Saturday, December 31, 2016

Once-a-Slightly Over Month Cooking

Today may be the last day of the year, but it was the first day of the month around the Boyack house.  Today was Once-a-Month-Cooking day.  The funny thing is that it usually ends up lasting longer than a month.  Our last big cooking day lasted from September to now.  The thing is, I don't always pull from the freezer.  Weekend we cook from scratch.  However, with my voice lessons in late afternoons and sometimes play practice or performance I am too tired to think about dinner.  Making dinner ahead saved me so much money from September to Christmas that I was able to pay for half of Christmas from the savings from the food budget.  Plus, we had much healthier meals!

After collecting which recipes we wanted to make, and making a shopping list, John headed to the store around noon.  We started the cooking and assembly around 1:00 and ended all the cooking by 7:00.  In that time we made 35 dinners.  We have the fix-in's in the cupboard to make 15 more quick and easy meals.  We spend $350. When John and I did we made dinner for around $1.60 per person per meal.  Now you see why it saved us so much money.

It is also a win win for mom because everyone hangs around and helps... sometimes under great duress... but they are there and it becomes a productive family activity.

I am not much on measuring.  In fact, I'd say I am more an -eyeball-it-and-dump kind of cook.  People have ask for recipes.  I will do my best, but remember, nothing at my house is exactly the same every time I make it.  I figure if it's in the ballpark, it's good enough.

This is a messy job.  This kitchen is not a sterile environment!.  People commented today on a Facebook post I made that they might want to join us.  Are you sure?  You might not want to if you could see how we do things.  LOL.

We didn't really make anything fancy.  This is mostly a chop and dump operation.  Here is what we made today:

Hawaiian Chicken

Eventually it will look something like this and will be served with rice...

Right now it looks like this...

This is easy... one bag of chicken thighs (we take the skins off), 1 can of pineapple chunks, 1/2 onion diced, 1 cup diced carrots, 1 jar of teriyaki sauce.  Done. (We made 2).

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Another chop and dump recipe... 2 bags of turkey meatballs, 1 can of pineapple, 1 cup chopped carrots, 1/2 onion chopped, 1 jar sweet and sour sauce, 1 cup water.  Done. (We made 2).

Tamale Pie

eventually it will look like this...

Right now it looks like this... 

1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef, browned; 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained; 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained; 1 can corn, drained; 1 can tomato soup; 1/2 onion, chopped; 1 tsp chili powder; 1/2 tsp cumin...  mixed all together and placed in pans... topped with grated cheddar cheese and corn bread mix... 6 Tbs melted butter; 1 cup cornmeal; 3/4 cup flour; 1 Tbs. honey (we are about to go sugar free for a month); 1 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp baking soda; 1/4 tsp salt; 2 eggs, beaten; 1 1/2 cup buttermilk.  When it's time to cook it and eat it I bake it straight out of the freezer for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the cornbread is golden brown and comes out clean when I poke it.  (We made 2 for the freezer and 1 large one for tomorrow's dinner).

Chicken Noodle Soup

Eventually is will look something like this...

Again... simple.  1 1/2 lb. chicken chopped into bite size pieces; 5 medium carrots, chopped; 1 onion, chopped; 4 celery stalk, chopped; 5 cloves garlic, minced; 3 Tbs olive oil; 6 cups chicken broth; 3/4 tsp thyme; 1/2 tsp rosemary; 1/2 tsp sage; 2 bay leaves; salt and pepper to taste.  On the day to cook it we run the bag under water to brake it loose from the soup.  Then we cook it in the crock pot 6-7 hours.  The last hour of cooking I add 2 cups dry egg noodles. (we made 2).

Lemon Pesto Chicken

This is tasty on noodles.

4 pieces of chicken in a tin pan; spread prepared pesto over the chicken; pour 1/8 cup lemon juice over the chicken; top with 1/2 cup Mozzarella Cheese. When it's time, bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes; remove the foil and broil for the last 5 minutes.  (we made 2).

Sausage Spinach Tomato Soup

More chop and dump... 1 lb ground spicy Italian sausage, browned; 1 24 oz spaghetti sauce; 3 cups chicken broth; 1 can red beans, drained; 2 cups spinach; 4 carrots, chopped; 1 onion, diced... cook in the crock pot 6-7 hours on low. (we made 1).

Beef Mushroom Barley Soup

2# steak cut into bite size pieces; 1 lb mushrooms; 2 carrots, chopped; 1 onion, diced; 1 can diced tomatoes (we used 1 jar of our home canned tomatoes from the garden); 2 stalks celery, chopped; 1 cup barley 2 quarts veggie broth.  Empty into the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. (we made 1).

Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

Eventually it will look like this...

Right now it looks like this... 
1 1/2 cups chicken cut into bite size pieces; 1 bag frozen broccoli; 2 jars alfredo sauce; 1 large green pepper, diced; 1 cup mushrooms... pour into crock pot and cook for 4-6 hours on low.  Serve over fettuccini.  A salad is nice with this dinner too!  (We made 2).

Spinach Tomato Tortellini Soup

It's a great dump in and call it good recipe.  1 lb sausage, browned; 2 boxes of Pacific tomato soup, 3 cup spinach, 2 boxes of dry tortillini... Pour into the crock pot and cook for 4 hours on low.  Top with Parmesan cheese.  This is a favorite.  (we made 1 and we have the fix-in's in the cupboard for another for a day that we aren't quite as busy).

Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole

Nice and easy...10 cups cooked rice; 4 cups cooked chicken, cut to bite size pieces; 4 cups chopped broccoli; 2 cans cream of mushroom soup; 2 cans cream of chicken soup; 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese.  Mix it all together.  Scoop into pans.  Top with cheddar cheese.  Bake at 350 for 45-ish minutes.  Bam! (We made 4).

Sausage spinach and White Bean Soup

2 lb prepared sausages (like the kind you grill); 3 cloves garlic, minced; 1/2 onion, chopped; 3 carrots, chopped; 2 stalks celery, chopped; 2 cans Great Northern Beans, 1/2 tsp oregano; 2 bay leaves; 4 cups chicken broth; 3 cups spinach.  Pour into the crock pot and cook on low for 6-7 hours. (We made 1).

Chili and Rice Casserole

1 lb ground beef, browned; 1 packet chili seasoning; 1 can red beans; 1 can black beans; 2 cans crushed tomatoes (we used the tomatoes from the garden we canned); 1 can green chilies, minced; 2 cups rice, cooked... Mix everything but the rice together.  Pat down rice on the bottom of a pan.  Cover with the meat mixture.  Top with cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. (We made 3).

Creamy Chicken Tetrazzini

1 1/2 lb of chicken cooked and cut into bite size pieces; 1/2 tsp salt; 3 tsp garlic; 1/4 tsp black pepper; 1 1/2 tsp dried tarragon; 1 cup diced onion; 2 cup mushroom; 1 pkg soft cream cheese; 3/4 lb of bacon cooked and chopped; spaghetti noodle, cooked and mozzarella cheese.  Mix everything but the noodles and mozzarella.  Pour into pan. Top with cooked noddles and mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.  This is a family favorite.  (We made 3).

Creamy Chicken Fajita Soup

1 lb chicken cut to bite size pieces; 2 can cream of chicken soup; 2 cup salsa; 2 cup frozen corn; 1 can black beans; 1 tsp cumin; 1 1/2 cup water.  Pour into the crock pot and cook for 4-6 hours on low. serve with cheddar cheese and sour cream. (we made 2).

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

1 1/2 lb chicken, chopped; 2 cup chopped carrots; 2 stalks celery, chopped; 1 can cream of chicken soup; 1 can chicken broth; 2 cups water; 1 box Uncle Ben's Wild Rice.  Pour into a crock pot and cook 4-6 hours on low. (We made 2)

Alfredo Chicken Lasagna

Mix 3 cooked chicken breast, diced, 1 jar Alfredo sauce plus 1/2 jar of water; 2 pints ricotta cheese; a dash of salt and pepper.  Layer in pan, chicken mixture, spinach, mozzarella cheese; noddles, repeat.  Top with 1/2 jar Alfredo sauce and mozzarella cheese.  I put the noodles in uncooked.  After freezing them the cook nicely.  I have found that pre-cooked noodles become nasty and soggy.  Bake at 350 for 60 minutes.  (We made 3 large pans of this - a definite family favorite).

When you add this to the 80 hot pockets we made just before Christmas, we are set until March!

Oh... one more thing.  I have learned to double bag my meals to help avoid freezer burn.  Most meals can be kept in the freezer for 3-4 months... if you can last that long. ;)

Ok... I'm adding a shopping list because I have had more than one request.  Please remember that this list is for the amounts of food I prepared and a few items intended to be used throughout the week.

Shopping List

3 bags of spinach
5 boxes of sliced mushrooms
2 stalks of celery
3 heads of broccoli
5# carrots
minced garlic
4 green peppers
1 jar of pesto

11 bags of 3# of chicken breast
2# bacon
4 bags of turkey meatballs
2 bags of 3# chicken thighs
2# steak
6# ground turkey/beef (whatever your family enjoys)
2# andouille sausage

3 bags grated mozzarella cheese
2 pints ricotta cheese
2 pkg cream cheese
3 bags grated cheddar cheese

Frozen foods
2 bags frozen corn
2 bags frozen chopped broccoli

bay leaves

Canned goods
5 cans of veggie broth
4 cans kidney beans
6 cans black beans
2 jars salsa
5 boxes Pacific... tomato soup
4 cans great Northern beans
2 cans diced green chilies ( the larger size)
2 chili seasoning packets
2 can tomato soup concentrate
4 jars prepared Alfredo sauce
1 can prepared spaghetti sauce
10 cans cream of chicken soup
10 can chicken broth
2 jars sweet and sour sauce
4 cans pineapple chunks
4 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 jars teriyaki sauce

Dry goods
2 boxes dry tortellini
1 fettuccine
2 pkg lasagna noodles
2 pkg spaghetti noodles
2 Uncle Ben's wild rice
10 square tin pans
3 large deep tin pans
1 large box of Gallon size freezer bags
1 large bag quart size freezer bags

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Why I intend to cut my Social Media Time

I am not a connoisseur of Social Media.  In fact, I only have a Facebook account.  I have not been convinced as to why I would need more than that?   Why do I need a Twitter, MySpace, Vine, or a Snapchat?  My experience watching those around me lose their humanity, the ability to effectively use language, and to develop meaningful interpersonal interactions has convinced me I don’t ever want an account!
I remember a time when people relished in open, civil discourse; a time when people discussed ideas with passion, and people on either side of the discussion, regardless of what it was about, treated each other with the respect we deserve as humans. (I guess that makes me old).  I miss this… I believe in the best part of human nature: our ability to band together as equals, regardless of our petty differences, united by the fact that we’re all impossibly unlikely creatures, living together on this tiny little speck of dust in a sunbeam, surrounded by an inhospitable void that extends for eternity, and all we really have is each other.
Before you decide that this post will have nothing to do with you... STOP.  Everyone is part of the problem and everyone can be a part of the solution.  Give me a moment.
Problem #1: Social Media gives you a false impression of what human interaction is
Social media communication and actual communication are about as effectively different as attempting to talk to another human by muttering to a dysfunctional toaster.  Ok.  There is a message, a channel and a recipient, but with the depersonalization of the “inter-web” it is almost impossible to gage intent and feedback adequately.
As a person who studies interpersonal interaction through the art of theatre, I have come to realize that the art of discourse is most definitely an interpersonal activity that feeds all of the humanities.  It is fundamental for all careers; a skill that truly does determine one’s success in society.  If you don’t know how to talk to others – how to agree to disagree if needed – you may never find or keep a job, successfully find and keep a spouse, be able to buy a home or a car nor even order a meal.  In short, you will struggle to live a normal life.
The problem with social media is that it’s diminishing our ability to vocally communicate. Texting, e-mailing, and Twitter posts don’t require the same instantaneous feedback that face-to-face communication requires, nor does it really allow people to learn and understand the mechanics of communication, such as tempo, emotion and passions, and asking questions.  I see our culture being less sociable – in all age groups.  Our children are less likely to have a conversation.  We are losing our ability to understand what other people are saying.  We don’t understand what is serious and what is not.  We begin to “assume” the intend of a message without the entire mode of communication at our disposal.  Human communication is all about our individual subtleties… all filtered out with social media.
We’re in danger of talking past each other like lost souls wandering in the fog.
Without the ability to communicate accurately we can’t really have meaningful discussions about important ideas.
Problem #2 Social media has nothing to do with interpersonal communication anymore.
When you post something on Facebook or Twitter you must remember that the intended audience is not for a single person.  It is an electronic all-call to the entire planet… even if you are not “friends” with the entire planet.  Posts are inherently designed to create as much attention as possible.  You are NOT posting to specific people (that would require a handwritten note and a stamp), you are broadcasting to a faceless, nameless mass - the disembodied collective.
Put another way, texting a “friend,” “how r u?” however convenient and well meant, lacks considerably less empathy and engagement than picking up the phone or meeting said friend face to face and genuinely appearing to want to know and care how they are.  The danger of becoming a superficial person is greatly magnified when we can hide behind our social media profiles. An increase in superficial relationships without any real social awareness has profound ripples.
Having friends can sometimes be inconvenient. It’s the give and take of the relationship that grows and strengthens us, not the fact that we both think the same movie is awesome, or we both root for the Yankees or the Red Sox or we share the same "friends."  The point of real friendship is that we willingly put the needs and wishes of the “other” before our own, and that is a two-way street. Friendship is a communal act of self-less-ness, not self-ish-ness. 
Problem #3: Social Media takes from us our individuality and reinforces a herd mentality.
Instead of expressing our own opinions, we find ourselves responding to criticisms and complex interactions with meme images and in web-speak. The more social media we participate in, the less personal identity we seem to hold onto ... what some call "collective immersion," I would prefer to call "individual suffocation."
Thinking that we are anonymous allows us to do and say things we would most likely never do in real life. It’s like we have split personalities… our REAL life self and our Internet self.  Do we truly get to know each other?  I find that we are judging each other based on the tiny fractions of our personality that we show to the online world.  We shame each other over the pettiest of perceived mistakes.  We somehow feel we have the right and the freedom to say things we would not say in person because we feel safe behind a screen.  We “remove,” “block,” and “unfriend” people we disagree with as if ignoring them will make them go away – when really, all we are doing is saving ourselves from the important, challenging and even painful task of questioning our own beliefs and behavior.  Admitting we are wrong takes courage.  Hiding behind a screen does not.
We are starting to use social media to isolate ourselves from the messy parts of being with others when in fact it is how we handle those “messy parts” — Do we continue with the friendship? Do we somehow confront the “other” and explore the upsetting issues that may have arisen with respect? etc.–that helps define who we are and how we relate to the world empathetically.
The danger is that when we diminish our empathy for others because of our addiction to the “painless” convenience of social media, it becomes much easier to ignore those in need, those who want our help etc., as a collective. We are easily manipulated and swayed by popular thinking rather than investigating and coming to conclusions for ourselves.  For example, when those who aspire to lead us tell us immigrants are the real reason your life sucks, or the poor are lazy, undeserving, and taking all your hard-earned wealth etc., we are less equipped emotionally or psychologically to either recognize or deal with the ramifications of those arguments; and unable and unwilling to accept how we got to a point where convenience trumps taking responsibility for our choices, or more importantly opted out of choosing.
Because we are losing individuality we are becoming less rounded, more self-righteous, less understanding, more angry, and more prideful.  We are doing this to ourselves.  The internet may have given us tools, but in a crazy Lord of the Flies world we live in, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are just the island.  Each of us is becoming more and more responsible for our own faults and less and less willing to change them.
Problem #4 This is a minor issue for me, yet still an issue.  Social media is decimating the English language… and our attention spans.
I wonder how many people (and what age they are) will actually read the entire blog post.
I volunteer every day at a local high school.  For part of my volunteer time I read papers.  I am not convinced that U.S. students are mainly lacking science and math skills as I have seen reported.  Sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary are taking strong hits.  I blame social media.  I see more students that have a better grasp of numbers and technology, yet are less deft with conversation, the mechanics of written English and contextual comprehension.
Put down your phone and read a book!  Read a classic!  See the English language at its finest.  Discover words that are becoming extinct because they are not convenient in a text.  See how descriptive language flows and moves without the use of expletives.
I know it’s hard.  Reading and comprehending takes an attention span.  You must focus on the wording and assess passages as stand-alone thoughts and ideas.  You have to develop an understanding of context.  Social media does not have the same result narrative. Social media presents a mishmash of random thoughts.  Snapchat tells no real story.  Twitter has not made you wittier nor more concise.  It has led you to believe that the English language is commonplace messages littered with hash tags and at-symbols resembling computer code more than our beautiful mother tongue.
Our growing inability as a society to write accurately (in terms of explicit word choice and punctuation, etc.), or maintain a communal way of communicating wherein we all understand what the other is saying, is vital when it comes to discussing things like social media’s impact on society–and ultimately the future of our already shaky democracy.
In short, it is time.  It is time to limit social media time and start living time. It is time to have real conversation – over lunch or in the hall without giving into the need to check for messages.  It is time to eat dinner with your family without screen time. It is time to develop interpersonal skills by discussing current events in person.  It is time to learn conflict resolution through tactful, respectful conversation.  It is time to develop compassion and empathy.  It is time to stop judging without all the facts.  It is time to read real books and to put down memes and stunted sentences.  It is time to write a real letter with real sentences.  Stop worrying about commenting on and documenting your life and start living in it. It is time to be real, living people and stop being cyborgs.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Traditions and Memories

Today I dashed into Salem to a fabric store... needed to restore some Christmas hope in a project that didn't quite work as planned.  On the way home a few Christmas favorites came to mind that I need to share.

Memory number one: the frantic "secret" plans of a tired "Santa" (a.k.a. mom) making last minute presents.  I think my two favorite presents I watched or helped "Santa" with was a rocking moon my friend and I made my little sister Jennifer at the request of "Santa".   We got the curve a little off and the bed part was a little off, but it worked and Jennifer crawled into it and read books.

The other was the Badger.  Mom was making teddy bears for the little girls and Paul made it known he thought he might like one too.  My mom scrapped together just enough fir to make that bear.  One small problem... in the wee hours of Christmas she go it turned around.  The result? a badger for Paul.  Everyone was jealous.  Everyone wanted a turn to hold the Badger.  I wonder what happened to that badger.

Memory number two:  Christmas gift fails.  The first and most prominent gift fail that come to mind is fudge.  We got married in November.  We had no money and a ton of duplicate wedding gifts like salt and pepper shakers and glasses.  I wanted to give presents to everyone.  I decided to make fudge.  FAIL!  It never set up.  It was more the consistency of hot fudge topping.  I didn't have the money to start over so I poured it into any container I could find... including the extra salt and pepper shakers, and mailed them to my parents.  Have never been able to live that one down.... and still can't make fudge.

An other memorable "fail" were these mittens my mom made.  If memory serves me, and often it doesn't, someone gave her this Naugahyde on one side and fuzzy stuff on the other fabric.  She spent hour cutting our and sewing mittens out of the stuff.  They were big and clumsy.  Ours were somewhat mismatched because she gave the best pairs away.  Mom says her brothers and their families were not impressed, but they were my favorite mittens in the bitter winds of January through February in Central Oregon.  They saved my hands while carrying firewood and walking to the bus stop.  Mom may have thought those mittens were a fail, but in my eyes they were a win... kept your hands warm and no one at school would ever steal them.

Memory number three: stocking stuffers. As I was driving from Salem to home I noticed a bag of potato chips left behind from one of the many "clean-out-the car" assignments.  Mom knew someone that would give her potato chips every Christmas.  We didn't often get processed food.  Potato chips were reserved for my dad.  Bologna was something you would for for your birthday.  Really.  So getting a bag of potato chips in your stocking was a great treat.  I ate a chip in honor of that memory today.

When my little sister got married she didn't register that she would need to come up with her own stockings for her new family.  To save her my mom started emptying cupboards.  Craig ended up with bacon bits in his stocking.  I wonder if he still gets bacon bit.

I still give undies, socks, a toothbrush, soap and deodorant to my kids in their stockings.  If these items were good enough for my mom to give us as kids, then they are great for my kids now.  I do try to give them something fun as well, but tradition is tradition.  Time to go to the store for some chips for the stockings.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Christmas Cold

There is one Christmas tradition I can do with out... my traditional Christmas cold.

Seriously!  Why is it that as soon as I see the break of dawn of a vacation day my body gives in to the old cold virus and I am down for the count.

This year's particular breed of virus has been more vicious than usual.

My first "snow day" (the unofficial beginning of Christmas break), the sneezing started... and the watery eyes.

My second "snow day" was starting to feel very under the weather.

The third "snow day" my head hurt from the congestion and I felt like death walking.

Saturday and Sunday I spent every available hour in bed... trying to breathe and to sleep.  Sleep is my usual "go-to" when I know something is looming in the horizon.

Today... still can't breathe!  It's day 5!

Last night I hardly slept because I kept dreaming of drowning.  I'd awaken to my C-PAP mask full of snot.  I was drowning!

Today I have tried Thieves on my feet, RC on my chest, lemon and honey treat, breathing in steam, over the counter cold meds, nasal rinse and two boxes of Kleenex.  Still can't breathe.  Blowing my nose is like blowing snot through the eye of a needle.  Sneezing continues.

I did some research.  The all knowing Web says I should feel these symptoms for 3-4 days and then be congested for 10 days.  Who has time for that?  I need some sleep!

So what do you do to get rid of a cold over night?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

White Christmas

Before I begin this blog I must thank the talented and generous John Bruning for taking beautiful pictures I could steal and use in the post.  Where would I be without you?  I would have a few blurry pictures that would not do this beautiful show justice.  That is where I would be!

I must admit, I have been resisting the suggestion of my dear friend, Jeff Witt, to do Irving Berlin’s White Christmas for years.  I have never really been a fan of the show.  (My favorite Christmas movies include It’s a Wonderful Life and Christmas with the Kranks). Besides, retrofitted old movies rarely make great musicals for the stage. The piece just is not especially witty material in my mind.  The musical may be strong with musical classics but the story is weak.  

If you detect a certain weariness of tone, it's because I think White Christmas is not a structurally distinguished piece of live musical entertainment. The story begins in World War 2, with Captain Bob and Private Phil putting on a show to entertain the troops at Christmas in 1944; ten years later it cuts to Bob and Phil as song-and-dance men on the Ed Sullivan Show.  They “audition” a pair of girls for a spot in their show (cue song – “Sister!”).  Soon the quartet find themselves in Vermont for a snow concert where they find that there is no snow and the men’s old General is running a near-bankrupt inn.  So yup, they put on a show in the barn and save the day. Add a stage-struck tot, a busy body housekeeper, a hysterical stage manager, and a sloth of a farmhand/stage hand and you have a near-plotless, no-biz-like showbiz heartwarming crowd pleaser… or so we hoped.

In addition to my lack of attachment to the story, I was concerned with creating the multiple settings, costumes and snow to do justice to the show.  I am a perfectionist… at least I strive to be. It would take a miracle to get a cast and artistic team make something incredibly difficult look incredibly easy… my goal in such projects.  But that is what makes it all so fun, right?

This year… I caved.  38 cast members, 22 crew members, 17 scene changes, 18 body mics, 150 light cues, 4 follow spots, 1 snow machine and 3 weary directors later, we had a hit.  Each of the 8 performances had more than 220 people in attendance and half of those performances had nearly 450 people.  We set new records in ticket sales and could not only pay for the show expenses, but could save a little for a future show.  Not bad for a show I resisted.

The selling point for me had to be the music (since the plot is not what grabs my attention).  The score for the musical is stronger than the film.  The stage musical does not include several of the songs from the film (including, thankfully, “Choreography”).  The musical replaces song that were omitted with standards like “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano”.  The vocal arrangement of “Snow” is particularly fine – a quartet is the original film, is now expanded into a choral gem.  My favorite composition must be “Falling Out of Love.” (Abby Miller, Mo Eschette and Liz Santillan knocked this one out of the park!) The harmonies in this piece are so reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters and the many other singing trios of the era. The slow, wistful and nearly melancholy tune of “White Christmas” stands in stark contrast to the unabashedly happy songs of the season.  However, Jeff is fond of pointing out that reminiscing may be one reason why this show is a crowd favorite… because our feelings over the holidays are ambivalent – a mixture of joy and sadness.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the film “White Christmas,” starring Bing Crosby (crooning royalty), Danny Kaye (a master of comedy) and Rosemary Clooney (a voice like silk). So, why not?  Why not attempt the impossible and create a little Christmas magic… snow and all.

I didn’t have time to make a model for this show.  I only had a ground plan and scene renderings complete with little stick figure actors (something that amused me greatly).  That did not stop me from building.  This show was a bit trick because I needed the sound shell on stage until one week before tech.  I tried my best to get my flying walls in the air before the shell went out.  I only got one installed.  That made that week of build (all done on the Saturday and evenings after rehearsal) a bit more chaotic that I would have wanted.  I engineered a flying wall with a functioning barn door, a flying wall for the Inn, a Piano drop, an extra drop to be in the way, curtains to dress the space up for the Regency Room scenes, and a drop for Christmas (Jeff’s favorite cue was “Go Christmas.”  I even let him say it the last night on headset.).

While the sound shell occupied the stage I build train cars, rolling doors, piano ramps, and legged platforms for the day it could all move on stage.

The last part of creating “the look” of the show was painting the stage.  My family is awesome and came to help me paint and sponge the stage.  It was “effective”.  This word makes me laugh because an audience member came up to Jeff and ask what was on the floor.  He answered “paint” to which the man said, “wow! It’s very effective.”  LOL. Jeff was a bit skeptical when I started with a cream floor and sponge rolled a brown, pine green and vanilla colored paint over the top.  But see?  It’s effective!

I love to paint with light.  I added additional side lights to this show.  I wanted to highlight and sculpt the dancing.  I used our SeaChangers to change the look of each scene and to change the mood.  I am sure glad the school invested in these versatile instruments!  Nothing like setting the mood with blue SeaChangers and adding warm side lights.  

Jeff worked on the costumes.  Over 400 costume pieces later (6+ changes per actor), I could use my lighting to make those costumes pop!  The result was one of the most stunning shows I have seen in a long time. It was a visual feast!

(show pictures are not in show order)

I believe the greatest crowd pleasing tech element of the show was snow!  When those barn doors opened in the final moments of the show the audience cheered and clapped.  This made me laugh ever night.  The last show we produced that used snow we dropped potato flakes from the rafters.  What a mess!  This time, Jeff and I decided to invest in a “snow machine” – a machine that blows clusters of fine bubbles that float down like falling snow and even gathered on the fake trees we had sitting behind the “barn.” Very worth the money we spent!

I spent many afternoons at the school blocking and refining the scenes.  I like blocking, Jeff doesn’t.  He likes the nit-picky polishing, I am not attached.  It’s a match made in heaven.  Linda Kuntz came up with some dances that looked together with precision and again, we had a crowd-pleasing hit.  Jeff handled the vocals.  He is truly one of the best choral directors I have had the pleasure of observing and working with.  We really do make a great team. (Funny fact.  We are all married to a John).

Each performer in the production contributed to this show worming a place in my heart.  I loved Connor Layton’s voice singing “Count Your Blessings” and Blue Skies” each night.  Abby Miller equally rocked the house with “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me.”  Joel Robison danced with grace and ease and smartly conveyed Phil’s mischievous and care-free character traits.  Dylan Lewis found the depth of character that the script lacked in the General and made up for the plot points that were omitted.  Mo Eschette added some comedy with her goofy faces as Martha. Eddie Bruning took all the right pieces of me and of Jeff and developed Mike, a comic genius. The chorus add variety and believable-ity to the scenes.  And, of course, I was particularly pleased with Lillian Boyack as Susan.  She handled herself professionally and could hold her own against the performance skills of the older kids around her.

I may not have started this adventure loving White Christmas, but I ended this experience with White Christmas and the people involved taking a special place in my heart. I learned many things while conceiving, creating and directing White Christmas.

At the beginning of each show my friend Jeff would give a few audience instructions.  This included turning off phones.  It is rare in this day and age to unplug and to be.  Great magic happens when we cut the “cord” and “Let Yourself Go” in the moment.  How healing it would be if we all let go for a 3-hour period and enjoyed pure joy.

Lesson one: Unplug. It won’t kill you to put the cell phone down.

The musical begins with soldiers goofing off and singing on Christmas Eve in 1944 during World War II. War themes that many struggle with in America today are woven into the musical. General Thomas Waverly, has a hard time transitioning back to normal life. The stiff former general in “White Christmas” craves the structure of the Army, and many pieces of Army culture filter into everyday life at the Vermont inn, even as the business struggles and the bills form an ever-growing pile.

But while Waverly considers going back into active-duty service to resolve his inner turmoil, his family, friends and even former battalion members show their love and support.  Why do they do this?  I think we miss out on the why.  I like to think that this General laid down his life for the lives of his men.  He not only served with them, but served them.

They loved him because he loved them first.

Lesson two: Support loved ones when times are hard.

Concern for Waverly is present throughout the entire musical, adding depth to the easygoing, carefree nature of the romances that develop and the show tunes performed. Even the general’s grandchild in the musical is worried about his happiness, as shown by her prayer for him toward the end of the first act.  She even advises him with this simple message, “Count your blessing instead of sheep… and you’ll be happy…” She learned this message for herself as she fretted to be a part of the show and to contribute to the solution to save her Grandfather’s inn.

Lesson three: Let children affected by the grown-up world feel needed.

On its surface, the musical is a show about a show, derived from a film about a show. It provides a window into the magic of making a musical, even as the audience’s suspension of disbelief kicks in — kind of like a window into the magic of Christmas.

Lesson four: Americana-style Christmas is one part spectacle, one part meaningful interaction.

There’s the playful version of a Scrooge theme, where one man on the train to Vermont has been tricked into heading north for Christmas, instead of traveling to sunny Florida. The passengers around him sing about how excited they are to see snow while the man sits stubbornly in the center, not participating and looking decidedly grumpy that things did not go his way.

Of course, he is the same character who shows the most growth in the musical, falling in love and revealing his true, good-natured colors as he loses himself in the service of someone else.

Lesson five: Wonderful adventures can be had when people let loose and have fun.

The humor in the musical is cheeky, reminiscent at times of the comedic geniuses of old.

Keep scrolling.  I have one more lesson.  :)

Lesson six: Love makes the world go round. 

The musical shows people who value each other’s’ opinions.  It presents sisters who love each other and are ready to give up their own dreams for each other.  It presents a man who loved his fellow men and served his country, cares for other and is now losing everything to the vagaries of weather.  These people are willing to sacrifice of themselves to help each other.  They are human and admit to making mistakes… and then rectify them.  
It is about love and caring and giving.  It is the truest sort of Christmas story.  It is the true meaning of Christmas.  Unselfish LOVE.  It is what makes the world go round.