Ukuleles & Serendoggity Worldwide Weiners

This weekend I spent the better part of Saturday at the Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival, right here in my own town. A rough 3-minute drive down the street. After a week of ups and downs, and after working every day for several weeks, it was time to push some work to the back burner and hang out with a bunch of ukuleles and their happy owners. So I packed up two of my little four-stringed guys (a tenor and a soprano), and went ready to learn and be inspired.

Before getting too involved in this review however, let me just say that on Monday/Tuesday of the previous week, when I was having not such fun days, there was no way I could have predicted that 5 days later I’d be standing in a parking lot in drizzling rain, with two of my ukuleles and a handful of new friends, eating a hot dog from a truck called Serendoggity Weiner Works. I don’t know if it was the best hot dog ever, but when it comes to hot dogs, timing can be everything. The hot dog itself was not bad, but the hot dog on a cool cloudy drizzly day, with my two favorite ukuleles close by, and a bunch of other ukulele players trying to manage their ukuleles and hot dogs at the same time – made it a contender for the best hot dog ever.

Performances – I had the opportunity to watch several ukulele performances Saturday, and the best by far was that of Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel, aka Mr. & Mrs. Chee. I don’t think I’m supposed to post my shaky quality iPhone video of their performances of “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” but it rocked. You should check out this video and see if you agree. I’ve had a chance to see Craig and Sarah perform several times, and this weekend may have been the best – they bring a lot of fun and professionalism to their performances.

On the other end, with fun but maybe not so much professionalism, was Herb Ohta Jr and Bryan Tolentino. They had been hyped as the duo to see, somewhat legendary as far as Hawaiian ukulele players go. I’ve heard some of their recorded music and was impressed, but I’ve gotta say, their performances Saturday seemed a little lazy, a little unprepared and kind of phoned in. They kept doing that whole schtick some performers do of talking between each song, making jokes about not really know that one, not being ready, etc. But I don’t think they were kidding around. It was a pretty weak performance, but they’re a crowd favorite and they received a lot of applause from an audience of Herb and Bryan fanboys and girls. I didn’t get it, and I’d probably skip them next time.

But I have to get back to the hot dog. Serendoggity Weiner Works. If I were to run across that truck again in town somewhere, I might be tempted to buy another hot dog, but then I probably wouldn’t. Without the cool beach-y weather, and the crazy people playing ukuleles all around me (i.e., WITH me), it wouldn’t be the same. But, if you ever run across the Serendoggity Weiner Works truck, with ukulele players hanging out nearby, that might just be the vibe you need. In that setting, I’d definitely grab a hot dog.

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Not Cute, but Important

townaceI just got back a few weeks ago from a month in Uganda, where a lot of great things happened. So much, in fact, that for those of you who’ve seen me and asked, “how was the Uganda trip?”, you probably noticed a blank stare on my face. That’s because it’s hard to know how to give a simple answer to a question like that.

The short answer is – people living in severe poverty got free medical care and free education. That’s what we do over there in Uganda, but the long answer is more complicated.

If there was one word that I could use to describe how this trip was different than my previous four trips, I’d say “infrastructure.” Or maybe, “generator.” Or if I could be allowed to use three words – “stuff kept breaking.”

Loving One by One owns a dozen or so acres of land, and on that land we have three houses, a school and a medical clinic. By “medical clinic,” I mean a 24/7 mini hospital that has become pretty busy. All these buildings require water and electricity, and that’s accomplished by a combination of the public power grid, plus our own solar power systems, plus a generator that theoretically runs occasionally to keep things charged up. On my first day in Uganda, the generator broke and was determined to be unrepairable, so we were thankfully able to purchase a new generator. And that’s where so many other problems began – the new generator wasn’t really new, there were problems with the installation, as well as with some of the parts being poorly designed…. you name it, and it happened, and almost every day for four weeks there were problems related to the generator.

You know what the problem is with generators and other infrastructure things (submersible pumps for wells, solar power batteries, water storage tanks, vehicles, etc)? They’re not as cute as little Ugandan kids old Ugandan women. Let me illustrate with a few photos below…

 

  

So we have a cute little Ugandan girl leaning on a tree, trying to figure out what the crazy Mzungu (me) is doing pointing his phone at her. What a great face! Then, there’s a little boy with the severely bent right leg, but a great smile, the kind of smile that makes you want to say, “Yes, by golly, I’ll sponsor that kid’s leg surgery!” Finally, a cute little old Ugandan woman, trying on reading glasses, with a smile beginning to form on her face because she can make out the letters on the page. These people have a high cute factor. 

And if I may be blunt – High Cute Factor = High Donation Factor. Thankfully, generous people are moved by images of children and elderly people, and they want to contribute. And we’re thankful for that.

However, by contrast, check out these photos….

 

First, we have a water truck, in the middle of the night, delivering thousands of liters of water to some of our water tanks – a delivery that had to happen many times, because the generator and/or the submersible pump weren’t doing their job and pumping water properly. Speaking of water tanks, the second photo features three water tanks, up against a lovely cloudy sky, with Ken on a hammock below. Don’t make a big deal out of the hammock – Ken was hardly ever actually in the hammock while I was in Uganda, because most of his time was spent dealing with getting water into those (and other) water tanks. Not an easy task, when your generator and/or submersible pump aren’t doing their job. We currently urgently need to add another 10,000 liter tank (or two) to our system.

 

Next, we have the “new” generator, which was a costly but extremely necessary expense. Costly, because as I mentioned earlier, it took almost the entire four weeks I was there to get it working right. Happily, it finally seems to be doing its job. Finally, we have a Toyota truck, known in Africa as a “Townace.” We are beginning to feel the need for a Townace truck because of the considerable maintenance issues on and around our 12 acres. There’s always something to pick up or deliver, and the excess load is becoming too much for our current van. 

Infrastructure photos don’t have a High Cute Factor; therefore, most people don’t get excited about a photo of a generator and reach for their wallets to contribute

Amazing things have been happening in Uganda through the work for Loving One by One for over 15 years, and we’re not finished! However, we have grown very rapidly, and that expansion has required buildings and equipment – at a cost.

If you would like to help Loving One by One continue to grow and expand our effectiveness in Uganda, and if you can understand the importance of boring things like generators, water tanks and trucks – then please consider going to Loving One by One’s website and making a contribution. You can specify “infrastructure.” Or, if you’d like to have a conversation about specific infrastructure needs, contact me and we’ll set it up.

 

 

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I Guess I’m 60 Now

Today is my 60th birthday. After typing that, I had to stop and re-read it, and let it sink in. 

When I was a kid, people who were 60 were really old. My parents seemed pretty old when they were 60 (they actually always seemed pretty old to me, no matter how old they were). But I don’t think I’m as old as they were at 60. I don’t think I’m as old as they were at 40. I usually feel pretty good, and I eat good food and I exercise. I work at a fun job; actually, several fun jobs. Plus, everyone in my family is older than I am; I’m the youngest. And if I’m 60, then that means my siblings are really getting up there, and they don’t seem that way to me.

However, in the middle of all this age-denial, there are certain realities I can’t escape. My daughter is 29. Twenty-nine stinkin’ years old. With a kid that old, I have to be getting up there as well. I have a lot of gray hair; and by a “lot,” I mean that out of the small amount of hair I have, a high percentage of it is gray. I hate almost every song written past the early 90’s, and that’s being kind of generous. I make a sound when I get up from a chair, and a different sound when I get into it.

I can still play music and people still want to hire me, but that world is also changing. I can’t ever seem to get the monitor levels right anymore; the sound guy usually does exactly what I ask him to do, but my ears have become a little inconsistent. It’s either too quiet (“I can’t hear the piano at all!”), or everything is just too much (“can we please turn ALL the monitors down?”)

So I have mixed feelings about turning 60, but what can I really do about it? I have to keep going. I have to face the fact that I’m old enough to save money at Denny’s. I can still play good music, but I’m usually going to be playing it with people younger than I am – unless it’s jazz music, where I’m still one of the younger guys in the room, thank goodness. People are going to routinely ask me when I’m going to retire. My daughter is going to keep asking me every day how I’m feeling. People at church are going to keep saying, “we really appreciate your wisdom,” which is another way of saying, “we should probably find out what an old guy like you thinks before we make this decision.”

Anyway, 60 is here, like it or not. I’m not going to pretend to be younger; that always just looks silly. But there are a few “old guy” things I’m going to avoid.

I’m not going to always talk about how I’m feeling physically. Nobody really wants to hear about my internal situation all that much. And even though I think all music written past the early 90’s is crap, I’m going to be careful to not always SAY that all music written past the early 90’s is crap. That makes me sound like one of those “get off my lawn” guys. And of course, along with that, I’m not going to tell people to get off my lawn.

More important than what I’m NOT going to do, here are the things I AM going to do.

I’m going to keep going to Uganda, and doing other things that actually matter and make the world better, instead of griping about stupid things that don’t matter. Not that I know anyone who does that. I’m just saying.

I’m going to keep exercising.

I’m going to keep growing as a musician (just not any of the crap written after the early 90’s).

I’m going to keep growing as a Christian (just not any of the crap people started believing after the early 90’s – HA, just wanted to keep that joke going).

I’m going to keep working with people younger than I am (because most people are younger than I am).

So that’s it. I guess I’m 60 now. I have a few friends who made it to that number a little before I did, and they’re assuring me it’s not that bad. At least I’m not 70!

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Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda #5: What’s the Alternative?

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This June, I’ll return to Uganda with Loving One by One Ministries (LOBO), for what will be my fifth trip to Uganda. To help bring LOBO’s work back to the forefront for some of my friends and readers, I’ve written several recent blog posts titled “Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda,” and this is the fifth of those posts.

In the first four posts, I wrote about how kids shouldn’t have to struggle as much as they do in Uganda. I wrote about our immediate community surrounding LOBO’s home, and how we’re involved in strengthening our own neighborhood. I wrote about the shortage of food in Uganda, and how we’re working so moms no longer have to choose which of their children to feed on a given day. And, I wrote about some of the crazy, yet preventable, diseases Ugandans face and how LOBO has been able to provide medical care for thousands of men, women and children.

Today’s final Reason to Go Back to Uganda…. What’s the Alternative? If Loving One by One and other helping organizations don’t continue in Uganda, then what? The quality of life in Uganda, although currently difficult, will become disastrous for thousands of Ugandans, particularly Ugandan children. Life is hard in Uganda. But for many Ugandan children, it used to be worse until Loving One by One became involved. Now kids whose future was one of continued life in the slums actually have a really good chance of a better life. For many children and adults with malaria, a probable death has been exchanged for good health. For young moms who lacked the knowledge or ability to care for their kids, LOBO has provided food and education and mentoring, so there is now a better chance for a healthy future.

The work in Uganda is hard. Oh sure, it’s fun in kind of an odd way, and the people who go on our teams are cool, and the Ugandans we work with are great, and being on a LOBO team is an exciting adventure. It changes the team members in a good way – though it’s really not about us, we do benefit personally from the experience. But other stuff makes it difficult – it’s really expensive to be in Uganda for the long haul. Sometimes children we try to help don’t make it, and we’ve paid for more funerals than we’d like. We’ve been lied to and cheated by individuals and organizations. And while there are many things I could say about the Ugandan government, I’ll just say they don’t make it easy sometimes. All these problems make it tempting to go find another place to help people; Maui, for example.

But what’s the alternative? People are literally starving and sick and stuck in a cycle of poverty and while it’s difficult, we do actually have the ability to change the conditions of people and neighborhoods. Given enough time, we can affect an entire city.  It’s difficult and requires huge commitment over the long haul, but it’s not impossible and we do have the ability to change things in Uganda. So how can we stop? We can’t. People in Uganda need help. We have the ability to provide that help. That’s why I keep going back.

monkeysThank you for those who are helping to make that possible. And, thank you for taking the time to read this less-than-perky post today. As my thank-you gift for sticking with me through this one, here’s a family of Ugandan monkeys!

 

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Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda #4: Health

This summer, I’m going to turn 60 years old. However, although I have one foot in the grave, I’m pretty darn healthy. Most people don’t think I look a day over 58. Thanks to good food, good  healthcare and good ukuleles, I’m doing pretty well and I have no doubt I’ll continue strong until I’m at least 61.

But, I’m an American so I have certain health advantages. While there’s no guarantee something catastrophic won’t happen to me, my chances of living to 61 and well beyond seem pretty good. However, if I were Ugandan, things would look quite a bit different. Actually, if I were Uganda, I myself would look quite a bit different, but I digress. As for health, I probably wouldn’t have lived this long if I were Ugandan. I wouldn’t have had as much access to good food. My water supply would be contaminated. My friends would make fun of me for being old, because in Uganda people normally don’t live as long as I’ve lived.

This is, of course, assuming nothing catastrophic happened to take my life when I was a child. Because mosquitos are plentiful and malaria is prevalent, and because my family probably wouldn’t have had the $5 for a mosquito net, I would have had a good chance of dying from malaria before the age of 5. If I lived past 5, and if the typhoid from drinking contaminated water didn’t take me out, my immune system would have become so weak from bad nutrition that a simple case of the flu would have had a good chance of killing me.

Of course, there are many other, more bizarre, illnesses floating around Central Africa. But malaria, typhoid and malnutrition alone are enough to bring an early death to hundreds of thousands of people in Uganda and throughout Centra Africa – and it’s all easily preventable. It doesn’t take that much money, or that much time to make a big impact. It does, however, take focus and commitment. For 15 years, Loving One by One has been committed to providing simple, yet life-altering healthcare to children and adults in Uganda.

So this is Reason #4 for me to go back to Uganda…. Health. While I’m there this summer, our team will see thousands of Ugandan men, women and children suffering from malaria, typhoid, various infections, burn injuries, various types of cancer, HIV, and many other treatable health issues. We’ll pull up in our big bus driven by a crazy man named Henry, and we’ll unload our stuff into buildings in slum areas, and turn those buildings into medical clinics for a day. We’ll provide free exams and medications, and just for fun, we’ll throw in reading glasses. elderly glasses

And once in a while, we’ll run across people like Franco in the above photo. Franco’s legs were severely malformed, and we were able to provide surgery and physical therapy for him. Franco now runs and does all the other crazy things kids are supposed to do. Not a bad deal for $700.

If you’d like to help support my trip to Uganda this summer, which will directly impact the health of thousands of people, please contact me at charley@charleymiller.net. Or, if you’re in the L.A. area and if you’re free this Sunday March 31st, you are invited to a free concert (with free tacos throw in). Contact me about that info as well.

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Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda #3: Food

I’m not a big eater, nor a big person, but food plays a big part in my life. Meaning, I need to eat, just like everyone else. And if I don’t eat somewhat regularly, I get grumpy, kind of like a toddler. This past year I learned to cook better, and we’ve been known to make some pretty good meals at our house. We’ve also made some pretty good meal attempts, which didn’t always pan out (HA – get it? “pan” out). Anyway, food is a big deal for me.

Along with the word “food” comes another word – “options.” Like many or most Americans, if I don’t feel like eating what’s in my pantry or refrigerator, I can go to the store and buy something else and cook that instead. Or I can go to a cool cafe on the beach, or Burger King, or In & Out, or literally a hundred other places within minutes of my house. Almost every Saturday morning, I go to the bagel shop. For something that plays such a big role in my life, “food” is really never a serious problem.

But, I’m not a Ugandan mom. I’ve never had to choose which of my children gets to eat today, and which ones have to wait until tomorrow. My child never had failing grades in school because of being hungry. When my daughter was a baby, she never developed any life-threatening illnesses due to malnutrition. But it’s quite a bit different for millions of Ugandan families – there’s not a supply of forgotten food in anyone’s pantry, most don’t have refrigerators (or electricity), there’s no In & Out Burger nearby (the horror), and the struggle to just put something, anything, into a child’s stomach can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, Loving One by One is able to help many families in our local community with our Nutrition Program. When we discover a starving child or children, we immediately get involved with the family to see if they are willing to let us help. We deliver food to the family, and make weekly visits to ensure the food is being used. We take malnourished children for treatment with a local clinic, and sometimes we bring malnourished children to our home to provide nourishment until they are well enough to return home.

The little girl in the photos at the top of this post is Elizabeth, a girl we found in our community in the summer of 2016. Elizabeth and her twin sister Maria were around two years old at the time, but they each weighed the amount of a newborn. Along with other severe disabilities, Elizabeth was blind in both eyes. The photo on the right is Elizabeth when she came to stay with us; the other photo is Elizabeth six weeks later. She has since been returned to her home, under the supervision of an elderly woman in our village (Elizabeth’s mother has not been able to provide much care). We have been following up with the growth and development of both girls for the past three years. They will continue to have a challenging life ahead – but they’re not alone, and as long as we’re in the neighborhood, they can count on us.

If you would like to support my work in Uganda this summer, or would like further info on the work of Loving One by One, please contact me at charley@charleymiller.net.

 

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Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda #2: The Neighbors

 

It’s coming up fast, my friends. In just under three months, I’ll get on a plane in LA and head to Dubai, and then on to Uganda. There, I’ll spend four weeks working with Loving One By One in and around the City of Kampala. Also coming up fast is my fundraising concert for this trip – scheduled for THIS COMING SUNDAY, March 31st. Details below.

Because this is my fifth trip to Uganda, I’m writing five blog posts, describing five reasons  to go back to Uganda. By the way, when I was planning my first Ugandan trip in 2011, I was a little under-enthused about it; I agreed to go in order to get people (well, one person) to stop bugging me about it. I figured I’d go once, get through the two weeks in Africa, and that’d be it and I could get back to my normal life. Things didn’t go the way I thought they’d go, and now I’m making that trip for the fifth time. The things that happen with Loving One by One have a way of getting hold of you, and now I and many other LOBO veterans just can’t get enough of the exciting things that happen on a LOBO trip.

Anyway, here’s Reason #2 of the Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda:  The Neighbors.

From the time of my first trip in 2011 until now, the focus of Loving One by One has narrowed considerably. While we still travel around a bit and work in some areas that are a little far away, most of our work and focus has settled into our own neighborhood, in and around the small town of Kiwenda. I’m sure when you read the word “Kiwenda,” all of you immediately said to yourselves, “Oh yes – that area located in Wakiso District, about 32km from Kampala City off Gayaza Bulemezi Road.” Well yeah – everyone knows that. But what you may not know is that Loving One by One (LOBO)’s headquarters is there, on approximately 14 acres of land. We have three houses, a school and a new medical clinic. From that location (known as GRACE Land), we spend our days serving our neighbors. That’s why we’re there.

We provide help for new moms, who are often raising small children without a father in the home. We provide affordable and sometimes free education for children. We provide a new, modern medical clinic so moms can have a safe place to have babies. We provide training for some of the local pastors of the many tiny churches nearby. We provide food for families who don’t have enough, and we provide employment for some of the local residents. **Oh – and when I happen to be in town, we provide free ukulele entertainment.

Compared to most of the residents of Kiwenda and the neighboring villages, we take up a lot of space. Our hope is with that space, to create a lot of impact.

So this summer, I’ll be in Uganda for a month, helping with some of these projects. If you’d like to help support this summer’s trip, I’d welcome your help.

On March 31st in Torrance, California, I will be hosting the “Music for Uganda 2019” Concert. The concert is at 4:00 pm, and the location is at 308 Maple Ave, Torrance, 90503 (thank you, Life Covenant Church, for the use of your building). If you’d like to attend this FREE event, you’ll enjoy good music, and you’ll also enjoy good tacos, because I know a guy.

If you’re not able to attend the concert on March 31st, but would still like to support my 2019 Uganda project, please contact me at charley@charleymiller.net for more info. Thanks!

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