Q: What kind of camera should I buy?

[published on Medium.com June 17, 2018]

A: The question I am most often asked is answered in Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.”

People, of course, aren’t satisfied with this answer.

“What does that even MEAN?” they implore, followed by a rapid succession of questions, the answers to which require knowledge of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure, and gear, to name just a few.

I’ve spent a good amount of time dissecting this question and the best conclusion I can draw is that the reason people are so overwhelmed by photography is actually pretty simple: they think it’s about the camera.


Sorry to break it out in all caps like that, but here’s the deal: there is no magic pill that will reverse the effects of aging, remove unwanted pounds without diet or exercise, or grow you an instant billionaire overnight by working from home.

It’s the same thing with photography! There is no point-and-shoot or body-lens combo that will deliver you exactly the images you are hopeful to capture under any or all possible circumstances.

Photography is all about trade-offs.If you want this, you have to give that, if you want that, you have to make up for it with this.

The word “photography” was created from the Greek roots “light” and “drawing.”

If you want to understand photography, you must first understand that photography is, literally, drawing with light — specifically, the visible light (which is actually electromagnetic radiation) where the wavelengths fall within the range to which the human retina responds.

The question you should be asking yourself is not what kind of gear *I* think you should buy! The question you should be asking yourself is:

Q: What kind of photos am I trying to take?

A: This is a crash course in helping you to understand exposure so that you can begin to answer this question for yourself.


exposure* = ISO + shutter speed + aperture

*For simplicity, our working definition of exposure = roughly the brightness value as seen by the human eye.

ISO, shutter speed (SS), and aperture (A) are equal variables in that they are all measured in the same increments: by stops — stops of light.

For example, 1 stop ISO = 1 stop shutter speed = 1 stop aperture.

ISO = film or sensor’s sensitivity to light.

Aperture = the amount of light let in.

Shutter Speed = for how long that light is allowed to reach the film or sensor.

On the aperture scale, for example, these numbers are measured in f/stops. An f/stop is simply a fraction calculated by the focal length of the lens to the diameter of the aperture … WAIT — where are you going?

You don’t have to calculate f/stops! They’re already calculated for you by the engineers who designed the lens. They even printed the f/stops on the outside of the lens for your convenience!

All you have to do is simply memorize the numbers as they appear on the ISO, SS, and A scales that I’m about to show you.

Stay with me here, because once you get this, it’ll change the way you take pictures.

As you click your way to the left or to the right on one scale, for example, you might have to make up for that increase or loss of light with an equal number of clicks on one of the other scales to keep exposure equal.

Here’s a quick overview; more detailed explanation will follow:

Aperture controls the amount of light the lens lets in:

ISO controls the sensor’s (or film’s) sensitivity to light:

Shutter speed controls the length of time that light is made available to the sensor (or film):



Q: How do lenses work?

A: Lenses are similar to the human eye in that they open and close much like a pupil to let in light. This lens opening is also known as “aperture.” 

Aperture controls the amount of light let in.

The “focal length” of a lens is responsible for controlling the angle of view. 

For example:

  • 18mm-40mm = wide angle (think “fisheye”)
  • 50mm = “normal” (akin to what the human eye sees)
  • 60mm-600mm = telephoto (think binoculars)

A lens that has 2 focal lengths (70–200mm) is a “zoom” lens. It’s capable of moving from 70mm to 200mm and every Xmm in between by adjusting the lens (as opposed to changing lenses.)

A lens that has one focal length is a “prime” lens. Prime lenses are sharper than zooms; however, zooms offer more flexibility. Pick your poison.

Choose carefully, however, because it’s not the camera that takes great photos — it’s the lens. The quality of the lens, which is determined by how much light the lens can take in (in other words, how wide the maximum aperture, or how “fast” a lens is) will largely determine the quality of your images.

Photography is drawing with light, remember? Without light, there’s no picture.

The larger the lens opening, or aperture, the more light there is to create the exposure.

Forgive me for throwing this wrench in here, but there is one more important thing to understand about the focal length of a lens: the shutter speed cannot exceed that of the focal length of a lens unless you plan to use a tripod.

Q: Whoa. Come again?

A: Don’t worry. Almost nobody gets this the first time. We’re just planting seeds here. Eventually it will click (pardon the pun.)

Until then, keep in mind that while it sounds great to have an 800mm lens to put you nearly on the stage from the nosebleed section, you’ll have to use a shutter speed that’s a minimum of 1/800 or faster with that lens to avoid blurry images (from handholding the camera.) 1/800 is not ridiculously fast; it might not even be fast enough to freeze the action if the subject on stage is moving. Remember, light removed from any one variable of the equation needs to be made up from the other variables.

Moving right along.

Look at the aperture scale above. Notice how much more light f/1.4 takes in compared to f/5.6? Many “starter” or “kit” lenses have a maximum aperture of f/4 or f/5.6 — and that explains why they cost less. They’re not as “fast” and don’t take in nearly as much light.

Q: How do I figure out the maximum aperture of my lens?

A: It’s printed on the front and side of the lens, along with the focal length.

For example, 1:1.4/35 means the maximum aperture of this 35mm lens is f/1.4.

For point of reference: an iPhone X has two lenses, a wide angle and a telephoto. The wide angle shoots with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 and the telephoto shoots with a max aperture of f/2.4. I’ve heard many people say they get better shots with their smartphone than they do with their camera — that’s likely because the kit lens on their camera isn’t nearly as “fast” as the aperture in their smartphone.

Personally, I don’t throw money at a lens that doesn’t have at least an f/2.8 maximum aperture (ideally, f/1.2) and that’s not because I’m bougie — it’s because if I’m going to bother to paint with light, I’m not going to skimp on light (duh).

Here’s what you need to understand about aperture:

So we’ve learned that the lens controls the focal length and the aperture, and aperture controls the amount of light the lens lets in. Congratulations! You’ve made it through the most difficult part.

The rest is much easier and controlled by the camera: shutter speed controls how long the light hits the sensor (or film) and ISO controls how sensitive that sensor (or film) is to the light.

exposure = ISO + A + SS.

Knowing this equation now makes it possible to start choosing the settings on a camera and a lens more carefully.


Ready to play?

Here’s the quick and dirty cheat sheet:

ISO + aperture + shutter speed = exposure

(remember, 1 stop ISO = 1 stop shutter speed = 1 stop aperture)

without a light meter, use this guideline for calculating exposure:

  • bright sun, use f/16 and a shutter speed = ISO.
  • for example, [ISO] 100 = [SHUTTER SPEED] 1/125 + [APERTURE] f/16 = exposure
  • hazy sun = f/11, cloudy bright = f/8, cloudy dull = f/5.6, cloudy dark = f/4

FIRST Choose the lowest ISO you can get away with using. 

typical ISO scale

50-200 = outside daytime (many digital cameras don’t even offer 50 or 100)

800–3200 = indoors

Don’t be afraid to choose high ISOs if you need to.

SECOND Is the subject moving?

If yes, choose the shutter speed next and then choose whatever corresponding aperture makes the exposure work. Adjust the ISO if needed.

If no, move to “third” below.

Prioritize choosing shutter speed over aperture for any shot that has movement. Whether you select the slow end of the scale or the fast depends on whether you want to freeze or blur motion.

Let’s review that hairy, beastly rule we learned earlier now that you have more context for wrapping your brain around it: the shutter speed needs to be equal or greater than the focal length of the lens.

Translation: if you are shooting your kid’s swim meet with a 70–200mm lens adjusted to 200mm, the lowest usable shutter speed you can realistically handhold is 1/250.

Having said that, you’ll probably want to be at 1/2000 or 1/4000 or 1/8000 or whatever the camera can do to maximize opportunities to freeze action, especially since swimmers splash water and swim fast. Fast shutter speeds will mean there’s not a whole lot of time for light to enter, so you’ll likely need to make up for that loss of light by choosing a wider aperture or higher ISO (or both.)

Telephoto lenses suck up a lot of light as well — I mean, think about it; the longer the lens, the farther the light needs to travel to hit the sensor or film.

That’s what I mean when I say photography is all about TRADE-OFFS. A longer lens or a faster shutter speed means making up for that loss of light with higher ISOs and/or wider apertures. Higher ISOs introduce more film grain or digital “noise” and wider apertures demand more careful focusing.

You might have to be shooting ISO 800 or 1600 outdoors if you’ve got your shutter speed adjusted to super fast. That’s the trade-off you as the photographer will choose in order to achieve the kind of photograph you are trying to make.

THIRD If the subject is not moving, choose the aperture based on what kind of look you want and then choose whatever corresponding shutter speed makes the exposure work. Adjust the ISO if needed.

Choose the lowest number (widest aperture) you can tolerate to nail the focus on the subject and still tell the story with the background.

If you want the background all blurry for a portrait of a single person, choose f/1.4 or f/2.8 or f/4. It’s difficult to nail the focus of moving objects at f/1.4, and people, by definition, move. If you have two or more people in the photo, choose an aperture that is two or three stops from “wide open” making it more likely that each person will be in sharp focus.

In a scenic shot of Crater Lake, choose a large aperture number (f/11 or f/16 or f/22) to keep the entire shot in focus. Unless, of course, the photo you’re trying to take is of a single poppy blooming along the overlook, and you want the poppy to stand out against a slightly blurry yet still recognizable image of the crystal blue lake surrounding Wizard Island.

Your photo.

You decide.

OR, set your camera to “aperture priority” or “shutter speed priority.”

Best learn how to do this by reading the manual.

Aperture priority and shutter speed priority is a camera feature that assumes the user has some sort of idea how they want their final image to look but not enough knowledge, confidence, experience, or time to make all the required setting adjustments.

In “aperture priority” mode, you choose the ideal aperture & the camera chooses the shutter speed based on the light meter reading it makes. Many newer digital cameras will also adjust ISO settings in these priority modes.

And vice versa, the camera will choose aperture and ISO settings in “shutter speed priority” after you’ve told the camera which shutter speed to use.

OR, put your camera on program mode and let the camera decide. 

Program modes (such as “flower” or “sports” are variations of “shutter speed priority” and “aperture priority” for users who never took the time to learn the basics of photography and/or their gear. Continue the frustrating internal dialog that can’t connect the dots between the amount of money you paid for your gear and its inability to do the work for you. Rinse, repeat, until you eventually give up and shoot the image with your smartphone instead.



Q: “Sooooooo, should I buy a Canon or a Nikon?”

Q: “Should I buy a DSLR or a mirrorless?”

Q: “What’s better, Fuji or Sony?”

Q: “Or should I just use my iPhone?”

A: It’s not about the camera!!!

I understand where it comes from: we’ve all taken photos that were technically incorrect. Perhaps we missed an important shot that can never be re-created — a baby’s first steps or a graduate accepting a degree, and that makes us fear photographic mistakes. We have a natural desire to learn how NOT to mess up a photo like that again.

We’ve also taken photos that are technically correct but don’t say what we were trying to say: the waterfall where the water is frozen in action rather than creamy ethereal movement, the family portrait that’s properly lit and in focus but awkwardly composed against a very distracting background.

Technology is improving and we want to buy a camera that will save us from ourselves, take the picture without making mistakes.

Every photograph begins with the photographer.

That’s a scary place to go, especially for those who don’t understand what kind of photograph they’re trying to take.

Or what would best achieve that look.

Or which settings to select on the camera body.

Trust me: you likely won’t fully understand everything I’ve laid out here the first time you read it. It might take two or three reviews before you get started.

Get started. Start taking photos. Experiment with the settings above. Try, fail, and try again. Review once more. Then keep trying. Eventually, it’ll click (pardon the pun.)



  1. It’s not about the camera.
  2. The lens is the most valuable investment and makes the most critical decisions.
  3. There is no one single or “correct” exposure. There’s only the exposure the photographer chooses to make based on the image he or she wants to create.
  4. If you don’t know what kind of pictures you’re trying to take, how can you expect your camera to?
  5. Read Rilke.

    “In the deepest and most important things, we are unutterably alone, and for one person to be able to advise, let alone help another, a great deal must come about, a great deal must come right, a whole constellation of things must concur for it to be possible at all.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

Perfect is an adjective; dig deeper, graduates, to find the nouns that will become the subjects of your stories

One of the greatest, most difficult things I’ve ever done — a time when I felt like I was truly doing the impossible — was to drive, all by myself, across town, to the airport.

Without an iPhone.


So yeah. Let me back up a bit, because clearly you’re not feeling my pain.


See, I went to high school and learned how to drive in this little town in Oregon, maybe you’ve heard of it?

There are no traffic lights and no cloverleafs, so none of this exit-right-to-turn-left stuff that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around. For as much as I travel, I’m a bit directionally challenged.

I wasn’t always all of the things that you see standing here in front of you.

In fact, exactly thirty years and five days ago, May 17, 1988, I sat exactly where you are sitting, in this exact building, in this same walled-off room, at this exact same luncheon.

Here’s what I looked like back then:

Christine Verges and Virginia Farr, LHS graduation, June 5, 1988

I think my son was about 10 years old when he saw my high school senior photo for the first time. He asked, “Your mom let you go to school like that?”

What can I say? It was the ’80s.



I wasn’t a big deal in high school.

I wasn’t the kind of girl who made Homecoming court or prom queen or cheer. Although I lettered in volleyball and basketball, I wasn’t the team caption. I’m allergic to animals, so 4-H and FFA were out of the question. I won a few student council elections here and there and I did go to Oregon Girls’ State, but that was mostly because I was excited to travel to Eugene. There was no asterisk by my name in the graduation program for National Honor Society, I wasn’t valedictorian, and I didn’t win any of the teacher-nominated awards. I certainly wasn’t an Eri Cup (speech) finalist, so I’m way out of my element here.

One of highlights of my sophomore year was when I wrote a story about my volleyball team to submit to the local newspaper, and it got published! But they removed my byline, so nobody even noticed that I was now a published writer.

What I wanted to learn was watercolor painting, photography and creative writing. But it was high school, so I found my home instead in English, yearbook, and typing. My friends handled the math and science for me: Bill Barry cut up my frog and Jacque DeFord did my algebra and geometry homework, and in exchange, I wrote and edited a lot of essays and provided summaries of novels (this was pre-Spark Notes, you realize? We didn’t even have email yet. We were all still typing on our electric typewriters.)

In junior high, I used to walk around Lakeview selling pepperoni sticks to raise money to travel on the bus to San Francisco. In high school, those sales took us to New York and Washington D.C. Somewhere in there, I traveled to Puerto Vallarta and Honolulu.

LHS 1988 Senior Class Motto: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield …” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This was the motto my senior class chose. I nominated it, and I fought hard to convince my classmates to adopt it. I believed in that quote.



I got the Daly Fund and accepted into college but I had no idea what I wanted to BE let alone what I should major in.

Trying to figure it out, I made a list of three things I wanted to DO:

  • Travel
  • Speak Spanish
  • Learn, really learn, how to use my camera on manual mode.

Armed with my list, I registered for Photography the fall of my freshman year. I took pictures of my friends and people whom I loved:


Jeff Verges, LHS 1980, and Jim Lynch, LHS 1954; Thanksgiving, 1988.

self-portrait with Dave Evans, LHS 1987; Oregon State University, fall 1988.

It was a disaster. They were properly exposed (which, to my credit, was probably more than half the battle back in the days of learning with film) but that’s about the only visually interesting thing that can be said about them. My instructor berated me in the critiques of most of my assignments and gave me a C for a final grade. He told me to go back to the English department and major in literature.

So I did.

Not even six months into my college journey, I failed to heed my own best advice. I hung my head, defeated, and accepted that I wasn’t very good at photography.

The summer after my freshman year, I went to Scandinavia and I spent a month of my 19th year and all my savings tooling around Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki with my camera. The sun almost never went down, and they had this thing called the Northern Lights. I couldn’t believe it. I had the time of my life and didn’t want to leave.

My parents (nervously?) reminded me that my college scholarship didn’t work overseas, so I returned to Oregon. By then the rain was really wearing on me. I dreamed of moving to Arizona.

My last semester of college as an undergraduate, I took only Spanish. By the time I took my final exam, I was consistently dreaming in Spanish and I decided that was good enough — I checked off №2 on my list.

I got my degree, packed up my car, and drove to Arizona.



I found a job as a newspaper reporter. My editor would yell at me, swear at me, throw things at me, and push me waaaaaay out of my comfort zone. He’d hang notes on my desk to teach me how to be a better writer.

I got my first death threat from a reader and my editor stopped me from quitting by assuring me that only good writers get those. (Yes, there were trolls even before there was the internet.)

I won a first place award from the Arizona Press Club.

I got accepted into graduate school at the University of Arizona and while I was there, I worked my way up the food chain to become editor in chief of the campus newspaper.

My graduate thesis was to put my college newspaper online.

At the time, the internet had just gone graphic — meaning, we had the internet, albeit dial-up (don’t ask) but we only had text. This possibility of publishing images AND text online was revolutionary.

I was so excited. Because of my job as editor-in-chief, I had a million dollar advertising budget to work with and 100 student employees under me — I had the resources and the knowledge to build an online newspaper. And I had both my work and my academic advisor’s support.

Only then my academic advisor got cancer and had to go to the Mayo Clinic. I landed in front of the department head, who had taken over my advisor’s academic duties, to explain my thesis.

I was positively bursting with ideas and possibility, telling him all about learning to write HTML, the graphical interface, interactive reader polls, contributions in the comments, journalism forever changed.

He leaned back and then said to me, deadpan: “Christine, the internet is a fad. Find a topic and write a paper.”

LHS class motto, 1988: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield …” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I wrote the paper.

It’s titled, “Refrigerator Journalism” (get it? You know, the kind of newspaper articles that Moms cut with scissors and hang on the fridge), an exploration of community journalism in small towns and how such newspapers affect the local residents and economy.

It was illustrated by clippings of me in a homemade costume in Kindergarten all the way through my sports team photos in high school — I even included my first article, the one where my byline was missing. That made me feel better.

“Refrigerator Journalism” was never published in academic circles — in fact, I’m certain only one person ever even read it, and she’s here today: my Mom.

Only this time, I didn’t yield.

The online Arizona Daily Wildcat was one of the first of its kind, and it still gets recognition for that. Only one person read my essay, but millions of people were reading my newspaper and readers from all over the country were sending us comments, participating in our polls, engaging in what we were writing. These days, there’s even an app for that!

My efforts caught the eye of an editor at a large city newspaper and he recruited me and offered me a job before graduation. It was settled then: Arizona was my place, and I would never leave. I was a the top of my game. I shipped all my sweaters and closed-toe shoes to my sister in Oregon.

And then I met a boy.

Undergraduate Pilot Training, Columbus, MS, 1995

The week before our wedding, he graduated from Undergraduate Pilot Training and got his first flying assignment — in Tokyo.



2018 Senior Class Motto: “Don’t wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.” — Miley Cyrus

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg frequently tells young women, “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”

(They didn’t have Facebook yet when I got married, so I didn’t know this.)

So now I’m living in Tokyo, heel marks all the way from Tucson, trying really hard to make the moment perfect but not doing a very good job of it, when one of my college friends from Oregon came to visit me.

I had to pick her up at the airport, which was only 20 miles away, but an hour and twenty minutes in hairy, beastly traffic.

In one of the largest cities in the world.

In a country where I didn’t speak the language and couldn’t read any of the road signs.

And I didn’t have a cell phone.

And I learned how to drive in a small town in Oregon.

Oh — and they drive on the LEFT in Tokyo!

Whenever I used my turn signal, the windshield wipers came on, because everything in Japanese cars in Japan is backwards from how it is in the U.S.

Another American had written directions for me to follow. It said things like “turn left on the Chu-o, drive until you see the sign that says 立川 [shake and three fries], turn right, go until you see the large pink cat on the tile building, be careful to stay in the left lane in the tunnel because it splits without warning …”

I picked up my friend, and she says to me, “I can’t believe you’re DRIVING!”



2018 Senior Class Motto: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” — St. Francis of Assisi

We lived in a Japanese house with rice paper walls and Tatami mat floors. I rode the trains and the subway back and forth to work.

There were people outside the train called “Crammers.” Their actual job was to shove as many people into the trains as possible before the doors closed. Inside the train, there were people called “Gropers.” I never really knew who they were, as everyone was inside my personal space.

We spent our nights in Roppongi and our money in (¥ Japanese yen) in the Ginza.

We traveled to Hong Kong and Singapore and then back to Hong Kong again because it was Just. So. Cool.

I was working for a Japanese company that manufactures electron microscopes. They hired me to “write their English correspondence” — great! Right up my ally.

Only I’d get to work and they’d hand me pages and pages of technical specs to type and retype. Subscripts, superscripts, Greek characters …

I hated that job, and one day, I stood up, walked over to my supervisor, and announced, “I quit.” The whole place got silent. Apparently, one doesn’t do that in Japan. In Japan, it’s expected that workers take a job and work it for 40 or 50 years until retirement. Oh.

I quit anyway.

I asked a Japanese friend to write the words for me in Kanji, and I ran an advertisement in a local newspaper that a native English-speaking American was now accepting new Japanese students who wish to learn English. I charged $100/hour and worked until I’d paid off all my student loans.



By the time we returned to the States from Tokyo, I was 6 months pregnant and had a one-year-old. I had gone back to work as a freelance writer for newspapers, but once our second child arrived, it was too hard for me to keep a complete sentence in my head, let alone commit it to paper.

Had my daughter gone to Lakeview High School, she would’ve been in your graduating class; she’s exactly your age.

You don’t remember the day, but you’ve all heard about 9–11, the day that changed everything. My husband’s best friend from college (United States Air Force Academy) was flying a KC-10 training mission in New Jersey that day. A KC-10 is a tanker, they refuel fighter jets in the air so that the fighters don’t have to land.

So there he is, just another day at the office, teaching student pilots how to safely orchestrate an in-air refuel, when he gets orders from the Pentagon to divert to Manhattan and lead the first refueling mission over the World Trade Center attacks.

With student pilots.

And suddenly, our country is at war.

62nd Airlift Wing, in Kabul, Afghanistan

My husband was flying C-17s. He was gone 300+ days out of every year for four years. Most of the time, I didn’t know where he was. I tried not to watch the news and I was glued to the news. I did the best I could to hold everything together at home.

I felt like my career and my relevancy in journalism was slowly floating away, but I was now a military wife and had two little people who needed me more.

Besides, I’d stumbled into a bead shop and discovered sterling silver wire. One day, one of my pilot-wife friends came over; she said she needed a birthday gift and she wondered if I would sell her one of those bracelets I’d been making.



The jewelry business was therapeutic for me during that time; it gave me something to focus on other than the search for Osama bin Laden, it was compatible around my life with two-under-two, and it was a creative outlet that didn’t require a lot of brain energy.

the CleoBleu Collection, c. 2002

At some point, I needed images of my jewelry. I tried and tried to photograph it myself, but I just couldn’t get it right. I found a professional photographer in Gig Harbor who did product shots for Nordstrom. He charged way more than I could afford but I hired him anyway.

I watched carefully as he worked, studying the things he was doing and the tools he was using, most of which I didn’t understand. I listened carefully to him as he explained the highly reflective properties of metal and crystal and I was astonished at how simple his end setup was, a piece of glass over saw horses with the jewelry lit from behind! No wonder I wasn’t getting it right.

My jewelry business was relatively successful and it lasted until the one holiday season as I was opening cards from friends, noticing that several of them were sporting photos of their kids that I’d taken!

2018 Senior Class Motto: “Don’t wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.” — Miley Cyrus

It was time for me to get serious about №3 on my list of things to do with my life — learn, really learn, how to use my camera on manual.

I studied the inverse square law and memorized the four factors that constitute the quality of an image and I took the national exam to earn a CPP after my name: Certified Professional Photographer.

And I passed.

And my photos improved.

The best I can describe the feeling is a deep sense of accomplishment for my 19-year-old self.



I want to talk for a moment about “taking the moment and making it perfect” because it’s a really nice thing to print on a graduation program, but I don’t have the first clue as to how to help you go out into the world and find perfect.

What does perfect even look like?



  1. Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be

There are only two certainties that I can guarantee each and every one of you as you embark on adult life: death and taxes.

In between, you’ll discover the moments that make up your story, the story of Your Future Self.

I can tell you this: I didn’t travel all the way to Lakeview to stand before you and talk about my “perfect” life.

I came here from D.C. to describe the moment a high school boy (on his way to becoming a veterinarian) saved me from the horror of cutting open a once living thing now drowning in formaldehyde.

Or the pleasure of seeing my byline in print for the first time.

Or the frustration of my master’s thesis proposal rejection.

Or the delight in telling a captive audience that the internet, as it turns out, isn’t a fad.

Life isn’t perfect.

People aren’t perfect.

Things don’t always go perfectly as planned.

At some point, life will kick you hard and without warning into the shoes of your Future Self.

And you’ll just have to roll with it, because your classmates are depending on you. Or a newborn is depending on you. Or your clients are depending on you. Or our nation is depending on you.


I’d like to challenge you today to question the way you see perfect because perfect is just an adjective. Adjectives describe nouns. Without nouns, adjectives have no meaningful subject to describe.

I’d like to see you dig a little deeper and identify the nouns that will become the subjects of Your Future Self’s stories.

The verbs that go with those nouns — the predicates to your subjects, the attitude that you attach to your actions — will shape the direction of your experiences. But without the nouns to prompt you, there will be no verbs that demonstrate your choices.



Ok. So to wrap things up here:

High School You is over and Your Future Self hasn’t arrived yet.

Meet You, v. 2.0

You, v. 2.0 represents the limbo you’re going to feel for a little while — years, hopefully — as graduation separates you from your High School self and you go out in search of Your Future Self.

I know this because I was once your age.

Now I live with people your age.

The thing about this limbo, about this new post-high-school version but not-quite-finished-adult version of You, is that you must create her.

How do you do that?

By following your own advice.

And the way to follow your own advice is by making conscious choices.

It’s not possible to take the moment and make it perfect without making a conscious choice to do so.

It’s not possible to start doing anything, let alone doing what’s necessary, without making a conscious choice to do something.

Want something? Make the conscious choice to do one thing each day that takes you in that direction.

Don’t like the direction this is going? Make the conscious choice to turn a different way.

OR, you can do nothing — but don’t be fooled: doing nothing is making a conscious choice.

As difficult as limbo can feel, You v. 2.0 has the most important job you’ve faced thus far: making the conscious choices today that will directly influence and shape all future versions of yourself.

You create Your Future Self — the adult version of you — by requiring You v. 2.0 to make conscious choices.

Every day.

You, v. 2.0 makes the conscious choice to do what’s necessary, do what’s possible, do the impossible, to find the opportunity in any given moment, to strive, seek, find, and not to yield … You v.2.0 is the version of yourself that will live into Your Future Self of your own design.

Jim Rohn says we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

Your habits dictate your behavior.

2,617 = the number of times the average person swipes, taps, and/or scrolls on a smart phone per day. That adds up to two hours and twenty-five minutes.

You control how to fuel and care for your body.

The content you consume is a conscious choice.

How you spend your time is a conscious choice.

I’m not your Google. I’m not here to tell you which five foods are the healthiest foods to eat or which exercises will get you the best bang for your buck.

I’m not the judge of you — I’m not here to tell you whether the conscious choices you make are good, bad, or otherwise.

I’m me.

LHS 1988 Senior Girls’ Luncheon: [back row] Tina Grossarth, Jacque DeFord, Christine Verges, Jodi Talbott, Traci Ward; [front row] Vanessa Murphy, Kristine Wells, Christy Owen, Rachel Lauretti, Paige Mistretta.

I came here today, exactly thirty years and five days later, because I want to introduce you to the second version of yourself, the woman who is the most uniquely and excitedly you, the woman who has successfully shed her High School You and is now free to make the conscious choices that will produce Her Future Self. She is your best version of you to date.

Love her, cherish her, honor her, and care for her, as Your Future Self’s health, happiness, and success depend on her conscious choices.

Thank you, and congratulations, ladies. 🙂



Christine Verges Gacharná is a freelance writer and Certified Professional Photographer. She is a 1988 graduate of Lakeview High School and holds a BA in English from Oregon State University and an MA in journalism from the University of Arizona. Her editorial, corporate, and commercial work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, and company websites across the U.S.

As an entrepreneur, she’d had four businesses: a jewelry business in Tacoma, Washington; a wedding and portrait photography business in the D.C. area; a yoga studio in New Orleans; and most recently, an online business that helps high school and college students with college essay writing.

10 things I wish I had known before I bought a yoga studio

Three weeks ago, I set out as an aspiring student in search of a yoga studio.

Today, I bought it.

The journey from Point A to Point B was every bit as crackpot as it must sound, plus some.

The short story version begins with the move to New Orleans. First things first: find a new dentist, chiropractor, doctor for the kids, hair salon. Get the kids settled in school and into their new routine. Learn my way around and the quirks of traffic. Meet my neighbors.

After those details of life (that we tend to take for granted until suddenly they are no longer routine) are once again familiar, I begin Phase II: figuring out where I fit into it all.

And when there’s figuring out to do, I do what I’ve been doing since junior high: I go running.

And while running clarifies, simplifies, strengthens and empowers just about everything for me, it doesn’t offer much in the way of flexibility. This is especially true when I stop. Stretching my reach toward my feet to untie my laces after a long run reminds me of my mere mortalness (to say nothing of my age.)

Yoga. I need a yoga class. For years, I’ve been chasing the perfect yoga class. In the Mixing Bowl, the Northern Virginia/D.C. area where we used to live, class times either conflicted with morning carpool or coincided perfectly with commuter traffic. New Orleans, on the other hand, serves up yoga classes easily and conveniently. I was thrilled to find a studio in my neighborhood.

And then I learned, talking with my instructor after class, that the owner was closing the studio in December. Crushed by the news, I lingered in the doorway and took in my little snapshot of this community I’d just discovered. Something in me shifted — that’s the best I can describe it.

I drove straight home and asked my husband how he felt about buying a yoga studio.



Fast-forward through three crazed weeks of talking with investors, bankers, accountants, attorneys, friends, family, neighbors and just about anyone who will listen to last night, when we met with the owners.

We made a formal offer, and they accepted. Looking back, that moment when the guys shook hands and the girls embraced encapsulates all that is this yoga studio we are buying: a business — one welcomed by and entwined with community. Our community. Our new home.

“Bloom where you’re planted,” wrote my graduate school advisor when I announced the move to New Orleans. “You always do.”

A lotus blossom, perhaps?


Here’s the top 10 things I wish I had known before I made my decision:

10.Mindbody. A studio’s website most visited page is the schedule of classes. Mindbody is to yoga what Microsoft is to corporate America. This cloud-based software system is a beast to set up with a completely counter-intuitive back-end interface, but Mindbody Tech Support provides free training and assistance and the initial investment of time is worth the payoff on the other end. Instructors are familiar with the layout and use and can help studio owners manage the class check-in process as well as basic client service. Most clients already have Mindbody accounts from other studios they’ve visited, and, chances are, already have the app on their smartphone and a successful experience of making an online purchase via Mindbody. Mindbody has since purchased HealCode, creating a seamless plugin to display the studio’s schedule, including instructor profiles and class pass purchases, on any website. Bonus: payroll integration.

9.Copyright. Most people, and most especially yoga studio owners and the instructors they employ, are unaware that playing music in a place of business without express written consent from the recording artist is a violation of copyright laws. Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. Yoga studios that allow instructors to play music in the background of class must first obtain licensing permission from the label(s). Additionally, though it’s hard to believe that this does not go without saying after all the warning messages users are flashed as they update their yoga studio Facebook page, the same copyright protections extend to photographers, writers and other creatives whose photos, text and graphics all too commonly show up as stolen on yoga studio websites. Stealing makes people sad, is probably bad yoga karma and can result in hefty federal copyright violations that might bankrupt even the most well intentioned providers of peace, love, and namasté.

8.Location, location, location. Students searching for yoga begin their search by looking for the studio most conveniently located to their home or work. Studios must provide students with a location convenient enough to ensure they will arrive, yet isolated enough to promise a peaceful experience of mindfulness and restoration that is yoga practice. Arguably, location could easily move to the number one slot on this list, as an inconveniently located studio will struggle to find students to serve. The ideal studio is located on a main commuter thoroughfare but is also tucked away from traffic, noise and distraction found on a main commuter thoroughfare — this is the great oxymoron that plagues urban yoga studios.

The answer, of course, is soundproofing. Insulating the asana room from the sounds of car horns and passers-by from the street outside, as well as the friendly, chatty voices of instructors and students arriving early for the next scheduled class ensures that the client experience is as rewarding as promised.

7.Breathe. Yoga studio owners are not immune to the challenges of small businesses — yes, gulp, don’t let the cute Lululemon costume fool you. A yoga studio is in fact a small business and the owner is both yogi and businessperson. As a small business owner, yoga studio owners wear many hats, including customer service, advertising, bookkeeping, scheduling, maintenance, IT … the list goes on and on. Decisions need to be made, and those decisions must focus on what is best for the studio. Just because the industry practices yoga doesn’t mean that everyone in the local yoga community will always respond with zen-like calm and focused clarity. Interestingly enough, yoga clients and certified yoga instructors are not immune to the sometimes passive-aggressive, other times downright hostile behavior that all small business owners must train themselves to deal with. Just breathe.


6.Don’t reinvent the wheel. If there’s already an established yoga studio in the neighborhood, approach the owner to see if they are interested in selling. It’s not a bad idea to enlist the help of a business broker as the extra money invested might very well be worth the peace of mind in knowing the entire transaction was above board and a professional is looking out for buyer and seller. Like anything else, buying a turnkey yoga studio has advantages and disadvantages. However, many of the disadvantages can easily be transformed into advantages with a little bit of creativity and good karma (this is yoga, after all!)

5.Write it down. Spend time writing a mission statement, business plan, policies, procedures and a general contract for instructors. Putting ideas into writing is very powerful stuff: try hanging a sticky note with one goal for the week on the fridge or computer screen or mirror and see how quickly that goal materializes into the actions of daily life. Running a small business is a series of short-term and long-term goals all lovingly linked together with sweat equity, time, commitment, and financial investment.

4.1099s. This isn’t an effort for small businesses to sidestep employee payroll taxes (even though the reality is, most yoga studios couldn’t afford to pay employee payroll taxes for instructors the first few years in business, let alone the ramifications of the Affordable Care Act on small business owners — but that’s another story.) No, the best and most successful yoga studios are the studios that bring the best instructors in the area to their little community niche to share their knowledge and expertise. Yoga is unique to other small business service industries in that it’s an extremely portable business. A sought-after instructor may not be able to sell out all 5 classes in a single studio location for an given single day, but could easily sell out in 5 classes in various yoga studios across the city in a given single day. Traveling and/or visiting instructors offer some of the most innovative and unique classes in the business, significantly increasing a studio’s diversity. Contracting instructors leaves the schedule ripe for such unique, diverse offerings and works best not just for the studio and its instructors, but also for the students whom they serve.

3.CYT = CYA. Yoga Teacher Training is a topic that divides yogis. The entity that is the closest thing to regulating yoga in the U.S. is Yoga Alliance. Yoga Alliance “grandfathered in” many longtime instructors with credentials that other instructors only earned after investing considerable time, money and study toward a 200-hour or 500-hour certification. Many uncertified yoga instructors maintain that any governing body or regulatory entity isn’t going to change the way they instruct and the investment is completely unnecessary.

The reality for yoga studio owners is that we no longer live in the free love sharing of psychedelic yoga experience from the ’60s and ’70s; we live in an increasingly litigious society. Studio owners would be wise to protect themselves and their investment from any claims that might arise, and contracting 200- or 500-hour Certified Yoga Teachers (CYT) raises the bar of excellence and professionalism in the studio.

2.Liability. Studios need liability insurance, of course. However, studios should require that individual instructors (see 1099s above) also carry their own personal liability insurance, setting the bar high to protect the industry as a whole. The instructor is the professional in the class with the expertise that the client is responding directly to. Liability insurance for instructors is a surprisingly low amount. Instructors who already carry personal liability insurance are the qualified candidates studios are looking for. In unique circumstances where the instructor doesn’t already have a policy, the studio may consider offering to purchase it for them (often, this can be easily added to the studio’s existing liability policy) and negotiate repayment of the loan from classes taught over time.

1.The exorbitant price of free. Yoga is expensive. Yoga instructors spend considerable time, money and effort to earn their 500-hour CYT. Yoga studios pay first and last month’s rent, utility bills, insurance, and county, state and federal taxes and licensing fees. There is no worse day in yoga class than the day after the studio launches a Groupon campaign or similar offering of free or reduced yoga. Regular clients are punished with an influx of newbies who, by definition, demand that the regular pace of the class be slowed or shortened and greedily consume the instructor’s attention. Many clients make a living from taking advantage of free or reduced classes, and rarely become the kind of client the studio is hoping to attract with promotions as they disappear as soon as the value item expires.



Years later, I spent a whole day packing up my yoga studio and moving it from my second commercial location to my garage.

It was a strange task, a surreal mix of past, present and future. Instructors and students stopped by, called, sent emails, lit up my iPhone screen with texts … most of them had encouraging and kind words to say. A handful of others had, meh, not so much nice to say.

I wasn’t sure what to do with all that I was processing, and when there’s figuring out to do, I do what I do naturally — I run.

Of course, packing up an entire studio takes time, and by late afternoon, as is typical in the South, it was dumping rain.

I ran anyway. I left my iPhone at home and ran through the rain without Nine Inch Nails blowing thoughts from my brain. I was the only soul for miles along Lake Pontchartrain during this stretch. Several times, I turned around and ran backward just to verify my surroundings.

This is what I discovered yoga taught me during that run:

  • It takes an interesting balance of chutzpah and openness to just up and buy a yoga studio, let alone one that truly appreciates the viewpoints of others.
  • I learned to listen to my body, especially if it’s telling me the costs outweigh the benefits.
  • I learned to notice and truly appreciate how delicately and prominently light from a sunbreak can reflect off wet asphalt.
  • I learned to be in the present moment, to truly appreciate the wind in my ears, similar to the sound I would hear as a kid careening on my bike.
  • I listened to my own breath, focusing on the inhales and the exhales to stay present and keep a steady pace.

As the miles clicked away, I thought less and less about the rain and less and less about anything at all. I just took it all in, listening to the rush of air, my own breathing, and I ran.

Christine Gacharná no longer owns a yoga studio, but she’s a loyal supporter of her local studios and sometimes serves as a business consultant to some studios that struggle. She recently moved back to Northern Virginia.

A Zany Christmas


When I met Zany in college, I didn’t even realize he had other names (like “Dave.”)

It takes awhile to get used to living in a new location. It takes awhile to get familiar with a new camera, and it takes awhile to learn the flavors of a manual focus prime (my former workhorse lens for family portraits was a super-fast auto-focus zoom.) It’s a big shock to remember what it’s like to need boots, hats, and gloves in wintertime! Yesterday was a big step for me in all of those directions.

Super grateful for Jen & Dave and their family’s warm, friendly faces as we settle into our new neighborhood.


Testimonial — Jen Schulze

August 28, 2016, 9:48 AM
They LOVED every single photo and every overlap of the pictures … they were so expertly done. You are GIFTED! Madison couldn’t stop talking about them. Blaise quietly said to me, “I know it sounds stupid, Mom, but those photos made the day magical… It’s was a great day but I’ll always remember it as magical.”
Dave, Madison’s dad, said, “It’s so amazing that God did so much through a friend from Kindergarten.”
It’s just incredible to me how talented you are … you can take a courthouse wedding and make it into a fairytale!
Your photos made the day absolutely perfect … better than perfect, actually. You made it magical. Thank you.
— Jen Schulze


When shooting headshots for corporate profiles, I’ve found people can be nervous and apprehensive. To break the ice, I ask them to give me their best silly face. It elicits a few laughs, and it always surprises me how creative people can be (some people actually have a Silly Face that they break out) and it’s a reminder to me personally not to take myself so seriously. Clearly, these aren’t the final images that we used for the company profile, but Dr. and Mrs. Jeanfreau and their team were great sports at playing along.


Art is not a thing …

… it’s a process!I spent this week helping Artist Connie Chapman update her logo with her tagline and create a video to promote her website.

Her lessons to help the elderly and children get involved in the process of making art, exploring the relaxation of coloring.


Birth, adoptive parents share love for daughter

By Christine Gacharná

Special to the Advocate

Melanie Moore enjoyed a weeklong cruise with her 15-year-old daughter, Anna, to top off the summer before school resumed. They explored Central America, laughing, talking, snapping selfies, and bonding.

As the cruise ship docked back in New Orleans, Melanie returned Anna to Anna’s parents — Anna’s adoptive parents, that is.

Melanie is Anna’s birth mother. Anna’s adoptive parents, Jim and Cathy Barrouquere, have raised her since birth in an open adoption arrangement with Melanie.

“It’s just always been part of the way it was,” Jim said. “In the beginning, it was a work in progress, but we’ve gotten to the point where we’re really comfortable with each other, and Anna is really comfortable with her birth family.”

Cathy explained that their arrangement isn’t something that happened overnight.

“A lot of work went into this on both sides, as far as developing and nurturing this relationship,” Cathy said. “Placing a child up for adoption is probably the most difficult thing a young woman could do, so that was a difficult place for us to start.”

Their story began when a 16-year-old Melanie, a student in a local all-girls Catholic school, found out she was pregnant.

“My life was pretty chaotic,” Melanie said. “I was a dramatic, hormonal teenager, I could barely keep up with my emotions. I couldn’t even begin to think how a child would fare in that type of environment.”

Melanie said she knew within the first month what she wanted to do, and that led her to Volunteers of America, the organization that facilitated Anna’s open adoption.

“It was very emotional,” Melanie remembered. “It’s like a death. My body was reacting as if I should have a child with me but I didn’t, so it was a constant reminder. It was hard because even though I knew I was doing the right thing, my emotions were telling me that I’m not. I just wanted to be in my bedroom by myself.”

Although there was a waiting period in place for the adoption, Melanie says she never changed her mind because she wasn’t making the decision for her — she made the decision for Anna.

“If it was for me, I would have kept her,” Melanie said. “And that’s what’s so hard for people to understand.”

After the adoption, Melanie returned to her high school where she was instructed to never speak of her pregnancy, but rather explain her absence as illness. She graduated and attended college where she joined a sorority and earned a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree, all while still being able to be in Anna’s life.

“I’m not going to say there’s not hard times,” Melanie said, “but how would my life have been? More importantly, how would her life have been? She is thriving. She’s wonderful.”

Melanie said she hasn’t always been this open about her situation, but she would like for there to be increased awareness about open adoption as an option.

Cathy said one of the questions she is frequently asked is how are they able to share?

“I’ve just never felt like she was mine to own from the get-go,” Cathy said. “Part of that comes from the Father, that we’re all God’s children and we all belong to God, so I don’t fell at all like we are ‘sharing’ her.”

Cathy said that she and Jim feel blessed with the privilege of being Anna’s parents.

“Melanie has given us that blessing,” Cathy said.

“It’s a benefit to Anna to have more people who know her and love her,” Jim said, “and that’s the bottom line; you can never have enough people to love a kid.”

[Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, September 16, 2015.]


the gaping hole

Wardo’s sudden death left so many of us without words. As the days — and now weeks — pass after the car accident that ultimately took his life, the word that keeps coming back to me to describe this awful unfairness is gaping. The verb, as in how we stared ahead in disbelief, jaws dropped, to the news that couldn’t possibly be unfolding. The noun, the stares of astonishment, expressions of tearful friends and family looking on as he was carried down the steps of the USAFA chapel to his final rest. And now, the adjective that keeps resurfacing, the awful hole that is left in so very many lives now that he is gone.


When I think about Scott’s life, though, I keep coming back to another word: loyalty.  Scott was sooooo loyal—loyal to his wife, to his boys, to his family, to his country, to his life’s passion (flying), to his God, to his friends.

The only way I can find to begin to fill the gaping hole is to think in the direction of how Scott lived, how he made us laugh, and how his actions spoke so clearly of his loves and his loyalty.


We love you, Wardo.

Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, the obituary that I wrote for the USAFA AOG:

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Scott Coleman Ward died Aug. 12 from injuries sustained in a traffic accident.  He was 47.

Scott grew up near Vail, Colorado, where he was a standout high school athlete, leading his Battle Mountain football team to the state championship. He went on to play football at the USAFA Prep School and Lacrosse at the Academy.

After graduation, Scott secretly eloped with the love of his life, Jennet. Following UPT, the Wards officially wed in a traditional ceremony at the USAFA chapel before embarking on what became Scott’s distinguished Air Force flying career that spanned C-21s, KC-10s, C-37s, and Boeing 747s (both E-4 and VC-25 versions).

On Sept. 11, 2001, Scott was airborne with students on a KC-10 training sortie as an instructor pilot (McGuire AFB). After the World Trade Center attacks, he was diverted to lead the first fighter refueling missions over Manhattan.

Jokingly nicknamed “The Golden Boy” by his buddies, Scott earned his MBA, was selected for Air Command and Staff College followed by a Pentagon tour, and was hired by the 89th Airlift Wing (Andrews AFB). His outstanding pilot and leadership skills were quickly recognized, and “Wardo” was bestowed the coveted honor of being one of 10 pilots hand-selected to fly the President of the United States on Air Force One.

“Any other job after this one is just going to be a job,” Scott joked about his impending retirement from active duty and the world’s most recognizable aircraft.

Scott and Jennet were thrilled when Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. offered him a position as a test pilot in Savannah, GA. He began flying for Gulfstream while on terminal leave, officially retiring just 10 days before the accident.

A devoted, lifelong Denver Broncos fan, Scott found great sport in his natural athleticism, regularly challenging and often dominating his buddies in golf or tennis. Scott was actively involved in coaching his sons’ football and lacrosse teams. Although recognized as an elite Air Force pilot, he will be remembered most as an amazing, inspirational, and loyal husband, father, and friend.

Scott is survived by his loving wife of 22 years, Jennet; their three sons, Cole (12), Jake (11), and Zach (9); canine buddy, Desmond; mother, Shirley Ward; sisters Stephanie (Ted) Archibeque, and Stacey (Phil) Kerek; brother Richard (Tami) Ward; aunt Doris Bailey; and numerous in-laws, nieces and nephews, and friends who adored him, including Academy classmates he affectionately referred to as “The Groovers.”

He was preceded in death by close friends 1st. Lt. Laura Ashley Piper (’92) and Lt. Col. Daniel Patrick Murray (’92).

Funeral services were Aug. 21 at the USAFA Chapel. Pallbearers were Tim Adams (’91), Lt. Col. (Ret.) Dave Deames (’91), Col. Mark Ely (’92), Lt. Col. (Ret.) J. Carlos Gacharna (’92), Troy Heithcock (’92), Col. (Ret.) Dave Mott (’92), Maj. (Ret.) Mike Murray (’91), and Lt. Col. Daniel Thorn (’92). Interment took place at the USAFA Cemetery.

During the service, friends and family were comforted by the verse Scott regularly imparted to his sons, donned on Bronco orange bracelets, imprinted with Air Force blue ink: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)


Three of us in this house have never, ever had a puppy. Two of the three of us are extremely allergic. So we spent the last year with Dr. Tammy Harvey, getting allergy shots. And today, we took a big gamble and picked out a puppy! We had to choose between these two:


Guess which character we picked?

She’s the cutest, bounciest, sweetest little thing EVER. We’re so in love.

August 8, 2015 update:

I was the only one up early Saturday morning, so I took Aspen up to the levee to play. Photographing puppies is one thing, but taking iPhone selfies with a bouncy Aspen is quite another. I tried. 🙂


Local musicians give homeless an opportunity to get in on the act

Popular Louisiana artist Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. leads the crowd in brainstorming lyrics at the New Orleans Mission as other artists on stage look on. The Hit Me America jam session produced a song in one hour with proceeds donated directly to the Mission.

By Christine Gacharná

Special to The Advocate

The familiar white noise of freeway traffic overhead and sirens in the distance were interrupted last Tuesday afternoon for homeless residents by the pulsing sounds of popular local musicians performing inside the New Orleans Mission.

“Hit Me America,” an organization that pairs songwriters and musicians with a live audience to produce a hit song, teamed up with the nonprofit Christian organization to give an audience of homeless patrons an uplifting opportunity to exercise their creative talents.

“The mission is more than just a shelter, it’s more than just about food and clothing,” said David Bottner, director of the The Orleans Mission. “It’s really about change.”

Bottner said he jumped at the chance when songwriter Ewell Smith and producer Steven

Audience members at the New Orleans Mission participate in the Hit Me America jam session, contributing story lines, lyrics, and melodies to help inspire songwriters on stage.

Scaffidi presented the idea.

“Anything we can do to entertain our guests, take their mind off their plight, even if just for a moment,” Bottner said, “is so worthwhile. When we can do that, we speak to their heart and we give them hope.”

The Mission, Bottner said, aims to address the three “Rs” among homeless: to rescue them from the streets, help them recover, and reengage them into the community. This project, Bottner said, easily fell under the reengagement component.

“We find labor for them, we teach them to paint and do carpentry,” Bottner said, “but we have not been able to reach the artistic side of them.”

New Orleans Mission volunteer Dr. Robert Miles, Jr. plays the the congos during the jam session. A local podiatrist, Dr. Miles also serves the Mission by providing foot care to the homeless.

Smith, a frequent volunteer at the mission, said occasionally he’ll walk under the bridge and talk to the homeless. On one of those walks, he was given a poem written by a homeless man, Jason. Taken by the artistic talent of the homeless poet, Smith encouraged Scaffidi to visit the mission with him, and the idea for the project was born.

“It was like a lightening bolt,” Scaffidi said. “I said, ‘let’s do [Hit Me America] at the Mission and get the homeless people involved’ and there was a 10 second silence and then Ewell says, ‘That’s brilliant!’”

The homeless were treated to performances by before the timer was set for one hour and the brainstorming, songwriting Hit Me America event began. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. led the artists on stage, including Eli Seals, John Autin, TJ Zino, Todd Adams, Reed Alleman, Dustin Hymel, Doc Miles, Blaine Babineaux, Terry Gillis, and Wanda Grant as he held the microphone out to the homeless audience and asked them to shout out their lyrics.

“Hard times don’t kick me no more!” a voice yelled, and Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. turned to the

Todd Adams and Blaine Babineaux on stage during the songwriting portion of the jam session, playing the synthesizer and drums.

band and said, “Give me a blues in E-flat.”

As the band began playing, a woman in the audience contributed, “We’re all God’s homeless children, wandering in this place, unless we give our lives to him, we’ll never know his grace.” Her lyrics were met with rounding applause.

“That’s the song, people!” Ewell yelled out.

“Play that thing!” Scaffidi told the band, and later, “We need two more verses and a chorus.”

The jam session produced the track “Hard Times Don’t Hit Me No More,” and it was recorded Tuesday at Rabadash studios in Covington, with 100 percent of the royalties from sales benefitting the New Orleans Mission.

Artists J Zino, Reed Alleman, and Eli Seals accompany producer Steven Scaffidi and Mission volunteer and songwriter Ewell Smith on stage, collaborating with the audience at the New Orleans Mission during the one-hour songwriting session.

“Even if it’s just one person, and even if it doesn’t bring them to American idol, they will still be recognized for a gift that God gave them,” Bottner said, “a gift that now they get to use that’s just been hidden under a bridge.”

London Howard was one of the participants in the event. He has eight months left before he graduates from the Mission’s one-year spiritual based program, which he credits for saving his life.

“I sold drugs, I did so much time — I spent 11 years of my life in prison,” Howard said. “I never have to go back again. It cost me a fortune to work for the devil, but God is free.”

A live video recording of the song being performed at the mission is online, and the Hit Me America single, “Hard Times” by Eli Seals, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., Ewell Smith and the Mission Disciples will be released at www.hitmeamerica.com.

Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, July 15, 2015.

Carrollton Boosters’ coach wins U.S. lacrosse award

By Christine Gacharná

Special to the Advocate

It was a late winter evening and practice was ending. Ricardo Quinonez, Jr., a hip, African American high school senior sporting long hair asked his coach if he could talk to the team. Coach Doug Mills of Carrollton Boosters said he still gets goose bumps thinking about it, that moment he knew his high school lacrosse team was going to do something special this season.

“Three or four weeks ago, I thought I’d never play lacrosse again,” Quinonez said to his team. “Now, a month later, I’m getting ready to play a game with my new team. I’m coming to play tomorrow with all my heart and soul. You guys do the same.”

The next day, they arrived in Mandeville and faced their impeccably outfitted opponents.

“We looked like the Bad News Bears,” Mills said, laughing at the memory. “Some of our players had uniforms, but they didn’t match, and some were wearing old practice pennies … we looked like a bunch of misfits.”

Outfits aside, his gut feeling inspired by Quinonez’s words the night before was validated as the team won the faceoff and then their first goal. They went on to win the match, 10-0.

In January, Mills got a call from the lacrosse coach from Walter L. Cohen High School. Without the previous year’s seniors, Cohen’s team was one player short. Mills jumped at the opportunity to roll the Cohen students into his high school lacrosse team at Carrollton.

Like a scene from a movie, nine African American players walked toward nine white players for the first time.

“They all came together and kind of looked at each other,” said Mills. “One of the kids from Cohen said, ‘Hey, just a bunch of dudes who want to play lacrosse.’ That’s all that was ever said.”

Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in America, a phenomenon Mills attributes to two dynamics in the New Orleans area:

“One, they absolutely positively love this game,” Mills said. “They come, they learn it and they love it.”

The second dynamic, Mills explained, is a number of athletes looking to get away from football, boosting lacrosse’s popularity.

“As the younger kids look to pick a school,” Mills said, “they tell me their parents don’t want them to play high school football, they’re not good enough to make the high school basketball or baseball team, so what are they going to play? Lacrosse gives kids an opportunity to play.”

Mills got involved in the sport after his oldest son was forced to quit football while recovering from mononucleosis. His son played lacrosse his junior and senior years, made all-state, went to state championship—lost, but had a great experience, Mills said.

In 2010, Mills went to the board at Carrollton and proposed a lacrosse program. “They said, ‘that’s great, but you’ve got to do everything.’”

So Mills did. Having never played himself, he recruited coaches who played high school or college lacrosse and focused on the fundamentals. The program started with 17 players (one of whom had experience) in brackets ranging from under-11, under-13, under-15, and high school. By the third year, he had 40+ kids in the program and the high school lacrosse team “started to get some seasoning to them” as kids with experience moved up. Last year, there were 80 boys and a girl’s team was added.

This year, with 100+ boys, 20 girls, and 15 volunteer coaches in the overall program, Mills was honored in January at the U.S. Lacrosse National Convention in Baltimore with the “Excellence in Growing the Game” award, given to an individual who tirelessly develops lacrosse in a geographic area.

“Nobody in the Deep South has ever won this award,” Mills said. “We’re so glad that Louisiana and lacrosse were mentioned on the national stage. After five years of blood, sweat, and tears, it was great. But I could name a dozen people who deserve it more than I do, because so many people are involved in this program.”

Jackie Smart, the owner of Southern Lacrosse, was one of the parents who nominated Mills for the award. She said her son’s lacrosse experience was transformed under Mills’s leadership and vision for the team.

“Everyone—coaches, parents and players—was clear the goal was to learn, share excitement, and to allow the boys to have fun,” Smart said. Smart’s son, Michael, is now captain of his Jesuit High School lacrosse team.

This summer will mark Mills’s 22nd year involved with Carrollton. His youngest son, who started playing at Carrollton, now plays for his high school team.

“Carrollton’s been around for 60 years, and do you know how many people we’ve sent pro?” Mills asked. “I can think of 2: Eli and Peyton [Manning]. I tell parents if your mindset is that your kids will play pro, you’re totally missing the point.”

The point, Mills said, is that playing sports teaches kids the values of discipline, teamwork, respect, and perseverance.

His high school lacrosse team took that lesson one step further and developed relationships across socio-economic lines.

“So many of those inner-city relationships are on the periphery, in passing,” Mills said. “I’m so glad we merged those teams, I loved seeing these kids, whose paths would’ve otherwise never crossed, come together and play.”

For more information, visit www.carroltonboosters.org and click on the lacrosse link.

Originally published in the New Orleans Advocate, May 20, 2015.

People in Glass Houses shouldn’t throw stones (ahem, Woodhams)

Mark Woodhams, Class of Vol. 3 Loving Curmudgeon award winner, throws in the towel after decades of vicarious living among the Arizona Daily Wildcat’s fabulous young artists [pirated photo easily lifted from popular social media outlet]

Throwing Stones

Reflections on a dumpy chair, flunky college student hacks, typos, poor judgement and the man who held them all together

By Christine (Verges) Gacharná

The way I remember it, there was nothing special about that chair. It wasn’t particularly inviting or comfortable. The room that housed it was windowless, devoid of any plant life, and music—though talked about—never played. Random scraps of paper were taped and tacked all over the place, some even elevated to permanent showcase on the walls. If there was any particularly poignant message on display, I don’t remember it.

What turned this ordinary chair into the proverbial chair we all cherish is the presence of the man who sat opposite it, safely tucked away a full arms-length distance behind a behemoth wooden desk. Mark Woodhams’s desk.

Woodhams had answers. Not answers that he handed out freely to those slumped before him, but answers that he helped the slumped unearth. Woodhams didn’t dole out the secrets to solving life’s most troublesome dilemmas; rather, he sat, slightly amused, watching apprentice writers, editors, photographers, and artists unfurl the insurmountable dilemmas of journalism. Drama unfolds here, Woodhams visibly relishing in agitated energy. After sufficient taunting and teasing, he brought wisdom and reality to the table and guided students in moving through both on their journey toward mastery. He peppered in life lessons here and there, just for flavor.

The Chair

I started out as a flunky reporter and worked my way though a desk editor job to editor-in-chief. Woodhams was behind me (albeit mostly across from me as I sat in the chair) through it all.

When I had a problem with the ad staff selling ads to Playboy that readers protested, I sat in the chair. When I had a problem with the Art Desk missing deadlines, I sat in the chair. When cute boys complicated my life, I sat in the chair. When I got death threats from readers for running the mugshot of a football player along with a news story on the front page, above the fold, I was in the chair. (Later that day, “out of nowhere,” administration granted me an after-hours parking pass that was considerably closer to the newsroom door.)

And on the worst morning ever of being EIC—the morning my managing editor quit—I was in the chair. By evening, the managing editor had returned to the newsroom. [Editor’s note: Who knows? Maybe he landed in the chair during the day, too. Théoden?]

See, Woodhams was my safety net. Our safety net. I wasn’t the only one in that chair. 😊

Now that we are all grown up—because really, we were just kids back then, even though he was the only one who knew that at the time—we realize our strength was in knowing there was someone to catch us when we failed. We wielded our mighty keyboards from our glass houses and typed out our way in a big world, and we were fearless—fearless, throwing stones.

Except when we weren’t.

And when we broke something, we landed in the chair.

And Woodhams, like a wise and comforting parent, helped us to uncover our own answers. And if the answers we uncovered weren’t the “right” answer, that was okay. Because the Wildcat newsroom was our home, and the worst that could happen was not that we might fail, but that we might not learn from our mistakes.

Vol. 3

And fail we did. Often and much.

Two decades barely softens the sting. I spent an evening reading through original copies of Inside the Glass House, the complete collection of Vol. 3, the summer I started at the Wildcat through the year I was copy chief. [Editor’s Fun Fact: The summer issues are titled “Inside the Glass Pool.”]

Inside the Glass House, Vol. 3, No. 1, August 24, 1994

WE’RE B-A-A-A-A-C-K: First a word for newcomers. As most of the staff knows, from time to time (like, a lot), on as close to a daily basis as possible, I’m going to provide written critiques of the Wildcat. Not complete thorough analyses, but quick off-the-cuff commentary. … “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Newspaper staffs live in glass houses, and newspaper staffs, by their nature, throw stones. These notes, I hope, will help keep you honest and contribute to your education and to the development of the Wildcat.

Here are the groundrules:

1.There are no groundrules…

Inside the Glass House, Vol. 3, No. 2 highlights include:

Check that spelling…As for the jumps…Needs more dominant head…Speaking of design…Keep it up…Uuh?…and then: By the time you guys put tomorrow’s paper to bed tonight, you will have published 104 pages in three days. You deserve a reward. So, courtesy of the home office, tomorrow at Gentle Ben’s from 5-6:30 p.m., all Wildcat staff drink for free (beer or soda). [Editor’s note: He generally ends on a positive. We’ll give him that, seeings as the next issue begins with “Stop your whining…”]

Inside the Glass House, Vol. 3, No. 7

**FLAME ON**: No sooner do I get through praising our headlines this year than you turn in a couple of lulus today on page 1, top and bottom…A plus and a minus…Ouch…

Inside the Glass House, Vol. 3, No. 8

How to report a suicide…sloppy…speaking of sloppy…Interviews!…Great look….

Inside the Glass House, Vol. 3, No. 15

Clue me in. Is it Wildcat policy not to run the names of people who are injured, maimed, killed, what have you, in Police Beat (as opposed to victims of crime, although except for rape, I would run those names too)? When I was cutting my teeth on the cop shop 20 years ago as a punk reporter… [Editor’s note: It’s safe to say we all tuned out here. Now, 20 years later, we realize we shouldn’t have. This gem of an issue ended with:] Nice looking paper today, but style isn’t everything.

Inside the Glass House, Vol. 3, No. 92

The final edition of Woodhams’s signature formatted notes illustrates his quintessential, curmudgeonly praise. No. 92 “takes a broader view of the year gone by. All the top honors at the journalism banquet the other night were won by Wildcat staff—in most cases by students who have put far more into the Wildcat than may be healthy.”

He goes on to recognize serious talent, sheer efforts and lively quirks, bestowing genuine honors in the same breath as flippant observations and cheap shots. He finally confirmed publicly what we all secretly suspected to be true: that Monty Phan was, in fact, his favorite.

There was hope for the rest of us, though, because we all read Glass House. Even photogs who didn’t necessarily know how to read and art desk critics who were waaaay above criticism of their own work read the notes. We all read Glass House. This issue ended with the ominous:

“Those of you who don’t pay attention to them will never amount to anything. So there. —mwoodhams”

The Original Stone Thrower

Woodhams wasn’t our only critic. From a Wildcat editorial, written by Jon Burstein, September 20, 1994:

“Not only do we receive letters regarding content, but we also receive ‘Goof Cards’ from Leonard Rosenthal of the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL). Whenever we make grammatical errors, he finds them and mails us postcards listing all of our faux pas. Oh well, if that’s what you do in your spare time, rock on Leonard.”

The letters always came addressed to me during my tenure as copy chief. I still have all 23 of them.

The 24th arrived, addressed to Mr. Burstein:

“Which just shows that you miss the whole point, son. You apparently think the Goof Cards are just a way for a born nit-picker to let off steam. Well, if the Wildcat is content to rock on with these errors that any 6th grader should know enough to avoid, you have my blessing (Using “she” in the objective case, forsooth!). I’ll not offend you with any more Goof Cards. Some day you may become mature enough to recognize the wisdom of the Pennsylvania Dutch saying,

‘Ve get too soon old and to late shmart.’”

We had a tough job. Everybody was a critic.

Woodhams was our biggest critic, but, unlike Leonard, he always had our backs.


Woodhams stated about his retirement announcement, “blah.”

I disagree. Woodhams is a big deal. The place didn’t just run itself while he sat nearly horizontal, feet up on this desk, fingers interlaced behind his head, steam rising from the coffee mug on the desk. Great advisers like Woodhams only make it look that easy, putting a safety net under those whom they mentor to spread their wings and fly.

Alis volat propriis.

These are the words Woodhams gave me as I graduated from the UA: Latin for the Oregon state motto, she flies with her own wings.

On behalf the Class of Vol. 3, I hereby award Woodhams with The Loving Curmudgeon Award for being the king of rock-throwing oxymorons, wounding us by day yet buying us drinks on Fridays, mercilessly criticizing our craft behind the scenes while publicly endorsing us for internships, graduate schools, jobs. We learned far more working at the Wildcat than we learned in any classroom—and when we failed to learn, Woodhams swooped in the next morning to hammer the lesson home. His presence is sure to be missed.

But hey—he’s not dying, he’s retiring! So let’s get on with celebrating the work of the man who built his career around nit-picking budding artists, lest ve get too soon old and to late shmart.

Rock on, Woodhams. —xoxox

Celebratory salute; World War II veteran marks 105th birthday at museum

As Lawrence Brooks receives a standing ovation from the crowd, he salutes.

By Christine Gacharná

Special to The Advocate

Pfc. Lawrence Brooks is truly a living legend.

Celebrating his 105th birthday at The National WWII Museum Friday, Brooks thanked God, his family and his “other family” from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Brooks was accompanied on stage by his daughter, Vanessa, and the Rev. Ed Thompson, pastor at St. Luke’s.

“Be nice to people,” Brooks said to the crowd of supporters, spilling his secret to longevity. “That’s all you gotta do, just be nice to people.”

The middle son of 14 children, Brooks was born Sept. 12, 1909, in Norwood, LA. was

Brooks receives a battalion plaque in one hand and a coin in the other from Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Appleton, who told the crowd, “Mr. Brooks is truly part of the greatest generation.”

honored for his two years and nine months of service with the 91st Engineer Battalion.

He received a pile of framed proclamations, letters and honors, a handful of medallions, a service coin, a birthday cake, and a sultry “Happy Birthday” serenade from the Victory Belles as part of the celebration.

The National WWII Museum has Brooks’s oral history recorded in their collection, which is also available on YouTube. Visit http://www.nationalww2museum.org for more information.

Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, September 18, 2014.

Designing a cure; young fashionista aims to help others with cystic fibrosis

Grace Rose Bauer models one of her signature designs during the fashion show to support the Louisiana chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The evening’s event raised approximately $10,000.

By Christine Gacharná

Special to the Advocate

At 11 years old, Grace Rose Bauer is tall for her age, surprisingly articulate and strikingly statuesque in the way she carries herself. The faint freckles that pepper her cheekbones are almost the same color as the light brown in her eyes. She wears a coral and cobalt blue halter dress that she designed herself, her brown hair with golden highlights wrapped behind her.

Although she appears at first glance to be just like every other girl her age, the rising sixth grader is surprisingly different in several ways: for one, she has been known to describe herself as “I live in New Orleans, but I go to school in Los Angeles;” for another, she’s a successful business owner and entrepreneur; and though it’s not noticeable upon casual observance, she suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic, genetic, life-threatening disease that impacts her daily life.

“It’s a nightmare,” Grace Rose says, describing her struggles with managing her disease. “It’s a lot to remember. I have to take a lot of pills. I don’t like having to do my treatments twice a day, they take 45 minutes and I have to sit in one spot. I lose a lot of playtime.”

Born in New Orleans, Grace Rose was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at 2 weeks old in the NIC-U at Children’s Hospital. Her mother, Leah Milana Bauer, a self-employed clothing designer, launched her first fashion show to help raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation when Grace Rose was just a baby. Now in its 11th year, the annual event has grown exponentially, and this year, evolved into a showcase for Grace Rose to present her own designs: the Rosie G Collection, “clothes made for kids by a kid with the intent of finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.”

Eleanore Hammel sports her “Rosie G” T-shirt and smiles from backstage where her older sister, LynMary Hammel, assists the fashion show held at the Martine Chaisson Gallery.


This year’s fashion show, held in July at the Martine Chaisson Gallery, raised

approximately $10,000, all of which was donated to the Louisiana Chapter of The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

According to her mother, Grace Rose is very particular not only with colors but with the feel, weight and content of the fabrics she chooses. The duo wash and test fabrics at home before Grace Rose turns them into a design.

“I’ll get an inspiration, and then I’ll take that inspiration and turn it into my own,” Grace Rose explains. “Then I’ll show it to my mom and she’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s really nice, maybe we can make a sample.’ And then we go to the fabric shop and then take everything to the samplemaker.”

“The comment she gets most often from every kid who purchases is ‘It’s so soft and comfortable!’” Leah says.

Katrina displaced Grace Rose and her mother; they headed toward Los Angeles to be near family.

“We needed electricity for her medical equipment,” Leah explains. “But then her doctors didn’t return for ten months, so I got stuck there (in L.A.) medically.”

Leah obtained California residency in order to get Grace Rose quickly back under the care of specialists. Although they continue to live in L.A., they return every year for the annual fashion show to support the Louisiana chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and to visit supportive friends and family still in the area.

As a single mom, Leah says she has to be loud about Grace Rose’s care, which is what drives her to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, she explains,

“They have come so far in such a short time,” Leah says of the research. “Now, because of these advancements, these CFers are becoming young adults.”

Leah explains that it isn’t just the three hours of treatment per day, it’s the “tune-ups” that can take two to four weeks every one to four months that puts a strain on a young adult’s ability to work.

“Moving into the workforce has become challenging for medical reasons,” Leah says, “so I figured, why not just set her up with a business now?”

“Did you take your pill?” she interrupts to ask Grace Rose. Her daughter nods.

Leah says the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has completed clinical trials of new equipment that could greatly enhance Grace Rose’s quality of life.

“It’s a vest,” she explains. “It’s not FDA approved — yet.”

The vest would allow Grace Rose and others with the life threatening disease to receive treatment without being confined for two-to-three hours per day.

“Right now, I’ll play with my dolls or I’ll have to sit in the toy corner,” Grace Rose explains, “and it’s hard to schedule a sleepover on the spot or a long birthday party because I need to do my treatments.”

The portable treatment vest would allow Grace Rose the flexibility of managing her medical care with considerably more flexibility. On weekday mornings, for example, instead of waking early for treatment, she could be receiving her treatment in the car on the way to school.

“She’s my gift of life,” Leah says. “That’s why I’ve let this take over, because it’s doing everything I want to be doing. I’m still raising awareness for Cystic Fibrosis, I’m still designing clothes, I’m still collaborating with like minded people in the industry, and I’m creating a future for Grace Rose.”

As for Grace Rose, her goal is to expand her business into a brick and mortar operation.

“I want my own store, not just a website,” she says. “I want to work at it on the weekends.”

The spring and summer 2014 collection is available on the Rosie G website, www.rosiegstyle.com.

Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, September 11, 2014.

drippy trees

I found myself free for a couple of hours on Magazine St., so I walked over to Audubon Park to check out the Spanish Moss, which is the subject of a collaboration I’m working on with Steve Fleming. I was in the wrong shoes, but ventured off the paved walkway anyhow to truly explore. It’s still steamy hot in New Orleans, and it rained all day yesterday, so there weren’t many figures crossing my lens; but the bird obliged and it was nice to be kicking around the park for awhile.


Oct. 27, 2014 update:

And this is what resulted! A watercolor demo from one of his classes, inspired by one of the images, painted by Steve Fleming:

painting courtesy of Steve Fleming

painting courtesy of Steve Fleming

Bishop Perry Center opens lending library

Cynthia and Juan Valadez enjoy the seats in the lounge area known as the Faulkner Wing.

By Christine Gacharná

Special to The Advocate

The Bishop Perry Center recently opened a fully operational on-site lending library open to the public. The St. Catherine of Alexandria Library, named for the patron Saint of libraries, is a cultural resource for downtown New Orleans neighborhoods and many residents in the vicinity who are within walking distance.

Housed on the second floor of the center, the library consists of two spacious rooms, the main shelving and lending area with tables and work areas, and a reading room with comfortable chairs and couches, dubbed the “Faulkner Wing.” There are two computers and free WiFi access available for patrons, facilitating research and online reading.

James Webb peruses the titles on the bookshelves. “I only live a couple of blocks from here, so it’s very convenient,” he said.


“It’s a real library, not just books on the shelves,” said library volunteer George Jeansonne. “Someone was surprised it wasn’t Dewey Decimal!”

Jeansonne, a retired librarian, said procuring the computer software to operate the lending library was instrumental in bringing the idea to fruition.

“It was a big expense,” Jeansonne said, “but it was what was needed. You can put all kind of good books up, but if you can’t keep track of them, it’s not a lending library.”

The library will issue laminated photo ID cards to members and patrons, and the library cards will serve a dual purpose to those who do not have a driver’s license but need a photo ID for voter registration and check cashing.

In the fall, the library plans to host regular bookclubs with author appearances, a literary program and music events.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Joe DeSalvo, volunteer and owner of Faulkner House Books. “We’ve made huge strides, but you’ve noticed we’ve still got a lot of empty space on the shelves.”


The Rev. William F. Maestri, director, Bishop Perry Center, visits with patrons at the Bishop Perry library. Two computers are online and available in the main shelving and lending area.

Volunteer Rosemary James said the library is especially in need of books of history, important biographies, survey texts, such as English literature, French literature, Spanish literature, and contemporary non-fiction such as author memoirs, presidential and classic works of fiction. James said the library welcomes interested benefactors to contribute with donations that will be used to purchase current magazines and newspaper subscriptions.


Donations of gently used books, both fiction and non-fiction, may be dropped off during library hours at 1941 Dauphine St., New Orleans, LA. 70116. The library is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Originally published by The New Orleans Advocate, September 4, 2014.



Building a better Humane Society

Dawn Laufenberg, of Rustik Nola, and the doghouse donation for Barkitecture.

By Christine Gacharná

Special to the Advocate

For man’s best friend in Louisiana, “in the doghouse” is shaping up to be a pretty sweet place to be.

Barkitecture, the Louisiana Humane Society’s inaugural doghouse building competition, encourages participants to merge architecture and creativity with the construction of a fully functional doghouse.

The contest has garnered 11 entries, all of which have a floor, three walls, a roof and must be waterproof — but otherwise, have no rules and are uniquely the creation of the artist with man’s best friend in mind.

“How could I say no?” said Dawn Laufenberg of Rustik Nola, one of the two recycling firms who entered the contest. Laufenberg plans to donate her submission to the Louisiana Humane Society. “It’s such a wonderful thing; I mean, the fact that a dog is going to get a home!”

Two architectural firms and one bank have also entered the contest, which is open to all students, youth, individuals and businesses. A panel of celebrity judges will determine the winner for all categories except “People’s Choice” at noon on Aug. 16 at Lakeside Mall, where the entries will be on display. The judging follows the Humane Society’s “Strut for Pups” pledge walk inside Lakeside Mall, which begins at 11 a.m.

In the workshop behind his house, Metairie resident Jerry Poland built a doghouse for the competition with his two children, 12-year-old Kiki and 9-year-old Willie.

“The kids designed it,” Poland said. “They did all the caulking, sanding and painting, I did the cutting.”

It took the trio about 8 days, working 3-4 hours per day, to finish the doghouse project, which they have decided to donate to the competition.

The Louisiana Humane Society was founded in 1988. According to executive director Jeff Dorson, the organization was forced to evacuate 158 animals from the Algiers shelter to Mississippi during Katrina — four vanloads of animals — and never received any funding to rebuild.

Like all charities, the Louisiana Humane Society relies on membership drives, special events, grants, bequests and online appeals to raise operating funds.

“These types of events are so important to us to reestablish,” Dorson said. “We’ve been struggling for nine years to find our footing, and we still have a population of Katrina rescued animals in our care. Nine years later, they’ve grown up with us, and they are not adoptable.”

Some of the pets rescued from Katrina were feral, Dorson explains.

“They have antisocial behaviors,” Dorson said. “The cats were half alive when we found them. We can’t place a feral cat, so we take it in the chin and pay for their care. We pulled them out of the wreckage and have pledged to care for them. We aren’t going to euthanize them.”

Of the more than 5,000 humane societies in the United States, none are related, Dorson explained.

“The name confuses people because they think the national organizations share money and resources with smaller societies, but there is no sharing,” Dorson said. “Everybody is on their own. We’re still affected by Katrina and none of the national groups have come to our aid, although we’ve reached out. The public threw money at these national groups after Katrina, but there’s been no sharing.”

Dorson said the organization recently acquired 47 acres in Washington Parish and is in the beginning phases of rebuilding. Some of the donated doghouses from the competition will be used in the new facility. Others will be auctioned off to raise funds for the organization, and some will be donated to low-income dog owners in the greater New Orleans area.

“We’re still a grassroots, small potatoes thing,” Dorson said, even though the Louisiana Humane Society is the only statewide agency that takes calls from all 64 parishes and coordinates cruelty investigations and animal seizures with sheriff offices that don’t have resources, manpower or training.

“Half of 64 parishes in our state don’t have a single shelter or animal services,” Dorson said. “It’s really the Wild West. Little towns can’t afford shelters and there’s a lack of regulations for animal shelters in the state.”

Dorson said three different workers were arrested recently for animal cruelty. He expects Barkitecture to grow exponentially each year, and hopes special events such as these will help raise awareness for the need for resources.

Visit humanela.org for more information.

Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, August 14, 2014.


Meals ready to eat; Second Harvest summer program feeds hungry children

Community volunteer Dale Dunlap can be found in the Second Harvest kitchen several days each week, washing pots and pans and utensils and maintaining cleanliness of the equipment. “I ask the kids to think of their favorite person, and most of them say their moms,” Dunlap says, “and then I tell them to inspect this pan, imagine your mom is going to eat out of it.”

By Christine Gacharná

Special to the Advocate

Chef Carl Romain fires up his ovens at 4 a.m. On the menu for lunch is chicken parmesan, rotini pasta, corn, wheat roll and milk or juice.

Today, he will feed 3,900 kids.

As summer vacation brings an end to the free and reduced price breakfast and lunch program at schools in the Greater New Orleans area, thousands of children are without regular hot meals. Second Harvest steps in with an initiative that aims to serve 175,000 meals to children in 60 participating program sites across the city. The largest summer feeding program in the state, the Community Kitchen serves summer camp programs in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. John parishes and a satellite location in Iberia Parish.

“One out of six people in Louisiana is at risk for hunger, one out of four live in poverty, and we have one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country,” says Natalie Jayroe, President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank. “We try to ensure as many of the children in our community who are at risk for hunger receive hot nutritious meals.”

According to Feeding America’s 2014 Map the Meal Gap findings, child food insecurity continues to rise in Louisiana. Twenty-one percent or 126,750 children in south Louisiana are food insecure, which means one in five children in south Louisiana are not sure where their next meal might come from.

As the Community Kitchen chef for Second Harvest, Romain and his crew also prepare a separate sandwich option to accommodate summer program field trips.

“Wherever the kid goes, the meal goes,” Romain explains, emphasizing the kitchen’s commitment to providing food security to kids who might otherwise go without.

Nearing the end of its fifth year of operating the summer feeding program, Second Harvest hired 17 AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates, four food service workers from area schools and recruited support from its core group of Community Kitchen volunteers to help prepare, plate and deliver breakfast and lunch to the sites, with shifts beginning as early as 5:30am.

“When we don’t have enough volunteers, the staff comes in,” says community volunteer Dale Dunlap. “We make sure the kids get their meals.”

Second Harvest is on track to meet or exceed 175,000 meals delivered this summer.

Chef Romain decided to mix up the meal options, says Terri Kaupp, communications and PR specialist for Second Harvest, and the children were given little comment cards, some of which were very detailed in their response.

“The kids run the show,” says Community Kitchen programs coordinator Tanya O’Reilly, laughing. “I got more calls about that damn tuna casserole!”

O’Reilly says tilapia replaced tuna and the children have been introduced to foods they’ve never had before, such as broccoli or sweet potatoes. Some of the children have reported going home and telling their parents about the healthy options they like, a positive bonus to the program.

Still, it’s the tried and true childhood favorites that win kids over.

“Spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan … the kids like that Italian stuff,” Romain says. “We ask them for their feedback and we try hard to make the meals colorful and fun.”

The Summer Feeding program has grown, in part, due to continued support from ConAgra

Second Harvest strives to serve summer hot lunches that are not only healthy and nutritious, but look colorful and fun on the tray for the kids. The menu always includes a vegetarian option. Early bird volunteers assembling the trays are, left to right, Elizabeth Champagne, St. Mary’s Dominican sophomore; Kamri Sylve, Ursuline Academy senior; Min Salaun, Archbishop Chapelle junior; Justin Daigle, Archbishop Rummel junior; Sydney Clark, Ursuline Academy senior; Caitlyn Bernard, Archbishop Chapelle junior; and Talia Talbot, Archbishop Chapelle junior.

Feeding Children Better Foundation and the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. Relationships with the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services, and the Louisiana State Department of Education ensure the long-term sustainability of Second Harvest’s Summer Feeding program.

In the fall, after school resumes, Second Harvest Food Bank will once again provide programs such as Kids Cafe, the Backpack Program, and will introduce a new school mobile pantry program. Using a combination of child hunger programs across south Louisiana will help in the daily fight to end hunger in south Louisiana.

“Every year we grow,” says Gina Melita, director of the Community Kitchen. “It’s wonderful, but it’s a shame. The need isn’t decreasing, but our reach is expanding. Our mission is to end hunger in South Louisiana.”

For more information or to volunteer, please visit www.no-hunger.org.

Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, July 31, 2014.

Lakeview in monochrom

The kids and I kicked around small-town Oregon for a week this summer, where I spent my free time working on two personal project collaborations: a landscape project with artist Steve Fleming, and an architectural challenge with Mark Harrelson. I limited myself accidentally on purpose (by nature of the MM) to black and white and one lens (50mm cron).



Chef Carl

Chef Carl Schaubhut | Leica M Monochrom | ISO 3200, 50mm Cron (B+W 040M Orange), f/2.8, 1/500 sec

In my work as an editorial writer and photographer, everything I shoot on assignment is with my Nikon as the publications I work for only run full color images.

Even so, I rarely go out on assignment (or even into the world, for that matter) without my Leica in tow. It’s small, lightweight, unobtrusive. It has other characteristics, too; those of you who have an MM get it. Leica haters will continue to hate, but for the rest of us, we’re not engaged in trying to convince the world why we love our Leicas. We’re too busy out playing. 

The seat in the bar area of Cafe Adelaide where I met Chef Carl Schaubhut was up against a window facing the street. I sat with my back to the window and could see the flow of energy behind him as he talked, his face lit with with soft, natural light behind me. I found him to be a warm, genuine and interesting person. Chefs are their own breed of celebrity status in a town like New Orleans, a world that I know very little about but find fascinating.

After the interview, he took me back into the kitchen where he offered to make me lunch. When he learned I’m a vegetarian, his eyes lit up — a challenge, he told me. He began chopping, flipping, catching things on fire; he clearly had entered a difference place. He was in his zone.

I observed the energy of the kitchen. The writer in me was struck by the very large letters on the swinging kitchen doors that separated leisurely upscale clientele from the loud, boisterous, shiny world that is Chef Carl’s: “YES” and “NO.” I thought about that for a long while. Clearly superior to “in” and “out,” it doesn’t matter if one is a photographer, chef, waitress or maître d’ coming or going, the choice of which door to walk through designated with YES and NO leaves no room for error. A constant bustle of traffic, those doors are but one example of efficiency in an extremely fine tuned kitchen, Chef Carl told me. Makes sense.

He offered me the final product featuring spaghetti squash, oyster mushrooms, green bok choy, Louisiana soybean puree and pea tendrils, garnished with walnuts. It was easily the most beautiful meal anyone has ever presented especially to me. I carried it through the YES door, back to my cheery, sunny table in the bar and enjoyed.

Chef Carl has his own blog where he tells his own amazing story. Everybody has a story. His family appreciates the support.


Kicking Cancer in the Gut; Colleagues, customers pitch in when chef learns he has cancer

Seen tossing mushrooms in the kitchen at Cafe Adelaide, chef Carl Schaubhut was diagnosed with cancer on April 1. Friends, family and members of the Drew Rodrigue Foundation will throw a Kick Cancer in the Gut fundraiser the evening of June 28 at The Cannery to help fund his medical care.

By Christine Gacharná

Special to the Advocate

It was April Fool’s Day when local chef Carl Schaubhut received the news, and it clearly was no joke: the camera inserted down his throat to explore the shooting stomach pains he endures revealed it wasn’t heartburn after all.

“The doctor came in with a look of panic in his eyes,” Schaubhut says. “He said what I have is a very large tumor in the junction of my stomach and esophagus, and he’s about 99 percent sure it’s cancerous. At that point his lips were moving, but I wasn’t hearing anything he was saying.”

Schaubhut’s wife, Alix, kept listening and kept asking questions and learned the tumor had already spread to the 32-year-old’s esophagus and surrounding lymph nodes.

Young adults fighting cancer is a battle The Drew Rodrigue Foundation (DRF) knows all too well. Named in honor of Drew Rodrigue, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 20 and died at the age of 27, the DRF helps young people fighting against unimaginable adversity. One of those early supporters of the DRF was Schaubhut, a high school friend and Jesuit High School classmate of Rodrigue’s.

“It was a no-brainer for the foundation to dedicate efforts to help Carl,” says Mary Kathryn Rodrigue, recalling Schaubhut’s friendship and support during her late husband’s diagnosis and treatment. “Pretty much everybody is affected by cancer one way or another, right? Whether it’s a family member or a friend or a co-worker with cancer, we are all affected.”

Schaubhut’s culinary family of chefs and restauranteurs in New Orleans, led by the DRF, plan to “Kick Cancer in the Gut” with an extensive offering from the kitchens of Commander’s Palace, Cafe Adelaide and Sobou, unlimited libations, silent auction, and live music the evening of June 28 at The Cannery, with $75 tickets open to the public. One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit Schaubhut’s family while the chef is out of the kitchen. Any unused contributions will be donated to cancer research and patient support programs through the DRF.

“It’s really about celebrating our culture, which is food, and the people who bring it to us in such a creative way, like Carl,” says Rodrigue.

“Surreal” is the word Schaubhut uses to describe his experience as of late with intense chemotherapy aimed to stop the cancer from spreading as he awaits the surgery where his esophagus will be removed and refashioned from stomach tissue — a professional irony that contributes to the strangeness of his situation.

“I’m alive! I was in the kitchen today,” Schaubhut says. “I didn’t even lose my hair through chemo! I’m walking around, I’m not frail, I don’t even look sick. I’ve never been a charity case.”

Schaubhut’s cancer is only in surrounding lymph nodes, which is good news. Schaubhut says all the statistics about his condition have been thrown out the window because typically, people his age aren’t diagnosed.

“I’ve literally never missed work a day in my life, I’ve never had a broken bone,” Schaubhut says. “Outside of my chef lifestyle, I don’t have crazy vices; I mean, I like to drink and I like to eat and I like to have fun, but nothing over the top.”

Schaubhut says people often ask him if he is angry or upset by his diagnosis. His reply; no. Everyone has something they’re going to go through, he says, be it medical issues, hardships, even death; maybe they got it at age 10, maybe at age 25, or, like him, at age 32.

“This is mine,” Schaubhut says. “Whatever the reason, that’s what it is. The way I deal with adversity determines my character and how I live the rest of my life. I’d rather live my life not being able to eat the things I used to eat and remaining positive. That’s the only option I really have. I have to be an example for my kids, my family, my wife.

“It’s harder for her than it is for me by far,” Schaubhut says of his wife. “I get so many calls, and people wishing me well. They don’t call me, for whatever reason, so her phone is constantly ringing. She’s dealing with this from the front lines.”

Schaubhut says most people who die young never get a chance to see how they’ve affected other people’s lives, and it’s humbling for him to witness the letters of encouragement he’s received from people he went to grammar school with to financial donations from people he has cooked for.

“It’s really just surreal, to get to see how the way you live your life has affected other people,” he says.

Schaubhut says he feels badly for the people he sees on the cancer floor by themselves. One patient told him he’s been on chemo for 11 straight years.

“If everything works out for me the way we hope it does,” Schaubhut says, “then I’ll be the luckiest person on earth.”

“Whether or not you know Carl, this is a chance for people to participate in something bigger than themselves,” Rodrigue says. “It’s something that allows you to help another person, and if that person is a stranger to you, it’s a beautiful thing.”

For more information or to buy tickets to the event, visit www.drfnola.org.

Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, July 4, 2014.

WWII Museum hosts Robotics Challenge

Asher Loubier, Will Davenport, Morgan Blum and Samantha Raeder are “Higgins’ Heroes” from St. George’s Episcopal School in New Orleans. The students demonstrate flying their “Eye in the Sky” project, an infrared camera using 21st century technology to protect soldiers in a World War II scenario.

By Christine Gacharná

Special to the Advocate

Middle schoolers spent a Saturday morning at The National WWII Museum deciphering enemy code, hitting drop zones, unloading soldiers from a Higgins boat, avoiding obstacles on the beaches of Normandy and liberating Paris — all in two-and-a-half minutes using Legos.

The Second Annual Robotics Challenge brought real-life scenarios from WWII to life as students collaborated to problem solve logistics using 21st Century technology. The initiative, aimed at encouraging young people to explore opportunities in science and math, focused this year on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Teams competed using their autonomous robots and preparing a research project.

“Teamwork and collaboration are a big part of the program,” says Annie Tete, coordinator or the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program for the museum. “Both are an important part of the learning process.”

The event grew from 28 teams to 36 teams in its second year, Tete says, and expects to continue growing exponentially with the popularity of the STEM robotics program exploding in middle school curriculum. With a maximum of 10 team members and 2 coaches per team, the number of students involved filled a bustling US Freedom Pavilion on May 10.

“World War II was a time of some of the greatest technological advancements,” says Kenneth Hoffman, director of education at the museum. “Radar, penicillin, jet engines, the atomic bomb … I started researching the robotics program and I found that it teaches 21st Century skills such as computer design and programming with life skills, teamwork and creativity. We’ve paired that with World War II in a meaningful way that is relevant to students’ lives.”

The New Orleans museum is one of few non-science museums in the country to have this kind of program, Hoffman says, although any museum can opt to be a STEM museum.


“Digital Crusaders” Carson Scott and Kolbe Landry, of St. Matthew the Apostle School in New Orleans, guide their team’s robot in the competition.

There’s never any shooting or weapons incorporated into the designs, Hoffman explains. Each team gets two chances, their best score entered into the competition. In addition to the active robotics competition, each team completes a business RFP (Request for Proposal) as a company looking to design a prototype for a way to keep soldiers safe. This cross-curriculum exercise, which incorporates writing, art, creativity, engineering and design, reinforces the teamwork and cooperation of the STEM mission and also pushes students to achieve in the direction of creative, non-traditional 21st Century jobs.


“Infrared lets us see the heat signatures,” explains St. George’s Episcopal School student Morgan Blum, whose team submitted a RFP for an infrared camera that floats overhead. “If a gun heats up shooting or something got blown up over there, it would give them a heads-up. We call it ‘Eye in the Sky.'”

Computer teacher Brendan Murphy from Saint Matthew the Apostle School in New Orleans says he watches the STEM robotics program literally help kids find their niche to gain confidence in school and become future leaders.

“They find something they are truly talented at and a place where they belong,” Murphy says. “It makes them realize that they have valuable things to offer.”

Murphy goes on to explain how he has witnessed the STEM program literally changing the lives of young girls in his classes, especially those who aren’t aligned with an athletic identity.

“The girls have the perfect mindset for this because they are patient and understanding,” Murphy says, “I go out and recruit them, I hunt them down. I don’t think there can be a successful robotics team without the girls!”

Unlike some of their peers who work on the project as part of regular classroom instruction, students from St. Clement of Rome School in Metairie are an after-school club. According to coach Eileen Hite, these students built their robot in one afternoon and took three months to program it, including working over Easter break.

St. Clement student Emily Vu says she especially enjoyed the programming aspect of the

Team “Pelibot Bombers” students Michael Somerville, Tyler Didier, Joshua Langlois and Michael deGraauw, of Most Blessed Sacrament in Baton Rouge, prepare for their first two-and-a-half minute competition under guidance from their coach, Kathy Gore.

project, a skill that has opened doors of possibilities for her.


“We were given a code, and we have to substitute numbers with letters to break the code,” Vu explains. “I like it because I’m naturally good at it. I’m not really into sports or cheerleading, so this is something different that I can do as an after-school activity. I like that it’s challenging.”

The museum aims to support STEM learning for students who participate in the international First Lego League by providing an additional opportunity for learning and practicing.

“Educators recognize if you don’t get young people excited about STEM by middle school, it’s very hard to excite them in high school and college,” Hoffman says.

Originally published in The New Orleans Advocate, May 29, 2014.