The Bold Shoulder

Fashionably Yours

You may have seen the likes of Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna going WAY overboard with this trend.

But there is a classy way to wear this look without being too Working Girl.

Urban Outfitter and some local boutiques have an array of adorable, affordable shirts and dresses with shoulder pads that won’t have you looking like a Star Trek extra. Adding a little lift but a lot of edge!

Here is a cute Fur Shrug (faux), by Prairie Underground available at Eco-Friendly Boutique Olive for $198.

Here are some celebrities who got it just right.

Unlike her friend in the biz Rihanna, Ciara is taking a little less risk and nailing the trend.

The always-amazing Beyonce gets an A+ for this form fitting dress.

And one of my personal fashion icons, Mary-Kate Olsen, looks stunning in this LBD.

Fashionbly Yours, Marissa Sullivan
I welcome your comments at

Live the Motto

Aerial photo taken from CALSTAR helicopter over Highway 24 / 680 Interchange in Walnut Creek, by Susan Wood

We’ve heard the warning numerous times: Whether an earthquake, hurricane, wildfire or even another large-scale terrorist attack, it is not a matter of if it will happen, but when. The horrific tragedy in Haiti should serve as a wake-up call.

Here in the United States, we are fortunate in that multiple systems are in place, designed to react in the event of a catastrophic event. At the national level we have FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Guard. Locally, we have superb first responders in our fire and police departments, and in some communities citizens are trained in programs like CERT—Certified Emergency Response Teams. We are also fortunate to have comparatively stringent infrastructure guidelines, making widespread destruction like that which occurred in Haiti to be much less likely here.

But, we must never say “never.” Hurricane Katrina and the attacks of 9-11 were examples of how close we can come to large-scale system failures. We saw Katrina coming, and we should have seen 9-11, yet in both cases score of lives were needlessly lost. The fact is, even though we have government agencies to help, there is no excuse to be personally ill-prepared. Indeed, we must pay special attention so as not to develop a false sense of security.

So, as individuals, what should we do? When tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti occur, I cannot help but think about Boy Scouting. Now celebrating its 100th anniversary in the United States, the motto of the Boy Scouts of America has always been, and is still, “be prepared.” What could be better than for ordinary citizens to adopt this same motto?

My son, Alex, an Eagle Scout, has personally made sure our family is well prepared for just about any disaster. He has mapped safe escape routes from our home and designated meeting plans. We have no fewer than four, fully stocked survival kits that include everything from signal mirrors, emergency blankets and magnesium fire starters, to first aid kits, crank-operated radios, and MREs (meals ready-to-eat).

Is this an alarmist attitude; an exaggeration or overreaction? I don’t think so. The magnitude of the tragedy in Haiti is nearly inconceivable, but the lesson is simple: Systems can fail. Massive disaster can strike, with or without warning. To protect yourself and your family, it is best to “be prepared.”

Trivial Matters

Ben Fernandez

Along with Halloween, I am convinced that Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark. Instead of being a grouch, let’s fill our hearts with more hearts.
1. Who played Audrey Hepburn’s father in the 1957 movie “Love in the Afternoon?”
2. Andre Dawson finally made the Hall of Fame. When he broke in with Montreal in 1976, he was one of three rookie outfielders on that team who were considered to be part of the next great baseball outfield. Warren Cromartie and Dawson were two of the three. Who was the other?
3. “Mork and Mindy” was originally a feature on a long running TV series. What series was it?
4. George and Ira Gershwin’s “My Funny Valentine” was written for what Broadway show of the 30’s?
5.  What was Jack Benny’s radio theme song?
6. In 1976, a waterway near the Niagara River in upstate New York was found to contain exorbitant amounts of pollutants when the local school district attempted to build a school there. By what name is the environmental disaster known?
January’s Trivia Answers:
1) Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald
2) Casey Stengel
3) Randy Sparks
4) Leslie Nielsen
5) The New Deal
6) “Santa Baby”

January Trivia Winner:
Celia A. Zarate of San Ramon

Win Lunch On Ben!
The first person to email or mail, no calls please, the correct answers to all of the above questions will win a $25 gift certificate at The Uptown Cafe in downtown Danville, compliments of Ben Fernandez! Entries must be received by Feb 15, 2010. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn at random. Please email your answers to, or mail to ALIVE East Bay, 199 East Linda Mesa Avenue, Suite 10, Danville, CA 94526.

Employees and family members of employees of ALIVE East Bay are not eligible. Restaurant may be changed without notice.

Looking Ahead

As I look back on 2009 I am reminded of Thomas Paine’s statement, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Our national, state and counties’ ailing economies are suffering through the worst recession in decades. The deficit has tripled to a record $1.4 trillion and rising unemployment has risen to over ten percent. Americans have lost jobs, homes, and sometimes, even the ability to dream for a better future for themselves and their children.

California continues to have some of the highest business and income tax in the west, and we wonder why businesses and residents are leaving? The cost of medical care and benefits continue to increase. California continues to be a donor state to the federal government. We get back 78 cent on each dollar sent to Washington. New Mexico and Mississippi get back more than two dollars for every one they send.

Where are our representatives in Washington? If we increase the percentage of Federal return, we could help, if not fund, education and help lower taxes in California. Cities, residents, and businesses are tired of being the state’s private “ATM.”

San Ramon is preparing for the future. Trying to balance our budget, manage reserves, create jobs, ensure safety, attract and maintain a strong business community, and address health needs, is not easy. It becomes even more difficult if those around you compound the problem because they just keep kicking the can down the road. Well in California, the road has come to an end, and we are near the edge of a cliff. We must, if we want to save our state, county and city, hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

San Ramon’s vision and future planning efforts are built on four basic organizational philosophies. First, we demand and expect quality, and hold ourselves accountable for our community facilities and infrastructure. We use a pay-for-performance model to attract and keep quality employees. Second, we are proactive in our approach to planning and fiscal responsibility. We plan ahead. We save money for a rainy day. We actually match expenditures to our revenues. Third, we enter into partnerships in order to gain more value with our limited resources. Fourth, we have learned from the business community how to be successful. We are proud to be a low cost and business-friendly community. We know if our businesses are successful then our community is successful. “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” With these key organization principles we are also cognizant of the economy. We account for reduction in revenues by reducing expenditures.

I’d like to share a Danish proverb: “Life can be understood by looking backward, but it must be lived by looking forward.” The council, Staff and I will continue to be proactive rather than reactive. We understand that we work for those that live, work and play in the City of San Ramon to enhance their quality of life. We must never fear the future. We must change it! It is never safe to look into the future with fear.

Together we can – Together we will – Make a difference – Make a better community, and be proud that we’ve MADE a Better San Ramon. You may contact Mayor Wilson by email at:

Business Book Club

Meets at 12:30 pm on the first Tuesday of every month. San Ramon Chamber of Commerce 12667 Alcosta Blvd., Ste 160, Bishop Ranch 15. 925-242-0600.

San Ramon Valley Newcomers Club Hiking Group
Meets every Friday at 8:30 am. Hikes are usually 2 hours and within 30 minutes of San Ramon. Info: Sharon, 925-735-8960.

Toastmasters Diablo View Chapter
Meets every Tuesday morning at 7:55 am San Ramon Community Center 2501 Alcosta Blvd. Info: Todd Westerlund, 925-242-0600.

Homeowner/Homebuyer Book Club

A place to learn, share, and discuss, First Monday of the Month, 6:00 pm, 3223 Crow Canyon Rd. (@ Camino Ramon), Second Floor conference room, San Ramon. To RSVP: 925-397-2093.

Stay-at-Home MOMS Club

1st Wednesday of every month. The MOMS Club of San Ramon, Danville, and Dublin are for stay-at-home moms in this area. A number of activity groups are included in the membership. Dues are only $28 a year. Info: Michelle Borrero at 925-639-9556 or

East Bay FIT is part of USA FIT, which prepares people of all fitness levels to RUN or WALK a marathon or half marathon using a proven 6-month training plan. Long group runs are done
together on Saturday mornings, and weekday runs are left to individual members. For more information, please visit or call 1-866-333-9828.

San Ramon Performing Arts:

Info and tickets: 925-973-ARTS
02/12 – 02/14: Defending Caveman
02/27 – 02/28: Active Arts Theater presents: Ramona Quimby
03/05: San Ramon Symphonic Band
03/05 – 03/07: Active Arts Theater presents Ramona Quimby
03/06: St. Patrick’s Day Concert FREE at the Front Row Theater
Symphonic Band Concert
03/14: Forbidden Broadway
03/19: Cabaret
02/19, Thursday, 6pm – 7.30pm: Practical Advice for Family Caregivers presented by Donna Kackman, RN, Visiting Angels. The best way to get help is to plan before you need it. Call Senior Center: 925-973-3250
03/05, Friday, 6pm – 7.30pm: Maintain Your Brain & Maximize Your Memory presented by the Alzheimer’s Association. An overview of Alzheimer’s and related disorders, their diagnoses, and the steps families and caregivers need to prepare for the future. Call Senior Center: 925-973-3250

Stamps In My Passport

If you are a loyal reader of my travel tales, you most certainly are aware of the fact that I love the adventure that travel brings. To explore a new area, to visit an exotic place I read about as a child, to stand at some historic location – they all fill me with awe and wonder.

But travel – unescorted travel in particular – has its trepidations as well. Lost in a Moroccan souk, a wild taxi ride on India’s unregulated roads, or a bad case of food poisoning in Cambodia can cause a great deal of concern.

Often after I speak to a group I am asked if I have ever felt unsafe on any of my trips. As a rule I can answer “no” to this question, but there have been times and places that I was glad to get away from. Perhaps the most unsettling experience occurred in Warsaw, Poland, a few short weeks after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Let me tell you about it.

Warsaw's Old Town

Our choice of travel locations was a bit of a gamble to begin with. Less than a few months before it was impossible to travel behind the Iron Curtain without an assigned local tour guide. But then as the wall fell and the desire for hard currency was rampant, many of the Soviet-controlled countries were receptive to unsupervised travel. Naturally this challenge was there to be taken, and a trip was scheduled.

We left West Berlin on a train early one morning. The German train, as one would expect, was neat as a pin, and, of course, left on the second it was scheduled to do so. There was a short stop as we crossed into East Germany, and visas, passports, and other travel documents were examined. The ensuing countryside reminded me of my early years in Michigan – fairly flat with some low rolling hills covered with rows of growing crops. The ride was pleasant through East Germany, and the border crossing into Poland was generally painless. In both countries a long-time bureaucrat made sure we recognized his status by carrying on a detailed inspection of all of our travel documents. Nevertheless we arrived in Warsaw in the late afternoon on a somewhat dismal, gloomy day.

Prior to our visit, Barb had worked on a few Polish phrases (with a shop-owner in Danville.) Expressions such as “please, thank you” and “where is the nearest bathroom?”, but little else. Our plan was to stay in Warsaw for five days and then take a train down to Krakow. Being in the train station at our arrival, we decided it would be easy to purchase the Krakow tickets then and there. Easier said than done! At that time there was no English spoken at all. We tried communicating with the ticket agent by pointing at maps, spelling out our destination, and all of this included a great deal of arm waving. It became apparent that we were becoming the butt of a great joke to the agents as they jabbered among themselves, pointed at us, and laughed a great deal. It’s not much fun being laughed at, but eventually we did get a couple of tickets to Krakow some five days later.

Palace of Culture and Science

Next on to our hotel. At the exit to the train station stood a long line of taxis. We had been repeatedly warned to use only cabs with meters, and the first cab to pull up was “void the box.” We politely told him we would wait for a cab with a meter. I might point out that we had exchanged US dollars for Polish zlotys, but we were still a bit uncertain as to the conversion rates. The undeterred driver said he would take us to our hotel for an amount he named. The amount now slips my mind but it converted to about $10 US. I once again declined. Then, in passable English, I was told “Rich, cheap Americans keep your $&%*^ money. I don’t want it anyway.” At this point he drove off. I must admit that our trip to Poland didn’t appear to be off to a great start.

Our hotel, the Forum, was lovely. The view from our room showed us the Palace of Culture and Science that contained the old Communist party headquarters, but we understand they are now empty. The forty-two storied building was modeled after the Moscow State University building in, of course, Moscow. (Sidebar: We visited the building later in our trip because we thought the view would be spectacular, only to find the elevators were not working and there was no way up but to walk. We passed.) The food was quite acceptable, and we did begin to relax a bit. Then came the final straw.

On the Saturday afternoon of our final day in Warsaw, we wandered a bit off the beaten track and found a market. There were vegetable sections, tools in another spot, some furniture – all of the things you would expect, plus a little more. In one area there were a dozen wooden huts, about six feet by four feet. As we watched, men would wander up, knock on the door, a female face would pop out, some dialog would ensue, a handshake, and into the hut they would go.

We tried not to be obvious, but did watch a bit – but then came the frightening realization that we were being set-up. A very large, stocking-capped man had been following behind us for some ten to fifteen minutes. I saw him make a sign with his hands, and a similar guy about ten yards to our left responded. I glanced to my right and there, sure enough, was a third man. I told Barb, and we began to execute a series of turns and backtracks, but we were followed during each one. Too scary to stick around – we moved out at a run – in fact it was a race. Us or them? Running even faster we were able to get back to the main street and also find our hotel.

I’m sure life is much different there now. The time and the circumstances have changed dramatically. We loved the surrounding areas of Warsaw, and Krakow will always be a favorite European city. We were treated well in Krakow, but that first trip to Poland has remained as one of the most frightening of them all.

Shots of Palace of Culture and Science, a central point in Warsaw which with height of 231 m and 42 floors. Construction started in 1952 and lasted until 1955. A gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland, the tower was constructed, using Soviet plans, almost entirely by 3500 workers from the Soviet Union, of whom 16 died in accidents during the construction. The architecture of the building is closely related to several similar skyscrapers built in the Soviet Union of the same era, most notably the Moscow State University. However, the main architect Lev Rudnev incorporated some Polish architectural details into the project by traveling around Poland and seeing the architecture. The monumental walls are headed with pieces of masonry copied from renaissance houses and palaces of Kraków and Zamosc.

2010 Subaru Outback
: All-New and Ready for Anything!

2010 Suburu Outback

Subaru’s reputation for building “go-anywhere” vehicles gets another boost with the all-new fourth generation 2010 Outback sport utility wagon. The original Outback hit the market 15-years ago and through each new iteration it has grown in features, size, horsepower and style. For 2010, Subaru has mixed in a pinch of luxury into their all-wheel-drive Outback.

I always start reviewing a vehicle by analyzing its exterior design, as it is the first thing we see and often where our first impressions begin as a vehicle pulls up along side or passes by. The 2010 Outback styling follows the sport-action theme of Subaru. The bodylines are clean, wheel wells protrude out with off-road confidence and the overall delivery is more SUV than wagon of past years.

From the front, the lower fascia shows ruggedness, dressed in black with silver fog lamps standing ready for action on the edges. The front bumper is integrated into both the side fenders and around the grille. Large headlamps wrap upward into the fenders. On top, the roof rack calls out for snow boards and the rear windows are dark tinted, protecting the interior and inside valuables from view.

Dimensions on the 2010 Outback have grown taller and wider than previous generations, which has helped to increase the overall interior and cargo space. A combination of a longer wheelbase, shorter overhangs and a wider track all contribute to a more versatile off-road experience as well as a better on-road ride and handling.

The 2010 model lineup goes as follows: 2.5i ($23,690), 2.5i Premium ($24,990), 2.5i Limited ($28,690), 3.6R ($28,690), 3.6R Premium ($29,690), 3.6R Limited ($31,690). All prices include a $695 destination fee.

Performance comes in the form of two engine choices (hinted by the model names) – 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder with 170 horsepower and a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder that cranks out 256 horsepower. The 2.5 is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission (available with optional CVT transmission for $1000) and the 3.6 is joined to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Miles-per-gallon ratings are 19 mpg City and 27 mpg Highway (2.5-liter) and 18 mpg City and 25 mpg Highway (3.6-liter).

The larger overall size of the 2010 Outback creates a roomier interior and improved storage/cargo capacity including an extra 5.9 cubic feet of cargo area with the rear seat folded down. The focal point of the front dash is the center stack that stretches upwards and expands out like the wings of an eagle. My test vehicle was a 2.5i Premium wagon with two-tone (gray and white) interior with touches of silver trim throughout.

The seats were very comfortable in both the front and back, with the rear legroom being extended by 4-inches. The gauges illuminated a blue glow in the center, and the steering wheel provided controls for radio, cruise control and Bluetooth phone. The 3.6R offers paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel when teamed with the automatic transmission. The parking brake is electronically controlled and includes a Hill Hold feature.

Room for improvement:

  • No navigation system available

Cool Features:

  • Blue-Tooth phone connectivity (with All-Weather Package)
  • Optional 440-watt harmon/kardon auto system
  • The roof-rack crossbars are stored inside the roof rails for reduced wind noise

Safety is always on the top of the list with Subaru and the 2010 Outback have made a number safety features standard equipment including front, side and side curtain airbags as well as Vehicle Dynamics control, ABS with brake assist, and electronic traction control.

In Summary – The 2010 Subaru Outback adds a roomier interior, more stable base, better styling, increased cargo space, improved horsepower, luxury features and of course a Subaru tradition – all-wheel drive. Subaru has a strong customer loyalty because they stay true to what their customers want and adjust their product offerings in accordance with their needs, while providing safer, better packaged and performing vehicles. The 2010 Subaru Outback is a perfect example of meeting and exceeding this goal.

2010 Suburu Outback

2010 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium

Base price:       $24,595 as driven
$27,780 (with destination)
Engine:             2.5-Liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower:    170 @ 5600
Torque:           170 pound-feet @ 4000 rpm
Transmission:  6-speed manual
Drive:              All-Wheel-Drive
Seating:           5-passenger
Turning circle: 36.8 feet
Cargo space:    71.3 cubic feet
Curb weight:    3428 pounds
Fuel capacity:   18.5 gallons
EPA mileage:    27 highway, 19 city
Wheel Base: 107.9 inches
Warranty:          3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper
Also consider:   Audi A3 Quattro, Toyota Matrix, Volkswagen Passat
Future changes: New for 2010

Pace of Play

Pace of play on a golf course is what the speed limit is to a road. It is an expected time a group is encouraged to move through the golf course. However, not all golfers or golf groups can handle the pace of play or speed limit, if you will. Courses monitor groups to make sure that the course does not become backed up and cause undo delay. This basically means “playing too slow.” I want to address this topic and look into the cause and effect of playing too slowly, and offer some suggestions on how you can play more quickly and enjoy the round of golf more.

Way back in the days when I was competing on the PGA Tour, a player was penalized two strokes and fined a thousand dollars, if delayed the game by playing too slowly. Obviously this violation had severe repercussions for anyone who caused “undo delay.” It can and does disrupt players who are playing with a slow player, and of course the groups following. Playing slowly disrupts the game’s rhythm and makes it difficult to play well. This is an experience we can all relate to and become frustrated with from time to time. A pro can have trouble just like anyone else. They lose balls and sometimes get behind due to the challenging nature of the game.

Golf course Marshals are responsible for monitoring the pace of play and help groups move around the golf course, so as to keep pace with the group in front. When a group falls behind due to poor play, lost balls, lack of golfing skill and so on, they are politely asked to pick up the pace. If they don’t and the group continues to slip further behind, the player’s should allow the group behind to “play through.”

Often times, inexperienced golfers just can’t quite keep up with the group that is ahead of them. It is equivalent to pulling onto a Freeway and not keeping up with the flow of traffic. Imagine if several lanes were blocked because people were traveling much slower than the speed limit. That’s how it is on a course when a group is very slow. Oh sure, you will always have the fast player or groups who want to zip around and never wait. They are impatient and annoying in terms of hurrying everyone along. I don’t think it helps anyone to try and hurry around the course. I do think learning how to be efficient and not getting out onto the course before you are ready would be helpful in keeping up with the pace of play, once you do start to play.

But how can we learn to play and yet avoid being slow? That is a good question because in order to learn how to play we need to get onto the course. Some golf courses are “new golfer friendly” courses. By that I mean that they are shortened courses or thee par courses and much easier to play. A person also needs to be able to make contact with the ball and locate it quickly. They need to be ready to hit when it is there turn. The group I play with plays “ready golf.” That basically means hit when ready but never jeopardize the safety of another. Never ever hit with a person out in front. This “ready golf” keeps our group moving along, and unless it is a tournament round where the “honor system” is necessary, helps tremendously with the pace of play!

I teach a course at Boundary Oak for new golfer’s called Get Golf Ready. We learn all aspects of golf and include on course situations. I strongly urge anyone who wishes to learn how to play to contact me for more information. I can be reached at 925 997-3683 or just go to and click on the Get Golf Ready tab under Golf Instruction. I hope to see you on the course!

College Basketball Excellence Right in Our Own Backyard

One of the best kept secrets in all of college basketball is the St. Mary’s Gaels Men’s Basketball program as run by head coach Randy Bennett. Since his arrival before the 2001-2002 season, Coach Bennett has taken a program that was 2-27 in 2000-2001 and turned it into a consistent contender in the West Coast Conference (WCC) and a regular in post season play. One of his players, Pat Mills, now performs in the NBA for the Portland Trail Blazers. “I believe that if you do certain things on the basketball court you are going to be successful,” Bennett said. “Those things include work hard, defend, rebound, take care of the ball and be a good teammate.”

“We also get guys on the terms we want,” he continued. “We look for good people and good students who are also have a commitment to being good basketball players. We look for the same guys UCLA wants, that Gonzaga wants, guys who can play with those players and win games.” Bennett is able to do all that despite a lack of resources, disadvantages in scheduling, playing in a conference that is lacks the local notoriety of the Pac 10, and sub-par facilities compared too many of the schools against which he competes for talent. “Kids dream of playing in the Pac 10. We’re not going to change that,” Bennett noted. “We need to find kids good enough to play in the Pac 10 but not being recruited by them, whether they’re transfer students, under the radar, or Australian.”

The Australian connection has been a major success story for Bennett. Since Adam Caphorn and Daniel Kickert joined the program in 2001 and 2002 respectively, Bennett has recruited 10 Australian players, including the Trail Blazer’s Mills. “We’ve gone 10 for 10 with our Australian players, and that’s unheard of,” he said. “Five good recruits in a row from anywhere is remarkable.” Kickert is still the Gaels career scoring leader.

Bennett now has an Australian assistant coach, David Patrick, which helps keep the pipeline filled. The current roster has five Australians, and most of them play a major role in the team’s success. “The basketball community there is small, and good news travels fast,” Bennett says about his program’s success with Australian players. “We’re near the top of the food chain among U.S. College programs. Ever since Mills played for us we’ve been on TV as much over there as their pro leagues.” Bennett himself still makes annual visits down under to help St. Mary’s keep its high profile with top Australian high school players.

Just as remarkable as the Australian connection is the fact that St. Mary’s lost six of its ten top players from last season’s 25-7 squad, including Mills, and has maintained its winning ways this year. Bennett credits the leadership of last year’s upperclassmen for setting the tone for this season’s success. “Guys like Mills, Diamon Simpson, and Ian O’Leary not only played heavy minutes for us last year, they were great leaders who built the program and showed the younger players how it should get done. Now, four of our top eight players are freshmen, so we have a chance to be pretty good for the next few years.”
Bennett says his goals for the program include becoming a perennial NCAA Tournament team and winning games once it gets to the tournament. As the head coach of what is known as a mid-major program, Bennett points to the success of Xavier, Butler and Gonzaga and calls them role models for what he is trying to accomplish at St. Mary’s.

With all the notoriety the program gets for its Australian connection, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the featured player on this year’s team is San Ramon Valley High School graduate Omar Samhan. The 6-11, 265 pound senior moves well under the basket and controls a lot of games when opponents can’t match his size and strength. “Omar was under the radar in high school,” Bennett says. “He’s been a great leader for this team.”

“We have a beautiful campus and a small school where great relationships are built,” Bennett said. “It’s a unique place. We have a lot that bigger schools can’t offer.” Lately, that has included entertaining and winning basketball for local fans.”

La Musica de Mexico: The Mariachi Band

As the song title says, South of the Border (down Mexico way…) is where a style of music originated called Mariachi. It is generally a joyous, happy, very rhythmic music immediately recognized as the sound of the Mariachi Band.

Early Mexican musicians were somewhat like the wondering minstrels of Western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. They traveled from town to town looking for work playing their music. If they were lucky enough to find work they sometimes made more than the average day laborer. Because they played for money they needed to change and add new styles to their repertoire. Consequently, they were always adding new material to their backlog of traditional music. Mariachi music encompassed the aspects of regional songs.

“The Mariachi is the sum of a cultural evolution that has taken place over the last century or so in Mexico,” says Camille Collins in her article, What is the Mariachi? The music often speaks of such cultural aspects as love, heroes, betrayal, death and machismo. As far as we know, the vast repertoire of Mariachi music is original Mexican, not of Spanish heritage. The criollos (Mexicans of Spanish decent) literally did away with all vestiges of Spanish occupation in Mexico. The average citizen strongly supported the Mariachi musicians and this unique style of Mexican music.

The Mariachi music we know today was developed in the 19th century in the southern part of the state of Jalisco in Mexico. Originally, the Mexican ensemble of folk musicians consisted of two violins, acoustic guitar, vihuela (a five-string high-pitched guitar), guitarron (a large bass guitar) and a Mexican folk harp. Later trumpets were added and became a very important element of contemporary Mariachi Bands, sometimes eclipsing the violins. The size of the ensemble varies.

When radio and television came on the scene a brand new audience was born for this popular style of music. This led to recording contracts that proved to be a financial boom for some. Motion pictures were another vehicle to expose this music to an accepting audience. They were a very popular element in the first Mexicans films.

The very festive contemporary dress is usually silver-studded charro (cowboy/horseman) embroidered costumes with large wide-brimmed sombreros (hats) and fancy boots.

Contemporary Mariachi

Mariachi bands appear in almost every aspect of modern society. They play at festive holidays and parties; weddings; political campaigns; private serenades; commercial events; conventions and conferences, to name a few.

For many years Mariachi bands and their music have been part of the mainstream entertainment industry. If you are not familiar with this music, give it a try! I can almost guarantee you will like it. To quote Camille Collins, “The only thing more Mexican than tequila is the Mariachi and it seems a shame to have one without the other.”

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

No Reservations

No Reservations

It’s that time of year fellas. You get Christmas, then New Years, then the big one—Valentine’s Day. So it’s time to suck it up and slip the Chick Flick in the DVD player.

One of my more recent favorites is No Reservations. Now, I’ll tell you right now, there were no Oscars; not even a nomination. We’re dealing with lowered expectations. If you go into this with that in mind, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I guarantee your girly-girl will love ya for it. She just might cuddle up on the sofa with you while you’re watching.

The second best pay-off of the evening will be that you get to watch Catherine Zeta-Jones. Now how painful can that be? Catherine plays Kate, a control-freak chef so tightly wound it’s a wonder she doesn’t pop in the steam of her own kitchen. Despite her position as reigning queen of the Manhattan foodie set, Kate has no joy; she does not really exist outside of her job and her employer-ordered therapy. She throws temper tantrums when anyone, customers included, questions the perfection of her meal creations.

There’s a big turnaround for Kate, however, when her sister dies suddenly, leaving Kate to care for her wide-eyed, mini-bohemian 10 year old niece, Zoe (Abigail Breslin) at the same time that a larger-than-life sous chef, who impossibly seems to be able to cook well, endear the staff and customers and enjoy life, gets a job in Kate’s kitchen. Nick (Aaron Eckhart) pushes all of Kate’s buttons and instantly hits it off with Zoe, and thus begins Kate’s transition from uptight head case to romantic comedy lead. Making room for Zoe and just maybe Nick in her self-focused life creates an incredible challenge.

There is nothing here to strain your brain and the cast could do a wonderful job with this one in their sleep. Zeta-Jones goes from cranky to cuddly right before our eyes. Eckhart plays the sweetly endearing Mr. Perfect with visible ease and Abigail Breslin is a mini-master of the silver screen and she just keeps getting better and better. The talents of this cast are pretty much unnecessary but they make this funny movie incredibly easy to watch.

For all the times that No Reservations is utterly conventional and predictable, it is kind enough to sidestep the contrived complications that often litter the genre—Zoe is a little girl in mourning, but she isn’t acting like a devil child out to destroy Aunt Kate. The family plight is not a downer to this movie that it could be, and even the cookie cutter romance isn’t plagued by wacky, trite misunderstandings to veer it off course.

It’s not sappy, the acting is tight and the story line…well, at least it has a story line, so pick No Reservations up, order some Chinese take-out with a single set of chopsticks and enjoy. Once again, I welcome your comments at and don’t forget to go to my website for my archived movie reviews.