Friday, December 28, 2012

December 23 Reph's Family Winter Wonderland

The good news today is that my husband and daughter are on their way home with the van.  Their estimated arrival time in Brooklyn, where she lives, is  about 3pm.  I hope he stops and sleeps there for awhile.  I hear they drove all night.  So worried.

I realized last night that I have not yet written about my last concert on the tour, at Reph's Family Winter Wonderland in Nazareth, PA.  I cannot be remiss! Especially since it was a great way to wrap up the tour!

I only had a two hour drive between Manheim and Nazareth, so I spent some time in the morning Christmas shopping, then headed over.  I was really looking forward to visiting them, as I had been to their house on the 2010 tour.  Jason Reph is a young man in his mid-20's who is a firefighter, like his dad, and lives with his folks in Nazareth on Firehouse Lane (of course).  I love Jason's sense of humor, and his love of trains and his display, and on that first tour I was struck by how similar he was to Darrel Moyer, another decorator who hosted me in 2010 and who lives only about 90 minutes from Jason. Since then, they have become online friends but had never met in person until the night of my concert this year.  I suggested that we all get together for pizza before the show, and Darrel and his parents made the drive to Nazareth.  Well, it was like they'd been pals all their lives.  The families and I went out to eat at a lovely Italian restaurant where I was treated to one of my favorites, eggplant parmesan.  Everyone was chatting away except poor Jason's dad, who was pretty quiet the whole time.

Jason's mom is a hoot. She has lighted Christmas houses just about everywhere inside the house, and with Jason's train layout it is just as decorated inside as it is outside.  But oh, the outside! It can't be captured all in one photo, but I tried:

I wish I had taken more pictures, but we spent a little too much time at dinner, and by the time we got back to Jason's it was late!!  I ended up starting around 7:20 ish.  We had a good crowd, but it was difficult to see because it was just so dark where the audience was.  However, I know it was more people than we had the last time I was there, and that's great. It's building!  Thanks, Jason, for working so hard on getting the publicity done.
There was a TV crew there and I got interviewed before the show.  They did a really great piece, and you can see it here:

 Jason had invited Santa, and that's always fun, but I have to admit, this Santa was just a little too clingy for me.  He kept coming over while I was singing and grabbing on to me!  I mean, I know I've been asking for a van from all the Santas I met along the way, but this guy got a little too close for comfort!  (Don't worry Jason, it's ok!  I just have a thing about personal space...even with Santa!)

Jason's Mom handed out hot cocoa and once again I had to have one just to keep my hands warm.  To be honest with you, the night was a blast but I think it was the absolute coldest I got on the tour.  I was so cold that I felt completely ill by the end of the autographing.  Luckily Jason and Darrel took care of packing everything up for me and loading it in to the rental. THANKS GUYS!!   I told Jason that if he wants me next year he's  gotta have a space heater set up like Paul Wood did at Edge-WOOD lights in Anderson, Indiana.  In fact, I don't want to be a diva, but I think I gotta make that a provision for all shows where the temperature is likely to get below 35 degrees!  I mean, yeah, I'm a New England gal and all that, but that doesn't mean I LIKE freezing!  When you go in the house and your fingers and toes are just HURTING because they are thawing out, I don't think anyone really enjoys that!!   Plus it makes it awfully hard to hold the pen for autographing pictures after the show!!  I know, I know, I asked for it, but I'm learning more about what to do every year, and Paul and Jo Anderson just spoiled me, I guess, with their pretty stage and the space heater! 

That's the heater, as you look to the left!

Jason and family, thank you so much for a wonderful evening to wrap up the tour. It's great spending time with you guys, and thank you, Moyer family, for making the trip as well.  Jason I hope your charity, the Jeff Gordon Foundation, did well that night!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts...on my Decorating Friends.

I sit here in my kitchen, snow falling outside, and missing my husband and eldest daughter as they are on the trek to Omaha to retrieve the van. The rental had to be returned yesterday by 1:30 and it's a 24-hour drive so they left bright and early Christmas morning. Hence a new "adult" Christmas tradition was born....opening presents on Christmas Eve.  It was very warm and cozy with a fire going, and I think I might vote for continuing doing things that way in the future.

I was just fooling around on Facebook and realizing that so many of the contacts that I have there are people I've met through the Christmas decorating community. Yes, it is known as a "community."   I know this might seem strange to people who are not part of it, but those folks who go crazy decorating their houses each year actually network on websites, forums and on Facebook. Many of them meet each other at expos, educational workshop days and weekends, and other fun events.  Decorating enthusiasts are part of a rapidly growing community devoted to the hobby of not only lighting your house for Christmas, but animating the lights through computer programs that are increasingly sophisticated. LUCKY LUCKY ME! I had already written the right song for this group of folks, and someone found it, and all of this had nothing to do with me promoting it or anything. It was out there on iTunes and other sites and had been available since 1998.  I'm just fortunate that the first decorator found it, and then it caught on.  I've had such a wonderful time getting to know so many great people that I made sure to write some new songs for them on the latest album. It's just a wonderful thing to see what they do with my music.  I'm really blessed by watching their videos and by the displays I've gotten to see in person.

I first found this community through one of the  very first "House on Christmas Street" videos that popped up on YouTube back in 2006...which led me to  I signed up and introduced myself on one of the forums, and was greeted enthusiastically by the folks there. Since then my life has been enriched SO MUCH by being accepted into this group of amazing people. They are all over the world, and I am lucky to call many of them not just contacts, but FRIENDS.  

I've met them at conventions and at their houses. I've met hosts on my tour, and I've met other decorators who have come out to see me in concert on the tour.  Many I've only met online, but I feel like I know them just the same. They add fun and joy to my life, and a sense of support and encouragement.  And I am VERY grateful.  

I don't have an animated display, for the record, but I have done a good sized display for many years at my house, since before I wrote the song. I've ALWAYS loved outdoor Christmas decorations, since I was a little kid.  The thing that always "got" me was Santa on the roof.  However, at my house I have never been brave enough to get him up there. I did fall out a window once trying to jury-rig him so it looked like he and the reindeer were flying down from the roof. Luckily I fell into bushes.   Yup, it's me that does's not Philip's "thing," although he has been helping these past few years.  I'll never get into synchronizing the lights...I just don't have the time or the smarts or the patience.  But I do love my blow molds!

Anyhow, like any other community, people have differences, but I am fortunate that the folks that I have met have just been the nicest people on Earth. Just imagine what a person must be like who spends most of their time thinking about how to get Santa to fly over their house, or how to make the display the most fun for children, or where to set up the snowmen (cause there's never just one!).  Or people, like Paul Aziz in Oregon, who actually invent animatronic figures, like his talking and singing snowman.  These are folks with imagination, skills and a sense of whimsy, who understand the wonder of childhood. Each decorator is somewhat of a Disney in their own right.

The majority of these folks not only design a display, but they create a whole  30-minute radio program to go with their display, so people can park at their house, turn their radio on a certain frequency and hear a show while they watch lights.  On my tour I've seen tons of people parked in cars with their families, enjoying a take-out supper and watching the show. How many people all over the world have been entertained for free like this?

Kevin Dunn, a.k.a "The Demented Elf", is responsible for developing the radio program feature and his voice can be heard all over the world at displays.  He is also a super-nice person who has had a radio career and makes the programs sound very professional. He has his own year-round radio station, too:  They plan to play music for every holiday all year round.

Then there are the people who  actually build a walk-through display at their homes, like Larry and Rachel Charpiat in North Carolina, Darrel Moyer in Pennsylvania, and Tommy Sosebee in South Carolina.  They spend hours and hours getting it right, and then they devote their ENTIRE CHRISTMAS SEASON to helping strangers park, giving them hot chocolate for FREE and handing out candy canes.  They practically have amusement parks in their yards, and for many of the people around a visit to their display is a yearly tradition, and yet they don't charge a cent for admission.  And many of them have donation boxes at their displays for a local charity, to boot.

Well, I could go on and on.  Again, I'm just reflecting upon my good fortune of having so many wonderful people in my life because of that one song.  If you are one of them and you are reading this, I want you to know that I do not take you for granted. I am blessed to know each and every one of you. Thank you for accepting me into your community of joy.  You have put so many smiles on my face, made me laugh and sing and made me feel special.  I really and  truly love you all and I wish you the happiest of new years. Thank you for all that you do to make the world a brighter place!!!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

How to Host on the 2013 Tour

I'm just using today to catch up on some stuff before tonight's concert at Reph's Winter Wonderland in Nazareth, PA, and I came across this website where Bobby Dicken's house was chosen as "Home of the Week" last week.  I thought it was an interesting interview with Bobby, and it tells how he came to be one of the hosts on the tour.
I'm really not sure at all at this point how the tour will shake down for 2013. I have to recover from this one first! But barring an Act of God I will be out there once again.  I hope I can find a MAJOR SPONSOR this time ...that would solve a lot of headaches!
But anyway, here's the page with Bobby's interview. You have to scroll down a bit to find it.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Krasley's Christmas, Manheim PA December 22

I'm sitting here in my hotel room in Manheim, PA after the penultimate concert of the tour (that means "next to last, Darrel and Jason! haha!)  I'm filled with mixed emotions. 
First of all, let me thank Don and Tammy Krasley and their family for another great night on the tour. Don actually spent the day building a stage for me to perform on, and, in spite of the cold, we had a great turnout.  He even had folks from a radio station (I-105) there with their van and they gave out tee-shirts to everyone who donated to the Ronald McDonald House. The folks from RMH were there, too.  Lots of people listened from their cars but there were lots out on the lawn dancing and singing along as well.  Don's display has the tallest mega-tree I've seen on the tour, and his display, which is all lights and no figures, is gorgeous. Unfortunately, the only photo I got of it is blurry, but I think it looks kinda cool that way:

It was another cold night, as I expected it would be, and once again my fingers were frozen by the time I signed autographs, but at least there was no precipitation.  I want to make special notice of young Carson, who got up to sing "Frosty" and blanked on the words, but kept going nonetheless with the help of the audience.  He was darling!
But you know what? My favorite time of this evening was the little while I spent with the family inside the house after the show.  The Krasley's have been together 33 years, and in their wedding photo they look like kids.  For that matter, they still look like kids!   Don's mother was there, a beautiful and vibrant lady who stayed out in the cold for the entire concert.  Their daughter was also there, and she gave me a beautiful handmade ornament. She's the mother of the aforementioned adorable redhead, Carson, and his equally adorable little sister, Lauren. There was just a special feeling to this household; and the feeling was love in the air.  I heard during Don's program (for the uninitiated, most decorators have about a 30 minute radio program they broadcast on a low frequency station with music and synchronized lights, and in between they may have some voiceovers) he'd had Kevin Dunn, "The Demented Elf," do a voiceover in honor of Tammy, saying how he couldn't do it without her. It was really beautiful.  Now I have to ask you a favor.... if you are reading this I want you to please hold this family up in your prayers. They are facing a health crisis, and without going into detail I just want to say that they need God's help.  They are a beautiful, loving family and I came to truly care for them in just the short time that I have communicated with Don and through meeting them in person tonight.  I was just so touched by the love they so clearly have for each other and the beautiful family they have created.  I ask you sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, because I believe in the power of prayer and the miracles that can result from it, to please hold them up to God when you talk with Him. Thank you.

So, as I sit here reflecting upon the last month I am grateful for all of the adventures I've had, for the wonderful and amazing people I have met, and for all of the really great encouragement from my friends and family.  I have had more tired moments than I've let on, and more frustrating and anxious moments than I've let on, and in the midst of all of this I've been trying to keep up with what's going on with my own mother up in Maine, who is suffering from congestive heart failure and has been in and out of the hospital and rehab centers since the spring.    But I've tried my hardest to keep up a positive attitude and make every concert a memorable one for each family who has been kind enough to host me. 
As I've said before, I don't have a lot of money or a big publicity machine or a record label behind me.  Every fan I've got means the world to me, and this concert tour has given me the chance to get out there in person and try to win people over to my music.  It's not an easy thing at my age, but what would I do if I didn't do this? I still have that dream that "The House on Christmas Street" will be making people smile and sing along long after I am gone.  Even if it never gets on the radio much, I think what I have learned from this Christmas tour is that it's getting almost as good exposure by getting played at a jillion homes around the world several times every night!  And who else can say that?  It really is the most famous Christmas song you don't hear on the radio!  ( however, if you are reading this and you have ANY ties with corporate radio...cause they're pretty much all owned by four or five big companies, I would appreciate any help you could offer there cause I still can't figure out how to get them to play it)

Tomorrow night after the concert in Nazareth, PA I'm  going to drive straight home to the arms of my husband and daughters in NH, and you may not hear from me for a few days as I focus on them for Christmas.  But please know that, if you've been reading this blog, if you've been keeping up with me on Facebook, if you've been to any of the concerts....I am eternally indebted to you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making another tour happen for me, and helping me get closer to making my dream come true.


A Dicken Christmas, Hudson, IL December 19th

As I've said before, I have been corresponding with the hosts for months and some have been in touch more than others. Bobby Dicken, who owns his own Mobile DJ service, works in financial services AND is a firefighter, has been an active correspondent.  This 25-year old young man is a powerful go-getther, and it seemed like almost every day he was telling me about more publicity that he got for his concert.  His Mom, Carla, also friended me on Facebook and kept me up-to-date with what was happening too, so I was really looking forward to meeting this family!
  On the way to Illinois from Michigan I did have to make a quick trip to a Walmart, and found one which I think has to be one of the smallest in the country. It was the smallest one I've ever seen, anyway. And right in the back of the parking lot was THIS find!:

WOW!!  Something  great for my "Weird Things are Everywhere!" collection!

I reached the Dicken household early, around 4:45, because they'd indicated to me that they wanted to have dinner before the show, but when I got there I discovered that plans had changed and dinner would be after the show. However, Carla Dicken had laid out a spread which actually was like dinner before dinner. I was hungry so I had a bite.
Bobby was busy out in the yard. He'd set up a stage in his driveway and chairs in the driveway and bleachers at the end of the driveway. He had a ton of signage and he had even arranged for bus transportation for attendees from the school parking lot to the display.  He has a great sound system that he uses for his deejay work and I was able to plug into that, so that meant less work setting up for me. He even had arranged for a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus!! This guy thought of EVERYTHING and it was all very professional. We had at least 200 people there!
I didn't get any good pictures of his display but Bobby had hired a professional photographer who just posted her work and you can see it here:
Bobby's charity of choice for the concert was the McLean County Toys for Tots program.  They had already reached their goal of toys for the season but were very grateful for the opportunity to be able to give more toys out to children in need.  I know that at least two of their boxes were filled to overflowing from the concert and possibly there were more that I couldn't see.  They expressed their appreciation to everyone there and once again, I was happy to be a part of an event that could bring happiness to others at Christmas time.
The concert began and during the first song, "Mrs. Santa Claus," the lady herself came out and gave candy canes to the kids, just as she had done in Gloucester at the XTRA 99.1 show.  Later, Santa came out to dance with the children during  "Santa Whatcha Got." But just as Bobby, who just happened to be my volunteer,  got going doing "Candy" the heavens opened up and it began to rain!  We had to get the keyboard into the garage so we couldn't finish that song. But Santa brought me an umbrella and someone covered the board with a tarp and I was able to do "Where is Santa Claus" and "The House on Christmas Street" and then we did the autographing at a table in the garage, so the day was saved!
One really cool thing that happened after the concert was that the sign that said "Merry Christmas from Judy Pancoast" in lights had a malfunction. When they finally got it fixed it said, "Marry Me Christine!" and there was a proposal right there on the lawn in front of God and everybody.  Luckily Christine said "yes!"  Here's a photo of the happy couple:

That's a first at a Judy Pancoast concert! 
Here's something else that's a first. The day before was Bobby's birthday, and here is his cake:

Pretty cool, huh? Bobby didn't want to cut it!   Bobby and I were served the first slices. I, of course, just had a couple of bites and it was delicious. 

After everything was packed up the family took me out to a local pizza place for a taste of the local fare.  Yummy! The barbecued chicken pizza was a treat and the company was great.

We did not say goodbye that night, as I had the show at Hudson Elementary School the next day, which I've already written about in this blog. But I just want to say a great big thank you again to the Dicken family for a great time, and thank you for all the hard work you put in on my behalf! Merry Christmas!!

Canada! 12-21-12

Note:  This post was begun on 12-21 and is being finished on 12-22.

Well, it’s 11:54 pm EST and the world has not ended yet so I think it’s safe to say we’re all in the clear.  That’s good because I would hate for the world to have ended while my girls and my husband are together and I’m in Canada!
I can’t believe I only have two more shows on the tour.  I’ve stayed in so many hotels that I don’t know if I’ll be able to get used to sleeping in my own bed when I get home.  Well, I sure haven’t missed washing dishes…but I DO really miss my husband and am looking forward to being with him again.  And it will  be GREAT to have the four of us together again, even if only for a few days.
I’ll miss the fun of meeting new people, of traveling and discovering new things and getting to sing for people every night.  It’s a whirlwind life I was cut out for, and it will be hard to get used to being home again.  Sooo,  I’ll probably have a mood crash…I always do after a tour. I imagine it will come at some point when I'm washing a sink full of dishes.
I can look back, however, and know that his tour has been a success. I’ve made a lot of new fans and introduced a lot of new people to my music. I accomplished what I set out to do and had a lot of fun along the way.   I have many people to thank for that, including my sponsors, my hosts and all the of the people who have come out for the concerts and encouraged me along the way.
There have been major bumps in the road...well, really only one, and that's the van thing.  But my husband and I have pulled together to get that taken care of and, as he says, even though it's not fun we just had to make some decisions and take care of things.  It's not the end of the world.  When I called him from the hotel room in Nebraska, all crying, he knew just what to say to calm me down.  He is my rock, and I could not do all of these crazy things without him. Thank God he came into my life.  I don't take him for granted one bit.  I know that there are not many men out there who would be okay with their wives taking off for a month and traipsing all over the country ,but Philip never questions it. He gets me, and he understands the dream.
Anyway, I just settled into my hotel room here in Richmond Hill, Ontario after a fabulous post-show dinner with Kristine and Josh Reznik, my hosts.  Boy! What a night! 
But don’t let me get ahead of myself.  I spent some time in the hotel in Michigan this morning working on the blog and taking care of business, and then I went out and found the post office so I could overnight that CD to the lady in Nebraska.  As Philip said, it's not just wonderful that her husband loves the song, it's wonderful that she loves him so much she was willing to track it down and get it overnighted to surprise him with it for Christmas. Wish I could be a fly on the wall when he opens that package!
                        I took off and headed for Canada around 1:30pm.  Just about the time I  crossed the border the blizzard started and it was crazy driving for the next three hours.  Not because I can’t drive in the snow, but it seemed no one else could.  It wasn’t too bad, though getting across the border was a little hairy. When the border crossing guard asked me why I was coming into the country I told the truth, and he asked me if I was getting paid. I said, "no" and he said I might need a work permit anyway since the hosts paid for my hotel room.  Then he said what I was doing was so unique he really couldn't classify it under any rules and he let me through. Something kind of funny happened, though. When I was telling him about the tour I handed him the copy of "Christmas with Mrs. Claus" that I had in the passenger seat and said, " Here's my CD!"  He opened it up and stared at the inside for quite a while before handing it back to me.  Afterwards I opened it up to see what he was staring at, and I discovered that I had mistakenly put the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John CD in it! Ha! He must have thought I was nuts...or he thought I was on a CD with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. He didn't say anything about it though, but I wonder what was going on in his head!
          I had no trouble finding the Reznik’s house which was beautifully decorated with white and blue lights everywhere, and one beautiful shining star up on the roof.  Josh and Kristine are a nice young couple with three little boys and they gave me a warm welcome.  One of the first things they told me was that they’d gotten a front page spot on the local paper…but the paper had printed the wrong date and they had a busload of people show up last night instead!  So we really weren’t sure how many people would show up tonight, especially with the cold, wind and snow.
            Josh and his buddies got a big tent canopy up for me so I could keep the equipment out of the weather.  It was freezing cold just setting up! But I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people filled up the driveway in spite of the wintery weather.  I think there were at least 50 people there, which was really good considering the paper had printed the wrong date and the weather was so cold.  I didn’t even think about the cold while I was singing…I never do, because I’m just in another zone when that’s going on. But I did notice that the snow was blowing in under the canopy, and I had to ask Josh to get the keyboard into the garage before the show was over.  I didn't even attempt to do "Candy," because I didn't want the people to feel obligated to stay that long out in the bitter weather.  Anyhow, as I said, I don't really notice the cold while I'm singing.

          But after wards, OH! My fingers were frozen! I couldn’t even hold the pen to sign autographs.  Somebody brought me a hot chocolate and I actually dipped my fingers in it to try to warm them up.You should have seen the kids in front of me gasp.  "Doesn't it hurt?" one of them asked, and I said it didn't because I couldn't feel a thing.    It didn’t help, either. 
        I managed to get all the photos signed in record time then it was time to pack up, which was also difficult because I was just soooo cold.  I got a lot of help from Josh and his friends and I was very grateful.  Then we all went inside, Josh and Kristine changed and we all went out to eat. It was a really nice evening at the restaurant as I got to know them a little bit better.  They told me the story of how their eldest son came to be called Beckham (yes, after THAT Beckham!) and their two other boys, Cruz and Rius.  Can you guess how they got their names?
       It was a whirlwind trip to Canada, and I have to thank Josh and Kristine for the whole thing...and the fact that it was their concert that made this the third INTERNATIONAL The House on Christmas Street Tour.  Merry Christmas, Reznik family and may you have many more brimming with fun and joy with those three beautiful boys of yours! Thank you!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fairmont Lights, December 18th

This morning I was awakened at 6:30 East Coast time by the funniest thing.  I answered the phone sleepily, and there was a lady on the other end who said she was calling about The House on Christmas Street and she wanted to order a CD.  But she was all flustered because she said she thought she'd get a 24-hour bank of telephone operators waiting to take her order, and she didn't expect to get me, and she apologized all over the place for waking me up.  It was pretty funny, and she was so sweet. She said her husband had heard my song at a house in Lincoln (I bet it was probably Gary and Terry's house) where they had been to see the lights three times, and all he did was sing it all day long.  Then she started singing, "45 thousand twinkling lights..." yes, she said 45, and that's okay.  I was smiling so big!  And she was explaining and singing and apologizing all over the place, and I was thinking, "What a GREAT way to wake up!"  Anyway, she wanted to get the CD to give him for Christmas and she couldn't find an option for Express Mail on my website, so she called to see if one of the 24-hour operators could help her out. HAHAHAHA!!  I'll have to get the shipping department right on that. Oh wait! I'M the shipping department!  I LOVE IT!!!!!  Dorothy, if you happen to read this, please know that you MADE MY DAY!  If I have to win people over to my music one person at a time because radio won't help me (or at least most corporate radio won't help me....but THANK YOU  Y101 in Portland, ME and XTRA 99.1 in Gloucester, VA!!...oh and the station in Winston-Salem, NC!) then I will work as hard as I can, with the help of all the WONDERFUL decorators out there, to win one person over at a time.  And I will croak knowing I never gave up and did the best I could.

Anyhow, back to the tour...and catching up....

Tuesday morning in the hotel in Lincoln I got the news that the transmission on the van was shot.  After a few minutes of panic, Philip and I worked out sort of a plan and I called Gary and he came and fetched me and brought me to the Hertz rental place in Omaha where I rented a Toyota Rav 4.  Then I went over to the garage and got some more stuff out of the van and went on my way to Fairmont, MN.  It was only a little over four hours, so that time breezed by.
Back in 2010 I was supposed to go to Minnesota on the tour when a blizzard hit and the highway was CLOSED. That's when the Metrodome collapsed because of the snow, and I was bummed. So I had to make sure that I made it to Minnesota on this tour.
This time the weather was clear, and driving was easy.
Dan Bicknase and his lady friend, Maria, couldn't have greeted me more warmly.  They made me feel right at home. It was COLD up there in Minnesota, but I was warmed by their friendliness and generosity.  There were only about 30 people at the concert and Dan felt bad but I kept telling him it was okay, it didn't matter.  He has a beautiful display and he plays my music for all the people who come to see it each night during the Christmas season and it's a wonderful thing.  Even if people couldn't make it, they have probably heard my name through his publicity and they have heard my song at his display. Besides, the people who did come to the concert had fun and so did I and that made it a success!  I mean, it really was a very cold night for people to be standing outside at a concert, although I did get people to dance to try to warm them up.
Once again I was a nimrod and didn't get pictures, because my phone was dead by the time I got there and I'd left my car charger in the first rental car on the West Coast, and my AC car adaptor was in the glove compartment of the van, so I couldn't charge the phone while I was driving. But here is a link to the Fairmont Lights website and you can see photos and videos there.
After the concert we went into the house and socialized a bit.  I met their daughters and grandchildren and the boys, who had gotten into a giant bag of M&Ms earlier that evening, were running around, crazed on sugar. It was really, really funny.  I also got to play with their little dog...I can't remember what the breed was but it was a little five-pounder yorkie something or other and it was incredibly cute and I got a few face licks which made me happy.  Maria served up a spread so I had some dinner and they gave me a wonderful and generous gift for which I am VERY grateful.  THANK YOU SO MUCH DAN AND MARIA! It was so great to finally meet you! And if you have any pictures of the concert, please be sure to send them to me so I can post them here.  Have a very Merry Minnesota Christmas!!

PS (written on 12-27)  Maria just sent me a couple of pics!

Photos from Nebraska

Well, it's 11:16 am on 12-21-12 and as far as I can see everybody's still aliens yet, so I have time to write some more before I head to Canada.
Gary Morrison sent me some photos of his house from Lincoln, since I didn't have a chance to get any the other night because I was so late.  Here are some photos of Gary and Terry's beautiful House on Christmas Street in Lincoln, NE:

and here's a link Gary sent to the newspaper article about the concert

Thank you, Gary! And thanks again for being my Knight in Shining Armor!!

Oh What a Day. December 20

I'm going to write about today right now and then get caught up on the past couple of days tomorrow.  Just  in case the aliens decide to come back and get me tomorrow I want to get everything down about today for posterity.
The day started off wonderfully at the Hudson(IL) Elementary School where I presented a Christmas concert for  a gym full of K-5 kids.  They were just great!  I got lots of hugs and high-fives after the show and once again, as I do at every concert, I felt blessed to be able to look into the eyes of children and sing.  Several of the kids had been to the show at Bobby Dicken's display last night and they expressed excitement at seeing me again.  Little by little I  winning people over with my music, which was one of the tour goals and it feels good to see it happening.
After the school show I had to say goodbye to my host family, the Dickens, and it was kind of sad, as it has been saying goodbye to everyone on this tour.  I correspond with folks for months, then by the time I get to their houses it is like we are old friends, and then I'm gone.  But hopefully these will just be the beginnings of new friendships, just as many new friendships began on the first HoCS tour two years ago.
For the past couple of days, since the van broke down, I have really been feeling down about the fact that, after the last concert on Sunday, I would have to turn right back around and drive back to Omaha to get the van, and I would probably not be home for Christmas.  Plus I had managed to pick up a few gifts along the way and they are still in the van!  I've been going over a million different possibilities for getting the van back, including picking Emma up in NYC on Sunday and doing the road trip with her. She's game for it, but it would mean she also would not be home for Christmas.
I talked with Philip about it this morning, and one of our ideas was to drop the rental off in NH and then one of us would fly back to Nebraska to drive the van back. He volunteered to do or but I don't want him to. I feel like it is my disaster and I would be too worried about him doing it. We ended the conversation with him agreeing to look into flights and me agreeing to find out how much extra it would cost to return the rental in NH.
Anyhow, I had been driving through torrential rain for a couple of hours when the thought occurred to me to check the forecast for Livonia, Michigan for this evening.  It said 100 percent chance of rain.  Well, I thought, "Perhaps  we ought to cancel, and if we do then I will drive back to Omaha now and be able to get the van and I can still make it to Toronto tomorrow. The van was supposed to be ready by five today."  I decided to call the Howse family and see what they thought. The display is done by 25-year old Timothy and his parents, but I was really torn because on one hand I wanted to be able to get the van, but on the other hand I didn't want to disappoint anybody.  However, there were two good reasons to cancel:  1) I can't have my equipment out in the rain and 2) people probably wouldn't come in the rain.
I spoke at length with Mr. Howse and explained that it might be smart to cancel. I didn't want to do it, but it would not be possible for me to perform in the rain.  He said they could set me up in the garage. I said that I wondered if people would still come, and he said he thought they would. Then I explained the whole situation to him about the van and all, and I told him I did not want to disappoint anyone and if he thought people would be there then I would still come. We left it that I would continue to head their way and we would all pray about it.
A little while later he called me back and said that some of their display equipment was not working because of the rain, and maybe that was a sign from God and we should cancel.   I felt bad and relieved at the same time, cause now I could go get the van.  But I offered to come back in the summer and either do a Christmas in July show at his house or a concert at their church, and then we said "goodbye" hung up.
I pulled off at the next exit to call the garage and ask if someone could meet me there after hours so I could pick up the van...this is something  they had offered to do  for me if I got back on Christmas Eve. Well lo and behold, the guy at the garage said it turned out it would not be ready today after all, and now we were looking at closing time tomorrow!! They said it was a giant job of work to get the old transmission out because of all the corrosion, etc., and something about it needing a new axle and so it wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow.  There would be no possible way I could pick it up on Friday, so I just sighed and said, “Okay” and it’s back to plan A, driving back on Sunday after the show in Nazareth, PA, or, possibly, returning the rental in NH and flying back.  Either way I would probably not be home for Christmas.
Sitting there in a gas station parking lot in the rain, I figured why not call Timothy Howse back and see if he wanted to go ahead with the concert anyway, and I’d just sing for whomever was there?   I made the call and we decided to go forward and play it by ear.
So I’m driving along, driving along, now listening to “Needful Things,” a Stephen King book which is narrated by the author himself. I read this book many years ago when it first came out, but I figured it would be a fun listen so I loaded it onto my iPod before I left.
Rain rain rain and high winds all along the route made driving tricky.  At one point I looked at the map and realized I would be driving right past the exit for Gary, IN, the birthplace of Michael Jackson.  I thought it might be cool to check out his childhood home if it were not too far off the beaten path,  so I got the address off the internet and checked it on the Garmin and it was really about five minutes from the exit, so I decided to do it.  Within a half hour I was standing in the rain outside of 2300 Jackson Street, a tiny little house…seriously, there couldn’t have been more than four rooms in that one story box…where the Jackson brothers were harrassed and beaten by their father into making music.  I was flooded with mixed emotions. I kept thinking about that poor little boy being terrorized by his father in this tiny little house, and what an incredible talent he had, and how he came from this little house to fame beyond imagination. I wondered what his life would have been like if his father hadn’t pushed his sons into superstardom, and if it was all worth it in the end, when he was so miserable he had to abuse drugs to sleep and ended up dying too young because of it.  We, the public, got the good end of the deal because we got to enjoy that incredible talent and have it enrich our lives for so long, but what must it have been like to be him?
Now, obviously, I’m in the camp that believes he was innocent of child abuse charges.  To me, he seemed like a child trapped in a man’s body, and I doubt he was capable of physical intimacy with anyone.  I think he was an innocent in a hard world.  I don’t know for sure, of course, but none of us do, do we?  I’ve always identified with him, and I was not one who laughed when he said he liked to climb a tree at Neverland and stay there for hours, making up songs. I have done things like that myself.  And, to be honest with you, the older I get the more I feel like I don’t have a lot of people my age I can relate to, because I still think like a child as well.  One of my happiest experiences was seeing him in concert at Madison Square Garden on 9-10-2001.  Experiencing that powerful talent and energy, and how it blew away the thousands of people in that arena, was mind-blowing.

But I digress. I only spent a little while in front of the house, lost in thought, and then it was time to move on.
Some time after I left Gary I got a call from Joe at the garage in Omaha, who seems like a genuinely nice guy. He said he hated to do this, but he had more bad news.  Ohhhhhhh.  It turns out the van needs some sort of new sensor thingy which can only be gotten new from Toyota, and which would add $375 to the bill, for a grand total of around four thousand bucks, chief!!   Arrrrgggghhhhhhhh!  And not only that, but the part cannot be had until WEDNESDAY!  On one hand, that’s a good thing. That means I am going to be home for Christmas for sure, but now I can’t get the van (with the presents in it)  til the middle of the week next week, and I’ve got some important stuff coming up at home.  The Saturday after Christmas is our first Epiphany Play rehearsal at St. Matthew’s, and I am the long-time director.  I can’t miss that!  And then on New Year’s Eve I’ve got a gig with my band, The Groovy Dudes, and we need to rehearse! But, as my husband is fond of saying, “one thing at a time,” so I got on the phone with Hertz to see what the charge would be to drop the rental off in NH, and then I would work on getting a cheapo flight back to Nebraska.
I think this is when my head officially cracked open and my brains began to spill out.  It turns out that it’s no mere $100 fee to drop the rental off in a different location.  It changes the entire rental agreement, bringing up the daily rate to TWICE what I paid.  So the total would be nearly SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!!!!!!!  I almost drove off the road!  I’m already paying nearly $350 for the rental.  I expressed my horror to the woman on the phone and asked her if there was any way that figure could be lowered, and she said, “That’s the best I can do, Ma’am.”  I hung up.  I checked the rental agreement and saw that the rate for extra days was $35.99 a day.  I’m keeping the darned thing and driving it back to Nebraska the day after Christmas.  It will be a whirlwind trip because I have to be back for Saturday.  Philip might be able to get a couple of days off and do it with me, and that would be great! Fingers crossed for that.
Once the sun went down the traffic got even worse, and I did come upon a pile-up of about a dozen cars that had been cleared to the side of the road by the time I passed it.  I silently thanked God that I hadn’t been in it and said a quick prayer for those who were. I called the Howse’s and told them I would be a little late and they were anxiously awaiting my arrival.
I finally got there around 7:20 and Timothy and his group of helpers swiftly helped me unload and set up in the garage with the door open so that folks out in the street could hear the music. There weren’t a lot of people there…because of the rain…but it was a small, but mighty crowd.  You know, it doesn’t matter how tired I am or what kind of day it’s been…once I step in front of the audience I am where I was meant to be. That’s just how it is.  I come alive. Singing is such a joyful thing to do; I feel like I’m sharing the best part of me, and when people are smiling, singing along or moving to the music, that’s when I always thank God that I am able to do this and acknowledge that it completely comes from Him.  I know that I have no claim for the fact that I can make music; it was completely a gift, and I’m so so so so grateful that I got it, because it makes me so happy and it makes other people happy and when that’s going on I forget about dollar signs and broken vans and long driving stretches.  I’m just lost in the joy of what’s happening right then.  So let me take a minute right now to thank EVERYONE who has participated in this tour…whether you are a host, a concert attendee, or cheering me on from the sidelines…and especially my family, who has been calling and texting and lifting my spirits.  I know the meaning of “the wind beneath my wings” because of you, and I hope that in some small way what I have done has encouraged you or made you happy or made you laugh or even if it just made you laugh because you can’t believe what a crazy person I am out here doing this.
I think this particular concert was so sweet because I almost didn’t do it. But it seemed extra special to me. Almost the minute I started singing I knew why God wanted me there.   The people who were there were so enthusiastic and appreciative and when I thought that I almost missed this chance, well….I was really glad things worked out the way they did and I got to do it.
 I think it was one of the loudest “Rudolph” sing alongs of the tour. Or maybe that was just because of the four guys who were in the garage behind me, trying to stay out to the rain and singing loud!  During the instrumental break in “Santa Whatcha Got” I ran out into the driveway, grabbed Timothy by the hands and took him for a spin.  You should have seen the look on his face….pure surprise and happiness.  What a blast!  And as I was running back to the microphone I was thinking, “Thank God I had that gastric bypass surgery or I would never be able to sing after doing that”.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the two young men who sang “Frosty.”  The first guy got up to do it, made it part of the way through and then was swiftly joined by another who came up to help him out. These were not children, but young adults, and it was wonderful and just sweet how one came to the other’s rescue so unabashedly.  They made a great singing team!
I want to note here that the Howse family is very adamant about the reason why they do a Christmas light synchronized program at their house. They are strong Christians and want to share the message of the birth of Jesus and what it meant to Humankind, and the narration between their songs and the elements are their display bear that out.  Decorators have all sorts of reasons for making major displays like this, and all of them are good reasons…bringing joy and happiness to strangers, shedding light in the darkness of the world, making memories for children, and, of course, celebrating the significance of the birth of Christ.  I know the message in their display is very important to the Howse’s, so that’s why I mention it here. I hope you get a chance to see it’s very beautifully done.
After the packing up we all went to Big Boy, a place I hadn’t been in years because there aren’t any in NH, and had a fun meal with lively conversation among the Howse parents, their four adult sons and a family friend.  It was great way to end the day, in the warm company of new friends.  God bless you, Howse family.  I hope I get to see you again some day soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gary & Terry's "We Believe" Lights on 32nd Monday, Dec. 17

Monday started out different to begin with.  Once I finished working on my computer, after midnight, I lay down on my bed in the hotel room and could not get to sleep.  No matter what, I tossed and turned, thinking about the long drive to Nebraska the next day and hoping I would get there on time. Finally, I figured I may as well just leave, so in the middle of the night I got up and took off.
I drove for about an hour and then I got sleepy, so I pulled off into one of those many truck stops along the highway, locked the doors and caught some zzzzzzzs for about an hour. Then I drove for a couple more hours and did the same thing again. 
At some point I saw that I was near Peoria, IL and that struck a chord with me.  There is a favorite book among our family members called "Summer of Night," by Dan Simmons. All of us have read it and it's been passed along to several of Emma's friends.  It takes place in a little town in IL not far from Peoria, and I recalled seeing on Simmons' website that he based it on his hometown, his real friends and his childhood there.  So I looked it up and lo and behold, it was Brimfield, IL, and it was right off the highway along my way.  Well, now I had all kinds of extra time to kill, so I took the exit and spent a few hours exploring Brimfield.  It was GREAT.  Just as I had imagined!  I felt like I was IN the book!!  I stopped into the one big gas station/store/cafe in town and asked some old timers if they knew where the school had been that was featured in the book (it was torn down in 1960) and we got into a long conversation. They knew Dan Simmons and they knew a lot of the kids he hung out with, kids who were in the book. Ultimately my search led me to talking with Kevin, who is a main character in the book, and he was very nice.  For this bibliophile it was HEAVEN! 
After I'd seen and done everything and taken pictures of all the sites that were prominent in the book, I went on my merry way. I stopped for one more nap, and I was making good time, on track to arrive in Lincoln at 5:30 and go to my hotel and take a shower before the show, when my van BROKE DOWN on the highway in the middle of Omaha during RUSH HOUR. I quickly pulled over, and called AAA and my husband....and the upshot was that I survived, the van was towed to a repair shop, and Terry came and got me and brought me to the show which I began 45 minutes late (people stayed!!)
Gary was a genius. Once Terry left to come fetch me he put on a Santa suit with a full headpiece and went out and entertained the crowd!!  By the time I started the show, though, it was COLD out, and many people had to leave before I finished
Gary's display is charming and I especially loved singing The House on Christmas Street with it.  It's so much fun to see the people "ooh" and "ahh" when I do that, and it showcases the creativity of the homeowner.  It was a really pretty and tasteful display but unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of it in all the melee.
I was really depressed, but Gary and Terry and their friends and family were wonderful....Gary had decorated the inside of his garage so that I could sign autographs inside where it was a little warmer, and I sold some CDs and met some people and it was a nice evening, although inside I was freaking out, worrying about the van and hoping it would be just some little thing.
Gary took me to the hotel after we were all packed up, and I collapsed.  The next day, bright and early, I got a call from the garage telling me the transmission was SHOT.  Well, it's got 407,000+ miles on it, so I guess it was to be expected, but the thing is..I had that whole van looked over and inspected for road-worthiness before I left home and had over $3000 worth of work done on it, so I wasn't expecting any problems!!  This was a MAJOR DISASTER.
Once Philip calmed me down over the phone I called and got a rental, he called the garage and talked to them and they went ahead and ordered a used transmission, and I called Gary and he once again came and fetched me and brought me to the Hertz place in Omaha.  He was a knight in shining armor through this whole thing, ferrying me around and being very nice about it. THANK YOU SO MUCH GARY AND TERRY!
I got a Toyota Rav and went back to the garage to get some more stuff out of the van and took off once more, for Minnesota this time.  Of course I managed to leave my AC adapter in my van, so I couldn't charge my phone, but that's par for the course!  (If you recall, I left my car charger in the rental in Seattle!)

Well, now I have to get going to the Hudson Elementary School to put on a Christmas concert for the kids there, but thank you for keeping up with me on this great adventure and I'll try to get more caught up tonight.  Hey, I'm only a couple of shows behind right now!!

Oh....I probably WON'T be home for Christmas....cause now I gotta go back to Omaha after the last show and get the van!  :(

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

High Country Lights, Ennice NC December 15

Hoo Boy...I'm sitting here in my hotel suite in Bloomington, IL reflecting on the tour ...and thinking that I can't believe I have to drive all the way back to Omaha after the last show on Sunday night.  Why oh why did the  van have to break down at the farthest point at which I drove it???  Monday afternoon, just as I crossed over the border into Nebraska, it suddenly just lost power and I yanked it over to the breakdown lane as the full-fledged traffic of rush hour in Omaha zoomed by me. I was really scared somebody was gonna smash into me.  I called Philip, and then I called AAA while he called my hosts in Lincoln.  While I was still on the phone with AAA Terry jumped into her truck and headed to Omaha to pick me up.  I got to the show about 45 minutes late.....

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I still have to tell you about William Bottomley's "High Country Lights" in Ennice, NC.  I went over to William's from Pilot Mountain and, as he had promised, it was the biggest event he's thrown yet.  Like with Larry and Rachel it was the third year I've visited William's display, which is at the Glade Creek Fire Department. These folks in North Carolina have become very special to me, and William is a particular hoot because he's just a "git 'er done" kinda guy and has a great sense of humor. He called me a week or so in advance just to tell me he'd have the Chik-Fil-A cow there because he knew I'd squeal over that prospect!  And he was right!

However,  by the time the day of his show came, I'd had a heavy heart all day with the shooting incident in CT in the back of my mind, as I'm sure it was for everyone.  It was hard to think about having fun while knowing so many were suffering. But I knew that there were people and children here, in this town, who were looking forward to my performance and this would be an opportunity for them to have fun together and enjoy each other on this winter night.    This year William had arranged for a full-fledged hot meal to be served, a live radio broadcast and Santa Claus....AND the Chik-fil-a COW to make an appearance!  And I am very grateful that this year William decided to move the stage indoors! It was nice and warm and I was able to wear my fancy dress AND that cow was outrageous..dancing with the kids and everyone was having fun.  I always encourage the parents to dance with their children when I perform "Santa Whatcha Got" and on this particular night I don't know, but, I could just feel that it was extra special when they did that. I've felt that every night since then.  Like maybe the parents are really aware of how precious each possible moment with their children is, so  even if they might not have felt like dancing in the street on a cold night they got up and had fun doing it anyway.  In the case of Ennice, they were dancing like crazy inside the firehouse.

William is one of the only decorators who has been able to get "The House on Christmas Street" played on his local radio station..and that's because the most popular station around is still locally owned and they are not slave to a national company's rules and regs.  I was interviewed by the deejay who did the live broadcast and he told me that the song is in the regular holiday rotation on the station and that is terrific!  Makes me think I need to approach the "mom and pop" stations all over the country and maybe I'd have better luck.  If you are reading this and you have a locally owned radio station in your vicinity that plays Christmas music  please let me know about it!

William took some great pictures at his event and posted them in an online album here, if you want to see them:

Thank you William, my friend, for a terrific time and the chance to dance with a cow!

The next day in Anderson, Indian, I've already written about, so my next blog entry will continue th horror show that started when the van broke down on Monday, as I recounted earlier in this post. But right now I am seriously starting to fall asleep here at the computer and so much close for now.

I appreciate you reading this , your caring, and your prayers for me as I continue this journey. So far I have been to 27 states since laving on Nov. 24th!!

Good night...and more tomorrow!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Larry & Rachel Charpiat's Pilot Mountain Christmas

I drove over the Blue Ridge Parkway to get to Pilot Mountain, and it was just a beautiful drive on a beautiful day.  The views were breathtaking.  I was happy to be going to see Larry and Rachel, who I first visited on the tour three years ago. We became fast friends that first time, and for the past two years I have stayed with them when I've gone to NC.  They treat me like family, and it's wonderful.
I talked about their display here last year, but just for a recap---they have three acres out in the country, but they get thousands of visitors every year.  One whole acre is a parking lot they had made for their visitors, and people come in and walk through two acres of Christmas lights and get free hot chocolate at the hot chocolate house.  They were actually featured in a magazine this year as one of NC's top holiday attractions!! They do not charge admission, although I'm sure they could and people would still come, but they do have donation cans around if people want to  drop money in to help defray their electric bill.
Larry and Rachel are a retired couple and they are just so perfect for each other. This display is a labor of love for both of them, and they both take pride in it and enjoy working on it together.  They live in a lovely, cozy home with their three kitty cats and lots of relatives and friends join them, especially on weekends, to help park cars, direct traffic and give out hot chocolate.
I guess it was because it was a Saturday night, but there were a TON of people who came to the concert and it was really great. The little children, the people dancing...another wild and crazy night!  Here's some video that Larry put together:

And here are some photos:

While I was at Larry and Rachel's a weird thing started happening with my would not shift into Drive and then suddenly it would. So on the morning after the concert, after they treated me to a yummy breakfast, we went to Wal-Mart and got this "transmission fix" stuff and Larry put it in for me and it started working just fine. This Wal-Mart was also the only place I've ever seen an inflatable snowman dressed in a camo vest and carrying a shotgun. Weird. It was especially disconcerting in the light of the school shooting in CT.  I didn't like it.
I'm not going to get into a big debate about gun control here, but I would like to say that my prayers are with the families of the children and adults who were lost in the melee.  I can't imagine such horrible grief. I do believe the souls went straight in to the arms of Jesus, but that's probably cold comfort to the families who are so desperately missing their little ones.
Well, I digress.  I had a really great time at Larry and Rachel's and am so grateful for the friendship of these two wonderful and thoughtful and generous people.  And I hope I didn't get them hooked on Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars!  Even though they ARE delicious, aren't they, Larry and Rachel??

Friday, December 14, Part One: Mitford

One of my favorite book series' is the one Jan Karon wrote about the everyday life of an Episcopal priest in a small town in North Carolina called "Mitford."  I found out some time ago that "Mitford" was based on a real town where Karon lived called Blowing Rock.
The books make it sound like the loveliest place, where the locals meet for lunch at the humble Main Street Grill, the richest lady in town is an eccentric elderly woman who lives in a slightly run-down mansion on a hill, and one of the main characters is a young boy named Dooley who, when we first meet him, is a ragamuffin who has no manners and asks Fr. Tim where he can "take a dump."  The characters are every day people who call upon God for help and thank Him as easily as they breathe.  They are funny, deep and beautiful books and I cherish them, so when I saw that Blowing Rock was just a short side trip on my route between South Carolina and my destination, Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. 
A few days prior to my trip I called the Blowing Rock Historical Society to see if they had any information on Mitford related sites and they were so nice and were very happy to help me out, so I was very excited about the  visit.  
Boy, was I let down!!  The gentleman at the historical society was pleasant and helpful, and mentioned two things that were red flags right away. First, Jan Karon moved away from Blowing Rock a few years ago because, according to him, it got too crowded.  Second, the town has not held its annual "Mitford" festival in a couple of years.  He did not offer a reason. 
He handed me a sheet of paper which listed a few spots in town that were inspiration for places in the book.  I started at the church, which was lovely from the outside.

 But as I walked up the Main Street, it soon became clear to me that this was no "small town America".  Apparently, at some point since Karon wrote her books the town has become YUPPIFIED!!! (Cue the "da-da-dahhhh!") ominous music)
The shops were all clearly filled with expensive merchandise designed to appeal to the upscale tourist.  I walked into the Christmas shop in hopes of perhaps finding a pretty "Mitford" ornament for my tree.  I asked the lady there if they had such a thing and she literally wrinkled her nose and gave me an icy "no".  I went into several stores , in fact, and only managed to find one Mitford item... A leftover sweat shirt  from the last Mitford Days Festival, buried under a stack of tee shirts.  Not a Mitford postcard or key chain in sight. 
Two of the four places listed on the paper I was given no longer exist. Sonny's Grill, the inspiration for the Main Street Grill, was nowhere to be found. Instead, I found this:


Almost ready to blow out of Blowing Rock,  I decided to take a drive out to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the location of the mansion known as "Miss Sadie's house" to Karon's readers. At least here I was not disappointed. It looked exactly as I'd pictured it.

  While I was there I learned that the building was also used to film part of "The Green Mile".  See that glassed-in porch area over on the left?  That's where they filmed Tom Hanks as an old guy living in a nursing home.  The people who took this photo for me told me that the shack in which he kept the mouse, Mr. Jingles, at the end of the movie, was out in the woods behind the house, so I went off like a fool in my fancy boots looking for it down a mile and a half of trails that looked like this:

 I ended up tripping over a root and sprawling face first on the ground, and I sprained my poor big toe.  I hobbled out of there, never having found the shack, and off I went, blowing the clambake of Blowing Rock.

It was only a couple of hours before I would get to Pilot Mountain and the home of my good friends Larry and Rachel Charpiat....

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 13th, Mauldin, SC

Thursday morning began in a rush as I slept a little too late.  That room at the Celebration Hotel...well, it was more like an apartment and was very comfortable!  Calvin had told me the previous evening that he thought he understood that it was the "honeymoon suite". It probably was! It had two showers and a huge four poster bed.  I woke up sprawled across it diagonally, and missing Philip dearly. But I had a nearly nine-hour drive ahead of me, and I couldn't linger and enjoy the accommodations.
The drive was uneventful. "Odd Thomas" kept me entertained and the hours and miles passed swiftly.          I was really looking forward to seeing Tommy and Tony again. Tommy first invited me to the house last year and I recall my delight upon first seeing their bright, colorful and well organized display when I came around the corner in that darkened neighborhood.  Tommy and his friend Tony immediately charmed me, and, along with their folks, I made fast friends.  Like many of their decorating counterparts, they decorate the inside of their home as well... And I have to say they definitely win the prize for best indoor decorations. (I'll never say who's got the best outdoor display... They're all different and beautiful and unique, and I have been privileged to sing at each one and get to know their creators a little).
However, Tommy is the number one PartyLite distributor in the state...and possibly the country... And many of the indoor decorations, including some lovely Nativity sets, are PartyLite creations.  Just about every inch of their living space features something Christmassy, including a Christmas tree in the bathroom. I especially love the large framed paintings of Santa that adorn the walls.  It's easy to feel festive in this house.
I was just as delighted when I drove up this year. Actually I was more excited because I was coming back to see old friends.
The display outside is gigantic and takes up the front, side , and back yards. It's a walk through display, and visitors enter through the front, where they can get a hot chocolate and a bag of popcorn (yes, they have a carnival-style popper) and then walk down a magical path to the back and all around until they reach the front of the house again. It would be next to impossible to be able to get photographs of every corner of this display, but here are a few that I took:

There is a pathway that goes all around this tree, and the snowmen skating around it

one of the magical lighted pathways

I've never seen an inflatable mushroom at any display!

That's an inflatable Noah's Ark floating in the middle of their swimming pool!

Another magical path!

Tony, me and Tommy

Once again, Tommy and Tony served up a delicious meal for family and friends before the concert. Lemon chicken...yum!
I also enjoyed a little visit with their SEVEN Yorkies who were kept penned during the festivities! As we say in Maine, they are awful cunnin'!
After the show, I was gifted with a PartyLite candle melt warmer.  I can't wait to give it a special place in our home. And if that weren't enough, Tony met me the next morning at the hotel with three more surprise wrapped gifts for my family.  Overwhelming generosity!!
I have made so many wonderful friends through these Christmas tours, and I am truly blessed.  Tommy and Tony...I'm  so glad I met you.  I know that if we lived closer to each other we would hang out often and have a lot of fun.  Your display is magnificent and the care you put into every detail really shows.  I want you to know how much I appreciate your friendship and generosity. Merry Christmas!!

Edge-WOOD Lights, Anderson, IN Dec. 16

I've been trying to get caught up on the blog, but tonight I want to write about today while it's fresh in my mind and then I'll go back and recap the weekend.  I'm sitting here in my motel room reflecting on the day and I can't help but smile.  During the drive here to Indiana I felt sad most of the time. It was rainy, I was thinking about what happened in CT at that school, and for part of the time I was on the phone talking with my brother about my mother, who is 86 years old and in failing health.  It wasn't a happy day.
But tonight, during the show, I was filled with happiness and I thank God for that.  Paul and Jo Wood greeted me in the driveway of their home, where they had a beautiful display and had set up a stage surrounded by poinsettias for me, with lighting and even a space heater on the stage. They had thought of everything.  They had the street blocked off and over a hundred people came to the concert, dancing in the street with their kids....and during "Christmas Every Day," when I always say "If you came here tonight with someone who makes it Christmas every day of the year for you I want you to hold that person close during this song," I saw several elderly couples holding hands, and parents holding their children close.  It is an amazing feeling to witness all of that from where I stand during a concert, and it filled up all that empty space inside of me.  The sweet girl who got up to sing Frosty, Audie Kate, was just the cutest thing you ever saw...five years old and a little darling....and after the show she came up to see me and tell me that she had seen Justin Beiber in concert and that "Call Me Maybe girl" too, but she thought I was great too!  I said, "Really, as good as Justin Beiber?" and she said, "I have Beiber Fever!"  Only she couldn't pronounce the "r"s very well, so it came out sounding like "Beiboh Fevoh" and I'm chuckling still now as I sit here thinking about it.
I may get cranky and discouraged, but I wouldn't trade what I do for anything in the world. To be able to interact with beautiful little children like that makes my life Christmas every day!  And the grown-ups are a pretty okay bunch too!
The one older gentleman who got up to sing "Candy" did not hesitate to join me on-stage, and when he did he sidled right up next to me and clamped his arm around me. I was a little taken aback, to be honest!! But he turned out to be alright, and the real kicker was when his beautiful blonde grown-up daughter got up to dance during the song.  She had all the moves and it was great entertainment!
Oh..I want to mention that, before the show, I got the grand tour of the den with all of Paul and Jo's "Star Trek" memorabilia and it was incredible.  They had autographed photos and posters and even dolls of the original cast.  What fun!  And I learned that Paul and Jo were introduced to each other by mutual acquaintances who both knew that each of them had a thing for Star Trek. It was a match made in the final frontier!!
I also want to mention that Joanna has made the loveliest setting for her lighted Christmas appeared to utilize those papier mache "mountains" that are used with model trains and it was very unique and sweet.
Speaking of Christmas villages, in addition to "The House on Christmas Street,"  Paul and Jo had sequenced a song from my new CD called "The Little Christmas Village," so I had the pleasure of doing two songs while they ran their light show sequences with the songs (for the uninitiated, a sequence is a program that makes the lights dance to the specific piece of music.  Usually during my concerts the displays are left on, or "static" until I do "The House on Christmas Street" as the last song, when the decorators run their sequences to show what they have done with the song and I sing along.)
Here are some photos from Paul and Joanna's display:

Here's the stage. Doesn't it look pretty?

I would like to have stuck around after the show, but it was after nine by the time we got everything packed up and I've got a ten hour drive to Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow, so I had to leave. But Paul and Jo sent me off with a container of  delicious home-made chili and so I had a hearty meal to enjoy when I got to the motel here.  Again, my decorator hosts have taken good care of me, and I am so grateful.
Paul and Jo, hope to see you again this summer in Gatlinburg, and THANK YOU so much for a GREAT evening that really lifted my spirits. God bless you guys and have a wonderful Christmas! LIVE LONG AND PROSPER!!!