Monday, March 30, 2009

The Wine Auction

I wanted to wait until I had some photographs to share before I wrote about the Camp Goodtimes Wine Auction on Saturday night but I just can't. The evening was too amazing. The bottom line is that more than $150,000 was raised to go towards enriching the lives of pediatric oncology patients and their families in the state of Washington and Alaska. Camp Goodtimes strives to give back a small portion of the childhood that cancer takes away. Camp is a compassion building machine for the kids, for the staff and for any and everyone that comes into contact with the experience. The machine needs power, needs oil and needs a starter motor. That is provided by community support. If it wasn't for the wine auction, there wouldn't have been a second week of camp these past two summers. That means that 220 kids would not have been given the opportunity to attend camp. Since they were able to have that experience, friendships were made and amazing moments happened and those kids lives were permanently affected for the better.

Saturday night, the event was spectacular. Guests and volunteers dressed to the nines, and wonderful silent and live auction items to bid on. The entire evening we had a slideshow going on a loop of my photographs of the kids from summer. One highlight of the night was when the owners of Argosy Cruises, Kevin and Cary Clark, were given a special recognition award for their 20 years of dedication to the children of Camp Goodtimes. In those 20 years they have donated boats for summer cruises, Christmas cruises and even on occasion for memorial services for campers who had passed away; a total of 44 times! 44 cruises with no conditions. The only thing they were concerned with was that the kids be able to have a fun and memorable time out on Puget Sound. Watching the Clark's get a standing ovation and seeing the tears rolling down their faces was in my opionion, and I do have a 30 year affiliation with the company, Argosy's proudest moment. They were being recognized for their generosity, compassion and for making a difference in thousands of kids lives over two decades.

The highlight of highlights was provided by my courageous friend Karen Gerstenberger. She bravely stepped to the podium and told the most personal of stories to those in attendance, that of her daughter Katie's battle with cancer and her experience at Camp Goodtimes. Katie passed away only a month and a half after attending camp in 2007. With photographs of Katie rolling on the display screens, Karen slowly and deliberately spoke from her heart. The ambient noise in the room instantly stopped and the audience was glued to Karen and hanging on her every word. She told everyone she was going to be reading her remarks because she thought that was the only way that she could get through her speech but still she glanced up caringly and compassionately and connected with every single person in the room. The saying is overused but in this case, and not overstating at all, and I know because I was standing less than 10 feet away, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Immediately following her rousing, standing ovation the paddle raise took in $20,000!!! And that was in less than 5 minutes!!! I was so very proud of her and I couldn't help but think of how proud (and maybe just a little bit embarrassed) Katie would be of her mom.

Katie was alive and well in that room Saturday night. With her parents' Karen and Gregg, and brother David's unwavering love (and excellent memory), Katie's life will continue to have a huge impact on the world!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thanks for asking Karen

My long-time friend Karen (37 years and counting!) asked me how Risa's memorial service was yesterday so I thought I'd share some thoughts.

There must have been 300 people there and the mood was very positive and uplifting but tempered with the great weight of such a big loss. They had a great slideshow of her life, there was lots of singing, and many very heartfelt remembrances were shared. The same wish of Risa's was shared a number of times. She knew that her death would be hard for family and friends to deal with but she didn't want too much "moping". She wanted people to celebrate and dance and and carry on in life like she tried to do...not wasting a single minute. The more that sentiment was expressed I realized how important it would be to sing one more song that day...her favorite from camp..."Little Red Wagon". It's loud and potentially embarrassing but I knew Risa would have been proud. So with the help of our one full row of camp friends and three more in the back sitting with some soon to be astonished little old ladies from the church, we busted out a few verses of Risa's song...not too much, but just enough to bring some laughter into the room.

Later that day, some of us hung out over some pizza and "continued". My camp family is amazing. They feel life so deeply and are so appreciative and empathetic, of the moment and to others. They are also, on occasion, complete nutballs. That is why I love them. I am also thankful because they don't forget. This summer we will have our own "Memory Circle" at camp for Risa and, unfortunately, for the three other friends we've lost since last summer (Allison, Haylee, and Chris). When I say we are going to celebrate them, we really do. We don't just say it. We physically do it. We sing louder, play longer, and turn the music up to 11. That's our way of coping, of respecting, and of remembering.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Celebrating Life

Life is beautiful. It should be celebrated constantly and fervently. I remember watching an old Hercules movie when I was in high school. It was an Italian movie from the 1950's that was translated into English so badly that none of the lips matched the words. It was cracking me up until this giant battle was taking place and suddenly there was this little old wizard man who stopped the fighting armies. He put his hand on the shoulders of each sides' generals. He said in a voice that was a cross between Yoda and Morgan Freeman, "Life hangs by a thread...who is to say that we will be alive tomorrow? let us be happy today." That has stuck with me for 30 years. The little wizard couldn't have been more right. You don't know about the future. What you do know about is today and all of the possibilities of now.

Tomorrow I'll be at Risa's memorial service, her life cut short by cancer. By all accounts she really didn't waste any time in life and that does inspire me follow her lead. "Live every day like it's your last"? Well, not necessarily, because if you did you'd probably max out your Visa cards, dine and dash a few times, and really have a pretty hectic day (i.e. cleaning up your room, double checking your will, canceling your car insurance etc. etc.). But wasting time is just not an is too precious.

To celebrate right "now" I thought I'd share some photographs of people enjoying the moment!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We lost Risa yesterday

We lost of member of our Camp Goodtimes family yesterday when Jennifer (Risa) Hargis passed away. She was only 22 and was originally diagnosed with Retinoblastoma when she was only 9 weeks old. She remained cancer free for 18 years before it returned in the form of leimyosarcoma. The cancer started taking over in the summer of 2007 but that didn't stop her from volunteering at Camp Goodtimes so she could share her love, compassion and amazing attitude about life with kids who were fighting the same dreaded disease. This is one of the only photographs I have of her when she wasn't dancing. In any of the non-dancing photos, she's always laughing. Her music came from somewhere down deep. She "danced" her way through life; she bungee jumped, lept out of airplanes, rode a zip-line in the Colombian jungle, and even spoke at a star-studded Southern California gala just last fall.

I was able to visit her the day before she died, up in Bow, Washington. My friend Ann Marie (Watermelon) met me at their house and we stayed for an hour and a half. I brought my guitar in at the request of Risa's dad and we sang camp songs. He even ran next door to the church (where he's the Pastor) and brought back a song book that we skimmed through and sang from. I saw her smile and we chatted lightly. It was difficult for her to speak but I do know that she enjoyed hearing her family singing with us.

When we were leaving, Ann Marie leaned down to hug her while I was packing up my guitar. I said, "Hey, I want one of those too!" As I leaned down to hug her, she said softly, "It's not your fault if it's not a good one..." (referring to how weak she was)...I told her that that was the best hug I ever had.

Before leaving, I promised her that I would upload a video from camp for her the next day to her website. She never saw it. Yesterday, as I was doing that, her family was honoring her last wishes. She had stated clearly that she wanted to die at Seattle Children's Hospital where she had spent so much of her life being treated. An ambulance was arranged through hospice because it was obvious that her condition was deteriorating quickly. Her mom went with her and within seconds of being placed from the stretcher on her bed, knowing finally that she was at Children's where she felt safe, she took her last breath...with a smile on her face.


I am thankful that her pain is over, but this is a terrible loss for the world. She had so much more dancing to do. So in honor of Risa, and in the spirit of not wasting a single moment of this gift of life we share, I want to encourage everyone and anyone to find your own music (figuratively AND literally), turn it up, and dance, dance, dance.


I'm opening iTunes right now. Do it. It will make you feel good PLUS it's wonderful for your heart!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Posted via Pixelpipe.

Alex & cousin Andrea

Hanging out with Andrea in Bellingham. Just had to see what a camera phone picture looks like in here!

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I posted this today on my friend Stephanie's Facebook page and then realized it would be great to include it here. It shows the impact the Camp Goodtimes experience can have on the adults that are there, in addition to the children. I also wanted to post this because it breaks my string of a week and half with nothing to say here! :)

Stephanie was a little shy at first but fit in immediately and by the end of the week had experienced so many things that I know she will remember forever. The amazing children, the Ninjas!, the carnival, the cruise, new friendships, and endless skit nights and slideshows (not to mention camp food of questionable origin!). She was also able to experience Memory Circle to honor our mutual friend Gloria and the others like her whose lives were cut short by cancer. It was a week long celebration of life and compassion building experience.

Will "Neon" be back next year?

No doubt about it.