A Firefighter’s Christmas Carol

And Other Stories

Written By: Douglas R. Brown

Published By: Epertase Publishing

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               When the holiday season comes along, I like to find a new book, movie or soundtrack to add to the various favorites I watch and read around this time of year.  One of my favorite tales is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  There are tons of remakes and re-imaginings out there, but none like the one advertised in A Firefighter Christmas Carol and Other Stories by Douglas R. Brown.  Reading a brief summary, I just knew I had to check it out.

               Elliot, a burned-out fireman and paramedic, is about to embark on a Christmas journey like none he has ever experienced before.  Working overnight at Medic 22, Elliot, much like Ebenezer Scrooge, gets his first visit at midnight.  It’s his long-dead former partner, Jimmy.  Much like Elliot, Jimmy was feeling the effects of PTSD, something every first responder goes through, but none likes to talk about.  One night, severe depression caused Jimmy to take his own life.  Now, he’s back to warn Elliot that if he doesn’t face his demons, Elliot is doomed to end up like Jimmy.  Like Scrooge, Elliot doesn’t believe him, but the visitations he gets over the next few hours are enough to cause him to see the light.

               A Firefighter’s Christmas Carol is a brand new twist on an old classic.  Being a firefighter and paramedic himself, Douglas R. Brown knows a thing or two about demons.  He, like his main character, suffered from PTSD.  Many people think that first responders go out there and do their job, hardened to the effects of the misery they see, but those people will be wrong.  First responders go through the ringer, responding to calls at all hours, seeing all sorts of horrific things…heart wrenching experiences that most average folks couldn’t handle.  But first responders are expected to push through these things and get the job done.  In fact, many won’t even acknowledge the aftereffects of the damage caused by PTSD. 

               We lose to many good first responders to their demons.  This story is one very special way to address that issue and make it known to those first responders that they are cherished and important members of our society.  They are family members and friends and all-around good people who deserve so much more than the suffering they go through.  Douglas R. Brown knows this, and he expresses it beautifully both in his Introduction and in A Firefighter’s Christmas Carol.

               Of course, that’s not the only tale in this book – just the longest and the most emotionally charged.  The rest of the book proves that Mr. Brown has a tremendous flare for the shocking and horrific.  There is Janitor, a tale about a night janitor who realizes that the building he cleans is occupied by someone he doesn’t really want to get to know.  There’s CatchTime, which asks one very important question: how well do we really know our loved ones after all?  There’s DOA, a story about a young paramedic with some rather strange abilities.

               Douglas R. Brown is a gifted writer, descriptive enough to put us in every locale he writes about.  His knowledge of the ins and outs of a firehouse and paramedic crew ads to his short stories, lending them more credibility outside of the supernatural elements.  I could picture everything that Brown wrote about in my mind’s eye – that’s the sign of a great writer.  I loved all of his tales, but A Firefighter’s Christmas Carol resonated with me most and that’s the one story that will cause me to recommend it to all of the first responders I know.  It’s a great rendition of A Christmas Carol with an equally important message to impart.  Well done, Mr. Brown, well done!

Buy A Firefighter Christmas Carol and Other Stories at Amazon.com!


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A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth

Author: Charles Dickens

Published By: Barnes & Noble Classics

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            Having seen several renditions of A Christmas Carol , but never having read the original by Charles Dickens, and having been inspired to do so by the recent Christmas article I wrote, I hurried to Barnes & Noble to purchase the book.  I was surprised to discover that A Christmas Carol was not the only “Christmas book” Dickens had written.  I found a collection of such stories – A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth – and began reading in earnest.

            Many believe that they know the age old tale of A Christmas Carol, but you must read the story in its original form to get the full value of the lesson taught.  Most people who have seen the different renditions think of the lead character, Ebenezer Scrooge, as being a money-monger – miserly to the last, his downfall being his love for money.  However, the tale really deals with miserliness of the heart.  Scrooge is reproached by the ghost of his long dead business partner, Jacob Marley, for his treatment of mankind.  Marley bemoans his shackles and chains, earned behaving much the same toward his fellow man as Scrooge.  He beseeches Scrooge to heed his warning, lest he follow in Marley’s miserable footsteps.  Scrooge is then visited by three spirits – those of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  Each, in their own special way, teach Scrooge the beauty of human kindness found in young and old, rich and poor.  Scrooge repents his miserly ways and seeks to right the wrongs he has committed to those he should hold dear.

            In The Chimes, Toby Veck is a poor, down-trodden soul, doing his very best to eke out a meager existence for himself and his beloved daughter, Meg.  Although they lack much, they want for little, due to their merry spirits and love for one another.  Every day, Toby listens to the chimes in the bell tower with wonderment and happiness.  He finds hope in what he imagines is their song to him.  One terrible day, he allows that song to be soured, taking to heart the ignorant statement about the poor made by three arrogant, well-to-do statesmen.  He begins to believe in the ignorant ramblings.  That night, he is visited by the ghosts of the chimes.  Revealing to Toby the future that will befall his family should he continue in this vein, they show him the errors in his ways, beseeching him to find joy and happiness in all he holds dear.  He is reminded that wealth of the heart is more valuable than wealth of the pocket.

            In The Cricket on the Hearth, we read of an upcoming wedding and secrets kept that threaten to undo a happy family.  Each character is hiding something from someone, from the mysterious old stranger to the Carrier’s wife to the toymaker who can’t bear to tell his blind daughter the desperate state in which they actually live in.  We learn just how much damage secrets can cause.  The spirit of the cricket on the hearth teaches each character in turn the importance of truth and cherishing what they love lest they lose it.   

            Each novel, in itself, teaches a valuable lesson to its reader.  Having suffered poverty as a child, Dickens implores readers of each tale not to look down on the poor, as they are often virtuous people trying their absolute hardest to survive.  That he loathes the upper class who desire to make the hard lives of the poor that much harder is obvious in how he portrays such characters.  In A Christmas Carol, he creates, in Scrooge, a character which we are apt to loathe from the very start.  Little by little, Scrooge redeems himself in such a manner as to become beloved to the very same reader who despised him mere pages before.  In The Chimes, the reader’s mind screams out to Toby Veck not to believe the awful words of the pompous snobs and gasps at the spirits of the chimes rendering of the future hardships to be suffered by Meg due to her father’s lack of faith.  In The Cricket on the Hearth, the reader learns to love what life has offered him – to not bemoan what could have been, but to accept his path with relish and vigor.

            This collection of Charles Dickens’ “Christmas books”, published by Barnes & Noble Classics, contains an introduction and notes by Katherine Kroeber Wiley, an intellectual with excellent insight as to the writings of Charles Dickens.  Through her introduction and the timeline offered, we gain more insight into the inspiration for the writings of this most famous of authors.  Dickens and his family suffered the horrors of poverty, his family being jailed for the “crime”.  Moving several times and working several different jobs, Dickens finally landed a job as a reporter for the courts, Parliament and several newspapers.  Despising the classes that people of his time were placed in from birth, it would appear that Dickens wrote his stories with an eye toward abolishing the class system and ignorance displayed by the rich toward that of the poor.  Using his very own life experience, Dickens strives to prove the humanity of the poor – that they are not just a bunch of lazy never-do-wells, but a class of hard-working, luckless souls.  In his writings, Dickens teaches that human kindness is the greatest power any soul can have over another and that an act of human kindness is treasured more than any coin ever can be.

            Prior to these stories, I had only read one other Charles Dickens novel – A Tale of Two Cities .  I enjoyed the novel, but was never so inspired to read more of his works as I am now.  In fact, I recently revisited Barnes and Noble to pick up another Dickens novel – Oliver Twist.  There can be no doubt in my mind that I will enjoy that one as much as I have all of the other Charles Dickens tales I have read.  He has a way of drawing you in, bringing the characters to life and causing you to have a vested interest in their outcome.  A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth was a terrific find and one I recommend everyone get their hands on.

Check out A Christmas Carol / The Chimes / The Cricket on the Hearth at Amazon.com!

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Reflecting on Thanksgiving Day

By Melissa Minners

Thanksgiving Day means many different things to many different people.  As we grow older, we learn that the tale of the very first Thanksgiving Day we were told as children was a fabrication of sorts.  Pilgrims that arrived in Massachusetts did have a harvest festival with a Wampanoag tribe, but it wasn’t a thanksgiving ceremony to the Pilgrims, who believed in solemnity and fasting for true thanksgiving.  This was more of a party, but it wasn’t something that Americans celebrated annually until President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national annual event in 1863. 

            All those tales of turkey served at the first Thanksgiving Day feast were also hogwash.  The Pilgrims and the Wampanoags more likely ate fish, eggs, corn, vegetables, and fruit.  In fact, turkey didn’t become a Thanksgiving mainstay until the 1860s.  Tom Turkey was safe all those years!  Who knew?!

             Are we jaded because historians have begun to shed some light on the holiday?  Hell, no!  Thanksgiving Day still remains one of my favorite holidays of the year!

            As a child in school, Thanksgiving Day meant that it was time to break out the crayons, pencils, markers, and paint brushes and make outlines of our hands that we would cleverly turn in to turkeys by adding legs and faces.  Who doesn’t remember one of these “hand-made” turkey drawings hanging on their mother’s refrigerators?  It also meant a lightening of the school work load in favor of Thanksgiving Day enactments – usually in the form of a play.  I got to be a Pilgrim one year.  As I remember it, I had only one line and was in charge of making the popcorn.  Boy, was I ever proud!  It also meant reading tons of books like Squanto, Pocahontas, The Thanksgiving Treasure, tales of the Pilgrims and their journey to the Americas, and more.  But most importantly, it meant time off from school!

            Having off from school for Thanksgiving Day was a veritable treat for any kid.  Some kids just slept late, ran out and played, and basically did whatever they wanted.  But the Minners household was steeped in tradition.  On the night before Thanksgiving Day, we usually got to stay up late to help make the various desserts for the holiday.  Mom would break out the Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and we would carefully space out the little dollops that would become the most scrumptious cookies I’ve ever eaten.  We would make brownies, too!  And pumpkin pie!  Back then, we didn’t buy a ready made pie – we baked them from scratch…with a little help from Libby’s that is.

            Thanksgiving Day morning would begin with my mom and dad preparing the stuffing while the kids sat around the television set watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Soon, our parents would call us into the kitchen so we could perform the insane ritual of yelling “Hello down there!” down Tom Turkey’s butt prior to stuffing it.  It was now time to sew up that bad boy.  My father, always one to get into his roles, would approach the bird with hands held upright like that of a sterilized surgeon preparing to operate.  The sutures complete, we would plop ourselves back in front of the television, munching on celery or cheese as we watched the end of the parade, waiting in anticipation for Santa Claus.

            The turkey always took forever to cook and so we would end up in front of the television for hours watching movies like King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Godzilla, and March of the Wooden Soldiers.  The weeks prior to the holiday were rife with holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, The Thanksgiving Treasure (an adaptation of the book), and more, but for some strange reason, we looked forward to the movies we watched while Tom was in the oven.  I remember the profound disappointment we felt when the networks stopped airing these movies on Thanksgiving Day.  It was like losing an old friend.  Sure, we could rent them from the local video store and watch them on Thanksgiving Day, but it just wasn’t the same.

            Once the turkey and fixings were done, it was time to stuff ourselves silly with bird, stuffing, potatoes, candied yams, and more.  All around the table was silence except for the sounds of forks and knives clinking against plates.  It seemed we couldn’t get enough and kept going back for more!  Then, someone would remember dessert and we would all quickly clear the table, swearing we’d have enough room to eat more than just a slice of pumpkin pie.  Finding that our eyes were in fact bigger than our stomachs, we’d settle for that single slice, vowing to return for more later.  Invariably we would, crafting sandwiches from the leftover turkey and scrounging whatever other leftovers were around.

            In later years, independence from the family meant independence from tradition.  Thanksgiving Day was spent haphazardly, never knowing exactly what would happen or where we’d be eating.  One year, I ventured into Manhattan with some friends to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person.  Things were tight – and I do mean tight!  People jostling each other around for a good view of what was coming up the street.  We were at the beginning of the parade, as I remember.  I had always thought that the performers on the floats were lip-syncing when I was a kid watching the parade on television.  Here was my proof!  Each passing float proved it!  Performers were talking to each other instead of singing!  AHH!!  The balloons were cool, but they weren’t the same as the balloons of my youth, and so I was disappointed.  And all those people!  From that day on, I watched the parade on television, realizing that it was a much more enjoyable experience that way. 

            Back then, there were Thanksgiving Days that I ate at three different tables, each friend inviting me to another dinner.  There were some that I spent at work, eating whatever meal we could scrounge…hopefully something containing turkey.  I remember one year when having Thanksgiving Day off came as a surprise – I only found out the day before.  Shopping at the grocery store was extremely intolerable…but somehow I made it through.  Of course, there were no hopes of buying a turkey on that day.  I got hold of whatever I could – yams, cranberry sauce, creamed corn and a frozen turkey dinner from Boston Market – and made due.  By then, I had children – the furry kind.  Each pet received something of a turkey dinner.  Even in years that the turkey came in cans, they were always grateful. 

            Now, I feel a resurgence for the traditions of yore.  Things are a tad different – we celebrate Thanksgiving Day either the weekend before or after as my job necessitates that I work on the actual date.  Old traditions arise anew as the baking of treats begins the night before the big feast.  The next day brings the promise of a veritable feast, filled with many of the foods that were heaped upon the tables of my youth, and some new additions that we all agree make the meal complete.  And, of course, my children – still the furry kind – get to sample some of the eats gratefully.  In fact, my oldest was waiting at the stove last year, staring at the slowly cooking turkey with anticipation…not to mention some drool!

            Just as in years past, dinner is followed by the rest period – a time where everyone finds themselves seated around the television staring in a turkey-induced daze at whatever happens to be on in hopes that we will soon find enough room in our stomachs for dessert.  When we all can bare to move around, the coffee is made and the desserts are heaped upon the table.  When the gorge-fest is complete, we flop down in various positions swearing that we will never eat like that again…that is, until the very next Thanksgiving Day.  We relish each other’s company until its time for some of us to go home…usually fairly late as no one can bare to move after stuffing themselves with more than you could ever imagine stuffing inside a turkey. 

            Hugs, kisses, and thank yous abound as the loved ones leave and we realize just what it is we are thankful for.  It’s not the tales about Thanksgiving we were told as youths.  It’s not the holiday specials or the days off from work or school.  It’s being with the people you care most about – sharing time and presence – that is the true meaning behind Thanksgiving Day.

A very special thanks to http://www.hellasmultimedia.com/webimages/ for all of the terrific graphic art images used in this story.

Find terrific buys on Thanksgiving Day movies and books and more!

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Mayflower

Written by: Nathaniel Philbrick

Published By: Penguin Books 

Reviewed by Dorothy Doremus

            Ah, the tale of the first Thanksgiving.  The Pilgrims, after the long journey from England, set foot on Plymouth Rock where they meet Squanto who befriended them.  After which, they all sit and have a feast of turkey with all of the trimmings and give thanks.  If this is your idea of how the first Thanksgiving was, you will be extremely disappointed.

            Mayflower is far from your teachers’ story of a loving and peaceful holiday.  It begins with the journey of the Pilgrims who left the shores of Holland in search of the Hudson Valley.  Having discovered that religious freedom was out of reach in their own country, they chartered the Mayflower in hopes of finding that freedom in a new land.  It took the better part of two months to reach the New World and most of the crew was sickening fast.  Captain John Smith knew he was north of the Hudson Valley, but couldn’t wait to make landfall.  He decided that getting the ship ashore was what needed to be done.

            Once again, the Pilgrims were in peril.  They didn’t have food and winter was fast approaching.  They raided Indian storage piles and stole food and tools  But the stolen food was not enough to sustain the colony and half the population died in the first year.

            Interestingly, I was always taught in school that Squanto was a friend of the Pilgrims who wished to make the rest of the Indian tribe their friends as well.  In actuality, Squanto was a fraud.  He was captured and sent to Spain and England as a slave and later returned to the colonies.  Squanto was an interpreter for the English, but it was discovered that he was really pitting the two parties against one another.

            Over the first fifty years, even with plotters such as Squanto, all was quite peaceful and then it all went horribly wrong.  Some of the Indians began to adopt Christianity as a religion which didn’t sit well with the sachem.  That was not the only think that caused problems – greed played a role as well.

            As I read Mayflower, I foolishly found myself waiting for that feast.  I mean, why would our history teachers ignore true history, preferring a sugarcoated version of the situation over facts?  Well, this book does anything but sugarcoat things.  It includes everything from Massasoit, the brave Indian leader to Benjamin Church’s killing of King Phillip.  The book is a page turner and really makes you understand the interesting balance between cultures and why that balance was so fragile.  I truly understand why this was a New York Times Bestseller and I will never look at the story of the Pilgrims through rose-colored glasses again.

Check out Mayflower at Amazon.com!

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Thanksgiving Tales

True Stories of the Holiday in America

Editor: Brian D. Jaffe

 Published By: Sestin LLC

 Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                I wanted to read something special to celebrate the coming of one of my favorite holidays, so I did some searching and found a compilation of true Thanksgiving stories published by Sestin LLC and edited by Brian D. Jaffe.  Knowing all of the craziness that has taken place during Thanksgiving Days in my past, I couldn’t wait to see whether other people’s holiday dinners are as crazy as mine.

                I have discovered that the dysfunction that usually takes place at my family holiday dinners is actually the norm instead of the unusual.  There is a multitude of short stories and a couple of poems to be found in the almost two hundred pages of this book and each story has a new perspective to offer.  There are tales of fun times, tales of thankfulness, tales of dysfunction, tales of anger, tales of joy and more.

                I wasn’t extremely fond of the essays that ripped the traditions of Thanksgiving apart.  I mean, this is a holiday designed to remind us of all we should be thankful for.  So, when I read something that rips the holiday’s beginnings, its traditions and everything that makes the holiday special, I have a problem with that.  I can be objective and respect other people’s opinions, but I have the distinct feeling that the one essay in particular was sour grapes coming from someone who had a difficult time getting a job after the stock market crash and was bitter against anything he should be thankful for.

                That being said, the rest of the stories were incredibly enjoyable.  I loved the stories from folks attempting their first Thanksgiving Day meal and all of the calamities that take place.  There are a bunch of stories about issues cooking the turkey from the oven breaking to the new recipes attempted to the in-laws attempting to take over to the attempts by mother to run daughter’s Thanksgiving Day event.  I also loved reading about the things folks were thankful for, from the tongue in cheek things that one family was thankful for during their New York City Thanksgiving Day adventure with their daughter to the happiness at spending time with family and friends to that very special Thanksgiving that may be the last ever spent with a loved one.

                Sure, there are some sad stories that may evoke a tear or two, but the majority of the stories in this book will elicit quite a few chuckles not just because of the humorous ways in which they are told, but because of the similarities between their Thanksgiving tales and your own experiences.  Thanksgiving Tales: True Stories of the Holiday in America is one of those books that will melt away the stresses of the holiday season and a purchase I am very glad to have made.

Buy Thanksgiving Tales: True Stories of the Holiday in America at Amazon.com!

The Mouse on the Mayflower

Distributed By: DreamWorks Classics

 Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            It always amazes me when I find a holiday cartoon special that I don’t remember seeing as a kid, especially one that is by a production company whose holiday specials I loved as a child.  Rankin/Bass Productions was one of those companies you could count on to deliver when it came to animated holiday specials.  So it shocked and amazed me that I had never seen The Mouse on the Mayflower, a Thanksgiving cartoon special from the masters of holiday specials.

            First airing in 1968, The Mouse on the Mayflower told the tale of the Pilgrims’ travel to America from England aboard the Mayflower.  Leaving England to seek out a land where they would not be persecuted for their religious beliefs, the Pilgrims collected as much money as they could to pay for passage and all of the possessions they could.  Accompanying Captain Miles Standish (Eddie Albert) and the Pilgrims is church mouse Willum Mouse, Esquire (Tennessee Ernie Ford).

            There are setbacks along the way.  Not all of those sailing aboard the Mayflower are righteous and God-fearing.  There are those aboard who want the Pilgrims fail in hopes of getting their hands on the Pilgrims’ money.  And when the ship runs afoul of a nasty storm and sustains damage, it’s up to Willum to come up with an idea to save them all.  Then, there is also the fact that the storm has blown the Mayflower so far off course that they are no longer traveling to Virginia, but to New England.  Oh, and lets not mention the Native Americans that these new colonists come across – once again it’s Willum to the rescue, bringing the two tribes together in peace and harmony.

            The Mouse on the Mayflower is more than just an animated version of the Mayflower’s voyage to Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving Day feast, it’s also a love story, a tale of friendship and a lesson in humility.  Although some of the history of the Pilgrim’s landing is softened and altered (especially when it comes to the food served at the feast and the relations between settlers and natives), I was happy to see mention of the Mayflower Compact.  I’m not at all sure that many kids even learn about the Mayflower Compact anymore.  It was also nice to see that the creators of the special did include the fact that not all of the natives and the Pilgrims were happy to become friends.  That’s a more realistic presentation of what took place, although not wholly accurate.

            The Mouse on the Mayflower is a cute forty-five minute cartoon presentation aimed at children, although I found myself chuckling quite a bit at the mouse’s antics and those of his new friend, the Native American mouse named Thunder.  I can’t believe that I never saw this special before, but I would definitely recommend it to parents of young children as an adorable way to introduce them to what Thanksgiving is all about.

If you want the VHS version of Mouse on the Mayflower head on over to Amazon!

How Early Is Too Early?

Rushing the Holidays

By Melissa Minners

            When I was a kid, I looked forward to the beginning of the holiday season.  Just a week or two prior to Thanksgiving, my teacher would have us draw paper turkeys, using our hands as guides.  Holiday specials would begin to appear on televisionSnoopy and the gang would celebrate a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving while we sat mesmerized in front of the television set.  The Thanksgiving Day plays would be rehearsed and performed a week before the holiday.  All of us waited in eager anticipation for the Macys Parade on Thanksgiving Day.

            The next morning, typically known as Black Friday, the day when retailers get their accounts in the black, would mark the start of the Christmas shopping season.  The holiday ads would have appeared on television all week before the Friday event.  The day after Thanksgiving was also known as the day when folks would start to pull out their Christmas decorations and deck the halls – some out of merriment and some out of a sense of neighborhood competition.  Christmas television specials would appear and we would all prepare our Christmas lists for Santa Claus.  We would either visit him at the local department store, or we would mail the letters out to the North Pole.  If we saw Santa at school and in the department store on the same day, our parents would just tell us that one or the other was Santa’s Helper.  I was amazed at just how many Santa’s Helpers there were!

            Once Christmas was over, preparations were made for New Year’s Eve, usually celebrated around the television with host Dick Clark.  Then, you would wait some months and prepare for Easter.  There was a set order and a set time for each holiday.

            Times have changed.  Commercial interests have taken things to the extreme!  Don’t get me wrong – these holidays have been commercialized for years.  But things seem to have gotten out of hand of late.  Growing up and becoming of working age, I found myself employed in a famous retail chain.  The chain, which now no longer exists, prided itself in getting the “jump” on the holiday season.  For us, Thanksgiving items were on sale weeks prior to the date.  The same was true for other high profile holidays.  However, we tried to keep things tame – never ridiculously early…just a week or two.

            Since leaving retail, I’ve been noticing that the retail holiday season has begun earlier and earlier each year.  I can see the desire to get the shopping started earlier.  I, myself, begin to do my shopping in early fall simply because I loathe standing in line during the holiday rush, but lately, things are getting ridiculous.  This year, I saw Christmas toy commercials in early October, way before Halloween!  I found this mildly annoying, but the icing on the cake was yet to be seen.  I was in a mall a couple of days after Halloween.  What should I happen to see smack-dab in the center of the mall?  Not an advertisement announcing the markdowns of Halloween candy, I can assure you.  It was Santa Claus!!!  I couldn’t believe it!  At first, I thought that they had simply set up the scenery for the “Take Your Picture with Santa” display, but, no!!  There were his elves, handing out order forms to parents so they could get their kids’ picture taken with the jolly man himself.  Now, I must commend that particular mall on hiring a Santa Claus that looks and acts the role so well, but that’s not the point!  The mall was completely skipping Thanksgiving and going for advertising the higher-grossing holiday!

            And it’s bad enough that Christmas displays were set up in department stores weeks before folks were preparing to sit at their Thanksgiving Day tables, but do the neighborhood light shows have to start that early, too?!  One particular house in my neighborhood was adorned with a tremendously bright and active display of Christmas lights on the first week of November.  One almost wonders, with such an elaborate display, if the owner hadn’t set up the lights before Halloween, completely bypassing two holidays.  And it’s not just happening in small neighborhoods either.  This year, both Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center are lighting their trees on the last week of November.  Every year prior to this, the tree lightings took place on the first or second week of December!

            One week before Thanksgiving Day, I turn to 106.7FM to discover that they have begun playing 24 hours of Christmas music!  A whole week before Thanksgiving!  Unfortunately, I soon discovered that they were not the only station doing this.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas music and I am happy to discover a station that plays a variety of Christmas music for 24 hours.  But, can we wait until the appropriate holiday?  Can we at least wait until Black Friday?!

            This mad rush to get the highest retail-grossing holidays begun earlier and earlier is a tad scary.  I have no doubt that even before the last Christmas present is placed under the tree, stores will be setting up Valentine’s Day displays.  When did the holidays become all about retail spending?  Why are we rushing things anyway?  Aren’t people going to spend the same amount whether the displays are up early or not?  People know when Christmas is – it’s not like they can forget with all the advertising.  But must the advertising start so early and be so overbearing that it becomes more like stuffing the holiday down people’s throats?  Must we commercialize the holidays so much that people forget the true meaning of them?  And I’m not talking about religious meanings here, although to those of the Catholic religion, Christmas is about the gift they believe the Lord bestowed upon His people, not about how much He spent at the local department store.  No, I’m talking about the goodwill bestowed upon one another by acts of kindness conducted over these holidays.  I’m talking about togetherness – people coming together and enjoying each other’s company.  Yet, the folks in retail nowadays have chosen to make light of a holiday in which we give thanks for all of our perceived blessings and instead place emphasis on a holiday that never really had a dollar sign attached to its true meaning in the first place.

            What does this mean for future generations?  Folks my age and older remember what it was like to look forward to this time of the year with eager anticipation – for the goodwill it brought out in people, for the happiness and joy of the season.  But much of the younger generation only pay attention to what material possessions they can glean out of relatives.  When asked to donate to a charity, you’ll find that many of these people would rather spend $600 on a Playstation 3 than on one small toy for the Toys for Tots program.  Thanks to all of the hype, people in department stores are literally trampling each other for the best deals, running right past the Salvation Army donation pot without a second glance.  When you ask a kid what they are thankful for, they are more likely to say their I-pod, Playstation, cellphone, digital camera or some other such material item.  Then, they might add a family member or friend as an afterthought.  People are so intent on thinking about how much money they have to spend on someone to make them happy that they are too busy to be thankful for all that they have in life.  To these people, the holiday season is something to be endured, not celebrated.  They’ve lost the meaning of it all, because they haven’t been given time to notice it.  Goodwill is substituted with pushing, shoving and glares – especially if you happen to pick up the last Tickle Me Elmo doll off the shelf.

            Am I advocating picketing retail chains or boycotting holiday sales in an effort to get the stores to ease up on the rush-job?  No.  If I even thought that these things would serve to cause retail chains to rethink their “rush-the-holiday” policy, I would be highly deluded.  Plus, good sales aid the economy.  Instead, I advocate taking the time to enjoy each holiday and passing down to future generations their true meaning.  Teach them that Christmas means more than the skewed retail idea that giving with a high price tag will elicit happiness.  Teach them to take time to think about all they are thankful for – not the material possessions, but the people and places that make you feel blessed.

The World According to Star Wars

Written By: Cass R. Sunstein

Published By: Dey St.

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               When I first read the description of Cass R Sunstein’s The World According to Star Wars, I thought it sounded cute.  According to the description, the author discusses lessons learned from the Star Wars universe in relation to fatherhood, redemption, politics, etc.  I asked for and received this book for my birthday.  I couldn’t wait to read it.  And then I chose the worst possible time to read it – while I was studying some rather heavy subjects.  This book was not the lightest read I could have chosen at the time, but I stuck with it…and learned something along the way.

               I should have realized that a Harvard professor, who is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy and also happened to work in the White House, would probably not write a light and airy book full of tongue in cheek references as to how Star Wars affects our every day lives.  Instead, The World According to Star Wars is an in depth look at how one can relate the themes and characters of Star Wars in various happenings in our daily lives – the big and the small.  I was surprised when the author discussed how Star Wars began and the many incarnations of the origin story George Lucas has told over the years.  I also found myself nodding my head every time the author pointed out Lucas’ white lies when it came to how many films he had actually planned to make, how he had planned out the story of the Skywalkers and etc.  I was finding common ground with this author as I have pointed out the same fibs over the years.

               And then we got down to the nitty gritty.  This wasn’t just a comparison as to how the Skywalkers’ relationships presented us with the dos and don’ts of fatherhood.  No, this was much more than that.  I found myself reading how you could look at Star Wars as a cautionary tale against technology, how the Jedi might have been Jihadists, how Star Wars is steeped in Christianity, how it is steeped in Buddhist teachings and more.  We uncover predictable biases in the series and discuss why the bad guys are so likeable.  We delve into the economic aspects of Star Wars.  And, of course, we delve into the political aspects: the ways in which democracy can become so complicated as to beget rebellion and/or dictatorship…told you this book was heavy.

               There are some lighter discussions, such as the Star Wars vs. Star Trek comparison, which is the best film out of the series, and in which order should the movies be watched.  But for the most part, this is not a lighthearted read.  No, this is a book for those thinkers in the Star Wars fandom who can see deeper into the storyline and come up with comparisons in our everyday lives, looking at our government’s actions, our family lives, the world’s economy and more and seeing meaning or a relationship to things that happen in the Star Wars films. 

               Not always an easy read to be sure, The World According to Star Wars is actually a refreshing one.  It reminds us that most science fiction geeks are deep thinkers and can find scientific, sociological, philosophical, and psychological meaning in the Star Wars series we love so much.  Not an easy read, but a great one in my opinion and one I will recommend to my fellow thinking Star Wars fans out there.

Buy The World According to Star Wars at Amazon.com!

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Though the Odds Be Great or Small

Written By Terry Brennan and William Meiners

Published By Loyola Press

Reviewed By Melissa Minners

I’ve been following Notre Dame football for years…ever since watching the movie Rudy as a matter of fact.  There have been good years and bad years, but I’m a student of the game and understand that there will be ups and downs as players graduate and coaches change.  So, when I saw a book that was about one of their comeback seasons, I decided to check it out.

               Though the Odds Be Great or Small is said to have been written by Terry Brennan and William Meiners, but when you actually get into it, its more a book written by Meiners with some insight from Terry Brennan.  The book starts off with Terry’s prowess on the field as a player while a college student attending Notre Dame.  Then it goes on to discuss Terry’s tenure as the youngest Notre Dame coach.  It gets a little confusing from there. 

               The book is supposed to be about Notre Dame’s 1957 comeback year, but it doesn’t really concentrate on that.  The book does show how Brennan took a team that was destined to fail thanks to Notre Dame’s football recruiting or lack thereof.  It does show how they came back to get a bowl game in 1957.  It also shows how Brennan was fired the following year in hopes that the man to replace him, an NFL coach, could raise the team to greatness.  But in between is a muddle of comparisons between older teams and newer teams, coaches from before Brennan and after compared to his style of coaching and more. 

               All of this extra added comparison takes away from the focus of the book, which should have been how Terry Brennan, the school’s youngest football coach, took that 1957 team to greatness despite the college’s focus on academics over football after his former coach was forced to leave.  I was bored with this book a couple of chapters in and forced myself to finish, which took a lot longer than it should have.  You might want to read this if you are a die-hard Notre Dame football fan, but I doubt it.  Not worth the time and effort.

Check out Though the Odds Be Great or Small: Notre Dame’s 1957 Comeback Season and the Year That Changed College Football at Amazon.com

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Hail Mary

The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League

Written by Britni de la Cretaz and Lindsey D’Arcangelo

Published by Perseus Books

Reviewed By Melissa Minners

               Women love sports just as much as men, but we don’t see enough women in organized sports leagues.  Thanks to a little movie called A League of Their Own, we learned that there was a Women’s Baseball League.  The WNBA is the well-loved Women’s National Basketball Association, though they don’t receive enough recognition.  We have the Women’s Soccer League whose USA team constantly dominates in the Olympics.  However, has anyone ever heard of the National Women’s Football League?

               In Hail Mary The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League, Britni de la Cretaz and Lindsey D’Arcangelo take a look at an idea, started in 1967 as a gimmick by a businessman that took off into something he never could have imagined.  It turned out that Sid Friedman never realized that women might truly want to play the real game.  Title IX had just been passed but women really didn’t have much choice as to the types of sports they could play in…until that businessman took a chance on his gimmick that turned into something real.

               In this book, the authors seek to tell their readers about the beginnings of the league, its attraction to women and its eventual downfall.  It wouldn’t be easy as there isn’t much written about the National Women’s Football League.  Thus, the authors conducted interviews with the players and coaches, providing readers insight into what it was like to be part of a hard-hitting game thought to be beyond the capabilities of that “frail” species known as woman.  They offered the readers quotes from news articles that both praised the league and mocked it.  And in the end, they offered us a well-rounded look into what it was like to play on the team and why it would eventually fold thanks to lack of financial support.

               What I found most interesting was the dedication of the women that played.  These women would play with numerous injuries, often traveling long distances by bus to arrive at their games and get paid next to, if not nothing, for their troubles.  All for the love of the game.  I also loved learning that these women came from all walks of life.  Too often, women who play tough sports are thought to be lesbians looking for a rough and tumble good time, but the women of the National Women’s Football League were housewives, working women, college kids, married, single, gay, straight, you name it – all they wanted was to play in a sport that had been denied them so long.

               I wonder what could have been had the National Women’s Football League received the funding it needed.  If it had the backing of the National Football League, would it have gone as far as the WNBA thanks to backing from the NBA?  The WNBA, though successful, still doesn’t get as much advertising play or promotion as the NBA, but they have survived and very few teams have folded due to financial pressures.  I was happy to learn that some of the former players are trying to get a new league going again.  Maybe this book will help gain them some momentum.

               Hail Mary is an awesome analysis of the rise and fall of the NWFL, but it also serves as a dedicated place for the former players and coaches to tell their stories, so they won’t be forgotten.  It was a fast, easy and informative read that I would recommend to all young women interested in sports.  It just goes to show that a woman can do anything if she sets her mind to it!

Buy Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League at Amazon!

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