ShowStoppers

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In the world of Broadway musicals, there’s a term to describe a song that stands out above the rest of the selections. A song or a performance that is so over the top that it’s known as a showstopper. Steve Wynn has brought a show to Las Vegas that is simply known as ShowStoppers because every song and every performance is a pinnacle of magical interpretation.

I had the pleasure of seeing this magnificent show on my last trip to Las Vegas and for those of you that read that first blog, you know how much I loved it, but I have to say, this time around, it was even better than I remembered. From the first sweet musical note to the final curtain and exit music, I was enthralled, enchanted and completely entertained. There is no other show that compares to this extravagant production that encompasses the best of the best. Both in musical selection and in the talented performers that do what they do so extraordinarily well.

When I first saw this show, I absolutely raved about the lead female cast members and I have to tell you that I’m in awe of the three gorgeous and talented women that grace the Encore theatre six nights a week. One of the leading ladies left the show recently and I knew that Kerry O’Malley was irreplaceable. I was convinced that no matter how good the new female lead was, she wouldn’t be able to touch the performance of Ms. O’Malley.

Well, I was wrong. Rachel Tyler is a beauty that hails from the United Kingdom and has a resume that includes national tours with Mamma Mia, Grease, Fame and The Rocky Horror Show. Ms. Tyler was every bit as good as her predecessor, while still bringing something new and vibrant to the stage. Her voice is unbelievably strong and her stage presence was so powerful that from her first song, she had touched my heart and brought my emotions right to the surface. By the last song, I had tears running down my face and goose bumps on my arms. She’s believable, she’s natural and above all else, she’s definitely a star.

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Joined by the two other female leads, Lindsay Roginski and Nicole Kaplan Fenton, she easily could fill the shoes of any great Broadway performer. The three of them together on one stage, makes this show worthy of the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence, informally known as the Tony Award. I can’t say enough about these three stand out performers, but I will say that they make me wish I had just a smidgen of their talent.

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The biggest difference between this show and the last one I saw was how impressed I was this time by the male leads. Randal Keith, David Burnham and Andrew Ragone were at the top of their game with this particular performance and I was more impressed than ever with their vocal range, powerhouse voices and stellar performances. Randal Keith was born to perform and he easily has one of the best voices out there. David Burnham and Andrew Ragone bring a masculinity to stage that rounds out the sweetness of the ladies.

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Every song in this amazing show quickly becomes a favorite with hits from shows like, Cabaret, Chorus Line and Chicago. Not only was I mesmerized by the lead vocalists, but I was also blown away by the cast of fabulous dancers. All of them are extremely talented and lend so much to this production. There were three stand outs for not only their fancy footwork, but by their shining personalities. Natacha Bachour is a gorgeous creature that stood out in every thing she did. Stefan Raulston is the dance captain and with good reason. His smile, his easy moves and his connection with the audience makes him someone to watch. However, the dancer that caught my attention and made me want to know more about who she is and where she comes from is, Genise Ruidiaz. This young lady hails from Miami, Florida and throughout each and every performance, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by her beauty, her acting and her flawless dancing.

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Every performance and every song from ShowStoppers is simply the best. I would like to tell you about all my favorite moments, like the jailhouse scene from Chicago that has world class pizzazz with lovely leading lady, Lindsay Roginski. Then another favorite was Nicole Kaplan Fenton singing alongside David Burnham in Money Money or when she plays the adorable Lola in A Little Brains, A Little Talent. This petite, uber talented lady could easily be mistaken for Kristen Chenoweth except she brings her own perfectly suited personality to life when she performs each of her fantastic numbers. I would also like to tell you how magical and powerful the newest cast member, Rachel Tyler was when she sang, Don’t Rain On My Parade from Funny Girl. I thought I had seen a great show, I thought I had witnessed polished talent, I thought the show was as good as a show could be, until Ms. Tyler came out and nailed this classic number from Funny Girl. It doesn’t get better than that. Ms. Streisand should be jealous.

If you have never seen a Broadway musical, or if you have seen them all, you will still want to go see Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers. It is the epitome of the greatest songs from the all-time best Broadway shows. Even if you don’t think you like Broadway, you will still be pleasantly surprised and leave the theatre feeling something you didn’t expect to feel. There is nothing like live musical theatre and with this show featuring a thirty-four piece orchestra conducted by Maestro Dave Loeb, you will be entertained in a way you’ve never been before.

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Tammy Beebe

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I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to see Jerry Presley’s Elvis Live show in Branson. I loved the show, loved Jerry and was very impressed with both the band and the back-up singers. Those of you that read the blog post about the show, know that there was one voice that stood out from the rest and that was, Tammy Beebe.

Tammy was gracious enough to meet me for lunch and we had a chance to get to know each other. Her handsome hubby came along and within minutes, it felt like I was sitting with friends. The Beebes are friendly, open, authentic and genuinely nice people. I usually like to interview people one on one as I find them to be more talkative and forthcoming than when they are with their significant other, but this couple was different. As husband and wife and life-long friends, they brought a dynamic to the interview that I found charming and heart-warming.

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One thing that a lot of entertainers in this town seem to have in common is, they’re happy people. I think part of that comes from their faith, and their families, but mostly, I think it’s because they are chasing their dreams, doing what they love to do. There is no better feeling than getting up each day knowing that you are utilizing your God given talents. Tammy and her husband Brian are optimistic about their recent relocation to Branson. And, I have to agree with them. I think Branson is lucky to have another addition to the music scene.

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Not only does Tammy have one of the prettiest voices I’ve ever heard, she is also one of the most beautiful women that I’ve ever seen. Inside and out. I put great stock in how a person is on the inside and Tammy is so talented that she could be green and covered in warts and she would still wow you with her singing. However, it’s not often that someone so radiant and stunning comes along that also sings like an angel. I had a hard time not staring at her over lunch, because she has the old-time Hollywood look. She’s as glamorous as Jane Russell or Ava Gardner and if she ever decides to pursue an acting career, she would look great on the big screen.

Tammy is also owner at BB Artistry and is an amazing make-up artist. She graciously volunteered to do my “author” photo and promised me that she would have me looking very glam. For my female friends, you have to go check out her site. She also does image consulting and skin care and once you lay eyes on this pretty lady, you’ll want to know her secrets.

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I’ve learned to ask who else in the family is talented and wasn’t surprised when Tammy told me about growing up with musically inclined parents. She sang in church from a young age, but told me that she never really took it that seriously, until she was a little older. The biggest surprise for me was how low of a speaking voice Tammy has, when she hits the highest notes, five days a week in her show at the Jim Stafford Theatre. She told me that she’s a natural alto singer and she’s had to train her voice and herself to reach the notes she does. That’s dedication, talent and perseverance.

Both Tammy and Brian are true examples of people that live by faith. They told me that it’s not always about what they want, it’s about what God wants. They include a lot of prayer in their daily lives and believe that God will lead them down the paths they are meant to walk. During the interview I found out that a few years ago, Tammy had auditioned for a part in Hairspray. Yes, Hairspray that is on Broadway in New York and the same Hairspray that starred John Travolta. She got the part, but knew in her heart that a move to New York wasn’t what was right for her at that time. She did admit with a big smile that she turned down the role before she knew about who her handsome co-star would be.

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So, there’s a little gem here in Branson that you have to go see and hear. I wouldn’t be surprised in just a few years time that Tammy could be at her own theatre, but for now, she says that she absolutely loves her job as a back-up singer for Jerry Presley. She loves the energy that Jerry brings to the show impersonating his famous cousin and has loved the challenge of learning all the Elvis songs. I can’t imagine anyone else singing her part and you won’t either, once you’ve seen her live.

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Jerry Presley’s Elvis Live

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Thanks to our friend, Denny Yeary, we had a chance to see Jerry Presley in Elvis Live at The Jim Stafford Theatre earlier this week. Denny is the handsome gentleman that is standing far right on stage in the video. He is one of the back-up singers in the show and he blew me away with some of his bass slides. My husband and Denny have been friends for more than 30 years and of course it’s a no-brainer that I need to sit with Denny and get a little of his story. Hopefully soon.

There are three or four Elvis impersonator’s in town and I’m sure that there are a handful of other performers that sing some of his signature songs, even if they don’t try to look or act like the King. However, there is only one entertainer in Branson who purports to be a relative of Elvis Presley and that is none other than, Jerry Presley. I had a chance to meet him after the show and he has promised to give me an interview, but through the couple of words I had with him and asking Denny a few questions, I can tell you that he’s been singing and entertaining since 1970 and was the first Elvis impersonator to come to Branson in 1985. He opened his own theatre here in town and appropriately called it, The King’s Mansion.

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Jerry Presley performs five days a week and highlights songs from two of Elvis’ most famous concerts:

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Jerry explains early on in the show that he likes mixing it up and included songs from both shows. Something that I found extremely fascinating was the two sides that the audience got to see of Jerry. He does a great job impersonating Elvis and oft times sounds exactly like his famous cousin. Then after an energy packed number, the music ends and he talks to the audience about the next song coming up and the difference in even his demeanor is remarkable. Jerry Presley has this soft, quiet voice and even though he has a southern drawl, when he speaks he sounds nothing like Elvis. So, Jerry appears to be a very humble, mild-mannered and quiet guy when he’s not belting out Suspicious Minds or In the Ghetto.

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The Jim Stafford theatre is a beautiful venue complete with red velvets and a nice sized stage. Big enough to accommodate a six-piece band that includes Clayton Watson playing the grand piano. Also on stage are four,out of this world, back-up singers. Singing bass is our friend, Denny Yeary. He does a great job holding the low end and his voice and tone actually made the floor under my feet vibrate on a few of the songs. Denny is also the emcee of the show and when he speaks you know that he’s show-biz personified.

Rounding out the rest of the amazingly talented singers are: Brett Reith, Jenny Brillhart and Tammy Beebe. What these amazing performers do for this production is brilliant and takes the show to another level. A lot of people don’t realize the importance that the back-up singers bring to each and every song. It’s more than oohing and aahing, it’s musically making the song fuller, richer, whole. Elvis had legendary singers like The Jordanaires and The Stamps Quartet and a woman that sang those incredibly high parts by the name of Kathy Westmoreland. Well, I have to say that the lovely young woman that sings those parts for this Branson show is better than Kathy Westmoreland. Yep, that good. Stand out good.

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When Tammy Beebe hit the first high notes of the night, I broke out in goose-bumps and immediately identified where the sweet sound was coming from. Wow! What a voice. The reason I said that I think she’s better than Kathy Westmoreland is because Tammy not only hits every high note pitch perfect, but the notes literally come from her gut and her soul. For those of you that know me personally, you know it’s always about heart and how much you put out there. Well, Tammy Beebe puts it all out there and along with her three side-kicks they manage to elevate the show to outstanding.

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So, the next time you’re in Branson and you’re in the mood for some great entertainment, go check out the Jerry Presley Elvis Live show at the Jim Stafford Theatre. You’ll leave with a smile on your face and humming all your favorite Elvis tunes.

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Baldknobbers Jamboree

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For those of you that plan on visiting Branson, I highly recommend that you find time to go see the Baldknobbers Jamboree show. For those of you that aren’t planning on visiting in the near future, I would suggest you change those plans because you don’t want to miss all the entertainment and talent that this little small mountain town has to offer. I was graciously invited to attend this original family show that started it all back in 1959.

Jim, Lyle, Bob and Bill Mabe were the four brothers that decided to bring a musical show to Branson. Along with Chick Allen who was a family friend, they started playing on Friday and Saturday night in the lower level of the Branson Community building. They were such a success that in very short order it was necessary to remodel the old skating rink in town in order to have seating for all the folks that were coming to see the show each night. In 1968 they built a theater on Hwy. 76 which is now commonly referred to as, “the strip”.

Fifty-six years later and the Mabe family is still carrying on that musical tradition. The Baldknobbers Jamboree is an old-fashioned variety show that features country music, lots of comedy by way of Hargus Marcel (played by Jerl Adams) and Droopy Drawers Jr. (played by Tim Mabe), a couple of gospel tunes and a patriotic medley that honors all the men and women who so courageously have served our country. Was it what I had expected? Yes and no.

From the outside, the theater is pretty and very nicely landscaped. You walk up a hill (of course you walk up a hill, this is the Ozarks!) and round the corner to stand under the covered portico. Through the set of glass doors is a lobby that opens up with high ceilings, lots of photos and memorabilia and a clean, classy look of black and white. There’s a small gift shop, a concessions area and a huge American flag under glass. I later learned that the Mabes have donated numerous items to the Smithsonian in order to preserve the history and culture that their family has been such a large part of.

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We were escorted to our front row seats by a lovely young woman and we didn’t have long to wait before the magic of the evening began. Unfortunately, we had just long enough for me to manage to spill an almost entire bucket of popcorn. I had started visiting with the lady seated next to me that was visiting Branson from Cincinnati and for those of you that know me personally, you know that I have to use my hands when I talk or I probably couldn’t talk! Sure enough, there goes my arm with a mind of it’s own and before I could stop it, I managed to end up with popcorn flying all over the polished floor. I was mortified and embarrassed and immediately ran to get some help to get all the kernels cleaned up before the show started. The first person I saw was the pretty usher that had showed us to our seats. I explained what happened and Arianna could not have been more understanding. She immediately grabbed broom and dustpan and then laughingly put me at ease by telling me her misadventure with a coffee pot that had happened earlier to her. She told me not to be embarrassed and took charge of the situation and had the popcorn cleaned up in just a few seconds. She handled the situation like someone much older and the fact that she went out of her way to put this clutzy, middle-aged woman at ease, told me a lot about the quality of this show, theater and family.

Thankfully, the show began shortly and for the two hours, I was simply enchanted. Brandon Mabe is a third generation Mabe performer and he’s the perfect front man and emcee for the show. It doesn’t hurt that he’s very gentle on the eyes. He’s not only incredibly handsome, but when he smiles (which is anytime that he isn’t singing or playing straight-man to Droopy and Hargus) there’s a crinkling of lines at his eyes, which tells me the smile is from the heart and wonderfully authentic. He has a southern drawl and when he croons a country classic I know the pacemakers of some of the female audience members go just a little bit haywire. Wonder if they’ve ever had to call an ambulance over an elderly star-struck patron getting a case of the pitter-patters because of this good-looking young man?

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Patty Mabe took the stage a couple of songs later and she blew me away! This is one of the classiest ladies that I’ve ever gotten to meet. The first thing that impresses you is her strong stage presence and her beauty. She’s the wife of Tim Mabe and the mother to Brandon and watching her perform was inspirational. She has a strong voice, and her performances are raised to the divine level because of her very persona and attitude. I know some of you have seen their television reality show called Branson Famous, and some of you might think Patty is a bit of the witch that they allude to on that show. But, I want to tell you that a lot of strong women throughout history have been called names that were undeserved and this is one of those times. First off, folks, you do know that television is not real, right? What is real is the confidence and self esteem that it takes to get on a stage six days a week and perform. This lady has it all. Talent, beauty and heart. I came away from the night with great respect for this woman and the young girls of the world could do a lot worse than looking up to this wife, mother, grandmother and Branson performer.

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As if there were not enough talent in this family already, another handsome Mabe also graces the stage each night. His name is Denton Mabe and I personally think he should be nicknamed, the Dreamy Cowboy. This young man is classically chiseled with deep set, gorgeous eyes and a gentle cowboy nature just emanates from him. He’s got a strong voice that’s made for hillbilly rock and crossover country and every song he sang was powerfully crafted. Yeah, I could hear a few more pacemakers sizzling in the audience as he took the stage. I also have to mention what a gentleman he was at the end of intermission when he personally took the time to seek me out and introduce himself. He not only knows how to entertain people in the best way possible, but he’s also aware of how to make other people feel. He made ME feel important when it was him and his family that were the stars. Outstanding young man who I have a feeling is going to do great things in this life.

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The most surprising performance of the night came from a gorgeous little creature named Megan McCombs. You’ve all seen her on t.v. She’s the pretty little filly that captured Brandon’s heart and is now engaged to marry him. I knew she was a pretty girl, but I had no idea how stunning she really is. She came out for a song in this eloquent, purple and white sequined number that reflected the lights and she took my breath away. That’s how beautiful she was. Then, she opened her mouth to sing. Wow! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone live and on stage that had as much emotion and feeling as Megan does when she sings. She’s not one of those wispy quiet singers that you have to strain to listen to. She looks like an angel and she sings like a winged creature in an enchanted forest. Sweet, strong, pure and from the heart. This young lady sings from her gut. I don’t know her story yet, but I can tell you, there is one. She puts so much feeling into every single note and as you watch her perform, you can literally see her pull it from somewhere deep inside. If this is what the future of Branson looks like, then I predict another boom.

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At this fairly early point in the show, you know I’m getting a little emotional. Not over the top yet, but I’m feeling the love and I’m allowing my heart to bask in all the music and the fun. Well, Megan comes out and does her sweet, sultry song and she softens me up. Then Brandon comes on stage and does this song about the past, replete with two large screens on either side of the stage showing a collage of Mabe family pictures. It was a look into the past and I knew I was starting to get mushy. Not a second goes by in which to get the misty eyes under control, before the entire ensemble launched into a patriotic medley honoring the veterans in the audience. Oh, yeah, you know by now, it’s a battle not to let my eyes fill with tears and you know it’s a battle  I’m probably gonna lose. The military anthems were sang in such perfect harmony and to accompany the sweet, sweet sound, Brandon invited the veterans present to stand when they sang the song from their branch of the military. They get to the Navy song, and the man seated next to us stands up. I am clapping like everyone else and I look at the Naval veteran and see tears streaming down his face. You could see the pride, the sadness, and the memories in those tears and the fact that this wonderful Branson family show pays this honor to our veterans in every single performance, just made me absolutely lose it. Full on, mascara running tears! Thanks, Baldknobbers!

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Thankfully, the curtain fell quickly after the crying episode and during intermission, I was able to escape to the ladies room to fix my face. I was impressed with the theater from the moment I first saw it, but on a little funny side note that probably only my women friends are going to want to know about, the ladies room was the nicest in Branson! There were lots of stalls and sinks and a nice decor and it even smelled nice. I know the guys don’t care much, but for us women, whenever you attend an event of any size and you need to use the facilities, there are usually three stalls and three-hundred women waiting to use them. There had to be a female Baldknobber involved with the blueprints for the powder room.

I had just enough time when I returned to the auditorium, to get to see Tim and Brent Mabe again and shake their hands and get a hug. I also got to finally introduce myself to Patty and I’m hoping she will agree to lunch with me one day soon. I also got to say hi to Brandon and Megan who really are pretty people, inside and out. And, yes, Brandon, I do know you’re probably not thrilled to be called pretty, but when paired with that fiance of yours, you two truly are pretty people.

The second half of the show began and once again, it was top of the line, quality entertainment. During the show we were gifted with a a rendition of LaBamba from the very talented fiddle player, Nathan Agdeppa. It was fun and definitely not country and he even got the crowd clapping along on the chorus. We also had the pleasure of listening to another fiddle solo from a member of the band that is from, of all places, Tokyo, Japan! His name is Mike Ito and he has been with the band for more than thirty years!

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I think one of my favorite parts of the show and for sure, the most romantic had to be the duet that Brandon Mabe and Megan McCombs sang. They started off on separate ends of the stage with Megan wearing this ruby red dress that was perfectly suited for the number. As the two sang their verses they inched closer to each other in pantomime of the song they were singing. By the time they were just inches from each other and looking deeply into each other’s eyes, it felt like a Disney love story and you know know what a sucker I am for Disney. No wonder I’ve heard Brandon and Megan described as the “Brangelina” of Branson! After seeing them perform that song together, I understand the moniker completely.

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One of the most poignant part of the shows was toward the end and it was the Baldknobbers gospel segment. First off, the women were literally angels in white and kudos to the stage lighting helping to make it look like they were enveloped in moonbeams sent from heaven. The harmonies of the two women, joined by third generation Mabe cousins, Brandon and Denton was as pretty as any I’ve ever heard. The melodies were simple and the tones blended so perfectly together. Denton also sang, The Old Rugged Cross and it was close to another teary moment for me.

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So, you know it was a good evening, with top of the line performances, beautiful costuming, mystical lighting and beautiful songs. What still needs to be mentioned is the comedy performances. Throughout the show, there were constant interruptions by the bumbling duo known as Droopy Drawers Jr. and Hargus Marcel. They told jokes, they interacted with the audience and they just plain knew how to entertain. Tim Mabe told me that hillbilly comedy is the cornerstone of Branson and back in the day, it was what people from up north or out west expected when they came to Branson. It’s a formula that is still alive and well and it’s amazing that it works so well. Every time Droopy and Hargus got into their hilarious dialogs, I would look around at the faces of the audience. Every single one of them had a smile on their face and had forgotten their cares and troubles for just a little bit. They were entertained and that’s exactly what Branson is famous for. Entertaining.

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If you ever get a chance to come to this beautiful and vibrant part of the country, I would encourage you to put the Baldknobbers show on your list of must sees. They’re the original and they know what they’re doing. You’re gonna be entertained and you’re gonna get to escape reality for just a little while. Helping to make it all happen are Brent Mabe, music director, and the rest of the talented band. Brent is also second generation Mabe and is a big part of carrying on this family legacy.

I had a wildly entertaining night and it will definitely live in memories as the epitome of all that is Branson. I want to thank the Mabe family and the entire cast, band and any other Baldknobbers that I might have missed. I can see why ya’ll have been around for fifty-six years and I would hazard to guess that there might just be another fifty ahead!

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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.

New York Day Three

Good Morning, my friends!

Waking up to a warm 72 degrees this morning in Brooklyn, NY. Beautiful blue sky out there and it promises to be another picture perfect day. It’s our last full day in New York and we plan on going out to Coney Island today. I’m going to catch you up on all our fun from yesterday and hopefully will be able to get a post in this evening when we get back sharing with you the pictures and the fun we’re going to have today. 

Yesterday started with finding out that the subway train that we normally take doesn’t run on weekends, so we scrambled first thing to find a bus that would take us to a transfer station that would then get us down to Rockefeller Center. Between the two of us and a grumpy, Polish lady, we managed to get on the right bus and get to the right subway station. Once again we managed to get to where we needed to be with not a minute to spare. The nice thing about that is we didn’t have to stand in line.

We entered Rockefeller Plaza off of 50th St. and we’re immediately ushered to the elevators that would take us to the top. Elevator capacity is only 15 people and once inside you can look through the plexiglass roof and see all the way up to the top of the shaft. The elevator rose quickly and while I didn’t watch the ascent it still gave me that fluttery feeling in my stomach and when I wondered why we feel these things, I read that just like your ears are a barometer and your skin is a thermometer, well, your stomach is an accelerometer. See what you learn while on vacation in New York?

The elevator lets you off on the 67th floor and you exit out onto patios that have plexi-glass partitions guarding the ledges of the building so that no one jumps. You’re able to see the city from all four sides of the building and it’s a panoramic view that is simply amazing. On one side you see Central Park in the middle of all the skyscrapers and you look off into New York Harbor and can see the Hudson and the East River. On the other side is a perfect photo op for the Empire State Building and of course you can see pieces of Times Square and the Broadway section. I would love to spend a few hours on the rooftop with a native New Yorker and have them point out all the different buildings and tell me their names and their histories. The different styles of architecture fascinates me and intrigues me. I live in the 21st century and it’s still a marvel to me how they built these graceful buildings that reach so far into the sky. We made our way up eventually all the way to the 70th floor which is literally the top of the Rock and on this level most of the plexi-glass partitions are absent as there are natural barriers to keep you from leaning over or falling off. To see the views again without any obstruction or barrier was a little bit like flying to have that bird’s eyeview. Seeing the city from that vantage point also allowed me to get more familiar with the lay out of this huge metropolis.

We descended as quickly as we went up and this time I was able to look up and watch us fall from the 70th floor. Pretty cool. Susan and I took a break, found a Starbucks (I’ve only seen maybe 50 of them so far) and got some pastry and an Americano and sat in the garden cafe that looks out onto the famous Rockefeller plaza. It was fun sitting in 30 Rock and imagining all the people that go up the twin escalators every day. 

After a short break we went in search of Broadway as I wanted to see every theater and look at every playbill. It’s just a short walk from Rockefeller Center and within minutes I was standing on Broadway. I had never been to a Broadway show until my friend, Lee began taking me last year to the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. I’ve fallen in love with everything Broadway starting with my first one, Mary Poppins. To see the “real” Broadway and to stand in front of the famed doors of these historic theatres made me feel so complete. To read the play bills from Wicked and Once and Kinky Boots made it seem so real. Some of the theatres took me back in time with their bright lights and flashing marquees. I’m not sure I found every theatre on Broadway, but I did my best. The only thing that could have made this part of the trip any better, any more special, would be getting to see it with the man that introduced me to the theatre. One day, my friend, I promise I will take YOU to your first New York Broadway show!

We had planned on eating at the Stardust Diner and we did find the restaurant in fairly short order. There’s some renovation under way and it was a little hard to see the name under the scaffolding. We crossed the street and realized as we got to the diner that there was a line of people waiting to be seated for lunch. Not a little line, either, but one that stretched around the corner and half way down the block. I settled for taking some pictures and we reluctantly moved on to other sights and picture opportunities.

We finally took time out for lunch and found an adorable Mexican restaurant that had outside dining right on the sidewalk in front of the building. We were on 48th St. in the heart of the theatre district and I couldn’t help but wonder how many performers and Tony award winning stars had eaten here or passed by here everyday on their way to perform. Tonight is the 68th annual Tony awards live from Radio City Music Hall and to think I’m walking the same sidewalk that these stars have walked made me feel pretty special. Can you tell that I just love this town? You might even say, it’s my kind of town.

Broadway melds right into Times Square and before long I found myself standing in front of the place where the ball drops on New Year’s eve and the funny thing was that it was much smaller than I had imagined. Really, when I think of it, New York is a juxtaposition with everything being both larger and smaller than what I thought it would be. Hard to explain, but when you’re standing there, you’re overwhelmed with the enormity of the huge buildings and the dazzling lights, but at the same time, it’s a city block and while impressive and of course quite famous, it’s not as big as it seems on television. Susan just helped me with the word I was looking for: intimate. It’s an intimate setting blaring with bright neon lights and video billboards, but it’s personal and intimate. Thanks, Sue! 

We reluctantly left the bright lights and descended into the Times Square subway station to catch a train downtown. We popped up in China Town and we were taken back a century or so. Seriously. This is not the China Town of San Francisco which I’ve been to many times since I grew up not far from there. This is New York’s China Town and it’s hard to describe the sights and the sounds and the smells. It’s crowded with both locals and with tourists and the locals have to sort of hate the intrusion into their world that all us out of towners bring. We saw jewelry stores galore, restaurants and markets selling things that were unfamiliar to me. I recognized ducks hanging in windows and some of the veggies sold out of baskets, but there were a lot of Chinese items that I couldn’t even guess as to what they might be. There’s lots of street vendors hawking to the tourists, but you also see old grandmothers in traditional garb being helped to the market by their sons and daughters. The buildings are old and dilapidated with rickety fire escapes running up the sides of the apartment houses. It’s dirty with trash in the streets and grime on the hand rails leading to the shops and eating establishments. Once you get onto the side streets most of the signs are all in Chinese and I got the feeling that we weren’t particularly welcomed or wanted there. It smelled. It smelled of foreign spices and literally decades of sweat and tears. Chinatown seemed to be the hardest place I’ve seen in New York and it’s one place I didn’t dreamily think about living in. 

The highlight of China Town for me was finding a park to use the restroom and seeing two elderly chinese men playing a game of checkers in the park. Classic New York scene and Susan snapped a picture to capture that sweet moment. The bathroom was horribly dirty and very unsanitary and it was a side of New York that I had not seen up until then. 

We walked a few short blocks over and looked at City Hall and the Supreme Court building. Magnificent. Overwhelming. Huge. Grandiose. Old architecture that is monumental in size and adornment. We continued hoofing our way across city blocks and took a small left turn to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge. We then proceeded to cross the Hudson River on foot and of course I had the opportunity to snap another hundred pictures. At this point in the day, I think Susan and I both had the beginnings of blisters and the sun was hot and beating down. We took a few breaks along the way, and though the views were well worth that walk, we were getting pretty weary. I have to say that I love the fact that from now on when I see the Brooklyn Bridge, I will know what it felt like to walk a little over a mile on that historic piece of history and to see Manhattan behind me glistening in all it’s wonder and glory. 

What a wonderful day full of so many sights and sounds. Susan is such an absolute joy with her bubbly personality and the patience of a saint. We have always gotten along and this trip is no exception. We were laughing about it the other night as we realized that in forty years of friendship we have never had such much as one cross word with one another. Not one. Now that’s simply amazing and so unique and special. How blessed am I? You know my heart is full to bursting with gratitude and gratefulness for this trip and for this friendship. If I’m never successful at any other thing in life, I take great satisfaction in knowing that I was one half of one of the best and closest friendships ever and for that I’m eternally thankful.

Okay, peeps of mine, it’s time to get in the shower and get our day started. We have trains to catch and a roller coaster to ride. You know I’m gonna be taking a couple of pictures and checking in with all of you sometime this evening.

Whatever all of you are doing today, I thank you for going on this wonderful journey with me.Image

New York….Day Two Continued

Hello friends!

Susan and I put in another very full day, but finally came back to the apartment for a rest and to upload the pictures from today. She’s resting and I’m doing what I love and that is sharing my day with all of you. It’s better than a nap, and besides, who needs to sleep when they’re in New York? As promised, I am going to start right where I left off last night before I had to shut my eyes for a few hours.

When I last left you, I believe we were getting on the ferry to Ellis Island. It’s a very short four or five minute ride and the dock is unique in that it sits in the middle of the buildings. The ferry pulls right up to the concrete wall and is tied off and we disembark with a gentle sea breeze blowing across the island. The building that houses the museum is old but regal, large but not overwhelming and I had the impression that it was military or institution style architecture. Nothing fancy, very practical and built to accommodate large numbers of people. 

We ascended a wide platform of steps and entered into Immigration hall. The outside might have felt utilitarian but the minute you enter into the hall that 12 million people passed through on their first day in America, the building becomes sacred. This is history. This is how many of our ancestors came to America. This was how America was built. As you walk through the exhibits and you hear their stories, you definitely have a sense of pride for the strength and courage it took to cross those oceans and enter a world totally different from the one they left behind. 

For me it helped me to understand more about how New York developed as a city. The area we are staying in is predominantly Polish, and today I went to China Town and of course there’s Little Italy and the Jewish section. There are many more ethnically based neighborhoods and one of the surprising things for me has been that as isolated as some of these neighborhoods seem, from what I’ve seen, there is very little racism today in New York city as a whole. This place is such a melting pot and when you stand on the subway platform you hear conversations in at least five different languages. Everyone here manages today to live and work and play together and New York should be applauded for that. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, that was not the case. Some of the immigrants came as indentured servants and were considered below 2nd class citizens. No wonder that after being processed through Ellis Island they gravitated towards anything that could bring a sense of home and of who they were as a people. Neighborhoods formed where your neighbors spoke your language and the markets carried the foods you were used to. Churches were built that allowed you to pray as you did in the old country and customs were carried from the old world to the new. 

After we toured the exhibit we were able to look for records of my husband’s relatives as I knew that he had some uncles and maybe even his father come through at some point. I found his surname and it made me feel connected to know someone whose family name is in the book. It was a nice history lesson and it was one that made you realize how little differences there really is between us as humans no matter where you come from or no matter what country or year your own ancestors might have been processed through Ellis Island. 

We went out to catch the ferry and there was already a throng of people waiting to go back to the city. We went and stood in line and a ferry came along quickly but very few people actually departed to tour Ellis Island. They were staying on the boat for the return trip to New York. So, we had to wait for another one. The line moved just a couple inches. We waited for another one and once again the line moved barely at all with everyone at that point starting to jostle and push to try to go forward. Again, no room on the ferry. I have to say that while the National Park Service does a good job with many things, crowd control and getting people to and from this particular park is not one of them. It was pretty warm, there were at least a 1000 people in line, which wasn’t really a line, just more of a throng and we waited about two hours before we were finally able to board. To confess, I did have a bit of a melt down and had to apologize to Susan for getting grumpy and impatient. At that point, my hip was already hurting and standing for two hours just about did me in. I thought I was just going to finally have to fight my way out of the crowd and just go lay on the grass until the Park Service physically removed me. It was bad. I could have fought to hold my tongue with the young lady who felt she needed to be in front of me in line. I was fairly rude and to the point of tears when we finally made our way onto something like the fifth ferry to see dock beside us. Finally, relief and a return to my senses.

We disembarked back at Battery Park and had to quickly hoof it over to the 911 Memorial and Museum because we had tickets for 4:00pm and by the time we exited Battery Park it was about 3:45pm. The jogging actually felt pretty good after standing for so long and we arrived out of breath just as the 4:00 people were being admitted. It was 4:02. Whew! We made it, but barely. 

Now, I’m gonna stop here for just a second and forewarn everyone who might me sensitive or emotional, because the next few paragraphs are heart wrenching. I hope I bring the emotion and the respect that it deserves, but I was very emotional during my three hours in the museum and I’m probably going to make you shed some tears if you do continue reading from this point. 

As soon as you enter through the glass doors, there is a security checkpoint. It’s very orderly and everything is so new, it even smells new. New paint, new carpet, new security screeners. Once you clear security you descend down an escalator and you see twisted rusty beams at the bottom. Sitting at the bottom of the escalator are two of the tridents that were both support and decoration for the two towers. If you will look at a picture of the towers you will see beams that split into three prongs as they go upward in the building structure. To stand there and see those two symbols of the tragedy that day, made it real for me in a way that seeing it all on television could never do. I saw those tridents and knew that I had to go forward and witness first hand the history of the evil that was perpetrated on New York on that September morning. Directly behind the tridents, through the glass is the tallest building in the United States, One World Trade Center. What a perfect framing of the old and of the rebuilding of the new. Just like the human spirit. 

From there we moved into the actual start of the museum with a huge map showing the hijacked planes routes and at what time impact occurred. When I looked at the map and thought back to that day, I remembered of course, exactly where I was and what I was doing minutes after the first plane flew into the building. At that moment an audio recording was played recounting details of where from various people about what they were doing when they heard the awful news. The first man said: ” I was sitting in a coffee shop in Knoxville, Tennessee.” That gave me goose bumps when I I heard what the man had just said, as he had interrupted my memory of exactly where I was that day. I was just waking up and turning on my t.v. in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

You then walk through panels displaying the many photographs that were captured early that day after the first and then the second jet exploded through the towers. Hundreds of photos of people staring skyward, shock and disbelief showing in their expressions and the horror showing in their eyes. Many had their hands over their mouths in what appeared to be an effort to hold in the terror that New Yorker’s had to feel after the second plane flew through the South Tower. Once through the panels you come to another escalator and a large area that overlooks the floor below. On the immediate left side is the actual slurry wall that held back the Hudson river the day of the attack. Also along this wall is the section of twisted iron that the nose of the hijacked plane sliced through. It’s sheared at the top and horribly twisted the entire length of the massive, steel beams. It’s the closest you have to seeing the impact of the jets as you are presented with a real life piece of evidence of the horrific act that was committed against not just New York and America, but the entire human race. It just makes your heart race with the knowledge that there is that kind of evil in the world. 

To the right and not in direct line of sight, you see a wall covered in blue tiles. Blues of every hue from light to dark and every shade in between. There are almost 3000 tiles along this wall along with the inscription: “No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time”. Behind and below this wall is a repository for many of the unidentified remains that were recovered. The artist wanted to capture the exact shade of blue that was the New York sky that morning before the smoke and ash obscured the sky. No two hues are repeated and it’s peaceful and soothing and somber. It’s appropriate and serene and necessary and painful. 

The museum has a very hushed quality and you see many walking around with tears tracking down their face without a moment of embarrassment. What you see and hear and feel as you walk through exhibit after exhibit cannot be contained and in the more emotional rooms there are pedestals with Kleenix for your use. And, they get used. Other than a docent and some guides, I never heard a voice above a whisper. There’s reverence here from everyone including children that had not been born when the attacks occurred. The little ones were on their best behavior and I applaud the parents who brought them to learn what happened and understand the greatest attack on American soil in the history of our country. 

Each exhibit told a different story of all the horrors of that day. North tower, South tower, Pentagon, Pennsylvania. Timelines and news clips and first hand accounts from survivors and families that lost a loved one. There was an exhibit explaining who attacked us and why they attacked us and I couldn’t stomach it at all. I quickly moved through glancing only briefly at the facts and at the faces of these madmen. I left the room and honestly feel like they were given too much space. I understand that they are a part of the story, but their faces are not something that I ever want to look upon again. 

The toughest room of all for me was one that had entire walls covered with the missing posters that loved ones tearfully made that day. I could feel the terror and the hope in these hastily made posters with phone numbers and messages begging for any information on their loved one. Then there were door sized cards in memoriam for husbands and fathers and wives and mothers. Memorials that had sprung up close to ground zero and at fire houses and in neighborhoods. Teddy bears, flowers, cards, messages of love and balloons all reminding us of the pain and the grief that so many people suffered through because of a radical religious group that thought that killing thousands would change something. It did change something. It changed the lives of thousands and it changed our nation forever. It also changed our world forever. 

Near the end of the tour there is an exhibit where no photographs are allowed and it’s called the Memorial Room. Adorned on all four outside walls are photos depicting all to die in the attacks not only from 911 but also the people that lost their lives to this same group of terrorists at the same building in 1993. There’s a smaller chamber that has benches and a recitation of each name of those who died and a tribute from someone they knew. Bag pipes play Amazing Grace softly in the background. 

We left with a feeling of gratefulness and hope in the human race. Not only did the museum hold nothing back and told the story in a sometimes, in your face, brutal manner but it also reminds of the the great resilience that we’re capable of. It’s important that we all remember those who lost their lives that day, but we should also honor all the survivors that have had to be brave and have the courage to go on. What happened on that beautiful September morning should never happen again. To anyone. Anywhere. For ANY reason. 

This was one of the most powerful and moving things I have ever experienced and I would go back again, but not for a long time. It’s that strong. It’s that painful. It’s that important. I’m honored to have walked in history and to be able to respect all the good that was shown when evil showed her ugly face. The people of this city are to be praised and applauded for the bravery that was shown not only by the New York Fire Department and the New York Police Department, but by the every day people, the people of New York, that stood up to be heroes when heroes were needed.

We met up with a friend of Susan’s and after the long and emotional day, I excused myself fairly quickly and after much reassurances to Susan, I made my way from Manhattan to the apartment by myself. Yep, you read that right, I rode the subway home by myself last night and almost felt like it was the most natural thing in the world. Pretty liberating, I can tell you that. 

Well, dear ones, it’s about time for dinner and I’ve been on here sharing with you for over two hours. I know Susan’s hungry and my stomach is starting to rumble so today’s tale of our adventures will just have to wait until either later tonight or sometime tomorrow. I hate getting behind once again, but you know a girls gotta have her New York pizza which I think we are just about to order. 

Yay! Pizza!Image