Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 - Out with the old...

Here we are, New Year's Eve 2018.  The end of another year, arriving all too quickly.  With two little ones, we'll see if we are able to make it to midnight tonight to ring in the change of the year.

On this day representing an ending, it's always interesting to look back, to remember what we have come through.  With digital and social media, it has become even easier to peruse through many of the years memories, seeing the smiles, the laughter, the sorrow and grief, and the hard work that we've come through.

Over this year, the Keeler crew has taken trips to San Antonio, New York City, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, with a few trips around Texas to family in between.  Jamie took students to New York City and Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  We celebrated Jude's first birthday, first steps, and lots of milestones along the way.

I started writing, with dedication.  280 basically daily posts since March 28.  Reworking Pygmalion into Thou Fair Eliza for Jamie, and filing for a copyright.  Getting up the first serialized short story in the Tinsletown, Texas Christmas Chronicles.  Identifying the next big project to tackle.

We've read a lot, seen a lot, played a lot, and laughed a lot.

So for this final post of 2018, I'd like to close with a few lists and items to look back on.  A couple of memoriams, a top ten list, and a prayer.

First, as a comic fan, this year dealt a lot of tough losses.  Stan's was arguably the biggest, but there were a handful of other legendary creators that past as well.

In Memoriam - Comic Book Legends
  • Harlan Ellison (May 27, 1934 - June 28, 2018) - prolific science fiction author and enormous comic book fan.  Beyond his books, short stories, and screen plays, he also wrote several comics.
  • Steve Ditko (November 2, 1927 - June 29, 2018) - co-creator of Spider-man and Doctor Strange, creator of the Question, the Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Captain Atom, and Shade the Changing Man. Known for his reclusive tendencies later in his life and his staunch adherence to objectivism, the beauty and surreal quality to his art cannot be denied.
  • Russ Heath (September 29, 1926 - August 23, 2018) - legendary Golden Age artist known for his DC Comics war books and Little Annie Fanny in Playboy.  His drawings of fighter jets in All-American Men of War #89 would serve as the basis for Roy Lichtenstein's best known oil paintings.
  • Marie Severin (August 21, 1929 - August 29, 2018) - legendary artist and colorist for Marvel and EC Comics, co-creator of Spider-Woman.  She did a little bit of everything, well into the mid-2000s.
  • Gary Friedrich (August 21, 1943 - August 29, 2018) - Silver Age writer at Marvel, known for westerns, war comics, and co-creating Ghost Rider and Daimon Hellstrom. 
  • Norm Breyfogle (February 27, 1960 - September 24, 2018) - For a certain generation, Breyfogle is the Batman artist.  One of the first to really explore the cape as something that could be extended and manipulated, Breyfogle was the prime vision of Batman from 1987 to 1995.
  • Stan Lee (December 28, 1922 - November 12, 2018) - The Man.  Comics greatest cheerleader.  Without Stan, Marvel doesn't exist even with all the controversy that surrounds him.  I've written my thoughts on Stan and his passing at greater length here.

In Memoriam - Film Legends:
One of the things we look forward to at this time of year is the TCM Remembers video.  TCM always does the greatest job of compiling the video for the year, especially in regard to completeness and variety.  I think I'll let the masters sum up my feelings here.

Finally, a look back at the year in the blog, with the Top 10 Most Read articles of the year, in reverse order.
I pray you all have a safe and wonderful celebration this evening and are able to take time to reflect on the year that has past and the year to come.  Here's to great things in the coming year!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Tinsletown, Texas Christmas Chronicles Chapter Six

Chapter Six. The Story of the Feast.

“Peanut butter…” John started.

“…and jelly…” said Marsha interrupting.

“…sandwiches…” continued Mindy.

“…with chips…” interjected Peter.

“…and stale gingerbread…” said Uncle Dudley.

“And whatever this is supposed to be.” finished grandfather Bill, holding the stalk of hay.

“I LOVE IT!” shouted Jenny.

“You’re kidding, Vern?  Right?!?” said John. “This is your favorite Christmas dinner.”

“That’s right,” Vern answered.  “And it has been for years.  Isn’t that right, Dad?”

“All the way back to the days of the cranberry farm.”  Mr. Valkotukka replied.

Vern got a twinkle in his eye as he started to relay the tale.  “We had a lot of lean years when I was growing up.  The cranberry farm never took off like we hoped, and most of the other ventures were worse.  It wasn’t until The Stable that things really turned around.  Because of that, our early Christmas dinners were usually whatever we could throw together from leftovers in the kitchen.  One year, when I was six…”

“Seven, dear.” Mrs. Valkotukka corrected.

“You’re right,” Vern continued.  “When I was seven, Mom let me pick what leftovers we would put together for the meal.  So I chose peanut butter sandwiches, which were my favorite.  For the jelly, we had a lot of cranberry jelly tucked away, so that was the obvious choice.  Potatoes were fairly easy to come by, so I could help fry some homemade potato chips pretty easily.  And Dad went in to town and surprised us with the addition of day old gingerbread.  It was the first time I got to pick the menu, and what can I say, it stuck with me.”

“But what about the stalk of hay?” asked Marsha.

“That was my favorite addition to the plate.  I started thinking about that first Christmas, there in Bethlehem, in a stable filled with animals, and wondered what could have been on their plates that night.  Who knows what Mary and Joseph would have been packing with them for their travels.  They certainly were not getting any food from the innkeeper or any other form of an elaborate Christmas feast.  Whatever they had it would have been meager.  And while I couldn’t imagine what they were eating, the only thing I knew would be there would have been hay for the animals.  So I ran out to the field, and pulled off a few stalks to place it there as a reminder of that first simple Christmas dinner.  A meager meal that accompanied the greatest Christmas ever.”  Vern replied.  “I’ve used the stalk of hay as a reminder in everything I have done since.  If you look around it’s everywhere in The Stable.  On every table, in every centerpiece.”

The Moore family looked around and noticed the hay for the first time.  When the first entered, they noticed all the extravagance.  The white linen, the fine crystal and china.  But now they noticed this most simple of all decorations.  And it was everywhere.  Likely going unnoticed by every patron in the restaurant. 

“Vern never let us forget that Christmas,” Mr. Valkotukka began.  “Through every twist and turn the years have brought us through, we always look back to that simple Christmas dinner as a bright spot in our memories.  We laughed more, we shared more, we smiled more than any Christmas up to that point.”

Mrs. Valkotukka continued finishing his thought, “And so we decided to make that meal our family tradition, in memory of that first Christmas meal that Vern created.”

“But you’ve cooked so many other amazing Christmas dinners for everyone else since then.” Uncle Dudley interjected.  “I don’t mean to be incredulous, but you mean you haven’t wanted to branch out and enjoy all of his other creations.”

“They are tempting,” Mr. Valkotukka began.

“But, we get to sample those in the kitchen.” Mrs. Valkotukka finished.  “That lets us have a bit of the best of both worlds.  Plus, we have Vern make us amazing dinners on other nights of the year.”

“You should see what he makes for New Years Eve.” Mr. Valkotukka said with a chuckle.

Marsha then turned to Vern. “But haven’t you ever wanted to tweak the recipe?  I mean you create a different feast each year for the stable, but stick to the exact same meal for your family?”

“Not really,” Vern replied.  “The memory of that meal is tied to the same, simple ingredients.  I’ve even gotten so accustomed to day-old gingerbread that I’ve even started to prefer it that way.  Hazel has even started to keep me some in reserve at the Gingerbread House.”

“I love it,” Jenny said, having already scarfed down half of the items on her plate. “It’s the perfect meal, my favorite.”

“It is pretty great,” said Peter.

“Plus,” Mindy said, “it doesn’t take nearly as long to get together as the traditional meal.   I know I’ve spent so much time on the centerpiece the past couple of years, that I’ve been really grateful when the day is over.”

Marsha then shocked the family, “Me too.  I mean I love our family meal, but it’s become so much work to make everything perfect.  I enjoy the meal, I do, but I’ve found myself really just waiting for it to be over.”

John agreed, “And while this meal may be simple, it still brings us together, it fills us, and lets us celebrate the season.  It serves its purpose well.”

“My favorite Christmas meal ever.”  Vern stated.

“Mine too” Jenny added. “It’s what I prayed for.”

“What?” the entire Moore family asked almost in unison.

“After the turkey shot out of the oven, knowing it was my fault for putting the popcorn in the turkey, I prayed to God that he would fix us a meal that would allow us to laugh again and smile again this Christmas.”

“Aw, honey,” Marsha consoled, “this was not all your fault.  There were a thousand little steps that went wrong in many different directions, all because we were too caught up in the routine to pay attention.”

John continued, “And despite the mess, I think this might have been just the wake-up call our family needed to learn that lesson.”

“The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Vern replied. “I think your prayer was answered.”

The Moore and Valkotukka families spent the rest of the evening sharing stories of Christmas past and laughing more than either had in ages.  All parties would later agree that it was one of the best Christmases they ever celebrated.  All around a meager meal, considered their favorite Christmas dinner ever.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Tinsletown, Texas Christmas Chronicles Chapter Five

Chapter Five.  Dining Out

Dinner options in Tinsletown for Christmas Eve were very limited.  The Dash Away All Convenience Store had a hot table, but that was no one’s first choice.  Donner’s Diner would be closing early for their company party.  Even the Dairy Queen was closing early this particular evening.  John and Marsha knew that practically, The Stable would be their only option.

The rest of the extended family had largely gone their own directions.  James and Jill took their mother Margot back home to start preparing for Christmas dinner the next day.  Jefferson, Elizabeth, Alex and Nora decided to head on to Jefferson’s family home to be ready for Christmas Day with them.  That left John, Marsha, Peter, Mindy, Jenny, grandfather Bill, and Uncle Dudley to try their luck at the stable.  John and Marsha knew Vern from school and hoped he would be able to squeeze them in tonight.

“This is the place.”  John announced as the family pulled up to The Stable.

“You’re kidding,” Peter interjected.  “This is nothing but an old barn.”

“Right.” said John.

“WOW!” Jenny exclaimed.

“You mean we’re going to eat Christmas Eve dinner in a barn?” Mindy asked.

“It’s not a barn.  It’s The Stable, ‘A unique dining experience.’” replied Marsha.

Peter laughed. “Unique is right.  I’ll bet the ‘unique’ part is eating with cows, horses, pigs…”

“Dad?!?” Mindy interrupted.

“That will be enough young man.” John scolded.  “This happens to be a very nice restaurant.  Besides it’s the only place open this late on Christmas Eve.  Now we are going to enter this restaurant like one happy family and pray that they have enough room to seat us.”

As the family entered the restaurant, Peter, Mindy, and Jenny got a sense of how wrong they were in their assessment of The Stable.  They were able to take in all of the extravagant decorations that filled the space.  The white linen tablecloths.  The music from the house band wafted through the air and they were able to see the choir ready to take their places.  There was something truly magical about The Stable at Christmas.  Even the menu reflected it, which Vern had posted near the front door.

This year, Vern had chosen to offer a five course dinner featuring a braised rack of lamb.  The appetizer was a fruit pastry square, followed by a roast turkey consommé, and fruit sorbet.  The braised rack of lamb for the main course would be served with hasselback potatoes and blue cheese, enriched with a signature sauce that Vern had developed.  Finally, patrons would be served a black forest trifle for dessert.  All in all, Vern was very pleased with the selection and the earliest patrons had been raving about the choice.

“I take it all back,” Peter proclaimed.  “This could be very good.  Maybe even better…”  He stopped before he finished the thought.

John approached the host stand.  Mr. Valkotukka was on host duty tonight and was as busy as a beaver.  When he was finally able to stop for a moment he asked, “How can I help you John?”

“Any chance you have a table for seven?”  John replied.

“No reservation, I’m assuming.”


“I’m sorry John, but as you can see, we have no room.  Even the private dining room’s are all booked up.” 

“I understand, Mr. Valkotukka, but we thought we would give it a shot.  We really have no place to go, after what happened this afternoon.”  With that, John began to explain the whole ordeal to Mr. Valotukka, with the family chiming in at various other points. 

“I see,” said Mr. Valotukka.  He thought for a moment and turned to John and Marsha.  “Let me talk to Vern.  I have an idea that just might work.”  Mr. Valkotukka turned from the host stand and head back toward the kitchen.

“Say a prayer this works,” said Marsha.

At that moment, Vern was running back and forth all across the kitchen.  Checking on the consommé, perfecting the trifle, preparing another rack of lamb.  There were a thousand things running through his head at any moment, as he made sure everything ran smoothly.  He loved every minute of it, but the last thing he needed was a new problem that needed a solution.

“Vern, can I speak with you a minute?” his father asked.  As Mr. Valkotukka pulled Vern aside, he explained the predicament of the Moore family.  “Now I know we do not have any place for them in the main dining hall, but I thought maybe they could dine with us.”

Vern though about it for a minute.  It would require a little bit more effort on his part, but he should be able to make it work, he thought.  After all, he couldn’t turn them away.  Not on Christmas and not in The Stable. 

“That could work.”  Vern replied.  “Let them know what they are getting in for, though.  We don’t want to surprise them too much. And let Mama know to set the extra places at the Chef’s table.”

“Will do.  Love you, son.  And thank you.”

“No, thank you Dad.  Likewise.  Now, get out of my kitchen and let me get to work.”  Vern joked, and got to work.

Mr. Valkotukka returned to the host stand and explained the situation to the Moore family.  “As I said before, we have no room for you in the main dining hall.  But, we would like to invite you to join us at the Chef’s table for our Christmas dinner.  Now it won’t be the main menu.  We have just enough of that for the reservations.  But Vern will be making his favorite Christmas dinner for us like he does every year.  If that sounds good to you, we would be honored to have you.”

Vern’s favorite Christmas dinner. The Moore family raced with visions of what the premier chef of Tinsletown would think of as his favorite Christmas dinner.  Marsha and Bill were hoping for a traditional turkey dinner.  John was pulling for tamales and various Mexican dishes.  Uncle Dudley hoped for a roast duck.  The children hoped it just came with plenty of desserts.

“We accept.”  John exclaimed, not even looking for further agreement. 

And with that, the family followed Mr. Valkotukka through the main dining hall into the Chef’s Table, a private dining room adjacent to the kitchen, with a perfect view of all the main festivities.

Mrs. Valkotukka was already in the dining room, and proved the perfect hostess.  She got the children started with juice, wine for John and Marsha, and the perfect Tom and Jerry for Uncle Dudley and Bill.  She filled the Moore family in on the history of The Stable and regaled them with stories of their favorite holiday entertainment acts.  John and Marsha shared with her the events of the afternoon, and were able to laugh about it for the first time.  Throughout, Mr. Valkotukka popped in and out checking on them and updating them on Vern’s progress.

When Vern had finally completed the family meal, he turned the rest of the evening’s preparations over to his sous chef, Felix Bassenak.  He enlisted a few servers to help him move the dinner to the Chef’s Table.

“I’m glad you could all join us tonight.  I think you are in for a treat.  Please take your place at the table, and we will start serving.”  Vern stated as he entered the room.

With that, the servers began placing covered platters in front of each member of the Moore and Valkotukka families.

“This Christmas dinner has been a tradition in our family for as long as I can remember,” Vern began.  “Through all of the situations our family found ourselves in, this meal has been a constant, and we are so glad to share it with you.”

 Vern asked his father to say grace, and once completed, invited his guests to begin.  “Without any further adieu, my favorite Christmas dinner I have ever made.”

In a flourish, the servers removed the covers from the dishes, revealing the evening’s feast:

A peanut butter and cranberry jelly sandwich on white bread, homemade potato chips, day old ginger-bread, and a single stalk of hay.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Tinsletown, Texas Christmas Chronicles Chapter Four

Chapter 4. The Moore Family Christmas Dinner Disaster

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things first went wrong with this year’s Moore family Christmas dinner.  Perhaps with the installation of the new double oven in November.  The slow tightening of the hinges on the door from the kitchen to the backyard.    The annual airing of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas special, which inspired Mindy’s elaborate centerpiece this year.  The additional help that Jenny provided in preparing the Christmas dinner.  Or perhaps even further back, to the year the Bumpuses moved in to the farm next door and started their kennel, with their ever-growing population of rescue dogs and other animals.

            Though all the facts and details contributing to the disaster will take a few months to sort out, my understanding of the specific events of Christmas Eve are as follows:

            Marsha awoke that morning at 5:30 am, as she did every Christmas Eve, to begin preparing the for the evening meal.  She checked on the turkey, thawing in the refrigerator.  It had been thawing for three days, hopefully sufficient for the massive twenty-two pound bird.  Satisfied that the turkey would be ready by noon to place in the over, she turned her attention to the many other dishes on her list.  Breakfast and lunch would be do-it-yourself today; all her attention would be on the annual dishes for the evening’s festivities.  It was a familiar pattern she followed every year, with one major variation this morning.

            At six o’clock, Jenny heard her mother in the kitchen and bounded down the stairs to join her.  “What are you doing up, sweetie?” Marsha asked.  “Go on back to bed, you don’t need to be up for a while now.”

            “I’m here to help you.” Jenny replied.  “I want to do my part in the Christmas dinner.  I can help too.”

            While Marsha knew this would likely increase her workload, there was no way she was going to turn down this prime bonding opportunity with her baby.  “Grab an apron,” Marsha said.  “And do exactly what I say; we have to be precise.”
            Marsha knew the dressing needed to be finished first, to ensure that it would be ready in time to stuff the turkey and get it in the oven for ample baking time.  She had already pulled out her large mixing bowl and most of the necessary ingredients.  She also knew that mixing the stuffing would be an excellent entry level task for Jenny to work on.  Besides, Jenny had helped her several times before, with family dinners throughout the year.  Plus, Marsha knew this year’s menu was going to be ambitious, and she could use the extra hands.  Besides, the stuffing at this point was basically prepared, it just had to be finally all crumbled together and put in the bird.  What’s the worst that could happen, she thought. 

With this in mind, Marsha put Jenny to work. 

            “Your mission, your most important mission, is to get this stuffing ready and mixed so we can fill the turkey and get it in the oven.  Here’s a bowl big enough for all the ingredients, and most of what you will need to mix.  Take these to start and mix them together as you can.  Let me know when you think it’s done and I’ll tell you what else to add.  I’m going to start working on the cranberry salsa.”

            So Jenny began mixing the pre-prepared cornbread pieces and sausage crumbles.  “I’m ready for more,” Jenny gleefully announced, after what seemed like an eternity of stirring and crumbling to her.  “Okay” replied her mother.  “Now get the celery, onion, and kernel corn to mix in.” 

            No Marsha knew that she clearly said “kernel corn,” referring, of course, to the small amount of roasted corn kernels prepared the day before, just like the pre-cooked celery and onion.  And had she not been as focused on the cranberry salsa as she was at that time, she might have noticed that Jenny had grabbed the popcorn kernels from the cabinet instead of the refrigerator.  As it was, Jenny’s substitution went unnoticed until much later in the day.  Jenny mixed in the corn kernels, celery, and onion, and announced to her satisfaction that she was through.

            “All done?” her mother asked.

            “Uh-huh” replied Jenny.  “What’s next?”

            “Well, would you like to keep working with the stuffing?” Marsha asked.  “You could go ahead and stuff the mix in the turkey if you’d like to try that.  That would be a big help.”

            And so, Marsha pulled the turkey from the refrigerator and set Jenny to stuffing the turkey.  And as Jenny worked, Marsha turned to the sausage balls, wassail, and brie.  Once the turkey was completely stuffed, Jenny and Marsha worked together to set it in the pan, ready for the oven.  The bird then went back in the refrigerator to wait for a couple more hours at least.

            By now, it was eight o’clock and the rest of the family had begun to stir. Jenny continued to help her mother in the kitchen with various other little tasks.  John, Mindy, and Peter each came through in turn, grabbing a quick breakfast and turning to their tasks for the day.  John headed out for much needed, last-minute Christmas shopping.  Peter would be spending the day over at the Bumpus twins, Billy and Blake, scouring the woods for hidden adventures and generally avoiding their parents for the greater part of the day. 

            Mindy, however, would be focusing on her masterpiece – this year’s centerpiece.
Taking inspiration from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this year’s work was to be a twisting, spiraling creation covering the table in Seussian design.  Mindy knew every inch, every placement of the dishes on the table, and planned to fill every available spot.  It would be her crowning achievement.  A masterwork in paper-mache, garland, and tinsel.  And significantly bigger than anything she had ever attempted, incorporating platters for several of the dishes and four candle-holders on the corners. 

            By ten o’clock, Marsha moved the turkey into one of the double ovens.  The other oven would be in continual use for the various other dishes, but the turkey now had a dedicated oven all to itself.  Here again, had Marsha been a little more familiar with the new oven or a little more tech savvy, she may have been able to set the to delay the start time for two hours and then cook for six hours.  And had she not been so busy the rest of the day, she might have noticed that the oven for the turkey instead delayed the start time for six hours and then began cooking for two.  Again, a fact that would be noticed much later in the day.

            By three o’clock, John and Peter had both returned home, John haggard from the Christmas shopping experience and Peter dirty and disheveled from his adventure in the woods.  He even had a few of the Bumpus dogs follow him home, much to his father’s chagrin.  And though, it took all of the morning and most of the afternoon, Mindy was putting the final touches on her centerpiece. The Whos would be proud.  Marsha and Jenny had just placed the last of the hors d’oeuvres on their settings.  Everyone was ready to start cleaning up and dressing for the feast.  The extended family would be arriving in just a few minutes.

            This year, the assembled crew would be a little smaller than in previous years.  Joining the immediate family would be John’s mother Margot Moore, his brother James Moore and his wife Jill, Marsha’s father Bill Beecham, her sister Elizabeth Lane and her husband Jefferson, as well as their children Alex and Nora, and finally, Marsha’s uncle Dudley Beecham.  Uncle Dudley was the first to arrive, bringing spirits with him and heading straight to the wassail to help give it a little lift. “Everything is hunky-dunky,” he said after preparing it to his liking.  By 3:40 pm, the rest of the family had arrived and was engaged in lively conversation in the living room, ready for the commencement of the festivities.  It was at this time that the turkey oven actually turned on to start preheating, unnoticed by all the celebrants. 

            By four o’clock, Marsha, Jenny, and Mindy started moving the hors d’oeuvres to the dining table, carefully arranging within the massive centerpiece.  By 4:05 pm, everything had been assembled and all that was left was for Mindy to light the candles on her masterpiece.

            At that moment, the deafening boom of a cannon blast roared from the kitchen, shaking the whole house.  The turkey shot out of the oven, rocketing through the air and heading straight for the corner of the kitchen.  It ricocheted off the corner, landing on the floor, and splattering all over the kitchen.  In the commotion, Uncle Dudley spilled his wassail over the dining table at the same time that Mindy lit a tendril of the centerpiece instead of the candle.  The alcohol soaked centerpiece and table went up in a flash, with smoke soon filling the whole room. 

John was first to burst in the kitchen, looking for the fire extinguisher in the cabinet under the sink.  In his haste to rush in, he stepped on a bit of the debris from the turkey, causing him to slide directly into the island, knocking off the next courses directly on top of him. As the fire alarm starting sounding, Alex and Peter then rushed in to open the kitchen door and let the smoke out.  From there, Peter was able to make his way to the kitchen cabinet and bring the fire extinguisher in to his grandfather Bill. 

As Bill started extinguishing the fire, the Bumpus’ dogs that had followed Peter home then rushed in through the now open kitchen door, lapping up bits of turkey on their way through the kitchen and into the rest of the house.  James and Jefferson started chasing after the pack of dogs, running after them upstairs, downstairs, and through nearly every room in the house before they were able to corral the out the front door.

With the table fire now extinguished and the smoke thinning out, John closed the kitchen door.  The family began to survey the disaster before them.  The turkey had been blanketed over nearly ever surface in the kitchen.  The Moores would be finding bits of turkey and stuffing in the kitchen for weeks.  The hors d’oeuvres had been flash burned to a crisp and John was wearing most of the next courses.

As they stood and stared at each other in utter disbelief at the series of improbable and unfortunate events, they noticed John formulating a plan in his head and after a brief pause, they heard him utter the phrase that would now be forever etched into their memories.         

            “All right! Everybody upstairs!  Get cleaned up!  We are going out to eat!”

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Tinsletown, Texas Christmas Chronicles Chapter Three

Chapter 3. The Moore Family

If there was any family in town that could challenge the Valkatokka family on their love and presentation of holiday food, it was the Moore family.  And while the Moore family did not have an outlet like The Stable to showcase their holiday meal, their Christmas dinner had none the less become the stuff of legend in the town.  Those who had been able to celebrate with the Moore family on occasion had regaled friends and family with tales of an immaculately dressed table, impeccable presentation of courses, and absolutely exquisite food.

It is important to note, that the Moore family dinner was one steeped in tradition.  Each family member served a specific function in the preparation and presentation of the Christmas dinner and each person fulfilled that function spectacularly.  It truly was a group effort and it showed each and every year.  If you asked each family member the secret to their success, however, you would get five different answers.

In the opinion of father John Moore, the most important part of any holiday meal rested in the attention to the carving.  To him, an otherwise excellently prepared meal could be ruined by an improper carving of the main course.  He, of course, proudly displayed his three “Master Carver” awards from the Tinsletown County Fair in a prominent spot on the shelf in his den.  His attention to detail in the carving had brought him rave notes from the judges and reflected that same spirit of precision he expected in his position as City Manager and in all aspects of his life.

To mother Marsha Moore, the secret of a truly special holiday meal lay in the traditions encapsulated in the meal. Each of Marsha’s recipes had been handed down from at least three generations on her side of the family.  In her opinion, recipes could be slightly tweaked, but they were never to be altered.  “Why break what’s working.”  Marsha had mastered the family Christmas recipes very early on and looked forward every year to bringing them back out for the big family meal.  To her, this was her greatest holiday contribution, and the compliments she received from family and friends alike would be a source of joy and satisfaction well into the new year.

Mindy Moore, the eldest of the three Moore children, believed that the secret to the success of any meal lay in the presentation of the table.  A brilliant art student, Mindy had long been looking for ways to transform the ordinary meal into something truly spectacular and by the time she had entered high school, Marsha had turned over all table decoration to her.  In a continuing attempt to present something fresh and new and to top the previous years exhibition, Mindy’s decorations have become more and more elaborate and avant garde.

Middle child Peter Moore judged a successful Christmas dinner by the amount of laughter at the table.  A natural born jokester, Peter took the opportunity at every meal to perfect his standup routine.  After all, he knew his family would be his harshest critics.  Now in middle school, Peter had also branched out into practical jokes and physical humor, to mixed results.  His sisters, most often the butt of his practical jokes, had most assuredly not appreciated this change in humor.

Finally, to the youngest, Jenny Moore, Christmas dinner was all about dessert.  Seven years old, and ever the optimist, Jenny kept waiting for the day they would be able to have dessert first – “So they knew wouldn’t have to worry about saving room.”    Jenny loved helping her mother bake the various cookies, pies, and cakes that would be served at Christmas dinner and looked forward to the day she could create her own desserts for the table.

Everyone knew their part in the Christmas dinner process and every year had been a success.  Every year flowed like clockwork as Marsha would spend all of December 23 preparing the meal for the coming days and Mindy would begin creating the centerpiece for the table.  Once all preparations had been made, Christmas Eve dinner every year would start promptly at 5:00 pm, with wassail for the adults, apple juice for the kids, and a sampling of hors d’oeuvres including mixed nuts, baked brie with toast, cranberry salsa, and sausage balls.  A perfect time for conversation and claiming one’s seat for the coming meal.  At 6:00 pm, the feast would begin, starting with a farm fresh salad course, followed by butternut squash soup.  Once those dishes were cleared, the turkey and the accompanying sides of dressing, and roasted green beans.  Once the turkey had been carved at the table and the blessing was said, this course was served family style with the meat and sides passed between the guests.  When everyone had eaten to their fill, the plates were cleared, and the guests were freed to head back into the living room where the desserts would be spread out on the credenza, waiting to be chosen.  Fruitcake and iced sugar cookies, chocolate and pecan pies, and fresh gingerbread were consistent staples.  Every year was virtually the same, and every year was exceptional.

Which is what makes the horrible mess surrounding this year’s Moore family Christmas dinner even more surprising and unexplainable.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Tinsletown, Texas Christmas Chronicles Chapter Two

Chapter 2. The Stable – A Unique Dining Experience (SM)

Vern could recall the day his father came up with the slogan The Stable – A Unique Dining Experience as clear as if it were yesterday.  It was a wet and cold Friday night in December, when the family headed into town to the Tinsel Theater to catch a re-release of Holiday Inn.  The movie must have made quite the impression on Mr. Valkotukka, because in the middle of the film, when Bing Crosby’s character reveals his plans for the Holiday Inn, Mr. Valkotukka leaped to his feet and cried, “That’s it!,” to the surprise of all in the audience.  He sat down as quickly as he had arisen, and remained on the edge of his seat through the remainder of the film.

Afterwards, the family could hardly wait to hear what could have possibly caused such an outburst from their usually reserved father.  Mr. Valkotukka had scarcely made it into their station wagon when he exclaimed, “A restaurant that’s only open on the holidays!  We’ll make a big to do of it.  We’ll have lots of music and space for dancing.  We’ll highlight the chicken dinners and maybe even expand into other dishes.  We’ll open for several days around the holidays to allow plenty of guests to get to experience the meals, but we’ll also have some breaks in between.  The farm will be there to support the restaurant with the fresh grown food.” 

In that instant, the family knew this was the right path forward, and thus The Stable was born.  The structure built during the reindeer experiment proved the perfect place to house the restaurant, with minor modifications.  Originally, the setup was quite simple.  Tables for around 150 guests.  A small stage for a band or choir.  A small wooden dance floor surrounding the stage and a modest kitchen just off to the side of the building.

The initial menu consisted of the now famous chicken dinner served family style, with little variation.  Entertainment often consisted of a local church choir or family band.  The waitstaff were all kids from Tinseltown High School who had all previously worked on the farm.

It was a small operation, but it proved quite successful.  Guests who had loved Mrs. Valkotukka’s chicken dinners on the farm would bring family and friends out for a holiday celebration to enjoy the meal together.  Quickly word spread across the region and The Stable often found itself completely booked, with reservations well in advance during the busiest holiday seasons.  Finally, the Valkotukka family had found their niche in the town.


As Vern looked surveyed the now empty restaurant this Christmas Eve, he was amazed at how much the place had changed over his lifetime.  The restaurant could now serve closer to 250 guests in a single setting in the main hall, with a few private dining rooms tucked away for party rentals.  There was even a room now for a private chef’s table experience.  Though the décor remained largely the same, the entire structure had been revamped and rebuilt to update the space from a nearly outdoor, truly rustic experience, to an enclosed, climate-controlled dining hall.  The stage and dance floor had been expanded and equipped with up to date sound and lighting equipment.  The kitchen had been greatly expanded and converted into a kitchen worthy of the restaurant’s now signature status.

Yes, Vern was truly impressed with how far this little restaurant had come over the years.  And in the quiet of this Christmas Eve, before the rush of the crowds arrived, even before his staff arrived, he paused to take a moment to thank God for all He had brought his family through and the blessings they had received.

Vern was thankful for the opportunity he had to cook and to explore a wide variety of foods.  The Stable had long moved beyond the traditional chicken dinners and the menu was his alone to create.  Each holiday had a different and unique menu, and he followed his inspiration wherever it led him.  With the chef’s table seating in particular, he was able to truly experiment and to put the lessons he learned from his time in New York and London after high school to use.  The guests who reserved that space knew they were in for a treat.

Vern knew how far his family had come and how different their Christmases were now.  But this Christmas, it would be a memory from his childhood and a recipe he created there that would have a lasting impact, both on Vern himself and his guests.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

I hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas Day with your family, friends, and loved ones!  In the spirit of the season, I have a little gift for the blog - a serialized short story to be released over the next few days.

The story was written with a particular narrator voice in mind.  If you've seen the show Pushing Daisies, picture Jim Dale's voice as you read.  That is what was in my head as I wrote.  If you are unfamiliar, I think Jean Shepherd's voice would work just a well.  Plus that one brings a Christmas connection.

So, without further adieu, chapter one of The Tinsletown, Texas Christmas Chronicles - The Year of the Best Christmas Dinner Ever.


Chapter 1. The Valkotukka Family

Vern Valkotukka’s favorite thing about Christmas was the food.  In particular, Vern had developed a special affection for preparing Christmas dinner, and there was not a dish yet that he had not been able to master.  Beyond variations on the traditional turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and fruitcake, Vern had mastered ages old family recipes for roast goose and carp, as well as lebkuchen and christstollen.  This love further led him to experiment with fig pudding, trifles, mince pies, and variations on the yule log.  From there, he studied traditional Cajun reveillon, the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, and Christmas tamales.  One year, he even tried his hand at a Chinese dim sum.

Yes, Vern Valkotukka loved Christmas food and he was very good at making it.

It was a love he had developed from childhood.  Something his parents had fostered within him and greatly appreciated.  Vern fondly remembered the times his mother brought him into the kitchen to assist her in making gingerbread houses and other holiday treats and goodies, a practice she began when he was only three years old.  By the age of six, Vern frequently played a vital role in the family’s meal preparation and by the age of thirteen, he was working his way through the kitchen of his family’s restaurant – The Stable: A Unique Dining Experience (SM). 

Life, however, did not start with The Stable for the Valkotukka family.  The family had lived in Tinsletown since its earliest days.  Vern’s father, Vincent Valkotukka, had moved to the community with his wife, Vivian, from New York by way of New Orleans, shortly after the town’s founding, hoping to start farm life befitting the yuletide locale.  As the Dooley family had already claimed Christmas trees, the Valkotukka’s chose to focus on foods essential to Christmas meal preparation.  In particular, they had hoped to plant a thriving cranberry bog in this little town in East Texas.  Needless to say, the cranberry bog was not the valued crop that the Valkotukka’s had hoped for, and the family often struggled to make ends meet.  By the time Vern was born, the family had started branching out into other holiday plants such as apple, pumpkin, and chestnuts, none of which ever really took off as they had desired.

Over the next several years, the Valkotukka’s began experimenting with a variety of other business opportunities.  They started with the farm tours.  Then, there was the ill-fated reindeer stable and petting zoo, which at least added the sizeable structure to the property.  The recklessly hazardous woodcarving experiment, despite the lack of experience.  This experiment was thankfully brief and free from bodily harm (though the fence posts never looked quite the same afterward).  And finally, the poorly conceived Twelve Days of Christmas aviary.  No one could have imagined how aggressive those birds would turn out to be.

Through it all, one constant remained in Mrs. Valkotukka’s chicken dinners.     Offered originally as an option during the farm tours, the dinners quickly grew in fame and popularity.  Guests raved about the lightly fried chicken, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, green beans, and buttermilk biscuits with the special Valkotukka preserves – cranberry, of course.   Guests to the Valkotukka home knew of Mrs. Valkotukka’s skill in the kitchen, but these chicken dinners seemed to be of a higher level altogether.

The recipe started as a variation on a family secret.  If pressed, Mrs. Valkotukka would confess the variation happened largely by accident.  In the first batch, a splash of cranberry juice fell into the batter for the fried chicken.  With no time to prepare a fresh batter, Mrs. Valkotukka had little choice to but to leave the accidental ingredient in.  Surprisingly, the addition proved quite the sensation.  Guests that day could not get enough of the taste, with many coming back for seconds (and some for thirds and fourths).  All of them loved that unique flavor, the one they “just couldn’t quite put their finger on.”

Mrs. Valkotukka certainly had to experiment the next day, splitting the dinners between the original recipe and the new variation.  People continued to gravitate to the batch with the hint of cranberry.  Accordingly, from then on, the accidental variation became the new family tradition.

Within weeks, the chicken dinners began drawing larger crowds than any of the other business experiments, causing the dinners to begin to sell out on a regular basis.  After a couple of months, guests started arriving from areas well beyond Tinsletown, some even reporting as much as an hours drive just to come partake in this unique chicken dinner they had heard so much about.

By this time, everyone in the family was involved with the chicken dinners.  Vern had started helping his mother in the kitchen, to help meet the increased demand.   Vern’s younger sister, Veronica, just two years younger, helped serve and clear plates.  Mr. Valkotukka had even shifted his attention to duties as a host, helping seat the patrons and generally engaging them in long conversations.  Yes, even Mr. Valkotukka had found his calling – conversationalist.

The success of the chicken dinners had quickly made it the family business.  But the leap to The Stable, to the restaurant that would become a Tinsletown icon, would only come after an offbeat inspiration.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Night Before Christmas

It's Christmas Eve.  I pray you and yours have a wonderful night.  May the night be spent with those you love and may the blessings of the season be upon you.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes--how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

A Visit From St. Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore, 1823

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent - O Come Let Us Adore Him

On the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, we celebrate the love of God.  That an omnipotent, omnipresent God would step into time and space, into a moment, to live among His creation and to sacrifice Himself to provide a pathway for its restoration.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."
John 3:16-19

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:14

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

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 2:8-20

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
1 John 4:10

I pray you have a wonderful day in the Lord this Advent Sunday and are able to fully appreciate the love of God as it has been poured out to us.

If you are looking for a place to celebrate this Christmas Eve Eve and are in the Wills Point area, please check out Stonepoint Church.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Keeler Family Christmas Card

One of the primary Christmas traditions in the Keeler household was the taking of the family Christmas card photo.  The picture would always be of the three kids and it was usually a laborious process.  I remember the year with the four rolls of film taken (yes, film) and the one photo shoot with no film in the camera.  The year Taylor was one year old felt like it took a lot more than four rolls.

Every year though turned out a memorable photograph.  The year of the upturned nose.  The year of the barely contained laughter.  The year in the truck.  Each picture told a story and every one was perfect for that year.  And from as early as I can remember well into my college years, the process was repeated.

As Brooke and I progressed through college, it became more difficult to find the time to get us all together for the photo shoot, so the Christmas photo card became the Christmas letter.

Now the traditions are starting again, and it has been great to get the photo cards from Brooke and Ryan and the boys, as well as the combined Keeler crew photos from Mom and Dad.

While Jamie and I have not sent cards, we do generally have a Christmas photograph each year. I thought I'd share the results of this years undertaking.

A Merriest Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 21, 2018

My Grown Up Christmas List

When you are a kid, the Christmas wishlist and letter to Santa almost represent your shot at a Genie's wishes.  You wish for everything you want.  Price is no object, size is no matter, practicality goes out the window - you put your truest wishes to paper.

With that same spirit, I draft my grown-up Christmas wish.  The craziest and biggest wishes I could ask for.  My list of the top 10 things that I would ask Santa for.

In no particular order,
  • Unlimited airline miles, with no blackout dates - to travel the world and see it all.  To have access right at our finger tips.
  • Tesla Model S with dual batteries, enhanced autopilot, and home supercharging - A great car to drive locally, untethered from the large amount I pay in gas each year currently.
  • Energy independent home with solar tiles and battery backup - To receive from the utility company and to put back into the grid.
  • Disney Golden Pass and Tokyo Disneyland Resort Lifetime Pass, for me and my family - Access to every Disney park there is, at any time.
  • Guaranteed admission and full ride scholarship for all of my children - the promise of education and the benefits it brings.
  • Excellent bills of health for all family members - To be free from worry regarding health and to allow family members to enjoy their time on earth to the fullest.
  • A Cadillac Insurance plan - in case something should happen.
  • To be independently wealthy - Not extravagantly so, but to be sufficient without the tie to work. This one is not about the money; it's about the time.  To be able to spend all that time with my wife and kids.  To be there for all the formative steps of their development and to teach them every step of the way.  If they need to learn about Rome, let's go there, etc.  To have plenty of time to be with extended family as well.
  • A classic movie theater I can program myself - to have a beautifully maintained and restored theater with plenty of film to show.
And finally, as cliched as it is
  • Complete Peace on Earth - even if just for a day.  Not just freedom from war or crime, freedom from all conflict and strife.  From abuse, from neglect.  Peace.
My greatest wish for this season does not come from this list, though.  I pray for time with a healthy family, wonderful memories made together, safety in travel to get to and from, and for us to be able to gather together again soon.

And that's my greatest wish each and every year.  The rest is just a bonus.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 32B - Walt Disney World Holiday Offerings

"From all of us to all of you a very merry Christmas!
And at this joyful time of year we want you to be with us.
So get around a lovely tree where all the lights are shining.
We'll be as happy as can be while all the bells are shining."

As a bonus entry into this If I Were Disney CEO series, a festive holiday treat focusing on holiday offerings for the stateside Disney parks.  I'm of the opinion that few can celebrate the season like Disney and would love to ramp up and diversify the offerings that the parks have.  I'm focusing on the stateside parks, because while the international parks do celebrate, the offerings are nowhere close to the extent that the stateside parks undertake.  Were I to elaborate on the international parks, I would want to focus on the celebrations and customs within the particular country.

With that in mind, my goals for this exercise are to give each stateside park a unique feeling for the Christmas season, focusing on a particular component of the holidays and playing into the parks strengths.  One thing I will discuss specifically for each park to highlight the unique attributes is the tree lighting ceremony.  Each park should have one, and they should each be unique and reflect that specific park.

Today, the Walt Disney World Resort.

The Magic Kingdom:
When discussing the differences in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland always comes down on the nostalgic side and the Magic Kingdom carries a bit more grandeur.  Disneyland has even been described as quaint, where as the Magic Kingdom is a bit more majestic.  Part of this comes down to the size of the castle and the image it portrays.  I think this can be used to describe the difference in the holiday offerings between the parks as well.  The Magic Kingdom's holiday offerings should focus more on the magic of the season.  Here's my holiday wishlist for the Magic Kingdom:
  • A condensed Nutcracker Ballet for the Main Street Theater - The Main Street Theater needs to be used to contain a large scale Christmas production and what better and more theme appropriate than a performance of the Nutcracker ballet.  A condensed ballet would be a wonderful seasonal addition.
  • Jingle Cruise - a holiday overlay of the Jungle Cruise offered since 2013.  A holiday shipment exploded over the jungle with lots of fruitcake jokes.  Allow spiked eggnog and this might be a perfect ride.
  • Decorations and appropriate music in the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse - one easy addition would be to add Christmas decor to the Treehouse, to mirror the scene in the Swiss Family Robinson Movie.  Appropriate music as played on the Treehouse organ could make this a quick, holiday addition.
  • Country Bear Christmas Special - As was mentioned for Disney California Adventure, this is a holiday overlay that needs to be brought back.  This version was previously offered in the Magic Kingdom and is a must to be reinstalled.
  • Christmas Show in the Diamond Horseshoe - As mentioned for Disneyland, there should always be a show in the Diamond Horseshoe, and there should absolutely be a Christmas show at this season.
  • Holiday Costumes for Belle and Beast in Enchanted Tales with Belle and Be Our Guest - Belle and Beast are one of the few princess and prince combinations that have appropriate holiday attire thanks to the Belle's Enchanted Christmas straight-to-dvd special.  These new costumes would make a nice festive touch.  A new storyline for Enchanted Tales with Belle would also be an easy holiday overlay.
  • Broader scope for decorations in Fantasyland - the New Fantasyland area started getting Christmas decorations in 2013.  This should be expanded into Fantasyland proper, even if just for garland around the ride signage.  
  • Tomorrowland decorations - Tomorrowland does have the Totally Tomorrowland Christmas and Club Tinsel shows, but there needs to be decorations in the land.  Here, it would be fun to see what a cyberpunk Christmas would look like.
  • Frozen Holiday Wish - This has been a cute addition, where Elsa covers the castle in ice and causes it to snow.  Their costumes could be changed out for their holiday versions from Olaf's Frozen Adventure, but otherwise this is a solid offering.
  • Once Upon A Christmastime Parade - a classic.  
  • Holiday Wishes - perfect for the park.  This fireworks spectacular utilizes Jiminy Cricket, who I believe should be the voice of the park.  Excellent musical arrangements.  I would just get it out from the upcharge party earlier.
  • Tree Lighting Ceremony - The Magic Kingdom's tree lighting ceremony should be accompanied by music from a town band, like the Magic Kingdom Marching band.  To me, the song I most associate with the Magic Kingdom and Christmas is We Need A Little Christmas.  That is what I envision for this ceremony.
EPCOT is the park that celebrates Christmas around the world.  The cultures, the music, the variations on Santa Claus.  EPCOT should center on the majesty of the season.  With that in mind, here is my holiday wishlist for EPCOT:
  • A restored Lights of Winter - The one portion of the holiday offerings that helps bridge the Future World and World Showcase sections.  With the Osborne Festival of Dancing Lights no longer offered at Hollywood Studios, the resort needs a Christmas light focused offering.  I would update them to LEDs, as those could be used to synchronize with other holiday offerings.
  • its a small world holiday - With the attraction rebuilt here, the holiday offering would be a natural fit.  The Lights of Winter could lead up to the facade and tie into the projection and clock shows.  This would be the seminal attraction to tie all of the holiday offerings together.
  • Festival of the Holidays - as in DCA, Disney has expanded their holiday offerings to include food booths to celebrate the holiday foods of different cultures around the world.  One area EPCOT needs to beef up would be the seasonal entertainment acts that are part of this Festival.  DCA has several incredible holiday acts.   EPCOT should have the same.
  • Feliz Navidad overlay in Grand Fiesta Tour - This would seem to be an easy overlay, given the projections.  The Three Caballeros celebrating Feliz Navidad.
  • Anna and Elsa in their holiday costumes - As in the Magic Kingdom, the meet and greets for Anna and Elsa should have them in their Olaf's Frozen Adventure holiday costumes.
  • Holiday Storytellers - One great offering at EPCOT is the various storytellers in each country telling of their version of Santa Claus or their Christmas traditions.  I wish these were highlighted more.
  • Voices of Liberty Caroling - the Voices of Liberty are one of my favorite parts of EPCOT and their Christmas Carols are amazing.  These singers are some of the best I've heard and the arrangements are impeccable.
  • Candlelight Processional - A wonderful variation of the Candlelight Processional from Disneyland.  This is a classic presentation of the classic Christmas story, no changes needed.
  • Holiday Illuminations - Currently Illuminations has a holiday Peace on Earth tag.  I would create a full Holiday Illuminations, designed to highlight Christmas and Holiday celebrations around the world.  For personal preference, I would highlight Heather Headley as the prominent singer of the show.  She has been in both the World of Color Seasons of Light and Winter Dreams variations.
  • Tree Lighting Ceremony - EPCOT currently has a wonderfully majestic tree lighting ceremony I would continue.  A musical theme by a symphony orchestra.  It is composed of no specific identifiable Christmas melody, but is instantly recognizable as a holiday tune.
Disney Hollywood Studios:
The mission of Disney Hollywood Studios is to have guests experience their favorite movies - to put them into the worlds of their favorite films.  Christmas should be no exception and the goal should be to put them into their favorite Christmas films.  Thankfully, this could be achieved fairly easily, especially with the 20th Century Fox acquisition and the iconic Christmas film it made.
  • Christmas Tree decor on the lights on Hollywood Boulevard - Taking an inspiration from Hollywood history, I would love to see these classic Christmas tree additions recreated down Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood Studios.
  • Mickey's Holiday Railway - I would start working now on animation for a Christmas version of the Mickey's Runaway Railway attraction being added to the Chinese Theater.  With the screen based attraction, the animation would be most of what is necessary for a quick conversion.
  • Echo Lake Christmas tree and 1950s decorations - this has been the best addition to Disney Hollywood Studios.  I would keep these attractions going, looking to plus them with the fountains in Echo Lake.
  • Seasonal Shows in Superstar Television and ILM Special Effects - Superstar Television in particular would be a great place to recreate a Christmas Special.
  • Jingle Bell Rock 'n Roller Coaster - This seems like a no-brainer.  A storyline centering on needing to get the gifts to Santa as quickly as possible with Run, Run Rudolph and  Jingle Bell Rock as example songs.
  • Life Day acknowledgement in Galaxy's Edge - Like Disneyland, this should not be overt, but should be there.  An opportunity to celebrate the holidays in the Star Wars Universe.
  • Christmas Toy Story Playland - Alien holiday tunes on Alien Swirling Saucers, jingle bells on Slinky Dog Dash.  Giant Christmas decorations, including the Angel Kitty.  Experience Christmas as a toy.
  • Holiday Midway Mania - Again, the screen based attraction could be easily swapped for a Christmas themed version.  The animation should already be in progress.
  • Christmas MuppetVision - I would replace the MuppetVision*3D Movie with a version that presents a tour through Muppet versions of Christmas classics.  It's A Wonderful Log, and the like.
  • Muppets Present...Great Moments in a Christmas Carol - I would use the facades on Grand Avenue to present Muppets telling the story of A Christmas Carol from the windows, with a walk-around Ghost of Christmas Present character from Muppet Christmas Carol available for meet and greets.  Again, this one seems like it should have been implemented ages ago.
  • Nightmare Before Christmas section - as my plans for DHS called for a Nightmare Before Christmas dark ride, this area would be perfect to play up during the holiday season.  Meet and Greets with 
  • Miracle on 34th Street - One big coup in the 20th Century Fox acquisition is the inclusion of A Miracle on 34th Street.  For Christmas, this gives Disney access to THE Santa Claus. It would be great to setup a recreation of the Santa chair from the movie in a "department" store in the park for the official Santa Claus photo and wishlist opportunity.  It would also open up the next option.
  • Get the Macy's Holiday Parade back from Universal - Years ago, Disney had partnered with Macy's to have the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloons on their Streets of America section during the Christmas season. 
    When that went away to eventually be replaced by the Osborne Family Lights, Universal picked up the license, creating their Universal's Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's.  With the acquisition of Miracle on 34th Street, I would be working to partner with Macy's to pick up the license as soon as it expires with Universal.  Then Disney could have the official parade and the official Santa Claus.  It would seem like a wonderfully symbiotic relationship.
  • Wonderful World of Christmas fireworks - Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam is a fun show, and I like the idea of the Prep & Landing team running Christmas in Disney Hollywood Studios, but I would love to see a firework show that is a true celebration of Christmas movies.  The acquisition of 20th Century Fox presents the opportunity to work in films like Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, Die Hard, and Jingle All The Way with existing Disney properties like Mickey's Christmas Carol, Muppet Christmas Carol, Babes in Toyland, and Nightmare Before Christmas, in addition to the shorts and specials.
  • Tree Lighting Ceremony - The tree lighting ceremony should be a celebration of Christmas in entertainment.  It's a studio chorus and orchestra playing White Christmas.  Tied to the golden age of Hollywood with searchlights on the tree.
Disney's Animal Kingdom:
Disney's Animal Kingdom has a typically subdued Christmas offering. It previously had a parade, but that is no longer an option.  I would like to keep the subdued spirit, but expand into an appropriate area - to celebrate and explore the connection of animals to the seasonal holidays.  Accordingly, here is my holiday wishlist for Disney's Animal Kingdom:
  • Diwali celebration in UP - The Diwali recognition in Up! A Great Bird Adventure Show has been a great addition.  I would like to see that expanded into Asia, with the colors and lights.
  • Oversized decorations in a bug's land - For my proposed bug's land addition, I would also bring the oversized decorations from Disney California Adventure.  This area was always cute in California over the holidays and should be the same here.
  • Manger scene between Africa and Asia with camels, sheep, donkey - With the connection of the traditional nativity story to the Middle East and Asia continent, it would be a perfect opportunity to have a manger scene with just the animals present.  To recognize the connection of the camel, the donkey, and sheep to the Christmas story.  A scene that could be viewed and potential opportunity for an animal encounter.
  • Santa's Stables at Conservation Station - Likewise, the other great animal connections to the season are reindeer and the yule goat.  The season presents a perfect opportunity to bring in these animals as seasonal attractions in an appropriate space.  Santa's Stables could also be designed to help keep the normally far northern animals cooler in Florida.
  • Winter celebration in Dinoland with Ice Age takeover - With 20th Century Fox, Disney has also acquired the Ice Age franchise and has been looking for ways to bring them into the park.  Winter would seem to be the perfect opportunity to take a space from a celebration of the reptilian/avian dinosaurs to the mammals of the Ice Age.  Could be done in an appropriately tacky and delightful Chester and Hester Style.
  • Holiday Tree of Life lighting ceremony - Disney Animal Kingdom presents a different challenge with the tree lighting ceremony.  The park's tree is located outside the park itself, in front of the main gate.  There is not really a good space to put the Christmas tree, but the park's central icon is a tree.  I would love to see a Holiday segment added to the Tree of Life tree lighting projection show that could serve that function for the park, with an appropriate world music score.
All together, these additions and plussings could make the holiday offerings of the Walt Disney World resort truly a place for a world-class celebration.

As always, thank you for reading.  After the new year, the series will continue with Disney's television offerings.