Category Archives: Blog

Wyoming Birthday Yellowstone, May 2014

Wyoming BirthdayWe drove into Yellowstone Park to celebrate my birthday. Harris, Carlene, Dennie  and  Nancy,  David and I.  We left Cody and drove towards the Wappedy school on the banks of the Shoshone river. Along the way those of us with eyes spotted a few big horn sheep. They described to me  Horses grazing in the foreground   on the new spring grass with many newborn foals nursing.   We were surrounded by  the snow covered peaks of Heart, Rattle Snake and Carter mountains. I couldn’t believe how much snow there were still on the peaks, whereas down on the flatland in Cody and the adjacent ranches the temperature rose into the eighties every day. Stores in town had planters with an array of blooming flowers and Lilac bushes and Mayday trees bloomed in gardens and along the road.    Though I was looking forward to our hike in the park, I was nervous.

Since  rumors of bear attacks abounded,  I certainly didn’t want my face taken off like what happened to a rancher last year. I hoped everyone    will be on alert. Dennie was the only one who carried bear spray. How would we know if bear spray is enough to prevent an attack.

We stopped for me to get out and to hear the long horn sheep graze on the prairie grasses. While we stood along side the road an ambulance came screaming by at an heart stopping speed. When I hear an ambulance speed by I always say a prayer for the medics and the person in need. On that golden morning I couldn’t help wondering if there was another attack. We stood in respectful silence as it sped by. I have often wondered how one gets medical help in those remote places and hoped this ambulance will be in time to save a life.

We drove on to the East gate of the park where we got out to use the facilities. A park ranger gave us information on the park and lo and behold he had a grisly bear skin which I touched. Bear pelt is  still the softest and thickest sensuous  pelt I’ve  ever touched.  Guess that is why one has fantasies of making love on such a skin.

We left the ranger and his pelt behind as we drove through the gate into the Yellowstone Park.

Our intension was to  hike a trail before the celebratory dinner at the Yellowstone lake Hotel. We arrived at the first trail only to find that it was closed due to bear danger, the second trail had the same warning posted and the third trail was pure mud from melting snow.

We gave up our hiking plans and continued on to the lake. The lake was still mostly frozen. They described to me the hues of whitenesses where the water was frozen and the blue hues where the water started defrosting.   We strolled on the shore. Before long we   found a downed tree trunk to sit down for a tasting of Dennie’s primo whisky. Dennie is a whisky aficionado and carries the whisky in an elegant container and serves it in tiny communion like glasses.  I sipped as if I did have communion for where is God’s grace more tangible than when one is  sitting with friends,  serenaded by meadow larks and perfumed by pine trees.


After a  lunch of fresh fish and salad topped off with  a creamy dessert at the lake hotel,   we took off again.   We stopped along the way to hike  up a ridge where we saw others with binocs. evidently they spotted moose and buffalo and far be it from us to miss a sighting of these creatures.

We found a rock out cropping overlooking  the lake.   Harris offered his gift- an elegant sparkling wine he brought along for the birthday toasting.  We toasted at this most unusual spot where the wind whispered through the fur trees and where here and there I could hear ice cracking in the bright afternoon sun.

Though I speak of ice and snow the day felt golden on my skin. Where ever we walked or sat the sunlight energized and excited me. It seemed to me as if I could see the blessed  blue of the sky with here and there clouds billowing   above me. I imagined the snowcapped mountains and the Indian Paint Brush and Blue Bells in the valleys. .


On the way back to our hosts’ spread  I dozed off and woke when the SUV crunched over the driveway gravel.

“What a day!” we all shouted when we sat down on the benches inside to take our shoes off.

There I left my shoes but not the joy and memory of a day made perfect by God.



Author and actress to receive both Tennessee’s highest award in the arts and
Tennessee’s top award for empowering artists with disabilities on April 12

NASHVILLE, Tenn., April 12, 2011 – Most of us hope to live a long life. That’s not enough for author and actress Estelle Condra, who says she has lived two lives in one lifetime.

So it’s only appropriate that she receive two statewide awards for her body of work on one night.

Tuesday, April 12, Condra will begin her evening at the executive residence of Gov. Bill Haslam, where the governor will bestow on her the Distinguished Artist Award. The award is one of three awards given every two years by the Governor’s Arts Awards and Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts.

She will then leave the governor’s mansion for Schermerhorn Symphony Center, where she will receive the Decade Award from VSA Tennessee, the state organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate in and express themselves through the arts.

Condra spent her first life seeing the world. She is spending her second life more deeply experiencing the world with all of her other senses. And it’s during the sightless years of her life that she has done her award-winning work.

“The second half of my life has been more about gaining blindness than losing my sight,” Condra said. “I have lived such an interesting life after I was no longer distracted by what I am seeing. A whole new world opened up to me.”

Since she lost her sight 15 years ago, Condra has:

  • Published a book that was named to the American Booksellers Association “Pick of
  • the Lists” and is now in its sixth edition.
  • Written several one woman plays that she has performed in major venues including
  • the Kennedy Center and the 1996 Para-Olympics at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
  • Founded and chaired an organization to recognize teachers who best incorporate
  • arts in the classroom.
  • Organized an international art exchange between school children in South Africa,
  • her native country and Tennessee.
  • Produced a hour-long radio show that was broadcast twice-weekly.
  • Creatively engaged school children throughout Tennessee with her unique
  • perspective on reading and writing.
  • Helped to found VSA Tennessee, which celebrates its 10th anniversary with a full
  • day of activities and performances at Schermerhorn Symphony Center – capped off
  • by awarding the organization’s founders, including Condra.

And that’s just scratching the surface. A complete list of her accomplishments as an artist, author and actress would cover several singe-spaced pages. And that wouldn’t count her many other adventures, such as learning how to sail and to ski on snow and water. Or riding ponies in Mongolia, Lipizzaner stallions in Croatia and camels in Jordon and

“Losing my sight made me less afraid. For instance, when I learned to ski, I was not afraid of the heights, because I couldn’t see them. Instead, I was free to concentrate on the wind in my hair, the sound of the skis crunching on snow, the crisp smell of winter in the mountains. It was wonderful,” Condra said. “It also meant that I had to trust others, because if my guide had not been telling me when to turn, I surely would have skied off a cliff.”

How does someone lose her sight and go on to accomplish more than several sighted people could working together?

First, it helps to be a talented person who has always been fully engaged in life. But we are all aware of gifted people who were felled by a disability, instead of lifted up by it.

The difference is attitude. It’s deciding to understand your situation as “gaining blindness instead of losing sight.” This philosophy is elucidated in her irreverent one woman comedy “Blind People Shouldn’t Vacuum” where she makes fun of sight loss.

Estelle has been described as a “pack of creative dynamite ready to explode.” This is never more evident than in her one woman play “Caged” where she uses textured surfaces, blowing fans, and sound emitters to guide her on stage as she dances, runs, climbs and jumps. In “Caged,” a metaphor about a caged bird with clipped wings, Estelle as the bird eventually comes to accept the cage’s limitations and turns them into an advantage, learning to fly in a new way.

Estelle’s creative work with children is evident in the way she dramatizes her book, “See the Ocean.” In the book, a little girl is able to “see” the ocean through a thick fog when her sighted brothers can’t, and the ocean she sees in her mind is a much fuller and deeper concept than what her brothers see when the fog lifts.

Her special message also comes through in her favorite one-woman show, “Vibrations of Laughter,” where she uses the story of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, to help children see someone overcoming disabilities.

“Learning to trust others makes you more aware of them, more connected to them. And consequently, you become more aware of who you are and how you are connected to the world,” Condra said. “It’s a whole new way of living, and it is living very directly, very deeply. You really learn to experience the world when you are no longer distracted by seeing it.”

Condra credits her husband, well-known Nashville IT entrepreneur David Condra, with helping her to make the most of her situation.

“David is always challenging me to try new things like learning how to ski or learning how to ride a horse. And he never settles for doing things half-way. So I didn’t just learn to ride a horse, I went on a week-long, 25-mile horseback trip over a 10,000 foot pass in the Tetons.

“Because of David’s connection to technology, I also have every tool you can imagine to help me deal with the challenges of blindness, like a computer program that reads emails to me and a talking watch and even a machine that tells the colors of the clothes and jewelry I’m putting on. But everything is not hi tech. I’ve placed around my garden wind chimes that ring at different tones, so I know where I am by the sound of the chime,” she added.
“Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, which is another lesson I’ve learned since gaining blindness.”


INFORMATION FOR RELEASE CONTACT: Jeff Bradford or Natalie Townsend

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