2016 = 2017 (not)

We begin this new year as we always do—with a choice of expectations. many tend to look back and put all their chips in that basket, believing future outcomes will be based upon what took place in the prior year. While this approach is valid to a degree, we ought to apportion it less significance than we do; as personal development guru Anthony Robbins reminds us: “The past does not equal the future.” Indeed, one advantage of having lived a while is being able to compare the present to the past and know that Robbins has it right; it’s what enables one to comfortably laugh at those comic strips showing a guy with a long, scraggly beard holding a sign that reads, “The End is Near.”

With that in mind, and in deference to those feeling “less than enthusiastic” about the future because of the turmoil during the past one or several years, I say: Don’t worry so much because things will likely turn out much better than you are expecting. I can say this because I remember the circumstances and mood in America during the late 1970s and the transition that followed, and it seems to me that the anxiety felt by roughly half the nation today is much as it was immediately before and shortly after the presidential election of 1980.

During much of the 1970s our problems seemed dire and many Americans thought we had little to look forward to. For starters, there was a recession. It was called “the worst economy since the Great Depression.” Sound familiar? We had rampant inflation, sky-high interest rates, and a collapsing stock market. Our supply of energy seemed doomed. Gas prices soared as it became such a scarce commodity that rationing was imposed along with a mandated national speed limit of 55 mph intended to “save fuel.” In some areas around the country, Christmas lights were prohibited in order to trim energy use.  

And terrorism didn’t start on 9/11 either, as the Middle East was a cauldron of conflict throughout the 1970s. Airplane hijacking was an ongoing problem and in 1979, America suffered the ultimate humiliation as sixty-six American diplomats and citizens at the American Embassy in Tehran were taken hostage. Fifty-six remained as prisoners for 444 days.  

Prior to the 1980 election, these problems served as the  backdrop for pundits and many Americans who worried that Ronald Reagan would sink America into an abyss and start World War III, should he win.     

Of course he did win, and what appeared then to many as “hopeless” soon became what most historians today consider a period of robust prosperity and unrivaled progress in America. And instead of causing World War III, Reagan ushered in the collapsed of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

There are striking similarities between then and now, and while nothing is ever certain, we need to know that 2016 is no predictor of 2017. We have every reason to be optimistic about the year ahead.

The past does not equal the future. 

Remembering Alan Thicke

On July 19, 2008, Alan Thicke was the headliner at the Sing for Your Supper Benefit Concert at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. ALIVE Feature writer Antonia Venezia interviewed Thicke some time prior to the concert and we published that interview in our July 2008 issue.

We were saddened to hear of Alan Thick’s passing. Not only a man of vast, varied talents, Alan Thicke was a humanitarian and a positive role model to many. He will be sorely missed. All of us at ALIVE offer our thoughts and prayers to his family and close friends.

In remembering Alan Thicke, a re-print of Antonia Venezia’s interview follows below.

One could call him a “Jack of All Trades” in the entertainment business—a multi-faceted entertainer who has delighted fans for over twenty years. If the name Alan Thicke doesn’t ring a bell you probably haven’t watched much television over the years?

As a lead actor on the hit ABC television sitcom, Growing Pains, released in the eighties, Thicke played Jason Seaver, a psychiatrist and father. Growing Pains: The Reunion was one of Disney’s highest-rated TV Movies.

Thicke is also well-known for hosting, producing and writing The Alan Thicke Show, a highly successful talk-variety series that still remains the biggest hit in the history of Canadian daytime televi­sion. Soon thereafter, the show Thick of the Night was born, becom­ing a popular late-night favorite in America.

Alan Thicke has earned a Golden Globe “Best Actor” nomination and seven Emmy Award nominations, five of which are for writing and two for acting. As one of America’s most popular and sought-­after emcees, Alan has hosted event specials including: The Emmy Awards; ABC’s Olympic Kick-off Gala; ABC’s Disney Christmas and Easter Parades; the Miss Universe, Miss World USA, and Miss USA Pageants; Showtime’s Comedy All-Stars; TV’s Funniest Families and NBC’s World’s Greatest Magic, along with many other hit shows.

During our interview, Alan shared some of his secrets on how to become a great television host: “I think the main advice that I can give you is to always expect the worst. Expect that a light might fall down or someone’s going to trip, or you’re going to say a dumb thing; misspeak or misread the prompter. Learn to have fun and just play with that. I think the people who do badly are the ones who try for perfection.”

Alan Thicke has a thick, impressive resume. He’s an accom­plished author who recently signed a publishing deal for his first novel, Lovely Parting Gifts. His other books inc1ude: How To Raise Kids Who Won’t Hate You (the sequel to How Men Have Babies, which is the Pregnant Father’s Survival Guide, an ongoing favorite since its release in 1999). The book has become so popular you can now read it in Spanish, German and Chinese, too. There’s also an audio version available by the author himself.

With an extensive background in game shows, Alan produced Celebrity Sweepstakes and Wizard of Odds, launching the career of his friend Alex Trebek.

“Writing theme songs was a fun little business and I am glad 1 did it,” mentions Thicke. As a music composer, he has written over 45 television theme songs, including themes for the shows Facts of Life and Different Strokes.  

While conversing about music, Alan was thrilled to tell me about his recording artist son, Robin Thicke, the creator of the infectious sleeper hit song, Lost Without U, which has reached platinum status. When I asked him what gives him the most satisfaction out of all of the things he’s achieved in his career, he was happy to say, “The most fun I have, frankly, is enjoying my son’s career. He sold a lot of records last year and he has a new album coming out. I enjoy watch­ing him grow and succeed and then I become a fan, beyond being a Dad or a counselor. I play his record all the time. Wait until you hear his next album. I think it’s even better.”

As a Dad, Alan thinks his son Robin learned some valuable les­sons from him while growing up. “I have a pretty good commercial ear and I am a pretty decent judge of music. I would have been a good judge on the show, American Idol instead of being a partici­pant. I think Robin learned about the business. I taught him how to treat people. People always tell me that he is a gentleman; easy to work with and all the good things you want to hear about your kid.”

Currently, Alan Thicke is working on several exciting new projects. He is acting in a new hour long drama in Canada called, IPOD where he plays a no account Dad with no rules and he has a role in a new Will Farrell film called, The Goods: The Don Ready Story starring Jeremy Piven. His popular book, How to Raise Kids Who Won’t Hate You will soon be re-released with a new chapter that he is writing.

”I’m proud to say that on Thursday I became a grandfather for the first time to Tyler, from my oldest son Brennan,” says Alan. ”I’m looking forward to that phase in life. I’m covering the spectrum—I am a grandfather while I am waiting in the parking lot of my youngest son’s fifth grade school to meet with his teacher.”

Alan Thicke has achieved more than some would only dream of in the entertainment world, which is often quite a demanding job. I was curious to know how he finds the time to do everything. Here’s what Alan had to say: “I’m up at 6:30AM working, making calls and writing. Then I take a couple of hours off during the day to play tennis, golf or hockey. I end up wrap­ping things up at the end of the night and doing more writing. I pace myself and change my venue. I sometimes go from room to room in my house when I am working.”

Thicke’s television career began behind the scenes as a writer for a Canadian broadcasting Corporation. His talent soon led him to the U.S. where he wrote and/or produced comedy spe­cials and series for Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Kenny Rogers and Barry Manilow, among others. He also produced and wrote the revolutionary comedies Fernwood 2night and America 2night for hot producer Norman Lear. “All of these talented people who I worked with stood out in their own unique way and they all had  different personalities. Every one of them contributed to my evolution,” says Thicke.

In theatre, Alan received rave reviews opposite Jason Alexander in the Neil Simon/Burt Bacharach musical, Promises, Promises and for his Broadway debut as ‘Billy Flynn’ in Chicago: The Musical. 

He has written sitcoms and film scripts for Castle Rock, Warner Brothers and Viacom. Originally, Thicke wanted to be a football reporter. In college he started doing a little performing and now he’s obviously “doing-it-all.” He has guest-starred on various television shows like Just Shoot Me, Married with Children, and Seventh Heaven. He’s appeared in TV movies and feature films including, Disney’s Not Quite Human trilogy, The Calendar Girl Mureders, and Teddy Bear’s Picnic. 

As a headliner and speaker, Alan’s unique charm, personality and humor have established him as one of America’s all-pur­pose entertainers. He’s been a keynote, motivational speaker and a host/comic at various conferences, hotels and events, including everything from Sacramento’s Earth Day, Awards Ceremonies for California’s Building Industry, and Atlanta’s Real Estate Conference, to The Chiropractic Centennial Celebration and the NHL’s All-Star Banquet.

Alan is married to Tanya Callau and is a proud father of three sons: Brennan, Robin and Carter and a grandfather to a new-born, Tyler.

Alan Thicke’s experience as an entertainer is outstanding. As an actor, writer, host, composer and producer, one can only imagine how hard he works. For many people, it would take a lifetime to achieve this kind of status, but for this multi-talented Superstar, the world is his oyster in the entertainment business. He is, truly, “A Jack of All Trades.”

The best shows on television are as good, or better, than they have ever been. There are some bottom feeders as well. Then you have a lot or reality shows and competition shows. There are so many networks now, it allows a lot of bad stuff in. The low end spectrum is pretty low… but the high end is pretty high. ~ Alan Thicke

Please visit: www.alanthicke.com



Taste the Stars

Happy New Year! Did you drink Champagne on the big night? Or sparkling wine? Do you know the difference?

The difference is not necessarily in the taste. The aromas and flavors of some finely crafted sparkling wines often rival Champagne. The real difference rests in the origin of the wine, the actual place where the grapes were grown and where the wine was vinified and aged.

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced within the borders of France’s Champagne region in the northeast of the country. By law, a bottle may be labeled “Champagne” only if it was produced within the borders of Champagne itself. Everything else is simply called sparkling wine.

In France, almost every wine-producing region makes a sparkling wine. Those wines are labeled “Cremant” or “Mousseux.” The wines are skillfully made and artfully presented but they will never be Champagne. That’s not to say they are not delicious—they are! A few of my favorite sparklers are Cremant D’Alsace and Cremant de la Loire.

There is incredible prestige in Champagne. So much prestige, in fact, that in 2008 the demand for Champagne worldwide exceeded production. The solution? The INAO (the organization that protects the French appellations) voted to push the borders of production and allow an additional 38 districts to produce Champagne. These districts had been producing bubbly all along but in 2008, they were finally allowed to call their sparkling wine “Champagne.” 

Doubtless it was an incredible windfall for the lucky producers included in the new Champagne districts. Champagne’s fancy moniker demands a much higher price tag than mere sparkling wine. The sparkling wine producers didn’t change a thing but overnight their product suddenly skyrocketed in value.

If the wine is tasty and bubbly, why should you care where it was produced? There are many ways to approach that question. There is the historical aspect, of course. People have been drinking Champagne for centuries. Many of the venerated Champagne houses are hundreds of years old.

The style produced in each Champagne house is different and unique. Kings and queens, politicians, celebrities, and the common man have all celebrated special occasions with a bottle of good Champagne. Winston Churchill favored Pol Roger. Napoleon preferred Moet and Chandon. James Bond drank Bollinger.  Marilyn Monroe loved Dom Perignon.  The list goes one.

There is a certain cache to real Champagne. Anyone who has ever owned a pair of designer shoes can attest to that. They are not just your black pumps; they are your black “Manolos” or “Jimmy Choos”—a world of difference to the proud owner.  The same is true with Champagne. A romantic evening becomes all the more special if a good bottle of Champagne is popped.

Sparkling wine is nice too but are you looking for nice? Does the eager young man with a ring in his hand reach for the bottle of Prosecco to woo his betrothed? Not likely. Nothing against the wonderful sparkle of Prosecco, but Champagne it is not.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate the advent of 2017 with a bottle of real Champagne, fear not. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and you have the chance to redeem yourself. This year, share a bottle of delicious, magical Champagne with your beloved.

Pour yourselves a glass and hold it up to the light. Observe the fine bubbles, called “Strings of Pearls” to aficionados. Sniff the fine toasty aromas and savor the rich flavors. You might find yourself exclaiming as Dom Perignon did so long ago, “I am tasting the stars!”





Random Thoughts

… while Watching Electrons Exciting Pixels

            PROFOUND CONJECTURE #1. If Apple announced that they were introducing an I-Buggy Whip next Thursday, by next Monday lines would already be around the corner so that one can “Be the first on my block to have an electronic buggy whip.”  (Next question:  What’s a buggy whip?)    

            VISION OR A MIRAGE? #1. One day last week I actually saw (Ah seen it with mah own eyes!) an SUV make a full stop at a red octagonal sign. The guy in the Prius behind him almost rear-ended the SUV, then floored the Prius, drove around the truck (that’s really what an SUV is), and saluted the SUV driver with 20% of a full hand salute. My heart simply skipped a beat at such a momentous occasion.

            OPINION #1. Kaep, you blew your credibility by not voting. It is not only a right, it is a duty. Try taking a knee on the national anthem of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or 67.38% of the other countries of the world–no matter how well you play football.

            OPINION #2. Does anyone know how many shootings, stabbings, poisonings, garrotings, blastings, and other forms of making people dead appear every week on television?  You will never see, however, a mother breast-feeding her small child. That beautiful act of love, of course, is rated immoral and not fit for consumption by our genteel, sensitive American public that worships television violence and football. Half the adult population of the world has those thingees, and the other half get induced to buy cars, beer, and other commodities just by glimpsing them.

            PROFOUND CONJECTURE #2. How do you protest an election unless you know of some violations of the law or other hanky-panky. The purpose of an election appears to be the gathering of votes on an issue or candidacy and a good percentage of the electorate will be disappointed every time. The only person I know of who has claimed that the Presidential election of 2016 was rigged, turns out to be the guy who won. Maybe the protest should have been directed toward the Electoral College, an antiquated system that resulted in two of the past three Presidents, both Republican, winning despite the other candidate having more votes. What are the chances of a Republican Congress and President overturning the E. C.? (Hey, those are my initials.)

            PROFOUND CONJECTURE #3. If Apple came out with the I-Buggy Whip, how long would it be before Samsung, LG, and others flooded the market with less expensive versions?  One month? Two? (I can see a young couple on their first date in a lovely restaurant. Both have phones in their right hands with thumbs flying at supersonic speeds. We will not ask what they are going to do with the I-Buggy Whips in their left hands, but we may ask how they will get the food into their mouths.  I find the vision unappetizing and frightening.)

            VISION OR MIRAGE? #2. Later the same day I saw the SUV come to a complete stop at an octagonal sign, I was waiting for a traffic light to change so I could turn left. Of the twelve cars waiting, one of three with turn signals on, was a certain German luxury car–yes, with its turn signals just blinking away like Christmas lights. I was unaware that German cars have turn signals. As Hamlet said, “They are more honored in the breach, than in the observance.”  (He was not referring to turn signals.)  I will not identify the maker of the car, but its initials are the same as Matzo Balls.

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #1. If you are opposed to same sex marriage and, like me, find the thought of being intimate with a person of the same sex to be totally undesirable, marry someone of the opposite sex and stay out of other people’s lives.

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #2. If you are opposed to abortion, do not have one. This particularly applies to men who are extremely vocal in their opposition, although when I think of it, I cannot recall knowing personally any man who has had an abortion. (I have known a few that I felt should have been aborted.)  For those who insist that the Bible stands opposed to abortion, I would like to quote from the Good Book:  Genesis 2, 7:  Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”  A fetus cannot enjoy the breath of life until it exits Mommy’s tummy and gets slapped on its bottom. (I am aware that I have not convinced or changed even one person’s opinion, but that ends my sermon, except for repeating “stay out of other people’s lives.”)

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #3. The election is over; live with it. I personally have voted only for Democratic Presidential candidates since 1952. Somebody always wins; someone else always loses. Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States for better or for worse, and we should all hope it is for the better. He deserves a chance to make that happen. If, however, you identify as a Muslim, Hispanic, or Black, you might want to be especially watchful and vigilant. That is based on campaign rhetoric by politicians, and we all know how little truth is dispensed in those speeches by ALL parties.  As a Jew, I thank those groups and Ivanka’s marriage and conversion for taking some of the pressure off us. We are usually first in line for grief. (If by some chance there should be a second term or if he has been crowned “Emperor for Life” by the senior Senator from Kentucky who evidently thinks the Constitution is just another piece of paper from Charmin, then we too can join in the vigilance. Oh, dear, that makes two sermons.)

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #4. Is Donald Trump perfect?  Are all Muslims?  Hispanics?  Blacks?  Jews?  Democrats?  Republicans?  Brits?  Any human beings–other than my grandchildren?  We all know the answer to that question, except when it refers to ourselves. I think the words of the great philosopher Marx apply here. No, not Karl. Groucho, who once said the following. “For years I searched for the perfect woman. Then one day I found her. Unfortunately she was searching for the perfect man.”

            VISION OR MIRAGE? #3. On the same day, the very same day, that the SUV came to a full stop at a stop sign. Yes, the same day that the MB flashed its turn signals, I surfed the television that evening and saw another amazing sight, in addition to those two traffic experiences. On a Spanish speaking station I saw, honest, a flat-chested woman. What a day that was!  I could hardly sleep that night.

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #5. There are no simple solutions.

This old Democrat wishes good judgment, good decisions, and good luck to President Trump. If he does well, then you, I, and this magnificent country all do well. Can we ask for anything more than that?

Happy 2017!

One Writer’s Voice

My #1 New Year’s Resolution is to watch fewer singing competitions on television. Is it cheesy to admit that I like The Voice, American Idol and The Sing-Off?  Actually, only the Voice is still on, but I resolve to stop watching that incredibly entertaining NBC reality singing show where the winner goes on to do absolutely nothing with their career except to occasionally pop up on the next season of The Voice to promote a CD we’ll never buy.

The truth is, after eleven seasons, there’s never been a Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson or even a Chris Daughtry (American Idols) in the entire Voice bunch. That’s probably a little unfair. I’m confident the past winners have sung their share of National Anthems at minor league ballparks and monster truck rallies. I bet there’s been the occasional ribbon cutting at a Piggly-Wiggly grand opening. Then, of course, there’s the prestigious gig of being the celebrity judge at a bowling alley karaoke competition.  Sadly, I don’t think I’ve heard so much as a single single on the radio by any of the past winners from The Voice.

That said, I still like the show for a variety of reasons. For those of you keeping score, the past winners look a little something like this;


I remember every single one of those past winners, except maybe Jermaine, Danielle and Josh, but that’s because I’m into this stuff. Seeing an actual show taping is high (#4) on my bucket list and I’m not getting any younger. Just for the record, I have actually seen two alumni of The Voice perform live and in concert.  season eight winner, Sawyer Fredericks, played a corporate event at Bishop Ranch and I took my daughter to see Matt McAndrew (season seven runner-up) open for the Plain White T’s last year at Slim’s in San Francisco. My review? Matt had very strong vocals and was very entertaining and Sawyer was inexperienced and slightly off-key. My favorite contender of all time, you ask? That was Will Champlin. He got robbed and finished third in season five. I don’t know what he’s doing today, but I hope he’s got a microphone in his hand and not a specula.

I’m actually watching the Season Eleven finale as I bang out this article on my lap top. Season Eleven has been a good one and I think it’s safe to say that I like this season’s Final Four as much as any other Final Four I’ve seen in the past. I’m avoiding choosing a favorite because, based on past experience, it’s too emotionally draining, filled with an exhausting array of the cheers and tears.  I wish all the contestants’ good luck as I know I will never see any of them again.

Fast forward to the next night, and your Season Eleven winner is…wait for it…Sundance Head. There is an overwhelming abundance of applause and fanfare as the winner’s family rushes the stage. Mr. Head does his best to perform his soon to be released single, available on iTunes, as confetti rains down on the stage. Despite this winning singer having a name more suited for the adult film industry, he’s actually a charming and talented country troubadour. It was nice knowing you Sundance.

Speaking of reality shows, it’s hard to believe the former star of The Apprentice will be our next president. What? I think Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, judges on the Voice, should run in 2020. They could represent the Music-tarian ticket. Why not, the reality President precedent has been set.

I find it hilarious that Donald Trump prepared for being leader of the free world by evaluating B-list celebrity’s business abilities with the tag line, You’re Fired! That was after he and his spawn humiliated them in the board room. I’m also amused by how upset The Donald gets at Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of him on Saturday Night Live immediately followed by a Twitter-Tantrum.

Here’s some Presidential advice from a guy who was once President of the Crow Canyon Swim Team: Stop watching SNL. When I knew someone didn’t like how I was running the swim country, I avoided that person at every swim meet and social event. I never read their emails and I certainly didn’t pick up my mobile phone, thanks to Caller I.D. I intentionally bumped more than one kid into the pool just to create a momentary distraction enabling me to escape a possible confrontation. Hopefully President Trump will be too busy not upsetting China to watch late night sketch comedy once he takes office, but I digress.

I have this reoccurring dream that I am a contestant on The Voice. I have this really cool Justin Bieber-meets-Sammy Hagar-type voice and of course I get a “four chair” turn. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the show, a four chair turn is pretty much the most awesome thing that can happen during your blind audition.  Anyway, I choose Miley Cyrus to be my coach, just because my daughters loved Hannah Montana growing up and I was a fan of her Wrecking Ball video. Creepy, I know. Sadly, I don’t end up winning The Voice in my dream, but that’s okay, because I didn’t want to vanish into singing obscurity anyway.


I’m already living a life in writing obscurity and a guy can only take so much obscurity. The New Year means another season of my favorite show and I can hardly wait for The Voice to resume… If I was going to watch it… which I’m not, because I never break a NY resolution.

Starting Over…Again

I’ve already abandoned the whole New Year’s Diet thing. For the first week or two I documented my carb, fat, and caloric intake with military precision. But now that I’ve dropped a few pounds, I’m over it. I figure any reasonable regimen is bound to be an improvement over December’s champagne-fueled evenings and Christmas-cookie-breakfasts.

In the aftermath of holiday excess, it is comforting to sit down to a healthy meal at home…providing it’s something appealing and delicious. The good news here is that the words “healthy” and “delicious” need not cancel out each other.

I know I can’t stray far off track when I’m at the farmers’ market. With no shelves of salty snacks or candy aisle or liquor department to divert my attention, I feel quite virtuous as I shop in the open air. For me, this is about as good as it gets. So as I’m leaving the market, I reward myself with a bouquet of fresh flowers. Yup, that’s how I roll.

One of the cruel ironies in life is that the New Year begins in winter, when we are naturally inclined to hibernate in the coziness of our homes. This has the potential of becoming a danger zone, for nothing satisfies like comfort food on a chilly evening. But “comfort” doesn’t have to mean giant bowls of cheesy pasta or a small trough of ice cream. Nor does it mean a scoop of nonfat cottage cheese and a few limp lettuce leaves. Somewhere, there is a happy median.

Fellow January dieters can rejoice that sweet potatoes are one of the few starchy vegetables that ranks low on the glycemic index. They are also high in vitamins and A, B6, C and D; and a good source of potassium, calcium, folate, magnesium, iron, and beta-carotene. If you have never tasted sweet potatoes without a blanket of molten marshmallows on top, you are in for a pleasant surprise.

Sweet potatoes are born with paper-thin skin and a high ratio of starch to sugar; and they’re not terribly desirable at this stage. Only after a designated period of climate-controlled storage does the skin thicken into a protective barrier and the starch contained within convert to sugar—resulting in the creamy sweet potato we know and love.

The peak season for both sweet potatoes and apples is waning, so it’s the perfect time to indulge. The following torte makes a company-worthy side dish for roast pork or poultry; and an impressive vegetarian entrée when served alongside a warm loaf of crusty whole-grain bread and a lively green salad dotted with toasted sliced almonds and juicy orange segments. It’s also a very comforting way to ease into 2017.


31/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small thyme sprig, plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced or chopped, including the green tops

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste

1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled soft goat cheese

2 red-skinned sweet potatoes (yam variety), about 12 ounces each, peeled and thinly sliced*

1 large tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, halved, cored, and thinly sliced*

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Use some of the butter to generously grease an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, then place the thyme sprig in the center of the pan.
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chopped thyme, the green onions, flour, salt, sugar, and a few grindings of pepper. Toss gently to mix well. Stir in the cheese.
  1. Arrange a single layer of sweet potatoes in concentric circles over the bottom of the prepared pan, overlapping the slices slightly and taking care to not disturb the thyme sprig in the center. (This layer will be the only one visible when the torte is unmolded, so you’ll want to take the time to make it attractive.) Top with half of the apple slices spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese mixture; then drizzle with about 2 teaspoons of butter. Use half of the remaining sweet potatoes to make the next layer; and top with the remaining apple, the remaining cheese mixture, and 2 teaspoons of butter. Make the final layer using the remaining sweet potato slices and drizzle with the remaining butter. Press down gently to compress the mixture. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 40 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and bake, uncovered, until lightly browned at the edges, about 25 minutes longer. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes to 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen.To serve, invert the warm torte onto a warm serving plate and cut into pie-shaped wedges. Makes 1 (8- or 9-inch) torte, to serve 6 to 8 as a side dish.

* To simplify your life, use a mandoline or the slicing disk on a food processor to make uniform slices about 1/8-inch thick.

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






Berries, Sage & Seeds

Q. I’m going to replace several struggling roses. Should I plant patent or non-patent varieties? I’ve been told that the patent varieties are better performers than the non-patent?

A. The Plant Patent Act of 1930 introduced intellectual property or patent rights for plants. It allows plant breeders to recover their development costs from “asexually propagated” plants, aka roots, divisions and cuttings and not seeds. This includes fruit trees, roses, and today ornamental trees and shrubs. Nearly half of the 3,010 plant patents issued between 1930 and 1970 were for roses. Jackson & Perkins, Armstrong Roses, Weeks, and Conard-Pyle contribute to a staggering share of U.S. plant patents. Anyone who wishes to propagate and distribute the variety must purchase a patent tag for each plant from the hybridizer. Although we see new varieties every year, they are not developed over night. A new introduction is the result of many, many years of trial and error. The patent tag cost varies greatly between varieties. It could be anywhere from a quarter to several dollars. After seventeen years, the patent expires and it becomes a non-patent variety. Now, anyone can reproduce it free of charge. The rose is the same whether it’s a non-patent or patent variety. Newer rose varieties are more resistant to diseases than the old timers. Today, hybridizers are cross breeding resistant varieties from previous years for the new varieties of the 21st century. I’m always curious as to the parentage of each years’ new introductions. It gives me a clue as to how a particular variety will perform in our varied microclimates. The rose care product of today will effectively control the rose diseases so I’d use some other characteristic as my primary focus in selecting varieties.

Q. I’m going to purchase several Blackberry and Raspberry plants to grow on a fence. How much sun do they require, do I feed them when they are transplanted and will they bear fruit this coming summer or next summer.

A. Blackberry and Raspberries are a wonderful addition as long as the plants are contained; hence, they are not advisable for every garden. They require six hours of sunlight per day, April through October. However, you do not want to plant any berry vines on a fence that is also the property line. It can be an expensive nightmare dealing with a neighbor(s) disputes as the vines will intrude next door. Berry vines are aggressive growers with above and below ground stems or rhizomes. Instead, grow the vines on a separate trellis structure that is four to six feet off any fence line. This way you can head off the problems before it’s too late. If possible, I would place the trellis in a north south direction. This will allow the berries to ripen on both sides of the vines. Blackberry and Raspberry vines should produce fruit next year as the berries are produced on the second year canes. The vines are best pruned after you finish harvesting all the berries. The fruiting canes are cut off at the ground. You replace them on the trellis with the best of the new shoots growing from the base.  All the other new growth is removed. You need to be diligent with pruning off the basal shoots otherwise the vines can get out of hand. Again, the berries will only develop on the second year canes. At the time of planting, I would add Starter Fertilizer along with amending the soil with homemade compost or soil conditioner.

Q. The cold has damaged my Mexican Sage plants. Is there a right or wrong time to prune them back? I’d like to maintain them year round as they provide a colorful, feeding environment for Hummingbirds

A. It’s not unusual for Mexican Sage to turn brown from the winter cold. I’d expect this to happen every year. My pruning preference is to wait until the end of February or the beginning of March to prune them; however, it can be done at any time weather permitting. Mexican Sage produces all of its new growth from the base of the plant. It produces no lateral branches and blooms on the terminal end of each shoot. It should be back in bloom around Memorial Day and continue through the first cold night. Thus, I’d prune it off at the ground with a pair of hand or electric hedge shears. You should also clean out all of the fallen debris that has gather during the past growing season.  And in March, feed them with Doctor Earth Organic All Purpose Plant Food to encourage the new growth. This feeding should be sufficient for the entire year.

The Harp

            A noble, ancient instrument, the harp dates back from antiquity to the present. Known to exist as far back as 3,000 B.C., some historians even trace it back to 3,500 B.C. The harp is certainly one of the oldest instruments in the world. Many ancient instruments have died out and are no longer in existence but the harp, through many permutations and construction changes, has endured through the ages to the beautiful and complex instrument we have today.

            “From medieval to modern, classical to jazz, acoustic to electric, steeped in tradition yet open to change; for many it is more than a mere instrument—it is a calling,” according to the International Harp Museum in Orlando, Florida.

            It is thought that the earliest harps probably evolved from a bow string. The ancient Egyptian harps ranged from a small shoulder harp of seven strings to a much larger standing instrument of 22 strings. 

            Updated versions of the instrument appear from the 11th Century on. The first appearance of harps in Europe was in Ireland during the 12th Century. When the harp spread to the European continent it was embraced by the Troubadours, Trouveres and Minnesingers.

            The Irish harp evolved in the 11th Century and initially had brass strings plucked with long fingernails. From the late Middle Ages until the 18th Century on, the harp virtually remained unchanged, except for the increased number of strings. The Irish still use the harp as a heraldic and political symbol today. 

Harp Construction

            The harp is triangular in shape and made primarily of wood. Woods used were willow, birch, pine, spruce and maple. The early harps had fixed strings that were limited in playing major and minor keys. The plane of the strings is perpendicular to the sound board, not parallel like the piano. Harps varied in size and some small instruments were played on the lap. In 1697, Jacob Hochbrucker of Bavaria, invented a pedal action that changed the pitch of the strings. Later, in 1720, Hochbrucker and J.P. Vetter of Nuremberg, invented a five pedal harp that raised the pitch by a half step.

            Around 1810, French instrument maker Sebastien Erard, introduced the double action or double pedal harp. This allowed the harp to be played in any key. The pedals were used to raise the pitch to a half or whole tone. Operation of the pedals made all of the major and minor keys available. This invention was revolutionary as it enabled the harp to eventually become a welcome member of the symphony orchestra.

            Pitch of the strings is determined by the length of string, tension and weight of string.  Different colors were used on the strings to indicate the names of the pitches. 

            Throughout its development, the harp grew and more strings were added to the instrument. The harp evolved from a small instrument of five or six strings to a giant instrument with 47 strings, according to the Harp Foundation.

Playing Technique

            The harp is played by plucking with bare fingers. Professional harpists develop calluses on their fingers as the skin thickens with constant playing and plucking. Two playing techniques are always associated with harp playing. One is the Arpeggio, a quick succession of notes in a chord played one after another, instead of simultaneously. Glissando, often used in harp playing, is a rapid sliding movement or sweep over the strings. Both techniques are characteristic, distinctive features of harp playing.


            Musicologist and historians generally agree that harp music of merit was not written until the end of the 19th Century. Harp music was mainly written by French composers. Some are:  Saint-Saens, Fantasy for Violin and Harp; Debussy, Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp; Ravel, Introduction et Allegro for Harp, String Quartet, Flute and Clarinet.

            Debussy and Ravel used the harp prominently in their impressionistic music. Other famous composers who wrote for harp are: Richard Strauss, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Cesar Franck. Wolfgang Mozart wrote a Concerto for Flute and Harp and Beethoven wrote for the harp in Prometheus. Many composers used the harp in their orchestral scores.

            Writing for the harp in the 20th Century included the jazz genre; even the Beatles used the harp in their 1967 song, She’s Leaving Home.

            The portability of a modern harp is a challenge for harpists. The instrument is extremely large – six foot two in height and weighs in excess of 75 pounds. Transporting a harp is not done in an ordinary car; one needs a large SUV or van or a well-padded pickup-truck. If the harpist is a petite female, she usually needs some assistance in getting the harp loaded and unloaded.  Also, it really needs to be protected as a new harp costs over $20,000.

            One of my most memorable experiences listening to harp music, was in Chicago. We were there for a music convention around Christmas time. We love High Tea at the Drake Hotel, with the room decked out in holiday splendor.  In the center of the room is a large fountain surrounded by small tables.  A harpist, near the fountain, plays beautiful soft music throughout the tea.  What a delightful way to spend a winter afternoon – great food, and beautiful relaxing harp music with a wonderful holiday mood. Couldn’t be better!

            Another memorable experience was brunch at the beautiful, famous, Moana Hotel in Honolulu.  Again, the ambiance was devine, great food with wonderful harp music to accompany the gentle swaying palm fronds, beside the blue Pacific lapping the shore in Waikiki!   Aloha.

Have a Happy and Peaceful New Year!

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net and visit our website at danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.       







A “Rocky” Road

I had this idea. I was going to write a review about Sylvester Stallone; a little about the man and a little more about his movies. The reason I was going to write about Stallone was because he had been approached by Donald Trump to be Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Low and behold, before I could get the article written and published he had declined the position.

When I think of Sylvester Stallone I think Rocky, or maybe Rambo. While most of his most acclaimed films have been action hero genre, Stallone has done a variety (some successful, some not so much) of films from hard core, edge-of-your-seat action films to animation.

Stallone’s father was born in Italy and was a hairdresser and beautician, his mother was (you can’t make this stuff up) an astrologer, former dancer and promoter of women’s wrestling. When he was born, the delivery went awry with the misuse of forceps severing a nerve and leaving his face partially paralyzed. His signature snarl and distinctive voice were the result and have come to be the persona of many of his characters.

Two tremendously successful movie franchises is quite a legacy. Both the Rocky and Rambo Franchises have put Stallone in an elite group. These two are considered his best and brightest. My count shows him at 54 movies—all the way from Rambo to Rhinestone Cowboy with Dolly Parton. He was also in the Spy Kids series. His early career included Lords of Flatbush with Henry Winkler. He even starred in Tango and Cash with Kurt Russell. Stallone’s movies have entertained audiences for five decades.

The first Rocky movie received ten Oscar nominations and won Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Film Editing. Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. His more recent 2015 Rocky movie, Creed, added an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe win for the same category.

In the majority of his movies, he wrote about and performed tough guys. This is where I have to admit that I did not see ALL of his many action movies. What I do like about his films is that his characters are usually heroes in their own right. They are the “walk softly and carry a big stick” kind of guys, much like John Wayne characters in earlier films. 

Stallone has defied the mainstream. He’s held strong to owning his own scripts and often didn’t take the easy road, instead opting for the “rocky road.”

Having said that, let’s go back to his job offer of a different kind—Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.  While he decided he would pass on that opportunity, he highly praised our new President and respectfully submitted that he would like to have a position working with our military veterans. Laudable. So, for now we’ll wait to see what this next chapter brings for such a talented man.

While his movies might energize a dark, dreary winter night, I would also like to caution you to check the ratings. Some may not be appropriate for children because of the violent nature of the subject matter. As always, I welcome your comments at chastings@rockcliff.com




Sticking to Your Fitness Goals

January, a glorious month filled with resolutions, renewed commitments, a million different diets, and good intentions pertaining to health and wellness. It is also the time when the triathlon and endurance community begins to set its sights on the 2017 race season ahead.

For both endurance athletes and fitness minded (or intended) individuals, January marks a new year of promise.

At your local gym/health club, you will experience the usual January debacles of limited parking, waiting for your favorite machines, and a lack of proper “gym etiquette.” I won’t get into locker room faux pas. Newcomers and “resolutioners” will jam up parking lots, locker rooms, gym floors and partake in a wide array of “what are they doing now” moments as they show off their fitness prowess in an attempt to prove to their counterparts they belong. The unfortunate truth is that statistically, nearly 80% of these folks will be nowhere to be seen in March as their resolutions and fitness dreams are dashed by any number of reasons.

The above is a picture by which we can set our watch (or calendars) by every year. The road of good intentions. Kudos to these folks. They mean well and often the inability to maintain their path on the fitness trail is quite valid, indeed. Viruses, accidents, illness, family matters, that pesky job thing, and more all come into play—often in a manner we just can’t plan for. Welcome to “real” life. Such is the same for my triathletes. Or, any age group endurance athlete, for that matter.

This is another reason why working 1:1 with a coach or trainer can be invaluable. It’s flexibility—not in a biomechanical sense. The ability to meet you on the terms that your life dictates and designing a plan that is not only flexible, but one you can take with you and doesn’t expire.

Triathletes, ultra-runners, cyclists, swimmers, and the like, understand the value of having a coach for these same reasons. They form a relationship with their coach. One that extends beyond the gym floor. It’s an invaluable one, really.  Someone who will be honest; push them when they need to pushed and pull them up if they stumble. Someone who will hold them accountable, be objectionable, and supporting. One who understands the demands of “real” life, and how training and/or fitness goals and plans need to be tailored to be effective and sustainable.

As a coach, my role is to provide such a plan. As a psychologist…my role is to motivate by reducing mental/psychological barriers and keep you on track to help ensure you will still be on your fitness quest in March, April, May and beyond.

Tri-Active Endurance is currently offering special introductory pricing on coaching, personal training, and group class memberships through January, 2017. Contact us for a cost-free assessment and introductory first group class.