Friday, December 23, 2011

From My Family To Yours

It is now half-way through Channukah, and one day before Christmas Eve, and as we end 2011 I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very joyous holiday season, and a happy and healthy new year.

This year was special in many ways, and I met a lot of new folks online. Some of you have become good friends, and I treasure your friendship as I do the friends I have known for a while, both online and in real life.

One of the most special things about this year was the wedding of my daughter during the summer. While the wedding and the time surrounding it was wonderful, it makes me so glad to see how happy she and her new husband are together.

And of course, it has been a lot of fun watching my grandsons growing up. No longer babies, they are now little boys - in the terrible twos!

So to all of my friends (regardless of if I have met you in real life or not - and I hope to meet more of you in the new year) and family, Sandy and I wish you all a Happy Holiday and a New Year to look forward to for all that you wish for yourself.

(Look for Thoughts From The Dark Side to return in the new year with renewed energy.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It was 40 years ago

It was December 25, 1971 and one of the last winter break vacations I would spend with my whole family. We were in Central Florida, Orlando to be exact, and almost three months earlier something happened here which would forever change this sleepy village - Walt Disney World (WDW) opened its gates for the very first time.

We arrived at our hotel on December 24. It was an off property hotel of course, since there were only two in WDW itself, The Contemporary and The Polynesian Village. Both were quite expensive. Along route 192 in Kissimmee there were a few hotels, but for the most part, Irlo Bronson Highway was pretty much empty. One could only imagine what it would look like in the years to follow. Walt Disney could, having seen what happened outside of the gates of Disneyland in Anaheim a decade and a half earlier, and that was what prompted him to buy 42 square miles of land in Central Florida - twice the size of the island of Manhattan.

We watched the news the night before and saw the major traffic backups onto I-4 of people hoping to get into the parking lot of the only theme park in WDW at the time - The Magic Kingdom. We knew we needed to leave very early in the morning the next day, our first ever in WDW. (We had been to Disneyland a few times already.)

So on December 25, 1971 we left our hotel and drove towards the only entrance to WDW and the parking lot for the Magic Kingdom. I was 18 years old, but just as excited as I had been years earlier the first time we visited Disneyland. I had grown up watching Disney every Sunday night, and my favorite episodes were always the ones that dealt with Disneyland, and more recently, the building of WDW.

But where was all the traffic we saw on TV? We were able to drive right up to the booths at the parking lot where we had to wait for them to open! We drove right to the front of the lot once we were in, with only a relatively few others alongside of us. We bought our ticket books, containing A through E tickets, and then took the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom. (We had to use a special transportation ticket to board.) Did you notice the price of admission and 7 attractions? $4.75!!!

Once inside The Magic Kingdom, we discovered that the entire park was not yet complete and open. Tomorrowland was boarded off since it was not yet finished. We would have to be content with the other lands. Another disappointment was that there was no Pirates of the Caribbean. No, it's not that it wasn't ready yet, but a decision was made that since Central Florida was historically pirate country itself, people might not want a pirate attraction in WDW. That was a mistake in judgement that was promptly corrected.

But despite these disappointments, we did have a great first day at The Magic Kingdom. And there were no crowds! As it turned out over the years, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were very low attendance days. On Christmas Eve, many of which we spent at The Magic Kingdom over the years, the park (and later parks) closed early and people stayed away. Leaving the park on Christmas Eve was nice in the early days, as Cast Members would line up and shake your hand and wish you a Merry Christmas as you left the park. Christmas Day was also a low attendance day ... until the year after the Christmas Parade was first televised live. The second year it was scheduled, we found The Magic Kingdom more crowded than it had ever been, and we were funneled backstage from the entrance directly into Tomorrowland. Now Christmas Eve and Day are among the most crowded in the Magic Kingdom.

Which bring us to Christmas Day, 2011 ... 40 years after my first ever visit to WDW. On December 25, 2011 my wife and I will be arriving in WDW. We are staying on property this time, as we always do, and will be spending time with our daughter (who has worked in WDW for over 11 years now and got married there) and son-in-law. It no longer has the same excitement that it had in the early days since we are here so often, but more of a feeling of "coming home."

I don't know exactly what time we will arrive in WDW, but if it is early enough, and if The Magic Kingdom isn't closed due to high crowds, I hope to be able to go into the Magic Kingdom, even if we don't get onto a single attraction, to celebrate 40 years to the day since I first set foot into the park.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Where am I?

Here it is, the end of another Thanksgiving weekend. The year is nearly over and I am looking back at it to try to figure out what kind of a year it has been.

Back in January, I "celebrated" two years since my job was outsourced and I had been looking for a new one. My unemployment benefits completely ran out, so it seemed even more important that I find work. However, I would be 58 years old throughout most of 2011 and not many employers were hiring people in my situation - very experienced (usually means more expensive) and so close to retirement.

But I continued looking. I spent most of the day at home, when I didn't have chores that needed to be done outside of the house. I felt guilty if I went out and did something that was for my enjoyment. Even going to a movie felt wrong. I found myself getting more and more depressed and anxious, and there was much tension in the house.

There were good things that helped however, and my daughter's wedding over the summer was certainly a high point of the year. There were the plans to make, and although my daughter handled most of that, it was very exciting as we approached the day of the wedding.

Of course, watching my grandtwins growing up has also be a highlight of this year, as it will for many years to come. They have reached the stage in which they are no longer babies, but little boys - and all the things that come with being two year olds. 

Perhaps, however, the thing that has gone the longest way in helping me was going back to an old interest, photography. Although I never stopped taking pictures over the years, it had been decades since I actually took photos for their own sake. I have returned to that, and learning what changes have happened in the field since my last ventures in the film photography era. Digital technology has changed many aspects of the art, while the basics have remained the same. There is is much for me to learn, and build upon all that I know. (You can have a look at some of what I have been doing lately on my photo blog, Gathered Images.)

Now we are heading into the final month of the year, and I seem to be in a better place ... at least most days. A month from now my wife and I will be visiting my daughter and son-in-law which, as you know, means we will be in Disney World.

Looking forward to the end of 2011 in the hopes that 2012 will have more high points than this past year - and expecting that it will.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Next Generation

It was three decades ago and our children were young. Not just the two who tagged after my wife and myself, but those of my friends and indeed a large portion of my generation. We, the baby boom generation, had come into our own.

It was fun watching them grow and develop from helpless little creatures into walking, talking and thinking (!) children. We enjoyed going places with them and seeing the wonder in their eyes as they learned about things ... first at home, then in the neighborhood, our city (one of the most wonderful in the world I might add), our state, our country and the world.

All too soon they were adults, and adults that we are very proud of. They have accomplished so much in what seems to us to be so short a time. They are grown, married and are at that point that we were all those many years ago.

And now comes the feeling of déjà vu. The next generation has come along. They are at the point of being anywhere from the helpless newborn to the walking and talking and thinking (!) children that we remember our children to have been. It is no longer our friends who visit with their youngsters, but our children and their friends. They are now embarking on the journey we have had, and we can come along for the ride. When we talk with our friends these days we no longer brag about our children (well, maybe we still actually do!) but share pictures and stories about our grandchildren. And it is great!

So, of course, here are mine ...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Old photographer - new camera

I know, it has been a while since I posted here on this blog. Many of you have been following the wedding trip report that I have been posting on my other blog.

Others of you may have been also seeing the photos I have been posting on my photo blog, and that brings us to the reason for today's post.

Ever since the  time I was a youngster, I have loved taking pictures. My first camera was an Ansco Cadet Reflex which took 127 size film. At first, I used whatever film my parents bought for me, and in the early 1960's most people were still using black and white film. I was young, and thought that if I moved the selector on the front of the camera from B&W to COL I would get color photos. I soon found out that you actually needed to use color film. (I told you I was young!) I got it prior to 1964, but in April of that year, I bought my first roll of color film and exposed it at the NY World’s Fair. You very rarely saw me without my camera. (Over the years I would use many different cameras from a very small 110 size camera, to a disk film camera, a few different models of Polaroid instant print cameras and even a Kodak instant print camera. The last one I actually got paid by Kodak to stop using when they lost a lawsuit to Polaroid! I even had an underwater camera.) I soon set up a darkroom, and a contact printer. It wasn’t until I was married that I would actually have an enlarger.

By that time, my camera was a 35mm Contax RTS, a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera. It would remain my camera until the age of digital photography was upon us. I took the camera everywhere and spent hours in the darkroom. Many of my prints got submitted into contests and publications and every so often I would hit the jackpot. In fact, at the very moment I was talking with President Jimmy Carter, an editor was placing one of my pictures into a magazine to go along with one of my articles.

I also had a Yashica Mat 124G Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) large format camera which I used for portraits and the occasional wedding/bar mitzvah shoot.

After my daughter was born, however, the darkroom reverted back to our kitchen, and while I still took a lot of pictures, they were more of the snapshot variety that dads tend to take of their kids.Today they are the type that a grandpa takes of the grandtwins. (And quite a few of Disney World!)

But recently I have seen a number of my friends posting their pictures and the old urge to go take pictures for the sake of taking them hit me hard. I had been using point and shoot cameras in this age of digital photography, but I missed using my old SLR and the flexibility it afforded me. I also missed going out and taking photos for the sake of taking interesting photos. So it was time to move up to a Digital SLR (DSLR). I recently purchased a Nikon D3100 and thought I could pick up where I left off with the Contax RTS.

In many ways I could, and did, but in many ways I found myself totally perplexed when I first got the camera in hand. My Contax RTS, state of the art for the early 1970's when I bought it, had internal metering (though you still had to manually set the aperture and shutter) and an electronic shutter - something new in the photography world in those days. Other than that, it was a totally manual camera. No auto-focus or any of the other fancy electronic features of today's cameras. As for the ISO speed (called ASA back then), that was controlled by the film you were using. You couldn't change it to accommodate changing conditions unless you changed the film in the camera. As it was, you generally had to change film after every 36-40 shots anyway.

But now I found myself having to learn all the new bells and whistles of the electronic, digital age of photography. The basic tenants of photography still remain the same, and I still (mostly) shoot in Aperture Priority mode, which is what I did on my old Contax RTS, although it wasn't a "mode" back then, it was a technique. The only "modes" the camera had were "on" and "off", and they occurred when you used the camera - or didn't.

Now, I have control over many more things from shot to shot, including ISO, white balance, how the camera meters a shot (though I do still have my old Vivitar 43 handheld reflected/incidence meter as well), and many more things, and can still use the camera in full manual mode when the situation calls for it. However, I am still learning about the camera and what I can (or can't) do with it, and of course, I am still learning as much as I can about photography, something I suspect I will always be doing, no matter how long I have been/will be taking photographs. At least I hope I will.

So once again I am enjoying the art of photography and seeing the world through a photographer's eyes. When I finish this post, I will be grabbing my camera and heading out to see what I can photograph today. You can see some of what I have taken so far on both of the blogs listed at the beginning of this post. Your comments are not only welcome, but very appreciated. Feel free to critique them and remember that each person looks at things in different ways and sees different things in the same view. Your opinions are welcome and I hope I can continue to grow as a photographer upon hearing your thoughts.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Two final looks at 9/11

I had planned on ending this series of looks back at 9/11 on the 10th anniversary of the attacks with my own piece 10 Years which ran yesterday. But two posts on other blogs caught my eye and I felt needed to be presented with this series. So with that in mind, please allow me to introduce you to ...

... Jo, whom I have known for about a half dozen years now. She is, in her own words, a full time mum of 2 beautiful girls, wife of one (who'd want more than one?) and she also works in full time paid employment. What caught my eye about her blog post that made me feel the necessity to ask permission to link to it here is her final paragraph. (Note my comment to her post on her blog.) Here is her entry, September 11 - Ten Years On.

The second post is from Peter Bower. Peter is a writer and a photographer and was 17 years old when NYC was attacked. His account of that evening (for him) is told in his blog post, 9/12: An Australian’s Version of September 11.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of views from outside of the US, and hopefully it has brought us all closer together in remembering this tragic event.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years

Me (with camera) at the WTC in 1977

10 years ...

Whenever I returned to college from a visit home I would pass by the construction site where the World Trade Center was being built. As a child I thought that the Empire State Building would always be the tallest building in the world, but here they were building two (!) which would be taller. When complete, the twin towers of the World Trade Center would replace King Kong's favorite New York City skyscraper as the tallest in the world - at least for a while.

10 years ...

In 1973 the World Trade Center opened. It didn't have the charm of the building it replaced as tallest, but there it was, right at the tip of Manhattan island. You could see it from the Staten Island ferry as you approached ... you could see it as you crossed over the Verrazano Bridge. It was built on land that had not existed when New Amsterdam was settled, though it towered over the space where the original Dutch settlement existed. It transformed the famous New York City skyline.

10 years ...

As a Scoutmaster and as a Cubmaster, I brought the boys in my unit to the 110th floor observation deck. As a New Yorker, I had not been to the top of the Empire State Building (yet), but hardly anyone went there anymore, as these new buildings were the highest you could now get in New York City. On a number of occasions, my wife and I brought our son and daughter up to the observation deck. In 1976 I took a picture of the Statue of Liberty from here which I entered into a US Bicentennial photo contest, and won a prize.

10 years ...

For many years I worked in Secaucus, New Jersey and lived in Brooklyn. My drive to work took me through the Battery Tunnel and past the World Trade Center. Each morning I passed by, seeing the busy area and watching folks going to work in the towers.

10 years ...

Ten years ago today, I was home asleep, not feeling well enough to go to work. My phone rang. It was my daughter wanting to know if the world was coming to an end. I retell the story every year on September 11 - you can read about it for yourself as well - The Day That Changed Everything. Life in NYC changed, life in the US changed, and life all around the world changed. We had always thought that we were safe here in the US, no one would dare attempt this sort of thing here. How quickly, and tragically, we found that we were wrong. We lost so much more than buildings that day. We lost lives, we lost security and we lost our innocence. No longer could we go about our daily lives without a reminder of what had changed. Everyone here in NYC lost someone they knew, or knew someone who had. A high school classmate and friend that I had just recently sat with to plan our class's 30 year reunion, Alan Feinberg, was a fireman and first responder who entered a dying building to help others ... and never came out. You may not have known the people in the World Trade Center, The Pentagon or on the hijacked aircraft, but you grieved for them ... and for the life of the pre-9/11 days.

One of the 4 hijacked aircraft left Newark International Airport - just 15 minutes from my house. It crashed landed in Shanksville, PA after passengers stormed the flight deck in an attempt to take back the airplane from the terrorists.

10 years ...

The day after the attack I found myself in the emergency room at Staten Island University Hospital. In the bed next to me was the wife of a fireman who was working at ground zero. He had come home for a break, and she had a reaction to the dust and debris he came home covered with.

10 years ...

As with the bombing of Pearl Harbor a generation before, we were stirred out of our complacency and into war. Security was increased everywhere, not just at the airports. We had learned to constantly look back over our shoulders.

10 years ...

In April, 2010 a friend was visiting from Australia and I was taking her around my city. She wanted to visit ground zero. I hadn't been able to bring myself to be in the area since the day of the attack. This was my first time back through that area. We looked down onto the footprint of the World Trade Center as the area was being prepared for construction of The Freedom Tower and the 911 Memorial.

10 years ...

Today, the empty space on our skyline where the World Trade Center stood, is no longer empty. The Freedom Tower is at half of its final height. When completed, the Empire State Building will once again relinquish its title of tallest in NYC. We are New Yorkers ... we are Americans ... you may deal us a blow, but we come back and we come back stronger than ever.

Weeks after the attack we visited our daughter in Florida, and saw The Voices of Liberty perform at the American Adventure in EPCOT in Walt Disney World. This clip was a part of that performance that I share each 9/11. (I hope and look forward to you sharing your thoughts on 9/11 below.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

An Aussie in California (A 9/11 Guest Blog)

If you ask Michelle, she will tell you she is Australian. The US, however, has the privilege of calling her one of our own as well. Having lived many years here, she also claims US citizenship. Her story comes from a unique perspective. My conversations with Michelle always make me think, and I urge you to check out her blog, 4 kids, a dog and a blog.


On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was woken by a phone call from a good friend in San Francisco. “Wake up” she said, “Turn on the television”.

I put it on and at this point the speculation was that it was a terror attack from Palestinian forces. I kept watching. Then my two-year-old woke up and all he wanted to do was go into the front yard and dig in the dirt.

I received many worried phone calls from home on that day.  My family had witnessed the attacks live on their television screens while I was still sleeping and even though they knew that we were in California, on the other side of the country, they couldn’t help but be concerned.

We lived near a US air base and in the months that followed every time those planes flew low over our backyard I jumped. I kept on with life as normal but every outing to a large public place was marred by a slight sense of unease. Thankfully, my son was too young to have any real awareness of what was going on.

I remember for a period of time after 9/11 writers talking of feeling frozen, abandoning work that no longer seemed important in the face of this horrible new reality. I am glad that in the intervening years those same writers did find their voices again and have given us works of fiction that explore the events of 9/11 from many different perspectives. But at the ten year mark I still have that sense of not quite knowing what to say, or of perhaps not having a right to say anything much at all.

Following 9/11 I spent a lot of time just reading, from the obituaries that the New York Times ran for months on end honouring each individual who had died in the attacks to the Opinion pieces that often left me struggling, with far more questions than answers.

My instinct at the ten-year mark is to do the same again, reading and listening to the stories of those whose lives were so radically altered by the terrible events of that day. And I will also be spending time talking about the event and it’s aftermath with my now 12-year-old son who is no longer so interested in playing in the dirt.

(This is the sixth in the series. I hope you take the time to read those that came before and the ones to follow.)

September 11 2001 - Lost Innocence (A 9/11 Guest Blog)

Tania is a good friend who lives in Australia. Be sure to take some time and visit her blog, Crooked_Fairytale.


I doubt there are many who don't remember where they were on September 11 2001.

For me it was  the evening and I was on the computer scanning the internet and reading emails.  Suddenly a haunting image appeared on my screen - it was one of the twin towers in smoke.  A plane had just crashed into it.  I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing, how could a plane crash into a 110 storey building in the middle of the day?  it just seemed surreal.  Did the pilot have a heart attack? How did no one spot this earlier?

It seemed only moments later that a second plane crashed into the second tower.  It was like a scene from a movie and in fact my step-brother was in a bar in the UK at the time and he and his mates watched thinking it was a new Die Hard Film.

I can't remember how long I sat there, probably only minutes when I realised that it wasn't a movie it was real , something unimaginable had happened. Somehow I made it to the lounge and the tv.  Carnage was everywhere, smoke, fire, falling debris. Oh my God we are at war I thought.

I didn't sleep, I don't think anyone around the world slept that day, I couldn't look away from my television.  The images I saw were shocking and burned into my retinas, I won't forget them, visions of people jumping and falling from heights that they would never survive from.  What made them do it?  Was it that bad that willingly jumping was better than waiting hoping for rescue?

Since then I have watched every piece of footage that was available, it became like an obsession.  I don't know why, I couldn't stop, I cried, I still cry.  I had so many questions.  I tried to live those last moments working out if there was anyway more people could have survived.  Questions that have been asked by thousands even millions, questions that will never have answers.

I don't believe in war, I hate violence but I do understand the pain, the need to lash out, that moment of insanity when you want to lash out and hurt those who hurt you, these things I understand and I think it is necessary to feel those emotions before you can move on.  

Many people died that day, people are still dying from subsequent issues from that day, for those families involved, the heartache still goes on but like all of us they move forward trying to find their way in the world.

The gift of life is powerful and keeps going regardless, and no matter what adversity we face as human beings, no matter how much horror that gift keeps us going, we rise above the ashes stronger, more respectful of one another, more willing to stretch out a hand to help.  

My prayer is that we don't need any more disasters for us to remember why we are here and who we were born to be.

(This is the fifth in a series. Be sure to read all of the entries before and those to follow.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Australians Remember (A 9/11 Guest Blog)

Denyse Whelan is Australian, and you can read her blog at Denyse Whelan Blogger. Educator. Consultant. You can also follow her on Twitter: @denwise1


9/11. 10 Years Ago.

My husband and I send all warm wishes, and our sincere condolences to our U.S. families and friends.

This anniversary is like no-other.

How can it be 10 years ago? It is.

We remember this:
  • It was in the wee hours of our morning, that our son woke us to tell what he had just witnessed via the TV screen in our front room.
  • He was awake to see "it" - the tragedy and terror- unfold via live TV because he had returned from his evening shift at work.
  • We all felt sick. We felt disbelief. We could not stop watching as our screens were filled with sights, and sounds, never seen beyond a Hollywood effects movie.
Later that day:
  • I went to work. As a school principal.
  • The school's location, around 30 minutes west from our place, housed Sydney's Royal Air Force Base.
  • Many students who attended the school had parents, and relatives who worked there.
  • From the time I arrived, I was dealing with students who worried about Mum's or Dad's job, and what would happen if they same "thing" i.e. terrorism struck here too.
  • I was also leading a group of teachers who were, like me, affected by the horror. The sheer size and magnitude not understood.
  • The air force base went into Lockdown mode. For the first time anyone could remember.
What about now, 10 years on?
  • It is said that the world changed that day. I agree.
  • Air travel became a new security measures, and added restrictions, as I found when I visited the U.S. in 2006.
  • "It's because of 9/11" was the catch cry.
  • We never forget. The sights. The stories.
  • In fact this week, we have re-visited much of the day the world change via our TV screens.
The future:
  • None of us could predict "that day" nor I guess the ones ahead.
  • However, I am coming to U.S., specifically to New York City, in July 2012.
  • My first, and most important part of my stay, will be to visit, and pay my respects to the people, whose lives were lost, irreparably changed, on 9/11/01.

Denyse Whelan. Blogger. Educator. Consultant.   Twitter: @denwise1

The attack on the Western World (A 9/11 Guest Blog)

Heather is from Australia and has seen her share of destruction and tragedy. She has done something to help. Bookkeeper by day, blogger by night, accidental creator of The Marysville Cookbook.

This is the third post of this series - please be sure to read them all.

9/11, Sept 11 2001 – The attack on the Western World

I remember where I was, just like so many – I was watching Star Trek, it was some time between 23.00hrs-01.00hrs (AU EST). The transmission was cut to cross live to a building, with a plane approaching, you could see in the background, one building on fire and the plane approaching and just flying into the second building.

It didn’t seem real – how could the cameras be there as it is happened? How could people be describing what is going on? Why was the second building collapsing?

Just too much to comprehend, I woke my husband, he said I was mistaken, it’s too late, I must be dreaming I must have got it wrong.

I didn’t get it wrong. I didn’t sleep that night – I couldn’t sleep that night, the same as many hundreds of other people couldn’t sleep that night here in Australia. The number of people walking through a nightmare in the USA, and other parts of the world, far too numerous to even consider the numbers.

The images of people jumping from a leap that was not survivable, the images of the dust and smoke and ash, of paper being blown about like confetti. The images of people trying to flee one of the most built-up areas in the USA. The images of people emerging from the dust of the building collapse. Everyone was the same, the same shocked look, the same skin colour, the same look of disbelief.

In my minds eye I could see people on the phones in these buildings, saying their goodbyes, saying I love you.

I couldn’t think it possible that one human being or even two or more human beings were capable of destroying something so precious as another human life.

I just couldn’t understand. Many people before me have put their condolences in far better terms that I ever could and for that I say thank-you

I may live in Australia, I may not know anyone who perished in these attacks on the western world, but I felt the horror just as the next person did, just as people did in America.

9/11 wasn’t just an attack on America; it was an attack on the civilised world.

America went to war for world-wide peace, Australia and many other countries also went to war for the same cause.

I don’t like war, nor does my neighbour nor America, but I believe it was a necessary evil. An evil to stop further attacks on you, on me, on my neighbour, on your neighbour, on your family overseas, or on other countries. America and her supporters needed to show a united front on an event that could very well have lead into WWIII.

May the world never forget 9/11 and may peace reign world-wide forever.

God bless.


Please also read the other posts on this topic before and after this one.

Feeling so sorry for the country that I love like a second home (A 9/11 Guest Blog)

Patrick Mitchell is a friend of mine from the UK. He and his family often travel to the US. Here are his thoughts ...


On 9/11 I was at work at Thomas Cook travel agency, in the White Rose Shopping Centre, Leeds U.K.

It was a normal day but then, in the afternoon, everything started to change. People started to tell us that something was happening in New York, people started to mention things on phone calls, had we heard the news? had we seen what was happening?

The answer was no. We were completely isolated without access to TV, radio and internet was still relatively new.

Was it an accident, initially we presumed it must be but then the rumours grew into facts and the awful truth became clear. We handled things the best we could as flights were cancelled and tried to give people certainty when we had none ourselves then we went home to the TV news....

The terrible things I saw, I still remember and I remember feeling so sorry for the country that I love like a second home, why was his happening,? Who had done it? Was it selfish to be glad your family are all safe at home with you?

I have always felt a great closeness and attachment to my friends in America but never more than that day.

(This is the second in a series of views from outside of the US. Please read all that have already been posted as well as those that will be posted shortly.)

Aching arms (A 9/11 Guest Blog)

This first entry in our series of non-American views of 9/11 comes from Jane Furey. Jane is from Australia and is the publisher of A String of Pearls, an e-zine for women and by women. Follow Jane on Twitter at @JaneofAustralia

Jane has written a wonderful 10th anniversary tribute, highlighting one woman who was lost in the World Trade Center on that terrible day.


My son was in Korea during September 2001.  I had a cable connection so I could watch if the North invaded, and call him before they got there…yes really.
I’d fallen asleep with the TV on BBC and I was woken by silence interrupting the hum of normal broadcasting.  I sat up and looked at the screen only to see a plane fly into a building and wondered why the BBC was showing a movie…the shocked commentary told me this unreal scene was in fact real.
My phone called through the cacophony of the reporter’s cries, shattering my stillness. It was a young friend – like a daughter to me - visiting USA; distressed and needing to connect with home. Anna knows I am a night owl; across the world we watched together. Stunned, shocked, appalled all the cliché words applied, all the phrases that have become cliché still apply. ‘The world is changed forever’…how true this is.
I personally have an issue with the stated desire for revenge.  While on one level it is somewhat understandable, I also wonder if the price has been higher than anticipated.  During this journey to revenge, how have the mothers of all the fallen military felt about it? Though I am not American, I have boundless empathy. My heart broke too. I am a mother, I am woman with a sensitive feelings. I cried. I cry.
Rising above is a nobler approach. Yes, tougher, yet so much finer. How many children might still be joining their families this thanksgiving, how many arms would not ache from emptiness?  Lastly, I consider what grace and dignity might have been gained for the nation, and indeed for the world if a different response had been decided upon? When is enough revenge?
Finally, as I watch the documentaries and news reports this 10th anniversary I am again deeply moved. The sadness has not decreased.  I am shocked to hear of a medical clinic in New York with some six thousand patients, all of whom were in the area on 9/11. The casualty rate will rise for many years. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughts on 9/11

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack is now just days away. I have asked a few of my non-US friends if they could write a few words about their thoughts on the day, its aftermath, or anything related to the events of September 11, 2001. I do not ask that they conform to my opinions ... they are free to speak their own mind, just as all of the readers of this blog are free - and encouraged - to reply.

Starting tomorrow I will post those thoughts.

On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the attack, I will post myself.

I hope you find the exchange enlightening.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stranded in Disney World

I know, it's every Disney fan's dream, mine included, but this is the tale of how it happened.

First of all, I know a lot of you are waiting for a post about my daughter's wedding, which is why we are here in the first place. That will come soon - when my exile to Disney's Boardwalk Resort is ended. (Okay, I can hear all the sarcastic groans out there!!!) Let me just say that while the weather was hot and humid, the day went beautifully and I will post a fuller report and pictures when I am home and can do it properly.

But here we are, days after we were supposed to return home. In that time my home neighborhood has experienced a hurricane (rare) and an earthquake (much rarer)! My flight home has been canceled and the soonest flight available to return home was 4 days later!

Originally we had fears that Hurricane Irene might put a damper on the wedding day here at Boardwalk, but it missed Florida and headed up the east coast. A few days before we were to return home I was checking my flight status and found that it was posted that my flight was eligible for a free change due to the expected hurricane in the NYC area. The original flight ended up being canceled by the airline. Since neither my wife nor I had any commitments back home, we rebooked. We had hoped to book a flight for Tuesday, staying an extra 3 days - 2 past the anticipated hurricane - but by then the earliest available flight was on Wednesday morning. We booked it, changed our reservation with Disney's Magical Express, and extended our (nicely discounted) huge room at Boardwalk. (Disney was later discounting rooms for guests who were stranded like me, but with my daughter's discount we were already in good shape. I have gone ahead and put in a claim on my trip insurance for the expenses. Now just hoping it gets approved. [NOTE: It was!] )

To make things better, a pair of Annual Passes come with a Disney Fairytale Wedding, and naturally, my daughter and her new husband don't need them, so my wife and I inherited them. Now we don't have to wait for her to pass us in to the park, we can go on our time schedule.

Happily, since the reason we were here was my daughter's wedding, my son, daughter-in-law and my grandtwins were already here as well, and also had to extend their stay. As it turned out, though my house was not in a mandatory evacuation zone, my sons house, which is just minutes from me, was. (Note: as of now we have heard that both of our houses are okay, so we can end our stay here by enjoying our time in Disney World.)

So it has been like 2 separate trips to Disney World - the first for my daughter's wedding, and the second one where it is all about visiting the parks. I sit here in my room at Boardwalk writing this, having been in EPCOT this morning, and returning there later for dinner and Illuminations. We have been watching Illuminations from the balcony of our room most of the week, but tonight we hope to actually be in World Showcase to see it for the first time this trip.

Being stranded is never a good thing, but if you must get stranded, Walt Disney World is the place to be!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Today I am in Walt Disney World. As related last week, this will be a very different visit from all of those we have ever made. Today my daughter is getting married.

This is the second time one of my children is getting married, and once again my thoughts have been very reflective. It's hard to separate the memories of my son from those of his older sister since they were very close as they grew up, sharing so many interests and activities.

My wife and I tried for two years before she became pregnant with our first child-to-be. In fact, because of her schedule, I was the one to call the lab to get the results of the pregnancy test. (This was before home tests were available.) So I was the one to call her to tell her that she was indeed pregnant.

It was a very happy and exciting time over the next nine months.

My daughter was born at the time during which fathers were just starting to be part of the birth process, rather than spectators, waiting with the rest of the family in the hospital waiting room. I was there in the delivery room, and was the first to discover that the baby was no longer an "it", but a "she", and though my father-in-law told me not to worry, the next one would be a boy, I was thrilled.

We loved watching her grow up, and all the firsts as they occurred. When her brother was born two years later, they immediately formed a wonderful sibling bond. My daughter became the big sister, and her brother's protector. There was even the time when my son was in first grade that she forged my signature on a note home from his teacher so that he wouldn't get into trouble. (It didn't work, my wife discovered the note.)

As they grew older, they shared many activities, not least of which was our (almost) yearly trips to Disney World, but also including baseball, instrumental music, and Broadway - all things close to my heart as well.

They played together on the same Little League team, and would take turns spending time with me at Mets games, having season tickets for 14 years while they grew up. There was no better quality time than the time we spent at the ballpark.

In elementary school they both started playing an instrument. He started on the clarinet while she started playing flute. Since I had played viola for more than two decades at that point in time, it was yet another thing that we could all share. (My wife plays piano.) And over the next many years we did. When she was ready for high school, she joined the school's marching band because each President's Week vacation, they would perform in Disney World. (There is that connection again.) Two years later, my son would also join that band, and not only was it a school activity, but the basis for their social life as well. My son would, in his senior year, have the honor of being one of the drum majors of the band and lead them in Disney World.

About this time, I committed to being the Musical Director of a local summer theater group, and had the privilege of having both of them in my show bands for many years. What a great time that was!

Then came college, and they both attended the same out of town university. For the first time since my daughter was born, it was only me and my wife at home. No running around with activities or running a taxi service - which had ended previously as each of them earned their own drivers licenses. We were being prepared for the next stage of our life.

While she was performing in Disney World with her band during her senior year in high school, I heard my daughter tell a friend that after college, she intended to return to Central Florida and work in Disney World. This was when my son and my daughter discovered the Walt Disney World College Program. The first semester of my son's sophomore year in college was spent in Disney World, working in the Haunted Mansion, and earning 12 credits in Theme Park Management. My daughter would actually do two semesters of the College Program after she had graduated from college, one in Disney's Animal Kingdom and one at the Caribbean Beach Resort. As she predicted, she graduated college and then moved to Central Florida to work in Disney World. Today she is still there as an IT Analyst.

After college, my son returned home for a while during which time he worked as a lab assistant for a year before becoming a high school science teacher. He was the first of the two to get married, and now is the father of (almost) two year old twin boys.

Now, my daughter is getting married.

It has been an adventure, and one I wouldn't trade for anything!

Video for Wedding Day

Sunday, August 14, 2011

10 Days to a Disney FairyTale Wedding

One week from today, my wife and I leave to spend a week in Walt Disney World. Usually, that in itself is enough cause for celebration. But this time it is different. While we are looking forward to being in the parks - at least part of the time - another attraction is front and center this time. My daughter is getting married!

Eleven years ago she moved to Central Florida to work in Disney World, so she has had the job of handling almost all of the planning. It will be a small wedding, but it will be a Disney FairyTale Wedding. They have decided on Sea Breeze Point at Disney's Boardwalk Resort as the location of the wedding. It's a beautiful outdoor location right on the water, and I definitely can see why they chose this spot. As of today the long range forecast is calling for a sunny day, and while things can change quickly when it comes to the weather, I am looking forward to a perfect day for the ceremony, after all, this is Disney World, isn't it? So we are expecting a lot of Disney magic on that day.

As a dad, of course, I have such mixed feelings going to my daughter's wedding. I have always been "the man in her life", and while I know that our special relationship will not change, her new husband is now going to be the primary man in her life. And, of course, that is how it should be. What makes it special is the man whom she is marrying. Sometimes you meet someone and right away you feel comfortable with them, and her about-to-be husband is one of that type. From the first time I met him, I liked him. I remember being a bit apprehensive as my daughter brought us to meet him for the first time, but within minutes of that initial meeting, it was as if he were an old friend. I couldn't be happier for her.

I suppose the fact that she has lived 1100 miles (that's 1800 km for you metric types) from home for 11 years now, makes the transition easier on us, since she isn't just now moving out of our house. In reality, not much is changing in my wife and my every day lives, but we are adding another member to our sometimes whacky family.

The wedding ceremony will be a beautiful one, and I will be the one you hear sniffling during it. Heck, I have a tear or two falling from my eyes even as I write this - can you imagine how I will be at the wedding itself? I had my mom sniffling in my ear during my wedding ceremony, my daughter will have me. (I guess she now knows where her own propensity to cry comes from.)

I know that I don't say it often enough, but I love her and am so proud of my daughter, and the woman she has become. I know that this new chapter of her life will be a wonderful adventure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My photos have a new home

Rather than fill this blog with the photos I hope to be sharing, I have started a new blog to show what I think will be the best of the best of my photos. You will be able to find it here.

Please take a moment and stop by.

See you there.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The 3 year old and the Spanish restaurant

In the past few days, I have been hearing many stories of children in restaurants and the discomfort that comes about because of them. In response to this, I have found myself relating - or wanting to relate - this story a number of times. Since the topic seems to be making the rounds now, I thought I would share it with you.

My daughter was 3 years old, and we were in Manhattan (henceforth referred to simply as "the city") to see the circus at Madison Square Garden. My son was only a year old at this point, so it was just my wife, myself and my daughter.

After the show, we decided to visit a small, out of the way Spanish restaurant that we often frequented. It is not in a location where tourists to the city would be, and unless you actually knew about this restaurant you wouldn't simply walk in off the street. It is in the back of what looks like a seedy bar from the outside ... probably because it is a seedy bar on the inside. However, in the back of the bar is a wonderful restaurant. Not high on ambiance, but the food is terrific! It's run and frequented mostly by folks from Spain, though some of us Americans go there as well.

When we entered, we were seated in a small room which can accommodate three parties. One table was empty and the other was occupied by a woman in her 30's (?) dining alone. When we walked in we could see that she was upset by our presence, but continued with her meal and her book.

We ordered, and our food came. As we were finishing our main course, the woman had finished her meal and got up to leave. As she passed our table she stopped and asked us if she could ask a question. "Are you and your daughter American?" I thought that was an unusual question, but was pleased to answer, in the affirmative of course. She then responded by telling us that she had never seen an American child, especially one so young, sit through an entire meal as well behaved as ours did. Needless to say we thanked her and were properly proud of our daughter at that moment. (Not the first or last time we were of course. We still are!)

In our case, with both of our children, we started bringing them to restaurants, and other places, when they were very young ... well under a year old. As such, they were used to being in those places and situations, and were not overwhelmed. They were also taught right away what was acceptable behavior and what was not. We were lucky parents in that they learned those lessons early and well. Today, I see children being brought into restaurants who clearly do not know how to behave. I have seen video players immediately placed on the table (and played at high volumes!) to keep the child occupied. I suppose this is easier than actually teaching the child restaurant manners and proper behavior. Video players have a time and a place, but I don't think a restaurant is one.

I will admit that there are times I do see parents trying their best to have their child behave in an appropriate manner, but for one reason or another their efforts do not work. However, all too often I see parents who simply allow a child to do whatever they want, regardless of the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of the behavior. These are the parents who have stopped parenting in my opinion and are deserving of the dirty stares and harsh words they may encounter. Though my children were generally well behaved in restaurants, there were times when things did not go smoothly, perhaps they were tired, or not feeling well, or just plain uncomfortable for some reason. In that case, either my wife or myself would remove them from the surroundings so that they would not interfere with the dining pleasure of others.

How do you feel about this?

For another take on this topic, please read my friend Tania's blog.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to ...

... Street! (well, that's how my daughter would say it when she was very young.)

First, a brief disclaimer. It is now summer here in New York City, and very hot. It is also a time when my wife is off for the summer vacation from school so we actually do things out of the house. And lastly, in a month, my daughter is getting married and we will be traveling down to Florida for the wedding, and there are still a few projects that I need to finish before we head down. In fact, I am just taking a break from one of them to write this. So what does all of this mean? Well, you may have noticed that it has been longer than usual since my last blog post, and will likely be so until the summer is over. Oh, if the muse moves me I will sit down and write, as I am doing now, but there might be times when there will be more time between posts than during the rest of the year. (Now on to business.)

Right about the time my son was born, Children's Television Workshop (as it was called then) opened two Sesame Street themed parks, one in Irving, Texas, and one in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Although the one in Texas was only open for two seasons, the one in Pennsylvania fared much better. We didn't get there for its first summer of operation, but did in year 2. My son was a year old, my daughter was three. It was a small park then (3 acres) and had water activities and dry activities for the toddler set. There were no motor driven rides, everything was geared for the child to be active. There was a building which contained educational exhibits for the younger child, as well as sets where pictures could be taken in Ernie's bathtub, on the steps of 123 Sesame Street, or with (a fiberglass) Oscar the Grouch in his garbage can. There were banks of computers (remember, this was in the early 80's - people didn't have these things at home) with games using music, colors and numbers.

Although my son was not yet walking by himself, there were many things that he could take advantage of, and while I was climbing cargo nets with my daughter (well, I was almost 30 years younger back then), he was crawling around in Big Bird's Nest. Both of my children, along with my wife and myself, were able to enjoy all of the water activities which included a large wading pool, and a lazy river type tube attraction. All of the food served in the park was healthy food, and there were no stands selling the usual theme park fare. However you could buy a package of carrots or fruit as a snack. Even the restaurant served healthier options such as a whole grain pizza. It was just the thing you would expect from the producers of Sesame Street.

Then our children grew up and the activities of Sesame Place were a bit too childish for them, so they (and their parents) continued to get their theme park fix yearly at Walt Disney World. Sesame Place faded into our memories.

This summer my twin grandsons are just a bit younger than two years old, and my son and daughter-in-law decided that Sesame Place would be a good option for a summer day for the twins. My wife and I accompanied them there this week. And as expected, things were different than when we were last there.

In that time, the park has been operated by Anhaeuser-Busch (the beer company who operate Busch Gardens), and now by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. As you would imagine, the focus has changed a bit away from the purely educational to a more commercial venue. However, it is still a great day with the toddlers.

Our visit came as we entered a heat wave, so the day was very hot, and we spent the early afternoon in one of the many water based activities which are still a big part of the park. This was the most baby friendly of the water areas, but still included three large sections with increasing depths, but still shallow enough in all areas for the twins to enjoy. There was water spraying and gentle waves that the kids played in, having a wonderful time keeping cool. (I have to say that I did as well - playing with the grandtwins and cooling off myself.) And unlike the visits in the 1980's, none of us came away with painful sunburns. We have all gotten smarter since then. When we were as fully saturated and cooled down as we were going to get, we changed into dry clothes and started exploring the rest of the park.

After a day of activities (the merry-go-round was a bit hit with the boys) and the necessary souvenir shopping...

... we had a reservation for dinner with Elmo and Friends. While the food was good, this was almost entirely about meeting the characters during your meal as they came around and visited with you. The boys enjoyed interacting with all the characters that they knew from Sesame Place on TV.


After dinner we all went to see Elmo's World Live! The boys love Elmo's World and here was Elmo in his world right in front of them!

And of course a visit to Sesame Street itself to meet up with Ernie and Bert.

And like any good theme park, the day ends with a parade.

Yes, the park has grown from 3 acres in the 1980's to 14 acres today, and the emphasis on education and healthy eating, while not entirely gone, has been changed to a more entertainment oriented atmosphere, but it is still great that toddlers have a theme park that has been created for them. There is plenty to do and characters to meet, and parents (and grandparents) can have just as good a time as the little ones. It was fun coming back here after two decades away, and I fully expect to be back a number of times with the grandtwins again over the next few years.

(More pictures from our day at Sesame Place can be seen here.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

At the studio - and TV language

In my last post I talked about how I used to see many shows being taped here in New York City, but haven't been to a taping in many years. I believe the last one I was at was in 1986 in Los Angeles for the taping of a pilot for a proposed game show. To my knowledge that show never was bought. The last time I was at a show that actually was broadcast was the 1976 Saturday Night Live that we saw in Brooklyn. (My wife attended the broadcast of The View a year ago.) As I mentioned, yesterday we attended the taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

As with all TV shows with a studio audience, the producers distribute more tickets than they have seats in an effort to make sure that the audience is filled, so my wife and I made sure to be on line when the doors opened for the actual ticket distribution. (We had ticket reservations.) When we got there, there were 49 people on line in front of us which was a comforting thought since the studio seats 200 people. (Of course VIP's and invited guests have to be accommodated before the ticket holders.)

At 2:30 the doors opened and they started giving out the numbered tickets. With these tickets we would return at 4:45 PM and would not have to stand in line waiting in the brutal summer heat. There was a Subway right next to the studio and a park across the street - with benches in the shade, so my wife and I decided to get sandwiches and drinks and sit in the park until it was time to return.

We found a bench in the shade and spent the next 2 hours people watching, dog watching (it was also a dog park), eating our lunch and hoping for a breeze to help keep us cool on a day which featured high humidity and temperatures which felt like the high 90's! The time passed rather quickly, and soon it was time to once again stand on line, with the order based upon the number you were given earlier. We discovered that there were three different colored tickets ... one for VIPs, one for the general ticket holders, and one for those who walked up to the studio without ticket reservations and hoped to get into the show on a standby basis.

Soon we were admitted to the studio, having first gone through airport style security. (Empty pockets - remove belts - step through metal detector) It was nice to get in out of the heat and into an air conditioned studio.The studio was more or less as they had been all those years ago, but the huge TV cameras were now much smaller than they used to be. There was the usual warm up comedian and then Jon Stewart came out and greeting the audience. The taping went as planned and we soon were on our way home to watch the broadcast last night.

On the way home my wife and I discussed the fact that they would need to "bleep" quite a few words for the broadcast on Comedy Central. Although it is a cable channel, it is "family friendly." It wasn't until the advent of the internet that I found out that we in the US are so very conservative as to what we allow on TV. Yes, cable networks have much more latitude in this, but many choose not to take advantage of that flexibility. Then this morning, while reading my friend Erica's blog, Desktops & Dust Bunnies, I watched this clip from Australian TV.

Obviously, on US broadcast TV you would never hear some of those words spoken. So I am curious, what do you think about the restrictions on US TV? And while you are at it, what are your thoughts on the topic presented in this clip as it relates to your location in this world?

I end today's post with the definitive expert on this matter - George Carlin (who - if you remember - I first met in the early days at a taping of the Jimmy Dean show) who reminds us that on TV you may prick your finger, but you may not finger your prick!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gee ... that used to be fun.

Lately I have been thinking about things that I used to enjoy doing, but for one reason or another either don't do often enough anymore, or don't do at all. This blog entry will be the first of a series that I will post from time to time about such activities.

This line of thought was brought about by the fact that tomorrow, my wife and I are going to a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The reason is actually simple. When I was younger a good deal of what you saw on TV originated in New York City - at least if you lived in North America. Then, as now, you could write for tickets to see a show - either broadcast live or a taping for later broadcast. With so many shows originating from here, getting tickets for most shows was guaranteed. Some, like The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson) were difficult to get. In addition, NBC had a Brooklyn studio which was right around the corner from my house. (More about this later.) Today, it is difficult to get tickets for the few shows which still originate from NYC.

Once I was 16 years old - the minimum age to be admitted to a show - I started writing for tickets on a regular basis. For a while, I was seeing (mostly) tapings almost every week. I think at one point I saw every game show (What's My Line, I've Got a Secret, etc.) and Variety show (Perry Como, Kraft Music Hall, etc.) and many specials being taped in NYC. During a taping of The Match Game, my grandfather was picked to be the contestant from the studio audience, so we sat up front and had a lot of camera face-time. During weekly tapings of The Jimmy Dean Show I got to meet a young (then unknown) comedian by the name of George Carlin and a Washington DC puppeteer trying to make a national name for himself, Jim Henson. I even once got to sing (and if you had ever heard my voice you would know how bad that must have been) onstage along with other audience members.

Naturally we always waited for the celebrities to come out after the show and got autographs. Once, after a taping of What's My Line, a very young Liza Minelli spent time with all of us autograph seekers, keeping her limo driver waiting.

We often got shown on camera when they panned the audience at times during the show, but since these were the days before home video recorders, we never got to see ourselves - except on the studio monitors - unless we caught a re-run at an unknown later date.

Saturday Night Live - October 16, 1976
As I mentioned, NBC had a Brooklyn studio where we saw a number of shows. In 1976, Saturday Night Live was in its second year on the air, and it's NY studio was taken up getting ready for the presidential election returns of that year. For a few weeks, the show would be broadcast from the Brooklyn studio. Since most people will go to a studio in Manhattan but not travel into Brooklyn, we were able to walk up and get tickets for the week's dress rehearsal. After seeing the rehearsal, we came back and stood on the stand-by line for the live show, and were lucky enough to get in. At one point the camera pointed directly into my wife's face as the show was ready to go to commercial. However, at the last second, the cameraman was told he needed to focus on a man rather than a woman so the fellow behind her had his moment in the sun. That's my wife and me in the lower left hand corner of the screenshot. If you have the second season set of DVD's, watch for us during the episode hosted by Karen Black. Here is a video clip of that moment.

And, of course, the next week we went back, but NBC had decided to bus the audience from the Manhattan studio to Brooklyn so we didn't get in. We did meet the cast and host for the week, Steve Martin. Here is a picture I took of my brother with Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner.

Tomorrow we go to a taping of The Daily Show - who knows what new story we may come away with?

Is there something that you used to do that you don't anymore ... but would like to do?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Turning Wheels of Change - Guest Blogger, Cate Bolt

I have always said that the best thing about the Internet was the ability it gives me to meet new and interesting people that I would never have had the chance to meet had it not existed. Guest blogger, Cate Bolt is such a person, and if you think she is an amazing woman (she is) wait until you read about her daughter.

Cate Bolt is a mother of 9, writer, humanitarian & social activist. She is dedicated to improving the lives of others through compassion, fundraising, awareness and by motivating others to take action.

She is the President & Founder of Project 18 which exists to raise funds for humanitarian and conservation projects, the first of which was an orphanage in Bali, which is now operational.

Project 18 is currently running Auctions for Education to fund the education sponsorship of children in Bali who didn’t meet the criteria for acceptance into the orphanage but who are severely socially disadvantaged due to their inability to afford to go to school.

Project 18’s youth initiative Planet You works to educate kids in Australia about topics that are relevant to today’s youth market. Researched, presented, produced & edited entirely by young people, the series is fronted by The You Crew – 6-year-old Ailish and 15-year-old Ash.

Ailish & Ash are continuing the tradition and are now official Joey Ambassadors for Australia Zoo’s Wildlife Warriors.

Cate is also the Patron of Cate’s Cause – a national appeal against homelessness. Cate’s commitment to the cause of homelessness commenced when she found her family without a home, living in tents at Christmas time 2009. Her Open Letter to Prime Minister the Hon Kevin Rudd & the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh MP, caused great controversy and discussion on the topic of homelessness in Australia.

Cate’s trade-mark shaved head is a result of shaving 15 years of hair growth to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave in 2010.

Amongst the cause’s Cate is passionate about are:

  • Poverty
  • The Indonesian child sex trade
  • Education
  • Homelessness & housing affordability
  • Empowerment
  • Domestic Violence
  • Equality to special needs children
  • The reduction of non-sustainable Palm Oil production
  • Orang-utan & Sumatran Tiger conservation
On a personal note, Cate is happily married, madly in love with her children and an avid and obsessed “Lostie” (fan of the TV show Lost). She loves chocolate (without palm oil) and cannot live without her one good coffee per day. 

Cate blogs at Cate Bolt - An Ordinary Life.

The Turning Wheels of Change


Right before Christmas last year my only daughter, Ailish turned seven. For Christmas she asked for a bicycle. She’d never really ridden a ‘real’ bike before so I was apprehensive buying a two wheeler and a helmet. As a mother, anything that requires a helmet scares the hell out of me.

We have a large family. Nine children in fact! And Ailish is our only girl. She is the second youngest and by the time she was born I was so desperate to have a daughter that when I got one she was promptly wrapped up in cotton wool, bound by bubble wrap and stored in a cyclone bunker where nothing bad could ever happen to her. I might be over-stating that just a little bit but it’s true to say that when she learned to walk she never fell over because I was always one step behind her and ready to catch her the second she started to waiver. For the first several years of her life she hardly ever cried because she had no reason to. Her every wish was our command.
Her face when she saw her two wheeler bike was worth every cent of whatever I paid at Kmart for the bike, which wasn’t much because I honestly didn’t think she would last long on the bike at all. Almost all of our boys had never really ridden bikes much. They all thought it was boring just riding around in circles and I was a far too protective mother to let them take the bikes out onto the road.
It doesn’t take much to work out that boys and girls are different. I didn’t realise how different they were until Ailish came along. I had been a parent for 13 years, we had seven children, surely there wasn’t much I couldn’t already know. The thing that probably shocked me the most was the noise. Girls make a completely different noise to boys, even when they’re babies! I wasn’t at all ready for that high pitch shrieking noise, whether made in frustration or elation and, seven years later, I’m only just getting used to it now.
To my surprise, Ailish loves that bike more than words can even say. We live on a relatively large house block, with a tiny little house in the middle. None of our land is flat or paved but she can spend hours riding her bike, around and around. Down the driveway, across the front of the house, down the muddy slope which floods every time it rains, through the winter sun on the grass and around the big old macadamia trees, across the car port and back up the steep driveway again.
Watching her reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in a tiny town, there wasn’t much to see or do – except the snow. On the weekends I would take my bicycle, the one we won in a raffle at the local rodeo, up the lane behind our house to the flat cement driveway of the local mechanics shop. In the 70s those things were closed on the weekends so I could ride around in circles, sometimes mixing it up with a figure-eight. And I’d think. I doubt I thought about anything of global importance, unlike Ailish, at seven all I really had the capacity to think about was what my friends were doing on the weekend, the cute boy at school and what I wanted for my next birthday.
Ailish, however, thinks about third-world poverty. She thinks about the impending extinction of her favourite animal the orang-utan. She thinks about palm oil and childhood cancer and asylum seekers. I have no doubt she also wonders what her friends are doing and what she’d like for her next birthday but she gives a lot of thought to much bigger issues than I was ever able to do.
You might think this would be depressing for a child but Ailish doesn’t tend to think of these topics as mountains that should could never dream of riding her bike up. She sees them as a steady slope that might take a sustained amount of energy to conquer but just as she rises out of her seat and peddles hard to get up the driveway, she’s not too scared to have a crack at those problems. Solutions that most adults wouldn’t have the nerve to try.
Ailish has spent much of her school vacation, the bit when she’s not riding her bike, making handmade things to sell in her ETSY Shop. All the money she makes from them she uses to make microloans to women in developing countries to start or grow a business with a view to making them financially independent. Every time she sells enough to make a loan she scrolls through the pages and pages of faces and uses her new found reading skills to see what each of them would like to do. She almost always picks someone who wants to buy pigs, or other livestock and she loves to see where she’s ranked in the world in the “giving” table. Currently – number 21 – in the world!
If you’d like to join her team and make a microloan I think you’d make her bike rides even more exciting. You can find her here.