If I Lived at the North Pole

Bless Santa’s heart for choosing such an obscure location for his world headquarters, but he’s got to have a few neighbors who don’t work for him at the North Pole. There’s probably a Farmers Insurance agent, a cop and fireman, maybe even a CVS store manager. If somehow I ended up living in the neighborhood, I might also be a bit concerned about my Wi-Fi connectivity for Skype, my Dish satellite reception to watch my programs, our access to a Peet’s Coffee and how far away is the nearest Crunch Fitness facility?

If I lived at the North Pole, I would get a job at Santa’s factory. Tyler H., Age 6

If I lived at the North Pole, I would run away. Colton M., Age 8

Similar to the civic courting Amazon has recently received (238 proposals) for their second headquarters site, the Economic Development Department at the North Pole City Hall must have put together one heck of an impressive economic incentive package when swaying Santa from his previous location. There must also have been perks galore from the North Pole Chamber of Commerce and the North Pole Owner’s Association, because why else would you choose such a challenging place to set up shop…a work shop? Employee retention could be one reason, perhaps the only reason. I don’t mean to be politically incorrect, but where else does a large population of elves reside? In the big picture, it does make sense to locate close to your employee base and unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think there’s a big magical elf population in Texas, Nevada or Michigan, just to name a few of the other potential suitors for Santa’s Apple-like campus.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would visit Santa every day and I would give him presents to give to the kids. Justin L., Age 6

If I lived at the North Pole, I would find Santa and build ice sculptures.  Lucus T., Age 7.

If I lived the North Pole, I would go see Santa and help him make presents. Caden R., Age 9.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would help the elves make toys and then help deliver them and then I would do it again the next year and the next year and the next year. Ava A., Age 5

If I lived at the North Pole, I would find Santa’s castle and ask him to make me an elf. Maddox G., Age 7

I’ve been enjoying some pleasant late fall weather the last few weeks of November. Chilly mornings, comfortable afternoons and cool evenings are indicative of this time of year. Some (me) say autumn is the nicest time of year to visit the greater Bay Area. Rumor has it that Santa and Mrs. Clause were seen in Walnut Creek around Thanksgiving. Granted we don’t get to experience the delightful seasonal weather changes of places such as the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, or the East Coast, but we get more variety than the North Pole. Can you imagine spending 365 days a year living at the North Pole? Well, 350 days given two weeks for vacation and one very busy workday of travel. I think the term “white-out” was conceived in the North Pole when a local mommy went to pick up the kids from school and couldn’t find the school because it was covered in snow.

The North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean amid waters that are almost permanently covered with constantly shifting sea ice. Winter temperatures at the North Pole can range from about −50 to −13 °C (−58 to 9 °F), averaging around −31 °C (−24 °F) and summer temperatures (June, July, and August) average around the freezing point (0 °C (32 °F). I could be wrong, although I rarely am, but I doubt there’s a lot of variation in the temperature during the spring or fall.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would freeze to death, Grayson G., Age 9

If I lived at the North Pole, I would build a fire every day. Pierce B., Age 6

It’s said, home is where the heart is, but wouldn’t my heart be mighty cold at such a desolate snow-centric location? Housing might be inexpensive, however can you imaging what my PG&E bill would run every month? I doubt solar is an option. It must be murder (6-9 month wait) to get an appointment with a furnace and insulation contractor.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would make an igloo house. Caleb S., Age 8

If I lived at the North Pole, I would make friends with the animals and the Elves, Zoe O., Age 7

On the positive side, my sock and sweater collection would undoubtedly be impressive. I like socks, but sweaters make me look a little bulky. By bulky, I mean that visually I appear to weigh about 350 lbs. in a nice cardigan. If I grew a white beard and wore a red sweater, the big man might have a doppelganger roaming the streets of the Pole.

If I’m getting technical, and I do like to get technical, the North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is defined as the point in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth’s axis of rotation meets its surface. The South Pole on the other hand, lies on the opposite side of the Earth from the North Pole. Now I don’t know if the North Pole and South Pole relationship is quiet as contentious as North and South Korea or North and South Dakota, but for the purpose of this article I’m going to assume it’s all cool between the two Poles. See what I did there? “All cool,” get it? That said, there’s got to be a little Santa envy coming from the south. There’s no real government faction that rules the South Pole, largely because there’s no indigenous peoples and no one lives there permanently, but somewhere there’s a lonely scientist in a remote South Pole artic research station pissed off because he can’t hang with Santa and the elves at the local sports bar like his northern counter-part.

Should we one day look to downsize and relocate, the North Pole will not likely be one of our potential senior community destinations, I really like Bend, Oregon personally, however, I will keep an open mind. It will ultimately depend on where our kids end up settling and if that turns out to be the North Pole than anything is possible.

Have a happy holiday season.

The Nutcracker

            One of the most popular, endearing and delightful things to do during the Christmas season, is attend a performance of Peter Ilitch Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker. It is so popular it has become a traditional family outing for many devoted families and fans alike. In some cities it has become an annual affair not to be missed. Ballet companies around the country have this ballet in their yearly repertory.

            Alexander Dumas Pere’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story, was the impetus for Tchaikovsky’s setting. The Nutcracker is known as a Christmas ballet; as the story revolves around a German girl named Clara on Christmas Eve. She experiences a coming of age awakening. This encompasses an awareness of the world and visions of romantic love, beyond her own experience.

            The ballet is a fairy tale setting in two acts based on a family celebration on Christmas Eve. It was commissioned in 1891 by the director of Moscow’s Imperial Theatre, Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Tchaikovsky worked on it off and on and it was premiered in December, 1892, at the Imperial Mariisky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. The first performance outside of Russia occurred in England in 1934; almost 40 years after its premier in Russia. It wasn’t until 1944 that the United States premier of The Nutcracker was performed by the San Francisco Ballet Company. 

            Before the first performance in Russia, Tchaikovsky did something unique and unusual. He made a selection of eight of the pieces in the ballet and called it, The Nutcracker Suite, OP.71a. Traditionally, a suite is a collection of short movements, usually contrasting dances with a pause between each one, played as one piece. This suite was meant for concert performance, not ballet; first performed in March, 1892, with Tchaikovsky conducting.

            The suite was so popular and famous, it was featured in the Disney film production of Fantasia. This suite is not the complete ballet. The eight selections of the suite are: Miniature Overture; Marche; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Russian Dance (Trepak); Arabian Dance; Chinese Dance; Reed Flutes and Waltz of the Flowers.

            In the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tchaikovsky uses the celesta; an instrument consisting of steel bars that are struck by hammers controlled by a keyboard. It has a unique, relatively soft sound that is very appealing. This dance has become very noteworthy because of the inclusion of the celesta.

            Tchaikovsky was born in Votinsk, Russia and died in Saint Petersburg. He was not born into a musical family; nevertheless he showed early talent for music. In early adulthood, age 19, he was a clerk in the ministry of justice.

Tchaikovsky did not plan a professional career in music. When he was 21 he began a serious study of music. At 23 he gave up his clerkship to devote himself 100 percent to a music career. His friend and colleague, Anton Rubinstein, whose brother, Nikolai, founded the Moscow Conservatory, hired Tchaikovsky in 1865 as a professor of harmony.  He was not particularly happy teaching at the conservatory.

             Around 1876 he had an unusual relationship with a generous benefactor, Madam Nadejva von Meck. She offered an annual stipend to him with a very strange stipulation—that they never meet—they communicated only through correspondence. This gift was enough to sustane him financially; as a result, he left the conservatory and was totally free to compose music. This allowance lasted for 13 years.

            Tchaikovsky has been described as a romantic composer of Russian temperament. His music is largely based on Western European traditions mixed with some elements of his own temperament and Russian nationalistic traits. Generally, his music was considered as Russian as his nationalistic Russian contemporaries. His melodies are broad and sweeping and he occasionally used folk tunes, as in the 4th Symphony and 1812 Overture. He is known for sensational climaxes and violent contrasts of mood. His understanding of symphonic form was considered utterly masterful. Personally, Tchaikovsky was morbidly sensitive, very creative with bouts of depression and had an unhappy temperament.

            His orchestration is characterized by strong, heavy brass and sometimes, use of string basses for somber melancholy effects. He wrote brilliant solo parts for various instruments. He also wrote rapid changes of texture (light texture uses fewer instruments, heavy texture uses many instruments) for the various sections of the orchestra, resulting in sharply contrasted independent groups.

              Performances of his music are intended to be very emotional.  Notable compositions are: six symphonies; The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty ballets; Overture Fantasia; Romeo and Juliet; Piano Concerto No.1; Violin Concerto; Chamber Music; March Slav; 1812 Overture; Capriccio Italien and eight operas.

            Tchaikovsky’s gift for melody and inspired orchestration, plus the drama, excitement and emotional intensity of his music makes him one of the most popular of all composers. He was one of the first Russian composers to win world-wide fame. He conducted his works in major cities of Europe; and also conducted at the 1891 opening of Carnegie Hall in New York City. Tchaikovsky was honored by Emperor Alexander III in 1894 and awarded a lifetime pension.

            One of his best known compositions is the Piano Concerto No.1. It premiered in Boston in 1875 and was an extremely popular favorite with the American public. It was so popular that Freddie Martin used it as his theme song for his band. 

            Due to Tchaikovsky’s popularity, it is no surprise that two of the most famous ballets ever written–Swan Lake and The Nutcracker– became  tremendous successes. What a legacy Tchaikovsky left for all to enjoy.

Don’t miss the Danville Community Band’s annual Christmas Concert, Sunday, December, 10, 2017, 3:00 p.m. San Ramon Valley High School, Danville, CA. Free concert and parking. New venue for this performance. Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net. Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band. 











The Great Wave

     Courageous immigrants to America from the early1900s came vibrantly to life recently in Walnut Creek. Okay, not the actual immigrants. But they were powerfully portrayed in the world premiere of an original musical poem-play on immigration titled The Great Wave.

     Walnut Creek writer Judith Nielsen authored the play. It was staged by the Francis in the Schools program for an audience of Contra Costa County educators and civic leaders to introduce them to the program’s free offerings. Francis in the Schools creates festive day-long enrichment outings for children from impoverished areas aimed at giving them “a day of joy” and building their self-esteem.

Educational benefit

    Terry Hogan Johnson, Program Director, says, “We hope to present this play for schools where children can benefit from learning of the experiences of immigrants who entered America via Ellis Island, and who may be new immigrants themselves.”

     An excellent cast of Bay Area actors volunteered to present The Great Wave because it dramatizes the dreams, sacrifices, and struggles of immigrants and honors their courage and determination in inspiring ways.

     Johnson tells educators, “The message of inclusiveness in The Great Wave is a perfect teaching vehicle for children. It can help those challenged with similar issues of assimilation and integration. And it can inspire them by celebrating the enormous contributions these earlier immigrants then made to America.”

A professional production

     The play’s author, Judith Nielsen, has written for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television, PBS, ABC, CBS, and Lucas Films. Janice Erlendson directed this performance. Erlendson is a former ACT (American Conservatory Theater) actress who has directed numerous Bay Area productions, and who has taught acting and directing at UC Berkeley.

     The Great Wave was initially performed by students at the Meher Schools in Lafayette. This was its premiere performance with an adult cast.

The immigrants’ story

     The play opens with the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor in 1886, exactly 131 years from the date of this performance. The audience then joins the immigrants on their long journey to freedom, including their departure from their homeland and their poignant farewell to loved ones they will never see again. We share the rigors of the ship voyage across the Atlantic in steerage class, the immigrants’ first sighting of the Statue of Liberty, and the physical, mental, and legal examinations they endure at Ellis Island.

     Throughout, it is the “spirit” of Lady Liberty that beckons, guides, and encourages them. The play ends with a lively tribute to the ideas and inventions of immigrants who have completely transformed our country and the world.

The story behind the story

     Neilsen reveals, “Behind the individual stories of the immigrants themselves is the larger story of The Great Wave – the rich and unique destiny of America to blend the world’s races and nationalities into one united humanity, possible only in the United States of America. It is a play designed to awaken us to the highest and truest meaning of the American motto: ‘E pluribus unum’ – out of many, one.”


     Educators in Contra Costa County interested in their school taking part in a Francis in the Schools program are invited to email: terry@francisintheschools.org

Getting a Head Start

December is for entertaining. Whether you are a host or a guest, time is always a big consideration. Evenings are often multi-tasking marathons, angling to see as many friends as possible, though never fully enjoying one gathering before heading off to the next.

And then there is your own in-home entertaining to deal with. Choosing a date and time to accommodate the schedules all your family and friends can be a challenge of epic proportions.

Whichever holiday you choose to observe this month, and whenever you choose to celebrate it, one nagging question remains: what to serve? If you shrink from entertaining cocktail party revelers into the wee hours of the morning, or dread the formality of an elegant dinner party, consider inviting friends in for a relaxing late breakfast buffet. Yes, that’s the meal formerly known as brunch.

If you are suddenly paralyzed by thoughts of pre-dawn alarm clocks and broken hollandaise sauce, hear me out.

Egg strata is a layered main-dish casserole that requires advance preparation, ensuring an easy morning for whoever’s on kitchen duty. Set the table at your leisure the night before. Stock up on locally-grown produce and flowers from the farmers’ market. The morning of your party, set out icy pitchers of fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices; pop open a bottle or two of champagne, make a big pot of coffee, and you’re halfway there.

                 …and now for a little something on the side.

This is an opportunity to show off your entertaining chops, offering a colorful and appetizing array of side dishes to accompany the strata. The more guests you invite, the more options you’ll want to provide.

–Ward off the morning chill with creamy butternut squash soup served in espresso cups

–A platter of smoked salmon dotted with capers and garnished with thinly sliced red onion and lemon wedges. Serve a small bowl of sour cream and a peppermill on the side.

–Fill a large salad bowl with spinach, arugula, or assorted seasonal lettuces, quartered fresh figs, and candied walnuts—all tossed with a champagne vinaigrette

–Small bunches of seedless grapes, piled high in a bowl of ice

–Tiny cornmeal muffins served alongside chilled fresh orange and cranberry compote

–Small scones or bran muffins studded with bits of date and/or dried apricot, served with sweet butter and apricot jam

–Roasted “smashed” new potatoes with fresh rosemary

–Sweet potato gratin with fresh ginger and a drizzle of honey

–A bowl of chunky homemade applesauce with a touch of cinnamon

–Baked pear halves stuffed with raisins, walnuts, and brown sugar, served with a small bowl of sweetened crème fraiche

–Try a modern take on Waldorf salad: bite-size pieces of crisp apple, chopped celery, halved red or green seedless grapes, dried cherries, and toasted walnuts, all bound together with vanilla yogurt instead of mayo. Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice to highlight the flavors.

–If breakfast automatically registers “pork products” with you, bring on a warm platter of crisp bacon, link sausage, or Canadian bacon. All can be cooked in advance and warmed in a low oven just before serving.

                          Three-Mushroom Celebration Strata

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 ounces dried mushrooms, such as morels, porcini, or shiitake  

1 tablespoon California olive oil

2 large shallots, finely chopped

4 ounces (white) button mushrooms, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

4 ounces (brown) cremini mushrooms (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 teaspoon soy sauce*

10 ounces day-old artisan bread, such as ciabatta or baguette, crust-on, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 5 cups)

8 ounces shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese (about 2 cups)

10 large eggs, lightly beaten

4 cups half-and-half or whole milk

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  1. Prepare the strata 1 day in advance. Use some of the butter to grease a 13- x 9-inch or other shallow 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish.
  2. Place the dried mushrooms in a heatproof medium bowl. Add boiling water to cover and let stand until plumped and softened, 20 to 30 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels; then slice.
  3. Combine the remaining butter and the oil in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted. Stir in the shallots and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the rehydrated dry mushrooms and the fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid cooks away, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the thyme and soy sauce and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
  4. Spread the bread cubes in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, salt, and mustard. Whisk until well blended. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes, and top with an even layer of mushrooms. Use a rubber spatula to press down the ingredients to ensure that all of the bread is coated with egg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Discard the plastic wrap and place the cold casserole in the oven. Bake until the top is puffed and nicely browned and a knife inserted into the center shows no evidence of uncooked egg, about 1 hour. Tent the dish with foil if the top is browning too quickly. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving with a large spoon. Serves 8.

*Soy sauce may seem like an odd ingredient here, but in addition to adding a bit of sodium it boosts the natural flavor of the mushrooms. Don’t worry. Your strata will not taste like Chinese take-out.

 The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.



Looking Forward to Future Conversations

I remember reading an interesting article, years ago, about longevity. It touched upon the scientific considerations of aging and how, due to a better understanding of nutrition, along with advances in science and medicine, human life expectancy was steadily increasing.

The discussion then went on to broach the topic from a philosophical perspective, asking the question, “If you could live forever, would you want to?” My first reaction, I suppose, was probably a common one: “Well, of course! Who wouldn’t?”

But then the article’s author challenged his readers to re-consider, suggesting that everything we love about life and living—everything that adds meaning and makes life precious—is so because it is finite. He proposed that the knowing that this glorious ride that we call life will someday end is the “stuff” that gives all of the value and meaning to it. It was wholly the yin yang argument—that we can only understand the fullness of joy by experiencing sorrow; that we only love others, and life itself, because we know we will someday lose them and it.

As a Christian who believes in eternal life, I must admit this idea was something I wrestled with. If it is the finite nature—the urgency—of life that gives it its richness and meaning, then is the notion of eternal life one void of meaning? Or, would living forever be an existence without passion?

This past October, I was once again forced to consider these questions, when I received a troubling email from a dear friend and colleague, ALIVE columnist, Edwin Cohen. True to his style, Ed’s email to me was clear and direct, with the same touch of humor found throughout all of his “And Then I Wrote” columns in ALIVE. His email came just eleven days after he had submitted his article for the November 2017 issue. The subject line of his email was simply, “Bad News.” It read:

Hi, Eric, etc.,

It looks like my November article will be my last and, indeed, will be published posthumously. This sickness I have had for the past two months cannot be cured.  I have an appointment today, 10/10, to make some final arrangements with my doctor.  

We had in my opinion a good run together and I loved the fact that despite our coming from vastly different backgrounds we could disagree with respect and dignity.

Thanks for everything,

Ed Cohen

Upon minutes of reading this, I swallowed hard and called Ed. We spoke briefly about his condition, but then talked about what mattered most between us, both painfully aware this would likely be our last conversation in this life. Always the epitome of a gracious gentleman, Ed thanked me for the opportunity to write for ALIVE—something that was clearly a benefit to our magazine, as it will forevermore be lacking without his monthly articles. I know our readers will miss him, as do all of us at ALIVE already. 

As mentioned in his email, Ed and I came from very different backgrounds, and were pretty far apart on most political and many other matters. But our mutual respect and willingness to discuss matters openly with one another kindled a bond of friendship that I will sorely miss. We even joked about running for office together on the same ticket, debating who would occupy the top slot.   

Returning to that vexing question about eternity, after considerable contemplation and prayer, my conclusion is that the answer is: While this life on Earth is finite, the promises of a loving God are true, and we will all experience life, albeit in a different way, when this “session” is over.

And true to the nature of our relationship, as I am a Christian and Ed is a Jew, we once again found common ground in that final conversation, as we agreed to look forward to more lively debates to come… leaving the question about who will be on the top of the ticket, temporarily still unanswered.  


Edwin Cohen

February 2, 1931 – November 10, 2017

Edwin Cohen passed away on Friday, November 10 after a several-month battle with multiple illnesses.  He touched many lives through teaching both in and out of the classroom.  Ed was an inspirational role model for his two children and five grandchildren.

Born in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, Ed moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey with his parents and then to Los Angeles when he was seventeen. He earned his AA from El Camino College, his BA and MA from CSU Long Beach, and then his PhD from the University of Southern California in Speech Communication.

In between his AA and BA, Ed proudly served in the United States Army and traveled abroad, entertaining with the USO show. He taught in high schools and colleges for forty-two years before he and his wife, Shirley, retired to the adult community of Rossmoor in Walnut Creek.

He wrote and published six non-fiction, academic books, one book of poetry, two full length plays, and many articles in academic journals and newspapers.  During the last part of his career, Ed lectured on cruise ships, enabling he and his wife, Shirley, to visit many exciting places around the world, and he was a popular contributing writer for ALIVE Magazine.

Ed is survived by his devoted and loving wife, Shirley; two children, Lisa Cohen Bennett of Richmond, California and David Cohen (Laureen) of Oakland, California, and five grandchildren, Gabrielle Cohen, Jacob Cohen, Noah Bennett, Alexandra Bennett, and Martin Cohen.

The family suggests that donations in Ed’s memory be made either to St. Judes, Mazon, the Weizmann Institute of Science (through the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science), or a charity of your choice.

2017 Toyota 4Runner 4X4

Who Needs a Road?

This month’s article is the fourth answer to the question, “What type of vehicle works best for camping?” So far, we have reviewed a Crossover, a Minivan, and an AWD Wagon. This month we hit the trail with a 4×4 SUV.

For those readers who have missed my previous three articles, my goal is to look at four different types of vehicles and how they stack up to a camping adventure. All articles highlight the pros and cons of each vehicle category along with my personal camping experiences. 

Our fourth vehicle category is the 4×4 SUV and our test vehicle is the 2017 Toyota 4Runner. I would like to start by sending out a thank you to Christine Henley of Toyota for helping me to secure my test vehicle at the last moment.

This camping adventure took my son and another father-son team deep into the back hills of Livermore, California for a Boy Scout excursion. As we hit the last couple of miles, I was elated to be behind the wheel of a 4×4-drive vehicle with the confidence and capability of the 2017 Toyota 4Runner 4X4 TRD Off-Road Premium.

Our scout camp was built in the 1940s and it doesn’t appear that the road was ever resurfaced or even well-maintained. You could almost hide a VW Beetle in some of the pot holes! Lucky for us, the 4Runner managed them with ease.

A group of four people out camping can require a lot of space to transport their equipment. The 4Runner (with slide deck) had more than enough room with 46.3 cubic feet of rear cargo space. If you are wondering what the “Slide Deck” is, well to help people load and remove items from the rear cargo area, Toyota created a “deck” that slides out above the floor, allowing for easy access and removal of your stuff. It was great when we had to load and unload our packed cooler from the back.

The 4Runner is one of the few truck-based, body-on-frame SUVs left on the market. Most have moved over to car-based frames called CUV or Crossovers. This structure allows the 4Runner to master some serious off-roading, as well as shuttling the family around town. It combines the characteristics of being refined, accommodating, and confident. One difference between an SUV and a CUV is the ride. SUVs ride like a truck, but also handle dirt-filled roads better.

Most recently redesigned for the 2014 model year, the 2017 Toyota 4Runner is stylish with a self-assured attitude. From north to south, the body is well-balanced. The front feels aggressive with its powerful grille and headlights resembling eyes that seem self-assured. The ground clearance on the 4×4 sits at 9.6-inches and you feel the height as your cruise down the road.

Inside of the 2017 4Runner, the center dash is boxed-framed with large knobs to control the radio and air systems. You’ll find off-road switches and knobs in an aircraft fashion near the dome lights.

I found the 4Runner, at least our trim level, to have a number of high-tech features, however, it left me without a push-start button. Door-mounted open buttons were nowhere to be seen, forcing me to grab for the keys each time I opened a door. The interior was comfortable, and the components were well-placed. A 110-volt plug was located in the rear compartment.

For 2017, the Toyota 4Runner comes in the following configurations: Limited (2WD and 4WD), SR5 (2WD and 4WD), SR5 Premium (2WD and 4WD), TRD Off-Road 4×4, TRD Off-Road Premium 4×4, and TRD Off-Road Pro 4×4.

All 4Runners are powered by the same power-plant, a 4.0-liter V-6 motor that generates 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque that is matted to a 5-speed automatic transmission. This combination works wells and easily transports you to your daily activities or up the next hill ridge. The 4Runner sits on top of the Tacoma chassis, but with a better suspension setup delivering an enhanced ride.

Cool Features:

  • Slide Deck
  • Bilstein custom off-road shocks (TRD PRO Series
  • Rear Liftgate Power Window

The safety features are complete with Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA) and Smart Stop Technology (SST)®, driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System, driver and front passenger TAP, front seat-mounted side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, and front and all row (third-row airbags on all models) roll-sensing side curtain airbags (RSCA), driver and front passenger active headrests, anti-theft alarm system with an engine immobilizer, Front and Rear Parking Assist Sonar (Limited only), Hill Start Assist Control, Downhill Assist Control (SR5 and Limited 4×4 only), and Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS).

In Summary –The 2017 Toyota 4Runner is a wonderful vehicle if you’re looking for the sturdiness of a truck-based platform with, as my little scout would say, “Pro-skills” when driving off-payment. The 4Runner is blended with high-tech and off-road features that will take care of your needs. It may not ride like a car, but the buyers of the 4Runner aren’t expecting or wanting it to. They desire the independence and adept ability to master the beaten path.

This is the end of my 2017 Camping Vehicle Series. I hope you have enjoyed it.


2017 Toyota 4Runner 4X4 TRD Off-Road Premium
Base price:                  $39,295as driven: $42,455(including destination & optional

Engine:                       4.0-liter 6-Cylinder

Horsepower:             270 hp

Torque:                       278 lb.-ft.

Transmission:            5-speed automatic

Drive:                          4-Wheel Drive

Seating:                       5-passenger (7-passenger with the optional third row seats)
Ground Clearance:    9.0-inches

Cargo space:               46.3 cubic feet

Curb weight:              4,675pounds 

EPA mileage:              City 17/Hwy 21/Comb 18 MPG

Wheel Base:                 109.8inches

Warranty:                    3 years/36,000-miles

Also consider:             Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder


Relieving RSD and Chronic Pain Naturally

Since Align Healing Center first opened our doors in 1999 we have seen a progressive increase in chronic pain and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), now called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in our community. RSD/CRPS is a chronic, painful, and progressive neurological condition that affects the skin, muscles, joints, and bones. The syndrome usually develops in an injured limb, such as a broken leg, or following surgery. However, many cases of RSD involve only a minor injury, such as a sprain. And in rare cases, no precipitating event can be identified.

RSD/CRPS is characterized by various degrees of burning pain, swelling, and sensitivity to heat, cold or touch. Pain may begin in one area or limb and then spread to other limbs. In some cases, symptoms of RSD/CRPS diminish and then reappear with a new injury.

Causes and Risk Factors for RSD/CRPS

An exact understanding of RSD/CRPS is not complete.  It appears to involve a complex interaction among the sensory, motor and sympathetic nervous system as well as involvement of the immune system. Currently, Western medicine is not sure what causes RSD/CRPS.  It is believed that in most cases the sympathetic nervous system plays an important role in sustaining the pain.  Another theory is that CRPS is caused by a triggering of the immune response, which leads to the characteristic inflammatory symptoms of redness, warmth, and swelling in the affected area.

Treatment Options for RSD Patients

Medical treatments for the management of RSD/CRPS include analgesics, anti-depressants, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nerve blocks, and multiple other drug therapies.

The Natural Approach for Chronic Pain and RSD/CRPS

Holistic, non-invasive treatments for RSD/CRPS offer new possibilities that patients may consider for pain and symptom management.  As with traditional treatments, holistic treatments may need to be combined for optimal results.  Natural medicine (vitamins, herbs, natural compounds, etc.) has proven to be effective and long-term in helping calm the sympathetic nervous system and reduce systemic inflammation.

At Align Healing Center we are currently seeing beneficial results in the treatment of chronic pain and RSD/CRPS. The combination of laser therapy combined with natural medicine is yielding hopeful results.

Laser therapy is the application of low levels of laser light to areas of the body that have been injured or damaged. Contrasted with high-powered lasers that cut tissue, such as surgical or hair-removal lasers, therapy lasers produce beneficial interactions that can help relieve pain and repair tissue. The absorption of the laser light by your cells increases cellular energy. In areas of injury or damage, this improves the rate and quality of healing. Studies reveal many beneficial physiological effects, including increased endorphin levels, reduced inflammatory compounds and an increased rate and quality of healing. We often have patients notice improvement after the very first treatment; whereas with chronic pain or RSD/CRPS it is realistic that it may take a few treatments. The effect of laser therapy is cumulative, meaning that each successive treatment builds on previous ones. 

Class IV Laser Therapy has exceeded our expectations of the healing potential that it ignites in the body and it is our mission to share it with anyone who is seeking freedom from their pain.

Dr. Niele Maimone, DC is the owner and founder of Align Healing Center in Danville, CA.  For more information or to set up a consult call 925.362.8283 or visit www.alignhealingcenter.com.





Gift Ideas For The Holidays

What We Love

It’s the time of year when our store comes alive with excitement with gifts galore in every corner. To keep up with all the excitement we have put together some of our favorite beauty gift ideas to help you find that perfect gift for your loved ones. We aspire for our store to be precisely where your gift list and happiness intersect. Nothing makes us happier than helping to make holiday dreams and wishes come true.

What We Love: Comfort Technology Lip Gloss with Peptides, Fleur Visage

Why You’ll Love It:

This extraordinary Lip Gloss has powerful peptides to keep your lips twice as nice while hydrated and smooth, giving you a perfect pout and extra twinkle this holiday season. 

What We Love: Cream Eye Shadows, Fleur Visage

Why You’ll Love It:

Glow like a super model this holiday season with these incredible Cream Eye Shadow colors.  Super Shimmery to brighten up your eyes and make them look decadent and irresistible for the holidays!

What We Love: Shimmery Bronzing Dust, Fleur Visage

Why You’ll Love it:

Girls will love to find our gorgeous Bronzing Shimmer Dust in their Christmas stockings this year. It’s all the craze this season. Shimmer your hair, shimmer your skin and shoulders for that amazing glow and for that special night out! All the requirements for a beautiful holiday season!

What We Love: Premier Firming Eye Cream, Ongrien Advanced Skin Care

Why You’ll Love It:

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays and everyday life, getting a full night’s sleep, which is vital for healthy skin, can seem like a luxury. Apply this triple action eye cream around the eyes massaging nightly to decrease puffiness, minimize fine lines and to restore hydration for youthful looking eyes and you’ll look caught up on your Zs-even if you’re not.

What We Love: Ultimate Cellular Repair, Ongrien Advanced Skin Care

Why You’ll Love It:

Quenching a Thirsty complexion takes a good dose of this nourishing treatment. Skin will soak up the healthy Nuero-Peptide based nutrients, which refines the skin and gives the complexion a toned appearance. This cream repairs sun damage and visibly reduces wrinkles.  We love this fine anti-aging treatment, and you will too when you notice your skin is smoother and more beautiful than ever.

At The Rouge they only carry the finest cosmetic products with the highest grade of ingredients on the market. Don’t know what to get for Christmas?  We have holiday gift certificates and wish lists available.




The Future of The BCR

On November 9, 2017, the voting members of the Berkeley College Republicans decided to install me, Bradley Devlin, as President of the Berkeley College Republicans. I am enthusiastic my administration will bring about the change the conservative community at UC Berkeley has been craving for years: a re-commitment to activism that gets more Republicans elected, registers more Republican voters, and offers more professional opportunities to BCR members. 

Rest assured, we remain unequivocally committed to our fight for free speech on college campuses to the dismay of a university administration committed to stonewalling our efforts. The Berkeley College Republicans plan on exercising our First Amendment rights to procure these rights for our progeny. American universities used to be beacons of light in a dark world. These institutions recognized that to achieve higher education and foster progress within society, the sensitive subject matter had to be taught, the hard conversations had to be had, and the difficult discussions navigated through like a ship through a reef. Now, the pervasive forces of intersectionality and micro-aggression culture have refocused college campuses on indoctrination, and in the process, stripped these institutions of their integrity.

Don’t believe these philosophical forces are as ubiquitous as I claim?  The Brookings Institute conducted a First Amendment-related study with college-aged students. They found that 19% of students believed violence is acceptable to quash a speaker who says “offensive and hurtful things.” Forty-four percent of students believe that un-definable, utterly subjective “hate speech” is not protected by the First Amendment, and 51% of students think it is appropriate to shut down offensive speakers. To those who want to see the survival of our republic, these trends should be deeply troubling and must be reversed before my generation—a generation riddled with anxiety and depression—take the reins of power.

We of the Berkeley College Republicans pride ourselves on our firm beliefs in rational inquiry, and that diversity in viewpoint is necessary to achieve higher education and truth. We will continue to turn the tides in political discourse and be the voices of reason throughout the Bay Area. 

However, the Left has been incredibly effective in casting labels onto the Republican Party, and the CAGOP is witnessing a dwindling percentage of Republican voter registration. Polls show the three main negative perceptions California voters have of Republicans is that we hate the planet, we hate people, and we hate the poor. I believe I can say with confidence no BCRs prescribe to this brand of conservatism. 

I won on a platform of responsible activism. Since the election of Donald J Trump, by our blood, sweat, and tears due to the Left’s own insanity, we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and built ourselves a national platform. However, like a boxer in the 12th round, we have to be measured and calculated when and where we punch back. Our opponent, the Left, has exposed itself, and now is the time to deliver a strike with punishing force. Note that this is strictly an analogy, and try as ANTIFA might to conflate this with a “call for political violence,” it is anything but. 

This principled activism is why Berkeley College Republicans are working tirelessly to connect with local GOP organizations throughout the state, inviting conservative speakers with niche jobs in the political sphere, and organizing more activism opportunities. These actions serve the purpose of educating and equipping conservatives in the hyper-liberal Bay Area as we approach a crucial election year for the GOP.

The members of the Berkeley College Republicans are excited about these changes, remain enthusiastic for the upcoming election cycle, and look forward to the future when leaders developed within BCR define the beliefs of the GOP.

I am beyond honored to represent them.



Christmas Wrap, Trees & Plant Gifts

Q. Why is the holiday or gift wrapping not recyclable, after all, it is paper? I was hoping to shred it and then use it as mulch this summer.   

A. While some might disagree, I think it has merit as mulch when shredded and combined with other material. From a recycling point of view, today’s wrapping paper is often dyed, laminated and/or contains non-paper additives such as glitter, plastics etc. which cannot be recycled and made into other products. However, much of it can be composted. You need to avoid high gloss paper, paper with plastic or with metallic coatings, and “Astro Bright.” Tissue paper is ideal to be composted. I know many people believe it’s not safe to compost colored paper, but experts agree the inks used today are quite safe. Most modern inks, in fact, are soy ink, hence much of the holiday debris can be saved, shredded and used as mulch next year.

Q. What can I plant in a container that can be brought indoors for a couple of weeks during the holidays and then moved back outside?    

A. I’d consider a Sasanqua Camellia or an Alberta Spruce. Sasanqua Camellias are blooming now with the variety Yuletide being particularly popular. Yuletide has a single row of petals that is a festive, red color with yellow stamens in the center. It’s also available in pink. They make an excellent container plant. Sasanqua Camellias grow six to eight feet tall in the ground, but the size is easily controlled with pruning for containers. The blooming period starts in late fall and is usually finished by January. Unlike the spring blooming varieties, Sasanqua’s grow in the sun so long as the roots are insulated with mulch from the heat of the day sun. Alberta Spruce make an excellent small living Christmas Tree. They’re a dark green color with short needles and a compact growth habit. Whether they’re indoors or out you can decorate them with holiday lights, ornaments or any other type of decorations. For this year, I’d leave them in their original container and transplant them in the spring. The cans can be covered with any number of different materials such as foil, burlap, landscape fabric cover with artificial holly and berries. Before bringing them indoors, water thoroughly several days before by hand and place a clear plastic tray under them to protect the carpet or flooring. I’d keep them indoors for no longer than two weeks and water them immediately when they’re brought back outdoors. With room temperatures around seventy degrees. A cup of water or two depending on the container size, every five days should be sufficient. Also, keep them away from any heat generating source, such as heating vents or a fireplace. Sasanqua Camellias or Alberta Spruce are beautiful and festive around entryways when combined with red and white cyclamen, Zygocactus and, of course, poinsettias.

Q. I was given a mixed arrangement of plants consisting of Kalanchoe, Dragon Tree, and Silvery Queen Pothus. After separating the plants and transplanting them into separate containers, the leaves on the Dragon Tree are falling off. Is that normal?

A. The Dragon Tree or Dracaena is a columnar plant. They’re usually found with multiple plants growing in the same container at staggered heights. It is normal for the lowest or oldest leaves to yellow and fall off first. Unlike other plants, the new leaves will not develop where they dropped off. The new growth forms at the top of the canes; hence, there is no lateral branching. Excessive leaf drop can be from excessive moisture, so you don’t want to over water them. They can go several weeks in between watering. I’d give them a good soaking by watering them in the sink letting the water drain before returning them to their permanent location.