Celebrating our Nephew Jacob's Surprise 40th Birthday Party in Chicago

“Life really does begin at 40. Until then, you are just doing research.”—Carl G. Jung

Cecile and I, Jason, Michelle, Kyle and our granddaughter Lyla were among forty family members and friends gathered to celebrate our nephew Jacob Schwimmer’s surprise 40th birthday party in a the back of the Violet Hour on Damen Avenue in the Wicker Park section of Chicago. The event was hosted by Jacob’s mom and dad, Sherry and Jerry Schwimmer with the assistance and coordination of Jacob’s sister Emily and wife Amy.

The entrance to this hard to find swanky cocktail lounge with—no sign out front—is hidden behind a mural painted wood paneled exterior. A doorman escorted us through a dark passage way and into a private candlelit salon. It had all the feel of a mysterious speakeasy reminiscent of the early 20’s when George "Bugs" Moran and Al Capone were running the streets before the repeal of prohibition in 1933.

Once we were given the word that Jacob and Amy would be arriving soon, we retreated to both sides of the room. When he walked through the curtains we all yelled surprise!
He didn’t know what hit him. He certainly didn’t expect to see family members from California.

While the hand crafted cocktails and other drinks were served by the waiters and waitresses of the Violet Hour lounge, the food was catered by the Big Star, a former gas station and now a Mexican taco-serving honky-tonk bar across the street. 

We couldn’t wish to spring this surprise on a better guy. Jacob, who is a well liked affable young man has had a good run of late. Having recently returned from an enchanting 15 day tour of Peru with Amy, he was recently hired as the Director of Operations for Maple & Ash that Zagat rates as one of the best restaurants in the Gold Coast.

Happy 40th Jacob and we extend our heartfelt congrratulations on your well deserved new career opportunity! We are so proud of you, and how you patiently worked your way up the ladder all these years in the Food and Hospitality field. All the hard work has paid off. We love you

Happy Mother's Day Mom: Unseen, Always Near, Still loved, Still Missed & Held so Dear

"A mom’s hug lasts long after she lets go.”—author unknown

Happy Mother’s Day to my Mama Maria Micalizzi Augustine. It’s hard to believe that six years have gone by since your passing on Mother’s Day in 2013. I felt blessed to be at your side with all your children when you left this Earthly domain for the Heavenly realm.

I miss your smile
I miss your voice
I miss your laugh
I miss your hugs
I miss your edgy wit
I miss our many trips to Italy/Sicily to visit family 
I’m thankful for all the sacrifices you made
I appreciate your courage, wisdom, strength, and love
I am grateful for encouraging me to continue with my studies
I am grateful for teaching me to respect my elders which carried me a long way in life

You will forever be loved.

A Mother's Day Brunch Celebration for Five Awesome Mothers at La Rinconada Country Club

“Motherhood is truly a remarkable gift and a privilege that I hold very close to my heart. To me, being a mother means to be fearless, to be a positive role model, to be a continuous cheerleader for every milestone my children will experience, to demonstrate the abundance of unconditional love that has no end and to cherish the countless memories that are truly priceless.” 
—Eluka Moore

This Mothers Day we gathered at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos, California to honor and celebrate the lives of five awesome mothers: Kim Chien, mother of Kyle and Chip, Al and Rich Chien’s mother Dana who was present with their father Jack, Rich’s wife Lisa, mother of their lovely daughters Simone and Alivia, my beloved wife Cecile, mother of our son Jason and daughter Michelle and last but not least, our beloved Michelle herself, who celebrated her first Mother’s Day with our son-in-law Kyle and our five month old granddaughter and precious cargo Lyla, who really gave power to her babbling baby-speak voice that kept us all entertained and rapt with joy.

It was a beautiful Spring Day. When we entered the club, there were mimosas and champagne waiting for us on a flower decorated wooden table. After getting settled and visiting with one another we helped ourselves to an elaborate buffet brunch and dessert table.
There was ample time for group pictures and for the mothers to open their presents.

On Mother’s Day, we celebrate the lives of our beloved mothers who gave birth to us and offered a sheltering presence in their own bodies. When we are born and as we continue to grow, they begin to fashion an invisible terrain that provides us a refuge and a sense of freedom to discover the contours of our own lives as we continue on to adulthood. 

I have no doubt that our daughter Michelle will continue to become a great mother to Lyla as she has been blessed to have her devoted mother as a wonderful role model.

What follows is a poem by Kristen David (February 2003) about the joys of motherhood. I can safely say these were the wishes of Cecile when she gave birth to Jason and Michelle:

From the moment you were born 
I knew what love was really about
I loved you more than anything
Beyond the shadow of a doubt
The bond I felt was unbreakable
And instantly I knew I spend eternity 
Thanking God for my miracle—YOU…

One day in the future 
God will bless you with a miracle too
Then you will know the depth of love
That I will always have for you
I will be here for you always 
And forever and a day
Loving you unconditionally
Every step along the way.

A Festive Afternoon in San Francisco including a Raucous Visit with Sea Lions at Pier 39

Cecile and I spent Saturday afternoon in San Francisco with our niece, Ilana, who is visiting from the greater Chicago area. After having lunch at Scala’s we went to the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival in Union Square Park. We were blessed with a mild, breezy sunny day.
We visited the Ma-Tsu Temple Shrine. One of the volunteers named Ming took our photo and he and I had our photo taken together in front of the Ma-Tsu Shrine. Adherents of this tradition were offering lit incense sticks and bowing their heads in reverence to the deity surrounded by her protectors. After I told him my interest in Taoism and Buddhist meditation, Ming showed me a Tibetan prayer wheel he wore around his neck and I shared my gold engraved “katah” prayer beads from Cambodia. 

The Ma-Tsu Temple is a Taoist temple in San Francisco’s Chinatown, founded in 1986 by two Chinese immigrants. Ma-Tsu (or Mazu) was born Moniang Lin in the Fuquian province of China in 960 A.D. It has been said that she was very gifted and existed on a higher spiritual plain. At the age
of 13, she had a thorough understanding of all the Zen teachings. She was also known to have possessed healing powers and metaphysical abilities, controlling the weather and saving troubled ships at sea. Hence, she became known as the Goddess of the sea. At the age of 27 she ascendant to Nirvana.

As we exited the park I took a photo of Ilana in front of a colorful batik heart by artist Swann Freslon (sponsored by Genentech installed February 13, 2019). It was part of the "Hearts in San Francisco," a public art project that supports San Francisco General Hospital Foundation’s efforts to fund innovative projects and initiative’s that provide high-quality compassionate care at Zuckerberg San Francisco General. From 2004, more than 350 heart sculptures have been designed by local artists then auctioned and sold. More than 11 million dollars has been raised.

We stopped for a cappuccino and a cannoli and to rest our tired feet at Caffe Greco in North Beach. One patron was
feeding an Italian pastry to his Jack Russel terrier.

Cecile, Ilana and I then made our way through Chinatown, one of the oldest and most established in the United States. Beyond the iconic Dragon’s Gate, was a maze of streets and alleyways brimming with dim sum joints, bakeries, herbalists, souvenir shops that we browsed, ornate temples, cocktail lounges, and karaoke bars.

Afterward, we walked to Pier 39’s West Marina to see the Sea Lions. Endearingly called “Sea Lebrites” these barking, boisterous social creatures began to make their presence known shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. In the beginning, they numbered from 10-50, but due to a bountiful herring supply, the available dock space and protected environmental status, they began to arrive in droves growing to 300 and then hitting an all time ,record of 1701 in November 2009.

In the backdrop was Alcatraz Island that was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, military fortification, military prison and federal prison from 1934-1963 and currently
functions as a popular tourist attraction.

We made a pit stop in San Mateo to see our daughter Michelle, Kyle and our granddaughter Lyla before heading back home.

Unforgettable Easter Sunday: Incredible Luncheon, Easter Egg Hunt & the 2-Legged Easter Bunny

"Spring, the season for rebirth, renewal, and regrowth."

Cecile and I and our son Jason were two of seventeen people that gathered at Kim and AL Chiens’ lovely home for Easter Sunday.
It was a very auspicious day. Besides being the day Christians celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection, it was Kim and AL’s 18th wedding anniversary and our baby granddaughter Lyla's first Easter. She even got her first Easter egg basket.

On any major family holiday celebration, the first thing that comes to mind when walking into the Chien's home and experiencing Kim’s flawless attention to detail, tasteful creativity and signature artistry that she employs in setting the menu, coordinating food preparations, and planning the decor is that this amazing passionate and compassionate woman should have her own TV series on the Food Chanel Network. It is clear to all that know her, that her efforts are a labor of love.

After, pre-meal drinks from the family’s back yard patio bar, enjoying yummy appetizers such as deviled eggs, melon wrapped in prosciutto, lollypop lamb chops and a fresh fruit platter and dip, we socialized with Kyle’s dad Ed and Gerry, his brother Chip and Katie who flew in from New York, AL’s mom and dad, Dana and Jack, brother Rich and Lisa and their adorable daughters, Simone and Alivia, and of course our dearest daughter Michelle. Our little Lyla was being passed around and lovingly embraced like the precious flower she is. Even, the family dog, Bailey came over to snuggle next to Lyla. If she could talk she would have to conclude “They really, really love me,” and she would be right. She was the love and light of the party on this Easter Day.

The glass T-shape dining table room setting was inviting. After Kim recited a prayer for all the blessings in our lives, we ate buffet-style enjoying Ham Quiche, Spinach Quish, Honey-Baked Ham, Cheesy potatoes, Halibut Florentine, Glazed Carrots, Fresh Asparagus followed by Carrott cake, Banana bread, Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Krispy Kreme Donuts and Easter Cookies.

After dinner AL—brave enough to wear a Rabbit Suit (pink I may add) coordinated an Easter Egg hunt for the children in the front yard and for adults in the backyard. Michelle found a Golden Egg with $50 cash prize AL had hidden in an electric utility box. “That’s my girl,” I said.

As the designated family historian and photographer Al said, “No social media.” It is difficult to take someone seriously, saying no photos on social media with respect to his wearing a Pink Bunny Rabbit suit:-) All kidding aside, AL brought a spirit and excitement to the events of the day that will be remembered by all for years to come. By the end of the day, AL didn’t win any easter egg award, but he got the best prize of the day—feeding Lyla (Photo).

Postscript: Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to everyone affected by the Sri Lanka tragedy, serial bomb blasts that hit several churches and hotels on Easter Sunday.



The First Night of Passover: an Intimate gathering of our Family and Friends

The message of Passover: “Freedom is won not on the battlefield but in the classroom and the home. Teach
your children the history of freedom if you want them never to lose it.
—Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

Cecile and I hosted a very simple and intimate gathering for the first night of Passover that happened to fall on Good Friday this year. Our son Jason and his partner Alex attended, our daughter Michelle, our son-in-law Kyle and our precious granddaughter Lyla, who is 4 1/2 months old. And, I can’t forget Jason’s dog Daisy (our beloved grand dog) who made herself comfortable in Lyla’s portable bed on the living room sofa (photo). I have to say, Lyla added such a warm glow to the evening. Developmentally, she is now more observant of her surroundings, is cooing and smiling when engaged, is mesmerized by the bright colors of her picture books and toys, can hold her head up and she is grasping our fingers with more intensity. She is too sweet for words.

Cecile prepared filet of salmon, oven baked brisket, grilled asparagus, hearts of palm salad, charoset, a sweet paste of fruits and nuts, symbolizing the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build the Egyptian pyramids. It is spread on Matzo, unleavened flatbread or crackers. For dessert, we had flowerless chocolate cake with fresh strawberries and various flavors of ice cream. Alex brought some kosher red wine called Decoy and Michelle and Kyle brought a beautiful orchid plant.

Though I was raised Catholic, I feel particularly blessed to be married to my beloved wife, Cecile who was raised in a Jewish household and shared some of her fondest memories of celebrating the Jewish holidays with her extended family in the great city of Chicago. Our son Jason and Michelle had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, at the age of 13 and I have learned a great deal about the Jewish faith, participated in Interfaith dialogue, sang in the choir at Congregation Shir Hadash, a Reform Temple which has many interfaith couples as members, and led some meditation and healing services preceding the Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) services back in the day.

The Passover Story and why it resonates so much with Jews and many non-Jews alike:

The festival commemorates the Exodus of the Jews and Moses, their reluctant leader from Egypt, a key step in the formation of the Jewish people. It is an invitation for Jews to relive the liberation from slavery as if they had actually been in Egypt, to teach the narrative to the next generation, and to claim the history of their people as part of their own identities. it has become increasingly more popular over the years to invite neighbors, co-workers, and families of interfaith couples. Even the White House has held a seder since 2008. Unlike many communal religious rituals that take place in a synagogue, it takes place around the dinner table. The Passover story in Exodus particularly resonates for many non-Jews as well who find themselves being oppressed. African-Americans who suffered greatly during the Civil Rights movement and whose ancestors were slaves use Exodus as a metaphor for their struggles and expression for their own liberation. Passover affirms the great truth of our day, that liberty is the right of every human being all over the world.

Happy Passover to our Jewish family and friends! May your home be a place of happiness and health; contentment, generosity, and hope; creativity and loving kindness.

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.

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 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. 

Peace!

*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)