Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Christmas playlist

I admit it: I have a lot of Christmas music. I like Christmas music. Some songs or albums have memories. Some I just like. Some are new discoveries. Some are golden oldies.


  • All-Star Christmas (various) I think this is the only album I have with "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" by Elmo & Patsy.
  • Arthur Fiedler's Christmas Pops (Boston Pops Orchestra) Orchestras just have a way with Christmas music.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (Vince Guaraldi) Is it even Christmas without Charlie Brown?
  • Chex Holiday Classics vol. 3 (various) I got this one free in a Chex cereal box a number of years ago.
  • The Chipmunk Song (The Chipmunks) This is the only song I have from their Christmas album. I generally find them annoying, but this one is a classic.
  • A Christmas Album (Michael Crawford) He's best known for playing the Phantom in London and on Broadway. The man can sing.
  • Christmas at Home (Donny Osmond) I admit I love Donny Osmond. Is that wrong? Some songs I've never heard anywhere else include "Who Took the Mary Out of Christmas" and "The Kid in Me". 
  • Christmas Cheers (Straight No Chaser) The original group from IU, singing their a capella versions of Christmas songs, including the studio version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
  • The Christmas I Love (André Rieu) I have fond memories of seeing André Rieu in concert with my grandma. He leads a fabulous Strauß orchestra.
  • Christmas Songs of the Season (various) I don't know if they still do, but Kohl's used to sell a Christmas album every year to benefit their Kohl's Cares for Kids charity. This is the version from 2000. 
  • A Christmas Together (John Denver and the Muppets) I so wish they would release the special this is from on DVD. I love this album. Some of my favorites include the medley with "Alfie, The Christmas Tree", "The Peace Carol", "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (one of few versions of this song I like), the story of "Silent Night" and they sing the first verse in the original German,  "When the River Meets the Sea", "The Christmas Wish".
  • Elvis Presley Christmas Duets (Elvis and various) Just what it sounds like: artists did duets with recordings of Elvis.
  • Elvis' Christmas Album (Elvis Presley) This is an older album that only has 12 songs. There used to be a lot of versions with the songs just in different orders.
  • Get Music - Holiday (various) I got this free online years ago.
  • Holiday Pops (Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra) I admit it: I'm a Keith Lockhart fan. 
  • Holiday Sing Along with Mitch (Mitch Miller and the Gang) I grew up listening to this one. If you want a Christmas album with easy to sing along with tunes, this is the one to get. 
  • Holiday Spirits (Straight No Chaser) Yep, I have both of their Christmas albums. Their version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is one of the few I like. (I hate that song.)
  • If Every Day Was Like Christmas (Elvis) I'd have a "Blue Christmas" without Elvis, and this is his complete Christmas recordings. 
  • Listen! It's Christmas (Johnny Mathis and CeCe Winans) This was offered by Hallmark a number of years ago. Johnny Mathis is another one I can't have Christmas without.
  • Merry Christmas (Bing Crosby) When I bought the album, it was called Merry Christmas but is apparently now White Christmas. Bing is a classic. You can't have Christmas without Bing. Some songs here you won't hear elsewhere include "Christmas in Killarney" and "Mele Kalikimaka" and "Adeste Fideles" in the original French ("O Come All Ye Faithful"). And of course he does his most famous one: "White Christmas".
  • Music of Christmas (IHM Choral) This is an album made by the choral group at my mom's high school. 
  • Now That's What I Call Christmas (various) A mix of old and new - some of my favorites are Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song", Bing Crosby & David Bowie singing "Little Drummer Boy/Peace of Earth", John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band singing "Happy Christmas", "Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters, Gloria Estefan's "Love on Layaway", Burl Ives singing "Holly Jolly Christmas"... I could go on.
  • Platinum Christmas (various) Modern pop stars sing Christmas songs. 
  • Snoopy's Christmas (The Royal Guardsmen) Snoopy faces the Red Baron on Christmas. It's a classic. 
  • A Soap Opera Christmas (various) Essential for any soap fans from the mid-90s. 
  • That Christmas Swing (Dave Williamson Big Band and Singers) I love big band music. I love swing music. I love big band swing Christmas music.
  • These Are Special Times (Celine Dion) Yes, I have her Christmas album. Got a problem with that?
  • Twisted Christmas (Bob Rivers) This is for when I need something irreverent. There are several albums in the series, but I only have the one. "Joy to the World" on electric guitar should be a classic. Seriously, that track alone is worth the album. One day I may pick up I Am Santa Claus if only for "O Little Town of Bethlehem" set to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun" (it fits perfectly, thus enhancing the irony.)
  • Ultimate Christmas (The Beach Boys) Yep, love the Beach Boys. "Little Saint Nick" is now a classic, but it was on the young, hip side of this album (the other side is more traditional) when it was released.
  • When My Heart Finds Christmas (Harry Connick, Jr.) My favorite original tracks are "When My Heart Finds Christmas" and "(It Must Have Been Ol') Santa Claus"
  • 25 (Chicago) I love horn rock. Even at Christmas.
Amazingly, with 440 songs, there are still three albums I miss. Alabama Christmas and Christmas II, and Kenny Rogers Christmas were perennial favorites growing up and I still miss those. Maybe one day I'll have them. 

So what are your favorite Christmas songs and albums? Is there anything "must have" that's missing from my collection?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The God of Black Friday?

I've been reading headlines and listening to radio stories about Black Friday. And they make me ill.

Here's a sampling:

Sharp elbows: Shoppers scuffle on Black Friday
Violence mars some Black Friday shopping events
Black Friday warriors: They just keep on shopping
Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers

All the violence, all in the name of good deals, is horrifying. I hope those people who did fight and use pepper spray are ashamed of themselves, but they probably won't be. All they will see is that they beat the other guy and saved a lot of money.

The one line that sticks out the most is from the third article linked above: "They shop straight through the night, fueled either by caffeine or just the thrill of the almighty discount."

Now, I'm not a religious person, but where is the Christian Right on this issue? They spend so much time telling everyone else how to live their lives, insisting that Jesus is the answer. They thump their Bibles when it suits them, but they aren't offended by that one statement.

What about that statement sticks out? If you didn't catch it, they have compared discounts to God. Go look up "almighty"; I'll wait here.

Is stuff really worth all that? If this is supposedly a Christian nation (it isn't, but that's the argument from certain corners), where is the outrage that people are so consumed by consumerism, that the spirit of Christmas has been lost in a gluttonous haze of things and more things?

I forgot: the same folks who shove their Bibles down everyone's throat conveniently forget that same book when it comes to defending capitalism and the "almighty dollar". Because they can worship both their God (and Jesus) and money.

Besides all that, the "need" to get everything at the lowest price at the expense of family (leaving holiday gatherings to shop), of decency (pepper spraying other shoppers, elbowing, pushing, fighting), is beyond my comprehension. There are plenty of sales. They don't require agressive behavior. They don't mean people get robbed at gun point in the parking lot by someone who wants to get an even better deal (see the second article linked above).

I guess if it were just consumerism, I would watch in bafflement, as I usually have, wondering why anyone would want to go fight the crowds to save a few dollars. The violence of the last several years just makes the whole Black Friday tradition disgusting to me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Thanksgiving visitor

Ah, Thanksgiving morning. Time to make the mashed potatoes, our contribution to the holiday dinner. I settle the boys with some cartoons while they eat breakfast, giving myself a peaceful kitchen.

As I step to the sink to begin washing the potatoes, I look out the window and see a deer munching on some leaves.

6 point buck having breakfast
Now, our backyard is fenced. Three sides have 6' wooden fencing, but the back is just chain link. Deer have never jumped the fence - the pickings are too easy elsewhere.

In amazement, I walk to the dining room, raising the shades to get a better look. I startle him.

Isn't he beautiful?
He's a six-point buck. A blacktail deer? He watches me watch him, eventually deciding I'm not an immediate danger. I notice he is favoring his right hind leg, walking on three. He probably hurt it jumping the fence. Now why would he jump it? Was something chasing him?

There aren't many options when an injured deer is in your yard on Thanksgiving. Everything is closed. We don't want to call the police to take care of it. He can stay, at least for today. We'd rather not start the holiday with a bang.

He found a safe place.
I fear his leg is broken, but maybe it's just sprained. He seems to be ok other than that. He walks across the yard, finding a sheltered place to rest. We open the gate, giving him a way to leave when he's ready.

When we come home that night, he has moved to a new spot in the yard. He seems to like it here. 

He rests here, protected.
He's gone now. He was back in his favored place this morning. I tried to put some water out for him, thinking he might need some. I stayed well away, but still spooked him. He jumped the fence, still limping, and left. 

I hope he's ok. I hope he heals and lives a long life. At least we gave him a chance. And if he doesn't make it, he'll go back to nature, into the natural cycle of things.

But this Thanksgiving, we had a visitor.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I am thankful for...

There are many, many things to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Eve. Before I start my list, grade school style, there are two thoughts I would like to share. First, LeVar Burton tweeted this earlier today: gratitude = grateful + attitude Second, I've read a lot of posts in the last few days with tips for surviving Thanksgiving with the family. And I find it sad that family is something to be endured for so many people. Maybe we're boring, but I am so glad our family avoids all the drama, that we get along and can have a good time without reminders to "be respectful". So here's my Thanksgiving survival guide: Remember that this is your family. If everyone can do that, no one has to go home in tears. Unfortunately it seems there are a lot of people who forget this and make each other's lives miserable. So, this Thanksgiving I am thankful for a caring family, a great bunch of wonderful friends, our reasonably good health (Chris's current cold is minor compared to what we could face), a home that is more than a roof over our heads, Chris having a job he likes, being able to pay our bills, Chris finishing his degree this semester, our loving cats. I am so grateful we have opportunities to do what we love and that, when things go wrong, we can remind ourselves that they are first world problems. I am thankful we can afford to put food on the table, that our kids have shoes and warm coats and a safe place to sleep at night. There are so many things to be thankful for, but I think that's a pretty good list. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giraffe cake adventure

Wil loves giraffes. This year for his birthday, he wanted a giraffe cake. As any good parent would, I searched online for a giraffe cake pan.

Did you know giraffe cake pans are hard to find? There is the Wilton generic animal face pan, which is discontinued, but still to be found on eBay. And you can download directions on how to decorate it as just about any animal, including giraffes.

But that wasn't good enough. Because Wil saw a full body giraffe cake pan and wanted that. So I ordered it.

Imagine my surprise when I saw how tiny the pan is.
Yep, I didn't read the description thoroughly. The cake pan is not much bigger than a cupcake. 

On to plan B. What can you do when you realize your cake pan is not right and the birthday party is in less than a week? Well, I could have ordered something else online and paid for express shipping. But I decided to be Creative!

What did I come up with, you ask? Cupcake giraffes. 

Cupcake giraffes.
The birthday boy loves them. He especially loves that there are two! And that he gets a tiny giraffe cake all to himself while the rest of us have cupcakes.

Decorating the giraffes was pretty easy. I used some yellow dye left over from a previous Wilton cake I did for the frosting. Chris added cinnamon spots because he mastered the shaking technique.  We lined them up in vaguely giraffe shape. The long necks are the key.

Will they win any decorating contests? Nope. But they won the only one that counts. I have a happy kid.

Oh, and the cake is spice cake with cream cheese frosting, which we chose as Wil's special cake for his first birthday and have done ever since. It's a nice fall cake. (Sam gets strawberry cake since that's a nice summer cake and he loves strawberries.) 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just because something is....

Just because something is doesn't make it right.

Last night I posted a link on Facebook to an online petition telling Target not to open at midnight for Black Friday. You see, Target has decided that 5 a.m. isn't early enough to lure shoppers in for super deals on the day after Thanksgiving. They have employees coming in at 11 p.m. so they can open at midnight. (You can bet the people who decided this was a good idea won't have to leave their dinner table to sleep before an exhausting 8 hour shift.)

A lot of people agreed that it's ridiculous and that the consumerism inherent in this decision, curtailing the ability of employees to enjoy a national holiday for the opportunity to earn a few bucks, is sickening. But I was surprised how many people defended Target, saying we live in a capitalist society so we have to put up with this. That this is the price people pay for working in retail and it isn't that different from doctors, nurses, EMTs, firefighters and police who work on holidays.

Just because something is doesn't make it right.

And I don't agree with those sentiments. I find the whole idea of Black Friday kind of nausea inducing, but people will shop. Opening the stores early is rather blatant and obnoxious, but there are people out there shopping. At least when a store opens at 5 a.m. the employees can still enjoy the holiday the day before, get a reasonable night's sleep, and still work.

This opening at midnight is gross. If someone has to be at work at 11 p.m., and get sleep, they need to have a very early Thanksgiving lunch. They'll be hitting the sack about the time the Macy's Thanksgiving parade ends!

But that doesn't get to the heart of the arguments defending Target.

1) We live in a capitalist society. Sure, but that is just our economic system. We still live in a democracy, where we can vote with our dollars. Do we really have to get the absolute cheapest price on some piece of stuff probably made in China? To steal from a friend, "has your Christmas ever been ruined by a present you didn't get?" Sure, companies are out to make money, but it shouldn't be at the expense of their employees. Because if no one has any money because all the companies only worry about stock holders, no one will be able to buy their products. Any forward-thinking business knows you treat your employees well because it is better business in the long run.

2) Just because you have had to work on a holiday doesn't mean every person who ever works retail has to. Just because something is doesn't make it right. Why is it assumed that just because someone has a job they shouldn't have a holiday off? Do we really want to defend workers not getting paid decent wages, not getting holidays or paid sick leave or reasonable insurance?

3) I'm sorry, but there is a big difference between retail employees and public safety workers. If Target doesn't open until 5 a.m., the world doesn't end. If an ER is closed or a fire department unstaffed, bad things happen. There's no comparison. So don't even try. And most of those necessary employees rotate through holidays. They usually work things out so if someone works Thanksgiving, they get Christmas off, or something similar.

Another friend really nailed it when she commented that she is angry because the stores opening early is taking the employees away from their families. All we have is time, and that is being taken away. Time is precious. Our families are precious. On a day when most people celebrate being thankful for their families, that is being taken away. When a lot of people don't have much money, celebrating the spending of money seems crass.

Just because something is doesn't make it right.

Monday, November 14, 2011

All fiction is fantasy

I know I'm not the first to realize this, but the idea that all fiction is fantasy is something I was thinking about in the shower the other day.
See, I even wrote it on the shower wall with tub crayons.
So, all fiction is fantasy. Some types are just closer to reality than others. But they all spring from the author's imagination: mystery, suspense, romance, historical, sci-fi, and even... fantasy.

I like the freedom of writing fantasy. I get to invent a world in which anything could happen. I get to decide on the rules. I can even write about dragons that aren't dragons.

But all fiction is fantasy. And it is all made from nothing. Sometimes we borrow places or people we know. Sometimes we disguise them so we can make them just a little different to fit the story, or to protect them, or just because. Sometimes we make things up.

If fiction were not fantasy, it would be pretty boring. And it wouldn't be fiction. It would be history, or biography, or journalism. There are some interesting and exciting tales in reality. But there are no fairies or magic.

Pirates aren't swashbuckling in real life. Aliens aren't from outer space. Detectives have to worry about evidence tampering and usually aren't Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes.

All fiction is fantasy. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Victim blaming your kids

A major issue that has been talked about in circles I follow, especially in regards to rape, is victim blaming. Victim blaming is all about excusing the perpetrator by pointing out behaviors of the victim that "led" to their being victimized. It's wrong. I know this.

One of our boys can be a bit of a bully; the other can be a little whiny at times. I know this, and yet I still find myself in situations like the following.

One of the boys is sitting on the other, who is crying. We tell boy1 to get off his brother, which he does (sometimes it takes counting, or one of us actually lifting him off, but sometimes he just needs to be told). Not having seen what led to it, we tell boy1 not to do that.

Aware of the dynamics at work, we keep an eye on the two. Boy2 puts himself in a position where boy1 will very likely take the bait. Yep, sometimes he eggs boy1 on. Inevitably, we end up once again with boy2 on the ground and boy1 sitting on him, sometimes holding him in headlock.

Now, brotherly dynamics are not the same as most of the situations we see in the news where the victim gets blamed. And I see boy2 kind of "asking for it", until he gets sat on. And an easy solution in a lot of these instances would be if boy2 didn't make himself such an easy target.

And just as we're telling him to get off the floor, not put himself right under his brother's feet, it occurs to us that we're blaming the victim here. Boy1 will get a time out in his room, toys removed, whatever appropriate punishment fits the particular moment.

But it's a fine line to walk. Because, while boy1 really, truly, is upset about getting wrestled to the ground, he also does do things that make his brother want to do it. How do we teach him to not be a victim while also not blaming him?

I know, I'm way extrapolating here, but I really think we need to start teaching out kids at a young age that rapists rape, murders murder, etc.

And yet, there is a reason women take self-defense classes. And police recently have been a bit heavy-handed, but there's some truth to taking personal responsibility for one's own safety. No, women who are raped do not ask for it, but there are things they can do to "be smart"* and make themselves less likely to be a victim.

The only way to stop a crime is for the criminal not to commit it. But we still lock our doors. Some people have security services and alarm systems on their homes. The reality is that there are things we can do, but we still need to remember that even if you do everything right, bad things can happen.

I know this post seems to be wandering and pointless, but here's what it comes to: we need to teach our kids that boy1 is the one who gets punished for being a bully, but boy2 can also do some things to avoid the situation. They are each responsible for their own behavior.

And as they get older and learn more impulse control, then we can work on those harder lessons.

*Please note, I am NOT saying that women who get raped asked for it. I'm not saying they shouldn't wear sexy clothes if they enjoy doing it. I'm not saying they should be tea totalers. We should all be able to leave our doors unlocked and walk the streets at night without anything bad happening. But, just as we do lock our doors to make our homes and cars less of an easy target, there are ways to be a little smarter without being at fault.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On voting

Women have always been able to vote in the US in my lifetime. In my mother's and grandmothers' as well. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, 91 years ago.

Would you believe Mississippi didn't ratify it until 1984? Actually, considering the state of women's rights in Mississippi, I guess I do.

I could write a lot about women's rights, such as the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment still has not been ratified and is not the law of the land, but this is an election day. I want to concentrate on elections.

Here in Bloomington, there are only 2 contested races. Pretty abysmal. Most of the new officials who will be sworn in on January 1st were elected by default during the primary because there is a full slate of Democrats but very few Republicans running. That's just sad.

Frankly, I don't think partisan politics really have a place in local elections. Most of what our local leaders do has very little to do with the big polarizing issues, anyway. And we would have a much more robust local election if more candidates were on the ballot. Really, does it matter which party someone is from at this level?

I would be willing to state that most, if not all, local offices are not political in that sense. Who cares if the recorder or auditor or a judge is a Republican or Democrat? They have a very specific job to do, which should really be more dependent on actual qualifications.

Add to that the local issues that really sway voters tend to have nothing to do with party. Can we let our candidates run on those issues?

One of the contested races this year is for the 3 city council at-large seats. The big issue that seems to be dividing voters here is I-69. And there is no consensus within either party. The 5 candidates run the gamut from against to absolutely for, with most being more practical and somewhere in the middle.

There are nuances in how they feel about other local issues, but again, it doesn't really split by party so much as by personal experience. And that's good. I don't like politicians who pick their stance on an issue by party (or voters who vote a straight ticket). That means they aren't thinking. It means they haven't learned that there's an awful lot of gray.

Me, I like to be an informed voter. I don't have the time to learn everything about the candidates, but I try to learn a little. It's pretty simple why: the last time I voted without having a clue who I was voting for, I accidentally helped elect someone who stood for the exact opposite of what I wanted, who turned out to be a criminal.

I've voted in almost every election for which I have been eligible. I think I may have missed some local elections when I was in college, but that's ok since I had no clue. I also consciously skipped voting in the first local election after moving to Bloomington because I didn't feel like I had a handle on the city or the candidates. I made a point to educate myself before the next one, though.

So what is the point of all this? Even with uncontested races, it is worth exercising one's right, privilege, and duty to vote. Even if someone is uncontested, you can abstain from voting. But that doesn't mean anything unless you cast a ballot. See, the math is such that if 1000 people vote in the election but only half vote for an uncontested candidate, that means the other half DIDN'T. That's significant. It may not sway the vote, but it makes a statement.

So vote. Please. Just do it. Seriously, it took all of 5 minutes this morning, including getting the boys in and out of the car, walking down the hall to the polling location, checking in, filling in the ballot, and getting our nifty "I voted" stickers.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Being a tissue donor

Yesterday I did something that's maybe a little crazy: I donated some healthy breast tissue to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank.

This tissue bank collects healthy tissue because researchers need to know what normal is before they can really understand not normal. If they only collect samples from breast cancer patients, they don't have anything to compare. Hence the tissue drive yesterday at Bloomington Hospital. I heard there were 179 women signed up to donate.

A bunch of doctors and nurses and volunteers came to Bloomington, many from the IU Simon Cancer Center to collect blood and tissue samples. They took over the outpatient surgery section, moving donors through the process in a very organized way.

This next section won't be very interesting, but I want to document the process so anyone who chooses to make a donation in the future will have an idea of what to expect.

When I arrived at 11:40, someone escorted me to the check-in, where they marked me off their list (I had signed up for an appointment online). Next I was directed to the next 'runner' who escorted me to another volunteer to sign the consent forms. She then walked me to the next station where my height and weight were noted. Another runner walked me down the hall to the medical history station. A volunteer there helped me find my ID numbers to log in and fill out a simple medical history on a laptop.

Then she walked me to the nurses who were drawing blood. It was noon by this point. Now, I have very firm veins, which is great except when blood needs to be drawn. The first nurse tried but my vein rolled. Rather than dig around, she asked a second nurse to try. The second time was the charm. This was probably the worst part of the process, but not their fault.

After the blood draw, a runner walked me down the hall where several women were waiting for their turn to have the biopsy. There was a little delay waiting as the doctors can only work so fast. It was probably about 12:15 when I sat down. I actually didn't not the time, but I don't think I waited more than 15-20 minutes. During that time, those of us waiting chatted about, well, whatever.

Once in the room, a nurse gave me a general run-down of what would happen. I changed into the gown. The nurse came in to tell me some of the precautions for afterward while we waited for the doctor, who had gotten delayed on a phone call about a patient. (Really, can't blame a doctor for taking care of their patients.)

The doctor came in and told me what each step was as she did the biopsy. She raved about what a great tissue sample mine was with not much fat, nice and dense, which would be good for research. She even showed it to me (little blobs on some gauze). Pain-wise, it stung a little when she did the local anesthetic (well, duh, needles sting a bit). The actual biopsy was fine - just a little pressure and an odd feeling.

Afterward, the nurse put pressure on the site for 10 minutes, then put a gauze bandage on and gave me an ice pack to stick in my bra. Once I was dressed, a runner walked me to the check-out, where they marked me off the list and gave me a gift bag and t-shirt. It was about 1:15.

Yep, that's a Vera Bradley bag.

All in all, I feel pretty good. I was a little sore yesterday afternoon, but a couple of ice packs helped. By last night it was mostly just tender (meaning: don't touch!) but not really a problem. Following the post-procedure orders of ice and not lifting anything "heavier than a martini glass or a menu" for 24 hours are pretty easy. Later today I get to remove the gauze and see what it looks like. If there's any bruising, it's under the bandage so I can't see it - and that was about the only major side effect expected. 

So, for anyone who skipped all the procedural stuff, here's the take-away: it was pretty easy. Yes, there is some soreness, but it's not a big deal. Really, think of the alternative. It's a nice way to help with research and the more research the better this disease is understood (just as with any other disease). And the better it is understood, the more likely it is that it can be prevented, managed and/or cured. In my lifetime, a breast cancer diagnosis has gone from a death sentence to a disease that can be managed.

There's a big drive planned for Indy the last weekend in January as part of a Super Bowl promotion: Indy Super Cure. If you want to join their interested donor list, they will keep you updated about events in the area.