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OMG It's September

Christmas Movie Reviews Vol. 3

Here are the highlights! It's getting to be tough to track everything, so I'll try to hit the highlights here. "The Santa Clause" franchise gets started tonight on ABC Family channel. The first and third ones are on…what happened to the 2nd? I think these are pretty good stuff, I don't hate the kids, and I like the idea of Santa getting impressed into duty. ha ha ha ha "The Christmas Blessing" with Neil Patrick Harris is also on tonight. It's a sequel to the earlier story about the red shoes for dying mother. I like the realistic kids in this one. On Hallmark today/tonight there are several goodies which I've already reviewed: The Christmas Ornament, A Princess for Christmas and The Christmas Card are good. The rest is very bad schlock, including the stuff on the Hallmark Movie Channel.

Fair warning, though, to you Christmas movie fans -- one of the unfortunate side effects that accompanies the watching of Christmas movies is the commercials. Ugh. During the day it's all Medicare supplement plans and that jackass Fred Thompson hawking reverse mortgages all day. Towards evening it switches to a lot of Christian Mingle and you don't even want me to get started on that topic. Let's just say that Henry calls it "Christian Dingleberry" -- I think that is just the right amount of repugnant. I find myself in a troubling consumer target group. Oh dear.

Thank god "Christmas in Connecticut" was on this morning. A dose of finely acted black and white was a boon. Read More 
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Christmas Movie Reviews Vol. II

Well, not a stellar day in Christmas movie land but a few bright spots. Here in the mountains of North Carolina, we are being deluged with rain, which is somewhat worrying for us at the new/old house. All of the work on the outside (ripping down old aluminum siding on dormers, etc.) is done EXCEPT for the new gutters we need. Of course we're expecting a couple of inches of rain or more in the next 24 hours, so we'll be watching possible trouble spots. Oh well. That's progress, right?

Beginning tonight and into tomorrow things are supposed to get less wet and more fluffy though! Last predictions are for 1-3 inches of snow for us and we'll take it! I would love to go out for a tree on Friday with a little white stuff out there. Fingers crossed.

As for movies today in the wet downpour, you don't need to cross your fingers… you're screwed. There's a plethora of bad wedding/marriage dreich to be had and a couple of them include wedding/marriage Santa relatives shite which is way beyond even my tolerance level.

"The Christmas Song" is kind of fun though and you might give it a shot. It at least has some musical people in it, and features school choirs, which always gets my nostalgic attention. If you're brave and a Carrie Fisher fan, you might make it OK with "It's Christmas, Carol" although Carrie looks a little carved-scary if you know what I mean. "Christmas with Tucker" is a new dog movie this year that I haven't seen yet, so I will try to catch this one. Hat tip to Anne Lawing, the magnificent hair stylist, who has a dog named Tucker. I will check it out for her and let her know if she needs to watch it.

Tonight is one of my favorites, "November Christmas" which while sappy, has two of my favorite actors -- Sam Elliot and Northern Exposure's John Corbett. Both are heartthrobs for grownups, if you ask me. :) It's at 8 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel, so you basic cable folks will probably be able to get it.

Happy Thanksgiving Eve Eve, friends! As always, your comments and alternative reviews are gratefully welcomed. Read More 
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By Popular Demand - Chris' Christmas Movie Reviews - Volume 1

I've been posting Christmas movie reviews on Facebook the last week or so, and they seem to be quite popular. So, at Henry's suggestion, I am moving the process over to my blog and will link it up with Facebook. Holiday cheer to my blog and my Facebook friends.

Vol. 1

Here's how the weekend is shaping up for Christmas movies, I'll do some organization by theme. And boy, are there some icky trite themes going on…

An Accidental Christmas, Under the Mistletoe, A Bride for Christmas, All I Want for Christmas: all of these are in the getting-divorced-parents-back together, or, finding a spouse for widows genre. Who knew there were so many widowed young parents out there -- especially uber attractive young mothers with odd or quirky-looking children? The message here has nothing to do with Christmas and everything to do with the idea that there's no way to be single and happy…You MUST MUST get married! No other life will be fulfilling. Bleh.

Help for the Holidays, All About Christmas Eve - here we have the evil corporations/workaholics vs. blindly and sappily naive Christmas celebrants clashing to predictable and oh-so-stereotypical result. Not thought-provoking; more like barf-provoking.

Mistletoe over Manhatten is another entry in the bad Santa's children theme I've mentioned before. This one is a barf-worthy combination of the workaholic/divorce-ridden themes as well. Just eww.

And, of course we have the usual and customary Christmas Carol rip-offs or updates in the form of Kristen's Christmas Past starring nobody I'm interested in getting to know.

Moonlight & Mistletoe - stars Tom Arnold. I need say nothing more.

New ones (at least to me): Window Wonderland and Fir Crazy- I will give these a chance. There's also a Dolly Parton feature I haven't seen before called A Country Christmas, which has possibilities as long as it's not too cornpone and I am not forced to listen to a lot of what passes for country music these days.

Good ones to catch: Trading Christmas is kind of fun and features a hilarious couple of scenes involving a clothes dryer in the basement. Lucky Christmas is not bad either. Both of these feature a bit more realistic characters who are "regular" people, which is probably why I like them.

Naughty or Nice is not a bad premise, but really is probably too long to be good - a mall elf finds Santa's Naughty or Nice list with predictably mixed results. On Strike for Christmas is interesting; I would watch but not be sad if I missed it this year. In this movie Daphne Zugnia plays a harried mom who is sick of doing everything for Christmas while her lazy-ass family sits around expecting it all to be just the way they like it. For some, this will of course resonate. If you're feeling put upon by your family watching this movie might make you feel better. :)

Home for Christmas is about about a newly-homeless woman and it would be good if she didn't get rescued by a man. Boo on the writers here; it could have been an interesting story.

I like Love at the Christmas Table with Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years and West Wing). It is a romance, but a small story surrounded with lots of typical family shenanigans, which are pretty fun.

OK - that will get you guys through the next few days. Opinions and counter-reviews welcome. Read More 
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In Aberdeen

Whirlwind would be a good word to describe the past couple of months. First there was the move to a new (old) house. It's a wonderful home and a great decision for us, but moving, even if it's only a few blocks, is just such an unmitigated pain.

Then there was the annual On the Same Page Literary Festival. Splendid is the word for this event. Great attendance, wonderful authors, and promising prospects for next year, too. But, it does make my feet hurt just thinking about it.

Next we whisked off to Scotland for a couple of weeks of scholarly pursuit by my Henry with our Professor friends, Janey & Peter, at the University of Aberdeen. That's what the pictures at right are all about. It's been a tremendous trip for Henry's academic pursuits. We have been treated like VIPs by all. But, my head is a little sore from thinking so hard; I can only imagine that Henry's is banging around inside his skull. Hanging around with really, really smart people for extended periods of time is challenging -- in a very good way, of course. Read More 
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WORDKEEPERS - Saturday, August 17

Come on out for Wordkeepers on Saturday, August 17, here in beautiful downtown West Jefferson. Hear some always great original prose and poetry from local/regional writers. It's free. We have refreshments (including wine!) and feature original music at 3 and readings at 4:00. Email me to reserve your spot if you want to share a 5-minute bit of your own original writing.  Read More 
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On Baseball Love

Here is the piece I read at Night of the Spoken Word here at the Ashe County Arts Center. Keep in mind when you're reading that it was written to be READ, and so excuse quirks of punctuation and grammar designed to help me in the performance. The truth is that by the time I finished writing this essay, I had to spend most of my editing and "tarting up" time cutting it, so it would fit into my 5-minute time limit. It seems I have a lot to say on this topic. And yes, I did wear my Tiger jersey to the event, the home jersey, the one with "Sparky" patch on the sleeve.

On Baseball Love

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me “Why do you love baseball so much?” Now, a lot of times people ask me a version of this question in a kind of snooty way. What they’re really saying is: “Really, baseball is so boring.” Or “Oh, baseball, that appeals to the tobacco-chewing sort, right?” But his was a serious question. He was honestly trying to figure it out.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to answer this baseball love question… I talked to one of my baseball-loving friends about it. He told me he always reminds his snobby writer friends of all the truly great writing about baseball. Ah ha. He was on to something there…  Read More 
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Night of the Spoken Word 2013

Saturday, May 25, is Night of the Spoken Word here in Ashe County. An annual event, it spawned Wordkeepers and the Mountain Memoirs Anthology that Scot Pope, Julie Townsend and I began a few years ago.

The event starts at 7:30 at the Ashe Arts Center, here in West Jefferson. Come on out and hear many of the contributors to Mountain Memoirs. I'll be reading an essay I've been working on about baseball. Read More 
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A Whole Year

Last week I was going through the mail and just as I was about to toss the latest RailRiders catalogue into the recycle bag, look what jumped out at me. This (see right) is a picture of Henry and I on our epic adventure last March. We went snowshoeing in the Alps with Wilderness Travel. What a great trip it was.

It's frankly pretty hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since that trip. No wonder I'm itching to be planning something else. So itching that I think I've gotten myself in kind of a stale rut. Just one month after being in El Salvador with my fellow Habitat cult members (see my previous blog post on this subject), I'm already wishing on a Spring jaunt of some kind, a summer idyll, a Fall adventure.

Most of the major trip possibilities are dependent on Henry and his school adventures. If, for example, we go to Jerusalem on an archeological dig with UNC Charlotte at the end of June, we won't go on a Wilderness Travel hike in Europe. And, Fall looks like the University of Aberdeen for some concentrated study for Henry with our Professor friends there. Of course, I will tag along for a Scotland adventure.  Read More 
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I'm Back!

Wonderful trip to El Salvador this year. We were in at the beginning of a project to build homes for 400 families who have been living in "temporary" shacks since an earthquake 12 years ago. That is not a typo -- 12 years of promises these people have endured. Their living conditions are unbelievably appalling, really, completely indescribable. So, it felt great to be a small part of something so incredibly useful and important.

I started calling our group a "cult" this trip -- many of us are repeat offenders, and we only see each other on this February work project in El Salvador. We are experienced at what we're about when we are there and we really get some serious building done. Many of us also use the time to "reconstitute" as I described in my recent post, and in this way it is really a kind of honor to all be together for these 10 days each year.

The people of El Salvador are really amazing. They are kind, happy, and hopeful -- and all of this in the face of some really crap circumstances. To say that they, and in particular the staff of Habitat El Salvador, are an inspiration is a pale description of the deep impression they make.

And, here's a small world story about this trip. Kathy is a dedicated Habitat El Salvador cult member who has been on this trip many times. She is also a fellow adventure traveler with Wilderness Travel, the company Henry and I went with snowshoeing in the Alps this past March. Kathy and her husband did the Tour de Mont Blanc this summer with Wilderness Travel. On that trip she met Gail and told her about the El Salvador Habitat cult. So, this trip Gail comes from San Francisco to join us, and brings her sister-in-law, Jane, from New York, too. They were a wonderful part of the crew.

Also on this trip was a woman who had been a nurse at the U.S. Embassy at the height of El Salvador's civil war (late 80s). Her husband was working on the new U.S. Embassy being built at the time; they lived in a hotel with two small children. Needless to say their stay was not long... but, how's that for karma?

We also had family members along this time, too. Mike brought his daughter Brittany this time around. Next year, I hope Henry will be with me, too.

Click on the photo essay tab above and check out some of the photos I took this year. And, if you're so inclined, drop me an email and I'll let you know how you can help -- or even come along on our trip next time.
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It's that time again. For the last few days I have been laying out the small but mighty set of duds I'll need to fit in one carry-on bag for next week's trip to El Salvador. It's my 4th time traveling there with the good folks at Habitat Charlotte. We'll be in a new part of the country for me and it's supposed to be a LOT hotter than where I've been before. Last year we were up in the mountains and had to have a light sweater or jacket in the evenings. That ain't going to happen this time around. I have Usulutan on my app and the high today is 100 degrees. Yikes.

I'm pretty good at preparing for this trip. You could even say I'm an expert. I've been to the doctor, perused the sale stock on, and put together my little magic travel moleskin notebook I use to keep things straight. I have my favorite washcloth, my sunscreen, my giant-sized-construction-worker-grade wipes, and I'll wear my oldest pair of hiking boots which will be recycled when I leave.

I am prepared to be hot, hungry, thirsty and just plain uncomfortable at times. At the end of each day I'll be tired, beat up (I generally fall down at least once...) and every day I will smell nasty on the bus on the way home. I will, once again, wonder about why the people there are so nice. I don't think I would be. I will laugh a lot. I will be in charge of NOTHING. I will also be "reconstituted."

I say that because this trip is always inspirational, affirming, and has a way of setting my head right for the coming year. It provides a context for thinking about life in general, and for formulating specific schemes for the coming months, too. It's more than just an attitude adjustment. The travel, the people, the work -- it just kind of makes the moving parts of my brain snap together in place.

Know what I mean? Read More 
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