Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

So much to be thankful for...

This has been one of the most memorable Thanksgivings of our family's history. Our families came to the States from Austria in the 50's.  My parents moved to Michigan, while my aunt and her family moved to Ohio.  Her sons, Carl and Herbie, are my only first cousins and we have always been close.  Our families made many trips back and forth to spend time together.  But, over the years, as our offspring married the numbers have grown and it has been increasingly difficult to coordinate schedules and space to accomodate everyone.  Thanks to finding a vacation home large enough that was available for this holiday we had a chance to reconnect and bond in a very special way.  Hopefully, times like this will help the young people in our family maintain the ties that were started so many years ago.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The lost art of letter writing

In our current state of texting abbreviation and emoticons is proper English and letter writing going out the window?  I can't remember the last time I received an actual handwritten note or letter in the mail.  And I admit I don't write them much myself anymore.  Recently, in a flurry of cleaning out closets in preparation for a garage sale, I found a box of old photos with some special letters I had saved over the years.  One caught my eye and I was reminded of an earlier and more gracious time, which we seem to have lost these days. 

More for myself than anything else I am going to reproduce it here for preservation's sake.  First, a little background information.  My husband and I have been visiting Stratford, Ontario for years.  There are so many delightful little towns with bed and breakfast inns.  One in particular was in Kleinburg, in which I discovered a quaint little card shop.  The owner and proprieter was a genteel elderly lady named Mary.  I was drawn back again and again to speak with her over the next few days.  We shared our faith and felt a kinship despite the disparity in our ages.  Upon departing, we determined to stay in touch through the mail.  The last time I saw her was in 1985 and our correspondence dwindled, but I never forgot her.  Then in 1990 I received the following letter. It was typed on fine, thin paper on a manual typewriter.

"Dear Mrs. Wunschl,
After making business calls, my beloved Mary came home in cheerful mood at 3:30 on Friday 16 March and we had tea; around 8 o'clock our evening meal. At 11 she said she was going to bed. I continued with tasks till midnight. 

Mary did not appear for breakfast next morning. I went to her room and found she had died in her sleep. For me it was a shattering blow, because arthritis, as far as I knew, was her only malady. There is much evidence that Mary had no idea her pilgrimage would end in 1990. In her engagement calendar there are entries till September. On the other hand she was ready at any moment to meet her Redeemer, than whom she loved none more.

On the wall alongside her bed hangs a plaque Mary had had made, on which is the Latin prayer of the saintly Henry VI. The English version runs:  

      'Oh Lord Jesus Christ, who hast created and redeemed me, and
      has brought me unto that which now I am; thou knowest what
      thou wouldest do with me: do thou according to thy will, for thy
      tender mercy's sake. Amen.'

Though griefstricken and often in tears, I am thankful that Mary was called home first. For she feared to be the survivor, a friend tells me. I believe she could not have coped alone. When we moved to this little dwelling in 1959 Mary said, I wish to stay here till I die. And in recent years she sometimes told me she knew no other house she liked as well as this. (It is quite ordinary, but stands amid many trees in an agreeable acre.) We were married forty-two years.

Being extremely generous, Mary left a negligible estate: a car; a tiny bank balance; and her accumulated clothes, of which she was always reluctant to discard any. Mary's life exemplifies Jesus' words to St. Paul: My strength is made perfect in weakness. A slight figure, Mary was not born to wealth or privilege, nor did she attend a university.

But through constant reading of the Scriptures, and the surrender of her erstwhile wilfulness, she became a tireless servant of the Crucified. Preferring them to men, Mary spent herself in helping women, whether they were Catholic, or Baptist, or unbeliever, rich or poor, and of whatever nationality. She had a talent for friendship and was endowed with the gift of empathy; several women, I discover, thought themselves Mary's principal friend. I have known her drive to an address thirty-three miles away to deliver a birthday card early in the morning, because to do so was MORE trouble than to send it through the mail.

This note is the result of finding your letter to Mary postmarked 25 November 1985, in which you mentioned you expected to visit Kleinburg at the end of the month. 

Yours sincerely,
Alex Alexander
15 October 1990

Saturday, August 06, 2011

From the U.P. to Chicago

This certainly has been a fun year for short trips and last weekend was no exception.  In five days we drove 9 hours to the Upper Peninsula for a wedding. We spent two nights in Menominee, after which we spent one night in Milwaukee and one night in Chicago.  I wasn't relishing the long drive, but we were blessed with beautiful weather and the good company made the hours fly by quickly.  Once in the UP, my preconceived notions of the backwoods were quickly dispelled.  I was charmed by the lakeshore bike path that led to the marina and the lighthouse.  There were sturdy yellow bikes all over town, available free for use throughout the area.  What a great idea!  I rode through town, across the drawbridge and into Wisconsin.  The downtown area of Menominee was charming, with colorful historic buildings pristinely restored.  The people were so friendly.  Every person I passed on my bike extended a smiling hello. 

The wedding was filled with love and warmth.  At the ceremony the deacon performing the marriage had known the bride since her childhood and demonstrated the chicken dance on the altar.  He used the various parts of the dance to illustrate the facets of a good marriage, i.e. the hands talking to each other connotating communication.  He had the ushers and bridesmaids come up on the altar and do the chicken dance for the young couple, which was later repeated at the reception. The bride's father dutifully wore his suit to the wedding, but at the reception he added his baseball cap.  As we were being shuttled to the wedding in the limousine we were informed that a flash storm had downed a tree which took out a power line to the reception hall.  Kudos to the kitchen and hall staff who quickly made lemonade out of lemons by finishing the food on makeshift barbeque grills and filling the hall with candles.  The bride, instead of being upset at the unexpected turn of events, was gracious - commenting on what a great job everyone was doing under the circumstances.  It was obvious she and her handsome groom were deeply in love and nothing could have spoiled the occasion for them.

The day after the wedding we set off for Milwaukee, driving leisurely along the Wisconsin countryside.  It was our first visit to the city and we were impressed by the lively downtown scene.  Every time I visit a new city, I find myself wishing our downtown was more like that.  Luckily we are close enough to Chicago to do weekend trips. 

In Milwaukee we stayed in County Clare Inn, a real Irish pub, as evidenced by the GREEN everywhere!  But it was a really cute place with a living/bedroom and large bathroom with a jacuzzi tub.  We were amazed at the deal we got - $103 including taxes (which can be formidable) - that included a bottle of champagne and free made to order breakfast.  It was within walking distance of downtown.  We had dinner there that night (Shepherd's Pie, anyone?) and for the second time that day had a bottle of locally made Spotted Cow beer. The next morning we explored the waterfront area and the architecturally amazing Art Institute, which looks like a ship.

The drive to Chicago took another four hours and we were grateful to arrive at our hotel for the evening wine reception at the Palomar, a Kimpton Hotel in the River North section of downtown.  It was fun to experience the differences between our stay at the County Clare Inn and the ultra-modern and chic Palomar.  Both were enjoyable in their own way.  But the Palomar had one of the most awesome restaurants for dinner I have been to.  Sable serves a tapas style menu, meant to share with your table.  It was fun tasting everyone's choices.  Several things stood out to me:  sweet corn creme brulee, pork belly B.L.T.'s and for dessert butterscotch pots de creme with whipped cream and cumquat relish.  I would dearly love to return to sample the rest of the menu.  Afterward we walked to the Redhead Piano Bar, which was just around the corner and enjoyed a little music, followed by some time admiring the city lights from our rooftop terrace at the hotel.

The next morning I got up extra early and was in the rooftop pool by 7am.  I had the whole pool and terrace to myself and I reveled in the water and the balmy temps outside as the city awoke.  We went our separate ways to explore the city and met back at the hotel to check out and head home.  It was great to be facing only a 5 hour drive, half of what it might have taken us if we had come straight home from Menomine.  Looking back now,  it feels as if we had had three vacations in one.  What a blessing!  Looking forward now to our two future trips, one to a wedding in south New Jersey, quickly followed by a trip to California. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Miss Saigon and Philadelphia


Most people would think you were crazy if you told them you had gone to the same musical eight times in a row.  Even crazier still if this were the third time you had done that, albeit in different cities.  But always the same Broadway star:  Eric Kunze.  Thankfully, I'm at an age where I don't care what people think of me. The musical in question here is "Miss Saigon", which is ending its three month run in Philadelphia at the Walnut Theater, reputed to be the oldest running theater house in the U.S. with link to the Booth family(of John Wilkes Booth fame.)
Going to Eric's performances across the country has afforded me the opportunity to visit cities to which I might not otherwise have gone.  During the day I wander around and take photographs and in the evenings I meet other Kunze fans for dinners and attend the performances.  I have met the nicest people and formed lasting relationships with many of these fans and it has blessed me considerably.  Everyone has a unique story to tell and what binds us together is our mutual love and appreciation for a very talented performer with an angelic voice.

The first night I spent in Philly at an incredible all-suite hotel called AKA Rittenhouse.  It was located at the corner of Rittenhouse Square, one of the many little parks in the city.  The park was always full of people talking, eating, reading and walking their dogs.  My hotel room was huge, with two flat screen TVs - one in the living room and one in the bedroom.  I had a full kitchen as well, which inspired me to walk a few blocks to DiBruno Brothers a gourmet market where you could buy prepared foods and every imaginable specialty item.

I had always wanted to try burrata cheese, but could never find it locally.  DiBruno Brothers makes it in house.  It is a hand pulled mozarella formed into a sac and filled with a type of cottage cheese and cream.  It is tied and decorated with a leek leaf.  When you cut it open the filling oozes out.

Restaurants abound in the area.  I tried Parc on the square (French), Caribou Cafe (also French), the rooftop at the Continental Grill and returned to Marathon Grill for Friday's fan dinner.  Last visit we went to Buddakan, which still remains my all-time favorite.  There are so many great places to eat in the city.  Hopefully I will be able to return to try some more!

This trip, as with a similar trip to Philly in late May, I was a guest in the home of my oldest friend, Ingrid, who lives in Bridgeton, New Jersey, across the Delaware River about an hour's drive from the playhouse.  Bridgeton was the first place my parents and I lived when we emigrated to the U.S. from Austria.  Seabrook Farms, a large vegetable processing company, recruited them, along with thousands of other people from all over the world, and including the displaced Japanese from internment camps across the US.  In exchange for their help, the workers agreed to a one year contract at Seabrook Farms.  We were brought from Bremerhafen, Germany on US troop ships to the States and bussed down to Bridgeton.  Initially we were housed in army barracks and it was there that my parents met Ingrid's parents and other German-speaking immigrants.  I was five years old.  Our first Christmas was spent with these Germans, celebrating in the traditional European way.

We were only there a year but formed lasting friendship, such as mine with Ingrid and her family.  This weekend I met Monica, who was also a Seabrook childhood friend and the elderly Gundy, a friend of my parents from that time.  My parents are gone and so are Ingrid's, so it was especially sweet to meet someone who knew them 59 years ago during one of the most challenging times of their lives.  Ingrid and I were able to ask her questions that only she could answer.

She told us what it was like before they departed for the US (she didn't want to come because she felt the company representative treated them as though they were stupid).  She showed us a picture of the army troop ship they were on.  We talked about her recently departed husband and she shared with us how lonely she felt.  Speaking with her made me feel as though my parents were nearby and I cherish the memory of our visit. 

There was more to come:  I was able to meet four new Eric fans on two separate nights before the performances.  Friday night I had dinner with Suzanne and Sheri.  Suzanne's husband served in Vietnam and the play held a special significance to her.  She had seen it numerous times in many different venues and she told me that she had never seen Chris portrayed in such a dramatic way.  Sheri, who had never been to any kind of fanclub gathering and was embarassed to find herself there, was also drawn back to see the show again based on Eric's performance.  They were thrilled when Eric stopped in to say hello.  The second dinner was much the same, except this time it was Nikki and Susan.  Again, we conversed as though we had always known one another.  On each night, we met Eric in the lobby, as well as other cast members, who were gracious to spend time with us and pose for pictures, despite the exhaustion of performing nine shows a week, with two on Saturday and two on Sunday.
They were so nice in fact, that one cast member named Angelica (who plays Gigi) and I were chatting and she admired my necklace.  I wanted to give it to her, but she didn't want to take it for nothing.  I insisted I would be honored for her to have it and in return she gave me the necklace she was wearing.  We exchanged necklaces and the next night we found we were both wearing each other's!

Now that I am home I am still hearing the music of the show ringing in my ears.  I can't make it stop.  After a three month run, Sunday will be their last performance and each will go on to the next project.  Eric will have only one week off and then he will begin rehearsals for the same show in Sacramento, California, with a different cast. 

My next trip will be to Redondo Beach, California in late September for "Company" with the Civic Light Opera.  There is much to look forward to before then, but I can't wait to see Eric in that show - one he hasn't done before and a role that is very different from all the others.  Life is good!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

More Sun!

We are lucky to have found the perfect vacation home in Palm Springs and for the second year in a row took a week out of winter to enjoy endless sun and warmth out west. Palm Springs and surroundings has it all: great food, shopping, sophistication without stuffiness, luxury without exhorbitant prices, creature comforts and nature's beauty.

What a refreshing change it was to fly directly into and out of Palm Springs airport. Even the airport security seemed to realize their good fortune, joking with each and every passenger. The lovely little restaurant on the premises served what I will remember as being the best, reasonably priced breakfast burrito I have ever had.

Renting the same home as last year gave us the opportunity to enjoy a swimming pool and hot tub in the complete privacy of a backyard lined with twelve foot hedges. No need to get dressed for breakfast if we didn't want to. With a supermarket and liquor store within a five minute drive and Costco ten minutes away we were stocked and ready to enjoy the week.

Cooking in saves tons of money but for those mornings when we did crave great food without the elbow grease, there were several fabulous breakfast spots nearby: Koffi and Cheeky's. Koffi is a dog friendly enclave off the main drag, a place to sit and sip and enjoy being outside with humanity. Cheeky's has an amazing breakfast and lunch menu and has recently added an outdoor dinner only dining area named Birba which has a bar, firepits and couches on which to relax and socialize. Our French vodka-spiked lemonade and wood oven charred pizza margherita were perfection. The day's dry heat was dissipated by the misters over the bar area. We enjoyed lunch at Tylers on Indian Canyon in town, as well as great burgers at the new restaurant Grind Brgr Bar on Palm Canyon Road. Our last meal was at Johannes, also on Indian Canyon Road. Johannes, as you might suspect, has European fare, specifically Austrian, as the owner is from Austria. Amazing spatzle (small dumplings tossed with bacon and cheese, topped with carmelized onions), weinerschnitzel and apple strudel reminded me of home. I am also of Austrian descent and the owner came to our table several times for delightful conversation and even kissed me on both cheeks as we departed.

Beautiful nature and photo ops are within a one to two hour drive. We opted this time for Joshua Tree National Park. I was fascinated by the oddly-shaped trees with their branches seemly outstretched to the heavens, in supplication to God. The Jumbo Rocks area was a good place for some easy hiking and endless photography. There is a campground on the premises, which would be great to explore the area more fully.
On the way home we stopped at Frontiertown, which was built in 1946 as a movie set. It was fairly deserted, but a few shopkeepers were friendly and eager to talk. It was like walking into an old Western ghost town. The liveliest place there is Pappy and Harriet's, a bar and restaurant with old fashioned barbeque and foot stomping music on the weekends.

Another favorite place of ours is Indian Canyons, just outside of Palm Springs. The trading post has hummingbird feeders that attract a steady stream of hummingbirds who are not afraid of people. I must have taken 100 photos of the birds. You can hike down to the Palm Oasis or hike on the other side of the trading post to the waterfall (in season). I love their website and especially the beautiful haunting music on it:

No one should miss the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. Rising 8500 feet from the ground station to the top of Mt. San Jacinto, the tram rotates to afford each passenger a chance at the breathtaking view. At the top are several restaurants and a variety of hiking trails to choose from. The best part was escaping the 95 degree heat below to a refreshingly brisk 55 at the top.

For a one day side trip we chose to drive to San Diego, a little over two hours one way, to visit the San Diego Zoo and have dinner with friends who live there. The zoo was incredible, a highlight being the Giant Panda exhibit. What a privilege it was to be able to see them up close. The transit system in the park was convenient and amazing and included in the price of admission. We had dinner later at Casa de Bandini in Carlsbad, a restaurant we enjoyed years ago when it was located in Old Town. It lost nothing in the translation in its reincarnation at the Carlsbad location. The ambiance, music and food were just as good as we remembered. The weather in the San Diego area was much cooler than we had experienced all week in hot Palm Springs. We were glad to drive home that night and get back to the sun and warmth.

There was so much more to see and do, we are sincerely hoping our Second Annual Trip to Palm Springs will become a Third, Fourth and so on.

Here is a link to our extremely reasonable vacation rental that we were fortunate to find. It is located in the Racquet Club estates area which is dotted with mid-century modern architecture. The house is decorated with whimsical vintage furnishings straight out of the 50's with memorabilia from the elegant Hollywood Palm Springs era.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Weekend in the Sun - Lake Havasu, AZ

After a very long winter, it was a pleasure to escape for a long weekend to sunny Arizona. Lake Havasu is my new favorite place to enjoy warmth and water. My hotel, The Nautical Beachfront Resort is right on the lake and from the balcony of my room I was entertained nonstop by a constant array of boats and people watching. The Naked Turtle Bar was just a few steps away and is a favorite of locals. The reason for my visit was to see Broadway's Best at Grace Arts Live, produced and directed by my friend Eric Kunze. The days were filled with sun and fun and my evenings with music and friends. An old girlfriend, Annette, drove in from Phoenix to see the show with me and I had organized a fanclub dinner before the Saturday show at a local restaurant. We enjoyed seeing the show together and visiting with Eric and Gina afterward. This was the best Eric visit yet and I look forward to returning some time in the future!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eric Kunze Debut CD

On January 19, 2008 I attended a performance in Detroit at the Fisher Theater of "Whistle Down the Wind".  I was so taken with the star of the show, Eric Kunze.  He was the most compelling singer and actor I had ever heard and seen.  Later, at home, I couldn't find very much information on the web about him.  I returned to the theater the next night and waited for him at the stage door.  I asked why he didn't have a CD or a website.  From his answers I deduced he was too humble to think anyone would be interested.  I offered to start a website for him. That first encounter led to a wonderful collaboration and friendship and now, three years later, we have a fansite that has gotten nearly 25,000 hits and the release of Eric's first CD for us to enjoy.

 The CD now is available on CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes for download as an MP3 file, available here:

If you would rather have a physical copy of the CD for yourself with photos and liner notes, it is available for purchase here on the fansite.

Here is a review I wrote on my blog three years ago after seeing "Whistle Down the Wind" and Eric for the first time.  The last line has proved to be prophetic:
I wish him well in all his future undertakings and hope that we will be able to see him again really soon.

You will find it here on Maggi's Memories under this date:
January 19, 2008

Participating in and attending live theater has been my passion for many years. Occasionally, I will see someone on stage that is amazing. That happened to me last week when I attended "Whistle Down the Wind" at the Fisher Theater. It is an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that has been adapted to the American stage. The musical itself has not gotten rave reviews. The storyline is a little hard to believe, but the talent onstage makes up for any shortcomings in the script. Justine Magnusson is wonderful as Swallow, a young girl suffering from the loss of her mother. Her voice is heavenly, perfect and on pitch. She's a perfect choice for the role.

She discovers a man in hiding in their barn, who she believes is Jesus Christ returned to earth. Her faith in him, despite his protests, is touching. She is hoping he can bring her mother back. The man is at first incredulous, but finally lets her believe it in the hopes he can use her to help him escape. "The Man", as he is called, is played by Eric Kunze. Eric has starred in many shows, including Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and Miss Saigon, among others. I have seen all these shows, but never Eric, before.

From the moment he appears onstage, I am mesmerized. When he sings, he is able to portray the anguish he is going through. He bemoans the loss of what could have been and the situation he finds himself in now. He is a little in love with Swallow, but realizes he cannot take advantage of her innocence. She is willing to do anything for him, including endangering her life. They sing a beautiful duet together, "Try Not to Be Afraid".

By the end of the show, I had become a complete fan of Eric Kunze. So much so, that I returned to the theater the following night for a repeat experience. It had not been a fluke, I enjoyed it as much the second night. After the performance I had the privilege of being able to chat with him and tell him what a great job he was doing. After telling my niece Jessica about it, we decided to attend the show together. It was no surprise to me that she was entranced as well. We waited for Eric after the show and had the most fun visiting with him. To see him in person, you would never believe he was the same person we had seen onstage. Onstage, he is larger than life; in person he is humble, approachable, funny and personable. I have no doubt that if he wanted it, he could become a major star in any medium, including the big screen. But he doesn't seem to desire that. He loves doing what he is doing and is not a self-promoter, which makes me like him even more. I wish him well in all his future undertakings and hope that we will be able to see him again really soon.