December 28, 2012

Sneaking a Peek at Twenty Thirteen

I must say, Christmas at the Jii home this year was terrific! I couldn't be more happy or content. My time off from work has really been fun. The kids and I have been playing with new games and toys, building model airplanes, creating light catchers for the windows, and doing paint-by-numbers scenes. I'm hoping to go out to the movies to see either "Les Miserable" or "The Hobbit" (or perhaps both) before I have to report back to the job site next Wednesday. I've also begun the process of de-Santa-fying the house and giving the place a thorough cleaning. Most of the Christmas decorations are already packed away, except for the outside stuff which I'll take down in due time. Of course, big cleaning projects always seem to blow up at first and I can never believe how much junk I can uncover. In the corner of my studio sits a box that holds all of the lighting and wiring that I use for the Avant Garden Poetry Amphitheatre. Around that, a hodgepodge of items has started to accumulate into a messy pile. I really need to de-clutter the area. I don't like the idea of having my musical instruments hanging in a catch-all room. The yearly cleaning is a big undertaking to be sure, but I always feel so refreshed when it's done. 

Which brings me to my next topic: 2013's New Year's Resolution! If you recall last December, the only thing that I resolved to do in 2012 was to get the Avant Garden up and running. With the exception of not yet knowing where to store the lighting supplies during the off-season, that project has been a great success and I'm looking forward to more poetic fun in Season II. For 2013, I want to set aside some time for working on new music. I have several tunes in mind that I can hardly wait to record. My favorite gift that I received this Christmas is a Meinl Cajon and I want to put it to good use. I've also been kicking around ideas for the writing of a new stage production and the possible forming of a tribute band. Both look promising. Yes, my 2013 New Year's Resolution will be all about the music...

The days between Christmas and New Year's Day are also the time when I start thinking about plans for a summer vacation. This coming August, my family and I will probably be flying to Guyana again for a longer stay. We've been invited to a wedding and I'm very excited by the idea. I've heard that Indian weddings are fantastic, all-week affairs. Also, if the proper paperwork can be secured by then, I'll be bringing one of my nieces back to the United States on a 6-month visa. She would be here with us through the all of the holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year. That would be wonderful. We'll see. Cheers!

"Do not deceive yourselves.
If any of you think you are wise by the standards
of this age, you should become 'fools' so that you may
become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness
in God’s sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise
in their craftiness'; and again, 'The Lord knows
that the thoughts of the wise are futile.'"

~1 Corinthians 3:18-20


December 24, 2012

Glory To the Newborn King!

Have I mentioned before that I love Christmastime? There is nothing else on Earth like the season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I love the fact that strangers feel free to greet each other with smiles. I love the Nativity scenes that pop up in every town. I love driving through the neighborhoods and seeing so many houses illuminated with holiday cheer. I love sitting beside the sparkling tree playing carols on my guitar. I love watching "It's a Wonderful Life" with a cup of hot chocolate in hand; it makes me cry every year. I love dropping dollars into every red kettle that I pass. I love finding Pfeffernusse and Egg Nog and Candy Canes and Panettone on the market shelves. Sure, stores are crowded and there are a lot of cars on the roads, but I don't view any of that as being a problem at all. I'm not in any kind of a rush. It's all beautiful to me.

I want to tell you about one last Christmas event that I attended. Earlier in the week, another one of my good friends from work, Jimbo, suggested that I check out a show called "The Night the Angels Sang" at the Upper Room Christian World Center in Dix Hills. I was easily sold on the idea, so I bought tickets for the Saturday show at 2:00. It was amazing! The Gospel of Jesus was represented in a performance that had it all -- Broadway-quality singing, dancing, and acting, live animals, costumes, spectacular stagecraft. I got completely wrapped up in the majesty and emotion of it all. This was a perfect way to spend the weekend before Christmas. It really captured the reason for the season in glorious detail.  

Another thing that I really love about the holiday season is the greeting cards that the mailman brings. Here are some of my favorites from this year. Wishing you a stocking full of joy and a hearth full of love. Enjoy your celebrations! May God bless you! Merry Christmas!

"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven,
the shepherds said to one another, 'Let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby,
who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word
concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it
were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up
all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen,
which were just as they had been told."

~Luke 2:15-20


December 22, 2012

Land of Winter Wonders

Yesterday was an excellent day! Aside from it marking the arrival of winter and being a thwarted Mayan doomsday, 12/21/12 also saw the return of our office Christmas party at Stony Brook Transit. It has been a few years since we had one and I was so glad to see it come back. Everyone brought in a dish and we had lots of good homemade food. I created one of my classic cheese platters to share; this time, I found Smoked Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Colby Jack, and Muenster at the market; I topped it off with some turkey pepperoni. I took along my acoustic guitar, some jingly bells, and the lyric sheets for Christmas carols. We had a holiday sing-along in the lunch room; it was great to hear everyone singing. We got to do a few of my favorites like "Angels We Have Heard On High," "O Come All Ye Faithful," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Now, I'll be off from work for the next 11 days. I'm looking forward to Christmas Day and then playing with some new toys with the kids. I love this season!

In the evening, I headed out to Conklin Barn in Huntington for the annual poetic winter celebration. Some musicians showed up and things started off with another holiday sing-along. After that, we had a poem exchange with everyone placing a poem in the center of the room and taking out a different one to read. Appropriately, I put in my "Doomsday Hysteria" and the man who picked it did a great job of reading it. He made it very funny. I pulled out a very heartfelt piece about Sandy Hook. It was beautiful and the poets said that I did well in conveying the emotion in the words. That made me happy to hear. After leaving the Barn, I stopped in at another Christmas party that I had been invited to at Nappertandy's. I got to catch up with one of my oldest friends, Matt Flood. He and I have been friends since High School and now he's the manager of the Long Island Philharmonic. We discussed a few musical ideas that I've had for a while and it looks like the projects will get off of the ground in 2013. That exciting!

Another cool thing that I did recently was to go to the Westbury House at Old Westbury Gardens to see their Christmas decorations. I had gone to this last year and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go again. Built in 1906, the house was owned by John S. Phipps and his wife Margarita Grace Phipps and reflects English architecture from the 1600s. For the season, all of the rooms in its two levels are decorated in Victorian holiday charm. Stepping into the foyer, I was met by a crackling fire at a grand hearth. As I ambled through the house, I encountered tall Christmas trees, rose wreaths hanging in windows, poinsettia plants by the score, giant gilded walnuts with equally large nutcrackers, and lots of well-dressed mannequins set up in joyful holiday vignettes.

In the house's West Porch, I got to sit down and partake in some cookies and hot apple cider in front of a row of pine trees adorned with white lights and a host of owls. A rumbling toy train completed the scene. A really great day. Love & light...

"Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never go hungry,
and he who believes in me
will never be thirsty.'"

~John 6:35


December 20, 2012

Christmas Crafts and Connecticut Cares

Over the past two weeks, I've been engaging in some arts and crafts with the kids. Saturday morning took us to a factory in Deer Park called Curiously Creative Candles. I had seen an online advertisement for "Make-Your-Own Candles" and it sounded like a lot of fun. It was sort of like doing sand art projects only using granulated wax of different colors and scents instead of sand. They came out looking like layered kaleidoscopes in glass jars. We're going to give the ones we made as gifts. I've also gone over to the elementary school twice to help out with class projects. Both times, the craft was a snowman. One was an ornament to hang on the tree. It was made out of tissue paper, foam, and googly eyes. The other was made out of tube socks filled with rice and adorned with all kinds of things. I really enjoyed making the crafts with the kids and the mood in the classrooms was very festive. The nicest thing that I noticed while at the school was the "Mitten Tree" that stands in their main hallway. It is covered with hats and gloves donated by the students for people in need. How wonderful! After I saw it, I immediately went to the store to pick up a few pairs of mittens to give to this excellent cause.

Being at the school amidst all of these children aglow with holiday cheer, I couldn't help but think that this was probably the same type of setting in which the tragedy in Connecticut occurred. It makes me so sad to think of the unimaginable heartache that the people of Newtown must be going through, the lives that were cut so short; it is truly horrible. My prayers definitely go out to them. May God watch over them and may they take comfort in knowing that their children are safe in Heaven. As for the gunman, I don't want to see this person glorified any longer. At one time, there may have been something within him that was worth saving, but he gave up on it the moment he pulled the trigger. His mental condition excuses nothing; during his life, I assure you that he heard the truth and was given the chance to be free. Unfortunately for him, he chose to leave this world not as an imitator of Jesus, his ego surrendered, but as an irate vessel of his own Narcissism. He is very much accountable for the things he did. All there is to do now is to turn our backs on evil and eradicate him from memory. The media may report what it will, but I for one don't need to hear anything more about his personal habits or possible motives. The details of his life aren't worthy of being known. His name doesn't merit perpetuation. It's a complete injustice for a killer to gain notoriety in the wake of monstrous acts and, worse still, I feel it dishonors the innocent victims. I mean, what is society's lesson in all of this? Murder kindergartners and you too will be immortalized? Wrong. Instead of false fame, this guy's fate must be one of total obscurity and the same should hold true for anyone else who decides to shoot up a school. That's all I have to say about that. Peace.

"I have told you these things,
so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!
I have overcome the world."

~John 16:33


December 15, 2012

That Heavenly Glow Known As TSO

This past week at work, I've been cranking up the Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums to get pumped up for this afternoon's concert at Nassau Coliseum. I am very fortunate that I share the office everyday with my dear friend, Murf.  He and I have the same tastes in music (for the most part) and we both love TSO. While this was to be my eighth time seeing the band, he has been going for about the last 10 or 11 years. I always enjoy going to work the morning after the yearly concert (in this case, Monday). Murf and I always talk about what a great time it was. We can usually spot each other in the Coliseum crowd, though not this time around. After all of these years, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra still puts on what I think is one of the most spectacular live shows ever. I am blown away consistently by their December performances. The music is amazing and the stages are epic. The air is electric. The light show unbelievable. Between 1996 and 2004, the group released three Christmas albums that have become a holiday staple at my house (as well as at the office). The first halves of their concerts have always told the story from the album "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," however, this year marks the debut of the story of "The Lost Christmas Eve." A rockin' show, no doubt! TSO never disappoints.

I've long wondered if the group's composer, Paul O'Neill, would be willing to listen to an idea of mine. I've had a concept in mind for some time now that I think would make for a fantastic Trans-Siberian Orchestra album and show. A while ago, I also wrote plots for Star Wars: Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, but, now that the rights belong to Disney, I guess that I probably won't get a chance to pitch my ideas. Oh well, one can still dream. Cheers!

"Dear children,
let us not love with words or tongue
but with actions and in truth."

~1 John 3:18