Category Archives: Lifestyle: Fashion, Music, Art & Entertainment

Someone You Should Know…Firas Alola

In recalling being introduced to Firas the quote, “the internet is not just for porn anymore” comes to mind.  In reflecting on my years of friendship with him, the quote, “Ignorance is the greatest threat to humanity” enters my conscience as I think of those who would dismiss him based solely on his ethnicity or religion.

If you haven’t gathered already, Firas is of Arab decent, a Muslim, living in Saudi Arabia.  Yes, he is “one of those people”.  In fact, he no doubt fits perfectly into Homeland Security’s profile and into the prejudices of those who would hold the crimes of a few against the many.

What you fail to see in his name is that he was born and raised in Denver, Colorado,  of the good ole US of A.  You also fail to see his kind heart and nature,  intelligence, and his ability to laugh at himself and the world around him.

A friend introduced me to Firas via instant messenger after he had read my blogs.  As I said, “the internet is not just for porn anymore”, even though they were erotic blogs.   Social networking  sites and instant messenger chats have shrunk the world. One click connects you across the oceans, mountains and deserts allowing you to share life experiences that once would not have been possible but to a small percentage of world travelers.

Firas has demonstrated a respect for all people in his words and actions.  His early years at the Pennsylvania State University lead to an arrest that as he explained “helped me understand to differentiate between a friend and an acquaintance”.  Life hasn’t always been “pretty” for Firas, but he hasn’t let the negative experiences overshadow the good in his life.

His reverence for his mother, female members of his family and friends is that of a gentlemen.  He has no tolerance for those who would abuse or harm a woman and as he is a self-described “Big Kid in A Giant Sandbox” he has little difficulty relating to children.

Regardless of the politics of the world and cultural differences, humanity’s best chance is to erase the ignorance in talking person to person.  In doing so, you will discover that our similarities are greater than our differences.

One of the many poignant moments over the years occurred when my only nephew was preparing to leave for basic training in the US Army.  I told Firas how apprehensive I felt with my nephew’s decision to enlist and that I feared for his well-being as he put in his years of service during these times of war.

I didn’t even consider where Firas lived, who his ancestors were, or what his thoughts on the wars might be, for me I was conveying my heartfelt emotions to a friend.

Firas took a serious tone in his response, he told me that the photos he had seen in his part of the world showed the ugliness of the war and that he wouldn’t sugar coat it, “it was bad.”

He then typed out a Arab prayer that asked Allah to watch over my nephew and always return him safely to home.  To paraphrase, he told me that the prayer spoke of how the my love for my nephew would forever stay with him and comfort him in his times of need as he would know in his heart that I was part of him.

I felt a peace in reading the poem and every moment that I offered prayer for my nephews safe return from the middle east, I thought too of Firas, his words of kindness and those that must deal with the ugliness of war.

In that moment, the Arab Muslim man who was born and raised in the states, did time in a US prison, who returned to his families homeland, and could easily have hatred in his heart for the country he left was above it all.  He was easing a friends worries, offering faith & hope, erasing ignorance.

Praise be to Allah.  Praise be to God.  Forever grateful for Firas, who shares his compassion and enlightenment  as a friend and brother in arms against ignorance.

Friend: “They have comedians in Saudi Arabia?”  *insert cymbal crash*

Me: “Yes they do. They also have Starbucks, Krispy Creme, Giant Malls, Rock n Roll, Fast cars and motorcycles, beautiful woman, and men with kind and loving hearts”.

May I present to you, my friend, brother, his most Firawesome self, the Rowdy Saudi Firas Alola.

Age: 29 and 3 quarters
Marital Status: Single but see couples everywhere
Location: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Children: Not that I know of
Education: Some University
Hometown: (Tricky/technical) born and raised in Denver, CO, grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Your profession: Marketing Manager for a Saudi services company, Comedian/Performer
Nickname(s): Fry, Friass, Rowdy Saudi, Firastitute, and Firawesome

Q. Do you have a hobby?
A. Several including, but not limited to, reading, writing (many forms, styles and genres), “Aggressive”/street inline skating, listening to music, dancing (old school break dancing, salsa, in my boxers and to the radio, etc), Hosting (parties and venues), traveling, deep or philosophical conversations, the daily crossword, and mind games with total strangers.

Q. What is your favorite book?
A. I love reading and love so many books. Even crappy sucky ones because I believe that even those crappy ones have something to offer. Be it a line or quote, an idea, or even writing style. I always find something about (or in) any given book. I would like to add that I am biased towards Chuck Palahnuik’s writing. He writes fiction with so much fact you can’t help but be mesmerized, moved, intrigued, connected, and glued to his stories. Of course having read Fight Club at the age and time I have read it might be the biggest influence on my bias.

Q. What will your epitaph read?
A. My grave will not have one but if it did, hypothetically, then it most certainly would read, “Here lies an honest liar, a decent pervert, and a nice a$$hole”

Q. Is there anything you wouldn’t try or do in life?
A. I would never do needles, heroin to be specific, use a Red phone booth in London because I know what I’ve done to most of them, give myself a bikini wax… again, drink milk without checking the date, accepting birthday presents in the form of sexual favors, trusting the man, and eating with my mouth open.

Q. What is your biggest fear?
A. I do not have a fear that would fit that label. I do, however, have some reasonable and unreasonable issues that have me worried sometimes. I worry about “not fully functioning on my own” (sure Viagra does the trick but what’s the point? A Viagra user sitting in a storage house for a door manufacturer will have the same result as a Viagra user hanging out at the quad of a clown college. Should have went with something sexy to make my point?). Central Pennsylvania Squirrels are out to get me. Gonna skip the rest.

Q. Are you a religious or spiritual person?
A. I am spiritual and try to be religious, and not in a pick-and-choose kind of way. If truth be told all we need to do is simply treat each other with respect, kindness and dignity and the rest will figure itself out.

Q. What is your life’s philosophy?
A. The things we regret most in life are the risks we don’t take. I regret nothing.

Q. Is there a moment in your life that stands out in your mind as life changing?
A. I consider myself extremely lucky for my life has been nothing short of eventful. Several instances were life changing where after those situations things changed; I changed inwardly, the way I perceive others, and so on. Sounds like I explained the question more than give an answer, right? Isn’t it funny that more often than not such instances are negative or dramatic in nature? Let me answer your question; the first time I was cheated on changed me. It helped me be more cautious. The first time I was arrested (long story) helped me understand to differentiate between a friend and an acquaintance. The moment I bought my Harley, the first skating competition I won, my first time on stage, my brothers’ weddings… the list goes on.

Q. What is your greatest strength in performing?
A. A fellow stand-up comedian, and friend of mine, and I were talking about this just the other day. We came to the conclusion that I am always having fun and it is no different when am on stage. That energy, aura, mood or whatever you want to call it carries with me and due to its contagious nature the crowd catches it. In short, having infectious fun.

Q. What is the most boneheaded thing you have done in your life?
A. roughly 38.76% of my actions or sayings are boneheaded. Most are intentional, but some are not. Hehe. To be serious though, I would have to say two things are the most boneheaded things I have done in my life. The first would definitely be the fact that I personally sabotaged my scholarship, and my future, while in University because I did not know how to handle some personal issues I had. If I can go back would I do things differently? No. The other thing is your typical “the one that got away” situation. Sob.

Q. What makes you unique in the world of comedy?
A. It is what makes every comedian unique; my personal experiences and my own sense of humor. Add to it the whole infectious fun with a splash of Vodka and you got yourself one hellova drink.

Q. What steps do you take to mentally prepare before going on stage?
A. Unintentionally and unexpectedly I found that I have (or fallen into) a routine; The day of a show or a performance I spend it with a close friend or family member and we listen to music then as show-time approaches I start thinking of what I am going to talk about and then go over it in my head listening to a music player (used to be my ipod but that flew away while I was riding my Harley a few months back). While back stage and right before I go on I like to pump myself up with pushups. Helps me keep in shape and get my blood rushing.

Q. What attracted you to performing live?
A. A sheer coincidence; a friend of mine and I used to attend an open mic night and once the talent was atrocious so my friend dared me to just get up on stage and tell a couple of funny stories of mine for (in his words), “could not possibly be any worse than what’s considered talent tonight”. I got up and told those stories and was a hit. I perfected the art of storytelling by being the center of attention and after a few open mics I was able to adjust it to fit the stage. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q. What would you say is your life’s greatest achievement?
A. Becoming the person that I have turned out to be. All odds point to me turning out to become a serious dickhead (jerk for editing works). Instead I’m just a regular dickhead (jerk).

Q. What were your childhood dreams and have you achieved them?
A. To become a doctor and we can all answer the question of whether or not if I have achieved that dream or not.

Q. Who has been the greatest influence in your life and why?
A. Aside from my family (for truly they have been the greatest influence in my life… and a cleché) I would have to say my friends. To me, friends are the family we choose. My friends have been everything to me in my life. I would like to lead the pack with my dear friend and old roommate Brian Squadroni. He is, for more clechés, a prince among thieves. We started as colleagues at a restaurant in State College Pennsylvania and ended up as friends closer than brothers. I owe him a lot including my sanity. I would like to give a mention to a couple of other friends that are always there for me and helped me, not only in my time of need but also in becoming the person I am today, and they are Ahmed Khalaf, my first roommate and friend in college, John V. Gaffen, a great friend and mentor, Rikki Morris, my future childrens’ godmother, and so many more. I hope they can forgive me for not giving name to them here and pray they know they are not forgotten.

Q. How do you want to be remembered by people from your life?
A. Whichever way they remember me as. I believe that each individual’s perception of anything (me in this case) is not just different but also truly unique. I would never want to take that away from anybody.

List 5 Random Facts or Habits about yourself that would be classified as weird, strange, or different:
I would like to quote a few of my friends on this one:

  1. “Firas is able to eat different kinds of foods at once. He has Dagwood-style sandwiches. Don’t get me wrong, I believe he still loves to taste food and separately but if it comes down to it, he can gobble a 4 course meal at once and by the time you are served your bread.”
  2. “Firas does the daily crossword almost religiously. The only thing he left for old age is nagging.”
  3. “Firas knows a whole bunch of unrelated and interesting facts that come right off the top of his head. Like a mini walking Wikipedia for unusual and random information”
  4. “Firas loves to learn how to say, ‘you’re a pineapple and pineapples don’t speak’ in different languages AND uses it. The count is 7 languages so far”
  5. “Everything about him can be labeled as different. Just naming five would be limiting”

Photos courtesy of: Firas Alola

Music by:  The Gracious Few



Cynthia Lynn thanks Firas’s mother for being the amazing woman she is to have raised such a fine man in her son.  Thank you to Firas for giving me the honor of sharing your story and for your continued friendship and love. Finally thank you to my BASE buddies for your daily support, friendship and HIDGAF attitude.  We may never share an exit point; but you certainly have gone to the edge with me.

Someone You Should Know…Cyndi Roberts

Eventually you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is.
— Gary Zukav

When I asked Cyndi Roberts if she was a religious or spiritual person, she replied, “I consider myself a spiritual being having a human experience”.  It’s no wonder then she lists in her “all about me” section ‘love’ as her religion.

For some, exclaiming love as your religion would be pretentious, in Cyndi’s case it is no doubt as sincere as her intentions.  To see her warm smile and calming nature captured on film and expressed through her words and art is to know this is a person who understands healing.

In a world filled with heaps of anonymous hate and words of dismay served up with public displays of intolerance and ignorance; to cross paths with a person such as Cyndi is a blessing.  She has proven herself to be an advocate of not only self-healing, but of world healing.

I have never met Cyndi or her husband Tim Roberts of web design company Crucial Networking in person.  Cyndi, Tim and I share mutual friends and after years, recently ended up connecting via cyber space.  I have had brief online chats with Tim in the past, a self-confessed “music snob”.

Recently he posted an announcement that he had launched a website for his “amazing and multi-talented wife” called My Zen Art.  I checked out the website and then joined the Facebook page to better understand what it was his “amazing and multi-talented” wife was cooking up.

I soon discovered Cyn not only designed and sewed yoga bags, tapestries,  but painted as well.  In fact she is a multi-mixed-media whirlwind spreading positivity in every direction in which she creates.  Including her daily postings of quotes and lifestyle, nutritional information. My Zen Art is not only about individualized merchandise and art pieces, it’s about healing the mind, body and spirit.

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and to let it come in.” ~Morrie Schwartz

I believe Cyndi has mastered the task and if we allow her, she’ll show us the way. She possesses that rare quality of being willing to reach out to another human being and connecting while comforting.

I am very pleased to introduce you to the founder of My Zen Art, a member of La Diva Artist Movement and a woman whose words, personal strength and conviction has aided me in my health struggles.  It’s as if I have Yoda on speed dial. 🙂

Someone You Should Know…Cyndi Roberts

The Basics:

  • Age: 31
  • Marital Status: married
  • Location: Plainville, CT
  • Children: none
  • Education: high school grad, 4 years completed at University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
  • Hometown: Plainville, CT
  • Your profession: I have always been an artist at heart.
  • Nickname: Cyn



Quick Questions (answered) in 5 Seconds:

What is your favorite book?
Echkart Tolle, “The Power of Now”

Is there anything you wouldn’t try or do in life?

What is your biggest fear?

List 5 Random Facts or Habits about yourself that would be classified as weird, strange, or different.

The root of my depression was thinking I was weird, strange or different. Now I feel the little quirks I have make me unique and very common at the same time; these things make me who I am.

1. I have a very powerful sense of smell

2. I have a strange way of solving math problems.

3. I have a very strong connection to birds, nature and the universe.

4. The often chaotic nature of most jazz music seems to make me anxious.

5. I am very meticulous and love-making lists and checking things off.

What is your life’s philosophy?
We all have the power to change our thinking to heal ourselves and each other.

Is there a moment in your life that stands out in your mind as life changing?
The moment I was told by my doctor that diabetes and liver failure were inevitable if something did not change.

Because it’s important to not take one too seriously, what is the most bonehead thing you have done in life?
Every decision and every choice I have made has led me to this point, which is exactly where I need to be. I don’t want to judge my experiences as good or bad, because they have all been a part of the greater good, which is my destiny.

What would you say is your life’s greatest achievement?
Nurturing my mind and body back to health.

What were your childhood dreams and have you achieved them?
As a child, I knew very deeply that I wanted to create art and I wanted to teach. I’d spend hours teaching lessons and giving quizzes to my stuffed animals in my parents’ basement. I hope to one day teach yoga and art.

Who has been the greatest influence in your life and why?
Definitely my husband. He is a remarkable man. He has taught me many things, but most important how to accept, love and support a person unconditionally, and that laughter truly is the best medicine.

What were the determining factors in founding My Zen Art?
Getting off synthetic medication reawakened my creativity. I am able to use art as a healing process and want to share inspiration, my talent and abilities with others.

What do you hope to carry out through My Zen Art?
I’d like to sell enough art to pay for yoga teacher training and share my story to inspire others so they know there is hope.

How many years have you been practicing Yoga?
I have practiced yoga for about a year and a half.

What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage?
Full acceptance of one another and a sense of humor. We try to see who can make the other laugh harder.

How did your interest in art develop?
I was always creative, in every aspect of my life. Art was in everything for me and inspiration was everywhere. It came naturally to me and I expressed it through my school work, photography, painting, sculpting, graphic design, sewing, singing and acting. The process of getting off medication was a very uncertain and painful process and expression through art felt right and natural; it was a huge comfort.

How do you keep up a positive attitude in the face of adversity?
The adversity I have faced has forced me to find my true self. My life has been full of challenges and negativity, yet I see clearly now that none of that stuff matters. The truth is that I matter. I have this one chance, this one experience of life, this one body, this one mind. It is up to me. I can choose to be happy or choose to be sad and it is completely out of my control what others think and what experiences may happen to me, but I know I don’t want to experience a life full of toxic, negative energy.

When did you take up design and sewing?
I have always been interested in sewing and felt as though I was meant to do it. As a child, I would sit and marvel at the way my aunt would sew. My grandmother used to sew for a coat factory, when she first arrived in America from Italy. I fondly remember little random sewing projects over the years. It wasn’t until a year ago, when I was in the midst of getting off medication, that I started sewing seriously. I had the idea and was given an opportunity to create my first tapestry by the owner of a local yoga studio. Design always seemed to come naturally to me, it just made sense. However I was fortunate enough to fine tune my design skills when I studied it at Uconn.

You and your husband are avid music lovers, which live performances do you list in the top 5 of your all-time favorites?
I have seen literally hundreds of shows and this was a very difficult question for me! I cherish live music, because it keeps me present. It’s such a profound art form for me.

Brandi Carlile – Infinity Hall, Norfolk, CT – September 2010.
All six times I have seen her become my favorite show at the time. She is my favorite artist and is a tremendous inspiration to me. This show in particular had a great story to go with it. The band was so in love with the venue that they decided to do an impromptu acoustic set, disregard their set list, and take requests from the audience. I had a song in mind but was trying to find the courage to shout it out for much of the show. Finally, at a quiet point in between songs I decided that it was time. I shouted out “Follow,” which is one of my favorite songs. Inexplicably, the complete stranger sitting next to me (out of the 300 people in the venue) also chose this very moment to shout out the same song title! Brandi stopped in her tracks and turned to look at us. She made a joke about how we didn’t have the courage to shout it out, so we decided to team up. I responded and said “that wasn’t planned – we don’t even know each other!” She gasped, grabbed her chest, and took a step back, and said she was really freaked out. Unfortunately she didn’t have time to play “Follow,” but later that night I met her, and she remembered me as “The Follow girl,” and promised to play the song the next time I was at a show.

The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies – The Wetlands, NYC – September 8, 2001.
This show took place just days before the travesty of 9/11, and just a few blocks up the street. It was also one of the last shows at the Wetlands, which was one of the best and worst places ever to see a show. I have seen this band dozens of times, including my first date with my husband. Each show left me speechless (and temporarily deaf). On this night, they hit the stage at 12:30am, and played until 4:30am. It is very difficult for me to find words to express the experience of seeing Mike Farris, the lead singer, onstage. After stomping, sweating, and baring his soul onstage for hours, Mike would always finish every show with an a cappella version of “Amazing Grace.” To this day, I have never heard anything like it. It seemed as though time had vanished when I was at one of their shows. They were a celebration of life and music, and there wasn’t a song I couldn’t sing along to or dance with. This band was what live music was all about: when you go to a show and get so caught up in the experience and the intensity of it that all of your troubles melt away and you become fully present in that moment in time. His voice is unlike anyone I have ever heard. It is so pure and captivating whether he’s quietly carrying a melody or rocking out a scream. He could sing the dictionary and move me. Over the years, Mike has also become a good friend.

Metallica – Hartford Civic Center, 1996.
Over 16,000 people and I was in the front row. The show was loud and awesome and they were literally 10 feet away from me; so close that I felt as though I was getting incinerated by the pyrotechnics on stage. They also had a staged portion of the show where the lighting rig fell apart and a roadie came crashing down with it. It was falling toward me (I didn’t know it was a stunt at the time) and all I was thinking was “my parents are going to kill me when they find out I died at a Metallica concert.”

The Gracious Few – Pearl Street Clubroom, Northampton, MA – November 5, 2010.
They are an incredibly talented, high-energy group of artists. They, like all musicians, make incredible sacrifices to play live music almost every night for their fans. You can’t be in front of this band and not be moved by their music, and the passion they have for what they’re doing, it seems to me that they try very hard to make sure everyone there is having the rock experience of a lifetime. They have amazing chemistry and they’re making music for the right reasons. I had trouble hearing for two days after the show, and it was totally worth it.

Ben Harper – Smith College – February 3, 2000.
Ben Harper shows always amazed me. His music taught me how there is beauty in simplicity, that sometimes the space between the notes says as much as the notes themselves. At a Ben Harper show, it didn’t matter where you came from, what your beliefs were, how much money you had, or where you were going, all that mattered was that moment and the unity that was possible among a group of complete strangers.

I saw this show shortly after my grandmother died, and when he performed “I Shall Not Walk Alone” solo acoustic, I truly felt my grandmother’s presence and understood that she would always be with me, I took great comfort in that. My husband and I waited out in a snowstorm after the show hoping to meet the band, and they ultimately had venue staff bring us inside to warm up. The great thing about meeting Ben Harper was that I always felt as though I had his undivided attention for the brief moments I was talking to him. I was able to tell him this story about my grandmother and thank him for playing the song. He paused, stared rather intensely at me for a few seconds, and then offered a sincere and heartfelt “thank you,” and then gave me a big hug.

Obesity in the United States is a major health concern.  In what ways does Yoga combat poor nutrition and other health issues?
I believe yoga can be beneficial to every human being on this Earth. You can use it however you need. Whether you have arthritis or other disabilities, or want a very strong power practice, or just need some gentle stretching. It immediately brings you into your body, aware of your breath, and how movement of the body is connected to feeling in the body. When you are fully in your body and feeling the movement, the mind does not take over any more. This is helpful because most of the suffering we experience is from our own judgmental and critical, negative thoughts. When you are fully in your body, noticing how things feel and move, you will get to a point (any physical activity – it doesn’t have to be yoga) where you care what you put in to your body, because it directly affects the way you feel. There are so many things we do as a human race to suppress feelings and emotions. Yoga will help shed those old habits if you are determined and ready to let go. Getting out of my mind by practicing yoga and other exercises helped me develop a healthy lifestyle and lose weight. Yoga has also helped me tremendously with not wanting to ever smoke again, because it is a practice based on your breath. I would rather take a power yoga class than get drunk or do drugs, because it takes me to that same place of quieting my mind, and it’s actually a way to honor my body, rather than destroy it.

What activities do you take part in outside of art, music and Yoga to recharge your batteries so to speak?
I spend as much time as I can outside, walking with my dog, hiking or sitting. I love baking and inventing new recipes.

What is the one trait you value most in your friends?
Full acceptance to be true to who you are; that’s a rare quality.

Finish this sentence.

  • On a warm sunny day you’ll find me.…outside enjoying the miracles of nature, with my husband and my camera.
  • On a cold blustery day you’ll find me….inside, baking and creating something, playing loud music with a ton of lit candles with the company of my husband and dog.

If by magic we could transport you within seconds to any place in the world where would that place be?
Hiking in Muir Woods in Sausalito, California with my husband and my camera.

Author Notes:  Many thanks to Cyndi and Tim Roberts for your advice and support to me personally as it has made a difference in transitioning the changes in my life.

Vimeo Festival + Awards Winner/2010

Last Minutes with ODENby Eliot Rausch, Lukas Korver, Matt Taylor – Phos Pictures