I hope this holiday season finds you in good spirits, and that you’ve had a happy and healthy 2005. I have.
January brought with it the start of the "Spring '05" semester, and upon its completion in April, I reached just over the halfway point in pursuit of my Master’s Degree in Technical Communication at North Carolina State University. I’ve now completed 18 hours of the required 33 hours. In one of the two courses I took, I made my first A+ in the program. Yay!
In February, I attended two great performances: one being the Soweto Gospel Choir (SGC), and the other, Josh Groban in concert.
The SGC was formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African Gospel music. The 26-strong choir draws on the best talent from the many churches in and around Soweto. The choir is dedicated to sharing the joy of faith through music with audiences around the world.
I wrote this in my blog (online journal) about the night:
|The Soweto Gospel Choir was absolutely phenomenal. Oh my God. Since I had purchased our tickets back in October, we were in the center section of the first row. If you ever have any doubt that a higher being is present on this earth, go see this group perform. Most of the women in the group did some kind of solo at one time or another. Each one that came forward, I thought, okay this one might be a little weak. Then, her mouth would open, and heaven's voice was piped in. One after the other, magnificent. Each could easily be a solo star in her own right. Toward the beginning, one of the members, who looked like she was about 16, came forward. I was absolutely stunned by what I heard. At the end of her song, I just shook my head back and forth like, What in the world was that? Did that come out of her body? I later read that she is the youngest member of the choir, and is actually 18. She was the kind of person that you could not stop watching the entire night. Riveting. She made some wonderful facial expressions and body movements... you felt that her entire being was in her joy in singing. And that voice.|
The highlight for me, and most of the crowd evidently, was the choir's rendition of Amazing Grace. Four of the members came forward, a soprano, an alto, a tenor and a base, and they sang with the choir behind them to the most unbelievably moving piece of music I've heard in my entire life -- and I'm old, and I've been to a lot of performances. I had tears down my face near the end, and I wasn't the only one. This was sound that moved you to that point. Like, something is going on here. Even though this piece was just before intermission, it received a significant standing ovation. Robert said, "That has got to be the best version of Amazing Grace I have ever heard in my life." I loved where it took my heart.
I really enjoyed Josh Groban in concert, too. My ticket was a Christmas gift from a very good friend of mine, who also loves Josh, and we went together. The principal violinist that Josh had accompanying him was incredible. I liked her so much that later in the year, I bought her CD, which I absolutely love. It’s called, “Music from a Farther Room,” and her name is Lucia Micarelli. If you like violin music at all, you would love this CD.
Also in February, I saw a touring production of Miss Saigon. Donna and our mutual friend Judy, and my friend Joe and his boyfriend joined my boyfriend, Robert, and me. Miss Saigon is one of my all-time favorite plays; the music from it is just beautiful to me. I’ve seen it by a touring group once before, and twice on Broadway, too. Did I mention that it’s my all-time favorite play? :-)
In March, during spring break from Grad School, I took vacation from work, and flew to Lake Tahoe for Gay Ski Week from March 9th through March 13th. What a beautiful place that is, and the weather was so fantastic that on the last day, I actually skied in shorts!
In April, Robert and I attended the first of what would be two, out-of-town two-stepping and line dancing events: The Queen City Stomp, in Charlotte, North Carolina. This is billed as a “hoe down,” and gay dancers come from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee to line dance and two-step to country music. Great fun.
On April 27th, Robert and I celebrated three years of being together. In addition to being one of the kindest, most thoughtful men on the planet, he continues to keep me grounded, to remind me to “stop and smell the roses” (as I tend not to do anything that’s not on my schedule in my Palm Pilot) :-), and to be someone with whom I enjoy bantering, waltzing, and doing crossword puzzles.
At the end of May, I went to Chicago for a long weekend with my friend Steve. We walked the Magnificent Mile, and spent most of our time down in “Boystown,” the “gay section” of Chicago. It was a nice getaway for the Memorial Day weekend.
In June, I attended my sister Vivian’s husband’s (Jeff’s) 50th birthday party, which was in Greenville, NC, and great fun. Vivian put a ton of work into the occasion, and it went off beautifully. It was also a good opportunity for me to see some of Jeff’s family again, which I only get to do on rare occasions.
July brought my 30th (Yikes!) High School Reunion in Jacksonville, N.C., and a trip to Charleston, S.C., to attend Robert’s nephew’s wedding.
I only attended one day of the three-day reunion, which was the day on which the “decade parties” were held. Our high school reunions are only held once every five years, and whenever they are held, anyone who went to Camp Lejeune High School any year is invited. This is because the high school was on the military base, with kids whose parents were in the military. This made for small classes (usually right near 100 kids per class), and a very large number who never “kept in touch,” since it was just one of their (usually) dad’s duty stations.
So, on the first night of the three-day event, decade parties are held, where, for instance, anyone who attended the school from 1970 -1979 meet in one place, and the folks from the 80s meet at another place, etc. You don’t even have to have graduated from the school to attend the reunions, since a lot of kids’ dads had two-year duties that made them move on before they could graduate, and if they limited to just graduates, there’d be a very small number of people.
The second night is when all of the classes from all of the years meet in one place. This really isn’t that big a deal to miss, especially for me, since I graduated right in the middle of the decade (1975), and I get to see all of the people who were there in the years around me at the 70s decade party anyway.
So, on that second day of the reunion, I left Jacksonville, and drove down to Charleston to meet up with Robert for his nephew’s wedding. The wedding was in a cute little chapel on Sullivan’s Island, and the reception was at the Citadel's McCormick Beach House. We stayed in a nice B&B, and spent an extra couple of days there after the wedding.
Also in July, I went, with my friend Joe for a long weekend, to Ft. Lauderdale. On the morning of our flight back, we visited my long-time friend "Jeanie-Baby," the sight-impaired lady I read to for years when she lived in Raleigh, and we had breakfast with her, her daughter Phyllis, and Phyl’s husband, Jimmy.
It was a short, but oh-so-sweet visit, with a great breakfast cooked by Jimmy. It was so nice to see Jeanie again, and it was a hard "good-bye" when we left.
At the end of July, Robert and I saw James Taylor in concert, for which we joined my friend, Mary, and a group of her friends, as well as Robert’s nephew and his new wife, for a little tailgating beforehand. JT is timeless.
In the second week of August, I attended the 10th Annual Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, seeing six films. It’s always great to see movies that have characters who “look like me,” and where, in the end, at least sometimes, “the guy gets the guy” – and it’s especially nice, that when he does, the audience doesn’t groan and yell things like “gross.”
The highlight of my traveling year took place in August, from the 21st through the 28th, when I, my sister, my mom and dad, one of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as my aunt’s sister and her husband, went on an Alaskan Cruise.
Sis, mom, dad, and I flew from Raleigh to Vancouver, where we boarded the Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship, “The Sun.” Our itinerary included: Sunday, set sailed; Monday, at sea all day cruising the Inside Passage; Tuesday, a port call in Ketchikan; Wednesday, a port call in Juneau; Thursday, a port call in Skagway; Friday, a port call in Wrangell; Saturday, a day at sea; and Sunday, arriving back in Vancouver.
In Ketchikan, mom and dad went on a “Saxmon Totem (Pole) Park and Lumberjack Show” excursion, and Vivian and I did a guided, walking tour through the “Tongass National Forest Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.”
In Juneau, all four of us (me, sis, and mom and dad) went on the “Mendenhall Glacier & Wildlife Quest” excursion, where we spent a portion of the time out on a boat whale-watching, and the other part of the time visiting the phenomenal Mendenhall Glacier.
Our whale-watching outing was awesome, as we had an unusually high number of sightings of humpback whales. One of them was so close to the boat!
In Skagway, our group of four joined the rest of the family on the trip (my aunt, uncle, cousin and my aunt’s sister and her husband) for a train ride on the “White Pass Scenic Railway” excursion. The 40-mile round-trip ride showed off the railroad that served the mad gold rush to the Klondike in 1898, and took us through two tunnels, on a sky-high trestle, and above remote valleys.
This was a morning excursion, and my sister and I were scheduled to do an afternoon one called, “Pilot’s Choice Helicopter Odyssey,” which was supposed to fly us to “majestic waterfalls en route to the Ferebee Glaciers, jagged peaks surrounding the Chilkat Glacier and the dramatic Meade Glacier flowing from the Juneau Icefield, including two landings that allow you to discover intriguing glacial features such as crystal clear pools, deep crevasses and glacial moraines.” We were so disappointed that this excursion got canceled due to the high winds there that day.
Our final port call, on Friday was in Wrangell, Alaska, and there, Vivian and I did a “Stikine River Wilderness & Glacier Adventure by Jet Boat” excursion, on which we saw “floating cabins,” where some people lived because they had been displaced from land they owned in the area before the government turned it into a National Forest, bald eagles and their nests, and black bear. Moose were a possibility, but we never saw any.
That night our entire group of nine had dinner together in one of the more “formal restaurants” on the ship. It was a nice night of family, and my sister Vivian made a heartwarming toast to the family and diverse set of relationships represented: brothers and sisters (she and I as brother and sister, Terri and Lu as sisters, dad and Uncle Dennis as brothers), parents (mom and dad as our parents, Uncle Dennis and Aunt Terri as Cynda’s parents); husbands and wives (mom and dad, Terri and Dennis, Lu and Bob), aunts and uncles (Dennis and Terri to my sister and me, mom and dad to Cynda), and cousins (my sister and me to Cynda).
Overall, it was a great opportunity to spend a week with family, as well as to see one of the “places to see” that’s been on my list for a long, long time. To be sure, Alaska is as beautiful as everyone says it is.
Once home, I ended up dropping the one course I was taking for the fall semester, as I had to miss the first week of school for the cruise. To that end, I enjoyed a nice, leisurely semester off, and took advantage of not being in school to do a little more traveling.
In the second week of September, Robert and I attended the second of our two out-of-town dancing-related events, the Atlantic Stampede Gay Rodeo in Washington, DC. This is a “real” rodeo with your typical riding competitions, with a few, additional, “campy” events thrown in.
Personally, Robert and I go for the dances, which are held on the first two nights of the three-day event. Thousands of cowboys come to line dance and two-step to country music at Friday night’s “Stampede Jamboree Dance,” and the “Harvest Moon Ball,” on Saturday night.
The following weekend in September, Robert and I flew to Annapolis, Maryland to attend the wedding of my “most-laughs-per-minute” friend, Courtney, who married a great guy named Ben. It was a wonderful, informal wedding, with a lot of laughter – no surprise.
In October, I traveled to NYC with my friend Steve, where we saw five Broadway plays in four days. On Tuesday, we saw The Producers, which I’d never seen. On Wednesday, at the matinee, we saw The Lion King, which I had seen before on Broadway, but my friend Steve had never seen. That night, we saw Wicked, which I had seen before (and had won “the lottery” (of tickets) for a front row seat for $25), and my friend Steve won the lottery this time! So, I saw it again, and Steve saw it for the first time.
On Thursday, we visited Ground Zero, had dinner in Little Italy, and then saw Hairspray. Neither of us had ever seen this play, and we both loved it. On Friday, we saw Mamma Mia, which I had seen as a touring production in Raleigh, but never on Broadway, and my friend Steve had never seen at all. It was a great, whirlwind four days.
Two weeks later in October, Robert and I did a three-day tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the Fall Color Change that it’s so famous for. We started at Cumberland Knob, which is the first stop on the NC side of the NC-VA border of the parkway, and over the three days, made our way down the entire NC portion of the parkway.
We spent the first night in Boone, NC, arriving early enough in the day to take the short drive to see Blowing Rock, NC. We covered about 145 miles on the second day, and slept in Ashville, NC, continuing down to Balsam Gap the final day before heading home.
We pretty much stopped when things caught our attention, such as the colors being particularly stunning, hiking trails under three miles, waterfalls, and, of course, food. :-)
November brought Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Vivian’s and her husband Jeff’s in Greenville, NC, about 1.25 hours away from Raleigh. Vivian did a killer job of cooking, and hosting not only our family (me, mom, and dad), but also Jeff’s brother, his wife, and their son, and Jeff’s sister and her husband. Unfortunately my brother, Mike, was unable to make it.
Whew! I’ve made it to December. :-) On the first Friday in December, I attended a touring production of Hairspray with Donna (my ex-wife) and Robert (my boyfriend). Oprah alert! They did a great job, as I was expecting to be a little critical of it after seeing it so recently on Broadway.
One of the reasons this letter and my card is so late is that I’ve just returned from a three-day ski trip to Lake Tahoe. Robert and I traveled on Thursday, December 15th, we both skied on Friday the 16th, I skied on Saturday and Sunday, and we flew back on Monday the 19th.
I was glad to have a chance to get some skiing in before grad school starts back up in January, but the weather was crappy there, and we forgot one of our bags at home that just happened to contain the new boots to my new skis that I was looking forward to trying out. Oh well. A bad day on the ski slope is still better than a good day at the office. :-)
Christmas day dinner will be a repeat performance at Vivian’s house, which I’m greatly looking forward to. This time she’ll be hosting me, mom and dad, and my brother’s kids Meagan and Michael, along with Meagan’s husband Chris and their child (my great-nephew!) Nicholas. Once again, unfortunately, brother Michael won’t make it.
As you have read, I’ve had an active, fun, and blessed year, living life to its fullest. I hope you’re doing the same. In closing, I’d like to wish you a season full of wonder, and good health, peace, and happiness in 2006. I hope you and those who are important to you spend some quality time together, and let each other know how important you are to each other.
P.S. For those of you with Internet access, I am a daily blogger (online journaler), and you can access my blog at http://dailyafirmation.livejournal.com (Notice there is only one “f” in the spelling of the word affirmation.) Warning: My blog contains adult language and situations at times! If you do read it, feel free to use the “comment” feature, and if you do, add your name to the bottom of your comment so I’ll know who’s making it. Also, I have a “home page” at http://www4.ncsu.edu/~jmartin3/
I was disappointed with two things regarding my cards and letter this year:
- I didn't have time to print my annual letter on holiday paper, and
- I ran out of holiday return address labels.
I intended to go out tonight, and took a nap from 8:30 until 10:30. However, when the alarm sounded, I turned it off, rolled over, and slept through the night.