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PostHeaderIcon A Good Habit: Nuns on the Bus

An online campaign is underway to raise funds for an independent documentary film about Sister Simone Campbell and a group of Roman Catholic nuns, who toured the country in 2012.

Award-winning filmmaker from SUNDANCE Productions, Melissa Regan, reports filming the “troublemaking nuns for two years, since the first day of their bus tours.”  Passionate and inspiring in their quest to generate interactive dialogue and dynamic involvement in  areas of inequity in our society, the concerns of the Sisterhood are relative to poverty, healthcare, immigration reform and overall “democracy that truly serves ‘we the people’.”

In her newly released book, A Nun on the Bus:  How all of us can create Hope, Change and Community, Sister Simone chronicles the 2700 mile trip across 9 states in 2 weeks, advocating for the true cry of the people and advancing a mission for economic justice.  Building upon the precept that change is the only constant in life, the nuns took up the cause to speak out for those who have been silenced.  With a starting point in Iowa, the heartland of solidarity that once defined our society’s ideals, “The people and their stories drove them onward”, admits Sister Simone.  Forming prayer groups, rallies and small town meetings, their outreach became a galvanizing strength for positive action.

So passionate in her commitment to share the American story of a fragmented nation with compartmentalized citizens, incongruent with our Constitution, Sister Simone became a presenter at the Democratic National Convention. Rallying support against budget cuts to strategic programs for the disadvantaged, her first-hand account delivered a powerful message. She is Executive Director of NETWORK, founded in 1972 by 47 nuns on a shoestring budget, with their work over 4 decades described as “toiling in the trenches of Capitol Hill”.  The 2- person Washington office operates to lobby for harmony between Federal policies and social justice.

Financial help is needed to finish and release the film in the amount of $50,000 by June 20th.  Over 150 persons have donated thus far, reaching an estimated 30% of funding goal, with timely update posts on Facebook and Twitter.  Proclaiming that no donation is too small and the goal direction is in the need to get all of us talking, Sister Simone’s agenda is calling for Pentagon reform.  Paramount is action, through “Faith, Family and Fairness” to shine the light on hard-working Americans, calling for budget cuts in the upper echelons.  Support for low-income earners, raising minimum wage and revising the income gap are urgent problems in our midst.

Donations are tax-deductible and enticing rewards are being offered, including DVD’s, a Sister Simone ringtone, your name in the film credits, dinner with Sister Simone and the filmmakers, and more.  Encouragement to spread the word to friends, family and networks is another way to “get on the bus” and help bring the goal to fruition. According to Director/Producer, Regan, “American politics is gridlocked, the wealth gap continues to grow, and our economic choices are held hostage by polarized debates about social safety nets vs. free-market rugged individualism.”  Called “radical feminists” by the Vatican, the movement spearheaded by Sister Simone and her entourage is bringing a joyful voice to the national debate of unresolved, overdue social concerns and the on-going rhetoric that derails true reform.

The wide-spread mission is that this project will “spark an urgently needed national conversation and tipping point for action and inspire people of any religion—or no religion at all—to take bold steps toward reclaiming our common values as a nation.”  Standing up for what we believe in and taking bold steps in aligning our values with our politics is well-deserved.

This poignant documentary film by Epiphany Productions is about courage, democracy, persistence, community, faith, laughter…and nuns in action.  For completion, 150 hours of footage editing is the next step, before release of this independent documentary film via television, internet, theaters and national community engagement campaigns.

Contact:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nuns-on-the-bus-the-movie.


Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer, avid traveler, who earlier in life was schooled by nuns. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com


PostHeaderIcon Last Chapter: Pony Express Bike Ride

It's time again for the next, and last, chapter of the Pony Express bicycle adventure. I'm not one to shout out like this but many have expressed an interest in my goofy journey and some have even enjoyed the travel blog. Who knew? So, here it is again.

In case you missed it...during the past 2 summers I've spent 15 days and 1480 miles following the historic Pony Express trail alone on my bike. It's a bit roundabout and not at all direct as it runs 2000 miles from Sacramento, Calif. to St. Joseph, Missouri. After 2 weeks of pedaling I've reached Scottsbluff, Nebraska...just across the Wyoming border. Most of those days spent riding through the endless mountain passes and valleys of California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

The last week of riding, Phase 3 as it's called, takes me across Nebraska and Kansas, America's Central Plains, to finish in St. Joseph, Missouri, the terminus of the old 1860s route and home to the Pony Express Museum.

The plan is to cycle the 630 miles from Scottsbluff to St. Jo' in 6 days with overnight stops in small towns along the way. The Platte River will be my guide, as it was for the real Pony Express riders, for the first 3 days. Beyond that various other river valleys will eventually lead to the Missouri River and St. Joseph.

Six days on a bicycle crossing Tornado Alley at the height of tornado season sounds dubious, but I have a strategy: I'll begin riding each day at sunrise to finish by early afternoon and, with some luck, before the severe weather gets cranked up.

This adventure is solo and unsupported and has already offered its share of difficult challenges and fantastic triumphs. Turns out riding across the country alone on a bicycle is a wonderful way to take it all in. My view is a different one. I am not “seeing” the country from 37,000' nor from an air conditioned car driving down the interstate, Unstead I am experiencing it all from back country roads at 15-20 mph where the scenes, sounds, scents, weather, creatures and the occasional local make every mile memorable. I now look forward to seeing what Nebraska and Kansas have to offer.

I will dust off the blog and add some more daily highlights. If you're interested you can follow along through June 8 at http://bensponyexpress.blogspot.com. -BC



PostHeaderIcon Cake4Kids: Sweet Surprise for Needy Kids

For needy families who are worried about finding food or housing, birthday celebrations are low on the priority list. Yet for kids who regularly do without—without new clothes, without a meal, without a stable home—the small gift of special attention and a sweet treat goes a long way towards recouping a little bit of normalcy and a treasured feeling of joy. An army of volunteer bakers devotes themselves to giving kids that special attention—Cake4Kids.

Libby Gruender founded Cake4kids in September 2010 after reading about an organization in the South that provided birthday cakes to needy kids. For one girl who received a cake, the deceptively small gift was overwhelming, and she burst into tears. “I’ve never had a birthday cake,” she cried to the volunteer who presented it to her.

Instantly, Libby knew she wanted to provide that service in her own community. She called on a group of friends, who called on other friends, and Cake4Kids was born. They recruited local agency partners to screen and identify needy kids, and opened for business across the South Bay.

The small initiative was a runaway success, and expanded rapidly. The group quickly found that it filled a role for kids in need of special attention in the midst of trauma and hardship, for volunteers who wanted to do something simple and tangible in the lives of those kids, and for avid bakers who had run out of baked good recipients—like Jeaninne Frank of Danville, who says she ‘needs’ to bake in order to relax. Her husband and kids could not keep up with her prolific baking output, so she signed on with C4K.

“There is only so much you can bake for local firefighters and police,” says Franke.

Today Cake4kids includes active organizers and volunteer bakers in the peninsula, South and North Bay areas. The process of vetting partner agencies is formal and includes verification of nonprofit status as well as disclosure of financials. Once accepted, partner agencies fill out detailed questionnaires for each cake recipient on a monthly basis, as birthdays come up—from age and gender, to favorite flavor, color, and suggested cake designs. The volunteer bakers deliver the cakes to the agency, and remain anonymous cake angels to the beneficiary.

Says Trish O’Dwyer, lead operations volunteer, “We want to protect the confidentiality of both the kids and the bakers, and let the kids enjoy the celebration with their case workers and families.”

Baking expertise is not a prerequisite for interested bakers, as C4K provides basic foolproof cake recipes as well as decorating classes. Driver’s license and insurance information is required from volunteers, as is mandatory attendance at an orientation session. Bakers cover their own costs.

“The most important aspect of a Cake4Kids cake is not that it be expertly decorated, but that the child’s name be spelled accurately and legibly, and that the cake be made with love,” says Board Member Julie Eades.

All ages of kids are served—from one to 21 years old. In 2013, three hundred volunteer home bakers baked and delivered 1,000 cakes in the South Bay alone. Today, Cake4Kids wants to expand into the East Bay area, particularly Contra Costa and Alameda counties, as well as San Mateo County. Volunteers are particularly needed to help recruit new child and family organizations, who can connect the massive cadre of bakers with a steady stream of cake recipients.

One new recipient agency in the East Bay, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), serves homeless children and families in shelter and housing programs in Alameda County.

“Homeless kids do a lot of waiting in line for institutional meals—whether at the shelter or school lunch program,” says BOSS Development Director Sonja Fitz. “Having a beautiful cake made just for them is unforgettably special.”

If you are an agency serving foster or at-risk youth and would like to learn more about receiving cake donations for your kids, contact Trish at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . To donate or volunteer, visit www.cake4kids.org. --SF


Sonja Fitz works as the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley. She write's regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.



PostHeaderIcon A New Twist on Barbeque: Rubs BBQ Bistro

Barbeque is an American tradition. A slab of ribs, corn on the corn, and baked beans is the ultimate summer comfort food.

Rubs BBQ Bistro has put a new twist on standard barbeque fare with wraps, rice bowls, salads and sandwiches with slow-cooked meats, healthy toppings and low-calorie sauces.

Of course, diners can still get a heaping helping of chili with cornbread slathered with butter, and a quarter rack of ribs or beef brisket. But Rubs BBQ Bistro owner Hans van Oosterwijk, 50, founded Rubs BBQ Bistro for the health-conscious diner with limited time who is looking for an inexpensive but hearty meal.

“We’re a healthier version of barbecue. Mostly, you go into a barbecue joint and you get heavy sides and smoked meats and that’s it. We do creative stuff with our barbecue,’’ said van Oosterwijk, who opened the casual eatery at 164 Market Place (near Nob Hill Foods) in February 2013.

Here’s how it works: Start at the counter and choose a meat (Carolina pulled pork, Memphis chopped chicken, Mequite-java chicken or Texas beef brisket) then move on to the style of meal you want (sandwich, wrap, sale or rice bowl).

Once you’ve got the foundation of your meal, choose your toppings from bread and butter pickles, sweet red onion slices, cool black beans, corn “off the cob,” or shredded romaine lettuce. Or try them all. Spicy coleslaw is also available for an extra .49 cents.

Lastly, choose a sauce from sweet, spicy or tangy BBQ, spicy BBQ, tangy BBQ, Carolina mustard BBQ or go with a standard light or spicy ranch or vinaigrette.

I had a mesquite-java chicken wrap with black beans, corn off the cob, and Carolina mustard BBQ sauce with a side of baked beans with bacon. Not only was it delicious, I felt satisfied but not overstuffed after lunch. And you can’t beat the price: $6.79. Meats are slow smoked daily.

Rubs is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and dinners are heartier with offerings, such as a quarter rack of pork ribs and two sides (think curly fries and creamy potato salad or a cup or chili and sweet potato fries or go with a sweet cornbread muffin) or Chile-cheese fries.

There’s also a vegetarian meal with a meatless salad, rice bowl or wrap with your choice of toppings and sauces and a kids meal with a slider, a side and a juice box for under $5.

“While healthy eaters will find plenty to choose from at Rubs, if someone wants ribs, a quarter chicken or brisket, we can do that here. But we offer a modern BBQ concept too,’’ he said.

van Oosterwijk opened the restaurant after holding jobs in corporate finance and sales promotional materials, and owning a Gymtastic indoor children’s gymnasium in two locations. He was semi retired when a friend shared some pulled pork cooked in a crock pot. “I experimented with beef and chicken and it was actually very good and that got me into slow cooking and barbecue and then I started experiment with smoking meats.”

He likes to claim Rubs as the Tri-Valley’s first casual barbecue restaurant. “We don’t have a bucking bronco, a wagon wheel or steer heads, but we do have good food. I like to think of it as barbecue for the modern world.”

Rubs can cater parties, benefits and corporate events for 10 to 500 people and will have a booth benefiting the San Ramon Rotary at the San Ramon Art and Wind Festival on Sunday, May 25 and Monday May 26 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at San Ramon Central Park, 12501 Alcosta Blvd. in San Ramon. For more information on catering, go to www.rubsbbq.com. -KB


PostHeaderIcon Artist Wears Her CHOICE on Her Sleeve

Michele Pred is a Swedish-American conceptual artist who works with found and confiscated objects and technology, and breathes new life and meaning into them through creative reconstruction—an unforgettable marriage of art, ecology, and social commentary.

Her latest works, “Pro Choice” expresses her frustration with the growing national attack on women’s health care and access to birth control—from restrictions on abortion in dozens of states to reduced coverage for women’s preventative care to the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the availability of conception.

The works include a vintage hat case with “Choice” spelled out on it in neon letters, as well as a series of portable battery-operated neon purses. The purses are for sale, and are meant to be carried to promote a pro-choice statement on reproductive rights. Pred will donate 5 percent of sale proceeds to a local organization that provides women’s services.

It’s not the first time Pred’s concern for the subject has been showcased in her art. In 2012, Pred was part of the contemporary art fair, Art Miami, with her provocative exhibit, “Miss Conception, ”in which she stood for two hours wearing a birth control pill-studded gown, tiara, scepter, and sash.

"My art is really about igniting dialogue," she said. "Whether you agree or like what I'm doing, it's about provoking a conversation."

Her studio is filled with boxes in which she sorts her found and repurposed items. Pred says of her materials, “The diverse array of assembled ‘dangerous’ items may be regarded as the cultural residue of a particular moment in history…each small tool, like each of us, bears some weight of the changed world.”

Pred’s work has been exhibited internationally, and is in the permanent collection of the 21st Century Museum, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) New York, The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, the Di Rosa Museum in Napa CA, and is held in numerous corporate and private collections. Pred received her BFA from the California College of the Arts, where she is now an adjunct Professor.

Pred is fearlessly political and material inventive—a truly unique and wholly modern artist.--SF


PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions with Yosemite Adventures Author

ANNB: How long have you been a climber and an outdoor enthusiastic?

MJ: My parents took my brothers and me camping when we were young and I was involved in scouting. But I became much more enthused right out of college in 1994 when I got a job as a reporter near Yosemite, learned to climb and fell in love with the place.

ANNB: Did you really draw from 20 years of experiences for this book? How did you possibly keep track of them all?

MJ: I write notes about the climbs I do and keep a journal on backpacking trips. That provided a good start, but once I got the contract to do the book, I revisited lots of places to get the details and pictures right before the deadline. That involved hiking and skiing about 200 miles in Yosemite last year.

ANNB: What makes Yosemite so special?

MJ: Incomparable scenery, easy access and limitless opportunities for outdoorsy people who climb, hike and ski all make it special. The people there do also, definitely. I meet visitors there from all over the world and they tend to be friendly and great folks.

ANNB: There are so many special and unique places in Yosemite; how did you manage to fit them all into your book?

MJ: You force me to admit that they're not all in the book! I chose 50 favorites out of hundreds of experiences I've had there. I tried to help readers experience Yosemite in a broad way, like I have, in all seasons, with multiple activities and levels of difficulty and throughout the whole park, not just the valley. There are plenty of other adventures besides the ones I chose. I'd be very happy if people used my writing to get started exploring Yosemite and then branched off to their own discoveries.

ANNB: Your bio is very interesting. You say "Johanson writes with the sensitivity of a starving gorilla using a chainsaw to open a can of soup.” So wrote a disgruntled reader. A Tea Party leader called Matt’s commentary “hack garbage” and ESPN turned down his work as “too pro-Giants.” which points out, what some might call, failures. Why do you do that?

MJ: I guess because I thought those complaints were funny and didn't take them too seriously! Teachers and writers both need thick skin. Besides, I consider it an achievement to get the Tea Party annoyed at me.

ANNB: You teach high school journalism. Do your students ever ask for tips on writing books?

MJ: A few have but mostly we're busy producing the best newspaper we can together. For each of my books, I've asked the kids to help proofread and credited them in the acknowledgments. They definitely earned that because they caught quite a few typos and slip-ups, and I think being involved has been fun for them.

ANNB: How do you possibly manage both careers?

MJ: Well, I work way harder at the teaching! Writing is more of a hobby for me and I only do projects that I think will be fun. But when I do write something, I drive myself a little crazy to make it the best I possibly can. There are several photos in the book that took a full day of hiking each to get, and a few of them took several days of hiking or skiing.

ANNB: Where can we meet you, buy the book and have it signed?

MJ: I'm talking about the book at Castro Valley Library on May 18 from 2-3 p.m., at Lafayette Library on May 22 at 6:30 p.m., and at Pleasanton Library on July 6 from 2-3 p.m.

ANNB: You have written other books. Tell us a little bit about that.

MJ: My old friend Wylie Wong and I collaborated on the first, “Giants, Where Have You Gone?” It's a collection of “where are they now” stories about old Giants players. That paved the way for “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants” and “Yosemite Epics.” But “Yosemite Adventures” is the book I've always wanted to do the most.

ANNB: What's up next for you?

MJ: The best bet is another guidebook of favorite Sierra Nevada outings, though I'd also like to write another baseball book if the right opportunity comes along.-- KB


Signed copies of Matt's books are available at www.mattjohanson.com.

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