Life is a Contact Sport


Last Sunday I suffered another heart attack. Around 9am I felt that tightening in my chest. I was home out on the porch watching the serenity unfold around me, morphing into bird calls and the hummingbird ballet. My pain was great enough for me to retreat to the bedroom.

I turned on the TV and was watching an episode of Daniel Boone I hadn’t seen before. My pain increased, but honestly I wanted to wait until the  show ended to witness it’s exciting conclusion.

Then I told Nancy I needed to be driven to the hospital. This is a hospital we’d not been to, but I knew where it was. As she drove, Nancy did her best imitation of my driving style. She passed a neighbor with her emergency lights on and her headlights flickering on and off to get their attention. Then she channeled my spirit as she passed an RV across a double yellow line, repeating this action, speeding past a truck pulling a boat.

Needless to say, as I slumped in the passenger seat, we arrived in a timely fashion to the hospital. The emergency room entrance was hidden, but we eventually found it. There was a button to press and a voice responded with the question, “Can we help you, what’s your emergency?”

Nancy told the receptionist I had chest pain. They opened that steel door  quickly and admitted me, as Nancy gave them all the necessary insurance cards.

Dr. Howe and nurse Dawn responded swiftly placing me on a gurnee, setting it up with fluids, testing my vitals, and securing me for the EKG test. Everything happened in literally a heart beat… the efficency was surprising for a small rural hospital.

After the EKG Dr. Howe determined it was necessary to call the flight for life service offered in most rural areas in Idaho. I asked the insurance person, Jess, if my insurance covered the flight for life. She said it didn’t but that we could sign up right now and it would cover the flight.

I asked, “How much would it cost?”She said,” Seventy Five dollars.” Then I asked, “How much would it cost if I paid out of pocket for this life saving ride?” She said, ” It would cost twenty-five thousand.”

Needless to say I went with the seventy-five dollar charge. Within an hour the flight for life crew was on the helipad, ready to transport me to one of two hospitals. Either Sacred Heart in Spokane or Kootenai Heart Clinic in Coeur D’ Alene. I asked Dr. Howe, “Which hospital would you choose?” He said, “They’re both quality facilities.”

Well, between the two, weighing safety for Nancy and the better restaurants, I chose Coeur D’ Alene, and so the 45 minute life flight began.

The helicopter touched down on the roof of the Kootenai Heart Clinic in Coeur D’Alene. I was then put onto a portable gurnee and whisked away to my room at the hospital.

The single room was beautiful with a view of the trees quiet and relaxing. The doctor came in immediately with two nurses. The doctor, Dr. Jones, told me that he wanted me to be without pain. They gave me some painkillers that stopped the pain. I was amazed at the quality and speed of their attention to my health.

Later that afternoon I asked Emily, the nurse, if I could have some food. She gave me a menu with 40 items to choose from. Everything from Wild Caught Salmon to pasta, and a Mediterranean salad were included in the choices.

Anyway, the next day I had the surgery around 7:45am. The doctor afterwords told me he placed a stent in my widowmaker artery thereby unclogging the clogged artery.

That same day the doctor offered an option for me to stay or leave the hospital. Needless to say I left and went to a hotel in Coeur D’ Alene and then to a restaurant, just like nothing had happened.

Don’t take life for granted. You never know when circumstances can change placing you at Heaven’s Door.

Tribute to Tony Bennett

music art poetry pazaz style bakeware

Tony Bennett passed away yesterday at the age of 96. This is a tribute to the man, the legend.

Frank Sinatra once said, as quoted in 1965 by Life Magazine, ” For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business.”

Duke Ellington in his autobiography, “Music is my Mistress” said about Tony Bennett, “To attend a Tony Bennett concert is to find yourself in the presence of a performer who exudes a rough-hewn natural elegance, devoid of airs… He can still end a song like “Fly me to the Moon” or “How Do you Keep the Music Playing?” with an old-fashioned, quasi-operatic crescendo but he makes these corny triumphal endings stick in your heart.”

Anthony Dominick Benedetto, known professionally as Tony Bennett, was an American singer. Bennett amassed many accolades, including 20 Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and two Prime time Emmy Awards.

Born August 3, 1926 in Long Island City, NY,NY Tony Bennett was a saloon singer that produced some of the most notable concerts and collaborations in the history of pop culture. In the last ten years alone he has sold over ten million records. The essence of his longevity and high artistic achievement was his steadfast approach to song and style.

Tony Bennett quite simply was a legend who served during the Second World War and then develped a career that spanned over a half century.

His father, Giovanni “John” Benedetto, was a grocer, his mother, Anna Maria (Suraci), was a seamstrress, and his uncle was a tap dancer. His parents were both from poor farming families in Clabria, Italy.

Young Tony gave a singing performance at the opening of the Tribourough Bridge at the age of 10. He studied music and painting at the New York High School of Industrial Arts but dropped out at the age of 16. He had to support his family and he performed as a singing waiter in Italian restaurants.

During the Second World War, Tony Bennett was drafted in the US army. He served on the front lines until April 1945  and was  involved in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp at Landsberg, Germany.

After World Was II he sang with the army military band under the stage name “Joe Bari” until his discharge in 1946. He returned to the US and studied the Bel Canto singing discipline at the American Theater Wing on the GI Bill. He continued singing while waiting tables at New York restuarants.

At the beginning of his career he drew from such influences as Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, and Bing Crosby among others. He eventually created his own style of singing integrating a Jazz-style phrasing while sometimes imitating instrumental solos with his own unique voice.

In 1949 Bennett was invited on a concert tour by Bob Hope who suggested he use the stage name of Tony Bennett. Then, in 1950 he signed a record deal with Columbia Records which led to his first big hit, “Because of You”, orchestrated by Mitch Miller with orchestration by Percy Faith.

That record sold over a million copies, reaching #1 in 1951 on the pop charts. His other #1 hits included “Blue Velvet”, “Rags to Riches”. and “Stranger in Paradise” from 1952 to 1954. Bennett was able to do five to seven shows a day in New York City singing to crowds of screaming teenagers.

In 1956 he hosted “The Tony Bennett Show” which replaced “Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall”. After collaborations with Count Basie producing two notable albums, “Chicago”, and “Jeepers Creepers”, he was on to Carnegie Hall.

In June of 1962 at Carnegie Hall Tony Bennett featured 44 songs accompanied by an all-star band. That year was especially notable as that was the year he launched what was to become his signature song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”

As life would have it Tony was offered many obstacles during the late 1960’s and 1970’s with a pop culture that changed from saloon singers to the Beatles.

Divorces, drug addiction, a failing career, dropped by Columbia Records, brought him to the breaking point.  In the late seventies a drug overdose signaled a desperate time for Tony, in which case he called  for help from his son, Danny Bennett. Danny signed on as his father’s manager which turned out to be the right move, and his fortunes eventually changed.

Tony Bennett rejuvenated his career with the help of his son. He brought back his original style (with tuxedo) while creating “The Great American Songbook.” In the 80’s he staged a strong comeback while re-signing with Columbia Records. It was during that time he received a Grammy, his first since 1962.

He has sold over 50 million albums worldwide, was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997 while that same year published an autobiography, “The Good Life” which recieved a lifetime achievement award from ASCAP in 2002. A recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor in December of 2005 was closely followed by being honored by the United Nations with its Citizen of the World award. Tony Bennett will always be remembered as an international treasure.

Nancy and I saw Tony Bennett a few years ago at the Wynn theatre in Las Vegas. I wanted to make sure we saw this iconic performer before it was too late. His repertoire included “I Left My heart in San Francisco” and ended with an A cappella performance of “Fly Me to the Moon”. I will never forget that concert and the love in that concert hall for a true legend that brought so much joy to so many for so long.


What’s Really Important?

The definition of “echoes” is as follows: “A sound or series of sounds caused by the reflection of sound waves from a surface back to the listener. It can also be a close parallel or repetition of an idea, feeling, style, or event.”

I have been in my parents home that was once filled with their voices. I was alone listening to the memories that now filled the space. Echoes of times long ago seemed like the last note of a symphony, reverberating and suspended in thin air.  It’s a captured feeling, sentence, or event etched in my mind with a picture so clear and so simple in its essence, and yet so powerful in its substance.

I see the meal being cooked by my mom. She toils over a hot stove to produce another dinner for the three of us. I wish I’d asked her more questions about recipes, her life, her love for music then I did. I wish I had taken my eyes off myself to enjoy the beauty that was the essence of whom she was.

Now I stand in front of that same stove and think about the love that went into each and everything she did. Gifts come in many different forms. Those gifts are the echoes that reverberate around a hollow room helping me to remember that which I took for granted so long ago.

When I’m in the yard pulling weeds I sometimes think of my dad. We would pull weeds for hours on end. I thought at the time it was such a tedious task not realizing the conversations I could have had about his life. His musical career, his growing up in a small town in Kansas and how he came to learn the violin, were just some of the topics I could have explored. Now on that same hill we pulled weeds I hear the echoes of laboring in silence as I was too young to grasp the importance of how short our lives together would be.

My mom and dad filled our home with a protective, nurturing, and musical bond that was strenghtened by their humble backgrounds. Morality, honor, and commitment were the echoes of teachings engrained in their personas. Each element was enhanced by the strong devotion to their family.

As I walk through our home in San Rafael by myself, I think of the last moments spent with all three of us in a joyful holiday setting. Christmas of 1990 with my mom in a wheelchair and my dad and I making dinner.  As we served it, both of us realized this could be the last time we shared our blessed family together.

I hear that emotion as an echo that rings its harmonic dirge. As time moves beyond the past and into the future I see the many faces that lit up when my parents played music together.

As clear as day I see my parents friends drink their cordials at the end of a wonderful party, culiminating with a concert. I see my dad’s violin sway and my mom joyfully acompanying him on the piano.  They most certainly made beautiful music together.

Now I stand alone near the end of my own life. I’m not afraid of the end as I see it as a new beginning. A most wonderful beginning that involves seeing those which are no longer with us.

We do not know when our experation date is, but understand the gift that is our life. Soon there will be the home I once lived in, and those that I loved and cared about, sifting through the memories with me.

To them I can only say, “Remember the wonderful laughter we shared that will echo in our hearts for as long as forever is.”





friends forever

Through-out our short time on this planet we have very special people that come into our lives. Some disappear in a heart beat while others are there for a lifetime. Whichever the case, most have an impact on our lives and even the direction we choose. These very special people we call friends.

Life is about beginnings and endings. Relationships can come and go but the kind of friends that you don’t see for months, years, or even decades, but feel like they’ve never left… are as rare as a unicorn. We may connect with them much later but it feels like they never left.

When we are first interacting with others, there is a learning curve. We learn to communicate, share, laugh, and feel the importance of that experience. Sleep overs, make-believe playing, building forts, acting as adults, and the funny situations we will never forget becomes a part of whom we are.

Pretending is an integral part of playtime either by ourselves or with others. This is a very important piece of the puzzle we are forming. This puzzle is the chemistry we feel when the reality of time taps us on the shoulder to acknowledge how special that moment really was.

The friends I have from long ago I count as treasures. They know the past memories we share which still bring laughter and the classic phrase,” How did we live through that?” Perhaps there are fortuitous connections that involve God, the universe, or some other factor we have yet to discover.

When I think about all the places I could have been born, all the parents I could have had, and all the friends I have met, and those I am still to meet, I feel truly blessed. There has to be some divine intervention, some type of timing beyond our ability to understand. Factor in all of the coincidences and multiply that times ten, and we have a life full of the surprises that make our journey such a roller coaster.

The best things in life are free. The joy we feel when the connection occurs opens up a dialogue that transfomrs mundane conversation to that of “expanding our horizons”. Then the most important factor in all of these interactions is that of trust. To be able to trust someone outside our immediate family is a gift. Looking back in time I remember several instances when the toe is in the perverbial water of trust and the secrets shared become a bond that is forever strenghtened with time.

Put to the test through-out our lives are those fellowships that bring a smile to our face. To think of that moment in time when the boundrary or dividing line becomes larger is an enrichement which adds to our perspective. This perspective adds color to substance and laughter from a smile within.

My dear friends know whom they are. It is very important to let them know the importance they have in our lives. Weddings when we’re young and funerals when we’re old are events we attend because of the love and carrying we have (by extension) for all those important enough to them and to us.

Family’s feel the friendship between their circle of blood and the consentric arc that shares the same center enriched by time. As valuable as the most precious diamond and kept close to our heart, with the love of many moments, this is a gift that is center to our universe. We call this very special feeling, friendship.

Friendship is simply the state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people. This state of being shines a light on our own perspective. If we are self centered, petty or simply a complete narcissist then our future could be one defined by being alone.

However, if we are magnanimous and giving, and our thought process starts with “random acts of kindness”, then our life will be filled with the type of richness that only comes when we put others above ourself.

The One Thing in Life that is Constant… is Change.

learn about yourself experience life

When we craft our lives, the majority of time we bank to the right or left depending upon the circumstances. Sometimes we move forward into a place that was meant to be and other times we fall backwards to a place, upon reflection, was the wrong move.

Regardless of our movement, or our direction, the one thing that is constant in our life is change. New places, new friends, unforseen circumstances, the vicissitudes of life. Each development strenghtens our resolve to learn and grow, or weakens it.

As each state of affairs presents new challenges, our mindset to adapt and conquer produces an avenue for change. The road contains warnings or clues that we sometimes miss. The people we trust to help us or the job or place we fall in love with is sometimes at odds with our gut feeling. Our gut feeling guards us from potential bad choices or enhances our belief that we made the right choice.

In many cases the road is worn with the foot prints of others to help us gauge our own direction. This direction can provide us with a new level of excitement invigorating our inner self to the possibility of even greater happiness. I beleive we are at our best when we are stimulated by the challange of change. However, driven by emotion rather than intellect can be a recipe for disaster. This leads to my next expression.

Learning from our mistakes is often the best way to align providence for the not to distant time ahead. Mistakes are the cornerstone of wisdom. This wisdom can only be realized if we never look to the past to make excuses for the future.

Your body doesn’t live in the past… why should your mind? I hear so often people grouse about the mistakes of the past as they continue to make the same mistakes moving on. This most certainly is an excercise in futility. The ship has sailed on that event and it’s time to cast that anchor of pitty and regret aside. It’s time to read up-lifting books and surround ourselves with positive people that bring out the joy and hope in us.

“The Road Not Taken”
Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the diference.

It is with that sentiment I gaze upon those I call friends and family. One is by design, the other by blood. Both carry the enormous joy of experiences that have led to those two definitions. Because of change and the alluring sense of discovery our inner strenght is sometimes the proclivity to be drawn to that which we know.

However, the best surprises lie in the packages we unwrap. In many cases these places, people, or events reveal a view into the looking glass of our soul. This can unmask our true and unwavering view of life, a reflection into the beauty that only we will truly know as the sand in the hour glass of time has run its course.

The way that we envision our future is a direct correlation between our beliefs, our experiences, and the certainty in which we execute our path. Obstacles are part of life and if we have enough of them and we overcome them… towards the final chapter, we will be in control of our destiny.

Isn’t that the recipe for a happy and fullfilled life? Living life on our terms with the knowledge that we’ve hurdled over doubt and trepidation that has led to a wonderful enriched belief in ourselves. If its too tough for you… its just right for me.