A Culinary Delight at Centonove with Friends: Italian Hospitality at it's Best

"A tavola non-si invechhio."—Italian proverb
Translation: "At the table with good friends and family you do not become old."

We had dinner over the weekend at Centonove with our dear friends, Nelson and Susan Bye. Only in Italian does a street name sound so lyrically romantic and sexy. The word Centonove is a fusion of two words: "cento" means hundred and "nove" means nine or 109. 

It was given the Award of Excellence for their wine collection in 2015 by Wine Spectator. Nelson was kind enough to bring a bottle of Andronicus, a Napa Cab blend from his own collection and the waiter, Carlos who served us well was nice enough to waive the corkage fee. The ambiance was lovely. Brick walls, a deli, display of wines, an open kitchen, a beautiful red wood-burning pizza oven, and the place was packed. (see photos). 

Centonove sure lives up to their Mission Statement: “... rooted in a passion for transporting our guests to Italy and bringing people together through wine and food.”
It is the creation of Restauranteur Pasquale (Pat) Romano, who holds an undergrad degree in computer science from Harvard and an M.S. from MIT. He made his bones
in the high technology sector in Silicon Valley. You can check out his impressive resume on www.centonovellosgatos.com. His love affair
with food and wine—much like my own—began with his Italian upbringing (his father is Italian-born) that included annual trips to Italy. 
His wife Andrea runs the day to day operations of this bustling authentic Italian cafe and retail shop.

Cecile and I shared a Barbabieto: Mixed greens, beets, ricotta, pine nuts, oranges with a vinaigrette dressing. She had salmon
with saffron risotto, fresh vegetables, and gremolata (chopped herb condiment classically made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.
Susan and Nelson shared Caesar’s salad and for her entree, Susan enjoyed 2 wood-fired beef & pork meatballs with marinara, fontina, and ricotta.

I’m not much of a red meat eater, I usually order some type of pasta dish but taking our cue from our waiter, Nelson and I each had the special of the day: a 20 once bone-in Rib eye steak with fresh vegetables and, roasted fingerling potatoes. The lean and tender meat is imported from Piedmont, in the northwest, Italy.

Carlos couldn’t have been more charming and entertaining. He really seems to enjoy people “and" his job. He had a nice and clever way of introducing dessert. Instead of asking "would you like to have some dessert," (I think we may have leaned towards saying no, we’re full,) he handed us the dessert menu and said, take a look at our dessert
specials: maybe yes, maybe no…” We said YES and shared a Tiramisu that is made in house and it was out of this world. It was substantially large enough to share—which we did.

Centonove has seven varieties of pizza and a lovely selection of pasta that we can’t wait to try the next time. We walked off our meal in our charming little community of Los Gatos and called it an evening—fully contented.

Ciao and Buon Appetito

Iconic Old Santa Barbara Mission & Dinner with Carol Burnett (sort of) at Tre Luna Restaurant

"Life is like a camera...Focus on what's' important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don't work out, take another shot!"
—author unknown

After having croissants and coffee for breakfast at Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro in Montecito Cecile and I went to The Funk Zone, formerly old warehouses and factories in downtown Santa Barbara. The twelve block area includes funky art studios, antique studios, wine tasting rooms, restaurants, and bars. We shared lunch at the Dawn Patrol before taking an Uber to Mission Santa Barbara founded in 1786 by Spanish Franciscans. Nicknamed “Queen of the Missions,” this historical landmark has enchanted visitors for centuries. The church overlooks the Pacific Ocean. We toured the nine-room museum filled with ancient artifacts, stunning sculptures, statues and sacred, peaceful flowering gardens, including exotic cacti majestic palm trees and a historic cemetery.

After getting our 10,000 steps in we returned to the Montecito Inn, took a well-deserved nap and had dinner at Tre Luna (Italian for three moons) Restaurant on Coast Village Road in Montecito. This was our second time back. The other evening we had an antipasto platter, minestrone soup, salad, and focaccia on their outdoor patio. It was amazing. This time we reserved seating inside the restaurant. Tre Luna is a five-star-rated eatery that has an old school Italian appeal with warm wood decor and black and white vintage celebrity photos from the 1940s and 1950s that line the walls. The jazz background music and Italian folk songs from my childhood added a classy, nostalgic vibe.

Our waiter, Raphael, a Brazilian of Italian descent took good care of us. Fifteen minutes after we were seated and ordered a glass of wine, Cecile informed me that she sent me a text. How odd I thought. I’m right here? We struck up a conversation with a fun couple seated next to us and I forgot about the text. Their names, Juliette and Michael had moved to Montecito from Newport Beach a few years ago. They ordered pizza and ravioli and Cecile and I shared a salad, appetizer, and split an entree called Gargenelli Alla Calabrese (penne pasta with spicy sausage, tomato sauce topped with melted mozzarella). It was superb.

After Juliette and Michael bid us farewell, Cecile and I finished our dinner and I said, “Oh, I forgot about your text."
I picked up my cell and read her message: “Don’t turn around! Carol Burnett is sitting at the window table behind you." As it turned out we finished eating dinner and exited at the same time as the beloved 86 year old actress, comedian, singer, and writer, best known for her groundbreaking television variety show. She was with Brian Miller her husband 23 years her junior.

Afterward, we had gelato at Scoops down the street and returned to our suite. I resumed reading Oliver Guide, a sharing resource based on recommendations from travelers like ourselves. I noticed fellow traveler, Courtney Leary wrote about Tre Luna, describing it as an old school Italian place to eat where Carol Burnett was also seated at the table next to her. All I could think of was the late New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra who following serendipitous experiences was fond of saying, “It’s like De Ja Vu all over again." 

Carol Burnett was known by her viewers' for tugging on her ear lobe at the end of her show to let her grandmother Mabel whom she called Nanny to let her know she was fine, and that she loved her. Later, it meant, "Hi Nanny. I’m fine. I love you. Your check is on the way.”

Stock photo of Carol Burnett

Enjoying a Taste of Tuscany in Montecito & Watching an Elephant Get a Spa Treatment at the Santa Barbara Zoo

"Happiness is like a kiss. You must share it to enjoy it."
—Bernard Meltzer

Cecile and I checked in at the Montecito Inn yesterday for a five day R&R. Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynes Mountains, this chic community of Montecito (Spanish for Little Mountain) sports a mellow vibe, tranquil beaches and a Mediterranean climate that reminds many of the South of France and Tuscany. So happy to see it has emerged from catastrophic mudslides of early last year to a buyer's market.

Before there was ever a Hollywood, movie production companies were located in Santa Barbara. Even after the move to Hollywood, many of the stars and film company executives couldn’t resist the allure of returning to live and play in Santa Barbara including Montecito which has become a celebrity paradise. Oprah has a $50 million dollar home that she purchased in 2001 located on 42 acres that she named “The Promise Land.”

Charlie Chaplin, an English comic actor, filmmaker and composer who rose to fame in the silent film era loved the area so much that he and a small group of investors, built the Montecito Inn in 1928. Promoted as an upscale getaway, it became one of the most desireable travel destinations along the California coastline. Soon after opening its doors in 1943, Chaplain returned to Montecito to marry his soulmate, Oona O’Neill.

A happy accident (missing their promised deadline to repair their elevator) the manager upgraded us to a spacious and luxurious first floor suite.

At the recommendation of friends Art and Denise Adams who have a vacation condo in the area we had dinner nearby at Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant on Coast Village Rd. Billed as one of the top ten restaurants in the area it didn’t disappoint. 

Yesterday, we had lunch at local favorite, Jeannine’s Bakery and Cafe and enjoyed Thai soup, Grilled Cheese, Kale & Avocado Salad on their outdoor patio. Two finches were perched on the white fence above us. 

The highlight of the day was spending the afternoon at the Santa Barbara Zoo located on a 30 acre park where the beauty of it’s wildlife is matched by its lush grounds and sweeping exotic views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and San Ynez Mountains. We visited with the Masai giraffes at feeding time, gorillas, native California Condors, pink Chilean flamingos, giant anteaters, Burmese mountain Tortoises, and monkeys. It reminded me of my many trips on safari in East and South Africa, pilgrimages to India and Southeast Asia.

As a former foot doctor I was especially taken by an Asian elephant receiving a full 20 minute foot care treatment. First tubs of hot water were slid into the yard while the elephant moved them in place with its’ trunks and feet. Then the elephant stepped in and soaked all four feet while being fed fruits and veggies. After soaking, the elephant placed its foot (one at s time) on a training platform while the keeper filed its nails, trimmed its cuticles, and applied moisturizing cream—Just like a day at the spa-like us humans:-)

Celebrating a 42nd Wedding Anniversary with My Soulmate in an Open Free-Flowing Way

“A Successful marriage is leading innovative lives together, being open, non-programmed. It’s a free fall: how you handle each new thing as it comes along as a drop of oil on the sea, you must float, using intellect and compassion to ride the waves.” —Joseph Campbell

We began the day like any other day with our usual morning walk along the trails admiring the bright yellow irises and mustard fields followed by a 10:30 AM Ying Yang yoga class at Breathe Together yoga studio with Misako, one of our favorite teachers.

Celebrating one’s anniversary allows us to pull back from our daily routine and day-to-day chores and honor the moment that changed our lives forever. While today is our actual anniversary we began celebrating at Cin-Cin Wine Bar and restaurant this past weekend with our son-in-law Kyle’s mom Kim and her husband Al whom we admire greatly. However, Cecile and I didn’t let on that it was our anniversary since we wanted to treat them for all the wonderful holiday celebrations they include us in during the year.

Before we had kids, Cecile and I always did something that celebrated our years together, not always with a night out or gifts. Sometimes Cecile and I give each other a ‘free pass,’ from doing something special or buying something to spoil ourselves to honor another year of marriage. Before we had kids we would have dinner at a fancy restaurant or a lite dinner and a movie. Sometimes we simply ordered take out food. Since I don’t need a special occasion to bring her flowers, Cecile told me, "no flowers please you just bought me roses the other day and they are still doing well." We almost always exchange romantic Happy Anniversary cards professing our love and gratitude for one another. We passed on it this year. Instead, we are treating ourselves to a short vacay to Santa Barbara next week.

We always try to include the kids—who are grown adults—in a dinner celebration, but this year our son Jason is out of town
on business and Michelle is getting ready to return to work following three-month maternity leave.

It’s been said that Everything becomes more meaningful as you get older. Like a lucid dream, it seems like life becomes brighter and brighter the longer we live, and the reason for everything appears more clear.”

It’s been 42 years since Cecile and I decided to marry in 1977. We met in Chicago while I was a student at the Illinois College of Podiatric Medicine. We moved to San Jose in 1975. My mentor, Carmine Sippo, a family friend who grew up in Sicily with my mother introduced me to the foot care profession. He was an academic dean at Wagner College in Staten Island, NY and encouraged me to apply for their pre-med program. He had my life all planned out for me. He had a contact at the podiatry school in Philadelphia and said he could
also arrange for an internship following my academic training. For some reason, I chose the Illinois College of Podiatric Medicine in Chicago. 

Some spiritual teachers suggest that Fate, Destiny, & Kismet relate to the idea that what happens to us in this life is predetermined, inescapable.
Others say Fate is what puts opportunities in front of us but our destiny is determined by our decisions.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."
Looking back, Fate and Destiny not only created the opportunities to study Podiatric medicine but to meet Cecile, a Chicago Elementary school teacher at the time who would one day become my wife and soulmate and I will be forever grateful.

Happy Anniversary my Love!

Celebrated St Patrick's Day: Dinner at the Chiens Residence & a Little Irish Wisdom

It’s been said, everybody is Irish on St Patrick’s Day and so we celebrate. The city of Chicago celebrates by turning its river green. New York City and other municipalities have their annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Some people go to their local Irish pub and others celebrate in the comfort of their home. “We" celebrated at the Chien’s beautiful home. Cecile and I joined Michelle and Kyle and our granddaughter Lyla and their friends David and Lily for a wonderful evening with an emphasis on all things GREEN. Kim and Al prepared a tender and delicious corned beef and cabbage, green mashed potatoes and a green four-leaf clover cake which was a perfect homage to the holiday. 

When Cecile was an elementary school teacher in Chicago’s inner city back in the day, she went to Ireland on summer break with a friend. She brought back a framed traditional Gaelic blessing (May the Road Rise to Meet you…) on a cross-stitched fabric—a keepsake she still has to this day. Often used as a prayer, the Irish blessing has traveled throughout the centuries by musical composition, word of mouth, weddings, cups and novelty items and the popular cross stitched pattern on fabric referenced above tourists visiting Ireland bring home to hang in their kitchens, family room or bedrooms.

Before we broke bread I recited it:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

The word “rise” in the first sentence more accurately translates to “succeed,” or “May you succeed on your road"

A more generic older version of this Irish Blessing Reads:

May you always have a hand to hold or extend to another…
May you always have a hug to give or grace to receive one…
May you find the gift of laughter or better yet share it with one who is sad,
May your heart be filled with happiness and love when you see the setting sun.

Thank you, Kim and Al!

Dinner at The Basin Restaurant & Bruce Munro Stories in Light Exhibit at Montalvo Arts Center

Cecile and I had dinner with our friends Susan and Nelson Bye at The Basin restaurant in Saratoga, that has been owned and operated by Andrew Welch since 2000. The restauranteur is known to work the floor almost every night. His core tenet is “giving with love.” We enjoyed a mixed beet salad with arugula, scallops with rice, the Basin Liver & Onions with Italian bacon, sautéed spinach, garlic in a sweet red wine jus.

After dinner, we drove to West Valley College to catch a shuttle to the Montalvo Arts Center for an enchanting evening attending the exhibition of London born Bruce Munro "Stories in Light." An absolute master in illumination, the artist made use of Montalvo grounds as his canvas to lead visitors on a journey of wonder and visionary discovery. His works are inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. 

There are ten light-based works. One of our favorite exhibits were: "Gathering of the Clans," a work inspired by Munro’s time spent in Australia and being awakened by a cacophony of cockatoos. The artist uses fluorescent, die-cut, stylized clothespins on a two-tiered Australian clothesline. He incorporated ultraviolet light to illuminate each clothespin cut from fluorescent acrylic in a color scheme that represents each species of cockatoo. We also liked "Light Shower" that showcases the ideal droplet shape held by a plethora of fiber optic strands that descend from a circular ceiling casing that peaks out of the bead-representing sunlight caught in the drop. Then there is "Ramadu’s Table," mixed media including 25 DMX Lights and a field of a 1000 white flamingoes that changes color. The artist received the iconic pink plastic flamingo as a gift from his father who had just returned from the United States and was a source of fascination throughout his childhood. It is an homage to Don Featherstone, the designer of the original pink lawn flamingo.

What especially caught my attention in the historic structure at the base of Montalvo’s Italianate Garden—a site known as the Love Temple is an ornate marble fountain surrounded by four identical gargoyles. Munro chose this as the location in which the ever-flowing fountain (of wine) in celebration of Bacchus, the god of wine from which my first name Dennis has its origin, in Roman mythology. The Greek variant is Dionysius. 

Postscript: As a former watercolorist with the Saratoga Community of Painters for many years, the expansive Montalvo grounds was an idyllic spot, not only for plein air watercolor painting with my fellow artists but as a sanctuary of peace. Back in the day, we had a showing of our collective works in the Carriage House. To witness the visionary large scale light-based works of Bruce Munro under the wide and starry sky was something to behold.

Variety is The Spice of Life at our Local Farmer's Market including the Music

“Variety is the spice of life, that gives it all its flavor,” is a verse attributed to William Cowper’s poem, “The Task (1975)

Of course, we all know that the meaning behind this expression is that life would be boring if everything were the same all the time. Cowper’s poem compares unseasoned food—which is bland—with an unexciting life, in which nothing new ever happens. Variety does to our lives what spice does to food and musicians do with their music. It makes it more fun, more interesting and more meaningful.

That being said, there is nothing boring about the Saratoga Farmer’s Market that is centrally located at West Valley College in Silicon Valley. Cecile and I frequent the market every Saturday morning. It has become one of our favorite rituals where we buy fresh organic produce at the peak of freshness, fresh orange juice, fresh bread and French pastries from Adorable French Bakeries from Santa Cruz, fresh Oren’s Authentic Israeli Hummus and Romanian eggplant spread and Pita bread, and alternate between rotisserie chicken hot off the spit from the Roti Rotie food truck, vegetable crepes, to Bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwich), or a breakfast burrito and tacos, from our favorite Mexican food stall, for immediate consumption or take-out lunch.

Like most farmer’s markets around the country, the Saratoga Farmer's Market gives consumers the opportunity to buy direct from local and regional farmers and growers and offers a venue for local artisans, bakers, crafters and food trucks to sell their products.

Other than our favorites mentioned above, consumers can choose from an array of foods like grass-fed beef, a variety of Chinese dumplings including pot stickers, Indian food, milk, eggs, homemade breads, cakes, pies, cookies, nut butters, olives, cheese, quiche, fresh and smoked fish, soaps, fresh flowers, etc.

There are plenty of free samples, friendly vendors and a diverse, colorful multi-cultural group of people to share this communal experience. It is much more pleasurable to stroll amidst outdoor stalls of fresh, colorful produce than rolling your cart around a grocery store with artificial lights and piped in music. It gives one a taste of small-town living in the midst of our busy high tech metropolis.

Before I forget, this colorful ambiance wouldn’t be complete without being serenaded by a multi-talented group of musicians from different genre’s. This last week Dwight Shackelford, a friend from an East Bay meditation center we used to frequent, and his fellow musician, Ron Augustinsky (drop the sky and add an e and you have our last name), who call themselves Bayou Noir named after Bayou Black in Dwight's hometown of Houma, Louisianna. 

Dwight also has a four-piece electric band group called Les Amis Zydeco (The Friends) which has its roots in the swamps of deep south Louisiana as well as the Bay Area Cajun/Zydeco dance scene that was formed in the East Bay in 2003.

Bayou Noir performed at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos Tuesday evening, March 5 for members and their guests in celebration of Mardi Gras. 

Photo of Dwight performing a Cajun Accordion (aka, button or squeezebox or melodeon). The set up is the same as the sound of four harmonicas, all in the same key with different octaves

Cloud Appreciation & a Bird Feeding Frenzy by a Mother & Child

Clouds have no families, no responsibilities. Born wanderers. Die, wanderers. They absorb every vapor (pain) in themselves and cry them out in the form of rain only when they’re full to their brim. White, translucent, innocent.”
—Akita Bala

All this weather turbulence of late has brought about some amazing and hypnotic cloud formations. Some of these photos—mostly of clouds—were taken on the Los Gatos Creek County Park and trails in between the latest rains. Once a former South Pacific Coast railway line, this urban green space is home to the Los Gatos Creek Trail, a mostly-paved route that runs about 10 miles from San Jose to the Lexington Reservoir. Other cloud groupings were photographed in the community where we live. Anyone can look and see the clouds, but it is worth the extra effort to seek out places where the clouds can be seen unobstructed by buildings. telephone lines and the like.

Clouds have been doing what they do for millions of years. Our cave swelling forbears have enjoyed the same sort of cloudscapes that we do now.

Cloud formations, for all who take time to engage them, are a magical part of creation, capable of altering our moods and reflecting our inner landscape of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Staring deeply and mindfully into clouds or other parts of nature takes me away from my incessant chattering mind and into that sweet, still place within, that fills me with the experience of feeling alive and connected to all that is. 

In an interview with KQED news, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, said he believes the world needs more cloud-enthusiasts. Cloud gazing, he says, provides a much-needed respite from the fast-paced, digital age. I happily agree. 

Postscript: One of my favorite pix is the one I took of the mother and child feeding the seagulls, geese, ducks, and pigeons. I couldn’t ask for a better set up.

Valentine's Day Dinner Celebration with Friends at Burrell School Vineyards and Winery

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone, we find it with another.”
—Thomas Aquinas

Cecile and I celebrated Valentine’s Day with our neighbors and friends, Nelson and Susan Bye at Burrell School Vineyards and Winery which is located at a 1600 foot elevation near the San Andreas Fault in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Burrell School’s origins date back to 1854. What was once a rough wilderness, settled by Lyman J. Burrell, became home to the winery and Estate wines developed by David and Anne Moulton in 1973. The vineyards have a unique microclimate consisting of warm days and cool nights as a result of its proximity to Monterey Bay is perfect for long, slow ripening of cool climate grapes.

We were seated at a cozy and intimate corner table in The Tasting Room, located on the site of the original Teacher’s Carriage House that is dedicated to showcasing their award-winning premium wines.
The bill of fare featured an elegant five-course dinner with vintage wine pairings. We were served a glass of champagne to begin, Fuji Apple Salad with candied walnuts, and Vinaigrette with the unreleased 2018 Rose. Chicken soup with butterfly pasta and un-oaked Chardonnay, Lemon butter Sea Scallops and herbed couscous with 2006 Chardonnay, Sous Bide Tri-tip and garlic whipped potatoes with 2006 Deans List Cab that was undeniably satisfying. For dessert, we enjoyed a delicious Strawberry Shortcake with a 2007 Late Harvest Chardonnay and Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake with a 2007 Late Harvest Zin. 

Happy Valentine Day to family and friends, especially my wife Cecile, and our sweet granddaughter Lyla, our newest little valentine, seen here in her designer heart Pajamas. Though she may not always be in our home she is always in our hearts.

Celebrating Gerry's 60th Birthday at a Catered Gourmet Pizza Party

“When the power of Love overcomes the love of Power, the world will know pizza.”
—Jimi Hendrix

I was all dressed in my blue jeans and blue pullover sweater when Cecile reminded me, “Den,
Gerry asked we dress in pink and black.” Hmmm!" I thought, "do i even own anything pink?" Surprisingly, I had a brand new silk hot pink tie on my tie rack that I never wore. Our daughter Michelle had arrived from San Mateo earlier in the day with our granddaughter Lyla who is just over 2 months old. What a treat to have her party with us. We planned to meet our son in law Kyle at Gerry’s and his dad Ed at their home to celebrate Gerry’s 60 birthday with over 70 of their friends and family members. We were delighted and honored to be invited. It was festive and so much fun. Ed and several other volunteers had a canopy covered wine bar set up in the back yard to serve guests and to protect us all from the rain. To my surprise and utter delight the caterer had a portable pizza oven set up to the left of the bar. A variety of thin crust pizza was being baked and served along with platters of cheese, veggies, bite-size meatballs, and other goodies. The night flew by, we all sang Happy Birthday to Gerry, candles were lit atop of muffins and blown out, and Ed and several friends and family members sung the praises of the birthday girl. Gerry is the youngest of five sisters. I was especially moved when two of them, Mary and Anne said she is the one they turn too when they find themselves in a jam. 
Gerry is kind and fun loving and we took a liking to her when we first met her sometime before Kyle and Michelle got married.
When it was time for her to speak, she thanked everybody for coming and added she can’t believe she is 60 years old. Of course, she chose more colorful words to let us know how she really felt but since this is a family oriented post I won’t go there:-). “All kidding aside Gerry, I felt the same way as you when I turned 60 over eight years ago, so I thought I would end with one of my favorite wisdom quotes from Richard Gere to bring it all in perspective.” 
He said: “ I am old but I am forever young at heart. We are always the same age inside. Know that you are the perfect age. Each year is special and precious, you can only live it once. Do not regret growing older, it’s a privilege denied to many.”
Thanks again for inviting us to your lovely home to celebrate with you and Ed, your friends and family. We wish you many more Happy and Healthy Birthdays to come. Peace, hugs and many more blessings to come.

Note: The photo of a Pizza shaped like the map of Italy is from the Italian & Proud Community website shared on Facebook by my childhood friend Jerry Gustoso, a hair stylist from my hometown of Hoboken, NJ where I once worked part-time delivering pizza at La Scalinata’s Pizza when I was in my teens.

Enjoying the Snow Capped Mountains is Silicon Valley: A Rare Sight in these neck of the woods

“Expect the unexpected because your life is bound to be full of surprises.”—Bernard Grad

Cecile and I went to Kaiser Permanente pharmacy to renew a prescription when I saw this picturesque snow-capped mountain view down the street behind the Los Gatos Creek trail. The palm trees at lower elevation usually associated with balmy California weather provided a whimsical contrast.
To friends and family on the East Coast, we just don’t get snow here in the South Bay too often, and when we do it’s usually at the higher elevation of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Los Gatos Mountains that runs through it. A neighbor who is originally from the East Coast like myself said: “I don’t mind going to the snow to ski; I just don’t want it to come to me." While we were able to enjoy the pure aesthetics of it from a distance, friends of ours who live in the mountains experienced between 1 and 2 inches.
The winter storms that have hit the West for several days dusted the peaks overlooking San Francisco, the city’s first notable snowfall of its kind in eight years.

Witnessing the Powerful Roar and Majesty of the Water Cascading over the Vasona Reservoir Dam

“Water is the driving force of all nature.”—Leonardo DaVinci

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.”—Lao Tzu

An overcast sky and a torrent of rain have hung over Northern California the last few weeks, but that didn’t stop Cecile and me from taking our usual morning walk. All the plants, trees and ground cover were lush and green.
Along the way, we were graced with a rainbow that caused us to pause and take it in before it dissipated. Afterward, I went to Bay Club Courtside across the Netflix headquarters to swim some laps and then made my way to watch water cascading over the Vasona Reservoir Dam spillway just minutes away.
When the Lexington dam reservoir in the Santa Cruz Mountains can't hold the excess water entering the reservoir it makes its way down the Los Gatos Creek to the Vasona Reservoir Dam Spillway.
Unless it’s mentioned on the news as it was two years ago after we exited an eight-year draught thanks to an onslaught of heavy rains, this event is largely taken for granted. The thunderous roar of crashing water from the spillway can be heard hundreds of feet away. As I drew closer, I could feel the rumbling vibrations under my feet. In spite of the rain, people were running on the trails.
A few stopped—as I had done—to witness the beauty and feel the powerful flow of water. As I shared the experience with a couple above me on the varied slanted terrain, the man's wife said with a hint of disappointment in her voice, “Can you believe my camera phone went dead?” She gratefully accepted my offer to text her one of my photos which I did on the spot. After wishing them a good day, I reflected on the experiences of the morning. It made me realize that I was living consciously in the moment by showing up for life which is inherently meaningful for no other reason than it is meant to be fully lived no matter how it presents itself—rain or shine.

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Babysitting our Granddaughter Lyla & an Ancient Chant that Brought Her into A Blissful State of Sleep

"Sometimes the littlest thing take up the most room in your heart”—Winnie the Pooh

Cecile and I were presented with a VIP opportunity to babysit our granddaughter Lyla who is 7 weeks old today, and her older brother Decker—the family dog—her protector and chief. 
It didn’t pay much:-) but the experience was rich beyond words. Our daughter Michelle and son-in-law Kyle asked if we could babysit so they could attend a wedding ceremony of their dear friends. While we have been to San Mateo to visit Lyla multiple times, this was the first time we had the pleasure of having her visit at our own home. Several friends dropped by to see her as well as Lyla's uncle Jason.

Over time, we have observed our friends and some family members relationships with their grandchildren. While the common thread is love, the quality of the connection depends in great measure on the amount of time they get to spend together. Many grandparents aren’t able to do this since their kids live out of the area. I never knew my grandfather on my father’s side and I only saw my grandfather on my late mother’s side when I visited family in Sicily. On the other hand, Cecile was blessed with having lived in the same building as her grandparents and, great-grandparents in Chicago. We trust this special bonding time with Lyla will play a supporting role in her upbringing.

It is an amazing experience to have Lyla hold us in her gentle gaze, connecting with us in a loving field of awareness. We felt fully immersed in the present, conscious of a life force streaming through our bodies. 

However, I have to admit the greatest fear many grandparents have—especially new grandpas—is the inability to comfort their grandchild when they cry, sometimes hysterically.
I was all thumbs the first time when Lyla cried and now that we had her all to ourselves I wasn't sure if I would fall short. Even Cecile who has always been a solid, loving supportive mother and is a natural at comforting Lyla, was challenged at times in-between feedings when we couldn’t comfort her. Two things helped. First, Cecile introduced her to a soft five star Einstein toy that emitted a colorful glow and played Mozart and other classical tunes. Lyla was mesmerized by something new and wonderful. This worked and we highly recommend it as a whimsical aid. But, there were times when it didn't. So we took turns walking and rocking her, and humming and singing with limited results.

Intuitively, I found myself chanting a loud, long and steady Ommmmmm, a sacred yoga chant that many of our teachers often begin and end a yoga class with. To my amazement, it worked like a charm. Within seconds Lyla ceased crying. I called Cecile into the room to tell her what happened. I retested it over and over again and each time Lyla stopped crying. Then Cecile followed my lead and it had a similar effect.

Each time the sound of OM placed Lyla in a calm, blissful state and often times made her fall asleep. OM represents the sound of the universe. It appears at the beginning and the end of most Sanskrit prayers. It is a mystic syllable, considered the most sacred mantra in Indian and Buddhist cultures.
OM is a versatile tool that people of all faiths can utilize to bring focus and awareness in life. You don’t have to do yoga to benefit from making the sound of OM. Practice it in the privacy of your home, perhaps while taking a shower. For those new parents and grandparents out there, to make the sound of OM correctly, remember the sound vibration is pronounced “ohm” as in the word home where the h is silent.

If you have any doubt of OM’s validity to calm a screaming baby please check out San Diego motivational speaker Daniel Eisenman who was broadcasting live to his Facebook followers when his daughter Divina began crying in the backdrop. He responded by making a long and steady “OM" sound, and within seconds she relaxed enough to fall asleep. It was reported in the Dailymail.com last year and received over 25 million views. When I saw how chanting a simple deep throated OMMMMM worked, I decided to do a Google search to see if anyone else had this experience and came across Eisenman’s recording.

Give it a try! You’ll be happy you did, and you might be surprised how relaxing it is to do—for yourself as well as your crying baby and/or your crying grandchild. 


*The OM story was first reported by Valerie Siebert for Dailymail.com
Published April 27, 2017

Photo: Kyle, Michelle & Kyle's brother Chip attending a friend's waiting

Reflecting on Our Visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis on the 50th Anniversary in honor of Martin Luther King's Birthday

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
—Martin Luther King Jr

I was only 13 when Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. While the struggles of the civil rights movement during the 50s and 60s were hard to digest as a young boy, I remember being moved by his inspiring and passionate oratory skills and his example of non-violent protests. 
Last April Cecile and I spent an emotional morning visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. Most of these photos were taken while there.
2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. It looks much like it did April 4,1968, when James Earl Ray fired the fatal round from the boarding-house window next to the Young and Morrow Building directly across Mulberry Street. 
A funeral wreath of red and white carnations hangs on the railing outside room 306 to mark the spot, making it a symbol of the civil rights movement and becoming America’s first Civil Rights Museum in 1991. In its day, the Lorraine Hotel hosted such entertainers as Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin Count Basie, Nat King Cole, and B.B. King. The Vintage cars in the parking loot represent the vehicles parked at the Lorraine Motel when Dr. King was killed. White musicians were welcome to perform.

King credited Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings as being “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent change.” It was Gandhi who said: “An eye for an eye
only ends up making the whole world blind.” 
Like Gandhi, King had the courage to allow himself to be beaten and jailed and was able to persevere through difficult times without caving into bitterness and despair. I didn’t fully understand until later in life that embracing his vulnerability and "Turning the other cheek” as difficult as that may have been in such dangerous and tumultuous times, became his strength. He had to resist fear, master his fears even during those dark nights of the soul when he feared for his family and fought formidable forces to get his message across for the movement, for equal rights under the law and for the pursuit of happiness. This is the very definition of courage and faith.

A Poetic Offering in honor of Dr. King’s Birthday:

Standing Tall 
by Jamie McKenzie 

Some kings rule their kingdoms sitting down
Surrounded by luxury, soft cushions and fans
But this King stood strong, stood proudly, stood tall

When the driver told Rosa “Move to the back of the bus!”
When the waiter told students “We don’t serve your kind!”
When the Mayor told voters “Your vote don’t count!”
And when the sheriff told marchers “Get off our streets!”
using fire hoses, police dogs and cattle prods to move them along The King stood strong
stood tall Speaking of peace
of love and children hand in hand, 
free at last, free at last

When some yelled for violence
For angry revenge
An eye of an eye
And a tooth of a tooth
He stood his ground
Preaching peace

And when some spit our hate
He stood there smiling
Spreading love…breaking down the walls
Ringing the bell joyfully For Freedom

Until Standing on the mountain top
They shot him coldly
Hoping to see him fall
Hoping to put him away 
To bring him low

But this King 
even in death
even today 
stands strong, stands proudly
stands tall
And we remember

(excerpt of the original poem by Jamie McKenzie in 1982)

Savory Luncheon Feast with a friend at Dumpling Depot: An Unexpected Surprise

“As long as there’s Pasta and Chinese Food in the World, I’m Okay.”—Michael Chang

“Don’t pursue happiness—create it.”—fortune cookie

I was introduced to Dumpling Depot, located in an unremarkable strip mall in Sunnyvale, CA., by my retired teacher friend Jimi Hunter. It was 1 PM and the place was bustling. I learned that they also did a robust take-out business. The interior was plain and utilitarian.
But, the chairs were comfortably padded. 
Over the years I have learned that what appears to be an understated restaurant can sometimes take you by surprise. It’s what made the TV hit show: ”Diners, Drive-ins an, Dives so popular.
Jimi asked me to trust him to order for the both of us. Since I was his guest and he has yet to steer me wrong, I figured why not? We began with a pot of hot traditional Chinese tea and then Jimi placed an order for the following savory treats for us to feast on Green Onion Pancake. Vegetarian Sichuan Ma-Po Tofu (Watch out for those hot chili peppers!)
Black Sesame Crispy Rolls (taste a bit like chocolate)Fresh Cucumber salad, String Beans with Garlic and Vegetarian Dumpling

When Jimi first told me about the restaurant he sold me on the dumplings. Dumplings are the ultimate comfort food. They are universal. Some version of the dough wrapped around a delicious filling can be found almost
anywhere in the world. However, Chinese dumplings are a cultural food staple that has been around since
Ancient China, 1800 years ago. They were first introduced by a healer named Zhang Zhongjing, who crafted little dough-wrappers filled with lamb, chili and herbs and boiled in a flavorful broth to feed the ill members of his community, many of whom were exposed to freezing temperatures and other maladies. They represent happiness and celebration and are typically served on Chinese New Year. The savory pouches often contain meats, seafood and, veggies. Jimi is a vegetarian, so I went along with the vegetarian style. They were excellent.
Chinese-style dumplings have become a trendy snack in Western society and I’m a fan.

The service was good. The lag time between dishes was brief. The staff is friendly and I came away feeling that this is a place I would return to. I’m glad I didn’t let the lack of curb appeal curb my appetite. 

Capturing the Great Blue Heron in Stillness and in Flight

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the stillness.”—Robert Lynd

I spotted this magnificent Great Blue Heron while walking along the nature trails around the perimeter of the lake where we live. It was standing motionless in the weathered reeds, gazing into the water for prey with all the stillness of a monk meditating in a forest monastery.
When I first made my approach, only its’ head was visible.
Then, sensing my presence it began to walk towards the water. Suddenly, it spread its wings, and was ready for take off. It then folded it neck into a “S” shape, lifted itself, and soared to the other side, trailing its long legs behind. I had hoped to capture a few still shots and was fortunate enough to photograph the sequence of its majestic flight path.

Symbolic Meaning of the Great Blue Heron:


Herons live in the NOW and teach us the vital practice of maintaining stability, calm, focus, and fluidity in our lives.

An excerpted Poetic offering called Heron Rises from the Dark, Summer Pond
by Mary Oliver

So heavy
is the long-necked, long bodied heron,
always...a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings
and she turns
from the thick water,
from the black sticks,
of the...pond…
and slowly into the air
and is gone.
Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take a deep breath
of happiness…
this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body
into a new life: see how the sudden 
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.

Photos of the Blue Heron taken at Rinconada Hills
Photo of the statue of the monk taken at Breathe Together Yoga studio

Keeping a Pledge & My Late Father's Birthday

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”
—Kevin Arnold

Happy Birthday to my dad, Frank Augustine who would have been 102 today. We were blessed to have him in our lives. I’m a firm believer that the way to keep the memories of loved ones alive is to share your treasured heartfelt recorded memories.

During a recent trip to New Jersey, my brother in law, Joseph Mcallister, a resident of Rutherford, and I collected the statues from a Catholic shrine—my dad tendered for over three decades and brought them to the facilities staff behind the rectory of Our Lady of Grace Church in my hometown of Hoboken, NJ., Rev. Alex Santora had agreed to accept them and find a home for them as my dad had requested before he died. 

Back Story:

In 2010, Rev. Santora, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church wrote an article about my dad entitled: "Standing Among Saints on the Hudson" in his column called, "Faith Matters." The focus of the story was how dad had been a caretaker of a Catholic shrine in his storefront bay window—encased in copper framing—year round for over 30 years. The storefront which doubled as a laundry and storage room was located at the base of a five unit building that he and my late mother owned since 1957 (photo). We lived on the second floor. I was 7 years old at the time. Over the ensuing years Passersby, including neighbors and family friends would often stop in front of the shrine in a moment of contemplation and reflective prayer. Some devout Catholics would bless themselves. It was like an outdoor neighborhood chapel.

The reverend wrote that he had passed the shrine a “thousand times” until he discovered my dad sitting on the stoop one day in front of the building was its owner. He retold the story at my mom's funeral services in 2013. It was at that moment that I was struck with a melancholy wave of emotion. Until that time, I took dad’s public display of faith largely for granted—an eccentricity if you will. In that moment I realized that my dad, a former lay brother in the Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, NY when he was a young man had taken the initiative to be a "keeper of the shrine.”

Some of the photos were taken in St. Augustine, Florida, which lays claim to be the oldest city in the United States and home of “The Castillo de San Marcus—a seventeen century stone fortress overlooking the bay. The trip was a birthday gift to my dad who was 65 at the time. We took Amtrak and watched the world go by. It was an intimate and precious time to reconnect. The city was named after after our namesake, St. Augustine who was a bishop, philosopher, theologian and prolific writer.

Happy Birthday dad and thanks for the memories! We miss you, and I have no doubt you are at peace.


Welcoming 2019 with Friends and Neighbors at Rinconada Hills & Happy New Year to Family & Friends Near & Far

“And now we welcome the New Year, full of things that have never been.”
—Ranier Maria Rilke

In the company of friends and neighbors, Nelson and Susan Bye, Mark and Marleen Brodsky, Gretchen Sand and Bruce Preville, Sue Sullivan and Barry Gotlieb, Diana and Norm Orloff, John Myers, Dick Reilly, Dee Blumenthal, Cathy Ramos and others, we welcomed in 2019 at the clubhouse of our gated community at Rinconada Hills which was celebrating its' 50th Anniversary. It was deal we couldn’t refuse. At the cost of only $10 per person, we enjoyed an elaborate buffet of hors D’oeuvres, desserts, champagne and wine from Testarossa, one of the top 10 rated wineries in the South Bay. The entertainment for the night was provided by harpist, Adele Stinson. A special thanks for the dedicated staff and board members including manager, Mike Yarman, Russ and Cathy Gillum, Stewart and Nancy Mcintosh for making this event possible.

As the world pauses and takes its cues from calendars, planners, clocks, goals, and New Years resolutions, Cecile and I want to wish our family, friends and the community-at-large around the world the following blessings for the New Year:

Love and laughter for your soul
Beauty for your eyes to witness
Sunsets to warm your heart
Comfort when sadness strikes 
Many Moments of peace and calm
Hugs when spirits sag
Confidence when you're in doubt
Patience to accept the truth
Courage to know yourself
Wisdom to be fully present and accept what is
Self-compassion when you fall short
Dropping the Struggle for a perfect life
Embrace the experience of being alive

An Unforgettable Christmas Eve Dinner at AL & Kim's & Our Granddaughter Lyla's First Yuletide Event

As Cecile, Jason, Alex and I approached AL and Kim Chien's home for the Christmas Eve party, we were mesmerized by the warm decorative glow of the Christmas wreaths, the dazzling Christmas tree that shone through the window and steady tranquil sound of a decorative water fountain to the left of the entry. 

There were 29 of us in attendance, all excited to be here including many of AL and Kim’s family members. Kyle’s brother Chip and Katie came in from NYC. Kyle and Michelle brought our precious granddaughter Lyla, barely 2 weeks old dressed in an adorable festive red outfit.
Needless to say, this bundle of joy brought a special warmth and glow of its own to the evening. Our friend Percy said: “Just when you think it can’t get better
than ‘this,' it gets better than this.'” The gregarious grandfather of three added; “Welcome to the grandparent’s club!”

As always, the food was delicious. Everybody brought a side dish, including Baked Brie in Puff Pastry, Twice baked Potatoes, Balsamic Roasted Sprouts with Bacon, and an assortment of vegetables, Kim made Wild Greens, Pomegranates and Candied Pecans in Champagne dressing and Al prepared Clam Dip and Chips, Dungeness Crab with Cocktail Sauce and Lemon and a Filet Mignon Roast with Au Jus cooked to perfection. The desserts were plentiful and the wine and drinks were flowing as was the conversation.

We feel so blessed and grateful to be part of the family.

Merry Christmas to friends and family!

Postscript: I want to acknowledge my dad Frank Augustine who passed away a year ago this month. He loved the Christmas Holidays and took great joy in decorating the home—inside and out—that my siblings and I grew up in, in Hoboken, NJ. He also did the decorations for his local Elk's Club and Knights of Columbus. The last photo of him was taking at the Elks Lodge 74. According to Rick Gerbehy PER, Dad was part of a new group that brought a great lodge back to life. Love you dad.