AND THE WINNER IS… Celebrating the Award Shows Season

0313Copeland-AwradsI have always enjoyed the televised award show ceremonies celebrating accomplishments in film, music, theatre and tattooing. While I find most of the annual award shows very entertaining, my wife absolutely loves the award show season. To put it succinctly, she loves, loves, loves award shows! She loves the glitz, the glam, the pageantry and the after parties. If there’s a red carpet pre-show and Ryan Seacrest in the house, then she’s got her hinny parked on the couch, a glass of chardonnay in her hand and Round Table on speed dial.

I use the term Award Show “Season” because it seems like there are about as many award shows as there are regular season baseball games. And, just like baseball, there are the major league shows such as; the Oscar’s, Emmy’s, Grammy’s and Tony’s, followed by the minor league offerings which includes; The Peoples Choice Awards, The Kids Choice Awards, The Teen Choice Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards. Then there’s the Country Music Awards, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Clio Awards and the All-Madden Team. (Actually, I don’t believe the All-Madden team qualifies as an awards show, but my wife doesn’t care about semantics.) Did I mention that the kids and I are banned from the family room during an award show due to our inability to stay quiet and thereby potentially disturbing her viewing pleasure? What a diva.

The granddaddy of all the award shows has to be the OSCARS. Wikipedia tells me that the Academy Awards, informally known as The Oscars, are a set of awards given annually for excellence of cinematic achievements. The first awards ceremony took place at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California in 1929. The show is televised live in more than 100 countries and it’s what the other major award shows, the Grammy’s (music), the Emmy’s (television) and the Tony’s (theatre) were patterned after. Some of my favorite Oscar moments included The Bad News Bears winning Best Movie in 1976, ET accepting the Best Actor award in 1982, and Three 6 Mafia winning Best Original Song for It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp from the 2005 movie Hustle and Flow. That last one is actually true and I seem to recall director James Cameron’s ears bleeding during their live performance.

The key to a successful Oscars show is often determined by who the host is for the evening’s event. Bob Hope has handled hosting duties the most times (18), followed by Billy Crystal (9). While both of those gentlemen are very capable hosts, the show I most enjoyed was hosted by that talented little pig named Babe. He, from the wildly popular movie of 1995 entitled simply, BABE. That little sausage cracked me up. Truthfully, the Oscars can be a bit dull, relying more on pomp and circumstance than content, but it is the Super Bowl of award shows and for that reason it will forever have my respect and be my wife’s favorite.

A GRAMMY Award (originally called Gramophone Award) – or Grammy – is an accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. The first award ceremony took place in 1959. Some classical composer named Sir Georg Silti has won the most Grammys (31), but since I’ve never heard of him, who cares? Now if it was Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mick Jagger or Sir Steve Perry, that would be different. The Grammy’s are my favorite show because of the live performances, especially the collaborations. Sir Elton John and Kiki Dee, Sir Elton John and Eminem, Sir Elton John and Insane Clown Posse were just a few of the interesting pairings. Candidly, I’m also fond of the flesh bearing fashions the Grammy’s bring out. That Rihanna can really wear a dress, or what passes for a dress at some Caribbean “clothes optional” beach resorts.

An Emmy Award, or simply Emmy, is a television production award show. The two ceremonies that usually receive the most media coverage are the Primetime Emmy’s and the Daytime Emmy’s, recognizing excellence in American primetime and daytime entertainment programming, respectively. The first Emmy Awards show took place in 1949. Unless I’m mistaken, that was the year The Simpsons first appeared on the Fox network. The Emmys are “must see” TV, mostly because television actors don’t come across as arrogant and pompous as their movie star cousins. The Emmys are a more fun and relaxed award show. Don’t get me wrong, its not the Jager shots and beer bong throw down that the Golden Globes are, but it’s a good time, none the less. Sadly, I lost a lot of respect for the Emmys when Snooki (played by Nicole Polizzi) was not awarded 2012’s Best Actress in a Reality Show. That woman’s work was inspired on MTV’s Jersey Shore, comparable only to Susan Lucci’s brilliant performance (for 41myears) as Erica Kane on All My Children. After eighteen failed nominations, Susan finally won a Best Actress award in 1999, but keep in mind that it was only the “Daytime” Emmys.

The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known informally as the Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. To be honest, I don’t really watch the Tony Awards — a little too schmaltzy for my taste. Don’t get me wrong, I totally enjoyed the theatrical productions of Lion King, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Hairspray and… well, Cats of course, however, an entire show about plays just doesn’t float my boat. It’s show tunes, and a lot of people I don’t recognize because they rarely appear on Entertainment Tonight, but most of all it’s a show recognizing performances I’ll likely never see. I resent the Broadway snobbery.

After the big four, all other award shows pale in comparison. Sure, they do have red carpets and fancy clothes, but they lack a little panache. I won’t deny that I enjoy the celebrity sliming on the Kids Choice Awards and the unusually erotic categories of the MTV Movie Awards, but I’m irked by the preposterousness of the People’s Choice Awards. If it’s the “peoples” choice awards, wouldn’t that imply that we the people get to vote? So where’s my ballot been mailed the last 50 years?

If I had it my way, I would institute A Suburban Life Award show in every neighborhood across America. Granted, I may lose out to Mr. Nishihira for Best Car Pool Driver and Dr. Weiss would totally run away with Best Words with Friends Competitor Award, but I would totally win Best Humor Lifestyle Magazine Article Writer (at least on my block). And the winner is……Me. I bet my wife might even watch.

Wings of Valor – Avian Wartime Couriers

What do Xerxes, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte and General Pershing have in common? They all dispatched field maneuver orders, battle results or other vital messages by carrier pigeons. No human could outrun sunlight, arrows, spears, or bullets, but the lowly bird could carry messages to home destinations by soaring high above fields, valleys, mountains or seas.

As far back as 3,000 years ago Egyptians, Persians, Etruscans and Greeks sent messages by carrier pigeons, and secured the precious birds in purpose-built dovecotes with as many as 2,000 pigeonholes. Romans built coops, called columbariums, throughout the empire and introduced pigeon culture to the Mediterranean and Britain. Fortresses housed the working birds in lofts above observation towers to protect the couriers from predators or theft, and in medieval times, pigeon sanctuaries were only owned by privileged classes in castles or chateaux.

As this photo (at Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy) reveals, author Anita Venezia’s love affair with pigeons is well documented.

At the height of the Industrial Revolution when the first telegraph lines were connected in 1860, Paul Reuter ironically employed a fleet of 45 pigeons to deliver closing stock prices for the new communication technology, and the banking Rothchilds used birds to send market results. Recently in Orissa, India, the internet put fleets of postal bird carriers out of business, and the Afghani Taliban has forbidden all bird ownership to prevent pigeon-grams.

Pigeons are not always a good thing; overpopulations in metropolitan cities cause extensive damage, such as the culprits in Venice, estimated at 130,000, targeted for vector control because they cost the city over a million euros a year. The once-quaint habit of tourists feeding the pushy pigeons that literally carpet St Mark’s Square for all-day bird banquets is now outlawed, and licensed birdseed vendors have been put out of business. The pesky birds perch in cornices and apertures of Venice’s delicate historic buildings and churches, and claw and peck at calcium-rich marble facades. The attractive nuisance of the iconic pigeons soaring over St Mark’s Basilica may soon be a thing of the past.

Homeward Bound
Pigeon research shows their efficiency; they can fly at speeds of 75 mph, but average 50 mph on 600-mile trips. The birds, of the Columba genus, set goal directions with a natural ‘compass’ enabling them to determine relative flight routes by detecting the earth’s magnetic field and spatial odor distribution. Flying by olfactory navigation, they are oriented to their home lofts by instinct, visual landmarks, roads, buildings and other man-made features.

Messenger homing birds have worked for room and board for millennia, but few pigeons have actually been awarded with medals for heroism, as those which flew in the Great War, and then again when they were called into service in World War II.

During World War I, when battles were fought on many fronts in unforgiving foxholes, muddy trenches and the fields of Flanders, lowly pigeon carriers had daunting tasks of flying messages through poison gasses and flying shrapnel. At the brutal battle of Verdun, thousands of pigeon batches relayed messages, but one heroic bird named “Che Ami” entered into legend by saving the lives of 200 Americans on October 4th 1918. German gunfire had already killed over 300 soldiers, trapped behind enemy lines, and the remaining 200 were being bombarded by their own friendly fire. Twelve courier birds had already been shot down and “Che Ami” was the only one left. An officer attached a canister to the bird’s leg with a message, “We are along the road parallel 276.4, and our own artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For heaven’s sake stop it!” Even though the bird was shot, it returned to the loft; 25 miles in 25 minutes.

When the pigeoneer soldier retrieved the message in the coop, “Che Ami” was on his back bleeding; he had a hole in his chest, his leg was blown off and an eye shot out, but he had saved 200 men of the 77th Infantry Division. His handler made him a wooden leg and the hero pigeon received the French Croix de Guerre medal for heroism. “Che Ami” was decommissioned, sent home on a troopship, and met by General Pershing in New York. The bird died on June 13th 1919, and his frail body was preserved. The hero bird of the Great War remains a legend, displayed with its Croix de Guerre medal, standing forever proud, mounted on a wooden leg in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

When the United States entered World War II, they ‘drafted’ pigeons into service for intelligence communiques; the British were already using the valiant vector courier program. The Germans too had couriers, controlling entire homing pigeon racing unions, and even trained falcon interceptors to take down the British messengers. Predator programs on both sides proved problematic; falcons, unable to discern the German couriers from British ones, intercepted anything that flew.

When the British First Airborne Division Signals parachuted into Holland, pigeons were carried in chest-attached baskets or air-dropped as intelligence vectors. The Confidential Pigeon Service was used by the Dutch and French resistance by attaching vital messages to birds to carry 240 miles across the English Channel. When intelligence could not be radio-transmitted, due to interception or inability to thread wires over rough terrain, combatants fitted pigeons with aerial micro-cameras to capture enemy positions, and during the Invasion of Normandy, the birds were invaluable to allied operations by carrying dispatches to the allied beach raiders. During a fierce battle at Monte Cassino in Italy when British troops were stranded behind German lines, they used their last three courier pigeons that arrived with SOS dispatches minutes before B52 bombers were taking off to bomb the area.
Pigeons also worked as lifesavers in naval and Coast Guard search and rescue operations, and were standard passengers aboard ships, planes and bombers, trained to carry messages about downed planes or ships lost at sea. As pigeons can differentiate colors, on rescue missions, they alerted searchers to survivors wearing red or yellow, bobbing in the waves.

With courier successes, the US Government conducted a national census of racing pigeons, and when the Signal Corps issued a call for both genders at $5 each, they secured hundreds of thousands of birds. The American Racing Pigeon Union patriotically offered their most prized birds for the war effort; their 600-mile fast-flyers, and G.I. pigeoneers cross-bred the fastest birds with the best homing instincts, putting the sturdy inductees through rigorous training. They moved field mobile lofts daily for three weeks for birds to memorize aerial bearings of their combat coops.

When couriers were ready for combat missions, it was discovered that males were driven by hunger, jealousy and sex. If a male saw its mate with another male at the onset, the fear of a ‘Jody’ bird scenario would make it fly home faster; a staggering 96 percent reaching their destinations.

Thirty four of our animal kingdom fine feathered-friends proved courage beyond the call of avian duty, and for distinguished service they received the coveted Dicken Award. Many stories tell of MIA or POW couriers or of incredible bravery under fire—like dark-feathered “Blackie Harrington” who served at Guadalcanal, and though badly wounded completed his Pacific missions. “Blackie” was rewarded a cushy retirement; servicing in a breeding loft, as was blue-checked “G.I. Joe” who flew for the 56th Infantry, and gallantly saved a thousand men from a bombing raid in 1943.

Many pigeons have been honored by the countries they served, the men they saved, and how their unique flight service affected battles. Though bird fanciers have paid as much as $132,000 for a single stud pigeon; the storied war birds were priceless as life-savers. The beloved little heroes of the feathered animal kingdom deservedly ‘won their wings’ and the birds of the air have justly earned a revered place in wartime history.

Racers of Alamo

While researching, I serendipitously found a local pigeon-racing enthusiast, John Bellandi, owner of Alamo Feed & Grain, noted for its life-size horse on the roof. I spoke with Charles Petrovich and learned that racers are homers, but homers are not necessarily racers. Racing pigeons are prized for speed and pedigreed bloodlines. “The Red Hen,” originating from the Belgian Janssen brothers, was imported in 1963 by breeder extraordinaire, Hank Vernazza. “Red Hen” was an upper echelon class of royal bird blood and the source of Vernazza’s fame among multi-club combines. Birds are registered through combines to compete in Young Bird or Old Bird Races; trucked in and tossed from places like Idaho or Nevada to fly home, the winning times clocked at arrival on the board.

Charles explained, “Birds don’t fly over mountains, they fly road routes, following my truck and then take off. When I arrive at my Antioch loft, they’re waiting for me. We have overfly handicaps — the difference could be 100 miles between lofts.” I asked about homers and racers. “Our birds are bred and trained for speed. We call the wild pigeons ‘barnies’.” I knew about barnies — they nested at my house.

To get the coop scoop, I checked into an online chat room. One pigeon fancier posted that the fastest bird ever was probably “True Grit,” found as an egg in a coop, incubated by a hen and whose bloodline was of unknown parentage. Others of legendary status are “Super Crack,” “Dreamboy,” and “Eurostar.” I followed chit-chat that the Belgian Janssen breeders had the best pedigreed bloodstock, still dominating in high-end auctions.

Pigeon racing is still a viable big-stakes sport with 15,000 registered lofts, and Queen Elizabeth’s high ranking loft won first place in 1990. In South Africa, the Sun City Million Dollar Race pits over 4,000 international birds all vying for a $1 million purse. Pigeon squabs are airlifted, trained and acclimatized in the grueling African veldt before the big race. Even also-rans win big purses and expensive cars—in short there are no birdbrained contestants in this sport — it for is for winners who fly fast and soar high.

Rain Rain Go(ne) Away?

Michael Copeland | March 2012
Just the other day, I was listing to my favorite song, It Will Rain by Bruno Mars (from my favorite movie, Breaking Dawn) when I realized that we are in need of some rain. It has been said that I have a keen sense of the obvious. You don’t need to be a meteorologist, although I would make a totally awesome meteorologist, to know that winter = rain and we haven’t had much precipitation in these here parts. If I’m not mistaken, at the time I penned this article, it had rained but once since Thanksgiving and only twice since the Fourth of July, or something like that. We desperately need that water like substance that falls from the sky to make our grass green, to fill our lakes and streams, to hydrate our crops (especially the medicinal crops that are so popular and profitable) and to wash my car. Yea, I don’t pay for car washes during the rainy season and my ride is filthy right now.

For the Al Gore Global Warming conspiracy theorists, I will admit that this winter in the Bay Area it has felt more like a dry summer in Texas, except that the temperatures have certainly been winter cold during the nights and mornings. The San Francisco Forty-Niner footsy flannel pajamas I received at Hanukah have been getting a real work out this season while I haven’t even opened the “Mitt for President” umbrella I got for Christmas. As kids, my mom taught us songs such as “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” by BJ Thomas, “Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters and “Kentucky Rain” by Elvis Presley. Songwriters have always had a love affair with rain so wouldn’t it be nice if one of the contestants on American Idol or The Voice would bust-out a soggy song to woo Zeus, the Lord of the Sky and the God of Rain.

Many Native American cultures have been known for their rain dances. A rain dance is one of the most famous ceremonial dances, out of a long line of choreographed movements, that once held the responsibility of appealing to the various Native American gods. The rain dance in particular was a way to gain favor and summon rain to come down and nourish the crops that would serve as sustenance for a specific tribe. It has been documented that tribes such as the Osage and Quapaw actually tracked the weather patterns and then performed the dances as a form of trade when there was a higher likelihood that it would bring the desired results. Today, the term “Rain Dance” refers to any ceremonial action taken to correct a hardware problem with the expectation that nothing will be accomplished.

Please allow me to share with you a wonderful poem by Shel Silverstein, a very talented man and poet, entitled appropriately Rain.

I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can’t do a handstand–
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said–
I’m just not the same since there’s rain in my head.

When you think of rain, one can’t help but think of Gene Kelly, a very talented singer and dancer of the 40s and 50s, who stared in the popular movie, Singing in the Rain, along with Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. More recently, the cast of Glee did a musical mash up of “Singing in the Rain” and “Umbrella,”, by Rihanna. In typical Glee fashion, it was an amazing production featuring water raining down on the cast in the McKinley high school theatre. If not for the unrealistic water works extravaganza, given the budget public schools have for the arts in the year 2012, I loved it. Conversely, I found the movie, Purple Rain written by, directed by and staring Prince a bit confusing. It didn’t actually feature a purple colored rain at all. There was a lot of cool singing and dancing by a freaky little guy who wore a lot of purple outfits, but alas, no precipitation. Dustin Hoffman turned in an incredible performance as an autistic-savant in Rain Man. He was a wiz with numbers and a fan of Judge Wopner, but again – no rain.

At the risk of insulting any of my seven or eight loyal readers, most of you probably know that rain also makes snow. Am I assuming too much? As bad as the people of Northern California need the sky to open us and water droplets to pour down on us, the folks living in the Sierra Nevada Mountains need snow for their livelihood. Everyone connected to the ski industry, from the ski resort operators to the beloved snow chain installation technicians, are undoubtedly praying for the fluffy white stuff to cover their mountain home. No snow = no money. Sadly there aren’t as many cool songs about snow as there are about rain. Have you heard, “Set Fire to the Rain,” by Adele? One word … Brilliant! However, Snow Patrol is one of my favorite new bands although I can’t recall a single song they sing related to snow. Now if Snow Patrol recorded an alternative version of the holiday tune, “Let it Snow,” they would totally rock the Winter Olympics in 2014.

Although I may have strayed a little from my original theme, I would hate to think of the negative repercussions a rain-less winter would have on our region. Drought is a dirty word around here. I want to “make it rain” like an insurance conventioneer with a fist full of $20.00 bills at a Vegas strip club. With any luck, by the time this article appears in type, we’ll be wearing raincoats and galoshes amidst a couple of months of consistently strong rain. I’m not talking “Noah’s Ark – forty days and forty nights of torrential flood” like rain or anything, but enough of the wet stuff to sustain us for the balance of the year.

An “April Showers Bring May Flowers” type of rain would be just fine.

Tapping to Release Pent-up Emotions & Unhealthy Habits — “Are You Kidding Me?”

Trina Swerdlow - March 2012

Yep, I predict that these words could easily roll off your tongue along with a smirky smile when I begin to describe a popular personal growth tool. So, go ahead and giggle. I won’t be offended. In fact, when I first heard about this tool — the “Emotional Freedom Technique” (EFT) — I thought it sounded completely and utterly … “airy fairy.”

Despite being heavily armed with a healthy level of skepticism, I received training to facilitate EFT (ten years ago) during my certification program to become a clinical hypnotherapist.

Then, after witnessing many positive results — first hand — during the EFT training sessions, my perspective began to shift, and my respect for this tool started to grow.

And, not only was I struck by the results I was seeing (and experiencing) during the interactive training sessions, but I was also struck by how simple EFT was to use. For example, the technique consisted of gentle fingertip tapping at specific places on the body that aligned with a person’s acupuncture meridian points. So, the acupuncture meridian points were stimulated without the use of needles.

To give you a bit of historical background, Stanford Engineer Gary Craig developed EFT after he studied Thought Field Therapy (TFT) with Dr. Roger Callahan. EFT was first developed to assist people in reducing or clearing emotional pain and negativity that may have fueled their fears and self-destructive behaviors.

Now, after teaching clients how to use EFT on themselves for the past nine years in my private practice — I must admit — I am a big fan of this tool. For this reason, I often teach EFT to people who want to release an unhealthy habit such as cigarette smoking or nail biting.

In addition, a few years ago, I taught EFT to Carrie (a forty year-old woman) whose medical doctor referred her to me after Carrie’s weight escalated to an unhealthy level.

During our first session, Carrie confessed that she had been drinking four cans of soda a day … for over twenty years. I pointed out to Carrie that since one can of sugary soda is about 145 calories, she was consuming approximately 580 calories a day from soft drinks alone. Then, with calculator in hand, I continued to add up the empty calories, which came to 4,060 calories a week, or a whopping 211,000 calories per year (the equivalent of 57 pounds) … just from soft drinks!

Carrie and I addressed her soda-drinking behavior during two EFT sessions. Between our two sessions, with her doctor’s encouragement, Carrie began weaning herself from her long-held “four sodas a day” habit. Then, when she felt ready, Carrie used EFT on her own. She was surprised and delighted when EFT’s tapping methods helped her move past her cravings — without reaching for any sodas. As a result, Carrie was thrilled to see her weight begin to go down … while her healthy “water-drinking” habit was going up!

In addition to weight loss, when doctors or psychologists send referrals to me, I often teach the clients how to use EFT for the following personal challenges:

  • Stress
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Insomnia
  • Creative blocks
  • Grief and loss
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success
  • Life transitions: career change, empty nest, or retirement

Finally, if the idea of adding EFT to your stress-reducing “repertoire” sounds appealing, then call or email me today.

After all, you might be surprised to find that EFT’s tapping to release pent-up emotions and unhealthy habits is much more productive that simply wringing your hands (or frustratingly drumming your fingers on your desk). In fact, after experiencing the gifts of EFT, you just may hear yourself say … “hey, she wasn’t kidding!”
(Name and client details changed to protect confidentiality.)

Name and client details changed to protect confidentiality.
To receive Trina’s FREE newsletter “Transformational Tips for Mindful Living,” sign-up on her website:

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.

Retirement Risks – Beware of Them All

What is risk? If you ask most investors, they would tell you that risk is the chance that an investment will go down in value. But this is only one type of risk – market risk. Investors face several other additional types of risk in retirement. These risks, if not addressed, can chip away at your retirement savings. Unfortunately, most retirement savers are far too fixated on market risk and do not pay close enough attention to the other types of risk.

Market risk is the chance that an investment’s actual returns will be different than expected due to overall price fluctuations in the market. Under this definition of risk, equities have the most risk and cash has the least. Market risk, however, is not the only risk out there for retirement savers.

What about the chance that you might not have enough set aside to meet your retirement spending needs, a savings shortfall risk? This can be compounded by retiring too early and/or spending too much in retirement. Longevity risk is the chance you will live much longer than expected and outlive your savings. Inflation risk is the chance that inflation will erode the purchasing power of your savings. In all of these cases, the “riskier” asset is cash and the “safer” asset is equities. Other risks to watch out for include legislative risk, the risk of law changes to taxes, pensions, Social Security and Medicare. What if someone dies early or becomes disabled? Fire consumes your home? What if you get sued? Catastrophic events risk is often overlooked and can be hedged with insurance and proper estate planning.

Investors need to rethink the concept of risk and how it can change over different life stages. As a young saver you have time on your side and many years of future income to put toward retirement savings. Market risk should not be a big concern. The bigger risk at this stage is the savings shortfall risk. You should invest for high returns and make sure you are getting a savings program going.

Savers in midlife can also accept high levels of market risk. They still have very long time horizons and many future years of income and contributions. They should still seek higher returns and watch that they are saving enough to avoid a shortfall. They should reduce their market risk as they near retirement.

Once retired you have no more future income to fund contributions and must now shift your focus to balancing market risk with longevity and inflation risk. This still requires seeking attractive returns and maintaining a healthy equity exposure. Longevity is the greatest risk for new retirees.

A senior retiree has likely spent down some of their retirement savings and needs to focus more on minimizing losses while at the same time generating returns that keep pace with inflation. Now is the time to pay attention to market risk yet balance it against the risk of losing purchasing power.

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

Love Gone Wrong

By now Valentine’s Day has come and gone and you likely heard stories on “private investigators’ busiest time of the year for infidelity cases.” Hogwash and bunkum. The P.I.s getting busy with cheating cases on Valentine’s Day is in the same league with the falsehood of Super Bowl Sunday having the most cases of domestic violence.

Eighty percent of the work load at our firm involves sleuthing for lawyers and for businesses–straight-forward meat-and-potatoes stuff. Perhaps my least favorite question at cocktail parties when I let down my guard and tell people what I do is: “So, you do cheating spouse stuff. Like ‘Cheaters’?”

I don’t much care for boyfriend-girlfriend surveillance-type cases. We screen our clients pretty carefully to weed out stalkers and freaks. But we do handle family law and domestic surveillance assignments. If it’s boyfriend-girlfriend situation and not much is at stake I would advise the potential client to just have some trust, or if it’s going badly just break it off and onto the next fish in the sea.

However, I do sympathize for what is a common scenario for our domestic clients. The most common customer is a professional woman about 40 to 55 years old looking at a divorce or involved in a child custody case. Some want ammo for court in child custody matters but others just want to see who has replaced them. If the husband had some honor and told the truth sooner we would not have these clients. What thanks is this for a woman who has raised the kids, likely held a job too and kept the household together?

This is not to say that it’s only men who cheat. Three out of five of our last cheating cases involved married women. The husbands had suspicions and acted on them after intercepting e-mails. (We never engage in touching another person’s email, phones, etc., all illegal acts.)

We catch the cheats with patience and stealth. Clients ask “how long does it take?” and we honestly cannot tell them as to do so would imply us having a crystal ball or other magical powers. The best analogy I have is that doing surveillance is like hunting or fishing: you might have to cast your line over and over, day after day to land one. I have gone out on someone six or seven times before they bolted for the cheating side of town.

And I have seen it all: There was the Australian businessman who we caught in San Francisco with a hooker after his wife became suspicious when she saw some of his Viagra pills were missing.  There was the “case of the jealous blind man” who thought his wife was in porn 40 years ago and who thought he was not the biological father of his daughter. (“No” to the porn rumor and “yes” to him being the father.) I have had several cases where men fell for women and gave them cars, hiring us to find and repo the cars but then relenting and giving the cars back. My first domestic was in 1994, capturing images of an illicit kiss on this stuff called “film.”

And for the record, December and May or June tend to be busiest for domestic investigations.




Spencer Elrod Services

Spencer Elrod Services

The Skinny: New Technologies on Fat Reduction.

Coolsculpting May Be The Magic Wand For Contouring The Stubborn Fat You Want To Lose.

If I had a dollar for every time someone wished they could trim the pooch of the belly, the bulge of the hips, or even the little flesh that spills over the top of a strapless gown without any effort, then I’d be as rich as the people behind Coolsculpting Technologies are about to be.

The Coolsculpting device, which is now at residence at Dr. Michelle Place Plastic Surgery Center in Danville, is a non-invasive treatment that eliminates fat cells in specific areas of your body. A cooling applicator is attached to the targeted area to extract energy from the underlying fat tissue, while protecting the skin, nerves, muscles and other tissue. The cooled fat cells undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death) and are gradually eliminated, reducing the thickness of the fat layer. Aside from some coldness to the area being treated and some electric tingle that lets you know something admittedly weird and extraordinary is happening, it’s trauma-free, safe, and requires no surgery or downtime.

Since the equipment was FDA approved and delivered to Dr. Place’s headquarters last December its switch has been in the “on” position more than it has been off and it’s no wonder it is the only office in the Bay Area that provides this service. The Plastic Surgery Center has done over 500 treatments for patients to help sculpt and melt their stubborn unwanted pooches: which is the hardest to rid with even extreme exercise.

On January 17th I attended a Coolsculpting seminar at the beautiful “The Studio” in Danville to see first hand what all this melting fat was all about. The Coolsculpting people were there and were very knowledgeable and confident in their equipment. Dr. Place spoke about the device as a lunchtime treatment that could be done in one hour and that will offer results from only one session! She also said, “It will give you lasting results, killing the fat cells for life.” The Plastic Surgery Center did a demonstration treatment on one of the 40 girls that were attending. I spoke with the patient in treatment and she told me that there was no pain; it was cooling yet comfortable. We all loved the results and, with zero downtime and no surgery, we were excited to line up and schedule our own procedure. Julie Fontaine, the office manager, scheduled a one-hour appointment for me to melt away my not-so-loving pooch.

I went in the next Monday without hesitation and was greeted by a wonderful and professional staff. Dr. Place and the Nurse practitioner prepped my tummy and marked the areas to be sculpted. They placed the Coolsculpt device gently on the area of the skin that would be suctioned and pulled into the machine. Aside from some cooling sensation, it was comfortable and virtually painless. Throughout the procedure Dr. Place and the nurse practitioner checked in to see how I was doing. I am now onto smooth and flat abs, while it takes up to three months to see the final results Dr. Place said you can see a reduction in two weeks. So, ladies, now is the time for slimming and melting that fat away for summer and the outcome is permanent, so start today. Once the word gets out, that machine will be going into overdrive.

Trivial Matters

I was in New York City when I received our editor’s request for material. So, with a New York state of mind, I submit the following:

  1. Who was the male lead of the movie “New York, New York?”
  2. Who managed the New York Yankees following Casey Stengel in 1960?
  3. Who was the coach of the New York Giants when they lost the Super Bowl to Baltimore in 2001?
  4.  Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra were sailors on leave in “On the Town.” Who wrote the music for that show?
  5. Who was the pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River?
  6. A famous old radio show took its title from a famous NY destination. What was it?

February Answers

  1. “House of Blue Lights”
  2. “The Light that Failed”
  3.  “Blue Moon”
  4. “Blue velvet”
  5. Blue Laws


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 March 20, 2012. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn at random. Please email your answers to, or mail to ALIVE East Bay, 3200 A Danville Blvd., Ste. 204, Alamo, CA 94507. Employees and family members of employees of ALIVE East Bay are not eligible.
Restaurant may be changed without notice.

Making the Grade – What You Need to Know About Bullying

There has been heartbreaking media coverage over the last few years of the growing bullying epidemic. The ramifications of these terrible acts for children and teens range from emotional and developmental issues to physical harm and even suicide in extreme cases. Government studies indicate that one out of five school age students are either the recipient or predator in a bullying incident. Bullying can happen at any age and to someone of any race, gender or socio-economic background. It occurred in my classroom despite the school’s education on the subject and my regular discussions and check-ins with students. Ultimately, I found that parents’ efforts and communication with their children and with me helped solve the problem. Here is what you should know and how you can help your child.

Types of Bullying
There are more types of bullying than you may think. Here is a breakdown:

  •   Cyber bullying: via internet, phone, text or other forms of technology, a modern-day culprit that particularly affects teens
  • Physical: Pushing, hitting, punching, or taking a child’s belonging
  • Verbal: Any kind of teasing, threats or name-calling
  • Social: Gossiping to cause harm, damaging friendships, spreading rumors, forming clicks, not playing or hanging out with someone on purpose

Potential Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied
To recognize if your child is being bullied look for these signs: moodiness, anxious or hopeless behavior, lack of appetite, damaged clothing, “lost” items, bruises or injuries, inability to sleep, bad dreams, sudden unwillingness to go to school or extra curricular activities, unexplained drop in grades, complaints of physical issues such as stomach pains. Of course, many stresses can lead to these symptoms, but regardless, these behaviors are red flags that something is not right and you need to have a talk with your child and be vigilant.

What to Do If Your Child Is A Victim
If you suspect your child is being bullied don’t wait to take action. You want to let your child know you are there to help and give her time and space to share her thoughts. Try role-playing a similar scene as the one your child is struggling with and come up with a few different ways to handle it. If the bullying is happening at school or an after school program, it is always wise to contact the teacher and whomever else you feel will be the strongest advocate for vigilance and authority in the situation. If you have to talk to a parent, do so in person and with someone who can act as a mediator, such as a school counselor. Also, be sure to document cases as they occur. Being a proactive parent can completely change your child’s school and social experiences for the better and even save her life.

Stop Bullying is a user-friendly website that gives excellent information on how to take action as a parent, teacher, child or teen. Share this link with everyone you know!

Wine-ing About Cooking

It started out fun, but then things got fuzzy. I wanted to make a dish that I often order at one of my favorite restaurants (yes Mexican) called tortilla soup. Well, to cut right to the cheese, I mean chase—you know it’s been a long time since you’ve cooked when you can’t even find the cheese grater. Worse yet, when you can’t remember what the cheese grater looks like.This has nothing to do with memory loss and everything to do with cooking blues, because I know what a grater looks like, I just couldn’t remember what mine looked like.

In my case it takes up way too much of my time, cooking that is. For me it’s off to work by 8:30 a.m., whistle blows at 5 p.m. (sometimes midnight), then home to feed the horse (an overgrown dog really, with a huge appetite who honestly only loves me for my amazing ability to feed him), then phone interviews, edit my students articles, and more writing until 10 p.m.—well let’s just say, “hello fast food ala ATM card.” Sleep fits in there somewhere between today and tomorrow, I’m just not sure where, exactly. Now who hid the ladle?

I always tell everyone that when I do cook, my stove thinks a new tenant moved in. And since my 17-year-old son Andrew is not too keen on casseroles or anything with green in it, I keep it simple for him (mac and cheese from a box tops the charts). At this point, I can’t make out if it’s the onions that are making me cry or just the cooking?

I pour myself a glass of Cabernet – this always helps. See, I cook just fine, and I receive my fair share of compliments when I host a dinner (key word: when). I love to watch the Food Network cooking shows on Saturdays (how does Giada stay so thin anyway?), and Andrew has to pull me away, literally from the Tupperware stand in the middle of the malls. The wine is taking effect and I begin to search high and low (mostly low) for that new mini white Tupperware strainer with a practically noir look on my face.

The tortilla soup is almost done. So is the bottle of wine. But how could soup possibly take five hours to make? With no time left to read Bill Clinton’s new book “Giving,” I plop on the couch and contemplate how it feels to be “receiving” no soup (because I’m full of wine now) and wonder if I fed the horse yet.

Kitchen is a mess and take-out would’ve only cost me no more than two or three Abe Lincolns (love Taco Bell), so why all the fuss and muss? I’m thinking cooking is just not my thing. I’m much better at putting words together than food, where the only things left on the floor and counters to clean-up are trite clichés and passive sentences my editor didn’t need.

By the way, I finally found the cheese grater. It was tucked neatly away in my sock drawer.

Charleen Earley is a freelance writer, humor columnist, high school journalism teacher and stand-up comedienne. Contact her at