crafting a life

Crafting A Life: Heather Ordover on Creativity and Mindfulness

HOrdover“How do you craft your life?” asks writer, mindfulness expert and knitter Heather Ordover on her site  This question tantalizingly evokes a creative inspiration that also underscores the importance of recognizing personal responsibility.  We create our path to joy and happiness.  We craft our future with our choices.  Heather is a multi-talented renaissance person with a flair for the introspective.  Combining her love of literature, art, culture, and spirituality she has come to a deepened awareness with her life practice.   She has shared her wisdom with us through three important questions answered on the topic of mindfulness and creativity.  Thank you Heather!

1. What were the challenges you faced before your creative outlet became a source of nourishment?  

I’m a fairly scattered person. I’m interested in lots of things and throughout my life I dabbled in lots of crafts and hobbies. I don’t know if the restless spirit comes from being a fifth-generation Californian (covered wagons, the whole bit in my family tree) and it’s been bred into me or if it’s just the way I am, but I get the itch to move and to do and to try all the time.

However, for the last 14 years I’ve been knitting daily—which is curious as the only thing I’ve stuck with longer is my husband. Now the process is familiar and soft and comforting and productive—that combination seems to be magic for me. It keeps me grounded, keeps me attentive, keeps me happy.

2.  How have you learned from those challenges and the challenges of learning a new art form

I think for me what’s been important is how the knitting calms my restlessness. If you’re mindful about the process of knitting you could go two ways—knitting the same thing all the time (baby hats for donations to hospitals are what I did early-on), or you could constantly draw on new pattern techniques to acquire new skills and over the course of a project as your hands and mind repeat and repeat and repeat the same motion, you find a new sense of calm—excitement of the new at the outset and a grand sense of calm and accomplishment by the end. For someone who grew up having variations on “idle hands are the Devil’s playground” modeled for me, this kind of peace while being productive has been a lifesaver.

3.  How are creativity and mindfulness/spirituality connected? 

I’ve found in my own life that mindfulness and knitting are intrinsically connected. Watching the stitches grow and a piece of knitting go from being loops of string on a stick to an Actual, Beautiful Thing, is both marvelous and mysterious. There is a great sense of accomplishment that comes with something as simple as the attention you pay while turning a heel—in fact I spent all of last Saturday teaching various ways to turn a heel—and within those moments, those little stitches, is where you find the place where you can be still, and watch, and be.

I know there are many prayer shawl ministries where people actively pray for the recipient of the shawl as they knit. For me, most of the finished objects go to others and I like to think that the process of knitting attentively knits hopes and dreams and memories and love into each stitch. Other knitters, when they receive something from you, they get it on many levels—the time commitment that you made while making the item, the skill it took to be able to create something that beautiful, and the love that must go into making something soft and warm and comforting for another.

For more information on Heather Ordover peruse these links:

Podcasts: – Just the Books • Knitting Blog: • What Would Madame Defarge Knit? Books 1&2 Available now: 


Don Vaughn: Modern Day Renaissance Man with a Mission to Change the World

vaughn2Don Vaughn is a household name that is synonymous with sexiness.  He is one of fifty men chosen as Cosmopolitan Magazine’s coveted title of Bachelor of the Year, and is a supermodel gracing the pages of magazines and walking the hottest high fashion runways.  There is, however, a difference within Don that makes him more beautiful that what his human form would lead us to believe.  He is a man with a quiet confidence and a heart of service.  He finds joy in learning, exploration and the arts.  His voraciousness for life and his intellectual brilliance have shaped him into a modern day renaissance man.  With his accomplishments in art, culture, entertainment and science, he is an inspiration to many to pursue the grandeur of life.

“I don’t take a break.  Ever since I was a kid I was always interested in a variety of things.  I think my parents did a great job not only promoting academics, but also whatever was interesting to me.  In high school it became music and I began dividing my time between playing with a band and pursuing academics of interest.   It has been a whirlwind to pursue whatever it is that I want.”

Don’s Work with Neuroscience:

“I work with Neuroscientist David Eagleman.  Our labs are about the higher level questions like ‘What does it mean to have free will and make free choices?  What is it like to show empathy toward other human beings and why?’  Your brain is involved in everything you do and we search for the reasons why.”   In addition to the exciting search for the seemingly unanswerable questions, Vaughn and Eagleman have developed a revolutionary “Synesthetic” musical iPhone app called eyeFi.  Originally developed for blind people to be able to “see”’ their world by auditory feedback, Don and David decided to develop this technology into a musical entertainment version.  This allows the auditory feedback to be more mysterious, melodious, beat-filled and beautiful. With this app, you substitute one sense for another.

In addition to this revolutionary invention, Don’s research on human behavior further postulates that humans have “default” brain functionalities that cause certain choices to be made for the purpose of surviving.  While these functions are intrinsic to evolution, they are choices.  “Everything ties into this one idea that there is a default functionality that brains have utilized in order to evolve and survive: show empathy toward your ‘in-group’ and show distance to strangers and those that are unlike you in order to protect yourself; this is the prejudice particle.  We see activity like this in our world all the time.  We are now fully capable of overriding such biases, but we have to choose to do that.”

Vaughn’s talents are not just within the realms of inventions, and research to pinpointing the prejudice particle, he also is a highly Don the Musiciansought after DJ and musician; combining his musical talents with his philanthropic spirit.  “I have been drumming for about ten years.   It wasn’t until last year that I decided that I really want to use music actively as something that can change the world and inspire people.  I found out about the Children’s Music Foundation.”  The Children’s Music Foundation’s mission is “Enriching the lives of children and building communities with music, music instruction and scholarship.” They fulfill their mission by giving musical instruments and music lessons to children who wouldn’t otherwise have access.  “I have spent time with kids who have had transplants and cancer who are eight years old.  It was great to be able to play with them and perform.  The best part was teaching them how to play guitar, singing with them and then giving them the guitar.”  Vaughn revels in the transcendent quality of music and is most inspired by those he sees free themselves through the music he plays in every venue, hospital, or club.  He is currently a headlining DJ at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Don is a seeker.   He seeks knowledge, wisdom and inspiration in his life.  He has further solidified his scientific hypotheses by embodying the example of being more than meets the eye (while being quite easy on the eyes).  “While stereotypes may have been useful in a developing society, now you can’t tell anything about a person just by the way they look, their religious preferences, or their origin.  It’s not useful data anymore.  My mission is to assist people to understand that on a spiritual and functional level.  I am at a point where, at the end of the day, I desire to understand what my life is about.  Right now it is music and neuroscience; using both of these aspects of me to inspire the world.”

For more information:

Don’s Website

Follow Don on Facebook

Follow Don on Twitter


Ashley Bell: Last Exorcism Star is Thinking Person’s It Girl

NEW Ashely BellWith the classic beauty of Judy Garland, the poise of Hollywood veteran Meryl Streep, and the guts of an action hero, Ashley Bell has defined a place for herself through her craft.  The star of the Last Exorcism I and II and I caught up on Valentine’s Day to discuss the release of the second installment of the acclaimed horror film.   I was instantly captivated by her sweet charm as she exuberantly greeted me with “Happy Valentine’s Day!”  Throughout the interview, Ashley revealed a sense of intelligent pragmatism with a dash of whimsical joy for her work.  We began our discourse with a discussion about Nell, the sheltered farm girl taken hostage by the demon Abalam in the movie series that has set the tone for her career.

“Nell is such an incredible character.  The opportunity as a whole is a dream come true for an actress.  In the Last Exorcism part one I got to develop two characters.  I built Nell and I built the demon Abalam.  In building Nell, I introduced a girl who had never been off of her plantation.  What hasn’t she seen?  What hasn’t she touched?  What makeup has she not worn?  What music has she not listened to?  That is what is so special about those Doc Martens; those were big city boots. They had been everywhere.  This is what she daydreamed about.”

The Last Exorcism’s premise is a battle of faith and belief as Nell is the central focus of a documentary intended to defraud exorcisms.  As the story progresses, Nell becomes consumed by the demon Abalam.  For Ashley, the experience of possession was of great interest to her.  “I researched a lot of exorcisms and read every book I could get my hands on.  I listened to tapes of exorcisms.  I watched video and read actual priest logs.  What really attracted me was the physicality.  I watched people get possessed.  They went through fits of hysteria and psychological breaks.  It affects the whole body.  I saw images of this and it inspired me to try it.

The last exorcism

It was the image Bell created of being bent in half by her possessor that shook movie watchers to the core.  “During my rehearsal at home, I tried it out and I found that backbend.  It was the night before the exorcism scene.  On set, the director asked me if there was anything I wanted to try and I said: ‘I can do this backbend.’   The striking backbend, now an iconic image of the movie, is also a silent testament to Ashley’s commitment to fervently adopt the qualities of a character cell by cell right down to the tips of her fingernails.

“When you are dealing with the devil, evil has no boundaries.  So much is demanded of you physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  It pushes you so far out of your comfort zone.  For me, that is where things get fun and really juicy.  When I look back on filming, the days that are my favorite are those exorcism days.  Everything is on the table on those days.  AshleyBell_Headshot_Jan13Everything’s playing and it’s great.   After days like that I feel worked as an actress and I like that.  I like pushing myself that far.”  Ashley has an admirable sense of adventure that she has lent to the challenges her characters have faced.  She thrives on the extension of herself that is oftentimes antithetical to a young Hollywood ingénue.  Having the chance to play Nell opened the whole world up in a sense.  The roles I now get approached for are emotionally and physically demanding.  I played a character called Mary in The Day: a movie that took place in a post-apocalyptic world.  The producers tried to talk me out of it.  They said ‘You are going to have to shave your head, you are going to have to do your own stunts.  You are going to have to fire a shotgun…’ And I said ‘You still haven’t given me a reason not to do this film.’  Getting an opportunity to play a strong female role was everything I dreamed of.”

In her personal life, Ashley is rejuvenated by delving into compassion driven projects that reinforce her emotionally and spiritually.  Her affinity with animals, especially elephants in crisis, has taught her great life lessons in empowering the disempowered.  “This is truly a passion for me.  I was born and raised a vegetarian, my family has always had a plethora of rescue dogs and cats, you know, the ones that no one wants.  They were so beautiful to us.  I always found it important to give a voice to those that don’t have one.

Through this deeply resonant cause, Ashley connected with the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary.  “I had known about the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary for about ten years.  A very close family friend is the owner of the sanctuary.  They had been working for ten years just to get the sanctuary going so that they could rescue Asian Elephants.  I got an email that said ‘We found the elephants, the sanctuary is happenin, this is moving.  Anybody that wants to come out can.’  I wrote back and said ‘I am coming.  This needs to be filmed.’  Because The Last Exorcism has broken me out, there is space to have a platform for this passion project.”

Love and Bananas

Love and BananasLove and Bananas is a documentary that captures the rescue of Asian logging elephants from an illegal logging facility and their transport to the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary.  Bell states that the documentary’s importance is to educate people about the conditions the Elephants are currently enduring.  “A lot of people say ‘Just go buy another elephant.’  But you can’t.  It takes eight people to own an elephant in Cambodia.  There are no wild Asian elephants left in Cambodia.  You can’t just go and buy one.  Because of poaching and the state of the land, wild elephants do not exist.  To gain the trust of the elephants was remarkable.  Elephants are usually trained by using bull hooks.  Bull hooks are banned on the sanctuary.  It has been proven that you can train them with love and bananas. 

Ashley teamed up with Change for Balance Productions: a production company that specializes in “contributing to the betterment of humanity” with their award winning productions.  “I put my own money in, the whole team flew out.  Talk about being out of a comfort zone!  I am not an outdoorsy person and in the first hour we were in raw jungle with the elephants and it was…breathtaking.”

In addition to Love and Bananas Ashley’s upcoming projects are excitingly diverse.  She has two romantic comedies that will be coming out soon, a period film called Chasing Shakespeare where she gets to utilize the education she received from Cambridge  to play a  Shakespearean actress.

Follow Ashley on Twitter


Page Parkes: Inside the Mind & Heart of A Dream Maker

PageWhat would you do if you saw a woman chase you down the street to tell you that you have a future in the entertainment industry?  Would you accept her instant belief in your talents at face value?  Would you follow her to your unrealized dream?  Channing Tatum did.  So did Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Alexis Bledel, and many others that were scouted by Page Parkes.  An industry veteran and household name among the insiders of the modeling and fashion worlds, Page has built a scouting empire in two of Texas’ biggest cities: Houston and Dallas.  She is co-owner of Page Parkes Corporation, the largest modeling and acting agency group in the Southwestern United States.

When I caught up with Page, she greeted me in warm humility and lovingly extended her helping hand to my aide if ever necessary.  Her nurturing spirit was palpable and her enthusiasm was flanked with a quality of appropriate industry seasoning, free from the jaded aloofness that is quintessential in the industry of branding, packaging, and visual marketing.  After warm sentiments were shared, she began to tell me of her humble beginnings.

“I actually started primarily by not having the highest academic skills or grades.  So in my search to find a place for myself, I of course, was attracted to the arts.  Being raised by a single mom, I saw how she was able to use every bit of the adversity she faced to help teach me to solve problems and to win.  So I went to fashion school.  For the first time I was on the Dean’s list.”

Not only did she make the Dean’s List, Page also received the Young Couture Award and studied in Florence under fashion designer icon Emilio Pucci as a designer.  Page’s takeaway from her quest to acquire her sense of self, and finding her niche was bigger than she realized.  She was preparing to create the same opportunities for others as she was able to create for herself.

Click to learn more.
Click to learn more.

“We all have talent in different areas, be it academics, arts or music.  Somehow becoming a successful girl in fashion design school, I saw that if we are encouraged to just follow our passion, maybe I could change the world one teenage girl at a time.”

She began her work as a talent scout for models and actors.  She helped her clients through her own experiences of adversity by paying her life lessons forward.  “I used a lot of the skills I learned from my mother.  In those days I was close to the boys and girls ages that would come in to be evaluated.  Being close to the talent’s age – seventeen, was great because I could relate more to them.  I Page-Parkesshowed them how to climb their way out of where they were and to break through the stories in their head that were false emotions appearing real.  I would show them that there was not a lot of truth to their fears and that they could win.  When they won I won.”

Through her unwavering belief in her clients’ abilities Page helps them to connect to the possibility of their dreams.  She continues to create new ways to offer education and opportunities to those she has scouted.  “It is a conscious choice to do what you love.  I ask myself, do I want to move forward or wind this baby up?”  Coming off the dizzying success of E Channel’s award winning show “Scouted,” Page has opened acting schools across Texas as another pathway to being the benefactor of dreams and a voice for the unheard.

But it isn’t just the industry greats for which she makes the seemingly impossible dream a reality.  She devotes her private time to being a foster mother providing emotional support, spiritual nourishment, and a happy home.  When reflecting on the successes, challenges, and the rewards of such, Page states:  “It was a garden with a million seeds that I planted.  It was a formula.  Each person was missing different pieces of themselves.  If I could build that and help make them whole, it was a very rewarding feeling.  It wasn’t that I was great.  It was that I made a lot of other people great.  I am happy that I saw the light early and that I knew what I wanted to do, was going to do it, and do it right.”

For more information on Page Parkes Visit:

Page on Twitter

Page on Facebook 

Self-Expression with Sandra Dee Robinson

Sandra Dee1“Nobody thought it was possible for a shy small town Pennsylvania girl to end up on television.  The fact that I did get my first job while still living at home in Pittsburg was kind of crazy.”

The first job she received was a role on the popular NBC soap opera Another World as Amada Cory from 1987-1993.  The role had her in intricate plot lines and launched a popularity she was not necessarily prepared for, yet she saw her new career as a means of catharsis.  “I had this fantasy of hiding behind characters and becoming an actress.  No one in my family ever performed, I didn’t know anyone that even sang in the church choir.”

Over the years, Sandra Dee Robinson has been seen on almost every notable soap opera that television had to offer including: Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, and The Bold and the Beautiful.  She has hosted shows and infomercials, and has made her mark in prime time television.  Sandra continues to work and can currently be seen on The Bay; an Emmy nominated online soap opera that features the heavy-weights of soap stars spanning every network.

The dichotomy of being painfully shy while not wearing the clothes of a character, gave Sandra a rich complexity on camera through her craft, yet was difficult to process off the set.  She found herself distanced from her fans, and second guessing her talents when she was faced with rejection for roles.

“In this business it is more rejection than work and dealing with that is really hard.  I would ask myself what I did wrong.  I left TV completely for a little while and went into the corporate world for about three and a half years.  I worked in the corporate world and on General Hospital at the same time. I ended up being very grateful for being outside of the business at that time.  It helped me to really understand some of my clients.”

As Sandra embarked on the divergent journey in the corporate world, there were deeper lessons awaiting her that would aide her in Sandra Deetriumphing over her shyness.  She now credits the challenges of working in a results oriented environment with assisting her in discovering a new method of connecting that she calls owning her space.  “You own your space in front of the camera lens, you own your space walking into a room. Owning your space is having confidence in who you are, knowing what you stand for, and knowing what your boundaries are.”

Learning and understanding her personal boundaries was a step in a direction that Sandra had never experienced.  She still had the hurdle of understanding how to convey her authentic self on camera.  Being given permission to express herself naturally was a foreign and excruciating concept.  “I had to learn how to represent myself on camera instead of a character.  I would be called into a job based on my fan following to talk about skin care products, help with a charity, or do a public service announcement.  I would say yes, show up and be told ‘just be yourself.’ I would literally black out from fear… butterflies in the stomach doesn’t come close to explaining the fear I had.  I could literally hear my knees knocking together.  It took me seven years and thirteen different coaches to realize what I teach people now. “Charisma on camera

Through her pain, Sandra has been able to formulate a successful method of representing a person’s authentic self-expression on or off camera by building confidence.  Charisma on Camera is Sandra Dee Robinson’s compilation of techniques that helped her throughout her years on television.   As an actress and media/trainer and consultant, Sandra Dee Robinson specializes in self-expression and is called on by major networks and familiar faces like Dr. Oz and Ellen.  “You have to be confident in yourself and enjoy yourself.  Then work on refining.”

Her advice seems simple enough on the surface but there is a deeper meaning to what Sandra is expressing.  Being confident and enjoying yourself stems from a space of self-love.  The kind of love that makes you face your fears and attract success.  Sandra evokes this passion from her clients by having them share their favorite things.  She guides them to a mental state of being comfortable in relation to the camera as if they were relating to their friends and doing what they love.  Sandra feels that many professionals that go before the camera have blocks to expressing themselves because the camera is an inanimate object whereas other people reciprocate energy.  Her goal is to help her clients relate beyond the camera and connect to the world.

Because of Sandra Dee Robinson’s wealth of spirit and the desire to know herself, she has been able to create an ever-evolving platform that reinforces her message and empowers others to find their voice.

Learn more about Sandra Dee Robinson’s Charisma on Camera at

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The Rebirth of Dedee Pfeiffer

dedeeMoxie, determination, and humility outfitted with a spiritual compass are the qualities of Dedee Pfeiffer that have been her greatest strengths and the catalysts to her personal evolution.  She is now forty nine years old, with the poise of a woman who has been polished by the realities of life and tragedies she has endured.  Talking with Dedee is an event filled with excitement and laughter, flanked with deep insights free of pretense. We opened our conversation with her beginnings.

“I started working as a young girl really early because my father had a really strong work ethic.  We lived in a very modest environment.  If we wanted something we had to earn it.  When I was eight or nine years old, I started doing little jobs for neighbors to make money so that I could go to Kmart and buy something I wanted. By the time I was eighteen years old I had experience in a lot of different jobs.  I also found that I was not emotionally or spiritually stimulated.”

Dedee weighed the long-term effect of her work choices by envisioning the future that her path would take.  “If I were working as a box girl in the grocery store, I would ask myself if  I wanted to be the manager.  No.  Parade Captain of Disney Land?  No.  Other than the all-mighty buck, what am I working toward?”  The meaningful search to find purpose on her journey led to continued self-exploration.  Dedee immersed herself with full commitment into every job she had including being the driver for a radiator delivery company, yet she craved something more.  “At the time, my sister was working.  She had not done Scarface yet; she was just about to be cast.  I said to her ‘Hey what about this acting thing?  Maybe I should try that.’  She said ‘You can’t just say, hey baby, I’ll try to be an actor.  Get into a really good class, don’t think about headshots or any of that, and study.  See if this is something you will be interested in.’  So I packed up my little Volkswagen and moved from Orange County to Los Angeles.  I enrolled in one of the most expensive acting classes, rented Michelle’s couch, got an apartment, and worked under the table as a cocktail waitress at a female oil and mud wrestling club, and put myself through this acting class.”

Full throttle, Dedee entered into the next chapter of her life by meeting challenges of performance anxiety eye to eye.  She continually applied herself and determined not to fail, in spite of her lack of experience.  “I was terrible. I would stutter, turn red, and couldn’t memorize my lines.  It was so painful but I couldn’t quit; I had to figure out how to do this.  It took me over a year to learn to focus and get over all the anxiety.  Then, I started to get it.”

Dedee has over thirty credits to her name including the cult classic Vamp, Michael Douglas’ PTSD rampage film Falling Down, and the quirky love comedy Tune in Tomorrow starring Keanu Reeves and Barbara Hershey.  She starred as Eldest daughter Rachel, on the hit sitcom Cybill, Sherri Winston on the Warner Bros. sitcom For Your Love, and has notable guest appearances on Seinfeld and CSI NY. “I never thought I was really good.  I was taught that if you knew all the answers as an actor, you’re dead.  Your life will change and your acting has to grow with that.”

Dedee had a strong desire to carve her own niche in Hollywood through character acting, out of the box roles that challenged her creativity, all the while taking an unexpected approach to her characters.  The uniqueness that she brought to the screen fed her soul. Aloof to the nature of celebrity, Dedee was focused on always doing the best with her talents within.  “It didn’t matter if they sent a limo for me or how much money they gave me for the role.  It was about my focus on the work.”

Over the course of her career as an actress, Dedee began to recognize how her craft helped her in cathartic ways.  “Because I have so many emotions and feelings, like every person, I use my acting as therapy to put on a suit of emotion, go in, and perform.  My work stems from all the tragedies I’ve experienced.  Even with funny performances, I am actually pulling from painful experiences.”

As Dedee began to realize the power of her experiences through acting, she recognized a need to be of service to those that did not have the advantages of catharsis on camera.  Inspired by her two sons, Dedee took to college for the first time in her life determined to dedee_actors2 (1)become a therapist to help children exposed to trauma.  Adaptably, she finds her catharsis through her writings, and feeds on the challenge of tenaciously forging through dyslexia. She lives to be an example to her children that it is never too late to create a new legacy.

“Three years ago, I started college.  After thirty years of being in the industry, there were a lot of positive things that happened to me and unfortunately some negative things.  One of those things for me was the fact that the older I got as a woman, the fewer roles were available.  As a woman grows older, opportunities decrease incredibly.  Aging is very unforgiving.  As a woman ages in front of the camera, she is expected to have a body of an eighteen year old and great skin into her forties.  I am raising two boys on my own, and I didn’t want to give the message that work got scarce the older I became.  To not have work to support my boys and also have the message portrayed that men are allowed to be gray, are hot with wrinkles, and are still sexy with age yet women are not, is not the right message.  Age is a number that keeps track of time and has no relevance on who you are.  I want my boys to know this.”

Through her studies, Dedee once again began the deeply introspective process of revisiting her priorities and envisioning the future path of such.  She realized that she was better off taking a permanent pause from regularly acting, while remaining open to more choice roles.  She has not only found her college experience rewarding personally, but also a meaningful lesson for her two sons.

“I never use the phrase ‘giving up’ but if something is not working for you after a really strong attempt, no matter what age or gender you are, you can change your life.  Acting is still my passion, but my priority is getting an education so I can become a specialist to help children in crisis understand what is going on in the world.  If I can utilize my thirty years of knowledge in acting, coupled with the education to help children, I will be a therapist that cares and is different from the rest.  That will be an awesome rebirth for me at almost fifty years old and will always fill my soul.”

Sam Russell

Sam Russell: An Eye for Passion with The Giving Closet

sam russell“If you give a person the ball they will run with it.  Give them a little confidence, a little boost and they will do the rest.”  This philosophy is the strength behind Sam Russell’s personal success and his continued efforts to bring inspiration to all he meets.

Sam Russell is the creative mind behind celebrity looks that have graced the pages of magazines and television.  If you love the look of stars like Jon Hamm, Stevie Wonder, and Rainn Wilson, you have met Sam’s ever expanding creativity.  While he has a love for the path he has been given, his journey from glitz to giving has been one of introspection and healing.  Living with intent is truly where his passion lies.  He has recently been lauded for his efforts with the underprivileged by closing the gap between the quintessential superficialities of Hollywood and the downtrodden, ill- fated circumstances of women who have had their dreams stripped away.  Sam Russell proclaims his gift of giving them a second chance with grace, love, and style with The Giving Closet.

“To really understand the journey of The Giving Closet it really goes back to my roots. I was born and raised in Austin Texas, the oldest of three boys and my mother was a widow.  My father died when I was a teenager, he was a really abusive person so we felt a sense of safety when he was gone.  I had a lot of positive memories of growing up despite all of that.  I have always admired strong women.  That is why everything has come full circle. Now I can help empower women within my resources.  We lived off of credit cards and there was no trust fund, so I started acting and modeling part time in hopes of building my network and opportunities.”

It was in those opportunities that Sam found himself in a new career.  “In my twenties I was really a dreamer.  The synchronicity and beauty of life really started to fall into place for me in 1999.  Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘You have a really great eye for wardrobe.  You would make a great wardrobe stylist.  ‘I then began to be groomed for wardrobe styling.  Then came the work, fast and furiously.  I relocated to Los Angeles and things just naturally happened for me.  I was lucky to wake up one day and have this really great career.”

The serendipity of the journey is what Sam has credited to his overnight success.  But it was one woman that sparked the idea for The Giving Closet.  “Out of the blue, I had a client whose girlfriend was hounding me for this bag, these shoes.  There were designer labels set aside for gifting celebrities.  I thought that I would rather use these resources and goods to help change lives.  Once the idea washed over me, it was all I could think about.”

SAm Giving Closet
The Giving Closet awards a deserving woman a fresh start with a $10,000 designer wardrobe.

He pooled his resources from NBC San Diego as a fashion and trend expert to launch his idea.  NBC loved the idea and gave the green light to move forward with surprising a local woman in need they found through a nonprofit organization.  “I didn’t just want to help someone in California, I wanted to travel with it.  I have been traveling the United States finding unique stories about women that are survivors or giving back in their communities; people making a difference that are not looking for a handout, but a hand-up.”

Sam has been witness to women evolving from being domestically abused to owning homes of their own.  Every step of the way he has been a pinnacle point for women re-writing tragic stories into epics of triumph.  His advice to them comes from a personal resonance of surviving and thriving in his own life.  “Whatever your scars are, you have to use it, you have to own it, because you can’t change it.  Use it to empower you.  Get in touch with that really gross energy because once you do, you can use it.”

Sam is no stranger to the difficulties of relationships.  The vicious cycle of seeing his mother suffer in an abusive marriage was revealing itself in his own life.  “I was in a very bad relationship for three and a half years with a prominent public figure in Los Angeles.  I never thought I would find myself in an abusive relationship with someone, especially after witnessing what my mom went through.  I was suffocated, I was trapped, and I didn’t know how to get out.  The last straw was when he got drunk one night and he hit me.  I was driving down Pacific Coast Highway leaving a charity event.  He was really crazy drunk and so I stayed sober to keep my wits about me.  He turned to me and struck me and my head hit the driver side window and I swerved into oncoming traffic.  In that moment, I realized that I have to apply what I have learned in my life so that I never have to wake up in this situation again.”

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Sam went on to relentlessly voice his concern to leave the relationship, while his now ex-partner countered his emancipation with ominously outlining his financial obligations.  The next day, he received a call for a big job that would not only bolster his finances, but award him his freedom.  “I had $500 in my bank account and the next day, I got a call, a big call for an $8000 job that allowed me to distance myself from him financially. I kicked him out of our leased home together, got back on my feet, and rented out the second bedroom.  If you leap, the net will appear but you have GOT to leap.”

Sam began a life change by asking himself the important questions: “What is going on with my self-esteem?” and “How did I attract this?”  He embarked on his healing journey, leaving the abusive relationship and Los Angeles behind to live a more authentically abundant life.  As a deep self-examining soul, Sam realizes his abusive beginnings are intrinsic to the success that led him to dressing Stevie Wonder and hobnobbing with the Obamas.   His spirit expanding purpose epitomizes the beauty of the body and spirit.

The solidification of his faith in what the Universe brings comes from a profound experience he had while he lived and worked as a waiter in Austin, Texas: “After my father died, I was nineteen years old, I was waiting tables and was leaving work.   I was going home, tired.  There was not a car in sight on the freeway, but out of the blue there was a little white car stalled on the freeway.  I was driving 55 MPH and didn’t have time to react or even hit the brakes.  I swerved and hit the barriers three times.  The car I was in did 360 degree turns, came to a halt, smashed in a broken heap.   I remember my life flashing before my eyes and my memories of being a baby, my first love in high school, and all these life moments were flashing in front of me.  This white light came over me, starting from the top of my head all the way down my body.  I was sure that this was it.  Everything around me was smashed in and I was trapped in the car.  I couldn’t feel anything.  I could see through the haze of the smoke that the white car had a family of three in it.  They were screaming, they thought I was dead.  They took off and left me there.  I was glad they were ok, but I realized that time was running short, and I had to get out of the car.  I kicked the door open, I stepped out of the car, and I looked back at the space I was sitting in, and it was no longer there, it was smashed into the car.  I was perplexed. I thought maybe it was a part of death.   Suddenly the white light that was over me lifted.  Emergency came and took my pulse and while they thought I was thrown from the car, they couldn’t find a bruise or a scratch on me.  I spent a lot of time in my life reflecting on why that happened to me.  I guess there is a bigger purpose for me.”

Take a peek at Sam’s portfolio at

Sam Porfolio pic Hamm
Photo Courtesy: The Giving Closet
Photo Courtesy: The Giving Closet
Photo Courtesy: The Giving Closet

Serendipity and Sinbad

sinbadI woke up bleary eyed on a Saturday morning ready to relax for the day.  The usual suspects awaited me: Facebook, Twitter, and Word Press Stats.   I was reflecting on the conversation that I had with Eric about how much we love Bill Cosby and Sinbad (a conversation that brought us to tears) and the legacies they have created with their hard work.  So as I reflected on excellent examples of entertainers a little voice inside me said: invite Sinbad to Knoxville.   So I did.

I tweeted: “@Sinbad Come to Knoxville and Share your intelligent humor with us.”  His instant reply was “See you in two hours.”  We then began a tweet conversation as he was on his way to Knoxville to perform his comedy after being on a grueling tour schedule between his stand up and his band “Sinbad and the Stank Nasty Band.”  He had breakfast at the Tupelo Honey café, which he said was the best breakfast ever, and awaited me in the lobby of the Oliver Hotel sitting in a chair fit for the king of comedy that he is.  When we met, there was no barrier.  It was as if I had met an old friend.  There is a protective, fatherly quality about Sinbad that just comes naturally.  He is a father of two and instantly began to exuberantly tell me about them.

“My daughter sings and writes.  My son is a musician and in film school.  He is a renaissance man who can do it all.  I put a camera in his hand when he was four years old.”

Sinbad has a deep familial connection that has inspired him to be an edgy yet clean comedian.  Inspired by his father’s example, he followed a divergent path.  “I was dirty when I started and then my dad came to one of my shows.   He is a preacher but never would have judged me anyway.  He was a Korean War vet, prisoner of war sinbad and familytwice and came from the streets.  Man, he was no joke.  He is a tough man.  I am everything I am because of my dad.  So that night in Chicago, everybody was trying to do [Richard] Prior’s version of comedy.  My dad was in the audience and everyone was cussing.  I thought to myself.   I can’t do this.  I have to do something different.  So what I did was be edgy, without cussing and everyone backstage thought I cussed. ”

His path continued traveling from city to city with his unique brand of comedy.   He recalls the moment he realized that his life had changed with fame.  “My crowning moment was the first time people came to shows to see me.  I was working comedy clubs and people would make their vacations to come see me and I had no T.V.  time or had done any shows.  I had captured the audience just from being funny and working hard.  I lived on the road and stayed on the road.  I didn’t have a home.  I also remember when I did Star Search in 1985.  That was the thing that blew us up.  I didn’t want people to say ‘I think I saw Sinbad.’  I wanted to make it easy.   I dyed my hair funky colors and wore loud clothes.  One day this kid saw me across the street and screamed ‘Sinbad!’ and almost got hit by a car.  That’s when I knew I made it.”

Sinbad’s integrity is an example that he sets for his loyal followers and has credited him to his longevity without being amassed in scandal.  This is why I believe he has been counted among greats like Bill Cosby.  He offers the world humor from a clear place without being jaded.  “There are certain things I do and certain things I don’t do.  One of the main things I don’t do is drink.  Drinking is the one thing that gets more people into trouble.  In the 70s there was no TMZ, Facebook or Instagram.  Now there are no secrets.  Now you have to have a second Facebook so that your boss doesn’t see your private life.  We’re living in a strange time where everything is public and our kids are posting every aspect of their lives online and they think it’s cool.  See?  We couldn’t have been parents in the 70s no kids would have ever respected us.”

His appreciation for his predecessors and their inspiration has been the main vein in his continuation of work.  His hope is that the next generation of comedians has such a firm foundation.  “There’s a new generation of entertainers coming up.  It’s not bad or good, it’s just different.  Our generation didn’t have the short attention span and we didn’t have much credibility.  I wanted to be Bill Cosby. I wanted to be George Carlin.  They were such wonderful people; we couldn’t surpass them.   There is nobody out there that can beat them.  All you can do is say: ‘Hey man, I hope you dig my work.’  Richard Prior got arrested for cussing on stage.  Now comedians are rewarded for being dirty.”

There are no signs of retirement in Sinbad’s future.  He is helping his daughter Paige Bryan fulfill her dream of being a successful musician, as well as reinventing his work in all ways that he can.  “I love what I do.  It is important to love what you do.  Not very many people retire from this business.  You may slow down but you always work.  You always want to do something.“

Sinbad has reinforced my belief in his talents with a great conversation and the makings of a friendship that will always be appreciated.

Anjana and Sinbad (1)

Barbara Taylor Bradford: A Woman of Substance

BTB Black and White (Lord Lichfield) (1) “I always wrote as a little girl and my mother was a voracious reader who taught me to read at the age of four.  I remember being the only child in my kindergarten class that could read because she instilled a love of books in me.  At ten, my mother read one of the short stories I had written.  She had me recopy it on a nice piece of paper with no ink blots or scratches. She sent it into a children’s magazine that was always looking for contributions.  Nothing happened for weeks.  I went on playing outside climbing trees and falling out of trees and then one day a letter came…”

The letter that came in the mail was acclaimed novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford’s first payout from the children’s magazine of ten shillings and six pence.  It was that letter and the support from her mother that set the tone for Bradford’s career that has made her one of the wealthiest women in Great Britain.  “It was Hemingway that said ‘You can’t call yourself a writer until you are paid for what you write.’  So, I became a professional writer at the age of ten.”

In her adult life, Barbara started out as a journalist and went on to be very prolific.  This career moved the Leeds born visionary to New York City where she met her husband Robert Bradford, film producer.  It was there that she began the arduous, yet rewarding, process of writing her first and most famous novel, A Woman of Substance.

A Woman of Substance is a story about a woman named Emma Harte who singlehandedly created a retail empire with the provincial beginnings of being a Yorkshire servant girl.  “People thought that I based Emma Harte on someone and would ask me who she was based on, but I invented her.  She was driven, strong, and sometimes hysterical.  At the core of my books, there is always a strong woman overcoming all the odds, in different careers.”  It is that aspect of her writing that has kept Barbara’s readers engaged.  Her relatable characters are introduced with humble beginnings and become the embodiment of heroines through their personal growth and self-actualization.  “I think that is why people like my books.  They can inspire them to have a life and a career, and beat the odds.”  Barbara has beaten her own odds with all twenty six of her novels being worldwide best sellers.

Her books have sold more than 89 million copies worldwide and have been written in over 31 different languages.  Barbara has been the recipient of many awards and honorary doctorates.  She was given the  Order Of The British Empire (O.B.E.) by Queen Elizabeth II on the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours list for her contributions to literature.  Her original manuscripts are archived at the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, alongside the works of the Bronte sisters.

While Barbara has formulas to the structure of her novels, she relies primarily on her natural creative abilities toBTB_RedRoseVelvet2 (1) achieve success.  “Writing can’t be taught.  Nobody can give you an imagination.  You cannot be a novelist if you can’t imagine things that never happened.  My characters existed because I created them.  I suppose it is the natural ability I have always had, that assisted me in writing fiction.  When I was writing A Woman of Substance I would get calls from my editor.  She would ask if I was alright, and I would say everything is fine. But I would not accept her help.  She asked ‘Are you having problems?’  And I replied “Yes, many!  If I take your help now, what will I do if you are not my editor for my second book?  So I didn’t want to rely on anybody and I struggled through A Woman of Substance doing only what I knew to do.  I love what I do, and I have always worked.  I have always been optimistic and I have been determined to keep going no matter what.  That is how I stay grounded.”

Barbara remembers the words of her mother as the key to her success.  “I have the kind of character that allows me to do my work as best as I can.  My mother said that you can do anything you want in life if you are prepared to work hard.  After years of being a journalist and being in my early forties, fame didn’t matter.  Doing the work and having the acclaim is wonderful, but you always have to remember you are only as good as your last book.  I didn’t get swayed or ruin myself by playing the star.  I never played the star, ever.”

Barbara has recently shared her wisdom with Northwood University to raise money for the Loel Scholarship fund.  Northwood University is committed to the most personal attention to prepare students for success in their careers and in their communities; it promotes critical thinking skills, personal effectiveness, and the importance of ethics, individual freedom and responsibility.  Private, nonprofit, and accredited, Northwood University specializes in managerial and entrepreneurial education at three full-service, residential campuses located in southern Florida, mid-Michigan and northern Texas.  Adult Degree Programs are available in eight states with many course delivery options including an online option.  The DeVos Graduate School offers day, evening and weekend programming in Michigan, Texas, Florida and Switzerland.  The Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity and Enterprise in Midland, Michigan specializes in creative thinking and innovation development.  International education is offered through study abroad and in Program Centers in Switzerland, China, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

Barbara Taylor Bradford,  a woman of substance,  continues to inspire others to create success in their lives with the continuation of her literary legacy.


For more information visit Barbara’s Website

Purchase Barbara’s Current Work:

letter from a stranger

The Savvy Spunk of Sandy Knox

wrinkled records “Wrinkled Records was originally started in 1997.  As a songwriter, I decided to do a CD on my own called ‘Pushing Forty, Never Married, No Kids.’ At the time I was 38 years old and my attorney gave me grief about putting my age in the title.  When it came time to name the label in order to publish the record, I named it wrinkled records – just a little bit more of a dig.”

That kind of spunk has been the fuel to Sandy Knox’s Career from being a cosmetics counter girl, to receptionist at MCA records, and ultimately becoming one of the biggest names of country music songwriting.  Sandy’s songs have won Grammy’s, inspired millions, and maintain deep relevance.  Now, Sandy is enjoying being a clearinghouse for the unheard artist who may have missed a chance at stardom. With her strong vision, Sandy teamed up with MCA colleague Katie Gillion, the woman behind Garth Brook’s enormous popularity and career longevity to create Wrinkled Records.

6341783162_ff5419e5f1_z “I knew quite a few people that deserved to have record deals, but who aged out of the model. I got the idea to streamline the label for baby boomers and people with useful sensibilities. We went into it with the mindset of wanting really great music. I wanted the label to be as eclectic as my own music collection. I have a very broad range of music in my collection from Frank Sinatra to Pink.”

Sandy knew the difficulties of trying to launch a thriving career in the spotlight from her own experiences. in her burgeoning, she was uncertain of where to land, yet her inner compass guided her to a place she would forever call home. “I went out to LA when I was twenty, because I got accepted into the ASCAP Writers Workshops.  They only allowed twelve people a year. While I lived out there, I realized L.A. was not really for me. I left and came back to Houston. I knew I had to be in one of the music meccas.  Nashville was the one that got the job. I moved here thinking I wasn’t going to like it and after a week I knew I was going to live there here the rest of my life. There is a soul to this town.  This is my tribe. There is competition here but the support is incredible and songwriters are respected.”

It was in Nashville that Sandy’s dreams of songwriting began to develop through songwriting and eventually climbing the corporate ladder at MCA records from receptionist to an executive.  Her bravery to bring awareness to controversial issues helped her to develop a strong professional relationship with Reba McIntyre. “I had been here about eight years, had staff deals, and a couple of cuts here and there.   Reba did a song of mine called ‘He Wants to Get Married’.  The song was powerful because of the last four words of the song: ‘but not to me.’ So, it’s a heartbreaker.  Reba recorded it and asked me to take it out of my live show.   I had a place in my live show that needed a sad song.  I had this idea about a song about a woman dying of AIDS. My brother died of AIDS due to a blood

Wrinkled Records Artist Jimbeau Hinson

transfusion.  At the time in 1991, HIV was a death knell.  I thought to myself if I got that news, how would I feel?  Later, Reba needed a single that could be a duet with two women. The song laid dormant for thirteen years, but Reba did the song, and it became a hit. It was She Thinks His Name Was John. It was the first song anyone ever recorded about HIV. Radio got behind it and the public got behind it and pushed it up the charts.  I called my mom and dad to ask how they felt about it and my mother said: ‘If it keeps one mother from losing her child to HIV, then let’s go for it.’ Sandy continues to honor her brother’s legacy by telling Wrinkled record artist Jimbeau Hinson’s story of love,
loss, songwriting and living with HIV.

Sandy Buffy and Katie
Sandy Knox, Buffy Lawson, Katie Gillion

With her time on Music Row, Sandy has acquired a deep bond of sisterhood with Buffy Lawson, who has just released the hit album I’m Leaving You for Me.  Sandy took Buffy under her wing from the time they met at a songwriting showcase when Buffy was just nineteen years old.  They have supported each other in many ways on their journey.  Now as they have both matured into savvy women, they have come to appreciate the difficult times they have faced together.   “I’m fifty three; I have no problem saying it. Three and a half years ago I had a heart attack, and a month later I found out I had colon cancer. So, when I had my heart attack, the first person that I called was Buff. Sometimes we need permission.  It wasn’t until I called my friend that I felt I should called the ambulance.   I could see Buffy through the window of the ambulance  waving at me saying hi.  The doctor said ‘You are trying to have a heart attack.’ but there was more, they found something else wrong, and caught the colon cancer early.  After my recovery, when it came time for me to be picked up, Buffy was late. She came in the hospital room wearing my headband and perfume like a typical little sister.  What a joyous site it was. I was so happy to see her.”

Sandy with Reba

For Sandy, Wrinkled records is not just a job, it is a joyous purpose that helps her grow personally supported by longtime friends and colleagues. She has learned her lessons, paid her dues, and her laurels are rested with some poignant wisdom.  “I am happy doing what I am doing. I love what I am doing. I have learned great things in my life and at this stage I have learned to say no. before I was worried about hurting people’s feelings, but now I take care of myself by setting healthy boundaries.”

For more information on Wrinkled Records visit