Saturday, June 25, 2016

Learning from History

For over a decade now, Derrill and I have been buying college courses from The Great Courses, and we spend our lunch hour eating on a tray in front of the TV, learning about history. (We used to watch the lectures in the evening, but we kept falling asleep, so we decided that lunch would keep us awake.)

We’ve studied the middle ages (early, high, and late), Alexander the Great, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, Jewish history, the Reformation—well, the list goes on too long to recount. We’ve gone through some of the courses twice, because there’s so much to absorb.

Right now, we’re on the tail end of the history of Europe from the sixteenth century to the present. It’s taught by Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett, Professor of History and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto, and we just got through studying about the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany.
I’m not old enough to remember the rise of the Nazi party, but after the war, I vividly remember pictures in the newspaper and  movie newsreels about what the liberating armies found in the concentration camps.

So, at lunch the other day, as I’m learning about the forces that came into play and about how the Jews were first marginalized, then demonized, and finally exterminated, I was struck by Professor Bartlett’s question: How could a sophisticated people allow this to happen? Why did they not speak out?

There were lots of reasons—good reasons that had to do with preserving your own life and your family’s. But the question is a good one, and I began to ask it of myself. Would I stand up for injustice? Would I speak out if my neighbor—or even a stranger—were being persecuted because of his ethnicity or religion?  

Then, boom, in my inbox today comes this email from someone I don’t know but who has my email address. S/he has forwarded an email s/he received from someone else—I think I must have been the third wave of recipients. It was an anti-Muslim email, full of dark innuendo and outrageous statements that would have been laughable if their purpose hadn’t been so ugly.
Anyone who has read TROUBLE AT THE RED PUEBLO has been introduced to (and cares about) my Muslim character Karam. I was able to write Karam because I got to know my son’s former roommate, Hani Almadhoun, a sterling young man and devout Muslim who has dedicated his life to serving refugees.

And anyone who has read LUCY SHOOK’S LETTERS FROM AFGHANISTAN has met Barat, Bairde, Saki, and a host of other Afghan men who worked for my mother between 1965 and 1970. Muslims all, they used to spend time talking with my mother about common ground in their religions. She loved each of them for the good men they were, and because of that, I loved them too.

Back to today’s email: Now, I am not a forwarder, and I’m certainly not confrontational. Usually, I would simply delete an email like this, but here I was with this ‘would I stand up for injustice?’ question still shadowing me.  As much as I wanted to consign this email to the trash bin and go eat something sweet to get the bad taste out of my mouth, I gathered my courage, hit ‘reply all’ and challenged the statements in the email.

I wasn’t eloquent. As soon as I hit ‘send’ I thought of a whole slew of things I should have said. Speaking up to a forwarded email wasn’t as brave as it would have been in Germany in 1935 when the Nuremburg Laws deprived Jews of their citizenship and civil rights, but I don’t think those laws happened in a vacuum. That movement started somewhere, probably with a campaign of half-truths and lies (kind of like this email).

I’m not going to exhort readers to action of any kind. I’m just reporting a small window of opportunity that opened up for me. My name was on that email string. Not saying something would have meant that I agreed with what was in that email. I most certainly didn't agree, and with Professor Bartlett's question dogging me, I had to speak up.

Monday, May 30, 2016

An Interview with David Swindler of Action Photo Tours

 I met David Swindler at church. I’m music chairman for our congregation, and one of my tasks is to get special musical numbers for Sunday services. David sent me an email saying he was new to the area, and though he traveled a lot, he was willing to play the organ when he was in town.
     I signed him up to do a special number on one of the Sundays he wasn’t traveling.  I can’t remember the name or the composer, but the piece he played was variations on the nineteenth-century song “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”
     While David played, I closed my eyes to shut out the visual, because I didn’t want to be distracted from the music. The arrangement was beautiful, but it was David’s interpretation that touched my heart. I saw then that he had an artistic soul.
     At that time, I didn’t know what he did when he was traveling. But when I opened this year's Kanab Arts Magazine, I found he was the featured artist because of his photography.
     I discovered that David has a photographer-touring company called Action Photo Tours. I’ll send you to his web site later in this posting, when you’ve discovered a little more about him. I’ll just say right now that his own pictures are jaw-droppingly beautiful.  I should have known that after hearing him play. But more than that, he's dedicated to ensuring that people who go on his tours get their own jaw-droppers.
     I asked David if I could interview him for Liz Sez, and he graciously consented. At the end of the interview, he’ll talk about some of the pictures on his web site.
     So here we go:

LIZ: I know you graduated college with a chemical engineering degree. That seems a stretch to photography. Is it?
DAVID: Photography is multi-faceted. There is definitely an artistic side to it, but in order to express your creative vision, you must also master the technical details. Having been an engineer, the technical side of photography came very easily to me. I had to be very detail-oriented in my previous career which is a necessity to be a good photographer. In the semiconductor industry, I specialized in photolithography and optics where we used state-of-the-art equipment to image the tiny circuits on silicon wafers. With many direct analogs to photography, it was really easy for me to understand photography and teach others. Even though I’m technically oriented, I still have an artistic side. I studied music for many years in my youth and I’ve always had an intuitive sense of what looks good and what doesn’t. Finding good compositions is key to creating compelling images.

LIZ: I’ve seen your gallery on your web site. Your photos are amazing! How did you manage to catch those shots of a shaft of sun coming into the red rock cavern?
DAVID: There’s a lot of planning that goes into most of these shots. You have to understand how the sun angles change throughout the year. You need to be in the right place at the right time and watch the weather and clouds carefully. There are many seasonal considerations to be aware of as well.  For night photography, you must understand how the night sky changes month-by-month and when particular features will line up with what you want to photograph.  Granted, sometimes you get lucky and get a shot you hadn’t planned on, but most of my best work has been thought out and planned in advance.

LIZ: I read on your blog that your favorite animal to shoot is the bear. Grizzlies and polar bears both have fierce reputations.  Isn’t that a bit terrifying?
DAVID: That’s just how Hollywood likes to portray them. When you spend time with bears in the wild, they aren’t nearly as ferocious as the media would lead you to believe. That being said, we take careful precautions when in close proximity to the bears. We go in groups of 5-6 people. By staying close together, we become the largest “bear” in the area and they just end up ignoring us or moving away. Bears are not known to attack groups of people of 3 or more. You never want to approach bears. Instead, you hold your ground and if they want to get closer, they will. Most will just move away. We also take special care not to surprise bears, especially moms with cubs as that can be particularly dangerous. If you take the appropriate precautions and have experience around bears, it’s rare that you will have any problems.

LIZ: I lived in the Matanuska valley in Alaska for five years and only recall a couple of times where the northern lights were as vivid as the ones in your gallery. How can you guarantee that a person on one of your photography tours will see northern lights? Ditto polar bears?
DAVID: Polar bears are a guarantee since they are always waiting on the northern Barrier Islands for the sea ice to freeze in the autumn so they can go out and hunt seals. Northern Lights are no guarantee. On our trip last year, it was cloudy every night, even though we could see the aurora going like gangbusters behind the clouds. As with all things photography, going to the right place at the right time of year will dramatically improve your odds of seeing the Northern Lights.

LIZ: What’s your favorite landscape to photograph?
DAVID: I can’t really say because I like them all! You can’t really compare the Southern Utah desert to a place like Mt Rainier with all the wildflowers. Any landscape is a joy to photograph with spectacular light.  I especially enjoy doing night photography and long exposures since it’s one of the rare times where images look better on the camera than they do to the naked eye.

LIZ: How did you happen to move to Kanab, Utah?
DAVID: I was getting lots of demand for photo tours in the vicinity, so it made sense to move down here. Kanab is central to Zion NP, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Escalante, and the Vermillion Cliffs.

LIZ: I know you take photography tours all over the world, and you have people all over the world come to do tours with you. How do you deal with the language barrier?
DAVID: Everyone I’ve worked with is at least semi-fluent in English. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to find or read my website very well. When I traveled to China, it was difficult to get around without knowing Mandarin. I remember the first bus station we went to.  There were like 30 long lines at ticket windows and each one had different Chinese characters above them. We had no idea which one to go to to catch a bus to our remote destination. Using Google Translate on our smart phones, we were eventually able to figure it out with the help of other people. It’s all part of the adventure!

 LIZ: What’s your favorite thing about taking someone out on a photography tour?
DAVID: I really enjoy it when someone has that “ah-ha” moment, when things suddenly begin to click and they really understand what we’ve been working on. I also love seeing people’s reactions to some of the incredible places I take them to.

LIZ: I’m inserting a video of panting owlets that you took. Can you tell us how you happened to get this video? 

DAVID: These little owlets were just up Johnson Canyon, close to Kanab. One of my friends told me about them so I grabbed the long lens and headed up there. The first couple times I went I didn’t get that great of shots. But the last time, all 3 were perched out in the light and were all awake and attentive. After I took a bunch of still shots, I thought a video would be best to really show what was going on.

LIZ: Here’s a link to your gallery. Is there any picture that has a story you’d like to share?
DAVID: Here are stories from the first 5 shots in the gallery:

#1: White Sands New Mexico. I got up at 1AM and it was a very cold night in the winter (single digits).  I went hiking out in the dunes and it took me hours until I found the perfect dune. I setup external lighting and took this shot during the blue hour with the nice accent light of Alamogordo in the distance.

#2: Reflection Canyon is a remote viewpoint of Lake Powell. I decided to go close to the winter solstice since the rising sun would be aligned with the canyon. However, it's not easy to get there in the winter. Most photographers hire a boat to get here, but that's not an option in the winter. First, I had to drive nearly 60 miles on a snowy/muddy Hole-In-The-Rock Road. From there, it was a 9-mile cross-country backpacking jaunt with a lot of washes to cross. Since I did most of the hike in the dark, I know I didn't go the most efficient route. The next morning it was cloudy and I got some great shots of the canyon. But since I didn't get the sunburst I had hoped for, I stayed one more night and was treated to clear skies the next morning.

#3: While in Zion NP, there were heavy clouds all afternoon and I seriously thought we weren't going to get anything for sunset. However, I looked at the SunsetWX website and it showed very good sunset potential, so my workshop group decided to hang out and wait. Sure enough, the sun popped through about 5 mins before sunset and transformed a dull, lifeless scene into one of the most vibrant displays I've ever witnessed.  A couple minutes later the river began to reflect all the wonderful cloud color.

#4: It was a stormy evening out at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Because the salt was so wet, I didn't dare drive my truck on the flats, so I used my mountain bike to get out a good distance out. I really didn't have much hope for sunset due to the heavy clouds on the horizon. However, a small break appeared and the sun poked through for just a couple minutes.  Good thing I was ready!  And yes, it was totally worth getting self and bike completely covered in wet salt.

#5: I wanted to get a high up shot of Fly Geyser, but there isn’t anywhere you can get this vantage point from the ground. Thus, we decided to build a very tall 20-foot tripod. Unfortunately, this tripod was difficult to use since we had no way to gauge the composition, leveling, exposure, or polarization state from the ground. For example, we found that we had to offset the polarization by a quarter turn in order for it to be correct higher up in the air. It took a lot of raising and lowering the tripod to get it right. However, I was pretty happy with some of the shots we got. For this shot, I used a neutral density filter to get a 5-sec exposure. It took a few attempts since the wind kept blowing in different directions!

#6: Most people go on polar bear trips in Churchill, Manitoba, where they see polar bears from the top of large rover vehicles. It’s not the same seeing them from 20-feet up in the air. In Alaska, we take boats out to see the bears and we photograph them at eye-level. This allows us to get eye-level shots such as this one of a sub-adult cub lounging on the ice.

LIZ: My thanks to David Swindler for taking the time to do this interview. If you didn’t already check out his web site, I hope you’ll go to and scroll through. There’s contact information on the web site if you’ve always dreamed about going on a photographic odyssey with someone who can coach you along to the best shot.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Walker Goldsmiths and the Hobart Diamond

I've had several brilliant careers in my threescore years and ten plus. One of those careers was owner of a bakery. It was a wholesale bakery where the kids and I made pies for about 21 restaurants in two counties as well as carrot cake and cinnamon rolls for convenience stores.

My sweet husband, Derrill, built the little shack next to our old farmhouse into a commercial kitchen for me. He'd haunt restaurant supply auctions, and in the course of the bakery's existence (15 sleep-deprived years), he got miraculous deals on a commercial 6-burner range, 2 commercial convection ovens, a walk-in refrigerator, a sheeting machine for rolling pie crusts and cinnamon roll dough, and...(drum roll, please)...a 30 quart Hobart mixer that was probably older than I was at the time. I guess it's still older than I am, and that's a bit scary, because it's still in use.

One day, my delivery person wasn't able to take pies around, so I did both the baking and delivery. I stopped at the Dairy Queen for a coke to help keep me awake, since I'd been up baking since two a.m. Sitting in the drive-up window, I was fidgeting with my rings, and I suddenly became aware that they felt different. I looked down, and there, where the diamond usually sat in my engagement ring, was a diamond-size ball of pie dough. The stone had disappeared.

I was devastated. I finished the deliveries and went and cleaned the bakery better than I ever had when I was anticipating the food inspector. No diamond. I waited, hoping I'd be sued by someone who had bit into an apple pie and broken a tooth. That would have brought a host of other problems, but at least I'd have the diamond my husband gave me at the Vista Point above Glen Canyon Dam one Sunday in April, 1961.

It never showed up.

A year or so after I lost my diamond, my mother-in-law came to live with us, and I was her caregiver. I was able to do  that and continue with the carrot cake and cinnamon rolls, but soon her Alzheimer's progressed to the point that I couldn't do both, and so I closed the bakery.

About that time, my daughter Terry and her then-husband Matt were building a house. She wanted to put a licensed commercial kitchen in the house, and she offered to trade the double convection oven and the Hobart mixer for a diamond her husband had purchased years before as an investment. We made the trade, and I again was able to wear my engagement ring. We called it the Hobart diamond.

Luckily, we were friends with goldsmiths Owen and Janet Walker. He replaced the diamond and made sure the prongs were way strong. I've had him check them as the years have passed, not wanting to lose this diamond, but he did such a good job in the beginning that the prongs have stayed strong.

If any of you have read my first Spider Latham Mystery, you've met Owen and Janet, as I wrote them in as silversmiths in The Lodger.  They're marvelous artists, and I have several pairs of earrings created by them.

The lapis lazuli earrings on the left were my first pair of Walker Goldsmith earrings. Derrill gave them to me for Christmas probably twenty years ago. My mother brought the lapis from Afghanistan when she returned from there in 1970.

The amethyst earrings on the right are wonderful, because the setting has a hole in the back so that light shines through.

Several times, when I've been wearing one or the other of these two pairs, I've had strangers stop me and tell me how beautiful my earrings are. It's happened multiple times, and though I wear earrings every day of my life, it's only happened with these two pairs.

Janet and Owen Walker have earned well-deserved recognition for their artistry in gold and silver. Click here to to go their web site and see some of the beautiful custom jewelry they've created. 

But none of their work has been more appreciated than the work they did on the Hobart Diamond.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Buckskin Trail by JoAnn Arnold, a review

I'm proud to be on JoAnn Arnold's blog tour team for her new Young Adult book, The Buckskin Trail.

The book is about Cherokee-Irish Kelzi Tsali, who saw her parents murdered when she was a girl.

The back cover blurb reads: A miracle saved Kelzi's life when she was younger. Now it's her turn to save others. Discovering the truth about her parents' deaths places Kelzi on a dangerous path, one where she must avenge those who have died and protect the land of her Cherokee people--at all costs. Old traditions battle against modern values in this thrilling mystery!

Kelzi survives the trauma of her childhood because of her support system. She's taken to the reservation to live with her grandmother. There, with her extended family and the lore that her grandmother teaches her, continuing the education begun by her Cherokee father, she stays grounded, focused, and prepared for the tasks that are ahead of her.

Arnold's newest book has elements of fantasy in it as well as mystery. Or, if you prefer, spirituality, for one of the main secondary characters is a ghost, though Kelzi calls him her guardian angel. His name is Shannon.

Shannon is my favorite character in the book. A Scotsman when he was alive in the 1700s, he is colorful (can you have a colorful ghost?), inventive, and wise. And good with a needle.

 "It seems ye jumped right into the well like a slung-stane,” Shannon tells Kelzi when she meets a handsome, all-grown-up friend from her childhood who obviously thinks Kelzi turned out pretty well, too. “Me thinks ye’ve caught his attention.”

Shannon has lots of pithy words of wisdom:
      "Thar’ll be those ‘oo know of ye, but’ll nae know yer face.” Shannon’s voice broke through her thoughts…. Thar’ll be those ‘oo know nothin’ at all. But they’ll be glancin’ at ye as ye walk by, fer the lovely face they’ll be ssin’, an’ yer ta smile kindly as ta nae be thought unfriendly.”
     “I think what you’re trying to tell me is that by smiling, I’ll come across as a tall woman with a pretty face, a friendly smile, and soon forgotten. To show no emotion, I’ll be seen as an unfriendly woman with an attitude.”
     “Couldn’t have said it better meself.” Shannon gave her one of his angelic smiles.

The Buckskin Trail starts a little slow as you learn about Kelzi's childhood, adolescence and education, but it ratchets up when she receives a centuries-old parchment deed wrapped in buckskin for safekeeping. This is what her parents were killed for, and the people who murdered her parents are now coming after her.

With Shannon calling the intricate shots, justice is served, and there are several happy endings. It doesn't get any more satisfying than that.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Liz and the Raising Kane Quilt Retreat

Every February I accompany nineteen quilters to a beautiful house near Zion National Park for a quilt retreat. I'm not a quilter. I go to write. And cook.

The house is a beautiful three story house with seven bedrooms, lots of bathrooms, and a wonderful, well-stocked kitchen. It also has a large room downstairs with tables available so that each of the ladies can set up her sewing machine, cutting apparatus, and pressing equipment. If you're interested in this particular rental, perhaps for a family reunion or a retreat, click here to see it. 

While there, I worked on chapter six of my new Spider Latham Novel, to be titled Death on the Red Rocks.  I was able to rescue Spider after he had been knocked out and tossed into Peekaboo Canyon during a rainstorm.

The ladies I accompanied were busy during that time, too. One of the things they did was to make a quilt top for me. Ilene Ott was in charge, and she had each lady bring some white and some printed fabric. She had each make a pinwheel block, and Alana Robinson put them together. What precision! All the points are perfect, and where they're joined, the block edges are precise. Pamela France made a binding that came with the top in a sweet little gift bag

There were three rows of double tables downstairs, and each quilter had not only her sewing machine, but cutting tools and a pressing board and iron set up.

 This is the middle row of quilters. Muriel is showing her star center she finished. I can't remember who's behind the airplane quilt below.

 Peggy was working with paper piecing making this clever cat block. On the right, Micky shows the Hunter's Star she put together.

Judy (left) and Alana (Right) are working on the same pattern. I can't remember the name, but again, the points are so precise!

Nannell makes exquisite quilts.  At left, she sits with some of the felt applique pieces she's assembling. At right is a 'farm quilt' she made. Below is a close up of the chicken block that's in this quilt.  

  Keela is making a graduation quilt for her diesel mechanic grandson. She pieced a strip quilt and will applique the felt trucks on them. On the right, Ilene is holding up a sampler quilt she made.

Here's a 'You've Got Mail' quilt made by Pamela.

You can see why I'd enjoy spending three days with these ladies. What a creative bunch! There were lots more quilts a-building and people that I didn't have a chance to highlight here. Next year I'll do a better job of chronicling all the quilts.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

BARBARA and PHOENIX - A review of two movies

As I said in my previous post, my mother always said, “Start out the way you mean to go on.”

I watched the film Barbara on New Year’s Day. I watched Phoenix the day after. It would be wonderful indeed if I could continue my movie watching year with films as visually beautiful and as moral compass-ish as these two. Even if my husband, Derrill, did say, “What?! Subtitles?”

Both movies are directed by Christian Petzold and both star Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld. Both have gorgeous photography, but each has a different plot and a different feel to it. Both are beyond excellent.

First, Barbara. This movie is set in East Germany in the 1980s. For those of us who lived through the cold war, our news consciousness was shot through with tales of people who had risked everything to escape the iron curtain countries. I remember one family who built a hot air balloon and successfully flew over the Berlin wall. I had a math instructor in college who had come through in a wagonful of cabbages. We forgave him his intense manner and sarcasm because of that.

What I’m trying to say is that I brought something to this film that young moviegoers might not bring, for the pivot point of this film is that Barbara, an East German doctor, is desperate to get out. Her punishment for even filling out an official request to leave is exile to a provincial hospital on the Baltic Sea.

Nina Hoss as Barbara is all angles, competent, and brittle. Ronald Zehrfeld  as fellow doctor AndrĂ© Reiser  is—cuddly isn’t the word I want. Safe? Maybe not safe, but watching him gives you the feeling of a safe harbor on the Baltic Sea.  

One of the beauties of Barbara, and there are many, is that it trusts the intelligence of its audience.  We are able to read Barbara’s character and that of her fellow doctor, AndrĂ© Reiser, through their nuanced conversations and body language. 

The English subtitles are sometimes hard to make out when they’re set against a light backdrop. I would say it might be a good idea to read through the plot outline on Wikipedia before you begin. It won’t destroy the movie for you, for the way Christian Petzold gets from Barbara’s arrival at the hospital to the scene on the beach when she makes her sacrifice is masterful. Knowing the plot will leave you free to concentrate on the wonderful dialog (even in translation) and the photography.

I must say that that last scene has stayed with me. You don’t need to speak German to understand what Hoss and Zehrfeld say with their eyes.

Now to Phoenix. Ah! What a splendid film. I watched it twice in as many days. It was better the second time, because I was able to watch Ronald Zehrfeld, as Johnny,  miss all the important clues because of his tunnel vision, his hell-bent desire for his late wife’s money.

The film is set just after World War II. Nelly returns from the camps wounded in the face and is brought to a hospital by her friend Lene for reconstructive surgery. Nelly is anxious to find her husband, Johnny. Before the war she was a cabaret singer and he was her accompanist. As she goes looking for him, she finds him bussing tables at The Phoenix, a spot frequented by American soldiers.

Though the surgeons tried to recreate how she had looked before, Johnny doesn’t recognize Nelly. However, the surgeons have done well enough that he asks her to impersonate his wife. There is enough of a resemblance that he feels he can train her to pass as Nelly.

Lene warns Nelly that Johnny betrayed her, a Jewess, to the police, and it is because of him that she was arrested and sent to the camps. Nelly refuses to believe it. However, she doesn’t reveal her identity to Johnny but instead goes along with his scheme to present her as his wife so he can get her inheritance, since she alone of her family ‘survived.’

Neither Nina Hoss nor Ronald Zehrfeld  in Phoenix resemble the characters they play in Barbara. Nelly certainly isn’t competent and brittle. She’s broken and desperate. Johnny is desperate, too. He’s not broken, but he’s psychologically and spiritually maimed, perhaps haunted. No safe harbor there.

Both of these are great movies, must see movies. They’re movies you should see with friends and then discuss. They’re grown-up movies. Not because of language or sexual content, but because they deal with serious subjects and themes. But both are absolutely must-see films.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Be Kind to Your Tenor Section

I've been a church choir director for several decades now. My success lies in the fact that I don't get overly anxious when people don't come to choir practice.  Maybe someday I'll blog on the tried and true Liz Adair Method of Choir Directing.

But right now I want to talk about the choir I had in Sedro Woolley, Washington. It was a great choir, and some of them even came to practice. I had several children and grandchildren in the congregation, and I leaned on all of them to attend, but there wasn't a tenor among 'em.

Enter Keiffer (Keith) Marino. He was a nice looking young fellow. Gorgeous tenor voice. Came to practice. Boy, we were really cooking when Keiffer was there.

Sadly, he transferred out to better things (he was in the navy). That must have been five years ago. I've gone on to different climes and different choirs, but I heard his voice again yesterday.

My son-in-law sent me a Youtube video of Keiffer singing the national anthem at this year's Holiday Bowl. Take a listen. The caption was, "The way our National Anthem should be sung."

Yea Verily.