Table Mountain – A Wonder of the Natural World

Table Mountain

This writer is ecstatically proud to have but an infinitesimal connection to one of the provisional New Seven Wonders of the Natural World: Table Mountain, Cape Town’s magnificent proscenium. I was born on the Oranjezicht slopes of Mother Mountain at the Booth Memorial Hospital, before suburbia crept up the cypress-shaded hillsides.

Table Mountain was voted a first-count provisional winner as New 7 Wonder of the Natural World on 11.11.11, by way of a global phone/SMS campaign. Results will be verified by New 7 Wonders in early 2012. The finalists are: Amazon River, South America; Halong Bay, Vietnam; Iguaza Falls, Argentina; Jeju Island, Korea; Komodo, Indonesia; Puerto Prince Underground River, Philippines; and Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.

The majestic mountain, a true world wonder, is Pre-Cambrian period sandstone, with a 300 million-year genesis—a plateau that evolved over six million years of erosion. Table Mountain, the crown in the range, extends to the jagged Twelve Apostles on the back table; the Peninsula’s spine to Cape Point. Two-mile wide Table Mountain proper is flanked by Devil’s Peak to the east, and on the western flank, Lion’s Head outcrop on Signal Hill. Cape Town, framed by a mountainous crescent, is one of the world’s most picturesque cities near Africa’s southern point, and the only terrestrial feature lending its name to a celestial constellation; Mensa, a galaxy seen only in Southern Hemisphere skies.

Table Mountain, where Cape Town now stands, was first sighted during the Age of Discovery by Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, naming the stormy bay Cabo das Tormentas—Cape of Storms. Portugal’s Henry the Navigator funded expeditions along Africa’s coastline, but Dias was first to sail around the Cape opening Trade Routes. When passage to India was determined, King John III of Portugal renamed it Cabo de Boa Esperanca—Cape of Good Hope.


Reaching India was a 15th century quest; Columbus negotiated an Atlantic trade route for Spain, but foundering in doldrums; he found Caribbean shores instead. Dias had already beaten Columbus by four years, forging an alternative route to India, passing Table Mountain, and in 1498, explorer Vasco da Gama secured the trade route for Portugal. Navigators were unable to make landfall on treacherous rocky shores, becoming more mesmerized by the beckoning mountain. The windswept bay teamed with caravels; and many vessels crumbled on rocks, or were swallowed by roiling seas into a graveyard of sunken ships.

Antonio Saldanha reached shore — the first recorded European to climb Table Mountain in 1503 — lending his name to Saldanha Bay. One can only imagine the exuberance of the Portuguese mariner, having forged an untrammeled path to the top of the world, at the bottom of Africa.
For Capetonians, imbued with their homeplace history; there is no greater sunset on earth than the golden sun dipping into the curving horizon of twin seas. From vista points discerning sea colors emerge; where warm Atlantic Benguela and Indian Agulhas currents conjoin at Cape Agulhas, Africa’s most southern point.

Table-MountainCAPE COLONY

In 1652 the Dutch arrived at Africa’s Gateway, establishing a half-way supply station for Dutch East India Company’s ships sailing to Batavia for silks and spices. Table Mountain’s fertile slopes played an important role for pioneering Colonists when Jan Van Riebeeck established vegetable and fruit gardens on sunny gradients, planting citrus trees on the lap of the mountain stretching to Platteklip Gorge, and naming it Oranjezicht—view of the oranges.

Capetonians speak of their legend-rich mountain with affection—the Mother City’s anchor of storied energy. The 3,563 foot plateau connects to Devil’s Peak where hovering mists are attributed to Van Hunks, a pipe-smoking pirate and the devil. There are ghost stories too. Wandering souls, who once lived on the slopes, still haunt the mountain—the grey lady of Bree Street and spirits from the Castle. And there is the legend of the Verlaten Bosch ghost, Bush of the Forsaken. A man, said to have died of leprosy for playing a flute once owned by a mountain leper, still plays around silver leaf bushes late at night—whistling like the wind.

The Table Mountain range embraces Cape Town; cradling the natural amphitheatre in her rocky arms with breathtaking magnetic energy, as when the clouds come. Cooling sea winds propel a phenomenon of white billows, cascading along the spine from the back table, flowing misty fingers seeking gorge crevices, enveloping Mother Mountain with seemingly unreal orographic clouds—a tablecloth of white waves—a subliminal message that Mother Mountain lives.

Capetonians still halt to observe nature’s phenomenal display of a creeping cloud formation over the table. They stop to witness again what they have seen a thousand times—awestruck by their beloved mountain, alive with its own kinetic energy as the monolith vanishes from view.

Rock alpinists and hikers on trailhead treks, with short warning, can become disoriented; lose footing when the sudden mountain mist rolls over. Even on a summer’s day, it turns cold—seasonal gale force winds gust from the sea. People fraught with sudden peril, can fall from vertiginous cliffs. Spectacular Table Mountain radiates her mysterious energy; sometimes turning treacherous.

Table Mountain National Park, a protected World Heritage site, and Wonder of the Natural World, is literally within walking distance of upper Cape Town. The flora-rich mountain hosts a bio-diversity of over 2,200 indigenous fynbos plant specimens, more than all the United Kingdom combined. The indigenous silver tree, suikerbossie proteas, and other plants that thrive naturally in the Afromontane forest are protected; non-native trees are felled, allowing only intrinsic species vital to the ecosystem. Conservationists eradicate non-native flora and fauna, such as fast-breeding Himalayan tahr goats that escaped from a zoo, causing mutualistic imbalances. Fire-fueling eucalyptus, cypress and oaks, grown for wine industry casks, are felled to host a more mutualistic environment for snakes, tortoises, porcupines, mongoose, baboons, lizards, frogs and hyrax dassies. Gone to extinction, or Karoo plains are; the leopard, buffalo, quagga zebra and black-maned Cape lions, and the aboriginal Khoikhoi pastoralists who once lived on the mountain.

Table Mountain attracts millions of hikers and gondola riders; the 84-year cable system recorded its 20-millionth visitor last year. Once at the summit, there is no more spectacular panoramic view than bustling Cape Town and shoreline suburbs, where seas meet land—still a vital trading gateway to the world.

And on auspicious occasions, like seasonal festivals and Christmas Night, the mountain is illuminated—floodlights sending beams to her rocky bosom—Mother Mountain; Nature’s Own World Wonder.

Fires are the mountain’s greatest enemy; hillside dwellers are evacuated, homes gutted, people trapped by fast-moving infernos, fanned by 60-mph southeaster winds, hungrily consuming vegetation—scorchingly spectacular, stirring our secret pyro-maniacal tendencies.

I am deeply connected to Table Mountain; I was born and bred on her lower slopes. My childhood years were spent as student boarder at a sandstone Catholic convent on Devil’s Peak nestled in the mountain’s evening shadows. I had a constant front row view of her magnificence, and still devotedly cherish My Mountain; voted a Natural World Wonder. Fancy that!

The mountain caught fire one night, we girls were enthralled by the awesome danger so close to us; watching flames silhouette burning trees from high windows, the firestorm licking cypress-covered slopes, consuming everything like a fiery hungry monster. High winds whistled through the building cracks, smoke filled the dormitories. The nuns told us to pray.

Evacuees arrived, telling how bad it was. The sandstone school became a crowded refuge for strangers; it was all very exciting and dramatic, mesmerized by the scorching mountain. High winds finally died, brigades put out the rogue fires, evacuees left and we schoolgirls talked about it for years to come.

The mountain constantly brandished her incredible splendor within arm’s reach; years in her evening shadows anchored me with a very powerful sense of place. From the playfield, I was starkly aware of her majestic presence–memorizing ridges, gorges, and iconic contours with my eyes, sketching her outline in my brain—now etched forever in my mind’s eye.

I finally hiked to the summit from Platteklip Gorge, trekking the path, anticipating the thrill; ready to purge acrophobic fears and complete my quest. Dare this writer attempt to describe the sensation of my first summit in words? It was awesome. Up to then, I had only seen the mountain from below, but I knew the legends, and when I stood on the vertiginous edge, my insides somersaulting; the ecstasy was beyond words—I had reached my own personal Everest.

I went to the plateau summit many times in my youth, by cable-car and foot, but the most poignant trip was on the rear Kasteelspoort trail. I trekked with my friend Midge (also born on the mountain), specifically to bid farewell to our beloved Cape Town. We had booked ship’s passage to England and were leaving the following Friday. My last journey before departure for Europe was emotional. Overlooking the most beautiful city, from the most magnificent mountain in the world, I was tearfully overwhelmed to bid Table Mountain goodbye.

As I embarked on a life of romantic wanderlust, I could only imagine what wonders lay ahead on my own horizon, bidding my mountain birthplace and family a bittersweet farewell, and that by year’s end, I would turn twenty-one on the other side of the world.

Table Mountain was my last vision as the ship sailed northwest from Cape Town Harbor; the sentinel fading, vanishing into mist, swallowed by distance—the tearful departure from my homeland serving as a metaphor for a new life.

Two decades later I returned to Cape Town’s Table Mountain; a quasi-pilgrimage lending renewed poignancy to my birthplace milieu, evoking daydreams of my youth. Today I celebrate Table Mountain’s magnificence with the world, the storied marvel of South Africa’s Mother City—Cape Town’s own wonder of the natural world.

Weight Loss: Trade In Your “Magical Thinking” for a Solid Strategy

Ever hear yourself saying, “I know I shouldn’t eat all these salty chips right now, but tomorrow I’ll ‘eat light’ so I don’t gain weight”? Or this one: “I’m too tired to exercise today, but I’ll walk an extra half-mile tomorrow.” Or this tried-and-true excuse, “I worked hard today and deserve to relax in front of the TV and eat this ice cream with a few cookies—after all, tomorrow’s another day.”

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
I don’t know about you, but in my world tomorrow is never today. Unfortunately, procrastinating and wishing we were thinner won’t lead us to lose any excess weight. If it did, we’d all be walking around at our healthiest weights. Wishing without creating a solid strategy is often referred to as magical thinking.

Like my earlier examples, when magical thinking is combined with cravings for the wrong foods, unhealthy overeating habits, and a lack of exercise—it’s a surefire recipe to stay stuck and continue adding inches and pounds each year. Yikes!

The good news is, facing reality and getting on track TODAY is a great way to leave magical thinking and procrastination in the dust. And, having effective “tools in hand,” with a willingness to use them, is what propels us toward reaching our weight loss goals.

In my private practice, I offer solid strategies for people who are ready to trade in magical thinking for research-based weight loss tools. So, before we declare that we are simply unmotivated, “weak-willed dreamers,” let’s consider the fact that there may be some complex issues unconsciously driving our overeating impulses. Often, clients are surprised by what they learn about themselves in our sessions. During the personal growth process, in addition to focusing on releasing excess weight, we often explore how to:

  •  Stop using food in an attempt to manage emotions
  •  Track and celebrate progress toward small goals
  •  Uncover negative core beliefs

Early in my work with weight loss clients, I often ask, “Do you have any limiting core beliefs?” A core belief is a positive or negative perception you have about yourself. For example, a positive core belief would be that you feel attractive or competent. A negative core belief would be that you feel unattractive or incompetent.

Often, people struggling with negative core beliefs don’t believe that they deserve their successes—and at a core level they feel like a failure. For this reason, deflecting compliments is a common response from people who carry a lot of negative core beliefs about themselves. Sadly, there’s simply no “intake port” to receive the positive information.

Unfortunately, negative core beliefs can keep us stuck in overeating cycles. These self-destructive cycles can perpetuate retaining our extra weight and create a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Eventually, unless interrupted, our limiting core beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Uncovering negative core beliefs can be a way to address our “unconscious self-sabotage.”

What I love about offering hypnotherapy is that, through deep relaxation, my clients have an opportunity to explore underlying issues that often sabotage their goal reaching. Exploring under the surface of a challenging issue and addressing the roots can be extremely productive. As illustrated by many of my clients’ successes, unhealthy habits often lose their power when unconscious issues are brought into the light where conscious understanding and integration can take place.
Finally, why not step onto a path of action TODAY—rather than tomorrow? Call me if you’d like leading-edge tools and a “power partner” for your exciting journey toward reaching your weight loss goals. After all, isn’t it time to move beyond “magical thinking” and negative core beliefs…and claim the healthiest mind-body possible in 2012?

Join Trina and attend her upcoming Walnut Creek workshop for women and men: Managing Emotional and Compulsive Eating—John Muir Women’s Health Center: Wednesday, February 29, 6:30-8:30 pm. Cost: $40 (Includes Weight Loss: 2-CD set). Seats are limited—register today for this inspiring workshop: (925) 941-7900 option 3. For more info, go to & click on “Private Sessions & Workshops.”

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. She soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or

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

Danville’s Tribute to Phil Hill

 “Cool Cars for a Cause” is the slogan for the Danville Concours d’Elegance and it’s an apt description for a gathering of classic, vintage racing and contemporary cars, along with a few restored racing boats that are carefully parked along Danville’s charming downtown streets. The event has raised more than a million dollars for Parkinson’s research and patient care and this year honored Phil Hill, who succumbed to the disease after his legendary international career in racing and classic car restoration.

Hill became an early fan of the Danville Concours because of its relaxed atmosphere and the accessibility of rare and interesting cars to the public. And through the years when someone suggests moving the event to a more traditional manicured grass setting, the fans along with organizers Jim and Chris Edlund vote to continue Danville’s hometown venue.

This year, the Danville Concours added a Saturday drive to the Napa Wine Country to compliment its Saturday evening gala dinner and auction at the Blackhawk Museum and Sunday’s downtown car show. Deborah Pollack, the drive’s organizer and a veteran automotive event planner, recruited me to pilot one of the new machines she had secured to accompany the sports classics. And as luck might have it I, along with my co-pilot Charles, began the journey at the front of the pack in a white BMW 650 convertible.


When you’re off paved roads, first position is as rewarding as being the leading sled dog in the team of huskies. However, when a gaggle of eager enthusiasts are looking to you for leadership, there’s a lot of assumed responsibility. That fact became crystal clear when the beginning of the route was changed because of an unexpected art show cropping up on one of the original streets. So there we were, leading a pack of obedient lemmings to what might be a new record in losing our collective way.


But just in the nick of time, the route’s main road arrived and our remaining worries were simply to set a pace that kept the pack of growling sports cars amused while keeping their owners out of orange jump suits. And even with a few exotic rides from Lamborghini and Ferrari that entrants had made a nice donation to the cause to drive, there were no incidents and lots of happy faces.

That evening we were dining among the Blackhawk’s impressive classic car collection and the setting was perfect for a live auction where the average bid was over $8,000 by my calculations. In fact, this year the event will clear more than $300,000 for the Parkinson’s Institute and the Michael J Fox foundation. With that new record, honoring the great gentleman and fierce competitor Phil Hill couldn’t be more appropriate. The dinner was well attended with many generous people who felt strongly about supporting the cause and hoping to pitch in to find a cure for Parkinson’s.

Sunday was a perfect day to celebrate the 7th Annual Danville Concours d’Elegance car show. The event was embraced with warm sun, glistening cars, and beautiful people parading around the picturesque backdrop of the historic town of Danville, California.

This yearly event held in September draws car collectors, automotive enthusiasts and the local community to participate in Cool Cars for a Cause. Hundreds of people attend this free charity event (donations are encouraged) from all over the East Bay. Car enthusiasts have an opportunity to marvel in this special gathering of vintage and classic restored vehicles, exotic racing vehicles, present day high performance vehicles, and even a few beautifully crafted wooden boats.

The event included a parade of rumbling, racing vehicles lead by Peter Giddings and his 1962 Ferrari Lusso, last year’s winner of the Concours d’Elegance top honor. Mr. Giddings has owned Ferrari’s all of his adult life and purchased his 1962 Lusso four years ago at an auction. The 1962 Ferrari Lusso is one of only three that ever raced. Mr. Giddings’s involvement with the Danville Concours d’Elegance steams from close friendship with Phil Hill and his long time love of cars and racing. Peter, originally from England, races year ‘round and was voted as the 2010 Motor Sportsman of the Year.

2012 – Will the Tug of War Continue?

I don’t believe we can think about what 2012 might hold for us without first reviewing what took place during 2011. It seems we have been caught in a tug of war of sorts between positive and negative forces over the last several months and it is likely that this tug of war is not over and will continue well into 2012.

First let’s look at the positive side. Despite all the negative sentiment out there, it is not all bad news when it comes to the economy and the financial markets. I would consider some of the following as positives to keep in mind:

  • The U.S. economy has been fairly resilient and it does not appear that we will slide back into recession.
  • We have a very accommodating monetary policy. The Fed is expected to keep interest rates low for a considerable period of time.
  • Corporate earnings continue to be very strong.
  • Stock valuations appear very attractive by many measures. P/E Ratios are at the low end of their range the last 20 years. Many high quality stocks pay dividends that are higher than long-term Treasury bonds.
  • As of this writing in early December, retail sales have been strong during the holiday season.
  • Nobody is buying stocks. According to ICI data, investors have pulled money from equity funds for seven straight months. Fund flows tend to be a pretty good contrarian indicator. When everybody is buying stocks they are usually headed for a fall and periods of outflows tend to be indicative of market bottoms.

But don’t get too excited. There are a number of negatives counterbalancing the positives:

  • The European debt crisis is far from over. It will almost certainly throw Europe into a recession this year and it poses a severe threat to the banking system.
  • The majority of the developed world countries have massive debt issues and an aging demographic problem.
  • 2012 is an election year and we already have a massive amount of political discord and uncertainty. The super committee was a total failure.
  • Unemployment is expected to stay high. Even though the U.S. economy is growing, we are simply not growing fast enough to create enough net new jobs to solve the problem.
  • The Fed, as well as other central banks worldwide, may be running out of options to combat our economic malaise.

Nobody knows for sure how all this will play out. Maintain balance in your portfolios. Stay diversified. Most importantly, stay patient. It may take a while for this tug of war to end.

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. Not all recommendations are suitable for all investors. Each investor must consider their own goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or

The Skinny On Background Checks

I call it, “The Myth of the One Button.”

Television shows, movies and internet hype have planted the notion that all you have to do to gather information on a person is log on, press one button and out spits reams of accurate data, like water gushing from an open fire hydrant. The detective or hero or heroine then has an informational submission-hold on the subject of his inquiry.

Numerous on-line background check services have been launched in the last few years on the internet; some have even become I-Phone applications to give “instant” criminal records information. I have found, however, that, in the best case scenario, you might get “some” accurate information with these searches. But I would never use one and put my name behind it. What’s the saying? Oh yes: “Good, fast and cheap never go together.”

As one critic said of the rise of on-line background providers, “This is a trap for the unwary. These data dumps are really data junk. The data is of very little use to someone on a date, etc, because of all of the holes in the databases used, but of great value to stalkers and sexual offenders.” The on-line background checks harness the power of aggregating, or collecting information quickly, and disseminating it.

It’s apparently not just singles checking up on the latest love interest who use the on-line services. One woman at a cocktail party told me that her 18-year-old son was denied a job at a major sports retail chain because the on-line background check turned up that he supposedly had an armed robbery conviction. However, the background check was wrong because they had someone with the same name but a different date of birth. The Wall Street Journal reviewed the leading on-line background check providers and found they frequently made mistakes, such as saying a subject had a bankruptcy when in fact the person did not.

I will give you a few local examples of why on-line background checks don’t work and why you often need to go to the courthouse in person to search the records. California has a “fractured” records system, meaning that not all the counties handle criminal and civil records in the same way. Some counties make records available on-line while some don’t.

The most glaring example of possibly missing information on-line in a criminal background check is in San Francisco. Why? The county does not make its criminal records available on-line. You have to go, in person, to the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street, take a seat and start scanning the old-school printed ledger books. If you think you have a hit, you then have to order the record(s) from the warehouse.

A competent private investigator will make sure the identifiers, i.e. date of birth, middle name or a Social Security Number, match for the subject and for the record in order to verify it’s for the same person. In Contra Costa County, the on-line searches lump traffic and criminal records together so you have to go the courthouse to actually see the file.

My advice for a good background check is to first gauge what’s at stake. If it’s for a key position in a company or for someone who might be taking care of your loved ones, then don’t cut corners. Hire a professional private investigator for the job.

New Year Beauty – Smooth and Beautiful Skin Starts With a Good Skin Care Routine

The New Year brings us a new beginning and a fresh start. When the New Year approaches, people promise themselves that this is the year they’re going to take charge and replace bad habits with good routines. This year it’s time for a new skin care program and if you’ve never had one, now is a good time to start. A good skin care routine will improve your skin and give you years of youth for the future. Find out what will make a difference treating your skin with new technologies in serums and scrubs. It is simple: start replacing the old habits with healthy choices. Stop going to bed with make-up on; cleanse the skin nightly; apply a good eye cream and face cream. The benefits are outstanding and will improve the skin for a smoother beautiful complexion. Thanks to the new innovations in skin care “Aging Is Optional”!

The first step is going to a licensed skin care Aesthetician. An Aesthetician is highly trained in the care of the skin and is state board certified in analyzing the skin and to advise you on what to use for your specific skin type. Many Aestheticians work with Dermatologist offering facials and specialized skin treatments in their offices. Most Dermatologist do not provide skin care programs, they supply skin treatments such as medications. Below are some skin care options to consider adding to your daily routine.

Facial Cleansers:

You want to avoid the “one-size-fits-all” skin cleansers. If you have dry skin use a cleanser that will help nourish, protect, and re-moisturize the skin. If you have oily skin use a cleanser that will help balance the oil production and reduce acne. For sensitive skin, use a cleanser that does not have herbs or a scent, but that deep cleans the surface and eliminates skin irritations.

Facial Toners:

Face toners are essential for beautiful skin. They help the moisturizers work better, bringing the skin back to its natural PH balance, and help remove residue left over from make-up. A good toner will also help exfoliate the skin and re-texture the surface of the skin so the complexion is firm and smooth.

Eye Creams:

Eye creams are essential to avoid pre-mature aging and wrinkles and one that is specifically made for the eye area. The skin around the eye is very thin and delicate and must be treated differently than the rest of the face. You cannot use face moisturizers around the eye area because they are too thick and will not moisturize or hydrate.

Face Creams:

When it comes to face cream you need to have guidance and find a cream that is best for your skin type. There are so many face creams on the market today, and some can get really expensive, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a great skin cream, but you need the right cream to work for your specific skins needs. Look for creams with vitamins and peptides in them. Research has shown when applying peptides with anti-oxidants and vitamins will reduce fine lines, firm the skin and stop the formation of wrinkles.

We invite you to stop in to The Rouge to sample our skin care products and treatments from Ongrien Advanced Skin Care and we would like to help educate you on a proper skin care program. Let this year be the year you love your skin. It’s Easy, simple, and beautiful: Protect your skin’s future.

Privately Running on Good Intentions

I really thought the treadmill would change things … mainly my thighs. Instead, I now have a new $300 clothes rack with cup holder (for my chocolate shakes), parked strategically in front of the TV.

Good intentions quickly convert into ‘not intended for those purposes’ real quick-like in my pad.

I see myself getting up, mummy-style, before the rooster crows (or the upstairs neighbor starts showering). I do 10 minutes of brisk walking, then five of running at 3.2 miles per hour. Sweat begins dripping three minutes in, excessive gasps for air rapidly replace the garbled snoring just 15 minutes earlier — then I wake up, treadmill still cold from non-use. Do you burn calories while you dream of running?

Just weeks old, fresh from the big, bulky box (resembling my body) it had been yanked from, this apparatus, this melter-o-flab machine, this torturous hunk of metal with indicator knobs and a circulatory floor mat, bring tears to my eyes and guilt to my conscience. Yes, I pay happily and willingly for infliction of pain. I pay for self-chastisement too. But at least I envision the pay-off. Who doesn’t?

See, what I’m really doing is paying for privacy and good (stuffy) apartment air. Unlike the gym, at home I can run 24/7, with or without make-up, and watch “real” women on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Added bonus … I don’t have to chat with a complete stranger – dude who doesn’t know that turning 10 shades of red coupled with extremely heavy panting is biological charades for, “I really can’t talk right now, bozo.”

Treading at home means I can wear my cute outfits (that don’t fit cute anymore), without having to don an extra-large cotton tee shirt to cover up what I’m trying to lose. And, I could run, hop, skip and jump (off the unit) with no threats of annihilation from a trainer-slash-salesperson wanting me to get on a “program,” down protein powders (now sold in Costco-sized containers) and pop meal metabolizing pills with the healthy foods I’m supposed to be eating. Back off junior-experts with commission checks, I only down Mexican food in those large quantities.

In my humble who-cares-what-I-think-anyway opinion, working out in public (without the trim, fit, you must be starving yourself-bods) is like performing a comedy set without using words or worse yet, in underwear-only. I’d rather go on stage “fit” and prepared (and fully clothed), than vulnerably exposed. The Full Monty, in this case, is just not my idea of weight loss.

Meanwhile, back at the apartment, my newfound dust-collector piece of furniture has potential. It promises me a thinner tomorrow, a private adventure towards a more energized me, and a healthier, cardiovascular circulatory system just begging to challenge any 10-year-old to a race … to the nearest ice cream shop.

Charleen Earley is a freelance writer, humor columnist, comedienne, and high school journalism teacher. She can be reached at

Making the Grade: A Fresh Start to Tackling Homework

For parents arguing nightly with their children over doing homework, the idea of a fresh start to the year is an exceedingly appealing one. As a primary grade educator I have worked with parents and students to come up with solutions to this exhausting cycle. Here are some general practices, that when implemented, can aid many situations and help bring peace to the household in time for 2012.

1. Know Your Child’s Academic Ability
Above all when analyzing the root of the tears and tantrums, it is important to first look at what is asked of your child and if you feel she is struggling with understanding the concepts and skills. If there is concern of a possible learning disability or need for a tutor, have a discussion with the teacher or learning specialist at school to set up a plan of action for help.

2. Create a Routine

As an elementary teacher I learned how necessary routine is in a classroom. When a daily schedule is mapped out there is no anxiety or chaos around what to do and when to do it. This applies to homework time as well. Having your child work in a public space in the house, like the kitchen, allows you to monitor her progress and be there when she has questions. Make it the same time, the same place everyday.

3. Organize

Give her the tools to be a successful, independent student by showing her how to organize homework assignments on a calendar or in a planner. Make it part of the routine you do together. Your child can learn to manage her time effectively and not panic about doing a project last minute. “Break down bigger projects into smaller pieces and help her avoid procrastination- this is the biggest culprit of tears,” says Keely Rollings, Clinical Psychologist and mother of three, “small goals make an easier time and no tears!”

4. Create Expectations and Stick to It

It is so easy to make exceptions to the rules you have set, but unfortunately this says to your child the rules can be broken. Let her know in very clear terms what the expectations are during homework time and enforce them. For example, “all homework must be finished before you can play outside with your friends.” It may be difficult to uphold the expectations, but it is far more painful to deal with negotiations and arguing when she pleads to bend the rules.

While these tips may not solve every homework issue between parents and children, they are realistic strategies to implement into a daily schedule and can be done so in time to start the New Year off on the right foot. Remember, the more independent and self sufficient your child becomes by learning how to use these tools and routines, the more pride and ownership she will take in her work, which ultimately is the best lesson of all.

Welcome – New Horizons

I am encouraged and excited as I look forward to the New Year ahead, as 2012 holds the promise of better times. For the most part, it’s the same promise every year holds of course, but this one feels different on account of several important points.

First off, we begin the year with an historic, important event. While it is controversial as many regard it’s timing as ill-conceived, the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq is reason for celebration, if only for the reason of once again uniting families that have been painfully and fearfully separated by war.

We must all hope and pray that the return of our troops is completed in an appropriate, successful way that will be honorable and long-standing. Our nation, the liberated people of Iraq, and the entire free world must recognize nothing less than an enormous obligation to the men and women returning, and more importantly to those who will not return, that the sacrifices they made will not have been made in vain.

Next, it is an election year, which brings the opportunity (and responsibility) to all citizens to support or oppose candidates and policies that impact us collectively and individually. Regardless of the candidate or position, just the fact that we have this opportunity reminds us to breathe in the air of positive expectation, and feel encouraged that we have another chance to do what we can to get things moving in the right direction.

I join the rest of our crew here at ALIVE in wishing you all the best in the New Year ahead. May you rejoice in what we hope are many positive, fond memories, and may you be empowered to shake off anything that might stand between you the joy that is yours for the taking!

Eric Johnson

Stamps in My Passport – Galapagos


We inhabitants of this delicate world are in a constant struggle with our environment. Let’s face it – we occupy a flimsy planet which circles an average star in a minor galaxy of this gigantic universe. We need to take care of it.

 An ex-Vice President beats a drum on global warming, and Congress struggles with clean air acts. Often when we stop at scenic turnoffs, we find the view littered with cans, bottles, and used sandwich bags. It appears to me at times that we are losing the battle – that sometime in the future our world will be so littered with junk that nothing will survive.

 Recently I had a brief respite from the pressures. I visited a place dedicated to reviving endangered species or at least prolonging the status-quo. Animals and humans share space without fear. There are rules about littering, about waste, about protecting the environment. No one drops a candy wrapper or would think of not picking one up if discarded. Where? The Galapagos Islands, of course.

I could not believe the wildlife we were immersed in. We checked into the second floor of our ocean-front room just before dusk. I stepped out onto the balcony, overlooking a pool between our room and the Pacific Ocean. As I stood there taking in the view, a sea lion waddled out of the surf, climbed the short stone wall, and slid into the pool. He did a lap or two, then crawled out and hoisted himself onto one of the chaise lounges, curled up on the thick blue pillow, and promptly went to sleep.

On our way to dinner that night I wandered over to the outdoor bar and found myself stepping around another sea lion. The waiter told me this one was pregnant and that the entire staff was on alert for the pending occasion.

Over the years I’ve shared a joke or two about the blue-footed booby but never thought I’d see one. Wrong! Just after breakfast the first morning, I strayed to the local rock pier attracted by a huge pelican preening himself and managing to ignore the black marine iguana next to him. Before I could even get my camera out, guess what! A blue-footed booby elbowed her way into the middle of my picture four feet away, with those absolutely unbelievable blue feet. When I think about it, most of our ducks have yellowish-orange legs, so why should some birds not have blue spats? By the way, they also have blue rings around the whites of their eyes.

Later I stood transfixed while a pelican, only about three feet away, preened itself. Under the wings first, then the breast – the long neck straining to cover the back and legs too. An audible “click” each time the bill finished an area and found a treasure. At last, clean and handsome, head held high, neck outstretched, he looked at me and said, “Ain’t I the most handsome dude you’ve ever seen?”

Before we leave the Galapagos, I have a quick little boy/girl story to share. The frigate, one of the most beautiful birds in the air, has an interesting mating practice. The males get a large red wattle so that the uninitiated can tell he’s a boy, not a girl. The next step is for the males to build a suitable nest in order to attract the female frigate. But, this one poor, unsophisticated guy attempts to attract the attention of some classy babes by building what was most definitely not a nest – only a pile of three small sticks. Now the girls check out the various “houses” these guys have built, and choose their mate – not by his handsome features or his” abs”, but by the nest he provides.

The little inexperienced frigate just sat there, waiting. An enormous collection of female frigates selected one after another of the more ornate nests, leaving my hero to sit patiently by his two or three crossed sticks. I felt bad for him. I hope there was a sensitive female who took pity on him and overlooked the meager habitat he had to offer.

I could go on and on about the general neatness of these islands and their tight relationship with the animals, but I’ll save some for a later story. In the meantime, I will not toss a candy wrapper or any waste material onto the streets of Danville. I can assure you of that.