Keeping The Faith In Hollywood!

Keeping The Faith In Hollywood!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas At Ecclesia 2011

The First Sunday of Advent: 11-27-11
It was the First Sunday of Advent and the cutest little family said the scriptures and lit the first candle at church today. The sermon was more of the This Is Ecclesia series from the Book of Acts 8:26-40. Praise and worship also rocked!

Then I bit the bullet and volunteered to be in the Christmas choir among truly gifted singers and a few professionals (did I mention that I can't even read music-lol). The choir director, the assistant choir director and the church's musical director have chosen an eclectic group of Christmas songs with an old world feel, 2 of which I never even heard of before but instantly loved.

I confessed my lack of musical and note reading skills and my life long insecurity about singing contro-alto or near the range of the male tenors but I was gently re-assured and guided through each song (Thanks MC and MM!). Plus, there were 2 other skilled female singers singing tenor so I was good-lol. We practiced for about 2 hours then disbanded until practice next Sunday. They also got all our e-mail addresses so they could send us music clips of our respective parts and the sheet music with the notes all by e-mail, which was cool (go Gen X and Gen Y).

Then I drifted into the lobby to drop off some extra decorated wreaths that I had and I found that they were already decorating the church. I helped what little I could with the decorating and even got to decorate a small tree near my Kenya Kids art pieces. We wrapped up at church at about 3 pm then I passed down Hollywood Blvd. I saw people lining the streets and tents and seats being set up and I remembered that the annual Hollywood Christmas parade was scheduled for today. I didn't get home 'til nearly 6 pm because of the diverted traffic and other complications. My back was going crazy and the pain was way off the charts! Thank God I had my Christmas music the entire time and, luckier still, that I had a long dip in a hot jacuzzi after-lol.

The Alternative Christmas Market:
The Alternative Christmas Market at Ecclesia will be on Dec 3rd this year in its new locale in the outside garden space so it's going to be bigger and better (weather allowing). This is a lovely and novel shopping event for Christmas gifts and it has many jewelry, scarfs, belts, bracelets, purses and ornaments for sale all made by women from Africa, India and Asia. Last year, we were also able to buy or donate for a cow or chicken for a poor family in a developing country, a perfect gift for that man in your life or your young kids. The market also has opportunities of giving donations to a charity or non-profit right here in LA.

I hope to be able to make some hand made Christmas cards with the other women of the church to send to the kids in Kenya like we did last year. I'm also working on some Christmas cards made from my detailed original artwork of the Kenya Kids. Maybe I can make them into stationary, gifts etc., too. I have the concept and some sketches but I need to get more card stock and envelopes and a cheap printer for the copies. Plus, I decorated my gold wicker Christmas tree in a Kenyan/African safari animal motif and I'll be donating it and most of my Christmas decorations to the Alternative Christmas Market.

***See video of 2010's Alternative Christmas Market on an old blog post.

Update: 12/4/11
Thankfully, the weather was great for 2011's Alternative Christmas Market so I raced to church before 9:00 AM and dropped off the wicker tree at the Kenya Missions' table with other decorations then I gave a small gold wire tree to the Women's Connect table then hurried into church. Pastor Joseph's sermon was called "Imperfect" which was fitting because I was so caught up with getting the trees to the market, I had forgotten it was not only the second Sunday of Advent BUT it was also Communion Sunday. The praise and worship team wrapped everything up with the song "Pure Like You", which I had not heard before but felt to be a lovely song.

I headed to the garden after the service and grabbed some sweets from the Women's Connect table near the garden's entrance gate to the Alternative Christmas Market. Sugared up and 300 calories later, I then visited each of the eight gift stations. New at the market this year was the Heshima organization's charity, which was in a tent. Heshima, which means "smile" in Swahili, is an organization which helps kids with severe developmental and physical disabilities. Many of these children are often abandoned by their families and ostracized by society. Heshima had gorgeous jewelry all hand-made and if you wanted you could donate and get a framed picture of one of the kids you've helped. The frames were wrapped in a giraffe print craft paper which I just loved.

At the Heshima tent, I finally met the Martinez family! Abe and Amy Martinez answered the call of God on their lives and they packed up their 2 kids and moved to Kenya earlier this year. I've been following and praying for them since and following them at

After that, I moved on to another new charity at the market called Oasis and chatted a while. Oasis is a Christian organization that offers after-school programs and activities for under-privileged kids in the Hollywood area. Oasis had a table with a tree ornaments for anyone who wanted to donate money for toys for their kids. I moved on to admired the stuff at Raven+Lily and PATH and the crafts at Ecclesia's Green team's eco-friendly gift wrap table.

I moved on from there to admired the scarfs and T-shirts at the Justice League table then bought their Asante Thank you cards. The Justice League helps with the legal battles of poor women and children around the world especially in sex trafficking cases. I moved on to the CCCO (Community Church) table and bought two small hand-glittered shopping bags decorated with Christmas trees. CCCO is an organization which helps underprivileged kids in the skid row area of LA. The bags were decorated by the kids from the various programs that CCCO runs.

I saw beautiful jewelry at the Kenya table again this year again and they also had colorful safari animals made from flip-flops (you heard me). But I couldn't find earrings to match my necklace because they were practically all sold out of everything. They did have some beautiful fabric brooches remaining though, they were in the shape of flowers and they were all made by the Kenyan women. The mission's team had hung the brooches and earrings on my little tree like ornaments. I was so happy to see the tree go to a good cause and so beautifully adorned as it showcased the jewelry well for sale.

I bought a chocolate cupcake and someone gifted me a donut hole so I was now 500 calories in the hole.;) I was way over budget and over-calorie so I decided not to buy (or eat) anything else and I called it a day.

The 3rd Sunday of Advent: 12-11-11
3rd Sunday of Advent and another cute family read the scripture and lit the 3rd candle. Today's sermon was great, too. There was no choir practice today but we have practice next week Saturday with another practice immediately before Sunday's performance. And we're to practice with the music clips on our own, too.

The fourth Sunday of Advent and another cute family, a daddy and his little girl, The little girl read the scripture and the daddy lit the candle of Peace. Then there was child dedication for 4 kids, aged 6 to 18 months. Pastor Joseph took all the kids in his arms one by one and spoke blessings over the cuties and none of them cried (proving that he has an amazing gift with kids).

Pastor Joseph's sermon was on being a righteous man and the Nativity. We read from the Book of Matthew of how Jesus' earthly father, Joseph, had every right to leave Mary under Jewish law but God intervened and he didn't. And we were reminded that we were dead and enemies of God before Jesus saved us.

Then I performed with the Christmas choir and it was awesome! We performed the first 3 songs from backstage where the acoustics are awesome with an industrial feel and it looked real dramatic cause they had burning candles set up everywhere. Then we did the last 2 songs with the band on the front stage as the choir director asked the church to sing along. Honestly, I was near the drums so I couldn't hear myself or anyone else for that matter so I don't have a clue how we sounded that time. Still, many people commented to me on how lovely the choir's singing was including a nice lady who had a career as an opera singer in New York before relocating back to LA.

They just sent a prelim recording of the choir performing "Lo How the Rose E're Blooming" and it's crazy good! I take absolutely no credit for how well we sounded and I'm still in shock from listening to the recording. That choir is truly amazing as they made me sound good-lol. They also had a professional audiovisual guy videotape everything so I'll post it all here whenever they make it available.

Christmas Eve:
There was no service this Sunday on Christmas Day but I spent a soul-stirring time at church on Christmas Eve. First I got to spend the night with a gifted family of artists and musicians then we were off to church. Like last year's church service, we sang carols and gospel hymns at candle light which always makes me tear up. Then the story of the Nativity was read and discuss from the scriptures. After, I wished as many people as I could "Merry Christmas!" and handed out my gifts to some special people. Then I grabbed some cookies and enjoyed the festivities.

Christmas Day:
I spent Christmas Day at a fellow Ecclesian's apartment near Sycamore. Traffic was bad from Gower to Highland as tons of tourist were enjoying their Christmas there. When I finally got to my friends, I couldn't get in and I couldn't call because I'd left my cell at home. I asked passer-bys to let me borrow their cells to make the call up to my friend's apartment 10 feet sway but no one would let me. One man in particular read me the riot act and sent me on a fictional pay phone search with an attitude reminiscent of the innkeeper who told Joseph and Mary that there was "no room in the in". I thought I would have to go home without having Christmas dinner until I found some tourists from Kazanistan on Hollywood Blvd. who let me used their cell phone. I did then I wished them "God's blessings and Merry Christmas" then waved them good-bye.

I did have an enjoyable time when I finally made it to the Christmas meal and I hung out with Ecclesians film and animation students, actors and people from Europe and both U.S. coasts. We ate, played with the kids and then exchange small gifts (I gifted the Asante :thank you cards I bought at the Alt. Market). Then we talked God and the movie industry pit falls like the casting couch for women and prejudice against Christians.

Am I the only one who celebrates Christmas from October all the way thru to Three Kings Day in January? One year I even celebrated Christmas way into February. My brother came to stay with me for a few days that year and saw my brown, dried up tree, which he had helped me lug home nearly 12 weeks earlier, now shedding pine needles everywhere. My brother freaked. I told him I was just too tired to take it down but the truth was that I had been on call a lot overnight at the hospital for a lot of sad pediatric cases and many of my patients were terribly ill so the tree was really comforting for me to have up as I dealt with it all.

My brother lectured me about fire hazards (even though I wasn't plugging in the tree) then he helped me take all the ornaments off, packed them then dragged the tree down from my hi-rise apartment to the elevator and then to the trash. He said my neighbors were looking at him like he was crazy cause Valentine's Day was in 2 days and there he was lugging a Christmas tree. He also pulled out the vacuum and vacuumed all the pines and tinsel from my carpet in my apartment and then he retraced his steps and vacuumed the needles he left in the outside hallway hoping no evidence was left.

My brother returned to New Jersey but I would still occasionally find traces of tinsel and a few pine needles weeks after he'd left. I'd pick them up and giggle in remembrance of our weird sibling bonding over the dried up old Christmas tree. Boy, do I owe my brother big time for helping me out on that one! But we're even now after that "chicken pox" fiasco in '93-lol. I also have a very funny but poignant Charlie Brown story about how my brother and I bought this Christmas tree at Hechinger's in the first place but I think that I'll save that part for my book.

Merry Christmas y'all and God bless!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gunman's Rampage On Sunset

A real life drama plays out on the streets of Hollywood as a gunman terrorizes Sunset Blvd. at Vine by shooting over 20 bullets in the air and then at many drivers and pedestrian. Weirdly, I was watching it live on TV and all I could say was “Oh, my God! There's my Kinko's and the McDonald's” I hang out after seeing a movie at the ArcLight Theater”. I was due to be in the exact spot of the shooting and so I really started praying then because I know that it was only the grace of God that had kept me away and safe.

Unfortunately, one 40 year old male driver was shot in the neck and later died and 1-2 others had the gunman point the gun at them point blank. Some people, especially the out-of-towners and the foreign tourists, saw the events unfolding but thought it was a movie shoot and stopped to observe it. They soon found that it was not and had the horrific and surreal experience of running for their lives on their vacation.

Thankfully, an armed off-duty police man was in the area and he intervened after calling for back up from a full squad of police who quickly responded. The gunman was fatally shot by the “Good Samaritan” cop after he would not drop a knife he pulled when his gun ran out of bullets. The gunman died at the scene and the police quartered off the area and got reports and video from witnesses.

Police report that the gunman was Tyler Brehm and his friends blame a recent break-up and possible drug use for his rampage. Reports also say that the driver who was shot and killed was John Aterberry, a black music executive turned film producer who had worked with some of the music industry's biggest stars like rappers, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg as well as the late Tupak Shakur. He also worked with popular singers like Christina Aguilera, Brandy, Jessica Simpson and the Spice Girls.

Ironically, Aterberry was said to be producing the Christian film “God's Country” at the time of his death. But, not surprisingly, Sunset Blvd. was back to its weird form of “normal” when I visited the following week after church. Please, pray for Hollywood!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Santa Ana Winds In H'Wood

The Santa Ana winds really reeked havoc in So. California overnight, causing numerous power outages, downed tress, school closures and states of emergencies especially in Pasadena and parts of Glendale. There was even a fire caused by downed power lines in Eagle Rock.

I slept fretfully with the noise of blowing transformers in my head and I was awaken after 4 AM to blaring of a false fire alarm triggered by the repeated power outages and wind so I grabbed my coat and headed outside. A few residents and I dodged swirling leaves and branches in the cold and wind until our trusty firemen came to the rescue (God bless fire-fighters!). The firemen reset the alarm then they were on their way to a busy night of alarms, wind related emergency calls and fire-fighting while I followed the weatherman's advice and stayed safe at home.

Update: 11/7/11
I toured Griffith Park today and was amazed at the size of the fallen tress and many of the sturdier pine trees lost 4-5 feet off their tops. Some of my favorite trees were affected, too including the tall and majestic, "Purple Lady" and "Narls Barkly lost a limb. "Teacup", a stocky, short pine, was okay as was "V" and "Breakfast" as they are maples. I guess this will encourage me to finally head to the park and sketch and/or paint these lovely trees before anything else happens.

The power is still out in Pasadena over a week after the Santa Ana winds. Apparently the restoration of downed lines is going very very slowly and people report difficulties keeping and preparing food and staying warm at home without power as the temps drop into the 40s at night. People are saying that the power company for the area, Con Edison has been slow and unresponsive and many peoples are understandably upset. All this reminds me of Hurricane season at home and our "wonderful" power company so I'm all prepared with flashlights, radio, batteries, stored water, food etc.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oscar's Contemporary Documentary Series

I braved gale force Santa Ana winds and flying debris on Wed 11/30 to go to the Linwood Dunn Theater for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (read the Oscars) Contemporary Documentary Series. Tonight was the final installment at the theater for 2011 and they were showing 2 films: The Lottery and Waiting for Superman.

This pairing of 2 films on the subject of the state of education in America seemed fitting and I expected that they would be a good compliment for each other. We were nearly out of luck tough and caught sitting literally in the dark for about 5 minutes after a power outage due to the windy weather. Thankfully, they quickly rebooted everything and the program started as scheduled.

The Lottery:
The Lottery was a poignant and tear jerking documentary that followed the fates of 4 school aged kids (ages 4-6) in the New York City public school system and their parents as they awaited the outcome of the lottery in hopes of gaining entrance into the Harlem Success Academy charter school and the greater hope of improving their ultimate future. It was an enlightening good (concerned parents) verses evil (the teachers union, the bureaucracy and red tape and the notorious dealings of Acorn) with the lives of the children hanging in the balance and I think it's a must see for all Americans.

The film was followed by a Q&A with its writer, editor and director,
Madeliene Sackler
. Sackler was making a living as a film editor when she described how the idea for the doc came to her while watching the lottery on a NYC news cast. She did her research on the subject then she got together $350,000 in funding from grants and various other sources and did the film.

Apparently, it's the law in NYC and many states that a school must hold a lottery whenever that school has more applicants than available entry spots. So Sackler explained that she interviewed about 100 kids and families then selected 7 kids and their families who they then followed with their camera for the many weeks before the lottery.

The personal interviews in this film were amazing and I easily grew attached to the various families like the deaf mother and her 5 year old daughter, the married pro-union couple and their son, the ailing immigrant and his 5 year old son and the mother and her son who looks like Obama's "mini-me". Plus you have all the family, social and financial situations that surround and impact these families.

Of the 7 filmed, only 4 kids and their families made it into the film. I loved that the film showed parents and kids openly praying and thanking God for blessings which I told Sackler that I appreciated during the Q&A. I also loved that the Harlem Success Academy did the lottery almost like a NBA draft with a stage, balloons, cheerleaders (teachers and staff)and plenty of high fives.

You'll have to watch the doc yourself to find out if any of the 4 would win the lottery to the prestigious Harlem Success Academy. But I would suggest you keep a few tissues handy because even Sackler remarks that she can't watch those tearful last scenes of who was in and who was out.

Sackler was very generous with her time and she talked a while with me about doc film making during the brief intermission. I had some questions about the documentary process for a documentary I've been wanting to do since 2004. Sackler gave me her card and e-mail and I plan to follow up with her when I get my stuff in order. Sackler's next documentary effort is about a group of underground theater actors who are trying to overthrow the last European Dictator and I seriously can't wait to see it.

Waiting For Superman:
Speaking about waiting, I've been waiting for an opportunity to see Waiting For Superman since it debuted in 2010 and it didn't disappoint. The film is directed by Davis Gugenheim director of TV shows and films such as The Shield, Alias, 24, ER and Training Day but he is probably most known for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth in released in 2006. Gugenheim comes from a family of award-winning filmmakers, namely his award winining father, Charles Gugenheim who produced and directed many theatrical and political films. Gugenheim is also married to actress, Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas, Back To The Future II, Cocktail).

This film followed five kids (age 6-12) and their families as they waited for the results of various lottery for charter schools like Harlem Children Zone, and the KIPP(Knowledge Is Power Program) in NYC, L.A., Houston, D.C.. And we heard more from Geoffrey Canada the innovative Harvard trained educator seen in the Lottery and we learn the heart-breaking story of how the title of the film came about.

We also were introduced to Dave Levine and Mike Feinberg, who are teachers and founders of KIPP. This duo obserevd another teacher then formulated a rapping style of teaching math that inner city kids seem to learn easier. And we met Michelle Rhee, the maverick behind the push for change in D.C. public schools and the bitterly entrenched teachers union.

These 2 films could have been redundant and cancel each other out but they escape that fate only due to the vast powers of "the man of steel"(lol-I just loved those old TV series footage of George Reeves as Superman that they used). Seriously though, Waiting For Superman's tone was very comical and more politically focused than the emotional the Lottery. The film used old news footage to explain the history of the problem and to also poke fun at the "broken system".

The film even showed the U.S. presidents from LBJ, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2 as they made promises on education. They also showed the federation of teachers (the teachers union) as a powerful force against the charter schools and of any positive change. While the lottery made me sad but hopeful, this film made me mad and I wanted to do something to help educate these kids properly. I was practically booing the union leader by the end of the film and I decided to check out the L.A. schools featured in the film to see how I can help. I especially think of Daisy who wants to be come a doctor or a vet.

WFS did a good job of explaining in depth most of the issues and players that were brought up in The Lottery. And they showed that it was a nationwide problem and not just in lower income neighborhoods but in rich suburbs as well. It also showed the agony parents have when they realize that schools and teachers can fail on a massive scale.

This film also had a quirky animation reminiscent of School House Rock that explained some jarring statistics about the U.S. educational system like how less than 25% of 8th graders on avg. are reading and math proficient nationwide or like how only 1 in 2500 ever get fired (with loss of their license) v.s. 1 in 57 for doctors and 1 in 79 for lawyers.

Though we spent less time with the kids and families in this film, I still got attached to them, especially Anthony and Daisy, who are wise beyond their years. And I was also please to see kids and parents praying and thanking God in this film, too. An added plus was the musical score which included music by John Legend.

As with the first film, there is tense hope, fears and tears during the lotteries (from names on index cards pulled out of a bowl, to a rolling ball system ala the regular money lottos and the high tech computer picking random numbers). Plus, there was Michelle Rhee's ballsy maneuver of offering 2x the pay to teachers. I won't give away the ending but the overall results are touching. This film is another must see for all Americans.