Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The Year That Was

As we close in on the final hours left in the year 2011, I can’t help but look back on everything that’s happened this year. Most notably, my mom passed away and my daughter was born. But so many other wonderful (and also sad) things happened, too. Some of them I can’t help remembering, and some of them I’d already forgotten. But looking back over my blogs, my Facebook postings, and my photographs, as well as simply racking my brains, calls back memories of the events of 2011.

I spent most of January throwing up, so we’ll skip right over that. Fortunately, by the end of the month I had discovered Zofran.

In February, we got our first peek at Katie, then dubbed Rutabaga.


In March, I felt Katie move for the first time. We reorganized our basement. And Ryan went to daycare for the first time, an event that was much more traumatic for me than it was for him. I was both relieved and disappointed that he looked up and said, “Hi, Mama,” without a break in his playing when I came to pick him up.

In April, we lost my mom.

But Herb and I also spent a wonderful, relaxing anniversary in Newport, which was the perfect escape from the stress of my mom’s last months, and which was a wonderful reaffirmation of our love and support for each other.

In May, we both got new cars in anticipation of our growing family. I also sang at the Shalin Liu Center in Rockport as part of Voices of Hope.

In June, I sang with Voices of Hope at a celebration for the MGH 100. I hope I never see myself on a Jumbotron again. I hope that Matt Damon never sees me on a Jumbotron again, either.

In July, Ryan moved from his crib into a big boy bed. And Herb and I and our friend Bob had the wonderful opportunity to see the talented John O’Creagh performing in the national tour of West Side Story.

In August, our beautiful Katie was born. On the very same day, Rosemary moved back home for the year.

In September, we went to the Big E and the Cape house, Ryan started taking gymnastics classes, and Herb and I had our first official post-baby date night.

In October, Ryan went to his first birthday party, for his friend Will’s 5th birthday. And he and Katie dressed up as a cowboy and a cow for Halloween.

In November, we celebrated Ryan’s 2nd birthday! (And my 43rd, but that was much less exciting and did not involve a truck cake.)

In December, Herb and I performed in the Reagle Christmas show, we took the kids to the South Station train display, the Enchanted Village, and the Waltham Treelighting ceremony. Ryan enjoyed the “Christmas of the Truck”. And we had a great get-together with a group of my friends from high school.

And we’re wrapping up the year by hosting a New Year’s Eve party with a small group of friends. Because how else should you end the year than with food, friends, and song?

Happy New Year to all of you, and may 2012 bring peace and joy to all of us!



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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Immaculate Conception and the Not-So-Immaculate Rest of the Story

After a Christmas Day that began with a glorious sunrise and a peacefully sleeping baby, ended with a major diaper blowout, and had an hour-long screaming baby session in an enclosed space somewhere in the middle, it occurs to me that the latter half of my day was probably closer to the original Christmas Day experience than the former.

The Virgin Mary’s pregnancy with the Christ Child is referred to as the “Immaculate Conception,” but I rather suspect that the delivery was not so immaculate. Think about it: a woman giving birth in a barn, with no doctor, no midwife, no epidural (God forbid!), not even any electricity or hot water. Sterile conditions, they were not. And once the baby arrived, there were no diapers, no baby wipes, and no washing machine. The baby was wrapped in bits of cloth – no rubber pants to prevent “blowouts” and no soap to clean up when they inevitably happened. This birth was undoubtedly, decidedly, maculate.

Christmas Day, to me, is a time to reflect on the absolute humanity of Christ. The Bible teaches that the Savior is both fully God and fully human, and that can be a difficult concept to understand. As an adult, His miracles reflect his deity, and His resurrection is the ultimate proof of His deity. But His birth is as human – as earthy, as dirty, as animalistic – as I can conceive. Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself...” The phrase “He humbled himself” is very accurate when you think about His birth. How much humbler a situation can there be than being born in a barn full of animal smells and dirty straw?

So I am thankful for today’s diaper blowout, because it reminded me that the Christ Child was not only God, but also human, just like me. And just as maculate.


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Friday, December 23, 2011

Eau Christmas Tree

This morning when I came downstairs, I got a strong whiff of the beautiful, warm smell of pine. Perhaps it was because I was still half-asleep, perhaps it was because I had put a pile of festively wrapped gifts under the tree last night, or perhaps it was because Christmas Day is nearly here, but whatever the reason, I was immediately transported back to the Christmas mornings of my childhood.

I remember bouncing excitedly on my bed, waiting for Mommy and Daddy to say it was okay to come downstairs. I remember running down the stairs and smelling the tree as I pounced on my overflowing stocking, so heavy that it was lying on the couch instead of hanging from the mantel. I remember being amazed at the crumbs on the empty plate where Santa had eaten the cookie we left out for him. I remember waiting impatiently to open presents as Daddy made a fire in the fireplace and Mom found a trash bag for discarded wrapping paper. I remember dolls and toys and games and clothes. I remember stockings full of gum and desk toys and cheap jewelry and new underwear and funny bandaids and exactly the color of new toothbrush that I wanted.

As I got older, I remember being as excited to watch Mommy and Daddy open the presents I had carefully picked out for them (with help from the other parent, of course) as I was to open the presents they had gotten for me. I remember looking forward to driving to our cousins’ house for Christmas dinner and more presents to open. I remember waking up on a few Christmas mornings and being delighted to see a winter wonderland outside my window, and I remember a few disappointments when there was no snow.

But most of all, I remember being surrounded by family, and by laughter, and by love. Just like the first Christmas, all it takes to make the day special is the love of God, the love of family, and a childlike thankfulness for the best Gift ever given.


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pre-Christmas Detritus: The Best Present of All

In this day and age of online ordering, the days before Christmas must be a nightmare for garbage collectors and recycling truck workers. The giant cardboard shipping boxes, the long tubes from wrapping paper, the Styrofoam packing peanuts, the bubble wrap, the giant plastic bubbles that come cushioning delicate items, all ending up on the curb waiting to be taken away. All bits and pieces that to adults are merely asides, trash to be discarded. But to a 2-year-old, all that detritus is even more exciting than the toys it’s protecting.

Right now, alongside the usual lineup of trucks in Ryan’s playroom, there is a Ryan-sized cardboard box (okay, after 24 hours of being played with it’s more like a twice-Ryan-sized flat piece of cardboard – but it started out as a giant box), three long cardboard tubes, a box of packing peanuts, a sheet of bubble wrap and a long string of giant packing bubbles. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway. But to Ryan, it’s a combination fort, garage, and spaceship; a trumpet, a telescope, and a baseball bat; a load of stuff to be carried around by front end loaders; some quiet noisemakers; and a whole bunch of really loud noisemakers. I’m sure that when Christmas morning comes, he’ll have a wonderful time playing with all the toys that came packed in this stuff, but for right now, this stuff IS the toys.

In all the hustle and bustle and stress of preparing for Christmas, amidst the shopping and the baking and the list-making and the wrapping and the additional shopping, it’s nice to be able to take a moment to sit back and watch Ryan enjoy the “junk” that’s right under his nose. He’s not all wrapped up in waiting for Christmas, he’s not impatient for what’s coming, he’s just happy in the here and now. And that’s a good reminder to me not to focus on the toys and the presents and the things that happen only on Christmas Day. I need to remember how much I have to enjoy that’s right under my nose, right now.

So I apologize if this entry is a bit shorter than usual, but I’m having a sudden urge to go have a Christmas cookie and a mug of cocoa, lie on my bed with a good book, and watch my beautiful baby girl sleeping peacefully. And after that, I think I’ll go pop some bubble wrap.


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Monday, December 19, 2011

There's a Wocket in My Pocket

Pockets have got to be one of the most brilliant and yet the most simple inventions of modern man, right up there with the wheel. Imagine a caveman thinking, “Well, I just threw the spear that was in one hand and the rock that was in the other, but this saber-toothed tiger is still chasing me. I sure wish I had some way to carry a couple more rocks.” [CHOMP.] Very useful things, pockets.

And not just useful, but cool. Adults often forget the fascination of pockets, at least until they see a child discovering them. My son Ryan has recently stumbled across the mystery of pockets, and it reminds me of exactly how simple and brilliant they are. Ryan still needs to hang onto the railing when he goes upstairs, so bringing a toy with him often poses a problem. But not now that he has pockets! It may take him several minutes of figuring out which hand to hold the toy in to get it into the pocket - although he is, in fact, flexible enough to put something in his left pocket with his right hand (try it sometime; it’s harder than you might think) – but eventually he will be proudly marching up the stairs with a bulldozer or a backhoe or a fire engine peeking out of his pocket.

And now that he knows that clothes sometimes have pockets, he likes to explore each item of clothing to make sure he’s found any that may be lurking. Doesn’t matter whose clothes they are; he’ll happily turn other people around and pat them all over to see if they’re hiding any pockets anywhere. I can only imagine this habit will intensify after the first time he stumbles across a pocket containing anything more interesting than the crumpled tissues he finds in mine.

When I was his age, I had a similar fascination for pockets, but rather than filling them with trucks, I filled mine with rocks. My mother got very used to the sound of clunking in the dryer whenever she forgot to check my pockets before she ran a load of laundry. And it’s a good thing she could sew, because you can fit a lot more rocks into the pants pocket of a small child than the weight limit of said pocket.

I can only imagine what I might find in Ryan's pockets in the spring, when he’s spending time outside. I’m picturing earthworms, frogs, mud, salamanders, small rodent carcasses… Actually, now that I think about it, that could be kind of cool. Yeah, pockets can definitely be a source of fascination at all ages.



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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Word of the Day

I suppose this entry is more aptly entitled, “The Phrase of the Day”, or perhaps still more aptly, “The Phrase of the Few Days”. I’ve noticed over the past several weeks that Ryan is beginning to pick up new phrases and work them to death over the first day or so that he learns them, then he moves on to another. The two big phrases he’s wrapped his mind around over the past couple of days have been, “I don’t know that” (which comes out “I don’t-a know that” because apparently he’s Italian) and “What’s that noise?”

Most of the time, he has the context and meaning correct, although the “I don’t know that” answer is sometimes given when he obviously does, in fact, “know that”. We’ve been practicing naming colors, and he rarely gets one wrong (not counting his favorite go-to answer, “pink”, which he gives to non-pink things just because he likes to say the word “pink”). So when I show him a green truck and ask him, “Is this truck yellow?”, he will sometimes answer, “I don’t know that.” But most often, he gives it as an answer when he really doesn’t know, like when I show him a new shape that he’s just learning (like a trapezoid or a hexagon) and ask him what it is. The funny thing is that I don’t recall using that phrase with him much – but what I DO recall is telling him, “You know that!” when he won’t answer or gives a silly answer. The fact that he has apparently learned the difference between knowing and not knowing is amazing to me.

I suspect that “What’s that noise” is my practice run for the “why” phase. He asks what the noise is when a truck drives past the house, or when the washing machine goes into its spin cycle, or when Katie cries, or when the heat kicks on and makes the baseboards click, or when a plane flies overhead. I love that he is beginning to explore his world by talking about it and asking about it and not just by experiencing it through looking and touching and tasting. It shows how much he’s thinking about everything around him and trying to understand and interpret it.

The best part of a toddler’s language development, in this parent’s opinion, is the window that it opens into the way he thinks. It’s fascinating to not only watch him figuring out how things work, but to hear him explaining the process to himself or to me. Plus, he can ask for things that he wants, like when he asked me to put a diaper on his teddy bear last night, or when he requests something specific to eat (usually pancakes – or cookies – or a candy cane), or when he wants help finding a particular toy in the toybox. Fortunately for me, his verbal skills have developed so quickly and so well, and he speaks so clearly, that so far we haven’t run into the frustration that most toddlers experience when their cognitive abilities outpace their verbal skills. I get to enjoy that peek inside his head without struggling to understand him, and he gets to share his excitement of learning without struggling to be understood.

I guess that means that my Phrase of the Day would be, “My kid is amazing!” But then again, that’s pretty much going to be my Phrase of the Next Few Decades.


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh There's No Place Like Costco for the Holidays

I love Costco. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I LOVE Costco. It’s one of the unexpected benefits that came with my marriage. I’d been to Sam’s Club and BJ’s, and they were both fine but nothing special. But when I married Herb and inherited his Costco membership, it opened my eyes to a whole new level of warehouse shopping.

Christmas is the height of Costco’s glory for me. First of all, the best thing about Costco is their party food. Frozen pastry hors d’oeuvres, giant bags of cocktail meatballs and huge jars of sauce, monster shrimp rings, cold cut platters, enormous chocolate layer cakes and sheet cakes…anything you could possibly want to eat at a party, you can get at Costco. You can even get big chafing dishes (disposable OR reusable) and sterno to keep things warm. Or a crockpot, if you prefer. Or a second microwave. They’ve got it all. They have all the paper goods you could possibly need – cocktail napkins, plates of all sizes, plastic flatware that looks like real silverware, plastic flatware that looks like plastic flatware, festive paper tablecloths, even Styrofoam coffee cups with lids to send home with your guests. And since we usually host two or more big parties this time of year, Costco is our go-to store for party prep.

Even before party preparation, holiday decorating at our house is also courtesy of Costco. This year we added a beautiful white lighted reindeer to our front yard (as did several of our neighbors, I noticed). We’ve gotten wreaths for our front door there, we even looked at getting an artificial tree (so did a lot of other people, apparently, since they ran out of them before we decided to buy it). A comparable tree from another store was three times the price! And our Christmas decorating could never be complete without our annual giant poinsettia under the piano – once again, courtesy of Costco.

And then there are the presents. Most people don’t think of Costco for clothes, but my husband and I love their clothes, both for ourselves and for the kids. I almost always find a nice outfit for my husband and some cute jammies or outfits for the kids, and I always add a suggestion or two to my own wish list from their clothing department. Costco toys and books, too, usually find their way under the tree. With their huge toy truck collection, you can bet that we can find something that Ryan will love.

So I’m willing to forgive the fact that they started playing Christmas music some time before Halloween. For me, they are the go-to Christmas store, so I’ll overlook that small fail in favor of the epicness of all their other holiday wins. Merry Costco Christmas to all, and to all a good bargain!

[I would have included a photo of the lighted reindeer here, but my camera is broken. One more thing to add to the list of things to pick up at Costco!]

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Monday, December 12, 2011

My Secret of Successful Party Hosting

On Friday night, my husband and I hosted a party for the cast of the Christmas show we’ve been performing in. We had probably 40 or so guests. A number of people asked how I could manage to get ready for a big party while both performing in a show and managing two small children. I am about to share my secret of just exactly how I do it: invite the right people.

Seriously, the success of our parties is NOT dependant on us as the host and hostess. Yes, we provide the venue, and yes, we provide some food, and yes, we’re pretty fun people to talk to. (And yes, my husband makes a mean sidecar.) But what makes our parties a great success every single time is the awesomeness of the people that come to them. Last Friday, as soon as the first person walked in the door, I had more offers to help than I had chores to be done. People were helping each other find places for the platters of food they had brought, directing each other to the bar in the kitchen, taking coats upstairs to the bedroom. Every time I checked to see if the trash can was full, someone had just taken the full bag out to the porch and put a fresh one in the can. If I went into the dining room to refill platters or clear empty ones, someone else was already taking care of it. Whenever I did a sweep of the house to clear abandoned cups and plates, either someone had beat me to it or the guests had cleared their own trash.

We don’t even need to provide any entertainment: with musical friends, they provide their own. At one point during the evening there were not one, not two, but FOUR guitars strumming away in the living room. Someone sat at the piano and took requests for Billy Joel songs. Guests joined in the singing, suggesting tunes, working together to remember which verse came next, scrambling to recall lyrics of songs from long ago, laughing about who could remember (and who had forgotten) various songs.

And at the end of the night, people washed out their own dishes before I could do it, helped clear any remaining cups and plates, put the empties from the bar into the recycling bin, and pretty much cleaned up for us. All that was left for us to do was to put a few dishes in the dishwasher, sweep the floor, and call it a night.

So the next time you think about planning a party and you want to be sure it’s a great success, all you need to do is be sure you have as wonderful, gracious, helpful, and fun friends as I do!


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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Five Items Every Woman Should Own, "In Her 50s" Edition

It was called to my attention that my previous “Five Items” post stopped with a woman in her 40s. I stopped there merely because that’s as far as I’ve gotten personally. But since that request to add a few more items, I’ve been keeping my eyes out for women in their 50s and making a note of the items that belong on their lists. So here’s my take on the next decade of fashion must-haves.

Many women in their 50s are entering the “empty nest” stage – and with it, the beauty of no longer having to pay for sports activities, college tuition, and things like the high auto and health insurance premiums that come with having teenage children. So the 50-something woman often can – and usually should –splurge on herself a bit more than she may have in the past. Also, women in their 50s have a certain elegance and dignity, and the items I chose for them reflect that.

Fur
I love real fur. Its softness, its luster, its elegance. For the 50-something woman, this is the time to invest in a beautiful fur. It doesn’t have to be a full-length mink coat (although that would be lovely); it could be a leather coat or a parka with a raccoon-trimmed hood, or a silver fox stole, or a pair of buttery soft leather gloves lined with rabbit, or a warm beaver hat. For those opposed to real fur, there are some amazingly realistic and beautiful faux fur items out there as well. But whatever it is, a bit of fashionable fur gives the 50-something woman some old-fashioned, classic Hollywood elegance.


Real Jewelry

By her 50s, most women have an extensive jewelry collection, mostly of costume jewelry. Now is the time to invest in a piece or two of the real thing: an emerald pendant, a ruby ring, sapphire earrings, an aquamarine brooch. With your kids out of the house, you don’t need to worry about someone borrowing (and losing) your good jewelry, plus you probably have a lot more opportunities to go to places where wearing gemstones is appropriate. So find a piece you love and splurge on yourself! Or, even better, start dropping hints and convince your family to splurge on it for you.


Great Hat

I love hats, so it makes me sad that so few people wear them nowadays. But just the other day I spotted a 50-something woman wearing a fabulous wool hat and it occurred to me that once you turn 50, it doesn’t matter whether or not other people are wearing hats – a dignified 50-something can work a great hat like nobody’s business. Like furs, the category of “hat” provides a huge variety of options: a summer straw hat, a simple wool cloche, an elaborately-trimmed Kentucky derby concoction. There is sure to be a beautiful hat somewhere that flatters every 50-something woman. If the Queen Mum can pull it off, so can you.

Cape

No, not a witch’s cape or a superhero's cape. A long, draping wool or cashmere evening cape that will make any outfit more refined and elegant. There’s something about the swish of fabric as a lady tosses a cape over her shoulder that oozes class and elegance. If your hair is white, brunette, or an in-between salt-and-pepper, go with a deep, jewel-toned cape like a royal purple, cobalt blue, or magenta. If you’re a blonde, a pure white cape is stunning, as are soft pastels like mauve and lilac. And if you’re a redhead, a deep pine green is sure to turn heads.

Cashmere Sweater

Nothing else feels as luxurious as a soft cashmere sweater. Choose a turtleneck if you’re self-conscious about a slightly sagging chin – or pick a deep V-neck if you’ve still got a great d├ęcolletage! Belt it, layer it, toss it over your shoulders, but however you wear it, its soft luxury will make you feel – and look - like a million bucks.


So all you glamorous 50-somethings out there, check your closets! And if you’re missing any of these items, it’s not too late to add them to your Christmas list. After all, Santa certainly knows about elegant fur trim and a great hat!




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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Christmas Shopping Countdown

As of today, there are 18 days till Christmas. Only 18 days till Christmas???? Wait, if I order stuff online and want free shipping, I have to allow 8 days, but that’s business days (I think) so I really have to allow more like 12 days, so in reality it’s only 6 days till Christmas. Plus I need three days to sort and wrap, so it’s really only 3 days till Christmas. But we’re doing one of the family gift exchanges on Christmas Eve, so it’s really only two days till Christmas. And there’s no way I’ll be able to get my orders in the system before 5 o’clock today so OH MY GOD CHRISTMAS IS TOMORROW AND I HAVEN’T FININSHED MY SHOPPING YET!!!!

OK, it’s not really quite that bad. But trying to get my Christmas shopping done with taking care of two small children and rehearsals and performances of the Christmas show filling my schedule is not an easy thing. Online shopping is practically a miracle for a mom with two small children. If you’ve never been shopping with a small child, you can’t even imagine the difficulty of wrangling one in a toy store at Christmas time. You might think that having lots of toys to look at and play with would be a good thing, but you must remember that at some point you will have to leave. And that’s when the weeping and tantrums begin. Wrestling a squirming, screaming 40-pound two-year-old while carrying a 4-month-old is not a task for the faint of heart. So being able to shop from the comfort of my computer desk while said two-year-old is playing safely and happily in the next room and the 4-month-old is sleeping or playing in her exersaucer is an unparalleled blessing.

But the hardest part of Christmas shopping, in my opinion, is not even the actual shopping part. It’s coming up with gift ideas. In some cases, like my husband’s, the difficulty is finding things he would like that a) he hasn’t already bought for himself, and b) don’t cost a thousand bucks. (What can I say, the man has good taste. Expensive, but good.) And in some cases, like my son’s, it’s deciding which of the thousands of things I know he’d love that I should buy. So having online wish lists has been a huge help.

I’m fortunate that I have a relatively small family, so my list of people to buy for is quite limited compared to some people that I know. But it still takes time, and I always want to buy just the right present for each one. So I guess I’d better get cracking on my shopping. After all, Christmas is tomorrow!!



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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Giving a Little Bit Back

Tonight, a group of singers from Reagle Music Theater are dressing up in our Victorian garb and going caroling. But this isn’t just any caroling outing. This is a very special gift of caroling, because we are caroling at a hospice facility. (http://www.parmenter.org/hospice.cfm)

Those of you who know me personally know that both my parents were served by hospice care at the end of their lives. In my dad’s case, he had hospice nurses caring for him at home for several months; in my mom’s case, she lived at an inpatient hospice facility for about a week. In both cases, the workers we met were unbelievably caring, compassionate, and helpful to not only the patient, but to the family. They offered us support and understanding. They made all the difference in the world in incredibly difficult circumstances. And with my dad passing away in September and my mom passing away in April, we had some time to process our grief before the holiday season arrived. I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be for families that have a loved one in hospice during the Christmas season.

How does someone “celebrate” what they know will be their last Christmas? How does a family celebrate the holiday knowing the grief that is soon to follow? Giving presents isn’t really appropriate. Most hospice patients are ill enough that they can’t enjoy a special meal or edible treat. Many of them are in too much pain or too semiconscious to even appreciate conversations with family. But nearly all of them can hear and enjoy music. And most of them know Christmas carols from their earliest childhood and associate them with happy memories of family celebrations. So hearing Christmas carols is one gift that we can give both patients and their families that is a way for them to celebrate the holiday one last time, something that can be a happy memory for them of their final Christmas with their loved one.

Both of my kids were up in the middle of the night last night and I’m sure by the time this evening rolls around I’ll be pretty tired. But knowing that I might be bringing a small bit of joy into the lives of some people who are struggling to find joy in this usually joyous season is enough to motivate me to get going and do it. And when I get home, I’ll give my little angels (and my big angel, too) an extra-tight squeeze and an extra-long kiss, in thankfulness and joy that they are healthy, happy, and home, and I’ll say an extra prayer for all of those whose loved ones are none of those things.


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Monday, December 5, 2011

"ChristmasTime" Is Here!

For the past four years, my kickoff to the Christmas season has been performing in (or at least watching) the Christmas production of Reagle Music Theatre. Reagle has been performing this show for nearly 40 years. It’s modeled after the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and includes Rockette-style dancing (including the March of the Wooden Soldiers, complete with the impressive fall at the end); a large vocal ensemble; a teddy bear Nutcracker; dancing and singing Santas, elves, schoolgirls, and Raggedy Anns and Andys; an audience singalong; a visit from Santa; and a living Nativity. It’s a treat for all ages, and it’s a wonderful festive celebration of Christmas.

I first performed in this show when my husband and I were just dating. He knew I was a performer, and he told me that he only wanted to do the show that year if I did it with him, since the rehearsal schedule for the month of November is intense enough that we wouldn’t be able to see each other much unless we both performed in the show. I was flattered that he considered me talented enough to join the group, and I warned him that I tend to get very anxious and a bit crazy during tech week, so if he saw me at my worst and still wanted to date me, I’d know we were on solid ground. He reassured me and coached me throughout the process, and I made many wonderful friends during that first year. And they were all delighted for both of us just a few weeks later when we announced our engagement.


The second year was much less stressful, because it was just refreshing my memory instead of having to learn everything from scratch, plus I was among friends from the very beginning. I was no longer one of the “newbies”; in fact, I was able to offer some help to the newbies that year because I had put together a bunch of notes and cheat sheets that I shared with them. It felt great to be able to offer help instead of asking for it. And of course, being a starry-eyed newlywed, every scene reminded me of the previous year when we were newly in love.

Our third Christmas together, we missed out on performing because I was busy giving birth to our son when rehearsals started. The wonderful specialness of that year was being in the audience and appreciating the performance from a spectator’s perspective, and also in having my son in the audience with us, at six weeks old, fascinated by the bright lights and beautiful music. His wide-eyed wonder was the perfect symbol of the season.

Last year was perhaps the most special performance at all, because I found out just a few hours before curtain on opening night that I was pregnant with our second child. And to make it even more special, during one performance, my husband sneaked our son into one of the scenes with kids.

This year marked my return to the stage after our daughter was born, and it was a special time for my husband and I, once again, to spend “couple time” together at rehearsals. Thanks to his wonderful mother and daughter, our kids were well taken care of while we rehearsed and performed, and we were able to enjoy some much-needed social and musical relaxation. And once again, as I was on stage, I recalled each past year of performing: falling in love, being a newlywed, being a new mother, and being a new mother again. This show is, in many ways, a symbol of both our growing love and our growing family. The message of the show is the peace and joy of the Christmas season, and the birth of Christ the Savior, and it reminds me that the holiday is not about giving or receiving physical gifts but about the gifts of love and sacrifice.

May we all be reminded of that as we go through this often hectic and tense Christmas season. May the joy and peace of the Christ Child fill each of your hearts in the coming days and weeks, as we approach the birthday of Him who brings salvation to the world. Oh come let us adore Him!


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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Movies That Move Me: Christmas Edition

Technically, this isn’t about cinema-type movies, but about home-type movies. You know, all those funny YouTube videos that people post this time of year. I am very easily bored or overwhelmed by them, but in the past week I’ve come across three that I really want to share.

1: A Bunch of Kids in an Alaskan School Closed-Captioning Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus


The reason this one appeals to me so much is that the whole community is obviously involved. Not only does every child in the classroom and possibly the whole school make an appearance, there are also what appear to be moms, dads, grandmas, random shopkeepers, the local postmistress, and somebody’s overexcited sled dogs. Scenic backdrops include church, a slide, an old pickup truck, a windmill, a school bus, and what appears to be the crawl space of a chicken barn. It includes such funny moments as words popping up above a snowbank, through a school bus door, and out of a storage cupboard, and it ends with a little kid making bunny ears behind another’s head. That’s Norman Rockwellian, that is.

I also appreciate that the teacher acknowledged and thanked the Grammar Police who commented on the improper use of apostrophes, and promised to use it as a teaching moment.

Besides, it includes adorable children and classical music. What’s not to love about that?

2. The Christmas Story Set to the Music of Queen


This is not your parents’ Bohemian Rhapsody. Narrated by a Muppet-like hand puppet of a donkey and featuring similar puppets of Mary and a ZZTop-bearded Joseph, a sheep, a cow, a pig, a chicken, angels with light-up halos, shepherds, the three Wise Men, and for some inexplicable reason (although possibly a political statement about King Herod’s regime), what appear to be two frogs and a court jester. And a head-banging musician rocking out during the awesome guitar solo around 3 minutes in. The revised lyrics are just as cleverly rhymed as the original, and the vocals, although not quite a Freddie Mercury clone, are well-sung and solidly harmonized.

And nothing says Christmas like the deus ex machina (in the form of a string) appearance of a gold garland-festooned manger bearing the baby Jesus.

3. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let it SNOW!!!

Nutcracker Mishap

The beauty of the Nutcracker ballet is as much a part of Christmas as candle-lit Christmas Eve services and leaving cookies out for Santa. And a great part of the stage magic is the gently falling snow during the Waltz of the Snowflakes. Sometimes, however, it’s not so gentle, as this clip shows. What makes me love it so much is that none of the ballerinas hesitate or miss a step (other than the first one who got clocked by the deluge), and they all continue to dance beautifully – but they’re not afraid to break character just enough to laugh. Not one looks upset or angry. I have no doubt that there was still a stage manager having a heart attack backstage, but I don’t think anyone in the audience felt like that performance was less than perfect because of the mishap.

I hope it reminds us all that during the holidays, even the most well-organized planning can go awry, and the best way to handle it is to roll with the punches – and to just keep dancing with a big smile on your face.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Days Go Slowly But the Years Fly By

I looked at my calendar this morning and realized that today is the last day of November. When did that happen? I’m sure that part of my confusion is the fact that I spent part of both yesterday and today outside in just a T-shirt (okay, pants too) and I wasn’t even cold. But I’m quite certain that Ryan’s birthday, which is on November 2nd, was just a couple of days ago, and Thanksgiving was only yesterday. I guess it’s true that the days go slowly but the years (and months) fly by.

It’s funny how things change so gradually under your nose that they don’t seem to change at all until you look back. My stepdaughter got home yesterday after being away for 3 weeks and was astonished at how big Katie had gotten since she last saw her. I hadn’t really noticed until I stopped to think about it. Now I can see that she hardly fits in the baby bathtub, she can’t quite stretch her legs all the way out in some of her pajamas, and she takes up a lot more space on the changing table than she used to. How could I not see that?

I’m so grateful for modern technologies like photography that capture those amazing fleeting moments of childhood. For all that I swear I’ll remember each little expression and each little chirp, they are momentarily forgotten in the excitement of the next expression or chirp. But when I look at photos and videos, it all comes flooding back. And being able to watch the kids’ development and evolution through a series of photos is such a gift. It reminds me of how much they’ve already changed and learned and grown in their few short years and few short months on this earth.

Time passes, and there’s nothing I can do about it. But what I can do is soak in and enjoy each moment. What I can do is remember how fleeting this time is. What I can do is keep my priorities straight. Ten years from now, I won’t remember the day I didn’t have clean socks because I hadn’t taken time to throw in a load of laundry, but you can bet I’ll remember the night that Katie and I sat watching Daddy and Ryan set up the train set around the Christmas tree. I won’t remember the week we ate spaghetti three nights in a row because I was too exhausted to go grocery shopping, but I’ll remember that 3am feeding when Katie looked up at me and grinned. I won’t remember scrubbing crayon off the kitchen table, but I will remember sitting with Ryan drawing truck after truck and practicing naming letters and shapes.

I may be nearly too tired to keep my eyes open sometimes, but I’m still not going to blink. I wouldn’t want to miss anything.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Things I Never Knew I’d Need to Know About Trucks

Having a 2-year-old son has been an education in a lot of things, but the most obvious at this point in time is trucks. I know things about trucks that I didn’t know I didn’t know. Thank goodness for the internet and DVDs, particularly the “Twenty Trucks” series (www.twentytrucks.com). Thanks to them I am now quite well-versed in the many kinds of trucks out there as well as their various features. For those of you not so well-informed, here are the basics of what you need to know about trucks in order to converse intelligently with your friendly neighborhood 2-year-old.

Excavator
An excavator truck is also called a digger truck. It has tracks instead of wheels and its cab, where the driver sits, can swing all the way around in a big circle. It has a single arm called a boom with a scoop at the end called a bucket, which is often tipped with heavy teeth. An excavator truck can dig the deepest holes of any machine. It is also extremely entertaining to watch it push over trees.


Front-End Loader

A front-end loader works to move lots of dirt around. It has very large tires and is very strong. It scoops up a load in its bucket and dumps it into a pile or into a dump truck. Some front-end loaders are hinged in the middle so they can turn around in tight spaces. These loaders are called articulated front-end loaders. Most two year-olds can pronounce the word “articulated” better than you can.

Backhoe


A backhoe is the most versatile digging machine. It has a boom with a bucket (like an excavator) on one side and a large bucket or blade (like a front-end loader) on the other. A backhoe can take off its bucket and use attachments like a compactor or a grapple, which looks like a giant claw, to do different things with dirt. Unlike an excavator, it has wheels and uses short legs called stabilizers to steady itself as it digs. Most two year-olds can also pronounce the word “stabilizers” better than you can.

Bulldozer
A bulldozer is another truck that has tracks instead of wheels. It has a heavy blade in the front that it uses to push dirt around. In back, it sometimes has a ripper, which has one, two, or three shanks that tear up hard dirt behind it as it moves.

Dump Truck
A dump truck often works alongside excavators, front-end loaders, and backhoes. Those trucks dump piles of dirt, sand, or rocks into the dump truck, and the dump truck brings the load somewhere else. Some dump trucks are also roll-off trucks, which means that their hopper (the back part where the load goes) can be rolled off the back of the truck when it’s full and an empty hopper pulled onto the truck by a big cable. The best part of this process is that the dump truck goes “beep beep beep” as it backs up to the empty hopper.

Garbage Truck
There are lots of different kinds of garbage trucks. Some have a compactor in the back that squishes the trash. Some have arms at the side that reach out to pick up trash cans from the side of the road and dump them out into the truck’s hopper. Some have a hopper in the front, and when it gets full, the truck has arms that lift the front hopper over its head and dump it into the main hopper. Hopper is a fun word to say.

Feller-Buncher
The most important feature of the feller-buncher is that it has a goofy name. But it also has a big, six-foot-wide saw blade that cuts down trees, and arms that pull the trees into a big bunch.

Fire Engine/Ambulance/Police Car
All you really need to know about any of these trucks is that they have lights and a siren. Oh, and fire engines also sometimes have stabilizers.


Forklift

Forklifts have two long teeth that pick up heavy things and raise them up on a tall mast. The forklift driver has a safety cage over his head in case he drops anything, so his head doesn’t get squished. It is important to be able to recognize a forklift because you will see them at Costco and will need to follow them around for a long time or tears will ensue.

Skid Steer


If you’ve ever seen a little Bobcat digger in someone’s yard, you’ve seen a skid steer. The most interesting feature of a skid steer is that the wheels don’t turn, they lock on one side so the machine literally skids around instead of turning like other vehicles. Its scaled-down size makes it especially appealing to little boys; however, the fascination that a two-year-old boy has for skid steers will not abate for the next 75 years or so.



If you can master these ten trucks and their various features, you will become a total rock star in the eyes of every small boy you encounter.


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