A friend was visiting and I thought it would be fun to show her where my husband grew up. It is a tiny island in California and while I instantly fell in love with it many years ago I sometimes take it for granted. Until, that is, I took out my camera and really payed attention. In November and early December the island is a destination for holiday celebrations. The homeowners take decorating very seriously and I was able to spot some homes in various decorating stages for the season. While telling my friend the stories my husband and mother inlaw have shared, I began photographing details that stood out to me on our stroll. Many of the homes have been renovated or torn down and replaced with structures that occupy every square inch of their tremendously expensive lots but others remain as they were in the early 1900′s; quaint beach cottages with modest landscaping and furniture. Through my camera’s lens I re-discovered the wonder and beauty of the range of architecture that thrives through great craftsmanship, proper maintenance, and the financial freedom many of these residents have to create their own unique little castles.
When my son was two and a half years old I took him to the Teddybear Tea at a hotel in San Francisco. It might have been at the Ritz but what I remember most was the gingerbread doorway. While we waited for the tea room to open we marveled at the edible doorway. It was decorated with icing and candies and in the windows were giant chocolate sculptures. I felt as though we had discovered the real Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory. My son was thrilled with the entire day and I decided that this was a concept I would take home and do the following year. So, in December 1999 I collaborated with my husband and mother inlaw on the Gingerbread Baby Holiday Party. The day began with a reading of the story on my mother inlaw’s porch while I handed out goodie bags to the kids. They drank cocoa and listened intently. When the story was finished we opened the front door revealing the candy and cookie clad house. We did not have to explain to the children what to do.
I spent about the same amount of money on this entire party that I had spent the previous year on tea for just me and my son. The added bonus – he and many many of his friends got to celebrate together. The following year we changed it up to a chocolate gold coin filled Thomas the Tank Engine party. For several years I continued this “inverted piñata” theme for my children’s parties. I have always found with young children magic is relative.
I have been doing production design and art for reality shows for 10 years. Time and time again I have been given impossible deadlines with small budgets and limited resources. Each time I have found ways to maximize these elements to deliver unique and exciting solutions to design problems. One of my favorite concepts came to me when I walked into the Abbey in Chicago, IL on season 1 of Bar Rescue. The building had two sides, one had a stage, balcony seating, and a bar and the other side had a high ceiling, bar, kitchen, and additional dining room. It was a lot of space to address so we agreed that I would redesign the bar/kitchen side and outdoor patio. Jon Taffer wanted to rename this side of the building “the green room @” so customers would utilize this space before, during, and after musical performances in the adjacent concert hall.
I got to work photographing the area to be renovated. Originally all lighting pointed down in the main room but when I shined a flashlight up I discovered the existing tin ceiling was a rich emerald green. With Jon’s new name in mind, I chose to call out uplighting and create a focal point to draw customers view up to the beautiful ceiling. When we walked into the small dining room I discovered someone had used cymbals for wall sconces and small drums for flush mount ceiling light covers. I decided then and there what the ceiling needed in the bar. It would be the perfect conversation piece and it would provide the visual focal point I needed to draw attention to the ceiling.
Thankfully my set decorator and I found a wooden drum kit on Craigslist, my carpenter was a drummer so he knew how to properly set up the kit, my art department coordinator shopped with me for the light pendants and was very handy with rigging, Lincoln Electric loaned me a welding machine, plasma cutter, and a welder to help me make the frame, and we put together one of my favorite designs in television. The drum kit chandelier.
In 1997 my friend, Margaret, worked in the Design Center at Mattel as a toy sculptor. My husband, son, and I had just moved to Southern California and I had left my job with Academy Studios, Inc. in Northern California so I was looking for work. I had tried to be at home and embrace mommy and me classes and play dates but my creative side was screaming for attention. I was picking up mural and design projects but I was new to the area and starting up was slow. Margaret got me an interview with her boss, Michael, and after meeting with him he gave me a homework assignment to see if I could sculpt to the quality the company required. I decided to do a 3D portrait of my 13 month old son. I brought in the clay version and Margaret had it molded and a wax copy poured. Then I brought the rough wax home to clean up. It took me two tries to get it to the finish Mattel required. I found out just how much clean up the surface needed as I sanded and polished every detail. When I turned in the final piece for review they put me on their vendor list. I was so happy to have passed the test and really anxious to get a paying assignment. My first job was a sword handle for a doll based on a soon to be released Disney film, Mulan. I packed up my son, his stroller, diaper bag, and toys and made the trip up to El Segundo to collect the blueprints and armature. We entered the Mattel lobby and were greeted by Sherry, the receptionist. I was nervous about bringing my son to the meeting but as Margaret and Michael knew he was part of the deal I so suppressed my fears. Sherry gave me an official visitor badge and asked if it was okay to offer Connor a package of crackers. I was so touched she acknowledged him and her gesture sealed their friendship in an instant. She told him about her children and he smiled through the drool and cracker crumbs. I sat thinking how wonderful it was that I could get back to working with my hands. Not long after our arrival, Margaret and Michael walked into the lobby and motioned us to a conference room. Connor waved to Sherry as I strolled him by her desk. In the meeting I was given the speculations for the sculpture size, an armature that represented the sword blade, and blueprints for the measurements and proportions. In that moment I was so happy. A challenge, creative colleagues, my baby close by, and the prospect of income. I was once again a working artist.
I have been going through photos lately and have come across some images that I took on the road while designing and renovating a restaurant for an episode of Kitchen Nightmares Season 3 in New Jersey. Many times I would be exploring the city or looking out my window and something would inspire me. This blog is about images so the captions are there as a guide for you as I share the moments I collected while on the road in 2010.
Twelve years ago on 9-11-2001 I was awake at 4:30am PST. My contractions had been steady and regular but not too bad. It was two weeks before my due date but that was fine with me as I had two other children and I was exhausted. I was lying on the couch watching television so my constant tossing and turning wouldn’t keep Jevon awake. Tired but so excited to see the finish line with my third baby, I channel surfed. TV was pretty boring and I was happy to find myself nodding off so at 4:45am I went back to bed.
At around 6:30am PST I woke up to much stronger contractions (and a few other symptoms I won’t share) and called my doctor. I told her the details and she said to meet her at the hospital. Then I woke up Jevon, my 6 year old, and my 18 month old to get them ready for the exciting day. The progression of my labor was not too bad so I dressed my kids and we sang songs as we gathered their overnight bags for the exciting trip to grandma’s. My husband called his mom and she said she was coming right away. He went outside to put our bags in the car and came back in with a blank look on his face. I had heard the neighbor chatting with him and only picked up bits and pieces of the conversation. Our neighbor had mentioned a bomb going off and for some reason my mind translated it to the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. It is amazing how your imagination can protect you when the truth is too tough to swallow. I thought how sad it was that my baby was going to be born on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing – such a sad day in US history. Little did I know….
About that time my mother in law came to the door and whispered something to Jevon as I was gathering up the kids with their packs. We said our goodbyes at the door and Jevon closed it after them. He took my hand and walked me back into the living room . ”We might want to take a look at this before we go to the hospital.” When he turned on the television it was on every channel. The accident or attack or whatever was happening was airing live. It was just before 7:30am PST. The North Tower of the World Trade Center was collapsing on television before our eyes. Information on two other planes began to pour in but at this time we needed to head to the hospital. As we drove past my neighbors’ house I saw their television was on and I felt for my friend, Danya. Her baby was due in 3 weeks.
The drive to the hospital was only 10 minutes but it was filled with an eternity of thoughts for both Jevon and I. What were we going to do? What would happen to us? Was the missing plane headed for the White House or Northern California where my parents live? How were we going to protect our family? What was next? We didn’t talk much but continued to hold hands.
When I checked in at the nurses’ station they eyed me carefully. ”I know what is happening”, I told them. ”Okay, do you want me to put on the television, while we see if you are ready?”, she said as she set me up in a multi-bed laboring room. Jevon looked straight at me waiting for my answer. ”Yes.” ”But I will tell you when it is time to turn it off.” I had no plan I just wanted to know what had been happening for as long as I could pay attention. I watched as flight 93 was discovered, I watched as the Pentagon fell, I watched as people were running from schools near the base of the Trade Center, and I weeped for all the children. When Jevon phoned my mom and dad I knew they could not fly down to be part of our day and I insisted they not even think about traveling to us at all. There was commotion in the hallway and when we asked the nurse she said one of the maternity ward mom’s was having a hard time. I dug deep into my head to find a happy place. ” My baby will be here soon”, I kept thinking over and over to block the chaos around me.
After a few minor complications, she was born at 4:56pm and with her came a flood of emotion. Tiny and sweet with a shock of dark hair and deep blue eyes our little burst of joy entered our uncertain world. Calls were made to family and friends and my husband wrote an announcement email that will always tear me apart when I read it even today. (see below *) Over the next few months we received more attention than I had expected for a third baby to seasoned parents. But I realized later that she brought our friends, family, and even strangers (who learned of her birthday) great hope. That is why to this day my youngest will always be my little Sparkle.
“Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 22:29:08 -0700
To: Baby News
Subject: The third and final installment
On a day in which the harshness of our world seemed to surround us all, my daughter slipped unobtrusively into a Hoag hospital delivery room at 4:56 pm, weighing 6lbs. 14 oz., and reminding me and her mother of the preciousness of life.
For us at least, she has turned a grey and dismal day into a happy one. We all hope this email finds you and yours happy and healthy, as both our baby and Nancy are.