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.