Spring Break: A Break We All Need

Spring break is just the break I need to break from the monotonous routine I find myself in this time of year. Like many of my readers, both of you, I get up (when it’s still dark outside), let the dogs out, eat breakfast, see the kids off to school, drive to work, put in an exhausting day at the salt mines, drive home (in the dark), eat dinner, read a little, watch some TV and go to bed. Fear not, this isn’t a “Woe is me” article, although it could be if I added the stuff about bill paying, dog walking and helping with homework. I know, Spring Break was designed to give students a one-week break from their studies, but believe me when I say, Spring Break can’t come soon enough for this suburban superhero.ThinkstockPhotos-478655577

In years past, my family and I have spent our Spring Break at locations such as Lake Tahoe, Washington D.C., San Diego, New York City and we even did a Caribbean cruise with the in-laws one year. Most have been wonderful family bonding travel experiences, but one more day trapped on a ship with my mother-in-law and I would have been dangerously close to jumping overboard.

It really doesn’t matter where our ultimate destination is as long as we get out of Dodge for a week. We don’t actually live in Dodge, but you get my drift. Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty once lived in Dodge on the long running TV western, Gunsmoke. I wonder if they actually “got out of Dodge” during Spring Break? You have to admit, “Get out of Dodge” sounds a lot better than “Get out of Danville.” Danville is where Phineas and Ferb live. Phineas and Ferb is a delightful Disney Channel series. I know that because my sad routine includes occasionally watching cartoons. I bet even Phineas and Ferb want to get out of Danville for Spring Break.

I’m not complaining about my routine-driven lifestyle, I’m commiserating. Who’s with me? We don’t actually have to go on our Spring Break vacation together, unless you want to, but metaphorically speaking, aren’t we all ready for Spring Break? A break from our jobs, our commitments and our routines is a good thing. It can recharge the battery, stoke the fire or just save our sanity.

Where are you planning to take the family for Spring Break this year?

Hawaii. Who doesn’t love the beaches, resorts and ocean breezes of Hawaii? Aloha baby. –Monica C.

We’re planning a college road trip with our high school son. Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. –Tom S.

Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on earth. –Cindy G.

Skiing in Tahoe. If there’s enough snow. Is there enough snow? –Jason A.

Huntington Beach. Sun and fun. –George P.

We’re doing a San Francisco “Staycation”. We’ll be sightseeing like European Tourists. –Mike B.

Seattle. College tour, baseball game and a ferry trip to Victoria, BC. —Julie C.

We wanted to go to spring training in Arizona, but Spring Break is late this year so we’re heading to San Diego to see the Padres play baseball and go to the zoo. —John C.

Those destinations all sound very tame and nice, but certainly nothing like the Spring Break of our college days. Spring Break originally gained notoriety sometime in the early 80’swith the hedonistic, college pilgrimage to the legendary Fort Lauderdale. Subsequently, new haunts such as Daytona Beach, South Padre Island, Palm Springs and Las Vegas started drawing the post high school collegiate crowd. I don’t want to brag (yes I do), but I tore it up pretty good back in the day in places such as Lake Havasu, San Diego and Palm Desert. It wasn’t a Girls Gone Wild video (on one occasion it was), but a few of those SBs were pretty epic.ThinkstockPhotos-77662145 copy

In College, where was your best Spring Break spent?

An RV trip to Palm Springs. We trashed the RV and lost our deposit, but it was worth it. –Mark D.

Miami Beach. Sun, clubs and the beach. It was a blast. –Rhonda N.

There was a wild trip to Lake Tahoe in ’94, but the terms of my probation prohibit me from talking about it. –Justin G.

Probably New Orleans, but I don’t remember a lot of it. –Blake C.

Skiing in Taos, New Mexico. Life was good back then.—Tyler B.

Mazatlan, Mexico. I got shaken down by the local police and had to buy my way out of trouble. It was sketch, but it makes for a great story.—Matt M.

Camping in Yosemite with my college girlfriend was the best Spring Break I ever spent. I still think about it. Don’t tell my wife. –Joe D. (not his real name).

There may have been a time in my younger days when a swim suit, wet suit or my birthday suit were the body surfing/bon fire party apparel options of a wild time at pick-a-name beach somewhere along the California coast. I was the king of the Beer-Bong, the Body Shot and the Ice Breaker, but that was the past. Now, if my teen daughters ask what those vile terms mean, I tell them they’re games invented by the devil and most assuredly cause cancer.

It would be an interesting case study to dissect what a lot of us recklessly enjoyed as young adults and how we don’t want our 17-22 years old to experience any of it. As the head of our family, my job is to show the kids a part of the country and cherish the quality time I get to spend with them. With college looming, I fear that they’ll be exposed to Spring Break boys like I used to be all-to-soon.

Maybe this year we’ll just throw all our stuff in the car and head to places unknown without a preset destination. Yea, like that could ever happen. We’re all about the preparation, anticipation and the execution of the Spring Break. We’re a “tion” family. Granted, the theme and destination of my Spring Breaks may have been altered since the craziness of my youth, but they are still an important staple in my life. It’s a break we all need right now.

30 Things Springtime Challenge

While the first day of spring is in March, nature’s full expression of the season largely comes in April. A grand scale burst of colorful renewal pierces the muted, dreary gray of winter. Warmth and light and new life emerge, as flora and fauna offer up a fresh generation, suggesting encouragement, hope and better days ahead. The world is made new, once again.

As far as I know, all cultures value and celebrate the coming of spring. Manifestations of these celebrations and the evidence of how we value all things “new,” extend across the entire spectrum of human experience. We see it in terms the spiritual, as in the Christian celebration of Easter, all the way to the commercial, where we are drawn materially to anything described as “new and improved.” New is attractive—almost addictive—as anyone considering the purchase of just about any device manufactured by Apple, can attest.

I think this is one of the secrets of great teachers. Effective educators know, instinctively perhaps, that we all are naturally drawn to whatever is “new,” and if they are able to reframe a subject in such a way that it appears so, it becomes much easier for students to learn.

Certainly, one of the greatest joys in life is learning something new. This is true regardless of whether we’re talking about a major, long-term project, like learning a new language, or something relatively quick and simple, like learning how to tie a knot for the first time. We’re hard wired to value and enjoy the “new stuff” of life.

For example, the other day, I stumbled upon a children’s book that was, of all thinglists, about learning. It was entitled Memory, by Herbie Brennan, published by Scholastic in 1997. The first page captured my attention immediately—on it was a list of thirty completely unrelated items (see inset list). The page ended with the challenge: “If you can’t close your eyes and remember every item inside five minutes, you need this book!”

In intrigued, I accepted the mental challenge tried to memorize what I could in five minutes. When I tested myself, I could barely come up with fewer than half (less than 15) of the items. I then read through chapter two and learned how to apply a right brain “loci” technique of associating words with images and locations. After re-reading the entire list again just once, only this time using this new technique, I was able to recall the entire list, in order, on the first try, only missing five items (25 correct).

Now, you may have learned all about this technique long ago, so you’re way ahead of me. But, the point is, it was new to me, and the joy I felt in discovering it felt just like springtime—fresh, new and exciting!

So, this year, make spring even better. Learn something new and share what you’ve learned with someone else. Let’s make it our goal to help nature in her mission of making life “new and improved.”

April Showers

Come on! Where is the rain? I am old enough to remember many rainy Aprils, so let’s go…

1. One of the great entertainers of the early 20th century had a huge hit with “April Showers.” Who was he?

2. A famous Saturday Evening Post cover of the 1940s showed managers and umpires gathered around in rain gear trying to decide whether to start the game. Who was the illustrator?

3. A famous story called “Rain” has been made into a movie more than once. Who was the author?

4. Same story, who was the main character, a South Seas woman who with a shady past?

5. In what show did we hear “Don’t Let it Rain on my Parade?”

6. The final play of the 2012 World Series featured the SF Giants 2nd baseman holding his hand out in the rain, praying the game would be over. Who was he?

The Forgotten History: A Century of Silence

One hundred years ago, in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, now Republic of Turkey, the systematic persecution and annihilation of ethnic minority Armenian Christians, culminated in 1915 during the Great War. It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians were targeted for mass murder or died on forced deportations. Menfolk and boys were killed first and then tens of thousands of women, children and the aged were sent on death marches through Syrian Deserts to Ottoman Aleppo or Iraq.
Armenians, perceived as enemies of the State, were killed en masse as early as the late 19th century, the concentrated massacres peaking eight months into the Great War. On the night of 24th April 1915, at 8 o’clock, orders were given to arrest Armenians in the military, political leaders, and intellectuals thereby decapitating their powers of influence. Many were killed immediately in methodical massacres; others were sent to relocation camps or deported. ThinkstockPhotos-97759413-1

The Ottoman Empire’s persecution of the minority citizens of Christian Armenia and Turkey is one of humanity’s most forgotten catastrophes in near-recent history. The impact of that ethnic-targeted genocide continues to cast long shadows across the psyches of the ten million-strong Armenian Diaspora descendants all over the world.

Red Sunday, the 24th of April 1915 was initially recognized in 1919 as the culmination of the ghastly genocide. This 24th day of April 2015, a century later, the Armenian Diaspora in four corners of the earth will collectively commemorate the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

Red Sunday has historic importance to Armenians as it was on that fateful night when the template for the genocidal exterminations reached a zenith, first with mass arrests, and then subsequent executions. According to document archives at the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute an extermination proponent stated in February 1915: “The Armenian Nation should be entirely exterminated so that no Armenian is left in our country, and that their name be completely forgotten. Now we are at war and no such occasion will ever occur—loud protests by the World Press will remain unnoticed…”

Ironically the tactical launch to satisfy the “Armenian Question” culminated on the eve of the Allied Forces invasion on Turkey’s strategic Gallipoli Peninsula on 25th April 1915. With the strength of 32 navy cutters, British allies, and Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC, attacked six beaches. The strategy was to take Gallipoli and then forge north to Constantinople. It never happened. The Turks decimated the allies, and ANZAC forces suffered 8,700 deaths and 28,000 casualties. The death toll during the eight-month Battle of Gallipoli proved devastating thus becoming the iconic metaphor for defeat.

Scholars ask why Armenian civilians were targeted during the Great War upheaval. Most likely the distraction of battle was the opportune time to target their country’s own citizens under the guise of war. Though the majority of those exterminated were civilian men, women and children, the Turkish government maintains that their deaths were war-related during the chaos of battle. But facts to the contrary continue to loom with evidence that massacres were government-ordered and not just collateral damage across the nation. Documented history tells the truth.

At the persecution onset the dreaded S.O. — “Special Organization”—first disarmed Armenian military personnel and sent them to labor camps where they perished, and other groups of fifty were dispatched to die in the desert. The objective of the governing elite—“Young Turks” Committee of Union Progress (CUP) — was to eradicate those who stood in the way of their nationalistic plan. ThinkstockPhotos-146763345

The geopolitical climate in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, too complicated to address here, was a hotbed of dissent by several groups including the Armenian resistance. In 1908 Sultan Abdul Hamid II was deposed in a bloodless coups leading to “The Young Turks” gaining more power thus setting the nation on a trajectory to pan-Islamism. It was under leadership of Sultan Abdul Hamid II the when the slaughter of tens of thousands of Armenians in the late 19th century may have served as a prologue for the ensuing wartime genocide. The success of the initial mass killings of civilians may have paved the way for subsequent unhindered exterminations during the distraction of the First World War.

It was those 19th century massacres of Armenians that ignited the first wave of migrations, and then a mass exodus in the early 20th century took them to the Americas, Russia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, France, Iran, Britain, and Egypt. The Great Diaspora to all four corners of the earth began.

In 1915 officials conceptualized extermination plans to eradicate Christian Armenians perceived as ‘a threat to the state’. The State-endorsed Armenian Genocide strategy was launched setting into motion pan-Islamism as the state ideology and the Turkification of Armenia in eastern Anatolia. The template for extermination gave the government carte blanche to target the Armenians thus setting a trajectory of death.

In April 1915 concentrated roundups followed; influential leaders were assassinated, then the intelligentsia, industrialists, lawyers, journalists and bankers were imprisoned, tortured, and then murdered. Witness archives and oral histories tell of atrocities; crucifixions, burnings, drowning, and beheadings. Gangs and armed Ottoman soldiers searched homes, snatched gold and jewelry, seized guns, kitchen knives and confiscated all weaponry. Armenians were defenseless, without guns, or money, echoing the prior century’s mass killings of unarmed citizens.

Deportations followed, towns and cities were systematically emptied of Armenians—real estate, family homesteads, and moveable assets were confiscated. Many civilians were ghettoized in concentrated centres. Men and boys as young as ten were removed first; many were bound with ropes and drowned in the Euphrates River, axed, or marched to gorges and murdered. In the guise of deportation women, the aged and young children were forced in caravan walking marches hundreds of miles over mountains, deserts and barren dunes without food or water. ThinkstockPhotos-147695053

Armenian exiles died by the tens of thousands, dropping on roadsides from dehydration, starvation, disease or exhaustion. Many who had survived the march were barefoot, in rags or near naked, parched, starving or dying upon arrival in transit camps in Ottoman Syria or Iraq.

Some marchers in the procession of death miraculously survived, and they lived to tell their spellbinding stories of peril, their stories of epic courage, and their stories of horror that will live on forever through generations of descendants. Today Armenians continue to preserve their ancestral culture by retelling the stories told by their heroic forefathers, and their miraculous endurance to live through the most unspeakable carnage with the iron will to survive the destination of death.

Their oral histories tell how thousands of marchers were murdered en route, robbed or taken as slaves at waystations, and how thugs on horseback plundered the defenseless human convoys. The marauders’ rewards for looting the exiles were sacks of money and gold booty. The carnage burned deeply into the collective forever memory; memories how the Tigris River ran red, roadsides were strewn with bodies of women and children and how mothers tried vainly to save their infants. By August 1915 gangs were sent to bury or burn the dead, and destroy visible evidence that forced deportations to remote regions were in actuality ploys to kill Armenians shielded from prying eyes.

Some researchers contend that Armenians were targeted when Turkish nationalistic reasoning may have perceived that the Ottoman Empire, in power since the 14th century, was at risk from within and thus were forced to destroy the ethnic minority for survival. The once-mighty transcontinental Ottoman Empire, that even spanned the Mediterranean Rim, crumbled soon after the Great War.

Why is the Armenian Genocide of 1915 still one of the world’s best kept secrets? Why is there such little global outrage by human rights activists about the systematic annihilation of a Christian minority in their own ancient homeland? And why won’t powerful nations, including the United States and Britain, recognize that the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians was genocide? As a matter of fact President Ronald Reagan was the last president to actually use the term “Armenian Genocide.”

The answer lies partially in the fact that Western Nations need Turkey as a powerful ally against global terrorism. The United States shares a strategic airbase in Incirlik with Turkish forces and remains a crucial ally. Turkey still adamantly contends that Armenians died en masse during the chaos of war and not as genocidal targeting.

Efforts continue to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide with concerted advocacy or through such organizations as World Affairs Council of Northern California where a speaker recently remarked; “repercussions of the event still shape relations between Armenia and Turkey as well as U.S. policy.

Armenia and Turkey still do not have diplomatic relations, and the border remains closed. Armenia shares a border with Iran and Turkey and has close ties with Russia having geo-strategic significance…”

Many of the world’s Armenian Diaspora descendants through organizations such as the Council of Armenian-Americans work indefatigably in solidarity to draw attention to the massacres and ask that the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians be recognized as genocide. The word “genocide” was actually ignited after the Armenian mass killings when Raphael Lemkin invented the term in 1943 to describe the surgical ethnic cleansing and premeditated extermination within legal parameters. And Adolph Hitler himself remarked on the Armenian mass killings when he initiated his own satanic plan.

The present Turkish government continues to deny that the country committed genocide, and contends that the minority Christians perished due to “civil unrest, wartime losses, disease, general chaos or the Ottoman Empire’s civil war with Armenians.” The use of the word “genocide” is forbidden in context of the Armenian Massacres thus remains the ‘Achilles’s Heal’ of history.ThinkstockPhotos-458066479-2

The Armenian communities have collectively petitioned that Turkey use the term Armenian Genocide to restore honor to those who perished. Turkey has stood steadfast to minimize the century-old unconscionable acts of a century ago. Rumor has it that the Turkish Embassy in Washington has endowed $3 million to leading universities including Harvard and coincidentally many of those professors grant “academic absolution” by denying the genocide issue as nothing more than war-related loss of life. Armenian advocates contend that by denying the exterminations were not only crimes against humanity, but premeditated genocide, robs the victims of all moral order.

It’s taken a century for Armenians to forge a path to healing through recognition of the truth. In January a court case in Strasbourg has gained notoriety owing to a high-profile civil rights lawyer representing Armenia in a case against a Turkish Genocide denier. Amal Clooney has made a case against the denier by eloquently bringing forth evidence that the mass massacres of 1.5 million Armenians qualifies as genocide as it was systematic and premeditated not just random wartime deaths.

The world became aware of the massacres after the Great War Armistice when war crime investigations started. The Entente—British, French and Russian powers held the Sultan and his subordinates responsible for the extermination of Armenians as “crimes against humanity”. It was the first time the potent phrase had ever been used, the phrase now burned into our collective psyche.

Armenian communities demand to be vindicated by the use of the term “Armenian Genocide” instead of the less impactful word “massacres,” however, Prime Minister Erdogan contends the term insults Turkishness and refuses to allow foreign powers to define their history. But with continued human rights advocacy, archived evidence of the ethnic cleansing will gradually come to light, and is hoped that Turkey will restore Armenian dignity by confronting the ghosts of the past and admitting the intent in April 1915 was genocide and not just random acts of wartime violence. ThinkstockPhotos-527015261

As we navigate Armenia’s deep history, we discover their habitation can be traced to four millennia, and their ancient culture was the epicenter of the cradle of civilization. The kingdom since time immemorial spanned the Caucasian Mountains to the Armenian Plateau long before the Ottoman Empire existed. Their first writings date to 600 BC, and archeological data points to its earliest civilization at Urartu as early as 980 BC, now the Lake Van region in Eastern Turkey. And the Bible tells that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat after the Great Flood.

Armenian Christians were early followers of Jesus Christ and the first nation to adopt Christianity as the national religion influenced by apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus. The Mother Church was founded in Armenia in 301 AD.

To commemorate the 1.5 million Armenian Christians who perished in the 1915 genocide the Apostolic Mother Church, Echmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat, will commemorate the “April Martyrs” by the mass canonization of those who died a century ago during the blackest days of history.

Even today the ancient history of Armenia lives in the souls of descendants of those who were banished from their homeland—the magnetic draw is still powerful even five generations after the Diaspora. Poignant stories of the Armenian survival bear testimonial to their tenacity, deep religious beliefs, love of family, and rock-solid determination. The Armenian Diaspora that radiated to all corners of the earth is estimated to be ten million. They are driven to preserve their ancient heritage by creating personal inner sanctuaries of resolve and solidarity. Their soulful connection to their ancestors’ struggle dwells deep within; it is part of their collective memory lest their ancient culture be forever obliterated.

I contacted four such women of Armenian heritage, descendants of those who migrated, those who marched, and those who survived the genocide.

Rose Mozian Riley explained how her mother Eliza Mashlakian escaped the genocide in Turkey. She was born about 1900; at fifteen her father arranged for her and her sister to leave Konya (known as Iconium since 3000 BC). He put the teenage sisters on a train for the 445-mile journey to Constantinople, now Istanbul. Fifteen year old Eliza worked as hospital nurse for a Doctor Tod. Through a heaven-sent twist of fate Armenian Dickran Mozian in Visalia, California saw Eliza’s photograph and proposed marriage. She accepted. They married in Visalia, later settled in San Francisco.

Eliza’s daughter Rose Mozian Riley remarked with resolve. “We can’t go back, Turkey will never admit what they did to our people, but we can’t dwell on the past, it’s too agonizing. To rebuild our past we do charity works for Armenia through our church. A few years ago we went to a poor Turkey village and through fund-raising we built them a water system. We Armenian-Americans must do our best to support them, to help our people survive.”

Eliza Mashlakian’s bittersweet love story will never be forgotten; her legacy endures through three generations of proud Armenian-Americans who cherish the memory of the young girl from Konya who came to America one hundred years ago.

Nairy Kabaklian Colello tells of her family from Erzerum and Adabazar, exiled on the desert march to Iraq. “First of all, four of my great-grandparents died, my grandparents survived the genocide. They were orphaned and shared stories about tragedies they experienced. They saw their fathers taken first, one bound by rope and thrown into the river, the other shot when he resisted being separated from his family. My great-grandmothers and children were forced from homes that had been in the family for centuries, forced to migrate barefoot in the heat of summer across deserts from Turkey to Iraq. Both great-grandmothers perished, but by some miracle the children survived. A Turkish soldier sold my grandfather at age 7 as an indentured slave. He escaped at 11 and started a new life. My grandmothers and families emigrated from Iraq to America in 1965. Some stories are too painful to share…”

Armenian-Americans continue to connect to their homeland with charity works; Danville teenager Sophia Collelo is gathering art supplies for an Armenian orphanage.

Lucy Yaldezian was also passionate about her heritage and told me her family’s story: “Both my grandmothers were sisters; they marched from Arapkir to Aleppo, Syria with an aunt and four small children all under nine. My grandmother’s husband was murdered; her sister was a mail-order bride who went to marry an Iranian in Paris. My grandmother found refuge in Eritrea where I was born. Our family was stateless. My family legacy has been difficult to overcome, but I will not let it define me.”
After hearing the account how Lucy Yaldezian’s family survived the 300-mile march through the desert to Aleppo, I asked her about ending my piece with resolve and highlighting the solidarity that runs through the veins of Armenian Diaspora descendants. I discovered during my conversations that it’s not the fear of remembering the genocide, but the fear of forgetting. “We are truly survivors. Happy people with loving families and the families are having babies. More Armenian babies are coming into the world—Armenians are replenishing, it is joyous.”

Rose, Lucy and Nairy are deeply involved in their churches and the Bay Area Armenian community. I gleaned valuable research about Armenians and the April 24th Armenian Genocide Centennial from their website www.rememberanddemand.org and Twitter hashtag #rememberanddemand.

The last Armenian-American I spoke with was Jacqueline Kazarian, William Saroyan’s niece: “William Saroyan was my Uncle Bill— the most alive, interesting, challenging and creative person I have ever known. He was a reader and wrote about things he loved and understood— the Human Family and all that entails…” The Saroyans emigrated from Bilbus, Armenia in 1905. William Saroyan (1908-1981) was born and died in Fresno. He won the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for “The Time of Your Life” which he refused stating his play was no better than any of his other works. In 1943 he won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for “The Human Comedy”, and his song “C’mon-a-My House” sung by Rosemary Clooney, hit the all-time charts.

No writer can capture the spirit of quintessential solidarity with more eloquence or soulful fortitude than one of Armenia’s most favored sons, the high-caliber literary giant whose works transcend time. William Saroyan: “I should see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are unanswered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water, burn their homes and churches. Then, see if they will not laugh, sing, pray again and speak in their tongue. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”


Folk Music: The People’s Music

Folk music is one of the most traditional and popular forms of music in the world today. It is enjoyed by millions of people in almost all countries, especially in western civilization. It is said that it has planted itself in the ‘hearts of man’ because it comes from the heart of man.

Much of folk music in the early days or feudal times, came from people who labored in the fields, forests and villages. These were not easy times, so the villagers, by singing and dancing, found a way to make their tasks lighter.

Songs for every kind of activity, mood and thought were sung from morning to night. These songs dealt with aspects of daily life including: work songs; love songs; cradle songs; drinking songs; patriotic songs; dancing songs; mourning songs; narrative and epic songs. All of this music—that came from the hearts of people—was called folk music.

Music is reflective of the people who make it. If people are sad and burdened, then the songs are usually sad. “Whether people are bold and dashing; sad and oppressed; tender and loving; or dreaming and romantic; the same spirit is in their music,” wrote Thomasine McGeehee and Alice Nelson in their book, People and Music. Folk music gives us a true reflection of who people are and what they are about.

Folk songs of different nations have certain characteristic features. Although difficult to describe accurately, folk songs represent the national traits and the character of the people from whom they originated. Interestingly, most folk music of Western nations is of relatively recent origin.

Russian Folk Music
“The spirit of Russian folk music dominated the evolution of both vocal and instrumental art music,” according to the Harvard Dictionary of Music. “Prior to circa 1700, musical activity in Russia was, aside from folk music, restricted mainly to the church.”

Russian folk music began as vocal music. Instrumental music was banned for a period of time in Russia by Tsar Alexis I, due to the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. They said musical instruments were from the devil.

Another possible reason they banned instrumental music was because they were singing disrespectful songs about the Tsar to instrumental accompaniment. This was most likely the real or main reason.
The songs the people sang were an every-day event in the lives of the villagers. These songs were indicative of the four seasons and important events in their lives.

From an article in Making Music, Russian immigrant, Sergei Teleshev, said, “Russian Folk music has rich melodies and harmonies.” Teleshev leads a Russian folk trio in America. “We usually talk about our instruments because they are unique here in the United States,” Teleshev said.

Russian Instruments
Instruments in Russia were again used in the 19th Century when they lifted the ban. The early folk instruments were simple in design and construction. They were: Gudok, a three-string pear-shaped fiddle and a Gusli, an autoharp like wing-shaped instrument; Doudka, a simple wind instrument and Rozhok, a flute made of one or two wooden pipes.

As folk music developed more sophisticated instruments were used. The instruments played today in Russia include the Domra, a Russian long-neck lute of the 16th and 17th Centuries. It has a round body with three strings, is plucked and sounds like a mandolin. It is the forerunner of the Balalaika.

The Balalaika is an instrument of the guitar family. It has a triangular body, a long fretted neck and three gut strings. It is played with a pick and comes in seven different sizes. ThinkstockPhotos-517596351

The Russian accordion, or Bayan, is a chromatic ‘button’ accordion. It is unlike modern accordions that have a piano style keyboard.

“Folk music in America means just what it means in Europe and elsewhere: music of indeterminate antiquity, unknown origins and it is traditionally handed down from one generation to another,” wrote Howard McKinney and W. R. Anderson in Discovering Music. Each country also creates or chooses a national instrument that best appeals to its national character.

In America, folk music had a resurgence in the 1960’s and 70’s and is still a very popular form of music. It is, and will always be, the music of the people; expressing their experiences, traditions and stories of their lives.

The Danville Community Band presents it’s Annual Blackhawk Museum Concert “In My Merry Oldsmobile” Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. Blackhawk Automotive Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle. Free concert with admission to the Museum. Free parking. Please submit questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net. Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

John Boorman’s Queen & Country

The creative triumph of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood will likely be acknowledged, perhaps emulated, by filmmakers for years to come. As auteurs study the structural genius of Linklater’s masterpiece they may also draw inspiration from the type of story he decided to tell, and become familiar with other films that seek the same delicate dance between life and art.queencover

A wonderful place to start would be the autobiographical work from John Boorman, which feels like an old-school big brother to the new-millennium magic child that is Linklater’s celebrated cinematic time-experiment. Boorman, the legendary director who gave cinema one of its watershed films in terms of male psychology and cultural/class tension—Deliverance—has followed his 1987 classic Hope and Glory with a delightful and moving sequel: Queen and Country, which provides a touching and light-hearted conclusion to the story of his own boyhood, and in turn his illustrious career as a filmmaker.

In Queen and Country, the eight year old boy from the previous film, Bill Rohan (Callum Turner), is now 18 and conscripted for military service during the early 50s. Stationed in Britain as a typing instructor, he’s never part of a field battle, but his confrontation with military thought and decorum in the guise of Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis) is the source of insightful humor and also frames Boorman’s humanistic philosophy. As with Hope and Glory, the sequel doesn’t pontificate or try to make any sweeping statements; it shows us the war experience through a very personal prism, an 18 year-old perspective, and predictably, for that age, it isn’t surprising when love soon trumps conflict as the boy’s primary interest.

For Bill—who never seems to covet the idea of distinguishing himself in the armed forces anyway—the event that makes a man of him is his encounter with a stunning “older woman” (all of 24) who he calls “Ophelia” because she will not reveal her identity. That very name suggests the unattainable love-object of the medieval troubadour’s noble knight who will fight to the death for her honor. Boorman’s juxtaposition of Bill’s passionate yet ultimately unrealized love for an unapproachable woman with the military-culture dysfunction he is forced to endure (and cleverly defeat, at least in spirit) produces a tone that is joyous, ironic, and bittersweet all at once. If Boorman’s memory of his first love has been romanticized by the passage of time, his moral clarity—likely formalized during the very years Queen and Country explores—remains razor sharp. This is a film born of a tender heart and focused mind, and its confidence and celebratory spirit is infectious throughout and quite inspiring at its conclusion.

Queen and Country, like its predecessor Hope and Glory, overtly refrains from making the expected anti-war statements, but the devastating effects of war become emphasized in spite of—or perhaps because of—their absence, and this is Boorman’s masterstroke. Showing narrative restraint that few directors achieve, he keeps the perspective firmly rooted in the level of maturity and personal experience of his alter-ego, which somehow makes the surrounding conflict more vivid in relief. Even if the character doesn’t fully grasp the implications of war, we do.

So often in films the story of the male protagonist boils down to his doing something courageous, something that saves or changes the world, something that elevates him, establishes him, or proves his worth. It is refreshing when a film shows us the emotional man, where the story is less about the importance or impact of his life and more about the individual resonance of it. Especially in a war milieu, where strength and resilience are often all that is required of a character, it is noteworthy to see a director brave enough to trust that a personal story will make the deeper impression.

Queen and Country will almost certainly be the 82 year-old Boorman’s last picture—he has said as much publicly, and the final shot of the film infers this with poetic charm: a movie camera slowly coming to a halt. It is heartening to see the great director go out with such grace, and the subtle insights of Queen and Country show Boorman’s singular voice in concert with mature wisdom. The metaphoric title of the film itself is both the clue and ultimate message. The triumph over the insanity and terror of war is achieved through sacrifice and commitment, not to abstract concepts like royalty or territory, but to something far more personal: love and family.

People Watching

Something different this month – a quiz! A chance for you to relive those tedious hours spent in airports all over the world. Let me set the stage. You have just been told your flight is delayed and will not leave for another hour or maybe two. You are here sitting in the lounge waiting somewhat impatiently. Where? International, of course. London, Berlin, Singapore, Nairobi – take your choice. To pass the time you watch the passersby. You hear the boarding calls, Rome, Dubai, Tokyo, Belgrade, Sydney. You watch the people going by, and you begin to guess where they are from. A word of warning – all of the people I’m telling you about are real. I sat in my chair at an airport and sketched out each traveler. Let’s start with an easy one.ThinkstockPhotos-122570330-1 copy

Six feet tall, about 200 pounds, close cropped hair, jeans, slightly worn. A plaid shirt covered by a V-necked sweater. Loafers with no socks. Computer case under his arm, and cell phone at the ready. Where? The United States – you get it!

Now let’s get a little tougher. A saffron robe draped around his body, with a matching shawl over his shoulder. Shaved head and neck. Plain glasses. Bare legs sticking down into sandals. One arm folded into the robe. Got it? Burma probably. A Buddhist monk on his way home from a class or maybe a lecture. The face is passive, serene. I’ll bet he’s humming his mantra.

Okay, on to the next person. High black boots with six inch heels. Lots of space between the top of the boots and the bottom of the stylish skirt. Rings galore. Black hair, long, but swept up. Leather jacket. Have to describe her demeanor as haughty, ignoring all the stares she’s getting from the men. Sashaying might describe her walk. Bet she’s on her way back to Paris where she will meet an equally-haughty guy. Maybe a fashion model.

All black outfit. Black fedora hat sitting a little too high on his head like a poor fit. Black curly hair hangs down in braids. White shawl on his shoulders – standing erect, now slightly rocking. Indeterminate age—anywhere from thirty to sixty. Suit is well pressed but showing a tad bit of wear. Probably alone or maybe talking to a fellow dressed the same. Might be saying goodbye to a lady about equal age. They announce the plane to Tel Aviv, and he kisses her lightly on the cheek. “Goodbye sister, thanks for the time together. Come visit me soon at the university.”

Our next couple is a bit more universal. The gent, perhaps in his sixties, wears a tweed jacket over medium gray trousers. His shirt is light blue and he has a fluffy red ascot tucked into the neck. Shoes are comfortable. There is a slight touch of grey in his hair. He shares a look with his traveling mate, a lady about the same age. She wears practical shoes which look very comfortable. Her tweed skirt is well below her knees and matches her jacket. A white blouse with a little fluff at the neck. They check their watches every few minutes. When the call comes for Heathrow, they both pick up parcels and briefcases, and they are off.

And finally I wonder about that stylish older gentleman sitting across the aisle from me. Certainly late seventies or so but still erect. Black cargo pants, black plaid shirt, and black vest. Sure could use a little more hair. Hey – wait a minute! That’s a mirror I’m looking at. I described myself!

Seeing Red

Don’t risk sleeping in on a Saturday this month, for arriving late at the farmers’ market might cause you to miss the debut of one of spring’s edible blessings.

The market is coming into full bloom, beginning with truckloads of cool-weather crops like locally-grown asparagus, tender artichokes, fava beans, celery, peas-in-the-pod, and super-sweet sugar snap peas. Fragrant strawberries proliferate, followed closely by juicy little cherries. But don’t stop there. Look closely and you’ll also find a lesser heralded shade of red—one that always triggers childhood memories for me.

My father was the gardener in our family, and maintained a good-sized patch of rhubarb in the backyard. As kids we considered this oddly-named plant very old-fashioned. While modern American moms threw together a Tunnel of Fudge Cake or some other gooey concoction, our Irish mother would bake a rhubarb pie. From scratch. You can only imagine our embarrassment.

By some cosmic twist of fate I ended up with a man who also happened to love rhubarb, so every spring I would dream up new ways to serve it. Rhubarb in the morning. Rhubarb in the evening. Rhubarb at suppertime.ThinkstockPhotos-177087863-1

I once made the following recipe for a friend’s annual potluck, and the fresh-outta-the-oven aroma wafting from the trunk kept us salivating all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge.

When The Cookbook Author arrived at the party, friends excitedly asked what I brought for dessert. Most could barely conceal their disappointment when I answered, “Rhubarb Crisp.”

After a leisurely lunch—and fittingly fortified by several glasses of wine—each of the biggest skeptics politely sampled a tiny spoonful of the crisp—paired with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. And then I watched them return to the buffet for more…this time omitting the ice cream. And then suddenly the crisp was all gone, and the host was good-naturedly complaining there wouldn’t be any leftover for his breakfast the next morning. This was followed by plenty of comments from incredulous guests saying things like, “I guess I do like rhubarb…” and, of course, requests for the recipe.

Instead of a more traditional oatmeal crumb topping, this version blankets sweet-tart rhubarb with a buttery-rich, almost cookie-like layer made all the better with the crunch of California walnuts and a hit of ground cinnamon.

The moral of the story is to keep an open mind. Cherries and berries are not the only way in which spring casts its rosy glow on our lives. If you can read this you are no longer 3 years old; so no matter how icky the idea of something may sound to you, trust Mother Nature. She only deals in the good stuff.

Rhubarb Revelations
-The thick, celery-like stalks of rhubarb can reach up to 2 feet long. The leaves of the plant must be discarded before cooking, as they contain oxalic acid and are therefore toxic. (Relax. For this very reason, rhubarb is never sold with the leaves attached. I just threw in this warning for any home gardeners out there.)

-A good source of fiber and Vitamin A, flavorful field-grown rhubarb has cherry-red stalks and green leaves. Its peak season is April through June.

-Hothouse-grown rhubarb, available year-round in many supermarkets, has a milder flavor, yellow-green leaves, and pinkish stalks that cook up to a not-so-appetizing gray…which is why many recipes suggest combining it with strawberries or a few drops of red food coloring.

-Choose crisp, brightly colored stalks with fresh-looking stems. To store, refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. Buying rhubarb at the farmers’ market ensures freshness…making no competition for the lonely stalks of limp, dry, or bruised rhubarb that languish in supermarket produce aisles.

-Rhubarb has undergone some gender re-assignment over the years: Although considered a fruit, botanically it’s really a vegetable.

-Known as “pie plant” in some areas, rhubarb is always combined with a fair amount of sweetener to tame its natural tartness.


For the Cinnamon-Walnut Topping
1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped California-grown walnuts
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool.
2. Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon, mix together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until creamy and well blended.
3. In medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Whisk gently to blend. Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until just blended. Stir in the walnuts.
4. Loosely pack the mixture into a bowl or a heavy-duty plastic food storage bag. Freeze until very firm, at least 4 hours or as long as 1 month.

For the Rhubarb Filling
3 pounds fresh California-grown rhubarb
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
Finely grated zest of 1 California-grown orange
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2 1/2- to 3-quart shallow baking dish. Rinse the rhubarb stalks under cold running water and discard any leaves. Cut stalks crosswise into pieces about 3/4-inch thick. (You’ll have 9 to 10 cups.)
2. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, salt, and orange zest. Add the orange juice and rhubarb, tossing to coat with the sugar mixture. Scrape into the prepared baking dish.
3. Use a large knife to chop the frozen Cinnamon-Walnut Topping; then scatter the chunks and bits over the fruit. Bake until the topping is golden and the rhubarb is tender and bubbly-hot, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or lightly chilled. Serves 10 to 12.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com. 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

He Said / She Said with Robin and Shawn

Dear HSSS,
I saw a good friend’s husband out with another woman. It sure didn’t look like business and it definitely didn’t look like family. He did not see me. Should I go to my friend with this information, or should I mind my own business?
~ TMI in Danville

He Said: From a man’s perspective, I just want to be sure you aren’t making a mountain out of a molehill. So, did you see anything inappropriate, or is this just a hunch? If it’s just a hunch then absolutely MYOB. If there’s more to it, then you should first bring it up to the husband and see if he can offer an explanation. If he admits to something or has a bogus explanation, then you owe it to your friend to tell her everything you know, guide her through the discovery process and be there as her rock for whatever she needs.

She Said: Old school would say MYOB, but we’ve graduated and it’s time for an advanced degree. If you’re sure of what you saw, go directly to the husband and tell him either he can tell his wife or you will. That should do it. But, if you do end up being the messenger, break it to your friend gently. Tell her what you saw and then offer to drive as the two of you stealthily follow him next time he has to “head back to the office” after hours. Best to rip the band-aid off quickly but circle the wagons for a lot of emotional support.

Dear SSHS,
We just built our dream cabin in Tahoe. It sleeps 16 comfortably, so not surprisingly, we’re hosting many friends. I love entertaining, but it takes a lot of work to prepare the place for guests and even more work after they all go home. Any thoughts on how I might make this as much fun for me as it is for them?
~ Exhausted in Pleasanton

She Said: Time for a little lesson in “house rules.” When everyone’s seated at your beautiful table, enjoying the delicious meal you undoubtedly prepared the evening of their arrival, simply bring up the fact that you are so glad everyone’s here and to ensure a good time is had by all, you’ll need the following: All guests strip their beds the morning of departure, put sheets and used towels in the washer, remake their bed with the second set of sheets in each closet, and return the freshly washed and folded sheets to closet backup position and towels to linen cupboards. Non-participants are not invited back.

He Said: Personally, I think hosting guests is more work than payoff, but if it’s something you enjoy, then let’s add the food ground rules. Guests staying for more than one night should help out with meal costs and prep. A good rule of thumb is to bring enough food and drink for everyone in the cabin for at least one or two full meals, so assign these meals to your guests well in advance. Cleanup afterwards should involve everyone who partook of the meal, bringing the kitchen back to pre-meal condition. Using biodegradable paper plates makes cleanup a whole lot easier too! Advance notice of cabin requirements is totally appropriate and will be appreciated by those who want to enjoy your place but just need a little guidance.

Robin Fahr is a public relations specialist and co-host with Shawn Shizzo on Conversations and He Said/She Said seen daily on Tri-Valley TV, Channel 30 and online at www.trivalleytv.org. Send your questions to AskHeSaidSheSaid.com.HeSaidSheSaidgraphic

The Rouge Cosmetics is Moving

To: 145 East Prospect Ave. Suite 100 in DanvilleIMG_0502

Mission Statement: To provide exceptional cosmetics and skin care for future health of the skin.

Buzzing with great cosmetics and highly-advanced skin care since it opened its doors at 822 Hartz Way in Danville more than 10 years ago, The Rouge Kiss and Make-up Beauty Boutique is now The Rouge Cosmetics and is moving to 145 East Prospect Suite #100, in the heart of downtown Danville.

Although the name and location are new, this is the place to go for make-overs, personalized make-up lessons, seasonal make-up updates, expert brow shaping and superb cosmetics and skin care. They also do wedding make-up for brides and the bridal party, as well as custom blended foundations to perfectly match your skin tone color.

They feature a full line of high-end, cutting edge cosmetics and advanced skin care supplies and techniques. With their state-of-the-art Fleur Visage Cosmetics and Ongrien Advanced Skin Care line, you will receive the highest quality in beauty products available anywhere.

The Founder of The Rouge Cosmetics is Theresa Taylor-Grutzeck, a board-certified, licensed aesthetician, professional make-up artist and skin care specialist. As the creator, she has dedicated her career to helping women achieve their beauty goals through healthy choices in cosmetics and skin care products. Having more than 30 years of education, knowledge, and experience, Theresa is highly trained and qualified in the art of beauty and in advanced technologies for skin care. Whatever your concern or skin type, it is Theresa’s goal to give you the necessary beauty tools for a healthy complexion and a natural, beautiful look.

The Rouge Cosmetic’s skin care and cosmetic collections were created in direct response to the challenges Theresa sees on a daily basis. She believes that with the right tools and education, women can achieve their goals for a healthy complexion and a beautiful, natural “every day” look. She is honored to have the opportunity to work with women of all ages, every day, teaching them how to care for and enhance their looks with the right cosmetics.

Theresa is uniquely qualified and equipped to provide the necessary, advanced technologies in skin care and cosmetics, all designed to produce a youthful complexion and a future of healthy, beautiful skin.

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