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Christmas At Home: Finding Christmas

1b0f119bca5919243ea4a70ccdb8c3d1I really haven’t been in the Christmas mood this year. All the evil, hate and violence going on in the world has taken center stage– at least that’s all that is being spewed through the media. It has made me sad, angry and frustrated. What is wrong with people? It has made it really, really hard to find the Christmas spirit.

I’m so sick of Donald Trump… a hypocritical Congress that lies to the American people outright… and an uprising of action, based completely on fear of what might be versus what is. This is a dark moment in our history. Bah humbug!

So this morning I happened to come across the video of Jordan Smith, the recent winner of The Voice,  and his version of Mary Did You Know trending in social media.


It’s good. Really good. Just not as good as Donny Osmond’s 1999 version.



I like Donny’s version best, not as much for his technique as for his passion and sincerity. It touches me. I think his rendition is a better fit for the true meaning of the song.

This led me to keep searching through my Christmas music. Actually, aside from the repetitive playlist on the FM station in my car… I haven’t listened to much Christmas music this year. And, I just hadn’t found my Christmas moment.

There’s always a single moment or two that defines Christmas for me each year. It’s usually something quiet and simple… and it’s not usually a moment I share. Mostly, because it’s a feeling, it’s personal– and that’s often just too hard to describe.

Anyway, this search through my playlist brought me to My Grown Up Christmas List one of my favorites of all time. In spite of my fondness for the song, I hadn’t listened to it this year.

So I clicked play on Kelly Clarkson’s version of the song… and there it was. My moment. Unexpected. Simple. Pure. A rush of emotion summing up all that I’d been feeling– melting my anger and frustration and giving way to hope. My Christmas moment.



This song says it all. We claim to be a civilized society. At this time of year, if at no other, I would hope people would search their hearts and find what is truly important.

Peace. Hope. Love. Giving. Sharing.

And perhaps most important of all– living without fear.

Merry Christmas.

Send a Christmas Card & Save the World

diy-christmas-card-photoHave you mailed your Christmas cards yet? Do you send them out or have you stopped altogether? What if you could actually save the world; or perhaps closer to home-  a life — by the simple act of mailing a holiday card? The title of this post may seem a little over dramatic but I stand by the sentiment and I’ll explain why.

No, there is no gimmick or marketing ploy here. I don’t work for a greeting card company and I make this suggestion out of sincere concern for where our society is headed. We are rapidly tossing out traditions in the name of progress and the overused phrase, ‘being more politically correct’. We can say we’re too busy or we’re saving money…. but why not be willing to say you’re too lazy or just don’t care?

I’m not judging anyone here. I realize this just isn’t important to some people. If you choose not to send out cards– for whatever reason; that’s fine by me. BUT– if I can encourage you to just consider participating in this time-old tradition… then it was worth my time.

I just read an opinion piece by someone who is sending out their cards (this year) for the last time. Some of their justifications are: a) not getting enough cards in return, b) thinking the recipient will be disappointed if there isn’t a gift card or cash inside, c) it takes too much effort, and d) it’s easier to just send a message online.

I understand how someone might come to these conclusions but I also think they are shallow assumptions and, well– just plain wrong. I also see some of those excuses as just plain selfishness.

Who doesn’t like receiving Christmas cards? (Unless, it’s because it makes you feel guilty for not mailing them out?) The comments from people attached to the above mentioned story all disagreed with the author’s perceptions and want to receive cards. They like this traditional token of holiday cheer.

So how can a silly thing like sending a card save the world?

Here are a few of my points to consider:

  • Communicate, connect, share. Show someone you care. Isolation can be a terrible thing. Your act of thoughtfulness could be the only positive thing someone experiences today. You may be reaching out to someone in desperate need. Someone you know may be feeling completely alone and disenfranchised. You’re card could go a long way to brighten someone’s day.
  • So much Conservative emphasis is on the cause of world problems being the fault of the breakdown of the family. One of the ways families stay connected is through holidays and traditions. As society places less value on the family, society starts to fail.  Whether it’s a biological family, chosen family or coming together as a community— society needs ways to connect that are positive and unite us– giving us strength. Eliminate traditions… eliminate family and a peaceful society is the next to go.
  • Can’t afford to send everyone gifts? Why not a simple, heartfelt note inside a card? This can mean so much more than a gift that will soon be forgotten. A few kind words letting someone know you are thinking of them can go a long way.
  • The Christmas card tradition keeps many people in different industries employed. Authors, artists & designers, sales, marketing, transportation… all benefit.
  • “It’s easier to say Merry Christmas on Facebook.” Yes, it is easier. It takes no effort at all. I’m not belittling the sentiments– I’m saying it isn’t the same thing. AND– not everyone will see it. If that’s your substitution– it isn’t working.
  • “Christmas cards are a waste of money and negatively affect the environment.” Not true. Many cards are made of recycled paper and can be recycled again. The paper industry, by it’s very existence, contributes positively to the environment through replanting and maintaining forests and environmental systems.
  • “Christmas cards aren’t PC.” Really? The celebration of Christmas goes far beyond religion. How many people do you believe are really offended by Christmas cards? If this is a concern of yours: How about a generic holiday card? It’s the idea behind the card that counts. It’s letting someone know you are thinking about them.

Screen-shot-2012-10-27-at-6.24.06-PMSure, a Christmas card can be viewed as a small, meaningless thing.  How about parades? Can we get rid of those next? And Fourth of July fireworks? Do we really need to celebrate birthdays anymore? If you take cards, along with many other small, meaningless things away– what are you replacing it with? What do you have left? We are slowly chipping away at many of the elements that have allowed society to connect and to function successfully for many years. Individually, they don’t seem like much but they are a small part of a whole.

It’s all about living and sharing.

Call, write, visit…connect. let someone know you care.

Here’s an idea: I’ll go one better… you can get rid of Christmas cards but throw an annual holiday party for all your family and friends instead. Is there any better way to connect and express your appreciation than in person? Holidays are for sharing. Nothing is better than being there and sharing an experience. Only, you’ll have to make sure they’ll all be able to attend on the date you select.

Of course, you’ll also have to send out invitations…. which is a card…


The Majestic Beauty of the Angkors

Southeast Asia Travel Day Four: Michael and I were both up and wide awake way too early this morning. Not that unusual for me but Michael is usually a good sleeper. Between jet lag and the exciting day ahead, it was difficult to go back to sleep.

Silly Selfies at Ta Prohm.

Silly Selfies at Ta Prohm.

We were the first ones at breakfast and there was an incredible spread. So many choices from traditional breakfast to local cuisine– everything that Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor does is first class.

In regards to this trip, today was probably my most anticipated day. That can be dangerous this early in a long vacation but there are also so many unique and exciting things ahead. As a precaution, I try not to allow my expectations to be too high; just to avoid any chance of disappointment.

Today did not disappoint.

Today was one of those few days in your life you’ll remember forever. A whirlwind of experiences that totally consumes you. Every sense heightened and challenged. Memories indelibly imprinted in your mind.

I have a bit of an obsession with history and what was left behind. I’m not as consumed by the facts as I am the aura of the experience. To put it bluntly: I like old things.

History not only connects us from the past to where we are now; it connects us metaphysically to all the people that came before us. For me, it’s magic. It gives me chills. There’s nothing else like it in the world.

On the Road to… This was our first opportunity to meet some of the people that would be continuing on with the Broadway On the High Seas 5 (BOTHS5) cruise. About 80 of the nearly 300 BOTHS5 participants came to Siem Riep for the 3-day pre-cruise adventure. As we’d find out later, the group was pretty evenly divided between three choices of hotels; then split again into groups of about a dozen for our tour experiences in Siem Riep. This gave us a perfect opportunity to meet new friends, more intimately; prior to the whole group coming together in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in a few days.

On the road in our tuk-tuk.

On the road in our tuk-tuk.

We all boarded tuk-tuks for the short ride to Angkor Wat. What a fun and relaxing way to travel!

Some tuk-tuks are bicycle-driven but most are now powered by motor bikes.

We were all connected to our guide, Jun, by headset so he was able to narrate the sites along the way.

Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat. Depending on the source, Angkor Wat is frequently called the unofficial 8th wonder of the world. It’s often on lists of must see places in your lifetime. I think all the Angkor temples (as a group) should be included.

Bas Reliefs at Angkor Wat.

Bas Reliefs at Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat was built in the early part of the 12th century, over a 30 year period. The workmanship is almost impossible to comprehend. From a distance, it looks like a massive, crumpling stone ruin. As you get closer, the impressive detail begin to be revealed. There are so many elements to be appreciated. The bas reliefs alone contain more than 12,000 square feet of intricate sandstone carvings. What stands out most about Angkor Wat from the other temples is the size. It’s pretty incredible that it has survived the centuries and much of the detail is in such good condition.


Inside the heart of Angkor Wat.

Inside the heart of Angkor Wat.


Looking up in one of the entries in Angkor Wat.

Looking up in one of the entries in Angkor Wat.


One of the statues of Budha.

One of the statues of Budha.


Monks can be seen throughout Angkor Wat.

Monks can be seen throughout Angkor Wat.


Incredibly detailed exterior walls protect the inner temple.

Incredibly detailed exterior walls protect the inner temple.


One of the Angkor Wat towers and balconies.

One of the Angkor Wat towers and balconies.


A cemetery at Angkor Wat.

A cemetery at Angkor Wat.

Tomb Raider, Jungle Temple or Ta Prohm? Here is a spot that nearly everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. Most famously recognized from Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm has survived from its origins in the mid 12th century.

The famous Banyan tree root snakes its way through the temple.  There are hundreds of statues in the complex. Ta Prohm is under a long, delicate preservation and restoration process. Primarily, this involves structural strengthening to prevent any further, rapid deterioration.

The famous Banyan root at Ta Prohm.

The famous Banyan root at Ta Prohm.


The Banyan tree rising out of the temple.

The Banyan tree rising out of the temple.


Deteriorating but naturally beautiful.

Deteriorating but naturally beautiful.


Angkor Thom. It means the great city. It is the temple of faces. Each tower has four carved faces so they can be seen from any direction. Angkor Thom was the final capital of Khmer Empire. The city was surrounded by a wall with  causeways lined with 54 statues on each side leading to the entry towers. Inside the ruins is the magnificent Bayon Temple… a sight to behold.


The causeway and entryway to Angkor Thom.

The causeway and entryway to Angkor Thom.


Statues lining the causeway.

Statues lining the causeway.


The Bayon Temple of Angkor Thom.

The Bayon Temple of Angkor Thom.


Looking down in the maze of pathways at Angkor Thom.

Looking down in the maze of pathways at Angkor Thom.


Four faces surround every tower.

Four faces surround every tower.


I took nearly 800 photos today. In an effort to try and keep up with posting here, I’m only sharing a few now. Later I’ll do a couple photo essay posts with many more pictures of the Angkor temples. This was such an incredible experience.

The Disturbing Truth About Social Media

header-bad-reviewsThe ugly truth is that social media is becoming less about engaging and connecting- enriching our lives; and more about attacking and spreading untruths.

Do you think before you post? We’ve all been guilty at one time or another of sharing a post or link without investigating it first: Like the reoccurring Facebook privacy-protection posts. Hopefully, we can all learn that its better to check it out first before we spread false alarm to our friends.

There’s a lot of anger and hate online. Lately, I’ve witnessed a lot of business owners using their personal accounts to attack and smear their competition. They post negative and misleading comments and reviews– even though they’ve never used their competition’s services.

Can you defend your posts on hot button topics? Are you willing to?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… what do they mean to you? Do you primarily rely on them to keep in touch with others? Make new connections? Do you believe everything you read?

What is social media?

Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

Social Networking: the creation and maintenance of personal and business relationships especially online

GEJs-aide-Mrs-Sarah-Pane-cautions-on-use-of-social-mediaDo you use social media the same way today as you did, say, two years ago? I keep asking myself how long social media will remain the phenomenon it has been or whether its popularity is starting to die off. Many of my friends barely even post anymore. A number of them have begun deleting their accounts. With all the negativity, it’s no wonder why.

Bullying Online. There is a frightening trend of hateful and often unfactual content online. More and more people attacking others for their personal opinions, calling names and even harassing individuals and businesses without cause.

I find myself getting more and more worked up over the insensitive and hateful nature of so much that is being posted through social media– particularly Facebook. Anonymity of online identities versus face to face confrontations is allowing brazen cowards to spew hate and bully other people for having opinions.

People that attack others online– and there are a lot of them– aren’t doing anything more than showing their ignorance.

Agree to Disagree? What happened to free speech and open debate? I just had someone delete my (polite) comments after they posted some derogatory comments about a political figure. They didn’t represent all the facts. My comments were not disrespectful or aimed at the poster– I just wanted to clarify and perhaps shed some light and encourage them to look at the situation in a different way. They really couldn’t disagree with my comments because I was stating fact- not merely taking a position. Instead of challenging, discussing or debating the issue; they just deleted my comments and added even more hateful (unsupported) comments of their own.

In another recent exchange, I had what I thought was a wonderful debate with this same individual over an entirely different issue. See the mixed signals here?

If social media ceases to be an open platform for the exchange of thoughts and ideas- what is the point? If you post something, do you really expect everyone to agree with you? If everyone does agree with you, what was the point of posting it to begin with?

Fact is Fact. This is true. BUT anyone can spin a situation to make the actual facts support their position. You also have to remember- everything that is stated as fact– isn’t. I have a general rule that if something doesn’t make sense, or I want to back up a position; I try to find a minimum of 5 agreeing sources before I’ll accept it as probable truth. This often means I have to search beyond the media-bias reporting from agenda-based websites that will regurgitate the same thing from another similar site, without researching its authenticity. Is it a fact, is it a commentary, or is it a lie?

Social Connection. Life isn’t always exciting. Sharing what some may consider ‘mundane’ things is perfectly fine with me. The idea is staying connected.

You want to get your opinion across– that’s understandable. Do you know when enough is enough or when your simply beating a dead horse?

In my world of social media, I’ve started unfollowing people that post the same negative content over and over. I don’t do it just because I may disagree with them. If that’s all they post and they never share anything of personal interest to me or about their own lives; then they are just clogging up my news feed. If unfollowing them doesn’t do the trick, then I delete them all together. I won’t tolerate unfounded hate and ignorance as anyone’s only form of communication.

The positive influences of social media are being overshadowed. The potential for good is being diminished.

In terms of longevity, social media is still quite new. It’s still evolving. Unfortunately, that evolution is taking a dark turn where hate can be expected and ‘fact’ cannot be relied on.

deleteIt’s time we bring back accountability and respect to all of our interactions. Especially online. If we want to stay connected to one another through social media we need to practice kindness and tolerance. The alternative is only a click away.

The Post I Wasn’t Going To Write

IMG_0290I wasn’t going to write a September 11th blog post today. I’ve written several already, along with posts on the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. No, today, after changing my Facebook cover photo, posting my favorite Memorial picture on Instagram and watching  the coverage in New York and Washington; I had intended to remember privately.

I also wasn’t going to write about something else (directly connected) that has really bothered me for quite some time.

Such is life– things changed. So here I sit and write.

In the past, most of my posts have been structured with a specific point. This one is going to be a little more free-thought.

A few hours ago I was scrolling through Facebook and saw I was tagged in a post from a former student, then a post from another student and one from a teacher-friend. Plans changed.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 12.35.45 PMWhen I was working at Bartlett High School, I wrote a play called, September’s Heroes; an ensemble, multimedia production; performed in honor of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I’ve been stalling getting it published because I felt it still needed some work. In any case, had things gone the way I planned, September’s Heroes should have been on stage tonight. (I’ll get back to that later.)

Three Posts On Facebook. Natalie is an incredibly gifted young actress currently studying theatre at the University of Miami. I had the privilege of working with her and she was one of the key ensemble members in the cast of September’s Heroes. This morning, Natalie posted this:

“On September 11th, 2011, I walked off the Bartlett High School stage with tears in my eyes because I was so moved by the story of “September’s Heroes” that I had just shared with the audience. This was the first time I had reacted so viscerally to a piece of theatre. Each year I grieve for the souls we lost in 9/11 — each soul that didn’t get to finish their story. I am proud to be a theatre maker. And proud to be an American.”

Then I found a post by another student in that production that moved me for similar reasons. Ken wrote:

“It’s necessary to remember 9/11 as an important part of our history. To readily mourn the innocent lives lost that day and the graphic images captured of the tower collapsing.

However, its just as important to acknowledge the level of Islamaphobia that followed 9/11 that continues to haunt muslim folks, south asian folks, and everyone ‘mistaken’ as such still today .

Both the pain of those that lost loved ones on 9/11 as well as the families that continue to feel endangered today matter.

Acknowledging the former without recognizing the latter is being downright selective of the kind “American” history you want to remember.”

Ken- September's HeroesIn September’s Heroes, Ken had a monologue we referred to as “Hate” calling attention to the rise in fear and open racism that was a by-product of the 9/11 attacks. Now, Ken is becoming a voice– an activist; speaking out for minority rights. He current studies African & African American Studies at the University of Minnesota.

The third Facebook post by Charlie, a teacher-friend that I know from past theatrical productions wrote:

“9-11 isn’t even a memory to those I now teach. It is something they (may) have heard about…wow. As Ferris said, life moves pretty fast.”

Three different people. Three different posts. All three, unknowingly giving me a kick in the butt to do something I’ve put off for too long. Publishing September’s Heroes.

How Today Was Supposed To Happen. In June 2014, I started the process of securing space from the City of Elgin to produce a season of five shows, two weeks each at the Elgin Art Showcase. September’s Heroes was to be one of those shows. It should have– it would have been on stage tonight if it hadn’t been for the irresponsible actions of a city employee.

From the time I began the process, I dealt with three different people responsible for booking the space. The first left (who kept putting me off, delaying the process), the second was filling in (and tried valiantly to be accommodating with my requests) and then there was the third: the newly hired coordinator for the space. She flat out told me I couldn’t have the dates because she wanted them, even though they had already been promised to me.

I need to back up and say that I had also applied for this coordinator position. I had more than enough qualifications and experience, I’m an Elgin resident but I didn’t even get an interview. I was later told (by an insider) that the person they hired had already been tapped for the job, before the opening had even been posted. On top if that, she doesn’t live in Elgin (city officials claim to favor residents first) and she already holds a conflicting position, managing another space downtown. Strangely, her space is constantly active, while the Art Space sits empty.

Of the ten weeks I wanted, there has only been one, two-hour event in the space during the entire list of dates I had requested. It was nearly the end of last October before I was given contractual dates. At this point, it was already too late to successfully publicize the first two shows. I planned to release all but the last two bookings but when I discussed this (through email) with the new coordinator, she told me I couldn’t have the September dates, she was using them for her event. So I cancelled them all.

It turns out, IF they are using the space, it’s not on the city calendar AND the event (which is happening) isn’t until next week. My production of September’s Heroes could have gone on. At no point was I ever contacted and told that I could, in fact, have those original dates I had requested.

Yes, I’m bitter about this. I’m bitter about not being given consideration for the job and more so for having dates I had been given– in writing, taken away from me and then not used. The city pays a lot of money to subsidize this space and due to poor management– it sits empty. Yet another example of Elgin’s waste of taxpayer’s money.

Moving On and Being Inspired. So September’s Heroes is not on stage tonight but that’s not the end of it. Thanks to the inspiration of friends, I’m working on a new edit of my script to publish. Hopefully it will see productions for next year’s fifteenth anniversary.

Theatre moves, educates and inspires people. There is a whole new generation of children in school that weren’t even born when the terrorists attacked. They need to know the story. They need to hear about the heroes and the innocent people that lost their lives that day.

One Last Story. I want to end with this. I may have shared it before but if I have, it bares repeating. One of the people that ‘liked’ one of the Facebook posts this morning, is the mother of another one of the young actors that was in September’s Heroes in 2011. I didn’t really know him very well (at the time) besides the fact that he was talented and very polite. During the rehearsals, I got the feeling he was having a little trouble connecting to the material.

In January 2013, I chaperoned a student trip to New York and he was also on the trip. Besides seeing Broadway shows, we toured a little bit of the city and visited the National September 11th Memorial. We stood at the two pools that form the footprint of where the World Trade Center once towered over lower Manhattan. It was there that I saw this strong young man, emotional, as it all became real for him. It was a touching moment. An important moment that I’ll never forget.

It reminds me constantly of the power of theatre… the importance of history… and the necessity of telling and retelling the story.

It’s our duty to share, remember and #neverforget.


Love Is Love

My profile picture with the FB celebratepride filter.

My profile picture with the FB celebratepride filter.

I have to say I didn’t get too emotional yesterday with the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision in support of gay marriage. Maybe because I knew it was still only a small step– a very historic step—  but still just a small step towards acceptance and equality in the United States. Perhaps it’s because I’m a little numb from a lifetime of exposure to hate and bigotry. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I never thought I’d see this day.

The court’s decision isn’t going to instantly change people’s opinions. Only time will accomplish that.

But then this morning, as I scrolled through my Facebook Newsfeed, something happened. Not only were there a myriad of posts celebrating the landmark decision– friend after friend had also changed their profile pictures, using the celebratepride filter, overlaying the rainbow pride flag over their image. I found myself incredibly moved.

It suddenly became real to me.

Love equals Love. Equality gives way to the very Freedoms we are supposedly all guaranteed in the Constitution. Maybe there is Hope. Maybe Amerika can become America again– or maybe even, for the first time.

Every step we take in this country to remove Hate, opens the door to love and acceptance.

Gay marriage can now just be called marriage. Eventually, Gay pride may become an unnecessary celebration and can give way to American pride. It’s all about Equality. Each and everyone of us equal.

Some of the love being shared on Facebook.

Some of the love being shared on Facebook.

I think it’s important to be consciously aware that the Supreme Court’s decision was not a strike against Christianity. Many people are choosing to take it that way; and I find it extremely sad and nearly pathetic. The fight was never about changing anyone’s religious beliefs; it was the always about equal rights under the law. In ancient times, marriage may have only been strictly viewed as a religious contract– not anymore. There are too many rights under the law regarding married people to maintain that defense.

Love is Love. It transcends gender and race. It is more powerful than contracts, vows or religion.

All we need is time.

Exploring the Fox River Trail

Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, and whether you know it or not; there are some amazing walking and biking trails near you. I found sights, sounds and smells that can dazzle to extremes, just a short distance from my home. I can experience the city, farm and fields, beautiful river and forest views; all in a relatively short distance. The sounds of traffic, babbling brooks, chirping birds… even silence.  Stale city smells, pungent livestock, fresh forest air… are all there waiting for you to explore.

A little color as spring begins to invade Trout Park along the Fox Valley Trail.

A little color as spring begins to invade Trout Park along the Fox Valley Trail.

Last week, I took my longest ride so far, traveling south from Elgin down to the heart of St. Charles. There and back, my ride clocked in at just over 22 miles, round trip. To date, I’ve covered about 16 miles of the Fox River Trail (FRT) between St. Charles and East Dundee.

In total, the trail is approximately 43 miles long from Montgomery to the south, to Algonquin on the north end. The trail links in multiple locations with other Illinois trails branching out in other directions.

Here are some highlights, as well as some tips to help you avoid getting lost and to work around some trail closures. I’m sharing some photos I’ve taken along the path over the past few weeks.


One of the best urban portions of the ride, travels through Elgin along the Fox River passing Walton Island Park.

One of the best urban portions of the ride, travels through Elgin, along the Fox River, passing Walton Island Park.

Pratt's Castle, north of downtown Elgin (1262 Cedar Ave, Elgin, IL) along the Fox River Trail.

Pratt’s Castle, north of downtown Elgin (1262 Cedar Ave, Elgin, IL) along the Fox River Trail.


"Brick Roadway on North Spring Street" (1930's) is the last exposed brick remaining in Elgin.

“Brick Roadway on North Spring Street” (1930’s) is the last exposed brick remaining in Elgin.

Detours. I was naive enough to believe once you were on the trail, you’d stay on a clearly marked trail. It’s not the case. There are some closures and detours you’ll want to be aware of along the trail.

Traveling north from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. There are really only two minor considerations you’ll want to know about traveling north of downtown Elgin. The first, is a pretty simple jog that takes you a few blocks east of the river, around the Gail Borden Library, to allow you to cross near the Kimball street bridge. There are green bike signs that help get you across this busy street. You then have the option of taking the sidewalk around either side of the library until it reconnects with the trail. This is a permanent part of the path. I should note that once you cross Kimball, you should take the side walk south of the library back down to the river or you’ll miss a beautifully maintained section and the Veteran’s Memorial. Otherwise, you just continue straight ahead, passed the library and a large (currently) vacant piece of land, back to the actual trail going north.

The second spot is at I-90 about a quarter mile passed Trout Park. The path is not closed there. I saw one post online stating it was closed.  You are crossing through a construction zone– and there are signs requesting you walk your bike through the short stretch, although most cyclists I’ve encountered, ignore the signs. The bridge that crosses the river at I-90 (taking you off trail) is closed and under construction.

Traveling south from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. A couple miles south of Elgin the FRT is closed. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll suddenly find yourself traveling along the Illinois Prairie path, and not know how you got there, or how to get back on the FRT. Forking off to the west is a closed path that appears to dead end at a train trestle. There is actually supposed to be a bridge

The FRT detours here. The bridge is gone that is supposed to go under the left arch connecting the trail.

The FRT detours here. The bridge is gone that is supposed to go under the left arch connecting the trail.

going under the trestle that connects the trail. This spot tripped me up my first ride. It is not marked as part of the FRT and there are no signs anywhere that instruct how you can detour back to the trail.

The best work-around I found, is to take the Illinois Prairie Path to Middle Street and go west, into South Elgin, go north one block on South Gilbert Street to State Street and then taking the State Street Bridge west, putting you are back on the trail again.

On my return trip, I did investigate the ‘skipped’ portion of the FRT and it is walkable but not easy to ride– up to where the bridge is out. That portion of the path is in extreme disrepair, lots of steep and bumpy, twisting spots that need to be redeveloped– if and when the bridge is replaced.

Seba Park on the west side of the Fox River is currently under construction but you can follow the path through, staying on the trail. From there, the trail is quite beautiful and unobstructed. Following the shoreline of the Fox River, along side a railroad track for some distance, is a nice peaceful ride.

There is one long, fairly steep incline that I find too difficult to ride and walked it instead, when heading south. It’s fun riding north though— but you need to use your breaks.

As you get close to St. Charles, there are a few spots where you have to ride main roads and residential streets between gaps in actual dedicated paths— so you’ll need to use extreme caution if walking or cycling. Some spots aren’t marked, you just continue straight ahead and the trail will become clear when it picks up again. I used the TrailLink app and GPS just to be sure.



Farms, fields and sky along the Fox River Trail and Illinois Prairie Path.

Farms, fields and sky along the Fox River Trail and Illinois Prairie Path.

Where Bridges and Train Trestles Meet. One of the spots where the Fox River Trail and Illinois Prairie Path link.

Where Bridges and Train Trestles Meet. One of the spots where the Fox River Trail and Illinois Prairie Path link.

Biking across the Fox River, north of St. Charles on the Fox River Trail.

Biking across the Fox River, north of St. Charles on the Fox River Trail.

Stunning view of the Fox River.

Stunning view of the Fox River.

Much of the Fox River Trail follows along functioning and unused train track.

Much of the Fox River Trail follows along functioning and unused train track.

Open blue skies.

Open blue skies.

I stopped when I reached downtown St. Charles because I was confused where to go. The map shows the trail forking and following both sides of the river through downtown. You cannot ride your bike on the sidewalks in downtown St. Charles though. The narrow roads and traffic congestion make riding in the streets a little daunting as well. Signs are posted requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks. Since I was out for a ride, not a walk; I decided to turn back towards Elgin at this point. I found out later, there is an actual riding path on the west side of the Fox River, which after some distance, must cross back over the river to the east side, before heading south towards Aurora.

On my way back, a work crew on the path forced me on a bit of a detour through a small portion of Tekakwitha Woods. I was rewarded with a stunning bridge view I would have otherwise missed.

Just off the FRT in the Tekakwitha Woods.

Just off the FRT in the Tekakwitha Woods.

I’m looking forward to more exploring this summer. My next goal is to ride from Elgin to the northern trailhead in Algonquin. A friend of mine just told me yesterday that north of East Dundee, is a beautiful scenic ride.

There are thousands of miles of trails across the United States and some are bound to be near you. Some you never knew existed. Get out there and explore!

Suggested Links:


On the Road Again: Back On A Bike

I was almost at my six-mile mark, having just crossed a newly constructed, planked bridge– and there was the sign that greeted me: BIKE PATH CLOSED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 2015. Not what I expected to see when I reached IL-Route 25 and Stearns Rd. a week ago. It was my first ride south on the Fox River Trail from Elgin, Illinois. This was an exploratory test run.

I’d ridden north on the trail a few times, going as far as East Dundee. This was my first venture south on the trail. I’d set a goal to ride all the way to the south end of the trail by the end of the summer. Now with the trail closure, it looks like I might have to come up with a new challenge.

Close up of my new ride.

Close up of my new ride.

As a kid growing up in Florida, I rode my bike a lot. We lived in a new, sparsely populated subdivision with plenty of safe road to ride. We also made our own trails, even though it was pretty difficult to ride in the Florida sand and clay. On a rare occasion, I’d leave the subdivision and ride up the main road to the convenience store. Usually, picking up pop bottles along the way to redeem the deposit for penny candy.

Yes, I’m that old.

We lived in three different places when I was in my teens; all within four to five miles of the schools I attended. I didn’t ride my bike to class on a regular basis but sometimes I would ride there after hours or on weekends.

I also really loved to ride my bike after a good rain. I’d ride through puddles with the water and sand splashing; spinning off the tires and spokes– coating my calves and ankles.

That was so many years ago.

I’d only been on a bike a few times since then.

So what’s the sudden interest now?

Exercise. Exploring. A Challenge. Entertainment. Pick one.

Elgin, Illinois is a fairly, bike-friendly city. Downtown there are some bike lanes, many of which, strangely, don’t connect from block to block. The streets aren’t terribly congested most of the time, making them fairly safe and easy to ride. The bonus is that home is only about a half-mile from the Fox River Trail.

I’d seriously thought about getting a bike a number of times in the past few years. I was always afraid I’d end up not riding it enough to be worth the investment.  Then last November, we were at a charity event, anchored by a huge silent auction. One of the auction items was a bike, we bid— and the rest is history. I’m now the proud owner of a 2014 Raleigh Talus 3.0 Mountain Bike.

I was only able to go for a couple very short rides (last fall) before the weather got too cold and icy. My first real ride wasn’t until March— still cold— snow on the ground— at least the roads and sidewalks were clear. Maybe not so ironically, it was also rainy. We’d had a couple of warmer days, so I hadn’t really considered the weather when I went for the early morning ride. Besides the rain, the temperature was hovering around freezing and I hadn’t thought to wear gloves. After a couple miles, frozen fingers and wet with rain, I cut my ride short. Not to mention the burn in my legs from unused muscles I forgot I even had.

Out on the Fox River Trail.

Out on the Fox River Trail.

So far, I’ve only ridden about sixty miles total. I found a great fitness app, Runtastic, that uses GPS tracking to record and map my rides. In addition to mapping and distance, it also records elevation changes, calories burned, time and a lot of other information.

Biking is great exercise and a perfect way to clear your head. It’s also wonderful way to see the city and nearby trails. Riding on two wheels, you see things in a completely different light.

It’s never too late to reignite a passion for an old hobby or activity. It just takes the motivation to get out and do it.

In my next post I’ll share some photographs from my rides, so far; exploring the Fox River Trail.

My Epiphany

In the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning I had an epiphany. It wasn’t a new thought. It was so obvious and had been in my head for a while. Sometimes though, a clear realization suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks. I waited before I shared because I felt like I needed to let a few things play out first.

No more theatre.

Let me explain.

If-you-really-love-something-set-it-freeIn addition to trying to find gainful employment in the industry for the past year and a half, I had spent nearly six months of the past year, working on a plan to produce my own season of five shows– that was to begin the end of January 2015. After waiting for months, I’d finally received dates but by then it was too late to market, sell and produce a theatre subscription series effectively and be ready to open by the first set of dates. I could have still thrown something together for the first show– but with no assurance of an audience. I’m not in the financial situation to do anything that is a likely, losing proposition nor do I want to. (There were more “complications” that I’ll go into in another blog post.) So, I felt I’d reached another dead end.

My epiphany was quite simple. I’ve come to the realization I don’t need to do another production. I want to– but want and need are two totally different things.

If I never have the opportunity to work on another show– I’ve done pretty much every thing in every area of theatre that anyone can possibly do. With over 30 years and more than 200 productions under my belt; including the production of my top two bucket list shows– I think I can say, I’ve pretty much done it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not lost an ounce of my passion or creative drive for live theatre. I just feel I’ve come to a point that it’s time to let it go. If opportunities come up– great. If they don’t, I’m okay with that too. I’m not going to obsess over it anymore.

I don’t really want to work on vanity productions… work for less than I’m worth without substantial creative rewards… or donate my time to efforts where my passion and commitment is greater than that of anyone else involved.

My last production, Spring Awakening, was a thoroughly rewarding experience. Maybe that’s the best way to go out.

After a year and half, the job search– inquiries, applications, interviews have been a huge disappointment. Especially when I see so many of the people being hired are younger, inexperienced and/or friends of somebody making the hiring decisions. I’ve watched a number of the positions for which I applied and was past over, be reposted a short time later. I’ve watched organizations hire the wrong people and a short time later– they are looking for a bail out. Other positions, particularly those a substantial distance away, don’t pay well enough to make the commute worthwhile or only offer poverty level wages for exempt, full time hours.

CreativityDefI’ve also noticed a large number of organizations are only seeking part time without benefits but with full time expectations; or unpaid interns to fill what should be full time paid positions. I understand for many organizations, this is their only choice, or final attempt, to stay afloat. Quite a few long-standing organizations are on the edge of financial collapse and a number have shut their doors in the past few years. Many arts organizations are struggling to survive. What they really need is someone like me, with the experience and background to help them stabilize their company and infuse their efforts with new growth.

Office politics and financial instability are killing many fine arts institutions. That, and poor leadership without vision.

So I’m going to stop frustrating myself in the search and instead, focus on being productive through other facets of my creativity.

Less looking and more doing.

leo-burnett-on-creative-peopleI know the right situation is out there, whether it’s yet to be discovered or I create it myself. The time for me to act is now. I’m really tired of waiting.

Maybe that right management or creative theatrical position will turn up. Who knows? I’m not going to wait for it though.

It’s a new year. So, on to new challenges, new adventures and new discoveries.

Writing, photography, design… creative management, consulting, branding, marketing… who knows where I’ll end up. I have more creative interests and talents than I have time to pursue. Maybe pursuing one of my often overlooked interests will leading be in an entirely different direction.

Wherever it is, I’m sure the journey through 2015 will be an exciting one.


Beautiful Christmas: What It Means To Me

Christmas Eve Today

Christmas Eve Today

It was hot and uncomfortable where we sat, in folding chairs, on a dimly lit stage. We were all turned upstage, facing an old, out-of-tune piano. Our music teacher, Mrs. Blanchard, came in– carrying her usual load of music and instruments. She was followed by the scent of her trademark perfume, Tabu– choking us all, within minutes of her arrival.

She asked one of my classmates to help pass out the freshly mimeographed copies of the Christmas medley she’d put together for us to perform at our Christmas concert, in just a few weeks. Us, sing? In a concert? We were quite a motley crew. While most of us tried to sing, my friend Alex was busy trying to distract everyone. Always the class clown.

Mrs. Blanchard would try to ignore him. Often she’d grab him by the ear or the arm and make him sit on the bench next to her– which usually only made things worse.

She’d give him the evil eye and turn her back to us, facing the piano. Her long, manicured nails would click and clack on the keys of the piano as she would bang out the notes, trying to teach us harmony:

Spinning the dial from station to station,

We hear Christmas songs old,

And some that are new…

Mrs. Blanchard, would stop and look at us, usually grimacing; her painted on eyebrows raised. It was a look that put fear into us. A look, that would sometimes melt into a smile, sending audible sighs of relief around the room. At times, she reminded us of the witch in the Wizard of Oz; but we loved her and wanted to please her.

Somehow, we did managed to put on a Christmas concert that year. I played the drum for The Little Drummer Boy. And it was magical.

This picture says it all. (And I used to be cute.)

This picture says it all. (And I used to be cute.)

One year– I think it was kindergarten, I was a toy soldier. Years later, I played Joseph in the nativity. Christmas concerts, church cantatas and pageants were a big part of my growing up.

I can still remember believing in Santa and the anticipation of gifts on Christmas morning. I remember my sister and I sneaking into my parents’ closet— trying to steal a peak at our hidden gifts.

But, what I remember most about Christmas— was the lights. I still have vivid memories of seeing the amazing Christmas lights and giant Christmas cards that surrounded the Indiana War Memorial Plaza, in the heart of Indianapolis, with my parents.

I remember riding in the car, either coming home from Christmas shopping or visiting relatives– trying to look out the window and see all the Christmas lights along the way.

I remember pulling out boxes of old Christmas decorations with my Dad and spending hours— trying to untangle lights and replace burned out bulbs.

As a child, snow and Christmas lights were magic to me.

So there should be little wonder as to why I decorate as much as I do today.

Christmas is magical.

It’s the one time of year that it’s okay for us all to be kids again.

My wonderful Grandma.

My wonderful Grandma.

Every Christmas I feel especially close to my Grandmother, who passed away when I was a senior in college. She taught me so many things without really intending to, I imagine. She brought out a lot of my creativity through the many hours we spent baking and crafting together when I was young. My grandparents weren’t rich— but the Christmases we shared with them were always magical.

My parents were always careful to balance all the different aspects of the holidays, careful to keep the emphasis on the real reason for the season. We didn’t have a lot growing up– but we had everything.

To me, more than anything, Christmas is a feeling. Sometimes I feel it in my heart and sometimes in my gut. Sometimes it’s magical and sometimes it’s bittersweet. It’s a time to look ahead– and a time of remembrance.

My sister and I re-enacting the Nativity.

My sister and I re-enacting the Nativity.

Christmas is a time of wonder and awe– that the birth of an innocent child so many centuries ago, could ignite generation after generation with promise– and lead the world on a journey towards the eternal search for light and truth. The miracle of birth and rebirth.

Christmas is the time for us all to take a step back and view the world through the eyes and heart of a child. The eyes of innocence. The heart that can still believe. Where a world can still be guided by love and peace. A world where there is still hope. A world full of magic. A world where dreams and miracle can come true.

Christmas really is for children.

May this Christmas reawaken the child in all of us.