Showcase Home Revealed at Huge Party

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” column in the South Pasadena Review  1.28.16

Showcase-House-1
2016 Pasadena Showcase Home, Illustration by Lynn Van Dam Cooper

On Friday night, blueprints of design, swatches of fabric, and bare rooms with delectable food filled the “Empty House Party” and the newly revealed 2016 Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts (PSHA.) This year, the non-profit organization will showcase a 1918-built mission revival, found on a 2-acre property in La Canada Flintridge.

The Empty House Party is a very exciting night for us. We have been working diligently to get the House to this point,” said former South Pasadena resident Marilyn Campbell Anderson, this year’s Benefit Chair.

The event kicked-off the designers’ dream-making spree, as ideas are fleshed out and the creativity revealed to the public April 17-May 15. Landscape and interior design artists vie for a spot to strut their stuff and help raise money for the arts around Los Angeles County.

The process is straightforward. The owners of the property, in this case the nearly 100-year-old gem, move out for 6 months while the place is gutted of furniture and belongings while preparations are made for a design renovation inside and out.

Professionals submit their proposals for the space they desire to transform. The selection committee then decides which ideas shows the most promise and entrusts the designer with the task.

This year’s sprawling property has a three-story, 16,000 square foot main residence with six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a variety of open spaces, balconies, an elevator, and even a rumored speakeasy on the lowest floor. There is also a 2,100 square foot stand alone guest home in the back. In the main house, the master suite alone is 1,500 square feet and includes separate his and hers bathrooms and a changing room the size of a large living room in your average home. Samantha Williams of Ederra Design Studio is one of two designers who will take charge of this space.

Though a great deal of work lie ahead for the 20 interior design firms, 8 exterior design firms and hundreds of volunteer members associated with the PSHA, all agree that it’s fully worth the effort. Anderson said, “Showcase is a huge undertaking. Our volunteers are the backbone of the organization and through their efforts, year after year, we are able to produce Showcase and raise funds to support music education programs throughout the community.”

The goal is for 30,000 people to walk through the home in 25 days. $630,000 was donated last year alone for gifts and grants and more given to other artsy endeavors. A cumulative $20+ million has been donated since the start of the organization in 1948.

The funds go toward music and art education in and around Los Angeles County: gifts and grants for outstanding community programs, the “Music Mobile” bringing a hands-on music experience to hundreds of 3rd graders, a concert at the Walt Disney Hall by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for an audience filled with 4th-grade students, competitions for promising young musicians (16-24 years of age) who receive monetary awards to assist in furthering their music education and more!

But truly, this is a win-win for all. Not only does the philanthropic owner enjoy some improvements to the house, but many have the opportunity to give directly to their community by supporting children in the arts. The public can experience a historic home with modern ideas to accentuate and celebrate the past; and designers benefit by showcasing their talent to thousands.

When asked why he’s done this for the past seven years, Jason Lai, owner and principal designer of L2 Interiors said that it was simply “good advertisement and all worth it.” Lai will be showcasing a “young adult” bedroom and bath. He is proud to be debuting a textured porcelain that looks like stone and a custom faucet for the bath that “mix metals” in a tasteful manner.

The cost for the redesign are incurred by each design firm. Designers also work with a variety of businesses who advertise alongside them, donating materials and ultimately add to the cause.

When the home opens to the public in April, it will be the 52nd showcase, “one of the oldest, largest and most successful house and garden tour in the U.S.” according to PSHA.

Tickets go on sale February 3 and are $35-$45/person, depending on the day and hour of a scheduled tour. (A $60 golden ticket that allows a visit during any open hours is currently on sale online.) Parking will be in Lot I at the Rose Bowl, shuttling people to and from the home.

For tickets and information, go online to pasadenashowcase.org.

List of Designers & their Design Space

Entry, Staircase and Second Floor Hall: Saxony Design Build Inc., Joshua Cain & Jeff Godbold (Interior Advisors)

Grand Salon: Designs of the Interior, Karen Shoener, Genaro Lagdameo & Carla Padour

Music Room: Parker West Interiors, Greg Parker & Paul Heinz

Dining Room: Kelly Ferm Inc., Kelly Ferm

Cloakroom and Lavatory: EMI Interior Design, Inc., Erica Islas

Master Suite: Ederra Design Studio, Samantha Williams & Cynthia Lambakis

Morning Room and Lady’s Office: Tocco Finale, Dona Dockendorf

Grandparent’s Suite and Sitting Room: Lemmon Hill, Cathy Arkley

Grandparents’ Suite Bath: Foothill Tile and Stone Co., Vincent Chow & Carmel Chow

The Artist’s Veranda and The Aviary Elevator: Shari Tipich, Decorative Artist

The Writer’s Retreat: Mark and Bleue Design, Inc., Savannah Bleue & Ally Marks

Little Girl’s Bedroom: Salutations Home, Scott Moore & Jonna Carls

Young Adult Bedroom and Jack & Jill Bath: L2 Interiors, Stephanie Leese & Jason Lai

Family Room, Main Hallway and Powder Room: Robert Frank Design, Robert Frank

Guest Suite: Julia Wong Designs, Julia Wong

Smoking Lounge: Michael Wrusch Design, Michael Wrusch

Kitchen, Butler’s Pantry, Breakfast Room, Laundry Room and Caterer’s Kitchen: GH Wood Design, Amin Khademi, Kaleena Khademi & Jack Carino

Basement Hallway/Art Gallery: Roula’s Decor, Roula Dardari

Guest House Bedroom, Bath, Living Room and Dining Room: The Art of Room Design, Maria Videla

Guest House Kitchen, Breakfast Room and Laundry: D Christjan, Phil Vonk

Exterior Design Spaces

Exterior Advisor: Land Re: Vision, Larry Pastre

Entry Gardens and Rose Garden: RA Designs, Mouna Stewart

Sculpture Garden: Gad Garden Architecture & Design, Leo Cruz

Tidellii of Fountain Valley, Tatiana Mendelli & Ginger Evans

Entry Veranda: Interior Devine, Paul Devine

The Pond: Mystic Water Garden, Steve Sandalis

Sacred Space Garden: Design Inc., Karen Miller

Guest House Gardens: Outdoor Elegance, Inc., Douglas Sanicola & Roxanne Spear

The Pool: Pacific Outdoor Living, Terry Morrill and John Durco

The Sports Court and Putting Green: TD Sports Inc./Sportcourla, Dale Hendrickson

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A Very Special Olympics

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” Column, South Pasadena Review 8.6.15

By Ann Suk Wang

The Special Olympics: Volleyball at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion
The Special Olympics: Volleyball at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion

After the last note of the floor exercise played and the final pose held, a gymnast sprinted off, into an excited embrace with her coach. Together they almost fell over, twirling with joy as the athlete’s legs and arms wound around the coach’s torso. It looked like an octopus clinging to a pillar. The pillar stood strong.

I waited in line for 45 minutes with two whining boys to get into the John Wooden Center at UCLA and experienced this glorious moment. It was worth it for all of us.

Last week, Los Angeles was graced with a special event: the Special Olympics. And I say graced because it was a gift to L.A. to participate in the celebration of diversity and be inspired by the determination and courage of those around the world with an intellectual disability.

My family also attended volleyball games, the first ever “dance challenge” and the closing ceremony; all were tear-jerkingly inspirational. We had witnessed the thrill of victory, not only for a medal, but personal victories to overcome with disabilities that, truth be told, melted into the background.

South Pasadena had the privilege of being a “Host Town” to athletes from Morocco and Paraguay. More than 100 communities from San Louis Obispo to San Diego participated by being matched with delegations from different countries. Volunteers welcomed guest before the games through parades and activities, spread the word around town about events to come and cheered during competitions for their matched athletes.

The Special Olympics are held every two years, alternating summer and winter games (and should not to be confused with Paralympics, held the week after The Olympics for those with physical disabilities.) Their motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” was coined by Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the first games in 1968, held in her backyard.

Since then, the Special Olympics has promoted awareness and been a champion for equality, inclusion, and acceptance. During the 9 days of the 2015 summer games, there were about 7,000 athletes, 177 countries represented, 30,000 volunteers, 3,000 coaches, and 500,000 spectators (millions more watched on TV).

Volunteer healthcare professionals gave free exams and met the health care needs of the athletes. Michael Wang, a physician at USC and my husband, cared for a football coach with malaria and an athlete with a foot infection, requiring surgery.

“Fans in the Stands” gathered groups of 10 or more to attend sporting events to cheer for the athletes at dozens of venues around L.A. (like UCLA, USC, Long Beach, Griffith Park, Lucky Strikes in Downtown and more.)

Special Olympics Inaugural Dance Challenge: me with Cody Carlson, made popular in So You Think You Can Dance
Special Olympics Inaugural Dance Challenge: me with Cody Carlson, made popular in So You Think You Can Dance

The “Inaugural Dance Challenge,” launched at the Wallis Annenberg Center, was hosted by Nigel Lythgoe, producer of “So You Think You Can Dance” and judged by famous names like Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Twitch, to name a few. Apolo Ohno, Gold Medalist in speed skating at the 2006 Winter Olympics, said it well, “This night is about being unified on the field and in life.” Ben Vereen, the “preacher” of the night said, “The dance heals us. [It’s] not only for the people dancing, but for us.”

The dancers were magical, whether from Panama or Pakistan. I almost lost my voice in collective shouts of excitement as soloists leapt in a lyrically graceful jeté, couples glided across the stage in beautiful ballroom gowns and crews hit it hard while onlookers bounced to the beat and hooted their approval. One soloist even got there late, due to a bus problem, but was given the opportunity to perform anyway, his hard work rewarded with cheers and tears.

“The world comes together to see our athletes in action and celebrate their victories over huge odds. The Special Olympics World Game embraces unity, achievement and dignity,” states the la2015.org website.

This last week, my own chest swelled with pride for the courageous athletes and all the supportive people around them, holding them up and giving the rest of us a snap shot of a hopeful future.

Award-Winning Author, Gary Schmidt Visits SPMS

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” column in the South Pasadena Review 3/26/15

By Ann Suk Wang

GaryDShmidt

Many become excited when a movie star or a well-known musician is seen in person. Palms may become slightly damp and the heart may pound a little faster. The rush of recognition causes even the coolest fan to quickly assess, whether to try to get an autograph, snap a quick photo with a phone, shake the celebrity’s hand, or form words of praise: “I loved you in [such and such] movie” or “Your song is the best.”

For me, I feel a bit giddy and star-struck when I have the privilege of meeting an author. Maybe it’s because we share a love for words and good story telling. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent days in their world, with their characters and their thoughts. But no matter who strikes intrigue in you, it’s probably because there’s an instant respect for whoever creates the art that moves you.

signing for a long line of students
signing for a long line of students

On Friday, the students of South Pasadena Middle School (SPMS) got a taste of the excitement that comes with meeting a two-time Newbery Honor-winning, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Honored author of The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt. These awards are no joke in the children’s book publishing world. They’re the best of the best novels, chosen among all published works for youth each year.

But how did such an author find his way to SPMS? Librarian Betsy Kahn loved Schmidt’s book Okay for Now so much that she persuaded the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) to fund the purchase of dozens of copies and distributed them so that students and staff could “read it forward” around school. Eventually she wrote Schmidt a lengthy hand-written letter about the stir his book was creating, included a photograph of herself dressed for Halloween as the hardcover copy of the book, and asked if he could possibly make a visit. Schmidt later admitted to Kahn, he just “couldn’t refuse.” So with further financial help from SPEF, Schmidt was flown to California.

Schmidt teaches prospective writers
Schmidt teaches prospective writers

When Schmidt arrived at the school on Friday, his day was packed: autographing books and pieces of paper for a winding line of students during brunch and lunch, speaking to student artists and writers, and giving two assemblies. He led a workshop about developing intriguing characters. He disclosed that he has a secret room in his home that he’s never entered because he likes the mystery, revealing a little more about him. He told a moving story that included how “The Draft” was done during the Vietnam War and how older men now, still remember “their number.” He spoke about stories starting with questions and ending with even more. All was inspiring.

As for my part in all this, I had none. I was just a parent volunteer at the library who caught wind of the Okay for Now phenomenon and was fortunate enough to see it unfold from a distance and as a parent of a pre-teen who now calls Schmidt’s writings one of his favorites.

But don’t feel too bad if you feel you missed out. Fortunately for those who live in and around South Pasadena, there are many opportunities to learn from and meet local and world-renowned authors: during events at the South Pasadena and surrounding libraries and at bookstores like Vroman’s in Pasadena and Once Upon a Time in Montrose. Check them out because these locations attract the biggest names in the industry!

The power of a book: there’s no telling where it’ll take you… maybe right to the feet of your favorite superstar author and beyond. Way beyond!

Grief in Good Times Through the Holidays

Originally printed in the South Pasadena Review 12/18/14; for my column, “A Stone’s Throw”

Image from psych central.com
Image from psychcentral.com

This is a season of celebration and joy. It’s seen in stores and along Fair Oaks. It’s heard on the radio and in churches. You can smell it from kitchens. We feel it in the air. But for those who have lost a loved one (and now I join this thoughtful bunch with the sudden passing of my father this September) mixed emotions abound.

I don’t pretend to be experienced in grief; this inevitability is still raw. But as I mourn and help my mom in the process as well, we’ve learned much together, stumbled through Thanksgiving, and continue to figure it out as we go.

Mom lives with us for now (2 loud children, a needy dog and patient husband among us.) We decided it’s best for us to be together. The boys have to sleep in the same room, though challenging at times, this has also proven to be good; they actually like it this way, now.

Mom and I are currently going through the seemingly endless “business” of tying-up financial loose ends, memorializing dad’s life with an engraved bench in Griffith Park (his favorite hiking spot), cleaning, and creating memories of his legacy as a poet and a “viewing stone” artist.

Random things make us break down at various times. For mom, she became angry when having to check-off “married,” “single,” or “widowed” on a form or cries when thinking about all the food she didn’t let him eat (cannot win here.) For me, I broke down at the grocery store after seeing a friend from the past. All are examples of just a few of the many unusual times grief has struck.

We fight the dichotomous need to hold in our emotions, so we’re not a blubbering mess at every turn, while at the same time, try to encourage each other to just let it out, to allow the grief to flow naturally.

When I want to cry, I don’t. When I want to hold it in, because it’s just downright embarrassing at times, my face curls up hideously in a last-ditch effort to control the flood about to erupt.

There is, of course, no one “right” way to mourn. There are, however, some good things to keep in mind, whether you are grieving or someone you know is mourning a loss (this may also include beloved pets). Whether or not it’s been a few months or a few decades since the loss, grief rears itself unexpectedly and sometimes so deeply it may seem no one can possibly understand. Experts say it gets better with time. I’m trusting this.

For now, there are days I am numb, emotionless even. Sometimes I am so busy, taking care of everyone else, that I forget mourning. But as a good friend reminded me, I, too, am grieving. When I stay in that space, I realize it’s the pain I’m avoiding. And as I read in grief.com, “Grief is the way out of pain.” So it behooves us to find ways to grieve well.

Here are some dos and don’ts I’ve found helpful or have discovered through research:

Do something for yourself, whatever feeds your soul (even if it’s “fun,” don’t feel guilty, laughter is also a form of medicine). My mom wants to learn how to play the guitar. I write.

Do think about children who are close, they are often “forgotten grievers.” Keeping old traditions during the holidays may serve them well. And come up with some enjoyable new ones, too.

Do things for others. Volunteer at a food bank. Visit those who may be lonely. A month after my father’s passing I made a meal for a new mom and that surprisingly felt healing to serve another.

Do celebrate the season. For me, Christmas is about “Emanuel,” God with us. So my focus here fills me and keeps me grounded.

Do rest.

Don’t force yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right. Allow yourself to be alone and be with people, whatever helps.

Don’t keep feelings locked-up. Talk about your loved one, whether or not emotions follow. Celebrate this season as you mourn and remember treasured memories of your loved one.

Don’t reject help. You may be blessed (and allow blessings to fall on others) in unexpected ways as you stay connected to people. This was definitely true for us in the form of friends giving us meals, to give only one example.

Though there is no magic solution to make the pain go away during the holidays and the “quiet” months that follow, there are ways to press into it and make it a time to celebrate the life of a loved one and how they made you who you are.

For dealing with grief, try one of these resources in South Pasadena: Jessica ChenFeng, PhD, LMFT (626) 817-2188, therapywithmftjess.com; Craig Clark, PhD (626) 403-0734; Jacqueline Woods, LMFT at Pacific Trauma Treatment Center (626) 808-4030, PacificTTC.com. Also, seek counseling and grief support in various houses of faith in the community.

Research credit and online resources: griefnet.org and grief.com