Stamps In My Passport: Souvenirs

One of the greatest pleasures of travel is the memories it engenders. Our house is littered with a number of items both large and small that remind us of people, places, and adventures that we met, visited, or experienced recently – or maybe even decades ago. Last week while changing things around Barb and I talked about which of the various items were the strongest in our travel memories. Let me share a portion of our list with you.

First was the homemade cow bell from Laos. This simple purchase started in Luang Prabhang on the Mekong River. The city dates back to the time that the French ruled the area and used this inland city as a trading post for goods out of the inland region. The wares traveled down the Mekong River, and subsequently on to Europe.

We took a trip up the Mekong River and stopped at a number of small native villages. At one, named Xang Hai, we commented on the cows which were roaming quite freely around the town’s perimeter. As the animals moved they gave off a low, melodious clicking sound. Upon investigation we found each cow was adorned with a richly carved hollow wooden tube which had a carved clapper inside. The livestock were identified by the family’s distinct wooden bell. We couldn’t resist buying a couple of these intricately carved cow bells for our collection – even if we don’t have a cow.

The next keepsake takes us back to our visits in Nepal. While trekking in the hills one can identify with an ant crawling across a piece of corduroy. It seems that not one of the paths follows either the lower river beds or the hilltop trails. They all tend to travel from one ridge to the next.

Quite often the path is narrow and upon occasion a very precarious rope bridge takes you over a ravine or raging river. To avoid embarrassing and awkward meetings down in the gorges, quite often the guide will pull a compressed horn out of his backpack and extend it to the fullest. He then gives a warning blast to inform any other group in the area that he is starting down. There is only one tone, and it takes practice to make them work; but the horn was an irresistible piece of memorabilia from these treks.

Third on our list of proud possessions comes from Zimbabwe. While hunting for local artifacts we came upon one of those large carved ostrich eggs. You’ve probably seen them. They are close to ten inches long and about six inches in diameter. Apparently this huge ostrich egg is tapped, the inside is removed, and the egg shell is carefully carved with a design. The big problem is transporting this fragile object from the heart of Africa – over bumpy roads, through security, into an airplane, and finally to a resting place on our travel shelf. We have one that made it safely home – ours is a leopard.

The fourth item probably would qualify as an antique, even though there are thousands of them. This story begins in an out-of-the-way antique shop in Beijing, China. While this city bustles with modern products in the many new and shiny stores, huddled away in dark corners, down narrow streets are tucked lots of little private shops.

It was in one of these that we found our tiny treasure. At first I was unaware of what the box was. It had a solid “roof” and “floor,” and the two of them were connected by a series of small dowels (about the size of a toothpick) around the rectangular perimeter. I commented to Barb that it looked like a little jail, and she politely informed me that I was exactly right. Apparently the Chinese people kept crickets as pets, and this was a cricket cage. Inside this miniature cage the cricket was free to make its cricket noises and entertain its owner. Probably one of the smallest pets in the world. I’m sure the modern generation has moved on to more sophisticated entertainment, but a remnant of the past sits on my shelf.

Item number five represents a work of art in complex wood carving. Once again, we ran across this masterpiece in a small gift shop on the island of Bali, Indonesia. The artist started with a single block of wood, about six inches on either side. Slowly, I’m sure, he/she chipped the wood aside until a circular globe appeared, and then each continent was left about one-quarter of an inch higher than all of the oceans. It is hard for me to imagine how the detail of this globe was fashioned. The wood grain was apparent as this replica of our planet emerged. The intricate globe sits in a place of honor on one of our shelves.

One last souvenir gets the number six nod. This piece of cloth began as a blouse for its maker, a Kuna Indian, in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama in Central America. The term for the handiwork, I am told, is a “mola.” I may have lost most male readers at this point, but the ladies will all recognize the complicated reverse-appliqué, work and the traditional designs. The original use was altered by us so it can be used as a pillow cover. The intricate beauty remains. We spent a couple of nights in a village on the island of Achutupo and were able to watch these ladies create their complex handiwork.

We’re got a few more, but my guess is that you’ve extended your patience already, so I quit at six. If you have a favorite treasure, I’d be glad to hear your story. How about an email to

2011 Kia Optima – Wow, What a Change!

Kia Optima

I have been involved in the automotive industry for the past 30 years and in that time have experienced firsthand the roller coaster of desirable and not-so-desirable design trends. With the help of a close uncle who introduced me to car shows, historic car events, and hot rod outings, educated me as we perused the halls and streets lined with those special vehicles of our past. This, laying a foundation for styling cues of the future, was a vision of days gone by. Cars of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s were cool, the ‘70’s and ‘80’s not so cool, the ‘90’s were a mixture of good designs, and over the past 11 years; things keep getting better. Case in point; the 2011 Kia Optima.

Kia first introduced us to the Optima in 2001 which had some upscale interior touches; however, an exterior that blended into the background. Also, in 2001, Kia’s overall reputation was still pretty low on the totem pole. A lot has changed in the past 10 years as Kia’s reliability and satisfaction numbers have escalated. Over the past two years when most other car companies were struggling, Kia did extremely well, and the all-new 2011 Optima will help keep the momentum going strong.

As part of a bold new product roll-out that started with the launch of the thrill-seeking Soul, Kia is now producing intriguing vehicles, eye-catching designs, improved quality, and impressive fuel economy. The 2011 Optima ranks as one of the newest cars that are turning heads.

For 2011 the mid-size Kia Optima sedan is available in three trims, LX ($18,995), EX ($22,495) and SX ($25,995). The LX comes standard with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder mated to 6-speed manual transmission. An optional automatic 6-Spd overdrive with a Sportmatic transmission is available on the LX and is standard on the EX and SX.

The exterior styling blows the doors off both previous versions and the Japanese competition. Personally, I think the Kia designers have made the new Optima more appealing and relevant to the generation X and Y buyers over anything coming out of Japan. The aggressive lines of the 2011 Optima come under the leadership of Kia’s lead designer Peter Schreyer. He took the Optima to new dimensions that grew nearly two-inches in both length (190.7-inches), and width (72.1-inches), while lowering the overall height. The result is improved leg room, sculptured proportions, and an assertive profile that competes with likes of Lexus and Infiniti.

From the front, the Optima features Kia’s new signature bold “tabbed” grille that is broader by menacing projector headlamps that, along with a vigorous lower fascia, completes the sharp looking face. The profile takes on a “Coupe-like” sweeping angle that flows from the A through the C pillars. If you opt for the Premium package ($2,150), it transforms the roof into a glass ceiling with a power panoramic view with two sunroofs. High and pronounced rear shoulder lines and bold flared wheel arches help to create a powerful stance that leads into the sculptured rear-end. The rear bumper surges up to meet the tail lamps on either side of the trunk lid. The bottom two-thirds of the trunk lid back portion is recessed delivering an added 3-D feel. Chrome dual exhaust tips project out of the lower valance.

Kia Optima Interior

From the moment you enter the cockpit, you are presented with the feel of luxury and many up-scaled features you would expect in a more lavish vehicle. The Optima’s dash is contoured towards the driver where buttons and knobs are easily accessible. A large screen positioned at the top of the center stack displays radio, cooling, optional navigation, and a rear backup camera view. The steering wheel is loaded with controls for the radio, cruise control, Bluetooth- controlled phone access, and Eco and Trip settings. Paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel add a racing flare to the vehicle. Smart Key Fob with touch buttons on the outer door handles and push button start is always a favorite of mine.

The seats were very comfortable and offered six-way adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat offers flexibility for multiple seating and cargo configurations. The 2011 Optima is full of technological features including AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sat audio system with SIRIUS® Satellite Radio capabilities, auxiliary, and USB audio input jacks for connecting with MP3 players. Bluetooth®, wireless technology connectivity with steering wheel-mounted voice activation controls, enables hands-free operation and a cooling glove box.

The 2011 Optima is built on an all-new light weight platform that produces an extremely comfortable ride and utilizes high-tensile-strength steel to enhance structural strength while also achieving high torsional stiffness. The benefits include: improved handling, ride quality, and refinement. Kia took the Optima to new levels to help ensure minimal noise vibration and harshness (NVH). The front-wheel-drive Optima is built on a unibody frame and utilizes independent front and rear suspension systems. MacPherson struts are used in the front with a multi-link layout in the rear to provide the utmost comfort whether the road is smooth or less than ideal.

Power comes from the choice of two flavors of the 4-cylinder 2.4 liter engine. The standard configuration is a direct injection dual overhead cam generating 200 horsepower and 186 pounds of torque with an EPA rating of 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. If you want your mid-size sedan to have a few more horses under the hood, the 2011 Optima grants your wish with a Turbo version of the 2.0-liter that cranks up the power output to 274 horses and 269 foot pounds of torque with EPA ratings of 22 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.

Room for improvement:

Electric power steering needs improvement.

Cool Features:

  • UVO powered by Microsoft® for hands-free in-car entertainment and communication system
  • Rear-view camera option
  • Optional panoramic roof

The 2011 Optima was created with safety in mind, and is equipped with six airbags (dual advanced front and front-seat mounted side as well as full-length side curtain), front active headrests, height-adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners, side-impact door beams, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System. Also standard are Four-wheel antilock brakes (ABS), Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control and Brake Assist Systems and Hill Assist Control.

In Summary – The 2011 Kia Optima is a seriously attractive automobile that will leap-frog its competition in design and features. It is a head turner especially when people realize it’s a Kia. The Optima is a bold statement from Kia that it is willing to take great steps to create vehicles with a strong presence, equipping them with the latest and best technologies to help improve the driving experience. The 2011 Optima is not last year’s Kia, it is the Kia of the future. Partly, it’s the drive which has bolstered KIAs new found popularity and sales. This car is worth a test drive and it leads the pack on my list of favorite new cars.

For more information and a complete list of features and specifications go to

2011 Kia Optima EX Turbo Sedan

Base price: $24,495 as driven: $29,340 (including destination and optional equipment)
Engine: 2.0-Liter 4-cylinder Turbo
Horsepower: 274 @ 6000
Torque: 269 foot pounds @ 1750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission with Overdrive and Sportmatic
Drive: Front Wheel-Drive
Seating: 5-passenger
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Cargo space: 15.4 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3223 pounds
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
EPA mileage: 34 highway, 22 city
Wheel Base: 110 inches
Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
Also consider: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda MAZDA6, and Toyota Camry

Healing Shoulder Pain and Rotator Cuff Injury- Rehabilitation of the Shoulder with Class IV Laser Therapy

The Rotator Cuff muscles (four muscles in total) are the primary support structures for the shoulder. Therefore, even minor dysfunction associated with these muscles can create pain and decreased performance of everyday tasks. A Rotator Cuff injury can be caused by many everyday activities. These activities include traumatic events (e.g. fall on an outstretched arm, “yanking” of the arm), repetitive motion (e.g. throwing a ball, carrying children) and chronic improper posture (e.g. operating a computer, driving).

There are three major types of Rotator Cuff injuries that we treat successfully:

  1. Rotator Cuff Muscle Tears: This is a partial tear of one or more of the four Rotator Cuff muscles. Rotator Cuff muscle tears are often accompanied by deep achy pain in the shoulder and arm weakness.
  2. Tendonitis: Tendons are at the ends of each muscle and attach the muscles to the bones they move. When there is inflammation of these tendons it is called Tendonitis. The symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tendonitis are often trigger point pain over the tendon accompanied by deep, achy pain in the shoulder and arm weakness.
  3. Rotator Cuff Impingement Syndrome: Chronic injury of the Rotator Cuff can lead to a “pinching” of the nerves passing through the shoulder. This is commonly referred to as a Shoulder Impingement or Rotator Cuff Impingement. Symptoms often include numbness, tingling or sharp, shooting pain into the arm or hand.

How Do I Heal My Shoulder Pain?

The most common forms of medical treatment for Rotator Cuff injuries are anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections and surgery. Although meds and injections may reduce the severity of pain associated with rotator cuff dysfunction, they are not a long term solution and may do more bodily harm than good in the long run. Surgery is a last resort and should only be used if there is irreparable damage to the shoulder that cannot be handled with proper rehabilitation.

The Natural Approach

First: Heal the Damaged Tissue
Ending the pain caused by a Rotator Cuff injury requires stopping the cycle of inflammation that is creating the pain. Class IV laser therapy is an excellent method for this, because it is presently the only modality that can both reduce inflammation and heal tissue simultaneously. During Laser Therapy, the infrared laser light interacts with tissues at the cellular level, increasing metabolic activity and improving the transport of nutrients across the cell membrane. This creates an optimal healing environment that reduces inflammation, swelling, muscle spasms, stiffness and pain. As the injured area returns to normal, pain is relieved and function is restored.

Second: Correct the Shoulder and Postural Mechanics
Long term pain relief of shoulder injuries involves rehabilitation of the shoulder, neck, and thoracic spine. Shoulder rehabilitation is achieved by utilizing specific postural adjustments, exercises and specific posture stabilizing methods in order to re-establish proper motion and strength of the shoulder joint. Ongoing strengthening and stretching exercises are used to rehabilitate the musculature of the shoulder to ensure lasting results.

Give Us A Call
If you suffer from chronic pain, it is worth your while to spend some time figuring out which of any number of factors are contributing to your pain — we will help you explore which combination of therapies will help you heal it. The good news is — you can do it without drugs, and you can get back to the activities you love!

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

The Dirt Gardener – Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple

Thanks for Asking

Q. I have a Japanese Maple who’s roots has grown through the drainage hole in a terracotta pot and rooted into the ground. I’m not quite sure what to do next to fix things.

A. This is not as much of a problem as it might seem. Your Japanese Maple is root bound. I suspect it was either planted in to small of a container to begin with or it has been in the same container for a very long time. Either way now and for the next month, is an excellent time to remedy the situation. The solution is quite simple, push the container over as far as you can and cut the root off at the drainage hole. Now, you have two options, root prune and replant the Maple in the same container or transplant it into a larger pot. Containerized maples, azaleas, camellias, gardenias and many others are transplanted once every twenty-four to thirty-six months as a standard practice. This prevents them from becoming root bound and declining. Root pruning allows you to keep a plant in the same container indefinitely by creating room for new roots while transplanting allows you to increase the container size gradually over time. With either technique, you’ll be cutting the root ball and this makes people very, very nervous, as they’re concern about permanently damaging the plant. This is not the case unless you grossly over due it. As plants become root bound, they develop a thick and tightly bound rootball in the shape of the container. You need to break this pattern by severing the roots by making several slices, two to four inches deep into the root ball with a steak knife, your pruning shears or a pruning saw. Depending on the size of the root ball, you might make four to twelve slices and don’t forget the bottom. With root pruning, you physically slice, trim or cut away two to six inches from the sides of the root ball and four to eight inches off the bottom. With both techniques, you then add fresh potting soil to fill the vacant space and complete the transplanting project.

Q. Will Roundup kill a mature tree? I‘ve a large, old peach tree and use Roundup for weed control under it.

It’s highly unlikely that Roundup would negatively affect an established Peach or any other dark color trunk ornamental plant. Roundup is a non-selective herbicide that is only absorbed through the chlorophyll or green portion of a plant that would be the leaves, stems, twigs, branches and trunk but not the roots. A few plants that you need to be careful with the spray drift of Roundup are roses, camellias, crape myrtles, and the basal growth around trees like a redwood. Established ornamental plants effective by the spray drift don’t die; instead, they produce an abundance of twisted and distorted growth. The plant returns to normal in the following year. It should also be noted that there are no benefits from spraying Roundup on bare ground.

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry – ALIVE at the Movies

The Secrets of Jonthan Sperry

You probably won’t find The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry in Redbox or Blockbuster Express. You will find it on Netflix and in the video store. It is undeniably Christian in content—a faith based movie that has a definite message.

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry is unabashedly slow moving. This is for a reason. This movie is the story of young friends whose lives are changed through friendship with a man who does more than encourage them to study the Bible; he sets a standard for them to live up to in the way that he applies those Biblical teachings to his own life.

The movie is set in the 1970’s in a small town in the northeast. When you watch it, it actually feels like earlier because the kids are still saying, “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir.” How long has it been since you’ve heard that from someone who’s not in the military?

It’s summer vacation of 1970 and the kids are hanging out. Jansen Panettiere (younger brother of Hayden Panettiere of Heroes) plays Dustin, a good kid who lives with a single mother, hangs out with his friends at the local diner and mows lawns for spending money. The parents of the girl (Bailey Garno) he has a crush on, own the diner. Of course, there is always a school bully, enter Nick (Taylor Boggan) who harasses everyone and just happens to like the same girl as Dustin. This is a coming of age movie of a different kind.

Jonathan Sperry (The Love Boat’s Gavin Macleod), a kindly neighbor, hires Dustin to mow his lawn. Sperry invites Dustin and his friends over for a Bible study and chocolate cake. What 12 year-old boy can resist chocolate cake especially when he really doesn’t have anything better to do? Sperry has a very special way of making the lessons compelling – and for showing the boys with his own behavior and his quiet counsel how meaningful the lessons are.

This very special film is a collaboration of the Christiano brothers, Rich and Dave. Amazingly talented, they wrote, produced and directed this beautiful slice of Americana. The cinematography is definitely above par and the musical score done by Jasper Randall is so entrancing, it makes you want to run out and buy it.

Often in faith based movies, the storyline carries the movie, almost metaphorically dragging the actors along. To my delight there was not one weak performance in Jonathan Sperry. The kids were incredibly engaging and the adults were rock solid. This movie is a portrayal of patience, kindness and forgiveness and is the perfect family movie for viewers of all ages. I truly don’t think you will be disappointed in this movie regardless of your religious persuasion. I invite your comments at

A Sweet & Spicy Valentine’s Day

Market Fresh - FlowersValentine’s Day may fall on a Monday this year, but die-hard romantics won’t let that dampen their spirits. No doubt there will be celebrations during the preceding weekend—which partner perfectly with a Saturday morning shopping expedition to the farmers’ market. (Don’t forget the flowers!)

Due most likely to their vaguely-heart shape and brilliant hue, strawberries have long been associated with Valentine’s Day. Technically it’s still winter, but early strawberries make their debut at the farmers’ market this month. After weeks of gray, everyone yearns to see red. Unfortunately the berries that show up in supermarkets are often a big let- down—pretty on the outside, but dry and flavorless within. Rest assured that farmers’ market berries won’t disappoint, for they are grown locally and ripened naturally, just as nature intended.

I’ll wait a few months, when prices are low and flats of fragrant berries are piled high at the market, before I make jam and extravagant strawberry desserts. For now, I’ll make the most of a precious few, enjoying a sneak preview of what’s in store for this coming spring and summer.

The following two-part spread is a study in contrasts: rich, oozy cheese topped with cool, sweet-tart strawberries; accentuated with the bite of fresh ginger, the heat of jalapeño, and the refreshing sensation of lime and mint. Best of all, it feeds a crowd.

Instead of baking a wheel of cheese as directed, you may choose to make your life easier still by simply spooning the salsa over a room-temperature log of fresh goat cheese. Alternatively, double the salsa recipe and serve it as a dip for tortilla chips; alongside an omelet or quesadilla; or as a condiment with grilled or roasted pork, poultry, prawns, or salmon. More adventurous souls may even want to try it over chocolate ice cream for dessert. If you are determined to stick to your New Year’s diet, however, this salsa is no less delish when served with cottage cheese.

Berry Good Things to Know

  • A shiny berry is a fresh berry. Once picked, strawberries lose their natural sheen in a matter of days.
  • Fresh green caps, intense perfume, and vibrant, uniform color are other qualities to look for in strawberries. Avoid those “white shoulders” that mean the berries were picked before their prime. Also remember that bigger is not always better!
  • When stored properly, farm-fresh strawberries last 1 week or longer in the refrigerator. (Oh yes they do.) Here’s the secret: Line a plastic container with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Gently pile in the unwashed strawberries with their green caps intact. Top with another paper towel, seal with an airtight lid, and refrigerate.
  • Never rinse strawberries or remove their green caps until just before using. Rinsing berries removes their naturally protective outer layer; and their caps prevent water from soaking into the strawberries, diluting the flavor and altering their texture.
  • To clean strawberries, place them in a colander or large sieve and rinse quickly under a gentle spray of cold water. Pat dry with towels; then remove the green caps, if desired.
  • To hull strawberries (i.e., remove the green caps), use the sharp tip of a paring knife; the pointed end of a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler; or a strawberry huller—an inexpensive tweezer-like gadget available at most cookware shops. This removes not only the leafy green cap, but also the tough little core beneath it.
  • 1 cup of halved raw strawberries weighs in at around 49 calories. They are a good source of vitamin C, and also contain potassium, iron, and folic acid.

Baked Brie with Fresh Strawberry Salsa
Strawberry Salsa

  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small jalapeño chile pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries (about half of a 1-pint basket)
  • 1 or 2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
  • 1 (5-inch) wheel of brie (about 15 ounces)
  1. In a bowl, mix together the lime zest, lime juice, ginger, honey, and salt.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves, remove the stem, seeds, and ribs from the chile pepper and chop finely. Add to the lime mixture; then gently stir in the strawberries, green onion(s), and mint to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes (or up to 6 hours) to blend flavors. This makes a generous 1-cup of salsa.
  3. About 45 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cheese on a heatproof serving dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the wheel is soft when touched in the center but still hold its shape. Spoon the chilled salsa over the hot cheese and serve at once with plain unsalted crackers (water biscuits), wheat biscuits, or fresh or toasted baguette slices. Serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer.

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

New Film Documents Minor League Grind Behind Major League Glamour

When ALIVE East Bay readers think about professional baseball it is likely those thoughts drift to the Giants and A’s and the big-money, glamorous world of the major leagues. Beneath that glamour is a multi-layered labyrinth called Minor League Baseball that is filled with small-money players harboring million dollar dreams.

The daily battle of the minor league experience is vividly captured in the film Time in the Minors, which follows two players over several seasons as they fight their way up the ladder hoping to make an appearance in The Show.

The players are Stanford grad Tony Schrager, the sixth round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1998, and high school star John Drennan, the first round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2005. Schrager received a bonus of $87,500, plus $20,000 to finish school after his baseball career. Drennan received a $1 million bonus from the Indians. The level of investment was one factor in how each player was evaluated, promoted and moved during their careers.

The underlying theme of the film is that the minors are a grind. Only 10 per cent of the 1,500 players drafted every year eventually play a day in the major leagues. The winnowing is as much about attrition as talent. The adjustment from playing two or three games a week in school to six or seven games a week in the minors is emphasized, as is the intense offseason and off-hours conditioning that is mandatory for survival.

The film does a great job capturing the almost desperate striving of the players and makes it clear that opportunity and good fortune are at least as important as ability. It also captures the angst of both players’ parents and Schrager’s wife through the ups and downs of life in the minors. The comments of a sports psychologist are particularly poignant as he emphasizes the impossibility of every day being a good day when competing in professional baseball. Most pro ballplayers were big stars in school, and this new reality is a big part of the adjustment to pro ball.

Off the Bench watched the film with Monte Vista High School baseball players Brett Binning and Mark Hirsch and Brett’s father Tim. Both young players commented that pro baseball was a much more cold and difficult business than they realized; and Hirsch expressed surprise that only one out of every ten players selected in the draft makes it to the majors.

For Tim Binning, the key learning was how small the window of opportunity is for the players, and how a bad few weeks at the wrong time could keep a young man from achieving his lifetime dream.

“The film showed how important it is to go to college, not just for the academics but to have the maturity to handle the ups and downs,” Tim Binning added. “At the higher levels the skill sets are extremely similar and the importance of the mental side hit home for me.”

Brett Binning also commented that baseball helped Schrager get into good colleges (he was at Yale before Stanford) and believed the challenges Schrager faced in baseball would help him succeed in his life after the game.

Time in the Minors will help viewers appreciate how difficult it is to make the major leagues. The film creates sympathetic portraits of its subjects and reminds the fan and non-fan alike of the power of a dream and the value of the sacrifice necessary to achieve that dream or be able to live with falling short. Those interested in purchasing this worthwhile film (about $20) can visit or call 1-800-342-4336.

Romantic Crooners

Valentines Day each February, makes us think of love and romance. But what is romance without wonderful songs that speak of love? And who better to sing those songs than the great crooners of the recent past.

Although the golden age of crooners is a sweet memory for most, fortunately we still have the recordings and videos of their television shows and movies. These shows and films feature many of the great singers who made that form of music so memorable.

Three of the most famous and well known crooners of the past are Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Bing Crosby

Born Harry Lillis Crosby on May 3, 1903 in Washington State, Bing Crosby was undeniably the ultimate crooner of them all. Beginning his career in vaudeville, Crosby was one of the leading multi-media stars from 1934 until 1954. His active career lasted over 50 years.

“His bass-baritone voice and singing style was unique as he “bent” notes and used “off-tone” phrasing from his knowledge and appreciation of the jazz idiom, emphasizing phrasing to make lyrics ring true, Musicologist J.T.H. Mize, said. “Crosby could melt a tone away, scoop it flat and slide up to the eventual pitch as a glissando, sometimes sting a note right on the button and take diphthongs for long musical rides.”

His influence was notable in all phases of the entertainment industry including recording, stage, radio, TV and films. He appeared in over 70 motion pictures winning an academy award for his role in “Going My Way” in 1944. His awards, accolades and honors are too numerous to mention. He died October 14, 1977 at age 74.

Dean Martin
Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio to Italian parents. He was equally at home in stage, nightclubs, recordings, TV and motion pictures. Martin was nicknamed the “King of Cool,” largely because his style of performance seemed so laid-back and easy. Martin dropped out of high school early and had numerous jobs including boxing. He started singing with local bands. His good looks, easy manner and smooth singing voice made him a sure hit. His early singing could be described as a crooning style. After a short stint in the U.S. Army during World War II he began singing in East Coast nightclubs.

A chance meeting with comedian Jerry Lewis led to the very successful team of Martin & Lewis. Some people called them “the organ grinder and the monkey.” They appeared on many TV shows including the Ed Sullivan Show. After the breakup with Lewis, Martin had a successful film career and a long-running TV variety show. His singing style was influenced by Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers, Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Martin died December 25, 1995 at age 78.

Frank Sinatra

Francis Albert Sinatra was born December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Hearing Bing Crosby on the radio made him decide to become a singer. His career started when he sang in New Jersey nightclubs. Harry James heard him and asked him to join his band. Sinatra later joined the Tommy Dorsey orchestra and there he established himself as a top-notch band singer. He rapidly became the first teen idol attracting hysterical bobby-soxers at his performances which included the popular weekly “Hit Parade.” Sinatra proved his acting prowess winning an Oscar in 1954 in From Here To Eternity.

In the 50s and 60s he was a major attraction in Las Vegas. He, along with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., formed the core of the famous “Rat Pack.” Sinatra had many hits and is particularly recognized for his impeccable musical phrasing. He died May 14, 1998 at age 82.

A poet wrote, “Life is a song – Love is the music.” These crooners and others have influenced lovers for decades with their talent – their legacy to music and love will certainly live on.

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Are You Prepared for Retirement?

The results of recent studies on retirement show that many Americans are not even close to being ready for retirement. Worse yet, many are not doing anything about it. One of the country’s most established and comprehensive studies is the Retirement Confidence Survey sponsored by the Employee Benefit research Institute. Now in its 20th year, this annual survey compiles the attitudes and behaviors of American workers and retirees towards all aspects of saving, retirement planning, and long-term financial security. Let me share some of the findings in the 2010 survey.1

The survey finds that the record low confidence levels seen after the financial crisis appear to have bottomed out. However, they are still not very encouraging. Only 16% if workers said they were “very confident” about having enough money for a comfortable retirement and retirees asked the same question where only at 19%.

It is no wonder many feel so ill prepared… an increased percentage of workers report that they basically have no savings at all. For example, 27% of workers said they have less than $1,000 in savings. More than half of workers, 54%, report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, not counting their home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000! How do you retire on that? Apparently reality must be setting in because the age at which workers expect to retire has been trending upward. The percentage of workers who expect to retire after 65 has increased over time, from 11% in 1991 to 14% in 1995 to 19% in 2000 to 24% in 2005 and now stands at 33% in 2010.

Sadly, many workers are totally clueless about how much they need to save for retirement. Only 46% of workers report that they and/or their spouse have tried to calculate how much money they will need to have comfortable retirement. My experience shows that even those who have saved for retirement still do not understand all the risks they face in retirement. These risks, if not addressed, can derail a comfortable retirement.

All of the following need to be considered in your retirement planning: Retiree spending – your rate of withdrawal has a profound impact on how long your money will last. Generally 4% to 5% withdrawal rates are regarded as sustainable. Inflation will erode the value of your savings so invest accordingly. Market volatility – the sequence of returns you experience in retirement can have a big impact on whether your money runs out or not. Longevity – statistically we are all living longer. Be sure to plan for a ripe old age. Catastrophic events can derail even the best retirement plans. Be sure to hedge against these with insurance. Legislative changes – it is always a good idea to consider how changes to Social Security, Medicare and taxes will affect your retirement plans. Lots to think about I know. Hopefully some advanced thought and planning by all will help to better the sorry statistics I sighted above.

1. Employee Benefit Research Institute 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey

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

Clearing Out The Clutter – Home Automation & Video Gear

No doubt, many of us would love to have less clutter. Let’s face it; most of us just have too many things. It could be the extra furniture or maybe those stacks of magazines. And what about all that stuff piled up in the garage! There never seems to be enough space for everything we collect.

Remember those huge entertainment centers? Back in the day, they seemed like a viable way to reduce equipment clutter. While they did a great job of hiding audio and video gear, they often took up more space than they actually saved.

While today’s shelves and cabinets are a bit smaller than the old entertainment center, furniture continues to take up massive space and often ruins the room aesthetic.

Leaving only the TV, imagine what your TV or projector room would look like with all of the audio furniture and equipment removed. Have you ever thought that there may be another place in your home where the equipment could be relocated? Enter today’s remote control.

Perhaps there’s an extra hallway or coat closet with unused storage shelves. These are perfect for equipment. Any small, underused area is a candidate for equipment storage. What about a wall-shelf in that extra bedroom or in the garage?

Many living areas and family TV rooms look much smaller than they are because of equipment clutter. Using One-button, Radio remotes, today’s home automation professionals provide affordable, convenient solutions for eliminating equipment clutter. Hiding the gear with remote control is easy and affordable.

A simple, One-button Remote frees you from having equipment in the same room as the television, projector and audio gear. With the cabinets and storage no longer needed – you gain back valuable space! The room becomes uncluttered and your entertainment system becomes very easy to operate!

Remote control is also a great first step towards home automation or a “smart home.” For example, when controlling a TV with remote, it’s easy to add lighting control or automated window coverings. Imagine controlling your lighting and shades from the same remote you use for your television. How cool is that?

In addition to the wow factor, a One-button Control can also move your home toward sustainability. This same remote can also be used to adjust lighting making it easier to reduce energy demand. Base lighting levels can be preset to match your mood. They can also be set to turn off automatically following periods of inactivity for additional energy savings.

Audio and video equipment clutter can become a thing of the past. Today’s home automation professionals have the expertise to hide your gear anywhere. Relocating equipment to underutilized areas and using an affordable One-button Control are two easy steps towards making your home clutter-free and sustainable.

Dave High is a LEED Accredited Professional with Karbon Consulting located in Pleasant Hill, CA. He can be reached at