Friday, 20 September 2013

Lowcountry Dog Magazine: Healing Species

by Kelly Rae Smith
for the Aug/Sept 2013 issue of Lowcountry Dog Magazine

As inhumane acts of violence increasingly take precedence in headlines and television news coverage, we often turn our heads away from the bleakness, wondering how could one attempt  to turn it all around? Is humanity too far gone? One South Carolina woman is resolute that no, it’s not too late, and she’s on a mission to literally get to the heart of the matter.

A dog named Gravey inspired attorney and humanitarian Cheri Brown Thompson to start Healing Species, an organization that uses rescue dogs, with their own stories of neglect and abuse, to teach students about compassion, empathy, advocacy, and empowerment in order to fundamentally build character, discourage violence and bullying, and thus change lives.

The curriculum is designed for elementary school kids but also expands to middle and high school-age students, and it involves one 45-minute session taught weekly for 12 to 13 consecutive weeks until an entire grade level is covered. Right now, there are three Charleston elementary schools that are involved in and have found success with the program, along with one Berkeley school and one also in Dorchester county.

“Our program focuses on violence and bullying prevention through compassion education,” Adele Little, director of Healing Species, says, “realizing that a child’s actions are determined by their thoughts, which are determined by their heart—what they think and feel. So if we can change a  child’s heart at an early age,  then we can change the way that they think, and that changes their actions. It gives them power to turn things around.”

Thompson realized she could help give children this power and founded Healing Species 15 years ago after two occurrences.

One: As a law student, Thompson was struck that there is such a thing as depraved-heart crimes, which are murder, rape, and violent assault. The direct connection between animal cruelty and human violence became apparent, and her thesis concluded that 99 percent of depraved-heart criminals were abused or neglected as children, and then those people eventually took out their aggression on the only things they could control: animals. And that of course morphed into violence on humans. Equipped with the knowledge that crime is a matter of the heart, Thompson began to ponder how she could get to the root of problem.

And then came the second occurrence: Gravey.

Thompson was on her way to class at The University of South Carolina Law School one day in 1999 when a stray dog caught her eye. Emaciated, covered in mange, and nearly dead, the dog’s appearance caused Thompson to pull over and cry her eyes out. She offered all she had, a Pop-Tart, but the timid creature was understandably untrusting. That didn’t stop Thompson.

She came back for the dog she named Gravey every single day for a month, until Thompson’s kindness broke the barrier, and a reassured Gravey let the heavy-hearted law student take her home to be cared for.

 And that’s how the idea for this nonprofit was born. Thompson knew the hearts of the children had to be reached before they were depraved, and who better to teach them about abuse and neglect than animals who have experienced, and survived, these circumstances themselves?

“Each dog that enters a classroom with an instructor has their own story of abuse or neglect,” Little says. “Somebody didn’t want them at some point. Healing Species has a rescue and adoption as part of the outreach, and we rescue dogs that nobody is taking care of. They’ve all got a story of being abused or neglected. That story is the very first story that is told, and immediately the kids are engaged because you have this live visual aid that is teaching about the beginning of a story and the ending of a story.”

There are carefully outlined lessons involving games, vocabulary words, activities, and animals that are followed each week,  including one called Keep Your Heart. It explains that people who have lost part of their heart could try to hurt you, but you must not use that to throw away your own heart. Keep Your Heart encourages children to one, keep their heart strong by telling a trusted adult if they have been hit or abused, and to, two, grieve if they’ve been hurt rather than keeping it in only to take it out on someone else later on. The third instruction is to give love. “And that’s the best part,” Little says. “That’s when we get to practice in the classroom and give love to the dog. We want to start giving love right away after somebody has hurt us because that is going make us stronger.”

Instructors also explain that there’s fake power that’s based on fear, control, and weakness, and then there’s true power that comes having respect for others. The students learn lessons about bullying: why people bully others, why they may themselves bully others. And they’re taught, with the help of the live dog there, to make choices based on empathy and compassion, based on what they would do to help a dog. “We have those teaching moments all in the classrooms where they start to identify not only do animals have feelings, but then the kids become more sensitive to the person next to them and their feelings, and then it just grows.”

The result? Schools say the kids have less behavioral problems and more empathy as a result of the program. And before they leave for middle school, Healing Species goes back to the kids in the fifth grade for two booster lessons, reminding them of the tools they’ve gained that could pave the way for a great life.

“Healing Species gives them empowerment to overcome barriers such as abuse or neglect or bullying in their own lives, how to see a future for themselves. They learn the steps that it takes to make responsible choices, choices that make them feel good about their lives. It gives them hope.” 

One story of hope that the kids have proven to remember for years and years to come? Gravey’s story. And although Gravey has passed away now, it is still an encouragement to know that, thanks to Thompson and her ability to really see and heal Gravey’s heart, the majority of her 13 years were full of love.

What Else?

So far, Healing Species expands beyond South Carolina, and into Wisconsin, California, Texas, Missouri, and even New Zealand.

Trident United Way partnered with Healing Species last year with a matching funds grant.

Pet Helpers has also partnered with the nonprofit to assist with services, connections, field trips, and matching funds.

Join the cause: Visit the Get Involved section of to learn about volunteer opportunities and ways to help costs.

Painter Charlynn Knight to share her skills with area students

by Kelly Rae Smith
When Charlynn Knight began exploring art as a child with her elementary school art teacher Joanne King, she could have never guessed that one day it would all come full circle. The two recently crossed paths again when Knight walked into a watercolor class she was teaching at Karen's Korner Frame and Art Gallery in Mt. Pleasant. Her old art teacher was among her students, and it was she who suggested that Knight look into the North Charleston artist-in-residence program.
"It's pretty cool to be teaching my elementary school art teacher watercolors," Knight says. "She was such an inspiration to me and helped spark my passion for art at an early age, and for her to take my class and recommend me for the artist-in-residence program was an honor."
Knight's acceptance into the program offers her an opportunity to work with 36 different schools across North Charleston throughout the 2013-14 school year, offering artistic guidance and inspiration to everyone from young children to young adults.
"I will be working with elementary up to high school ages along with Carolina Youth Development Center," Knight says. "This allows me to talk to the kids about being an artist here in Charleston and sharing with them my passion for art — and hopefully spark interest in one, if not many of them to pursue an interest in art, and spark their inner creativity. I'll be sharing many fun techniques with working with watercolors that I use every day in my own paintings." Knight paints mainly landscapes and architectural paintings, making use of intense colors and small, swift brushstrokes.
Her visual arts expertise is available upon the request of the schools, plus she's able to lead workshops with seniors in community settings, such as assisted living facilities, and organizations offering youth programs. Her experience and enthusiasm for any creative challenge seems to be what made her perfect for the part.
"Charlynn is a seasoned artist and teacher, having the combination of experience and talent we hope for in offering these programs to a wide range of ages in a variety of settings in North Charleston," says Nancy Rodriguez, the City of North Charleston's cultural arts coordinator. "She's excited to share her love for art and in particular for the medium of watercolor and the interesting techniques she's learned through the years. Her passion for art is contagious and she believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of developing creativity."
Knight plans to work closely with as many students as possible to inspire both budding artists and anyone in search of a new form of expression. "Through the opportunities of this residency program, I can share how art is a wonderful tool to allow our children to express themselves and have a break from the rigorous testing and structured curriculums," she says. "Art is a way to remind us and our kids to just be, and enjoy color, textures, shapes, and have fun through a pencil or paint brush. It opens up our eyes to see our world in a new and unique way."
See Charlynn Knight's work at Karen's Korner in Mt. Pleasant, Laura Alberts on Daniel Island, or at her own West Ashley studio. The North Charleston City Gallery will also hang her work this January. For more information, visit her website at

The IMPROVables kick off improv with a game show twist

by Kelly Rae Smith
Keep a close eye on the IMPROVables, a brand new Charleston comedy troupe specializing in a Whose Line Is It Anyway-style game. These funny people found each other in various spots on the local comedy scene and made their ties official in May, when they gave the group a name. It's not even the end of the summer, and their calendar is already filling up as they set out to take over Charleston.
The eight-person troupe comprises Moey Conway, Brian Carter, Deshawn Christopher Mason, Steve LaRowe, Kari Hanson, Lain Healey, Robert Thomas, and Kat LeeHong. Their backgrounds are all over the place, from a bartender to a student to a U.S. Army lieutenant. Take Carter, the co-leader of the pack. He's an acupuncturist turned digital marketing consultant and stand-up extraordinaire, and he takes his act so seriously that he has a carefully composed spreadsheet detailing every joke he's told, the audience's reaction, and its geographical context. But it takes a good organizer or two to get an idea off the ground, which is what happened when he met Moey Conway. She's a Chicago-trained improviser and local comedian who hosts a stand-up night at Castaways Bar and Grille, where the IMPROVables first debuted.
"We were both frustrated and wanted to make more happen for ourselves," Carter says. "When I learned she had eight years of improv background, I suggested we get together and do some games. We initially thought we'd do a two-person show. But before we knew it, we had invited several people to join in."
Those who hopped on board all took a big chance. Some have worked in comedy for years, but for a couple of them, getting all unpredictable onstage in front of an expectant audience is a risk they've taken on fairly recently. But with a full set involving around 20 games that include audience participation, the laughs are already rolling in, as are the bookings. It seems all agree this crew is a miraculous mashup.
'Everyone is a vital part of the group and more importantly, they make amazing friends," Mason says. "It's really incredible when you're able to find a group synergy that makes whatever task that you've set out to complete seem easy. First step improv, next step world domination. You know, in the name of vigilante justice."
Catch the IMPROVables on Sept. 6 at Woolfe Street Playhouse and Sept. 19 and Oct. 11 at the James F. Dean Theater in Summerville.

Producer Jeffrey Jelks breaking down walls

"I have a letter up on my bulletin board that I must have written when I was eight years old, and it is instructing my cousins, who were coming to visit for the summer, to make sure they knew which commercials they wanted to recreate because we were gonna put on a show," theater producer Jeffery Jelks says. "They would come and visit, and I would write, produce, and direct our evenings of entertainment. Being involved in theater is all that I have ever wanted to do. There is nothing like the emotion that emanates from the stage when everything works in sync. It is truly magical."
Charleston audiences may remember indie producer Jelks and his passion for the stage from last June's reading of RED, a play by Letitia Guillory, at PURE Theatre. It was read to a packed house and followed by a Q&A session with the playwright, designed to help the audience realize the play's potential onstage. He hopes to bring a full production to life soon with his production company, Breaking the Wall Productions.
Jelks began Breaking the Wall as a way to introduce Charleston audiences to brand-new works. His vision is firmly on the future, and he wants to make projects come alive in new and interesting ways. That's what he's doing with Brussel Sprouts, a one-act comedy he plans to take to a different venue in Charleston once a month. The play will be a recurring "evening of collaborative art" that he hopes will live on and evolve time after time. That's one of his favorite things about the art of theater.
"I love the process," Jelks says. "I love getting a project on its feet. I love watching the audience's reactions. I love seeing actors forget they are acting and just begin to live on the stage. I love seeing artists realize that everything they need is inside of them, and if they trust and let it out, it will all be OK. I love helping people achieve their dreams because that truly makes me happy. And I love the fact that art can make a difference."

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Theatre: Set designer puts off retirement to work with PURE

by Kelly Rae Smith, Charleston City Paper August 1, 2013

"I feel like Lazarus," says Allen Lyndrup, PURE Theatre's new set designer. "Lazarus died, and Jesus came and brought him back to life. I feel like in some ways this has sort of brought me back to a theatrical life that I was letting come to a close. And how exciting is that?"

Lyndrup has always had two feet in theater. After 18 years at James Madison University as a professor, scene designer, then director, he came to the College of Charleston as a theater department chair, and later as a professor. Although he directs too, Lyndrup has spent most of his 23-year CofC career teaching rather than focusing solely on his first love: design. And with retirement nearing, it seemed as though the theater chapter would soon close altogether. Until PURE came knocking last spring, and the design door opened wide once again.

PURE needed set design inspiration, and got exactly that when Lyndrup presented co-owner and artistic director Sharon Graci with a sketch: his vision for Clybourne Park, a play that needed one home that could be set in two different eras. Graci loved it and wholeheartedly welcomed his collaboration as part of PURE's future.

"He's a consummate professional in all aspects of the word," Graci says. "He's extraordinarily creative, and he's passionate about the art form. He understands the impact that a professional, experienced designer has on the telling of story, and he gives voice to that story in a way that only a designer can. He's also patient with us. We are a company of actors and directors, and there are really no small personalities at PURE. He fits right in."

Lyndrup is also responsible for the set of PURE's current production, Annapurna. A two-person play performed inside a trailer set, he says this arrangement is particularly unique. "I have never seen a set like this. Go see it — you won't ever see a play on a smaller stage."

But that's what he loves about PURE: the scripts they choose with their unusual scenarios, and the creative potential. "I mean, a play about Martin Luther King Jr., and an angel comes to tell him he's gonna die [The Mountaintop]? What an interesting idea. A play about professional wrestling [The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity]? What an interesting idea!"

Lyndrup still thinks about his retirement. But it won't involve globetrotting ("My wife doesn't like to travel," he says), and any master gardener notions were nixed by our 90-degree summers. Besides, solitary days aren't for him. Being around people, he says, is what keeps you young.

So what could be better than retirement in a camper van and the open road? For Lyndrup, it's working with PURE. "They really take some chances, they really try to find new stuff, and they try to keep the way they do things fresh. And that's very exciting. I'm kind of hoping it's going to be my retirement job."

Graci and the rest of the PURE crew seem fine with any arrangement that allows their connection with Lyndrup to grow. "Allen loves theater and he loves people," she says. "He brings an infectious joy to the process, and his vast experience on an array of topics, and on life in general, makes collaborating with him truly inspiring ... Allen has our back as a designer. He takes good care of us as a company. We're better at what we do because of him."

Friday, 26 July 2013

Travel: The World's Largest Peach

I recently wrote a guest post for the super cool travel blog Go Big or Go Home about my all-time fave roadside attraction: The Peachoid. Check it out below...

Where is it and how did you find it?

The Peachoid has been a part of my landscape my whole life. You see, I grew up less than an hour from this peach-shaped water tower. Four-stories tall, it sits on the side of the road on Interstate 85 in Gaffney, South Carolina (Cherokee County) where it captures the attention of every passerby. I’m from Anderson, SC, and so any time I’ve traveled to Spartanburg or Charlotte, or indeed to Gaffney, I have the pleasure of beholding this incoherent piece of fruit.

Why did you go there, exactly?

I finally decided to pull over and get this particular picture in 2010 because my friend edits a newspaper in Scotland, and this was taken for her “Where in the World” section. Scottish readers had to guess where this pic was taken. Surprisingly, many answered the call with exact highway instructions!

Okay, what was so cool about it?

Well, it’s a peach. And it’s a water tower. And it’s enormous. A water tower holding one million gallons of water and standing at 150-feet tall, it’s certainly hard to miss and is a novelty roadside attraction that should not be missed by anyone who loves a little kitsch with their roadtrip.

I also love that this stands in South Carolina despite the fact that Georgia is the Peach State. It was, in fact, erected as a loud-and-clear statement from Cherokee County regarding the fact that, at the time, more peaches came from this county than the whole of Georgia.

Another interesting fact is this: Because a great number of us have known the peach since we were children, many of us even as adults tend to have a juvenile sense of humor when we see what looks like a massive human rump on the horizon, or the “big butt,” if you will. With its remarkable cleft, you can see why it’s also known as the Moon over Gaffney.

How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list): ★★★★★★★★★★

This ain’t no puny roadside attraction.There’s nothing to do there but snap a picture (or go shopping in the neighboring outlet mall), but a great picture that will be, I promise. And there’s usually, if you visit during the steamy Carolina summer, an old fruit stand nearby complete with buckets and buckets of fresh, mouth-watering peaches. I’ll give it an 8 on that 1-10 scale.

A little background info about the place:

It was built in 1981 by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company. Made entirely of steel and concrete, it took five months to construct and design the Peachoid. A local artist, Peter Freudenberg, used 50 gallons of paint in 20 different colors to perfect the peach. He also applied a 60-foot-long leaf that weighs in at seven tons. It remains a sight to behold on I-85 in Gaffney, between Greenville and Spartanburg.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Travel: 5 Tips on Choosing Your Next Adventure

by Kelly Rae Smith, published in Explore Travel Guide

 Where should I go?

Have you asked yourself this question recently? If you’re like me, making a decision on where to travel, from literally a world of options, can be as stressful as it is exciting – especially when finance has the final say.

However, there are a few rules I’ve learned to stick to when all else fails. Use this method as a narrowing-down tool the next time you find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard-to-pick place.

 1. Write down five places you’ve been wanting to visit, for any reason at all.

Don’t think about any factors apart from your desire to get there at some point. For all intents and purposes, we’ll use my list for the discussion. This year, I would love to go to Prague, Macau, Sydney, Cape Town, or Rio de Janeiro.

 2. What time of year are you able to travel, and what kind of weather are you hoping to encounter?

For example, if you’re like me and can’t get away until January, and you prefer sunscreen to a winter coat, then you can count Prague out.

Macau is also chilly, although clear, that time of year, so you may want to eliminate that option as well. Brazil and Australia are in the middle of summer at the start of the year, as is Cape Town. And so you see? Now we’re down to three.

3. Who do you know?

It’s always better to know someone wherever you go. They can a. show you the local flavor without b. you breaking the bank on tourist traps, while also c. catching up with an old friend.

If you’re like me, with friends all over the map, you’re probably always thinking you should go visit that college friend who moved to Dubai or an old colleague who has a life in New Zealand now. So why not do just that?

Looking back now at the cities that have not been eliminated, I do have friends I want to visit in Macau (but it’s been ruled out), Sydney, and Rio. So since there’s no one I know in Cape Town, I’d really rather forego South Africa, for now, while I have the chance to pay a long overdue visit to some great people who can help me get the most out of my travel experience.

Don’t depend on these friends for lodging or playing tour guides – you’ll want to feel out a lot of it for yourself. But dinner and drinks and laughs as a group one evening will help make some amazing, lasting memories. It looks as if those memories will be made in either Sydney or Rio.

 4. How long can you get away for?

If you’ve only got a week of vacation left to use, like I do, you’ll want to go somewhere that gives you the maximum amount of relaxation as possible. You don’t want to spend your holiday in every mode of transportation imaginable, so we can eliminate the destination that’s the farthest away. Sorry, Sydney, but Brazil is nearly halfway closer to me than Australia. And then there was one.

 5. Rest assured it’s the right decision

Rio wins! I can rest assured that it’s the only option now, given the factors that got me to the final answer.

I can save Sydney or Cape Town for next year, when I have more time to travel, and I can always do Prague in the space of a few days if it’s the right season for exploring city streets on foot. Macau will always be there, too, as will my friend who does not plan on moving anytime soon.

Narrowing those destinations down was relatively painless, and I know that I could have otherwise spent too much time dwelling on the possibilities at my disposal rather than logically determining the very best fit for myself at this very moment. Good luck with your decision making, and remember to, whatever you do, keep exploring.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Reflections: On my friend Elizabeth Walker

I met Elizabeth Walker at 82 Queen. I remember when we first hung out beyond the walls of our job. It was on her 21st birthday: February 9, 2000. In between the cocktails consumed that night, she blurted her number out to me, and it was etched in my brain from that point forward. I don’t know why, but those seven digits just stuck. Not the simplest phone number really to recall, but I somehow always did, which we always thought funny.

That night her infectious laughter and mission to make life as fun as possible became part of me forever. I had no idea how meaningful it would be later on, to be able to recall so many details about Elizabeth and our friendship. Little things I remember her doing and saying have become part of my makeup and the solution to keeping her alive in my everyday life despite losing my sweet friend to lymphoma last September.

Take yesterday, for instance. I walked along King Street and smiled remembering her endearing inability to walk a straight line. I shook my head recalling how often we snuck into a fancy downtown Charleston hotel’s swimming pool. I wondered how many chocolate martinis we had together at High Cotton. And I resisted the temptation to go sit on our old Kirkland Lane front porch out of desperation for more memories to bring my friend back to me.

At Whole Foods recently, I passed through the breakfast section and saw that 365 housebrand on a cereal box I distinctly remember Elizabeth keeping in her Manhattan apartment years later. I stood there staring as if it were too much to see her cereal box in this store. I concentrated on the memory so hard, as if doing so would transport me back to living and laughing with her years ago when nothing could touch us.

And then at the gym last night, I was so tired. But I remembered how long she would spend at the gym, and I was resolute to stick it out. She never took for granted that she was alive and healthy. She was always alive as could be. She pushed herself to complete the NYC half marathon a few years ago, and then qualified in 2010 for the 2011 marathon that she never ran because of her diagnosis. So now I run for her, because that is what she would love to be doing if only she were still here.

Her absence is a change I will never get used to, but I hope to cope with it better as she continues to teach me about life and how to enjoy it and prolong it. How to shake off the silly stuff. How to persevere through the unimaginable. How to make life a relentlessly fun adventure.

I remember when she changed her Charleston phone number four years ago. It was surprisingly distressing for many who, like myself, had grown attached to those reliable digits. But she was ready to embrace her life as a New Yorker, never afraid to shake things up a little and teaching me yet another lesson that would (who knew?) help me through these hard days without her: You can disagree with change and fight it tooth and nail, and though it may be absolutely none of your business to ever understand it, there comes a time when you have to trust that this is how it has to be, and that everything will be just fine. Eventually.

Books: Locals will find plenty to love in Karen White's The Time Between


Reading a novel based in your own city can be a cool combination of sweet and strange. Just as you’re swimming in the thoughts of a character, caught up in a scenario far from your own, you hear a name dropped, like Fast and French, and your mind shifts back to the present reality. I even caught myself staring off the page, my mind wandering into the busy Broad Street restaurant as I daydreamed of cold cucumber soup and pâté.

But a Charleston local can also commiserate with 34-year-old Eleanor Murray as she negotiates through downtown traffic, an all-too familiar afternoon downpour clouding her view. We know the summer heat that takes our breath away, and we can taste the same thick, salty air that has defined the childhood of this main character.

Eleanor has spent most of her adult life repressing memories of her Edisto upbringing for the purpose of self-preservation, to separate herself from the memory of losing her father there years ago to a fatal boating accident. Yet she is forced to reopen her wounds when her boss, Finn, asks her to look after his elderly aunt Helena at her home on that very same barrier island.
But one Edisto memory Eleanor will never shake is when she died, and was revived, 14 years ago after she and her sister fell from a tree. Her sister Eve was paralyzed. Eleanor has taken care of her ever since, unable to forgive herself for the tree-climbing dare or her secret affection for Glen, Eve’s husband.

When Eleanor spends more time with Helena to avoid emotional landmines back home in North Charleston, she also gets to know Finn’s daughter, Gigi. By forming new friendships, Eleanor soon realizes others have had their heartaches, too. Gigi, 10 years old and four years cancer-free, is a sage of sorts for the lost Eleanor. And the recent death of Helena’s sister is a heartache that so far only Eleanor’s piano-playing and playful heckling seem to heal. The bond these two women eventually form reveals truths about sisters, loss, and grief. Long-buried secrets unfold as they realize what it is to confide, to forgive, and, possibly, to let go.

With poignant prose, delicate storylines, and an obvious affection for the Lowcountry, author Karen White gives us an incredible, if emotional, place to go and while away the days on the same Carolina beaches she describes so carefully in The Time Between. She has a Tradd Street series (The Strangers on Montagu Street was a New York Times bestseller) too that should keep your summer reading schedule busy once you fly through the salt water-soaked pages of this well-worded reminder that our lives within this landscape really are lovely.

Books: David Sedaris returns to daily life and his eccentric family in his latest book

by Kelly Rae Smith - published in Charleston City Paper July 16, 2013

Language Lessons and Donny Osmond

Self-deprecating writer and humorist David Sedaris never fails to be an absolute hoot. He returns to his mostly-memoir format with another riot of a book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. His last one, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, dealt with talking animals rather than entries from one of his many meticulously composed diaries.

Though no one can deny the hilarity that comes from giving a squirrel a bit of dialogue, we were pleased this time to get reacquainted with the Sedaris family, his boyfriend, Hugh, and the eccentricity that surrounds them all on a daily basis. His father at the dinner table in naught but underpants? Oh, how we missed him. His foul-mouthed mother? Somebody pour this dear another vodka.

A genius observer to say the least, Sedaris recalls killer scenes and conversations in grocery stores, coffee shops, airplanes, trains. In “Easy, Tiger,” he’s learning another language, this time with hilariously imagined German interpretations. He takes us on reading tours with “Author, Author,” giving out Tylenol and condoms to teenagers. His drunken train ride in “Guy Walks into a Bar Car,” turns surprisingly sentimental. And he acquaints us with his childhood resentment for Donny Osmond in “Memory Laps,” as always turning the bizarre into something both wildly funny as well as quietly reflective.

Sedaris also has a talent for being eloquently crude. Brilliantly inappropriate, he is all too happy to be frank about the shit situation in China, describing in unapologetic detail the gross reality of poop, piss, and phlegm in “#2 to Go.” The phrase, “I’m not sure how long I lay there, blissed out and farting,” comes to mind (from “The Happy Place”) as does this excerpt from the poem, “Dog Days”: “He poops a stool, then, though it’s heinous, bends back down and licks his anus.” Utterly graceful.
Apart from travel, family, and feces, his essays also touch on American politics as seen from his ex-pat perspective. He tells the French to get their own black president in “Obama!!!!!,” while “Health-Care Freedom and Why I Want My Country Back” plus “I Break for Traditional Marriage” are amusing monologues from characters whose values are the obvious punchlines.

Whether he’s insulting himself or the dress code of American travelers, it’s all done with his glorious wit for which he is so loved. Sedaris doesn’t skimp on any dirty details, but he does so with grace and gives the rest of us weirdos, weeping with laughter, a pretty good name, too.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Travel: Get Guaranteed Gadget Power While Traveling (… Without All the Fireworks and Smoke)

by Kelly Rae Smith
Published on popular travel blog, on July 11, 2013

Back when I lived, studied, and worked in Scotland, I bought most of my devices once I got settled in the UK. It was easier, to me, to get things like a pay-as-you-go phone, alarm clock, and a hair dryer upon arriving. But I did take with me one thing I was sure I’d need overseas: my American curling iron.

One cold evening in Edinburgh, I had a hot date so I broke out my curling iron and went to work to try and look my best. Well, it was a hot night all right, and my hair never got curled.

Burned? Yes. Severed? Yes. Curled? No.

In fact, the iron melted apart whilst in my hair. There I was holding the plastic bit in my hand, horrified that the metal wand had melted off and fried itself into my do. I had to cut it out of my hair, but not before I burned the bejesus out of my hand.

I had to learn about how to travel with must-have gadgets the hard way. Lest you repeat my miserable mistake and wind up with fried hair and a frozen bag of peas against the palm of your hand, listen up: all devices are not created equal. Play it safe by knowing your gadgets!

Orange Glow of a Laptop Power Cable
© Matthew Clark Photography

Are You Single?

First, found out if your device is single or dual voltage. This will determine whether you need an adapter or a converter. Cross your fingers that you need only a plug adapter because adapters are lightweight, cheap, and easy to find; as opposed to the chunkier, heavier, and more expensive voltage converters that are mostly useful for people who are relocating overseas.

Single voltage devices need to be properly converted as they aren’t designed to do so by default.
Many personal devices are dual voltage, meaning they can automatically convert to and from differing voltages and only need plug adapters. Think mobile phone chargers, laptops, Mac books, iPads, cameras: things that need to be recharged in general. However, single voltage devices/appliances need to be properly converted as they aren’t designed to do so by default.

Find out which is what by locating the indications label, also known as the power label, on your device. It may be a sticker, but many times it’s a bunch of seemingly nonsensical numbers molded onto the power supply. The standard voltage for the US and its devices is 110-120V, while most other countries use 220V. So if your label says something like 110/220V or 110~220V, it’s a dual voltage device. However, if you see something simpler like just 110V, it’s single voltage. Easy.

random: Power Supply
© semihundido

So You’re Dual Voltage … Now What?

If you’re dual voltage, hurray! All you need is a plug adapter. Simple enough? Kind of. Since foreign electricity is so complicated, you need to get the plug type just right.

If you’re visiting multiple countries, you may need more than one plug adapter since different countries have different outlets. For example, you can’t just hop between London, Paris, and Rome with the same adapter. Find a universal kit that can sort you out for every adventure your heart desires.

You can use a plug type guide to see which one(s) you need, and take it from there. If you’re in the States, try places like RadioShack or Best Buy. Otherwise, the web (Amazon, eBay, et. al.) is full of possibilities. You can always buy an adapter in your destination, but you may want to find the best prices beforehand so you don’t get ripped off at an airport or waste time locating a dealer on foreign streets.

Power on/off
© zigazou76

Watt You Need Is …

Your first step in choosing a converter for your single-voltage device will be to find out the wattage of your device/appliance. Check that power label again, and this time find the W to get the amount of watts your gadget uses. The converter you’ll need should have a wattage that’s at least two or three times – three times to be super safe – higher than the W digit you found on your device. For instance, should you want to take with you a 500-watt TV, buy a 1500 watt converter to be safe.

Can’t find the W? Look for the V and the A (voltage and amps), then multiply those to get the watts. V x A = W. I loathe math, but even I know that’s pretty simple.

Another factor in choosing a converter is knowing if you need a step-up or a step-down converter. Many converters are built to do both, so then you’re covered either way.

But just so you know, a step-up converter will change the voltage from 110-120V to 220-240V. This means you can take an American 110 or 120V device and convert it in a 220 or 240V country, and the step-down converter allows for just the opposite.

If you’re relocating for a short-term stay, you’ll really only need the kind of basic converter with a 90-day or so warranty. However, the heavier-duty converters suited for a more permanent move typically come with at least a 5-year warranty. If you’re going to a country with unstable voltage, make sure your converter has a surge protector, also called a voltage regulator, that will stabilize the voltage during conversion.

Got It?

So there you have it. Simple. In less than a thousand words, you’ve not only learned all about my embarrassing Scottish date FAIL, but you’ve also gained all you need to know about converting safely on your next adventure.

Remember: reading the label is where it’s at. And if all else fails, I’m sure there’s a shop near you with plenty of frozen peas to save the day.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Travel: 5 Steps to a Cheap Vacation

Published in Explore Travel Guide

Traveling would be a cinch if it wasn’t for the cost. If money was no object, I think many of us would be dipping our toes in foreign waters quicker than you can say carpe diem. Fortunately, cheap holidays are not myths, and there’s nothing stopping you from a priceless getaway—provided you’re willing to plan ahead, open your mind, and cut down on luxury. Remember, fun is free—as are these tips to traveling on the cheap.

1. Create a budget, and stick to it

Nothing like getting home from holiday and realizing you carelessly dipped into next month’s rent. Avoiding this is simple, but it does require discipline. Decide in advance how much you can afford to spend in total, and work towards it. Do it today, and your dream vacation will be so much closer than yesterday.

Next, work out how much you can swing on transport and accommodation, and then decide on a spending amount that’s doable during this soon-to-be cheap vacation. Decide on a daily budget by dividing your spending total by the number of days you want to go away for, careful to leave a little extra to spend on things you can’t possibly plan for:  unexpected costs are inevitable. If it’s too little to live on, reduce the days to spend away. Don’t risk running out of money too soon. At the end of the day, take as much as you can without spending next month’s bills, and don’t overspend your daily budget.

2. Book in Advance

Budget airlines are on the rise, and even America is learning fast that the people need cheap holidays. Many airlines do crazy-great deals for small windows of time, so find a few in your area now and subscribe to their newsletters so you’re the first to know of any and all cheap airfare. These deals can either be a few months away from the travel dates or very last minute, so you can stay spontaneous about your holiday if you’re lucky enough to catch one of those—just be financially prepared! Remember, though, that many budget airlines are synonymous with no-frills travel. Think of it this way: is there really such a thing as complimentary snacks? Not really. Getting a cheap, luxury-free flight is worth it as a means to a guilt-free getaway. Always book in advance. Whether you’re traveling by train, plane, bus, or boat, most companies hike prices late in the game, so outsmart them: book weeks, or months if possible, before your vacation. This will doubtlessly put an extra wad of cash in your pocket to be spent on better things later on.

3. Get Not-So-Traditional Accommodations:

Next come the accommodations, and this is where you need that open mind. It’s baffling that many spend unnecessarily high amounts of money on accommodation when it can be done at a much more reasonable rate. I’m not saying you have to stay at a hostel in order to have an open mind. Other options are out there now for those who are still adventurous but want a little more privacy. Despite the misleading website name, there are many quaint and cheap hotels on I’ve booked several cheap,private rooms in both Paris as well as New York by using that site, plus the reservations included free breakfast. But there are other popular choices that are increasingly chic too, like Airbnb hooks you up with hosts who have extra space for you in their humble abodes, which allows you to have a much more meaningful travel experience while saving money, too. From urban apartments to country castles, there are millions of options all over the world. Go here to learn more about how it all works.

 4. Find Cheap Eats

Stretching your budget in terms of food is easier than you may think. If you were able to find a budget hotel with free breakfast, or an actual home with its own kitchen, you’re off to a good start. Many budget hotels have common rooms with refrigerators for their budget travelers to utilize, and so you should. I bought fresh fruits and chorizo for my Barcelona budget, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for the fridge in Rome, and cheese and baguettes for my place in Paris. If you love experiencing cultures through food, shopping at the local markets is the way to go, and you will save tons of money. If you want to experience other affordable treats, I highly recommend street foods. There’s nothing in the world quite like spending your days in Paris feasting on street vendors’ crepes and croque monsieurs.

5. Buy Simple Souvenirs

Sure, it’s nice to be able to splurge on unique items you want to have forever, but you can remember your travels with even the simplest things. Find street markets selling knickknacks like old jewelry; pick fresh flowers and press them into your book or journal; or buy a cheap but frameable postcard from an art museum that will remind you of what you saw that day. One of my favorite pieces of jewelry I still own is a small cameo necklace charm I bought for three Euros from a sweet old lady on the side of the road in Avignon . I quite possibly took a bit of her own personal history home with me while creating some nostalgia of my own.

- See more at:

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Art: Painter Mia Bergeron explores transition, evolution in her first solo show

by Kelly Rae Smith - Charleston City Paper - July 3, 2013

"She's kind of on fire." That's what Robert Lange of Robert Lange Studios says of artist Mia Bergeron, whose first solo show opens at the gallery on July 5. Though she's new to being completely center stage, her works have won over many artists and enthusiasts alike. "Mia is like a painter's painter. Every artist I know loves Mia Bergeron's work," Lange says. "You have to see it in person because she has this lush, buttery paint, and it has this texture where the closer you get, the more you feel a human being."

Lange and his wife Megan first welcomed Bergeron into their Queen Street gallery in 2010 as part of their Women Painting Women exhibit. Bergeron was one of just over 50 women chosen from 360 applicants to join what was, at the time, their largest show. Her impression on the couple was lasting and the Langes invited her back, this time for a show all her own called Gradual Thaw.

"Gradual Thaw refers to both what happens in spring time, just before plant life blooms, but also to a mental state," Bergeron says. "I had all these rules for being a person, a painter, etc. I think I'm in a transitional stage of my life, as many people are, and some of those previous rules and ideas about myself and my work are melting away to make room for new growth."

Among the works that Bergeron will showcase are "Familiar," which depicts a scene at the front door of her home, and "Elasticity," a painting that shows "how flexible one needs to be to make and view art," she says. Another piece, "Anarchist," generated a massive response on the RLS-Facebook page when it was featured there recently.
"This [painting] pertains to the rebellious nature of change," Bergeron says of "Anarchist." "We see how things are, we decide to revolt. Then, in the midst of walking into the unknown, we also rebel against ourself and go back to wanting to be comfortable. It's a cycle I think a lot of people go through: catalyst, change, fear, then acceptance."

Until the past six months, the Chattanooga-based artist had never painted a coherent series of works — it's a task Bergeron admits was challenging. However, the experience helped inform her painting while she explored her vulnerabilities as a painter. The result is an investigation of mood as well as the evolution of an individual.
"Generally speaking, life circumstances heavily influence my work," Bergeron says. "Walking by someone who is worried, a twist of an eyebrow, the colors of a landscape just before it is totally dark. I also seem to pay attention to conflicting emotions and visual matter. Subtle but sharp, dark and cheery, hopeful and disillusioned, lush but lonely."

According to Lange, Bergeron's works allow for viewers to inject their own story. Though viewers can sense strong emotions like vulnerability in Bergeron's work, her art still possesses an ambiguous nature that allows one to ponder what's really going on. Lange loves this element of mystery she's able to create.

"She's one of those people who breaks the mold," he says. "She's very cool, and she's got a hip vibe about her. She's got a lot of personality. She's also very open and loving and very romantic, and it's great to see that kind of show up. Her personality just shows up on the canvas."

The gallery's excitement for this exhibit is clearly matched by that of the artist. Bergeron looks forward to returning to a place that receives its guests so gladly.

"Above the door at Robert Lange Studios is painted, 'All Are Welcome.' I believe this to my core," she says. "I regard public art as the highest form of art, and in a way, showing at Robert Lange is just that."

Gradual Thaw
 @ Robert Lange Studios

  • Opening reception July 5, 5:30-8:30 p.m. On view through July 30.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Daniel Island Animal Hospital goes Mobile for Seniors in Need

by Kelly Rae Smith - Lowcountry Dog Magazine - Summer 2013

Coming across people like Daniel Island Animal Hospital’s Dr. Lynne Flood sure is refreshing. During a time when our attention quickly sweeps from one ugly crisis to another, it is nice to see some humanity happening. Even better that it’s so close to home.

Dr. Flood recently began the charitable organization DIAH on Wheels, an initiative to help homebound seniors living in poverty to receive low to no-cost food and medical care for their pets. DIAH has the mobility to do so due to a retired ambulance truck that they have repurposed into a vet clinic on wheels.

The idea was born from a combination of interests. Dr. Flood not only has a passion for animals, but also for the elderly. She recently earned a graduate gerontology certificate and was especially concerned with the social science aspect and the concept of aging in place.

“Aging in place is a term that is used in gerontology circles,” she says, “and it’s just an initiative to help seniors live in their home for as long as possible.  And it’s better for them because they can stay in their home and keep their pets. I want them to keep their pets because I think that’s a huge factor when it comes to their quality of life.”

After some thorough research, she and the DIAH practice manager, Abby Suiter, realized that the real need for assistance of this type is great within Berkeley County, specifically the Cainhoy/Huger area. And now DIAH on Wheels has joined up with Berkeley Seniors, an organization that does what they can to support the physical, emotional, and mental well being of their older residents. Inside 85 to 90 percent of the homes they visit are seniors living below the poverty line. Most of them have pets, and it is a concern that the residents are sharing their meals with the animals that they cannot afford to feed.

DIAH on Wheel’s first mission is to collect enough pet food for Berkeley Seniors to deliver along with their meals for seniors, so even all four-legged residents are properly nourished. Then, they will begin immunizations for these pets for those who can’t get out of the house to get petcare and can’t afford a mobile groomer. All the while, Dr. Flood and volunteers will gradually realize the scope of the need and let their mission evolve from there, eventually taking the truck out to the communities in need to give these animals and their best friends even more attention.

“After the food and immunization processes,” she says, “I want to do some public health stuff. I want to deworm, treat these pets for fleas or intestinal parasites or skin problems, or whatever they have. I think it’ll be fun. It’ll be fun for me to get out there, and it’ll be something that will help my county.”  
Look out for ways to help the initiative by tuning into the DIAH on Wheels Facebook page, where updates will be posted regarding their GoFundMe plans as well as a DIAH loyalty card that will donate a percentage of profits to DIAH on Wheels. Additionally, volunteers are needed to come along and keep the residents company while their pets receive care.

Summer Lovin': The Story of Mukai and Bugsy Siegel, the Danes of Charleston

by Kelly Rae Smith - Lowcountry Dog Magazine - Summer 2013

The Siegel story is beautiful. It’s full of heartbreak and loss, but hearts are also mended and filled, joy is restored, and souls are rescued all around. As we listen to a violin’s song emanate from a neighboring garden party, Karen and I settle ourselves on the back porch of the Siegels’ downtown home to discuss their furry familypast and present, hurts and all.

At the moment, Karen and Bob Siegel are experiencing a conflict of emotions. You see, Lowcountry Dog had originally planned to speak to them about, and personally meet, Mukai—the Siegels’ beloved black and white Great Dane who joined the family three years ago. The magazine auctioned off this cover story at the annual Furball Gala to benefit Pet Helpers. Karen, not only a long-time supporter of Pet Helpers, but also a now 15-year volunteer for the Charleston animal charity, won last November’s auction. She wanted it to promote rescue and to honor her beautiful Mukai, who had rescued her family upon his arrival several years ago. Unfortunately, Mukai passed away in January of this year.

Mukai had been a saving grace to help them recover from the loss of Stella, their Great Dane for 12 years. But Mukai would eventually get prostate cancer and only live to be seven-years young. Although I had the misfortune of never meeting him, I was certainly introduced to Mukai through story. And I did get to meet Bugsy Siegel. He’s their new 65-pound, four-month-old Great Dane puppy, who is turning out to be another savior.

“Mukai taught me a lot of stuff,” Karen says, “But the first thing he taught me was the only way you’re going to heal a broken heart when you lose an animal, is with another animal.”

Speaking about Mukai isn’t easy. There may be a puppy nearby to distract her by playfully eating every flower in the garden, but it’s still so soon. Karen reflects slowly and in pauses as she longs to perfectly recall their time with him from the very beginning. With emotion in her voice, she starts again.
“We actually found Mukai because he was in Lowcountry Dog,” she says, “and that was the month that they ran the Great Dane rescue page. I didn’t even know we had a Great Dane rescue in South Carolina. But I saw Mukai on there, and I thought he was beautiful.

“I watched him on the Pet Helpers website for a year. And then we lost Stella. A week later I saw he was still on the website, and I thought, we’ve got to go meet him. So I did, and I was absolutely terrified of him. He was the biggest Dane I had ever seen. I thought, that is so not my puppy,” she laughs. “But I went to pet him, and I realized he was terrified. He barked and growled because he was petrified of everyone. And it just broke my heart.”

And that is when the mutual rescue began. Although he was lovingly cared for at Pet Helpers, Mukai needed his own home, where he could be better nurtured, and where he could sooner forget his life before the rescue.

Mukai spent the first year of his life tied up and beaten in his backyard, by a “vet tech” no less. He was bumped out of three different homes before Karen found him. Although she wasn’t sure if they were quite ready so soon after losing Stella, she did know this: Mukai couldn’t wait anymore. And he didn’t have to. Their bond had already begun.

“There was something about us,” she recalls. “We just clicked. When we decided to take him, [the Pet Helpers employee] said, ‘I’m so happy. After watching him with you for about 15 minutes, I thought please, God, let this woman want this dog, because this dog really wants that woman.’”

And from that point forward, he became a special fixture in the Siegel house, although those first few hours were slightly shaky.

“It was frightening taking in a 200-pound dog that had a history of abuse and neglect,” she admits. “When they brought him here, he was pacing from the front to the back door. I was kind of scared to get up, but I just looked at him and said, OK, buddy, we have to make this work.”

Her nervousness would soon subside, as did his. And so she remains a champion for rescues, and this is why. It brought them joy to watch this confident, loving, sweet-spirited dog evolve. from that once-timid creature.

“It was like a miracle,” she remembers. “After about six months, he was just a completely different dog. He would drag all his toys out of the foyer, and there would be 15 toys and bones. I think it was because, being a rescue, you don’t have your own. You drop it, somebody’s gonna take it. He was over 200 pounds playing with toys.”

As he healed before their eyes, the Siegels soon realized Mukai was healing them, too.

“He made us remember the Stella that we had for ten years,” she says, “and not the Stella we had for the last year when she was sick and she couldn’t get around. Once he got comfortable, he would start goofing around, and we thought, doesn’t he remind you of Stella? So he brought back the happy memories of Stella. That’s the first thing he taught me.”

Remembering this lesson, she sought out another Dane when Mukai passed earlier this year. Although she wasn’t keen on a puppy, another gut feeling told her she and Bugsy would need each other, too.

They expect Bugsy to grow to Mukai-like proportions, so reminders are sure to stay with them for the duration of Bugsy’s life. And that’s a great thing. So is the garden destruction, the necessary supervision, the constant mischief. They laugh it all off because, after all, what else would you expect of a Great Dane puppy? “There’s puppies,” Karen says, “and then there’s puppies on steroids.”

Today, she gets satisfaction from watching this swiftly growing Bugsy enjoy a puppyhood, the kind that Mukai was denied.

“I think it was the fact that Mukai was a rescue,” she says, “that you could see in his eyes the gratitude, the love, more so I think than any other dog we’ve had. The most rewarding thing was to see this giant dog who just went from a terrified, and terrifying, 200 pounds of dog to romping around like a 20-pound puppy, which is just the most rewarding thing. We gave him a puppyhood, and he brought Stella’s puppyhood back to us. It was a good deal.”

Fancy a mutual rescue yourself? Contact Pet Helpers to see who needs a nurturing home today: Pet Helpers
1447 Folly Road
James Island
(843) 795-1110