Wednesday, November 18, 2015

After the end of our 2014 Christmas season (last Saturday in September, 2014 through the end of May, 2015), we, (Esther, Dorothy, and Janie Minten) presented Martha Avery, Vice-President for Development at Driscoll Children's Hospital with a total of $12,000.00.

Through the years that we have been raising money to benefit pediatric cardiology, we have been able to contribute a total of $308,860.

The money raised comes from several sources. First of all, we charge $8.00 per person to tour The Christmas House, and $1.00 of that admission fee is donated to Driscoll Children's Hospital for cardiology.

We do not charge our family and friends to tour The Christmas House, and paying guests can return as often as they wish during the same season. They only have to pay the first time. When they sign the guest book on a subsequent visit, Dorothy puts NP (non-paying) by their names. At the end of the season, she multiplies the total number of NP guests times $2.00 and then divides by three. Each of us adds that amount to our own personal donations which also go in with the total amount raised for the season.

The third way we raise money is the "ORGAN FUND." Our tour guests are given the opportunity to leave a donation on the antique pump organ in the family room. This is the one on which Dorothy plays Silent Night to accompany the entire group as Esther and Janie lead them in singing this favorite old Christmas carol. Since a woman jokingly left a nickel to "tip" Dorothy for playing the organ in 1993, our tour guests, carrying on that tradition, have left a grand total of $74,108.61. Needless to say, people leave a lot more than a nickel on the organ!

Finally, if we have a party or an open house to which we invite family and friends, we put a basket near the guest book. Family members and friends are able to put a donation in that basket if they wish to do so.

Thank you to all who come for tours of The Christmas House and enable us to give the $1.00 and $2.00 donations. Thanks also go to all those who make additional donations on the organ and by the guest book. Without you, it couldn't be done.

Las Vegas - October 5th and 6th, 2015

I wanted to share with all of you what Dorothy, Esther, and I did in October. It all goes back to the beginning of June, 2015, when we received a phone call from Maki Morrell at Rhythm Clocks in Atlanta. She told us that they were planning the first ever Rhythm Clocks National Dealer Conference in Las Vegas for October 8th. She said that we were being invited as one of their top dealers, but in addition to that, Jack C. Ohmori, the president of Rhythm U.S.A. was asking us if we would participate in the program by singing a couple of songs.

We have been in Atlanta two times in recent years, and both times we visited the Rhythm offices, and both times we sang for the office staff! So, he really wanted us to sing for this gathering of dealers from all over the United States and Rhythm officials from Japan! At first, we said we just couldn't do that, because we would have just opened our 30th Christmas season a week and a half before. We didn't feel that we could take the time off, and besides, we would have to fly and that always causes Esther a lot of ear pain. We even said, "No," after Maki said that the company was paying airfares and two nights at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. They were very disappointed, but after hanging up, we looked at each other and said, "Are we crazy?" This is a great honor and opportunity." So, we called back and told Maki that we had changed our minds and we'd love to come and sing!

So, we've just returned from Las Vegas, and what a whirlwind trip! We left home on Monday, Oct. 5th, and drove to San Antonio. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard Airport, using our Marriott Reward points. If you stay one night at this hotel, you are entitled to park your car free in their secure parking lot for up to a week while you travel. They have an airport shuttle that takes you to the airport and picks you up again upon your return. Our flight was midday, non-stop one, so Esther's ears only hurt once as the plane descended into Las Vegas.

Rhythm was paying for two nights at Caesar's Palace, but we needed to arrive a day early, so Esther's ears could recover. I made reservations at the Las Vegas Fairfield Inn Airport (a Marriott hotel), and when I did, there was no charge, because as a Platinum Rewards member, the three of us were entitled to a free night's stay--no money and no points!! Nice, right? It’s given to us once a year on the anniversary of my becoming a Marriott Rewards Member.

I called this hotel before we left home and inquired about a shuttle from the airport. The young lady at the front desk told me to call when we had our luggage and their shuttle would pick us up. So that is exactly what I did. When the shuttle arrived at the airport pick up point, it was just white with no writing on it. I asked the driver why (before we got in) and he said the A/C was broken on the regular bus/van, so this was a rented one. He had proper ID, though, so we got in, even though doing so was not easy! This vehicle was very high. Dorothy had to have help getting in, and Esther more or less climbed in on her knees and pulled herself up. I managed okay, but it was high!

When we arrived at the hotel, I slid out of the front seat onto the ground. Dorothy could not manage the drop down, so the driver helped her. I jokingly said, "We just arrived in Las Vegas and Dorothy is already in a man's arms!!" She put one arm around him, and held on to the side of the door with her other arm. She made a good landing.

Then it was Esther's turn. She is really short, so she couldn't step down and sliding down wasn't going to work either. So, the driver kindly offered to help her, too.  He put both arms around her and told her to do the same. He lifted her down, but in doing so, he squeezed a little too tightly and Esther felt a really bad pain shoot through her rib cage!!

By the time we got to our room, she was really in bad pain. She said, "I think it may be broken!" I went back to the front desk to report this and had to fill out an accident report. They loaned us a wheelchair, because there was (according to this woman who works there) an Urgent Care Clinic right next door! Dorothy was really tired, so she said she would stay in the room and rest. I pushed Esther over a cobblestone sidewalk (bumpy and painful for Esther) to the clinic. We learned one thing really fast!! Next door was not the case. A block in LV, is quite far. It was the equivalent of at least several blocks.

Upon entering the overflowing waiting room, we saw a sign that said there was a 4½ hour wait. To make a long story short, forward about 6 hours. We finally found out, after they x-rayed it, that her rib was not broken, but it was severely bruised. I had already walked back to the hotel once to check on Dorothy, because the second time I called her from the clinic, she didn’t answer. Esther and I were worried that she might have fallen or something. When I called back, the clerk at the front desk put me on hold. That happened a couple of times. That’s why I took off and walked back to the hotel. Dorothy was fine, (she was otherwise occupied when I called and couldn’t get to the phone!). I walked back to the clinic, so I got my exercise in that day!! After Esther was finished at the clinic, I called a taxi and that’s how we got back to the hotel. (I have to admit that I let the hotel front desk staff know how I felt about how they put callers on hold before finding out what they need! I tried to tell her that it was an emergency, but all to no avail!)

We had not had anything to eat since 7:00 that morning in San Antonio (that was 5:00 a.m. Las Vegas time), so we were starved. I called another taxi and got the nicest taxi driver. His name was Felipe Cervantes and he was so jovial and helpful. We told him that first, we had to go to a drugstore to buy something for pain, and then we wanted to go to a restaurant to eat. The doctor had written a prescription for Esther, so Felipe took us to the CVS that was near a lot of restaurants. I went in with the prescription, but Dorothy and Esther stayed in the cab (with the meter running!!!!!!!!). I forgot to take Esther’s insurance prescription cards in with me, so I asked the pharmacist how much the painkilling patches would cost. He said, “$300.00!” I was going to go out and get the cards, but instead I asked him if they carried Arnicare Gel. He said they did, so I bought that for $11.98. A friend had just told us about it the day before.

Back in the taxi, Felipe suggest Lawrey’s Steakhouse which was not far away. We said that was great, so he took us there. His suggestion was a good one, because the food was delicious. It was after 8:00 when we finally got to eat!

The restaurant doorman called a taxi for us when we were leaving, and we got back to the hotel about 10:00. That was midnight Texas time!!  To say we were tired is an understatement.

We had planned to rest that afternoon, and I was going to get tickets to a show for that evening, but none of that came to pass. We just were grateful to go to bed and sleep. Esther’s rib was really hurting, but the Arnicare Gel relieved the pain somewhat, and she was able to sleep.  Our biggest concern was that we were not going to be able to sing, because taking a deep breath was extremely painful for her.

Las Vegas - October 7, 2015

Our second day in Las Vegas was better than the day before. We slept later than we do at home, because we really needed the rest. I got up about 7:00, dressed, and went down to the breakfast room where I picked up boiled eggs, a banana for Dorothy, half and half for my coffee and milk for Dorothy’s. (Esther has become a coffee drinker after a lifetime of hating it!! She drinks it black and no sweetener!) The coffee they serve at breakfast is always strong and we really don’t like the taste of it, so I get more of the individual packets that are used to brew fresh coffee in the room one cup at a time! That coffee is delicious!

I also got Dorothy a small amount of cantaloupe. We don’t eat bread or waffles or any of the other wheat, grain, and sugar filled foods that they serve at hotel complimentary breakfasts, so the choices are kind of slim for us!

However, we each had had prime rib at Lawrey’s the night before and we couldn’t begin to eat it all! So, they boxed the half of each of our pieces that were left. At Fairfield Inns, the rooms have little refrigerators, microwaves, and coffee makers. So, we actually had a delicious low carb breakfast.

We didn’t have to go anywhere, so we rested, tried singing the songs we were to do at the conference, and then finally got ready to transfer to Caesar’s Palace for the next two nights.

Esther did pretty good singing the songs. Her rib was still painful, but she rubbed it with the Arnicare Gel again, and that really helped.

I am a Platinum Marriott Rewards Member, so I can request a later checkout time. I called the front desk and did just that. We stayed in the room until 1:00, and then we went down to the lobby and took a taxi to Caesar’s Palace. I’ve never seen so many people arriving at a hotel in all my life, and we’ve stayed at a lot of hotels during our travels! The taxi driver put our luggage out, and then he was on his way. There were definitely not enough luggage handlers to take care of everyone! We had to wait a few minutes before one uniformed young man finally came to our rescue! He grabbed our luggage and put it on a cart and then he was off. I turned around to tip him, but he was gone!! That's what I call busy!!

Someone else gave us a claim ticket and tagged our luggage, telling us that when we got to our room, we should call the bell captain’s desk and ask to have it brought up. We went inside then. Dorothy doesn’t walk very fast anymore and uses a cane or walks arm in arm with Esther. They wanted to sit down and wait for me to check in, but this was Las Vegas! This hotel is huge, but there is no lobby, so no chairs or sofas to sit in. The only places to sit were at a slot machine or gaming table or in a bar! So, they found a railing by a ramp leading up into a bar and leaned against it while I checked in!

Also, the smell of cigarette smoke was awful! That is so alien to life now, because smoking is banned almost everywhere. I commented to a hotel staffer about how awful the smell was, but I guessed that the gamblers wouldn’t gamble as much if they couldn’t smoke. She said, “Well, the casino is the only place people can smoke in the hotel. They’ve banned it in the restaurants, and no one has stopped eating!” She said they are working on trying to do something about it!

Rhythm Clock Co. had made our reservations, and I had requested an accessible room, but that request hadn’t been included in the reservation. However, the clerk said she could make that change. Then she said that we were too early to check in. I would have to come back in about 2 to 2 ½ hours to check in, as all the rooms were not ready this early! Oh, my! What were Dorothy and Esther going to do with no place to sit for that long.

Then she said, “However, for a $30.00 fee, I can check you in early!”  My first thought—“What a scam! Either the rooms are ready or they are not ready!!” But I said, “Okay!” All incidentals would be put on our credit card, so I knew that Rhythm wouldn’t have to pay for that. She checked us in in no time at all!

Several weeks before leaving home, I had done some online research about renting scooters for D and E. I had found that they are available at the Bell Captain’s desk in most Las Vegas hotels.  Dorothy and Esther’s response to that was, “Oh, no, we don’t want to do that.” But once in the hotel, they didn’t argue when I told them I was going to do it. That place is HUGE! The bell staff was so nice. They brought out the two scooters and explained everything about operating them to D and E while I put the charge on our credit card! They were just like the ones that we rent at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, so D and E were familiar with them.

Everywhere we go, people get a big kick out of D and E. Everyone wants to know if they are twins! People are amazed to learn that Dorothy is almost 88 (November 5th) and that Esther is 84. They certainly don’t look or act their ages! We talked to the staff at the bell desk, gave them brochures about our Christmas business, told them why we were there, etc. One of the women working there called me over to her while Dorothy and Esther were trying out their scooters under the supervision of another staff member. She told me that the three of us were so fortunate to have each other. Then with tears in her eyes, she told me that just three weeks earlier, she had lost her 61 year-old sister to illness. She said, “I miss her so much!”

I gave one of the staff members there our luggage claim ticket and told him we were heading up to our room. It was in the “Palace Tower” on the 24th floor. (Our conference would be on the
Promenade floor [2nd)] of that same tower in one of the ballrooms we learned later.)

We loved our room, which being an accessible room, had more than enough space for both scooters, and they weren’t in our way at all. D and E were extremely grateful for the scooters, because from the bell captain’s desk at the front entrance of the hotel to our room was more than a country mile! And the path to everything led through the casinos which went on and on and on. After we finally got out of the casinos, we went by restaurants and other places to eat only to find that we were then in an area filled with stores. They certainly give you every opportunity to spend money if you are so inclined!

After all of this, we still had one big problem. We didn’t have a clue about anything to do with the conference. We hadn’t gotten anything from Rhythm about the location, activities, schedule or anything!! We kept thinking that someone would call us, but nothing! At least when I checked in, the front desk clerk didn’t say, “What? Rhythm? I don’t know what you’re talking about!” The room had been reserved.

We rested again during the afternoon and were so grateful to get to do that! We had been working hard since our opening day on September 26th, and took advantage of the off time. We finally decided that we were getting really hungry, so we went back down in the elevator, past the stores and to the area where there were quite a few restaurants. We finally decided to eat at the buffet where there was a large selection of foods to choose from. This always makes it easier for low carb, wheat and grain free eaters. We really enjoyed that meal.  It’s a good thing, because it cost $52.95 each!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We went back up to our room and retired for the night. The beds were comfortable and sleep was wonderful!  The only thing that made the night not completely restful was dreaming about wandering around the hotel trying to find where the Rhythm conference was being held and what time!!

After a full day, Esther's rib was still painful, but the Arnicare Gel was really helping to keep the pain bearable.

(BTW, the $30.00 charge was not on the bill. We got a copy of the whole bill for our room, saying that everything was paid by Rhythm!)

Las Vegas - October 8, 2015

Got up after a great night’s rest, but still not knowing anything about the conference schedule!! We dressed and got ready to go downstairs to find breakfast.

When we got downstairs, we saw that the buffet was open, so I went and asked the price. It was $32.95 a person for all the food you could eat and all the coffee and juice you could drink. We went on and checked the menu at another restaurant. For $20.00 each, we could get two eggs, sausage or bacon, potatoes, toast. Coffee was an extra $4.00 per person! We don’t eat potatoes, toast, and other high carb foods, so that left us with eggs and meat. We decided to go back to the buffet!

It was a great decision! I can’t begin to list the foods, but oh, my, there was everything you can think of and the coffee (included) was delicious. A thermos pot was put on the table, and we didn’t have to wait for refills. The food was wonderful, including the desserts! There was a whole section of sugar-free desserts, but they weren't necessarily grain and wheat free.

However, they had one dessert that was perfect. It was a sugar free dark chocolate cup (looked like a cupcake paper, but it was edible chocolate!), half-filled with sugar free chocolate mousse. Then they had topped all that off with fresh blueberries, black berries, and raspberries. Another spot on that part of the buffet had fresh whipped cream, so I topped it with that and chopped hazelnuts. (My mouth is watering as I write about it!)

Part way through our meal, a lady from another table came over to our table. She said, “Excuse me, but I told my husband that I just had to come over and tell you ladies how nice you look. Your hair is beautiful!” We thanked her and then we started to talk, introducing ourselves. In the course of the conversation, she said that they were in Las Vegas for a clock convention. Our ears perked up and we said, “So are we! Is it Rhythm?” She said, “Yes, it is!” We explained our dilemma about knowing nothing about the schedule, location, etc.

She said that they got a packet mailed out by the Atlanta office with everything in it, including nametags. She went over to their table and came back with her name tag. There on the back were Orlando Reyes’s and Maki Morrell’s cell phone numbers. I jotted them down and then called Orlando. He said that he and Maki were in Roman Ballroom 1 on the Promenade level of the Palace Tower getting everything set up for that afternoon and evening.

After thanking Mrs. Tuerk profusely and praising the Lord for how he solved our problem, we left the restaurant and headed up to the ballroom. We were so glad to see Orlando, Maki, and Cindy from the Atlanta office. We explained that we had never gotten the materials they had sent out. They assured us that ours had been mailed along with everyone else's, but we explained that quite often we get other people’s mail in with ours. We always put it back in the mailbox the next day with a note explaining that it isn’t ours. We often wonder how many people get the wrong mail and just throw it away! Maybe that’s what happened to ours.

They gave us copies of what we needed—even name tags, as they had brought an extra set for each person. We learned that we were scheduled to sing at 7:20.  We enjoyed visiting with the three of them. We knew Orlando and Maki, but it was our first time to meet Cindy even though I talk on the phone with her all the time!! We got to check out the stage and figured out where we would stand, etc.

What a relief to know what was going on and what we were going to be doing. The welcome reception was going to be held in that ballroom at 4:30 p.m. that day, so we went back to our room where we relaxed, rested, read, etc.

By 4:15 we were ready to go back down to the ballroom. It was full of people with more arriving all the time. We learned that only 38 of their top dealers were attending the conference, so we felt very honored to be included and to have been asked to sing!

Las Vegas - Thursday, October 8, 2015 (Part 2)

We left our room and went down to the Promenade Level of the hotel where the conference was to be held. Outside the ballroom we met Jack Ohmori, the president of Rhythm, USA, who had asked us to sing. He greeted us and we talked for a few minutes. Then I asked him if, before we sang one of our songs, I could share the fact that Dorothy, Esther, and I were the ones who had suggested that Rhythm should make a clock with Christian hymns on it. (At that time, nearly nine years ago, the music on the clocks was 6 popular or 6 classical with three Christmas songs included.  We thought that our customers would really like to have a choice of hymns.)

When I asked Jack that question, I wish I had had my camera ready to capture the expression on his face. “You were the ones,” he said. Everyone in the Atlanta office who had knowledge of the events that led to the hymns being put on the clock has retired or left the company. Jack only knew that someone outside the company had shared the idea. He said, “Yes, by all means share this with everyone. There are no restrictions on what you can say.”

When that suggestion took place years ago, we were attending a trade show in Dallas, and the man who was then the president of Rhythm USA (Yuichi) and a couple of the office staff from Atlanta were there. While visiting with them at the World Trade Center, they had asked if we would like to go out to dinner that evening. It was during that dinner that we brought up the subject of the hymns. We were told that since it is a Japanese company and all of those decisions are made in Japan, it probably would not be considered, because they wouldn’t be familiar with those songs. We asked if it would be possible for them (the Atlanta office) to suggest it to those in Japan. The response was that they would try.

It was two years later that Mary, who had been present at the dinner, called us and was so excited, because “they” were going to do it! We asked, “What?” She responded that the powers that be in Japan had said they would try the hymns if someone in the Atlanta office could send the names of some! Yuichi told Mary to call the Minten Sisters, because it was our idea, and he thought that we would know the best hymns!

So, we faxed a list of 10 of our favorite hymns and sacred songs from which they could choose six (we still have the original of that fax), and when that new clock was released in 2009, we were thrilled to find that the first six songs on the list we sent were the songs on the clock. The name of the clock was Joy to the Stars, and the songs are Amazing Grace, In the Garden, Ave Maria, How Great Thou Art, Jesus Loves Me, and What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

That clock immediately became a best seller, and the next thing we knew, they were adding those songs to existing models and making more new clocks with those songs. Today, nearly every clock includes those six songs, and there is an alarm clock called Joyful Morning that has four of them on it. (Most of the hymn playing clocks have JOY or JOYFUL in the name.)

To continue with the events of that evening in Las Vegas—since the conference included a banquet, everyone was seated at round tables that were set for dinner. There were placecards, so we all had assigned seats, and we were seated with three other people.  One was a man from Ozark Mountain Time, a clock shop at the Imax Building in Branson, Missouri. We enjoyed visiting with him, because we always go to the Imax building to eat and shop when we are in Branson. We have been in the clock shop several times.

We did learn at this time, that Rhythm had invited only their top dealers in the United States, so only 38 Rhythm dealers were at this conference. Each store could bring two people (except for us—we could have three!), so there were about 78 people there plus the company dignitaries from Japan and the people from the Atlanta office.  All in all, there were probably around 95 people there plus the Caesar’s Palace staff that were overseeing and serving food and drinks during the event.

During the course of the evening they had different people speaking, video presentations about the clocks and how they are made, etc. Three of the guest speakers were owners of clock shops that sell Rhythm Clocks. Then, came the time when we were to sing. We went up on stage, and I told about how we, the owners of a Christmas store, came to be Rhythm clock dealers.  The staff members at the Atlanta office were always amazed that a Christmas store out in the middle of nowhere in south Texas could sell so many clocks. (I think that is why they added some Christmas songs to the clock before the hymns were added.) 

Since we are a Christmas business, we sang a Christmas song for them. It is a cute, lively song called “Thirty-two Feet and Eight Little Tails.” When we finished, we got a nice ovation from everyone; they loved it!

Then I told them that we were the ones who had suggested adding hymns to the clocks and had gotten to choose the hymns that are featured on the clocks! I told the whole story of that event. Many of the dealers’ faces lighted up with smiles when I told that! Then we sang one of the songs, a beautiful arrangement of “Amazing Grace” that has an amazing ending. We could not believe our eyes and ears when at the end of that song, nearly everyone stood up and clapped. So, now we can honestly say that we sang at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and got a standing ovation!

So many people came up to us after the conference ended and thanked us for the hymn idea. Several said that the sales of the clocks had soared when those songs were added. They also complimented our singing. Even the hotel staff members came to us and told us how much they had enjoyed our singing.

We think that everyone was really amazed that three gray-haired (old) ladies could sing like we did! God has truly blessed us with the ability to still be singing at our ages, and we give Him all the glory!  The truly amazing thing was Esther. She was able to sing with that terribly bruised rib. That was definitely answered prayers.

The man from the Imax-Ozark Mountain Time, told us that he was talking to a man in his shop one day, and like all good clock salesmen, was demonstrating one with the hymns on it. The man said to him, “I know the ladies who suggested those hymns and got to pick them out for the clocks. We’ve been to their store.” 

“Now," he said, "I’ve met those ladies!”

It was late when we finally went back to our room, but we had had a wonderful time. We were really glad we had reconsidered and decided to take part in this conference.

 Speaking to the group before we sang.

 You can't sing with your mouth closed!!

Thank you, everyone!

The Atlanta office staff: L - R
Janie, Orlando Reyes, (We don't know why this lady got in our photograph!  Photobomb??)  Maki Morrell, Esther, Cindy Solomon, Jack C. Ohmori, and Dorothy.