Monday, April 7, 2014

The Sunburned Country

So we went to Australia. And it was wonderful.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me! 

 from "My Country" by Dorothea MacKeller

The people were friendly. The first afternoon, as we left our hotel to find lunch, my feet went out from underneath me on the wet sidewalk and suddenly there were three handsome young men helping me get up (fortunately, I fell on my butt, and not face-forward) and dust off wounded pride.
Sydney was far more vertical than I imagined.
I suppose that's because when I started writing to my pen pal, Sharyn, in 1964, the skyline was not so developed in post cards. The Opera House wasn't even built then. We walked down to the Circular Quay (pronounced Circular Key, which still takes effort for me to pronounce correctly) every day, easy because it was a downhill trek, not so easy coming back. We discovered a shortcut through an office building that included escalators that made the trip back a bit easier, but it was closed on the weekend and on holidays (of which there was one during our visit.)
We had sticker shock from food prices (minimum wage is $15, even at fast food joints), and a bit of discomfort over the tipping customs (generally, no tipping, because people earn a living wage even in restaurants.) The special price for the breakfast buffet at the hotel was something like $40, but the selection was amazing. There was always complementary fresh fruit in our hotel room, which I thought was a lovely touch.
I enjoyed every view we got of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a massive structure that we went over, under, and around. We saw them on foot and we saw them from boats. We saw them in the rain, at sunset, and at night. We watched fireworks on the Bridge and all over the Harbour from a patio on the Opera House. Magnificent.
Prince Harry was on one of the boats in the Harbour. Probably not on this tall ship, though.
The fleet was in to celebrate 100 years of something, so there were ships from 40 countries involved in the festivities over the weekend. It wasn't all because there was a celebration of comic arts at the Opera House.
A nice young man named Paul Mason did a lot of research in preparation for doing a career retrospective interview with my husband, Len Wein. I hate that hat.

In addition to his spotlight, Len did a couple of panels and taught a master class on comic book writing.
Len, left, next to Francoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker Magazine, on the editing panel. Francoise Mouly is the kind of woman who makes all women yearn to be French.
She is an amazing talent and intellect and I only wish I had been able to spend more time speaking with her.
Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, and Len Wein discuss their work for DC Comics on The Creation Myth panel, above. Len during his workshop on comic book writing, below.
Len kept running into depictions of Australia's favorite Canadian mutant. The one above was drawn by a workshop participant.
Dave McKean, Len, and Grant Morrison after their group signing.
Clare and Dave McKean, the Morrisons, Len, and Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance and The Umbrella Academy.)

After Len's obligations to the conference concluded, we had five days to ourselves and the friends who came to see us. Angus Ledgerwood, who was part of the Sunday Super Supper Squad during his sojourn in Los Angeles a few years ago, came down from Queensland to be with us during the conference.
We are looking forward to his return visit in May. He's been producing music videos while he's been back home, but his hope is to get another working visa for here.
We had a late lunch in a restaurant that had kangaroo on the menu, but I didn't think my first experience eating 'roo should be carpaccio. (Thanks to the waitress who used Angus' camera for the photo.)

Before my pen pal Sharyn and her husband Shane Murphy could get into town, Len and I spent time at the Darling Harbour Aquarium and Zoo. Once again, we ran into the reason the Australians so wanted Len to visit.
The aquarium had one of the things I wanted to see in Australia: a platypus. It's rather like a fat, fur covered duck and about the same size. Not particularly easy to photograph, because they are nocturnal and their pools are kept dark, but rather fun to watch. The aquarium also had an amazing collection of sea horses and the exhibits included large magnifying glasses, because the sea horses were so small.
Some of the sea horses looked like swimming plants.
I was rather taken with this sea anemone. So beautiful.
I have no idea what this blue fish is in the coral reef, but he sure is pretty! 
I did not expect to see penguins, but the zoo had a pretty large population of these cute little Fairy Penguins. Native to Australia, they are the smallest species of penguins. They are adorable.

The second native animal I wanted to see in Australia was in the Darling Harbour Zoo.
Almost wolverinish in its apprearance, this little Tasmanian devil is part of a threatened species. The animals are suffering from a virulant form of cancer and zoologists are hoping to save them with isolated colonies at zoos around the world while they try to find a cure for the cancer. There use to be a much larger variant of the species, but it was killed off a long time ago. They look a lot cuter than the Warner Bros. cartoon, but the zoo keepers carry large shovels to ward them off. They are cranky and will charge the keepers who are cleaning their display. I did spend a long time watching this one.
This is a cassowary. I have no trouble believing that dinosaurs still live after a good look at it. The eyes see back through the ages. That crest is not feathers, it's a shell of something. The claw on that middle toe can grow to 5". They can top over six feet and weigh in excess of 100 pounds. And run over 30 miles per hour. I hear they can jump pretty high and having an artery sliced by their claw would be an unpleasant way to die. Just a warning, in case you are ever in northern Australia or New Guinea.

And just what would a trip to Australia be if you didn't get to see kangaroos?
I did not know they climbed rocks. Actually, I think this is a rock-wallaby, a.k.a. ring-tailed wallaby. Wallabies have different shaped heads from kangaroos, and are smaller.
This little marsupial is enjoying a carrot and what looks like alfalfa. Yes, I thought it would love living in our back yard, giving the dogs some needed exercise.

The same zoo also had the first koala we saw in Sydney. 
Unfortunately, they spend a lot of time doing just this: sleeping. If you are lucky you might catch one in motion, eating. I really, really, really wanted to hug this one. I couldn't.

We kept running into the giant snails all over Sydney.
 I asked if there was a particular reason for snails (Los Angeles has angels, Chicago has cows, and New Mexico has Painted Ponies), but I did not get a definitive answer. It's not like there are giant snails living in Australia. At least, I do not think that there are.
The pink one was about a block away from our hotel, at the Museum of Sydney. One yellow snail was down by the Quay, the other was at the Westfield Shopping Center.
We saw some blue ones as we drove by a park. Unlike the Painted Ponies, they were all just painted flat colors, not theme-decorated. I think I'd like to see a paisley snail.

Sharyn and Shane Murphy arrived on a Tuesday and checked into our hotel. The last time I saw them was in Vancouver in 1975. They were on their way back to Australia after a two year stint at a university in Ontario where Shane did his post-doc work. Sharyn was a bridesmaid in my first wedding, because the timing just worked out that way. They had an infant when they arrived in 1973, and she was a toddler when they left. They had two boys after that and now all their children are married and one has a baby of his own. They are also scattered. The older boy is back in Australia, but the younger boy lives in Canada and Jenny lives in London. Sharyn became an attorney and they are now both happily retired.
 Len, Sharyn and Shane on the ferry to Manly Beach.

When Sharyn and I started writing in 1964, we had being the eldest of a large family in common. And we were both Beatles crazy. We wrote regularly for years, then sporatically. And, somehow we got back in touch via the Internet, which is a much easier way to communicate. Eventually, I hope that she'll give social media a try.

Sharyn grew up in a suburb of Sydney called Fairfield. She and Shane made their home in the Blue Mountains while they raised their children. Now they live in a home they designed somewhere 3-4 hours north of Sydney, but they did drive us out to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains to see some beautiful country.
This outcrop is called the Three Sisters.
The area around Katoomba area was part of a 1500 mile firestorm front just a couple of weeks after we were there. Fortunately, the Murphy house, which had been on the market for over a year, survived and Sharyn and Shane closed on the pending sale in November.

Our last full day in Australia consisted of going to Taronga Zoo, a short ferry ride to the northeast of Circular Quay. Janis Ian had put us in touch with a friend of hers who is the zoologist in charge of the great apes there, Geoffrey Kidd. Geoff met us at the gate, comped Len and I, and spent quite a bit of time showing us around the zoo and suggesting things we should see while he was at work. We even got up close and personal with some very tall critters who were as happy to take carrots from us as my horse is.
Trust me, that tongue is very long.

Len even got photobomed by a giraffe later in the day when we were pretty much the only people left at the zoo except for the attendants.
You can see Sydney in the background across the harbour. It is no wonder that my friend Bob Harris calls Sydney his "someday home town."
Here's a better view of Sydney from the zoo. We were waiting for a program of an amazing display of some of the birds who live at Taronga. There were a number of school groups visiting, and you could tell them apart because they wore their school colors. It was great.
I was very excited to get a look at this Andean condor, which was impressive in flight and landed on her perch for all to see. Taronga is helping to fund projects to save birds, including the condor.
At the end of each performance of the bird show, visitors can hand a donation to one of the birds, which then drops the money into the box. Who could possibly resist emptying their pockets?
The zoo has several koala exhibits, and while this one was sleeping, Sharyn and I did manage to catch a couple eating eucalyptus as the afternoon wore on.
 This koala actually moved around quite a bit while we watched.

At Taronga, we were able to walk inside a corral where kangaroos and wallabies and emus had free range. Some of the videos I've watched make it quite clear that you don't want to irritate a big red kangaroo. They may not be able to back up, but they can turn on a dime and land a kick which can burst your internal organs and shatter bone. Zookeepers were constantly warning about the danger.

This female chimpanzee is in heat. Obviously. I can't say I had ever seen such a display before. The chimps had a huge play area, with lots of trees and climbing platforms and ropes. And they made good use of them as I sat and watched at the end of the day.

Geoff took us backstage to see a couple of orangutangs and then let us come and watch the bedding down of the chimpanzee house. All of the apes come in to be counted, fed, and, where needed, medicated. We had to be careful to keep a safe distance from the cage, because if you got too close you might be grabbed by one of the chimps. They were curious and they probably would have been happy to get extra treats, but we weren't there to give treats, just watch.
Geoff was kind enough to drive us back to the hotel, which gave us a different perspective on the city. Parts of it are built on hills like San Francisco. And we got to drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Sydney Opera House as viewed from the Sydney Harbour Bridge near sunset. So pretty.

The non-official days in Sydney are the longest Len and I have ever had that approaches a vacation. We never travel unless it is work related, especially now that he's on dialysis three days a week. It's a good thing we've got a house at which I'm happy to stay home and receive friends.
I would go back to Australia in a New York minute, which is pretty amazing for someone who hates to fly. It was worth the travel time to get there and I would so love to go back and see more of the country. I'd like to take a train across the outback, I wouldn't mind seeing the Gold Coast or the Great Barrier Reef. I'd like to visit my friends in Melbourne. And I'd like to visit some more of the places of which I read in Bill Bryson's hysterical book In a Sunburned Country. I wouldn't mind seeing an opal mine. I never got to see brumbies or kangaroos in the wild, so that is still on my bucket list. Nine days in Australia was just too short.

After a final dinner with Sharyn and Shane, we went back to our room to pack. In the morning, I ran out to find some English candy bars that a friend had requested we bring back to the states. I also stopped in the chocolate shop and picked up a gift of premium chocolate from his home town to give Hugh Jackman when we saw him at the Dolby Theatre the night after we got back.

How appropriate that we saw this reminder of Len's influence on pop culture in a chiller at the airport while we waited for our (delayed) flight home. Pretty cool.

I did a post about some of the wonderful food we ate over on the Valada Kitchen blog. You can check that out here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Maybe Trip

I am up too late trying to take care of a thousand little things that need to get done before I get on a plane Tuesday night. That is, if I actually get on a plane Tuesday night. It is up in the air, so to speak.

Three months ago, my husband was invited to be a speaker at Graphic, which takes place in Sydney, Australia. I always said I would figure out how to tolerate 16 hours in an airplane when someone picked up the tab, so saying yes was a no brainier. The organizers said they would take care of Len's visa, but I had to get my own.

Once I renewed my passport, it was a 15 minute adventure on-line, but I got it done. Less than 72 hours before departure, Len still doesn't have his. On Monday morning, he was informed he would have to get a chest x-ray. Why? Who knows? After the medical office he was told to contact said they could squeeze in the x-ray on Tuesday, but they wouldn't be able to send the results until October 11 (the day of our return flight), he was told the x-Ray wasn't necessary, but a physical was. So far, two trips for a urine test which they insisted be redone, even though we knew there would be no change because Len has a kidney condition. And the organizers knew this when he responded to the invitation.

He could do without the stress. So could I. And so could the friends who live in other parts of Australia who are planning to meet us in Sydney.

It will be a very exciting time to visit Sydney. It is Fleet Week, with the Royal Navy in the harbor, as well as tall ships and ships from around the world. Huge fireworks displays are promised, and we are supposed to have ringside seats at a cocktail party overlooking the harbor.

I am trying to stay calm and believe everything will work out alright.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Partings

A friend of mine went on line on Tuesday to let people know that she has been ill and that she is probably close to the end. I knew she was sick, since she called to tell me what she had been going through about 18 months ago. I was not totally unprepared for the news, but it is still hard to accept. Let me tell you about her now.

My friend is the writer A.C. Crispin, one of many authors whose work I knew before they themselves became a part of my life. I met Ann when Barbara Hambly (another writer and subsequently good friend) was a guest at her home in Maryland just prior to the 1988 local science fiction convention for the D.C. area. I had begun the photographic project which has been displayed in more world cities than I've been to, and I wanted to photograph Barbara for the exhibit. (At the time, I thought it would be a one-time thing in Boston in 1989. I was wrong.) In the two birds with one stone thing, I figured I would photograph Ann as well.

It turned out that Ann and I had some things in common besides living in the greater D.C. area. First off, we both used our initials for our professional work, and we were probably both influenced by D.C. Fontana to do it. Her son was a year or so older than mine, with some similar issues. She was toward the end of a bad marriage and I had been divorced for a few years. She like to cook and she liked good food. She owned horses. I loved horses. She had a hearty laugh. Everyone knew Ann because she was already deeply involved in work for the Science Fiction Writers of America. This would have a significant effect on my life. Ann and I quickly became good friends.

She even tried to teach me to ride a horse.

Ann owned two horses then, a mare named Buttons and her son Scooter. Ann had another writer friend named Paula, who lived not far from me but did not own a car. So, on a regular basis, I would pick up Paula and drive out to the country to have dinner with Ann. One day she got both of us up on the horses for a little work. I had ridden the very reliable Buttons in the past, but that day I got Scooter. It started out alright, although I know now I had no real control over the poor boy.  We were moving along at a slow trot, I think, when a horse fly the size of a raven came down and bit Scooter on the croup. Canter depart. He took off for Virginia. I stayed on. Ann stopped him. At least, that's what I remember from the adrenaline rush when my heart finally went back into my chest.

Ann said he took three strides.

It was 10 years before I decided to give riding another try.

Ann had worked for the Census Bureau before becoming a best-selling novelist, and one of my favorite stories she told was of knocking on doors to collect information. In an exchange that belongs in a Chris Rock routine, she would relate the tale of the woman who named her daughter "Placenta" because when she was coming out of the twilight sleep of anesthesia, it was the most beautiful word the woman had ever heard.

When Ann and her then husband were thinking about taking a vacation to a dude ranch, I pointed her in the direction of one that was run by my mother's good friend in the Catskills. The trip was a huge success, with Ann schooling some of the string horses over the course of the week. That's Ann, always pitching in to help.

When Ann lent me a copy of Yesterday's Son, her very successful Star Trek tie-in, in audio form, I think it was the first time my son Michael realized that real people wrote books (he was six at the time.) The narrator read "written by A.C. Crispin" and Michael nearly jumped out of his seat belt. "A.C. Crispin! That's Jason's mom!" He was very impressed. At that point, Ann told me, Jason was in the "why can't you be a secretary like a normal mom" stage.

Ann and I wound up hanging out at several conventions over the first year I knew her, in addition to the time we spent at each others' houses. We had a particularly good girls' weekend away at the World Science Fiction Convention in New Orleans, and she was my ticket to things like publishers' parties. More importantly, she introduced me to many of the authors I wanted to meet to photograph for the exhibit. She introduced me to George R.R. Martin, long before he was GEORGE R.R. MARTIN. She introduced me to Robert Silverberg, who declined to be photographed (but who was much subdued a year later when he saw the work and his photograph was not included; he did get added.) At every party, she made introductions and talked up the project. In many ways, Ann really built the momentum on the Portrait Project until it became something people felt needed to include them.

When I left D.C. to go to law school in Cleveland, Ann bought my freezer. She would occasionally send updates on the thing until it finally died. I think she got far more use out of it than I did. It certainly seemed to give her a lot of pleasure.

I had only been out of law school for a few years when Ann and the Science Fiction Writers of America came to ask me if I would consider taking over as general counsel. I had been a creative rights activist for a number of years, which was what prompted my decision to go to law school, and my interest was in practicing law to protect creators.

Turned out, it was actually more like herding cats. No one comes away unscathed.

Nevertheless, Ann was on the board of directors of SFWA and she was already involved with the then President of SFWA, Michael Capobianco, who has been her husband for more than a dozen years. They, along with GRRM, convinced the rest of the board I was a great choice to replace their previous general counsel. It was a great fit while Michael was president and I think we did a lot of good work together.

Ann's big cause for more than the past twenty years has been Writer Beware, a way to warn new or want-to-be writers about the dangers of scams and scammers. Ann really put herself on the line, and was threatened often and sued on more than one occasion for naming names. I don't think she ever had a judgment against her, showing that the truth can be a perfect defense. Publishing scams became huge because of the Internet and Ann was there fighting back every day, trying to save people from broken dreams, broken hearts, and broken bank accounts.

I haven't seen Ann in several years, since we don't go to as many conventions as we once did. I saw her in San Francisco in 2009, when Michael Capobianco and I were part of a committee trying to rewrite the SFWA bylaws and plan a reincorporation of the organization. Ann spent part of the days with my husband and the wives of some of the other committee members, enjoying the sights of San Francisco. She did not make it to L.A. for the Nebula Awards I chaired that spring, but we did stay in touch by phone and e-mail.

I had hoped to see her this summer at Comic-con, when she was named a Grandmaster of writing tie-in fiction, but the state of her health did not permit her to attend the ceremony. I am sorry I am not likely to see her again. 

I am convinced that Ann is leaving the world a better place than it would have been without her. What better can anyone do with a life? She has improved the lives of the people who knew her and countless others who never had the good fortune to make her acquaintance.

Vale, Ann, ad astra. I have been and always shall be your friend.


September 6, 2013. Ann passed away this morning. Our thoughts go out to Michael Capobianco and her son Jason.




Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Game of Premiers

Being a teenager pretty much sucks for almost everyone. That's why Janis Ian's song "At Seventeen" resonates. Last night was another in my series of "things I wish I could tell my fourteen year old self so she would know it gets really great, not just better."

Last evening, we attended a genuine Hollywood premier for the third season of Game of Thrones. Because of our long-standing friendship with George R.R. Martin, we scored tickets. The first hour of the season, which will be on HBO on Easter Sunday, was screened at the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Here are some of the red carpet arrivals. Then about 1100 people slowly crossed the street to go to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for food, music, and other things in the theme of a Dothraki market as an after-party. I got home about 1 a.m., a very late night for the work week. I would not have missed it for anything.
I spent a good portion of the evening just hanging out at the table with George, because everybody came to pay respects to the Godfather. At least that's what it looked like to me. Len was with us for only a short while, since he had to go off to dialysis. After he left, I did wander around and went up to the balcony, from which I took the photograph of the musicians playing in the ante-area of the ballroom. I wish I had packed an actual camera, instead of only the iPhone, but some premiers will take away any cameras and it is a pain to wait to get them back later. In spite of the language in the invitation, this was not one of them.

I shot at a torso with a cross-bow and easily hit it. I did not find the actual archery set up, but Melinda Snodgrass said she did well at it. Like her, I actually took it as a class in college and I'm really got at it as well. So I am sorry I missed it. I passed up having my photographed taken with a sword and having a soothsayer give me a fortune never appeals to me. But, much as I hate needles and pain, I am perfectly happy to get temporary tattoos by airbrush or henna, so I got one of the House Stark dire wolf sigil.

I got to chat with a number of the actors and some of the producers as well. I had met Nikolaj Coster-Walau at Comic-con two summers ago (we were huge fans of the short-lived "New Amsterdam,") so it was Melinda who was excited to meet him. I didn't see Jason Mamoa, but I had met him in the elevator when they moved the cast from the panel room to the private Warner Bros. balcony in the dealers' room at Comic-con. He was very funny and had undergone two hours of make-up so he could thrill the audience when he took off his sunglasses to reveal the Khal Drogo look.

Kit Harington, the heart throb Jon Snow, came by the table for a few words and could not have been nicer. George took Melinda and I over to meet Gwendoline Christie, the actress who plays Brienne of Tarth. Reports are she's only 6'3" but she was wearing heels and towered over everyone in an amazing minidress--if you've got it, flaunt it. I crossed paths with Natalie Tena on a stair case and told her that our friend Dani had named her car after Tonks. She got a big kick out of that and gave me a huge hug. Utterly delightful.

I spoke briefly with Charles Dance, who appeared to be in attendance by himself. I loved him in The Jewel in the Crown on PBS back in the 1980s. He is formidable as Tywin, and has quite a scene with the wonderful Peter Dinklage in the first episode of the new season.

Tyrion's lover Shae, the delicate Sibel Kikilli, was charming. I noticed that Kit Harington and Richard Madden (Rob Stark) looked enough in face and build to actually be brothers, or the putative half-brothers they play in the series. Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) is taller than Richard. And Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran) has had a tremendous growth spurt. It's a good thing he isn't supposed to be able to walk any more, because it would be hard to hide how tall he has gotten.

I was especially pleased to get a few minutes to talk to Maisie Williams, who becomes the character to watch in every scene she has. Arya is my favorite character in the book. Arya and Brienne are the two characters who set this whole series apart in my mind from any other epic fantasy I have read, especially my beloved "Lord of the Rings."

As a friend of mine, Pat Murphy, has written, girls love these kinds of books as much as boys do, but usually they are put in the position of having to choose a male character to re-imagine as female in any kind of role-playing for Mary-sue fantasy. For all of the crap George has gotten for writing these books that are full of the ugly truth about women in feudal societies, he has created these two wonderful, adventurous, and gutsy females. The American Tolkien has done the Original Tolkien one better. Or maybe two. When Arya tells her perplexed father "that's not me," I just wanted to shout YES. George had gushed about Maisie from the time the show started running, and she is just an amazing young actress. Her prior training in dance has served her well in her training a swordswoman and I cannot wait to see how she handles Arya's growth in the next books.

A few minutes from now (Tuesday, March 19, 7:40 PM), the Television Academy will be streaming "An Evening with A Game of Thrones" live from the Chinese Theatre. Watch it here. [The introduction of the show indicated that the Q & A will be available for watching after the actual event. It was a very funny evening, and if you are a fan of the show, I recommend setting aside the 90 or so minutes to watch it.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The International Bank of Bob

After I won my games on Jeopardy! in 2009, I decided to join my friend Bob Harris' lending team on Kiva, called The Friends of Bob Harris. Bob was already planning to write a book about his adventures in micro-financing, so by the time I appeared on the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions in 2010, I was able to say that I was investing some of my winnings in The International Bank of Bob.

Bob's book comes out next month. If you live in San Francisco (March 5, St. Regis Hotel), Los Angeles (March 13, Barnes & Noble at The Grove), or New York (March 29 at The Strand Bookstore), there will be appearances and signings to celebrate the event. I've read two drafts of the book, and, like Bob's Prisoner of Trebekistan, it is informative, entertaining and touching. You can support your local bookstore by buying a copy there, or, if you no longer have one, order it from Amazon.

I would also encourage you to participate in Kiva. The Friends of Bob Harris welcomes new members and this link credits your acceptance to me. Be sure to designate The Friends of Bob Harris as your lending team when you join. (The designation "closed team" only means you have to make a request to join.) So far, our team of just over 1,000 members has made over 100,000 loans totaling just over $3,000,000. That puts us in position number four for all time, behind the 25,000 member Athiest and Agnostics team, the 10,000 member Christian team, and the 1500 member Milepoint team (as of today.)

I have chosen to reinvest my money as loans have been repaid. I've made loans to women in almost 50 countries, and I'm happy to say there are now loans available to fund here in the United States. I do have a soft-spot for women with horses and women artists and artisans, but my portfolio is pretty varied in terms of businesses. While I do not aspire to operate The International Bank of Christine, I do like to think I am doing my best to make the world a better place, one $25 loan at a time.