Stamps In My Passport – Tunisia & Egypt

Habib Bourguiba at sunset, Tunis, Tunisia

When a traveler picks up the morning paper these days or watches the late news on television, they are more likely than not to see some of the places they visited in past years – but now they may be in a state of turmoil. With the global political unrest that is occurring in Africa and the Middle East – a war in progress, and the natural disasters of earthquakes and floods, it is difficult to remember those tranquil days. A few years ago, Barb and I visited both Tunisia and Egypt. These stops were part of a larger trip, but we spent about a week in each of these interesting countries. They were enjoyable vacations. The past month, many of the places we visited have turned up on the news; they are now filled with riotous crowds, looting, and a strong police presence. Let me share with you a few of the contradictions we’ve recently seen.

First our visit to Tunisia. We flew into Tunis from Frankfurt. The flight was filled with remarkable vistas as we flew over the Swiss Alps, much of Italy, the Mediterranean Sea, and finally into Tunis itself.

I was particularly interested in this area because as a teen I learned that Tunisia was the final area in Africa held by the German Army in World War II. The country became the embarkation point of the Axis troops in their retreat to Europe, and thus was home to fierce battles on land, sea, and air. During a visit to Dougga, we discovered a British cemetery. It had been built as a tribute to the British military – to show the thanks of the citizens of Tunisia.

We had no specific goal in mind for our time in Tunisia – only to see the country and get the feel of a different culture. The hotel we chose, the International El Hana, was in the main part of Tunis, right on Habib Bourguiba Boulevard. (This is where everyone was demonstrating a few weeks ago.) This boulevard is a wide, open street. It is lined on both sides by a mix of stores, apartments, hotels, restaurants and office buildings. The large median area contains kiosks, benches, fountains, and flowers. My memory is of a vital, active city. The stores were filled with goods for both locals and tourists. Among these shops stood a street display of some of the most beautiful and exotic flowers that I have ever seen. Walking along this street gave us a feeling of peace and tranquility. The weather was warm, and the people seemed happy. We were ignored and accepted as we strolled along.

It was here in this setting that I took one of the most descriptive pictures in my digital photo album. On a bench under a large shady tree in the center of the boulevard sat four of the Tunisian populace – side by side. On one end was a woman covered completely by her black abaya, with a white headdress flowing to the ground – a reflection of her heritage. Next to her sat a young college student in black jeans, tennis shoes, and a loose blouse. She was totally engrossed in reading her book. The third lady was eating her lunch and smartly dressed in a tailored western business outfit. And finally a gentleman in a gray business suit. Here, I thought, sat the past, the present, and the future, the young and the old, the east and the west. It all seemed so natural to me then.

In retrospect it is hard to envision the violent uprising that we have seen lately on the television actually taking place at the same site where we were in Tunis. My brief visit, however, makes me optimistic about the country’s future.

Even more to the point is the turmoil we have been watching unfold in Egypt. For our time in Cairo we chose a western hotel, the Nile Hilton, located near the city center and overlooking the Nile River. Our room was located on the third floor and had a large balcony which overlooked the El Tahrir Bridge, the Nile and around to our left was Tahrir Square. We chose the hotel because the entrance to the Egyptian Museum was straight out the back door, and we could watch the Egyptian world move about under our window. One evening a wedding celebration took place at the hotel. The people were beautiful – their dark hair and the tan sheen of the bride contrasted with the white of her wedding dress. Barb tells me all the young men were handsome too. We were able to sneak a peek into the ballroom and watch them dance. In the nearby bar the older men gathered and smoked their “hubbly-bubbly” pipes and shared their stories. This scene could have occurred most anywhere, and everyone seemed happy. It is hard to imagine these young people crowding the streets with their demands for freedom and democracy.

We walked the streets, rested in Tahrir Square, paused for a minute in the center of the October Bridge – enjoying the general surroundings. The Nile, not the cleanest of all rivers, hosted a variety of different types of boats from rowboats to the ever-present feluccas.

Recently it was a shock to see television reporters standing on a balcony very similar to ours, shooting photos of masses of charging demonstrators, fires burning out of control, piles of stones being used as ammunition, and thousands of rioting crowds. It was the same hotel we had lived in, and it could have been the same balcony. But no wedding party those nights.

Life certainly has its strange twists and turns. What a difference a few years can make. One never knows what is really going on when one travels to a new land. Their faces do not always reflect what’s in their hearts.

Harry Hubinger is a retired engineer who operated his own company for twenty years. He first began traveling outside the United States on business, but these visits escalated upon his retirement. He has now traveled to 115 countries and continues to add several new ones each year. In 1998 he began writing his humorous and insightful articles for a supplement to a local newspaper. These stories, based on experiences most travelers could identify with, soon earned him a wide local following. In 2005 he published his first book, Stamps in My Passport—a collection of travel vignettes. Harry has lived in Danville for almost forty years and has volunteered with the Danville Police Department for the past seven. His wife, Barbara, is the detail chronicler of their trips. Her journals provide the background for Harry’s broader view. You can get his book at:

Market Fresh – Peas Please

Spring is edging its way into our farmers’ market, with truckloads of tender cool-weather crops like asparagus, artichokes, fava beans, crunchy celery, peas-in-the-pod, and super-sweet sugar snap peas. Fragrant strawberries are coming into their own, followed closely by chubby little cherries. This is the time of year when you don’t want to risk sleeping in on a Saturday morning, for you never know which new crop may debut at the farmers’ market.

Peas are something we tend to take for granted year ‘round, for who among us doesn’t have a bag or two stashed away in the freezer for emergencies? One taste of farm-fresh peas, however, and you’ll know why this vegetable is considered such a staple: all year ‘round, we try to recreate the incomparable flavor now available right at our fingertips. Sure, there is a bit of labor involved when you buy peas-in-the pod, but shelling them is a great job for kids (dare I say “fun”?) and a not-so-unpleasant, mindless task for adults while doing things like watching television. Just be sure to buy many more than you think you’ll need—during the shelling process, raw peas tend to become a popular snack food.

Let’s celebrate Spring 2011 with a pasta salad! Not those ubiquitous wiggly noodles drowning in bottled dressing, but a sophisticated little number with farm-fresh veggies and herbs. Its main ingredient is Israeli couscous—sometimes called pearl couscous because of its color and shape. It may sound exotic, but these tiny balls of baked semolina pasta are widely available. (Do not confuse it with the North African/Moroccan-style couscous, which is different in just about every way.) Look for Israeli couscous in boxes or plastic bags, usually sold in the same aisle as rice and other grains .It holds its shape beautifully during cooking, which makes it popular with children.
This recipe makes a versatile side dish, and something unique to bring to a potluck. As the entree for a casual dinner, consider topping each portion with a piece of grilled wild salmon fillet.

Toasted Couscous Salad with Spring Veggies

  1. 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  2. juice of 1 lemon
  3. 1
  4. garlic clove, minced
  5. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  6. 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon California extra virgin olive oil
  7. 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives or flat-leaf parsley
  8. 2 tablespoons thinly sliced or chopped fresh mint leaves
  9. 12 ounces Israeli couscous (about 2 1/4 cups)
  10. 1 3/4cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock, or 1 (14-ounce) can of low-sodium broth
  11. 1 cup water
  12. 1 pound thin asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed away, cut diagonally into 3/4-inch pieces
  13. 1 pound farm-fresh English peas-in-the-pod, shelled (about 1 cup)
  14. 8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
  15. 2 or 3 green onions (scallions), white and light green parts only, thinly sliced diagonally
  16. 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano or other hard dry cheese
  1. To make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Whisk in 1/3 cup of the oil in a slow steady stream. Stir in the chives and mint; set aside.
  2. In large, heavy saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the couscous and toast, stirring frequently, until most of the couscous is golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the stock, water, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt; increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender yet still firm to the bite, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir the vinaigrette to mix in the herbs; then add 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the couscous, tossing gently to coat. Set aside, uncovered, to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Add the asparagus and shelled peas and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until bright green and just crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar-snap peas and green onions. Transfer the vegetables to large bowl.
  5. Add the couscous to the bowl and drizzle in the remaining vinaigrette. Add the cheese and toss gently to coat. Taste, adding salt and pepper if needed. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Serves 6.

Minding Your Peas and Q’s

  • There are basically two kinds of peas: English peas (aka common garden peas) that must be shelled to eat the “seeds” inside; and snow peas and sugar snap peas, which have edible pods. Sugar snap peas are plump; while snow peas—a favorite in Chinese cuisine—are flat.
  • Like corn, the sugars contained in peas convert to starch shortly after harvesting, so it’s best to buy them fresh at the farmers’ market and cook them as soon as possible.
  • Regardless of which variety you buy, always check out the packaging: look for plump, glossy green pods, crisp and free of blemishes.
  • Some sugar snap peas have a tough string running along the length of the pod. To remove it, snap off the leaf end and pull down on the string.

5 Good Reasons to Shop at the Farmers’ Market

  1. Danville is a certified farmers’ market, which means it’s the real deal—a place where local growers sell products directly to the public.
  2. Farmers’ markets give you access to produce picked at the peak of ripeness. There is simply no comparison in nutritional value, flavor, and texture to produce grown thousands of miles away.
  3. Elimination of packing, shipping, and wholesale costs means both the grower and the consumer can save money.
  4. Walking, biking, or carpooling to your local farmers’ market can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Bringing your own shopping bags to the market helps reduce waste in landfills.
  5. When you buy locally, your dollars stay in your community.

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

Theresa’s Top Ten List Of Most Frequently Asked Questions

    No. The delicate skin around the eyes cannot absorb thick creams therefore it will not nourish or hydrate. Beware of heavy eye creams they can cause tiny bumps to form underneath the surface of the skin in the eye area.
    Chap Stick is a protectant, iIt does not moisturize. Chap Stick is used to protect lips from wind, salt water and cold weather conditions. It’s like wearing Saran Wrap over the lips; the lips are sealed and protected. Prolonged use will not allow lips to breathe. They get dry, cracked and peel. Vitamin E lip treatments are good for repairing and moisturizing the lips.
    Yes, Calendula cream with Vitamin E will help heal scaring. It is very important to use these products immediately after the scar forms. Scars over a year old are very difficult to heal.
    Liquid foundations will give you more coverage than a powder foundation. It really depends on how much coverage you need. For younger skin I recommend a pressed Mica powder foundation so the skin looks smooth and natural. For medium to maximum coverage I recommend a liquid foundation followed by a pressed powder.
    Lengthening mascara the best choice because it coats the lashes and dries fast so you can put more coats on for a beautiful thick lash look without looking clumpy. Using waterproof mascara everyday has proven to weaken lashes and plug lash pores causing lashes to fall out.
    Cream waxes are safe and gentle on the skin. It will not take off the skin, burn the skin or move on the skin. Gel (clear) waxes are extremely inexpensive and are notorious for getting too hot then burning the skin.
    I highly recommend a clear cream self tanner. It works with your own natural melanin in your skin and it will naturally make you three shades darker in less than two hours. It looks the most natural and it fades like a tan. Ongrien self-tanner at The Rouge.
    Wearing gloss is appropriate at any age from two to 102. You are never too young or too old to wear gloss. I like the glosses that have the peptides in it for super hydration and beautiful shine all day long.
    Some shimmery eye shadows get caught in the creases of the eye causing the skin to look crepey and older than they look. When you apply a matte eye color on the eyelid then apply a sparkle over it, it will not get into the lines. It will look smooth and pretty.
    Using a sunscreen with SPF 25 is plenty. I find it better to use a foundation with sunscreen in it. Then you can use a good anti-oxidant or anti-aging cream under the foundation to keep the skin hydrated and smooth and for maximum health skin benefits.
  11. Theresa Taylor Grutzeck is the owner of the Rouge, Kiss and Make-up Studio, 822 Hartz Way, Danvile, CA 94526. Phone: 925-736-3900 and email:

Beyond the Fitting Room…Everyday Style

A breath of fresh air! Spring fashion drags me out from under layers of sweaters, coats and scarves to emerge like a butterfly—light, full of color and ready to fly!

My favorite pieces this season are not new on the scene, but for spring 2011 they have a fresh vibe and they’ve been reinvented with a new twist…

*ORANGE (and other bright colors): Bold and happy, orange can be paired with pink, yellow and turquoise for a high-volume and high-impact effect. However, worn with neutrals like khaki, navy and white, orange pieces and accessories will go a long way this season…even in the workplace. A little orange goes a long way.

*POLKA DOTS remind me of the Easter dress my mom wore in the 1960’s—complete with a hat and gloves. Fast forward 45+ years (WHAT!?), and 2011’s polka dots are whimsical (on a pair of ballet flats) or sophisticated (on a sheer silk blouse).

*The boho 70’s trend is nothing without HIGH-WAIST JEANS. Make it modern by pairing it with a funky peasant top or a relaxed silk blouse, and wood platform or wedge sandals to make your legs look extra long.

*A classic TRENCH is a staple that should be in every girl’s closet. Lightweight and easy to wear, it’s a great transitional piece that goes with everything—from jeans to a dress.

*NAUTICAL STRIPES are a spring essential, and this year they rocked the runways. If you’d like to jump on the boat with this trend, any color combination will do. Black and grey is an edgier combination than traditional navy and white, but both are equally stylish.

Try something new this season—there are so many great finds! The good news is spring clothing is generally less costly than fall/winter fashion. So, being a trendsetter doesn’t mean you have to break the bank.
Now, fly little butterfly!

Natural Therapy for Chronic Pain and RSD/CRPS

Align Healing Center was established in Danville in 1999 and since first opening my doors I have seen a progressive increase in chronic pain and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), now called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in our community. RSD/CRPS is a chronic, painful, and progressive neurological condition that affects the skin, muscles, joints, and bones. The syndrome usually develops in an injured limb, such as a broken leg, or following surgery. However, many cases of RSD involve only a minor injury, such as a sprain. And in some cases, no precipitating event can be identified.
RSD/CRPS is characterized by various degrees of burning pain, excessive sweating, swelling, and sensitivity to touch. Pain may begin in one area or limb and then spread to other limbs. In some cases, symptoms of RSD/CRPS diminish for a period of time and then reappear with a new injury.

Causes and Risk Factors for RSD/CRPS

An exact understanding of RSD/CRPS is not complete. It appears to involve a complex interaction among the sensory, motor and sympathetic nervous system as well as involvement of the immune system. Currently Western Medicine is not sure what causes RSD/CRPS. It is believed that in most cases the sympathetic nervous system plays an important role in sustaining the pain. Another theory is that CRPS is caused by a triggering of the immune response, which leads to the characteristic inflammatory symptoms of redness, warmth, and swelling in the affected area.

Treatment Options for RSD Patients

Medical treatments for the management of RSD/CRPS include analgesics, anti-depressants, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nerve blocks, and multiple other drug therapies.

The Natural Approach for Chronic Pain and RSD/CRPS

Holistic, non-invasive treatments for RSD/CRPS offer new possibilities patients may consider for pain and symptom management. As with traditional treatments, holistic treatments may need to be combined for optimal results. Natural Medicine (vitamins, herbs, natural compounds, etc.) has proven to be effective and long-term in helping calm the sympathetic nervous system and reduce systemic inflammation.

At Align Healing Center we are currently seeing beneficial results in the treatment of chronic pain and RSD/CRPS. The combination of Laser Therapy combined with Natural Medicine is yielding hopeful results.

Laser therapy is the application of low levels of laser light to areas of the body that have been injured or damaged. Contrasted with high-powered lasers used in health care that cut tissue, such as surgical or hair-removal lasers, therapy lasers produce beneficial chemical and biological interactions that can help relieve pain and repair injured/damaged tissue. Just as photosynthesis creates energy for plants, the absorption of the laser light by your cells causes increased production of cellular energy. In areas of injury or damage, this means there is more energy available to improve the rate and quality of healing. Studies on tissue cultures have revealed a wide range of beneficial physiological effects, including increased levels of endorphins, reduced levels of inflammatory compounds and an increased rate and quality of tissue healing. We often have patients notice improvement after the very first treatment session; whereas with chronic pain or RSD/CRPS it is realistic that it may take a few treatments. The effect of laser therapy is cumulative, meaning that each successive treatment builds on previous ones.

The results that we are experiencing with our patients are nothing short of remarkable. Class IV Laser Therapy has exceeded our expectations of the healing potential that it ignites in the body and it is our mission to share it with anyone who is seeking freedom from their pain.

Dr. Niele Maimone, DC is the owner and founder of Align Healing Center in Danville, CA. She has been active in our natural health & wellness community since 1999. For more information or to set up a consult call 925.362.8283 or visit

Dirt Gardener – Adjusting Soil pH

Q. I’m wondering how I might check and adjust the soil pH to make it more acidic for my Azaleas, Rhododendrons and ferns. Will applying an acid fertilizer be sufficient or should I use something more specific?

A. A pH scale is used to determine the acidity or alkalinity of a soil. With seven point zero being neutral, any reading below seven is acid or above which is alkaline. Although you can have it done professionally, it is a task that most gardeners can do themselves, as the pH kits are available at your favorite garden center. When testing your soil, here are a few things to remember. The soil sample should be taken from an inch or two below the soil surface and allowed to dry out if wet. You don’t want to touch the sample with your hands or fingers so use a trowel or better yet a plastic spoon. Several samples from different areas are suggested. All the data is then averaged together for a single reading. The winter rains can mask the true pH so it’s suggested to do a follow up test in late September or early October to measure the effect of your municipal water supply on your soil. Azaleas, Blueberries and Rhododendrons thrive in our area with a soil pH of around 5.5 to 6.0. Camellias, ferns and other shade plants have varied degrees of tolerances. Once the pH level has been established you can then add an acidifier. The principle acidifiers are Aluminum Sulfate, and Soil Sulfur, not to be confused with dusting sulfur. The amount of the acidifier necessary to lower the pH is found in a table on the packaging. Coffee grounds are also viable as an acidifier but it is best used to them to maintain the pH level. There are no stats on the amount of coffee grounds that have to be applied to affect the pH level. The following website is an excellent tutorial on how to do a pH test with a kit widely available at your favorite garden center.
Another option is to use a pH meter also available at your favorite garden center.

Q. Perhaps it’s a silly question but can one add the shells from sunflower seeds or peanut husks to the soil?

A. While there are no silly questions, some are more unique than others. Why not, add sunflower and peanut shells to the soil and or a compost pile. They are just as good a source of organic matter as the more traditional soil amendments. The biggest risk they present is the salt residue if they’re pre-salted. To minimize this risk I’d pre-wash the shells by placing them in a bucket of water, rinsing them a couple of times. This should do the trick. Once they have dried out, they’re placed in a plastic bag and crushed with a rolling pin. A wine bottle is an excellent alternative rolling pin. The crushing is suggested as the smaller particles decompose quicker than larger ones.

Will this be the Year the Sharks Raise the Cup?

For the Sharks and their fans, the last five seasons have been the ultimate in sports frustration. They have been at or near the top of the NHL since 2003, had the best record in the league going into the 2009 playoffs, and have come up short every year.

The Giants may have coined the word “torture” to describe what they put their fans through during a season of close games and improbably comebacks, but Giants fans’ angst can’t compare to the torture of a team that annually seems to be among the elite in its league only to ultimately lose, often in embarrassing fashion.

They were swept out of the playoffs in the first round the year they had the league’s best record. Last year when they finally beat the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs, thought by many to be the NHL’s gold standard, they were swept by Chicago one step short of the Stanley Cup Finals. Another year they won the first two games against Edmonton and then lost the next four. Three years ago they were eliminated in a four-overtime game (that’s seven periods of hockey) against Dallas. Since Barry Bonds left, Giants fans have either been completely out of the running or World Champions. Which fan base has suffered more?

So will this be the year for the Sharks? Will they team with the Giants to bring the Bay Area consecutive championships in different sports since the 49ers and A’s accomplished the feat in the late 1980s? Some signs indicate that it might be their turn.

Peaking at the Right Time
: As this is written the Sharks are coming off a tremendous month of February. The team won 11 of 13 games despite only having three of those games at home. In previous years the Sharks would build insurmountable early season leads and coast into the playoffs, seemingly having trouble flipping the switch back on when the games counted most.

Better Balance
: Since Joe Thornton arrived six seasons ago the Sharks have tended towards top-heavy scoring. Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo and Dany Heatley would provide the vast majority of goals, leading opponents to key on them at playoff time. Usually, the Sharks’ other lines couldn’t sufficiently pick up the slack. This year coach Todd McLellan has placed his stars on separate lines, which after a period of adjustment has served to spread out the scoring to more different players, particularly Logan Couture and Ryan Clowe, and make it more difficult for opponents to have their best defenders on the ice against the Sharks’ most likely scorers.

Playoff Tested Goaltending
: For eight years the Sharks had Evgeni Nabokov in the nets. An all star, a rookie of the year winner, and a runner up for the league’s best goalie trophy in 2009, Nabokov would stand on his head in the regular season and fall on his face come playoff time, often giving up the inexplicable soft goal at the worst possible moment. When Nabokov’s contract expired at the end of last season the Sharks opted not to re-sign him. In his place they acquired Anti Niemi, the goaltender who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup last season. He was available because the Black Hawks had salary cap problems. Niemi has been behind the Sharks’ late season surge and has had recent success in the playoffs.

As you follow the Sharks during the NHL playoffs keep in mind that their fans know the real torture of near misses, and only a Stanley Cup parade will bring them peace.

2011 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet: Fun in the Sun!

Spring is in the air; as are the hopes for warm dry days to help inspire a long country drive with family or friends. Living in Northern California; I can think of many locations that meet the bill, so the big question is not “where to go”, but rather “in which vehicle”, that would deliver the comfort, performance and yes – the image that we have style and class.

For this trip, the solution comes in the form of the new 2011 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet. The E-Class Cabriolet essentially replaces the CLK convertible, but does so in a manner improving on every element of the vehicle from performance to style to a sheltered interior.

The 2011 E-Class Cabriolet comes in two trim levels: E350 ($56,850) and E550 ($64,800). Mercedes-Benz defines their trims by engine type and size. The E350 sports a 3.5-liter V6 that generates 268 horsepower and the better fuel ratings of the two. The E550 carries a 5.5-liter V8 creating 382 horses under the hood and delivering a blast of power and fun. Both models are rear-wheel drive and come standard with 7-Speed w/Overdrive & Touch Shift automatic transmission. Just a quick note, for 2011 the E-Class is also available in Coupe, Sedan, and Wagon variations.

The new demographic of luxury car owners have demanded a new set of rules. Square and boxy doesn’t play anymore. Exterior styling must reflect the image of wealth, good taste, and a youthful life in the form of sculptured lines, a powerful stance, and a sporty profile.

The new styling of the E-Class Cabriolet is more aggressive and deliberate than the CLK model it replaced. The bodylines flow in an upward motion creating the impression of movement even when standing still. The E-Class abandons the soft curves for a more masculine edge and cut image. From the pointed nose grille to the flexing rear shoulders, Mercedes integrated aggression into the DNA of this sport-luxury cabriolet.

The front of the E-Class begins with what they call a “cubist treatment of the trademark Mercedes-Benz twin-headlight face”. The dual headlamps are recessed into the front fenders bracketing the bold three-dimensional front grille. The convertible roof is sturdy and well insulated with a one-inch, three-layer fabric designed to keep exterior sounds out of the cabin. The profile with the top up is smooth and coupe-like. Mercedes opted for the soft-top verses a folding-metal hardtop; in which there are pros and cons. A positive feature is a lighter and more traditional vehicle with additional trunk/cargo space. On the flip side, a soft top is a bit less secure than a hard shell and when done right – a folding hardtop roof can be mistaken for a coupe giving you the best of both worlds.

The rear tail lamps wrap heavily into the rear quarter panels incorporating themselves into the shoulder lines. They follow through into the trunk lid, which carries a slight air spoiler. Big chrome-tipped exhaust completes the look.

The interior is dressed in leather and walnut. Just as the exterior is complex with angles; as is the interior. The dash is molded to come together creating a pointed center cluster. The hand polished burl walnut inlays were beautiful and extended across the front dash and into the doors. Another requirement of the new generation of luxury buyers is the need for technology and the E-Class is packed with the gadgets we want.

With a goal to keep the cabin area as uninterrupted as possible, Mercedes has incorporated a new featured called an AIRCAP system; an electronically activated spoiler that pops up from the windshield header to divert airflow over the cabin. The effectiveness was OK, but when you drive in a convertible you know you’re a slave to the wind.

A few of the gadgets available include Keyless Go Engine Start, heated and active ventilated front seats, Bluetooth®, telescoping steering wheel, audio system with Sirius Satellite Radio, input jacks for iPod/MP3 players, Command system with 40GB hard-drive, real-time traffic data, GPS voice activated Navigation system with Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 surround sound, HD Radio, power rear window sunshade and rear view camera. Note: many of these are available via the Premium Package; 2 for a cost of $6,450.

Standard on the E550 is what Mercedes calls “Agility Control Suspension” that includes a small piston that is connected to a bypass port in the hydraulic flow of each shock absorber. The result is it provides a softer, quieter ride on your everyday roads but retains full shock damping over dips and windy roads.

Room for improvement:

  • Lack of a folding hardtop option

Cool Features:

  • Voice Activated Navigation System
  • Large Navigation Screen
  • Integrated NECK-PRO active front head restraints

Mercedes-Benz says the new E-Class Cabriolet is loaded in the way of safety technology. Besides the added reinforcement supports throughout the vehicle which are needed with a convertible, it also includes pop-up rollbars, up to eleven airbags, (including those in the cabriolet), Distronic Plus cruise control, seatbelt pretensioners, anti-lock brakes, a tire pressure monitoring system, roll-over sensor, night security illumination and a 24-hour roadside assistance program.

In Summary
– The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is a performance-driven luxury sports convertible that expresses the new aggressive, yet sleek look of Mercedes-Benz. It makes a statement in its styling and backs it up with tight handling and powerful engine options. The E-Class Cabriolet has taken the old CLK to a new level of refinement and performance. If you are looking for a luxury vehicle with sport DNA that will help you work on your tan, then you need to check out the all-new 2011 E550 Cabriolet.

2011 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet

Base price: $64,800 as driven: $77,425 (including destination)
Engine: 5.5-Liter 8-cylinder
Horsepower: 382 @ 6000
Torque: 391 pound-feet @ 2800 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic with Overdrive & Touch Shift
Drive: Rear Wheel-Drive
Seating: 5-passenger
Turning circle: 35.3 feet
Cargo space: 15.9 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3783 pounds
Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons
EPA mileage: 23 highway, 15 city
Wheel Base: 108.7 inches
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper
Also consider: BMW 650i, BMW M3 Cabriolet, and Jaguar XK

U.S. Companies Go Global…Are You?

A transformational shift is taking place within the U.S. economy. Our world has become a place where people, businesses and economies are increasing interconnected. The rapid growth in emerging markets has created an export boom for U.S. companies. These exports have made a historically high contribution to our current economic recovery. After every recession since World War II, the U.S. economy has relied on domestic consumer spending and housing to revive our economy. Not this time. During our current recovery, housing and consumer spending have not been the key economic drivers they usually are despite very accommodative monetary policy. Exports have led the way. This could represent a realigning of the U.S. economy that could bode well for the future. This could lead to a rebirth of the manufacturing sector that would fuel considerable investment and job creation. In my opinion an economy that is more focused on making things that the world wants to buy and less reliant on us going to the shopping mall and buying Mc Mansions is a good thing. Oh by the way, job and wealth creation of this sort will also benefit the traditional domestic growth engines of consumption and housing.

Certainly, many U.S. corporations are embracing these trends. Approximately one quarter of S&P 500 companies generate more than half of their income from outside of the U.S. – and for good reason: over the last 20 years, “more global” companies (those with more than 50% of their income outside the U.S.) have outperformed “less global” companies (those with less than 50% of their income outside the U.S.).1

So what does this all mean from an investment perspective? Get global. In the future, investors will need to recognize that U.S. companies that have a greater exposure to exports and manufacturing may prove to better investments that those focused on the domestic consumer. Think like a global U.S. company and go where the growth is. Asia has more consumers than Europe, North America, Latin America and Africa combined.1 Therefore, in addition to owning global U.S. companies, you should consider allocating a sizable portion of your portfolio outside the U.S. and particularly in the emerging markets. The majority of investments opportunities lie outside the U.S. At the end of 2009, the U.S. represented less than a third of the world’s equity investments.1 The world will continue to shrink and become more intertwined at every turn. This represents an enormous opportunity for global minded investors.

1.Franklin Templeton Investments, Global -The New Core, 2-2011

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or

Legal Lines – Selecting a Trustee

One of the questions people ask me is, “How do I choose a Trustee of my Trust?” For some clients, it is very obvious to them who it should be, such as the oldest child, a brother or sister. But for many, it is not so obvious.

There are two qualities I consider the most important in choosing a Trustee. The first is integrity. A Trust is a written contract, and it’s not a coincidence that the word “trust” is used as a title. These days, it seems like Probate is a dirty word, but it is good to remember that the Probate Judge serves as watchdog to see that things are done correctly. Instead of having the Judge set the timetable and make sure that your wishes are carried out, you are relying on the honesty of the Trustee to manage and distribute your Trust according to your written document.

The second is an ability to get things done. If the Trustee is a procrastinator, it is a real problem. Many people do not like to deal with paperwork, but that is a big part of the job of Trustee. The Trustee has to figure out how to collect and manage the Trust assets, file taxes, and keep beneficiaries informed.

If a Trustee does not carry out his or her duties in an honest or timely way, then often the only thing that a beneficiary can do is to hire an attorney and take the Trustee to Probate Court. This is a heavy burden on a beneficiary, since it is costly to start litigation, especially if the beneficiary waiting for his or her inheritance. People set up Trusts to save time and money, so choosing the right Trustee is a crucial part of making it work.