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PostHeaderIcon Author Transports Reader to Armenia

A new book called Masis, written by local author Adam Raffi Kevorkian will transport the reader to modern and lively Armenia _ without the trouble of boarding a plane or jet lag. The writer, with roots in Berkeley, beautifully illustrates an exciting tale in the changing times of the country, with main character Arin Karyan caught between stability and irresistibility. The novel is Kevorkian’s first, and hopefully, one of the many great books to come. We sat down with him for a chat about his book, his writing style, and some tips to aspiring authors. Enjoy.  

ANNB: What gave you the idea for "Masis," your new book? Was it inspired by anything from your experiences?
ARK: In my visits to Armenia I saw many things that I grew up hearing about—architecture, art, historic sites, and even landscape—I was struck by the beauty of the country; the odd confluence of the old with the new. It was as if the country’s history was laid out to be viewed like a museum exhibit, and playing with temporality seemed a natural way to convey the effect. More specifically, the food in the novel was food that I ate there, and every apartment that I entered seemed to resemble the home of Arin. But I never went fishing with grenades or anything so extreme. I did spend the night on the ground in a canyon where the wind seemed to have a life of its own, and the experience lent itself to the mystical tone of the campfire chapter. I found the country inspirational on many levels.
ANNB: When you wrote the novel did you tend to focus more on the plot or the characters?
ARK: I focused more on the characters, though not deliberately. It became necessary to balance other aspects of the story. If the characters are interesting, it’s easier for the reader to make the story their own and, in a way; they help write the story as they read it. Until the women characters were developed, the story seemed flat, so there were a lot of rewrites around the characters, fleshing them out to make them credible.
ANNB: The cover art for the book is beautiful. Is it supposed to be a location in Yerevan?
ARK: Thank you. It’s a painting of Mount Ararat, which is visible from Yerevan. It’s referred to by Armenians as Masis or metz (big) Masis. For the title my meaning refers to Masis as Ararat’s peak, as well as the journey of Armenians over time.
ANNB: How long did it take you to complete the book? Will there be any sequels?
ARK: The work was constantly being refined, meaning that after the core writing was done there were adjustments and this process is open ended, so perhaps completed isn’t the best word. At some point you have to move on, and so it’s really a process of abandonment rather than completion. I wrote the gist of Masis in about four months and had it pretty much done in a year. I’ve thought about a follow-up to the story, but there’s other work that I’m focusing on instead.
ANNB: What message do you hope "Masis" will express?
ARK: There is no singular message. Barthes tells us there can’t be in any case. Joking aside, I wrote it hoping people would enjoy a good story. Admittedly there are themes having to do with nationalism, relationships, crime, and these are pretty heavy and universal topics, so no matter what you say there will be a lot of different thoughts floating around that readers may or may not pick up on.
ANNB: As an author, how often do you write every day?
ARK: I like writing every day, but time is short. Given the opportunity, I would write full time.
ANNB: Do you have any ideas for your next novel, if any?
ARK: I have three novels in my head that I’d like to get out, and the next one is a constant obsession. I’ve learned the hard way not to share my ideas while I’m working through them, but I will say that the next story will take place in Little Armenia and Chinatown.
ANNB: What gives you inspiration to write? (a location, song, anything)
ARK: I didn’t want to write when I was younger, but it felt like the world was calling me non-stop and I finally had to answer the phone. In terms of what inspires the work itself, I respond to music, light, and landscape to name a few things. I’m a sucker for whimsy, and for the emotion that follows the split second epiphany. Writing can also be seductive because it’s compelling. You’re listened to in a way that doesn’t occur when you’re speaking.
ANNB: How do you deal with writer's block?
ARK: I break form. If the work is lyrical, I’ll deviate by writing dialogue better suited to a film script. It might be sloppy craft, but it gives me the freedom to explore when I hit a block. And if the work is sloppy, I can always go back and refine it when I’m feeling more creative. This method works for me because it eliminates the constraints imposed by too rigid a structure. Sure, sometimes what comes out makes no sense, but writers need to trust their intuition, meaning you don’t have to understand how a thought, scene, character, etc. contributes to the plot. Plot is organic, stemming from a little thought that means little, and branching out. I trust that what goes down on paper goes there for a reason, and it usually works out.
ANNB: Do you have any advice for someone wh wants to be a writer?
ARK: Keep your hands moving. If they’re not, words aren’t getting on paper. Understand that there’s no escape from criticism. Take what you can use, what makes you a better writer and do so without being defensive about your work. Stash paper and something to write with everywhere so you can capture the random thoughts that most people let go of. Collect a dozen or so, throw them on paper, and you might find there’s a story there somewhere. The point is you don’t know what’s useful so keep what you find interesting and play with it. If nothing else it’s a great mental exercise. The creative process is always going on, like breathing when you’re asleep—the trick is to capture those odd thoughts and craft them into a story, or poem. Keep it fun and trust your gut. Writing is as much about filling in gaps as it is about linear progression. Play with the work, put it away, and go back to it when you’re ready. If you keep the hands moving, your craft will evolve.-- MM

 Melody Moteabbed is a senior at Castro Valley High School. She is one of the editors-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Olympian. In addition to writing, she also enjoys acting, singing, participating in community service.


PostHeaderIcon Vanity Party to Help Campers


Danville-based Dr. Jerome Potozkin, a dermatologist who offers facial renjuventation, liposuction prodedures and dematolgical care and more, is holding a Vanity Party benefiting The Taylor Family Foundation.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 27 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  at his office at 600 San Ramon Valley Blvd. Suite 102 in Danville.

This year’s Vanity Party will help fund The Tyalor Family Foundation's mission to preserve the wellness and enhance the quality of life for children in Northern California living with life-threatening and chronic illnesses, developmental disabilities and youth at-risk through unique therapeutic experiences and support. 

The foundation holds more than 20 summer and weekend camp sessions at Camp Arroyo, like the one in the picture to the left, for children living with HIV/AIDS, skin and heart disease, colitis, diabetes, brain tumors, autism and other chronic and critical illnesses. To date, the foundation has provided more than 40,000 children with what is sadly often a once-in-a-lifetime camp experience at no cost to their families.

This isn’t the first time that Potozkin has donated time and services to help fund a worthwhile cause. In 2005, his practice held a similar party that raised $18,000 for Hurricane Katrina victims. In 2007, STAND against Domestic Violence was the recipient of more than $25,000 in donations.

Vanity Party guests should R.S.V.P.  by calling  925.838.4900. Only appointments for cosmetic injectables, including Botox®, Restylane®, Juvederm®, Dysport® and Sculptra® , will be available the day of the Vanity Party. Checks for services should be made out to The Taylor Family Foundation. New patients are welcome. Appointments are available for both women and men.

For more information on his practice, visit www.mybeautymd.com. -KB





PostHeaderIcon Learn How to Earthquake Proof Your Home

If you are not ready for the 'big one,' you'll have a chance to prepare this Saturday.

This year marks the 7th annual San Ramon Valley Emergency Preparedness Fair.  The San Ramon Valley Citizen Corp Council along with various county, state and federal agencies will be showcasing their response resources and programs on Saturday, September 15 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the LDS Church located at 655 Old Orchard Road in Danville.

This event is all about families and personal preparedness. Gather ideas to update or create your home earthquake kit. Bring your child’s car seat between 10 a.m. and noon and stop by the car seat check point. Help your kids learn to never hide during a fire by participating in the Hug-a-Firefighter presentations. Get your child fingerprinted and take part in a Stranger Danger class. Learn all about fire safety in the home with a tour of the Kids Fire Safety House.

The event will also include a Jaws of Life demonstration from the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, a tour of a Red Cross Shelter, a display from the Camp Parks 352nd Military Medical Brigade, a presentation by the Danville and San Ramon Police canine teams and an exhibit from the National Guard Civil Support Team.

Don’t leave your four-legged family members at home. Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center and Urgent Care will be on hand to provide information on shots and microchip implanting.

Enjoy a free BBQ lunch, learn about CPR, interact with vendors and agencies specializing in preparedness, tour a fire truck and police car and even learn how to properly use a fire extinguisher.

The first 500 families who complete our preparedness bingo game will receive a free emergency supply gift, so gather up the whole family and head down to the San Ramon Valley Emergency Preparedness Fair.

The Fair is proudly sponsored by The San Ramon Valley Citizen Corp Council, The LDS Church, Pacific Eagle Holding, AT&T, San Ramon Regional Medical Center and Joyce Feldman Farmers Insurance Agency.--KF


PostHeaderIcon Five Steps to Feel Less Stress

Are you feeling stuck? Have you been stressed lately? We all deal with adversity at some point in our lives. The key is to know how to manage these moments and still feel good about ourselves. As school gets back underway and the summer vacations fade into memories, we give you this story that was published by U.S. Masters Swimming.

Step 1: Breathe and Get Present

When we’re stressed, we don’t notice that our breathing becomes shallow. Pay attention to how you are breathing right now. Are you letting air get past your neck? This is the simplest step and yet we often neglect it.

Take 10 slow deep breaths right now: Close your mouth, and breathe in fresh air into your nose, letting your belly rise. As you exhale, let your mouth open, jaw relax, and belly fall, releasing tension. Try this three times per day for the next week.

Step 2: Get the Ego/Mind Quiet

The focus on breathing is to help you feel calmer. The next step is to help the mind calm down as well. The ego/mind likes to struggle, worry, and create irrational fears. As you breathe in, say “one” to yourself, or, if you prefer a visual, see the number one. Then, as you exhale, say or see the number two. Continue up to 10. If you notice other thoughts coming into your brain, go back to number one. It might be hard to get to number 10— that is okay! The goal is to become less attached to your thoughts, which will give you the ability to focus when you want to.

Step 3: Reframe Your Thoughts

Once you’ve done the number exercise, you might have some self-talk going on that is not so encouraging, like “Gosh, I can only get to two before my mind starts talking,” or “I was thinking about what I was going to have for dinner.” If you’re good about beating yourself up, realize you can change this habit.

When you notice yourself doing this, STOP. Then, smile and tell yourself or write down a few things that you can reframe in your mind and feel good about. They can be as simple as: “I took out the trash this morning and made my bed.” or “I didn’t want to do swim in the cold pool, but did it anyway, and feel better because of it.” Or even, “I was stuck in a conflict, but I summoned the courage to have that conversation with that person.”

Step 4: You Are Okay Just as You Are—Appreciate You

Keep practicing Step 2, with the knowledge that there is no magic number, answer, or award. It is about starting to be aware, experience each moment, and appreciate wherever or however you are, in the moment. Step 4 will help you counter negative self-talk.

Write down three things that you can do to show appreciation for yourself. It can be a simple as looking in the mirror and saying “I love you” or “I love that I have committed to taking care of my health by swimming five days per week,” (or eating at least one piece of fruit per day, or getting a check up, etc.). Give yourself an appreciation day, buy yourself flowers, take a bath, or make a nice meal. What is something that you can do for you, today?

Step 5: Choices and Creating Positive Changes

It’s easy to get comfortable beating yourself up and recreating the same patterns. Maybe you keep telling yourself that you’re a great workout swimmer but not a good racer, and thus have difficulty racing at a meet. How can you change this habit? You can choose to see what is possible. You might try a different warm-up, or pretend warm-up is just another practice, which may help calm your mind. This may give you the clarity or courage to just go for it in the race.

Use these five steps to help you relieve stress and treat yourself the way you want to be treated. Whatever your issues are, you get to decide that you are worthy, and that you deserve to feel good, even if you’re not used to it … yet.-- KR

Katrina Radke, an Olympian and USMS world record holder, is a motivational speaker, therapist and coach. She is the author of "Be Your Best Without the Stress,” (available at amazon and other online stores)" and co-producer of 7 Ultimate Fitness Routines, both available at www.katrinaradke.com and wecoach4u.com.



PostHeaderIcon Lego Wonderland in San Leandro Through Sept. 2

Located in San Leandro,  through Sept 2, a child- friendly, innovative, creative beyond imagination, display of Lego styles, sizes and shapes of scenes have been set up to bring out the raves and delight of wide-eyed children and adults alike.  Housed  in the Bay Area Family Church's upper level on Washington Avenue, the show has been developed and built by 40- year-old Johannes van Galen.  When asked how long it took him, he humbly replied "3 weeks", meaning to set it up!  Containing more than a million pieces, the question was rephrased to be more specific.  "When did you start to build all this?”  This reply made more sense..."I started as a young child,"

The complexity of ingenuity ranges from a free-standing barnyard scene, to a Calvary of medieval soldiers surrounding a castle backdrop, to motorized helicopters, bulldozers and a model train network.  Designed to be interactive for children, yet protected from handling behind a plexiglass barrier, the walk-around space allows for activation of the various mechanical sets through use of compression buttons suitable for wee fingers to operate.

Open every day except Monday and Tuesday, a cash only fee of $4 is charged for entrance to the show open from 1 to 8 p.m.  Children age 2 and under may enter free, but no strollers are allowed.  A supply of lemonade and paper cups is provided for a self-dispensed free drink during the leisurely self-guided tour of this Lego wonderland.  Strategically stationed docents are available to offer interpretation and assistance in locating items named on the scavenger hunt list, provided to spark an interest in the search for unusual items on display.  An ample supply of free parking is available on the grounds of the host Church at 2305 Washington Ave. in San Leandro.

According to the BayLUG, Lego Users Group, a membership of the serious aficionados who contribute to the Bay Area Lego shows, Lego is a trade name and is therefore not pluralized.  What most of us refer to as Legos or blocks are in fact considered to be Lego bricks or Lego art or other forms of the Lego product.  These unique, fit-together, fun shapes are the products of a million bricks per day factory manufacturing in Denmark, and have captured the interest of children for decades.  It is safe to say, Lego blocks have been a staple of most children’s’ introduction to the concept of individuality in creating by their own hands with unending imagination.  The early child development of connecting piece by piece, using fine motor skills and self-direction, affords children a sense of fulfilment and self-expression.

Within the spacious display of brightly-colored Lego art forms, visitors will find versatility in structure from underwater scenes to tall skyscrapers, Prehistoric to Sci-Fi figures, from castle to space age, robotics and Pop-culture icons.  Two designs of battleship destroyers, one more than 8 feet in length is offered by builder, Marcello DeCicco.

A children’s play area is set up within the large room with a mound of assorted Lego blocks and a surrounding seating area for parents to observe the little ones enthused by the myriad inspiring creations.  A variety of boxed Lego kits are available for sale, and have a look around for the very tallest man you can find.  Chances are this is none other than the Lego artist himself, Johannes van Galen.  Enjoy! For further information and advance ticket purchase, go to:  playbuildingbricks.eventbrite.com.

Karen Balch is a freelance writer, retired nurse avid traveler and grandmother. Her granddaughter, Hope, 6, is pictured at top in front of one of the Lego displays.


PostHeaderIcon Day in the Park is Sunday

Plans are underway for The Taylor Family Foundation’s 22nd Annual Day in the Park auction fundraiser, scheduled for Sunday, August 26 at Camp Arroyo in Livermore. Proceeds from the auction support The Taylor Family Foundation’s (TTFF) mission to enhance the quality of life and preserve the wellness of Northern Californian children and their families.

TTFF facilitates more than 20 summer and weekend camp sessions at Camp Arroyo, a safe haven and exciting experience for children living with HIV/AIDS, skin and heart disease, colitis, diabetes, brain tumors, autism and other chronic and critical illnesses. To date, TTFF has been able to provide more than 40,000 children with what is sadly often a once-in-a-lifetime camp experience at no cost to their families. At Camp Arroyo, kids meet other children with similar conditions, learn to live with their disease and make lasting friendships. Each year, 3,000 children have the opportunity to just be kids without worrying about medicine, doctors, surgeries and other difficult life circumstances.

In addition to funding Camp Arroyo, TTFF continues their commitment to providing financial and emotional support for children and families in the community who are in desperate need. Too often, when a child falls seriously ill, the entire family becomes ill and infrastructures begin to crumble. TTFF gives grants to provide children with clothing, pay for funeral expenses and help with rent payments if needed.

 The Taylor Family Foundation, founded by Elaine and Barry Taylor in 1990, is a non-profit organization. Camp Arroyo is a beautiful residential camp serving children year-round as a place to explore, learn and grow in an ideal outdoor setting. Nestled in the hills surrounding the 138-acre Del Valle Regional Wilderness in Livermore, California, the camp was formally opened in 2000 and serves thousands each year. Owned by the East Bay Regional Park District, Camp Arroyo is operated in collaboration with The Taylor Family Foundation and the YMCA of the East Bay

This year’s auction fundraiser includes gourmet food and wine from some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants and the finest Northern Californian wineries. Mingle with local celebrities, bid on more than 150 silent and live auction packages and buy raffle tickets for a chance to win a 2012 Toyota Prius. Priceless and rare live auction items include celebrity dinners and sports packages, private air accommodations to red carpet events, luxurious vacations and other glamorous packages. Individual tickets are $175 and tables of 10 are $2,000. Sponsorships range from $3,000 to $100,000. For tickets/tables and event sponsorship opportunities for Day in the Park, please visit  www.ttff.org or call (925) 455-5118. --JF


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