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PostHeaderIcon Oakland Zoo: Not Just for Kids


I've been going to the Oakland Zoo since the early 1970's and I've taken my niece and nephew on trips to see the animals and for special events, such as Zoo Lights in December. Their parents are zoo members. The 7-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy know the lay of the land from the flamingos to the elephants. The Oakland Zoo is, no doubt, a gem for children and families, by day.

But the Zoo is, pardon me, a whole different animal at night.

My sister and I found this out on Saturday night during Walk in the Wild, which brought together nearly 100 vendors from around the Bay Area. Bakeries, breweries, caterers, restaurants, and wineries gathered to support the Oakland Zoo's largest annual fundraiser.

We sampled food from some East Bay favorites: Pican, Italian Colors, Wood Tavern, Scott's Seafood, Ozumo, Triple Rock, Forge Pizza, Nothing Bundt Cakes, World Ground Cafe, Concannon Vineyards, St. George Spirits and plenty more.

We had mini pastrami sandwiches, Aidells sausages with crazy good dipping sauces, bite-sized shrimp covered in more deliciousness, thin sliced pizza, orzo salad, cheese, cheese and more cheese, fresh baked bread, mini tacos, and lots of different juices, brews and vinos to wash down all the good eats.

We ate and drank while strolling around looking at the sun bears, primates, flamingos, giraffes, elephants, camels and birds. We also rode the skyride and got an aerial view of tigers resting, a lion sleep, tule elk roaming and bison doing whatever it is they do.

We listened to some live music while folks tried the specialty cocktails, danced and ate dessert. This event happens once a year in June and tickets go quickly. Make sure you Walk in the Wild next year. But in the meantime, there are plenty of other events for adults (and kids) alike.
Bedtime with the Beasts is a time to get a group together for an overnight at the zoo. Start your evening with a private guided tour of the zoo. Afterwards, enjoy a light snack and participate in a fun hands-on activity. Next, meet one of the education animals up close and then head down to the auditorium and settle in for the night. In the morning, enjoy a tasty continental breakfast, pack up your things, and journey back into the zoo to see the animals as they wake. The event runs from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. the next day.

Program Fee: $65 and memberships do not apply toward program fees. 
Parking Fee: $7 for non-members. Free for members.

Pre-Registration is required. All forms and deposit must be received 1 month before the event date. For more information and to register, email, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or call, 510-632-9525 ext. 220.

Groups can be as small as 15 or as large as 100, but you must be at least 6 to participate.

Prefer sleeping in your own bed? Check out a docent-led live animal presentation where you will learn what you can do to help wild animals, while seeing some of the zoo's animals close up. Programs begin at 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and run about 20 minutes. The program is free with zoo admission and presented at the Clorox Wildlife Theater in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children's Zoo. Registration is not required. For more information on these and other programs, go to oaklandzoo.org.-- KB



PostHeaderIcon One Bike. Two Guys. 3K Miles. All For a Great Cause

My name is Bob Stratton and I have lived in Walnut Creek for more than 20 years and am about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

On June 1, I began driving the support vehicle for my childhood friend, David Bieber (left) of San Diego as he rides his completely restored WWII Harley Davidson motorcycle (also left) from San Diego to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

We'll travel more than 3,000 miles to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, a program that provides assistance for veterans who have been been injured as a result of their military service.

Along the route, we'll stop and David will make presentations at veterans’ hospitals and centers in California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, and D.C.

The road trip has been a longtime in the works.

In 1992, David found an old Harley Davidson (model WLA45 for you gearheads) built for use by the U.S. Army in WWII, in a chicken coop in Minnesota. He bought it and brought it back to his workplace at Paladin Aviation, an aircraft restoration company at Brown Field, a small airport near the California-Mexico border.

Like all good ideas, this one took a few years to get rolling, but he never gave up on the plan to restore the bike to its original condition.

Besides being a pilot, David is a lifelong motorcyclist and mechanic. In 2009, he began accumulating original parts for his bike with the goal that all the components were to be authentic, right down to the grease fittings and gaskets.

It took him more than three years of locating and amassing the parts, cleaning, painting, cataloging, labeling and boxing up the parts before he was ready to assemble the bike last year.

His dream was to work along with his three sons and assemble it as a team in one session, and make a video of the event for posterity.

Along with my friend Mike Montany, a Concord resident and videographer, we hit the road to San Diego with a carload of video equipment to capture the assembly-- both in real time and time-lapse.

Last June, his dream came true when he became the proud owner of the only known running WLA45 made from original specs and parts.

Because David wasn't interested in selling or donating the motorcycle but wanted to do something to benefit from the fruits of his labor, he decided to raise funds and awareness for veterans. He is also honoring his late father who was a Navy man who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

He hopes to ride it most of the way back home.  We’ll see.  He’s almost 62 and these bikes were designed for combat, not long distance travel.  I’ll be there to assist in any case.  And we do have a trailer.

Wish us luck!-- BS

To help David reach his personal goal of $45,000, click HERE to go to his Facebook page and donate. To see the YouTube video about the process click HERE. David would also like people to LIKE and SHARE both on their personal Facebook pages.


Bob Stratton is a retired white collar guy who has taken up acting and can now be seen singing and dancing on East Bay stages. In his spare time, he enjoys doing one-handed push ups and other athletic endeavors. He just finished running his 32nd consecutive Bay to Breakers race.


PostHeaderIcon Gardening is fun for kids


This story was originally published in Spring 2011, but we are posting again due to popular demand. Enjoy!

The California Master Gardener’s Annual Conference was held in Santa Rosa this year.  One of our fellow Master Gardeners gave an extremely informational and interesting presentation documenting the benefits children and adults receive by just being in a garden setting.  Did you know that students who participated in school gardens scored higher on math and science achievement tests than students who did not garden?  Other benefits of gardening include improved concentration, enhanced cognitive functioning, reduced stress and anxiety, increased feelings of calm and relaxation, improved mood,  personal satisfaction and sense of pride.

Interest in backyard, community, and school gardens have heightened in the past five years as people have become more aware of sustainability and the importance of eating organic pesticide- free fruits and vegetables.  The Smithsonian has recreated a Victory Garden based on a 1940 pamphlet on vegetable gardening and the White House has created the “Let’s Move” theme incorporating education for eating healthy.

It’s time for all us to consider the importance of teaching our children about our food chain and how they can participate in a home, school or community garden.  It is important for young children to know that food does not originate in the grocery store.  It’s amazing to note that after World War II, victory gardens accounted for 40 percent of total US produce while larger farms provided produce to the troops.

Gardening is also fun!  The first thing my grandson, Tyler, (above) does when he comes to my house is run out to the strawberry patch.  He derives a great deal of pleasure from picking and eating the berries right from the vine.  He was a little upset, however when he ran out in December and to his surprise, there were no berries.  This turned into a learning experience and I was able to teach him about growing seasons, frost, etc.  He is also intrigued with my project of growing potatoes in a garbage can.  He is looking forward to the harvest when we will dump the entire can onto a tarp and harvest organic Russet potatoes that can be stored an eaten during the winter months.

Tyler enjoys investigating everything in the yard.  In addition to the vegetable garden, he likes to water the herb garden (it’s more his size).   We were watering the herb garden last week when he squealed with delight as he discovered a blue damselfly near the fountain.

By the time I set my camera up, the damselfly had hidden himself underneath the oregano, his little head was peeking out, looking like some type of alien.  His blue color was beautiful and vibrant.  This was an opportunity for me to talk to Tyler about beneficial insects and how they help our echo system.

Tyler also loves to help me in the flower cutting garden. He always asks me to tell him the name of each and every flower. He enjoys searching for little critters in this area too.  In addition to our blue damselfly, we discovered a beautiful dragonfly perched on a stake supporting dinner plate dahlias.

The dragonfly stayed perched on the stake for quite some time. Tyler was glued to the cutting garden watching the dragonfly until I was able to coax him over to the birdhouse box where a family of wrens had made a nest and the baby birds were preparing to fledge.  Mom and Dad were busy feeding their babies, so there was much activity and yet another opportunity to talk to Tyler about birds and how they nest, find food, bathe and fit into our echo system.

If you would enjoy more information on gardening with children, a free booklet is available to help you get started.  Visit this website and click on “Gardens for Learning.”  www.csgn.org

The National Gardening Association collects data to track the benefits of school gardens and this website may be of interest as well www.kidsgardening.org. There is also a junior Master Gardener Program website at www.jmkids.us
As always, UC Davis website has an abundance of information on Home Gardening.  www.ipm.ucdavis.edu Click on Home Gardening.--JM

Jody McPheeters is a retired executive who lives in San Ramon. She is a published author, freelance writer, and Certified Master Gardener. To learn more about her landscapes and garden designs, please visit her website at www.yourgardeningcoach.com.



PostHeaderIcon Turning Memories into Memoirs


Perhaps you have considered your assorted collection of notes, jotted down in a journal, on scraps of paper or in other various notebook forms, to be all you would ever do to preserve your most significant life memories.  You might think “What, me? actually gathering my thoughts and facts together into a written form chronicling my personal life experiences or family stories?  It is a plausible endeavor worth your confidence and, yes, worthy of publishing as a lasting document for posterity, generations to come.

There are, in fact, resources through Soleil Lifestory Network for the coaching services necessary to afford interested individuals aid in creating a memoir of which to be proud.  Details of editing and book production are all included in a free e-book by Denis Ledoux, with 25 years of memoir-writing skills, at www.turningmemories.com.

This accessible-on-line FAQ guidebook outlines the Ghostwriting Services available and elaborates on how a co-author or ghostwriter provides the technical skills and sensibility to help you realize your dream of preserving and sharing your life story in manuscript form.  The finished product will be your story, autobiography, and yours alone!

There are myriad obstacles which might detain a person from being a self-starter in composing the draft, initiating their written work.  Indeed, a first step complimentary half hour consultation helps sketch and craft your life story, as an architect employs your vision to create your dream house.  Loose bits of recall, scenes, dialogues and vignettes can be woven into a tapestry of vivid themes and meanings, creating a “text that fully expresses and embodies the life you wish to memorialize in your book”, reports Ledoux.

From its inception in 1988, Soleil Lifestory Network has been an advocate to thousands with a desire to document personal and family stories.  Not uncommon is concern that someone’s story is not worth preserving.  Overcoming this initial doubt and taking the preliminary steps offered as a motivational jump start, gives writers the confidence to get going!  A live interview and providing you with digital photos can be arranged with Denis Ledoux at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The added benefits of putting your purpose to print might be the healing or developmental process for the writer.  Much can be learned, experienced or shared with others in the process of relating your life story or excerpts from family history.  Or the writing can be significant just for itself. The process of “letting go, opening up to share well-kept treasures of family history or little-known events of a by-gone era, can serve as a catharsis or cleansing for repressed emotions, evoking a sense of relief for both the writer and the reader.

Thinking the unspoken words and consigning a lasting text for family to read has intrinsic value.  Ledoux expresses “The worth of a memoir is [best] measured by the inherent value to the writer and to its selected audience.”  There is a unique quality about each and everyone’s life.  It could be that you were the first person to accomplish a certain success  in your community, organize a group or discover a simple remedy for removing impossible stains.

Giving it some thought, it is highly likely that we all can find a reason to write our own story that would be unique and different from anyone else’s.  As you embark upon the trip down memory lane, new avenues of exploration can be guided by the expert coaching at Soleil Lifestory Network at www.turningmemories.com or at 207-353-5454, 9-5 EST. --KRB

Karen Balch is a retired nurse, avid traveler and freelance writer. She is currently working on her memoir. Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .




PostHeaderIcon About One in Three Can Give Blood

It is inspiring to know I can offer support where and when needed, even being able to provide a critically life-saving gift for up to three lives saved in a donation of a single pint of my blood.  That is why I want to give.  The reward for me is that there is virtually no cost, a short reclining pause in my day, amid a comfortable room filled with other like donors, ordinary people of a generous spirit, making a difference for someone in need.

Every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion of some blood product.  This equals a requirement for 44,000 blood donations every day or 5 million donations a year.  To extend a life for a child with leukemia, someone with hemophilia or an accident victim, a voluntary donation can make a huge difference in a life or death situation.

The American Red Cross, established in 1940, serves as the agency to accept only volunteer donors who are not paid for their benevolent gifts of donating blood.  The safe, sterile and confidential procedure includes a check of vital signs, temperature, pulse, blood pressure and finger-stick hemoglobin value.  All blood is tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Syphilis and other infectious diseases before being used. 

Only 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood, and of those 50% are loyal, repeat donors.  The gender of donors is almost equally divided at 50/50 for men and women.
Not all donations needed after natural disasters and crisis events involve a monetary gift, but even more precious in some situations is the gift of life-saving blood, given voluntarily. 

The plus side is that healthy bone marrow in a blood donor makes a constant supply of red blood cells, plasma and platelets, thus the body replenishes the elements given during the donation procedure within a short time.  The safe interval between donations is generally 56 days and future appointments may be scheduled at the time of your donation.
The requirements for donating include:  being healthy, no sickness or fever;  age: 16-76 years old;  weight minimum:  110 pounds.  A donor must be well-hydrated with a healthy iron level, a hemoglobin of at least 12 grams and carry an appropriate ID card.

Why do I want to donate blood?  Knowing it is the right thing to do, I want to help others who might be in need.  The feeling of accomplishment is shared with other donors as we join at tables in the hospitality area after our donations to enjoy complimentary snacks and beverages before saying good-bye to the friendly and helpful Red Cross staff.

Helen Keller inspired others in remarking “When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”    
Walk-ins are welcome and appointments may be made by calling:  1 800 733-2767.  Locations are listed at 1 800 RED-CROSS and at www.redcross.org-- KRB

Karen Balch is a retired nurse, avid traveler, community volunteer and freelance writer. Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


PostHeaderIcon Get Away: To A Lighthouse in the SF Bay

It may have been a well-kept secret that quite a small island located just 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco in the Richmond Bay is home to a unique dinner, bed and breakfast inn.  However, East Brother Light Station, built in 1873, has been operating as an active lighthouse for 133 years, first and foremost as an adjunct to the navigation of mariners in the San Pablo and San Francisco Bays.  Two islands on the east of the San Pablo Strait are named The Brothers.  Two similar islands on the west are referred to as The Sisters.  A long and colorful history of use extends since the lighting of the civilian manually-operated beacon of East Brother Light Station in 1874.

After WWII, Coast Guard personnel replaced civilian light keepers, tending the station around the clock, providing for all forms of maintenance and ferrying supplies from shore to the island.  The conversion to automation of the beacon’s operation in 1969 and the subsequent placement of EBLS on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, brought with it a new and brighter focus.  The lighthouse had survived storm waves, earthquakes, gales, collisions by ships and a major fire over its lifetime.

By 1979, a 20 year renewable license, issued to restore and occupy the station and operate a Bed and Breakfast Inn sparked the interest and efforts of over 300 volunteers to begin restoration of this pillar of light. Saving the lighthouse from destruction, enthusiasm and overwhelming community support brought their efforts to fruition in less than 1 year, as supplies and personnel were ferried across from Richmond in private boats.
Now in full swing for over 30 years is a California historical Victorian lighthouse B&B, where dinner is served the evening of arrival via a guest ferry service of 10 minutes time across the bay.  Adventure begins in the open boat, captained by host, Richard Foregger, a Coast Guard commercially licensed operator.  Once docked upon the island, guests are greeted by partner and hostess, Jude Haukom, who conveys a sense of serenity in sharing this special landmark with visitors and guests.

With new-found experience as inn keepers since June 2012, the couple both have backgrounds in television entertainment, Richard as a director/producer and Jude as an actress.  Haukom remarks “We’re able to meet people we never would have met otherwise, and they always seem to leave happy.”  Foregger expresses his fascination with the foghorn, “It’s a mind blowing experience.”

The dinner, bed and breakfast inn is available for bookings Thursday through Sunday of each week, with a choice of 5 queen bed accommodation options.   Two rooms have private baths, two rooms share a bath and another choice is in an intimate separate building, farthest from the foghorn.  All have different views and one is equipped with a wood-burning fireplace.  The modern amenities of propane fueling and solar panels for water-heating provide comfort to this unique retreat, where gourmet food, nostalgia, charm and expansive views of San Francisco skyline, Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin coastline etch a landmark memory  for visiting  guests.  

Rates include harbor parking, the boat ride to and from with pick up at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor at  4 pm and return by 11 am next day, evening hors d’oeuvres and complimentary champagne, a tour of the lighthouse with history and demonstration of the diaphone fog horns, a 4 course dinner with complimentary wines, topped off with a full gourmet breakfast in the morning.  For reservations and virtual tour of the rooms, go to:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call:  510 233-2385.

Consideration should be given to the requirement for physical stamina and strength to climb from a bobbing boat up a vertical ladder.  No pets are allowed and the minimum age requirement for the stay is 18 years old.  Fishing is allowed with a license, and for groups of up to 12, luncheons and parties may be arranged.  During summer months, day use on Saturdays at a $20 charge includes the boat transportation and a guided tour of the island.

Funds earned by the Inn, through its non-profit, corporation, pay for ongoing restoration and maintenance costs of the buildings and equipment on the island.  Yet, volunteers are needed, “Wickies”, named for those who spent time trimming the oil lamp wicks to keep the lighthouse lamp aflame.  All are welcome who may offer their skills or energy on 2nd Saturday each month.  By registering on the web site, you will receive the monthly e-vite to the work party.  The 9 a.m. to 4 p.m workday includes a short boat ride to the island.   Contact to Angelina Schwark at:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more info.  The adventure will be well worth it!  --KRB


Karen Balch is a retired nurse, avid traveler and freelance writer. Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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