Saturday, December 16, 2017

CountryPlace Players Do It Again!

Another real hit of a musical! A winner, and an original creation, written by several of our own club members.

The name of the play was Class Reunion, about  the 50th class reunion for the class of '67 at a Catholic high school in Texas. So many of us are from that era, so it was just loads of fun being a part of this production.

A wide variety of songs from that era were chosen to follow the plot line - similar to how ABBA songs were used for the musical Mama Mia - with each song to be lip-sync'ed by a character in the play. I began attending the writers' meetings in early April. This helped me, as the sound booth person, to understand the concept and the plot, and to begin to prepare and to even contribute in part, as they continued to polish and fine-tune the script.

Being involved so early also gave me plenty of time to source all of the music and sound effects, of which there were many. Most of the music is in the public domain and I was able to download much of it for free. Those that I couldn't, I found on Amazon Digital and could purchase for less than $1.00 each.

I edited most of the songs for length, and added a number of sound effects that would enhance and add "color" to the various scenes. Then I assembled all of the songs together in order of appearance in the play and burned a couple dozen CD's for the actors to use to rehearse with before we started formal rehearsals on stage.

Once we got the rehearsals underway, the play really started to come together! It was so much fun watching it come to life on the stage!
My Adobe Illustrator artwork for the poster. 30"x 20" with
an added 12" pop-out off the top left corner

The finished poster, on an easel in the social hall

I began to work on the poster, the advertisement artwork, and the playbill even as rehearsals got underway. We had the idea to use the iconic Zenith transistor radio as part of the artwork, so I got to work in Adobe Illustrator and created the artwork for the radio itself. Then our very talented props crew made a giant replica to hang on the set for the play.

My Adobe Illustrator illustration

The handywork of our props crew turned it into life

The cast was so large that the playbill I designed had to be 11"x 17" and folded, the same size as the playbill I created for another play we did a year ago.

We had a cover band called the Fab 5 come in June to give a really rockin' concert, so I made a "teaser" poster to display at the entrance. Since folks coming to see a 60's era Beatles cover band might be interested, we thought a teaser poster would build interest in the upcoming play. I hadn't yet created the Zenith radio artwork, so just used some clipart and colored it that recognizable salmon pink.

teaser poster

I really enjoy the artistic aspect of doing these plays. I get inspiration for the poster and playbill artwork from watching the rehearsals and interacting with the director(s) and, in this case, the writers. The same goes for the sound effects and music. Often I won't know exactly what music or sound effects I'll use in some cases until I start to participate in the rehearsals. So often I'll have an aha moment while doing something totally unrelated to the play, as my subconscious "wheels" start to turn and my mind ruminates on it.

My view from my seat in the soundbooth

More than 60 people were involved in this production, probably a record for our club's productions. The cast was huge, but so was the crew, including Makeup, Stage Hands, Props, Floor crew, and of course the writers, directors, and sound booth crew.

Curtain call...cast and crew

Heard It From the Grapvine raisins doing their dance

Scene from dress rehearsal

View of the sound booth. Microphone manager working in booth with me

Our attendance broke records, too! While attendance Friday night was typical and not a sellout, word got out and we had people lined up at the door trying to buy tickets on Saturday night. Sunday was packed, and the Floor Crew had to bring out dozens more chairs to accommodate the crowd. That was really good to see, as attendance at recent productions seemed to have been falling off.

All agree that this play production ranks right up there among our very best!

A couple of weeks later our club had its annual Christmas banquet. We put on a little skit in which I had the role of one of the inventors for an electronics company that was desperate to increase sales. It was corny but cute. But the best part was that I won the annual Len and Syd Covan Award for my contributions to the club's drama productions. Nice!

A great way to finish out the year with the CountryPlace Players!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Early Winter Race Season

The Fall races are done - Detroit, Philadelphia, Savannah - and the weather was perfect for those races, as expected. By mid- to late November however, race day weather becomes more questionable. It can range between hot and humid to cold and wet, with the possibility of anything in between.

Next up on my calendar was the Route 66 Half Marathon weekend in Tulsa OK. I always look forward to doing this race! Organization and support is excellent, not to mention all of the great race swag we receive. I was signed up for the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. Goodies I'd walk away with from this race weekend would include a technical fabric race shirt and finisher medal for the 5K, and a long sleeve, half-zip technical jacket for the half marathon, a premium item (usually a glass or mug) for doing both races, and then there are the special finisher medals for the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs and the VIP tent with food afterward for us.

But then life got in the way of this trip. The week leading up to the race, my precious cat Orange Guy had to have semi-emergency oral surgery on Thursday. So I cancelled my flight and hotel room to be with him for his post-operative care and recovery. Instead, I got out the door early Saturday morning and did a 5K distance in my neighborhood and then again on Sunday morning to do a half marathon.

My half marathon route through neighborhood streets. A bit repetititous
but at least I got it done.

Contributing to my decision to cancel my Tulsa trip, in a small way, was our upcoming play production. In between my travels and training, we'd been having play rehearsals, and performance weekend was the weekend before the Tulsa race. So once that was done, I felt a strong need to wipe my calendar clean and just do nothing but take care of the cat and take care of myself.

The following week was Thanksgiving, and once again I ordered the turkey roulade dinner from Omaha Steaks. This meal has become a favorite, since it comes with my choice of two sides, a dessert, and feeds four, which in my case, means leftovers for at least 5 more meals.

I had the Rock 'n' Roll 5K and half marathon on my calendar for the next weekend. This is another really fun race event and I looked forward to it. I stayed at the Fairfield Inn for two nights, using some of my Marriott Rewards points. It was perfect...easy to get to, easy to depart and will now be my go-to hotel anytime I'm in San Antonio. In past years I've stayed at the Hyatt. While the amenities are nice, getting in and out of that hotel is a nightmare.

Packet pickup at the San Antonio RnR Half Marathon

While I've done this half marathon twice before, it was the first time they offered a 5K the day before. Absolutely perfect! It started near the Alamodome and finished at Alamo Plaza with a giant post-race party and lots of spectators.

I stopped at the Starbucks right there next to the Plaza afterward and walked back to my hotel. Plenty of choices for lunch and dinner in the immediate Riverwalk area and I made a trip out to get a Potbelly's meatball sub for lunch and, later, a dinner to go from Chili's, and a beer at the bar while I waited.

The next morning I woke to dense fog and drizzle and laid in bed considering whether I really wanted to be out in that weather. I confess that I was more anxious to get back home to my still-recuperating Orange Guy and wasn't too excited about running 13 miles in cold rain. So decision made. I packed up my things, called for my car from valet parking and was on the road by mid-morning, heading for home. It was also going to be a very busy week, with a friend coming in that evening to spend a couple of days helping with some home projects, and we had two banquets to attend this week, one with the Players Club, the other to work to sound booth for the employees' Christmas party.

My last race of the year was the BCS half marathon in College Station the second weekend in December. It's a race I'd been hearing good things about, and one I've wanted to do but just never could fit into my schedule. This was going to be the year I did this race.

It's an easy drive up to College Station, where I stayed at the Holiday Inn, using some loyalty points. Packet pickup was at the fairly new Baylor Scott & White hospital. I claimed my race bib, continued on the feeder road to the Starbucks, then continued on to the hotel where I settled in, watching the end of the Army-Navy game. Later that night I ordered dinner to go from the hotel restaurant and brought it back to my room to enjoy with a beer from the bar. Then laid my things out for the race the next morning.

The excellent BCS half marathon race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

The start line was on the northwest side of Wolf Pen park, and easy walk from the hotel. Within just minutes of arriving at the start line, the race began. I love it when I don't have to stand around and wait long, especially in the cold.

It was a very enjoyable race course, with lots of turns, which I like. A couple of the middle miles were through the Texas A&M campus, and I really enjoyed that, reminiscing as I passed buildings I remembered from my son's years as a student there, and marveling at some of the changes, including the massively expanded football stadium.

Getting a high five at the finish line

Nice medal and finisher jacket

The finish line had an impressive amount of food provided by local food trucks (sausage on a stick from The Chicken, pizza, pastries, beer). I sat on a curb and enjoyed more food than I usually partake of, then headed back to the hotel, my really nice finisher jacket and finisher medal in my possession.

I cleaned up, packed my things, and was on the road for home by 11:30. On the way home I stopped at a Jack's to get some tacos and a cup of ice water. I was home by 2 PM.

Races are done for the year, now to prepare for Christmas holidays with son and family.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

OG - One Year Later...A Member of the Family

It's been one year since Orange Guy chose to live with me. What a wonderful blessing he has been! I get emotional whenever I think about this.

18 months ago he showed up on my doorstep, thin and dirty, infested with tapeworms and ear mites. Every morning, there he was, sitting outside my sliding glass door, looking so sweet and vulnerable. Read the original Orange Cat story here.

Then, six months after he appeared at my back door, I decided to change our fates forever. So twelve months ago this month I opened my door and let him move in with me. It's apparently what he wanted, so who am I, a hopeless cat lover, to turn him away?
Read the first 6-month update here.

How OG looked when he first showed up in March, 2016.

Now, one year after agreeing to let him adopt me, he has become such a part of my life and my household that it's hard to imagine life without him. He's an old cat, estimated to be about 14 years old (same age as my Nyla) but he has a few good years left; let me make those years happy for him.

Enjoying the early evening on the deck with me.

Such a sweet face. And that tongue! 

He's adjusted quite well to our routine, and as of today has become much more of an indoor cat, quite happy to snooze the day away in a soft chair or in a sunny corner of the house.

Found OG here, on the desk chair in my office. Weird!

Nyla and OG sharing the bed with me.

Enjoying the wonderful evening air, post-Harvey hurricane.

For the past six months or so, he's graduated from being enclosed in the laundry room at night to sleeping in bed with me all night. This is a huge change for him. He no longer roams the house yowling in the middle of the night, which is why I was enclosing him in the laundry room. Now he sleeps pressed hard up against me all night long. At some point in the night he gets up, uses the litter, gets a snack or sip of water, but quietly slips back into bed with me. Such a wonderful and welcome change!

I'm a kitty sandwich!

Ever since OG moved in with me, he's had a runny nose. But more recently the thin mucus became thicker and he'd experience a series of rapid sneezes, blowing 'snot rockets' around the house.  This worsened to the point that it was interfering with his ability to breathe - like having a bad head cold. So I took him to the vet's, got his shots up-to-date and some antibiotics and antihistamine for the mucus discharge.

OG has his own humidifier. Trying to help with his stuffy nose.

Over the course of the next few weeks the mucus seemed to clear up a bit but then the mucus discharge started showing streaks of blood, or even frank blood. So back to the vet's and this time a closer examination. The vet determined that he most likely had abscessed teeth that were infected and affecting his sinuses, so surgery was schedule for a week later, with a round of antibiotics for the week leading up to that surgery.

Poor stoned kitty! Glassy-eyed and groggy on drugs!

The surgery went well, he had all teeth in his right jaw extracted, including the right upper incisor. Poor little guy! I picked him up that afternoon and got him home. He was so groggy! He was also hungry and I'd anticipated this, setting a saucer of Delectables Bisque into the fridge to chill before getting him home.  I felt that lapping chilled bisque might feel good on his sore mouth. He was so groggy and the nerve block on his right jaw (think having novocaine at the dentist) was still in effect, so it took him a few moments to get his tongue to work correctly, but eventually he got it going and lapped up the entire saucerful.

The next morning, post-op. Nyla sleeping with him in bed.

My sweet little OG slept with me that night and the next morning I woke to find Nyla curled up next to him, something she'd never done before. Cats just know! Of course this was short-lived and within the day, their relationship returned to its normal aloof status.

I am so thankful this wonderful, sweet, loving cat has chosen to share the rest of his life with me.

Feeling comfortable and right at home!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Savannah Race Day

The day is here! The day I've been anticipating for the past two years. Savannah Race Day!

It was going to great weather, although the race directors anticipated warmer weather later in the day for the full marathon runners, so pushed the start time up to 7:20 AM from 7:30 AM. I wasn't sure just how much a difference those 10 minutes were going to make, but it didn't really affect me.

As for all Rock 'n' Roll race events, I was in one of the last corrals and was therefore in no hurry to get dressed and out the door of the hotel. I had just under 3/4 mile to walk to get to the start line, so left the hotel at 7:10 to get to race venue in time to slip into my assigned corral and not have too long a wait for our corral to be released across the start line.

It was still dark when I arrived at the race start but the sky was just starting to get light as we headed out down Bay Street west toward West Savannah for the first few miles. I love races that have enough turns and direction changes to keep it interesting and in this regard, Savannah did not disappoint!  There were plenty of spectators out along the streets as we ran through this older, run-down city ward. The area may have been a little down at the heel, but the residents were out there in force cheering us on. Some had brought boom boxes out and plugged them in, and were playing good, up-beat music for us.
Race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

The best part of the race route was when we returned to the city center area and zig-zagged up and down the main west-east streets, running past all of the beautiful squares of the city. At one point we ran past the very old and historic - and large - Colonial Park Cemetery, established in 1750 and where many of the crypts were above ground (to prevent them from floating to the surface in a flood) and most of the tombstones were hugely oversized.

The last few miles were out east of the city for a bit, then making a big eyelet turn through a residential area and back into downtown and the finish line.

near finish, under photo crane

the home stretch

This race route was just spectacular in all ways! Scenic! Great on-course spectator support! Excellent aid station enthusiasm and support, and plenty of them, nicely spaced every mile. The finish area was in beautiful Forsythe Park.

I collected my finisher medal, walked through the finisher chute, grabbing a chocolate milk and a cereal bar along the way. As I exited the chute, I had two thoughts: Starbucks and Food Trucks! I wavered a bit trying to make up my mind about the Starbucks but it meant walking two blocks in the opposite direction of my ultimate hotel destination, so ruled that out. Then I thought about getting some food truck food, but the lines were long and although it all smelled wonderful, I'm usually not very hungry after finishing a race.


So bailing out on both post-race options, I headed in the direction of my hotel on Liberty Street, walking diagonally through Forsythe Park and admiring the lovely and iconic fountain as I circled it to get to the continued path on the other side. When people think of Savannah, they think of this fountain.
Photo courtesy Savanah Historic Society

Even the walk back to my hotel was breathtakingly beautiful! These were mostly old residential streets with large southern mansions and giant oak trees. It was really gorgeous and I wished I had my smartphone with me since I knew I wouldn't get back later for photos.

As I neared the hotel, I passed that really great little coffee cafe, the Savannah Coffee Roasters, that had been getting a bit of my business the last couple of days. I stopped in and bought myself a cappuccino to take back to my room.

I had lots of food in my room to snack on, as I sipped my coffee and rested for a bit. Later that afternoon, after doing some Google research for a place to eat, I headed outside, thinking I'd just go to the little brew pub across the street, but then thought to ask the two car valets who happened to be standing there if they could recommend the Crystal Beer Parlor. They both enthusiastically said yes, and one of them added that their shrimp and grits dish was his favorite. So decision made! It looked like a fun little place tucked in among the 'hood and just a couple of easy blocks away.

Oh, yes! As I entered the establishment, my thoughts were, "This is going to be perfect!" They had a very deep menu of local beers and a wonderfully southern menu of entrees. But I was here for the shrimp and grits. And I'm here to say that it was delicious and totally hit the spot after running a half marathon that morning.

The best shrimp and grits!

A really great, if a bit short, trip to Savannah! I did tons of walking, ran a half marathon, ate some good food and had some good local beer. Now time to pack up and get ready for my Uber ride back to the airport for my flight home.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Savannah - Finally!

All the times I've visited the Southeast - even lived in Georgia for a year - and I'd never made it to Savannah for a visit. Well, I was determined to change this once and for all.

There's a very large race event in Savannah every October. So late in 2015, I made my plans, registered for the race, booked my hotel room and was very much looking forward to doing this 2016 race. Unfortunately, the best laid plans don't always work out the way we want them to. While the rewards for planning so far ahead - lowest race registration fees, better choice of hotel rooms before price gouging begins - often pay off, this time they didn't. It turned out that our Fall 2016 play performances were going to fall on that very same weekend as the race and they needed me to work the sound and lights booth.

I was looking forward to the trip, but I also wanted to be a part of our CountryPlace Players production. So with tremendous sadness, I cancelled my hotel room and made peace with the fact that I wasn't going to Savannah in 2016. But 2017 was going to be different. I wasn't going to let anything get in the way. So when the early bird registration opened for this Savannah race in November 2016, I was on it! I registered, made my hotel reservation again, and blocked out that weekend on my October 2017 calendar. This was going to happen, no matter what!

We were in rehearsals for this year's fall play but the performance weekend was planned around my trip to Savannah! It would be the next weekend. I booked my flight so that I missed only one rehearsal and would be back in town Sunday night, in time for rehearsals the whole week leading up to performance weekend.

So at noontime on Thursday, I drove to the airport to catch my 1:30 PM flight to Savannah. It all went like clockwork and I was in Savannah by late afternoon. An Uber ride to the hotel, checked in, I walked a block to a nice little cafe to get a sandwich to bring back to my room for dinner.

Friday morning I was up very early, dressed and making the walk toward the Savannah River to catch the little ferry across to the convention center for the race expo and packet pickup. Such a unique way to get to a race expo! On the way I stopped at a Starbucks that was right on my walk route to pick up a cappuccino. There was just a small little group of fellow runners waiting for the ferry to take us across. The expo opened at 9:30 AM and this would get us there just as they open.

On the ferry, headed to the convention center
There were no crowds at all and I walked right up to the counter, got my race packet, then entered the expo area where I browsed a bit, collected my beer wristband from a really handsome police officer, then headed to the exit and to the ferry to return to the city.

Race expo at Savannah Convention Center

As I walked up from the banks of the river, I passed a really interesting warren of "bunkers" built into the bluff overlooking the river. They sit along East Upper Factors Walk (click the link to read about this) an old historic cobbled way behind the historic buildings along the river, and were once the site of river commerce: brokers, exchanges, warehouses.

My route back to the hotel passed through a number of iconic historic squares in Savannah. These were laid out by the early city planners and are evenly spaced every 3 or 4 blocks. Originally, the planners allowed for a balanced mix of residential and commercial blocks, with these pretty squares providing green space and systematic order.

Johnson Square and Nathanael Greene monument:

Nathanael Greene Monument in Johnson Square

Reynolds Square with statue of John Wesley, founder of Methodist Church:

Statue of John Wesley in Reynolds Square

Wright Square with statue of James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia:

Statue of James Oglethorpe in Wright Square

Every inch of this historic section of Savannah is manicured and landscaped, green and shaded, streets lined with ancient, mature Live Oak trees dripping with the Deep South trademark: Spanish Moss.
A very old brick house. Photo doesn't do it justice!

I eventually made my way back to the hotel, where I could drop off my race packet and then head out in search of lunch. In my research of the city, I saw a city market a few blocks from the hotel and decided to walk there and find a place for lunch. I was expecting something similar to other "city markets" I've experienced in my travels to the east coast, but this was a small two-block section of store fronts, not an open air or covered market, and no fresh produce or other similar goods. But I did find a good place for lunch with shaded outdoor seating.

There was an historic cookie shop here at the City Market as well, and I stopped inside and browsed a bit then bought a packet of molasses cookies to nibble on as I continued my city stroll.

Cookies in hand, I continued to stroll along Congress Street, passing the Paula Deen restaurant and shop along the way. I'm not a fan of her or her cooking, but worth a photo since she is an "institution" in Savannah.

I found myself heading back toward the string of parks that are tucked in between Congress and Bryan Streets, back toward Bull Street. I stopped again at the Starbucks here on Bull and then paused afterward to admire the oldest continuously operating theater in the U.S., the Savannah Theatre, which opened in 1818.

I debated whether to head back down toward the river to stroll along River Street and browse the shops in those historic old buildings, but talked myself out of it as I reminded myself that those shops are all tourist traps with nothing of interest to me. How much more interesting it would be if it had been preserved as a "reenactment" district with shops as they would have appeared 150 years ago. Ah, well...

Instead, I returned back to the hotel to get ready for our 5:30 dinner meet-up. A few of us were meeting at Corleone's for dinner. Unfortunately they don't make reservations and they were packed, with a 90 minute wait for a table. So we all parted ways, I walked back to the little cafe near my hotel and got dinner to go, and brought it back to my room. I ate, laid out my things for the race the next morning, and then watched a little TV before calling it quits for the day.

Tomorrow: Race Day!