Favorite Movies to Watch at Christmas

I should really call this MY favorite movies to watch at Christmas.

Everyone has certain films they enjoy during the holidays.  Some may be typical family fare, others are specific to them, for whatever reason.  Below, in no particular order, are my favorites.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

This would be the supremely creepy television film starring the incomparable George C. Scott, with David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Susannah York as Mrs. Cratchit, and a heart-wrenchingly adorable Tiny Tim (Anthony Walters). The sets perfectly capture the dismal conditions of early nineteenth-century London, and the costumes and hairstyles are authentic to the period (YES!).

Victorian England had a long tradition of yuletide ghost stories.  Marley’s ghost is terrifyingly pale and desolate.  This movie scared the Dickens (ha ha) out of me as a child.

This man was a genius.

Best moments:

  • When Scrooge arrives home on Christmas Eve, and the doorknocker turns into Marley’s face and goes “SCROOOOOOOOOOOOOGE!”
  • Also, the moment when the Ghost of Christmas Present (Edward Woodward) shows him the two starveling children Ignorance and Want and throws his own words back at him—“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

Home Alone (1990)

Yeah, I know, it’s obvious.  But this movie is so damn funny and it never gets old.  Kevin’s (Macauley Culkin) ingenuity at foiling the Wet Bandits’ feeble attempts to break into his home are a source of vicarious inventive glee.   Off topic: I always use the Wet Bandits as the perfect example of crime scene signature (leaving the water on when they leave).

Also stars esteemed actor Roberts Blossom as the curmudgeonly neighbor who keeps an eye on Kevin until his frantic mother (Catherine O’Hara) makes it home.

Best moments:

  • The Rube Goldberg booby traps.
  • “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”

Yeah, kid, when the relatives show up we feel the same way.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Same year, very different movie.  This hilariously bizarre Frankenstein fantasy from Tim Burton has Johnny Depp as a disfigured misfit, Diane Wiest as the kindly Avon lady who takes him in, and Winona Ryder as Kim, her daughter and Edward’s crush.  Depp and Ryder began a three-year relationship during filming.

Best moments:

  • Vincent Price in his last role as the Inventor who creates poor Edward to assuage his loneliness.  His onscreen death as he presents Edward with his hands poignantly rides an arrow straight to your tear ducts, fueled by Danny Elfman’s beautiful score.
  • Edward trying to eat dinner like a normal person.  Alan Arkin is a scream as the oblivious, resigned father.

Poor Edward. All he needed was a little bit of syrup. But this cruel family would not let him have any.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Another obvious one, but everyone loves it.  Seriously, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this movie.  If there is such a person, they should be subjected to the fate that nearly befell Ebenezer Scrooge.

Peter Billingsley plays a little boy in the 1940s who wants a Red Ryder, 200-shot, carbine action, Range model air rifle for Christmas.  He fights to obtain his desire against a barrage of adults telling him “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  Based on the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Shepherd.  Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are awesome as his parents.

Best moments:

Everything really.  But my favorites are

  • “Fra-GEE-lay. Well, that must be Italian!”
  • “Meatloaf, meatloaf, double beetloaf.  I HATE meatloaf!”
  • Favorite line:  “Randy lay there like a slug.  It was his only defense!”

Lifebuoy soap. MY mother used Ivory to wash out my dirty mouth.

Better Off Dead (1985)

I don’t own this one but it’s on my want list.  Teenage guy Lane Meyer’s (John Cusack) girlfriend breaks up with him before Christmas.  Dad (David Ogden Stiers) thinks he’s doing drugs, his mute genius little brother (Scooter Stevens) sees more action than him, and his mother (Kim Darby) is just crazy.  His comical encounters with a rival skier, a homicidal paperboy and a charming French exchange student keep the laughs coming.  I haven’t seen this in a while.  Must remedy that.

Best moments:


  • Poor Monique (Diane Franklin) endures the alarming cultural and matchmaking efforts of her host mom to her fat, socially inept son Ricky.  “Fraaaaaanch toast, Fraaaanch fries….”

 Gremlins (1984)

One of my favorite horror comedy films ever!  Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan)’s traveling salesman father Randall (Hoyt Axton) gives him a very unusual Christmas present:  a tiny Mogwai, a little furry critter he finds in Chinatown, which Billy names Gizmo.  He ignores the warnings concerning Gizmo’s care and unleashes a scaly plague upon the small town where he lives.  His squeeze Kate (Phoebe Cates) and his younger buddy Pete (Corey Feldman) must help him reign in the monsters.

Friends don’t let monsters drive drunk.

Best moments:

  • Mom (Frances Lee McCain) has to dispose of one of the creatures in the microwave.  POOM!
  • Kate’s hilariously over-the-top story of what happened to her father at Christmas.

I’m sure there are others I’m leaving out here.  If you’re looking for films to watch on Christmas, you can check out the lists below or choose your favorite.  Have one you’d like to suggest?  Please share in the comments.

Merry Christmas!



Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays: My Two Cents

All around me this time of year, I hear “Merry Christmas!”   “Happy Holidays!” and various greetings of the season.   As everyone knows, lately there has been a backlash against expressing anything that smacks of religion, lest we offend someone.

I call bullshit.  This isn’t about religion; it’s about tolerance.  Despite what people may think, not everyone is a Christian / believes in Jesus / celebrates the same things everyone else does (Festivus, anyone?).   And that’s okay.

I think the “Happy Holidays” thing is about entitlement too.  I never remember anyone saying they were offended by a nativity scene when I was a kid.  If a neighbor set one up and it wasn’t like National Lampoon’s Christmas or didn’t fire snowballs at 500 mph toward your face when you walked by, then no big deal.

It’s not offensive for people to display their own religious symbols, unless they’re doing it in a way that is designed to annoy or provoke someone.  But who does that?

It seems like many people lately:

  •  Have completely lost any semblance of manners or civility.
  •  Think they are owed something whenever there is the slightest deviation from their norm.
  •  Act like two-year-olds when they don’t get their way.

You hear people bitching in the media about children on planes or elsewhere crying as babies sometimes do.  But I ask you:  who is throwing food, attacking people, insisting on businesses accommodating their every request?

Well let me just say, if Santa visited adults, then everyone would need a coal heater from all the lumps they’d get this year.

*Chuckles as he imagines your reaction on Christmas morning to a sockful of clinkers*

Religious beliefs are just that:  BELIEFS.  You choose to have faith in something; it shouldn’t be forced on you.  But people saying “Merry Christmas,” which is also a secular holiday, aren’t pushing their religion on anyone.   At this time of year, the phrase replaces the typical “Have a good day” as a simple pleasantry.

If you don’t like it, just nod and smile politely.  You don’t have to say anything back.  There’s no reason to bully other people into not saying it because you have a low entitlement threshold, Sunshine.

Don’t celebrate Christmas?  That’s fine.  If you want to tell me you’re Jewish and Chanukah is your thing,  I’ll happily amend my greeting to “Oh! Happy Chanukah!”  or “Happy Whatever!”  Once a couple I was talking to said they weren’t Christian, and I said “Happy…er, Thing!”  They thought that was pretty funny.

I don’t really think it’s necessary to attack a complete stranger who is trying to be nice.   People should be able to wish you a merry Christmas without having to worry about offending you.  As a commenter quoted in this article said, if someone takes the time to wish people joy, there’s really nothing to be mad about.

Lighten up.  It’s Christmas/Solstice/Chanukah/etc.!


Composer Alert: Siddhartha Barnhoorn

I’m starting a new category:  Music.  It’s such a big part of my day (well, not at Dayjob, darn it), and my writing is almost always done listening to either Streamingsoundtracks.com(SST) or something I’ve downloaded onto my computer.



Siddhartha Barnhoorn showed up on SST with a link and I immediately purchased something.  His website is here:  http://www.sidbarnhoorn.com/ .

Check this guy out. Seriously.  His music is crystalline, soothing and just plain awesome.  I’m listening to Pillars of Light, an ambient solo work, right now and am floating away.  He has done scores for countless films and the public service announcement “Embrace Life: Always Wear Your Seatbelt,” which I’m sure you’ve seen on the Internet.  If not, look here.

He’s also done the score for an upcoming film Spoon, which stars Rutger Hauer.  You might remember him from a little film called Blade Runner.  It’s directed by South African actor/producer Sharlto Copley, who played Wikus in District 9 and also appeared in The A-Team movie (it hurts me just to write that; I hated that show).  This is all I could find on the film.  I hope it gets a U.S. release.  Or maybe I missed it.  If I did, please hit me.

Samples and purchase links can be found here:  http://siddharthabarnhoorn.bandcamp.com.

No, I’m not getting anything for plugging composers.   I just love to share music when I find something amazing.  That is why I belong to SST.  It’s a soundtrack Internet radio station and a community of music lovers worldwide.  SSTers have posted everything from funny cat videos (Maru!) to new music to movie reviews.

Enjoy this talented composer.  If you have any suggestions for this category, please share them in the comments.

Healthy Recipes aren’t Just for Rich People

A perpetually hungry chat friend wanted me to write more posts about food.  Since this is an author blog, I have to tie it in somehow.

I have to eat so I have energy to write.  Also, writers and artists are notoriously poor.  There.  I did it.  Onward!

I notice when I go to the store and try to purchase more nutritious food that my bill is higher on average than when I buy crap.  No wonder poor people are fatter than rich people.  Not to mention rich people can afford personal trainers.

So how do you eat healthy on a limited budget?  Here are five tips:

#1—Buy frozen veggies.

Frozen is just as good as fresh, because they are picked at the peak of ripeness.  Besides the convenience factor, frozen veggies don’t have the sodium levels that canned veggies do.    I have a recipe for Peas Almondine for one:

–3/4 cup of frozen peas

–Butter (just a little)

–Sliced or slivered almonds

Put frozen peas in a microwave-safe dish, cover with water and nuke for 1 minute.  Toast the almonds in a dry pan on the stove until they just begin to brown.  Drain peas, add butter and nuke 1 more minute.  Add almonds and toss.

The most expensive thing there is the almonds.  Keep the leftover nuts in the freezer so they don’t get rancid.

#2—Forget coupons; watch sales flyers in the paper.

Coupons tend to be for processed food.  The frozen veggie ones are almost always for the kind with fattening sauces.  Keep an eye on your local grocery’s sales flyer.  You can sometimes sign up for emails and grocery discount cards.

Dry goods hold up well, but they don’t save you money if you’re not going to use them.  So buy food you will actually eat in quantities you can use before they go stale.  Oatmeal and lentils are cheap and good for you too.

#3—Cook more instead of buying prepared food.

Prices are higher than ever.  When you eat out or buy convenience foods, not only are you not getting nutrients you need, you’re spending more.  Cooking dinner?  Make a little extra for lunches next day.  Prepare a big batch of soup or chili on the weekend and freeze individual portions.  Then you can pop them in your lunchbox and take them to work.

Explore Japanese bento.  There are numerous websites with recipes and tips on preparing these tidy little lunches.  Leftovers work great in them.  You can get bento boxes online or in Asian stores in larger cities.  I got this for my birthday (yes, I like cute Japanese anime characters, so shut up!):

It holds just enough food to make me full, which also keeps me from overeating.

Check here for a tutorial on how to choose the right size bento box for kids and adults.

#4—Remember WHAT you eat is as important as how much. 

That nutrition label is there for a reason.  Read it!  You only need 30% of your daily calories from fat, but “reduced fat” on the label doesn’t mean you can eat twice as much.  Look for vitamins, minerals, and low amounts of sodium.  If you eat lean protein at every meal, you will stay full longer and save money.  A proper portion of lean meat should be the size of a pack of playing cards.

You can get better quality if you only need a small amount.  I buy ground round, but because it’s only me, a pound or less is economical.

Low-nutrition food has calories the body doesn’t use for anything, so they get stored as fat.  Eat as much fresh stuff as you can, and you’ll be thinner.

#5—Make a meal plan for the week or month.

If you know what you will be preparing ahead of time, it makes shopping much easier.  Check over your meal plan.  Then make a list and stick to it!  You’ll be less likely to buy impulse items or buy something you don’t have the other ingredients for, which might go to waste.

This is a good source for making a meal plan.  Try it for a little while and see if it works for you.

College students are a special case, as is anyone who is unemployed or on EBT.  But if you plan your purchases well, you can stretch those dollars until they squeal and still maintain a healthy kitchen.

Here are some links to help you:

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/  Nutrition information

http://www.squidoo.com/easy-menu-planning  Lots of meal planning tips

http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=511   Good article on healthy budget dining

http://justbento.com/  All about bento

http://lunchinabox.net/  This is defunct but still has a lot of good bento info.

Happy eating!