The Most Wond-elf-ful Time of the Year

When Christmastime rolls around, I get nostalgic. It’s not that my family doesn’t get together (oh boy, do we get together!) or that I miss the gifts I got as a child. I am quite happy with a stocking full of chocolate and various and sundry items, thanks very much.

What I miss is being an elf.

No, seriously.

I have been an elf (or more accurately “Santa’s Helper”) for the best—no the real Santa Claus and his excellent photographer. I didn’t have to wear the costumes, thank goodness—just a red and/or green top and jeans. And sometimes, a Santa hat.

You see, my uncle is Santa. Real beard and everything. He may be the reason I was never scared of Santa—I actually don’t know. But I’ve been to him as long as I can remember for my Santa pictures. (Sadly, I’ve missed the last couple years. I’m planning on changing that this year if I can.) Around 7th grade, I became an elf for service hours initially.

There’s really not much to it. I’d run rolls of film (yup, rolls of film. We were old school for a good long while) to the drug store, hand out slips with the number corresponding to the roll of film, hand out candy canes, and get small children and animals to look at the camera. That was more or less the official description of my duties, anyway.

The actual work was all that, sure, but there was more. I was the Starbucks runner, being the most mobile of the group (and usually the most senior). Not sure I ever got the amount of cream in the photographer’s coffee right, but y’know…

I also had to find wherever the extra candy canes were hidden, as well as the cd player. I bought a little stuffed animal every year to help distract kids. (A few years, I had to buy two, as little kids aren’t always so great about remembering to give them back after being distracted by them.) I’ve held coats and children, and have had my fair share of near-accidents, including one of a pair of three-month-old twins projectile vomiting inside our little hut. I’ve had to figure out how to display letters so that they didn’t get blown away with the door opening and closing. I took pictures with whatever device I was offered, usually not terribly well. My first year, I actually had to get security to go after a family who walked off with all the salvation army gifts from under the tree. (Yes, I said they were “for the less fortunate”, and this family probably belonged in that category… but there was a sign right there saying where the gifts were going!) I carted barrels of donated food between wherever Santa was and the security office.

On the slow days (usually the first weekend), I’d sit on the floor, close to the heater when there was one, talking with Santa and the photographer. I’d steal Santa’s chair when he got up to walk around, usually resulting in a goofy picture or two. I also got to take a couple pictures of the photographer and Santa. Professional equipment is heavy!

More than that, though, there was just this air of festivity, of joy and love. It was (for the most part) the holiday spirit personified. It’s not that I don’t get that now, but there was always something different about being in the middle of it. It’s amazing to see kids in their late teens and early twenties walk in without their parents to take a photo to surprise them with. It’s fun to see families who dress up. It’s wonderful to see familiar faces, whether they’re friends from school or long-time visitors of Santa. (Remember the twins I mentioned earlier? I saw them for the next six years.)

The one thing sure to ruin that, though?

Without fail, nearly every day I was there, someone would scold their child (usually one between a year and four years) for crying. You are putting your child in the lap of a very odd-looking stranger. It does not matter that you’ve described Santa Claus ad nauseum and read Christmas books every night for the last month—your child might freak out. It’s one thing if it’s a pouty face for the camera, but a screaming, wriggling toddler does not make for a good picture, especially when you add your own yelling into the mix. Instead, see if your child will sit in your lap, or in Santa’s chair, and have Santa sneak in while an elf distracts them.

Trust me; it works.

The whole point was to have fun, to spend time with loved ones, and to indulge in wishes.

My wish would be to live it again.

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And now, for something not so different…

Last post was about an accidental soundtrack of sorts. This one, not so much.

For better or for worse, music has always been a driving force in my life. It’s cheered me up and put me to sleep and calmed me down and inspired me to create when nobody else could. It’s been a caretaker of sorts.

Some of my earliest memories are of music. Singing in the car, watching Beauty and the Beast (and loving the music was about the only reason I’d watch, because the beast was scary as hell), my mom putting on music when she was cleaning or cooking, my dad conducting a symphony in the kitchen with a carving knife (I swear my childhood was completely normal!)… Not much takes me that far back that fondly.

Some of the most moving pieces of music I’ve come across are parts of (or even whole) soundtracks. Obviously, there’s Fantasia, but I’m talking about pieces and composers that aren’t necessarily instantly recognized. Alan Menken, for instance. Anyone know his name? Chances are, unless you’re a Disney-phile, you probably don’t. He wrote the scores for both Beauty and the Beast and Tangled, which are not entirely coincidentally my all-time favorite Disney movies. Listen to the prologue (also titled “The Enchantress”) of Beauty and the Beast. That little motif is what ties the story together for me, as you’ll note it is also used in “Transformation” near the end. As haunting and high and uncertain as it begins the movie, it returns a million times stronger and more brilliant, and I love both pieces equally. Though they’re musically similar, you cannot compare them and come out with one better than the other.

Menken’s work in Tangled was a bit less strong, I think, but “Kingdom Dance” is just so much fun, and the beginning of “The Tear Heals” is just perfect. I mean, the guy’s music is brilliant all around, and the songs you can sing along to are very catchy. There are days I wish I was a booming… whatever range Richard White (the voice of Gaston) is. Baritone? I dunno, and my more musically inclined brother will probably kill me if he ever sees this, but honestly, I can read music and sing, and I know the difference between a bass clef and a treble clef, and that’s all she wrote.

Several Miyazakai movies, most composed by Joe Hisaishi, make their way in here, too. Perhaps surprisingly, they’re the movies I tend to like less. Spirited Away had some pretty cool music, as did Howl’s Moving Castle, but my favorite pieces actually come from “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” (“Nausicaa’s Requiem”, also called “Lalala” earlier on) and “Castle In the Sky” (“Confessions in the Moonlight”).

And now, a sampling of a few more soundtracks that I just can’t seem to get away from: Despicable Me (especially the titular track by Pharell Williams), Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (and Commentary: The Musical), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (yes, the late-80’s B-movie—judge all you want), the soundtracks of the first two Shrek movies, Pokémon: the First Movie, Star Wars (the boyfriend proceeded to introduce me to this gem. I have not gotten over it since.), and, from Warehouse 13, “Running Up That Hill” as covered by Track and Field. I might have cried. Again, judge all you want.

Of course, there’s about a bajillion and two-thrids (possibly three-fourths) animes I’m not naming, and a few live action ones. (Okay, I’ll plug for a few more Disney movies: Parent Trap—the newer one, again, with no shame—and, from The Big Green, “I Believe in You” and “Sunny Side Up”. Holes had a good one going, too.) A few shows have given me lots of good music—Haven, Warehouse 13, Pretty Little Liars… Yes, I know. I know. I also recently picked up Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Who, and each has a fairly good selection.

There’s also game soundtracks. Jazz Jackrabbit has an amazing one. I love most of the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks, too. I particularly like DeDeDe’s theme in the Kirby games, as well as the Fountain of Dreams theme. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary game-within-a-game had some pretty rockin’ music. And, of course, can’t forget Legend of Zelda.

As I’ve doubtless mentioned in at least one post, I’ve usually got a song or two that I’m just feeling at the moment—it sort of becomes my day’s (or week’s) soundtrack. Three Days Grace and Story of the Year are both good for attacking a very dirty bathroom. B*Witched is good for a happily creative day. Willa Ford and City High are for when I’m feeling particularly sassy. Nanne Grönvall (Yup, pullin’ out the Swedish, here.) is also a sassy one. P!nk for rebelliousness. Nightwish for sadness. Enya for meditation. And my whole “Before 2000” YouTube playlist for nostalgia.

Music: my drug (I would say my anti-drug, but I’ve never had the want to experiment in the first place), my life.

Confessions of a 90s child

Some days, I miss the 90’s.

I miss the overalls, the pogs, the crazy food and drink stuffs, books on tape and Little Golden Books, pretty much everything on these two Buzzfeed lists… The list goes on. I miss watching Gargoyles, The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, ReBoot, Recess, the first few seasons of Pokémon (ditto about Digimon), Monster Rancher, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, The Big Comfy Couch, The Magic Schoolbus, Darkwing Duck, Carebears (I still have a Wish Bear plush that I will not give up for anything), Pound Puppies, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Billy Nye the Science Guy, X-Men, Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, Looney Toons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pinky and the Brain, ZOOM, Wishbone, and so many more. (Seriously, don’t get me started on Disney movies…)

Thankfully, with the advent of YouTube, I don’t have to miss the music.

The first song I remember hearing on the radio was Sophie B. Hawkins’ “As I Lay Me Down to Sleep”—I’m about 3, and my uncle and aunt are driving me to their house, and I’m trying to sing along. Thus began my love affair with music I’d hear once and then never again for 13 or 14 years until YouTube and CLICK 98.9 came along. There was the Wallflowers’ “One Headlight”, Desree’s “You Gotta Be”, Fastball’s “The Way” and “Out of My Head”.  There was White Town’s “Your Woman”, “I2I” and “Stand Out” from A Goofy Movie, “Big Bad Wolf” by LL Cool J, “Romeo and Juliet” by S.O.A.P., and “Over My Shoulder” by Mike and the Mechanics.

I loved the Goo Goo Dolls, Heart, Backstreet Boys AND ‘NSync (complete heresy, but I didn’t care), Destiny’s Child, B*Witched, Nickelback (I refuse to be ashamed), Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, M2M, S Club 7, the music of pretty much every single damn Disney movie (this still holds true today, actually), Dave Matthews Band, Phil Collins, Van Morrison, CAKE, Savage Garden, Sheryl Crow, Enya… This list, too, could go on for quite a while.

Okay, yeah, I know some of those groups have definitely been around much longer than I have, but they were artists I heard often in the 90’s. I’m one of the youngest in my family, so I had little control over the radio for the longest time.

This is not all to say that I wish I could permanently live in the 90s. Computers half the size of my desk (and with much smaller screens for the area they took up) and cellphones the size of bricks weren’t exactly convenient. I was just born into an interesting world, on the cusp of two centuries, and while I just barely remember a lot of the things that used to be really different (and I probably remember only the good parts), it’s interesting to see how people not terribly older than me have trouble adapting, and kids who were just born in the last decade picking up things I totally would have known how to use and not even knowing their purpose.

It’s also not to say that I don’t like some of the music today, but the stuff played in my formative years will always hold a special spot in my heart, and even now, I tend to gravitate to songs that have a feel to them much like the songs I know from the 60’s to the 90’s. As for TV… I’m of the opinion that kids’ programming is less and less unique than it used to be, and far more inane. I mean, I’m all for PBS (Our cable was spotty growing up, so this was really my bread and butter), but I just can’t understand SpongeBob (and it scares me that Microsoft word recognizes that as a legit word) and Adventure Time. I guess what I miss most about the 90’s is that we weren’t delicate snowflakes. Kids’ programming actually tackled some pretty tough issues, and the bad guy sometimes won. There was a lot of political incorrectness (which wasn’t always great, I’ll grant) and sneaking crap past the radar. (Animaniacs and “fingerprints”, anyone?)

When it comes down to it, nostalgia is a powerful thing. A lot of us will think back to our formative years and say that those were the good old days, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It’s like how memories of a place we could call home and people we could call family make us feel safe and secure. Our upbringing is ingrained into us, but, at the same time, we do have to move with the changing tides.

I still hope that when I have kids, there are parts of my childhood I can share with them. Mostly the TV shows, though—not gonna lie. I feel like I actually did learn a lot from what I watched, and I had fun doing it, too. As my brother will forever quote me as saying, “Animaniacs taught me how not to be a douche” by example. As much as we should model good behavior for our kids, they should know what bad behavior looks like, too, lest they parrot everything they see because they’ve only ever had reinforcement to parrot.

And it doesn’t hurt that they’re all hilarious.