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

Leo Politi’s “Moy Moy” Celebrated

 

2016-01-15_000825676_94FC3_iOS   (2016-01-28T23_30_30.110)
Lion Dancers lead crowd to library.

Originally published 1.21.15 in “A Stone’s Throw” Column in the South Pasadena Review

2016-01-15_001009730_D21CD_iOS
Mary Yan Joe or “Moy Moy” remembers Leo Politi.

Last Thursday, dancing lions roamed the streets of South Pasadena, winding through the farmer’s market, blinking lit-up eyes, flapping wiggly ears and ushering a crowd into the community room of the public library.

As the lively percussion band and lion dancers nestled down, the actual “Moy Moy” herself (“little sister” in a Cantonese dialect) settled-in to read Leo Politi’s picture book about a Chinese New Year celebration in L.A.’s Chinatown in the 1960s.

Politi, a children’s book author/illustrator and muralist, weaves a story of Moy Moy and her three big brothers (Harry, George and Frank) as they celebrate around their family’s shop.  

Moy Moy longs for a beautiful doll, but will she get it? She will first have to overcome her fear of the lions that come to life as they roar to a stand, grow angry and happy, eat dangling fruit and donated money and even sleep and wake to the beat of drums.

As Moy Moy read, children absorbed the beloved story. Adults joined in from the chairs behind and under the backdrop of dozens of Politi’s art on display.

After a complete reading of the story, Moy Moy or Mary Yan Joe, a resident of South Pasadena and the main character of the book, shared briefly about its history and author. She then showed her own collection of Politi originals, given to her family by the author himself.

As an artist who celebrated friendship and cultural diversity, Politi created some 20 books for children, a Caldecott winner and two honors among them (one of the highest achievements for a children’s picture book.)

Joe recalled a memory of Politi and her childhood, “I just remember him coming and bringing his little dog that I was terrified of; he would try to get me to warm up to the dog. I was told that was how he captured that in the story, where I was afraid of the lion.”

Politi loved interacting with and creating art about children. This was evident even as the youngest son, Frank Yan, would climb on Politi’s back as he tried to paint. Yan remembered, “I was the rascal…  I would just pester him.” A photo of young Yan climbing on a working Politi’s back was included in the exhibit.

Original dolls (like the one Moy Moy covets in the story) from Politi’s toy collection were also on display, juxtaposed to the illustrations that depicted them.

Politi had a special fondness for South Pasadena, painting his first library wall mural there. And South Pasadena loves Politi. Not only is a mural of children reading treasured in the children’s room of the library, but February 28 is proclaimed as the city’s official “Leo Politi Day.”

After the reading of “Moy Moy,” the evening’s line up was far from over.

Politi’s daughter, Suzanne Politi Bischof was on hand to represent the family and answer questions. Alan Cook, puppeteer, presented a fun and fascinating show of shadows illuminated like a makeshift television (sometimes called shadow play or shadow puppetry.) A detailed original sketch by Politi of Cook’s show in the past was also shared with the audience. Children created their own art at a craft table. And Ann Stalcup, who wrote “Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels” shared her book and more insight into Politi’s life.

The evening was a unique and fitting way to kick-off 2016 in South Pasadena and the Chinese New Year ahead (February 8).

Though the exhibit is no longer in the community room, you can still experience some of Politi’s books and his mural by visiting the South Pasadena Library.

Gong Hey Fat Choy! – Cantonese for “congratulations and be prosperous” in the New Year.

Thursday’s event was made possible by The Politi family, Lisa Boyd/Moms for Community, The City of South Pasadena, The South Pasadena Public Library, The Friends of the South Pasadena Library and many supportive volunteers.

CERT Classes Empower People to Prepare for Emergencies

DSC_0502
Putting out blaze – Community members learn how to extinguish a fire properly and efficiently.

 

Part 1 of 2: Published 9.24.15, South Pasadena Review

When disaster strikes, it’s too late to prepare. And in California, an earthquake, a fire, a windstorm or even your car breaking down on the way to Vegas in 100-degree heat can turn into an emergency situation very quickly. We know this, and yet many, including myself, continue to put off preparing.

No more excuses. The City of South Pasadena offers free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training classes for anyone over 18-years of age.

This past Saturday, the third CERT Basic Training took place at Oneonta Congregational Church. But do not be fooled by “basic” in the title. This 12-hour class, split into three Saturdays, is the first step in a string of courses to help educate members of the community to respond to various emergencies.

Some of the topics covered in the “Basic” training are: fire safety, light search and rescue, basic first aid, disaster medical operations, terrorism, disaster psychology, and CERT Team organization. This last Saturday, one of the hands-on lessons was in how to use a fire extinguisher in a safe and effective way. We were encouraged to put out a fire while remembering PASS: Pull (the safety tab), Aim (extinguisher at the base of the fire), Squeeze (the lever with a strong grip) and Sweep (in a slow side to side motion).

Sign up for future free CERT trainings by going to the city of South Pasadena website: southpasadenaca.gov, under the “Residents” tab, then select “Disaster Preparedness.” Amateur Radio Training (to learn about emergency communications) will be on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7-9 PM. And the next CERT Basic Training will begin Saturday, February 20, 2016.

Part 2 of 2: Published 10.1.15

DSC_0540 (1)
CPR Training – Administering CPR is not for the faint of heart. South Pasadena firemen Matt Robertson and Captain Kris Saxon oversee trainees.

CERT Trains Community to Help Others in an Emergency

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) “basic” training course does not water down the truths of a disaster. Images of charred skin, misaligned bones, and distressed and dying individuals were part of the class this past Saturday. But all of this was done to train individuals to help not only themselves and family members in an emergency, but to aid the community during a disaster.

Some material that was covered include: the psychological impact of a disaster, a step-by-step triage protocol, ABCs (airway, breathing, bleeding, circulation), creating makeshift splints and tourniquets, and CPR.

Hands-on training was given for an up-to-date method of “Hands-only” or “sidewalk” CPR. Though official certification for CPR was not given, trainees learned the basics while discovering how physically tiring it is to properly administer CPR for even just one minute.

According to CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fireman, Matt Robertson, the goal of CERT is to “Do the most good for the most people.” Trainees were encouraged to start where they’re standing and assess a situation while perhaps administering 30 seconds of care before moving on during triage.

When discussing the psychology of victims during a disaster, CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fire Department Captain, Kris Saxon said, “All it takes is a little bit of compassion.” CERT instructor and South Pasadena Fireman, Adam Levins added, “Let families grieve. Hold their hands.” He then went on to explain what to say and, maybe more importantly, what not to say.

With Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the US, only 6 miles away, we should have an added urgency about “being ready.” And taking a CERT class can help, not only your family, but your community in a disaster as well as other emergencies.

Sign up for free CERT classes at southpasadenaca.gov, under the “Residents” Disaster Preparedness tab.

DSC_0520
Trainees and South Pasadena Fire Fighters – Members of the community gather at Oneonta Congregational Church for the third basic CERT training offered in South Pasadena.

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.

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

The Edible Pumpkin Patch

Kabocha pumpkin photo courtesy of wholedelicious.com
Kabocha pumpkin photo courtesy of wholedelicious.com

Originally published in “A Stone’s Throw” column in the South Pasadena Review newspaper, October 2014.

Fall is by far my favorite season. There’s a chill in the air (however faint this year), leaves turn a brilliant yellow and orange, and whiffs of pumpkin waft all around. Pumpkins! I adore this autumn gourd.

Consider these pumpkin nutrition facts: it’s low in calories (one cooked cup is 49 calories); it’s an antioxidant, rich in vitamins A, C and E; it’s rich in minerals like calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium; the seeds have an excellent amount of dietary fiber and are good for the heart; there are more than 45 varieties (it gets complicated when you include types of squash); and as my second grader taught me, the more lines outside, the more seeds inside. (I checked the facts and he’s basically right!)

Though the pure inside flesh of the pumpkin is healthy for our bodies, many pumpkin products may not be as much. (Make sure to check nutrition facts on the package.) But they are tasty!

This year I’ve been visiting a kind of pumpkin patch weekly! Trader Joe’s. And my habit has been stretching my wallet and my belly.

I consistently walk out with at least three to five pumpkin items each time: Pumpkin Cream Cheese, Pumpkin Rolls with pumpkin icing, Pumpkin O’s cereal, Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies, Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels … )

This last week, I purchased three actual pumpkins to grace our front porch and welcome people into our pumpkin-stuffed home (pantry, fridge and people alike.)

As you enter my pumpkin candle-scented house, you will find me smothered in Pumpkin Body Butter, munching on a Harvest Salad with pumpkin vinaigrette, sipping Pumpkin Spice Coffee, and making Pumpkin Bread Pudding.

There are more than 60 pumpkin items in all at this one particular store. So really, I am just skimming the surface.

Though I may seem a little crazy I am actually holding back when I buy just a few items. Oh, how I yearn to try so much more and I probably will (like Pumpkin Pie Mochi Ice Cream, Pecan Pumpkin Oatmeal, and Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix!)

Trust me when I say, I don’t work for any particular grocer or pumpkin association in any way. And I assure you; I am not alone in my pumpkin headedness. On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Fallon even jokes, on more than one occasion, about America’s insatiable appetite for pumpkin lattes, another weakness of mine. (Does that even surprise you by now?)

Amidst pumpkins galore and as delicious as all the pumpkin products are, one of my family’s all-time favorite fall treats is my mom’s simple Asian Pumpkin Porridge with only three ingredients (pumpkin, rice and salt or sugar). I’m drawn back to the basic pumpkin itself. (See recipe below.)

So as you enjoy the plethora of pumpkin in our lives, don’t forget to enjoy pure pumpkin and celebrate our access to and love for it.

Final pumpkin fact: The word “pumpkin” was shamelessly used 40 times in the writing of this piece.

Mama Suk’s Asian Pumpkin Porridge

(Mom says that kings used to eat this in Korea.)

Rinse one cup of rice. Soak in water for one to two hours. Take a greenish Kabocha Squash/Japanese Pumpkin (about five pounds) and wash well, scrub even. (You can use any cooking pumpkin, but Kabocha is our favorite.) Cut in half. Take out seeds. (You can bake those separately.) Steam for roughly 20 minutes, until soft (You can also microwave about one minute per pound.)

Scoop out flesh and combine with soaked rice. Food process or mash the mixture. Stir mixture often in a pot over medium heat, reducing heat to low after boiling. Stir into a thicker consistency. Watch for clumping by stirring regularly for about 15 minutes. (Optional: mix in ½ cup milk for a smoother texture.)

Add about ½ teaspoon salt (to taste) if you want a savory porridge. Or add about one to two teaspoons of sugar (to taste) for a sweet, dessert-like porridge. Enjoy and make sure to let me know how it turns out!

The True Tragedy

livestrong
Photo credit: Livestrong.org

Original publication in The South Pasadena Review, “A Stone’s Throw” Column, September 11, 2014

A few weeks ago, our community sighed in relief having averted a potential school shooting. But after the relief, comes reality. This scary scenario points to wounds that not only exist in our city, but among many teens around the US.

I don’t know why the arrested boys planned an attack on the high school; and I’m not going to guess. But this does make me wonder about the stress many teens face: mounting schoolwork, social pressures and complexities, home life, bullying, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts…

Consider some statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health:

– About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.

– Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24.

– More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.

Sometimes a teen’s problem may solely be a chemical imbalance; but often it’s combined with social factors or simply social-emotional.

“Every teen wants to be connected. Clearly, these teens [the arrested boys] did not feel connected to their community,” states Natasha Prime, Special Education Counselor at South Pasadena High School and founder/Executive Director of “The Place,” a teen center in South Pasadena.

Prime adds, “Lots of kids not associated with traditional school activities (like band or sports) can still be a part of a group. [At “The Place”] they have somewhere to go, a place to belong and be connected.”

Elizabeth Haeger, South Pasadena’s Young Life staff associate, shares from the book Hurt by Dr. Chap Clark, “The average American teenager has less than 2 minutes a day of meaningful, personal interaction with an adult, including their own parents.”

Haeger adds, “As someone who spends a lot of time with teenagers, I can tell you, a lot of kids are in a darker place than many adults realize… They feel hopeless and unknown.”

When I was a teen, I remember being verbally ridiculed by other kids for things like: my name, using a tissue for my nose, winning a contest, and reading a book in the “wrong” spot – all innocuous things. I’m sure kids have to endure far worse! But what made a difference for me was a considerate adult or a thoughtful and apt word from a peer.

Whether or not an unpleasant interaction is “deserved,” many kids (and might I add, adults) can be cruel. For some, it takes one incident and the internal damage is done. For others, decades of abuse can render one to believe they are unworthy; but they can still emerge as decent human beings.

It is not our job to determine what result a mean word or action will have on a person. Rather, it’s everyone’s civil duty and common decency to treat others with respect. Yes, be respectful even to the one causing the pain, without giving them the power to continue the venomous hate that really just makes them miserable people.

Those who harm verbally or physically need to be held accountable for the part they play (by calling them on it or bringing in professionals.) And hopefully, that will help them take a step toward betterment. No one is beyond help.

But before a person starts down the wrong path, each individual around them can make a difference. It’s easy to say or do a mean thing or judge a situation quickly. What’s infinitely more challenging is to go beyond instinct and replace the mean word or action with a gentle, sincere and healing one.

Go even further and be fierce in caring for people. Go up to someone who was just handed a blow and pepper them with a kind truth. The irony is: the one who hurts the most is the one who spreads the hurt. So be a person who intervenes and stops that cycle.

I don’t say these things because I am this ideal caring person. I write this because I sometimes judge and spew venom (if only in my head and spilling out at times). But with the help of God and good friends, I must strive for better. And I’m guessing, no matter where we are on the care meter, we can all make improvements here.

I was angry with the two boys who were arrested because they allegedly meant to inflict serious harm. But then the anger turned to sympathy for us all: the boys, their families, those who can help prevent tragedies and those who are still being victimized.

The problem was thwarted but the pain persists. Are you the one causing pain? Are you the one taking it? (Don’t give up on seeking help, you will find it!) Are you the one watching it happen all around and doing little to nothing about it? All of us can probably answer “yes” to each.

The true tragedy would be moving forward like nothing ever happened. We can all take a moment to creatively imagine what can be done to turn a community-wide scare into a more healing future. We can recognize the underlying pain that exists all around and do something about it.

Resources to connect teens to peer communities and people who care:

http://www.theplaceofsouthpas.org (a safe place after school for 13-18 year olds)

http://www.greaterpasadena.younglife.org (Wyldlife is for those in middle school and Young Life is for high school students. YoungLife and WyldLife groups meet in various cities. Meetings are a fun, energetic and thoughtful place for teens.)

Parents of South Pasadena Students React to Planned Shooting

10602716_10152269377106850_588848138_n For the background story, go to SouthPasadenaNow.com

We hear about school shootings around the US and are angry and sad for the pain it causes. When the threat comes directly into our own community (for me, less than a block away), the concern deepens. As with any small town, people share meals, soccer matches, and school events; we seem, at most, one degree away from each other.

So after tragedy was averted on Monday when two South Pasadena High School students were arrested because of the very real threat of a shooting attack on staff and students, a collective sigh of relief came from parents who realized how bad this could have been. Even the potential of what could have been shakes us up.

A community is left stunned, relieved and thoughtful about what else lurks and how to avoid the worst of it in the future.

Jon Primuth, President of the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) said, “My daughter (a senior) and son (a sophomore) would have been on campus at the time, so my emotions are a huge tangled knot of fear and relief. I am deeply grateful to our school administrators and police for their alert response and quick action.”

“I do believe that the culture of ‘community involvement’ in South Pasadena contributed to this being detected early. We are one big family looking out for each other, not afraid to speak out when something doesn’t look right,” says Gina Chang, parent of two elementary-aged children.

A sense of gratitude was certainly felt among people. But many other feelings followed.

“After hearing about the incident, I told myself to drop down on my knees and just pray. If a small community like South Pasadena can have kids that are this troubled then we must pray for those two boys and protection over all the schools. I feel so helpless. Violence is everywhere,” says Josephine Sin, a parent of two (one at the middle school and another at Arroyo Vista Elementary.)

Dayna Cahoon, wonders, “How do I communicate to my young children, all under the age of eight, that things like this happen, without creating fear in them?… Are children so desperate for attention and a feeling of notoriety that they are willing to cause such horrible tragedy?”

A parent of three (two high school students and a newly graduated high school senior,) Hollin Liu says, “We thought we lived in a safe neighborhood. With something like this, even South Pasadena gets to be listed as ‘dangerous.’ It’s scary just thinking about it. And about the fencing-in situation in all our schools, if there were a shooting frenzy, wouldn’t it be harder for kids to run?”

The very thought of extreme violence makes people consider the policies and practices in place, refining safety measures and making them better.

“…It’s not enough to ban guns or ban media that romanticizes violence and vengeance. We need more positive adult role models in kids’ lives,” Primuth adds. “As for SPEF, we have the same disaster planning as SPUSD in all our summer schools.”

As a parent of children at the middle school and elementary school, this situation has caused my own family to talk about what may be considered “suspicious” and what to do in light of it. My kids mentioned that they didn’t want to “tattle,” so that lead to a discussion on what is and isn’t tattling.

And each child responds differently, so parents need to be sensitive about how to discuss such topics. If you or your children have concerns regarding the recent threat, counselors will be available at all SPUSD schools.

Though a stream of questions and thoughts bombard the brain of a parent in cases like this, the thread that unites us in this particular situation is our thankfulness to community members and authorities who kept this situation from turning into a nightmare.

A prayer vigil will be held on Wednesday, August 20th, at 7:00 p.m. on the front lawn of St. James’ Episcopal Church, for students at all five South Pasadena schools.

Fun and Fascinating School Creatures

Originally from my column “A Stone’s Throw” in the South Pasadena Review (June 2014)

Throughout the school year, students learn best by experience. This is especially true of live creatures in the classroom; and I’m not talking about the kids.

It’s good to study about the world from a book; but bring it to life to observe and touch and the learning increases that much more.

When I was growing up my parents would travel with me, making the most of my time away from school. They would say “You learn more when you do.”

In the same vein, my kids and I continue to “do.” Beyond going places, we also “do” at home. Currently we live in a zoo/laboratory, or so it feels like such. We have 2 spunky boys (Thing 1 and Thing 2), a bouncy dog (Bree), 2 hardy water frogs raised from tadpoles (Hop and Hoppity), soon to be released butterflies, ladybugs in their pupa stage and praying mantises in their habitat getting ready to live in our garden. And I must admit it involves a little money, a little time and a lot of fun.

Living things can respond to your actions and sounds. They eat, have antics, poo, molt, hang upside-down and evolve. You can spend a day together and learn its habits. Now that’s education!

In the South Pasadena elementary schools, we have rabbits, ducklings, chickens and turtles. Some teachers introduce their classes to hairy tarantulas that are fed live insects, frogs that are placed in makeshift ponds, and caterpillars that miraculously metamorphose into butterflies released to the skies.

Dawn Tull, a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Monterey Hills Elementary has in her class (and will have in her home over the summer): 3 guinea pigs, a gecko, tree frogs, fire belly toads and an insect habitat – Oh my! “The reason I have animals is… to reinforce all the eco system studies we do.”

Even at the middle school, the library has two birds and an escape artist hamster. An assortment of insects and reptiles like snakes and lizards also find their way into our academic environment – it’s natural!

When Colette Carbonare, a second grader at Arroyo Vista was asked what she learned about the ducklings, she said, “Whoever takes a duck has to take two because they get lonely.” Apparently this is a crucial element in a ducky’s social existence, but may not be fun for the “lucky” parent who gets to clean twice the mess.

This brings us to the question: “where do all the creatures go,” now that the traditional academic season comes to a close? Like Pete Seeger’s old political folk song in the 60s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” the creatures come full circle.

They get adopted into student’s homes everywhere. Teachers find they have new pets for the summer. And some get released into nature to continue the life cycle.

Wherever they go, somehow, when the new school year rolls around again, future generations of creatures find their way back into the classroom and into the minds and hearts of those fortunate enough to behold and enjoy them.

To try some of these in your own home, borrow a pet from your child’s classroom for the weekend or summer. Or go to insectlore.com (for caterpillars/butterflies and ladybug larvae), fascinations.com (for an ant farm and praying mantises) and growafrog.com (for see-thru tadpoles). Or to keep the critters contained in a story, try a fun tale about “Humphrey,” life from the perspective of a classroom hamster.

Whatever you do, make sure you “DO” something. Get out of your comfort zone and get dirty. Those precious years of wonder and discovery tend to fade over time. So don’t miss it!

Bringing Back Old In A New Way

A piece I wrote for the South Pasadena Review (originally published in the 5/22/14 issue)

Have you ever watched an old movie you knew you liked, but couldn’t remember what it was about? Well I bought that movie recently at a thrift store and was so delighted to relive it, as if I had never seen it before. Honestly, even as I watched, I couldn’t remember what happened next! So because I was pleasantly surprised by it’s charm and surprised by a completely new way of seeing it with modern eyes, I’d like to revive a 16-year-old oldie but goodie: You’ve Got Mail.

In our 126-year-old city, 16 years is hardly “old.” But as in “You’ve Got Mail” we, too, have a beloved children’s bookstore (with Toys too): The Dinosaur Farm, a seasoned business at 20-years-old this November and still standing proud.

The days of AOL and the ancient dial-up tone via modem are all but gone. But at the heart of this good story, the gist lives on and still relevant today… the take-over of a super-power over a little guy’s business, the power of books, getting to know someone deeply through their words (online, through snail mail and otherwise), and “frienemies” who become more through forgiveness and kindness.

Nora Ephron, the director, screenwriter, and all-around comedic/relational genius weaves together what some people might call a “predictable plot.” Yes, you know it’s going to be a happy ending. The guy gets the girl. All is well. But how she gets there is what’s so magical and endearing. And that’s the ride that is so worth the journey.

If you know me, you know I love children’s books, children’s book authors, children’s bookstores… you get the picture. So in the movie, when a small privately-owned children’s bookstore is threatened by a larger discounted super bookstore, I can’t help but think how things have changed and yet, are still the same today… Now, even the brick and mortar superstores are threatened by even bigger online super-duper “stores.”

The whole publishing industry is being turned upside-down by the way we read our books on tablets and download material that has never been touched by a professional editor. At first, those who love the feel and smell of quality words on printed paper were up in arms. This new turn was a travesty! To many, it still is. But with more regularity now, the industry is learning to roll with the punches and trying to evolve well. Newer and bigger, albeit often more impersonal, business inventions are inevitable.

And the little guy continues to chug forward. Even our own Dinosaur Farm finds ways to compete with the growing market. Not only do they have sales online, but they excel in customer service (knowledge in helping to pick out the perfect present and free gift wrapping). They cary unique items the “big boxes don’t have,” says owner David Plenn. Finally, they strive to live up to their motto: “Not your ordinary toy store!”

So as Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s characters discover, we, too, can stay true to our better selves, and turn our enemies into friends and find love along the way… whether it be in business, in relationships, an obscure book or an old movie.

Image
Meg Ryan in her beloved children’s bookstore. Photo courtesy of blog.hgtv.com