Mary Poppins Is A Classic You Need To Revisit

This past weekend my wife and I took the time to go and see Mary Poppins Returns. When I first saw the trailer, I was deeply saddened: too many badly done remakes already. I was sure they would ruin one of my most cherished childhood memories.

That didn’t last long, because before the trailer was even twenty seconds old it was clear that this was a continuation of the story, much as P.L. Travers wrote a series of eight books about the best nanny in the world: Mary Poppins.

This movie is deeply appealing to two groups: children under eight who will love this new classic, and adults over fifty who grew up with the original Mary Poppins.

When we got to the theater, I looked at all of the gray heads in the room and asked how many were there because they loved the original. Smiles of pure joy greeted the question. Many of these people had grandchildren, or great-grandchildren with them. Others were perhaps old enough to be my mother’s age, and had taken their children to see the original in 1964.

I don’t think any of us were disappointed by what we saw on Saturday afternoon. Whimsical, colorful, great effects, beautiful music, and a non-stop action that would engage children of any age. I would suspect that teenagers would not be fans because it’s a bit too young for them, and they have no strong memories of the original – that’s a television thing for them at best. I know my Goddaughter wasn’t impressed, and I fully understand that given the above.

As I watched the movie, I was floored with the way it dovetailed with my memories of the original. Mind you, I hadn’t seen the movie in about 50 years, so the memories were questionable. But I found myself choked up watching this modern movie for the first time.

Why? I was blown away by the artistic similarities to what I watched as a little boy. The spirit of the thing was also very close. The music, the references to the original, and the sheer joy of the story tapped into the little boy who grew up on the East Side of Saint Paul, and probably watched the original in one of the remaining movie palaces in downtown in a much more simple time in his life. No work, no bills, just an afternoon with my mom and siblings in a theater eating popcorn and SnoCaps.

When the movie was over, I started questioning those memories and had to know: was the original as magnificent as I’d remembered it to be? Amazon Prime answered that question for me on Sunday afternoon.

The answer is a resounding YES!! I knew every word to every song. I laughed and cheered watching the antics. I teared up more now than I would have in 1964 to be sure, as there are some terribly important messages to adults in that movie. (I plan to read all the Mary Poppins books next fall to make sure the message sticks with me.)

We all forget what magic there is in childhood. I think the movie took its deepest roots in me due to the soundtrack. Mind you, for the young people in the readership, people didn’t buy a lot of records in that era who were raising 4 kids on a teacher’s salary (or guidance counseler) with a stay-at-home mom. So the records you purchased had to have some impact and staying power. That soundtrack album from Mary Poppins, with the cover art depicted below, was a huge part of my childhood listening. The other records, to help explain how I wound up twisted like this, were The Ballad of the Green Berets, Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits, The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters, and Bob Newhart: The Button Down Mind Strikes Back! The Partridge Family came along a bit later, but those first five created what you have today.

My point is simple: go and see the movie. If you have the ability to do so before it leaves the theater, stream the original before you go. Both are beautiful.

I truly consider it a blessing to have enjoyed both this weekend. I hope you find the same.

Be blessed, and remember “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

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My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

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Some Thoughts On Charity

Let me begin with an apology for no posts in over a week. To be frank, I was in “stumble-home” mode after the Santa season wrapped up. I finished out my year working an early shift to cover for a friend and working way too hard on some projects. The blog just fell to the wayside. So, to the three of you who read weekly, my apologies.

I was deep into the world of charitable giving during the past few months, as a number of my visits are gratis to certain organizations. Also, in preparation for the final Good Neighbor Meal of the year, the cash was flowing out to pay for things we needed. Lastly, there’s a mission trip in the future, and I was trying to round up some donations for our service project.

This led me to ponder charity quite a bit today, especially after my pastor preached a pretty good sermon on moving into the spot God has ordained for you if you want to receive blessings. (My apologies to all the Calvinists in the readership.)

I don’t do charitable things to gain a blessing. I do them because they feel spiritually correct. I’m no saint: I take pay from a number of organizations for work I do as a voice over talent and as Santa. I don’t turn down those checks, because it’s how I pay for the work I try to do in the community. When I do turn down a payday, it’s because I believe in the cause I’m serving, and I can do some unique thing for them that’s really expensive. It’s the kind of stuff that God told us to do in the Bible.

This also means that when some of my customers “overpay” me for my visits because they know I do a fair amount of charitable work, I try very hard to put those funds to the best use possible. Sometimes that’s handing out gift cards to the homeless so they can get a hot meal. Sometimes it’s slipping some cash to an individual I know is struggling financially – anonymously. Something about praying in closets versus the street corner.

Today I had two experiences with charity that were noteworthy.

The first was one of my church members had several dozen turkeys that he was distributing to members of the congregation that needed them. When the need wasn’t as great as he’d thought, it looked like they might go to waste. I grabbed eight of them and muled them over to the Good Neighbor Center, stuffing them in the freezer. I know the meals program and the tutoring program both need the food. It also makes me comfortable in sponsoring another meal – the main course is already “bought and paid for” so to speak. Seemed like a perfect fit: Church A couldn’t use them, so they gave them to worthy cause B. No waste at all, good people benefited, it all worked.

The second was the kind of charitable activity that I’m betting God despises: wasteful greed. There is a group that I used to be associated with that will take any donation you offer without a thought as to putting it to good use. Consequently, most of the things they take in are either hoarded, go to people with no need, or are put in the dumpster on Friday afternoon when they’ve gone stale and inedible.

Today I had reason to be in their neighborhood, and witnessed it happening first hand. Because I hadn’t seen it for some years, I was surprised by the anger and sick feeling I had while I watched the boxes of food being hauled in to the building. It was painful knowing it was just the same as ten years ago when I was the guy hauling it in from the donors. (I actually got in trouble with the leader of the group because I told the donors to find a different home for one of the two weekly donations: we couldn’t even properly use one day’s worth of donations. The man in leadership got mad because he’d rather throw it out than let someone else have it and then he be short if a need should arise.)

In our society, we whine a lot about how stingy corporations are, and how everyone needs to do more. I know for a fact that companies like Cub Foods, Panera, and a host of others donate huge amounts of food that they can’t sell. Good stuff. Stuff you would eat.

And yet, when it goes to the vain, the prideful, the greedy, and those led by something other than true charity, we see no benefit from the charitable donation.

I’m sitting at the computer tonight, questioning my own charitable motives. Just writing about it makes me a bit uneasy: feels like I’m the Pharisee praying on the corner. But maybe, just maybe, I’m on the road to Damascus and I’m pointing out the Pharisees that sent me.

I’m not sure, and I need to pray some more on this topic. Mainly because I’m feeling very judgmental and petty writing this blog. But if you’re in leadership in an organization that takes donations, please take some time right now to ponder how you handle those blessings that God is bestowing on you.

You may need to move a step, or two, to get out of Lo Debar yourself. I know I’m examining my map location right now.

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My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

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Christmas Is Upon Us.

My Christmas season covers most of the year. There are more intense periods of activity to be sure, but there’s always a suit prepared, and boots/belt shined up and ready, should the call come to visit a dying child in the hospital, or move in front of the cameras for advertising. Part of that means having my beard bleached white beginning in July, or August. 

This past year, with the exception of advertising work, my season started with Hope Kids in November at Cookies With Santa.  This event is my biggest one, and one of my favorites. Hundreds of family members show up for a morning of pictures, cookie decorating, ornament making, and games. The good people of Game Works turn the joint over to us for the morning, and I am honored to work with some of the greatest children around. It’s the opener to my season each year, usually the first time I’m there for photos with the children. I take great pride in being a special needs Santa, and the thank you cards I get from the event are better than any paycheck you can imagine.

Over the course of the next six weeks, I meet the greatest cross-section of the Twin Cities that you can imagine. I do small events – some unintentionally – where it’s a more intimate group. I get to sit and chat with the hosts (Hi, April) and take a few pictures. Other times it’s mass-production, with people climbing up to take a knee as fast as possible. Lines that don’t let up for 3 or 4 hours, and a slight hint of madness creeping into the festivities. 

But the people are all the same: individuals. I think that’s what makes you a great Santa: the ability to recognize that each person is important. I must confess, I don’t always remember names when people come to see me. Some folks have been coming for over a decade, and I have a hard time putting a name to the face. But I remember the little things about them. I remember the year the twins were worried that they wouldn’t see Santa because the influenza outbreak was really bad, so they showed up a week earlier than normal at a different venue. Or the year that Grandfather passed away, and there was a quiet reverence about the occasion that hadn’t been there before, or since.

Some of the season is behind the scenes. This past year we worked on Saints Scarves, and my wife, Kip, not only knit about 80 of the 160 scarves, but her knitting group marshaled the supplies for our wrapping party – a party that ran until 11 at night. We had a great time, ate pizza, and wrapped gifts for the people who needed them most.

The “day job” also has a place, and I show up there most days in December. This year, after years of sloth and forgetfulness, I broke out my Haitian Nativity set and displayed it at my desk. 

There’s even a place for the biker character at Christmas. The good folks of Eagle Brook Church invited me to be a part of their message  (click the link to watch)– it’s the first minute of the message portion – and I was a festive biker with a problem: Ugly Christmas Sweaters (UCS). I was reunited for the occasion with Susan, a great actress who had been my Mrs. Claus last year for the Sleep Number commercial we shot. It’s a small world. 

Sometimes, it’s not the children that need Santa the most. If you are worth your title, you will pray for people. Sometimes quite a bit. This photo was taken at an event where a woman about my age very sincerely asked Santa for her father to love her once again, and for him to find Christ before he died. She was caring for an elderly parent who had been ravaged by dementia, and had grown to hate her for the imaginary crimes she had committed against him.  Why would an adult ask Santa? Because, deep inside, each of us secretly hopes that Santa is real. And while I’m sure she would pass it off as a joke if confronted by someone, I took it very seriously. I stopped my whirl of smiles and photos, counseled her a bit about God’s love, and prayed with her. I am honored to be entrusted with people’s greatest fears, and to be able to offer them a word of encouragement. 

But Christmas is mainly for children in the United States. I make sure that I visit Children’s Hospital each season with the fine folks from Toys For Tots.  We go room-to-room with the staff from the Child Life program (all of them a blessing) and hand out gifts – and I pray. At each room. Sometimes my prayers are answered by the Bishop. (He’s the Great Dane.)

How do I keep it going? Well, with 26 events this year (a record low this past decade – I purposely dialed it back a bit this year) I have some hidden reserves. For one thing, I wear my Dan Crenshaw shirt under the suit the last days of the season. If Crenshaw power won’t do it for you, nothing will. 

And then, just as quickly as it began, the season ends with a final round of visits. I took Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off this year, so it all came to a conclusion last night. Much like the beginning of the season, the last event was non-paid. As it should be, in my opinion.

My final appearance of the season was shooting a selfie-video with the clerk at a gas station for her son Noah. That was after I hung out with two guys who were off-duty cops at the same station. It was truly magical, in that we all had mutual friends, and I’d attended church with a couple of them that morning. Mind you, this was 30 miles from my home, on the far side of the metro area. It’s a small world. Those last smiles of the season were among the best. 

2018 is now in the books for Santa. My heart is full, I had a great run with lots of good people, and tonight I can settle in with my wife for the first time in 18 years. I cannot wait to usher in Christmas Day with Kip and Stormy by my side, instead of darting around the Twin Cities.

To all of you: be blessed, and have a Merry Christmas.

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My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

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Final Music Friday, Christmas 2018, December 21

It might be easy to say “I’ve saved the best for last.” But it would be a lie. I’ve saved these for last, and only the final song of the day is truly a classic. But I heard you all loud and clear last year when you applauded the weird stuff. Consequently, I’m going out with a bang. Next year we will return to classics. But for now, a robust selection of strange stuff suited to this blog.

First, we have someone with a musical saw performing Silent Night:

Because I’m a rank sentimentalist (some of you will get the allusion) I thus provide the dreaded musical wine glasses version of the Sugar Plum Fairy:

I’ve always liked the hammered dulcimer, especially this one – The Little Drummer Boy:

Frankly, I don’t know where Western civilization would be without yodeling. You can ponder that while you listen to this Yodeling Christmas Song:

Last, and definitely far from least, I end this season with one of my favorites. I wish each of you a blessed and Holy Christmas. Now, listen to those kids from Gary as they sing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – The Jackson 5:


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Ideal Diner: Restaurant Review.

I have graced the pages of this blog with a multitude of reviews over the last few years. Some were fascinating, most pedestrian, a few just stupid. Here’s another one to put in one of those groups as you see fit. I refer to the Ideal Diner of Minneapolis. Any place that I’ve gone to eat for over 32 years has got something going on inside other than decent coffee.

Before we go any longer without a plug, it’s so close to Christmas and you’re almost out of time. You’d best buy a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes so that your family still loves you.

There is no such thing as too much chicken-fried steak. Especially when it comes to gravy application. I heartily endorse this one. Yes, those hash browns and eggs are as close to perfect as you can get. The toast has exactly the right amount of butter to boot.

I have eaten pancakes in a lot of places. Some of them high-end, some true dives (submarines). None of them even comes close to these. I don’t know if they sprinkle fairy-dust on them, include sugar in the batter, or pay off God to make them perfect, but you don’t need syrup on them. You barely need butter. Hands-down they are the best pancakes I’ve ever consumed.

Let’s all be honest – there’s something cool about the chromed diner look. This picture is a bit blurry, but the place is always spotless and the walls gleam.

One part of the magic in places like the Ideal is that you get the flat-top grill show for no extra charge. Watching an artist on the grill is a thing of beauty – they make the task an acrobatic performance as they swoop into the freezer, ladle lard, flip eggs, and rack up toast. I especially love hearing the sizzle as my bacon comes ready.

Air holes and bubbles tell you just how light this flapjack is without any fancy terms.

Somebody is getting a great pancake: Me!

I’ve enjoyed this view for three decades. I will be going back often in the next three (God willing.)

My advice is go in with a plan. They stack them up like cord-wood in this this place. The motto is “14 stools, one counter, no bathroom.” When you hit the door (and forget about it after 9 in the morning on a Saturday) you see the wall of people. Grab a menu, shuffle to the left or the right, and be ready when they ask for your order. You will not be forgotten. As a stool opens up, your order is already down on the grill. Coming at you a few minutes later, you have plenty of time to enjoy your breakfast, but don’t linger. Only jerks linger. Get off the stool, go to the coffee place and waste their time. The Ideal has people to feed and you’re stealing oxygen. They’d never tell you that, but when they smack that check down, it’s time for you to get up.

Tell them I sent you.

Oh, and if you read this far, and are kind enough to share the blog on Facebook, drop me a comment on the blog. The first person to do so will be getting a spiffy Ideal Diner coffee mug in the mail.

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