Cinco de Mayo Event

On May 5th—”Cinco de Mayo” in Spanish—nearly 1,000 children from Bay Area inner-city neighborhoods were treated to a day unlike any they had experienced before.

They were bussed to St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco where they were treated to an original musical drama about Junípero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan who founded many early California missions. The play, Always Forward, featured costumed actors, live choruses, and dancers. The children were surprised and excited to see 8-foot puppets representing Spanish soldiers enter down the aisles.

A lesson on Serra and native peoples

Research into Serra’s personal writings shows that he loved the native peoples. He wrote, “They have stolen my heart away. They are like members of my family.”6. French soldier puppet

When Serra became aware of the abusive way the Spanish soldiers treated the natives, he grew increasingly dismayed. The play dramatized how, in 1773, at the age of 60, Serra set out from Carmel for Mexico City—a journey of 2,000 miles—to protest this treatment. Once there, he presented demands to the Spanish viceroy on the natives’ behalf. The viceroy agreed to almost all of Serra’s proposals, thus creating the first significant body of laws governing early California. It has been referred to as Serra’s “bill of rights” for native Americans. It came 15 years before the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution.

After the play, the children were given a bountiful “fiesta” featuring lunch, serenades by troubadours, dancing, crafts, games, talks with the play’s characters, face painting, and fresh flowers to arrange and take home.

The origin of Cinco de Mayo

The issue of “bullying” found voice when children joined actors to enact the May 5, 1862, Battle of Puebla, which is why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated today. The children portrayed the Mexican citizen-soldiers who defeated the much larger and elite French army, represented by giant 8-foot puppets. But that “army” couldn’t overcome the children who locked arms and found strength chanting, “Doubt and fear make us small; love and courage make us tall!”

A little known history is that the French army had been planning to travel north and support Confederate troops against Union forces in the U.S. Civil War. Had they succeeded in this battle, their support of the Confederacy might have changed the outcome of the Civil War.2. Serra and spanish dancers

Purpose of the day

This novel Cinco de Mayo event was presented by Francis in the Schools, a nonprofit group based in Walnut Creek that offers this new form of nonsectarian education for children from underserved neighborhoods. The program was founded in 2011 by Dr. Carol Weyland Conner as a way to nourish feelings of love, kindness, courage, and brotherhood in these children. This was the 20th time the program has been presented, having been staged for a total of 10,000 children in cities including Oakland, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Over 350 volunteers work for months to prepare and stage each event. The entire day—from the bus rides through the play, lunch, activities, and flowers—is offered free to the children and participating schools.


After these Francis in the Schools events, children have written: “I will never forget this day.” . . . “This was the most wonderful day of my life.” . . . “I felt like a king, a cool king!”3. Giant puppets enter

One educator wrote: “It was a magical day of beauty and learning and is a potentially life-changing event in the lives of our children. You provided our community with a wonderful combination of spiritual, historical, and cultural activities that will have a lasting impact.”

Theme Music – Radio, Television & Film

Let me take you back in time when the primary form of entertainment in the home was radio. Before and during the radio era the other basic form of entertainment was the phonograph.

Vintage radio on deskThis may seem strange to younger folks but there was: no television; no computer and internet; no cell phone; no smart tablets; no CD players; no DVD players; no MP3 players and no e-books to read on nooks or kindles. Of course, there was always entertainment in the form of sings and playing musical instruments.

In my pre-teen years the main entertainment in our home was the radio. It was standard procedure that we would go into the living room after dinner and Dad would turn on the big console radio for the evening programs. One of the first things you would hear would be theme music, with the show’s announcer speaking over the music.

The theme music sets a mood for the show and lets the audience know that the show is beginning. This was very important in early radio shows. Theme music becomes very familiar as we listen over a period of time. The music gives us a feeling of warmth and recognition.

Theme music was the radio show’s signature piece. It was always played at the beginning of the program and often repeated in some form during or after the show ended. Theme music clearly identified the program. After a few listenings people would automatically associate the music with the program.

Theme music was often original and unique to a particular show. In other cases music that already existed was put to new use. Often it was classical music that quickly became associated with a certain program.

The theme music for the Lone Ranger program, a very popular western show in its time, became so familiar to audiences that they started calling it “The Lone Ranger Theme.” Actually, it was Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” but a lot of the public didn’t know the real name of the piece.

While some of the themes had words or lyrics that helped identify the program or a particular person, most lacked any textual content. Many radio theme songs became quite famous and were immediately identified with certain radio personalities and shows.

Some of the most famous were:

Bing Crosby – Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day

Bob Hope – Thanks for the Memories

Jack Benny – Love in Bloom

Red Skelton – Holiday for Strings

Burns and Allen – Comin Through the Rye

Fibber McGee and Molly – Save Your Sorrow for Tomorrow

Lawrence Welk – Bubbles in the Wine

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon – Donna Diana Overture

Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians – Sweet Leilani and Aloha Oe

An interesting sidelight of radio shows was the serialized episodes of radio dramas that were eventually called Soap Operas. These shows were sponsored by soap companies: Procter and Gamble, Colgate, Palmolive and Lever Brothers.

As the ‘Golden Age of Radio’ came to a close in the early 1960’s, a new medium of entertainment was already making huge strides in popularity with the public—Television (TV).

As the population adjusted to this new form of entertainment, so did our family.

At my urging, my family bought our first TV set. We were the first family on the block to have one. You could always tell which households had TV by the antenna on the roof (Cable had yet to be invented). Our antenna was 20 feet high!

The new shows on TV adopted the theme music concept from their predecessors in radio. Each show or personality was identified by its opening music and the following themes became household fixtures.

From a national survey these top ten TV themes were selected:

Cheers (1982-1993) Where somebody Knows your Name

Gilligans Island (1964-1967) Ballad of Gilligans Island

Friends (1994-2004) I’ll be There for You

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990-1996) You Know you’re a 90’s Kid When…

The Simpsons (1989-) Simpsons Theme

Full House (1987-1995) Full House Theme

The Adams Family (1964-1966) Adams Family Theme

Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) Love Is All Around

Happy Days (1974-1984) Happy Days Theme

Hawaii Five-0 (1968-1980) Hawaii Five-0 Theme

The network evening news shows also used musical themes to introduce the news and news anchors. They often used classical and semi-classical forms of music. In 1956 to 1970, The National Broadcasting Company’s (NBC) Huntley-Brinkley report used an innovative approach with two different venues: Chet Huntley broadcasted from New York and David Brinkley broadcasted from Washington D. C. Their theme music was from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Later, John Williams composed “The Mission,” the theme currently used for the opening of the NBC Nightly News. Most people never hear the entire piece Williams wrote, and NBC only uses the opening few bars.

The Columbia Broadcasting System’s (CBS) Evening News did not use theme music until 1987. Composers John Trivers and Elizabeth Myers wrote the original theme that is still used today.

The themes for American Broadcasting Company’s (ABC) World News Tonight,

has had many transformations over the years. Its current theme music is written by Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer.

Movie themes have been a major factor in films since the “talkies” came into existence in the early part of the 20th Century. Many movie themes became popular hits and were famous apart from the films where they were introduced.

The American Film Institute picked what they determined were the top ten movie themes:

Over The Rainbow from Wizard of Oz, 1939

As Time Goes By from Casablanca, 1942

Singing In The Rain From Singing In The Rain 1952

Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961

White Christmas from Holiday Inn, 1942

Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate, 1967

When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio, 1940

The Way We Were from The Way We Were, 1973

Stayin Alive from Saturday Night Fever, 1977

The Sound of Music from The Sound of Music, 1965

Musical themes have been very important in the past, and still are today. They are critical as openers that distinguish the program and talent that follows. For better or worse, it looks like they are here to stay!

Don’t miss a “Salute to John Williams” Danville Community Band’s Annual Spring Concert, Sunday, June 12, 2016, 3 p.m. at Community Presbyterian Church, 222 West El Pintado Rd, Danville. Free concert and parking. Please submit your questions and comments to  Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.





Honda Takes Flight!

It seems that every automotive manufacturer assumes that when they redesign a vehicle, it has to grow in character and size. Some versions, however, end up lacking in character. In most cases, their footprint gets closer to the mammoth Big Foot, or, at least, sprouts enough so that he feels a little less cramped in the back seat! This month’s featured vehicle is the all-new, redesigned 2016 Honda Pilot, emerging with elevated character and a growth spurt.

In 2009, Honda reskinned the Pilot with a thicker and more squared-off body. This ended up being a misstep in styling as other manufacturers were edging into a softer-smoother curvy body sculpturing. Seven years later, we have a rebirth of the Pilot. In 2016, we are introduced to new sheet metal that carries softer corners resembling an overgrown Honda CRV. When the Pilot was delivered to my home, I had to take a second look, as it looks so impressive and formidable.2

The 2016 Honda Pilot is a three-row crossover SUV that comes in three trim levels. It enters with the LX front-wheel drive for $31,045. It follows up with the FWD EX starting at $34,480, then as a FWD-Touring 9-speed automatic transmission for $42,070 and finishes up the top of the line, All-Wheel Drive Elite with navigation for $47,470. The LX, EX and Touring are also available in All-Wheel Drive.

Power for all models comes in the form of a 280 horsepower V6 347-cc engine. The EX and LX models mate the V6 to a 6-speed automatic transmission, where the Touring and Elite are teamed with an unheard of 9-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The LX and EX FWD generates 19 City and 27 Highway miles per gallon. Decrease that by one mile each for the AWD versions. The Touring FWD (20/27) and AWD (19/26) and AWD Elite spits out 19 City and 26 Highway MPG.

The new Honda Pilot is longer in length, narrower and lower than its previous generation, and is also 300 pounds lighter. As noted earlier, the newly-styled Pilot has lost its hard lines and replaced them with elements of well-balanced curves. The low front-end and horizontal grille mesh well and begin the flow.

The eight-passenger interior is very well-finished and appointed with attention to detail. You can see and feel the influences of the Honda Accord and CR-V. New soft-touch points have elevated the interior to a near-luxury level. The front seats are comfortable and carved with better bolsters and more support. The driver seating position is not too high while delivering raised visibility, and the step-in is relatively low for a Crossover.

2016 Honda PilotThe second and third row seats fold down easily and support adult bodies with ease. The large panoramic sunroof creates an open and airy feel allowing in a great deal of light inside. Cabin space is plentiful with 18.5 cubic feet with seats up, or 56 cubic feet with the third row folded down. Need more space? When you drop the second row seat down, you will increase your cargo capacity to a total of 109-cubic feet.

Cool Features:

  • Panoramic Sunroof
  • Rear Entertainment System complete with Blu-ray player and HDMI input
  • Paddle Shifters
  • Push Button Start
  • Remote Engine Start

Safety on the 2016 Honda Pilot begins with many standard safety features, including:  side curtain airbags, even for third row seating, front seat-mounted side airbags, Vehicle Stability Assist, ABS Brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, LED daytime running lights, rear camera, Road Departure Mitigation System, Forward Collision Warning, and Lane Departure Warning. Note some of these items are available as an option.

In Summary –Honda has upped the value-benefit proposal on the new 2016 Honda Pilot with its new interior and exterior styling, high tech features, smooth ride and safety features. If you are looking for a vehicle with plenty of storage and cargo area, you will not find many other vehicles that exceed the Pilot. This notable vehicle offers confident power and steering, while the 3.5-liter V6 surprises you with great MPG.


2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite


Base price:                 $46,420 as driven: $47,300 (including destination & optional

Engine:                       3.5-liter I-VTEC SOHC 24-valve V6

Horsepower:             280 @ 6,000 RPM

Torque:                     262 @ 4,700 RPM

Transmission:          9-speed automatic

Drive:                        AWD Drive

Seating:                     8-passenger

Turning circle:         39.4 feet

Cargo space:            16 cubic feet

Curb weight:            4,317 pounds

Fuel capacity:          19.5 gallons

EPA mileage:           City 19/Hwy 26

Wheel Base:             111 inches

Warranty:                 3 years/36,000 miles powertrain limited

Also consider:           Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan
Pathfinder, and Toyota Highlander


Fingernails on a Blackboard

I’ve always enjoyed learning about words—their meanings and origins—and like anyone who spends a fair portion of their time working with them, I have compiled a list of a few words and phrases that strike me as being either frequently misused and/or over-used. Perhaps you will relate to some of these…

Vintage writer feeling fatigued begins to nod off#1) Give back: This seems most appropriate in a general sense, as in, “I feel indebted to those in the military and want to ‘give back’ in some way.” But I find this phrase being used all the time in place of “contribute” and “donate.” Don’t ask someone to “give back” if you haven’t given them something first; when what you really want is a contribution or donation.

#2) Climate Change: The evolved form of “Global Warming,” used pretty much exclusively as an emotionally charged term to manipulate others. If one has a science-based point that refutes so called “consensus” (which is how true science works), such a person is then labeled a “denier.” Here’s a news flash: the climate has always, and will always, change.

#3) Reach out: This overused phrase is what some marketing people apparently believe to be a more palatable or amicable way to say “contact.” The follow-up to reach out, used to replace just that—follow up—is the over-used phrase, “circle back.”

#4) Sustainable: An overused word cleverly used mostly as a way to market things; particularly agricultural products. In the 1970s, I think we used “ecological” instead. Honestly, does anyone really believe that professional farmers only plan on planting and harvesting one crop without thinking about what’s next? The word “organic” is a close cousin of sustainable that I wouldn’t mind not hearing so often, along with “all natural,” and its nemesis, “artificial.”

#5) Folks: This word is regularly overused by the smartest man alive (not to be confused with the most interesting man alive who drinks Dos Equis). I suppose he thinks it makes him more relatable to us “common folks,” because referring to us as “people,” “individuals,” or “citizens,” might go too far and allow us to believe we just might be close to his level.

#6) Free: I saved a big one for last. Now I’m not one to suggest banning words, but in this case, I would make an exception for politicians and the government. Did you know that in the U.S. we have programs where you can get free stuff? They actually call it “free.” Phones, medical care and food are but a few, and some are running for office offering to add college education. Unless one is a complete idiot, surely we all know that none of these things are free (unless donated). Let’s demand honesty and call it what is: Paid for by someone else.

So there you have it—some words and phrases that give me that “fingernails on a blackboard” shudder. I’d love to learn if you have a similar list, but  in the mean time,  feel free to reach out and let me know of any sustainable, yet free ways that other folks might give back to our world, working to halt climate change.




June = Graduation Day

When one thinks of June, we undoubtedly conjure up images of all the beautiful and talented women, past and present, named June—such as: country singer June Carter-Cash, actress June Lockhart, model June Wilkinson, ‘pointer sister’ June Pointer, the Beaver’s mom June Cleaver and reality star Mama June Shannon (Honey Boo-Boo’s beloved mother). Come to think of it, football coach June Jones might be more attractive and beloved than Mama June. He’s certainly more refined, but that’s just one man’s opinion.5

The calendar month of June, on the other hand, is synonymous with many glorious events including weddings, vacations and graduations. As families all along the I-680 Corridor prepare for high school graduation, on or around Friday June 10th, there’s not a house, condo or townhome that will not be experiencing high levels of excitement, giddiness and euphoria. Once Senior Ball, Declare Day and final exams are completed, the days leading up to the actual commencement ceremony are a magical time consisting of year book signing, pool parties, and mani/pedis. That countdown to “Grad” day is the culmination of K-12 schooling with finality to the monotonous school rules, rituals, routines, homework and horrible cafeteria food.

Whether your high school senior is headed to college, trade school or the military, they are on their way to their future. But first, they must go through the cap and gown ceremony, grad night and a few dozen Beer Pong themed grad parties. At my high school graduation ceremony, I couldn’t wait to be released from the shackles of education and be free of high school. Granted, I did attend a boys’ detention center where we did actually wear shackles under our robes, so this was a literal reference not just a figurative one. I had to know the difference between literal and figurative to get my GED diploma, but I digress. Graduation is a special time for any teenager and one that will be a life-long memory. If you’re interested, I have a few other “graduation” thoughts and memories.

The movie The Graduate was a film released in 1967 that tells the story of a disillusioned college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) who’s torn between his older lover (Anne Bancroft) and her daughter (Katherine Ross). I do remember watching that movie for the first time while I was in high school, and just wishing I had Ben Braddock’s (Hoffman’s character) dilemma. At my high school there were several girls who had very attractive mothers that fell into that “WOW” category. I won’t name names, Donna Granowski, but I ran The Graduate movie in my head too many times to count with one Mrs. Granowski playing the part of the alluring and seductive Mrs. Robinson. Sorry Donna.

I’m not a big fan of Kanye West, the celebrity, but before he became Mr. Kardashian he released a CD entitled Graduation that was brilliant. I’m here to tell you, Graduation is an amazing collection of boldly crafted songs by an incredibly talented master word-smith. Very few of my countless number of fans know that I love me some hip-hop. Truth be told, I have actually counted all of my fans and I’m up to seventeen. Kanye’s third studio album was released in September of 2007. The CD contained numerous bold, innovative and utterly captivating lyrical masterpieces such as: Stronger, Good Life, Good Morning, The Glory and Everything I Am. Kanye won his third Grammy when Graduation was named Best Rap Album. Some might say with that album, Kayne graduated to a larger pop culture acceptance and audience.

Sadly, the high school graduation episode of most teen television series often proves to be the kiss of death for many of the main characters and decent plot lines, beginning with Happy Days. The Happy Days graduation episode aired in 1997 revealing Fonzie’s secret plan to graduate with Ritchie and Potsy’s senior class. You can’t have a town hoodlum go all cap and gown. What were they thinking? Different story lines, but the same results followed Saved by the Bell, The Wonder Years, Boy Meets World, Beverly Hills 90210, all the way up to Glee’s graduation episode in 2012. Did anyone really think Finn and Rachel would get married when she had a chance to star on Broadway? Come on! It seems that graduation day is usually when a good teen series “jumps the shark” and begins its downward descent. While the series regulars always seem so youthful, enthusiastic and filled with promise while in high school, the minute they graduate they appear awkwardly older, directionless and seemingly out of place. It goes totally off the rails when these 18 – 20 year old college dropouts pursue unrealistic careers like club owner, apparel designer and politician.

Graduation itself starts with the procession of academic staff and students. The school band will likely play some off-key version of the graduation walking song, Pomp and Circumstance, to get everyone’s attention. The principal or school superintendent will wax on trying to inspire the 2016 class to greatness. The class valedictorian will try his or her best not to throw up or wet them self. Someone (often times the school janitor) will eventually get around to handing out the diplomas. The ceremony ends with caps being thrown in the air and Facebook blowing up as proud parents post millions of iPhone images of their kid’s noteworthy accomplishment. Let me stop now before I start tearing up. That darn pollen.

This year, as we sit through the commencement address, invocation and speeches, sit back and recall your own graduation ceremony and see what kind of memories it brings back. What type of hopes and dreams did you have on that special day? I envy where the kids are today, but they are also faced with challenges much different than anything we ever had to consider. The good news is that the possibilities are limitless once they graduate, …, college. Check back with me in four years.

How Movies Molded Me

“Ah, come on. Pu-lease take me with you. Pu-lease!”

I begged whenever my brothers, Keith and Bill, went to the movies back in the early 1930s. They ignored me. Well, you know the definition of a big brother: a large pain in the household. Finally one day Keith and Bill said, “Okay. You can come.”

I heard them say the movie was about a fellow named Frank. We split some popcorn, watched the Pathe News and a cartoon, then the main attraction. It turned out that the movie was Frankenstein, and the plot revolved around this strange creature Dr. Frankenstein created.

I can give folks a quick impression. I don a dark sports jacket backwards, collar up. Then I stalk about growling and muttering. This works if you run out of candy on the Fourth of July. Frankenstein’s creature made a lasting impression on me. And the strategy of my brothers worked: I no longer begged to let me join them at the movies.

Horror Night! Halloween party or movie night event flyer vector design with terrified vintage man face afraid of something creepy, comic book style portrait with light from belowWe moved into an apartment in South Denver, just four blocks from the Mayon Theatre. My mother let me go solo to the Saturday matinee. It was cheaper than hiring a baby sitter, and the apartment stayed much neater. In addition to, say, Tom Mix, the newsreel, and a cartoon, we got to see, instead of eat, a serial. It was about fifteen minutes long, and each one ended with a damsel tied up and stretched out on railroad tracks, or engaged in some other life-threatening predicament. What’s more, the theater also conducted a prize drawing each Saturday. We signed in during June and the manager took down one name for that week’s prize.

“You won’t be going to the movies this Saturday,” my mother announced early in the week.

“But why not?” I asked.

“They’re showing a movie called Captain Blood and it just sounds too gory for a boy your age.”

I didn’t know what a “gory” was, but I begged and pleaded, to no avail. The movie starred Errol Flynn, Olivia de Haviland and Basil Rathbone. Later, I learned that some critics called it the best pirate film ever. And that was the Saturday my name was drawn. The prize? A new bicycle.

I finally forgave her—47 years later. I had to go without wheels for four more years, until I got a paper route.

We moved to East Denver. I joined a throng of kids in Cheeseman Park for an Easter egg hunt. I found one that included a ticket for the Ogden Theatre. Three nights later I went on my own to see The Hounds of the Baskervilles, a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The hound looked more like a bear. It did terrible things to idiots who walked in those muddy, murky, mushy moors. I didn’t waste any time covering the nine blocks home. This was before street lights and no one could afford to leave their porch lights on. It seemed like every other house had a dog that barked, growled or snarled in a hungry way.

Looking back, I must credit Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc for their positive influence. Jones was the director and creative force for most of the Bugs Bunny cartoons, and Mel Blanc supplied the v-v-v-varied v-v-v-voices. If it hadn’t been for them, I never would have developed an interest in classical music.

From the Barber of Seville there are those classic lines: “Welcome to my shop, Let me cut your mop, Let me shave your crop, Daintily, daintily.” Then there’s that call to action, “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”

I learned about history with The Magnificent Ambersons and Gone With the Wind. I soared aloft with heroic Errol Flynn in Dawn Patrol.

I discovered Mother Nature can be a witch as the walls came tumbling down in San Francisco in the 1906 earthquake.

But Hollywood provided relief from the monsters and mayhem. Remember Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and the soothing balm of the Wizard of Oz in which we learned “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

Plus we discovered—all together now—“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

Ted Fuller is the author of six books, including a memoir, plus a children’s picture book. From 1997 to 2002 he wrote a “Senior Scene” column for weeklies distributed by the Contra Costa Times, and is a former member of the Central Contra Costa County Senior Coalition and the Pleasant Hill Commission on Aging.



Drought Tolerance, Sheet Mulching, Liquidambers and Bamboo

Q. I’m looking to remove a portion of my lawn and replace it with drought tolerant plants. Is there a way, I can do this without removing the grass or using any chemicals to kill it? In addition, I don’t want to wait for the grass to die first.

A. Yes, there is a method of doing exactly what you described. It’s called ‘Sheet Mulching.’ Sheet Mulching is not new, and in fact it’s used by organic gardeners who utilize Permaculture. Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature. It’s a natural process that combines soil improvement, weed removal, and mulching in one fell swoop. It is currently being utilized by a whole new group of gardeners looking to replace their grass with plants. You’ll need cardboard and/or lots of newspaper along with an organic mulch.Stack of newspapers

First, scalp the grass by mowing it as low as possible. Next, dig the planting holes, amend the back fill, plant your plants and add starter fertilizer. A thick layer of cardboard and/or a half an inch of newspaper should then used to cover or smother the old lawn area leaving the plants exposed. A second option is to cover the entire area first before planting, and then cut holes in the paper or cardboard layer. Think of the cardboard or paper layer as an organic or biodegradable landscape fabric.

To prevent the material from moving or blowing around wet the layer down as you proceed. You should over lap the seams or edges by four to six inches to prevent any new growth or weeds from developing. BE WARNED: Sheet Mulching will not prevent germination of the weed seeds that blow in on top of the mulch. Wet the paper again with the existing sprinklers before applying the mulch because the moisture aids the decomposition. I recommend converting conventional sprinklers to drip irrigation, and then cover the area with a three inch layer of mulch and wet it. Be careful not to bury the new plants in the mulch! The entire conversion process should take a about day once all the materials have been secured.

Sheet Mulching’s other purpose is to turn barren or unproductive hard soil into new planting areas. This can be done in the open ground or within a raise bed. It will take several growing seasons for the whole process to be completed, but it is worth the time and energy. To revitalize your soil, first place a thick layer of cardboard and/or newspaper on the ground. Next, top it with eight to twenty-four inches of organic material, bark, straw, grass clippings, along with household kitchen waste. Spread the material evenly in alternating layers. Start small, as you’ll likely need a significant amount of organic material. This technique is often referred to as ‘Lasagna Gardening.’

Liquidambar Trees and Pollen

Q. When a Liquidambar starts to produce pollen? I’m trying to figure out if it could be the source of our daughter’s severe spring allergies. Help!

A. Liquidambar trees bloom in March. It produces both male and female flowers as two separate structures about the same time as the leaves are emerging from dormancy. Plant pollen moves around by insects and the wind. Wind pollination requires light pollen and lots of it that can travel great distances. This is the troublesome kind because it is abundant, easily inhaled and likely to cause allergic reactions. Flowers that depend on bees, wasps, butterflies, moths and beetles for pollination tend to produce heavy, sticky grains that are somewhat airborne. My gut feeling is that your Liquidambar is not the culprit.

Instead, there may be multiple sources based on the plants in your yard. Foundation plants, especially next to windows and doorway entries, can be an immediate source of problems to those predisposed to pollen allergies. Birch, Oaks, Cedars, Walnuts and Olives, as well as Junipers, Privets, Podocarpus and even Lilacs are problematical for those allergic to pollen.

My suggestion is to purchase a copy of Tom Ogren’s book Allergy Free Gardening. In Tom’s book, he has developed a system of rating plants based on allergy severity and sensitivity. The Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) assigns plants, including edibles, a rating from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best for allergies and 10 being worst. Hopefully you can now identify the problem plant(s)! Of course, this assumes that you know the names of the plants in your yard. If not, take samples or high-resolution pictures to your favorite garden center and ask the nursery professional for help.


‘Hellish’ Heavenly Bamboo

Q. My Heavenly Bamboo plants are out of control. They’re small towers, standing about six feet tall and are quite top heavy, which causes the branches to sag away from the plant at extreme angles. Is there a problem with severely pruning them back to a much smaller size? In my neighborhood, I see several plantings that are much smaller.

A. The Sunset Western Garden Book describes Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina domestica, as a slow to moderate growing shrub six to eight feet high, spreading three to four feet. It has a clumping habit and spreads by shoots or runners. There are several options you can use to control the top heaviness and the spread. You can: stake the clump and tie the staggering stems to it with green plastic tape; cut off the top-heavy or all the canes at ground level as new shoots will appear from the base. The new growth can be sheared annually like a hedge to keep it the right height. You can also reduce the tree’s width by removing a section of the clump with a shovel. Finally, your last is too replace them with the shorter growing varieties. Nandina Domestica Firepower, Harbor Dwarf, and Sienna Sunrise are three varieties that do not grow beyond four feet. Heavenly Bamboo does not produce lateral shoots, so reducing the height is the best way to obtain a more shorter and compact plant.


Give a Fig!

For those who are passionate about perfectly ripened, locally-grown fruit, the late- spring and early-summer farmers’ market is filled with sweet surprises. Plump, juicy berries are now joined by long-awaited treasures like cherries, apricots, and figs—arguably the most voluptuous fruit of all.

Vector hand drawn watercolor painting fruit fig on white background.This preliminary fig season is far too brief for many of us. So, after eating my fill of figs out-of-hand, in salads, tarts, pizza, or simply enrobed in prosciutto, I longed to capture their unique flavor to carry me through leaner times. Rather than immersing myself in the traditional canning process, I now turn to this quick and easy recipe.

The following small-batch condiment can last for weeks—even months—in the refrigerator, providing that I don’t sneak a spoonful or two every time I wander through the kitchen. It is filled with figgy goodness! And, the addition of a whole lemon—skin, pith, and all—makes this recipe pleasantly piquant, and the walnuts add a touch of crunch.

Although I most frequently enjoy fig conserve spooned onto a warm, buttery scone or toasted English muffin, there are plenty of other uses for this recipe:

–Slather your favorite soft cheese (goat, brie, or blue) over crostini, or spoon it onto a leaf of Belgian endive; then top with a dab of fig conserve and a few tiny arugula leaves, or chopped fresh thyme or rosemary.

–Spread fig conserve over a wheel—or even a wedge—of ripe brie and top with more toasted walnuts.

–Serve a small bowl of fig conserve with cheese or charcuterie platters.

–Serve fig conserve as a condiment alongside roast pork or chops. When the main course is baked ham, serve fig conserve with warm buttermilk biscuits.

–Squeeze fresh lemon juice over a plain grilled chicken breast, and serve a spoonful of fig conserve on the side.

–Dollop fig conserve over a scoop of vanilla ice cream; then drizzle with a bit of honey and top with finely chopped crystallized ginger or candied lemon zest.

–Smear wheat meal digestive biscuits or gingersnaps with mascarpone or cream cheese, and top with a dab of fig conserve.

–Pack fig conserve into a decorative jar, tie with a raffia bow, and present to your host as a gift.


                                                                    Fig Conserve

1/4 cup California walnut halves and pieces

1 whole lemon, rinsed well and patted dry

1 pint Black Mission or other firm but ripe figs, stemmed, and halved if large

1 cup granulated sugar

1 pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a small baking dish and bake, turning once or twice, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool, then chop coarsely.
  2. Cut the lemon into quarters and discard any seeds.
  3. With a large, sharp knife or in a food processor, pulsing the machine on and off, coarsely chop the whole lemon. Scrape the chopped lemon and any accumulated juices into a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.
  4. Stir the figs, sugar, and salt into the lemon and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a low boil and cook, stirring often, until the sugar has melted and the mixture has thickened, 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Stir in the walnuts and transfer to a covered container. Refrigerate until serving. Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups.


                                                                 Figalicious Facts

–The fig is one of the oldest cultivated fruits. Since it is nutritious and easily preserved by drying, it became a staple of people in southern Europe and Arabia.

–According to the bible figs grew in the Garden of Eden, for it was fig leaves that Adam and Eve reportedly used to cover their nakedness after eating the forbidden fruit.

–In 1769 Father Junipero Serra planted California’s first figs in the San Diego area. California now produces 95% of the U.S. fig crop and is the 3rd largest producer in the world, trailing closely behind Turkey and Greece.

–Because ripe figs are fragile and do not travel well, each year around 30 million pounds of the California crop are transformed into dried figs.

–Figs are in season twice each year: first in June through July; and again in August through October or November.

–Figs must remain on the tree until fully ripe, as they do not ripen once they have been picked. For this reason, buy only figs that are very soft and ready to eat.

–Fresh Black Mission figs are teardrop-shaped with purple-black skin and strawberry-colored flesh inside. Brown Turkey figs are chubby, squat teardrops, with thicker, reddish-brown skin and pink interior. Kadota figs have thin green skin and pale flesh.

–Rich in fiber, iron, and calcium, figs are actually inverted flowers containing thousands of edible seeds.

–1 large fig weighs in at about 47 calories.

–Place whole, un-washed figs in a brown paper bag and store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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 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!




And Then I Wrote…


$13.9 TRILLION?  $18T?  $19T? OMG!

Many people will recognize those unimaginable numbers as amounts assigned to the national debt by various people attempting to induce panic. The $13.9 trillion number adorned TIME magazine’s April 25, 2016 cover. TIME also added that every citizen owed $42,998.12 in order to pay off the debt. The $18 and $19 trillion numbers were shouted out as ‘absolute truth’ by political candidates (Bernie and Hillary) in the current election circus, which is approaching its fourth birthday.

These numbers, which frighten many people who have never dealt with statistics, are totally spurious. Yes, we have a national debt somewhere within all the figures thrown out. These Halloween-like numbers are usually quoted by those who claim to have knowledge of business. To this I say, in my best literary fashion, “Phooey!” Let me explain.

Suppose you were asked to do an analysis of Steph Curry’s basketball skills. You could say, “Too short to do much rebounding; has questionable ankle.” Do you think that leaves out some of Mr. Curry’s unique skills with the big round ball?

If I, as a theater person, were asked to analyze Tom Hanks as an actor, I could say, ”Can’t sing: can’t dance; high-pitched voice; nice looking, but rather ordinary.” Do you think I may have overlooked some of Mr. Hank’s many, many wonderful qualities?

Let’s assume you, dear reader, have a few extra bucks burning a hole in your wallet, so you decide to buy a few shares of stock in either ABC or XYZ companies. Would you research the two companies’ liabilities only? Of course not. If you have any business sense at all, you will also research their—here comes the magic word—ASSETS. Curry and Hanks also have considerable assets in their professions that were not mentioned. Don’t be fooled by those scary guys quoting silly numbers because they often neglect to mention ASSETS.

This realization may came as a surprise, and a disappointment, to some folks—especially politicians. The United States of America has many, many assets, and I am not counting the more abstract assets of freedom of religion, speech, and a whole big bunch of other really good stuff.


            #1. We auction off all the properties under the National Park Service.

Just think how much Yosemite alone could bring from creative developers, not to mention Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and, even closer to home, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There are over 400 more parks, etc., throughout the country (Listen to that cash register jingle).

#2. Next we sell every building and property the government owns in the U. S. and throughout the world. The IRS, courts, embassies, consulates; they all go, along with the art work, statues, and documents they contain. Just contemplate how much grain the Congressional buildings could hold. If not grain, how about fertilizer? Although, they probably could not match the amount of fertilizer that has been emitted from those buildings in our lifetimes. Washington, D. C. could become America’s new boom, though it would need to change its identification to Washington, V. C., Village of Columbia. Aside from the buildings, think of the money saved from bloated salaries, undisclosed perks, and extravagant vacation trips from Congress members alone!

#3. Next to go would be every battleship, aircraft carrier, destroyer, cruiser, canoe and rowboat. How many Silicon Valley billionaires have thought to themselves, “Gee. I’d love to have my own aircraft carrier.” Tanks, artillery, jeeps, automobiles, helicopters, bombers, fighter planes, etc., would be sold simultaneously with the naval vessels. Uniforms, rifles, small weapons, mess kits, tents, mess hall cookware and serving utensils would follow, including those assigned to the worst form of torment one human has ever perpetrated on another: creamed chipped beef on toast.

Think of the value of these sales: no more inflated salaries to people with inflated egos and not much else to offer. Current military academies could change to only be funded during wartime efforts if necessary. And, finally, the last U. S. government official left standing can pass out checks to all the citizens.

I am not by any stretch of the imagination an accountant, but I would bet that the total would be three or four times what they claim we owe: “$42,998.12” (TIME magazine’s cutesy number…they could have added $1.88 and called it $43,000, but why make it easy for us?). Every citizen would then get exactly $223,146. 54—not enough for an aircraft carrier, but maybe enough for a life boat. (I made up that number from my perverted imagination. It contains my two birthdays: the actual delivery date and the day I got my honorable discharge from the Army.)

One important concern I know some of you may wonder regards American defense and safety from our friends and enemies. Although we no longer have the Western wilderness to protect us as in George Washington‘s days, we still have oceans on our east and west. Additionally, virtually every country in the world has some sort of religion that it professes to follow and most of those religions emphasize love, peace and the value of our fellow human beings. Sure there are some little, fat, strange leaders who like to sing, “We have nuclear weapons, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!” and others who insist that their nuclear experiments are for “peaceful” purposes to help out the common, ordinary people whom they haven‘t cared about in centuries.

FEAR NOT: Part of my plan takes care of such exigencies. We will keep one or two thousand young people on duty in the silos where our nuclear, intercontinental weapons are stored. If the worst scenario should happen, then across the entire planet, we all will sing the 1960’s folk song, “AND WE’LL ALL GO TOGETHER WHEN WE GO.” Just think, however, Americans will go with no national debt, some real money in our pockets, and absolutely no liabilities or assets.

He Said/She Said with Robin and Shawn

Dear SSHS,

I attended a bridal shower recently and learned that the wedding invitations have gone out and I didn’t get one. I thought perhaps we could blame the post office, but another woman at my table hadn’t received one either. It’s a destination wedding, which I know was done so they could avoid having to invite everyone they know, but isn’t this a little weird? Should I say something to my friend, the mother of the bride?          –Sierra M., Concord

Wedding bouquet of flowers in hands of beautiful anonymous young bride. Wedding decor. Groom and bride enjoying each other. Just married happy couple hugging outside on summer or spring warm sunny dayShe Said: Miss Manners would say that anyone you invite to the bridal shower must also be invited to the wedding, otherwise it’s called gift-seeking. Yes, weird and very bad form indeed. As to whether you should say anything to your friend, I would ask myself, was I going to pay for a plane ticket and hotel had I received an invitation to the wedding? If yes, I would talk to your “friend,” but if you weren’t going to go anyway, don’t make an issue out of it, but do save yourself some money…you absolutely do not need to buy a wedding gift if you’re not invited to the wedding!

He Said: Wow, so you’re special enough to come to the pre-party but not the party itself? Robin’s absolutely right, tacky and bad form indeed. Question is, should you say something to your friend? No! You have nothing to gain as you don’t want a sympathy invite to the wedding now, do you? Remember, this is someone else’s big lifetime event and they can invite/exclude whomever they want. Don’t make it about you, but keep this in the back of your mind and understand this person may not be as good of a friend to you as you thought.


Dear HSSS,

I’ve started dating a very interesting guy that I’m really attracted to. He told me that he likes me a lot and wants to continue our relationship but that he has to be honest when he says that the extra weight I carry is a having a negative effect on his physical attraction for me. I am up about 15 pounds up from where I’d like to be. Should I continue seeing this guy or is he a Shallow Hal?

–No Skinny Winnie, Oakland


He Said: Dump him like those 15 extra pounds you want to get rid of! I know that attraction and romantic connections are hard to come by but this one seems toxic from the start. The beginning of a relationship is where two people usually feel the most physical attraction and if he’s already knit-picking then you have an uphill battle ahead of you. I will give him a little credit for being upfront and honest with you and revealing who he really is, but now it’s your turn to take the hint and make the right next move.

She Said: I intentionally let Shawn answer this one first as I thought maybe guys would see the honesty thing as more important than the message—especially after every woman I ran this past said, “Buh-Bye, Dude.” Extremely proud of you, Shawn! So moving on from this, if you want to lose the 15 pounds you’ve gained, go for it, but do it for you. And consider the huge favor this guy has done you by showing his true colors early on. It’d have been so much worse to find out about his shallowness after you’d fallen in love.

Robin Fahr is a communications specialist and host of Conversations seen daily on Tri-Valley TV, Channel 30 and online at Shawn and Robin HeSaidSheSaidgraphicalso host He Said/She Said on Send your questions to