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.

Video clip

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 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
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.

Our New Precious Little Granddaughter Finally Made Her Long—Awaited Debut

"Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation"—Lois Wyse

There’s nothing like the birth of your first grandchild to bring a joyous smile to your face, a tear to your eye, a lump in your throat, and a loving warmth to your heart. It finally happened. After a long tiring wait, 9 days past her due date, our beloved daughter Michelle with her devoted husband, Kyle steadfastly by her side finally gave birth to our first grandchild, a precious little bundle of joy on Sunday 12/09/18 at 3:33 PM. The venue of this miracle of birth took place at the award winning Sequoia Birth Hospital in Redwood City. She weighed in at 7 pound 4 ounce. 

There were ten of us—family and friends waiting anxiously in the wide corridors for this blessed event, listening for any signs that Baby Lulu Lewis (her temporary name) had made her debut. The grandmas had their ears to the door and heard a gentle cry. When the nurse on call finally opened the door for the big reveal, there was Michelle, lying in bed, baby at her side and Kyle standing, both smiling with the pride and joy only a new mother and father would know. We each had a turn holding the baby—who was swaddled in a Dr. Seuss elephant imprinted blanket—in our arms. The room was aglow with love and peacefulness. It was an auspicious and symbolic day in many ways: the last day of Hanukkah and the advent of the Christmas season. There was the symbolism of number three in the baby’s date of birth: 12/09/18, each number divisible by 3. Time of birth 3:33; room number 3033. In many cultures such as Asia lucky number 3 have strong personalities, are sociable, easygoing and creative. In Judaism the number 3 has real significance like completeness and stability as it is in the Christian and other traditions.

Thank you dearest daughter and son-in-law for this precious gift you gave to all of us. Michelle, you were a real trooper or as Kyle said, a real champ the way you embraced the challenging process of being pregnant and giving birth. You handled it with much grace. And, Kyle, you definitely rose to the occasion, you guys are true partners and we have no doubt you will make wonderful parents. If we have any sage advice it is that which has been passed down from the ages: babies grow so fast. These precious moments won’t last, so take the time to cherish every second. every minute, every day. You will be astounded how quickly the time flies away.

Postscript: On Tuesday, December 11, the day they left the hospital Michelle and Kyle named the baby Lyla Isabella Lewis.

Tigelleria Ristorante in Historic Downtown Campbell: A Taste of Northern Italy with Friends

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”—Federico Fellini

Cecile and I were invited to join our friends Nelson and Susan Bye for dinner at Tigelleria Ristorante located in historic downtown Campbell in a rust-colored stucco building with a tile roof that was decorated with stringed lights for the festive holiday season.

Tigelleria (pronounced tee-gel-leh-ria) is derived from the word Tigella (tea-jella), named after the tasty little circles of bread with a crispy crust and plump center that is made in a special cast iron pan called a tigelliera that is served with your meal. Its origin is Modena, Italy but can be found throughout Tuscany and Venice.
The restaurant’s creator is Venetian Elisabetta Benetollo. The dishes are made from traditional family recipes with her unique modern spin.
They are carefully crafted to highlight the fresh, natural taste of locally sourced organic foods as well as products direct from Italy. Many gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options available.

Cecile and I shared a delicious black kale salad tossed with lemon juice, honey & olive oil with mango, pine nuts and homemade goat & walnut cheese and a savory Garbanzo beans soup with a little kick of spice. For my entree I enjoyed a Spaghetti with Buffalo meatballs with olive oil and red chili flakes and garlic topped with fresh tomatoes. For dessert we all split a Pannacotta al pistachio with house made caramel sauce and a Merrigata: Delicious layers of crushed vanilla meringue cookies mixed with frozen whipping cream and dark chocolate.

Our friendly waiter was Jim and one of our food servers was Francesco whose tattoo saying on the back of his arms caught my eye (see photo) and I asked to see them. It read: “Too fast to live and too young to die.” Now that’s an existential statement if I ever heard one.

Back History:

Every year, the owner, Elisabetta travels to Bologna in Northern Italy to meet with friends from her University days, where they reminisce about old times and make a 2 1/2 mile pilgrimage to The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, a basilica church (circa 1765) which is located atop the forested Monte della Guardia. On one of those trips Elisabetta's friends bought her a tigelliera pan made of cast iron. This gift would become the inspiration for a place she envisioned where people in the Bay Area could gather with friends over great food, wine and tigella—as we joyfully did.

Buon Appetito!

Magical Clouds at Play: Just Look Up!

When my mind is engrossed in thought, caught in a circular loop, I look up at the sky and the ever changing clouds remind me that it’s only temporary—everything changes.

These clouds that I photographed the last few days look deliciously moody and whimsical. Some look like watercolors. I see them as Nature’s entertainment for us humans—a return to the inner child. I have always been fascinated with the word “Anthropomorphism" which is anything non-human, such as an animal, object or nature that is given human qualities including emotions and actions. 

When you look back in time, our entire childhood was a giant stew of anthropomorphism. Take Mickey and Minnie Mouse and the entire cast of Disney characters. Myths and Fairy Tales use anthropomorphism to create stories in which animals and forces of nature are the main characters.

Poems can be anthropomorphic like the one below called:

Cloud 9 by χαρμολύπη (Greek poet)

Have you ever paid attention to the sky?
I sure have, every car ride, every walk outside
every time I’m sad I look to the clouds above.

The clouds have feelings,
they, just like us, get sad, angry, and frustrated at times, 
but they are kind to us down below,
they reward us with their beauty,

They are similar to us with one more thing,
they too, like most of us, have a best friend,
I bet they share secrets and stories right as they’re going to bed, behind the city skyline [and mountain tops] together they make the perfect team to bring smiles all around,
when the colors of the sun and the grace of the clouds bleed together, it puts our hearts at ease.
Next time, just look up!

A Feast of all Feasts: Celebrating Thanksgiving with the Chiens & Company

“If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.”
—Meister Eckhart, 14th century Christian Mystic

The spirit of hospitality doesn’t begin in a restaurant or hotel, but begins at home, in everyday life. 
You just can’t turn hospitality on. It is something that comes from the heart. It is an intentional act of kindness, generosity, humility and gratitude that makes others feel like a treasured guest.
This is the experience Cecile and I have when invited for Thanksgiving by Kim and Al Chien.
There were 16 of us this year. Each of us brought a side dish and dessert. We each had drink and appetizers and settled in, greeting those we haven’t seen for some time.
The rain everyone was praying for finally arrived to clear out the toxic air that had hovered over the Bay Area from the Camp Fire in and around the lost community of Paradise.
We all felt grateful that we were spared the calamities of all those who perished in the fires and those who lost their homes. Though we enjoyed the bounty of delicious food and each other’s company, we did so without closing ourselves off to the collected emotional empathy we felt for all those who were suffering this tragic event.

We sat for a traditional meal of Roasted Turkey with Sage Dressing, Honey Baked Ham, Baked Potatoes, Candied Yams with Marshmallows, Sweet Potato Casserole,
Brussels Sprouts, Sticky Rice followed by French Apple, Pumpkin and Pecan Pies and Fall Cookies and more...

Afterwards, we relaxed, watched some football, and were entertained by Al’s brother Rich and Lisa’s daughter Alivia, and Michelle's husband Kyle doing some yoga poses. With all the food that I ate, I resisted the temptation. While we were impressed Kyle managed to do a tripod headstand, we were all in awe watching little, bendy Alivia, do a back bend from a standing position.

As we count our blessings, in a year that has been challenging for many both personally and on the international stage we joyfully await the birth of our first grandchild who is set to make her debut very soon.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Photo: Al & Kim's dog Bailey with her brother in law, Mike.
Photo: Myself with Lisa's dad, and my man, Percy who is visiting from Massachusettes.

Our Beautiful Golden State is Burning: Turning to Poetry to Make Sense of it All

"The natural world is violent and dangerous as well as serene and benign."—Thomas Berry

I awoke the other day with my eyes burning and a queasy feeling in my stomach. Cecile wasn’t feeling none the better. We normally keep our sliding door on the second
floor of our town home open to get fresh air when we sleep.
The news hadn’t hit us yet about the two raging fires that were hitting both sides of the state.
In spite of the sour smelling air we took our son’s dog, Daisy for our usual early morning two-mile walk.
When we rounded the bend to the front of the Clubhouse of our gated community. 
I photographed the sun blazing through the back of the fronds of a tall, solitary majestic palm tree, giving it the appearance of being on fire. It had a mystical quality to it.

Later, we learned about the catastrophic Woolsey fire in and around Malibu that had engulfed Southern California.
As if that weren’t enough, we heard news of the Camp Fire in Northern California that consumed 80-90% of Paradise, located in Sierra Nevada Foothills, making it the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history.

It didn’t take long before the seasonal winds carried smoke-filled air from the raging fires to entire East Bay including Silicon Valley where we live.
Even those who were lucky enough to buy an N95 mask that filters soot from the air, health officials were still advising people against being outdoors.
Die-hard Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49er fans attended their respective games. The risk of exposure to poor air quality in the unhealthy range is that microscopic particles seep deep into our lungs and enter the bloodstream.

In times like these when a fire makes a mockery of the name Paradise, by unmercifully burning the small, residential town down to the ground, I turn to the solace and irony of poetry.

"California night. The Devil’s wind, the Santa Ana, blows-in 
from the east raging through the canyon like a drunk
screaming in a bar.
The air tastes like a stubbed-out cigarette. But why complain?
The weather’s fine as long as you don’t breathe.
Just lean back…lights turned out, windows shut against the [fire] storm and count your blessings...
Relentlessly the wind blows on. Next door catching a scent, the dogs begin to howl. Lean, furious, raw-eyed from the storm, packs of coyotes come down from the hills where there is nothing left to hunt.”
—a poem by Dana Gioia

Our hearts go out to all of those who lost their homes and loved ones during this horrific calamity and a deep sense of gratitude to the firefighters and other first responders who risked their lives.

Photo 1: I captured in front of clubhouse where we live.
Photo credit 2: Helicopter over blaze by a TV news team 
Photos: 3 & 4 were taken of vendors with masks at the Saratoga Farmer's market

A Veteran's Salute to my Late Dad & Uncles Who Served their Country & My Nephew Andrew Who is Carrying the torch for the Old Generation

"A veteran, whether in active duty, discharged, retired or in the reserves is someone who, at one point or another in his life wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, and are deserving of our debt and gratitude"

Most of the photos of my late dad, Frank Augustine were taken in the rotunda, at the Justice Brennan Courthouse in Jersey City, NJ on April 15, 2014. They were photographed by my brother in law Joseph McAllister, a veteran of the United States Navy. I would like to also thank him and other family members including my late cousin Nick Girone, for their service as well as all veterans who have come and gone or are currently serving our country.

My sister Josephine and I were fortunate enough to be at our late father's side when he and 80 veterans received Military Service Medals Citation Certificates for their years of service. In addition, dad received a Proclamation from the office of the former Mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer. 

Dad had followed the footsteps of my Uncle Joe and my Uncle Anthony Augustine and was stationed at San Antonio Texas (See B&W Photo). Dad served under the command of his mentor and friend, Army Chaplain Capt. William Walsh and served as his personal aide until September 15, 1938. His last stint was at Walter Reed Medical Center. 
The event was was a joint effort by the Hudson County Executive, Thomas A. De Gise, the Office of Veteran Affairs, and the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders. 

The photos of the handsome young man in the cockpit of a fighter jet is my nephew Andrew Augustine, a career Air Force veteran who is stationed in the Azores and is responsible for making sure these jets are battle ready. In early September he was promoted by the United States Air Force to Technical Sergeant for his exceptional performance, valor, fidelity and patriotism. He does the family and country proud. Thank you for your service Andrew! We are all proud of the man you have become.

Spotlight on Rosalio Vargas: The Personal Transformation of a Former Delinquent Graffiti Artist

“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”—Jackson Pollock

When I walked into Cafe Vida at Bay Club Courtside to interview Rosalio Vargas, I found the young artist sitting in the corner working on his laptop. He wasn’t hard to find. This is a man who not only lives, eats, and breathes his art, he wears it as well. He discovered that his daily wardrobe could be both his canvas and his calling card and he has become a noticeable fixture around town. Heads turn when he passes by. Children look up at him with awe and amusement.

People compare Rosalio’s artistic style to that of the late Jackson Pollock, a major figure in the expressionist movement known for his unique style of "drip painting."
In contrast, Rosalio employs more of a splatter technique using only his glove-protected hand. To see him work is like watching an animated comic book superhero unleashing an explosion of colors. He is inspired by the ground breaking work of Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto, whose pioneering studies of water prove that thoughts and feelings can affect physical reality. Like a modern day mystic, Rosalio applies the primary component of this work—water-based acrylic paint—to infuse thoughts, prayers and good intentions into his paintings.

Rosalio also embraces the power of "Not Knowing,” or suspending the need to require an immediate solution of what to do next. No matter how counter-intuitive and uncomfortable it may feel, he trusts the process of allowing things to naturally evolve and new creations to emerge. He is motivated by a sense of community and collaboration rather than one of competition and rivalry. 

But alas, it hasn’t always been this way. Like many celebrities such as comedian and actor Jim Carrey, Vargas was extremely restless and disruptive as a child and like Carrey has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). His racing creative mind and intellect was met with resistance in the educational school system. 

My good friend, James Hunter, was Rosalio’s 5th grade teacher at Cherrywood Elementary. He told the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 about the challenges with working with kids with ADD or ADHD. He had volunteered to take Rosalio (aka RIchard) out of Special Day Class and mainstream him into his class. Having struggled with ADHD as a child himself, Hunter, an award-winning teacher empathized with Vargas, and was motivated to do everything he could to help the young Vargas succeed.

While trying to find his identity In his teenage years, and cope with his ADHD, Rosalio became a notorious spray painting graffiti artist that got him in serious trouble with the law. Vargas attributes his troubles to a rough and dark upbringing. "I was abused, bullied, robbed, manipulated and teased unmercifully,” he said. At some point, this eccentric visionary artist realized he was at a crossroads. He had a choice to make. He could either be at the effect of that abuse and reflect his dark, troubled history that nearly swallowed him up or; like the Buddha taught, he could become a "lamp unto himself." Luckily, he chose the latter. "My approach was simple, I could operate from my heart instead of my head and focus on the present instead of my past."

About 8 years ago Rosalio moved to the wide open spaces of Melbourne, Australia and began perfecting his contemporary and abstract work inspired by the female form where he quickly became a serious selling artist as his artistic creations were recognized by prestigious art gallery showings in Melbourne, Brisbane and San Francisco. 

Vargas wants his work to inspire and encourage people to think outside the box. He believes every person has a touch of genius in them and are capable of doing great things. “We are coded with extraordinary potential when we tap into our natural flow,” he said. Twenty-two years later, Rosalio and Mr. Hunter crossed paths again. When asked how he would describe his former 5th grade student, he said. “He is an extremely eccentric visionary who despite all obstacles persevered by focusing on his art and had the courage to be himself."

Toward the end of the interview I asked Rosalio if he had any final words for my readers and if he had any regrets about his harsh upbringing and his difficulties in school and this is what he said: “My artistry is not about ‘me,' it’s about 'we.’ He then clasped his hands together with fingers intertwined and added, “At the end of the day, it comes down to how does one inspire the collective, conjoined consciousness? Rather than think hey look at me, I’m the best, my intention is to use art as a vehicle to engage people in a collaborative effort rather than emphasizing my singularity. After all, we are all ONE. Yes, it’s true I come from a dark past, I was punished and abused as a child—at home and in school. But, without the dark, you can’t step into the light, and that’s me: Rosalio Vargas. Nice to meet you," he said as he placed his hands together in prayer position and added: "Namaste’ and thank you for taking the time! You are a great listener!

At the end of September, Rosalio was invited to demonstrate his artistry and showmanship at the Los Gatos Art & Wine Festival. With the music of a live quartet and Flamenco guitarist and dancer performing in the background, he began painting cars, one layer at a time. 
Before, during and after his performance art, Rosalio was the subject of a 15 minute interview by producer Mel Van Dusen about his philosophy of art. You can view it on youtube by selecting the first link below.

Remembering Mom—My First Love—on Her Birthday Who Would Have Been 93 Today

During a recent trip to my home town, Hoboken, NJ., my brother-in-law, Joseph McAllister took a photo of my younger sister Josephine and I standing arm-in-arm with are backs facing the New York City skyline. A few days later, we visited our mother Maria at the Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington where she shares a plot with our late dad Frank who passed away last December. 

We laid a floral bouquet at their tombstone. Mom was born on November 2, 1924 in a small fishing village of Roccalumera in the province of Messina of Sicily.
She came to the United in 1947. Three years later she gave birth to me—her fist child. She was very courageous. She gave up home and country to cross the ocean in search
of liberty and a better life and to meet my dad whom she only knew through a photograph sent with a letter from a matchmaker friend in the US.

She survived the carpet bombing and machine gun fire of US Army Air Corps in 1943 during World War ll as well as an electrical storm on a Merchant Marine Clipper
headed to Ellis Island. In the early years when I used to visit my ancestors I used to see the bullet holes in the stucco of my grandparents home.

I am proud of my Sicilian heritage. People get confused about the difference between Italians and Sicilians. Not all Italians are Sicilians but all Sicilians
are Italian. Apart from that, there is are no visible differences, though voicing such a thought could be perceived as fighting words to a Sicilian.
I have been blessed to have taken more than 15 trips to Sicily since the age of three.

Mom became a hard worker at a garment factory, or what was commonly called a sweat shop but later became a stay at home mom. She had a good heart. Her first thought was always to send care packages and money back to her native land to help her parents and siblings. She was protective of me, always kept a clean home and loved to cook. Her beauty caused most men’s heads to turn. She was popular with my friends.
She had a contagious laugh and a sharp wit and would not hesitate to give me a piece of her mind if I misbehaved. In later years, when I became successful in
my podiatry practice Cecile and I would take her and my younger brother Steve to visit the family in the old country. I used to love when Italian relatives and friends came to visit our home and spoke in their native tongue. In later years she loved to play bingo, she loved to walk, especially when we would fly her and dad out to California for visits where
she felt really peaceful. We loved to take walks together in the local or county parks. The topography and weather of Northern California reminded her of Sicily, which is one of the reasons I wanted to live in the Bay Area. We enjoyed taking her and dad on an Alaskan Cruise, to Mexico and multiple times to her and dad’s favorite island, Maui.

Though she has been gone five years last Mothers Day, she is always with me. She is the whisper of the wind, the rustling of the leaves on an autumn day. She is the smell of Italian foods. She is the fragrance of red roses we used to send her for Mother’s Day and her birthday, she is the cool hand on my forehead when I wasn’t feeling well as a child. She is the reassuring hug and soft voice when I was sad. She is the person who pushed me to continue my studies. 
She is the sound of the rain that lulls me to sleep. She is the laugh I hear in myself, the inherited fissure skin above my brow, the place in her womb that nurtured me, the walks in the park, the sound of Italian music or the tourist or passersby speaking my mother’s native tongue. She is my first love and my first friend and though we sometimes had words, nothing on earth will ever separate the fact that she is my mother for all eternity. Not time, space or death will keep us apart.

Buon Compleanno (Happy Birthday), mom and thank you for giving me this life to live!