A Lost Decade?

The last ten years or so have been widely referred to as the “lost decade.” In many ways this term does accurately reflect our economic and financial market struggles since the year 2000. We have experienced unthinkable terrorist attacks, painful stock market declines, ongoing wars in the Middle East, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. No argument here that the last 10-12 years have been an extremely tough environment for many Americans and a very frustrating and challenging time to be an investor.

Despite all these struggles, there have been some very positive developments over the last decade that may provide better economic growth ahead. One of the most important achievements during the last decade has been the extraordinary growth and maturation of the emerging world economies. Today’s emerging economies like China, India and Brazil have gone through a significant transformation the last decade. No longer are their economies totally reliant on exports. They are evolving into more self-sufficient contributors to world economic growth. This is being driven internally by the growing middle classes who now are able to buy all the nice things that we take for granted here in the U.S. Back in 2000, the Gross Domestic Product or GDP (a measure of total economic output) for the emerging economies of the world was only 60% of the U.S. GDP. Today, emerging economies GDP has grown to represent 130% of U.S. GDP.1

Another positive trend over the last decade is the incredible technological and productivity gains here in the U.S. This “tech boom” has lead to record profits for U.S. companies. We have also seen worldwide growth in the popularity of capitalism during the last 10 years. Technology has allowed the world to become smaller and more interconnected. For many around the globe the increased connectivity with the rest of the world has lead to a realization that capitalism and free-markets, although not perfect, are the best way forward. This in turn has promoted the fall of dictatorships and an increase in individual economic freedom for many people throughout the world. The end result is the most diversified global economy ever seen.

So maybe the last decade was not a total loss? Our investment decisions going forward are going to be greatly influenced by the dynamic changes taking place all over the globe, particularly those over the last ten years. Now more than ever investors must embrace a global mindset when making plans.

  1. Wells Capital Management, Economic and Market Perspective, 2-2012


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 damien@WalnutCreekWealth.com”


A Mother’s Mysterious Death

I believe in numbers, probabilities and odds. How often do mothers of two boys go for a walk, at night, down onto a freeway and wind up dead? How often do drivers who might have struck a pedestrian fail to stop and just go sailing merrily down the road? Answers to both: Hardly ever.

But these are the questions more than five months after the body of 47-year-old Roma Bhatia, a mortgage consultant, was found on a Saturday night just south of the Bollinger Canyon Road overpass off to the side of the northbound 680 freeway. The cause of death was listed as blunt force injuries from being struck by a vehicle. According to the California Highway Patrol, it’s still an active and ongoing investigation.

The mother of two teen-age boys had been a victim of domestic violence throughout her marriage, according to court records, and had been embroiled in a lengthy divorce and child custody fight. She had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had moved back in with her family in the months before her death.

For a number of reasons I wrestled whether to even write something about this case. For starters, I had done some work on the case for the victim’s side of the family right after the death. I canvassed for possible witnesses and interviewed some people at the hair salon where she was last seen alive. I just asked that anyone who knew anything call the CHP. It’s not like the movies where I worked on the case around the clock. In the real world, you do what you can do within a budget.

A bigger stumbling block to writing about it was my fear of the subject matter attached to the story: Domestic violence. But the reason not to write about something –FEAR– is probably why we should confront and examine the subject. It seems like domestic violence wants to be whispered about and kept in the shadows, or as embattled San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi supposedly labeled it, a “private matter.” Domestic violence also happens in the suburbs.

Roma Bhatia was last seen, about three hours before her death, walking out of the Fantastic Sams hair salon, 11040 Bollinger Canyon Road, about 5:15 p.m. She had paid $87.85 out of a $100 bill for a tint, cut and moisturizer. Her body was found about 8:20 p.m. and her husband apparently called San Ramon police looking for her about two hours later. She was quiet at the salon but mentioned that she was going to spend Thanksgiving with her two sons, stylist Tina Tran told me. Her youngest son had apparently given her a ride to the shop.

A major question though is: Did she really walk the 2.7 miles at night from the salon down onto the freeway? Her sister and friends are unanimous that Roma was not a recreational walker and would never even pass up valet parking. In the days after her death I had asked the Safeway store near the beauty parlor to preserve any video they might have had from the parking lot, in case it might have shown her getting into a vehicle. I don’t know if the store had any such video or if they turned anything over to the CHP.

Another troubling aspect, to me anyway, is that the husband never seemed to be in the public eye after the incident asking the public for information to help in the case. We all grieve in different ways I suppose. The CHP lost valuable time on the case because the investigating officer was off for five days immediately after the case due to scheduled time-off.

So the real reason I bring up this case is to humanize the victim and to keep the case alive. All mothers are special. She must have been a strong person to raise a couple of boys and suffer in an abusive marriage.



Spencer Elrod Services

Spencer Elrod Services


Beauty Bloom – New Surprises in Cosmetic Technologies

I love when new technologies improve our life, making it easier and less complicated. Here is a list of a few noteworthy items to hit the market to help you love applying make-up all over again.

“NEW” Gel Eyeliners
Remember how eyeliner pencils used to be so hard that it would hurt to apply them? Or you would have to hold the eye in order to put it on, only to look at yourself an hour or so later and it all faded off to a hint of a line? By the end of the day you looked washed out and you would wonder where all your make-up had gone.

No more worries because now they have invented Gel Eyeliners! We have them. They glide on oh-so-very smooth and effortless, then dry in 10 minutes for a waterproof long-lasting 24 hour hold. You can apply it very natural or beautifully bold. It is like no other pencil to date and comes in eight different shades. The perfect eyeliner with many benefits—we are obsessed.

“NEW” Super Wear Brow Definer
Some of us just can’t get our eyebrows to look beautiful and natural. We have used many different types of cosmetics, like eyebrow powder, waxy eyebrow tints, and eyebrow pencils, just to name a few. Eyebrow powders look natural but always rub off and smudge. Eye pencils are still wonderful and work very well but if you are looking for extra fullness, then the Super Wear Brow Definer may be the product for you.

The Super Wear Brow Definer is a new gel formula invented for utmost precision. It looks like a felt tip pen and dispenses a perfect brushstroke look. It defines effortlessly and fills-in brows for a more modern updated look with hours of extended wear. Designed for expert control and easy application, the quick-dry formula sets instantly, and won’t rub off or stray, as it delivers a lasting, natural finish that looks like your very own brow. Love!

“NEW” Pro Beauty Lip Primer
Have you had trouble with lipstick fading beyond the lip line and then going up in the lines of the lips? Most red lipsticks will smudge all over the lips making them look unkempt and messy. We have a new product to make your life easier and to hold lipstick in place. This new lip technology we have discovered will never allow lipstick to smudge or run into the lines of the lips. The lip-caring primer formula penetrates instantly, a patent pending technology that helps suspend pigments to create a soft cushion so lipsticks don’t move. For best results, apply the primer on first then your selected lip liner and, lastly, your favorite lip color. You will never have an embarrassing lip smudge moment ever again using this wonderful Pro Beauty Lip Primer.

At The Rouge, we are dedicated to giving you the best in knowledge and the utmost updated information in cosmetics. With our research of top-performing products we test market everything before we write about it. We welcome you to come in and see for yourself and try some of these wonderful new cosmetic technologies to improve your life and confidence.

Successful Careers from Mediocre Beginnings

Many famous and successful people, including musicians and composers, abound in our present day society. But many of these highly-thought-of, very accomplished people were not as famous and successful in their early lives as they became later. Many people who we admire and esteem today had very mediocre career beginnings.

It is surprising to note that when I was doing research for this article I found world renowned individuals represented in the fields of business, politics, science, medicine, sports and the arts including musicians and composers.

When we think of the gifted and illustrious composers of the past few centuries and even in modern times, most people would not have imagined they had hard times and unfortunate periods in their lives. Some examples of these famous people follow:

Musicians and Composers

Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) was a prodigy and wunderkind, musically gifted beyond belief. He was proficient on the harpsichord at the age of four and composing at age five. However, he was often restless and even dismissed as a court musician in Salzburg, Austria. Mozart struggled to support his family financially and was always in need of his patron’s commissions. He died at the untimely age of 35, destitute. It is said that his early demise was brought about by overwork and financial worries. In his short life he wrote over 600 compositions. Think what this output would have been had he lived a normal life span.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) was one of history’s greatest composers. As a youth he was awkward on the violin, reportedly due to non-practice. He was described as an angry young man mainly due to his father’s browbeating and bullying. One of his teachers said of him, “As a composer he is hopeless.” Deafness is a tragedy for anyone but for a musician/composer it is catastrophic. Deafness changed Beethoven’s whole personality and he became “A miserable old grump.” Unbelievably he composed his later works when he was totally deaf. He evolved from his early inadequacies to become one of the greatest composers of all time.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) enjoyed tremendous acclaim and success, especially from his ballet scores in his later years. He was literally run out of town after the premier of the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps (the Rite of Spring) in 1913.” Le Sacre du Printemps provoked a riot – nobody was ready for this extraordinary portrayal of ancient fertility rites with savage harmonies and irregular pounding rhythms. “Le Sacre du Printemps is a primitive, ritualistic breathtakingly modern, and the most single influential piece of twentieth-century music,” according to Marcus Weeks in his book, Music.  Stravinsky’s life is a story of rejection to adoration and he was a champion of twentieth-century music.

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was a true American Icon who came from being literally a “nobody” to an international box office phenomenon. In 1954 Jimmy Dean, who was the manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis after just one performance. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son,” said Dean. “You ought to go back to driving a truck.”  If anybody ever had to eat their words, it was Jimmy Dean!

Henry Mancini (1924-1994) award winning, Oscar winning, Grammy winning musician/composer/arranger was another success story that had a rough beginning. His daughter, Felice Mancini, writes, “My father was not a good student. He got D’s and occasional F’s and many C’s throughout his school years. But he seemed to shine when it came to music and got A’s on every report card. He was fortunate to have music available to him and teachers who recognized his gift.” Mancini’s greatest claim to fame was being a staff composer and arranger at Universal Studios. He was the first to introduce Jazz to television and film scores that made his work unique. His compositions became huge hits among some are: Pink Panther, Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and TV theme songs, Mr. Lucky, Peter Gunn and Charlie’s Angels. Mancini also wrote and arranged for Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.

Other famous non-musicians with dubious beginnings are:

Henry Ford, who had early failed businesses and went broke five times.

R. H. Macy had seven failed businesses before his department store empire.

Colonel Sander’s recipe was rejected over 1,000 times before a restaurant accepted it.

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and had a failed first business.

Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Winston Churchill struggled in school and failed sixth grade. He was defeated in many elections before he was twice elected Prime Minister and a Nobel Prize winner. He was recognized as being one of the world’s greatest orators and Churchill was also a very prolific writer.

Overcoming obstacles early in life can often lead to successful careers. Having a positive attitude and preparing yourself for your future career is most important for success. Don’t be discouraged by early disappointments as the future may hold great things.

Mark your calendar for the Danville Community Band’s Annual Free Spring Concert, Sunday, June 17th, 3:00 at Community Presbyterian Church in Danville

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net

Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.


It’s the Pits!

Late spring marks the start of stone fruit season. (So-called because these fruits contain a single pit, or “stone.”) First come cherries and then apricots, followed by peaches, nectarines, plums, and all their various hybrids. Unlike the tasteless, mealy imports found in supermarkets, your farmers’ market carries tree-ripened, locally grown fruit—just the way nature intended. One juicy bite and you’ll be hooked. I promise.

Cherry season starts off slowly with the arrival of the Black Tartarian and Burlat; followed by the blushing yellow Royal Anne and Rainier. Sour cherries, like the Montmorency or Morello are primarily grown outside of California, and valued mostly for pies, jam, and for drying. Most agree the West’s dark, sweet, meaty Bing is the quintessential cherry, followed closely by Lamberts and Vans.

Long before it was known as a search engine, Bing was just a cherry. (And, of course, a famous crooner.) A cross between the Tartarian and Royal Anne, the Bing was developed in Oregon in 1875 by Seth Lewalling. Legend has it that because he didn’t have enough money to pay his Chinese cook’s wages, he named the new cherry after him.

Here are some helpful cherry factoids:

  • Cherries should be shiny, plump, and firm.
  • A green stem is an indicator of a just-picked cherry.
  • Refrigerate cherries, unwashed, in an open plastic bag. It’s best to eat them within several days of purchase.
  • Cherries-on-the-stem tend to last longer.
  • Cherries contain vitamin C, and about 87 calories per cup.
  • Cherry juice can stain your hands, so you may want to wear latex gloves—and an apron—while pitting them.
  • A cherry-pitter is an inexpensive kitchen tool that makes the job a breeze. (It works a bit like a paper punch, forcing the pit out of the cherry.) Lacking one, just use the tip of a small, sharp knife.

Though not much can beat a cherry eaten out of hand, it’s fun to use them in unexpected ways. Act quickly, though, for cherry season is short but sweet…about 3 1/2 weeks, to be exact.

Spice things up: Transform pitted cherries into a zesty salsa by adding finely chopped red or green onion; minced jalapeño chile pepper; finely grated fresh ginger; coarsely chopped cilantro or mint; a tiny drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt; and fresh lemon or lime juice, to taste. Serve alongside pork or poultry; with a gooey jack cheese quesadilla; or for dipping tortilla chips.

Sweeten things up: Jazz up your favorite upside-down cake, substituting pitted fresh cherry and apricot halves for the usual canned fruit.

To preserve stemmed pitted cherries for baking year ‘round, flash-freeze them on a baking sheet until firm; then pack into freezer-safe bags or plastic containers. Use frozen.

Late Spring Fruit Salad: In a bowl, toss together stemmed, pitted, and halved cherries; cubes of ripe cantaloupe; pitted apricot halves (or quarters, if large); a pinch of salt; a splash of sweet white wine; and a few fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips.

Salad Days: Grill a well-seasoned skirt or flank steak until nicely charred on the outside and pink in the middle. While the meat rests on a cutting board, make a mustardy balsamic vinaigrette. In a bowl, combine young arugula leaves and stemmed, pitted, and halved cherries; drizzle with just enough vinaigrette to coat lightly, and toss gently to mix. Spread the salad over a large platter. Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices and arrange on top of the salad. Top with crumbled blue or goat cheese, and a few toasted almonds. Serve with warm crusty bread.

Gilding the Lily: Add fresh cherries to your favorite chicken salad or rice pudding; layer them in trifles, or bake the classic French clafoutis. Pile fresh cherries on a cheese platter; or build an adult-ice cream sundae by first macerating cherries in kirsch, brandy, or amaretto. (Heat the fruit topping, and you’ve got Cherries Jubilee.) Or mix them into slightly-softened vanilla ice cream, with or without shards of semisweet chocolate, for a home-style take on one of the country’s favorite ice cream flavors.

For an elegant ending to a meal, rinse perfect ripe cherries and pat them dry. Working one at a time and holding each by the stem, dip the cherries in melted dark or white chocolate and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet; then refrigerate until the chocolate coating is firm. (This is an especially charming presentation for “twins”—2 cherries joined at the stem.) Just be sure to warn your guests these cherry-chocolate bonbons contain pits.)

Savoring the Moment: Forget those scary iridescent cherries sold in jars and make your own boozy ones to garnish cocktails or desserts. For each pint jar you’ll need about 1 pound of fresh cherries. Rinse them well and pat dry; pit them or not, as you like. (If you don’t pit them, prick each cherry 2 or 3 times so the liquor will penetrate the fruit.) Pack cherries into a sterilized jar, cover with bourbon, rye, brandy, kirsch, or Maraschino liqueur, and refrigerate. When all the cherries have been eaten, mix the remaining alcohol in cocktails.

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

Shedding Light on Natural Pain Relief

They can repair your vision with just one treatment and measure the distance from the Earth to the moon within a millimeter. They are in supermarket scanners and compact disc players. What are they? Lasers. Theorized by Albert Einstein in 1917 and invented in 1960, lasers have proven to be a versatile high-tech solution to many of life’s problems. Today, more and more people are learning that therapeutic doses of laser light can also relieve pain and expedite healing for a wide range of health complaints.

What is laser therapy for pain relief?
Laser therapy is the application of low levels of laser light to areas of the body that have been injured or damaged. Contrasted with high-powered lasers used in health care that cut tissue, such as surgical or hair-removal lasers, therapy lasers produce beneficial chemical and biological interactions that can help relieve pain and repair injured/damaged tissue.

How long have lasers been used by health care providers?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave market clearance to the first therapy laser in 2002. Since then, progressive chiropractors, osteopaths, medical doctors and other have been offering laser therapy to their patients in increasing numbers.

How do lasers work?
The laser light penetrates through your skin and is absorbed by special receptors on your body’s cells called chromophores. Just as photosynthesis creates energy for plants, the absorption of the laser light by your cells causes increased production of cellular energy. In areas of injury or damage, this means there is more energy available to improve the rate and quality of healing. Studies on tissue cultures reveal a wide range of beneficial physiological effects, including increased levels of endorphins, reduced levels of harmful compounds including C-reactive protein and increased rate and quality of tissue healing.

That means relief from acute and chronic pain, reduced inflammation and muscle spasms, improved range of motion and restored function. Patients suffering from headaches, neck pain, carpal tunnel, low back pain, sports injuries, post-surgical pain and more have been helped with laser therapy.

How long does it take to work?
Some patients notice improvement after the very first treatment session; with others it may take a few treatments. The effect of laser therapy is cumulative, meaning that each successive treatment builds on previous ones.

What does a treatment feel like?
With very low-powered therapy lasers, you feel nothing at all. Higher-powered (Class IV) therapy lasers produce a mild, soothing, warm feeling. Laser therapy is a painless treatment.

Are there any side effects?
Some patients may experience soreness in the area of treatment, as toxins are released and blood flow is restored. World experts on laser therapy have commented that therapeutic lasers have no undesirable side effects in the hands of a qualified therapist.

For more information about how laser therapy may be helpful to you contact Align Healing Center to set-up a free consultation with Dr. Niele Maimone (925)362-8283. Visit us on the web at AlignHealingCenter.com.

Have All Star Games Run Their Course?

Fan voting begins this month for the Major League Baseball All Star Game to be held on July 10 in Kansas City. With the talent on the field being paid hundreds of millions of dollars in some cases, are all star games still worth the risk for owners and for fans with an emotional stake in their team’s regular season performance?

A hard foul in the NBA All Star Game highlighted players’ attitudes in these games and led some to question if hard play in an exhibition is appropriate. In the week between the NBA All Star Game and the showdown between the Miami Heat and the Lakers in Los Angeles, the primary story line was Kobe vs. Wade, as in what retribution might Dwayne Wade expect for breaking Kobe Bryant’s nose with a hard foul during the All Star exhibition.

As it turned out, the only retribution was 18 first quarter points by Bryant on the way to a game high 33 in the Lakers’ 93-83 win. Bryant wore a clear mask that looked a bit like 1970s hockey goaltender gear to protect his nose. Otherwise, the game was pretty much business as usual. Miami looked like a team at the end of an opposite coast trip missing one of its best players (Chris Bosh) playing a recent league champion experiencing a bit of an uptick. Los Angeles led nearly the entire, drama-free, game.

The Kobe vs. Wade flap occurred because many felt that Wade violated all star game etiquette by fouling Bryant hard in the All Star Game. By all accounts the resultant broken nose was accidental, but a hard foul against a player having a good game is a regular season staple. Many thought it was out of place in all star competition.

An editorial at latimes.com called the foul by Wade “inappropriate.” Bryant’s teammate and fellow all-star Andrew Bynum spoke out in Bryant’s defense after the incident.
“It was an All-Star Game,” Bynum said. “I don’t understand what that was all about. It was crazy.” Fellow Laker Pau Gasol also spoke out on Bryant’s behalf.

The Lakers’ reactions are predictable, but even Bosh seemed to think Wade was a bit more aggressive than necessary. “It was already spicy enough,” he said to NBC Sports.com. “It’ll be something to play on the reels over and over before the game…So I’m sure it will be pumped up a lot.”

The reactions of players on both sides points out a problem with All Star competition in an era when star contracts can be more than the GNP of a typical third world country. The games are played on national television in front of fans paying significant premiums for tickets. Yet, ownership and the players’ main goal seems to be to avoid injury in an exhibition with no impact on the standings.

It’s worse in sports where hitting is fundamental to the game. After this year’s Pro Bowl, which resembled a ballet in shoulder pads, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that he would look into the future of the game, and its discontinuation was not out of the question. The NHL All Star Game is a nightmare for goalies. Without any checking or hitting, a sport where a typical score might be 3-2 is turned into a free skate with recent final scores along the lines of 12-9 and 11-10. Any resemblance to a real NHL game is incidental.

Only the Major League Baseball All Star Game serves up an approximation of the real thing. The elements of the game that are missing, breaking up double plays and running over the catcher, are not as central to the competition as aggressive defense in basketball or the violent contact inherent in regular season professional football and hockey. Pitchers are still showing their best stuff and hitters are competing hard in the batters box. It may also help that the winning league earns home field advantage in the World Series.

Goodell is probably on to something when it comes to reevaluating the Pro Bowl. Its TV ratings are low and the players have no motivation to risk injury by playing the game in a way the public is used to seeing NFL competition. That game is probably on its way out.

The hockey game is the culmination of a weekend of skills competitions and is still a showcase on U.S. network television for a league that is playing catch-up with the other three major team sports. A true hockey fan can probably barely watch, but the game is not quite as bad as the Pro Bowl.

The Kobe vs. Wade incident points out the central problem of the NBA All Star Game. Someone who delivers a hard foul like Wade is vilified, and consequently the level of effort expended by all players in the game is called into question. Still, a high scoring playground-style game is somehow more fun in basketball than in hockey or football, and the game consistently delivers highlight reel content for ESPN and the NBA Network. Combine that with the slam dunk contest and all the other activities leading up to the game, and it’s hard to see the NBA making any significant changes. Ownership will just continue to hold its collective breath while its largest investments run and jump up and down the court in a game that doesn’t count.

Dizzy Dean’s career altering broken toe in 1937 and Ted Williams’ broken elbow in 1950 that probably cost the Red Sox that year’s pennant aside, the MLB All Star Game will probably continue as the model pro sports all star event. The Home Run Derby is seen by many as a great way to spend a Monday night in the summer, and now that no one believes that a Pete Rose/Ray Fosse collision at home plate will ever happen again in the All Star Game and with pitchers generally throwing only one or two innings each, the injury risk seems manageable. What fans are seeing is a realistic big league game with a star at every position. That is a tough formula to beat. Happy voting!

Dirt Gardener – Dandelions

Q. Dandelions have invaded my lawn and are taking it over. I’ve tried pulling them up by the roots but they only come back. The spray on Dandelion Killer just wilted them a little bit. What do I do next?

Dandelions are generally thought of as a weed but they’re lots of positive things to say about them. They’ve been around since the tenth century and are known as the Swine’s Snout, Yellow Gowan, Irish Daisy or Peasant’s Cloak. The juice of the plant’s root is still used to treat diabetes, to build up the blood and used as a mild laxative.

During WWII, Dandelions were cultivated for the latex extracted from the roots that was then used to make rubber. The foliage is more nutritious than spinach. It’s high in vitamins A and C, and contains impressive levels of other elements. This being said, they’re still undesirable in lawns and fit the classic definition of a weed, any plant growing where it’s unwanted or undesired. The same would be true of a rose growing in a wheat field. The Dandelion is among the most recognizable of plants. It tolerates many types of soil, from loose sand to compacted clay. The yellow flower forms a puffball, which contains the seeds and is dispersed by wind or kids of all ages as they enjoy watching the feathery material float away.

You can successfully rid a grass lawn of Dandelions with a little patience. They’re controlled without herbicides by mowing the turf often to prevent the puffy seed heads from forming and dousing the plants with boiling water. However, manually digging them out is by far the most widely used method. You do not solve the problem by yanking them up or cutting off the top growth. To be successful you must remove the long taproot entirely, otherwise, they return. Many garden centers have a Weeder that is ideal for removing Dandelions. The tool looks like a long screwdriver with a ‘V’ shape end that resembles a whale’s tale. Depending on the extent of the problem, hand weeding can be a tedious task. In these cases, a selective herbicide for broadleaf weeds is a more efficient answer. The primary solutions are ‘Weed and Feed’ turf products and liquid herbicides. With ‘Weed and Feed’ products please read the instructions. All too often, applicator error is primarily the reason for poor results. They’re best applied with a drop type spreader, and not a hand held one. In addition, it’s also critical when and when not to water. There are many brands of liquid herbicides available that kill Dandelions and other broadleaf weeds. You’ll find premixed solutions or concentrates that have to be mixed up before applying. Bayer Season Long Weed Control for Lawns is one of the newest herbicide for turf. It’s unique in that it kills the existing Dandelions and then it prevents the dormant seed from germinating for six months. The nursery professional at your favorite garden center is an excellent resource to review your options and make a recommendation.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is www.dirtgardener.com and you can send questions by email at dirtgarden@aol.com or to 360 Civic Drive Ste. ‘D’, Pleasant Hill, Calif. 94523.

Stamps in my Passport – Lithuania

While traveling around the back roads of most nations, one often comes across hidden jewels – those treasures scattered about like oases in a desert – that are often ignored by major tour companies. Certainly main attractions such as historical buildings and wide, expansive vistas are on the itinerary of these agencies. But some out-of-the-way, often hard-to-find sites are overlooked.

During the years, I’ve stumbled on a number of these locations which have proven to be highlights of my travels. Let me share one of my favorites with you.

We left Helsinki, Finland by ferry and headed almost due east. It took only a few hours of sailing until we found ourselves docked at the colorful wharf of Tallinn, Estonia.

Estonia is now, as it was for years before Soviet domination, a free and prosperous nation. It is the northernmost country of the three which are usually bundled together by the term “Baltic countries.” The other two are Latvia and Lithuania. It was our intention to explore these three often-overlooked nations.

We spent a few pleasant days in and around Tallinn. The people there are extremely friendly and very open, teaching us a great deal of history about this area. Interviewing a number of tourist agents we eventually negotiated a deal with one for a car and driver who spoke the various native languages as well as English. It was our hope that he/she would know the three counties well enough to give us a history lesson along with our tour. We found our match in a jolly local who drove like the wind and talked incessantly.

Our travels began south out of Tallinn, traveling mostly along the coast. Latvia was next, with again great results, including some time spent in Riga, the capital. Topography was generally flat, with agriculture and fishing carrying the load.

As our guide drove south into Lithuania, he smiled and said, ”I have a pleasant surprise ahead for you. Let me tell you the story about our next stop.”

“There is a gentle hill about twelve kilometers ahead, just outside the city of Siauliai which has been considered a holy place dating back to the early eighteen hundreds. I do not know that much of the hill’s early history, but I have been a witness to its recent past.

“Between World War I and World War II this area was invaded by the Russians and incorporated into the nation then known as the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics. As part of the occupation, the Soviet regime discouraged any form of religious activity. The hill at that time contained a number of religious symbols, but the local Russian commander had it completely bulldozed – thereby destroying any remnants of religious life.

“One year, and I’m not sure which one, as Easter approached three white crosses appeared on the hill. In keeping with the current law, the Soviet military commander sent a squad of soldiers up to remove the religious symbols. The next morning, when he awoke, he saw not three, but three sets of three crosses. Once again, the area commander had the offensive crosses removed. And, you’ve guessed it by now! On the third day there were twenty seven crosses. Out of frustration, the commander placed a squad of soldiers on the hill overnight, but no one or nothing appeared. After several nights of this he hoped his point was made. He gave up, and removed his guards.

“The next morning almost fifty crosses as well as many flower arrangements greeted him.

“Figuring it wasn’t worth the effort, he surrendered, but we did not. Each night the display grew larger and larger. More and more crosses appeared, now taking on some artistic license. Different types of wood appeared, stone mounds and flower arrangements were added, and on and on it went.”

His story ended here, and our visit to the Mount of Crosses began. On the day we visited the site with our guide, there were almost seventy thousand such displays. Giant crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary, and hundreds of tiny carvings and rosaries were placed all over the hill. The Soviet Socialistic Republic has been disbanded with only Russia remaining. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as the other countries which were once under one rule, are now free. Perhaps one of the most prominent reflections of the individual spirit lives on here on this mound. By the last count, there are over one hundred thousand crosses on the hill. It has become a magnificent symbol of freedom for these people.

Off the beaten path – somewhat difficult to find – not on most tour agendas. Yet visited regularly by people of faith, including the pope and other religious leaders. A place well worth seeking out.
P.S. The three little white crosses near the stairs, at the top of the mound, are my contribution.

2012 Acura ZDX Crossover – Coupe Style!

Crossovers are still very popular and vital to the U.S. market. A crossover is the blending of the high riding and utility of an SUV, but built on a more fuel efficient automobile platform. In an effort to add a sporty flare, Acura created the ZDX which looks like a four-door sports coupe. The advantage is sleek profile styling. The ZDX was designed, developed, and is manufactured in North America. The sculpted lines and sensuous curves were crafted by Acura’s first female designer.

At first glance you may think the Acura ZDX is the sister car to the Honda Crosstour. The truth is they are quite different and built on different platforms. The ZDX is built on the Acura MDX foundation, versus the Honda; sitting on the Accord under-belly. I suspect that buyers of the ZDX will be responding more to it on an emotional level versus a space logic. Think empty-nesters. The coupe-like rear-end takes a big bite out of your rear cargo space.

The styling from the front is big and bold with a hint of upscale chic. The face of the ZDX is aggressive with an Acura-beaked grille. Diamond-shaped headlights morph into the front fenders and a large Acura logo is framed in the grille. The ZDX features a panoramic glass roof, hidden rear door handles, and pronounced fender flares.

The 2012 Acura is available in three trim levels: Base $46,905, Technology $51,405, and Advance $57,455. All three models come with a 3.7-liter VTEC V6 that generates 300 horsepower and 270 pounds of torque and is mated to a 6-speed automatic with Sportshift. Standard on the ZDX is Acura’s exclusive Super Handling All-Wheel Drive™ (SH-AWD®) system providing outstanding cornering ability as well as excellent all-season capability.

The interior design of the ZDX is titled a “2+Freedom,” which translates into plenty of room for the front occupants, adequate cargo space for weekend vacations, and comfortable rear passengers’ space for two adults. The ZDX does seat five; however, Acura recommends to keep the trip short. A new manufacturing processes allows the ZDX leather to precisely follow the complex lines of the instrument panel, center console and door panels.

The interior on my fully-loaded Advance edition was two-tone with beautiful lines as the center console flowed into the dash with elegance. The cabin area with rich leather appointments gives the 2012 Acura ZDX a warm, comfortable, and airy feel. The cabin is well lit due to the extensive use of LED lighting along with natural light shining through from the panoramic sunroof.

The ZDX is tuned to provide an ideal balance of precision handling, road isolation, and damping. For its size and mass, the ZDX feels surprisingly light and agile. The suspension is made up of front Macpherson struts and rear multi-link that uses specially-tuned coil springs, dampers, and anti-roll bar for a quiet luxurious ride and handling.
Room for improvement:

  • Rear declining roof line does compromise space for the rear passengers

Cool Features:

  • Rich with advanced technology features on upscale models
  • Push button start
  • Cool Sports-coupe design

The standard safety equipment for the 2012 Acura ZDX model includes ACE™ is an exclusive body design that enhances occupant protection and crash compatibility in frontal crashes. ACE™ utilizes a network of connected structural elements to more-evenly distribute crash energy throughout the front of the vehicle. This enhanced frontal crash energy management helps to reduce the forces transferred to the passenger compartment and can help to equally disperse the forces transferred to other vehicles in a crash.

Also included safety features are: multiple-threshold front airbags, dual-chamber side airbags with a front passenger side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS), front seats with active head restraints, knee bolsters for front occupants, side curtain airbags with rollover sensor and front seatbelts with an automatic tensioning system with integrated load limiters. In addition, the 2012 ZDX has a Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSA®) along with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist.

In Summary – The 2012 Acura ZDX offers an original twist to the crossover concept. The merging is of distinctive sport coupe-like styling with a high-level of refinement with Acura’s confident durability record and high resale value. It is bold, unique, comfortable, and very powerful. The ZDX will not be for everyone; however, if you are looking for a vehicle that stands out from the crowd and can reliably and with confidence take you on the snowy weekend trips, then the 2012 Acura ZDX is worth putting on your to-buy list.

2012 Acura ZDX Advance

Base price: $56,670 as driven: $57,455 (including destination)
Engine: 3.7-Liter 6 cylinder
Horsepower: 300 @ 6300
Torque: 270 foot pounds @ 4500
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic with Sportshift
Drive: All Wheel-Drive
Seating: 5-passenger
Turning circle: 38.4 feet
Cargo space: 26.3 cubic feet
Curb weight: 4,462 pounds
Fuel capacity: 21 gallons
EPA mileage: City 16 / Highway 23
Wheel Base: 108.3 inches
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper
Also consider: BMW X6, Cadillac SRX, and Infiniti FX 35