Sunday, November 07, 2010

Weekend in Connecticut

I had the privilege of being invited to attend a gathering at the home of a friend who is writing and producing a musical for my friend Eric Kunze. It was a small gathering of cast and her local friends at her 1700's home in Wethersfield, Connecticut, a delightful and historic town. It was whirlwind trip: In on Friday, back on Saturday night. But a lot was packed into it.

I was able to tour the Mark Twain house in Hartford and learned some really interesting things about him, one of which was the origin of his name. In his early years he was a steamboat captain. "Mark Twain" meant safe water - 12 feet above the lead, two leather strips are woven in. Another thing struck me. Over the fireplace in the great room was a plaque with this quotation attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it." I'm going to adopt that as my favorite quotation of the month!

In addition to the party, I was able to tour the town and take some photos.
(Click on the photo above to be linked to a large screen slideshow)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Palm Springs Hideaway and Las Vegas at the Vdara & Encore

Palm Springs
I have always loved renting a home on vacation.  We love the privacy, the spaciousness, the ability to shop locally and prepare our own meals if we want to.  This year, we chose Palm Springs because of the climate, the history and the mid-century modern architecture. October is the ideal time to visit because it is not as oppressively hot as it can be in summer.

This trip had so many facets and I took so many photos, in order to make it easier to follow I am going to break up this posting into sections with separate slideshows for each one. 

When we arrived by rental car from Las Vegas late Saturday night our vacation home was lit up and waiting for us.  The carport led us through a lovely little path to the front door.  I immediately saw a plaque:  "Peace to all who enter here" and it couldn't have been more prophetic.  The first thing we saw when we opened the door was the wall of sliding glass doors revealing the patio area and a beautiful blue lit-up pool shimmering in the moonlight.  I resolved to use the pool that very night before bedtime.  On the side of the house was another sliding glass door that led from the bedroom out to another seating area and the hot tub.   We could tell already this was going to be a great week!  Best of all, the entire yard was surrounded by 12 foot hedges and totally private.

As so many homes in the area this home was built in the late 50's by the Alexander architectural firm and utilizing many design elements from William Krisel.  Those included beamed tongue and groove ceiling, a carport,  a courtyard between the open carport and house, a butterfly roofline and interesting indoor/outdoor relationships.  The interior is decorated with vintage retro pieces throughout, in keeping with the 50's aethetic. 

To rent this beautiful vacation home, click HERE.

I took pictures of everything in the house so I could remember every detail.  Click on the picture to be directed to a full screen slideshow:

In order to get a sense of the history of the area I went on a tour of the homes in Palm Springs with PS Modern Tours, which I found online.  The gentleman leading the tour was Robert Imber, who is actively involved in the historical preservation of Palm Springs and who, I am sure, could keep us entertained with stories for weeks on end.  There were a small group of us on his van tour, with Robert talking as he was driving and cramming in as much information as he possibly could in the three hours.  

He explained that Palm Springs was settled by the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla indians, (whose name literally means "hot water".)  People used to come here for cures, long before the area became the celebrity mecca of the middle of the century.  The city went through many incarnations, from agriculture in the early years, to a military town in the early thirties during the war, to the mid-40's to 1970 boom.  In the 70's it lost it's cache and was forgotten until GQ, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker started publishing articles and photos of the city with its fascinating architecture and suddenly it was rediscovered and became fashionable again.  Robert told us of many of the most prolific and famous architects, including the Alexander family (who tragically died in a plane crash, which ended their empire).  They included the aforementioned William Krisel, John Porter Clark, Buff and Hensman, A. Quincy Jones, Swiss architect Albert Frey, Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright), among others.

He drove us through many of the city's neighborhoods:  Little Tuscany, Old Las Palmas (with its very private estates), Canyon Estates (the site of Palm Springs first golf course), The Mesa (home to the late Sonny Bono, and Suzanne Somers),  Twin Palms (which was the Alexander's first neighborhood and where the sale of each house included the front landscaping, including two palm trees).  Palm Springs boasted many famous Hollywood and other celebrities who had homes there and still do, including Kirk Douglas, the Gabors, Dinah Shore, Elizabeth Taylor, Hepburn and Tracy, Lawrence Olivier, Lilly Tomlin, Liberace, Gable and Lombard.  Elvis and Pricilla Presley spent their honeymoon in the arguably most famous house of all, aptly named, "Honeymoon Hideaway".  High up on a hill overlooking the city was Bob Hope's 17,000 foot mansion, whose architect was the famed John Lautner.  These are photos from the modernism tour:

Another day we visited the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, the world's largest rotating Tramcar (built in Switzerland) which ascends 2-1/2 miles to the peak of Mt. San Jacinto.  We could see that the peak was enshrouded in clouds, but we decided to take the ride anyway.  We could see the surrounding area clearly from the tram almost all the way up to the top.  The difference between the arid desert from which we began our drive to the pine covered, dewy peak was dramatic.  The temperature can drop 40 degrees in the course of the 10 minute ride.  There is a restaurant at the top where we would have had lunch if the weather had permitted.  Another time I would like to return to do some hiking at the peak as well.

One of the most beautiful hiking sites in the area is Indian Canyons, so named for the Agua Caliente tribe of Cahuilla Indians which settled the area centuries ago.  There are numerous hiking trails, with signs warning of rattlesnakes (which I found about later, after I had been on a rather extensive solo hike!)  The huge boulders precariously and delicately perched upon one another reminded me a little of Virgin Gorda.  We drove our car through two of them that looked like they would fall over any minute.  Down a steep trail I found myself in a cool grotto of palm trees (aptly named Palm Canyon).  It was what I imagined finding a real oasis in the hot desert would be like.  Other hikes would bring you to a 60 foot waterfall (which was not running at the time we were there.)  At the trading post I had a wonderful time photographing my favorite bird: the hummingbird.  Their feeders were teeming with them and they were not afraid of me.

Palm Springs is reputed to only get three days of rain a year.  Wouldn't you know it, we were here for all three of them!  There was a record rainfall on one of the days which occurred while we were driving.  It actually made national news.

During our week in Palm Springs, thanks to the suggestions of our local friend, we visited several restaurants: El Mirasol for authentic Mexican; Spencers, a beautiful place for Sunday brunch with a fantastic outdoor eating space; Cheeky's, another good breakfast spot; and we had drinks poolside at the Colony Palms Hotel, which has been restored to it's former Hollywood heyday glory. Other activities included a visit to the Art Museum where we enjoyed a special exhibition by Richard Avedon and the Thursday night Villagefest in downtown, a street fair with artist's booth and food tents. I wish we had not eaten first, because one of the food tents was serving freshly made paella for a pittance! There were also food tents from local date farms. If you have not tasted a fresh date, you are in for a treat.

Las Vegas

On Saturday, we sadly took our leave of our wonderful Palm Springs hideaway and took the long drive back to Las Vegas.  Check-in at Vdara (an all-suite hotel that was originally built for condos) was quick and seamless.  This is one of the newest hotels, located in the City Center area, adjacent to the Aria.  I had signed up for promotional emails at all the hotels I was interested in, and as the offers came pouring in, I kept upgrading to the best offer.  What I ended up with at Vdara was $119 a night with a free flight back to Vegas in the next year.  The room was state of the art, which began at the front door where all you had to do was wave your plastic card room key in front of the door for it to unlock.  Inside were electronic controls that opened and closed the drapes and night shades, tuned on and off all the lights and a control panel at the door which let the maid know if you wanted the room made up or wanted privacy.

I loved the decor of this hotel.  Simple, modern, urban chic and minimalistic in muted colors.  The living room had a flat screen TV, couch, chairs, coffee table and desk. On the other side of the partition was the huge king bed, plush with triple sheeting, six pillows and another flat screen TV.  The bathroom had a separate water closet, glass enclosed shower and a deep soaking tub.   

Our first order of business was getting something to eat. The city center tram was just outside the door and up the stairs from Vdara and the first stop was Crystals, a shopping and dining mall. We opted for Todd English P.U.B. and we were so happy with our choice. I had my first ever lobster roll, with big chunks of lobster lightly dressed in mayo on a split buttered and toasted bun. I am dreaming about it still.

Georg is a big fan of TV's "Pawn Stars", a show about a Las Vegas pawn shop where people bring their unusual items to be sold.  He wanted to visit the actual store while we were there, so we drove to the Silver and Gold Pawn Shop, about twenty minutes from our hotel.  None of the principals were in the store that day, but there were a lot of curious tourists there.  In the parking was a car decorated with "Just Married" and a big limo from the Venetian Hotel.  Inside, Georg recognized many of the items he had seen on some of the episodes on television. 

In the evening we had tickets to see "Jersey Boys", a show about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I had heard so much about it but had never seen it. It was as good as had been reported to me. Our eyes were glued to the stage the whole performance. One of Eric's high school friends, Deven May, played one of the leads and he and the rest of the cast were just superb. The music rang in our ears the rest of the night.   We topped off the evening with a late supper at Julian Serrano, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  The decor and the food were absolutely over the top.  Another meal I am still dreaming about!  Georg had the lobster gazpacho, I had the ahi tuna tempura, the brava potatoes and the mushroom risotto (blush).  Of course, I shared with him!!! Each was wonderful.  I would return to Vegas just to revisit this restaurant.

After two days at Vdara, we made a move to Encore at the Wynn Hotel.  We had a great email offer from them, so I decided we would spend our last two nights here.  Again, it was $119 a night with two free admissions to the famous Wynn buffet ($80 value).  The Wynn/Encore properties are much more opulent and garish in design than the minimalistic elegance of Vdara.  Both had state of the art electronics in the room, both had hi-def flat screen tv's and separate bedroom and living room areas.  The difference was the casino and more restaurant options at Encore.  Both were equally nice and the beds were extremely comfortable, which made for a very cozy sleep, especially with the room darkening shades.  The swimming pool area at the Wynn is definitely more beautiful, with many different pool areas.  Unfortunately the weather was not conducive to spending time at the pool, so we will have to save that experience for next time. 

Our last night in Vegas we opted for Le Reve at the Wynn.  It is a Cirque du Soleil production which, like "O" at the Bellagio,  has a pool on the stage and the actors perform in and above the water.  The performers do some of the most death defying stunts I have ever seen, in a surreal, sensory overloaded, otherworldly setting.  I couldn't take photos during the production, but I was able to get some of the stage area before and afterward.  It was a lovely way for us to spend our last night on vacation.  After the show our last dinner was at Wazuzu, an Asian restaurant in Encore.  Typical of a Wynn property, it was opulent in design, with a huge white sparkling dragon on the back wall.  We enjoyed a light meal of sushi before spending a little time in the casino and heading up to our room for our last night of luxury. 

Finally, if you really are a glutton for punishment,  here is a link to all the photos I took on this trip. 

Sunday, August 01, 2010

"The Impossible Dream"

This is my sixth year heading the annual fundraiser for Abigayle Ministries. Each year, the smallest germ of an idea comes to me and the Lord develops it throughout the year into a theme. The themes have been fun to develop: one year was a cruise theme, then a black and white theme, aka Phantom of the Opera, a garden party, New York-New York, The Sound of Music. The words that came to me for this year's banquet were "The Impossible Dream". That fit the history of Abigayle, which was started literally as an impossible dream eleven years ago in the minds of the founders, Bill and Gloria Gross. Their burden to help pregnant women with troubled lives has blossomed into a full fledged ministry that grows each year.

Since "The Impossible Dream" song comes from Man of La Mancha, set in Spain, we used that as a decorating scheme. The tables were set with black napkins and red flowers. Jeff Wolf did a fantastic ice sculpture using a guitar with flowers embedded in it. We had a guitar player, Rick Matle play during the silent auction time. Rennie Kaufmann, our MC and entertainment serenaded us with Spanish songs. He sang "Dulcinea" and the "Impossible Dream". Tom and Sally Zito had created a fantastic DVD presentation, chronicling the story of a young woman thanking her mother for not aborting her because of her troubled pregnancy. It had us all in tears.

I already have an idea for next year's banquet. It came to me even before this banquet took place, the earliest ever. And I think it's going to be the best one yet!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Baby Steps: St. Louis

It's been two months since Georg's triple bypass and our first attempt at a little getaway.  I don't think either of us realized how much we needed to get away from the "sick room" atmosphere of our home and into a whole other world.  We decided to try a long weekend in St. Louis, a short one hour flight from home.  The occasion was "Damn Yankees",  starring Eric Kunze,  at the Muny, the nation's largest outdoor theater.

Right off the bat, we were blessed with a flawless flight, landing, car rental and easy drive to our hotel, the Chase Park Plaza.  First we stopped at Straub's, a great little gourmet grocery store right next door to the Chase, for staples.  Then, Georg waited in the car while I went inside the hotel to register.  I wasn't in the lobby three minutes, when who should appear before me but Eric himself!  We were both amazed to run into each other and enjoyed a chat while I waited my turn in line.  As he went on his way, Eric said, "Hope you get a nice room" with a smile.  I jokingly said to the hotel clerk, "my friend Eric Kunze said you should give me a nice room."  She laughed and said she'd see what she could do. 

Back at the car, we unloaded our luggage and took the elevator to the 8th floor.  To my amazement, our room was what I estimated to be an 800 square foot suite!  We had a dining room area, living room area, writing desk,  bedroom and bathroom and two flat screen TV's.  I immediately started to formulate an idea.  I had made arrangements for a fan club dinner for Saturday night in the Wine Room at the Chase.  But our suite was so big we could have the party there, and that is exactly what ended up happening. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon resting.  I was planning to go to the Muny each evening, while Georg was only planning to go one night.  The only downside to the trip was the intense heat and humidity, not unusual for St. Louis this time of year.  Last year we were lucky and it was unseasonably cool.  Georg would go with me on a cooler evening.  We did venture out for dinner at Brasserie, a french bistro in the Central West End near the hotel.  Beth and her mother Robert were meeting us there, as was Sherry.  Beth has been in the Muny orchestra for many years and has played most of the shows Eric has been in there.  Sherry has been a fan of Eric's for more than 10 years and has seen every performance of his in that time.

Despite the heat, once the show started my mind was completely on what was happening on the stage.  I had seen the 1958 film with Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston and Tab Hunter, and didn't like it at all.  I was hoping the stage production would be better and to my joy, it was!  It was fun to see Eric in a lighthearted romp and a relief not to see him beaten, chained or hung from a cross.  In addition to his knack for comedy, he exhibited excellent dance moves (they used the original Bob Fosse choreography) and was able to sing some beautiful moving ballads, showcasing his rich voice.  At the stage door afterward we talked with Eric a bit and went back to the Chase for a glass of wine at the pool, where we cooincidentally just happed to be sitting next to Angie (Lola), Lewis (Applegate) and Leslie (Gloria), Eric's co-stars in the show.  At another table were some of the ensemble as well.

The next morning Georg and I decided to explore a little of the famed Missouri wine region.  St. Genevieve had been recommended to me and after a bit of online research I found a winery where we could also have a nice al fresco lunch.  We got off to a rocky start because upon getting to our rental car in the parking garage the battery was dead.  Apparently I had left the lights on the night before.  I'd gotten out of the habit of thinking about that, since my car at home turns the lights on and off automatically!  A call to the rental car agency proved unhelpful.  They could send someone out for $40.  My own auto insurance would likely result in a long wait.  Georg suggested we ask the hotel, and, sure enough a valet had jumper cables and had us on the road in fifteen minutes. 

A pleasant drive through the cornfields and green valleys of the rolling Missouri countryside ensued.  An hour and a half later we found ourself at Chaumette Winery, near St. Genevieve.  A long driveway along the vineyards led to a hill with a small charming chapel and the restaurant housed in the winery.  I could see how this could be a perfect place for a wedding.  Inside, the tasting bar had a huge wall mural depicting the history of the Chaumette name.  We were seated outside on the veranda overlooking the vineyards and farmhouse.  The menu looked promising.  The meat and vegetables were locally raised.  My eyes fell on eggplant fries, sprinkled with parmesan and served with a sour cream, horseradish and lemon zest dipping sauce and my diet went out the window.   I am dreaming about them as I write this.  Our entrees consisted of locally raised beef brisket sandwich with cheddar cheese (for me), croque monsieur and fries (for Georg). We each tried different red wines to go with our lunch.  He preferred the very dry 2007 Norton reserve, which literally puckered my lips, while I opted for the semi-dry 2009 Chambourcin.  Alas, we were too full to sample the mouth watering desserts. 

We adjourned to the beautiful oak bar for our wine tasting.  Our host was amusing and accomodating, explaining each wine to us.  On his advice we chose a bottle of the 2009 Estate Chardonel to give to Eric after the show that evening.  We were on our way back to the hotel, but decided to stop at a second winery for point of comparison, Crown Valley Winery.  There was quite a difference between the two.  Where Chaumette was small, personal, friendly and family run, this one seemed cold and industrial by comparison.  The gleaming stainless steel tanks occupied the majority of the space and the wine was being served by a young girl who hardly engaged her guests.  I was extremely thirsty and would have liked some cold water between sips of wine, but I had to purchase bottled water from the vending machine.  I was sorry we had taken the time to stop and we didn't purchase anything there. 

This was going to be the coolest day/night of the weekend and Georg decided he would attend the show that night.  We were met at the theater by Sherry and two other fans who had flown in from Minnesota to see Eric, Donna and Terri.  All of us met again at the stage door for our meet and greet with Eric.  He was surprised and happy with our choice of wine for him. 

The day of the fanclub dinner had arrived and I spent the morning buying drinks and snacks and preparing the room for our guests at 5:00.  I had all kinds of "Damn Yankees" souvenirs and favors arranged in a little shrine on the drink buffet.  There was a poster of the original Broadway show that Eric starred in with Jerry Lewis, with all the cast's signatures, an original Playbill from that show in 1993.  I had made up baseball cards with Eric's photo and "stats" on the back.  I had gotten a "Damn Yankees"cap, a New York Yankees t-shirt with "Joe Hardy"and "33" on the back and a baseball which all the gals kissed with red lipstick and signed.  (Georg declined - haha).  Everyone had chipped in on the gifts.  Before I knew it, the first guests started to arrive and, before I even thought to look for him, Eric appeared in the room.   I was so grateful we had this private space where everyone could mingle in a quiet setting.  Everyone had a chance to have their own little time with him and we were all relaxed and happy.  Of course, he loved his gifts and "shrine".  After he left to go to his room to get ready we realized none of us had thought to order food from room service and we didn't care.  The munchies became our dinner.   We carpooled to the theater and continued the party until afterward when we made our goodbyes at the stage door.  Jeannine had flown in from New Jersey and was leaving the next morning, as were Donna and Terri.  Leslie was local and so were Sherry and Beth.  So many of us have formed fast friendships, cemented by our common interest in Eric.

Sunday was a day for sleeping in.  Our only ambition was to go out for a nice dinner.  My exhaustive research had led me to a place called Terrene, on Sarah Street.  What attracted me was the fresh, organic foods presented on the menu.  It was a bit off the beaten track, in a semi-industrial, somewhat deserted neighborhood.  We were the first diners and were seated in an empty restaurant.  That gave me plenty of time to examine the space, which I fell in love with instantly.  It was not extravagently decorated, but it was very tastefully minimalistic, which is right up my alley.  A long, narrow mural dominated one wall against which were tables for two.  On the other side were tall windows which allowed the natural light to come in.  Sadly, the view was of an empty warehouse, but the elegant window treatments made you forget that.  Every detail was interesting to me, from the hanging lights to the salt/pepper grinder on the table.  In fact I wanted to purchase one of those pepper grinders and they promised to send me one when they got in their shipment.  It was too hot to sit outside that day, but they have a delightful outdoor eating area which actually seats more people than inside.  We started with the flash fried calamari, followed by lamb pot roast with yukon gold mashed potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms, and split a local fruit cobbler with vanilla beach ice cream.  Once again, I was extremely pleased with our choice of restaurant.

I had one more night to attend the theater.  This would be my fourth time seeing "Damn Yankees" and I could have sat through many more performances.   All summer long, one show is being rehearsed during the day, while another is shown at night.   Sunday rehearsals are held from midnight until 4am with the cast not experiencing their first dress rehearsal with the entire set in place until the day of the first show.  It's a shame these shows only run for a week at a time.  My opinion is that it was a production worthy of being seen on Broadway.  The cast and entire ensemble were incredibly talented.   Often, because it is a St. Louis institution,  the Muny fills the stage with extraneous teens and kids because it's an opportunity and experience for them, not to mention it fills some of the 11,000 seats with friends and family.  But there was very little that was extraneous in this show.  It was tight and professional.   There was a celebratory atmosphere at the stage door as the cast exited and accepted their applause and congratulations.  We sadly made our goodbyes with Eric.  He was wearing the Yankees t-shirt I had given him.  Back at home now, I can only dream about next time, whenever that will be.  I couldn't be happier about how everything went and grateful that this first baby step (actually a giant leap) for Georg was successful.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Change in Direction

One month ago, I envisioned my life to be quite different from what it is at the moment. It has taken me awhile to even try to put into words all the emotions that have been swirling around in me in the last few weeks. Shock, fear, sorrow, anger, relief, love, acceptance and, finally, peace, has been the progression.

A half year ago I started planning our 40th anniversary vacation to the Bahamas. After copious research and discussion with Georg we settled on which island (Eleuthera) and which house to rent (appropriately enough, "Romantic Bungalow"). Money was sent, a contract was signed and flight tickets were secured. Our good friends Mike and Mary had decided to come along, which made it even better.

At the same time my dream of Broadway tenor Eric Kunze, (for whom I do a fansite and website), coming back to Detroit to perform was coming true. The last time he was here, and the first time I saw him, was two years ago in Whistle Down the Wind. He had been telling me for some time that a concert with the Detroit Symphony was in the offing and, finally, five performances were scheduled for the week of May 22nd. Coincidentally, that was his birthday and he agreed to come to the house for a birthday party in his honor. I could hardly believe that my fantasy of Eric sitting at my piano singing, with me accompanying him, was possibly going to be a reality.

(This is a portrait of Eric in "Whistle Down the Wind")

The planned party unleashed a flurry of home improvements and spruce ups. A new deck was built, touch-up painting done, new shrubs planted, flowers were potted. I pored over stacks of cookbooks to compile the perfect menu. I was making German Chocolate Cake at Eric's request. I already had his birthday present: a portrait I had a relative in Germany do of Eric in Whistle Down the Wind. Thirty of my friends had tickets to the concert on Saturday night and I had arranged a dinner beforehand at the Paradise Cafe at Orchestra hall where Eric was to make an appearance. Even Georg's mother wanted to go to hear Eric sing and I had purchased tickets to take her to a matinee for her birthday present. Fans were flying in from various states to join in the fun. All the pieces were in place for a fantastic week of guests and music.

During our home preparations Georg had been complaining of shortness of breath, symptoms I found out later he had been suffering from for some time. He decided to go to the doctor who ordered a stress test and then a chemical stress test, which precipitated a visit to a cardiologist. The specialist ordered a heart catheterization for Georg the beginning of the week of the Symphony concerts. I blithely assumed this was more or less going to be routine and preventative and when Georg was brought back to recovery quickly I assumed the diagnosis was going to be negative. To my shock the doctor told us he was going to have to do a triple bypass operation the next day.

That statement turned our world upside down. Suddenly, we no longer had thoughts of vacations or parties. Fear crept in as we contemplated the ramifications of such a serious surgery and what was to come afterward. I tried to hide my tears from my husband, because I didn't want to frighten him even more, but even he couldn't disguise his sorrow from me at the turn of events. We were fairly young to be contemplating losing one another, something I didn't think we would be dealing with for another 20 years, at least.

Sorrow gave way ever so briefly to anger at the loss of all the dreams and planning of the last months. I found myself very touchy and was easily irritated by real or imagined slights and hurts from people. But, quickly, anger passed into relief in the realization that had the situation been different, we could have been on vacation in the Bahamas and he might have had a massive heart attack, or somewhere else where skilled medical care might not have been as readily available as right here, right now. We were, after all, in a hospital which had an excellent reputation for its cardiac department and doctors. The success rate for this type of surgery was 97%, odds which were so high as to all but guarantee his recovery.

The first three days after the surgery were extremely difficult for Georg, but the doctors and nurses were very happy with his progress and assured us in a few months he would be back to normal. As I ministered to him in Georg's hospital room and then at home we grew more in love with each other than ever in the realization of what could have been lost and how much we needed one another. Now that we are home,  what surprises me more than anything else is how much we are enjoying just being quietly together. Normal life keeps you running all the time. We now have the luxury of not being able to keep a normal schedule during this recuperation time, of having to say "no" to all the invitations and activities. As a result our home has been very peaceful and quiet with occasional short visits from dear friends who stop in to bring a meal or encouragement.
Finally, we have accepted the place to which God has brought us and are taking it day by day. I am told that someday life will be back to normal, but I think our outlook on life will have been changed forever. My Pollyanna outlook has been somewhat diminished.  We do realize that life is short; that it can be taken away in an instant; that we are fallible and not invicible. We are also again reminded that the Lord's grace will carry us through the most difficult of situations and, no matter what happens, we are never alone because he is there.
I will never leave you nor forsake you. Hebrews 13:5

Monday, May 03, 2010

Beth and Maggi Playing Ani Ma'amin

The song Ani Ma'amin, is taken from a poem based upon the thirteen Jewish principles of faith, each line beginning with "I believe with perfect faith"

One version of the tune is attributed to the Reb Azriel David, a Modzitser Hasid, who reportedly composed the tune in a cattle car when being taken to Treblinka. The tune was taken up by other Jewish people who sang the song as they were being herded into the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps and later became known as the Hymn of the Camps. It is still frequently sung at Holocaust Remembrance Day services. Some also sang it at the Passover seder, in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which began on the first night of Passover in 1943.

My friend Beth, who is a violinist with the Muny orchestra in St. Louis and a new friend I met while visiting there, was very gracious to play the piece with me at our church this weekend, with Sue Hill doing the vocals. Unfortunately, the quality of the video for that performance wasn't very good, so I am including this version with just the two of us recorded in my home later that evening.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sweet Spirits

The best part about doing these little fanclub trips are the people I meet. Eric attracts the nicest fans, probably because he is so incredibly nice himself. This trip has been no exception. Two young women who saw him in Houston in Miss Saigon, Katherine and Rachel, flew to LA to see Joseph. Katherine had contacted me via the fansite and we planned to meet at the show. After the show, we were walking out together and I invited them to come to the apartment for coffee. We had a wonderful time talking and sharing our faith with each other. It was an incredible blessing. I now feel we have begun an eternal friendship.

When I first checked into the studio, I met the cleaning lady, Rosario. She was extremely friendly, cheerful and warm and we hit it off immediately. Today as I am getting ready to check out we said our goodbyes and I said "God bless you." She immediately said "are you a Christian?" to which I responded in the affirmative. That opened the floodgates of our sharing our joy in the Lord and the discovery of a new sister in Christ. We were two strangers from completely different walks of life who found a common love through Jesus Christ.

That has happened to me on every trip so far. In most cases, those friendships have lasted and we are still in close contact with one another. Many times I will get prayer requests from fans and I share requests with them as well. Beth, a violinist I met in St. Louis is going to be a guest in my home next weekend. We are going to perform together at my church. Susan from Sacramento, Sherry from St. Louis, Anita from Boston, Riki from Georgia, I could go on and on. That was certainly an unexpected lovely side effect of doing the site for Eric.

A postscript:  It is now mid-July and today I received a card in my mailbox with a Redondo Beach address.  It was a sweet note from Rosario, the cleaning lady at my rental apartment.  What a lovely surprise! 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Life is Good: Day Three

One of the things I love best about this area is the number of people you see enjoying the outdoors: jogging, walking their dogs, biking, surfing, playing volleyball.  There are two dedicated paths along the water just for that purpose, one for bicyclists and rollerbladers, the other for walkers and joggers.  Out of my window I can see surfers and volleyball games.  As a result, most people are in really good physical shape here.  It really inspires me to be more active as well.  Yesterday I spent most of the day riding one of the bikes available to the rental apartment in which I am staying.  The path extends for 20 miles in either direction.  The most fascinating thing about the path is the variety of multi-million dollar oceanfront properties, lined up next to each other, every one in their own unique architectural style.  The homes are separated from the path by just a small porch or patio area with a matchbox lawn.   They remind me of the rows luxury yachts in Cannes, where you caught just a glimpse of how the other half lives.  One elegant couple was being served dinner by their tuxedo clad butler on the deck of one of those yachts, within 20 feet of the boardwalk teeming with us ordinary folk. 

Back at the theater in the evening I had the pleasure of meeting two beautiful new friends from the fansite, Katherine and Rachel, who had traveled all the way from Houston to see Eric in Saturday night's performance of "Joseph".  We had previously communicated through email and found common interests besides Mr. Kunze.  We share a love of the Lord, music, art and architecture.  They sing at their church in Houston.  After the performance I introduced them to Eric and after chatting with him a bit, we decided to spend a little more time together.  We came back to my apartment for coffee.  Despite the difference in our ages, we had a really great time visiting with each other.  They were delightful.  That is one of the nicest perks of doing the fansite.  Eric's goodness attracts the nicest fans and I get to meet them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Life is Good: Day Two

Enjoyed a lovely day just hanging out at the apartment. Marianne and Jenny were meeting me for dinner before the theater. I was trying to find a restaurant for us that was waterfront with a nice quiet vibe. All of sudden, it came to me: my place! So they picked up food from PF Changs and we sat in the living room, enjoying the fabulous view of the beach and ocean. They were blown away by the place! If I don't stop telling people about it I may not be able to get a reservation on the next trip!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

California: Life is Good

"Life is Good". That's the logo from a store at the LAX airport. A good one to live by. Gratitude each and every day for the gift of life. It doesn't hurt that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be back in California, seeing Eric in "Joseph" yet again and staying in the cutest beachfront apartment with a 180 degree view of my beloved ocean.

When I arrived, the wind on the water was in gale-force mode. The surf was crashing. Walking on the beach meant getting sandblasted. There was a chair on the balcony in the unit above that was being blown around, producing a rhythmic thumping that was unsettling.

The first order of business was getting staples. Trader Joe's nearby, yay! Love, love, love Trader Joes. The nearest at home is half an hour away. Found some delicious French Roast decaf, brie, turkey breast eggs and shrimp spring rolls and I was happy. Back to the unit to shower and change for the theater. Doing my hair was an exercise in futility since the minute I step out the door, the gale turns me into Medusa.

At the theater, front and center, I sat next to a lovely couple who were season ticket holders and enjoyed visiting with them throughout the evening. To my delight and relief, this version of "Joseph" was G rated. The costuming was imaginative, colorful and modest. The one scene that could be (and often is) over the top, is the where Potiphar's wife tries to seduce Joseph. Even in the film, that scene is depicted as an orgy. But Ron Kellum is able to convey the story without making it uncomfortable to watch, which is reassuring to those planning to bring their young children to this production. Compared to the last show, "Miss Saigon", this is a piece of fluff, but fun nevertheless. The redemptive theme of forgiveness is presented clearly by the direction and Eric's acting ability. If I were directing this, I would establish early on the special love between Joseph and his little brother Benjamin, making the ending all the more poignant.

Back at the apartment, I kept the TV on to block out the sound of the howling wind, but was able to get a good night's sleep and awoke (hallelujah!) to the sun this morning. I could sit in this place all day and watch all the varied and fascinating spectrum of people and their dogs parade by, not to mention the surfers enjoying the turbulent waves. But I must tear myself away to become part of that scene. The jogging/biking path in front of the apartment stretches for 20 miles. I'll report back again later.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Whirlwind Theater Weekend in Houston

Five performances of Miss Saigon in three days is not everyone's cup of tea. My cup, however, overflowed. My trip to Houston for this show at the Hobby Center's Theater Under the Stars (TUTS) was short but memorable, leaving home Friday and returning Monday, Valentine's weekend.

I can't say enough good things about the Doubletree Hotel on Dallas Street, within four blocks of the venue. The weather was just as cold in Houston as back home in Michigan and I was happy to avail myself of the hotel's free shuttle service to the theater. I hosted a meeting at the hotel's restaurant, Trofi. We were treated like royalty. Every wish was their command and more. Late check-out? No problem. My boarding pass was printed quickly and with a smile. Late night room service was prompt and tasty. I received five star service for $79 a night.

The theater at the Hobby Center is beautiful. The acoustics did justice to the incredible music we heard. The production was Broadway caliber, and indeed many of the cast, such as Eric Kunze, Melinda Chua and Philip Michael Baskerville, had done Miss Saigon on Broadway and were in the first national tour. I could have sat through this coming whole week's performances as well. At the Saturday matinee, I was surprised to see President George Bush, Sr. and Barbara enter the theater and take their seats just twenty feet away from me. The audience rose and clapped for them when they entered and again when they left after the show. The cast had a meet and greet with them before the performance. It was too late to call the hotel shuttle when I returned in the evenings so I took a cab. All the cabs offer the rate of $6 anywhere in the downtown area. It is called "Six in the City".

That is all I am able to report about Houston. Partly due to the weather and partly due to the late hours I was keeping, I never got out of my room except to go to the theater. The only evidence I have that I was in Texas is the souvenir cowboy hat I got for my grandson at the hotel gift shop.