Thursday, August 25, 2011

High in the Smokies with Valerie Hoh

Dennis and Valerie, Bryson City, N.C. August 2011
Twice lately people have sent to me photographs of bears walking in their back yards—one photo accompanied by an invitation to visit Asheville. No thanks. Why don’t you come here? I said.  So a couple of weeks ago Valerie Hoh and her husband, Dennis, came to our vacation rental house in the Smoky Mountains. We’d rented a big house there for a reunion with our kids. By Monday the kids had all left. We’d rented the house for the entire week. So we invited Valerie and Dennis over—they live in Asheville—to share in the pleasure of the Smoky Mountain air and a refrigerator full of left-behind food. We’d over-shopped, of course, and everyone had arrived with treats. There were melons and
Valerie and June feeling special in Hip-Hop Wraps
peaches and tomatoes and peppers and onions and cheese, bacon and eggs. We needed help!
    For many years Valerie and Dennis lived in Key West. An artist with a head for business as well as design, Valerie operated the store Pandemonium, on Duval Street. It featured beautiful and artistic things to wear and use and live with. In the same building she opened a gallery of work by Cindy Wynn, another truly innovative artist. Wynn creates furniture out of discarded metal and steel objects. Valerie called the store/museum Reworx.  Perhaps it was ahead of its time. Reworx didn’t seem to catch on.
    In 2005 Valerie and Dennis decided that Key West had become too challenging financially, and that Asheville would be a more manageable place to live. They sold their Key West house at the height of the real estate boom, and moved to Asheville. Valerie says she hasn’t regretted the move for a single second. Of course they do spend two months in Key West each winter and that’s gotta take the sting out of spending the other 10 months in bear country. 
Flip-Flop Hip-Hopper Miguel Perez in Valerie Hoh
    Valerie is also interested in cooking, and together, in the mountains, we fashioned several divine meals. Valerie, described by our mutual friend Jon Hynes as “a sort of life coach”, is full of great information and advice on a wide variety of subjects, from food, to fabric, to finance. She is currently involved in a movement to prevent a condominium complex from being built in her neighborhood. Valerie says she is making a name for herself in Asheville as a political activist, yet another focus of her bright light. She maintains her sparkling vitality with Tai Chi as well as a daily exercises called Somatics. Dennis does a set of yoga poses and stretches each morning. They meditate daily.
     One afternoon, as we danced together, Valerie told me that in Asheville Dennis goes to a studio where he dances to the 5Rhythms, a sort of philosophy of dance and movement by Gabrielle Roth. I downloaded some 5Rhythm music onto my iPod and dance to it at the beach. When people see me gyrating to the rhythms in my head, they stare, and I tell them: "Valerie Hoh made me do it!"
Michael Keith, in Valerie Hoh, 1987. "You should be a work of art or wear one." Oscar Wilde. I married one.

Anne, in Valerie Hoh, at our wedding, 1988.
    One day Valerie wrapped a fabulous thing around my head, wearable art by Valerie Hoh. It’s called a hip-hop wrap and she says it makes you feel special to wear it. It does! I call it my “Hoh Do-Rag.” As in “Hoh does” ... and does and does! One night she wore her hip-hop wrap and I wore mine and we took photographs—for you! 
     Last night son Miguel, producer of a brand of music he calls “flip-flop hip-hop”, expertly wrapped the Valerie Do around his head as if he’d done it a thousand times before. Then he posed for my camera.
    In February, Valerie stages a show of her incredible fashions at Key West's Gardens Hotel. There is music, food and drink, and since Valerie does everything she does with drama, wit and flair, the show is a terrific event. Her devoted Key West fans show up to socialize and have a look at what new ideas Valerie has brought to life. The pieces are for sale, too. In the meantime, check out Valerie’s stuff at  Plug in to see Cindy Wynn's wild works. 
     Wondering who else has a bear in their back yard? Our great friends Eugenie and Tad Malek in Northampton, Mass.  Eugenie is a brilliant world class pianist, who I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing since my childhood.  But that’s another blog. In the meantime, I gotta say, those art-loving bears get around!

 Check out Flip-Flop Hip-Hop featuring our son Miguel here:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Great Funeral

Our family, being Lebowskis
A few months ago, after the passing of a friend for whom there was no plan for funeral arrangements, my husband and I had the Big Talk about how we would want things to go should one of us shuffle off this mortal coil.  Between us we've endured several bouts of cancer, a heart attack and the assorted atrocities of growing older. We've seen good friends, super specimens of vitality, succumb to illnesses and death. We've been to funerals that seemed to have nothing much to do with the departed soul as we knew them. We know what we don't want to happen. So we decided we needed a plan.
     "I want a big party with lots of laughing, dancing, and fun for my send-off," I said.
     "I would like for my kids to be together, all in one place, to celebrate my life," Michael said.
The Dude (Michael), Susan (my co-conspiritor) and Walter (Rocky)
     Then, we thought: What are we waiting for? Let's do this thing now. Let's celebrate our lives with the people who mean the very most to us. Let's do it now, while we still have our dancing feet in gear. And so the Smoky Mountain family retreat was conceived.
     We decided on a rental house in Bryson City, North Carolina, a place special to Michael and me. When he was a child Michael's family vacationed in the Smoky Mountains. We'd gone there for our honeymoon. It was much easier for our kids to access Bryson City than Key West. Through VRBO (vacation rental by owner) we found a big house, on the side of a mountain, and after much investigation, found it to be the perfect setting for our party.
We love the Dude!!
     Michael's birthday is in August, and so the kids and I decided to stage a party for that, and for him. His favorite movie is The Big Lebowski. Oldest daughter Susan and I decided on a Big Lebowski-themed party, which set off weeks of hushed telephone planning sessions, and many visits to thrift shops for plaid shorts and baggy bathrobes with hanging belts. Youngest daughter Meredith created "In and Out Burger" wrappers for the hamburgers we would serve at the party. Miguel, our son, downloaded the entire musical score of the film on my iPod. On our way out the door I grabbed The Big Lebowski DVD and threw it into my suitcase. Everyone, from the Dude himself (Michael) to our 5-year-old grandson arrived packing a robe and plaid shorts. Everyone had been instructed to watch The Big Lebowski and be ready for speaking in nothing but quotes from the film.
The Dude abides
     A few days before leaving Key West for the mountains, Michael, the guy who would rather have a root canal than endure a surprise birthday party, said: "You're up to something."
   "What could we possibly be up to?" I said. "Do you imagine we would set up "Michael Keith—This is Your Life" in the heart of the Smoky Mountains?? Shut the F--- up, Donnie!" (It's a line from the movie.)
Costume for the Big Lebowski party
     By the weekend, we had assembled in that house on the mountain all four of our kids, my brother Rocky (our fifth kid), all four grandkids, and a plan for a Saturday night cook-out featuring In and Out Burgers, and music from The Big Lebowski. While Michael sat outside, innocently communing with nature, we all slipped into our Lebowski costumes. Then we hit the button on the iPod player and called Michael into the house and handed him a White Russian, the Dude's favorite drink. We got him. He was surprised. But since our guests were all family, he was not horrified, but rather, very amused. We had a ball eating, dancing, and trying to not say the F word, so integral to The Big Lebowski script, in front of the kids. Sometime in the middle of that night, while we Lebowski fans slept, some creature came onto the porch, knocked over a trash can, pawed through our greasy In and Out Burger wrappers, and apparently attempted to eat a football. The ball, which my son-in-law said was made of finest pigskin, was punctured and deflated. Wow!
Partying at our own funeral
     Now we're back home, remembering our nine days in the mountains. Many times we've gone over again and again the many events, days and nights, and funny moments we experienced on that special vacation. We've marveled at the miracle of somehow assembling each and every one of our kids and their kids together.  Michael says it was one of the best times he ever had with his kids.
     "It really was a great funeral, wasn't it?" he says.