Sunday, December 30

That's why it's not called "The Happy"

This afternoon I saw Les Miserables for the second time. And I enjoyed it almost as much as the first time. When I saw it the day after Christmas I had seen no reviews other than the Fandango "Go" "Must Go" thing. I knew from the time that I saw the trailer months ago that I wanted to see it - in fact, if I hadn't been under the weather, I am sure I would have been there on Christmas Day.

My reaction? Wow. Incredible. Stunning. I barely recognized Hugh Jackman (wasn't he Wolverine in some sci-fi movie?) and the Anne Hathaway in Les Mis is nothing like Princess Mia in the Princess Diaries (although I caught PD2 the other night during a bout of insomnia and enjoyed it very much). It was everything that I hoped for - and more.

I later made the mistake of reading reviews of the movie written by "regular folk" and could not have been more surprised. I had very much enjoyed Russell Crowe's Javert - and actually was impressed with his singing. Apparently I am a tone-deaf idiot...because the reviews almost universally panned his musical performance. I listened more closely today and I think that I am right - he was not perfect, but he was impressive.

I have only seen the show a couple of times, including an excellent performance by the E.C. Glass Theatre Department. Among my theatre friends - I think that classifies me as one of the unwashed masses. You see, I came to theatre kind of late in my youth. I went to Amherst County High School where we were lucky to be able to cast ONE show every year. We had seriously defective lights, no sound system to speak of and a budget of $0. As I recall, in order to get enough males to stage "Our Town" in my senior year (I was student director) I had to bribe one guy with a 12 pack of beer. I know that the production values at ACHS have improved over the years, but I am not exaggerating in the slightest.

For reasons that I cannot recall, in the spring of my senior year, I decided to go to the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center to audition for a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Yep, nothing like diving into the deep end of the pool - Shakespeare. And although I was not cast, I did end up working on the stage crew for the show. It was a fairly large cast...all kinds of fairies and such...and many of the cast were long-time theatre folk. This was my first exposure to a lot of theatre people - and they were light-years ahead of me. They were so cool, rattling off all the roles they had performed...talking about roles they would like to take on...and discussing shows I had never heard of. As I continued friendships begun during Midsummer - I kept hearing about this production or that production - including a new show: Les Mis.

Not wanting to appear stupid or uninformed - I usually just nodded my head a lot and kept quiet. So, when I went to the movie on Christmas Day, I didn't go with the the comparison of this Broadway cast or that. I don't own 5 different recordings of the show. I had no idea that the man who played the Bishop in the movie was the original Jean Valjean when the show opened in London. Apparently that is a respectful nod to a great man. I was able to enjoy the movie as though I was seeing the story for the very first time. And I thought it was incredible.

Some of the reviewers complained about the fact that most of the dialogue is, that's kind of how the show goes. It's a would be like going to a Dolly Parton concert and complaining that most of the songs were country.

Some of the reviewers complained about the dark and depressing, it's during the period of the French Revolution. People were starving. That's reality. That's why it's not called "The Happy."

In short - I thought it was a wonderful movie adaptation. I have seen it twice and would see it again. But leave the children at home - they don't need to see this much misery.

Tuesday, December 18

Christmas on Cruise Control

Well - I survived the toughest week I had for this Christmas season...two or three dinner parties (one may have just counted as an open house...), playing handbells, the Christmas party for the JIFF program, a bit of caroling and the big humdinger: THE CHRISTMAS MUSICAL! I enjoyed aspects of every one of those activities - but I am one tired elf. I am looking forward to just skating through the rest of my Christmas holiday!

I begin with a lovely concert tonight of the Bells of the Blue Ridge at Quaker Memorial Presbyterian. And this year I'm getting there an hour early so I can actually SEE the bells! For someone who looks like a deer caught in the headlights when I'm playing is absolutely amazing to see the Bells of the Blue Ridge perform. They don't look like they're counting (at least their lips aren't moving) or trying to figure out what measure they are in. And I just think that Christmas music sounds incredible when played by a few octaves of handbells. They actually have some of those really, really low bells that are large enough to be worn as a hat!

Tomorrow evening I will be whisked away by big church van (sometimes I refer to the event as being shanghaied...) to the wonderful town of Bedford. I will get to fellowship with cool chicks from one of our church circles (they keep me as an annual mascot even though I technically am a member of a different circle). We will dine on soup and salad (yeah, I didn't come up with the menu) and then we will have our gift exchange. We each will bring a wrapped gift worth about ten bucks and we sit in a circle with the gift on our lap. Belva will read the Christmas Story and she chooses two words, such as "the" and "star" and we have to pass the gifts to the right on one word and to the left on the other word. If you get confused you just follow the direction that most of the people are passing. At the end of the story you open the gift in your hands. I don't think she has ever screwed up and people ended up with their own gift - but it may be possible!

After dinner and the gift exchange everyone piles in the big blue church van and we proceed to see the lights at The Elks Home and a nearby park. The best is the drive through the Elks Home (we always go through twice) because with so many eyes...we find a lot of stuff that tickles our funny bones. The Elks Home light display is a series of lighted displays ranging from the Christmas Story (pay close attention to the Cyclops wise man and Gabriel with the painted nails) to a Christmas Village where there seems to be a drug deal going down near the Hardware store. And then there is the can't miss Marilyn Monroe skater who seems to be holding a lit cigarette.

If only Christmas lights photographed well - I'd share some of this with you...perhaps I'll try again this year. My new phone might be capable!

So...with a less frantic week, I hope to share some more posts. I need to dig up some pictures and tell you about all the ugly Christmas trees of my youth! But for that - pictures are a must, you won't believe me otherwise!!

Saturday, December 8

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I just got up from a well-deserved nap. What a day!!

It started with getting set for a dress rehearsal for Lost and Found on Christmas Eve - The Musical. I am running sound and lights for the original musical program that will be presented at Centenary United Methodist Church on Saturday December 15 at 4pm (hint, should come!). The music is all original stuff created by Danny Moore, the Director of Music and there are several catchy tunes that are hopelessly stuck in my head. Currently I have When I Sing Noel running around in there.

My sister Denise wrote the play around 13 of Danny's songs and will be directing. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about some of the preparation that was going into the I actually got to see a good bit of it all come together. It really is going to be amazing. Although it doesn't have the polish (or budget) of a Broadway show or the Virginia Christmas Spectacular - it has a cast that will steal your heart. If they can affect the Grinchy-Chris of this morning, you don't stand a chance.

I am running about 11 microphones on this show, including six wireless that keep getting handed off from cast member to cast member. This morning I was patching all of that into the sound board - trying to explain to each of "my" performers (ones who speak or sing solos) who their mic goes to after them - helping our director make sure a poster was level in the dorm room set - getting the rest of the mics placed... And that was on a Saturday morning on about 6 hours sleep!

But when the rehearsal started, I could not help but be amazed by hard work that the whole cast has put in! From the opening number to the finale, everyone has made great effort to learn the lyrics and their lines. The scene painters are making good progress on the sets (the paint may not be dry on Dec. 15, but it will be there!) and the head of scene shift (Dad) has his instruction sheet. He may be seen reading it during the performance - but he has the gist of it. I just had to explain that "strike the table" means to remove it - not hit it with anything. Got to remember not to talk in theatre-speak.

Rehearsal actually ended about 15 minutes earlier than planned. Wow. Unprecedented.

After lunch, I had a different assignment. My friend Carl decided to use our church as the subject of his last project in a class for his Masters in Engineering. The only problem was that he needed some better pictures for his report (the project has something to do with heating and/or cooling efficiency). One area he needed pictures: the roof. And actually, I'm not afraid of heights. I do have a healthy respect for heights. As my Dad would say "it's not the fall that kills you - it's that sudden stop." But the ladder to the roof was a little sketchy. And a puddle of water (combined with my flip-flops...hmmm....) made exiting the ladder at the top a heart stopper. Dad offered his hand to me and when my foot slipped I felt like I nearly pulled him off the roof. He said it wasn't that close...and we would have only fallen one floor to the porch roof.

But after the climb, the reward was this beautiful view. It is rarely seen (folks are not generally allowed on the roof) so I wanted to share this picture with you.

This is one of the last big projects before Christmas (also playing handbells tomorrow). I'm looking forward to just focusing on shopping or decorating the tree. Maybe I'll get the lights on before Christmas Eve!

Monday, December 3

Christmas Continues...

Now to prepare for the next Christmas event: "ringing the bell" for the Salvation Army tomorrow night. That is Tuesday, December 6pm to be precise. Instead of ringing that lame little bell that they provide - my friend Jeff Smith and I will be singing! This is a tradition started last year - but since I had such a good time then, I think it is worthy of becoming a Christmas tradition! (I can barely recall the fact that doing this last year on a gray misty evening robbed me of my voice for about a week...)

From the time I was young, I have always LOVED Christmas caroling. When my older sisters' church youth group went on their annual caroling outing - I got to tag along. We would visit the homes of church shut-ins, and usually a few houses nearby, then would end up at someone's house for cookies and hot chocolate. I know that part of the appeal was getting to hang out with the older (and thus cooler) kids - but I also dearly love singing Christmas carols.

Whether it be the classic hymns of the season like O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger or Angels We Have Heard on High...or perhaps a couple of verses from the secular festive songs like Up on the Housetop or Jolly Old St. is great to see the smile on people's faces when a song takes them back to a happy time in their lives. A few years ago I was with a group of people singing songs at homes in the neighborhood around Centenary UMC. We went to a house, knocked on the door and started our first song. We had ended "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and were just starting "Silent Night" when the door opened. A man leaned on his walker in the doorway, a young lady standing by him with her hand on his shoulder. As we started the second verse the tears rolled down his cheeks. When we started the third verse (it was the only song we knew three verses to) I was sure my voice was going to give out - I had been crying since the first verse. But God kept the whole group going! We then launched into our final song - "Joy to the World" - and I saw the man stand just a little bit straighter and he began to smile. The rest of the gang headed on to the next house singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" but I hung behind to give a candy cane and Christmas card to our receptive audience. The young lady thanked me and started to help the older man toward the living room but he stopped her, turned to me and said "God bless you folks. You made an old man very happy tonight."

He may have been right - but I know I got more out of that visit than I gave. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle...being busy has been elevated to a status symbol (I'm just SO busy...I don't know when I'll finish all my shopping. Oh, you couldn't be half as busy as I am! Not only do I not have all my shopping done, I have three dinners and two open houses to go to this week...). We sometimes forget that the most important thing in life is the human connections we make. Stopping to actually spend time with people is a lot more valuable than just giving them more stuff.

If you love Christmas caroling as much as I do - drop by the K-mart on Wards Road Tuesday night between 6 and 7. Join in the merrymaking! Learn another verse to Silent Night! Most of all - stop being busy for an hour and just BE.

Sunday, December 2

The Advent of Christmas

December 2 - Christmas is screaming upon us! There are a multitude of events that I'm getting ready for and I just survived one annual holiday event: The Twins Sleepover! My beautiful sister Susan and her stalwart husband Patrick were blessed almost 5 years ago with the two most wonderful twins on the face of the Earth. Braeden and Taylor arrived a couple months early (in February) and quickly wrapped their Aunt Chris around their little fingers. We first met in the hospital NICU. I had to keep washing my hands because I couldn't stop crying and my nose kept running. They were so tiny...Braeden's pacifier covered about half of his face. Now they are four years old, about four feet tall and the only people in this world that I love the same amount are Jack and Jacob (my other nephews).

A new tradition has been born. On the day that their parents attend a company Christmas dinner, the twins come to my house for a sleepover. I am exhausted. Their Aunt Mo (Denise) took them to ride the Christmas train and see Santa yesterday afternoon. I understand they also enjoyed the magic of driving through the car wash at Sheetz. Hearing about that reminded me of the first time I ever went through a car wash. It was my Granddaddy Miller (Mom's dad) and I probably wasn't much older than Braeden and Taylor. It really WAS exciting! And since I only had seen cars washed with a hose and bucket - I also felt pretty fancy having the car automatically washed. When I drive past that building now, I still remember that first car wash with my Granddaddy.

After the exciting outing they returned to our house for spaghetti dinner. And for dessert we all got to partake in sugar cookies that the twins had made with their grandmother (they call her Nanu) in the afternoon. They were some seriously unattractive cookies - and they didn't taste very good....but we praised them as though they had been made by a famous pastry chef. Aunt Mo gave hers a suspicious look and asked Braeden if he had washed his hands before making her cookie. He said no...but he had used a spoon. Mo looked a little grey in the face, but ate her cookie and declared it the best she had ever had. We may all go to hell for lying, but the joy on our precious chefs' faces were worth the trip.

After dinner and changing into pajamas, the twins visited the magical land that their Aunt Chris lives in: the basement! They were enthralled by the water bed, intrigued by the ceiling covered with "big black CDs" (they are LPs screwed to the floor joist), fascinated by the pull chain that makes the overhead light turn on and off...but they were enchanted by the Christmas trees that light up with the click of a remote control. Yes, I already have Christmas trees in my room. Three of them to be exact - one big one that is right side up, two little ones that hang upside down from the ceiling. And before family members point this out - they are not "already" there. They are "still" there. They haven't been down in four years. But at least this time, they are artificial. I love my Christmas trees and sometimes in the middle of summer, when I'm feeling blue...I can light them up and just feel better.

We read some stories. We laughed and talked. It was a great way to kick off Christmas.

And when I woke this morning to the sound of little feet above my head...and towers of dominoes falling...and something like dice being rolled?...and laughter... Well, I am glad that the sleepover happens. And I'm kind of glad it doesn't happen too often. But (shh...don't tell Susan...) it might be okay if it happened more than once a year.

I love my niece and nephews.
You're my favorite.