Not Dancing in a Mirror

While it was not officially branded as such, our February 2014 issue was a “special” edition of ALIVE—at least to me it was. If you’re a regular reader you may remember; it was our ALIVE… for the love of chess issue, and most of the editorial in the magazine that month had something to do with the game of chess.

Now I realize not everyone loves or even plays chess, so let me be clear—this article isn’t really about chess at all, it’s about people, and how playing the game has afforded me the opportunity to connect with players all over the world.

Prior to the internet, if you wanted to play chess with someone far away, your only option was to play chess by mail, via the good old U.S. Postal Service—but those games could easily last months or even years. Then, in about 1990, email was introduced and you could play using one of the few email services like AOL. While that moved things along at a much better pace, you were still limited in terms of who you could play with. The fact was, unless you belonged to a chess club (something few and far between) one’s entire chess-opponent-universe consisted of people you already knew; those friends and relatives who just happened to enjoy playing chess too. In my case, that meant my dad, my younger brother, one friend, and one cousin that I only saw at family get-togethers a couple of times a year.

Of course by then there were chess programs that allowed you to play against your computer, but computer chess just wasn’t the same experience as playing with another person. It was like dancing in a mirror—dry, cold, and unsatisfying.

By the time I graduated from high school, chess had moved pretty far into my life’s rear view mirror. In the years that followed, every so often I’d encounter someone who played, but it was pretty rare.

Then came the iPhone.

I was a Blackberry user until about 2008 when I switched to my first iPhone. I used it primarily for business, so email and calls were about it for me. I had little use for apps, and while I knew there were chess apps, I assumed they were all just mobile versions of computer play. For several years, I never really thought about my iPhone in terms of playing chess (I know, pretty dumb of me).

Then, in 2012, something clicked in my head. I had the urge to play chess but had no one close by to play with, so I began searching the app store to see what was available. I discovered several different apps that facilitated live play and after trying out a few, I settled on an app called Social Chess. There was a free version that allowed you to play up to five games at a time, which I tried for a month or so, but soon decided that the enhanced benefits offered in the paid version were well worth the $9.95 price.

Now, five years later, I have to say that the real benefit of the Social Chess app has less to do with the chess and more to do with the “social” than I could ever have imagined. I have played chess with people in nearly very state in the U.S., as well as countries all over the world, including Russia, Australia, Germany, France, Indonesia, Cuba, India, Mexico, Iran, Ukraine, Malta, England, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and many others. All totaled, since July 2012, I have played a total of 2,185 games (1,138 wins, 953 losses, 94 draws).

The best part of this system is that alongside your chess games, you can converse through a text add-on function, enjoying conversations with your opponents. I’ve made some very interesting acquaintances, learned a lot about much more than chess, and best of all, have made some wonderful friends that I never would have met, if not for our mutual interest in chess.

Today, I typically have anywhere from a dozen to thirty games going at any one time, so it’s not uncommon to have an amazing geographic cross section of conversations happening all at once. For example, right now I have 18 games going with two different players in Mexico, two in Russia, one in India, one in Germany, one in Michigan, two in New York, one in Florida, one in Berkeley, one in Louisiana, and one in Los Angeles. Another five of my current games are with players who prefer to play without revealing their location.

Of course, just like anyone you meet in life, not everyone who plays wants to connect much beyond the game itself. Some partake in the app for the game alone, and while I’m fine with that, I much prefer playing with the people I’ve met who have become friends.

Take the last two I listed of my current games for example. The player in Louisiana, Matt, is a husband and father who works on a barge that travels up and down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico for extended  periods. We’ve been playing for about four years and have a game going almost all the time. He often has to work on holidays, so I know our games during those times become a good way for him to pass the time until he can reunite with his family. I’ve learned a lot about the work Matt does, but more importantly, about the kind of man he is. I have learned that his family has good reason to be very proud of him.

The player in Los Angeles, Felicity Ann, has become a very good, close friend. She has even become an occasional contributing writer in ALIVE (she’s listed in our masthead), and had her first article in that special 2014 chess issue. Felicity currently works as a bakery manager, volunteers at her local library, and is multi-talented artist to boot. We exchange gifts at birthdays and holidays, and she is one of the brightest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

Who would have guessed that of all of that can be learned from playing lots of chess, and considering that chess was created as a substitute for war, isn’t it ironic that the best thing about it would be learning about other cultures, other people, and most of all, making new friends.

Yes, I certainly do enjoy playing chess, but unlike dancing in a mirror, it really is the game’s connection with people that makes it worthwhile playing at all.

 

    

 

        

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often referred to as “The Royal Game,” chess is considered, by most accounts, the world’s oldest game, having been played at least since the sixth and probably fifth century. The game is thought to have originated in India, although some argue that China was its true birthplace. The earliest known literary reference to chess was from India, in a Sanskrit romance called The Vasavadatta, in 590 A.D. Another, slightly later reference comes from Persia, from about 600 A.D., in another ancient romance called Kárnamák.

 

 

 

The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action … 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: — the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; … 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily…

Benjamin Franklin, “The Morals of Chess” (article) (1750).

 

Dadisms

I have been a dad for almost 20 years. Despite what you might have heard to the contrary from two Danville girls in their late teens, whose names rhyme with Banana and Bear, I’d like to think I’m a pretty good dad. There’s no question I have a few flaws; over protective, overly involved, and I like my eggs over easy, however, I try my best to overcompensate for my weaknesses by not being hypocritical or judgmental. Instead, I’ve always tried to be patient, understanding, compassionate, empathetic, and always loving. Like every father/daughter relations, we have our share of arguments, disagreements and general conflict, but there are a lot more good days than bad, (roughly a 29:1 ratio most months).

If you’re the emotional type and cry easily, feel free to pause and grab a tissue before continuing with the rest of this article. You see, the two greatest days of my roughly 19,692 days on Earth, were the days Hannah and Claire were born, followed closely by the day I made First-Team All-League my senior year of high school football. But seriously, I truly love being a dad and the time I get to spend with these two smart, funny, beautiful, creative, clever, compassionate, strong, amazing young women.

In past articles, I’ve declared that being a dad is the greatest job in the world, but in reality, being a dad isn’t a job at all. There’s no pay, no regular hours and no personal time off or paid vacation. The dad job doesn’t offer stock options, a 401K or even an expense account. Despite the fact that I am somewhat of a family CEO, I don’t get any of the fancy CEO perks like a car allowance, Giants season tickets, or even my own designated parking stall. It’s been a big “DAD” adjustment with Hannah now being away at the University of Colorado and Claire getting ready to attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall. I’ll soon be coming to grips with the reality of the “empty nest syndrome.” Where are my tissues?

As a dad, part of my “job” description includes inspiring and lifting up my children whenever possible. Ever since my girls were presented with a Danville-required smart phone, immediately following their 5th grade promotion ceremony, I have sent them periodic text messages that I thought were profound, topical, motivational,encouraging and, dare I say, inspirational. I come across these jewels in books, songs, and my friends’ Facebook posts. Occasionally, I also make one up. I like to call them Dadisms. Please allow me to share a sampling of my Dadisms with you now. Again, keep the tissues close.

  • If you can’t be good, be careful.
  • Forget all the reasons why it won’t work and believe the one reason why it will.
  • Pay attention to your gut No matter how good something looks, if it doesn’t feel right, walk away.
  • Be nice to someone for no reason. You never know when you’ll need someone to be nice to you.
  • Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t give up.
  • Be somebody who makes everybody feel like somebody.
  • Don’t chase people. Be an example. Attract them. The people who belong in your life will come find you and stay. Just be yourself and do your thing.
  • A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.
  • When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them! It may take seconds to say, but for them, it could last a lifetime.
  • If someone treats you like crap, just remember that there’s something wrong with them, not you. Don’t go around destroying other people.
  • Think before you speak. Is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary and is it kind?
  • Who to spend time with: Those who make you better, those who want to see you grow, those who see the greatness in you, those who are good for your mental health, those who are inspired, excited and grateful, and those who force you to push yourself up a level.
  • Don’t be impressed by: money, followers, degrees and titles. Be impressed by: kindness, integrity, humility and generosity.
  • Rules of Action: If you do not go after what you want, you will never get If you do not ask, the answer will always be “NO.” If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.
  • Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.
  • Beauty isn’t about having a pretty face, it’s about having a kind heart, an accepting mind and a beautiful soul.
  • We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges.
  • Life lessons are rarely inexpensive or painless.
  • Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.
  • If you stumble, make it part of the dance.
  • There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right and pray for the ones who don’t. Life it too short to be anything but happy.
  • 10 Things that require zero talent; Being on time, work ethic, body language, a positive attitude, passion, being coachable, effort, extra effort, being prepared and listening.
  • Take pride in how far you’ve come and have faith in how far you can go.
  • You either get better or you get bitter. It’s that simple. You either deal with what life has dealt you and allow it to make you a better person or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.
  • Having real friends is better than having many friends.
  • Successful people build each other up. They motivate, inspire and encourage each other. Unsuccessful people just hate, blame and complain.
  • No matter how educated, rich or cool you believe you are, how you treat people tells all. Integrity is everything.
  • Pick your battles. Sometimes peace is better than being right.
  • Other ways to say “I love you”… I miss you; Sweet dreams; Are you hungry? How’s your day going? Drive careful; Call me when you get there so I know you’re safe; I hope you’ re feeling better; Be careful; Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it for you; Do you need a hug? You don’t have to hear the words I Love You to know you’re loved. Listen carefully. People speak from the heart in more ways than one.
  • Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourself a difficult task, but you will succeed. If you persevere, you will find joy in overcoming obstacles.
  • Life is amazing and then it’s awful, and then it’s amazing again. In between amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living our heartbreaking, healing, amazing, awful, ordinary lives and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful.
  • Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of simple embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great can come of it.

There are more, but I don’t want to lose my audience. For those of you still awake, I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into my “sensitive dad” soul.  When I’m not being deep, I occasionally send something light-hearted such as this gem:

“I often look at my children and can’t see me in them. Then they open their mouth and say something sarcastic and I’m like…’Oh, there I am.’”

If you think your son or daughter could benefit from receiving one of these nuggets above, please feel free to pass them along as your own Dadism or Momism.

With the house soon to be very quiet, I may finally have to find a hobby that pays more than writing magazine articles. Perhaps I’ll create my own Dadisms App. I’ve already got the copyright#dadisms and the domain name, www.dadisms.com. Don’t forget Father’s Day is June 18th.

 

 

Make America Great!

My hope for a great America can truly be realized during our current presidency.  America is now in many ways a much better nation of individuals acting as a whole than it was in 1776. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, the actions of Americans did not follow the words and ideals that were written as guidelines for conduct and behavior. Despite the phrase “all men are created equal” that was penned to illustrate the fact that all people deserve the same regard, there are many examples of total disregard for this sentiment. Millions of people in this country were denied, and many are still being denied the right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

In 1539, the killing of Florida Native Americans occurred by Europeans in the Napituca Massacre. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans have been subjected to genocide. Today, many indigenous Americans who have largely been relegated to reservations, are fighting yet another greedy indiscretion regarding construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. When completed, a section of the pipeline will be under Lake Oahe; a lake considered a sacred water source by the Native Americans living there. This is just one more example of how Native Americans have yet to recover anything remotely close to what was taken from them centuries ago.

In 1826, slavery of Africans in America was accepted as a commonplace necessity and the torture and dehumanization of men, women and children took place for over 300 years in order to provide the manual labor needed to create this great country.The socioeconomic and emotional repercussions of that atrocity are still reverberating through generations of families.

In the 1950s, McCarthyism targeted innocent people, who lost their jobs and were jailed, under the “threat of communism and homosexuality.”

Today, the President of the United States is trying to pass a travel ban against innocent people of Muslim heritage under the “threat of terrorism.” Also, Mexican immigrants who have lived and worked in this country for decades or more are literally being hunted and deported from their homes and families without regard to their contributions to their communities and America.

Unfortunately, the list of American atrocities against its own citizens is long throughout history and continues today. The difference between American then and now is that we have evolved into a beautifully diverse country of citizens and hopeful citizens who have the advantage of 20:20 hindsight. The United States is home to people who represent every race, nationality, color and creed from all over the world. The ultimate benefit of this is that we can come to understand, have empathy for, and be familiar with people and cultures outside of our own immediate circle.

Now is the time for us to act and react to political issues based on our own ethical compasses. The importance is not in whether we’re going to support or follow the lead of a Republican or Democrat. Americans need to decide if the people we elect to serve and lead the country are doing so for the benefit of the people of the country and to more closely uphold the original ideals as set forth by our founding fathers. If they are not, we need to acknowledge that fact, be vocal and dissent. This is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Let us not forget that idea and let us not repeat the mistakes of the past that violated the rights of the people.

 

What’s in a Name? Lies!

In recent years we have heard a great deal about renaming sports teams that have names considered offensive to Native Americans. The primary objects have been such professional teams as football’s Washington “Redskins” and baseball’s Atlanta “Braves” and Cleveland “Indians,” as well as smaller teams with similar names. We will not belabor that point which has been made so often and so emphatically. We will deal with other sports teams whose names do not precede our European, African, and Asian ancestors, but rather because the are either misleading or make no sense whatsoever.

With June marking the second month of the season and the indoor, winter sport of basketball finally coming to a close, the time has come to examine those team names involved in the National pastime, which is still BASEBALL. We might also take a peek at some other team names that make little or no sense.

Some team names make sense because of their location or an article of clothing.  For instance, Seattle borders Puget sound, the Pacific Ocean, and suffers with about 527 days of rain annually: hence, the Mariners. The American League Chicago and Boston teams identify themselves by the color of their socks:  White Sox and Red Sox , respectively, not to mention the original name of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, now just the Reds.  For the Houston, Texas, team Astros makes a great deal of sense.  (The space program, Tom Hanks, and “Houston, we have a problem!”)  The New York Mets play in the largest METropolitan in North America, as do the Yankees.  (We will not touch that one for fear of invoking another “Babe Ruthian” curse.)

Animal names try to indicate a fierce attitude that will not offend, but still give a fighting, tough image for the team. Are the Arizona Diamondbacks really poisonous and deadly?  (Probably not, at least until they get some better pitching.)  Florida’s Marlins suggests a laid back, “Let’s go fishing” attitude, while across the state the Tampa Bay Devil Rays suggest aggression again.

The business people in Chicago are torn between the Bulls and the Bears.  Perhaps they should just concentrate on the World Series championship Cubs.  In hockey the “Second City” returns to Native Americans with the Blackhawks.

Now it is incumbent upon the writer of this column to identify some of the mis-named or badly named teams.  (Anything to get away from politics for a while.)  To carry out that duty, we shall begin in our own backyard with the Oakland Athletics or A’s, who before coming west resided in Philadelphia and Kansas City.  When the old Pacific Coast League played AAA ball on the West Coast, Oakland had the Oaks, like the big strong tree. Why not once again?  Based on their performance in the past few years, let’s change from the A’s to the C Minuses.  (Once a school teacher, always etc.) For now, Oakland also has the Warriors. “Warriors?”  Perhaps the Finessers.  Or maybe the Show Timers #2, but not Warriors. They have too much fun to be WARriors. Anyway, they are another Philadelphia team that migrated west to the Promised Land.

Then we have the San Francisco 49’ers who play in Santa Clara.  Is there anyone living outside of an institution or a cave who would confuse Santa Clara with San Francisco? (The way the team played last season might get them moved to the Middle East or Ketchikan, Alaska.) 

Oakland Raiders?  Las Vegas Raiders?  Maybe they should have Bekins somewhere in their name. (Is it not strange the way winning covers up and even solves problems?) 

When we travel to our friends in Southern California, we really find the misuse of language in team names. In Northern Tiajuana–oops, that’s San Diego–we find the Padres. While many, if not most, of the original Padres were good men, some of them treated the Native Americans like slaves or like savage children, treatment vastly worse than naming sports teams irrationally.

It is in the Los Angeles, however, that we find the real naming culprits.  The original Brooklyn team received the name Dodgers because they had to dodge streetcars to get to the ball park. Has anyone ever ridden a streetcar in Los Angeles?  Has anyone ever SEEN a streetcar in Los Angeles?  (I actually did ride them back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.)  Perhaps a better name would be the L. A. Traffic Sitters or Freeway Parkers. Maybe simply the LaLas.

The other baseball team in So Cal is the Anaheim or Los Angeles Angels or Halos. At the risk of sounding like a mathematician, I say “Anaheim is to Los Angeles as Santa Clara is to San Francisco.”  They should follow the Disneyesque example of the hockey Ducks and become the Mice or the Mickeys.  (It ain’t gonna happen!)

Once again Los Angeles has the football Rams.  That is, of course, the Cleveland Rams who begat the Los Angeles Rams who begat the St. Louis Rams who . . . Sounds almost Biblical.  Pick a name, any name will do, although those ram’s horns on the helmets look really cool.

Which brings us to the basketball Los Angeles Lakers, long, long ago the Minneapolis Lakers as in Land of a Thousand Lakes.  Yes, there are lakes within the City of Angels; there is even a Silverlake District. To be consistent, however, they would have to be called the Large Puddles, which is not terribly masculine.  Call them the Valleys, the Freeways, the Tar Pits—anything but Lakers.

Finally, in round ball we come to the most egregious and absurd name in all of professional sports:  the Utah Jazz.  UTAH = JAZZ!  An oxymoron if there ever was one. The state of Utah has some magnificent scenery such as Bryce, Zion, and the Arches; tons of lovely mountains; salt flats; and in their lake full of sodium chloride. They have one of the world’s greatest choirs whose classical and show music has few peers. However, JAZZ??  When the team resided in New Orleans, that name made geographical and musical sense, even more than the current Pelicans.  (As one who frequented the Hermosa Beach Lighthouse while in college during his often misspent youth and still loves to hear real jazz, I find the concept appalling.)

But enough about basketball, the indoor, winter game still being played in June.  Certainly enough about four hours of commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game.  Hockey?  Booooring!  We have survived the long, cold, wet, empty winter months and BASEBALL is back and in full swing.  It does not really matter to this old baseball nut what we call the teams.  All we need to know are the last twelve words of The Star-Spangled Banner:

“Land of the free and the home of the brave, PLAY BALL!”

The Lute and Mandolin: Ancestors of the Guitar

One of the most popular and ever present instruments in our youth culture today is the guitar.  We all know what a guitar sounds and looks like, but have you ever wondered where they came from?  The guitar, through quite a few permutations, is a distant cousin of the lute.

The Lute

In the Middle Ages the lute was a very popular and ubiquitous instrument.  It was most popular between the years 1400 and 1700. The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines the lute as “a plucked string instrument with a round body in the shape of a halved pear, a flat neck with seven or more frets and a separate peg-box set perpendicular to the neck.” The lute is played by plucking the strings with the fingers or plectrum (pick).

There are two main types of early lutes: the long neck, with a neck longer than the body, and a short-neck, that is shorter than the body.  The lute first appeared around 2,000 BC on Mesopotamian figurines. 

The European style lute descended from the Arabian Ud (an ancient and modern lute, of the near east). It was present in Europe during the Moorish occupation of Spain from the years 711-1492 AD. Illustrations demonstrate that non-Moors were playing it from the 13th Century on.

“During the Renaissance, the lute, like other instruments, evolved into a family of different sizes and pitch ranges, corresponding to those of the human voice,” wrote John Stanley in his book, Classical Music.

Lute Music

The sound of the lute is similar to the guitar. This music, in the 16th and 17th Centuries, was of paramount importance as it was secondary instrumental music only to the organ and harpsichord. During the 16th century the lute was the most popular instrument played in the home, much like the piano is today.

In the late Baroque period the renowned composer, J. S. Bach, wrote pieces for the lute.  In 1530 and beyond there was a large number of printed lute books and manuscripts written by many European composers.

John Dowland (1563-1626) from England was a virtuoso lutenist, song composer and singer, whose works were harmonically advanced for their time.  In the late 16th Century the lute was a favorite instrument to accompany songs.  In England a distinctive song was developed: The Ayre – a song for solo voice, lute, and other instruments. Dowland excelled in writing Ayres. His four books of Ayres (1597-1612) were widely published and became extremely popular. Dowland reached star-status in his day.

Troubadours, Trouveres & Minnesingers

They were important groups of itinerant musicians who spent their lives traveling and roaming all over Europe during the Middle Ages. The Troubadours were poet-musicians who belonged to the nobility. They flourished in southern France from the 11th to the 13th Century.

They primarily performed songs about courtly love and everyday issues of politics and morals. The Troubadours were pioneers in Western European history and established a tradition of performing songs in their native language. Most of the music was monophonic (a single line of melody with no harmony) as opposed to Polyphony (with two or more independent melodic lines).   

The Trouveres were much like the Troubadours except they were from northern France and flourished in the 13th Century.

The Minnesingers were German singers of aristocratic noble birth.

They were poet musicians who flourished in Germany during the Middle Ages.  Quite similar to the French Troubadours, they sang of courtly love and romance.  Some of the texts differ in content from the Troubadours and are more narrative than amorous.

The Minnesingers became the leading performers of German music in the Middle Ages. The singers were superseded by the merchant-class Meistersingers of the 15th and 16th Centuries.  All three of these poet-musician groups used the lute as one of their instruments.

The Mandolin

The newest instrument of the lute family is the mandolin; interestingly it is the only one in wide use in circulation today. The mandolin’s construction is similar to the lute. It has a round back that is characteristic of the lute. Some say it has a “pot belly.”

The instrument is sometimes called the “Neapolitan mandolin” because it is often used in southern Italy. It has four double courses (eight steel strings) that are tuned in pairs.  It is played with a plectrum made of shell or other material that is somewhat flexible. Compositions for mandolin appeared around 1700.

On rare occasions the mandolin is used in the symphony orchestra.  Many notable composers have written for mandolin.  George Frederick Handel included it in his oratorio Alexander Ballus; Wolfgang Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Verdi’s Othello; Beethoven’s Four Pieces for Mandolin & Piano; and more recent works by Schoenberg’s Serenade and Stravinsky’s Agon.

The mandolin is used extensively in folk music, blue grass, country and other indigenous music of the people. The sound of the mandolin is somewhat similar to today’s banjo.

Today, it is very rare to see the lute being played, except in small ensembles that specialize in music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  These groups use authentic instruments of those eras. 

In some universities a group called Collegium Musicum within the department of music, has an ensemble devoted to the preservation and cultivation of ancient music.  Locally, my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, has such a group.

It is very interesting to see and hear ancient music played on authentic instruments from this period; an uncommon sound in today’s world.

Don’t miss “Fifteen” the Danville Community Band’s Annual Spring Concert,

Saturday, June 10 2017, 3 p.m. at the Lesher Center for The Arts, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek.  Celebrating our 15th Anniversary, this delightful event will present a music mix for everyone’s taste. Go to our website, www.danvilleband.org for information, selection titles and ticket sales. Tickets on sale now! Call Lesher Box Office, 943-7469 noon-6:00 p.m. Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net. Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

 

 

 

 

 

Bring on the ‘Cots!

Anyone who has ever purchased an apricot at the supermarket has probably already learned an expensive lesson: don’t bother. Occasionally, if you’re fortunate enough to find fruits that are organically and locally-grown, they may indeed taste okay—but you will surely pay a premium for the rarity. This is yet another good reason to buy your produce at the farmers’ market.

In order to develop their distinctive floral fragrance, sweetness, and velvety texture, apricots need to ripen on the tree. There is simply no other way. Unfortunately the tree-ripening process also leaves them soft and far too fragile to ship without bruising. This may be less of a problem for California locavores, but many of the apricot orchards that once blessed our state have been replaced by housing developments and high-tech office parks, seriously reducing sources for tree-ripened fruit. Due to increased land values and the related expenses, apricot growers who held their ground and stayed in business now must often rely on selling to large commercial canners, jam-producers, and other fruit preservers in order to remain solvent.

To meet consumer demand throughout the United States, scientists thought the answer was to develop bruise-resistant apricot varieties designed to appear picture-perfect for weeks at a time and withstand all sorts of abuse during shipping. Too good to be true? You bet. One bite into that tough, mealy little orb and you’ll know you’ve been had. It’s frightening to think there is an entire generation that assumes this is how apricots should taste

When you first encounter a golden pile of tree-ripened apricots at the farmers’ market, no doubt you’ll immediately want to eat your fill out-of-hand. Go ahead. Be greedy. Apricot season is short but sweet, making this a perfectly justifiable indulgence. But don’t forget to purchase a pound-or-two more to incorporate into family meals for the week. Start the day with apricot halves topped with Greek yogurt, a few California almonds, and a drizzle of local honey. At cocktail time, tuck a spoonful of goat or blue cheese into pitted apricot halves. Make your own compotes and chutneys to serve with pork or poultry, or add apricots to a Moroccan lamb stew.

The following free-form tart is called a galette in France or a crostata in Italy. Regardless where you live, this rustic dessert is a winner. If making a traditional pie terrifies you, this easy preparation provides all of the flavor with none of the angst. And no peeling required!

Perfectly ripe fruit is arranged on a pastry round, then the ends of the dough are folded up and over to create an edge that holds in the juices. If you feel the urge to get fancy, top the fruit with some toasted sliced almonds or a splash of amaretto before baking…but simple is usually better. Once apricot season comes to a close, you can make this dessert with berries, peaches, nectarines, or plums.

This pastry is a dream to work with, but when pressed for time substitute a sheet of prepared pie dough.

APRICOT GALETTE

Buttery Pastry Dough (recipe follows)

1 pound ripe apricots (8 to 12 apricots), pitted and halved or quartered, if large

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

  1. Prepare the dough and chill as directed. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

 

  1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 13- to 14-inch circle or oval about 1/8-inch thick. (It’s fine if the shape is slightly irregular. There is also no need to trim the edges of the pastry; they should remain a bit ragged.) Loosely drape the dough around a rolling pin and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

 

  1. Arrange the apricots on top of the pastry, leaving a wide, 2- to 3-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the apricots with the 6 tablespoons sugar and dot with the butter. Using your fingers, fold the pastry border up and over the filling, pleating the pastry as needed to fit. Brush the pastry edge lightly with water and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar.

 

  1. Bake until the apricots are bubbly-hot and the pastry is crisp and golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the galette cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then use 1 or 2 wide spatulas to slide it carefully onto a wire cooling rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, cutting into wedges with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Serves 4 to 6. This is best served the same day it is made, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Buttery Pastry Dough

 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerated until firm

1/3 cup ice water

 

  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Process briefly to blend. Add the butter and process for 5 seconds.

 

  1. With the machine running, add the ice water, processing just until the dough begins to come together. Form the dough into a smooth ball and flatten into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or as long as 2 days. Freeze for longer storage.

 

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.

2017Mazda 6 The Sporty Family Sedan!

The battle of the mid-size car has grown not only in participants, but also in its threads of complexity. As time has flown by, the physical size of the mid-size vehicles gained in inches, and technology of the elite is now embedded common elements. Their ride and performance match the sporty elegance styled into flowing metal, chrome and plastics. The mid-size sedans are not your grandparents’ boring vehicle, but are now found in the driveways of all generations – even your grandparents’! The 2017 Mazda 6 is a proud member of this elite club and remains one of the best family sedan choices.

The 2017 Mazda6 is available in not one, not two, but three trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Prices start at MSRP $22,780 and work its way to $31,530. The Mazda 6 experienced its last major styling change in 2013, and has stayed about the same, including the 2017 model. Fitted with muscular front fenders, an arched coupe-like roofline and a flashy rear end, the lines are beautiful and clearly parade the Mazda design flare.

To make your power options an easy choice, all the trim levels come with the same 4-cylinder SKYACTIV gas engine mated to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. The power generator is a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder with 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. Not the highest HP’s however weighing in at just around 3,200 pounds, it’s clearly enough to enjoy the ride. With the automatic transmission, you’ll enjoy EPA scores of 26/38/31 mpg (city/highway/combined).

I was impressed with the interior space and trunk room in the Mazda 6. The folding rear seats add to the convenience and flexibility of its use. The seats in my Grand Touring model looked amazing in white with dark gray trim beads and were very comfortable all the way around. Like with most sedans they claim to seat 5 but 4 adults are definitely more comfortable. Some cool “optional” features, you’ll enjoy include: rear heated seats, paddle shifters, heads up display, driving “Sport” mode, and multiple electronic connections.

Cool Features:

  • Rain Sensing Wipers
  • Lane Departure Warning System
  • Heads Up Display

The 2017 Mazda is well-equipped with safety features including (some are available as standard, optional, or not available on certain trims): dual front advanced airbags, driver and front-passage side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, ABS brakes with Brake Assist System, Electronic Stability Control, Hill-Start Assist Control, rear camera, driver’s blind spot mirror, blind spot monitoring system, Cross Traffic Alert, and more. Other optional safety features include: Smart Brake Support with Collision Warning system, Lane Departure Warning System, and Lane Keep Assist System on the Grand Touring trim.

In Summary – The 2017 Mazda 6 knows how to combine the practical family sedan without making you feel you are driving a boring one. The Mazda 6 delivers a fun-to-drive experience while looking sharp and sporty. It’s loaded with fun and useful tech features and drives with confidence. If you are looking for a stylish mid-size family sedan then check out the Mazda 6.


Specifications

2017 Mazda 6 Grand Touring

Base price:                  $30,695 as driven: $34,530 (including destination & optional
                                    features)

Engine:                       2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine

Horsepower:             184hp @ 5700RPM

Torque:                       185 @ 3250 RPM

Transmission:            6-Speedautomatic

Drive:                          Front-Wheel Drive

Seating:                       5-passenger

Turning circle:           36.7 feet

Cargo space:              14.8 cubic feet

Curb weight:              3,305 pounds

Fuel capacity:             16.4 gallons     

EPA mileage:              City 27/Hwy 35

Wheel Base:                 111.4inches

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

Also consider:              Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan  

                                        Altima, Toyota Camry

Just Ask: How Are Your Doing?

I recently saw a news story on TV about people who had survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. The story included the accounts of two men who had both decided to take their own lives relatively early in life. One man, now in his mid thirties, jumped when he was only in his late teens.

Out of the estimated 1,700 people who have jumped off the bridge, only about 30 have survived. The experience for both men was nearly identical in terms of how they felt and what they realized, just moments after their hands left the rail—instant regret and the realization that they had made a fatal mistake.

One of the men, Kevin Hines, was only a teenager when he jumped in September 2000. He explained how, as he walked out on the bridge walkway, he had hoped someone passing would ask him if he was “okay,” because he had made up his mind that that would be his indicator—the only “sign” he needed—to change his mind and not jump. When one woman finally did stop him, sadly, she did not pick up on the despair in his eyes, and only asked him to take a picture. He obliged, handed back her camera, then leapt over the rail. In his own words, Hines explained, “I said to myself, ‘What have I done, I don’t want to die, God please save me.’ The moment I hit freefall was an instant regret – I recognized that I made the greatest mistake in my life and I thought it was too late.”

When I heard this my heart sank. How likely is it that so very many others of those who did not survive had these same exact thoughts? It is the picture of tragedy nearly too painful; too dreadful to consider.

This past April, construction began on a suicide prevention net on the Golden Gate Bridge. While this is a laudable project, the real solution to this kind of problem lies elsewhere. In some cases it’s addressing the needs of the mentally ill, but in many others—probably the majority—the solution can only be found within each of us. It has to do with how we see each other and whether we allow ourselves to be vulnerable—to lower our guard enough to truly empathize with others, and take the time to do so.

In my religious tradition, we believe that evil exists and that the “head” of evil is sometimes called the “Great Deceiver” or “The Father of Lies.” One of his greatest, most common lies is to have people believe they are “worthless” beings; people without value or purpose. Both of the men in that TV special had been deceived, as they instantly realized the moment they jumped. They, like everyone—like you and like me—are special, unique creations of a loving God who wants each of us to live full, meaningful lives of joy and love.  

So, the next time you’re off on vacation and you stop and ask someone to take your picture, be sure to look in their eyes for at least a moment and connect. They may just be waiting for you to ask them an important, life-altering question like, “How are you doing?”    

The Rosés of Summer

Summer is here! Time to let down your hair, slip on your flip-flops, and pop open the rosé. Rosé is the ultimate summer wine, enjoyed by savvy Europeans vacationing on the beaches of St. Tropez and other sunny destinations for decades. As the warmest months descend upon the Northern Hemisphere, great waves of rosé (called “rosado” in Spain and “rosato” in Italy) wash over the shores of Europe and fill the impatient glasses of the thirsty population.

Why rosé? Why not? Rosé is pink in color and beautiful to the eye, floral and perfumed to the nose, and fruity but dry on the palate. Its refreshing acidity is bracing and cleanses the mouth between bites of food. Rosé is made from red wine grapes and takes its color from the skins. Depending on which variety of grapes is used and how long the grape skins are left in contact with the juice, the resulting wine can range from a pale, onionskin color to a deep, almost red hue. The finished color has nothing to do with the quality or intensity of the wine.

As all wines are different, so are all rosés. They can range from light to full-bodied, fruity and tangy to crisp and bone-dry, zippy and light to lush and smooth. The differences are part of the fun and an excellent reason to try many different rosés all year long. Rosé is meant to be enjoyed young. Buy it and drink it, don’t save it for a rainy day or stick it indefinitely in your cellar. A rosé wine should be no more than 2-3 years old. Sparkling rosé is the only exception to the rule and has the ability to age in a temperature-controlled cellar.

Rosé pairs perfectly with just about everything but truly shines when paired with classic picnic foods such as cheese and charcuterie, sandwiches and quiche. Casual bistro food is a perfect fit with rosé. It is a delightful accompaniment to savory fried calamari, briny oysters, crispy French fries, and juicy hamburgers. While we think of rosé as a summer wine, served lightly chilled at the shore, it can easily be enjoyed throughout the year with heavier seasonal fare like stuffed pork tenderloin and roasted salmon.

The United States showed up late to the rosé party. In fact, the USA was a little tardy to the wine party altogether. Unlike Europe, which has a history of wine consumption going back thousands of years, the USA was not a wine drinking nation until the 1970s. Rather than wine, Americans favored cocktails a la “Madmen,” and beer, of course.

When the wines of California began gaining international acclaim, Americans wondered what the fuss was all about. We ventured cautiously into the new and exciting world of dry table wines. Vineyards in Napa went on to become world famous and USA production of wine soared. Today, wine is produced in every state in the union, ranging from classic European varieties to sweet ice wines to fabulous, fruit wines from states like Idaho and Hawaii.

So how did rosé make its way into our vocabulary? Slowly but surely. We started drinking sparkling pink wine back in the 1940s with sweet wines like Mateus and Lancers. But these were not “serious” wines. They were created specifically for the American market, rather like Coca-cola for the older crowd. Dry wines were not favored and wine pairing with food was unheard of at the time.

Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel blasted onto the scene in 1975 after a fortuitous winemaking error and the sugary pink wine went on to define rosé for most Americans. The success of white zinfandel made many Americans assume that all pink wines were sweet. Rosé as a class of wines became gauche and discerning wine sippers avoided it. Fortunately, Americans went on to greater wine sophistication and learned the joys of dry rosé. Today the United States is the greatest wine-consuming nation in the world and at last, rosé wines have gained their rightful place in the hearts of Americans.

Rosé is such a favorite now that most restaurants serve it by the glass and offer a few different bottles on their wine lists. Some historic French rosés to seek out include Tavel, from the Southern Rhone Valley and Bandol from sunny Provence. An all-time favorite produced right here in California is Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris.

The warm weather is upon us. Better stock up now. Cheers!

 

 

 

Tomatoes, Roses & Clematis

Q. I have two tomato plants growing in large pots. They’re doing real well, in fact you can almost watch them grow. But, I’m a bit concerned because they are so very bushy. Should I strip some of the growth off or just let them continue on?

 A. It is important for tomatoes to be bushy with lots of leaves. The foliage protects the ripening tomatoes from sunburn so the leaves act as a type of sunblock. Sunburn is a tan/beige spot that forms on the south and southwest side of the fruits. But, you can have too much of a good thing, so I’d be thinning the growth throughout the season. Plants will become very crowded and dense as they mature, especially when you’re using a tomato cage. Thinning lets in more light and increases air circulation throughout the plant, keeping the inside foliage from turning brown. Also, the dense foliage is a perfect hiding plant for the Tomato Hornworm. Hornworms on tomatoes are a problem June through September. The Hornworm is the larva stage of a moth. The adult moth lays its eggs near the center of the plant. Its only purpose is to eat—which it does twenty/four seven until it gets very large and drops to the soil where it goes through another stage of the metamorphosis and emerges as an adult moth. Signs of Hornworms are holes in the leaves and black droppings on the ground. You control them with BT or Captain Jack Dead Bug Brew. Both of these insecticides are safe to use on edibles.

Q. I have removed the spent flowers on my roses, but, I’m concerned because there are absolutely no leaves on the branches. Looking at them, one would think it’s the middle of winter. What has happened and will the foliage return?

A. The rainy periods in March and April is the cause of your problem. Roses are susceptible to rust, Black Spot and mildew. Black Spot causes the leaves to have yellow spots with black blotches, and as the disease progresses, the foliage drops off. Rust gives you orange spots on the back of the leaves, and mildew forms a white film on the foliage, stems and buds. These are air-borne diseases that attack when moisture remains on the foliage after the sun has gone down. There are plenty of products available to control these diseases but they don’t eradicate the problem. The best solution is Bayer Advanced All in One Rose Care. It’s a systemic control applied to the roots before the diseases show up, so, it’s ideal to use in early March when the new growth is about an inch long. It gives six weeks of protection against rust, Black Spot and mildew, and this should keep the foliage pristine through the end of the rain season. A fourth disease called Downey Mildew can also be troublesome when cool, damp conditions are present for an extended period. Downy Mildew is usually limited to the coastal areas where there is a strong marine influence, but there can be years where it’s widespread. This disease is often confused with Black Spot because of the similar yellow spots with black leaf blotches. The most distinguishing characteristic of Downey Mildew is the plant’s extreme and rapid (overnight) defoliation. But from your question, Black Spot is more than likely your problem and not Downey Mildew. Your biggest concern right now should be températures over ninety degrees for those plants in the afternoon sun. Without any leaves, sunburn is a big concern for the stems. You protect these plants by draping shade cloth over them until the new growth returns. The new growth should return in four to six weeks.

Q. Why is my Clematis growing poorly? The lower leaves have turned brown and a few of the ends are shriveling up. Generally speaking, most of the leaves on one plant look very poor. The Clematis next to it is thriving and getting ready to bloom. I’d like its neighbor to do the same. What should I be doing?

A. In solving this mystery, I’d investigate the planting depth. I’d remove some of the soil to locate the top of the first root. Clematis, and plants in general, are buried too deep if the top of the first root is more than a half inch below the soil surface. It is very common to plant in a bowl shape hole.  Unfortunately, the sides collapse quickly inward, burying the plant. Instead, the root ball should be at or above the soil surface after planting. You correct this by digging the plant up and raising the top of the root ball to the soil surface using a shovel and filling in the void under the plant with soil to prevent it from re-sinking. Mulch is added later to insulate the roots and conserve moisture. I believe the number one non-pest reason for erratic plant behavior, stagnate growth, and then plants dying, is clay soil and plants being planted too