Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Birthday in Utah

Jacob celebrates his 26th birthday a day early in Utah.
June 25, 2017

Twenty-six years ago yesterday (June 26), my middle child, Jacob, was born. Over the years, we celebrated many birthdays together, but then Jacob grew up and moved out and got married. Then, ultimately, he and Danielle moved to another state, in a town far north of us. With a nearly-twelve-hour drive between us, we don't get to be there to celebrate with him anymore. 

I miss being with him on his birthdays (and other special times), but it's to be expected, of course. As parents, we know we've done our jobs well when our children become independent adults and make their own way in life. Even if sometimes it seems too far away.

Thank you to my sweet daughter-in-law Danielle for texting me these pictures of Jacob's birthday party on Sunday. It helps us feel like we've shared a little bit in his special day. 

We love you, Jacob!

Jacob opens a gift package sent from his parents in Arizona.

I gave Jacob a first aid kit to carry in his brand-new VW Jetta.

Lighting up the birthday cake.

Jacob blows out the candles.

Jacob tries out one of his new toys.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Knock at the Door

My niece Ashley with her baby Adelynn, visiting from Texas!
June 26, 2017

Today's start was far from exciting. I began by calling around to various appliance repair businesses, looking for someone to repair my dryer, but no one was answering their phones. By the time I'd tried every number in the yellow pages, I'd left messages on five answering machines. The first to call me back said they probably couldn't schedule me until early next week. (Visions of nasty laundromat visits in my future...) The second said they could be there in about three hours. "You're hired!" (I didn't actually say that.)

I was halfheartedly cleaning up the kitchen and still in my nightgown when the repairman showed up an hour and a half early. But I'm not complaining! It didn't take him long to replace the thermal fuse and accept my payment for $105. Then Mark called at 2:00 to be picked up from work, so I quickly brushed my teeth and got dressed (yeah, I like being retired) before pausing to use the restroom. That's when there was a knock at the door. Of course.

My niece Amber with her baby Hunter, visiting from the Valley.

I rushed to get my capris pulled up and everything tucked in while the knocking got louder and more insistent, and then I ran to open the front door. There, to my surprise, were six of my nieces. The day had just become infinitely more interesting!

All of these nieces belong to my brother Jeff and his wife Dana. I love to see these fun ladies at any time, but it was especially great today because they'd brought with them their oldest sisters, Ashley and Amber, whom I don't get to see all that often. Amber leads a busy life in the Valley of the Sun, while Ashley lives even farther away, in Texas. It was so awesome to get to spend some time with them!

More beautiful nieces: Brinley, Hayden, and Haley.

Of course, there was still the issue of picking Mark up from work to be dealt with, and I hated to tear myself away from our visit. So Amber agreed to go along with one of my newly-driver-permitted nieces (I think it was Hayden, but maybe it was Haley--sorry, I was too excited to see everyone!) to get Mark. He got a surprise when a strange car full of young ladies stopped to pick him up!

Meanwhile, we all had a good time getting caught up over the next hour or more. Ashley invited us to come see them in Texas sometime. I've kicked the idea around a time or two in the past, but there was so little time and so many places to go. However, now that I'm retired...we just might make it work out sometime! Not in the summer, though. No, no, no.

My niece Callie with her niece Kelsie. They're besties.

And, of course, the visit was all the sweeter for all the little bodies running around. Ashley has four children now, and Amber has two. When you don't see each other very often, those little ones grow up while your back is turned! I remember visiting Amber in the hospital when her oldest, Ian, was born. Now he's seven! And my brain kept insisting that Ashley's baby Addie was actually baby Kelsie, who is now five! It seems like time flies fastest when the young ones are growing up far too fast. 

Thanks for coming by, ladies! It truly made my day to spend a little time with you all. Now I'll look forward to meeting up again at the Independence Day festivities! Love you all!

The little lady in the middle, wearing the green shirt, is Callie, the youngest of
Jeff and Dana's thirteen children. The others are Callie's nieces and nephews.
On the left, Ashley's children: Garrett, Gage, Addie, and Kelsie. On the right:
Amber's sons, Ian and Hunter. And they're my grand-nieces and -nephews!

I'm adding a couple of pictures that Callie captured with my camera. A little fuzzy but definitely cute. I know Callie would want me to share.

Adelynn smiles for us, with her mom, Ashley.

Hunter looks happy with his Aunty Brinley.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Date with David Archuleta

Sarah Kinsky and David Archuleta together backstage after his concert.
It was an evening Sarah will never forget (and neither will I)!
June 23, 2017

Last night, Sarah and I had the experience of a lifetime. It began back in April, when Sarah heard that David Archuleta was coming to our rural mountain area to perform a concert in the town of Snowflake, about thirty minutes away from where we live. We had attended one of David's concerts in the Valley, back in March 2016, which was awesome, but also a little disappointing when we had no opportunity for autographs or pictures with him.

Not that most concerts allow such opportunities, mind you. However, given the smaller venue of the Archuleta concert, we'd hoped it might be like others we'd experienced. Back in July 2008, we'd seen a performance by the group called Six at their theater in Branson, Missouri. After the concert, the six Knudsen brothers came out to meet their lingering fans, take pictures, and sign autographs. When Sarah and I attended a performance by Taylor Hicks in Las Vegas, back in June 2013, he also met with fans after the show. It was pretty great.

Determined not to be disappointed again, Sarah made up her mind that we were going to pay the $120 price for the VIP tickets that included "Dinner with David" before the concert. Sarah's good friend Emmi decided to join us. And then began the LONG WAIT. Sarah counted down each day until it finally arrived. Yesterday.

David Archuleta arrives at a private home in Snowflake, AZ, with his managers.

For most of that wait, we didn't have any information about the dinner part, and we were starting to get nervous when Sarah finally received a text seven days before the concert. The dinner would be held at 5:00 at a private home in Snowflake. We picked up Emmi, who lives in Snowflake, and arrived at the dinner site right on time. We really had no idea what to expect, and I wondered how they were going to fit fifty or sixty fans into someone's house. As it turned out, the Kays' beautiful home was quite large, and there were only ten of us holding VIP tickets. That made it a nicely intimate event.

David was about twenty minutes late to the party. We all watched the front window anxiously. When a small dark car pulled up in front of the house, everyone froze in terrified anticipation. Except me. I'm too old now to be intimidated by celebrity (I had my own days of celebrity infatuation in my younger years, when I was crushing on Davy Jones of the Monkees and then, later, the Osmond Brothers). So I went to the window to peek out through the blinds and report to the younger ladies what was happening.

As you can see in the above photo, I tried to get a picture of David walking up the the house, but one of his managers stepped right in front of him as the camera clicked. Dang. Then he kept his nervous fans waiting a few minutes longer when he paused to meet the Kays' fluffy cat on the front porch. He actually took a picture of it and posted it to his Instagram. (I was on the other side of that window in his Instagram photo...)

David introduces himself, learning the names of everyone at the meet-and-greet.

When he finally came in, it was fun to see the various reactions to having David Archuleta right there in the room. One girl got all serious. One couldn't stop grinning, but also couldn't make herself look at him. Most were too nervous to say anything. Me? I took lots of pictures. Naturally.

He began by going around the room and meeting everyone. Except for about three of the girls (one of them Emmi), he learned all of our names quickly. I think he finally had Emmi's and the other two girls' names down by the end of the evening. He walked around the room and took a moment to speak to each person and learn a little about them. When he met Sarah, he commented that he liked her violin necklace and asked her if she played. She said that, yes, she played violin. When I told him she actually performs with White Mountain Symphony Orchestra, he seemed impressed, and music became a common theme the two of them shared for the rest of their contact. He seemed to really relate to her after that.


With two members of his band, David performs his new song "Invincible" for our small group.
(Funny side-note: You can see Sarah in the mirror behind David when I zoom in to his face...)

By the time David had met everyone, two members of his band arrived with the security guy, and they prepared to perform two songs for us: his own "Invincible" and Tracy Chapman's "Fast Cars." His concert later in the evening was amazing, but it can't even compare to having him sing right there for our little group, just a few feet away, without all the bells and whistles. It was beyond awesome.

Sarah waits while David signs a well-worn CD for her.

By this time, the awkwardness was beginning to wear off a bit and everyone was starting to relax. Since David had to go back to the theater at 6:00 to get ready for the concert, his managers suggested that it was a good time to take pictures and get autographs. The Kays had cleared an area inside with a blank wall as a backdrop, but when we moved to that room David noticed the view from a wide picture window. The back of the house was near the edge of a hill, with a beautiful panoramic view of the terrain beyond.

David liked the view so much that he said he wanted to get a picture from there. I seconded that idea, saying that I thought it was the perfect place from which to do all the pictures. Everyone agreed that was a good suggestion, so we all trooped out to the big backyard patio.

David Archuleta and Sarah Kinsky in Snowflake, Arizona.

The group spent the next twenty minutes or so having David sign pictures or CDs and then posing with him singly or in groups. One of the ladies with him manned our cameras and cell phones, and in fact seemed reluctant to let us take our own pictures, although they never said anything about me taking pictures of everything else. Perhaps they felt it would go faster if they handled the photo ops themselves. 

In between, David continued chatting amiably with each person. He is every bit as sweet and personable as he's portrayed in the media. I could totally picture him as one of my kids' friends, friendly and respectful, hanging out at our house the way my children's friends always have over the years.

Sarah and one of her best friends, Emmi, pose with David Archuleta.

David visits with everyone. This was the entire group present for the event.

The photo above captured pretty much everyone who was there for the dinner. There were ten of us ticket-holders; David and his managers and security and band members; and Brother and Sister Kay and two of their granddaughters, who helped prepare and serve the meal. They also had three grandsons hanging out in the basement who came up long enough to meet David at this point.

David spends time with Sarah, Emmi, and two other young girls.

David gives Sarah a final hug before leaving to prepare for his concert.

When it was time to go, David went around the patio again to give each person a personal good-bye and a hug. Then he was on his way, and it was time for the rest of us to have dinner. I had already told Sarah that I didn't think David would actually eat dinner with us, because I knew most singers don't eat right before a performance. Sure enough, the text we'd received stated that he would leave at 6:00 and then we would have our meal.

The dinner itself was also amazing! Thank you, Brother and Sister Kay!

The meal was delicious! Brother Kay perfectly grilled both steak and chicken, and he made a big bowl of guacamole. We also enjoyed baked potatoes, Spanish corn, tortilla cups, homemade bread, melon slices, and a strawberry shortcake that looked like it should be on the cover of a magazine. I filled the crispy little tortilla bowls with corn and guacamole, and they were heavenly. So was the bread (with plenty of butter).

I asked Sister Kay how she came to host this event and provide the dinner. She explained that she was on the board of Silver Creek Performing Arts, and she'd hosted hundreds of such dinners for visiting performers over the past ten years. What a cool thing to do!

While we were eating, Chris called Sarah and I teased, "He's checking up on you." After they spoke for a moment, I had Sarah hand me the phone. "Chris," I said, "I hate to tell you this, but Sarah and David were seriously making out. I think she's in love." The entire room burst into laughter, and Chris took the kidding with his usual good humor.

One of two tables prepared for us.

After the concert, David told us that they brought the leftover food over to the theater for him and his team to enjoy when they were ready. When I mentioned how good the food was, he replied enthusiastically, "Yes! Wasn't the bread amazing? I don't usually eat before a concert, but I had a little bit and it was so great I ate some more, and then I couldn't stop!"

David Archuleta performs in concert at Snowflake High School's auditorium.

As promised, we VIP-ticket holders didn't have to wait in line. We did have to wait several minutes at the side door since the lady in charge had briefly forgotten about us, and the guy who came to the door mistakenly directed us to go to the main entrance. However, he soon found the manager and she was all apologies when she came to let us in.

David Archuleta onstage.

There was no front band, just David and his four band members. They performed from 7:00 to 9:30 to a sold-out auditorium and, as ever, they were awesome. Later, Emmi told David this was her very first concert ever, and it was the best possible concert for her to start with. I said, "I've been to many concerts, because I'm old" (everyone laughs), "but both of your concerts I've attended have been the most uplifting of all of them." Everyone in our group readily agreed. We love how he talks onstage about where he gets the inspiration for the songs he writes, as well as how he himself is affected by the lessons he gains from life.

David Archuleta with three of four members of his band.

As far as the ten of us knew, our "VIP" experience had ended with the start of the concert and our center-second-row seats. At the beginning of the concert, though, the woman beside me whispered, "They want us to pass this on: everyone in this row is supposed to stay in our seats after the concert." So I passed it on. No explanation why, just a message from the manager to wait.

David Archuleta performs one of the songs he has composed.



For a few of the songs, David invited everyone to get up and dance. Hundreds of young people (and a few not-so-young) rushed to the stage. In the video clip above, they're moving to the song "Something About Love."

David touches the hands of as many fans as he can at concert's end.

So the concert ended and we waited dutifully for 45 minutes, wondering what exactly we were waiting for. Sarah and I were getting nervous that we wouldn't get out to the merchandise tables in time to purchase his latest mini-CD, a four-song EP (whatever that is) titled Orion. Eventually, Sarah sneaked out to check, but the lines for merchandise were quite long, so we still had time.

We got an extra surprise visit with David after the concert. The little lady
in the red blouse at the other end of the hall is the wonderful Sister Kay.

When they finally came for us, we were led back behind the stage to where the high school music room is located, and David came out again to spend more time visiting with us. In my opinion, this was the best part of the night. By now, we were all on a first-name basis and David felt more like a friend than a celebrity. The ten of us who'd enjoyed this experience together also felt like old friends by this time.

David asked us about the concert and what our favorite songs had been, and he signed more autographs for those who had new CDs. Other than that, it was just a pleasant group conversation and a sharing of thoughts and experiences.

Just as I was telling David that my favorite songs were "Invincible" and "Glorious," the sound of a song floated down the hall to us: "Now watch me whip, now watch me nay-nay." Sarah said, "Mom, Dylan is calling you." Everyone laughed, and I said sheepishly, "That's my son Dylan." One of the managers asked me if I had a different ringtone for each of my kids, and I said I did. I explained that this song was a joke between Dylan and me, from a time when I was trying to do the "whip/nay-nay" in the living room, and Dylan thought it was so hilarious that he posted about it on Facebook. Everyone got a kick out of that story, including David.

I fetched my cell phone from my purse, which I'd left on the floor down the hall, and called Dylan back. He asked what I was doing, and I told him, "Just standing here talking to David Archuleta." At this point everyone stopped to listen. Dylan didn't believe me, so I held out my phone and asked David if he would say hi to my son. First he asked, "What's his name, Dustin?" Then, armed with the correct name, David leaned forward and said toward the phone, "Hi, Dylan." He heard Dylan make a response but couldn't understand it, so he soon had my phone in his hand and was talking to Dylan, for about a minute.

After I took the phone back, Dylan asked who he was really talking to, because he didn't believe it was actually David Archuleta. I told him I would send him proof.

Then we got an extra, extra surprise visit with David after everyone else had gone!

As our visit was winding down and people were saying their good-byes, Sarah and I decided it was time to hurry out to see if the merchandise tables were still open. David gave us each one last hug, and we hurried to the theater lobby. We got there just in time to see the tee-shirts and CDs being packed into boxes. David's sister Amber was there, and I asked her if we were too late to buy CDs. She happily reopened the box and pulled one out for each of us. She was adorable and sweet.

Another lady from our group, who also bought the new EP Orion when we did, decided to see if it was too late to catch David and have him sign it, so we followed her back to the rooms behind the stage. (It was kind of cool that no one tried to stop us, since we were familiar faces by now.) When we arrived, everyone had gone and the hall was empty. However, at that very second, David walked back out of the music room. He was quite happy to sign for us again, and we got to visit a few minutes longer. By now it was just Sarah, Emmi, and me there with him.


David Archuleta sends a personal message to my son, Dylan! (Does Sarah seem a little bit star-struck?)

When David signed my copy of Orion, I said, "Could you add a P.S. saying 'Dylan, that really was me on the phone'? He doesn't believe it." Instead, David suggested, "It would be easier to just film it." Yes! So we filmed the 25-second clip above to let Dylan know it really was David Archuleta on the phone!

When Sarah and I got back to Lakeside, we drove straight to Dylan and Jake's apartment and played the video for Dylan. I asked, "Do you believe me now?" Dylan grinned and said, "I guess I have to, since he says so. Wow, this is awkward..."

David wrote on Sarah's old CD: "Sarah! Keep up the music!"

It was 10:00 when we finally left the theater. Unbelievably, David would soon be on his way to Safford, Arizona, where he did another concert tonight. That meant another 3-4 hours overnight in his touring bus, after driving all the way from California to our White Mountains just this morning. I don't know how he stays so upbeat and generous with himself and his time while on such a grueling schedule!

It really was an amazing night. Unforgettable. For me, it was even more fun to watch Sarah loving every minute. She was in heaven! (I believe she'd gotten a total of four hugs from David by night's end...) I didn't see everyone's autographs from David last night, but based on those I did see, his words to Sarah are extra-specially meaningful. I believe it was the music connection they shared.

And what an awesome young man David is. I was so impressed. In us, he has fans for life!

He wrote on Sarah's brand-new CD: "Sarah, your story's waiting in the stars."

On mine, David wrote: "To Mama Mary." He knows where my heart is!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Little Chicks Outgrow the Nest

Wednesday, June 14: Still looking a little bit fuzzy.

So our babies have grown up. It's amazing to me how quickly our young birds grew from tiny, gangly balls of fluff to almost-adult birds. During a one-week period, they went from fuzzy, awkward adolescents to little adults flying off on their own.

Thursday, June 15: Most of the fuzz seems to have worn off.

I'm so sad that I missed their maiden flights. In the last photo below--the final picture I took of the trio--they reminded me of bored teenagers who couldn't wait "to get out of this stupid house and your stupid rules." That was on Monday. Mark and I were headed to the Valley on Tuesday, and I hoped they wouldn't fly away while we were gone. When we returned around 5:00 on Tuesday, they were still in the nest and their parents were still bringing them food. I was so relieved.

Friday, June 16: We get our first glimpse of actual tail feathers!

When I woke up on Wednesday, my first thought was, "Today may be the day!" I got dressed and headed toward the porch, but I was met halfway by Mark, who gave me the bad news. When he'd gotten up a couple of hours earlier, they were already gone. I was heartbroken, but I'm glad all three of our little guys made it, healthy and strong and on their way to a happy bird-life. Birds were calling from the trees all around the house, and I pictured them there, free among the branches.

Saturday, June 17: Covered in real feathers and fluttering their wings.

These are my favorite pictures of our triplets, taken each day of their final six days with us. It was so much fun to watch them grow, but I've decided this will be the last time we host a bird nest on the porch. Other than the mud pile left during the building of the nest, the parent birds never left us any mess. As the babies grew, however, they began pooping outside the nest. The area directly beneath it soon looked like the bottom of a birdcage. Gross.

Sunday, June 18: They look like little adult birds now.

I know some species return to nest in the same area year after year. Whether this is one of those species, I do not know, but I'm taking no chances. Soon Mark will take down the empty nest, and then we will place something spiky on top of the light fixture to discourage further nesting. Perhaps a piece of wood with some long nails pounded through and pointing upward. We loved our little birds, but once was enough!

Sunday, June 18: Finally, we can see that all three have survived!

Happy soaring, little ones!

Sunday, June 18: Is it just me, or is that middle guy giving me the evil eye?

Monday, June 19: Three bored teens who can't wait to get out on their own!
This was our last full day together.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Father's Day Birthday

We celebrated both Father's Day and Mark's 49th birthday on June 18th.

Today is Mark's 49th birthday! It's kind of a shock to Mark that he's just one year away from turning fifty. During the days of his addictions, he often said he didn't expect to live to see even his fortieth birthday. "Live hard, burn out young" was his motto. My response was always, "It's not when you die that's at issue; it's what will your quality of life be if you live on?"

And now, here he is, clean and sober almost six years. Still alive, with a clean bill of health. Fortunately, he faced down the life-threatening issue of his atrial fibrillation and came out of it okay. He saw his cardiologist last week, and his heartbeat, pulse, and blood pressure are all still normal. Dr. Ata is even taking him off the blood-thinning medication. The ablation they performed last July did its job. And so, celebrating this milepost with Mark is an especially great pleasure for his family.

Mark's stack of gifts await.

With a birthdate of June 21st, Mark's birthday always coincides with Father's Day. Many times over the years, in fact, the two events have actually fallen on the same date. This year they were separated by just two days, so we decided to celebrate both together on Sunday. With all of our children married and on their own, working jobs with varying schedules, it made better sense to mark Mark's birth when we were already together for our weekly Sunday family dinner.

Mark can't wait to see what Dylan and Jake got him.

We began with a dinner of grilled steaks and green salad, as requested by the big guy himself. The steaks were grilled to perfection!

After dinner, Sarah and I made a run over to my dad's house to give him a Fathers Day card and a big slice of my homemade sugar-free chocolate-chip cheesecake. Dad and Kathy had just returned from a barbecue they'd attended with some of their bowling friends. We visited with him for about half an hour, and then we returned to finish celebrating with Mark.

Mark reads through a pun-y card from Sarah and Chris.

Next up was the opening of presents. From Dylan and Jake, he received a pair of new slippers (his old pair was getting quite grungy), two packs of cigarettes (yuck), and three Hershey bars (Mark loves his chocolate).

Sarah and Chris gave him a bag of chocolate candies (see previous parenthetical comment) and a $40 gift card to be used for a new fishing license. Mark's eyes lit up at that.

Just before Mark began opening his gifts, Jacob called from Utah and spoke to his dad for a few minutes. He said he'd be mailing Mark's gifts soon, so we still get to look forward to seeing the gifts from Jacob and Danielle.

All of the presents Mark got for this holiday!

For his Father's Day gifts, I gave Mark a "No. 1 Dad" coffee mug and a wall plaque, with hooks, proclaiming "Dad's Workshop." He doesn't really have a workshop, per se, but I figured he could hang things on it in his bedroom, like belts or caps, etc. Lastly, for his birthday present, I gave him a tool case containing a socket wrench set. He's been telling me he needed socket wrenches for a variety of projects since May. Like repairing the lawnmower.

Mark poses with all his gifts.

Mark with two of the three reasons we honor him on Father's Day: Sarah and Dylan!

Mark also requested an ice cream cake for his party, so we brought out the banana split-flavored ice cream cake after the gifts had all been opened. (Mark loves banana splits, too. And so do I.) Sarah and I are dieting, as usual, so for us I made the sugar-free cheesecake. Which turned out deliciously creamy and mildly tangy (the trick is to add 1/4 tsp of orange extract), so we weren't feeling deprived.

And, by the way, I'd like to brag that Sarah has lost 53.4 lbs since she bought her ticket for David Archuleta's concert (which is only two days away now). Motivation helps! And she looks GREAT!!

Mark looks a little overwhelmed by the goofiness of his progeny.

Of course, Mark's birthday is just the start of our summer birthday season. Next up will be Jacob's 26th birthday on this coming Monday (June 26). We're so sad we won't be there to celebrate with him, but I'm mailing him a package today with gifts from me and his dad inside.

And then the following Saturday (July 1) will be Dylan's 20th birthday. That means I'll no longer have a teenage child! Am I ready for this? Oh, yes. Yes, I think I am...

My homemade sugar-free chocolate-chip cheesecake, fresh from the oven.

And my cheesecake flipped and presented nicely on a serving plate.

And it's not over yet! Tonight we'll be going to El Rancho for dinner, where the wait staff will put a sombrero on Mark's head and sing to him, after serving him a free dish of deep-fried ice cream. It's kind of a Carter family tradition. I'll be sure to post a picture or two tonight on Facebook.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARK!


And, finally, the traditional off-key rendition of the "Happy Birthday Song"!