If anyone asks me what’s the best musical instrument, I say the violin. No other can draw such a range of emotions from the human heart.
I always wanted to play the violin. So, roughly 10 years ago, I ignored everyone who told me I was too old to begin learning how to play one and shut myself up in a room with a violin my father gave me.
After about 10 minutes of sawing the bow across the strings like a lumberjack, I turned to see my young daughter staring up at me with her big brown eyes. She was grinning from ear to ear. “Sounds like cats in a blender,” she said.
She was right. That’s exactly what it sounded like. She had apparently inherited my knack for descriptive and cogent vocabulary.
But I didn’t give up. My pursuit to become better and my passion for the instrument, along with a healthy dose of possibly misplaced confidence, helped me pull a sweet sound from the violin. Eventually, I was invited to a few gigs and performed before audiences.
There were days I wanted to throw my violin in the dump, but perseverance paid off.
Pursuing what we’re passionate about is not about obtaining perfection; it’s about the pursuit. Chasing a dream is a big part of being human and what makes us — well, us.
I encourage everyone to pursue their heart’s passion this year. If I can learn how to play the violin at age 41, then anyone can do anything.
Mike Ramos, craft beer connoisseur
Mike Ramos was born in Puerto Rico, but for the past 14 years, the 41-year-old Air Force veteran has called Fayetteville home. Ramos is passionate about trying new craft beers. Nine years ago, he was standing in line at a popular brewery and burger place in Durham and decided to try the porter.
“You’ve really been liking those dark beers,” his wife said.
“I hadn’t noticed, but my taste in beer had begun to change,” says Ramos. “It was exciting to try new beer and to know what kind of flavors you can explore, knowing you’re going to taste a hint of chocolate or coffee or coconut or vanilla or molasses,” says Ramos. “You can even taste how clean the water is in a beer.”
Ramos soon needed another refrigerator to hold the variety of beers he enjoyed exploring, so he purchased a separate fridge for his hobby.
“With a family of six, real estate in the fridge becomes valuable,” he says with a chuckle.
Ramos enjoys frequenting several places in Fayetteville to supply his hobby. But he has become a regular at Grapes & Hops on Ramsey Street, a shop that specializes in premier beer, wine, and cigars.
“They’re very friendly and knowledgeable about their beer. I’ll walk in and say, ‘Whatcha got?’ and most of the time they have tried the beer and give me hints on what to expect,” Ramos says.
He also has joined craft beer groups on Facebook and often texts photos of his latest beer findings to like-minded friends, saying, “You gotta try this.”
Ramos realized the next step in his passion for beer was to make his own, so he did research online and found a home brewing kit. He decided to make a maple porter beer and it turned out great, according to feedback from his friends. He’s made several beers since, but the maple porter was his favorite. He discovered how different hops and fresh water can influence a good beer and says he can talk for hours about the subject.
“It was a long process,’’ Ramos says, but he would do it again. “There’s something about cracking open a fresh beer.”
Ramos has some advice for anyone who may want to take up a hobby.
“I think pursuing your passion, no matter what it is, is an important part of who you are. If you don’t pursue your passion, it’s an unfinished life. I’m not saying it’s an unhappy life, but it is an unfinished life. There’s a reason why people get stirred with passion about some things, and the reason might be selfish and only affects you. But that’s OK.”
Michael Wiggins, master of hospitality
Michael Wiggins has a servant’s heart and a passion for hospitality, which led the Montgomery, Alabama, native to discover a talent for cooking he never knew he had. Wiggins’ brisket and smoked Boston butt generated a following, and he is often asked to cater gatherings for friends and businesses.
It all started with the purchase of a nice pellet smoker so he could learn to cook for his guests at home. A couple of friends had bought pellet smokers and pointed Wiggins to a good deal. The smoker, typically selling for about $500, was on sale for $180. Next, he began to research how to cook with it.
“Usually, people have a passion for something like golf, then go out and buy nice clubs,” says Wiggins. “I guess I bought nice clubs and thought, ‘Well, better learn how to play golf.’”
Wiggins watched YouTube videos and began experimenting. Based on feedback from friends, he was pretty good at it.
“I guess it’s my personality, but once something has my attention I deep-dive,” Wiggins says.
Wiggins eventually found his groove using the smoker, but he says he made many mistakes along the way.
“I must have messed up 10 briskets before I got one right,” Wiggins says. “I never understood people who avoid failing. Failing is fantastic when you learn from it.”
Wiggins mastered the challenges of different meats like brisket and ribs, but if he had to pick one he enjoys cooking most, it would be pork butt.
“Pulled pork is so forgiving. If you leave it in a few minutes too long, you don’t mess it up,” says Wiggins. “Smoked meat is all about time and temperature. What makes it interesting is no two pieces of meat cook exactly the same.”
Though friends and businesses sometimes pay Wiggins to cook for them and he occasionally sells meats on Facebook, he said he likes to cook for families in need. He also wants to pass on his knowledge about smoked meats.
Wiggins is a member of Manna Church, which he says encourages members to start home groups based on their hobbies and passions. Wiggins started a home group teaching people how to cook that averaged about 20 members.
“Like a chubby, bearded Rachael Ray, I would gather everyone around the kitchen and demonstrate how to prepare the different types of meat,” Wiggins says. “The group was quite diverse in age, race, cultures, and walks of life. Some had never cooked before, and not everyone owned a grill or smoker.”
Like many television cooking shows, Wiggins would prepare a sample before the meeting. After reviewing the preparation of raw meat and how to cook it, Wiggins would produce the finished version that the group would enjoy together. Afterward, they would adjourn to the living room for Bible study.
Wiggins believes people often think of hospitality as selfless. But Wiggins discovered that there’s great satisfaction for himself when he gets it right and puts smiles on other people’s faces.
Kate and BJ Murphy, soaring philanthropists
Kate and BJ Murphy are on the verge of their 10th wedding anniversary. BJ is from Gainesville, Texas, and Kate is from Kennesaw, Georgia. The two met while serving in the military.
They discovered a mutual interest in skydiving and enjoyed their hobby while dating. Kate, who was stationed in Washington, D.C., traveled to Texas on weekends. Along with like-minded friends, the couple would travel the United States to skydive.
After marrying and having two sons, Kate and BJ agreed to stop skydiving.
“I guess you can say, though it’s a relatively safe sport, because of the safety precautions, there is an inherent risk,” says BJ.
But then he pursued getting a general aviation pilot’s license.
“The passion to stay in the sky is like nothing else. Whether you’re skydiving or in control of an airplane, it’s just you and your closest friends flying through the sky,” he says.
Today Kate owns Legacy Realtor Group at Keller Williams and BJ is still on active duty.
Having his pilot’s license has allowed BJ and Kate to take date-night trips to the beach on weekends. The two hop in a small plane and enjoy sunset flights and sometimes take the family on spontaneous weekend getaways.
As BJ closes in on retirement from his career in the military, he is working on his commercial pilot’s license.
BJ says he wants to help nonprofit groups that need things transported around the country. He hasn’t figured out how yet but hopes to offer the service at no cost.
While working for the military, Kate sold houses part time to reach their financial goals. She says she discovered she really enjoys helping people, so she took up real estate full time after leaving the military.
In the past several years, she’s found a new interest in business and community.
“I don’t think we’ve been so surrounded by people as we are now. It’s a result of a community-based business like we do,” says Kate.
“I’ve been surprised how much enrichment is personally derived from being connected to the community,” she adds. “It’s become the thing that drives me. I get to wake up and meet new people and help them with whatever chapter they are in through real estate.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”