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Sleigh bells aren’t ringing. In the lane, no snow yet glistens. But for Dr. Christmas, tree stylists to the stars, ’tis the season to be jolly, even in September.
Bob Pranga and his business partner, Debi Staron, operate a custom design company called Dr. Christmas, and for them, “the most wonderful time of the year” is every day.
“I always liked Christmas,” Pranga said, “and found out that people liked what I did with it. The more I tried to pass that on, I realized the best way is to help people by giving back their time. Either they can hire me to come in and do it for them, or I give them the tools to do it for themselves so they can enjoy the holiday again.”
Pranga and Staron met as struggling actors in New York, and they seem perfectly matched. His approach is more emotive and from the gut, while hers is more thought-out and practical. The combination makes a golden partnership that has them rolling out the holly for celebrities such as Debbie Reynolds, Teri Garr, Shaquille O’Neal and Heidi Klum.
Thanks to his family, December was always his favorite time of year, said Pranga, a native of Sturgis, Mich.
“My parents and grandparents went out of their way so I had a Wonder Years Christmas every year -- it was a big deal,” he said.
Staron shares his enthusiasm. Growing up in New Jersey, she also learned early about the joys of holiday decorating.
“My dad was a huge Christmas decorator,” she said. From him, she developed her meticulous attitude toward the task. “He was methodical, and I always helped him,” she recalled.
Later, when Pranga lived in New York City, he took a job at Macy’s to make ends meet, little knowing that this would steer his life’s path.
“I ended up working in the Christmas department, and this buyer came along and said, ‘I need you to decorate this tree,’” he said.
One day, actress Mia Farrow came in and told the young clerk that she admired the job he’d done and that she wished somebody could do that for her house. So he offered to help her.
Later, when he decided to relocate to the West Coast, he asked Staron to go with him. They shared an apartment while pursuing individual hopes for stardom.
Then in Los Angeles, Pranga got another job at a Christmas shop.
“He was hired over the phone,” Staron said with a laugh, “and when I came home, he says, ‘You’re my assistant -- do you wanna?’”
It was mostly florists who offered part-time “seasonal adornment,” but it wasn’t long before Pranga started doing decorating house calls himself -- and he brought Staron in on that as well. Eventually, the two decided to open a prop shop to help them meet their specialized ornamental needs, and that’s when year-round Christmas began for them.
At the beginning, he called himself the Christmas Guy, he said with a chuckle. Later, a new client asked when he worked, and Pranga answered truthfully: “24 hours a day during the holiday season.”
To this, she responded, “Oh, you’re like the doctor of Christmas,” and the moniker was born.
Since then, Pranga and Staron have become the go-to people in decorating for Hollywood’s movers and shakers--whether for their residences, businesses, or huge corporate functions.
One project that’s close to their hearts is the awe-inspiring seasonal decor they create for the Hollywood Museum, housed in the landmark Max Factor Building.
“We do this every year,” Pranga said. “At the Hollywood Museum, most of the trees are very theatrical -- over the top. It’s an Art Deco building that’s all about the golden age of the silver screen, so I really try to honor what the place is that I’m doing.”
Pranga confided that perhaps the best feeling he gets working on the museum is being an annual part of Hollywood history.
“I love the museum,” he said. “I like to keep things like that going because it keeps the Hollywood culture going.”
The man who helps make the moguls’ mansions merry and bright has a simple formula that turns working on a tree into something exciting and glamorous.
“Because I’m in Hollywood, I use those metaphors,” he says, proposing that would-be decorators “consider your Christmas tree like a movie: You have your stars, your co-stars, your featured players, and your extras. Like a movie, it becomes this harmonious balance of a lot of different shapes, sizes and colors that really give your tree a sense of dimension. That’s the secret to it!”
Likewise, Staron suggests that the look of one’s tree actually can differ from year to year.
“Contrary to popular belief, your ornaments do not have feelings,” she said with a wink. “You don’t have to put every ornament on each time, and just changing out some will give it a completely different look!”
Other insights include some often-overlooked bits of common sense, such as the recommendation that once the lights are up, people should add the garland before any ornaments. “This way, you’re assured it will drape in the most aesthetic way, as well as provide you with a guide for placing your ornaments. It’s little things such as this that make a huge difference.”
The two collected some of these ideas in a colorful, photo-packed book titled Christmas Style, from DK Publishing. It showcases the wide variety of decorating styles the two have worked on for celebrity clientele. The book has plenty of magnificent approaches and easy tips.
“You could actually learn from it,” Pranga said.
Both point out that the main goal of the book is to show that the average person can achieve stunning results -- and have fun doing it.
“Deb and I specifically designed it in three sections, with the first part showcasing different styles -- a lot of ‘eye-candy’!” he said.
The center is devoted to over-the-top Hollywood, “which was something fun to do, ’cause nobody else has that in a Christmas book.”
In fact, this chapter includes “The Twelve Dames of Christmas” — photos of a series of themed trees dedicated to a dozen of the cinema’s most dazzling divas.
“The third section is really where we show you how to do everything,” Pranga said. “Debi was meticulous about explaining the different ways to do things.”
These final pages also contain a list of the suppliers, he said, “so if people see something that they really like, there’s information where you can contact that vendor.” He recommended not waiting until Santa Claus comes to town: “September or October ought to do it.”
“People agonize over Christmas,” Staron said, rolling her eyes. “It’s tragic! Just adapt. If you’re gonna have arguments, have a two-sided tree -- she gets one side, he gets the other (or in the case of a gay couple, HE gets one side and HE gets the other!). This is supposed to about celebration!”
Pranga couldn’t agree more, “This is pure fantasy. Have fun with it. It’s really about you!”
To learn more about Dr. Christmas or to order a copy of Christmas Style in time to craft plenty of holiday magic of your own, check out www.drchristmas.com.
Worldwide opera star Renée Fleming will perform in Kansas City on Thursday night, November 18, but the day before, she'll be part of a panel discussion for "Music and the Mind" — a conversation about how music affects the brain, cognitive development, healing and quality of life.
WHAT: Music and the Mind with Renée Fleming
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021
TIME: 4:00-5:30 PM
WHERE: The 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods, KS, 66205
Music has a profound impact and the ability to shape 86 billion neurons in the brain for cognitive development, healing, and therapy. Science research has clearly shown that music therapy interventions can improve quality of life across nearly all neurological disorders. And there is tremendous public-interest in applying music to creative aging, childhood development, and community wellness.
But scientists want to know more.
Join soprano Renée Fleming and a distinguished panel of local Kansas City experts in neurology, music therapy, music and healing, and more for this cutting-edge discussion. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q&A following the panel discussion.
*Please note this Music and the Mind Event is not a musical performance*
As Artistic Advisor at Large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Renée Fleming has spearheaded a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH, and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. This initiative has also led the NIH to recently award $20 million dollars in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years.
As part of her advocacy, Fleming is also advisor to the recently launched NEA/UCSF Sound Health Network and co-chair of the Aspen Institute/Johns Hopkins NeuroArts Blueprint, both working to advance the field of arts and health.
This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please call the Harriman-Jewell Series at 816-415-5025 to reserve your seat.
WHAT: Renée Fleming, soprano in recital
WHEN: Thursday, Nov 18, 2021
TIME: 7:00 PM
WHERE: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
COST: Tickets from $25.00 *discounts available for students, educators, first responders, active duty military and veterans with valid I.D.
Pair a glorious voice with a winning personality and you have a diva for the ages. Renée Fleming is a longstanding Harriman-Jewell Series favorite. With her many television and Broadway appearances, Fleming has been embraced by music lovers of all genres.
Whether singing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Olympics, or Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Renée Fleming represents opera to the world. In addition to her numerous operatic performances, Fleming often works classic show tunes and the Great American Songbook into her recitals. Fleming’s trademark rapport with audiences will give her Kansas City performance a warmth that is personal and sincere.
Rob Ainsley is pianist for the recital. His diverse career as a musician, conductor, educator, and administrator has taken him to top organizations and colleges from coast to coast. He now serves as Director of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists and American Opera Initiative. Ainsley performed with Renée Fleming in The Metropolitan Opera’s August 2020 “Met Stars Live in Concert” that was streamed worldwide.
ABOUT THE HARRIMAN-JEWELL SERIES
Renée Fleming's recital will mark the 977th performance since the Series was founded in 1965. From free education events that allow interaction with musicians and dancers, to our free Discovery Concerts that are open to the community, the Harriman-Jewell Series continues to offer life-enriching opportunities for its community's youth and lifelong learners.
Whether you're spreading truth, information, or love, traveling abroad for humanitarian reasons can have risks. Detained American journalist in Myanmar, Danny Fenster, is to be released from jail, and to fly home soon. But it doesn't always end well for every foreign national attempting to do good in a foreign country.
The missionaries consisting of sixteen Americans and one Canadian kidnapped by the Haitian “400 Mawozo” gang on October 16, is extremely scary. The gang has threatened to kill the humanitarian Christians if a million dollar per person ransom is not fulfilled. The group consists of men, women, children and an eight-month-old baby.
These missionaries have sacrificed their time and paid their own way to go to the poorest place in the Western hemisphere to try to spread God’s love and save some souls. In turn, the missionaries are experiencing a nightmare like they’ve never imagined. They’re imprisoned and being threatened with a bullet in the head.
Most of us will never get over seeing journalists being beheaded and tortured in Syria and Iraq by the barbaric Islamic extremist group called ISIL. Burning people alive and beheading others were too graphic and gruesome to ever be forgotten.
Years ago, I traveled to a third world country on a “missionary trip” with others thinking it would be a nice break. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
Sadly, the 17 missionaries in Haiti are undergoing a cruel experience that may end with the cost of their very lives. What are they thinking now? What is going through the minds of the little children who traveled to a world to help others and spread God’s love?
Haiti has been the site of years of humanitarian efforts. The United States and other countries have given billions of dollars to help Haiti. Sadly, hurricanes, political unrest, underdevelopment and extreme poverty have all made for a sad scenario.
How much money would the world have to give to Haiti to make life better for this nation? This is a question no one can answer because usually aid is a short-term solution. We spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and they aren’t any better off today.
Good missionary people went to Haiti with good hearts for helping others in the name of God’s love. They went to share a message they hoped would bring about change and better lives. They may now lose their lives.
Christians point to Jesus as the model for such missionary efforts. He came preaching and teaching in an effort to demonstrate and spread God’s love and it cost him plenty – his life, executed in public on a cross.
There are some Christians today who, like Jesus, are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. Did these men and women literally go to Haiti taking their children with them truly believe they could be killed? Would they purposefully do this to their children? Who convinced these people that such a trip with small children was a good idea?
My goal here is to simply say, think about such trips to places like Haiti. Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Nigeria and numerous others countries are not vacation spots. Foreign travel may sound exotic and adventurous but consider the possible cost.
Many missionaries and Christian workers have paid the ultimate price in order to spread the gospel of Christ. Only eternity will reveal what their selfless sacrifice has meant to those whose lives they impacted.
By chance, if you decide such an international trip is not for you, don’t feel bad. Consider helping in an American inner city, Appalachia or maybe your own neighborhood. Service at home is needed across America.
Let’s pray for the safety of these missionaries and for those negotiating their release. May God help them and all who may consider such endeavors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Glenn Mollette is a graduate of numerous schools including Georgetown College, Southern and Lexington Seminaries in Kentucky. He is the author of 13 books including Uncommon Sense, Grandpa's Store, Minister's Guidebook: insights from a fellow minister. His column is published weekly in over 600 publications in all 50 states. Glenn Mollette has been on numerous International humanitarian and missionary group trips. Hear Glenn Mollette every weekday morning EST at 8:56 on XM radio 131. Editor-If you need to tweak or do a small edit for you paper or website that is okay. Please respond to this email if you need a picture for this column. Scroll down for additional biographical info. Buy his latest recording titled "Black Coffee" on iTunes. Learn more at www.glennmollette.com
The Black Trans Fund, incubated at Groundswell Fund, and Grantmakers for Girls of Color launched the Holding a Sister Initiative, the first-ever national fund explicitly dedicated to transgender girls and gender-expansive youth of color.
Dr. Monique W. Morris, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, and Bré Rivera, program director of the Black Trans Fund are together spearheading the Holding a Sister Initiative to bring attention and resources to organizations supporting trans girls of color, normalize concern and investment in their success, and create learning opportunities for cis and trans girls of color to move in deeper community with one another.
The initiative will award $1 million in grants in the first year, and will ultimately engage trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color in the decision-making process for selecting grantees on an ongoing basis.
While there has been an increase in donor attention to work led by people of color, it has yet to translate into significant gains in funding for trans and gender-expansive youth of color.
According to recent regional studies in Detroit, South Florida and New Orleans, trans women of color face higher levels of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration and discrimination. At the same time, the majority of this year's record-breaking anti-trans legislation are targeted to affect youth, including bills that prevent transgender athletes from playing in school sports and the "Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act." Research has show sharp rises in suicide attempts among trans youth during 2020 and 2021.
"The reality is transgender and gender-expansive youth of color require more attention, and resources to interrupt the staggering intersections of trauma and crises they experience," said Bré Rivera.
The initiative joins existing funding intermediaries who have been leading the work to resource trans communities and engage trans people in the direction and distribution of resources, including the Third Wave Fund, the Black Trans Travel Fund, and Fund for Trans Generations. As funding partners, the Black Trans Fund and Grantmakers for Girls of Color aim to expand and transform philanthropy's investments in trans and gender-nonconforming youth. The initiative will move resources to organizations serving and led by trans girls and young women of color. It will also amplify narratives that elevate the humanity, dignity and leadership of trans and gender-expansive youth of color, as well as the ways their experiences and contributions have been overlooked, minimized and targeted by oppositional and systemic forces, and larger social justice movements.
The Holding a Sister Initiative will be led by a manager, who will steward culture change through grantmaking, capacity building, narrative shifting and philanthropic organizing. The position is currently open for applicants.
About Grantmakers for Girls of Color
Fiscally-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) works to mobilize resources and amplify transformative organizing work to dismantle systems of oppression led by girls and gender-expansive youth of color. Grantmakers for Girls of Color openly invites partners and stakeholders to co-create an inclusive space in support of girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color across programmatic issues and geographic areas. Learn more by visiting Grantmakers for Girls of Color.
About the Black Trans Fund
The Black Trans Fund is a groundbreaking endeavor: the first national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting and resourcing Black trans social justice leaders. BTF seeks to address the lack of funding for Black trans communities in the U.S. through direct grantmaking, capacity building support, and funder organizing to transform philanthropy. Learn more by visiting Black Trans Fund.