Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Post-Holiday Thotz

Technically, we've still got New Year's Eve to get through - with a full moon, no less! - but the blur of the season has mostly passed.

I arrived home last night after a wonderful visit with the Mississippi family and today, I feel a bit wrangled. That 'where-am-I-supposed-to-live?' feeling is extra intense. Saying goodbye to people you love makes you wonder why you live so far away.

I love this photo of my 6-year-old nephew, Robbie, waiting for the adults to clean up the dinner dishes so that the unwrapping can being. I so remember this feeling of impatience. I remember looking at the adults who were casually chatting and thinking to myself, "What are they DOING??? Do they even know what day it is? What we could be doing right now? How can they just TALK?!?" I imagine Robbie had the same confusion.

This year, I had a the terrific joy of gifting my father with a book about his life. (Thanks, Blurb!) I'd planned to do it last year but my scanner died on me and my ancient Mac wasn't up to the task. After a full equipment upgrade, the project continued and I spent the last three months scanning and designing the book entitled, "A Bob's Life: The Life and Times of Robert Edward Clisby, Jr."

He was stunned and amazed. He just kept looking it over and saying, "Heather Ann! I can't believe you did this! You could not have given me a better gift."He really loved the book and it was so satisfying for me.

Friends and family who came over were also taken with it, especially the men. Watching their faces, they intensely scrutinized every page with serious concentration. Maybe there's something in there about a man's legacy that touched them deeply. Their faces all said the same thing: "I want one for my life." So, get crackin' people!

Here is my lovely sister-in-law, Mary Ann. She is always teaching me about what it means to be a Southern Woman. Rule #1 - You must have several jars of bacon grease on hand for cooking. Here she is demonstrating her collection of THREE jars in the fridge. She's an amazing cook and now I know the secret ...

Dadgum. I miss them all so much today.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cross-Post: Visiting Santa's Reindeer Fleet

(This is a cross-post from BlogHer. I seem to be brimming with holiday joy this year and I've decided not to fight it.)

In trying to wrap my head around Santa's looming global task, my mind wandered to his flying fleet. Just who were these magical creatures of the season? In an effort to learn about the elegant reindeer, I soon found myself (along with two pals) at the Laughing Valley Ranch in Idaho Springs, Colorado, face-to-antlers with Mrs. Claus (Carol Lee) and a real live reindeer herd.

Lo and behold, I had no idea that the 85-acre ranch is also a training ground for Santa's elite fleet. (That's right, THE Santa - not the guys at the mall.) Since these animals only live 15-20 years, new recruits are always being sought for the most coveted job in reindeer-dom.

The name 'reindeer' is actually the Northern European term for 'caribou', in the same way that that 'burro' is the Spanish word for 'donkey.' (Reindeer are commonly known as domesticated caribou.) There are at least seven sub-species of caribou but Santa favors the Pearyi Caribou, as they are smallest, just three or four feet at the shoulders. Of course, these reindeer are native to the North Pole.

Turns out, only 1 in 3,000 Pearyi reindeer have what it takes to be part of Santa's fleet. Each animal must be in peak physical condition to perform the herculean task of bringing Christmas joy to the world's children. Once trained, these unique animals will have to fly 75 million miles over a 48-hour period (December 24-25) at 650 miles per second. (Many times the speed of sound but not quite the speed of light, meaning they arrive long before Santa's "Ho, ho, ho!"'s do.)

Santa's fleet is usually made up of steers (castrated males) or cows (females) but never bulls (intact males.) This is because they are usually too grumpy and weak from the autumn rut - the stressful mating season. During the rut, bulls will go without eating for up to 45 days and often lose their antlers just before Christmas. (Antlers are necessary for flight, providing stabilization much like the wings and tail of an airplane.) The final reason: Bulls don't live as long, just seven to 10 years.

Carol (born on Christmas Day) was kind enough to give us a tour of the ranch, while her husband, Bill (Father Christmas, Chief Wrangler and the storyteller known as 'Red Tail the Mountain Man') was out with two reindeer at some scheduled holiday appearance. Bill started with two reindeer about 25 years ago and the herd has grown. When I'd asked Bill on the phone how many reindeer he had, he responded firmly, "Nine, of course!"

I discovered that to own and exhibit reindeer in the United States, you have to be licensed, as they are considered 'exotic animals.' This license is dispensed by the Department of Agriculture, out of its APHIS department - which handles the exhibition of exotic animals. It also helps to belong to the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association (ROBA) which offers the tagline: "Reindeer .... Not just for Santa anymore!"

Like their cousins, moose and elk, reindeer lose their antlers each winter, and grow them suckers right back in the new year. Carol says they grow up to one to two inches a day. A giant brush from a street cleaning truck stands end up on their pen - ideal for scraping their annual velvet off their antlers. "You can almost see them growing," said Carol. "You touch them and can feel them pulsating."

Originally, reindeer were found in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and northern China. In North America, they were spotted in Canada, Alaska, and from Washington to Maine. In the 19th century, reindeer were still wild in southern Idaho. Although still wild in the Arctic and Subarctic, reindeer can be found on various ranches throughout the Northern U.S. (There are three in Colorado alone.)

Seeing the reindeer in person is like seeing anything iconic image in real life, not unlike the first time I laid eyes on the Sydney Opera House. Yup. There they were - big antlers, funky beards, barrel bellies and those very, very odd split hooves. They are wide 'dew claws' that act like snowshoes or fins in the water. (Turns out, reindeer are not just skilled in the air, but in the water as well.) Moving around, they 'click, click, click' with their hooves and antlers. And while they all have individual personalities, both Carol and Bill agree: "They're like Siamese cats with antlers." Kind of skittish, weird and yes, cute.

Being outside in chilly weather is key to the animal. "If you bring them indoors, they start to pant and get very uncomfortable," said Carol. In addition to special nasal passages that help heat the cold air before it enters their lungs, the reindeer coat has two layers of fur - a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs. In short, the perfect winter animal.

I should mention that Laughing Valley Ranch has more than just reindeer roaming around. We met eight Scottish Highlanders (hippie cows), 15 goats, nine Shetland sheep, two 'generic' sheep (Murphy & Chuck), bunch o'chickens (they sell eggs), dogs (three inside, three outside and 20 foster pups, including three wolf-hybrids), 12 llamas (including Fozzie, who loves to kiss the girls), 30 donkeys, mules, horses and one alpaca named PacMan. Everybody gets fed twice a day except the cows and the reindeer. Why? Because both animals have four stomachs.

My favorite? It has to be Heather, the pygmy goat with the broken leg in a cast. She lives in the gated playground in the front yard and is snugly by nature. She is one of Carol's 'bottle babies', animals that have had to be brought in to the house to be bottle fed. Carol is clearly the mother of all these creatures and it is she who names all the animals.

Although I shouldn't forget Primrose, the world's first donkey to be fitted with a prosthetic. (She's a big star on PBS.) "She's a real sweetheart," said Carol.

Throughout the year, the Lees provide animals for petting zoos (two of each animals) but for six weeks out of the year, Operation Reindeer goes into high gear. That's when the couple's five horse trailers get put into action as they deliver animals for nativity scenes, children's zoos and any Santa-scene where reindeer are required. "From the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, we are in demand," said Carol. It's quite a task to even imagine and each reindeer needs their own 'elf' to keep all the pointy madness under control.

People like Carol and Bill put in a lot of hours to help keep the Christmas magic alive. It makes me feel grateful for the whole shebang, which is the whole point of the season, right? My take-away from my visit to Laughing Valley Ranch is this: Make your best effort - no matter your spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs - to keep your eyes on the skies late tomorrow evening. You might just see some funny-looking hooves float above head...


(More photos from the day's visit here.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Maximum Joy

It's been quite a week of nonstop birthday and holiday revelry - my cup runneth over. These lights on the state courthouse resemble the inside of my brain lately; in a word, LIT.

Energy-wise, I hit a wall more than once but dug deep and kept going. In an effort to allay the fatigue and accompanying headache, I took what I thought were three Ibuprofen. I realized the next day they were actually three Tylenol PM's, which would explain why I'd passed out like a rag doll in broad daylight.

And this time of year, it doesn't let up. If I wasn't celebrating my birthday (thanks, everyone!), I was helping my pal, Reid, celebrate his. I think the Friday bash at his place was unquestionably the Party of the Year - tons of people, food, booze and live music. (His son, Jay, plays bass in a kick-ass group called Green Mountain and they are very tight, very loud - the best combination.)

Somewhere in there, my childhood pal, Kristen, flew in for a visit. Thankfully, she is super easygoing and was happy to tag along wherever I went. After four whirlwind days of parties, holiday jaunts, concerts, animal visits, shopping, spiritual journeys and family reunions, I put her on a train bound for Chicago today - our 38-year friendship deepened and our bodies, exhausted.

Here's Kristen, getting llama kisses from a flirty beast named Fozzie. (I dragged Kristen and Reid along to a reindeer ranch for a Blogher assignment. Will cross-post here later but here are some photos now.)

And so, the madness continues. In approximately 11 hours from now, I will set off on my own journey to New Orleans. My dad will pick me up at Louis Armstrong Airport and we'll visit our favorite place for whiskey drinks and sweet potato fries. We'll catch up and delight in seeing each other's face and eventually, we'll drive to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. There, we'll celebrate Christmas as we always do - with lots of laughter and love, on the bayou.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Over Thanksgiving, we visited the family's legendary mountain retreat, Chez Clisby, in Green Valley Lake, California. Some friends came along with their 18-month old beer-retriever and a snowy good time was had by all.

One of the weekend-after-Thanksgiving traditions at little Green Valley Lake is the Holiday potluck held at the club house down by the lake. On Saturday evening, everyone brings a dish to share, Santa visits and the flip is switched on the main tree lights ... Ta-da! There's also caroling, hot chocolate and a silent auction of local goods.

This year, too much dawdling and last-minute cocktail-making made us tardy and we missed Santa's appearance. We were worried about my nephew's disappointment but he took it in stride: "That's okay. I'll see him in Mississippi. He comes there too."

Robbie is at that age where his parents are fiercely protective over his Santa beliefs. I certainly support this effort - it certainly helps keep Christmas that much more magical for the whole family. After all, we all former Santa believers and once that spell is broken, you never get it back.

But later that next day, we all witnessed a scene that quite possibly brought us all back to that lovely, suspended stage of belief.

We were all walking back from Inspiration Point when out of the woods, came an elderly fellow with a long, white beard and a black dog. Mary Ann yelled and pointed, "Robbie, it's SANTA!" Robbie turned and stared at the man and the rest of us just crossed our fingers that the fellow would play along.

He did. And then some.

Mary Ann explained to the man that they had missed him the night before a the town gathering. After some initially risky statements about some Santa gigs he'd had at South Coast Plaza, Mary Ann got him back on track just in time:

"Well, hello Robbie! And what would you like for Christmas this year?"

My nephew's face was completely awestruck. He got out of his wagon, approached the gentleman and stuck out his hand in greeting. What a little man! After a bit of conversation, he said to the man, "Santa, I didn't know you had a dog! I have a black dog too. His name is Joe and ..."

"My dog's name is Rudolph. He turns into a reindeer when I need him to," said Santa.

"REALLY?!?" said Robbie. This would give him a whole new appreciation for Rudolph.

After some picture taking and whatnot, Santa bid us goodbye and wished us all a Merry Christmas and reminding Robbie to leave out milk, cookies and "a carrot for Rudolph." Robbie was completely starstruck, watching him walk away. The old man ambled down the road a ways then let out a booming ... "HO HO HO!'

It was then that the rest of us got chills, like the Christmas Spirit just whooshed right through us. Corny? TOTALLY.

After that, we told Robbie about eight million times how lucky he was to meet Santa on his 'day off' in his 'regular clothes' and 'with no other kids around.' He just kept smiling.

Later that night, as he was falling asleep by the fire, we were talking about the exciting episode again. "You know, at first I didn't really believe that it was really Santa," he said.

"Oh yeah?," I responded. "What convinced you?"

"He knew my name," he said.

The old fellow had picked up on Mary Ann's cue without skipping a beat ...right? Hmmm, when I really think about it, I'm pretty sure Santa knew Robbie's name all along.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yuletide Feline

So, there I was, helping my friend, Reid, trim his Christmas tree when I lifted a branch and found two bright eyes. His kitty, Beaudreux (he let me name him), thought we'd brought home the tree just for him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ignite Boulder 7 Tonight!

If you had five minutes on stage what would you say?

Let's say you only got 20 slides - that rotated automatically after 15 seconds - to make your point, what would you show? Around the world, geeks have been putting together Ignite events to make their points.

Ignite was started in Seattle in 2006 by Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis. Since then, hundreds of talks have been given across the world but none better than in Boulder, Colorado.

At Ignite Boulder 6 in September, I was fortunate enough to present ("Screw Logic: An Unbelievable Look At Bizarre Beliefs") and I've only just now found the video from my talk. I didn't do too bad although you can see that the advancing slides got ahead of me, a typical problem. I had a ton of fun putting it together and the heckling crowd made me giggle.

I look forward to tonight and all the brainy geekdom. There are still tickets left so come by if you can - you won't regret it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Passport - Found!

Sure, we all lose things as we trample through life. I go through phases, for sure. Just recently, I lost a beloved hat, a favorite scarf and a few other things within the space of a few days. God, I was pissed.

Eventually, I'll forget. (Although there are a few pieces of jewelry that are gone that I will never get over. To this day, I believe they were stolen from my hotel room. BITTER.)

This is what happened with my original passport circa 1990. I'd gotten it to explore Europe with the Dowdy Brothers. I'd hurriedly obtain a photo and it ended up being the best photo ever taken in my entire life. (I was not as lucky with the current passport photo in which I resemble a greasy, bespectacled church lady.)

For a traveler, the first passport is magical. Literally, it is your ticket around the globe. I used this original passport to explore at least 20 countries. Such experiences opened my eyes, stretched my perspective and enriched my brain. All this due to a small blue booklet.

Sometime after my trip-'round-the-world in 1996, I lost the passport. Desperate, I looked everywhere but it had disappeared. All those wonderful, exotic stamps from faraway lands - gone! I was so bereft over losing it that it took me years to cancel it and apply for a new one; I kept holding out hope that it would resurface.

Over Thanksgiving this year, I was going through some drawers in my mother's house - upstairs in the game room, next to the ping-pong table/pool table. I pulled out a bunch of essays from college ("The Deteriorating Image of Marriage"), my graduation certificate from junior high and ... the long lost passport.

JOY! There was the photo of a young blonde Heather, wide-eyed and ready for adventure. There was the initial stamp from an immigration officer at London's Heathrow on June 6, 1990 - the first of many.

Flipping through, I recalled how many of the visa stamps were required before leaving the U.S. It was frightening to drop my passport in the mailbox, addressed to various embassies in DC, hoping ...PRAYING, that it would find its way back to me. I had to do that at least four times (Zambia, Australia, Zaire, Tanzania) and each instance was a nail-biter.

Best stamp of all: A muddy footprint on the final page, the remnant of a harrowing episode that involved a bus, a beach, two nuns, a guy from New Jersey, polizia, mass confusion and me spending several hours in an Italian jail - a story for another time.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Back to Work

After sipping on a lovely cocktail of post-layoff emotions (one part relief, one part joy, one part panic - stirred, served tall) for six months, I've finally landed a legit gig. Yay!

From now through February, I'll be working on an event for the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media. I'll be working with some cool peeps and, even better, gathering up tech and entertainment brainiacs for a panel, a party and an exclusive screening.

I'm so jazzed to have a project to sink my teeth into and flex those manifesting muscles once again. I hope I don't scare everyone off with my over-enthusiasm and 3:00 a.m. emails.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Another Argument For Having Kids

Beer delivery.

I shot this at our cabin last weekend. Emerson is just 18 months old and very determined to please her daddy, Matt May.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

My Bro, The Survivor

Back home in Colorado after a week of food and hijinks with the tribe in California. We all took gravyloads of photos but here is one of my faves.

My brother, Rob, making yet another turkey sandwich wearing a souvenir t-shirt from a devastating natural disaster. I found this incredibly American in spirit. After all, nothing is so bad, so terrible that we can't make a t-shirt out of it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Art Begets Art

Earlier this year, while pulling paparazzi duty on the Kentucky Derby red carpet, I snagged this photo of football great, Eli Manning. I posted the photo, along with many others, on Flickr and lo! I got feedback.

One of them came from an incredible soul, Susan J. Richards. She and her husband share in raising a special needs son. To relax and reflect, she paints in acrylics.

Somehow, she came across my photo of Eli and asked me if she could paint it. It was very sweet of her to ask, really. In return, I requested a shot of the finished product. She came through and here it is:

Pretty nice, eh? I love that she captured the eye twinkle that I saw from my own viewpoint behind the lens.

I just love it when one person's art inspires art in another. It feels great to be part of that chain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Boarding pass and ID, ma'am."

Later today, I'll hop on that SuperShuttle and head to DIA to join the holiday migration. I'm heading to Long Beach, where my mother will make too much food and my brother, sister-in-law, cousin and nephew and I will try to work it off on the Wii.

I'm looking forward to seeing my family, of course, but am scared of all the food - the responsibilities of cooking it, eating it, cleaning up after it and, as my mom will say, "Finish it off!" And, I admit, I don't look forward to giving up the crisp fall weather here for the standard issue 75-degree day. Every. Day.

Meanwhile, I took these photos at an organic turkey farm that we visited on Sunday, about 30 miles east of Denver. I'll do a full post about it soon because it ties in with all the animal-food-environment-spirituality stuff that I'm burying my head in lately. Lots of revelations all over the place but basically, it comes down to one thing: Eat local when you can.

More photos from our turkey jaunt here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Small Winter Wonderments

Snow and I are still getting to know one another and we're still in the honeymoon stage. Growing up seaside, it still holds so much wonder for me. Sure, it's cold and somewhat dangerous but mostly I'm awestruck that in a few hours, snow can transform an ordinary cement parking lot into a field of sparkling diamonds.

I've also learned that the tiny snowflakes fit so tightly together they actually forms a blanket. When you make a snowgal, you can even roll it up like carpet - astounding.

Check it out: When I came out to my car a few days ago, a newly formed white comforter had skidded off my truck's roof like it has been slicked with oil. Too cool. It looks like I could have rolled it up like a pool's solar blanket.

I'm also learning that snow here in Colorado is mostly dry. When it gets into my truck, I just brush it off the seat like crumbs and nothing gets wet. Weird. I thought snow was always kinda wet and mushy, no? At least that's what I'd heard.

The shapes it takes are all reminiscent of something else. Like this curl here, which to me evokes being inside a breaking wave. I think surfers call it The Green Room.

Not sure I'll be this fascinated when it comes my time to shovel. Snow and I still have a long way to go....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thoughts for Heidi

Early tomorrow morning, my good friend, Heidi, will undergo a triple by-pass surgery and it's just one more fight in Heidi's ongoing battle for stable health. Of course, I wish her a successful procedure and a quick recovery.

I've known Heidi for 21 years now and she is always seeking the light in life. In fact, this image was made by a friend of hers who feels strongly - as I do - that Heidi is not truly of this earth but is more like a fairy creature accidentally trapped in this world due to misfiled fairy paperwork, or something.

In any case, we're glad to have her here and I'm sure she'll be up and buzzing around quite soon.

Godspeed, Heidi!

Friday, November 13, 2009

'Precious' ...Is

At last night's opening of the 32nd Denver International Film Festival , the buzziest-film of the moment, Precious, was shown to a sold-out crowd at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Best of all, the Colorado-based producers, Sarah Siegel-Magness and her husband Gary Magness, were on hand as well as the film's director, Lee Daniels.

My quick headline is this: Mo'Nique and the film's star, Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe, better start picking out some nice dresses and looking into stylish wheelbarrows because they are going to haul away awards next year.

Everything you've heard about the film is true and yes, it's tough to watch. Reid and I were both afraid and came armed with tissues, bracing ourselves for a deep dive into violence and despair.

"But, it will be good for us," he said.

"Got to be done," I said.

Daniels must have picked up on our collective trepidation. Before the film began, he gave a brief introduction, promising that all was not dark. "There are funny parts too!" he insisted. (He's right, there are.) "And we did a lot of laughing while making this, so keep that in mind."

He also confessed difficulties in getting the film made. I'd learned in an earlier interview that it took Daniels eight years to convince the poet, Sapphire, to hand over the rights to her non-fiction story for the film. There were, ahem, other challenges as well."Even if you're got an Oscar on your resume (he produced 'Monster's Ball' in 2001)," he said, his voice cracking, "nobody in Hollywood wanted to hear anything about a movie focusing on a fat, black girl."

In the end, he found his true believers in - where else? - Colorado. Gary and Sarah Magness and their production company, Smokewood Entertainment, invested in Daniels and the film long before Oprah and Tyler Perry showed interest. Daniels said point-blank that the film would not have been made without their support. Cool, eh?

I'm so glad he persisted. The resulting film presents with Clareece "Precious" Jones, an obese, illiterate, sexually-abused teenager. She lives with Mary, her angry, abusive welfare-dependent mother who seems entirely void of love. Mo'Nique, better known as a comedienne brimming with light and love, completely transforms herself into a monster for this role. Truly, it is frightening. In a recent interview, Daniels said "Mo'Nique makes Baby Jane look like Cinderella."

Hats off to Daniels, for pulling riveting performances out of his entire cast and to screenwriter Geoffrey Fisher, who handled Sapphire's poetry with great care. But it's Gabby and Mo'Nique who steal the show. (Mariah Carey is also worth noting. She steps out of her diva-ness to play a dowdy social worker and holy-glitter, comes through with a spot-on performance.)

In the end, Reid and I were not as emotionally drained as we'd expected. Yes, the images and the dialogue were hard to absorb sometimes but for me, it was the indomitable spirit of the character, Precious, that I took home with me, not the nightmare stuff. You can't imagine how much this girl has been through and yet she moves onward and upward. Having character voice-over narration really helped, you felt she was taking you in to her confidence.

In January, the film won both the audience and grand jury prizes at Sundance Film Festival. In September, it won the Toronto International Film Festival's audience award. No other film has garnered all three kudos. 'Precious' opens nationally on November 20 - bring tissues!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our Veteran

Today we honor the nation's veterans but this post is about one in particular: Walter Millar. Walter is my North Dakota cousin-once-removed, pictured here on the right, from a 2003 shot in our family's museum, talking to my brother, Rob.

A couple of months back, his daughter, Carol, sent out a special request:

"As a WWII marine vet, Dad is going on an honor flight to Washington DC. It sounds like they really treat them special. It's only a couple days in late September. They have asked for letters to be submitted to the organization by Sept. 15 to be given to him during the trip. E-mails are fine. It's up to you, but I know he'd love getting a few unexpected ones."

My mother, who is close with Walter and grew up with him, would write one, of course but as the family's unofficial 'writer', I took on the assignment as well. Even though I was never close with Walter, I always admired his quiet strength. Plus, when he smiled or laughed, his eyes twinkled and I'm a sucker for that.

But when I sat down to write the letter, I felt much more than I had anticipated. An excerpt:

"I don't know much about your time in the Marines but I do know that it has been a big part of who you are for as long as I've known you. I recently found out that you were the first Canadian to join the Marines - is that right? That really says a lot about you and the draw of the Marines.

I feel incredibly proud and honored to know that my family has been represented in service to America. I have traveled to many places around the world and no country even comes close to the life we have here. Thank you so much for everything you did to insure our freedom. Your brave and selfless efforts are deeply appreciated."

While I was in SoCal recently, helping Mom recuperate from heart surgery, she received a long letter from Walter. It was a juicy, handwritten four-pager full of joy, appreciation and moving details from the Honor Flight. Mom read it to me aloud while I made our lunch. (The Freedom Flight organizers had announced "Mail Call!" much to shock and delight of the veterans. Walter was not expecting anything but received 11 letters, including three from grade school students written on 'V-Mail' cards.)

One point, we both burst into tears and I had to put the knife down and grab us both some tissues. Here's the paragraph that got the waterworks going:

"We were in the Air and Space Museum, looking over the B-29 plane that dropped the bomb on Japan to end the war. There was a large number of people besides our vets group listening to a commentator give a talk on the place and it's part in the war.

Part way through his talk, out of the blue, he asked, 'Is Walter P. Millar is here? If so, please step forward.' I was astounded, and if he had not mentioned the 'P', I would have thought it was another Walter Millar.

I moved to the front of the crowd. When he saw me, he said, 'You were a member of the 3rd Marine Division, right?' (Insignia at left.)

I answered, 'Yes, sir.'

'You took part in the landing on Guam, right?'

'Yes, sir.'

'I thank you for your courage and service to your country.'

I did not know what to say. Finally, I said, 'Thank you, sir.' There was applauding from the crowd. There were not too many Marines in the group of vets and apparently, I was the only one from the 3rd Division."

How great is that? Through our warbly tears, Mom and I both felt gratitude that our cousin was being honored. True victory!

Walter's letter went on to describe his battle with red tape so he could, in fact, become the first Canadian to become a Marine. Though he never told his family much about it, Walter had been a bit of a celebrity. It was thanks to North Dakota's Senator Gerald Nye, a progressive Republican and - get this - anti-war activist, who finally made it possible for Walter to reach his destiny and become a Marine.

Walter still has the news clippings from Minneapolis papers covering his historical enlistment and best of all, that precious telegram from Sen. Nye giving him the green light. On my next visit to NoDak, Walter promised to show me everything.

Finally, hats off to the folks behind the Freedom Network. Seriously, they went above and beyond what was expected by the vets. As the vet groups were organized by state regions, Walter relayed this wonderful scenario:

"The so-called Freedom Flight people certainly had everything planned and scheduled to the last detail to make it a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

After we boarded four school buses who should come aboard but the mayor of Grand Forks, a busy doctor who took time to come greet us, thanks us for our service and wish us a safe and enjoyable trip to visit our War Memorial in Washington. (Mayor Michael Brown, an OB-GYN and veteran of the Air Force.)

After a police escort to the airport, we were greeted by two lines of Air Force personnel standing at attention as we passed through. Just as we entered the plane, there was Governor Hoeven of ND to greet us and shake our hands.

We were treated as VIPs the entire trip. It made you feel proud but humbled at the same time."

Semper Fi, Mac!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Freedom for 5 Deutsche Marks

Hearing and reading about the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has me feeling old and grateful. Like many American college students, I traveled Europe that following summer, in 1990 - the wonderment and celebrations still fresh. Unfortunately, all my photos from that summer are stashed away in my mother's house - I'll have to reclaim them over Thanksgiving.

The only evidence I have on hand is this worn-out t-shirt that I bought at Checkpoint Charlie. It depicts the form that residents of West Berlin had to fill out to visit GDR or East Germany. (GDR stands for 'German Democratic Republic' - oddly named for a Communist state.)

Though there are numerous stains and the armpits are yellowed, I can't bring myself to let go of this shirt. I remember exploring East Berlin and feeling depressed by the overwhelming amount of grey cement, mostly in the form of staid square buildings. I never appreciated how much color billboards and advertising bring to an urban landscape until then. Picture the opposite of Times Square and you've got a clear idea.

Later that same afternoon, I paid somebody five deutsche marks for a hammer and chisel (love the commie symbolism) to hack away at the Berlin Wall, which had been brought down only seven months prior. The now-famous East-facing graffiti had barely begun and it was still mostly colorless. I scored me a few chunks of that horrible wall but it wasn't a souvenir I was after. I just loved the idea of doing my own little part to tear down that evil boundary.

Somewhere else on that trip, I met two cute German boys on a train. One, a West German named Matthew, was traveling with his cousin (I forget his name) who had grown up in East Berlin. Many families were divided by the Wall so reunions were happening all over the place.

Matthew and I were talking and he, in turn, translated for his cousin, who sat and stared at me, wide-eyed. I was telling the boys about my life in Southern California, my school, my friends, my country ... when I suddenly noticed that the silent boy had tears in his eyes.

"Oh, no!" I said to his cousin, "I made him cry!"

Matthew put his arm around his cousin and explained. "Oh, don't worry. He is doing that so much. Every time we meet somebody new from another country. I think it is overwhelming for him. The freedom is still new."

Then, the teary boy said something in German to Matthew, who laughed and then translated for me. "You are his first California girl to meet, so he cannot believe it." Hey, at least I was blonde at the time.

I'd give anything to know what became of that young, emotional East German. I'm sure he's raising his glass tonight, celebrating his freedom still.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy Birthday, Gabe!

Okay, I'm slipping this in the nick of time ... only 26 minutes left of Gabe's birthday ... Ack!

So, here's the deal. I met Gabe when he was a tot and then a kid and then a pre-teen and now a full-fledged Teen with a capital 'T.' He is the son of my very adorable friend, Andrea, a high school pal who is now like family to me. I saw Gabe recently when I was visiting 'Dre at their new spread in Upland, California. I came to check out the new pad, peruse her cool doll projects and squeeze her sweet hubby, Barry. She also has four dogs and two cats - that was a big draw too.

When last I hung out with Gabe, he was all about the GameBoy. I was playing the Nanny role, helping to take care of Gabe and his sister, Samantha, during End of Trail - which is kind of like the Prom for cowboy types. While his mother was off winning cowboy action shooting competitions, I tried my best to entertain them. Samantha and I had lots of fun at the petting zoo but Gabe wanted none of it - just let him alone with the GameBoy. (I started calling him GabeBoy.)

Somewhere in my files, I have a great photo of a bucking bronco and a cowboy flying off the horse. In the lower half of the same frame, Gabe is deeply entrenched in the game, with zero interest in the live action going on mere feet from him. Such focus!

Flash forward several years and he has grown up, moved on and even offers hugs to visiting old ladies like me! What a delight! He even let me photograph him to my heart's content - what a sport!

At left is a photo I took that encapsulates the modern teenage diet: a glass of milk and a duct-taped cell phone. One might call it Breakfast of Champions.

The photo at right is one of my favorites. I'd asked him, "Can you please supply me with a typical teenage look? Something that says, 'I'm-so-embarrassed' or 'you-are-so-lame' or 'why-are-you-taking-my-picture, you dumb ass?'and he immediately obliged. Perfect, no?

Anyway, when I meet people like Gabe, who only just happen to be young, I feel a whole lot better about the future. Gabe is smart, kind, handsome, talented and most importantly, open-hearted. His family is strong, funny and behind him 100% - what more do you need? Maybe a GameBoy? I asked him about it.

"I cannot BELIEVE how much time I wasted on that thing," he said, covering his handsome face. "That was stupid."

Happy Birthday, Gabe! The world is your oyster, my friend.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

BlogHer Cross-Post: Post-Rapture Pet Care

This marks my 600th post so I hope I'm not cheating by cross-posting from BlogHer. This thorny topic is a doozy - I got in way over my head. The post is also longer than most so I'm just going to excerpt the first chunk here. Happy Rapture!

It's a Saturday Night Live skit waiting to happen, right? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets: A service that promises to care for your pet after you have ascended to heaven to join The Almighty. Like the company's co-founder, Bart Centre, I laughed at first. Surely, this isn't real? After speaking with Bart, and a few close friends who believe in the Rapture, I stopped laughing and started thinking.

First, let's review: The Rapture, also known as "The End Times", is the basic belief (with varying tribulational differences) that Jesus is coming back and only taking His devout followers back up the Holy Elevator with Him. Evidently, the heathen losers "left behind" will be screwed. (Although it would surely strengthen the job market if 40-50 million Americans suddenly vacated …)

When I began my interview with Bart, he asked upfront, "Are you a believer?" I respond in the negative (to the Rapture, specifically) and we begin to chat. After hanging up, I realized the conversation would have been very different if I had answered in the affirmative.

Bart Centre is a devout atheist and is, in fact, the author of "The Atheist Camel Chronicles: Debate Themes & Arguments for the Non-Believer (and those who think they might be)" which is currently #6 on Amazon for atheist titles. Not bad for a self-published first-time author. "It's been quite an amazing ride," said Bart, who used the pseudonym, Dromedary Hump.

The book published this past June and a month later, his buddy, Brad, sent Bart a news link about a UK woman who promises to care for cats post-Rapture. They both have a good chuckle over it but Bart starts thinking.

One of his book chapters talks about the End Times and that looming Mayan calendar date of 2012. "I realize a lot of Christians are jumping on that boat," said Bart, "and asked myself, ‘What can I do that can help ease the concerns of Christians and make some money?'”

And so, Bart and Brad teamed up to launch Eternal Earth-Bound Pets USA in July. (Brad, a Minnesotan who doesn't want to use his last name, handles the Western US, while Bart oversees the East.) Bart believes it comes down to a Christian asking themselves a few questions: "'Do I believe in the Rapture?', ‘Do I believe my pets won’t go to heaven?’ and ‘Can I trust these atheists?’ If the answer to these three things is ‘yes’, then this will help."

Here's how it works: A prospective customer submits a contract via the site and pays $110, which covers one animal for a 10-year period. (An additional animal in the same household is an additional $15.) Bart and Brad review the contract and determine if they can truly execute the contract within 18-24 hours of the Rapture.

The company has 16 'representatives' located through the US, committed atheists who have actively blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.") and therefore, won't be going anywhere on Rapture Day. Bart or Brad will confirm with the reps in the region whether or not they would be able to adopt and care for the animal listed in the new contract. (Both customers and reps remain anonymous; no contact is allowed.)

Let's face it, for many of us heathen types, the concept is ripe for comedy. In fact, the first question on the site's FAQ page asks, "Is this a joke?" Bart confirmed that this usually the initial reaction:

"We’ve gotten about 4,000 emails through the site. The largest percent are atheists who think this is the funniest thing they’ve ever seen and also, they want to be pet rescuers. Then, there are about 10 percent Christians who also think it is funny but don’t believe in Rapture and wish us well. We also get a few Christians who are really, really angry and use some rough language …Then, there is a small percentage, about 1 percent, who take us seriously and confess that this has been on their minds. They explore it with us and see that we are for real. Considering that most Christians don’t trust atheists far as they can throw us, these are people who recognize that we will to exercise our contracts should the Rapture occur."

Still enraptured? Read the rest of my post here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Postcard from the Past

I've been a scanning fool lately, digitizing so many images of the past for a Xmas gift project. Every now and then, I come across a photo that reignites golden memories ... and this is one.

In the fall of 1997, Michelle, Lisa and I went exploring in Boston and New York. I'd never been to either place so it was one big exotic adventure for me. I've known both women since first grade and so it felt kind of like an extended field trip, only with booze and nightclubs this time. Hard to believe it has been a dozen years since.

This shot was taken from the top of the World Trade Center and the view was unforgettable. Alas, the buildings are gone but the friendships remain.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rocky Pumpkin High

A couple of days ago, before our first big snowstorm made everything white, my world was primarily orange.

I'd volunteered to help sell pumpkins at the corner of Alameda and Carr in Lakewood. It was part of the Jeffco Partners for Interfaith Action (which means a bunch of churches of various religions) to benefit Habitat for Humanity. It was a sparkly, sunny, chilly Monday and I had a blast.

I joined a team of three manly volunteers from Jefferson Unitarian (I think that's what they said) and they were pretty jolly. At one point I said that the only thing missing from the day was candy corn. Jim, the handsome dude at right (please ignore my finger), then trekked off to get me what I needed. Alas, no candy corn was found so we had to make due with M&M's and Skittles, my favorite!

We were pretty busy all day long and customers tended to come in clumps. It's the same in retail and restaurants ... I'm sure there's a Important Marketing Study going on right now that will explain this eventually.

But the highlight of the day came when Jim leaned over to me and said, "The people that are coming up behind you now - be sure to give them a big discount."

I turned around and saw at least a dozen young adults who live at a group home for the mentally challenged. Led by two sweet blond lady chaperones, one had a walker, a few had helmets and all of them had gigantic smiles. I could actually feel my heart expand just by looking at them.

"PUMPKINS!!!" they exclaimed.

They were not picky. Several chose the first pumpkin they got their hands on and decided it was the most perfect thing they'd ever seen. A few of them told me excitedly about how they'd decorated their house together.

"We put up spiders EVERYWHERE!!!"

"And kitty cats!"

"And scary witches!"

OMG, it was cute squared. Eventually, they all had made their selections (about 13 pumpkins) and I only charged the lady $20. "God bless you," she said, with visible relief. I'm thinking their budget for outings like this must be slim.

I helped carry some pumpkins to their little bus and the fun continued. While the lead ladies loaded up a wheelchair-bound fellow, I helped buckle seat belts and situate new glorious pumpkins on grateful laps. A big, fluffy Huskie dog named Tawny (she lives at the home) sniffed over each child, making sure all were accounted for.

When it was time to leave I said, "Happy Halloween everybody!"

And almost in unison, they replied in high volume: "THANK YOU NICE LADY!!!!"

OMG, my heart just melted and I couldn't stop smiling. Even now, typing this, I am tearing up. I can't believe how much joy I got from being close to these kids for only 20 minutes or so. Such a pure feeling.

I can't shake the feeling that these kids are closer to God than I could ever hope to be.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting in the Spirits

While everyone else is battling H1N1, I've contracted some sort of Martha Stewart disease where I feel compelled to cook things from scratch every day. My condition is exacerbated by the oncoming holidays and snowy Sundays with football games on TV.

I just returned from a super fun pumpkin carving party, a tradition held by the hosts, Doug and Edie, for 25 years. Despite the snowy weather, they'd set up the backyard as a complete eating, drinking and pumpkin carving station. Tables covered in newspaper, tarps to keep our heads dry and space heaters to keep us from freezing - oh, it was cozy.

Also, TONS of food, goodies and desserts. Doug is an expert chili man, always a good thing to be in these parts. He had giant pots of spicy green chili, mild green chili, veggie chili and red chili. YUM. I scarfed down a bowl and am now regretting that I did not have seconds.

But I did not arrive empty handed. In fact, despite getting home late (and a tad tipsy) last night from a dinner party in Morrison, I use some of the leftover juice to make Grape Ice Cream. That's right, a new flavor has been brought into this world and I am its mother.

It turned out okay except the next batch will use less sugar and no vanilla - too much getting in the way of that powerful grape-y flavor.

I also spent the afternoon making a batch of over-the-top Halloween cookies. I recently came across a bag of cookie cutters (ghost, bat, pumpkin, cat) in my cupboard and decided to put them to use.

Such fun! Any day you get to play around with food coloring and rainbow sprinkles is a fine, fine day if you ask me. The result was 16 beautiful, perfect cookies (and one disaster cookie I call, 'Insecure Zombie Kitty Applies For A Job') worthy of photographing, suitable for framing and ideal for eating. They were a hit at the party.

And though I was the last person to finish carving, I ultimately completed my version of 'Devil's Advocate.' Behold: