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My Rheumatoid Arthritis story

Our stories are ever evolving. Life is full of experiences, good and bad. The diversity of what we experience during a lifetime shapes us, shapes our thoughts and opinions along with the things we know or ‘think we know’. And, our expectations, even our reality, can change faster than a Porsche can go from 0 to 60.

I’ve been lucky, in more ways than one. My time in the military and as a Police Officer has helped me to develop a never surrender attitude that has probably contributed to my ability to thrive in life and remain alive and healthy. I’ve had to call on these survival instincts on both the foreign battlefield, during the first Gulf War, as well as the domestic battlefield while doing my part to fight crime and help those affected by the criminal element. But, the battle outlined below has been, the literal, fight for my life.

This is my RA story

In January of this year (2016), after a very stressful series of business events, I began to suddenly have slight tenderness on the bottom of one foot. I wasn’t sure exactly what I might have done to the foot, but I figured I must have thrown something out of whack while exercising. I typically stay in pretty good shape by working out and or jogging 3-4 times a week. Maybe I overdid it at some point. Sure that it would go away on it’s own, I didn’t immediately worry.

Then, about a week later, the other foot began hurting in the same spot, mostly around the ball of my feet. At first, this just amounted to some weird, minor discomfort. But, as the days went by, the discomfort begun to spread through the rest of my feet, including the tops as well as the toes. And slowly but surely, the discomfort turned to pain, which began to cause some difficulty walking, much less any real exercise. And, with the pain, came visible swelling. By this time, I had began researching and trying to figure out what could possibly be causing this.

At first, I thought it might be gout. But no, the symptoms just weren’t the same. Then I ran across some information that pointed to something called ‘leaky gut’, where supposedly food items that are not supposed to be able to permeate your intestines, do, causing your body to attack the foreign particles, hence the swelling and pain. Thinking that I had it figured out, I began taking all of the recommended supplements to help with a leaky gut. But, oddly enough, even with the supplements and some moderate diet change, nothing seemed to be helping and the symptoms were now worsening. And, things were beginning to go downhill fast. I researched one possibility after another, without much initial success.

By mid February, the pain and swelling had grown to include my fingers, just one or two at first, and then more as the days went by. The pain seemed to be more first thing in the morning and would somewhat subside as the day went on. However, If I sat for a length of time the pain would return as soon as I returned to my feet.

As the days progressed, so did this new illness. By March 2016, my symptoms were:

  • Foot pain and swelling, especially on waking.
  • Hand and finger pain and swelling
  • Wrist pain and swelling.
  • Shoulder and ankle pain.
  • Nodules on the bottom part of my arm below the elbow on both sides.
  • Nodule somewhere near my voice box that causes hoarseness and a ‘click’ when swallowing.
  • TMJ like symptoms that made it difficult to bite down on the left side.
  • Occasional slight fever.
  • Occasional night sweats.
  • Brain fog and some cognitive issues.
  • I lost 20 lbs in 5 months, while still eating the amounts of food that I had eaten previously.
  • And oh, the flu-like body aches, (mostly towards the end of the work day and in the evening).

Later I also had these symptoms for a brief period

  • Phantom odors that smelled like smoke or an ash tray
  • Constantly seeping nose. Not really like a runny nose, but where you constantly feel like you have to wipe it because it’s always moist.

By now, I could no longer open a jar, I walked with a limp (especially after sitting for a while), and literally had problems performing even small tasks like opening a door or climbing in and out of a vehicle. Walking down stairs, especially first thing in the morning, was accomplished one slow and painful step at a time. Even turning the key to start the car brought unbearable pain. Hot baths helped. So, at the end of each day, I’d spend an hour in a hot bath. After my bath, I would actually feel fairly normal for a while and would be able to get to sleep. But then, around 2am, the pain would wake me and remind me that I was really sick.

I went to a local doctor, who said that even though I hadn’t yet tested positive for the RA marker, all other inflammation markers were elevated to alarming levels. Being a Gulf War Vet, I began to think that maybe my symptoms were caused by the same illness that has sickened and killed thousands upon thousands of Gulf War Veterans. So, I began the month long process of getting an appointment at the VA hospital.

While waiting for my VA appointment, my constant research of my illness led me to information that presented the possibility that RA (and other autoimmune illnesses like MS, Fibromyalgia, Chronic fatigue, Lupus, Crohn’s, IBS etc.) had a bacterial or viral origin. In other words, you are sick because you have a systemic bacterial and or viral infection that is wreaking havoc on your body and mind. The more I researched this as a cause for my illness, the more everything made sense. The fevers, the body aches and flu-like symptoms and night sweats all made more sense if it were being caused by a bacterial or viral invader.

So, after exhaustive research into a bacteria called ‘Mycoplasma’ as well as other bacterial and viral possibilities, I began to treat myself as if this were the cause of my illness. As I began treatment with antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral supplements, something strange happened…I began to get better.

At first, any kind of recovery was slow, but definitely welcomed. The disease, at this point, had left me desperate, in constant pain, depressed and unable to think clearly. On starting the new treatments, my occasional low grade fever and night sweats would be among the first major symptoms to (thankfully) go away. Encouraged by my progress, I continued my research to try to locate treatments that others had found effective.

I found that there are essentially 3 different, but equally important, factors that you need to treat.

  • Boost the Immune system
  • Repair damaged gut bacteria
  • Bacteria/Virus eradication

Note: Your mileage may vary. What works for one person might not work as well for another. Also, please don’t consider this as treatment advice. I am simply listing what I found to be helpful and healing to me. And, because I was so desperate for that healing, I often ‘shotgunned’ it, trying several things at once. So, I can’t definitively say that one thing worked better than another. I honestly think that the totality of everything I tried, played some part in my recovery. So please use this as a resource, but do your own research as well. Also note that my research has indicated that the following treatments are not only effective against RA, but also most other autoimmune diseases like MS, CFS, FMS, GWI, Crohns, IBS, etc.

NOTICE: I’m listing everything that I could find that has enough medically proven or anecdotal evidence that it can work successfully. This is not meant to be an endorsement of any of these treatments. However, I think it’s important to list everything, without prejudice. Also note that I have not taken any pharmaceutical drugs to treat this illness as I feel that in many cases they come with unacceptable side effects.

OVERALL IMMUNE SUPPORT AND GENERAL HEALTH

The immune system is complex and very effective at keeping illness at bay, when it is allowed to work. It is believed that many of these bacteria and viruses have the ability to hamper, evade or even shut down parts of the immune system. For this reason, one infection might open the door for other infections. Very often, multiple infections can work together to collectively make the host sicker, prolonging the infection and making it even more difficult to eradicate. For these reasons, building your immune system alone won’t cure you, but it is still an important part of recovery.

  • Probiotics/Enzymes. Probiotics are one of the most important supplements you can take when dealing with these infections because the bad bacteria literally decimate the gut flora, as do some of the natural antibiotics. Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics and Probiotics
  • Fish oil. Fish oil is recommended for it’s Omega 3’s.
  • Curcumin. 1-2 capsules 1-3 times daily. Curcumin on Amazon. Curcumin has wide reaching affects for overall health and is a good anti inflammatory. USE Caution with curcumin as it tends to make medications and supplements work better. This is fine with most supplements, but ask your doctor about interactions with any pharmaceuticals you are taking.
  • Vitamin D (Preferably with vitamin K). Vitamin D3 with K2 Those that are ‘infected’ with any type of autoimmune type disease are commonly found to be highly deficient in Vitamin D. For me personally, my Functional Medicine Doctor says she likes to see the number be around 80. My Vitamin D test (Lab Blood Test) showed around 15. I have read that vitamin D is actually a hormone that is best absorbed in the evening and that it should be taken with vitamin K to be most effective. I’ve read that Mycoplasma have the ability to block Vitamin D absorption, which helps the bacteria avoid the immune system and thrive.
  • Bovine Colostrum for immune system, as directed. Colostrum is the mothers milk from the first 6 hours after birth that helps to super charge the immune system. Bovine colostrum I normally take 2-3 of these sometime during my day.
  • Multivitamin. I recommend a good multivitamin for daily use.
  • Diet changes– Honestly, I didn’t change my diet drastically. I still consume dairy, but did switch to Almond milk for cereal or any liquid milk needs. I do limit my processed sugar and processed foods intake. I also try to eat a good amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic when available. If you know that you have a poor diet, any positive change will help you in your recovery process.

ANTIBACTERIAL/ANTIVIRAL This category lists things that reportedly eradicate bacteria and viruses. I typically only take one or 2 of these at a time, and switch often.

  • Olive Leaf extract. 1-3 capsules 3 times a day. Nature’s way Olive Leaf ExtractSeagate brand Olive Leaf Extract (More expensive) Olive Leaf extract is a natural antibiotic with Antibacterial, antiviral and immune building qualities. Olive leaf extract benefits
  • Cat’s Claw. Recommended brand Raintree Cat’s Claw. I also recommend these Cat’s claw drops as well. Prima Una De Gato I take both kinds, switching between the two often. Cat’s Claw is anti inflammatory, antibacterial , antiviral and is used for many different gut issues, like IBS and Crohn’s as well. Cat’s claw benefits
  • ‘Myco’ supplement. 3 pills twice a day (start with 1 pill twice a day for a week)  ‘Myco’ supplement by Raintree This is an antibacterial supplement that was created with Mycoplasma in mind. This is a powerful antibacterial, antibiotic. Please be sure to take a probiotic with this as i think it has the ability to affect good gut bacteria as well as bad bacteria.
  • Oregano oil. 1-3 pills, 1 – 3 times daily. Now Brand Oil Of Oregano.  Oregano Oil benefits Oregano oil is Antibacterial, antiviral and antiinflammatory.
  • Lauricidin. Lauricidin. Lauricidin is made from coconut oil and is a highly concentrated version of monolaurin, which is the active ingredient in coconut oil. Lauricidin is said to be immune system building as well as antibacterial and antiviral. Lauricidin information.
  • Borax water. For this, it is recommended that you add 1/8th to 1/4th teaspoon of borax to a liter of water and sip it throughout the day. To me it doesn’t taste great, but it doesn’t taste horrible either. Borax is said to have the toxicity of table salt. Some have reported taking this every day for extended periods of time with no real side effects. Borax water is supposed to have good antibacterial qualities.

PHARMACEUTICAL TREATMENTS

  • Doxycycline. Antibiotics from the tetracycline family(Doxycycline). Yes, certain antibiotics are know to kill mycoplasma. But, because of the stealth capacity of mycoplasma, the antibiotics regiment has to run for as long as a year sometimes to actually eradicate it. Dr Nicolson actually found that Penicillin makes it worse. Personally, any type of pharmaceutical antibiotic would be my absolute last choice due to the damage that it will do to your gut flora.

OTHER POSSIBLE TREATMENTS

  • Cannabis oil (FECO, RSO or Rick Simpson Oil)– Cannabis oil (Full plant extract, which is different from CBD Oil) is said to be highly antibacterial and highly anti inflammatory and is said to have the ability not only to manage or cure many ailments like RA, MS and Fibromyalgia, but also cancer. Cannabis oil is taken orally. In researching effective treatments, this has come up again and again in anecdotal testamonies. So, if you are in a state where cannabis oil is legal, there is evidence that this could be an effective treatment option for you. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=5787866&page=1http://file.scirp.org/pdf/CM20120100009_13575513.pdf
  • Food grade 35% Hydrogen peroxide. (you might have to order this online). CAUTION: This stuff, by itself, can harm you, so be extremely careful. You simply start by adding 8 drops to an 8 ounce glass of water, stir it and drink it. Then, you add a drop every day until you reach somewhere between 30 and 60 drops (Twice daily at the top level). You stay at that level until you are clear. I have tried this some years ago (just as a maintenance supplement) and it’s fairly easy and noninvasive. I can’t verify the efficacy in relation to mycoplasma. But, it’s supposed to cure a lot of things. For more information on this read ‘The one minute cure’ http://www.tachyon-aanbieding.eu/Documentation/one-minutecure.pdf.
  • Ionic Silver (I know nothing about this. So, if anyone reading this has any experience with it, let me know).

BIOFILMS Biofilm explanation

Mycoplasma are a stealth virus . Not only can they change shapes and evade or even turn off the immune system. They also have the ability to form what’s called a ‘biofilm’.

Biofilms are basically a group of bacteria or viruses (Mycoplasma are not the only critters that can create biofilms. In fact it seems that most bacteria and viruses can.) that have surrounded themselves with a protein like coating that protects them from the immune system and antimicrobials.

This, I believe, is why it takes so long to defeat these types of infections. I believe that the bacteria have the ability to grow in the biofilm, in an unrestricted manner. Then, every so often, they release more bacteria into the system that attempt to re-infect the host. I also think this is one of the main reasons why someone ends treatment prematurely, thinking that they are feeling worse and therefore thinking that the treatment is not working. It also might account for the ‘ups and downs’ of these types of illnesses.

So, at some point we have to address biofilms. If we don’t, the bacteria will come out of hiding and reinfect the host…repeatedly. NOTE: I highly recommend that you do not start treating for biofilms right away. I recommend that you treat with antimicrobials (lightly first, then more heavily with time) and then, after about 3-4 weeks, begin attacking the biofilms. Otherwise, I think that you will have a heavy die off that could overwhelm your system.

Natural Biofilm Dissolvers

  • Serrapeptase – Serrapeptase is an enzyme produced by serratia bacteria in the intestines of silkworms.  The enzyme only dissolves dead or damaged tissue such as Fibrin, the building blocks for Biofilm.  Once the enzyme dissolves the fibrin, Bacteria is exposed to antibiotics and the immune system. This is what I use. I currently take about 4 – 6 capsules spread throughout the day. these should be taken 30 min before a meal or well after a meal. Other uses for serrapeptase are:
    • Heart health
    • Pain relief
    • Anti inflammatory
    • Fibroid dissolver
    • Helps with cancer patients
    • UTI’s
    • Here is a link with some information about serrapeptase, but also many testimonials that outline what it has done for different people that have used it. http://www.helpherself.com/serapeptase/ 
  • Lumbrokinase – Lumbrokinase is an enzyme produced by earthworms.  It is commonly used for breaking up biofilm by dissolving the fibrin that it consists of.  Lumbrokinase is said to be more powerful than Nattokinase.
  • Nattokinase – Nattokinase is an enzyme produced from Natto, a Japanese food made from fermented soybeans.  It is commonly used for breaking up Biofilm by dissolving the fibrin it consists of.

Herxheimer (Healing crisis)

 About Herxheimer (Healing crisis) The Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction is a reaction to endotoxin-like products released by the death of harmful microorganisms within the body during antibiotic treatment.

Herxing is a well known reaction when killing off harmful bacteria and viruses. As I continue treatment, I do occasionally get some fairly heavy symptoms (achiness, joint pain, inflammation) which can be really confusing because it feels just like you are getting sick all over again. BUT…these symptoms normally subside within a couple of days, and then you are back to where you were before.

Monitoring and guidance of a health care professional

It’s hard for most people to embark on this kind of healing journey alone. And, these types of systemic infections can affect a plethora of vital functions in the body. If possible, I highly recommend the use of a qualified Functional medicine doctor to help you navigate the road to recovery. My Functional Medicine doctor scoured my bloodwork and made both diet and supplement recommendations, without asking me to rely on any pharmaceutical drugs.

My current status

09/26/16

At this time, I almost feel completely normal again. Most of my symptoms are gone at this point, though there is still some very slight pockets of synovial fluid near about 3 of my knuckles. I also have some cyst like pockets remaining in the bottom of my feet. Overall, I don’t feel ‘sick’ anymore. But as eradication continues, I do have occasional aches and pains with some occasional deep fatigue.

It is also important to note that I have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (Low thyroid) on top of the RA. This can cause a plethora of undesirable consequences. Currently, My thyroid is a little inflamed. However, my hope is that continued treatment of the underlying infection will also help to heal my thyroid as well.

I don’t yet feel like I can say that I have completely cured my illness. However, my overall health and wellbeing has risen dramatically and I feel like, if nothing else, I am successfully managing my illness without the use of harmful pharmaceutical drugs. I am, however highly optimistic, that with time I can reach a complete cure. Most information that i have run across states that you can completely eradicate these types of infections, but that it can take 1-3 years total. I will continue to post my progress as each month passes.

10/21/16

I had another blood workup on 10/13 and received the results yesterday.

  • CRP (An indicator of overall inflammation or infection) levels have dropped from 12.9 in mid-July to 1.1.
  • ESR (Another indicator of inflammation or infection) dropped from 26 in April to 6.
  • Vitamin D stores have risen from 15 to 92. To me, this says that the bacteria is no longer dysregulating my vitamin D. Before my last blood work, I had already been supplementing for well more than a month and it was still low, but my outward signs of infection were still pretty prevalent at that time as well.
  • TSH is still dysregulated. BUT, my thyroid is now, once again, producing T3 and T4. My functional med doctor explained this to me by saying that my Pituitary gland is still having to yell (work harder) at my Thyroid to get my it to produce T3 and T4. But, the Thyroid is actually  working now (listening).

So, how do I feel?

  • I still feel it inside me.
  • I still see the small collection of synovial fluid between some of my finger joints.
  • I still have the cysts and perceptible inflammation on the bottom of my feet when I walk.
  • And, just today, a slight bit of the deep fatigue is present.
  • My thyroid no longer feels inflamed.
  • All in all, to be honest I might feel a little better than I did this time last month. But, it seems that the small amount of symptoms I have remaining are hanging around. I still don’t know if I can reach a complete cure. But, if not, I strongly believe that I will be able to continue to manage this thing like a boss. So, very positive results. I still feel great, overall. And, I have no perceptible negative side effects from the treatments that I’ve used.

12-1-2016

Well, I have continued to feel better with each week that has passed and now feel like I am in remission! No painful joints, no new symptoms. Occasional fatigue (that I attribute to cell damage caused by the disease or infection) has lessened in both frequency and severity.

The research that I have done all points to the need for extended treatment to fully eradicate viral or bacterial infections that have the ability to hunker down and hide out of sight from the immune system. So, I am still treating myself with many of the things I have listed above, but now with smaller dosages (at least as far as antibacterial/antiviral supplements are concerned).

Do I feel cured? Hmmm?…no. But, I am cautiously optimistic that I may someday reach the point where I do. Honestly, I feel deeply grateful for my recovery, but a little scared at the same time. As I remember how badly I felt and how desperate I was for any kind of relief, the fear that it might all return slips into my thoughts. That’s how powerful and devastating this, and the other ‘autoimmune’ diseases are. They are literally life changing.

Only time will tell what my future holds. But, for now, I feel great! If you are reading this because you are fighting one of these types of diseases, here are my summarized opinions for you:

  • There is hope for you! I know you feel like you are lost to a life of discomfort and disability. But…there is hope!
  • It seems to me that diet changes alone might be able to lessen symptoms. But, I know far too many people who have extreme health diets, and still have these types of diseases. So, although I’m not saying an extremely healthy diet is bad, I don’t feel like it is as effective as supplementing with some of the amazing natural medicines that can’t be found in our normal diets. I think we need both. A little better diet combined with natural supplements.
  • Even using all of the best supplements, recovery from these diseases takes months and months, if not years. My progress was always so slow that sometimes it seemed I was standing still. I think these diseases so radically affect our entire bodies, that it takes time to recover and rebuild.
  • There are ups and downs. I literally had times where I started crying, because I would have a return of symptoms after feeling previously a little better. I finally began to understand that sometimes the result of healing, or bacterial die-off, causes symptoms to temporarily worsen. And, that if I just hung in there, things would be a little better tomorrow. And…they were.
  • If it makes you feel worse, it might just be making you better. I’ve read thousands of supplement reviews and invariably see the 1 star review that says something like ‘Made me feel awful. I’ll never use this again!’. Just because taking a supplement makes you feel worse, doesn’t mean it was the actual supplement itself that ‘caused‘ the discomfort. It is likely that a healthy person, taking the same supplement, would have no adverse reactions. Why? because for them, there are no toxins in their bodies created by the die-off of the bacteria that was killed by the supplement. If it makes you feel drastically worse, back off for a day or so and then resume at a lower dose, building back up to a full dose when you can.
  • If you are like me, as you start getting better, without pharmaceutical drugs, your belief in the traditional healthcare system will be shaken. And, you’ll wonder why your doctor doesn’t know about these things. In fact, you’ll begin to question a lot of things about our country’s healthcare.
  • For what it’s worth, I cannot isolate any negative side effects from the treatment course that I have taken. None.
  • These diseases can cause brain fog, depression and even anger and despair. Hang in there! With treatment, these undeniable psychological symptoms will subside. At least this was the case for me. I now feel clear headed and no longer fight with daily depression.
  • It only stands to reason that the longer you have been sick, the longer it will take to recover. And, unfortunately, some disease damage, like joint disfigurement, may never go away. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t live an otherwise healthy life!
  • And lastly…Many of the people that you tell about how you have treated yourself naturally, without pharma drugs, will plain and simple question whether or not you’ve gone off the deep end. Even though they see that you are doing better and recovering, they still will not release their hold on their belief in traditional medicine. In my case, I’ve learned to be very choosey about who I give full disclosure to. I have grown to have such a strong empathy for those with serious disease that I want to tell everyone that I see. But, unfortunately, it just does not work that way…yet.

UPDATE January 7, 2016

  • Still feeling great. If I stop treating myself, I begin to get some returning symptoms. So, I know that I am not cured. But again, feeling great.

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A trip to the mountains with a friend from India

Preface

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
John Muir, The Mountains of California

Shailesh and Me

Shailesh and Me

 

 

The world is full of hate and discontent. Racial tension is running rampant throughout America. ISIS is trying to spread its hateful message through unspeakable violence. And, even homegrown terrorists, right here at our own front door, are shooting innocent people in a bible study group and burning down churches simply because of a difference in skin color. In my opinion, hatred is the byproduct of stupidity. When our field of vision is limited, when our knowledge of the world and life is miniscule, hatred can become something that controls us.

This story isn’t about hate, racism, skin color or religion. This story is about how a man from America and a man from India take an amazing journey into the mountains of Colorado and learn a lot about each other along the way.

 

 

Background

I am the owner of a Law Enforcement software company. It’s a complicated business, and my small business has grown enough that I can no longer do it all alone. There’s software design, web design, customer support and more that necessitate the use of outside resources to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Enter VATSA and Shailesh. In summary, Shailesh is an outstanding computer programmer who can accomplish complex tasks in very little time. After having worked with Shailesh for a few years, we decided that Shailesh needed to come to the United States so that he and I could discuss business tasks in person and so that he could gain some insight into the necessity of the software that we work on.

Workation

As I began to plan Shailesh’ trip to the United States, I realized that he had never been to the U.S. and that this could possibly be his only trip to the United States. As I began to envision his visit, I imagined him flying more than twenty-five hours on a plane from India, so that he could experience rural Iowa. On his return to India he would surely say that America is filled with corn and cows and people who wear pajamas to a place called Wal-Mart. Then……I got an idea. An idea that would make this trip count. And…would promise to be an experience of a lifetime for both of us.

A Trip to the Rocky Mountains??

To me, though there is much of America that I have yet to see, the mountains have always tugged at my heart-strings as being one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Majestic, awe-inspiring….beautiful. I still remember my first trip to the mountains with my uncle Robert when I was around 11 years old. Even then, I knew that I would have a lifelong love affair with the mountains and it’s snow-capped peaks, rugged rocky outcrops and fast-moving rocky rivers. So, it only seems fitting. An awe inspiring trip to the mountains seemed to be the best way to show a visitor from far away exactly how beautiful America can be. It was settled. And, after about a week’s worth of planning, the trip began to come alive.

A long flight for Shailesh

Shailesh would begin his journey from Pune India by traveling to Mumbai, where he would take a series of flights that would allow him to arrive in Omaha Nebraska 28 hours later. The flights went well and on Sunday July 5th 2015, I found myself waiting at the airport terminal for a man from India that I had never met in person. With each moment my excitement grew as I knew that this would be the start to an adventure. After waiting for about 30 minutes, I see Shailesh walking towards me wearing blue jeans and a button down shirt and carrying a back pack and small piece of luggage. ‘Shailesh?’ I asked and I was answered with an affirmative “Bob!”. We shook hands and headed downstairs to get his luggage. After that, a short trip to my house, where he was introduced to my daughter Bella and ‘Gimpo’ the cat. My wife was working on our arrival, so she would not meet Shailesh until lunch the next day. I showed Shailesh to his room and we ended the day with some talk and supper.

First time away from family

For Shailesh, the trip to America would bring a lot of first time events. Shailesh had, of course, never been to America and had never flown on a plane. These two things alone, he admitted, were a little frightening. He also had never been away from his wife (Shital  {pronounced Sheet-ahl}) and three year old child (Rugved  {pronounced roog-vaid}) for more than a very short time. This would prove to be difficult for not only him, but his wife as well.  One thing I have learned in traveling with Shailesh is that family and friends are more closely connected in India and breaking those ties with time and distance can be a painful event for everyone involved. I also learned that Shailesh normally spoke to his mother (Anjala {pronounced Angela}) every day. For the first few days of our trip he was unable to speak to her. However, with the power of Skype, eventually arrangements were made so that they could speak together and even see each other, which obviously made Shailesh rest easier. For the remainder of our trip, as internet would allow, Shailesh would Skype with his wife, son and mother each day, updating them about where we were at and where we would go next. This was always the happiest time of the day for Shailesh.

Day 1. Colorado bound

Just like in the movie ‘Smokey and the Bandit’, we had a long way to go and a short time to get there and there was only one day and two nights of rest for Shailesh before we began our journey to Colorado and the great Rocky Mountains. So, on Tuesday morning at around 6am, we started our journey in a Dodge Ram full of camping gear. The journey began like any vacation would, with excitement in the air as we drove onto the interstate and began our trip westward. Nothing could stop us now!!! Well, nothing except for the fact that in all of my painstaking diligence to make sure that I had all of the gear that we needed for the one or two nights of camping that we would do on our trip, I forgot one important thing……my laptop. Since this would be a trip where we would work together on different software related tasks, I might be needing this. So, I turned around, drove back home, retrieved the laptop and once again, about 25 minutes later, our journey was under way.

The drive across Nebraska was beautiful and filled with rolling hills and majestic beauty everywhere. OK, let’s not sugar coat this. The drive across Nebraska is flat, uneventful and normally, you just can’t wait to get to the other side. I can’t imagine what was going through Shailesh’ mind as we crossed Nebraska. Maybe to him, it was beautiful. Or, maybe he was wondering why he traveled so far just to see 1,316 corn fields. Me, I just wanted to get through Nebraska and into Colorado where eventually, I thought, we would begin to see the beckoning outline of the Rocky Mountains.

Welcome to Colorado

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Eventually, even a drive through Nebraska, with all of its grandeur, must come to an end. And finally, it did. When we reached the Colorado border we stopped for our first picture together. Now, I was excited. I knew that soon Shailesh would be seeing beautiful mountain views and enjoying experiences  that would forever be imprinted in his mind.

As we drove deeper into Colorado, I kept looking for that moment when you first see the mountains in the faraway distance. At first, you are not sure if it’s just the clouds or if it really is the outline of the mountains. Oddly enough, that time never came. As I was driving towards Aurora Colorado to meet with the Aurora Police Department K9 Unit, who are one of our customers, I heard the radio DJ talking about smoke haze coming in from a forest fire in Canada. So, the first part of our trip would contain a much diminished collection of mountain views until the smoke haze lifted on about day number three of our trip.

Once we arrived in Aurora, we located the Aurora Police Substation where a few members of the K9 team were waiting for us. Here, for the first time, Shailesh was able to meet some of the users that use the software that he works on each day. The officers were nice and the meeting was just basically aimed at making sure that the software was working well for the unit and to answer any questions that they had about the software. After meeting with the unit, we headed to our destination at the Embassy Suites hotel in Colorado Springs.

An Indian meal In Aurora

After leaving Aurora, both Shailesh and I were so hungry that our stomachs were in danger of eating themselves. So much so that Shailesh actually got a headache from being too hungry. So….where to eat?? Now, keep in mind that Shailesh does not eat beef or pork and so, meals have to be well thought out. Today, we decided to try to look for a restaurant serving Indian Cuisine. And, in doing so, I located the Star of India in Aurora. Here, Shailesh ordered our meal and in the end even paid for it. He enjoyed sharing a piece of his homeland, and I enjoyed trying something new. See the picture below of the Matar Paneer that calmed our stomachs and gave me some insight into Shailesh’ world.

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Matar Paneer and naan from our meal at the Star of India in Aurora Colorado.

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A painting depicting an Indian wedding.

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Star of India restaurant Aurora Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2. Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods

Next, it was off to our hotel in Colorado Springs. When we first arrived in Colorado Springs, the smokey forest fire haze prevented us from seeing much of the spectacular mountain views that are available there. So, we relaxed and recovered the first evening. The next day was a full work day in the hotel and then afterwards we headed off to the Garden of the Gods, which was only about 6 or so miles away. Im’ pretty sure that the drive to the Garden of the Gods was just as beautiful as the park itself.

Our first hotel stop where we would spend two nights.

Our first hotel stop where we would spend two nights.

 

The Garden of the Gods was, at one time owned by a single man named Charles Perkins. When he passed away,his children honored his wishes to make the land public and it was donated to the city of Colorado Springs. Natural red rock formations make this park an awe-inspiring and beautiful place to be. It was a great experience for both of us.

The park is open to the public and is filled with well manicured walking paths that take you all around the park so that you can completely consume all of the memory in your phone or camera with photos that appear to have been taken by an expert photographer. Of course, when the beauty is this unmistakable, it’s rather difficult to actually take a bad photo.

As you walk through the park, you sort of lose your words. You walk and you look and you simply cannot come up with any words that really describe the beauty that you see. So, mostly silent, except for an occasional ‘wow’ or ‘Holy cow’, you walk through the park, with only reverence and pure awe filling your mind, but never quite making it to your mouth.

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 Day 3. Pikes Peak and Mueller’s State Park

Driving from Colorado Springs to Pikes Peak took us from around 6000 Feet to more than 14,000 feet. Making a journey like this is sure to be full of winding mountain roads and amazing mountain views. And, this journey was no exception. The entire trip took us a couple of hours with tight turns and roads that overlooked cliffs with very little room for driving error.  As the driver, you definitely need to keep your head in the game and simply ignore the fact that you are missing some of the most beautiful views of your life, while trying not to drive off a cliff.

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Looking down from Pikes Peak, well above the clouds.

Once we reached the top, and stepped from the truck, we could immediately feel the drastic change in the availability of oxygen. Breathing, at this altitude becomes more, well, deliberate. I would definitely not recommend this visit for someone who has any difficulty breathing at normal altitudes. At any rate, we walked around the top of the peak and took in the views and again, were in awe of the mountains in all of their beauty, danger and glory.

There’s something almost heavenly about looking down at clouds. It’s a view that simply does not seem possible and yet something everyone should see. Here, at Pikes Peak, the view is far different that the view you might see from an airplane. You can actually see the clouds rolling across the top of the peak. And, unlike the view from a plane, you can enjoy the view in a semi static state for extended periods of time, if you want.

As we were walking around the peak, it began snowing, Not all that strange to me seeing as we were so high up in the mountains. However, for Shailesh, this was the first time he had experienced snowfall. I started to worry just a little that enough snow would fall that we would be in danger of sliding off the road on our way back down the mountain. However, as quickly as the snow began, it slowed down to a stop. And, after getting our fill of mountain top views at Pikes Peak, we began the hour-long decent back down to the elevation of mere mortals.

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Winding mountain roads with tight hairpin turns take you to the top of Pikes Peak.

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Mueller’s State Park

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Our campsite at Mueller’s State Park

Around supper time we arrived at Mueller’s State Park near Divide. We knew, by the sound of thunder in the distance, that we had to get our campsite setup quickly and get some supper going. Ours was a walk-in site (which I recommend if you are tent camping here) so after several trips back to the truck, we were able to get our site setup and dinner was officially on the stove.

For dinner we had skillet chicken covered in Indian style spices, spicy shrimp and fried potatoes. It wasn’t perfect, but it most certainly hit the spot. After supper we took a walk through our part of the park looking at the various campers and campsites.

About bedtime, the rain began falling on our campground. Slowly at first, but then steadily heavier. I’m not exactly sure how long it rained because at some point I drifted into sleep until morning. And, like most tent camping I’ve done in my life, I was awakened by a pair of very loud birds that had no idea that it was only 5:30 am Iowa time. I did file an official complaint with the Park Rangers and truly hope that those unruly birds get whats coming to them…

After a good breakfast, we packed up our campsite and prepared for our trip to the Best Western hotel in Dillon. If you are looking for a nice campground with all of the necessary amenities, take a look at Mueller’s State Park and you won’t be disappointed. The park is well manicured and is buried in wonderful smelling Aspen and Pine trees. But, I highly recommend making an online reservation or you might not have a spot.

This was Shailesh’ first time camping and definitely his first time camping in the mountains.

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Day 4. The best drive ever

From Mueller’s State Park, I set the GPS towards Dillon, and we began our trip north, as shown on the map below. I’ve never traveled this route, and had no idea what the two-hour drive would be like. It started out innocent enough, but as we drove we encountered one amazing view after another. In fact, at one point in this drive you find yourself on a flat the goes for several miles where you are completely surrounded by beautiful mountain views in a directions. If it’s true that the journey is the destination, then I think this was my destination.

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As we were driving along I told Shailesh, ‘This is why I love Colorado‘. I imagined building a house somewhere along this flat, mountain plateau and wondered if you would ever tire of the view. Somehow….I don’t think so.

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This drive reminded me of Psalm 46:10. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Argue as you may, I have a hard time believing that beauty like that was an accident. And when making this drive, it’s pretty hard to be anything but still as you gaze, in awe, at the beauty unfolding in front of you.

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As we drove along, trying to catch all of the beautiful views, I noticed a group of vehicles parked along the side of the road and began looking to see what all of the stink was about. Then….I saw the sign that read ‘Continental Divide’. Immediately I gave a yelp and jerked the truck to the side of the road, telling Shailesh that we had to get a picture here. I explained what the continental divide was and then we took turns snapping photos of each other by the iconic sign. Another first for Shailesh.

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After a beautiful 2-3 hour drive north, we arrived in Dillon. I explained to Shailesh that my dad had, at one time, lived in Dillon. As we reached our hotel (Best Western), which was right on Lake Dillon, we both agreed that we would have had a hard time leaving here. The mountains and the lake, together, seemed to sing a song that was somewhere in between a lullaby and a full fledged Symphony masterpiece. The view grabs you, like a mistress, and promises to hold you until you’ve once again found your peace.

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Lake Dillon in Dillon Colorado near our hotel.

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While we were in Dillon, we took in the view from the boat dock that was near our hotel and I took a long  run along the lakes bike trail. Here, our hotel was nice, our meals were good and there were no timelines. We simply enjoyed being at Lake Dillon.

Day 5. Last Day of our trip, Glenwood Springs Co

The last leg of our journey took us west from Dillon, through the Glenwood Canyon and into Glenwood Springs. There was no specific sights that I wanted to see here. The plan was just to drive through the canyon, spend a day in Glenwood Springs and then have the final experience of driving completely through the mountains on our return trip home.

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While we were in Glenwood Springs, we visited their beautiful downtown area and ate at Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse where we had fish and chips. As we finished our meal a pretty hefty storm blew in and the rains were reminiscent of a monsoon somewhere in the Caribbean.  So, we hunkered down for a bit, until it was over, and then headed to our hotel. After a relaxing day spent in Glenwood Springs, it was time to begin the trip home.

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 Day 6. Driving back to Iowa

Sunday brought a mixed feeling of homesickness and sadness. At last, the amazing journey had to begin to come to an end. We began our drive through the canyon, up the mountain to Dillon, through the Eisenhower tunnel and then started the decent back to Denver.

Driving back to Denver, I went over the trip that we had just taken in my mind. And, feeling satisfied that we had just lived an adventure, I smiled to myself, knowing that I could not wait until the next time I would have the opportunity to breathe in the mountain’s air and views.

As we passed through Nebraska, we agreed to stop and take a look at the ‘Archway’ monument near Kearney Nebraska. Personally, I’ve passed by (or under) the Archway several times and it always seems that we’re in such a hurry that we can never actually stop. Today, we decided to take the time to stop and see what the Archway was all about.

A well put together headset based story tour of sorts, the Archway tells the stories of the pioneers that crossed the plains. This place is a lot bigger than it seems from the outside and will take you nearly an hour to walk through and listen to each of the stories. Entry into the Archway is, of course, not free and you can expect to pay between $6.00 and $12.00 for anyone over the age of five (5 and under are free).

 

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Eventually, all good things have to come to an end. And so it was no different with our Colorado adventure. The remainder of the drive was without incident, and of course ‘super exciting’ as is every trip across Nebraska. Shailesh and I both agreed that the trip was a success and truly a once in a lifetime journey for both of us. And, not only did we have a plethora of memories, we also gained a better understanding of each other and our individual cultures.

Journey’s end

On Wednesday July 15th, Shailesh boarded the plane back to India where he could not wait to tell his story to his family and friends. A story about two people from completely different parts of the earth that took a trip of a lifetime into the mountains of Colorado. He expressed to me that because so few of his friends and family had not been to the United States, that everyone would be excited and anxious to hear every detail of his trip.

Me. I’m just thankful that I had this amazing opportunity. Any opportunity to visit the mountains is, to me, amazing. However, this visit was so much better than normal, because it was shared with a guest who was visiting America from someplace far, far away.

So…feeling like you need your batteries recharged?? Maybe you should grab a friend and drive in whatever direction takes you to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Somehow, I think you’ll find that your inner peace is waiting there for you to reclaim it. Just remember, when you find yourself on a peak, looking down at the clouds and feeling just a bit closer to your creator….don’t forget to take a second and just breathe.

 

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Take an Acting Class

Preface 

I’ve watched a few movies (OK, about a million. But who hasn’t?). I’ve even watched a few plays. But, nothing that I’ve experienced had prepared me for Acting Class. If you really, really…want to step out of your box…take an acting class.

Well… here I go again, stepping into an unknown world that feels completely alien, and maybe even a little over my head. I’ve never acted in a play, not even in school. But, the world of theater has always held a slightly mystical and appealing draw for me.  I can’t remember watching a play where I didn’t envy the actors or actresses as they portrayed characters that were often quirky and imperfect. How utterly freeing it must be, to be someone else, even for just a moment. Think about that for just a minute. Ever wanted to be a Doctor? Maybe a Scientist, or a Baker? How about a Cabinet Maker? (catch that Dr. Seuss-like rhyme?)

We live our lives, day after day, assuming the identity of the person that we have become. But, what if,  just for a little while, we could become someone else. Someone more popular, someone more confident, maybe even a someone a little better looking (because stage makeup can do wonders) or someone with a lot less responsibility. And what if, just by chance, we grow a little in the process.

Adult Acting I

When I walked into Adult Acting Class at the Omaha Community Playhouse, I expected to find a group of people far different from myself. I expected to find people who had acted in High School, or had some kind of theater experience that I didn’t have. That was not the case.

Alas….I’m normal! (Well, at least in this context) It seems, at least to the untrained eye, that most of my fellow acting students are just like me… acting virgins. People who had always felt the allure of the stage, but for one reason or another, never actually pursued any kind of theatrical adventure.

When our class began, there were about 20 people attending. The numbers seemed to drop fairly quickly to around 15 or so, giving the indication that some simply were not feeling the class as much as they though they might. I have to admit, at first, the class was a little slow. We talked about and practiced some of the basics, like becoming familiar with the different stage locations, on stage stance and acting out very minor actions.

Acting One was one night a week for 6 weeks. By the end of this course, those of us that remained were encouraged with what we had learned and were ready to sign up for Acting Two.

Adult Acting II

Our second class, Adult Acting Two, was smaller than the first. After all, only the truly committed attendees from the first class made the cut for Adult Acting Two. The selection process was particularly brutal. Each applicant was required to complete a rigorous acting obstacle course with costume changes nearly every 4 minutes while constantly being followed and harassed by a team of angrily yelling would-be directors.  Blood and spittle dripping from their….. OK, maybe that didn’t really happen. Anyone could sign up. But, only about ten of us actually did.

Realistically though, for me, there was a slight bit of inward fear going into this class. I imagined the instructor putting us in horribly uncomfortable positions to build our acting stamina and desensitize us from all the different situational fears that we might encounter. In reality, it was really rather tame. We didn’t have to do or say anything that we had not done or said a thousand times in our lives.

In my mind’s eye, however, I envisioned the instructor directing one person to eat a handful of garlic, and then telling the rest of us, one by one, to engage in  a scripted conversation with that person in particularly close quarters. Of course, all without missing any portion of our script. A paramedic crew would be standing by for anyone who might succumb to the resulting poisonous garlic laced gas. And, rest assured,  no animals would be hurt, maimed or killed in any way during the event. But, we’d be warned that we could encounter group projectile vomiting, partial paralysis and short-term lack of appetite.

Group therapy

Whew! OK, I’m back.  So, this class involved a few different scripts that we would read and attempt to act out using mostly an imagined set. The instructor would help us to interpret how the script was meant to be played out, and we, the students, would then act out portions of the different plays, growing our ability and our self-confidence, with each new challenge.

For me, this class was a little like therapy. For one, I could not seem to think about anything other than the current acting challenge that we were working on. All else was blocked from my mind. Work and worries all washed away momentarily as I drifted into some other persona. Additionally, I was forced in this class, to allow people into my personal space. Having been a Police Officer for so many years, it has been ingrained into my psyche not to do this, for safety reasons. When someone gets too close, it lessens your ability to physically defend yourself, draw your gun or Taser or even flee.  And at first, It was truly uncomfortable. By the time the class was over, I felt a little more comfortable allowing someone into my ‘zone’. And, since I’m no longer a working Police Officer, well, it’s OK……somewhat.

In the end, I felt a little freed. I did something that pulled me out of my comfort zone. I was challenged. I was forced away from reality for a couple of hours each week. But, the best part of all is that now, as I write these words, Acting no longer seems like a mysterious Jedi ability that only the very snootiest of high school cool kids can do. It no longer frightens me to think about ‘acting’ a part, even in front of people you don’t know. And, it’s not that I left the class with mad acting skills. But instead, I left the class knowing that there is one less unknown, one more thing that I have some practiced familiarity with, one more thing that I did, in life, to step outside of my box and maybe live just a little.

So again, go take an acting class. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

 

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Intro to Watercolor with Madalyn Bruning

Preface

As I was browsing through the available workshops offered by the Omaha Creative Institute, I came across an Intro to Watercolor workshop. Initially, I skipped over this workshop, as my only experience with any kind of art class was in grade school. You remember. You are in a classroom, sitting at a teeny tiny desk, trying to draw or paint something that even slightly resembled art.  I feel a little flushed as I imagine the struggle that the art teacher must have endured as she forced a smile and said “Oh… that’s really…unique.”.

And then it hit me. This was exactly what I was looking for. Something different. Something that was really out of my box. Something that I would normally discount as boring. Or, if history repeated itself, maybe even slightly painful. I began to reconsider and moved the cursor momentarily so that it hovered over the sign-up link…and then… away again.

Combat Watercolor

In my mind, I began to think about the ramifications that a workshop like this could have on my future. I imagined talking to a group of buddies, discussing all the manly things that we did this week. Given that most of my friends and acquaintances are law enforcement officers, the stories are often action packed and filled with heroic feats.  It wouldn’t be unusual for one of them to describe a vehicle pursuit or a long, cold track of a burglary suspect through dimly lit backyards, ending in a dramatic arrest. Well, you can see where I’m going with this.

But, the more  I thought about it, the more I knew that this was exactly the challenge that I needed for a successful “outofthebox experience”. Now I had to do it. Maybe, in recounting the experience to my buddies, I would simply embellish a little. If cornered, I could just say that I attended a “Combat watercolor” workshop. You know, painting while dodging bullets. “Yup”, I’d proclaim as I folded my arms in a rather manly fashion. “It was kind of like The Hunger Games, but with watercolors”.

Okay, all joking aside. If we can just get past our stereotypical fears of rejection,  we might actually open ourselves up to some surprisingly meaningful experiences. And that’s exactly what I did. I moved the mouse over the sign-up link and gave a quick, but sure, left click.

Let’s do this!

On Go Day, there were only a few others attending the “Combat watercolors” workshop, which somehow made me feel a little better. If I failed at my attempt to produce something artsy, my embarrassment would be limited. I can’t help but wonder though, in all seriousness, why more people don’t take a step out of their box and attend workshops such as this one. Then, I remember that just a short while ago, I was one of the people who didn’t. We rush through life, barely living and rarely experiencing. And, in my opinion, a simple realization that you are one of these people is only a start. Stepping out of the box and experiencing something new and different must be an ongoing endeavor that requires, just a little, dedicated effort. So far though, in my experience, the payback is greater than any effort that it takes to find and try something new.

As the workshop began, the instructor, Madalyn Bruning, taught us a little about the different kinds of paper and brushes that you can use for watercolor painting. She also gave us some ideas about where you can buy the supplies that you need to paint in watercolor. And, you might think that watercolor supplies are cheap, but you would be wrong. Apparently, watercolor supplies for any kind of semi-serious painting can be kind of pricey.  After attending this workshop, I feel confident in saying that there is a big difference between the watercolor paints that you buy for your nephew at the store, and paints that you would use if you want to paint seriously.

Madalyn then showed us how to paint things like skylines , trees and clouds and gave us some time, and several sheets of paper, to practice it all. I have to admit that as I began attempting to replicate the different things that she demonstrated for us, my creative side began to kick in. Now…I had a goal. It was time to rectify my grade school art failures and create something to be proud of. And…I did.

Imperfection may not be so bad after all

While painting, there were a couple of occasions where I almost abandoned my work. Madalyn noticed immediately and pointed out that often, what we see as an imperfection can evolve into something completely unexpected. And those words pretty much sum up my experience at the Watercolor workshop. I hesitated from the start, unsure of what I would find. But, in the end I found something unexpected. No, it’s not a Picasso. But it is a reminder of two relaxing hours, where not a thought came into my head other than what I was doing at exactly that moment.

Mission accomplished…

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Brunch Cooking Workshop at the Zephyr Lily Café

Preface

Have you ever had a time in your life where you found yourself doing something that you never really thought you would ever do? And then, when it’s all over, you realize that your life is just a little bit richer? That is what happened to me.

Before the workshop, I did a little homework. I went to the Zephyr Lily Cafe website and took a look around. I found and read a few reviews written by people who’d been there. And, in all, I gathered enough information to know that I was not going to be disappointed in my upcoming adventure.

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Welcome to the Zephyr Lily Cafe

As I began driving to the Cafe, I wondered what this ‘outofthebox’ experience would be like. Who would I meet, what would we learn, what kind of experience would I have?  The cafe was about a 30 minute drive from my house, which gave me plenty of time to ponder. On my arrival to the area, I had a little difficulty finding the cafe as it is a little tucked away off of  Dodge street. So, let me start by making sure that you know how to get there. It’s really pretty simple. Just drive on Dodge Street in Omaha to 49th Street. The cafe is tucked into the middle of the block on the North side in between 49th and 50th Streets and Dodge. When you turn off of Dodge Street, look to your right (East side) and you see the Zephyr Lily emblem on the doorway, beckoning you to come inside. The fact that it is a little more difficult to find coincides with the fact that it is a real ‘hidden’ treasure.

On walking into the restaurant, the first thing that you notice is the warm ambiance that is created by the earthy colors, the wall art that is displayed throughout and the soft lighting. Instantly, I knew that this was a place where you could bring a friend, or a date and your conversation would be enhanced by your surroundings. So much art and decor to engage you that you are guaranteed not to be bored while you wait for your meals.

I have found that with each workshop that I attend presented by the Omaha Creative Institute/Omaha Sister Cities Association, there is always a representative from the foundation there to meet us. We were greeted, this time, by Susan Thomas, from the Omaha Creative Institute. Susan, myself and a woman named Lina, who also attended the Irish Dance Workshop that I attended a week earlier, waited for other attendees. Meanwhile our Instructor, Chef and Owner of the Zephyr Lily Cafe, prepared ingredients for our upcoming adventure. As we waited and talked, I learned that Lina is a professor that specializes in research. In listening to Lina’s strong accent, I felt compelled to ask where she was originally from. Lina told me that she was originally from Russia. And, though I did not push her for further details about how she arrived in America and what led her to become a professor, I realized that my goal of meeting and learning just a little bit about someone new, had been accomplished. I was about to broaden my cooking skills with Lina, a Professor who came to America from a country that in the younger days of my parents, would have been considered, more or less, an enemy of the United States. My how things have changed.

 Getting Started

When it was time to begin, Chef Garren Gammon introduced himself and invited us into his kitchen. After introductions, we were told that we were going to learn how to make a Frittata, along with our own sausage and a peach vinaigrette sauce. This definitely sounded like something very fancy and almost immediately, reality began to give way to fantasy as I began to envision the results of learning this new skill. Garren’s voice seemed to fade into the distance for a moment, while, in my mind, a television commercial came to life. The voice in the commercial advertised ‘Bob’s World Famous Frittatas’ as the camera panned through a ritzy restaurant, eventually landing on a bald guy in a tall, white Chef’s hat . I was brought back to reality as Garren handed me an unusually large knife saying, “Now you try” as he pointed to a partially chopped up red pepper. It was then that I knew that if I was to really learn how to prepare this new dish, I would have to watch Garren’s every move from here on.

Preparing Our Ingredients

As our morning moved forward, Chef Garren walked us through each and every step of making a delicious veggie and sausage Frittata. First we learned the proper method of chopping up our ingredients. Garren showed us how to properly use the knife so that our chopped ingredients (and our fingers) all ended up the proper sizes. And after a quick tutorial, we spent several minutes preparing peppers, mushrooms, onions, leaf spinach, tomatoes and other assorted ingredients that I had a feeling would soon be a part of a very satisfying brunch. By this time, I was so hungry, I was ready to just scoop it all onto the grill and settle for some kind of scrambled eggs and veggie plate. But, I knew that these ingredients would end up as part of something much more spectacular. And, I watched as Garren taught us the most important aspects of  the perfect Egg Frittata.

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I learned a couple of things during this preparation stage of the workshop. First, and this is going to come as a surprise to some of you, “size matters”. There it is, I said it. And I know, this was a shocker to me too. But Chef Garren Gammon taught us that in making the perfect Frittata, your ingredients should be cut to the same sized squares. Otherwise, the ingredients might taste differently, depending on the size of each piece as some may be cooked more thoroughly than others. Second, when you cook your ingredients, you cook the ingredients that will take the longest first. The general rule that he taught us is that the juicier ingredients should be cooked last. And with this in mind, we splashed a cooking oil mixture onto the grill and began the process of cooking our ingredients.

 

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No oven required

Next, we placed a dash of flour in a large bowl, cracked and added a couple of eggs and then splashed in a dash of milk. From here, we used a fork, making fast upward sweeps, to whisk as much air into the egg mixture as possible. I knew at this point that we were just moments from tasting something new and spectacular.  Now, we were instructed to pour the egg mixture onto the grill, mixing it in with the now cooked ingredients. We mixed everything together for just a moment, just long enough for the eggs to begin cooking a little. Next we sprinkled our preferred type of fresh shredded cheese over the top (I chose Havarti) and then in an instant, it all came together. Like a Wizard creating a concoction that would turn any enemy into a lifelong friend, Garren splashed just a teaspoon or so of water onto the grill area just beside the egg and veggie mixture and then immediately dropped a large metallic bowl with a handle, directly over the now steaming water and eggs. As the grill sizzled and steamed, I could only imagine what I was going to see when the lid was finally removed. And, a mere 30-60 seconds later, the lid was removed and we placed the, now finished, egg Frittata onto a plate on which we had arranged an organic lettuce mix that had a peach vinaigrette sauce delicately poured over top.

 Glad I came hungry

From here, I quickly grabbed the plate containing my finished Frittata and headed for a seat. Holding off just long enough to take a picture of this delicious looking dish, I grabbed my fork and enjoyed this wonderful treat. Now, don’t mistake me for a food critic of any sort, but I definitely know that my Frittata was exactly as good as it looked. The eggs were slightly fluffy and full of flavor from the vegetables, sausage and spices. And the peach vinaigrette covered lettuce transformed the dish from a simple egg dish to a fancy, flavorful dish that could be served in any fine restaurant.

After we ate our creations, we helped with cleanup.  Chef Gammon then walked us through the process of creating the peach vinaigrette that he had made prior to our arrival. And that was it. our time was up and customers were now beginning to fill the restaurant, even though the closed sign was still hanging in the doorway. Paulette advised the first couple that came in that we were in the process of finishing our workshop, and asked if the couple would like to try a Frittata. The couple agreed and Lina was overjoyed to become ‘Chef for a day’ and set about cooking Frittatas for real customers.

Time to practice

After the workshop, I decided that I would make a quick stop at the grocery store and get some Frittata ingredients so that I could try out my new-found skill at home. And, the next morning, that’s exactly what I did.

Mission accomplished!

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Irish Dance Workshop-The Walls of Limerick Dance

Preface

Today…I didn’t work all day. Nor did I just do something average or normal. Today, I didn’t just live I did something out of the box.

Today, I attended an Irish Dance Workshop that was put on by the Omaha Creative Institute in partnership with the Omaha Sister Cities Association. The workshop was held at the Motion 41 Dance Studio in Omaha. The workshop cost $10.00, if I remember correctly. But I would have paid much more for this wonderful experience.

I’ll preface a little by saying that I did not attend this workshop because of an overwhelming desire to learn Irish Dance. In all actuality, I had no idea what Irish dance consisted of or what I was getting into.  I simply went because I wanted to do something out of the box.

Let’s start from the beginning…

One never really knows what to expect when you try something new and different. This was the case for me. I really had no idea what a dance workshop might entail, or what types of people might be attending. I envisioned being in a line consisting of several strangers, watching a dance instructor demonstrate the moves that we, the group, were about to attempt. I was actually fairly close to the mark, but with a few exceptions, which I will explain later.

On arriving at the Motion 41 Dance Studio, we were met by Molly, our Concierge. Once everyone that had signed up for the workshop was present, we signed a waiver vowing not to sue anyone if our dance attempts ended up on America’s Funniest Videos. Well, maybe it was just a waiver saying that they could post pictures of us on their website. But in my mind, the waiver said something like: “We know that you are going to make a fool of yourself today. And you, the above mentioned person, about to make a complete fool of yourself, agree that you will not hold us liable when your actions are recorded and go viral on the internet. At that moment, in my mind, I could see a news anchor somewhere starting with “And now, just when you thought that you’d seen everything….” Well, you get the picture.

Then it was go time. From here, we were led through a labyrinth of corridors to a magical room, where things seemed a little different somehow. A place where I knew that I was about to do something that was a little out of my comfort zone, and yet I didn’t really care. A place where I wouldn’t be judged by my performance, and, well, if I had hair, I could let it down. The one thing I didn’t really envision, and noted above that I would explain later, is that everyone felt just like me. Even though our ages ranged from the low teens to maybe somewhere in the 60’s, I felt like I was in a room of little kids, back in grade school, getting ready for the big spring concert. No deadlines, no CEO’s, bosses or customers. Just people. People just like me.

Getting started

Our first adventurous task was to stretch. This was the point where I wish that I was wearing something other than blue jeans. After that, Our Dance instructor (Shannon Ryan), began to teach us the basic steps and encouraged us to twist our feet in ways that I’m pretty sure they were not meant to go. We progressed, slowly, through the different parts of the dance and eventually ended up in teams where we attempted to learn the routine on our own, with some occasional desperate cries going out to Shannon, asking her to show us one move or another ‘Just one more time’.

The people

Sometimes, I think that we get so entangled in just maneuvering our way through life that we forget to really notice the people around us. In doing so, I think we miss out on the best part of  any experience like this. I watched everyone at least a little, and mostly just envied the way that they all picked up the dance so quickly. There was even one woman who I swear must actually be Irish. She was a little older than most of us, but was definitely showing us all up. And me, well I felt a little (a lot) dance challenged. I say that jokingly, of course. Because again, I felt like no one was judging me or anyone else. Molly however, who was good enough to fill in as my partner since our numbers were uneven, ignored my two left feet like a trooper.

There was also a girl, just in 10th grade, and the youngest by far, bless her sweet heart, in a crowd of people much older than her. To me, she was like a little lion, and the bravest of us all. And John, who was a little older than me, but far my superior in Irish Dance. John, being  involved in the orchestration of the workshops themselves, likely had a lot of other important things on his to do list, gave up part of his Saturday afternoon to be an example for me to try to follow.

Shannon, did a great job of  teaching us the wonders of Irish Dance. I’m not sure why each time she was watching me try to perform the dance steps, she had her hand over her mouth. But, I’m pretty sure it was just a confirmation that I was learning very quickly. Really though Shannon, you did a great job of explaining and teaching and your class was truly a joy to attend. And, I swear I did better when you were not watching. Visit the Craoí na Tíre website for more information about Shannon’s dance studio, also in Omaha.

The dance that we all attempted to learn, was the Irish Walls of Limerick dance. Shannon described this dance as a social (céilí) dance.  The dance is considered a social dance because you normally perform the dance in a group of several couples and switch partners often as the dance progresses. It was a heck of a lot of fun trying to learn the dance. The only problem I really had with the whole process was trying to figure out which left foot to start with. My apologies go out to anyone there that had to watch my attempts at this dance. I hope I haven’t somehow scarred you, or caused you to have one of those dreams where the same scene just plays over and over, in which you say ‘No, the other foot’, but then I get it wrong again. Seriously though, I think I did actually get it right a few times. Either way, I had a lot of fun.

I left this ‘outofthebox’ experience with an new found appreciation for Irish Dance and caught myself remembering my grandma, who’s maiden name was Kern. She had blazing red hair and often reminded everyone of her Irish background. I think that if she were watching from above on this day, well, she was probably laughing… a lot. But, it would have been a happy laugh. And she would have been proud of  both of my left feet.

In Summary

What a great experience! For just a little while, I forgot about designing software, deadlines, customer requirements and 14 hour work days. For a while I was able to experience something that I truly believe at my core. That we are all just little kids on the inside, no matter how big our body. And, that even though we come from different walks of life, we are all much the same. Not better, not worse. All of us just trying to learn something new and experience something different, maybe even something out of our box.

In the end, I’m so glad I stepped out of my box and tried something new. I now have the building blocks for a new skill and something new and different to talk about. Mostly though, I’m just thankful that I was fortunate enough to meet all of the people in the Irish Dance workshop. Thank you for being part of my story. My story is better because of you.

And, by the way, if you were at the workshop, and someday you just happen to run across one of my friends and they comment about how I turned down the invitation to display my amazing dancing skills on ‘Ireland’s Got Talent’…….please just play along. 😉

There are several more workshops available from the Omaha Creative Institute. I highly recommend that you sign up for at least one.

 

Just a few pictures from my amazing day…

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If you would like to see an example of this dance, here is a link that will give you an idea http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9A7uEOxWyU.

 

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