The Magic of Rick Thomas

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Another long-term headliner from Las Vegas has decided to spend part of his year in Branson, Missouri. Rick Thomas brings his magic to Andy Williams’ Moon River Theatre for a limited time in the live entertainment capital of the world. The show is all the glitz and glamour that is reminiscent of sin city without much of the sin. Rick Thomas has titled the show, “Nothing Happens Until You Dream” and he creatively incorporates his magic into that theme.

Rick started his magic career when he was still a kid and by the time he was eighteen, he had his own show at the Disneyland Hotel. He comes from an entertainment family that excelled in ballroom dancing that lends a grace to the magician as he dazzles the imagination. He’s also a funny, personable man who included the audience during much of the show. He has that unique talent that combines over the top illusions, perfect timing and a little comedy thrown in to make us smile.

He is also joined on stage by his lead dancer, Tara. This lovely woman is from Zimbabwe and auditioned for Rick Thomas five years ago for his show in Las Vegas. Rick told us that more than fifty people showed up to audition, and each one was given thirty seconds to show what they could do. Well, apparently Tara fit the bill even though they would have to wait more than two weeks to have her in the show, until she could obtain her work visa. She is beautiful, graceful and has a stage presence that corresponds perfectly to the master magician.

Tara and Rick decided on June 28 of this year to take their relationship to the ultimate level by getting married in a private setting just south of here, in Arkansas. Sounds like they literally ran off and tied the knot and I, for one, love that impulsive need to live life to the fullest. So, not only is Rick acknowledged as one of the greatest magicians of our time, but now, he has Tara by his side in every way.

During the show, Rick also brought out his gorgeous Pyrenees dog, Thunder. In doing a little research I found out that the Thomas’ have another dog, Lightning, in addition to the one we met on stage. Rick’s show in Las Vegas was famous in large part because he included large cats in his act. On Saturday, Rick showed us video of his cats that were regal and majestic. He told us that he had raised more than twenty of the cats from the time they were cubs. You could tell that he has a genuine love for animals and that alone makes him an exemplary human. Especially when he explained to the audience that all his cats have retired and are living out their lives in a lush, green valley outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Yep, he’s a nice guy.

The illusions were well planned and executed perfectly. Of course, I don’t have a clue how he did any of it, but there were one or two acts that had me questioning that I just saw, what I saw. He also did a mentalist trick with members of the audience that delighted and astonished me. Rick does all of this with lots of interaction and with humbleness. He also does a military tribute and honors the men and women who have served our country.

So, to sum up: Great magic tricks, spooky illusions, a beautiful and graceful assistant, birds, a great big white dog and just a little comedy thrown in make this show fun, mysterious and entertaining. Branson is blessed to have this caliber of performer visit our town for a season. We can also thank the Osmonds who now run the Moon River theatre, for bringing such big names to town. I’m also thinking that if this trend continues, we might get a Cirque du Soleil show here, set to a Broadway adaptation of “Oklahoma.” Okay, I know that’s just wishful thinking, but hey, as Rick Thomas would attest, nothing happens until you dream.

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The Hits Starring Collin Raye

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There is a theatre here in Branson that is legendary. On May 1,1992, Andy Williams opened his own theatre and named it appropriately, Moon River. I had a chance to go see an incredible show there and I was not disappointed in either the building or the entertainment.

The Hits Starring Collin Raye is a show that includes some of the fifteen number one hits that Collin Raye has written, produced and recorded, but also includes some of his favorite songs that of course, were a lot of my favorite songs. I have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t quite sure who Collin Raye was. Yes, I had heard the name and I knew he was a country star, but I couldn’t have named a song he did before I saw this outstanding show. Now, he has gained a fan for life and the only regret I have is for not discovering him earlier than I did. He’s that good.

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Collin started the show with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and I knew that I had to immediately throw all my preconceived notions out the nearest exit. He had me from that first song. I also have to mention that his band was maybe one of the tightest, hard-hitting bands I have heard. It was also great to hear the audience singing along on so many of the songs including Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.”

Collin Raye has a beautiful voice with rich, high tones and he was pretty much pitch perfect throughout the night. When he did his own hit, “Love, Me” the tears started flowing and the only time they really stopped was when Chipper Lowell provided some magic and comedy. If you have never heard, “Love, Me,” please do yourself a huge favor and go take a listen. If you don’t at least tear up, then I don’t see how we can be friends. It’s a beautiful love song that will pull at your heart strings in the best of ways.

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There’s also a segment of the show that Collin pays tribute to Glen Campbell. There’s a short clip on the big screens in the theatre of Collin Raye presenting the Pioneer Award to Glen Campbell when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Collin explains that it was one of the greatest moments of his life and you could feel his sincerity. He then sang, “Gentle On My Mind.” For those of you that aren’t familiar with this song or are too young to remember it, it’s another one that you absolutely need to go listen to. The song brings forth poignant memories for me as it’s one I can remember my dad singing. The guitar intro on this song has to be one of the most recognizable ever and by the time Collin had finished the two song tribute, I was close to sobbing. Collin pointed out that they don’t write songs like this anymore, and I absolutely concur.

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As much as I like the good tears and the emotions this wonderful show brought out in me, I was thankful and relieved when funny-man, Chipper Lowell took the stage to entertain us for a few minutes. I had never seen Chipper live before, though by chance, I had caught him on Masters of Illusion just a few nights before the concert. My first thought within a minute of his routine was that he’s Carrot Top without the bright orange hair and a lot less frenetic. Honestly, I liked him much better than Carrot Top and actually found myself laughing at his interaction with members of the audience. He does funny magic and a juggling bit and works out of a large trunk that holds all his gags and props. Chipper Lowell provides the perfect interlude with just the right amount of levity. It was also fun texting back and forth with Chipper during the intermission and of course, this is Branson, so these great entertainers are really that accessible. Yep, so accessible and friendly that I’m sure I almost made Chipper miss his cue to start the second half while I was busy blaming my stupid smart phone for spelling a name wrong three times!

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Collin Raye returned to the stage after Chipper’s opening act and wowed me once again. Another person that really stood out was Shaunna Larkin who plays fiddle and mandolin as well as singing back-up vocals for the country crooner. This young lady was outstanding on the fiddle and I loved when her and Collin launched into “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” which is a classic Charlie Daniel’s song. Ms. Larkin absolutely made that fiddle sing. I really have to give kudos to the entire band and tell you that they are one of the hottest sounds around. Really tight and clean and simply kickin’ it!

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This phenomenal show had old favorites, new favorites and I loved all of it. However, one of the most emotional moments came at the very end of the night when Collin Raye surprised me once again and did a song by of all bands, New Direction. He did a cover of their “Story Of My Life” that he sung so well and with such heart that I could believe he had actually written the song. This man is a top-notch, professional performer while managing to maintain his selfless humanity. I did get to meet him, Chipper Lowell and Ross Thomas after the show and I understand why they fit in so well in Branson. They’re exemplary guys that went out of their way to meet with their fans, sign autographs and take a couple hundred pictures. This is one thing that makes Branson so unique and so soul-inspiring. The people like Collin Raye and Chipper Lowell that do their jobs so well that it really stops being a job and simply becomes something magical.

The Hits Starring Collin Raye is only in Branson for a limited engagement and I can’t encourage you enough to go see this quality family show. You’ll not only be entertained for a couple of hours but you will walk away feeling better than when you went in.

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Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers

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A big thanks to my best friend for procuring center-stage seats for one of the best shows in Las Vegas. This is the same man that took me to my first Broadway production more than two years ago and because of that introduction, I have fallen in love with this genre of art. Broadway shows tell a story through music and you get the best of both worlds. You get to see a marvelously acted story and you get to hear a grand musical concert.

Steve Wynn and the creators of ShowStoppers brings its audience to the absolute pinnacle of musical performance with a cast of sixty-six singers, dancers and musicians. The orchestra is led by Conductor Dave Loeb who does a legendary job in directing the music for each of the numbers. The curtain rises after a short audio introduction by Steve Wynn explaining what we’re about to see and experience. He tells us that a “showstopper” is a musical number that is so outstanding and so over the top that it literally stops the show. Sometimes, it will be a piece from the beginning of a show and sometimes, it can be at the end. Mr. Wynn decided that we needed a show where every song is the showstopper. I couldn’t have imagined what then took place for the next ninety minutes.

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There were more than twenty hit songs from classic Broadway, including personal favorites like, “Together (Wherever We Go),” “Cabaret” “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “One.” These sensational showstoppers were garnered from such greats as, “Mame”  “Annie Get Your Gun”  “A Chorus Line” and many more. There were six vocalists featured in the show and while they were all uber talented, I have to say I had my favorites. The three male leads are, Randal Keith, David Burnham and Andrew Ragone. These guys are all so versatile and are experienced actors and singers with impressive credits ranging from top Broadway shows to movies and television that we would all know.

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The guys were great, but, the three lead female performers were the best I’ve ever seen. Maybe because as a little girl, I was entranced by opera performers or the pictures my mom used to bring home from the Reno showrooms. There’s something old-world style about glamourous dresses and trendy coiffures. The first woman to blow me away was, Kerry O’Malley. What a classically beautiful performer with a voice more powerful and authentic than any I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing live. She’s mesmerizing in all of her stand-out performances and I swear by the end of the night that I had a little crush on this amazing lady. When she sings, she commands you to pay attention and to feel. Feel each note as she wrings it from her soul for the benefit of the hundreds of people that show up for this show each week at The Wynn Las Vegas.

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Kerry O’Malley could star in this show and it would be good, but add in the other two female singers, Nicole Kaplan and Lindsay Roginski, and you have the epitome of Broadway and you have a compilation of true “Showstoppers.” Nicole gives a genuinely cute performance in many of the songs including an interaction with a lucky audience member when she does, “A Little Brains, A Little Talent.” She’s as gorgeous as any Vegas showgirl, but has an obvious sense of humor and comedic talent up on stage. I loved her air of innocence and approachability with every song she sang.

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Lindsay Roginski was the stand-out performer of the night for me. With this sensational show and cast, that’s saying a lot. There wasn’t one member of the ensemble that were not stars in their own right and it’s really unbelievable the amount of talent that Steve Wynn found for this incredible production. However, there was one strikingly beautiful performer that instantly drew out the heart in me and that lady was, Lindsay. It’s hard to name just one thing about this performer as there’s so much to draw from. She has a great voice, she’s more gorgeous than a Victoria’s Secret model, she’s tall and willowy, she makes you think of the girl next door or the famous pin-up posters from an earlier generation. She’s all those things and yet, there’s something more. Something that brings to mind the golden age of Hollywood, the glitz and glamour that used to be old Las Vegas. I could easily imagine Ms. Roginski draped on the arm of Frank Sinatra or a young Howard Hughes. She has something; a ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality. She has IT. That something special, that something destined to make her a star.

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Showstoppers has incredible sets and colorful costumes and part of the fun was getting to be dazzled again and again when the curtain would rise to some spectacular scene or a stage full of sequined performers. It’s hard to say that I had favorite numbers as they were all so brilliantly performed. But, if I’m hard pressed, I loved the numbers from “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” probably because I knew the shows and really knew the songs.

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One of the most poignant moments of the night came in the form of a duet between Randal Keith and Kerry O’Malley. It was the song, “Anything You Can Do” and though there were many other numbers more flashy and complicated, there was none that touched me as a human more. The two of them not only sang the song creatively and brilliantly, but put enough of their own personalities into it, to make it relatable and funny. There’s a part of the song that Randal sang in such a way as to actually make his co-star laugh for real. Not acting, not pretending, but really having fun on stage. When performers can make you feel like that, there’s a magic that is unattainable in any other venue.

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Millions of people visit Las Vegas every year. Some go for the gambling, some go for the shows and some go to do things that can only be mentioned when in Las Vegas. The next time you find yourself in the desert of southern Nevada and are looking to have a “real” experience, you have to make your way over to the high-end, luxurious complex known as Wynn Las Vegas. Then you have to shell out a few bucks (okay, more than a few, but you get what you pay for.) and go see this perfectly suited to Las Vegas show. It’s a taste of yesteryear and some of our favorite Broadway shows. Bring the kids if you can afford it. While it’s not geared for a younger audience, this production keeps it fairly clean and there’s nothing like exposing a younger generation to art and culture that is on this level.

Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers could just possibly be the best Broadway show out there, even if the Las Vegas strip is a long way from New York. This show will leave a mark on your heart. For me, it was one of those special, magical nights that makes me so thankful to be living my life. Another perfect night of friendship, Broadway and songs that I’m still humming three days later.

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The Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil

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Just as I knew that it would, this vacation has flown by and it’s almost time to leave. I’ve had a wonderfully magical time and though there have been many, many spectacular experiences, there’s one that stands out above all the rest. Last night, the bestie took me to The Mirage to see The Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil. I’ve been to many shows, many plays and many musicals, but there’s nothing out there that can compare to what I witnessed and felt last night.

Within minutes of finding our seats, the show started and the magic began. The Beatles are the epitome of generational and revolutionary music that represents the turmoil and peace in the lives of millions of baby-boomers. I am right at the end of that generation and am so grateful that I grew up listening to these classic songs written by a bunch of guys from Liverpool, England. The Beatles songs are the ones we all know the words to and I can hear one of their tunes on the radio and break out in tears. Their songs always touch me and it’s always been a dream to see Paul McCartney in concert. By the time I was old enough to go to a live venue of The Beatles, the band had already broken up. Then, John Lennon was murdered and a reunion concert was made impossible by one heartless, lone gunman.

So, their music has always touched that emotionally charged place in me and I knew this Cirque du Soleil show would astound my senses, but I really had no idea what an impact it would have on me. It’s one of those shows that quite literally changed who I am inside. I’m better for having seen it and felt it. Kudos to The Mirage and the creative team that brings this show to life several times a week in Las Vegas. If you ever come to Vegas, make sure that you set aside some time to see something that everyone in my generation should see. Actually, it’s a show every generation should see, for it highlights and emphasizes the most important thing in life; love. Hence the name.

The arrangement of the songs were overseen and approved by both Ringo and Paul and they’re arrangements that you’ve never heard before unless you’ve purchased the soundtrack to Love which was released in 2006. The show contains elements from 130 individual commercially released and demo recordings of The Beatles. For example: the track from Get Back uses the opening guitar from A Hard Days Night, drum and guitar solos from The End, percussion from Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and the orchestral swell from A Day in the Life. Standout songs of the night were, While my Guitar Gently Weeps, The Walrus and of course, Hey Jude and All You Need is Love.

There were tears for many of the songs including a lovely performance by an obviously pregnant performer on Lady Madonna. Her cast mate (possibly her husband) bends down at the very end before the lights go out and gently kisses her belly. I just about lost it. Another favorite for me was a combo production of Blackbird and Yesterday that left me sobbing. The cast also did a great job on Revolution and Back in the USSR with a complicated series of trampoline acts that utilized netting and English phone booths.

It was a Cirque du Soleil show so that means it included high flying acrobatics, interpretive dance and athletic feats that wowed the imagination and ignited my soul. It was beautiful, mesmerizing and an perfect example of what happens when humanity and art come together in a perfect culmination of artistry and love.

I left the theatre last night feeling like my soul had been set on fire and a love for music and life that was bigger than when I walked in. I wanted to tell everyone I saw that they had to see this show. I wanted to share with the world how enriched I felt after two hours of sitting in that theatre. The show, the performers and the music made me want to celebrate life and made me so thankful, that should my life end tomorrow, it was all worth it.

If you ever find yourself in Las Vegas, go see this show. Forget the bright lights and fancy casinos. Forget the neon and the sound of chips as they are shuffled on the poker tables. Go see Love and your life will forever be changed.

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Jenny’s Canyon……Snow Canyon, St. George, Utah

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Two hours north of Las Vegas is a desert town by the name of St. George, Utah. I had the pleasure of traveling up that way to spend the day with one of my favorite people in the whole wide world who also happens to be my writing sister and friend, Tanya Lily-Reid.

There is a place only minutes from her house that I have been wanting to visit for over a year. It’s called Snow Canyon and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen something so majestic and magical. Inside that canyon is a slot canyon that is named after a young girl that fell from one of the high cliffs to her death in 1994. It’s called Jenny’s Canyon and if you ever find yourself in southern Utah, you have to pull off the Interstate and take the short drive. You will not be disappointed.

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The reason I’ve been wanting to see it actually starts about 2 1/2 years ago when Tanya was driving down Snow Canyon Parkway. The road sits above the canyon and it’s a road that my friend has traveled many times. Tanya is a writer and for those of you that know me well, you know writers have huge imaginations and something that sometimes borders on supernatural, when it comes to storylines and characters for our books. On this particular day, Tanya connected with a soul named Jenny who spoke to her the way our imaginary friends often do. They tell us their names and the story they want told. I know this sounds strange, but this is how, as writers, we do what we do.

Tanya connected with Jenny and from that point on, Jenny has always been in Tanya’s head, whispering details about her life. Fast forward more than a year and once again, my friend found herself on the Parkway just above Snow Canyon. She decides that day to make the left turn that will take her down into the canyon proper and drove the dusty dirt road that offers spectacular views of red rock bluffs and beautiful desert sage brush. She drives to the ranger station and picks up a map and is astonished to find a slot canyon labeled, Jenny’s Canyon. She realizes instantly  that the Jenny that has been speaking to her for a couple of years and the Jenny that the canyon is named for, are one and the same. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but there’s some things in life that can’t be explained and for those of us that tell the stories, it’s a magical connection.

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She pulls off the road at the marker for the canyon named after a young teenage girl and begins the short hike back to the canyon. She is alone and at this point, very emotional. You can only imagine what it must feel like to have someone in your head that you were quite sure didn’t really exist in real life and then to feel her very real presence in the middle of the desert. There’s times like this that we, as writers, question our sanity and Tanya was no different. The emotions were so overwhelming that Tanya never actually made it back to the slot canyon and returned to her truck, crying and shaken.

She videotaped her experience sitting in her vehicle that afternoon and I’ll never forget when I saw her raw, unedited footage of her discovery. When I watched the short five minute video, I could hear the shakiness in Tanya’s voice and I could feel her bare emotion. How was this even possible? Many of you who don’t understand how storytellers think, will probably scoff and be a skeptic, but not me. I knew without a doubt that what my writing sister experienced was real. I got goosebumps and watched the video another two or three times. I knew right then, that someday I would go to Jenny’s Canyon and see it for myself.

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When planning this trip, I knew I had to take a day and travel up to Utah to see not just my soul sister, but to see Snow Canyon and to see where this mystical event occurred. So, yesterday, I found myself in Tanya’s car and when she pulled into the larger canyon, I was blown away with how beautiful it is. She traveled that same dusty road down to the ranger station where she picked up the map that day and turned her car around to start back down to the marker. As she made the u-turn, my eyes filled with tears and by the time we made the 1/2 mile trip to the marker, the tears were flowing freely down my face. I could feel something out of this world reaching out to me. It was Jenny. She was speaking to me as she spoke to Tanya and again, I know how strange that sounds, but I swear it to be the truth.

We pulled off the side of the road and got out of the car. With every step towards the sand-stone cliffs, I could hear the sweet voice of a young girl. I could hear her laughter, I could feel her love of life and I could feel her sadness. My feet sank deep into the hot desert sand and my eyes took in the beauty that is the canyon. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life and I struggled to keep my emotions in check and to keep my heart steady. We stepped off the path long enough to let a family go by and to discuss where exactly we were hiking to. The day that Tanya discovered that Jenny was real, she was too emotional to make it all the way back to the cool and shaded slot canyon where Jenny died. But, today, we had each other for support and hiked the short distance that brought us to her marker and to the beautiful canyon.

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We had to climb a few rocks and then around the corner, the canyon came into view and I was awestruck. The walls of two towering cliffs rise straight up from the desert floor and between the red colored rocks is a shaded, quiet area that makes you feel like you’ve left planet earth. As we entered the deep canyon, we found a memorial to “our” Jenny.

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More than twenty years ago, a young, vivacious, adventurous girl loved coming to Snow Canyon. She never left. With every step, I felt her spirit and as we journeyed deeper into the canyon, the silence was deafening and the air was still. I have a feeling that before Jenny, this place was sacred, but since Jenny,  this place is reverential. I could feel Jenny, but I could also feel souls from before her and as hard as it might be to believe, I could feel God in this place. This little space between the towering cliffs and boulders is like no other place I’ve ever felt. It’s special, entrancing and spellbinding. The veil between this world and the next is very thin and transparent and I could almost believe that with a blink of my eye, I really could see beyond this world into the world where Jenny now resides.

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The quiet of the canyon is undisturbed and the beauty of it is unequalled. I reached out to touch the stone walls and I felt a slight vibration that made me think of paranormal phenomenon and worlds that we normally can’t see or feel. To say that it was a spiritual experience for me is an understatement. I will never forget my hour spent at Jenny’s Canyon in southern Utah. End of story, right? Wrong.

Both Tanya and I snapped a few hundred pictures. Her with a 35mm professional camera and me with my smart phone. We wandered the small enclosed canyon snapping away and never once did we stand next to each other and purposely capture the same image. But something stranger than this story happened later in the day when I was on my way back to Las Vegas. Tanya sends me a picture on my phone which I only glance at quickly as I’m driving down the Interstate at 75 miles per hour. When I looked at the picture, my arms quickly dimpled with goosebumps and I threw the phone down on the passenger seat as if I had just been burned. Only one small glance, but I know what I saw. Take a look at these two pictures side by side and keep in mind that one was taken by Tanya and the other was taken by me. Minutes apart. I had no idea she had snapped the first picture that you see and it wasn’t until I got back to Lee’s house that I looked at the photos on my phone. I took the same picture.

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Look closely at the two pictures and you will see some things that shouldn’t be there. I see Jenny two times in each picture. And, in each picture she is different. You can tell me that it’s just rocks and stones and the way the sunlight filters into the canyon. I could almost buy that explanation and simply call it matrixing, but ummm…..stones can’t move. Spirits can.

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If I live to be one hundred, I will never forget my time spent with my friend, Tanya and my spirit friend, Jenny. I will never forget the feeling of the hot sand between my toes and the voice of God in my heart. There’s not many days in our short lives that are this significant, this special and this glorious. My heart is full today and the tears have run down my face even as I wrote this piece. For me, there will never be another place as sacred and important as Jenny’s Canyon. I’m blessed, grateful and touched to have experienced Jenny’s soul and spirit. Validation of life in the biggest way possible.

With a Little Help From My Friends

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The absolute biggest blessing in my life is all the many wonderful people that I love and I call friend. Life has it’s ups and downs, good days and bad days, but through it all there has been one constant. The joy, memories and love that come from surrounding yourself with like-minded souls. This weekend I had a chance to take a little road trip and visit with two special women. The first has been my friend going on forty-one years! The second lovely lady is someone that I met through mutual friends and though yesterday was the first day to actually meet face to face, it feels like we’ve known each other forever.

I arrived in the outskirts of Nashville late on Saturday afternoon and after hugs, stowing my suitcase and more hugs, Susan and I decided to make the short drive down to Lynchburg, Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery, and though neither one of us care for whiskey, it was a gorgeous spring day and worth the drive alone. Spring is slowly making it’s way into Tennessee and though a lot of the trees were still bare, the grass is beginning to turn into that awesomely bright green shade and the pear and apple trees are in full bloom with lucious white blossoms. The drive down wasn’t long, but it was beautiful and made me appreciate the wonder of the first of spring.

We arrived and were assigned a tour group and had just a few minutes to wait. The majority of the tour of Jack’s famous whiskey is walking and we really couldn’t have asked for a nicer day. Making whiskey is a fascinating process and to hear the history of who Jack Daniel was and how this place has changed over the years was interesting. We learned how they make their own filtration charcoal and the processes involved. Along the tour, we stopped at Cave Springs which is why Jack Daniel’s whiskey tastes like it does. They use Tennessee spring water that is naturally filtered through lime-stone and has the unusual attribute of containing many minerals, but none of them, iron. Iron would change the taste of the whiskey. How fortuitous that Jack intuited this all those many years ago!

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Before walking into the fermentation and distillery areas, we saw where the spring from the cave comes out and meanders down to the buildings where it will be used to make all the spirits that Jack Daniel’s currently makes including the famous Old No.7 whiskey. Along this peaceful, babbling brook, we saw ducks and then the tour guide explained that these are Peabody Ducks. Now, for any of you that have read my blogs, you will know that the Peabody ducks are quite famous here in Memphis and they live at our most famous hotel, The Peabody. Everyday they march from the roof top down to the lobby where they play and frolic in the fountain there. Well, turns out, when the ducks have gotten older and are ready to retire from their jobs, they are taken out to the beautiful Middle Tennessee countryside and live out the rest of their lives at the Jack Daniel’s distillery.

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We continued into the buildings and saw the fermentation process and smelled the smells of yeast, barley and moon shine. We finally made our way to the room where they filter the liquid through the charcoal and our tour guide lifted the huge oak lid just long enough to get a whiff and it did indeed finally smell like liquor. And, that’s an understatement. The smell was so strong that it made your eyes water and I swear I might have gotten a little buzz had I inhaled anymore of the alcohol vapors. All in all, it was a fascinating tour and one I’m glad that I got to do with my oldest best friend. Susan and I have literally made a life-time of memories together and I wouldn’t have missed this one for the world.

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This was a very short road trip and after a nice dinner, we curled up with Susan’s dogs and ended the day next to each other. How blessed I’ve been to have this woman in my life for almost all of my life. It’s a once in a life-time kind of friendship and we are each better for having had the love and companionship and laughter along the way. I left the next morning with promises of lots of phone dates and hopefully getting to see each other either in Branson or Las Vegas. Or both.

I headed out a little before noon on Sunday and made my way to the other side of Nashville and out into the gently rolling hills and countryside. I found the correct exit on the Interstate and drove for about ten minutes until I came to the small, quaint town that my friend, Rebecca lives in. I managed to get myself a little lost, but hey, this is Tennessee and the towns aren’t that big! It gave me a chance to drive around a little before finally meeting up with my courageous, funny friend. As I mentioned earlier, we had never actually met face to face, but through mutual friends on Facebook. Rebecca, myself and two other ladies have formed a very strong bond in the past couple of years. We are all writers and we share a love and fascination for the words. We also have formed a writing sisterhood that is a story in itself that I’m sure will be written one day.

Rebecca was everything I expected and more. She’s strong, she’s smart and she’s also quite the beauty. She looks younger in person and she has this inner glow about her that says that something very special lies below that quiet exterior. She presented me with three gorgeous sets of earrings that she had made for me, and not only will you see me wearing them, they will forever be some of my most cherished possesions. She’s not only a brilliant writer, but she’s also a fabulous artist and to know that she hand crafted these pieces just for me truly is priceless.

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Rebecca and I talked and had coffee and then talked some more. We are in similar positions in our personal lives and had a lot of experiences in common that we shared with each other. We went to a park and tried to brave the chilly spring breeze, but finally just sat in my car and talked some more. It was just like when I finally met one of the other members of our unique quartet in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, this was destiny. Rebecca is part of my soul family, and indeed, part of my heart. I so admire, respect and love this woman whom I’ve been so blessed to finally meet in person. This is what life is really about, folks. Friendships, love, laughter and giving yourself the freedom and permission to fully embrace and appreciate every single second.

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The only negative about the entire weekend was that it was entirely too short. Not enough time with Susan and definitely not enough time with Rebecca, but this morning I still count myself as one of the luckiest people alive. Thanks, girls, for the sweet memories.

Three Days in Las Vegas

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There are some memories that we make in life, that will always stay with us. They live in our hearts and our souls and serve as reminders of what life is really about. I recently had the chance to do a cross-country drive with my best friend and since our final destination was Las Vegas, I also got to enjoy a little mini-vacation. The best part of the trip was not the casinos and the neon lights. The best part wasn’t the glitz and glamour that Las Vegas offers. The absolute best part was the memories made with my best friend and getting to meet a sister of the soul for the first time. If I live to be one-hundred, I will always look back at my adventure in the late winter of 2015. The snap shots that I have in my head are better than any my camera could take, and the feelings born in my soul will last for all eternity.

The bestie and I started out on Saturday by getting the car unhooked from the back of the moving truck. Oh, his poor car! It was covered in road grime including the sand and the salt from the snowy parts we had to drive through. It looked like someone had taken my friend’s car and drug it through the desert and some mud and then decided to douse it with sand and whitewash paint. Before we had a chance to wash it, a little girl commented that it was the dirtiest car she had ever seen! We laughed because there were no more snowstorms to drive thru and we were finally in Las Vegas.

After our chores and a quick bite to eat, we headed out and drove down the famous Strip. No matter how many times, I’ve seen it, it’s still over the top impressive and for someone like the bestie who had never seen it before, it really does look something like the 8th wonder of the world. As you head north on the Strip and you pass the Wynn and Encore, you get to the older part where the Stardust used to stand and I was relieved to see that they did not tear the Sahara down when they closed the doors, but are doing some major construction to build a new fancy casino. Imagine that! There’s very little left of the old Las Vegas that the mafia helped build and ran back in the day. Casinos like The Sands and The Sahara and The Stardust are gone. I’ve seen old pictures from the 40s and 50s and would have loved to be able to see this town as it was originally.

We eventually found ourselves looking for a parking garage near Fremont Street which is the only old part of Las Vegas that’s still around. Even the parking garage was dirty and grimey and the elevator groaned as it took us down to street level. We walked a short block and then turned the corner and the bestie got his first look at Fremont Street. The first thing we saw that made us stop in our tracks, was a lady about sixty years of age, if I had to guess. She was only wearing a pair of brief shorts and nothing else. Her nipples were covered but nothing else was. She wasn’t the only mostly naked person we saw that day, but she was our first and you didn’t know whether to stare or to look away in embarrassment for her. We’re not talking Vegas show-girl and in fact, had it been anywhere other than Las Vegas, I think I would have run as quickly as possible in the opposite direction. I turned to the bestie and said, “Welcome to Las Vegas!”

fremont st lady

I was too embarrassed to take a picture of the older lady with no clothes on, but thanks to Google, I did find a very similar image for you. At least the one I posted is young and somewhat attractive. But, to give the older woman we saw a little credit, she’s putting herself out there just to pay the rent or put food in her stomach. A little sad to be sure, but that’s Las Vegas. We strolled down Fremont Street and stood in amazement as people on zip lines zoomed over our heads. We wandered into a couple of the old casinos and even tried a few slot machines. In the evening on Fremont Street, the crazy, drunk people come out to party and there is live music in the streets. On that Saturday afternoon, the stages were just getting their equipment set up and we were blasted with canned music so loud that you could feel the bass thumps in your chest. Cheap Trick was playing that night and had we had more days, we probably would have ended up staying up half the night, going deaf and dancing to a band from our high-school days. But, time was definitely limited so we left Fremont Street and headed to the more popular tourist destinations.

We parked at The Mirage and tried to see as much as possible in our short allotted time. We toured the Venetian and Palazzo complex and marveled at the grandeur and the enormity of this huge casino. The Venetian has an indoor mall and it’s unlike any mall you’ve ever been to in your cities and towns. This mall is classic Venetian and it’s all high-end stores and artwork on the ceilings. There’s even a river that has gondolas guided by singing gondoliers and the ceilings are painted to look like the sky. There is nothing else like it in the world and I think Bestie and I would have gladly spent an entire day just looking at everything there was to see. We promised each other that in our future lives, that we would shop in the brand name shops and buy each other extravagant presents.

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ceiling at venetian

gondola at venetian

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We tried to find our way back out onto the Strip and was unable to do so without a little assistance to point us in the right direction. Once there we marvelled at the casinos, shops and restaurants on the east side of the Strip before we crossed over the busy boulevard and found ourselves in front of Caesar’s Palace. What a grand, grand place. The statuary and the architecture is something out of Roman times and you could almost believe that Casear himself might be lounging in one of the opulent suites. I’ve never been able to afford to stay at a place like Caesar’s but I’ve been told that it’s first class all the way and that it’s not just a hotel, but an actual destination. I can only imagine.

caesars statues

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caesars palace

From Caesar’s, we crossed over Flamingo St. using the pedestrian crossing and found ourselves in another beautiful casino, The Bellagio. We made our way across the enormous gaming floor and once again had to ask for directions that would lead us out to the front of the hotel, where they have an impressive water show. The gardens were beautiful and the view of the Eiffel tower and the rest of the Strip was simply amazing. The fountains soon shot high into the air and though we were a little disappointed in the music that accompanied the show, we could feel the mist from the water and the sun was just beginning to set in the west which lent itself to the magic of the evening.

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bellagio fountains

Our final stop on the Strip that night was to watch the Volcano show in front of The Mirage, and it was the perfect way to end the night. We stood at the railing and only had to wait a few minutes until the beat of the native drums began and we were in for a treat. There was fire and a volcano and fire in the water. The lava shot up into the air and the music came to a heart thumping crescendo as the volacano finally erupted. You could feel not just the mist from the water, but you could feel the intense heat from the fire and with the first stars appearing above our heads and the neon lights shining in our eyes, we were transported for just a few mintues to a magical world so unlike the one in which we live.

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The Mirage Volcano-5

We had chores to do again on Sunday morning because, afterall, this just wasn’t a quick vacation to Las Vegas, this was a cross country move for my friend and we had things like unloading a moving truck and getting a storage unit to accomplish. We got a fairly early start and once the “work” was done, I decided to show Bestie where I used to live and work in North Las Vegas. We took Interstate 15 out to the Craig Road exit and within a couple of minutes, we were driving by my old storage place where I lived and worked for a couple of years. When we left that place back in 2012, I honestly never expected to see it again and for those of you that know me, you know it’s no big shocker that I got a little emotional. Not much had changed and in a way, that was a good thing for me to see. We also had the chance to stop in my favorite local’s casino for a couple of hours of slot machine fun before we headed back to our hotel to get ready for our evening out on the town.

I play this game on Facebook that gives me comps to Vegas shows and restaurants and I was pretty happy to have used those comps to get us tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show, Ka, at the MGM Grand. We assumed that because they were comped tickets that I had gotten from a stupid little game on Facebook, that they would be up in the nose bleed section or somewhere behind the stage, but they were top of the line tickets that cost a small fortune had we been paying for them. They were close to dead center of the astounding and impressive theater and we couldn’t have asked for better seats. I have to tell you that when you’re standing in line for the show, and you see the doors that lead to the theater, it looks like any other theater. You don’t have a clue of the magnitude and majesty of the stage and theater until you walk through those doors. The sight made me catch my breath and I felt like I was living in a Blade Runner movie or maybe a scene straight out of Mad Max.

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ka two

We were entertained with acrobatic maneuvers from members of the cast that included flying over our heads and leaping up the columned balconies. Once the lights did finally dim and the curtain came up, I’m not sure that I breathed again for the next ninety minutes or so. I have never seen anything like Ka and I was mesmerized with every facet of the production. The music was stirring, the storyline was touching and the feats of acrobatic and aerial stunts left me with tears in my eyes and my heart racing fast. The performers literally put their lives on the line with every show as they performed impossible sequences of battle all while climbing on a vertical wall. In the end, good prevails and the two Imperial twins are brought back together to save their kingdom and live happily ever after. I love a happy ending.

Ka dragon

Monday was my bestie’s first day at his new job and I was left at the hotel to sleep in a little and get some laundry done. I was also left in the hopes that I would finally get to meet a sister of the heart that I’ve known all my life, but had never actually met her in person. Years ago, when I was just a wee little thing, a teacher came into my life that forever changed who I was, who I would become and who I am all these many years later. His name is John Dillis and he was the first man I ever idolized and admired and respected. He was also the first person to believe in me and to encourage me to get out the words. He’s one of the reasons, I’m a writer and he’s one of the reasons that a scared little girl managed to fight her way through life no matter the obstacles. Through the technology of Facebook, we reconnected four or five years ago and I immediately started noticing comments and posts on his timeline from another former student named, Tanya.

Tanya was behind me in school by seven years and so we never had a chance to know each other, but through John Dillis’ suggestion that we become friends, I discovered a fellow human whose heart beats to the same vibration as mine. Sisters of the heart and soul, we finally had a chance to come face to face and to talk and laugh the rest of the day away. I’ve been so blessed and fortunate to have friends that surround me and make life more precious, but this is one of those really special relationships that is hard to describe. We both come from the same little town in the Central Valley of California. We both had terribly hard childhoods with difficult and derranged relatives that were the people we were supposed to be able to count on. We both have a vivid imagination and are in love with the words and we both were sent an angel in the form of a mentor, our teacher, John Dillis.

Tanya and I shared our stories and the similarities were almost eerie at times. We laughed about the past and rejoiced in the women that we’ve become. There are things in life that are just meant to be and it’s really as simple as that. You can call it fate, destiny, spirituality or para-normal, but when you find a soul that so meshes with your own, there aren’t many words to describe it except maybe, magical. I loved every minute of the afternoon and evening that Tanya and I spent in each other’s company. We made a silly video and sent it to our favorite teacher and then the bestie took some goofy pictures of the two of us together. That afternoon in Las Vegas felt like a coming home and I swear while I was listening to Tanya talk about her life, something clicked into place and a piece of the puzzle of my life suddenly snapped into place. The moment made me understand that we’ve walked at least a few dozen lifetimes together. As sisters, as friends, as soul-mates. Yes, it was a goose-bump kind of moment. The evening ended after the three of us went out to dinner and arrived back at the bestie’s hotel. At dinner, this wonderful woman that I’ve shared lifetimes and memories with, gave me a card with a magical key inside. She helped unlock a space within me that has had me locked out for all of my life and now that the door has been flung wide, the me I’ve always known was there can step up and finally spread those wings and soar to the stratosphere.

me and Tanya

You know they say that what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. But, they couldn’t be more wrong. I spent three days in Las Vegas and took away the biggest jackpot that they could have ever offered. It wasn’t in gold, silver or dollars; it was in life changing currency. The woman that boarded that plane early on Tuesday morning, was not the same woman that crawled up into the Penske truck that Wednesday morning less than a week before. The woman that returned to Memphis has new memories and new places that are filled to overflowing within her heart. My bestie and I are closer than ever and while I miss him terribly, he’s at the start of his own adventure and once again I’m so very thankful for the age in which we live and the technology that makes the distance seem not so great. My friend Tanya and I have grown to love each other through that same technology, but we finally got to experience “us” in person. I’ve been blessed for years by just knowing her, but now I can hear Tanya speak when she writes. I know that she pronounces her ending g’s in such a way, that were I to go blind and senile in my later years, to hear her say, loving, or thinking, or wanting, or living or any other word that ends with that sound, I will know instantly that she’s my Tanya.

What I want to tell my grandchildren someday is that I was so blessed to be able to take a little road trip to Vegas one year and I made memories like no others. I will never look at a cow without remembering mine and the bestie’s trip across the country. I will never look at the lights and beauty of Las Vegas without remembering showing it to the bestie for the first time. I will never think about destiny and synchronicity without thinking about my dear soul sister and how we finally came face to face on an early March day at a dirty hotel room. Now, that sounds like a great plot to me!

Thanks for coming along for the ride and while I know you can’t begin to understand the depth and emotions involved with this trip, I urge you to get out of your comfort zones and go live life. Make sure that you are making memories to last forever.