Saturday, December 25, 2010

The 12 Memories of Christmas: Picture Perfect

There is something about this picture that I just love. In fact, it makes me want to cry - good tears, the happy kind. As soon as it was taken, I saw it on the back of my camera and said, "Man. Mayme would've loved this." That alone is enough to make me cry for wishing she were here to show it to. It's the kind of picture that she would've blown up poster-size and plastered all over her house. It's the kind of picture that Lori and I would've pasted on a coffee mug (or, one year, a dinner plate) and given her for a Christmas gift. It's the kind of picture that makes me remember the Christmases when there were just the five of us - Mayme and Papaw's grandkids. Before there were spouses or babies or schedules that kept us from seeing each other a thousand times a year, there were the five of us, footloose and fancy free.

Getting this picture was, without a doubt, the highlight of my holiday (had she known I was so easy to please, Mom could've significantly decreased her gift-buying budget!). I've spent every single Christmas of my life with these folks - I remember when Brad came in to tell us he and Leslie Potter had just gotten engaged, when BJ got that guitar keyboard that played a midi-version of "Last Christmas" as its demo song, when Lori and I were given Fisher-Price cassette radios with microphones, which we used to play Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker while standing in the middle of an unusually icy Riverside Drive.

But even though we're always together, we still haven't gotten a shot like this for over a decade. That's about the time that the family's focus shifted from our generation to the one after ours. Brad and Lori have two boys a piece. Sissy has four children, so naturally - and rightly - all eyes are always on them.

This is as it should be. Heaven knows, all eyes - and then some - were on us as children. In seeing this picture, though, I realized something. While most of our attentions are on the next generation, we need to not neglect our own. We need to take time to squeeze and hug and sit around and chat about each other - and not just each other's children, as precious and wonderful and adored as they are. This year, we did that, and it made my Christmas picture perfect.

In other news, Christmas is a lot busier than I remember it being! In fact, two days in to "The 12 Memories of Christmas," I realized that I'd blogged myself into a corner and that committing to write daily entries at a time of year when I'm trying to visit with friends and family members I haven't seen for the last 365 days while also trying to submit a second draft of my dissertation was, to say the least, short-sighted. In the end, you know what I chose.

The irony isn't lost on me, though. As I mentioned before, I spent much of my Christmases past trying to invent ways to make time move more quickly. In Christmas present, however, I want to freeze time, to stop it, to make it go as slowly as Black Friday traffic on Nicholasville Road. One nite is not enough. I've gotten greedy, longing for more time to spend with my wonderful family and to take pictures that make me think, "Man. Mayme would've loved this."

(You can see way more than 12 memories of THIS Christmas in the slideshow below!)

Click here to view these pictures larger

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 12 Memories of Christmas: Reservations required.

I got the sweetest email from my cousin BJ this morning.

"I'm sleeping, until 3 p.m. Wednesday," it said.

I immediately responded:

"Thank you for your email. In anticipation of my family's Christmas celebrations, I have entered a medically-induced coma from which I will not emerge until mid-day Wednesday. I will respond to all emails at that time.

Thank you again for your message.

Kristin Stultz

His response:

"This is an automated reply.

I am currently away from my email, but I am NOT shaking boxes, reserving my spot on the floor with tape or digging into the baked spaghetti early.

If you need assistance, please contact Mary Stultz

I think it's pretty obvious that our exchange was in reference to the 5th Memory of Christmas - this memory is also known as "how the grandchildren of Mary & Fred Stultz survived the Great Wait leading up to every single Christmas Eve."

In a previous post, I alluded to how tough it was to suffer through the daytime of each December 24th. Under Mayme's tree was an avalanche of gifts. They overflowed, like the banks of the Ohio during the Greenup flood of 1937. Sure. Some of these were for our dads - Mayme and Papaw's sons. Others were for the extended family - uncles, aunts, and cousins we only saw that one nite of the year, but the five of us had lived long enough to learn that most of them were for us. As you can imagine, this made Christmas Eve interminable. If the 21st is the shortest day of the year, the 24th is most definitely the longest.

We developed a strategy. We had to. We'd do anything to make the time pass, to make the hours fall from the clock like snow from the sky. The older we got, the wiser we became. By the time Mayme died, in fact, Lori and I were just sleeping until it was time for supper. That's what I was alluding to in my email. In the earlier years, though, we had to be a little more creative. BJ alluded to most of our methods in his email, and I include them here as suggestions in case there are any children out there whose holiday celebrations are nearly ruined by older family members who don't share their sense of urgency:

1) Shake boxes. This actually occurred the second we got in to town - having arrived at 1400 Riverside Drive, Sissy and I would head straight for the tree. "I'm sorry, Mayme," our obvious subtext. "I will just have to hug you later. If you'll excuse me, my sister and I have got some business to attend to." Typically, Brad, Lori, and BJ would be waiting for us in the living room. Our work would get immediately underway. Brad would crawl under the tree and pull out whatever gifts were tagged to one of us. Hearing our names called, we would mentally cross check the shapes and sounds of the wrapped packages with those things on our wishlists. This clandestine method often enabled us to determine a box's contents without so much as peeling back a single piece of tape. Well, at least not the WHOLE piece of tape. It's tape, in fact, that leads me to tier two in our three pronged strategy...

2) Reserving my spot on the floor with tape. Mayme's house was really full on Christmas Eve. It, too - as the presents under her tree - overflowed like the banks of the Ohio. Naturally, then, the five of us knew we had to be proactive. If we wanted a space close to all the action - and trust me. We DID - we'd have to stake our claim early in the day. We accomplished this by adhering massive amounts of masking tape - Mayme must've bought stock in the masking tape company, because she always had several rolls' worth - to the braided rug carpet that covered her hardwoods. On this masking tape, we'd each write our name - "Kristin," "BJ," "Lori," you get the picture. That way, no adults would go getting any bright ideas that they could sit on the carpet right by the tree. "Um, no, Jim Bob. You can't sit there. You'll have to step away from this spot. As you can see, it's RESERVED. Maybe try to talk Papaw out of his big blue recliner, huh?" You'd have thought the adults would've gotten used to this custom - five Stultzes sitting in a semi-circle that echoed the hemline of the tree skirt, but we took no chances. We marked our spots each year - sometimes several days before the big day.

3) Digging into the baked spaghetti early. Everybody knows that Mayme served baked spaghetti on Christmas Eve. In fact, that's still what we eat on Christmas Eve. To do otherwise would be a sacrilege! The tension between parents and children came not so much in the eating of the spaghetti but in the timing of the eating of the spaghetti. The five of us knew that we had to eat our dinner before we could open presents. What we didn't know was why we couldn't just eat spaghetti for breakfast and get on with the Big Show. Though we probably could've talked Mayme into it, our parents wouldn't hear of it. So we'd start begging for dinner about 3 in the afternoon. When the time finally came, my cousins and I could complete our dinners - spaghetti, crackers, and some kind of dessert - in 37.92 seconds.

Our older relations didn't share our zeal, however. They'd take their sweet time, visiting with other family members and eating two, three, NINE helpings, while us kids would ask a quick intervals, "Are you ready now?" "How about now? Are you done yet?" Each time, they'd squelch our desire like a bronze cup snuffs out a Christmas candle.

And then, at looonngg last, would come the culmination of the day. The waiting, the wishing, the shaking, and the spaghetti all led to the single moment when the voices that once said, "No" would ring out in a glorious chorus:

"Kids, are you ready to open presents?"

Were we ready? Did they even have to ask?! We'd been ready since three days earlier. We were just relieved they'd finally caught up, and when they finally did, they knew just where to find us - thanks to the spots we'd so cleverly reserved earlier in the day.

"Christmas card's a'comin'! Christmas card's a'comin' ...!"

I haven't sent Christmas cards in years.

Much as I might want to, I always end up making the ultimate decision that that money can be better spent on things like heat and food, but it always makes me feel guilty, too, never responding to an assortment of greetings from friends, their babies and family vacations featured on the front of a tri-fold card.

I used to love participating in this exchange. Weeks in advance, I'd select several boxes of cards and fill them out while watching White Christmas the nite after Thanksgiving. Then came more expenses and less income and the fact that, since I don't have any babies, what in the world am I gonna feature on the front of the tri-fold card?

This year, though, none of that matters. This year, I have a Christmas card. I didn't actually send any in the old fashioned, stamp-and-envelope sense of the word, but thanks to, my Mac's GRAB application, and some underwriters here in the blogosphere, I give you my Christmas card. It's one Kentucky fan's way of saying, "I'll have a BLUE Christmas without you."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 12 Memories of Christmas: (Tears of) Joy to the World!

In the Stultz family, it's a pretty well-known fact that I'm the one with all the good ideas. On our recent trip to Maui, for instance, I was the one who suggested we have Round Table Pizza after the Cats whipped up on Washington, and who said, "Let's just meet at Bubba Gump's" after our day at Haleakala? Well, here's a hint: she's got two thumbs and looks like THIS girl------->

Every now and then, though, one of the others will surprise me. Daddy suggests we share a cab in to our New York hotel to cut back on expenses. Sissy dresses the girls in a pair of outfits I'd never have thought to match up myself. Mom has one of her brainstorm inspirations. In fact, that's exactly how the 4th memory of Christmas came to be. My mom had one of her brainstorm inspirations, which are sometimes mistaken to be migraine headaches.

But first, you need some backstory. While pursuing my Masters in Theatre at the University of Kentucky, I was a Teaching Assistant. As such, I taught Introduction to Theatre to 50 students per semester, most of them athletes. Being a Wildcat fan of obsessive proportions, this thrilled me. One of those athletes was quarterback Andre Woodson, then a red-shirt freshman.

Andre was a great kid, always engaged in class, always asking lots of questions afterwards, and always calling me "Teach" when he did. This, too, thrilled me. Most thrilling of all, though, was when Andre and two of his classmates performed the ten minute play they'd written as their end of semester project. Their work made me so proud, and I don't just say that because it involved Andre taking the stage in a gold lamay wig. It was well-written, well-rehearsed, and, well, one of the highlights of the semester.

Fast forward to the start of the following fall. Andre, then a sophomore, was sitting in his car outside my favorite campus lunch spot. I went over and talked to him and asked how practices were going, and he very excitedly told me that the coaches thought he'd get some playing time soon. He was right. A few weeks later, I was at the UK / Ohio U. football game when they announced Andre would play his first snaps as a Wildcat. I started crying in the stands. Tears of joy. I was just so excited for my super sweet former student.

After a rocky sophomore season, Andre really stepped up his game as a junior and senior. In fact, he ended his career as a Wildcat by leading UK to landmark wins over Louisville, LSU (then #1), and Clemson in the team's first bowl victory in 22 years. For awhile in his senior season, he was even a part of the "H3isman" conversation.

I hadn't seen Andre since that day early in his sophomore season, but I watched his success with enormous pride and excitement. He was a great kid who'd done great things - not the least of which was wearing a gold lamay wig in my Intro to Theatre class.

Andre's senior season was my "rookie" year as a doctoral student at the University of Georgia. As soon as I got to Lexington for the week of the Tennessee game - others call this "Thanksgiving break" - Mom insisted I open a Christmas present. If you know my mother, you know this is not like her. At all. But, apparently, she was really excited about giving me this gift.

I was happy to oblige. I ripped recklessly in to the wrapped box, expecting season two of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" or something. Boy, was I surprised to see it wasn't that at all. Instead, it was a football autographed by Andre Woodson - not only was it autographed, but he'd signed it to "Teach," which he'd always called me, and which I MUCH prefer to "Miss Stultz," "Dr. Stultz," "Professor Stultz," or anything that isn't "Kristin," which is what I tell my students to call me.

Once again came those same tears of joy that I'd cried when watching Andre play his first college game. It remains one of the top five Christmas gifts I've ever been given. The obvious question is why, and I can't really answer that. Well, maybe I can.

You know how your elementary school teachers always talk about how they love all of their students? I remember, even as a kid, thinking, "Yeah, Lady. Sure you do. And I 'love' eating a tuna salad sandwich for lunch every day." It just seemed disingenuous to me. Then I started teaching and found out it's true. There is something that I love about every single student I have - even the ones who submit raps by LL Cool J as their "original monologue" (you know who you are ...).

I want so much for them to succeed and to do great things, and I think that this football, which is still showcased in a glass display case that resides in my guest room, was indicative of Andre's success. My tears of joy in opening it, then, weren't for me. They were for him ... and for my mother, who finally had a REALLY good idea.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The 12 Memories of Christmas: "The SNOW in the sk-y fell down where He lay ..."

So, as I was saying ...

I was a weird kid. More specifically, I was the kind of child who preferred talking to the teacher to playing at recess. I had an unusual obsession with the vending machine at one of my dad's offices. It had egg rolls in it, and as I considered my future career, the overriding criteria was "something that requires the operation of a cash register. If a scanner is involved, I will work for free." In fact, knowing this, my Uncle Bill once bought me a cash register. Mom and Daddy still have it stashed away somewhere. I can't bring myself to let them part with it, as I never know when I'll be visiting them and take a notion to play grocery store.

Given that, my Christmas wish of 1987 should come as no great surprise. What I wanted, more than anything in the world, was a nativity set. I wanted the kind that sits outside and lights up and makes your lawn look like Bethlehem ... crossed with Las Vegas. That meant that, while my 10 year old friends opened Bridal Fashion Barbie Dolls and Fisher-Price Singalong Radios, I was digging in to big boxes full of hard plastic wise men and a blow-molded baby Jesus whose head was frozen at a 30 degree angle that just could NOT have been comfortable.

Foreshadowing my future profession as a student of the theatre - a career which requires far too little use of a cash register, might I add - I was insistent that the holy family and their far-Eastern guests have a stage-like set befitting the situation. After all, we've all read Luke 2. Everybody knows that the whole thing went down in a stable.

Daddy must've been moved by my commitment to realistic storytelling. One Saturday morning, he took me to the Home Depot. There, we bought four 2X4s of varying lengths and a single sheet of plywood - the kind that looks as if it might have been ripped from the walls of the finished portion of your grandmother's basement. These components were all we'd need to create our suburban stable.

Some of you, I can hear it, are laughing now. These are the ones who know that the idea of my daddy in a Home Depot is about as funny as the suggestion that I should go to business school. In other words, the two just don't fit; nevertheless, he built that stable for me and that nativity that I had to have.

I should probably add that this was one of the two Christmas seasons that my family spent living in St. Louis. In St. Louis, it snows a lot more than it does in South Carolina. Unfortunately, Daddy and I hadn't taken this into account in building what amounted to a plywood lean-to. We were confronted with our oversight the next morning. We awoke, a chorus of "Oh, come, let us adore Him" running repeatedly through our minds, ready to "adore" the work we'd done the day before. Instead, we saw the shepherd face down in the freshly-fallen snow. Joseph and the others, who were supposed to be protected from the elements, were cowering from them instead. They were each hunched over by the roof that had severely bowed under the weight of the snow we didn't know had been fore-casted. Ironically enough, our "stable" turned out to be anything but.

I was sort of devastated by the whole thing. I guess you could call this my directorial debut, as I'd imagined this beautiful scene that would, in years to come, include the addition of other lawn art. I already had plans to ask for the donkey in 1988, and, later, an entire choir of angels. Ours, I dreamed, would be the house that people would make a Christmas tradition of driving by. But it, like my directing career, wasn't to be.

I think of this every single time I see one of those nativity sets. I think of it - and laugh - and love my daddy for building a home for my baby Jesus but even more for teaching me that His real home is in my heart.

We interrupt this memory to bring you ...

To say that I was a weird kid would be like saying, "Mariah Carey can sing pretty high." Speaking of which, if you haven't heard her "Oh, Santa," your Christmas will not be NEARLY as merry as it could be. In fact, NORAD will now interrupt today's regularly-scheduled blog post in order to bring you this video. Consider it my gift to you, by way of the girl who calls herself "Mimi" - and my friend Seth who keeps me up to speed on all things Mariah ... and Britney.

By the way, all I want for Christmas are legs like Mariah's.

We'll get back to my being weird - a/k/a "The 3rd Memory of Christmas" - as soon as I get back from tonite's Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood concert in Nashville.

Stay tuned, 'til we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The 12 Memories of Christmas: Sleigh Bells Ring ... You Better Be List'nin'!

Technology is an incredible thing.

At the touch of a button, I can simultaneously record the 11 p.m. SportsCenter and watch the NASA channel's coverage of whatever's going on at the International Space Station (most of the time? Not all that much). I can make popcorn in the time it used to take to pour the cup of kernels into a stockpot of boiling oil, and, thanks to Twitter, Randall Cobb doesn't so much as jones for some cheese biscuits that I don't know about it a nanosecond later.

There are, it turns out, other uses for technology, as well.

At four years old, I had never heard of NORAD. Apparently, however, someone at WSAZ, the local NBC affiliate, had, and apparently, this someone - probably Mr. Cartoon - decided it would be a swell idea to interrupt the station's regularly-scheduled Christmas Eve programming in order to alert tri-state children of Santa's celestial whereabouts.

Now, if you read the first of this year's 12 memories of Christmas, you probably remember that Christmas Eves were kinda crazy for us. We'd celebrate with one side of the family. Then, we'd drive nearly an hour to celebrate with the other. Then we'd drive nearly an hour back to where we'd started. We did this, because Mom and Daddy had given Santa Mayme's address, and for some reason, Sissy and I INSISTED on sleeping wherever Santa was expected. Still, if you add up all these hours - and the time it took for us to tell Mayme and Papaw of all the gifts we'd gotten from Granny and Grandpa - you're getting way closer to midnite than most four year olds ever come.

In fact, that's where the second memory of Christmas begins. It was just before midnite on Christmas Eve, 1981. I remember sitting on the red cushions of the rocking chair that sat just a few feet away from the massive picture window through which I could've seen the moon - and the neighbor's plastic nativity - reflecting off the Ohio River. I probably could've seen Santa's sleigh, too, had I been looking. Instead, I was yapping away, most likely talking about my favorite new doll or the fact that Sissy, a girl, had asked the Big Man for a GI Joe trainset. Of all things.

Whatever the discussion was of, it was quickly - and abruptly - interrupted by NORAD. "Well, Kids," someone in slick hair and a sports coat said, "Santa and his sleigh have been spotted somewhere around Camden Park. It won't be long now!" Mom or Daddy or someone in charge said, "Kristin, you'd better get in the bed. If you're not asleep before midnite, Santa won't stop here tonite!"

Like a jet. Like a rocket. Like a John Wall fast break, I took off for the bed I'd be sharing with my sister. Never had my fat little legs carried me faster than they did that nite. Track marks of my fleet feet stained Mayme's hardwoods for decades to follow, but I was under the covers, eyes sealed shut, before was uttered the "to" in "tonite."

Then came Mom.

"Krissy, you need to go potty." Clearly, she didn't understand the situation. Christmas was my one shot a year at having twelve months' worth of wishes come true. Sure, there were birthdays - but what good were those? A cake? Some candles? Maybe a party at Skateland USA? Please. Santa could provide for me things that Mom and Daddy couldn't. Missing him was not a chance I was willing to take, even if it meant waking up ... slightly soiled.

Mom made me at least try, Daddy laughing, for some reason, in the background. They parked me on the toilet. I remember trying to fall asleep there. My thinking was, if I can't be asleep in the bed, maybe Santa will understand the technicality that I was, actually, asleep, even if it was on a "mattress" made of nearly frigid porcelain. But while I'm telling myself to fall asleep, my parents are barking at me to go pee-pee, and it was all just overload, more than anyone should ever have to handle, especially a four year old whose entire year's worth of wishes are in danger of being, well, flushed down the porcelain mattress of dashed dreams.

"Kristin, go."
Mom was growing impatient.
"I can't!" I honestly responded, my eyes squeezed tightly shut. "I can't! I can't!"

And I couldn't - mostly because I couldn't imagine missing out on my big chance for my even bigger haul. My parents, apparently, didn't grasp this fact. I remember all the grown-ups just laughing their fool heads off as I dashed around. This confused me; it was not at all a joking matter. As NORAD might've put it, we were at DEFCON RED, as far as I was concerned.

Fortunately, though, I did, eventually, fall asleep. Santa did ultimately come, and Sissy woke up to her GI Joe trainset.

I, on the other hand, woke up - yes, slightly soiled - to an entire year's worth of wishes and a wise certainty that Santa understands that parents just don't understand.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 12 Memories of Christmas: Ding! Ding!

I was right. In waiting for UK's Saturday tip-time, I've reflected more in the last day and a half than I did in the last 33 years. What I've realized in all that reflecting is that my cup of Christmas memories runneth over. What I've also realized is that there are 12 days between today and December 25, making the conditions of the cyber soil absolutely perfect for my very first blog series - a sequence of entries I'd like to call - drumroll, please ... drumroll - "The 12 Memories of Christmas." Don't ask me how I came up with that.

What is it about Christmas memories that makes us wax nostalgic? I mean, WAY nostalgic. I mean, I don't remember LAST Christmas (though I do love that song). I remember Christmas 24 years ago. I don't think of 2005. I think of 19-85. I don't think of the year Mom and Daddy gave Sissy and me new MacBooks; I remember - though I've tried to forget it - the year they tried to slide by with Jockey Lot knock-offs, because they were too broke to buy real-deal Cabbage Patch Kids.

I also remember the Conley Choir.

It's fitting that this aptly-named "12 Memories of Christmas" series should start here, for the Conley Choir was the Johnny One-Note of kin-folk chorales. We - myself, my sister, and our cousins Janet, Sabrina, Missy, and, later, Tara, Holly, Savannah, and anyone else who'd stand still long enough to sing along - had a single, jolly madrigal in our holiday repertoire. What song were that, ask ye? Why, 'twere one beffitin' this 'alf-'earted brogue I've inexplicably adopted. "The 12 Days of Christmas" 'twere it.

Why we only sang that song, I don't know. Ask Janet. As the eldest of this choral collective, she probably got to call that shot. For whatever reason, though, that's what we sang, and we sang it every year, costumed in whatever matching pajamas Granny had given us just seconds before the concert started.

Granny giving us all matching pajamas was as much of a tradition as my family's annual treks to the Bluegrass State. In fact, for us Stultzes, Christmas meant Kentucky. No matter where we lived (usually South Carolina), come the 21st or 22nd, Mom, Daddy, Sissy, and I would hit the highway for a week or two at "home." The earlier we arrived, the harder it was to wait for the Big Day. As you can probably remember from reflecting on your OWN Christmas memories, the suspense of staring at wrapped gifts with your name on them can quite nearly kill a girl.

When Christmas Eve FINALLY came (it felt like we had to wait a WHOLE YEAR for that ONE NITE!), we'd carbload on Mayme's baked spaghetti and open presents from the Stultz side before hightailing it to Granny's house for a visit with the Conley's.

Granny's house was very different from Mayme's. For instance, Mayme served baked spaghetti. Granny, on the other hand, always had a house full of candy, made by her and my aunts. Knowing Granny, she probably made everyone dinner, too, but by the time we arrived, Uncle Bill had already finished it all off, leaving us with holiday-themed, plexiglass plates full of candy. Naturally, none of us minded. I remember walking into Granny's. There, we were the latecomers. Everyone else had gathered hours before and were comfortably stuffed in chairs from the kitchen to the living room. After a welcoming eruption of hellos and hugs and "Where have you beens?" we got down to the business of digging in to that prodigious pile of gifts. We never knew what was waiting for us - well, I sorta had an idea in later years when I got brave enough to peek into the gift bags Granny'd taped shut - we were certain, however, that we would always get a fresh costume for the floor show, long-awaited, that would come when all the packages were unwrapped.

Another difference between the two houses was that Mayme used stretched cotton to simulate snow on her artificial trees; Granny, on the other hand, went in for icicles. A lot of icicles. Like, clumps of icicles that, had they been real and, through some sort of unforeseen interaction with an overheated string of twinkle lights, melted, these bad boys could have caused a worldwide flood of cataclysmic proportions. Granny must've tossed them on there like a child tossing confetti at a wedding reception. As a result, these stringy strands weren't just confined to the general tree area. They spread throughout the house, the pollen spores of holiday decor. In fact, five years after her death, I'll still find stray silver surprises stowed away in old suitcases. I always know it's not just rogue asbestos. Instead, it's another relic of my grandmother's mid-century Christmas aesthetic.

The major difference between Mayme's and Granny's, though, was that choir. Never once, in all my years of Christmas'ing on Riverside Drive, do I remember a spontaneous eruption of song. At Mayme's, that came later - during the annual New Year's Eve celebrations staged by Lori, BJ, and me. At Granny's, though, it was me and my cousins, dressed alike, arms wrapped around the others' shoulders, laughing, as we looked to Janet to remind us what day we were doing and for Sabrina to add her signature "ding ding" after every "partridge in a pear tree."

As I think about those days, I can't remember my "true loves" giving me a single "goose a laying" or even a "lord a leaping" (in fact, I'm STILL waiting for one of those!). Nope. Instead, on all those "first days of Christmas," my true loves gave to me "a heart full of mem-o-ries."

(Cue Sabrina: "Ding! Ding!")

Monday, December 13, 2010

a present from Christmas past

What is Christmas if not a time to reflect on holidays gone by? Because PC's classes ended 10 days ago, and because UK doesn't play again until Saturday (O.M.Geeeee!), I find myself with a LOT of time to reflect, so some of my memories may wind up here on the blog. I'll start with this one:

Behold my favorite 7 year old when she was 2 1/2. It was 2005, and Sissy's family and I were all out in Midway, KY, seeing Santa and doing some shopping. As you'll see from the video below, the hula class Lizzie Gray and I took in Hawaii was hardly her first turn on the dance floor. Check out baby Bess as she checks out this rockin' Rudolph. Even then, she had better hair than I could ever hope to.

Oh, and I'm not sure where she got all that rhythm. The hula-hoop swivel hips, however, are most definitely a gift from her grandmother.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pray without ceasing.

You know those people that you absolutely love, even though you haven't physically seen them for so many years you're embarrassed to admit it? For me, Jenny Nissen Pruitt is one of those people. Jenny and I met at Furman. She was my RA for the nite and a half that I lived in the dorms freshman year. After that, our paths crossed briefly in Baptist Student Union, and then, we were knit forever as members of the Furman Pauper Players. Jenny played Sarah Brown in the Players' production of Guys & Dolls, and I sat backstage and listened to her sing, sing, sing. Man, can that girl sing.

She can also write. In fact, Jenny is one of those rare individuals whose talent is endless - she sings! She writes! She writes songs that she sings! It's almost sickening. In fact, it would make me sick, if she weren't as likable as she is talented. Well, tonite, I was cruising through my blogroll when I came to Jenny's latest entry. In it, she writes of the daughter of her dear friend. Little Ansley was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 Anaplastic Large Cell (T-cell) Lymphoma. I cannot imagine what it would be like to watch such a sweet little child suffer through something like what Ansley is suffering. I can, however, imagine that the only way to make it through such an ordeal is through the power of prayer.

So I'm asking each of you to please pray for Ansley. Please ask God to heal her and to shower her family with grace as He does. You can follow Ansley's battle at

Thank you so much.

Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
- Mark 11:23-25

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Let there be LIGHT.

The beautiful thing about writing a dissertation - scratch that. There is, technically, NOTHING beautiful about writing a dissertation - but something super awesome about the process of writing my dissertation is that it has required a couple of research trips to New York City. Now, a point of clarification. I'm sure that, when you hear the phrase "research trip," you probably imagine my waking before dawn, so that I can sit outside and watch the sunrise over the library while sipping a Starbucks Caramel Apple Spice and feeling academically superior to all the other knuckleheads, because I'm the only person who'll be there when the doors open.

Yeah. Except for the Starbucks Caramel Apple Spice, that's not really how it looks at all. Well, maybe it is. Maybe that describes a research trip for, say, economics students or chemistry, but us theatrefolk, we keep what I like to call "actor's hours." By that I mean, the library doesn't even open until noon. Spend a couple of hours there before walking down Broadway for a show and, 200 pages later, you've got yourself a dissertation.

Having done this song and dance several times now, I've got the routine pretty well down pat. I sprint through the City streets - a spring in my step just from knowing that I am every bit as blessed as Sheryl Lee Ralph's character in Thoroughly Modern Millie. In other words,

"No one could ask for more -
kid in a candy store.
The jackpot has been hit!
I'm living proof of it

So while the dissertation - and the whole rigamarole of grad school, for that matter - are oftentimes far from beautiful, the reality of pursuing my teenage dream of learning all there is to know about the musical theatre is a beautiful, breathtaking, and abundantly bless-ed thing.

Also beautiful, however, is New York City at Christmastime. Also bless-ed is the fact that I've been lucky enough (thank you, parents who spoiled me and my sister) to visit the City during several Christmas seasons. Maybe that's why I found it so funny that the driver of the cab Daddy and I shared on our midday trip from La Guardia to 48th Street kept telling us to be sure to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. "It's better at nite," he said. His English was still broken, in spite of "tir-ty figh" years in the U.S. "See it at nite," he continued to suggest. "It all lit up."

Enter Smartalleck.

She, being me, wanted to say, "Yes, Sir. Thanks for the tip, but I'm familiar with the concept that, in order for light to be seen, there must be dark. That's an immutable law of nature. It holds true both in your native country and in mine, but thank you very much for clearing that up, just in case I skipped the first day of pre-school when all of my other classmates mastered this keen skill of grasping the blatantly obvious." Fearing an international incident, I kept my thoughts to myself. Well, I texted them to Daddy in the backseat beside me, but other than that, I kept my thoughts to myself.

It might surprise Mr. Taximan to learn that Rockefeller Center isn't the only place all dolled up for the holiday. The entire City shines. Red and green glow from the many Christmas trees. White lights sparkle through strands of garland, and the incessant flashing of stoplights and crosswalks keep the city sidewalks safe "as the shoppers rush home with their treasures." Naturally, all of these lights - and all of that time sipping Caramel Apple Spice while waiting for the library to open - left me with a lot of time to think about lights.

It's probably impossible to quantify this - in fact, it's nearly impossible for a non-mathematical mind like mine to even write the word "quantify" - but I'd bet my collection of "Forbidden Broadway" CDs that there are more lights lit at this time of year than at any other. It's fitting, isn't it? At a time when we celebrate the coming of Jesus, there is nothing more appropriate than lights. He is, we know, the Light of the world.

As I walked through the City - up and down, back and forth, library to Broadway to hotel and again - God gave me a fresh perspective on the tiny bulbs that, according to the World's Smartest Cab Driver, make dark nites brighter (EUREKA!). They were no longer just shiny objects - they were shouts of a Heavenly Father Who doesn't want us to miss the coming of His Son, "the Light of the world." Think about it - God is known for saying things more than once. Graciously, He always gives us more than one chance to get His message. For instance, in the Bible, He tells us more than 300 times some variation of "Do not fear."

One of those times was when His angel appeared to tell Mary she'd bear a Son. "Do not be afraid, Mary," he said. "You have found favor with God." The rest of Gabriel's message to Mary indicates that we have all found favor with God, for it is through her Son that all who believe have access to a kingdom that "will never end."

Just to be sure people didn't miss Jesus when He came into the world, God sent a messenger before Him. God, Who is "not willing that any should perish," sent John the Baptist as Jesus's advance team:

"He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through Him, all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light."

I don't at all mean to make "light" (HAR!) - or to equate Christmas lights with John the Baptist - but maybe we've missed the point. Maybe those lights are more than just a way to turn all of New York City into a Winter Wonderland. Maybe they're each a reminder from God of His good tidings of great joy: the Light of the world is come, and when it comes to this dark world, He makes "it all lit up."

Somebody call that cab driver; I've got a tip for him!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

a thousand words

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then this slideshow of my favorite trip pics speaks whatever a thousand times 266 is. To see captions that explain what everything is, click on the "click here to view these pictures larger" link or visit my Shutterfly share site.

Click here to view these pictures larger

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Some people find it ironical ..."

Guess where I am. Go on. Guess.

Give up? Here's a hint:

Still not sure? Maybe this will help.

If you haven't figured it out yet, this oughta make it as crystal clear as the BLUE CLEAR SKY.

Yep. You guessed her, Chester. I am currently at a comfortable cruising altitude (35,004', to be exact), just north of Phoenix and south of Clints Well, Arizona. In case you can't tell, this is my first exposure to on-board wi-fi, and I've gotta be honest with you. I am riveted. Well, I'm riveted in a 2001: a Space Odyssey kind of way.

In fact, the whole thing kinda reminds me of this class I took at UGA. It was entitled Science Fiction & Drama, and there are not words big enough to express how much I dreaded taking it. It's not that I didn't like the professor - I loved him, in fact. It's just that, up until I registered for the class, my entire interest in science fiction began and ended with watching Trekkies and debating with my friend Stephen whether or not filking should be granted its own category at the Grammy Awards. But alas, the class fit my schedule and met a course requirement, so yada, yada, yada: I ended up spending a semester's worth of Monday afternoons in a Science Fiction seminar.

We read plays, like R.U.R., Carel Kapek's 1921 work that spawned the word "robot," and watched movies, like 2001 and Them!. That was all it took to hook me. Suddenly, I was all "Maybe I should rethink this whole musical theatre thing" and "Dawgonit, if the woman wants to be called 'Commander,' you show her the respect her rank deserves!"

No one was more surprised by this reaction than I was. I was also surprised by the common denominators we found in many of the plays, movies, and television shows that we surveyed. Without exception, the future, as it was portrayed in these works, was dehumanized and depersonalized. Jerry Seinfeld made this same point during his 1998 "I'm Telling You for the Last Time" retirement act (parenthetically, I saw him live in June of 2010 - his retirement lasted about as long as Garth Brooks' did - a fact which makes me very glad). As the Master of "Nothing" noticed:

"Any time you see a movie or a TV show where there's people from the future - or another planet - they're all wearing the same outfit. I think the decision just gets made: 'Alright, Everyone. From now on, it's just gonna be the one-piece silver suit with the v stripe and the boots. That's the outfit. We're gonna be visiting other planets. We want to look like a team here. The individuality thing is over.'"

That's definitely one of the things my classmates and I noticed as we discussed what we'd read and seen (maybe I should've just spared myself the semester and watched "I'm Telling You for the Last Time" ... again). Who knows how the future will actually play out - after all, it is called science fiction, but it's an undeniable fact that, with things like on-board wifi, what was once the stuff of fiction and fantasy is very quickly becoming our reality.

Here's where this entry - written from several miles high in a manner not even Stanley Kubrick could've imagined - takes a turn for the "ironical." The entry is actually just an opportunity for me to use a futuristic means of telling you about something old-fashioned - a good, old fashioned Christmas giveaway of good, old-fashioned Christmas carols.

Over the years, my friend Stephen has introduced me to many different types of music. I've already mentioned David Wilcox. There's also been Jump, Little Children and Eddie from Ohio and Guster and on and on and on. It seems only fair, then, that, for all the music he's introduced me to, I should introduce his music to the people I know. So, ironically, I'm using a new-fangled, high-tech medium to tell you of something that really has an incredible air of yesteryear. Each Christmas, Stephen, his wife Tamara, and several of their musician friends get together to record their favorite carols, and every year, they make it free for the downloading to anybody who's interested in a little holiday cheer that is focused on "the Reason for the season."

So if that's you, check it out.

And, if this season finds you traveling, you can even do that "checking out" while you're flying the friendly skies.

Stanley Kubrick would be blown away.

Monday, November 29, 2010

so ends a SUPER trip

Well, the suitcases are packed. The postcards are written, and Delta's already sending emails that it's "time to check in." You know what that means - we head home tomorrow. Though it's been a beautiful trip, I am definitely ready to get back to a part of the country where people are actually paying attention when Auburn comes back from 24 down to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl. It seems to me that Hawaiians aren't all that interested in football. This is probably owing to the fact that there's a five hour time difference, so, by the time the noon games kick off in the East, folks are just waking up over here. They're more concerned with breakfast than whether or not Kentucky will drop to Tennessee - FOR THE 26th YEAR IN A ROW (they will, it pains me to say). It's either that - or the massive distraction of Captain Cook's swimming pool.

That's how we spent most of today, in fact. Well, that's how we spent the part of today that came after church and yet another meal - this time, breakfast - in Lahaina. Those who know about Super Payton will be glad to learn that this breakfast entailed the creation of the story in which we learn how "a little girl named Aunta" became "Super Aunta." This happens whenever we go to a restaurant. Payton wants the two of us to write a Super Payton story. Wait a minute. Let me get more specific - he writes the story; I just write it down. Typically, he draws the pictures and tells me what to write under them. This pattern goes back to before he could write. Why in the world he hasn't realized that, at a very well read 9 whose IQ probably overshoots mine by double digits, he has the autonomy to write these stories even when I'm not around, I do not know, but that's the way these stories started to be written, and, five years later, that's how they continue to be.

But not today. Today, Super Aunta decided she wanted some autonomy. With the blessing (and hawkish oversight) of super-ior Payton, I set out to write my own backstory. Payton sat beside me the entire time, munching on a Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake and telling me over and over, "Be sure you mention me. Be sure you mention me. How about Super Payton flies in in the next scene?" The result is ... well, please take note of Frame Five. Yeah. Maybe Aunta isn't yet Super enough for complete autonomy.

To be honest, though, of all the things we've done on this terrific trip - snorkeling, sailing, summiting Haleakala - it's moments like these that I'll remember most. Writing Super Payton stories, swapping secrets with Lizzie Gray, tricking Camden into thinking I bought candy for everyone but him, and convincing Lila that the answer to "Whose girl are you?" is ALWAYS "Aunta's girl" (I take her on dates) and NEVER "Camden's girl" (he tells her fairy tales) - these are cerebral snapshots that I'll always remember. Maui, then, became the elaborately beautiful stage on which we performed the play of being a family, making memories out of mundane moments that you sometimes have to travel across the planet to fully appreciate.

Now that I have a "super" cape, I should be able to make the trips a lot more quickly.

Aloha from Maui, and Mele Kalikimaka! More to follow from my home sweet South Cackalackey ...