Jeannie Meets Idina Menzel

I’m still incredulous that we were the only media to interview the lovely and amazing Idina Menzel after her performance with the Jacksonville Symphony during last Saturday’s Starry Nights concert…but it’s true.

We’d been given media credentials, first to photograph her performance at Metropolitan Park’s intimate, outdoor venue followed by an interview afterward. Twas truly a perfect starry night, too, with cool breezes off the river that made you just settle back and enjoy an outdoor evening at its finest. It’s surely April that consistently delivers our sweetest weather of the year. The Jacksonville Symphony played for a while before she made her entrance, and the music was stirring; still, everyone was waiting for her, and finally she came, dressed in a lovely white and silver gown that draped her womanly figure like a Grecian goddess. She sang like a goddess, too. I’m no music or theater critic so I lack the vernacular to describe her performance other than to say, hot damn, that girl can sing. Of course, the fans already knew that but this was my first time seeing her perform live.

She pleased the crowd with her choice of songs – the usual fan favorites, and some new work from her latest CD. What resonated with me was the way she easily chatted up her audience, without pretense, as though she felt comfortable enough with us to share funny personal stories. Idina went on to talk freely about breastfeeding her new baby and the challenges that any lactating mother faces when she’s separated from her child. She laughingly told of pumping her breasts on the flight to Jacksonville while an attendant asked her, “Aren’t you famous?”

She flirted with the audience so sincerely, confessing a weakness for cussing so that when she later blurted the f-word it was just so adorable I felt we could be instant friends if our paths had crossed in a different way. Idina sang a swing style number that she and her husband, actor Taye Diggs, had created for their son, Walker. And yes, she did sing the heart-stopping Defying Gravity, after which I said to Nick, “That’s it; there’ll be no encore. How can she top that?” but I was wrong, she returned to the stage for one last song. The next day I happened to talk with a guy who’d worked the show as security, a moonlighting job for him. He’d never heard of Idina Menzel and thought she was fantastic, but was taken aback by her candid, casual audience banter: the cussing, the breastfeeding chatter – the very things that made her so endearing to me. (psst! JimBob, it’s 2010! can you say anachronistic?)

She was so lovely and elegant and ethereal, but strong and commanding and laughing and real – yes, she was real and real women do swear and do breastfeed and can also put on an evening gown and sing, if they’ve got the pipes to do that, too.

Afterwards, we were granted a backstage interview! An exclusive interview, which my colleague Nick Lulli conducted. We were led away to her nondescript dressing room, where he set about readying the area for the shoot. There we were introduced to a very casual and friendly Idina, who had slipped out of her white and silver gown and into her comfies: jeans, mules, and a slouchy gray sweater.

I made small talk with her while she did what I would have done if I’d been waiting to be filmed: touched up her makeup. For the record? She likes Laura Mercier and Nars. She brushed her cheeks and applied her lipstick, dabbed at her eyes, and fixed her ponytail, which had probably been knocked askew from slipping into her pullover sweater. She apologized for having changed, but it was fine because while I would have loved seeing her up close in that gorgeous gown, the interpersonal dynamic was as casual as our clothing, just friends hanging around in our jeans, shooting the breeze.

Of course I asked who designed her dress, and she told me, but it wasn’t a designer I recognized so I knew I wouldn’t remember it. But! Her shoes were Guess, with very high heels. I saw them on the floor next to the gown, hanging in its zippered bag, while she wore a pair of comfy mules with her jeans. Soon she and Nick settled into their interview while I snapped photos of them throughout.

I was Gleeful myself for being the sole photographer there. You’d have to know Nick as I do to truly grasp what this experience meant to him. He’d shown me probably 37 different YouTube videos of Idina performing over the past few weeks, a total fan boy who had purchased his own ticket to the concert the minute they went on sale, before media credentials were issued.

And now here he was, sitting in his chair like a pro across from Idina Menzel herself, having gotten this exclusive interview, eliciting her laughter and answering his questions.

And there I was, the only photographer in Jacksonville in her dressing room, photographing her after her concert. Idina was without pretense in every way. When she answered Nick’s question about what she’d like to do with her career going forward, and she said something along the lines of truly, being grateful for the work she is doing, I believed her. She loves being a mom and really wants to be available for her son. The role on Glee has been fun; she’ll be in several episodes and had one left to tape. I felt as though she was just one of us – someone with a dream who’d had success, and was grateful for whatever would continue to come her way.

Onstage, her voice was magnificent, and she was both funny and regal; in the dressing room, she was polite, accommodating, and totally friendly.

She felt like a girlfriend. Stars! They really are just like us. Scuffed shoes and comfy clothes and a baby at home who needed his mommy. And willing to pose with this fan, too, at the end of it all.

Watch Nick Lulli Interview Idina Menzel
April 24, 2010

Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe: Denouement

Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe was open today, its last day as Shelby’s. Although I attended the lovely, outdoor party honoring Shelby Hicks yesterday evening, I had to stop in late this afternoon, one final time, for a peek and a latte, just to punctuate my own relationship with the place. It was probably near to closing time, and a few people were there, having a last lick of ice cream, and reading the paper.
Saturday night in the courtyard at 200 First Street in Neptune Beach was all about Shelby Hicks. A beautiful spring evening, friends gathered to wish Shelby a very happy retirement. It’s always a misty, nostalgic time – a leaving-taking – and when it’s someone who is so beloved to a small community it’s hard to fathom that her place will become someone else’s and she will move on to the next phase in her life; a phase that does not include us.
Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette presented Shelby with a proclamation from the City declaring April 22 as Shelby Hicks day. She read it aloud to the gathering, official with its governmental language, but the message was a tender love note to a beloved businesswoman who is such an integral part of our charming community.
Shelby posed for who knows how many photos while children pranced to the live music in the courtyard.
It was an ideal evening for an outdoor party at the beach. The streets were teeming with people, a sea breeze wafted through the courtyard and no one wanted air conditioning. The hugs and smiles were freely given and at one point, I noticed that Shelby unknowingly wore a bright red pair of lips on her cheek and it made me smile: A big fat smacker for a special lady.
(Some of Shelby’s former crew, below pictured at right.)
We’ll miss you, Shelby. Please don’t forget us.
Au revoir.

Jeannie Meets Governor Charlie Crist

(please scroll to bottom if you simply wish to view the one minute video)
Last Saturday our Governor, Charlie Crist, was in town for a campaign rally.

He’s running for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate. A first term Governor here, when he declared his candidacy he was considered an easy win for the primary. But now he’s got opposition and is trailing big time in the polls. Marco Rubio has emerged as the conservative favorite and Governor Crist is considering dropping out of the Republican primary and running as an independent candidate. The party is on pins and needles waiting for that decision. Politics is so much fun.

I used to work in politics – in a former life … back in the day … a long time ago. It was great fun and hard work; everything you hear about campaigns, it was. Dedicated, passionate, hard-working staffers give over their lives to a 24/7 statewide campaign. You develop a special rapport with your colleagues because you spend months together with virtually no time off, working for that one crucial day – election day. You meet important people, some with outrageous egos. I have a lot of salacious stories about my time on the campaign trail. Fortunately, none of them involved the candidates. They were both honorable men, but the potential for power attracts not only passionate staff and volunteers but some staff with passionate appetites for some of the other staff and volunteers.

But that’s not what this post is about! I felt nostalgic, and digressed just a bit. There’s a certain familiarity when I attend campaign events, but actually, I do very little of that these days.

Saturday however I did attend the rally for the Governor when he came through Jacksonville. Crist had just vetoed a controversial Florida bill that would have tied teachers’ pay to students’ test scores. It was loudly opposed by parents and teachers statewide and the Governor was under enormous pressure to sign the bill.

But he did the right thing and vetoed it. He vetoed it! And it was very cool that I was there because I met a parent and employee from my child’s school who was instrumental in helping the kids write thank you notes to the Governor for his veto. She brought the letters, and her young son, hopefully to meet the Governor and present him with the sweet notes, all of which did happen and I got it on camera. What a coincidence!

But that still isn’t why I attended the rally. I attended because I was told I’d have the chance to meet the Governor and have time for some brief questions. I have an important health insurance issue that I’m going to be grappling with for many years to come. I thought I’d be a fool to pass up perhaps my only opportunity ever to tell the Governor about our struggles with the state health insurance program we pay for. It’s a broken system and needs to be fixed, and frankly if a national health care program resembles what we have at the state level it’s not going to be a trouble-free system. Ours is fraught with problems. We pay monthly premiums that are twice what we pay for our other two children who’re enrolled in private, self-paid insurance, yet we have a very difficult time finding doctors who accept the state insurance BECAUSE THEY DO NOT PAY THEIR PROVIDERS.


I spend a lot of time on the phone.

Therefore it was gratifying to capture this moment on video as it will serve as the cornerstone to our future effort to advocate for all of us parents and children caught up in this system with similar problems. Incidentally, if you are in the Health Ease/Healthy Kids Florida insurance program, or know someone who is, and is struggling with it, please get in touch with me.

The video was filmed and edited by my colleague Nick Lulli.

A Fine Day for Fishing and Photography

Now that I have cameras, I’m lusting for lenses.  I’d like a macro lens for the detail photos I love to take.  The Little Canon Elph has a macro function on its program setting; the Canon Rebel does not.  So a girl has to get creative with the lovely tools she already has unless a birthday present is in her future. 

Still, I’ve been advised that other lenses besides a dedicated macro lens would probably be more useful in my photographic endeavors.  Since lenses are pricey purchases, I need to consider the options carefully.

A wide angle with zoom would probably be more a useful overall lens to add to my camera bag.  It was a fine day for fishing and a wider angle lens would have captured the three surf fishermen, their assorted poles planted in the sand where the waves spill onto shore, and the morning sunshine reflecting off the water in a truly dramatic way.  The Little Canon Elph has its limitations, but I couldn’t live without her.
Is it tacky to talk about your own birthday before you celebrate your son’s, whose birthday comes before yours?
Yeah.  I thought so.

Hurricane Season 2010

While hurricane season doesn’t officially begin until June 1, my colleague Nick Lulli is already planning extensive storm and hurricane coverage. Atlantic Beachlife will be providing color commentary from time to time.

The thing about living so close to the ocean, of course, is my fear of hurricanes. My first hurricane experience was in 2004 when four terrible storms ripped through the state. After Hurricane Frances we were without power for four days and a huge water oak tree was sucked from the ground next to our home. It landed on the strong branches of our neighbor’s tree and was held there, precariously, until we could hire a tree service and a crane to remove it. I drove around Atlantic and Neptune Beaches and looked at the damage with my heart in my throat. I saw huge trees that had come down on people’s homes…and this storm was not a direct hit on Jacksonville. The damage from these four storms across Florida was extensive and devastating.

I’d lived in Florida through four hurricane seasons that had little to no serious storm activity, but in 2004 I felt constant anxiety as I eyeballed the National Hurricane Center’s website, refreshing it fifteen times a day to monitor storm development off the coast of Africa.

We all know what happened in 2005.

I met Nick last year, and he’s a guy with a passion for news and weather. Nick has an online news site and attends Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, a magnet high school for kids with a desire for intensive study in the arts. We’ll be teaming up on storm coverage this season and it should be interesting. He has the passion, I have the fear. I’ve settled down a bit with regard to storm anxiety but living this close to the beach, it’s not something I can ignore.

Here’s the promo Nick edited for the first in his series on Storm Coverage 2010:

Alexander Springs: Hello Goodbye

Since I discovered the Florida springs last summer I’ve put visiting as many of them as possible on my personal life list, dragging an assortment of children and cameras, snorkels and fins, beach chairs and books – everything I’ll need for a day of swimming, snorkeling, photography and fun for everyone who happens to be in my car.
We have a definite fan favorite – Blue Springs in Gilchrist County. There’s just something about Blue that’s got us by our heartstrings and so far no other spring has surpassed our passion for Blue.
But I’ll keep an open mind, I will, and we’ll continue to trek around central Florida this summer to enjoy the cool, clear waters of these amazing, ancient swimming holes. They’re usually set deep in the boondocks, sometimes County-owned, sometimes privately, but always nestled amidst trees with water bubbling from the headspring.
Yesterday we kicked off Florida Springs season 2010 when we stopped at Alexander Springs on our way home from Orlando. I was fairly excited as I’d heard rave reviews about this place. In fact, we tried to go there last Labor Day weekend but were turned away due to its being full to capacity. The husband is just not a water guy, and the pollen was flying and the Master’s was on TV (and there’s no TV at any springs I’ve encountered) so he was a half-hearted attendee but willing stuff-hauler and chauffeur. Still, the kids and I were anticipating a good time. We trudged a short distance from the parking lot, came upon the spring and looked around. It was … fine. I mean, the surroundings were lovely; deep in the Ocala National forest, but I have to be honest- I wasn’t moved – and neither were they.
The husband wheezed and rubbed his eyes, we plopped our things down and I sat in the sun feeling a bit deflated. The kids went into the water for a little while but shortly returned, not enthused.
“There’s no fish,” they complained. We are accustomed to swimming with plenty of fish at Blue Springs. Of course the large, wooden jumping platform at Blue means hours of fun for kids, and then there’s the spring run that’s open for swimmers, as well as kayakers and canoes. I love swimming up and down that spring run, fins strapped to my feet like I’m a fish among fish. The current coming back is significant but I’m a strong swimmer. I love swimming through the trees and plant life. Blue doesn’t have a retaining wall or steps; it’s very natural. A rickety boardwalk edges the spring run and takes pedestrians on a scenic walk all the way to the Santa Fe River. At other springs we’ve visited, including Alexander, there are retaining walls, and a roped off area. I understand the need for these things but for me, they detract from the whole natural ambiance of the spring that makes Blue so special to me in general.
It’s nice for small children at Blue to be able to wade, ankle deep, in the water, a natural egress as opposed to steps.
There were plenty of people out and about enjoying the water, but I never went in. It wasn’t hot enough for starters, and frankly, these waters didn’t speak to me. You see, I have this special rapport with water, all kinds of water, and yesterday the water at Alexander Springs didn’t beckon.
I got a bit of reading time in, shot some photos and called it a day.

Alexander Springs is a lovely place to visit but for us, our hearts belong to Blue.

Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe, Part Duex

As Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe winds down its time as Shelby’s I ducked in late one afternoon and snapped a few photos for my own, private archives. And okay, yes, for this blog post too.

I’d have liked to have hosted a photo exhibition here. I think it’s great when artists are celebrated in their own community, in a locally owned gathering place.

I hope the new owners will continue this tradition – and this time I’ll gather my courage to submit some photos for their consideration. I’d be thrilled to show my pictures on these walls.

The beloved wooden counter’s been worn down by years of drinks and sandwiches slid across to the waiting, caffeine-deprived and hungry patrons.
A gathering place for friends.

Shelby’s always carried ice cream, cookies, and terribly good fudge (I love good fudge) served up by the smiling waitstaff. At a time when frozen yogurt shops are popping up everywhere – not that there’s anything wrong with it – I know of one family who’s hoping that there’ll be at least one place left in town to get a simple ice cream cone (and fudge).
This courtyard is just outside Shelby’s door. There’s a place to park your bike, a bowl of water for your dog, and a larger center space where events can be hosted, and live music’s played some evenings. Your kids can prance about the courtyard while you dodge in and out of the shops and galleries, stealing a few minutes of shopping time, or just sit under the shade of the palms enjoying a latte or a meal with your friends. I have sweet memories of getting a coffee at Shelby’s then browsing the shops with my mom, when she’d visit. One block from the ocean, there’s always a sea breeze, and people coming in from the beach.
Thank goodness a coffee shop similar in spirit will remain.

Her Blessed Blossom

Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum)

Her name in Korean means blessed blossom. Her referral came to them on a Good Friday. They were told to return the adoption papers that following week, and to include the name they’d choose for this sweet baby girl who would become their daughter. But how to name a baby they hadn’t even met yet? Sure, they knew plenty of pregnant moms and dads who name their babies while still in utero, but that kind of naming wasn’t for them. International adoption is a whole different ball game. Obviously there wasn’t a baby growing inside her body, but in her mind and heart, there very much was. Still, this future baby of theirs was hard to conceptualize because when adopting a child there are so many unknowns. How old will the baby be when news of her reaches you? How much of her life before you will you learn about? When that longed-for ‘call’ finally does come, how will you really feel? Oh, she worked these thoughts over in her mind nonstop, like a woman fingering her rosary beads, lips murmuring in constant prayer, from the moment her dossier reached its foreign destination. She spent hours and hours on the Internet, mining for other people’s adoption stories, and looking for trends she could use to guesstimate when their referral might come.

The Call – that peak experience when your social worker tells you that yes, indeed, you do have a baby, and gives you all the relevant details – arrived months before they expected it. Their telephone rang on Good Friday; her husband was home from work that day so she yelled for him to pick up the extension. She wanted them to hear the news together this time. Her hands trembled and she felt just…staggered by the prematurity of it all. She heard the social worker telling them that their baby was a daughter. She was eight months old and living in Seoul, Korea. She was named Eun Young, bestowed by her birth mother and its translation meant blessed blossom. The social worker came over a little while later and left them with the packet of paperwork and photos showing a plump and precious baby, who would soon become their daughter. Their first responsibility as her parents was to choose their name for her. But she wasn’t ready to name a baby just yet. Naming is momentous! She needed time to think about it all.

She could not escape the thought that someone who loved her had already given this baby a name. That felt sacred to her. She wanted the name to be somehow congruent with her Korean name, meaningful on a deeper level, but she and her husband were without inspiration. She was feeling desperate because they were asked to return the acceptance papers to the agency as soon as possible, and include the baby’s new American name. No adoptive parent ever wants to delay paperwork by so much as an hour, let alone a day, so the pressure was definitely on. They had that Easter weekend to decide.

Good Friday soon became Easter Sunday, and if you’ve ever been in a Catholic Church on Easter, you’ll remember the altar adorned with a radiant display of floral magnificence. The joy of Resurrection follows the sparseness of the Lenten season and the traditional Easter lilies were everywhere. On this Easter Sunday she was frankly oblivious to anything around her, so preoccupied she was with naming this child, and yearning for spiritual guidance. Her husband was outside the church, walking their restless toddler son. As the Easter liturgy was celebrated, she decided to inwardly recite the names of her cousins’ children. She began with her favorite cousin’s family – there were seventeen siblings in all (plus spouses) so she started from eldest to youngest, cataloging the names of their children in her mind. She did this naming until she got to the seventh cousin and his family of three, the youngest of whom was a girl named Lilly. When she murmured the name Lilly to herself, something inside her stirred. Lilly. Lilly…Lily.

Truly, it was like the rock pushed back from the tomb and she saw. This feeling was like nothing she’d ever had before. It all coalesced, and she knew. Lily was the name for this child. It was the name she’d been grasping for, before it was revealed: Lily with one L, like the flower. Like the Easter lily, these blessed blossoms that surrounded her on this morning.

The surge of energy was palpable even as she sat still in the pew. She felt that the baby’s birth mother would approve of their choice, given a chance. Her impulse was to bolt from that church and find her husband out there on the sidewalk and babble euphorically about the divine inspiration she’d just had. She had never experienced a moment like this one – a divine revelation! but she remained seated, calmly, considering it all through her excitement, until the Mass was over and the final Easter blessing was made. Then she rushed outside to her husband and son and presented him with what she truly knew was to be the name of their baby: Lily, the blessed blossom, American style. It wasn’t one they’d thought about, but it felt just as right to him as it did to her. At brunch later, she told some friends, who tried, helpfully, to proffer other ideas for names that were also floral in nature, but they failed to grasp the meaning of the Easter lily being the only blossom that could possibly be a blessed one – that was the meaning, the congruence she was yearning for. No, Rose, would certainly not do; their baby’s name would be, and could only be Lily, the blessed blossom.

Thank you for indulging a personal post. From time to time I share stories that have no relation to beachlife.