This Tuesday, Nov. 20th, would have been my Dad’s 98th birthday. It doesn’t always fall this close to Thanksgiving but it did the year my Mother’s passed away. That was an especially emotional Thanksgiving for all of us. My family celebrated the holiday with my Dad at my brother’s home in Kansas just days after my Mother’s funeral and my Dad’s 93rd birthday.
My Dad died two years later. Although he’s no longer here to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us, we still enjoy the fruits of gardening and cooking with the few remaining jars of canned food that he left us. It’s almost as if he’s still sharing a meal with us.
Canning the tomatoes, beets, green beans and cucumbers harvested from his garden brought him great pleasure. Often, a jar of tomatoes, green relish, piccalilli or, his favorite, stickles would wind up under the Christmas tree as a holiday gift from my Dad.
Sadly, I didn’t care for the stickles until recently when I snapped open a jar sitting on my pantry shelf. I taste tested a tiny bite to determine if the stickle was still safe to eat. To my surprise, I found it deliciously sweet, not at all what I had expected. For those of you unfamiliar with this down home delicacy, stickles are made from cucumbers with white vinegar, some drops of green food coloring, celery seed, sugar, some lime and salt. The cucumbers are cut lengthwise into strips and come out sweet and much different from traditional pickles. My Dad had tried hard to convince me that I would like them but as I’m not a big fan of cucumbers I never did.
Another favorite of his was pickalilli, a sort of relish made with tomatoes. I think I have only one jar of this remaining. I can remember my Dad saying “Um, that’s good!” when he’d eat a spoonful.
He also made sweet green tomato relish that he’d mix into the filling for the deviled eggs that he made to that Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s home. I’m taking deviled eggs as an appetizer to my friends’ Thanksgiving dinner this year. There’s a jar of that relish on my refrigerator shelf. I may add some to give the egg filling a little more zip.
Of all his canned creations that we still have, I love the ‘pear honey ‘ the best. I have only one jar left. It’s half empty now. I covet every single spoonful that I spread onto my warm toast, usually for Sunday morning brunch.
I have fond memories of my Dad associated with the pear jam. It springs from the day that we were driving back to his home after a visit to my brother in Kansas City. My Dad spotted an aged pear tree growing in a field alongside the highway. The tree obviously had not been pruned or tended for a long time. At my Dad’s request, I pulled over to the shoulder and parked. He slid out, taking a plastic grocery bag with him as he headed for the tree. “Um boy,” he exclaimed. “Look at all these good pears. These will make some good pear honey.” I could almost hear him smack his lips.
The few jars left on my shelf are each labeled with the contents in my Dad’s handwriting on a strip of masking tape. I think I’m not going to remove the label when the jar is finally empty because it will still be filled with memories .
I was riding in hired car to the airport yesterday when a young Spider-Man and Princess Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin movie hopped in with their mother. They were on their way to a school Halloween fair. Sharing the ride with me kept the fare cost low for us both. Spider-Man, whose name I soon learned was Julio, really wanted to dress as Mickey Mouse but as there were no Mickey Mouse costumes at the store, he had settled for Spider-Man until his mother could finish making him a Mickey Mouse suit.
The costumes were cute, in that commercial sort of way, but I know the one his mother is crafting will be much better simply because it is homemade and is assembled with love.
I recalled to the mother the year that I had created Ninja Turtle costumes for my three sons. The fact that I could stitch up turtle shells from felt was in itself a fabrication feat. Now I wonder exactly how I managed it given my limited skills as a seamstress. And yet, year after year, I seemed to pull together my sons’ costume choice for Halloween.
Some years were simpler than others, like the time my oldest son, Matthew, then seven, decided to masquerade as ‘the President.’ He wasn’t interested in impersonating any one particular person who had held our country’s highest office but rather as himself, dressed as, well, the President.
That meant pulling from his closet the one and only suit jacket and dress pants he owned–probably bought for another special holiday or celebration–shining up his shoes, putting on a white dress shirt and tie and handing him a trick or treat bag. As a finishing touch, he also carried with him a copy of the Constitution.
The year he landed on being an astronaut was a little more complicated. We borrowed a helmet and had a big pair of snow boots and his Dad’s work gloves to wear, but what to do for the suit itself? Finally, I figured it out. I visited a paint store, picked up a disposal painters suit and stitched on the front and sleeve the Space Shuttle patches bought at NASA’s souvenir store at Edwards Air Force Base when I attended a Space Shuttle landing. The adult size even in small, swallowed my nine-year-old son, but hey, spacesuits aren’t skin tight. He was happy and looked very authentic.
That particular costume was much easier than the Halloween my son Tim chose to be a pumpkin. Fortunately, some bright orange shiny polyester fabric stitched pieces together into a rotund shape with openings for his arms and legs did the trick. We stuffed him with inflated balloons to plump him up and fill him out once he had slipped it on.
The pumpkin was less of a creative challenge than the Darkwing Duck request that came from my son, Marshall, one year. That may have been my finest fitting. Darkwing Duck was a heroic cartoon character that had captured five-year-old Marshall’s attention. DD has long since faded into hero obscurity but he was a dapper masked defender dressed in a wide-brimmed hat, short, double-breasted purple jacket with big gold buttons and flowing purple cape. (Don’t ask me why a duck that can fly needed a cape.)
In one of my most inspired design moments, I constructed a hat from felt that even a milliner could respect, stitched up a cape from purple fabric, cut big round buttons from bright yellow felt and tacked them on to a purple sweatshirt along with a makeshift collar, and tied a purple satin band that kept slipping out-of-place, over my son’s eyes so that he had to keep lifting his chin to look down through the holes. He was a fine masked marauder that year. I was grateful when, in the years following, he was content to masquerade as a hockey player by wearing his own hockey sweater and carrying his stick.
Whatever happened to those Ninja Turtle shells I don’t know. I suspect they eventually fell apart with so many hours of play in the days after Halloween. So did the astronaut suit. Darkwing Duck’s cape lasted longer but it too eventually disappeared. I’m not completely certain but that pumpkin outfit may still be folded in the bottom of the ‘costume’ box waiting for another Halloween opportunity.
Certainly, there were Halloweens when we paid for costumes, the year they went as the Ghost Busters for example, or when Matthew required buckskins and a coonskin cap to become Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark). For most Halloween holidays it took a trip to the fabric store or rummaging through our own closets to come up with what I regard as their most memorable masquerade outfits.
I hope Julio’s mother finishes his Mickey Mouse costume in time for trick or treating this upcoming Tuesday night. If she does, I’ll bet that’s the one both she and her son will remember when Halloween comes around in the years ahead.
Fall was in full season at the Fruit Festival this past weekend at the Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Everson, a small town that lies right on the Canadian border. Until a few years ago, the festival was known as the Harvest Festival and the place was a working farm and native plant nursery known as Cloud Mountain Farm.
My friends, Cheryl and Tom Thornton, owned and operated the farm for 33 years. Seven years ago, the farm was converted into a non-profit learning center dedicated to providing hands-on learning experiences to aspiring farmers, experienced farmers, and home gardeners, continuing the work the Thorntons have always done through the years.
The Thorntons still live at the farm but now they are joined everyday by as many as eight paid interns who participate in an eight-month educational program to learn the practices of good, sustainable farm techniques. They study plant propagation, tree fruit production, viticulture, market development, and vegetable production to prepare them to be farm owners, key farm employees or entrepreneurs and professionals involved in the agricultural industry or advocacy.
At the heart of it, of course, are my friends, Cheryl and Tom. Cheryl handles most of the business and marketing side of the farm, as she has done for years. Tom oversees the hands-on educational side, as he has done for years becoming one of, if not the apple expert in Washington state and maybe the region. People from all over have brought their fruit and vegetable-growing questions to Tom and learned from his expertise through the hundreds of workshops he’s conducted for weekend gardeners and industry professionals.
My husband and I headed out to the farm yesterday morning, as we have done in many years past but not recently, to see what was going on. Although the day was cloudy (it is Cloud Mountain remember?) and chilly, the back field by the grape vines were already full of cars when we arrived shortly after it opened. Little kids were scampering down the road from the field to the festival area with their parents close behind. Lines were already formed at the tasting tent where visitors could sample all the different types of apples, pears, cherries, grapes grown on the farm.
I stopped off first at the farm’s main barn to say ‘Hello’ to Cheryl, who was at the register checking out festival goers purchasing five-pound bags of apples and pears. As she became busier, I wandered off to a hot-house where the band, Bridge, had begun to play.
Music has always been part of the festival and listening to Bridge reminded of the year that the band in which my sons and Thorntons’ daughter, Julia, performed at the festival. They were middle-schoolers at the time, all students of musician Ginny Snowe, a wonderful piano teacher who had put the band together in a summer music camp. The kids turned out to be so enthusiastic and good that they stayed together long after the camp to write music and play gigs at schools, festivals and other events.
Known as Switch, their little band actually launched the music careers of some of the band members, including Julia who’s now a professional musical director and pianist; Jeff, who’s rapidly becoming one of the country’s best classical saxophonists and finishing up a PhD at the University of Michigan; and my son, Marshall, a drummer who’s plays professionally with several bands in Seattle one of them being, until recently the funk band, The Fabulous Party Boys. (The band was a subject of another of my blog posts.)
Julia also grew pumpkins that she harvested each fall and sold at the festival to earn money for college. The pile of pumpkins is still there but Julia no longer grows them. Her sister, Cara, however, had brought her young daughters from Seattle for the day to help out and perhaps start another family tradition at the festival.
As Bridge played, volunteers Sue and Burt Weber, twirled thick, yummy caramel around Cloud Mountain apples to hand to young customers. Cooks from Bellingham’s restaurant, Keenan’s, was serving up tasty snack dishes made from local products at the farm at another table. And another volunteer was answering questions and sharing material about the farm center at a third table.
I headed over to the tasting tent where Tom was slicing up pieces of pears for people. He handed me a slice of Rescue, a pair so named because, as he explained, a nursery grower near Vancouver, Washington (Buckley, WA. to be exact) found the species and saved the tree from being destroyed. The fruit was sweet and buttery and nearly melted in my mouth. Next, Tom gave me sample of the Seckel pear,that Tom said is considered native to Pennsylvania, maybe the only true American pears. It’s said to be named after a local farmer who found a “wild sapling” growing on a farm just outside Philadelphia late 1700’s, according to some accounts. The small, reddish-brown pear has a creamy texture and a sweet taste.
My taste tests were interrupted by another pear sampler who had questions for Tom about her own pear trees. This is the kind of thing that happens to Tom all the time, no matter where he is because gardeners and growers locally know that he carries a wealth of agricultural information in his head.
I moved on to the cherry and grape tables before calling it a morning. People were still arriving as we climbed back into our car with the carton of Cloud Mountain cider and a bag of apples. A visit to their farm is always special and welcome, but particularly went the Fall Fruit Festival is underway. If you missed it this year, there will be another next year. It’s a great way to start the season and to celebrate the beauty and bounty of this fabulous farm.
Western Washington University here in Bellingham welcomed back its 14,000 students this week as classes for the fall quarter got underway. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff, led by WWU President Sabah Randwana, walked together from the hilltop campus to downtown for the Paint B’Ham Blue celebration, now in its second year. But before the evening procession, students and parents went through their own ritual of saying good-by to one another.
A week or two earlier, I watched as my neighbor’s son packed his car up to head back to college and as his parents followed as he pulled out the drive, his mother, camera in hand, snapping a few last photos as he drove off. I was enjoying the moment and reliving in my own mind the same experience when my own sons left home and I said good-by knowing that life at home would never be the same.
Like my neighbors, I too snapped photos of my sons as they either packed up, unpacked or departed for their years away at college. With each one, the last good-by was a little different and full of mixed emotions. I’m sure those of you who’ve had children can vividly recall that day of departure, whether it was heading off to college or to living on their own.
I’m glad to have the photos I took on those memorable days. When I look back at them, the memories come rushing back as fresh as the day it happened. Those snapshots give me a tangible tie to that moment in time and I was heartened to see my neighbor going through the same motions that I had gone through 10 years ago. I first wrote about those good-byes four years ago in my blog post “Autumn’s First Day Moves In.”
No doubt my sons were a little embarrassed by their mother clicking away when they arrived on campus although I certainly was not alone in insisting I take one more photo before leaving them. It is heartening to me to see parents still repeating those same actions, capturing images, now on their phones as well as with cameras, so that they’ll have them to look back upon later. I hope they download and print out these precious memories so that they’ll truly have them forever and not lose them to a mishap with the ‘cloud’ or computer or phone. If they do, they’ll have them for their sons or daughters long after college graduation.
I am grateful to my sons who allowed me, and continue to allow me, to photograph them during these life events and everyday moments, particularly at times when it might not otherwise have seemed ‘cool’ to do so.
Every fall, when I watch the new students and their parents arrive at the neighboring university, their cars pulling one after another into the dormitory parking lots, the boxes and duffles and suitcases being carried up to the rooms where they will live for the next several months, I am genuinely pleased as parents pose their freshman for one last parting shot so that they too will have the image to reflect upon when they go home alone. The scene brings a small smile to my face, a tiny tear to my eye and the tug on my heart.
A new movie comes out this week based on the 1973 tennis match between women’s tennis legend Billie Jean King and former men’s pro player, Bobby Riggs. Both the movie and the now historic match is known as the “Battle of the Sexes” that pitted the athletic talents and skill of a woman, Billie Jean, against those of her male competitor.
But before Billie Jean and Bobby played took to the court on Sept. 20, 1973 for their televised match before 30,000 live spectators, there had been a far lesser known, less viewed such match in my small Kansas hometown. I know because I was one of the two on the court facing across the net my high school’s boy’s tennis champ, John Hoffman. John probably doesn’t even remember this less publicized event. Neither did I until I heard an interview on television’s CBS Sunday Morning with King.
I started playing tennis in junior high school, learning to swing a racquet and hit a ball by batting it against the concrete block wall of the gas station next door to my parent’s motel with a chalk mark indicating the height of the net. To practice my serves, I’d go to the high school tennis courts and hit ball after ball over the net into the service court on the opposite side. On one of these occasions, I noticed an older, thin, almost gaunt gray-haired man, leaning against a black Cougar car with hounds-tooth checked rag top, watching me practice.
The man introduced himself as Jimmy Dodds. And Jimmy, formerly a tennis pro and coach in Los Angeles (Beverly Hills to be specific), took me on as one of his protégés. I will write another future blog post about him.
Under Jimmy’s tutelage and inspired by women tennis stars of the day, especially Billie Jean, I became a better and better player until I was competing in and winning local tournaments. I would have been on the high school girls’ tennis team but there were no girls sports teams then in that pre-Title IX era. Instead, I had to play for the local community college whenever I could or play against the boys, which I often did.
Women were making their voices heard about wanting the same recognition and opportunities men received in the workplace as well as everywhere else. And none of them were stronger on the tennis court than Billie Jean King. Billie Jean campaigned for equal prize money for women in the pro tournaments and led the efforts to establish a women’s pro tour. She became the first President of the women player’s tennis union when it was founded in 1973. And, with her then husband Larry King, created the Women’s Sports Foundation and launched the magazine, womenSports, for which I would later submit and write a feature or two.
So it was against this early 1970s background that I stepped onto the court with my Wilson aluminum frame racquet to play a match against John. The challenge came as the result of a friendly feud between the high school’s two gym teachers, Coach Martin and Ms. Stokes. Ms. Stokes had compete confidence in my tennis talents and I don’t think cared much for Coach Martin. The exact details now escape me but at some juncture, Ms. Stokes told Coach Martin that she thought I could beat John on the court. Martin, being a bit of a sexist himself, of course scoffed at the idea. But when it was suggested that the two of us duel in a tennis match, Coach Martin accepted. I don’t remember that John and I had much to say about it except to agree to participate. I had, after all, played a lot with and against John at the City Park tournaments and open court nights.
The match took place one afternoon after school, I remember. Few, if anyone was there to watch except Janine and Coach Martin. John had a strong, fast serve and I always felt fortunate to be able to return it, let alone place the return shot somewhere strategically on the court. He had a lanky body that disguised his muscle strength but was perfectly suited for tennis, and golf, the other sport he enjoyed. Plus he was smart, (he was one of our two class valedictorians) and understood game strategy so that his was not just a game of power.
We both played hard. I honestly don’t remember much about the game itself except that it was hot. I lost. I don’t recall the game score or whether we went three sets or not. There was no press coverage, no cheering crowd, no book deals afterwards. Women’s lib gained no victory that afternoon. I’m sure Coach Martin gloated but I didn’t feel that I had let anyone down. I had played my best although when it came to tennis, I was pretty hard on myself when defeated.
John and I remained friends. He went on to become an attorney. I became a journalist and worked for a couple of metropolitan newspapers in Phoenix. Phoenix is and was a mecca for tennis. I continued to play while living there. Occasionally, I covered women’s tennis for the suburban daily that I was writing for at the time. One day, the Virginia Slims women’s pro tennis tour came to town with, you guessed it, Billie Jean King. I was sitting court side to report on the action. Billie Jean had already played and won her big match against Bobby Riggs. Women’s tennis was taking off at lightening speed. After her match against Margaret Court, I snagged an interview for the paper with Billie Jean.
Even before The Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean was winning as many battles in women’s tennis as she was trophies. Her willingness and courage to demand that women be treated equal to men in the sport encouraged others of us facing similar challenges in our own careers. So while the movie about her famous match and endeavors off the court is just now coming out, her story inspired a generation of women, young women then, to stand up and speak out on and off the tennis court.
“Mom, it won’t be back in the same place for another 375 years,” my son, Tim, was telling me in a phone conversation just a few days before the August 21 solar eclipse. The significance of the astronomical event was punctuated by the urgency in his voice. “We’ve got to go see it.”
I had considered making the trip south to Oregon, where my cousins live in Albany, almost directly in the charted path of the solar eclipse and where totality would take place. After all, how likely was I to be this near a total eclipse again in my lifetime? But the prediction of the traffic snarls, shortages of food, gas and water as well as my own work schedule caused me to abandon my plans. Tim convinced me otherwise and offered to fly from New York to join me.
I kicked into last-minute planning mode; first contacting my Oregon family to ask if we could stay at their home, postponing appointments on my calendar, reading what was required to photograph it, picking up food to take along on the five-hour drive south and even asking my uncle to purchase ten gallons of gas for me in case the anticipated fuel shortages came true.
When Saturday arrived, I hit the road, stopping in Seattle to pick up my son at the airport then continued on towards Oregon. The drive was uneventful and we arrived that evening in time to take part in a ‘name that tune’ challenge with my cousins while sitting around the backyard fire pit at their home.
Early Sunday morning, Tim and I went out to ‘scout’ locations that might be best to view the eclipse. Tim had already picked out on possible spots on the internet. We headed off, driving north on country roads from my cousin’s home. A few minutes later, we passed by an open farm field where the horizon could be seen without any trees blocking the view (not an easy thing to find in Oregon). We wanted to be able to see the horizon line because at the time of totality, it would appear like sunset all the way around.
We drove on to a little county park, Buena Vista Park, outside the tiny village of the same name. The unincorporated town, as far as I could tell, exists primarily as a toll ferry point to cross the Willamette River. A few campers were in the riverside park enjoying one of the last summer weekends. Although a very picturesque, clean and relaxing spot, not ideal for eclipse viewing due to the tree line on the opposite of the river. We moved on.
Back on the country road, on our way to Independence, six miles away, we pulled into Hilltop Cemetery. It was empty of visitors except for a woman walking her dog and two men studying some of the older gravestones. The view was encouraging. True to its name, Hilltop Cemetery was situated on a hill that overlooked the beautiful Willamette Valley that stretched below. So far, this was the best vantage point we had seen.
The cemetery, established in 1849, serves nearby Independence, a charming little town of almost 10,000 with a two-block storefront downtown built in the late 1800 and early 1900s. As we drove into town, it was obvious a surge of eclipse viewers were expected as entrances to parking lots, driveways, school grounds were blocked. A big sign with an arrow pointed to “Event Viewing.” We stopped just long enough for me to take a photo of a historic church.
After searching for one more spot, which we never found, we agreed that Hilltop Cemetery would be our choice for Monday’s eclipse. It was directly in the path for totality. The next morning, we hopped back into the car, along with my other son, Marshall, and his friend Trevor, visiting from Los Angeles.
The last total solar eclipse viewed from contiguous United States was on Feb. 26, 1979, according to NASA. The longest total solar eclipse of this century, lasting 6 minutes and 39 seconds, occurred on July 22, 2009 crossing Southern Asia and the South Pacific. Totality in our location would last nearly two minutes!
The last time a solar eclipse passed the U.S. from coast to coast was on June 8, 1918 and it would be 2045 for it to happen again. No wonder millions of Americans, like myself and my two sons, were so excited for the chance to see it.
As television’s CNN reported: “According to NASA, this is a ‘celestial coincidence,’ as the sun is about 400 times wider than the moon and about 400 times farther away. From certain vantage points on Earth, the moon will completely block the sun. This is called totality.” We were about to be lucky enough to witness it.
Hilltop Cemetery had come alive with people who, like us, tossed their blankets, set up camp chairs, laid out beach towels for the eclipse viewing. I could set up my cameras in hopes of capturing images of what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. The atmosphere was festive. People had brought their kids, their cameras, their eclipse glasses, their breakfasts.
With everything in place and ready, we donned the eclipse glasses that Tim had purchased in New York. (Local outlets in Oregon and Washington had run out several days before.) The suspense built as the moon first kissed the edge of the bright sun. As it slowly progressed, more and more people tilted their heads up towards the sky. Their chatter became anticipatory and hushed. I made the first of my exposures using my film camera which didn’t require the special solar filter that any digital or electronic device did.
Gradually, the dark shadow of the moon eased across the sun’s face. As it did, the temperature became noticeably cooler. I retrieved my jacket from the car. Someone pointed to the two vultures that swirled overhead. We hoped it wasn’t an omen of things to come. The light took on an odd quality, almost grayish-yellow in color, as if the sun had been shrouded by heavy smoke from a large wildfire. Our shadows looked oddly muted and ashen, softened by the vanishing light.
And then–totality! A spontaneous cheer went up from the cemetery. People clapped for the moon’s performance. I snapped a few more photos both of the eclipse and the view from the cemetery. I expected to be thrown into total blackness but it more closely resembled twilight just before the sun’s last light disappears. A couple of stars twinkled in the darkened sky. The eclipse viewers gazed in wonder at what they were seeing. Then, it was over. The bright flash of light, known as the diamond ring effect,appeared as the moon began to retreat.
We stayed, as did most of those gathered, until the sun was once again fully revealed, as if people thought staying could prolong the moment. And what a moment it was. The eclipse was a reminder of nature’s power, something so extraordinary that people will travel hundreds of miles, some even thousands, put up with hours of clogged traffic on the journey back to experience two minutes worth of daylight turning into darkness.
The drive home that night took more than twice the time as usual. But I would do it again because it created a memory for me with my sons, family and friends that I will talk about for the rest of my life.
I hadn’t planned to write a post today but then I remembered that the Northwest Washington Fair opens today in the little town of Lynden, just 15 miles north of Bellingham. It’s a great little fair, not so big that you can’t get to all the things you want to see, do or eat in an afternoon or evening’s time, not so small that there’s not enough for everyone in the family.
I wrote once before about the fair (Fair Enough) in 2013. I have fond memories of taking my three sons there when they were young. In fact, we went to the fair even before we moved to Bellingham, as visitors from Los Angeles up for a summer vacation.
I didn’t make it to last summer’s fair but plan to be there this year with a friend with whom I’ve gone before. When I went two summers ago, it was with my cousin from Los Angeles and my niece from Kansas in town for a wedding. The fair just happened to coincide with the wedding dates so the three of us took an evening and headed up for some fair fun.
The fair draws people from all over the North Puget Sound area, Lower Mainland B.C. in Canada and far-flung visitors, such as my family, here for vacation, family visits or events. Just the drive from Bellingham to Lynden sets the tone as I take a back road through the rolling farmland set against the majestic Mount Baker to the east. In the air are the rich, earthy smells wafting from the farms so that 20-some minutes later when you pull into the parking lot at the Lynden fairgrounds, you’re already in “fair mode.”
I like to go in the early evening and stay into the night to see the shift from the day crowd to the evening fairgoers, a lot of whom become young, high-school age couples as the night starts to set in and the multi-colored lights of the carnival begin to shine.
In the large barns too, where the livestock exhibits of cows, horses, goats, sheep and pigs are installed, the activity changes as the animals finish up their dinner then start to settle in for the night. Groups of young 4-H’ers sit on their camp chairs after feeding their entries to talk, laugh, share stories and answer questions from curious viewers. I especially love the horse barn where the mighty Percheron and Belgian equines tower over the humans strolling through. It’s humbling just to stand next to, but not too close, to these hefty beasts.
Then there’s the goats, another favorite stop for me. I love watching these mostly friendly little kids clamoring over one another, crowding out each other to check out the people trying to pet them or tussling over a leftover tidbit of food. I’m easily entertained by their playful interaction.
Don’t forget the food, things you really shouldn’t eat but always do at the fair: gi-normous ice cream “moo-wiches” from the dairy women’s booth, corndogs smothered in relish and mustard sold by the Boy Scouts, meat that’s been slowly cooked over an open-pit from a local BBQ-cook or corn on the cob lathered in butter from the Young Life church group,
And poffertjes! As the town of Lynden was settled by Dutch pioneers, much of that heritage is still found there not only in their places of worship and traditions (they have an annual Christmas parade with Sinterklaus) but in the food. Poffertjes is a delicious Dutch dessert that’s a puffy pancake sweetened with powder sugar. Fairgoers can sample one of these tasty treats but expect to wait in line as the bakery booth queue is always one of the longest at the fair.
I’ve not even mentioned all the crafts exhibits, or the small animals or the small stages of entertainment by largely local performers. Whew! There’s so much to do. But if you plan your time well, you can usually manage to take it all in before wearily, but happily and well-fed, heading back to the car for the short ride home. I’ll be there this year, my camera in hand because it’s one of my favorite places to photograph So if you go, look for me. If you can’t make it this year, I hope you’ll set aside a trip to go another time because it truly is one of our country’s best summer traditions.
Summer is the season for weddings. They start in May and for every weekend through the end of September, caterers, photographers, florists, musicians, DJs, and planners are booked solid. Two weekends ago, I attended, for instance, to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding and two weekends before that I went to the wedding of the daughter of a close friend.
As a the daughter of a professional photographer, I spent countless weekends at weddings assisting my Dad behind the camera. (This was a big help when it came to planning my own wedding years later because by that time, I had been to and seen so many weddings that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for our own.) The routine was a bit different then. We could shoot three weddings in one day–morning, afternoon and evening– with either myself or one of my brothers finishing up at one wedding while my Dad went to start the next.
That era ended with photographer Dennis Reggie in 1980, who Ethel Kennedy had hired to ‘cover’ her daughter’s wedding. Reggie, a photojournalist, took the assignment and then hit the professional photography speaking circuit to show and tell professional photographers all over the country how he did it. I attended one of these sessions and knew then that the art of wedding photography, as I had learned it from my Dad, was changing.
When digital cameras were introduced, it changed yet again because photographers could capture literally thousands of images at the ceremony. They soon discovered that this wasn’t such a great idea because clients were overwhelmed by that many images. Too much of a good thing, you might say.
Wedding photographers have since trimmed it back to a more reasonable delivery but some still present as many as 1,500 images. Think of the editing process entailed in cropping, adjusting color, retouching, adding special effects and eliminating all those images. The post-production often takes longer than the 12 hours wedding photographers now typically spend photographing the event. I’m not sure even National Geographic magazine photographers turn in that many images to their editors.
While I rarely accept wedding assignments these days as a professional photographer (except for special clients and smaller ceremonies), I almost always take one of my cameras with me whenever I go to a wedding because I, like you, enjoy having a visual memory of that day, particularly when family is involved. Usually I take my pocket point and shoot, or my bigger but compact trusty Canon (yes, I do own one Canon), instead of one of my professional Nikons. I seldom use my mobile phone to take the pictures even though some phones images are terrific. But when it comes to preserving those images in the form of prints (which I still make and encourage you to do) or printed albums or books, cameras produce the higher quality high-resolution images you need.
For me, the images I capture on that day are personal and often are not the same as those the ‘official’ photographer is shooting. That’s because while the hired gun is busily photographing every moment of the bride and groom and the wedding party, I’m focusing on my family and friends who are there, and the moments that capture my eye from my point of view as a guest. It’s something you can do too but you must be mindful to respect the working pro so as not to get their way as they attempt to capture the ‘perfect’ photo of ceremonial kiss, the cake cutting, send off or formal portrait of the bride and groom.
There are ways to get those same images, from your own vantage point. I like to find a seat on the end of a row where, if I want to stand during the ceremony to grab a quick shot, I won’t block anyone’s view. And while the official photographer is off shooting the bride and groom immediately after the ceremony, you can zero in on the family, the cake table, the altar decorations, whatever it is that attracts your eye and you want to remember.
Sometimes, it turns out that the images I’ve captured are ones that my family or friends also want because unless the bride and her mother (or whoever plans and directs that day) specifically point out the family member who’s never around, the best friend who traveled across country, the arrangement or setting that has special significance, the official photographer will never know to include it in their shooting list.
As a guest and/or family member, I have a history and relationship with the people gathered for this memory-making day so I know things others won’t and that is reflected in my photographs.
I love today’s style of photojour-nalistic wedding photography. I also love being artistically creative with the images I take at these ceremonies. But what I really love is the memories they bring to mind of the people, places and times that are unique and meaningful to me and my family. And that’s essentially what wedding photography, whether from a hired pro or personal photographer such as myself, should be.
This was supposed to be a piece about the fabulous cactus salad that my friend Juan Ramirez cooks up. But during the course of putting it all together the other evening, the topic turned to violins. Specifically, his violin.
A composer and violinist, Juan has been in residence in Bellingham for the past three weeks where he has played in the first violin section with the Bellingham Festival of Music orchestra. Last year, his work, “Suite Latina”, was performed by the orchestra with the Calidore String Quartet as soloists. The music evokes the sensuous dance rhythms of the composer’s native Mexico. The piece was originally written for string quartet and first performed at the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival in 2001. Juan adapted it for quartet and orchestra, especially for the Bellingham Festival where it was given its world premiere and a standing ovation from the audience.
But the celebrated composer is also known for culinary artistry as well, with his specialty being his native Mexican dishes, especially his mole, made from a family recipe. It’s a recipe that takes him three days to concoct and includes much grinding and pulverizing of ingredients using a blending machine from India in order to get just the right texture and consistency. Most Americans I know think of mole simply as sauce with Mexican chocolate as the key ingredient. Chocolate, specifically cocoa, is a main ingredient in Juan’s family recipe, but it is only one of 18 ingredients that go into his tasty, slightly spicy sauce. Adding his mole, which is more pasty than the runny stuff usually poured over standard Mexican fare, to homemade enchiladas or to chicken turns the ordinary into an extraordinary treat!
I watched Juan in my kitchen warming the mole on the stove and assembling the equally as delicious cactus salad made with nopales, or the big, flat paddle-like leafs from the prickly pear plant, that we began talking about violins.
I asked if he ever had any trouble traveling with his violin on airlines, given the recent headlines about one professional violinist whose instrument the airline, United, insisted be checked as baggage instead of carried on board with her. “Not since the new laws,” Juan answered referring to the FAA rules revisions in 2015.
Then I asked where, when and how he found his violin. “That’s a good story,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. His violin was made in 1748 by Carlo Antonio Testore of the Milano school of violin makers who were crafting their instruments in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It’s uncertain exactly how it came to America, but it was the possession of a plantation owner in Macon, Georgia prior to the Civil War. He gave it to one of his favorite slaves who, upon the plantation owner’s death, “laid this instrument away as a keepsake,” according to a 1916 letter detailing the history. The violin became the slave’s son, after his father died. The son had moved to the small town of Pratt, Kansas where he worked as a train porter.
At the mention of Pratt, I stopped Juan and told him that I was familiar with the town, having grown up in Kansas. What a coincidence, I thought, for a musician who lives in Atlanta and plays with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to be standing in my kitchen mentioning Pratt, Kansas! But the story continues..
The son, unable to pay a debt owed to F.A. Erwin, the writer of the 1916 letter, turned over the violin as payment. Eventually the Testore ended up in a violin shop in Wichita, Kansas. Juan was a student at Emporia State Teachers’ College (now Emporia State University) in Emporia, Kansas (also a place with which I am very familiar) when he visited the Wichita shop to have his bow rehaired. The shop owner took the violin out of its case, Juan said, and handed it to Juan to play. “I fell in love with it and the sound,” he recalls. But being a college student attending Emporia on a scholarship, he had no money with which to purchase it. The violin went back into its case.
Juan transferred from Emporia to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. When his teacher told Juan he needed a better violin he knew exactly the one he wanted. But when he contacted the Wichita violin shop owner Juan was told that an 80-year-old doctor had bought it for his son who had decided to take up the violin. Juan was disappointed.
Three years later, the violin shop owner notified him that he once again had the Testore violin. The doctor’s son, it seems, had switched from violin to accordion, and the violin was returned to the shop. Elated by the news, Juan dressed in his best clothes and walked down to the bank to ask for a loan in order to buy his prized instrument. With the money granted, Juan booked a flight and headed back to Wichita where the shop owner took the violin out once again and handed it over to Juan.
It has now been his violin for nearly 46 years and he’s not likely to part with it anytime soon. You might say the story has come full circle. Juan plays it as a violinist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Atlanta, Georgia, only a little more than an hour’s drive from Macon where the instrument first was traced. And in 1988, Juan took it with him to Milan, the city where it was made, and played it in the city’s cathedral.
His story wrapped up just as the cactus salad was ready to chill in the refrigerator. Those same hands, which so nimbly had moved all over the fingerboard during the playing of music by Leonard Bernstein in the concert the night before, now turned to the delicate task of rolling enchiladas drizzled, inside and out, with Juan’s grandmother’s mole. That is another story.
This morning was quiet when I awoke. The stillness wouldn’t be that unusual for a holiday morning except for the fact that this was the Fourth of July, the U.S. day to celebrate its independence. When I was a kid, that meant starting the day off with a bang, literally, as my brother and I hopped out of our bed, threw on some clothes and raced outdoors to light what would be the first of many firecrackers that day.
Times have changed as setting off individual fireworks have been banned in many communities, such as my own, leaving it to the pro pyrotechnicians to provide a choreographed aerial night display. For the most part, it’s a good thing although I do miss seeing kids faces light up as they swirl the glowing wands of sparklers. And I loved the ground fountains that burst up with sizzling flares of color.
But the silence of the morning made me think of all those wonderful Fourth of July holidays past here in Bellingham.
I smiled remembering nights when my own middle-school aged sons gathered up their collection of fireworks, call us all out to the street in front of our home and set them off to their own choreographed show, complete with patriotic music blasted from a boom box that had been turned up to full volume.
Then there was the family barbeques at our friends’ home who lived then on a local lake.
Food was plentiful, with everyone bringing baked beans, deviled eggs, hot dogs and hamburgers, salads, pies, cookies and ice cream, all pretty much considered to be ‘traditional’ American Independence Day favorites. Moms and Dads would talk and drink beer while we watched the kids leap off the end of the dock into the still chilly lake water. A few others would hop into the kayak and paddle a short distance out from the shore where they would still be within sight of parental eyes.
And then, of course, as night began to fall (nearly 10 p.m. here in the Pacific Northwest), the homemade fireworks show would start with the explosions from Roman candles being directed out over the water. When it was over, we bundled up the leftovers and our sleepy-eyed kids and headed home.
Later, when our friends moved to a home on the bay, we did the same thing sitting on the beach, watching the sun sink as he dug into the delicious apple and cherry pies that had been baked especially for the occasion. Of course, we always had a fire going so that we could make s’mores–those wonderfully gooey treat of melted chocolate and toasted marshmallow squeezed between two layers of graham crackers. And the fire also kept us warm because Fourth of Julys here can be chilly, if not rainy.
I recalled the more recent holidays when our sons, now grown, were not home to celebrate or, if they were, preferred to head off with friends to watch fireworks than join the ‘old folks.’ One memorable Fourth was spent out on a boat in the bay enjoying the company of friends from the annual summer music festival and viewing that night’s light show from the water. Quite an experience. Still another found us sitting nearly directly beneath the big blast over the harbor as we sat with another couple on the terrace of a shore side restaurant, savoring the food served up for the special evening while overhead the ‘bombs’ were bursting in air.
More recently, we’ve headed over to a friend’s home late in the day for a potluck on their deck. After dessert, we settle into one of their patio chairs, usually with a blanket close at hand, and wait and watch for the big fireworks spectacle, sponsored here for years by one of our local markets. They have an excellent vantage point from which we can see it all, including the show also being staged in nearby Blaine, just up the coast and the individual efforts from the Lummi Nation across the bay.
While the colorful aerial pyrotechnics are fun to watch, it’s mostly the company of the friends and family we are with that really make the evenings fun and memorable. It’s that feeling of fellowship, of sharing a special day with people special to you, some who you may only see on this day once a year. And that’s what I remember most about this holiday. I hope your Fourth of July is equally as memorable and as full of family and friends as it is of fireworks.
Today is Memorial Day here in the U.S. It’s celebrated with family get togethers, barbeques, concerts, parades, races, car shows, about anything you can think of to bring people together. Originally, it was created to honor those who served in our nation’s military and that’s still the real reason for the holiday, which, over time, has come to mark the start of summer in most of the country. (Summer comes about a month and a half later to the Pacific Northwest.)
But in small towns across America, people still take time to salute those who served and they do it in ways that aren’t the big spectacles you find in places like Washington D.C. or our other large metropolises. To me, those small town commemorative services seem more genuine and reflect the true heart and soul of this country. Just ordinary people paying tribute to fathers, sons, uncles, aunts, mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters and cousins who gave their lives in military service to this country.
Northwest Washington state, where I live now, is nestled in a corner of the U.S. considered to be progressive politically and not so prone to an overabundance of patriotic fervor even though the state has a fair number of military bases located here. Yet we have one of the most moving Memorial Day displays I’ve ever seen.
The Festival of Flags is sponsored by the local American Legion post and a local funeral home. It takes place at noon at the Greenacres Memorial Park located in neighboring Ferndale. I only just discovered this ceremony a couple of years ago when a friend of mine mentioned that she was attending. I suspect that many local residents, like myself, still aren’t aware of it.
The three-hour event starts at noon with food and music, this year provided by the barbershop group known as the Mount Baker Toppers. The opening act is followed by a short remembrance speech delivered by a military officer from somewhere in the region. This year’s ceremony will close with the unveiling of a new World War I memorial and the release of a dove, a nod to the peace that never quite seems to last for long in today’s world.
However the true highlight of the event is the more than 1,700 American flags that flap in the wind and line the pathways of the beautiful cemetery grounds throughout the Memorial Day weekend. I went out to the cemetery two years ago just to have a look. It was the year after my Dad had died–hard to believe it’s now three years since his passing–and I felt going out to the cemetery, particularly on Memorial Day, was a way I could remember him and pay my respects since I couldn’t visit the little country cemetery in Kansas where he and my mother are buried.
Memorial Day was rainy and dreary that year. But the day brightened for me when I pulled off the road, drove through the cemetery gates and caught my first view of the red, white and blues through the rain spotted window of my car. I sat quietly in my car reflecting on the year before while hoping that the rain would let up.
Eventually it turned to a light drizzle so I grabbed my camera, hopped out and began to photograph the flags. Capturing the flags, so to speak, was a challenge. There were so many. A gentle breeze furled and unfurled the Star Spangled banners as a photographed. I pretty well had the cemetery to myself, except for a handful of people who had come early to set up for the ceremony that followed.
I walked through the forest of flags, not having to say a word to anyone, just me, my camera and, I felt, my Dad. The time was a welcome break from the usual Memorial Day madness and just what I needed to personally honor the day. Whatever you do this day, I hope you’ll find a way to personally give tribute to those you love who may have given their lives or served time in our armed forces.
When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Los Angeles nearly 21 years ago, we were Kings hockey fans. We became hockey fans when the great Wayne Gretzky took the city by storm and turned Los Angeles into a hockey town. But with the move north, we soon started attending the games in Vancouver, B.C., just 45 miles across the border and soon traded our Kings sweaters for Canucks colors.
At the time, we had three little boys, one of whom was already playing hockey and a second who began not long after we relocate. Travelling to Vancouver for a hockey game became a special family outing. The boys quickly memorized the names of all the players and, in the case of my oldest son, even recognized the referees.
Gradually, we learned the best route into downtown Vancouver where the arena is located, the places to eat before or after the game if we didn’t want stadium food, the time to leave to insure we arrived in time for the first face-off, and, most importantly, where we could park the car for without paying a hefty $20 to $30 lot fees near the arena. For a while, we took the Sky Train in and out. And after the Olympics in 2010, the adjacent neighborhoods changed bringing new restaurants, shops and traffic patterns, especially around the Olympic Village which completely revived that decaying area.
It wasn’t long before we bought season tickets located in the upper level, attacking end of the ice near the gate and up high enough so that the protective netting above the glass didn’t interfere with my camera angle. I became pretty adept at shooting the action on the ice from far away with my point-and-shoot cameras because cameras with removable lens aren’t allowed inside. One of my best shots was the one when Alex Burrows fired a game winning goal in overtime past the shoulder of the Chicago Blackhawks goalie to cinch the play-offs for the Canucks and send them to the Stanley Cup finals.
There are other memories as well. Like the New Year’s Eve we took the boys for the then traditional game against Philadelphia and stayed overnight in the Vancouver Hotel. The next morning, the boys and I snuck into one of the hotel’s ballrooms where a party from the night before was still strewn with discarded party hats that we then put on our own heads and danced around. Or the year that my youngest son’s hockey team got to come out on the ice during the first period break and play a quick ten-minute game for the home crowd. After the Canucks game, they were escorted down to the locker room waiting area where they met Matt Cook, then a rookie, who signed autographs for them. My son later had Cook’s name stamped on his Canuck’s jersey. Cook was later traded but has since retired back to Vancouver.
Of course, we won’t forget the first time that the Sedin twins from Sweden—Henrik and Daniel—first skated onto the ice to join the team. They were only 17 and celebrated their 18th birthday with a crowd of 18,000. The Sedins are now 36 and Henrik, who’s currently Captain, is the team’s all-time leading scorer.
We were there for the retirement of Markus Naslund’s number but missed the raising of Trevor Linden’s banner due to an ice storm. Our Vancouver friends got our tickets instead.
Then there are the not-so-great memories like the terrible incident with Todd Bertuzzi in 2004 who assaulted an opposing player whose injuries ended his career and Bertuzzi’s too with the Canucks. And Manny Maholtra who fans loved and who unfortunately received a serious injury to his left eye from a puck and lost significant vision. He’s now back as a Development Coach with the Canucks.
There are memories too of the crowd cheering “LOOOOOOOOU” for goalie Roberto Luongo and the standing ovation the fans gave him upon returning from the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal win in 2010. Memorable too was the moment of silence our Canadian friends respectfully paid to the U.S. when the season opened after ‘9-11.’ The sympathy we received from our seatmates who knew we drove up for the games from the States was touching and overwhelming. And the friendship we developed over the years with Terri and son, Calum, who sometimes meet us for dinner, join us for a game or take our tickets when there’s a game we must miss.
We were there for the start of traditions such as twirling white hand towels above your head during play-off games. Or laughing at the antics of the ‘green men’, covered head to toe in green skin-tight body suits. Or watching the giant Orca blimp bob high around the arena dropping prizes to fans below until one night the remote-controlled balloon dive-bombed the crowd and lost its job.
Only once did we catch one of the T-shirts propelled by an air gun into the stands by Fin, the team’s Orca mascot. Once was I caught momentarily on the big screen when the camera turned on to our section. Never did we win the 50-50 cash raffle benefitting Canucks Place, the team’s charity for critically ill children. Never did Fin stick our head into its giant tooth-lined mouth as it did with other fans although I managed to snag a photo with the oversized Orca once during a period break.
The memories will continue but the season tickets will not. At least not for now. Last night was our last game as a season ticket holder. Forty games a season is just too many for us to make with our sons no longer around to The league also has changed the scheduling so that the Canucks, who must travel further than any other NHL team, are away for long stretches then back home to play games almost back-to-back. That much back and forth for us to Vancouver is more than we can fit into our already busy lives right now.
So as much as we hate giving up those great seats, we’re not taking them again next year. We’ll still go to games to cheer on our Canucks. But won’t be there as often and may not be sitting in ‘our’ seats. For us, it’s the end of a season and the end of an era. It’s been fun. Thanks Canucks!
While sorting through some old photos yesterday, I came across a group of faded black and white 3×3 snapshots. They were photos I didn’t recall seeing before. I decided that they must had belonged to my aunt Imogene. I’m not certain how I ended up with them but they were tucked into an envelope with other, unrelated family photos.
Except for one, their reverse sides were blank. But on that one, in my aunt Imogene’s handwriting was the note: 1953 Vacation going to Bandon, Or., pictures taken at Colo. Springs Colo. That was it.
I looked more closely. I recognized my aunts Lavetta, Oleta and her husband, Joe, Imogene and her husband, Jim, and my uncle Austin. In 1953, they would have been in their 30s and late 20s. Uncle Austin might have just been back from the Korean War, as was my Uncle Joe who had already served in World War II. I am not certain that my aunt Lavetta was married yet. Were they traveling out to attend my aunt Phyllis’ wedding in Bandon, I wondered? Bandon was where my Grandma had moved after leaving Missouri where all her children were born and grew up.
How special to look back at the aunts and uncles I knew and loved. They were so young, so unaware of what was yet to come in life, having so much fun in these photos. The photos of them picnicking especially drew me in. They sat together lunching, I’d guess, at a tablecloth-covered picnic table, drinking bottles of Coca-Cola and eating fried chicken. If they were travelling, the chicken was probably cold. A bottle of ketchup stood square in the middle of table. Did they have french fries too? I would have guessed that had potato salad but ketchup didn’t fit.
I love looking at my aunts dressed in their short-sleeved cotton camp shirts tucked neatly into Capri pants. And I studied the shoes that they had kicked off to relax on a blanket that had been tossed on the grass after the picnic. They seemed in no hurry to get to their Oregon destination in these pictures.
They took time to go up the funicular at the Royal Gorge, or so it appears from one of the photos. It looks as if they stopped at the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, a 35,000-acre preserve in South Dakota where the photo of their backsides was made as they stood reading the preserve’s marker. Maybe that’s where the photo of the two married couples on the trip standing in an otherwise nondescript country was taken.
I studied the photos, trying to glean a story about their trip from them. As I did, I thought of my mother who, after retiring, spent a good portion of her time putting our family’s photos into albums and labelling many of them. It made me think why it is we take photos such as these on our various travels and what they bring and tell us when, years afterwards, we go back to look and remember those sojourns. In this case, I had only the photos from which to construct a story. How I would have liked to have asked them questions about that trip had I known about it before finding these visual memories.
My aunt’s photos made me think of my own travel photos and why I take photographs when I travel. Will my photos one day be discovered for someone else to enjoy, to relive the moment I did, to wonder how I felt, where I was going, what I did? More than just a testament that ‘I was there’, photographs like these found on a rainy Saturday can take you back in time, can cause you to revisit the day, to remember the people you love, the places they went and the fun they shared.
I had not planned to write a Christmas piece. But when I came across this photograph while working on my own Christmas cards earlier this week, I changed my mind. I intended to insert the photo into one of my brother’s Christmas cards but missed it in my haste to mail the cards.
Memories came rushing back as I was looking at this photo the other evening after discovering that I had failed to enclose it into the card. I had just taken a family portrait last week for a client prompting me to think about the importance of our own annual Christmas card photo. This was an annual event when I was growing up from my very first Christmas.
This photo is more than just my parents’ Christmas card photo that year. Many memories are bound within the borders of this one image. For instance, the photo was taken in my parents home. That door behind us led to the office of the motel co-owned and operated by my parents with my aunt and uncle. I spent the first 16 years of my life living in at a motel. I never gave a thought to the fact that other kids didn’t live in a place that had ten guest rooms and a black top courtyard where my brother and I and my best friend from across the street played baseball games, held parades and rode around bikes round and round the evergreen tree that grew in a center planter.
The green satin dress that I’m wearing was made by my Aunt Marie, an excellent seamstress as well as cook. I wore it in the wedding for a young Japanese couple–Aikio an Sojii–who were exchange students at the local community college and who were married in the Washington Avenue Methodist Church in town. I, along with my friend, Dru, were the candle-lighters.
The older of my two brothers, Richard, standing by my mother, was the ring bearer to Dru’s sister’s flower girl. The suit and bow tie he wears was what he wore for the wedding too, maybe minus the white socks. This photo also shows how much my brother’s son resembles him. I have seen that similar look in my nephew.
The toddler on my mother’s lap is my younger brother, Brad. On the reverse of the actual photo, my mother had written: “Leon Crooks family – 12/64.” Brad was nine months old. My Dad took him into the studio and made a New Year’s baby picture of him wearing only a big smile a diaper and holding a bell. I am reminded how much my youngest son looked like him when he was that age. The picture is still one of my favorites and I have a small wallet-sized print of it on display in my home.
That rocking chair my mother is seated in was her Mother’s Day gift. We had put a big yellow bow and ribbon on it, I remember, and surprised her with it after church that day. But when we came home, we learned that our prize-winning white Persian cat, Prince, who had one blue eye and one brown, had been run over and killed by a car. It turned out that Prince was deaf, a defect often found in Persian cats with eyes of different color. I will never forget that Mother’s Day. I suspect my Mom didn’t either.
The print hanging on the wall behind my mother is one my Dad took of me sitting in Swope Park in Kansas City when I was four years old. He entered and earned a merit with it in competition in his professional photographer’s association. I still own that print.
The big television behind us was a popular model at the time made by the now defunct RCA company. Besides the ‘big screen’ television, it housed a stereo turntable on one end with the control panel hidden on the other. No one makes anything like these electronic dinosaurs anymore.
And I couldn’t overlook the fashion statement of my Mom and Dad’s clothing. Although her fashion budget was tight and limited, my Mom always looked stylish. I can’t see enough detail in the dress she’s wearing here to know for certain, but I bet she had purchased it at either Stephen’s Women’s Wear, the ‘upscale’ women’s clothing store in my hometown at the time, or Lane’s, which occupied a big retail space across the street from my Dad’s studio downtown on Main Street.
My Dad, of course, is wearing one of his signature bow ties. My brother’s bow tie is undoubtedly a clip on, but my Dad wore nothing but the real deal. When he passed away two years ago, those of us from the family attending his funeral, including myself, decided to each wear one of his bow ties as a nod to his trademark. Unfortunately, he had never taught any of us how to tie a bow tie. We had to find someone to show us how to execute the bow tie knot just hours before his service. Fortunately, one of my family’s lifelong friends, Pete Hughes, came to our rescue. I now can tie one on with the best of them. Also note the handkerchief nicely folded and peeking from his coat pocket. How often do you see that today?
Finally, since my Dad is in the photo, he obviously wasn’t the one tripping the shutter for this picture. I am certain that he had placed the camera on a tripod and had asked my aunt Marie, a pretty good amateur photographer, to press the shutter for him. Marie was often recruited for this task.
Your annual Christmas card photo may appear to be merely an image, but the picture truly is, to coin an old, time-worn phrase, ‘worth a thousand words.’ I’ve written nearly a thousand words here inspired by this singular photo when I had not planned to write anything this Christmas holiday. The photo unexpectedly stirred memories of wonderful times with my family. And that, is a gift in itself. My wish for you is that you too will create future memories with a family photo of your own this holiday season.
My husband and I were married 40 years ago today in what was once the First Baptist Church in Phoenix, Az. Today, the former church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I like to think that it’s because we were married there that it ended up on the registry.
We chose (mostly I did), to say our vows there because it was where my parents had been married in the same church. Although many couples are often wed in the same church as their parents, especially if they live in the same town, neither my parents nor I was from Phoenix. At the time of our weddings, we just happened to find ourselves in that city.
In my parents case, my Dad, who had recently returned from World War II, was on the road with a trailer full of greyhound dogs. His oldest sister and brother-in-law raced greyhounds and travelled the country going from dog track to dog track. When my Dad came home, he was “in pretty bad shape,” as he said. My aunt Nola and uncle Paul gave him a job as a trainer to help him put his life back together. It meant hauling their greyhounds around the country to wherever the season was open. But before leaving his hometown of Parsons, Ks., one of my Dad’s other sisters, Gail introduced him to a girl with whom she worked with at the First Federal Savings and Loan and who she thought was “just right” for my Dad. Her intuition was good and, as my Dad liked to put it: “I knew she was the girl for me.” In fact, just two weeks after they met, my Dad told his new girlfriend that if she didn’t marry him he’d rejoin the Army. Then he left with the dogs.
When he got to Phoenix, where there was a big greyhound dog track, he asked his sweetheart to come marry him there. What a big decision for my Mom. Not only had she never traveled much further than Parsons from her tiny hometown of Verona, Mo., but she barely knew my Dad. She must have known he was the one for her too as she, then 25, and her oldest sister, Oleta, drove together to Phoenix. Soon after they arrived, the young couple was married in the chapel of the First Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix that stood at the corner of Monroe and Third Avenue. They were married 65 years, until my Mother died in 2012.
Twenty-nine years later, Michael and I stood in the same church before a small group of friends and family to exchange our vows. I was working in Phoenix as a journalist, first as an intern for the Arizona Republic, then as an arts editor for the Scottsdale newspaper where my husband, Michael, also a journalist, and I met.
When we decided to marry, we choose to do so in Phoenix where we had friends in common and where my extended family lived. My parents once again traveled from Kansas to Phoenix for a wedding. By then, the church had vacated the building and had moved to another location. The City of Phoenix now owned it and housed some offices inside . The main sanctuary was no longer in use except for an occasional large meeting. The organ was gone and the altar had been removed. We obtained special permission to hold our ceremony there.
The sanctuary was thoroughly cleaned before we began decorating the aisles and front with the holly sent to me by my aunt Imogene in Oregon, her gift for my December wedding. The organ was removed when the church left so for music, the arts editor of the Arizona Republic, where Michael was now working, gave us a string quartet for our ceremony. We hired a minister, someone I had recently interview for an article, and was set.
Although I don’t know for certain, ours was probably the last wedding to take place in that church. The city continued to use it for offices for while after, but in 1984, a massive fire took the roof and gutted the interior. It remained structurally sound but threatened with demolition, a non-profit organization, headed by Terry Goddard a former Phoenix major and state attorney general, bought and saved it in 1992. Twenty-two years later, they had the money necessary to restore it. Now, with the rehab just completed this September, it is being marketed to businesses for commercial use.
The church is now called the “Monroe Abbey” and is an imposing structure in downtown Phoenix. Built in 1929, its Italian Gothic style, designed by George Merrill, is architecturally significant in a city otherwise dominated by Spanish style architecture. “There’s no other building like it in the Valley,” Dan Klocke, vice president of development at Downtown Phoenix Inc. has said. “Because of its scale and its uniqueness, it could potentially attract a lot of visitors to downtown.”
A tenant already occupies the hallowed halls of a smaller adjacent church dubbed Grace Chapel, which is connected to Monroe Abbey but wasn’t structurally damaged in the fire. Others have leased space elsewhere within the huge 40,000 square foot interior.
For those closest to the project, the resurrection of the building represents more than just saving an old church, according to Downtown Phoenix Inc.“There’s a tremendous amount of flavor and place making and just a sense of who we are, where we’ve come from that is embodied in these buildings,” Goddard has said. “I think it’s tragic when they’re lost and I think whenever we can hold onto one of the monuments of the past – that’s something we should do.”
As advocates ourselves for the preservation of historic structures, we couldn’t be more delighted that the place where we and my parents were wedded has been given new life. It reopened this year and it’s the best 40th anniversary gift we could receive.
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving holiday this week by gathering with family and friends around tables set for a meal full of family favorites and traditional foods. The menu typically includes a turkey, cranberries and pie. The pie, considered to be the most traditional American dessert, is usually pumpkin, apple or pecan.
My mother was the principal pie maker at our house: banana cream, lemon meringue, cherry, apple, rhubarb, pecan and, of course, pumpkin at Thanksgiving. When my mother’s dementia became so advanced that she could no longer live at home with my father, she moved to a care home. That left my father at home alone and without her there, he became the pie maker. I remembered this the other day when I pulled out a package of pecans to chop and add to a batch of pumpkin pancakes.
My Dad loved to stop on the drive between my hometown and a neighboring town to pick up bags of pecans, freshly picked from the nearby grove. He’d freeze the shelled nuts in plastic storage bags for later keeping out just enough for the pies that he planned to make for Thanksgiving. I was home one year when he was baking his pecan pies for the upcoming holiday dinner.
“You don’t know how to make a pecan pie?” he said surprised when I admitted that I had never made one. “Oh, it’s easy,” he said confidently.
He assembled his ingredients from the shelves in my parents small kitchen–corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and of course the pecans. One by one he poured each amount into plastic measuring cups then stirred the filling together in the large green Pyrex mixing bowl. He took the two pie shells that I had bought at the store earlier out of their packages and set them next to the bowl of filling.
My mother always made her crusts from scratch. She wouldn’t have approved of the pre-made crusts. Her crusts were light and flaky because, as she explained, she avoided handling the dough as much as possible. As a kid, I watched many times as she gathered the crumbly flour and shortening mixture into a small ball wetting it lightly with tablespoons of water so that it would adhere. She’d lift it carefully onto the big wooden cutting board and gently pass her red-handled rolling-pin over and over it until she had flattened it into a circle. Then again, ever so gingerly, she eased it into the waiting glass pie pan that had been greased so it wouldn’t stick when baked.
For my Dad, the store-bought crusts were fine. Easier and less mess, he thought. And they came with their own aluminum foil pans which my Dad thought were great. I found this was funny given how much he took pride in his pies.
After scooping the soupy butterscotch-colored filling into the pie crusts he began putting on the final touches. One by one, my Dad delicately laid pecan after pecan around the perimeter of the pie top with his thick, aged fingers, until the entire pie was covered with floating pecans. He placed each piece precisely and with love. Now to transfer the unbaked pies onto the cookie sheets, being careful not to slop any of the contents in the process. Mindfully, my Dad slid each sheet into the heated oven.
“See, simple,” my Dad said once the pies were safely on the oven rack. It was a pie-baking lesson I’ve never forgotten. This was more than simple; this was precious time spent with my Dad, in the last years of his life, creating a fond memory that I now think of gratefully especially as Thanksgiving approaches.
I hope that as you sit down with your family and friends that you too will recall memories like my own to bring you joy, laughter, tears, love and most of all gratitude.
I only remember seeing my Dad cry twice. Once was at the funeral of my Mother, to whom he was married 65 years. The other was when he stood with my son and I at the American cemetery at Anzio, Italy.
When my Dad was 80-years-old, I took him, along my oldest son, Matthew, then 14-years-old, and my cousin, Claudette, on a trip to Italy. It was the first time my Dad had returned to Italy since there as a young, 22-year-old American GI. That trip was no pleasure visit and came right at the height of the Italian campaign of World War II.
My Dad’s first stop was in Sicily when the 5th Army and his 45th Division invaded that large island. Next came Salerno and Paestum. Soldiers climbed down the sides of the ships carrying the troops into the landing craft that would ferry them to the beaches just south of Salerno. Regarded as the D-Day invasion of Italy, my Dad once recalled how scary it was to climb down the rope nets into the boats bobbing below. He never talked about how terrified he must have been bouncing across the water, knowing what was to come once the gate of the landing craft dropped, exposing him and his men to heavy enemy fire from on shore. The Allies lost 2,009 soldiers at Salerno, another 7,050 were wounded and 3,501 missing. He would make one more landing after Salerno, at the invasion of Southern France. I can’t imagine how he did it.
During his trip back to Italy, the one thing my Dad wanted to do was to visit the “American cemetery.” After stopping at cemeteries in Salerno and Monte Cassino, we learned that the American fallen were buried at Anzio. We added Anzio to the itinerary.
We rented a car and drove from Rome to Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, near the beachhead where the Battle of Anzio took place. There are 7,800 buried here, another 3,100 names are listed on the Wall of the Missing. On the way in, we stopped at the office where a caretaker on duty gave us a pamphlet and told my Dad where he could find the grave of a friend’s uncle who had been killed when parachuting into the battle.
Together, we walked through the rows and rows of white markers. My Dad stood silently and shook his head. “I’ve never understood,” he said, “why I came home and they didn’t.” Tears rolled down his cheek. He turned away and walked off, my son followed. They paused, long enough for me to capture a photo, in one of the rows while my Dad tried to regain his composure.
Veteran’s Day in this country is November 11. This year, it is preceded by Election Day on November 8. My Dad’s birthday is November 21. My Dad passed away two years ago. If he were still alive, I am sure he would be disgusted by the campaigns being waged this election. But he would vote. He would vote not only because he deeply believed it was his patriotic duty, just as serving his country in World War II was, but also for all those who didn’t return from the War as he did.
No matter your political persuasions, I hope you’ll vote this Election Day. If not for yourself, for my Dad and all those who gave their lives like those buried at Anzio, who we honor on Veteran’s Day for they are the true ‘silent majority.’
Read more about my Dad’s service record here, written by my brother Brad, and create a page for your own service member. I’ve also written about my Dad’s military service in previous blog postings. You can click on the following links to read those in case you missed them: http://bit.ly/2edw57z and http://bit.ly/2eCZyGu.
A friend of mine was telling me the other day that she was going to be the fortune-teller at the Halloween Festival at her son’s school. I smiled and then recalled to her my own sons’ Halloween Festivals when they were in public elementary school in Los Angeles.
I had just come across some photos that I had taken at those festivals so they were fresh on my mind. In fact, I’ve written about the festivals before. Here’s a link to take you there in case you missed it: http://wp.me/p2ohfO-4BE.
Ours wasn’t an elaborate festival but simple, old-fashioned fun with games handcrafted by parent volunteers that provided entertainment for the kids. Many of them had been designed in coordination with the teachers (an amazingly talented bunch). In addition to the fun they provided, the games actually taught the kids something about chance and probability, physics, calculation or science. That aspect didn’t necessarily register on the kids, of course, but they still had to use some of the skills and thinking processes associated with those academic areas in order to play the games.
Parents too had a great time. The festival, held on a Saturday before Halloween, drew families to the school to create a true sense of community within the larger Los Angeles school district, one of the largest, in fact, in the country. This served us well when the Northridge earthquake–measured at 6.4–rocked our school which was located near the epicenter of the quake. Although our school–Calahan Elementary–miraculously didn’t sustain the greatest damage, student enrollment dropped by nearly 100 overnight when families homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged so badly that they could no longer live and work in them.
The Halloween Festival had built a true caring spirit for the school and families who were part of it. When those students disappeared from our school, their absence left a huge hole and psychologically difficult for the students who remained. When the district then wanted to move two of our teachers because the school population had shrunk, the entire school rallied in an effort to prevent that action. Our protests wound up as front page news of the Los Angeles Times and resulted in our teachers remaining at the school until things could be stabilized.
That kind of ‘togetherness’ is a lesson from which our country’s current political environment benefit. Calahan had at least 18 different home languages with kids whose families came from all over the world. The Halloween Festival, in particular, did more to break down any cultural, political or language barriers that existed between us because it took all of us parents, working together, to make it happen. Everyone had something to contribute and contribute they did. Now, years later, students, teachers and parents keep in touch through our school group Facebook page or e-mail. And Calahan kids who have come after us, often ask to join just because they too have a fondness for the school. It truly was an exception in a district where schools were mostly detached from those who attended them and from each other.
While Halloween is a scary holiday for some, for me and the kids who grew up at Calahan Elementary, it conjures up sweet memories of fun and family. I hope it will do the same for my friend.
I don’t remember the World Series taking place in October when I was a kid except for the time that my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, let the class listen to one of the games of the series during class. Maybe the entire school got to listen to it as the radio came through a speaker above the blackboard and was controlled from the principal’s office by Gordon Huggins. I only recall one other time when the radio came on during class other than for general school announcements, and that was to deliver the sad news that President Kennedy had been assassinated.
I’m not exactly certain why that particular World Series broadcast was played in our classroom but for me it was a signficant series because it was the classic LA Dodgers against the NY Yankees. I was a pin-striped Yankee fan, which you may consider curious because I grew up in the middle of country in Kansas. But it was because of my Uncle Joe that I loved the Yanks.
My uncle had grown up in New York City and was serious baseball fan. In fact, he was the one who taught me to love the game and who spent time tossing the ball back and forth with me, teaching me how to throw not only a softball but a hardball. I knew all the players on the field at the time–Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek and Joe Pepitone (my favorite because he played first base), and one other who honestly I can’t remember now.
My brother, Richard, and I spent countless afternoon after school and on the weekend playing baseball games in the black-topped parking area of my parents’ motel, where we grew up, or in the grassy, V-shaped vacant lot next door to my Aunt Marie and Uncle Dale’s home. I would lay out the batting line up with my frayed-edge baseball cards for whatever teams we would be pretending to be at the time. Then, the two of us would take turns at bat while the other pitched, fielded and played the bases. Sometimes, friends would join us for a game of ‘work-’em up’. Wonder if kids today still play baseball that way, rotating around the positions to ‘work up’ to bat.
For a girl, especially in the pre-Title 9 days, I was a pretty darn good. It helped that I was a tomboy and had some natural athletic ability. My early vacant lot training days served me well when I started to play first base or pitch on my church softball summer teams as a teenager. I still have a little scar on my knee from the night that I slid into first base and was called safe. I even have a trophy, now broken and stowed in a box somewhere, from the summer my team won the church league championship. And I recently found in my parents’ possessions, the well-worn ball glove that I used although I replaced it with a newer, better mitt.
When I lived in Arizona, I played on my newspaper staff’s slow pitch softball team in the city league. I think I covered first base. My husband, to whom I wasn’t married at the time, was on the pitcher’s mound. We made a pretty good team even then. He likes to tell the story of when I first stepped up to home plate how the outfield moved in, seeing a young woman at bat. But after I lobbed one way behind their heads, they never came in again.
Later, as an adult living in Los Angeles, I organized a Sunday afternoon pick-up softball game with friends and their families that played regularly at a local park. We started with just a couple of youngsters, but, over time, we added several more as our families grew. One friend of mine likes to point out how all the new additions were boys. We continued to play for several years, gathering afterwards for beers and pizza. Those Sunday afternoons are some of my fondest memories now.
Through the years, I’ve become less of a baseball fan. I frankly always enjoyed playing the game more than watching it. I have lost track of who now plays for “my team” although I still wear my Yankee cap whenever I attend a Mariners-Yankee game even risking beer being ‘accidentally’ spilled on me by an annoying Seattle fan.
While I no longer glue myself to the transistor radio or TV for the World Series, I like the feel of the fans’ excitement and thrill when their team makes it to finals. This year, especially, since two classic teams will take to the field. Though I’m not a Cubs fan, I’m rooting for them, like so many others, to win the pennant. Seventy-one years is a long time to wait to make it to the World Series. I hope somewhere, kids sitting in that elementary school classroom get to watch or listen to the game.
A company called Light is introducing a new compact camera that uses new technology. They enlisted some photographers to mention it in their blogs and to write about one of their favorite locations to shoot or a unique spot in their city. I was one of those contacted for Light’s #VantagePoint project.
A request like this isn’t easy for me because I have so many favorite spots and so many favorite images that I’ve created over the years. But I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to you about one of my favorite local subjects (besides the people I photograph). And that is Bellingham’s old City Hall building, now part of the Whatcom County Museum of Art.
It’s an iconic building in town and safe to say probably the most photographed in Bellingham. Completed in 1892, it served as the town’s official city hall until 1939 when new offices were built and the museum moved in.
The noble red-brick and Chuckanut sandstone structure was designed by local architect Alfred Lee in the Second Empire style of Victorian architecture. According to the City’s website, is “currently one of this style’s most exquisite example in the Pacific Northwest. This building epitomizes the general characteristics of this French inspired style, which are tall, bold and purposely three-dimensional. Some of the design elements are also an eclectic mixture of the Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival style.” It includes a high mansard roof, classical columns on either side of the main entrance, and a prominent, central bell tower, all of which draw the photographer’s eye.
I have photographed the building, or elements of it, from a variety of spots, angles, times of day and year. It has been the setting for many of my senior portrait sessions and the choice of seniors who want their portrait to reflect something uniquely Bellingham. And I’ve used a variety of cameras over the years from my Mamiya RB67 and Nikon F5 film cameras, to my digital Nikon D700s to (yes,) my cell phone cameras. It all depends upon what I may happen to have with me or what I’m using at the moment. The images included in this post were taken on all of these various cameras.
The building now houses part of the museum’s collection and its spacious Rotunda Room is frequently the site for concerts, including the Bellingham Festival of Music‘s popular free lunch-time chamber concerts. I even photographed one of those this past summer.
When you visit Bellingham, which I hope you’ll do one day, be sure to stop by the old City Hall. It’s likely to be as memorable for you as it has been for many photographers and visitors before you.
I’ve not seen or tried out the new Light camera but according to the company’s website, the camera, Light L16, is sold out until 2017. You can check it out yourself.
Birthday surprises usually come in the form of parties or gifts. I’ve received both. But last year for my birthday, I was surprised to learn about a new relative. And fortunately, it came as a welcomed surprise.
The news arrived not with someone standing on my door, but in the form of a large mailing envelope sent from Sweden. I immediately recognized the return address as that of Bo, cousin to my aunt Marie who was married to my father’s brother, Dale. I’ve known Bo nearly my entire life. His family and my own have become like extended family. I spend time with them whenever I go to Sweden, as I did earlier this summer.
When I opened the envelope from Bo, I expected to find a birthday card, but was surprised to find much more. Inside was a letter that read: “As you are very like Pippi Longstocking in many ways there is some connection to her in you I must say…As the author Astrid Lindgren who wrote the book is a kind of relative to your mother.” Along with the letter was a family tree linking my mother to the Swedish author as a fourth cousin. My mother’s fourth cousin?
What a discovery! Astrid Lindgren is one of Sweden’s most treasured authors. Her books about the freckled-faced, pig-tailed girl, Pippi Longstocking, has become a children’s classic throughout the world. Her books have been translated into 70 languages and made into several films and television series. There is even an Astrid Lindgren’s World, a children’s theme park and a popular family destination located outside Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby.
Lindgren herself was honored last year when her picture was placed on the 20 Swedish kronor, replacing that of another beloved Swedish children’s writer, Selma Lagerlöf. Bo had enclosed one of the freshly printed bills inside my letter. In addition, Lindgren and the characters from her books became the subject of a set of shiny silver commemorative coins. One of these, along with the folder with spots for the other coins, I also found in Bo’s package. I want to collect the entire set.
Having learned about my Lindgren connection, I of course made it a priority on my recent trip, to visit Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby where she was born, where she is buried and where Pippi’s adventures are set. It was a part of my trip to which I was most looking forward.
I drove into Vimmerby mid-afternoon on a Saturday. It was only a 48 minute drive inland from Vastervik, where my husband and I had disembarked from the Gotland ferry. The shops in Vimmerby’s town square had closed at two o’clock. I would not buy any Pippi Longstocking souvenirs to carry home. We strolled into the charming square, empty except for a handful of visitors like ourselves.
At one end of the square sat the old, mustard-colored Town Hall and opposite is a lovely hotel with patio tables on the porch. In the center of the square, near the hotel, are several small play structures taken from Lindgren’s books: a sailing ship,a cottage, Kindergarten-sized children were crawling in and out and climbing up and down in delight.
On the other side of the square, nearer the Town Hall, is a life-size sculpture of my famous cousin sitting at desk with a typewriter. It felt a little odd to meet my newly found relative in this way, but was quite an honor at the same time.
I next sought out her resting place in the neatly kept, hilltop cemetery. Thanks to some local residents, I found her gravestone, alongside that of her parents and sister. It was a simple stone for such a celebrated figure, quite humble and unassuming. I wondered if it reflected her personality in life.
As we walked back through the streets of Vimmerby we noted the spots where Pippi and her sidekick, Tommy, had their adventures. Then we headed out to the Lindgren family home, where Astrid was born and lived as a child. The little house is located on a farm known as Näs in Vimmerby. It stands exactly as it was when Astrid grew up there, having been restored by Lindgren herself. Tours of the house are available almost daily except when closed for the winter from mid-December until March. Unfortunately, we arrived after hours. Had someone been around I might have told them that I was a ‘cousin’ from the U.S., in hopes that they would take pity on me and allow me inside.
Also on the property, owned by the city of Vimmerby, stands a modern glass-walled exhibition hall where her life and achievements are displayed. But again, we were too late and unable to go in. I was disappointed but until only a year ago, I didn’t even know that the woman remembered here was even remotely related to me. Now that I do, I will return the next trip to see both the house and the museum.
Back in Stockholm, three long, large banners hung down from the city’s concert hall. On two of the red banners were the words: Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with the name and image of the winning author—Meg Rosoff—printed on the center banner. The award is presented annually to presented to authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and reading promoters to honor her memory and promote interest in children’s and young adult literature. It is the largest such literature award in the world.
Lindgren’s apartment in Stockholm where she lived for 61 years, is also open for tours but reservations must be made in advance. Even though we were unable to secure reservations, Bo accompanied me to apartment. The apartment itself looks out over a large park, Vasa Park, bustling with children. Lindgren would be pleased, I’m sure, to hear their gleeful shrieks and young laughter outside her window.
Next time I visit Sweden, I will return to these places for an inside tour. For now, however, I have the commemorative coins Bo sent to me and the 20 kronor bills that I collected and carried home to share with my family. How many people can say that their cousin appears on their national money? What a birthday surprise that was!
I wasn’t a kayaker in 1984. I had never sat in a kayak, never seen a kayak (except on TV), and didn’t know the first thing about paddling one. It wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest that I became a passionate paddler.
Likewise for rowing. Growing up in the Midwest, rowing just wasn’t the sport that it was on the coasts even though my youngest brother was on a crew team for Washburn University which had and still does have a respectable rowing team. I never had the opportunity to watch a race firsthand.
Canoeing was something I may have tried once or twice as a kid on a lake with my Girl Scout troop or vacationing with my family somewhere. But I have little memory of it so the experience must not have been impressive.
Given my extensive background in each of these sports, I seemed the natural choice to be the reporter to cover those events for TIME Magazine when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. Once again, my home location then, on the north side of the San Fernando Valley, proved to be to my advantage. To me, this was plum assignment. I had to drive every day during the competition up to the Ojai Valley, about 90 minutes north, to Lake Casitas Lake where the kayaking, rowing and canoeing events were staged. The drive was relatively traffic free as I whizzed up the north side of the Valley and cut across to the 101 freeway to head on up towards Santa Barbara and Ojai.
Traffic during the ’84 Olympics was one of the big fear factors. People were urged to work from home, to stagger their work hours if they had to go into the office, to take the time off and go to the Olympics in order to help minimize clogged freeways. In fact, many Angelenos left town, renting out their homes to Olympic ticket holders and cashing in on the demand for housing. So the dreaded deadlock on the freeways and city streets never materialized. In fact, it was some of the fastest-flowing traffic that I could remember in all the years that I lived in that car-loving city.
The athletes competing in the Lake Casitas events were located in the Olympic Village in Santa Barbara. Initially, many of the teams complained that the distance between the Village and their venue was too far. But those concerns too soon vanished as people settled in and began to enjoy both the venue and the trip there.
As I wrote for TIME: “The site itself inspired festivity. Bright, Olympic pink roadside banners mark the two-lane highway as spectators near the north short venue. The spectator viewing area is bursting with vivid color. More than 31,000 annuals, marigold and petunias were trucked in and planted along with several sycamore and alder trees to create park-like setting. Spectators spread their blankets on a grassy knoll where they have apanoramic view of the 2,700 acre lake.”
To the athletes, it was, as then Olympic rowing commissioner Barry Berkus put it: “almost like a resort.” Because their primary quarters was located 28 miles away, a mini-village was created at the sight that overlooked the lake complete with a pool built especially for them.
The big names on the U.S. rowing team that everyone was pinning medal hopes upon were John Bigelow from Seattle. Bigelow’s chance for a medal chances was washed away by Finland’s powerful Pertti Karppinen but Brad Lewis from Los Angeles and his partner, Paul Enquist, also of Seattle, considered ‘dark horses’ surprised many by taking the gold in their doubles race. All three rowers figure prominently in journalist and author David Halberstam‘s masterful book about the ’84 men’s eight row team, “The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal.” I recently read Halberstam’s book, right after having finished another good book about the sport, “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown. Both are excellent books, set in different time periods (Brown’s takes place before and up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and detailing the drama behind the dream.
But it was the women’s eight who thrilled the crowd by taking the first gold medal in for the U.S. in that event. Champagne flowed. Fans cheered. Autographs were signed. As I overheard one observer say: “How things have changed in rowing. They’re getting autographs. It used to be lucky to get anyone to come.”
Indeed, the sport of rowing has grown even more popular. In 1981-82, only 43 NCAA schools had women’s rowing teams. Today, that number has more than tripled to 143, including Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I live. Over the years, I’m proud to say that several members of the women’s Division II championship crew teams have worked with me as my studio assistant.
As for the ’84 Olympic teams, the U.S. took home eight medals tying with Romania, one of the only Eastern bloc countries to participate in those Summer Games. In fact, the Romanians took home more gold medals in rowing than any other country. They also cleaned up collecting ‘gold’ onshore from spectators as they sold Romanian t-shirts and model wooden shells to earn money to buy and take back with them stereo sound components.
Lake Casitas is again vying for to be the venue for the Olympics in 2024 if Los Angeles is selected in what would be the 40th year reunion of the Olympic Games. If it’s successful, I might see you there!
American swimmer Michael Phelps is making a big splash at this year’s Olympic games but at the 1984 Olympics it was a water polo player named Terry Schroeder and the men’s Olympic water polo team who were catching the eye of fans, especially female fans.
That year, the men’s water polo team was anticipated to take the gold medal and I was assigned by TIME Magazine to cover their games. The assignment had nothing to do with my knowledge of the sport, which was zero at the time, but everything to do with its proximity to where I lived. I simply was closest to where the water polo events were being played, at Pepperdine University‘s pool in Malibu.
I had only to drive over Malibu Canyon Rd or Topanga Canyon Road from my home in the San Fernando Valley, drop down to the ocean side town and make my way to the pool that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. From my spot in the stands, I watched the men’s team battle it out each day while I got a good tan and enjoyed the view, both in the pool and beyond.
Water polo, which has grown in popularity in the U.S. since then, was largely dominated by European teams at the time. But the ‘84 American team played in a style that was said to be ‘revolutionizing’ the sport. As then coach Monte Nitzkowski explained to me, they borrowed a lot of their technique from American basketball and football to make their playing look “creative and instinctive.” That, plus the fact that they were fast and highly mobile, put their chances for winning the gold medal better than in any previous Olympic Games. (Sadly, Nitzkowski just died recently on July 28 at age 86.)
But while their athleticism was exciting, their physiques were, how to put it, well quite explicitly, ‘hot.’ The poster of the 16-man team posed poolside instantly sold out its first run of 10,000 with two additional printings equally as popular. The team had to set up a special toll-free number just to handle the order requests. And the poster, along with my reporting about it, appeared in TIME’s People section of the magazine.
Sculptor Robert Graham, was also struck by the water polo players’ perfect physiques. He selected one of them–Terry Schroeder–to pose for the giant sculpture of a headless male figure, very controversial at the time, that towered before the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies took place. The model’s identity was to have been a secret, but somehow it was disclosed that Schroeder had been chosen.
Water polo‘s a fast game, one that demands an excellent backstroke, strong legs to propel the player up and out of the water with the ‘eggbeater’ kick in order to pass the ball to teammates and speed to out swim the opponents when attacking the goal. I had to be a quick study to learn the basics of the game and understand the qualities that made the players so good. It helped that I was, and still am, a swimmer myself. Despite expectations, the 1984 team lost in the finals to Yugoslavia to capture the silver instead of the gold medal.
This year’s Olympics’ men’s water polo team didn’t make it through to the Quarter Finals but the women’s team (which didn’t exist in 1984) will be playing this week as they advanced in the competition. Although a difficult game to watch on television as much of the action occurs underwater, tune in and I think you too will discover how exciting the game is and just how strong and skilled the players must be.
The 1984 mens team captured the imagination and eye of America’s Olympic fans across the country and no doubt, raised the awareness for the sport. And, I’m pleased to say, I watched it happen while reporting on them for the magazine.
With the Summer Olympics set to open on August 5, I thought it might be fun to write a couple of posts about the year that I covered the Summer Games as part of TIME magazine’s staff. I was reminded of that summer after receiving my copy of this week’s TIME with the Summer Olympics on the cover.
TIME was still a major media force and a far heftier magazine in 1984 than it is now. (Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s current managing editor is doing a terrific job with it.) The proliferation of the Internet as an immediate source of news and information, has eclipsed the magazine’s role as a definitive news outlet that served to ‘wrap up’ and put into perspective the week’s worth of news and current events. It still fills this purpose but not nearly to the degree that it did in 1984 when the Summer Olympics descended upon Los Angeles.
You may remember that the ’84 Olympics had its share of controversy too. Four years earlier, the U.S. and 65 other countries had boycotted the Games held in Moscow over protest of the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan (how things do change). In response, the Soviet Union and 14 Eastern bloc countries refused to send its athletes to Los Angeles in ’84.
I was reporting from the Los Angeles bureau of the magazine, whose ranks numbered about 7 or 8 full-time staffers, nearly an equal number of full-time stringers, and a handful of L.A.-based photographers, including one staff photographer, who were called in for assignments. When the Olympics came to town, those numbers swelled with additional editors, reporters and writers imported from the New York office as well as a couple of correspondents who specialized in sports coverage.
Each publication was given a limited number of press passes and tickets for the Games, not nearly enough to cover every event. Whatever the magazine lacked in ‘press’ tickets, it had to purchase like everyone else. And though we may have had a media pass to give us access behind-the-scenes, we sat with the rest of the spectators wherever our seats were located during the event itself. Our vantage point was that of crowd’s.
For the most part, our assignments were divided up according to either one’s knowledge of a particular sport or the location of our home. The top events were assigned to either one of the New York sports writers or one of the bureau’s senior correspondents. Because of where I was living at the time, I ended up with four water sports–rowing, canoeing, kayaking and water polo.
I knew next to nothing about any of these sports and so had to do some ‘crash course’ learning to bring myself up to speed about what I was to be covering. TIME actually prided itself then on being able to plop down its reporters wherever news was breaking and have them cover the given event as well, if not better, than anyone else. (One reason, perhaps, that I became the L.A. bureau’s medical reporter even though I had a college degree was in music.) Becoming an overnight expert of sorts in these four sports was not only essential to doing the job, it was required.
Before the ’84 games, I had never heard of an ‘egg-beater’ kick, knew what was meant by ‘fours’ and ‘pairs’ or had never seen a crew team compete even though my youngest brother had been on a college crew team. I did what I could to quickly become versed in these sports so that when I headed out to my venues, I knew what to watch for.
We were given our press packets, lanyard with our media pass attached, and various other media materials and dispersed to our various locations. Filing our reports was much different from it is today, as well. Some of had desktop computers, but there were no laptops, cell phones or other mobile devices on which we could instantaneously write our files and send them off to the editorial office in New York. We had to return to a desk somewhere to write and send our files. I, no doubt, returned to the office in my newly purchased home, where I probably wrote my reports upon the dinosaur of a desktop computer.
Covering the Olympics was without question one of the high points of my career as a journalist. Never had I dreamed as a young reporter that I would or could one day be chasing down world-class athletes for a ‘telling quote’ or asking the King of Sweden if he pleased with his country’s team’s performance, or getting close-up access to Olympic events. But it was all part of the job.
Technology has vastly changed the way we watch the Olympics today. With ‘streaming’ videos, blogging, live 24-hour broadcasting, the mainstream media, like TIME, has scrambled to find new ways of covering the Games. With all the issues surrounding the host country this year, as well as controversial athletes who have been barred from participating, some of the lustre and thrill of the Games themselves have perhaps been diminished. For most of us, however, the heart and spirit of the Olympics remain in athletes themselves who train for lifetime, who dedicate themselves to reaching the highest level of their sport, who sacrifice other pursuits just for the chance to represent their country and wear its uniform in the Olympic Games.
Summers in the Puget Sound area, where I live, don’t officially start, weather-wise, until July 13, according to local meteorologists. But in Bellingham, summers begin when the musicians from around the country arrive for the Bellingham Festival of Music. That happened last week.
The Festival, now in its 23rd season from July 1-17, is one of the things that I look forward to every summer. In fact, the Festival is one of the amenities that attracted us and ultimately convinced us to move to Bellingham. It must be a draw for the musicians too as every summer, 44 musicians from major orchestras across the U.S. and Canada (plus additional players as needed) assemble here to play two weeks worth of some of the most beautiful music in the world. We like to think that they are also playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
It all begins with a welcoming picnic for the musicians, conductor Micheal Palmer, the chorus members, sponsors and the families who host the musicians in their homes during their stay. This year’s picnic took place at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal which offers a terrific view of the Bay and Bellingham. It’s an ideal spot for returning and new musicians to meet this year’s Festival board members, local sponsors and the home hosts.
The potluck picnic, provided by the Festival Board member and volunteers, is tasty and plentiful. Following appetizers and drinks, with local prize-winning microbrewery Boundary Bay serving up some of its finest beers, the picnickers head off to the buffet table and dinner. Afterwards, this year’s Board Chair, Karen Berry, officially opened the season by introducing maestro Michael Palmer who, in turn, introduced this year’s team of musicians.
Section by section, starting with the first violins of course, the musicians took their turn at the podium to share with the evening’s guests their answers to the question: “What was your most embarrassing moment as a musician?” There were some great ones: insects falling onto instruments and being flung into the audience, missed cues, parts of bassoons falling out during performances, women’s undergarments landing on violin scrolls during a Tom Jones’ show, auditions that turned out well despite mishaps and being encouraged to pursue other professions. It all made for some entertaining anecdotes.
Many of the Festival’s musicians have been coming to Bellingham for years. They have become a ‘family’ in the sense that they know one another’s spouses and children, have forged long-lasting friendships with their home hosts and share in the joys and sadness of one another’s lives. Last summer, one of the musicians stayed beyond the Festival dates in order to have her wedding in Bellingham. This year, a group from the orchestra is throwing a baby shower for an expectant father who’s playing here while his wife, nearing her due date, remained at home.
This long-term bonding has, over the years, made the orchestra tighter when they play together onstage. At least that’s my belief having now gone to concerts for the past 20 years. Although together for only a short time, with rehearsals only days ahead of each concert, they meld into a solid sound. I have often found myself astounded to be sitting in my own backyard–nearly literally as the concert hall at Western Washington University where they play is within walking distance–and listening to world-class performances.
For Festival goers, the concerts are a bargain with ticket prices topping at $45 for premiere seating in a small, intimate performance hall of just 650 seats. I recall the many years that I lived in Los Angeles and
was a subscriber to the L.A.Philharmonic. Travel time from our home was 45 minutes at least, depending upon traffic, bargain tickets were usually no less than $45 and in the top tiers of the 3,000 seat hall, plus parking costs and don’t forget money for the babysitter. Granted, I no longer need to pay a babysitter, but all the other costs of hearing live classical music and experiencing outstanding performances in as beautiful a natural setting as you’ll ever find make the Bellingham Festival of Music an incredible deal. Especially for us locals.
If you don’t live in the immediate area, you can spend the week vacationing and enjoying the classical music concerts at night and any one number of activities during the day–strolling the art galleries and shops, tipping a few brews on the ‘Tap Trail,” hiking or biking on one of our many trails, playing golf on one of 22 courses here, fishing, kayaking or sailing on the Bay. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.
My Father’s Day arrived a two weeks early this year while I was in Sweden visiting family and friends.
This was my first trip there in ten years and I wanted to return to some of the places where my great grandparents had lived before emigrating to the United States in 1868. Americans rarely know much, if anything, about their ancestors from the ‘old country’, let alone know exactly where the family resided before packing up and moving to America. I am one of the fortunate who do.
About 30 years ago, my family learned from my mother’s cousin (with help from Bo, the Swedish cousin of my aunt by marriage), that my maternal great grandmother who had left for the States as a child with her family had lived in Småland. The family dwelled in the Swedish province of Småland on a beautiful, but rocky, piece of land near a lake. They were contracted for 49 years to the farmer who owned property. It was, as the man who currently owns the farm explained: “a very bad contract.”
Like so many others at the time, the family fell on hard times when a famine hit the country. Nearly 100,000 Swedes emigrated to the U.S. between 1868 and 1873. My great- grandmother was among them. My great-grandmother, in a letter written when she was 70 to the family ‘back home’ wished she could return and see her old home once more. But as she was 70, she never made the trip. (Click here to read more about this in my blog post of May, 2015.)
Instead, my aunt, Hazel, and I made the trip for her, visiting the ‘homeland’ together in 1991. We went with Bo to the farm in Småland at a tiny spot known as Fagerdal. It was an emotional visit as we walked around what was left of the foundation of the farmhouse and explored the nearby root cellar. My aunt recalled stories her grandmother had told about being a little girl there. Then Bo beckoned us over to a juniper bush and upon parting the branches, revealed to us the stationary paper-sized copper sign attached to a post. The inscription, in Swedish, commemorated the fact that my great-grandmother’s family had lived there from 1853 to 1867. Tears welled in both our eyes as we read the words.
Two years later, my mother and father travelled to Sweden to visit the family, as my aunt and I had done. They too drove with Bo to Fagerdal where they met the farmer and his mother living there and went down to the pasture to see where the house had once stood and to view the sign in the juniper bush.
On this trip, I journeyed alone to Fagerdal with my husband. Bo was unable to join us but he had mapped out the route for me and written instructions as to how to find the place. I hoped to see once more that farmstead in the field and the sign that had so moved me 25 years previously.
We turned off the highway just outside Åtivdaberg and headed south on a two lane, well-paved country road. Although early evening, we had a few hours of daylight left as the summer season is one of very long days in Sweden. The countryside was lush and particularly verdant in the late day golden light. It was difficult to imagine that this area at one time had suffered such a famine that families had to leave in order to feed their children.
Our rental car had a GPS to help guide our way, but Fagerdal is such a small spot (if not just the name for the farms there), that it didn’t even appear on the electronic map. As we drew closer, I stopped at a ‘sommar stuga’, or summer cottage to ask if we were on the right track. We were. After asking for directions twice more, and pointing to the map that Bo had made, we arrived at a cluster of farm buildings sitting at the end of a drive at the top of a hill. An elderly woman shuffled in the yard apparently checking on her flower garden when I hopped out of the car with my map.
She spoke no English. I did my best to explain to her in Swedish why I had pulled unannounced into her drive. The woman had a sweet smile and kind eyes but she couldn’t understand my request. She called to “Stefan,” within the house and in moments her son, a man about my own age, appeared. He spoke some English so between my Swedish and his English he figured out my reason for the unexpected visit and offered to take us down to the field. I was ecstatic.
We followed him in the car along a rutted road down to the place where I had been so many years before. Together we walked up the little hill to the spot where the house had been and over to where the stone walls of the root cellar were still intact although now a tree was growing up from the center. Then I looked for the sign, the thing I had hoped to see once again. The farmer knew it, had seen it but search as we did, we could not find it. He was mystified and couldn’t understand why it was not in the bushes, now grown into small trees. We walked all around the area, looking in the tall grass in case it had fallen or been dragged off by the cattle who had grazed there. Perhaps, the farmer ventured, someone had taken it. Taken it? Why? How? Where? These were questions to which he, nor I, had any answers. As disappointed as I was, I was nonetheless thrilled to stand once more at the place where my great-grandmother had been as a child. Tears again came into my eyes. As much as I would have liked to have stayed longer, dusk was settling in and we had further to go that evening.
I had fulfilled one of my goals for the trip by visiting the farm once more. The farmer and his mother were warm and welcoming. She even asked us to stay for ‘kaffe’ afterwards, an invitation that I had to decline because we had to yet to drive to our hotel further south. But before we followed her son down to the farm field, he disappeared back into the house and re-emerged with a large, manila envelope from which he pulled a few papers.
Among the papers were photocopies of photos of my family’s farmstead, as it appeared in 1916, when relatives who came after, still lived there. I had never seen these photos before. I did my best to photograph the copies so I could show Bo and my family back in the States. I had just finished snapping the photos when the farmer picked up the other papers from the envelope that he had placed on the porch bench. A little slip of paper fell out.
I instantly recognized the handwriting. It was that of my own father’s. My Dad had torn a piece of paper from the little pocket calendar that he always carried with him and had written upon it his name, address and phone number. The date at the top read: September 1993. “Det är min far,” I exclaimed. “Det är min far!” (That is my father!) Tears welled in my eyes at the sight of it.
My father had written down his contact information when he and my mother had visited. He had left it with the farmer and his mother who had kept it all these years in the envelope with the photos and other information about Väster Lund, as that farm was called, perhaps just so that it would be there when I returned. Now, 23 years later it was as if my Dad was saying: “Remember, we were here too,” and sending me his love simply with this slip of paper. It was my Father’s Day in Fagerdal.
June 10th marks a day of both great tragedy and great celebration in my small city of Bellingham, WA. That’s because 17 years ago on that date, a pipeline carrying gasoline from a refinery north of the city and that runs through our Whatcom Falls Park, in the middle of the city, exploded.
The fireball that erupted when the Olympic Pipeline ruptured sent flames down the park’s stream burning everything in its path, including three boys, an 18-year-old who had just graduated from high school and who had gone to the park to fish and two 10-year-olds who were playing downstream in the water.
I was just about to leave with my own 10-year-old at the time, for his baseball game in a school ball field located not far away from the park. As I was standing by my car, I suddenly saw a giant plume of thick, black smoke curl up in the sky and over the general area where we were headed. Although I had no idea what was the cause, I recognized it as some kind of oil-related fire because I had seen one exactly like it when the pipeline ruptured and exploded near my home in Los Angeles as the Northridge earthquake in 1996, just three years previous.
I, like hundreds of other residents, instantly turned on our radio in hopes of learning what was happening. And I told my son that we were in no way going to the baseball field. The news was spotty and unconfirmed but one local caller to the station knew exactly what it was: a pipeline explosion in the park.
We learned later that was precisely what had occurred. A faulty valve at a pumping station located 30 miles south failed to open. Workers, thinking it was yet again the faulty valve, overrode the controls to close the valve, causing the pressure in the pipeline to build and burst in the park.
My oldest son, Matthew, then 14, says he “remembers looking up to see the plume like it was yesterday. I’ll take that image to the grave.” As will many who were living here at the time. It was a day that awakened the residents of Bellingham to the potential dangers and disaster, both for the environment and in human life, that unmaintained and unrestricted pipelines carrying gasoline, trains transporting noxious coal and tanker trains loaded with flammable oil can have on a community. We learned that lesson long before the accidents that occurred in West Virginia, Quebec and most recently in nearby Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge just this month.
I have no doubt that it’s one reason why companies wanting to place a shipping terminal just 20 miles north of here in order to send coal to China encountered such strong opposition from local and state residents. Building the terminal would have meant that as many as 25 trains a day would have rolled from Wyoming, across the farms and ranches of Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington, up the coast of Western Washington, through Bellingham along its waterfront and past neighborhoods with houses standing less than 100 feet from the rails. It would have meant that the fishing grounds, where the Lummi Nation people have harvested salmon for hundreds of years, would have been jeopardized and likely threatened all the sea life dwelling in that deep water area of the Salish Sea.
Five years ago, environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben spoke at rally at the Village Green to kick off the campaign against the coal trains. At that time, he told the crowd of approximately 1,000 that “Bellingham, by sheer accident of geography, is the front line in the global battle against the use of coal.”
This past Friday, June 10, an estimated 1,000 people gathered again on the Village Green. But this time, they were there to celebrate the recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights and deny the permits required to build the coal terminal as well as the announcement by the state’s Department of Natural Resources that it had denied the land lease also required.
Some warn that the project is still alive until the local permit application at the county level is denied but those at the Village Green on Saturday were jubilant with these latest turn of events and what they hope will put an end to the coal terminal.
And those of us, who, like my son and myself, remember the June 10 of 17 years prior, also paid our respects for the event and lives lost that sparked the debate here and derailed the coal train terminal.
When I was kid, my parents often sat down on Sunday evenings to rest and relax watching their favorite television programs. For my dad, it was the Western about the Cartwright family, “Bonanza”. For my mom, it was the variety show hosted by the radio announcer turned TV personality, Ed Sullivan. My childhood favorite was “Lassie,” about the heroics of a talented and loving collie that aired earlier than my parents’ picks. Most of the time I didn’t care which of the two programs they watched as I liked both. Until February, 1964.
I had heard at school from some friends who had older siblings that Ed Sullivan was presenting a new music group that evening that had come all the way from England to appear on his program. Even though we lived in the heartland of the country, word about this new band had spread. My friends were very excited about it so I thought I must tune in to see what it was all about.
The channel was turned to the CBS affiliate. I sat down on the floor and scooted up close to the screen. The suspense was terrific.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sullivan announced in his “really big” distinctive voice, “The Beatles!”
The girls in the television audience went wild as the four-member rock band launched into the first of three songs: “All My Loving.” In the second half, they played two more including the one I remember best opening with the four beat introductory measures: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” A record 73 million watched that evening and the rest, as they say, is history.
I, like every other pre-teen and teenager then, was taken by this mop topped group from across the Atlantic. I liked the strong,driving beat of the music, I preferred their “British” sound to the saccharine tones of Perry Como, my Mother’s favorite popular singer, and I quickly learned the lyrics and the melodies. My parents were less enamored.
But when my Dad returned from his national photography convention that spring, he presented me with a gift that “all the kids in Chicago were buying,” according to the salesman. I nearly flipped when he took out of his bag and handed to me the record album: Meet the Beatles. It was my first long play record and certainly my very first rock music album. I still have it, the album cover shows years of love but the record still sounds great when you pop it onto a turntable.
I had already bought the special magazine about the Fab Four with a cover identical to that of the album. I read it cover to cover devouring the bits of info about the twenty-something Beatle members. Paul McCartney, the “romantic” of the group, became my favorite Beatle.
I collected Beatle cards. Each was the size of a baseball card, (which I also collected,) featured a photo of the band and was autographed by one of them. I practiced capitalizing my “G’s” like George Harrison’s and still write it that way today.
During the six short years the band toured in the United States, I never saw the Beatles in a live performance. Tickets were too expensive and they seldom performed anywhere near my small hometown in mid-America. I finally got my chance recently when Paul McCartney performed his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C. I was finally in the same room as Paul, along with nearly 16,000 other excited McCartney music fans.
Paul may be 73 now, but I was a teenager again as I took to my seat high above the arena stage. McCartney came out to the roar of his audience as he kicked off the evening with what was clearly a crowd favorite–“A Hard Day’s Night.” For the next two hours, the beloved former Beatle played a program filled with mostly familiar songs–including “Lady Madonna,” “Let It Be” and “We Can Work It Out”–from the Beatles and Wings, along with a couple newer tunes. I and the crowd sang along with most of them. In between, while switching out bass guitars or moving from the guitar tot he piano, he told stories about the songs, about his band mates, about his life.
I never knew, for instance, that the beautiful ballad “Blackbird” was written in response to the Civil Rights movement. Or that Beatle producer George Martin changed who sang the lead part because John Lennon couldn’t both sing and play the harmonica on the last line: “Whoa, love me do.”
Some performers who’ve been at it as long as McCartney has, resent singing the old hits. Not McCartney. He clearly enjoyed playing them for the audience and came back at after taking his final bow he returned for an encore (clearly programmed because of the choreographed pyrotechnics) for another 45 minutes.
I looked around at the audience who were waving their arms and singing to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. The feeling was magical. Many, like me, were teenagers when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but it was a multi-generational group. That a band together for only ten years could produce so much music that has become part of the popular culture is remarkable. I relished every minute of McCartney’s concert. Though those young Beatles stepped onto Sullivan’s stage more than 50 years ago, for me it was almost like seeing them for the first time, because in way I was.
Every spring, the Skagit Valley, just south of where I live, is bursting with color as the commercial tulip fields there bloom. Thousands of people from the region make the trip just to spend an hour or two admiring the rows of bright flowers growing in the fields. I hadn’t visited the fields for a couple of years so thought I’d wander down on what was the last weekend of this year’s tulip festival.
The fields had bloomed early this year. The farmers had already begun topping the stems in preparation to harvest the bulbs. Upon arriving at the tulip fields, I checked in at the office of the Washington Bulb Company and asked about the conditions of the fields. The only field still in flower was behind the bulb company’s exhibition gardens. Access to it, through the gardens, wasn’t possible until 9 a.m.
By that time the light would be too bright for my photographs. A nice layer of low fog lying over the field could have made for some dramatic photos but since I couldn’t get into it until 9, it could disappear by then.
My choices were either to leave and go home without taking a single image or stay and see what I could do despite the limited access. I decided to stay and see what photographs I could make before the gates opened and the crowds began to arrive. It would be a good challenge.
My friend and I walked down the road to the unopened gardens. Plenty of tulips were growing in the beds outside the main gate and fence. I pulled out my camera and began photographing. Thirty minutes later, I had finished. I gathered up my gear and we headed back, stopping along the way for a couple more photos before pulling into a little cafe for breakfast. We were back in Bellingham by 10 a.m., our ‘field trip’ was over and the rest of the weekend still lay ahead. The images from that morning were not what I had expected and yet I found many that I liked. I hope you do too.
Travelling is an adventure. No matter how many times I have visited a place, I seem to discover something new, something that I overlooked before or failed to take in during previous visits. This happened to me on a recent trip to Phoenix. I lived in that city for five years a long while ago. The city has grown tremendously since then although the city’s core remains much the same as it was then.
This trip I stayed with good friends Eileen and John whose home is around the corner from where I last lived in Phoenix, just one block from Phoenix College. At the time I lived there, Phoenix College was not nearly the size it is today. Early one morning, I decided to stroll through the campus just to see what had changed.
At the end of my walk, I headed down the parking lot towards the little duplex where I once lived. But before I got to it, I came to an obelisk-shaped sculpture towering on the corner. I had to gain a closer look.
The three-sided sculpture was filled from top to bottom with faces. What a curious piece, I thought. Each face was different. Their expressions drew me in. I moved around and around the piece, looking up and down, trying to get a better view of the ones placed higher, towards the metal abstract Phoenix bird topping the structure.
I must return to the house, grab my camera, come back and photograph this intriguing art piece, I thought. When I did, I asked Eileen if she knew anything about the sculpture. Indeed, not only did she know about it, but her own face was among those on it! Together she and I walked back to the corner where it stood. But as hard as we tried, we couldn’t find her face amongst the many. “My daughter knows exactly where it is,” she told me, “I’ve forgotten”
The piece, I later learned, is titled “Faces of a Community” and represents the diversity of ages, cultures, and people who make up the Southwestern city of Phoenix. During the making of the artwork, my friend’s face was molded in plaster by one of the artists, locally renown maskmaker Zarrco Guerrero. The mold was then used to create a clay likeness of her face which was attached, along with the many others, to the final piece. The pieces were glazed in blues, terra-cotta and creme colors and carefully positioned up and down the obelisk. It would have been fun to watch as the artists’ placed each of these faces and the manner in which they established the relationships of one to another.
The final piece was installed in 2002 and was the end result of a collaboration between artists Helen Helwig, Niki Glen, MIchael Anderson and Guerrero. Students, teachers and community members all participated in making the life casts and moulding the faces. Today, the 18 foot tall sculpture anchors the northeast corner of the campus where, undoubtedly it attracts students and visitors, like myself, who just happen upon it and provides a perfect way to finish or begin a walk around the Phoenix College campus.
My heart has been with the people of Brussels this week after the tragic act of terrorism that occurred there on Tuesday. That beautiful small city of 177,000 will always be special to me because it was the place that introduced me to Europe. I first travelled there in 1987 to visit my friend and colleague Diane from TIME who had moved there to work.
I especially think of that first trip this time of year because I spent Easter that year in Brussels. And the memories I have of it are wonderful. Some of the best French food I’ve ever eaten was in Brussels; the chocolate was tastier than any other; the famous ‘gaufres’ or waffles were warm,crisp and yummy and the ‘pommes frites,’served in a paper cone topped with a dollop of mayonnaise still makes my mouth water. Beyond the food, the city itself was bright, delightful, charming, rich in history and architecture and very manageable for a first time visitor to Europe.
I keep journals whenever I travel and thought I’d share with you the page I wrote about that Easter in Brussels. Hope you enjoy it.
“Easter. What a way to spend the holiday–sightseeing in Brussels. First we’re off to the Grand Place to see the Sunday morning bird fair. Little birds of all sorts in cages being sold to the people right there in the square. Some of the birds were beautiful canaries of beautiful peach and white, or yellow and red.
When it began to rain, we took cover in a nearby cafe where we had Belgian waffles covered with strawberries. They were like the kind that I remembered eating at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964.
Afterwards, we strolled back to the Grand Place and I rubbed the leg of the statue of Everard t Serclaes, a local hero. Everyone rubs the statue for good luck so his leg and arm are well polished and shiny.
We then went to see the antique fair at the Grand Sablon. By the time we arrived, about noon, the dealers were starting to fold away their tents. We walked through but most of the things were too expensive for me to buy.
We left the market and went inside a church there in the Grand Sablon the Eglise Notre-Dame du Grand Sablon. This ‘chapel’ was built by the archers who practiced in this area when it was a sandy marsh. The stained glass was so beautiful and rich in color. The ceilings were vaulted and so high. Buried in the church is the Taxis family–the family who founded the first private postal system and about whom Diane had read in the Thomas Pynchon book, “The Crying Lot of 49.”
From the church, we crossed the street and walked through the Petite Sablon, a small but pretty park surround by a fence with statuary of the different Guilds placed all along the top. The tulips were just beginning to bloom here.
We walked up the steps and down the street from the Petite Sablon to the Palais de Justice–the favorite Belgian building of Freud and Hitler. There’s a good view of Brussels from the Palais de Justice. You can even see the Atomium that lies just outside the city. On the way, I spotted a family out for Easter. The two girls were carrying two large chocolate Easter eggs. Bigger eggs than I’ve ever seen so I took a picture of them.
Before heading back to the apartment, we stopped at a cafe on Avenue Louise and had a cafe and chocolate chaud. The restaurants always give you a little piece of chocolate with every cup of caffe or tea and it’s usually very good. They also put on the saucer two little cubes of ‘sucre.’
We rode the tram back to Diane’s. I went in and took a nap. It had been a wonderful Easter.”
Maybe my European Easter memoir will bring a memories of your own to mind and that one day, you have the chance, as I did, to visit this beautiful Belgian city. If you do, take a moment to remember those who innocently died in the attacks last week.
While in Phoenix recently as a board member with the Bellingham Festival of Music (BFM), I and BFM President, Karen Berry met with MIM’s director of marketing, Karen Farugia. Afterwards, I had some time before heading off to meet friends. It wasn’t enough time to visit the MIM’s permanent collection (which I’ve done) of 6,000 instruments, but thought I could manage a quick tour of MIM’s special exhibit in the Target Gallery: Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker. I bought my ticket and stepped into the gallery.
The exhibit, which opened in mid-January and continues through June 5, welcomes you with a multi-screen video introduction to the area where this legendary violin maker lived and worked: the Northern Italian city of Cremona. The video gives a brief overview of this rich, historic city which yielded so many early master violin makers, in addition to Stradivari, and explains how the city’s proximity to the Fiemme Valley forest provided these craftsmen with the fine materials they needed to produce what became some of the premier instruments in the world.
The violins of this exhibit have been artistically (and no doubt carefully) hung within a clear, climate-controlled plexiglass case so that the viewer can walk entirely around them to get a close and complete look at them. In addition, every ticket to MIM comes a set of earphones so that as you approach the instruments on display, you also hear the sound of the instrument played by musicians who are masters of it. But what’s striking about the Stradivarius exhibit, is how incredibly gorgeous these stringed instruments are, indeed works of art in appearance as well as sound. Their beautiful, burnished wood shines in the light reflected from overhead.
First on display is the exquisite violin made by Andrea Amati, recognized as the father of the violin. Amati was a luthier in Cremona who, according to some histories, was asked to make a lighter instrument than the lyre and viol di gambas that he was building at the time. The viol di gambas resemble the modern-day cello in that they are played upright between the knees. Amati came up with a design that was smaller and lighter although similar in appearance to the viols. He added the fourth string which soon became standard to violins and is credited with developing the methods used in constructing the Cremonese violins. Only 20 of his instruments survive today. One of them, known as the ‘Carlo IX’ created for France’s King Charles IX in 1566, is in the MIM exhibit.
As you can see from my photograph taken at the exhibit, Amati used a lighter colored wood for the neck, face of the fingerboard and tailpiece and decorated it with fine, delicate black line design. On the backside of the violin, he added a golden crown and fleur d’lis, still visible but fading with time. Interestingly, whenever Amati made violins, including this one I believe, he made them as part of a matched set. They were used, with the viola, viol da gamba and lyres for example, to provide dance music for those at court. It’s a bit humbling to stand in front of this historic instrument and realize that its maker gave us the start of our beloved violin of today.
Equally as stunning is the “Violino Barocco” by Simone Fernando Sacconi, also displayed at MIM. This violin is so named because its neck is shorter and its fingerboard like those from the Baroque era of music. It was built in 1941 by the Italian maker who is regarded as one of the foremost violin makers of the modern-day. Sacconi, who died in 1973, devoted himself to extensive study of Stradivari’s techniques even using his antique tools. Although difficult to photograph through its display case, you can still see here the exquisite design of this violin’s ribs and get an idea of the lacelike intricacy of the bridge. To view it in person is breathtaking.
But of course, the instrument in the exhibit that draws your greatest attention is the one violin made by the master himself, the “Artot-Alard’ violin of 1728. It is the first time that this particular violin has ever been on display in the United States. Made when Stradivari was 84, it is a fine example of his craftsmanship. Look closely and you can see the close, straight grains of the spruce wood used to make it. Undoubtedly, this is as close to a Stradivari that I will ever get so I stood before it as I might an art masterpiece, which it truly is, taking in its beauty, admiring its deep color and imagining what it must be like to actually play it.
I could have lingered there in the exhibit for an hour but my time had run out. I managed to watch the short video on the “Science of the Stradivarius”, which you can see here by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/1pFwDEq. It’s an excellent and fascinating explanation of how these incredible instruments were constructed.
Should you find yourself in Phoenix between now and June 5, I’d encourage you to plan some time to spend at MIM and this special exhibit. And if you miss it, don’t miss MIM next time you’re in the city. It’s truly a place where you can spend an entire day. It’s a topic for a future blog post!
Last night was Oscar night, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hand out the famous 8 pound golden statuette to the film industry’s chosen few. Hollywood’s biggest party of the year is watched by millions all over the world, including myself. But I can’t watch it without thinking of my Aunt Hazel. You see for many years, when I lived in Phoenix, my aunt and I would sit down and tune in together to the see who would win.
My aunt particularly loved seeing the kings and queens of Hollywood as they arrived and made their way up the red carpet. We didn’t need the fashion commentors because we ran our own commentary, choosing the gowns we thought the most glamorous, laughing at the dresses that looked simply ridiculous and applauding the styles that we thought took ‘best costume’ before the awards even had begun.
I am convinced that my aunt could have been a costume designer had her life taken another course. In a sense, she was, as she was the one to whom her dance groups turned when they needed costumes for a new number. Hazel could create costumes from nothing, cutting cloth laid out on the top of her billiards table using neither pattern and pins–she held it down with table knives–then tuck and stitch and embellish the pieces until they became a wearable piece. She did this for years and years and never received an award for her efforts. And often she never received any thanks from the women who wore them.
Her own closet was full of beautiful long gowns that she wore to the dinners, conventions, balls and other big events of her Ladies of the Nile organization or my uncle’s Shriner’s unit. Satins, sparkles, chiffons, silks, sequins and taffeta. Something for every occasion. She wore them stunningly. Her beautiful red hair set off the golds, turquoises and emerald greens of the gowns. After she passed away, my aunt’s youngest sister and my cousins went into her closet to sort through her collection. It was a day I’ll never forget. Her dresses dazzled us as we tenderly lifted one after another off their padded hangers. It was as if we were playing ‘dress-up’ day all over again as we held one after another up to ourselves for a look in the full-length mirror. Aunt Hazel would have enjoyed it, just as she did when she was still with us.
Over the years, Hazel had given me some of her gowns: a dusty rose Mexican wedding dress with crocheted trim, a sparkling gold top and matching skirt and a silver-sequined marine blue chiffon gown that made even me look like a movie star when I put it on. I wore the Mexican wedding dress for a big birthday celebration. My cousins and Aunt Phyllis came to the party dressed in other gowns that Hazel had given to them. The gold ensemble is a favorite for New Year’s bashes. And the silver sequined gown came in handy for a special premiere party. I wear them with love and pride knowing that they once belonged to or were designed by my aunt.
I’m sure I”ll never get to walk on the red carpet on Academy night, although I used to fantasize that one day I would. But I know how those who do must feel, thanks to my wonderful aunt, her terrific talent, her creative ability and skills and most of all her love. So when I sit down on Oscar night I sit down with the memories I have of those special nights with my aunt. And when they announce the Oscar for best costume design, I’ll smile, close my eyes for a moment and say sliently to myself “Aunt Hazel.”
Next time you see a Budweiser beer commercial featuring their iconic Clydesdale horses, look closely at the driver. It might just be Rudy Helmuth. This 25-year-old from Iowa, grew up on an Amish organic farm caring for horses. “I started riding and driving horses at a very young age, practically since I could walk,” Rudy says. “Our family also trained horses so we had horses from various sizes and breeds. All from the smallest miniatures to largest draft horses. I always had a deep passion for the draft horse.” Eventually, that love and experience landed him a job as one of the drivers and handlers of one of the most famous horses in the country– Anheuser-Busch’s Clydesdales.
Now, four years later, Rudy travels all over the country 300 plus days a year with these incredible horses. For Rudy, it’s a job beyond even his wildest imagination. “I think back to the days on that Amish farm in Iowa where I was plowing fields barefoot with six horses and never in a million years did I imagine I’d get the opportunities in life that I have been granted thus far,” he says.
Rudy wandered into one of my favorite bar/restaurants in New Orleans where I was enjoying a drink and conversation with a friend. He slipped onto the stool next to us at the end of the bar and we struck up a conversation. He was in town with the Clydesdale team for appearances in some of the Carnival parades that occur in the two weeks prior to Mardi Gras. In fact, he was riding the next evening in the Krewe of Nyx parade, he told us, a parade to which I was planning to go.
The beautiful Budweiser horses are celebrities in their own right drawing crowds wherever they appear. The evening before I met Rudy, they had hosted an open house for the public at the New Orleans Police Department stables in City Park where the Clydesdales were staying during their visit to NOLA. “Ah rats,” I told Rudy, “I would have loved to have gone if I had known.”
Seeing my disappointment, Rudy suggested: “Why don’t you come to the stables on Thursday or Friday morning? I’ll be there after seven,”
“I’ll be there!” I said thrilled at the invitation. I had intended to visit one of the plantations that I had not yet seen in the years that we have been going to NOLA, but the plantation would always be there. The Clydesdales wouldn’t. When Thursday came, my husband and I hopped in the car and headed up to City Park’s stable area. It wasn’t difficult to find them, the three red semi-trailers with the giant words “Budweiser” on the side were parked alongside the large barn. Towards the rear of the barn, five Clydesdales were plodding around in the horse walker, tethered one in front of the other. The white feathered ankles flowed as their big hooves thudded on the soft ground. To see these incredible animals close up is to appreciate the true size of these gentle giants. Their enormous stocky muscular bodies made them an ideal draft horse to pull wagons, carriages and carts in their native Scotland. Today, in the U.S., the Clydesdale is nearly synonymous with the Budweiser Beer Company .
Rudy was out running errands when we arrived but one of the handlers who had come out to lead the horses, one by one, into the barn for their bath gave me permission to come inside and watch. I excitedly stood where I could photograph them as they sprayed the big beasts down with water, then soaped them with suds while the horse stood quietly hitched to the stall. The Budweiser Clydesdales must be at least 18 hands high (72 inches) at the shoulder when grown. That makes a step stool a necessity when washing them, even for someone like handler Butch Clark who’s not a small guy. Butch has been a handler with the Budweiser team for 12 years and prior to that showed Belgian horses for his Midwestern family. On this day, he had the job of washing the horses before they were put into their individual stalls.
Budweiser has three teams of Clydesdales, of ten horses each. Rudy’s team is based in St.Louis; another is in Ft. Collins, Colorado. and a third is in Merrimack, New Hampshire. They travel all over the country with the horses riding in two of the semi-trailers and the familiar red wagon and the horses’ tack in the other. In addition to the main stable in St. Louis and the other two hitching locations, Budweiser also has a breeding farm outside Boonville, Missouri. Every year, 25-30 foals are born but not all are destined to join the prestigious Clydesdale teams. As Clark told me, they must be 18 hands, chestnut bay in color with a white blaze on their face, four white legs and a black mane and tail. They are also all geldings and four-years-old when they join the hitch team. The smallest of the ten horses that travel with the team are hitched in front.
The two youngest horses that travelled with Rudy to New Orleans were named Cash and Rocco. The oldest of the team, Levi, was 15. Rudy is perched high above them on the red wagon’s seat and must hold 40 lbs. of reins in his hands. Together, with the tension on the reins, the weight comes to 75 lbs. Drivers like Rudy, who undergo rigorous training before they qualify as drivers, must be strong and an expert in controlling the horses. To look at him, you wouldn’t think Rudy that strong. But when you see him hitching up the team before a parade, as I did, lifting the heavy harnesses over each one’s head and then holding the reins in the parade, it’s clear that he not only knows exactly what he’s doing but that he’s a lot stronger than he initially appears.
Each harness and collar weigh about 130 pounds. The shiny brass on them must be polished before every appearance, a job that takes five hours to complete. Between appearances, the harnesses and collars are carefully re-hung in the mobile tack room.
Rudy arrived at the barn just as we were about to leave. He invited us to come watch as he hitched up the team the next evening before the Krewe d’Etat parade. I gladly took the opportunity to photograph them during the process. We arrived at the designated spot at 5:30, as he said to do. The horses were still in their spacious trailers, peering out the open side doors, anxiously awaiting their turn to be hitched up. It was clear that they knew they were about to go to work.
As parade time neared, each horse was led down the ramp to their stall and held while Rudy placed the collars and harnesses over the ears. In addition to the harnesses, every horse wears blinders and plugs in their ears to help keep their attention focused on the road and not the parade onlookers. Their tails are braided as are their manes with red roses.
One by one the Clydesdales were backed into their spots and hitched to the singletrees of the wagon. Quietly, the horses waited, held in place by the other handlers, until Rudy emerged from the trailer, dressed in his red Budweiser uniform and climbed up to his seat. Just before the team was to pull out, the Dalmatian, joined the two drivers in his perch between them. Behind them, strapped to the wagon’s benches were members of the local Krewe d’Etat or Budweiser whose job it was to toss beads to the crowd along the parade route.
Dusk was setting when they finally pulled out and assumed their position near the front of the parade, followed by the indispensable cart with barrel and shovels to pick up after the horses as they went along. As they lined up on Magazine Street, where the parade started, parade watchers gathered near to get a closer look at the famous Clydesdales. Kids and parents alike cheered as Rudy and his co-driver took off the wagon’s brake and slapped the reins to move the horses forward. It would be like that the rest of the parade route. Everyone, like myself, was thrilled just to see the celebrity Clydesdales. And if the Clydesdales come to location near you, be sure to wave to Rudy!
When it comes to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you think of parades, Bourbon Street, beads and music. But you should also think masks because wearing masks on Mardi Gras and during the two weeks of Carnival that led up to the big day, is part of the tradition. And part of the fun.
For the past 33 years prior to Mardi Gras, mask makers from around the country have been bringing their handcrafted masks to the French Market Mask Market. It’s one of the highlights of the celebration and if you’re lucky enough to be in New Orleans of that weekend, as I was this year, it’s something you don’t want to miss. Tucked in Dutch Alley, the market opens on Friday before Mardi Gras and continues through Monday. During that time, Mardi Gras revelers and tourists can come to pick out a mask to wear or take home from a variety of mask makers who offer a their creations in a variety of styles. Prices range anywhere from $15, for assemble-it-yourself kits, up to $200 or more for some of the more elaborate masks.
It’s a big weekend for the mask makers too, some of whom, like Richard Thompson of Finger Lakes, N.Y. have been coming to this annual event 20 years or more. This year’s mask market drew 15 different mask makers and hundreds of shoppers, some of whom, like Carrie of The Party Never Ends, from Washington D.C. came in costume. Carrie stopped at the booth of mask maker Wendy Drolma from Woodstock, N.Y. to pick out a mask. “I have masks for all sorts of different occasions,” Carrie explained. After trying on several of Drolma’s leather masks, she settled on one with reddish tones.
Drolma is a self-taught mask maker of 25 years who began her craft at age 25. At the time, she had a corporate job but was looking for something else to do. “I like to say that mask making found me,” she explains. And though others may refer to her as a mask maker, she likes to think of herself as an ‘alchemist’, whose masks transforms those who place one of her creations on their face. “I want my masks to say something about me,” she says.
Vincent Ur is also a self-taught. His fascination with mask making in his 20s after he and his wife, Valerie, fist visited New Orleans. Valerie loved the masks she saw there and the two of them wandered in and out of the many shops that sell masks in the French Quarter. When Vincent when home, he began experimenting and launched a new career for himself, one that has been very rewarding. In addition to selling masks on his website, Masks on Parade, Vincent takes special orders and recently completed masks for the Houston Opera’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ But he still comes to the Mardi Gras Mask Market as he done for the past 23 years.
Diane Trapp’s masks have also appeared in many stage productions, as well as episodes of the CW television series, ‘Vampire Diaries’ and in pre-show events for Lady Gaga concerts. Trapp and her sister-in-law, Connie, live in Hillsboro, Ore. where the two have been happily creating masks for the Mask Market for the past 23 years. They even were there the year after Katrina hit, as was I. That year, I purchased one of Diane’s spectacular masks, which I still own and wear for special events. It never fails to bring in ‘awes’ from friends along with questions as to where I bought it. The two women each have their own style.
Connie recently began adding to her masks locks of colorful yarn that are tediously stitched into a skull-cap of sorts that slips over the wearers head. Diana brought with her this year to the mask market some fanciful animal masks adorned with papier-mache horns made from recycled grocery bags. “I’m from Oregon, after all,” she says laughing. In addition to making masks, Diane also teaches a number of workshops to pass on her craft to novice mask makers.
Liz Blaz, of New Orleans, also teaches workshops in mask making and recently was in Haiti doing exactly that. She’s been invited by the Minister of Culture for the Cayman Islands to come that Carribean country to conduct workshops there as well. Blaz’ masks are constructed of leather. Her interest in the craft took her many years ago to Abano Terme, near Padua, Italy, to study the techniques of Commedia dell’Arte mask making. Her masks are now worn in theatrical productions throughout Europe and North America.
While visiting with her at the Mask Market, she explained how she first sculpts her masks using molds, then once she is satisfied with shape and it has dried, she begins to apply layers of paint until it feels it is finished. Some, such as the “mother of pearl” finish, takes many layers of paint blended together to give it the look she’s after. According to her website, Blaz is working to create a Guild of Maskmakers, to promote and help perpetuate the art.
Like Blaz, Scott Schoonover, also traveled abroad to study his craft. Schoonover attended the University of Iowa where he studied set design and became interested in costume making. But it was mask making that intrigued him.
He was drawn to Bali, where he learned from native maskmakers. As Schoonover tells it, part of requirement was to also learn the dances for which each mask was intended. Schoonover says that experience led him to his own philosophy towards his craft which is that “we are a community of artists who tell stories essential to our identity based on a legacy handed down from our ancestors.” He’s now based in St. Louis, where he’s from originally, and sells his work to a number of theatre companies as well as through his website.
Tony Fuemmeler of Portland, Ore., also became interested in mask making while an undergraduate in theatre at the University of Kansas. There he studied the Lecoq tradition with Ron and Ludvika Popenhagen. His very stylized masks reflect Lecoq’s development of the neutral mask as a training tool for actors, “designed to facilitate a state of openness in the student-performers, moving gradually on to character and expressive masks, and finally to ‘the smallest mask in the world’ the clown’s red-nose.”*
Lecoq’s use of mask changed the performers’ movement on stage. giving them a body-based approach to mask work, rather than a visually led one. Fuemmeler, who is also a puppeteer and director now teaches workshops for actors that utilize this approach to character development. You can read more about his work on his website.
Throughout the weekend, collectors, celebrants and the curious come to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Mask Market at the French Market to see these wonderful creations. They are special and unique souvenirs for anyone who ends up purchasing one of them, just as I did at my first mask market. Some of those come seeking new masks for their Mardi Gras costumes, while others, like myself, see their new acquisition as a work of art to be displayed and worn for special occasions. But whether you pick out a mask for purchase, take time to visit this market if you are in New Orleans during Mardi Gras weekend. It’s an opportunity to see firsthand the work of some premier maskmakers who are continuing a tradition that dates back centuries.
Winter in Northwest Washington is home to large variety of birds. In fact, birdwatching is at its best here during the winter months when these feathered friends frequent our waterways and fields. One of the many species that come here to winter is the largest waterfowl of them all, the trumpeter swans. They arrive by the thousands to take over the farm rich fields of the Skagit Valley where they feast and rest until time to return to Alaska for the summer.
Last winter, nearly 12,000 of these majestic birds landed in Skagit Valley. Their population, once threatened nearly out of existence, have rebounded, according to the Skagit Audubon Society. In fact, the trumpeter swans who spend their winter in this area make up the largest winter population in the country. I decided the other day to take the a drive down the winding Chuckanut Drive that hugs the coast south to the beautiful open flat expanse of Skagit Valley, about 19 miles.
Once you hit the flat land, heading into the little junction of Bow, Washington, you begin to see spots of white dotting the barren, brown fields. On this particular day, I continued straight out from Bow following Chuckanut Drive or Highway 11. I hadn’t gone far when I came across a fields full of the swans. Turning off Chuckanut, I found I could closer to the birds in one of the fields on Thomas Road. The birds are protected from harassment so the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ask birdwatchers to stay in their cars when visiting or photographing if possible. My husband pulled the car off to the side of the road, I rolled down the and pulled out camera.
The birds stopped splashing in the muddy water standing in the field to check us out but after a few minutes decided we were no threat and resumed their chorus of honking. The swans seemed not to mind as I started to photograph. The birds honked. My camera’s shutter clicked open and closed as I patiently tried to maneuver from my seat in the car to capture a few images of the big birds. Mallard ducks mixed in freely with the swans, as they waddled around the fallow fields. But it’s the swans that attract everyone’s eye.
In flight, against the day’s gray-white sky the birds outstretched wings looked immense and . In fact, these wingspan of the swans is enormous and can be up to eight feet wide, according to Department of Fish and Wildlife sources. They can weigh as much as 32 pounds and when standing erect will reach four feet tall. Big birds.
After a while, satisfied that I might have a few images I would later like, we moved on. The swans were content to remain in the field, honking to their hearts’ desire as the light cold wind that had picked up ruffled their big snowy white wings. There’s still time to view the swans if you find yourself in the area. Eventually, these magnificent birds will take off for the spring and summer, not to return again until next November.
For the past several years, I have ushered in the New Year on January 1st, with a celebratory paddle in my kayak on Bellingham Bay with my ever-faithful paddling partner, Pat. But this year, Pat was away visiting family, temperatures had dropped to below freezing and I had welcomed the New Year until after 2 a.m. Consequently, I was less motivated to get out on the water this year although I did feel a little guilty when, later in the day while out walking with a neighbor, I note how flat and alluring the water was.
Instead, I answered the call from another buddy to go snowshoeing on the second day of the New Year. I had already been out the day after Christmas and was anxious to go again. So it wasn’t a hard sell for her to get me to agree.
We rounded up a couple other friends and by 9 a.m. were headed up to our local mountain, Mount Baker, only about a 90 minute drive away. We decided not to go all the way up to the ski area which we knew would be crowded on this sunny, but bone-chilling day. Instead, we opted to stop at the Hannegan Pass picnic area where you can follow the road, now covered in snow and groomed for snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
It’s not as high in elevation and comes just before you begin to make the twisting turns up to the ski area. And when we pulled into the parking, there were still plenty of places open. Also, the trail is relatively flat, which made it appealing to another of our party who had recently recovered from a rotator cuff surgery and wasn’t sure how much of a challenge he could handle.
One of the biggest challenges of snowshoeing is simply putting on and fastening the darn things before you can set out. Sure, the clips and snaps and latches make it a lot easier than having to lace up anything in frigid temps, but it still is a bit cumbersome when you’re layered with warm clothing.
I’ve learned that it’s best not to overdress for snowshoeing. During my outing the weekend before, I finally had to shed the sweater I was wearing on top of my long underwear and beneath my sub-zero rated down coat because I was overheating. This time, I economized and started out with only the underwear top and bottoms, my ski pants and my coat. That turned out to be just the right combination even though the thermometer said 20 degrees. I also switched out the bulky, but warm, fingered gloves I had worn the previous time for the warm, lined mittens with a top half that could be buttoned back to expose my bare fingertips so that I could more easily handle my camera.
Thus attired, we struck out on the trail. This particular trail, or road, follows along the scenic, winding North Fork of the Nooksack River. The snow glistened, just like in the song, in the late morning sunshine. The river sparkled. It was truly like walking in a ‘winter wonderland.’
As we rounded one of the first turns, someone had even built a snow couple and just across the trail was another, larger snowman who could have been, I suppose, Parson Brown.
We continued on, talking, laughing and stopping every so often so that one of our friends who was having some equipment issues could rebuckle his snowshoes. But it didn’t matter, we were in no particular hurry to get anywhere and didn’t really care whether or not we reached a destination, although our intention was to go to where the trail, or road, stopped, a little more than two miles from where we had parked.
The trail had been fairly compacted but was still good for snowshoeing overall. There were some places where the dirt and gravel beneath were exposed but by and large, it was fine.
Along the way, we marveled at the long icicles that clung to the cliff beside us or on the rocks where water still trickled down the gully. We’d stop to gaze at the snow-covered treetops and thickets of trees while catching our breath or take a swig of water. Very important to always carry water with you when you snowshoe as you work up quite a thirst and sweat as you push along. Hydration is essential.
One in our group, Maria, had brought along a beautiful new leather-covered flask filled with an apple liqueur that a friend of hers had brewed for the holidays. We each had a taste and agreed that it was far superior to water although probably not as good for us.
Finally, we arrived at the trail’s end, another parking lot where, during the summer the hike up to Hannegan’s Pass actually begins. It was ‘snack time’, always something to look forward to when snowshoeing. Out came the trail mix, the thermos’ full of hot soup, the energy bars, and sandwiches. Funny how the treats you eat everyday at home taste so much more delicious on a hike or snowshoe adventure.
After a short rest and the consuming of snacks, we turned around and headed back out the way we came. As a photographer, I’m always aware how even the same path can look very different coming from the opposite direction and how you’ll often see things that you missed the first time simple because looking at it from a another perspective. I suppose that same thing could be said of the things we encounter in our daily lives.
On the way back, we encountered many more people along the trail, after being somewhat surprised earlier at how few people we had met. I even saw a couple of other friends who had come up to enjoy the day in the snow and we stopped for a few minutes to chat and wish each other a “Happy New Year.”
The parking lot, when we returned, was now full to literally overflowing with cars. Families were out along the river and on the trail with children and sleds in tow. Despite the cold, everyone seemed to savoring the brisk, cold sunny day. Or perhaps they were just destressing.
In the January issue of National Geographic Magazine, writer Florence Williams describes how some researchers believe that we ‘do our brains a favor’ when we get closer to nature. I believe it.
As we rode back down the mountain, about six hours from the time we had initially departed, I felt tired but refreshed, relaxed and renewed. A hot shower would certainly be welcomed but it had ‘been thrillin’ to go ‘walking in a winter wonderland.’
You can view a few more of my images from this adventure in my Portfolio by simply clicking here.
For many in the U.S., the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a holiday time, time to spend with family and friends, enjoying each other’s company before resuming our regular, often hectic lives in the New Year. But for those who work in the retail world, this week is often one of the year’s busiest. Besides the year-end sales that take place, retailers spend this last week of year taking inventory of their stock.
Many of the larger chain retailers bring in special staff to do the job, or, in some cases, allow volunteers to help out in return for a hefty donation to their organization. But for the small business person, it’s usually up to them and their employees.
I was reminded of this process the other day when in a local business where I purchase the paper stock used for making of my ‘Really Fine’ card line. The owner’s staff had already begun counting the hundreds of items in her paper and crafts store.
It brought to mind the years that I spent in my Dad’s own store, helping to inventory cameras, projectors, albums, film, flashbulbs, Viewmaster reels, gadgets and frames sold in his camera shop and studio. I don’t remember it being a tedious job. In fact, I liked it because while taking stock of everything in the store, I became very familiar with every little thing we sold. Especially projector lamp bulbs.
You can’t imagine how many different movie and slide projector bulbs there were. Standardization didn’t seem to occur to these manufacturers. ELH, DAK,FGF,DFW,CLX. They all fit different models of projectors. GE. Sylvania and Kodak were the major makers of these bulbs which also came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some were long and tubular with four or five prongs on the end. Others were rounder and short or looked like a miniature version of a car headlamp. They all needed to be counted and we had lots of them.
Then there were the frames. My Dad’s studio offered both ready made and custom made frames for his portrait customers. Frames were my favorite part of the inventory. I loved the range colors, shapes, profiles and designs. Boxes and boxes of them. Constructed of solid wood–or metal–they were moulded, carved and stained. The easel backs of the smaller, tabletop frames were usually covered in a velvet-like material, not like the flimsy, cardboard backs I see today on the shelves of chain and big box stores.
I could recognize the style of each company–Carr, Burnes of Boston, Hartcraft, Kendall, to mention a few. Many of these companies have long since been gobbled up by bigger companies and frankly, the quality has slipped. But sometimes I see a frame today and know exactly which company made it.
Taking inventoy was a good way to learn about every single item in the store. It’s similar to what many of us do in our personal lives when thinking about New Year’s resolutions. As the end of the year approaches, I find myself reviewing my year, taking stock, if you will, of what I accomplished, what I didn’t quite finish and what I never got started. It pulls things into perspective and helps me figure out what’s really important and what’s is not.
In a sense I’m still taking inventory, just as I did for my Dad’s studio, but the things I count now are much bigger than projector bulbs and picture frames.
I must be an optimist. What else could explain why, every year about this time I spend hours in my garden planting hundreds (yes, hundreds) of tulip bulbs? I do this every autumn despite the fact that I know I will need to do battle with the voracious tulip-devouring deer that frequent my neighborhood.
Every autumn, I gather my gardening tools, my bulb food, my bags of newly purchased tulip bulbs and head out to my flower beds to spend an hour or two. I pull on my gloves and strap on my knee pads and begin punching holes into the ground with a clever little cone-shaped tool designed to do exactly that.
After years of performing this annual ritual, I have finally developed a system. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me. Punch the holes, place the individual bulbs over each one, then twist and lift out a cylinder of dirt using my bulb planter. Next, I sprinkle a little bulb food or bone meal into the hole, stir it up a bit to mix it into the dirt, drop the bulb into place, then empty out the dirt from my tool back into the hole. I do this for no less than 15 bulbs at a time as it seems to make the process go more quickly. Once I’ve covered over the planted bulbs, I poke a little red marker into the perimeter of the area I’ve just worked so that I don’t mistakenly repeat it later. (Took me a few years to figure that one out.)
Usually, I have fairly good luck with this method. Doesn’t even matter if I accidentally slice in half an old bulb buried deep in the ground from last season because tulips left over from the year before rarely produce good flowers the second or third year. (Unless, of course, you go to the trouble of digging them all up and separate off all the baby bulbs.)
For that reason, I quit wasting my money on the fancier breed of tulips from the nearby tulip farms or ordering the tempting delights found on the pages of the full-color catalogs that arrived in the mail. Now, I settle for inexpensive bags of 90 sold at a big box store because, as my husband never ceases to remind me, I’m just buying food for the deer.
If I am diligent and start in February to discourage the deer from having dinner on me, I wind up with a pretty lovely display of color in the spring. If I plan carefully, this springtime show will last for a couple of months. I try not to leave home too much during late March and April, when the flowers are in full bloom, so that I can literally enjoy the ‘flowers of my labor.’ I still like to make trips to the local tulip fields, but I find my own much more gratifying.
So, today I once again don my gardener’s gear, collect my tools and spend some time digging in the soil, performing the exercise of the optimist. Let me know if you’re an optimist too.
My Dad, like so many other veterans of war, didn’t talk about his experiences as a soldier in World War II when I was kid growing up. My brother Richard and I played ‘army’ with his canteen, his backpack and some of his hats, but we never asked him, nor did he volunteer, to tell us how he had carried or worn those things during his four years of service with the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion. He kept those stories to himself until my younger brother, Brad, when writing a paper for his eighth grade American history class, coaxed some out of him. Until then, we knew little about those years of his life.
But I remember as a kid, stumbling across some small black and white prints that had been stuffed away into a drawer. I quietly leafed through the pictures. The images were unreal. I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing but it made my stomach turn. What were these? Where did they come from? And why were they tucked back into a drawer that was rarely opened? Feeling as if I had accidentally come upon someone’s dark secret, I carefully placed the photos back into the drawer just as I found so as not to reveal that they had been disturbed.
As far as I know, those photos remained there for a very long time, long after I had gone off to college and moved away. Frankly, I didn’t care if I ever saw them again but it didn’t matter because those stark, unedited black and whites were stamped indelibly into my mind. Only after my brother started the conversation with my Dad about his service during the War did we begin to learn the full details of those pictures and how they came to be.
My father’s unit was a special unit, assigned to many different divisions during the course of the War, depending where they were needed. When other units would finish up a mission and be sent home for some R&R or discharge, my father’s would move on to the next. By the end of the War, his outfit had seen 511 days of combat, more than any other, except for one, in the European theatre. His introduction to war started in North Africa, moved up through Sicily and Italy, into France and finally into Germany during the final days of the War. There, shortly after Munich fell (where my Dad also was), he and some men of his unit walked into the nightmare we now know as Dachau.
What they saw could not be described, or, if it was, would not be believed. Perhaps realizing that this would be the case, my Dad reached for the camera he carried and took as many photos as he could probably handle before stashing it safely back into his pack. If anyone doubted his eyewitness account to this camp of death, my Dad would have something to prove what he was saying was true. Those were the photos I found.
Who knows how long those photos remained as negatives or when he finally brought himself to turn them into prints. My Dad finally did begin to share that experience, especially during his later years with my sons.
Coincidentally, just hours before my Dad was in Dachau, another American soldier and his men were in a jeep pulling up to the gates on the opposite side of the camp. He saw before him a German officer wearing an armband with the Red Cross on it and carrying a white flag. The American in the jeep was Lt. William Cowling, who, like my Dad was from Kansas. Although the two did not know each other then, Cowling later married a girl from my Dad’s hometown and became the father of one of my best friends from high school. Like myself, she knew only a little about her father’s wartime career until the later years of his life. Her father had written an emotional letter home to his family the day after the liberation of the concentration camp recounting the details of that day. Cowling also had filed an official report for the Army, but it was detached and distant, devoid of the emotions he revealed to his parents. After he returned home, he seldom spoke about that day until, as my friend said, late in his life.
There are many more stories like this one, of old soldiers keeping their terrible memories of the War to themselves, or putting them on paper only to be put away somewhere until years later. I was reminded of all this, and of my Dad’s own story about Dachau, just recently by the teacher of my French class. She began the class that evening telling us, in French, how she had just been given a letter written by her father from the War. It was something she had never seen before, she said. In it, he detailed how his unit had been positioned outside Dachau and told what that had been like. I followed her story as closely as I could (my French isn’t yet fluent) but when she began to talk about Dachau, I listened even more intently. After she concluded her story, I recalled to her my own Dad’s experience at Dachau and then also told the group about my friend’s father, Lt. Cowling.
It seemed so random to me, that we could be sitting in the same room, after both our father’s had passed on, and discover that we were in some way linked by the history of our respective fathers’ military service. Just like that between my high school friend and myself. (Or my husband and myself as I wrote in my November, 2013 post) I suspect that happens more often than many of us know. It points out to me that war brings people together in strange ways, long after the shooting has ended and for generations to come. But the stories disappear as those who know them pass on. That’s one reason why it’s important, on Veteran’s Day or any other day, to honor these people, to listen while you can to their stories, to ask about the photo and to thank them for surviving.
To read more about my Dad’s military service click here. This one was built by my brother, Brad. You can create a tribute ”shadow box’ for your own family member here. You can also learn more about the ‘Red Dragons’ of World War II in the book ‘Finding My Father’s War’ by Walt Eldridge.
I’ve often told people who ask that the city where I live, Bellingham, WA., is like a small European community. One reason is because the city has a rich arts lifestyle especially for its size. “Bellingham is ranked the second best arts community in the country, with the ranking being based on the number of active arts businesses per capita,” according to Downtown Bellingham, a non-profit organization of local businesses and civic-minded residents that works to promote the city’s lively and historic downtown.
During the 1980s, local galleries opened their doors four times a year for what was known as the Gallery Walk. In 2009, it became a monthly event that takes place on the First Friday evenings , even in winter. It has become a highly popular outing for locals as well as visitors who wander from shop to shop, gallery to gallery taking in a wide variety of art created by the many talented artists who live here.
Downtown businesses, in addition to the galleries, showcase the work of local artists with openings from 6 to 10 p.m. during Art Walk. I am often among those who enjoy the evening viewing the artwork. But at the May Art Walk to be this Friday, May 1, I’ll be showing some of my own portrait work in a group show at Dakota Art in its relatively new gallery space.
The show will focus on the art of portraiture and different styles of portraiture. Three other artists, besides myself, will also be featured. Everett Aison will show five framed triptych portraits of “New York Subway Faces” and a series of “63 people looking at Art” water-color drawings and digital prints. The portrait art of the young artist Katie Johnson, originally from Hillsboro, Ore, whose works are very stylized large-scale oil paintings of the faces of various Bellingham brewers. Also included is Tessa Asato who creates large-scale drawings that are heavily detail oriented and have strong concepts.
Five or six (space dependent) of my photographic portrait prints will be displayed. They represent a good variety of both my photographic media and my own portrait style. Some are portraits which I was hired to create for clients, others are ones that I initiated myself. Some clients own copies of the prints but most are from my personal collection and are the only existing print. Many have not been seen outside my studio doors. I am pleased to present them at Art Walk.
There’s a story behind each print, but I won’t be able to tell them that evening. I’ll share shortened versions here and with the images so that those of you who don’t live here can see them as well. As someone commented to me last week, you won’t get the full impact of the image without seeing it firsthand, just as with any piece of art. You can’t see here the finish used, the artwork done or the type of paper on which it was printed. I won’t get into a discussion about how I work other than to say that when photographing someone, whether for a personal portrait, a business or a high school senior, I do my best to reveal something about that subject, their personality or inner self. That comes with getting to know them quickly, making them comfortable enough to not be self-conscious in front of the camera and then capturing the moment on film or digital realisation.
“Fairy in the Forest,” was created during this young woman’s high school senior portrait session. Her mother asked me to photograph her daughter in her ballet clothes. After shooting some in the studio, I asked her to come outside with me to forest. She took off her ballet slippers and followed me out. I didn’t really have anything specific in mind at the time, I just like the idea of putting someone out of context. I placed her on the path amongst the towering trees and asked her to move into various ballet positions. Later, in looking at the raw proofs, this particular image reminded me of Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” one of my favorites. I had the print pressed into a fine weave canvas after scanning the original negative and doing some digital artwork.
I asked Richard Knight, the father of my Pilates instructor, if I could photograph him for my “The Noble Knight” after hearing about his remarkable accomplishment of winning six gold medals in swimming at the Senior Olympics. (You can read about that in my blog post: A Knight in Shining Armor.) Richard, then 79, wasn’t too certain about my idea, but once we met at the session, we became instant buddies, in part, because we’re both swimmers although I can only dream about winning six gold medals. I had hoped to persuade him to shed his jacket so that his medals would gleam against his bare chest but when he wasn’t willing to do that, I just went with it. He was a good sport when I told him I wanted him to stand out on the rock surrounded by chilly water. But the look on his face and his stance caught at this instant, created for me a priceless image of a man at his the peak of accomplishment.
“Nikki, The Girl in White” was also done for a client’s high school senior. She was great fun to work with as I photographed her at a local boatyard. The rest of the images from this session are full of bright color from the boats, equipment and buildings. But towards the end, she slipped on a white t-shirt and I moved her away from the color to a spot nearer the water with only the sky behind her. The contrast between her shirt, the sky, her hair and skin tones was stunning. She was smiling in most of the images but then her expression changed and I had a moment that I thought said more about her than all the others. I gave the print a high gloss finish to make it pop even more and give a high-fashion flavor.
“Rachel in the Field” is a much softer image. The young woman pictured here is the beautiful daughter of my cousin. Rachel is a horsewoman so we had gone to the stables to photograph her with her horse. When we were wrapping up, I placed her for some final images in the adjacent pasture with the treeline silhouetted in the background. She sat on the ground for the first few then I asked her stand and instead of looking at me, gaze off towards the horizon. When she did, I captured it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in editing her images later, I realized those last images bore direct references to artist Andrew Wyeth‘s indelible “Christina’s World.” I then applied digital artwork to create a feel I thought similar to that conveyed in Wyeth’s watercolor, although I didn’t want to duplicate his work,and that expressed the mood of my image.
“Madonna and Son”, the only print of which I don’t have a digital version to show here, also has considerable artwork, most of it done by hand on the print itself, in order to achieve the end result I had envisioned. This image feels very Italian to me, which is why I guess I gave it that title.It was done for a friend of mine in Los Angeles shortly after the birth of her second son. I arrived at her home for the session. Rarely, if ever, do I give my subjects props or clothing to wear but in this case, I loaned a silky white nylon robe to her. I can’t say that I had this image in mind when I shot it on film, but when I saw it in the camera’s viewfinder, I knew I had something special. She and her son were photographed in her hallway with the white light from the living room windows streaming in behind her. To this I added a feather screen on the print and then finished it with a lot of pencil work to give it the ‘etched’ look I was after. It is one of my own, as well as that of my many clients’ favorite portraits. I often have it hanging on the wall of my studio.
Lastly, but not least, is “The Pianist.” This portrait was created at the request of the Mount Baker Youth Symphony for a concert poster. This young man had won the orchestra’s concerto competition and was to be the soloist for the concert. When he arrived at my studio for the session, I took him into my home and had him sit at the piano. I asked him to play some of the music he would perform. When he did, it was as if he had left my room for his own personal world. Me too. When he stopped, I simply asked him to turn and look out the window but to leave one hand touching the piano’s keyboard. He clearly was still thinking about the music as he did so because you can see him so lost in reflective thought. The film image was made on watercolor paper as a delicate giclée print after I scanned the image and added my digital artwork to it.
I wish that all of you could come to the gallery next Friday and see these prints for yourselves. If you can’t, I hope that this offers some insight into my own portrait work and how I, as a photographic portrait artist, approach my work in creating my these images. You can always see more of my own portrait work on my studio website.
Read more about Bellingham’s Downtown Art Walk on Whatcom Talk.
In case you missed it, December 7 was not only Pearl Harbor Day here in the States, it also is designated as National Letter Writing Day. This was not something I knew either until I heard about it on a piece aired on National Public Radio. I’m not sure who selected Pearl Harbor Day to be the same day as encouraging and celebrating people putting pen to paper. It’s not an official federal holiday (there are only 10 of those), but it’s a nice idea to recognize the value of what is rapidly becoming a lost art especially as the holiday season kicks off.
I refer of course to the annual holiday letter that comes (or came) enclosed with many of the holiday greeting cards that arrive. To be sure, e-mail and social media outlets, particularly Facebook, have lessened the perceived need for a letter detailing the events of the previous year. Some of my friends have simply moved their letters from the cards to their e-mail outbox although I still print them for myself once I have received one.
I’m carrying on the tradition because there are those who don’t read or follow me on any sort of social media and also because I enjoy recalling for myself and setting it down for the record the activities, travels, life events of my year. This was called to my attention this week not only by the NPR article but also with the receipt of a brief holiday letter from my childhood friend, Arlyne, along with her Christmas card. Arlyne lived across the busy Main Street (also a highway) from the motel my parents owned and where we lived. We spent countless days together as playmates running back and forth across the street.
Fortunately, Arlyne’s card arrived early because she’s moved and I would have had no other way of knowing this. Tucked into her card were three postcards. I assume she came across these when moving (she’s had several rummage sales with more to come). The postcards were written to her by me when vacationing with my parents. I was particularly grateful for one of them because it was written (clearly by my mother but signed by me) on a trip to the Pacific Northwest in 1960.
“Dear Arlyne,” it began, “I went to Wash. Sat. & got to go on my uncle’s ship, the Coral Sea & ate dinner on it. We were on it for 4 1/2 hours & still didn’t see everything. It is as long as 3 football fields & 20 stories high. There are 3,000 sailors on it. Got to ride on a Ferry for an hr. Love Cheryl”
Why this was such a treat to receive was because I have always remembered visiting that ship. I particularly remember how terrifying small I felt next to the huge iron links of the anchor chain as we toured through that room. But I wasn’t certain exactly when my family visited the aircraft carrier and now that they are gone, I no longer had them to ask. My uncle, who is still living and sailor-sharp for the most part, remembers our visit but couldn’t recall the exact year.
It’s really not an important detail to anyone else but to me, but my friend Arlyne’s gift of an old postcard, validated my memory of that day and gave it a date. That she still had this postcard after this many years and decided to send it on to me with her Christmas card and letter instead of tossing it out when she moved was truly fortunate for me.
Historians and biographers yearn for this sort of material when conducting research about their subjects. But fewer and fewer of us are sitting down to actually write a letter, at the holidays or any other time. It’s creating a crises of sorts. As much as it is convenient and wonderful, electronic mail and social media (including blogs such as my own), are not proven to be permanent document of record. Accepted in court proceedings as legal documents, yes, but whether they will last as records of history remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’ll happily continue to send a holiday letter along with my greeting card and will welcome yours if you do so too!