Happy birthday to Prea, one of our kitties on Rainbow Bridge, who is featured in my recent picture storybook, “Libby the Lobivia Jajoiana”. Special thanks to illustrator Gordon Bagshaw for bringing our Prea back to life so beautifully!
MEET MR. FRODO AND SOOKIE! New to DOG BAND...
A picture book to be published by Iguana Books in the spring of 2021. Illustrated by Wei Lu!
Day 12 of my 12 Authors of the Holiday Season...It's Christmas Eve...and I have thoughts I need to share on "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"
With many or most of us staying within our own family units and homes in this holiday season yet under the cloud of COVID-19, I figured many will be watching the ol' Boob Tube...the idiot box...the screen of escape.
There's plenty of good holiday TV-fare out there and lots of world-class Christmas cinema, but why don't we chat about something not so good? A B-movie for Christmas...and as with most B-movies, it's still fun to watch.
As it is succinctly put on IMDb, the synopsis goes thusly: The Martians kidnap Santa Claus because there is nobody on Mars to give their children presents.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a 1964 American science fiction comedy film directed by Nicholas Webster, produced and written by Paul L. Jacobson, based on a story by Glenville Mareth. John Call as Santa Claus. You may also notice eleven-year-old Pia Zadora as one of the Martian children!
Apparently, this is also the first documented appearance of Mrs. Claus in a movie (Doris Rich). Three weeks later, the television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer then aired, showing Mrs. Claus for a second time.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians appears on many lists of the worst films ever made. The film also took on newfound fame in the 1990s after being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (as all of the very best sci-fi B-movies do!). It was also featured on Elvira's Movie Macabre.
This time we have ourselves a sci-fi comedy (and a B-movie to boot!), rather than a horror comedy, and I'll take it! The 60s were golden for sci-fi AND B-movie films and television, so this fits in nicely with the silly stuff I love best.
Not often do we get to combine Christmas themes with space and Mars, so hey! Strap into your Christmas sleigh and prepare for some super stilted acting (Martian and human alike), classic crappo costumes and set (love the control console in the Martian rocket that is somewhat reminiscent of the classic TARDIS console), plenty of stock footage time filler of rockets and other stuff launching or scanning or whatever...as well as an obligatory man in a polar bear (rather than gorilla) costume menacing young children who don't seem as frightened as they should be. Not to mention a big ol' cardboard box robot (built for battle, supposedly, who instinctively becomes nothing more than a toy in Santa's presence).
Goofy "fight" sequences (including one in Santa's new Martian toy factory), freeze gun non-effects and a scene of maniacal laughter between Santa, the children from Earth and from Mars keep the film from becoming too dull from time wasting extra footage to stretch out the movie to feature length. Not sure exactly how Santa and the Earth kids get themselves home exactly (are they suddenly able to pilot a Martian ship themselves? Perhaps, as they were given a "grand tour" on their way over to Mars in the first place), but what the hell, right? The important thing is that they DID get home, and Mars now has its own ultra-ridiculous Santa of their very own.
Watch this B-movie if you like the gentler silly cult classics that are also family friendly. Your kids may very well enjoy it, too!
Read on for info on my latest picture book, as well as my Christmas themed picture book...
by RJ Downes
When I was young, like most kids, I loved Christmas. I would like to clarify however, it was the non-religious aspects that took my heart and soul. The whole birth of our lord and saviour side of things was there. I was aware of it, being raised by a mother who herself was raised Catholic. But it was just another story, and a fairly boring one to my young ears, during a time of more entertaining stories about a big bearded guy who climbed down chimneys and brought toys to all the children. To a white kid raised in a fairly typical, albeit poor, 1970s/1980s household my choice of lord and saviour would have been old St. Nick. At least he was a saint, right?
Starting with its arrival in November, my sister and I would begin our Christmas prep like many others by reading and rereading the Sears Christmas Wish Catalogue. We would sometimes look together, sometimes take turns, dreaming of the toys on each page, even if we rarely got the ones we wanted.
From those beginnings we would race to the television each night to devour any and all Christmas specials they would play for us. This being the era before on-demand, you usually only had one shot at each show and if you missed it, that was that for another year. I remember having a distinct love of the stop motion specials like Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and a heartfelt fondness for A Charlie Brown Christmas above others. But really, I’d watch any special show they’d put out in the spirit of the season.
December was the month of Christmas. Like every other kid, I counted the days leading up to the big event. And, to me, like every other kid, it felt like a million years. Each morning I’d calculate just how long it was until magic time and lament how much longer there was to go. It’s funny just how much excitement and disappointment go hand in hand at Christmas.
My mother loved old-fashioned traditions, so we did things like making popcorn and cranberry garlands for the tree by hand and baking gingerbread men from scratch. I even clearly remember my sister and I reveling in designing, cutting out and decorating Christmas cards by hand for our classmates, friends and family members even as everyone else bought ones from the store to give out.
Even though we weren’t focused on religion in my house, we still marveled at the old ceramic nativity scene my mother would gently unwrap and set up in the living room
My parents would play the two or three Christmas records (LPs, in fact) that they owned over the holidays and I would wait with painful anticipation through all the other songs just to hear Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano or Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley, each played maybe once an evening. It would have been unheard of to dare to touch the record needle to move it back and play the song again.
On Christmas eve, we’d watch the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim, which is still the version that plays in my head when someone mentions any of the varied and drastically different retellings of that classic story.
Going to bed that night was perhaps the most exciting event of the year, even more so than my birthday because I knew I shared my excitement with my sister and every other kid for miles. There was something tangible about the energy created through shared anticipation.
Sleep would eventually overtake each of us, but not before silent plans to wake up early, sneak down, see Santa and open every present with our names on it, were made.
Christmas morning was a nightmare of patience as we had to wait until my parents were both awake and ready to even start opening presents. It never occurred to my sister or I that the reason it took them so long to get up on Christmas morning was the fact that they’d spent the night before setting everything up and wrapping last minute gifts along with all the other things parents do once their children are asleep. My mom would have also had the forceful brunt of dealing with two kids and their manic energy for many days since school was usually out for at least a week before the big day. My father alone got to escape off to work until a bit closer to the main event but I imagine it was still a challenge for him as well.
The present opening was so incredible, so powerful, I felt like I was going to burst at the seams as each present was opened. Maybe this is what makes tearing into wrapping paper so satisfying. The gifts after opening were placed around us as though we were royalty sitting in our counting room surveying our wealth. This was the height of bliss for my young mind. Christmas was the drug and I was the junkie.
Even when my parents separated, like so many families of our generation, Christmas was still incredible, spending the morning with our mother, then heading off and spending the rest of Christmas with our father. Like other kids of that split family model, we got the double tree, double present Christmas with each parent hoping to win the holiday with a gift they picked out. The incredible Christmas high was still there, just two slightly lower but equally good peaks rather than giant one.
Basically put, Christmas was an important part of my childhood, the same as it was for so many other children. And perhaps it’s just due to the tricks of memory and the perceptions of a child, but Christmas also felt more important to everyone back then, more a part of the world we lived in. Maybe it simply was because no other culture or religious group was represented on such a mass scale at the time. I’m not saying it’s right or fair, it’s just how it was. While it’s still not equal billing, at least Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and others get a bit more world attention these days.
But then as I got older, things changed. My father was no longer in the picture and my mother’s mental health was in question. Some people say that it’s all downhill from the time you find out Santa isn’t real but it’s bigger than that. The spirit of Christmas fades in many of us just like our sense of wonder and the belief that there is still magic in the world. The older you get and the more you see, the harder it is to hold on to the excitement of things you’re expected to believe in.
There is a bigger story here for another day, but by the time I was seventeen and legally emancipated, my sister and I would travel to Ottawa to visit my mother at Christmas each year. We would sit with her in the small room she lived in and listen to her beliefs about all the people who wronged her, all the people who were out to get her and all the people who were going to be punished for their wrongdoings when she finally got her day in court. It was the same scenario Christmas after Christmas without fail. The woman I had known growing up was lost in a world of her own delusions. But she was still my mother and Christmas was supposed to be a time for family.
As the years went by, it got to the point that thinking about Christmas filled me with dread. I knew on Christmas Eve I would be travelling to a city I didn’t want to go to, spending three or four days in a place I couldn’t stand being in, for an amount of time filled with emotional gut punches, wild mood swings and feeling like I had never fully grown up. Finally, after returning from the trip, it would take the better part of a month to unpack and emotionally digest the baggage I’d returned with. Suffice to say, Christmas and I were no longer an item.
In fact, more than a decade ago in my early thirties (and after my sister moved away to the other side of the country), I made a choice to stop forcing myself to go on these trips. I decided to do something else with my holiday. While this did bring me some peace of mind and soul during the Christmas season, it also seemed to reduce my connection to the holiday even more to the point that I really didn’t think too much about Christmas in any major sense. Sure, I still bought presents for others and shared time with friends through parties and gatherings. But honestly, New Year’s became the big focal point of the calendar for me at this time of year with hardly a nod towards Christmas. I ignored any and all holiday specials on television. I only participated in gift giving and receiving because it was simply what everyone does this time of year. My heart wasn’t in it.
Then, later in life than I would have imagined, I met my wonderful wife, Sarah and we ended up having two incredible boys. My wife enjoys Christmas and I will give her credit for making it more fun again. A Christmas tree began to get set up in our house along with Gnoel (our Gnome Christmas display) but I still wasn’t emotionally connected to it. As new parents, we did the Christmas thing for our boys mostly out of the fact that it’s what you do for children but also because it’s fun to do it as a family. When the boys were very little, they loved the fact that they got presents but they didn’t really understand why. It was fun but it didn’t really reconnect me with the holiday. But then they got a little older.
If you haven’t been through it yourself, just know that the alchemy of creating two little people who look a lot like you and watching them grow awakens many things. Some can be challenging and force you to face things you thought were left behind when you became an adult. Others can be so much more enjoyable than that. A smile or a gesture they make that you recognize either from your own memories or photos of you in your youth. Fears and joys they mention that spark memories of the very same in your own childhood. The biggest thing however, that having children does is remind you what the world looked like before you lost your full sense of wonder.
Children have big ideas, big dreams and even bigger emotions. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, they tell you what they think and they truly still believe in magic, even if they tell you they don’t. I can’t obviously see directly through their eyes but the refracted glow of Christmas excitement that comes off of them, now that they are both old enough to fully understand the holiday, is palpable.
From mid-November onwards the Christmas excitement just pours off of them and I have to say, they’ve pulled me in.
Hearing George, our seven-year-old, absently singing Feliz Navidad a cappella in his room while playing.
The joy on my four-year-old Henry’s face as he retells his favourite parts of the newest animated version of The Grinch.
Read on for the rest of the blog and to learn more about RJ Downes...
Little Drummer Boy
by Joshua Pantalleresco
My two favorite Christmas songs are Silent Night and Little Drummer Boy. Little Drummer Boy in particular fits 2020 especially well. And that is what I want to talk about. The story of the Drummer Boy is a touch more complicated than you remember. It teaches a great lesson about charity that I think is often overlooked in this more commercial season each and every year.
I Have No Gift to Bring That's Fit for a King
The little drummer boy didn't have anything to offer the newborn king. As he stood in line in awe of the birth of the savior, thoughts of what to give Him kept rumbling over and over in his head. To his sadness and shame, there was nothing he could give.
All he had was himself and his drum.
Times are tough right now. Only a chosen few can afford the finer things in life. The latest gadgets and toys are more and more just the exclusive property of the Jones'. The rest of us this year have no hope of keeping up. In light of the world being on this weird pause in the journey, buying for Christmas seems like the last thing on most of us minds.
What's worse, some of the things we take for granted aren't available this year. I can't see my grandmother on Christmas in Detroit right this minute and it's killing me. Fifteen miles and an imaginary line means I can't go see her. I haven't been able to see her since I got back here.
I've been chasing my dreams so money is a little tight right now (who isn't right now right?). So right now I just have a drum in my hand. What can I do to give thanks this Christmas?
Play my drum of course.
Shall I play for you?
I have a lot of options this Christmas. I'm experimenting with drawing right now. I'm trying to write my story for a Christmas or New Year's release. I podcast. I'm playing my music for all to listen and see. It's nothing special to me. It's what I do everyday.
It's what the drummer boy did every day. He played the drums. With nothing else to contribute the drummer boy played his best for the baby Jesus. And you know what? Sometimes that's enough.
I used to work for a well known author. Christmas that year there was a lot of struggle. The writer's strike was in full swing and no one was getting paid where I was. The author who I worked had an amazingly talented brother who was drawing presents for his family. He was furious because he didn't have the ability to buy presents for his kids and his wife. All he had was his God given talents and he used them to the best he could.
I get it. He probably had to do that far too many times in the past and didn't want to do it again, but sometimes, it's not the present it's the thought. And from a very selfish perspective, I didn't see it that way though.
The individual forgot just how talented they were. Even now, I still wish I had the drawing he gave me in the spring. I had to leave it there when things took the turn they did. It didn't feel right to keep it, but he did amazing feats of magic that Christmas.
You can too.
Most people take themselves for granted with what gifts they have. The drives and struggles of today distract us from the fact that we all have amazing talents, and if this year you can only call on them to give to others, it's okay. It's all you have.
The man who gives his whole fortune is giving a greater gift than the man who gives only a crumb. If it's all you got, it's the most amazing thing you can do.
Little Drummer Boy is secretly a gift exchange
It's not just the drummer boy that gives a gift here. Jesus does. As a baby, Jesus had no gold to give or the ability to do anything else but smile. And smile he did. He appreciated the drummer boy for playing his absolute best. Each of them got a gift.
For the last few months I've been giving inspirational messages to random people. To my surprise I've gotten some of the kindest, most generous responses I've ever received in my life. I seem to touch the people I care about with them. I'm not just giving, but I'm getting too. We're all struggling right now. A kind word goes a long way. An I love you is worth more than gold right now. For in the end, all we have is each other.
And maybe this year especially we've learned the value of that.
Be kind to each other this holiday season. Sing the best song you have, play to your hearts content and let people know you appreciate them. Isn't that the real spirit of the holidays. We can connect, so let's do so this holiday. This isn't the world we want right now, but we can still make the best of it. I know I intend to.
Read on for more about Joshua...