12 Days of Earworm-Worthy Christmas Music

One of my Thanksgiving traditions, in place for as long as I can remember, is seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on television. As a young adult, I would wrap Christmas presents while I watched it. Now that I have children and host the holiday at my house, I don’t catch the whole parade, but I do make sure it’s playing so my kids can see it if they want — Dear Husband is indifferent to this one — and so I can drift in and out of the room to take in snatches of it while I’m preparing dinner or getting the house ready for guests.

This year I happened to see Gwen Stefani performing “White Christmas” in celebration of her new Christmas album. I’ve always liked Stefani well enough: I liked a lot of the music she made with No Doubt and on her own, and I’m a fellow red lipstick devotee. It was a cute performance. Nothing spectacular, but the parade’s singing performances often aren’t, seeing as the artists are lip-synching in sometimes frigid weather and moving around on floats. But I was intrigued by the idea that she’d put out an album.

I don’t follow celebrity gossip all that much, but it has been tough the last year or so to go to the grocery store and not see Stefani’s personal drama splashed all over the checkout aisle. Apparently she’s with a country music singer now? And there’s some ugliness with his ex? I try not to get involved. Well, if I hadn’t known that before, just listening to the song previews of her new Christmas album — which did not list “White Christmas,” by the way — would have told me things had changed format.

The album is a mix of traditional and new, original songs. Just listening to thirty seconds of each song clued me in to a new twang in her voice on all the standards and a mention of God in just about every single new song. Ska this is not.

When I was a child, my younger siblings and I fought all the time. So much, in fact, that I’m not sure how we managed to become friends as adults, except that we all live in different cities. And when I began teaching and read my students’ essays about the good times they shared with their siblings and how they cared for and played with one another, I didn’t see how something like that was possible. It felt like my siblings and I had grown up as outliers.

But there was one utterly magical moment, during a December when we were all in grade school, that I hope I never forget. The three of us had gotten out of bed one night, just randomly and without consulting each other first, and all sat down in front of the huge, lit, decorated Christmas tree in the otherwise dark living room, and we just started singing “Silent Night.” To this day I have no idea how or why we started doing it, but there it was, just one perfect and peaceful moment. Then we all went back to bed. It’s the only time, I think, we ever did anything like that, and I have no idea whether our parents knew about it, since they neither interrupted the moment nor commented on it afterward.

But I like that song.

 

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12 Days of Earworm-Worthy Christmas Music

Last year my friend J.F. requested this song for this series, but it didn’t make the cut.

This summer he unexpectedly passed away.

Now this song keeps going through my head, and I’m guessing it’s because J.F. is wishing me a Merry Christmas from wherever his spirit is enjoying his afterlife. (J.F. was a holy man and a Christian, so I’m guessing he’s with God.)

Hold your loved ones close.

12 Days of Earworm-Worthy Christmas Music

It’s mid-December. You know what that means around here! It’s time for me to share a dozen holiday songs with you that do not suck. I’ve taken some requests this year, but all of the songs I share with you are guaranteed to be better than 98% of the tired drivel they’ve been playing on the radio in Houston since the weekend before Thanksgiving.

And since the holidays are all about traditions, I like to kick things off every year with one of the cutest and peppiest Christmas songs I’ve ever known. If you’ve been around this blog before, you know what’s coming. (And so you know, I do try to find other videos of this song each year, but it’s hard to find a good one. I did, this morning, run across a Spice Girls edition that was pretty crappy since it didn’t have any bass. Srsly???)

Enjoy.

Monday Earworm: Crowded House

I’m teaching Ray Bradbury’s short story “All Summer in a Day” in my sophomore English classes. Ever since I put it on my assignment sheet this song has been stuck in my head, no doubt triggered by the similarities in their titles and maintained by my fondness for singing this song. There are many videos of Neil Finn (and others performing this song live), but I couldn’t decide which one to post, so I’m just going with this abstracted art piece because it is beautiful and slightly melancholy just like the song is both beauitful and melancholy.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Wrap-Up

So today is the last day of November, and I’m ecstatic to report that my NaNoWriMo project is worth calling a success.

You might remember my post a few weeks ago when I launched my NaNoWriMo project for this year. In case you don’t, I’ll recap: it’s utterly ludicrous for me to expect, with my current life circumstances (teaching high school full-time, two young kids), that I can write 50,000 words in 30 days. I don’t even try that. (You can listen to an interview I gave, which aired on November 23rd, about this subject on the Pacifica radio show LivingArt by clicking here, but the archive will be easily available for just a few weeks, so I suggest you do it soon.)

So what do I try, if not the traditional NaNoWriMo? I attempt to make a commitment to writing something significant or furthering my writing career every day in November. This year my goal was to write 350 words a day on my current WIP (a new novel) or some other manuscript. A couple of those days I made or supplemented my word count with a blog post, and I took a few days off — one after my grandfather’s death and a few for Thanksgiving, which I hosted for my family. These were just things I really needed to do.

But the rest of the time? I made (and usually exceeded) my word count. I added almost 7,600 words to my WIP, which brings my current total to almost 22,000. I’d say I am good and well writing this book now, even if the plotting has been spotty at best. I’m suspect I’m just a pantser at heart, and trying to manage 350 words a day, allowing myself to write weak sentences now and then and stopping myself in the middle of a scene when I hit 400-500 words, has really facilitated the ease with which I’ve been able to meet my daily word counts. I learned this nifty trick from my dear friend and writing partner Sarah Warburton: if you stop writing in the middle of a scene, when you start up again, you already know what to write; the added bonus is that you’ll have the urgency to keep going if you had to interrupt yourself in the middle of things the day before.

Well, dear reader, it works.

Aside from the solid and satisfying progress on my novel, I also wrote an essay about Grendel, which still needs revision and editing, but which I then hope to be sharing with you relatively soon.

So all of this progress is lovely, of course. But now what? With the end of November, is that the end of my writing for a while? Holy canoli, I hope not.

Much like a Lenten fast or a fitness challenge can be used to cultivate good habits and purge unhealthy ones, my bigger goal in doing my modified form of the NaNoWriMo is to make myself get into the daily habit of writing practice. It’s all kinds of miserably hard to write books while you’re also teaching English and Creative Writing and raising kids. I mean, if you also want to sleep. I spend what sometimes feels like an inordinate amount of time grading papers, but I also recognize that’s the job. Understand, though, managing creative, generative energy is tough when I’ve pushed that part of my life, the artistic self, to the end of my to-do list. It’s not tenable, and it’s not healthy. As much as I love and appreciate all the other aspects of my life — and I do — I need that artistic pursuit if I want to be a whole, healthy person.

My hope is that when November is over, I will still keep trying to write 350 words a day (or night, as the case may be). Will I be successful every single day? I can aspire to that, but I also have to give myself permission to be human. That means not a robot. That means not rigid and inflexible. That means that sometimes I will make a compromise or two: I might not write 350 words every night; some nights I will write 475 or 632 or a thousand. I’ve even been thinking that perhaps a weekly goal might be better.

We’ll see how it goes. I mean, look at tonight: I just wanted to do a blog post to wrap up this project, and I’m already at nearly 800 words. And maybe that’s enough for tonight. After all, I’ve still got some grading to do.

Happy December, tomorrow. You’ll get an earworm on Monday, and later in the month you’ll get 12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck. Probably one or two other blog posts as well, if things go smoothly.

And I?

I will get some writing time in, as often as possible.

Forbidden Cookbook: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

I cannot take credit for this recipe, which is a Starbucks hack from somewhere on the internet. I don’t even know where I found it originally, several years ago, but it’s a delicious one.

Starbucks has been selling pumpkin cream cheese muffins for a few years now — although I haven’t seen them yet this year, so maybe they aren’t anymore — and it was always so difficult to get them before they sold out that I went looking for the recipe online. I found it and now I don’t know where, although perhaps you might find one similar if you went looking.

Either way, here is the recipe I found, lo these many pumpkin spice seasons ago. So I’m not taking credit for coming up with this. But I have *made* this recipe a few times, and it’s quite yummy.

Just a warning: this one takes a couple of hours, and that’s if you’re organized and maybe have a helper. So read through the whole thing before starting and make sure you aren’t trying to whip these up an hour before you need them. No need to make things stressful on yourself! These muffins are for enjoying.  🙂

Just so you know, I tend to be a bit more generous with the vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg when I make these. Also, if I were going to modify this recipe further, I would probably double the cream cheese mixture because, wow, that’s, for real, my favorite part. And if you have extra candied pepitas, they make a delightful snack and would probably go well mixed with some popcorn.

Happy Thanksgiving!

***

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (Starbucks Copycat Recipe)


Cream Cheese:
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Candied Pumpkin Seeds:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pepitas (raw shelled pumpkin seeds)

Muffin Batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cup vegetable oil
12 cup muffin pan
paper muffin cups

***

Cream Cheese: Using an electric mixer combine cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth. Cover and chill until firm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds: Spray large baking sheet with cooking spray. Heat seeds in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes or until the seeds begin to pop. Add sugar, and stir constantly about 1 minute or until sugar begins to liquefy and caramelize; add cinnamon and salt. Spread seeds on prepared baking sheet, and cool. Break apart the seeds that are stuck together, once they have cooled.

Muffin Batter: Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, combine eggs, sugar, and vanilla; mix on low speed just to combine ingredients. Add pumpkin and oil, and continue to mix about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and mix until batter is smoother, about 30-60 seconds.

Baking Muffins: Spoon batter into paper muffin cups, making batter level with top of the muffin cup. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of cream cheese mixture to the top of each muffin and press cream cheese down into the middle of each muffin cup of batter. Sprinkle muffins with candied pumpkin seeds. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly browned on top. To test for doneness insert a toothpick into center of muffin (not cream cheese); it will come out clean when the muffins are done.