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Random Friday Thoughts — August 29, 2014

Happy Friday and surprise as I’ve put together some random thoughts to kick off the weekend!  I hope it’s a good one.

BIRTHDAY TRIP IS STILL ON

My 50th birthday vacation and celebration is now just six weeks away and it’s still on.

In case you didn’t read my blog from last Friday, the conflict between Israel and Palestine has us, at least, reconsidering that leg of the trip.

Tel Aviv Mediterranean Sea

Here’s that blog that talks about both continents that we plan on visiting.

http://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/50th-birthday-plans-revealed/

THE LATE GREAT, GRACEFUL ARTHUR ASHE

Since I’ve been walking on the treadmill so much this year to prepare me for my fall trips, I’ve read many books.

I just finished “Days of Grace” by tennis great Arthur Ashe, who won three Grand Slam tournaments:  the U.S. Open in 1968, the Australian Open in 1970, and Wimbledon in 1975 against Jimmy Connors.

Arthur Ashe - Days of Grace

In this book, Ashe not only talked about his tennis achievements and disappointments, but also about growing up in a very segregated Richmond, Virginia, in the 1950s.

Even as he became a tennis professional playing in tournaments around the world, Ashe still faced obstacles.  If not facing blatant racism, there were those including his friend, fellow tennis legend Billie Jean King, that expected him to react differently to certain situations and she teased him.

She once said, “I’m blacker than Arthur“.  Ashe responded to that in the book with “I suppose she meant that I was not impulsive or explosive enough.  Maybe I should have called her a name, or slapped her around a little, and thus demonstrated my ‘blackness.’  Unfortunately, I don’t call people names, and I have never slapped anybody in my life.  Besides, she might slap me back.”

In the book that was co-written by Arnold Rampersad, Ashe talked at length about the heart attack in July 1979 and the quadruple bypass five months later that ended his tennis playing career.  Another heart surgery in 1983 to correct the first bypass would change his life forever.

Ashe needed a blood transfusion after that surgery that infected him with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.  However, it wasn’t until he had paralysis in his hand in late 1988 that doctors discovered that not only had he been infected with HIV, but that he had developed AIDS.

HIV AIDS

He talked a lot in the book about the the moral and religious aspects of sexuality.

“I want them to be familiar with the teachings of the Bible and with other religious doctrines.  Because of AIDS, however, I am equally committed to the policy of giving condoms, as well as the bare, unvarnished factors about sex and AIDS, to students.  I want adolescents caught up for the first time in the sizzling heat of sex to know scientifically about the penis, the vagina, and the rectum; about blood, sperm, and mucous membranes; about pregnancy, viruses, and the fatality of HIV.  In the midst of an epidemic that will only grow worse, I have no time for evasions and euphemisms or other timidly genteel deceptions in teaching young people who are either sexually active or on the brink of becoming so.”

Ashe died on February 6, 1993, at the age of 49, just a week after he finished writing his part of “Days of Grace”.

THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY

I’ve only been to the movies twice this year.

Back in January, I saw “August: Osage County” and I loved it.  Since then, there have been a couple of movies that grabbed my attention (“Godzilla” is one of them), but it didn’t make me go.

Once I saw the trailer to “The  Hundred-Foot Journey”, I knew I would be there on opening day.  If you love food porn, this is the movie for you.

Oscar winner Helen Mirren stars as Madam Mallory, the owner of a Michelin-star restaurant in the South of France.  Her life is turned upside down when an Indian family moves in across the street from her and opens a restaurant serving authentic Indian food.

Madam Mallory does whatever she can to make sure the new venture fails.  Even so, she’s captivated by the charm and the cooking expertise of young Hassan, played by the charismatic and beautiful Manish Dayal.

You figure out early on how the movie will play out, but it’s still a great journey.

The movie, brought to us by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, has grossed $33.7 million.

GRADE:  A-

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAY!

Ray turned 49 again (51 in reality) this week.

Ray BD

He chose Mexican for his birthday dinner at Los Agaves, a newer restaurant, on Avenue of the Cities in Moline.

While the food and the service were less than stellar compared to the chain’s other restaurant on John Deere Road, he enjoyed it.

Here’s to 50 more birthdays Ray!

DIVERGENT

After seeing the first two “The Hunger Games” movies, I’m no longer interested in seeing the final two movies in the franchise.  The reason, “Divergent”!

This futuristic dystopian science fiction film takes place in Chicago where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues:  Abnegation the selfless, Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Dauntless the brave, and Erudite the intelligent.

Each person takes a serum-based aptitude test to best place them into one of the factions.  Those that exhibit several factions are called “divergent” and are seen as a threat to social order.

Shailene Woodley plays Beatrice, a young woman who chooses Dauntless, much to the chagrin of her parents (played by Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn), even though she’s really “divergent”.

She is trained by the very sexy, smoldering, and tattooed Four, played by Theo James.

She must keep the fact that she’s “divergent” from the icy Jeanine, the leader of Erudite, played with perfection by Oscar-winner Kate Winslet.

The movie made $275 million dollars in theaters and the sequel “Insurgent” arrives in March 2015.  That will be followed by two more sequels in 2016 and 2017.

AMY GRANT REMIXED!

Amy Grant is sitting at #4 on the Billboard Dance chart this week with a song she first charted back in 1991.

Since her first Christian hit in 1977, Amy Grant has hit the top of that chart 16 times and she’s also crossed over to the pop chart.

Amy has a total of ten Top 40 hits of the Billboard Hot 100, including five from her 1991 album, “Heart in Motion”, that sold more than five million copies in the U.S.

Of those pop hits, two have topped the Hot 100, “The Next Time I Fall”, a duet with Peter Cetera in 1986, and a solo hit, “Baby Baby”, for two weeks in the spring of 1991.

Amy Grant

Her new album is called “In Motion: The Remixes” and it features remixes of some of her biggest hits by some of today’s hottest DJs, including Chris Cox, Tony Moran, Moto Blanco, Ralph Rosario, and Hex Hector.

“Baby Baby”, remixed by Dave Aude, moves up to #4 on the Billboard Dance chart.

REMEMBERING LAURA BRANIGAN

This week marks the tenth anniversary of Laura Branigan’s death.

Laura Branigan was from New York and in the early-1970s, she was in a band called Meadow, but they never charted.

As a solo artist, Laura’s first four releases didn’t make an impact at radio or on the charts.  The biggest of those, “All Night With Me”, which was the first release from her debut album, “Branigan”, peaked at #69 in 1982.

However, everything changed with the second single from that album!

Laura-Branigan-Gloria

Not only did “Gloria” reach #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, it earned Laura a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Pop Vocal Performance – Female”.  However, she lost to Melissa Manchester’s “You Should Hear How She Talks About You.”

The follow-up album, “Branigan 2″, came out in the spring of 1983.  The first single, “Solitaire” hit #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it was followed by “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” (#12).

In the spring of 1984, Laura released her third album and the title track, “Self Control”, is still my favorite Laura Branigan song to this date.  It made it all the way up to #4.

In 1995, Laura released the last music video of her career for the album, “The Best of Branigan”.  It was for the remake of the Donna Summer classic, “Dim All The Lights”, in which she was partying it up with a group of drag queens. It reached #36 on the Billboard Dance chart.

She withdrew from the music business in 1994 to care for her husband, Larry, who had colon cancer.  He would succumb to the disease in the summer of 1996.

Eight years later, Laura died in her sleep on August 26, 2004, of an undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm and her ashes were scattered over Long Island Sound.

Laura, your music will always live on!

A PEPPY ANSWER TO SEXISM IN COUNTRY MUSIC

To the good ol’ boys in country music, move over for the Texas and Oklahoma duo of Maddie & Tae.

They’re currently at #17 on  the Billboard Country chart with their first hit single, “Girl In A Country Song”.

THAT’S IT

Thank you for checking out my random thoughts and have a fantastic weekend!

Anthony

 

 

50th Birthday Plans Revealed!

A milestone birthday is coming up for me in less than two months.  I’ve been living my life planning on this for almost 50 years now.

Dessie-Hollie-Anthony -- Fall 1964

My mother didn’t get that opportunity and my father barely made it.  She died at 47 (in 1990) and he passed away at 55 (in 1987).

So, what’s a few wrinkles and a head full of gray hair?  I never had a six-pack stomach, so as I get old/older, I don’t have to worry about losing that.  And, I can’t be all that disappointed that I have to work a little harder to keep the slowing metabolism in check.

AP 1st Birthday

While I definitely love cake, even that boring white cake for my first birthday in 1965 (Happy Birthday Crystal!), there’s a chance that I won’t have a cake this year — unless I have it early or late.

Since you only turn 50 once, Ray and I decided to make both of  our “nifty fifty” birthdays memorable.  Last year, he celebrated with a Danube River cruise that allowed us to spend a day in Zurich, Switzerland, and to visit Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Since then, we’ve been saving our pennies (okay, mostly dollars) to make another international trip to celebrate my 50th.

However, the second part of that trip may now be in jeopardy due to missiles, bombs, bullets and bloodshed.  While we’re not changing the itinerary just yet, a back-up plan is being considered.   More on that shortly.

When we started planning the trip, it was going to be an overnight flight from the United States to the Mediterranean destination of my dreams with a plane transfer and four hours of sit-time in Paris, France.

Dreams of wine, cheese, and pastries began filling my head.

Pastries

At that point, we decided instead of spending seven nights on the Mediterranean Sea, we could spend three nights in Paris and hit two continents!

Picnic

So, now I plan on spending my birthday sitting in a park having a picnic of wine, cheese, fruit, bread, and pastries in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower — rain or shine!

eiffel-tower-at-night-with-moon

While Ray and I each paid for the trip, I already know what my birthday present is from him — a Sunday evening that includes a three-course dinner cruise on the Seine River, a one-hour visit to second floor of the Eiffel Tower to look out over Paris, and an evening at the world-renowned Moulin Rouge!!!

Now, about my original 50th birthday destination spot before Paris crashed the party!  I’ve always wanted to visit Tel Aviv, Israel, the fifth most visited city in the Middle East on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.

Tel Aviv Mediterranean Sea

Tel Aviv is known for its dynamic atmosphere and famous 24-hour culture earning it the nickname, “party capital”.

It’s also known as “The City That Never Sleeps”, “The Bubble”, and “The White City” (for the more than 4,000 buildings built-in a unique style from 1930s German-Jewish architects and, yes, the buildings are white!).

Tel Aviv

Since Tel Aviv is Israel’s financial capital and is compared to New York City, it’s also nicknamed “The Big Orange”, because of the famous Jaffe (now a part of Tel Aviv) orange — a very sweet, almost seedless fruit similar to the Valencia orange.

We booked this trip back in January, but once the Israel-Gaza conflict started back in early July, which has led to bombings and missile strikes that have claimed more than 2,000 lives, mostly in Gaza, we thought about choosing another destination.

However, Tel Aviv is still the safest city in Israel and we’re still going.

So, that is how I plan on spending the last days of my 40s and the first few days of my 50s.

In the words of French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement, Victor Hugo, “forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age”.

Anthony

One (Culinary) Reason To Visit Branson

A couple of weeks ago, we took a little road trip seven hours away from the Quad Cities to spend a few days in Branson, Missouri, in the Ozarks.

This time, it wasn’t just the two of us.  We took Gretel and her best friend, Zoe, along with us.  Let’s just say it was an interesting time hanging out with two thirteen-year-old girls!

While definitely a tourist trap, it was beautiful with all the trees.  We took advantage of nature and the nice weather and took the girls hiking in the Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area for a few hours.

Hiking

On Friday evening, we enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle. 

The show, featuring a comedian/magician, music, and aerial stunts with complete with fiddle playing, was fantastic. 

The only down side was that between the show and dinner, we didn’t get to enjoy the deck during much of the cruise.  It may have been that we went on the 8 p.m. cruise and it was dark, so the show may have been longer since you couldn’t see as much outdoors as you could during the day?

On Saturday, we visited the Silver Dollar City theme park and I took my first real roller coaster ride with Zoe on the “Wildfire”!

Anthony Roller Coaster

At 120 feet high and a top speed of 66 miles-per-hour, the “Wildfire” is the tallest and second fastest ride at Silver Dollar City.  It covers more than three thousand feet of track and features five upside down turns and loops!

Roller Coaster

The thrilling ride only lasted what seemed like a minute or so, but seeing the Ozarks from that vantage point and knowing that I could die at any moment made the ride more exhilarating and incredible.

I wanted to do it again with Ray, but we decided against having both adults on the thrilling, life-defying ride.  So, he rode it with Zoe, who was more than willing to take another spin on it!

That evening, we bought snacks at a fun grocery store, Price Chopper, and sat by the pool, drank wine, and played Marco Polo with some other hotel visitors from Oklahoma and Chicago.

Now, on to one of my favorite topics — food.

On the drive down on the first night, we stopped outside of Branson in Ozark, Missouri, and had a southern meal at Lambert’s  Cafe, “Home of the Throwed Roll”.  Yes, grammatically incorrect, but it’s a slogan known across the South and Midwest!

Lambert's Food

The food was amazing and, luckily, no one in our party dropped any of the tossed rolls that came our way!

However, the highlight of the trip for me is something that I’d highly recommend for anyone visiting Branson.

On Sunday, as we were leaving town, we stopped at The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks for Sunday brunch at the Dobyns Dining Room.

Keeter Center 1

From the moment we walked into the rustic building and were escorted to our seats right past the most beautiful display of homemade desserts, I knew I was in heaven.  If you know anything about me, you know how much I love desserts and I would forsake the food pyramid for sweets.

Needless to say, my first plate of food was dessert.

Dessert 1

Now, since we were with two impressionable teenagers, I wanted to set a good example.  So, I sampled only a bite or two of the dessert plate before moving on to my first plate of real food — fruit, cheese, and two different salads.

I then tried a few breakfast items and a couple of lunch options.

Entree Plate 2

Our server, Stephenson, a student from Haiti, was very attentive.  The culinary staff’s presentation of made-to-order waffles and omelets, numerous breakfast and lunch items, including carved meats, and a made-to-order pasta station was very elegant.  I skipped the pasta station, but Gretel says it was delicious.

After trying all that I wanted, my third plate of food focused mainly on my favorite part of the brunch (desserts withstanding).

Summer Salad

It was a refreshing and stunning summer salad with spinach, almonds, peaches, watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, feta cheese, and a honey-citrus dressing, if my memory serves me right.

After finishing my third helping of the summer salad, I moved on to finish my first of two dessert plates and then I sampled Ray, Gretel, and Zoe’s desserts, too.

While every dessert that I sampled was superb, my favorites were the orange-flavored baklava, caramel peanut clusters, white chocolate peanut clusters, lime cheesecake, and the pralines.

Dessert Plate 2

College of the Ozarks, just outside of Branson in Point Lookout, Missouri, provides a  “Christian education to those who are found worthy, but who are without sufficient means to obtain such training.  Instead of paying tuition, all full-time students work campus jobs to defray the cost of education”.

Maybe it is because of these principles that everyone was so warm and inviting from the moment we walked in to when we left.  They worked effortlessly to make sure our dining experience was superior.  And, it was.

Culinary Staff

I don’t recall what we were reading online when we found this place when researching Branson, but I’m glad we did.

Would I ever go back to Branson?  Probably not — unless I was going just for the brunch at The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks!

By the way, Ray wants me to point out something.  Those are Gretel’s blue fingernails in the first picture.  Much to his chagrin, people on Facebook thought they were his when he initially posted the picture. :)

Anthony

Random Friday Thoughts — July 25, 2014

Happy Friday!   The weekend is here and I hope you have a great one.

While this is a condensed “Random Friday Thoughts”, it’s still something unexpected and fun to post since I’ve missed my blog.

MIDDLE EAST FIGHTING

As the fighting in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine escalates, the death toll continues to rise.  So far, roughly 760 people have died in Gaza and the Israeli death toll is around 35.

Earlier this week, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both halted flights from the U.S. to Israel, while airlines in Germany, Italy, and France joined in prompting the European Aviation Safety Agency to issue an advisory.

“PRAY FOR PEACE”

Meanwhile, country music and entertainment superstar Reba McEntire released her first new song since 2012 asking the world to “Pray For Peace”.

Reba

Reba stated on her Facebook page, “The idea to write the song “Pray For Peace” came to me last year as I was walking on our place in Gallatin, Tn. For days I’d sing, “Pray for Peace”, over and over. It wasn’t until several months later did the other parts start to fall in place. Some, not until we got into the studio to record it.”

She adds, “It’s an act of perseverance, prayer, hope, fellowship and mostly love.”

You can see the finished video (with music) here:  http://reba.com/

MADONNA CATCHES HEAT

Also, international music icon Madonna is earning praise and a lot of flak for posting this picture on social media.

Madonna Flowers

The caption was “These flowers are like the innocent children of GAZA! Who has a right to destroy them? No One!!!! CEASE FIRE! #peaceinthemiddleeast” -Madonna.”

Responses on her Facebook page have been rather passionate.

Positive:   “She Can Support whoever she wants to… so whats the Problem? Im a Madonna’s Fan, Im Not Supporting Israel, Im not supporting Gaza, Im Just Supporting The Peace, The Children’s Life are Important, Doesn’t matter the side of they come from.

And, ” Thank you Madonna for shedding light on human rights abuses in the Middle East. Every life is precious and no child should die.

Negative: “you Madonna have no rights to say this kind of things about the children in Gaza !  These children are taught from childhood to hate us and want to kill us and destroy the people of Israel ! …  “SHAME ON YOU MADONNA !  I’m not a fan anymore!”

And, “Madonna talking about politics is a bit like George w Bush trying to point Iraq on a map before attacking it.”

Madonna Defend Human Rights

This prompted Madonna to post this follow-up an hour or so later.

Madonna Hamas

EMMY NOMINATIONS — A HIT AND TWO MISSES

Kudos to the Emmy Awards for nominating transgender actress Laverne Cox is the proper category “Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series” for her work in “Orange Is The New Black”!

Hannibal-NBC-Poster-2012

Sadly, no nominations were given to the NBC series, “Hannibal” or for any of the actors.  This is by far, the best and most intelligent show on television!  Maybe next year?

And, Emmy also snubbed “The Walking Dead” for acting awards AGAIN!  There was a lot of buzz and hope that Melissa McBride would get a nomination for her heartbreaking performance this season.

the-walking-dead-season-4-emmy-ad

McBride did win the “Saturn Award” this year and is nominated for the “Gold Derby TV Award” for Best Supporting Actress.

ERASURE IS BACK!

My favorite English band, Erasure, is gearing up for the release of their latest album, “The Violet Flame” in September.

The first single, “Elevation”, just came out and it’s incredible.  Andy Bell sounds amazing and it’s a fresh new sound for the every changing electronic duo.

I can’t wait to see them in concert in Chicago on October 4th.

If you’re not all that familiar with Erasure or you want to know just how much I love their music, check out this blog from June.

http://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/my-fall-just-got-more-exciting-with-erasure/

GOP HAS A NEW FRONT RUNNER?

The “crazy train” may have derailed in 2012, but it may be back on the tracks for the 2016 presidential race.

Bachmann

Michele Bachmann tells RealClearPolitics, “there’s a chance I could run.”

REMEMBERING TAMMY FAYE

It was seven years ago last weekend that televangelist Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner died after an 11-year battle with cancer.

tammy-faye book

I just finished her book and it made me look at her in a new light.

If you missed my blog about her, the book, her life, and her thoughts, here’s the link:

http://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/remembering-tammy-faye/

CANCER SURVIVOR INSPIRES ME

Cancer is scary and we all know or love someone that has been touched by it.

I have and I’ve already had three cancer scares.  I just read the most incredible and the best book ever about a Chicago chef that faced his biggest fear, tongue cancer — something that could have either killed him or ended his career.

Life+On+the+Line

Check out Grant Achatz’s amazing story in this blog.

http://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/chicago-chefs-courageous-fight-makes-me-fear-cancer-less/

STILL LOVE THIS CRAZY SONG

The Chainsmokers are an American DJ duo that have remixed songs for The Killers, Icona Pop, and Ellie Goulding.

Their first radio hit in America, #SELFIE, reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top Ten on the Billboard Dance chart.

It also reached #1 in Finland, #2 in Sweden, and #3 in Australia and Norway.

VIDEO MAY BE APPROPRIATE FOR EVERYONE!

The video has been viewed more than 181 million times on YouTube.  Now, go take a selfie!

THAT’S IT

So there’s your surprise “Random Friday Thoughts”.  Have a great weekend!

Anthony

 

Remembering Tammy Faye

Her make-up and appearance was mocked and ridiculed on talk shows and in comedy routines across America.  It hurt her feelings.

Tammy Faye 2

She and her ex-husband, televangelist Jim Bakker brought fame and fortune to a struggling religious snake named Pat Robertson and then they went on to build one of the biggest religious television empires with the PTL Club.

Jim and Tammy Faye

Then, they were disgraced by Jim’s one-time sexual encounter with an unstable, religious groupie named Jessica Hahn.  That and the $279,000 that Hahn was paid to keep it silent went public in the late-1980s.  That scandal was quickly followed by fraud indictments and a conviction that landed Jim Bakker in prison.

Through all of the physical appearance mockery, the pain of building and losing their televangelist empires, losing all their money, Bakker going to prison, and ultimately, the crumbling of their marriage and then divorce, Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner remained strong.

However, after an 11-year-battle with colon cancer, Tammy Faye lost the fight seven years ago today, July 20, 2007.

roe_messner_2007_07_18

When she died, she only weighed 65 pounds and she had appeared on the “Larry King Live” show the night before.

I just read Tammy Faye’s book, “Telling It My Way” and it is a very touching book.

tammy-faye book

While I never made jokes about her make-up, I probably did make comments about it if the conversation came up.  However, I never really followed Tammy and Jim Bakker because I never believed in television evangelism.

I believe that people can have a loving, strong relationship with God, just as I do, without the bureaucracy of church and organized religion.

After reading Tammy’s book, I sincerely believe that she loved God and was always faithful to his teachings.

I believe that there were a lot of unsavory financial dealings in the PTL Club and Jim Bakker’s Christian theme park, water park, and residential complex, Heritage USA.

I also believe that Tammy might have known more about what was going on than she let on in the book.  However, she could have been oblivious to it, because she did come across as sweet, honest, and aloof.  And, there’s nothing wrong with the aloof part.  I know the feeling.

Check out this incredible visit to Roseanne’s show where she talked about her weight, her make-up, and her battle with cancer.

I really enjoyed the book and I’m glad that Tammy told Jim to move on with his life after he was released from prison.  He has and he now has another television venture near Branson, Missouri.

One part of the book that really touched home with me was her belief that God loves all his children, which doesn’t come across in most religious preachings here in the U.S. or around the world.

Jim  and Tammy Faye

When she made her big return to television in 1996 on the “Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show” before she was diagnosed with cancer and had to quit months later, Jim J. Bullock came out to her by telling her, “Tammy, I’m gay.  Do you find that offensive?  I know that you’re a Christian.”

In her book, she said she replied to Jim, “Jim J., when I look at people, I do not see gay or straight; all I see is the person.  And I see a person that God loves, and that His son Jesus died on the cross for.  So who am I to judge?  I do not judge anyone anymore.  I have been misjudged so many times — by people who either didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand the things that happened in my life.  I know how it hurts to be judged.  I don’t want to be a courtroom.  I want to be a hospital.”

And, with this appearance on “The RuPaul Show”, you can tell she really believes it.

Her son, Jay, is a minister in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the Revolution Church.  Like his mother, he is very accepting to the LGBT community.  If I’m ever in Minneapolis, I hope that I get chance to check out a sermon.

Tammy Faye never gave up on God, but through the worst of times, she did doubt him and asked him why.  We all have done that.

Tammy Faye, your life on Earth gave you good times and bad times. I hope you enjoy being an angel in heaven.

It would have been a pleasure to have known you.

Anthony

Chicago Chef’s Courageous Fight Makes Me Fear Cancer Less

My grandfather, John Henry Peoples, died of colon cancer at the age of 72.  His son, my father, died of brain cancer at the age of 55, in 1987.

I’ve already been to a dermatologist twice.  In 1999, I had a biopsy for something that ended up being nothing more than an “age spot” that disappeared with a cream treatment.  Last year, I found out that the spot on my scalp was “actinic keratosis”, a common pre-cancerous growth caused by the sun’s UV rays.  It was froze off.

However, in 2002, I had a scarier experience when my doctor discovered a mass in my scrotum.  An ultrasound concluded that it was testicular calcification, which affects about 2.4% of American men, mostly white.  While there is no treatment for it, there’s not enough evidence to conclude that it might lead to testicular cancer.

As I approach my 50th birthday this October, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think about getting cancer.

With my family history and my own scares, I wouldn’t be shocked to develop cancer one day.  If that diagnosis ever comes, I now have Grant Achatz to look to for inspiration and courage.

Grant_Achatz

Many of you probably haven’t heard the name.

I didn’t know who Grant Achatz was until I saw an article in the April 2011 “Men’s Health” magazine about how to make the ultimate burger.  Since I don’t eat beef, I likely read the article because he was attractive and that stopped me long enough from flipping through the magazine to read the feature.

However, I didn’t even read this magazine article until a couple of years later.  (Yes, a stack of magazines sat in my closet that long before I got around to them.)

And, this spring, I finally read his 2011 book, “life, on the line:  A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat”.   While I loved Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On” that I read earlier this year, Grant’s book is hands down the best autobiographical book I’ve ever read!

Life+On+the+Line

From the title of the book, you probably gather that he almost died.

The book doesn’t waste anytime going there with Grant describing how he was peeling out his inner throat in the book’s first written page in the preface.  You were drawn in and were rooting so hard for this young man to beat the odds.

I promise I’ll get to the point of my blog and how Grant’s book touched and inspired me, but I want you to see what this young, amazing man accomplished in a short period of time.

I loved reading about his early life of being raised in his family’s restaurant business in Michigan and jello being the first food he learned to make.  He then became a line cook as a teenager, went on to the Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1993, and did his six-month externship at a hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Grant would be welcomed back there after his externship and then he thought he was ready to experience Chicago where he worked for renowned chef Charlie Trotter for a couple of months.

With the high pressure environment and degradation from Trotter to his chefs, it didn’t end the way Grant thought it would.  When he left Trotter’s restaurant, Trotter told Grant that since he didn’t last a year, that Grant couldn’t use the famed chef as a reference and that he “simply would not exist” to Trotter.

Younger Grant

He went back home dismayed and planned a trip to Europe with his girlfriend at the time, Cindy.  They saw London and Paris, where they ate at “3 Michelin stars” restaurants and Grant was disappointed.  They traveled on to Rome, Venice, and Florence.

It was at a winery that featured a little bistro-like eatery where Grant said he had the “best meal of my life” and it was there that he realized the one thing that every restaurant needed:  passion.

Grant came back from Europe with passion and he landed a four-year stint at chef Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry” in California’s Napa Valley.

Grant and Thomas Keller

While there, Grant worked his way up from an entry-level position to sous-chef, the second-in-command and direct assistant to Chef Keller.

He took a position as the Executive Chef at Trio, located outside of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois.  In his three years there, Grant took the restaurant from a four-star Mobil Travel Guide to a five-star rating.

But, he wanted more and in May 2005, he opened his own restaurant, Alinea, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.  The 64-seat restaurant quickly earned rave reviews for featuring a small tasting menu with about 18 or so courses.

Alinea Chicago

The food that Grant and his team created were nothing short of gastronomical art.

Grant Achatz Creating 2Grant Achatz Creating

GA Culinary Treat2GA Culinary TreatGA Culinary Treat3

I could just sit and stare at Grant’s incredible creations for hours.  Actually, I did with Grant’s hardcover coffee table book, Alinea, which features more than a hundred of his recipes and photographs.

One of Alinea’s first major achievements was being named “Best Restaurant in America” by Gourmet Magazine. 

This would be followed by the AAA Five Diamond Award (2007-2014), the Jean Banchet Award for Best Celebrity Chef and Best Fine Dining (2007), the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef (2008), the “3 Michelin stars” in 2011 and 2013, and countless other awards.

Grant Nick

Grant’s dreams of opening his own restaurant were made possible by Nick Kokonas, a regular customer with his wife, Dagmara, at Trio, the restaurant that brought Grant to the Chicago area.  Nick was so impressed with Grant that he defied his friends’ advice of investing in a restaurant since so many fail.

Grant and Nick’s business partnership with Alinea also developed into a strong friendship and that friendship would end up saving Grant’s life.

Before moving to Chicago in 2001, Grant had a health scare while he was living in California.  Doctors thought it might have meningitis, but it wasn’t.

In early 2004, Grant noticed a small white bump on his tongue that wouldn’t go away and the accompanying pain became more intense over the next few months.  He finally had a biopsy done and it came back negative.

One day, after not seeing his business partner for days, Nick came into the restaurant and Grant looked very sick and he told Nick of the pain that his tongue was causing him.  When Grant showed Nick his tongue, Nick instantly knew there was a problem and demanded that he go see an oral surgeon.

achatz.grant

On July 13, 2007, Grant was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.  The man who was making a career of creating the most exquisite dishes was faced with two dire realities:  an invasive, destructive, and painful surgery that would take away 75% of his tongue or death.

I shed many tears reading Grant and Nick’s accounts of the fear and the sadness they both felt after the diagnosis and Grant facing the fact that he was dying.  My heart was breaking for this young man (only 33-years-old) and his two small sons, Kaden and Keller.

After meeting with specialists in New York City and Chicago, including the surgeon that operated on famed movie critic, Roger Ebert, for thyroid and salivary cancer, the news wasn’t good for Grant.

Ebert-Before-and-After

Ebert knew the hell that Grant faced with battling cancer and having part of his jaw removed.  Ebert’s surgeon, Dr. Harold Pelzer, recommended that Grant have surgery.  However, Dr. Pelzer did mention another surgeon, Dr. Everett Vokes, at the University of Chicago, that had a less conventional approach to surgery.

Everett Vokes

Dr. Vokes was working on clinical trials that avoided surgery as the first option.  Instead, chemotherapy would be administered first, along with a medication that would interfere with the cancer growing and spreading throughout the body.  That would be followed by radiation, which was intense, devastating and painful.

The non-conventional approach worked and in December 2007, Grant’s cancer was in remission.

cancer

Cancer has touched all of our lives.

Whether you’re living with it or you’re a survivor, whether you know someone who is living with it or is a survivor, or if you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, “life, on the line:  A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat” is the most honest, encouraging, thoughtful, and touching book I’ve ever read.

If I ever develop cancer, I hope I have the courage of Grant Achatz, a friend like Nick Kokonas, and a visionary like Dr. Everett Vokes.

I hope that Grant lives a long and healthy life and that he keeps making gastronomical art in his kitchens.  And, since I only live three hours from Chicago, I hope one day to visit Alinea to view the work of this culinary genius in person.

Anthony

Random Friday Thoughts — July 11, 2014

Today’s “Random Friday Thoughts” does feature my random thoughts or it’d be called something else.  However, many of them today are personal and I do have a revelation to share at the end of the blog.

I hope you have a great weekend whatever you choose to do.

WE HAVE COMPANY THIS WEEKEND

Betty, my friend from Ohio and the woman I call “Mom”, is visiting us this weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ll be taking her to the John Deere Classic golf tournament for lunch Friday to visit with my good friends, Dawn and Shilah!

Also, Betty will want to go to Osaka Buffet and the casino!  Those are two of my favorite places.  Okay, the casino only if I win!

GRETEL TURNS 13

Also, this weekend, Gretel talked us into have a bonfire for s’mores if the storms don’t dampen her fun to celebrate her 13th birthday.

Gretel Summer 2014

Holy cow!  I can’t believe she’s now a teenager!

It seems just like yesterday that Miss ABBA and I were introduced to a little pigtailed, bespectacled, soon-t0-be 8-year-old girl and now she’s a teenager!

GretelABBA2009

Happy Birthday, Gretel!

SPEAKING OF MISS ABBA

It was this week back in 2000 that I drove to a llama farm 2.5 hours from where I was living in Youngstown, Ohio, and got Miss ABBA.

On the way there, I knew I was getting a “girl” and her name “ABBA” was already decided.

ABBA July 2000

While she’s been in puppy heaven for almost 2.5 years now, I’ll never forgot that July day or the almost 12 years of love and happiness that followed!

You can check out this video if you’d like to see the goofy golden over the years.  I’m posting it to make you smile and not cry.  So, I’d understand if you watch it without listening to Patty Loveless’ beautiful song.

ONE MORE ANNIVERSARY

And, one more anniversary to mention this week.

It was 20 years ago that my friends, Steve and Dennis, helped move me to Chicago as I said goodbye to small town Kentucky.

Chicago Move 1994

That was the beginning of phase two of my life that included me meeting a psycho on my 30th birthday that almost killed me, meeting Christopher, who I was with for nine years, and meeting Betty, who is Christopher’s mother.

It was also during those first two years in Chicago that I started my television weather career that would take me to Rhinelander (WI), Lubbock (TX), Youngstown, Mansfield, and Columbus (OH), back to Chicago as a news writer for Fox News Chicago, and then to Salisbury (MD), Moline and Rock Island (IL).

Where will phase three, in 2015, take me?

“NICKEL DREAMS”

Tanya Tucker has always been one of my favorite country singers.

Until I read her book, “Nickel Dreams”, I didn’t fully understand how wild and crazy she was.

Tanya+Tucker Nickel+Dreams

Check out the blog I wrote about Tanya, the book, and her music.

http://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/im-glad-tanya-tucker-shared-her-nickel-dreams/

“FREAK UNIQUE”

Pete Burns, the lead singer of the English new wave band Dead or Alive, had moderate success in the U.S., but he and the band are big, HUGE, in Japan.

Pete Burns Freak Unique

His autobiography, “Freak Unique”, was incredible and a fun read.

In it, Pete shares it all and doesn’t hold back.  He explains in, sometimes gory, detail some of the things that got him just as much attention as his music did.

Here’s the link to the blog I posted this week about the book and Pete.

http://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/pete-burns-is-a-freak-unique/

NON-STOP

I’ve been wanting to see the Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore airplane thriller, “Non-Stop”, since it hit theaters earlier this year.  The movie has gone on to make almost $200 million at the box office.

It’s finally out on DVD and I rented it this week.

It was definitely enjoyable and I spent the entire movie trying to figure out who the terrorist(s) was, because I never for a moment thought that it was Neeson’s character, U.S. federal air marshal Bill Marks.

“Non-Stop” is a thrilling movie that will definitely make you look around the plane the next time you fly.

There is a scene at the 1 hour, 33 minute mark that suspended belief and knocked the movie back part of a grade point!  Seriously?

The most distracting thing about the movie is to see Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”) play a flight attendant with just a  few lines and very little to do except look distressed.

I really wish that this movie came out before “12 Years A Slave” because it is such a waste of her talent after seeing her play Patsey, the role that won her the Academy Award.

GRADE:  B

THAT’S IT

For now and the near future, this is my last “Random Friday Thoughts”.

I love writing and sharing my thoughts, but with my overnight work schedule and the lack of sleep, I feel it’s time I take a break and nap in the afternoon.

I appreciate all of you for taking the time to read my blogs over the past 2.5 years and to share your thoughts whether you agree or disagree with me.

I do have three other blogs to share with you over the coming weeks.  I’m not sure when they will pop up, but I’ll let you know when I post them.

Again, thank you for the past support and have a great weekend!

Anthony

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