The White Elephant Gift Exchange

At our family White Elephant Gift Exchange this holiday season, I ended up with an actual white elephant. Excuse me, an albino pachyderm to be more politically correct. I was a little distraught to say the least when my name was drawn last and the only gift still under the menorah tree was a two-ton elephant calf. Who knew someone could actually buy a “white elephant” for a White Elephant gift exchange? That gift, that was apparently ordered through Amazon, came by way of my out of work, over tattooed, legalize pot voting niece.  I thought we had a $50.00 limit? Now, in addition to a costly wellness visit to Blackhawk Veterinary, I should probably be expecting a hefty HOA fine next quarter for housing a pet the size of a recreational vehicle in my home.

African elephant with santa's cap delivering christmas gifts.The folks at Wikipedia tell me the term “white elephant” refers to an extravagant but burdensome gift that cannot be easily disposed of, based on the legend of the King of Siam gifting rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs. Last year, my White Elephant present was a gift card to Fuddruckers. I love Fuddruckers! What are the chances I can re-gift my elephant between now and Christmas? I do have an office party coming up.

Our family transitioned to a White Elephant gift exchange format after years of going into debt buying presents for every niece/nephew, brother/sister, aunt/ uncle, grandparent, grandchild, step child and second cousin twice removed by a divorce or annulment. I was buying gifts for relatives I never knew I had, assuming they were actually my relatives. I once bought a tie for a guy who was either my half brother-in-law or the young man who delivers our Contra Costa Times paper in the morning. Why do we do this? I don’t see a lot of these family members except during the holidays and I certainly don’t feel overly close to most of them. To be totally honest, I’m more emotionally connected to Hazel in the Costco photo-mat, Rob, a teller at Wells Fargo, and Donna, my favorite checker at Draeger’s, than I am to my sister’s third boyfriend (following her legal separation) and his five children.  Granted, it’s the spirit of the season and it’s better to give then to receive, but do we need to “give”ourselves into the poorhouse? 

I don’t want to come off as a more handsome and athletic version of Ebenezer Scrooge, however, it seems to me that families should place more emphasis on connecting throughout the year and not stress so much about what to get each other on this one specific day. I truly don’t need any of my friends or relatives spending their hard earned money on another gift basket from Cost Plus World Market, complete with an inexpensive red wine, assorted international cheeses and chocolate covered expresso beans simply out of obligation. It’s bad enough that every gift our privileged kids want today is a real life adaptation of the popular Dr. Suess novel, The Grinch that Stole My Holiday Paycheck.  There’s no such thing as an inexpensive i-anything. Even elephant toys are grossly overpriced.

Getting back to my pachyderm predicament, here are some of my concerns when it comes to raising an elephant in my suburban enclave;

Apparently elephants love to cuddle. My Lazy-Boy recliner isn’t that big or that sturdy.

Apparently elephants have bad eye site, but a keen sense of smell.  Great, I can hide the peanut butter cookies, but he’ll probably sniff them out.

Apparently elephants can live to be 70 years old. That’s 70 people years. I’ll be lucky if I live to be 70 given that I have an elephant to take care of now.

Apparently elephants laugh, cry, play and have incredible memories. So do my neighbor’s kids, less the includible memories.

Apparently elephants love to swim and use their trunks like a snorkel in deep water. What’s the leash policy at Oak Hill Park in Danville?

Apparently elephants are herbivores, spending 16 hours a day collecting plant food. Their diet is at least 50% grasses, supplemented with leaves, bamboo, twigs, bark, roots, and small amounts of fruits, seeds and flowers. Great, there goes my newly landscaped backyard. If only she just liked an occasional sandwich, our neighborhood has enough wild turkeys and gophers to last her a few years.

Apparently elephants are one of the few four legged animals who can’t run or jump. That must explain the weight issue. Scratch the Frisbee idea.

Apparently an elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles in it and no bones, which give it the flexibility. However, the trunk can get very heavy at times. So, the elephants are seen to rest it on nearby objects. I better not catch her resting that big old thing on our horribly expensive BBQ Island or she can spell home, S-P-C-A.

If any of my loyal readers thought I actually got a real live elephant at a White Elephant holiday gift exchange then we’ll have to ask your attendants to take away your paste and crayons for the day. You know how I like to tease. The annual White Elephant family, friends, neighbors, office, club or cellmates gift exchange is a delightful holiday tradition. Sadly, now that I’m finally out of Alive and Chillin’ books, I may actually have to go out and buy something this year. Maybe I can find a white elephant carved out of actual ivory? Something about that idea doesn’t sound ethical, but it’s a start. Happy holidays.









Someone to Watch Over Me

When my nephew, Alex, was five, I wanted to give him comfort and guidance in the aftermath of his parents’ divorce. I live several states away and visits were infrequent. I wanted not only to express my love for him in a tangible way, but also to offer him resources he could call upon in a variety of situations he might experience day to day, such as difficulties with expressing his feelings or thoughts, challenges with friendships and any sense of isolation. Someone to Watch Over Me was my way to be there for Alex, heart to heart, even when I couldn’t be there in person.case8.500x11.000.indd

Since that time, Someone to Watch Over Me has broadened in scope and intention.  Introducing spirituality into a child’s life today is often problematic for parents. Some don’t have a specific faith or spiritual practice, and struggle with where to start; others perceive a gap between spirituality and religion, and don’t know how to bridge it respectfully. 

A connection to Spirit can provide security, meaning and strength in navigating an increasingly complex and demanding world—essential resources at any age, but particularly helpful in childhood. Children can benefit so much from knowing that there are many heavenly beings always available to them for guidance, reassurance and help of all kinds. At the same time, they need to see themselves as capable, creative and strong. A child with a deep spiritual connection, coupled with such inner resources, shines brightly in the world. 

An Answer for Parents and Children

I wrote the published version of Someone to Watch Over Me as an answer for conscious adults and a fun, interactive resource for children. Optimally, adult and child experience the book together, but it is accessible for older readers to enjoy on their own.  From Aa to Zz, each letter of the alphabet is presented in the Vimala Font, followed by a Declaration for that letter, the “Guardian Protector” of that letter, and a question for thought or conversation. A specific invitation and space are included for the child to use his/her non-dominant hand to draw a picture of the Guardian Protector of each letter.

Ancient Wisdom

Someone to Watch Over Me is also a celebration of The Vimala Alphabet and System of Handwriting, developed by Dr. Vimala Rodgers, an alphabetician of world renown. On an everyday, practical level The Vimala Alphabet and System of Handwriting capitalize on handwriting as an important mind-body connection, an all-too-often ignored avenue for optimal brain and character development.  On a higher level, Dr. Rodgers’ lifework revitalizes ancient traditions of the alphabet as a spiritual path. What a thrill to share the richness of this material with children and adults everywhere!

You can contact Lucy Grace Yaldezian, at or by phone at 925-699-6296

Someone to Watch Over Me was published by ALIVE Book Publishing, and is available at and

For information on publishing YOUR book, visit ALIVEBOOKPUBLISHING.COM or call 925-837-7303,


Book Review: Love’s Orphan

I just finished reading the compelling and true story of Ildiko Scott, a Hungarian immigrant who’s book, Love’s Orphan: My Journey of Hope and Faith is as hard to believe as it is to put down.Adobe Photoshop PDF

Ildiko Scott was born in 1947 to a family decimated by the Holocaust. Her father, a nationally renowned cellist, lost his arm in an escape attempt from a concentration camp and shortly after, married a much-younger woman who, it turns out, was not all that interested in being a mother. After her parents divorced, Ildiko was abandoned by her mother and spent most of her childhood in a Jewish orphanage in Budapest, where she witnessed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the brutal Soviet occupation that followed. At the age of nine, Ildiko and her father attempted to flee Hungary, only to be captured three miles from the Austrian border. Ildiko’s father did eventually escape, and after several failed attempts herself, Ildiko, at the age of 16, was finally able to immigrate to the U.S. to join her father and his new family in Southern California. Two days after arriving, Ildiko was enrolled as a junior in the local high school without knowing a word of English. She showed up that first day, wearing the only clothing she had, the drab school uniform she’d worn in Hungary. Before long, Ildiko quickly rose to the top of her class and after graduation, attended UC Santa Barbara. She has since enjoyed a wonderful career in fashion, a 46-year (and counting) marriage to attorney-turned-judge, Jud Scott, and her greatest pride, her two wonderful, accomplished children whom she obviously raised well, even without the benefit of proper mothering herself.

Ildiko speaks of the great love she has for this country as she continues her service as a Blue Star Mom and is as astonished as anyone to think she was raised in a Hungarian orphanage with no hope to speak of and is now visiting her son in Pensacola, Florida as he trains for his position as the newest member of the US Navy’s elite Blue Angels Team. I sat down with Ildiko to find out how it is a person can endure such hardship and still remain so positive and had to wipe tears a couple of times as she shared her unique gratitude for “the blessings this nation continues to be for millions of immigrants who come here in search of a better life.”

ALIVE Magazine:  It took you a long time to write your story; what prompted you to finally do it?

Ildiko Scott: Ever since I came to America, people have asked me how I got here. Every time I would talk about my story, invariably they would say, “You need to write a book about this.” I never really took the idea very seriously but when my family, especially my children, sat me down and basically told me that it is my “obligation” to tell my story because it is their story too, I did promise that I would indeed write a book one day that they could pass on to their children. So finally about five years ago I started writing mostly during vacations because I was working full time and involved in a lot of community activities aimed at supporting our troops.

AM: What were the backgrounds of your mother and father?

IS: To make a long story short, they were a totally mismatched couple with a 16-year age difference between them. My father came from a very affluent orthodox Jewish family, where music and higher education were the primary focus. They were all very successful until the Holocaust. Dad was a well-known concert cellist before the persecution of the Jewish people began. By the time my parents met, my father’s family had perished in Auschwitz and he had lost his right arm while escaping from a Labor Camp.

My mother, on the other hand, came from a much more modest background and was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. She was the third of six children, and as far as I know, she never went beyond 8th grade. She was beautiful, innocent and intellectually always very curious. I think her beauty and innocence must have captured my father’s imagination after the horrors of the war. 

AM: You had a very difficult childhood including growing up in an orphanage, yet both your parents were alive at the time. Tell us about these unusual circumstances.

IS: Well, the marriage was pretty much in trouble by the time I was two years old, and they divorced two years later. Everything that was left from my father’s family fortune was taken away by the communist regime and the inevitable divorce was just another loss. Mom was busy discovering her own independence and beauty and there were plenty of men around to feed her ego especially after the divorce. My father, who was still dealing with the shattered dream of never being able to play his beloved cello again, started teaching cello while going beck to school to earn his master’s degree in music. He worked long hours but he took me with himeverywhere when it was his turn to watch me. I was in kindergarten from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, and I spent many evenings in classrooms while dad was teaching often until 10 o’clock at night. Unfortunately, Mom often forgot to get me from my school, so I was on the street a lot waiting for her or looking for her.

My father knew that I needed stability, a safe place to stay and to get a solid education. That is when he made arrangements with the one and only Jewish orphanage in Budapest to take me in. I was six years old at the time. Little did I know that this place would be my home for nearly the next tenyears.

AM: You lived thru the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets who occupied Hungary after World War II ended. What are your memories of that event as a nine-year-old girl?

IS: I could almost write another book just about this part of Hungary’s history. But as a nine-year-old girl, October 23, 1956 was just another ordinary school day. When we were walking back toward the orphanage after school around 3:00 in the afternoon we noticed several trucks with young people waving Hungarian flags yelling, “Russkie go home!” It was very confusing for many of us because we were told the Soviet Union “liberated” us and we were in debt to them. 

When we got back to the orphanage all the supervisors were glued to the radio and by nightfall we heard shots being fired. They asked all of us if we had a place to go, as we were allowed to leave in case we had to go in to hiding. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in Hungary, and there was a great deal of fear that we were in danger again. I knew that my grandparents were living with my mother at the time to help her to recover from an illness, so I headed home to them because my dad lived a lot further, and all transportation had come to a complete halt.

By that evening the fighting began in earnest and I was pretty scared running all the way home often hiding inside of buildings when the shots sounded close by. It took me a couple of hours to get home.

AM: You and your father tried to escape Hungary during the revolution but were captured – please tell us about that experience.

IS: One day when the curfew was lifted, Dad came to get me so I could be with him and practice my cello. When we got to his place safely, he told me that we would go down to the countryside very early the next morning to bring back some meat and other food supplies. I was pretty excited because we didn’t have much to eat and we hadn’t had any meat in weeks. It’s kind of funny now to think back how I never questioned why we had to leave the next morning at 4:00 am with 30 other people on a truck; why were we sleeping in a country school class room the next day; why were we not allowed to turn any lights on; why were we always changing trucks and drivers as we went from one town to the next with no food in sight? Then one day we were walking through really rough terrain from 4:30 am until dusk and everyone was whispering. 

Not until we were captured did I realize that my father and all these people were trying to escape from Hungary because they had enough of the Soviet occupation. They wanted to all come to America in search of freedom and a better life.I was pretty confused and I didn’t want to leave my mother behind and especially my grandparents or at least I wanted to be able to say good-bye.

But we were captured pretty close to the border and fortunately, by Hungarian soldiers so we were not killed or raped which is what happened to many people captured by the Soviets.It is an experience I will never forget.

AM:How did you learn your father tried again and had successfully escaped from Hungary?

IS: I received my first letter from my father on April 24th, 1957 exactly on my 10th birthday. He was in New Jersey with some distant cousins who were very happy to welcome him to America. My understanding is that he left a week after he dropped me off at my mother’s and went by himself. He did not want to put me in danger again. In his letter he promised to take care of me and eventually to bring me to America to be with him again. I believed him because my father always kept his promises to me.

AM:  You were eventually able to join your father in America. How were you able to get permission?

IS: It took seven long years! I applied and it was refused. I appealed than had to wait six months and start the process all over again. In 1962 when President Jack Kennedy met with Nikita Khrushchev at the Austrian Summit, things began to change. You could almost feel it in the air. And one night I woke up around 2:00 in the morning and I just knew that I had to write a letter to our Premier, Janos Kadar and ask him to allow me to join my father in America. I hardly remember what I said but I knew it was good and I put my letter in the mail the very next morning. I did say a prayer and hoped for the best. I heard from the Ministry a couple of weeks later and the rest is history.

AM:What was it like for you to suddenly come to America at the age of 16 and enroll in high school without knowing a word of English?

IS: Talk about a culture shock! I landed in Los Angeles on Friday, September 13 and started my junior year in high school on Monday, September 16. It was probably one of the loneliest times in my life. It felt like I had this thick wall between me and everyone else and I had nothing in common with anyone here.

I had never worn any make up, tight clothes or pants. Everyone looked so much older than me. My father said I must learn the language so I could be at the university at age 18 along with everybody else. High school was just a stepping-stone to learn the language and according to my father, at the university I would meet the kind of people that I would have a lot in common with.

Academically, I was way ahead of my classmates. All I had to do was to master the English language. I am still working on that!

The sixties were a very tumultuous time in America: Vietnam War, the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, assassination of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted stay in America at the time. Thank God, I did!

AM: You went to college at UC Santa Barbara, and after graduating, married the big man on campus, had two beautiful children and enjoyed a successful career in fashion. Did you ever think that would be your life when you were a child in Hungary?

IS: Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that my life would turn out this way! I promised myself early on that some day I would be successful at something and I would NEVER depend on a man like my mother did! I was going to call the shots. Marriage was definitely not on my agenda. I did such a god job at it that I simply shut my feelings off when it came to men in general. I dated and had fun but felt nothing—that is until I met Jud! 

It was the strangest thing. He was not my type. He was too young and he just looked like a typical California beach boy. Yet, what I felt for him soon after we were introduced was so powerful that I couldn’t shut it off. So I did the next best thing and broke up with him but after five years of on and off courtship, he wore me down!

Our children are truly the greatest testimony of our love and deep respect for each other. And when it came to my career,Jud was my biggest fan as I am of his.Actually, it was my husband who insisted that I join the Nordstrom company where I had a wonderful almost 30 year career and the time of my life.

AM: You survived and triumphed over a lot of adversity that might have tripped other people. What do you think you learned during your life that helped you to grow and succeed, and what has shaped your life to become who you are today?

IS: The most important person who truly shaped my character was definitely my father! I feel as if I spent my entire life trying to do things in a way so he’d be proud of me. His losses in life would have broken most people. Just imagine, growing up in a loving family and working so hard to become a great cellist and one day your entire family is gone and killed in the most horrible way; then losing a dream of becoming a great cellist when he lost his right arm; then losing his entire family fortune simply taken away by the communist regime; then losing his marriage while dealing with learning to do everything with one arm; then coming to America in his mid-forties and starting over! Wow! He never gave up! Eventually Dad met his second wife and had two wonderful boys, opened a music school and brought the joy of music into the lives of so many children and families! He also loved America with all his heart and was very grateful for the opportunities this country had given him. For him the cup was always half full!

I might add that my grandmother’s nurturing love helped me get through some difficult times. Also, the gift of having the love of my husband and our children helped me to feel completely vindicated and gave me the confidence to succeed in other areas in my life. And just like my father; I am grateful to be able to live in this very unique country—the United States of America.

Ildiko Scott currently resides in Northern California with her husband of over 45 years, Jud. When not writing, Ildiko loves to spend time with her children and grandchildren, going on long hikes with friends, volunteering with Blue Star Moms, serving our active military or watching every sunrise in her favorite place, Hawaii. Ildiko loves to read, especially historical novels, and is so grateful that through this book, her and her father’s story can finally be told. She hopes it will inspire others to overcome adversity and to not allow their past to determine their future.

Love’s Orphan, published by ALIVE Publishing, is available in both hard cover and paperback on and For information about publishing your story, visit, or call 925.837.7303.

Reality & Happy Holidays

Whether we like it or not, on Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America, the richest, most powerful, and, in my opinion, the greatest nation on the face of the earth now or in the history of the human race. 

Saint-petersburg, Russia, candidate to president USA 2016, concept editorial illustrationI freely admit that I did not support Mr. Trump’s candidacy, I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I blanched at the thought of his becoming POTUS. The citizens of the U. S. have spoken with ballots and, for better or for worse, I, and everyone else on this little blue ball in space, must accept the fact that Mr. Trump will become our Leader, regardless of our fears and trepidations.  For whatever it is worth I welcome him, wish him well, and hope and pray that his Presidency will be fruitful, well-intentioned, successful, and peaceful.  He will be my President, as well as yours, and I pledge my support to him.  (“Support” does not necessarily mean agreement.)

The analysis of Mr. Trump’s election victory we must leave in the hands of the pundits, historians, and those who feel that if we insert enough information in a bank of computers, the result will be WISDOM.  It is not.  (I seem to remember that in the early days of the electronic revolution there was an expression GIGO:  Garbage In; Garbage Out.)  The geniuses and political analysts on radio, television, and other media stumbled all over themselves trying to understand how Mr. Trump won. The real issue is not how, but the acceptance of the fact and the need for all Americans to give a sincere pledge of support.

All of us, regardless of ethnicity, party affiliation, or depth of interest can probably and should agree on one factor: the process of electing people to major office has become divisive, rancorous, mean-spirited, and just plain old ugly. It seems like the opponent of any elected official from the most modest to the President has been characterized as un-American, subversive, child molester, or terrorist.

Why anyone would even want the job puzzles me.  (Does the word egomaniac” come to mind?)  The path any candidate faces is indeed a daunting one.  Our first President, George Washington had to deal with just thirteen states.  He had a budget smaller than most major cities today.  His only major international challenger was George III of England.  Today, the Prez must deal with fifty states and whole mess of territories.  Does anyone really know how much the national budget is today?  How much is a trillion of anything?  Moreover, he has to deal with umpteen nations run by fellow egomaniacs that have ascended to power by birth, by election, or by killing a few hundred thousand of their fellow countrymen, women, and children. Some groups even exist outside of traditional national boundaries and controls. Any President must know business and finance inside out, be a psychologist, be a diplomat, be an expert on everything there is know about military life in the 21st Century, and must be willing to put his/her finger on the button that will in moments exterminate the human race as well as a few other species that do not deserve annihilation.  Those of us more modest in our ambitions must just hope for the best and wish our leaders well.

Regardless of political affiliation, almost everyone I have spoken with agrees that our election process must be shortened and that the disgusting, immoral amount of money spent must be reduced.  (The exception to those who wish these changes lies with, of course, the media.)  Perhaps the country can establish a procedure whereby the entire election process must occur within six months, June to November.  All candidates can say what they have to say at least three hundred times in that period of time—before it gets too repetitive and obscene.

Perhaps a list of twenty-five acceptable charities could be provided to all candidates. For every dollar the candidates spend, they must contribute a dollar to one of the charities.

To be sure, shortening the season and controlling spending would be contingent on Congress acting on these proposals.  Djdfikekdjdfuerksklj  (Excuse me, but the thought of Congress acting on anything got me so excited that I could not control my fingers on the keyboard.)

This timeless prose was written November 9, the day after the election.  You, of course, are reading it in December.  I would like to make a prediction relative to political happenings between November 9 and now. I predict the following will have announced their candidacy for 2020:

FIVE Members of Congress who have never accomplished anything;

FOUR White supremacists;

THREE Defrocked college professors who are Holocaust deniers;

TWO 72 year old men dressed in tattered jeans, tie-dyed tee shirts, with gray hair in long pony-tails, and carrying signs that read “VEGAN LIVERS MUTTER;”

ONE 61 year old woman from Genoa, Italy, to whom Cristofo Columbo appeared in a vision, touched her inappropriately, and told her she was born in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, and is, therefore, eligible to be POTUS;



Oops, I forgot Carly and Bernie


Holiday Bells: The Music of Christmas & Hanukkah

            One of the main traditions of the holiday season is Christmas music and the sound of bells. Bells are often one of the predominating sounds in music during this lovely time of year.

            Most people in western cultures are familiar with, or have at least heard, the many Christmas songs, sacred and secular. Throughout the entire Christmas season carols and other seasonal music is heard almost everywhere; in churches, stores, malls and even in elevators.

            Many Christmas songs have bells in their titles and lyrics:Carol of the Bells; I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day; Jingle Bell Rock; Silver Bells; With Bells On; Come On Ring Those Bells and the most famousone of all, Jingle Bells. 

            Jingle Bells was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893). It was published in 1857 with a different title – One Horse Open Sleigh. Apparently it was used originally as a drinking song at social gatherings. It is without a doubt, a most favored song and it is sung by almost everyone during the Christmas season. Jingle Bells is not only an American song but is sung in many languages and countries worldwide.

            Bells date back to ancient antiquity and were found to be used in Jewish temples during that era. Some of the earliest bells, found in China and Egypt, date from 1,000 BC and were made of bronze, silver and gold. Early uses were magical and ritual, not necessarily musical.Bells were also used to accompany ritual dances and used in religious ceremonies.

The tsar's bell on church background, Kremlin, Russia            Bells are made in different shapes and sizes, including rectangular and square. They are usually struck from the outside with a hammer or from the inside with a clapper. They were historically made of metal and sometimes even made of wood.

            The Tsar Bell is the largest bell ever made and is displayed in Moscow’s Kremlin. It was cast in 1733, weighs 432,000 pounds and measures more than 22 feet in diameter. This giant bell has never been rung. Some bells from France and Germany weigh from 20,000 to 40,000 pounds. Large modern bells, often used in churches and university campuses, may weigh from 5,000 to 15,000 pounds.

            The use of bells in churches can be traced to the 6th century in Tours, France, circa 560.  In England, large church bells date back to the 10th century.Christian churches use bells for many occasions.  They often announce the time for worship and are used in weddings, funerals and other services. An inscription found in ancient bells attributed to monks reads:  “I praise the true God. I call the people, I assemble the clergy, I bewail the dead, I dispense storm clouds, I do honor to feasts.”

            In earlier times, in continental Europe, church bells were sounded together producing a rather confused sound; some called it cacophony. Then in England, they began ringing several bells in succession to produce a melody.  This type of bell placement is called a carillon.  This set of tuned bells is designed for a belfry or tower.

            The Campanile (a bell and clock tower) on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, is one of the most famous landmarks in Northern California. Inside the tower is a musical instrument or carillon. It is a set of 48 cup-shaped, bronze-cast tuned bells, attached to a keyboard with levers and wires that activate a metal clapper inside the bells.

            Bells became the symbol of the wide-spread rise of Christianity. “The bell… praised the advent of Christianity into a world of strife,” wrote McGehee and Nelson in their book, People and Music.

            Over many centuries, bells have been used in Jewish celebrations. Bells were sewn on the Hebrew priest’s vestments for their protection. The sound of bells symbolized the music of water and represented thunder and lighting. Music is used at Hanukkah more than other Jewish holidays. 

            Hanukkah, known as the “Festival of Lights.” means dedication in Hebrew. It is celebrated over a period of eight days. This festival marks the rededication in 164 BC of the temple in Jerusalem.There are many songs connected with Hanukkah but the three most popular are: Ma’oz Tzar (Stronghold of Rock) The Dreidel Song and Oh Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah.

            In this era of modern technology the bell has come a long way. Digital systems produce true bell sounds with no moving parts. Our modern world has door bells; telephone bells; intercom system bells; electronic church bells and alarm-clock bells and watches, just to name a few.

            The sound of bells are very effective for calling communities together for general alerts, special announcements and ceremonies, including dire warnings of bad things to come, such as earthquakes, fires, floods and other disasters.

             We have hand bells; bell choirs; bells on children’s shoes and clothing; bells on jewelry; bells on animal collars on cats; dogs; cows; goats and sheep. We have school bells, bells used for fire alarms, police alarms and ambulances and even at some stop signs. And don’t forget dinner bells and Santa’s sleigh bells!  

            Percussion musicians in bands and orchestras use bells; and of course, every December we enjoy hearing bells making beautiful music at Christmas time.  Almost everywhere one goes you may hear bells of some sort used for many purposes.

            So next time you hear a bell think about how far the little bell has evolved. It certainly has added a lot, not only to our musical environment but it continues to be used in many creative and different ways.

Here’s wishing you a Wonderful Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a Very Happy New Year! “Ring those bells!”

Don’t miss “Songs of the Season,” The Danville Community Band’s annual Christmas Concert, Sunday, December, 11, 2016, 4:00 p.m. Community Presbyterian Church,222 W. 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.    











Dessert Wines: Making your Holiday Sweet!

There are very few rigid rules in the world of wine. Far too much time is spent agonizing over just the right pairing for a holiday meal when the truth is there isn’t one right answer. Many wines pair beautifully with many foods. The holidays are the perfect season to have fun and try some new wines from different regions around the country or around the world. Ever had a wine from New York? Try a Finger Lakes Riesling. Love Pinot Noir? Try a selection from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Die-hard Cabernet fan? Napa is the place for you. Want something really different? Try a sparkling Shiraz with your New Year’s dinner.

Festive table setting with silver ribbon gift on plateGenerally, it’s hard to go wrong, except when it comes to dessert. Please put away your fancy, brut champagne and dry table wines! They have no place here. With dessert, the simple rule of thumb is the wine must be sweeter than the dessert.

At first, this might seem confusing. Who serves wine with dessert anyway? The answer is you! Or it should be. Coffee and tea are so yesterday. To be truly cutting edge, the sophisticated host offers a chic dessert wine at the end of the meal. It’s not as odd as it might sound.

Sweet wine is the classic accompaniment for the dessert course. Sweet champagne and fortified wines have been the choice of kings for centuries and you’re the king of your castle, right? Having a classy dessert wine will impress your guests and make you look like a real connoisseur.

The type of wine you select depends on the type of dessert you serve. The sweeter the dessert, the sweeter the wine. Easy, right? Not always. Have you ever been served a dry, sparkling wine and chocolate-covered strawberries? The combination is often presented in hotels and restaurants. Though it looks decadent and inviting, it is ever so wrong. The flavor of a dry wine becomes bitter after you nibble on sugar. Suddenly that expensive bottle of bubbles is offensive. What a waste!

The proper pairing would be a demi-sec (slightly sweet) champagne or even better, a lovely glass of port to complement the creaminess of the chocolate and the fruitiness of the berries. Brut champagne is meant to accompany briny oysters or to cut the greasiness of crispy french fries, not to be sipped with a plate of bonbons. Dry with dry, sweet with sweet. Think about it. If you are reluctantly agreeing that perhaps I do have a point, read on…

When choosing a sweet wine, consider your dessert. Do you like chocolate? Try a tawny port. Love Tarte Tatin? Look into a luscious and impossibly elegant Sauternes. Prefer pecan pie? Try a hauntingly delicious Rutherglen Muscat from Australia. Want sparkles? A delicate Moscato D’Asti might be just the thing. Have a budget for the best? Seek out a fine demi-sec or doux champagne from France and savor every bubble.

Be adventurous this festive season. This is your chance to not only keep up with the Joneses but to surpass them altogether. Your basic understanding of wine and simple pairing will catapult you to new heights of admiration from family, friends, and business associates. Don’t tell them I told you. Let it be our secret. Have a gorgeous holiday. Cheers!


2016 Mazda MX-5 Top Down and Fun Up!

It’s hard to believe that 25years have blown by since the first Mazda MX-5 Miata rolled off of the assembly line. The little two-seater convertible from Mazda ignited years of fun for some and unlike many roadsters that are locked in the garage in preparation of the next sunny weekend mid-day drive, the MX-5 became a multi-use vehicle from work to the windy roads. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Mazda completely re-engineered and redesigned the MX-5.alive-media-magazine-december-2016-mazda-mx-5-passing-lane-charles-donaldson

For 2016, Mazda has improved the Miata to include some modern safety and technology expectations while preserving its uniqueness that has run true with all MX-5’s keeping it different from anything else on the market. Measuring in at about 154-inches, the new Miata is a bit shorter than last year’s model, while growing wider to about 68-inches. Plus, it has an extended the wheelbase to 91.1 inches.

The MX-5 was designed around its driver and is lightweight, nimble and fun to drive. It was a blast to cruise around the curved roads in the Dublin hills. On the freeway, if the road wasn’t smooth, you felt every bump…typical of low-to-the-ground cars. Nevertheless, it was the most fun MX-5 that I have driven to-date.

Now in its 4thgeneration, the 2016 MX-5 carves a path that is thoroughly modern, packed with high-tech features and has a strikingly-designed based on the KODO-Soul of Motion which is defined by a long hood, short overhangs, a cropped cabin pushed far back on the body and large wheels moved as far as possible towards all four corners. The new look produces a lower and sleeker profile.alive-media-magazine-december-2016-mazda-mx-5-passing-lane-charles-donaldson-interior

The 2016 MX-5 comes in four trim levels, Sport ($24,915), Club ($28,600), Grand Touring ($30,065) and a Limited Launch Edition. Standard on all MX-5 models are air conditioning, push-button start, a manual cloth convertible top, power door locks, USB input, Bluetooth® wireless phone pairing and audio streaming, leather shift knob and CD player. Entry MX-5 Sport and upper trims MX-5 Club and MX-5 Grand Touring all come with the option of a SKYACTIV-MT six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The 2016 MX-5 Launch Edition comes in Soul Red with a Sport Tan leather interior — an exclusive color combination for the 2016 model year in the U.S.

The interior is clean and comfortable with red stitching. The info-screen at the top of the center dash houses your navigation, radio and other operations. The control knob is next to the shifter and if you aren’t careful while you are shifting you can accidentally change the radio station. There wasn’t a backup camera on my test model.

The SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine powering the MX-5 delivers 155 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 148 ft-lb. of torque at 4,600 RPM. It comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission that has a city EPA-estimated 27 mpg. Also available is a 6-speed automatic transmission for $1075.

Cool Features:

  • Bose speakers in the headrest
  • Push button start

Safety on the 2016 Mazda MZ-5 includes the following: dual front airbags, side impact airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning system.

In Summary –The 2016 MX-5 Miata is a blast to drive and the redesign is absolutely beautiful. The lines flow throughout the body and give the feel of motion. The portions are balanced and the MX-5 looks great with the top up or down. Raising and dropping the convertible top can be maneuvered with one hand.Mazda did an incredible job inside and out with its little roadster. If you take it for a test drive, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up in your garage.


2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club


Base price:                 $28,600 as driven: $32,820 (including destination & optional

Engine:                       2.0 Liter 4-cylinder SKYACTIV-G

Horsepower:             155 @ 6,000 RPM

Torque:                      148 @ 4,600 RPM

Transmission:           6-Speedmanual

Drive:                          RWD Drive

Seating:                      2-passenger

Turning circle:          30.8 feet

Cargo space:              4.59 cubic feet

Curb weight:              2,332 pounds

Fuel capacity:            11.9 gallons  

EPA mileage:             City 27/Hwy 34

Wheel Base:               90.9 inches

Warranty:                   3 years/36,000-miles powertrain limited

Also, consider:           Audi TT Roadster, BMW Z4, Mini Roadster, and Nissan 370Z  Roadster 


The Big Three: Forgotten Disciplines of Endurance Training

Over years of coaching/training (endurance) athletes of all types, I have seen a few common denominators consistently decrease performance amongst age group athletes of all abilities.

The mindset that “more is always better” can be the undoing of an athlete of any ability level. It has cut more than one season short for many athletes. Certainly, there has to be an emphasis on volume during the right time of the season, in the correct context of an overall training plan, and in a manner that fits into the athlete’s life. However, a consistent emphasis on more volume or higher intensity, can easily be the undoing of what could have been a fantastic season before it even gets started. In its truest form, successful training is about the right dose, at the right time, for the right person.

Keeping this in mind, the value of properly timed recovery enters the conversation. Exercise is stress to the body—trauma, if you will. Therefore, in order to maximize the benefit from any exercise, the body needs an adequate and properly prescribed recovery period following exercise-induced stress. Recovery takes many forms and meanings, and rarely includes sitting on a couch eating Bon Bons. However, there may be a time and a place for such a thing, believe it or not. Well, maybe not the Bon Bons… One thing is certain: without allowing adequate timing for adaptation (the body’s response to training load) to take hold, the body will eventually rebel in a manner that may present itself in one of a thousand different ways including: injury, acute and/or chronic fatigue, metabolic syndrome, or other symptoms that are detrimental.

Second on this list brings us strength training. This is a proposition at which many endurance athletes will balk. However, considering the dialog from above regarding recovery, training/exercise is stress/trauma to the body. If the body’s skeleture, musculature, and energy systems are not strong, something will give. Rarely, does a seasoned tri-athlete or ultra-distance runner need to swim, bike, and/or run more. Instead, a regular, strategically placed 20-40 minute strength session will prevent injury, increase mobility, muscle function and help maximize endurance focused training sessions. Speed is built on strength, not the other way around. Again: Successful training is about the right dose, at the right time, for the right person.

Third on my list is the “N” word. Yup, nutrition. Clearly, there is not enough room on this page to adequately address this one. However, a few of the common mistakes amongst age groupers, elites, professionals, experienced, and those coming off the couch embarking on their maiden voyage alike, commonly include: Not eating enough. Yup. You read that correctly. More than one athlete got started in the craziness of our sport as a means to lose weight therefore believing they should exercise more and eat less. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way. Actually, you should be eating more. However, more probably does not include the “Bon Bons” referenced above. It does, however, include eating more of the right foods at the right time to support the work you are doing and adequately fuel the energy system. And that brings me to the next nutritional error: Fueling the wrong energy system. I see this day in and day out with athletes of all abilities. This goes hand in hand with destabilizing blood sugar or creating a metabolically inefficient environment that plays a major role in limiting athletic performance.  If you’re performing poorly or even performing well and guessing at your nutrition, ask yourself how well you could perform if you were fueling your body correctly?

Feeding Your Inner Santa

As the year draws to a close, the farmers’ market takes on a new life. Along with plants, flowers, and greenery ideal for decorating and gift-giving, there are plenty of essentials for holiday meals, including just-picked cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pomegranates, persimmons, crisp apples, creamy pears, Meyer lemons, grapefruit, and tangy-sweet tangerines and oranges.

Having grown up in very modest circumstances in Ireland, my parents considered it perfectly reasonable to include a couple of fresh oranges to our Christmas stockings. We just saw it as a sneaky way of buying us fewer toys.

Then there was the year my father got his revenge on his ungrateful children by adding a few large russet potatoes to the bottom of each stocking. Imagine our excitement when we saw those bulging stockings hanging from the mantle! I’m still working through that one in therapy. But I digress…

Before going to bed on Christmas Eve, we always left Santa a couple of slices of my mom’s Irish soda bread slathered with butter, and a cup of hot tea with milk and sugar. (Coincidentally, this also happened to be my father’s favorite snack.)

raisin bread in a marketJust in case Santa drops by my house this year, I decided to set aside the traditional raisins for a change and give my soda bread a seasonal twist; along with an orange-scented honey butter. This will be good on Christmas morning, or anytime of day with a cup of tea, coffee, or hot cocoa.

Soda bread is so incredibly easy to make, the finished loaf leaves the novice baker feeling like a real pro. There is no temperamental yeast to deal with, for it is the chemical reaction between the baking soda and buttermilk that causes the bread to rise. My mom’s version goes one step further by adding an egg, which also lightens the texture.

And don’t overlook the gift-potential of this loaf, wrapped in cellophane with a big tartan-plaid bow.As holiday baking goes, this is a lot healthier than a batch of cookies… and takes less time to make.


4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon fine seas salt

1 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup stemmed and coarsely chopped dried figs

Finely grated zest from 1 orange

2 cups buttermilk

1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a 9- to 10-inch cast-iron skillet with vegetable shortening. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; whisk gently to blend. Stir in the dried fruits and orange zest to coat with the flour mixture. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and egg; mix until a stiff dough forms. (Use a wooden spoon if you must, but the most efficient way to mix this soft, sticky dough is with floured hands. Alternatively, the dough can be mixed in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the dough hook… though, as far as I’m concerned, this just creates more stuff to wash!)
  1. Remove the dough from the bowl and mound it into the prepared skillet, roughly forming a round loaf. (Don’t be concerned it doesn’t hold its shape; all will be corrected during baking.) Lightly moisten your hands with water to smooth the top. Using a serrated knife dipped in flour, score the top with a large X, about 1-inch deep. This will ensure even baking… and is said to also scare away the devil. (One can’t be too safe when baking, after all.) Bake 1 hour or until the loaf is golden brown with a firm crust, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch thick slices. Serve warm, at room temperature, or toasted, with or without Orange-Honey Butter. Makes 1 (9-inch) round loaf.

Orange-Honey Butter

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste

Finely grated zest from 1 orange

Dash of salt

Mix together the butter, 1 tablespoon honey, orange zest, and salt until well blended.Taste, adding more honey if desired. Use at once, or cover and refrigerate.

Some final thoughts:

–If buttermilk is not something you normally use, fake it by placing 3 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice in a 1-pint glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to measure 2 cups and stir to mix. Let it stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, until the mixture appears slightly curdled.

–I think baking this in a cast iron skillet gives the finished bread more soul…or, at least, a better crust. If you don’t have one, just use a well-greased 9-inch cake pan.

–Remember to check the expiration date on the box or can of baking soda in your pantry. It definitely loses its oomph over time.

–The original recipe calls for 2 cups of raisins, minus the orange zest, and that version still tastes wonderful. As you wander through the farmers’ market, however, check out the wide assortment of dried fruits and nuts available to come up with your own signature holiday soda bread. I am already thinking about shaking things up with chopped pitted dates and walnuts or pistachios….

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!



Who will the Future Doctors Be?

I worry about the future of medicine, of doctors in particular, as the healthcare laws, mandates and reforms continue to change and evolve. It seems to me that outside of clinical and bench research and resultant treatment advances, few of the healthcare changes are occurring for patient benefit and certainly none are for the benefit of the doctor.

The outcry for “Healthcare Initiatives” by government and lawmakers because of the continued escalation of dollars spent on individuals’ use of medications, hospital services and insurance coverage, is never ending. Unfortunately, government’s answer to the problem never focuses on the root issue and therefore their proposals for fixing the situation will never be successful. A patient recently asked me, “How will Trump’s election and health care changes affect you?” My answer is that regardless of what Trump does or doesn’t do, most assuredly the changes won’t benefit me or other doctors in any way. We doctors can only brace ourselves for the impact and hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

For decades, the answer to rising healthcare costs has been to reduce doctors’ reimbursement rates. Doctors who have had a large percentage of their patients come from poor communities or who depend largely on government subsidized reimbursement (Medicare/Medical/etc.) have had to close their practices or work for someone else, such as Kaiser Health System, in order to have a guaranteed income. Not only are reimbursement rates reduced yearly, which is analogous to being demoted or taking a pay cut every year, doctors are actually being PENALIZED for not participating in more paperwork that does not improve patients’ health and adds even more uncompensated time to our days and increases our overhead. For example, Medicare devised the PQRS initiative, which stands for “Physician’s Quality Reporting System” that supposedly improves patient care by having doctors fill out various questionnaires regarding aspects of patients’ care and medical screening whether they are related to an individual doctors’ treatment of the patient or not. Doctors are being penalized by an additional 6% or more back to 2013 if they have not submitted the required paperwork. Unless something changes, future penalties are already scheduled up to 2018 for paperwork not submitted this year. The PQRS does not improve patient health outcomes; it gives the government a reason to do more of what they’re going to do anyway—make doctors pay.

It is ironic to me that the Medical Doctor, as a career, could be careening down such a treacherous road. I was eleven when I decided to become a doctor. I was told that it was a very noble profession but that I would have to sacrifice much in order to accomplish that goal. I would have to study hard, spend many years in school, and delay gratification for at least twelve years longer than most anyone else who wasn’t trying to do the same. I was warned that I would have to work very hard once I became a doctor and that my nights and weekends would not be my own. I was assured, however, that the reward would be worth it. The reward would be prestige, respect, financial comfort and independence, to name a few. Disappointingly, the promised reward is becoming ever more elusive.

I enjoy being a doctor, despite the undercut reward because I am gratified by working hard, taking care of people and “doing good.”  Doctors are smart, kind people, who make decisions every day about how to best care for someone else. However, every person deserves to make decisions for their best benefit, especially if it concerns survival. I worry about what kind of people will become doctors in the future.The carrot should always be bigger than the stick and right now the carrot is shrinking at an alarming rate. The way it stands now, physicians are often the scapegoats and worker bees that businessmen and corporations oftentimes profit from unfairly. Government decisions are squeezing the very people who have sacrificed years of blood, sweat, and tears for their careers. Although I won’t quit, I for one would not make the same choice knowing what a doctor’s work and life would be like at this time. I am fearful about whether there will be any kind, compassionate, capable physicians when I need one in my old age. Despite all, I will remain hopeful that someday, smarter, wiser and gutsier politicians will step up and start looking out for the future of this country and its people.