Tag Archives: festivals

Missoula : Much to Celebrate.

I was born in Missoula but grew up saying I was from Butte. Birthplace of my parents and older brother, we moved to Butte when I was eight. Roots ran deep. We moved into Mom’s cousin Eleanor’s home, newly vacant following Eleanor’s marriage and relocation to Oregon. We lived blocks from Nana, an aunt, uncle, and cousins. Extended family peppered the city and, on the cusp of third grade, it didn’t take long to embrace Butte as my own.

I’ve been back in Missoula nearly thirty-eight years. The hospital where I took my first breath became the hospital where, as a new nurse, I had to call a wife to tell her that her husband had taken his last. My memory bank overflows with this and other Missoula memories—those forged in my early years and newer ones from 1978 and beyond.

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula and a subsequent Montana Supreme Court hearing thrust the Garden City into the national spotlight. It’s time to give shout-outs to recent Missoula news.

  • Noting our “rugged outdoorsy spirit,” Thrillist named Missoula one of “The Most Hippie Towns In America (That Aren’t Berkeley Or Boulder).” Though I neither drive a Subaru Outback nor own a Labrador retriever, this designation makes me proud.
  • Big Dipper Ice Cream is a “Best Ice Cream Parlor” nominee for USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. Started in the back of a brewery more than twenty years ago, what’s not to love? Currently number 2 on the leaderboard, you can vote daily here. (Voting ends May 23rd at 10:00 a.m. MST.)
  • In utero blood transfusions—possibly the only successful case in the United States to date—resulted in an early Mother’s Day gift for a Helena mom May 4th. According to Dr. Bardett Fausett, “In little old Missoula, Montana, we’re doing world-class fetal therapy.”
  • Missoula is preparing for another world-class event, too. Our tenth International Choral Festival will welcome thirteen choirs spanning four continents, July 13th-16th. Last festival, Rich and I had the privilege of hosting three lovely Taiwanese singers who still call me “Mom.”


Taiwanese singers Rainbow, Amy, & Tiffany at Missoula People's Market 2013.
Rainbow, Amy, & Tiffany at Missoula’s People Market

2014 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

It’s back. Today marks day five of nine of the eleventh annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. As in years past, the festival is packed with films which make you laugh. Make you cry. Make you think.


This year, viewers may vote once per day for their favorite feature film and favorite short/mini doc. The winners in each category will receive the first ever BSDFF Audience Awards. An audience member will be a winner, too. Everyone who participates in the BSDFF Audience Survey will be entered to win an All-Access Pass to next year’s festival.

One Missoula woman, Shanna Lodge, may consider herself to be the biggest winner of the festival to date. Following a big-screen-turned-live marriage proposal, she said, “Yes. This is yes!

Five days remain in the 2014 BSDFF. A seat is calling your name.

Festival of the Dead

Festival of the Dead: a Time to Remember

My first visit to a mortuary was when I was eleven years old. My best friend Re-Re and I detoured to Duggan Dolan Mortuary on our way home from school one afternoon. Our former classmate, Judy Z., had passed away, and we wanted to say goodbye.

Our parents hadn’t wanted us to go—had forbidden us, if my memory serves me correctly—so it was a clandestine mission as we turned left instead of continuing down Washington Street after leaving school. We were a stealthy pair in our Catholic school uniforms, swallowing our guilt when we passed our church en route to Duggan Dolan.

As we ascended the mortuary stairs, the door opened inward. Unable to see who had watched our arrival from behind the curtained glass, we exchanged glances. Our resolve was firm—we were not going to turn and run. We wanted to say goodbye. We entered the foyer, where a solemn, dark-suited man greeted us from behind the door. “You’re here to see Judy?” he asked.

We nodded, too afraid to speak.

“She’s straight ahead.”

We gingerly made our way through the foyer and to the front of the room. It was empty, except for Judy. Re-Re and I knelt on the adjoining kneeler and surveyed our friend. She looked peaceful and warm, cocooned in white satin. Wearing a pastel chiffon dress, a rosy blush on her cheeks and lips, she was beautiful. Gone were any signs of asthma—the disease that had ravaged her body, causing so many absences that Judy had become our sisters’ classmate as she repeated third grade. Re-Re and I offered silent prayers, then breathed our goodbyes.

We managed to retreat to the foyer, sign the guest book, pass the dark-suited man, and hurry out the door before bursting into tears. We detoured again, backtracking toward school and its neighboring convent. “None of the boys even came to say goodbye,” we cried to Sister Agnes Therese.

Her reply soothing, we left feeling somewhat consoled. A block later, though, we took refuge in the alley of the abandoned hospital across the street from my home. “We’ll probably never see her again,” I said, sobs choking my words.

Re-Re agreed. Through our tears, we speculated that our defiance and previous acts of wickedness might route us to hell, rather than to heaven where we were certain Judy resided.

I don’t remember my parents’ reaction when they learned that I had gone to see Judy, but I was reminded of my introduction to death during Missoula’s recent Festival of the Dead Parade. Old and young gathered, some costumed and painted, others not, to honor and remember those who have passed, and to celebrate life.

Festival of the Dead

Festival of the Dead2

Thank you, Bev Glueckert and Mike DeMeng, for your vision twenty-one years ago. Thank you, Missoula, for continuing to celebrate life and death each November.

2013 Montana Festival of the Book

One of my annual highlights for the past several years has been attending the Montana Festival of the Book. I love everything about the Festival: readings and panel discussions; chats about the craft of writing and about the publishing industry; films; vendors and the Festival bookstore; and the opportunity to meet and mingle with authors, agents, editors, publishers, and other Festival attendees. As its website states, “The Humanities Montana Festival of the Book is one of the biggest cultural events in the Northwest.”

This year, I am honored to be a guest author at the 2013 Montana Festival of the Book. The kickoff begins Thursday, October 10 with three events, including an evening with Sherman Alexie. I have the privilege of reading from Nanny on the Run October 11 and being on a panel October 12: “Girl Power: Writing the Teenaged Heroine,” with fellow authors Natalie Brown, Janet Fox, Pete Fromm, and Blthye Woolston. I am humbled to be in their company.

The International Choral Festival

The International Choral Festival marked its debut in 1987. That year was memorable on two accounts; it was also the year I became a mother. Following the success of the first Festival, a second followed three years later. So, too, did the arrival of our second son.

Though anticipating the birth of our first child during the inaugural Festival and being sleep deprived during the second, it was welcome respite to listen to choirs in various locations around Missoula. Since then, we have enjoyed the diversity of the choirs and their music in this triennial event.

The Ninth International Choral Festival was held July 17-20. For the first time, Rich and I served as hosts. We didn’t request a specific age group, sex, or country on our volunteer application. Instead, the thrill of the unknown we felt while awaiting the births of our children was magnified fourfold. Will our guests be males or females? Adults or youth? Where will they be from? Will they speak English?

We learned the answers to our first three questions days before the Festival began. We’d be hosting three young women from Taiwan’s Formosa Singers.

Formosa Singers at Southgate Mall
Formosa Singers at Southgate Mall

Our fourth question was answered when we met Lin Ying-Jyun, Fan Chih-Jung, and Li Szn Fang—AKA Amy, Tiffany, and Rainbow Amy—at Missoula Children’s Theater. Yes.

Hosting Tiffany, Amy, and Rainbow was a treat beyond measure. Sprinkled between rehearsals and concerts, we prepared and shared meals, sang, laughed, and enjoyed learning about their culture while sharing some of our own.

Rainbow, Karen, Amy and Tiffany at UM
Rainbow, Karen, Amy and Tiffany at UM

We reveled in seeing Missoula’s beauty through the eyes of our guests…

Tiffany, Amy and Rainbow at Greenough Park
Tiffany, Amy and Rainbow at Greenough Park
Amy, Susan, Rainbow and Tiffany at Farmer's Market
Amy, Susan, Rainbow and Tiffany at Farmer’s Market

…and at times we were guests, both at Festival events and at a fellow host family’s home for an evening filled with food and drink, laughter and song.

The sing-off winners! Cody, Bob, David, Tung Tung, Meko, Hsin-Hsin, Tiffany, Rainbow, Amy and Tyrone
The sing-off winners! Cody, Bob, David, Tung Tung, Meko, Hsin-Hsin, Tiffany, Rainbow, Amy and Tyron

In addition, the Formosa Singers prepared a luncheon for their host families, introducing us to some tasty Taiwanese dishes and affording us an opportunity to visit with other choir members and hosts.

Rainbow and Dai Rong serving spicy tofu and rice
Rainbow and Dai Rong serving spicy tofu and rice

The final day of the Festival fell on my birthday. There were so many moments of sweetness throughout the day, highlighted by the card the girls made for me with its inscription, Dear Mom.

A special birthday card
A special birthday card
Ju, Amy, Sunny, Alice, Tiffany and Rainbow at the After-Festival Party
Ju, Amy, Sunny, Alice, Tiffany and Rainbow at the After-Festival Party

“When are you coming to Taiwan?” our girls asked, more than once during our time together.

“Maybe in 2014.”

That hope lessened our sadness—somewhat—as we shared tearful goodbyes when our days together ended much too quickly.

The connectedness of our world was affirmed that day, though. As our girls left Missoula, our son Colin spent four hours in Taiwan enroute to Thailand. And according to a recent article in the Missoula Independent, Whistling Andy Distillery in Bigfork is going to be selling spirits in Taiwan.

If Rich and I are fortunate enough to visit our Taiwanese daughters someday, perhaps one of our toasts will be with a Made in Montana spirit. Full circle, indeed.

Our Introduction to the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

The 10th Annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival was held February 15th-24th in Missoula, Montana. For the fourth year running, my husband, Rich, and I were fortunate to partake in many of the Festival’s films.

Our introduction to the BSDFF was in 2009. That year, our brother-in-law Lance’s friend, Kimberly Reed, directed and starred in one of the feature films, Prodigal Sons. Missoula Independent’s Nick Davis wrote, “In a story that would push the limits of even the most madly creative of fiction writers, this reality show just keeps getting better.”

He was right. In addition to Reed’s thought-provoking film—about identity, family, and relationships—we were treated to a lively Q & A with her following the movie.

Rich and I left the theater that evening asking each other how we had overlooked the Festival the previous five years. We left, too, wanting to see more. There were 143 films that year and though we did see more in the following days, we barely skimmed the surface.

Since 2010, we’ve purchased all-screening passes for the Festival. We have friends who’ve joined us as well, and collectively we’ve applauded, laughed, cried, and discussed a variety of the subjects and people we’ve watched on the big screen. We are better stewards of the earth because of the BSDFF.  We’re more conscientious about our use of water and electricity. We bought reusable produce bags and a composter which have decreased our use of plastics and reduced the amount of garbage we generate. And we recycle everything we can.

Seven people attended the first film of the inaugural BSDFF ten years ago. The numbers have multiplied since then.

This year, the winner of the Best Feature Documentary was Blood Brother, a poignant story about Rocky Braat and his journey to care for HIV-positive orphans in India. Our efforts to be more mindful of how we live pale compared to the difference Rocky Anna, as the children call him, is making in the lives of the children he serves.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, now heading into its eleventh year, is held each February in Missoula. Filmmakers from across the country and around the globe grace our city with their presence and their films. Keep an eye out for the 2014 dates and mark your calendars. The BSDFF is a treat beyond measure.