Friday, December 25, 2009

Books, Music, Nostalgia, Animals, and Other Gifts--A Christmas Journal

It's time to pull back a bit on this peaceful night in Mt. Prospect Illinois and look closely at the world within my immediate grasp.  There's time enough to concern myself with applying my own piece to the mosaic of the world as I wish it to be.  Tonight, I am reflecting on the Christmas that just was.  Anxieties about family dynamics, weather, budget and deadlines aside, I am happy to say that my reflections are of a quiet and welcoming small world was a pleasant place to be this holiday.

It was a "wet" Christmas instead of a white one.  Travel was easier without the treacherous snow and bitter chill we are accustomed to.  The brief appearance of the sun, upon our arrival at my parents' house this morning, was an omen that grace would descend on our festivities, and keep the usual petty conflicts in check

It was a 4-generation celebration: My parents, my sister and her husband,  and Mark and I, along with my sister's two boys, and the 1-year-old son of one of them.   This combination is a whole lot of raucous fun when everyone is behaving pleasantly and moving along on the same wavelength (like the set of "Moonstruck").  Otherwise, it's a minefield.  Today, the minesweepers did their job...all was calm, all was bright.

It was an active and delicious day.  I found my old film editing equipment I used in college, and, together with Mark and one of my nephews, we looked at old motion pictures I had made back in my impetuously creative days.  The equipment is ancient, but the films held up perfectly.  Soon, I will have these converted to DVD, and then to my files, and I will share some of the more interesting ones here.

Shrimp, lasagna, salad, and wine was our simple, traditional and filling meal.  My parents' tiny kitchen barely sat all 8 of us plus a high chair.  And there is no dishwasher...that's my job, and always has been.

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--Thanks to the generosity of my special friends and family, my re-invention has received a boost from the thoughtful items that were presented to me as gifts.

  • "True Compass", the memoir of Ted Kennedy--  A bright light of insight for my political education. A look back from the 1960's and up to his recent death, and, for me, a speculation of his impact on the health care bill, and what could have been if he survived.
  • "A Night at the Opera", by Sir Denis Foreman-- Subtitled 'An irreverent guide to the plots, the singers, the composers, the recordings."  A hilarious yet comprehensive study of the greatest operas, a detailed description of their librettos, arias, history, even running times; and a lively appreciation of the art form itself.  Sir Foreman would seem to have a formidable grasp of opera and excellent credentials..and it looks like fun!
  • "Sicilian Odyssey" by Francine Prose-- A travel memoir and history by one of my favorite writers; the book is described as a guide to "a land whose 'commitment to the extreme' makes its history more vivid, its sun hotter, its cooking earthier..."  And it's the birthplace of some of my more colorful ancestors!
  • "To Dance With The White Dog" a novel by Terry Kay.  A famous story about a recent widower and the bond he forms with a mysterious white dog.  I received a first edition signed collection grows...
  • "Girls Like Us", by Sheila Weller-- A triple-biography of musical contemporaries Carole King, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell....A revel for me, and an addition to my eventual expertise on '60's pop culture and one of my musical heroines.
Music and Such:
  • French and Italian Phrasebooks and Dictionaries--I need to pursue my love of languages and plan our future travels accordingly.
  • DVD's--"Joan Baez How Sweet the Sound", and "Leonard Cohen Live in London"--  A PBS Baez Documentary and a 2008 Cohen concert film.  More nourishment for my '60's musical soul, and material for an "artistic" memoir some time in the future...

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Mark and I surprised each other by presenting each other the Christopher Isherwood Novel "A Single Man".  Now we can read it "together".   I have discussed Isherwood in recent posts this month--he has emerged anew as a literary favorite of mine. It is a brief book but packed with beautiful phrases and ideas.  (The movie just arrived in Chicago).

We saved our gift exchange for this evening.  After an energetic two days with our families, we were ready to have a relaxed time, and enjoy the reactions to each others' surprises.  The snow began to gently fall once we were safely in the house.  Scrabble ensued, and a look at new DVD's.  My mind drifted out to those whose lives are somewhat foreign to my own, lives that are more, or less, comfortable, than mine....and was content in the moment.  I resolved to pay attention to the less comfortable ones, human or animal.  I also breathed a sigh of gratitude for friends, old and new, who always have a welcome place to spend in our company, and for Mark, who allows for my hours of writer's solitude, and makes sure I am not out in the cold.

~ ~ ~
Christmas Eve was at the home of Mark's sister Diane and husband Steve, and happily Mark's mom was able to join us.  Helen is the force that unites the family, and the teller of family tales and history.  She worked all year on her pottery and presented me with a painted ceramic rabbit, and a lovely and delicate ornament of a white deer.  Fortunately, she was feeling fine and laughed hard at our "witty" banter and crazy photo opportunities.

I have such fond thoughts about Christmas Eve last evening.  I used nostalgia as a theme in my gifting.  I found books for Helen about the Great Hotels of St. Louis, and Lighthouses of North Carolina, both cities where she once lived.  For Diane, I presented a book on the old amusement park "The Highlands", a favorite childhood locale for her and Mark.  And for Steve, I sleuthed and researched, and called his old home town of Millstadt Illinois, which is too small for it's own book!  The woman who runs the Historical Society sent me their annual calendar with vintage pictures, along with a personal note. She knew his family, and was able to relate news regarding his old childhood home's renovation. This calendar, with pictures of places and people he recognized, was something he never expected, and his (and everyone's) appreciation was palpable, and sincere.

A favorite moment: Dusty, Steve and Diane's cat, entering the kitchen on Steve's shoulder.  Christmas is a time for children, and animals too.  My favorite figures in the manger scene were always the creatures.  As I posted recently, having them around me this time of year reminds me of the giddy pleasures I knew in childhood. 


  1. Would love to see some of your old films.

  2. Join me on Second Life. I'm building a community of writers. I'm Netera Landar there. Check out my coffee shop for author chats and now my conference center.

  3. What a wonderful Christmas holiday you and Mark shared. I'm so happy for the both of you! And you are so right about the family dynamic and when it is working well what an amazing thing it is. Rare sometimes, but amazing nonetheless. LOL! I am impressed by the terrific and very thoughtful gifts given and received. That in itself is a gift if you ask me. Looking forward to seeing your old films! Another really stellar post, Tom! Keep up the great work!

  4. I am working on gathering and converting the old super-8 film stock into DVD. Denise...sorry for my delay...I will check you out, or send me a link for me to follow.