Revamping, Restarting…

With the recent publication of My Life With Cats, I’m “starting over” in many ways.

It’s been four years since I’ve had a new book on the market. Previously, I’d been averaging a new book every two years. Because of life changes (a divorce and a job loss) and numerous health problems, I was too depressed to promote my older books, maintain my author website, or complete any book I started.

Now that that’s changed, I have been tentatively been dipping my toes back into waters which were once familiar… but now seem foreboding. Let me tell you: it is NOT  “like getting back on a bicycle.” It’s more like, starting from scratch.

 

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Self-promotion has never come easy for me.I was raised to be super-modest. My mother apparently confused “confidence” with “conceit.”Any form of talking about my accomplishments was considered “bragging.” To this day, when customers come into the bookstore where I work, inquiring about the 90 local authors, I can’t bring myself to mention that I am one of them. One time, someone bought a copy of my Young Adult thriller, Tricked, and as I cashed them out, I could not tell them I wrote it. I felt embarrassed, awkward and tongue-tied.

This new book is a little different. It’s not just about promoting myself as an author; it is also raising awareness of a cause. $1 from every copy of My Life With Cats will be donated to the local, non-profit agency, Caring For Cats. Among the wonderful things they do for the feral cat community in Jefferson County, is to capture, spay/ neuter the animals and re-release them into the neighborhoods where they were found. (Most feral cats are unadoptable, but this procedure cuts down on the rampant breeding and inbreeding that would otherwise occur.)  Feral kittens are salvageable, if rescued when young enough, and Caring For Cats volunteers foster these baby kitties until they are ready for adoption.

Tragically, the founder of the Caring For Cats charity, JoAnn Reed, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She has helped others in the Cape Vincent/Three Mile Bay communities for decades, and now she needs OUR help.

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JoAnn with a kitten that was adopted

So, as uncomfortable as it might be for me, I am rebuilding my website and contacting press, little by little. I feel like I’m playing a character, like I do on the radio. Pretending to be happy and confident. Psyching myself up for interviews and such. I had a ton-load of people– co-workers, friends and strangers– come through for me to raise funds when I needed surgery. It is my turn to give back.

Watch for my revised website soon, plus personal appearances… Wherever. If you know of local gift shops or stores that might sell my book, please let me know.

Meanwhile, I am planning a future book signing and cat food drive. Stay tuned for details!

Pray for JoAnn and the feral cat community.

 

kitties

Picture Courtesy of Caring For Cats

 

 

Stop the Presses! Here’s My New Book!

I’ve been trying to write a cat book for what feels like Forever.

 

Actually, I HAVE had a completed “cat book” sitting on the shelf, for more than two years. It’s a children’s book (whose title I’ll keep to myself for now), and its plot revolves around a specific cause which I am passionate about. The reason I haven’t published it? ARTISTS! This is a book that requires illustrations– LOTS of them!– and I’ve had cruddy luck  with illustrators. At least a half-dozen signed up for the project and then backed out for various reasons. So I gave up on that project. Maybe I’ll get back to it someday.

 

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Clip art image

After this disappointment, I tried to work on a couple of novel ideas. One was an adult romance/ mystery based on some old love letters I found. The other was a cutting-edge YA shocker that I intend to get back to at some point. But in both cases, I kept hitting walls after a few chapters.

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“That’s sad!”

 

Then, I had the blind luck to organize a fundraiser for a local feline rescue group, Caring For Cats. I rounded up a trio of local authors who have published animal-related books. While thumbing through the pages of their nonfiction books, I had an epiphone:

 

I had enough cat stories to fill up a book! Was my Muse trying to send me a sign that I was going in the wrong direction with my lightweight fiction piece?

Aside from my blog, the only real cat of mine that I ever wrote about was Deej. His story appeared in an anthology called The Third Kingdom, a collection of animal stories by Northern NY authors, published in 2014.

 

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This limited-run book is no longer available.

The results: Two months or so of scrambling, scavenging, sweating, brainstorming, remembering, and crying long-overdue tears for the kitties who’d crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

THE RESULTS….

My Life With Cats: True Stories of Real Cats Who Left Pawprints on my Heart is probably the quickest book I ever wrote. The hardest part was digging up old pictures and getting them scanned, then getting the manuscript properly formatted. I’d never realized before how many cats I’ve loved in my lifetime, since many of them were not actual pets but feral cats that I worked hard to try and rescue. It was certainly an emotional undertaking! I found myself crying over kitties I have not thought of in almost twenty years… like Brutus. 

 

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Brutus, my Sweet Love….Wish I could have saved you, buddy.

 

I wouldn’t dream of asking you to purchase my book based on my WordPress blog– which is mostly lighthearted, unlike the sentimental book– so I’m letting you read a free sample here. It’s part of Chapter Four: Kittens! And involves my attempt to tame two feral cat families in y neighborhood. I was stopped in my tracks by a mean neighbor.

 

*****************************************************************

1988

One day, when I was home alone and Mom was at work, I was startled by a rapping at the back door. An unfamiliar old woman was standing on the deck, scowling through the glass at me. She had a large, hooked nose, and her square face was framed by a faded, old-fashioned kerchief. She wore a long dress, paired with ugly, orthopedic shoes. She was clutching a broom in her right hand. Even though she saw me coming to the door, she continued to rap at the glass with the broom handle. I was worried she’d crack it; then we’d be in trouble with the landlord.

Hesitantly, I unlatched the door and opened it a crack. “Yes?” I asked.

“Your cats?” she fairly shouted, pointing an accusing, crooked finger at me.

Even though she’d spoken just two words, I realized that English was not this woman’s first language. Her accent was very thick. There was a large Greek immigrant population in the area. A Greek Orthodox church stood on Breakwater Road, the main drag.

I guess I must have been staring at her blankly, because she repeated: “You have cats?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer her. Technically they weren’t my cats, but they might as well be. Of course, there was no way to communicate this to her in a way that she would understand. So I just nodded “yes.”

“They dig up my garden!” She turned and pointed across the backyard, indicating that she lived beyond the trees that marked the end of our property line. “They always digging!”

“I’m sorry,” was all I could say.

“You better keep them away from my garden! Keep inside!” She nodded at my enclosed porch.

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Stock photo of mean old lady

“I- I’ll try,” I said, knowing this was an impossible request. Even if I violated the landlord’s No Pets policy by keeping the kittens inside, what about Alexis and Miranda? I watched the old woman as she hobbled away, half-expecting her to ride her broomstick home.

I told Mom about this frightening encounter when she got home from work. She reminded me that cold weather would be here before we knew it.

“What are we supposed to do then?” she asked. “We can’t keep them all in the house.”

I suggested we let them stay in the garage. It wasn’t heated, but it would be shelter, at least, from the snow and wind.

“But in the spring, they’ll want to go outside, and they’ll go right back to digging up the lady’s garden,” Mom reasoned.

We had to come up with a better plan.

*******************************************************************

If you are  curious to read more, here is the link to purchase the book on Amazon. It is equal parts laughter, heartache and humor. Every dedicated cat lover will find a story that speaks to their heart!

LOCAL FRIENDS AND FANS, I urge you to support our little, independent Watertown bookstore, The Reading Room, by BUYING IT THERE!!!!!! (It’s in Salmon Run Mall.)

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FYI, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Caring for Cats, and other cat rescue groups as I stumble upon them.

Thank you so much for your support!

 

Authors We Lost in 2016

We lost a lot of great authors in 2016. Here is a tribute to some of the unforgettable writers we lost in the past year.

 

Harper Lee (died Feb 19)

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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won a Pulitzer Prize the following year. It is considered a classic in American literature. In 2015, a manuscript that was thought lost or destroyed, Go Set a Watchman, was published. It was actually the first draft of Mockingbird.

 

Elie Wiesel (died Sept 30)

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Weisel was a Holocaust survivor, Nobel laureate and political activist. He was also the author of more than 50 books, the most famous of which was Night.

Jackie Collins (died Sept 19)

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Jackie Collins was a controversial romance novelist whose career spanned five decades. Her first novel, The World Is Full of Married Men, was published in 1968 and was widely banned and criticized as “smut.” Her best-selling book was 1983’s Hollywood Wives. In 1985, it was turned into a miniseries by Aaron Spelling.

Anna Dewdney (died Sept 3)

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Anna Dewdney was the author of the popular children’s series that began with Llama Llama Red Pajama in 2005. Subsequent titles included Llama Llama Home With Mama and Llama Llama Time to Share. Dewdney died of brain cancer at the young age of 50.

Michael Blake (died May 2)

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Michael Blake wrote the 1988 novel, Dances With Wolves, which was turned into an epic film by Kevin Costner in 1990.

Pat Conroy (died March 4)

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Pat Conroy was the author of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini. Both were made into Oscar-nominated films.

Gloria Naylor  (died September 28)

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Gloria Naylor’s most famous book was 1982’s The Women of Brewster Place. It won a National Book Award the following year, and in 1989 was made into a film, spearheaded by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

The great thing about being a writer is, while a body may die and a mortal soul depart… books and stories live forever. Therefore, authors are as close to immortal as a human can be.

2016 Reading Challenge… DONE!!!!

 

2016 rc

Well, 2016 is just about over, and I am happy to announce that I have FINALLY completed the Reading Challenge that I so eagerly undertook in January!

The second-to-last step of the Challenge really held me up. “Read a Book That Intimidates You.” At first I thought this was a preposterous notion… I never realized how many books could, in fact, intimidate me! Many of these fell into the Self-Help category. One had something to do with “Ex-aholics,” and another was a “classic” by Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life) that mysteriously showed up in my mailbox with no return address. I made it only part-way through the former and read the latter in its entirety. I don’t feel comfortable using the Louise Hay book in this category, because it requires one to “do the work,” so to speak, and I was not willing to do the tasks it required. (One involved looking in the mirror and saying positive affirmations every day. No can do.) I guess you can say I was still intimidated by the book after reading it. I felt like a failure.

 

Ultimately, I resorted to an old high school enemy: William Shakespeare. Of all the books I was forced–I mean ASSIGNED– to read in High School, I only remember hating “Wuthering Heights” and every book by Shakespeare. I guess it’s because of the mind-bending Early Modern English he utilized in his writing;  it’s sort of like reading a book in a foreign language that you barely have a grip on. If you have to pause to mentally translate every sentence, it certainly takes away the enjoyment that ought to come with reading a book (or in this case, a play). So I decided to “cheat.” Rather than the original Shakespearean text, I checked out a modern translation by a local author, David Andalora. Dave is a special education teacher who has translated several adaptations of Shakespeare’s works into “Today Speak,” so that they can be read quickly and easily, with none of  the original content lost in translation. Rather than the over-exposed “Romeo and Juliet,” I decided to take on MacBeth, a play believed to have been performed as early as 1606. . I much prefer tragedies over comedies, and Will Shakespeare was renowned for both.

 

shake-it

 

Reading MacBeth in “plain speak” was surprisingly easy and even fun. It was a darkly interesting psychological study into what atrocities humans commit when driven by greed, and how Evil can snowball and spiral out of control. I was surprised at the extent of the violent, bloody nature of Macbeth’s crimes, and wondered how they could have believably pulled this off onstage four hundred years ago. I understand that the three witches were there partly for comic relief and more so, because they foreshadowed how Macbeth’s downfall would come about. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if Shakespeare’s portrayal stoked the public frenzy that caused hundreds of supposed “witches” to be hunted, unjustly tried, and killed from the 1500s to the early 1800s. (No wonder Modern Day Wiccans are usually very secretive about their religion!) Anyway, I would still not read Shakespeare’s works in their original form, but I’d give another of Mr. Andalora’s translations a try.

 

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Finally, I came to the twelfth– and the easiest– of the challenge. “Read a Book You’ve Read at Least Once Before.”

 

How many times have I read Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Who knows… a couple dozen, at least, starting at around eight or nine years old. At first, I was curious to read it because of the TV series “Little House on the Prairie,” but even at that young age, I realized that Laura’s real-life childhood was very different from the television portrayal.

 

As an only child with a “Ma” but no “Pa,” I completely immersed myself in the happy little Ingalls family– which then consisted of just Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and little Baby Carrie.

 

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I wanted to live in that little log cabin and eat fresh bear meat that Pa had hunted, to help churn the butter, to sleep in a straw mattress bed in  a loft, and to ride in a covered wagon to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, deep in the deep Wisconsin woods. Even though Pa was stricts and spanked Laura when she was bad, he would gently explain afterwards why she’d deserved it. There was no questioning the love in that family, even though they never actually uttered the words “I Love You.” It didn’t need to be verbalized to be understood and felt.

 

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The closing passage,  in LHITBW touched me profoundly as a third grade girl, and still brings tears to my eyes everytime I read it.

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

 

Such profound thoughts for such a young girl! But, as we know… time marches on. Every Today will become a Yesterday, and eventually a blip in history, entirely forgotten.  Unless we make a difference in our own way.

And so concludes my 2016 Reading Challenge. I think I will create my own categories for next year.
Happy New Year,Kind Readers! Best of luck with everything in your lives!

And the #1 Un-Christmassy Christmas Song IS…

Finally! We have arrived at the pinnacle of Mt. UnChristmas. The only clue I dropped during this whole Top 13 countdown was song #7 (“Where Are You, Christmas?” by Faith Hill, from the 2000 remake of “The Grinch.”)

1.You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch- Thurl Ravenscroft (UNCREDITED!)

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The Grinch and Thurl Ravenscroft

Most everybody knows that the Grinch in the 1966 animated TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas was voiced by actor Boris Karloff. However, Karloff did NOT sing the special’s most memorable tune… although it was mistakenly credited to him. The song was actually performed by one Thurl Ravenscroft. While he may not exactly be a household name, those of us who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s will remember him as the voice of Tony the Tiger in the Frosted Flakes cereal commercials. (“They’re Grrrreat!!!”)

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Thurl with Tony the Tiger

The reason for using Ravenscroft for the one song was, even though he and Karloff sounded very much alike, Boris Karloff could not sing. Legend has it that Dr. Seuss himself tried to rectify the situation and wrote letters to journalists to try and give the voice artist proper credit, even calling Ravenscroft on the telephone to apologize for the oversight.

Here are the full lyrics to the #1 most Un-Christmassy Christmas Song of All Time!

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

You really are a heel.

You’re as cuddly as a cactus,

You’re as charming as an eel,

Mr. Grinch.

You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel.

You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch.

Your heart’s an empty hole.

Your brain is full of spiders.

You’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr Grinch.

I wouldn’t touch you with a

Thirty-nine and a half foot pole.

You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch.

You have termites in your smile,

You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile,

Mr Grinch.

Given the choice between the two of you,

I’d take the seasick crocodile.

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch.

You’re a nasty wasty skunk.

Your heart is full of unwashed socks.

Your soul is full of gunk,

Mr Grinch.

The three best words that best describe you,

Are as follows, and I quote”

Stink!

Stank!

Stunk!

You’re a rotter Mr Grinch

You’re the king of sinful sots

Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots

Mr Grinch

Your soul is an appalling dump heap

Overflowing with the most disgraceful

Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable,

Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr Grinch

With a nauseous super nos

You’re a crooked jerky jockey and,

You drive a crooked horse

Mr Grinch!

You’re a three-decker sauerkraut

And toadstool sandwich,

With arsenic sauce!

And with those unmatchable sentiments, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a healthful,happy New Year!

4… 3… 2…More Un-Christmassy Fun!

  1. Please Come Home for Christmas- the Eagles (and Charles Brown, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, etc.)  

 

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Bells will be ringing this sad sad News

Oh what a Christmas to have the blues

My baby’s gone I have no friends

To wish me greetings once again

 

Originally released in 1960 by blues singer Charles Brown (he co-wrote it with Gene Redd), the song rose to even greater popularity when the Eagles recorded it in 1978. That year, it made the Top 20 on the pop charts, the first Christmas song to do so since 1963.

This line always irked me:

Please come home for Christmas

If not for Christmas by New Years night

Complete cop-out! The song’s not even over and already he is buying time, because he knows she’s NOT coming home for Christmas!

 

 

 

 

  1. Blue Christmas- Elvis Presley (and, like, hundreds of other artists)

 

Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, the song was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. It enjoyed greater success the following year as a Country & Western hit by Ernest Tubb. Elvis originally recorded the melancholy ballad in 1957, but it wasn’t made commercially available as a single until 1964. (No iTunes in those days, kiddos!)

Here’s Elvis performing it live in 1968:

 

  1.  Last Christmas- Wham!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              last-xmas                                                                                                                                                                 This lil’ gem first wormed its way into our ears in winter of 1984. Written and produced by one-time heartthrob George Michael, “Last Christmas” was recorded by his duo Wham! and went on to become one of the year’s biggest seasonal hits (along with the all-star charity record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band-Aid… which, oddly enough, also featured Wham!)

 

“Last Christmas I gave you my heart

But the very next day, you gave it away.”

 

The very NEXT DAY??!!?? What a hussy!

 

The song has been covered over the years, mostly by young female pop artists… Taylor Swift, Hillary Duff, Ashley Tisdale, Ariana Grande and Carly Rae Jepsen, to name a few. But no other recording has quite captured the lonely disillusionment of the original recording.

 

And the video, with its classic 1980s hairdos and fashion? Iconic.

 

Well, we’ve almost arrived at the pinnacle of this un-merry musical mountain… Think you know my pick for Thee ultimate, most Un-Christmassy Christmas song of all time???
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this blog series!

More of My Top Un-Christmassy Christmas Songs. #7 is…

 

Aaaand we’re back! The good news is, we have gotten all the songs involving alcohol out of the way. (I mean, getting drunk is such an easy “out” if you are struggling to make it through the holidays.)

Snow is on the ground. Temps are waaay below freezing. Sure “feels” like Christmas, at least climate-wise. Yet, it all seems so artificial, so empty…

 

7. Where Are You, Christmas?- Faith Hill

In 2000, Dr. Seuss’s 1957 children’s book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was adapted into a live action movie starring Jim Carrey in the lead role. (It had previously been made into a cartoon TV special in 1966.) The Cindy Lou Who character performs the song in the film. Country Sweetheart-turned-Pop Diva Faith Hill recorded it for the soundtrack. The tune was penned by Will Jennings and James Horner, best known for their work on the “Titanic” soundtrack (Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” etc.)

 

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Where are you Christmas
Why can’t I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can’t I hear music play?

Ah, but I CAN still hear the music playing, Faith. It is hurting my ears and my heart. Hence, this blog series.

 

 

6. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)- Darlene Love
The Phil Spector Christmas 1963 album, “A Christmas Gift For You,” was a masterpiece. Featuring tunes by the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love, and Bob B.Soxx and the Blue Jeans, this record epitomized the “Wall of Sound” well, sound, that *made Spector famous.

*This was decades before his ex-wife Ronnie (lead singer of the Ronettes) spoke publically about his alleged physical mental abuse, and Phil’s imprisonment for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson.

 

In 1987, the song enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, thanks to U2’s remake. Meh.

 

5. Merry Christmas Darling- the Carpenters

 

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Nobody ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever sang a sad song as convincingly as Karen Carpenter. Ever. That’s because she was probably one of the saddest, loneliest pop stars of the 20th century. Too bad no one knew that until after she croaked. (Read this book: “Little Girl Blue” by Randy Schmidt.)
Originally recorded in 1970, the song made the holiday charts in many years following. It was finally included on an album (The Carpenters’ iconic “Christmas Portrait”) in 1978.
The song’s deceptively romantic lyrics leave the listener– and Karen– hanging. It’s kind of like a love letter that comes back stamped “Return to Sender.” (Sigh.)

 

 

The theme of Loneliness will continue in the next batch of tunes.

Cracking Open the Top 10: My UN-Christmassy Christmas Song Playlist

Aaaand we’re back,with more Un-Christmassy fun! It’s time to start unveiling the Top 10. Ready?

  1.  Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day- Brenda Lee

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I fought with myself over whether to include this tune or not. After all, 99.999% of you who are reading this (which amounts to,perhaps ten or twelve people) have never heard of this little gem. But since this blog is about MY personal Top 13 Un-Christmassy Christmas tunes, it doesn’t really matter how obscure this tune is.

When it comes to seasonal songs, Brenda Lee (AKA “Little Miss Dynamite”) will be remembered for eternity for her hit “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” But my Mom was Brenda’s biggest fan, so I grew up with ALL of Brenda’s music. Even as a small child, I gravitated towards sad songs. So,even though Brenda recorded cheerful songs like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Marshmallow World” on this LP, my favorite, by far, was  “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day.” Key lyrics are in the bridge:

“I had a lonely September, October, November, too.

But December is twice as lonely without you.”

 

 

9. TIE!!!!!

Merry Christmas From the Family- Montgomery Gentry

Country music and drinking go together like, well rum and Coke! I can’t decide between these two intoxicating tunes…. They basically cancel each other out.

Country music duo, Montgomery Gentry recorded this nugget, written by Robert Earl Keen, in 2001. The title may sound like a line from a Hallmark Card, but once you hear Eddie Montgomery utter the opening line: 

“Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at a Christmas party…”

You know that this is not going to be your ordinary, warm-and-fuzzy holiday tune. Not in the least.

 

Drunk on Christmas- Big and Rich

Comedian/ talk show host Jimmy Fallon had already made this ditty a holiday staple on his late night show, when he teamed up with country singer-songwriter John Rich in December 2010 to make it a boisterous duet. At the time, John was taking a break from the duo Big and Rich to work on some solo projects. He and “Big Kenny” Alphin have since reunited, and in 2012, they released their own take on the song. It seems a perfect choice of holiday tunage from the act whose debut single was called “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.”

 

8. Nuttin’ For Christmas- Barry Gordon

 

 

 

One of the cool things about writing this multi-part blog is learning things I never knew before about songs I’ve heard for ages. In this case, we travel all the way back to 1955 (it’s the oldest song on this list). Barry Gordon was only six years old when he recorded this lil’ gem. Written by Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett, this song perfectly illustrates why I never had kids;  if I had, he’d have probably been something like the brat in this song. The precocious lad brags about all of the petty crimes he’s committed over the past year… putting a tack on his teacher’s chair, spilling ink on Mom’s carpet, filling the sugar bowl with ants, even using counterfeit money to buy bubble gum!

So, did this Barry kid grow up to be a hardened criminal? Was he some random schoolboy who could hold a tune, but who faded into obscurity after his voice changed?

Anything but!!! Actually, Barry Gordon may not be a household name, but he continued his showbiz career for decades, following his infectious pop hit, acting in TV and on Broadway, and providing voices in the 1980s for Smurfs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Barry was also President of the Screen Actors Guild for seven years.

 

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Barry as a Grown-up

Tune in later this week for the next installment in our countdown!

My Top 13 Un-Christmassy Christmas songs, Part 1

Christmas music. Love it or hate it, you can’t escape it, unless you live under a rock from Thanksgiving through December 25th. For some of us, it gets us into the “holiday spirit” (whatever that means). But for others of us, whether we’re Pagan, depressed, or just lonely, it can be an annoyance! I am writing this on December 1st, and I’m already so sick of Christmas songs, I want to grab the next person I hear whistling “Jingle Bells” by the neck and shake them, screaming: “You can take your ‘Holly Jolly’ and shove it up your ‘fa la la la’ lovin’…” Well, you know.

I’ve compiled a list of Un-Christmassy Christmas songs that celebrate the Scrooge, alcoholic and loner in all of our hearts.

  1. Thinking About Drinking for Christmas- Kristian Bush

Kristian Bush hasn’t enjoyed quite as stellar a solo career as his former Sugarland mate, Jennifer Nettles, has, but he has released some cool, if not underheard, tunes on his own. One of them is “Thinking About Drinking for Christmas,” a clever ditty Bush penned with fellow singer Chris Young and Nashville hit songwriter Brett James. Kristian began including it in his live shows in 2013 and officially released it as a singer two years later. Kristian even includes a shout-out to his real-life Aunt Alice in the lyrics. He told Rolling Stone magazine:

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“She was the kind of aunt that always hugged you too hard and wouldn’t stop talking, you know? There’s something about your family that can stress you out sometimes, but you still love them. You’re just not around them all year, and you don’t have the skill set to navigate them. Sometimes, you can start thinking about what’s gonna help you deal with all of that.”

I’ll drink to that, Kristian… Cheers!

 

 

  1. Christmas Always Makes Me Cry- Kacey Musgraves. This song is a brand new one, from Musgraves’s A Very Kacey Christmas CD, which just came out at the end of October. (See what I mean about retailers rushing the season??) The album includes classic holiday tunes, (there’s a duet with Willie Nelson!), plus four originals that Kacey penned herself. A stand-out among these is “Christmas Always Makes Me Cry.” Musgraves explains: “There can be a touch of sad feelings and memories during the holiday season for a lot of people so I knew when I went in to write I wanted to include all the emotions this time of year can bring out.”

 

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Kacey performed the song on this year’s CMA Country Christmas TV special. Nicely done.

 

  1. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer- Elmo and Patsy

elmo

I really, really, REALLY did not want to include this tune, because I am soooo sick of it! It has definitely lost its novelty since it came out in 1979. (Although it does still make me smile, to think how much my grandma hated the song, and how Grandpa, Mom and I laughed at her whenever it came on.) Composed by Randy Brooks, it was recorded by the then-husband-and-wife team of Elmo and Patsy Shropshire. They sold copies of their recording on 45rpm records at their live shows, until the thing went viral nationally (however things went viral in 1979).  “Grandma” in the accompanying music video is actually Elmo in drag. Trivia  tidbit: After they divorced, Elmo re-recorded the song, without Patsy. He was being nice… After all, he could have changed the words to “PATSY got Run Over by a Reindeer,” but he didn’t.

 

Next time, we’ll crack open the Top Ten Un-Christmassy Christmas songs! And probably a six-pack.

The Most Challenging of the 2016 Reading Challenge!

    The tenth assignment in the 2016 Reading Challenge was holding me up from accomplishing my goal… threatening to sabotage me from completing the challenge by December 31st! Why? Because it required me to read a book that has been in my house (well, apartment, really) for a long time that I never read. I have no such tomes. I buy ‘em, I read ‘em. Nothing goes unread, once acquired by my eager hands and inquisitive mind. What to DOOOO?????

    I don’t know if this is cheating, but I bought a bunch of books at two local library sales. I let them sit for a coupla days on my living room couch. Then I blindly reached into the pile and pulled out…

    The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson

 

amityjinx

My reading buddy, Jinx

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    I picked this book up for a quarter at a library in Boonville, NY. I was attracted to it because 1) I had seen the movie, 2) I am from Long Island, and 3) I was hospitalized for many months in Amityville in 1991, and it really was quite horrific! .

    If you’re unfamiliar with the story (or Urban Legend?) of the experiences of the Lutz family while they lived in their “dream home” at 112 Ocean Avenue for a mere twenty-eight days in 1975, let me bring you up yo speed. The family, which consisted of George and Kathy Lutz and their three children (plus Harry the dog), were surprised at the “bargain” price of the beautiful, three story house: only $80,000! (According to an inflation calculator, that would be equivalent to $392,258.01 in today’s money.) What could be wrong with the place? It certainly wasn’t falling apart, In fact, although it was slightly more expensive than what they’d been planning to spend, the house was all they ever wanted.

    The real estate agent explained the reason for the discounted price: the home was the site of a horrific mass murder the year before, one that made national headlines. On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo shot to death his parents, two brothers and two sisters while they were asleep. (He claimed he’d been hearing “voices” for months before the massacre.) He was consequently given six consecutive life sentences.

                          Ron DeFeo’s mug shot, and pictured on the far right with the siblings he                                                 murdered.

  Now, a lot of folks might be put off by such a story and decline the chance to live in a house where such a horrible event took place, no matter how good the price was. However, the Lutzes were not superstitious.

    Of course, supernatural occurrences began as soon as the family moved in. Some examples…

George’s demeanor changed from an amiable husband and good father to that of an irritable man who had no patience with his children. He stopped showering and shaving and avoided going to work.

Certain rooms in the house were inexplicably cold, no matter how high the thermostat was turned up.

All of the toilets in the house turned pitch black inside, as though they had been painted. No amount of scrubbing or Clorox would get rid of the mysterious stain.

Unexplained shadows… MOVING ones appeared, sending Harry into a barking frenzy.

While many children have imaginary friends, five-year-old Missy’s was not your typical invisible playmate; no, her “friend” was a pig named Jodie who told her that he was an angel. The parents might have brushed this off as their kid being a little “odd”…if it weren’t for the fact that the adult Lutzes witnessed Jodie’s red eyes glowing in the dark!

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George and Kathy Lutz with two of their kids.

A local priest, Father Frank Mancuso, was alerted to the fact that the Lutzes might be in danger. When he visited the house, to bless it with holy water, he was alarmed by a disembodied, masculine voice, ordering him to:”GET OUT!” Immediately after returning to the rectory following his eerie visit to 112 Ocean Avenue, Father Mancuso became inexplicably ill, with a fever of 103 degrees. Furthermore, whenever he and the Lutzes attempted to communicate by telephone, they were interrupted by static interference, making communication virtually impossible.

One might scoff at the Lutz’s story, writing them off as attention-seekers who wanted to capitalize on the house’s history. Why, then, did the family flee from the home,leaving all of their furniture and personal possessions behind? And why would a priest “lie” confirming their story?

Other families have lived in the house after the Lutzes. I’m not sure if they experienced supernatural or demonic activity. However, they were plagued by curiosity seekers. The vast amount of strangers wanting tours and pictures of the house was so disruptive that the new owners removed the house number and made changes to the outside of the house so it wouldn’t be as recognizable.

amityville-house-305x400-before-after

Earlier this year, the house made news again when it hit the market for an asking price of $850,000.

Any takers?

I have two books left for my 2016 Reading Challenge: A book that intimidates me, and any book that I’ve read at least once before. The possibilities are endless.