Saturday, October 29, 2011

St. Johns Town Center 2011

Its getting to be that time of the year again... seems like it comes earlier every year, doesn't it? If you're like me, you get irritated if someone so much as mentions Christmas before Halloween, or even Thanksgiving. But there's a good reason I'm doing it!

The St. Johns Town Center Holiday Spectacular is coming! It will be happening on November 19th all day. Here are some of the details from the event website :

Holiday Spectacular, presented by St. Vincent's HealthCare, comes to town on November 19 with a full day of music, cooking demonstrations, special retailer offers, vendor booths and, of course, Santa Claus' arrival, the lighting of the dazzling 32-foot tree and a fireworks display! We are excited to announce that Dia Frampton, runner up of NBC's The Voice, will be the headliner this year. Up-and-coming rock group Parachute, Jacksonville University Jazz Ensemble and Charlie Walker Band will also be performing. Event timeline: Noon - 6 p.m.: Kids Family Zone, Holiday Cooking Demonstrations, Boat Show, Vendor Booths, Art Festival. Noon - 9 p.m.: Beer Garden. 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.: Entertainment, Santa's Arrival, Tree Lighting, Fireworks. In Partnership with: St. Vincent's HealthCare, Florida Blue, Poll Tropical and Sight & Sound.

I went to this event last year with the fam & had a blast. You can read that post here. I plan on going again this year, so I will hopefully see you out on the 19th. Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011's "One of Us" Column

Lately my life has been beyond hectic. Part-time nursing at Shands Jacksonville, full-time Mom, part-time Family Nurse Practitioner student at the University of Florida. Oh, and did I mention? I found out in June that I am pregnant with my second child... due in February of next year.

Needless to say, there is little spare time in my life. But last week, when a journalist from the Times-Union called and said he'd like to write about me for a feature in called "One of Us," I couldn't turn it down.

I consider myself a First Coast journalist of sorts, and I'm a huge fan of the Times Union and I'm on the site all the time, keeping up with the latest on the First Coast, and I especially love their events calendar.

So, on Wednesday of last week, even though I was packing for a road trip up to the Washington D.C. area for my sister's August 27 wedding, and even though it was my first day of classes for my Fall Semester, I made time to sit and talk with Charlie Patton.

I could tell right away I liked Charlie. He was right on time, and greeted me with a warm smile and a firm handshake. He pulled out a copy of an email he'd received from my husband, Jim. Did I mention I'm married to a fantastic guy? All of the above craziness in my life is only possible because of Jim's tireless support. He cooks and cleans when I'm at work or school, takes Christian whenever I need some study time, all the while lending a shoulder to cry on and keeping me (somewhat) sane during all the chaos.

Jim is also a fan of (he visits the site each day) and he really likes the "One of Us" column, which features short pieces about interesting locals. As Jim was reading some of the pieces in the column, it occurred to him that Charlie Patton might want to write about me. So despite the fact that Jim's life is every bit as busy and crazy as mine, he took the time to write Charlie an email all about me and how I'd be a great person to feature.

I'm one lucky girl!

So after Charlie showed me the sweet email, he whipped out his notebook and got right down to business, asking me questions about some of my favorite topics... the city I love, my work, my blog, my family and my educational program.

I tend to get a bit long-winded (as anyone who has read some of the posts on "Out and About in Jax" can attest) but Charlie patiently listened while taking occasional notes, and peppering me with questions. I've interviewed many people since starting "Out and About in Jax," and my method is self-taught. I've never had any kind of training on conducting an interview, so it was fascinating to watch a trained experienced journalist in action.

Before I knew it we were finished -- Charlie was both punctual and efficient. Next I met Don Burke, a gregarious talkative photographer. Don asked me to put on a pair of scrubs and gather some of my school books for a picture that would be used in the piece. While he snapped pictures, we chatted about our lives. Don was a great photographer, putting me at ease as he worked on the lighting and quickly took a series of shots. He lingered a few extra minutes chatting with me before they both left.

Today I read the piece and saw the photo -- they are both incredible. I am impressed by their work and humbled by the entire experience. You can check them both out here .

Life is such a roller coaster and adventure for me at this stage. I just celebrated my 30th birthday, a landmark that I thought would require me to mourn the end of my 20s, but my life is too busy and exciting for that. One minute I'm scraping dried cheerios off the table, the next I'm answering a Professor in class, then I'm tying a tourniquet and placing a needle in an anxious patient. Somewhere in the middle of all of it, I'm sitting in the bathroom staring at a faint pink line on a little stick and being slammed with the realization that my life has changed forever again.

And then somehow I'm sitting on my couch being interviewed by a reporter and before I know it, I'm reading a well-written piece with a great picture all about this interesting local nurse/student/ mother /writer and for a second, I can't even believe the piece is talking about me. How did I ever get so lucky and blessed?

I don't think I'll ever know the answer to that question, but I will always be grateful that I am asking it. I can't wait to see what's next...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prayer Walk at the Church at Argyle

This weekend I once again did the Prayer Walk at the Church at Argyle. Of course it was an amazing experience -- something I desperately needed. Right now, my life is like a busy intersection during rush hour. I'm in grad school part-time, work part-time and I'm a full-time wife and mother. This is mainly why you haven't seen a blog post here in awhile.

Going on the Prayer Walk was so wonderful, how can I explain it? It was like God gently guided me out of the busy intersection, down a peaceful tree-lined road and sat me next to still pond so we could talk.

Or, mostly so He could talk and I could listen. I'll give you one guess as to whether I'm better at talking or listening....

Okay, but before I get started talking, (I knew you'd guess right!) let me tell you a bit about the Church at Argyle. This place is nothing short of amazing. Located in Orange Park right on Argyle Forrest Boulevard, sits the church, an unassuming group of brick buildings adorned with a simple cross and a roadside sign. There's nothing intimidating about it, in fact, everything about the place is designed to be welcoming. Everyone is encouraged to dress casually, and the atmosphere is warm and relaxing. As you walk in, you are greeted with smiles and hugs.

I came to the Church at Argyle for the great atmosphere, but I stayed for the music.

There is no way to describe how awesome the music is at this church. I get goosebumps and/or tear up nearly every time. Each time I am immersed in the awesome, uplifting contemporary worship music I think: I can't believe how good these singers and musicians are! They need to take this show on the road -- they are that good!

Leading the music is our pastor and music director -- Pastor Rick Painter. Last year The Church at Argyle lost our beloved Pastor, Dr. Ken Dyal, and our church chose Rick to take his place. Now pastor Rick does double duty, leading the worship, giving the sermons, and leading the church. Although everyone in the church misses Pastor Ken still so much, I believe our church is as wonderful and strong as ever, and that is due in large measure to Pastor Rick's devotion and hard work.

Pastor Rick doesn't tower behind a podium and never raises his voice during sermons, something I truly appreciate. I've been to a number of other churches where the pastor passionately yells during the sermon, and it always makes me uncomfortable. Pastor Rick gives his sermons seated at a table on the altar, talking to the congregation as if we were sitting at a table with coffee and having a heart-to-heart. I of course love this approach. He gives simple, easy to understand teachings that we can all apply to our daily lives, so I find it really refreshing.

Other things I love about Argyle -- we have a great "Kid Stuf" production once a month, which is a Disney-style song and dance stage production for parents and children to enjoy together and learn about God. We also have many Life Groups (I'm in one and its great!) where groups of people from church get together in each other's homes to share meals, talk and "do life together". There's much more: a motorcycle riding group, a guys golf group, and lots of groups for kids and teens. Check out the Church at Argyle's website to learn all about the various groups and ministries at

Okay, on to the Prayer Walk. First let me explain what a Prayer Walk is. Similar to "Stations of the Cross" that other churches have during their Holy Week (the week before Easter), its a path of "stations" set up, for worshipers to walk around to and reflect on Jesus' final days, and his death and resurrection. The Church at Argyle's Prayer Walk is held for several hours on Thursday and Friday before Easter, and times to enter the prayer path have to be set up by appointment.

I called for my appointment pretty late in the game. I called from work the day the Prayer Path was starting (this past Thursday). I spoke to Hal Hunter, the Ministry Pastor at the church. Hal is an amazing person -- this quiet gentle soul that radiates warmth and kindness at all times. The first time I went through the Prayer Path was two years ago -- an event that Hal helped orchestrate. At the time, I was struggling through a tough time -- my father and I were fighting and I had all this built up anger and frustration.

Back then, I was so desperate for some help from my growing anxiety and stress, that I'd approached the altar after church to pray with someone. Okay, so if you grew up in a Catholic Church, you know that this is way outside my comfort zone. Also, if you know me, you know that I don't cry easily, and open displays of emotion are not my thing. Still, that day, I walked up to Hal, starting to ask if we could pray, and then I just burst into tears.

Actually, it was kind of funny. Not at the time, mind you, but my memory of it is funny. Here's why. First of all, I'm a control freak most of the time (I know, big surprise), and I always have in my head exactly how something is going to go. I absolutely did not expect to lose it like I did. I think my mini breakdown can be attributed to 2 different things: first, as any of you control freaks out there know, the more you try to keep tight control over an emotional situation all the while not dealing with the emotion... well eventually something's gotta give and that something most likely is going to end up being your sanity. The other thing that made me lose it that day?

The genuine kindness and compassion written all over Hal's face. Genuine compassion like that is rare.

That day, as I loudly blubbered to poor, quiet Hal in the middle of a crowd that was hanging out after church, most of whom were now looking over in alarm, Hal acted as if all of this was perfectly natural. He confidently guided me out of the church and to his office, handed me a tissue and listened to me for a long while. Then he produced an excellent book on the topic of forgiveness, and some kindhearted advice that was exactly what I needed. It was like he handed me a life preserver in the middle of a time when I was drowning. It changed my life. The whole story of that encounter plus the prayer path I did that year can be read here:

So when I called at the very last minute for an appointment this year to do the prayer path, Hal was of course the embodiment of compassion. There were no appointments left, but Hal gave me his own time slot, despite my protests. Although Hal probably ministers to thousands of people each year and our encounter was two year ago, he remembered it completely. "I remember that the Prayer Path was a very emotional experience for you. I want you to have my time slot. Really. Its ok..." Like I said, embodiment of kindness...

So I showed up plenty early for my appointment to go through the Prayer Path on Thursday. After I stopped by the check in table, I spent some time chatting with friends I've gotten to know after several years now attending the Church at Argyle. One of them of course, was Hal. It's funny though, whenever I talk to Hal -- his voice is so quiet, I always have to immediately adjust my speaking volume. I start out all loud and high pitched and end up hushed and quiet. Then I saw my friend Kaliegh a sweet young energetic college student, and my volume and pitch when right back up as we giggled and chatted.

Just then I spotted a boy, maybe age 8 or 10 years old come out of the Prayer Path. A member of the Creative Arts Team (these guys put together great stuff for our worship gathering -- funny videos & skits, and serious / emotional stuff too, like the Prayer Path) came over to ask if the boy would like to say a few words on video about the Prayer Path. Then this kid proceeded to give an eloquent, articulate summary of the Prayer Path and what it had meant to him. I was beyond impressed. It reminded me of another huge reason I chose Argyle.

I am so impressed by the kids and young adults! Sometimes these guys will speak to the church about a conference they've attended, or they'll even get the chance to put together some of the worship gathering, and each time I'm blown away. Several young adults sing and play in the musical part of the service and each time, I'm just so floored. I want Christian to be raised in this kind of environment.. lots of great examples to follow and good crowds to get mixed up in. Lots of great leaders to guide him.

But I digress. Soon it was time for me to go into the Prayer Path. I was outfitted with headphones and a small mp3 player by one of the sweet, cheerful church leaders. She had a computer set up and was able to tell exactly when I should enter the path. Another thing I love about Argyle. They're very savvy and modern (at least to my eyes). They have all the worship services on the website to watch in case you missed a service, or just want to watch it again. The staff members have Twitter accounts and blogs. The first time I saw one of the youngsters look up a Bible verse on her I Phone App, I was like "boy am I behind on the times!"

The church leader then led me into our main worship area, which had been completely emptied of chairs and transformed into a path that was taped onto the floor. Thirteen stations were set up along the path. There was slow, sweet meditation music playing quietly in the background, and candles were lit everywhere. The lights were low, and the candles were giving off this warm, sweet haze. I was led to a comfortable chair -- the first station, and a soothing narrator's voice talked to me about the Prayer Path and gave me instructions.

"Welcome to the Prayer Path at the Church at Argyle," the narrator said, as soft music played. "This is meant to be a special time of reflection for you. The theme for this year is 'From Beginning to Beginning: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.' So just relax, and follow the instructions as we travel along the path. Don't worry, nobody will be interacting with you, you won't be embarrassed in any way. Anything you write down at a station will either be erased, or you will take it with you. So don't be afraid. Just enjoy this time of peace and reflection." After a few minutes, everyone quietly filed to the next station, and I headed to station #2.

The narrator then guided me through the stations, which recalled various milestones in Jesus' life. While reminding me of the events of Jesus' life, the narrator also encouraged me to interact with the stations. At one station, I was instructed to write on a small piece of paper something I need God's help with. I filled my tiny piece of paper with a long run-on sentence. It went something like: "I need God's help with balance for my life, balance with school, work and family, and I need God to help me remember to be more selfless, I think I struggle with selfishness a lot..." as usual, I was completely unable to be concise. Besides, "what I need God's help with" is a topic I could easily write a book on.

Then another station encouraged me to consider what I was doing for God in my life. This was tougher. Another station had me sitting in front of a mirror, and as the narrator recalled Jesus' temptation in the desert, I was encouraged to think of what were the temptations I dealt with each day, and then I was to write about that temptation right on the mirror. Then (thankfully) I got to erase it away. One really cool station had a path of sand set up right on the church floor, where I got to remove my shoes and walk barefoot through the sand while the narrator recalled the beautiful poem "Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson.

All in all, it was such a wonderful, peaceful experience, and it took me about 30 or 35 minutes. As I said, something I really needed. When I exited the Prayer Path, I was also given the option (If I wanted) to say a few words in front of the camera about my experience.

Did I want to? Ha! The camera loves me. Or, let's face it I love the camera. The Zombie Disco video springs to mind... So I spoke from my heart on camera. "I think sometimes the life and death of Jesus seems like something that happened so long ago, in a country so far away. Today, walking the Prayer Path was a reminder of how close it all really is."

There are so many things I am grateful for in my life. Faith, Love, Family... the Church at Argyle for me is like all three of those things wrapped up in one awesome place.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Considering Relocating to Jacksonville?

In the past two years that I've been writing this blog, I've been contacted several times by people looking to relocate to the Jacksonville area. So I had the idea recently of compiling some of my responses to them and writing about all of the reasons I love this city, and why it's the perfect place to live. And, no, nobody paid me to write this piece or say these things. I really do love Jacksonville this much, and just want to share it with as many people as possible. I realize that there are some of you out there that don't like Jacksonville, and let me just say, with all due respect...

You're obviously insane.

Okay, I'm kidding about the insane part. But I do feel fairly qualified to make a judgement on Jacksonville -- I grew up in a military family, and I was in the military myself for five years, so I've lived in lots of cities all over the country and there's no place like Jacksonville. I've lived here since 2006 and plan to spend the rest of my natural life here. There are many great reasons for this:

First and foremost -- the cost of living and the quality of housing here. For the price of a small townhome or condo in some other places in the country, you can have a four bedroom home in a gorgeous neighborhood in Jacksonville. Especially with today's rock-bottom housing prices, Ditto on that if you are looking to rent. For a look at real estate listings, I found a pretty good website called ZipRealty. To look at homes to rent, check out

One thing I love about housing down here are the planned communities. These are huge housing developments complete with athletic centers, churches, schools, shopping and golf courses, built with ample sidewalks and sports fields, and a great community atmosphere. There are several I can think of off the top of my head: Oakleaf Plantation, Fleming Island, Nocatee, Eagle Harbor and The World Golf Village . I know there are more than those as well. Browse some and check out the prices. Not bad, right? A lot of these places have absolutely everything you need, so that you hardly ever have to leave. Great during a time when gas prices are higher each day.

Okay, other reasons to live in Jax, the weather is beautiful here year-round. There are some times in the summer that get pretty hot, but since we are near the ocean, I think we have a bit more of a breeze, and since we are in the north of Florida, it isn't quite as hot as say, south Florida or as humid as Orlando (which is smack in the middle of the state). The rest of the year is awesome. Live here and you'll be wearing shorts and flip flops as late as September or November, and as early as February or March. In fact, as I write this piece, it is a mere four days until Christmas, and it's 65 degrees outside and sunny.

Although most people worry about hurricanes when contemplating a move to Florida, Jacksonville is actually the least hurricane-prone coastal city in Florida. I did a little Internet research into why, and it appears to be due to a couple of interesting factors. For one, Jacksonville has this sweet location at a big indentation along the Atlantic coast, so it lies more than 80 miles from The Gulf Stream current (Miami is only 3 miles from the Gulf Stream apparently). Hurricanes often travel up the Gulf Stream and head up the coast away from the River City. Here's a fun fact: the only hurricane ever to hit Jacksonville since the late 1800s has been Hurricane Dora, a weak Category 2 storm, back in 1964.

More to love about Jacksonville -- There's a large international airport right here, so travel is pretty cheap and easy. I've travelled in and out of that airport many times, and I have to say, compared to DC or New York City airports, JIA is a snap to travel to and from, park at, etc. Go to your favorite travel website and check out ticket prices to and from JIA and your favorite destinations and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. While we're on the topic of travel, I should mention that Florida is the tourism capital of the country, so there's lots to do nearby. St. Augustine is an hour away, all the Universal and Disney parks only three hours away. Savannah, GA is only 2-3 hours away. Daytona Beach is about 2 hrs away. Several great cruise terminals are in nearby Tampa or Miami and you can visit areas all over the Caribbean for pretty cheap. Just to get a glimpse of the amount of fun you can have vacationing in the Sunshine State, check out visit Florida. Here's the bottom line: imagine going on an awesome Bahamas cruise or seeing Disney or even Miami or Key West without having to buy plane tickets!

Want to visit the beach without going far? No problem. Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, and St. Augustine all lie less than an hour from Jacksonville. Move here, and a day at the beach will no longer be more than a brief trip in the car. Since Jax is located on a beautiful coast with a huge river running through it, you are never far from breathtaking waterfront scenery and water activities.

Jacksonville is a major metropolitan city with lots of surrounding country, so many people agree that one of the best aspects of Jax is depending on where you live, or where you go in the city, you can get the "big city feel" or the "small town feel". We have several state parks here for "outdoorsy" activities like hiking, camping and the like.

Are you more interested in art, music and academics? We do have several local colleges/universities. University of North Florida, Jacksonville University, and Florida State College at Jacksonville are all housed here and The University of Florida has a presence here--there are a lot of UF classes here in Jacksonville, and UF's campus in Gainesville is less than two hours away. Check out all the helpful links running along the right side of the page to browse all there is to do in Jacksonville. There are lots of art, music and dance events going on all the time. We have several local museums such as the Cummer Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Science and History. We have a big art walk throughout the downtown area the first Wednesday of every month, and each Saturday we have a huge art/farmers market downtown with live music and street performers. Also, because of the size of Jacksonville, we have no shortage of Broadway shows, musicians and celebrities that come here to perform. We have several great local venues for performers, including the Times Union Center, Everbank Stadium, the Prime Osborn Center, and The Florida Theater. Are you wondering what some of the Jacksonville events/places are like? You're in luck! That is the very reason I've been writing this blog for the last two years. Check out the archives to read some of the cool places I've been and written about!

Okay, one thing I know I need to mention in this day and age is the job market. Although I am far from an expert on the local job market, I will say that I bet that compared to many places in the country, our job market is pretty good. We have two major military bases here (Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Mayport Naval Air Station), as well as Cecil Field which is a commercial base. We have several HUGE health care systems here, Shands, Baptist, and St. Vincents (off the top of my head). The universities and military keep new people coming here all the time, so the housing market here isn't suffering as bad as in some places, so that keeps a lot of other local businesses afloat. Check out this Wiki link of a huge list of major companies headquartered in Jacksonville. You'll see some big names on there, like CSX railroad, Winn-Dixie Groceries, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, and Steinmart, to name a few.

Okay, that's the major stuff I can think of for now, although I reserve the right to add stuff later. Agree or disagree? Have something to add? Questions? Feel free to leave a comment here, or on the Facebook Fan Page. And hopefully I've at least given you some points to consider if you're thinking about moving here, or if you do live here, something to forward to anyone you may be trying to convince to move here.

I count us Jacksonville residents among the luckiest people on Earth. I'd just like to take this moment to say Happy Holidays to the "Out and About in Jax" readers out there, and from the bottom of my heart:

Thank you so much for listening.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

St. Johns Town Center Holiday Spectacular

This Saturday, the family and I went to the St. Johns Town Center Holiday Spectacular. I think this is going to become an annual tradition to kick off the Christmas season in my family. The event was awesome! We were able to shop, have a dinner out, browse local art, climb around in some boats (I'll explain), and of course watch some amazing live music! We saw a huge Christmas tree being lit against a backdrop of fireworks. On top of everything else, I got to meet and have a picture with the event headliner, Vertical Horizon! In short, it was a night I will never forget. (To read my interview with lead singer, Matt Scannell, click here ).

I have to admit, that one of my fears about going to this event was that it would be absolutely crowded. I was afraid that parking would be a nightmare and we would be unable to get in anywhere to eat or shop. I was also afraid that the area where the stage was set up would be so crowded that we would have trouble even watching the live music.

I'm happy to admit that I was wrong about all of that. Although this was a very popular event and it was crowded, St. Johns Town Center is so huge, that there was plenty of room for everyone. We arrived at the Town Center in the late afternoon. Parking wasn't too bad and only took about five minutes. We were able to park pretty close to all the main action.

The entire event was centered around the Town Center's 32 foot Holiday Tree, which was in the center of the courtyard right outside Maggiano's. Situated in front of the tree was a stage, and there were huge TV screens set up where people could watch the stage action from several different vantage points. For several blocks around that main courtyard, traffic was blocked, so the entire event had the feel of a huge block party. Along the streets were tents that housed artists, jewelry makers, local businesses like dance studios, and even food vendors like Cantina Laredo and Renna's Pizza. There was also a huge kids section filled with bounce houses and face painters. We even spotted a place where kids could take pictures with Santa. Another really cool area was the Ashley's furniture area -- a roped off party, complete with what looked like a full bar, and lots of beds, couches, and chairs to relax on with a big flat screen TV to watch.

In the center of it all was a huge setup from Marine Max of like, 6 boats that kids and parents were free to climb in. This was an immediate attention grabber for Jim and Christian, and they scrambled up into the driver's seat of the largest of the boats while I continued looking around. I stopped by a huge Jacksonville Sharks display as well as a Jacksonville Jaguars set up. I apparently missed it, but some players and cheerleaders had made appearances earlier in the day. Mobile Health Vans from St. Vincents (the biggest sponsor of the evening) and Baptist Health Care were parked along the streets, and I also spotted several local radio stations.

In short, this was a HUGE EVENT. And it was 100% FREE! There were never really any lines for anything either. Each thing we wanted to do or see, we were able to just walk right up. St. Johns Town Center is just so huge, that I'm sure it's used to accommodating crowds. I went to the tree lighting ceremony at the Jacksonville Landing two years ago, (you can read about it here ) and it was fun, but it was so packed that you could barely move.

Not the case tonight... walking around was easy. I was able to walk right up to the huge Holiday Tree, and the stage. I was able to get in and out of the stores easily as well. I picked up a huge holiday candle from Bath and Body Works (you have to check out their "Fresh Balsam" scent! It smells just like a live Christmas tree!)

Soon the guys were all done looking at the boats, and we headed toward the Holiday Tree to meet up with a PR professional named Jamie. She was going to hopefully help me get the chance to meet Vertical Horizon! Jamie helped coordinate the phone interview with lead singer Matt Scannell that I mentioned earlier. The whole thing was a dream come true for me -- I'm a huge Vertical Horizon fan. Their song "Everything You Want" topped the charts in 1999 and 2000 and is one of my all time favorite songs. They also play several other big hits including "You're a God", "I'm Still Here," and "The Best I Ever Had".

While we waited for Jamie, Christian got to meet a few furry friends -- Clifford the Big Red Dog, and a Chick-fil-a cow dressed up in a Santa suit that Christian called "the Christmas Cow".

Jamie was great. She was so nice. She had already read my piece about the Matt Scannell interview and had a lot of sweet things to say about it. She got me a "VIP" badge and whisked me back to a meeting room inside Carabbas where there was a small party going on. She set me up with a spot in a line of fans waiting to meet the band.

Minutes later, I was meeting and having my picture taken with Vertical Horizon! It was so surreal... even now, I can hardly believe it happened. All of them were just so nice, and Matt hugged me several times and told me how great I did in my interview with him. It can't be said enough, Matt is just such a great guy!

I stumbled out of the party after that, totally starstruck and in disbelief about all of it. From there, the fam and I set out to find somewhere to have dinner. There was a pretty long wait for the major restaurants near the block party, like the Cheesecake Factory and PF Changs, but we were able to walk up to The Grape (a charming little wine bistro) and sit at a table outside.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous! So Jim, Christian and I sat at the table, and enjoyed a nice dinner while watching the happy crowd drift by.

Jim smiled at me from across the table. "You look content," he observed.

"I'm beyond content!" I beamed, "I've just met Vertical Horizon, had a great day with my family, and now I have a glass of fabulous Chardonnay and I'm people watching at a huge Jacksonville event on a beautiful November evening. I'm totally sublimely happy."

After dinner, we headed back to the main square just in time for Vertical Horizon to take the stage. They thanked the crowds and the event sponsors, and got started playing. They played "The Best I Ever Had", which is a really pretty song. After enjoying success as a pop hit, it was redone by Gary Alan and became a big Country hit.

Matt's voice was even more beautiful singing live than I could imagine. The radio really doesn't do him justice. I was watching him sing in front of this big cheering crowd and trying to convince myself that I really did just meet him an hour earlier.

He sang a few Christmas songs like "The Little Drummer Boy," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". I have to admit here, that it isn't exactly easy to get me into the Christmas spirit. I usually get annoyed if anyone so much as mentions Christmas before Thanksgiving. But slow dancing with Christian while listening to Christmas music and looking at the glittering lights strung around the courtyard against the backdrop of the night sky .... it was awesome. It made me remember the way I used to feel about Christmas when I was little.

Matt paused between songs to tell a story about one of his songs called "The Man That Would Be Santa."

"There was a time in my life where I was having a difficult time with my father. We were fighting about something then that now neither of us can remember. But during that time in my life, I was going to school in Washington, D.C. and my parents were living in Maine. So, I worked all day on this song, and I finished it at like, 9:00 at night. I got in my car, and drove all night, back to my parents house. I arrived at I think 5;00 in the morning. My Dad answered the door and at first he was a little freaked out, I mean here's his son who should be in Washington D.C. standing on his doorstep at 5 in the morning. The first thing he said was 'Matt? Are you okay?' and then I said 'I will be after I sing you this song...'"

I was of course impressed with this story, and I thought about how Matt had explained in the interview that he uses songwriting to help him work through pain in his life. The song was really touching and inspiring. I also struggle with a difficult relationship with my father, and I wish I was brave enough to drop everything and use my talent and creativity to work through it in the way Matt did.

After he finished that song, he started to tell us another story. "So, a few years later, I was living in New York, in a small apartment I could barely afford, chasing my dream. One night I was sleeping and I woke up and this guitar riff came to me..." he started to play a few of the beginning notes of his HUGE chart-topping hit "Everything You Want".

The entire crowd, (me included) went wild. He went on to explain the way each part of the song came to him in his sleep, and the way he put the song together. Then he rocked the crowd with an incredible performance of the band's supernova hit. I had tears in my eyes the entire time.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. When the final notes of the song were played, to the wild cheers of the very enthusiastic crowd, the huge tree in the center of the courtyard was lit up, and an awesome fireworks show lit up the night sky.

It's an evening I won't ever forget. I think any gifts I get for Christmas will probably be overkill at this point. Having such an amazing evening with my family in such an amazing city, and getting the chance of a lifetime to interview and meet one of my favorite bands -- all of it will be pretty hard to top. What a perfect time of the year to realize just how lucky and blessed I really am.

Bring on the Holidays!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interview with Lead Singer of Vertical Horizon Matt Scannell

Wednesday night I got the chance of a lifetime -- to talk to Matt Scannell, lead singer of Vertical Horizon. His song "Everything You Want" skyrocketed to the top of the charts in 1999 and 2000. In fact, it was the most played single in 2000 according to . They also have a lot of other big hits like "Forever," "You're a God," "I'm Still Here, and "The Best I Ever Had." You can listen to "Everything You Want" (and watch the music video) here.

The year 1999 (the year "Everything You Want" was released) was the year I started college at UF. I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it, along with millions of others. There's something about this song, I think unlike any other song I've ever heard that just draws you in. It's filled with such real, honest emotion. It's like you can hear the sadness in Matt's voice as he sings. It's inspiring and touching, and the raw emotion makes it (for lack of a better word) beautiful.

I can remember that my first year in college was when Napster and other downloading sites were in their infancy, and "Everything You Want" was one of the first songs I downloaded. I put a shortcut to the song on my computer's desktop and I would listen to it all the time. I couldn't listen to it while cleaning the dorm room or studying, though. There's something about this song that demands my full attention. Whenever I would play it, I'd just turn it up and sit still and be immersed in it. I've never tired of hearing it, either. There's something about the song, the nuances and the meanings behind each line. I think I hear something new each time I listen to it. Even now, if it comes on the radio when I'm driving, I can't talk or do anything else. I just turn it up and let it wash over me.

"Everything You Want" is among probably my top five favorite songs of all time, and it was important to me at a time when I was finding myself and starting out my adult life. So when I heard that Vertical Horizon was coming to St. John Town Center's Holiday Spectacular Nov. 20th, I found a contact person and begged for the chance to meet the band.

I didn't necessarily expect a reply -- I write all kinds of emails asking for one thing or another for my work with "Out and About in Jax", sometimes I get a reply and sometimes not.

But after a few emails back and forth, the answer finally came that I would get the chance to actually speak with Matt Scannell over the phone for a 10 minute interview! Okay, I know I say a lot on here that "I was beyond excited" about one thing or another but believe me...

I was beyond excited!

Because of the time zone change between where I am (Eastern Time Zone) and where Matt is (Pacific Standard Time) and due to the fact that he's getting ready to travel, and juggling his work for his next album, I didn't exactly know when I would get to talk with him. I'd gotten a phone call from his management company trying to nail down a good time, and I'd been exchanging emails from some people who work in public relations for the Town Center. So I was filled with nervous excitement all day, not knowing exactly when or even if the phone call would come. I had a list of questions scribbled in my pocket that I kept with me all the time, and I'd done lots of Internet research about the band, and about Matt in particular, but still of course I felt unprepared.

Matt had been interviewed by the likes of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Dick Clark, to name a few -- and here I was, no formal education in music or journalism, no real credentials, and very little experience conducting interviews. All I've learned about interviewing I've figured out on my own with a little notebook, digital recorder and passion for writing and connecting with others.

I think that this is one of the most amazing aspects of the 21st century. Through Facebook, Twitter, live chat, and blogging, now the average person has greater personal access to everything -- political candidates, movie and music stars, large companies. I'm so lucky -- I live in a time where somehow, armed with a laptop, digital camera, and a small recorder or notebook, I've turned into a budding journalist of sorts.

I am beyond grateful.

So even though I knew the call was coming, I still jumped when my phone rang at around 8:30 pm. I was still dressed in scrubs from working a 12 hour nursing shift. My heart pounding, I ripped my list of questions out of my pocket and scrambled into my room (locking the door behind me so my 3 year-old couldn't get in (you moms out there know what I'm talking about) and answered the phone.

I think my voice was shaking as I said "Hello". I didn't have any idea what to expect. I'd never spoken to a star this big in my entire life, and he was taking time out of a busy workday to talk to me. It seems each time I do something for the blog, whether it's stepping into a packed $75 a ticket charity event, or meeting the CEO of a resort, or walking into a Buddhist meditation class, I have this moment a split-second before I take a flying leap out of my comfort zone where I say to myself What the heck am I doing?!

The minute I heard Matt's kind, friendly voice on the other end though, all my fears subsided and I completely relaxed. He was so genuine. We talked for twenty minutes, and there wasn't a hint of pretentiousness, impatience or condescension anywhere in his voice the entire time. Although he's probably given hundreds of interviews, he never once seemed bored and I never got a canned answer. Each question I asked, he took a moment to truly think about and give me an amazing, in-depth, well thought out response. The very honest, genuine voice that instantly drew me and millions of others into the experience of "Everything You Want" and made Matt a star, also put me at ease that day. This was not simply a "star" or "celebrity" I was talking to, but a really great guy.

I'm going to try my best to replicate the experience, and most of what he said, but I have to admit, I had no way of recording what we were saying since it was over my cell phone. I relied on handwritten notes, which I've used successfully for other interviews and pieces. I know quite a bit of shorthand (we use lots of abbreviations, symbols and shorthand in the medical world), but I'm afraid it's still going to be tough to capture how incredible Matt's answers were.

Matt was extremely articulate. If you google interviews with him and read a few others, you'll see what I mean. His speech has a poetic quality ---everything from his word choice to the way he weaves imagery and his own personal philosophy into his answers makes for a fascinating conversation -- its easy to recognize the natural talent with words and ability to connect with others that make his songs so special.

"Hi Erica," he started, "I'm so glad to get the chance to talk to you. It was a really busy day in the studio, and I got out a bit early, so I'm really glad I had the chance to give you a call."

"I'm so glad you called too!" I almost squealed. I tried to promise myself I wouldn't gush too much, (I'm sure he gets enough of that already) but I told him all about how much I loved "Everything You Want" and about how I listened to it all the time in college.

"Thank you so much for telling me that!" he said genuinely, "I never get tired of hearing stories about how something I wrote touched someone else. Believe me, its an amazing and humbling experience to know that something I did can have that effect. I think that's what so great about music -- it can be so emotional. It has this amazing ability to help us reach beyond ourselves and connect with others through our shared emotions and experiences. I hear stories all the time about the way one of my songs has meant something special to someone, and it's incredible."

"Can you tell me one of those stories?"

"Well, I do have one particular story I really love. So my brother took off for a month once, to go backpacking in Nepal. He went out near Everest, and just all over -- in tiny villages and places where there was barely anything we would think of in terms of civilization. Out in one of those villages, sort of in the middle of nowhere, was a small hut where this old man was inside knitting sweaters and listening to a tiny radio. 'Everything You Want' was playing on that radio!"

"Wow! That's incredible," I breathed. I hadn't realized that this song had been played all over the world, and was reaching places so far from the US. "Well, obviously 'Everything You Want' is your most popular song, but do you have a favorite song of yours?" I asked.

Matt laughed. "Gosh, it's hard to pick a favorite. I'd imagine it must be something like a parent trying to pick a favorite child. It's an interesting question... well, there is this song from the album, Go called 'Underwater'. It's just so completely free from any kind of pop influence. It isn't meant to be a pop hit, it is completely artistic. To me, it's like a painting in a way -- just filled with my own creativity and expression, so it's really special to me." (You can listen to the song and watch the video here).

"Speaking of your albums, you released your latest album Burning the Days last year. In that album, you have a mix of more upbeat positive songs, like 'The Lucky One', and more dark songs like 'Save Me From Myself.' Which do you identify with more at this point in your life?"

"Well, to tell the truth, I wasn't all that happy in the past. I've been through a lot in my life. I like to use music as a vehicle for self-expression. I think creating music is a way to not only make a living, but when you pour yourself into it, and use it to work through problems in your life, you can become a fuller and better person. I tend to hold onto things -- whether its guilt, or anger... songs for me are like capsules for trauma, regret and pain. The music for me is a way to let go of those things in my life. So some of my songs can be darker, but also there are a lot of positive things going on in my life lately and I'm all around a very happy and positive person right now. For me, the glass is half full and that comes through in a lot of the more positive songs I do."

"I've read that it was a difficult personal experience with someone who you were in love with that inspired you to write 'Everything You Want.' Can you tell me a little about that?"

"Yeah, so I was in love with this girl, and she was just a broken person. She kept turning to everyone except me for love and acceptance, and I wanted so much to help her. I wanted to be the one to give her everything she wanted, but I couldn't. She just couldn't accept it from me, and it was that pain, that led me to creating the song."

"When that song hit the radio, that was the thing that helped skyrocket you to success. Was there any one moment where you knew you'd made it ... where you knew you were becoming a star?'"

"Hmm, I can't think of any one particular moment. It was sort of a lot of 'little' experiences that started to add up to a feeling of achievement. Well, I wouldn't call these experiences little, but when we went on David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan, those were pretty big moments. We were interviewed by Dick Clark once -- that was really awesome. Once, my mom was driving from my hometown of Worcester to Cape Cod (its about a 2 hour drive), and she told me that she listened to my song nearly the entire time. She would switch from one station to the next and it seemed it was always on. I think those are the moments where you take a second to realize how lucky you are and how much all of your hard work is starting to pay off. I've been playing guitar since I was 7, and writing songs since I was 10. Now I've been doing what I love for 25 years and each day I feel so lucky to be able to make a living doing something I am so passionate about."

"That's awesome," I told him, "I feel the same way about writing. I started journaling and writing short stories when I was eight or nine. Writing is something I've been passionate about my entire life. It's just a hobby for me now -- it's not like I can make a living doing it, but I feel so lucky to be able to do it. That's interesting that your mom had the experience that they were playing your song all the time. I felt like they never played that song enough. That's why I had to put it on my computer so I could listen to it all the time."

"I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear something like that, Erica" he told me, "its so nice of you to share that with me, and I love you for it."

Did you hear that?! Matt Scannell said he loves me! I momentarily forgot where I was, and had to glance down at my list of questions, which I'd almost completely forgotten in the natural ebb and flow of our conversation. "Okay, let's talk about the event for a minute. So you're coming here on Saturday to perform at the St. Johns Town Center Holiday Spectacular. I read that you are going to be doing a mix of some of your popular hits along with some Holiday songs."

"Yeah, we're really excited. The whole band will be there, and its going to be a more 'stripped down' acoustic performance. I really like acoustic guitar, and I think everyone who comes out will enjoy the experience. It should be a lot of fun."

"Have you ever been to Jacksonville before?" I asked.

"Yeah, actually but it was a number of years back. Some friends of mine actually knew a few of the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders, so I came with them to visit awhile back. I'm excited to be coming back though."

"Any particular part of Jacksonville you want to try to see while you are here?"

"Well, yes. Have you ever heard of the Food Network show 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives?' "

"No," I laughed, "Sounds like a tongue twister..."

"Yeah, I guess it is," he laughed, "But it's this great show all about local places to eat in different cities. There's a place the show featured in Jacksonville called The Metro Diner ( ), so some friends and I are going to check that place out. I'll be in town a few days and it will be nice to check out the area."

"I think you'll have an incredible time," I told him. I took a few minutes to gush about what a fantastic city Jacksonville is and how much I love it. Then I moved on to my last couple of questions. I was trying to keep in mind how busy Matt was -- I didn't want to take up too much of his time, although he gave off every impression that he was enjoying the conversation and never seemed rushed at all. "Tell me," I asked him, "Where do you get inspiration for your music if you are stuck?"

"Well, I try to go out to a movie, read a new book, maybe check out a new art exhibit, and I look for new ways to stimulate my mind or emotions. I try to take an active role in a passive activity if that makes any sense."

"It really does."

"Yeah, and I also try to tap into my own experiences and emotions as well. I don't like to listen to music as much to get inspiration, then I'm afraid I'll take on someone else's ideas or energy. I like to tap into things from my life, whether positive like happiness and love or dark, like pain or trauma. I don't really strive to make music just so I can sell records. I want to make myself a better person in the process."

"I remember how you said before that you use songwriting and music as a way of dealing with your pain," I cut in. "I really admire that. My passion is writing, but I often shy away from writing about anything difficult. I like to write about happy experiences, but I can't really make myself face anything difficult or painful when I write."

He took a moment to speak directly to me as he said, "You know Erica, when I was starting out in music, I played other people's songs. It took me awhile to be able to tap into my own creative side and to be able to deal with my own experiences. It took practice, and in the end it was a way for me to heal. You may find that in time you are able to sit down and write about the more difficult aspects of your life."

I'd read in some of my research about Matt that he'd actually been given the nickname "professor" because of his innate ability to explain anything and be so easily understood. I brought this up right here, unable to stop myself from gushing. "I've heard you've been called 'the Professor' before. You seem to have a great way of explaining things. What did you major in at Georgetown?"

"Psychology," he laughed.

"Makes perfect sense. I feel like you are inside my head! Okay, I know you have to go soon. Let me ask you one more question. What's next for Vertical Horizon?"

"Well, we're going to be doing a little more touring in the Summer, which we are all really excited about. Also, I've done a lot of work with Richard Marx. We've done several shows together and we've made a couple acoustic records together. Right now we're working on a band record that I think is going to be really awesome. Of course I'm looking forward to Saturday's show at the St. John's Town Center. Are you going to be there, Erica?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world!" I exclaimed. From there, I wrapped up the conversation, thanking him profusely for taking the time out to talk to me. The entire conversation was a dream come true for me.

I can remember so vividly the 19 year-old I was, sitting at my computer, feeling so connected to the strikingly beautiful and hauntingly sad (yet somehow uplifting) voice drifting from the speakers as I listened to "Everything You Want" over and over. I could never have imagined back then how much I would mature in just ten years, or how far my life would take me. There are so many things about my life right now that I would never have believed if someone had told me about it back then.

How could I begin to fathom that I'd be juggling a career, a family and school while still persuing a passion that has somehow enabled me to one day have a conversation with the man behind the song I loved so much back then?

This interview has been so much more for me than another piece for "Out And About in Jax". It has inspired me so much -- to continue to persue what I love, no matter how far it takes me out of my comfort zone, to maybe use writing to explore and express the more difficult things in my life, and to truly realize how much we all really share. I think that's what writing for me is about -- sharing my experiences in a way that everyone can relate to.

I think Matt Scannell was completely right. Following your passion can and should be something that makes you a better person.

Okay, so here are the event details: I'll be at the Holiday Spectacular Saturday, and it's going to be amazing. St. Johns Town Center will basically be the site of a huge Holiday kick-off party all day. There will be activities like bounce houses and face painting for kids, plus shopping and specials for adults. Music performances start at 6pm, with performances from The Charlie Walker Band , Ryan Star and the UNF Tuba Euphonium Quartet. Vertical Horizon will take the stage at 8pm, and afterwards, Santa will lead the crowd in a count down to lighting a huge 32 foot Christmas Tree. Then there will be a dazzling fireworks show. Believe me, this is going to be the event of the YEAR. And best of all it's FREE. I can't wait! See you there....

Friday, November 5, 2010

One Ocean Resort Gallery Re-Opening

Thursday night Jim and I headed out to One Ocean Resort for the re-opening of the resort's art gallery. It had rained earlier in the day, and the rain brought with it the first real chill we've had in the air for the Fall.

"It's about time we've had some cooler weather!" I mused as we zipped up 9A in Jim's Honda Accord. "I mean, its almost the middle of November for chrissake and up until now, it's been 80 degrees out every day!"

Jim changed lanes quickly while barely touching his blinker. My life flashed before my eyes for the tenth time on the trip. "Jim, I actually want to make it to One Ocean alive," I whined.

"You said we were running late, so I'm trying to make up for lost time..." Jim mumbled as the odometer needle edged close to 80mph.

I was pretty keyed up for the evening, and it wasn't just the multiple near-death experiences.

Not only was I excited about seeing the new photography exhibit, but I would also get to meet the featured photographer, Shepherd Boggs, as well as the general manager of One Ocean, Sileshi Mengiste. Mostly, I was excited to see the resort again. I'd been before, back in March for their "Fashion First Thursday" event. During that evening, I'd gotten a tour of the gorgeous resort and wrote all about it in detail. You can read about that evening here.

Finally we headed into the ADORABLE little area of Neptune Beach, and cruised right up to the front entrance of the resort. The resort has complimentary valet, so Jim and I hopped out, thanked the very polite valets, and headed into the lively party right in the lobby of the resort.

One Ocean is so breathtaking. ( It's hard for me as a writer to give you an idea of what it is like. I'm going to give a shot at describing it, but there are only so many adjectives like "gorgeous", "beautiful" and "breathtaking". You just need to trust me and go for a visit. You don't need to be a guest there to see it either. There are several areas of the resort you can go experience without having to book a room. They have several bars, and a restaurant called Azurea. Also they have a spa that I promised myself I'd get a chance to try soon. I got a complete tour of the resort during my last visit to One Ocean and described all of it in detail, if you want to read about it here.

The entire resort is made to look like elements of the beach are brought indoors. The floor is a pearl, sandy color, made of tiles that have crushed seashells in them. Complimentary shades of pearl, teal and brown are everywhere, and everything from the light fixtures, to the fountains and artwork are made to look like bubbles, or to have the illusion of being suspended in midair.

There was a lively well-dressed crowd of maybe 100 people filling the lobby and spilling out of the small art gallery that is situated on the outer edge of the lobby. After I took a second to get a look at the gallery, the lobby and the crowd, I set about looking for Nancy Click, a PR professional from the Mayfield group, which handles public relations for the resort.

Nancy was really warm and friendly, and looked dazzling in a brown and teal dress. After quick introductions, she started telling me all about tonight's event. "The photography we used to have featured in our gallery here at the resort was the work of local artist/photographer Sherri Ebert. Several months ago, the resort put together a panel of judges that would select a new artist's work to display. Ms. Ebert was actually on that panel, so she helped pick the next artist. So we put out the call to local artists to submit their work. There was something very special about Shepherd's submission. The way he displayed his photography was on a sort of interesting canvas... it's hard to describe but it definitely got the attention of everyone in the room. Shepherd is a surfer and photographer, and his love of the water, surf and sand is evident in his photography. This makes his work really perfect for One Ocean."

Next, Nancy whisked me over to meet none other than Sileshi Mengiste, the general manager of One Ocean. He was tall, with a dark complexion, and wore a nice suit. He smiled and shook my hand, and then took ten minutes out of what I'm sure was a very busy time for him to treat me like I was the only person in the room and answer all of my questions. In short, he was everything you'd expect the general manager of a huge, opulent resort to be... polite, charming, very articulate, and passionate about the resort.

"Is this your first time to One Ocean?" he asked me.

"Oh no, I came here earlier this year for 'Fashion First Thursdays'."

"Oh wonderful, welcome back. Would you like a drink?"

"Sure!" I replied, quite impressed. He turned and headed toward a different room that housed some appetizers and drinks. I've done maybe a handful of interviews since starting this blog almost two years ago, and I've probably never interviewed someone as "high profile" as the manager of a resort, and I've certainly never had someone stop the interview to see if there was anything I needed or wanted.

We walked up to a table of wine glasses and a server expertly showed me the various wines they had available. I opted for a glass of chardonnay, and it was swiftly handed over, chilled to the perfect temperature. I didn't catch the name of the chardonnay, but of course it was perfect. In fact, everything about the resort seemed perfect. It occurred to me that everyone working there was probably an expert at providing impeccable service.

As I sipped the chardonnay, I asked Mr. Mengiste what events the resort had planned for the coming holidays. "Well, each year we do a different 'gingerbread house' that we set up in the lobby. Last year we made a castle, one year we even did an igloo! We're talking about 400 pounds of sugar and flour.. We do it every year for the kids. I think this year we're going to have a train running around the outside of the gingerbread house. We're still working on the plans for all of it, but it's going to be really awesome. Also, each year we do a 'high tea' here at the resort at lunchtime for several weeks during the Holiday season." (To read a brochure with all of One Ocean's Holiday menus click here.)

"So tell me a little about the art gallery," I asked him.

"Well, the art gallery is just another way to communicate luxury. That's what everything at the resort is intending to do. People really appreciate art. Also, choosing a local artist is just another way our resort strives to stay connected with the community. Then there's the way Shepherd's work fits in with the design of One Ocean. Everything about the design of the hotel, from the colors, to the fountains, sculptures and artwork is all about bringing the beach and the ocean in. We want the artwork displayed in the gallery to be a part of that. Shepherd Boggs' photography has lots of wonderful scenes from the ocean."

Since we were talking about the design of the hotel, I had something I was dying to ask. "So, I got the chance to have a tour the last time I was here. There are a lot of interesting features of the resort, from the meditation lounge overlooking the beach, to the gym, to the bars and restaurant. And you probably know this place better than anyone. What is your favorite part of the hotel?"

An amused smile lit up his face, and Mr. Mengiste actually took a few moments carefully considering his answer. I thought this was interesting, since its a question I thought he'd probably been asked before.

After a few moments of consideration, he gave me this glowing, descriptive eloquent answer: "My favorite part of the resort, is the deck right outside Azurea (the restaurant), on a beautiful day, when it's 70 degrees outside. Sitting there, listening to the ocean, sipping a nice drink when it's quiet. That area is absolutely perfect."

Soon, it was time to meet the artist/photographer whose work was being celebrated for the evening, Shepherd Boggs. Nancy appeared at my side again in a flash, and brought me over to a couch in the lobby where the affable, surfer/photographer sat, sporting a tan, shoulder-length blond hair, a suit, and a contagious smile. Here's what I already knew about him from some Internet research: He's 27, graduated from UNF with a degree in photography in 2006 but has been working in photography for 8 years. Currently, he was being interviewed by a woman wearing a black cocktail dress and taking notes on a notepad.

"Who's she?" I leaned over and asked Nancy.

Nancy explained that the girl currently interviewing Shepherd was a travel writer from a website with 'travel" in the name, but now I can't remember the name of the website she told me.

Shepherd and this other girl wrapped up their interview soon after I arrived, and it was my turn to sit down with the hero of the hour. I introduced myself and told Shepherd a little about "Out and About in Jax". "Clearly, I'm a far better journalist than the girl you were just talking to," I added with great importance, "I use a voice recorder instead of a notepad."

We both laughed. I started off by asking him about his opinions about the state of the field of photography today. "Isn't it true that it's a little tougher to make a living in the photography business because now everyone thinks that just because they own a digital camera they can be a photographer? I've heard that a lot of people think any friend with a nice camera can do pictures for their wedding."

"The way I look at it," Shepherd told me, "Is that nowadays, there are a lot more photos out there, but the quality just isn't as good. In order to be able to consistently take really good photos, you need the proper training and lots of experience."

Right then, we were interrupted by some adoring fans that were constantly coming up to congratulate Shepherd and praise his work. He was mildly apologetic about us being interrupted, but I reassured him. "This is your night. Don't worry about it."

Besides, I had a cold glass of chardonnay in my hand and a great seat for some fabulous people watching in a gorgeous resort. And we had a sitter watching the kid at home. At that particular moment, I was certainly in no hurry.

After the brief interruption, I sensed my time with the featured artist may be shorter than I expected, so I decided to skip to my best questions. Since I'd had such success with this question with Mr. Mingiste, I asked Shepherd "Do you have a favorite photo that you've taken?"

He also seemed lost in thought considering the answer to that question. "Well, I don't know if I actually have a favorite. Each photo I take is a representation of an experience I've had. So it ends up not just being about that particular photo but my actual experience. So for me, each photo is special in its own way."

"What is life like as a professional photographer?" I asked. "Is photography your hobby, or your full-time job?"

"Its a full-time job, but more than that, photography is my whole life," he answered happily, "And I absolutely love it. I travel, follow my passion... I'm a very lucky guy."

At that point, we were mobbed by some fans, including one guest who immediately offered to buy one of Shepherd's photos. There was something about this guy (the one who offered to buy the photo) that made him seem powerful and influential. It wasn't just that he was approaching an artist at the opening of his exhibit and confidently offering to buy a piece of artwork, but also the way this guy seemed to be flanked with an entourage, and the way he made a point of introducing himself to me with a firm handshake, stating his first and last name, as if I should know who he was. I didn't. As I glanced around at the crowd at the resort that night, I bet that there was more than a few powerful, influential types.

Just then, a friend of Shepherd's named Gary Denman sat down and introduced himself to me, piquing my interest by promising to tell me a funny story about Shepherd. (A promise he never really did deliver on). Although he did let me in on the interesting piece of trivia that Shepherd is the son of a prominent local physician.

I was relieved that Gary had come over to talk to me. Shepherd was surrounded by an ever growing crowd, and I sensed that our interview was pretty much over, so it was nice to have someone else to chat with, sparing me any awkwardness. Gary explained that he owned "The Photoshop" a Jacksonville Beach digital print and camera store. . Gary told me that he teaches photography classes at the shop, as well as classes in various photography software programs.

We chatted for awhile and he even offered to take my photo in front of one of Shepherd's masterpieces. Which, by the way were awesome. There were several large photos in the gallery, including pictures of sea life like large swordfish and small starfish, taken underwater, and several beautiful pictures of glittering waves taken from a surfer's viewpoint -- the inside of the breaking, rolling wave, a huge glittering tunnel of water and sunlight. You have to check out these works of art. If you can't make it to the art gallery at One Ocean (which you should of course make every effort to do) at least check out Shepherd's website .

After checking out the gallery and mingling for a few minutes, Jim and I headed over to Azurea to have a drink at the opulent bar. We were tempted to have dinner in the restaurant, but we'd eaten before we left the house, and we didn't want to push our luck with the sitter. So we ended up finishing up our evening at One Ocean in the place Mr. Mingiste had told me about. Out on the deck behind the resort, Jim and I looked out at the rolling surf under the moonlit sky and felt the sharp cool breeze blowing in from the water.

It was, in fact the perfect place to be.