Hidden in Plain Sight at the Gum Wall in Seattle

Any tourist trip to Seattle isn’t complete without a visit to Pike’s Place Market, a few blocks east of the famous Elliott Bay waterfront.  Hidden on the lower level of the Market on Post Alley is a quirky tourist attraction called the Market Theater Gum Wall.  It’s been in the news this week because for the first time in 20 years, the wall underwent a steam cleaning and removal of the estimated 1 million wads of used chewing gum.

Gum Wall

A small portion of the gum wall, measuring 50 feet long and up to 15 feet high.

In 2009 this gum wall was named one of the top five unhygienic sites in the world, second to the Blarney Stone in Ireland.   Another little known fact is that a similar and older gum wall, Bubblegum Alley, exists in San Luis Obispo, California.

But don’t worry!  When the maintenance is complete, tourists and passersby can once again leave their sticky legacy on the city.

Hidden in Plain Sight

What you probably haven’t heard about is the secret treasure known as a geocache that was hidden in plain sight on the gum wall.

But what is a geocache?

Geocaching is a treasure hunt that uses GPS-enabled devices to track the specific GPS coordinates of hidden containers, or geocaches, throughout the world.  Presently, there are 2,744,212 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.

The geocache at the gum wall, named “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble,” was a very popular hunt for geocachers.  The online record for this geocache indicates that over 2,800 geocachers logged a visit at this cache since it was hidden in 2010.  Of that number over 25% of the geocachers could not find the cache.  I was one of those, logging the dreaded frown smiley face or DNF (Did Not Find) on my geocaching record.

Where is the geocache?

Can you spot the geocache at this Seattle landmark?

Although I hate to log a ‘DNF’ during my geocaching adventures, this day still holds pleasant memories for me.  It was thanks to Pedro, our host son from Spain, that I decided to search for this geocache.  As a long-time Seattle area resident, I didn’t even know about the gum wall until we started geocaching in 2010.

On the Hunt for Hidden Treasure

The first year Pedro was in our home, one of the student field trips was to Pike’s Place Market and the gum wall.  Days earlier Pedro went out on his first geocaching adventure with my family.  He was hooked.  Unfortunately we didn’t find out about the geocache at the gum wall until after the field trip.

Pedro at the gum wall, July 2010.

Pedro leaves his gum legacy at this famous Seattle landmark, unaware of the hidden treasure camouflaged on the wall.

When Pedro returned to Seattle the next summer, he was eager to find lots of geocaches, and to surpass my husband’s count of geocaches.  It was a good-natured competition to see who had the most caches by the end of his visit.  Pedro made a gallant try but couldn’t catch up.  He found over 50 caches in four weeks scattered throughout Washington and Oregon.

Back to the day of this hunt…

The day was memorable because it was the day that I took Pedro to The Piano Studio for his recording rehearsal.  We met Martin Buff, the studio owner, and Pedro spent some time getting his fingers used to the 9-foot Steinway Grand Piano.  His actual recording date was a few days later.  What a priceless memory watching this young man’s dreams come true.  Pedro has since gone on to compose music for short and full-feature films like Tempting Fate.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle, June 2011.

After a short rehearsal, we headed into downtown Seattle to geocache.  We found a few geocaches along the waterfront and then went to Pike’s Place Market.  Our goal: to find, or to log a smiley (that’s geocaching lingo) at “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble.”

We were surprised when we arrived at Post Alley and found a photography class set up taking photographs of the wheat paste art on the walls opposite the gum wall.  We walked past the students and tried to use our geocaching stealth and ‘geosense’ to search for the hidden cache on the gum wall.

Hints are provided on the online listing for this geocache, but sadly it didn’t help us spot the camouflaged container that measured about an inch in diameter.   GPS coordinates are fairly accurate most of the time, but with that small of a container and the large brick wall covered with gum, it felt like an impossible task.  Besides, even with gloves on, we really didn’t want to search that closely!

We ended our memorable day with dinner at the waterfront, watching the ferries on Elliott Bay, and planning our next adventure—recording Pedro’s first CD at The Piano Studio.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Restoration of the Hidden Landmark

So what’s next for “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble?”  The geocache listing has temporarily been disabled.  The owner of the cache reported that a physical cache container will be replaced after the wall is cleaned and re-gummification begins.

Since I didn’t find the geocache before, I think this gum wall cleaning is good news for me.  The sooner I return on the hunt for this geocache, the better my odds of finding it.  And then I can turn my DNF to an “I FOUND IT” smiley.  🙂

For more information or to get started on your own geocaching adventures, visit geocaching.com.

Fertilizing the Soil in Spain & France through Prayer

A year ago at this time I was traveling through France and Spain on a church mission. It was a fantastic trip, and not your typical sort of international mission. The purpose was to spread the gospel by speaking and teaching about Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program launched at Saddleback Church over 20 years ago.

CR is in 69 countries with the materials translated into 28 languages.  So why did I go to Spain and France? The Lord has given me a heart for His people in Spain and continues to prompt me to pray for their spiritual needs; France because of an invitation from an American missionary and colleague who invited me to share my testimony.

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

As I mark the one-year anniversary of my mission, it’s time to pass on an update from my missionary partners and to share more about the spiritual climate in these countries.

Preparing for a Harvest in Spain

I’ve always believed that the mission was only made possible because of my personal pilgrimage to Spain in the summer of 2013. I prayed throughout the country in numerous churches and cathedrals. In preparing for that trip, the Lord laid it upon my heart to pray for a spiritual awakening in Spain. Within six months, I was invited to return and lead a Celebrate Recovery seminar in the suburbs of Madrid.

While in Spain that first summer, my prayers weren’t related to Celebrate Recovery or for the Lord to use me in Spain. I liken my prayers to how Jesus spoke in parables about the harvest (Luke 8). My prayers were tilling the spiritual soil in the country. They were focused on preparing the spiritual and physical atmosphere to be open to the Lord’s work. When I returned to Spain on mission last fall, I continued to pray in the same vein, fertilizing the message that was taught in the CR seminar.

The Fruit of our Labor in Spain

If you were to look at the fruit one year later in Spain specifically, it may not look like much. You can’t point to the launch of a CR program at any local churches. You can’t point to continued training of the participants. What you can point to is that the message was received and is being welcomed by the seminar attendees.

We left the attendees with Spanish copies of Life’s Healing Choices (Ocho Decisiones Sandoras), written by John Baker, co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. This book breaks down the 12-steps into recovery choices or principles that are more easily understood in individual and small group settings. Some of the seminar attendees have worked through that book and are eager to share the information they learned.

The CR content is also being integrated into the curriculum being taught at the John Wesley Bible Institute (launched after our seminar). Another exciting development shared by my missionary partner in Madrid, Pastor Josh Fajardo, is that he has been meeting with an evangelical priest interested in the program.

The First CR Harvest in France

While in Spain CR has barely been introduced, in France there is one known CR group that is up and running. That group is led by my missionary partner in Grenoble, Marvin Klein, at E.P.E.G.E. where I shared my testimony. That CR ministry has been active for two years.

Regular attendance at the weekly meeting is 16 people—10 men and 6 women. These participants are wrapping up the ministry’s inaugural step study groups and preparing for leadership. Consistency and momentum grew in the women’s group following my visit.

Marvin also shared with me that they are working on making the ministry more visible to the outside and plan to create a video about the program. He has continued contact with a friend who attended the Spain CR seminar who is interested in applying the CR material to teens and young adults. Marvin is also in communication with a French priest and a missionary in Barcelona who are both interested in the program.

The European Soil – Religious History & Cultural Context

Why is this significant? It’s because of the European religious history and cultural context. From my perspective, the European church is still years behind the shift that the church has experienced in America.

I’ve been in recovery for over a decade. Early on in my journey, I attended one of the oldest CR ministries in our state. It was at a time when the talk about vulnerability, codependency, and boundaries was starting to catch on in the church. Christians attending secular recovery groups like AA and Al-Anon started to drift toward CR.

Slowly the church has embraced the concept of spiritual poverty. Other ministries have been birthed, books and Bible studies have been written, and sermons preached—all pointing to some of the key concepts taught and practiced at CR. This results in Good News for Christians in America. However, I still believe that if people truly embraced their brokenness, CR meetings would be standing room only every week.

France and Spain also both have deep spiritual and emotional wounds related to the Church. It’s similar to the deep divide that occurred in the United States when the Civil War separated our nation between the North and the South over slavery.

St. Bartholomew's Massacre

St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, 1572, Paris (Painted by Francois Dubois)

With the birth of the Protestant Reformation Movement by Martin Luther in 1517, France became divided in its religious beliefs. This led to bloody massacres, a series of religious wars, and forced conversions to Catholicism.  Intense animosity still exists, handed down from generation to generation.   Unfortunately, Europeans in general have turned against the organized church.

The spiritual history in Spain is no less traumatic with the blood of Christian martyrs buried in the soil. The Protestant Reformation Movement never made a stronghold in Spain. However, the Spanish Inquisition was very effective for over 300 years (1478-1834) at keeping heretics to a minimum. The goal of the Inquisition was a pure and unified Spanish-Christian race.

In 1492, over 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Another 750,000 remained and forced to convert to Catholicism. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Spain finally passed a law to grant their descendants the right to dual Spanish citizenship.

Although Spain is considered a Catholic country, most Spaniards don’t attend Mass or practice their faith. The country’s Catholic roots and traditions are prevalent in the government, the monarchy, the culture, and the celebration of holidays and religious feasts and festivals. Sadly, towering Gothic cathedrals serve more as museums and tourist attractions than working churches.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Prayer is the Work

Thankfully I got to attend Mass at a few of these cathedrals and toured several of them as well. It was where I did my best Kingdom work, praying in these sacred structures that weathered the spiritual and physical battles of centuries gone by. It was like being on Holy Ground. I did the same while in France last year, most notably by attending Mass at Notre Dame while on a short layover in Paris.

I still have a vested interest in the fruit being produced in these countries as I continue to pray for their spiritual renewal and healing. It’s one way I can be used by the Lord and have an impact in the Kingdom in spiritual ways unknown to me.

A spiritual mentor once told me that we can change the world if we are willing to be invisible.  I’ve been blessed to be visibly used as the hands and feet of Jesus in France and Spain on my mission last fall. But it started with being invisible in the summer of 2013.

What I think we tend to forget in our busy American lifestyle is that prayer is the work. Thankfully that message has been resonating in theaters across America over the last month with the release of War Room, and its message to fight your battles in prayer first.

Wherever we are, as Followers of Christ, we have access to our Heavenly Father, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s prepare the way for all we do in His Name by preparing the atmosphere of our hearts and the physical and spiritual lay of the land in prayer.

  • To support the CR work in Spain, click here.
  • To support the CR work in France, click here, and select ‘Klein’ on the drop down menu.

And please help fertilize the soil by lifting their efforts in prayer to bring spiritual renewal and healing into their countries.

Trusting the Writing Process (Year 4)

Four years. Forty eight months. 208 weeks. 1,460 days. Any which way you describe it; I’ve been mindful and reflective of passing another writing milestone. And I’ve learned a lot about the writer’s life along the way.

4th annivMy 4-Year Blogging Experience

Earlier this month I passed my 4-year blogging anniversary. That’s over 250 posts across three blogs (here, Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau, and Journeys to Mother Love), church devotionals, and guest posts on other author blogs. When I published my first blog post, What’s in a Name, I had no idea where my writing would take me. It just felt like the right time to flex my writing muscle.

In 4 years’ time I’ve written from a Christian perspective about emotional and spiritual healing, recovery, and finding our identity. I’ve dug into my own mother wounds and shared the unexpected beauty that surrounded the passing of my mother and my father. I’ve shared the ups and downs of relationships and the challenges of living with ADHD. I took readers with me on my personal pilgrimage to Spain, my mission to Europe, and shown them the joy of partnering with my musical protégé and friend, Pedro González Arbona on his journey into film composing.

A lot of my original posts were only shared with a handful of friends who I felt safe enough to share my writing with. I recently re-read some of those posts and was surprised at their transparency and inspiration: It Takes Courage, When Life Imitates Art, Leaving a Legacy. The formatting isn’t as polished as my current work, but the content is still relevant and poignant.

A few years ago, I submitted my site for a critique by a literary agent who was focused on marketing. That led to the highest hits on my site in one day. Normally I’d think that was a good thing. But her critique of my site drew the interest of other bloggers to see what not to do. That served as an embarrassing reminder of how brutal the publishing industry can be.

Thanks to the interview with Dan Davies last month, that changed! The post, A Behind the Scenes Look at Tempting Fate with Actor Dan Davies, now holds the single day record, and with it a very pleasant reminder of an entertaining interview.

Blogging

So 4 years of blogging has ended on a positive note! I’ll continue as the Holy Spirit leads me, and maybe tackle a revamp of my blog layout in the coming year.

The Ups and Downs of Traditional Publishing

It was also four years ago that I joined the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association. Membership has its benefits, and one of those is receiving notifications of story submissions. Days after attending my first meeting, I received the notification that set my writing in motion:

“Cladach Publishing is seeking authors with an encouraging personal-experience story of healing in mother/child relationships.”

That story submission, my first manuscript, led to publishing “Walking my Mother Home” in Journeys to Mother Love. It seemed like I was on the fast-track to publishing. I did all the right things: attending conferences, marketing, speaking, blogging, and posting on social media like Facebook. It was a lot of work.

Journeys To Mother LoveWhat got lost along the way was my dream to have my memoir published. Except for an intense month of writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2012, work on my memoir, Emerging from the Cocoon, stopped.

An author friend told me back when all of this started that ‘overnight’ success in the publishing world can have its setbacks. She was right.

The publishing seemed to come relatively easy for me then.  Step by step the opportunities opened one after the other, with the Lord aligning all of the people and places at the right time.

Then He directed my writing endeavors towards Spain. While there are a lot of posts here related to my Spanish connection, there is still a great body of work buried deep in my journal.

Sometimes it haunts me, beckoning to be published, at least from a travel perspective.  (Like today, the anniversary of my departure for Europe on the Celebrate Recovery mission.)  But after returning from that mission (my second pilgrimage of sorts), my writing has remained an inward work in progress.

It left me wondering, “where’s the fruit?”

Trusting the Writing Process

The last year has been the hardest part of my writing journey thus far.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to take a sabbatical from serving in CR leadership. It was a difficult decision, but I knew I needed a break.  I had poured myself into the mission, writing all about it, and also launching the website and blog for that ministry. I needed a season to rest and abide in the Lord (John 15:4). Surprisingly that took me into the next layer of the therapeutic process related to my ADHD. The internal work has been intense and too raw to write about publicly.

What has happened along the way though is that I have started to accept that all of the writing I am doing is the normal path of a writer. It is especially so for someone like me who wants to bring meaning to their work and make it truly authentic.

Maya Angelou quote

I’ve often heard that writing is a process. My path to publishing happened so quickly I skipped over that part. Now I have to experience the process and trust the path that other writers have walked before me.

I’ve learned the importance and significance of solitude. I’ve learned that reflection is a part of the craft.

Writers live a life of discovery and look at the inner experience of it. As such, we often need to distance ourselves from our experiences to be able to get the right perspective on it. That takes time, patience, and perseverance.

So I’ve come to accept that this season of my writing journey has been about doing the deeper inner work and trusting the process. I know it will be harder for me because of my ADHD. I’m not giving up.

For now, I’m continuing to take notice of what is going on around me and in me through the lens of ADHD. It’s a blessing, or so I’ve been told.

I know I’m worth it.

And so are you. I encourage you, my friends and readers, to take the time to invest in yourself and reflect on your experiences. You don’t have to be a writer. Any writing you do about it will lead to healing and emotional health though.

Thanks for supporting my writing and journeying along with me.  May this blog be a place of encouragement and inspiration on your journey.  May He turn your healing into hope too.

thank-you

A Behind the Scenes Look at Tempting Fate with Actor Dan Davies

Tempting Fate is heading into its 5th week in theaters across Nigeria and Ghana and is still showing well—especially considering the stiff competition from the summer’s blockbuster movies. This week I’ve dedicated my time to giving my readers a new and exciting angle into this movie.

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Still showing after 4 weeks in Nigeria and Ghana.

I’m delighted and grateful to share about Tempting Fate from an insider’s viewpoint, with co-star Dan Davies. Dan plays Scorpion, a gangster and leader of the bank robbery/drug gang, a central figure in the movie.  (Watch trailer with the music of Pedro González Arbona.)

Let me start off by saying that Dan is nothing like the evil villain he portrays in Tempting Fate. I first met Dan via Facebook shortly after Pedro signed the contract to compose for the movie. Then we met face to face at the VIP screening in Houston last year. That was a whirlwind weekend, and regrettably with no time to connect outside of all the press attention.

Days before Dan left for the Nigerian premiere of the movie last month, he granted my request for an interview. It wasn’t your typical press interview. We talked about matters of faith, his trip and the premiere in Lagos, and about the film. I hope you enjoy getting to know Dan a bit and what it was like on the set of Tempting Fate. But first…

Who is Dan Davies?

Dan Davies is a talented actor, screenwriter, and producer from Appleton, Wisconsin. His credits span a variety of different media: national TV commercials, local television and radio programs, internet video production, and print modeling. He received the prestigious Platinum (2005) and Silver (2006) Remi awards for films at the International Houston Film Festival (World Fest). Dan even spent time as a competitive body builder in the 1990s.

Dan Davies

Dan Davies

While Dan’s day to day work is in film promotions, marketing, procuring distribution and writing, his favorite work is when he can engage his creative juices in acting and screenwriting. To that end, Dan’s star is rising over Hollywood and Nollywood (the Nigerian entertainment industry).

Dan’s most recent work (before Tempting Fate) is in the movie West of Thunder. (Watch trailer.)  Dan co-wrote and stars in this film, a film selected in three 2012 film festivals: Toronto Independent FF, the American Indian FF, and the Red Nation FF. (Vote it into the top 10 American Indian Film Institute movies here.)  He also co-stars in Flim: The Movie, a 2014 British film that was nominated for the Best Film at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA). The movie was recently selected for viewing at the very prestigious NYC Film Festival in October.  (Watch trailer.)

How did Dan get the role of Scorpion in “Tempting Fate?”

Dan attributes the accolades and acclaim from West of Thunder for getting him the role of Scorpion in Tempting Fate:

Dan: “Because I didn’t really audition for this role,” Dan explained. “Kevin Nwankwor (the director/producer) gave me a call. I sent him my resume and he was familiar with some of my other work.”

“He asked me one question. He said, ‘Dan, can you do a Russian accent? Because we’d love for you to play this Russian gangster, the head of the bank robbing crew.’”

TF 01

Dan as Scorpion, in Tempting Fate. (Photo credit: Chris Willard Photography)

“I said, ‘No, I can’t, because I sound like Yakov Smirnoff, the comedian from the 1990s. I can do an Eastern European/Kazakh.’” Dan demonstrated his Kazakh accent to Kevin and the other producers listening in on the speaker phone.

“And that was it. He basically said, ‘That’s it. You’re in.’”

During the call with Kevin, Dan learned that the film had a real strong Christian message to it.

“I appreciated that,” he told me. “In Nigeria it is rated PG-15, which is their rating board. Here in the U.S., it would probably be PG-13, because of the violence in it.”

“It’s a really, really great story. It’s a story of redemption and forgiveness. It doesn’t shy away from tackling issues with a Christian perspective when things go bad, and when you have bad things in your life, and evil things happen. It relies on our faith to triumph over those. So that was important to me.”

What was it like working on the set of “Tempting Fate?”

In past interviews I had seen of Dan, he mentioned that working on the set of Tempting Fate was not like any other movie he had been a part of.

Dan: “It was neat to know that almost every single one of the cast and crew was a Believer. It was just amazing. I’ve been on movie sets where I’ve literally… been at my wits end. It sullied my outlook on films. I kept thinking if filming is going to be like this, I don’t know if I want to do this.”

“And then Tempting Fate came along. It was this brotherly love, this teamwork. It was having a bigger and better goal other than yourselves. It permeated everything we did. And the people were true, and friendly, and warm, and honest. I would literally wake up in the morning and say, ‘Is this a wonderful dream?’ It re-ignited my love for being on set on films.”

“It almost brings a tear to my eye just how amazing it was. Like when I talked with my Dad, or when I talked to my brothers or sisters, or family. Just basically saying how blown away I was by it. I had never seen anything like it. It was like we were long-lost brothers and sisters all brought together. It was someone’s force or a few people’s fervent prayer was answered. And that’s the truth. There is no way around it.”

Ardis: “Wow! God is definitely good. Even as I watched these things unfold in the year since the Houston premiere, I really sensed that His hand is all over this. I’ve seen that with Pedro’s music as well, as part of it. That is really great to hear.”

TF 01

Dan Davies (Scorpion), John J Vogel (Detective Travis), and Andrew Onochie (Edu) arrive by limousine at the Lagos premiere, July 10, 2015. (Photo credit: Chris Willard Photography)

What is Dan’s favorite type of work?

Ardis: “Dan, you have worked in a variety of different mediums and types of work in the entertainment industry. If you were working in your sweet spot, what would that be?”

Dan: “I always like the creation of the character. It’s the most energetic, the most thought-provoking, and the most passionate part of what I do. Although I love the writing, the marketing and promotion, and the producing end of it. But the more I am creating a character from the ground up…I get into completely creating the character. It is prayerful too. I want to be true to that character. I want it to be memorable too.”

Ardis: “So right now with this movie coming out, is this a major shift for you? Do you feel like you’re living your dream?”

Dan: “It’s one of those things that because I’m older and been doing this for a number of years that I’m so glad I have the success now compared to my 20s and 30s.”

Dan went on to tell about how he used to be a heavy drinker. In time that lifestyle, spending money on alcohol, being hungover, etc., took a toll on his body, his work, and his relationships.   When people ask him now if he regrets not having the success sooner, he answers, “no, because I couldn’t handle it then.”

“It’s nice to have it (the success) where I’m growing more with my spiritual life, and at this stage of my life.”

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One of many press interviews on the red carpet at the Lagos premiere, July 10, 2015.

More about the Entertainment Industry

As a Christian writer myself, I was interested in how Dan balances his faith while working in an industry that relies heavily on self-promotion. Unlike his big name Hollywood counterparts, Dan serves as his own agent, at least for now. He is always on the go getting the word out through social media about his projects and hustling for his next big break.

Dan: “It’s the unseemly part of the business. It’s really difficult. I never want to fall into a place where I start bragging or I start feeling I’m anything other than who I am. I don’t want to be that person. I’d much rather be me, than that persona. Staying humble and being filled with humility is really, really difficult…you start reading things and this and that.”

“I’m being mentioned with Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas, or Quentin Tarantino, you know, with West of Thunder. Then being mentioned with these great British actors and comedic actors in Flim: The Movie and you get a little bit of an ego. And I don’t want that.”

“It’s fun. And it’s attractive. But you got to remember that’s just Dan Davies as the actor, or as the writer. You have to completely distance yourself, or as much as you can.”

“I think Fred Astaire said, ‘Don’t read your press.’ The only press clipping he ever kept was one he used for motivation, and he put it on his fireplace mantle. It was the first critical review he received early on in his career. It said: ‘This Fred Astaire cannot sing. He is balding. He is not very attractive. But he can dance a bit.’ And he used it as a way to motivate himself, to keep himself getting better, to always work on his craft.”

Dan aspires to be like Fred Astaire, and not put any positive critic reviews on his mantle. I agreed with Dan how hard it is for Christians to separate ourselves from the media attention and the message that we want to convey.

Dan: “It’s one of those rocks between hard places as Christians. We want them to see His heart. It’s difficult to be in a situation where you are quoted after an interview or whatever. I want them to see who is great in me, not me. But they have to see me. I have to do these interviews, these premieres, and so forth and so on. But don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy that process. And I do enjoy meeting people. It’s difficult because one of our ultimate goals is for people to see that we do have the love of Christ emanating from us.”

Another red carpet interview at the Lagos premiere, July 10, 2015. (Photo credit: Chris Willard Photography)

Another red carpet interview at the Lagos premiere, July 10, 2015. (Photo credit: Chris Willard Photography)

What’s next?

Dan went on to talk more about his current movies and projects. He was tight-lipped about some contract negotiations that were in the works with Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). Since then he announced a major movie deal.

Dan will be co-starring in the sequel to “30 Days in Atlanta,” the No. 1 Nollywood (Nigeria) movie of all time. He returns to Nigeria in September for filming alongside American movie stars Lynn Whitfield and Vivica Fox (still in negotiations), and Nollywood movie stars Ramsey Nouah (from Tempting Fate) and AY.*

Tempting Fate also continues to be part of Dan’s future. It’s been a long road to the theaters from the filming back in September 2013. That was followed by the VIP screening in Houston in July 2014. The original release of the movie was scheduled for April 2015 in Nigeria. The premiere was delayed to July 10, due to the uncertainty surrounding the Nigerian elections and the exchange of power.

The premiere and release of the movie has been a great success in Nigeria and Ghana. There is speculation that the movie will be released in other English-speaking African countries. A normal progression for the movie would then be to go to England and Europe, Canada, building momentum, and eventually back to the U.S. When that happens, Dan and the entire cast and crew of Tempting Fate will be living their dream.

Dan: “It’s a risk when you are backing film to get your money back. KevStel can put the excess back into other projects that are uplifting with a great message. I know it is important to Kevin, Unoma, and their family, to get the ministry out, to get the mission out, in film.”

Ardis: “Amen to that! I’m excited for all of you.”

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Tempting Fate cast and crew on the red carpet at the Lagos premiere, July 10, 2015. (Photo credit: Chris Willard Photography)

Dan’s Final Thoughts

Ardis: “Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?”

Dan: “Yes, I want to encourage people to not give up if you’ve had a bad experience on something. Just keep plugging away. Literally—age isn’t a factor. There isn’t anything that holds you back from your dreams. The only thing literally is yourself.”

“You really have to conceive it, see it, believe it, and you’ll achieve it. And do that with everything in life. Even your prayer life should be that way too. The Bible literally tells us when you pray to believe that it’s already been answered (Matthew 21:22). And do that with all aspects of your life.”

Ardis: “Dan, thank you for that encouraging message. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your personal perspective on Tempting Fate. You have my continued support of this break-through Hollywood/Nollywood film project, and prayers for a safe and successful press tour in Lagos. I’m looking forward to watching it unfold on Facebook!”

Dan: “Thank you, Ardis. Take care. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Dan & Pedro at the VIP Screening in Houston, July 4, 2014.

Dan & Pedro at the VIP Screening in Houston, July 4, 2014.

Dan and I talked again earlier this week to catch up a bit since the Lagos premiere. There was an excitement in his voice and confident assurance in this new direction with his acting career. It reminded me of Hebrews 11:1, Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Knowing Dan’s story as I do now, I can honestly say that he has paid his dues and deserves this success.

I’ve learned a lot about the film and music industry as I’ve collaborated with Pedro González Arbona these last few years. And now I can say that I’m also learning from Dan too, not just about ‘Hollywood,’ but about living life for Christ under the scrutiny of the media. I’m proud to call him a friend, and anticipate that audiences around the world will see more of his rising star in the film industry.


Related Facebook links: Dan Davies, Tempting Fate, KevStel GroupPedro González Arbona, and West of Thunder.

Purchase Tempting Fate soundtrack at Amazon.com.


*Update 7/22/2017:  Dan Davies won the African Golden Movie Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Role for his portrayal of Tim Rice in “A Trip to Jamaica,” the sequel to “30 Days in Atlanta.” Dan was the first American to win this prestigious African award. Congratulations Dan!!

God Knows the Desires of our Heart

It was siesta time on Day 29 of my 42-day pilgrimage through Spain in 2013. This was my 5th day in Sóller, near the northwest coast of Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands of Spain. I was sitting poolside at the summer home of my gracious hosts, the parents of Pedro González Arbona, who we met in an exchange program three years prior.

The day was hot—just like the preceding days. I was still not used to the Spanish heat. Sóller was only slightly cooler than Madrid. It was in the mid-90s; and there was no air conditioning. When we left Madrid the week before, I was expecting cool island breezes and relief from the heat. There was no such luck. I adapted as best as I could, and relished the mid-day siesta to take a bite out of the heat.

The view from my bedroom window in Sóller.

The view from the writing desk in my bedroom in Sóller.

Siesta Time in Sóller

After the mid-day meal which was typically served at 2 PM, the family would turn to siesta mode. Some would take a nap, or others would read or relax by the pool. It was a deliberate time of restfulness and solitude.

Most days I would be in my room with the ceiling fan on, either typing away on my laptop trying to catch up on my writing, or sprawled out on my bed catching a few zzzzz. Traveling away from home without the benefit of an American companion, I considered both an investment in my emotional and physical health.

On this day, I relinquished my writing and my napping to another restful activity. I sat in the shade reading the script to Pedro’s most recent film. It was the script to Tempting Fate, the movie that is now showing across Africa with his music wafting through the theaters.

As I sat there reading with the sound of running water filling the pool in the background, all I kept reflecting on was how God really does know the desires of our heart. I’d love to be able to say that was because of the idyllic setting I was in, or the generosity of my family back home, or my Spanish host family. I had many of those moments in my 6 weeks of living with Pedro’s family.

A Holy Plot Twist

No, on this day it was the content of what I was reading that gave me goosebumps and lit the fire of the Holy Spirit within me. The script was ‘hot off the press’ so to speak. Pedro received it electronically and had a copy made at the print shop in town. He had already made his first pass through the script and had ideas running through his mind on the scenes and music.   I was honored to be the next to read it—mostly because I was his manager, but also because I was one of the few family members who could read English.  (His previous scripts were in Spanish and difficult for me to read.)

I knew very little about the story, and so I eagerly read it. The story opened with a bank robbery scene, lots of gun fire, and the death of a police officer. That didn’t sound like my type of movie.

Immediately following that, the story turned to a scene at a church with African worship music being sung. The sudden shift caught me off-guard and peaked my interest. As I read further and further into the script, I was enthralled with the story, and excited to read how this tale of two Nigerian brothers, one with deep faith fighting for his life against cancer, and the other steeped in a life of crime and drugs, would end.

I was not disappointed. It had a powerful message of redemption and forgiveness. Here’s one piece of great dialogue:

“God owes you no explanation, son. He looks out for you and gives you what is best for you. The important question is not why, but what happens next? And trust me, for those that trust God their next chapters are always better than the former chapters.”

Scenes from the movie Tempting Fate.

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read some of these scenes that challenged the characters in the movie, and would certainly resonate with audiences.

At one point, when I was nearing the end of the script, Pedro asked me what I thought of it. I had a hard time containing my excitement, but told him he would have to wait until I was finished reading. “Only a few more pages,” I told him. “And then we can talk about it.”

“Are you looking for the scenes with music in it?”

“No,” I confessed.

“You are a bad manager,” he teased. I didn’t mind. I was too overwhelmed with the sudden shift in the focus of my trip.

“The first of many more scripts for you to read,” he continued jokingly. But I didn’t take his musical talent or potential success in jest.

God Knows The Desires of our Hearts

God was not only giving me the desires of my heart with this trip of a lifetime, the Lord was giving Pedro the desires of his heart. Pedro dreamed of composing film scores since he was ten years old. Now at the age of 20, he was composing for his first full-feature American film!

A few days earlier, my daily devotional was based on Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” After reading the script of this faith-based movie, I had a teachable moment with Pedro about that scripture and how the Lord’s favor was on his music. He wasn’t sold on the idea that God would really have any interest in his musical success. There were much more pressing things for God to have His attention on like poverty and worldwide issues.  But I begged to differ.

Psalm 37.4

I expressed to him how I believed it was not a coincidence that he had landed this contract at this very point in time. I had been praying for his music to be used by God since the day I found out he was a composer. The script pointed people to God’s love and forgiveness, so his music would do the same. I saw it as an incredible blessing and confirmation that his music really was meant for the big screen.

Since Pedro came into my life five years ago, the Lord has given me many desires of my heart: the friendship of this family across the world, being the benefactor of Pedro’s music, and giving me a mid-life career change into writing (my long lost passion from college).

It’s not because God is like a genie, or I prayed for earthly success or rewards. It is because of my faith shift that started with a deeper and truer relationship with the Lord, and as the scripture says, delighting in Him.

So what about the Movie?

The Lord’s favor is on Tempting Fate too—the movie, the cast and the crew as it plays in theaters across Nigeria and Ghana. It premiered at #3 in the Box Office last week and is getting lots of positive reviews. Nollywood is all a twitter about this Hollywood/Nollywood collaboration.

My prayers continue for this movie and its message. I applaud KevStel Group for producing this film and following their dreams and desires of their hearts to bring quality faith-based entertainment to the big screen.

What about you? Are you delighting in the Lord? Where is He giving you the desires of your heart?

The Making of Tempting Fate’s Score by Pedro González Arbona

Today marks the theatrical release of Tempting Fate across Nigeria. It is a day I’ve been anticipating and praying for ever since Pedro González Arbona signed the contract to compose the movie soundtrack while we were together in Madrid two summers ago.

wp_ss_20150717_0001Early last year while Pedro was in the final stages of synchronizing the music with the movie, Kevin Kwankwor, the film’s director, asked Pedro to write about the movie composing process. At that point, it was uncertain where the premiere would be held. There was talk of a Hollywood premiere and Pedro didn’t expect he could make that. The script below was to be recorded for showing at the Hollywood premiere.

Pedro and I did attend the red carpet VIP screening in Houston last year. And last week was the premiere in Lagos, Nigeria with the major U.S. cast and crew and Nollywood star Ramsey Nouah. If Tempting Fate does well in Nigeria and Ghana, there is much hope that the movie will make its way through Europe and back to America for an official nationwide release.

In the meantime, I’m sharing Pedro’s account of his work on Tempting Fate and his creative music process.

THE MAKING OF TEMPTING FATE’s SCORE
by Pedro González Arbona

Introduction

I received the call from Kevin Kwankwor—producer, director, screenwriter, and CEO of KevStel Group LLC.—in the middle of July 2013. I was finishing the score of two short films, so it was the best time to start a new project.

Kevin and I had some conversations about music in general, and the “Tempting Fate” project in particular. We connected very well from the beginning because we had the same approach to this story of a deep relationship between two brothers and how their different paths in life affect their destiny.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Kevin showed me some classical music he had in mind when writing the screenplay and some instruments he wanted to use in the project. He told me they were shooting in September and wanted some of the tracks of the score to be done by then. That was just the beginning of an amazing process.

Music in Films

In my opinion, there are four aspects that are needed in order to make a good film: a good screenplay, a good director, good acting, and a good score.

When I started focusing my composing on cinema, I started realizing how important a good score is for a film. I actually think that music creates the magical environment needed for a film. Music is another kind of narration, apart from the screenplay and the visual narration made by the director. More importantly, music helps to tell the story with the intent of immersing the audience in the movie.

What would the famous shower scene from “Psycho” be without the screeching strings by Bernard Herrmann? Or the scene from “ET” with the kids peddling their bicycles through the sky with the moon in the background, without the music by John Williams? Or the Hobbit´s Shire in “The Fellowship of the Ring” without the music by Howard Shore? I am sure you can imagine dozens of examples, and by then you will realize that those films would not be the same without that music.

Photo credit: Universal Studios

Photo credit: Universal Studios

The question now is, what do you consider a good score? Well, there is not a perfect theory, but I usually consider two kinds of scores.

On the one hand, are the composers who just use the music in the background of the film in order to create the perfect environment for the film. In these kinds of scores, the music is so well done that when the audience leaves the theater, they do not realize that they heard a score. Some examples could be amazing composers such as Thomas Newman or the Spanish composer, Alberto Iglesias.

On the other hand, are the composers who use a lot of melodic music that goes directly to the mind of the viewer. Most of the “famous” composers are from this second group. But there is a big problem with this kind of music; they have to have caution in order not to distract the viewer from the film. And that is a very difficult task. Wonderful composers such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, or James Horner are from this second group.

TF Script with border

The script to “Tempting Fate”

The Process of Scoring

The process of scoring all starts with the reading of the screenplay. In the case of “Tempting Fate,” Kevin sent the screenplay to me after the contract was signed in late July. I read it three or four times in order to fully grasp the film´s message and get a feel for the characters. I took a lot of notes about what scenes needed music and what kind of music was needed. Then I start the composing process.

Most composers start creating the score when they get the film, but I have always preferred to start the scoring even before the shooting starts. This makes the composing more fluid for me, and because it is better if the director has the music while shooting the film. This also allows the director to plan the film with the music in mind.

I always write around two main themes, which usually are linked to the main characters.

  • First was the “Love Theme”, about the love story between Edu and Tracy. For this theme I composed very melodic music with a violin solo and a piano in order to get a romantic melody that was going to be used in the most poignant moments of the film.
  • Second was the “Brother´s Theme”, about the relationship between the two brothers, Ugo and Edu. I made different variations of this theme throughout the film, because of the different facets of their relationship. I used the guitar and clarinet in the good moments, the piano and the violin solo for the bad moments, and the woodwinds for the background scenes.
Music Composer Pedro González Arbona

Music Composer Pedro González Arbona

“Tempting Fate” was shot in September 2013, and during that time Kevin and I continued to keep in touch. He told me very important details about the filming. With Kevin’s keen directorial insights and the screenplay in hand, I had lots of inspiration to compose the score.

After the composing process was completed, and after I received the final edited version of the film, I started what I call the synchronizing process. This process consisted of comparing the music I created, with the scenes from the film, and deciding what music to use, what not to use, and how many changes were needed.

Finally the time came for the recording process. As violin and piano were the main instruments in this score, professional violin and piano players were hired for the recording. A soprano, a guitarist, and a percussionist were also hired. It was so exciting to be at the recording studio and to see my compositions come to life thanks to them.

So this is the end of this amazing project which involved so many different people from so many different countries such as Nigeria, India, Spain, and the United States.

I am very thankful:

  • to the head of the project, Kevin Kwankwor, for giving me this opportunity;
  • to Francisco Arbona, for consulting with me on the music;
  • to José Iglesias, the director of the musical academy where my music foundation was formed;
  • to Ardis Nelson, my manager, for helping me so much with my composing career and producing my first two CDs;
  • to Guillermo Servera, for introducing me to orchestration software and for sharing his expertise with me so many times;
  • to Chani Bas, for giving me my first job in the cinema;
  • and to my parents:
    • my father because he played the piano and immersed me in what is now my passion for music,
    • and my mother who expanded my musical knowledge so well and instilled my Christian beliefs.

Congratulations to Pedro and the entire cast and crew of Tempting Fate. I am proud to support the release of this faith-based movie across Africa and beyond.

Below is a slideshow of images from the press tour and the Lagos premiere on July 10.  Special thanks and credit goes to Chris Willard at willardphotographic.com and the Nigerian Press for use of many of these photos.

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For up-to-date information about Tempting Fate and to view more photos, check out the movie’s Facebook page.  Stay tuned for more updates on Pedro’s musical pursuits, and an exclusive interview with co-star Dan Davies.  He is nothing like Scorpion, the evil character he so convincingly portrays in the movie.

Sneak Peek & Rave Reviews for Tempting Fate Soundtrack

It’s been many months since I last wrote about Pedro’s movie composing and the status of Tempting Fate, his first full-feature American film.  It’s hard to believe that we celebrated the 4th of July last year at the VIP screening of the movie in Houston.

On the red carpet at the Tempting Fate premiere, July 4, 2014, Houston, TX.

On the red carpet at the Tempting Fate premiere, July 4, 2014, Houston, TX.

One year later, the film’s stars and key production crew have just arrived in Lagos, Nigeria for another very important premiere of this Christian movie (Friday, July 10, 2015).  Although Pedro is not able to attend, we are no less interested in what is going on with this faith-based film across the world.

We are counting down the days to its release across Nigeria (July 17) and Ghana (July 24). Only 9 days to go as of today’s publishing of this post.  Momentum is building as positive media reviews are spreading across Nigeria.

To date, the official movie trailer has over 30,000 views on youtube.com.

 

What is the significance of the release of this movie in Africa?   Stay tuned for my next update on the movie and an exclusive interview with Dan Davies, co-star of Tempting Fate, for more behind the scenes information.*

For now, let’s talk music…

Post Screening Promotion

The first music related production after the Houston premiere was the filming and release of a music video for the Tempting Fate theme song.  This video was shot in LA, starring Andrew Onochie, who portrays Edu in the movie, and actress and singer Jacobed Melgarejo.  The song is a blend of Igbo (Nigerian), English, and Spanish worship with words that echo the message of redemption and forgiveness, the overarching theme of the movie.

 

Over the past year, we’ve watched and patiently waited while the movie made its rounds through some very prestigious film festivals.  Tempting Fate was chosen to premiere at the Indie Fest USA International Film Festival last fall in Orange County, CA and also at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in Hollywood, CA earlier this year.  Rave reviews were shared by audiences at both festivals.

PAFF program information, February 2015.

PAFF program information, February 2015.

Release of the Movie Soundtrack

The movie soundtrack (available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc.) was released worldwide on February 12, 2015.  In order to create the cross-cultural mix of music for the Nollywood (Nigeria)/Hollywood (US) film collaboration three composers were used on the project:  Daniel Berg, Folorunso Obilana, and Pedro González Arbona.

Click image to sample soundtrack or purchase on Amazon.

Click image to sample soundtrack or purchase on Amazon.

The emotions in Tempting Fate music comes from real life’s rough ends and plundering experiences of Ugo and Edu as they journey from love and betrayal to forgiveness and loneliness. This is a story of two brothers, one of deep faith and the other buried in a life of crime. They had their worlds torn apart when the wrong one goes to jail and the other commits an unforgivable act. This music is a collection of compositions from Spain, USA and Africa. These songs are sent from above; they pierce directly into the heart.  (Album notes from CD Baby site.)

The African songs with singing, including the “Tempting Fate” main theme song used in the music video, were composed by Folorunso Obilana.  Daniel Berg’s music is purely orchestral.  Pedro’s music is a combination of orchestral and African instrumental with some melodic voice additions.

While the official CD soundtrack has 12 songs, there is much more music in the film, most of those songs were composed by Pedro.  After seeing the movie at the premiere in Houston last summer, more music changes were made to the final cut.

As is common in scoring for films, the composer doesn’t have a lot of input in the final cut of the movie.  Even highly sought after Academy Award winning composers like Hans Zimmer have to swallow their pride when it comes to which music is used in their movies.  Pedro composed over 80 minutes of music, but only a small fraction of that ended up in the movie or on the soundtrack.  Pedro released some of that music on his latest CD, Memories.

An Exclusive Music Sneak Peek

One such song not on the CD, but in the movie is “Brothers.”  This song is used in one of the first scenes in the movie where the two main actors, Nigerian brothers, Edu and Ugo, are revealing to the audience the nature of their brotherly relationship and love.  It is a beautiful song that I was privy to watch Pedro compose while in Madrid in July 2013.

Pedro walked me through the composing process as he created this song.  It was a very educational and magical moment to witness his creativity in action.  The song went through a few revisions before settling on the version now in the movie.  Since I work with Pedro, he gave me exclusive permission to share this song with my readers by clicking the ‘play’ button below.

 “Brothers” from “Tempting Fate”  © 2015 Pedro González Arbona.

One final music related note, last week during the media showing in Nigeria, the overriding comment was “not a dry eye in the house.”  I won’t give away the ending of the movie, but suffice it to say that Pedro’s final song, “Requiem,” combined with the superb on-screen acting, gives the movie a lasting final impression.  Memorable, moving, and touching, even for a crowd of seasoned movie critics.  Listen for yourself and see if you agree.

“Requiem” from “Tempting Fate”  © 2015 Pedro González Arbona.

Other reviewers commented on how the music strikes people as uniquely different.  The music fits perfectly with the storyline and with the film.  It fosters, helps, and propels the story along.

Praying for Success

Tempting Fate is the directorial debut of Nigerian born Kevin Nwankwor.  The mission of KevStel Group, Kevin’s Atlanta based production company, is to produce uplifting, Christian, and faith-based film and television projects.

How can you help support this independent Christian movie outside of Nigeria?  One way is to purchase the soundtrack. Another is by praying for its success. Nigeria is just the first stop for this movie with global appeal.  With the premiere only days away, prayer is critical to the successful outreach of this film.

TF Nigeria PremiereThe message of this movie is truly inspiring.  If people get behind this movie and pray for it, there will be more films like this available for viewing. So please join me and others around the world who are praying for this movie.

It’s not a coincidence that Pedro is associated with this inspirational faith-based movie.  His music has been bathed in prayers since we met five years ago.  It’s been a long road: from the antique and gutted out player piano in our home in the suburbs of Seattle, to his studio in the heart of Spain, and now to theaters across Africa.  We are proud to be associated with this first class independent film.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Tempting Fate!  May the message of this movie resonate with viewers in Nigeria and beyond.  May your dreams for this film exceed your every expectation.

*Special thanks to Dan Davies, who portrays Scorpion in Tempting Fate, for contributing to the content of this post.

Being First: A Graduation Legacy

Last week a class of 115 students proudly walked across the stage of our church auditorium to receive their diplomas from a new high school in Washington State.  My son was one of these students in the first graduating class of Nikola Tesla STEM High School.  Naturally it was a proud moment for family and friends in attendance as well as the faculty and staff.

What it means to be firstBeing first, the administration had the opportunity to create a graduation ceremony that was unique and fitting to this academic community of STEM scholars.   The evening had many memorable highlights and surprises.

What it Means to be First

One of the surprises was an essay penned by each of the graduating seniors to the prompt: “What it Means to be First.”  Their essays were alphabetically listed in the program in the order that they would later walk across the stage to accept their diplomas.  It warmed my heart to read my son’s essay while waiting for the ceremony to start.

“Being first can mean going before others into the unknown but can also mean to claim a reward for your efforts.   Being first to graduate from STEM fits both of these definitions.  While I specifically am not the first, I am among them; the entire graduating class is the first.  We will be the first to claim our reward from the school for the years of work we put into our education and the first to leave this school and begin our lives as adults.  Our teachers will be the first to watch us go and the first to be proud for the students they invested years of their lives into.  Our parents will be first to say goodbye as they help us prepare for what lies beyond high school.  And we shall be the first to be grateful for all of these investments of time and energy as we remember the time we spent here for the rest of our lives.”

My son later shared that he easily wrote that essay as an in-class English assignment.  That was significant because many times during the school year he struggled to get a start on his writing assignments.  He would stare at the blank page for long periods of time.  This short essay was a gift to read and re-read knowing that it marked a breakthrough in his writing, and possibly his ADHD barriers to creatively express himself.

STEM 2015 Yearbook

STEM Yearbook

Graduation Speeches that Inspired

Graduations are full of speeches intended to inspire students as they start on their next level of education or venture out into the world.  These speeches were no exception.

We heard from the Superintendent of the school district.  As a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed her speech as she compared their journey to chapters in a book and identified the students as authors of their stories.

Student speeches followed.  A pair of students spoke on the phases and milestones that this first class journeyed through to get to this point: school construction, developing clubs and extracurricular activities, defining internship opportunities, naming of the school, and more.  That was followed by two more student addresses.

The second speaker creatively wove famous quotes from 50 other historical speeches and famous movies.  He quoted Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a Dream speech.  He cheered on the graduates exclaiming: “Live long and prosper” and “May the force be with you.” The audience broke into bursts of laughter throughout.  It was highly entertaining.

Below is a short video clip of a few graduation highlights created by the Lake Washington School District.

As much as I enjoyed those speeches, it was the faculty address by my son’s English teacher that meant the most to me.  Throughout her speech she wove the theme of the “Odyssey” by Homer, an ancient Greek poem about Odysseus’ journey home after the fall of Troy.  (The senior class chose to read this because they entered STEM starting with their sophomore year and missed reading it as freshman.)

It wasn’t the story that she told, but the examples she shared of memorable student moments that again hit an accord with me.  That was because his teacher anonymously shared something my son did in class.

Faculty addressA Compassionate Heart

Several weeks prior, to celebrate this teacher’s birthday, she held a Poetry Café.  Students were asked to bring in a favorite poem or one that they wrote and to share it with the class.  That night at the dinner table, our son told us about that day and what he did—heeding to his heart.

At the graduation ceremony, his teacher got choked up when she spoke these words to the audience:

“A quiet student stood in 3rd period, a student not many had heard from.  This was in a Poetry Café.  When the student stood, he stated I don’t have a poem I just want to tell you how much you mean to me.”

I felt the tears start to well up inside me too—proud Mama tears.

This teacher made a difference in my son’s life.  English was not his favorite subject, but English was his favorite class while at STEM.  She was his favorite teacher all three years and made English interesting to him.   When she signed his yearbook days before, she said he always made her smile and referenced the Poetry Café.  She wrote that my son worked so hard and she was extremely proud of him.

GraduationOn the eve of graduation I sent her an email telling her too how much she meant to my son.  She encouraged him throughout his high school struggles with his ADHD and instilled confidence in him.  She believed in him.

Then a few days ago I made one final stop at the school to see this teacher and give her a personalized copy of my book, Journeys to Mother Love.  We talked about the Poetry Café again.  She went on to share that one female student in the class told the teacher several times how touched she was by what my son said and that it made her cry (like it did the teacher).

My son has that way about him—kind, compassionate, and caring.  Someday a young woman will look past his shy demeanor, connect with him on more than a surface level, and sparks will fly, but not yet.

His teacher and I parted ways with a hug and tears welling up in our eyes.  Oh, to be a teacher and collect those special memories—knowing that they made a difference in a student’s life.

A School with a Heart

Back to the graduation…following the faculty address by my son’s English teacher, the student’s ceremoniously walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.  With a small group of graduates, they were able to add another memorable highlight to the ceremony.  There wasn’t one person who shook the hand of each student or even a rotation of teachers handing out diplomas.  Somehow they arranged it so that students received their diplomas from a teacher of their choice.  He proudly smiled for the photographer and received his diploma from his English teacher.

IMG_2619Before the customary switching of the tassel from one side of the mortar board hat to the other, another surprise awaited the parents of these fine graduates.  They had each written their parents a thank you note (another English assignment).  They were challenged to quickly find their parents in the crowd, give them the note, and return to their seats.  (You can’t do that in a large high school!)  More tears were shed in reading our son’s hand written note thanking us for our understanding of all he went through to complete high school and that he was grateful for how he was raised.

For the last three years of my son’s life, he forged a path of firsts with the other students at this school.  In a world that is continually more and more focused on ‘likes,’ attention on achievements, and social media presence, it’s nice to see that my son has his head in the right place…and that is in his heart.

I’m proud that is the legacy he left Nikola Tesla STEM High School.

Congratulations STEM Class of 2015 Graduates!  And thank you teachers and faculty for making STEM a school with a heart.

The Graduation Road Less Traveled

Today is a bittersweet day for me and my family.  My youngest child will be walking across the stage and receiving his high school diploma.  What is so significant to me about this is how he got to this place and time—all of the obstacles he overcame, and how he did it his way.

My son forged his own path to graduation.  It wasn’t the same journey as his brother four years earlier, or the way that I had envisioned it over the years.

Like the ending line in the famous poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, my son took the road less traveled.  And in so doing, he was a pioneer of the spirit.

Senior portrait

My son, a pioneer of the spirit.

Following in his Brother’s Footsteps

In parenting our only other child, his older brother, we got caught up in the competitive race for the coveted prize of his attendance at one of the best engineering schools in the country.  Thankfully God had other plans.

Being our first born child, we didn’t know what to expect.  When we noticed his giftedness at a very early age, we sought and were granted a waiver to put him in Kindergarten a year earlier than his peers.  He ended up settling into the gifted program and taking a rigorous AP and honors course load throughout school.  Those choices led him to a few different schools in the district, not our neighborhood school.

When our youngest child entered the school system, we made the tough decision to place him in the elementary school where his brother attended.  He also followed his brother into the same extracurricular activities: baseball, piano, and chess.  He eventually dropped out of those and developed his love for music by playing the flute, saxophone, and drums.

Once his brother went on to junior high, my youngest son switched schools and attended the school in our neighborhood.  It wasn’t long after that we noticed his school difficulties surface.  I was not overly concerned, but couldn’t help but wonder, is there something else going on here?  It was unfair to compare him to his older brother, and I thought his occasional struggles were more ‘normal.’  Things got worse for him in junior high.

When it came time to go to high school, we decided to check out several of the high schools in the district.  He wasn’t interested in the high school his brother attended.  The large high school that most students in the neighborhood attended didn’t excite him either.

We attributed some of his school problems with lack of motivation.  So we felt it would be better for him to be in a school with smaller classes and a learning environment that more closely matched his interests.  A new school had opened up in the district and was accepting students on a lottery basis.  This school was specifically geared to a STEM based education (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics).  Living in the high tech corridor of the Seattle Eastside, this was a magnet for local kids, as was proven by the standing room only audience at the information night for this new school.

School Pioneers

Our son was accepted into the STEM school and started in the fall.  It was also at this time that the school district was converting middle schools to junior high schools and all high schools to a 4-year format.  The STEM school was launched with incoming freshmen and sophomore classes.  My son would be in the first graduating class of the school—the class of 2015!

An educational pioneer and future graduate in the class of 2015 at his 2002 pre-school graduation.

An educational pioneer and future graduate in the class of 2015 at his 2002 pre-school graduation.

These new students were educational pioneers in the district and had to endure some growing pains in the process.  For example, while the school building was still under construction the first semester, the school was co-located on the campus of the big neighborhood high school.

It was hard for the students and the school community to define its own culture and identity.  With the school half completed, after the Christmas holiday break, the students and faculty moved into their brand new campus and started to create their own academic community.

The course load was rigorous, much like the academic classes that his brother took in high school.  From our earliest meetings with the school administration, we and other parents were assured there would be other less rigorous class options for students.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  My son struggled to make it through the first quarter of his sophomore year.  We heard stories of kids dropping out of the school and returning to their neighborhood high schools.

Despite my son’s recent diagnosis with ADHD, he wanted to be at this school, and was determined to make it work.  There were times along the journey that we had conversations about transferring to another school.

It was a painful decision for all of us.  When does the parent have the final say?  How do you know what is best for your child?  Each time he came back to his desire to stay, accepting that it would be a challenge.

During a recent conversation with my son about his tenure at this school, I asked him if he had to do it all over again what he would do.  He acknowledged that going to his neighborhood high school would’ve been a lot easier for him.  But he didn’t miss a beat in saying that the STEM school was good for his character development.  He wasn’t wrapped up in his GPA or the college competition.  He was content that he graduated, made good friends, and was learning more about his abilities.

A Graduation Homecoming

I’m not going to apologize for using my blog to publish a bit about the story of my son’s journey to graduation.  I see it as a major milestone in his life.  My husband and I are both proud of him, like any parent is of their graduating senior.  It is particularly poignant to me because it feels like a joint effort.  I know many of my friends and family have prayed for him and us during his high school years.  Those prayers made a difference in getting us to this point.  (Thank you!  You know who you are!)

What I haven’t lost sight of in the process is where his graduation ceremony will take place tonight.  It’s not at the school.  They don’t have the space for this type of event.  The graduation will be held at our church.  It was in this same church that my son learned about Jesus, accepted Christ as His Savior, was baptized, and has attended all his life.

It adds to the bittersweet nature of the event for me.  And it serves as a reminder that the Lord has been at my son’s side the entire time.

My son is a Pioneer.

He is a STEM Scholar.

He is unique, gifted, and talented in many ways.

He found his own way.  He took the road less traveled to do it.  To quote Robert Frost again:

…and that has made all the difference.

I’m grateful he did.  Congratulations Son!

My son, the flutist, taking the road less traveled.

My son, the flutist, taking the road less traveled.

Making “Memories,” a CD by Pedro González Arbona

My desk and my mind are cleared of the clutter and busyness of life.  The most amazing music is engulfing me, stirring my senses, and begging me to share its beauty and my joy with the world.

What am I listening too?  It is the new CD by my favorite musical protégé and composer, Pedro González ArbonaMemories is Pedro’s latest foray into the music and film scoring business.

Memories CD Cover

Pedro’s Musical Background   

In the three years since Introducing Pedro González Arbona, his debut album, was released, Pedro’s music has grown by leaps and bounds.  His first album was a collection of his earliest solo piano compositions performed on a Steinway Concert grand piano in a recording studio in Seattle.  It was a gift for his 18th birthday while visiting from Madrid.  It was a monumental day for us both.

I’ve written a lot about Pedro’s love for music and how it was nurtured and inspired at an early age by cinema.  Now his work has matured and blossomed into full orchestral music that rivals the likes of other famous film composers that he admires, like John Williams (Star Wars), Hans Zimmer (most recently Interstellar), and Alexandre Desplat, winner for Best Original Score for The Grand Budapest Hotel at this year’s Academy Awards.

I don’t say this to boast, although it is hard for me to be impartial.  I say this because, at Pedro’s request, I’ve been immersing myself in various film scores over these last few years as well.  I hear the similarities and have been captivated by Pedro’s music.  Not just listening to it, but also as I witnessed it on the big screen at the VIP screening of his movie Tempting Fate, last July in Houston.

Pedro knows music!

Making Memories, the CD

While I was in Madrid last fall, Pedro and I met over dinner one night to discuss his next CD project. On another night in Madrid, he played one of his newest songs for me, “Opening Titles.”   He was fully engaged in the music, as if conducting the orchestra with an invisible baton.  This was Pedro’s first orchestrated piece, complete with pages and pages of sheet music.  Watching his delight in the final cut of this piece, and immersing myself in the music, was one of my best memories while on this trip to Spain.

Sheet music

A proud moment in Madrid: “Opening Titles” plays through Pedro’s sound system as he reviews the sheet music.

Although we collaborated in the production of the CD, it is truly his project from start to finish.  He designed the album cover, titled the album, and naturally, composed the music.  I brought his vision to completion by working in America with our music distributor, CD Baby.  They make worldwide sales and distribution via iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and other internet music sites easy for any artist.

Pedro’s album cover design (above) conjures up feelings of old time movies, before the age of digital technology, with strips of film negatives pinned to a clothesline.  Which scenes will make the final cut of the movie?  Which songs will make the final cut of the CD?

Selecting the Songs

It was a difficult process to select the final 14 songs for this CD.  The music was mostly composed over the last year during a period of prolific musical and artistic inspiration.   I received some of the songs along his composing process.  I’ve collected a large archive of his music over the past four years from his various film and internet projects or impromptu personal musical inspirations.

Some of the pieces included on the CD were composed for the Tempting Fate film, but didn’t make it to the final cut of the movie.  As I’ve come to learn, it is just part of the film composing process.  It gives Pedro the opportunity to showcase them on his CDs or use on other projects.  (The soundtrack to Tempting Fate is available on Amazon.)

Pedro also collaborated with orchestrators (credited as ‘featuring’ in the track titles) to provide the professional sound quality and feel to his music.  The final 14 songs showcase the variety of Pedro’s music composing ability.

Memories Track TitlesThe easiest way for me to describe this album is to say that even though it was not written for a specific movie or movie scenes, it is just like a soundtrack.  The songs conjure up a wide breadth of emotions that are commonly experienced in a movie:  romance, suspense, action, drama, mystery.  You’ll be hooked after the first song!  I certainly was.

So in my next post about Memories, I will take you on a behind the scenes musical adventure through his latest album.  Until then, you can preview one of my favorite songs “The Great Beauty” on Soundcloud or by selecting the song on the media player in the right sidebar on this page.

For more information about Pedro González Arbona and his music, visit pgarbona.comMemories is available for your immediate listening pleasure through any of the links below:

profileYou can show your support for this young artist’s music career by liking his page on Facebook, Pedro González Arbona, composer.

  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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