Steve & i: One Photographer’s Improbable Journey with Steve Jobs Now on Kindle

Steve and i book coverJeffrey and I are excited to announce the launch of our ebook, Steve & i: One Photographer’s Improbable Journey with Steve Jobs. 

It is now available for Kindle devices at Amazon.com and will be available for the NOOK, Sony Reader and iPad soon.

We hope you will be one of the first to download Steve & i, and if you feel inspired by what you read, please leave a review on Amazon.

Of course, we’d be thrilled (and eternally grateful) if you would tell others about it too.

Don’t have a Kindle? No problem. Amazon now has a free app you can download for both your Mac and PC. Here are the links: Kindle for Mac. Kindle for PC. If you have an Amazon account you can purchase the book and read it on your computer. You can also download a free Kindle app for your iPhone. Just go to the app store and batta boom, batta bang, you’re all set.

Our book is priced at $2.99 and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to several leading cancer research institutes because…well, as you know, cancer sucks, and it took Steve Jobs’ life far too soon.

Book description: When photographer Jeffrey Aaronson received a call from Newsweek in 1984 to photograph Steve Jobs, he had no idea who Steve Jobs was or what impact Jobs was about to have on his life or the world.

Steve & i: One Photographer’s Improbable Journey with Steve Jobs tells the captivating story of a young photographer and a young entrepreneur, and the friendship they forge when they are both twenty-nine years old—just as Aaronson is beginning to offer the world a new view through his lens and Jobs is beginning his mission to change it by introducing the most user-friendly personal computer ever conceived.

This 38-page little powerhouse of a book is packed with personal anecdotes and rarely seen photographs, which not only chronicle the launch of the first Macintosh personal computer, but also capture the essence of Steve Jobs the man before he became the icon.

It’s a must read for those who want to experience and be inspired by a side of Steve Jobs that few people have glimpsed.

Early reviews of the book read…

“A critical moment of shared inspiration is captured in this short but sweet profile of an intimate friendship between two highly motivated young men, forged immediately in trust and professional integrity. A rare, honest glimpse into the ensuing creative sparks that fly in the early blossoming careers and bonding of two visionaries who decide to be inspired by others AND courageously follow their callings and dreams. Bravo!”
-Bill Black, Director of Photography, Reader’s Digest

This is not just a story about how friendships evolve from humble or chance beginnings.  Rather, it’s an object lesson about mutual respect, curiosity, and a passion for excellence as the ingredients that propel true visionaries. Bravo, Jeffrey Aaronson, for enlightening us with the quieter, gentler side of the genius Steve Jobs. ”
-Larry C. Price, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist

“This is a sweet little book about a hugely talented and creative photographer’s relationship with a hugely talented and creative entrepreneur. With warmth, insight, and keen appreciation, Jeffrey brings back to life a man who for all his reputed prickliness and short temper was capable of simple, deep friendship.”
-Bob Morton, Former Editor-in-Chief of Abrams and the Aperture Foundation

“Photographers and Apple fans alike won’t want to miss this moving portrait of a private but profoundly influential man.”

-Russell Hart, Former Executive Editor American Photo

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And I Think To Myself….

__________

Indeed, what a wonderful world. Louis Armstrong, with his caramelized soulful voice, and his priceless smile, reminds us of this simple notion like nobody else.

I should probably put a warning label on this post because “Satchmo-type optimism” tends to overtake me every January. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s most likely because not only do I get to cartwheel with you into a fresh new calendar year, but I also get to put another candle on top my birthday cake (hopefully a decadent chocolate espresso mousse cake).

Yep, it’s my birthday week, and as you might have guessed, I’m a sucker for birthdays. After all, the alternative…well.…

I can think of no better way to celebrate than to dance in a rain of music.

Why music?

Because music makes me happy. Simple as that.

_____

It also makes me feel young, raucous and alive. No matter how many candles adorn my cake, the minute I blast The Beatles, U2 or Bruce Springsteen I’m twenty years old again (click on the links and hit the video play buttons if you’d like to feel that way too)!

Music moves me like no other artform.

It inspires, motivates me, and often leaves me in awe. It also makes me feel like I can be a better person. It reminds me that anything is possible, especially if I ignore all limitations I might place on myself.

If Aretha Franklin, who is anything but an opera singer, can bring me to tears with her jaw-dropping version of Nessun Dorma, then anything is possible.

_____

If Mick Jagger can still prance around the stage and rip it up with the boys when he’s now a senior citizen, why should anything stop the rest of us? It may not be pretty, but it’s still damn fun, and after all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Music is about setting ourselves free—it’s our anthem to create and to Imagine, just like John Lennon espoused so many years ago. And it’s often our call to action–to free ourselves from what we cannot tolerate–from war and racism to hatred, poverty and inequality.

Music is about possibility. It is about celebrating who we are, and where we’ve been. It’s storytelling in its most magnificent form, without restraint. Bob Dylan, whose lyrics defined a generation, is arguably one of the best storytellers of all time.

_____

Music also creates a time capsule of our lives, instantly taking us back to a time and place, or capturing a moment in which we are living right now.

I can recall every chapter of my life with music, and I bet you can too.

As a child, our house was filled with music–everything from Mom’s John Denver and Tom Jones to Dad’s George Benson and Herbie Hancock to my brother’s Beatles, Aerosmith, Led Zeplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Credence Clearwater Revival. And let’s not forget my tween years which reverberated with Peter Frampton, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, the Beach Boys and god forbid, Shaun Cassidy.

Every wonderful and awkward moment got stuffed into that musical time capsule of mine.

High school was about Michael Jackson, AC/DC, the Go-Go’s and a plethora of 80’s crap created during the MTV revolution. And college? Any time I hear The Stones, U2, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes or Bob Marley, I’m immediately transported back to my dorm, remembering all the fun had with friends on more than one raucous occasion.

Just about every memorable moment of my life has been accompanied by music–from the first dance at our wedding to our dive into parenthood to road trips, concerts (of course), holidays, graduations, family memorials and numerous athletic adventures. It takes little more than a guitar riff or drum beat to bring it all right back.

But this is what I love most about music: music brings us together like nothing else. Because it crosses all boundaries, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, black, white or purple. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or where you’re going, music is about being in the present and sharing in a moment.

As I sign off from this post, I can think of nothing more this birthday girl would like to do than to thank all the talented musicians of the world for giving me (and all of you) one of the greatest gifts of all.

And also share one more for the road…Take it away, Sir Paul and friends

_____

_____

PS: Thanks for indulging me. I’ll be back talking about photography in my next post. In the meantime, I’d love to know how music has impacted your life. What does your personal music time capsule sound like? Is it filled with Motown? Gospel? Opera? Beethoven? Or good old rock-n-roll?

A Deliciously Selfish Goal for the New Year

Happy New Year GraphicI love the start of a new year.

It screams possibilities. It oozes with adventure. It sizzles with freshness as we renew priorities and set a course for the year.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am one to make goals. What’s the difference? Most likely just semantics. But to me goals feel weightier and more lasting than resolutions.

Goals allow me to focus on what’s important in my life. Without them I tend to wander through days and even weeks without paying much attention to what I’m doing.

Perhaps because I lost my dad at an early age, I learned quickly that life is short. With that niggling notion always kicking around in my mind, often pushing my motivation buttons, I have a hard time forgiving myself if I bump along in a stupor.

This year’s goals keep me focused on giving back, trying new things, and completing projects–all the while maintaining balance between family, fitness and fun. I won’t bore you with the details of how I plan to reach these goals, or even what they mean, but I will share with you one of my all-time favorite New Year’s goals.

It’s one I accomplished two or three years ago, and one that might surprise you in its simplicity. It involved little more than time and thought.

Star GraphicI created a list of the most important people in my life, then I sat down and wrote a letter to each person, telling him or her why he or she meant so much to me.

My brothers were at the top of my list, as were several dear friends and other family members, including my husband and daughter.

With a family that’s often in perpetual motion, the hardest part was carving out quiet time to think. Once I did though, I picked out pretty stationery, settled down with a colossal cup of coffee, and spilled my heart onto the pages.

Each letter took several hours as I thought about how the recipient had impacted my life. My heart sang as I wrote my words, recalling each person’s unique characteristics and how he or she made me feel. I often laughed out loud or welled up with tears remembering funny or warm memories and all the sweetness that person had added to my life.

While my goal was intended to be “other focused,” it ended up being one of the most deliciously selfish goals I ever made because it gratified me in ways I never imagined.

The mere act of consciously focusing on each person made me appreciate how obscenely lucky I was to have that individual in my life; and it allowed me to gush and celebrate what is beautiful and unique about each one—something I’ve never been good at doing in person.

It took me an entire year to write letters to each of the 15 people on my list, but it made me happy in the extreme.

To this day it still makes me smile, especially when I imagine each person going to the mailbox, opening the letter, then instantly being wrapped in a warm, deserving blanket of appreciation. And thinking back to the teary return phone calls and heartfelt emails, telling me how much my letter meant to them, is like an exquisite gift that sits on a permanent shelf in my memory.

Here’s the kicker. I’m glad I didn’t wait.

Two of the special people I wrote letters to have since passed away. While I miss them both, it eases the pain of their loss knowing that no words were left unsaid; they knew without a doubt when they left this world, they had made a difference in somebody’s life.

After all, what better goal is there in life than that?

Star Graphic

$30 Amazon Gift Card Holiday Giveaway

Just in time for the holidays, I am giving away a $30 Amazon gift card to one of my lucky followers. It’s my way of saying, “Thank you for all your support this year.”

Amazon Gift Card GraphicIt’s simple. Just answer this question:

Which famous movie actor is featured on a billboard Jeffrey photographed in Thailand?

For those who missed that post, the answer is easily found on this blog. Just go back through previous posts until you find it. Hint: Thursday’s Picture of the Week might be a good place to start.

Each person who correctly leaves his or her answer in the comment box will be entered into the random drawing.

Here’s the interesting part: if you want to increase your chances of winning, you can also do a few simple things listed below!

Photo of a horse sleigh in winter

LIKE ME on FACEBOOK and your name will be entered another time.

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER  @wordmuse and TWEET the message below and your name will be entered yet another time.

Tweet this message:

The Art of an Improbable Life is giving away a free $30 Amazon Gift Card: http://wp.me/p1I3pI-US

SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE TO MY BLOG and your name will be entered another time. All you have to do is type in your email address underneath the calendar on the right side of my blog. Once you receive an email from “The Art of an Improbable Life,” just hit the “confirm subscription” button and you’re done. If you’ve already signed up for my blog you will automatically entered again.

The winner’s name will be announced on Tuesday, December 20th–just in time to do some last-minute shopping.

Remember, the more you do, the more chances you have of winning. Good luck! I can’t wait to spread my holiday cheer!

A Bazillion Things That Make Me Happy and Grateful

This post started out simply enough; in the spirit of Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), I thought I’d share the top ten things that make me happy and grateful. Within a matter of minutes though, my list became enormous, quickly growing from 10 to 110, then, well…you can see what happened.

My peeps, of course, are what pack my heart most with gratitude…as do my dear friends and the fact that I’m healthy and still relatively fit. Most of all though, I’m grateful that I’m still grateful; that life still feels like an outrageous gift that is meant to be celebrated each day. That the magic has yet to fade. Here are a few more things that make me happy and grateful:

Teachers
Art
Hand-written letters
My husband’s cooking
Dining al fresco
Laughing until I cry
The view out my window
The way I feel after a long run
The smell of freshly ground coffee
Chocolate
Quiet moments
The feel and smell of a new book
Sand between my toes and hours at the beach
Learning to say, “What the hell, you only live once!” at a very early age
Random acts of kindness
Being surrounded by talented people
Books, books, and more books
Photography
Small world moments
Red licorice
Red wine
Paper stores
People who work hard at making a difference
The smell of eucalyptus trees
My daughter’s hugs
Knowing I can always stand on my own two feet
Levis
Butterfly kisses
Early mornings
Warm weather
Happy endings
Ideas
My three brothers
The Beatles
The blogging community
Writers whose words swirl into magic
Finding something I’m passionate about and diving in head first
Reading in bed on a Sunday morning
When the right words come to mind at the right time
Creativity
History
Old movies
Flip-flops
Globes
Long showers
The sound of rain
Sun streaming through my window when I write
Finding a perfect moment in each day
Quotes that inspire me
Lists
Cupcakes
A fire in the fireplace
Convertibles
Surprise parties
Airplanes that take me on new adventures
Discovering–new places, ideas, cultures, books, music
Neighbors
My daughter’s art
Roasting marshmallows
People with nice manners
When my husband brings me coffee in bed
Long meandering conversations with my BFF
Wrap around porches
Boogie boarding
Learning something new
Aspen
Typography
Real deal lemonade
Eye-crinkling smiles
The smell of Coppertone
Freshly baked bread
Helping somebody
The power of our imaginations
Getting smarter as I get older
Bubble baths
Margaritas
Grandparents
Old houses
Old friends
Popcorn
A bouquet of flowers-especially tulips
People who are working hard to find a cure for cancer
“A food”–almonds, artichokes asparagus and avocados
Watching my husband when he’s in his creative element
Book stores
Fall colors
Stuffing
HGTV
Designing cards
The internet, and what it offers
Friends who “get me” without any explanation
Birthdays and my favorite holidays: Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving
When people do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do
A good night’s sleep
Marathons
Picnics
Invitations
Journals
Time to myself
Time with my family
Iced lattes
Thesauruses
Chaise lounges
Matinees
True love
My laptop
Long summer nights
Backyard parties
Concerts
Belting out favorite old songs
Dancing in the kitchen with my husband
Hearing my daughter laugh from the belly
Having a fairly big extended family
The number 7
My inner drive
Fresh crisp sheets
A really great work-out
Vanilla milkshakes
Colors-anything but beige
Traveling
Slippers
Being outside
Charming accents
Magazines
Fitness
Sushi
CBS Sunday Morning
People who don’t know they’re funny
The way chocolate martinis and jazz go together
Seeing the lightbulb go off in my daughter’s head
Homemade chicken soup
The New York Times
Libraries
My Ipod shuffle
The bubbles in bubbly
Candlelight
Watching my daughter sleep
People who take a chance on you when it goes against reason
My gut instinct, which has steered me right most of the time
Watching an exquisite ballet performance
People with infectious enthusiasm
Cute old couples
Rose gardens
Photo albums
Dogs that look like mops
Finding something you thought was lost long ago
Living with no regrets
Reunions
Hummingbirds
Baby fat
Loyalty
Thursdays
Cookie dough
Cool postage stamps
Memories of my grandparents’ houses
The way my husband’s hand automatically goes up to his heart when he throws his head back in laughter
The cool breeze you feel when you sit next to a rushing river
Figuring something out all on my own
The passion of Pavarotti
The perfect writing pen
The improbable
Amazing Grace

What three things are you most grateful for (besides your wonderful friends, family and health)?

What’s in a Name?

First of all, as you read this, please don’t worry about me, you don’t need to call a therapist. I’M OKAY.

Really.

It’s just that I’m grappling with envy.

No, not that kind of envy. Name envy.

In a big way, too.

You see, my parents, god love ‘em, decided to saddle me with perhaps the most yawn-producing name in the world. Becky Green. Not even Rebecca. Just plain old Becky.

To top it off, they decided to give me a darling middle name: Sue. I’m guessing they never thought I’d grow up, or perhaps they didn’t ever want me to grow up. Sorry mom and dad, I’m diss’ing you and you’re not even alive anymore to defend yourselves. I’m sure I’ll be going to hell in a hand-basket for that one.

But here I am, a grown woman with the name Becky Sue. Isn’t that sweet? It makes my fillings hurt just typing it.

The topper, though, is that nobody ever remembers my adorable name.

I’m either Betty or Betsy, Debbie or Vicky. Or my favorite, Bicky (when somebody can’t remember if I’m Becky or Vicky).

This “name thing” has been an ongoing joke for years with people closest to me. And I’ll tell you, there’s cheap entertainment in making fun songs out of my various names:

Try this for example…dance around the room and belt out, “Betty Sue’s got a new pair of shoes….” Well, you might have to throw back a few cocktails in order for that to tickle your funny bone like it did so many times with my former college roommate, Janet, and me.

Then do your best Buddy Holly impersonation and tell that “PPPPPeggy Sue” to move over, because it’s really BBBBBicky Sue who has it going on!

My all-time favorite name though, came to me from across the Atlantic. A German photo editor I worked with several years ago bestowed it upon me. As her fax came dribbling out of the fax machine, I barely got past the first line before I began howling. It simply read, “Dear Betty Grimm.” It was too funny to bother correcting her, so to this day, I’m still known as Betty Grimm to a few of my favorite people.

Thankfully, there’s always room for a new twist. Recently, I joined a women’s writing organization called She Writes, and somehow my blog information got listed under Bobby Green Aaronson. I suppose I should try to have that corrected, but all I can do is chuckle, knowing how classic it is. Maybe I should at least have them add the Sue, so it would be Bobby Sue Green Aaronson.

And the Green Aaronson? I grappled with that too. Forever, I used my maiden name professionally so Jeffrey and I wouldn’t seem like a “ma and pa operation.” Most clients didn’t even know we were a couple. But then sweet Olivia came along and I wanted us all to have the same last name. So then I dropped the Green. But when I began writing, I realized most people would still know me by Green. So then I got neurotic and added the Green back in with Aaronson. Are you confused yet?

Good, then it’s obviously time to move on.

I think I need to start taking lessons from several creative types I know. One woman I know goes by the name Trixi. She’s a fit, artistic, firecracker mom of four. When asked about her name, she explained that it wasn’t her given name. “For many years my professional work required me to go to conventions where we wore name tags for networking. It was so boring I decided to spice it up. One time I wrote the name Trixi on my badge. The name stuck, and I’ve been Trixi ever since.”

The last time I did something like that was when I told the barista at Starbuck’s my name was Lulu.

Then there’s my writing mentor, Cork Millner. Who doesn’t love and remember a name like Cork? Especially when he’s a writer and a wine aficionado.

My husband, Jeffrey, is also good with names. Whenever he signs up for a store saver card or anything that requires personal information, he creates a new persona. In case you are wondering, not only do I live with Jeffrey, but also the elusive Jack French.

I’ve often thought about giving myself a memorable pen name, but then nobody would know that it was me blathering on about important things like names.

So for now, I guess I’ll continue to be Betty, Betsy, Debbie, Bicky Vicky Sue…even if it’s tempting to be Sophia LaStrange or Madeleine Duvall.

That is unless you have a pen name I can’t resist!

Send me your best!

7×7 Award

A few days ago blogger, Julie Farrar, nominated me for the 7×7 Link Award. I must admit, I was tickled pink, especially coming from Julie, whose down-to-earth and often-humorous blog, Traveling Through, is always a joy to read. Thank you, Julie!

7x7 Blog award graphicThe way it works is that you review all the posts you’ve written and then list your top posts under seven different categories.

The other part of the award is that you pass it on to seven other bloggers.

Simple enough. Here goes…


Most Beautiful: Mom.
A tribute to my beautiful mom on what would have been her 77th birthday.

Photo of my mom when she was at the beach

My second choice is The Geography of Bliss, which reviews Eric Weiner’s beautiful book and celebrates the happiest places on earth in words and pictures.

Geography of Bliss book cover photograph

Most Helpful: 10 Things You Learn When the Love of Your Life is a Photojournalist. I’m not exactly sure how helpful this post is, but it gives a glimpse into the unpredictable lifestyle of a photojournalist, and the impact it has on a relationship.

Most Popular: Jeffrey Aaronson’s Improbable Journey with Steve Jobs, the Guy Who Changed His World (and Ours)–Part One and Part Two. This two-part post is by far my most popular. It has been read and mentioned everywhere from India, Italy and Thailand to Denmark, Canada, Romania and Japan.The posts pay tribute to Steve Jobs and the friendship my husband shared with him when they were both 29-years old. It also shares personal anecdotes and rarely-seen photos from the weeks leading up to the launch of the first Mac 128K computer.

Photo of Steve Jobs at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, CA, 1984

Steve Jobs leading his team in a meeting at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, CA, 1984. ©Jeffrey Aaronson.

Most Controversial: My Crash Course in Living Through the Lens. While I don’t think this is controversial, the folks that run the show in the country where information is often censored might have a different opinion about what happened during the Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square.

Photo of the Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, ChinaPhoto of soldiers in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 1989, Democracy Movement

Most Surprisingly Successful: Improbable. This is my inaugural post announcing the launch of my blog. I was astounded by the reaction.

Most Underrated: How Jeffrey Created His Most Published China Photo THEN…My Michelle Obama Moment NOW. I’m not sure I’d call it underrated, but this one received a few less views than others. I included a video in this post.

Most Prideworthy: Beyond Rangoon THEN…A Feather in Her Cap NOW. This post shares how Jeffrey photographed Burma’s democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, when she was first placed under house arrest in 1989, and also celebrates a memorable moment in our lives now.

And now for the other part of this award, I’d like to nominate the following fantastic bloggers for the 7X7 Award. Click on their blogs below to check out what they have to say. You won’t be disappointed.

All Write

Allegro non tanto

Being Arindam

Crazy Lady with a Pen

Nubian

Play 101

Suess’s Pieces

The Blog of a Vet’s Wife

Have fun with the 7×7 Award, fellow bloggers! And thanks again, Julie, for the award!

10 Things You Learn When The Love of Your Life Is a Photojournalist

When I originally started writing my book, I had planned purely to chronicle Jeffrey’s adventures around the world and not include myself in any way. But then several of my fellow writers, for whom I have deep respect, started nudging me to reveal what our life was like from my perspective. So this is for you, my friends. I’m branching out from my THEN and NOW format just for you.

When you’re married to a photojournalist…

1)  You confirm that Timbuktu really is a town in the West African nation of Mali and not just a place your mother threatened to ship you off to if you “didn’t shape up” when you were a kid.

Photo of Mali

The Grand Mosque in Djenne, Mali, a couple hours southwest of Timbuktu

2)  You figure out how to fix things when they break, or more accurately, who to call when it happens, because inevitably it occurs when he’s boating down the Yangtze River or working in some remote village in Burma. Water heaters, computers, car batteries…you name it…they’ve all called it quits when he’s been gone.

Photo of Burma

Children making their way home after a day at the market in Burma

3)  You learn to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions on a flexible schedule. If the love of your life is in Papua New Guinea on your big day, you learn to pamper yourself anyway and enjoy it with aplomb…then celebrate it all over again once he’s back.

Photo of New Guiena

The Kambaramba stilt village on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea

4)  You stay in tune with what’s happening around the world. If your spouse is heading off to photograph Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in South Africa or Hong Kong’s handover to China, you try to learn as much as possible about the country’s history prior the event, then drink in the details of what it’s like when he’s there on the ground, experiencing history in the making.

Photo of Nelson Mandela's Inauguration

An exuberant supporter of Nelson Mandela shows his enthusiasm during Mandela's inauguration

5) You learn that if you go on an assignment with him, you are NOT going on vacation–even if it’s to Spain or Italy or Tasmania. You will be working your hiney off, getting up at the crack of dawn, chasing the light,carrying heavy equipment, zipping around from place to place, keeping track of all the film and captions, and barely remembering to eat. That’s what photographers do. Still, there’s nothing like it.

Photo of Becky and Jeffrey Aaronson getting on a plane

Jeffrey and I jumping on a plane in Denver. ©David Hiser

6) You learn to be patient with the airlines (well…mostly), even when they snatch precious moments of your time together with delays or mechanical issues. When your husband has flown well over a million miles though, and has been delivered home safely each time, you try to overlook the bad stuff and appreciate what they do. But you do learn to always call ahead before going to the airport to pick him up (even if you live across the street from the airport like we did for many years) because seven times out of ten, his flight will be delayed.

Photo of an airplane window

The view out the window at 38,000 ft. on an assignment we did together in Australia

7) You learn the art of converting a mind-numbing pile of Chinese taxi receipts from yuan to US dollars when billing clients, and you figure out ways to keep your sanity during tax season when wading through wadded up scraps of receipts that need to be converted from Moroccan dirham, Indian rupees or Bhutanese ngultrum.

Photo of a Chinese taxi receipt

A modern Chinese taxi receipt. Most of the ones I converted over the years were funky hand-written scraps that were barely legible.

8)    You learn that little things make a big difference to somebody who lives much of his life on the road. Tucking love notes into his suitcase or using special code words in faxes or emails, which are meaningful to him but leave the Chinese government guessing, helps you stay connected. Also stocking the fridge with all his favorite foods or organizing a massage when he gets home makes him dizzy with appreciation.

9)    You learn that distance really does make the heart grow fonder. Reunions after a month apart don’t get any more romantic.

Photo of an Aspen tree carved with LOVE

Aspen trees

10) Most importantly you learn to have a life of your own and not put it on hold until he gets back. You take advantage of solo time and fill it with all the activities and people you love. In fact, you learn to appreciate it so much that you feel sorry for all those couples who rarely have time apart.

These are but a few things that come to mind when I think about the gift of our relationship and our lifestyle. I’m sure it wouldn’t be for everyone, but for us, it has been a dream. Jeffrey often says, “I can’t believe people pay me to do this job,” and I say “I can’t believe I have the best of all worlds.”

I’d love to know what you think and welcome your questions or comments so I hope you’ll drop me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section below!

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9/11: When Irish Eyes Stop Smiling THEN…A Wish for Dreams NOW

THEN: WHEN IRISH EYES STOP SMILING

Photo of O'Donoghue's Bar in Dublin, IrelandSEPTEMBER 11, 2001: The week prior to 9/11 Jeffrey and I had been in Ireland doing a photo shoot for the Los Angeles Times about Irish music and culture.

Even though our stock agency was frenetic at the time with a recent merger and multiple daily deadlines, we decided to leave our employees in charge for a week so I could jump on a plane with Jeffrey and spend some much-coveted time together.

Prior to that, Jeffrey had been on the road, off and on, most of the year, photographing all over Asia and Europe—everything from a story on Confucius for Smithsonian to Basque terrorists for Reader’s Digest to Thai Boxing for Travel Holiday and Chinese Traditional Medicine for Aperture. When this assignment came along, we knew it was a perfect project to do together, especially since I’d always wanted to celebrate my Irish roots.

And indeed our week together was magic. Jeffrey’s assignment unfolded flawlessly and the Irish people charmed us to no end with their kindness, humor and legendary generosity. When we left the Emerald Isle my half-Irish eyes were smiling big.

Photo of Irish Music

Photo of Irish Musicians

Photo of cycling in Doolin, Ireland

Photo of Tommy O'Brien in Doolin, IrelandPhoto of Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland

But then everything changed…

(Excerpt from Chapter Twenty-One of my upcoming book)

… We arrive home from Ireland on the evening of September 10th, both exhilarated and exhausted, having flown from Dublin to New York, then on to Denver, before finally reaching Aspen.

The next morning as I’m getting dressed for work, I inhale a large cup of coffee, then flip on the Today Show, hoping to distract myself from the post-travel fatigue chomping at my energy. Weariness is not a luxury we can afford today; we have a full day ahead of us in the studio catching up on calls and emails, along with all of Jeffrey’s film to get processed, edited and captioned in time for our client’s deadline.

While searching through my closet for an outfit to wear, I hear Katie Couric’s familiar voice on the television. Something is different about it though: her usual chirpiness is replaced by a shaky, somber tone. Then I hear Matt Lauer clear his throat, then pause for a moment before saying something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

At first it doesn’t register, but as I pull my head out of the closet and glance over at the television, sure enough, there’s a jetliner smashing into one of the twin towers.

I stand there speechless, staring at the TV. As the image is repeated over and over, I eventually manage to holler, “Honey, come in here. There’s something going on in New York.”

Jeffrey can tell by my voice that whatever this something is, it’s not good.

“What is it?” he asks.

All I can do is point to the sickening image on the screen.

“What the …?” he sputters.

World Trade Center on September 11th

Photo of the front page of the New York Times

The two of us stand there frozen. Then Jeffrey grabs the remote and turns up the volume. Minutes later a second plane crashes into the other tower and erupts into a huge ball of flames.

We know instantly this is no accident.

As we watch the horror unfold, the only words that emerge from my constricted throat are “Oh…My…God,” as my hands cradle my face in disbelief. Many of our friends and colleagues live and work in Manhattan, and our thoughts immediately turn toward them. It suddenly feels hard to breathe.

It’s also impossible not to think back eighteen hours earlier when we were on an airplane in New York. My blood stops moving knowing that it just as easily could have been our plane smashing into the World Trade Center.

Jeffrey and I reel from the devastating images before us, then, like the rest of America, we’re cuffed with more breaking news: the Pentagon has been hit. “Holy shit,” I stammer. Fear begins to crawl up my skin as this massive attack spreads. Who is doing this? we both wonder. The newscasters are asking the same thing. Al-Qaeda is the first suspect, but nothing is clear.

Then, just when we don’t think it could get any worse, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses. Jeffrey’s face turns white as he yells at the TV in anger, as if his words could stop it all from happening. I feel nauseous as we watch the devastation.

“This cannot be happening,” I say, as I shake my head, hoping to wake us from this nightmare. But the carnage does not relent; moments later another plane heading toward the White House crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside. What kind of madness has overtaken over our country? I wonder as we brace ourselves for what could possibly be next.

It doesn’t take long before we find out: in the midst of chaos, the other tower of the World Trade Center collapses. Anguish tears at what’s left of our already shredded hearts. We don’t even know anybody inside the towers, but it feels as if part of our own family has just been murdered before our eyes. I can only imagine what the families are feeling whose loved ones are trapped inside.

AP/NYPD

Jeffrey’s instinct as a photojournalist is to jump on the next plane and get to New York, so he immediately picks up the phone and begins making calls. First it’s to United Airlines trying to book the next flight to LaGuardia or JFK or any other surrounding airport. The shaky voice on the other end of the line tries to remain professional, but is clearly fighting back tears. “I’m sorry sir, but we are unable to schedule anything right now. A national State of Emergency has been instituted and every airport in American has been shut down. The only thing we can do is wait until we are told otherwise.”

Jeffrey’s mind races, and he continues making calls, but he hits nothing but roadblocks. He even dials a well-connected friend in Aspen to see if he can catch a ride on his private jet. Sadly, his friend has employees in the World Trade Center, but he can’t get there either; nobody is flying.

After several hours, Jeffrey finally relents, and like everyone else, he and I stay glued to the television, flipping from Tom Brokaw to Peter Jennings to Dan Rather then over to CNN, as we try to gain a better understanding of what is happening. Very little is clear, except that America is under attack and nobody knows if there’s more to come.

American F-16’s fill the skies and every division of the military and police force is on high alert across the country. We feel safe in our isolated little mountain town, but worry about Jeffrey’s family in Los Angeles, and my family in the Pacific Northwest. We’re also horribly concerned about our friends and colleagues in New York, especially since we can’t reach them; the phone lines are overloaded.

As we watch the broadcast footage of people walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, trying to escape from Lower Manhattan, our thoughts turn to our dear friend Bill Black at Reader’s Digest. All the subways have been shut down so he and thousands of others are forced to make it to the safety of their homes by foot. We also think about our colleagues at Time and Newsweek, and  The New York Times on West 43rd Street, and know that while they must be terrified, they’re also surely trying to piece together all the horrific details of the day to get the news out to their readers.

It isn’t until nearly midnight when Jeffrey and I finally collapse into bed. So much has happened in less than twenty-four hours that our trip to Ireland seems like a distant dream, and Irish music seems about as important as a tiny speck of lint of the colossal carpet of life.

We are both physically and emotionally exhausted, but neither of us can sleep. Instead we lie in each other’s arms and count our blessings that so far, everyone we know is safe…

Click here to see Life Magazine’s 25 Most Powerful Photos from 9/11

NOW: A WISH FOR DREAMS

Graphic of A Wish for DreamsSEPTEMBER 11, 2011: When George W. Bush addressed the nation after 9/11, it was the first time EVER that I felt remotely, semi-somewhat-slightly okay about this man and his ability to run our country. Well, that might be an overstatement…but somehow this guy who called himself “The Decider, Not the Divider” spewed out enough of the right words composed by his speechwriters to temporarily put a band-aid over the massive hole in my heart.

Even when he said such absurd things like, “When I take action, I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive,” his fierce rhetoric made the solution seem clean, simple and quick, and it also made us feel like The Good Guys and those other people The Bad Guys.

As we all know though, it was infinitely more complicated than that, and in no time, our country dove into the dark, murky waters of wars, weapons of mass destruction, leader-topplings, Homeland Security, and a plummeting national economy. By the time Bush left office our nation was handed a massive, complex pile of muck intricately woven and delivered on a silver platter.

But enough Bush Bashing (although that felt good—thank you for indulging my rant).

My real point is this: ever since 9/11 I haven’t felt particularly proud of the direction our nation is going. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never want to live anywhere else, and I do appreciate the freedom and opportunities that only our country affords, and I’m also proud of our service men and women—even if I have a hard time believing in any type of war—but I can’t help wonder if we might be able to raise the bar, and start striving for excellence again instead of trying to control what everybody else in the world does?

As I sit here daydreaming about all the possibilities, I wonder what would happen if we started focusing on our own country for a while and started leading by example rather than bombs?

For instance:

Graphic for Question MarkWhat would happen if our nation’s education budget was larger than our military budget? Instead of the Department of Defense spending a staggering $714,000,000 and the Department of Education spending a mere $50,000,000, imagine if that were reversed?

Graphic for Question MarkWhat would happen if instead of outsourcing things like the new Martin Luther King Memorial to China, we supported our own artists and workers at home

Graphic for Question MarkWhat would happen if instead of giving subsidies to oil companies we gave them to environmental or technological innovators?

Graphic for Question Mark

What would happen if we used the insane amount of money spent on political campaigns to fund arts or mentorship programs?

Graphic for Question MarkWhat would happen if pharmaceutical companies used all the moolah they spent on advertising things Viagra (along with the 500 possible side effects) to find a cure for AIDS or cancer?

The possibilities are endless.

I realize I’m a dreamer, but what is life without dreams? On the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, my wish for America and our leaders is that we all start dreaming again.

Graphiic for What is Your Dream?

Universes Collide THEN…. Mgunga Magic NOW

THEN: UNIVERSES COLLIDE (Excerpt)

Photo of a Pilgrim at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet

A pilgrim at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet © Jeffrey Aaronson

September 1988: Arriving back home in Aspen after nearly two months in Asia, Jeffrey craves nothing more than a real breakfast and good coffee from his favorite restaurant. He’s eaten little more than jasmine rice and vegetables for weeks in Tibet and has lost so much weight he has to tighten his belt two notches.

Sitting behind the steering wheel of his white Saab in the crisp autumn morning, he turns the key, only to hear the tired revolt of neglect.

“Shit.”

He tries again.

The battery is dead.

Having no desire to jump it, he decides instead to knock on the door of his friends, David Hiser and Barbara Bussell, three condos down. He knows David will let him borrow his van to drive into town for breakfast. Being a photographer himself—often working for National Geographic for months at a time—David knows all too well what it’s like to come home from a long, grueling trip.

As Jeffrey knocks on the door, then watches it slowly swing open, his eyebrows fly up. “You’re not David,” he jokes as he stands face to face with a young brunette.

Portrait of Becky Aaronson late 80's

Becky Green Aaronson, late 80's

“You got that right,” she chirps.

“Well, what have you done with David?” Jeffrey laughs. “Should I be worried?”

The young woman tilts her head and smiles, mischief sweeping across her face. “I’m not telling.” Then she crosses her arms and leans one shoulder on the door frame. “What do you want with David anyway?”

“I was hoping to borrow his van. I just got back from Asia and my car battery is dead.”

“Hmmm…Well, David’s in Mexico right now and Barbara’s in Bhutan, and I can’t loan out his van to somebody I don’t even know,” she says, looking at him like he’s just been let out of an insane asylum.

Jeffrey, while slightly annoyed, can’t help but laugh at her feisty attitude.

Portrait of Jeffrey Aaronson

Jeffrey Aaronson, late 80's

“Who are you, anyway?” she grills him as she eyes his dark leather bomber jacket, noticing how it accentuates his chiseled chin and five o’clock shadow.

Taking off his sunglasses, he flashes his green eyes. “I’m Jeffrey. Jeffrey Aaronson. I’m David and Barbara’s friend and neighbor. I’m a photographer, too. Now tell me who you are…and what you’re doing in their house.”

“I’m Becky,” she laughs as she shakes his hand, feeling a slight flutter in her stomach. “Do you want to come in? It’s kind of a long story.”

.    .    .    .    .    .

NOW: MGUNGA MAGIC

September 2011: When I look back at my photograph from more than two decades ago, first of all I can’t believe I’m sharing it with all of you. “Big hair” was definitely not a good look, but that was the 80’s, baby! Mostly though, I can’t believe how young and green I was when I took off on my improbable adventure to Aspen.

That same thing struck me again this summer when we were in Aspen visiting our friends, the Carpenter Family. Not only were we back in the Rockies again after having moved to Santa Barbara several years ago, but we were in the exact same condo where I first met Jeffrey.

You see, our friends Curt and Cindy Carpenter bought David Hiser’s condo in the early 90’s and have lived there ever since. For many years Jeffrey and I lived and worked a few doors down from the Carpenters, and vividly remember when their daughter Cornelia was born twenty-two years ago.

Portrait of Cornelia Carpenter

Cornelia Carpenter, author and illustrator of Mgunga

This summer as I looked at Cornelia’s shining face during our visit, it struck me that I was exactly her age when I moved to Aspen. On one hand, it seemed impossible, but on the other hand, I could see in her eyes what I felt when I was her age: the enthusiasm of a recent college graduate filled with drive, knowing the whole world was out there waiting for her.

This girl is well on her way, too, having already published her first illustrated book, Mgunga: A Day in the Life of an Umbrella Thorn Acacia. Inspired by her semester abroad in Kenya, she created a book of illustrations well beyond her years. And now she has just returned from a project in Australia.

When I watched my daughter, Olivia, gaze at Cornelia with awe when she handed her a signed copy of her book, I witnessed Cornelia unknowingly paying it forward and inspiring a 7-year old—just by being a brainy, adventurous, and creative role model.

I feel compelled to share a few images with you from Cornelia’s book because there’s no doubt in my mind this is the beginning of a brilliant career. In fact, if I ever find time to write that children’s book I have bumping around in my head, I know who I’ll be calling for the illustrations.

All illustrations ©Cornelia Carpenter 2011. You can click on the images to view them larger.

Mgunga Book Cover

Mgunga Book Inside Illustrations of Babboons

Mgunga Book Illustrations of Giraffes

Mgunga Book Illustration Owl and Elephants

Here’s to Mgunga Magic…and to being twenty-two…and to having the whole world out there waiting for you. And to those of us a wee bit older, here’s to remembering that feeling, and knowing anything is possible….even the improbable.