Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Eukanuba World Challenge

Hi everyone - Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and here's hoping for a great 2011 for everyone. Thanks to the holidays I've been a bit absent on my blogging, but I need to get the World Challenge information up so you have a chance to digest it before the 23rd of January, when it will be broadcast on ABC.

If the Eukanuba National Championship is like the Stanley Cup of dog shows, the Eukanuba World Challenge is like the Olympics of dog shows. And to prove that point, the procession of the worlds dogs into the arena for the first judging was just as opulent. Every dog, who is a champion and selected by their country to represent the best of their best, was escorted into the ring by a handler, sometimes an owner, and by someone carrying their nations flag.

Entering the ring during the opening ceremonies, the eventual winner of the Eukanuba World Challenge
"AKC Ch, Grand Ch Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Mexican, Peru Int. Latino American Ch Alex de Akido San"

First, a little background.

The World Challenge is an event sponsored by the
American Kennel Club, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (also known as the World Canine Organisation) and Eukanuba. Champion dogs from 50 countries were invited to the event for the chance to win the World Challenge trophy and $10,000.00. Judging is done a bit differently than the National Championship. The dogs invited were selected by their countries or international regions (in the case of some smaller European countries) as the best of the best. Those winners were divided into four groups (not Hound groups or Working groups as in the National Championship, but 4 groups of dogs without regard to region or breed of dog). Each group was adjudicated by judges considered to be the best in the world, and each judge will select 3 out of each group to participate in the finals. In the finals, one of the 12 will be selected to be the World Challenge winner.

The experience was particularly electrifying, watching these dogs and owners from all over the world walking into the ring. Each hoping to represent their countries as the best of the best - very much like the Olympics.

Eukanuba World Challenge Opening Ceremonies.

A happy St. Bernard participating in the World Challenge

An awesome Siberian Husky

-judging actually took place earlier in the day, with the judge responsible for each group secretly selecting 3 winners from their individual group. Only after each group is gathered into the main arena do the judges publicly select the top 3. One judge actually mentioned that he hadn't completely made up his mind until he saw the dogs re-stacked (displayed) that evening, which says something about how spectacular each animal really is.

Three winners selected to move on to the finals

On day two the 12 finalists were brought into the ring again. One - the Doberman from Argentina - would be selected and chosen the best of the world.

Next up - Best In Show.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


This is a continuation of my photo-blog of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championships

After learning that we will be blogging in full view of an international television audience (especially during the Eukanuba World Challenge), it was time for me to find a suit coat. I brought shirts and ties, but only a casual jacket - really not proper attire for the cameras. So it was off to the Casual Male XL for a proper jacket, then back to the hotel to rest up for a bit before heading back to the Hyatt for a pre-show cocktail party, then off to Long Beach Arena for the first night of the show.

Fronted by beauty - Left to right, Jenifer, Jennifer, Me, Dr. V and Bev holding "Flat Tyler".

Pink was the color of the night of course, and they had a wide selection of appetizers and wine spritzers. Definitely helped calm the nerves before heading out to the arena under the lights. Well, it calmed Jen's nerves - I'm used to being under the spotlight since I've played music on TV and on stage for over 40 years.

For those of you not familiar with dog shows, here's a quick primer on how dogs work their way through the event. First, each breed or variety must win their class. The class judging was held in the convention center earlier in the day.

Hank and Lorie being judged in the Smooth Collie event. The eventual winner is just to her right - a beautiful smooth collie named GCH CH Bit O Heavens Sorceress.

The winner of the Best Of Breed or Variety makes their way to their "Group". There are 7 groups:

* Sporting (examples - Pointers, Retrievers, Setters, Spaniels)
* Hound (examples - Afghans, Beagles, Greyhounds, Whippets)
* Working (examples - Akitgas, Shepherds, Mastiffs, Huskies)
* Terrier (examples - Bulls, Foxes, Scottish, Welsh)
* Toy (examples - Chihuahuas, Italian Greyhounds, Pekingese, Pugs)
* Non-Sporting (examples - Bichon Frise, Dalmatian, Poodle, Tibetan Spaniel)
* Herding (examples - Australian Shepherd, Belgian Sheepdog, Collie, German Shepherd Dog)

One representative from each group will be chosen to move to "Best Of Show", and one lucky dog (no pun intended) will win the show.

For each group the dogs and handlers are issued into the ring, then around to the back where they wait their turn to be judged. Another person is permitted just outside the back of the ring with combs, grooming supplies and other items so the dogs can be prepared for their turn with the judge.

When the next dog is called forward, a line of light appears on the carpet where the dog is to be lined up (staging for TV), and the judging begins. For smaller dogs, a table is available so the judge can stand while examining the animal.

GCH CH Bit O Heavens Sorceress preparing to be judged in group as the judge watches the prior dogs gate around the ring.

The judge will inspect the dog to see if it meets the breed standard.

The judge then sends the dog down the arena and back to watch how the dog moves.

Upon returning to the judge, the animal is to "free stack" correctly so the judge can render a final evaluation before sending the dog around the arena.

After all of the dogs are judged, they are then stacked again so the judge can make a final decision on 1st through 4th.

Next up - The Eukanuba World Challenge

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Picture-Blog Of Our Eukanuba Experience

Now that Jen and I have had a chance to get home and debrief ourselves, perhaps I can give you a better view of the incredible and awesome experience we had at the AKC / Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach, California on December 4th and 5th. It will also give me a chance to publicly thank our hosts for the wonderful access we enjoyed while there.

For those of you who are new to the "dog show hobby world" (to borrow a phrase from a lawsuit to get back two of Jen's dogs taken from the kennel in 2009), you need to know what the AKC / Eukanuba National Championship is. According to my research, the AKC / Eukanuba National Championship is THE American Kennel Club's major show. It is not sponsored by a local kennel club - unlike the "National Dog Show" (hosted by the Philadelphia Kennel Club and Purina) or the "Westminster" (hosted by the Westminster Kennel Club in New York). While the National Dog Show and Westminster are indeed very prestigious shows and many champions and grand champion dogs attend these events, a dog must be invited to the Eukanuba, making it - in my opinion - the "Stanley Cup Finals" of dog shows.

(If this information is not correct, I would appreciate a redirect and I will post the correction)

In other words, the AKC / Eukanuba is a BIG DEAL! :)

So what follows is a rather long picture-blog of our adventure at the 2010 AKC / Eukanuba National Championship and the Eukanuba World Challenge:

Entrance to the Long Beach Arena

Blogger round table discussion with our incredible hosts Jason, Jenifer, and AKC Assistant Vice-President Gina DiNardo, who will also be a commentator during the broadcast of the event (scheduled for January 23rd on ABC).

Not pictured (as my pics were terrible) was the round table discussion with high level members of the AKC, P&G Pet Products / Eukanuba, and two distinguished members of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Most of this discussion centered around the Eukanuba World Challenge, which was also held at this event.

We were then escorted into the Arena where the televised event was to take place. Judging of Best Of Breed or Variety (the winners of Best Of Breed or Variety would represent that breed or variety in their "Group", such as the Hound group, Toy group, Working group, etc.) took place in the convention center earlier in the day. This picture is where group winners would have their picture taken.

This is the entrance to the ring, where all of the dogs, handlers and judges would enter and exit.

While looking over the winners circle and the 2nd through 4th areas, we were shown our seats - in front of the large AKC logo, on risers, 10 feet from the edge of the ring. Incredible!!!

The blogger tour group. Left to right: Jason from P&G/Eukanuba, Jenifer from P&G/Eukanuba, the blogger known as "Knobnotes", blogger Dr. V, Bev from P&G/Eukanuba, and Jennifer.

This is the view from our seats the night of the show - how AWESOME!

Bloggers at work.

This was an incredible opportunity afforded to us from the folks at Eukanuba, and I want to publicly thank Jason, Jenifer and Bev, as well as all of the other wonderful people who were responsible for this. Your hospitality was warm and welcoming. When Jennifer was invited to blog for this event, we never dreamed it would be like this. Thank you so very much for everything. :)

Next up - SHOWTIME!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rock Star Treatment In The Dog World - Part 2

Sunday was Hank's day, and the real reason why Jen and I came to Long Beach - to take Mildred Corner's dream as far as we could, just as Mildred would have done herself if she would have been here with us. As many of you know, Mildred's life was cut tragically short by small cell lung cancer. It was Jen's and Lorie Barns (Mildred's close friend and handler of many of her championship Collies) desire to continue her work, especially with the two puppies she wanted to keep and show from the first litter of her own breeding stock. Lorie worked very hard over the last year and a half with both Hank (AKC registered as "GrCH, CH 5 C's Dreams Come True"), and Ivy (AKC registered as "CH 5'C's Precious Memories").

Lorie and her family showed up with Hank a bit before 8 and her and Jen worked to get Hank ready for the Best Of Variety show - the first contest to pick the best of this breeds variety - in his case, the Smooth Collie. There will be pictures posted later on Jen's facebook page, as well as the Mid Michigan Collies facebook page. There wasn't much to do - just some simple combing, a fluff of the hair around the neck area, and out to ring 9 we all went.

Hank - rated as number 17 in the nation at the end of qualifying - went up against 7 other smooth Collies (there were supposed to be a total of 10 - two contestants were no-shows), including a stunning Blue Merle female who was taking Best Of Variety in the two shows prior to Eukanuba. Hank and Lorie did very well, but it was very evident that the female was the better animal today, and she advanced to the Best Of Group contest. Hank, Lorie and Jen took some photos, including a couple while Jen held a picture of Mildred - at no time did ay of us lose focus as to why we were here, and while it would have been nice to win or even be noticed, the mission that started so many months ago was now complete. And as we have been reminded, Hank is a very young dog. He will continue to grow and fill out, and there is always the opportunity that he will obtain enough points to return next year. We are all proud of Hank, Lorie and everyone who helped them get to this wondrous event, and I would personally like to thank Lorie for her hard work and sacrifice.

So after a few tears and many hugs, it was time to decompress from the "show" portion of our trip. It was now our chance to enjoy the rest of the events there. There was a "Dock Dogs" demonstration event (where dogs jump off of a dock into a pool of water), where both amateur and professional dogs and handlers showed off this very fun sport. We also visited the agility rings, where dogs of all sizes competed in what I think is a very cool sport - running, jumping, climbing, tunneling, all very much like a steeplechase but with the dogs handler simply pointing the way towards the next obstacle. We also visited the obedience ring, and watched a young lady and her black lab perform a stunning display of obedience work.

One very cool section of this event was a "Meet The Breeds" section, where over 100 breeds of dogs are displayed and available to people to pet and ask questions of owners and officianados alike. We got to touch - and be kissed by - many different breeds of dogs. Jen and I were attracted to the bigger breeds though, as we simply like bigger animals.

After a while though, we were exhausted. The stress of the weekend and the awesome opportunity to blog just feet away from the contestants was a bit draining, so while we had the chance we took a couple hours to rest back at our hotel before heading to the main arena for the balance of the group contests, the winner of the Eukanuba World Challenge, and finally the Best In Show - the top dog of the entire event.

There is so much more to tell, and both Jen and I will tonight and into the coming week.

Stay tuned. :)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rock Star Treatment In The Dog World

When Jennifer asked Lorie Barns to take Hank and Ivy and "finish" them (AKA get their championship titles), none of us had ever dreamed we would be competing in a national championship dog show. Yet here we are, sitting 10 feet away from the ring, full press passes and being entertained by the sponsor, Eukanuba.

While traveling from our hotel to a cocktail party held at the Hyatt (which is next to Long Beach Arena), Jen commented, "I never in my life expected this..."

So what is "this" you ask? Nothing less than full press access to the entire Eukanuba National Championship as well as the Eukanuba World Challenge, an event where over 50 nations top dogs compete for a world championship title.

So how did we get here? That my friends is a long story, and I will do my best to condense yet still bring forth the breadth of the enormity of what is occurring.

Those of you who know Jen and myself know that Jennifer lost her mother to complications from small cell lung cancer about a year and a half ago. Her mother - Mildred Corner - was a breeder of Championship Rough and Smooth Coat Collies, and at the time of her passing had whelped her first litter of puppies from her own breeding stock. When Mildred passed, Jennifer became the owner of these dogs, and the responsibility of who to keep and who to sell off as pets rested on her shoulders. Luckily, she did get some guidance from her mother before the end came, and chose to keep both a male and female smooth - both of them Blue Merles. Ivy's official AKC name became "5 C's Precious Memories", and Hank's official name became "5 C's Dreams Come True."

Long time friend of Mildred - Lorie Barnes - was asked if she would be willing to "finish" Hank and Ivy. "Finishing" means to show them at various specialty and all breed shows and acquire the necessary points and victories to be considered "Champions". In the case of Hank, he championed by June of this year. And yet while all of this was going on, Hank was acquiring something called "Grand Champion" points - points given by winning a "Best Of Variety", "Best In Show", or at the judges discretion. Hank acquired enough Grand Champion points by September to qualify for the Eukanuba National Championship, and at the end of the qualification period, became 17th in the nation.

Jen received Hank's invitation in the mail, and immediately we began to figure out how we could possibly get Hank to this show. It would be the ultimate way to remember Mildred and all that she had done for her dogs. So with the help of some generous sponsors, Jen and Lorie accepted the invitation.

All of this alone can only be described as amazing, astonishing, a true miracle and a wondrous tribute to Mildred. But then Jennifer - while blogging about Hank's success and our intention to attend the Eukanuba National Championship - received a message through her blog from a representative of Eukanuba in Cincinnati (Eukanuba is a brand owned by Proctor and Gamble, located in Mason, Ohio). She saw Jen's mention of Hank's success and our intention to attend Eukanuba, and asked if Jen would like to also blog about the event while she was here.

Well, this has turned out to be an outstanding opportunity for both of us. Not only did we have dinner Friday night with representatives of Eukanuba and other 2 other bloggers, but we were given press passes to the two day event, attendance of a round table discussion with representatives from the Eukanuba World Challenge (the true "Olympics" of the dog world), then a sit down with a high level AKC representative who will also be a commentator on the national broadcast (to be shown on ABC in late January). Then we were given a behind the scenes tour of the arena where the show is to be televised. We were able to walk the floor where the dogs will be judged, were given inside information on some of the special things to be done during the shows (few of which I can mention here, but soon), and then we were shown our seats. Not just any seats, but a small stage to the right of the arena with a perfect view of the ring.

Jen and I cannot believe our good fortune, but we have not lost sight of the reason we are here. Sunday morning at 8:30 AM, Hank shows in his Class - he is one of 10 smooth Collies competing in this show. Over the year, Hank has beaten all of them at one come or another, and based on the fact that many Blue Merles are being picked as best of variety, we think he has a good chance of moving on to the group show in the main ring.

What a wonderful experience for us. Please say a prayer that Hank does well. :)

Going To The Dogs

So Hank (officially known as "GCh, CH, 5 C's Dreams Come True"), my wife's smooth coat collie, has been entered in and is competing in the Eukanuba National Championship Dog Show in Long Beach, California this weekend. It's a culmination of a dream come true for Jen's late mother, Mildred Corner, and a journey that Jen wished to complete in her mother's memory. Being the loving and supportive spouse I would like to think I am, I wanted to help in any way possible. And while there's nothing that I can really do here other than just "be here", perhaps the moral and tactical support I'm offering will be well received.

Thursday December 2nd we boarded an Airbus A320 at Greater Cincinnati International and headed west 1900 miles to Los Angeles, then via a "shared van" to the Holiday Inn Long Beach Downtown hotel. The flight was wonderfully smooth (it was nice for someone who doesn't mind flying, but HATES not being at the controls), and we actually arrived slightly ahead of schedule.

This is my third trip to California. The first was in 1974 when I was a "Showtime" guest on the New Mickey Mouse Club. My mother (God rest her soul) flew with my sick father (having suffered 1 heart attack and 1 stroke of the 3 each that would end up taking his life) and myself, played travel agent and business manager, and we even toured Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm while we were here. I also remember traveling to San Diego to see an old schoolmate of hers while we were in the area.

Trip number 2 to LA for me was 1994, just 1 week after the infamous Northridge Earthquake. I flew out here by myself to investigate what it would take for me to make music with some people who wanted to "hit it big." I flew back to Cincinnati a week later understanding that this life simply wasn't for me. LA and Hollywood has a way of chewing people up and spitting out their raw carcass into the trash, and after some revisiting in my mind I've come to understand that I made the right decision.

Every day a person is offered learning opportunities, and this one was no exception for me. I have learned that life is full of choices, not compromises. At the end of the day, you choose your path and you live your life experiencing the joys and sorrows that come along. Many people lament about not having done "X" or "Y" while not realizing that choosing the other option would have meant not experiencing many things that they have already enjoyed. That's not a compromise - everything you do is an expression of your life choices, and will direct your path on your life. It's like being at the controls of that airplane. ;)

My choices have lead me here, with my wonderful wife, experiencing the Eukanuba National Championship Dog Show not as a simple spectator or having stumbled upon the show on TV while channel surfing like I used to many years ago. Instead, this is a true behind the scenes experience of everything - the preparation, the hard work, the emotional impact that something like this can have on a person's life, especially for my wife who has picked up the flag and completing the dream of her mother (to learn more about this, please see my wife's blog post at

So while I think back upon my life thus far, recollecting upon my past and the choices I made to get me here today, I have realized that I have chosen wisely. I can't imagine not having done the things I have done and experiencing the things I have experienced. It is part of the human condition to struggle and work through problems, but I'm not focused on the hardships. Today I get to bask in the glow of what my life has become, and the wonderful people with whom I have the blessing to share it, and to assist my wonderful wife as she lives out a dream - a special dream that could have only come about by the choices we have all made thus far.

Lastly, a quick "best wishes and good luck" to Hank, his handler and co-owner Lorie Barnes, and my wife Jennifer as they enjoy the experience of this big time show.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A trip to normalcy

The passing of my mother (detailed on these pages) has had a strange effect on me - learning how to live life now without any living ties to my immediate family is a different world for me. But plans were made some time ago to travel the SR-127 corridor and experience the "Worlds Longest Garage Sale" deep into Kentucky and Tennessee. So my wife and I took all of the seats out of the mini-van and we took off South on I-75, then West down I-71 to the SR-127 exit. We turned South and away we went.

We passed the cities of Glencoe and Long Ridge before taking a right turn in Owenton, stopping at various sales that were set up along the route. The one in Owenton had quite a few sellers, including a saddle that Jen looked at, but we passed on it and kept looking. She ended up buying a pair of $60.00 saddle pads for $8.00. Then back on the road through Monterey, Swallowfield, then the capital city of Frankfort where the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet seams to have more square footage than the Governmental offices (but I'm sure that's not the case). Further South through Alton, Lawernceburg, Bondville, Salvisa, McAfee and into Harrodsburg before hitting the very pretty college town of Danville. Still moving South through Junction City and the apply named Moreland, Hurstonville, Liberty, Phil, Dunnville, Webbs Cross Roads, Russell Springs, Jamestown, Sewellton, Freedom, Rowena, along the banks of Lake Cumberland and across the dam on our way to Aaron and Snow before turning Right to Albany. By then it was 6:00 PM and we needed to find a place to stay.

Lodging... We'll, we didn't know how far we would make each day, but our goal was to do a state a day. We didn't quite make it, and after calling 5 or 6 lodging locations, we had to backtrack to Somerset. To get there, we had to pass through Monticello which is in Wayne County Kentucky - known as the house boat capital of the world, and for good reason. Many of the most well known houseboat manufacturers have manufacturing plants there, and some of the units they had outside ready for shipment were bigger than our HOUSE...

Funny story #1 - we stopped at a Sonny's Bar-B-Q for takeout. When I placed our order of a "Super Combo", the order taker asked me if I wanted Corn Bread or Garlic Bread. I asked for both (as the wife and I were going to share it). She said "you have to choose." I said, "Can't I get one of each - I understand there would be a charge." She said, "No hon..." Really? I can't order a piece of garlic bread??? Whatever...

Saturday morning, off we went back down SR 90 back to 127. We went back through Albany and through Static, crossing over the border into Tennessee, then down to Chanute and around to Forbus and to a place called Pall Mall where we found a VERY cool signed black and white picture of Nicklas Lidstrom (defenseman and current captain of the Detroit Redwings).

Back on the road South to Grimsley and into Jamestown (the reported home base of the SR127 sale, but all we saw was a speed trap and an unlucky tourist getting pulled over), then through Clarkrange, over I-40 to Crossville, Big Lick, Melvine, Cold Spring, and Pikeville, Lees Station, Lusk, Pailo, Mount Airy, Dunlap, Loan Oak, Fairmount, Walden and Signal Mountain, then down the hill to Chattanooga. That was were we lost SR-127 (sign actually said "END 127", but this garage sale is supposed to go all the way down to Gadston, Alabama - I'll have to investigate the rest of the route for next year...). We picked up I-24 over to I-75, found a Cracker Barrel for dinner, and picked Athens Tennessee for a place to stay.

On Sunday the plan was to drive back, but shortly after we crossed over into Kentucky Jen got tired of interstate driving. We stopped for a quick bite at the Renfro Valley exit, picked up SR-150 North West back to Danville and SR-127 north. At a place just north of Salvisa, Jen said, "hey look - a piano." "Digital piano?" I queried? "I think so," came the reply. I turned around and stopped on the street to see a light colored wood grain digital piano. I turned in and got an up close inspection. It's a Yamaha Clavinova CLP-220 Digital Piano. 88 real feel weighted keys, 64 note polyphony, and was the first Clavinova to have a re-sampled grand piano. It has NEVER been played - it still had the plastic coverings over the three foot peddles. They plugged it in and I played about 30 seconds of arpeggio's to make sure it could handle a real performance and I was sold. Price tag - $300.00! A STEEL!!!

We ended up getting home around 5:00 PM, exhausted but very satisfied with our travels. We saw some really cool things, and while I couldn't take a picture of everything, I did take a pic or two of some items of note:

You can never have too many amo boxes...

If you have amo, you might need a bigger gun...

There were vehicles for sale - some for little kids...

or not so little kids...

All in all - it was a great time, and we zeroed in on some great values. I'm learning how to play a piano for the first time since I attended the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music back when I was 8 years old, and I hope to give lessons very soon. Most of all, it was three wonderful days with my beautiful wife, away from home, kids, and the general trappings of life - all great things. :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Not goodbye - see you again....

Today is Mom's memorial service. It will be held at Little Sisters, where Mom lived for the past 5 years. It will be a Catholic service, and I have been asked to play. Thank God for Melissa Singer-Reed, who will sing Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) for me. I would have never made it through the first line...

I want to take a minute to tell you about my Mom. It will not be a complete history of her life, just who Mom was in my eyes. I hope that I can give you a glimpse as to who she was, and why I am who I am.

Mom was born in St. Bernard, in a Red farm house on Church Street a block from St. Clement church. The house still stands today. She lived there with her sister Marge and her brother Robert, her mother and her grand parents. Mom never talked about her father much, and while I don't know the whole story it was my impression that he was either an alcoholic, abusive to her mother, or both.

I bring this up only to point out that even in the early 1920's there were broken homes and difficulties. One is not required to become bitter or a "victim of society" because you come from a broken home. My Mom is proof that you make your own way, despite the conditions of your childhood or whatever obstacles you may find in your way. My wife is another example of that - I respect them both for the way they have made their own way in life and have become good, honorable and wonderful people regardless of the circumstances that once effected their lives.

Mom met Dad while she worked at Willis Music downtown. Dad, a 3rd generation Italian (yes, Questa with a "Q" is Italian), married my mother and they - after they could afford to - bought a house in St. Bernard in the "Old Subdivision" (dubbed after a new subdivision was constructed in the 70's). Mom worked various clerical office jobs - dad landed employment at Proctor and Gamble's Ivorydale Plant (now called the St. Bernard Soap Company - ironically the location where a workman's error whipped air into the soap causing it to float in water, thereby making it one of the most popular consumer products of the time).

They held off to start a family until much later in life. Mom was 39 when she gave birth to Dona Marie Questa. Tragically, my older sister died only 5 days after birth, falling victim to a staff infection she contracted in the hospital. I can't imagine how devastating this time was, and those who have told me bits and pieces told me that my mother was very strong during this time, even though she was obviously distraught about the apparently senseless death of a baby. I can only assume it was because of her faith.

2 years later in 1964 I was born (God help us all). I must have been a holy terror as I experienced colic and was a constant bother to my parents as a baby. There were two things that would calm and sooth me - a ride in the car, and listening to music. In fact, in order to get me to sleep my parents put my crib under a speaker and they would play music to get me to sleep. I am convinced this is also why I am musically inclined, as I listened to music from the time I was born.

Vault ahead to 1974. I was 10 years old. I remember that my parents friend and neighbor picked me up from school that day, and as inquisitive as I was at the time I'm sure I drove everyone nuts trying to find out why there was something different. Dad had a heart attack, and was in the hospital. Mom did everything she could to make life "normal" for me, while I'm sure things were everything but normal with the love of her life in the hospital.

Dad came home a few days later, but it didn't last long. Just a few weeks later, I heard Dad yell for Mom while he was in the shower, and then a crash. Mom went running, then yelled to me to go get Tom (our next door neighbor and paramedic for St. Bernard). I peered in to see mom holding dad as he shivered, the look on her face very worried. I went and got Tom, and within a matter of a few minutes dad was on his way back to the hospital. He suffered a stroke.

For those of you who don't know, strokes can and often do adversely effect the personality of the victim. Dad changed from a loving husband and father into a very bitter and angry man. It was obvious to me - and Mom - that he was frustrated that he couldn't do the things he used to do. He was considered permanently disabled, so he could no longer work at P&G, could no longer serve in his position in city government (member of the City of St. Bernard board of health, then elected to City Council, member of the St. Bernard Kawanis, just to name a few things he did).

I can't tell you how many times things exploded in our household. Dad once pulled a knife and chased me through the house (although I don't think he would have ever used it). He also threw door knobs (solid glass and metal objects that would certainly have killed me if I was to be hit in the head) and broke items in fits of rage. But through all of this, Mom took to heart the vows she made when they were married so many years ago. It was "recommended" many times that Dad be institutionalized, but Mom always refused. "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" meant everything to Mom.

Through all of this, Mom did everything in her power to maintain my standard of living. Even though our income was drastically reduced, she still put me through Catholic grade and high school. She continued to nurture my musical talents, driving me all over the Midwest so I could continue to perform at trade fairs, Disabled American Veteran conventions, TV shows, shopping malls - even sat for hours at the "Hot Shoppes Cafeteria" in the Tri County mall twice a week while I played the organ and made some cash for myself, all they while taking Dad wherever we went.

It is these things - the way she made my life as normal as possible, teaching me right from wrong, driving home the importance of being responsible, ethical, and moral, the importance of family, and all the while leading by example that when you vow to love someone unconditionally, you must honor your vow. I am who I am because of my Mother. I would admit that I am not nearly as good at these things and dealing with adversity as my Mother was, but I continue to try everyday to live up to her example. It's a very high bar, and I hope one day I'll be able to reach it.

Mom and I didn't always see eye to eye of course. She really hated my long hair, but she got the last word on that one, didn't she? I was genuinely upset at her for a long time because we lost the only bit of financial security I was to have when we were forced to sell the family home. But I loved her dearly. I will miss her. I hope I did the right thing by her, especially over the last two weeks of her life when I did what I thought she would have wanted me to do for her - to honor her wishes.

I am who I am today because of my Mother. My musical ability, my work ethic, my attitudes, and beliefs - everything I am, I am because of my Mother. If I have done anything to positively effect your life, it is because of who She was and how She raised me. Feel free to thank her. :)

I love you Mom. When you talk to God, please tell him that I'm worth helping while I'm on Earth, and worth keeping when I leave this existence. Enjoy your rest in Heaven - you certainly deserve it.

With much love,

Your son

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Preparations Continue...

It was strange to see Mom's obituary in the newspaper today. I'm not sure why - I helped write it - I guess that I'm starting to let myself feel now, which is part of the healing process. And consistent with the digital age, it's also on line:

Amazing how information can be distributed so quickly, yet there is so little understanding these days.

I picked up a guest register book for the memorial service this Saturday. I also asked Melissa Singer-Reed to sing Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) while I play the piano. I would have liked to try and sing it myself, but I'd never get through it in good voice. Hopefully Mom won't mind me just playing the piano part...

I decided to make Mom's prayer cards too. Digging deep into my self taught graphic design background, I was able to come up with something that I think she would have liked, and something that the people at Little Sisters would appreciate as well.

The front has a picture of the cross on a hill at sunset, the inscription "In loving memory of Loretta Questa Devoted wife and mother December 14th 1923 July 17th 2010. Then from John 14:6 "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one cometh unto the Father except through me"

The back has an incredible picture of Christ as the Shepherd, standing and watching over his sheep. Of course, I used Psalm 23, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want..."

Thank you Big Will Mueller (awesome drummer) for the copy of that Bible. It came in good use, again. :)

I put them on 4" x 5-1/2" cards so I could make the print big enough for older eyes to see. Normal prayer cards are so small, and the print so small that it's hard for us 40-something people to read, much less eyes that have seen 70+ years.

Here's what they look like:



So as the cards are printing on the "ultra quality" setting - 4 minutes per page - I'm listening to the original versions of some of the music I played at Wellspring Community Church. It's doing a good job of quenching the fires I feel in my soul, but I fear it's only temporary. I've found it much harder to maintain my state of sanity (scary prospect for those of you who really know me on a personal level). I just need to get through the weekend, and then I have to put on my business face and find some employment.

Anyone need a really good Purchasing / Supply Chain Manager? I have a long list of successes and 19 years of experience...

Anyone have an contact at a dueling piano bar? I know a minimum of 500 songs, and I can sing some too...

Maybe Mom will intercede for me - she's always been there for me before. "Mom, I'm far from perfect and I could have done better by you over the years, but I'd appreciate you putting in a good word with the Man Upstairs." I'll take all the help I can get...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mom is heading home...

The call came at 7:00 PM...

"Jim? This is sister Rose Marie. Your mother just died."

I was down at Manhattan Harbor - a large riverside complex of boats and party barges, and a large bar / restaurant / nightclub right on the river. I had just finished setting up and wiring my keyboards for the show I was playing with DV8. My brain when into work mode: Who do I need to call? Did anyone find mom's bequeathal form? What are the next steps???

I was able to get in contact with the funeral home, and they were to take care of everything at this point. Sister Rose Marie found the body donation form - my mother's wish was to donate her body to the University of Cincinnati School of medicine, and the nursing home was given a copy - so that part was taken care of. Hodapp took care of transporting the body. All was in motion the way it should be.

Next my brain when into survival mode. I've come to learn that everyone handles death and grieving differently, and the way you deal with it has a direct relationship to your past experiences. As I had mentioned a few posts ago, my father died when I was 21 (that's 25 years ago) after suffering for 11 years with 3 heart attacks and 3 strokes. I always viewed his death as a blessing because he truly became a shell of his former self. My wife's mother on the other hand died at age 57 from complications due to Lung Cancer. Hers was a life cut way too short, and she left my wife without her mother and my wifes kids without their grandmother at a very young age - there was something so wrong about that in my mind. My mother on the other hand was 86 - she lived an incredible life and, as you will read in an upcoming blog entry, she did so many great things during her lifetime.

Mom's death was to me - like dad's before - a release of pain and suffering and a restoration of dignity. Perhaps I look at their passing this way because of my faith in God and my belief that there is a place for us after our life on this Earth. I never cried about my fathers death, and today I don't cry about my mother's passing - I believe they have been reunited as husband and wife, now together forever in the after-life. It's everything mom wanted since dad died in 1985 and when we talked about it, it was the one thing she was looking forward to when the time came. 

The other bonus for me is this - despite the fact that I was my parents only child, and now both of my parents are gone, I don't feel alone. This is because of the wondrous woman I have found in Jennifer, my wife. Ephesians 5:31 states, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." Jennifer is my life, and because of her I am not alone in this world. Of course I have my friends - many great friends, some with whom I play music, and others that I've known from my prior employment, playing ice hockey, or other things I've done around Cincinnati - but my wife and three wonderful step kids have become my life and my focus. As long as Jennifer is here, I am not alone. I thank God for her, and I thank my mother for supporting and guiding me when I found Jennnifer.

So with the news of my mother's passing coursing through my body, I had to make a decision. 30 minutes until DV8 (great friends and a great band, with whom I was filling in for their current keyboardist who was on vacation at the time) took the stage, I had to decide to leave or stay. There was some sadness in my heart. There was much relief in my heart. So I thought to myself, "Who was my mother and what was her focus for me when she raised me to be the man I am today?"

I can't begin to chronicle the amount of time my father and mother spent with me regarding my musical pursuits. My father - until he had his first stroke when I was 10 - would sit with me in the dinning room and force me to practice. After father took ill, my mother still found ways to get me to performances, became my booking agent, secured bus tickets and airline tickets, hotel reservations (Good Lord, that trip to Disney Land and my performance on the New Mickey Mouse Club when I was 12 had to be the most difficult thing she ever did, considering she was also caring for my stricken father) - she did everything in her power to make sure I could nurture and improve my talents. In many ways, to pack up and sit at home doing nothing would have been a slap in the face for all she had done for me while I was growing up.

So I decided to stay and play the show.

I certainly wasn't the life of the party by any means. I was singularly focused on my playing - playing for her (and for my own personal sanity) - giving whatever my fingers and voice would allow me to do, understanding all the while that it was because of her (and my God-given talents) that I was even able to play music at all, and something that I love to do.

Many musicians that I spoke with that night, including Melissa Singer-Reed (one incredible vocalist and an even better human being), and Mike Oakley (hands down the most gifted guitarist I've ever had the pleasure of working with and a blessing to me both spiritually and as a friend) - they all understood my motivation for wanting to play. Besides honoring mom's memory and her sacrifice, music is my therapy. Instead of Zoloft or Prozac, playing music allows me to comb through my minds confusion and make sense of this crazy world and the twists and turns that are a part of life on Earth.

So in the span of mere moments, I felt sadness, loss, relief, joy, comfort - and in the end - peace. Mom is in a wonderful place with dad. They have been reunited and can now spend eternity making up for the 25 years that sickness and death kept them apart. They so much loved each other, and it was so evident in the way mom cared for dad for the decade he was ill.

In then end, I take the following facts with me now: My parents took the musical gift that God gave me and nurtured it into something that will sustain me for a lifetime - maybe not financially, but certainly psychologically. In turn, God has also sent me the gift of a wonderful, understanding wife in Jennifer and her three awesome kids who I've grown to love as my very own flesh and blood. And lastly, God has graced me with a pool of friends that cannot be measured, so many that I could never list them all - people that I've touched through my music, and they in turn have touched me with their smiles and laughter and well wishes. My friends and musical cohorts from Wellspring Community Church, the Bad Habit Band, and DV8 just to name a few - there are so many more musicians and friends, it feels to me like the first time you look into a moonless night sky way out in the country and you realize how many stars there are above you - every star a friend that has wished me well.

So thank you all for your support during this difficult two weeks. You have prayed for me, and I believe God has answered those prayers. My heart is full because of his grace, and the incredible friendship you all have offered. I believe and truly pray that your gift is returned to you and amplified so many more times.

May God bless you all.  :)

-  Jim  -

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some Comedy In The Face Of Sadness

This morning, mom wasn't doing so well (as if anything that's happening right now could be considered "well"). But while Jen and I waited for the staff to finish her morning bath, one of the residents came up in her walker to talk with us.

"How is Loretta doing?" she asked.
"Not well" I answered.

Then she said, "You know, I really miss your mother. We would sit together during dinner or events and talk. It was really nice - Most everyone else on this floor is either deaf or in la la land."

Then she turned and walked away.

Jen and I looked at each other and chuckled at the bit of comedy that had been tossed our way. I also smiled because I knew my mom touched lives wherever she went. She sometimes wondered why she was left on this Earth for so long after dad died in 1985. Now we know why - her job on here on Earth wasn't done yet.

I hope her job is done soon. Mom didn't recognize me or Jen when we went into her room today. It might be hard to explain but when I look into her eyes, I don't see her anymore. It's almost like she is already gone - only the body remains holding on to some kind of life. Perhaps this is the "purgatory" that I heard some much about in Catholic school - not heaven, not hell, but a state in between before going to one direction or the other. I don't know - maybe it's just my mind trying to make sense out of something that I personally see as nonsensical...

On top of this, we come home to find a mess of water in the basement. It seams one of our drain pipes has fractured. As Jen and I were heading to the hardware store for some kind of temporary solution until we can scrape up the cash for a professional repair, I just had to say, "I can handle this - God never gives you more than you can handle, right?"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Back to her home, before her trip home....

Mom's wish was granted - she wanted to return to Little Sisters for her Hospice. The doctor processed the release paperwork at 10 AM, and she was in the ambulance at 1:00. When I got there around 4, Sister Rose Marie was giving her a bath. Her room was completely clean and organized - everything in it's place. I bought a CD player with a speaker, and a CD of music and rain sounds - something she was enjoying in the hospital. She was tired - Jen and I stayed for a bit over and hour then decided to leave her sleep.

Yesterday She was a bit more awake - she even managed to tell me she loved me. It was nice to here of course, but hard all at the same time.

Today I couldn't make it until the afternoon. Sister called and said mom was having a good day and I made it over there around 3:30. I was there for about 90 minutes, and she was pretty out of it. A nurse came in and gave her some pain medication (which I didn't know she was getting), so I'm guessing the time must be getting pretty close.

One of the priests came in again today - I think he comes in every day to bless mom. "May Marry the mother of God be there in your hour of death," he says in part. Words that hit me strangely - I'm not sure how to take it. It's my hope that dad will be there to greet her on the other side, and maybe her greyhound Lady too...

It's so hard to watch mom go through this. I do understand that this is the natural course of the end of life, but it's so difficult to watch mom lie there and just "exist." I can only continue to pray for peace and comfort and hope that this time pases quickly. I hope you all as well - and pray for my sanity during all of this.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

And so it goes...

After much discussion with the people at Little Sisters (which is where mom has been staying for the last 5 years), people from Hospice of Cincinnati, and her doctor, we (Mom and myself) have decided to let mom go back to her room at Little Sisters. They are able to administer nutrients and pain medication if needed, and both Mom and myself think this would be the best thing to do.

According to the doctor, not only does she have a massive infection running through her blood, she now has a fungus in her blood. This is typical of how things can move out of control in older people, so it's time.

The sisters at Little Sisters have been wonderfully supportive. And after all of the conversations I've had with them, her doctor, and mom (a very productive conversation in fact), I am finely at peace with the decisions have been made. It's hard to explain, but it feels good to finely turn over the process to God (as if he didn't have control anyway, right?) and let him take care of things.

Please continue to pray for Mom so she can pass from this world into the next with dignity, respect, peace and comfort.

- Jim -

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Now I have some answers...

My next blog postings are going to be about my mother and her battle with infections at the age of 86. This is a follow up to my "facebook" posts, and the update is so lengthy I thought I'd post it here for easy reading.


First, about the biopsy. As I've stated previously, mom isn't producing white blood cells naturally to help fight the infection (in four places) that is running through her body. Without an adequate white blood cell count, it will not be possible for mom to recover, and the infection will eventually take over...

A bone marrow biopsy is used to determine if Leukemia or Bone Cancer is present preventing the production of white blood cells (mom has a .6 right now when it should be 4, 5, or 6.0). The problem is that if she does have Bone Cancer or Leukemia, there's nothing they can do about it. However if she doesn't, they are already treating her with all of the knows types of medication to improve the production of white cells.

With that being the case, it doesn't make any sense to do the bone marrow procedure - a painful one - because at the end of the day the results don't matter. White cells are not being produced under any circumstance.

So mom is being treated with all kinds of anti-biotics used to fight the infection. Unfortunately, the infection is so wide spread, and without the ability of her body to produce white cells to help the anti-biotics do their job, the only thing they are doing is keeping the infection at bay. After a week, the infection continues to exist, and mom faces the risk of C-Diff:

At the end of the day, Mom is very sick and weak, and all we are really doing at this point is prolonging the inevitable. Without the production of white cells, and with a weeks worth of massive dosages of anti-biotics, her body has had about all it can take from medication. The decision now needs to be made on how to allow mom to deal with this final battle on her own, now that all of the medical options have been exhausted.

When I talked to the doctor today, he strongly suggested Hospice. Mom will never recover to the point where she can enjoy sitting in the sun on the patio, or watch a Reds game, or play bingo down in the hall, so the "quality of life" decision needs to be made. Luckily, mom and I have discussed this at length prior to this sickness. She strongly wanted every chance to recover, but if it ever got to the point where she wasn't going to be able to do the things she loved to do, then it was time. I intend to honor those wishes.

Mom was "out" pretty much the last 2 days, but while Jen and I were eating dinner we got a call from the hospital. Mom wanted to talk to me on the phone! What?!?! Sure enough, mom woke up enough for me to talk to her. We choked down our dinner and headed back to the hospital.

I was able to talk to mom and explain everything that I was told by the doctor and nursing staff. It was hard for her to hear, but she totally understood everything, and even decided where she wanted to go when the time was right. At this point it's up to me to gather the balance of the information and make the call...

Please continue to pray for mom - for peace and comfort. Please pray for me - for guidance and strength. I have learned through this process that the payment for 18 years of love and heartache a parent experiences when raising a child is that child making the final decisions for the parent who raised you. It's very difficult, but mom deserves all of the love and support I can give her now in this her final hours.

I love my mom, and this is how I must show her - by honoring her wishes and making sure things are done right.

Thank you everyone for your continued support. :)

- Jim -

The Circle Of Life

There is nothing quite so beautiful - and nothing quite so devestating - as the circle of life.  When we are born into this world - at least for the vast majority of people - it's a beautiful, happy time.  As we live our lives, choices are made for us in the beginning, and eventually we make our own choices and our own way.  But one day, we will die.  Most of the time, we won't know how it will happen, or what the conditions may be, but it will happen.  It is part of the natural order, and nothing will stop it.

This all comes to mind now as I sit in a hospital room next to my mother.  She is 86, and gravely ill.  She knows I'm here, but she can't communicate other than to look my way at times.  Her doctor contacted me today and told me there's nothing more that they can do for her other than what they've already been doing, and she isn't improving.  So my choices are to continue treatment, or send her to Hospice.

My mother - Loretta Moeller - was born in the City of St. Bernard, a suburb of Cincinnati 6 miles north of Downtown Cincinnati on I-75.  December 14th, 1923 to be exact.  She lived in a large red house on Church Street, a block from St. Clement's Church, with her Sister Margie and her Brother Robert, her mother and grand parents.  She told me once she never knew her father - that he was an alcoholic and had left early in her childhood.

She met my father - Earl F Questa of Latonia, KY - while she worked at the Willis Music Company in downtown Cincinnati.  They were married at St. Clement's church, and purchased a house in the South East corner of St. Bernard, which is where they - and I - lived for most of our lives.

Mom gave birth to a little girl - Donna Marie - who died a couple of months after birth from a staff infection.  Two years later, she gave birth to me.  Both of my parents sacrificed to send me to private schools and always nurtured my musical talents.

When I was 10, my father had a heart attack, and a few month later, had a stroke.  It was at this point that my mother demonstrated her incredible love for my father - and for me.  My dad was an incredibly active and accomplished member of the community - member of the health department, then member of St. Bernard city council for a few years - all the while working for Proctor & Gamble.  But this stoke meant he could no longer work.  My mother was instructed to put dad into a home, she took the vows of "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" very much to heart.  For the next 11 years, she would care for my father like a nurse (even though she never had any nurse training),  and continued to care for him until his health diminished after his 3rd stroke.  He died at the hospital 9 days after being admitted, and she was then on her own.

During this time, she found a way to put me through catholic high school, got me to band performances, paid for drum lessons as well as music lessons (as I continued to play the organ and piano through school).  She worked odd jobs, delivered phone books and laundry detergent samples to earn extra money.  Through all of this time she took care of dad as well - and yet I never wanted for anything.  She was truly a stunning example of a wife and mother.

She was always proud of me in whatever I did.  She didn't agree with everything I did as an adult (could never understand why I wanted to play that loud rock and roll), but she never stopped loving and supporting me.  Everyone should be lucky enough to have that kind of parent.

So now I sit in a hospital room, preparing to talk to someone from Hospice, and try to determine the best course of action.  I hope that the decisions I make now honor the decisions she made for me while I was growing up.  I love you mom - I hope you know how much...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Elections have consiquences...

The United States is a Republic (not a Democracy as many are taught in our school systems today).  This means we elect people to represent us in the political process.  Are you being represented properly?  I'm not, and it's starting to upset me...

The people we have elected - for the most part - have used class envy, lies, diversions, and flat out deception to divide this country and play on the fears of the most uninformed of Americans.  It doesn't matter whether they are Democrats or Republicans - members of both parties have taken us down this road.  And while we can certainly blame those who have cast the votes for the massive increases in entitlements over the last few decades, one look at the percentage of eligible voters to actual voters tells most of the story as to why we find ourselves were we are today.  The other issue is the percentage of people who go to the polls uninformed.

For example, most informed voters know that a primary election  is substantially different than a general election, as in a primary election you choose a political party and select the candidate that you want to run in the general election, or you can choose an "issues only" ballot and vote only on the issues.  If it's your first time voting, I would expect there to be a very small group of people who need to be instructed about the primary election process, but not people who have been voting for years.

During the May 2010 primary elections, I followed an older couple - probably in their 60's - into the polling place.  The lady showed her ID and signed the booklet, then was asked if she wanted a Democratic or Republican ballot, or an issues ballot.  She was absolutely dumbstruck.  "I don't vote for a political party - I vote for the best person for the job."  Well, based on the fact that she didn't understand the process of a primary election, how could she know with any certainty which candidate would be the "best person for the job?"  Her husband - who initially forgot to sign the voting record log - was equally incensed stating he didn't understand why he had to choose.  The poll workers weren't having much luck trying to help these "informed" voters either, as every explanation met with more questions.

I finally spoke up:

Me: "Sir - this is not a general election - this is primary election."

Him: "yeah?"

Me: "In a primary election, the person you vote for in will not be elected into any position.  They are running - sometimes unopposed - to win the approval of the people in their party to run in the general election.  That is why you are asked if you want a Democrat or Republican ballot.  Whoever wins their party vote in this election will be on the ballot in November for the General election, where everyone will then choose who will represent us in that position."

Him: "Well, I don't agree with this type of system..."

At that point, I certainly couldn't help him - I mean, we've had this type of system for generations.  You mean to tell me him and his wife have been voting like this all of their lives and they didn't even know how the system works?  I thought they were informed voters?  How is it that we have raised generations of people who know next to nothing about how our electoral system works???

This just tells me those of us who ARE informed have to work harder and pay closer attention than ever.  Additionally, we as American's can no longer take our country for granted - we need to register and vote.  And when we vote, we need to be prepared.  Know the candidates you want to vote for, and know what the issues say and how they will impact everyone - rich and poor, employer and employee - educated and ignorant.  Investigate and take a sample ballot with you so you can fill out the actual ballot correctly.

In future entries I will get into my personal voting philosophy, but I want to stress to anyone who decides to read my blog that we must be more vigilant than ever.  The future of our country is in very perilous shape.  We need to take the proper steps now - to quote Abraham Lincoln - to assure that our "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

May God help us all if we fail...