Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas Countdown: Holiday Movie Guide

It’s so cold! Sounds like the perfect excuse to me to stay indoors with a good movie, my baby and our two fat warm kitties, and some hot coffee! (Put a dollop of Peppermint Mocha Coffee-Mate in it – tastes good in hot cocoa too!) Here are my recommendations, as well as some I’d recommend against!

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Lovable Charlie Brown becomes frustrated with the over-commercialism of Christmas and goes looking for its real meaning. Leave it to Linus to weigh in with a timely speech like he always does. If you didn’t catch this one on TV, pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray. I bought mine in a three pack of Charlie Brown holiday DVDs (with six TV specials total – two on each disc).
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A Garfield Christmas

Back in the good old days, this special came on right after Charlie Brown’s. Garfield, Jon, and Odie pack up to visit Jon’s family on the farm and hang with Grandma and crew. I love old school Garfield so much. I don’t think you can watch this on TV anymore, but currently, this is found as one of three specials on the Garfield Holiday Celebrations DVD.
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The Muppet Christmas Carol

Gonzo pretends to be Charles Dickens long enough to take viewers through a fabulous musical version of the classic story. Michael Caine is one of my favorite Scrooges ever, and Kermit the Frog plays the perfectly affable Bob Cratchit! And in what other movie can you find a cart of vegetables singing about how terrible Scrooge is?
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Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

Why do I not own this? Make fun of me all you want; I ADORE this special! Big Bird worries over Santa Claus in his typical neurotic fashion, Bert and Ernie unintentionally re-enact The Gift of the Magi, Oscar gleefully wrecks people’s Christmases and Cookie Monster eats everything in sight.
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How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Well, I couldn’t not put this brief special in here. It’s not one of my absolute favorites, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I’m talking about the original, not the remake with Jim Carrey, which looks horrendous. (I think I might’ve actually watched it at some point and blocked it out of my memory because it was too painful to retain)
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Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

This is one of my absolute favorites – the Rudolph story in stop-motion animation complete with an abominable snow monster! But watching this movie as an adult does make one take notice of some things. For starters, gee, thanks Donner for saying searching for your son is “man’s work”. Secondly, don’t you think it’s a little messed up to introduce a “misfit” bird who can’t fly, and THEN show us a scene of Santa tossing him out of his sleigh from 10,000 feet? And WOW – the reindeer (including Rudolph’s parents and coach), Santa, and all the elves are SO MEAN! The adults even encourage the kids to make fun of Rudolph and ostracize him! OHHH but what’s that, his nose can help guide a sleigh? Guess those who are different are only acceptable when you can use ’em for something, huh Santa? You don’t fool me, you jolly old oaf!
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Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas

I doubt this one comes on TV any more, but please try to catch this cute comedy if you can! Dinosaurs Rex and Herb take you through a selection of favorite Christmas carols; Rex gives you the history while Herb wanders off eating everything. The California Raisins even make an appearance!
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Frosty the Snowman

Okay, so I had never seen this Rankin/Bass classic until a few years ago and Eric and I just about died laughing. A big doofy snowman runs around talking in a dopey voice while some equally dopey kids chase him around …. what more do you want? HEY HEY KIDS! Man, Rankin/Bass specials are so weird. I grew up thinking they were fabulous when I’d only seen Rudolph. Now I start watching more of them and find that many of the others seem to be awful. I’ll let you know for sure when I’ve seen them all. The Cricket on the Hearth was the most recent one I saw, and I wouldn’t wish that one on my worst enemy, if I had a worst enemy, which thankfully I do not (and I’m not taking any applications either). I wouldn’t show it to any kids who are of course the intended audience. I think they’d be bored by the storyline and terrible songs, and then probably traumatized when someone pulls a gun and shoots two of the animal characters out of nowhere FOR NO REASON. The utter butchering of this Charles Dickens Christmas story annoys me to no end, but for the sake of both your sanity and my own I’m going to stop thinking about it now.
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Elf

This is such a funny and cute Christmas movie; I was surprised by how much I liked it when I first saw it. It parodies other Christmas specials while introducing Buddy, a man raised as an elf and sent off to New York City to find his real dad – a workaholic who has no clue Buddy exists. I thought it was going to be dumb, but it made me laugh and yes, warmed my heart.
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A Christmas Carol

There are tons and tons of Christmas Carol movies out there, but this one is my personal favorite (aside from the Muppet one)! George C. Scott is a most excellent Scrooge and does Dickens justice! So if you’re going to rent a Carol, make it this one!
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White Christmas

This is a very well-made musical from 1954 starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Out of the Army and enjoying post-World War II life, a pair of professional entertainer friends find a way to save the inn run by their beloved former general. And although it does make an appearance, the song “White Christmas” is not actually from this movie – Bing Crosby sang it in a prior movie, 1942’s Holiday Inn.
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Little Women

I love this movie version of the Louisa May Alcott novel with its all-star cast, including one of my favorites, Winona Ryder. My sister and I make it a point to watch this together every year.
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It's a Wonderful Life

Guess what? I somehow managed to not see this classic until I was in my early 20s. Frank Capra is a down-on-his-luck businessman ready to off himself on Christmas Eve, when an angel appears to show him how much better the world is with him in it. It made me bawl, which is probably why I haven’t watched it again since, but it’s a good film!
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Bad Santa

If you are looking for something a little less feel-good but a lot more hysterical, have a good laugh at this Billy Bob Thornton film that is decidedly not for kids. Thornton stars as the worst low-down alcoholic mall Santa Claus you have ever seen … it’s a classic all right.
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Scrooged

If you want a more modern take on Carol you can’t go wrong with this Bill Murray hilarity. It’s been far too long since I took the time to watch this. Murray is a modern-day Scrooge-ish executive who is the biggest jerk imaginable, but don’t worry, the three ghosts we all know and love aren’t going to let him get away with that!
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Black Christmas (remake)

Would you rather scream than laugh or cry this Christmas? Try Black Christmas (the original or the remake). Personally speaking, the remake makes me laugh rather than scream (despite some disgusting moments) but I’m weird like that. Enjoyable either way!
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Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

I could never leave out the Home Alone movies about Kevin McAllister battling some bumbling robbers! They are both great if you ask me, with all kinds of silly slapstick humor. You get a creepy tarantula in the first one, a perfect Tim Curry in the second, and a parody of old gangster films in both! Now I hope I don’t have to tell anyone this, but do yourself a favor and stay away from any other sequels if you can help it because they’re awful and a cheap attempt to cash in on the success of the originals. They’ll try to fool you into buying a set of all four movies together – take it from me, RUN FOREST, RUN and just buy the set of the first two!

Those are some of my recommendations! I have plenty more, like The Hebrew Hammer (Jewish superhero saves Hanukkah from Santa’s evil son) and Nothing Like the Holidays (Puerto Rican family reunites for Christmas) and of course my recently re-discovered She-Ra & He-Man Christmas special! But I’m tired of writing already. Haha! What are your favorites?

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Bull Run Festival of Lights

Since moving to this area three years ago, I look forward every year to driving through the Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville, VA with my favorite Valentine family! (We did miss it last year!) It’s a very cool event for anyone to enjoy, especially since you can stay in your warm car the whole time (unless you want to visit the outdoor Holiday Village winter carnival at the end … read on).

After paying your admission, turn your car radio to 97.1 FM (or whichever station is playing Christmas music) and cruise on down the lighted pathway for the next 15-20 minutes. On either side of the road, and sometimes arching over it, are figures made out of Christmas lights. Many of the figures “move” – Old Man Winter blows a gust of wind at you, gingerbread men and reindeer fly over your head, Santa and his elves make toys, etc. You’re supposed to turn off your headlights so that everyone can get the best view in the dark; the road is lined with lights the whole way, so there’s no need to leave anything but your parking lights on. The first year I went, I was driving Frank the Buick and it turned out the automatic sensor lights could not be turned off, so we went through with headlights glaring the whole time. Oops.

Most of the light scenes show holiday stuff, but there are plenty of random ones that depict fairy tales and whatnot. We didn’t see any new ones this year that I can think of which was disappointing. Eric took pictures this year, but most of them came out awful. That’s probably because we weren’t drifting to a halt every other second to take umpteen flash photos while holding up the rest of the line, like SOME people in front of us kept insisting on doing! Here are a couple shots that came out decently, but you’ll probably need to do the click-and-enlarge bit to get a decent look.

Giant scary apple tree! He moves his arms back and forth.

There are a lot of random non-holiday scenes thrown in. Here's one with Peter Pan flying overhead and the gator opening and closing his mouth!

The Holiday Village at the end is like a carnival in freezing weather. There are a few kiddie rides and food and game booths set up. I would’ve loved to ride the Ferris wheel, but it was just too cold for me to sit still for that long. As for the games, this year I got some weird deformed aqua-colored animal (“It’s whatever you want it to be, honey,” said the lady at the booth) from the pick-a-duck “game”, and a cup of hot chocolate that tasted just like what I imagine hot motor oil tastes like. They did have a crepe truck at one end but I was not hungry enough to get one. Too bad … I love crepes! A crafts store was open, and the Valentine family posed for a cute picture with Santa Claus inside. Little Stephen looked adorable walking around in his sock monkey hat and caused lots of people to stop and go “Awwwww.”

Hanging out in the Holiday Village

I was saddened to see that the heaters-on-poles and the little slick of an ice rink (if it was really ice … to me it looked like vinyl, hehehe) were missing, perhaps to make way for the new light show feature this year. We sat down to check that out. Warm blankets were provided; thank goodness for that because until I put one on the bleachers I felt like my butt was glued to a block of ice. The light show consists of several Christmas trees flashing lights in synchronization with a couple of blaring Christmas carols. Kind of fun, but the one who got the most out of it was Stephen, who was fascinated.

Another thing that you can do at the Holiday Village is get some marshmallows on sticks and roast them over the big fire pits. For some reason we neglected to do this this year. There was also a hay ride available to go through another section of the lights; I don’t remember its being available before. I felt like something was “missing” this year and I guess the ice rink and heaters would be it. I still highly recommend visiting Bull Run this month for an evening of fun. Prices vary based on type of vehicle and number of people, but we paid $20 for an SUV with five people. If you want a preview of the show, just drive by on I-66 – you can see the light displays at the end of the forest trail, and the carnival with the Ferris wheel.

Have fun!

It’s the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving is awesome. Can we have Thanksgiving once a month? Although I missed my mom’s delicious squash casserole – she’s saving it for Christmas when my sister’s there to enjoy – several other dishes were debuted that were too yummy for words. Along with our typical turkey, cranberry sauce, homemade mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, champagne, herb stuffing, and baby sweet pickles, we had:

-Salad: broccoli florets with ground pecans and gorgonzola cheese. (A very tasty creation of my father’s!)
-A second, almost unbearably delicious stuffing with cranberry and bacon courtesy of my Aunt V.! (I said “unbearably” because now I’m sitting here craving it)
-Cauliflower and cheese casserole
-Brussels sprouts
-A new green bean dish with bread crumbs. I missed the green bean casserole we usually have, but this was a yummy substitute!
-A different kind of casserole with big chunks of butternut squash.
-Pecan pie
-Pumpkin pie

My mom is a fabulous cook, hands down, but she really outdid herself this year.

Black Friday: I don’t do Black Friday. Nothing against people who do, unless you’re that person kicking people in the groin to get your discounted LCD TV, but getting up before the crack of dawn after a day of overeating is not my idea of a good time. I’d rather sleep in for a change and then wait for Cyber Monday! But I read a few newspaper articles about many retailers trying to move Black “Friday” to Thanksgiving night and get people in the stores early. That is the worst idea I have ever heard. Don’t look at me to join in because my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving are as follows: eat, lounge around indoors, avoid crowds and stampedes.

NaNoWriMo: Oh man! There are two days of NaNoWriMo left, including today, and I’m about ready for it to be over with so I can go at a more leisurely pace! I need to do a ton of editing and more research. I’m dying to do these things before I write anymore, but I have not even broken 40,000 words yet. Eyestrain and a computer that shorted out, was fixed, and THEN refused to boot put me way behind! Never fear; quitting is not an option. I will win NaNoWriMo!

Christmas is coming soon. I have been on the look out for my favorite holiday teas, but sadly, some of them are rather elusive. My favorites are:

Celestial Seasonings Nutcracker Suite and Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride
Oregon Chai Original Peppermint Concentrate (add to milk)
Bigelow Eggnoggin’
Twinings Christmas Tea and Pumpkin Spice Chai

Sadly, I can’t find most of those at either my local Safeway or Giant, so I’ll have to try Harris Teeter next. I thought about tracking down this one stock boy at Giant that all the older ladies always come after for help getting stuff, but I think he was off for the day.

Decorations are going up all over our apartment! I already had out the Christmas lights/stockings, jolly color-changing snowman, and rotating snowmen music box (except it doesn’t make music anymore). Eric put a giant snowflake on the front of the balcony and some lights and is stringing more lights through a giant wreath right now! Sumo is having a ball playing with everything. His tubby body shakes around as he leaps after random decorations. It’s adorable how much kitties love Christmas.

I love my car’s Sirius XM radio at this time of year, especially, because of the Holiday Traditions classics station that pops up this time of year. There is also an XM station called Holly that plays holiday pop songs, but I usually prefer to avoid that one. Two Christmas seasons in a row of listening to awful 24-7 holiday “hits” like “The Christmas Shoes”, “Christmas in America” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” while trapped behind a returns desk will do that to ya.

Blog posts have been few and far between since I started working on NaNoWriMo, but I have tons of ones I’ll be finishing soon. Upcoming subjects include: Luxembourg, Omaha, Germany, Amsterdam, a new and very scary Place Unseen, the first of the 30 Things, the first of several entries on Arlington County’s “Walkabouts” self-guided tour program, my trip back through all the books I was required to read in school, and some fitness and nutrition program reviews!

Next planned trip is to Seaside, Florida in January! My cousin’s getting married!

ICE! and Christmas on the Potomac at National Harbor (tons of photos)

Happy Holiday Season! The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Eric and I decided to stop by National Harbor to see two exhibits there: ICE!, a collection of ice sculptures ($25 per adult), and Christmas on the Potomac (free, inside the Gaylord Resort atrium).

Having been to National Harbor only once before, I was excited to return and get to know more of it. It’s about a fifteen minute drive in good traffic from my building in Arlington. We arrived to find the grounds full of Christmas trees, like the big one above.

When I was a child, this giant statue called The Awakening was “buried” in the ground at Hains Point in D.C. and my sister and I would go play on it fairly often. The statue was recently purchased and moved to National Harbor. Here’s its arm …

I was happy to see that there are still plenty of kids playing on The Awakening! Unfortunately, the water from the Potomac in this area is somewhat stinky, but that’s life.

Time for ICE! ICE is a collection of ice sculptures inside a tent near the back end of the National Harbor grounds (across from some parking garages).

BRRR! It was pretty chilly. You will be offered one of these big blue parkas for your walk through the exhibit. I highly recommend you take one, not just for the cold, but for another reason which I’ll be showing you later on …


Polar bears frolicking on an ice “pond.” There’s lots of Christmas music playing in here.


I guess he’s tap dancing.


This polar bear looked remarkably like my friend Brad who lived down the hall from me my freshman year of college at Ambler-Johnston Hall! Brad had a knack for refusing to get up to go to class with me and my roommate Jaime. We’d find him dozing on top of his bunk just like this when we’d drop by his room to try to make him get up. His nickname has been Polar Bear ever since.

Deer and ducks by/on the pond. These views are all from a bridge over the pond which was also made entirely out of ice.
Here’s the bridge, and a polar bear ice fishing 🙂

Around the corner there were some sculptures of a Christmas morning scene in an ice “living room”, of which we neglected to take any pictures. There was also an ice sleigh that you could sit in to pose for a picture. There were people everywhere so it was a bit difficult. I was impatient like usual and didn’t want to wait to get pictures of that stuff. Instead we ran further ahead to these funky dancing penguins!

There was an igloo behind the dancers with more penguins. I was definitely glad to beat the crowds to this scene. These penguins remind me of something out of Willy Wonka (if he had penguins)!

An ethereal fiber-optic lighted tunnel leads ahead to the ice castle.

…And here it is, the fantastic ice castle. At either side are two foot tall ice slides!

The view from the top of the ice slides



Woo hoo! This is one more reason to take that parka they offer! To go really fast down the slide, lean way back and lift your feet up a little.

Wheeeee!
Following the ice castle and slides were more sculptures. This adorable stuffed tiger was randomly tucked in with some other, chillier wildlife.

This teddy bear wuvs me. (I couldn’t resist)

After all of the secular-themed sculptures, more spiritual icons began to appear representing the Christmas story. Here’s the angel, although you can’t really see the wings too well.

Random ice column that glowed blue on and off

Ice nativity scene. This was HUGE and took up a whole room. It was pretty spectacular.

I wanted to climb up on it, but I was afraid the security guard who conveniently appeared around the corner just as I got the idea would yell at me and make a big spectacle

Stable animals keeping watch over the Baby Jesus.

The exhibit wishes you a Merry Christmas as you leave with some ice poinsettias. And that’s the end of it. You turn in your parkas and then you can browse a gift shop. (Eric bought me a pretty snowflake bracelet.) You also have the opportunity to take a computer survey regarding your experience. I wrote that I had a great time but I would have appreciated taller ice slides and more sculptures for the money.

Once we left ICE!, we headed back down toward the water. Eric was just a little excited about eating some lunch.

These miniature Christmas trees line the walkway.

I can never resist an opportunity to play in a fountain!

Eric’s hunger didn’t distract him from a need to practice his kung fu skills.

We decided to eat at Ketchup before the Christmas on the Potomac mini-shows started that evening. Unfortunately we had to wait a long time for our food. You can read all about that in my previous blog post!

By the time we got our meals, I was so hungry I decimated my crab wrap before I realized that most of the ingredients had been left out. These are the remains of Hurricane Hungry Girl

Ketchup’s main gimmick is its variety of odd ketchups. You get this sampler of six to dip your truffle fries in. The ketchups were the best part of our entire experience.

Christmas on the Potomac is a big display inside the atrium of the Gaylord Resort. Hanging in the front window is this large tree made out of “candy glass”. (I don’t believe you can eat it 🙂

One of the things we waited to see was this fountain show. While no match for the Bellagio in Las Vegas, it was fun and splashed significant numbers of surprised people, much to my amusement. 😉 At some points, the fountains shot 60 feet in the air in time with the music! Each fountain show lasts about three minutes.

One of the draws of Christmas on the Potomac is a contest in which you have to find giant stuffed Peeps that are hidden around the atrium. Some of them are in really odd out of the way places, but Eric and I found most of them. Now, you don’t think I’m going to give the answers away, do you? 🙂 But here’s one fella hiding in the bushes!

Looking for all those Peeps was a good way to waste time while waiting for the next “show” which was the nightly lighting of the glass Christmas tree. The show consists of several minutes of lights flashing around inside the tree while music plays. “Northern lights” also shimmer across the banners hanging around the tree.

A few minutes after the Christmas tree lighting show is over, a snowfall begins. We waited around for a while waiting for it to start before we realized it’s in a very small area by the coffee shop in the middle of the atrium. You can’t see it here, but the “snow” is really like foamy dish-soap bubbles wafting down. It does get stuck in your hair though 🙂

There were some other shows involving the fountains and singing choirs, but by this time I was tired and ready to go home and eat some dinner that didn’t involve slowpoke waiters. Here’s the tree down by the river all lit up at night. There’s a stage right next to it where different bands play periodically. When they’re not playing, parents let their kids scamper all over the stage right in front of a huge sign telling you to keep off of it. Hahaha

I had a fun time and thought it was a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Maybe they’ll have bigger and better things next year. If you live in the area, try to go on a Sunday or even a weekday if you can to avoid the crowds. Make sure you drive in or take a water taxi over from Old Towne in Alexandria. Just be aware that some of the special shows may not be available on the weekdays.

ICE! and Christmas on the Potomac run through January 10th. You can find more information and purchase tickets here: http://www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-national/special-events/washington-dc-events/christmas-on-the-potomac/index.html?intcmp=gn-tsr-cotpevents.