Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year's Toast

Here we are, just hours away from yet another new year. A box of Mars bars goes to the first person who can tell me just where in the world 2010 disappeared to. It feels like it was just a couple of months ago that we were welcoming it here.

Regardless of how I feel about it, at the stroke of midnight, 2011 will be here - ready or not. I'm still working on the New Year's resolutions; there will at least be a couple of them. (More on that to come later, or as my many fans demand.) For sure, I know that Project 52 needs another reboot. If you don't know what that refers to, feel free to reference it in a post from nearly a year ago.

I like New Year's in that it is both a time to reflect on the past and a moment to make changes for the future. On that same topic, some of the words of the John Denver and The Muppets song "When the River Meets the Sea" - something I actually referred to not that long ago here on The Epistle - have been running through my head today: "Like a flower that has blossomed in the dry and barren sand / We are born and born again most gracefully / Thus, the winds of time will take us, with a sure and steady hand."

Happy New Year, friends.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Time Is Here

No fewer than 20 individuals, all told, gathered at the Plowman house to spend Christmas Eve together Friday night. Not all of those who attended are related to me by blood - a few are considered, for the moment, adopted/honorary Plowmans - but, as Charles Dickens wrote in Nicholas Nickleby: "Family need not be defined merely as though with whom we share blood, but as those for whom we would give our blood."

A fantastic dinner was followed by our annual family Christmas pageant, focusing on the Christmas stories in Luke 2 and 3 Nephi 1, which Biz took great care to organize. I was cast, for some reason, as a wise man (rim shot).

Among the other cast members participating were Jenna and Kira, two very cute angels; my fellow wise man, Dallin; and Luke, as a shepherd:

Some gifts were then exchanged - the rest were, presumably, opened the next morning, though I can vouch only for my parents and unmarried siblings - and I must say that watching my nieces and nephews open their presents has increasingly become my favorite part of the holiday. Jackson, in particular, was very pleased with his Sheriff Woody doll, which is a nice companion to his Buzz Lightyear toy. Kira was also pleasantly surprised to receive a Minnie Mouse doll.

The Christmas celebration continued Sunday at church, during which we sang multiple congregational hymns, including "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Away in a Manger," "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Silent Night."

And so, yet another Christmas holiday has come and gone, but the spirit of Christmas need not depart, as long as we strive to keep it all year round, Scrooge style (something else Dickens would say).

And so, as Tiny Tim observed: "God bless us, everyone!"

Friday, December 24, 2010

Top Ten: Christmas Movies

On her blog, my sister recently posted a top-ten list of her favorite Christmas movies. Not to be outdone, I am choosing to post my own list - not to be competitive but merely to share my own point-of-view on the topic.

#10. Gremlins It freaked me out as a kid; nowadays, it still scares me, only a bit less than it did.

#9. Joyeux Noel This true story of a 1914 cease-fire Christmas celebration among British, French, and German soldiers, during World War I, was a pleasant surprise.

#8. White Christmas I had heard about this classic for many years, and then, last year, I finally watched it. Story checks out.

#7. A Christmas Story Having been told, when I was younger, that I physically resembled Ralphie, I've long held a special connection with this film.

#6. Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean While not technically a movie, this hilarious Christmas episode of "Mr. Bean" remains a must-see for me each holiday season.

#5. The Shop around the Corner One of two Jimmy Stewart movies on my list (insert ominous, foreshadowing music here), this lesser-known, black-and-white version of You've Got Mail is also a superior film.

#4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas The cartoon classic - not the Jim Carrey remake!

#3. A Christmas Carol (1951)/The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) (tie) It's hard to pick a favorite between these two versions of Charles Dickens's beloved holiday classic, so I give them a tie. Alastair Sim, in the black-and-white version, is a better Scrooge, but, on the other hand, you have the Muppets.

#2. It's a Wonderful Life This has been a family favorite for as long as I can remember. My brothers and I can quote/act out entire scenes.

#1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe This is not a Christmas movie, per se, but it is my favorite all-time film, and Santa Claus (Father Christmas, in Britain) makes an appearance. Plus, it's a fable for the life and mission of Christ - the real reason we celebrate Christmas. So, there you go.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a goodnight!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Dinner with Kylee

It was my oldest niece Kylee's 13th birthday Saturday; I can't believe that the little tyke is actually a teenager!

Earlier today, I finally got around to taking her out for her birthday dinner. Her choice was the Hungry Bear, an all-you-can-eat pizza place not too far from her home in Layton. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, we were met with a handwritten sign informing us that the Hungry Bear had just gone out of business.

Notwithstanding this crushing blow to our fragile egos, we then headed to Kylee's second choice: Chick-Fil-A at the Layton Hills Mall. I had never eaten there before, thought I have been an admirer of their billboards for a number of years now. Their chicken turned out to be, indeed, quite tasty, and we enjoyed a good meal together.

After eating, we strolled around the mall and ended up stopping for some time to roll coins down into this doo-hickey (I'm not sure if it has a name), with the aid of an old friend called gravity. These things have always fascinated me:

I enjoyed my afternoon out with Kylee, and I hope that we get the chance to do it again soon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Kicked in the Gut by Christmas Shoes"

My ComedySportz colleague Matt Mattson, one of the funniest Improvers I know, recently posted this hilarious take on the "Christmas Shoes" song that we are bombarded with every year at Christmas time. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last Waltz for Rodgers

It was the end of an era last night, as the Improvables took the stage at Rodgers Memorial Theatre in Centerville for one final show - last one for 2010 and last one at RMT, anyway.

More than 130 paying customers, plus a handful of family members and friends getting in via comp. tickets (I would have to estimate the total crowd size at close to 150), showed up for our send-off performance, and it was good to hear their enthusiasm, laughter, and cheers throughout the evening. I took the stage with Biz, Bryan, Ian, Jana, Scott, and Steve, along with Grant and Parker on music and Jeff in the tech booth.

Among the many games played were fan favorites "Late for Work," "Advice Panel," "Town Hall," and "Greatest Hits," as well as "Musical Fairy Tale," for which I was assigned to sing the country music portion. Scott followed soon after, with an operatic number:

One of the other highlights of the evening was playing "Slide Show," perhaps our number-one requested fan favorite, for which two audience volunteers - including my niece Kylee, who turns 13 years old today - joined us on stage. Here is a shot of the obligatory - and always very funny - slide that was turned upside-down:

Yesterday was, in fact, a day filled with Improv; earlier on, in the afternoon, Biz, Guy, Ian, Steve, and I performed at an assembly for an estimated crowd of 500 to 600 students at West High School - alma mater of President Thomas S. Monson, among other famous Utahns - in Salt Lake City. We were impressed with the extraordinarily outgoing treatment we received from WHS faculty and student leaders, and though there was some good-natured heckling and rowdiness during the show, the kids responded positively to it and enjoyed themselves a lot.

I'm glad to have discovered, now on a firsthand basis, that WHS is not the gang-infested, profanity-filled, graffiti-covered cesspool that some people make it out to be. It's actually a very pleasant place.

I managed to capture this very impressive spit take by Biz during the show:

Though the Improvables will be taking a brief leave of absence as we prepare move to the new CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, we will be back in February 2011. I'm glad that the powers-that-be are still letting me do this (alongside no fewer than five family members at one time or another) and that I get to be associated with not only some of Utah's most talented performers but also good people and great friends - both on and off the stage.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top Ten: Christmas Songs

About this same time last year, I posted a list of the top-ten worst Christmas songs, according to yours truly, here on The Epistle of Jon. This was arguably one of my most popular posts ever. The fact that 0 people commented on this list should attest to that claim.

Well, Sunday night at ward prayer, the weekly group question - yes, we still have those things - was, "What is your favorite Christmas song, and why?" The answers were varied and told me a lot about the people who answered the question; but I think if you were to put all of those songs onto one CD, you'd have some pretty good holiday listening for any afternoon or evening.

Because my mind has been on the topic since then, I present to you my top ten list of favorite Christmas songs:

#10. Ven a Mi Casa Esta Navidad - Los Toribianitos You won't recognize this song, but it makes the list because its message of spending Christmas time with good friends when you're away from home - something I had to do twice in the mission field - brings to mind many great memories to me.

#9. In the Bleak Mid-Winter - Shawn Colvin Christina Rossetti, one of the Victorian poets I studied in college, wrote the words to this tune, and I love its simple message.

#8. Candlelight Carol - John Rutter Just about everything that John Rutter has composed is amazing, and this song is definitely no exception.

#7. It's True - Sara Groves This is a relatively new one to me, and it's an instant classic, in my opinion. Its message is that not only is the Christmas story not only a nice story but also the gospel truth.

#6. Angels We Have Heard on High - Josh Groban & Brian McKnight I'm not a huge Josh Groban fan, given that I'm male and not a teenager; nevertheless, I heard this duet with Brian McKnight for the first time last year, and it has since become a favorite.

#5. The First Noel - Michael Dowdle This is my favorite Christmas tune in the LDS hymnbook. Michael Dowdle's version is preferred among the four or five different MP3s I have of this one.

#4. Still, Still, Still - Norman Luboff I have loved this Austrian carol since the first time I heard it.

#3. A Baby Just like You - John Denver & The Muppets A favorite song from one of my favorite all-around Christmas albums.

#2. Christmas Lullaby (I Will Lead You Home) - Amy Grant Its message is simple and powerful: Christ came here to Earth to lead us home to live with Him - nothing less.

#1. What Sweeter Music - John Rutter I learned this song a few years ago when I was a member of a singing/performing group called the AB Singers, and, ever since then, it has been my number-one favorite.

Honorable Mention: ¿Dónde Está Santa Claus? - Augie Ríos; Alleluia - Kenneth Cope (from "Greater Than Us All"); Baby, What You Goin' to Be? - Donny Osmond; The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole; Emmanuel, God with Us - Amy Grant; Far Far Away on Judea's Plains - Nancy Hanson; Fruitcake - The Superions; The Gift - Collin Raye; Green Christmas - Barenaked Ladies; Grown Up Christmas List - Amy Grant; Hark, the Herald Angels Sing - Eclipse; Jingle Bell Rock - Hall & Oates; Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow - Martina McBride; Little Saint Nick - Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem; Mary's Boy Child - Harry Belafonte; The Night Santa Went Crazy - "Weird Al" Yankovic; One Star, One Savior - Michael Webb; Please Come Home for Christmas - Eagles; Police Stop My Car - Bob Rivers; Rockin' around the Christmas Tree - Dion; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband; Santa Claus Came in the Spring - Benny Goodman & His Orchestra; Toy Sack - Bob Rivers; Welcome to Our World - Amy Grant; When the River Meets the Sea - John Denver & The Muppets; White Christmas - The Drifters; You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Thurl Ravenscroft

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Millstream-ing of a White Christmas

Ain't no party like a Millstream party! And that's especially true at Christmas time.

It was the annual ward Christmas party Thursday night, and it definitely helped to get me to start thinking about the Christmas season and into the holiday mood. I actually got to enjoy this year's festivities, too, which is nice; last year, while taking part in the Improv show/entertainment, I really didn't get to do that too much.

In addition to being fed a good meal, we were treated to a plethora of entertainment acts throughout the evening, including Allison and Scott's violin duet and several numbers by the Harmony Sisters, of whom I am a proud groupie:

Okay - so, I'm, like, old enough to be their older brother. Whatever!

Yours truly contributed with another dramatic reading, this time of "'Twas the Night before Christmas" - in Spanglish. If you missed it, well - yeah, you pretty much missed out.

In addition, the bishopric gave each of us a nice CD to listen to. I also discovered what is possibly the greatest dessert I have ever tasted - pumpkin pie cheesecake, combining two of my favorite foods.

Great times were had by all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Voyaging back to Narnia

Thursday night/Friday morning, Ben, Adi, and I ventured to the Megaplex 12 at the Gateway for the midnight premiere of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the latest film entry into the series by C.S. Lewis.

It was, in a word, awesome. It is a faithful adaptation of the book (one of my favorites in the Narnia series), and, fortunately, it is not padded (and, therefore, not as long) as Prince Caspian was. The child actors - particularly Will Poulter, who joins the cast as the Pevensies' cousin, Eustace Scrubb - once again do a fantastic job, and Simon Pegg steals the show as the voice of Reepicheep the mouse.

Yes, I'm a nerd. I grew up with the books, and it's great to finally see them get the big screen adaptations they deserve.

I hope you all get a chance to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader once or twice, particularly considering the fact that if this film doesn't do well at the box office, there may not be a Silver Chair movie in one or two more years. And that would be a darn shame.

I think we can all agree that it's preferrable to any more Twilight movies.

Monday, December 6, 2010

FHE Dance Party '10

It had been more than a year since our ward's last dance, but fortunately that drought came to an end last night.

For our FHE activity, a brave group of souls and I gathered in the gym for a Christmas-time (though not necessarily Christmas-themed) dance. And it was a blast.

Brian, MaryAnne, and I took turns as the evening's D.J., playing everything from "The Electric Slide" to Kenny Loggins's "Footloose" (a must-have at any dance held in Utah). One of my favorite moments of the evening was Steve and Brian's interpretive dance to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," of which I managed to capture a photo:

The photo doesn't really do it justice, but suffice me to say that it was quite entertaining.

Good times were had by all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Grow-vember Comes to an End

November 2010 is now a thing of the past, and that also brings Grow-vember to an end.

What, exactly, is Grow-vember? you ask?

Basically, if you haven't already guessed, it is an annual challenge and/or contest, participated in by guys who really have nothing better to do (i.e. me, right now), to begin the month clean shaven (something I did for Halloween, as part of my Samwise Gamgee costume) and then grow out the facial hair all month long.

Here is a picture of my beard, as of this morning:

Try not to be too jealous.