The Colombo Club and Italian Oakland

ALIVE Colombo Club

Women workers at the Rossi Cigar Factory in west Oakland in the 1930s.

The long-awaited book Images of America: Italian Oakland, by now-retired award-winning Oakland Tribune reporter and columnist Rick Malaspina, portrays East Bay Italians through some 200 vintage photographs, interviews and commentary. Rick emailed me that his book, with the assistance of actual family remembrances and photographs, was his parting gift to the Italian community before relocating to South Carolina.

I researched the history of the East Bay Italian community, asked a lot of questions and interviewed some Colombo Club members who enlightened me how their social club fits into the cultural paradigm of Oakland, specifically those who hailed from Italy’s north-western region.

Immigrant Italians, mostly from Piedmonte and Liguria, who had settled in San Francisco’s Little Italy in the 19th century, became dislocated when the 1906 earthquake toppled The City from its foundations and entire neighborhoods were consumed by fires. They picked up their possessions and relocated across the bay to Oakland where they found ample masonry work and jobs in the rock quarries to rebuild not only San Francisco’s infrastructure, but also to gravel and macadamize miles of newly needed paved roads for the new horseless carriages—the automobile.

The rock and gravel quarries in the coastal range yielded greenish-grey sandstone and a near-basalt quartz diorite, used as aggregate which was shattered manually in mountain pits by 30 to 50 men at any given quarry during dig season. One of Oakland’s largest quarries once occupied the area where Rockridge Safeway and Shopping Centre now stands. Since the 1890s, Piedmont Hills quarries yielded about 20,000 cubic yards of aggregate a season, all shattered to pebbles by the powerful arms of about 35 men in the pit caves busting bedrock, pounding hand-forged iron plug drills, flat-wedge plugs and cape chisels weighing as much as four-and-a-half pounds apiece. There were occupational side effects unbeknownst at the time; men who literally moved mountains working the quarries were prone to lung ailments from inhaling lime dust, asbestos and other pulverized stone particles.

At those rock quarries the Piedmontese labored for meager wages; most being unmarried men who worked to save enough scudi to return to Italy, others toiled for fare money to bring their families to America—digging out the mountain, slogging in the quarry cave, nella cava—six days a week for less than $2.00 a day. After a week of hard work their Saturday nights were lonely—living in cheap overcrowded quarry-owned boarding houses they yearned for their families and talked of the Old Country. Maggiorino Lovisone, who lived across the street from the Bilge Quarry, offered the use of his basement for Piedmontese paesani to play cards, enjoy wine, traditional foods and commiserate in their native language and… voila, a social club was born! The quarry club fellowship initially had meetings in the basement which evolved to become the Oakland Colombo Club, founded in 1920 by 34 immigrant pioneers—among them Maggiorino Lovisone and Pietro Puppione.

When I asked the club’s past president, Rich Puppione, about his fondest memory he offered, “I was honored to have the opportunity to reside over the club’s 90th Anniversary Celebration—my grandfather Pietro was a charter member in 1920 and I pictured him and my grandmother Lucia with their amici celebrating the grand opening of the Colombo Club…”

Chuck Reyna kindly introduced me to his in-laws and I met with Elma Roggero Dickson and her husband Don; she told me her father was the club’s chef. “My father Marco Roggero was a charter member when he was chef at the Claremont Country Club—then he became the first main chef at the Colombo Club.” A vintage photo shows Marco Roggero happily preparing the meal for boxing legend Rocky Marciano’s visit in 1959.

Then John Penna told me about the day he met the undefeated heavy weight champ. “When I picked up Rocky Marciano at the airport I got a flat tire. Rocky sat there and watched me change the tire with his arms folded.” Penna laughed as he shared vintage photos of Rocky at the club.

The Colombo Club with a 950-men membership, plus the active women’s auxiliary, is presently the largest Italian social club in the United States whose enduring mission is to preserve Italian culture and Piedmontese traditions. The Piedmonte region, translated ‘foot of the mountain’, borders France to the west and Switzerland to the north. The capital, Torino, named Augusta Taurinorum during the Roman Empire, now thrives with manufacturing industries and is home to the Agnelli empire Fiat factories. Iverea is home to Olivetti, Alta produces Ferrerro chocolates and Monferrato is Italy’s premier wine district.

It was in 1920 when the founders bought a parcel of Oakland property at Broadway and 49th Street, within a sledgehammer’s throw of the quarry, and formed the Colombo Club. When membership expanded, they built their present building on Claremont Avenue in 1951. The club, presently under the presidency of Tony Tedeschi, not only promotes Italian-American culture, but also raises funds with the women’s auxiliary, for college scholarships for members’ children or grandchildren. The spacious banquet facility seats 565 diners and traditional Italian cuisine is prepared for weddings, social events, fund raising projects, family dinners and meetings.

A women’s auxiliary young member, Maria Falaschi 32, literally spent her childhood in the Colombo Club. “While in New York earning my MBA in Internet Marketing, I often reflected on growing up in the club and the invaluable influence so many successful individuals had on me, both in business and the Italian community…”

In addition to the club’s many social activities, Carlo Tamburrino, Laura Ruberto and Maria Grazia offer Bambini Ciao classes for children age two to eight on the first Saturday of each month where they play games, sing, do art projects and learn Italian. Carlo encourages parents and children to speak only Italian during the sessions thus promoting culture and keeping the Italian spirit alive.

The Isabella Room is the heart of the club’s historic archives, compiled by past president historian John Penna, highlighting the past with photographs of well-known visitors or images of ordinary people in daily lives capturing a certain nostalgia of Little Italy in the Temescal neighborhood. The New Americans proudly embraced their adopted country albeit still imbued with the spirit of their Italian homeland—the heritage that endures today.

“I organized the club’s history in the Isabella Room as a token of heartfelt appreciation and to recognize those who immigrated to America to provide better lives for their families…” Penna said proudly.

ALIVE Colombo Club

Early Italian immigrants were among the first to employ “multi-cultural” innovations as this 1920’s photo showing restaurant proprietor Carlo DiStefano (right) with his wife and sons, standing in front of his Italian “Tamale” restaurant on Eleventh Street in downtown Oakland.

The Colombo Club — Home Away from Home

The Colombo Club, a longtime hub for the mutual benefit of the Italian-American community, boasts a host of renowned visitors; athletes, civic leaders and politicians alike. Oakland was home to the Oaks, a baseball club managed by Casey Stengel who in 1948 took the team to the Pacific Coast League Championship. Many players, sons of Italian immigrants, stopped at the club to socialize and enjoy traditional Italian wine and food, fellowship and camaraderie. Among the athletes were Billy Martin, Ernie Lombardi of the Cincinnati Reds, Harry “Cookie” Lavagetto, Brooklyn Dodger’s third baseman, Dario Lodigiani of the Philadelphia Athletics and Martinez-born Joe DiMaggio, who signed with the New York Yankees in 1936, and was a one-time celebrity bartender at the club, rumored to shake up the best Martinis.

Boxing Hall of Famer, Rocky Marciano, was a guest in 1959. He retired in 1956 as the undefeated, Heavy Weight Champion of the World. He has a place of honor in the Isabella Room’s photo gallery that tells the club’s visual history, the essence of the past—rekindled by images of those who passed through the storied doors—the Italoamericani who impacted the culture and heritage of Italian communities.

ALIVE Colombo Club

Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, a celebrity bartender at the Columbo Club, shakes things up in this 1940’s photo.

ALIVE Colombo Club

This 1959 photo was taken at Oakland’s Columbo Club at gala dinner celebration held in honor of Italian American boxing champion Rocky Marciano (left). The champ was joined by the local Italian American hero from north Oakland, baseball great Cookie Lavagetto (right).

On my first visit to the Colombo Club, I was warmly welcomed by Ray and Pat Frantangelo. An instant home-away-from-home ambiance was twinned with genuine warmth. I was a guest of Tom Gallinatti, retired Battalion Chief of Oakland Fire Department and Fire Fighter Engineer Jennifer Schmidt, board members of the non-profit Police and Fire: The Fallen Heroes. After introductions, I was promptly spirited to the heart of the club—the bustling kitchen—where chefs were cooking for 500 diners on family night in the spacious banquet room and then I was given a tour of the storied Isabella Room. Yes, the Colombo Club truly lives up to its reputation as being a place of familial camaraderie and a home away from home.

ALIVE Colombo Club

The Italian heritage of the East Bay includes ALIVE’s publisher. Shown here is his maternal grandfather, Andrea Corso (second from right), grandmother, Eugenia Corso (third from right), uncle Stefano (boy, fourth from right), and uncle Angelo (young boy, sixth from right, at rear). Andrea, Eugenia and their sons emigrated from the town of Celle Ligure in Northern Italy in the 1920s. This photo was taken at the Corso farm in Lafayette, California, c1931.

Organizations such as the Colombo Club keep the flame of pioneering Italians alive, reminding us never to forget the courageous generations who immigrated to this once unknown land in search of better lives. The generation that is now gone once told us first-hand stories of their odysseys; enduring weeks in steerage with children, arriving at Ellis Island—Isola delle Lacrime, isle of tears—or journeying endless days by train in search of prosperity in California, some with but one suitcase, the clothes on their backs and a pocketful of dreams. With raw courage they ventured west, many laboring in back-breaking jobs for less than a buck a day—in agriculture in the Santa Clara Valley, fishing in Pittsburg and Monterey, the Napa Valley vineyards or the Oakland rock quarries. Some returned to their homeland but many remained forever.

The Great Italian Diaspora

Those who immigrated in the 19th and 20th centuries were not the first waves of intrepid Italians, besides of course, the Genovese, Christopher Columbus. Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to enter New York Bay in 1524. The first permanent resident was Pietro Cesare Alberti and the Venetian Tagliaferro family was the first to settle in Virginia. In the 16th century, Antonio Pigafetta from Vicenza circumnavigated the world with Magellan. Filippo Mazzei was Thomas Jefferson’s friend whose maxim was ‘all men are by nature free and independent’ and we all know that Amerigo Vespucci gave his name to the Americas five hundred years ago.

In 1823, an explorer Giacomo Beltrami from Ferrara discovered the mountain headwaters source of the Mississippi, in a location later to become Minnesota. Italian Jesuits and Franciscans founded the universities of San Francisco, Santa Clara and Gonzaga and the six Piccirilli brothers carved the Lincoln Memorial sculpture and Italians painted the Capitol murals. Italians served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, fought in WWI and one million Italian-Americans served in WWII.

What were the catalysts to spark such massive migratory waves from Italy to America you ask? The first transatlantic wave started after Garibaldi’s 1861 Unification of Italy. The country’s once powerful City States became rapidly integrated causing a breakdown of agrarian societies; the Mezzogiorno region of Southern Italy and Sicily saw soil erosion, deforestation, a lack of coal and iron for industry and tenant farmers and landowners’ crop productions diminished by the emerging fierce competition from the industrial north. Birth rates rose, death rates fell—overpopulation meant fewer jobs and between 1876 and 1924 4.5 million migratory ‘birds of passage’, so-called by historians, emigrated to South and North America with the intent to work abroad and return home.

Natural disasters also played an important role in driving migration; when Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and Etna in 1910, the homeless fled, but the catalytic thrust for the mass exodus was the 1908 Messina 7.2 earthquake and forty-foot tidal waves in the Straights of Messina that destroyed Sicilian and Calabrian coastlines, killing 100,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and jobless. The devastated survivors looked to the western horizon and most sojourners stayed forever.

My children’s great-grandparents were part of that Italian diaspora—as intrepid ‘birds of passage’ they migrated to America—the land of golden opportunity. Now a century later we celebrate the pioneering spirits of Rocco Venezia from Montescalioso who journeyed from Basilicata in 1909 and Giuseppe Brocato from Cefalu, Sicily who stowed away in 1911—both men on the same daring quest; to work and earn passage for their families who were to ultimately reach California and achieve better lives in America. If those valiant exiles who arrived on these shores, from all over the world, could have telescoped into the future and witness what their descendants have achieved—they would be gratified in the realization that their sacrifices were not in vain.

Those Italians, who often sadly left their homeland, braved the cramped steerage quarters, often with just a pocketful of lire, were the same ones who built the soaring skyscrapers, subways, roads and bridges—they built American cities with the sweat of hard labor and a fierce determination to succeed. Statistics show that ninety percent of public works projects involved Italian labor—and many moved west, to already-established enclaves where religion, traditional foods, ideals, and family values gelled with their own. As early as mid-1800s, a thriving Italian community had already settled in San Francisco and by 1869 The City was celebrating Columbus Day with parades and festivities.

In 1908, two years after the earthquake and fire, the San Francisco Italian community was able to secure their savings and apply for loans through the concept of branch banking when A.P. Giannini founded the Bank of Italy—later to become Bank of America—thus spring-boarding Italian-Americans into business ventures all over northern California.

Many Italian-owned businesses later burgeoned to multi-million dollar industries. Such as the example of the resourceful Genovese folk from Genoa, who when they saw the need for trash pickup, bought wagons, horses and bins, then established neighborhood collection routes. To identify themselves as bona fide scavengers, the then-term for trash haulers, they painted their ‘honey-wagons’ blue and climbed the Oakland hills from sunup to sundown gathering refuse from backyards. There were ancillary recycling angles too, before such a word was invented; bottles were washed and sold to wineries, metal to scrapyards, rags to repair shops, newspapers to paper mills, and food scraps sold for compost or hog-feed at Italian-run pig farms. The refuse was sorted by hand, wearing no gloves or aprons, and the unusable surplus was dumped.

By 1920 the Genovese-Americans had organized co-operatives consolidating operations into one major Oakland Scavenger Company where men worked for a buck a day and two on Saturdays. In the 1980s, owing to labor disputes, many original share-holders sold to corporations thus disintegrating the long-held privately-owned enterprise. Now big blue trucks collect garbage, and high-tech efficient ‘honey-wagons’ are corporately camouflaged with new-fangled words; waste management, recyclers and ‘recologists’.

So how do we measure the cumulative impact of quintessential Italian historical culture on our own contemporary culture? We could look back in time two millennia when Julius Caesar and Mark Antony lead the expansionist Roman Empire, influencing twenty million people in the Mediterranean Rim. We could be awed by their still-standing lithic monuments in Italy, North Africa, Spain, England and Turkey. We could touch just the tip of the Italian cultural iceberg and identify centuries of influence; monumental sculptures or the enduring art of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Caravaggio, the music of Rossini, Puccini, Vivaldi and the 20th century tenors Enrico Caruso, Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti.

But wait, we must not be remiss in mentioning how Italians first impacted this great land when Columbus, a man from Genoa, financed by Queen Isabella, landed on San Salvador in 1492, followed by cartographer Amerigo Vespucci after whom the Americas are named. We may refer to the Renaissance Medici dynasty, the banking and infrastructure giants, or the explorer Marco Polo who traversed continents from Venice to China and altered siege warfare tactics with gunpowder, and Galileo whose scientific footprints forged more than just a cultural impact.

ALIVE Colombo Club

This photo is of the procession known as the Grand Entrance as Columbo Club officials and members enter their spacious, new club located on Claremont Avenue in Oakland in 1951.

And we celebrate contemporary Italian-American ‘cultural icons’; the two Franks, Capra and Sinatra, Fellini, De Sica, Pirelli, Enrico Fermi, Alberto Moravia, Joe DiMaggio, Henry Mancini, Vince Lombardi, Yogi Berra and Joe Montana or Andretti, Zamboni, Rudy Giuliani, Mario Cuomo and Leon Panetta.

Is it an odd observation on my part that the aforementioned Italians and Italian-Americans do not carry deserved cultural weight in the media or in films? Hollywood and the mass media insist on ignoring centuries of precise Italian culture by grossly perpetuating demeaning and inappropriate images of Italian-Americans as stereotypical swarthy mafia-types such as the defaming ‘Vinnie the Whacker’, and offensive typecasting of Al Capone, and fictional Vito Corleone or Tony Soprano personas—criminal thugs all.

A long-overdue recognition should be duly afforded Italian-Americans who have made this country great—recognized and celebrated by organizations like the Colombo Club who proudly strive to promote Italian philosophy by honoring those generations before us who tirelessly toiled to propel their quintessential cultural achievements to the forefront.

ALIVE Colombo ClubImages appearing with this article are provided courtesy of Rick Malaspina, author of Images of America: Italian Oakland, published by Arcadia Publishing. Images of America: Italian Oakland is available from the publisher online at or by calling 888-313-2665.

Anita Venezia’s Debut Novel

Campo Carcasso - A Journey of a Thousand TalesAt long last, ALIVE’s Senior Staff Writer Anita Venezia’s debut novel, Crosswinds at Campo Carcasso — A Journey of a Thousand Tales, is now available. The riveting novel portrays five unlikely protagonists ensnared in the web of illicit looting of golden treasures and ancient artifacts from 2000-year-old cavernous crypts in Etruscan Cities of the Dead discovered beneath their vineyards and olive orchards spreading in the shadow of Orvieto in Umbria—the green heart of Italy. Gold, bronze, pottery and stone grave artifacts—considered Italian cultural patrimony and too dangerous to sell—are copied to perfection by politically-connected antiquities traders, and aided by Sicilian dealers, flood the European black market with impeccable fakes for millions of dollars; resulting in intrigue, death and unrelenting retribution.

Readers of historiographical fiction will be enthralled by the fast-paced story set against the wartime backdrop of Sicily, when British exile Stefano, a French Foreign Legion deserter, and fake-maker Massimo amass and copy ancient treasures ripped from the navel of the island. Years later, they uncover gold-rich Etruscan graves under their Umbrian vineyards and orchards and the compelling story unfolds in 1960s Italy. The well-connected looters of history, with friends in high places, entangle beautiful art historian Carlotta, and her older lover Clarence, an excruciatingly ethical archaeologist, who become torn between integrity and greed when hired to appraise ancient Greek-Sicilian and Etruscan artifacts—too tempting to repatriate.

Anita F. Venezia’s debut novel draws from years of research as feature magazine writer for ALIVE Magazine. Anita is an antiques and art appraiser. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area in Danville, California near her three grown children and grandchildren. Her travels on four continents, and living in South Africa and Italy for many years, gives her a unique perspective to write about classical history and the cultural patrimonial antiquities that never appear in museums.

The book Crosswinds at Campo Carcasso — A Journey of a Thousand Tales by Anita F. Venezia is published by Aventine Press, #ISBN-59330-35-7 and is 458-pages. Suggested retail is $22.95. It is currently available at and

To Friend or Not to Friend? Facebooking with Childhood Friends

ALIVE August 2011

With Mindy Joshua-Matthews

Would it be overstating the obvious to say that Facebook is a modern day phenomenon? While most of us were doing “who- knows- what” in our college dorm rooms, Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies at Harvard developed a social networking internet sensation that would forever change the world. Facebook, simply put, is a mash-up of all things communication. From smoke signals and the telegraph to letter writing, email and instant messaging, Facebook is a revolutionary tool to connect people. The question is, do we want to connect with everyone? “Friending” someone is such a friendly thing to do, yet haven’t we all occasionally regretted “friending” someone who perhaps over utilizes this medium? Childhood friends are especially susceptible to this type of temptation.

To “friend” or accept a friend invitation from….. well friends, family, neighbors, the parents of your kids’ friends, fraternity/sorority brothers/sisters and attractive work associates is easy;, but is it always wise to accept a friend invitation from a second grade tether-ball partner we haven’t seen in thirty 30-40 years? I’m all for reaching out through cyberspace, but how far does that reach need to extend? This question may best be answered by the open line banter between two childhood friends now located on opposite ends of the state. Please allow me to introduce you to Mindy Joshua.

Mindy: I can’t believe Mike Copeland is a writer for a magazine. In school, I wasn’t ever truly convinced you could read or spell.

Mike: Nice! Mindy and I have known each other for roughly 44 years, ever since we sat in little chairs around a very small table on the first day of school in Mrs. Vander Veer’s kindergarten class at Edith Landels Elementary School in Mountain View. The year was 1967, when during an interactive lecture on the texture and contrast intricacies of finger painting, Mindy had an accident. Unless I’m mistaken, Mindy was still sweaty from a Double Dutch exhibition during recess and I was coming off a paste high after sneaking a taste at the urging of known paste dealer, Jimmy H. (Who knew that paste was considered a gateway drug?)

Mindy: It’s true. We have known each other that long. Can’t the number be abbreviated using creative license or something? Mike’s overactive imagination may have some of the details wrong. Mike’s place in my life was mostly right next to his best friend, Jeff M., the unrequited love of my childhood. I loved Jeff’s beautiful brown eyes, his thick jet black hair, his perfect jaw line and his stoic manliness. Even at six years old. I loved him, even if he never loved me. I loved him for never saying a word to me when I tinkled in my pants in Kindergarten. Come to think of it, Jeff never said anything to me, ever, but Mike did. Mike seemed so willing to be verbally smacked down. I honed the sharp knives of my wit on his naïve and totally unprepared-for-the-likes-of-me spirit and that was the start of our friendship.

Mike: Mindy was the smartest girl in our class, in every class K through 12. Mindy’s schoolyard hobby was to mentally terrorize the boys in class for their academic incompetence. Yet, her verbal approval of my contributions to a class could pump up my confidence like a five time Jeopardy champion., hHowever, whenever I displayed laziness in a subject, her cutting sarcastic wit would leave me feeling like a disgraced U.S. Congressman prone to inappropriate texting. Thank you for caring, Mindy.

Mindy: Mike was always there — in ….in virtually every class — and …. and naturally I took him for granted, like only a child can do. My recollection was that we were constantly sparring. Mike and I would verbally jab and punch while the object of my affection (Jeff M.) stood by, lifeless. Now, as an adult, I don’t take the dynamics of either relationship personally, but my connection with Mike was definitely more real. Jeff, however, still seems devoid of actual human emotion, much like a dull garden tool.

Mike: Let’s fast forward. I had a great time seeing and getting reacquainted with Mindy at our 20th high school reunion, so when she didn’t make (blew off) our 30 year high school reunion last fall, I was disappointed. When I heard that Mindy had run into our mutual friend Derek S. last September at the Mountain View Art and Wine Festival, a hometown cultural event we have all been attending for almost 40 years, I accessed Derek’s FB friend list and reached out to Mindy with a “friend invitation” hoping to reconnect with a LOG (Landels Original Gangster).

Mindy: Wrong! When I found myself missing the reunion and asking myself why, I started connecting to all the friends I could find on Facebook. I got Mike’s Facebook link through another mutual friend (Sharon D.) and it was I who reached out to him for a little on-line messaging banter. Apparently, he was so incredibly busy that day he apparently missed my FB friend request. Yes, sadly I admit that I did also extended a friend invitation to Jeff, who accepted but rarely (never) engaged. To no one’s surprise, least of all mine, he has since disbanded his Facebook profile.

Mike: Still with the Jeff, Jeff, Jeff! Get over him already. Regardless who started our Facebook interaction, Mindy is a cool FB buddy. After I perused her profile, checked out a few of her family photos we began communicating. If there’s a question I have about the past, I ping her and when she has time she pings me back. If we both happen to be free at the same time, we send condescending and sarcastic zingers back and forth, usually with some reference to our ancient history or old friends.

Over the last two years, I have gotten numerous friend invitations from childhood acquaintances and have accepted all of them. They are my FB friend until they do something that deems then “unfriend” worthy. If someone (Franz N. and Cheryl W.) documents where they are every second of the day with an annoying FB posting, “I’m at the proctologist’s office”…..unfriend. Newsflash…I don’t care where you area! I also get worked up over rambling extremist rants on politics, religion and parenting (Mark P., Terri W. and Maddy J., respectively). Share something interesting or relevant otherwise don’t post. I assume that if someone does come to the realization that they have become “unfriended“ by me then they can also figure out that it’s because of the nauseating or boorish nonsense they’ve been posting.

I’ve truly never stopped to consider that people can now check to see who’s been viewing their pages, not that my viewing could ever be considered stalker-ish (unless you’re Jennifer Lopez in which case my attorney says I must make a public apology).

Mindy: I checked out Mike’s life a little on FB and all looked pretty normal and decent, but then Mike always was pretty normal and decent. Not terribly fancy, just solid and reliable. Mike and I traded a few friend leads and he was right about Mark’s page. He is politically “out there.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me come and go from his page —he’s, he’s obviously too busy as working on the Ron Paul 2012 Presidential campaign committee. Like Mike, I deplore the Facebook friend that reports on every less-than-riveting event that is going on in her life and the lives of her attractive and polite children. I know they are attractive and polite because Stacy (real name not disclosed) posts every second of their adolescent development on her Facebook page. However, now that I’ve “friended” her and she knows I’m paying attention, I’m confident she’ll notice and be offended if I “unfriend” her. I’ve always liked her, but do I need her constant commentary clogging up my newsfeed? Is “unfriending” considered rude and well, unfriendly? What to do?

Mike: Facebook has opened the door for virtually anyone to track people down and reunions are a logical time to connect with childhood friends. I suppose, if you didn’t want to be found, you wouldn’t have a FB page. I’m relatively certain Ted Kaczynski never had one. It is scary to think that at our next high school reunion we’ll be nearing 60 years old and we’ll likely remember fewer and fewer of the people we went to school with thanks to old age and failing memories.

Mindy: Mike makes a good point – that is, if you don’t want to be found, then don’t have a FB page. Then again, you give up the ability to see if the prom queen got fat and shaves or the varsity quarterback has a multiple personality disorder. I prefer to know these things. I decided, while tossing over the friend versus unfriend dilemma, that neither is personal. FB is not meant to be; it’s just another way of communicating, something like “communication lite.” If you really want to connect, then do it the old-fashioned way, via email, phone or (gasp!) in person.

Both Mindy and I agree that Facebook is likely here to stay. While I have heard about “Facebook Addiction” and “FB Burnout,” most people we know appear to use the social network in moderation. Parents have an inherent responsibility to monitor their children’s usage of the site. We all want to ensure that the kiddies aren’t practicing some form of FB dark arts (a shameless Harry Potter reference). A recently released movie entitled Trust, soon to be available on Pay Per View or DVD rental, is a wake-up call to all parents on the harmful aspects of our children utilizing the internet as an often times anonymous form of communication. As for adults and friends from our childhood, I wonder how many elementary school friends have tried to friend Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes or the Winklevoss twins? Good luck with that!

Embracing the Tapestry of Change

ALIVE August 2011: Trina Swerdlow

Whether we like it or not, everything alive is always a “work in progress.” Nothing living remains absolutely stagnant. So the truth is, we humans are continually changing on numerous levels that include…mind and body.

This may sound simple and straightforward, but the tricky part is keeping up with our own transformational process. Now, if you’re like me, a middle-aged soul, you are probably nodding in agreement (and, if you are a woman in midlife, you may find yourself in the midst of a “hot flash” as you read this article—heaven help us!)

Since stress reduction is often a primary goal of my clients, you can imagine that, the topic of “transitions and change” comes up a lot in my private practice. In fact, I see people atin a variety of “ages and stages” in their lives. Some clients are in the midst of change in their professional lives. For example, they are changing jobs, exploring a new career path, or retiring from their work.

I also work with clients who are in the midst of change in their personal lives. They may be transitioning into being to a single lifestyle after a divorce, or after the death of a spouse, or after their children go away to college and leave behind…an empty nests. Clearly, transitions come in all colors, sizes, and textures. Can you relate?

Meanwhile, if we liken the various transitions each of us will face in a single lifetime, to a tapestry, we will see a common thread: that of a feeling of disorientation and resistance to the change at hand.

“Will I be okay?” “What will happen next?” and “Will I survive?” can be common questions swirling in our minds when we are in the midst of a life change. Unfortunately, these turbulent energies are a vital part of…the tapestry of change.
In my practice, with clients who are in the throes of change, I clarify that uncertainty, confusion, chaos, and disorientation are natural feelings during these times. For example, after one of my clients, Jim, was laid off from his job, he initially felt devastated. As a result, he tossed and turned at night, unable to sleep, as his mind tried to process his shock, confusion, anger, and hurt.

I explained that change is a process. In the interim stage of transition—the period between two events—it is natural to feel a variety of emotions, including heightened vulnerability and increased anxiety. The truth is, this interim stage can be the hardest part of change. We have left the known and familiar—but we haven’t reached our destinations yet. Thus, our lives and identities are in limbo.

“You mean I’m not the only one feeling lost and anxious?” Jim whispered. I assured him that he was experiencing a normal response to a major life change.

For a couple of months, I worked with Jim regarding his grief process and his fear of expressing his vulnerability to his wife and close friends. Jim had always seen himself as “the strong one” and admitted to feeling ashamed of his current vulnerability. During our work, Jim courageously released some of his emotional “armor” and integrated his vulnerability into his sense of self. As a result, he felt closer to his wife and children. And, although empathetic about his job loss, his wife felt grateful to finally experience a deeper emotional connection with her husband.

Nevertheless, no matter how we frame it, a major life transition can feel overwhelming. After all, who likes to be in the midst of uncertainty? I know I sure don’t. However, the truth is: transitions invite us to embrace our strengths as well as our vulnerabilities. And, challenges often encourage us to move beyond who we think we are—so we can courageously own and integrate—more parts of ourselves.

Finally, our personal tapestries expand with the addition of each new thread woven into our lives. Then, hopefully, as we continue to move forward, we learn from our life experiences, and humbly embrace our humanness…with compassionate, loving kindness.

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Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. Her artwork and personal profile are included in Outstanding American Illustrators Today 2. She is the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. She soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.

Blackhawk Museum Guild Presents Second Annual Bargain Basement Sale

Blackhawk MuseumThe Blackhawk Museum Guild of Danville is sponsoring their Second Annual Bargain Basement Sale that begins with a first-choice buying opportunity at a wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres preview on Friday Night September 9, from 5 to 8 pm for a $20.00 per person donation. Admission to the weekend Bargain Basement Sale is free to the general public on Saturday September 10th and Sunday September 11th from 9 am to 5 pm.

Donated items from the East Bay community, including Danville and San Ramon, will be offered for sale at bargain prices. Items that were generously donated for last year’s blockbuster charity event raised funds for the Blackhawk Museum Children’s Education and Transportation Fund. Many objects that were purchased for extraordinary bargain prices at the last event included antiques, collectibles, oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, a Remington equestrian bronze recast, sets of Lenox and Wedgwood dinnerware, sterling silver flatware, table linens, Royal Doulton and Lladro porcelain figurines, Baccarat and Waterford crystal, jewelry, watches, furs, vintage and designer clothing, kitchenware, toys, sporting goods, camera equipment and thousands of books. Furniture and electronics are not being accepted for donation.

To guarantee that the 2011 Blackhawk Bargain Basement Sale event will prove to be even more successful than last year, the public is invited to donate tax deductible items to the 501c (3) non-profit charity. Items suitable for the sale may be dropped off at the Blackhawk Museum from Wednesday to Sunday or call 925.736.2277 Ext. 651 for pick up or more event information. Blackhawk Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville, California.

Helping East Bay Youth: The Assistance League of Diablo Valley

Assistance League of Diablo Valley forged a relationship with the Independent Living Skills Program of Contra Costa County in 2004-2005, when several forward thinking chapter members toured the offices of the various services. A visit to the ILSP facility, located in Martinez, revealed a welcoming environment where emancipating foster youth could gather for fellowship, life skills awareness, education, vocational training, and safe refuge. What first emerged from Assistance League’s needs assessment was a scholarship dedicated to emancipating foster youth. As the years ensued, for many, the dream of completing high school became a stepping stone to vocational training, community college and university studies. But why and how did these youth get to the ILSP facility?

Through no fault of their own, children entering foster care are typically removed from their homes due to unhealthy living conditions, sometimes with only the clothes on their backs. Assistance League of Diablo Valley responded by providing backpacks to the county receiving centers. Specifically prepared for adolescent and teenaged youngsters, member volunteers stuffed the backpacks with such items as sleepwear, snacks, playing cards, and other items to see them through a particularly trying time. These young survivors may remain at the Receiving Centers for only 23 hours and are then placed into a foster care setting.

A closer look at the word “emancipated” alerted Assistance League of Diablo Valley that rather than result in freedom, without resources for everyday living, it many times means struggle. Half of the emancipating foster youth do not graduate from high school, more than one-third of its population has endured homelessness, far too many grapple with depression, while others face Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome which is many times manifested by “acting out.” To offset such struggle, the chapter funded a duffel bag assemblage through its Community Outreach Program. Member volunteers defied logistics by cramming pots, pans, dishes and flatware, towels, grooming necessities, cleaning products, innumerable first-year apartment supplies as well as a gift card from Target into rolling duffel bags. They carefully enclosed a note that offered Assistance League’s message of “Caring and Compassion,” which added one final strain to a zipper already overburdened.

Assistance League of Diablo Valley further investigated ways to enrich the lives of Contra Costa County’s Foster Youth. Their financial struggle amplifies during their senior year of high school when participating in senior year activities and purchasing graduation items are prohibitive. In 2009, the Senior Year Sponsorship Program turned a dream into reality when 18 emancipating foster youth qualified for financial assistance to help pay for such well-deserved purchases as a yearbook, SAT preparation classes, class rings, prom and the senior breakfast; things many students take for granted.

In 2010, California Assembly Bill 12, with matched federal funding, extended foster youth coverage. Contra Costa County Independent Living Skills Program Coordinator Don Graves remarked, “We were excited about AB12 passing. The law takes effect on January 1, 2012 and will provide those youth that take advantage of it extra time to pursue their goals without having to worry about housing. The bill extends foster care until the youth turns 20. They will be deemed ‘non-minor dependents’ and will have the option to leave foster care on a “trial independence,” and if need be, they can come back into foster care by petitioning the courts. Graves added that he foresees that AB12 will relieve some of the congestion in terms of wait lists for the Transitional Housing Program.

Graves has also assessed Assistance League of Diablo Valley’s role in supporting emancipating foster youth as unique in regards to consistency and reliability. “The passion and commitment shown by this organization is both inspiring and commendable. Year after year, Assistance League has raised thousands of dollars to help youth pursue their goals. Through Scholarships, Senior Sponsorships and the Exit bags, the chapter has shown its commitment to this vulnerable population.”

What does the future hold for former foster youth in Contra Costa County? “Empowered youth will give back to the system by taking an active role in improving Independent Living Skills service and delivery,” Graves specified, “This year, emancipated foster youth facilitated workshops; Health Education, Employment, Housing, Financial Aid and College all had the voice of former foster youth. They conduct speaking engagements. They participate in foster parent trainings, community college engagements and new youth orientations.”

How does knowledge of this impact our community? It shows that because of this little known partnership, empowerment can replace supposed emancipation and that realizing a goal can replace struggle. A closer look reveals that all of us can be a part of this. Let’s keep these young survivors in our hearts and on our radar.

Since 2004-2005, Assistance League of Diablo has also forged relationships with various corporate volunteers who have been hands-on involved with duffel bag assembly designated for foster youth. To learn more, visit the website: or phone 925-934-0901 and ask for Kathy Dean, Vice President Philanthropic Programs. Assistance League of Diablo Valley is a nonprofit, member volunteer organization dedicated to improving lives in our community through hands-on programs.

Pamper Someone (or Yourself) with Pamper My Party

It’s no fun finding a parking spot before a spa treatment, and it’s certainly no fun maneuvering through traffic after one. It can also be a disappointment going to the spa with girlfriends to celebrate a special occasion, being separated into different rooms upon arrival. Can you imagine a spa that would allow you to lounge comfortably in your home with your friends, eating a plate of hors d’oeuvres while having your feet massaged? This may sound like every woman’s fantasy, but there is one East Bay mobile spa that makes it a reality.

Since 2005, Pamper My Party has provided a mobile spa service to women in their homes and event locations throughout the East Bay. Pamper My Party proves that the best spa in the East Bay is the one that is right in your own living room.

Besides being “conveniently located,” it relieves the host of some of the pressure of entertaining at parties like baby showers and bridal showers, bachelorette parties, moms groups, ladies’ night out, and birthdays. The friendly, professional female therapists bring everything necessary to transform any space into an instant spa, and they offer a range of treatments to cater to each guest’s tastes and budget.

As their name implies, “pamper parties” are Pamper My Party’s specialty, but lucky for East Bay women who need a little spa all to themselves, they also accept “party of one” appointments. Especially nice for moms with young kids at home, it eliminates the stress of scheduling a babysitter, allowing them to schedule their in-home massage or spa treatment while their child naps or has their own “down time.” Besides saving stress, it can save a little time and money for savvy moms. It can be a great gift solution for any woman or couple. Who wouldn’t be glad to receive an in-home massage any time that they would like?

We asked Pamper My Party’s founder and owner, Amy Davanzante, how she thought of the idea for Pamper My Party. Recalling many inspirations, she shares, “I’ve always been a health-minded person. I remember buying the Reader’s Digest Journal of Natural Medicine when I was about 10 years old, and reading it from cover to cover. I thought the articles about massage were particularly interesting, and I eventually became a massage therapist years later. I obtained a degree in Health Science, which expanded my understanding of holistic health: physical, mental, and emotional health. I was also a new mother at that time, understanding more than ever how easy it can be for women to ‘forget’ to take time out for themselves. While coordinating activities and schedules, cooking and caring for children, and performing countless acts of selfless activities on a daily basis, women can neglect to connect with friends and honor themselves as an individual. I wanted to incorporate my passion for health and add a unique aspect of fun, so creating a mobile spa that caters to women just seemed perfect.”

Pamper My Party’s delectable spa treatment menu has treats for everybody. Their signature menu item, the “Spa Foot Treatment” includes a lavender foot soak, brown sugar scrub, and a lengthy foot massage. They also offer a mini version of the treatment, called the “Soak & Scrub.” Their massage menu offers half hour, full hour, and extra pampering ninety minute massages. Prenatal and postnatal massages are available, as well as chair massage and collagen mask options. They use organic products without chemicals and parabens, assuring you that your skin is getting a treat too!

Pamper My Party joins other responsible East Bay businesses who give back to the community. A portion of proceeds from parties each year go to local schools and charity events, as well as larger humanitarian organizations such as the Avon Breast Cancer Organization and Smile Train.

Amy Davanzante conveys the happiness that she has experienced with the spa parties. “I am incredibly blessed to have Pamper My Party embraced by so many women over the years, and I’m pleased to be able to reminisce and smile about all of the fun that ladies have had at their parties.”

Hhhmm. I think women throughout the East Bay are smiling as they imagine their next party by the pool, complete with a foot scrub and a massage.

Learn more about Pamper My Party, Mobile Spa at, or call
(925) 575-0831

Real Estate Review: A Good or Bad Market?

Q. Tom, how is the real estate market really doing? Really? For every positive thing I hear or read about the market, it seems I hear or read something negative too. Why all the contradictory information?

You’re right on with your perception of contradictory indicators regarding the marketplace. National vs. local data, sensational vs. realistic media reports, macro vs. micro-market statistics and timely vs. time-lagged information many times result in confusion rather than clarity for the home-buying and home-selling public. The best thing to do is keep in mind that real estate is local and that every market even within the same community is different based on local supply, demand, job market and even school systems. To answer your question, the real estate market is really not bad – really! It remains a very price-sensitive market but I assure you there are many more positive indicators than negative – this market is definitely stronger than a year ago. How do I know? For starters, the amount of short sale listings has been consistently dropping in nearly every community. It used to be that short sales comprised 45-55% of all sales, now it more like 30-35%. In some micro-markets, prices are actually increasing based on demand; in fact, about one if five houses now receive multiple offers. Also, my direct experience at weekend open houses in the last month affirms that buyers in good numbers are searching in earnest for the right home to purchase; some of these people have been renting for a couple of years and are already pre-approved with a mortgage lender, others are first-time buyers with their parents in tow ready to assist with the necessary down payment if the right home and value come along. And these days there are more than a few buyers, investors and non-investors alike, who are walking around with a lot of cash just waiting for the right real estate opportunity. So, the real estate market is good and getting better. Really!

Q. My mom passed away a month ago; my siblings and I disagree as to whether to sell mom’s home as-is with the furniture, sell as-is but emptied of all furniture & belongings, or improve its dated look with new paint, carpet, appliances, etc. with the goal of obtaining a higher sales price. And we’re also having a hard time getting started as mom was a ‘collector’ and left behind a lot of stuff. Any recommendations?

My condolences to your family. I run into this situation all the time. My first recommendation is to consult with an experienced Realtor whose opinion you trust. A trained eye is necessary to properly advise whether a home should be sold as-is with furniture or sold vacant as-is or updated with paint, flooring and other amenities. If improvements are recommended, keep in mind you only want to spend money and time on upgrades that will provide a return on the investment; in other words, for every $1 you spend you’ll want to get $5-10 back on the sale. Regarding getting started and sorting through mom’s stuff, maybe this will help. Think of putting all things in one of six categories: things you will 1) keep yourself 2) give to extended family 3) sell outright or consign 4) give away to anyone 5) donate or 6) haul away. That should get you all on the same page and moving in the right direction. I wish you the best!

The Rest of 2011 – Bad, Mediocre, Good or Great?

Put me in the mediocre camp … but hey that’s not bad! The summer months have been marked by renewed talk of a recession. We have seen a pull back in the equity markets and some disappointing job reports. The housing market has continued to struggle as well. The European debt crisis refuses to go away. For the last year or so it pops up, causes worry and then fades from the headlines only to pop up again. I am sure we have not heard the last of it. This string of disappointing news has prompted many economists to revise their economic forecasts downward. This comes on the heels of some very positive forecasts at the beginning of the year. In just a few short months the consensus view on the economy has gone from overly optimistic to overly pessimistic.

I believe that things are neither real bad nor very good right now. Our economy is most likely going to muddle through and continue to expand, but at a very slow rate. This expansion will continue to be propelled by exports, moderate consumer spending and some corporate spending. Continued high unemployment, a flat to down housing market and state and local government spending cuts will provide plenty of headwinds keeping our potential economic growth in check. While this is not the robust recovery everyone is looking for it is certainly better than another recession.

From an investment perspective, this environment may still provide positive returns. Maintain good balance in your portfolio and be sure to continue to invest a large portion overseas in both the stocks and bonds. One of the most effective ways to gain global exposure is to invest in US multinational corporations that have high international sales. As was the case in previous earnings seasons, the first quarter of 2011 results showed that US companies with a high percentage of international revenue posted more positive surprises than their more domestically oriented counterparts.1

Stay the course and stay invested. A properly allocated, globally diversified portfolio should provide good results over time. The returns may very well end up being mediocre during some periods of time, but mediocre still beats the pants off cash or CDs paying next to nothing right now.

1. Market Pulse, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, June 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

Market Fresh: Shopping with a Purpose

ALIVE August 2011 Market FreshRecently I spent a week in Austin, Texas, where I attended the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. For a taste of local color and a bit of homespun humor, our keynote speaker was Jim Hightower, a populist who prides himself on watching over “The Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be.” Most importantly, he’s a longtime advocate of family farming, organic growing, and local eating. Or, as he puts it, “putting the culture back in agriculture.”

Although Austin is the home of a major upscale grocery chain’s flagship store, Hightower dismisses it as more of a tourist-attraction than a food source. Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower knows it’s somewhere between difficult and impossible for a local farmer to get his products placed in one of these giant supermarkets. Instead, he and his family buy directly from their neighboring farmers, as well as those who sell at Austin’s weekly downtown farmers’ market.

Hightower stressed that the pricey merchandise you see in supermarkets may indeed be “organic” when labeled as such, but is still often imported from other states and sometimes even other countries. He knows that agribusiness corporations—those same folks responsible for bringing us genetically-engineered “fresh” tomatoes year ‘round, and packaged “guacamole” that contains no avocado—have been known to use their substantial political clout (i.e., dollars) to influence the definition of words like “organic.” So when Hightower passes by a supermarket produce display, he takes the organic moniker with a grain of salt. Instead, he looks for descriptors like “sustainable” and “local,” which carry far more value for the consumer. And he finds those labels rarely, if ever.

I think you see where I’m going with this. California is obviously ahead of much of the country when it comes to consumer affairs, but the wise shopper will always keep these factors in mind.

And while I’m on the subject, I defy anyone to leave the Danville farmers’ market empty handed this month. The kaleidoscope of colors and intoxicating aromas seduce even the most miserly among us. Even if you harbor a deep-seated aversion to cooking, you can’t help but succumb to the charms of summer’s bounty, as so much of it requires little or no time in the kitchen. Never underestimate the power of a vine-ripened tomato sandwich, fat and fragrant strawberries, or a juicy nectarine eaten out of hand.

Also remember that shopping at the farmers’ market ensures the food you buy has been grown locally and freshly harvested at the peak of ripeness; and that the money you spend there goes directly to the people who grow the food we eat. Oh, and need I mention everything tastes better?

Here’s a Spanish-inspired sauce that makes a colorful and remarkably tasty dip for summer crudités or prawns, especially when served outdoors on a warm evening. Or simply spoon a large dollop of it alongside anything that’s grilled—vegetables chicken, lamb, or fish. It is quickly made from pantry items you may already have on hand; but it’s the locally-grown vine-ripened tomatoes that send it over the top.


  • 1/2 cup whole natural (skin-on) California almonds
  • 2 vine-ripened plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • a heaping 1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) sliced drained piquillo peppers or other bottled roasted red peppers
  • 1/3 cup California extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon chipotle chile powder, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread out the almonds on a small baking sheet. Gently squeeze the tomato to remove most of the seeds and set cut-sides down on the sheet. Add 2 of the garlic cloves in their skins. Bake for about 10 minutes, turning the garlic and stirring the nuts once, until the almonds are very lightly browned when broken open. Place the nuts in a blender or food processor. Peel the roasted garlic and add it along with the tomato halves.
  2. In a small dry skillet, toast the cumin seeds over medium heat, shaking the pan from time to time, until they darken slightly and smell fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add to the blender. Mince the remaining garlic clove and add that as well. Add the piquillo peppers, olive oil, 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the smoked paprika, chipotle chile, salt, and 1/4 cup of water. Pulse the machine on and off several times, then puree for 1 to 2 minutes until the sauce is smooth. Taste, and add up to 1 more tablespoon of lemon juice if you think it’s needed. If the dip thickens upon standing, thin with a little more water.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and serve at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Makes about 11/2 cups, to serve 6 to 8.

Adapted from Great Party Dips by Peggy Fallon (John Wiley & Sons 2009)

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