Enjoy a few movies that bring holiday cheer

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Christmas is just around the corner and I have to remind myself that the big day is coming. One way to create a holiday mood is watch a favorite Christmas movie.

In the past 20 years or so there have been a number of Christmas-themed movies that have appeared on the big screen. Some of them have been amusing, while others have been just plain obnoxious. “Home Alone” was a big hit in the early 1990s. My kids liked it, too. But I was not a big fan. I just thought the Macauley Culkin character was a sanctimonious brat. I guess you have to buy into the fact that is not a big deal that an affluent family from the North Shore could forget their son as they go on vacation in Paris for the holidays.

Hey, there was even a “Home Alone 2” and more sequels. The family again goes on vacation, this time in Florida while Culkin somehow ends up in New York. Someone call DCFS on these negligent parents.

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” had its moments. “Bad Santa”: became a moderate hit when it was released in 2003 and later became a cult classic. It was amusing due to its outrageous plot. Billy Bob Thornton’s foul-mouthed Santa may not be for everyone but I found it be funny. And the late John Ritter and the late Bernie Mac were never better.

In terms of humor, I though the concept of “Elf” was brilliant. Will Ferrell can be a little grating sometimes but he was perfect as the large elf. He played the character with boyish innocence. Bob Newhart as Papa Elf was also hilarious. Like “The Polar Express” from 2004, these films work because of faith and believing, two themes that are associated with Christmas.

I really enjoyed The Polar Express although it was the source of controversy at the time it was released. Some parents brought their young children who were afraid of some of the scenes in the movie. Director Robert Zemeckis and co-producer Tom Hanks responded that sometimes life is a little scary for little kids. The anticipation and the doubts raised by growing children is part of the wonder of Christmas

What I liked about the film is the animation that resembled paintings right out of the 1950s. Santa, portrayed by Hanks, is initially intimidating and not openly jolly. But he proves to be wise and teaches a youngster the power of Christmas with a little bell.

I knew Zemeckis grew up in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, just like I did. Some subtle imagery of Chicago can be seen in the movie but the one part I picked up on right away is the conductor indicating that they have to stop for one more passenger on their magical train ride. He continually mentions the destination as “11344 Edbrooke,” which I knew was a street in Roseland, near Palmer Park. I figured that Zemeckis grew up at 11344 S. Edbrooke and he inserted it in the film. I read later that was the case.

The best Christmas movies are the ones where the main character either believes despite the odds or has a change of heart towards life. That is why I enjoy “A Christmas Carol” written by Charles Dickens and brought to the screen many times. I suppose everyone has their favorite version. My favorite is the 1951 British film starring Alaistair Sims, who I think was the greatest Scrooge. He is initially evil and distant until his redemption through the three spirits. He is energetic and funny at the conclusion. This is a great film.

If I had to pick a favorite I would have to go with “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The movie was not successful when it was released in 1946. Director Frank Capra did not want to promote it as a Christmas movie. Maybe that was a mistake. The copyright of the movie elapsed in the 1970s and stations all over the country began to show it during the late hours. I think the first time I saw the movie was in the early 1970s. The movie was shown in August and began at about midnight.

I asked my dad about it the next day and he said he never heard of it. Now most of us know the story of hard-luck George Bailey, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, who finds out through a misfit angel that his life means so much to his friends and relatives. Clarence the angel was right. A man is not a failure who has friends.

Those are the films that have the most impact with me. Some other great holiday films from the late 1940s were “The Miracle on 34th Street,” starring a young Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara, and “The Bishop’s Wife” starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. Bob Hope’s “The Lemon Drop Kid” in 1951 included the first time “Silver Bells” was sung in a movie.

Many of you have your own personal favorites that are not covered here. Hopefully, you will watch them this weekend. Enjoy your favorite holiday movies and songs and have a Merry Christmas.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

I’m learning to embrace Christmas chaos

  • Written by Claudia Parker


You know that feeling of panic you get when what you thought “could” go wrong suddenly does? Yeah, that was me at my 6-year-old daughter Rhonda-Rene’s very first school Christmas concert. She sang along as best she could for being non-verbal. She loves music and can harmonize with the rest of us non-singing Parkers to just about any tune on the radio. I knew she’d enjoy the music, but I worried about her ability to contain her movement on stage.

Rhonda-Rene is not autistic. However, she has several autistic characteristics. One of them is a sensory processing disorder, which causes continuous movement.

I was seated in the front row, snapping away through the lens of my Nikon. “Oh boy, aw geez,” I nervously stated while squirming in my chair. Within the course of the kindergartners two-song selections, Rhonda-Rene had hiked up her Santa dress to reposition her tights and dropped her gum on the riser below, of which she bent down, picked up, and popped back into her mouth. At one point, she took a short stroll, bobbing in and around the other kids, who didn’t seem fazed because they continued right along singing. When “Jingle Bells” began, that was it! Rhonda-Rene went into a full blown bunny-hop and once that settled, she started dancing like she had just received the Holy Ghost.

I sunk down into my seat, worrying over the ruckus she was causing when a lady sitting behind me touched my shoulder and whispered, “She’s making this the best Christmas show ever!” That was nice of her to say, but I didn’t see it that way. I was thinking, “People that don’t know she has special needs probably think I’m raising one of the Herdmans.”

If you haven’t heard of the Herdmans, then you may not be familiar with the classic tale, ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” It originated as a book written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. It tells the story of Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys. These six delinquent Herdman children were always engaged in some kind of misfit behavior. They go to church for the first time after being told that the church offers snacks. Despite protests from other church members, they are given roles in the Sunday school's Christmas play. The book was adapted to a play in 1982 and into a movie in 1983. Coincidentally, my 9-year-old daughter, Donae, couldn’t attend Rhonda-Rene’s performance because she was rehearsing for her role in ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ at the Beverly Art Center (BAC).

Donae’s been acting since the age of 5.She’s had several leading roles in student productions but this was her first time being in a professional series. Shellee Frazee is the artistic director at the BAC. She said, “I was very impressed when I saw Donae as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, I’m very happy to have her in this cast.”

The rehearsal schedule for a professional play proved to be far more demanding than Donae’s previous production schedules. She began rehearsing in October and spent 12 to 15 hours a day, four days a week being immersed into becoming her character, Ollie Herdman. The show ran from Dec. 9 to Dec. 18 with a total of six performances. I had a ticket every night and each time I saw her up there being a sassy-mouth Herdman talking out of turn, dancing off mark and causing a disruption to her peers, I swelled with pride. And, on occasion, a tear or two slipped down my cheek.

Both of my girls performed to the best of their abilities in their Christmas productions this season and I’m proud of both of them. We aren’t a perfect family. There are many days where we don’t have it all together. But, as the saying goes, “Together we have it all!”

You can prepare the “perfect” family gathering only to have someone in your family flip everything upside down. Remind yourself that the true meaning of Christmas is to pause and celebrate that Jesus was born. He was sent to fulfill the divine will of God to undo the damage that was caused by the fall of Adam and Eve. Because of Jesus, those that choose to believe will have eternal life in Heaven.

Let’s choose to focus less on how we think the day should go and turn our attention to ways we can bring happiness to someone else. I’ll bet if we let go of our expectations for things to go perfectly, we will have the best Christmas day ever!

A big thanks to all of my loyal readers. I appreciate every one of you that I bump into within the community. I’m wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I can’t wait to share the things yet to unfold in 2017!

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .    

Christmas tree and wreath are packaged with some joyful humor

  • Written by Janet Boudreau

With Christmas just over a week away, I'm feeling the magic. I'm grateful for that because sometimes circumstances make it elusive. A few years ago, just as we became empty nesters, my husband had the nerve to need major surgery the week before the big Ho, Ho, Ho. I had been missing the days of searching out the most perfect Christmas tree with the kids and now I didn't even have my hubby to steer me away from the scraggliest tree on the lot.

I planned to go to our favorite place of all, Fasel & Sons Nursery in Oak Lawn. We had always made it our place for Christmas trees, plants and flowers, and big 'ol pumpkins in the fall. So, early one evening, while my guy was comfortable in bed and happily medicated I might add, I set off alone.

Feeling a little melancholy, I walked down the paths surrounded by trees of all shapes and sizes, the Christmas music wafting through the air. I stopped to admire one when a tall young man in a red velvet hat appeared. I gestured to the tree. "Oh," he said. "Fir Elton John?" I thought I heard him incorrectly. I looked around a bit helplessly and backed into..."Douglas Firbanks, Jr!" Santa's elf was beaming from his seven-foot head to his toes. "Or would you prefer something different?" He turned and gestured, "Meet Spruce Springsteen!"

I quickly settled on Fir Elton John and while the elf made himself busy writing up the sales ticket, I walked toward the beckoning warmth of the store and stopped to look at the array of wreaths decorated with ribbons and pine cones. "And that would be Wreatha Franklin," a voice behind me said. I didn't have to turn around to know who it was. And it was then that I noticed the ears poking out from under his cap...they were baby pink and pointed. I gasped, but he didn't seem to notice. I pointed to my car and went inside to pay.

A few customers milled about and the employees, wearing the same red and white caps, looked decidedly normal. I did a quick check of their ears. At the counter I told the sales girl that a big helper had written down my order. "Well," the sales girl said. "You have a Douglas fir and a decorated wreath." She asked an employee to tie the tree to the roof of my car.

"Oh, no!" I said. "There is a nice, er... man out there helping me. He sold me a Fir Elton John and a Wreatha Franklin, and is taking care of it already." The sales girl started laughing. She repeated it to the girl at the next register and she started laughing along with the customers in line. I was feeling pretty merry by then, garnering all that attention and all. I handed my ticket over. "See!"

The girl finished ringing up my purchases and said "I'm sorry Miss, we have only one person working outdoors this evening and...oh! There he is now with your tree." I looked around. No sign of a seven-foot elf. It was just a nice guy and not very tall, ready to help me out. I quietly said to him, "Yes. That's Fir Elton John. He's mine." I heard someone say under their breath, "And I'm the Prince of Wales."

I got in my car and looked back at all the trees and the lights, sparkling like a lit up forest, an enchanted forest if you will. Then I caught sight of something bobbing in and amongst them, the tip of a red and white cap over the top of the trees. And then a pink face with pointed ears poked out and with a wave of his hand I heard, "Have a magical Christmas!" And we did!

Fasel & Sons Nursery has been in business since 1963 and they really do name their trees. I can't take credit for these hysterically funny ones here but I can assure you there is more this holiday season! They are located at 10841 S. Cicero Ave., Oak Lawn.

Janet Boudreau is a writer, lifestyle blogger and longtime resident of Evergreen Park. When she is not busy chasing around elves with pink ears she enjoys cooking, gardening, decorating and Hallmark movies. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Pearl Harbor’s impact is still felt 75 years later

  • Written by Joe Boyle

In many ways, it was just a typical December day in the Chicago area. My dad, Frank Boyle, told me that he was lying on the floor with a pillow positioned behind his head. He was listening to a radio broadcast of an encounter between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals.

But at about 1:30 p.m., the game was interrupted by a bulletin. Reports had confirmed that the U.S naval fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii was hit with a surprise attack by the Japanese.

My father listened intently to the reports that did not have all the details as of yet. The football game later resumed and my dad knew exactly what he was going to be doing very soon -- he was going to war.

My father was right. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Japan the following day. Roosevelt told Congress the next afternoon that Dec, 7, 1941 is “a date which will live in infamy.”

This nation has been shaken by surprise attacks, random acts of violence, and numerous natural disasters. Shootings at grade schools, high schools, colleges and universities have become too common the past 16 years.

So, to a degree, it is understandable that many younger Americans are unaware of the impact the invasion of Pearl Harbor had on our country. On one hand, the day was no different than any other at this time of the year. The temperatures were in the mid-20s and reached an afternoon high of 38 on Dec. 7, 1941. The temperatures reached a morning low of 31 and a high of 38 degrees on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor this year.

But when my father and millions of other Americans heard the radio bulletin about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, everything changed. My father was typical of that generation. He couldn’t wait to sign up to defend his country. But he still had to finish high school. Many other American teens did not wait, dropping out of school and signing up.

I imagine many of them felt the U.S. would defeat Japan quickly while bringing down Hitler as well. It was a different time. When the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center fell to the ground in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the nation and the world was stunned. Many of us saw it live on TV. Terrorists took over two planes and intentionally crashed them into the structures. We were also aware of the tragedies near Shanksville, Pa. and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. by the end of that morning, also the work of terrorists taking over planes. In all, 2,977 people were killed.

No one had televisions in 1941. My father could not have turned on a TV to watch wall-to-wall cable news shows for updates. Many people who lived in my dad’s Englewood neighborhood in Chicago had to wait until the evening editions of daily newspapers for further news on the invasion.

They had no Twitter or Facebook. The attack on Pearl Harbor took place at about 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time. My father and millions of other Americans found out about this attack later on.

But this much we do know about Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona was completely destroyed and the Oklahoma was capsized. More than 2,400 people were killed and over 1,000 more were injured. The attack lasted just under two hours. Twenty American ships were damaged. Most of those fatalities and injuries were from the USS Arizona.

Dec. 7, 2016 was the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. While we have dealt with more tragedies in this new century in the U.S. and throughout the world, the Pearl Harbor attack is still shocking. This was the first time this young, vibrant nation, which was just shaking off the effects of the Great Depression, was attacked. Hawaii was an American territory at the time. Americans now had legitimate fears that the mainland could be next.

My father told me several stories about his time spent in World War II. He joined the Marine Corps and served in Okinawa, an island 350 miles south of mainland Japan. He did not elaborate much about his time being a gunner for the Marine Corps. Someone once asked him if he ever killed anyone. He was quiet for a moment and the said he did not know because he was far away.

With the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor invasion, memories of my father are still with me. The numbers of Americans who can recall that day are dwindling. But as a nation, we can’t forget. The lessons of Pearl Harbor are that freedom cannot be taken for granted.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Speaker encourages women to overcome abuse and despair

  • Written by Claudia Parker


Constance (Connie) Hurtado, of Romeoville, has survived domestic abuse, cancer and the death of her 2-day-old, first-born daughter, Yasmine. Managing pain produced by that level of trauma usually requires a written prescription from a licensed medical professional, but the antidote that’s been placed into Connie’s palm isn’t a pill, it’s a microphone.  

I was at a business writing conference at the Hilton in Oak Lawn when I first learned about Connie. The SkillPath facilitator, Dr. Mike Searcy, and I found ourselves swallowed by an empty conference room with a shared concept for brown-bagging our lunch. The other conference participants had chosen to go elsewhere.

An awkward silence fell as he and I began to compete for the opportunity to share our ideas and thoughts on life. During that exchange, he played a brief video clip of his mentor, Connie, speaking during a rotary club meeting. Just watching the first few minutes was enough to reel me in.

“Can you get me her information? I want the details of this story,” I said.

Connie led me back to when she was a 21-year-old self-proclaimed hothead that rebelled against the rules of her family household. “I got kicked out of the house so I moved in with a boyfriend,” said Connie. “He was taking care of me. Things started off so well. He was so kind and helpful.”

Within six months, things took a turn for the worst.

“I was a waitress; I needed to be friendly with everyone to make tips,” explained Connie. “He felt threatened and started being very insecure. That’s when the abuse began. The first time he attacked me it felt like it went on for a lifetime. I had neighbors, I screamed for help. Either they didn’t hear me or they didn’t care because nobody came.”

To her own admission, Connie didn’t confide in her family because she had too much pride.

“I was ashamed to let them know they were right about my poor choices.” It took a village of friends and co-workers to help her breakaway from her abuser, she said.

A couple of years later, now in a new relationship, Connie said she received the shock of her life during a routine appointment with her gynecologist.

“They told me I had cervical cancer.” She elaborated. “I had to have surgery to remove a portion of my cervix. I was told it wouldn’t reduce my chances of conceiving, but it could affect my ability to carry a baby to term.”

One year post surgery, Connie and her boyfriend anticipated the arrival of their baby girl, Yasmine. She was born three months premature and suffered severe medical complications.

Connie recalled the two days Yasmine lived. “I gave her a bath, her first feeding and cradled her in my arms until she breathed her last breath.”

She said she was bitter for a long time.

“I wasn’t advised to fight for my daughter. I didn’t know what to do, I was young. The doctor and the counselor told me she wouldn’t live or if she did, she’d have a poor quality of life. They pressured me hard to let her go.”

The pain of losing Yasmine put a strain on Connie’s relationship and shortly thereafter she found herself single again, but it wasn’t for long. She met Jesus Hurtado in 2007 and they married in 2011. Jesus and Connie have since given birth to three healthy children. Junior is 9, Jasmine is 5, and Vanessa is 3 years old.

“I married an amazing man,” Connie said. “Jesus adores me and the kids. He makes me feel treasured.”        

Connie said she’s found great liberation and freedom in sharing her story.

“The first time I shared I'd experienced domestic abuse, I was just offering a shoulder to a friend. I could sense she was having problems with her boyfriend. She didn’t want to tell me what was going on until I began to tell her what had happened to me. Once she knew I could relate, she began to trust me. After that, I knew I had to share my story with the world. Even if it only means saving a couple of people, it’s worth everything.”

Connie completed the John C. Maxwell leadership training program in August and is now booking speaking engagements in various places around the Chicago area.

“I want people to know that everyone suffers feelings of defeatism in life, but it doesn’t mean you have to live defeated. You can choose the kind of life you want. All that’s needed is a little bit of guidance and self-understanding. Right now can be a new beginning to the life you want. Where you are now is not where you have to end. You can take you where you want to go.”

To learn more about Connie, visit

The National Domestic Abuse hotline is (800) 799- 7233. The advocates are available 24/7 in over 170 languages.

For those seeking assistance handling the loss of a child, the Advocate Family Care Network may be a valuable resource. Visit

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter.