Once again, it’s time for my monthly book chat with my friend Kara Masharani! Today we each talked about two books we read this year that we loved, while simultaneously enduring numerous interruptions from pets and children. Also contains the usual candid good cheer. Enjoy!
Now that we’re done with holiday music for at least a few months, let us joyfully return to our usual Monday Earworms! This week I’m devoting to Getting Things Done — because, dear reader, I have a long list — and so this morning’s earworm is one of those awesome dance tunes that gets me up and moving around with a smile in my heart. This is “Eshtaktillak” by one of my favorite dance bands, Petrol Bomb Samosa. Enjoy!
Today was Christmas, and it was good. Mellow and relaxing, for the most part. Fun, at times. Most of my favorite aspects of Christmas — the Lebanese food, giving my loved ones gifts, not doing any work — were all in effect. There were video calls with my family members I couldn’t see in person. There was some socially distant and masked-up visiting from across the yard for a few minutes with others. It was, on balance, a good day.
But I cannot deny that it was weird.
The weirdness comes from not having the usual big to-do for the holiday with my enormous extended family and a generous cadre of friends dropping by throughout the afternoon or evening, all full of laughing and telling stories and eating and drinking together. Nope, that’s not really happening this year. But it’s okay. Subdued, but not bad. This way is necessary, and it’s also temporary. I think, I hope, next year will be different.
Some of my friends and cousins who work in the medical industry have already gotten their first doses of the covid vaccine, so that’s good. And while there’s nothing but absolutely bonkers nonsense bordering on mildly terroristic narcissism coming out of the upper reaches of the government, the larger horizon still provokes optimism.
Like most people, I had to put a pause on so many of my usual holiday traditions this year. But not all of them. The 12 Days of Holiday Music here, for example, is something I love doing and had no reason to halt. And just as I begin the series each year with The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” for its personal significance to me and for the comforting sense of routine (or ritual?), I think I’m going to end the series with a repeat song that I first included here in December of 2014, because it’s special to me.
“The Week Between” by John Roderick and Jonathan Coulton is one of my favorite holiday songs ever. It’s mellow and sweet and a little melancholy all at the same time.
When I was a child, Christmas was everything. Toys, delicious food, the end of my father’s unbearably long working hours until the next holiday season, and a party with my extended family, which meant cousins to play with as far as the eye could see. A very special tradition we had was that we always spent the night at each other’s houses on Christmas night, thereby extending our holiday for yet another day. We would stay up late and tiptoe into the kitchen after our parents went to bed for a “midnight snack” — usually cheddar sliced off an enormous block of cheese and Coke in six-ounce glass bottles. We played board games. We told each other scandalously funny jokes. We played with toys and watched movies and tried to see how late we could stay up. We almost never made it to actual midnight at that age. I lived for these times.
But once all of that was over, and we all went back to our own houses, to play with our own toys and siblings only, with no more excited wrapping of gifts, no more days spent cooking food in preparation for the holiday, no more anything much to look forward to until my birthday in March…
Well, I would inevitably fall into low spirits. One year my dad explained to me that I had the “Christmas blues,” the let-down once all the festivities were over. And this persisted for several years until I was old enough to start insisting my family do something, anything, to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
So. Flash forward a few decades. The time between Christmas and New Year’s is now, honestly, just about one of my very favorite weeks of the year. I have some time off before school starts up again, and the hustle and bustle of orchestrating a holiday for my family has also been accomplished. Everyone is home and just hanging out. People drop by for little visits, maybe, something low-key, or they wait until our annual New Year’s Eve bash (which also will not be happening this year).
I can devote time to creative projects and reading for fun and watching movies and sleeping in and whatever else. It’s one of the very few truly relaxed, free times I have as we put the subconscious stress of the holidays behind us and look forward to new beginnings.
The line in this song that has always resonated with me the most, that made me love this song so much, is in the chorus: “In the week between, all your drunken uncles and cousins’ cousins are on the scene…” (Not that I’m a fan of drunken people in general.) Ever since I was a child and all the way until just last year, that special time with my cousins is so much of what I love about life.
And then there’s the next line: “The week between, New Year’s resolutions in conversation with last year’s dreams.” I mean, that’s just poetry. And it’s exactly how my mind pivots from one year’s ambitions to the next, and that, too, is comforting to me, a far horizon folding itself toward me as I stand on an ever-hopeful shore.
So. Enough rambling for one night. I’m going to go fix myself a snack of very soft pita bread, hot enough to melt the butter I spread across the inside of its pocket. Maybe some sliced cheddar, maybe share a Coke with my husband. Text back and forth with my cousins, pictures of our kids. (They miss each other, too.) Then get into bed and read a new book.
I hope your winter holidays, if you celebrate any, have been just what you needed this year, or that you at least have had a moment to enjoy the calm, that you’ve had some calm to enjoy.
Well, my friends, here we are at Christmas. I’m going to check out of here for a couple of days to enjoy the holiday with my family, but I haven’t forgotten our twelfth day of music, and you’ll get it on the flipside.
For our eleventh day, enjoy this fun piece by Sufjan Stevens, “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!”
Have a marvelous holiday if you’re celebrating it, and if you aren’t, have a marvelous couple of chill days. I’m wishing you all the best.
Sometimes contemporary music acts take on a traditional carol and do something original with it. Yesterday I heard Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s cover of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” which is excellent and even, the way The Boss sings it, kind of soulful.
Recently I heard — for the very first time ever because I’m confident I would have remembered it otherwise — “Jingle Bells” by SheDaisy. This is a musical act I’d never heard of before, and their rendition of this song has been praised by some as being “original.” Well, it certainly is that. I found it, honestly, to be ridiculous. Overacted and beyond “soulful” for a song that is only a tiny bit of absurd fun on its own.
But the more I listen to this cover, the less bonkers I find it. I won’t say it’s grown on me yet, but we are definitely in danger of that.
And since the other song I thought about doing today had a story to go with it that became quite dark right away, I’ve decided to go with SheDaisy. Have you ever heard of them? If so, let us know all about it in the comments.
Remember how I said before that loneliness is one of the themes of the holiday season? And how it’s true now this year more than usual? Yeah.
This year I won’t be seeing my brothers for Christmas. Or my husband’s family. Or any of my cousins. I might not even see my parents, because there’s a pandemic and it’s been heinously mismanaged, to the point of abject criminality, here in Texas and here in the US. Honestly, I’m not whining about it and know that other people have it way worse. But this will actually be the first Christmas in my life I haven’t had my big extended family around me in some way, and it has taken a while for that to sink in, with the magnitude it deserves.
Am I special in this circumstance? Absolutely not. Most of my friends are in this exact same situation. Most of the people I know with any sense at all are in this exact same situation.
But let me tell you a story about some of the folks in my neighborhood.
A few weekends ago — this was a week after Thanksgiving break had ended — my husband and I were walking through our neighborhood on a Saturday morning, like we do. (We often walk in the mornings and evenings just to get out and avoid being sedentary when the weather is nice. It’s also one of our fun times to talk and connect with each other.) So we’re going down one of the streets and hear a lot of screaming.
Like, kids screaming. In a happy way.
We look in the direction of the sound and see a bouncy castle. We’re walking down that street anyway, and we see a bouncy castle filled with unmasked children screaming their heads off with joy. In the front yard next to the bouncy castle, which was a space about 10′ x 15′, there are SIXTEEN unmasked adults. Mixing and mingling, visiting with each other from just a foot or two away, drinking hot beverages, passing babies around. There are lots of balloons in the yard, including a giant 8, so we figured it was an eight-year-old’s birthday party. Also perhaps a super-spreader event. We were appalled and stayed as far away from it as we could. (Not difficult, as the streets are wide and we could be thirty feet away right across from them with no trouble.)
Then that evening, we were out for another walk, like we do, and going down that same street, we encountered ANOTHER BOUNCY HOUSE PARTY in a front yard TWO HOUSES DOWN from the one that morning. No kidding! This one was clearly a holiday party. No masks on any of the kids or legions of adults in the front yard and in and out of the house, but plenty of foam antlers on their heads. Catering truck on the street. Seriously, people?
I can’t even tell you how many party rental trucks we’ve seen around the neighborhood and in the residential area around our school over the last several weeks.
Don’t even get me started on school.
So yeah, this is a Christmas we’re going to be without our friends and family in person. That sucks, but also, it’s not going to be like this next year (let’s hope). I’m trying to find silver linings, like the mellow chill we can actually have in our house because we aren’t doing any entertaining. I might try out some new recipes. Catch up on some movies, play some board games. Read some books. Write one. Something.
The long and short is that this theme of being without our people hits differently this year. And I have to admit, of all the new Christmas songs I’ve encountered, of all the holiday songs about loneliness, this one might actually be my new favorite.
Happy Solstice. Get out there tonight, if your skies are clear, and look at the Grand Conjunction. Your own little holiday star, if you will. Cheers!
Here’s a new holiday song my friend Kara Masharani suggested. (You know Kara: we do monthly book chats together. Watch for another one coming hopefully before the end of the year!)
One theme we see a lot of at the holidays is loneliness, typically for one’s beloved or even one’s family. Have we ever felt that more than this year, when so many places are (or should be) on lockdown due to the virus?
“Carol of the Bells” is one of my favorite holiday songs, and there are very few versions of it I’ve ever heard that I didn’t love. Well, that one with the big choir singing where they’ve changed all the lyrics to be super religious and Jesusy is one I can live without, even though I’ve been a very spiritual person all my life. There really wasn’t anything wrong with the Gothic and sacred version we already had, if you ask me. (And I recognize no one did.)
This one by Mannheim Steamroller is largely instrumental and combines the massive orchestral sounds and electronica they’ve come to be known for. Fun fact, their Christmas album is apparently the best-selling Christmas album ever.
Anyway, here’s a little over-the-top to get your weekend going. If you’re like me, that means finishing up gift shopping (online, of course), grading papers, doing a little writing, and napping with the cats next to the Christmas tree. Enjoy!
Part of why I’m irritated by Houston’s Official Christmas Music Station is because they only very rarely veer away from their traditional and limited playlist. It’s just the same “safe” stuff over and over again. Every year some current music stars will drop new holiday songs — or rehash old ones, sometimes in a slightly new way — and I really appreciate the new stuff being added to the pop music canon when that happens. Sometimes I really like those songs.
I might be one of only four people in the world who actually likes “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey. Sure, I first encountered the song in the movie Love, Actually, so that probably made a difference. And I equally love the hilariously creepy minor-key version by Chris Holfelder.
But here’s another fun and bouncy singalong by Mariah Carey, featuring divas Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande, which I really like for its upbeat cheerfulness. Enjoy!
Today’s holiday music earworm is a suggestion from fellow author and blogger David Jón Fuller. It’s about as different from yesterday’s “Mad Russian” music as it can be, but I really like it. This sweet song makes a soothing background accompaniment to my feverish grading here at the end of the semester, and it definitely calms me after dealing with online holiday shopping customer service purgatory. Not only that, but the setting for this music video is the cozy holiday setting I wish I were sitting in right now. So win-win-win!