Sunday, May 31, 2009

Continuing the Work of the Dead

It is a Jewish teaching that we assist the dead in a peaceful transition into Spirit by continuing their work on Earth. We extend their footsteps on their path here through our own good deeds in the directions they were headed and this allows them to rest easy because their work will continue. After my friend Elena was tragically killed in a biking accident, I wanted to do something to remember her and the good work she did with young people. She was an ESL teacher and she worked with disadvantaged youth who spoke English as their second language. She helped these young people imagine a future, figure out what they wanted to do with their lives, and pursue their goals. She worked with many young people who had huge barriers to overcome to be successful in life. I thought of collecting money from people who knew Elena and then donating it somewhere in her name. And then it hit me. A memorial scholarship for a student to attend college. The Elena Castaneda Memorial Scholarship Fund was born.

Because Elena lived all her adult life in Berkeley and loved that community, I thought it was fitting to give the scholarship to a student from Berkeley High School. And because Elena was a Chicana, Spanish-speaking, who helped so many Spanish-speaking young people, I thought it was fitting to give the scholarship to a student who speaks Spanish as his/her first language and who has worked hard to become proficient in English. I asked a group of Elena’s closest friends to serve as a board and selection committee for the scholarship. I wrote out the criteria, which included that the applicant had to be accepted to a four-year college or university. I developed a simple application form. My selection committee wanted to give the scholarship to someone who had done community service, since this was important to Elena. And we also wanted to give it to someone who would promote the Latino values and culture from which he or she came.

The first annual Elena Castaneda Memorial Scholarship Award was made on May 27, 2009. We raised $3,000, which was presented to Joaquin Garcia. Joaquin will attend San Francisco State University in the fall to study engineering and economics. His family is originally from Michoacan. He has done community service through BOCA and through his church, Saint Joseph the Worker. He made the varsity soccer team at Berkeley High when he was still only a freshman and was honored as the team’s most outstanding player for three years in a row. He is both an athlete and a scholar, maintaining a good academic record. Joaquin coincidentally grew up on Elena’s street, so perhaps at one time he spoke to her as she often conversed with the neighborhood children.

Elena’s parents and a group of her close friends met Joaquin, his mother, and his sister (who attends Claremont College) at the Senior Awards Night Ceremony last week. When Elena’s mother told Joaquin’s mother that she can’t understand why she lost her beautiful daughter, Joaquin’s mother replied, “Well, maybe it was so you could help someone like me.” Gracias, Elena, for helping Joaquin go to college. If you are inclined to donate to the Elena Fund for next year’s scholarship, please contact me to find out how. The tuition at a state school is now about $4,000 per year. We would love to give full tuition to next year’s recipient, and possibly give another small scholarship to Joaquin to help him in his sophomore year.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sudi's Movie

It’s late Saturday night and I just cut the last thread on the graduation quilt I have been making since January for my son Sudi. I made a quilt for each of my children when they completed high school. I discovered the Native American graduation quilt tradition at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii where I watched a brief film in which Navajo families gave quilts to their children when they graduated. I loved the idea and adopted it. Sudi is the baby so when he goes we’ll have that proverbial empty nest.

For Sudi’s senior project he chose to make a short film. Not a surprise, since Ron has his degree in film and Sudi plans to study filmmaking in college. He will be attending California College of the Arts in Oakland, where he has been offered a fine creative achievement scholarship, to study media arts. Like his father before him, he can’t make up his mind if he wants to go into visual art, video, film, audio, music, animation, etc. So he figures that the best way to combine all his interests is to study film. He said he chose to make a film for his senior project because he has never made one and he wanted to see if he could do it. He wrote a plot, storyboarded, asked a friend to be his production assistant, got permission to film in a local bookstore, cast his actors, borrowed a camera, dug Ron’s Universal Studios scene-identifying clacker out of a box in the basement, and became a director. When he returned home from his first day of filming, I asked how it went. “It was OK,” he said, “but not what I expected.” I asked him if he had run into any problems. “Well, yeah,” he replied, “the biggest problem is that I have no idea how to make a film.”

Have a look at the film, which he posted on YouTube, and see if you think he had no idea. I confess, I cried when I saw it because it’s pretty damn good for a first go from a seventeen-year-old, and because I’m a Jewish mother. My son is so talented. The most impressive part, to me, is that he composed and performed ALL the music in the film, staying up late at night in his bedroom, playing all the instruments (plus voice) into a microphone, and mixing them with the computer program Audacity (a very basic, simple sound program). He played back what he had done with one instrument, listened on the headphones, and played the next instrument, laying one track over another. He had practically every instrument in the house back there. Ron and I would be trying to go to sleep and he’d be at it on the drums or a ukulele he borrowed from a friend.

I’m a proud mom and I don’t care who knows it. Here’s the film, entitled Backpack. Remember to click HQ for the high definition version (or else it will be blurry).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Booker T

Last Sunday evening, Ron and I drove to the Pacific Coast to hear Booker T perform at the Caspar Inn. Best remembered historically as the house band for Stax-Volt Records during the 60s, Booker T and the MGs created the "Memphis Sound" that backed up hit recording artists such as Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, and Sam & Dave. They were one of the first racially integrated bands (that was not a vocal group) of the rock music era and are probably best known for their 1962 instrumental hit Green Onions. Booker T didn’t perform on Sunday with the MGs, of course, but he had an excellent band with him and he was phenomenal. On the drive over, Ron filled me in on some of the remarkable aspects of the Booker T story. One day during a recording session at Stax, the musicians decided they needed a baritone sax in the piece and they didn’t have anyone in the studio who could play the baritone sax. One of the musicians said, "I know this kid over at the high school who could do it." So they went and took Booker T out of school to sit in on the session. He blew them away, so to speak, and the rest is history. When he was still only 16, he wrote Born Under a Bad Sign for blues great Albert King. On Sunday, after the concert, Ron had the opportunity to meet Booker T, since it was such an intimate small venue. Ron told him, "When I discovered that you were only 16 when you wrote Born Under a Bad Sign, I said to myself, ‘ok, this cat is bad’." Where bad means exceptionally good, Booker T is it. He put on an exceptional show. I loved his modesty and graciousness. He wrote, played, produced for (and with) some of the greatest musicians ever. Rita Coolidge’s sister Priscilla (also a singer) is his wife. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Yet he is humble, approachable, and warm. He allowed half a dozen rather tipsy ladies to have their pictures taken with him. He talked to Ron and other folks who came up to him after the show. Well, for goodness sake, he played the itty bitty Caspar Inn! In his early 60s these days, he looks fit and healthy with clear skin and a winning smile, unlike many of the dissipated stars who allowed sex, drugs, travel, and wealth to ruin their lives. It was refreshing to experience a genuine person like Booker T as he simply shared his gift of musical ability with an appreciative little audience. Lovely.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Remembering Moms

Today my dear husband made me breakfast for Mother’s Day. Fried eggs and grits, strawberries and melon. A strong cup of coffee. He made turkey bacon for himself (I don’t eat meat). The kitchen smelled like bacon and coffee, which brought it all back to me. When I was a little girl, my mother kept a kosher kitchen. But Grandma (mom’s mom), didn’t keep kosher and when we grandchildren visited, she made us bacon. The real stuff. Also, Mom and Dad didn’t drink coffee. But Grandma percolated coffee each morning for Grandpa, who appreciated a cuppa. The smell of bacon and coffee in the morning takes me back to Grandma’s kitchen in Perth Amboy, NJ. I went there this morning. Heavenly.

Here’s a Mother’s Day tale about my mom, Natalie, and Ron’s mom, Evelyn. They got along well and came to visit to us once together so they could see one another at the same time. We took them on a field trip to Point Reyes, which is the most westerly point of Cali on the Pacific Coast. Splendid bird watching out there (and whales when they migrate in February and March). Glorious coastal scenery; a splendid beach. Ron and I wanted to walk on the beach while our moms were not so inclined. They remained together on higher ground while we went for a sunset meander. As the story goes, the moms noticed an informational guide plaque and proceeded to read it as Ron and I strolled on the distant beach. The plaque talked about the ocean, tides, and waves. It warned that unexpectedly large waves often washed in and pulled unsuspecting visitors out with the strong undertow. For this reason, it strongly cautioned against walking at the water’s edge.

Upon reading the above information on the plaque, at the exact same moment, the moms looked out across the picturesque view to see us, their children, walking peacefully at the edge of the water. They let out a simultaneous gasp, then turned to each other in alarm. Upon realizing that they shared the identical thought of concern for our safety, they laughed and laughed. Needless to say, we were not washed out to sea. Natalie and Evelyn have washed away from us in the tide of time, but their loving care continues to surround us and our children. Happy Mother’s Day you two.

Point Reyes Beach, circa 1983.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Unwanted Visitor

Yesterday my husband Ron discovered how easily an unsuspecting person could be robbed, murdered, or raped in their own home. He and I went to a Bat-Mitzvah in Willits and took separate cars because I gave a workshop in self-publishing at the college in the morning and went to synagogue late. Ron arrived home before I did. He came in the front door of the house, plopped his things down in the hallway, and went to the computer to check email. Before he could so much as click the mouse, he discovered that a strange man had followed him into the house! Creepy. He had not been aware that anyone was close enough to follow him in. He had closed the door behind him but left it unlocked, as usual.

A robber? Drug addict? Pathological murderer? None of the above. Fortunately, it was a pathological door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Ron told the guy to get out. But this guy was persistent. He asked Ron what kind of vacuum cleaner we have. Ron replied “a green one.” Ron was twice as big as the vacuum cleaner salesman, and Ron was mad. He told him again to get out. The vacuum cleaner salesman asked Ron if he would like to see a demonstration of the Kirby. Ron said he would like to see a demonstration of how quickly the guy could make an exit. The salesman gave up and left.

After recounting this bizarre tale, Ron told me he’d like to keep the front door locked from now on. I had only been locking it at night. I resist succumbing to the American bogeyman of fear. But I must admit that if the same thing had happened to me, a strange man following me into my house, I would have been screaming and throwing vases. In retrospect, Ron feels a little bad being so hard on the guy. “He’s probably just a laid off office worker trying to make ends meet by selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door,” Ron speculated. Tough times.

To completely change the subject…. I want to wish the mighty Pete Seeger a terrific 90th birthday today. Lovers of folk music, social justice, and humor from around the world are lucky that Pete has lived a long and productive life! To read more about his birthday celebration concert today and/or to leave him a birthday greeting you can go to this web page.