Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 Year Of The Phoenix: From Fires, Floods, and Mayhem To Gingerbread, Pumpkins, And Afro-Cali Dance

Okay, so I'm not naked but it is a cute picture, isn't it?! :)

*So after spending weeks working on my holiday newsletter in three different programs and beating my head against the wall b/c of technical issues, I thought it might be best to take the path of least resistance and post my newsletter here where I can upload pictures and maintain the format I wanted...besides, newsletters are supposed to be fun, right?! ;)

2009 seems to have been a year of transitions and challenges…I've decided to call it the Year of the Phoenix where elements need to be destroyed to be reborn again. I’ve experienced many changes within my family that have presented incredible opportunities to deepen my connections with loved ones. I’ve also had several health challenges this past year which have reinforced my desire to take care of my health and to have compassion for those friends I know who are given similar “health opportunities.” That all said, I thought it best to write my newsletter in a different format and one of gratitude:

Twelve Things I’m Grateful For From 2009 In No Particular Order:

1) That after nine months of fighting some health challenges and major fatigue (long story…) I am feeling vibrant and full of energy again for the first time in about a year. I am able to dance, to sing, and to socialize with friends with the vibrancy that I used to!

2) That I was able to travel back to Indiana four time in five months and reconnect with an incredible group of friends, families, and neighbors there. That I was with my Dad and good friend Mike when my stepmother Susan passed away on June 1st. That I had the opportunity to be there for that amazing transition with my father and with her and that we were able to throw one of the most incredible Memorial Life Celebrations for her that any of us could have invisioned….bluegrass band, scrumptious food, wildflower bouquets, limericks and stories by some of her best friends and family members, a neighbor flying over the party and dropping colorful streamers on 150 people, sharing laughter, tears, and limericks….I've included a picture of Dad, Susan, and I from three years ago~

3) That my Dad’s in Texas on a hunting trip for Christmas and doesn’t have to suffer through another year of watching “Pride and Prejudice” for the 49th time, decorating and gift giving…he has the luxury of stuffing himself with frozen burritos, and spending hours on end reading his favorite books on economics and travel adventure in a one-room cabin with some of his best friends. Enjoy it now, Dad…you may get roped back into the holidays next year. ;)

4) That Steve and I have such amazing families….that they all share such great sense of humors, relish scrumptious food, travel, reading, and being with us. We had the opportunity to go on another Abbey family vacation to Punta Mita, Mexico for surfing, kayaking, and gorging on Chilaquiles. Steve and I also made a trip out to visit my Mamacita for the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival this past October...four days of non-stop travel adventure filmmaking (I posted a blog about my favorites in October). My Dad also came out to visit Santa Barbara for the first time in about six years…and we had a blast watching movies, going target shooting (it's an Indiana thang), and whale watching.

5) That we have a roof over our heads and are financially solvent. It’s been a hard year for so many people who may have lost their homes in the fires here or through financial woes. I can’t help but feel blessed that we are living in Santa Barbara in a beautiful home. That our house and our kittens are fine and that although our house was evacuated during the third huge Santa Barbara fire that ravaged the hills above us...we're still here!

6) That I’m amazingly blessed to be heading on another adventure with my beloved Mama Chihuahua (Karen) and Baby Love (Steve) to Ecuador after the New Year for adventures in the Ecuadorean Andes….chasing wild horses, photographing wildlife and Quechua markets, trekking along ancient Incan roots, immersing ourselves in the gorgeous sounds of Spanish, and giggling together as much as possible~

7) That I’ve had the opportunity to engage again in the incredible Afro-Cali community of dance and drumming with my friends Lisa Beck and Budhi Harlow of Panzumo….that I’ve made such incredible friends through this family of musicians/dancers and that I continue having the opportunity to perform with Panzumo and the Djun Djun Mamas. If you're curious what kind of dancing and performing we do, I've included a couple of links to some short clips of our latest performances:

Djun Djun Mamas Drumming Ensemble on Winter Solstice:

Panzumo Dance Performance of "Djole" at the Unitarian Church (Scroll to one third of the way through the clip to see our dancing):

Tribal Arts Fair Performance (On Facebook ):

I'm also super grateful that Steve is engaged in something which brings him equal joy: Jiu Jitsu! He recently earned his blue belt and is completely obsessed with studying new moves…regularly practicing “choke holds,” “rear naked chokes,” and “triangles” on me when we really should be cuddling instead. ;)

8) That King Bee continues to perform into our ninth year….We’ve been through so much over the past nearly a decade now…and we continue having the opportunity to play for such wonderful people and venues. It's been an incredible nine years, guys! I'm so grateful to have music in my life on a regular basis and to be playing in a community which truly values good music.

9) That Steve continues to be my intrepid partner on the good days and the more challenging days and that, no matter what issues arise in our lives, we’re able to communicate with each other through love, respect, and humor.

10) That I’m so blessed to have the friends in our lives that I do. Some of whom live several states away but whom are always close to my heart. These friendships are the bedrock of my life and give me the strength to keep going and the inspiration to do better on a daily basis!

11) That I’ve had the opportunity to grow professionally on several levels. This year I had my first national magazine feature in Women’s Adventure Magazine as well as several other fun stories in Destination Wine Country. More importantly, my photography has continued to evolve and grow. I’ve had the opportunity to photograph several incredible individuals this year with whom I’ve been able to deepen my connection. I look forward to this next year when I plan to devote even more of my time and creativity towards my photography. You can see some of my latest portrait sessions on this blog throughout the year or check out some of my new portrait galleries at I'll be regularly adding to my galleries there.

12) That my Mum and I continue to deepen our relationship with each other and continue to follow those pursuits which bring us so much joy! She’s doing lots of horseback riding, hiking, cooking, and dancing with her performance group, “Al Rakasaat.” If you haven’t seen her dance website which I finished this past spring, you’ve got to check it out here: I'm very proud of it! Besides putting the whole thing together for her, I also did all of the photography on the home page.

Overrall, I’m ending the year feeling incredible grateful for the gifts of this past year and I go into 2010 with the feeling that the ground has been cleared for some really powerful things to happen in this coming year. I was recently given a very heartfelt gift by my stepmother’s aunt who is a talented, whimsical artist. On the back of the canvas was a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche I’d like to live by in this next year of creativity and gracious living: “The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

And as my stepmother was famously known for saying, “Life is good, isn’t it?! “
Hoping that you have the courage to face things in your life which you need to change, the wisdom to recognize things you can’t, and that you start and end each day feeling grateful for all of the blessings in your life.

With Love, Great Affection, and New Year's Wishes,

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I'll bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween.
~Author Unknown

I can't help it...I absolutely love Halloween! As soon as September's days become cooler and candy begins to appear on the shelves of local stores, I get this restless excitement to buy pumpkins, bake, and start decorating our house like crazy! There's something about the changing leaves, the cool nights, and the edginess of Halloween that I just love. As a kid it rocks b/c you get to dress up, go to strangers' houses, and ask for free candy. But as an adult, it's even more fun. You get to drink and eat really fun stuff, dress up as your alter ego, and party like a rockstar.

I always look forward to watching Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow and decking out our house with giant hairy tarantulas, orange and purple lights, and things that jump or screech unexpectedly. It's just such a macabre, pagan, wonderfully artsy holiday that I can't seem to get enough of (I'll probably leave our decorations up until Turkey Day). Every year I seem to convince myself that I need to buy more decorations. This year I've deemed it the "Year of the Spider," putting up way more cobwebs than any self-respecting home should ever have. Steve and I have a self-proclaimed spider-friendly home (we personally escort the larger ones safely into the backyard). Recently we discovered that we have a beautiful orb spider which built it's web right above our front step as if knowing it has arachnid immunity near our abode.

Here are a few random pictures from this year's angel costume, our band dressed up for a Halloween gig at the Doubletree Fess Parker (Rotary Club Halloween Bash), and a bunch of decorations at our place, and a few choice pictures of our friends dressed up for Halloween. I hope yours was as much fun as ours was!

Photo Shoot with Asia Warren, Bodyworker and Owner of "Rejuvenasia," Massage, Skin Care, and Spa Service

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.
~Dorothea Lange

I had the opportunity to photograph another incredible woman through the dance community...the gorgeous and ever-accomplished dancer and bodyworker, Asia Warren. An additional bonus was getting our girlfriend, Shani Herron, to model as her massage client (rough job!).

I've been having way too much fun doing these shoots lately. Time just slipped away once we got situated, picked out her outfits, and started shooting. It's been a source of never-ending satisfaction to find a profession where obsessiveness and perfectionism aren't just tolerated but rewarded and necessary...Thank god!

Although I personally know many of my photography clients, it's always fascinating to me to see their various faces being revealed through the camera. Asia is primarily a strong, passionate woman but I also found that she had some other sides I've rarely seen before in her...a playful girlish side, a more innocent college-looking fresh young woman, and then her serene and radiant bodyworker persona.

And it's not even that I'm entirely aware these sides are coming out as I'm's only afterwards that I discover another presence... when I'm in the process of editing. It's as if a phantom spirit only appears through the eye of the lens.

I continue to be grateful that I'm living the creative life and having the opportunity to photograph incredible men and women. I feel that I am personally changed, my energy altered in a blissful sort of way, after every shoot...and I can only call it magic!

Thankyou Asia!

I've also included a smaller version of the slideshow which I created for Asia of our shoot together. Because, it's been condensed for web viewing, the photos' resolutions are more grainy that the original...but it gives you an idea of how gorgeous she looks and how fun the shoot was!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ole! Artists...Have You Done Your Part?! Speech by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love) on Ted Talks
*Five Stars

This is a brilliant speech (which received a standing ovation) by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, on the anguish, love and inspiration for the creative life. Whether you're a painter, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, sculptor, or just related to one, this is one of the most brilliant speeches I've seen in the past couple of years on the psychological intimidation of being an artist and how we may hope to deal with the incredible weight of expectation on our craft. It's not a surprise that she had a standing ovation! This is really worth watching...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oktober Film Fest: 7th Annual Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival
Flagstaff, AZ

Picture left: Karen Custer Thurston, Rachel S. Thurston, Heather Roberto, and Steve Abbey. Picture right; Volunteer Ayala, two of the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival Directors Chris Becker and Ron Tuckman, and Filmmaker David Thanh

God I love Flagstaff!
Mama Chihuahua (MC), the Beloved Badger, and I (the Fire Kitten) all share a love for adventure travel and documentary films. Thanks to MC, we've now made it an annual tradition to attend all four days of the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival set in historic downtown Flagstaff where she lives. For the past week, we've watched 18 hours worth of movies from around the world.... saturating ourselves, immersing, processing, drinking hot cups of chai, munching on popcorn, then going back for more….

The film festival punctuates our year now with its inspirational, moving, and occasionally hilarious short and feature-length documentaries. This year the Festival offered 49 films highlighting all seven continents. I can't recommend this festival highly enough. I've been going to the Banff Film Festival series of winning films that comes through Santa Barbara for the past seven years and the Telluride Film Festival series for the past two years. I've also worked for a couple of different filmmakers as well as dabbled in documentary filmmaking. The Flagstaff Festival features many documentaries in the same vein: action-adventure films intermixed with socially and environmentally-oriented flics. For only $54 we each bought VIP passes which allowed us to see as many films as we wanted as well as the opportunity to have dinner at a gallery and meet other filmmakers visiting for the festival.

For the past several years, I've been wanting to blog more about this festival and give it its proper due! The five directors—Ron Tuckman, Chris Becker, Cameron Clarke, John Tveten, and Kristen Faxlanger have done another fantastic job at putting together a powerful line-up.

I've highlighted some of the more noteworthy films that were among many of my favorites. Several will be available to rent, one has been picked up by HBO, and a few others may be more difficult to get a hold of. For a teaser, I've included a few of their trailers. If any of these catch your fancy, check out their websites for info around venues where you can see them. And by all means, go check this festival out in Flagstaff for yourself!

There were many headlining films which I wasn’t able to make this year but of the ones I saw…these are a few noteworthy ones:

63 Marathons in 63 Days
USA, 2009. 102 min.
Director: Deborah Carr
Producer: Bradley Carr
Incredibly inspiring movie about a young endurance runner, Tim Borland, who decides to raise awareness for a rare, terminal, childhood disease that is affecting 500 kids in the U.S. by running not one, two, three, four, or five marathons in a row but SIXTY-THREE marathons around the country in sixty-three consecutive days with the support of his wife, kids, and best friend/coach as they travel by rv. The movie seamlessly weaves stories of families and children affected by A-T (which degenerates children’s bodies/muscles with each year) wih Borland’s intrepid mission to selflessly spread the word about A-T through the country. Truly inspiring and very well done.

USA, 2008. 74 min.
Director: Paul Devlin
Producer: Claire Missanelli
Such a fun, light-hearted, and suspenseful movie about a team of astrophysicists attempting to build and launch a telescope carried by balloon above the atmosphere to record the beginnings of our universe and distant galaxies. Featuring gorgeous photography,Blast showcases a fun team of scientists that seem to keep their spirits up even when they lose their hard drive (painted white) in the snow along a 120-mile stretch of Antarctic ice. I also loved Blast’s brilliant soundtrack that truly captures the spirit and suspense of their expedition.

The Farm: 10 Down
USA, 2009. 93 min.
Director: Jonathon Stack; Producer; James McKay
The Farm: 10 Down is the perfect example of how you should never judge a documentary by its description. By the fourth day of the festival—and unlike Steve--I had little desire to watch a movie following the lives of several prisoners at Angola, the oldest and largest prison in the U.S. set in the Deep South. It didn’t sound like a fun way of spending my last afternoon at the festival…but I got chills in the first few minutes of being introduced to the characters when the narrator’s deep James Earle Jones’-like bass voice came across like a wise grandfather who’s going to tell you a story and lead you somewhere truly grand. And boy did it deliver.

Although this is a follow-up piece to the original film The Farm shot in 1997, it stands strong even on its own.
The Farm: Ten Down is a brilliant piece and one of my top favorites from the festival. Gorgeous raw, blues soundtrack and surprisingly, a really inspiring look at prison reform from within the walls of Angola where the warden is running a highly-esteemed model of a prison where crime and suicide rates are low and morale is relatively high and where prisoners are given the opportunities to “live” and to treat each other with civility and work their way through the ranks of the prison gaining degrees, playing sports, running a television channel, radio station, and a newspaper. The warden is also encouraging victim reconciliation with prisoners and believes with all his heart that some prisoners are capable of rehabilitation and wants to give them the opportunity to have a second chance and prove themselves as leaders.

These are hardened criminals with major sentences…no one with any less than forty years is sent to Angola. Many are murderers, multiple offenders with life sentences and either one chance or no chance at parole. Truly great testament to prison reform.

This is movie-making at its best: When you’re changed afterwards. When you care about the characters. And When you leave the theatre with a lot more questions than you have answers. And when you can’t stop thinking about the film in the days that follow.

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai
USA, 2008. 80 min.
Directors/Producers: Lisa Merton, Alan Dater
This wonderful doc illuminates the lifelong heroism of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Prize Winner from Kenya who developed the Green Belt Program which has planted forty-five million trees throughout a largely deforested Kenya. If you thought Wangari was just a glorified Janie Appleseed, the movie clearly shows how her tree revolution has played a part in her lifelong struggle to fight for human rights, environmental rights, civic rights, women’s rights, and democracy during years of rule under Kenya’s dictators. From encouraging women to grow their own food and replant their forests to leading a sit-in of women protesting (and consequently beaten) the imprisonment of their sons being held as political prisoners….Wangari has become the Nelson Mandela of her generation. Not surprisingly, she’s the first woman in East Africa to have received a Phd and one of many brave Kenyan souls who has risked her life to fight for her ideals. Two of my favorite quotes from this fiery woman: “Culture is our coded wisdom…” and, while addressing sexist remarks from belligerent adversaries in the political sphere, “We should be focusing on the only anatomy that is appropriate right now, the one above the neck…” Go girl! This woman is a force to be reckoned with.

Oil + Water
USA, 2007. 94 min.
Director/Producer: Seth Warren
Oil + Water is a fun, playful documentary about two unlikely bio-crusaders traveling from the north point of Alaska to the tip of South America in a renovated fire truck that’s been supped up to run purely on recycled vegetable and animal oils that they glean along the way. The two young kayakers remind me a lot of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure through North and South as they blunder their way through borders, police stops, clogged engines, and bad roads……laughing their way through the whole thing. Amazingly, enough press builds around their pilgrimage that, by the time, they make it to Chile, they’re meeting with the U.S. Ambassador and have appeared in multiple news conferences serving as educators and ambassadors of alternative fuels. It’s amazing listening to these guys that they manage to fix engines and navigate their way out of some bad places…and similarly, their lacksidaisical attitudes cleverly disguise their kayaking abilities and resourcefulness as travelers. I would have liked to have seen a longer movie with more details around how they converted their engine and planned for this trip. Although I loved the lightheartedness of the movie, I feel like it almost glossed over every challenge they had too much….leading the viewer to believe it was just one dang fun trip. Which it probably was but misery loves company and an audience, too. ;)

Sand and Sorrow
USA, 2007. 94 min.
Director/Producer: Paul Freedman
Winner of Best Human Interest Film
Although this was not one of my favorite movies at the festival, I feel I have to mention it as well. It’s been picked up by HBO and will no doubt garner even more press in the coming year. Narrated by George Clooney, Sand and Sorrow, is an utterly depressing look at the history of the Darfur Crisis with excellent interviews with leading scholars (including Pulitzer Prizer Winner Nicholas D. Kristof who will be lecturing at UCSB next week) ….who were so articulate that I found myself rapt by their eloquence and how well they nail the politics behind world governments failing to address contemporary genocides.

Although it was clear that Sand and Sorrow was made by people passionate about the cause and included thoughtful footage and history, I feel like it missed the mark on several levels. I’ve seen multiple war movies and have taken a keen personal interest in the holocaust histories of Eastern Europe, Cambodia, and Africa but the movie in its attempt to shock with photos and stories of atrocities went overboard to the point that all the stories just became one big blur and that, by the end of the movie, I felt completely numb. I would have preferred that they had humanized the victims/survivors by following just a few individuals in their daily lives in the refugee camps so we can actually develop a personal connection to them. It felt like the movie was very much intellectualized where the closest we get to any of the main characters are in interviews with scholars and two Africans who work in the refugee camps.

The second way it falled short was in its failure to humanize any of the soldiers in the Janjaweed. If we are to learn from these genocides we must examine how it is that people are so capable of committing such brutal atrocities against their own people. The Janjaweed were never discussed…their ages, their backgrounds, their motivations, nor the culture of violence that has led to this brutal war.

Its final shortcoming was in its length. It was too frickin’ long. I felt like it became the never-ending movie. There must have been over four false endings where it would go dark and then it would flash back to another story line. The editors needed to be more ruthless and cut this movie down by at least twenty minutes. Minimum. I felt so beaten down by the movie at the end that I was annoyed and drained. Sure the interviews were great but there was a lot of redundancy. Sometimes passion in the editorial room breeds blindness and, when filmmakers are so attached to their project’s message, it’s difficult to “kill the darlings” and cut a film down to make it more powerful.

Lastly, any war movie has to leave the viewer with some hope. War Dance one of my favorite documentaries from 2007 and is a perfect example of how a movie so deftly balanced the themes of light and dark when addressing genocide survivors (in this case child war refugees striving to play in a national music competition). As viewers, we must feel that ultimately, although evil things may be happening, that there is hope somewhere and that there are people making a difference.

It’s a shame really. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh but Sand and Sorrow just left me feeling that, in the Sudan, that’s mostly what remains…a lot of sand and a lot of sorrow.

Afghan Girls Can Kick
Afghanistan, 2007. 50 min.
Director/Producer: Bahareh Hosseini
An excellent look at two parallel stories…a grass roots school in Kabul designed to get kids off the street and into school and Afghanistan’s first all women’s national soccer team. The Kabul-based school empowers young Afghan Girls through education and encouraging them to play sports, something that is still disapproved of by many Afghans and a pursuit which was banned and consequently banished by the Taliban only years ago. One character who stands out is a teacher from the school who goes around Kabul herding kids she finds working out on the street into the protection/guidance of the school. Second memorable character is Roya, a highly disciplined, talented girl on the National Afghan Football (Soccer) Team.

Fridays at the Farm
USA, 2006. 19 min.
Director/Producer: Richard Power Hoffman
Winner of Best Short Film
Beautifully shot film which was really a complilation of 20,000 images that the filmmaker shot during several season working on an organic farm. I saw this one before at the Telluride Festival and really liked the serene beauty of it and the filmmaker’s poetic narrative on developing a closer connection to the food that his family grows and eats. Not an adrenaline or drama-packed movie but sublime and beautifully-done.

Tibet: Murder In The Snow
Australia, 2008. 52 min.
Director: Mark Gould
Producer: Sally Ingleton
Winner of the People’s Choice Award
Wish I could have seen this one! It looks riveting and was supposedly a very powerful movie. We had plans on the last night of the festival with some Flagstaff friends and couldn’t see this one. From what I’ve heard, it’s highly recommended. Check out the trailer here.

Move of the Wall
Slovenia, 2008. 42 min.
Director/Producer: Igor Urtacwik
I’ve seen so many climbing movies over the years that I’ve found many of them--although filmed beautifully and with clever editing and musical touches--often assume that the viewer cares as much about climbing as the stars of it do.
This one seemed to explain why we should care. Perhaps b/c it was shot by Slovenians, but there seemed to be a different feeling to this one. Some excellent camera angles and beautiful tracking, unique use of Jimi Hendrix, and some great, cinematic moments such as two of the climbers sharing their philosophy of climbing as they play chess at a café in Lubjliana. I really liked this one and was charmed by it.

One Crazy Ride
India, 2009. 87 min.
Director/Producer: Guarav Jani
One of the festival favorites
Directed, filmed, and edited by Indian Filmmaker Guarav Jani who also came to the festival this year with another one of its stars, One Crazy Ride is a fun, romp through one of the most remote regions of northern India, Arunachal Pradesh, He and four of his fellow riders from the motor club 60kph, attempt to cross the remote region by motorbike with dodgy maps, roadmarkers, and questionable roads. The movie gains momentum the further into the jungle that the five friends go as they cross rockslides, rivers, and bamboo bridges and pass through tribal villages which have mysteriously gained unreasonable reputations for being fierce and brutal to foreigners.By the end of the movie, you find yourself cheering for the riders and amazed at the obsessiveness that Guarav Has in doing all the filming himself even when he’s riding alone.

Thank you again to the festival directors (Ron, Chris, John, Kristen, and Cameron), to the sponsors, and all the filmmakers!
We can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Road Trip to Big Sur with Mama Chihuahua!
Photography by Rachel S. Thurston and Karen Custer Thurston

*Although I'm posting this on August 19th, I originally wrote this blog on Wednesday, August 5th 2009
Big Sur, California

Listening to the angelic a cappella songs of a Russian Choir and the crackling, low roar of our fireplace…Mom and I are stretched out in our little cottage along Highway 1….long stalks of sunflowers stretch out beyond our windows beside clumps of lavendar…across the road is the Big Sur River winding its way through the redwoods….

We walked today along vertiginous cliffs amber in the light under a cloudless sky…the air was perfect….the hot breeze moving up the hillside carrying the fragrances of sweet musky sage and the occasional aroma of eucalyptus…a mixture of menthol and dill pickles, unmistakeable and surprisingly pleasant...smells that are uniquely reminiscent of California. We wander along one of the paths in Julia Pfeiffer State Park to one of my favorite waterfalls spilling out onto a crescent-shaped beach where the water laps up at such a perfectly gentle speed you’d think it was created for a Hollywood romance….it’s divine!

At sunset we climb an unearthly looking rock island until the only bit of earth separating us from the expanse of the Pacific is a 200-foot cliff face of golden rock studded with lichen and a blaze of red….the ocean so supple….gently rippling…so benign from here….the sky studded now with clouds stretched thin like cottonballs torn into long, transparent strips…..their underbellies a light pink…the Santa Lucia mountains behind us are turning amber…the chaparral and forests are deeper shade of jade…..and then the moon rises just as the sun sets….a brilliant yellow orb and below it the water shimmers like a luminescent spill of gold paint….a cool wind carrying the scent of salt water and summer sweeps past us….one of the docents shares a few rather lame ghost stories…I think a few of us were hoping for more ghosts stories….so Mom and I share stories of our own on our way down the hill…

The air has been deliciously warm and cool like lakewater that’s been stirred up after a hot day….it’s so relaxing here to be hunkered down in our cabin and to be still…

Tomorrow we head South to San Simeon and go on see the Hearst Castle...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 16th, 2009
Mother Daughter Shoot with Vickie and Jeannette
Santa Barbara, California

I continue to be blessed in shooting incredible women….this past month I had the opportunity to shoot Victoria, a friend of mine through the Afro-Cali Dance Community (Panzumo), and her lovely and elegant Mamacita Jeannette. I love shooting mothers and daughters because of that incredibly deep bond that connects them through time and space unlike any other….no matter our ages, we remain daughters and mothers, sisters, and ideally, friends. I count myself lucky to be so close to my own mother and I could see that Victoria and her mother have a similarly close friendship. I think that being close to the women we love never fails to bring out our innermost goddess qualities and with that comes our greatest beauty and lights….

Directly below is the slideshow. The pictures have been condensed for the movie but it gives you an idea of the slideshow I created for them both....Just push the "play" button:

I had originally wanted to shoot at sunset along the ocean but the winter sun wasn’t in the right position so we found a garden setting instead that was even more resplendent in the late afternoon light. In the end, the choice was divine….the white and lemon-colored angel trumpet flowers, giant oak tree, and miniature orchids brought out even more of Victoria’s playful spirit and Jeannette's irresistible smile. We had planned on shooting for only an hour or so but, as always, I fell in love with the colors, the light, and their radiance….it was too much fun! The only challenge was getting Victoria’s blind, aging dog Lily to pay attention to the camera and not sulk….I managed to get a few good shots of her before she completely threw a fit and let us all know it was time to call it a day~

We all went home in the early evening euphoric from the shoot…except maybe the dog who was just relieved to be done with the whole ordeal.... ;)

The sweetest sounds to mortals given
Are heard in Mother, Home, and Heaven.

~William Goldsmith Brown

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 21st, 2009
Official Launch of Karen Custer Thurston's Middle Eastern Dance Website
Of all the people I've had the opportunity to work with over the past several years, one of my most favorite is my Mother! She's hired me to do her fitness shots and fitness website as well as her dance photos and dance website. We giggle, we tease each other, we obsess, we fixate, and then come to some miraculous resolutions together...

My latest project for her has been one of my proudest. After several months of hard work, we're officially launching her brand spanking new dance website here at:

I'm so proud of it...I am in love with the dynamic colors, the music, the layout, and the fact that its her first website to host video. I love this site so much that I'm gonna have to go back and revamp my own sites to keep up with the elegance of hers!

If you've never had the opportunity to see her dance, check out some of her videos. One of her latest choreographies was with the dance troupe she leads, Al Rakasaat, titled "Alexandria."
There are also a few other clips of performances she's had in recent years...they barely scratch the surface of all that she's done but should give you a good idea of different styles she draws from. We hope to be updating with more videos over the next couple of years....

Viva El Baile!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

“Staycation in Big Sur”

It’s funny how you can live with someone and be together for most hours of the day but not necessarily get quality time together. I think I’ve learned that Steve and I both need little mini getaways every month or so to refresh our connection with each other and get out of our heads and our work.

We both work from home so you’d think we’d have more opportunities for quality time together (which we do at different meals and impromptu parts of the day) but when you work at home, I think there are more challenges to unwinding at home and not having the details of your work invade your brain. We’ve learned how important the value of a little getaway can be, whether it’s a short camping trip or an overnight at a Bed & Breakfast. This past weekend, we met up with some friends for part of the weekend in Big Sus.

I think it was my third trip through there but we had more of a chance to explore a little more deeply. I’m still surprised by how expensive it can be staying there but it is possible to be frugal and camp in the state parks or book far in advance at some of the campgrounds (Fernwood, Big Sur Campground). Check out the Chamber of Commerce's sight on accomodation options.

A Few Cool Things About Big Sur:

~There’s a full moon ghost tour around the lighthouse every month during the peak season. Check out their tour schedules....

~Famed American novelist, eccentric, and Big Sur local Henry Miller once quipped that “Big Sur is as God intended the face of the earth to look.” In danger of sounding overly cliché, I have to say that Big Sur truly is gorgeous during all types of weather. From the dramatic, mystical quality of fog rolling up the cliff faces from the sea to the expansive blue skies and jaw-dropping sunsets on clear days….it’s difficult to go wrong. Pack for all kinds of weather.

~Continuing their tradition of fostering a thriving artistic community, The Henry Miller Library offers Wednesday night open mic nights, outdoor movie nights, and regular music concerts throughout the summer. Check out:

The view at Nementhe is one of my favorites....the food, like most places in Big Sur, is fairly expensive so we opted for a light dinner and ordered some wine and paired it with smoked salmon and bruscetta topped with warm goat cheese and candied pecans. You just can't beat sitting at that overlook watching the moon rise from behind the mountains and passing slowly overhead...

~Big Sur is close to the elephant seals, awesome shopping in Cambria, and the Hearst Castle in the South and Carmel and the Monterrey Aquarium (check out the fiery jellyfish in the sapphire tank and the mating sea otters!).

~Electricity didn’t come to this largely rugged and isolated area until the early 1950s....

~Loads of artists, musicians, and outdoor lovers. Besides Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson have both called Big Sur home at one time.

I'm still getting to know the area bit by bit with every trip and feel that I've only scratched the surface. I was so thrilled with this past trip that I've already booked another trip for later this summer with Mama Chihuahua. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 20th, 2009

Women's Adventure Magazine

Rachel En Fuego!
Article in a national magazine dream comes true….

At last, my goal of writing for a national adventure magazine has come true! Just in time for Mother’s Day, I’ve recently had a story about Mama Chihuahua’s and my notoriously soggy, humbling trek on the Routeburn in New Zealand published in Women’s Adventure Magazine. I’ve just received advance copies from the arts editor (Krisan Christensen…thanks, Krisan!). If you’ve never checked the magazine out before, you’re in for a treat! It’s hip, fun, and edgy covering all types of adventures from house-swapping around the world (hopefully involving a house you actually own) to crushes and camping to a Green Action Superhero Comic Strip and interviews of incredible adventure divas. It’s the only travel, sports, and outdoor-related magazine dedicated solely to women. I was also tickled to death that I made the contributors’ page alongside the letter from the editor.

My boyfriend often asks me why I go to the trouble of spending countless hours during and after trips to write my travel blogs and sometimes I ask myself the same question. The first answer that comes to mind is that I just have to! Some unknown and obsessive force drives me to do it. It doesn’t feel like an adventure or a real journey unless I’m able to share it with friends. The second reason is that I love the feedback and dialogue I have with my friends, family, and fellow kindred spirits that is inspired by these blogs.

Lastly, every now and then, I actually get a really cool cosmic return from them like from this one. Just a little after I sent out my trekking blog from the South Island of New Zealand, I received an email from the editor (Michelle Theall, a cool, adventurous woman in her own right who I’ve come to know through the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference over the years) at Women’s Adventure telling me she thought I should write a cool short story for the mag based on the blog.

So there it is, blogging does pay-off. Not a lot, but every now and then you never know how it may come back to you.

You can pick the June Issue of the magazine up at Border’s, REI, Whole Foods, and Barnes and Noble. You can also order subscriptions directly through the magazine’s website at
I’ll give you a quick glimpse of the article, “The Amnesia of Adventure: Lest we forget we're in this together:”
Since the mag has first dibs by contract on the story for the next six months, I can’t print the whole thing here quite yet. You’ll have to grab a copy at your local bookstore to read the whole story. Here's an excerpt:

“The Amnesia Of Adventure”

By Rachel S. Thurston
For Women’s Adventure Magazine
Appearing in the June 2009 Issue on pages 46-47.

Why my sixty-two year old Mum and I choose to shoulder forty pound backpacks across mountains in bad weather, lather ourselves in bug spray, subsist for days on dehydrated pasta, and sleep in bunkhouses with snoring, equally smelly strangers baffles me. It’s rare in our many years of travels to come across other mother and daughters, let alone women my mother’s age attempting to trek where we do. There’s probably good reason for this. We suffer from what I refer to as "Trekking Amnesia," in which a year usually passes by and memories of our agony are replaced with blissful nostalgia.

We’ve crossed the world’s highest pass in mid-winter only to have our lunch frozen solid in our chest pockets by noon, battled hypoxia and AMS with copious loads of garlic and diamox, and trekked the rice fields of Vietnam during the beginning of monsoon, yet it’s these experiences which keep us booking our tickets again and again.

This past year we’ve chosen to do the Routeburn Track, one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, an area which we’ve recently learned receives over two-hundred inches of rain a year. As we stop in for our permits, a park ranger informs us that a late spring storm is coming through for the length of our trek. I look over at my mother hoping that she’ll be the one to say, “Let’s just scrap this whole trekking thing and stay in town and eat chocolate.” But she doesn’t and my competitive spirit maintains its silence.

To read more, you can check out the Women's Adventure Magazine website (they'll post it when the next issue comes out) in a few months for a digital download or you can buy a copy at your local Borders.