Monday, August 30, 2010

Mr. Magic Thumb

Recently, I found myself in a delightful place called the Belly Up, a tiny bar in Aspen which regularly features high quality (and sometimes, big name) live music. Reid and I were there to check out Asleep At The Wheel, those Grammy-winning Kings (and one Queen) of Texas Swing. I'd seen them before at my fave music fest, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, but it was a gas to seem them up close.

Naturally, the dance floor was jumping and there was one shy-looking fellow who stood practically on the stage lip, moving around like crazy. So, I tapped him on the shoulder.

"You wanna dance?" I shouted over the music.

For a minute, I thought he might reject me. He looked a little scared, but then quickly smiled. "Okay," he said warily, "but I really don't know what I'm doing...." 

And we were off.

Clearly, the fellow was being modest because he had great control and spun me all over that floor. I'm pretty sure I yelled "WHEEEEEEEE!" a couple of times. However, it wasn't long before I realized that the hand he was using to conduct the spins - his right - felt ... different. It felt extra smooth and, well, it was missing a few fingers.

As in, ALL OF THEM. 

That's right, this shy little man magically spun me - and several other gals - around that floor using ONE BAD ASS THUMB. Reid said we looked amazing and encouraged me to dance with him again. "He looks so happy when he's dancing!" he said.

What a wonderful reminder that it's better to focus on what you have than what you don't. Dancerman, wherever you are - two thumbs up!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Katrina Anniversary

Mary Mahoney's in Biloxi, MS - note the water line marker behind the bar.
With all the big five-year remembrances going on around Hurricane Katrina, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring. I posted about it almost obsessively back then, even though my blog was just weeks old.

My brother, Robert, had moved his family to the Mississippi Gulf Coast just TWO MONTHS prior and then gone missing during the storm. (I gave a plaintive, weepy radio interview on KABC-AM which I still can't listen to without bursting into tears.) Nothing like having your loved ones at the center of a major natural disaster to keep you interested.

Creative feeding spots were a common site post-Katrina.
Though I don't live in the South, a great number of people and animals that I love reside there and so, a part of my heart does too. The native souls are warm, generous and tougher than you can imagine. They are also creative, resourceful and know how to enjoy the day without too much fret about tomorrow. I'm here to remind ya'll that Mississippians gave us the blues, jazz, rock-n-roll and Barq's Root Beer. The Teddy Bear and William Faulkner. Parker Posey and Jimmy Buffett. Tennessee Williams and Brett Favre. Morgan Freeman and John Grisham.

Oprah and Elvis.

Need I go on? 

Anyway, I was reviewing my post-Katrina flickr page the other day and there are some haunting pics there. Surely, it was a tough time but luckily, the people are tougher.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Community Garden

It's odd that I had zero interest in gardening until I moved from one of the most fertile states to one of the most arid. The main factor was probably space, something I never really had in California but in Colorado, there's room to stretch out.

About four years ago, I noticed things being dug up and moved around in my backyard rental. I remarked to the building manager that it was a shame since I was planning to grow my own vegetables. To my great delight, the landlord (a super cool lady named Amy) heard about my lament and immediately incorporated a raised bed - just for me! - into the new plans. The garden was such a success that earlier this year, Amy added two more raised beds for my neighbors and voila! The Milwaukee Street Garden was born.

Our garden when first planted, May 22nd.
Growing food together has really intensified the fun factor and enlivened our neighborly bond. We exchange observations about plant behavior and share laments about slow growth. And, like most gardeners, we want more bees!

Naturally, we look after one another's "babies." With all the traveling I do, this has been a blessing. I tell them when I am going out of town so they know to water mine when they water their own plots.

Of course, we also share the bounty. The general rule is: No direct harvesting. If anyone has extra to share, it goes on the picnic table and then it is first-come, first-serve. My nuclear bomb-sized zukes always find a happy home and I scored some yellow cucumbers the other day that I did not have to grow myself.

My plot, sometime in July.
Our collective roster of veggies and herbs include: yellow zukes, regular zukes, Japanese eggplant, cucumber, beets, basil, rosemary, lettuce, spinach, peas, cilantro, sunflower, mint, chives, bell pepper, jalapeno, parsley, thyme, New Mexico peppers, cinnamon basil, onions, squash and several varieties of tomatoes. I have not purchased fresh produce from a store in over a month. (On top of this, we also have Concord Grapes, which ripen in the fall, and an apple tree in the front yard.)

Our backyard has now become a friendly meeting place for the entire building. One recent evening, I was out checking my tomatoes and chatting with Graham, who looked up at his sunflowers, wondering when he should harvest. He took a big, yellow head down and explained the process to his adorable five-year-old daughter, Eliot, who squealed in delight. Karin watered her tremendous pumpkins while her son, Ewan, ran around the yard chasing Bodi the cat. My studly neighbor duo, Chris and Tim, cooked up some chicken wings on the grill and we exchanged sports jokes. I doled out bite-sized pear tomatoes, bright yellow, to the kids and they gobbled 'em up with big juicy smiles.

My visiting friend, Kristin, came down the stairs looked upon the scene and said to me, "Wow. You've got a good thing going on here." 

The Exploding Garden, on 8/24/10.
Indeed I do!

Growing your own food and feeding oneself is beyond liberating and it requires very little effort. Turns out, the seeds know exactly what to do. (Must be that whole 'nature' thing I keep hearing about.) For a few gloriously delicious months, I don't pay to eat tasteless, mass-produced produce from from Guam or Mexico. When the season ends and I am forced to once again purchase a cardboard tomato, I feel like crying. 

In the meantime, I celebrate.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Smile Train Shows This Weekend

Yup, it's that time of year again. Thanks to my co-coordinator, Steve Loukas, and the pure naked decency of four - count 'em - FOUR improv groups, we are able to put on three comedy improv shows this weekend - all benefits go to Smile Train.

Nobody knows why but 1 in 700 children is born with a cleft lip and/or palate, like little Shiva here - at left. (See her post-surgery photo below.) For reasons unknown, there seems to be more of these children in poor countries. Perhaps something in the water? Generally, the family reacts with sadness and horror, often abandoning the child by the side of the road and taking it as a curse upon them. Can you imagine? 

When it happens in this country, it's a fairly easy fix. Not so in rural sections of places like Africa, India and China. Smile Train has fixed 618,000 of these kids so far by training the local doctors and putting 100% of all donations toward surgeries. Fixing one child permanently costs $250 and takes 45 minutes.

The average age of the Smile Train patient is 6 six years old - old enough to know something is wrong with them, as many no longer attend school because of the taunts.

As many of you know, I grew up having multiple facial surgeries and it was no picnic. However, thanks to the luck of my Western birth, the steadfast love my family and friends, it seems like a distant memory - like it all happened to someone else. Still, I feel much gratitude - hence, this annual fundraiser.

If you are in Colorado and near the Denver area this weekend, please come to our shows! Tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance from the links below.

Friday @ 7:30  - featuring The Rodents of Unusual Size and Monkey's Uncle!
Saturday @ 6 - featuring Intentionally Left Blank and The Denver Wigs!
Saturday @ 8- featuring The Denver Wigs!

If you can't make the shows but would still like to donate, please go here. NO AMOUNT TOO SMALL. Even $25 pays for sutures for one surgery. Last year we fixed EIGHT kids and made them whole again. I visited the Smile Train offices in New York recently and was informed that so far, Smile Train has fixed 618,000 children which translates to a lot more smiling going on in this beat-up world. 


To watch the trailer for 'Smile Pinki', the Academy Award-winning documentary on one girl's journey on Smile Train, go here.

(All photos borrowed from SmileTrain.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gulf Coast Recovery Video: Make It Count

I'm still digesting all the amazing conversations and experiences of BlogHer '10 but a personal highlight was seeing some of my Gulf Coast photos included in the Make It Count video shown at the show's kick-off.  In honor BlogHer's 2010 Voices of the Year Gala and Art Auction (curated by Kirtsy), they asked Katherine Center to make a short movie honoring the auction's intent to help clean up the Gulf Oil spill in the Gulf. 

The entire video is lovely and I love the narrated thoughts that accompany the images, particularly the advice: "Pay attention." My photos begin at :51 and are featured mostly through to the end. 

Monday, August 09, 2010


I've just returned home after spending the last week in New York for BlogHer '10 and it was a super crunchy Big Apple time had by all. I arrived a couple days early just to soak up the greatest city in the world before all the bloggy madness began. As much as I love the outdoors, this girl needs a dose of NYC every once in awhile; just to marvel in its relentless third-rail energy and take in some big city culture.

My eensy Pod room.
I checked into my favorite NYC hotel, The Pod, (where I always obtain deep sleep in my tiny pod room) with big, big plans for myself - MOMA, Natural History Museum, Statue of Liberty, Museum of the City of New York, International Center for Photography, Museum of Radio & Television - but none of these happened.

Instead, I ended up wandering dreamily every day into Central Park to eat my lunch and indulge in luxuriant reading and people watching. It got to the point where people asked me for directions - "Where is Strawberry Fields?" being the most popular question. Thrilled to be mistaken for a local, I was only too happy to help.

New York city is just one big fucking miracle. Don't even get me started on the elaborate NYC subway system - an engineering feat that my tiny brain can barely grasp.

It's hard to imagine that Europeans bought this island in 1626 for $24 worth of beads from the Lenape tribe, who were living there at the time. That's about $1,000 in modern currency, which might buy you a dirty curb at today's real estate prices, nothing more.

Much as I was drawn to Central Park during the day, Times Square would pull me in at night, like a zombie drug. With a large portion shut down to car traffic, the area is a meeting spot for every kind of human you can think of. One night I sat on the phone for hours with an old friend while a creepy Latino stood nearby, insisting I take his compliments. "You are beautiful. I SAID 'You are beautiful!'" 

A few nights later, I was there with my friend, Beth, and we came upon two guys playing an oud, a pear-shaped instrument that sounds like a sitar. It's used in Middle Eastern music, has no frets and a long white 'pick.' It has a bent back neck and looks like it may have derived from the lute.

We sat and listened for awhile to the beautiful music while some young blonde girl babbled in my ear about wanting to be an actress. She decided that she loved me and I decided she was a druggie loon. Still, it was a lovely encounter with an exotic instrument, and where else would I learn about it other than Times Square? Saved me a trip to Qatar, that's for sure.

And then, of course, there's Broadway.

When I arrived on Tuesday night, I hurriedly checked into The Pod and started sprinting toward the St. James Theater on 44th. My pal, Laurie, had gamely offered to buy us half-price tickets to 'American Idiot' (Green Day's musical) and all I had to do was get my butt there before curtain. But, my feet were too slow and the cabs weren't moving so in the end, I jumped on a pedi-cab and watched my driver go toe-to-bumper with very large tour buses; he would not be intimidated. Also, he spoke little English and had legs made of lightening.

In the end, pedi-boy pulled up to the theater just as the line moved into the building - huzzah! What an entrance! I then sprang for a quick beer for Laurie and a Jameson on the rocks for me, at which time the bartender kindly provided me with a sippy cup for my cocktail so I could enjoy it during the show. I adore how much my alcohol needs are looked after in Gotham. In fact, I brought said sippy cup home so that I may relive my satisfaction again and again.

 The show itself kicked ass, as expected. The cast of about 20 young, energetic talents of all shapes and sizes made 'American Idiot' feel like some leathered up version of 'Glee' but with newer songs and more electric guitar. The set was high and the walls were embedded with televisions, allowing for much commentary on the media.  Kudos to Green Day and the cast for executing one damn fine rock opera.

Also, Beth and I managed to escape the confines of the New York Hilton for a few hours to visit a local comedy club, Ha! The comedians were all men, all funny but a bit lazy - meaning they relied too much on swearing, poop and sex jokes. First up was Kevin Brown, who plays Dot Com on the hit show, '30 Rock.' Kevin was big, he was funny but most of all, he was CUTE. Beth and I developed permanent crushes on the spot.

On our way home, we stumbled across an amazing site: At 3:30 in the morning, a line of people nearly half a block long all waiting for "the best halal in the city", as one fellow informed us. Evidently, they open at 7:30 p.m. and stay open until 4:00 a.m.

The food, mostly lamb, smelled HEAVENLY. Beth and I (she a vegetarian, me - always trying) were both very tempted by the incredible aromas and the enthusiastic eaters. This truck has a loyal local following and consistently shows up as one of the best street food vendors in the city. Located at the corner of 53rd and 6th Ave. - make sure you check it out on your next NYC visit.

Although it was great to come home to Colorado amidst an exciting lightening storm and a flooded kitchen (don't ask), I gotta say, I miss the Big Apple already.