Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Parade Participants Enjoy the Camaraderie

June 28, 2010

Charlie Wix cleaned up after the horses in the Idyllwild Parade

Idyllwild’s Annual Independence Day Parade has been going on for more than 30 years now. Few small towns in the U.S. still host parades, but Idyllwild attracts the tourists, locals and volunteers like Charlie Wix who support it.

For the past three years, Wix has been scooping poop after the horses in the parade. One would think that he got drafted, but he said that he enjoyed it.

“Are you kidding me? It’s great!” Wix said. “Everyone cheers you on!”

He remembers one time, however, when a friend from Idyllwild Heating was tauting him, so he faked him out.

“I grabbed a handful of candy, and reached down into the wheelbarrow full of horse manure, and pretended that I was picking it up,” Charlie explained. “When I threw the candy at him, you should have seen him duck and run!”

For Saturday’s parade, however, Wix has retired his pooper scooper.

“I’m going to be sitting on the sidelines like everyone else, and enjoy the parade,” he said.

Earlier this year, a heart attack sidelined Wix, but now that he’s got the “green light” from his doctor, he’s ready to get back to work. He’s a popular van driver for for the students at Idyllwild Arts.

Charlie's house reflects his patriotic spirit

Besides the horses, marching bands and organizational floats, they’ll be plenty of “colorful” locals in the parade, including Raye De Ross, and her belly dancing troupe, “The Outskirts.”

Anyone who has been to a parade knows there’s a lot of standing around, waiting for everyone to catch up, but that’s when the parade announcers get creative and talk about the participants and past shows.

Gone are most of the corvette and other car clubs.

“Guess they don’t want to spend the gas to get up here,” Charlie said.

And the beautiful rescue greyhounds are no longer participating. Not because of money, but because of the heat.

“It’s too hot for them to walk on the pavement,” Charlie said.

Charlie isn’t the kind of guy that will sit on the sidelines for long. If he’s not cleaning up behind the horses, he’ll be helping out in some other manner.

Idyllwild Independence Day Parade begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 3rd, at the top of North Circle Drive, then winds down to the center of town. For more information, call the Idyllwild Rotary at (951) 659-4957.

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‘Metals Week’ at IA Starts June 27

June 27, 2010

Jewelry designer & teacher Kristin Coffin

Jewelry designer and teacher Kristin Coffin and her boyfriend, Lewis, loaded up the last of their valuables from their studio apartment near the Jewelry District in LA. The rest of their stuff they were storing at a friend’s house. This is what they’d been waiting for: Summer Camp at Idyllwild Arts.

Kristin was going to teach jewelry making to children, and Lewis, a graphic designer, would be a counselor for nearly three months in Idyllwild.

Kristin came to Idyllwild Arts Summer Program two years ago in response to an advertisement online. Like most teachers they attract, Kristin is an accomplished professional. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Vermont with a BA in metalsmithing and jewelry design. She was the goldsmith at the couture gallery, Grannis Gallery, one of the premier art jewelry galleries on the east coast. Currently, she is the metalsmith for Belle Brooke Designs in Los Angeles.

There, she admitted to unusual sales tactics.

“We’d go to lunch and always wear the jewelry from the store,” Kristin said. “But we’d leave the tag out on purpose. Women would always tell us about the tag, and we’d start a conversation about the necklace.”

Los Angeles is great, but she likes the slower pace of Idyllwild.

Teachers like Kristen Coffin like coming to small town Idyllwild

“I love it here,” she said, as they headed toward the San Jacinto Mountains. “I’m a small town girl, and Idyllwild reminds me of home.”

This winter, however, she spent a lot of time in the hi-rise buildings of LA’s  Jewelry District.

“It’s bigger than the one in New York City,” Kristin said. “Each of the shops in these hi-rises has a specialty, such as diamonds only four carats and up.”

She said that only those in the jewelry business could shop there, however, and because shop keepers are showing precious jewels, gold and silver, everyone had to be “buzzed” inside.

There, she bought pliers and other tools for her classes, and jewels and materials for her own jewelry that she describes as “organic.”

“It’s kind of feminine use gems only as accent pieces,” Kristin explained. “I use mostly silver and gold, and sometimes blacken the silver, so it creates a nice contrast to the gold.”

For a jewelry maker and teacher, she wears no jewelry at all.

“I used to wear a lot of jewelry, but I’m working in the shop all the time, so it doesn’t make sense to wear it when I’m forging,” she said.


Many social activities are planned on campus during "Metals Week"

Speaking of forging, it happens to be the focus of one of the classes during “Metals Week” at Idyllwild Arts that starts today, Sunday, June 27, and runs until Thursday, July 1st.

According to the catalog, “Metals Week” is a week of intensive metals studies in which adult students can work with one of six outstanding jewelers and metalsmiths.

“Everyone comes here to learn a skill, such as etching, trapping, sculpting or tool making,” explained Kristin, who is helping out another teacher this week. “It doesn’t make sense for everyone in the class to do one project. You can do that anywhere.”

“Forging Collars, Pendants and Sildes,” is a class taught by Fred Zweig,who has been a metalsmith and teacher for more than 30 years. For the first part of the weeklong class, adult students will take a heavy sterling silver gauge rod and create a stylish neck collar. Then the rest of the time will be spent designing and creating slides and pendants that will hang from the collar.

Other classes that make up “Metals Week” include: “Resin Inlay,” by Karen Christians from Waltham, MA; “Etching,” by Deborah E. Love Jemmott from San Diego, CA; “Sculpted Bezels & Non-Traditional Stone Settings,” by Pauline Warg from Scarborough, ME; and “Trapping Found Objects,” by Joanna Gollberg from Ashville, NC;  and “Tool Making & Alterations,” by Val Link from Houston, TX.

Tuition for all of these classes are $655 plus a lab fee that ranges from $35 to $85, that includes using the school’s tools and equipment. All are limited to 12 adult students.

“Although ‘Metals Week’ classes begin today, we’ll still take walk-ins late,” said Emma Showalter, Assistant Director of the Summer Arts Program. “We will accommodate anyone who wants to come to the classes.”

Idyllwild Arts has a plethora of activities for students during “Metals Week,” including a faculty lecture and slide show tonight at 7 p.m. at the Krone Library; an arts exhibition, hot clay lecture and opening reception at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Parks Exhibition Center; a potluck dinner and auction on Wednesday, June 30 at Studio D and a student exhibition on Thursday, July 1, on the Krone Library’s patio.

For more information on classes and activities for “Metals Week” at Idyllwild Arts, call the registrar at (951) 659-2171, extension 2365; fax (951) 659-4552 or visit the web site at, and click on “summer session.”

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Those Pesky Steller’s Jays

June 22, 2010

Idyllwild's Stellar Jay's are intelligent, curious and loud

Mention “Steller’s jays” to any Idyllwild resident this time of year, and you’ll likely hear a big groan.

“Oh, them,” they’d say. “They’re sure noisy and aggressive.”

No mention about how smart they are, or how spectacular  their comb and coat can be. Up here in the mountains, Steller’s jays are about as common as pigeons in New York City. They’re bold, inquisitive, loud and territorial—especially in the spring when they’re nesting.

Joel, who lives on Marion View in Idyllwild, said that he cannot even walk out onto his lower deck anymore because there’s a nest of Steller’s jays there.

“There’s about six of them in the nest, but all you can see is their wide open beaks,” he said.

But neither he nor his rather large Labradoodle cannot get anywhere close to the nest, or the parents will start squawking at the top of their lungs, and swooping down, trying to distract them from the nest.

“The dog knew, and turned his tail and ran,” said Joel. “We just don’t go over there anymore.”

Although they prefer peanuts or acorns, Stellar Jay's will eat dry cat food

Louise, another Idyllwild neighbor, feeds the Steller’s jays peanuts in the shell. She’s only lived in Idyllwild a short while.

“They really love them,” she said. “And so do the squirrels.”

Well, everything’s just great, as long as she’s shelling out the peanuts. However, she left for a couple of days, and her neighbor, Martha, got the brunt of it.

“They screeched at me through my open window, and followed me onto my back porch,” Martha said. “They were adamant about getting fed.”

She didn’t have any peanuts, so she gave them bread with peanut butter on it. And when the bread ran out, the blue jays went for her cat kibble.

“I was wondering what happened to the dry cat food,” said Martha, who has four cats, and puts out a bowl of dry food every day. She sets it on the porch ledge, to keep the neighbor’s dog away.

“The neighbor’s dog cannot jump up, but the blue jays can sure swoop down,” she said.

One swooped down like a stealth bomber and took the cat kibble, even while Martha was painting her deck.

“I was close enough to touch him,” she said. “But in an instant, he was gone.”

Steller’s jays “hog” the bird feeder, and get away with it because of their unusual cry. It can imitate the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk, and clear any feeding area quickly.

Their telltale “squawking” also lets Martha know where her cats are in the yard.

“All I have to do is follow the noise,” she said. “And that’s where one of my cats will be.”

No chance of her cats catching any Steller’s jays, either. They are known for their quick flight and dart actions. And they’re going to do their best to keep the neighborhood cats, dogs and people away from their nests this spring.

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‘Paranormal Idyllwild’ Film Set

June 20, 2010

Idyllwild Arts student filmmakers are looking for ghosts. They are working on a short documentary called “Paranormal Idyllwild,” about ghosts and spirits that haunt our town.

On May 29, the second night of the student Film Screenings at Idyllwild Arts, they gave a preview of this unfinished documentary. In it, they interviewed two employees from Idyllwild Arts, and one local inn owner.

Raye DeRoss, the school’s operator/receptionist, who is also a dorm parent, said that she has heard noises and voices in the dorm that she lives in. However, whenever she would go to investigate, no one would be there. This has happened more than once.

The inn owner described pretty much the same thing. Everyone seems to have heard a lot of random noises, but no one has actually seen a ghost.

Well, maybe someone has. A former student said that he saw a young female ghost with long brown hair and a white robe hovering over a well on the Idyllwild Arts campus. This happened at night, long before he was expelled. His friend, who still attends the school, believes him.

“We need more ghost stories,” said Becca, a junior theater major, who was helping her friend, Bree, the documentary’s writer, find more content.

“We tried Googling ghosts in Idyllwild, but nothing comes up,” Becca added. “But we know there’s more ghosts stories in Idyllwild.”

In the “Haunting Idyllwild Homes,” a post on this blog site from January 2010, an unidentified woman describes her ongoing battle with a ghost that haunts her Idyllwild home. It is driving her crazy enough to move out.

Becca said that she didn’t want to interview that woman because she’s a renter.

“We need to be able to show the inside and outside of the house,” Becca said. “If we were to show it on film, we might make the person who owns the house mad at us.”

If anyone (who is not a renter) is interested in telling their ghost story, call the Moving Pictures Department at Idyllwild Arts, at (951) 659-2171 or visit But wait until the film students return in September.

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Making Ends Meet by Shopping Mexican

June 18, 2010

In this economy, every dollar counts. So when I took in a student for nine days, I was faced with a dilemma: I needed to buy fresh food at a cheaper price.

I couldn’t possibly feed him spaghetti every night. He wanted organic yogurt, fresh berries, and fresh fish. Granted, Idyllwild has two good grocery stores, and an organic market to boot, but I needed all that for less than $10 dollars.

So that’s when I began shopping at a Mexican market. I stumbled upon it in Ontario, when I couldn’t get into the Stater Bros. parking lot. It was late, and I had just dropped someone off at the airport, and was tired of driving around.

I needed blueberries, cherries, raspberries, yogurt, and some pastry for breakfast, and fresh fish and broccoli spears for dinner. Luckily, my student boarder slept very late, and only needed two good meals each day.

Fiesta Foods beckoned me inside with its bright lights, lively music and welcome signs written in Spanish and English. Just inside the door were bountiful baskets of cherries, mangoes, and apples at affordable prices.

Before I went in, I paused for a minute. Years ago, I had shopped at at a Mexican market in my Chicago neighborhood. I loved its fresh produce, inexpensive prices, and the chance to practice my Spanish. I shopped there for weeks, until a weird incident kept me from going back.

Walking on my way home from the Mexican market one afternoon, I crossed paths with a middle aged Mexican man who was standing there drinking coffee. As I passed by, I smiled at him and said, “Buenas Dias.”

Seconds later, I felt the sting of hot coffee on my back, the smell of sour creamer, and the sound of footsteps running in the distance. Without any warning, he had thrown hot coffee on my back!

I was soaked and dazed for a moment. What prompted him to throw his coffee on me? What did I do to him? Was he insane? I looked around for someone to talk to, some reassurance, but no one was there. His empty coffee cup rolled into the gutter.

I picked up my groceries, and walked home, crying. The coffee stuck to my hair and clothes. By the time I had arrived, I realized that I was a victim of a minor “hate crime.”  That Mexican man was mad at me for shopping at the local market. As a “gringa,” I had more money to spend and had other options. I didn’t need to shop there.

As I paused at the door of Fiesta Foods in Ontario, I reasoned that incident happened at another place and time. We were now in California, in the heart of a recession, and any store would be glad to have my business. The $10 bill in my wallet was the deciding factor. Stater Bros. prices just couldn’t cut it.

I picked up rich, red cherries for $1.45 a pound. All of the other shoppers at Fiesta Foods, were Mexican or Mexican-American. No one seemed to notice me as I put the cherries into the basket. Bananas were 59 cents, so I bought three.

Over the loudspeaker at Fiesta Foods, all of the announcements were made in Spanish. After eight years of trying to learn Spanish, I knew what they were saying. I could have moseyed through the store, aisle by aisle, to see what Fiesta Foods had to offer, but it was 9 p.m., and I was pressed for time.

I went straight for the fish market in the back of the store. Women were buying Talapia for $3.69 a pound, but I went for the cod for $1.99 a pound, instead.

The Mexican woman ahead of me ordered a pound of Talapia. There were small pieces, but she got a lot of them. The butcher wrapped them up in paper, gave it to her, and turned around. I waited, but realized that he was busy doing something in the back.

His co-worker, looked at me, and asked him (in Spanish) to wait on me. But he said,”No, estoy ocupado” (He was busy.)

I stood there awkwardly, wanting to bolt, but another part of me wanted to wait to see what would happen. Did they not like me, or were they unsure of their English? Perhaps they were hoping that I would walk away.

Finally, the young co-worker asked me what I wanted. Not really trusting my Spanish after all of these years, I pointed to the cod for $1.99, and said, “Dos piezas, por favor.”

He took two large frozen pieces from the top of the pile, and placed them on the scale with a “clunk.”

“Oh no, it’s going to cost too much,” I thought to myself. But I waited, and $2.65 rang up on his scale.

“Whew, two pieces of fish for less than $3! Where else but in a Mexican market can you get such prices?”

“Gracias, muy amable,” I said awkwardly, as he handed me the fish.

Next, I headed for the help-yourself pastry counter.There were so many pastries in the case that my head was spinning! There were cookies, donuts, pies and turnovers with apple, guava or pineapple inside. Some were round and dusted with sugar, while others were long with fruit oozing through. From past experience, I knew they would taste fresh, and not too sweet. But the best part was they were all only 59 cents each. (Last week, I bought four muffins at Trader Joe’s for $4.99).

After selecting two apple tarts, I grabbed some vanilla yogurt for $2.50 and a quart of whole milk for $1.39.

I was so happy to have all of the items for less than $10. I stood in line and watched as the pretty, bleached blonde Mexican woman ahead of me talked to the cashier. She had greeted her with a “Buenas Tardes,” or good afternoon. I never knew when the cut off time was between “Buenas Tardes” and “Buenas Noches.” I would think that 9 p.m. would not still be considered afternoon.

When it came to my turn, however, the cashier greeted me with a “Hi,” instead of a “Buenas Tardes.”

“How did she know that I wasn’t Mexican?” I asked Alex, the owner of Mountain Top Liquors in Idyllwild, later.

“Are you kidding me?” he laughed. “You look totally American!”

“But I have dark hair and dark eyes,” I countered. Years ago, when I lived in Santiago, Chile, I passed for Chilean–as long as I didn’t open my mouth.

“Look at your skin, and your clothes,” Alex countered. He was Brazillian, after all, and must know these things. “A Mexican woman wouldn’t be wearing a sun dress like that.”

He was still laughing when I walked out the door, confused. Did I want to pass for a Mexican woman? Did I need to? I wanted to continue to shop at Fiesta Foods during this recession, but didn’t want to stand out as an obvious “gringa,” or outsider.

I admit it, I’m a poor artist. Even with four jobs, I fall below the poverty line. I need to shop at cheaper stores like Fiesta Foods, or eat a lot less. And at Fiesta Foods, I found a gold mine. The produce is fresh and bountiful, and the fish that we ate later, was delicious grilled. I would buy more.

The yogurt, was the best yogurt that the student had ever tasted. He even took a picture of it with his cell phone, so that he could buy it later in New York. The cherries, blueberries and bananas were fresh and delicious too.

And the apple tart was such a hit, the student wanted me to go all the way back to Fiesta Foods to get some more.

Shopping at Mexican markets has its advantages–for freshness and variety at great, low prices, however, they’re all located in Hemet, or Ontario, which are miles from Idyllwild, so I’d have to plan ahead.

I still fear that I’m looked upon by other shoppers as a “cheap gringa” who can afford more, but shops there to save money. Just the other day, I wore my glasses with one broken arm, so I’d look poorer. No one said a word, but I’m glad that I didn’t run into anyone from Idyllwild.

It doesn’t matter, really. I’ve found a “gold mine” at Fiesta Foods, and I’m going to shop there until the recession is over, or they throw hot coffee on me.

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Student’s Single on iTunes

June 17, 2010

Laura's single first appeared in a student film

There are no limitations on what a student can do at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

Just a few short weeks ago, film student Laura H. wrote and directed her first short film, “On The Bright Side,” about an eternally optimistic guy who refuses to let his girlfriend break up with him. Laura was also the female lead in “Shortcomings,” a teen angst film created by another film student about a guy with a short whatchamacallit. They were among five films screened at the end of 2010 by the Moving Pictures Department. The IAA Trailers 2010 are now out on You Tube.

Not only was Laura a screenwriter, actor, and director this year, but she also composed and sang, “Time Bomb,” one of the songs for her film, “On the Bright Side.” Now, just one week into the summer break, the single is out on iTunes.

Along with a guitar and excellent whistler, Laura sings her first single. You can get a short preview of “Time Bomb,” for free, or purchase it for only .99 cents.

The cover of her “Time Bomb” single shows a bird’s eye view of life-sized black dominoes on a white board. In between two of the dominoes is a person, but it doesn’t look like Laura.

Earlier this year, Laura spoke about how happy she was coming to Idyllwild Arts.

“There’s a lot of support for us in the film department,” she said. “We’re a small group and everyone helps each other out.”

She said it was fun to pick the actors for her film, “On the Brighter Side.” She was debating between two excellent actors. Jamie, the one who got the part, won her over by playing it “over the top.”

After the screening, Jamie, a senior theater major, said that she may consider acting for the camera, something she had not thought of before starring in “On the Bright Side.”

She said that working with Laura was a great experience.

“She listened to our ideas, and let us run with them,” Jamie said. “I told her that I was so angry at Dylan (her co-star) that I wanted to throw a muffin at him, and Laura said, ‘Go for it!'”

The muffin scene didn’t make the final cut, but Jamie said that it was rewarding working with a writer-director who listens to an actor’s point-of-view.

Laura got a “green light” on another script that will be produced at Idyllwild Arts in the fall. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the many facets of Laura in that one too.

To listen to Laura’s new single, “Time Bomb,” visit iTunes. And for more information about the Moving Pictures Department at Idyllwild Arts, visit

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Bird Houses for the Boys

June 15, 2010

Resident Peter Hopper shows off his birdhouse "mansion"

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Outside his Idyllwild home every weekend, Peter Hopper sets out tables, hardware shelves, beach umbrellas and the American flag. On display are his homemade bird houses, including single dwelling, three-room “condos,” and one unique gingerbread “mega mansion.” Stacked off to the side are flower boxes with flowers or geometrical designs on them. And around the corner is a massive bird feeder mounted on a nine-foot pole.

Although these are the work of a master craftsman, it more of his “calling card,” and an opportunity to teach his two young boys about his old world craft.

Hopper's bird houses include an Abe Lincoln log house style

“These bird houses are a friendly way to get to know people,” said Hopper, who has lived with his family in Idyllwild since 2000.

Hopper, is tall, clean-shaven (including his head), and speaks with a heavy Austrian accent. Although he looks like “Mr. Clean,” he is soft spoken and philosophical, especially when talking about his family.

“I’m working with my boys on weekends trying to teach them carpentry–like I learned from my father in 1976,” Hopper said.

“Idyllwild is a great place to be because there’s nature all around, not lots of traffic and people are friendly,” he added.

Behind him in the open garage are a plethora of table saws, drills, a planer and boxes of tools. Sawdust is all over the floor and tables.

Hopper uses a hand held saw to carve the designs onto the flower boxes

“As a carpenter, you need high quality equipment,” Hopper said. He mainly does commercial work that includes installing of hardwood floors, marble and porcelain tiles, restoration of antique furniture, and plumbing that includes sprinkler and drip systems.

One of his recent jobs in Idyllwild was on Country Club in which he built several small decks, and an ornate brick entryway. He’d like to do more local work, so he wouldn’t have to commute to Oceanside.

In the meantime, however, he’s content to teach his boys about carpentry on weekends.

His son, Liam, age 15, helps him create the bird houses and flower boxes, while Dylan, age 9, is the salesman. Dylan’s homemade sign reveals the prices: $35 for the single-dwelling bird houses, $45 for the stacked, three-room condos, $180 for the gingerbread mega mansion, and $85 for the bird feeder.

“Dylan doesn’t like the sawdust, so we made him the salesman,” Hopper explains. “He’s great at selling, but doesn’t always understand adult humor. Like when a customer offered to pay for a bird house with a credit card, Dylan was left speechless.”

“We lost the sale, but Dylan knows next time to tease them right back,” Hopper added. “We told him to say, ‘No, we don’t accept credit cards, but we’ll take your cash or a check.'”

All of the bird houses have a standard-sized opening, but Hopper will custom fit them with a smaller wooden insert, if you’d like. Bluebirds, for example, need smaller holes, to keep the larger bluejays out.

There are a variety of styles

There are primarily two styles Hopper sells, a plain one with a slanted roof, and a modified log cabin style (to match many of the homes in Idyllwild). The “condo,” bird house, coined by Dylan, has three rooms.

He created that style when he had seen a tree at his sister-in-law’s place that housed as many as 50 birds.

“Some birds are more social,” he said. “So you can mount two of these condos side-by-side on the tree and make a lot of birds happy.”

However, his latest bird house, the “mega mansion” (also coined by Dylan), shows off Hopper’s carpentry skills. There is great detail in the pitched roof with double chimneys, and the wrap-around porch. It looks like a gingerbread home you’d might find in Austria.

It takes some time for he and the boys to create this masterpiece, so the price is reasonable at $180. They sold two of them last year, with one customer mounting it on a pole, while the other hung it from a tree.

Although ornate, there is no paint or waterproof coating on the mansion–and the other bird houses as well. Hopper said that most of his customers prefer to paint, seal or decorate them themselves.

The flower boxes come in a variety of design styles

However, the flower boxes are decorated, stained and sealed with a waterproof coating.

The designs include flowers, geometric patterns, and more recently, children’s cartoon faces. Hopper pencils in the design on the box to start, then carves them with a hand-held router. Then he sands it off and finishes with a wood stain and a polyurethene coating.

You may have seen his handiwork outside the beauty shop in town, the Help Center, and Strawberry Creek Inn.  Adding a name to the flower box costs $15 more.

“People come to me with newspaper clippings and drawings, and ask me to duplicate the design,” Hopper said. “We are happy to accommodate  everyone.”

The flower box dimensions are approximately 33 inches long, by 8 3/4 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches high. Hopper recommends inserting plastic liners into the boxes so that there is protection between the dirt and wood. The liner also serves another purpose.

“At night, you can easily pick up the liner and bring your flowers into the house,” said Kelly, his wife. ” That way, you’ll keep them from freezing, or bothered by animals.”

Adding color to the flower boxes was his wife, Kelly's idea

It was also her idea to add color to the flowers on the flower boxes.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve,” she said.

The bird feeder that sits in front of their house is remarkable. It has a large roof to protect against rain and snow, with a large opening for several birds to feed at once. There is about a one-inch rim around the bottom to keep the seeds or peanuts inside.

Like the bird houses, Hopper recommends that people use a plastic liner for easy inserting and cleanup.

Worm's eye view of Hopper's $85 custom made bird feeder

It costs $85, but you can also purchase a nine-foot pole for $10 that can be mounted into a pipe into the ground. Some need help installing the bird feeder, and Hopper helps them for free.

It’s all about teaching, family togetherness, and not so much about the money. He doesn’t have to say it. His sales speak for themselves.

Last year, Hopper and his sons sold about 15 bird houses, and 25 flower boxes, but gave 50 of them away, mostly to schools and children.

He knows that he could beef up sales by opening up a shop in town, or selling online on eBay. None of these options appeals to him right now.

“My family is number one. Here, I have all of my tools and my boys to help me,” Hopper said. “If I have to make 100 bird houses, then it becomes work, and not so much fun.”

He’s been through all that, he said, 30 years ago when he worked 2o-hour days for someone else. Now, he’s just happy to do custom work and making a few bird houses with his boys.

To see the Hopper family bird houses, visit them at 53675 Tollgate Road in Idyllwild, or call (951) 659-5909.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Student Documentary Screened at ShortFest 2010

June 12, 2010

Idyllwild Arts film crew from "The Piano Virtuosos"

By Marcia E. Gawecki

On May 28-29, the Idyllwild Arts Academy screened five short films, and trailers for three documentaries. The students work was well received by those who attended, including the media. The school plans to send the short films to area film festivals for review, however, some films don’t start getting attention until almost a year later.

Case in point: “The Steinway Virtuosos,” a short documentary produced by Idyllwild Arts students last year (2009), is now being screened at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival on June 22-28. ShortFest 2010 will present more than 300 short films from 40 countries.

IA students Amelia (L) and Joel (R) interview a grade school student in one of the piano labs

ShortFest 2010 is known worldwide for its extraordinary community of filmmakers it attracts, and the quality and scope of its programming. In 2005, an Idyllwild Arts student, Alexis Echavarria won the “Audience Choice Award” for “18 Minutes,” a short film about the last 18 minutes of sunlight on earth. The 16-year-old student died before the screening at ShortFest 2009, but a student award has been set up in his name.

His mother has not forgotten Idyllwild Arts and has been generous over the years. In Oct. 2009, she dedicated “Alexis Annex,” a building on the Idyllwild Arts campus, in his name.

“She also donated all of the computers that we used to edit the films this year,” said Dr. Ira Abrams, from the Idyllwild Arts Moving Pictures Department.

Teacher and students in a piano lab sponsored by The Steinway Society

“The Steinway Virtuosos,” the 2009 student documentary, is about a piano contest sponsored by the Steinway Society of Riverside County, a nonprofit organization that helps put music back into California grade schools what government funding has cut over the years.

Ruth Moir, founder and head of the Steinway Society of Riverside County, said that she hopes that her organization will help to nurture interest in music in grade school students. They have set up a “piano lab” targeted at students from third to fifth grade, in which they learn to play on pianos at school and read music.

The Steinway Society also has an outreach program for talented piano students in which some receive piano keyboards to practice at home. Marcos, a grade school student featured in the documentary, came to the Steinway Society by accident. He was called into the principal’s office for tardiness, and saw a piano there. He asked if he could play it, and impressed the principal, who immediately called The Steinway Society.

Emily discusses the next steps with her crew

Up until that time, Moir said, he was playing “by ear” on a broken down old keyboard at a home that he shared with his single mother and sister with special needs. The Steinway Society gave him a new keyboard and music lessons, and within a year, he has learned to read music.

When the Idyllwild Arts crew came to interview him at his home near Palm Desert, he performed “I Will Always Love You,” a song he created for his grandmother who had just passed away. The strength and intensity of his playing hushed them into silence.

Kitty (L) won the Steinway Competition that is featured in the documentary

The documentary crew consisted of Amelia, Emily, Joel, Ben, and Scarlett. Two of them graduated from Idyllwild Arts on June 5. Emily plans to study film, while Amelia wants to try acting in front of the camera in her native Vancouver. Daphne or “Kitty,” who won the piano competition that was featured in “The Steinway Virtuosos” documentary, will study piano in college in the fall.

Other Idyllwild Arts music students and faculty who appear in the video include: Doug Ashcraft, Nelms McKalvin, Ie-Seul, Georgina and Timmy.

When Amelia, the producer, graduated this year, she was unaware of the screening at ShortFest 2010, but knew about its potential to appear on public television.

“Guess I’ll have to wait until it appears on TV,” she said. “That would be pretty exciting.”

Scarlett, who edited “The Steinway Virtuosos” as well as five films this year, said it was one of the most difficult to complete. She was working day and night, right up until the screenings on campus last year.

“It changed direction three times,” Scarlett said, as she groaned, remembering. “It was about the Steinway Society, and then the competition. But, in the end, we were pretty happy with the way it turned out.”

Abrams said that he hopes to attend ShortFest 2010, along with others from the Idyllwild Arts Moving Pictures Department, but the film festival is held during their summer break.

“‘The Steinway Virtuosos’ will be shown in a package appropriately called, ‘Performance Anxiety,’ which screens on Saturday, June 26,” said Dr. Abrams. “There will be nine shorts starting at 1:30 p.m., so our documentary will start an hour later, roughly at 2:30 p.m.”

For more information on ShortFest 2010, visit, for “18 Minutes,” visit, and for attending Idyllwild Arts, visit

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Blind Mother Raccoon Thrives

June 9, 2010

The blind mother raccoon's daughter (now grown) heads for the cat kibble.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The first time that I saw her was at midnight in my kitchen. I had just returned from work and had forgotten to shut the back door. I have cats, and always leave kibble out for them. Apparently, the smell had attracted her.

I had written an article on raccoons before, so I knew to start making noise and turning on lights. They don’t like either one. She was headed for the back door, when she suddenly turned around. What was she doing? I got scared.

Then I could see the two little “kits” with her. They were the size of a baby cat, all cute and furry, but with that distinctive black band across their beady eyes. I went for the food drawer, and started getting out some kibble, and promised them more if they left.

I put it out in a pie tin and watched as each of them delicately lifted the food with their hands and ate it. All the while, they didn’t take their eyes off of me once, except for the mother.

I didn’t realize that something was wrong with her until several visits later when she came by herself. She was on the porch ledge eating the bread that I left out for the bluejays.

I put kibble out for her in the pan, and she didn’t step backwards, or run up the tree like her kittens did. In fact, when the food hit the pan, she came towards me immediately. I had no time to react, but kept my voice soft, “Here you go, honey, here’s some more food for you.”

She reached for the food, but missed the pan. She tried again and missed. The third time, she found the food and ate it. I could see in the porch light that her eyes weren’t quite right. Almost a little cross-eyed and tired. They didn’t shine like her kittens’ eyes.

“What are you doing?” my sister in Kansas asked me. “Did you know that they can reach up and open your screen door? If they come inside your kitchen, they can open up boxes and canisters. It would be a disaster!”

I didn’t tell her about the earlier visit.

“I heard that if raccoons, which are nocturnal, go out searching for food during the day, they can burn out their retinas,” some student told me.

“I’m not sure if that’s the case,” said the receptionist at the Idyllwild Ranger Station on upper Pine Crest. “She might have gotten into a fight with another raccoon. You know how sharp their claws are.”

“Isn’t there any raccoon glasses that we can give her?” I teased. I was concerned that if this mother raccoon couldn’t see me, then she couldn’t see any predators either.

(from R) The blind mother's daughter and grandson dine on my back porch.

“Coyotes may be able to sneak up on her if they can sense that she’s weak,” the receptionist said. “You really shouldn’t be feeding her. Like we always say, ‘A fed bear is a dead bear.'”

I knew what she meant. She wasn’t talking about bears, but the danger of feeding wild animals. Not only for us, but for them. We could get bitten, and they could become dependent, and let their natural defenses down. But what about the blind mother raccoon? Would it be better to let her forage for her own food? It seemed a little cruel.

“Well, she’s teaching her babies that they can dine at your place sometimes,” said my mother.

“Cat food is pretty rich for raccoons,” offered Janice, another receptionist the next day. “They really like dog kibble. Perhaps you could feed them that.”

I had heard of a “Raccoon Lady,” in Idyllwild, who nurses baby raccoons back to health. She’s also a pretty good hairstylist. I plan on talking to her soon. Perhaps she could advise me on what to do next.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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