Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why my daughter still believes in Santa Claus

Me and my gal Christmas 2001

Yes Sophia, there is a Santa Claus, and you know him.
Due to an incredibly fortunate set of situations, my daughter is going to believe in Santa Claus for her entire life. For one, there really was a Saint Nick, and I've been to his hometown (Patara, Turkey...look it up). Second, as is common knowledge, Santa moved to points further north some time ago and now resides somewhere in Alaska. For many years, so did we. But most importantly, my daughter was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who had a serious commitment to their town and the people in it. One of those wonderful people was Santa.
Santa lived out of town a ways with his wife, and for most of the year tended to the fish hatchery. I don't want to say exactly where, because, well, he might get inundated with Santa stalkers, and Mrs. Claus would definitely not appreciate that. But this Santa was the full package. Lots of white hair, a full, bushy beard, and his wife fed him well. He also had a wonderful, jolly attitude. He was perfectly happy to put on that red suit every December and head into town for hours of conversation with young children with long wish lists and stories about how they'd been good all year. Santa knew better. He's no dummy. But Santa was a great listener, always optimistic, and always game.
For example, I give you Christmas of 2001. Sophia had just turned 4. We were getting ready to leave in a few days to head south to spend the holidays with my family in Oregon. The Saturday before we left, Sophia and I went to a holiday bazaar in the community gymnasium, where she picked out a lovely handmade candle with peppermint candies imbedded in the side as a gift for her Aunt Dana, who was going to be with us over the holidays. This was the first gift Sophia had ever picked out for anyone, so it was a big deal for her.
The next day, we went to the grocery store. We were in the produce section when Sophia, still small enough to sit in the seat and poke her legs through those teeny holes, grabbed my arm. "Mama! Look! It's.....SANTA!" Sure enough, there he was, out of uniform, picking out carrots with the missus. "We need to tell him we won't be here this year for Christmas," she said, sounding ever so concerned. She didn't want him showing up at the house, squeezing down the teeny weeny chimney of our wood stove, only to find out that we weren't home.
What's a mom to do? I pushed my cart over towards the couple, and said, "Why hello there, Santa." I kind of laugh now that I even thought that for a second I needed to remind him of his position in the community. Santa was experienced. He'd had this gig for years. He greeted Sophia by name, and told her he was just picking up some carrots for his reindeer.
Sophia told Santa not to come to our house this year because we wouldn't be there.
"Oh, so you're visiting your grandparents in Oregon then?"
Ok, I have to admit, even I was a little surprised that Santa knew my family was in Oregon. But we did live on an island. With just a few thousand people. It's hard to live somewhere like that without getting to know every single inhabitant as well as some of the intimate details of their lives whether you want to know it or not. Plus, Santa pays attention. And he knows everything.
I was trying to move on, to push that cart over towards the dairy section because I didn't want to overstay my welcome with Santa, but before I could get away, Sophia said, "Santa? Could you do something for me? Could you take the peppermint candle to my Aunt Dana?"
Santa barely faltered.
"Well I'll see what I can do."
"And all I want this year is a nose like Rudolph."
Santa laughed and said he'd work on that too, and I got the hell out of there.
Imagine my surprise the next day when there was a knock at the front door. It was Santa, in blue jeans & red suspenders. He asked for Sophia, who was playing with a friend in her bedroom, and their jaws dropped when I called them to the front door because Santa was here to see her, to pick up that peppermint candle.
What a thrilling moment it was for Sophia when all her Christmas wishes came true. She woke up on December 25th in Oregon to find that very peppermint candle on the  mantle at my mom & dad's, with a note to Aunt Dana explaining that while it was a little unorthodox for Santa to deliver other people's gifts, he considered Sophia a personal hometown friend, and was happy to oblige. He also left Sophia a red, blinking Rudolph nose on an elastic string so she could wear it on her face.
A few years later, when Sophia was in grade school, some kids started spreading that nasty rumor that there's no such thing as Santa Claus. That he's just some dude in a fat suit with a fake beard letting kids sit on his lap for a part-time job. I told her she needed to defend his honor. I reminded her that not only had she lived near him in Alaska, she'd shopped beside him at the grocery store, and he was a personal friend who'd done her a favor outside of his regular job description. Santa was real, and so was the beard.
We also talked about how even if the original Santa wasn't alive today, that everything Santa stands for - the concept of Santa - is alive and well throughout the world. Santa is the spirit of giving and spreading joy, the spirit of connecting community, and even the idea that if you're good, you are inviting good things to happen in your life. Santa is generosity. Santa is a smile. Santa is a plate of cookies or a hug or any random act of kindness. Santa is actually all year long, if we want. And don't we?

Speaking of cookies, and finally getting around to music...sometimes I get annoyed by the endless loop of holiday music in the grocery store, but I do love listening to Christmas tunes when I'm cooking or cleaning the house preparing for the holiday celebration, or having a meal with good friends & family.
Putting together the perfect mix of holiday music is not so easy though. First of all, there's so many of them! There's the familiar, the unfamiliar, the good, the bad and the downright ugly (If you've heard Richard Cheese's version of 'Holiday in Cambodia' then you know what I'm talking about).
So in the hopes of making your holidays brighter (and in the spirit of Santa), today I'm sharing with you my favorite holiday mix. Make that mixES. I'm including three separate holiday mixes, one for every mood. Nothing too obnoxious (except for the Jingle Dogs. I couldn't help myself), nothing silly (except for the Jingle Dogs. Seriously, who doesn't love just a little bit of Jingle Dogs), and nothing from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Oh wait. I take that back. There is an appearance from the charming Mormon Tabernacle Handbell Choir. And it ain't bad!
Just 3 totally different playlists for whatever holiday mood you find yourself in today. Or if you really go crazy for this stuff, play all 3 at the same time. It can be done!
Please enjoy my little Christmas gift to the world, and please consider the idea of keeping the concept of Santa alive in your heart all year long.

Smells Like Christmas Spirit
Smells Like Christmas Spirit by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

Have a Jazzy Little Christmas

Jazzy Little Christmas by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

A Classical Christmas
Classical Christmas by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Aaron Neville Tells It Like It Is

It's official! A News Cafe readers are the luckiest readers in these here parts. This week, once again, A News Cafe, Jefferson Public Radio and yours truly, the Mistress of the Mix, are teaming up to give away a pair of front row tickets to another spectacular performer at the Cascade Theatre. So read on, give the Nevillecentric playlist a listen, and comment below to enter to win.

I've had the rare opportunity to meet, even if only for a few brief moments, some of the most amazing and talented performers in the world since JPR restored the Cascade Theatre. Sometimes I'm lucky enough for that meeting to be a 15 minute conversation about buying funeral plots, as was the case with Chris Isaak, sharing an entire meal together (the Manhattan Transfer), or sharing the stage for an entire song (when Pink Martini invited me up for their encore). But mostly my moments are nothing more than a quick handshake (if that) just before I run out on stage to get you excited about upcoming shows (you do know Peter Frampton is coming next Spring, right? And Foreigner? And Kenny Rogers?)  and thank our sponsors.
That was pretty much the case the last time Aaron Neville brought his amazing voice to Redding a couple of years ago. He came up the stairs, said hello to me, and then I turned around and ran out for my 2 minutes alone with ya'all.
I'm really looking forward to Aaron Neville's next appearance on the Cascade Theatre stage on December 21st. Not just because of the distinctive quality of Neville's voice, but because I'd really like the opportunity to thank him for being so willing to go on the road during the holidays. I  have to really respect someone who's willing to venture out to entertain the demanding masses (that would be us) just a few days before Christmas.
Being on the road ain't easy. You've probably seen those big buses that hug the alley behind the theatre during a show. That's not just a means of getting around for most of the performers who grace the stage of the Cascade. That's home. Sometimes for months at a time. Living on a bus is just part of the necessary evil of being a star performer on tour.
I've lived on a small island before. It was just me and a few thousand other people who tended to get pretty grumpy in the winter when the weather was bad and there was nothing to do but sit inside, and we just saw the same faces day after day. Even though my island was 30 miles long and a few miles wide, it felt so small in the winter, that being stuck there was a slow suffocation.
Now take that small island claustrophia and put it on a 40 foot bus with one bathroom, and send it out on the road in the middle of December, from Oklahoma through Texas, to Arizona, and then up I-5, for 4 shows in one week. That's Aaron Neville's life right now. Taking the same path as Santa Claus, pretty much, just a few days before Christmas. Maybe he's breaking trail for the big guy in red.
It must take a very strong backbone, a lot of patience and a real love of what you do if you're going to do it like this, and you're doing it at this time of the year. Well, I'd like to thank him for gracing us in that way, and maybe I'll get the opportunity to do that when he takes to the stage on the 21st.
Check out today's playlist on Grooveshark if you want a taste of what Aaron Neville will be singing during that show.
Hopefully you, sweet reader, will be able to grace the Cascade Theatre with your presence as well. One lucky reader will get a pair of front & center seats to enjoy the show just by commenting below. I'll draw the winner in the traditional scientific tossing all the entries into an old green fruitcake tin I keep next to my desk and drawing a name a few days before the show.
A final note: I'd like to toss out a holiday gift idea for those who want to keep it local: A Cascade Theatre gift certificate or membership.(Click here to purchase a gift certificate, or here to become a member.)  The theatre is offering memberships early for the next season (which doesn't start until late Spring or early Summer 2012). If you join now, you'll have early ticket purchasing privileges for the entire 2012-13 JPR season (which hasn't even been released yet) plus any new JPR shows added for the rest of this season. You'll also have the ability to exchange seats within a show or exchange tickets from one JPR show to another if something comes up months after you've purchased tickets that keeps you from attending. It's a great feel-good thing to do, because you'll be supporting a local non-profit dedicated to making your life more rewarding by bringing high quality entertainment and culture to our town.