Friday, December 31, 2010

Greetings from England

Happy New Years!! In a few short hours the new year will roll over hopefully bringing with it new excitements and adventures. I seem to remember writing a New Year's Resolution list last year and to be honest, I've been a bit scared to see the things I missed. This year I will NOT be making a New Year's list full of to-do's and what-not's. Nope, I will simply be happy, be healthy, and be in good company. I know I'll be starting off on the right foot, too, since I'm here with Pyro Man and his parents here in England!!

It's been a wonderful visit so far! We visited Windsor Palace, Ely Cathedral, saw Jersey Boys in London and we've got much more to do before we leave. There's still Billy Elliot on the list to see and a trip to Germany. The best part of it all has been the time spent visiting with Pyro Man and his parents.

Dear readers, I promise I did not lie to you about posting graduation pictures--I've been a bit busy. Lots of Christmas visits, last minute shopping, and gearing up for the trip. As soon as I get back I'll fire them up along with some England pictures as well! I know I'll have some wonderful stories to share including our latest, Lost Luggage: The Frustration Continues. Mine finally arrived, four days late, Pyro Man's is...somewhere. Not sure just yet, but we've been told "they're working on it." Hmm....I've even got a good 'fraidy-cat story for you involving heights (no arm flaps, I resisted) and the possibility of a friendly ghost (cue X-Files music). Just a few teasers for you.

And with that, I bid you goodnight! We've got a big day tomorrow! Cheers!

Monday, December 20, 2010


Greetings! I'm a whirling dervish right now, but I had to take a moment to say...


My business cards now say "Julie Russell, MFA"--isn't that just fabulous? Graduation was fantastic and there's a post coming soon with pictures. I'm also planning on posting some action shots from my photo session with Simon Hurst as soon as those come in. From what he showed me, he captured some brilliant dance pictures!

Right now I'm off like a shot with my mother. We have some more Christmas errands to run, a visit to Grandma planned, a hair cut, and final packing to get through. A week from today Pyro Man and I will be headed to England!! Two weeks traveling with his family will be an absolute blast!

Wishing you all many safe travels--Holiday shoppers, man, they'll run you over! Happy Monday!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Goodbye Visitor Relations, It's Been Swell!

Today marks the end of an era, the last day at my first job.

In August of 2005, I wandered my way to my fist job interview at the Visitor Center on campus. I met my boss, Janey, not even realizing she'd later become my momma away from home. We talked all about the position and the responsibilities of being a tour guide on campus. I don't think I'd ever taken anything more seriously in my entire life.

I loved this job. I had a great time visiting with students and parents, telling them why the school was fantastic, giving them tidbits of info about programs, and genuinely visiting with them about college life. The job could be extremely rewarding and extremely stressful at times. People always think that's funny when I tell them that. How can being a tour guide be stressful?! Well, that's because the program goes above and beyond the standard tour.

Every visit was carefully put together so a student had their own personalized day. Calling professors, scheduling classes, contacting financial aid, finding a counselor to lunch with took a great deal of time and puzzle piecing together. We also had a lot of paper work to keep up. After all, recruitment is how colleges continue to survive. What is a college without its students? I had a big responsibility as a Gold Star Ambassador.

I made great friends with a number of counselors including my own, Rob. If Janey had been my momma away from home then Rob had to be the big brother I never had. He kept tabs on and encouraged me every step of the way. I would sit in Abby's office and chat about life, entertain Janelle with my expressive dance moves, visit with Brett about his adorable girls and listen carefully while Ade offered up free advice.

So many of these counselors have moved on and sweet ones have taken their place. There's Christina, Claire, Kendall, Ashley, the Michelle's and our token men, Joel and Jason.  It's been an incredible honor to have made friends with all of these folks and I will miss this supportive group.

Speaking of friends, it was Visitor Relations (Services) that brought me to my best friend, Esther. Had it not been for this job, I met never have found this dear friend of mine and what a loss that would have been. Esther and I had quite a bit of fun with this job. We hosted our own "staff meetings" at a back work area--Janey, I know you know we were really talking about boys, the weekend's drama, and what scandal happened rather than discussing actual visits.

Just a typical work day for us.

There are so many other great kids that passed through here and I feel so lucky to have had a job with the nicest people. There really was never a dull moment. I ran our glorified golf cart (aka. The Shuttle) into a bench once. And then a parked car. Visitors now and again wander off and are deemed '"lost." I've shown a strangers room before when our show room key didn't work--you learn to improvise a lot of the time. There's the occasional homeless person seeking a doctorate program--just use the right code word if you call security. I've can honestly say I've given tours in a snow storm (that happened twice). There's probably a thousand more stories to tell including good things that happened. For a long time I kept emails from past visitors that had a great time or thanked us for the lovely experience. Those kinds of things gave me the warm and fuzzies.

I gave my last official tour the Friday before my graduation from undergrad. Happily it was to my family. I've given a few others since, but mostly my work was settled in a back office, but I still consider myself a Gold Star Ambassador. I'm so proud to have worn that blue polo.

To the folks in Admissions, all the counselors, past and present, every kid who has worn a blue polo, and to my dear, sweet Janey, it has been a pleasure! Thank you for five and half wonderful years!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Tale of a Christmas Elf

Once upon a time and a long, long time ago, there was a girl who had little perfect elf ears. Their slightly pointed tips were a gift from her parents, both of whom adored their little elfin child. It complimented her tiny doll like features of rosy, chubby cheeks, her soft brown curls, and her tiny rosebud mouth.

In time, the little girl found her little ears would sometimes draw people's attention. Folks would genuinely joke that maybe she was one of Santa's little helpers. At every mention, the little girl beamed, so proud of her magic pointed ears.

In time she realized her ears were not magic and she wasn't really one of Santa's elves. Her ears were just that, ears. As the little girl grew up, she noticed her the pointed tips began to smooth over becoming, less of a prominent elfish feature. People began to comment less on her special ears and no longer called her Santa's helper. She paid no mind really. As most children do, she grew up forgetting her special features and concentrated on trying to fit in with the general population. That is, until one fateful December day.

The little girl was no longer a little girl, but a young lady of twelve. While in her daily dance class one cold winter's day, the young lady turned to notice a fellow student staring at her ears. Her eyes were glued in total concentration and her head cocked to the side. The young lady could tell her mind's wheels were turning and the child was trying to make a decision, but about what, the young lady could not tell.

The child, Taylor, could not have been more than eight.  She was a very gifted dancer, an outgoing kid who loved to move and boogie. Her short stature packed a powerful punch of energy. With big brown eyes and a wild mane of brown hair, the child bounced all over the place. She would fling herself into any step a teacher would give and when the music played, she couldn't keep still. One body part would begin to move, sending a shimmy of electrifying energy to the rest of her and before you knew it, she'd be spinning like a little tornado.

She was much younger than the other students in her class and stood apart from the rest for you see, Taylor was deaf. The other dancers did not mind. They loved Taylor's enthusiasm, it was contagious and every student cheered her on when she took the floor. Suffice it to say, Taylor was a beloved kid, a little sister to the rest of the group.

When Taylor's eyes met the young lady's, she declared, "You have elf ears!" Taken slightly aback, the young lady chuckled. It had been so long since someone had commented on her little ears that she herself had forgotten their pointed features. Without missing a beat, the young lady replied, "They are elf ears! Don't you know I'm one of Santa's little helpers?"

Taylor's eye grew to the size of saucers and her jaw fell to the ground. "Y-y-you're one of Santa's helpers!" Immediately the young lady felt terrible. A tiny joke was taken with such seriousness. She did not want to crush her young friend's sense of wonder and amazement. Before she could answer, the teacher was on to the next step, moving the children along, but the young lady could not focus. "What have I done," she wondered.

When the young lady came home, she slumped down at the kitchen table. "Mom, I've got a problem," she announced. The young lady proceeded to tell her mother about Taylor and her elf joke. "She thinks I'm really one of Santa's elves. I feel terrible about this, Mom! What could I possible do to make up for this terrible joke I've played."

"Well," says her mother, "you can be one of Santa's helpers. Put on your thinking cap and see what happens."

The young lady trudged up to her room and flopped on the bed. She had placed herself in a bit of a pickle. Though she joked about being Santa's helper, she had never really had the experience of actually being one of his helpers. She'd never been in his sleigh or helped him make presents. Heck, her ears didn't have any real magic, she was just a regular girl.

She thought back to when she was a small child, wide-eyed and dreaming of Santa Claus. "Come on, think! There's got to be something that I can do." She closed her eyes and concentrated on the spirit of Christmas. Santa was a magical man, he could do anything including flying around the world in one night. "I'm not Santa though." The young lady realized she was going about solving this problem all wrong. She didn't say she was Santa, she said she was Santa's helper! An elf, of course!

She thought of all the magical things Santa and his elves could do. Somehow she had to create her own magic for Taylor. "If I were a magic elf," she thought, "what would I do?" In a flash, the young lady had the perfect plan. She raced down the stairs and flew into the kitchen, "Mom!" she shouted, "Grab your keys! I know what to do for Taylor!"

The next day, Taylor entered the dance school, ready for the first dance class of the evening. The young lady was already in the studio, stretching and visiting with friends. As Taylor passed the front desk, the studio owner stopped her. "Taylor! I have a delivery for you!" Puzzled, Taylor approached the owner and took hold of a giant peppermint stick and an envelope specially addressed to her.

Taylor had never received a personal note like this before. Maybe on her birthday, but it wasn't her birthday. She scurried back to the dressing room and threw her bag into a cubby hole. She tore open the paper and pulled out a pretty Christmas card. The glittery green and red card dazzled the little girl. She carefully opened the precious note, curious to find out who sent it.

Dear Taylor,

My littler helper, Julie, told me you discovered her secret! Her elf ears are hard to disguise! She told me you've been such a good little girl this year and what a great dancer you are! Keep up the good work and I'll be sure to visit your house this Christmas!


Taylor couldn't believe her eyes. She read the note again and then for a third time. She couldn't believe Santa had found her! He'd sent a special note and candy cane just for her! She went bounding in the dance studio, card in hand and a grin on her face.

"Santa wrote to me! Santa wrote ME!!" She proudly displayed her card to her classmates, all of whom looked confused. Their teacher was equally baffled and asked to read the card. Taylor bounced across the room, skipping and spinning with such elated happiness. Julie stood at the back of the group smiling, not saying a word. She caught the eye of the teacher and gave a small shrug.

The dancers couldn't understand. "What is Taylor talking about? She's gone nuts! What does she mean Santa wrote her? Where did that note come from?"

Julie gave Taylor a small wink. "Must have been a little elf."

Festive Flicks

There are a handful of Christmas movies I believe must be viewed every December. These are time standing classics in the Russell household and I can't imagine not seeing these during the holiday season. Since my finals week is a little light this year, I plan on watching all of them while curled up on the couch in seasonal pajamas. Feel free to do the same!  


Tell me, what are some of your favorite holiday flicks?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Finals Week!

I have made it to my last Finals Week ever! Let the celebratory dance begin!!!

Yahoo! Lots of exciting things are coming up! There is graduation this Friday, only four days away. I've got a bit of time with family next week for last minute Christmas shopping and of course some quality family time. Then there's Christmas with Pyro Man and after that, our exciting trip to England to visit his family! I've been waiting for all this excitement for what seems like years and now here it is upon us!

Well, I had my little trip to Branson last week--I can now say I've been to Missouri. Five hours. That drive was five hours long. That may not seem like a long time, but after hour three, your butt starts to fall asleep. That is not a pleasant sensation. Listen, I'm all for a good road trip. It gives me a chance to perform a whole concert of all of my favorite songs. But seriously, I ran out of Christmas songs at one point.

My little adventure started Thursday afternoon. I loaded up my car, fiddled with the Tom Tom, filled the tank, and took off. The Tom Tom and I have made peace with one another. Recently I had a very heated debate with Pyro Man and my mother about why I did not want a Tom Tom any time soon.

"I would need it if I'm traveling, which I'm not now. I would need it if I were in a new city and I'm moving back home. Bottom line, I don't need it now!"

And when this audition came up, I proceeded to eat my words. In any case, Pyro Man kindly sent his Tom Tom to me and after some tinkering, I figured out how to use it. It really is pretty handy. Kinda cool. Kinda.

So here, I go, driving down the highway, singing my Christmas songs and all. It being winter and all, the sun set fairly early in my trip. I crossed into Missouri in pitch black, guided by the light of my Tom Tom and every Branson show billboard known to man. The trip so far had been a breeze. I wasn't lost, I only had to make one stop, and there weren't many crazies on the road. Perfect! Or so I thought...

You  may not know this but Missouri has mountains. Mountains I tell you! I'm a Texas girl and upon consideration, I realized most of my driving experience has taken place here in OKC where the land is flat, flat, flat. NO MOUNTAINS. Here I am, driving down the highway, humming a tune when my car takes a nosedive down the road. I feel like I'm on a freaking roller coaster from hell. Up and down, winding right and left all the while with cars speeding past me. Can you believe people drive 65 and 70 MPH on these roads?!

So yes, if you drove through Springfield on your way to Branson last Thursday night and wondered who the heck that young grandma driver was on the road, it was me. I survived though. I managed to meander my way to my friend's house with a death grip on the steering wheel. Then, this is the best part, my friend told me that her landlady was hosting a surprise party for her husband and so there might be people in the house when I get there. No worries, they know I'm coming. Cool.

It's dark, I've been driving for about four hours at night. Needless to say, I can't see very well. I manage to get into the house, shut the garage door and am blinded by the house lights. Trying to assess my surroundings, two faces come into focus.

"OH! Hi. Ha. Um. Hi, I'm Julie. I'm uh, I'm supposed to be here, I swear. Melissa sent me. She lives here. Uh, I swear I'm not a burglar. Um, yes. OK."

Any type of calm demeanour I have ever had went out the window. I was just spitting out words, asking if I'm in the right place, not even giving a chance for these people to answer. These people must have thought I was a flaming idiot. I was so thrown for a loop, having forgotten people would be there--by the way there were another four people I didn't even see in the room. Good gravy.

We got it all worked out and chit chatted until the party showed. It was nice to visit with so many working performers in Branson. I met a group of sisters who have the most beautiful voices! Saw a friend I met working the Mary Kay show last year and of course, I got to visit with my sweet friend from OCU. There's something wonderful about performers. There is never a dull moment, always an interesting story to be told, and of course, entertainment. We listened to a young lady sing us a few of her own songs and my friends boyfriend, an OCU alum, sat down to his piano and played us a pretty tune. How incredible to be surrounded by so much talented!

Anyway, the audition! The whole purpose behind my trip! Of course, that's what I'm supposed to tell you! The audition went really well and I'm hoping to hear back from them in the next few days. It was a great experience in a very different audition setting. I performed two short thirty second pieces and had a nice interview with personnel. Not the the normal process where I'm standing in a room full of people as they make cuts right and left. Still in all, I'm glad I went. It's a great show, very well known, and would be a solid position to have for nine months.

Whatever happens I know happens for a reason. It also gave me some things to think about like jobs I'm really wanting to audition for, things I want to happen for the next year, and possible travel plans. Suddenly I'm feeling less scared about the unknown and more determined to get certain ones. A year will go by all too quickly. Branson is some place I'd like to go back to though. The people are lovely, there are so many shows, a great cost of living, and the opportunity to save! Like I said, whatever happens, happens for a reason.

I've got a lot of work ahead of me in this next coming year. I'm excited to get it started and looking forward to the challenges ahead of me. Remind me I said that when in two months time I'm having a heart attack trying to solve all of life's problems. Happy Monday!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Firsts & Lasts

Today is technically my last day of class as a student. Yes, I still have a whole other week of finals next week, three of which are dance classes and only one paper to turn in, BUT today is the last full day of regular classes. Whoa.


That's huge. Do you realize that I've been in school since I was four years old. Four. Almost twenty years I've been in school and now it's done. I walk the stage in eight days, finally completing my college education. It's insane that this Thursday is the last Thursday I'll have of class.

What's that? Why am I finishing class on a Thursday instead of Friday? Well, that's because I'm going to Branson, MO tonight for an audition tomorrow. I'm trading in my dance finals for auditions. This is the real deal, man. I'm not practicing any more and I don't think this trip could have made it any more real to me.

I'm auditioning for jobs that will put money in the bank and food in my belly--I no longer worry about getting a good grade for a thirty second combo, I have to get the job. Aside from a paycheck, which will pay for those student loans in six months (Holy. Hannah. Can't think about that now.), I will to do what I've been dreaming of since I was seven: perform. *Sigh* How wonderful!

I'm excited. I'm nervous. I've done plenty of auditions before, just not with the staggering realization that I'm actually beginning my career. Lately I've been feeling incredibly nervous about leaving school, extremely scared about attempting auditions, and doubtful of the choice I've made for myself. You can tell me that ever graduate feels this way and I'm sure that's true. It feels different because I'm actually living it right now. Then I found this quote and I knew it would be more of a mantra for me than anything else:

Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.
-Robin Morgan

So here I go, venturing into the unknown, trying my best, and keeping my fingers crossed. I'm going to go for it all and see what happens. Hmmm. I might have to print this out to remind myself of this courageous moment I'm having. I forget all to easily about my gumption in a moment of panic.

I'm hoping to get back in town to see Home for the Holidays at OCU. It's the American Spirit Christmas show and I haven't missed it once since I've been at school here. It's so much fun to see, full of holiday cheer, a dancing hippopotamus, toy soldiers, and even the baby Jesus. Yes, he makes a glowing appearance every year for the final nativity scene--it's actually very moving. Anyway, you should come out! To all the American Spirit Dancers, break legs!

I also found out that Bryan White is doing a performance with the OCU string orchestra on Sunday. I must confess, I loved me some Bryan White growing up. He's a country singer from the 90's. You probably remember "Rebbecca Lynn," "Someone Else's Star," and his duet with Shania Twain, "From This Moment On." Yup, definitely going. 

This Christmas Elf still has some *cough A LOT cough cough* of Christmas shopping to do. And baking. And  a paper to finish. And defensive driving. And...oh man. I'm going to stop there before I start to hyperventilating. It will all get done in time!

Wish me luck for tomorrow! I'm officially up in running in the business of auditioning!! YAHOO!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Little Chrismas Help

Friday afternoon and I'm on the phone with Mom, listening to her tell me about all the Christmas things she wishes we could do together. We want to bake goodness and sing Christmas songs, go shopping, and rope Dad into pulling down our holiday decorations. Heck, we just want to spend a little time together since we haven't gotten to do that in a long time, just the two of us. On and on we lament about all the holiday things we long to do and how we're missing our mother/daughter time when it hits me.

"Hey Mom--why don't I come down this weekend!"

"You...*sniff* can do that?!" Yes, Mom was a bit teary at that point and it only solidified the solution to our predicament.

"SURE! I don't have blocking for the first time in about four years. I've got the last of my school work under control--I can TOTALLY come down!"

So off like a shot, I began throwing things in a bag, packing up laundry, and tossing Honey in her crate--don't worry, I gave her lots of loving before she paraded her happy hiney in there. She's really a pretty good traveler.

Mom was so excited about my quick trip. She decided it would be even better to surprise Dad and he was definitely surprised. I wish I had a camera to capture his priceless expression when I walked in the door. Brow furrowed, eyes squinting and a dropped jaw. "Well, hey. What are you doing here?" That's Dad's way of saying, "Yeehaw! My youngest child is home!"

Saturday we ventured out into the windy weather in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Our first trip to Home Depot, Mom walked right up the fattest tree in the lot. Petting it's pretty branches, she stepped a little closer and wrapped her arms around it, looked back at us and declared this was the tree for us. How could Dad and I argue with her pleading look?

Home we went with this year's Christmas tree in tow, ready to be decked in all the holiday paraphernalia we own. Again, I wished I brought my camera so pardon the fuzzy pictures as they are off my cell phone.

I told you we had a 12ft tree my freshman year of high school--And yes, Pyro Man, it was 12ft high. I'm going to hunt down those photos to show you, too. Well, this year's isn't a that tall, but certainly does take up an immense amount of the designated Christmas tree area. It stands 8ft tall, probably 10ft high on the platform we placed it on, but the circumference on this puppy is wide. I actually had to help Dad set this one up this year. Dang.

We had a bit of trouble of getting the tree into a perfectly right up position.

The leaning tower of O Tannenbaum.

Mom helped instruct us in the proper way to string the lights.

Dad fixed the tinsel according to Mom's draping techniques and I will say, it does look picturesque.

After hanging all of our favorite ornaments, we present you with the Russell Family Christmas Tree.

It's just so huggable!

Overall, it was a wonderful impromtu trip. Mom and I did get our shopping in...except it was more shopping for my upcoming trip to England rather than Christmas shopping. Dang. Guess that's on my to-do list for this week along with my defensive driving course. Perhaps I might have gotten a ticket for maybe going a smidge above the speed limit a couple weeks back. Perhaps. Maybe. Possibly.

I had a lovely surprise come in the mail while I was home. My godmother sent me a lovely graduation gift.

It's a beautiful silver and turquoise ring she wore everday for about fifteen years. We've been pen pals all the years I've been in school here in Oklahoma. She is actually my Dad's sister-in-law as well as my godmother. She's such a neat lady, too--She shares little tid-bits of family history in the letters and I've saved every one. What a lovely and thoughtful gift! It means the world to have a family treasure passed down and I know I'll cherish this ring.

Off to class I go--it's the last week of classes I have as a student here at OCU! 11 more days and I will officially complete my career as a college student. Crazy. After that, it'll be on to whatever adventure lies ahead for me.

Honey has packed herself so I don't forget her.

Happy Monday!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas List

One of my friends posted 30 little known facts about herself on her blog, Vanilla Bean & Er's. I really enjoyed reading her tid-bits and wanted to do one for myself...except I already have. About two years ago. Here. And I used a lot of fun colors, too! I should do that again.

Anyway, because I still want to do it, because the holidays are upon us, and because it's December 1st, I'm going to share 30 Christmas Tid-Bits! Things about Christmas' past, my favorite things, little facts, and more!

1) I love listening to Christmas music and starting the day after Thanksgiving, it plays on my radio non-stop. Play Pandora on your computer using the White Christmas station for some good classics! 104.1 if you're in OKC.

2) Going along with thought #1, I love singing Christmas songs. All the time. Especially my favorite holiday tune, "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." Get ready, I'll sing them to you all month long!

3) In the late 1930's, Montgomery Ward actually made up the story about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer as a holiday promotion. Who would have thunk? It actually aired last night on CBS before the Victoria's Secret Show...weird combination.
4) The Nutcracker is a widely popular holiday ballet, but did you know that the Washington Ballet does a version using our forefathers? A patriotic Nutcracker! How fun!

5) Growing up, Santa always wrote us a note to leave by the crumble of his cookies and drained milk glass. Santa now asks for for peanuts and beer instead. Hmmm....wonder if Mrs. Claus approves of this mid-night snack.

6) When I was eleven, we delivered a Christmas tree to a very dear friend of ours--she was extremely ill. Her friends and family rallied together to decorate her tree and sing songs outside her door. I remember her coming outside to listen. The look of her face was priceless.  It is one of my favorite Christmas memories.

7) The first artificial Christmas trees came from Germany and they were made out of goose feathers died green. That could not have smelled pleasant.

8) I have a sparkly pink Christmas tree from my first apartment. Four girls living under one roof with a pink and black living room, how could I not purchase a pink tree?

9) That was also the year we won the Christmas decorating contest in our complex--it literally looked like you walked into a winter wonderland. We had icicle lights hanging like a canopy in our living room with pink ornaments and snowflakes hanging down.

10) It's tradition in our house to open stockings first on Christmas morning. I'm not really sure why--I think Big Sister made that up a long time ago.

11) For years, Big Sister and I would get up in the middle of the night, sneak out the living room and have a peek. The funny part is we never knew the other one did it until a few years ago. Oh how stealthy we were.

12) I've only ever been in three productions of the Nutcracker, but I could still sing you the ENTIRE Tchaikovsky score if you'd like.

13) I love holiday baking. LOVE IT. Treats like jalapeno jelly, holiday meringues, gingerbread, Christmas cookies, and more. Oh my gosh. My mouth is watering.

14) Speaking of food, my family always does Chinese food for dinner on Christmas Eve. Before that, we did pizza. Don't worry, we do a nice roast dinner on Christmas day.

15) Last Christmas Eve, Pyro Man drove through a Dallas snow storm to spend Christmas with my family. A three hour drive took eleven hours. I must be one lucky girl.

16) Did you know that "Silent Night" was written for a choir when the church organ broke? I did not.

17) It's not Christmas until you've watched It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Muppet Family Christmas, and Elf. In my book, that is.

18) The best version of A Christmas Carol is the Muppet version. Hands down.

19) Christmas seems to bring out the best in people. Kids are usually on their best behavior, people in general are nicer...unless they're trying to get a parking spot at the mall. All bets are off at that point.

20) In 1870, the United States proclaimed Christmas as a national holiday.

21) This is the first Christmas I'll be spending away from home--don't cry, Mom--I'll actually be visiting with Pyro Man and his family! How fun!

22) Bing Crosby's version of "White Christmas" is one of the most popular Christmas albums and a family favorite--I swear, it's not my opinion unlike # 17 and #18. We literally wore out of a cassette tape of the Binger and were forced to buy the CD.

23) Oh this one is cool! Animal crackers were actually meant to be Christmas decorations, not an edible treat!

24) I actually like wrapping gifts. I think it's really fun and I like making boxes pretty and curling ribbons. I wrap Dad's gifts every year. Oops. You didn't read that, Mom.
25) Dad set our carpet on fire one Christmas eve. While trying to start a roaring fire in our fire place, we discovered the floo was shut when spoke came billowing into our living room. Dad jumped up, grabbed the gigantic tongs (who knows what they're called), and snatched up the flaming log only to drop in our our carpet. Yup, we covered up the burned hole for about year before we fixed it.

26) You can wear holiday apparel all month long and no one judges. The ridiculously decorated Christmas sweater? You can wear that because it's festive. The light up Christmas tree tie? Go ahead and flaunt it at work--it's the only time of year it's appropriate.

27) Christmas cards are awesome. Who doesn't like opening their mailbox and find an outpouring of letters from old friends and families with pictures and updates on their life?

28) Christmas cards were actually invented in 1843 as a way of encouraging people to help those in need. The first card showed a happy family with a child drinking wine and an inscription that read "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You!" They were so popular, people continued to send them year after year. In fact, it was actually the beginning of the greeting card industry. I love sending cards.

29) Mom's kitchen is usually full of holiday baked goods around Christmas time--I'm all over the holiday treats. One year Dad actually beat out Mom in at home fudge competition. His blond fudge won by a landslide, which was shocking since he's mostly a grill man.

30) Christmas Trees--There are three stories I love that entail Christmas trees. One you read, see # 6, and the others involve Dad. We had a 12 ft. Christmas tree my freshman year of high school. It was beautiful in our living room with the high ceilings, however, getting it out was another story. It had to be cut into several pieces to be removed from our house and took my dad, my then boyfriend, and his brother to load the pieces into Dad's truck. I think that's when Mom said no more 12 ft trees.

Then there's my favorite, The Story of the Disappearing Tree. Dad loaded up our old Christmas tree in the bed of truck and took off for the dump. Hopping out of his ride, Dad let the nice dump worker know, "Hey, I got a tree that needs to be unloaded." The dump worked looked at the truck and then my father. "What tree?" he asked. My puzzled father checked his truck and low and behold, no tree! "Well, what do you know!" he exclaimed.

Dad drove up and down the highway trying to find the lost little dried up tree. He never found it. I guess we'll never know what happened to that ol' Christmas tree.

It's funny, we joke that Dad can be a Scrooge around Christmas sometimes, but oddly enough, most of these stories include him. Aw, Dad! You're an ol' softy at heart after all--maybe we should start calling you the Grinch instead!

Happy December, everyone!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Deck The Halls

Thanksgiving is officially over and it's time to move on to Christmas. Every year I'm always surprised how fast the holidays sneak up on me. I'm trying to get into the Christmas spirit right now so that I can savor every moment! These next few weeks are going to fly by; I only have two weeks of classes and a week of finals before I graduate and put the lid of my school days. I. Can't. Wait.

This year's Thanksgiving was a bit different this year. We ended up at a restaurant for our Turkey feast and spent the afternoon watching the Cowboys lose to the Saints in Grandmas' hospital room. This is definitely not a annual occurance, it just so happened we had a hiccup the week prior to Turkey Day.

Last Friday my Grandmother was extremely ill and ended up spending a little over a week in the hospital. My dog, Piper, actually got sick at the same time and she had to stay in the vet's office for quite a few days. She's finally getting back to her normal self, but she scared us for a while.

Grandma is doing better each and every day, but there's still a long road of recovery left for her. The doctors are still not sure exactly what caused her illness and we may never know--I sure am glad that she's come back to us. Today she'll be moving to a skilled nursing facility where she can learn to get her strength back. It's a one-day-at-a-time process.

Lookin' good, Grandma! Keep up the good work!

Pyro Man joined us for Thanksgiving this year and it was nice to spend several days with him. He joined our Grandma visits, braved the stores for a bit of Christmas shopping, and helped with our Turkey Two dinner. Our family usually does a second Thanksgiving the Friday after Thanksgiving, hence why it's been dubbed Turkey Two. Our dinner got moved to Saturday, but we still had the usual suspects around our table: The Parentals, Captn' Pat, Big Sister and her husband, our friend Giesla, and Pyro Man. Turned out to be a pretty good meal and best of all, I got to spend it with some of my favorite people.

By the way, did you miss the opening of the Macy's Day Parade? Elf: The Musical presented one of their numbers and I'm proud to say one of my professors is the assistant choreographer! I wish so much I could see the entire show, this is one of my favorite Christmas flicks!

Alright, everyone, hope you have a good start to this new week and had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Me, I'm going to crank up the Christmas music and start planning my holiday shopping!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Counting Blessings

It's that time of year where we start really counting our blessing. It's that time of year where we really start to say thanks. It's that time of year where everyone realizes they need to say "I love you" to the ones they care about, absorb all the hugs they can, forgive all heart aches, and celebrate these joyous holidays.

I can't think of a better time to count up my blessings and give thanks to gifts I've been given. Setting aside all concrete objects, all material possessions, and concentrating on the people in my life and the opportunities that have been passed to me, I see that am I one lucky girl.

This Thanksgiving may not be spent around a grand table full of glittering amber glass, full of home cooked meals, and decadent treats, but it will be surrounded by the ones I love and that is all I truly need.

To you and yours, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Little Bit of Country

Had a lovely weekend with Pyro Man and his family. I drove down to Abilene and as soon as I got there, we hopped into his truck and headed for Brownwood. His family has property down there and I do believe he's been down there hunting just about every week since the season opened.

We got in a little too late Friday night to do any hunting, but you can bet we were up at 5:20 the next morning getting ready to head out to the deer stand. It'd been almost a year since my first hunting experience where I actually did get a spike. I wasn't as lucky this time, but I did see a good amount of deer including a couple of bucks. They are absolutely magnificent creatures and just the sight of them takes your breath away. I'm still amazed at how I can be staring at a set of trees, see nothing and then bam! There's a deer just staring back at you.

We spent some time of Saturday with the cattle his aunt and uncle raise. I can't help but think of two things when I look at cows. First of all, I think of my deep love for Chik-fil-a. Second, I think of a giant steak and I get a little hungry. That sounds just awful because these creature are actually pretty precious...from the front. Don't look at the back end. All sorts of mess is back there and it ruins the ambiance.

They have a whole lot of calves running around on they property they live on. There's another set of cattle on a different piece the family owns and we visited them later in the day (Please forgive me if I use any terminology incorrectly--what can I say? I don't know much about cattle.). I really liked watching the calves though. Some had really floppy ears that look so soft, like little silk pouches. There was a precious brown one that looked liked it walked off a carton of Bluebell ice cream. But one stole my heart. This plump little black one that just has the fuzziest coat ever. I loved him/her immediately. I didn't really get close enough to check out its nether parts--like I said, not always a pretty sight.

We moved on to their other herd to drop off a couple buckets of a protein mix for them to eat and give them a dousing in some worm medicine. I got to watch them round up the cattle into a pen, corral them through a shoot and release them to enjoy the rest of their grazing day. I had to ask if they named their cattle. Sure, they each had been labeled with tags, but I can't imagine having a creature and just calling it "34" or something. I had the pleasure of meeting Sassy, Brownie, Mo Joe, Ginger, and Crazy. I'm missing a few in there.
When you're driving down the road and spot a pasture full of Bessie's, you don't realize just how big they are until you're standing next to them. I didn't mind keeping my distance, but I felt like a kid a petting zoo, I had a real hankering to touch them. I did get to pet Sassy. She is a cow they raised from a calf, very sweet and easy going. I really wanted to touch Ginger though. She has beautiful dark chocolate coat that looked like someone drizzled  a deep cranberry color over her back. Ginger looked like she would be heaven to touch, just silky and soft.

As I was watching her graze only a few feet from me, she looked up with those big cow eyes. I thought, "This is it! She can feel me watching her and she's going to let me pet her!" She held my gaze, belched, licked the gooey protein from her nose, and trotted away.

Well, so much for that. I come from a line of cattle ranchers, but I ain't no cow whisperer. It's fine though. At least she didn't poop on me.

On the way out, we stopped to feed some catfish, very fun. Throw a bucket of little kibbles into a small pond and their fishy faces surface to gobble it all up. I didn't quite throw the food out far enough. More like I just dumped it on the , but I swear I really tried!

It's been a lot of fun joining Pyro Man on these outdoor weekends. I've got family that live on land, have raised chickens, and had horses. Dad is a rancher's son, Mom grew up camping and everyone in the family knows how to fly fish--except yours truly.  My life, however, has been a bit different with dance classes, choice concerts and musical theater. I've had many wonderful experiences, but I've really enjoyed being a part of these outdoor activities. It's very different from things I've done before and right now it's the perfect breath of fresh air I need.

On the way back we spotted wild turkeys--I'd never actually seen wild turkeys in real life. I told Pyro Man the story about how my aunt, Nannie, once hit a turkey with her car and how it messed up the front of her bumper. I also thought the turkey was frozen. I forgot she lives in the country and wild turkeys roam free. How much of a city slicker am I? Really though, I could see a giant frozen bird come bouncing out the back end of someones pick up and just smashing into her car. Can't you? No. Well, then I must be crazy.

Happy 100th post--I finally made it to one hundred entries after almost two years of blogging.

On a more serious note, if you readers will say a few prayers from Grandma and Piper. Grandma has been in the hospital all weekend and we're needing some positive thoughts sent her way. This is the grandmother we moved this summer, the Treat Lady, and the one I love so. Poor Piper has some sort of bacterial infection and has been with the vet since Friday morning--hoping some new medicines will push her back to good health. She is my puppy sister, my precious pup who just turned six this summer, too.

Have a happy Monday and a good start to this Thanksgiving week!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quick Trip

Finally Thursday, the best day of the week! Tomorrow I'm heading to Abilene to see Pyro Man and then he's taking me on another hunting adventure. Hold your hats, ladies and gentlemen, I'm taking another crack at it and I'm pretty excited.

Leaving for home next Wednesday for my absolute favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. It's a little bit different this year, far less of our usual crew and one new addition, Pyro Man. Well, two if you count Honey. There will be no traditional Thanksgiving dinnerware and no traditional thanksgiving cream cheese mints. Part of me is sad those delicious morsels won't be on the table, but the other half of me is glad I don't have to make them or have a stomach ache from eating too many.

I've been hustling my buns trying to get more edits done and get that thesis sucker complete. The big hurdle the last couple weeks has been Movement Maps. Basically I have to draw out each formation that dancers are in for each piece. I have to show the transitions and lines of movement as well. It takes a while to get them done, but I'm pretty shocked at how much I remember. It's like the show is engraved in my head.

I feel as though once the thesis is turned in to the printer I will finally be able to close this chapter. I'm definitely ready for the next step. I think. Anyway, 29 days until graduation and after that is a whirlwind of excitement!! Christmas, big trip, new years, and then moving! Whoo-hoo! Happy Thursday one and all! Enjoy your weekend and hopefully I'll have some hunting story to share when I get back!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Suzy Homemaker

I like to bake. I like to cook. I like to clean. Wait, no I don't--I like to make PILES of stuff and tidy up, but I'm not an obsessive cleaner. I'm definitely not attached to my cleaning supplies. Guess what I'm trying to say is that I enjoy doing some very Suzy Homemaker things around my house. To me, they're fun activities, sans the cleaning part, and also something TOTALLY unrelated to what I study/what will be my career. Well, today I'm adding to that list with embroidery.

A long time again when Big Sister and I were just kids, Mom taught us how to do different crafty things like how to crochet, knit, sew, cross-stitch, and embroider. Friendship bracelets--anyone remember those? Anyway, I really enjoyed it and still have some of the little projects we did. Then we grew up, grew to have different interests, and life continued to be very busy until recently.

I'm a busy person. I like to have a good amount of stuff on my plate because I never get bored. Personal Motto: I'd rather be busy than bored. At this moment I don't have enough to do--plenty of pressure to get a job and finish up school...I'll you know when something turns up. However, there is definitely not enough activity for me to be a happy camper, hence my feeling prickly this week.
 Most afternoons I finish work and by 7:00/8:00, I'm out of things to do. Oh there's reading. I've read about three books in the last two weeks and just started my fourth. But I've been looking for something to do, to sink my teeth into. So I picked up the embroidery again.

Around my birthday I asked for tea towels and embroidery patterns. Why? Well, I remember my Mom and Grandma used to have dish towels that were embroidered with geese and the days of the week. For some reason, I felt I needed some in my kitchen. That and I also wanted a project to do at night other that homework.

Hallelujah! I have an activity to keep me going! It's fun! It's a mess right now, but who cares, right?! I'm working on something that's entertaining and makes me happy and doesn't keep tipping the scale the wrong way! Now if only I can do this while walking...hmm...

In any case, I think I've flung myself full force into this project--I'm sure it'll be my obsession at least for the next few weeks. It's like cereal, I get hooked on something and it sticks for a LONG time. I think I ate Special K for about 4 years before I officially moved on to Honey Nut Cheerios. I'm weird that way.

Currently I've got these little towels to finish.

I don't think I'll get them all done before Christmas, but there's a Twelve Days of Chirstmas set and even these precious Santas!
I know, it's a bit overkill right now, but hey. I've got my happy for a little while and that's all that matters right now. I'm still working on a new exercise activity that will help wake my body--don't get me wrong, I love to dance. I just need something else to keep me from feeling bored. Ack. Hate that word. Suggestions please!


Happy Friday everyone :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Something Sweet...

I'm a dancer with a serious sweet tooth. This poses a major problem in my meal planning--I've found I can't live off sugar alone. Or peanut butter, which is equally depressing.

I've discovered with my little kitchen that I really enjoy cooking--flubs and all. Flubs including homemade crispy macaroni and cheese, only it wasn't supposed to be crispy. Ahem. Then there's that one time I got confused about what type of rice was supposed to be used for a particular stove top dish. An hour later and the chicken was dried beyond recognition, veggies were incredibly over cooked, and the rice was still not done. If you have not learned the difference between the various basic types of rice (pre-cooked, uncooked, and microwavable), I highly recommend figuring that out or else be doomed to gnaw on dry chicken.

In this quest to perfect my culinary skills, of which I am far from perfect, I continue to peruse various cooking websites in search of something new and different. Some days I think, "wouldn't it be lovely if I could create a cookbook for dancers," but I then I remember that the dessert section of my recipe binder is dangerously larger than the other categories. Whoops.

Somehow my bigger meals always turn out slightly unbalanced, something healthy with something incredibly sinful. Had the girls over on Saturday and we had a wonderful Red Beans and Rice Soup, courtesy of my old Weight Watchers recipes, but then something went amiss. I added in homemade cornbread where I proceeded to teach my friends how to eat it warm with butter and honey--I prefer Steen syrup but I couldn't find any in Oklahoma City. Go figure, but oh my stars, the way butter and honey blend together should be outlawed. Then, I lost my head and added in this amazing fall dessert treat, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.

**Side note--you should seriously try these cookies. Super moist and out of this world delicious. The cookies have a perfect pumpkin flavor and the cream cheese icing in the center adds the sweet taste you're craving. Oh my gosh, pardon the drool, but I could really go for one of those right now. **

As much as I enjoy being in the kitchen, it's the baking that really calls my name. I wish I could spend a little more time experimenting with the recipes I'm finding at The Tasty Kitchen. I find something new everyday and my recipe box keeps growing. I haven't added any recipes to the site as I have yet to experiment with creating something on my own. Too many flubs keep me following directions very carefully these days (Did I mention the accidental overdose of Cayenne pepper? "1 Tbl" is not the same as "1 tsp". Sometimes I read too quickly. Oops).

In any case, whenever I find a recipe that has spoken to my inner baker, I will pass it along so that you too can partake in embracing your sweet treat addiction. Don't worry, I will try include things other than desserts, like breads! Just kidding, I'll throw in main course meals, too. As for me, I'm going to try resist testing out this Pumpkin Cheesecake me Rhonda.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is it Christmas Already?

Every year after Halloween it seems that Christmas just starts popping up all over. Wal-Mart is already making space for their Christmas items. They've got some holiday themed products out like Winter Oreos, Peppermint Oreos, and Snowflake Ritz crackers. Dillards has their Christmas trees up and most every store is gearing up for the winter holidays.

To this I say, "What the hey?!" Every year it seems my favorite holiday is skipped over. There are never any turkey decorated stores and the only Thanksgiving themed items one can find is in the form of Libby's Pumpkin Puree cans that line the aisles of grocery stores. Really?

Honestly it should not be that surprising and recently I've been contemplating listening to Christmas tunes so that I may ensure I'm really sick of them by December the 25th. However, I've held my ground. I will not turn on the Christmas carols yet. I will not break out the Christmas movies or read a Christmas tale until the day after Thanksgiving. Although, I plan on decorating my apartment before I leave for Turkey Day break, but that's only so I'll be greeted with holiday cheer when I get back.

Aside from the decoration, there is something I've been mulling over and that is Christmas gifts. Y'all, we only have 47 shopping days left until Christmas! AH! That's a horrifying thought (Cough cough 39 until graduation cough cough)!! There's so much to be done!!


Eh. 47 days. That's PLENTY of time. I don't really have my knees in a knot about it, I'm just running out of topics to share these days. Dang, I've got to have an adventure here pretty soon. My life is way too quiet if all I have to write about is Wal-Mart's Christmas aisle. Good grief. Next I'll be writing about the dust bunnies under my couch. Until the next "thrilling" entry...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nose in a Book

I love to read. I really do. Every summer I promise myself to read at least ten books and sadly I was unable to do so this year. Now I'm trying to make-up for lost time!

Sunday I popped into Barnes & Noble in search of Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. My friend, Megan, recommended it and said I'd really enjoy the series. I'm not going to lie, I was a little skeptical when I finally found it in teen fiction, but then again, one should never judge a book by it's cover! Ba-ha!

*cricket, cricket*

Well, I thought it was funny. Anyway, I passed through the rows and rows of literature, just wanting to get my hands on all sorts of bindings and absorb as many new stories as a I can. It seems as though my creative juices are in a bit of dry spell. I need to refuel and new books certainly help with that.

Also ran across the new Nicholas Sparks book, Safe Haven. Don't judge. I've already rattled on about a teen fiction novel, might as well take it a step further. Although, I do enjoy a Sparks novel now and again. He's writing is very predictable. Man and woman meet. Man and woman fall in love. Generally one is more hesitant about the relationship than the other because of some dark secret they are harboring. It always unfolds in the end with some traumatic experience and then they end up happily ever after. At least most of the time. Oh, and there's always a dead loved one involved or someone on their deathbed.

See? I've just summarized every one of his books. However, it's the characters that he creates that I absolutely love falling into. He has the ability to pen the exact phrase a person would want to hear from her mate--I use "person" and "mate" because no matter if the characters are male or female, they always say the right thing. Sparks creates these fictional characters that speak to anyone's fantasy and it just sells. And I always buy into it at least, even when I know what the story is before I've cracked the binding.

Well, anyway, I'm done with it now, happily satisfied with the ending result of this love story. Often times, I get very into a story and I can't stop living in it even after the book is closed. It's the most bizarre situation. I can't move on to another story until it's out of my mind completely. Must be the mark of a good writer if their tale leaves you wondering "what's next?"

Do you have a book that leaves you wanting more? Tell me! I could use some suggestions! Although, that might not be a good idea. It only took a day for me to finish one book. Any more and I might not want to do school work for the remaining 45 days I have! (I'm really worried about getting distracted by a good read. I just needed an excuse to tell you I only haev 45 days left. Well looky there, I just told you again! Hee hee...)

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy News & Moving Plans

It's the first day of November!! Hooray! Do you know what that means? Thanksgiving is around the corner and I'm that much closer to walking the stage. Forty-six days away to be exact. How thrilling!

Last week I received some very exciting news. Upon completion of my thesis production, Imagine This!, I underwent two days worth of defense analysis with my committee. I am now pleased to announce that the production was deemed successful, which means the production passed.



This was such a relief to hear because, well, it determines whether I stay and re-do my entire thesis project or graduate and continue on with my adult life. Now that the verdict is out, I feel like a new woman. No, really. I've got more pep in my step, a lighter load to bear, and I can honestly say, I feel a little more like myself. From here on out, I'm working on editing the thesis so it can be published and finishing up my last academic class. Sweet relief.

It's always around this time that people start asking, "so, what's next?" I can't help but get a little nauseous when this questions pops up because for once, I really don't know. Continuing on with graduate school was fabulous because it 1) gave me an extra year and a half to figure that answer out, 2) gave me purpose and direction towards my goals and 3) allowed me to have live the life of a student for a little bit longer.

Ain't an option any more. That is, unless I get my doctorate, but homegirl here is dog tired and that idea will wait until way down the line. As I sit and edit my thesis, I continue to ponder where I'm going to go and what am I going to do now. I'm trying to get on board with the notion that the unknown is exciting. Here's my biggest dilemma so far. When do I move out of my apartment?

I'm sad to say that my lease runs up in December and I will have to leave my perfect slice of heaven. I can't even believe. Every time I think about packing up my home and moving away from the best apartment in the world, I get a little weepy. I had friends over for dinner this weekend and I gave an abbreviated story of why I love my house.

Back during my sophomore year, when I was a fearless little thing, I had a very simple dream of some day living in a beautiful little house with a perfect kitchen. The cabinets would be white and glass covered so I could display the colorful dishes I would someday own. I could see myself having coffee and working on a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table as my faithful furry companion sat by my feet. I could keep going, but suffice it to say, I had a dream of my perfect home for just little ol' me.

This represented so much more for me than just a place to sleep. It was a whole representation of the start to my own life, making my own nest, and finding my own way. When I decided to move out of the dorms the summer I started the grad program, it was a way of beginning again and separating myself from the old. Let's just say that summer I needed something good to happen. I really needed a fresh start and finding a new place to live was the perfect answer. That's when I found my apartment (and Pyro Man, but he's another story).

After days of searching online, I came across the website of this historic apartment complex. I drove past the complex and felt my heart start to pound. I walked through the door of my now home and instantly fell in love. It was everything I had ever dreamed of and more.

I've settled in, found places to put all my things, got my colorful dishes, created my own weird way of organizing stuff, and made my nest. Of course I'll miss my beautiful French doors, the three closets I use for my clothes, and the creaky hardwood floors. I'll miss my tiny kitchen with it's gas powered stove, the glass paned cabinets, and the built in bookshelves. I'll miss everything. Mostly I'll miss this independence.

Sure, I've made the occasional mention of being slightly lonely when I'm by myself there, but it's the ability to live on my own that makes me feel like hey, I am strong and independent. There's something in being able stand on your own two feet and it's been a lifelong goal to be able to do that. I'm not ready to give that up and move back in with my parents. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of pro's to that situation. I just don't know the next time I'll get the chance to experience this unique time in my life.

What's really funny is I remember Mom and Big Sister saying to enjoy this time I've had to live on my own, enjoy the time I've had in being on my own. At this point, I'm wishing I had savored that time a bit more. So here's the real question:

Do I move out in December after graduation or do I move out in January?

I can move back to Dallas and start hitting the pavement for job as soon as I'm done OR I can come back up to OKC in January and do that same thing. What do I do? The band aid approach and just say goodbye now to my single self life in my perfect little apartment? Or do I drag it out for two weeks in January, allowing myself time to pack, grieve, and find work?

Tough decision. Honestly I need some help so please, which would you choose, dear readers? I need advice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dancing Man

The lights dimmed and crowd hushed as the stage brightened to focus on the unmanned band. Three gentlemen in black stepped out on stage, took their rightful places next to their instruments and began to play. The tune is all so familiar to this particular audience as it speaks about our dreams, our ultimate goals, the ideal place to be: Broadway.

Soaking up the sound, a movement comes from the side of the stage causing the audience to turn. Behold, a living treasure shuffles out from the wings and the audience gasps. Dressed in a stripped jacket, brown pants, and a well-worm hat, the stocky man moves in time with music down towards the audience.

It's him, Stumpy himself, Mr. Harold Cromer. He lifts his head and begins to sing.

They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there's always magic in the air.
But when you're walking down the street and you ain't had enough to eat
The glitter rubs right off and you're nowhere.

Harold moves his feet around, creating the most intricate sounds and rhythms ever heard. Clear and crisp, you can tell he's had many years to perfect this art. He bends at the waist, balancing his body and watching as the taps come floating from his feet. Such talent, such history resides in those weathered tap shoes. They've danced across America on stages that we dreamers can only  hope to grace someday. He pauses for a moment, the thud of the bass still resonating on stage. Harold turns towards the audience, looks out into the light, and beings his story.

Harold Cromer came to speak at OCU last night. This was a rare treat for our school as he is a treasure to the tap history of America. It was a great honor to sit in the presence of one who has experienced so much and was gracious enough to share it with our young generation. For the rest of the evening, I heard tales from this man about his life, his career, and the lessons he wanted to share.

Harold Cromer was born a twin in Hell's Kitchen in New York City. He was born to be a song and dance man, destined to be one of the greats. His first introduction to tap came from none other than Mr. Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. As a child, he watched Bojangles perform his world renowned staircase act, a dance sequence most would recognize from The Little Colonel, starring Shirley Temple.

Harold was captivated by the incredible sight of this staircase routine. He decided right then and there he had to learn how to dance. With a pair of roller skates strapped to his shoes, Harold began to teach himself how to tap. His first big success came from winning first prize at a local dance competition. The winnings? A bag full of groceries he brought back to his mother to feed their large family of ten.

Throughout the rest of the discussion, Harold entertained the audience with his animated face and colorful stories. He's seen a lot in life and it's shown in his heartfelt discussions on tap and life as an African American performer. From dancing on Broadway to vaudeville circuits, from Vegas shows to mopping up stage floors, Harold has seen it all. He's performed with such stars as Ethel Merman and Betty Grable. He headlined with musicians like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald. Harold took part in the rising age of Rock and Roll by working with such stars as Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, and Marvin Gaye. The man has truly moved through the changing times of entertainment.

However, he is probably most noted for his comedic act with partner James "Stump" Cross as Stump and Stumpy. The two men partnered together in 1948 and performed with several of Duke Ellington's shows including Jump for Joy and This is the Army. Their Stump and Stumpy act is right up there with other famous tap acts like Buck and Bubbles and Chuck and Chuckles.

Fifteen years ago, the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management honored Harold with a Living Treasure in American Dance Award. This award was started by Department Chair Jo Rowan and Dean John Bedford as a way of honoring the American living legends of the entertainment world. Over forty-seven of these awards have been given to treasures such as Deborah Mitchell, Honi Coles, Arthur Duncan Gus Giordano, and many more.

Unfortunately, when Harold was to receive this honor, he was stuck in Minneapolis, MN due to a snow storm. An arrangement was made so that Harold would receive the award during his run of Babes in Arms from his co-star, Kristin Chenoweth. The man was touched by this recognition and expressed his sincere gratitude last night during his lecture. As a parting gift, Jo Rowan asked that Harold please perform Mr. Bojangles for the audience. Even without a pianist, who never showed for the rehearsal, Harold agreed to this request.

Words can only say so much and I could never write exactly what it was like to watch this man perform this final number. This song represents many performers who's passion for dance has never gone out though their bodies may have. He shuffled across the stage and sang with all his heart, giving the audience a piece of it, too.

I knew man, Bojangles, and he'd dance for you
In worn out shoes.

With silver hair, a ragged shirt, and baggy pants
The old soft shoe.

He'd jump so high, he'd jump so high
Then he'd lightly touch down.
Mister Bojangles
Mister Bojangles
Mister Bojangles,

While singing, he reached into his left breast pocket that held a red handkerchief and pulled out a silver harmonica. He put his lips to the instrument, closed his eyes, and began to play. The sweetest sound you've ever heard filled the theater. There was so much feeling in notes that rang out. A story was told in the way he titled his head back and played. Even as he swayed, feeling the rhythm and letting the song soak up inside his soul, the music carried across the stage and reached out to the people. Everything about this moment expressed his journey, his life, and his work. The audience watched, captivated by the intense emotion and undeniable talent of this man.

Mister Bojangles
Mister Bojangles
Mister Bojangles,

The crowd jumped to their feet with a thunderous applause and I gently wipped a tear from my cheek. I have never been more moved by a single performer than I was by the authentic dancing man that stood in front of me. 

Before he lef the stage, Harold had one more treasure to share, the Shim-Sham Shimmy. The Shim Sham is a tap step that has been performed since the 1900's and is a well known step in the tap dance world. What a perfect way to end the evening, seeing this tap legend bust loose with such a time standing, classic piece.

Leaving the theater last night, I took the memory of a remarkable experience in watching history move and speak intimately with a group of strangers. He spoke of finding his passion, working through the struggles, the joy of his triumphs, and the sorrow of his let downs. He shared his ultimate life secret that I hope you will carry, too. The struggles we experience, we need in life. "Dancing," he said, "will keep you alive."

Information was collected from a live lecture with Harold Cromer, the American Tap Dance Foundation, Youtube, Washington DC Jazz Network, and Jacob's Pillow Dance web sites. For citation, please contact me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Treat Lady & The Cookie Queen

Ever seen Everybody Loves Raymond? Marie is always trying to feed her sons with steaming plates of Italian food. My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Toula's aunt pushs off racks of lamb onto her vegetarian fiance or else her mother is constantly providing the troupe with Greek food. My mother has a thing for serving sweets and I think it started with Grandma.

Case in point: This past Saturday I went for a visit with my mother and sister to my grandmother's new apartment. You might remember that we moved her from Lubbock to Dallas this past summer, but if you missed that post, you can catch up here.

Grandma has settled in nicely with quite a few of the items once seen in her little green and white house. She's even made herself a little nest around he comfy chair and it's always a treat to see what she's going to pull out from the stacks around said chair. Speaking of treats, she always has them. That's a grandma thing, right? To always have something on hand or in their purse?

In any case, she's always got some sort of treat on hand at her house. Rolos, Butterfingers, the cotton candy I brought her from the fair, and apparently pudding. That was the biggest thing she kept trying to offer us on Saturday.

We used to joke that Grandma was known as Treat Lady to our dogs. While Big Sister was in law school, Grandma would sometimes babysit Glory, her the golden retriever. Big Sister kept noticing that Glory was consistently a little more plump after weekends at Grandma's. On one particular visit, Big Sister observed Glory hiding behind Grandma's big chair where a pile of dog treats were sitting there at her disposal. The mystery was solved. From then on, Grandma was forever known as Treat Lady. We still have to watch her from time to time with Piper--that dog is definitely getting to be a little portly, but I don't think that's Grandma's fault this time. Something about Dad's midnight popcorn munchies might though.

My mother is the ultimate provider when it comes to feeding the masses. Take for instance my thesis performance two weeks ago. Mom and I decided it might be nice to provide an easy dinner for the weary traveling posse that came to see the show. There was so much on my plate at the time that I just let her roll with the idea and roll she did. Mom and Dad came into my apartment with cases of soft drinks, chips, deli meat, bread, fruit, relish items, and one large box of Texas beer. Can't blame Dad for wanting to bring the good stuff--Oklahoma beer should just be outlawed, it's so bad. You should hear our Thanksgiving menu sometime. It's a little crazy.

Even though Mom is great with larger dinners, her specialty lies in the sweets department, my weakness. She is dubbed the Cookie Queen to all who know her. Cookies were used for spirit gifts, birthday treats, and study snacks--It didn't take long for me to catch on why everyone always wanted to study at my house. While working at the theater, Mom would bring a tray of cookies for opening night gifts for the cast. I swear, one night I saw the stage hands dealing cookies behind the sets. "I'll trade the peanut butter for your macaroon!" Not even kidding.

Her cookies are so good, they bought me all the car rides I needed in high school. She even did cookies for my friend's boyfriend's birthday in exchange for an extra week of rides.  Saved a heck of a lot of gas money, I'll you that! There is a particular chocolate chip that my friends have affectionally dubbed Mrs. Russsell Cookies or to my college friends,  Julie Russell's Mom's Cookies. Once I had a friend ask me  why were Mrs. Russell Cookies so darn good?! I answered without evening thinking, "Because they're baked with love." It's true. All hail the Cookie Queen.

Friday's are known as Cookie Day at Dad's office. Why? Because Mom bakes on Thursday and sends things up to his office Friday. It can be anything from a general chocolate chip cookie to specialty banana bread or even a festive birthday cake for a co-worker. Dad's assistant always places the treats on a special plate and then wheels it around on a cart from office to office for people to grab a bite before they're gone. Mom likes doing it because it puts a smile on the faces of so many people at his office. When cookies don't make their weekly appearance, Dad hears about it. Apparently his assistant emailed him this past week to say that the cookies were sorely missed. (The last four Friday's have not had anything because Mom's been in OKC with me. Whoops. Sorry, Dad's Office!).

Needless to say, I will probably follow in the foot steps of my family Treat Lady and Cookie Queen relatives, forever trying to pass along something sweet to any and all who enter my home. In fact, it's already happened. I've come to enjoy cooking for friends and passing baked goods to the office whenever I can. Ah! Look out world, there's another Treat Lady on the rise and there's no stopping her!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Ghostly Encounter

I was listening to the radio yesterday morning as usual---it's part of my morning routine. After eight alarms go off, the radio comes on and when it clicks off, that's my cue to leave the house. Nice little system for myself. Anyway, while listening to the DJ's chatter along, they hit on the subject of ghost stories.

First of all, I love me a good spooker story, but I refuse to see scary movies unless someone is with me ALL NIGHT LONG. I fully admit without a hint of shame that I am a bona fide wuss. Look up "wuss" in the dictionary and there will be a picture of me, cowering under a blanket. After seeing The Grudge in theaters, I stayed at my friends house, we were so freaked out. I was also 17.  It's all gravy though, I've accepted my true colors and every once in a blue moon I get the courage to watch a scary flick. Through my hands, of course.

Scary movies aside, I love a good ghost story. Some day I really want to go on a haunted tour, I think it would be wildly creepy and amazingly fun. The hair on the back of your neck standing up, the chilling sensation you're not the only person in the room...oooh!! I love it!

I had an "experience" once, not counting when I thought my apartment was haunted. Turns out old wiring affects touch lamps. Busted my bubble. Anyway, when my sister got married, she had her reception at the Old Red Courthouse in downtown Dallas. My family and I stayed at an older renovated hotel just across the way. It was easier to walk back to our hotel after the wild rumpus rather than drive back home.

After the reception, I sat in the lobby and chatted with my aunt and uncle and another groomsmen. We weren't the only ones up so late. Also in the lobby was a group of ghost hunters. I kid you not. A for real group of men on a ghost hunt in where else, but our hotel! Apparently, this told by the concierge, our lovely stay for the night was definitely haunted by a ghost. She told us all about how this ghost liked to lock guests out of their room until they were asked politely to be let in and how the ghost liked to move things around in the basement, sometimes opening and closing doors that workers are using. There were a few other things she told us about, but I can't remember now. In any case, the ghost hunters were there to find it.

All this was fascinating to our grouping so we chatted it up with these hunters, asking them questions and hearing their stories before calling it a night. Flash forward to the next morning. I'm sitting at the breakfast table with my family, enjoying a nice cup of coffee and trying to force my eyelids open. At some point, Mom leaned over to me and said, "Oh I forgot my Lactaid! Will you run upstairs and grab it?"

No problem, I think. I take the elevator a couple flights up, trudge down my room, insert the key in the door and nothing. Hmmm, I'll a little sleepy so maybe I put it in wrong. Take it out, reinsert it again and still nothing. I do this about five times before last night's conversation pops up in my head. Checking the hallway to make sure I'm alone, I think, what the heck. I've got nothing to lose, so might as well try it. I start talking out loud.

"Excuse me. May I please be let into my room? My mother needs her medicine and she asked me to get it for her."

At that moment, the door opened.

If you don't think I didn't take off running, you are seriously mistaken. Off like a shot I went dashing down the hall and headed for the stairs. Ain't no way I was getting on an elevator when this place was haunted!!! I flew down the stairs, threw open the door and about crashed into my dad. Catching my breath and frantically handing him the key, I went back to breakfast a little more aware of my surroundings and a lot more awake.

Who knows if the wiring wasn't faulty in the card holder. Who knows if I'm just special and can't open a door, but I still believe that door opened because I asked for it to be opened. So tell me, dear readers, have you ever had a ghostly encounter?
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