Christmas Stories: Aftermath

I hope everyone had a good Christmas Eve and Christmas. I didn’t have the foresight or the energy to schedule a post for Christmas day and hope everyone had better things to do than check out my blog (though now there’s no excuse). I wanted to share some pictures of our trip into NYC for Christmas Eve with you guys. We–that would be the missus, her parents, my parents and myself–got up bright and early and headed down on the Connecticut/New York train into Grand Central. After a much-needed bathroom break we headed over to 30 Rock and went ice skating, which is something my mom wanted to do last year, but the line was way too long. We actually only waited in line about 20 minutes after the rink actually opened. The room where you rent the skates is way WAY too small and should probably have two doors for in and out, but the skating itself was a lot of fun. It’s been a while since I’ve been skating, but I felt pretty sure on my feet, even though they hurt like crazy thanks to the weird skates. Anyway, here’s some pictures of that big statue and the big tree from the ice I took with my phone.

From there we headed over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Saks and then got some lunch at a place called La Bonne Soupe. I took another pic of St. Patrick because it’s just an impressive-looking place. Lunch was pretty great, La Bonne Soupe is, as I’m sure you’ve deduced, is a French place. I had a mushroom and barley soup that was fantastic. The meals also came with soup, bread and I got a Spaten, so I was happy all around. After lunch we swung by a friend’s workplace and got a nice little tour. Thanks again for that! From there we walked straight down Broadway about 20 blocks south. We passed through Times Square and even the Charmin Bathroom, though we didn’t stop in cause we didn’t need to use it, though the line didn’t look too long from outside. We then made our way down to Madison Square Garden where we saw the Cirque du Soleil show Wintuk, which was pretty weird (more on that in an upcoming post).

After the show, I walked them to Grand Central the way I used to walk to work when I was working in the city. I can’t walk down 6th without the lyrics to “This Used To Be Our Playground” on a loop in my head, but it was nice. Then we walked by Bryant Park and I was shocked to see all kinds of temporary shops, an ice skating rink where I used to eat and a bar and restaurant. It was nuts. Then we came home and that was that.I don’t know if you can see it in this picture, but one of the temporary shops had these sculptures made out of metal parts. They had a c-3PO, R2-D2 and Yoda that looked awesome. Maybe I’ll get those for Christmas next year.

Christmas itself was great and much more relaxing. The presents flowed like wine and everyone got some pretty great stuff. I scored a bunch of geeky stuff I’m sure I’ll be posting about more specifically and also a mandolin, trumpet and drum machine. I don’t know how to play any of those things, but expect some rad music to be posted at some point. Breakfast and dinner were fantastic and then we played a few rounds of Apples To Apples which was a lot of fun. So, I was pretty exhausted after the last two days, but I think a good time was had by all. Hopefully it was the same for you!

Christmas Stories: Christmas In New York

As I mentioned in my long-winded post about the Charmin bathrooms in NYC, I’ve gone down into New York City around the holidays almost every year since I moved out here in 2005. Seeing as how I am actually down in the city right now (internet magic!) with both sets of folks and the missus, I figured I’d post some pics from a couple different trips down there. First up we’ve got some pics from 2005 when Em and I checked out some store windows and store fronts, saw the big tree and even swung by St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The second group (starting with Grand Central), is from last Christmas Eve when both sets of parents went into the city with us. In this batch you’ll see some images of Grand Central Station, Serendipity, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Radio City Music Hall, the big tree, some stores and the Empire State Building lit up in green and red. Pretty great stuff if I do say so myself.

Christmas Stories: “The Christmas Shoes” Wants To Make You Cry

Up until today I was blissfully unaware of a song called “The Christmas Shoes.” While getting some groceries and running some last minute Christmas-related errands the missus and I put Christmas music on, as per usual and this song was all over the place. It’s a super depressing song by a group called NewSong and it’s about a kid who wants to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother so she’ll look good for Jesus (you know, when she dies). According to the Wikipedia page the song actually started as a story passed around the internet. NewSong turned the tale into a song. Donna VanLiere turned the song and story into a book of the same name and then CBS turned it into a TV movie starring Rob Lowe. Crazy right? I in no way endorse listening to this incredibly sad song, but if you’re feeling steely, give it a whirl.

Christmas Stories: Elf (2003)

Em took yesterday and today off so we could get ready for Christmas. I really hadn’t realized that Christmas was only a week away. Luckily, we’re pretty well set up. All our presents are coming in from Amazon, most of the decorations are up and we’ve got our tree. We just need to wrap presents, decorate the tree and make the food for when the parents come. While putting lights on the tree today, we turned on Elf, which is one of my two favorite Christmas movies from the last 10 years (the other is Love Actually).

I first saw Elf in college and it really helped me get in the holiday spirit thanks to Will Ferrell’s infectious naivete and joy with all things Christmas. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it’s got Zooey Deschanel singing my favorite Christmas song of all time “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” so that helped. Christmas time during college was always a bit weird for me, you’re trying to get in the spirit and have a good time with holiday parties and what not, but then you’ve got all these exams looming over you and travel plans back home. One of my favorite parties every year was the post-exam Christmas party. Everyone, even the most intense students, seemed to just cut loose and have a good time at that one.

So, I was really glad when I saw Elf and it got me in the spirit. The story follows Ferrell, as Buddy the elf, but he’s not really an elf. He was an orphan who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sack and stowed away to the North Pole. Now, he’s 30 and discovers that he’s not actually an elf and wants to meet his dad James Caan (his mom passed away). So, Buddy heads to New York City and finds his dad married (to Mary Steenburgen) with a kid. Ed Asner plays Santa and Bob Newhart plays Buddy’s adoptive dad Papa Elf. Buddy explores NYC, meets his jerk dad who thinks he’s crazy and becomes part of dad’s family. He also falls for Zooey and they start dating. It’s all very festive and sweet. I know a lot of people are probably sick of Ferrell’s man-child routine (Step Brothers, Old School, Talladega Nights, Semi-Pro, pretty much everything he’s done, really), but it really serves this movie because he’s not playing it with any meanness or irony (like there is in Fred Claus). Buddy really is one of the happiest, nicest people you’ll ever see on screen.

I give a lot of the credit for this goodness to director Jon Favreau. The first 10-20 minutes takes places in the North Pole. There’s just such a great, fantastical consistency to the place. It feels classic and up-to-date at the same time. The difference in size between Buddy and the elves is really well done and outside, you’re treated to several claymation-like characters. Even the snowflakes look big and cut-out and fun. It’s little touches like that that really impressed me about Elf and gave me a lot of hope back when Favreau was announced as the Iron Man director and everyone was freaking out. I actually like this movie so much that it’s not filed away with all the other Christmas DVDs, it’s in the binder with the rest of my pre-moving collection (which quickly filled up once I started working 15 minutes away from a Best Buy). So there you have it, my thoughts on one of my favorite Christmas movies.

Christmas Stories: Guitar Tree

There’s a great town in Michigan called Frankenmuth. The main strip of the town is set up like a Bavarian village, so you’ve got a lot of German-style stores with little nick knacks, cheese hauses and rival chicken restaurants right across the street from each other. There’s also a gigantic Christmas store on the outskirts of town called Bronners. It feels as big as two Wal-Marts. You can get all kinds of decorations, ornaments and pretty much anything you can imagine related to the holidays there. I used to go with my parents because the company my dad worked for a while back had their headquarters nearby. After that we’d go back year after year. Em’s even gone a few times. After we got married, my parents treated us to a bunch of decorations there, including some you’ll be seeing in the coming days on this blog. Anyway, this is all a long-winded way to tell you guys that we saw this awesome guitar-shaped, Elvis-themed Christmas tree there that I kind of wanted to get even though I in no way support fake trees and am not that big of an Elvis fan. But just look at this cool tree, it’s even got machineheads and strings made of lights. Awesome!Here’s a few close-ups of the ornaments on the tree and there n the bottom:

Pretty awesome, right?

Christmas Stories: Giant Popper

Last year, Em and I had Christmas at our house for the very first time. We had her parents and mine and everything went really well. In an attempt to start a new tradition, Em and I picked up a pack of Christmas poppers (or crackers if you’re from England and read the Harry Potter books) at Marshalls. For those of you who might not know, you grab both ends and pull. There’s usually about 10 inches long and have little toys and paper hats inside. This year, while looking for this year’s batch of poppers for this year, Em and I found the above (and below) gigantic popper. I tried taking the above picture with just the little Bumblebee Mighty Mugg for scale, but Milo decided he wanted in on the photoshoot, which works even better for scale (he’s a BIG cat). It’s just over 29-inches long and we’ll be saving this one for New Year’s Eve (don’t worry, we’ve still got the smaller ones for Christmas). I can’t freaking wait, it supposedly serves six people! I’ll try and take some video on either my phone or the Flip I asked for for Christmas and get it to you guys when I’m no longer hung over.

Christmas Stories: White Christmas (1954)

In my mind,Holiday Inn and Whilte Christmas will forever be linked. Not only do they¬† both star Bing Crosby, include the song “White Chrimstas” and take place in a big inn in the country, but they also involve lots of singing and dancing thanks to songs by Irving Berlin (again, just like HI). This time around, Crosby’s teamed with Danny Kaye and their love interests are Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen respectively. Crosby’s already a famous song and dance man in this one, but he went into the army to fight in WWII, where he met Kaye. Kaye saves Crosby’s life and convinces him to form a duo. Both become very successful and end up meeting the ladies because one of them forges a letter to them, claiming to be their brother, who served with the men in WWII. The guys fall for the girls and Kaye connives his way into following the girls to Vermont where they’re schedule to play an inn that just so happens to be owned and operated by their general from WWII. Since the weather has actually been pretty warm, no one’s going to Vermont, so the guys bring their act up there and end up doing a surprise party for the general. There’s also a lot of back and forth relationship stuff that would probably just confuse people who haven’t seen it.

Like all the other older Christmas movies I watch, I came to this one thanks to my parents and used to always get it confused with Holiday Inn. The plots are pretty similar, but I like that this one’s in color and the dance numbers are more upbeat. They even do a faster dance version of the Abraham Lincoln song (the one with the infamous blackface routine), plus a tongue-in-cheek Fosse-ish dance that pokes fun at the new-for-the-time style. There’s a lot of good humor and nice moments. The songs, for the most part are good, though I’m not a big fan of “Snow.” That’s just one small song though. Oh, also, Rosemary Clooney was quite the looker back in the day. I see where George gets his looks.

Christmas Stories: Worst Christmas Songs Ever

This was a tough call. I really dislike “The 12 Days Of Christmas.” It’s just annoying and boring and we get, your true love likes to give you birds. Did you know that PNC has actually been keeping track of how much all the items would cost every year since 1984 called the Christmas Price Index? The first year they all cost $12,623.10, this year $21,465.56. My least favorite version of this song was one I heard only once in college. I had the radio on while showering before class, so I couldn’t turn it off. I was trapped listening to Nancy Sinatra and Frank Sinatra Jr. singing this awful awful song. Thankfully I haven’t heard that version since and have adeptly dodged any other forms for the most part. Even the internet must hate that version cause it’s not on YouTube.

But then there’s also this little number by a woman named Connie Francis called “Baby’s First Christmas.” It’s the only song on my Time-Life Treasury Of Christmas 2-CD set that I not only skip, but have disabled on my iTunes. I just can’t stand it. The only thing that could make it worse would be putting the song to weird CGI baby videos from the Sims.

Christmas Stories: Christmas Peeps

Has there ever been a holiday themed treat so divisive as Peeps? It seems like you either love them or hate them, with very little room for a middle ground. I’m not big fan of them (I’d rather eat a toasted marshmallow without sugar on it), but I’m long past hating a kind of food. If you don’t like something, hey, don’t eat it. Done and done. Anyway, I knew the Peep domination had spread from Easter to Halloween and into Christmas, but I hadn’t seen them myself until a recent trip to KMart. You’ve got chocolate mousse reindeer, Christmas trees and snowmen to choose from if that’s your thing.

Whether Peeps are your cup of tea or not, that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy them in one way or another. You might be expecting a YouTube clip of a Peep in the microwave (and it’s coming), but first up, check out this mash-up (marsh-up?) of Peeps and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

I was also pleasantly surprised by this video of a monster bunny Peep attacking Lego people.

And of course, because you waited so patiently, here’s a Peep in the microwave.

And here’s three in a basket in a microwave. Epic.

Christmas Stories: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is officially my favorite Christmas song. It’s also the one standard that’s been in my life the shortest period of time. Somehow, I have no recollection of this song before hearing Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell sing it in 2003’s Elf. I was instantly hooked and not just because of my (at that time) newfound lady crush Ms. Deshanel. I did a little research (ie typed the song’s title in over at Wikipedia) and found out the song was written by a guy named Frank Loesser back in 1944 to sing with his wife at holiday parties. He eventually sold it to MGM and they used it in a 1949 movie I’ve never heard of called Neptune’s Daughter. Since then tons and tons of people have taken a crack at singing this duet. I did some searching on YouTube and here are a few of my favorite renditions.

Zooey & Will in Elf.

Rainn Wilson & Selma Blair switch gender roles in this Gap video from 2008 that I don’t remember.

Ha, looks like the whole gender switch thing was done first in Neptune’s Daughter in this clip starring Red Skelton & Esther Williams.

Tom Jones & Cerys Matthews. This video is weird, like something out of Twin Peaks.

Lady Antebellum last year on Today. Skip to about 1:25 for the actual song.

This one’s only audio and pictures, but you can’t go wrong with Dean Martin & Martina McBride.

Rudolf Nureyev & Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show (again, switching the parts) in the steam room.

There was also a version on SNL back in ’86 sung by Sigourney Weaver and Buster Poindexter that I’d like to see. Well, I’m off to dinner, have a good one!