June 19, 2016

Random Acts… Meet three memorable men in Florence, Italy

Posted in Dining, Spirituality, Travel at 10:15 pm by dinaheng

Dinah EngThe best part of any journey, for me, is talking with the locals, who know the best eateries, the best shops, and the places that define the soul of a city. On a recent trip to Italy with my sister, we met three memorable men in Florence. Their stories reveal the three best reasons to visit the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region – the Renaissance artistry, the warmth of the people, and the wonderful food.

The Maestro of alchemy and jewels

Hidden amid the narrow streets of the Oltrarno neighborhood is an unusual artisan workshop that takes you back in time to the Italian Renaissance. Housed in the 15th Century Palazzo Nasi-Quaratesi, jeweler-sculptor Alessandro Dari’s atelier has been recognized by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage as a Museo Bottega (museum workshop).

Walking into the small showroom, I’m dazzled by all the intricate pieces of handcrafted gold jewelry and small sculptures made of precious metals in the display cases. Collections called “The Keeper of the Soul,” “Alchemy & Magic,” and “Space & Time” tickle the imagination, making me want to meet the artist who created them.

After a few minutes, the maestro himself appears, clad in dark clothes and an industrial apron. Dari, who speaks little English, smiles with warmth and gives me a look at his workbench area. His fianceé Antonella, who speaks some English, serves as the interpreter.

“Alchemy was born centuries ago in China, Arabia, and Europe,” says Dari, pointing to various pieces around his laboratory. “In alchemy, the material has a soul. When you work with the material, you discover its soul.”

Alessandro Dari holds a sword designed to honor the practice of alchemy. Photo courtesy of Alessandro Dari.

Alessandro Dari holds a sword designed to honor the practice of alchemy. Photo courtesy of Alessandro Dari.

Dari, who made his first ring at age 16, studied chemistry at the University of Siena, intending to become a pharmacist. But a fascination with metalworking led him down another path. Today, his work is exhibited at the Silver Museum in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti and at the Cathedral Museum in Fiesole.

He teaches several students in the back of his workshop, using “sacred geometry” as the basis of his teachings. In other words, God created the universe with a geometric plan, and in the alchemic philosophy, he explains, “God and gold are the same. One lives in your soul, and the other in the material.”

Listening to him speak in Italian, I wish I could understand first hand what he was saying. One of the things that travel teaches you, though, is that when there is a will to communicate, there is a way. With each question I ask, the couple struggles to understand me, and shares the answers they think I am looking for.

Antonella explains that the techniques Dari uses stem from the Etruscan, Classical, Gothic and Renaissance periods. He takes particular pride in his “Collezione Castelli” (Castles Collection), where the architecture of castles was celebrated in his jewelry.

It’s amazing to know that everything from melting metals to engraving and the setting of stones is done in the tiny workspace behind the showroom. As I get ready to leave, the master goldsmith shares one last thought.

“Everything I do is about the elevation of the soul,” Dari says. “When the work is finished, I put every piece in a collection. I don’t know why themes emerge. It is something I feel inside. The point of life is to share emotion.”

Alessandro Dari’s museum workshop is at Via San Niccolo 115r, Florence, Italy 50125; Phone: +39 055 244747; http://www.alessandrodari.com/en/.

The Concierge

“Bene! Bene!” You can’t help but beam as Paolo Mori, concierge at the Hotel Lungarno, gives you an approving smile when you make a request, or take one of his recommendations. This is a man who could sell bottled sunshine because his heart is so open.

One afternoon, he tells my sister and me about an artisan workshop near the hotel. Rather than just give directions through the labyrinthine streets, he walks us through the neighborhood. Along the way, he shares the story of his life.

On one block, he points to the apartment building where he grew up. His father has passed on, but “my mommy is home now,” Mori says, happily. “I go to see her every couple of weeks, and she still cooks for me. She was a chef in a restaurant in Florence, so we ate well.”

The Oltrarno neighborhood of his childhood was a quieter place where he and his friends would play soccer in the street because there were no cars, tourists, or pollution to contend with. The cobblestone streets are still lined with small shops that the locals patronize. We stop in front of a local cobbler’s store.

Hotel Lungarno Concierge Paolo Mori. Photo by Dinah Eng.

Hotel Lungarno Concierge Paolo Mori. Photo by Dinah Eng.

“Here, they make handmade shoes,” Mori says. “When I was a kid, I would sit in that window, pretending to make shoes. It was great fun.” A few more feet and we cross the street. “And that’s where I went to church!” he exclaims. “On Sundays, we would visit the museums.”

He is proud of the neighborhood he calls home, and while he didn’t become a cobbler, he did try several other trades. He worked for a retailer, as a waiter, and tried plumbing before deciding to go into the hotel business. In 1997, he joined the Hotel Lungarno as a porter, was promoted to doorman, then concierge.

“I love my work,” Mori says. “Florence is my home, and I love to welcome everyone to my town. Every day is different because you don’t know who’s standing in front of you. It’s a universe of people from different countries and different perspectives.

“You have to figure out who’s in front of you, and what they’re looking for, in order to help welcome them. Florence is a warm town. It’s not Milan, where people are professional and stay cold.”

The oddest question he’s ever had from a guest? “One woman asked, where are the gondolas?” he says, laughing. “They are, as you know, in Venice. She was visiting so many different Italian cities that when we told her, she laughed, too.”

Mori has a fondness for America, having visited the United States on his honeymoon. He raves about the sights he took in at the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles. “Bellisimo!” he says.

Today, his wife works at IKEA in Florence, and they have an 11-year-old daughter. The family lives in the city suburbs, but Mori still loves the Oltrarno neighborhood of his youth.

“I love every single corner, because every corner has a secret, or something particular that only those who live here see every day,” Mori says. “A lot of the historical shops have been replaced by tourist shops and commercial places. Fortunately, Florence is still a wonderful town. Perfecto!”

The Oltrarno (meaning “the other side of the Arno”) neighborhood, lies south of the Arno River in Florence. Known as a historic, working-class neighborhood, the area is filled with local restaurants, small artisan workshops, and antique shops. Hotel Lungarno, Borgo San Jacopo 14, Florence, Italy 50125; Phone: +39 055 27261; http://www.lungarnocollection.com/hotel-lungarno.

The Food Connoisseur

One rainy afternoon, it was time for lunch at Irene Firenze, the restaurant inside the historic Hotel Savoy off the Piazza della Repubblica, The menu is different than most places in town, so Paul Feakes, the restaurant manager, stops to chat and explain why.

“We designed a menu for women,” Feakes says. “Men enjoy it, too, but we were very aware that people’s tastes and needs have changed. So while the menu is authentically Tuscan, the dishes are lighter, healthier, and address a number of allergies and intolerances. Vegan, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, whatever you need.”

Irene (the name of hotel founder Sir Rocco Forte’s mother) was chosen to give the restaurant a feminine feel, rather than a masculine title that might suggest a bar.

“Tuscan food is traditionally very heavy and very meat-based,” Feakes explains. “Considering a female palate enabled us to get creative with the menu. As a result, we’ve seen huge growth in both Italian diners and new international faces.”

Paul Feakes, restaurant manager of Irene Firenze. Photo courtesy of Rocco Forte Hotels.

Paul Feakes, restaurant manager of Irene Firenze. Photo courtesy of Rocco Forte Hotels.

Feakes, who has lived in Italy for seven years, is a food connoisseur whose journey has taken him around the globe. Feakes started in the catering industry in Great Britain, moved to work in California, then to an ashram mountain community in India, two hours north of Mumbai, where he cooked for about 300 people.

Eventually, he returned to the UK, where he helped to grow catering brands and re-styled food operations in the House of Commons when he was recruited to open Portcullis House, a building in Westminster that houses members of Parliament and their staff.

After a slight detour to become a psychotherapist, Feakes, and his partner of 21 years, gave everything up to move to Florence in 2009, looking for a total life change. There, Feakes started a private cooking school and opened an art gallery in Northern Tuscany’s Pietrasanta.

“I devised a way to put my creativity, my love of food, and my need for another adventure together by teaching English through the medium of cooking,” he explains. “This led to teaching at the Savoy, and I returned to my roots of pure food and beverage when I took over as restaurant manager for Irene.”

Moving to Italy suits the food connoisseur, who learned to speak Italian gradually as he acclimated to his new home. “I make mistakes, of course, but I like to think that I make beautiful mistakes, or make mistakes beautifully,” he jokes.

He sees food changing in Florence and Italy in many ways, and dislikes the trend toward over-complicating traditional dishes. For his taste, Tuscan food should be simple, seasonal and flavorful. A simple bruschetta with wonderful fresh tomatoes under the Tuscan sunshine, he notes, is divine.

Yes, there are cultural differences between England and Italy, but Feakes is more than happy where he is.

“For me the Italian culture fits how I wish to live,” Feakes says. “I miss things from England — a great beer in a country pub and our sense of humor. But I just love life here – being outside under the sunshine, and the rhythm of the life. I feel like a new Florentine, not like a foreigner in a strange town.”

Irene Firenze, Piazza della Repubblica 7, Florence, Italy 50123; Phone: +39 055 27351; https://www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/hotel-savoy/restaurant-and-bar/.














January 1, 2016

Random Acts… Newest “Star Wars” awakens nothing

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies, Spirituality at 3:48 am by dinaheng

I am a mild “Star Wars” fanatic.

I’ve seen the original three episodes more than a dozen times. (Sorry, George, but the prequels just don’t compare to your first three.) I’ve read “Star Wars” novels galore, and looked forward to seeing the newest film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Sadly, director J.J. Abrams’ effort was more a snoozer than a film that awakens the Force.

Dinah EngIn “Star Wars: A New Hope,” I’ll never forget Obi-Wan Kenobi, explaining what The Force was to young Luke Skywalker, sharing a vision of spirituality that touched a generation. That mythology inspired devoted fans to become Jedi knights, and even if you dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween, you knew the difference between the Light and the Dark side of things.

This new narrative never explains what The Force is to viewers who have not seen previous “Star Wars” films. There are no climactic moments that give you the chills because the narrative is devoid of a storyline that is greater than a popcorn action flick.

And that is a shame, because we need reminders that the future is not doomed to become the dystopian society of young adult novels, which form the basis of most movies today.

The best thing about this newest film is the casting. By giving starring roles to a black man (John Boyega as Finn), a woman (Daisy Ridley as Rey) and a Latino (Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron) – all of whom are delightful to watch — diversity is now more than a passing nod in the “Star Wars” universe.

Obviously, Abrams wanted to pay homage to the original tale, but “The Force Awakens” is so derivative of the 1977 film that it does nothing to move the story forward.

“The Force Awakens” is the first feature produced by the Walt Disney Co., which purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. Its formulaic premise is clearly designed to drum up attendance at “Star Wars” theme park rides, sell merchandise, and increase commercial licensing opportunities.

The torch has been passed to a new generation of “Star Wars” characters, and Disney is sure to make big bucks off the franchise.

We can only hope that The Force inspires future filmmakers to do a better job of carrying on the true legacy of “Star Wars.”




November 29, 2015

Random Acts… Angels live among us

Posted in Health, Spirituality at 10:46 pm by dinaheng

When my nephew Mark was born, most friends would look delighted at the news. Then, when they learned that he had Down Syndrome, the first words they’d utter would be, “I’m sorry.”

After it happened two or three times, I started getting angry. I knew that people were trying to express sympathy for a child who would face many challenges in life, but they had no idea of the joy that lives in his heart.

As a toddler, Mark would stand and hold onto the side of the sofa, swaying to the beat of whatever music he heard. Before he could utter a word, he was dancing.Dinah Eng

Every holiday season, this is the child who reminds me that angels live among us. Down Syndrome can cause speech difficulties, and we can see Mark’s frustration when he’s trying to communicate and can’t get his point across to us. Many people just give up trying to understand others when there’s a communication gap.

But Mark rarely gives up. He keeps talking and talking, and usually finds a way to let us know what he’s thinking. When we just don’t get it, he just sighs and moves on to something else, forgiving those of us with “normal” speech for being too dumb to understand.

You see, Mark is one of the smartest people I know. At 11 years old, he understands sign language, English, Chinese, and a little Spanish. He loves music, and while he’s totally tone deaf, he sings everything with gusto. A couple of years ago, while sitting in a restaurant, he heard Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go,” one of his favorite tunes from the movie “Frozen.”

Without missing a beat, he stood up on the bench seat and starting belting out, “Let it go! Let it go! … Here I stand, in the light of day. Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway!”

Everyone in the restaurant turned to watch, with a smile on every face. Living life with unbridled joy is something Mark teaches every day.

There is so much to admire in my nephew. He’s the kid who wears compassion on his sleeve, wanting to help Grandma put on her socks to stay warm. His sense of humor is constant, telling anyone who asks his age that “I’m 15.” When I asked why he wanted to be 15, he said, “So I can sit in the front seat in the car.”

That’s not to say that challenges don’t exist. When his cousins were younger, they didn’t know what to make of Mark, so would ignore him until an adult urged them to include him in their play. I could see the hurt on Mark’s face, and I hurt inside, too.

Over time, his cousins learned to accept Mark for who he is. Now they play and watch TV together without hesitation.

As he grows older, I know there will be others who don’t take the time to get to know Mark, and it will be their loss.

Angels have a lot to teach us, but only if we recognize them.

April 16, 2015

Random Acts… ‘Empire of Night’ features intrigue and spirits with a cultural twist

Posted in Books, Diversity, Spirituality at 1:29 am by dinaheng

When it comes to exploring the spirit world with characters that have substance and a cultural twist, there’s no turning away.

Fantasy author Kelley Armstrong has written a compelling middle novel in her Age of Legends trilogy that fans of Young Adult fiction will love. “Empire of Night” ($17.99, HARPER) follows the journey of twin sisters Moria and Ashyn, the Keeper and Seeker of Edgewood, as they strive to rescue children held captive by Alvar Kitsune, a warlord who aims to take the emperor’s throne in a game of political subterfuge and lies.Dinah Eng

Aiding the sisters are Prince Tyrus, the emperor’s bastard son and Ronan, a principled thief. We also meet Diago and Tova, the girls’ guardian beasts who take the forms of a huge wildcat and hound; Guin, a resurrected spirit in a teenage girl’s body, and Gavril, the son of Alvar Kitsune, who may or may not be an ally.

The novel has an Asian feel, but unlike books that are steeped in cultural references and stilted dialogue, “Empire of the Night” has seamlessly woven universal personalities into a fantasy world that is both familiar and foreign.

By giving the characters more Western-sounding first names and using English terminology, Armstrong makes it less obvious that the world of this trilogy is based on another culture.

“The impetus for the story is Japan’s Sea of Trees, which naturally made me consider Japan for the world basis,” says Armstrong, who lives in rural Ontario. “I’ve always loved the samurai period, particularly at the end of the classical period, where the emperor is at his peak power, but the shoguns are beginning to rise up.

“That’s the era loosely reflected here. However, because it’s high fantasy, it wouldn’t make sense to use Japanese terminology for anything except the clan names, and that allowed me to show how universal the characters could be.”

"Empire of Night" by Kelley Armstrong.  Photo courtesy of HARPER.

“Empire of Night” by Kelley Armstrong. Photo courtesy of HARPER.

The Sea of Trees is, in actuality, Japan’s Aokigahara forest. The dense wood, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, is thought by Japanese spiritualists to be permeated by the spirits of those who have committed suicide there. The forest is known as being the world’s second most popular place to commit suicide (the first being the Golden Gate Bridge), and about 70 corpses a year are found there annually.

Paranormal activity has been reported in the area, and while suicide is not a topic explored in “Empire of the Night,” there are plenty of references to spirits and ghosts.

Armstrong says anything about the afterlife fascinates, and terrifies, us because it’s the next big step.

“Ghosts are one possibility for that ‘what if’ we don’t move on, but remain in this world, yet are not truly part of this world,” she notes. “Most cultures have some variation on the concept of those who stay behind. As for me, I’ve never had any kind of encounter, despite purposely visiting places that are, supposedly, very haunted!”

I’ve never seen any apparitions, either, but have felt their presence at funerals and in other places. I believe that life is ever-present and ever evolving, and that the energy of our spirits never ceases to exist. What probably scares most of us more than the hereafter, though, is creating the lives we want in the here and now.

Like all of us, Armstrong’s heroines — Moria and Ashyn – must come to terms with the roles they were born into, while figuring out how to create the lives they wish to lead.

The identical twins, the author says, “represent two of the most common ‘types’ we see in fantasy-fiction — the butt-kicking girl and the quiet, intellectual one; the warrior and the princess.”

While each are strong young women, it will no doubt take both to save the children of Edgewood, and the empire they live in. “Empire of Night” is a novel that could stand alone in this trilogy, but like all good stories, it will leave you wanting more.

March 20, 2015

Random Acts… You are a blessing

Posted in Business, Relationships, Spirituality, Women at 4:59 pm by dinaheng

My friend Christine is an angel. No matter what happens in life, she invariably thinks of the feelings of others.

One day, she thought about an old Reader’s Digest article that talked about a teacher who had a somewhat unruly class. To change people’s attitudes, the teacher had everyone write the names of all the students in the class on separate pieces of paper.Dinah Eng

Underneath each name, the assignment was to write down something you liked about that person. Each person then got the slips of paper with their names on it. Imagine how good each student felt to read all that positive feedback. And yes, doing that exercise changed the entire class’s demeanor – toward each other and, no doubt, toward themselves.

Christine decided to do something similar to brighten the lives of the people she meets.

She printed up some business-size cards with the message, “Thank you! I appreciate you and the way you have helped me today. Life is full of blessings, and you are one of them. Christine.”

“I give them out to waiters, people who hold the elevator open for me, anyone who’s done a good deed,” says Christine, a former space biologist for NASA who lives outside Nashville, Tenn. “I carry them in my wallet, and try to spread them out as much as possible. I just thought it might help people who are having a bad day.”You are a blessing card

The responses she’s gotten are more than gratifying.

“I gave one to the receptionist at a doctor’s office, and she clutched it to her chest with tears in her eyes,” Christine says. “She must have been having a really bad day, and needed it.”

Christine’s act of kindness is a reminder of how much we all need to be valued and appreciated, whether it’s through a smile, a kind word, or the gift of a blessing card.

We all have the power to affect the attitudes and behavior of those around us. We can set a tone of respect around ourselves that ripples out into the world.

Imagine, as Christine does, a business environment where managers and employees take the time to verbally appreciate and thank each other for the things they do every day. How would that change people’s attitudes about their colleagues? How would that change attitudes about going to work every day, and the quality of customer service then provided?

Imagine a Congress and White House where government officials looked first at what they admire in other people, rather than judge others by nothing more than a party name.

How would the world change if churches, mosques, and synagogues respected the highest values in each other’s faith, without trying to make everyone else adhere to their beliefs?

Christine’s friendship is a cherished blessing in my life. If her blessing card inspires you to pass some kindness along, please write and let me know. The more good stories we share, the more the world will change… for the better.

October 31, 2014

Random Acts… Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” begins

Posted in Entertainment, Movies, Spirituality at 10:59 pm by dinaheng

If you’re ready for a little holiday cheer, check out the start of the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” this weekend, which marks the beginning of the network’s annual original Christmas movie offerings and other holiday fare for the season.

This year’s programming starts and ends with two TV movies that celebrate the attraction of opposites who find love in unexpected circumstances. On Saturday, Nov. 1, “One Starry Christmas” premieres at 8 p.m. Eastern with the tale of an astronomy professor who meets a charming cowboy on her way to New York City to surprise her boyfriend and family for Christmas.Dinah Eng

“I love the combination of bringing the cowboy into the city,” says Lewis B. Chesler, executive producer of “One Starry Christmas.” “She’s a woman who teaches astronomy, and he’s lived outdoors all his life. The stars have always had meaning for him, so it’s a meeting of opposites.”

It’s also an opportunity for Holly Jensen (played by Sarah Carter) to see the difference between being with Luke (Damon Runyan), a rodeo cowboy who supports her dreams, and Adam (Paul Popowich), a lawyer who wants Holly to support his ambitions.

For as Holly’s mom (Kathleen Laskey) notes, “The world has enough mediocrity. Love shouldn’t be included.”

Sarah Carter and Damon Runyan star it "One Starry Christmas." Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Christos Kalohoridis.

Sarah Carter and Damon Runyan star it “One Starry Christmas.”
Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Christos Kalohoridis.

Chesler, who works in partnership with David M. Perlmutter as Chesler/Perlmutter Productions, says Christmas is about sharing time with family and the people we love. While “One Starry Christmas” brings a country boy to the city, the film, “The Christmas Parade,” which debuts Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern, will close Hallmark’s holiday movies with another opposites attract premise.

When morning host Hailee Anderson (AnnaLynne McCord ), who’s lacking the Christmas spirit, finds herself humiliated on air by Jason Keppler (Drew Scott), her fiancé who’s always looking for the next deal. When she runs to a small town to escape the notoriety of her celebrity, she inspires Beck Thomas (Jefferson Brown), a trucker, to rekindle his dreams of being a painter, and helps to save a community art center for the town’s kids,

“There, you have a city personality who goes to the country,” Chesler explains. “This time, the woman finds satisfaction and value when people respond to her for her human qualities, and not her celebrity.”

Chesler, who studied cultural history at Amherst College, joined the Peace Corps before becoming artistic director of the Long Beach Performing Arts Centre in the mid-1970s. He moved into television with a series of variety shows, and created “The Hitchhiker” series for HBO.

Drew Scott and AnnaLynne McCord star in "The Christmas Parade." Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Peter H. Stranks

Drew Scott and AnnaLynne McCord star in “The Christmas Parade.” Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Peter H. Stranks

“I jokingly say that I never became the lawyer my mother wanted,” says Chesler, who became a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen. “I like to tell stories, and our production company is based in Canada and the United States. During the holidays, we Canadians love to celebrate Christmas. After all, we’re really close to the North Pole.”

More than 70 holiday movies will air on the Hallmark Channel over the next two months, and if Santa has his way, viewers will be reminded of what’s really important in life – not just during the season of love and giving – but all yearlong.

For more information, check out http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/.




January 27, 2014

Random Acts… the words that matter

Posted in Entertainment, Spirituality at 2:21 am by dinaheng

It’s premiere night of Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem” in Santa Monica. Neil Patrick Harris is holding one of his twin boys, shaking hands with someone in the row behind him. Allison Janney is making her way down the aisle, along with other celebrities who have come to enjoy the evening’s incredible acrobatic acts, slapstick clown humor, and thoughtful commentary on the journey of Man as a human species.  The air is filled with excitement as wonder unfolds on the stage.

At intermission, I stand in line at the nearest “restroom” outside the Grand Chapiteau of blue and yellow tents. Not surprisingly, Cirque boasts the best in outdoor facilities. This unisex restroom is actually a small trailer with everything you’d expect in a restaurant restroom. Since the trailer is outfitted for single use, there’s a long line, but lots of people watching to do while you wait.Dinah Eng

Behind me, a boy who looks to be about three or four, is valiantly trying to hold it as the line slowly moves.  His dad encourages him now and then, saying, “You’re doing great, buddy. You can hold it. There’s just seven people ahead of us now.”

In front of me are a trio of teenage girls, giggling and snapping selfies with their cell phones. They make note of a fifty-something man, standing in front of a lifesize “Totem” poster, who’s trying to smile and take a selfie, as well.  Then, their commentary moves to another “Totem” poster, where a little boy is awkwardly trying to pose for his mom’s camera by pretending to be an acrobat.

“Duh,” says one of the teenage girls. “He could at least stand on one foot or something.” Her friends agree, making several unkind remarks about the boy.

Suddenly, the man behind me says, “That’s my son you’re talking about.” The three teens freeze in embarrassment.

After a long pause, the man adds, “Nah.  He’s not my kid.” The girls sigh with relief as he notes, “But you never know who’s listening when you talk.”

The girls went about their business and left. Who knows if they’ll remember the impromptu lesson in manners. But when I got to the head of the line, I let the fellow and his son go ahead of me.

“Oh, thank you!” said the dad, rushing his boy into the trailer. “I really appreciate this.”

Every good deed should be rewarded.

September 13, 2013

Intuitive shares insights into people’s lives

Posted in Between Us column, Spirituality, Women at 5:00 pm by dinaheng

Intuition is inside everyone, but we don’t always listen to what our inner knowing says to us. For Joan Marie Whelan, helping others to tap into their intuitive selves and heal at the core of their souls is a personal mission.

Whelan, who graduated from Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va. with a triple major in broadcast journalism, psychology and Spanish, was in a head-on car collision in her 20s that left her with severe anxiety attacks, short-term memory loss for six months, and a hairline fracture to her spine.Dinah Eng

“I was in physical therapy and cognitive development therapy for three years,” Whelan recalls. “The experience brought up every issue I had, and a fear of being out in the world, which was not who I was. I’d been an outgoing, adventurous person, yet I withdrew from the world for eight years. My body didn’t tolerate any medicines. I believe the accident happened so I could heal my soul at a deep level.”

Whelan began studying past life regression, inner child work, and the relationship between body, mind and spirit.

“I’m perfectly fine on the physical level now, after a very long journey,” says Whelan, 46, who resides in Sarasota, Fla. “Through it all, my intuition and awareness came full throttle. I could be standing next to someone, they wouldn’t say a word, and I could see everything going on in their head. I had to learn how to create a boundary between seeing people and going on with my own life.”

The intuitive woman went on to become a business intuitive coach, life coach and consultant for individuals, writing “Soul Discovery… 9 Principles for Revealing Your Sacred Gifts” ($24.95) — also available as a Kindle download for $9.48 — and “My Sacred Journal” ($21.95), a companion journal.

Whelan says she helps clients with emotional, physical and financial problems, encouraging them to grow and heal on deep levels by understanding their soul’s purpose.

“Everyone has the choice to open up their intuition,” Whelan says. “I’m a believer in meditation, listening to the highest manifestation of Divine Love, whatever that means to you. Your vibration is a like a light bulb, and it’s up to you to develop higher wattages.”

She notes that we are living today in a masculine society where the mind dominates, shutting down the feminine side of ourselves, which is heart-centered.

“A lot of people are not comfortable with their emotions, so they become fearful of their intuitive side,” Whelan says. “But intuition is your truth. It’s about seeing your greatest needs, and allowing them to be met.”

When it comes to working with businesses, Whelan’s clients may hire her to help identify the best people to work with on various projects.

Photo of Joan Marie Whelan by Joe Henson.

Photo of Joan Marie Whelan by Joe Henson.

“I helped to negotiate a $1.3 billion deal with a client who brought different companies together to pool their money to buy real estate and create other projects that would bring many new jobs to the economy,” Whelan says. “My client wanted to get the right people involved, so consulted with me on who was greedy, and who could be trusted.

“People didn’t know I was involved in any way. I do help people become multi-millionaires — but my goal is not to just help someone make money. My goal is to help people build a solid foundation, build a successful team, and come from a place of wholeness — not a place of greed, doing things only to make money.  If our only goal was to be rich in money, we would be very poor in spirit.”

When it comes to personal growth, Whelan says it’s important to honor the wholeness of who you are.

“So many people are bruised or hurt because of something someone said or did,” she says. “They go around striving externally to be something. Yet what you’re seeking to be is yourself. It’s tough not to feel unworthy in life. Being vulnerable is where the shame is dissolved. Becoming more intuitive and allowing ourselves to forgive others is what leads to our healing.”

She notes that there are many skeptics in the world who call intuitive people “crazy” or “witches,” but what critics are really doing is denying the innate wisdom within themselves to avoid facing their own fear of the unknown.

“Certainly, there are times when predictions don’t come true,” Whelan says. “We have free will, and sometimes, the timing of predictions are off because an individual might not be ready to have something happen. I’ve had people tell me I’m going to be married with kids for the last 10 years. So where is he?”

She laughs, adding, “Sometimes, we’re not supposed to see everything.”

For more information, check out http://www.joanmariewhelan.com on the Internet.

August 8, 2013

Dance visionary finds spirituality in her art

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Spirituality at 5:39 am by dinaheng

Joy, sorrow, anger, pride… whatever emotion you can think of, has been choreographed by Lula Washington.

Washington, the founder and artistic director of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, is a leader in the world of movement, creating a repertoire company that performs experimental works and taps into the spirit of African-American dance. In 1983, she    started her own dance school, offering low cost and free dance classes to neighborhood children through an after-school program called “I Do Dance, Not Drugs!” in Los Angeles.Dinah Eng

The choreographer, known for fusing African and Afro-Haitian dance styles, will bring her magic to “An Evening of Dance: Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Lula Washington Dance Theatre” this Saturday, Aug. 10 in the Ford Theatre’s Inaugural Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series, benefitting the Ford Theatre Foundation.

The Ford Theatre, owned and operated by the County of Los Angeles, offers a diverse slate of programming, which has been championed by L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

“Zev raised funds to renovate the Ford, and my husband was talking to him about his connection to art,” Washington says. “Zev said when he was younger, he had a job turning the page for the conductor, and whenever he looked up, he could see the ballet on stage.”

So Washington created a tribute called “Turn the Page,” which will premiere Saturday night.

Lula Washington.  Photo by Frances Dowdy.

Lula Washington. Photo by Frances Dowdy.

“What the page meant is different for every dancer on stage,” she says. “I’m inspired by things that happen globally, and in my community, and do works from my thoughts and feelings about it. As I was working with this piece, the Trayvon Martin verdict happened. I couldn’t let it go without being addressed.

“Some people were distressed and angered, and took to the streets to march to show their dissatisfaction. For many people, and from my point of view, here again was another injustice done to an African American. My creative release was part of ‘Turn the Page.’”

The woman who choreographed Disney’s “The LIttle Mermaid” movie and created the cultural/ritual movements and various sequences in James Cameron’s movie “Avatar,” says dance is a spiritual art form.

“You go through emotions, your body is twisted and turned, and your sweat is left on the dance floor,” Washington says. “It’s therapeutic and has a natural, healing power, and is prayerful. What I love about dance is that it allows the shyest person to express themselves through movement.

“I think there’s movement with everyone from the tiniest to the oldest, as long as there’s the will to move. So many people are shy to dance because they’re afraid of looking silly and what people will think. But those of us who love it don’t care. You need to move to have longevity. It’s just joyous.”

Dancers with the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Photo by Ian Foxx.

Dancers with the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Photo by Ian Foxx.

April 25, 2013

Giving aid to homeless becomes a passion

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Spirituality, Women at 12:41 am by dinaheng

About 20 years ago. Pearl Huber would take her sons — then ages 3, 5 and 7 — to a Los Angeles neighborhood park to play. While the kids ran on the playground, Huber noticed that homeless families were living there at night.

That December, the Hubers decided to bring Christmas to two families in the park, so Pearl, her husband Terry, and their sons wrapped up food, toiletries and some gifts to take to the families who had none.Dinah Eng

“It made quite an impact on the boys,” says Huber, who was a stay-at-home mom at the time. “After that, we starting doing things at Thanksgiving, Easter, and other holidays, and it made us aware of how many homeless are out there. We started keeping sack lunches in our car to give out. We’d make a peanut butter sandwich, and put it with an apple, a toothbrush, and a bar of soap.”

In 2008, Huber decided to establish a 501(c)(3) non-profit to expand the family’s outreach to more homeless people, and HopeMill, Inc. was born.

“HopeMill’s named after my mom,” explains Huber, executive director of the organization. “My maiden name is Hope, and her name was Mildred. Her brother always called her Mill. She was born in China, where her parents were Lutheran missionaries, and lived there until she was 12. She returned to China as a missionary in her 20s.”

Clearly, the desire to help others was passed down to Huber, who shows what one woman can do to make a difference in the lives of many whom society ignores. From two families in a park, HopeMill has grown to help an estimated 2,000 homeless people a year.

Volunteers with Adat Ari El in Valley Village, Calif. assemble Hope Mill CarePacks for a Mitzvah Day project.

Volunteers with Adat Ari El in Valley Village, Calif. assemble Hope Mill CarePacks for a Mitzvah Day project.

Based in Encino, Calif., the non-profit puts together backpacks filled with essentials that are distributed to homeless individuals, missions, and shelters in California. Essentials include items like non-perishable food, water, hygiene packets with toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap, bandages, toothbrush, blanket, and more.

“It’s the kind of things you’d need if you were suddenly without a home,” Huber notes. “People assume there are resources, and if people wanted to get off the street, they could. But that’s not the case. Here, there are probably fewer than 900 shelter beds available in the San Fernando Valley, and more than 7,000 homeless people in need.”

She says while there’s a stereotype of the homeless being drug addicts or alcoholics, most do not fall in that category, and would love to find a way out of their predicament. Homelessness affects families with young children, teens, veterans… in other words, everyone. The reasons run the gamut from job loss, foreclosures, domestic violence to you name it.

“It doesn’t take much to make someone homeless,” Huber says. “A house could burn down, or a medical catastrophe could bankrupt you. We carry a couple of backpacks in our car, and one day, I met a woman in a gas station who was clearly trying to wash up there, so I gave her one. She started to cry, saying no one had ever given her anything before.”

Hope Mill CarePack includes donated essentials.

Hope Mill CarePack includes donated essentials.

Giving to the homeless, wherever you are, could be such an easy thing. All it takes is noticing a need, and stopping to help. Not everyone will care enough to start an organization like HopeMill, but every act of kindness makes a tangible difference.

“I know we’re not going to change the world by doing this,” Huber says. “But if we can help someone a little, it matters. It’s a small thing that can touch many people.”

To make a cash or in-kind donation to HopeMill, check out http://www.hopemill.com/.

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