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“Let’s try Lynx Lake Cafe for breakfast,” Mike said.

I displayed my lack of Prescott, AZ lore without keen self-awareness by answering, “Where’s that?”

A turn at Costco and suddenly you are in the Prescott “Recreation Area” surrounded by pinyon pines and juniper. A couple of miles up the road and we turn off to see a cottage-like building beyond a parking lot. Nothing special yet. Then we step out of the car and walk toward the entrance. The smell of burning juniper wisps through the chilly morning air in February. And then I see it: Lynx Lake, and all reservations are forgotten.

Lynx Lake, Prescott, AZ

We open the screen door and pass an inviting fireplace and on to the picture windows over-looking the lake.

The Fireplace at the Lynx Lake Cafe

I must be getting old and sentimental because a year later, I invite Damon and Regina to breakfast to relive the romance of the venue. I look up and see them with the lake beyond and notice they are both otherwise occupied.

Let there be texting!

There is a ‘teachable moment’ here. I just haven’t learned it yet.

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Upon their first meeting, my brother continued with his examination of Gina: “…it’s a good thing that you are pretty – you could get away with wearing any color of hair!”

Translation: “I hate your hair color!”

I thought this was a little bizarro coming from my brother, as he has cultivated his reputation in the family as the avant garde, worldly rebel. I can’t now diplomatically say what he used to send out for Christmas Cards (maybe I’ll find and old one and scan it someblog).

"I miss the aqua hair!"

Some months later, my suspicions concerning the direct link between my brother and Mother were confirmed when upon seeing Gina, the first thing out of her mouth was not hello but: “You don’t have blue hair — I heard that your hair was blue!”

Maybe I have changed and no longer reject out-of-hand what my younger brother thinks, because I do agree with him that Gina is lovely – although without his conditions that pass judgement upon any body modifications. She seems to me like a rare exotic bird – a special person that my son was lucky enough to marry.

So it was a double joy to take a family drive last summer over to Jerome for breakfast.

There are at least two places that I now do not want to miss while in Jerome:

1. The Mile-high Grill (and Inn), and

2. Nellie Bly.

The former I patronize for breakfast — the latter for the pure joy of seeing their massive inventory of Kaleidoscopes.

So while passing through Jerome earlier this week, I was visited again by the warm memories of that summer outing. The staff at Nellie Bly were more than accommodating; they allowed me to put a Canon G12 camera up to one of them to capture this image:

A Kaleidoscope at Nellie Bly in Jerome, AZ

Upon seeing the cinemagraph of herself, Gina mused, “I miss the aqua hair!”

Victoria Jennings, Ex. Dir., Joshua Tree Retreat Center, CA

It is no secret that the Joshua Tree Retreat Center is a special place. I have blogged about it often. Most people that I talk to do not realize that the center is open for personal retreats. I thought I would re-post an article from the Executive Director, Victoria Jennings in which she describes her personal experiences and some of the history of the 400 acre center.

Victoria was gracious enough to sit down with me and re-live the article. The sound-bite below is from that interview.

The article follows:

“The moment that I stepped onto the grounds of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, I could feel a shift. It wasn’t an earthquake, but rather, a shift in energy. It was if if the physical landscape became some kind of portal to the inner landscape of my higher mind. Coming from the hubbub of the city, the silence was so deep that it awakened me. I felt an impulse to search my soul and experience the world as it truly is, uncluttered by clamor of urban life.

As I walked the land, I was captivated. Nestled among meditation pathways and canopied by trees and flowering oleander were labyrinths, ponds, open spaces and magical hidden nooks. The surrounding mountains gave way to clear blue skies, and I had an incredible sense of wide-open space. All kinds of creatures—rabbits, squirrels, owls and other rare birds—roamed or flew about, oblivious to my presence.

It’s no wonder Edwin J. Dingle chose this magical site to establish his 420-acre spiritual center back in 1948. He’d recently returned from Tibet, and the high desert of Joshua Tree offered the kind of peace and spiritual connection to the land that he had experienced there. Equally important, it was close to his growing community in Los Angeles.

Dingle had traveled to China to become editor of the influential Straight Times of Singapore. As a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of England, he was contacted during the Boxer Rebellion of the early 1900s to do a mapping expedition across China, producing works that would be used in WWII and beyond.

As Dingle and his mapping caravan crossed China, he fell seriously ill and nearly died. Nonetheless, he continued onto Tibet, and when he finally arrived, he as greeted at the monastery gates with a question: “What took you so long?” Somehow, they’d been expecting him.

Upon his return to the West, the seeker began sharing the teachings he had learned from the monks. The maps he’d drawn of China had made him a wealthy man, so he decided to build a spiritual retreat and share want he’d learned. “I wanted to create a sacred space where great leaders would come,” Dingle said.

In 1941, dingle was driving down a lone desert road in search of a suitable site, when he suddenly felt compelled to pull over to the side of a barren road. In that moment, a burst of light came down from the heavens. As its rays poured over the landscape, he heard a voice say, “The desert will bloom like a rose … someday there shall be cities built around the land. Great highways shall lead here as a place of respite.” Dingle soon brought this vision to reality—building began on the site in 1948.

Lights on Hwy 62 East of JTRC at Dawn

From its beginnings, this land has been an energy vortex immersed in a protective aura. Ding Le Mei, as Dingle became known, taught a mixture of meditation, pranayama >(breath work), affirmations and other spiritual practices that lead to balance of body, mind and spirit. His philosophy of MentalPhysics is based on the way the mind creates the physical world and it would eventually make its way to over 220,000 students worldwide.

The great leaders Ding Le Mei had envisioned came to him as well. Yogananda walked the grounds in earlier times. Shirley MacLaine was here at the beginning of her spiritual quest. JZ Knight (Ramtha) held retreats here before building her facility in Oregon. The founder of Astara was a student of MentalPhysics. And that’s just the beginning. Jack Kornfield has been leading groups here for 25 years, Alberto Villoldo for more than 10. Many more have been drawn to this sacred land, including Byron Katie, Jean Houston, Ram Dass, Lama Surya Das, Stanislav Grof, Joe Dispenza, Dan Millman, Swamiji Vethathiri Maharishi, Lynn Andrews, Ken Page, Stephen Levine, Terry Cole-Whittaker, Moshe Feldenkrais, Joseph Heller, Gabrielle Roth, Kalu Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe, Geshe Gyeltsen, Zong Rinpoche, Swami Vishwananda, and Sun Bear. Hundreds of thousands from around the world have embarked on journeys of power and mystery to absorb the wisdom of these great teachers, as well as that of the ancient rocks and trees.

The property has changed substantially since Dingle was first guided here. For starters, there are several beautiful buildings reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. Dingle had a relationship with Wright, albeit a rocky one. Perhaps their biggest obstacle was philosophical perspective. For Dingle, the layout of the buildings on leylines (lines of energy within the earth) furthered a connection to the land and the Buddhist designs he admired. But the Vastu (a building philosophy similar to Feng Shui) Dingle had learned was foreign to the architect at that time. Wright ultimately passed the job on to his son, Lloyd Wright, a less-recognized master in his own right.

Frank Lloyd Wright's "Caravansaries" at JTRC

The synergy of their efforts is one of the first things that impressed me. The roof of one dining hall actually emerges from the ground, sloping up from the landscape to a 70-foot crescendo. With concrete roofs, embedded stone from the land’s own rock quarry and walls of glass, the design embraces both ancient Tibet and 20th Century Art Nouveau.

There is something quite special in the vastness of the high desert—the dichotomy of the landscape and the explosion of color. Deep purples and bright oranges appear in stark contrast to the languishing blues in the sky.

JTRC at Dawn


The nights are filled with so many stars that sometimes I think I must be in another dimension—a direct connection with the Divine. The air is clear, delicate and unpolluted and the energy is strong, with 16 vortexes to delight ones spirit. The land is filled with such peace that it immediately calms and centers me each time I return. Some of the magic of the land may be attributed to the fact that it lies on an aquifer (an underground river), discharging an intriguing magnetic effect on those who enter this ancient landscape. I can’t help but wonder if Ding Le Mei somehow knew of the abundant underground water, or of the fault lines on either end of the property that allow the land between them to lie still when the surrounding area shakes with earthquake tremors.

People from all over the world have returned to this well-known energy vortex just to scribe their circle in the sand or recharge their personal stones. The grounds’ Healing Pond, filled by its own well, is a replica of the Chalice Well in England. Healing stones and crystals from all over the world are buried in sacred patterns beneath its base.

Whatever the explanation, Joshua Tree Retreat Center has grown to become the oldest and largest spiritual retreat center in the western United States, a non-profit organization whose mission is to nurture and support the infinite human potential. We’d be honored to share the magic of this land with you.”

JTRC Looking West to Mt. San Gorgonio

Architect Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, who continued the work of his father here, had this to say:

“In the mountains of California, above the Mojave lies a plateau overlooking the desert, sloping to the East,facing the morning sun, into the West where San Gorgonio’s snow-capped peak reflects the glow of the setting sun. Here, The Ding Lei Mei Institute is located. Moved by a sense of the tranquil nobility and eternal beauty of the desert, I have planned, not a city of asphalt, paving and steel, or the tight mechanical grid and congested living barracks but a city of the Desert, spacious, free-sweeping; its broad floor carpeted by myriads of desert blossoms; its residents dwelling at peace, and sharing with the soil, sky and trees, their joy of living, its centuries-old Joshua trees standing like sentinels above its homes.”

Breakfast at Nick’s

At the Counter

One of my favorite places to have breakfast in LA is Nick’s Coffee Shop & Deli. I don’t know how they keep such a large menu at Nick’s. And if you don’t see it on the menu, I bet that you can call it, and they’ll make it happen.

It reminds me of my first job busing tables at the (long-gone) People Tree Supper Club in Calabasas. Chef Costello, an eccentric post-middle-aged maestro who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine in his spare time worked a 16 hour shift without and assistant. He was said to have lived an alternative lifestyle with two flaming redheads — but I digress seriously. By the time Chef Costello moved on to the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant at the Van Nuys Airport, it was to take three full-time chefs to duplicate his menu. Another month saw the People Tree back down to one chef and 1/3 the menu size.

Anyway, my friend and acting coach, Rod Menzies put me on to Nicks.  He walks to breakfast; I drive like everyone else who is not in West Hollywood for 90 minutes one way, regardless of the distance.

We can sit and talk for hours about schtuff and I can return to Arizona happy to have made the drive and knowing that I’ll be here during my next inoculation of Los Angeles.

Rod Menzies

I found myself this morning, two days later, pondering a drive to Nick’s for breakfast again. I guess for me, it must be good.

Willoughby?
Prescott, AZ knows how to party!

The Taj Mahal in Prescott, AZ

Living in this town for the last several years reminds me of the late Rod Serling’s 1960s television series, The Twilight Zone…specifically, Season 1, Episode 30 – A Stop at Willoughby, where a businessman stressed from a miserable city life starts to imagine visiting an idyllic small town named Willoughby. Prescott is better than Willoughby; there is scarcely a weekend when something isn’t happening downtown.

Next Stop ... Willoughby (The late actor James Daly in 1960)

Tonight it was Acker Night. Surprisingly, Acker night (named for its benefactor and for the benefit of local musical programs) does not seem to be as widely known outside of Prescott as I imagine that it could be. During one night every year in December, all of the town’s businesses stay open until 8:30 serving holiday treats, and hosting musicians of all genres.

Dinner (Indian)
Mike, Susan and I met at about 6:15pm and began our exploration. We were not methodical. We just started walking east on Gurley St., letting the crowds funnel us toward music that we liked. I like opera, so I was anxious to visit the Music Café.  At one moment, we shared Gurley St. with the Lynx Creek Cloggers:

But Susan won — she was hungry and wanted to try the Indian Buffet at the Taj Mahal Restaurant. When we walked in we were greeted like family. On the way to the buffet, I looked to the right and saw the scene at the top of this blog entry as well as the scene below. The food was great too!

Just Your Typical Night at the Taj Mahal Restaurant

Walking it off
After dinner we were on the move again.  The crowds were thicker than usual this year; I lost my companions in the crowd, which gave me a chance to check out the Music Café again. I was rewarded. Kathleen Cuvelier was performing (I had been waiting a year for this!)

…and rewarded again –because next, Efren Puig performed. I don’t know why I like this guy so much. Something about his eyes when he sings makes me believe in whatever he is selling. It’s a good thing he didn’t ask me for my checkbook. Today I would be calling my son for a loan.

Mike and Susan found me shortly after I arrived at the Music Café and so we headed east again on Gurley to the Hassayampa Inn to see the Song of the Pines Chorus. Last year, Prescott resident Toni Tennille walked in causing a bit of a stir here at about this time. I love this group and this setting could not be more perfect for them.

In my younger years, I would have seen a beautiful image ready to be captured and would be too embarrassed to do anything about it. This, for example happened in Krakow, Poland over a decade ago and I promised myself it would never happen again. So, I stepped in front of the crowd and approached the director to get a shot (a necessity, as I was sporting a 17-40L wide-angle lens). For a moment, there was trepidation in the looks of some of the chorus (maybe it was the Russian hunter’s hat). Then I raised my camera, about three feet from Suzy Lobaugh, the director and all previous sins seemed forgiven. I was able to get this great portrait as she warmed immediately to the camera.

Suzy Lobaugh, Director, Song of the Pines

Now, Mike had wanted to see the show at the newly remodeled Prescott Elks Theater, since we missed it last year. As we approached the theater, we could see that we had just missed the 8pm show, featuring PK Jugg’s Uptown Shenagan Band, so we decided to walk around the square for 30 minutes or so and come back to see if we could catch the last show for this year at 8:30.

Killing Time on the Square
On our walk down Cortez Street, we passed many shops, each with a different musical group or entertainer. There was an empty space left vacant by a former business — but we heard the sounds of silver flutes. And there they were, the “Junior Fluties” performing a canon:

The "Junior Fluties"

We made our way across the courthouse square; Susan wanted to see if a friend from work was still performing.  The Yavapai County Courthouse sits in the middle of the town square.  The informed reader will recognize this building from many movies, including Easy Rider and Billy Jack.

The Yavapai County Courthouse

We found Joe Bethancourt at the Kikkapoo Express on Whiskey Row.

We continued looking for Joseph Leal. I have met Susan’s friend and Native American Flute Player, Joseph Leal before. The talented man with several very credible Native American flute music albums was just packing up after three hours on the job. I made this image as we were running out the door to get back across the square to the Elks Theater.

Joseph Leal, "Flute Dancer"

Joseph was playing at The Artful Eye Jewelry Design Center. It was good to see him again.

“Bill! Take our picture on the square!” Susan burst. Since we were in a hurry with about 5 minutes to showtime, I turned the camera dial to the green “P” (P for Professional). Mike was rightly dissatisfied with the shot, which left all of the Christmas lights behind him in a black abyss. Ok, so I turned the camera dial to “M” (M for Macho), dialed in 1/25 sec at F4.5, ISO 800, pointed the flash at the stars and let it rip (so to speak). The loving couple was slightly more pleased:

Mike and Susan

Then I saw Mike’s eyes dart in a different direction and I couldn’t help following him. “Heyyyyyyy, can you take our picture?” one of the girls asked. There they were, three Acker Night fans who had come down from Flagstaff for the festivities. I told one of the girls, “Sure, but just before I take the picture, reach over and grab your friend to make [what photographers call] “happy hands.” She new what that meant. After attempting “happy hands,” every image will turn out great — guaranteed:

Heyyyyyyy! "We're from Flagstaff!"

Leaving all hands happy, we walked right up the street and into the line filing into the theater. We overheard one of the ushers mention that the seats were particularly good upstairs. At the top of the stairs, Mike peeked behind a curtain and motioned for me to follow. Box seats!

“Pump-Pump-Pump-Pump It Up!”
The show as fun, with a host of song parodies. The Band ‘rapped’ up the set with an audience participation number. Take a look for yourself to see how Acker Night was wrapped until next year.  See you then!

Want to know more?
The Twilight Zone, Season 1, Episode 30, “A Stop at Willoughby”

The late actor, James Daly

Thanksgiving – A great chance for extended-family portraits.

Kay was looking for a photographer to capture the family on the Thanksgiving weekend. Scotty was sweet. She told her friend, “you’ve got to call Bill.” She did. As we chatted about the potential shoot, she informed me of the 12 to 14 adults, one infant and one 10-year old that would be in the house.

These occasions may have intimidated me once-upon-a-time. But that was before I met Monte, Clay Blackmore and Hanson Fong. Now, groups are opportunities for great fun!

And another phrase crosses my mind as I am talking to Kay on the phone:

If one person looks good in the image, it’s the person … if 14 people look good in the image, it’s the photographer!

We agree on the time and place, and I show. As I unload the lights, I muse to myself, “this is going to be fun.”  I can smell the turkey and dressing still surrounding the house from the day before, and I enter the living room with a large brick fireplace with a rustic feel.  Kay’s husband, John informs me who is there and how it will go. The chairs are lined up like a high school recital is about to begin. With John’s permission I lose most of the chairs and arrange two the way Monte would have: 45 degrees to the camera facing each other. And we begin.

Film and an old joke

First, as the family is getting ready in all corners of the house, I corral Kay and set her in front of the fireplace (before I remove the chairs) to confirm that the settings in the camera are good.  I can hear John, a man who spent 40 years in marketing explain to some of the family that are gathered in the kitchen that he remembers those days in the commercial world when they used to burn one roll of film in every shoot before the models would warm up.  I butt-in from the living room and remark that I agree — “in fact in the old days, I wouldn’t event put a roll of film in the camera for the first 20 shots.”

As Kay waits for me to shut up, I remark how great she looks, and how I only wish that I had put some film in this camera!  A woman accustomed to keeping her composure and determined to keep a smile on her face, Kay falls for the old joke:

Now, we were ready to get started!

Exploring the Concept of Giving an Inappropriate Gift to Grandma

Next, Kay’s sister — Linda … an attractive lady who has been introduced to me as the actor in the family, says that she often appears in print.  She looks like a print model — elegant, well-spoken and open.  She mentions that her latest gig was a gag shot for a famous luggage company in which she was obliged to make an expression that would match the slogan, “Don’t Give an Inappropriate Gift to Grandma This Season ….” “Please, I’ve got to see that pose,” I begged.  She warmly and quickly obliged:

Don't give an inappropriate gift to Grandma!

What a scream! Of course I couldn’t leave it like that; I quickly put her in a basic “Monte” pose and got the following portrait:

I couldn’t help myself. Every combination of portrait that we made was not complete until we had done the “inappropriate gift” shot — culminating finally in the whole family’s credible interpretation:

An Inappropriate Gift for the Whole Family!

This could be their favorite image; it certainly made my day.  (The astute reader will (of course) observe that the seasoned photographer was able to get the baby to perform!)

Family

I was great to see these sisters in love and enjoying their respective families.

Sisters

Lighting: Westcott Spiderlites.

A Frontier Christmas

Every year during the fist week of December the City of Prescott, AZ lights the Christmas decorations at the Courthouse. I have missed it for two years, because I am a block away over at the Sharlot Hall Museum getting ready to capture some low-light night shots.

There are tricks to getting these images. No tripod? Forget it! On-camera flash? Might as well point-and click! I find a couple of off-camera, radio-slaved flashes on manual or TTL with a dragged shutter may do the trick. The issues though are many, including the guests moving quickly past the camera and the area lights over-powering the shots. It makes getting good candids a worthy challenge.

The architecture at the museum grabs me right away, but Mike Lange, who works there (and is a photographer in his own right) puts a hand on my shoulder as I am setting up shots of the buildings and reminds me, “we want people!” Yes, the guests, who instinctively run out of the way when they see the tripod set up — presumably as a courtesy to the photographer. I call out, “wait! wait! It’s you I was trying to get!” So I come away with lots of ghosts running through the images, which are typically shot at 1/4 sec at F5.6.

Last year, the weather was cold, but clear:

2010 Frontier Christmas at the Sharlot Hall Museum (Prescott, AZ)

This year, we have early snow. So I donned my best pair of plastic pants and did Mike’s bidding, but not before I took just one more architectural shot. I went looking for the reenactment of Sharlot Hall by the outside fire. She was in parts unknown, so I shot the fire anyway, with her house in the background:

A Frontier Christmas at the Sharlot Hall Museum (Prescott, AZ)

Oh, the people? Here is a loving couple up from Scottsdale (about 90 mi away). I spotted their hats from a distance. I had to go find them to bring their Christmas regalia in front of the camera. They seemed thrilled to be in the shot. I want the hats!

Christmas Regalia

After a recent sojourn into the Mojave Desert to capture stories of healers, I guess that I was still overwhelmed even several weeks later by some of the testimonials. A typical snippet of what I had come back with would be Dianne’s story:

After showing my son, Damon some of these, he mused about doing a testimonial himself about some of his life experiences. Although he has a wealth of such experiences, there was no doubt in my mind that his stint in front of the camera was going to be something between tongue-and-check and irreverent. This presumably would be meant to confound all attempts by me to get to a deep level during an interview.

Knowing that he, like most photographers that I know would prefer to stay on the other side of the camera, I attempted to encourage him by adorning him with my favorite sets of Love beads and filling his hands with a sacred musical wood block, complete with mallet that I had retrieved years ago from the Yucatan.

“Camera is rolling, sound is speeding, and … ACTION!”

(Pause and silence).

Damon: “I don’t know … I’m not feelin’ it!”

Boy, have I heard that before! It has become my current obsession to figure out how to get someone in front of the camera beyond that spot and to dig deeply into those feelings to bring out something real. I try to remember the times spent with directors Rod Menzies and Shayde Christian to see if I can remember how they did it. I am not sure exactly what to do in every situation, but I instinctively feel that the performance in front of the camera springs from that twilight area very close to our fears and passions, like some artistic serpent coiled and ready to strike forth. As the photographers delving into video, we attempt to invite the serpent to strike, without invoking its ire.

As Damon continued to silently express his feelings, I saw in the camera moments of supreme facial realities that would rival any actor. These moments confirmed my feelings about that twilight area from which art springs from the deep subconscious. But the words, probably immovably blocked in some cerebral lobe would have to wait for another day to amaze me.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. Overcoming my own fear of being in front of the camera, I burst, “let me give it a try!” I took up the ceremonial musical wood block, left him standing there in the forest with the Love beads, and gave it a try.

Not to bore the reader with my impromptu script, I will suffice it to say that my sister, upon seeing the performance wrote, “what a bunch of [explicative deleted] mumbo-jumbo!”

"You've gotta be sincere?"

I don’t know, I thought it was pretty sincere, if not in a mumbo-jumbo sort of way.

Well, OK. So, Damon did try to make me laugh; I’ll show part of it:

Maybe this whole story is just an excuse to pay homage to the late performer, Jesse Pearson, who created one of my favorite characters, the man with the gold lamé jumpsuit, Conrad Birdie. Maybe I need look no farther than his performance for the answers I seek: “You’ve gotta be sincere — honestly sincere!”

Now forty years gone, I still find myself hearing my late father’s favorite sayings. I was amused when he first said, “the old jokes are the best — that’s why they’re old!” I have since learned that this expression was fairly common four generations ago.

A self-funded race car driver, he used to drive pedal-to-the-metal with thumb and index fingers on the wheel weaving through traffic citing the title of this post. Mother would object claiming, “Stop showing off, Bill. We’re all going to die!” He wouldn’t.

Now that the decades have assuaged any high-speed fear that I might have suffered then, I come more-and-more to realize what he meant. While reviewing some video of interviews, I came across one that stood-out after-the-fact. I sensed the young woman had more to tell than what I had interpreted to be a safe answer to a question about changes that she may have experienced in her life after studying alternative healing methods.

With one take “in-the-can,” I approached her to try to get to a deeper level, and quickly realized that she had said all that she had intended to say. In the following image, you can see her subtle reaction to my invitation to explore a deeper level in her response.

In the end, she gave a polite response, but I can’t help feeling that had the invitation been better-crafted, that something profound might have happened … or not.

I am reminded by the teachings of another friend and mentor, Hugh Milne, as he suggests to students of craniosacral work who are anxious to help their clients:

“you can’t go too deep — just too fast!”

Not Your Typical Doc

Last week in the desert, while doing some video interviews, I met Dr. Leonard (no, not McCoy). A medical doctor who has a keen interest in indigenous healing methods, the doctor divides her time between her practice Down Under and her philanthropic work in Africa.

When she showed up to a second interview in a beautiful ceremonial dress, I couldn’t help asking her to pose for this study.

Dr. Leonard

Dr. Phillipa Leonard, MD