Friday, August 10, 2012

My Summer Vacations

I was excited to be able to take three vacations in the month of June. The first was to San Diego where I attended the wedding of my dear friend Ché. I had a wonderful time staying at my sister Erin's house where I got to chat with her and play with my nieces. I had fun trying out stand up paddle boarding, driving around in the red convertible I rented (made me miss my red convertible days of high school and college), and taking my oldest niece to the Del Mar Fair (the San Diego County Fair).



The wedding was wonderful. I was so excited to be able to share Ché's and Stephanie's wedding day with them. I enjoyed catching up, chatting, reminiscing with old friends, and of course dancing! It was great to spend the time with Kristine and Adam and to see Ché's family again, and it was particularly fun to see Ché and Stephanie so happy together. The night was exactly right: love, emotion, and a little humor too.



After returning home from the wedding I quickly prepared to head to South Dakota. Brian, Emery, Katie, and I took a road trip to see Mt. Rushmore. If you have ever wondered whether or not you should visit Mt. Rushmore, the answer is yes! We loved it!

We stopped by Martin's Cove and Independence Rock on our way through Wyoming. Martin's Cove is a great place to visit with a nice visitors center and handcart trails. We read about the handcart companies and all that the pioneers went through to travel west. Independence Rock, I learned, got its name because it was the place where all of the westward bound pioneers tried to reach by the 4th of July. Brian and I had a great adventure climbing to the top of Independence Rock. I climbed in my bare feet because my flip-flops were slipping off! We made a great team -- Brian made sure I didn't slip. :)



Once we reached our destination, we enjoyed a wonderful day at Mt. Rushmore. I was afraid I would be disappointed by the monument, that maybe it would be smaller or less impressive than it seemed in pictures, but it is amazing. The surroundings are beautiful, the visitors center is inspiring, and the monument is everything I hoped it would be. We learned all about the process used to build the giant sculptures and the people who braved going over the edge of the mountain on thin cables holding heavy machinery to place dynamite and carve stone. We took a tour with the park ranger and learned all about the presidents whose faces are on the mountain. I felt very grateful and patriotic as I viewed the four faces from various points along the presidential path at the base of the mountain. We later returned for the nighttime lighting program and flag ceremony. After a patriotic presentation, all those in attendance who have fought for the United States armed forces were invited up to the stage for the lowering of the flag. Each one of them stated their name and branch of the military as they touched the flag that had been folded. Among the 30 or so veterans and service men and women were two World War II veterans. It was a memorable experience I was grateful to be a part of.



Also on our vacation, we were able to visit Deadwood, the former home of Wild Bill Hickok. Brian had researched and found out the town was celebrating Wild Bill Days, so we were able to attend a free Rick Springfield concert there! It was a stormy night, but we hung in there to the very end with all the crazy, drunk fans just so we could hear "Jessie's Girl."

video


We drove through the Black Hills to see the Crazy Horse Monument, which is also amazing. It's huge! The Crazy Horse mountain sculpture is so big that all of the Mount Rushmore carvings would fit into one small portion of Crazy Horse's head. We were told that it may still be a couple hundred years before Crazy Horse is ever finished, but when it is it will be incredible.



Brian began to carve strange things into his mashed potatoes one night, so we decided we should visit Devils Tower in Wyoming as well. It's an amazing place too, especially because it was formed completely by nature. We walked the path that goes around the base of the tower, and Brian and I once again went rock climbing. We only scrambled to the top of the boulders at the base of the tower, but still, it was cool. Thousands of rock climbers climb to the summit of Devils Tower every year. It takes 4 to 5 hours to summit, on average, and about an hour and a half to repel all the way back down in 4 different repel sections. It's tall. :) The local American Indian tribes believe the tower is sacred. In fact, they are opposed to calling it Devils Tower because it sheds a negative light on their sacred land. They ask that climbers not climb the tower during the month of June in honor of the Summer Solstice. We saw many prayer beads tied to surrounding trees. It is said that your prayers are better heard at the tower, so of course we took a break in our walk around its base to pray. Scientists and American Indian tribes have a variety of explanations for how Devils Tower was formed. Some explanations involve giant bears chasing American Indian children, and some involve underground lava flows. But, of course, thanks to Steven Spielberg, we all know the real truth: Aliens.



There are so many things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota in addition to visiting Mount Rushmore. There are caves, hiking, shopping, zip lines, chuck wagons, wild animal parks, and of course Cosmic Mystery Areas to visit. We enjoyed visiting Reptile Gardens where we were taught how to wrestle alligators and live with prairie dogs, wandering through a farmers market, looking at the president statues down town, wandering through Fairy Tale Park, and visiting some of the quirky roadside shops. On the way home we took a winding road through Black Hills National Forest and Custer State park where we saw beautiful landscapes, amazing vistas, and rock tunnels. We had a wonderful time in South Dakota!












Friday, August 5, 2011

Chieko

I received two emails this week -- one from Richard, the piano player in the band I sing with, and one from my mom. Both emails contained the news that Sister Chieko Okazaki, formerly of the LDS General Relief Society presidency, had passed away. I was saddened by the news. I had gotten to know her just a little bit because our band, The Mixed Nuts, has a standing monthly gig at the retirement center where she lived. She was sweet and kind, and I very much enjoyed our brief conversations after our gigs. Chieko's son Kenneth said of his mother, "She had a way of treating people like they were special to her, and everyone felt special when they were with her." This was certainly the way she made me feel in a matter of moments.

In our conversations, Chieko talked to me about our band and my singing. She told me she liked to sing songs in Japanese to her children and tease them that they didn't know what she was singing about them since they didn't understand the language. She was always pleasant and I enjoyed spending those brief moments with her.

Joseph Walker of the Deseret New wrote, "Her smiling eyes and her own ever-present smile was one of her trademarks..." And Rodney Smith said of her, "I felt an immediate connection to her... Most people who met her felt that connection. She was one of those rare people who was so filled with the pure love of Christ that you felt that she cared about you — that you were important to her. And the truth of the matter was, she did — and you were."

I got to see those eyes and smiles first-hand and was able to feel that special connection she had with everyone. So, despite the sadness that comes to those left behind after such a loss, I am confident that Sister Okazaki is happy to be reunited with those whom she loves and with her Heavenly Father and Savior whom she so faithfully served.

At our gig tonight, Keith, the bass player, told me that he had something to give me. He pulled out of his bag a book titled Being Enough by Chieko Okazaki. He instructed me to open the front cover. There I found that the book contained a note addressed to me by name and signed by Chieko. I was so touched by the gift. We had all talked about Chieko as a band, and I had explained who she was to everyone. Keith had noticed how much I enjoyed interacting with her, so he purchased two of her books, and at one of the last gigs played at her residence - which I was not able to attend - he asked if she would sign one copy for his wife and one for me. She laughed and agreed to do so. She told him that she remembered me very well from the handful of times I had come to sing for them. She said she had enjoyed my singing and our talks and would love to write a note to me.

The note was written with a weakened hand, and the writing is a little difficult to see, but the message is clear and full of love:
"Aloha to a dear friend under the influence of our dear Lord, Jesus Christ. God be with you in being enough in His work. You did a great job. Aloha, Chieko Okazaki"

Keith had no idea when he asked Chieko to sign my book that it would be the last time he would see her. I believe this has to be one of Heavenly Father's "tender mercies". One of those little things that show us He is there and He loves us. One of those little things we may not realize are important at the moment, but make a difference. So, thank you, Keith, for responding to the promptings you received to do a kind, simple deed that allowed me to keep a connection with my friend whom I only got to know for a little while.

I am grateful for the opportunity I have to sing at retirement communities and care centers with The Mixed Nuts. I am blessed every time by kind men and women who lift me up with compliments, hugs, winks, applause, smiles, and thanks. Just tonight one woman told me I am a beautiful singer and, as she held my face in her hands, said I have a beautiful, glowing face. One man told me he can tell that I have the Spirit with me. And another woman beamed at me, held my hand, pulled me into a hug, and kissed my cheek. They tell me I have brought joy into their day with my singing, but the truth is they bring joy to me. Chieko Okazaki and all of the residents with whom I interact have made my life brighter. I am very blessed.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday Letter 2010

“The Old Year has gone... The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!” ~Edward Payson Powell


January:
I started off another great year, still living in my home in with my roommate, Emery.

February:
I threw a baby shower for my best friend, Kristine, as we anticipated the birth of her first baby!

March:
I witnessed the birth of Kristine’s baby, Adelaide. I even cut the cord because Adam declined. :)

April:
I began performing as the substitute singer in a jazz band called The Mixed Nuts.

May:
I concluded my 1st year as an Edu-cational Technology Specialist & prepared for year 2.

June:
I traveled with my co-workers to Denver for the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference.

July:
My brother David was married to Ciera in San Diego! The whole family gathered at the
Welk Resort.

August:
I attended Girls’ Camp as the Young Women President of my LDS Church ward.

September:
I traveled to Germany and Austria with my sister Brittney and her family.

October:
I prepared to have LASIK surgery on my eyes. I now have 20/15 vision, or “super eyes” as my friend Brian says.

November:
Baby Jordan was born in Germany. JJ is Brittney’s 3rd little girl and my 14th niece/nephew!

December:
I spent Christmas and New Year’s with my mom and several of my siblings.

Happy New Year!

With love,
Katie

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Castles and Cathedrals

Yesterday we did more exploring with the girls. We went to the old part of Bamberg to visit Bamberger Dom (the cathedral) and the rose garden.




The roses were beautiful, and Ellie and I had a nice time wandering through and stopping to smell the roses.



In the cathedral Ellie took me on a tour and lit some candles. She made sure to tell me several times that we needed to be very quiet because we were in a church. :)


I loved seeing the old buildings with the traditional medieval woodwork. I could imagine the people who have lived and worked there over the ages. It's strange that we now drive cars around on the cobble stone streets where monks lived or knights rode their horses.


After Peyton's nap, we visited Altenburg, an old castle on the highest hill in Bamberg. The view from the tower was beautiful, and the buildings were even older than those at the cathedral we visited earlier in the day. We saw a strange cage where apparently the Bamberg Bear used to live. You could see where the moat used to be, and there was a dungeon and a drawbridge. There was even a man singing midieval songs just past the portcullis. It was great fun.





After a visit to the store, we drove home and took a short walk down the street to visit a carnival that had been set up because of some small holiday being celebrated here. We thought it would be a fun spot for the girls to play games and get some treats, but it ended up being a pretty lame little setup. Ha ha. There were only about three stands, the game ended up being a BB gun shooting game (not too great for little kids), and the people operating the games were puffing away on their cigarettes. But, there was at least a little merry-go-round and chocolate covered strawberries that made the girls happy.




Today we attended church, took naps, and went for a walk through the forrest. The girls put on a dance concert, then climbed and jumped all over the furniture, each other, and me! They are super cute and super exhausting! :)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Neuschwanstein Castle



On Monday Casey had the day off, so he stayed home with Peyton and Brittney, Ellie, and I took a trip down to Neuschwanstein Castle. It was an all-day event since it took about 3 1/2 hours to drive there. It was a rainy and cold day, but the area around Neuschwanstein was still beautiful. The neighboring town was a ski town with steep, dramatic mountains and amazing lakes. It took us an hour after our arrival to actually get on a bus that took us up to the castle that sits on the mountain side, but it was amazing and worth the wait.


Neuschwanstein castle is famous for being the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. Because of this, Ellie refers to it as Aurora's House. :) It was built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria who was a bit eccentric. He loved the operas composed by the German composer Wagner, and each room in the castle was decorated to represent one of the operas. The detail in the decoration is unbelievable. The detailed wood carvings, paintings, and furnishings must have taken countless man hours to complete. In Ludwig's bedroom, for example, his bed has detailed wood carvings of multiple Bavarian churches, the walls are painted with scenes from "Tristin and Isolde", his faucet is a sculpture of a swan with running water from a natural spring utilizing gravity for natural water pressure, and his toilet is designed as a throne! (I guess that's why we call the toilet the throne...) Between the study and the singing hall, Ludwig had an artificial cave built so he could reenact the grotto scene from another of Wagner's operas.



Interestingly, Ludwig only lived in his castle for a short time before his death. It was rumored that Ludwig was crazy, so men showed up at the castle with a psychiatrist to take him away to another castle for care and treatment. The day after he was taken away from Neuschwanstein, he and his psychiatrist were found dead in a lake. No one knows for sure whether it was suicide, an accident, or murder, but Brittney and I are convinced it was murder. Other Bavarian leaders who were tired of him spending so much money on the construction of the castle would have wanted his reign to be over. It wouldn't have taken a lot to convince people of Ludwig's insanity, considering his obsession with the building of his castle. Our guess is they convinced everyone Ludwig was nuts, then had him killed.

Because of his early death, Neuschwanstein castle was never completed. Despite that, the castle and the surrounding mountains are beautiful. We had a great visit.



Ellie was a trooper through our trip, and although she got a little tired from the hiking to and from the castle and the shuttle bus, she hung in there. She was great in the car. In fact, she kept Brittney and me entertained part of the time with her singing. We were all singing along to Disney songs (partly because we were trying to keep her awake until we got home and could get her to be at the correct hour). All of a sudden, at the climax of one of the songs, Ellie belted out in the loudest singing voice I've ever heard from her! She even hit the right notes in her belt voice! It was so unexpected and so hilarious that Britt and I were dying laughing! Ellie got a big kick out of her joke too, and we all laughed together. It was a fun day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sunshine

It's been pretty cloudy and rainy here the last couple of days. We've just been hanging out, playing with the girls, and running errands. It's been a challenge to get the girls on a normal sleeping schedule here, too. They're trying, but wake up several times in the middle of the night as their bodies adjust to the new time zone. Today was partly sunny though, and we took advantage of the better weather. We were able to head to the mall this afternoon where Casey had an appearance with the basketball team. Ellie and I came along and got Peyton's new mini basketball signed by all of Daddy's teammates. Then we went to the toy store and slid down the giant slide they have over and over again until Casey was finished.


We then wandered around Bamberg city center a bit. We strolled through an old church and through a street market where flowers and fruits and vegetables were being sold. Brittney and Peyton joined us for dinner and crepes by the river. It was a very nice evening.


We finished up the day outside playing basketball, sliding down the new slide we got at Toys R Us, and playing in the newly refilled sandbox. Ellie played with her long-lost neighborhood friends while Brittney and I investigated the overgrown garden. We discovered giant, disgusting, orange slugs eating all the plants! So gross! Brittney salted them to try to save the fruits and veggies. Yuck!


Tomorrow the forecast is more sunny weather, so we plan to wander around the old part of Bamberg and visit the cathedral.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Willkommen in Bamberg

My sister and her family are spending another year living in Bamberg, Germany. Since her husband, Casey, arrived in Germany three weeks ago, Brittney asked if I would help her and her two girls with the trip overseas. We arrived in Bamberg last night after 24 hours of traveling. All things considered, the flight wasn't bad. It was a definitely a different experience than flying with adults, but the girls were very good. I played with Ellie for half the flight, then kept on eye on Peyton for the second half. The hardest part of the trip was actually the airport in Paris. The transportation workers in France are on strike, which meant we waited and extra hour to get on our plane (sweating to death because it was so hot!) then sat at the gate for 2 more hours all because they didn't have enough workers to fill the plane with fuel. Apparently we are lucky our flight wasn't just canceled. It ended up being a long trip, but we made it.


As soon as I arrived, the driver that picked us up from the airport gave me a ride to Casey's first preseason basketball game. It was the only game I'll be here for, so I decided to go even though I was exhausted and dirty. We made it there at halftime. It was packed! The game was held at a practice arena, which was just like a small high school gym with stands only on one side of the floor. It was so crowded that when Lindsay, the wife of another player, found and led me inside, we had to squeeze in on the floor a foot away from the court to watch the rest of the game. It was still fun to be there, even though my feet were falling asleep from sitting Indian-style on the hardwood.

Today we played, saw some of the neighbor kids (Ellie was a little shy and hesitant to speak German to them again), ran some errands, picked up the loaner car, visited with friends from the team, and went to dinner. The girls are trying to adjust to the time change, so that makes things interesting. :) I'm adjusting to the time change a little too and fighting against a sore throat, but so far doing well. I'm looking forward to exploring Bamberg and some surrounding areas this week!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mixed Nuts

At Christmas time I was asked to sing a song for the ward Relief Society Christmas dinner. Accompanying me on the piano was a man named Richard who is a friend of one of the women in the ward. We enjoyed performing together, and he liked my singing voice, so he invited me to sing the song at his church as well. A few months ago, the opportunity was repeated when my friend Brian and I were asked to sing at another Relief Society event. This time, Richard had been asked to play dinner music after Brian's and my performance. He invited me to sing any of the songs I knew as he played, completely unrehearsed. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and we received numerous compliments.

Richard mentioned me to the leader of the jazz band he plays with, and I was invited to sing with them as their substitute lead singer. So, for the past few months I have been performing from time to time with The Mixed Nuts jazz band at various retirement communities around the valley. The challenge has been trying to quickly learn all the songs well enough to feel comfortable singing them in front of a crowd! Fortunately, I was already familiar with some. It's been a fun, new opportunity to perform with the band.

Richard also wanted to perform as a duo - just like we did at the Relief Society activity. So, he booked a gig for "The Katie Blunt Duo" at the Legacy retirement community, and we debut this Thursday night. We've been rehearsing and deciding what to wear... and I'm very excited for the chance to perform this week. I appreciate all Richard has done to encourage me and arrange opportunities for me to perform. Tune in later to find out how it goes!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Update

It's definitely time for me to write an update on my life. I haven't really written since October! This is definitely a case of "no news is good news". Things are going very well for me.

Work:
I am still loving my job as an educational technology specialist. I work with wonderful people. It's the perfect combination of teaching and technology. I get to learn new programs and "play" with new tech "toys" while still working with teachers and students. I have recently been asked to be team lead for our district-wide keyboarding program, so I have spent a lot of time researching, collecting data, and planning the best way to teach our students proper and effective keyboarding skills. I am also very involved in getting our district up and running on iTunesU. I have been working with teachers at each of my schools to have podcasts ready for our upcoming iTunesU debut. Things are great, and I really couldn't be happier at my job.

Church:
I am still the Young Women's President of my LDS ward. I love working with the girls. I worry about them constantly and hope they are making good choices. I now have a full "staff" of counselors, secretary, and advisers, and they help lighten the load and set wonderful examples for the girls. We just finished our New Beginnings program, where we explained the Young Women program to parents and stake and ward leaders in the form of a news broadcast. The girls were creative and so fun to watch.

Family:
In December, my baby brother, David, announced his engagement! We are so excited that Ciera will be joining our family.

Social Life:
What social life? (ha ha) Actually, I have been set up on a blind date recently, but it hasn't happened yet. We'll see... I've enjoyed spending time with my best friend, Kristine, before her first baby arrives this month. We had a fun baby shower for her in February. And I finally got to feel baby move on Saturday night. Very exciting!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's Nice to Feel Loved

My coworker Camille has created this blog dedicated to me. :)
http://www.iheartkatieblunt.blogspot.com/