Human Interest… PAZAZ™ Style!

Typically human interest stories are most interesting when there are events that place exclamation marks around the statement, “Man’s inhumanity towards man!” We see the world on a global platform and even within our own country and communities losing the common thread that binds our humanity. The news we are feed often is carefully orchestrated to create a world view of despair which sells the information (to direct us like cattle) to the intellectual corral we find ourselves in.

But throughout this perceived cloud of hopelessness there is much that is happening around the world that gives way to the “light at the end of the tunnel”. There is so much good that people do for one another we must take into consideration the heart and soul of humanity and breath life back into the goodness that makes all of us so very special.

One such story involves chef Christine Ha. Cooking is a compilation of many different physical and mental sources that meld flavor, presentation, and love into the final display. Food is more than a simple pleasure… it is the sensory experience that obligates something you can’t touch with something you can feel. The beauty of expression meets the flavor produced from ingredients carefully crafted into a melange of elements that in combination create the objective of “unparalleled” dining experience.

The meaning of “cooking” for Christine, is a way of self-expression and of being able to share herself and her story with other people.” Love is what drew Ha to cooking in her early 20’s. She didn’t grow up wanting to become a chef, but missing her mother’s Vietnamese home cooking, she began to “reverse engineer” her mom’s dishes from memory. In the process, Ha taught herself how to cook, a skill she improved upon as she learned technique fueled by desire.

There was one X factor I haven’t mentioned. You see as she became older she had to find new ways to adapt and cook the same recipes again and again because she was losing her eye sight. She needed to rely on different senses to “up her game”.

After four years of tests, Ha was relieved to get a diagnosis: Neuromyelitis optica, an autoimmune condition similar to multiple sclerosis that affects the optic nerves. Ha can still see some shadows, faint light, and contrasting colors – similar to a foggy mirror after a hot shower.

Ha learned how to navigate with a cane, read braille, and use screen reader technology. She had to adapt mentally. In Ha’s kitchen that means everything is ultra organized. All spices in order, items are labeled in braille, and the stove top knobs have “bump dot stickers,” corresponding to heat levels.

When Ha was in graduate school her friends and family encouraged her to audition for the competitive TV show “MasterChef”. At the very least Ha thought it would be a great “Human Interest” story and something unique to the show. Instead… she wowed the famously tough judges.

Ha was gone for quite a while filming as she made it past each challenge with flying colors. Ha was the first blind contestant on the program and really didn’t realize how far this exposure would take her when she initially accepted the challange. As she stated later on, ” I guess the rest is history.”

Why does she say that? Because Christine Ha won the third season of “MasterChef” in 2012. She has gone on to write cookbooks, hosted a Canadian TV show for cooks with visual disabilities and worked with the US government as a culinary envoy to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In 2014 she was honored with the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind.

Stories like that of Christine Ha are the fabric of our country and community that translates into any language. Her desire to achieve, though saddled with an obstacle many would deem to great… she looked beyond human frailty to become a beacon of hope. This story is most certainly a gift to those that believe whatever their circumstance is they can achieve their dreams and goals.

The Beauty of Nostalgia…PAZAZ™ Style!

A sentimental journey begins with the wistful affection for the past. I remember my youth as though it was yesterday. The home made Christmas tree, Thanksgiving meals, the Easter egg hunts, trick-or-treat to kick off the holiday gauntlet… and yes, the circus.

All of those aforementioned experiences are the culmination of true sensory participation. The visual, the sound, the smells, and the laughter combine to bring those moments to life. Etched in our memories are the connections to friends and family that make those events so special.

Dressing up in costumes made by my parents made me never want to try on another piece of clothing, every again. Now I look back on that time as a fleeting cloud of family togetherness that was gone in the classic “blink of an eye.”

I would stand (for what seemed like forever) on a small wooden box as my parents would wrap me in weird clothing that culminated with a very strange mask. Of course this was the torture I’d have to endure if I wanted to go from house to house begging for candy. I never really understood the thought process behind Halloween… but who cares if at the end of the day you could consume copious amounts of sweet delights and then be launched into a diabetic coma.

The next holiday was really all about family and friends. Eating a wonderful meal with items rarely consumed the rest of the year (Thanksgiving) was a bountiful treat. The next step in this ritual of over eating would be the sitting on the couch having consumed way to much food. This would end with the tryptophan making its way into my blood stream for the inevitable deep slumber that ensued. This peaceful slumber (later in life) would follow with a chug of Pepto-Bismol to relieve the bloated stomach which quite possibly could have popped several buttons around the mid-section.

Bringing out the advent calendar for my favorite holiday of the year, Christmas, began several rituals that accompanied the most delectabale sensory experience of the year. First there was the full decoration of the home. This would start with my dad getting up on a rickety old wooden ladder to place Christmas lights around the roof of our home. Then, if he escaped the almost certain fall we would go behind our home to cut down a dead branch from a tree.

My dad would place the branch in a steel bucket and fill it with plaster or cement to secure it. We would spray it white, take it inside, and place colorful Christmas ornaments on the branches. This would be followed by the finishing touches, draping the branches with angle hair and spraying fake snow over the entirety of the tree. Finally my dad would back light the tree with different colored lights to magicaly transform this dead branch into a thing of beauty. The effort, time, and love that went into this process… I will never forget.

A meal my mom created as a once a year special event (Christmas Eve) meal which consisted of onion soup and a bay shrimp salad with my favorite thousand island dressing. This would swiftly be followed by the opening of the presents in which I played Santa Clause giving out the presents to my parents and grandmother.

Christmas day was up next and was easily the most anticipated holiday of the year. It brought the anticipation of that one present (Santa Clause had hopefully read my carefully crafted letter) delivered to my home for Christmas morning. I was blessed to receive that gift and typically played with it until I grew out of it or broke it. What a wonderful time!

New Years Eve I didn’t give a rats ass about as a kid because it was just another reminder that school was around the corner. Now the last vestige of hope was Easter. I didn’t really understand the religous significance behind this holiday but knew that those big fat chocolate easter bunnies would be in one of the baskets I hunted for. I would consume those big fat chocolate bunnies with a religous fervor usually associated with the aftermath of an exorcism.

Finally, not associated with a holiday but with equal joy and amazement was the circus. I really can’t remember the first time I went to a circus but I can remember the initial capture of my senses because of the wafting cotton candy and peanut brittle. That moment placed me in a temporary but significant trance. This formidable trance was broken by the equally show stopping moment I saw my first elephant and tiger. I couldn’t believe the enormity and power of those beautiful animals. Their majesty and size couldn’t be translated on the black and white TV playing those old Tarzan movies. This was a real life wake up call to the expansive world we lived in and how little I truly new about its inhabitants.

All of these previously mentioned moments in time are simply reflections of memories I will never forget. There is a place for all of us we can travel to without every leaving the space we currently occupy. It is within that framework of description we can bring our past into the reality of the future, never forgetting the simplicity of a smile so real and so innocent.

Passage… PAZAZ™ Style!

There are different corridors we travel to get to our final destination. These corridors are usually influenced by people, places, and jobs. Around this corner fraught with the obstacles of change are adventures that create our spatial consciousness, or our real-world awareness about real-world phenomena and processes.

Beyond the hyperbole that drones on in the form of media directives, marketing mail, billboards and the like… we actually learn through the experiences of life that tend to shape our internal message. This message is the spark that lights the fuse for exploring the foundations of literature, culture, music, and the history of “Why?”

This education begins to shape the corridor we take. The right of passage becomes an on-going hike past or through obstacles that try to hinder this passage to the peaceful serenity we so deserve. Literature expands our horizons through the intellectual process of discovery. This cultural discovery helps us understand the foundation of civilizations interwoven into this is our love of music which helps us understand (in many cases) societal evolution.

The history of “Why?” becomes an anthropological journey both physical and cultural that points to the foundation of fact. These facts buried in the anals of history morph into the reason “Why?” cultures evolve into their current state of affairs. Along the way all cultures assimilate into other cultures or become dogmatic in their protection of their customs and beliefs.

Our passage in life becomes a tribute to the resources we’ve employed to make the decisions that craft our destiny. This passage is a stage coach ride based upon our own evolutionary growth in many cases because of the people we associate with and the books we read.

Our sensory experiences can include the spiritual message of the Bible, the Quaran, Buddha, or any other teachings that expand the horizon of self awareness. In these examples the truth related to spirituality may be quite different from yours. My passage into enlightenment only comes through the analysis of these teachings and expanding my vista of perception through thought provoking contrasts of consciousness. This journey opens a door that leads to a passage of enlightenment. Through that door that connects the heart with the mind we can grow as a person enriched by the knowledge of discovery.

In life’s directive into different levels of passage we go from the playful mind set of simplicity to the more complicated passage into responsibility, relationships and jobs. This trifecta of passage becomes a time line based upon age and circumstance. These circumstances are typically options that offer a path given multiple choices. Choose one path and obstacles appear while another path might be clear sailing.

Whatever the path, our passage is a test that builds our character and gets more complicated as time goes on. As we seek true happiness we follow our dreams to the end of the rainbow… realizing towards the end, the most important part of our passage is to love and be loved in return.

Paul Harvey, Great American Broadcaster

For those of you too young to remember Paul Harvey, he was an American radio broadcaster for ABC News Radio. He broadcast news and comments on mornings and mid-day through-out the week and at noon on Saturdays. My favorite segment he broadcast was called, “The Rest of the Story.”

One such segment that I really enjoyed, I am about to unveil. Many times I’d be transfixed listening to Paul Harvey and his “Rest of the Story” segments. The broadcast highlighted historical references cataloging many events I’d read about or learned about through school. Paul Harvey always had a twist, a behind the scenes view of historical events that told a story with a flair that was significant in his ability to captivate his audience.

One such story began like this:

It was an unpopular war to begin with and so a draft was instated. This was the first time a draft had been instituted. Many believed that the wealthy could escape the draft through deferments while minorities and poor people had no choice and were drafted. There were demonstrations, and one such demonstration in New York City quickly got out of hand.

The demonstrators could be seen marching up 3rd Ave in New York City. Fifty thousand demonstrators overwhelmed the police…the police were virtually helpless. Business owners fled for their lives, closing their shops and escaping in the nick of time… except one.

This business owner, Charlie was a supplier of military equipment. He sold guns, uniforms, and munitions to the armed forces.

As the mob headed towards Charlies store he was warned that his business would be a likely target. But the stubborn New England-er was grim and determined to defend his property. News came that thousands of demonstrators were gathering to march up Broadway. His business was on Broadway and so friends and family begged him to give up his property and run for his life. Other merchants on the block had locked up their businesses and fled.

Not Charlie. He boarded up the windows and passed out guns and hand grenades to his staff. When the employees had been posted at strategic places around the store, Charlie made a last minute inspection and concluded that his staff was ready to repel any attack. Charlie’s little army waited in silence.

The mob could be heard only blocks away making their way up Broadway. Unmistakably the sounds of a distant riot were growing louder as Charlie and his staff waited in silence. The mob was only two blocks away many chanting and yelling, demolishing buildings and setting fires. Soon the anti-draft protestors would be in front of Charlies business.

But mercifully, somehow, police managed to turn the rampant protestors aside and the destruction continued down another street, 124 years ago. The draft riots that rocked the Big Apple took place in July of 1863. This riot was in response to a draft act compelling fifty thousand Irish immigrants to take to the streets in violent protest.

Charlie had been a jeweler before the outbreak of the war between the states. So, when the war began, Charlie expanded his business to include all military munitions, guns, and uniforms. He turned his elegant sparkling Manhattan showroom into a candy store for the killing machine.

After the war Charlies became the most prominent jewelry store in the western world. It became so famous as such that folks have forgotten what you have just learned…for the merchant that is a world famous jewelry store was once a war zone.

His name… Charles Lewis Tiffany

And now you know, the Rest of the Story.