Thursday, February 23, 2006

Retired Oroville teacher tells story of a daughter lost, a family united in tragedy


"I love young babies," writes Olivia Claire High, who retired in 1997 after 19 years teaching in Oroville elementary schools. "They come from their special little cloistered world, with their own unique chemistry. There's a certain mystery about them that intrigues me. I can't help wondering what goes on inside their pure little minds when I see the myriad of expressions flitting across their tiny faces."

When their first daughter, Kathy, was born to Claire and her husband Joe in 1958, Claire was a young married, "barely 19," "a 'color inside the lines' kind of person" who liked "to plan each page of my life as much as I possibly can." But plans go awry. Kathy was born with a cleft lip.

But surgery repaired the damage early on, and Claire welcomed their second daughter, Kari Suzanne, born in 1960, hoping that lightning would not strike twice. Yet during Kari's infancy Claire would have a recurring nightmare of her death. Kari lived 6 years, the last three battling an especially aggressive form of leukemia, a story her mother could not recount until now, all these many years later.

"An Angel Among Us: A Mother's Heartfelt Story" ($16.95 in paperback from I & L Publishing in Oroville, presents not only Kari's physical struggle but her mother's spiritual struggle as well. "I kept trying to figure out why this awful thing was happening. The more I probed, the less I understood. Why was God letting this happen to Kari? Was it my fault? Was He punishing us? Was He trying to teach us a lesson? I couldn't find one convincing reason to justify any of this intolerable heartache we were going through. It would have been so easy to turn away from God, but I couldn't because I needed His spiritual sustenance. Still, it wasn't easy walking through the minefield of events laid down by Kari's illness."

There was no miraculous recovery for Kari though her illness frequently went into remission. Her reaction to multiple-drug therapy often made matters worse. Trips from Oroville to the UC Medical Center in San Francisco became all-too-routine and the companionship of other families with severely ill children was bittersweet. Who would succumb next?

Most of the book is a detailed record of Kari's struggle and the reader almost wants to turn away in the face of such suffering. A published story about the book noted that Claire had kept a journal since her teenage years, something to draw on when hazy memory begins to play tricks. But it is clear that Claire High's story is not self-pitying. The writing is straightforward, the evidence of some emotional distance. "Joe and I feel so fortunate these days," she writes toward the end of the book. "We have three loving daughters who share our lives. We still think about Kari and will always wish that she could still be here with us in body, as well as spirit. ... She seems to be in my thoughts more now that I'm getting older. I've tried to make some sense out of why Kari had to suffer so much, but I don't think I ever will. I'll always think of leukemia as a thief. It is a robber of life and happiness, of futures and dreams. I do not spend my days wallowing in bitterness, but the sadness is there. My heart still feels the pain of my daughter's ordeal, but I can't dwell on it because I have so much to be thankful for."

Not long before she died Kari whispered to her mother, "Take care of Cuddles for me." Cuddles, a miniature poodle, had been a constant companion in her last year. Those words would prove to be Kari's last. "She passed away the next morning; it was Joe's 35th birthday. Her life's brief journey had come to an end."

More than a dozen black-and-white photographs enhance the poignancy of the story.

"Kari enriched our lives with her presence," Claire writes, "but she was a precious little gem we were not meant to keep. It's very hard not to miss someone you've loved so much. You have your memories, but they are not flesh and blood you can hold in your arms, nor do they give you the sound of their laughter. Only the cherished echoes remain."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Former Chico State University psychology professor to talk about 'body intelligence'


Ed Abramson retired from academic life in 2001 after three decades teaching in the Chico State University psychology department.

Now in private practice in Lafayette, Abramson is in Chico today to speak to a psychology group. He'll also be signing copies of his new book at Lyon Books, 121 W. 5th Street in Chico at 5 p.m. today. The public is invited.

The book is the fruit, if you will, of years of experience with those who want to lose pounds but who just can't seem to succeed. The missing ingredient is also the title of the book. "Body Intelligence: Lose Weight, Keep It Off, and Feel Great About Your Body Without Dieting!" ($21.95 in hardcover from McGraw-Hill) is the most sensible guide I've ever read about weight management.

In a nutshell, diets don't work because they're just about counting things (calories, portions, grams of fat) and not about counting on things (like healthy habits of eating and exercise). Once the right habits are established, dieting can become a thing of the past. Abramson describes "body intelligence" as the integration of "research on the psychology of eating and appetite, body image, and exercise to provide a more complete view of weight regulation." Diets are about restrictions; body intelligence is about, well, living!

Body intelligence is about coming to terms with food, body image, and exercise (each of which is covered in detail in the book): "Once you understand the different reasons for eating, and become aware of how you use food, you will find that some of these needs can be met without eating. As you develop alternative ways of meeting these needs, you will lose weight. When you have a realistic, but non-punitive view of your body, you will avoid much of the discouragement that has undermined your previous weight-loss efforts.

"A healthy body image will enable you to convert the new eating behaviors into permanent habits. Similarly, understanding the bad feelings associated with exercise will help you get past these feelings so you can develop a routine that is not painful and which actually may be enjoyable."

Some of Abramson's observations may sound counterintuitive. "As your body image improves," he says, "your willingness to get involved in physical activity will increase." But wait -- doesn't the motivation to exercise come because we feel bad about ourselves?

Maybe in the short term, but if we have developed habits of dissatisfaction with our bodies before exercising, we'll never be satisfied with them after exercising.

"Even after losing weight, you might still be unhappy with your thinner body. Instead of being preoccupied with fat, you might be dissatisfied with your stretch marks, wrinkles, the shape of your nose or some other less-than-perfect feature."

How about this one? "Never eat chocolate (or other craved food) while you're hungry."

What? Don't eat when we're hungry? Hunger is a complex phenomenon but what is clear is that we frequently say we are hungry not because of physical need but because of a whole array emotional states and external cues.

I was doing just fine until I passed the bakery with all those delicious smells. I ate and ate at a party because everyone else was eating. One day my wife asked if I was hungry. I couldn't tell until I had looked at my watch. Ouch!

Eating chocolate when we're "hungry" sends all the wrong habit-messages. What we might be more satisfied with, if we're physically hungry, is a nutritious meal (eating chocolate to get full doesn't work very well). Once we're physically satisfied, eating chocolate can be quite pleasurable (I'm told).

One more. If a person has "been fat for some time" (Abramson says "fat" is a perfectly good word) "other people may have difficulty adjusting to your new eating and exercise behaviors and may be uncomfortable with the weight loss that follows."

You'd think spouses and friends would be overjoyed that all the nagging has paid off, but think again. The person finally connecting with body intelligence changes old habitual relationships -- and that can be threatening.

"Body Intelligence" is written in a caring and sympathetic tone, with plenty of short case histories and brief surveys to make the ideas clear.

Abramson discusses the controversy over high carb diets, assesses surgical weight-loss solutions, and explains how parents can raise children with body intelligence.

Weigh to go!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pictorial volumes on Chico and Oroville from those well-versed in local history


Kudos to Arcadia Publishing ( for its extraordinary paperback series that showcases vintage black and white photographs from towns across the country.

Local historians write the introduction and captions and each book, though presented in an appealing uniform format, has its own personality and focus.

It's tempting to devote individual columns to each of the volumes of north state interest, but, space being of the essence, I'll do periodic roundups instead. That in no way mutes my advice: If you have any interest in area history, buy these books and send a thank-you note to the publisher.

"Images of America: Chico" ($19.99, published in 2005), combines the words of Edward V. Booth (former Enterprise-Record staff member and son of longtime E-R staffer Eddie Booth, who died in 1994) with the pictorial and historical expertise of Keith Johnson of the Butte County Historical Society and the unmatched John Nopel who, it can be said, has forgotten more about Chico than most of us will ever know.

Photographer Darcy Davis has added special attraction with "what does it look like now?" pictures of old-time Chico. (The E-R's Steve Schoonover, Laura Urseny and Ari Cohn are also credited.)

The book focuses primarily on Chico's grand old buildings and thoroughfares, and the then-and-now photographs are mesmerizing. Several pages are devoted to City Plaza in its various transformations, and the text is so up-to-date the current construction is also mentioned. You can look down The Esplanade of the 1920s and then see the same boulevard in 2005; there's Bidwell Mansion in 1868, just after it was finished, and then there's the mansion as it looks today. The most stunning change, though, is from the 1872 picture of Chico's Town Hall building, between Third and Fourth streets, to today's site, occupied by The Underground and the Towne Lounge, with not a politico in sight.

There's the 1916 shot of West First Street with the steps of Chico (now Bidwell) Presbyterian Church on the right and the steps to what would become Tres Hombres restaurant on the left -- and actual inches of snow on the ground! There are the buildings that became Chico State University; an aerial view of Diamond Match in 1918; and a picture of something the caption says "most people likely never knew existed": a rail line on West Fifth to the Sacramento River which "carried streetcars taking workers from Chico to the new sugar-beet processing plant that opened in Hamilton City in 1907." (PassengerS had to cross the river in a boat.)

There aren't many boats in "Images of America: Oroville, California" ($19.99, 2001) but there are a lot of gold dredgers, trains and bridges. Author James Lenhoff (whose own home on Montgomery Street, built in 1878 and "purchased and restored by the author and his wife in 1961," is among those pictured) has an abiding love of Oroville and its people. Lenhoff includes engravings of early scenes and is given to identify, by name if possible, those pictured in the many photographs.

The last chapter, "Luminaries and Modern Times," gives us images of Forty-niner Captain Ralph Bird, who "has been called the Father of Oroville because he laid out the new city of Oroville in 1855, naming the streets after himself and other contemporary associates"; George C. Perkins, "Oroville's most outstanding pioneer, going on to be elected governor in 1879" and later senator; Thomas Alva Edison, who "in 1879 ... established the Edison Ore Milling Company in Oroville to promote his gold-separating machine and seek platinum for his new light bulbs ... (who) visited Oroville at least once"; and Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, who "was raised in Oroville" and whose "father was a gold dredging engineer."

Though Oroville Dam played a large part in the life of the town in the 1950s and '60s, and there is a stunning picture when work was finished in 1968, most of the book's pictures are devoted to mining, the development of downtown and Oroville's schools and houses of worship. Oroville boys marched off to war in 1917; "the first statewide Citrus Fair was held on the courthouse lawn in downtown Oroville in 1887; and there is a picture of the historic Union Hotel, begun in 1864 on the corner of Myers and Montgomery Streets.

These books open historical doors and it is wise that we enter.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Former Chico State University student puts emotion into computer animation


We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Back in 1968, Ira Latour joined Chico State University as a professor of art history. The school's Web site notes, "Latour was in Ansel Adams' first class of the photography department at the California School of Fine Arts in 1945. ... Now retired, he was a 1999 Ansel Adams Research Fellow at the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography."

One of Latour's students, Mike Wellins, has taken a photographer's eye into the booming field of computer animation. In his new book, "Storytelling Through Animation" ($49.95 in paperback, with a companion CD, from Charles River Media, Inc.), Wellins pays fitting tribute to his mentor:

"Ira is perhaps the most prolific artist, filmmaker and photographer I've ever known. He has always been a great source of encouragement, humor, and inspiration."

In a letter, Latour notes that "Mike teaches a course in computer animation each summer at Fresno State in our California State University Summer Program. He has made many films, both computer-crafted and live-action, for which he has won numerous awards. Several of his 'epics' have been premiered here at the Pageant Theater in Chico."

The book focuses on how the story appears on the screen. The first two parts deal with "emotions in motion" and "visual storytelling" and only then does the author take up preproduction, production and postproduction issues. Throughout the book Wellins has included long interviews with practicing professionals, including Disney animator Glen Keane ("The Lion King" and many others), Pixar animator Andrew Gordon (the lead animator for the character Mike in "Monsters, Inc.") and Mike's brother Dean ("Osmosis Jones" and an upcoming Disney project).

Wellins emphasizes that the considerations needed for live-action film (sound, lighting, narration, character development and so on) are the same for animation (either stop motion or computer generated). He notes that "The history of film and animation is about a fascination with illusion -- the illusion of movement and the story. The characters on the screen aren't just a projection, but become people to whom the audience is emotionally connected. ... From each frame, pose and choice, the filmmaker who has distilled the ideas down to their key emotional connections and truly understands what connection he is trying to make overall will have that much more control and creative ammunition on every decision he makes."

Wellins illustrates his points with dozens of black-and-white photographs and diagrams, a color section and an included CD that contains several short features. One, Wellins' own "Shards of Death," is available for free viewing on the Internet. The feature only runs a couple of minutes and features an interview conducted by a mean-looking monster with a "small blue fairy creature" who wants a job in a video game. The ugly monster has a soft side (that's part of the humor) and plays counter to type. The small creature is cute, cute, cute and that sets up "a hopeless situation: a cute character applies for a job in a violent video game, and the scarier the character tries to be, the cuter the character becomes. In directing both characters," Wellins continues, "the setup of two such extreme characters creates a natural dynamic of tension and absurdity."

In this case it's important that the camera does not draw attention to itself. There is some camera movement, but not enough to distract from the bizarre interview going on. There is an explosive ending but, as the big sweet monster might say, it's all in a day's work.

Wellins' description of the "animatic" or story reel, a kind of first draft of the visual story that helps establish how long "each scene, shot or effect will ultimately be," is fascinating. "Animatics are created by photographing or scanning the storyboards and other elements and then editing them to time with a dialogue, scratch track or other temporary sounds and music." That's the start. Here the author returns to emotions, because the animatic must take into account the pauses needed when one character delivers bad news to another, or the quick cuts needed in a comedy film.

"Storytelling Through Animation" is a wonderful and detailed introduction to the field from someone who sees clearly every aspect of a film that must be in place in order for the animation to "click" with audiences. He, too, stands on the shoulders of giants.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.