Thursday, July 31, 2008

My mother the daredevil

My mom has always been open to trying out new things, but she's not exactly a daredevil. But she's always up for a challenge, and when my cousin Jason announced he was putting together a family sky-diving trip, my pint-sized mother signed up!

So off to Iowa she went, and strapped her 95-pound body onto a burly tandem jumper. Surely he thought she was the easiest tandem jump ever, she's so little! Here she is landing; look at her little legs! She said it was the most thrilling sensation ever. The family group included my 19-year-old cousin and my 76-year-old great aunt! Jason was the only fella in the group, so apparently it's the ladies of the family who got the risk-taking genes. I hope to make it to next year's jump - I'm convinced the vast expanse of Iowa's cornfields are the perfect spot to float above.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Steven Kwon in the LA Times - and Afghanistan

Apparently Eric and I are of a dying breed of people who actually read the newspaper with our morning coffee. I guess I got the habit from my parents - the newspaper has been a part of my morning routine since I was a teenager, and I still cherish that part of my day. Since I went on to get a degree in Journalism I truly appreciate the work that goes into pulling off the task of a daily paper, and the Los Angeles Times, despite all its struggles, still impresses me.

So, even though print newspapers are fighting for their lives, I still glean valuable information from them every day. A couple days ago the LA Times ran a great story by William Lobdell about Steven Kwon, a Pasadena man who has single-handedly introduced introduced soy bean crops into Afghanistan. It's a great story, and Kwon is clearly a courageous and brilliant man. In 2005 Kwon's non-profit organization Nutrition and Education International, provided 2 tons of soy seeds to Afghan farmers, and in the last two years 4,400 farmers in 15 provinces planted 80 tons of seed, resulting in a harvest of 2,000 tons. Kwon's group provides the seeds, fertilizer and training - and it also guarantees to buy the harvest.

Not only does this simple plan provide farmers with an alternative to growing poppy, it addresses the wrenching malnutrition problem in this poor and war-ravaged country. I'm so thankful for people like Kwon, who sees a problem and tries to solve it, and to publications like the LA Times, which continues to provide readers with nuanced coverage of the pressing matters of our time.

William Lobdell, who wrote this piece, is part of the recent wave of layoffs at the Times. Such a loss. I hope the continues to be published there as a freelancer. It has made me seek out his web site: He's a very interesting guy who has reported extensively on religion in the U.S., transforming from an evangelical Christian to an atheist.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Amtrak from San Jose to Berkeley

I recently took a quick trip to Northern California, spent a night with friends in San Jose then took Amtrak to visit family in Berkeley. The train ride was only about 1.5 hours long, but it was such a great mini adventure. It's amazing how much the landscape changes in such a short trip. Here are a few little videos from the ride, in progression heading north. From beautiful landscapes to rusty railyards, it felt more like a cross-country trip! All this for only $14! I have no idea if this is of interest, but I know I love the sounds and view from a train, so for you train voyeurs...

San Jose to Berkeley 2

San Jose to Berkeley 3

San Jose to Berkeley 4

San Jose to Berkeley 5

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Help Save Self Help Graphics & Art

I first heard of Self Help Graphics & Art more than ten years ago, when I was an arts writer in Austin. Artists and gallery owners frequently referred to the stellar work being done at the LA-based Self Help Graphics; it was widely known as a hotbed for contemporary artmaking, particularly by emerging Chicano and Hispanic artists.

In the eight years since I've lived in the LA area, the reputation of Self Help is even more reverential, continually providing an outlet for new and emerging artists, who use the center's facilities to create stellar contemporary prints.

To make it more interesting, SHG was founded by Franciscan nun Sister Karen Boccalero more than 35 years ago. Sister Karen is gone, but the building is still owned by the local Archdiocese. Alas, it appears that the massive property sell-off by the Catholic Church, to pay off their enormous legal bills of late, has put SHG on the chopping block. The Archdiocese shocked the art community last week by announcing they were selling the building to a local developer without telling SHG.

The Archdiocese' actions are completely outrageous, as it is unthinkable that the Board, community leaders and members were not given fair notification or the the chance to place a bid for the building. Given SHG's years of service to the community and carrying on the legacy of beloved founder Sister Karen, it is only just that whatever agreement has already been signed off-on, be revisited and renegotiated with all invested parties having a place at the table.

For more information on this situation, and to see how you can help, click here. Please help!