Not Being Home for Christmas – Remembrances of Celebrating Abroad

Home for Christmas, Mission Positive Films, MPF, Heather M Spencer

Not Being Home for Christmas – Remembrances of Celebrating Abroad

Being home for Christmas can’t be beat, but there is something to be said about experiencing the holidays in other places as well. Don and I had a last minute opportunity this year to spend Christmas week in Whistler, BC, so instead of shorts and slippers, we were tromping around in puffy mounds of newly fallen snow, and though living in Hawaii is a blessing, a white Christmas is a dream come true. There’s just something about twinkling lights and snow covered trees that turns your thoughts to flying reindeer and portly men in red suits.

Most of our traveling has been during this time of year, which was entirely due to the nature of our business. In the early years we were working ridiculously long and stressful hours, and had come to a point where we knew we needed to do something to decompress. We had two choices, either to check ourselves into the “ funny farm“, or go on vacation. Since it was considerably cheaper to travel, it was pretty much a no brainer. The only time we could afford to be away from the business was the last 2 weeks of the year, so it quickly became a tradition to shut the business down during that period every year, and head out on an adventure. The customer base came to expect it, and planned accordingly, and our employees were home for Christmas with their families, so it actually worked out quite well.

As we were playing in the snow the last few days, we started reminiscing about a few of the really special Christmas’s we’ve had the good fortune to experience, and thought it might be fun to share them. So, if you’re up for a little more holiday fluff, here you go.

Our first far away from home Christmas came as a bit of a surprise. We had spent a little time with a couple that loved to travel, and had learned the in’s and out’s of TWA’s very generous Frequent Flyer program. They both had a 2 for 1 coupon that had to be used by the end of the year, and were looking for two people willing to share the cost to Frankfurt. Needless to say, that was an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we were quickly on our way to Zermatt, Switzerland, Munich, Germany, and Salzburg, Austria, which is where we would be over Christmas. This was back before the Internet, so finding special places to stay was considerably more difficult than it is now, but that was right up Don’s alley. He scoured through travel magazines, searching for those hidden gems, and almost always found them. In Salzburg he had discovered a 19th century mansion that had been converted to a B & B by a local family. We arrived on December 24th, and were escorted to a large ornate room that had a bed as soft as a cloud, and an even larger bathroom with a claw foot bathtub. We were also invited to have dinner with the family as they celebrated on the Eve of Christmas rather than the day. To our amazement, dinner consisted of a 7-course meal with the appropriate spirits between courses, followed by the lighting of the Christmas Trees’ real candles, and the giving of gifts. We were completely overwhelmed, and any loneliness we had been feeling being away from home, was replaced with a sense of gratitude, and the contentment that comes with new found friendships. It was an experience that we’ll never forget.

The next notable Christmas trip was to Italy, and specifically Florence. We arrived in Florence mid-afternoon on the 24th, and had the most incredible lunch you could ever imagine. We then took to the city streets to enjoy the last minute hubbub of holiday shopping, which ended promptly at 6pm. The next morning we had a small continental breakfast at our modest hotel, and excitedly headed out to experience this beautiful city on Christmas. We quickly discovered we were apparently not in Florence, we were in Florenceville, because the streets were bare, and other than an occasional Gypsy, the city seemed abandoned. All doors to stores, restaurants, museums, and even the Duomo were locked tight. As the day wore on and our hunger increased, we looked everywhere for someone serving food, and fortunately fell on a little gelato shop that opened for about 2 hours in the afternoon. Fabulous gelato, by the way, not the best for satisfying a lunch and dinner meal, but it was Christmas, so we knew we could hold out for a day. The next morning after our little breakfast, we headed out again with all the excitement of a dream delayed, and uh oh, we were still in Florenceville. Different day, same deal, nada. At the appropriate time, we headed back to our gelato shop in hopes that we could again count on them to help assuage the hunger pangs, and thankfully they were there. Waking the next morning felt a little like the movie Groundhog Day as we had no idea what was in store, and so for the 3rd day in a row, we crossed our fingers and carefully stepped outside our little hotel hoping we would have finally found our way out of Florenceville. No such luck, and we were scheduled to depart on the train to Venice later that afternoon. Extremely disappointed and with nothing else to do, we walked the streets, as we had the previous days, imagining what wonders lay behind all the locked doors. As it got closer to mid-day, we noticed stirrings in the city, we heard voices, then saw faces, and before long, Florence appeared in all her glory. We had made it back to the light, and with a few hours of discovery left before we had to leave. The first stop was the museum that held Michelangelo’s David (wow was that worth the wait ), and then just enough time for a quick visit to The Uffizi. As we waved goodbye from the train that afternoon, we promised our stomachs that we’d take much better care of them in the future.

It was hard to pick just 3 special Christmas’s, out of a lot of years of travel, but this last one definitely had to make the cut. Don has always been an adventurer, and had decided that he wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Originally, I had no intention of going with him, but as he started finalizing his plans, I started worrying about the potential dangers of him going alone, and so I reluctantly signed on. Getting there was a story in itself, and included, planes, city buses, tour buses, and jeeps. When we finally arrived at the small hotel run by the tour company we had commissioned, we were more than a little concerned with what we had gotten ourselves into. We had one night in the hotel, and then were scheduled to begin the climb first thing the next morning. During the day, it looked like just an old, worn building with sparse furnishings, but at night, hoo boy, there were bugs everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Big bugs, little bugs, flying bugs, crawling bugs, and bugs in every color imaginable. Needless to say, sleep didn’t come easy. Thankful for the morning, we were packed and ready to hit the mountain at the scheduled time, and then we waited, and waited and waited. The man that would end up being our guide came into the company office mid morning in a 3 piece suit and dress shoes, obviously there to collect his pay from a previous trip. As the owner pulled him aside for a quick chat, it soon became evident she was twisting his arm into leading us up the mountain, and she wasn’t taking no for an answer. A few minutes later, we were in the jeep with this unfortunate overly dressed man, headed for the local market to pick up the food we’d need for our 5 day climb. We finally reached our starting point well after lunch, and in the pouring rain. It was just a little after dark when we arrived at the first campsite, drenched, cold and starving. Our first dinner consisted of a butter sandwich, watered down broth, and the smallest chicken leg on the face of the planet. The next 4 days included dysentery, kidney issues, major hunger, and really lousy weather, but Don was able to summit, and I made it to the highest camp, so despite everything, we considered the climb a success. When we reached the end of the trail, it was Christmas Day, and the sun had finally come out. There was a small village close by and the children were all dressed in their best clothes for Church, the boys in suits and ties, and the girls in dresses. It was an amazing site to see in an area so remote and so poor. As is customary, we gave away the extra’s we wouldn’t need such as toilet paper, soap, and pens (which we brought especially for the children), and felt like we were giving Santa a hand. It was such a marvelous way to celebrate Christmas, and though I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience, I also wouldn’t take anything for it.

Though traveling, especially during the holidays, can be unpredictable, it can also be extremely rewarding. Christmas seems to bring out the best in all of us, and that opens the door for some really special encounters. Maybe next year we’ll stay home for Christmas, but then again, probably not.

Heather M. Spencer

Mission Positive Films


MPF Observation Series – Technology – Driverless Cars

Driverless Cars

The cars aren’t flying yet, but the way it’s going, it won’t be very long.

If your secret ambition is to be a Driving Instructor, you might want to rethink your career path. It looks like the future of cars is to take the steering wheel out of our hands, and give it to our cell phones. Well not quite, but strangely enough both Google and Apple have entered the ” Who’s going to be the first to have driverless cars ” race.  What seemed a few years ago to be something used only in Hollywood movies, is now right the corner, and I mean right around the corner, as in 2020.

The race is definitely on, and in high swing, with all the major players vying to hit the market first. Let’s take a look at the competitors.


Nissan had their first public Autonomous Drive in 2013 at CEATEC JAPAN, Japan’s largest IT and electronics exhibition, and have been working together with teams from MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tokyo. So they are well on their way to that 2020 goal, which by the way corresponds with the Tokyo Olympics. How’s that for good timing. Their driverless concept vehicle is not only great looking, but extremely polite.


BMW has joined forces with Chinese search giant Baidu to produce a driverless car for the Chinese market. After watching this video, all I can say is ” wow, that computer really can drive “.
Daimler – Mercedes

Daimler is set on being the first to have driverless cars on the road, and they are definitely headed in the right direction to make that happen. They also have a driverless truck called the Freightliner Inspiration Truck ( 18 wheel type ) that is now licensed for Nevada roads.

This one’s a little hard to wrap my head around, but Google is well on it’s way to making driverless cars a normal part of our lives. Their vehicles have self driven over a million miles, and are already on the streets of Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas.


Tesla recently enabled the use of an automated driving system, called Autopilot, which allows properly equipped cars to steer, switch lanes, and manage speed on its own. This is their stepping stone to a fully automated vehicle. Look ma, no hands.

Toyota is a little late to the table, but is trying to make up for lost time. In September they announced plans to invest $50 million in building artificial intelligence into its vehicles, and will work with both Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to get back in the game.

Apple has just recently admitted to being a part of the race, but at this point, any details are strictly speculation. I’m betting it’ll be silver, what do you think ?

Honda, GMC, Ford, and Audi are also in the hunt, but are not likely to hit the 2020 timeframe.

The Federal Government has recently upped the ante in this game with the decision by The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, which is responsible for determining the safety ratings for new vehicles, to include advanced safety technologies as part of their ratings assessments. This means that vehicles that don’t have these technologies will have a harder time making a 5 star rating, and following that same line, there will be a significant impact on insurance rates.

I recently caught the tail end of last weeks 60 Minutes show that covered driverless cars, and the interviewer asked ” The Question ” about the inevitable glitches that comes with every computer. The answer of course, was that this technology is different, and that we won’t see the types of issues that are normally associated with computer processing, and I’m thinking to myself, ” Oh come on, really, who’s gonna buy that one ? “.  The fact is yes, there will be problems, especially in the early years, and there will be headlines, big ones, and the lawyers will be lining up rubbing their hands together in joyful anticipation of a large payday, but none of that will change the direction we’re headed. The technology will get better, and it will save lives, because the comparison between accidents caused by computer glitches, and those caused by texting, eating, or putting on makeup while going 70 miles an hour, will be overwhelming.

Driverless cars are coming, and they will change the way we get from one place to another, almost as much as when Ford put the first horseless buggie on the road. Their impact though won’t be limited to just transportation. Every piece of equipment that has an engine will at some point be affected, and it’s need for human operators reduced. We’re seeing a large step in the evolution to attain a fully computer managed world, and the technology is moving way faster than our social ability to deal with the changes it brings. So, hold on to your hat, the world of The Jetson’s is just around the corner.

Driverless cars,Mission Positive Films, MPF, MPF Observation Series
Mercedes-Benz F015 – Luxury in Motion. From the Mercedes Website

MPF Eye on Shorts – Untethered by Leftcoast Media House – Slacklining

Untethered from Leftcoast Media House – A Look at Slacklining

OK, all you adrenaline junkies, this one’s for you. I normally stick to short Shorts, but this was too fun not to include in our library. It’s a look at slacklining and highlining, which is an up and coming extreme sport. This film was shot in the Squamish area near Vanvouver BC, and has some great scenery and camera work. Enjoy the ride.

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Scene from the Film

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MPF World News – Arnold Schwarzenegger Weighs In On Climate Change

 Climate Change, Arnold Schwarzenegger,Mission Positive Films, MPF World News

Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs in on Climate Change

Mr. Schwarzenegger has never been one to mince words, and he’s not starting here, but the message is a good one. He posted this to Facebook on Monday, and it is starting to make the rounds. What I found very interesting was the comment made by Peter Gaeta who gives a long list of articles relating to the subject. Worth a look.

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MPF Observation Series – Communication in the Modern Age – Our Cell Phones

Our Cell Phones,Mission Positive films, MPF, Heather M Spencer

Our Cell Phones – A Love Affair

The cell phone is truly one of the most significant developments in modern times. It has become a friend, an assistant, a personal researcher, a playmate, a pet, a camera, a media hub, and our main source of communication. We have become so attached to this little piece of electronics that a survey done almost 4 years ago, showed that 84% of us couldn’t go a day without their phone, and this was more than just Americans. In fact, there are many parts of the world where more people have access to mobile devices than to toilets, or running water.  Can you imagine what that survey number would be today ? We’ve come a long way from the the old landline phone or corner payphone, that’s sole purpose was to allow us to talk to someone from a distance.

Personally, I’ve had a love, hate, love relationship with my phones. The first one was in the late 80’s, when they were about the size of a small child, and had about 30 minutes per charge, but it sure beat running around trying to find a payphone a dozen times a day. As the technology got better, our business got crazier, and I was chained to my desk about 12 hours a day, with a phone in each ear, and an office full of people waiting to see me. The last thing I wanted at that point was to be reachable outside the office, so I flat out refused to carry a phone until we sold the company. The first phone I got after that, was basically, just that, a phone, nothing to write home about, but handy. Then I saw the light, bought a smart phone, fell in love, and since then, have spent entirely too much time looking at that ” big ” little screen.

Though our cell phones are making it much easier to stay connected and manage our day to day routine, they are rapidly changing the way we relate socially. How many times have you been at a restaurant and looked around to see how many people have their heads buried in their phones ? And it’s not just friends, it’s couples, and families, and even folks that are obviously on a date. Everyone at the table consumed with whatever they are reading or watching or listening to, and it doesn’t stop when the meal comes, then it becomes a matter of giving the food just enough attention that it ends up in their mouth instead of their laps, without skipping a beat on the phone.

With our cell phones, came texting, which I have to say, has some definite advantages. At 3am when you’re wide awake with nothing much to do, you can text someone, even though you’d never consider calling them at that hour. If you just want to quickly give or get a small piece of information, there’s nothing better, but as with most things, we are taking it to the extreme. One out of three people would prefer texting to talking. We are becoming a race of super thumbs, able to type 120 abbreviated words a minute. Look ma, no fingers. This has issues on many levels, not the least of which is our young people developing a diminished capacity for grammar, sentence structure, and basic one on one communication skills. More importantly though, without the experience of hearing someone’s tone, mood, or intensity, and the sharing of thoughts, ideas, and desires that come with verbal communication, we lose a very important aspect of human relations. We lose a portion of our ability to understand, to empathize, and to sympathize. We need to hear the emotion in order to truly understand the need, written words will always fall short. That though may be one of the big reasons that texting has become such a factor in our lives, it’s so much safer than any other means of communicating. If we’ve forgotten something, missed something, or done something wrong, we don’t have to hear the disappointment or anger on the other end. This allows us to choose how we get news. If it’s something that will benefit us, or make us happy, we most likely will want to talk about it. If it’s something that may be negative, we can create a buffer and avoid talking altogether, but unfortunately we then are less prepared when we find ourselves in those ” can’t get out of by texting ” situations.

Something that came as a surprise was how addictive our cell phones have become. They seem to be our virtual lifeline to friends, family, and all the things that interest and excite us. That 2012 survey showed that 1 in 4 people check their phones every 30 minutes, and 1 in 5, check it every ten minutes. You can see that every time you are in a public place; in lines, on the street, in cars, in meetings, very few of us do not have a phone either in their hand or against their ear. Employers cite our cell phones as the number 1 productivity killer in business. That’s a huge statement, but I doubt anyone would question it’s validity.  I find myself putting restraints on how often I pick up my phone. I tell myself, I’m only going to check things first thing in the morning, around lunch, and before bed. But sure enough, I find myself sneaking a peek so many times during the day, I quit counting, and then I say “OK, tomorrow, I’ll only check my phone … ”

My husband is one of the few non converts left, and though he owns a watch phone ( AKA James Bond stuff ), it’s off way more than on, and it’s on only when the situation requires it. He won’t text because he enjoys that human to human contact, he wants to hear the feelings in the voice on the other end of the phone, and his viewpoint helps neutralize my cell phone addiction tendency, but he is also missing out on the benefits that come with today’s technology. So somewhere there is middle ground. A place where we can take advantage of our quickly evolving electronic world and all the benefits that come with it, without compromising our relationships, or our humanity.

Technology will continue to move forward at lightning speed, and our gadgets will continue to make a large portion of our lives much better, but there is no way though our society can change quickly enough to adapt to the new world we’re creating. We have to help each other find that balance. The young have a much better understanding of the computer world, and the elders have a much better understanding of the human world. If we work together, hopefully, we can find the sweet spot in the middle.

Something to think about.

Heather M Spencer

Mission Positive Films

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C – A Celebration of Life is in the 2016 Depth of Field Film Festival

Depth of Field Film Festival,C - A Celebration of Life,C A Celebration of Life, Celebration of Life, A Celebration of Life,Mission Positive Films,MPF,Documentary,Cancer Documentary,Cancer survivors,Cancer Survival,Cancer Stories,Cancer Survival stories

C – A Celebration of Life is an Official Selection in the 2016 Depth Of Field Film Festival

We just received the news that we are an official selection in the 2016 Depth of Field International Film Festival Competition.  What’s exciting is that it is an online festival, so if you have a desire to see the film, you’ll have a great opportunity. There’s also a Movie Trailer competition that goes along with it, so once ours is posted, I’ll let you know how you can vote. More info coming, and thanks so much for your support.

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MPF Eye on Shorts – Call to Earth – A Message from the World’s Astronauts

Call to Earth – A Message from the World’s Astronauts to COP21

This short film was shown to the World’s Leaders at the opening of Action Day during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris ( COP21 ). It was created by The Association of Space Explorers to demonstrate the importance of addressing the issue of climate change and the impact it is having on our world. If you have a love for this planet, and an interest in it’s future, it’s worth your time.

Call to Earth, Mission Positive Films,MPF Eye on Shorts

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MPF Eye on Shorts – 3D Street Art by Smookie Ilison

3D Street Art by Smookie Ilison.

Creativity in any form is what makes our world come alive. This type of art is fascinating because of the thought and planning that goes into it. Street paintings used to be lovely 2 dimensional images done in pastels that would run into a mix of colored streaks as soon as the rain hit, but as in everything thing else, a few extremely talented people have blown the lid off the art-form. I think this is what Walt Disney had envisioned with the street art scene in Mary Poppins.

Anyway, enjoy the experience.

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