BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
Hello. You caught me at a rather exciting time in the bonus round. For my 60th birthday year, I made an album. I'm doing some concerts around New York City and I even composed a concert Mass which will debut on June 7. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve, The Songwriter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DVDs Sold Out.

The Kickstarter sold out in a single day. There are no more limited edition DVDs of The Last Session/London.

Thanks to all the creative team for making this possible.

There will be a cast album on JAY Records. Look for it around February.


Jim and I are okay.

The black-out did not affect us. Missed us by nine blocks. The grocery stores were still picked clean today. Luckily, I stocked up on soups and other canned food. Not sure when the stores will get new supplies. Have friends who lost power completely. Water is safe. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Skyping the London Cast Recording of The Last Session.

A hurricane was bearing down up on us when I got a call from TLS producer Rob Harris in London. He was there with the adorable Huw Allen, his associate producer. They were in Angel recording studios with John Yap, who is producing the JAY Records release of the original cast. Huw had just snapped a pic of them at their mics. 

The London cast of The Last Session recording their original cast album.
Also, he had Skype. So, we started chatting. And by the time it was over, I had attended the entire session, listening to the various takes, correcting a few lyrics and cheering them on. Since they had just finished their month-long run, they were a tight unit, and the fans will be able to hear the show they saw and heard sung on stage, with all the vocalizations and harmony intact.

Our goal was not to gussy it up, but to let them sing from the heart just like they had been doing all month.

Simone Craddock as Vicki. Darren Day as Gideon.
Photo: Doug Craib
And that means getting them in all their raggedy glory. 

The Last Session is supposed to be a bit messy. Unlike a lot of the hulking musicals one might see today, where the score is on a click-track and you all but see the exact same show every night -- like watching a movie, where, if they suddenly were playing a tape, you'd never know the difference -- TLS is raw and alive. 

Love it or hate it, it's a show where the actors are filled with genuine emotion. The issues and the pain run just deep enough that they know they're singing something real. Yeah, it's a kind of Vaudeville, too. But that's what gives it its power. Ultimately, you surrender to the fact that it's not plastic. Not artificial. It has flaws. Just like life.

The keyboard player is live and the singers are free to act their songs, varying the tempos night to night and letting the emotion of the moment sway their performances. 

AJ Dean as Buddy.
Photo: Doug Craib
The first time I heard AJ sing, it sounded like Ray Charles had walked into the room. This devotee of American music dresses like James Dean and plays in a rockabilly band when he's not acting. What took me by total surprise was how touching, honest, intense and focused he was as an actor. Like the other more veteran players, he is a completely present actor. 

His Buddy was as heartbreaking as it was authentic. He was singled out in many of the reviews. I'm thrilled for him. 

Lucy Vandi as Tryshia.
Photo: Doug Craib
Lucy Vandi is like a big prize in a small package. A very professional package. Not only is she a deeply sharp actress who can level Vicki with a raised eyebrow, but when the warm dark tones of her voice have you crying, she can, on a dime, suddenly rise up in a virtuoso brassy riff that knocks you on your ass, and then extends the note and the riff long past what seems like human capacity. And all of it perfectly on pitch.

I told her she's going to have every theater queen in the world falling at her feet when they hear how she ends "The Singer and the Song." It's an "I'm Telling I'm Not Going" tour de force that raises the hair on your head while managing to only sound like it's going to fly out of control, but instead comes in for a soft landing. Brilliant.

And she did it every single night. This woman is a star. I'm not even sure how they found her.

She told me that life for an actor is hard, and that she was really grateful to find Tryshia. I saw her process. She carefully constructed her solos, trying out things, one by one. Testing every possible variation. She had to. Much of "Singer and the Song," the big 11 o'clock number where the character "improvises" a song (structurally based on an earlier one, "Preacher and the Nurse"), I left in much room for improv.

 But the truth is that it's a very careful balancing act. It's the first time someone is singing something that hasn't, in the world of the play, been already written. We have to believe that she's doing it. And then we have to see her drag in the others, one by one, including making Gideon follow along on the piano.

And then deliver the big satisfying note.

And she does it.

And it's fantastic live.

This professionalism showed in the studio. Because we're recording it live, just like in the show, she had to do it several times. Every time, on the money. Wow. She may not be a diva off-stage (she's actually sweet as hell), but she can play one on a stage.

I treasure the time we spent together in the dressing room. We felt a kind of personal intimacy that, if a camera would have been on, would be been ruined. I would love to have had this whole experience video taped. But real life just can't happen on camera. Unless you are on one of those "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" shows.

Darren Day listening to playback.
Photo: Doug Craib
Since I didn't know Darren's work given the fact that he's mostly been on British TV and stage, I wasn't aware of his tabloid history, which the press teases him about. And I didn't know he'd been on the original British "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" show.

Several times, reviewers expressed complete shock at how soulful and quiet his performance is as a "gay songwriter." As one put it, his tabloid reputation precedes him, and they weren't remotely prepared to take him seriously. In fact, I heard someone ask if this was a joke.

But joke it was not. And as his reward, he's received the reviews of a lifetime. Even those who criticized the book or the music still admitted they were genuinely moved by the sweet stillness that comes through in his Gideon. Turned out that he's quite a good actor.

He never raises his angelic voice in anger and yet, he has a powerful presence that brings a quite center to the drama onstage. He's real. You totally believe him there. Every world-weary sigh. And there's a moment when he leans his head on Jim, and it's so touching. A simple gesture. Yeah, we do like Darren. And that makes us like Gideon. We don't want him to die.

This is how I've found him in person, too. A genuinely kind person. He said to me that this show is a kind of redemption for him. But I said that he was a redemption for the show. Two things coming back to life. Our little show and a one sweet survivor.

He sings Gideon's songs so well because he has lived them. Lived the emotions in them. He has looked into the eyes of death. He knows what post-life looks like and he doesn't want that. He has a beautiful wife, who I met and fell in love with, immediately and kids.

He wants to live. The tabloid guy that crashed the car into a tree did not.

And maybe that's why we are so very well connected. The exact right actor finding the exact right show at the exact right time. AIDS was/is my tree.

Many young actors here in the City despair because of how hard it is to make a living, get work, etc. And then how hard life is after you do get work. Traveling. Working long hours. Working nights. And they say they do all this but nothing is happening for them. Many find it intolerable and go into another line of work. If they're sane, anyway.

But when those years suddenly become valuable is when people can walk into a room filled with strangers, look at you, believe you, and be transported for two hours.

Timing is the uncontrollable element. You can take all the classes in the world, make all the connections, but when the right person finds the right role at the right time, it's like the Universe has moved them into position on some grand chess board for a reason. Maybe it's just to learn a little lesson. Maybe it's to inspire others.

Rob Harris just posted on Facebook that our tiny show raised $5,000 US for MAD Trust. The actors held buckets every night after the show.

In the case of Darren Day and The Last Session, if nothing more happens than the healing we've brought to each other -- in his case, saying "Yes" to the producers to do a little known musical about AIDS for very little money at a 68 seat fringe theater, even making him audition several times! giving us precious expensive press exposure we otherwise would not have gotten -- it would have all been worth it.

Music Director Thomas Turner.
Photo: Doug Craib
Because Tom Turner would be playing the score every night, it was mandatory that he understand the kind of Baptist Texas piano that I play. I don't play it intentionally, mind you. It's just what's in my bones. Blues and Redneck Gospel Rock with a touch of Country and a dash of early Elton John (because I did have a record player). HOW I play my music is not something easily expressed on a piece of paper. There has to be a certain feel that's inherently built in.

For instance, when I play the piano, I can also hear an imaginary drummer and bass who've been playing in my head for a very long time. I have to find a way to make people playing my music hear that drummer and bass or else it will sound like the first time I played "I've Got You Understand My Skin" in a public bar and didn't know to give it a swing feel because "play this in swing feel" wasn't written down on the sheet of paper.  I think it's just 4/4.

I don't call myself a "great" musician. I'd rather write music than drill it. But I have been playing since I was 7, and I'm 59 now. I have a few chops.

So how did Tom do? At the end of this session, he would show me his bloody fingers. We made the decision to record the show using a real piano rather than the synth keyboard that, by necessity, we have to use in the show. It makes a huge difference because now everything is organic and real.

But his performance was spectacular. It's almost weird to hear someone playing like you play. And then improvising new riffs that are totally consistent with your playing. Hey wait! You're not supposed to play me better than I play me!

This would really be put to the test later on in the session.

Ron Emslie.
Photo: Doug Craib
Producer Rob Harris was out at the pub one night for trivia night with Simon, his partner. Rob and Guy Retallack, the director, had been seeing actor after actor for the role of Jim. And you'd think that since it's largely an off-stage role, it'd be easy. But you'd be wrong. Rob knew exactly what he wanted, but he wasn't finding it.

So, he and Simon decided to stop in for a pint, play a little trivia, and just relax at a local pub. Rob immediately took notice of the guy who was the emcee, Ron Emslie. He was putting up microphones, hooking up cables, running the joint and was a hilarious master of ceremonies.

And he's also a classically trained actor who has worked on stage with many, of not most, of the greats.

(TLS TRIVIA: Ron Emslie was in the cast of the West End musical BUDDY, about Buddy Holly with Charles Esten, who played Buddy Holly. who is now on the new smash American TV series, Nashville, playing a singer/songwriter. Charles Eston also played the role of Buddy in the first LA workshop of The Last Session.)

And that's how Jim was found. Guy planned a much more active role for Jim. He felt we should see him more. And, it turns out, he's also a musician. So, we were able to work in some guitar on "At Least I Know What's Killing Me" and "Somebody's Friend."

Ron Emslie was a find. He's the perfect balance. He's completely real. Utterly real on stage. He comes out as the recording engineer, you know he's done this before. And he has an acid tongue for Jim's angry, witty interjections, usually aimed at Gideon. I still hear a bit of the British in him, so I decided that Jim is a British ex-patriot who Gideon met when he first went out on the road. Why not? LA is the land of dreams.

Simone Craddock.
Photo: Doug Craib
Simone had one of the hardest jobs, vocally. She had to find her own way of singing Vicki. Amy Coleman is rather iconic in the part among fans of the US productions. Amy and I still sing together on occasion and she's kicking hard in blues bands in New York.

Vicki's big solo is "Somebody's Friend," which is not only the angriest song in the show, but is a flat-out rocker. Amy had those Janis Joplin style pipes. Simone, however, does not have that kind of voice.

Unlike Darren's voice, which has echoes of Bob Stillman's angelic qualities, and AJ's Buddy, which at times finds that same soulful edge that brings Stephen Bienskie's voice to mind, Simone does not sound like Amy. She would have to find her own way.

At the first rehearsals during tech week, I was amazed at how she had managed to recast Vicki's voice into a country blues soulful vibe. Clear as a bell, but with an amazing dexterity to bend all over the notes, without it ever seeming flashy or showy. This was not an imitation of country singing. This was country singing.

She told me later that she is from Australia and that her dad played and sang in a country music group. And that she would sing with them.

Of course. You can't fake those things. It has to come from inside.

I suddenly remember that at the first photo shoot on the set, the photographer asked someone "How did you fin all these session singers who can act?"

Simone is also a veteran actress who has such ease on the stage, you can't look into those big, gigantic eyes and not be hypnotized. We flirted a lot together. I love this woman.

AJ Dean
Photo: Doug Craib
This is a very happy cast. They truly like each other and formed a very tight bond.
There in the back is John Yap of JAY Records, producing the session.
Photo: Doug Craib

Darren Day, unposed.
The main gay paper said he looks like a good-looking Elton John.
Photo: Doug Craib
Somebody's Friend took a trip to Chinatown.
Photo: Doug Craib


AJ and Tom prepare something special.
Photo: Doug Craib
Strictly for the fans, there will be a Bonus Track on the new cast album.

I'll give you a clue. It involves a song that is both sung and not sung.

Today, we take on Darren's solos. I will report back later.

BTW, they say the worst of the hurricane has passed. Lights went out from the Battery up to 34th street. We overlook 42nd street in Hell's Kitchen. So, we maintained lights and electricity and was spared the brunt force of the wind and floods that apparently have made a mess on the east and south parts of the island.

And the cat is fed.

Steve Schalchlin
Your Living in the Bonus Round correspondent

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I've been somewhat immobile for two days.

Tests. Tests to find out why these kidney stones keep recurring. But they won't keep me down. Yes, sometimes you have to stay still, or be confined to an area, or be too weak to think. And when you do, you surrender to it and do nothing. Let the process of healing take its time. Otherwise, if you go too fast, you just end up back in bed, anyway.

Overseas in London, they're approaching the final weekend of the run of The Last Session. There are only a few tickets left. They will immediately go into the studio to make the cast recording. This will be hot. They know each other so well, and love each other so much. I can't wait to hear them now that they've connected as true band mates.

There is also talk of what might happen next. It's bad luck, they say, to discuss any possibilities out loud until it's all said and done. But there are several options. What we do know is that this show is playing to standing room audiences who are also standing ovation audiences. And in London, they don't hand those out like candy. Not like over here.

I'll keep you as up to date on everything as much as I can.

Anyway, two days of rest and semi-confinement to the house. I can now get out a little bit and walk around more. Being confined has also helped me focus on this Mass. As I said before, it's the most complex composition I've ever attempted. A friend of mine said, "I don't know anyone who's writing a Mass!" I haven't really given it that much thought.

Part of me is screaming, "LISTEN TO THIS!!" And the other part feels like a Freshman in college whose trying to finish his first term musical dissertation. I can just see myself getting slaughtered by the critics, assuming we'd ever do this anywhere but at our own church. You never know.

Too, I was approaching this project with a Baptist brain. First, I had to look up "Mass" to find out what, exactly, it is. A ritual. The Baptist brains going boink again. We don't believe in rituals. And even the Tao says "Rituals are the husk of true faith."

So, I had a mental block. Until the day I looked at the Kyrie and realized how human it is. A cry of pain. A begging for mercy. And only three or four words. All in Latin. I found myself thinking like a songwriter, and I wrote what felt like a mini-play, or a scene from a play. And, using music, I tried to tell a story. No one else even needs to know what the story is. It's there in the melody and harmony. I called it Kyrie Tremulare (trembling).

The Gloria has more words, but who doesn't love to shout with joy? I just wrote joy. And the Credo? It's almost ready. It's more cinematic. It's like taking a vow while watching a movie. It has heaven and hell and judgment. And redemption. And rebirth. Always a topic on this blog.

So, we'll see. Some of it may be really difficult to sing. But I'm the back row tenor in a choir in Brooklyn with a musical director who conducted for Bernstein, a historic organ being played by a Carnegie Hall virtuoso from Finland, and some of the finest trained young voices in the City. It may just be a few folks in Brooklyn who'll hear it, but it will sound good!

Then? Carnegie Hall, of course!

Friday, October 19, 2012

TLS-London Original Cast Album Announced.

Today, Playbill.com announced that JAY Records will record an original cast album of the terrific London production of The Last Session.
The London production of Steve Schalchlin and Jim Brochu's musical The Last Session, starring Darren Day as a songwriter battling AIDS, will be recorded by JAY Records in late October. Producer John Yap told Playbill.com that the London cast album will be recorded Oct. 29 and 30. A spring 2013 release is expected.
The cast consists of Darren Day as Gideon. Simone Craddock as Vicki, AJ Dean as Buddy, Lucy Vandi as Tryshia and Ron Emslie as Jim.

I was there for the opening and they are a powerhouse together. Every review, whether they liked the musical or not, went out of their way to rave about this spectacular cast.

A note: The reason this happened is because, long ago, I joined an email list called CAST RECORDINGS. Since I wasn't really from the world of musical theater, a lot of it went over my head. But most of the people on there are extremely knowledgeable on the subject and I've learned a lot over the years.

On that list, back 15 years ago, was John Yap, who runs a small label specializing in cast albums.

So, a few weeks ago, his name pops up on Facebook and I see he's in London. (He lives there.) So, not knowing if he'd know who I was or anything, I asked him if he knew about the production and if he'd go as my guest.

He responded immediately, mentioning that he knew about The Last Session, but never saw it in New York. That week, he went to see the show, met Rob, the producer, and had a long reunion with Darren Day, who he recorded, years ago, as Jesus in his recording of Godspell. (One of the things John does is make a "dream cast" album of a show, recording all the original orchestrations down to the last note. Many cast albums cut down the score to the songs.)

And that's how it all started. You never know when or how your connections might pay off. And now, we're going to get a cast album. This is very, very exciting. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Beethoven Humiliation.

I finished my Credo. I had spent months on it. Note by precious note. And as it unfurled, it seemed to write itself.  Birth, death, God, crucifixion, resurrection, judgment, heaven, eternity.

The most complex piece I’ve ever attempted. Lots of words. No “verses.” No song format. Just a seemingly endless flow of words. But I had done it. Climbed Mount Everest and planted my flag.

I told Jim that it was “the greatest piece of music ever written.” Because every time I finish anything, it's the greatest piece of music ever written. But this was different! This really WAS!

I couldn’t even remotely IMAGINE musicalizing the text in any other way. This was the final word on the subject.

Over and over, I listened to the wordless mp3 I had created with my music writing program. It was just breathtaking.

Then, I had the single worst idea of my life. I decided I wanted to hear Beethoven’s Credo. Just to prove that I could defeat the best. Beat Beethoven. After all, music is a blood sport. Don't let anyone fool you.
It’s not that I hadn’t listened to it before. But at that that time, as I recall, I was really focused on the Kyrie -- and I didn’t really listen to it. I wasn’t paying attention.

So, I fired up Spotify, found the Missa Solemnis in D Major, Opus 123: III. Credo.

And he did it within five notes. I was slain. I was destroyed. I had been flicked aside, as casually as a speck of dust. It was so earth-shatteringly magnificent that I just sat there drooling. As if they had put the paddles on my head and hit the lightning bolt switch.

No. I told Mark I felt a googling baby in diapers who had just scribbled in crayon on the wall. Like Salieri listening to Mozart. I was utter humiliated. Ruined.

I started laughing out loud. How we prop ourselves up. Tell ourselves how fantastic we are. And with not so much as a look, get put into your place. If you can't laugh at that, then you might as well just give up on life. Because that's what life is. In moments. Usually, when you need it the most.

Mark laughed, "Are you stupid? Everyone feels that way with Beethoven. Schubert turned and walked out of a part because he heard Beethoven was there. And that was Schubert! So, don’t feel so bad. We’re all up against Beethoven.”

Great. Now I feel like even more of an idiot, except good this time. I can relax. I don't have to defeat Beethoven. I can just let my Credo be what it is.

But it's also telling that I couldn't really "understand" his until I wrote mine. No wonder he thought his Missa Solemna was his greatest work, written at the end of his life when he was deaf.

When he was deaf.

And I'm complaining about a little ache in the side. I made it back to church on Sunday. Thanked everyone for sending me to London. Told them how great the show was. Sang "Rescue." Then to Andy Gale's class that afternoon. Jake and I did our father/son scene together.

Then he and I went to Whole foods for dinner. I was totally worn out by the end of the day, but I was back into the stream of life. Jim was home by the time I got back to the apartment around 6:30.

It felt good to collapse on the couch. I went right to sleep.

La Parisienne and The French Tickle.


Been too icky feeling to write in this diary until yesterday. As you know, I’ve been mostly in pain from these stones. But I was feeling slightly better and had decided to just stop putting my life aside, and get out and do something.

First choice would have been drive out with Jim and Jeramiah to Jersey. They got a Zip Car, except it’s more like a Zip Truck. At least, that’s what they’ve been telling me. The half-hour to hour ride, depending on traffic, with the bumping on the road? Too much. But I was so jealous of both of them!

For a late birthday present, Mark Janas asked if I would join him and David with several other of our friends to La Pariesienne for dinner and then to see our friend, Kalle, play a concert at Carnegie Hall with his sister. What? Carnegie Hall?

Kalle plays organ in our choir. I knew he was from Finland. I knew that people came from all over the area just to hear him improvise music before the service and after. He’s got long hair and he’s very cute. And when he plays, nothing else exists for him. He’s totally immersed. I race out of my choir robe and back into the church to listen after each service. But he has this whole act that he does with his sister, Duo Toivio. They've both from Finland and are world class virtuosos on their instruments. She, on cello (her graduate paper was on left hand techniques of cello players in the 18th century and how they’ve changed until now). Kalle on piano. They'd be playing in the Weill Recital Hall.

You see why I love living in New York. The kid on the organ in a tiny church in Brooklyn also plays concerts at Carnegie Hall.

I’d never heard of La Parisienne, but it sounded nice and I had decided to refuse to continue to let the pain control my life. I would go. Hell, I’d even walk there. Maybe this stone needs a little gentle shaking. I even took advil instead of the hard stuff. This was coming down to a fight.

I would be very zen. I would live with the pain. Push through it. Pretend, even. But, participate in life.

I sent Jim off to meet “his little friend.” I put on my suit. Slate black with subtle black on black stripes. My favorite new tie. Palest of pale yellow, which we bought down on 39th street in the shirt shop run by the kid in the yamulke.

I set off to walk. I was doing very well, and not really in pain as long as I walked kind of slow. It felt good to move. But the route seemed longer than I had calculated, added to the fact that I hadn't been there before. I worried I'd be late. I could have caught a cab, but they’re expensive and I needed to move. I just felt like I needed to move.

I walked past a few new stores I had never seen before. In this area of midtown, if anything closes, it opens right back up again as something else. Is that a hummus restaurant? We still need a decent Tex Mex. I finally get up into the 50s, it’s been what feels like a half hour. I’m not sure what La Parisienne looks like.

Did he say between 56th and 57th? Scaffolding. A city of scaffolds. Looks like. Yes.

I look in the window and see Mark with two other friends. He says he's just sending me a text. And it’s a diner.

La Parisienne is a Greek diner.

Our waitress was as gum-cracky as we needed her to be, except with a Middle Eastern? or was she Latina? She was promoting the Greek/middle eastern dishes, so I got confused.

And then, I felt The Tickle.

I’ve been waiting a month to feel The Tickle. That’s the feeling I get when the stone is making its exit. A month ago, when this first hit me, and the pain subsided in a few days, I thought the stone was gone based mainly on the fact that I was not hurting. So much. But then, it kept building. Slowly.

I ran to the bathroom, but someone was there. I waited and waited, but he never came out. I sat down at the banquette with my back to the door and asked them to play look-out. Finally, my turn.

And it was intense to the edge of being painful. But it was hugely satisfying. I peed three or four times while we were there. And I felt slightly stronger each time.

Just as I had decided to not put my life on hold, the moment I had decided to let pain into my self-identity and just deal with it, it sent signs to me that it was letting me go.

In the Bonus Round, you can’t put your life on hold. You don’t know when the buzzer is going to go off.

We had a talk about this at the dinner table. All of us unable to comprehend the concept of “retirement,” if retirement meant sitting and doing nothing, thinking nothing, creating nothing.

Actually, in show business, we have a word for people like that: Customers!

The concert was great, but the week ended in a great humiliation. I’ll tell that story next.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Guzzling.

The ultrasound on Saturday morning indicated a blocked kidney. Doc sent me to ER for a CAT scan. The doctor there just told me to take pain pills and drink a lot of fluids.

Same old, same old.

But the mystery remains. Why so many? And why now?

He did mention salt. And I laughed, telling him I'm from the South, where salt is a food group.

So, I've been watching my salt intake. Guzzling homemade lemonade. He said citrus helps.

The pain is not the worst I've felt -- maybe that's ahead -- but it's hard to function, especially sleep, unless I take something.

And now, I wait it out.

And guzzle.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Birthday Health Update

Today, I spent my birthday at a new doctor's office. A nephrologist, or kidney specialist referred by my beloved Dr. Tony. The goal: to chase down why I'm having all these kidney stones. Since I'm physically depleted and still in a little pain, I walked very slowly to the 8th avenue subway, down to 14th street, then the L train to 6th avenue.

I got there an hour early and, within five minutes, Dr. Andrew came into the waiting room, shook my hand and brought me back to his office. I asked him how new knew Dr. Tony and he said they both trained at St. Vincent's, ground zero for the AIDS epidemic -- a hospital that tragically closed a few years ago.

(EDIT: The first thing I said to him, in his office, was "I'm Dr. Tony's favorite patient.")

I brought my list of medications and the results of my previous blood tests. He asked about my history with stone, my diet and was very happy that I drink a lot of homemade fresh-squeezed lemonade -- I squeeze it myself! -- but admitted that I did probably eat too much salt. So, his first instruction was to cut out as much salt as possible. (Goodbye, white cheddar cheese popcorn!)

Back home, Jimmy had bought me a dozen red roses. He had already bought me a birthday present prior to going to London. And now I am resting comfortably. I'm using Facebook during this time because I don't have to expend much effort, but I haven't been writing much else. The discomfort is too distracting and it's hard to think.

This week, we'll be doing more tests and an ultrasound.

So, some people might think it's kind of sad to be spending your birthday in a doctor's office. But, for me, I fell totally in love with Dr. Andrew. He took his time with me, was patient and asked great questions. That's the kind of gift that is incalculable.

Happy birthday to me!