Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Christmas Carol

The Christian season of Advent starts tomorrow. Advent, or the four Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is celebrated in many ways by Christians in different cultures around the world. In some European countries, they use an Advent wreath. An Advent wreath usually consists of greenery and four candles, one for each of the Sundays. Each Sunday night the family gathers together, lights the appropriate number of candles, and sings carols or tells stories about Christmas. This time is often used to teach about the Second Coming of Christ as well as his birth over two thousand years ago.

In our family, we celebrate Advent a little differently. Each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we gather together in front of the television and watch a different version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, while eating popcorn and oranges and drinking hot chocolate. We watch them in a certain order every year. It’s part of the tradition. The first week, we watch a funny little Dutch animated version we have on VHS in which Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, looks just like a cartoon monkey. Then, right after it’s finished, we put on the George C. Scott version. We have to get an early start because we double up the first week. The second week, we watch The Muppet Christmas Carol, and then sing “We’re Marley and Marley” in our heads for days. The third week, we watch the Patrick Stewart version, but the kids insist we call it the Patrick Henry version for some strange reason. On the last Sunday before Christmas, we watch the musical, Scrooge, starring Albert Finney. Then we all sing “Thank You Very Much” and “Father Christmas” in our heads for days.

Some years we get tickets for the Hale Center Theater production and see it on December twenty-third also, the last night they perform it. They do a really good job. We should know; we’re kind of experts. We’ve been doing this since the kids were little. We pretty much have A Christmas Carol memorized. If we each took a couple of parts, I’m sure our family could manage to pull off our own production on the spot without too much difficulty.

So Advent starts tomorrow. I’d better check the popcorn and hot chocolate supply and go out and buy some oranges. Enjoy the season with your family in whatever way you choose, and if you want to borrow a movie, come on over! Merry Christmas to all, and, in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone!”

How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain in Just a Few Easy Steps (across the parking lot)

I’ve developed a new strategy for avoiding Holiday Weight Gain. (Notice the capitalization. Holiday Weight Gain is a proper noun – the name of an annual event that starts with that first bag of Halloween candy you buy that is supposedly going to be for the trick-or-treaters and ends with the “better finish off all these treats” marathon that takes place on New Year’s Day.) We’re all familiar with the more common strategies, like just taking one bite of something (impossible), loading up your plate with fresh veggies (gotta have the dip), or using a smaller plate (just doesn’t fool me). You can also refrain from putting eggnog in your cart every time you go down the dairy aisle at the grocery store. And when you do buy it, don’t hide a carton all for yourself in the back of the fridge. And during the holidays, when you eat chocolate chips out of the bag, take smaller handfuls. But these strategies all involve resisting temptation. You probably won’t be successful one hundred percent of the time. We all know that there are two parts involved in achieving or maintaining a healthy weight: eating less and exercising. My new strategy involves the exercising part. Here it is: Every time you shop, park as far away in the parking lot as you can. This shouldn’t be a problem. There are always plenty of spots out there. I know because I’ve been doing this since Halloween. And then run all the way to the store entrance. Or the Mall entrance. And then, when you’re done shopping, run all the way back to your car. (Which somehow always seems farther. I think it’s because the store is big and your car is comparatively small. Bigger things look closer…) Mini-workouts! You get an especially beneficial mini-workout when you push a cartful of groceries all the way out to your car. I did this at Walmart the day before Thanksgiving. You just can’t go home and eat everything you bought. You may be thinking “But I’ll look like an idiot!” Who cares? Think about how you’ll look by January if you don’t increase your activity now. Besides, people will just think you’re in a hurry. And you probably will be; you have to get to your car, and it’s way the heck out there!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Cure for Hiccups - Read All About It!

A few days ago I witnessed a miracle right in my own home. A medical miracle. We had a group of college students over for Sunday dinner. After dinner, we sat around the family room, talking in small groups, reading from The Complete Far Side, looking at photo albums, and waiting for the dessert to finish cooking. ( Naturally, I’d forgotten to put it in the oven when I should have. ) Karyn, one of our guests, had a case of hiccups. She was sitting on the sofa by Nate.


“Why don’t you go get a drink of water,” suggested a guy named Rob from across the room. (hiccup) “That usually seems to help.”

“It does?” I asked. “Has drinking water ever cured your hiccups?”

“Well, no,” he admitted. (hiccup) He looked annoyed. I think he just wanted to get her out of the room. I think he must be a lot like my mother.

My mother hates hiccups. I don’t think she’s ever had them, herself, but my sister seemed to get her share as well as our mother’s when we were kids. I can remember my mother getting really irritated, smacking my sister, and sending her out of the room until she got over them.

She didn’t smack her hard.


Pretty soon everyone in the room was talking about hiccup cures. There’s the paper bag method. There’s scaring the person. Drinking a glass of water upside down (which I’ve yet to see anyone attempt). My husband once tickled the hiccups out of me. That was before we were married. If he tried it today, I’d probably slug him as hard as I could.


Someone mentioned a young girl who was in the news. She’d had the hiccups for something like seven weeks. I told about my neighbor’s elderly father who recently had the hiccups for fourteen months. They finally took him to an acupuncturist. After working on him for forty minutes the hiccups stopped. For two weeks. Then they came back.


“I’ve heard,” Nate said softly to me, rather hesitantly, while Karyn was listening to another conversation across the room, “that if someone offers them twenty dollars if they can hiccup one more time they usually go away.”

“You’re kidding,” I say. And without pause, “Hey Karyn, Nate will give you twenty dollars if you can hiccup one more time!”

Nate squirmed a bit. Didn’t say he would but didn’t say he wouldn’t either. There’s an obvious risk involved, and Nate’s just a poor college student. And I’m a cheapskate.

A gasp from Karyn.

“He will?” She turned to Nate. “You will?” She was pretty excited. She’s just a poor student, too.

“Yes,” I insisted. “One more hiccup, and he’ll give you twenty dollars.”

She got all excited. The room was silent. We all waited.

And waited.

She couldn’t do it.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

Karyn was disappointed. (I wonder how long a poor student would be willing to have hiccups for twenty dollars.) Nate was relieved. I was thrilled.

I can’t wait to try this on someone. Maybe one of my kids. I wonder if it would work if you offered a smaller sum. Like maybe five bucks. Twenty is a bit risky. It probably depends on the individual with the hiccups. I bet my husband could be cured with an offer of as little as two-fifty. He’s a bigger cheapskate than I am.

I’d better tell my neighbor about this. They’re probably shelling out a lot more than twenty dollars for the acupuncturist. And someone should try to contact the young girl who was on the news. And while we’re at it, maybe someone should submit this to the New England Journal of Medicine.

And I’d better tell my mother about this. I think my sister is planning to visit her soon.

We Need A Little Christmas - Or Do We?

So when is it okay to start listening to Christmas music? When I was a kid, we had a hard fast rule at our house: No Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving. On that Friday, we’d get out the Christmas albums. Our stereo system had a record player that let us stack up five records at a time. One by one, they would drop and play. I can still hear the sound of the needle in the groove of a record as it rotated on the turntable: that rhythmic circular-sounding swoosh in between songs, and even during songs if you were sitting close enough. After I was married and had a family, my father recorded some of our Christmas albums for me on a cassette tape. You could hear that record player sound on the tape. Very nostalgic. Now, of course, we no longer have the means to play a cassette tape or a record.

The Christmas music rule was my mother’s idea, and she was backed up by my sister. I would have listened to Christmas music year round. I sang Christmas carols year round. I drove my sister crazy.

My son, Jeff, is the same way. He loves Christmas music. One year, he found a radio station that started playing “All Christmas music, all the time” the day after Labor Day. He listened to it in the car, while doing his homework, in his bed at night before going to sleep, and he’d set his alarm to wake up to it. He must have been the only one listening though, because it mysteriously went off the air by mid-October.

Jeff took piano lessons for years. He loved it when fall came because that’s when the teacher would start him on Christmas music. He quit piano lessons a few years ago when he got really busy in high school. Now he only touches the piano between September and December. And he only plays Christmas songs. Really. That’s it.

Jeff’s been checking the radio stations every day since Halloween.

Once they begin playing Christmas music on the radio, I admit that I listen, even if it’s still pretty early on, but I don’t always like what I hear. Unfortunately, what they play on the radio is often pretty cheesy stuff. For instance, there’s The Christmas Shoes by a group called (of all confusing things) New Song. Uggghh. There’s another one that refers to Jesus as a homeless person. It’s pretty bad. We always quickly change the station as soon as we can “name that tune.” There’s one called Santa Mouse that they play once in a while that is so ridiculous that we actually listen to it. There’s a version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that my daughter and I laugh and laugh about. “Rudolph mit your nose so bright, von’t you guide mein sleigh tonight?” Only the guy sings it with an Irish accent. It’s hilarious.

I’m a real traditionalist. Give me the old crooners like Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Karen Carpenter? Yes. And let’s stick to real Christmas songs that have been around for decades. All of the Christmas carols of course, and things like I’ll be Home for Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Jingle Bells, and Sleigh Ride are all great. I don’t care for most of the pop artist Christmas recordings, like “Last Christmas I gave you my heart. The very next day you gave it away.” Please. That is not a Christmas song. It’s a pop love song that takes place at Christmas time. If pop artists want to record themselves singing real Christmas songs and they don’t mess with them too much, that’s okay. For example, I absolutely love Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band doing Santa Claus is Coming to Town. That’s a classic.

Yesterday afternoon Jeff was out running an errand in the car. My cell phone rang. I answered it and immediately heard the silky smooth tones of Andy Williams singing Silver Bells. It’s started.

Tis the season! According to some people, anyway.