Stacie’s News

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On Saint Patrick’s Day 2010, I received the phone call from my wife confirming that she did, indeed, have breast cancer. For a full week, awaiting results of the biopsy, I had been able to successfully keep my thoughts positive and optimistic, but the final results shattered them like the fragile film that they were. Some say that when tragedy strikes, your world comes to a standstill. But when I received the news, everything before my eyes went into hyperdrive and I understood what it meant for life to flash before ones eyes. Or, rather, the reverse effect. Instead of seeing a review of my past life, I saw a future without Stacie. Are we wired to project the worst possible scenario?

On the same day that Stac broke the news to me and our families, she received a call from my brother-in-law Dr. Ralph Wynn, who sought her permission to review her results. Ralph had been a Godsend a few years earlier, steadying-through-educating a fearful family when my sister Malia was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. In Stacie’s case he immediately facilitated the creation of a world class UT Southwestern team to treat my wife through all phases of treatment and recovery. The love we have for him aside, we are forever indebted to Ralph.

Following are a couple of compositions sent to family and friends informing them, in the first letter, of what was to come and, in the second, how it went. Also included are some of the heartfelt responses we received.

26 March 2010 / The News

To those among you – Stacie’s ‘Ohana – who are hearing of this for the first time, we send you this message to share some news with you. It’s been a week in coming, but rather than drop an alarming & uninformed announcement on everyone, we wanted to wait until we had some answers, in the hope that we could provide a positive and educated message to our loved ones.

It may sound strange to hear the words “breast cancer” and “fortunate” uttered in the same breath, but in this particular situation we do consider ourselves extremely fortunate. One week ago today Stacie received the results of a biopsy and confirmation that she has breast cancer. There are numerous reasons we consider ourselves fortunate: (1) the tumor was detected at an early stage, (2) it is not a very aggressive form, (3) the procedure that Stacie has chosen is not accompanied by radiation, (4) both families have breast cancer survivors and are familiar with what lies ahead, (5) we have great confidence in the medical professionals and the speed with which the process has proceeded.

Stacie’s cancer is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer. It is in its early stages, the tumor estimated to be between 1.2 – 2.0 cm. The cancer is both inside and outside the ducts but appears to be contained within the breast. It is estrogen and progesterone-receptive, meaning it is not of the aggressive variety.

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TMI

For those (guys?) who may be a bit on the squeamish side, suffice is to say that the prognosis is very good. Stacie will go through a surgical procedure, maybe some chemo, and reconstruction. All should turn out well. You can skip the details laid out below.
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Chronology

Monday 3/8 – Annual mammogram – “a suspicious mass;” 2009 imagery obtained and significant change noted.

Friday 3/12 – 2nd mammogram & ultrasound

Monday 3/15 – Needle biopsy

Wednesday 3/17 – Received biopsy results and confirmation of breast cancer

Monday 3/22 – Consultations with surgeon, radiologist, geneticist, patient coordinator & plastic surgeon.

Wednesday 4/14 – Surgery

Genetics

Cancers which appear early in family members are more likely to be genetic, and conversely late-appearing cancers are likely to be lifestyle or environmentally linked. That which has appeared in both sides of Stacie’s family came later in life, and while her mother and sister are both survivors, it appears that there is probably no genetic link between Stacie’s and Susan’s cancer and her mother’s cancer. Tests results in two weeks will clear that up. Either way, the info will be of use to other family members.

Surgery

Surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, April 14. Due to the apparent proximity of the tumor to the surface and the nipple, a lumpectomy is not an option as the minimum amount of tissue surrounding the tumor is not available. The remaining options are removal of the entire breast or the removal of both breasts. With the first of these options, the rate of recurrence is 30% within the next 2 to 3 years. Use of the medication Tamoxifen reduces the rate to 15%. Removal of both breasts drops the odds to 1%. Rather than face the possibility of going through this again, Stacie has chosen the last option. On the day of surgery they will first remove the sentinel lymph nodes to see whether the cancer has spread that far. If so, all lymph nodes under her arms will be removed. As stated above, there is no radiation treatment associated with a double mastectomy. Drains (two per breast) will remain in place for 2 to 3 weeks.

Chemotherapy

In most cases, tumors larger than 1cm call for some level of chemotherapy. Stacie’s surgeon considers this a grey area and will make the determination upon removal of the tumor.

Reconstruction

The options for reconstruction are (1) to insert tissue expanders once the mastectomy is complete. Beginning three weeks after surgery the expanders will gradually be inflated over a period 6 to 8 weeks until the desired size is attained. Once the skin has had time to settle at that level, the expanders are replaced with implants, (2) combination of tissue expander, implants and patient tissue, (3) exclusive use of patient tissue, taken mainly from the abdomen. Chances of infection in option 3 are the lowest of all three options. This form of reconstruction takes place upon completion of the mastectomy and requires an additional 8 to 9 hours. The decision on which option to go with was made moot upon examination by the plastic surgeon. However, the story behind that is amusing and was by far the highlight of Stacie’s long day of consultations and tests. With one quick glance at her tummy, the young, rich, handsome surgeon with the soap opera star name – Michel Saint-Cyr – informed Stacie that there wasn’t enough tissue there to build even one A-cup breast. Option One it is. She is still beaming =) The bastard probably even drives a James Bond Aston Martin =) Sorry, got sidetracked . . . one to three months after insertion of implants, the nipples will be reconstructed, and shortly thereafter, the areolae will be tattooed on.

The Pros

We were very impressed and feel completely confident with the physicians who will be working with Stacie. They come highly recommended and the seamlessness from one specialty to another was very impressive.

Dr Ralph Wynn, MD, head of Mammography, UT Southwestern (to his fancy professional titles, Ralph has recently added that of “Grampa” – congratulations!)

Dr Roshni Rao, MD, Assistant Professor Surgical Oncology

Kathy Pratt, RN, Patient Coordinator

Dr Michel Saint-Cyr, MD, Assistant Professor Plastic Surgery

Last, but not least, The Patient with the A-cup Tummy

You are all familiar with the wise-cracking, can-do, ever-optimistic, can’t-sit-still, don’t-tempt-me woman named Stacie. So you should have no trouble believing when I tell you that she is mentally and emotionally in great shape and ready to get the show on the road. While the final outcome appears very good, we know there will be many tough times in the next few months, some ugly ones too. But there will also be unique opportunities to grow as individuals, as a couple, as family and as friends. We are fortunate to have each of you in our lives. We cherish who each of you are to us and appreciate all you have ever offered of yourselves.

Our love to each and every one of you. Stay tuned.
Aloha,
Stacie & Steve Mahelona

Kind Responses

Thanks for sharing this. It’s really inspiring and I’m glad to hear that they are both so positive throughout such a huge life-changing “event.” I’m sure with such strength mentally, emotionally and physically, that this can only to help the recovery process be much more productive – Karen

Thanks for sending Kanani. I really appreciate it. Please let them know that many people they don’t even know, are thinking about them. Love you, Janell

Wow chile…just wow.  Cannot believe this, but his letter, his attitude and hers, are amazing and beautiful.  Thinking of them with all my heart!!! xoxo  Big, Big Love to all!! – Cindy

My girlfriend at work (who is Jonathan Hayes from KLUV’s wife) has her expanders in right now and has “chemo light” every Friday until October.  About a couple of years ago, she was also diagnosed with lung cancer and did very well, only to find out last year that she has breast cancer.  She has such a good attitude and she is doing great.  I know so many women who are getting breast cancer.  I faithfully have my mammogram’s yearly and have been so lucky.  My prayers go out to Steve and his wife.  Please forward this to him.  Thank you – Jan

Hey, so very sorry to hear about Stacie…it is a good thing that it was caught early on and the cancer is not the aggressive type.  Steve and Stacie are well educated in this matter and that is great.   With their knowledge, great support system and most of all their positive attitudes, they have the best chances in the world to overcome this!  Please send them my love.   Love you, Jen

I am praying for every step you take guys!  I love you both and thank God you know you have already won this battle! Please let me know if I can do ANYTHING! – Deanna 

I have to say, as troubled as I am about the news, that is the best cancer news I have heard in a long time. I will pass the word on to Denise and we will keep Stacey and the whole ohana in my prayers. I well remember the shock and dismay when my own physician called me one day. I had to ask him, “Are you looking for a golfer to fill out a foursome? “No? OK, how about someone to fill out your doubles team?” He wanted to inform me that the biopsy taken from my abdomen was melanoma. Obviously, the whole thing worked out all right since, after three successively deeper tissue removals, the melanoma was determined to have remained isolated and no further treatment was required. It caught Denise and me by surprise and caused quite a few sleepless nights. We will miss y’all in April but we look forward to seeing y’all a bit later in the season. This strengthens my resolve to get us involved in the Race for the Cure. I’ll need to e-mail Kehaulani and get further details about how we can support the event – Mike

I thanked God last night that Stacie’s cancer was caught early and she is going to be with us for a long time.  I know how difficult this can be and the emotional rollercoaster your about to take.  One thing I’ve learned going through this process is rely on your family and friends and be possitive.  It upset me that you have to go through this and my heart is with both of you.  I care deeply for both of you and IF you need me for ANYTHING I’m there.  From the bottom of my heart…I’m there for you. I Love You Guys!!! Kim

Aloha Pumehana (warmest love) and support during the months ahead. We are available whenever and whatever you need us for. Me Kealoha Pau’ole (Never ending love), Mom n Dad

I’m very sorry. If there is anything I can do, don’t hesitate to call upon me. Cheers – Daniel

Our prayers go out to both of you, our ohana. If you need anything just ask and we will do our best to help in any way – Dani

Thank you Steve. And there is Caringbridge if you want to get on that to eventually keep everyone posted. It is easier than emailing everyone.  She can kind of journal on it too as a therapy tool and get comments and feedback. I know she has that “can do” attitude. I told her ” how are you talking about this and not crying” and her answer was “wtf”. I laughed so hard. She is a trooper!  We are so grateful for you. I don’t know how Stacie and I are so blessed with Chris and you!  We are some blessed girls! Love you both! Michele

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Dear Steve, I read your e-mails. We thank you for sharing it with us…Firstly, Terry & I are SO sorry that this is happening to our princess Stacie.  This is very sad…Please let Stacie know that our thoughts and prayers are with her.  No matter what, we love her very much! I will write again – next week – when  I get back from Tempe Dragon Boat Festival.  In the meantime, please please keep us posted. Take care! Love you both! Terry & Mas

I very much appreciate you including me in the distribution of this message.  It will be my joy to add you both to my prayer list regarding these developments.  Your message lightenend my heart because of your mental attitude and most excellent perspective. I also commend you on sharing the depth of information you did because it allows your ohana to be better informed and experience less apprehension for Stacie. Stephen, I can reassign the Lauren Bartlett story to someone else if that eases your schedule during these important next few months. Prayers of thanksgiving and peace for you – Danno

Thank you so much.  The more I am around you, the more I like having you as a brother-in-law. I am shocked that Stacie had her mammogram 5 years to the day that they found my cancer.  What are the odds?  Maybe Stacie and I should go in together and buy some lottery tickets. Jim and I were coming in on the 13th to Dallas but if you and Stacie could spend an extra day with us, could we come up on the 12th and hang out before the surgery.  We are staying at the Holiday inn close to the hospital. Love you guys, Susan

I’m so sorry to hear. Please give stacie a hug for me. It really sounds like you guys are doing well with the news and how to attack it! I know that doesn’t make things any less scary. I’m here if you need me. My thoughts and prayers are with you guys. Please keep me updated on her progress. Is there anything I can do? Love you guys – Marie

I was already proud to have you as my uncle and Ohana, Steve, and always knew you were Stacie’s angel… from day one, I saw your halo. 🙂 If there is anything you need, anything Stacie needs, or anything you as a couple, need… I’ll be there. Katie

Wow….never before have I read such an informative, uplifting, hopeful and loving account of the journey ahead.  You two are so lucky to have each other!!!  And we are so lucky to have both of you!!!!  Sending you all the love I can muster……love you both so much….can’t wait to see you and hug you both!!!  Love, Nani

Hey Brother, thanks for including me on this important and difficult message.  My heart and my thoughts go out to you and Stacie, and I will keep her in my prayers for the next several months as you guys journey down this path.  It really sucks when bad things happen to really outstanding people like Stacie (and you), but, reading the tone of your email and hearing the optimism in your message, I’m quite certain that you both will come out ok, perhaps even stronger, as you alluded to. PLEASE let me know if there is anything I can do to help during these crazy times ahead.  Whatever you or Stacie may need, do not hesitate to ask, yell, email or whatever – I want to be available to you all.  Even if you just need to vent, or have a drink, or share some laughs, I’ll make myself available to you guys. I’m sorry to hear the news, truly I am, but I know you guys can overcome this obstacle.  Tell Stacie to stay strong and positive; we need her to get better soon so we can go and share some more wine!!! Take care, God bless, and please keep me posted…Rob

Our prayers are with you and Stacie. Love you guys! Tavis

Surgery / Wednesday, 14 April, 6:30am

She kissed and hugged her Mom, sisters Catherine, Cyndi & Susan, niece Randi and brother-in-law Jim, and the door closed behind us. Over the next two hours we met all of the pros who would perform their magic this day, heard in detail everything she would undergo over the next few hours, signed consent forms and looked into each other’s eyes, lost in our own thoughts and assuring each other that we were both okay. She was utterly calm, but I could see the apprehension and fatigue in her pretty blue eyes.

At 8:30 they started a Happy Cocktail in her IV and within five seconds she had departed that cold, clinical space, probably bound for a cozy seat in a canoe on some warm ocean.

By 9:30 we received the first update, the one we had been waiting on pins and needles for. The initial look at the removed sentinel lymph nodes – two from each arm – showed that they appear clear of cancer cells. This first look is 100% accurate in about 85% of cases, and further dissections and tests will remove any doubt, one way or the other. It seems that every time we turned around we were confronted with numbers and percentages related to accuracy and risk, and eventually we just accepted that things simply are or are not, and that they will happen or they won’t. Anyway, this news removed the weight of the world from our shoulders, and there were murmurs of thanks and a few teary eyes.

Over the next few hours we received regular updates letting us know that things were proceeding well. Shortly before noon, they herded us into a room for a consultation with her surgeon, Dr. Roshni Rao. She told us that the surgery went perfectly, that her vitals were very stable and that her plastic surgeon, Dr. Saint-Cyr, was at this moment inserting the tissue expanders. The sentinel lymph nodes, tissue and tumor (still embedded in the breast tissue) were sent to Pathology to conduct further tests to check more thoroughly for signs of cancer. Based on the results of these tests, Oncology will make the call on whether chemo will be necessary.

About 1:30pm we trooped back in to talk to Dr. Saint-Cyr, who let us know that his portion also went as expected, and explained his estimated timeline for removing drains and beginning actual expansion of the tissue. By the end of the first week, the first two drains may be removed, and a week later, perhaps, the final two. Depending on the decision from Oncology, tissue expansion could begin as early as the third week after surgery. Expansion will continue for 6 to 8 weeks, with a two month settling period prior to removal of expanders and insertion of implants.

Shortly after 3pm her name disappeared off the status board in the surgical waiting room, and they advised us that she was on her way to room 726. As anxious as were to see her, we took our time gathering up our stuff and heading upstairs, figuring it’d still be a while before she arrived in the room. In typical Stacie manner, she was there waiting for us when we walked through the door.

She has since told me that we all made this thing so much easier for her. But personally speaking, it was she who made it easier on all of us. She had less fear and more resolve and belief going into this than any of us, and when we saw the vibrant, glowing woman who greeted us with a smile, we were amazed, relieved, thankful and joyful to the point of tears. What she showed us in that smile brought forth a depth of comfort and belief that cannot be gained from any medical expert’s assurances.

The next two days of her hospital stay were somewhat of a blur, with everyone’s exhaustion and release of tension. What was crystal clear was Stacie’s marvelous attitude and determination to deal with the here and now, to improve quickly and steadily, and thereby earn a quick trip home. On the first night she was sitting up unaided, ordering a meal from Zale-Lipshy’s room service menu, and snoozing through the constant visits from nurses and techs. First thing the next morning she set out for a walk down the hallway, pausing each time she passed the large picture window to watch the planes rise from Dallas Love Field in the pre-sunrise glow. Throughout her stay she laughed and lightened the hearts of her visitors, smiled reading her messages, remarked at the beauty of the flowers around her, and maintained a comic dialogue with her doctors, nurses and techs. She told her resident that she expected to be released by 3pm Friday, and he arrived out of breath minutes before the hour to get the release paperwork rolling.

Discharge / Friday, 16 April, a few minutes past 3pm.

As we pulled out from under the porte-cochere at Zale-Lipshy University Hospital, her first words were, “We did it.” We – meaning she and all of you – and all those who sent prayers and expressions of love, encouragement and support.

From our hearts, mahalo nui.

Love,

S&S

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(Stac and her Doc at NYC Race for the Cure)

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‘Ohana ‘Oiwi / 2006 Liberty Challenge, NYC

June 2006

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One year into outrigger canoe-paddling, I was feeling pretty good about having been recognized as 2005 Paddler of the Year and elected President of Hoewa’a Dallas Outrigger Canoe Club. But the biggest thrill of my brief paddling career began with a call from my brother Kawika. His invitation to be a member of his select ‘Ohana ‘Oiwi mixed crew at the 2006 Liberty Challenge in New York City sent me to unimaginable heights of excitement and anticipation. Once I descended back to reality, however, apprehension began to set in. Could I be physically and mentally ready in two short months? For an opportunity to paddle with Kawika in a world class race, I would be ready.

I have always had great admiration for Kawika and his paddling peers. I could not imagine the physical strength & conditioning nor the mental toughness it took to survive, much less excel, at the sport. One thing I was pretty sure of: I didn’t have what it took. So when Hoewa’a was founded in 2004, I had little interest and it took more than a year for me to give paddling a try. What enticed me to finally pick up a paddle was the fact that my parents and sisters were active paddlers and loving it, and the opportunity for us to do something together as a family was impossible to pass up. What I found when I climbed into Hoku Kaukahi was the key ingredient for any hope of success: passion. The surge of the canoe, wind in my face, waves breaking over my knees sent me soaring and I was hooked.

I found great joy in paddling with Mom, Dad, Lia and Kel, and with Nani, too, when he came to town. I hoped one day to be able to paddle with Kawika as well, preferably in Hawaii’s blue waters rather than Texas’ green lakes. I could never have imagined that this desire would manifest itself in the black waters of New York’s Hudson and East Rivers.

But get real. You’re talking about being a yearling novice on a crew consisting of choice paddlers from clubs across the country, competing against teams from around the world, in fucking New York City! Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . but I don’t care. I’m not missing this for the world. So I asked Kawika what I needed to do to prepare for this race, and he told me to work on my cardio, get my heart rate up each day for a certain length of time, continuous. I borrowed Kel’s old stationary bike from Ian and tried that, but it was too boring. I went running through my Oak Cliff neighborhood and the wilderness of Cedar Hill, but my knees gave out before I even started breathing hard. So I showed up in New York in no better condition, counting on my excitement and my determination to keep me from making ass in front of my crewmates.

On our first morning in the big city, we walked to Chelsea Pier and took one of New York Outrigger’s boats out on the rivers to get a feel for the waters. It was stinky, oily, black and I loved being on it. Two of our wahine were not yet in town, which gave Dad the opportunity to join our practice cruise. What an unreal feeling being on those rivers with my Dad and brother. With Kawika at the helm, I paddled along happily as if I was on a sightseeing trip more than a practice session. I enjoyed seeing Jersey, Manhattan and Brooklyn from such a unique perspective. The outing did serve to erase whatever trepidation may have existed about racing on the rivers, though the excitement was still going strong, and upon docking back at the pier I felt mentally prepared for tomorrow’s race. We walked from the pier to Nani’s and Ralph’s apartment, accompanied by the men of the Air Tahiti Nui outrigger crew, looking like South Seas savages come to conquer Manhattan.

That night Kawika’s business partner and team sponsor David Kim treated our family and crew to a Chinese feast, where we met the remaining two wahine paddlers. Our crew, in seating order, consisted of Dana from Lanikai (Hawaii), Sara from Marina del Rey (California), me from Hoewa’a (Dallas), Kalani from Kailua (Hawaii), Maria from NYO (New York), and Kawika from Anuenue (Hawaii). The camaraderie we enjoyed that night would gel into an incredible bond the next day when our paddles sliced into the East River as one. Come tomorrow, no one would ever guess that this was the first time all six of us had ever been in a canoe together.

Race Day dawned as awful as one could imagine. Low-hanging clouds obscured Manhattan’s skyscrapers; cold rain pelted the river and all who ventured out upon it; thunder and lightning threatened to force cancellation of our race. I don’t know whether it was the cold rain or the hype of the race, but I stood with Dad and Kawika shivering, waiting for the completion of the women’s race and the start of ours. Dad and the crew retreated to a Starbucks around the corner for a warm latte and a last-minute shishi op.

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Finally, our turn came. Sporting our sleek red ‘Ohana ‘Oiwi racing jerseys, we took our places in a red and white Force Five borrowed from a Canadian team. Our bright red was striking against the grey world as we slipped into the East River to warm up. We paddled upriver and down, under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, laughing and joking as if an 8-mile sprint ain’t no big thing. Maybe it wasn’t for the other five, but I had yet to paddle anywhere near that far, and certainly not at the pace I was about to experience. I think we were all just a little awestruck and giddy, too, sitting in a Hawaiian outrigger under the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Manhattan skyscrapers towering on one side and the factories and warehouses of Brooklyn looming on the other. I looked over and the tops of both the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings were hidden in the low clouds. My fascination with the surroundings made me forget that I was supposed to be nervous. I felt only wonder and great anticipation. “Hurry up, you guys, line up,” I silently urged the other teams.

When the rest of the field was assembled, we nosed up next to them. Paddles poised, senses heightened and muscles tensed, we listened for the starter’s horn. In the next moment, the world was a flurry of bodies in motion and water a-flyin’. Down came the rain and up splashed the river. Our stroker Dana set a blistering pace and we jumped out to an early lead, which we held halfway to Governor’s Island. My adrenalin served me well up until we rounded Governor’s Island and entered the wide-open space below Manhattan, where the East and Hudson Rivers come together. Combined with the rain, wind and the heavy traffic of barges, tour boats, water taxis and luxury yachts, this mixing of rivers made a mess of the currents and raised the swells to waves. My adrenalin having petered out, it was time to reach down and grab hold of something, anything, until my body, heart and lungs got into that good groove. Blinded by raindrops, I struggled but never flagged, until the groove arrived halfway between Gov’s Island and The Statue of Liberty.

One of the things I was looking most forward to was looking up and marveling at Miss Liberty as we rounded the buoy at her feet. But when we arrived at the buoy, our turn revealed to me that there were two canoes right on our tail. The competitor in me overshadowed my inner tourist, and in my determination that our competition not slip past us, I completely forgot about Liberty and missed my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see her from that vantage point.

Driving into the return leg of the race, we found ourselves in a close race with the two canoes ahead of us and the two on our heels. Our chances seemed good until we crossed paths with a large freighter. The laws of the United States Coast Guard and of common sense reward the right of way to the big boys. The two frontrunners managed to race across the big ship’s path while we idled until the way was clear. We dug hard and paddled with all we had to the finish line, outdistancing the rest of the field but unable to catch the leaders, who crossed the finish three minutes and one minute ahead of us. From the rocky shore below the Brooklyn Bridge a bright and enthusiastic crowd of fans decked out in ‘Oiwi red – Mom, Dad, Nani, Ralph, Lia, Kel, and David – cheered our third place finish. What a thrill to bring it home in front of your loved ones. You would have thought we had won Olympic gold. We laughed and hollered and mugged for pictures, and topped our celebration with a sassy over-the-head rainbow saaaal-loot to our cheering horde. We carried the canoe ashore and embraced each other and our supporters, big smiles and happy hearts in evidence everywhere. We then devoured the dim sum that Mom and our sibs had schlepped all the way from Chinatown in the rain.

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Dripping from rain, river and probably a few tears, we made our way onto the subway for the trip back to the apartment. I’m sure we were a sight, carrying out primitive weapons of battle. Back at the apartment, the hot shower felt marvelous after a cold, rainy, exhilarating day. We dressed for the post-race/awards luau where we enjoyed Hawaiian music, food, and leis and continued our celebration.

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24 January 2015 / Never Thought I’d See the Day

24 January 2015

Mind has wandered off trying to pre-solve the challenges awaiting me at the office while glazed eyes subconsciously take note of flickering digital numbers on the gas pump. The loud click of the auto-shutoff jolts me back to the present moment. I blink a couple times as the numbers don’t seem quite right. Holy smokes, I never thought the day would come again when the tank on my Tahoe could be filled to the brim for under $40. Often over the past several years, as I’ve watched the numbers spin past 70, I’ve reminisced fondly about the days when my truck was young and shiny and smelled good and could be filled up for around 36 bucks. Remember those days when we paid with cash and had to stop the pump precisely on zero-zero?

Upon leaving the filling station, one part of my brain did the driving while another mulled over other things I thought I’d never see. Two things came immediately to mind. Growing up I never, ever, considered the possibility that one day the Berlin Wall would cease to exist, that I’d witness people tearing it down with bare hands as GDR Border Guards stood passively by. Nor did I ever think that I’d see the restoration of diplomatic relations with our neighbor Cuba in my lifetime. Both of these events caused me to reflect upon the Cold War world of my youth. Today’s world – my children’s world – has its own international dangers. Less institutional, the threats are less clearly defined and the dangers perhaps scarier by virtue of their being less predictable, more indiscriminate, more ethnic, more fundamentalist. Violence is less about territorial gain than it is about identity and feeling marginalized. But there was definitely something ominous about those years before the Wall collapsed and the Soviet Union rotted from within and imploded upon itself.

It’s amazing how quickly and thoroughly the feeling of that time has dissipated. It’s a struggle to recall what it truly felt like to live under the threat of nuclear annihilation, except that it was an ever-present pall. I never knew when it might come, sometimes it seemed so imminent in my young mind, but I knew where it would come from. Some days I’d look up into the perfectly clear, brilliantly blue sky and all I’d see were dark grey clouds of nuclear missiles.

Back then it seemed like the only things on Earth that mattered could be identified with just these four letters: U, S, A and R . . . USA/USSR. Or five, if you preferred USA/CCCP. The rest of the world had no say as these two superpowers held the fate of the world, the survival of life on Earth, in their hands. As Tom Clancy would write in his novel Red Storm Rising, “our survival would be at the mercy of whichever NATO (or Warsaw Pact) leader is the LEAST stable.” Back to letters, peace and life itself proceeded against the backdrop of the insane concept dubbed MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. If you incinerate  my country, my people, my ideology, you can be assured that my missiles – ICBMs – will instantly blot out you and yours.

The competition for world dominance was reflected in the world of sports, as well. In 1980 the United States and 59 other nations boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, citing security concerns and anti-Soviet hysteria in the US, the Soviet Union and 14 other countries boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. But when American and Eastern Bloc athletes did meet in Olympic competition, it made for some of the most epic, and sometimes controversial, sports matches and performances in history: the 1972 Soviet victory over perennial basketball Gold Medalist Team USA; the ’72 redefining of gymnastics by Olga Korbut; the surprising dominance of American boxers and Romanian Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in 1976; and the US’s 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ victory over the powerful Soviet hockey team. Fierce competition even extended to the cultivated world of chess where, in 1972, American Bobby Fischer wrested the World Chess Championship from Boris Spassky of the USSR.

Since the end of those bad old days, my own level of sports fan passion has rarely risen to the level of those Cold War sports contests, with the exception of the great Cowboys-Redskins and Cowboys-Niners rivalries. How things have changed. Who could have ever foreseen the day I’d cheer on a forward for the 2014 Russian Olympic Team?

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( Dallas Stars in 2014 Winter Olympics: Jamie Benn and Coach Lindy Ruff, Canada; Kari Lehtonen, Finland; Valeri Nichushkin, Russia)

11 January 2015 / UnNuthin’

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11 January 2015

Before the start of Saturday’s game between the Canadiens and the Pens, the French Tricolour was projected onto the ice at Bell Centre in Montreal and the National Anthem of France La Marseillaise was played before O Canada and The Star-Spangled Banner to honor the victims of the week’s terrorist shootings in Paris. At the same time in Dallas, before launching into his own anthem Let Love Rule, an American who now lives in Paris spoke to us about the part that love must play.

When I hear the views of people from or residing in other countries and read news from ‘foreign’ sources, I am reminded just how limited and spun is the information we are fed in the United States. If I really want to hear news about which I can form my own opinion instead of a sales pitch or political platform, I need to seek it out, sometimes from beyond our shores, rather than allow it to be delivered to me. As Ted Koppel recently pointed out about Fox News, it is a business, not a news organization, an opinion I share and don’t limit to only Fox. The dangerous thing about news organizations as businesses is that their product is ideas and information, their reach global, their goal influence and control, ie: power. Information is power, as the saying rightly goes. Behold the damage inflicted on the world daily by the deliberate discharge of false, twisted and incomplete information.

In our United States, freest of all the world’s nations, ever, it still takes moral courage to voice an opinion which might be slammed as ‘UnAmerican’ by those holding different points of view and agenda. Which brings me back to the aforementioned American now living in Paris. “I believe in God,” Lenny Kravitz said. “You don’t have to, but I do.” Okay, so far. “We all know of the tragedy this week in Paris, where I live. You gotta love, and that means that I don’t love only the victims. I also love the people who did it, because they don’t understand. And how are people gonna change if we don’t love?”  Whoa . . . too far, right? I mean left. I mean you know what I mean. Love a terrorist? By God, America is at WAR with terrorism! Leave it to expats and foreigners to speak such unAmerican rubbish. Just like that Middle Easterner who said much the same thing, guy by the name of Jesus. UnAmerican, indeed. But have you ever heard anyone complain about someone else being unFrench (sacre bleu) or unBritish (blimey) or unCuban, even (ay ay ay)? No. ‘UnAmerican’ is a uniquely American creation, a smear meant to repress the free and honest expression of feelings, opinions and ideas through the use of fear or guilt. Now THAT is unAmerican.

Speak, Expess, Expound, and don’t forget to Love. To do otherwise is just plain UnMahelona.

12 January 2015 / Play Nice

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(Photo by Matt Hutton Photography)

12 January 2015

Here on Planet Earth, nay the whole damned universe, humans reign supreme, for we alone amongst every other form of life were created in the image of God Almighty Himself. As such, we get to make the rules and reserve the right to change them to suit our needs or mood at any given moment. We get to define what is right and wrong, good and evil, worthy and worthless, what lives, what dies. Only we have the knowledge of how all things work and, better yet, how to improve upon what God just threw together in a week. We understand the nature of nature itself. Damn, we’re good.

We judge the relative intelligence of species by how much they indulge in play. Creatures who are at leisure to play rather than having to spend every waking moment of their existence in a struggle to survive have clearly attained an advanced level of development. In other words, the more closely they act like us, the smarter they are, obviously. So why, then, do we humans just plain suck at playing?

When as children we play, we experience skinned knees and black eyes, grow strong through disappointments and humble through defeat, gain confidence and affirmation through triumph and, most importantly, learn how to interact positively with other human beings. And in our child’s mind, we need only one word to describe all of these combined experiences: FUN.

Then, as grownups, sometimes sooner, for player and spectator alike, play becomes sport, which so often devolves into stress, tension, anger, suspicion, resentment, selfishness, divisiveness, life, death. “Foul! Cheat! No Fair!” we cry. Well, to borrow a favorite adage, ‘The Fair comes but once a year, in October.’

One of the finest pieces of advice I’ve received on keeping life in perspective is ‘Relax, they can’t eat ya.’ Our ‘Boys lost a well-played football game to a worthy opponent. Yet let us be thankful, at least, that we are such an advanced species, for in that other world of the less-evolved, they don’t play around. Losing means you just became lunch for something higher up the food chain.

Thank you Dallas Cowboys. Football hasn’t been this fun in years!

3700 Miles on the Way to 340

 3 February 2011

It is Super Bowl Week here in North Texas, and as media types and Packers and Steelers faithful flood the area, Stacie and I prepare to set out on a long road trip across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and up the length of California.

My good friend Dan Grubbs invited me to crew with him on a two-person canoe to compete in the Missouri 340 Race, a 340-mile race down the Missouri River, basically from Kansas City in the west to St. Louis in the east. In doing so, we’d be raising money for the fight against breast cancer. The canoe that Danno and I will paddle in the MR340 is on generous loan to us by canoe builder Jude Turczynski, owner of Huki Outriggers & Surfskis in West Sacramento, California. Having secured a canoe for the race, the question then became how and when to take delivery. ‘When’ became ‘by the weekend of February 12-13,’ the dates of the 2011 OKC Riversport Indoor Kayak Challenge, which Dan will attend. Oklahoma City, with its world-class paddling facilities, is a good ‘meet-ya-halfway’ between Dan in Kansas City and us in Dallas, and the weekend offers the perfect opportunity to put in some tandem training together.

As for the ‘How,’ the best way to ensure the ‘When’ is to drive to Huki and pick up the OC2 ourselves. Besides, Stacie and I enjoy road trips and we travel well together (famous last words!). The first leg will be Dallas to El Paso on Friday, then on to LA Saturday and San Francisco in time to spend Super Bowl Sunday at the home of best friend Christine Z. The next morning we’ll head for West Sacramento, then down to LA. The final two days will bring us back across Arizona and New Mexico and back home to Texas.

In addition to the varied scenery of the American Southwest and the state of California, we are looking forward to meeting some great folks from the paddling ohana. In Redondo Beach we’ll be stopping by to see Al Ching, who has fashioned some keiki paddles that we’ll be transporting back to our home club, Hoewa’a Dallas. Swinging through Berkeley, we’ll stop and say ‘aloha’ to Helen Workman, who has been most supportive of Stacie through her bout with breast cancer, and of our efforts with Hui Ho’ola. And, of course, we’ll hook up with Jude at his factory and load his baby up for her ride to Texas.

Snow on Cradles

(A light dusting of snow on the day of departure)

DAY ONE. Dallas, Texas. Estimated time of departure: 6AM

The overnight forecast called for a light ‘dusting’ of snow. When the alarm went off at 5, Stacie said that a couple of inches of snow had fallen last night. But when I poked my nose through the window blinds, I was stunned to see everything, including our carefully considered timeline, buried under 6” of new snow. I crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over my head. For the next three hours, we listened to traffic and weather reports and discussed our options. Finally, we decided to go for it, as the edge of the snowfall was a mere 35 miles to the west, and all we needed to do was to navigate to the far side of it and we’d be in the clear.

The City of Dallas had hired some seasoned snow plow drivers from Amarillo to keep the roads passable this Super Bowl Week, and they did a commendable job on the highways we traveled this morning. The snow-smothered roads were somewhat less treacherous than the black ice we had been spinning around on for three days, and the road conditions improved significantly the farther west we drove. But evidence of the week’s ice storm still lay strewn along the highway – dozens of 18-wheelers jackknifed in the most improbable contortions or laying crushed on their sides in the ditches.

Within a couple of hours we were driving under clear blue skies. The sun came out and we chased it all afternoon, past cow pastures, wind farms and oil fields. The sun finally outdistanced us, dropping below the horizon as we entered Odessa. We were quickly enveloped in the complete blackness of a West Texas night, and discovered for ourselves how big and bright are the Texas stars at night.

With the late start, we thought we might stop for the night shy of our intended destination. But we have made it to El Paso, so despite the morning’s several hours of indecision, our timeline remains intact after all. We’ve entered another time zone and are halfway to California. But we’ve yet to cross the Texas state line! Day Two will take us through Las Cruces NM, Tucson and Phoenix AZ to Los Angeles.

(Co-pilot Stacie will be interested to read this account, as she slept almost the entire way)

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(Everywhere you look, breasts)

DAY TWO. New Mexico & Arizona.

After traveling Texas highways for ten and a half hours the day before, it took us all of nine minutes this morning to cross the state line into New Mexico. While at first glance the New Mexico palette might be dismissed as bland, on closer inspection the scenery is filled with color: buttery yellow grasses, pink and purple mountains, overpasses painted turquoise, and the ever present mile-long freight trains hauling containers of every color. Stacie got a kick out of watching the tumbleweeds go bounding across the road ahead of us, and dubbed them the dust bunnies of the New Mexico desert. We read billboards spaced evenly from one end of the state to the other, every one of them directing us to identical trading posts to purchase mementos of our time in the Land of Enchantment. We finally stopped at one to check out the Native American arts and crafts. A carved lizard caught my eye. I turned it over and found a sticker proclaiming the piece’s Indonesian origin. Silly me, I thought the sign outside said Indian.

Crossing into Arizona, we drove through canyons and ghost towns and were surrounded in all directions by mountains. More often than not, the peaks bore a striking resemblance to female anatomy, reminding us of the reason behind our journey. In fact, such reminders were everywhere, as evidenced by the photos above.

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(The ghost depot of Stein, AZ)

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(Texas Canyon, AZ)

On this Day Two, we allowed ourselves some freedom to play, and indulged in a side trip to the aircraft boneyard and the Air & Space Museum in Pima. Major aircraft enthusiasts, it’s a place we’ve both wanted to visit and we had a blast trudging through the dust, poking our noses everywhere, and generally going, “wow . . . cool . . . damn.” The experience was fascinating, nostalgic and eerie all at the same time, bringing back childhood memories of hours spent building model airplanes and watching the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels perform their air show magic. But there was also that weird Twilight Zone-ish feeling to it all, being surrounded by ghosts. I’d say that’s one off our Bucket List, but as I scan the List, I see “Aircraft Boneyard” listed several more times!

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(Aircraft boneyard at Pima Air and Space Museum, AZ)

A few miles outside Phoenix we were teated to a spectacular Arizona sunset. The color combinations changed by the moment and stretched 180 degrees across the horizon. Now it was time for some sustenance for the night time portion of the drive. GPS reported that we were not yet in range of an In-n-Out Burger, so we stopped at Carl’s Jr., where Stacie ordered a low carb burger. Good sport that she is, she laughed out loud when she found that “low carb” meant “no bun!” We later stopped for the night short of LA in a town named Indio CA, somewhere between Palm This and Palm That.

DAY THREE. Super Bowl Sunday, California

We left our desert motel and continued our journey toward LA. For the first time in three days (and four states), we found a gas station whose window washing fluid wasn’t a solid block of ice. While it did nothing for the rest of our filthy truck, having a clear windshield again was a relief. Skirting downtown LA, we hopped on Interstate 5 for points north.

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(San Gabriel Mountains, AZ)

It occurred to me that my entire experience of California has been on its Pacific coast – San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego. I’ve never seen its interior. Well, it is lovely. Our path took us high into the San Gabriel Mountains and through the Angeles National Forest, then down again through miles of fruit trees, vineyards, dairy farms and aqueducts. As we neared the BayArea, the land began to rise into the most velvety green hills we’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of scenery that makes you want to slow down and take it all in. But we knew that at the end of this day’s journey a glass of red wine and good times with best friends awaited us. So we kept the the pedal to the metal.

Today was the first in which my Co-Pilot would take the wheel, so that I could catch up on blogging.

I-5 is an easy, uneventful drive. Then out of nowhere the windshield goes from clear to blurred. We went crashing through a swarm of insects whose impact on the windshield was felt as much as seen and heard. The remains of this encounter all but obliterated our view, and at the very next exit the windshield received its second bath of the morning. As I scrubbed I found that all of the victims were honeybees, and we felt sad. Someone later told us that they swarm in this warm weather. Funny how you can feel sympathy for one type of insect yet be indifferent or even pissed-off when a moth or a locust meets the same messy end.

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(Bay Bridge)

We found that GPS directions aren’t always the most sensible or economic. Ours was evidently programmed by a novice cabbie. But if you have the time – and enough gas in the tank – to roll with it, the path offers an unexpectedly beautiful visual experience. In this case, we drove across the long Bay Bridge, which deposited us into San Francisco, wound through downtown and onto the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Anyone familiar with the area will tell you how ridiculous this is. But we were thrilled to be able to view the surroundings from these two magnificent bridges. From there it was a short drive to Novato and the home of my best friend Christine, where the score was still Green Bay 0, Pittsburgh 0.

DAY FOUR. California

Today we take delivery of the Huki V2-X. Just saying the name makes me think of Speed Racer. Or maybe Marvin the Martian. We turn onto Duluth Street in West Sacramento, make a quick right and there she is. Long and sleek, blindingly bright in the morning sun. But more importantly, beside her stands Jude Turczynski. His generosity has already been made apparent with his loan of this beautiful canoe. But over the next two hours we experienced the true nature of his generosity. The man is humble and sincere, and entirely giving of his time, experience, knowledge, advice.

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(Jude Turczynski, Huki Outrigger & Surfski)

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We began with a tour of the Huki factory, surfskis, SUP’s, OC1’s and 2’s suspended from the ceiling. I want a chandelier like that in my house. We watched as his staff put the finishing touches on plugs from which to make new molds; applied gel coat to one mold, and foam to another; and polished up a finished hull. His guys took particular (and good-natured) pleasure in rehashing the Giants/Rangers World Series with us visiting Texans. Jude shared with us the the history of Huki as well as his philosophy on career. “If you do something that you’re passionate about, you will be happy. And if you are able to make a good living off of it, then that’s a bonus.”

He went through a thorough explanation of the V2-X, why certain things were designed the way they were and how they function, what to do if this or that happens, etc. We rearranged saddles on the truck and he custom fit foam blocks to support the canoe, then strapped her down for her trip to Texas. Finally, he deemed her solid and ready to withstand 75 mph highway speeds and desert crosswinds.

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(Sushi with the lovely Helen Workman, Berkeley CA)

We bid him aloha and made a beeline for Berkeley to meet Helen Workman. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have more time together today, but the hour and a half over sushi was filled with laughter, great paddle talk and people talk, and a filling-in of blanks in each other’s stories. As we expected it would, the time with Helen felt like a reunion with a long-time friend rather than a first face-to-face. Lunch ended all too soon, but we fully intend to take up the invite for a longer stay and some paddling the next time.

The air seemed to go out of our balloons after we left Berkeley, as the previous three days had been spent in complete anticipation of this day. Now, with the Huki strapped to the roof and our visits with Jude and Helen behind us, we felt the true weight of our fatigue for the first time. We drove down Interstate 5 in somewhat of a daze, and stopped for the night at the Best Western Big Country Inn in Coalinga, a classic in the best tradition of the old motor hotels.

DAY FIVE. California

It was still black as night when we stepped out the door of our motel room. The wind was howling through the palms, not the most ideal conditions considering we now had a 24-foot long sail atop our truck. But if Jude was confident with the rigging, then so were we. And sure enough, the boat was rock-steady all the way back to LA.

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San Gabriel Mountains CA)

The sun rose as we re-entered the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains, and we once again admired the beauty of this place. We knew we ought to enjoy it while we could because upon exiting the mountains, we would find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the LA rush hour. Oh thank Heaven for HOV lanes! Our 45 minute trip through the Los Angeles environs would probably have taken three hours in the regular lanes. As Stacie put it, “We didn’t get married for nothin’!”

We were on our way to meet Al Ching, from whom we were to take delivery of a dozen keiki paddles for Hoewa’a Dallas Outrigger Canoe Club. Al, along with his son – renowned champion paddler Danny Ching – met us at Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club in Redondo Beach. Al was one of the club’s founders in 1970, and served as coach for many years. Danny now holds the position of head coach. Al gave us a tour of the club grounds, which includes an impressive array of OC6s and OC1s, and a nightmare of “boat ramp.” It’s more like a series of concrete buttresses leading down to giant boulders at the water line. The idea of passing a 40′ canoe hand over hand down to the water is frightening. Not to mention bringing it back up after a tough practice. But judging by the twinkle in Al’s eye, the ramp is a point of pride for the club.

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(Al and Danny Ching, Redondo Beach CA)

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(OC1s at Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club)

We said our mahalos and alohas, had our tourist photo made with the famous Ching men, pointed the noses of the Tahoe and Huki eastward, and headed for home. While that may sound like the epilogue, we still have two days and half a continent ahead of us . . .

DAY SIX. Arizona, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas

Moseying across Arizona, through New Mexico, into Texas. Desert winds have been steady since we left California. Gas prices and air temperatures fall steadily as we travel eastward. The Arizona smokeys had a busy day – we passed almost 30 trucks pulled over by AHP. But for us, it was a slow and uneventful day. Actually, a slow and one-eventful day. Just a minor heart attack in New Mexico as the bow on the V2-X began to slide, ever so slightly, left then right. In seconds the movement had increased to an alarming level. With the next exit four miles away, we pulled out of the 80 MPH caravan, onto the shoulder and found that the forward foam support had rolled backward, leaving slack in the tie down straps. So we righted the support, wedged another foam block between it and the factory crossbar to prevent it from happening again, and continued on to Texas with no further drama.

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Oh, we stopped and had another In-n-Out Burger.

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DAY SEVEN. Home

Stacie did the driving honors today while I camped out in the passenger’s seat. The air outside was in the 20’s when we left El Paso, but the sunshine through the window was warm and I soon found out why this was the sleepy seat. When I woke, the mountains were far behind us with only 400 miles to go.

We had just noted that today’s blog was shaping up to be about as unexciting as yesterday’s, when something completely unexpected dropped down out of the sky. Cruising past the little town of Tye TX a vaguely familiar shape appeared above us. It shook me out of my daze and took me a second to (1) figure out what it was and (2) decide whether I was really seeing this. A B-1B Lancer bomber came swooping down, its wings sweeping forward as it banked, crossed before us again and descended into nearby Dyess Air Force Base. So now we had at least one thing to write about. Kind of a final entry to our list of aircraft encounters on this trip.

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(Photo of B1-B Lancer from the internet)

The last 200 miles went by quickly and before we knew it the skyline of Fort Worth loomed before us. Within the hour we rolled into our driveway. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Jude’s canoe was in Dallas, safe and sound.

Our thanks go out to several who made this trip possible, pleasant, successful and memorable: Dan, whose fault all of this is for inviting me to race with him in the first place; my parents Stephi and Chester who gifted us with a AAA membership, extra cash for the road and, perhaps most importantly, watched over our spoiled felines Bradley and Montana; best friend Christine for opening her home and her wine cellar to us; Jude for the generous gifts of canoe, time and expertise; Helen for her abundance of aloha, generosity and wit; Al for his hospitality and flexibility of schedule; Danny for inspiring paddlers young and old; everyone who called, texted and otherwise kept tabs on us throughout the trip; the hospitable folks across four states who offered smiles and kindness; and from me to my Co-Pilot Stacie for the invaluable one-on-one time together, for putting up with me for what must have seemed like a month and a million miles, and for keeping a keen eye out for In-n-Out Burgers along the way.

7 January 2015 / Conn Smythe

 

 

7 January 2015

I have to admit, after the handful of earthquakes we experienced yesterday, all I could think of as I sat at my desk was, “Do it again!” I say that half-jokingly, for the human arrogance that I believe is at the root of these north Texas quakes is the sort of thing that makes me wonder whether Earth wouldn’t be better off without homo sapiens. Anyway, we did experience a couple more slight rumbles in the morning, but nothing on the scale of yesterday’s events. So there I sat doing my creative thang, one part of my brain anticipating the slightest sound or shake out of the norm. The life of the modern day designer -this one, at least – is an overly sedentary one, and it’s important to change things up physically and mentally throughout the day. Get out of the chair, walk down a couple doors to bullshit with a colleague, roam the warehouse, give your eyes something different to focus on and release the brain from the rut in which it finds itself, hoping that when it returns to the task it’ll choose a slightly different path which will take us both to the promised land.

During one particular break, I came across an article about the origin of the name of each NHL hockey team. Actually not a very interesting article as most were simply submitted and voted on by fans, with little to do with much of anything. When I came to the Toronto Maple Leafs, it mentioned a man named Conn Smythe, who purchased the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927 and changed the team’s name to Maple Leafs.  Almost every hockey fan has heard the name Conn Smythe, for the trophy which is awarded each year to the player judged most valuable to his team during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is named The Conn Smythe Trophy. The Dallas Stars’ own Joe Nieuwendyk won the trophy in 1999. But beyond that, who is Conn Smythe and why did they name a trophy after him? So, as stated in my intentions for 2015, I did some research on this question for which I had no answer. The Conn Smythe Trophy was introduced in 1964 by Maple Leaf Gardens, Ltd, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, to honor Smythe, the former owner, general manager, and coach of the Maple Leafs. Beyond that, nothing I learned was interesting enough to repeat.

United Church - St. Patrick's hockey team - group of four.  -  December 3, 1926

(Photo: Constantine Falkland Cary Smythe, 1895-1980)

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(Photo: Joe Nieuwendyk)

So let’s just talk a sec about hockey itself. When you say the word ‘hockey,’ it should come out sounding like ‘khaki.’ That’s how the people up north pronounce it, and it’s their game. But this ice sport has caught fire down south. Who would ever have believed that ice hockey would survive, much less thrive, down hea where King Football rules? But the Dallas Stars have done just that, and delivered Lord Stanley’s Cup to the city in the process. I have become a die hard hockey fan, as have my kids, my wife, my sister. Actually, it was my sister Kelli who first piqued my interest in the sport, with her love for the New York Rangers. I love the speed and brutality of the game, and the grace, agility, awareness, deftness and toughness of the players. Hockey offers me the best value of any sport, providing far more action and excitement for the buck. Any time we travel out of town, if it happens to be anywhere near an NHL town, the first thing Stac and I do is check to see if the locals are playing. Last month we had the opportunity to catch two out of town games, one at The Garden and another in Philly. In the process, we created another hockey monsta, Toni Mesina.

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(NY Rangers v. Pittsburgh Penguins, Madison Square Garden, NYC)

 

 

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(Stacie and Toni Mesina, newest hockey fan, rockin’ their Stars beanies)

 

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(Philadelphia Flyers v. NJ Devils, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia)

While Dallas sports venues are all upper echelon facilities – we thoroughly enjoy the Platinum section at American Airlines Center (when we can), where sightlines are excellent and servers deliver your mixed drinks to you in your seat – there is something really special about experiencing a game in a historic arena, even if ‘historic’ in a particular case simply means old and dilapidated. Even the term ‘barns,’ as these old arenas are known, evokes visions of a more raw game, horrible acoustics, poor lighting, uncomfortable seats, rabid fans and players without helmets, goalies without masks. Unfortunately, these old barns are being steadily replaced by slick new stadiums which can generate huge revenues with their swanky suites and Corporate naming rights. We were fortunate to be able to see the New York Islanders play last season at their old barn Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, for next season the team will leave their home of 40+ years for the bright, shiny Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

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(Stacie at Nassau Coliseum, Long Island NY)

 

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(Rangers v. Devils, Nassau Coliseum)

Here’s a great article on hockey barns, and check out these old photos below . . . the charm of the barn.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-demise-of-the-nhls-barns-1412706057

Old_Mariucci_Arena_large oldbarn_interior travel_e_oldice_576 df9ff9a7-24a7-4bcd-948a-e96d8d4ec0b4-A09006 Mpls_Arena_largeold-mariucci model400

 

 

 

Songwriters, Cowboys and an Itinerant Artiste

September 2004

My raggedy backpack was stuffed with paint tubes, half of ’em having dried up years ago, brushes, fragments of conte crayons, crumbling erasers, rags, jars of rubber cement, again, dried up and hard as a rock, colored pencils of various lengths and brands, and a variety of loose change at the bottom. An artist-for-hire walking the halls of a seedy motel. Actually it was a nice hotel and the door to the suite was answered by a quiet, respectful gentleman who ushered me in and made small talk until the rest of the characters in this story arrived. Turns out, the talk wasn’t small at all. As I listened to his humble story, I was amazed to find that his Mama was the woman sung about in the song he co-wrote with Larry Collins and performed by the likes of Tanya Tucker and Helen Reddy. The man’s name was Alexander Harvey and his song was Delta Dawn.

Alex Harvey

(Photo: Alexander Harvey)

Soon enough, the door swung open, and a tiny, energetic man in a wife beater and a trucker’s cap strolled in. His first words were, “Is the ballgame on?” Teenie was his name and he flopped on the couch, claimed the TV remote and turned on baseball. Next through the door was Roger. Hawaiian shirt, ukulele, British accent, engaging personality. The next man in the door was bigger than life, in every way – size, smile, personality, presence, bling. His name was Mack. Sir Mack, that is.

So who are these guys and why am I and my bag of dried up paint tubes in a room with them? Well, a friend of mine had a wife, whom he then divorced. So he hired a divorce lawyer. The lawyer had a couple of friends that old Cowboys fans like me may remember: Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters, 43 and 41, respectively. The two former defensive backs chaired a fundraiser for The American Diabetes Association, and fundraiser means live auction. Through this arduous path of connections I was invited to help create two unique pieces for auction. So that there is the ‘why.’

As for the ‘who,’ they, in addition to Alex, are . . .

Alex-Teenie

(Photo: Alexander Harvey & Teenie Hodges)

. . . Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges who, along with my all-time favorite Al Green, wrote Take Me to the River. I daresay the number of artists who have covered this song is in triple digits, though my favorite versions are those by Al Green, Talking Heads and Annie Lennox. Teenie himself did his own soulful version later that night, along with other Al Green tunes he helped write, Love and Happiness and Here I Am (Come and Take Me).

Teenie Hodges-Roger Cook-Keith Sykes

(Photo: Teenie Hodges, Roger Cook and Keith Sykes)

. . . Roger Cook, who writes his songs while plinking on an ukulele. He is responsible for co-writing Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress) and I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony). Remember the latter from the old Coke commercials? The song was originally written as the jingle I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.

Sir Mack Rice

(Photo: Sir Mack Rice)

. . . ‘Sir’ Mack Rice. Who doesn’t love – and who hasn’t belted out – that greatest of juke joint tunes, Mustang Sally? Sir Mack wrote this classic.

Daylight was a-wastin’ and it was time to get to creatin’ some one-of-a-kinds for auction. For these I teamed up with Alex and Roger. My first task was to paint a woman and a large faded rose (from days gone by) onto a battered old suitcase (’cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand). In his own hand, Alex added the lyrics to the painted suitcase. On the back of one of Roger’s ukuleles, we did a similar treatment. I painted a long cool woman in a black dress and Roger added the lyrics in silver in his own handwriting. I was very proud of the way each piece came out, and I found out later in the night that one anonymous buyer had paid a pretty penny for both pieces.

The fundraiser was somewhat of a sensory overload, for the simple fact that everywhere I turned I found myself facing one of my Dallas Cowboys heroes, most notably Roger Staubach. I guess Harris and Waters had invited their NFL buddies to this shindig. Talking to these guys, all thoughts of asking for an autograph or taking selfies with them went out the window and, looking back on it, I’m glad I didn’t. It would have been unseemly and I’m certain the looks on my face would have been hideously comical.

After all the glitterati had forked over their bucks for a great cause and gone their separate ways, it was time for the songwriters to get together and jam. This truly was the highlight of the night, with these talented gents sitting around downing their hooch, caressing their instruments and singing songs of their own composition.

Shit, now I’ve got Mustang Sally stuck in my head.

6 January 2015 / What the Frack?

quake

6 January 2015

In the 1970s a tornado ripped roofs off the homes across the street while leaving our house untouched. Texas is one of those states prone to tornadic activity. They say a tornado sounds like a freight train. I could verify that except that I slept through the entire ordeal, damn it all. I remember one night, leaving my daughter’s place after dinner. The area was under a tornado watch, and the night was pitch black. Suddenly we heard the approaching sound of a freight train. I was about to experience my first tornado with my eyes open. The only thing is that in the darkness we couldn’t see which direction it was coming from, and that was pretty terrifying. Needless to say, when the headlight of a freight train suddenly emerged from the darkness, we were greatly relieved and felt more than a little silly.

I’ve always imagined that an earthquake would have a similar sound – a low rumble gradually growing in volume, becoming a roar which turns into a physical sensation. Likewise, the world would become an ever-increasing vibration, escalating in intensity until things starting falling off of shelves, cracks would race across walls and streets and then we’d all fall down. But my first experience with an earthquake was nothing like that. It started with an incredibly loud bang, as if said freight train had crashed into the building below my office window. This was followed immediately by a sound I’d liken to a 500-pound mad wearing clod-stompers running madly down the hallway outside my office. Simultaneously, there was the feeling that someone had grabbed the back of my chair, twisted it a quarter-turn counterclockwise and then wrenched it back before my brain could fully comprehend what had happened. And in less than 5 seconds it was all over. No time to climb under a desk or move into a door frame for protection. Not that protection was needed in this 3.5 mag quake. The girl in the next office experienced a similar twisting sensation, while the one in the next office down looked up as if someone was sledgehammering her ceiling. I was in the office until 9:30 pm and felt three additional tremors before leaving the office. All in all, through the morning of the following day, the area experienced 10 separate events.

There is a great debate in north Texas about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, known popularly (or unpopularly, depending on your views) as ‘fracking.’ Fracking is a well stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a hydraulically-pressurized liquid. A high-pressure fluid (usually chemicals and sand suspended in water) is briefly injected into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppants (either sand or aluminum oxide) hold the fractures open once the deep rock achieves geologic equilibrium.

Fracking is very controversial. Proponents advocate the economic benefits of more extensively accessible hydrocarbons. But the environmental impact includes contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, degradation of air quality, noise pollution, surface pollution and the consequential risks to health and environment. Also among the potential consequenses is the triggering of earthquakes. Increases in seismic activity following fracking along dormant or previously unknown faults are sometimes caused by the deep-injection disposal of hydraulic fracturing flowback (a byproduct of hydraulically fractured wells), and produced formation brine (a byproduct of both fractured and nonfractured oil and gas wells). For these reasons, hydraulic fracturing is under international scrutiny.

Seismologists from SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College are investigating the earthquake sequences in north Texas. But as a buddy of mine says, “I’ve lived here all my life and this shit never happened when we were growin’ up.” What more evidence do you need than that?

http://www.smu.edu/News/2015/earthquakes-study-irving-06jan2015

5 January 2015 / The Barnes Foundation

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(Photo: Albert Coombs Barnes 2 Jan 1872 – 24 Jul 1951)

5 January 2015

A few weeks ago Stacie, our friend Toni and I went to see the collection of art at The Barnes Foundation. Never have I seen a collection of such exquisite pieces, arranged with such thought and care. Dr. Barnes assembled his collection before any museum had an interest in Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist styles of art. Hence, no collection anywhere holds a candle to this one. The original home of The Barnes Foundation was in Lower Merion PA. In 1930, when Henri Matisse first visited the Foundation, he wrote in his notebook that it was the only sane place to view art in America. The collection is now housed in a beautiful new building and the architects have taken care to reproduce the rooms as closely as possible to the original home so that the pieces can be displayed with the relationships to each other that Dr. Barnes felt was so important to the viewing and learning experience.

At the time of our visit I was unaware of the story behind the movement of the Foundation from Lower Merion to Philadelphia. Watching the movie The Art of the Steal I became aware there was a very big story. Though I am thoroughly jaded where politicians and rich power brokers are concerned, I will not list here any of the facts and points made in the movie because the film is blatantly one-sided. Nevertheless, the story it tells is riveting and may be of interest to anyone who has had the privilege of visiting the Barnes Foundation. Despite my tendency to believe that altruism is simply a word in this day and age, I am thankful that with the Foundation’s move to Philadelphia, the opportunity was created for one such as me to view and experience this unique collection, put together and arranged by a remarkable man.

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(Photo: Original home of The Barnes Foundation, Lower Merion PA)

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(Photo: New home of The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia PA)

Here is a link to an article with a rich description of The Barnes Foundation in its original home:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/no-museum-left-behind