If Interest Rates Rise, What Happens to Bonds?

With so many investors piling into bonds and bond funds I thought it would be a good idea to comment on the risks this might entail going forward. Investors in longer-term Treasuries could be in for a rocky road ahead. We have seen an epic “flight to safety” the last few months. In April alone, $20.6 billion moved into bond funds, according to Lipper. In the same month, $12.7 billion left stock funds (which marked the 12th consecutive month of net withdrawals).1

The price of debt has really gone up, particularly U.S. and German sovereign debt. On June 1, the 10-year Treasury yield settled at 1.47% after touching an all-time low of 1.44%. It has consistently been below 2% since April 26. Germany’s 10-year notes were yielding around 1.2% during early June.1,2,3  What do these historically low rates mean for bond returns going forward? In the short term, few expect the current bond market climate to change. The question is what happens when it does and rates start to go back up?

Are bond investors going to pay for it? At some point, interest rates will rise again and when rates go up bond prices go down. When that happens, how many bond owners are going to hang on to their 10-year or 30-year Treasuries until maturity? Who will want a 1.5% or 2.5% return for a decade? If you have to sell a bond before its maturity you get the market value. Bond funds are priced everyday so they will reflect the lower value of the bonds in the funds’ share price right away. If the federal funds rate rises 3%, a longer-term Treasury might lose as much as a third of its market value as a consequence! It wasn’t that long ago – June 12, 2007, to be exact – when the yield on the 10-year note settled up at 5.26%.2

What if you want or need to stay in bonds? In my opinion, avoid U.S. Treasures. There is still good value and much higher yields in municipal, high yield corporate, floating rate and certain international and emerging market bonds.  Moving into shorter duration bonds can also help protect bond values if rates go up. Be sure to explore how exposed your international bond funds are to EU nations in trouble. According to Morningstar data from early June, global bond funds have an average exposure of 2.1% to Spanish, Greek, Italian and Irish bonds. There are exceptions: in early June, some bond funds had anywhere from 7-11% exposure, believing that the high yields of these bonds are still worth the risk.1

Appetite for risk may displace anxiety faster than we think. Why would people put their money into an investment offering a 1.5% return for 10 years? In a word, fear. The fear of volatility and a global downturn is so prevalent that many investors are playing “not to lose” and are piling into “safe” bonds. However, should interest rates rise sooner than the conventional wisdom suggests, owners of long-term bonds might find that these “low risk” bonds have more risk than they imagined.

 

  1. www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-bonds, 6-4-12
  2. www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates, 6-6-12
  3. news.investors.com/article/bond-prices-slide-as-talk-of-easing-hurts-safety-bid,6-6-12

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®. Investing in mutual funds is subject to risk and loss of principal. There is no assurance or certainty that any investment strategy will be successful in meeting its objectives.  Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the fund carefully before investing. The prospectus contains this and other information about the funds. Contact Damien Couture at Damien@walnutcreekwealth.com or (925)280-1800 x 101 to obtain a prospectus which should be read carefully before investing or sending money. Your comments are welcome.

The PI: A Job of the Future

Maybe first it was Adam and Eve, then a few generations later it was Eve’s descendants hooking up with a lawyer and a primitive private investigator to get the goods on Adam’s scion. Maybe ancient P.I. on surveillance skulked behind cacti and scratched infidelity sketches in the dirt. His retainer? A goat.

Private investigators have been around a long time and will continue well into the future. I hope in these last eleven columns I have given you a look at what the work is like. I have tried to show an honest picture of what I really do and to dispel myths.

We will always need professional fact finders and gatherers. Multiple information sources bombard us on the internet and in the media. More than ever we need trained professionals to ferret out the truth or bring all the facts into the open.

As someone who has been in the field for more than 15 years these are the positive developments for the industry and for consumers, locally and nationally.

  •  Increased professionalism. The State of California has long had strict licensing requirements in that 6000 hours or three years full-time experience are required before an applicant may sit for the exam to try to obtain a license. Other states are following by increasing licensing requirements.
  • Scandal du jour. Whether it was the Hewlett Packard debacle where information brokers hacked reporters cell phones, or England where unscrupulous PI’s hacked cell phones, or locally where private investigator Chris Butler and law enforcement cohorts set up marks in “dirty duis,” the public and law makers now know how low the profession can sink. Awareness and skepticism are good for reform.
  • Increased competition. When I broke into the business each major city perhaps had three to five major players in the investigations business. The number has grown significantly. San Francisco now has about 20 major players, Oakland and Contra Costa with at least 10 firms each.
  • The rise of internet reviews and social media. Scummy investigators who don’t treat clients well will be outed in the form of negative reviews. The postings are not always fair but serve as warnings to treat people right, or else.
  • Diversity of backgrounds. The work used to be the exclusive domain of former law enforcement. The profession, at least in California, is being pursued by highly educated men and, more than ever, women. Some are even former reporters with graduate degrees from Berkeley (yours truly…).

The work of a private investigator has its exciting moments but we are small business people and share the same challenges as small law firms, CPAs or insurance brokers. We have to run a business. It’s not just enough to be good at the work but we have to wear all the hats, from business development to daily administrative tasks.

Our value to customers is that we are professional and detached. We charge hourly and cannot guarantee results. Advocacy is best left to lawyers. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday said.

Most of my work through the years has been for attorneys. But I would offer the same advice to other clients: Start your investigation early and beat your opponent to the punch. Get them in an informational submission hold.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

I eat out, and not always because I am hungry. After years of calling the restaurant industry home as a manager, sometimes I just need to feel the buzz of the experience. These visits go far beyond the order, eat, pay cycle of the everyday diner. I enjoy seeing the kitchen layout, the POS (point of sale) operating system, the ingredients on the menu, and the moods of the service staff. I always form an educated opinion on whether a particular establishment will survive or not, and quite frankly I have been right more than I have been wrong.

Now that I have properly huffed the wind into my own sails, let me share with you a pleasant Danville surprise.

Rewind briefly to the 4th of July. My wife and one year-old niece settled into the first place that offered unpopulated shade to watch the Kiwanis Parade and it just so happened that this non-descript oasis offered traditional, soft serve ice cream cones as a refreshing ode to Americana nostalgia. We entered Iron Horse Deli and BBQ, eager to indulge as I immediately went into analysis mode.

The décor was an understated train motif paying homage to the origin of the Iron Horse Trail and met with the smokey smells of brisket coming from the back. Very 4th of July appropriate. We came for ice cream but left with a buy-one-get-one coupon for breakfast.

Fast forward to Sunday. It was time to use the coupon. By nature I am not a huge breakfast eater and therefore harder to please in such instances but I was intrigued by the unique variations of “Eggs Benedict.” and settled on the Texas Benedict.

I was completely unprepared for the bright-light, angelic experience I was about to have.

Two light and buttery buttermilk biscuits topped with an Angus (hamburger) patty and smothered in bacon chunky country gravy. Oh my stars! After the first bite I was very aware that this simple combination of flavors and textures was in the top five of all time, but as I mopped up the last bits of gravy with my finger….MY FINGER, I knew it was “top two.” I remember when I was 16 in Tahoe when I was served a fresh salmon, caper, onion and cilantro bagel plate. This will always be my first breakfast crush, but here I was, many years later, being struck by crush number two.

I immediately began looking for other things I could try that were unique to this place, and found the BBQ sauce caddies by the serve yourself soda fountain. Three different sauces, mild, sweet and hot all made in-house. I retrieved them all and brought them back to our table for some connoiseuring.

Our “far too busy” to chat server Kathleen stopped what she was doing to come over and not only describe each sauce in elaborate detail, but offer her opinion on each. I knew she had to be the owner so I asked. “No, I’m not the owner,” she said, “I just really love the food here.”

Okay, in case you’re keeping score, this representative is exactly the kind of employee that restaurants need in order to survive.

I explained how blown away I was by my meal and she offered that “that’s good to hear, because we might stop serving breakfast. It’s just not catching on.” Don’t let this happen.

Looking out our window at Hartz avenue, being surrounded by train items, watching the American Flag flap in the breeze out front and being served an extraordinary meal by Kathleen, made me appreciate all over again how fortunate we are to call this area “home.” Moreover it made me hungry to return for the BBQ specialty. I recommend that you do the same.

Everyday Style…Beyond the Fitting Room

ALIVE August 2012 | Everyday Style
You’ve got the perfect outfit — complete with hot shoes, rockin’ jewelry and a killer handbag. The only problem is, there is ONE thing out of place. Can anyone else see the snafu? Maybe it’s only noticeable to you, and sometimes, that feeling is worse. Either way, nothing is more frustrating than that proverbial “hair out of place” when you want to look and feel your best. Not to worry; there are products to take care of just about every potential fashion disaster, and if you have them handy, you’ll be ready for any emergency. Here are my five favorites:

  1. Wearing a racer-back top can be a challenge when you don’t own a racer-back bra. VBS (Visible Bra Straps) can be distracting, and but more than that, they mess with the sexy look of a bare shoulder, and give off a tacky vibe. To solve this dilemma, the bra converter from Inti-Mate (www.myintimate.com) hooks on to your regular bra straps and makes them disappear. (photo 1)
  • Just when I think a new pair of shoes is comfy enough to wear all day, a nasty blister pops up on my baby toe, and I have forgotten to pack a band-aid! So now I use Body Glide (www.bodyglide.com) before I hit the mall on a marathon shopping excursion. I rub it over my toes and at my heels, and it provides a thin barrier that prevents blisters from busting out, and ruining my day. (photo 2)
  • Have you ever put your top or dress on over your head before your underarm deodorant has dried? It’s beyond frustrating. The solution is the Rescue Sponge from Miss Oops (www.missoops.com), and it’s a lifesaver! Simply rub it on the smudge, and it will disappear like magic … crisis averted.      (photo 3)
  • Sometimes the outfit you’re loving cannot be worn with a bra—not even a strapless one. What’s a girl to do? Silicone gel petals (www.stuff4sewing.com) provide the coverage that could otherwise be overly revealing, and perhaps a bit embarrassing. (photo 4)
  • The booty wrap (www.bootywrap.com) is my favorite active wear item…ever! Tying a sweatshirt around your waist serves a couple of purposes … a cover-up for your bottom, and pockets for keys and cell phone. The booty wrap does the same thing, without the bulkiness. It’s a perfect warm weather accessory, when you’re not actually going to wear the sweatshirt. (photo 5)

There are more “save the day” products…from Spanx to fashion tape, and each of them can provide the confidence that every girl needs to pull of their perfect look. What are your favorites? I would love to know, and share them with other readers. Go to: www.C2Style.com/blog, and post your comment today!

Carolyn Rovner is a certified image consultant and owner of C2 Style, a style consulting and personal shopping service. For additional style tips and trends, go to Carolyn’s blog at www.C2Style.com/blog, and subscribe by clicking the “subscribe” button on the right side of the page.

Haute August Nights

For those who hate to cook, the August farmers’ market is Xanadu. Any summertime sleuth can leave the market with enough peak-of-the-season, almost-ready-to serve produce to carry them through a week of dinners. These latter-day happy meals can be effortlessly assembled from vine-ripened tomatoes paired with fragrant fresh basil and a drizzle of golden California olive oil; crunchy cucumbers with spicy red onions; and ears of sweet corn briefly blanched or grilled—or scraped off the cob and added raw to salads. Quick-to-cook summer squash abounds, just begging to line up on the grill with fat eggplants and a rainbow of sweet bell peppers. There’s always a selection of crusty artisan breads on hand for sandwiches and bruschetta and such.

And impromptu desserts can be fashioned without difficulty from the abundance of juicy plums, pluots, peaches, nectarines, watermelons, cantaloupes and their various cousins, and bodacious berries galore. Kitchen duty is easy peasy. But for those of us who love to cook, the options are even more irresistible.

I’ll let you in on a closely guarded secret: boysenberries are my hands-down all-time favorite fruit. Even as a kid, I remember first tasting them and thinking, “Oh yeah. This is it,” even when I knew of nothing better than to scatter them over my breakfast cereal. To me, they epitomize the perfect balance of tart-to-sweet; and are just as good eaten fresh as they are baked. The fact they are rarely seen in supermarkets only adds to their mystique.

Lately, each week I have had Big Plans to buy enough boysenberries to whip up a vat of jam I’ll be able to savor throughout the coming year, but my precious bounty is usually depleted way too soon…starting with the ride home from the farmers’ market, when it’s far too easy to just pop these little bad boys into my mouth, one right after another. (sigh)

Boysenberry season is woefully brief —a nd this month signals their swan song at the farmers’ market. So I now conjure up all the fortitude I can muster and bravely force myself to spread the boysenberry gospel to others, in the form of my favorite cobbler.

There are a zillion different types of cobbler toppings, and most of them are divine. (But then, I’ve yet to meet a carbohydrate I didn’t like. But that’s a whole other story.) This particular cobbler is geared toward those of us who crave good pie crust as much as whatever might happen to be inside of it. Filled with boysenberries lightly punctuated with sweet nectarines, this cobbler embodies the flavors of a world-class pie—without any of the angst that often goes along with making one. In this case, conventional beauty plays a secondary role to taste. Think of it as a deep-dish crostata.

The crushed sugar cubes on top — a nod to American cooking legend Edna Lewis — provide a sweet bit of added texture. If you don’t have any sugar cubes hidden away in the pantry, just sprinkle granulated sugar over the top. No one is going to complain.

Boysenberry-Nectarine Cobbler
For the crust:

  • 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon softened butter for greasing the dish
  • 4 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups fresh boysenberries*
  • 2 cups very coarsely chopped (1-inch chunks) pitted nectarines
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into bits

For the topping:

  • 4 sugar cubes, coarsely crushed, or 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

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  • To make the cobbler crust: Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and divide the shortening into pieces about the same size. Place on a plate and freeze until very firm, about 30 minutes.
  • In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Process briefly to combine. Add the frozen butter and shortening and process, pulsing the machine on and off, until the irregularly-sized pieces of fat are coated with flour. With the machine running, gradually pour in the ice water. Process just until the mixture is evenly moistened yet still appears somewhat crumbly, with pea-size pieces of fat visible throughout the dough. (The dough should be just starting to come together—it should NOT form a ball.) Turn out the mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and knead a couple of times to form a uniform disk. Cover with the plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter the inside of a 9-by-2-inch (deep dish) pie plate or other shallow 2-quart baking dish. Refrigerate the buttered baking dish while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
  • To make the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt to blend. Add the berries and nectarines, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Toss gently to coat with the sugar mixture
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled pastry into a raggedy 14- to 15-inch circle. Then roll the pastry over the rolling pin, window-shade fashion, and ease it into the chilled pie plate, letting the excess pastry drape over the edges of the plate. Scrape the fruit mixture and any accumulated juices into the pastry and dot with butter. Fold the excess pastry up over the filling, pleating if needed. The pastry will not cover the all fruit; if any pieces of pastry have fallen off, just patch them on top. (Don’t go for perfection here; you want to topping to have a rustic appearance.) Sprinkle the crushed sugar cubes over the pastry. Bake until the filling is bubbly-hot and the crust is golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. ((This is best served the same day it is made. If made early in the day, it can be reheated, uncovered, in a 325 degree oven.) Serves 6 generously…or possibly more, when served alongside vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
  • Just make sure you stash away enough cobbler for your own breakfast the next morning. You’ll hate yourself if you don’t.

    * I find the 3-packs of boysenberries sold by several growers at the farmers’ market usually equal about 4 cups of berries. Substitute blackberries, if you like. That will leave more boysenberries at the market for me. Maybe then I’ll make that jam after all.

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

    Sleep Apnea Relief Need Not be Invasive, Cumbersome or Expensive

    Too many people suffer with a poor night’s sleep because they aren’t breathing properly. As a result, they are miserable and unproductive during the day. This poor breathing can lead to snoring, which can keep your partner awake. And we all can identify with how counterproductive it can be for your relationship to chase your partner out of the bedroom!

    The likely cause of this breathing problem and snoring is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Folks with OSA have a blockage somewhere in the airway, between the nose and throat, before the air reaches the trachea. One excellent way to cure the problem is removal of the obstruction. Surgical correction is very expensive and highly invasive, if usually successful.

    Another popular and less expensive approach for addressing OSA is the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device, or CPAP. This is a unit that forces air, under pressure, through the airway past the obstruction. It features a cumbersome mask that is difficult to get used to and does not do anything to help relations with your partner! I used to suffer from acute OSA and tried the CPAP, but I could not sleep due to the noise and air blowing into my eyes. It turns out that a large percentage of OSA patients won’t use their CPAP due to that difficulty.

    Dentistry, my profession, came up with a solution which was quite logical—treat the obstruction. Many types of dental appliances were designed for this purpose, often having painful side effects. One of the problems with early devices was the locking of the jaw in one position which did not allow movement. Another problem stemmed from merely positioning the jaw forward with the appliance, therefore not knowing for sure if the obstruction was corrected.

    As with many things in medical science, trials led to advancements. Two such advances solved the dental device problems discussed above; the Acoustic Pharyngometer and the SomnoDent appliance.

    The Acoustic Pharyngometer is a sound wave generator, analyzed by a computer, which gives the practitioner a very accurate diagram of the airway. The jaw can then be positioned in three dimensions until the obstruction is gone and at that posture, registrations can be made to fabricate an appliance. The SomnoDent (essentially a small mouthpiece) postures the jaw properly, allows for movement, and affords flexibility if the appliance needs adjustment. Allowing the jaw to move prevents the pain associated with locking a joint.

    So instead of a large, not particularly sexy mask and tank blowing air all over your head, we have a small mouth piece scientifically adjusted to remove obstructions from your airway and allow you to breathe, talk and drink.

    I have referred many patients back to the sleep study center which has verified that the SomnoDent has effectively treated OSA. There are rare occasions when the obstruction is too great to overcome, but the beauty of the Pharyngometer is that this problem will be identified and an appropriate alternative treatment can be explored. You can read more about this situation by visiting www.aodtc.com.

    Now there is no excuse. OSA can and must be treated. To not correct OSA will not only result in increased morbidity (multiple health problems) and regular crappy days as a result of poor sleep, but can also drive your partner into another room. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a side effect I want in my life!

    Dr. Brown loves to hear from his readers. You can contact him at 925-837-8048 or at drbobdds@aol.com.

    Back to School Beauty: Give Your Daughter A Boost Of Confidence

    Whether your daughter is just starting high school, going to college or just got a new job in the work force, every girl should learn how to do her make-up correctly at least once. It provides good habits; she will know what colors work for her own skin tone, what best techniques are right for her eyes and what shades of lipstick look appropriate. This builds inner self worth, self-esteem and confidence. The confidence she needs knowing that she is wearing the right make-up style to her full potential. When you feel good about yourself and are confident you can be courageous, excited about life and always feel good about yourself. When you are happy, it is a fact that you engage in life with a positive outlook.

    When choosing a make-up style you don’t want to look like you just walked out from a Mac counter with piles of make-up on, you want to look polished, a little trendy and up to date. Fashion trends change every season, so does your make-up. You don’t want to wear a fall lipstick in the spring nor do you want to wear a summer peach color in the winter. Going to make-up a professional that is well informed of trends and many different techniques can assist you in choosing the right style for you. The correct colors of cosmetics are so important to help complement your facial features. You may need subtle colors to enhance your already gorgeous eyes or you may need stronger tones to bring them out. You also need to learn how to shape your eyebrows correctly so they frame your eyes and look natural for your face shape. The right foundation color is also very important; you want it to be the most natural with nice coverage so your skin looks flawless and youthful.

    Everything should blend and make sense. I see a lot of teens wearing big bold black eye liner, maybe they saw it in a magazine or on their favorite celebrity but this can distract from the eye and can look very harsh. Sometimes trends don’t work for everyone, but it is important to find out what works for them. When they learn how to apply eyeliner and eye shadows correctly they are amazed at how there true eye shape and eye color are now the focus.

    We stress to all our clients that there is no right or wrong in make-up, there are just better techniques. Make-up and taking care of your self is a reflection of the beauty you have within yourself. We use the finest make-up by Fleur Visage and provide the most advanced skin by Ongrien. So make it a point to get the right advice and have fun with it.

    Make-up Workshops
    Starting August 15th through September 15th we will be having half price make-up workshops available Tuesday through Friday. Please call for an appointment for your very own make-up update and learn what styles are best for you?

    Cardio Vs Strength Training

    Is cardio better at burning calories than strength training?  Not necessarily.  Cardiovascular fitness is critical to your health and longevity, which is why we embrace Koko Cardio. But, a workout regimen that consists of only cardiovascular exercise is lopsided at best.

    Circuit training strength regimens have the ability to burn nearly as many calories per workout, build strength and improve aerobic fitness by 7 to 15%. The calorie burning and aerobic improvements from this type of strength workout make it a fair trade-off for a straight cardio workout. However, over the long haul, the calorie burn from circuit strength training easily trumps cardio alone. Here’s why…

    In circuit strength training you move through a “circuit” of resistance exercises, alternating muscle groups with little rest between, so your heart rate stays elevated. Sound familiar?

    That’s because a Koko Smartraining workout IS circuit training! Besides providing a solid cardiovascular workout, Koko Smartraining develops lean muscle tissue. Lean muscle is a calorie burning machine. When you have a higher percentage of lean muscle in your body, your metabolic rate is higher. So, you burn more calories all the time, not just during exercise.

    Speaking of calories burned during exercise, do you know that the Koko Smartrainer is the only strength equipment with the ability to track them? This comes in handy when you want to know how many you’ve expended each workout, but it can be deceptive for the reasons stated above. You may burn more calories during a straight cardio work out, but the 50 to 100 calorie difference will easily be bridged, then surpassed, as your metabolic rate increases through consistent Koko Smartraining.

    So, next time you find yourself worried that you aren’t getting enough calorie burn from a Koko Smartraining strength session, remember that the most beneficial, long term calorie burn can’t be captured as a data point in the computer, but it makes all the difference in your health and appearance.

    Koko makes it easy, so you don’t have to worry about a thing. Just 3 Koko Smartraining strength sessions per week, plus 3 to 4 Koko Cardio 15-minute sessions is all you need for a balanced, calorie burning, training plan.

    Koko FitClub Danville is owned and operated by Val and Mike Rogers, local Danville residents. Koko FitClub is conveniently located in downtown Danville at the Iron Horse Trail Crossing.

    Stamps in My Passport – Kenya

    A week or so ago I had an opportunity to visit a local zoo. Now, I love animals. One of the blessings of my current residence is that it is populated with a large variety of native wild animals. I wake up and go to sleep with five or more deer staring in my window. Several times I have seen this herd tear off in terror as a coyote approaches. Skunks and raccoons are common visitors. Unfortunately, they devour my garden and eat all the fruit I grow, but nevertheless I enjoy their presence. I love the wide variety of birds who visit, and I swear regularly at the gophers and moles that travel my property under ground. A fox lives next door, and I see him slinking about. Why all this preamble? To set the stage for my most precious of all animal sightings – in Africa.

    The Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya is composed of a huge flat plain which covers an area from horizon to horizon. It also goes by the name Serengeti – depends on if you approach it from Kenya or from Tanzania. Higher hills surround it, and it serves as a home for an untold number of animals – both in quantity and in species. It is named for the native inhabitants whose warriors are legendary – the Masaai.

    Here in Kenya’s wildlife reserve there is a role reversal. Instead of us homo-sapiens watching animals in a fenced and restricted area on the Masai Mara, we human bipeds are enclosed in vehicles. Our freedom is limited to the mobile cages we travel in. The enclosures may be busses or more often trucks, with rows of seats conveniently spaced on their beds. But nevertheless, these vehicles restrict us. Outside the area of our confines is as dangerous to us as it is for an animal in the zoo to escape into our environs.

    (A little sidebar on this restriction. When one of the vehicles breaks down or has a flat tire, the other vehicles in the area are called in and a circle is formed around the inoperable van. This situation always reminds me of the western movies where the covered wagons “circled” when the Indians appeared. I wonder which defense came first – here or there?)

    At any rate, on our visits to this magical place, we traveled about, watching giraffes at water holes – a great sight. Their legs were spread wide so they could reach the water with their long necks. Elephants moved from one feeding ground to the next, with the younger, weaker ones in the center, surrounded by the majestic bulls. Wildebeests grazed on the short vegetation, their tails in constant movement swishing the flies away.

    At one point during a game drive, our driver became quite excited. He had just heard from another guide who had discovered a most unusual find. We hurried the twenty or so kilometers between us and came upon a wonderful sight.

    Lying still on the grass in the shade of an acacia tree, there was a mother cheetah. Near her scampered four of the cuddliest little cubs you could imagine. The babies resembled medium-sized house cats and were playing and rolling about. They clawed away at one another – absorbed in a game of “bash your brother,” which was interrupted periodically by a visit to the local deli where they enjoyed a quick repast. Mom looked on with an expression of pure joy – a smile on her face. She seemed unfazed by the audience she had collected and contentedly licked the playing foursome. Her loud “purring” was the only sound in this magical setting.

    I would love to have gotten out of my cage and hold one of these little tykes, but believe me it would have been a disaster. Mom was no pussycat!

    We are all proud parents, watching our children grow and play, and we are protective of them. I felt a strong kinship to this relaxing cat. A different species of course, but certainly a shared inner feeling of joy watching over our own breed. Alas, all tiny offspring grow up and become adults, but they still reside in our memory as playful cubs.

    Is it Time to Break Up the Sharks?

    The San Jose Sharks are at an interesting crossroads. Over the past decade they have been among the league leaders in playoff wins and regular season points, yet they have failed to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Their core group of players has continued to perform well, but as a group is reaching an age where decline is likely to occur. Their coach has the best regular season record in the NHL since his hiring in 2008, but has consistently underachieved in the playoffs. Their general manager has consistently built high-scoring, exciting teams, but now runs the only NHL franchise in California that has not won the Stanley Cup.

    Next month teams and players report to training camp for another nine month campaign. The question the Sharks organization faces is whether or not the current group of players can possibly gel into a championship team, or is it time to cut their losses, begin trading core players, and risk some down years in an effort to rebuild another champion.

    Such moves are not free. Sharks fans fill HP Pavilion for every home game. This will end once the team begins struggling to win in the regular season. Revenue will decrease, television ratings will decline, and whatever tenuous hold the NHL has on the mindshare of Bay Area sports fans will slip away if the Sharks become a team that begins losing more than half its games and fails to make the playoffs.

    Let’s examine some key elements of the current roster. Top defenseman Dan Boyle is 35 and hasn’t made an All Star team in two years. It is unlikely he will improve and likely, considering his age, that whatever marketability he has left will disappear in the next year or so. Captain Joe Thornton is 32, is probably the Sharks’ best player, but suffers from a reputation of never playing quite as well in the playoffs as he does in the regular season. Losing Thornton would hurt in the short run, but the prospects and players he can probably attract might be worth pursuing.

    Veteran forward Patrick Marleau is also 32 and has played his entire career with the Sharks. He holds almost every important team scoring record and is probably the fastest skater on the team. Yet, Marleau has become a symbol of team underachievement for many fans. His performance is very erratic with virtual disappearance often following strong play. His long-term, big money contract might be difficult to move, but it says here that the Sharks will probably never hoist the Cup with Marleau holding a prominent position in the lineup.

    The real danger for the Sharks would be to keep the aging core together for one last run. The most likely outcome of that strategy would be for too many of them to perform at a level far below their pay and reputation leading to an internal implosion as the team’s record collapses. Each of the last three regular seasons has been worse than the one preceding it, and as key players enter their mid thirties that trend is not likely to change.

    Unless the Sharks change their personnel quickly they are likely in for a lengthy free fall followed by a painful rebuilding. The one undefeated performer in team sports is Father Time, and that is who the Sharks are battling now.