In a recent post, I explained that I wanted to share with you all of the wonderful cultural treasures that make my Christmas special each year. Of course, music is major part of celebrating Christmas here at bradenbell.com and there are so many wonderful choices. For me, this song, by this group is possibly the most essential, fundamental song of the whole season. The richness and warmth of the sound, the balance of the vocal lines and the full, round tones are aural comfort food, the musical equivalent of pumpkin pie for me. One note: it was written, of course, by Irving Berlin. Berlin's family survived a pogrom in Russia and immigrated to the U.S. They lived in a crowded tenement on the Lower East Side, as did so many of the newly immigrated Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe. Young Irving began work as a singing waiter, worked up to song plugger and then, finally, achieved stellar success as a composer. Only in America could one of our most iconic Christmas songs have been written by a Jewish immigrant from Russia!
I am convinced that our generation lives in a culturally deprived era and it makes me sad. American pop culture used to be a treasure trove of incredible riches. I'll not say more because I inevitably sound like a curmudgeonly crank when I go too far down this road.
Here at bradenbell.com, we are getting incredibly excited for the Christmas season because, to someone interested in the arts, Christmas offers a wealth of delights and joys. So, in our effort to fight cultural mediocrity and lameness, and, because it is the season of giving and sharing, we at bradenbell.com are going to be highlighting some of our favorite Christmas cultural treasures. Recommendations on books and movies and music that have become part of our traditions over the years. This is our gift to you.
First recommendation: get the old version of Miracle on 34th Street, the black and white one with Maureen O'Hara. The newer version is ok, but it's sort of a sanitized, fairly vanilla remake. No, go to the original article. In my opinion, it has a lot more heart and it as an interesting look into a fascinating world that is long gone. It's available on Netflix here.
This is the perfect film for this part of the year because it opens with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, so it's the perfect transition piece between holidays.
Four years ago, we had just brought home a baby--our fifth child. That is a wonderful event, but every parent knows that it can get stressful very quickly. And for us, it did.
Our last bit of progeny, the exclamation point at the end of our family, issued forth on November 1st. We celebrated and brought him home from the hospital. That night, our four year old got the stomach flu. I spent the night with him, holding the bowl so he could throw-up literally every hour on the hour. Meanwhile, Mere was in another room trying every trick we had heard of to get our new baby to stop screaming and sleep.
The next day, the septic tank stopped working and started backflowing into our bathtubs, necessitating emergency pumping and digging.
It was against this backdrop that our child came into the world.
The plumbing started working again, and the stomach bug passed.
However, the baby didn't stop crying. He cried. And cried. And cried.
All night long. Every night. And most of the day.
Days and nights muddled and blurred into one long bout of crying. He just kept going.
We were exhausted (this was when I became addicted to diet Dr. Pepper, for those are curious)--physically and emotionally. These were difficult days and dark nights. There is a quiet desperation that begins to set in very quickly.
Happily, something happened.
The parents and other teachers at my school stepped in and stepped up.
Within a few days of the birth, by the time my Mother-in-Law went home, the meals started coming. Every night there was a meal--including weekends--and Thanksgiving. Several parents got together and provided our Thanksgiving dinner that year. It was assembly line--each person sent a different item--and it was a little different than our traditional menu items. But, it was one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for us.
We literally didn't cook until Christmas break that year, and it was basically one long, six week Thanksgiving feast, a celebration of abundance from loving friends.
Eventually, the baby stopped crying (although not for a long time) and our world slowly returned to equilibrium. But the practical kindness and generosity of colleagues and parents provided a balm that helped smooth the difficult transition. Their tangible expression of love helped sooth our souls as well as feed our stomachs.
This year, as we gather for Thanksgiving, we have a delightful four-year-old who now brings a net-increase in the happiness and joy in our home. Our circumstances have improved, and we'll have all our traditional family dishes. But, I remember with such gratitude the year that thoughtful friends saved Thanksgiving.
Good morning, Everyone! So, if you have been dying to buy The Road Show, but just haven't had time to go to a store or get on Amazon to purchase a copy, you are in luck! The book has recently been released on Kindle! Woo-hoo. Celebrate this momentous occasion by going here and getting your copy today! For a mere $8.35 you can enjoy The Road Show in all it's digital glory.
Today's post will be quite short. My son has strep and I'm not feeling very well myself. I'm taking a sick day and really don't have a lot of strength even to type (and for sure not much for thinking).
It's Thanksgiving this week, which is my favorite holiday by far. I wish it were a bigger deal in our country, since we have so much to be thankful for. But then, I'm glad it's sandwiched between major retail holidays like Halloween and Christmas because that keeps it sort of sheltered and special and uncommercialized.
I've lots to be grateful for in my own life and hope I'll feel well soon enough to write a bit more.
I just finished the last round of auditions for our winter play, The Wizard of Oz. In a sense, I love auditions, while in another, I hate them. I love them because they are very exciting. I'm scrupulous about not pre-casting, or even flirting with it in my mind. I've learned over the years that I never get it right if I do that. There are always surprises--someone who shows up that I didn't know, or knew but hadn't envisioned in a certain part. This student gets up and magic happens and it's like the clouds part and a ray of light illuminates them while angelic choirs sing and it's clear to everyone that this student is the right fit.
Fit, after all, is important. I know a lot of great people who are fantastic individuals, but would not fit well together as a married couple. I know smart kids who would not fit well at every university. Will Smith and Will Ferrell are both highly paid actors, but wouldn't fit in every role.
Talented kids don't alway fit every role either, and it's exciting when it does happen. There's a surge of energy in the room and I think the kids there can all feel it, too.
That's the fun part. I hate and dread it because of the emotional baggage. There is a lot of disappointment involved. It hurts not to get a part you want. I've been there many times, so I know how it feels, and I really hate being the one to inflict that hurt on others. Especially kids. Especially kids of whom I am sincerely fond. But, that's life. We don't get anything good or worthwhile without some struggle and disappointment.
Sometimes the parents make it really bad and cause lots of drama. Happily, that wasn't the case this time and all disappointment was handled maturely, or at least privately. Which was nice for me, and ultimately, much, much healthier for the kids.
Are you still reading? My goodness, you are a charitable soul. I know this is kind of rambling, but it's been a big part of my life--perhaps the pre-eminent part of my life for the last three weeks so I'm decompressing.
Two days ago I had auditions for the lower school kids. 100 of the cutest, sweetest little kids you've seen tried out. They all make it, of course. I'll talk more about that another time. But after their quick little audition, reading a poem or singing a few lines of a song, I thank them and tell them I'd like them to be in the play. They'll be munchkins or Emerald Citizens or something, but the way their faces light up, you'd think they were getting multi-million dollar contracts to star on Broadway. Smiles, hugs, shouts and leaps for joy--it warms my stone-cold heart with a deep and comforting glow. My favorite thing is when they try to keep a straight face with me, and then go out into the hall and burst out in a shout, "I MADE IT!"
Anyway, it occurs to me that these little ones who are so thrilled to be Munchkin #79 have possibly discovered the secret to happiness. They went in with few expectations. They didn't feel entitled to something big. Consequently, they were thrilled with what they got. They are happy and grateful just to be in the play.
I think there's a lesson there for marriages, families, careers, and life in general: try for Dorothy, but if it doesn't work, embrace and celebrate your Munchkinness!
You know, I want to thank all of you for coming here so often. To be totally honest, it really blows me away when I look at the stats and see how many of you come. I'm not sure what draws you and why you come and keep coming, but I want you to know I appreciate it!
Life has been so busy lately. I know, I know, I write that all the time. But there's a point to it, so bear with me. Church has been taking a fair amount of time (I was assigned to give the Standards Night talk to the 14-18 year olds. Good times and not awkward at all), work has been very busy as we gear up for The Wizard of Oz, I've been trying to be supportive and read drafts written by my critique group--oh, and I have a family, too.
This morning, I went out early to start the car so it could defrost and warm up (happily, we don't live in Davidson County with that execrable law about not being able to do that). I dashed back inside and finished getting ready.
When the kids and I went back to the car, it was warm. And we drove in comfort to school. I sipped my morning diet Dr. Pepper (I'm seriously trying to quit) while the kids dozed comfortably.
It hit me just how blessed we are and how good our live are. Don't get me wrong. Life isn't perfect. I have a lot of things I worry about, things that weigh heavily on my mind. Being a teacher, it might shock you to know, for instance, that we worry about money. A lot. There's always a car repair bill, or a school fee and now we're into braces. A son goes to college next year and a daughter will (hopefully) go to a good private high school. I could go on and on with the stresses large and small.
But I've learned that happiness is not a life without challenges or stresses. It is not the absence of problems. It is the ability to look at and enjoy the good.
Just a few years ago, I was driving a car so old that smoke came out of the vents if you turned the heater on. This meant I couldn't use the heat or defrost.
The only way to defrost without a heater is to have the inside temperature equal the outside temperature. So, I drove all winter with the windows down.
I had to wear earmuffs and wrap my head in a scarf and cover myself with a thick blanket.
It was like getting bundled up for an old-fashioned sleigh-ride. This is how I drove all winter.
So, my car has some quirks and problems. It's got a lot of miles and it's not the most luxurious thing in the world. But it has heat and a/c, and every morning when I get in and feel the warm air coming, I smile and enjoy it.
Not only can we be happy in spite of our problems, I think our problems can make us happier in this way.
So, life is busy. And, in some ways, it's hard. But, gosh, it's sure good!
Anyone who has read my blog for longer than a week or two probably knows how much I love the school where I teach. I'm happy to have a job, of course, but it's more than that. I truly love this place and feel like it is a uniquely wonderful school that is so good that it can't be true--and yet, it is. Year after year.
We just got one of our brochures put online and since I talk about the school so much, and some of you have asked about it, I thought I'd put the link up in case anyone was curious.
My maternal grandfather was a deliveryman for Wonder Bread. He spent his whole working life--basically from the end of WWII to some time in the 80s waking up at 4:00 am and then driving around all day in a non-air conditioned truck lugging those big racks of bread. He did this 12 or 13 hours a day for most of his adult life.
Grandma did not work outside of the home in terms of having a paid job, but she worked. And worked. And worked. She cleaned and canned and cooked and sewed and gardened and volunteered in the community. To give you an idea, they had six kids and didn't have a dishwasher until I was in my teens.
It was not an easy life for either of them. After grandpa's retirement, things got better. For the first time in his life, Grandpa stayed up past 9:00. In fact, he got downright decadent, becoming hooked on "Hawaii-Five-O," which came on after the late local news. But they spent a whole lot of years working in ways that most contemporary Americans (myself included) would consider pretty tough duty. And, even after he was retired, Grandpa went to the parks and did hard physical labor for fun that most of us would consider inhumane were inmates forced to do it.
So, one might expect that at the end of their lives, Grandma and Grandpa would have been tired and beaten down by the sheer hardness of the work they had done as long as they had been alive.
You could assume that, but you would be wrong. In fact, it was exactly opposite. Grandma and Grandpa loved to work. They seriously enjoyed work. On holidays, they would work for fun. The felt that work was ennobling and worthy in and of itself--something one did because it was fundamentally valuable, regardless of the outcome.
I remember a conversation with my Grandma. I was in my early teens and I was helping her clean her kitchen or something. She asked me if I liked to work. I looked at her like she was crazy--I know I looked that way because I felt that way. I told her "No."
"That's too bad," she said. "You ought to learn to work and love it. It will make your life happy."
Like I said, when I was younger, I thought they were crazy. This was due in part to the fact that their daughter, my mother, had absorbed these lessons and was dead-set on making sure her kids knew how to work hard. So, I spent most of my childhood finding strategies to avoid work.
Now I think they are brilliant. Is there anything in life as constant as the need to work? If one could--as they did--come to the point where work was enjoyable, seen as a blessing, then one would always be engaged in something wonderful.
I'm not quite ready to become a bread deliveryman, or a 1950s housewife with few contemporary conveniences, but I've come around to my grandparents' view.
I am grateful--profoundly grateful--to have a job. Not just for the economic benefits it provides (although I'm grateful for them).
I am grateful for a job because I realize that working makes me human. It makes me alive. It pushes and drives me and gives shape to my energy and ambition. It makes physical and concrete what otherwise would be abstract. It refines and educates me, challenges and shapes me. Yes, I happen to like my job, but I am grateful for the concept and necessity of work. I realize that if I didn't have work--at the school, writing at home, gardening--I would be lazy and far less developed as I am. I know people who have lost jobs in this recession. They miss working. Not just a paycheck, but the actual work.
I think I get why the Lord told Adam that he would earn his bread by the sweat of his brow.
Grandma, you were right.
But more on this later.