Monthly Archives: November 2020

A Holly Dolly Christmas — Dolly Parton

Listen To This

Dolly Parton is inviting everyone over the hills and through the woods for a bombastic holiday shindig in the family room with her timely and timeless new holiday record, A Holly Dolly Christmas.

Just in time to ring in the Christmas season, this 12-tracked classic is an instant staple of traditional, spiritual and all-round jingle jangle holiday music to warm the soul with a cup of good cheer.

The album is a stocking full of surprisingly natural mash-ups, with a family-style open mic approach as Dolly welcomes a variety of legendary friends and family to join the festivities.

A warm fire of crooning magic comes alive as Michael Bublé joins Dolly for the blushing naughty-but-nice duet, “Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas, while the classic Texas-spiced “Pretty Paper” features Willie Nelson in a fire-lit-swaggered gem that beckons all generations to sing along. And that’s just a taste of what’s in store for you.

The familiar and warm combination of Dolly and Christmas is just what this season ordered, overnighted and delivered to usher in a more-the-merrier spirit to all. Like a string of popcorn on an ornament-packed tree, this hand-crafted musical ribbon of family and friends wraps a sweet gift of love, compassion and kindness to everyone in the truest spirit of Christmas.

– Chris Rucker

Red Letter Day

Buzz

Travel South – yes, South – to get a Santa Claus postmark for your Christmas cards.
If you or your little ones are anxious to visit Santa Claus this holiday season, but a trip to the North Pole seems out of reach, that’s OK.

Located on U.S. Highway 1 about halfway between Macon and Savannah, not far from Vidalia, is a town called Santa Claus – population: 159 last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

During the holidays, however, the small town welcomes plenty of visitors who come to get their Christmas cards stamped with a Santa Claus postmark.

The community receives thousands of pieces of mail each holiday season, and people drive for miles to drop their Christmas cards in the bright red mailbox that says “Believe.”

The city motto is “Santa Claus . . . The City That Loves Children,” and the streets have names like Noel Street, Reindeer Drive, Candy Cane Street, Sleigh Street, Dasher Street, Dancer Street and Rudolph Way.

Fittingly, the address of City Hall, which is decorated for the holidays year-round, is 25 December Drive.

And while you’re there, it’s a great opportunity to take a Christmas photo or that perfect Instagram shot. Happy Christmas to all, indeed.

Jingle All the Way by Debbie Macomber

Literary Loop

A merry surprise may be in store in Debbie Macomber’s newest holiday delight.

Chicagoan Everly Lancaster, the co-founder of a thriving real estate company, is a notorious workaholic. When her business partner, Jack Campbell, insists she take an extended Christmas vacation, she’s game — until she realizes that her vengeful assistant booked her on a bare-bones Amazon River expedition, rather than the luxurious cruise she was expecting.

Enter charismatic guide Asher Adams, who is determined to see all his passengers fall in love with the wild beauty of the rainforest. To Everly’s surprise, he succeeds — and manages to win her heart along the way. But, once they’re off the boat, can Everly’s big-city lifestyle mesh with Asher’s vagabond ways?

Macomber ably portrays a variety of relationships, from the fraught back-and-forth of bickering siblings and parents to emerging romantic love, while spinning a solid and believable plot.

– Publishers Weekly

Wonderful Christmastime

In The Home

Photography by Sally Kolar

Seven themed trees make the season bright at this Kelarie home in Grovetown.
For Grovetown resident Sharon Hutko, Christmas always has been a magical time of year. Even though this area lacks the snow that she loved as a little girl in Indiana, she creates her own indoor winter wonderland for the holidays each season.

And she can’t wait to get started. She begins decorating her Kelarie home, where she has lived for 3 1/2 years, the first weekend in November. By the second weekend, every last decoration is in place.

“I have always just loved Christmas. I like to decorate early so I can enjoy it. Growing up we had a traditional tree with all the ornaments we made,” says Sharon, the youngest of four siblings.

She has a tradition of her own at her home, however. For the last 16 years, she has put up multiple trees – and currently, the total number stands at seven.

“I don’t know how intentional it was, but over the years, that’s what happened,” Sharon says of the seven trees.

Seeing Crazy
Each tree – three downstairs and four upstairs – has a theme. For instance, the dining room tree is the natural tree.

A reindeer head tops the tree, which also includes flocked branches, oversized silver snowflakes and a star ornament made of twigs. A big red poinsettia stands by the tree, and brown paper packages tied up with red ribbon sit beneath the tree.

A red sleigh is parked in a corner of the dining room, and two reindeer, along with a strand of red balls, are on top of the chest. The dining room also features a coffered ceiling and a chair rail, and a frame full of white plates of various shapes and sizes hangs above the chest.

A red china cabinet is filled with greenery, red balls, green balls, pinecones and Williams-Sonoma Christmas plates. A pair of hurricane lanterns with a candle inside sit on the tabletop, which is set with more Christmas plates.

In the kitchen, the silver tinsel tree, featuring many ornaments that Sharon made as a little girl, brings back childhood memories. The handmade ornaments include a cross stitch ornament, beaded wreath ornaments and yarn balls. Her mother made the stained glass ornaments on the tree. Others include a Russian nesting doll, nutcrackers, a Santa hat-wearing frog, letters that spell our “Ho, Ho, Ho” and culinary-themed ornaments such as a sandwich, cupcake and mixer.

Black and white buffalo-checked ribbon adds a touch of whimsy to the tree, and a pink and a white poinsettia sit beneath it next to a black and white buffalo-checked tree skirt.

Sharon, who used to own Delightful Bites and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma but now works at SRP, knows her way around the kitchen. She still caters on the side, specializing in cakes.

“I like to cook for other people, but I don’t cook much at home,” she says.

Her love of cooking began when she was a child. “I was in the kitchen long before I should ever have been in the kitchen,” says Sharon. “My brother used to send me to the grocery store. If he let me go to the store, I would get to make whatever he wanted for him.”

The kitchen features granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, a pot filler for the stove, two pendant lights above the island and a porcelain backsplash.

A MacKenzie-Childs teapot and other MacKenzie-Childs pieces accent the room. The kitchen table features a marble top, and small snowman plates and white plates are stacked on black and white buffalo-checked chargers. A pair of pie safes full of serving dishes normally occupies the kitchen. During the holidays, however, Sharon moves one of them to the living room to make space for the tinsel tree.

An arched entry leads from the kitchen into the living room, where Sharon’s “crazy” tree is tucked in a corner. The “crazy” Christmas tree also features ornaments from her childhood, lots of glittery red and green balls, curly red picks, candy canes, twinkling lights and elf legs. A big Christmas bow tops the tree.

“I have a friend who says she wants to be able to see the tree through the ornaments, but this is my crazy tree,” says Sharon. “I just want to see crazy.”

The living room and kitchen trees also feature several dragonfly ornaments – a green, an orange and a clear dragonfly on the tinsel tree and a red and a green dragonfly on the crazy tree.

Sharon started collecting dragonflies years ago after a difficult time in her life. “I was at a stoplight, praying to God for Him to protect me, and a dragonfly landed on my car antenna,” she says. “It stayed on the antenna after I started driving again. Whenever I see a dragonfly now, it’s a reminder that God is with me.”

She brings out her impish side with the many elves that are tucked in the trees downstairs. “The elves are kind of hidden, so you have to look for them,” says Sharon. “I always have them working somehow. I try to make them look a little mischievous.”

She often puts her elves, nestled back in the branches, to work by using them to hold other ornaments or strands of beads.

As a backdrop to the Christmas décor, the living room also features a whitewashed shiplap wall, which originally was raw cedar, behind the gas fireplace.

The fireplace mantel, which is whitewashed cedar as well, is decorated with more elves, red and white buffalo-checked ribbon, big red balls and a banner that says, “fa, la, la, la, la.” A giant nutcracker stands next to a red poinsettia on one side of the brick hearth, and a big red drawstring bag and lighted red- and green-wrapped presents are stationed on the other side. Two polka-dotted stockings are hung by the fireplace with care.

In the Pink
Four trees on the second story have their own personalities as well. The tree in the hallway at the top of the stairs is the Vera Bradley/Christopher Radko tree, and the storage boxes for the ornaments are arranged beneath it like presents.

One of the Christopher Radko Santas has a Vera Bradley bag in the sack on his back, and the original Vera Bradley ornaments are hand-painted from the inside. “No two ornaments are exactly alike, so they’re super special,” says Sharon. “They’re all hand-done.”

Because they are collectors’ items, Sharon left the tags on the Christopher Radko and Vera Bradley ornaments. “They’re the Minnie Pearl of ornaments,” she says.

In a guest room, which also includes a sleigh bed and a trey ceiling, the blue and white tree features ginger jars and other blue and white ornaments. “This is the littlest tree, but I love it just the same,” says Sharon. “I love ginger jars.”

In the second guest room, a tall, skinny snowman tree is decorated with Frosty heads, spools of red ribbon, thick plaid ribbon and white snowballs. “I wanted something with plaids that has a collage-y feel to it,” Sharon says.

The bedroom features a trey ceiling, an iron bed and a red serpentine dresser. Little elves dangle from a blanket ladder that leans against a wall. Stockings are tied to the end of the bed, and a green wreath hangs by a wide white ribbon from the curtain rod.

“It’s hard to say which tree is my favorite because there are things about all of them that I just love so much,” says Sharon.

If she’s really pressed to choose, however, she confesses that she’s partial to the flocked tree in the master bedroom. The tree is decorated with pink, brown and white balls and strands of glittery pink circles. Other ornaments include pink-clad dancing nutcrackers, a pink pig in a tutu and a pink cake.

“The tree feels sort of vintage-y, and pink is my color,” Sharon says.

The room also features a trey ceiling, a four-post canopy bed, and a sitting area with a sofa. A barn door opens to the master bath, which features two vanities, a tub and tile flooring.

The Right Fit
Sharon loves to pull out her Yuletide décor each season, reveling in memories of Christmases past. “One of the things I love so much about getting it all out every year is that I see things that I’ve forgotten about,” she says.

She varies the way she decorates every Christmas, moving ornaments from tree to tree. “I have favorites on the trees,” Sharon says, “but the one thing that is consistent in all the trees is a Santa and a snowman.”

Through the years, she also has gotten more selective about the Christmas décor that she adds to her collection.

“When I travel out of town, I pick up something here and there. But now I only get something new if it really speaks to me,” Sharon says. “It has to be special. It has to feel like it fits. Although it’s a little bit crazy in here, so you could probably put up anything and it would fit.”

So, how does Sharon, who as a self-described “control freak” does all of her own decorating, know when she is finished? “I just have to stop,” she says.

By Betsy Gilliland

 

Winter Wonderland

Buzz

Believe it or not, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – especially at Evans Towne Center Park.
In December the park will turn into a winter wonderland with holiday lights, live music, a tree lighting, Holiday Market, Chanukah Festival and other activities.

The walk-through lights display, which will be set up throughout the park, will begin at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and continue through the New Year.

Festivities then will ramp up on Saturday, December 5 with on-stage performances by Columbia County middle and high school band and choir students. The performances will take place during the day from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Vendors also will be onsite for this year’s Holiday Market.

On Sunday, December 6, the annual Christmas Parade will begin at 3:30 p.m., routing around the Evans Towne Center complex and ending at the park.

Afterward, Santa Claus will light the Christmas tree in front of the park about 7 p.m. Fireworks and live music by Tim Hall and Buffalo County will follow the tree lighting ceremony. Other activities will include the Holiday Market and a Get the Grinch Scavenger Hunt and family photo opportunities.

To keep up the holiday spirit, the 42nd annual Singing Christmas Tree by Abilene Baptist Church will take place December 10, 11 and 12. Also on December 10, the 2020 Chanukah Festival will be held in the gazebo at the front of the park. Finally, Warren Baptist Church will hold its Christmas Eve service in front of the stage on Thursday, December 24.

Admission is free, but tickets are required for some events. Park lights will be on nightly from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. through January 1.

‘The Language of the Heart’

People

Photography by Sally Kolar

A Jones Creek couple celebrates the spirit of the season with string instruments, song and the occasional surprise at their annual Christmas party.
When people move from one city to another, it’s customary to pack up their belongings and bring them to their new place. Then there are Evans residents Monica and Paul Dainer.

Each time they have moved through the years, they have taken their annual Christmas party, featuring live music, with them. Last year the Dainers, who live in Jones Creek, held their 38th annual party.

“It’s something we’ve always done,” says Monica. “It always comes together.”

Unfortunately, they had to change their tune this year and cancel the party because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, they still might find a way to strike the right note for the times.

“We’re so disappointed that we can’t have the party, but we may do something virtually,” says Paul. “And we hope to have the party again next year.”

Traveling Show
Paul started the Christmas party tradition in the late 1970s when he was single, serving in the U.S. Navy and stationed in San Diego. In 1979 Paul, a hematologist and oncologist at Georgia Cancer Center, was transferred to the naval hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, where he first met Monica and told her about the party.

“I thought it sounded like a lot of fun to celebrate the season with live music,” she says.

Paul, who also played viola for the Charleston Symphony, enlisted some of his symphony colleagues and the organist/pianist from St. John’s Lutheran Church to play with him at the party. He also had bought a new baby grand piano just in time for the occasion, so he couldn’t let that purchase go to waste.

He made an even better family addition when he and Monica married shortly after the second party.

They took their party with them when they moved to Bethesda, Maryland and Jacksonville, Florida, where Paul played in their symphonies.

In Maryland, Monica says, “We attracted musicians from local orchestras and had already begun adding vocalists to the parties.”

They held two parties in Jacksonville with fellow members of the Jacksonville Symphony and other local musicians. “The first chair of the second violins delayed her Christmas vacation a day just to play first violin in a piano quintet with us,” Monica says.

From Jacksonville, the Dainers moved to Greenville, North Carolina, where their daughters, Erin and Caroline, started singing and performing on the piano and violin, respectively, during the four parties they had there. Monica began singing at the parties as well.

The Dainers settled in Evans in 1992, and they started hosting their annual Christmas party here the following year. Until this December, they had skipped the party only three times – the years they moved to Evans and Greenville and in 2009 when they had to cancel it after Paul had an accident a couple of days before the event. In 1982, the party was subdued after Monica had a miscarriage the night before and a heavy snow fell on the day of the party.

“We couldn’t reach everyone to cancel the event. In spite of the snow, a few people arrived, only about 10. We couldn’t turn them away,” Monica says. “It was a quieter and somewhat somber evening. However, we did manage to sing some favorite Christmas carols.”

Strings Attached
The black tie-optional party is a Christmas highlight for many of the Dainers’ friends, and the guest list has grown through the years.

“We started out with about 30 guests and have increased to over 70. We never know who will come because many of our friends have family commitments or have travel plans formulated months before the invitations have been sent,” says Monica.

Several years ago, more than 100 guests attended the party during a three- or four-hour time period. Some people stay for the entire evening; others drop in.

No wonder the party, which includes Christmas, religious, classical and popular music, is one that people don’t want to miss. With their ties to the local arts community, the Dainers can invite any number of talented musicians and vocalists to perform.

Paul, who plays viola for Aiken Civic Orchestra (and played with Augusta Symphony for 15 years) has enlisted many of his fellow musicians to appear at their parties.

Monica, a former nurse who now presents programs at the USC Aiken DuPont Planetarium, also has been active with Augusta Players as a performer and board member. “Through my connections with that organization, we have invited a number of very talented singers over the years,” she says. “And we always like to invite children and young people as guests and performers.”

Last year, for instance, Laura Doss, organist at Christ Church, Presbyterian and accompanist for Augusta Youth Chorale, played the piano and was accompanied by her three sons (ages 15, 10 and 9 at the time) on the violin and cello. The played “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “See Amid the Winter‘s Snow,” both arranged by Kristen Campbell.

Other performances included a piano solo by Moscow native and Columbus State University adjunct faculty member Ksenia Kurenysheva, who also accompanied Taiwan native Sho Ane Seaton as she sang the arias “Ombra Mai Fu” by Handel and “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Puccini.

Melissa Schultz, a voice and piano teacher who has performed throughout the United States and Canada, sang “Gesu Bambino” by Pietro Yon and Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum (k.339).” Members of the Christ the King Lutheran Church choir sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Mark Dickens, who has played the piano and organ in many area churches, and Stacy Reynolds, who has played piano for local musical theater groups and contemporary Christian music for churches for decades, also played the piano at last year’s party.

The Dainers pulled double duty as hosts and entertainers for the festivities. Monica sang with her choir from Christ the King, and she sang an Austrian Christmas carol, “Es wird scho glei dumpa,” with their daughter, Caroline Dainer Osburn, in Austrian-German dialect. Paul played the viola both as a soloist and in a chamber group.

He played Hoffmeister’s “Viola Concerto in D major”, third movement (Rondo) with Mark Dickens on piano. He performed “String Quintet No.4 in G Minor” (k.516) by Mozart with Adam and Andrew DePriest on violin, Janis Krauss on viola and Robert Gibson on cello.

He also played the fourth movement (Minuet) by Dittersdorf, a duet for a viola and string bass, with Adam DePriest. Finally, Paul played Christmas carols, arranged by Stan Pylant for three violas and the audience, with Stan and with Carl Purdy.

The program offered plenty of levity as well. Steven Hansen – a local actor, Greenbrier High School music and theater teacher, and Christ the King choir director – brought some fun to the occasion by singing “We Need a Little Christmas” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

Tyler Cook, a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance graduate of Augusta University who has won numerous state, regional and national musical theater competitions, sang the Christmas folk song, “River,” by Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, and “She Used to Be Mine” from the musical, Waitress.

Rabbi David Sirull of Adas Yeshurun Synagogue in Augusta, another performer at last year’s party, received classical training in the art of Eastern European Chazanut and Yiddish folk music. However, he sang several “redneck” songs from his collection, some of which can be found on YouTube.

The guests got into the act as well. After the scheduled performances, they joined in singing Christmas carols.

Expect the Unexpected
The Dainers never know what to expect at their party, except that it will be one for the ages – all ages, in fact. Last year, three babies were in attendance, which Monica says is unusual.

“They ranged in age from 5 weeks to 8 months, and they were perfect angels. We never heard them cry,” says Monica. “I guess they were mesmerized by the music.”

One year Paul’s 93-year-old father came to the party shortly after losing his wife. However, the music lifted his spirits. “He even was inspired to play some familiar songs on our piano as the party concluded,” Monica says.

On occasion, the Dainers have been surprised by the people they have found on their front porch. About 15 years ago, the doorbell rang during the party and they opened the door to a group of about eight college students singing Christmas carols. Naturally, the Dainers invited them inside to sing.

The couple loves to share the joy of the holiday season, and some aspects of the evening are entirely predictable. For instance, fellowship with good friends and good food from Silver Palm Catering Company – plus sweets, cookies, cakes and other treats made by Monica – are the perfect accompaniments to the party.

Still, the music is the star of the evening.

“Music transcends spoken language and has the power to bring people from diverse backgrounds together,” says Caroline. “You don’t have to sing or play an instrument to understand this language, because music is the language of the heart.”

By Sarah James


 

A Country Christmas

Travel

Photos courtesy of Pettit Creek Farms

Tradition and nostalgia at a working farm in North Georgia are a magical way to get in the holiday spirit
The young and the young-at-heart might stay awake for hours on Christmas Eve, hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen and company. Most likely, however, they’ll drift off to sleep before they hear the prancing and pawing of each little hoof on the rooftop.

Before the eight tiny reindeer begin their trek around the globe on the night before Christmas, however, Comet and Cupid will be accepting visitors.

People can find the reindeer – and lots more – at Pettit Creek Farms in the North Georgia foothills of Cartersville, just north of Lake Allatoona.

Animal Instincts
With live reindeer and Christmas light displays, Pettit Creek Farms, an 80-acre working family farm, offers all the warmth and charm of a Country Christmas. No reservations are required for groups of 25 or fewer people. Having fun, however, is a must.

To get in the holiday mood, visitors can take a drive or a hayride through more than a mile of Christmas lights. All packages also include a visit with Santa (Thursday – Sunday) and the live reindeer at Santa’s Cottage and access to the petting zoo.

Santa and his reindeer love to pose for pictures, too. However, St. Nick has other plans on November 29, December 3 and December 4, so he will not be at the farm those evenings.

Visitors can experience a live nativity with animals as well. Anyone who feeds the camel a treat just might get rewarded with a grateful smooch.

The petting zoo includes the usual suspects such as a cow, donkey, chicken, turkey, pig, goats, ponies and sheep. However, they are joined by some exotic friends such as the aforementioned camel, a zebra, a Patagonian cavy, an emu and buffalo.

Warm & Fuzzy
In case visitors start to get a little chilly, they can warm up by the fire and enjoy s’mores, funnel cakes, hot chocolate and more from the onsite concession stands. Patio heaters will be available as well (but drinking hot chocolate is more fun).

To complete the prefect Country Christmas, visitors come together as a family and select a fresh-cut tree for their homes. The farm offers #1 Premium Christmas Trees, and they’re standing in water to stay fresh.

For guests to make the most of their visit to the farm, Pettit Creek offers a few tips:

  • Keep vehicle headlights on while driving through the lights display for everyone’s safety.
  • Wear shoes that can get dirty or are easy to clean. After all, this is a working farm, and there is much fun to be had off the gravel path.
  • Bring a small blanket for the hayride to stay warm on cold nights.

In addition, masks are not required. However, they are highly recommended in places where social distancing is not possible.

If You Go:

What: A Country Christmas

Where: Pettit Creek Farms, Cartersville, Georgia

When: Thanksgiving – December 30; 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Monday; open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

How Much: Drive thru is $20 per carload (1 – 8 people), $25 per van (9 – 15 people), $35 per bus (16 – 22 people, $3 each for any additional people); hayride is $10 per person age 2 and older. Nonrefundable tickets are available online or at the gate. The date of online tickets can be changed, however.

More Information: pettitcreekfarms.com

By Morgan Davis

Programming Note

People

Augusta Symphony’s Holiday Pops! concert will take a different form from holidays past.
The holidays certainly may look out of the ordinary this year. However, if Augusta Symphony has anything to say – or play – about it, the holidays won’t sound any different.

This season the annual Holiday Pops! concert will be digital.

The first concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 3. The performances will be available until Sunday, December 27, and the video production can be watched on demand.

The symphony will play perennial favorites such as Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Nutcracker Suite, Sounds of Hanukkah and Sleigh Ride.

Tickets are $10 per household, and they will be emailed three days before the concert. Subscribers to the 2020-21 season will have access to the performance as part of their subscription.

So dress up, or dress down. Just don’t miss the chance to enjoy these classic holiday songs.

Holiday Scam Alert

Buzz

Social media gift exchange is an illegal pyramid scheme
A “Secret Santa” around the office or with friends and family can be fun. A gift exchange among online friends you haven’t met, well, that’s a little different and carries a heftier consequence.

These gift exchanges, while they look like innocent fun, are really pyramid schemes and are considered illegal.

The “Secret Sister” gift exchange campaign quickly became popular in 2015 through Facebook posts promising participants would receive up to 36 gifts, in exchange for sending one gift.

Each holiday season the scheme pops back up. A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine.

How the Scam Works
The scheme starts with a convincing invitation by email or social media to sign up for what seems like a great program.

All you need to do is provide your name and address and personal information of a few additional friends, and tack this information to an Internet list that’s already started of people you’ve never met.

Next, it’s your turn to send an email or social media invitation to send a modest gift or bottle of wine to a stranger along with their friends, family and contacts.

The cycle continues and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts for unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat.

Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.

It should be noted that pyramid schemes are illegal.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Services explains that these gift exchanges are considered a form of gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud.

There is another layer of danger to participating in these schemes. When signing up, the alleged campaign organizer is asking for personal information such as a mailing address or an email.

With just a few pieces of information, cyber thieves could expose you to future scams or commit identity theft.

The next time someone promises you a bounty of gifts or cash by mail, email or social media, ignore it and report it to the U.S. Postal inspection Services.

– Better Business Bureau

Seeing the Light

People

Photos courtesy of Mike Carter and Kirstyn Harris

Two Martinez neighbors collaborate to create a Christmas light show and synchronize it to music, and the display gets bigger every year.
Santa’s elves don’t have anything on Martinez resident Mike Carter. The man likes to stay busy – and to spread Christmas cheer. Only he doesn’t spend all year making toys for good little girls and boys.

When he isn’t working, renovating houses or running bowling leagues, he spends time building an outdoor Christmas lights display at his house and setting it to music.

In fact, his enthusiasm is so infectious that his friend, Kirstyn Harris, wanted to get in on the act. They originally met in a bowling league, and now they live across the street from each other on Whisperwood Drive in Shadowmoor.

The lights display at their houses in the neighborhood, located at the corner of Columbia and Belair roads, runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. The hours are 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Between their two homes, they have put up 82,050 lights with 384 channels and 816 extension cords totaling 10,906 feet this year. A channel is a unit of lights that can be controlled individually, and all of the lights in a channel work as a single unit. For example, a single bush with one set of lights draped over it can be a channel. Each channel controls one color of one element in the light show.

This year will mark Mike’s fifth show and the fourth show that he and Kirstyn have done together. He started out in 2016 with 6,600 lights, 32 channels and 64 extension cords totaling 834 feet.

Getting With the Program
Mike first got interested in creating a lights show from one of his favorite movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. He also was inspired to synchronize Christmas lights to music by “The Osborne Family Spectacle Of Dancing Lights,” a display of Christmas lights and decorations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He went to the Disney display during the holidays every year from 2003 until 2015. (It was discontinued in early January of 2016.)

On the day after New Year’s Day in 2016, Mike was walking through a big box store when he saw that Christmas lights were on sale for 40 cents a box.

“I decided to buy $50 worth of lights, and I put them in my garage,” he says.

Mike, a former computer programmer, bought Light-O-Rama software and controllers in August 2016 so he could synchronize a lights show to Christmas music. He had four songs for the initial display, and it took him four weeks to program the first song. He got faster as he went along, however, dropping a week from the programming time with each successive song.

To put up the 6,600 lights, he worked from 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day until 2 a.m. the following morning.

“I turned it on, and it worked flawlessly,” says Mike. “We have expanded the show every year since.”

They use red, green, blue and purple lights, and they zip-tie the various colors together so they don’t have to put up separate strands of lights. That technique not only makes their work easier.

“The display looks cleaner when the lights are zip-tied together,” says Kirstyn, a graduate student in the medical illustration master’s program at the Medical College of Georgia.

This year, Mike and Kirstyn have added 18,050 lights to the display. “We added lights to two sides of the houses because of the spots where people stop to view the show. We want them to have something to see,” he says.

They have constructed 5-foot and 10-foot Christmas trees out of tomato cages and wrapped them with strands of lights, and they crafted wooden stars for the tops of the trees. Wooden snowflakes go on the roof, and arches are lined up in the yards. They also made a wreath out of wire mesh.

“The lights display helps me with the medical illustration program,” says Kirstyn. “It helps me learn about color and design and how lighting is different.”

Each extension cord is labeled with a channel ID. A transmitter on each side of the street sends and receives data, and the light show is transmitted across the street wirelessly. Mike has one control box in his garage, and they have 24 control boxes in various places in their yards.

Feeling the Beat
Mike has created a map of each house in the computer program, and he identifies every channel with lights and analyzes the music. “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” he says. “You just have to be able to see what’s going on.”

The software tells how much power to send to each channel and controls the intensity of the lights. The program can set the intensity at 100%, 50%, etc., and increase the intensity by going from dim to 100%.

Every second is divided into 20 segments, so the program tells each channel what to do every 1/20 of a second.

“You can break the songs down into different parts,” says Mike. “Each part of the song can be represented by a different element like a trumpet or a drumbeat sound in the background.”

Flashing along to the beat of the music, the lights build up the show visually with the addition of more lights as the song continues. The lights can turn on or off, fade in or out, twinkle or shimmer.

“I don’t match colors to the songs, but I try to represent each part of the music,” Mike says. “I match the beat in the background. I represent each part of the song with an element on the house.”

The music is broadcast over an FM frequency, and a transmitter sends the signal across the FM channel for a quarter-mile. “That’s as far as it can go without a Federal Communications Commission license,” says Mike.

A sign posted in Mike’s yard tells people viewing the lights to tune into FM radio 90.5 to hear the music.

“You have to choose a frequency you can hear that won’t get overrun by a powerful radio station,” says Mike. “You don’t coordinate with a particular station. I scan the radio and pick the frequency that has the least amount of noise.”

This year they will play seven songs for the 21-minute show. The songs include the 45-second “THX Intro” for movies; “A Mad Russian’s Christmas,” “Christmas Eve,” “Wizards In Winter” and “Christmas Canon” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra; “Carol of the Bells” by David Foster and Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

“We try to add songs to the show every year,” says Mike. “This year we added so many lights that we didn’t have to add songs.”

One thing that doesn’t increase with the show – not by much, anyway – is their electric bills.

“For each house, it adds about $50 to $75 to the power bill,” says Mike. “The lights aren’t on all the time, and the show only runs four hours per day.”

Timing is Everything
In 2018, Mike timed their efforts to put up the display. With the two of them working together almost the entire time, it took them 26 1/2 hours to put everything in place over several nights and two full days.

It took them 16 hours to take everything down and carefully pack it away in labeled storage boxes that they keep in Mike’s garage.

After all, timing is everything. Their well-synched collaboration began when Mike was working on his lights program at the bowling alley when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Any free time I had, I worked on the program,” Mike says. “Kirstyn came up to me and said, ‘What are you doing? I want to learn how to do it.’”

The next day he got a text from a number he didn’t recognize, but he quickly figured out it was from Kirstyn. They have been working together ever since.

And yes, they’re already plotting how to add to next year’s display. They plan to include songs from Frozen and add white lights to complement the music.

“We will probably double the songs for next year, but we don’t have to build anything new,” says Kirstyn. “I like learning the art that is involved in creating the show.”

As much as they love putting the lights display together, however, they get just as much joy from seeing families appreciate their efforts.

“I think it helps increase people’s ability to do family things together,” says Kirstyn. “Families are trying to find holiday traditions, and driving around to see Christmas lights is a good tradition. It’s also a good way for people to get in the holiday mood.”

Mike agrees.

“People can come out with their families and enjoy the show,” he says. “Children love it. They’re fascinated by the flashes of light. It will be especially good this year because people can be six feet apart.”

By Leigh Howard

Lights, Camera… Safety

Buzz

The Georgia Film Academy is offering free covid-19 compliance courses to film production crews so that the state’s billion-dollar industry can keep working safely during the pandemic.

All of the video-based courses – the first of their kind – are based on the latest information from the CDC and the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Topics include general prevention as well as covid-19 compliance for craft services, grips, electricians, hair and makeup personnel and sound departments.

For more information visit georgiafilmacademy.org.

 

Looking Good

People

Evans and Augusta each win national accolades for being great places to live
As you, no doubt, know by now, Money magazine has discovered something we knew all along. Evans is a great place to live. In its October issue, Money ranked Evans No. 1 on its annual list of 50 Best Places to Live in the nation.

To create its list, the magazine looked at cities and towns with a population of at least 25,000. It eliminated any place that had more than double the national crime risk, a median income level lower than 85% of its state’s median, or little to no ethnic diversity.

However, the magazine primarily emphasized cost of living. Of all the U.S. towns and cities Money looked at this year, Evans had the lowest cost of living of any place with similarly high income levels.

In addition, despite the pandemic, unemployment in the area was just 5.2% in June, which was below the 7.6% average for Georgia and less than half the national average of 11.1%.

The county Parks, Recreation and Events Department has scored an accolade as well. The National Alliance for Youth Sports has designated it as a Better Sports for Kids Quality Program Provider.

Augusta also has been designated as the “Most Neighborly City in America” by Neighbor.com.

To determine the top neighborly cities, the website created a scorecard based on criteria such as charitable giving, volunteering and whether or not residents feel happy, safe and proud of their communities.

 

Shore — Fleet Foxes

Listen To This

Delivering a seemingly effortless and quite calculated seasonal classic with its latest album, Shore, Fleet Foxes timed the release to the autumn equinox on September 22. The first track, “Wading in Waist-High Water,” opens gently with the first line, “Summer’s all over,” offering a metaphoric, low-tide reprieve to emerging from challenging times to an optimistic future.

The Foxes front man and primary contributor, Robin Pecknold, utilized the advantage of isolation and nature to tap reflective chords that resound throughout the album. The breezy 15 tracks echo lush instrumentation and the trademarked harmonies indigenous to their signature sound.

Pecknold’s love of surf and outdoors lured him into writing most of Shore behind the wheel of his surfboard- and camping equipment-stuffed 4Runner on a quest for West Coast utopian serenity. It beckons listeners to find their own “shore” of peace and rejuvenation.

Most tracks, composed and recorded solely by Pecknold, carve out a Grand Canyon of sound that boosts vibrant mountain leaf-changing colors, blends the rich pastels of a sunrise over the lake, or blazes the fiery burnt orange of a sunset over the ocean horizon.

Shore is crisp breath of fresh air — the soundtrack of cinnamon-fused steam that rises from a cup of happiness.

– Chris Rucker

 

PAC GM Named

People

Matt Jameson recently was named general venue manager for Columbia County’s new Performing Arts Center.

In addition to working with iNNOVATiON Arts & Entertainment, the booking consultant and theatrical series presenter for the center, he will oversee all administrative, marketing, financial and back-of-house functions.

Jameson, an Aiken, South Carolina native, previously spent more than 10 years with Clearwing Productions in Phoenix, Arizona in management and operation roles.

The PAC, which anchors the new Plaza development, is scheduled to open early 2021.

The Searcher by Tana French

Literary Loop

From bestselling mystery writer Tana French comes a spellbinding new novel named one of fall 2020’s most anticipated books.

Cal Hooper thinks a fixer-upper in a bucolic Irish village will be the perfect escape. After 25 years in the Chicago police force and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens.

But when a local kid whose brother has gone missing arm-twists him into investigating, Cal uncovers layers of darkness beneath his picturesque retreat and starts to realize that even small towns shelter dangerous secrets.

In The Searcher, French weaves a propulsive, atmospheric tale of suspense, asking what we sacrifice in our search for truth and justice, and what we risk if we don’t.

“A slow-burn stunner that will keep readers turning the pages late into the night,” says Library Journal.

“French skillfully builds suspense…a fine thriller, but also a moving story of an unlikely friendship that grows from refinishing a ramshackle desk to rebuilding two nearly broken lives,” says Booklist.