Minnesota Calling or Why You Should Read Messages to the Bottom

Three years ago Laura and I went to Faribault, Minnesota to see the Merlin Player’s production of our play, The Santa Dairies. We’ve kept in touch with the director and some of the performers.

That’s characters Sandy Hawes, who has the ‘Santa calling’ and Martha, one of the Hot Dish ladies.

At the beginning of September I received a text from Julianna Skluzacek who directed The Santa Diaries in Faribault. She asked if Laura and I had a new Christmas play. We didn’t have a new play and knew we couldn’t do something in a month. I replied, “Sadly, no.”

Then a week or so later I reread the text more carefully and sent an email:

Julianna, I just reread your message and realized you said 2018. What do you need? Laura and I would love to collaborate on something. Mala Burt

Julianna replied:

I’m looking for something that is like “Santa Diaries” in that it has a great love story, funny, some kids maybe but not necessary. I would need a title by October as that’s a deadline for a Paradise publication for 2018. Do you have something you could turn into a holiday show?

Laura and I talked. We had a funny holiday movie script called #Santa. We thought we could turn it into a play, so I sent an email to Julianna attaching the script, synopsis and cast list.

Julianna, we have a Christmas movie script that we could turn into a play. It’s called #Santa. It’s the story of a celebrity PR “reputation manager” who is arrested and sentenced to community service answering childrens’ Letters to Santa.

And we would work with you to make any changes you’d need for your geographic area. Cast list is based on the movie script and would be pared down. This would be fun!

Then we waited impatiently. After a week or so I forwarded the email above with this message.

Julianna, I just wanted to confirm you got our email. (the one with the script, etc.)

She replied she wanted to talk, so we set up a phone call for September 28. Julianna told us that she loved the script, but had some concerns. Our script was for a racially diverse cast and the Minnesota community wasn’t very diverse. She also thought there might be some expensive production challenges.

Toward the end of the converstion Laura wondered out loud what it would be like to do a play with the Santa Diaries characters but five years later. Light bulbs ignited in our brains. Who is Timmy’s father, anyway? It turned out the October deadline was really in November so we suggested sending her a one page synopsis of the arc of a new play.

Laura and I met, brainstormed, pulled together a synopsis and sent it off to Julianna. Then we waited.

And waited. (We aren’t very patient.) I knew Julianna was in a two week production and figured she was too busy to focus on our proposal. Waiting was hard. Laura and I really wanted this to happen.

Yesterday, early in the morning, I sent an email to Julianna. I knew her show had closed over the weekend and wanted to congratulate her on that, but I really wanted to know if she had any response to the synopsis. After all, this was not just her decision. It had to be presented to the theater board for approval.

She said she’d met with the board and they’d approved moving forward with the project. Then said she’d had a dream about the play and outlined an addition she thought might work. Actually it was brilliant if we can pull it off. (It invovles some cast diversity.)

Laura and I are over the moon! Of course we will go to Faribault, MN next December to see the premier production of our play – name to be determined. We would have missed this opportunity if I hadn’t gone back and reread that original text. Read to the bottom, folks.

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season

I grew up with a Norwegian mother (second generation in the US) and a German father (the Schippers had been here longer). Because immigrants back then were intent on assimilating, neither my mother nor my father grew up speaking Norwegian or German. A lost opportunity. I don’t recall any specific ethnic traditions in our household. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t create my own.

One Christmas season my brother, Ross, made a kransekake – a Norwegian wreath cake which consists of eighteen sequentially smaller rings stacked one upon the other. I was impressed so I got the recipe and tried it. Trying to figure out the sizes of those rings was interesting and I don’t have a photo of that first attempt. It was a very wonky tower, but the rings were quite tasty.

A few Christmases later my brother and his wife, Linda, gave me a set of kransekake pans. Now the rings would be exactly the right size. However the ground almond, confectioners sugar and egg white mixture that is the recipe needed tweaking. I was grinding my almonds in my food processor and the dough puffed up too much. However, by that time I had involved my Montana granddaughters in baking a kransekake when we did a Montana Christmas. Those girls are all grown up now, but have requested baking a kransekake when we visit at Christmas this year. It’s become a tradition.

Ross told me he ground his blanched almonds in a coffee grinder. I went on line to YouTube for more instructions, then ordered a coffee grinder on Amazon. I had it (free shipping) in two days. I love Amazon Prime.

Yesterday I was ready. One of my yogi friends, Diane French, came to help. We discovered we needed to start the grinding process in the food processor to make the almonds into smaller pieces. Almonds are bigger than coffee beans! Duh. Then we decided to put the ground almonds through a sieve to make sure all the leftover almond bits were taken out and put through the grinder again. We made the dough and let it rest according to the recipe.

We rolled the dough into ropes the size of a pinkie finger and began filling the rings in the pans.

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The rings are baked at 396 degrees for 12 minutes. We learned that they needed to be cooled completely before we took them out of the non-stick pans.

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Next came the job of stacking the rings. They are quite close in size so there is probably a method, but we eyeballed it. White frosting is put on each ring and the next smaller size is laid on top. The frosting acts as a glue.

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We used white frosting in one of those spray cans. Here is the completed cake. It is a little wonky from one angle, but this is it’s best side. A turntable would have helped. I’ll get cans of red and  green frosting and decorate the cake with holly. It will be even more festive when that is done. Traditionally it might have had Norwegian flags on it or Christmas crackers. This cake is also served at Norwegian weddings.

mala-with-kransekakke

I have to say that grinding the almonds in the coffee grinder made a difference. This is the best and prettiest kranskake I’ve made. However, those first couple done with the grand-girls are the ones I’ll really remember and the fact that there is now a Norwegian tradition in our family. For those who are wondering, the kake is served from the bottom ring up. Several bottom rings are removed and each ring is cut into pieces. In this way, the rest of the kake remains in the shape of a Christmas tree.

This holiday treat is going to the Woman’s Club on St. Michaels on Wednesday. Laura Ambler and I are the program for the December meeting. We’ll be talking about how we turned our Christmas memory book, The Santa Diaries, into a produced Christmas play of the same name. ‘Tis the season of memories and making traditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cranberries and Community

Monday morning I went to the St. Michaels Community Center where I was picking up a projector to use in a presentation Laura Ambler and I are giving to the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. We’ve been asked to speak about how our Christmas memory Book, The Santa Diaries: Memories of a Small-town Christmas became a play.

Santa Diaries Cover JPEG

Director Trish Payne was kind enough to spend time showing me how to work the projector and get it synced with my laptop. I wrote everything down and will practice at home before we take it on the road.

The Community Center was a busy place that morning. Trish and her helpers were getting ready for the annual Thanksgiving dinner they organize. It’s held at one of the local churches. Trish mentioned that she had to get to the store to buy cranberry sauce. My hand shot up. “I have ten bags of cranberries in my fridge,” I said. “I’ll make a big pot of cranberry sauce for the dinner.” I was going to make cranberry sauce and can it, but I can always get more cranberries.

cranberries

Tuesday morning I delivered the cranberry sauce to the Community Center. The large, covered pot had cooled overnight on my deck, the lid weighted with a brick. I didn’t want any curious neighborhood cat getting into it. On Wednesday it won’t be enough to serve the 125 -150 people who will come to the dinner, but it will be a contribution. I was glad I’d been in the right place at the right time.

During this season of gratitude, I’m thankful that St. Michaels has a Community Center with programs for our youth and seniors. The center is one of the important threads that, woven together, makes up the fabric of our little town.And  I’m grateful that indefatigable Trish Payne keeps it all running.

 

 

 

 

 

Believe in Lightning!

It’s New Year’s Eve and time to look ahead. If you’re a writer you’ve heard the expression, “You’re more likely to be hit by lightening than to sell a movie script.” But we keep believing. 2015 might just be the year.

For Christmas Laura gave me a wine sippy cup. A truly thoughtful gift. I think it was in anticipation of celebrating all things writing.

wine sippy cup

It sparked memories of the book signing where I knocked over my drink and almost ruined a pile of her books. The waitress brought me a sippy cup. Read more

This sippy glass is much more elegant. And plastic to boot. I’ll use it to ring in the New Year, although we never seem to make it to midnight. My husband and I are joining Laura and her husband for an early New Years dinner and then we’ll watch Sharknado New York. Hopefully it will be right up there with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Watching Sharknado has been on the “to do” list for months and we just never got around to it.

This has been a great writing year for Laura and me. We had our play, The Santa Diaries, produced again. This time in Minnesota and we were there to see three performances. We’ve completed several scripts and one of them is actually being “considered” by a production group, but we’ve been asked not to talk about it yet. Who knows, 2015 might be the year.

Happy New Year to everyone with wishes for health and happiness and joy. And to all the writers out there, don’t give up on your dreams. Keep believing in lightning.

At Christmas We Believe

I have a Santa decoration that lives in my kitchen year round.

At Christmas I Believe

The wine cork ornament was a gift from the mother of the little boy who played Timmy in The Santa Diaries premier in Easton, Maryland in 2012. For Christmas last year Laura gave me the Believe ornament which I immediately hung on Santa’s hand. We believed that our movie script would get bought in 2014. Didn’t happen, but we continue to believe that it will happen at some point. Einstein told us time is fluid… in Hollywood.

When we went to Faribault, MN to see the third production of The Santa Diaries I came home with several additions to hang on my Santa.

Santa I Believe for blog

The red ball was a handmade ornament by Stephanie Weiss who played Martha in the Merlin Players production. The Santa riding a reindeer hanging below the red ball was a gift from the local thrift shop. Laura and I were perusing their wares and the gal at the counter was so thrilled to meet us she asked us each to choose an ornament to take home as a remembrance. The big Santa hanging on the right was in the large basket of Minnesota goodies that the Merlin Players Board of Directors had put in our room at The Loft.

The only problem now is that it is getting difficult to open the cupboard to the right of the Santa. It’s where the plates and bowls are stored so I am in it several times a day.

Any inconvenience is worth it, however, as I see these reminders every day and remember the joy of each production of our play. It’s a way of celebrating every day of the year.

As Josh Shankman says in our play, “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanza or whatever politically correct holiday you people celebrate. It’s all good!”

Laura and I send our wishes for joy, peace and love in this very special season of the year. Re: selling a movie script…there’s always next year. At Christmas we believe.

I Have a Santa Diaries Dream

In the dream I was in Minnesota for the Merlin Players production of The Santa Diaries. But something was very odd. The play was being held outside and it wasn’t cold. December in Minnesota and the grass was emerald green, as if brand new turf had just been rolled out.

rolls of turf

Chairs were set up on the grass facing a huge stage with multiple elaborate sets. I overheard actors complaining about how they had to run to get between the living room, and the bedroom sets, and I remember being confused because the Christmas weather seemed to be missing.

Apparently I was there for a rehearsal and the actors were amazingly good. And with those sets I knew this was going to be an outstanding production. I guess Laura was going to miss it, because she wasn’t in this dream.

But then, I needed to find something. Don’t you just hate it, in dreams, when you can’t find something it’s really important to find? I don’t remember now what it was, but I do remember running around trying to find it.

Finally it was opening night. As is true for all my dreams, it’s really all about me. There I was, ripping through my suitcase, throwing things on the bed. OMG. No clean underwear! That part of the dream was flat out disappointing. Couldn’t my writer’s unconscious have come up with something more original than no clean underwear?

In my dream or in my waking life, I’ve never worried how the Merlin Players would treat our play. And in the scheme of my writing life, not having clean underwear is no biggie.

The dream may have been anxiety about Minnesota weather, so when we go to see the play in a couple of weeks, I’ll make sure to pack winter clothes–and plenty of clean underwear.

Rehearsals Begin in Minnesota

Rehearsals for The Santa Diaries have begun in Faribault, Minnesota. Laura and I will be going to see several of the shows.I hope the photo below is not what we will have in store for us as we will have to drive from Minneapolis to Faribault. When we go someplace Laura is kind enough to let me drive. I’m one of those people who likes to be in control. This works out well because when we go to Baltimore for theater Laura doesn’t like to drive over the Bay Bridge. I don’t have a bridge issue.

snow in MN

One of the cast members, Michael Lambert who is cast as Will Hawes in the play, sent us a newsy email which I posted on The Santa Diaries Project blog. Take a look.

If we were closer we’d attend some rehearsals, but now we have to decide if the opening weekend or the closing weekend would be the best time to see some of the performances. We’re waiting to hear from the play’s director to help us make a decision.