Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Evaluation: Rudolph Club JAN 2007

From January 25th-February 25th, my first month as a Rudolph Club member, these were my assignments (see below). How did I do? I finished almost all the tasks. For me, this is cause for celebration.

JANUARY TASK: Tie Up Loose Ends!
Almost all my Christmas items are now staged to go into the attic or into the basement. The only stragglers are some dishes and some ornaments. I purchased a number of tableware items on the after-Christmas sales that need to be stored a bit more systematically. As for the ornaments, my husband took them off the tree in haste because the lovely evergreen was so dry. Unfortunately, he didn’t pack them away in the special, sectioned box that I use; he merely set them in the handiest cardboard version. It will be a little extra work for me to organize the ornaments for final storage, but at least my dying tree didn’t catch fire and burn the house down.

JANUARY TASK: Set Up a Gift Closet
I do not have space in my 900-square-foot house for a closet dedicated entirely to buy-ahead gifts. Oh, what a luxury that would be! I do, however, have a red-and-green flip-top box that I plan to set at the foot of my bed for the sole purpose of storing early-purchase presents. Until my new front entry materializes (which will give me that dedicated closet), this system must suffice. To track my early purchases, I created a gift inventory form in my computer and I plan to update it whenever presents are stored in the “gift box.”

FRUGAL GIFT IDEA: Holiday Sock Collection
I contemplated this gift idea for a while before deciding whether collecting socks all year would be worth the effort for the few individuals on my list who would enjoy this kind of thing. Today (2/10/07), while shopping for some new bath towels, I checked out the Valentine’s Day novelty socks. Some of them were cute. The price wasn’t bad either: $1.99/pair. So, at that moment, standing in front of the sock rack next to the store checkout, I made the command decision to become a ridiculously early Christmas shopper and purchased four pairs of the fashionable footwear items. I brought them home, organized them into large gallon plastic storage bags, and dropped them in the Christmas gift box at the end of my bed. On February 24th, I added some St. Patrick’s Day socks as well.

Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich
Only five chapters in length and 150 pages long, it didn’t take me long to polish off this holiday volume, and I am a slow reader. Visions of Sugar Plums is the story of bounty hunter/detective Stephanie Plum, a woman in search of bail-jumper Sandy Claws and, with only four days to go until Christmas, a woman woefully behind on her holiday preparations. Enter Diesel, a handsome stranger who (literally) pops into Stephanie’s kitchen. His plan: help the poor woman get her man AND get ready for Christmas. No easy task what with the mysterious villain Mr. Ring causing power outages all over town, the local elves pelting people with gingerbread cookies, and the dysfunctional antics of the Plum family distracting everyone.

Not being a seasoned reader of Janet Evanovich, I found this story simplistic and, in the words of my sixteen-year-old daughter, fluffy. The characters were poorly developed, the plot predictable, and the dysfunctional family disturbing. I certainly hope Ms. Evanovich was not attempting to portray an “average” American family: a mother who copes by drinking, an older sister in the midst of a divorce getting pregnant by a man whose virility she gauges by looks (please tell me woman aren’t that intellectually challenged), and a grandmother who flaunts her new “stud muffin,” the real villain of the story --- Mr. Ring --- in disguise.

In defense of the book, I understand that Ms. Evanovich writes stories in series and that this volume has many recurring characters. Perhaps if I had read more Stephanie Plum novels before Visions of Sugar Plums, I would have known more about the characters and more about other setting/plot devices, such as the relationship Ms. Plum has with her boyfriend, for example. That said, I would still opt for something “meatier.”

Recommended, but only if you have nothing better to read.

12 Days of Christmas Eve, starring Steven Weber & Molly Shannon
Billed as a cross between “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Groundhog Day,” this made-for-TV movie from 2004 has business executive Calvin Carter repeating Christmas Eve twelve times until he gets the clue that the people in his life are more important than money and material possessions.

This film wasn’t actually as bad as I thought it was going to be. The life-altering transformation was kept until late in the script or, rather, it unfolded gradually throughout the latter half of the film, a much more realistic approach. After all, most of us come to an awareness of well-ordered priorities in fits and starts over the course of a lifetime. Unfortunately, television and a 90-minute time limit don’t really lend themselves to incremental revelation. This movie, however, does a better job than most. Favorite line from the film: “This ‘best Christmas ever’ thing is not a destination. It is more like a journey. God is in the details.”

Recommended, but difficult to find. I had to purchase it from in order to view it out of season. Neither Netflix nor my local library had it in stock.

Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
Shorter than Visions of Sugar Plums (only 122 pages), this book was also a quick read, but of MUCH higher quality. It is unusual for me to read one fiction book every six months. Having read two in the same month is almost unheard of. Becoming emotionally invested in characters is even more rare for me, but that is exactly what happened with this tale.

The plot finds orphan Hope Jensen adopted, as an infant, by Louise, a woman who raises the little girl to adulthood before succumbing to ovarian cancer. From childhood, Hope is a gifted writer, a talent she uses to secure employment at the local newspaper, a job she holds throughout college and beyond, a position she uses to investigate the origin of a mysterious jar full of money that appears on her doorstep immediately after a Christmas Eve burglary relieves her of many personal possessions.

Hope discovers the origin of the Christmas Jar --- the Maxwell family, owners of a small and highly respected antique restoration business. On a mission to write a human-interest story about the wonderfully positive effects of the jars, Hope befriends the Maxwells. Though her motives are initially selfish, the intrepid reporter gains much in return: a family and some lessons in life, and about Chirstmas, that will stay with her long after the holiday ends.

Highly, highly recommended. I plan to purchase it for my Christmas library as soon as possible. Look for the movie, sometime in 2007.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, starring Chevy Chase
Much to the chagrin of Katherine the Great and King Richard III, I requested this movie from Netflix for the sole purpose of fulfilling my Rudolph Club “bonus” assignment. I really shouldn’t have bothered. Filled with poor physical humor, angry outbursts, and sexual innuendo, the storyline had less to do with Christmas and more to do with the inability of the main character, Clark Griswold, to formulate appropriate expectations and to cope with reality once those expectations were challenged. I suppose the director was attempting to convey the idea that Christmas never goes as planned, and that the holiday really isn’t about all the trappings anyway. I just think he could have found a better vehicle for his message.

Not recommended.

Hopefully, my remaining loose ends will be in the attic by February 28th. Watch for the next Rudolph Club assignment summary. It should be coming soon.

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