Author Archives: Suzy Farbman

An entire community contributes to bringing golf pioneer Ann Gregory’s life to the screen in “Playing Through”

Ann Gregory in her prime.

“One hundred years ago, there was a poor nine-year-old Black girl in rural Mississippi, an orphan, fixing to turn 10 come summer.  Could she possibly have imagined that she would someday have a biographer (in a manner of speaking) from a prominent white Southern Family who now lives in a gleaming high-rise with a view of the Gulf of Mexico?”

So begins a recent post on Golf.com.  And so begins the inspiration for “Playing Through,” a movie written by a novice and mostly filmed two years ago at Laurel Oak Golf Community.  The filming process intrigued me and my fellow (make that: sister) LOGC golfers in Sarasota.

The orphan cited by Golf.com was Gary, Indiana, resident Ann Gregory.  In 1956 she became the first black woman golfer to play in a US Women’s Open and, at 44, in a US Women’s Amateur tournament.  The story’s astonishing on two counts.  The golf world was notoriously male dominated.  It’s joked the term golf was an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden.  And, before Tiger Woods, the sport was overwhelmingly a Caucasian affair.

“Playing Through” premiered at Ringling College in Sarasota.  I was lucky to attend that premiere with some golf buddies. We had fun figuring out which scene was shot on which hole.

Curtis Jordan with Julia Ray, who plays the character Babe Whatling.

At the premiere, I met producer Curtis Jordan and followed up with a conversation.

For 30 years Curtis coached rowing at Princeton U.  He also coached several Olympics rowing teams.  His mother, Josephine Knowlton Jordan, had been a golfer as well as a harness-racing driver.  Curtis knew she’d competed in a 1959 US Women’s Amateur at Congressional golf course, but she’d spoken little about the experience.  In 1991, after Ann’s death, a friend forwarded a Sports Illustrated article mentioning African American golfer Ann Gregory as a pioneer in women’s golf.  The article referenced a match she’d played against his mother.

The article “sparked my imagination,” Curtis says.  He began writing about the event “as an exercise.”  In retirement, for about four years Curtis had “slowly, painfully” worked on a movie script. He mentioned it to a friend from Princeton.  That friend’s son, Peter Odiorne, is a producer and director.  His company, Unbounded Media, wanted to produce sports films with inspirational messages.  Odiorne was in.  His company took Curtis’ rough script and “structured” it.

Curtis and Peter spent five months looking for two lead actresses.  Those they wanted weren’t available at the same time.  “We knew this would be a low budget film,” Curtis says, “but we still weren’t sure how to pay for it.”  They changed their approach and started looking for women who could play golf, act and had a social media presence.

On Instagram, they found Andia Winslow, a black woman who played golf and was a voice over actress.  They were “relieved” when Andia, with no on-screen experience, proved comfortable on camera.

As for the fictional Babs Whatling character, Peter had previously worked with TV actress Julia Ray.  He knew she played golf.

“We didn’t have a lot of money or time,” Curtis says.  “But Andia and Babs turned out to work well together.  They put in long days and adapted on the fly and were invested in each other’s success.”

Curtis says the film represents “a collaboration of the Sarasota community.”  That collaboration included Ringling College, which provided tech facilities and student labor.  It included the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, which brought in cast members including founder Nate Jacobs.  It included the Sarasota Opera which provided housing.  And local residents.  LOCC members Audrey Robbins and Harry Leopold, hearing about the project, introduced Curtis to Larry Thompson, the dynamic president of Ringling College.  The Leopolds also arranged for the filmmakers to have access to Laurel Oak’s two golf courses for ten days.

“The whole community can feel proud,” Curtis says.

Ringling College had built a state-of-the-art film production department with two sound stages and pre and post operations, hoping to attract commercial business.  But tax laws in Florida changed, restricting Ringling’s ability to affect commercial collaborations.  During the pandemic, the facilities weren’t used.  Ringling president Larry Thompson was delighted to cooperate.  He deemed the experience his students received “as good as cash in their pockets.”

The film’s about 95% finished, Curtis says.  The project has consumed the past five years of his life.  What’s next?  “I look forward to spending time with my wife and my dog and playing some golf.”  But he considers the project “worth all the time, effort and expense.”

“Playing Through” was shown at the Sarasota Film Festival and has been accepted by film festivals in Montreal, Durban and Martha’s Vineyard. Curtis hopes others will include it as well.

The moral of the story:  Never underestimate the power of a woman to play golf.  Or of one man’s determination to tell an inspiring tale.

Celebrating the creative life that sprang from Detroit’s First Generation Cass Corridor Artists

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. ABOUT THE COVER: Dining room of our Franklin home. Brenda Goodman, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1985, from the Edward Thorp Gallery, NY. Ellen Phelan, Untitled standing cross, 1976-77, oil on plywood, from the Susanne Hilberry Gallery.

‘How we welcomed Detroit’s first avant-garde art movement into our home’

I thought about calling this book Love Stories for the Angels of Detroit. The phrase comes from a collaboration between poet John Yau and painter Archie Rand referenced in the text. Art appreciation has been a love affair for me. And my life has been blessed with many angels.

This book was dreamt up—literally—by some personal angels. Well into the coronavirus pandemic, I’d been quarantined for months. With my husband’s brain surgery and resulting stroke and my history as a stage IV cancer survivor now deemed—cough, cough—elderly, we were both high risk. On a Zoom call, girlfriends Brenda Rosenberg, Peggy Daitch and Sandy Seligman perceived my lackluster condition. The four of us had visited Paris in 2018, joyfully sipping champagne and nibbling foie gras. Joie had turned to blah.

My girlfriends knew writing was and is a lifeline for me. I’d written two books about previous crises: my earlier marriage problems and my later cancer diagnosis. The morning after our Zoom call, Brenda phoned. “I dreamt you wrote a coffee table book about your collection and your interest in the early Cass Corridor,” she said. “I want that book. I have a place for it on my coffee table.”

Brenda was right, I thought. I had a happier story to tell. With no end to the pandemic in sight, I had time to tell it. If Brenda had a place for such a book, and Sandy and Peggy were vying for the book launch party, who was I to deny them?

I hung up the phone and turned on my laptop.

There’ve been other angels as well. People who’ve shown up with encouragement that stirs me, support that keeps me going. My sister Anne’s a personal angel who volunteered to read this manuscript twice and drew smiley faces on parts she loved.

Another personal angel is Beth Singer, my friend and partner for five years with Better Homes & Gardens, etc. Beth shot most of the professional photos in this book several years ago, when our house looked pristine, before ramps and grab bars were installed. Recently, Beth returned to take several more photos, helped by her capable assistant Patrick Tunison. I’m grateful to them both for the main visuals in this book.

Lauren Holder, a Marketing Executive with Farbman Group, has been another angel. I’m about as tech savvy as a shoelace. Lauren has helped me convert photos to printable form, figure out graphics and been cheerful and generous with moral and technical support. As has Farbman Group’s tech wiz, Rodney Lange, who has helped me through innumerable technical glitches.

The professional photos come first; the candids later in the book. The latter are mostly from my iPhone, a few older ones reshot from paper prints I saved in albums. They don’t compare with the professional images but represent meaningful memories. Historically, I’ve taken pictures of friends and events. At Kingswood, I was photo editor of the “Woodwinds,” the school yearbook, my senior year. If I’d known this book was in my future, I’d have shot more photos all along. I’m grateful for those I did take.

Since I long ago accepted the truth of the adage about pictures versus words, the story of my collecting adventures follows the photos. Captions often provide fascinating insights beyond the aesthetic equivalent of name, rank and serial number—if I say so myself.

Other angels in this endeavor are Grace Serra, curator/coordinator of the Wayne State U. art collection and a chief cheerleader. Fayez Hammoud and Angela Askew, caregivers whose devoted and professional help with my husband has freed me up to focus on remembering and relating my art adventures. Rick Carmody, who shared some of the photos shown here, my interior designer and friend. Judie Koploy, a fine storyteller, cohort and cousin. And most of all Burton, who has generously and selflessly encouraged and supported all my writing efforts.

I appreciate the cheering me on of my family—sons David and Andy, daughters-in-law Nadine and Amy, grandchildren Hunter, River, Fischer, Beau, Alexis, Camryn and Lindsay. Their support and love have also kept me going during these challenging times. Thanks, too, to Michael, Roger, Barry, Curt, Artie, Danny, Jerry and Sandy and Sue, who check in often.

The Detroit art world has been blessed with angels, too. Jackie Feigenson and Mary Preston were angels who influenced collectors including me. They did everything they could, including giving up their own artistic practices, to boost the careers of other highly talented Detroit artists.

I’ve had other angels as well. If you’re among them, please know how grateful I am.

This book begins with photographs of our collection in Franklin. Additional images come from our home in Florida. There are also art related photos from trips I’ve taken and events I’ve attended.

They add up to a story of joy. The joy of collecting.

Though viewed as backwater, flyover country by connoisseurs on both coasts, Detroit has an art history worth respect. Many talented fine artists got started in the D. Some stayed and continued to produce exciting work. We’ve been blessed with top-notch galleries and dealers, knowledgeable art writers, first rate art schools, dedicated collectors and art advocates, an internationally renowned museum and, more recently, an exciting contemporary museum. Credit where credit’s due.

This book is a story of the art world I knew. An art world less destabilized by politics and political correctness. Not forced into months of seclusion by a deadly virus. A world where people felt comfortable in crowded galleries and museums. Where we relished squeezing together for the taking of a toast and tea.

This is the story of the Detroit I knew and wrote about, mostly in the 1970s and 80s, the art world I experienced, the joy I had in collecting.

And here again is a link to Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond on Amazon.

Care to see a few of the images?

Historic photo of early Cass Corridor members. L to R: Bradley Jones, Ellen Phelan, Ron Winokur, Nancy Mitchnick, Doug James. Artwork: On wall at left by Ellen Phelan; construction (foreground) by John Egner; Flower painting on wall by Nancy Mitchnick.

Snapshot of artist Bradley Jones and me at Bradley’s opening. I wear a jean jacket Bradley embellished. (I still have it.)

Untitled standing cross, Ellen Phelan, 1976–77, oil on plywood, from the Susanne Hilberry Gallery.

Portrait of Jim Duffy by Nancy Mitchnick.

Donna Rockwell Smilovitz and her late mom, Elen Schwartz, lend sparkle to the Caribbean, Michigan and beyond

Elen Schwartz at the helm of her sailboat Moon Dancer in the 1970s.

Donna Rockwell and her mother Elen Schwartz shared a special bond.  Both petite in size, one reflected and one still reflects a big heart and positive influence on others.

Elen died recently on the island of Barbados.  She lived in the Caribbean for nearly  50 years, most on the tiny Grenadine island of Bequia.  Neighbors regarded her as a kind of informal queen of the island until age 84. She was friend to the Prime Minister and taxi drivers alike.

Though I missed the joy of meeting her Elen, Donna’s been writing a memoir about her vivacious mother.

Donna and Elen.

“Mom was like a comet,” Donna says.  “The life of any party.”  Donna, a psychologist, “felt privileged to know my mom and to happily pour her scotch.”

Elen grew up in Weehawken, NJ, attended NYC’s prestigious professional school to become a ballet dancer and trained with famed choreographer George Balanchine.  Her career was short-lived, Elen said, because her “bosoms got too big for ballet,” and she was forced to quit.

Elen didn’t quit at much.  She was a go-getter from the get go.  At Finch College in Manhattan, she wanted to become class president.  She succeeded by studying a school yearbook, memorizing every student’s face and greeting each by name in the hallways.  Later, she became president of the sisterhood of her synagogue in New Jersey and organized a cookbook of members’ favorite family recipes.  She applied the same energy to motherhood.  She was a den mother for her son’s Cub Scout troop and stayed up late adding tiny improvements to every boy’s craft project.

After leading a relatively conventional upper-middle-class life, Elen changed direction.

At a time when divorce was deemd a Shonda (Yiddish for shame), Elen divorced her first husband, Donna’s biological father.  Donna was 11; brother Josh, 10; sister Leah, 6.  Elen met and married Ray Schwartz, a New Jersey commercial real estate broker with two grown sons. Ray’s lifelong dream was to live in the islands and sail.  After Elen and Ray married in summer, 1971, the couple and Elen’s three kids moved to Barbados and rented a house.  Donna recalls, “It was a totally new environment, with British schools and uniforms, standing when teachers entered the classroom, having to wear a wide brimmed straw hat to and from school.”

The family bought a sailboat.  On vacations, they sailed through the Grenadines.

“We slept on beaches in Mustique, picked vegetables in Canouan, saw amazing fish and coral off the coast of Grenada,” Donna says.  Sadly, their idyll ended when, at 52, Ray contracted lung cancer.  Elen went to the US to be with her husband for treatment.  “She stayed for three months, cuddling with Ray in his bed until he died.”  Back in Barbados, Donna, then 16, took charge of her siblings, preparing meals and getting them off to school.

”Mom was so stoic,” Donna says.  “She refused to be sad.  As she put it, ‘Most people never get to experience true love in life.  I did.’”

When New Jersey friends encouraged Elen to move back to the states, Elen declined, saying,  “Barbados is our home now.”  The family had moved there when Donna was 14.  Though resistant at first, Donna says, “I eventually realized we’d landed in paradise.  From then on, my life was all about sunrises and sunsets and an expansive view of the sea.  On an island, you’re forced to be present.  You learn to synchronize to the rhythms of the planet.”

Elen threw “lavish, joyful parties” at their house.  Among her many friends were Tony and Jeffrey, a gay couple who lived down the street.  Jeffrey’s family were stationers to the queen of England.  Donna deems Elen’s friends “as fascinating as she was.”  Donna came to appreciate “a verve deep within West Indian culture.”  She says her mom reflected that verve.  “She was as spicy as the local hot sauce.”

Elen outside the Franipani Hotel on Bequia.

When Elen’s youngest child, Leah, returned to the US for college, Elen moved to Bequia with her new boyfriend, Peter.  Nine years younger, Peter was a German who’d sailed on his own from Hamburg to Barbados.  Elen and Peter moved onto her boat and sailed together for ten years “until things got complicated.”   Peter wanted children; Elen didn’t.  He met a woman who did.

Meanwhile, Donna had married Bernie Smilovitz, Detroit’s WDIV sportscaster of 36 years.

Elen continued to live on her sailboat in Bequia’s Port Elizabeth Harbor.  One sunny day, Peter, an alcoholic, left a photo of Elen in her mailbox with a note, “Thanks for all the memories.”  Later that week, after sailing to Venezuela, Peter hung himself from the mast of his sailboat.

“Lots of happy memories and lots of drama,” Donna says.

Donna went on to earn a masters degree in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.  She visited her mom often.  Those visits “were like arriving in Shangri la.”  She’d fly to St. Vincent and take a two hour ride on the local schooner, Friendship Rose, to Bequia.  Elen would be waiting at the dock, wearing a big straw hat.  Elen enjoyed living among the European boating set, catching fresh fish in a cage hung over the side of her boat.  She was beloved by the local islanders.

“In Bequia,” Elen said, “I’m the Belle of the Bay.”

When grandchildren visited, they’d walk through the center of town.  Shop owners would shout, “Miss Elen! You’ve got the Grands!”

Meetings on Skype at 5pm became a daily ritual.  Elen and Donna tag teamed each other’s jokes.  But some days, Donna says, “even in paradise my mother expressed worries.  Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway became her personal bible.”

In later years, Elen moved off the boat and became the overseer of a beautiful guest house.  She’d walk upstairs, join guests for cocktails and regale them with stories of the islands or of the many books she read.  Return guests said they’d come back just for Elen’s stories.  Elen helped start Bequia’s Sunshine School for Children with Special Needs and remained active on its board.

A stroke in her early 80s slowed Elen down.  She had smoked most of her life, refusing to quit because she “liked the effect.”  In discussing a possible move to Michigan, Elen’s doctor warned Donna, “You mother’s been tropicalized.  She won’t survive up north.”

Four years later, after a second stroke at age 84, Elen was flown to Barbados.  She passed away peacefully in a nursing home.  Tropical breezes wafted through the room, and she was surrounded by her three children.  The week before, a little bird landed on her windowsill and stayed.  Elen decided it was Ray.

On what would have been Elen’s 85th birthday, Donna and her siblings returned to Bequia.  From a small skiff on a glittering morning, Elen’s children scattered her ashes in the ocean.  On Becqui there’s a gourmet pizza restaurant, Mac & Judy’s, which Elen frequented.  Even if she wasn’t dining there on any given day, she’d stick her head into the kitchen and call to the staff, “Hello, girls.”

After the funeral, Donna peeked into Mac & Judy’s kitchen and called, “Hello, girls.”  When the staff heard Elen was back with them, at final rest in the sea, Donna says, “They were all sobbing.”

Donna says, “My mother was so affirming.  If I hesitated about a decision, she quoted Shirley Temple’s mom.  “Don’t wait.  Do it now.  Sparkle, Shirley.”

And Donna did.

Rainbow over Bequia.

(Check out next week’s column to see how Donna sparkles.)

 

 

Beaver Shriver supports people with intellectual and physical disabilities through coffee and ice cream

Julia is one of the employees at the Rise and Nye’s coffee an ice cream shop.

The caring nature of people who gravitate to Sarasota amazes me.  A recent discovery: Beaver Shriver.  Beaver moved here with wife Erin and daughter Vivienne eight years ago and launched an unlikely business.  Beaver’s become a downtown hero, though he’d no doubt cringe over the accolade.

Beaver at lower right with some of the team behind Rise and Nye’s.

Beaver opened a coffee and ice cream shop staffed by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ages 16 to 53.  Since Rise & Nye’s began 1½  years ago, the shop, next to Brick’s Smoked Meats, has become a popular destination.

Beaver and wife Erin are independent thinkers.  Daughter Vivienne inherited their unconventional bent.  At 10, she objected to attending school.  Her parents asked what she’d rather do.  Though Beaver graduated from a prestigious prep school (Exeter) and Ivy League college (Dartmouth), he and Erin decided formal schooling wasn’t for everyone.  Erin cautioned Vivienne, “You realize giving up school means no more gym; no more art class.“

Vivienne realized.

OK, her parents said.  What do you want to do?

Since fifth grade, Vivienne has been what Beaver calls “unschooled.”  Vivienne decided to learn Japanese.  She now speaks, writes and reads Japanese.  She became a scholar of Gothic architecture and Tiffany glass.  She’s a skilled photographer.  She’s also a popular barista at Rise & Nye’s.

The Shrivers moved to Sarasota from Pittsburgh.  “I wanted to retire my snow scraper,” Beaver says.

Beaver had served on philanthropic boards and volunteered for non-profits for years.  Erin  runs her own nonprofit, Shriver Education for the Arts.  A feature program, Big Magic Studios, offers an opportunity for intellectually and developmentally disabled people to create artistic products like scarves and product labels.

Alden Shriver, a true Giver, has been an inspiration for her son, Beaver

Beaver inherited his philanthropic streak from his mother, Alden, now 90, dealing with dementia.  Alden was a piano teacher and “a big influence” on her son.  One of Alden’s students, Barry, was autistic.  Nonetheless, since age six, Barry and Beaver were best friends.  “At a time when most autistic kids were hidden or institutionalized, Barry’s mom insisted he live like any other kid.”  That included playing with friends, golf and tennis, going to restaurants, the movies and job hunting.  Barry grew up to become a custodian at a VA hospital and still works there, 48 years later.  But Beaver says 80% of Barry’s friends with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities couldn’t find a job.

The unemployment rate for intellectually and developmentally challenged people is 20 times greater than for the overall population, Beaver says.  He considers that figure a shame.  He knows how effective such people can be as employees.  Beaver pays his staff “more than” minimum wage.  Employees share their tips, which can be generous when they get to know regular customers.  Several employees take SCAT busses to work.  During quiet times, staff members write encouraging quotes on coffee cups.

“My hope is our patrons will develop a relationship with our staff and will hire them,” Beaver says.  Though that hasn’t happened yet, he’s still hoping.  (A local restaurant has shown interest in hiring Rise & Nye’s employees as bussers.)

Beaver and Adam, who has autism, speak at various organizations when opportunities arise.  Beaver credits the Haven of Sarasota and Easter Seals for helping to  normalize the lives of kids and adults with disabilities and for helping to train them as workers.  Beaver believes virtual reality can help people with autism adapt to environments.  Wearing virtual headsets familiarized some employees with Rise & Nye’s during the pandemic.

Beaver inherited his philanthropic nature, and not just from his mom.  Beaver’s also a descendant of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics.

Beaver concedes his coffee and ice cream business has a long way to go in Sarasota.  But he’s gratified by the progress they have made.  He points to Julia, Rise & Nye’s first employee.  Julia was asked what she most enjoys about working for Rise & Nye’s.

“Well,” Julia said, “I finally have friends.”

Care to learn more?

Beaver encourages friends to follow Rise and Nye’s on InstagramTheir 201 posts, as of today, have drawn more than 2,500 followes.

Or, simply go to Rise and Nye’s website.

Restauranteur Keith Famie and author Maria Konnikova share hard earned life lessons

Some of us capitalized on the COVID quarantine to initiate projects we might not otherwise have begun.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Keith Famie wrote a book for his grandson on life lessons he’s learned—many the hard way. Papa’s Rules for Life; A grandfather’s desire to share words of wisdom with his grandson features a sweet photo of Keith walking with his grandson Eider as the book aims to walk him into his future.

Over a lifetime of hits and misses, Keith became what he calls his “own personal mentor.”  To his grandson, he writes, “Hopefully you learn from poor decisions and use them as a tool to better yourself.  Sometimes you have to make the same mistake more than once.”

With a first act as a chef and restauranteur, a second as a game show contestant (“Survivor”) and a third as a video producer, Keith’s learned plenty of lessons. As a young chef managing restaurants, he thought being “a loud artistic dictator” was the best approach to leading a team. The error of his thinking “became all too clear” when the staff got together with hotel  management in an effort to get him fired. After a “very tense” meeting, he says, he met with the kitchen staff and “apologized for my poor leadership skills.” Making amends, Keith created the Benchmark Culinary Team with badges for chefs jackets. Lesson learned: “Take care of and care about your team, and they will take care of you.”

With my mind’s tendency to wander, I wandered into the realm of regrets, and how they can hurt or help. Back in the days before Burt’s stroke, when we were more mobile, we saw Paul Anka at Sarasota’s Van Wezel theater. Anka told a story involving the theme of regrets.  Years before, he’d  run into Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas.  Ol’ Blue Eyes complained that Anka had written songs for many others, but not for him.

Vacationing in the south of France in 1968, Anka heard a French ballad, “Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”).  He bought the rights to the song.  Later, he dined with Sinatra and “a couple of mob guys.”  Sinatra said he was “sick of the business” and going to quit after finishing his next album.  Anka recalls feeling “scared to death,” as he’d been “writing all this teen stuff.”  But he bucked up, adapted the melody of the French song and rewrote the lyrics for Frank.

As Anka relates the story:

At one o’clock in the morning, I sat down at an old IBM electric typewriter and said, “If Frank were writing this, what would he say?  And I started, metaphorically, ‘And now the end is near.’  I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was ‘my this’ and ‘my that’.  We were in the ‘me generation’ and Frank became the guy for me to use that say that.  I used words I would never use.  ‘I ate it up and spit it out.’  But that’s the way he talked.  I used to be around steam rooms with the Rat Pack guys—they liked to talk like Mob guys, even though they would have been scared of their own shadows.

Anka finished the song at 5 am.  He called Sinatra at Caesars Palace, said he had “something special” for him. “My Way” soared to the top of the charts.  Anka’s record company was “pissed” he hadn’t kept it for himself.  “’Hey, I can write it,’ he said, ‘but I’m not the guy to sing it.’  It was for Frank.  No one else.”

“My Way” became Frank’s signature song, though his daughter Tina says he came to hate it and consider it self-indulgent.

I, too, once wrote on an IBM Selectric.  Somehow it never turned out anything quite as memorable as “My Way.”

But back to the subject of regrets. Like Frank, I’ve had a few.  Too few to dwell upon. I’ve been listening to the audiobook, The Biggest Bluff, by Maria Konnikova, a psych major with degrees  from Harvard and Columbia who’s never even held a deck of cards.  She decides learning to play poker could help improve her ability to strategize.  She convinces 8-time World Series of Poker champion Erik Seidel to teach her.

After months of study and online practice, Maria attends her first in person event in Las Vegas.  Dealt a terrific hand, she goes all in and loses her stake.  She approaches Seidel to share her tale of woe.  He refuses to listen.

View the loss as a lesson, Seidel says, and move on.

The Biggest Bluff is filled with quotes that help its author stay focused.  Listening to one on Audible, I was so struck by the insight that I got off my bike, replayed it, and emailed it to myself.

“Language is the mother, not the handmaiden, of thought; words will tell you things you never thought or felt before.”  W.H. Auden.

WOW!  As a confirmed lexophile, I’m blown away by the insight.  The things we tell ourselves are the things we come to believe.  If we dwell on our mistakes–what a loser we are/were, we become that loser.  When we let go of regrets, we maximize our potential.  I’m gaining on the writer/speaker/thinker/family member/friend/golfer I hope to be.

Name your preferences.  Name them and claim them.

This pandemic has given us the chance to know our own talents, hopes and dreams better.  Forgive yourself.  Improve yourself.  It’s never too late.

A second Maine Coon cat comforts California neuroscientist DC McGuire on the loss of her husband

The late Michael McGuire and Buddy, comforting each other in their final year.

DC’s husband, banker Michael McGuire, had been sick for a year. His struggle with bladder and prostate cancer left him unable to focus on business. The couple, married for 25 years, “lost everything.” That included a lodge mountain home in Idaho and another beautiful home in Santa Barbara. Mike died in October, 2018. DC was devastated.

One family member brought solace during those rough last months.  Buddy, the McGuires’  Maine Coon cat, was “18 pounds of macho and thought he was a dog,” DC says. “He’d greet me at the door when I came home with his tail wagging. He’d snuggle with me and comfort me.” D.C. and Mike had no children together; their stepchildren lived elsewhere.

A practicing neuroscience researcher, DC’s also a painter. When Michael died, she felt inspired  to paint a picture of clouds depicting the idea of energy moving heavenward. Soon after Mike died, Buddy became ill. DC had called a pet psychic. (Who knew there was such a profession?  But, hey, this is California.) About Buddy, the pet psychic said, “I see him leaving. He needs to go to be with someone who’s passed. He’s telling me something odd. He’s telling me he’ll be back.”

Realizing how sick Buddy was, DC placed the canvas of clouds on the floor.  Buddy laid down on it, faced the sky and “right away took his last breath.”

Again, DC was heartbroken. “Buddy’s death felt like an extension of Michael leaving. He was my last connection to my husband. I was having a really hard time.”

A few weeks later, an unsubscribed email from Adoptapet.com arrived. DC opened the website, looked under Cats, then under Maine Coons. “They’re a special breed,” DC says, “very rarely available for adoption.” On her laptop screen, a picture appeared. A fluffy cat with unusual white and cinnamon markings, just like Buddy’s, gazed up at her. The cat had belonged to someone who died of a stroke. DC scrolled down.

The cat’s name: Buddy.

DC dissolved into tears. At the time she was living in the guest house of a friend. Her host “had made it absolutely clear she did not want a pet in her cottage. I didn’t have the nerve to ask how she’d feel about a cat in her guest house.” But she showed her friend the photo of what looked like a twin of her departed Buddy—with the same name. Her remarkably gracious friend looked deep into DC’s eyes. “She said, without a moment’s hesitation, ‘You have to have him.’”

DC filled out a three-page, single-spaced questionnaire to determine whether she’d be a responsible pet parent. A series of tests on the featured cat took two more weeks. Finally the shelter staff responded: DC would indeed be a “fit parent.”

The shelter advised that Buddy 2 would be available on April 24—Mike’s birthday. Upon arrival, she says, “Buddy hopped into my arms. He’s sitting here now, listening to our conversation.”

As a scientist, DC’s trained to look for data to confirm or rule out a hypothesis. “In Buddy’s case,” she says, “I’m left without an answer. But who cares? We both have hearts and souls longing for love and connection.”

DC provides “brain coaching” for people suffering from anxiety, stress and PTSD. Her research is based on brain scanning technology, especially FMRI  (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to “rapidly rewire the brain to reduce past and future emotional trauma.”

DC speaks and coaches about developing new brain patterns. Our brains can develop new “muscles,” she says, with repetitive techniques as simple as breathing. “Without prescriptions, trainers, special equipment or a degree in neuroscience, all of us can manage our brains for healthier, happier, more successful outcomes.”

DC’s working on a series of children’s books featuring Dr. Duh and Buddy the Wonder Cat. (Dr. Duh is DC’s avatar.) “Children who use their brains productively develop a sense of empowerment.”

Invited to speak to a medical school in the Republic of Georgia, DC worked with third and fourth graders on the difference between reptilian, animal and human brains. After, she received emails from the teachers of her young students. “The teachers told me those kids have become the peacemakers of the school. If another child is acting inappropriately, they’ve learned to tap them on the shoulder and ask, ‘What do you need?’” The teachers said the work DC did with their youngsters “changed the dynamic” of their classes.

Stress, anxiety and trauma, real or perceived, cause us to breathe rapidly and shallowly, changing oxygen to carbon dioxide, DC says. A brain deprived of oxygen responds as if it’s under assault. It activates the fight, flight or freeze reaction. Blood, oxygen and other essential resources are redirected to bones and muscles. That impairs behavior management, empathy and digestion.

Stress turns off our analytical thinking and turns down our immune systems. DC works to help traumatized individuals recognize that while they may be dealing with a horrible situation, they can redirect their thinking from the amygdala (fight or flight brain) to the hippocampus. Strong emotions get encoded chemically into every cell of our bodies, she says. The amygdala is one of our largest producers of dopamine.

The technique of working with FMRIs was developed by Dr. Fred Schotz, a naturopath who’s helped about 3500 military vets cope with battlefield trauma. Dr. Schotz happens to be DC’s first husband. DC remains “good friends” with him and his second wife.

Ancient Egyptians associated the number nine with their god, Atum-Ra, who took the form of a cat and birthed eight other gods.  After losing two of your best buddies in half a year, DC, I hope your current Buddy has several lives to go.

Thanks for sharing a sweet  story of  what could have been a CAT-astrophe.  (Groan. Couldn’t help myself.)  And for the lesson in compassion.

DC and Michael.

Photographer and adventurer Ruthie Petzold, Detroit’s Amelia Earhart, overcomes setbacks and sees the world

Ruth Petzold swims with a wild green seat turtle off Molasses Reef, NOAA Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo.

Ruthie Petzold, underwater photographer, is one of the most talented and resilient people I know.

Born in Grosse Pointe, MI, in “the last century” (1942), Ruthie received her first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye, at 7.  “Instant love,” she says.  “I spent all my allowance on film and processing.”

Ruthie’s parents instilled in their children “the self-confidence to do whatever we wanted and to be the best at it.”  The  family spent summers in Rye Beach, NH.  Ruthie’s mom insisted Ruthie, her two sisters and brother learn to swim.  At 2½, Ruthie was the youngest child to swim across the pool without water wings.  She earned her Red Fish badge.  When her mom sewed the badge to her bathing suit, that became the only suit she’d wear.  Guided by a “fabulous” swimming coach, Charlie Adams, Ruthie became the New Hampshire state swimming and diving board champion at 12.  She was “fascinated” by the sea stars and snails in Atlantic tidal pools.  She also loved horses and became hunter/jumper club champion.

A car crash changed the life of this athletic whirlwind.

In 1958, Ruthie was a student at Sacred Heart boarding school in Conn.  Family friends picked her up for a ski weekend in Vermont.  In a blinding snowstorm, the car in which Ruthie rode  crashed into a snowplow.  Ruthie was thrown from the back seat into the front window.  Due to the storm, the doctor who was called couldn’t drive.  He hiked five miles to the accident scene.  Ruthie’s sister, Anna, also injured, recalled an attendant with Elvis sideburns saying of herself, “No point in rushing.  She’s lost so much blood she won’t make it.”

Both sisters survived.  Ruthie suffered compound fractures of her tibia and fibula.  She spent the next year in a full leg cast, with a plate and screws holding her leg together.  A doctor told her father she’d never walk again.  Ruthie was determined to prove him wrong.  She’d seen a film in which an injured horse, slated to be put down, was instead run in sand to strengthen his broken leg.  Though Ruthie’s ankle was destroyed, she walked in sand every chance she could.

Did she ever lament: Why me?

“Never.  Everybody deals with something. I just decided to keep doing what I loved.”  That included skiing, tennis and biking.  Eight years later, a skiing accident in VT resulted in a comminuted, compound ankle fracture.  Viewing her Xray, the doctor at Sugarbush stopped counting breaks at 20. Ruthie was wheeled into a phone booth to call her mom, person to person, long distance. “I have a little problem,” she said.

Ruthie being Ruthie, she was back to playing tennis as soon as she could.  In 1968, a screw came loose in her ankle and “felt like a knife in my foot.”  Heading into surgery, she asked her doctor to save the plate in her leg.  Years later, she had an artist sculpt that plate into a decorative palm tree.

“I’ve had a leg issue since I was 16,” she says.  “I’ve tried not to let it stop me.”  Sipping  her second glass of Chardonnay, she says, “I have a hollow leg now.”

Unable to ski any longer, Ruthie became certified in scuba diving.  Whenever she visited her parents in Palm Beach, she dove “all day long” with garage mechanics and Navy frog men.  There were few other women diving at the time.  She planned to run her own chartered trip, but the boat sank.

Meanwhile, family friends had begun hiring her to photograph weddings for Detroit brand name (i.e. automotive) families.  She became a successful portrait, event and fine art  photographer.

Earning her pilot’s license, Ruthie teamed up with friend Elaine Harrison.  In 1978, the twosome boarded Elaine’s single engine Cessna 206 for a madcap adventure of 10,000 miles through Central  and South America.

On their first stop in Mexico, they buzzed a grass landing strip “to alert the dude with goggles and an ascot who was jogging down the runway.” They landed only be surrounded by Mexicans holding machine guns.” A white-haired gentleman greeted them, promising that his men would protect their plane.  The men stood on each other’s shoulders to refuel the plane, bucket by bucket.

In Saiche, Guatemala, the site of old carved stone ruins, they stayed in a “falling down” inn along with a French spelunking team.  When power was turned off at 9pm, they drank warm beer with the spelunkers.

In Nicaragua they were weathered in above a Chinese restaurant and brothel.

In Venezuela they hooked up with gold panners.  They met a pilot who flew them to Angel Falls and banked the wing tip under a cascade of water.  “My wildest ride ever,” she says.  The pilot’s girlfriend, who came along, was so terrified she passed out.

Ruthie in the Solomon Islands.

Ruthie’s adventures had only begun.

The 1980s were “a whirlwind of diving.”  In 1985, she visited Indonesia on a live-aboard dive trip and met Greg MacGillivray, then filming for Imax.  (The American cinematographer would go on to receive two Academy Award nominations.)  MacGillivray recommended Ruthie visit New Guinea. So off she went “totally unprepared” to meet members of the Dani people who wore nothing but gourds in strategic places.

In 1987, Ruthie circled the world twice.  “It was easier to keep going around than to keep coming back.”  Trips included whale watching and diving and research exploration.  She visited the Asmat region of southwestern New Guinea, near the area where Michael Rockefeller had disappeared.  When Ruthie arrived along with two guides, children ran and hid, but soon people warmed to their arrival and they enlisted six local rowers. The group trekked through the jungle and rode in dugout canoes for almost two weeks. Ruthie’s thermometer broke at 140 degrees. New Guinea is the second largest island in the world, she notes. Iceland’s the largest.

Ruthie took over 50 diving trips with “the Shark Lady,” famed underwater researcher Dr. Eugenie Clark.  Eugenie was the founding director of Mote Marine, now a world class marine research center in Sarasota.  Ruthie and Eugenie dove four to six times a day.

In 1990, a torn Achilles tendon prevented Ruthie from joining Eugenie’s trip.  Three months later, despite a stiff ankle, Ruthie visited the Solomon Islands aboard the Billikiki.  The dive boat held 12-14 guests and offered photography seminars.  At the time, Ruthie took 300 rolls of film.  She eventually switched to digital.  Ruthie “fell in love” with the Solomon islands and has visited 11 times.  .

Ankle replacement in 1999 left Ruthie depending on crutches for almost three years.  Her left ankle became infected with Mersa.  In 2000, nine different doctors recommended amputation below the knee.  Ruthie’s mother was turning 90 that year.  Ruthie finally agreed to the surgery.  Her goal was to dance at her mother’s birthday.  Two months and nine days later she reached her goal and danced.

Since then Ruthie has needed several prosthetics.  “Flip,” her stump, keeps shrinking. Ruthie’s  prosthetics come from the Arthur Finnieston Clinic which makes limbs for Para Olympians and where Ted Kennedy’s son, Ed Jr., was treated.  After an earthquake in Haiti, the  Finnieston clinic volunteered their services and fitted 50 patients a day.  So many military vets are returning with lost limbs, Ruthie says, that prosthetics technology keeps improving.

Ruthie’s close to her cousin, renowned broadcast journalist Miles O’Brien, who lost an arm above the elbow from an injury.  “When we’re together,” she says, “we’re quite the pair.”  Ruthie recently met up with “OB” in Paris.  OB’s friend, an ex-French Navy Seal whose uncle  lives in a barge on the Seine, toured them through locks and under the Bastille.  “Dark, exciting and unique,” Ruthie recalls.

Since 2004, Ruthie has been “incredibly lucky” to attend the Laulupidu in Estonia four times.  The national songfest features over 30,000 voices under one director.  “It’s like the skies have opened and angel choirs are singing.”  She was introduced to the experience by her dear friend, Estonia-born Ivi Kimmel.

Ruthie’s praying her problems with Flip can be resolved.  Having just turned 80 on Jan. 12, Ruthie wants to keep going, full speed ahead. The Solomon Islands still beckon.

“I’ve been lucky to see God’s creations most people never see.  From microscopic organisms important to the food chain to endangered leafy seadragons in southern Australia to polar bears in Norway and Manitoba.  My life’s been great, and it ain’t over yet.

“Life is for living—no matter what’s thrown at you.  You can’t just make lemonade from lemons; you can make margaritas.”

Thanks, Ruthie, for sharing your escapades, your art and your indomitable spirit.  Travel safely, girlfriend.  Send postcards.  Bottoms up!

Care to see much more?

Visit Ruthie’s own website, where you can see galleries of her wildlife photography from around the world.