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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Photography of Michael Kenna at Tacoma Art Museum is Andidote to Hectic Holiday Season

The photo of two piers extending onto a calm lake was small, less than eight inches on a side. I needed to slow down and move up close to see it and contemplate what I saw. And when I did, the print became the portal to another world, one of silence and stillness, a world where I forgot my own, and at the same time, remembered what it is to simply observe, be present, and breathe.

Michael Kenna, Two Piers, Imazu, Honshu, Japan, 2001 Sepia-toned gelatin silver print, 7 5/8 x 7 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle.

Part I of an exceptional exhibit called Memories and Meditations: A Retrospective of Michael Kenna's Photography is at the Tacoma Art Museum, until January 6, 2013. If you haven't already seen it, please take the time in the next week to do so, as a gift to yourself this season. Kenna is a highly renowned photographer whose work has been collected by numerous museums worldwide, and this is his first U.S. retrospective in nearly two decades.
Michael Kenna, Kussharo Lake Tree, Study 1, Kotan, Hokkaido, Japan, 2002. Sepia-toned gelatin silver print, 7 5/8  x 7 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle. 

Just before the exhibit opened on October 6, 2012, I had the opportunity to see a preview and the privilege of meeting and speaking with Michael Kenna. Both experiences left me with my own memories and meditations, from which I drew moments of serenity to keep me going through the three months of busy days since.

Michael Kenna Frozen Fountain, Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., 1994. Sepia-toned gelatin silver print, 7 1/2 x 8 inches. Courtest of the artist and G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle.

"My work is about the relationship between the structures that humans leave behind and the sheer beauty of this world of ours," Kenna said that day. He spoke of being "struck by the simplicity" and the "profound, beautiful mysteriousness of this world." I never thought I would see beauty in eerie images of a nuclear power plant in England, or a factory in France, but I did. In his work, the viewer sees the mark of mankind but never mankind itself.

Michael Kenna, Ratcliffe Power Station, Study 40, Nottinghamshire, England, 2003. Sepia-toned gelatin silver print, 7 5/8 x 7 5/8 inches. Courtesy of the artist and G.Gibson Gallery, Seattle.

Kenna has lived in the United States for decades but was born in England. He and his wife now reside in Seattle. Since the 1970s, he has photographed subjects in places ranging from urban to remote, as far away as Asia, Egypt, Mexico, Easter Island, and Russia, and as close as Portland, Oregon, often returning to the same locales year after year. His photos interpret and share the simplicity in which he finds beauty. They reflect his own spirituality and his patience. Instead of digital images, Kenna still makes sepia-toned gelatin silver prints. And he make them small. On purpose.

Michael Kenna, Lace Factories, Study 21, Calais, France, 1998. Sepia-toned gelatin silver print 7 5/8 x 7 5/8 inches. Courtesty of the artist and G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle

"I want people to be engaged with the image," he said. "I want people to go quite close to the image to become part of a conversation with the image. In fact, I almost want people to wander into the image to become part of that single world." Kenna likes the element of surprise involved with his process. He photographs at odd times of day or sometimes makes exposures as long as ten hours, through weather changes and whatever happens. "Things move. Things change, and they're recording on the film. I'm not in control, and that's good," he said.

"So when I see the contacts, I see the world again. I have the new world in front of me. It's a very similar experience to going out into the landscape in the first place." He then creates a little album and lives with the images for a while until he decides which are the strong ones. "This is a new experience now, between me and this image. And then, I'll go in the darkroom and print." He does every bit of the printing himself, and calls it "an essential part of the creative process."

Rock Hushka, the museum's director of curatorial administration and curator of contemporary and Northwest art, brought up the quirky coincidence that Michael's first exhibition in the United States (1978) was in a Seattle gallery owned by Chase Rynd, who became the director of the Tacoma Art Museum a few years later. By now, Kenna's work has been in 600 exhibitions around the world and more than 50 books have been published about his art. "So to have such a treasure here in the Northwest," Hushka said, "that was one of the reasons for us to do the show, to make sure that we honor such a distinguished artist in our midst."

Rock Hushka, Director of Curatorial Administration and Curator of Contemporary and Northwest Artat the Tacoma Art Museum (left) and Michael Kenna (right) posed for a photo at the preview. Photo by Candace Brown.
While images of Asia, many of which are winter scenes, seem to dominate the current exhibit, Part 2 of the retrospective will be entirely different and will include more representation of the United States and Europe, as well as haunting images of World War II concentration camps. Those, too, will draw viewers into a different world. But until January 6, 2013 you can experience what I experienced last fall: serenity. Maybe that is just what you need right now.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"ELF- the Musical" at The 5th Avenue is a Gift of Merryment — a review

I expected good entertainment when I took my seat at The 5th AvenueTheatre to see ELF—the Musical, but no one warned me that it would include time travel. As if swept away by a Christmas blizzard, I suddenly found myself back in childhood. And I liked it.

L-R Santa (Seán G. Griffin) and Buddy (Matt Owen), with the company of ELF – The Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka

If I could have pulled my eyes away from the dazzling sets long enough to glance around, I might have seen others in my generation showing signs of the same childish delight. I probably embarrassed myself with my gawks and grins and unsuppressed laughter. And it wasn’t even the same nostalgia we’ve all felt as our children or grandchildren discovered the sights, sounds, colors, and symbols of the secular version of Christmas. It was better. It was real. It was my own, a thrill almost forgotten but then exactly as first experienced, once ELF brought it all back to me.
The fact that the story takes place in modern times, complete with modern technology—Santa’s list exists on an iPad and the humor is of the 2012 New York variety—did nothing to lessen the sensation of childish joy. It made me wonder why growing up too often means giving up our sense of magical excitement.
Buddy (Matt Owen) and the company of ELF – the Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
Matt Owen as Buddy the Elf went way, way, over the top, throwing himself into the part with such abandon that I felt catapulted along with him into the forgotten dimension of sublime and unapologetic silliness. So what if the plot is totally impossible? So what if a grown man (who acts like a kid) was raised by elves at the North Pole and thinks he is one of them until he discovers the truth, then rides an iceberg to NYC to find his real father, Walter Hobbs (Allen Fitzpatrick) who never knew he existed until the elf appears in his office?

So what if it uses the familiar theme of Scrooge, as workaholic Hobbs comes to finally prioritize his family and the joy of Christmas? Owen freed the free-wheeling kid still hidden inside me, and for a couple of hours, the world of adult logic and cynicism ceased to matter. A lesser actor might have just looked foolish playing a goofy elf in middle of New York, but not Owen. My admiration for the job he did goes beyond words.

L-R Jovie (Kendra Kassebaum) and Buddy (Matt Owen) from ELF – The Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Tracy Martin

Seán G. Griffin, as the perfect Santa and the first character on stage, set the tone of the show and the fresh, truly funny humor to follow, humor suitable for children but worthy of adult appreciation. Kendra Kassebaum’s dry delivery of one-liners had me laughing and balanced the poignant side of her character, that of Buddy’s girlfriend, Jovie. Cynthia Jones as the Macy’s store manager added sparkle and energy to all her scenes as did Jessica Skerritt as the delightful Deb, Hobb’s secretary. Nick DeSantis as Hobb’s boss, Mr. Greenway, was the boss you hope never to have, only funnier.
L-R Buddy (Matt Owen), Santa (Seán G. Griffin), Michael (Grayson Smith), Walter (Allen Fitzpatrick), and Emily (Kim Huber) from ELF – The Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
I thought both Allen Fitzpatrick and Kim Huber (as Walter and Emily Hobbs, respectively) in addition to delivering witty lines with style, managed to give their characters depth and believable personalities, even in this unbelievable story. Noah Barr as their son, Michael Hobbs, impressed me not only with his confidence and acting ability but also his voice. I’ll be watching for future appearances by this young talent.
L-R The Store Manager (Cynthia Jones) and Buddy (Matt Owen), with the company of ELF – The Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
I’m not a reviewer who feels obligated to find at least some little fault, but I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to state that I loved every single aspect of a musical. With this one, I honestly did. And it goes beyond praising this talented cast or the keen sensibilities of their director, Eric Ankrim, an outstanding actor himself, and proudly claimed as a native son by other residents of Tacoma.(See this feature story by Matt Nagle of the Tacoma Weekly) It goes beyond the book, music, choreography, hilarious lyrics, or delightful interpretation of David Berenbaum’s film by the same name. Throughout the entire show, my mind kept going back to the respect I have for the almost incredible amount of talent and teamwork at The 5th Avenue. In addition to admiring the work of those whose names end up shown boldly in the program, I thought of every single person behind the scenes who helped to make this such a success.

Buddy (Matt Owen) and the company of ELF – the Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
I could never overstate the visual appeal of this production. It zings. The first thing that delighted me was simply the colors. Make that the colors and the lighting. Matthew Smucker’s stunning—and I mean stunning—set designs deserve awards. I always appreciate the work of Lighting Designer Tom Sturge, and the gorgeous hues popped and sparkled thanks to him. Clever costumes, like those of the elves especially, with their shoes projecting from the actors’ bended knees, added to the fun, as did the tasty servings of tap dancing. As usual, Music DirectorAndy Grobengieser’s fabulous orchestra—too easily taken for granted—served up a flawless musical backdrop to all the action on the stage.
In the letter Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong wrote for the program, his words about holiday productions acknowledge their importance to the theater’s fiscal health and all that, but at the same time he said this show was “a gift to our 5th Avenue family.” It’s a gift I accepted with gratitude and glee.
Congratulations to everyone involved and to anyone considering whether or not they should go see ELF I say, “Get those tickets before they're gone!” And take a child with you. I guarantee you will be giving the gift of happy holiday memories.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Help Save the Blue Mouse Theatre

Like the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting, Tacoma’s Proctor District thrives and functions as the quintessential American village—walkable, convenient, and complete, with a lively retail core, schools, churches, fire station, restaurants, library, services, a farmers market, and more—a gem within the larger city. And if Proctor had its own official town hall, that might be the historic Blue Mouse Theatre.

On balmy summer evenings or rainy November nights, it’s a community gathering place. Outside, friends and neighbors visit with each other while waiting to step up to the box office window, where General Manager Susan Evans will offer a cheery greeting and joke around as she hands them their tickets. The old paneled doors open and the warmth of the lobby and smell of popcorn wrap around you like a hug. Above it all, those little blue neon mice just keep scampering across the marquee, at least for now. But they are in danger.

Concerning this icon of the community, the word on the street in Proctor is “Go digital or go dark.” Like every small, vintage theater across the country, the Blue Mouse faces the high cost of digital conversion. During 2013, it will become far more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain 35mm film versions of movies as the digital format sweeps the market. But converting to digital projection equipment can cost $75,000-$100,000 or more.
You can help to save this 89-year-old treasure by participating in the KICKSTARTER campaign set up, in partnership with Tacoma Neighborhoods Together, to raise funds for the conversion. This Kickstarter page includes a great video about the Blue Mouse. The theater’s loyal fans are already chipping in and at last check, I see that fewer than 200 people have already contributed over $11,000. But it will take much more. With the minimum contribution set at just $1.00, everyone can help, at least a little. Won’t you, please?

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Iraq War Veterans Walk to Raise Awareness of PTSD, TBI, and Soldier Suicide

Chess Johnson had assured me on the phone, “You can’t miss us. We’ll be wearing bright orange shirts and carrying American flags.” And he was right.  Along with a reporter and photographer from KOMO TV, I watched for three men fitting that description as I waited at the Point Defiance ferry dock for the 12:10 boat. They soon appeared among the foot passengers from Vashon Island, who disembarked before the cars.

Sunshine illuminated their orange shirts, along with the red, white, and blue of three large American flags that fluttered in the chilly breeze. How lucky to get this break in the weather, I thought. Chess Johnson, Andy Britt, and Will Carroll are all Iraq war veterans who had spent the previous day, Veterans Day, walking 25 miles in the cold, hard November rain to take an important message to the streets. I learned about this walk from Sue Nebeker, the subject of my Veterans Day blog post about American Hero Quilts, and had given Johnson a call. At the dock, I spoke with him, and Carroll, while KOMO's Lindsay Cohen interviewed Britt as part of her story about the event.

“We’re marching from Bremerton Naval Base to Fort Lewis, trying to connect three branches that have posts here in the state of Washington,” Johnson told me, “bringing awareness of Posttraumatic Stress Diagnosis, Traumatic Brain Injury, soldier suicide, and over-medication of soldiers.” He said one of their main goals was to have civilians “integrating more” and doing more research on PTSD, noting that it affects everyone who knows the soldiers, not just themselves.
Post TraumaticStress Disorder (PTSD)—the same condition Johnson referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Diagnosis—and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are invisible wounds, but they are wounds just the same. Johnson has suffered it all. As he walked up from the ferry, I knew who he was at once because of the deep voice I’d heard on the phone and his missing right eye. He lost it while serving as a staff sergeant with Fort Lewis’ first Stryker Brigade (3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division) when a sniper sent two  bullets into his brain—one through his eye socket and another just above. The incident left Johnson with skull fractures, neuropathic pain, grand mal seizures, degenerative arthritis of the spine, and only partial sight in his one remaining eye. He also has PTSD, like Britt, and TBI.

Everything changed forever that day for this soldier. Losing his career, his uniform, and the personal life he’d known, to have all that replaced by both physical and emotional pain, plus financial problems (see KOMO news story from 2007) led to temporary alcohol abuse as a form of self-medication. Johnson wanted to stay in the Army. He wanted to keep wearing that uniform, to go back to Iraq, to fight alongside the soldiers he thought of as family. Fortunately though, life went on. Now, this soldier who has won so many commendations and decorations has a wife who encourages him and a new focus on competing in athletics, such as the 2012 Army Warrior Games. You can read his bio here. He has also been the focus of a documentary film about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, called Exit Wound.

One thing never changed, and that was his love of country and comrades.  Johnson says it best: “Really, all we’re doing is paying it forward. We feel honored that we were able to wear the uniform with the American flag on it and to fight for this country. We feel that a lot of people have forgotten about the sacrifices that have been made. To the veterans who have put that uniform on before us, we want to say ‘thank you.’ It means so much to us to be able to represent this country.
“And when we put these orange shirts on, the rucksacks, and the flags, we’re representing a bigger community, a veteran community, a disabled community, a community of Americans who are just so proud. So we walk because we can, and we’re able to. So many people just take that for granted. The first year that we were in Iraq, you wouldn’t have ever seen an Iraqi walking around, just doing what he chose. It’s a way to say we’re proud Americans. And we’re going to support our brothers who are currently overseas and the ones who will be coming home tomorrow.”

Carroll agreed. “It’s literally another family. It doesn’t matter what generation, if they were in any war they know exactly what I’m talking about.” Johnson and Britt planned the walk and then invited Carroll. He has issues resulting from his service overseas, and is still addressing them. Encouraging soldiers and their families to seek help is part of the walk’s purpose.

Carroll said the hardest problem he’s had is adjusting to civilian life again, after what he calls the military way of thinking. “We’re pretty brash and straightforward. On the civilian side, I really have to be way more aware of what I say and what I do. The civilian world is completely different.”

In addition to talking about emotional and psychological issues, I asked Johnson about something else returning vets may face: unemployment.

He said: “You take a medic who has served in the army, for say…ten years, who has gone on three or four or five deployments, who has put their friends back together, has had to patch and heal wounded Iraqi nationals or Afghanistan nationals… and they’ve done this for one year straight in a combat zone. They come back to America and they try to get a job as a medic. And they have to go through all the school as if they were just graduating high school. I don’t understand why the civilian circuit won’t give us credit for the knowledge we learn in the military. On-the-job training is the most valuable they could ever have and in a combat zone. But they are not allowed to come home and life a senior citizen who just fell and hurt their hip. To me it doesn’t make any sense.

Carroll brought up truck drivers and mechanics, and Johnson gave the example of an army truck driver who drives convoys in Iraq, “. . . getting blown up for twelve months straight. He comes home and he can’t drive a simple big rig down the road.” And he talked about military mechanics and certification. “They work on giant tanks, but they can’t work on a half-ton pickup.”

Lindsay Cohen from KOMO speaks with (L to R) Chess Johnson, Will Carroll, and Andy Britt

I wish I could have had the chance to speak more than a few words to Britt. But the sun went behind one of the clouds that had moved in, and the breeze felt colder. It looked like the rain could return. They still had many miles to reach the end of their journey, the brigade's memorial at Fort Lewis.
This Veterans Day weekend I avoided the malls and the sales and ended up with something worth much more than any retail bargain.  I’m glad I met these veterans and heard what they had to say. I'm glad I caught the sparkle and warmth in Johnson's left eye, heard his intelligent comments, witnessed his smile and determination, and engaged with him instantly in our conversation. But all the while, the empty eyelid on the right side of his face reminded me of his sacrifice.

I wonder how he and his comrades feel about the political battles  dividing our nation right now. At a time when the word “entitlement” has itself been made into a weapon of war, misunderstood and misused, some of his final comments still ring in my ears:

“A lot of people say that we are an entitlement generation. I think my generation is entitled to some things. We’ve supported two major conflicts in ten years. Our generation stepped up and said ‘We’ve got this, America!’ So I’m proud of my generation. I’m proud that we were able to defend our country.”

Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

At American Hero Quilts, Every Day is Veterans Day

The year was 2003, not the 1960s, and the scenes were in Iraq, not Vietnam, but the same old feeling of extreme distress weighed heavily on Sue Nebeker's heart as she watched television news coverage of the U.S. invasion called Operation Iraqi Freedom. The "shock and awe" reached right into her living room.

"I was very concerned and upset," she told me. "Because of my age, I remember the Vietnam War and I remember the Vietnam vets coming home and the way they were treated." About the same time, she read a newspaper story about a veteran, only in his early 20s, who could not cope with life after what he had experienced, and killed himself.

"I wanted to do something," Nebeker said. That's when an idea came to her.

Nebeker is a Washington quilter who lives on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. She knows how a quilt can offer—in addition to physical warmth—the warmth of love, the softness of an embrace, and a sense of comfort and caring. Her distress led to action.

"My husband and I went out and bought lots and lots of fabric and talked neighbors into coming and helping to cut fabric," Nebeker recalled. "And my son, who's in advertising, made posters. I asked people to come to a 'sew-a-thon' to thank our wounded warriors."
And that's how, in 2004, a non-profit organization called American Hero Quilts came into existence.

"We're at 12,000 quilts," she said. "We never thought it would be that much."

Once the word got out, quilts began to arrive from all over the country. When I asked Nebeker where she stores them all, I was told that they go out just as fast as they come in. Each and every month, this grassroots organization sends from 125-150 quilts to Afghanistan, plus another 100 to Fort Lewis for the Warrior Transition Battalion, and also supplies them to several other military hospitals and rehab facilities.

In Afghanistan, quilts supplied by American Hero Quilts cover wounded soldiers on gurneys, to keep them warm as they wait on the runway to board Medevac aircraft and be flown to safety and help. It's a dangerous situation, as the larger planes make easy targets.

The quilts are made by both individuals and active groups of quilters who get together regularly to work for this cause. On Vashon Island, where American Hero Quilts is based, enthusiasts meet once a month at the local quilt shop, Island Quilter, to do anything that needs to be done.

Nebeker said, "They do make quilt tops, but for the most part they sew on bindings and labels for all the quilts that are coming in. Some of the quilts that come to us are just tops, and we send those to long arm quilters." By that she means, not quilters with long arms, but those who use the types of sewing machines called long arm quilting machines, made specifically to reach into the center of large quilts.

With the demand so great, help is always needed in the form of donations of pieced tops, volunteers to sew, quilt, and apply bindings, and cash. If you are interested in contributing in any way, you can learn how through this link, where you can also read about the standard requirements for the quilts, or donate through PayPal. All use patriotic colors and are made bed size, big enough to wrap around an adult. The organization does not distribute lap quilts.

All American Hero Quilts flow through the Vashon Island headquarters, for reasons of quality control and documentation. Nebeker said, "We have a label we put on the quilts that says, 'You are our hero. Thank you.' But sometime in the future, someone is going to ask, 'Who are the people who make American Hero Quilts? What are they doing, and what is it all about?'"

After a request from the
Washington State Library, she makes sure every quilt is photographed and all the information about it is preserved. Now, even far into the future, families will be able to research the quilt their loved one received.

Visable versus invisable wounds

American Hero Quilts does not forget those soldiers whose wounds can't be seen at a glance, the ones with brain injuries or
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, often called PTSD.

"They are as wounded as someone with a visible wound," Nebeker said, "so we make sure those folks are covered as well." Her organization also remembers the families who have lost beloved veterans to suicide. "That is a national shame and a national epidemic," she said. "There isn't a big recognition of their service to our country. So we make sure that we send a quilt to the family, and it state, 'With gratitude.'"

Sadly, there seems to be no end to Nebeker's work, even though it makes her happy to do it. Resigned to the inevitability of war and its consequences, she continues on.

"We want to give back to our warriors and thank them for their sacrifices," she said. "It's a way to give them a metaphoric hug. It's a way to comfort them, and it's a way for us to do something when we're at a loss as to what we can do."
Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

All photos are courtesy of American Hero Quilts
Please visit Good Life Northwest again for a related post about two wounded veterans walking many miles in the rain this weekend, to bring attention to PTSD and brain injuries. They left Bremerton this morning, on Veterans Day, traveled to the north end of Vashon Island, are walking the length of the island today, and will arrive in Tacoma via the Point Defiance ferry dock on Monday, Nov. 12. From there, they will again walk, all the way to Fort Lewis.
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Friday, November 9, 2012

Republican Versus Democrat—Civil War Memories Warn Us To Close The Great Divide

William L. Livesley       Company A Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

Three days after the election, we're back in the fight, brother against brother, sister against sister. This morning I read with dismay, this news story about President Obama's, apparently voter-sanctioned approach to taxation and the so-called "fiscal cliff," versus the stance of Republicans, who still point a finger at "entitlement programs" and firmly resist raising taxes on the rich. It's more harping on the same points of disagreement. Both sides have their points and both feel they are right. The president is trying to bring the two sides, and the nation, together to solve problems that no amount of partisan bickering will ever solve. I wish him luck, for all our sakes. Yes, this is democracy in action, but we might hope it could be a more civil democracy.

This situation, especially in conjunction with Veterans' Day, makes me think about another time in this nation's history when divisions between its citizens reached a critical point and became the Civil War. As the great-great-granddaughter of a Civil War veteran, I consider his perspective. I am republishing an updated version of a blog post I wrote in 2008, when Obama was first elected, because I believe it makes points we need to remember. ~

On my desk sits an original copy of a book called The Sauk County Riflemen- Company A 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, over a century old, published in 1909. The cover is still a rich blue and the paper high quality, but fragile. I turn the pages with great care. Without my respectful handling it could someday just fall apart.

My great-great-grandfather, William Lamb Livesley, was one of the original members of Company A, one of the young men who signed up to fight for his country during the recruitment drive in what was still considered "the West" during the Civil War. The 6th Wisconsin was part of what would later be known first as "The Black Hat Bridgade"—because of their black, western style hatsand then as the famous Iron Brigade. He treasured this book, inscribed to him by the officer who wrote it, Philip Cheek. It is drawn from diaries and eyewitness accounts of the daily experiences they both endured. He is mentioned by name, and some of the more harrowing passages are underlined in pencil, by him. I cannot even imagine the pictures those words brought to his mind.

After the recent presidential election, I look at the book and ponder those defining few years in my ancestor’s life, and in the life of our nation, and how it all relates to me living here in Tacoma and writing a blog called Good Life Northwest. I have existed only about half as long as this book, but that’s long enough to have seen a number of elections. What I’ve never before seen is so much division in our country. I wonder what my great-great-grandfather would think about it. I think it would fill him with deep concern.

William Livesley didn't believe in bickering. He believed in hard work and positive action. His can do spirit helped him survived the Civil War, traveled with him to the prairies of Nebraska where he homesteaded in a sod house, and during his travels west to Washington Territory, in a covered wagon. That will to survive kept him going when he walked from Eastern to Western Washington over the Cascade mountain range and fell ill, carving his name and the date into a tree trunk so his body could be identified if he didn't recover. His toughness carried him through pioneer days in Tacoma and on Vashon Island, where he brought his family in 1880 to be counted among the island's first settlers. His legacy is one of eternal optimism. We must call on that kind of spirit now.

Just a minute ago, I read again the Gettysburg Address, picturing my great-great-grandfather reading it back when it was the news of the day. Most of us (I hope) know the first sentence about our nation having been “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. It goes on …“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” The differences of opinion in the Untied States today cannot be compared to a civil war, but when I see our citizens so polarized I worry that this country I love, where I can live in peace and write my blog about living a good life might become as fragile as the pages of my book.

The book’s dedication reads “To our comrades, living and dead, this volume is lovingly dedicated.” and in the preface it is described as “a record of the private soldier-the man that placed the 'Stars' on the shoulders of the generals, the men that performed the hard work and suffered the most privation; the man that made it possible to preserve this Nation.” I have the greatest respect for the generations of soldiers who have fought and continued to fight, even in unpopular wars. To all those soldiers and to ALL my fellow Americans, in "red" or "blue" states, I lovingly dedicate this blog post. We are all soldiers in the cause of a brighter future.

No matter how you voted, let us now unite for the sake of our common concerns and goals. Partisan bickering must end. Like the members of Company A 6th Wisconsin, we are in the midst of a time that will define our nation’s history. Let us now, regardless of party affiliations, be grateful we live in a democracythanks to the brave soldiers of every generation. Let’s join together to ensure that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Just like my book, without careful handling it could someday fall apart.

Here is how Cheek ended his book:

"No man liveth to himself alone. Not for themselves, but for their children, for those who may never hear of them in their nameless graves, have they yielded life ... Blessed be their memory forever."

Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Addams Family" Musical Brings Frightful Fun toThe 5th Avenue Theatre—A Review With Video

When it comes to families, there is no such thing as normal. But if you think your own seems more bizarre than most, just spend an evening with TheAddams Family. You can meet its macabre but loving members in a new musical comedy by that name, playing at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle Oct. 24 – Nov. 11, 2012.

Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley), Pippa Pearthree (Grandma), Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia), Douglas Sills (Gomez), Tom Corbeil (Lurch), Cortney Wolfson (Wednesday) and Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

In all began back in 1938. In that year, The New Yorker Magazine started to feature the cartoons of Charles Addams, the man who created this fictional family whose calendar seems stalled on Halloween. Anyone old enough to have watched television during the 1960s will remember the TV show called The Addams Family. It premiered on ABC in 1964 and lasted for 64 episodes. In 1991, Paramount released a motion picture version. Then, after three years of development, the musical The Addams Family opened on Broadway on March 8, 2010. The talented team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also did Jersey Boys, wrote the book, and the music and lyrics are by Andrew Lippa. This run at The 5th Avenue is the show’s Seattle debut, during its first national tour.

I greatly enjoyed becoming reacquainted with the lead couple, whose romance is still as hot as a crematorium, after all these years: Latin lover and husband Gomez (Douglas Sills) and morbidly sexy wife Morticia (Sara Gettlefinger).  The length of her straight, black hair only slightly exceeds that of the plunging neckline of her equally black dress. Remember their plump and mischievous son Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) and darkly disturbing daughter Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson)? Don’t forget Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond), Grandma Frump (Pippa Pearthree), and the towering butler, Lurch (Tom Corbeil).
Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
This musical won’t change your life, but it offers a lighthearted good time. I went to the theater like a trick-or-treater who was skeptical about the treats being worth the trip, only to be surprised by this deliciously offbeat entertainment. At times, the show felt a little like vaudeville, with all its song and dance along with good old-fashioned physical comedy, always executed with skill. Corbeil, as Lurch, inspired many bursts of laughter from the audience with his movements.
Pippa Pearthree (Grandma) and Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
The Addams Family, while hardly profound, does manage to communicate worthwhile messages using charm, wit, whimsy and plenty of hilarious one-liners. Satire relevant to current events adds spice. Sills’ delivery kept Gomez’s most sentimental lyrics from turning into syrup and Gettlefinger gave her character, Morticia, enough sarcasm and cynicism to balance their personalities as a couple with good chemistry.
Douglas Sills (Gomez) and Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
The story revolves around a familiar theme: a young person introducing their sweetheart to the family for the first time, prior to the announcement of an engagement. But when the betrothed female happens to be the cute but creepy Wednesday Addams—and her boyfriend, Lucas Beineke (Curtis Holbrook), is from a so-called “normal” family—the weirdness factor raises the level of conflict. The Beineke parents—Alice (Gaelen Gilliland) and Mal (Martin Vidnovic) are in for some surprises when they arrive at the Addams family’s home for dinner. But in the end, both parties come to new realizations about themselves as well as about each other, reminding us to reconsider the meanings of words like normal and family.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

This show offers plenty of visual appeal, from the heavy, red velvet, draped stage curtains to some intriguing special effects. The orchestra sets just the right mood, delivering those chilling organ strains and dance numbers with finesse. I greatly admired the stage sets, lighting and costumes, especially the graveyard scenes. They featured a leafless tree silhouetted against the sky, where a huge full moon looked down upon the dancing ghosts of some interesting ancestors who were still involved with family matters.
The Ancestors of THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

It’s tame in terms of horror, yet twisted enough to satisfy the desire some have to dwell on images of death, torture, pain, and fear. In this case, however, we find those images framed in genuinely funny humor and surprisingly realistic relationship issues, involving trust, loyalty, confidences, letting go, and forgiving. Some situations might involve your darkest fantasies, if you remember torturing your pesky younger siblings. In the case of the Addams children, it involves real medieval tools of torture. But don’t worry. The recipient enjoys it.
Cortney Wolfson (Wednesday) and Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The Addams Family might not represent your definition of normal domestic life, but even as warped as they are, they’re good company and more fun than many families I know. In a time when gore-filled and terrifying horror movies rank as entertainment, this simple spookiness felt good. However, there is one question for which I’d like an answer. With all her dancing and movement, how does Morticia keep her feminine charms from escaping that dress?
Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia) and Company in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

Monday, October 29, 2012

Video of Orcas Swimming in Puget Sound

On a day that finds me tense with concern for those in the path of Hurricane Sandy, I find some peace in the world of nature, thanks to Orca Network. This important 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization exists to make people aware of these beautiful creatures who are called "killer whales" by some. Rather than being "killers" they form strong, lifelong family bonds, just like humans, or even more so. Both genders of offspring remain with their mothers throughout their lives, unlike any other non-human mammals.

I have seen them from the waterfront at Point Defiance here in Tacoma and during trips on Washington State ferries. But the more I follow the news from Orca Network, the more fascinated I become.

Please take a few minutes to learn more about the orcas of the Salish Sea. They are our neighbors here in the splendor of the Northwest, trying to live their lives in waters we humans have and polluted and depleted of the salmon they require. So who are the "killers" after all?

Here is a video Orca Network's Facebook page shared today, courtesy of videographer Ed Brooks, who filmed these Southern Resident pods called "J" and "K" from a bluff on Magnolia:

Monday, October 22, 2012

SLUDGE WARS: Small Washington County Wins a Battle, But We Could All Still Lose

A peaceful Wahkiakum County scene           Photo by Marti Kintigh
 "Small towns. Big hearts" said an email from the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce, and those four words represent the amount of heart it took for a county comprising only about 1% of the land in the State of Washington to fight big government and win. At least it was a partial victory in an ongoing war. On Oct. 12, Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning ruled in favor of a tiny Wahkiakum County, instead of the state, on an important court case involving not only issues of public health and safety but also the right to local determination.

Very few people heard about this decision, even though it has widespread ramifications. If King or Pierce counties—with their populations of 1,942,600 or 802,150, respectively—had been the ones to stand up to our state government in a case of bullying, the news media might have given this story the attention it deserves. But only 4,000 people live in Wahkiakum County where the it all began.

Over a year has passed since State Attorney General Rob McKenna's office brought a lawsuit against Wahkiakum County, on behalf of the Department of Ecology. Why? Because the Wahkiakum County commissioners passed an ordinance banning the use of minimally treated Class B biosolids—considered by many scientists to be dangerous. You can read all about bio-solids, the EPA’s inadequate and unenforceable rules and equally inadequate testing methods in a previous blog post: From Toilet to Table.

The Department of Ecology, did not take kindly to an upstart little county having the audacity to go against this powerful branch of state government. How dare they confront Ecology's mandate to increase the use of treated sewage sludge on Washington’s farmlands, a widespread practice made possible through the department’s control over the permitting process?

The county did not even attempt to ban biosolids outright, still accepting the slightly less dangerous Class A type, because to attempt an outright ban would have meant certain defeat in court. Few Washingtonians realize that, so far, they basically have had no choice in this matter. The use of biosolids is legal, aggressively promoted, and imposed on us whether we like it or not. The Wahkiakum County ordinance came about because of negative public reaction to the Department of Ecology having permitted the spreading of Class B biosolids on a piece of property that borders the Grays River, in a flood plain, near a dairy, and in a county trying to encourage and promote organic farming.

Photo by Marti Kintigh

Ironically, this court battle was not even about the safety of biosolids. It was a David and Goliath story, one about power and control. Because the state allows the use of Class B biosolids, Ecology wanted the court to overturn the local ordinance, claiming it was unconstitutional. However, there are federal laws protecting the right to local determination. After a year of hearings and delays, and fine work on the part of Wahkiakum County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow, the case was settled when the judge ruled in favor of the county. It was settled for now, that is. The decision will likely be appealed. Ecology is not happy.

Bigelow told me:

"For my part, I can say I believe the court made a just decision based entirely on the law. It's particularly gratifying to see that in a case like this one, where emotions run high on both sides. But there is too much at stake to make it likely this case will end here.

"One of two things can still happen. First, the Department of Ecology can appeal this decision to a higher court. It's my job to watch out for that and to keep fighting for the county and the ordinance as I have been doing.

"Second, the Department can go to the state legislature and try to get the law changed. This case was decided based on an interpretation of state law, so the result can change if the state law changes."

An article written by Natalie St. John for The Daily News, quotes Peter Lyon, a spokesman for Ecology. In my opinion, his words reveal an attitude that hardly expresses concern for the kinds of things the average citizen might assume the department’s name implies. “We’re a little disappointed in the judge’s decision,” he said. “The purpose of the law was to level the playing field for businesses and users of biosolids, and this ruling thwarts that law.” 

Level the field for businesses and users? What about the environment? It seems Wahkiakum County might be considered a pesky troublemaker, whose success in court represents a threat to the big business of sludge disposal in this state and now other counties might be brave enough to follow suit. Lyon added “We’re concerned about a domino effect.”  I can only hope. Agricultural counties in California have more strictly regulated or entirely banned bio-solids.

I share the opinion of Wahkiakum County Council member Blair Brady, who offered a quote in an e-mail this morning:

“I was always disappointed that the lawsuit was framed around the constitutionality of our ordinance rather than what I believe are real issue is, and that is, and was, one of public and environmental safely. The idea that a state organization would sue Wahkiakum County to force a lower standard is beyond belief. State organizations that I believe were created with the intention of assisting our counties appear to have run amuck, and now try to dictate and bully their way along with their own agendas. ~ Blair H. Brady
Photo by Marti Kintigh

 One day last spring, I drove the winding highway through the Grays River valley stunned by the beauty of its deep green forests and fields and its feeling of peacefulness. I saw with my own eyes why many of its citizens feel such passion about preserving this land in its natural state. And no matter what propaganda you have heard from government agencies or waste water treatment facilities, sludge is not natural.

This nation has a smelly, and daunting problem—how to dispose of all the sewage and waste water we produce. Ever since 1972, when Congress passed the Clean Water Act, sewage must be treated, not simply dumped. But so far, treatment is far from perfect, leading to real dangers to public health and the environment.

The term “biosolids” was invented because it sounds much more appealing than “sewage,” or other less polite names for what this stuff actually is. The public continues to be duped by propaganda that promotes what amounts to toxic waste as something natural, beneficial, and desirable, its use even being green, recycling, and the right thing to do. Here in Tacoma and Pierce County we have TAGRO and SoundGRO and both are used widely by unsuspecting, well-meaning homeowners. If they knew what some scientists and concerned citizens know, they would cringe. Some have learned the hard way.


Today’s sludge is not simply poop. It includes, in addition to pathogens, waste from hospitals, packing houses, and industrial plants, everything that goes down a toilet or drain. Think about that. Diseased tissue, pharmaceuticals, hormones, flame retardants, industrial and household chemicals, personal care products, heavy metals, etc. Prions, related to Mad Cow Disease and Alzheimer’s are NOT destroyed when sewage is “treated.” (See

It has even been proven that earthworms living in such soil are taking up the toxins. Look at this article from the website of the U.S. Geological Survey:

This situation can produce an outcome that effects all of us. As Prosecuting Attorney Bigelow continues his vigilance, he asks for the help of all who care about the environment. "Stay active," he said. "Keep an eye out for proposed legislation to neutralize this decision, and let your legislators know where you stand!"

UPDATE: On Oct. 24 I learned of this news story about the dangers of sludge:


If the Washington Dept. of Ecology again sues Wahkiakum County to overturn Judge Stephen Warning's decision, and seeks to bully the County into allowing the spreading of toxic, pathogenic Class B sewage sludge,they will be flying in the face of both federal law and the US Constitution:

Federal law clearly and unambiguously authorizes communities to adopt sludge rules MORE STRINGENT than federal sludge rules:

The preemption clause of the US Constitution unequivocally provides that FEDERAL LAW TRUMPS STATE LAW:

I. Background On The Doctrine Of Federal Preemption.
The principle by which federal laws trump state laws is known as the doctrine of federal preemption. The roots of federal preemption can be traced back to the United States Constitution.In drafting the Constitution, the Framers envisioned a potential conflict between the two separate and distinct yet competing bodies of government: federal and state. The Framers resolved this conflict
by incorporating the Supremacy Clause into the Constitution.

The Supremacy Clause dictates thatfederal law will supersede any state law that interferes with or runs contrary to that federal law:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be
made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be
made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme
Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound
thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Law of any State to the
Contrary notwithstanding.”

U.S. Const. Art. VI, Cl. 2.
This clause establishes the framework for the balance of powers between the federal
government and the state governments. Since the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision
in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), 17 U.S. (4 Wheat) 316, it has been well-established that any state
law which conflicts with federal law is “without effect.” See Maryland v. Louisiana (1981), 451
U.S. 725, 746.

There are two main categories of federal preemption: express and implied. “Express preemption” occurs when “Congress has made its intent known through explicit statutory language” to preempt an area of state law. English v. General Elec. Co. (1990), 496 U.S. 72, 79. “Congress can define explicitly the extent to which its enactments pre-empt state law." Id. at 78.

In the absence of explicit statutory language, implied preemption may exist. There are two types of implied preemption: field preemption and conflict preemption. “Field preemption” occurs when federal law exclusively regulates or occupies an area such that Congress left no room for state regulation in that area. Id. at 79. “Conflict preemption” occurs when state law “actually conflicts with federal law.” Id.
Courts have found conflict preemption “where it is impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements *** or where state law ‘stands as an obstacle to the
accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.’” Id.

Helane Shields, Alton, NH sludge researcher since 1996

Federal law provides for local sludge control
Sludge victims have suffered illness, death and surface and groundwater pollution

Washington sludge victims
Here are other links about the dangers of biosolids, courtesy of Helane Shields. PLEASE take a look. Be aware, don't fall for the propaganda, and buy organic.

Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown