The magic of Euphoria Music Festival lingers

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The 2017 Euphoria Music Festival came to an end and yet the magical feeling of experiencing music with over 50,000 people in Austin, Texas lingers vividly in memory. I can still hear the crowd chanting at Chromeo, and I can relive the hypnotizing light show alongside Moby’s DJ set in my mind. Perhaps this is one of Euphoria’s most lovable and endearing traits: the music festival exerts a natural high of happiness and contentment that stays with you in silence even after it’s all over. For a few hours, everyone that passed the gates entered an intimate and intense world of music, dance, art installations and light shows. There were three stages on the map: Euphoria, Elements and the Dragonfly. The first two stages are the larger set-ups, but the Dragonfly stage is a beauty, waterfront to the Colorado River. A map of the grounds can be found on the official Euphoria app that was released in April. 

Upon entrance to Carson Creek Ranch, the eyes are filled with bold and bright colors, canopies, giant tents, kites, butterflies, swing sets, hammocks, bubbles and an artisans alley. The festival even has a volleyball court, wedding chapel and a giant Tree of Life. There is a sign below the Tree of Life that reads: Write down wishes, hopes, dreams, etc. and set ’em Free. It was very moving to see the thousands of notes left on the tree. Watching the festival with digital eyes that changed moods and colors as the sky shifted from day to night — at the Elements stage there was a steep, tall fox (or wolf) overlooking the crowd. Several times I got lost staring into its round eyes as the music played. 

Founded by Mitch Morales, the 2017 festival included headliners like Chromeo, Knife Party, Moby (DJ set), Oliver Heldens, Post Malone, The Disco Biscuits, Wiz Khalifa, Zeds Dead and many other artists; bringing the sum total of the line-up to 70. As the region’s largest independent music festival, Euphoria attracts over 50,000 fans each year, all while maintaining the qualities that land it on many annual Top 10 lists. Conveniently located just minutes from Downtown Austin, the multi-stage music and camping festival returned to Carson Creek Ranch on the banks of the Colorado River and offered world-class visuals, unique stage designs, artist workshops, interactive experiential installations, enhanced camping options and much more.”

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Euphoria showcases the professionalism, style and acute qualities equal to a global event like Austin City Limits, Burning Man or Lollapalooza. Festival goers can see the time, love and energy invested into the decoration and preparation for the festival. However, unlike the ACL Music Festival that draws 450,000 people—Euphoria is much smaller in attendance and exposure. This independent festival deep in the heart of Texas provides a more intimate experience. Using the power of music to bring everyone together, Euphoria is a festival made for the community. The Euphoria Music Festival feels personalized and charming. The size of Euphoria provides a natural, easy going way of drawing people together. Even if you are attending alone as a member of the Press, like me. That is one of the nice aspects of a festival is various walks of life coming together for the love of music. 

Ultimately, the magic of Euphoria re-awakened my love for music festivals. It brought back the fun and joy of a festival that I used to feel when I was younger. As a local Austinite, I’ve been blessed to attend live shows and music festivals since before I could drive a car. I was one of the lucky people from Austin to experience the live music scene before it morphed into what it’s become today. (True, the music scene has improved with better venues, more esteemed artists and a boost in the economy, but it also came at a cost for the locals.) Years ago I was so sentimental about live music, I saved all of my ticket stubs that are now in a box. Honestly I don’t know how many times I wore a costume or got dolled up for a live show, like the night when I was the absinthe fairy covered in metallic glitter with green wings for Galactic’s Halloween show at Stubb’s. Countless days and nights, my friends and I would gather in masses to rock out, dance and let loose. Alas, after too many festivals and concerts for my stamina-—after one too many expensive tickets, late nights that lead to hangovers and dating too many musicians—the magic began to fade out. Secretly I started to become a little jaded: been there, done that and bought many, many t-shirts. The thrill of live music had begun to alter from love to stress. My heart no longer felt that spark like it once did when I was younger and I really only attend concerts these days at specific venues and no more festivals. Fortunately, Euphoria brought that nostalgic, familiar adrenaline rush back into my heart and it reminded me why I used to love festivals so much. Euphoria made my heart feel lighter and made me feel younger. Frankly I did not know what to expect at Euphoria. And to much delight, Euphoria Music Festival captured the intimacy of the art scene that used to be in ATX. I hope as the festival grows more and more each year that Euphoria will never lose its unique charm.  

I highly encourage music enthusiasts to mark Euphoria Music Festival on their bucket list. A strong indicator as to whether or not a musical event was a success is greatly determined by if the audience transcended time. Meaning, while the band is playing, the DJ is spinning or the musicians are on stage, those in attendance lose track of time. We forget our worries, stresses and anxieties for a while. We are present in the moment and feeling alive in the rhythm of the music. Euphoria Music Festival can and will take you to a transcendental place. 

To view the 2017 recap videos or purchase official merchandise of Euphoria Music Festival please visit www.euphoriafest.com. #FindYourEuphoria

Darren Fung is one of Canada’s most accomplished music composers

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Darren Fung. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.

Based in Los Angeles, Darren Fung is a talented, award-winning music composer. Born in Canada with strong Chinese roots, Mr. Fung’s music is a medley of the East and the West. His love of music began at the age of three and lead him to become an accomplished composer. After a lifetime of living in Canada, Darren Fung moved to the United States to create music for film and TV in a new location. 

Fung has a colorful, diverse and nostalgic style of music that has a powerful, yet gentle affect on the viewer’s senses. “With over 100 composition credits to his name, Darren Fung is seminally gifted and a highly influential composer who is well-respected in the TV and Film scoring worlds. Fung is one of Canada’s most accomplished composers, thrice nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. Most recently, he scored the The Great Human Odyssey, a mini-series that explores the roots of human kind. The project opened to widespread critical acclaim in Canada, winning the 2016 Canadian Screen Award for Best Music and receiving a nomination from the International Film Music Critics Association. (The Great Human Odyssey premieres in the U.S. this fall on PBS.) Darren utilizes an epic, large-scale orchestra and choir to bring this special’s score to life, replete with memorable melodies and unique musical colors. His diverse credits also include a recreation of Canada’s second national anthem (the beloved Hockey Theme) for CTV and TSN and the theme music for CTV’s flagship morning news show Canada AM. Additionally, Darren scored Bell Canada’s Orchestra advertisement spot (for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics), which was voted as Canada’s top commercial by readers of The Globe and Mail. Darren’s feature and short film scores have been heard at prestigious film festivals around the world, including Toronto, Cannes, and Sundance. After Fung studied at McGill University and worked full-time as a composer in Montreal, he moved to Los Angeles and is represented by Maria Machado of Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency and CW3PR.”

In 2016,  Mr. Fung spoke with local Texas writer, Nicolette Mallow, to discuss the bird’s-eye view of his life lived in music and how he came to be in California with his wife and daughter after many years in Canada. 

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Darren Fung and orchestra. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you please tell me a little about when your love for music began and when you learned to play an instrument? 

Darren Fung: I started playing piano when I was 3. Music has always been part of my life. After piano I dabbled a little in violin and then the saxophone. I loved trying new instruments and playing the music in my head. 

NM: Yes; I read in other interviews that you tend create music with a large scale orchestra. That makes sense given you learned to play so many instruments… What number of instruments (musicians) entails a large scale orchestra? 

DF: A large scale orchestra can be 40, 50, 60 people. Even 90-100. For me that means anything over 40. Over 40 is a pretty big orchestra…Now, do I prefer to work with a recording group? I also like the challenge of not having a large scale orchestra and doing other things that are not orchestral.

NM: Your online biography states that you “caught the composing bug at age 15” when you wrote a piece for Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composer Project … Did you always know that music was your life calling? 

DF: Yes and no. I always loved music, but at the age of 15 is when I knew I wanted to be a composer… But it was hard for my family at first to accept that I am good at this, good enough to make a career of it. My mother is a Chinese tiger mom, and she wanted the best for me growing up and had a preset idea of what my future looked like. She wanted me to pursue something more secure than music. Music or a creative career was too risky. So, when I first began music school instead of pursuing a life as a lawyer… it was hard for her. Culturally there were some conflicts and it would’ve been easier and more accepted had I chosen to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. My mother is very supportive now and she is very happy for me that I chose music. 

NM: I understand the family and cultural aspects of what you just said. My Latina mother was most displeased, if not furious, when I said I was going to Savannah College of Art & Design 12 years ago instead of Barnard or Stanford to be a psychologist or doctor. But she, too, is now very happy for me that I chased my artistic dreams.

DF: Yes it can be hard at first to choose your own path. 

NM: In regards to music composition, what are some of the most distinct differences between the Canada and US? 

DF:  The biggest diff between the two is that Canada is more comparable to the Indie film scenes—the budgets are not that big. The AFM call them low budget films because we are lucky if we got around $3 million budget. We are supposed to do more with less. However, since we are so close to the states we have a lot of similar musical influences.

NM: Reading about your career I saw the phrase “musical colors” mentioned in writing. Can you tell me a little about what musical colors means to you?

DF: Instruments or sounds are our palette. Composers (and musicians) can kind of make whatever we want out of it. Musical colors are why I think I love orchestra so much because there is so much available. So many colors and moods to portray. Not to say other genres of music don’t have that. But I am a classically trained musician, and to be able to take that stuff and play away. It’s endless and I never know what will happen and I love it. 

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Darren Fung and orchestra. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.

NM: Were you nervous or excited to recreate the 2nd national anthem for Canada? 

DF: Both. When I recreated the 2nd national anthem for hockey night in Canada, we wanted to pay homage to the original, but with a whole bunch of orchestrations and differentiators. For the longest time it was a really iconic song in Canada. Everyone knows the song and it’s equivalent to Major League Baseball’s classic tune “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”…At the time I was working with CPC and they wanted to make it their own. I was 26 at the time and I didn’t want the country hating me as the guy who guy who f*cked up the hockey thing… However, I was thrilled to be part of the project. And at 26 I got to work with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and specific members who the company hired to play. So to be given that budget and content for a major broadcast was amazing. 

NM: The Great Human Odyssey sounds amazing. What was it like writing for this TV show?

DF: It was 85 minutes of music in 7.5 weeks. There was material to score but we didn’t start writing till 7.5 weeks before we recorded… Niobe Thompson (Producer and Director of The Great Human Odyssey) sort of talked about bringing me on board as he was shooting. Almost two years before he started editing, I saw some raw footage. And I have to admit that when I first met up with Naobi, there was not a lot of money and I was not really sure the resources were available to create what he wanted with an orchestra and choir. But then he showed me the first warrior of this man jumping across ice flows. Drone shots across ice flows, and the backdrop was spectacular. The costumes, everything was visually stunning. And I realized we needed to get the music to match the greatness of the film… Fast forward in time and he then needed trailers. Then suddenly later on I am going to Prague so I can record a couple of cues to cut… Fast forward to the final count down where we are talking frame by frame, intentions, character and motivations; figuring out the music for each character and each scene.  

NM: Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy to keep you balanced outside work?

DF: Hockey and rowing are my two hobbies. Often I get up at stupid-o-clock in the morning around 5 A.M. to go rowing before work. What I love about hockey and rowing is that it’s two completely unrelated things to music. I meet people who aren’t in the business and it’s not a sedentary job. I get to move around and I get to blow off a lot of steam. I keep biz cards on me, just in case, but I like that it’s totally separate from work. Honestly I worry about the day where I might have to give one or both of them up… I find so much sanity and comic relief in hockey and rowing. Im horrible at both… but trying to get physical activity is necessary. And it’s fun to go have a beer with the guys sometimes. 

NM: Are there any genres in film or television that you would like to write for that you’ve yet to work on? 

DF: I’ve been lucky so far and enjoyed all my projects. But I would like to write for sci fi or opera. I haven’t yet had the chance to do either. Also, Animation is something else I am interested in. I like changing things up and I just finished up on an installation work for a gondola ride in Banff. So long as it’s a great project with great music: count me in! I am always looking for new projects and I came to LA to establish myself here.

For more information about Darren Fung please read his online bio. And to hear many songs or tracks from Fung’s music portfolio, please check out his SoundCloud page.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library brings the magic of reading to preschool children worldwide

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The High Road on Dawson has launched the first branch in Austin to support Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Bringing the magic of reading to local preschool children, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has distributed over 117,920,187 million books to four countries around the world: United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Dolly’s beloved organization is present within other Texas cities—but there wasn’t a branch in Austin until now. Thankfully, The High Road on Dawson and its committee raised enough funds to bring the Imagination Library to another city in The Lone Star State. 

The Imagination Library is a non-profit organization based in Sevier County, TennesseeThe High Road on Dawson (THROD) is a member based non-profit charity in ATX. For two years The High Road on Dawson committee strived to open an account. Finally their dream became a reality for the local community and the Imagination Library will make its debut in the 78721 zip code

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The history, mission and vision of Dolly’s Imagination Library is quite interesting. “In 1995, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, USA. Her father, Robert Lee Parton, was the inspiration of Dolly’s Imagination Library. Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income. Dolly’s Imagination Library became so popular that in the year 2000 she announced that she would make the program available for replication to any community that was willing to partner with her to support it locally. Already statistics and independent reports have shown Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library drastically improves early childhood literacy for children enrolled in the program. Further studies have shown improved scores during early literacy testing.”

The Board of Directors at The High Road on Dawson are immensely proud of their two team leaders that brought the Imagination Library into fruition within Austin: Monica Keller and Jen Philhower. Recently, Keller and Philhower spoke with local writer and fellow THROD member, Nicolette Mallow, to further discuss Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the new branch in Austin and their passion for childhood education. A recording of the entire interview can be found online. 

Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me how The High Road on Dawson came to be involved with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library?

The High Road on Dawson: So, we are both members of the lodge at The High Road on Dawson. We were Elks members prior to that and we both participated in a committee that was put together just to create charitable events. One of the purposes behind the lodge, besides community, is to do charitable things. In the committee, we kind of discovered that there were a bunch of us that are fans of Dolly (Parton) and we just think she’s a spectacular human, a great entertainer and just this awesome, cool person. An entity that deserved recognition. We really like her… Then one of our committee members, I think it was Heather, she asked if we had seen or heard about the Imagination Library. So then we got to talking about Dolly a lot more. And since we knew her birthday (January 19), the lodge at THROD decided to throw a birthday party in honor of Dolly Parton every year. Forever. There are a lot of events where we pay homage in Austin to different musicians. We have a Buck Owens birthday party, a Loretta Lynn pie social and the HAAM fundraiser. Suddenly we had the realization that there was no Dolly event and that she deserved her own special party. That was like a light bulb and we began hosting a Dolly’s Birthday Party and soon after it was suggested we should open our own branch of the Imagination Library. And we decided that the birthday party would be the fundraiser. We didn’t realize at the time the party would be a sellout and so successful! It was entirely conceivable that it would’ve just been us sitting upstairs with friends and musicians singing songs. 

NM: What is the goal for the next year between THROD and the Imagination Library?

THROD: They have a set series of goals for membership. Their 5 year plan is that within the first year, your branch gets 20% of eligible kids to sign up. And by year five the goal is to have 100% of the eligible kids signed up. Their goals are 20% every year and they give you the costs that would be associated with sending out all the books each year. Our personal goal is to have that done in four years and by the fifth year add an additional zip code. That is our hope and our goal. 

NM: My understanding is that each month for five years, preschool children receive books in the mail from the Imagination Library. Sent directly to their home so the little ones can begin their own book collection. However, are the monthly books preselected or are the books selected at random?

THROD: Yes, there is a series of books and everything is pre-selected and planned out by the Imagination Library month-to-month each year. The series actually starts with “The Little Engine That Could” We also looked briefly into the books and they’re gender neutral, they don’t have any sort of political and religious message. They’re just classic children’s books to introduce kids to the magic of reading and imagination. 

For more information about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library please visit the website at www.imaginationlibrary.com. Parents or guardians that wish to enroll their children may Register Online. To contact members and volunteers at The High Road on Dawson to become involved with this local project, please call 512-442-8535. 

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Mark Thomas Studio transforms and beautifies with their royal treatment and southern hospitality

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Mark Thomas Studio will transform and beautify your hair, scalp and skin with their royal treatment. All guests will leave feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and more polished than ever before with the salon’s all-encompassing and luxurious products. Mark Thomas Studio provides exquisite services inside a fun, playful and relaxing atmosphere located in the heart of downtown Austin off West 38th Street.

This high-end salon is the only location in Texas that offers Philip Kingsley products and FACE Stockholm makeup together in one boutique. Mark Thomas Studio bestows exceptional service reminiscent of a lavish boutique infused with Southern hospitality, permeating luxury and gentility into one location. You will not find another boutique like it within all of Texas or the Midwest.

“For those unaware of Philip Kingsley, he coined the phrase ‘bad hair day’ and is the world’s most respected authority on hair and scalp health. With over 55 years of Trichological experience, Philip Kingsley’s past and present clientele include politicians, royalty and celebrities. Called the ‘Hair Doctor’ by The Sunday Times and the ‘Hair Guru’ by The New York Times, Philip has written many publications on both sides of the Atlantic. Philip has recognized the need to bridge the gap between science and hairdressing as well as providing solutions for the most extreme hair and scalp problems, and those who just want the best from their hair.”

Whether you are in need of a new cut and color – or whether you seek a bikini wax and a deep pore facial – or whether you simply want to have a makeover. Mark Thomas Studio will cater to your every need without the stress. This intimate salon is perfect for men and women of all ages. And they offer the best products and services– striving for every client to leave satisfied.

For more information please visit their website at www.markthomasstudios.com or call Mark Thomas Studio at 512-459-6900. 

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Photography of beauty parlor provided by Mark Thomas Studio.

Top Drawer opens a second thrift shop in the heart of Austin

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Photography provided by Top Drawer and Project Transitions.

A welcome party was held in honor of Top Drawer’s second thrift shop located in the Crestview neighborhood within the heart of Austin, Texas. This newly released thrift shop operated by Top Drawer opened its doors earlier this spring. However the official party was hosted at 7101B Woodrow Avenue on May 15, 2016, the exact date as the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. Top Drawer Thrift is the social enterprise arm of Project Transitions. “Since 1988, Project Transitions is a non-profit dedicated to serving people with HIV and AIDS by providing supportive living, housing and hospice in compassionate and caring environments.” Top Drawer’s original location on Burnet Road has been open since 1993, always sustaining a focus to sell items in support of Project Transitions. To this day, all proceeds directly benefit the programs of this nonprofit and volunteers mostly run the shops.

Arts and Entertainment Writer, Nicolette Mallow, interviewed the Manager of Top Drawer thrift shop, Karin Kokinda. The two spoke of donations, the history of the shop and how the employees often get sentimentally attached to the pieces. (An audio recording can be found on YouTube.)

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited Project Transitions is to dive into this new experiment. For over 20 years we’ve had the Top Drawer location at 49th and Burnet and it has been amazingly successful and popular,” said Karin Kokinda, Top Drawer’s manager. “The new store gives us the opportunity to showcase some of the more special and unusual items that are generously donated.”

The welcome party at Top Drawer’s second shop in Crestview featured complimentary wine, fruits, cheeses and crackers. All items were 20% off during the party. Entering the thrift shop, guests will notice it’s like an infusion of a high-end fashion boutique, antique library, art gallery and a retro thrift shop with vinyl records and other goodies of the past. Inside the store there is something to be desired for purchase by anyone and everyone. Top Drawer is beautifully decorated and arranged to where the space is filled top-to-bottom with inventory, and yet it does not feel crowded or scattered. The room is neatly organized and the eyes can never get bored. Boots, dresses, books, tables, lamps, giant mirrors, old cameras, artwork, imported goods and other miscellany are available for purchase.

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Arts and Entertainment Writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, attended this special event and purchased a lovely, handmade Italian brown leather notebook as a keepsake and a literary diary. After the purchase, Mallow interviewed the Manager of Top Drawer, Karin Kokinda. The two spoke of donations, the history of the shop and how the employees often get sentimentally attached to the pieces. To hear the interview, please click on the video above.

To contact Top Drawer Crestview about acceptable items or more information, please call 512-454-5161. The store hours of operation are 11 A.M. to 7 P.M. every Monday through Saturday. Donations will continue to only be accepted at the Burnet location. For more information about Project Transitions, please visit www.projecttransitions.org or call 512-454-8646.

“It’s a collaboration between the community and Project Transitions. It starts with our donors who provide our inventory, then our loyal customers that come shop in our store, and finally, our clients who directly benefit from 100% of the proceeds,” said Madge Whistler, Project Transitions Financial Administrator.

 Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in June 2016.  

Bodybuilder Lisa Traugott stars in military-inspired show ‘American Grit’ on FOX

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Bikini bodybuilder Lisa Traugott. Photography provided by ‘American Grit’ on FOX.

Local Austinite, author and bikini bodybuilder, Lisa Traugott, was cast on FOX’s military-inspired show “American Grit”. The show made its grand debut two weeks ago and the third episode, “Moving Camp”, will air this Thursday on April 28, 2016 at 8 PM CST.

Prior to being cast for “American Grit” on FOX—Lisa Traugott wrote a book titled “She’s Losing it!”—a memoir about how she lost 50 pounds at the age of 38 by entering a bodybuilding competition. Over the course of two to three years, Traugott ascended from coming in dead last to the top three placings at bikini bodybuilding and sports model competitions. Sometimes competing against women half her age. (Traugott’s in her early 40’s.) Just last year Lisa won first place in the bikini contest at Texas State Naturals in 2015. And this weekend she will be competing at The Physique Showdown in Houston, TX on April 30, 2016 hosted by The Naturally Fit Federation.

Last year Lisa Traugott was selected as a cast member for “American Grit” and it was a new experience for most of the crew, a different kind of fitness-inspired TV show with a unique edge. Stated on the show’s official website, “FOX has ordered ‘American Grit’—a 10-episode competition series starring WWE Superstar John Cena. Produced by Leftfield Pictures—sixteen of the country’s toughest men and women are split into four teams as they work together to face a variety of military-grade and survival-themed challenges. Cena and an elite group of mentors from the nation’s most exclusive military units will push these civilians beyond their limits. The mentors, known as “The Cadre,” include Rorke Denver, Noah Galloway, Tawanda “Tee” Hanible and Nick “The Reaper” Irving. These real-life heroes who represent diverse backgrounds and top branches of the U.S. Armed Forces will impart their first-hand knowledge and experience to help the competitors work together as teams to surmount near impossible mental and physical challenges. ‘American Grit’ embodies the military ethos ‘no man left behind’ because only the first team to complete the challenges together is safe from elimination. Each episode will culminate in “The Circus,” a punishing, endurance-based obstacle course designed to break the weakest competitors. With up to a million dollars of prize money at stake, this is the ultimate test of strength, grit, the human spirit and most importantly, teamwork.”

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The day that FOX released “American Grit” onto television—Lisa Traugott spoke with Arts & Entertainment writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters waterfront to Lake Austin. The interview below includes anecdotes about Traugott’s journey to TV and the story that lead her to become a bikini bodybuilder.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me about your background in bodybuilding and how you came to be on the show “American Grit”? What was the screening process to become a cast member was like? I’m curious to know how you discovered this show and what it required to make the cut.

Lisa Traugott: Going back to the start, last year in 2015 was a really tough time for me. My mother had advanced stage lung cancer and it was the same time my book was being released. Good and bad events happening at once; I was so stressed that I started gaining some of the weight back that I’d worked hard to lose. To keep myself grounded, I started with a new coach and entered The Arnold Classic, the second largest bodybuilding competition in the world. You have to be selected just to get in. At the time I was 41 and I was competing against women literally half my age. Plus, back then I had never won a competition, and not only had I never won, but I would always come in dead last. So even though I did not have an award-winning body, because I could write a really good cover letter. I was accepted… It was just such a weird time because my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. And then the same day that her fever broke: I got a text saying that I was accepted into The Arnold. Right then I started jumping around the hospital room in excitement about the future competition. I recall my mother said to me in happiness, “That’s great! But what’s The Arnold?” It was so funny when she said that… But yeah, all the while she’s going through chemo and I am practicing my poses and lifting weights with my trainer, Robin Johnson Jr.. At the time I went to him and said, “The only thing I don’t want is that I just don’t want to come in dead last. I’ve set the bar really low for you as a trainer.” And Robin said to me, “No. That’s the bar that you’ve set for yourself. I have higher standards for you.”

NM: Wow. How did you feel when he said that?

LT: At that moment I realized that I was just afraid. Without meeting a single person, I had already decided that they were all better than me. So I had to kind of throw that mentality out the window. I ended up coming in 20th out of 38 contestants. Which was huge improvement compared to the rest. Plus, as I said before, this was an international competition against women half my age.

NM: Congratulations! That is huge improvement in regards to placement.

LT: Thank you. It was huge improvement. Five weeks later I did another bikini bodybuilding competition, a local show called the Texas Shredder. My mom said to me one day before the show that she had a dream, and in the dream I came in 3rd place at the competition. And it turned out that I did. I won 3rd place. It was nice because my mom got to see me win the award and hold the sword. Three weeks later she ended up passing away… It was just so intense because she died on May 4th and I gave her eulogy on Mother’s Day (May 10th). And then a week later I ran a Spartan Race with my kids. I used fitness to work through my grief and I kept competing and bodybuilding.

NM: That’s admirable you did something so healthy and empowering to get well and heal when it can be so easy for us to slip off into the deep and the dark during tough times. What happened next?

LT: Well thank you… During these competitions, I was blogging about all this and I started getting more readers. It started as something I did for fun. But then at the next show I placed third—and the show after that I placed second. Finally I had one month left. One month between the show I’d placed second and my last show to compete for the year 2015— I went hardcore and did 730 squats a day. How I was exercising and how hard I was training was a reflection of my focus and that I wanted to win.

NM: That is hardcore. So how did the final competition span out?

LT: It was down to me and one other girl, and I thought she had it. But when they declared my number it was so funny because the announcer said onto the mic, “Well, she might write ‘She’s Losing It!’ but she’s winning it tonight”.

NM: That was very clever of him. It’s also really impressive and inspiring how you won first place after coming in dead last with only a few years of experience.

LT: I was so happy! Soon after I placed first at Texas State Naturals, that’s when somebody from FOX called me.

NM: I see. So FOX sought you out for the show ‘American Grit’ and you didn’t initially apply? Obviously a lot of people were watching that competition.

LT: Yes. They told me they had been reading my blog and thought I was interesting and wanted me to audition for the show. When they told me it entailed military style endeavors I thought, “I’m not really qualified for this” and I wrote them saying I was not sure I was right for the role. But they encouraged me to apply and after speaking to a Producer. I sent in a video of my workout routine and my fitness story. Soon after I was flown out to LA and I realized that while I was there: 6,500 other people had auditioned. It blew my mind! In the end, I was one of sixteen cast members chosen for “American Grit”. From start-to-finish, it was an overwhelming, amazing experience that I will treasure for life.

NM: Which team were you cast for within the show? I read it was divided into four teams with four mentors (all Veterans), and it seems John Cena is sort of the head honcho of the reality show and directs all four teams? By the way, John Cena is a beast and I mean that as a compliment. I’ll bet it was fun to meet him and all the military personnel. I grew up with men in the military and the energy has become quite familiar to me over the decades.

LT: Yes, John Cena is such a wonderful person and I really enjoyed speaking with him. And yes, he is a beast! The teams were divided into four: two men and two women on each team. All teams lead by a military hero. My team leader was Noah Galloway, a retired Sergeant for the United States Army. Noah dropped out of college after 9/11 to join the military. During his second deployment, Sergeant Galloway was hit bit a roadside bomb and part of his left arm and most of his left leg were blown off and removed. Yet he still runs and stays fit and was even on the reality show “Dancing With The Stars”. Noah’s story is so inspiring and he really helped my crew and I throughout the process. He really focused on using fitness to deal with any personal problems. Noah was such a good, strong leader and he reminded us to stay humble. So that was sort of the mantra: stay humble… Noah also kept telling us to not focus on anybody or anything else, to keep our mind clear. He really knew that a lot of the struggle is mental, not physical. Noah helped us be the best we could be. He also told us not to pretend, to just be ourselves, and don’t change ourselves to be what we think someone else might want just cause we’re on TV. That helped me relax more given that I’d never been on a reality show before and didn’t know what to expect.

NM: Yes, being around such strong men and women, especially Veterans, would assist in keeping everyone mentally focused and determined… On a different note, let’s talk about the trailer of the show. When I saw it, I noticed that one moment when a woman collapses. Are you allowed to talk about that yet? Is she all right? What happened? I assume doctors were on the scene?

LT: Yes, she is O.K. and we were actually texting earlier. And yes, medical crew and an ambulance were always on site. Doctors were readily available. In the footage she’s taken to the hospital on the spot. What happened is they were jumping in-and-out of buckets of ice, dousing themselves in icewater during winter in the NW.

NM: Sounds almost as if the ice put her body in a state of shock. I can imagine that might happen due to intense and rapid changes in body temperature. I’m glad to hear all is well… Will you please tell me a bit about “She’s Losing It!” and what inspired you to make the blog and write the book?

LT: Aside from using fitness to heal my own life, part of the reason why I wanted to do this show and write a book and a blog. I kind of want to be like the “Rocky” for moms. I turn on the TV and it feels like nobody is fighting for middle-aged women or mothers. So I just wanted to let women know that I’m fighting for them. And that it’s O.K. to be scared and its O.K. to cry. It’s O.K. to feel like you’re not good enough. But to never give up and just take charge of your body and your life. Keep doing it, keep moving in the right direction and keep working. “She’s Losing It!” is like “Pumping Iron” only if Tina Fey played Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ultimately it’s like a “Rocky” story for moms who find the inherent humor in combining strength training with potty training.

NM: That’s very sweet and I know women have thanked you and will continue to thank you for sharing your empowering story. Any plans for the future? Will you write more books and continue to compete?

LT: Oh yes I have so much going on. I’ve got back-to-back competitions. I’m also going to be doing stand-up comedy. I have a thing where every year for my birthday: I scare myself. For my 38th birthday I entered a bodybuilding competition. For my 39th I jumped out of a plane. For my 40th I did pole dancing. And for my 41st I did a reality TV show. This year at 42 years, I am going to do stand up comedy for my birthday. In the end, it’s all so much fun. Also, after I wrote the book I suddenly had women writing me. The women expressed that they loved the memoir, but they were seeking more insights about diet, training rips, my routine and if I had a package for distribution or for sale. Recently I put all that together and it’s now on my website. I just finished filming it and basically it’s different from other programs because I go through the meal plans, exercise routines, a fitness library of exercies and then I have motivational videos. Talking about some of the things I was dealing with like self-sabotage, feeling vulnerable. Staying on track and what happens when you get off track, also I talk about how to deal with time management and having kids while getting fit. I write about how to deal with ‘mommy guilt’ and so I kind of cover all these different topics.

NM: Thank you for taking the time, today, to share your story. I look forward to learning from you.

For more information regarding bikini bodybuilder Lisa Traugott please visit her website at www.sheslosingit.com.

To watch previous episodes of “American Grit” on FOX, and to preview the cast or crew, please refer to www.fox.com/american-grit.

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in April 2016.  

Naomi Whittel: Founder of Reserveage Nutrition has a vision for global wellness

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Naomi Whittel. Photography by Jack Plunkett.

Founder and CEO of Reserveage™ Nutrition, Naomi Whittel has dedicated her career to naturally beautify the world with a vision oriented around science, health and wellness. Whittel is a ‘nutritional navigator’ who travels the globe studying various cultures and ecosystems to discover the best standards in nutritional health. Launching her company with four products in March 2009—Reserveage™ Nutrition now offers an extensive list of products ranging from skin hydration, metabolism boosters, anti-aging, cardiovascular support, antioxidants, and much more. Naomi Whittel has received several prestigious awards for her role as a successful female entrepreneur, including the following: the Gold Stevie Winner as Female Executive of the Year and the Silver Stevie Winner as Female Entrepreneur of the Year. “Naomi Whittel is one of the nation’s leading female innovators in the natural products industry. With two decades of experience in developing and managing sustainable companies in the health and wellness sector, she is the founder and CEO of Reserveage Nutrition™ and two sister companies: ResVitale™ and ReBody™. Together these natural health supplement brands have earned over 30 industry awards in four years, and are recognized for their mission to produce life-changing products based on ground-breaking science.”

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Recently, Naomi Whittel assented to an interview with a local Arts & Entertainment Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, to talk entrepreneurship and becoming a CEO at the age of 23. Whittel also shared some helpful tips and insights related to wellness. The interview was held within the Press room at Prevention Magazine’s third annual R3 Summit held at ACL Live at The Moody Theater in Austin, Texas.

Nicolette Mallow: On stage, you spoke of age and numbers. You emphasized that a number doesn’t define us no matter how young or advanced in age. Listening to you talk about starting a company that went global and being the CEO at 23 years old is so inspiring to all female (or male) entrepreneurs. However, I also recall during the presentation you mentioned that sometimes in the past you hid the fact you were the CEO because you felt your age might cause others to not take you seriously… How did you overcome the fear of being the youngest? It’s important for us all to learn from our elders or those with the experience of time that exceeds our own. But I have often felt the same way as an artistic professional when I’m the youngest, and often the only female, in a group where everyone else is older. It can be hard to be taken seriously and it can feel discouraging… How did you break free of all that and succeed?

Naomi Whittel: Being a young entrepreneur can be difficult. In hindsight, I wish that I hadn’t always kept it a secret that I was the CEO. But it’s a learning process for everyone starting out. First off, in order to succeed you have to be willing to fail and to be bold. To take risks. Failure is a huge part of success, but so long as you hold fast to your purpose and sustain boldness in all you do. In due time your visions and dreams will transpire. It’s also imperative to have a voice and to be honest with yourself. To know your strengths and weaknesses… Not long ago, I was in a meeting with other entrepreneurs and we were discussing investments. We needed to raise money for something that day and it seemed daunting to the others. At first no one was willing to invest, but I saw no reason to not make a move and act. I was the first one, and the youngest, to offer up a check to invest. Once I made the first move, the others were interested in the investment and we raised the money that day. Boldness goes a long way… Once you harness your internal power and know how to use it in a healthy way. Once you find a vision and hold onto it: falling into success becomes natural.

NM: Speaking of healthy, in regards to nutrition and wellness, it can be daunting for those just starting out with a mission to achieve a better diet or a healthier lifestyle. There are thousands of books, recipes and products out there for people to try. Where to begin? What is your advice for anyone wanting to change their lifestyle and nutritional diet but they don’t know where to start?

NW: Yes there is a lot of information there. I would advise the first step to be the elimination of processed foods. Processed foods do not carry natural nutrients, or often any nutrients, and therefore the body is not getting anything vital or healthy from these processed foods. Processed foods can do more harm than good. Solely because processed foods often carry a lot of chemicals and damaging, artificial substances within them, too. People aren’t always aware that what they are eating isn’t actually food at all… I was fortunate to grow up in a home of science and chemistry with parents focused on a biodynamic, organic lifestyle. However, I want everyone to join me on the journey to wellness no matter how or when their journey begins.

NM: My last question is, for those of us who sustain an overall healthy diet, exercise, drink plenty of fluids, take nutritional supplements and hydrate our skin, hair and nails. For those of us who feel we are nearly doing it all. What is something else that we can do to improve our diet and overall wellness?

NW: Intermittent fasting is something even the pro’s can forget to do. Fasting periodically from 8 PM to NOON has amazing benefits on the body. Intermittent fasting has proven to control blood sugar and insulin. It can promote weight loss and reduce cholesterol levels. Intermittent fasting can even assist with cellular repair or inflammation in the body, reducing stress.

For more information regarding Naomi Whittel’s background story or to view and purchase products online, please visit www.reserveage.com.

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in January 2016.

Life coach Lauren Handel Zander speaks of self-discovery and the power of truth

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Lauren Handel Zander. Photography by Jack Plunkett.

Lauren Handel Zander is the Co-Founder and Chairman of Handel Group®, an international private coaching company. Zander is a life coach with a sense of humor and she specializes in bringing dreams and visions to life.On Jan. 16, 2016 whilst she was in attendance of Prevention Magazine’s third annual R3 Summit held at ACL Live at The Moody Theater in Austin, Texas: Zander consented to a short yet insightful interview with A&E Austin Examiner, Nicolette Mallow. Prior to the interview within the Press room, Lauren Handel Zander shared the stage with other talented professionals that included Joan Lunden, Naomi Whittel, Dr. Jennifer Ashton and Dr. Lauren Streicher to present the keynote “Love Your Age”.

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Nicolette Mallow: During the presentation, you spoke of the past and hating the shape of your own shadow. That stuck in my mind. The way you described nitpicking yourself so deeply to the point it became absolutely absurd: disliking your literal shadow while walking about… I believe many people can relate to that sort of melancholy unkindness directed to the self. We often speak silently to ourselves, in our mind, and say such horrible things we’d never allow others to say to our face. Ultimately, my questions revolves around this: how did you overcome such negative self-feedback and rewire your mind to see things positively, accurately and with kindness? How did you conquer the inner-voice that was trying to hold you back and distort the truth?

Lauren Handel Zander: Yes; editing the voices can be a challenge. My journey of self-discovery began in my 20’s. The first step was being honest with myself and everyone around me. It’s easy to become afraid to be our own individual. To stay true to ourselves, we must be honest. In the past, I was hiding truths from myself, and others, because I was hiding myself away. I was lying to everybody. I was the epitome of a bad girl. One day I simply decided to reveal everything that was truthful. And that was when my life changed. I was born to be a life coach, it’s in my blood. I just had to learn to edit my own voices and learn to be true to myself, first, before I could coach others.

NM: Once we edit the voices, then we can get to the truth?

LHZ: Absolutely. One of the aspects I love most about my job is that I can get to the root of things. Throughout the process of life coaching, I want to know why someone is doing what they’re doing. I want to understand what’s going on beyond surface level and why they’re feeling whatever it is they’re feeling. I want to understand what they’re thinking. That way I can help find the blocks and I can fix it. Bringing shadows to light helps people reach their highest self. Whether it’s a relationship, a job, an investment, family issues or whether someone is unsure why they’re doing what they’re doing as if running on autopilot… I want to know everything so that we can work on fixing it. I like fixing things. But people have to be willing to do the work.

NM: So you help bring dreams and visions to life?

LHZ: Yes. I like to say that I have ‘a vision for my visions’. Having a vision and following our dreams helps us to reach our highest self. I want people to find the truth and find a vision so they can turn their dreams into a reality.

Lauren Handel Zander is a life coach, university lecturer, public speaker and, above all, a purveyor of the truth. As the Co-Founder and Chairman of the Handel Group®, she has spent over 20 years coaching thousands of private clients: entrepreneurs, couples, families, professors, politicians, Emmy and Academy Award-winning artists, Grammy-winning musicians and Fortune 500 CEOs. Her corporate clients have included executives from Sony BMG, The New York Times, News Corp, J. Walter Thompson Agency, Citibank, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Uniworld, The Gap Inc., BASF, NYU Langone Medical Center, and Vogue. She is a mediator, who has fixed corporate business relationships, mediated contract negotiations, reconciled marriages, and helped resolve complex family issues. In the early 2000s, Lauren created a groundbreaking methodology, The Handel Method®, which she developed and taught at MIT. Her methodology, supported by top educators and psychologists is now being taught at Stanford Graduate School of Business, MIT, NYU, Columbia, Yale Drama School, and Wesleyan, as well as in over 35 other universities and educational progrlauren-zander-candid-2ams across the country.”

www.handelgroup.com

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in January 2016.

Celebrity personal trainer Larysa DiDio talks fitness, healing and Kung Fu

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Larysa DiDio. Photography by Jack Plunkett.

Celebrity personal trainer and writer Larysa DiDio was a featured fitness instructor at Prevention Magazine’s third annual R3 Summit. Sporting hot pink Nike shoes, athletic gear and a stylish braid: DiDio taught her groundbreaking workout, Fit in 10, that maximizes results in only 10 minutes a day. Afterward, DiDio consented to an interview in the Press room with local Arts & Entertainment Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, on Jan. 16, 2016 at ACL Live at The Moody Theater in Austin, Texas.

Nicolette Mallow: You’re a remarkable athlete and clearly you posses a strong, resilient body to be such a steadfast, successful and powerful instructor. However, when athletes (male or female) get injured. It can be very difficult, almost emasculating, to feel weak doing something that used to come naturally to our bodies. How do you handle injuries, or what advice to you give clients (athletes) when they are in the recovery process after an injury or surgery? How do you keep the mind focused on the end goal without overworking the body in the process, or feeling as if the body lost its physical power?

Larysa DiDio: Week-to-week progress is how I look at my fitness goals when I am injured. Being kind to ourselves as individuals is also an important factor. Talk to yourself positively—turn the negative into a positive—and the healing process goes a lot smoother. Mind over matter really is a huge part of fitness and staying focused. For instance, I’ve broken my ankles twice. The first time I was really annoyed and frustrated. And that did not help me heal any faster nor did it alleviate the pain. Later on, the second time around when I broke my ankle playing outside with my son. Even though I was not pleased to break a bone: I knew what to expect and I had a positive outlook. I knew that in time my ankle would heal and it wasn’t something that would last forever. The second break was a lot easier and the healing process was far less stressful or straining.

NM: For the beginners just starting out fitness classes with no prior athletic training, it can feel overwhelming and intimidating being around those with athletic skills. What is your advice?

LD: The gym should be a haven for everybody, especially beginners. For beginners, the gym is not a place of competition. It’s completely natural for a beginner to be afraid and there’s no shame in that. I advise those just beginning to enroll in fitness classes and work out in groups. That way everyone is in it together, learning the ropes and finding their strengths and weaknesses… When I started fitness classes as a kid, I watched Jane Fonda videos. I watched her videos so repeatedly the video would skip. Jane Fonda was a great teacher.

NM: Do you believe massage therapy is essential to the fitness lifestyle?

LD: Yes. Massage therapy is absolutely essential. And if people cannot afford massage therapy regularly than they should invest in a foam roller and explore foam rolling exercises. It applies the same kind of pressure and manifests the same results as massage therapy.

NM: Out of all the exercises you have mastered or explored. Do you have a favorite workout?

LD: Yes, I love learning Kung Fu. Martial arts has become my favorite workout! I love learning how to train with weaponry. I love Tai Chi. It’s not only logical so that I can and will defend myself if need be. But it’s very empowering and I love crossing the standard gender roles. It’s a great workout for men and women alike.

“Larysa DiDio is a celebrity personal trainer and fitness author. With over 20 years experience in helping celebrities, Olympians, professional athletes as well as moms, dads, and kids meet their health and fitness goals. Also, an accomplished writer of “Sneaky Fitness: How to Slip Exercise Into Your Kids Everyday”– Larysa has provided exciting articles and content for national and trade publications as well as blogs and websites. She’s currently an expert health and fitness contributor to Prevention Magazine, host of “The Perfect” online videos and host/co-creator of “Strogation” and “Fit in 10” Fitness DVD’s with Prevention Magazine. Larysa has appeared on Good Day NY, Better TV and CBS Morning segments to name a few and has been featured in over 50 national women’s magazine. Larysa spends time at schools, hospitals, wellness seminars, and on television motivating and inspiring others to live a healthy, active lifestyle.”

www.larysadidio.com

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in January 2016.

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