A Photo Essay by Susan Wood

Hummingbird nests are so small and well camouflaged that you can look right at one and never see it. So it was just by luck that my neighbor discovered the hummingbird nest built on a wind chime in her back yard.  When I first saw the nest, the two baby hummingbirds had just hatched from eggs the size of a Tic Tac. They were no bigger than a penny, had short, stubby beaks, no feathers, dark skin, and closed eyes.DSC_7934

Not wanting to miss a moment, I grabbed my camera and became a fixture in my neighbor’s backyard. I spent the next three weeks up close (on a ladder) and personal with the chicks and their mother—watching, waiting, and learning everything I possibly could about them.

Momma returned every 20 to 25 minutes to feed her babies. Each time she came back, she would buzz around me, coming in closer and closer, sometimes so close she would tickle my cheek with the wind from her wings.
Within a couple of days, the baby hummingbirds almost doubled in size and began to grow little fuzzy pinfeathers. After one week, they were covered in these fuzzy feathers making them look like miniature prickly balls.

By two weeks, the babies were completely covered in pin feathers and starting to grow real feathers, and their beaks had become much longer. At almost three weeks old, the little babies looked more like real hummingbirds. They tested out their wings more and more, preparing for their first flight.1

By three weeks, the chicks had become full grown adults and flew away. As for me, I am still recovering from “empty nest syndrome!”








Fun Facts
• Hummingbirds are the tiniest birds in the world.
• They get their name from the humming sound produced by their wings when in flight.
• Early Spanish explorers called hummingbirds flying jewels.
• Hummingbirds are extremely smart and can remember every flower they have been to, and how long it will take a flower to refill. They will visit an average of 1,000 flowers per day. They remember year to year, where each and every hummingbird feeder is, both at home and along their migration path.
• Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any animal on earth (roughly 100 times that of an elephant).
• They need to eat on average seven times per hour and will consume anywhere from half to eight times their body weight in one day.
• Hummingbirds do not “drink” nectar from flowers and feeders. They lap it with their tongues, which are grooved (like the shape of a “W”) and have tiny hairs on the tip to help gather the nectar.
• Hummingbirds are great little hunters and need to eat bugs for protein. Being very resourceful, they have even been known to steal little bugs out of a spider’s web, then eat the spider and steal the web to build their own nest.
• Toilet training of baby hummingbirds comes built in (a definite benefit of being a hummingbird mom). The baby hummingbirds will do everything they can to dispose of waste over the side of the nest. But, a word of caution: If you are lucky enough to be that close to a nest, DO NOT stand next to a baby hummingbird after it’s fed!
• When they sleep (daily), hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state called Torpor (TOR-per). Their metabolism lowers to one-fifteenth (1/15) of normal. Their body temperature drops to the point of becoming hypothermic. Their heart rate drops to about 50 beats per minute. Their breathing slows to the point that it looks like they have stopped breathing. By sleeping like this, hummingbirds can save up to 60% of their available energy. When in the Torpor state, they can appear to be dead and occasionally have been found hanging upside-down.
• Hummingbirds are the original helicopters. They are the only birds that can fly both forward and backwards and can also hover in mid-air, fly sideways and even upside-down.
• They can fly an average of 25-30 miles per hour and reach 60 mph when diving.
• They have the fastest wing beats of any bird, around 70 beats per second and up to 200 beats per second during a high speed dive.
• A hummingbird’s heart can beat up to 1,260 beats per minute, 250 times per minute at rest.
• An average sized hummingbird will have about 940 feathers. This is more feathers per square inch of their body than any other bird in the animal kingdom.DSC_4717-1

• Hummingbirds have very large eyes in proportion to their body weight. The eyes are set on the side of the head allowing the hummingbird to see both ahead (binocular vision) and on the side peripherally (monocular vision). Hummingbirds have many more rods and cones than humans in their eyes to help them see well. This makes them better able to see colors and ultraviolet light.
• Hummingbirds have regular eyelids to block light from each eye but also have a third eyelid call a Nictitating Membrane that is clear and will protect the hummingbird’s eyes while flying.
• A hummingbird has two ears located on each side of its head to improve hearing, and can easily decipher small fluctuations of tones better than most humans.
• Hummingbirds have very weak feet and can barely walk (they like to perch and spend most of their life perching).
• 30% of a hummingbird’s weight consists of flight muscles. Human pectoral muscles are about 5% of body weight.
• A hummingbird can weigh anywhere between 2 and 20 grams. A penny weighs 2.5 grams.
• Depending on the type or species of hummingbird, the little babies weigh approximately 0.62 grams. That’s one-third the weight of a United States dime.
• If a hummingbird survives its first year, it will live for an average of five years. Unfortunately, only about 20% of hummingbirds survive their first winter.
• Hummingbirds are found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile.
• There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds.
Hummingbird nests are made of plant down and other soft materials, glued together with spider webs. The spider webs allow the nest to stretch and be flexible as the baby hummingbirds grow.  The bottom and wind side of the nest are usually thicker than the top and leeward side. This helps regulate the temperature inside the nest.

Most hummingbird nests look like a small cup about the size of a walnut shell, and range from having the diameter of a penny to about an inch and a half when completed.

When a mother hummingbird comes to feed her chicks, the babies feel the wind from her wings and lift their heads up and open their mouths. The mother inserts her beak all the way down into the mouths of the babies while dropping a mixture of regurgitated insects and nectar inside. When the mother hummingbird does this, you can see her throat swell as she pumps the baby food out of her beak in an up and down motion, kind of like a sewing needle on a sewing machine.

Baby hummingbirds will usually have enough feathers to regulate their own body heat by about nine days after hatching. The mother hummingbird will no longer need to sit on the nest all the time. This works well because the baby hummingbirds are now too big for the mother hummingbird to fit inside the nest anyway.

The baby hummingbirds will start stretching their wings by gripping the floor of the nest with their feet and flapping away. By hanging on to the nest, the baby hummingbirds will not have to worry about accidentally flying away too soon.

Hummingbirds are very clean and groom themselves quite often.

Some feathers on a hummingbird hold bright radiant color. This coloring comes from iridescent coloring like on a soap bubble or prism and requires sunlight to show these colors off.


Special thanks to my neighbor Marilyn for letting me “camp out” in her backyard for three weeks and to her granddaughter Hailey for helping me with the research for this project.

Resources: World of Hummingbirds –
Wild Birds Unlimited –


For additional photographs, go to

The Many Deaths of Comrade Binh

The first book review/author interview I wrote for ALIVE Magazine was with Vietnam War Veteran and retired navy commander, Kenneth Levin. His first book, Crazy Razor: A Novel of the Vietnam War, was well received by the usual suspects, but somewhat surprisingly, to the author anyway, it also received high praise from women.

Less than a year later, Levin is back with his new book, The Many Deaths of Comrade Binh, a collection of fictional short stories that may or may not be true. Levin readily admits to some artistic license, but each tale is based on actual events that occurred during the Vietnam War, and once again, the appeal is broad-based.frontcover Comrade

Twice wounded in the line of duty, Levin remembers the horrors of war all too well. He draws inspiration from his own experiences and those of comrades, allies, and mercenaries, as well as civilians and members of the North Vietnamese army.

Levin never forgets how deeply war affects both combatants and bystanders, or how battle sometimes forces humans to act inhumanely. Many of his stories are capable of moving you to tears—or disturbing enough to keep you up at night.

At the same time, humanity has a knack for survival even in wartime, a truth reflected in Levin’s stories of humor, irony, and love. My favorite, La Bamba, juxtaposes a veteran’s recollection of the first time he heard Harry Belafonte’s version of the song during the war, with dancing to the familiar tune with his two-year-old granddaughter some 45 years later. Such tender story-telling catches the reader by surprise, but keep reading and you’ll find that Levin knows his subject too well to romanticize battle.

Comparable to Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War, Levin’s stories are about the terrifying impact of war on ordinary people, offering a little something for everyone.

Alive Magazine: Your first book, Crazy Razor, took you some forty years to write. Then your second, The Many Deaths of Comrade Binh, appears less than two years later. What happened?

Kenneth Levin: Hell if I know. I think once I got up a full head of steam writing, I just didn’t stop. Although Crazy Razor and Comrade Binh are very different books in genre and style, they’re both drawing on the same pool of research, experiences and imagination. I finished Crazy Razor not because I wanted to stop telling the story. I finished it because if I didn’t, it would be too fat and cumbersome. But there was still a whole lot more I wanted to write, a lot more to be said. I also had one particular story in mind that I was either going to turn into another book or a short story. That became the seed for The Many Deaths of Comrade Binh.

AM: Which one was that?

KL: It’s the tale near the end of the book, “My Sweet Daddy…” When I was in Hanoi in 2012, I was trying to find People’s Army combat veterans to interview. I had a list of some two-dozen questions to ask them. Everything from what did you wear on your feet to did you think you’d survive the war? A young woman in the hotel where I was staying volunteered that her father was a vet and she would be glad to ask him the questions. So I gave her a copy and my email address and went on my travels. About a month after I returned to Oakland, I received an email from her with a lengthy attachment. There were all the answers to my questions and much more. I realized here was a story that needed telling. After nearly a year of email exchanges with the daughter, I had the man’s life story. From the child of a farmer, to a soldier, to a POW, to struggling veteran trying to build a life for his wife and children, to a smiling grandfather. His daughter is a gifted storyteller, so together we wrote the short story. But other than the names that she insisted be changed, that story is not fiction. It’s true.

AM: On Comrade Binh’s back cover it says, “Just because these stories are fiction doesn’t mean they aren’t true.” Isn’t this paradoxical? Fiction AND true?

KL: Maybe it is. Every story in the book is based on facts, occurrences, research, experiences. The fiction is the veneer to smooth out the story, protect the subjects and hopefully keep me from getting sued. Some stories are nearly all fact. And some have just a kernel of fact and a big, fat chunk of imagination piled on to make them juicy and delectable. They’re all war stories.

AM: Really? Is “La Bamba,” the story of a grandfather dancing around the den with his granddaughter to Harry Belafonte, a war story?

KL: Yes it is. He’s physically and mentally scarred by war. War has shaped him into what he is. And he’s survived. Survived to the point where he can dance with his granddaughter and get lost for a few minutes in the joy of life, of being able to live life.

AM: In several other stories you write about the veteran, both American and Vietnamese, after the war. Coping. Some well, some not so well. When the war is over, what does a combat veteran do with all those memories?

KL: I don’t know. Dance with their granddaughters? For the combat vet, the war didn’t end when the truce was signed or the grunt or sailor returned home and took off his uniform. War doesn’t end when the scars go from angry red to numb white. It never ends. Do we manipulate our code of ethics according to the context? Much smarter people than I will have to answer these questions. I’m sure many psychologists at the VA are immersed in this serious and knotty question.

AM: Why make the switch from a novel to short stories?

KL: Many of the tales are inherently short and might not blend into the context of the longer tale of a novel. The big roasts and chops went into Crazy Razor. The Many Deaths of Comrade Binh is a collection of delectable scraps. Sausage links – short stories. Some are grim, some are humorous. And some address the question that once the war is over, what does a person do with all these memories? How can one live with oneself after witnessing and committing what by any standards are atrocities? And I seemed to be better at writing short stories.

AM: Why is that?

KL: I’m not sure. Probably because it takes much more patience to write a novel than it does to write a short story. I’m sure the sum of patience required to write some forty short stories is greater than that to write a novel but the pain seems less to me. Comrade Binh and the stories in it also benefited from my learning while writing Crazy Razor. For the first time in seven decades, I learned from my mistakes.

AM: In the beginning of Crazy Razor you say the only villain is war itself. You sticking with that?

KL: Yep.

AM: In both of your books, you write with amazing detail, including smells. Why is that?

KL: Maybe I’ve just got a sensitive sniffer connected to my memory. I had a first grade teacher, Miss Beifus. She wore a distinctive perfume that smelled good. Half a century later I was sitting next to a woman on AMTRAK and she must have been wearing the same perfume. She smelled exactly like Miss Beifus. I could not forget that smell. Nor could I forget the rot of a dead body, sautéed onions and garlic, swampy river water, fish sauce, or cordite.

AM: What’s cordite?

KL: Smokeless gunpowder. Smells like firecrackers.

AM: The Many Deaths of Comrade Binh is a collection of humor, tragedy, sadness, and happiness. Why?

KL: I want to take the reader on a roller coaster ride — make them smile then make them cry in the next story. And I want them to remember the sights, sounds and smells. I told one reviewer that the book is like a heavily seasoned Greek or Italian meal — lots of garlic and onions and oregano and pepper. Long after you finish a meal like that, you’re still burping up garlic and feeling the heat in your belly.

AM: So, what’s next?

KL: Two books are in the hopper. A nonfiction piece based on my late brother’s recently discovered diary that he kept while an army surgeon in Vietnam during 1965 and 1966. And a collection of tales about immigrant European Jewish grandmothers, sort of my version of Sholem Aleichem’s tales of the Shtetls, except on Chicago’s west side instead of Europe. That one will be fun.

AM: You’re obviously busy writing your books. What do you do when you’re not writing?

KL: Nap.

The Many Deaths of Comrade Binh and Crazy Razor, both by Kenneth Levin, are available at Amazon, backcover and on his website:



2015 Mazda CX-5

A Crossover That Gets It!

Crossovers come in an array of shapes and sizes, handling the needs of those folks needing lots of family room or those just looking for an elevated ride. Today, there is a Crossover in every flavor and for every market. Mazda has already released one of its offerings for the 2015 model year in the form of the CX-5.hi res CX5_CUT30_IAA_GE_MT_RyugaBlue_0

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 is a sporty compact Crossover in its third year of production. It competes against the likes of the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4. The CX-5 offers Mazda’s Skyactiv technologies which combine fuel efficiency and performance.

The five-passenger 2015 CX-5 is impressive in three trim levels: the base Sport ($21,545), midlevel Touring ($24,965) and top-of-the-line Grand Touring ($27,970). All three models offer 65.4 cubic feet of total cargo capacity. The new CX-5 can be equipped with either the standard Front-Wheel Drive or All-Wheel Drive.

The CX-5 styling is sleek and sporty wearing the Mazda smiling-grille. The hood is tapered inward to meet the grille while creating the powerful eyebrow lines over the cat-like headlights. The roof-line rises at the front and slopes back to the rear tailgate. Angled creases line the sides and are meshed with additional curves, creating an in-motion feel while standing still.2014 CX-5 (27)

The base CX-5 Sport is suited with a fuel-sipping 155-hp 4-cyl SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter mated to a 6-speed manual. The Touring and Grand Touring performance comes with a 184-hp 4-cyl SKYACTIV-G 2.5 liter joined by a 6-speed automatic transmission. The EPA estimated fuel efficiency ranges from 24/30 mpg to 26/35.
So, what’s new for 2015? One of the major changes to the CX-5 is the reduction of its total weight by the use of employing more light materials. The Advanced Keyless Entry is now standard aboard the Touring and Grand Touring models.

Room for improvement:
• The touchscreen is small

Cool Features:
• Rain-sensing windshield wipers
• SMS text auto delivery and reply
• Pandora® compatibility

Safety on the 2015 Mazda CX-5 comes with Advanced front air bags, Front side-impact air bags, Side-impact air curtains for front and rear outboard passengers, Dynamic Stability Control, Traction Control System, E911 Automatic Notification, Smart City Brake Support, and Blind Spot Monitoring.2014 CX-5 (13)

In Summary – The 2015 Mazda CX-5 Crossover is fun and sporty. The second row seats fold easily creating additional cargo space. The interior is stitched with high quality materials with comfortable seats and function. The CX-5 offers good fuel economy and decent power.


2015 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD Crossover

Base price: $27,970 as driven: $30,510 (including destination and optional features)
Engine: 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder
Horsepower: 184 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel Drive
Seating: 5-passenger
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Cargo space: 65.4 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,404 pounds
Fuel capacity: 14.8 gallons
EPA mileage: City25/Hwy 32
Wheel Base: 106.3 inches
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles powertrain limited

Also consider: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4




The Job of Parenting

Most of us thought it would be easier!

May and June are months with holidays specifically designated to celebrate both Mothers and Fathers. Those of us who are parents have just one thought in mind. What are you getting us? I kid, but really, what are you getting us? It better be something good that we can use because I swear this job is a lot harder than most of us ever imagined. I say job, because that’s what parenting is, a job. To be a good parent you’re on 24/7, 365. An abbreviated job description would undoubtedly read something like this: a qualified applicant should expect a demanding schedule with long hours, no pay and temperamental cliental. Applicant must have their own transportation, a positive attitude and endless supply of disposable cash and snacks. Patience, a sense of humor and lack of personal interests are necessary for advancement. Continuing Education will not be provided.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parenting job! It can be exciting, rewarding, fulfilling, amazing, humorous and utterly magical. It can also be exhausting, challenging, aggravating, emotional, exasperating and thankless. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I need a raise.

Patience is the toughest trait to maintain when you’re getting pulled three, sometimes four different directions. Julie Remy, mother of three kids

My friends and I all agree that we thought parenting would be easier probably because our parents made it look so easy. The fed us, clothed us, yelled at us and then pretty much left us alone. Somehow we turned out OK. Is it just me (and I’m equally guilty) or do parents today seem overly involved in every aspect of our children’s lives? We coach youth sports, we volunteer at school, we help with homework, we manage School Loop, we schedule play dates and we help sell cookies, magazines, wrapping paper and discount coupon books. We also drive, drive, drive so they can participate in every type of activity imaginable. Let’s face it; we are aware of our kid’s movements every hour of every day. What happened to the good old days when you’re mom yelled “Be home before dark” as you raced out of the house in the morning?

My parents attended most of my games when I was young, but they never came to a practice and usually it was up to me to get there on my own. I find that like a lot of other parents, I’m either the coach or I end up watching my kid’s sports practices. It might be because if I drive it doesn’t make sense to drive home and back again, but it might also be that I like to observe the coaching and the effort my child is or isn’t putting out. – Zack Haller, father of three

When you have little kids, there’s no down time. They want your constant attention from the minute they wake you up until they go to sleep. I’m exhausted! – Jason Allen, Father of two

Managing phases seems to be a big part of every parent’s job. From infant to young adult, from toddler to teenager, you are kidding yourself if you think any specific age or phase will be easier than the rest. They’ll all hard. Phases in behavior, emotional phases, eating phases and phases in virtually every other element of their lives are part of growing up. The question is how long will each phase last? Whether its bed wetting or biting, crying or cursing, most everything kids go through is just a development phase and our job as parents is to help them to navigate through the rough waters. Is phase manager an actual job title?

You can’t be afraid to be the hard ass when they use the argument that everyone is doing it or everyone has one. – Dave Bruzzone, father of three

Logistics coordinator is a vastly underrated skill in every parent’s job of multitasking. It used to be that kids were expected to entertain themselves for hours at a time. In today’s world, our children’s extracurricular activities are a time suck for parents. On one hand, it’s wonderful that we are more involved in our kid’s lives, but at what cost? We’re so busy shuttling the little ones around that we’re all likely less productive at work and home.

I have every intention of playing games with the kids after school, but when things start getting crazy and they have practices to get to, homework to be done and I need to put dinner together it’s kind of hard to be fun/cool mom. – Nicole Ormsby, Mother of three

The kids of today rarely accept “no” for an answer. It wasn’t that long ago that the term “Because I said so” was all a parent needed to say to end the discussion at hand. Kids are learning to be expert negotiators, talented salesmen and master manipulators which means that the arrows in every parents quiver need to be sharper. Archer isn’t really a job, but transaction coordinator is a fitting description.

Everything is a negotiation. When I was a kid, my parent’s word was law. We didn’t question it. My kids believe every parental decision is up for discussion. I think a lot of parents give in as the path of least resistance which makes it hard on the rest of us. – Sabrina Hughes, mother of three

We could be grooming an impressive generation of debaters, except that they only use verbal skills at home with their parents. Every other communication, with the exception of a teacher or two, is done through Text, Twitter, Snap Chat or Instagram. I surprised my daughters don’t have thumbs the size of corn dogs. – Dino Mancinelli, father of four

As parents, there’s so much more to worry about today than when we were kids. Bums and hobos were harmless inebriated scallywags, not the potentially dangerous mentally ill homeless people living on the streets today. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, boys were occasionally involved in a harmless fist fight, but drive-by shootings are an everyday occurrence in today’s more violent neighborhoods. Alcohol and pot have always been a concern to parents of teenagers, but drugs such as Oxy, X and meth are horribly frightening.

While pedophiles obviously existed (mostly posing as parish priests), they weren’t trolling the internet and coaching youth sports teams like so many do now. Finally, our culture’s passion for mobile technology opens up a whole other world of potential threats including sexting, bullying and stalking. Our parenting job has evolved to include elements of policeman, probation officer, cyber hacker and medium.

Saying NO, when your kid can’t comprehend all the reasons behind the NO is a challenge. Getting them to trust that you know best is also a challenge. – Chris McConico, father of one

Thanks to the parents of the previous generation, who through no fault of their own were often detached and/or clueless, we got away with some crazy (and at times dangerous) things as kids. Our parents trusted that we had enough common sense to be okay and make good decisions. What a mistake in judgment that turned out to be.

Has knowing what we got away with in our youth made our generation a group of hyper-aware parents keeping an eye on our children’s every move and limiting their freedom? Yes, we can tract our kid’s every move through a cell phone GPS ap, but should we? At times I feel like a member of the Homeland Security detail and the home is mine.

When my oldest daughter was in middle school she reminded me that I often used the term, we learn from our mistakes, however I wasn’t giving her enough freedom to make mistakes. – Cindy Silva, Mother of two daughters

Yes, the parent job is a hard one, but like most parents, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve shared with my children for anything in the world. I would instantly apply again given the opportunity. Maybe we simply need to relinquish a few of our job subtitles and trust that the Mom/Dad job we’re doing is enough. Can we all agree to just chill-ax this Mothers/Fathers Day and hope we get a good job review from the bosses. #giftcards.

1. My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE.
“If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning.”

2. My mother taught me RELIGION.
“You’d better pray that stain comes out of the carpet.”

3. My father taught me about TIME TRAVEL.
“If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!”

4. My father taught me LOGIC.
” Because I said so, that’s why.”

5. My mother taught me MORE LOGIC .
“If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you’re not going to the store with me.”

6. My mother taught me FORESIGHT.
“Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”

7. My father taught me IRONY.
“Keep crying, and I’ll give you something to cry about.”

8. My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS.
“Shut your mouth and eat your supper.”

9. My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM.
“Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck!”

10. My mother taught me about STAMINA.
“You’ll sit there until all that spinach is gone.”

11. My mother taught me about WEATHER.
“This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it.”

12. My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY.
“If I told you once, I’ve told you a million times. Don’t exaggerate!”

13. My father taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE. (Bill Cosby taught us this)
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”

14. My mother taught me about BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION.
“Stop acting like your father!”

15. My mother taught me about ENVY.
“There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don’t have wonderful parents like you do.”

16. My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.
“Just wait until your father gets home!”

17. My mother taught me about RECEIVING.
“You are going to get it from your father when you get home!”

18. My mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE.
“If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way.”

19. My mother taught me ESP.
“Put your sweater on; don’t you think I know when you are cold?”

20. My father taught me HUMOR.
“When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.”

21. My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT.
“If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.”

22. My mother taught me GENETICS.
“You’re just like your father.”

23. My mother taught me about my ROOTS.
“Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?”

24. My mother taught me WISDOM.
“When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.

25. My father taught me about JUSTICE.
“One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!”



A Tax by Any Other Name

So people in political situations have a hard time raising Taxes. Tax is a dirty word. Airlines have a hard time raising Fares. Fare is a dirty word. Universities are now having a hard time raising Tuitions. Tuition is a dirty

So how do our so called leaders plan to come up with the money they say they need to run things? Does it make sense that we are seeing the new great “American Hustle?” In the movie the lead says, “Look at this Rembrandt here. People come from all over the world to see it. It’s a fake. People believe what they want to believe.” Are we getting hustled?

Searching around, our esteemed leaders and business people have all found that what works is to circumvent the verbiage? No new taxes. No new tuitions. No new fares. Hey, hey wait a minute…hey wait for it…. how about fees?

Politicians can raise fees. We’ll just put in more parking meters. We’ll just charge administrative fees. We’ll just fee fee fee all the way home.

Airlines. How can they do it? Oh, I have it. They can charge fees. They can charge headphone fees. They can charge meal fees. They can charge baggage fees. We’ll just fee fee fee all the way home.

And the Universities? Well the governor and legislators are already on record as opposing raising tuition again. Governor Jerry Brown asks how was it that when his mother went through the University of California system she paid $26 a semester? That’s a good question. At the same time, he says we need more money for education. So what have they come up with? Ta Ta…Wait for it… “Success Fees!”

Success fees could go up to $790 next year in the U.C. and C.S.U systems. Success fees are defined as tools to make the institutions successful. No Drano Sherlock!!! What about making the students successful and not having debt so deep they’ll get crushed when they get out of your “Successful Institution?” Fee fee fee all the way home.

Administrative fees, baggage fees, success fees.

”C’mon. We’re not stupid out here are we? Please folks in government call things what they are. They are taxes, pure and simple. Say it and let’s talk. Please don’t let this become the next big “American Hustle.” Make Sense?

In the Pink

The farmers’ market is in full swing this month, brimming with early tomatoes and corn; crunchy little cucumbers; a splendid variety of juicy stone fruits—most notably short-seasoned apricots and cherries; a plump profusion of cantaloupe and other fragrant melons; and a kaleidoscope of jewel-like berries.182255247

Sweet-tart boysenberries, blueberries, blackberries, and the ubiquitous strawberry—all at the peak of their seasons—seem to find their way into my market bag each week But as much as I hate to play favorites, it’s delicate, velvety raspberries I treasure most. Is there any more elegant and healthy breakfast than a bowl of raspberries crowned with a dollop of Greek yogurt?

Berry Interesting Facts

-There was a time when raspberries were wildly expensive; and still can be, when imported from South America and New Zealand. Buy them now at the farmers’ market,
when they are at their peak of ripeness and affordability.

-Like boysenberries and blackberries, raspberries are made up of clusters of tiny sacs that adhere to a central core. Each sac is bursting with sweet-tart juice.

-If the green hull is still attached to the raspberry, it means it was picked too early and will undoubtedly be tart.

-Although all taste similar, raspberries are available in red (actually a deep pink), golden, and the less common “black.”

-Unlike supermarket raspberries that have been enclosed in a plastic clamshell for an indeterminate length of time, farm-fresh berries should not be stuck together or moldy.

-To refrigerate raspberries, line a pan with paper towels and arrange the unwashed berries in a single layer. Top gently with another paper towel and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Berries are best eaten within 3 days.

-Raspberries are fragile. There is no way around it. If needed, carefully rinse them under a very gentle spray of cold water and pat dry with paper towels. (I rarely, if ever, rinse organically-grown raspberries.)

-Use uncooked raspberries in salads and compotes; smoothies; pureed in dessert sauces; perched atop fruit tarts, puddings, or other desserts; or baked into muffins, scones, or cakes. Raspberries also make an extravagant pie filling; as well as notable jams, jellies, and preserves.

-1 cup of raspberries weighs in at about 64 calories, 15 carbohydrates, and 8 grams of fiber. They are high in vitamin C and manganese, and contain fair amounts of iron and potassium.

-In addition to tasting better, fully-ripe raspberries contain significantly more antioxidants.

Here is my rendering of a recipe that appeared in Gourmet magazine about 5 years ago. This deceptively simple cake is ready for the oven in about 15 minutes, yet ends up tasting like it came from a chic pâtisserie. It’s lovely with a cup of tea or coffee in the afternoon, and makes a sophisticated dessert for a summer evening. Serve it au natural, or with a spoonful of sweetened crème fraiche, whipped cream, or frozen yogurt. And pray for leftovers.

Raspberry-Buttermilk Cake

1 cup bleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
Optional: finely grated zest of 1 orange or lemon
1 cup farm-fresh raspberries (about 5 ounces)

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust the pan with flour and shake out the excess.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk gently to blend.

3. In a large bowl, combine the butter and the 2/3 cup sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on Medium-High speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well blended. Beat in the orange zest, if using.

4. With the mixer on Low, add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk, and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until combined.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top. Scatter the raspberries over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake until the cake is golden and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center shows no evidence of uncooked batter, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes; then turn out the cake onto the rack to cool 10 to 15 minutes longer. Peel off and discard the parchment. Invert the cake onto a serving plate so the raspberries are on top. Serve barely warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and 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 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.




Jerry Hettinger

Sadly, I received word in early April that a longtime business associate and friend of ALIVE Magazine had passed away. Jerry Hettinger, the owner and founder of J. Hettinger Interiors, suffered a stroke last August and never fully regained his health.jerry

When we launched ALIVE in 2005, Jerry was supportive of our new venture, being the very first full page advertiser to join us. His ads continued to run every month, becoming a fixture across from this column.

In late 2008 and throughout the following year, during the most difficult period of the economic downturn, Jerry and I often spoke about business matters. What was his main concern throughout this period? The welfare of those who worked for him. He was forced to cut costs as was the case for most all businesses, but he stood firm on his commitment to shield his employees from financial hardship.

While Jerry was certainly a creative force in the design world, he was also an astute businessman. When the same economic downturn caused nearly every other design firm to cry “uncle” and close their doors, the one left standing was J. Hettinger Interiors.

Jerry was a great supporter of his community, but very humble in doing so—true to what I imagine must be some sort of “designer’s creed” that an understated, quiet style is best.

On a personal level, I will miss Jerry’s sense of humor and his positive, affirming way of doing business. We worked together in a true spirit of mutual benefit that grew to a friendship over the years.

All of us at ALIVE offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers for comfort to Jerry’s family, friends and loved ones. May fond memories of Jerry—of his smile and good-natured spirit—be your inspiration as you continue on without him.

He Said/She Said with Robin and Shawn

Dear HSSS,

I’m dreading the summer. As much as I enjoy not having to adhere to a strict schedule, my kids have more time to fight with each other, which drives me nuts! How do people deal with sibling rivalry?HeSaidSheSaidgraphic
JL, Livermore

He Said: A healthy dose of sibling rivalry is never a bad thing…emphasis on HEALTHY. At least your kids are interacting and feeding off each other’s energy. Now it’s your job to keep them busy so they’re too exhausted to sit around the house and fight. Make sure you get them off their butts and away from their video games/computers and out doing real activities. Parenting is a non-stop job made even harder during the summer when you have to be activities coordinator in addition to parent. Maybe after a summer of dealing with your kids every day, you won’t forget to give those teachers a big hug and thank them for what they do seven hours a day, nine months a year!

She Said: If you haven’t had kids, you have no idea how unpleasant the sound of fighting children. I took a Siblings Without Rivalry course when I was pregnant with my second, and the biggest takeaway was not to justify your parenting of one child to the other. So when Johnny says, “Why do I have to go to bed, when Lindsay doesn’t,” your answer is, “As your mother, I know what’s best for you, and you’re tired, so it’s time for you to sleep.” Once you bring Lindsay into it, as in, “Well Lindsay’s older than you are,” or “Lindsay already napped today,” you turn it into a sibling matter rather than parenting each child as needed. But just in case: peanut butter is the best way to remove a wad of gum from the hair… could be a long summer!
Dear SSHS,

We’re a blended family with different rules when it comes to mealtimes. Should kids be required to clean their plates? And how much should we cater to picky eaters?
Not a Restaurant, Danville
She Said: But what about the starving children in third world countries? Never understood that one myself, but I do think that force-feeding creates unnecessary eating issues. More importantly, there needs to be a united front on rules at mealtimes. Discuss with your spouse why you think things should be a certain way, and then come to some agreement so the children see the parents working together. You may have to compromise. No, do not make special meals for picky eaters. Registered dietitian Jill West, author of 400 MOMS, says simply, “It’s what’s for dinner.” End of story. She suggests everyone try at least one bite, and when it comes to veggies, she says, “Would you like broccoli or green beans?” When the child says neither, the parent says, “Ok, then I’ll choose.” That generally works.

He Said: If you’re asking should kids clean their plates after dinner, then yes. They should at least empty the scraps into the trash and rinse their plates. If you’re asking should kids be made to eat all the food on their plates, the answer is “yes” if THEY filled their plate, and “no” if you did. Allow them to serve themselves, offering plenty of healthy choices. In a blended family, absolutely NO ONE should have special privileges and be treated differently at dinnertime, and picky eaters are only picky if you let them be, so don’t let them be.
Robin Fahr and Shawn Alikian host Conversations and He Said/She Said seen daily on Tri-Valley TV, Channel 30. Send your questions to


Blast from the Past

Yeah! It’s Summer; sunshine, long lazy days and a tall glass of lemonade. And when the sun finally goes down, you get to curl up on the sofa and watch a movie that is pure fun…pure “light”! May I suggest a favorite…Blast from the Past.BlastFromThePast

In 1962, Calvin Webber (Christopher Walkin) was a brilliant but somewhat paranoid scientist living with his perfect wife, Helen (Sissy Spacek), in Los Angeles in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was during a cocktail hour with their neighbors that a news flash came on TV somehow triggering Webber’s paranoia. Certain of an attack, he sends the neighbors home and scuttles the wife into the bomb shelter. What he doesn’t realize is that the loud noise he heard was a military plane crashing in his backyard…on top of the bomb shelter.

Mistaking the blast for the “big one,” the Webbers settle into their elaborate bomb shelter to wait out the radio-active fallout. In the shelter, now a sort of time capsule, Calvin and Helen conceived and raised their son Adam (played as an adult by Brenden Fraser). Calvin had created a replica of their home below ground.

For 35 years, Adam was raised on Jackie Gleason, Perry Como and stories about life on the surface. Calvin taught his son about science, baseball, and communists while Mom taught Adam about dancing, good manners, and charming young ladies. Just in time, too, as Adam is sent to the surface to gather supplies and find a wife, preferably a nice, non-mutant girl from Pasadena with which to repopulate the world.

Let loose in a world that he can hardly envision, Adam falls prey to the first guy he tries to do business with. He’s rescued by the street savvy Eve Rustikov (Alicia Silverstone) and his adventure begins. Completely lost above ground, Adam enlists Eve’s help to navigate his new world and find the supplies on his list.

Eve has had her hopes chipped away by a long line of dead-end jobs and loser boyfriends. When the throwback Adam enters her life with his sunny disposition, seersucker jacket, and his pure joy at seeing the sky, she can’t help but fall in love.

I watch Blast from the Past periodically just for the pure escapism. The Walkin-Spacek duo are amazing. Both are truly talented actors. While this film was probably below their talent level, they both literally “knocked it out of the park.” Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone play off each other very well and Brendan is so endearing, it makes you just to pinch his cheeks. I even found something interesting this time, if you watch closely you’ll see one of my favorite TV show actors, Nathan Fillion of ‘Castle’ fame playing Eve’s ex-boyfriend.

If you are old enough to remember the Cold War you will especially like Blast from the Past but it is good family fare and I think will get a good laugh from the young ones as well, as they get a glimpse into how the ‘old people’ used to live! So, gather up the kids or the grandkids and bring in the popcorn, its movie night!

As always, I would love to hear your comments at




Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery! In that cord, I have followed my hero Anthony Bordain into the bowels of “meat in tube form.” I’m just a sucker for it. Some of my fondest memories go back to hot dog days. The Hound Dog in Downtown Danville, Oakland Coliseum, Fourth of July, and many others set the tone and catalyst in which I fondly remember yesteryear. I don’t have one memory of eating a hot dog at work or crying while applying mustard.

The hot dog (now more sausage) is the oxymoron that has become my diet. As stated many times in the past (if you are new, welcome), my wife and I have exposed ourselves to truths about food that have forever changed the way we eat and what we feed our children. We have teetered on the edge of vegetarianism only to be pulled back by necessities like sushi, prime rib and for me hot dogs. I know what is in them and I know that my wife will never feed one willingly to my children, and for that I admire her and love her more. But hot dogs are nostalgic.

Let’s then go back down to the land of stars and food trucks from last month. Back to Holly-weird! I had less than an hour before I blew town and was contemplating my fuel options for my vehicle as well as myself. I reflected on my starry journey down Hollywood Blvd. the night before and remembered seeing a store front that differed from the rest. Not just because it wasn’t a tattoo parlor or 5 for $5 t-shirt stand, but because it was clean, colorful and had outdoor seating. Most businesses on Hollywood Boulevard decorate their outside with pee stains and pan handlers. So I went!

Scooby’s boasted the type of colors that are synonymous with hot doggeries and nostalgia. Bright red, white and yellows abound and most are in that shiny plastic composite material reserved for the construction of amusement part rides. Did I mention clean? Sparkling clean. A clean only accepted by their framed “A” rating by the health department.scoobys

A simple menu of 8 items (all dog minus the Philly cheesesteak (how did that get in there) and 6 ways to do fries). Chili, chili and cheese, cheese, bacon and cheese, you get the idea. I chose the Jalapeno dog and regular fries then went and took my seat next to the ponytailed local that had been coming here every week since they opened in 2002.

The dog had that classic POP in the casing that brings me right back to yesteryear and I experienced it just as ponytail was telling me about it. Also the bun was not a bun but three connected, square dinner rolls split down the middle. Brilliant! The fries were a collection of hand cut criss-cut fries and the traditional shoestring. I really didn’t know where to start.

So I just jumped right in. Applied my mustard (the only acceptable condiment for dogs) and listened to ponytail tell me about his Hollywood from the 1960’s. I floated down I-5 over the grapevine fueled properly on Scooby’s and stories and couldn’t wait to share it all with you when I got back.

6654 Hollywood Blvd.