced Wii system and Wii Fit accessories that I MUST HAVE!! I tend to think it’s the later. Weird? Not really. Joy to the world seems to come quickly around Christmas time…and why not!?

I won’t get into the whole “it’s okay to wish someone Happy Chanukah, but God forbid we say Merry Christmas…instead we blanket a Happy Holidays around everything so as not to offend anyone” thing. That’s an overwhelming argument that I refuse to get into anymore. Instead I’ll continue to say Merry Christmas to the Starbucks cashier, knowing I’ll piss off the occasional atheist. “Thank you for the Latte, Devin…I’ll pray for your soul. Nice eyeliner.”

Instead, I wanna say that Christmas is full of times for us to cuddle by the fire and watch a multitude of seasonal movies about family disfunction that we all can relate to. Tragedy, even in its simplest forms (Clark Griswold, for example) is something we all deal with. Whether it’s stubbing your toe on the cedar chest…or giggling at someone’s impression of Hitler (a mass-murdering poop head)…we all find great comfort in laughing at tragedy and/or someone else’s expense.

Today in church pastor talked about Joy. (I remember…because the pink advent candle was lit.) Here’s the thing…I guess you could say that my mind works like a Swiss watch maker. I tend to over-think things. I take what someone is saying and dissect it over and over to see what was on the inside. While this tends to give me great topics for this blog…it also leaves me over-analytical and paranoid half the time! But, I digress…Pastor said something kinda cool. He said “Joy is not manufactured…it’s a reaction.” It got me thinking about times in my life I found great joy. Personal experiences where I didn’t paint a smile on my face or conjure up a chuckle to accompany someone’s not-so-funny joke. A true, joyful experience.

When I thought of these times…I realized that he’s right. My joyful feeling, and likewise my fond memories of past times were unscripted and they totally caught me off-guard.

As human beings we tend to come together in times of great tragedy. 9-11 pops into my head right away of a time when the whole country picked up a flag and said “I’m an American…and this sort of thing won’t ever happen again, so help me God.” As time went on, our sorrows and memories of that event faded slightly…and we remained proud, but not as proud as that moment when others NEEDED us to be proud. We still feel it. Anytime I see footage of that tragedy, I’m transported back to that day when I felt united with a country I believe in, and people I care about.

Christmas has a tendency to do that for us. You don’t have to be a Christian to have to believe in Peace on Earth and find comfort in family and friends in a season of giving. You don’t have to send cards to people you never talk to, or sings carols, or drink egg nog, or tune the radio station to Karen Carpenter or Burl Ives. Santa Claus is lots of fun…but he can’t stuff Peace on Earth in everyone’s stocking.

The Holiday season is a time for remembering. I have a friend who lost someone very dear to her this past week. I have a student who cried when we as a school group sang for a senior center, because she misses her grandma, who was called home last year. I have family far away that we will not be seeing this Christmas because of financial concerns and the trip is expensive. But in light of these “tragedies” (big or small)…we can find hope. That’s why tears flow…that why a song on the radio, or the smell of gingerbread, or the sound of a baby laughing can bring us back to a time when we experienced joy. Christmas is a special time of year for just that reason. It’s is referenced and celebrated because of the coming of the Christ child. The Savior that was sent to earth to die for our sins. It’s easy to say “find great joy in knowing that your sins are forgiven.” I have such a hard time imagining that someone would die…just for me. Doesn’t seem possible. But I do believe. And I do find that joy. Not because I met Jesus. Not because I personally witnessed his death and resurrection…but moreso, because I have witnessed what God has done in my life and the lives of those I care about. Christmas is a time for reliving the joy in our hearts that we share with one another. It’s as innocent as the thrill of hope displayed by a child opening a gift….or as complex as someone’s mended relationship that was once sorted, complicated and painful. Joy can be found in all of those things.

When I hear “Joy to the World” on the radio…and I think of the lyric “let every heart, prepare Him room.” I like the idea that perhaps our hearts are indeed filled with joy at Christmas…and as crazy as our schedules get this time of year, we need to remember that the joy in our heart needs to blanket the love we have for our Lord….like a $20 Snuggie. I love my Lord…and I love Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Both bring me joy….and I think there’s room in my heart for both.

But I need to make sure that there is.


Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2008 by erikball123


I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong. There’s something to be said for SUVs. I’m the first to toss off-colored banter around whenever a Junior rolls by in a new Hummer. When one of my favorite senior students proclaimed the arrival of his brand new Escalade (he even jingled his keys at me, like announcing the arrival of Santa Clause or something), sure, I scoffed. But, during my long drive to Michigan from the great state of Nevada…I learned to respect the SUV.


We rented a Ford Explorer. We didn’t really have much of a choice, but then again I don’t necessarily research exotic fruits before venturing into Albertson’s and test drive a Kiwi either. It was roomey, had a new car smell and a big back area for the dogs. I was surprised and happy. So, we loaded up the front-wheel drive sleigh and took off early Friday morning.


My wife and I drove in shifts. She’d take 6 hours…I’d sleep in the back. I’d drive 6 hours…she’d sleep. I haven’t told her yet…but those books on tape DID in fact keep me up a bit. (But in a good way.) You see, you can drive a bulldozer through the bedroom and NOT wake me up I’m such a heavy sleeper…but getting there….that’s another thing. We stopped twice at Rest Areas and tucked some blankets up into the windows and hunkered down for a few hours before raiding the coffee machines and heading off again. (Indiana has the best coffee machines.)

I can’t say that I was looking forward to the drive. Okay…I totally didn’t want to drive. (I feel better now that I’ve come clean.) But looking back…it wasn’t such a bad drive. I expected to be annoyed by the hulking SUV. It wasn’t so hulking. I expected to tire of the lengthy road trip. It was very engaging and not so tiring. I expected the trip to take FOREVER! We pulled into Jackson, MI after 2 1/2 days of driving. Not bad!

Here are a few things I found interesting during our little trip:

  • Stephen King tends to favor certain names in his short stories. Names like Gage, Vince and Garaby.
  • Never stop at anything called FIESTA MART. Isn’t a fiesta a party? We need to work on redefining some of these gas stations, I’m thinking.
  • Kentucky is brutally honest with their landmark names. Let’s just say the DIRTY RIVER….yeah. Pretty dirty.
  • I found that you cannot truly appreciate cuisines from foreign lands until you’ve actually consumed the stuff. Foods like “CAKESTERS”….(I think they’re French)….yeah, not so good. “BETTER CHEDDARS”….not so bad. “MOONPIES”…..pretty stinkin’ disgusting. And the McRIB SANDWICH. Yeah….that was interesting. First and foremost, I’m STILL finding bar-b-que sauce in the car. (How it got on the ceiling, I’ll never know.) Second…I didn’t know meat could be bouncy. I suppose I should just keep quiet. This is all being brought to you from the guy who has heightened the CHICK-O-STICK to its own food group. Still, all things considered, I’m adding “Colon Flush” on next year’s Santa list.

Are you jealous of the McRib...or my killer Ear Flap Fleece? Both you can't have.

  • I’ve noticed that public restrooms and restroom etiquette varies greatly from state to state. New Mexico has a LOW cleanliness standard. I suppose the Land of Enchantment wants to keeps things adventerous and mysterious. Arizona is fine. Texas is fine, if you’re wearing a cowboy hat, otherwise you get “looks.” Oklahoma is the “Sooner State” which I didn’t understand right away…but after 7 hours crossing that state….PHEW! I was wishing I had reached that rest area sooner rather than later. My wife felt the brunt of Tennessee when she had to hold the stall door shut for an elderly lady so that she may use the facilities…and then the elderly lady did the same for her. You make fast friends that way…and that’s why Tennessee is the Volunteer State. (This is totally true. I can’t MAKE stuff up like this.)
  • There is a HUGE chain of waffle houses across the southern states. That’s no big deal, I suppose…but what’s funny is that they’re all just called “WAFFLE HOUSE.” That’s like naming a store that sold furniture “FURNITURE STORE.” In hindsight, I suppose this was funnier at 1:00am when I first thought about it!

So, as Emily and I took turns snuggling down, fully extended in the back of the SUV with our Great Pyrenees, Pug and Chihuahua / Terrier mix, we were able to enjoy many things let alone each others company, which in this VERY busy world, seems to be something we take for granted often. I forgot how much I enjoyed my wife’s company and I’m ashamed I am to have to admit that.

I suppose you could say that we were lucky during the trip. The occasional cluster of dirtied snow on the side of the road outside of the car certainly didn’t compare to the flurry of white dog hair inside the car. My pug served as a surrogate hot-water-bottle sprawling across my lap. Her snoring provided much needed accompaniment to the late night silence. Sometimes I would wander over onto the shoulder’s rumble-stripes to try and fall into sync with her cadence.When we got to Michigan it started to snow hard, and we wound up with three more inches later that night. We just missed the next wave of weather. (That blustery offering turned into the most amazing packing snow in the history of the world. I don’t have my brother’s arm for pitching, but I’m still a dead-eye, it turns out!)

I found that gas prices went down as we got closer to Michigan, and I suppose I’ll trade the more expensive gasoline for three gained hours coming back. It’ll be a wash.

Another thing I found out was that when you are in close proximity with someone, be it your significant other, family or…well, Pug…you wind up complimenting them in some fashion. Not with an everyday verbal gesture, that’s not what I mean…I mean, in character. I think when we were all made, and came into this world…God purposely created us in a way to help others find Him better. Allow me to elaborate. My wife knew I wasn’t keen on the long trip…but she made sure certain aspects that were weighing heavy on my heart, were approached with care and consideration. Her burned CDs featured renditions from Harry Connick, Barry Manilow, Michael Buble and the Muppets. She indulged me to read chapters from “The Princess Bride,” our favorite book. She challenged me to think positively when the two giant Tupperware containers full of gifts in the back of our SUV, kept toppling over in back.  Instead of worrying about tying them up we’ll just “not take right turns anymore,” she said. (She also said that the “change oil” light is merely formality.) I thought she was the crooner and I was the comic!


My amazing niece Rachel and her crazy Uncle Erik.

In the end, we coasted into the choppy Jackson side roads with a great sense of accomplishment. Our families greeted us and I currently sit across a fire sipping coffee having eaten a chuck of chocolate yule log after Christmas Eve dinner. It’s enough to finally excuse my family for not giving in to my curiosity in allowing me to make some traditional, British plum pudding. (Everyone says it’s nasty…but I HAVE to see for myself!)

You know…I find it super-duper easy sometimes to translate Bible stories and message to my life’s experiences. But occasionally I struggle with notion that we suffer the same types of burdens and feel the same emotions that those who lived long ago did. For example, I can’t imagine Mary and Joseph toiling over grungy breakfast food at a mom-n-pop diner like the HUDDLE HOUSE. I also can’t imagine it was a particularly warm welcome at the Inn that memorable night. I would have been very distraught if I got to my destination and found NO warm welcome. I have it too easy to relate it seems.


The pastor at the church we went to for the Christmas Eve service talked about Hope. As I sat there in the same church I was married in ten years ago…remembering that day like it was yesterday…looking at the large hand-carved wooden sculptures on the alter (still thinking they look kinda like giant Jesus Jenga pieces waiting to be stacked on top of each other)…I thought to myself as we embarked on our lengthy journey, that the hope my wife and I shared as we looked forward to rolling into Jackson, MI could not compare to the hope Mary and Joseph desired that night. The hope they shared after the baby Jesus was born. I wonder if they were scared about dust storms like I was worried about snow drifts. I wonder if they were worried about Mary arriving to the Inn safely like I was worried about black ice and semi trucks rushing by. They clung to that hope and it helped Mary sleep at night, I’m sure. I’m not sure however that DURING their journey, in such close proximity and against such adversity, Joseph and Mary complimented each other. I don’t know…but I hope.


How can I even think about that type of hope in Christ? I suppose attempting to connect in any way to the Holy Couple is not realistic. Instead, as I warmed myself in the glow of the candles during the rendition of “Silent Night” at the end of the service…as I look at the same alter that blessed my marriage….as I look at my two beautiful nieces, as I gaze into the bulging eyes of my hot-water-bottle Pug, and as I dote on my amazing wife… I can at least remember that with every mile I put on the SUVs ticker and every Moonpie I conquer …I’m getting closer in my personal journey across my own desert. Everyday…not just Christmas day…I’m growing in my love for the Lord. I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m a paranoid, anxious, ambitious dude who can’t help but hope for the best. It’s what helps me fall asleep in the back of our rented Ford Explorer at night. (It’s no donkey…but it’ll do.)

SUVs have there place in the world I suppose. I know they could use a few more Hummers saddled with snow plows in Jackson, MI! But I can tell you this, just like there is room in this world for the silliest, most impractical SUV you can find…I’m sure there is room in this world for a silly, impractical drama teacher with a hope in the salvation.

Jesus Christ cannot be found at the end of the lengthiest highway in the world…but I bet, that when it is all said and done, and the wrapping paper is out for the garbage and the egg nog has been slurped up….Jesus will still remain steadfast in my heart and I can rest assured that I may continue my journey with a star to lead me.

I don’t need a rest area to settle that into my little brain.

Merry Christmas.


Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2008 by erikball123

Outside the Faith Lutheran Chapel / Performing Arts Center - Dec. 18, 2008

I wonder if non-believers of Christ handle fragile, glass Christmas tree ornaments with the same “in heaven’s name, don’t even BREATHE…or it may break-like” care as they do their equally fragile, and (some would argue) sensitive beliefs? I betcha they break a few. I also bet…when they do, they simply thrown them away and buy some more.

That’s what is comes down to, isn’t it? A secular Christmas. At least it is for those who have a problem with the inclusion of a religious symbol, a Christmas Carol or even a simple “Merry Christmas.”  Some passers-by are as droopy as the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. And what about those who sit comfortably in their chairs at home watching A Charlie Brown Christmas? If they decide they don’t approve of Linus taking center stage….they don’t simply sit, endure and complain. No, no, no! They simply press a button and change it to something else, that appeals to their liking.

Christmas is becoming a private holiday that we have to celebrate behind closed doors in order to avoid offending anyone. I mean…it’s “JOY TO THE WORLD” not “joy to those who believe exactly what I do, and appropriately demonstrate it through worship and outward like-mindedness.” That doesn’t have the same snappy ring to it, does it?

It’s as if every cry of “Joy to the World” is accompanied by an  icy snowball in the face of those not wanting to receive it. What’s the matter with proclaiming JOY at the coming of our Savior? Even if you don’t believe in my Lord…what’s the matter with wanting to spread JOY? If you don’t even want that…you can hit the mute button, you know, or change the channel.

Thirty of  my students (the school’s drama troupe) and I wanted to spread the joy and sing carols at a local BORDERS bookstore before sipping cocoa and sending each other off for the Christmas Break. The store we wanted to offer our sleigh-driven merriment was a big BORDERS bookstore located in an area 2 miles from the school next to a BEST BUY and a BED, BATH and BEYOND. A perfect place to fa-la-la-la-la while freezing our freshman fingers off, I thought. We spoke with the manager (and for his protection, we’ll call him Penjamin) who told us that because “only a small amount of Border’s customers are of the Christian faith, we’d be upsetting the others” and he turned us away. (Let’s just forget the fact that the last poll I read marks 82% of U.S. Citizens claiming to be Christian.)

Even after we offered to include secular songs into our “play list” (who doesn’t like a rousing offering of FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, my niece’s favorite.) still, no dice.  I guess the fine print his mission statement includes: No Manger, No Menorah, No….whatever Kwanzaa peeps believe….No Lawsuit. He said that Borders is “very concerned about potentially offending their customers,” but they continue to sell ANY book to ANY person, ANY time. A contradiction, some may say. I found it even more interesting when I visited the Borders website that on the front page there is a large section highlighting the Christmas and Christian books. Under shipping there are several options to get your order there BY CHRISTMAS. And under the staff picks…I found a variety of Christmas CDs and books. Other religious-based offerings were shockingly missing.


Located on the front page of BORDERS.COM - Dec. 18, 2008


BORDERS Shipping Options - From Website: Dec. 18, 2008

Granted…I’m sure Penjamin (Santa’s little helper working inventory on the second shift), doesn’t speak for Borders world-wide and I don’t hate Borders…per se. I was just disappointed.  I can’t help but hope that there are businesses, companies, and individuals who still wear their “Merry Christmas” on the sleeve of their coat, laced through their coats arms like mom used to thread our mittens so that we don’t lose them.  But then, my question is, why do people continue to bury their heads in the ground when faced with religion? With all the holiday buzzing and running here and there all around the square…why do people only pause a moment to holler “STOP?”

Wasn’t it Tiny Tim (Dickens, not ukulele) that said he hoped that people would see that he was crippled so that it would help them remember who made the lame beggars walk and blind men see? Why should we be any different? Shouldn’t we be walking, living, breathing examples of the saving grace of Christ? Are we all JUST AS CRIPPLED as poor Tim? Even Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree was transformed when a bunch of people CARED for it.

“Even Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree was transformed when a bunch of people CARED for it.”

Why should anyone else have a say in it? By law there is nothing unconstitutional about displaying religious symbols (I looked it up), and I can’t imagine any non-Christian grabbing a torch and leading a movement to replace the pluralistic Mall-of-America with a secular one. It would be too much work. Then again, so is getting up out of our chairs to change the channel, right? Without the remote, we’re lost.

I want people, young and old, good and bad, frozen as an icicle or warm as a chestnut…to know who my God is. I want them to see that there is a hope of salvation through Jesus Christ…and I want that joy to be the fire that ignites their Christmas spirit.

Did you know that we can all enjoy EGG NOG year ’round? Sure! I know, I’ve seen it in the stores. We don’t need Christmas to come around to sprinkle the nutmeg. “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!” is a call to action. A battle cry! A prayer. A mission statement. A comfort. A reminder. And that sort of thing doesn’t just come around once a year.

We had snow in Vegas yesterday. Lots. Today school was canceled and I celebrated my first Vegas “snow day.” (I also spotted a winged pig in the air too! Ha!) I sat at home looking at the snow falling steadily thinking, “I would have never thought this could happen.” (Then I turned over and went back to sleep!)


When I woke back up and thought about it…I was reminded that when the Lord comes again…we won’t expect it. There is no Weather Channel that forecasts the coming of Christ.  That moment will surprise us…then we’ll all have to stop for a snow day.

So, why should we allow those that are too busy dealing with economy ruin our Christmas? Why should we let those afraid of minor, potential backlash cancel our merriment? Why should we let things like the weather, the gift-buying, the travel, the unsettled family matters….the hurt, the resentment, the hate….the fear…..why should we let that SNUFF out Christmas, like Scrooge extinguished the Ghost of Christmas Past? We shouldn’t. Ignorance is fleeting…passions soar…emotions run deep…and like any director tells his/her ensemble of actors, “you’ll never appease every audience member.”

Should we force those with equally wet Uggs and frost-bitten agendas to sit, hear, and learn the story of the Christ child? We should want to, I suppose. We should offer, I bet. We should try, I know. But, as sinful beings I suppose we can ONLY try. In the meantime, instead of stirring waters and challenging the boundaries of any store manager’s “borders”….I’ll don my Merry Christmas hat…stand tall….remember the reason for the season….and take my kids to Barnes and Nobel, who gladly accept us.

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