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Summer Travel Recaps and Swims

I hope you have been enjoying my theater reviews. I didn’t have any this week because I was still recovering from my trip and getting ready to cover the Toronto International Film Festival TIFF. You can read my daily TIFF logs here.

Theater and movies aren’t the only thing I’ve been enjoying this summer. After getting vaccinated I decided to rejoin the world of the living and began traveling and open water swimming. Here are some highlights.

Virginia

I started my summer visiting my sister in Virginia for a long weekend. It was a trip to dip my toe into travel so the focus was on family time vs activities (most of the activities were closed or limited anyway. We did have some yummy food, visited a beautiful rose garden, went to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and went to the 2nd Air and Space Museum.

One of the highlights was getting to visit with my college friend Joni who I haven’t seen in many years. After a year of barely seeing anyone it was nice to see an old friend.

Great Salt Lake Swim

Next up I completed my 6th finish of the Great Salt Lake Marathon Swim. I hadn’t done it in a while because the salt is so hard on my body but I wanted to embrace life this year so I went for it! It was very challenging and I didn’t think I could do it throughout but I finished! This year marks 10 years since my first marathon swim.

Family Reunion Torrey Utah

We had a nice family reunion in beautiful Torrey, Utah at the end of June. It was with my Moms side of the family and I got to see my cousins in a relaxed style reunion where we got to decide how to use our time and what we wanted to do. This is an ideal family reunion especially in a time of social distancing when some are still uncomfortable with large groups. It’s a beautiful part of Utah and I was glad to get to spend some time in the good old red rock!

Oceanside Visit

As an open water swimmer there is nothing I love more than being at the ocean. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to see the ocean in a long time. This summer I fulfilled a dream of not only taking a beachside vacation but also taking a trip with my podcast friend Dory who hosts the All the Feels podcast which covers Hallmark movies. She has been on Hallmarkies Podcast many times so it was so much to actually meet and see the ocean together. The great Air BandB we rented had one of the most incredible pools I’ve ever seen. It was a fantastic trip! I hope to go back again soon.

Deer Creek Swim

In August I finished my 8th time at the Deer Creek Open Water Marathon Swim. I always get super nervous before these swims but it’s always a great experience in the end. This time my friend Stefani was kind enough to paddle for me. She is the perfect person for such an assignment- so kind and encouraging.

Austin, Texas Trip

My last trip of the Summer was my first trip to Texas! I’ve long wanted to meet my friends Sean and Jennifer Chandler (I was thinking of going last year but then 2020 happened LOL). We had a great time together including getting to go the Barton Springs natural pool in Austin! I have never seen a natural pool quite like it (very cold at 65 degrees) and it was so much fun. We also had some good food and watched some questionable movies (the new Cinderella LOL). I went to church with Sean and Jennifer and got to listen to him speak here. I also got to see my best friend from college Emily. It made me realize how much I miss spending time with friends IRL. Aside from my friend Jen (who I value so much) I don’t do much with friends these days. I hope I get to go back soon.

Thanks to everyone who made this summer so memorable for me. Combined with all the shows I got to see it really has been a special time I will never forget. Fall and the holiday season will be very busy for me in my podcasting but I have a New York trip planned and hopefully there will be other neat experiences. I am very blessed.

What have you been doing this summer? I hope you have been able to get out safely and have some great times with family and friends.

[THEATER REVIEW] Mamma Mia! (Draper Amphitheater)

There is perhaps no musical that embodies the feel of summer more than Mamma Mia. It’s not the most sophisticated or profound but it is escapist fun. (I enjoy both of the movies as well!). Last Friday I had the chance to see Mamma Mia at the Draper Amphitheater with my friend Jen and we had a great time. I love outdoor theater and this production had it all.

One of my favorite parts was the set that captured the feel of a Greek island so well. I also liked the costumes and energetic choreography. There was a sense of family and chemistry amongst the cast that was contagious. I think even the most grumpy patron would smile at the antics on stage.

The music is of course loads of fun based on the songs of ABBA composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. My favorite number is probably ‘Dancing Queen’ as well as ‘Take a Chance on Me’. Stay around for the curtain calls because you get to hear ‘Waterloo’ which is a blast.

The plot is a bit of a stretch and the romantic in me wishes Sky and Sophie got married in the end but it’s still loads of fun along the way. I can’t believe this was my first show at the Draper Amphitheater but it definitely won’t be the last. I hope to return soon.

7.5 out of 10

Ranking My First 10 Live Theater Shows of 2021

With the world reopening in 2021 I made a goal to support local live theater as much as possible. Since I was 3 weeks post dose 2 of the vaccination in April I have attended 10 live shows (amazing right?) and I thought it would be fun to rank all of the shows. In truth I have enjoyed every single show and am so happy to be back at the theater that even a less good show is still a show! I also know much of the world is not as fortunate as I am here in Utah and don’t have the option of live entertainment yet, so please don’t see this as ungrateful. It’s just a fun exercise to look back on the shows I’ve been able to see, so here goes:

10. Emma– Hale Center Theater Orem

While I always enjoy the intimacy of HCTO, and I love Jane Austen the music and lyrics for this show were disappointing. It was all performed well but the songs were forgettable and bland. It just didn’t do much for me as a show, which is surprising because it was done by Paul Gordon who penned Daddy Long Legs, which I adore. Oh well!

9. The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber Live at the Eccles Theater

Seeing a big spectacle concert like this was a lot of fun, and I had a great time. The reason it comes so low is there were some production problems with the microphones that were frustrating particularly with David Osmond. If I hadn’t known the songs, I would have had no idea what he was saying. For $45 I expect those kinds of problems to be dealt with. However, it was still a very enjoyable evening of music and gravitas that only ALW can bring.

8. Aint Misbehavin- West Valley Performing Arts Center

This was a fantastic concert of jazz musician Fats Waller songs. The live orchestra was so much fun especially the piano player who put in a workout throughout the show. It comes lower on the list just because I like showtunes more than jazz, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I hope they keep making interesting shows at this new venue.

7. Thoroughly Modern Millie– Alpine Community Youth Theatre

These teens deserve a ton of credit for this production. The performances and energy were outstanding and whoever made the costumes did an incredible job. It’s not easy to perform outdoors but they did a great job and it was a terrific night of theater. However, the show itself isn’t my favorite. The whole plotline involving human trafficking is uncomfortable. I will definitely go to see this group again but hopefully next time it is for a show I like better (although ‘Not for the Life of Me’ and ‘Gimme Gimme’ are incredible songs!)

6. Matilda– Jaks Youth Theatre Company

Matilda is a show I had long heard about but never gotten the chance to see it until yesterday. This group of children and teens did a great job and the whole production had an energy I really enjoyed. The show is stolen by the 3 villains- The Trunchbull, and Mr and Mrs Wormwood. I’m not sure who the actors were in those roles but they did a great job and they had my favorite songs. The second act isa lot stronger than the first with all the memorable songs in the latter part of the show. I can definitely see Matilda becoming to a new generation what Annie was for my generation.

5. Annie Jr-Hale Center Theatre Orem

Speaking of Annie I thoroughly enjoyed the youth production of that show at Hale Center Theatre in Orem. I’m not sure what gets taken out from Annie vs Annie Jr but the young cast did a great job and the adults playing Miss Hannigan and Daddy Warbucks (as well as others) were fantastic as well. I have a fondness for Annie (I think it’s underrated!) and love any chance I get to see it performed live. Such a hopeful sweet show.

4. Les Miserables– Hale Center Theatre Sandy

Some people might be shocked to see Les Miserables in 4th place because I adore the show and have seen it 3 times on Broadway. Make no mistake I absolutely loved this show and it was such kismet that the first show I would see back from my break would be Les Mis which is so special to me. I love all of the songs and the story. However, I feel HCT could have used their stage more effectively and had it rotating so we could see all the sides of the barricade. Les Mis was known for a rotating stage and since they have the ability to move the stage I’m not sure why they kept it so static. That said, I still had a great time and would go see it again if I could.

3. She Loves Me– PG Players

Talk about a contrast from a big Hale production to this small production of She Loves Me. I adore She Loves Me to begin with and this was such a wonderful show. It was made better by being small and intimate with a cast that had great chemistry (the leads were a married couple which was fun). The quality of the singing and acting was fantastic and I will definitely be seeing more shows at the PG Library by the PG Players. Delightful

2. Daddy Long Legs- Hale Center Theatre Sandy

If I had to pick an underrated Broadway show this would be it. Daddy Long Legs is a 2 person show that is a completely charming love story. I enjoy all the songs and the staging at Hale was very inventive and fun. I also got to see my old teacher David Smith play the lead. It is my 3rd time seeing him in the role and he and costar Kelly Coombs had great chemistry. If you get a chance to see Daddy Long Legs at a theater near you do. It’s so good.

  1. Music Man– Center Point Legacy Theatre

To see Music Man at Center Point theater I had to drive all the way to Bountiful about 35 minutes but it was completely worth it. I love Music Man and this was a great production of the iconic show. I love the message of hope and that there are no lost causes- even a conman like Harold Hill can be redeemed. I love the songs especially ‘Trouble’, ’76 Trombones’ and ‘Till There Was You’. The performances were fantastic as well as the wonderful sets, costumes and shoutout to my friend Camille on the sound! It was a magical night of theater.

So there you have it! The first 10 shows I have seen! What an incredible experience I’ve had and I look forward to a summer of many more shows. If you know of shows I should check out please let me know. I know not everyone can support live theater right now but if you can I encourage you to do so. The arts are a treasure that makes life rich and powerful. Thank you to all the performers and teams that made all of these shows possible. It has been so fun!

[THEATER REVIEW] ‘Matilda’ (Jaks Youth Theatre Company)

Previous to tonight I had heard a lot about the musical Matilda based on the Roald Dahl novel I loved as a little girl. Today I finally go the chance to see it at the Jeanne Wagner Theater at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts Downtown. It was part of the Jaks Youth Theater Company which is a new group to me. New show, new group means lots of fun!

Like I said, Matilda is based on the Dahl book with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly. (If you want to see another fun show by Minchin check out Groundhog Day. You wouldn’t think it would work but it does!). Minchin brings a lot of humor into the songs especially the villain songs. That is definitely his strength.

Matilda tells the story of a little girl who just might be a genius named Matilda. When she starts school she’s already doing hard math and reading Dickens. Unfortunately she gets no help from her parents nor is her headmistress The Trunchbull any help. In fact, they are about as mean as you get.

Trunchbull singing ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ is one of the highlights of the show.

I also really enjoyed Mr and Mrs Wormwood (the program didn’t have who was who in the various casts). They sing a song called ‘Telly’ that was another highlight of Act 2

There were some audio and microphone issues that you always have with youth theater, but that was a small problem. For most of the show the production values were strong and the kids seemed to be having a great time, which is always the most important factor in youth productions.

When we got to intermission I wasn’t feeling the show. The songs were pretty bland, but the 2nd Act moved everything up a notch. It ended up being a really fun show that kids will have a blast starring in or helping to put on behind the scenes.

Everything else was done well by Jaks Youth Theatre and I’d definitely see one of their shows again.

7 out of 10

[THEATER REVIEW] ‘She Loves Me’ (PG Players)

One of my goals in this summer of theater is to check out playhouses I haven’t visited before. One such venue is the PG Players which host their shows at the Pleasant Grove City Library in Pleasant Grove Utah. This is a small venue with tickets at $15 for adults and $14 for students and seniors. I love the show She Loves Me (and You’ve Got Mail and Shop Around the Corner!). There’s just something so appealing about the idea of 2 people falling in love over letters!

She Loves Me is a musical with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Book by Joe Masteroff. It is based on The play Perfumerie which also is the basis for The Shop Around the Corner and then Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

The story, if you aren’t aware, is about 2 people who work at a department store and dislike each other. All the while they are writing each other as secret pen pals and falling in love as they do it. It’s charming and the songs are very entertaining especially ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘She Loves Me’

The PG Players production did a very good job taking advantage of the small stage they having using a folding set that moved and adapted to different scenes. The costumes worked and the leads were not only talented but had great chemistry. It stars a real life couple Alex and Melinda DeBirk as Georg and Amalia respectively (which explains the chemistry).

For the most part all the technical aspects were well done and it was a very enjoyable night of theater. I love small intimate theaters. I also loved the community spirit of this production. The directors, Howard and Kathryn Little, have been producing for PG Players for many years and several of the castmates have been in multiple productions together. It honestly makes me want to participate in a show someday. Such fun!

I definitely will see future shws at the PG Players. It was a great show!

9 out of 10

[THEATER REVIEW] ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ (West Valley Performing Arts Center)

One of the things I’ve missed the most in quarantine is live performance, live music. It’s just not the same over zoom as much as we try to make it so! So it was with great anticipation I made my way to the West Valley Performing Arts Center (former home of Hale Center Theater West Valley) to see their production of Ain’t Misbehavin’. This show is new to me and it was a rollicking good time!

Ain’t Misbehavin’ isn’t really a musical in the traditional sense. It’s billed as a musical revue and is made up of 30 songs from the jazz musician Thomas ”Fats” Waller. Previous to this show I had only heard of a couple of Fats songs particularly ‘I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ and ‘I Can Give You Anything but Love’. However, part of the fun of an experience like this getting to know and enjoy new songs.

The production at West Valley is small with only 6 actors who are very talented and put their all into the singing and dancing. I particularly enjoyed Krispin Banks as Ken and Daysha as Nell Carter. My favorite part of the evening though was the pianist Mark Johnson who gives a marathon of a performance along with the live jazz orchestra! What a treat!

West Valley has Footloose next on their roster and it probably would have been wise to start their season out with something more accessible and popular (a known IP and all). I went to Ain’t Misbehavin’ opening night and the audience was pretty sparse. Hopefully the word will get around and people will give it a try because it deserves to have an audience.

COVID-wise this was a very safe evening at the theater. They went above and beyond to ensure distancing, masks and even checked my temperature upon arrival. It was much better than what I experienced at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. So if you are concerned in that regard this one is the way to go.

8 out of 10

My Heart in a Pandemic

emergency room

Just wanted to give you all a quick update on my health. If you are following me on social media you have no doubt seen me discuss some problems I have been having with my breathing since I finished up Sundance in the beginning of February.

It felt like I was always gasping for breath and of course as this is a major symptom of COVID19 I became very concerned. I saw a doctor at the beginning of March and he said it was just asthma inflamed by allergies and gave me a prednisone and inhalor prescription. These helped a little bit but the problem persisted. I was then tested for COVID19 and it came back negative. What could this be? I did not know!

Then last week I went into the doctors because I was afraid I was going to stop breathing all together. After examining me they found my blood pressure to be very high and my heartbeat and breathing to be elevated. They strongly encouraged me to go to the emergency room which, despite the expense, I decided to do.

At the emergency room I went through over 8 hours of testing (even though I was in the respiratory unit the place was completely empty which surprised me with COVID19 going on) and the doctor noticed something strange in an ultrasound of my heart, which he told me to have a cardiologist take a look at.

The next day I made an appointment for an echocardiogram, which was administered on Friday. I then talked to the doctor over the phone because of social distancing concerns. He was very encouraging and helpful, which was a great relief. He told me I have systolic heart failure which has to do with the left ventricle of your heart and that I have a problem with my ejection fraction (a measurement of how much blood your left ventricle is pumping out). Mine is at 30% when it should be more like 65%.

It might sound weird, but I was thrilled to have a diagnosis and treatment plan. For months I had been dealing with this mysterious breathing problem and having an unidentified medical condition is the worst. While not a good thing, this condition is treatable and I am working with the doctor to overcome. That’s the best I could hope for in such a situation!

The doctor has me on 4 different medications and I am taking my blood pressure/weight each day. I am also trying to eat as little salt as possible. In under a week of treatment I’ve definitely felt a difference, and I am highly motivated to continue to improve my health. I’ve been too lazy about it for too long!

If you have any favorite low sodium recipes I’d love to try them. The only major downside is I have to be extra vigilant with social distancing until the blood pressure gets under control. If I were to get COVID in this state it would be disastrous. I was already doing well with my isolation but not even going to the grocery store is going to make me crazy!

I guess at least I have plenty of motivation to get those numbers down and under control!

Most importantly I am grateful for my family and friends who I have missed terribly during this difficult time. Nevertheless, I have been thankful for all the emails/phone calls and social media posts that have come in (and prayers). Thank you for all the support. I am also grateful for the excellent medical care I have received from doctors, nurses and more.

I know this is just the beginning of a long journey to a healthy heart, but I feel at peace about it. I’ve been doing these Sunday Devotionals each week since being in quarantine. This has helped me be in a spiritually strong place for this health crisis. I have felt God’s guiding hand and His spirit comfort me each step along the way.

I hope He is helping you through this tough time. God bless!

Isolation, Family and Spirituality

As we all know the world has been put on lockdown and we are all waiting for COVID19 to take its toll and finish its course across this country (to a reasonable degree at least). Just when I think it couldn’t get any worse it does until I want to hide away in a little ball in my room. In many ways I feel like Elsa in Frozen but without a sister knocking on my door trying to play with me. It’s been such a surreal time!

While this time of quarantine has been very difficult there have been some surprises. First, I have been cooking way more. For a single person I think I was pretty well prepared and have a robust pantry (and fortunately had just gotten my toilet paper order from amazon the week before this all started!). While I have made 2 or 3 trips to the grocery I’ve kept it to a minimum and have rarely left my house. This has left me to cook almost all of my meals. I honestly didn’t realize how much I was eating out, so it has been very rewarding.

Secondly, my family has grown closer from all of this. My family is a combination of people who love each other but are all very different. Everything from our ages, distances apart, to our life choices make it challenging to develop a close bond. However, when all this started someone began an email chain and we’ve kept it up and all updated how we are feeling and dealing with this situation. This may sound like a small thing but it’s been big for me. I feel closer to my family than I have in a long time and for that I am truly grateful.

Finally, this time of isolation has actually proven to be a time of spiritual growth. While I have definitely had my lonely times (thanks for helping me deal facebook friends!), I’ve also had more time with the scriptures and my thoughts with God. In order to help my friends who are without church I started doing a Sunday Devotional series over on my youtube channel where I share a talk on a nondenominational topic and then discuss the subject with a friend of mine (Caroline and twice Chris from Durbania). I’m very proud of the series and even if it doesn’t help others (which I hope it does) I have been very edified by it. It reminds me of my days as a Sunday School teacher, which was a very rewarding time in my life.

So far we have talked about kindness, courage and hope. Next week is on forgiveness. I would love your thoughts on topics or anything else that might help the series. I hope you find it as comforting as it has been for me to prepare.

Fortunately, I tested negative for COVID19 so I feel a calm I had been missing for some time. It has been a tough time but I am so grateful for my job with Kobayashi and everybody involved with both of my podcasts. I am extremely blessed beyond measure. I hope that you have found ways to be edified during this difficult time. Please share your stories and what you have done to survive (maybe even thrive) during this time of isolation. God bless you all

ps. If anyone reading has the ability to support my efforts as a freelancer/podcaster I’d sure be grateful. Every little bit helps https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies

COVID19 and Taking Away My Third Place

movies

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well and surviving this crazy situation in the best way you know how. COVID19  or The Coronavirus (not sure when you use which name tbh) has come upon us and not only made people sick but done a thrashing on our entire society. Nobody has been left unharmed. We now just have to wait and see how long it will last and how we will recover/regroup.

Honestly when this all began a few days ago I was a little over-confident in my coping abilities. I thought with what I joke as my hermit lifestyle this would be easy. I work from home, am well stocked with a pantry/freezer and don’t have any kids. I kind of already did an experience like this when I tore  my MCL in 2014 and had to be bedridden for 3 months. It was all going to be easy-peazy.

Well, I am here to tell you I was wrong. While I certainly don’t have it nearly as bad as most the whole experience has been surprisingly emotional. While I am more home-bound than most people it has been eye-opening to realize how much the social interactions I did have meant to me.

Obviously the biggest loss for me is the movie theater. It is not uncommon for me to see 4-5 movies a week, if not more. I frequently love to go down to the arthouse theater and make a whole day of seeing movies. Just last week I saw 3 movies in a day:  Emma with my Mom, an early screening of My Spy (our last screening for a while), and because I knew it would be the last chance A Portrait of a Lady on Fire at the Broadway.

I saw Emma again on Sunday night and as I left the theater I started to cry.  It might sound silly to some but not having the theater is a real loss for me. As I was crying I realized the movie theater is my ‘third place’.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg came up with the idea of the ‘third place’. Every human he surmised has 3 places- home, work and a third place. Usually this place is some type of communal experience with both familiar and new acquaintances. It’s a chance to bond with others and feel a part of a team in a different way than work.

Sometimes I go to the movies alone but even then it’s still a communal experience where I can relax and participate with others in enjoying (or not enjoying) the film. In addition, I have my community of local critics and fellow movie buff friends like Jen who goes to most of the screenings with me. Now that experience has been taken away from me and it has felt like a real loss.

Like I said, obviously many are actually suffering with illness and even death so I don’t have much cause to complain but it is a loss nonetheless. In addition, I have the added stress of speculating what the fallout of all of this will be. I don’t see how it is not completely devastating to the arts and the longer it goes the worse it will be.

Fortunately I have my podcasting which I can do right from home and that is a tremendous blessing. It allows me to connect with my fellow collaborators and cohosts and keep some degree of normalcy for myself and hopefully for the listeners as well. I am beyond grateful for both of my podcasts and I hope they can be help provide some entertainment and relaxation for you during this intense time.

For Hallmarkies Podcast click here.

For Rachel’s Reviews click here.

I was also obviously very sad to lose weekly church services. To try and have some spirituality during this time I started a series on my channel where I give a little talk and chat  about a topic with a friend of mine. Here is the first one on the virtue of kindness.