Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Dec. 11th Continued....

Enjoying a lovely day in Mayberry (Mt. Airy) before heading up to NC.  I'm sitting in the same booth in McDs that I sat in last year when I was here.  In a while I'm heading up to Pilot Mountain to the home of Larry and Rachel Charpiat, who have the most extensive display I've's a walk-through that might as well be an amusement park!  They are wonderful people who hosted me last year and I just adore them.  In fact, I'm staying with them tonight since I now know that they are not ax murderers.  HA HA!  (at least I don't think never know what might be buried on those five acres!)
Anyhow, they have entered their display in a contest and it would be really cool if you would vote for them.  Here's the link:

So...I intend to get caught up on the blog right now with my update on the concert in Ennice last night. I started my day in Gloucester and drove down to Ennice, NC took about six hours....including the stop for a little van-nap in the parking lot of a shopping center.  
Sydney (my Garmin) tried to take me up the Blue Ridge Parkway again but it was CLOSED so I kept on going and he had to recalculate.  He did NOT like that!
When I got to Ennice I drove right past the fire department because I was looking at the school across the street where I am scheduled to do an assembly on Monday.  So I went about two miles down the road before I realized I must have passed it.  But it was BEAUTIFUL scenery up in the high country....nothing but rolling fields and trees and hilltops as far as the eye could see, and every once in a while a little white farmhouse.  The only reason I missed the display was because it wasn't dark yet, because if I'd gotten there when the lights were on I would never have missed it!

William has added a lot more to his display this year, including "Santa's Castle" which he trucked up from the home of Robin Stublen in Punta Gorda, FL.  and a life sized sleigh.

It was pretty chilly out and they were serving a hot supper which I enjoyed (chicken stew and cornbread).  The biggest radio station around was  doing a radio remote inside, and the deejay (who is also the Program Director) interviewed me on the air and asked for a copy of the song so he could see if he wanted to add it to the station. That's pretty cool because they reach three or four states...100,000 watts!
Anyway,  there were a lot of cars parked in the fire station lot, in the school lot across the street and along the street, but there were only maybe 25 people outside in front of the stage.  It didn't match the number of cars so I  just figured everyone else was inside eating and enjoying the warmth.  I was a little disappointed but I didn't want to tell William that.  I went in to the station after and signed pictures and there were a lot more people in line for autographs than there had been standing in the audience.  It was about this time that William told me that all of the cars I saw parked out there actually had PEOPLE in them during the concert (it was dark and I couldn't see inside them)...and that he had hooked up a transmitter to my sound system so that they could hear the concert in their cars! So I actually had a WAY bigger audience than I thought I did!
After the show and packing up, I went up and parked across the street at the school and watched William's animated light show for about 40 minutes. Amazing! He is a talented programmer and his lights really dance with the music PERFECTLY.  "Christmas Vacation" was my favorite until I saw what he had done with "The House on Christmas Street."  Not because of the song, but because of how his sequence fit the song perfectly.   I especially loved how his Santa on the roof lit up during that lyric, and how he had each element of the display light up one by one during the lyric "The family puts up its display" was like seeing my song brought to life. I was smiling really big the whole time!
So that brings us up to date.  If I think of anything I've missed along the way I'll fill you in.  Like this, for example, from the open air market in Wells, UK:
That's just the mega trees!

The Most Funnest Christmas Concert E-V-E-R!

I was awakened in my hotel room Friday morning by a phone call from Neal Steele...the morning deejay on XTRA 99.1.  That's the station that sponsored the concert.
A little background.....back in 2008 I got an email from a woman named Mona Smith, who said she loved "The House on Christmas Street" and had taken the CD to her favorite deejay, Neal Steele.  She said he liked the song and was going to play it on the station.  One thing led to another and I ended up doing a phone interview with Neal. It was very nice and proper and all went well, and that was that.
The station played the song again during the 2009 Christmas season, and in 2010 I offered to come down to VA to do a concert for their Christmas in July event.  That was a really fun time, and when I first got to know Neal a little bit and also his co-host Karl and some of the other folks he regularly has on the air, including a fun and talented guy named Nate Sparks.  Since that concert I have had many on-air phone interviews with Neal and they have become progressively more insane.  It brings back my time in radio, especially the jobs where I was with a co-host.  We have a lot of fun on the air and I really enjoy it! 
The station does an annual Driveway Party at the home of an extreme decorator named Danny Joyce, and last year on my tour I did a concert at that event.  It was during Grammy season and everybody was really excited and I had a wonderful time.
So this year, when William Bottomley insisted that I return to NC, I told Neal I was coming down this way and we planned another concert.  Only this time the station secured a large church, several other acts and billed it as "The Most Funnest Christmas Concert E-V-E-R!"

And it was!  I got to meet Neal's new co-host, a lovely young lady named Reese, and both of them were dressed like elves and it was quite hilarious!
The show was opened by a young man named Kyle, who came from the Children's Hospital in Richmond.  Nate Sparks is the Director of Education at the hospital, and he arranged for Kyle to come and sing the National Anthem for us.  He did a beautiful job, and later he also sang "Frosty the Snowman" with me.  It was a true honor to meet this lively boy and his brave parents. 

The first act was Timothy Seaman, a wonderful hammered dulcimer player who was very impressive and played interesting and beautiful arrangements of his original songs and well-known Christmas music.  I love the sound of the hammered dulcimer.  Timothy has several CDs available which you can find on his website.  He was followed by Juniper Green, two young and talented singer-songwriters who have developed quite a following here in VA. Plus they are really nice kids! Check them out!
The third act was Ralph Motley and his bluegrass band.  They were just terrific and reminded me of the cowboy songs my father used to sing with me back when I was very young.  In fact, I went searching for "Mother, the Queen of My Heart" on the internet and actually found it!!  YAY!

Then, there was an intermission before Nate Sparks, his band and his lovely daughter Damara took the stage.  I have to say that my favorite song in their set was "I'm Gettin' Nothin' for Christmas".  I love that song and Demi did a great job!

Then it was my turn.  I had a blast...the audience was great....there were three couples who came onstage with me and danced to "Santa Whatcha Got"...and it was great fun to perform in such a beautiful venue.

But my portion of the concert was not really the big thing that happened to me that night. Before my portion of the show I was sitting in the audience listening to the other performers , and my heart was filled with anxiety.  It seems that lately I am so obsessed and consumed with making "The House on Christmas Street" a hit that I have begun to lose my ability to have fun.  Several things have happened in the past couple of weeks that were not fun.....the haters on the internet having a party smashing my CDs....the towing of my van.....the fact that the video views have slowed down....that's all started to overshadow all the good things in my mind.  I was sitting there in a church, and so I tried to shut everything else out and just connect with God.  I asked Him to take this worry out of my heart, and to help me get back to the true meaning of the season.  Now, I am not the type of person to say "God spoke to me" or "The Lord told me" because that's not literally what happens.  When I "hear" the voice of God it is usually just a thought that comes into my head, to be honest.  Some people might say that's just me brainwashing myself, but I can tell the difference between a thought that comes from me and an idea or thought that comes from somewhere else, because when I try to calm myself down without reaching out to God I am usually not very successful.  I know when He is "speaking" to me.
Anyway, almost immediately a feeling of calm and peacefulness came over me, and I was reminded of another time, not too long ago, when I visited my church at home in the middle of the day to connect with God when no one else was there. Something happened to me that day that I can't write out loud or you would think I was insane, but it was something that really changed my whole vision of the future.  So I was reminded of that day, and I knew that everything would be okay.  It's all gonna be okay.  God is gonna take my life where He wants it to go, and I just have to trust that, whether it's my vision or not.
I feel much better now, having been reminded of that.
So thank you to everyone who participated in the concert, and especially to Neal Steele and everyone at XTRA 99.1 for putting it all together...thanks to Linda Grow for the beautiful bag of goodies, and Katherine who supplies me with Goo Goos, and Pastor Mike who inspired me, and Danny, and (Oh Lord his name escapes me) the hunter guy....and the chocolate cake lady, and "hot" Linda (that's not my name for her...that's Neal's name) who bid $100 for my Big Red Coat, which went to the local Humane Society.  And here's a picture of her modeling it!

Sunday Morning, December 11

I actually got eight hours of sleep last night!  I don't have to travel far today, so I can take things kind of easy.  I fell asleep watching "No Country for Old Men" on TV; I love that's a great adaptation of the terrific book by Cormac McCarthy.  Anyway, I dreamed I was having dinner with Josh Brolin at Barbra Streisand's house, and we were talking about his Dad and how on "Marcus Welby, MD" he was so cool because he was a doctor who rode a motorcycle.  HA!

Before I go on, I thought I'd post some pictures .....these are from my time in the UK...
Paul Toole's house....

my favorite part of Paul's display....the stream and pond!

This is Gemma.......
Chris, me., Laura and Paul at Karaoke Night

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday December 9, Gloucester, VA

What a GREAT night here in Gloucester, VA!  We had over a thousand people in the Lighthouse Worship Center and I got to share the stage with some great artists.  Lots of kids and people of all ages having a great time.  It was wonderful!
I just realized that's the second time this Christmas season that I've sung for an audience of a thousand or so.  Cool beans!
(continued on Saturday morning....)

  But, once again, I am getting ahead of myself.

I was home for two days after the England trip.  I was so happy I got to be there when Louisa found out she'd been accepted at Tulane, one of her top choices for college.  But on Wednesday I had to leave again....
I drove from home to NYC to visit with Emma that was great to see her, but ...long story van got towed while we were having lunch and I had to walk about three miles in the soaking rain to get it, and then they charged me a whopping $485 to get it back!!!!!  That was a horrible way to start the tour.
I arrived about an hour late to the first concert, in Cranbury, NJ at the home of the Shaw Family.  They had set up a tent for the audience and a canopy for me.  Keith Shaw could not have been nicer or more understanding.  They helped me get the gear up and I did a show for the hardy souls who were there, and a good time was had by all.  Afterwards I was interviewed by the local in front of a blazing fire in the house, and I'm sure I looked like a drowned rat!  But the kindness and generosity of the Shaws and their friends cannot be understated. They were wonderful wonderful wonderful through it all and made me feel like family.  I have promised them that I would return on the way back and do a proper show, starting ON TIME, next Wednesday evening.  I will have to leave SC around 3am to get there on time, but I will be there and nothing is going to stop me!!
We had breakfast the next morning and they took me on a tour of their beautiful little historic town, and then I was off again, down to Virginia, which ended up taking me much longer than it should have because I made several stops along the way....and had a lovely dinner at a Shoney's where the waitress was just a sweetheart and the fried chicken was to die for.
I saw the sun set as I was crossing the Potomac and posted a picture of that on my FB page.
 The next morning (yesterday) I was up bright and early and on the air with Neal Steele, who is the morning deejay at XTRA 99.1, which sponsored the concert.  I called him and he put me on the air before I actually went over to the station....and then when I walked out of the hotel there was a NOTE on my van from some stranger who had written directions to the station from the hotel and told me he (or she) loved listening to me when I was on with Neal!  It was one of those little things that really makes life interesting. I still don't know who left it, but if you are reading this ...thank you!
But I'm getting ahead of myself.....
When I arrived in my room....on the desk there was a HUGE festive tote bag just filled to the brim with goodies that had been put together by two of Neal's listeners.  I mean, if I was planning on losing weight during this season that plan is in the potty now!  One of the ladies has a secret source of Goo Goo Clusters, which is this really yummy candy that is manufactured in Nashville.  I ate them often when we lived in TN, but you can't get them in NH and I have spoken about them with Neal on the air.  She put two boxes of them in the bag and then brought me  another one at the concert!  The other lady actually MADE THE BAG and filled it with snickers bars (fun size!), cocoa mix, cheese and crackers, and all kinds of other fun stuff, plus a Christmas mug!
The generosity of people towards me is almost embarrassing sometimes.  What did I do to deserve this?  As I said in an earlier post, everywhere I go on these tours people go out of their way to make me feel special. It is constantly amazing and I hope everyone knows that I sincerely appreciate it all.  These memories will uplift me during the cold days in January when I'm snowed in my home in NH and working on getting the next gig.
Well, I'm looking at the time and realize I have to hit the road if I'm going to get to Ennice on time.  I'll have to stop here and continue on with the story of the rest of yesterday tonight.  Does that make sense?  That sentence looks weird.
Anyhow, thanks again for reading this, and for being with me on this endless quest....hope you are having  a merry Christmas season!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

As I sit here in my lovely room at the Hampton Inn in Gloucester, VA, about to bite into a delicious Goo Goo Cluster SUPREME which was left here for me by a wonderful person (along with a ton of other delicious goodies!) the main thought on my mind is gratitude that so many people have been so kind to me along the way.  Not just this year, but last year and all the year through.  I was just re-reading the last post I wrote and I hope it doesn't come across like I'm bragging. I'm just continually amazed that people are being so nice to me, someone they hardly know, and so I write about it a lot because I want them to know how much I appreciate it.  Since this craziness all started I have met so many really good-hearted people who just like to make people happy, and it can't help but renew my faith in God every single time.  I mean, last night I showed up an hour LATE while people were waiting for me in the rain, and still they stayed and listened to the concert and told me how much they enjoyed it, and my hosts were just the nicest people you can imagine.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.  This is the 2011 tour blog, and I haven't even told you about England yet.
First of all, there was some pre-trip drama that I didn't want to tell anybody about, so only a handful of people knew that the British Consulate DENIED my visa when I applied in October.
Imagine my horror when I got the email that said the visa had been denied, but gave me no reason why!  Then I had to wait for them to return the application to find out why, and in the end it was because I was a dummy and just sent in the application without supplying any additional documentation about myself or the purpose of the trip.  I just assumed that because they gave me a visa last year, and because everything was covered in the application,  that this year would be a breeze...WRONG!
Then I couldn't find any information anywhere about how to appeal the decision, and I was FREAKING OUT because there was NO WAY I could miss the opportunity to be on television all over the United Kingdom!  I called Senator Shaheen's office and the people there were extremely helpful, and told me I should re-apply with the proper documentation.  So I did, and believe me, I sent them about a half-inch thick pile of paper with my second application. Everything from a copy of our mortgage statement and our 2010 income tax return to a letter from Make-a-Wish UK saying how much money we raised last year.  I not only had to pony up for another application fee, but by that time I had to pay an extra $150 to expedite the application process.  Imagine my relief when I got the email that said it had been approved.  This was 11th hour stuff, folks!
Anyway, when I finally arrived a Heathrow around 7am UK time on Monday, Paul and Chris were nowhere to be seen.  After awhile the assistant producer of the documentary showed up toting a camera and explained that they were running late.  When they arrived I was so happy to see them again,we had a lovely reunion and she filmed the whole thing.  Then she filmed us walking out the door of the airport, and it was supposed to be natural (reality TV!) but it was really awkward.  There is no way you can be natural when someone has a camera aimed at you!
Driving away from the airport she put the camera on the dashboard and did a lot of filming of us just talking.  Then she parted ways with us and we went on to Stonehenge, which was amazing...but I have to admit, it was a lot smaller than I'd thought it would be.  You hear so much about it that I expected the stones to be these huge monoliths, but in reality I'd say they aren't really any taller than 15 or 18 feet.  Pretty big, but not what I'd envisioned. Still, it was eerie to be there and to learn about how long it's been there, and how many zillions of people have lived and died who have walked by or around that thing.  And it was really cool to actually be there after all of these years of hearing about it.

 We got to Wells in late afternoon and I checked into the hotel.  It was about this time that I was alerted online here to some major nasty stuff that was being said about me by some people who just have a problem with me in general and who were complaining about a statement that I made online regarding copyrights and licensing.  I don't want to go into details, but it was ugly, and hurtful, and I know this sort of thing goes with being in the public eye but I was suffering from jet-lag anyway and this just threw me into a tailspin.  I was so upset, I was crying and all, and Paul came back over to the hotel and sat and talked with me for awhile until I got sleepy, and then I slept until 4pm the next day.  I felt a whole lot better when I woke up.  The only reason I'm mentioning it at all is because I want to give whoever reads this the total picture...that being me isn't all wonderfulness 24 hours a day.  For some strange reason there are people who actually don't like me!  Can you imagine that?  Hahahahah!  But seriously, I'll address this supposed need I have for "Fame and Fortune" in another post.  Let's just say for now that I need to develop a thicker skin, and not just a lot of fat with thin skin over it!

For the sake of time, and cause I don't wanna bore you, I'll fast forward to the day of the switch-on, which was Wednesday.  I was nervous all day.  I NEVER get nervous before concerts, but this was a huge event for Paul and Chris, and a HUGE event for the whole community, and I just really didn't want to screw it up for them. Paul and Chris were so busy that they never got over to pick me up until around 3pm, but it was cool because there was a market going on in the town and I had a chance to browse around and pick up some Christmas gifts and stuff.  It was fun!

When I got to Paul's house it was just madness. Everyone was getting ready and people were starting to arrive, so I just got out of the way and took a walk around the neighborhood, singing to myself. I was planning to sing some of the new stuff, so I was going over the lyrics and I'm walking down the street about a block from Paul's house, it's pretty dark out, but suddenly I see this light and it's two people running across the street toward me with the television camera, and they get on the sidewalk just in front of me and walk backwards in front of me and it was all sort of alarming.  I kept singing but now I was really self-conscious so I probable blew it all by looking up and saying "I'm just practicing!" and then I put my head down and kept walking.

The actual event was pretty amazing.  First of all, I want to say that Paul's display may not be as big as some of the ones I've seen in America, but it is really really beautiful!  The feature I like the best is that he's used a child's slide to create a sort of "waterfall" with lights that goes down into a little pond and he's got penguins and polar bears frolicking around and it's lots of fun.  He covers the whole lawn with this white stuff that looks like snow.  It's really tasteful and just lovely.  Plus he's decorated the lawns of several of the other houses in the "close" as well (with their permission, of course).

A little while before we started Mr. John Challis, who plays one of the most famous characters of all time on British television (, "Boycie", arrived to much hoopla.  What a nice guy, too!  I'm told it was the UK equivalent of having someone like William Shatner or Henry Winkler come to your house to switch on your lights! 

Eventually it was time to get started and Paul introduced me, I sang for about half an hour, and then it was time to switch on the lights.  Mr. Challis took the stage and did a little monologue for a while which everyone there just ate right up, and then they did the countdown and switched on the lights and I sang The House on Christmas Street.  It was wonderful.  There were literally ONE THOUSAND people in this little cul-de-sac just cheering and having a wonderful time.  It was really something amazing to be a part of that.

There were booths where people could get mince pies (I tried one...yum!), mulled wine and Starbucks coffee, and John Challis arrived in a vintage Rolls Royce.  The whole thing was orchestrated by Paul Toole and his partner Chris Elliott and I bow down to their genius.  Someone in the street told me that the guys had created a NATIONAL EVENT right there in the smallest city in all of England. 

In the following days Paul and his display were featured on all the morning news television programs (one guy did the weather from Paul's house!) and were in every major newspaper in the country.  Paul's now a real celebrity who will be recognized wherever he goes, and he deserved it, because he took this dark little corner of the world and lit is up for everyone to see.  I'm proud to be his friend.

The latest word on the documentary is that it's called "The King of Christmas Lights," it features three separate households, the editing is done but they won't tell us what they have included, and it will be shown all over the UK on December 19th.  It's mind boggling when you think about it.  I have no idea whether I will actually be included in it or not, but whatever happens, it was a totally amazing experience and one I will never, ever forget. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Paul and Christopher for making it happen and I wish the best of all things for them.  I'll keep you posted on what happens with the doc and if there's a chance we can see it here in the states as I get the news.

As always, thanks for reading my drivel and