Thursday, August 25, 2022

It takes a village to raise a Down Syndrome child -- and we have one!

Christena Robbie Cosgriffe and her auntie Christene "Cookie" Cosgriffe Meyers last weekend.
The child has both special needs and special gifts and is surrounded by a "village" of loving support.


Christena beams recently at a gathering for her
12th birthday, here with her Uncle Keller.

Christena in red tutu poses at dance class.
At left is her now legal mother, Diane daughter
Dani, granddaughter Lila and other family.

THE DAY Christena was born, her nurse confirmed what we suspected: she has Down Syndrome. The family asked the birth mother to have the recommended amniocentesis, to confirm possible birth defects  and give us time to prepare. She refused.

So we took the news on the chin, admiring a beautiful baby -- our niece.  We began contacting special education support which we knew would be essential in making the most of her life.
WHEN MY brother Patrick announced the surprise pregnancy and his impending fatherhood to the family, he was nearing 50.  He and his late wife thought he was not capable of fathering a child; Christena's birth mother assured him she could not conceive.  She was 45. Back then, in 2009, we knew little about the mother-to-be or Down Syndrome. We began to do homework, suspecting what we might be dealing with.
RESEARCHERS know that the extra copy of chromosome 21 comes from the mother's egg and can be related to the mother's age. All that is water under the bridge, long past. The "now" part of the equation is that we have a child with special needs. We love her dearly, she is thriving with our abundant help, and we intend to keep her safe, cared for and beloved in our village.
Her chromosomal condition is often associated with intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance, and weak muscle tone called hypotonia. All "DS" people experience cognitive delays, but the intellectual disability varies. We were happy to hear that, because our intent was and is to work with Christena on every level possible. 
We were told she might not be able to read or write. 
Christena's father, Patrick, with his beloved Christena.
This was the occasion of her first birthday. 
She does both with ease, thanks to our tutoring.
She has vision issues and wears glasses, needs her ear canals cleaned frequently because hers are very narrow -- part of the birth defect.  She has permanent numbness on the right side of her mouth, which influences her speech.
THE DOWN Syndrome child has an extra chromosome -- 47.  Most of us are born with 46.  Characteristics besides low muscle tone include small stature, and an upward slant to the eyes, both of which Christena has.  She wore special orthopedic shoes for her first few years but no longer needs them, thanks to physical therapy to improve strength and balance. She has a continually curious look,  a mischievous smile and sometimes shaky hands.
She has struggled to overcome her problems. Walking and moving are easier now and she dances daily. I've found a piano teacher who will take on a special needs child. All thanks to our "village" and patient TLC. 

Loss of Christena's father, click here

CHRISTENA'S BIRTH mother kidnapped her when she was less than a year old, took her to rural California and after losing a court battle for guardianship has not been present in Christena's life for 11 years, except for rare visits and occasional gifts of ice cream and other enticements. The child's now legal mother is Diane, my late brother Patrick's longtime partner.  Her role in Christena's life was confirmed by Judge Moses in a recent court decision. Our attorney, Jeff Turner, did a fine research job, expertly confirming the love and complex care surrounding Christena in Montana. 
Auntie Jane and Christena
at a Halloween party. 

Diane was Patrick's fiancĂ©e and she has grieved deeply since his Feb. 5 death from COVID and complications.  They had planned to marry this summer, and his absence in their family of three is profoundly felt by all of us in the larger, extended clan. The birth mother's improved, approved involvement is welcome. We shall see.
Auntie Olivia and Christena play.

CHRISTENA IS sometimes sad. "I miss daddy," she 
says. We aren't sure exactly what's going on in her young head.  But she'll continue to be surrounded by love -- from her aunties, uncle, cousins, friends, school mates and "mama Diane," as she calls her.  Although Diane has grown children and grandchildren of her own, she adores Christena and has been her sole mother figure for the past nearly six years.  She considers Christena, "as beloved as if she were my own flesh and blood." She told the court this in a recent guardianship hearing.
 The birth mother's attempt to keep the child in Anza, California, where she kidnapped her for a brief time in 2011, failed. 
Christena with her mama Diane,
auntie Cookie and Yorkie Nick.
 and depositions by myself, Christena's lifelong pediatrician and others, the judge ruled that Christena stays in Montana. Diane wept. All of us were teary-eyed, for we love Diane and greatly appreciate her tending to our niece's needs. She and Patrick raised Christena for the past six years, and now with help from our family and Diane's, the bonds continue. Christena has aunties, uncles, cousins and new sisters and loving grandparents in Diane's family! 
Though her early years were fraught with hospital stays, doctor visits, surgeries for lung and respiratory problems, and constant monitoring of a heart condition, both her physical and mental condition are improved. 
Yet, caring for her is a full-time job.  When Patrick was alive and a single parent -- before his decline from more than 14 surgeries and hospital visits -- he spent much time taking her to doctors. He worked with speech therapists, monitoring Christena's progress, finding people to help improve her walking, speaking and balance. He faithfully lined up her medical and dental appointments, read to her morning and night, cooked, cleaned and kept her immaculate. He was an exemplary father, returning to school and graduating college with a double major and high honors.
Christena with family, from left: auntie Jane,
mama Diane, uncle Rick, auntie Misha.
 WHEN DIANE entered the family six years ago, she quickly assumed maternal duties, working with Patrick to teach Christena to read and write.  They enrolled her in special education classes where she excels now at Castle Rock in Billings. She serves coffee and counts change at weekly faculty gatherings and has become a mentor to other handicapped children.  She seldom falls or trips now -- initially she frequently lost her footing.  She was and is a happy child -- affectionate and grateful for her family.
She loves to dance, sing and dress up.  Our musical family has a lifelong tradition of theater, so this is a natural for us. Her Christmas present from us last year was tickets for her and her mama to Shen Yun at the Alberta Bair Theater.  Said Diane, "I could hardly keep her in her seat.  She wanted
Christena with her mama, aunties and uncles
at a recent dinner celebrating a court ruling
that she remain with "mama Diane" and our family.

to go dance on stage."
At family suppers, Christena says grace, thanking the Lord for her parents, her family.  
Her dedicated "village" includes special ed teachers, physical therapists, occupational and speech therapists, psychologists, vision specialists, nurses and social workers.
She learns from them -- and in turn, we learn from her, for Christena teaches us all. From her we learn the virtues of patience, understanding, perseverance -- and LOVE!

 Interested in the fundraiser for Christena's care and education? 

Even on holidays, faithful food service workers and hospital staffs must be 
open for business. This woman and her co-workers cheerfully serve
meals 365 days a year for patients at Montana's Billings Clinic Hospital.

UP NEXT: As Labor Day approaches, we take the opportunity to express our appreciation for the tireless workers who serve us and tend to our needs 365 days a year, including holidays. We're thankful for our health care workers, restaurant and entertainment workers, gas station attendants, tour guides, bus and taxi drivers, and policemen and women.  From transportation to travel, dining, health and more we offer a special Labor Day salute to the people in our lives who help us through daily rituals, appointments, and life's unexpected events. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on health (mental and physical), the arts, nature, family and more. Please share:


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Zion: A memorable merging of rock, water, sky, light and history

Zion National Park is a splendid unfolding of nature's dramatic rock, water, light and more.



As soon as visitors disembark the shuttle,
they can shop for drinks or souvenirs
and await the buses that tour the park

THE PIONEERS who first drove their wagons into this stunning natural wonder, would probably be amazed at the traffic in Zion National Park today. Long gone are horse and wagon. But hundreds of cars line the nearby roads, at a variety of well-marked shuttle stops.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers hike one of Zion's trails.

So popular has Utah's first national park become that one must take a shuttle into the park and then get around in little touring buses. Still, it's a wonder to behold. We recently joined hundreds of fellow park lovers to retrace the same paths native people and pioneers walked. 

IT WAS  WARM -- a hot and dry day -- 100 degrees -- so we made certain we had water bottles and sun hats. Then we set off on tour buses, winding under the park's massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red. One has the option of exiting the bus at various stops, to soak up the scene under a brilliant blue sky. We were dwarfed by towering cliffs as we hiked through the park's beautiful wilderness in a series of narrow canyons.  

Christene "Cookie" Meyers hits the trail.
 Zion stands as proud testimony to popularity of national parks in the U.S. Millions visit from around the world.  We heard an international mix of language -- Japanese, Italian, French, German and Norwegian -- during our three-day visit. The only disappointment was the inability to drive through the park and take our time in our own vehicle as we can still do in Yellowstone.  But we understand the change from private cars to group transportation. 
THE ZION shuttle program began a few years ago, following suit with programs begun in other national parks since 2,000.
According to a National Park Service spokesman, the parks began operating shuttles because of traffic overload. The attempt to reduce both traffic and the parking problems caused by cars has been successful and millions of tourists now use shuttles in several of our most popular parks.
"The shuttle system has restored tranquility to Zion," a park ranger told us. He explained that the shuttle system has helped restore vegetation and maintain the park's natural landscape.
So which of our national parks are the most popular?
Hikers and nature lovers from around the world drive in
a tour bus to various stops for exploring Zion.
In 2018, Zion ranked fourth among America's most visited national parks, ahead of Yellowstone, which came in fifth and Yosemite which placed sixth. 
Grand Canyon National Park tops the list, with Rocky Mountain National Park and Acadia National Park right behind. Each had over 4 million visitors.
In Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone's neighboring Grand Teton National Park had 3.88 million visitors.

Outside the park, shuttle stops are
well marked.  One pays for parking
though, and can use a credit card.

The Narrows is worth
the hike and wet shoes.
 IF YOU HAVE limited time -- and can choose only one hike -- we recommend going into The Narrows,  the park's narrowest and most dramatic section, deep in Zion Canyon. The gorge  walls are a thousand feet tall and the river sloshes over on the trail, so your feet may get wet. We carried an extra pair of shoes, based on a ranger's recommendation and were grateful to have the change. It's a challenging hike on a hot day, about 1.5 miles from the bus drop-off. But there are shady places to shelter on the way.
Other popular hikes are Angel's Landing and Canyon Overlook Trail. Another beautiful area of Zion National Park is Zion Canyon, easily accessed along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a curving road running along the canyon floor, with towering cliff walls on both sides.
DO YOUR homework to prepare for Zion.  There are many trails and various fees depending on if you are walking, on motorcycle, etc. We recommend reserving and paying on line to make the most of your time once you're there. Here's a website to get you started: 
Christena Robbie Cosgriffe, named after two of her aunties,
is a happy well adjusted child with her special needs looked
after. Here she poses with Aunties Olivia and Christene,
and uncles Rick and Bruce, at a family gathering.

NEXT UP: "Raising Christena."  Our 12-year old niece and my namesake, Christena, was born with Down Syndrome.  The challenges of raising a child with a birth defect -- "special needs" -- is one shared by the child's entire family and support system.  Christena's "Village," as Hillary Clinton called it, is a sturdy one with family, friends, doctors, nurses, speech therapists, musicians, teachers and more. Read how we're dealing with the challenge and remember to explore, learn and live:

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Cody's wild west show offers whiz bang revue

Dancing, singing, storytelling and a lively pace keep the audience entertained in Cody, Wyoming,
at the popular Wild West Spectacular.  The show just ended a successful run, based on the life of showman, soldier and entrepreneur "Buffalo Bill" Cody, after whom the town of Cody is named.  

Wyoming's Wild West fun in vintage theater tells of Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and more

A cast including college students and graduates, theater majors 
and professional dancers and singers entertains to applause.

The 1936 Cody Theatre is the venue for a
rousing spectacular about Buffalo Bill and more.

WE WITNESSED THE OLD West in glorious, boisterous entertainment at "Wild West Spectacular, the Musical," a rip-roaring show in Cody, Wyoming.

Rocky Mountain Dance Theater produces this visual treat to raves each summer.  It took its final spirited bow for the 2022 season last weekend. If you were fortunate enough to book tickets, you were delighted, amused and perhaps even surprised at the high quality of the extravaganza, produced with a cast of 30 since late June with an ambitious docket of both evening shows and matinees.
 A new season will debut in early summer of 2023, and tickets go on sale in January.

THE HIGH CALIBER of the show has garnered accolades and favorable reviews since its 2016 inception from True West Magazine  and TripAdvisor. Cast members come from across the country. Most have theater degrees or background on the stage.  

Tourists are lamenting the end of the show's run, while Yellowstone National Park and other attractions are still attracting crowds to Cody, but marketing director Jennifer Kaelberer explains. "We have a shorter summer season than other attractions because our actors have commitments."

Members of the talented 30-person cast takes a bow at show's
 end. Additional behind-the-scenes workers include lighting and
technical staff, marketers, costumers, choreographers and more.
Many of the professionals contracted are college students from across the country who must return to campus. Some have contracts with other companies or must satisfy a commitment to a job elsewhere.

THE SHOW has a fresh feeling, boasting both an original script and choreography.  Some of the music is from Broadway's treasure chest of western lore ("Annie Get Your Gun," for instance). Set and lighting are imaginative, augmented by additional original musical pieces.

The legend of Buffalo Bill Cody comes to life as snippets from Cody's colorful life are woven into the action. The international showman had a town named after him and the show pays tribute to his talents and energy with a non-stop dancing, singing, music and storytelling yarn.

It's laced with good-natured humor, colorful costumes, tap dancing, ballet and audience interaction.

We joined a crowd in the vintage Cody Theatre, in downtown Cody on the main street, Sheridan Avenue. If you don't know Cody, look for the famous Irma Hotel -- named after Buffalo Bill's beloved daughter. The theater is right across the street. Clem's Canteen and Creamery offers light refreshments and sweets, including ice cream.

THE FULL, two-hour production ended its run with hoots, hollers and an ovation after a seven-week stint beginning in late June. The venue is the 1936 art deco theater in downtown Cody Theatre, across the street from the Irma Hotel, which is the jewel on Sheridan Avenue, the main venue in town.
Actor Evan Wambeke takes a bow as Buffalo
Bill, surrounded by other capable cast members.

Families, couples and young and old joined in the merriment of the two-hour show, popcorn, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages in hand, purchased at Clem's outside the auditorium.
The show is the brainchild of director and Cody native Elizabeth Fernandez assisted by Kaelberer, director of public relations and marketing.  Kaelberer also  runs the front of house and ticketing, and observes each production from the tech deck, taking notes for the director.

Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers in the house.

A VERSATILE cast of singers, dancers and actors is headed by Evan Wambeke, in his seventh season as Buffalo Bill. Other colorful characters dart in and out of the story -- headliner Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickok, Frank Butler and a top-drawer dance ensemble, whose numbers are show highlights, particularly a poignant homage to the buffalo.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR and choreographer Fernandez long dreamed of producing a show about the Wild West and its colorful characters. In 2016, the show debuted -- a full-fledged musical incorporating both original and Broadway tunes, imaginative dancing, vintage film and a lively narrative. A large cast of 30 includes a partial "split cast" -- several "doubles" for the two youngest characters. Each show, though, features 18 energetic performers on stage.

Buffalo Bill's daughter, Irma, as a young woman, is played
by Willow Fernandez. Other actors play Irma as a child.
Here she sings a wistful ballad, missing her touring father.

Tickets for the summer 2023 season go on sale Jan. 1, 2023 and next summer's season will run the last week of June through the first week of August at the historic Cody Theatre.

More info or for next season's ticket information: Social media platforms: Instagram and Facebook @codywildwestshow;;; 307 527-9973.

Zion National Park is known to travelers worldwide, and
treasured by residents of the United States who visit
Utah's first national park in all its summer glory.
UP NEXT: ZION! Our splendid national parks are a priceless treasure in the United States, enjoyed by a worldwide clientele. We're attempting to visit all of them. Our latest discovery is Zion, Utah's first national park with massive sandstone cliffs of gold, cream, pink and red. The sky is a brilliant blue and golden with extraordinary sunsets over the canyons. We'll take you there.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, the arts, family, travel and more:


Thursday, August 4, 2022

Van Gogh immersion yields lavish, hypnotic multi-media experience


Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh's life and art come to life in a mesmerizing show in Las Vegas.
The show gracefully weaves state-of-the-art technology, lights, music and imagery.



Christene Meyers, left, and Bruce Keller, savor their
souvenirs from a magical morning at "Immersive Van Gogh."
Several cities are hosting the imaginative production.
Our travel-writing duo saw the original, in Las Vegas.


AN IMAGINATIVE look into the life and times of Vincent Van Gogh is getting raves in Las Vegas as it plays to enthusiastic international crowds.

The unique show has garnered kudos in 15 other American cities, but the "Vegas version" is the original.

 The "Immersive Van Gogh" exhibit begins with your ticket purchase -- easy, on line.  A couple options are available beginning at $38 if you shop around on the web for bargains.  Our tickets were "VIP" which included a sunflower pillow for sitting on one of the comfy benches, a lovely poster and a chance to correspond with Vincent himself (yes, through cyber wizardry, he answers your note.)

WE ENTERED  the magical space at The Shops at Crystals, on the third floor, right in the middle of the famed Las Vegas Strip, next to Aria.  A huge room has been transformed to an immersive digital art museum. The trendy show is captivating audiences in Las Vegas, just as it has worldwide, from Tokyo to Paris, Atlanta to Bordeaux. Toronto even staged a drive-in exhibit as each city puts its unique and special spin on the tormented genius.

We happily joined the ranks enjoying "Immersive Van Gogh," in this breathtaking Las Vegas version. Only a few dozen people are allowed into the huge exhibit space so one may sit, stand or move around without being crowded, enjoying a 360-degree experience. It evolves in pleasant rhythm, accompanied by an enchanting musical score including Handel, Schubert and many other composers.  The soothing musical arrangements and several original compositions are cleverly rendered by Luca Longobardi, who did a beautiful job integrating the music with flowing landscapes, portraits and other familiar Van Gogh works. You'll see the famous bed painting and many of the works by the tormented Dutch painter who sold only a single painting in his life before he died at age 37. Everyone knows the sorrow, but this experience honors his brilliance.

EVEN SO, THE SHOW has a wistful, sometimes melancholy feel as large-scale moving images are projected onto walls, ceilings, and floors in the space. The suffering in his self-portraits is evident.  It's all so mesmerizing we stayed for part of another show -- which the audience is encouraged to do.

The artful design is by the award-winning team of "Atelier des Lumieres" in Paris, which viewers may recognize for the digital art show featured in Netflix’s "Emily in Paris."
Imagination, technology and the original work
of Van Gogh are set to an exciting musical score.

We chose to sit on two different benches in two parts of the space to watch for an hour more than 500,000 cubic feet of projections.
All the iconic van Gogh works are in the spotlight, including The Potato Eaters (1885), Starry Night (1889), Sunflowers (1888), and The Bedroom (1889). Large-scale digital animations of the prolific painter’s work come to life with Longobardi's passionate musical choices -- including, appropriately, opera befitting the composer's Italian heritage.
Said my partner, photographer Bruce Keller, "This is a magnificent artistic effort worthy of a brilliant man who took a path less traveled and failed to achieve the fame he deserved in his lifetime."

Christene "Cookie" Meyers enjoys the whimsical,
moving immersive Van Gogh show in Las Vegas.

SEVERAL DOZEN of Van Gogh's post-impressionist sunflowers, perhaps his greatest masterpieces. These are highlights in the show, truly hypnotizing as they play a prominent role in this exquisite and powerful exhibition.
The show is running or will play in 29 U.S. cities; several other cities have closed the show after successful shorter runs.

Its an imaginative telling of Van Gogh's story, reminding of those 1970s Pink Floyd laser light shows at a planetarium. Truly it is a trip back in time with a futuristic portrayal of the tortured Dutch painter, considered to be among the greatest painters of all time -- right along with Rembrandt van Rijn. Despite selling only that single artwork in his frustrating career,  Van Gogh became -- in the century after his death -- perhaps the most recognized painter of all time. The show celebrates his art in joyous fashion, yet the viewer feels a tinge of melancholy in knowing that depression eventually overcame the artist.

Photographer Bruce Keller is happy
after a morning with Van Gogh.
MY FAVORITE segments capsulized his two years in Paris from 1886 to February 1888, when he left for Arles. The excitement and joy are felt in this Paris time, which critics believe laid the foundation for his  unique style, exposing him to famed impressionists Monet and Pissarro.
Emmy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated designer David Korins, known for his set designs featured in Broadway hits such as "Hamilton" and "Dear Evan Hansen," introduced elements he considers "experimental" in transforming Lighthouse Las Vegas into such an imaginative venue. It's good entertainment for anyone, but thrilling for those of us with a passion for art and art museums. For more information or to book:

Singing, dancing, cowboys and saloon girls await as the
colorful story of Buffalo Bill Cody and friends performs in the
town named for the famed showman. The well done,
spirited review features top musical talent and fun stories. 

UP NEXT: A spectacular Wild West revue is performing several nights a week in Cody, Wyoming, and it's a top-quality production.  We saw it recently, with an appreciative crowd, and were pleasantly pleased at the dancing, singing, storytelling, costumes and humor.  It's part history, part pure fun and terrific entertainment. Rocky Mountain Dance Company does a whiz-bang job. More next week, and meanwhile remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on the arts, travel, nature, family and more: