Some of My Favorite Things
One of my first memories of music was The Beatles. I remember singing “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid” and “Bang, Bang, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” together on family road trips (my childhood self didn’t seem to be bothered by the disturbing lyrics). As I started delving into songwriting later on, I have gained a lot of respect in particular for Paul McCartney and his skill as a vocalist and songwriter. But my favorite Christmas song by a Beatle has to be John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.
There were so many great cartoon shows back in the late 80s and early 90s. Perhaps because of this, I never really grew out of my love for animation. My brother and I always looked forward to the TV specials that would air in the days leading up to Christmas. One of my favorite Christmas shows was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I mean, seriously, how is that show not awesome when its theme song has lines like “You’re a nasty wasty skunk” or “I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!”
As a teenager, most of my time in December was spent performing in a private choir called Seattle Girls’ Choir. Unlike a school choir, we would often have several performances a week at book stores, cathedrals, even Seattle’s Christmas Ship. SGC was kind of like a second family for me growing up, and our holiday repertoire became a tradition that we always looked forward to.
(“Mary Speaks” on Seattle Holiday by Seattle Girls’ Choir) https://play.spotify.com/track/0ZXnxO2iofGPXWVNg9oPTy
One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is make cookies. My mom had an old Betty Crocker cookbook from the 70s that I would use. One year in high school I slaved away late into the night making about 10 different kinds of cookies to give out to all of the students in my six classes at school. The gingerbread people were by far the most time-consuming! My favorites, however, were the candy cane cookies, mainly because they used almond extract (I’m part-Danish, so loving almonds runs deep in my family.) Betty Crocker has since changed their recipe, but I continue to make the old-school candy cane cookies every year (though I have switched out the sketchy Red #40 food coloring).
I’ve always been a Matt Groening fan. First watching The Simpsons and then later, Futurama. During my first months in San Francisco, I would watch and re-watch the few collections of Simpsons and Futurama episodes that I had managed to buy with my minimum wage job. Perhaps one of my favorite Christmas episodes is “Xmas Story” from Futurama, where Fry discovers that the future’s Santa is a robot created in 2801 who “invariably judges everyone to be naughty”. It starts out with Fry going to a pet store to buy Leela a present for Xmas. The shop owner tells him he has enough money for a parrot or 500 lizards. He buys the parrot but it escapes outside the store, and flies to the top of a giant clock tower. He tries to recapture it and nearly falls to his death, but he’s saved at the last minute by Leela. They head back to Planet Express, narrowly escaping robotic Santa who tries to kill them with his T.O.W. missile. It’s hard to resist singing a rendition of “Santa Claus is gunning you down” when Christmas comes around, and I still joke with my husband whenever he does me a favor that I’m gonna get him “soooo many lizards”.
Sufjan Stevens for me is driving the wintery hillsides of New Hampshire for the two years I was there at school. Compared to the outgoing nature of Californians, New Hampshire was a very different culture. People would come out of the woodwork, sometimes on skis, only for brief periods before darting back inside from the 30 below weather. Though perhaps not unsurprisingly, I was colder living in shoddy uninsulated apartments on the west coast than I ever was on the east coast. I guess they know how to heat a building there.
It never snowed much growing up in Seattle, but the few times a year that it did, my brother and I would be outside sledding with our Radio Flyer sleds. We got really into it, we would split into teams with the neighbor kids and race each other down the hill of our cul-de-sac. At one point my neighbor had started using a blow torch to melt wax onto our sleds for even greater speed. Then, feeling confident one year, my friend and I decided to make a daredevil attempt down this 250-foot hill, the biggest in the area. Flying down at speeds of at least 30 mph, we luckily managed to avoid serious injury, careening into a snowbank halfway down to avoid an oncoming car. I probably shouldn’t tell my nephew about this.
Like any young musician growing up in the 20th century, it was inevitable that I raided my parent’s record collection. My folks had a odd assortment of 60s and 70s records: from The Beach Boys and Cat Stevens, to Chicago, Stevie Wonder, The Who, and Hair: The Musical. However, one record I remember always being in rotation during the holidays was The Carpenter’s Christmas Portrait. The honest, clear timbre of Karen Carpenter’s voice always brings me back to cotton turtlenecks, hot cocoa packets with mini marshmallows, and neon bubble lights on the tree.
The very first time I visited San Francisco was right before Christmas. I was only 19 or so, staying with my parents in Seattle over the holidays. At the time, I had been through a bad breakup and was prone to late night wanderings. One night I got up and started driving out of the suburbs to downtown Seattle. But when I got there I didn’t feel like turning around, so I kept driving. Next thing I knew I was calling my father from Medford, OR to tell him I’d be driving to San Francisco and back in time for Christmas (much to his dismay). I ended up falling in love with the city and moving here four years later.
Well, that’s all I have. Happy December everyone and may your holidays be warm and fuzzy.