November 29, 2010

Holiday season’s just in time…

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Relationships, Spirituality at 8:40 pm by dinaheng

There are so many things to be thankful for in life. Since we don’t always remember this, it’s a good thing we have a holiday season that forces us to stop and acknowledge our blessings.

As bad as the economy has been, it’s good that people are traveling more to spend time with family and loved ones this year. It’s also good that the protests about full body scanners and pat downs by TSA officials at airports are forcing people to look at what’s acceptable and what’s not in a free society. We may not know how to keep terrorists at bay, but we do know when government dictates have crossed the line with personal freedoms.

I’ve not undergone a pat down, but I have been selected for additional screening of my carry-on items, presumably at random. A couple of weeks ago, I was at London Heathrow, boarding a United flight back to Los Angeles when the security guard told me to go through a booth for additional screening.

One security guard looked through my purse as the other guard started to look through my carry-on bag, stuffed with chocolates and gifts for family. After poking through the first layer, he smiled at me and said, “I trust you. Go on now.”

Either my smile and patient manner impressed him, or he figured that anyone who spent so much money on sweets must have a sweet disposition. In any case, I appreciated meeting someone who trusted his own instincts enough to know an innocent traveler when he met one.

Trust is something many of us have forgotten. We live in a time where people almost instinctively distrust politicians, the media, and each other without thinking. Not surprisingly, others distrust us in return.

This is the season for remembering how to trust again. Our family always gathers at one of my sister’s houses for the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Last week, we had 24 seated at two tables. The December gathering will probably be a little smaller, but as many of us who can make it, will come.

I trust that no matter how lively or contentious the dinner conversation may get each year, those seated at the table will be there for each other when needed. I trust that the memories we make each time we share a meal will add to our appreciation of family in the years to come.

From now until the last day of the year, spending time with family and friends becomes my holiday priority. And when there’s time to relax alone, I look forward to reading good books and watching TV shows like the Hallmark Channel movies, Lifetime’s holiday films, and ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas, which reinforce trust in the joy of the holidays.

After all, the more we believe we have a wonderful life, the more wonderful it becomes. So give thanks for the blessings you have, and trust that even more joy is on the way.


November 20, 2010

‘Harps and Angels’ play in new musical

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment at 3:59 pm by dinaheng

There may be no formal storyline to Randy Newman’s “Harps and Angels,” but Jack Viertel believes the new musical will share characters and stories aplenty through the witty, bittersweet, and often satirical lyrics of its songs.

Viertel, creative director of Jujamcyn Theaters and artistic director of the Encores! series at City Center in New York, has long wanted to work on a Randy Newman project. The two would often talk about creating a new musical, but nothing popped until Viertel came up with a unique idea.

“I came to the thought of using his songs to take the audience on a narrative journey,” Viertel says. “A couple of years ago, he came up with ‘Harps and Angels,’ which is a comedy song. I thought about using the different stopping points in life, which he’s written about, to take the audience from youth to age in different ways.”

So there’s no book for the musical, which premieres at the Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles on November 21. Instead, the audience will hear a collection of Newman songs, sung by character types who are not always the same person.

The show will share commentary on what it’s like to be born, grow up, fall in love, live, and die in America.

“The messages, such as they are, are all courtesy of Randy, who’s a keen observer of American politics and American characters,” Viertel says. ”Randy is a pop song writer of a certain age, and has always written for characters who are not him, which almost makes him a  traditional theater writer. He’s in-between, and the show is in-between.”

Some of the songs featured in the musical include “Sail Away,” “Marie,” “Feels Like Home,” and “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.”

Viertel fell in love with musical theater as a child when his grandmother and parents took him to see Mary Martin in “Peter Pan.” After working as a theater critic for a free weekly newspaper in the 1980s, he became a drama critic for The Los Angeles Herald Examiner. In 1985, he became the Mark Taper Forum’s dramaturg.

While he’s loathe to cite a single favorite musical, he says if he were marooned on a desert island and could only pick one to enjoy, it would be “Follies” by Stephen Sondheim.

“The really good ones that stand the test of time have universal themes,” Viertel says. “Music makes things bigger and one step away from reality, so musicals tend to be mythic. Up until the late 1980s, musicals weren’t all that different from the years before.

“But starting with shows like ‘A Chorus Line’ and ‘Dreamgirls,’ there’s a demarcation from the old form of the 1940s, with ‘Gypsy’ and ‘My Fair Lady.’ People still love the old form, but they’re also fascinated with new forms, like ‘American Idiot’ and ‘Next to Normal.’ “

He says the rock ‘n’ roll revolution in the 1950s didn’t catch up to Broadway until the 1960s, and then became a basic form of writing in musicals in the 1990s. The form, he adds, has evolved to a more serious, opera-based work, like “The Piazza,” and is no longer the classic storytelling of old.

“It’s also been influenced by the success of live concerts,” Viertel says. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s, rock events began to have spectacle, scenic elements, and pyrotechnics. That kind of entertainment has influenced Broadway a lot.”

In this respect, “Harps and Angels” will break new ground as well.

“It doesn’t feel like a concert, and the characters don’t have spoken dialogue,” Viertel says. “Each of the songs is a mini-portrait of a person and a particular kind of world. They’re fun, funny, satirical, and some are heartbreaking. I could listen to them all night long.”


Cast bids adieu to decade of “Potter” films

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Relationships at 12:24 am by dinaheng

For fans of the film franchise, watching “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” will be both exciting and sad, for those who have loved the adventures of “the Boy Who Lived” know that the story is coming to an end.

For the young cast who grew up inhabiting those roles for nearly half their lives, the end of the story is bittersweet. Now that filming has wrapped on the final installment of the movies based on J.K. Rowling’s epic fantasy, being with the professional family that created those   adventures each year has also come to an end.

David Heyman, producer of the film franchise, says the three principal actors — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson — have always been the heart and soul of the movies.

“They’ve grown,” Heyman says, the day after the London premiere of “Deathly Hallows, Part 1.” “They worked for Chris (Columbus), Alfonso (Cuaron), Mike (Newell), and now David (Yates) and directors on other projects. They’re more mature, and are able to bring love, loss, heartache, and pain to the screen.

“How lucky we are that they have been able to embrace it all and enjoy. They’re bright young people who have been able to maintain their humanity. We’ve been there together for so long, no one can get on their high horse and get away with it.”

The journey the cast has taken on screen is intertwined with the personal journey that each has made through the stages of childhood. In this latest film, Harry, Ron and Hermione have come to the point where there are no adults to guide them through the dangers of this final adventure.

Likewise, the actors who play them are now on their own, free to define who they want to be moving forward. And it isn’t just the three stars who are facing this transition.

“It’s exciting because we’re free to roam the world, yet it’s scary,” says Tom Felton, who portrays Potter’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy, in the films. “It’s taken me from 11 to 20, and it was very strange to say good-bye to it, but we think these last two films are the high note of the saga.”

Felton, whose upcoming films include “The Apparition” and “Rise of the Apes,” says he’s looking forward to playing other villains on screen, as if the industry has taught him that typecasting is the rule of the day. But when a reporter reminds him that he could also be offered the part of a future James Bond, Felton smiles and adds, “Well, I certainly wouldn’t turn that down.”

The question of personal identity is a complex one for any actor. Listening to the actors who have grown up in the Wizarding world talk about their futures, it’s clear that the uncertainty of life as an adult is just starting to hit them.

“I’ve known Ron for 10 years now, and we’ve kind of become the same person,” says Rupert Grint, 22, whose infectious smile seems the most open of the young actors. “It’s only when I go back and look at the older films that I realize the changes. It’s hard to relate to that little boy now. It’s like having these really expensive home videos.”

He’s taking some time off to decompress and think about the future, a decision that many adults could learn from.

“It’s going to take me a while to grieve,” he says. “I think I’ll always miss it because it’s been such a massive part of my life. I’m keen to move on next year, though. It’s quite freeing because I’ve never had full control… over my hair, or anything.”

Hair today, gone tomorrow, can be seen in Emma Watson, who’s now sporting a chic pixie haircut that’s done away with the girlish long locks of Hermione Granger. The actress, who’s  enrolled at Brown University, says she’s taking a break from acting for a while.

“I want to be a Renaissance woman who’s good at a lot of things,” she says. “I’m taking it slow, and want to be sure that acting’s the right thing for me.”

Over the years, working with different directors, has honed the way she looks at the craft, and at life. Not only does she have a great appreciation for the process of acting, she understand the responsibility that comes with stardom.

“At first, directors had to tell us everything,” Watson, now 20, says. “ ‘Eyes wide.  Look terrified.’ Now, I have a ‘heady’ approach to the way I act. Having the time to be clear in my  head about what everything was about helped.

“I have younger siblings, and they watch other movies over and over, and can quote what the characters say. When I realized that other kids are probably impersonating everything I do, I realized this is a big deal.”

In many ways, going to college is the new adventure that’s helping her to adjust to life without Potter.

“I go through periods when I’m busy at school, and it feels fine,” Watson says. “Then there are times I just feel lost. My life was scheduled by a call sheet for so long. It’s nice taking a break. And when Daniel comes to New York next year, I’m sure we’ll get together there.”

Radcliffe, now 21, has pushed forward with several projects to establish credits beyond Harry Potter, and will make his singing debut on Broadway next spring to star in the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

He talks of the sadness that comes with ending this stage of his life, yet takes a practical view of things.

“Life is life,” Radcliffe says. “It doesn’t stop, ever. I could go on playing Harry Potter for the rest of my days, or advocate for sequels, or mope that my childhood is over, or try to embrace adulthood. I feel like I’ve landed on my feet post-Potter.”

Smiling, he adds, “I still have the mindset of a 14-year-old. I think most men do.”

November 19, 2010

Radcliffe embraces life beyond “Harry Potter”

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 3:42 am by dinaheng

The sweetness and light of an 11-year-old boy can still be seen in Daniel Radcliffe’s smile, but make no mistake, this is a 21-year-old man who wants the world to see him as an actor, and not just the character he has played for the last decade.

Radcliffe, known around the world for his portrayal of the boy wizard Harry Potter, has become a polished professional, polite in manner and ever-so-slightly guarded with the press. As he gives interviews for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” he’s quick to pick up on what reporters want to talk about.

“I’m pleased with this one,” says Radcliffe, at the end of a long day talking to press in London. “It’s rare for a large, mainstream film to have a gentle pace that allows you to explore the characters and their relationships. What’s made this franchise successful is that it’s a strong group of characters, and people want to know how they react to things.”

Clearly tired and thirsty, he looks for a bottle opener for his Coke as he talks, not wanting to interrupt the interview. When none is found, he focuses his attention back to the question at hand, putting his own needs to the side.

He talks about how playing a character has shaped who he has become, honing in on details that will never be forgotten.

“The first day of production was Sept. 29, 2000,” says Radcliffe, remembering the first scene he filmed for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” “We were on a train platform in Goathland (Hogsmeade Station in the movie), which is the most rural you can get in England. There were 100 to 150 extras, and they were all asking for my autograph.

“John Heyman came over and said, ‘Let me give you one piece of advice. Shorten your name, and just sign DR or something.’ I didn’t do it, and kept signing Daniel Radcliffe. Now I wish I had.”

He laughs at the memory, and goes on to credit director Chris Columbus for setting a tone on the set that made work so much fun.

“I remember Chris Columbus the best from the first film,” Radcliffe says. “He was a mountain of energy, and kept this set of kids infused with energy every day. It came from his love of making a film, and that rubbed off on me. The main contribution I’ve received from playing Harry is it’s given me direction in my life, and a love of films and filmmaking.”

Radcliffe says while he was always a curious student in school, he was never good at writing or many of the required subjects. When he started to act, he discovered a talent that gave him a sense of true confidence.

“The schools I went to were all white and privileged,” he recalls. “When you’re in the world of private education, all the kids have a similar view of life, and the right way to do things in life. The right way is to go through school, make all As, go to college, and get a job. So I was taken from that path, and it broadened my view of the world massively.”

With the “Harry Potter” films ending, the actor has branched out in other projects, making his Broadway and London West End debuts as Alan Strang in Peter Shaffer’s play “Equus.” He stars next in “The Woman in Black,” a horror thriller, and will return to Broadway next spring to star in the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Radcliffe says he deliberately chose a variety of roles to prove that he was serious about the craft of acting beyond holding the title role in the “Harry Potter” franchise.

Ten years after shooting his first scene, he describes the last scenes in like manner.

“The last scene I filmed was the underwater sequence,” Radcliffe says. “The last scene shot as a group was Emma, Rupert and me jumping into the fireplace of the Ministry of Magic, running through frame and landing on a crash mat. That was it.

“The producers made short speeches, and I made a short speech. I gave a tribute to the crew. To go to work with people you love, and who love you, is what made it special for me every day. Everything I do for the rest of my life will be derived from having gotten this part at  age 11, so I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the producers and those who chose me for this role.”

November 18, 2010

Director explores faith in ‘Deathly Hallows’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 1:59 am by dinaheng

David Yates is a shy man with a sharp mind, and a keen understanding of the hearts of Muggles and wizards.

After directing two of the six films in the “Harry Potter” franchise, Yates was placed at the helm of the final two installments that will cap an epic adventure in literary and movie history. In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” which opens this Friday in the United States, Yates has delivered a dark, intriguing tale that affirms the power of faith and love.

“I wanted this one to feel real, and less like fantasy,” says Yates, sitting in a room in Claridge’s Mayfair hotel in London. “It’s like the edgy, harsh real world that we’re in. The last one (Part 2) will bring us back to the magical world.”

“Deathly Hallows, Part 1” focuses on the dangerous mission that Harry, Ron and Hermione undertake to destroy the Horcruxes, the keys to Voldemort’s immorality. It is a journey through fear that takes the three into a world without mentors or teachers to guide them, as they are hunted by Death Eaters and the Dark Lord’s followers.

The film, rated PG, is not for young children, but beautifully captures the tender and scary nature of growing up. While each of the central characters experiences loneliness and isolation, they also learn that they are never alone.

“It’s a story about faith, how we can all lose faith in a friendship, a mentor, or a partner,” Yates says. “These kids start to lose faith in each other. Harry loses faith in Dumbledore, the person who gave him the mission, and gets it back. They learn that it’s hard to do things on your own. You need the help of others.”

Yates, who studied politics at the University of Essex and at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., brings a curiosity about the world around us to his storytelling that connects us all to J.K. Rowling’s world of wizards and Muggles.

“I wonder if one of the reasons the books are so popular is that we were going through a period when everything seemed hunky dory (a decade ago), and now you can’t escape that life is more complex,” Yates says. “We’ve been through changes in the economy, and the war in Iraq. Are we reflecting a world that’s darkening? I think the world’s always been dark.

“We take for granted our liberal society that seems so tolerant. You can see the possibility for people to go to extremes, and to stop trying to understand each other. This notion that wizards can’t tolerate Muggles who are non-magical has parallels in the real world. That’s a story that hasn’t ended.”

After a long night at the London premiere, celebrating with friends and colleagues, Yates seems almost too tired to reflect on the two-part film that took 263 days to shoot. But a love of making movies shines through his eyes as he speaks.

“I was a shy teenager who was rubbish with girls,” says the director. “Making movies was a way to communicate. I’d always wanted to be a filmmaker. I like the communal experience of people sharing something, and seeing the way films impact the audience.”

He says life right now is solely about work as he puts the finishing touches on the second installment of “Deathly Hallows.”  The soft-spoken man says he lives in a guilded cage, with assistants and drivers who take care of a schedule that has taken away time for personal pleasure.

“I love the work, but you don’t get much time to see family and friends because you work all the time,” Yates says. “I keep reminding myself that no matter how tough, physically and mentally, it gets, I’m making a film millions will see, and it will be there forever for them and their kids to enjoy.”

He adds that the hard work on the “Potter” franchise will allow him, financially, to be a student of life again. Once the final film is done, he plans to take some time off and travel.

“I’m going to see parts of the world I’ve never been to, like Beirut and Palestine, to meet people who are leading lives far removed from the life I’ve been leading,” Yates says. “I’ve learned a lot creatively and technically over the last few years, and it’s also taught me how important it is between movies to go away and recharge, because that’s what fuels the work.

“As adults, we become beleaguered with expectations and responsibilities. I think we go through a point where we lose innocence and the ability to see how wonderful things can be. I know a lot of people who still keep that spring in their step, and I hope I’m one of them.”



November 17, 2010

Producer creates cultural phenomenon

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 4:19 am by dinaheng

No one has lived with the “Harry Potter” film franchise longer than producer David Heyman, who discovered J.K. Rowling’s first book in 1997, and took the project to Warner Bros.

For the last decade, the filmmaker and his team have kept the cast intact, and created blockbusters that have pulled in $5.7 billion at theaters worldwide, not to mention home video sales, retail products, exhibitions, and more.

Now that the first installment of the final film — “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” — is ready to hit U.S. theaters this Frdiay, Heyman is saying a long good-bye to the series that has become a cultural phenomenon. For in reality, the good-byes began when the last scene of the final film was shot six months ago, and will continue next year when the second half of the final film is released in July.

“We were all aware that the end was nigh when we shot that last scene,” says Heyman, sitting in a room at Claridge’s Mayfair hotel in London. “We all felt the end was quite distant when we began, but suddenly, it was very affecting. It was the realization that the family would go away, and would never be together the way we were again.”

The family behind the films included not only an adolescent cast that has grown into adults, but Rowling, directors Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, David Yates, producer David Barron, Warner Bros. executives, a veritable Who’s Who of British thespians, and the talented crew behind the camera.

While the films are loved around the world, the British people hold special pride in the “Potter” films, and rightly so.

“That it has become what it’s become is unbelievable,” Heyman says, the day after “Deathly Hallows, Part 1” premiered in London. “Leicester Square (where the film premiered) was bananas. The devotion of the British fans is amazing. There’s a certain pride of ownership.

“This is a British book, and in a way, the films have become more British over time. (Director) Mike Newell had been to a school like Hogwarts, so he could relate to it. There’s a cultural specificity, but a universality, to it. We’ve all been to school, but this school authentically is very British, and there’s a real sense that this is ours. I’m not at all nationalistic, but we have — in front of and behind the camera — some of the best talent in the world.”

The universal themes and characters found in the “Harry Potter” series are key to the franchise’s success. Heyman notes that we all have had teachers we loved and teachers we haven’t loved. We’ve all had friends, and know people who are not what they seem.

“The images of fundamentalism are part of this world,” Heyman says. “Voldemort is a fundamentalist who knows only hatred. There are a lot of connections to World War II and the Nazis. The books are about outsiders, and there’s a political subtext within the films because of what Jo’s written.”

Heyman, who lived in the United States for 17 years, was educated in the United States and England. He is a former creative executive at Warner Bros., working on films including “GoodFellas” and “Gorillas in the Mist,” as well as a vice president at United Artists in the late 1980s.

Heyman returned to the U.K. in 1996 to become an independent producer, and decided to make books the center of his development.

“My secretary read ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and brought it to my attention,” Heyman says. “I fell in love with it, and thought it would be a nice, modest British film. I had a first look deal with Warner Bros., and sent it to Lionel Wigram (a production executive there). What resulted came from a lot of luck, being in the right place at the right time, and trusting my instincts.”

He notes that Rowling was a perfect partner in the effort to bring what she created on the page to the big screen, understanding that there’s a big difference between writing novels and screenwriting. The producer credits her with sharing essential information about characters and plot points to come, without giving away the ending to the series.

Being an avid reader himself, Heyman says the books he read and the films he saw when he was 10 to 11 years old have made him who he is today, and he hopes that the “Potter” films will have a similar positive effect on future audiences.

“The films are very entertaining, but they’re also about something,” Heyman says. “They’re truthful, and are intellectually engaging. I feel privileged to have worked on ‘Harry Potter’ for more than a decade. It has been inspiring, challenging, and an awful lot of fun.”

November 14, 2010

Connecting with inner wisdom…

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Relationships, Spirituality at 10:07 pm by dinaheng

The winter sunshine in Sedona makes you want to throw off your jacket, even though the temperature hasn’t hit 60 degrees yet. After a day of pampering at the spa, I’m ready to venture out to one of the area’s famous vortexes.

In Sedona, there are several locaitons called vortexes, believed to be places where spiritual energy exists on multiple dimensions to facilitate meditation and healing.

My guide this morning is Johanna Mosca, Ph.D., director of Sedona Spirit Yoga & Hiking ( A transplanted New Yorker, Mosca was formerly a teacher specialist for the United Federation of Teachers for alternative high schools in New York.

“Someone took me to a yoga weekend in the late 1980s, and in the 1990s, I took teacher training in yoga and went to India for course work,” Mosca says. “I came to Sedona on vacation, and climbed to the top of Bell Rock every day. I had this knowing that I was going to live here, even though I’d just passed the exams to be a principal. So I left New York, and did my first yoga and hiking retreat in Sedona in 1994.”

Today, she and other guides offer various kinds of yoga, hiking and energy work in Sedona. She says many people have turned to the practice of yoga and meditation, especially in the years after 9/11.

“Our feeling of safety was ripped away by terrorism, and now, with the economy, it’s all changing financially,” Mosca says. “It’s making people realize they need something to help them cope, other than Valium. Sedona’s known for its vortex energy, which helps you to go into your higher consciousness and discover your inner balance.”

She takes me to Airport Mesa, one of the area’s vortexes, which gives a panoramic view of some of Sedona’s best-known red rock formations. The hike up the trail is not strenuous, but because I have depth perception problems, we move slowly.

Airport Mesa/Photo provided by Sedona Chamber of Commerce

Mosca gives a running commentary about the plants along the way, and when we reach a flat rock, we sit and begin to meditate. She talks about how to deal with upsets in life using her four D’s — distinguish the feeling (in other words, figure out what you’re feeling); detach from the feeling, dip the feeling in FGH (forgiveness, gratitude and humor), and design what you’d rather have.

We sit in the silence, savoring the sunshine on our faces. I breathe in the peace, which seems to linger in the air, and feel content. After a few minutes, we close with personal prayers, and head back down the mountain.

It’s amazing how a change of scenery always changes your perspective. You can sit and meditate in the quiet of your living room, but there’s something special about doing it on a moutain in Sedona. Somehow, connecting to the wisdom within seems much easier.

After lunch at Picazzo’s, which has fabulous organic salads, pizza and more, I head to the Spa at Sedona Rouge ( This spa facility is smaller than Mii amo at Enchantment, but has similarr massage and body treatments. An hour massage starts at $120, and wellness and intuitive services can go upwards of $200.

The intuitive woman I am to work with calls herself Divyo ( Trained in massage therapy, myofascial release, and psychology, she talks with me about what treatment would be most beneficial to try.

We agree to do a Family Constellation consultation, which looks at the hidden and visible dynamics in family relationships, with an eye toward understanding conflicts and tensions in a new way. Using a combination of psychology and intuitive understanding, Divyo guides me through an exercise that examines my relationship with my parents and people in their past.

I went through psychotherapy for two and half years in my late 20s, unraveling many of the things that Divyo and I discuss, so it’s not new territory. Listening to her insights, however, opens up a new channel of energy that I can only describe as a lightness of being. I feel less burdened somehow, and my inner wisdom says that something I’ve been longing for will soon be mine.

Family constellation therapy is very different from family therapy. It’s more than talking through issues. It involves tapping into the energetic field that ties families together, and releasing negative feelings to heal your spirit.

Divyo was an excellent guide through the process, which is not to be taken lightly. Opening up the energetic field, for me, involved exploring my relationship with my parents, and a deciision my father had made years before I was born.

Two days after I left Sedona, one of my sisters called, asking me to talk to my father about his health. He’d had poor circulation problems for some time, and was resisting going to a doctor. I called him on Friday, and he assured me that he’d already made an appointment to see a doctor on Monday.

The next morning, I almost couldn’t get out of bed. My body felt exhausted, and it was all I could do to get up by 10 a.m. That evening, a sister called to tell me that our father had had a heart attack that morning.

Thankfully, Dad is okay. The doctor put in a stent, and he’s out of the hospital.  Was it a coincidence that I felt wiped out at the same time he had his heart attack? I doubt it. I’m grateful that he’s recovering. And I am grateful for the understanding that I’ve been given about our family on the unseen side of life.

All of us are connected in ways we do not see. The more we accept each other, and ourselves, the happier we will be. The more we forgive each other, and ourselves, the more we will heal.

My trip to Sedona was indeed an adventure in relaxation, rejuvenation… and healing.

Cathedral Rock in Sedona/Photo provided by Sedona Chamber of Commerce

Relaxation and rejuvenation found in Sedona

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Spirituality, Travel, Women at 2:10 am by dinaheng

In a hurry, hurry world, there’s no better place to slow down, breathe, and reconnect with spirit than Sedona, a small town in the red rock mountains of northern Arizona where you’re surrounded by nature and an energy that encourages you to look inward.

I’ve visited the area many times over the years, enjoying walks in the national forest, talks with newfound friends, and peaceful moments, just sitting on a rock somewhere and taking in the view.

After a summer full of emotional ups and downs, I decided to head to Sedona with a clear  intention to relax body, mind and spirit. I only had two days, so I filled them with things I don’t normally take the time to do.

This trip, I’m staying at Enchantment Resort (, a beautiful hotel nestled in Boynton Canyon that offers a number of activities, ranging from hiking and swimming to cooking demonstrations and spa treatments. From the moment you drive onto the gated property, you are surrounded by pampering.

Since the hotel’s casitas and suites are spread out over several of the resort’s 70 acres, most guests are driven around in golf carts by bellmen who are witty, gracious, and well schooled in the art of flattery. After all, when the first thing a man says to you in the morning is, “What kind of cologne are you wearing? You smell wonderful,” who could resist giving a larger tip?

My first night starts with dinner at Yavapai, the resort’s formal restaurant in the clubhouse. This evening, entrees range from $28 for vegetarian fare and pasta to $42 for meat dishes. I order a Pan-Seared New Zealand Coastal Salmon with Fresh Peas, White Asparagus, Lemon Spaetzle, Pinot Noir Reduction.

The salmon is perfectly done, but the asparagus is overcooked. A dessert called The Forbidden Apple, however, makes me end the meal with a smile. A tiny bit of baked apple in puffed pastry normally comes with cinnamon gelato, but I ask for the lavender ice cream instead, which is divine. Talk about ingesting relaxation.

The next day starts with a morning hatha yoga class at Mii amo, the resort spa. A class of four women follow the instructor through various poses and breathing exercises. While the instruction was what you’d expect at any studio, the tiny cockroach that crawls onto my yoga mat is a reminder that yes, Enchantment is in the middle of desert country where humans must co-exist with critters who were there first.

Mii amo spa/Photo provided by Enchantment Resort

Next comes a Flower Essence Bath, marketed to “relax in the powerful energy of flower essences as you embark on a treatment that combines meditation, the exploration of gemstones, water, sunlight and an in-depth flower card reading.”

Like any spa treatment, the experience is only as good as the practitioner and you make it. I’m asked to choose two “flower essence” cards that correspond to various aspects of life and the energy of various gemstones. The cards I choose are Larkspur, which relates to the body’s fifth chakra of “speaking your truth,” the practitioner guiding me says, and Indian Paintbrush, which relates to the first chakra of “survival and creativity.”

A chakra is one of seven centers of spiritual energy in the human body, according to Hindu and metaphysical philosophy. In Taoism, this circulating life energy is called chi.

After choosing the cards, I am immersed in a tub with rose petals and lavender epsom salts, which is lovely. The practitioner’s “reading” consists of reading from a book that explains what the flower essence cards I’d chosen mean. She mentions hearing the words “Martin Luther King,” “save a child,” “lots of changes,” and “Chicago.”

While “lots of changes” resonate with me, nothing else does. Oh well, the soak in the tub is heavenly.

I move on to a makeup lecture that I thought would give tips on how to more expertly apply makeup. Instead, it ends up being a sales pitch for a line of cosmetics sold in the spa gift shop. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the makeup artist can analyze your facial structure and skin enough to give you some personalized tips along the way, but alas, that does not happen.

Lunch (and later, dinner) at the Mii Amo Cafe, though, is wonderful. The menu here is lighter, and healthier, than that offered at Yavapai or Tii Gavo, the resort’s casual dining restaurant. New Executive Chef Ted Cizma is working on menu changes that will reflect planned renovations to the clubhouse, as well.

In the meantime, I have a wonderful tuna melt and fruit slices that come to 380 calories for lunch. Yes, the cafe menu tells you how good you’re being to your stomach.  I won’t say I behaved as well at dinner, but the smaller portions ensured I didn’t go overboard with the chicken spanikopita Greek vegetable salad, pork tenderloin with pesto tortellini, and lemon cheesecake. (The cheesecake was a yummy 115 calories.)

After lunch, the highlight of the day is experiencing a new treatment called Intentional Massage. Lynette Bazzill, the massage therapist who also had a hand in designing the treatment, asks me to choose a card from a selection created with different colors, words and designs on each.

I’m drawn to two cards — one that says, “I am happy. I welcome adventure.” and another that says, “I am supported. I feel encouraged.” Each card corresponds to a mixture of essential body oils. After smelling the two mixtures, I choose the card of intention for happiness and adventure, which is paired with the essence oils of geranium bourbon, lavender vera and spearmint, made by a Sedona company called Body Bliss.

Bazzill then dry brushes my body, and gives me a wonderful massage with the essence oils I’d chosen. My intention to have a happy day is certainly being realized.

Spa treatment costs average about $150 an hour for various massages and facials. More exotic specialty services — including Ayurvedic treatments, aquawork, energetic sessions and readings — can go up to $370 for 90 minute sessions. Day packages offer lower pricing alternatives.

Mii amo (Yuman for “journey”) was built around a room called the Crystal Grotto, designed to look like a Native American kiva, a place of ceremony and transformation. Crystals are placed in the four directions — North, South, East and West — and elements of Earth, Water, Fire and Air are present in the room.

The placement of the room was designed so that at noon on the Summer Solstice, sunlight falls on the quartz crystal in the center of the room, causing rays of light to dance around the ceiling.

A meditation time is offered in the Crystal Grotto at the end of the day, which I thought was a lovely idea. Unfortunately, when I sit and close my eyes, the woman who leads the guided meditation has a voice that embodies dour depression. Pure silence would have been so much better.

As I walk back to my room, I enjoy the sounds of nature and the falling temperature. A hint of the coming winter is in the air, and I’m happy to turn on the gas fireplace in the casita for a little cheer.

The rooms are nicely appointed, but the walls are thin. I can hear rock music blaring from the room on one side, and water flowing through the pipes of the bathroom next door on the other side.

The nicest touch of the evening turndown service is getting little “thought for the day” cards, which share inspirational words by Native Americans. Tonight’s card says, “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is in the little shadows that run across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. – Crowfoot, Blackfoot Warrior 1830-1890.”

As I think about my first day, I’m reminded that no one can tell us what direction to go in our lives. The hopes, dreams, and fears that we all carry inside are known only to us. So wherever we choose to go, it’s easier to get there when we set the intention. Since I chose a card today reflecting happiness and adventure, I fully expect that that is what I will find along the way.

Next: Connecting with inner wisdom

November 5, 2010

When a stroke changes your life…

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Relationships, Spirituality, Women at 7:38 pm by dinaheng

My dear friend Susan Swan is one of those women who live in grace. No matter what happens, she encourages others to stay centered, see the positive, and trust in divine goodness.

As a yoga instructor, breast cancer survivor, and a grandmother who delivered two of her grandchildren when the midwife was late, Susan is an inspiration to everyone she meets.

This June, in the middle of teaching a yoga class, Susan suffered a stroke.

“I knew something was wrong, and at first, I was dizzy,” recalls Susan, 66, speaking slowly as we share dinner in her kitchen at home in Los Angeles. “I tried to get my head up, and the next thing I can remember was my daughter-in-law saying something’s wrong.

“They put me in an ambulance, and I (understood) little tiny bits. I remember a doctor, and seeing (my children) Barnaby and Jeff. I knew something was pretty bad because they looked so awful. I didn’t get that I couldn’t speak at first because I was thinking the words in my head.”

Doctors diagnosed arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm that caused a blood clot to go up into the brain.

Because of her breast cancer, Susan does not have health insurance, and since she did not file paperwork for Medicare on time, she is financially responsible for most of her medical bills. Medicare will cover only a portion of her hospital stay. While she is unable to work, family and friends have rallied to provide a safety net.

Using, her daughter Barnaby created a community calendar of tasks that all could contribute to. People prepared meals, provided transportation for  medical visits, and helped with speech therapy homework.

“I have apraxia,” Susan says. “I know what I want to do, but the brain paths have to be made new. When I was in intensive care, I was trying to put water in a plant, and it went everywhere. I also have aphasia. I know the thoughts, but it’s hard to get them out.”

Her progress over the last five months has been remarkable. She can do most physical tasks like putting on earrings or pouring water now, and has started reading and writing again. She sees a speech therapist twice a week, and goes to a support group for people who have aphasia.

“Almost everybody (in the group) is so lovely, and only two people seem bitter,” Susan says. “One girl just keeps saying she wants to travel, and she can’t drive. So she goes everywhere with the bus. It’s frustrating sometimes. It’s hard to make yourself clear in a store or something, if people aren’t patient.”

But as Susan adds, “Okay, so you can’t speak. Don’t let it keep you from doing what you want to do. People say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ but it’s just another yoga. Everybody has something they’re dealing with. Not being able to speak… is it better or worse than everybody else and what they’re facing?”

She is determined to regain the life she enjoyed before her stroke, saying, “I’m going to do all of it. It’ll just take a while.”

More than anything, she is grateful for her family and friends. In a world where health care costs more than the air we breathe, a sudden loss of health and income could be devastating for any of us. And in the convoluted bureaucracy of a health care system that no one seems willing to fix, it’s easy to get lost.

“I am so lucky to be surrounded by love,” Susan says. “I really don’t have to say all the things going on in my brain. You look at people, and learn a lot about them. It’s a whole other way of seeing.”

That’s the kind of grace that defines a remarkable woman.

If you’d like to make a contribution to the Susan Swan Fund, you may do so through PayPal, or with a check.

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Checks made out to Susan Swan Fund can be sent to:

c/o Barnaby Murff, 1015 Keniston Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90019