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PostHeaderIcon Around Town

PostHeaderIcon A Good Habit: Nuns on the Bus

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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

Last Updated (Monday, 09 June 2014 07:11)


PostHeaderIcon Cake4Kids: Sweet Surprise for Needy Kids

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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.


Last Updated (Sunday, 01 June 2014 04:59)


PostHeaderIcon This Wine Packs a Punch

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Napa Valley, with its peaceful winding roads, grassy hillsides, turreted castles and often hoity-toity Tuscan-style villa wineries, is ground zero for destination fine wines. It's famous for places such as Chateau Montelena and its vast grounds,  Tres Sabores, with its wine cave, and chateau-esque Beringer Vineyards, which officially kicked off the Napa wine tourist industry when it celebrated the end of Prohibition in 1934 with public tours.

But the combined hard work of wine-making, including climate, growing practices, and the guiding hand of the winemaker, isn’t just done in wineries that produce hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine yearly and make millions doing it.

Wine-making is also done in small cellars or in cold, shared warehouses on residential streets throughout the region. There are no gift shops or luxurious water fountains on the grounds. In fact, there are rarely any grounds at all. The winemakers don’t come from family money but rather have day jobs and a staff of one, maybe two, including a cousin who helps out from time to time. Like the speakeasies of the Prohibition Era, they like to keep their secret, their secret. Though unlike the establishments of the 1920s and early 1930s, their secret is completely legal. And a whole lot of fun.

Punch Vineyards is one such secret. Owned by Berkeley native Lee Nordlund, Punch’s Cabernet Sauvignon has competed with the proprietors of those villas since its first vintage in 2007 by consistently scoring high marks by industry critics. Punch’s 2012 Chardonnay selling out in a month this year shows an emerging cult following.

A visit to Punch Vineyards cellars in a residential Napa neighborhood shows Nordlund’s and his wine-making is more microchâteau-- referring to a place making deep, fine modern wines in small lots, mostly in the Right Bank of France, than garagiste, a term for hobbyist home-based winemakers derived from the Bordeaux region producing vins de garage or “garage wine.”

Wine barrels stacked to the rafters and the heady smell of wine aging in flavorful French oak greet you as soon as you walk into the cellar. When you taste, unadulterated black and purple fruit lingers on the palate.

Its 45 barrels of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and  Chardonnay are lined up in the 3,200-square foot cellar Punch shares with other wine-making tenants.

“We put all of our money into the bottle,” said Nordlund, “Not real estate.”

That money buys sought-after grapes because Nordlund and his winemakers are industry insiders.  Punch’s director of wine-making Miguel Caratachea, who earned an enology (wine-making) degree at UC Davis, and consulting winemaker Steve Lagier understand the reward of pristine fruit that gives each Punch varietal clarity and depth. They have access to lesser-known vineyards, or they know when to be the first to swoop up fruit at famous vineyards before bigger vintners can claim it. Punch also seeks out grapes grown on sloped vineyards at higher elevations, with hillside climate and topography leading to more intense fruit.

“Pure fruit gives an impression of sweetness with a finish that is crisp and long,” said Nordlund, who likes to have fun by teasing about the trend of “oak-a-hol.”  Some winemakers mask wine blemishes by overly-imparting toast and other wood flavors from new oak barrels or using overly ripe fruit or adding sugar during fermentation – equaling higher alcohol. Though their customers may claim to like a “strong” wine, the fruit doesn’t necessarily shine.

Punch puts on the gloves with its fruit-forward balance. At a benefit for the Family Service of Napa Valley late last month, Punch, at $35 a bottle, was tasted next to Opus One ($235 per bottle retail), Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($135), and Staglin Family Vineyards ($190). Nordlund said Punch was perceived of similar quality and smoother textures than some of these labels.

Nordlund knows – he has worked for and learned from some of these labels. His experience includes positions at Robert Mondavi and Beringer Estates, along with acting as the estate director of Mount Veeder Winery and Franciscan Estate. Punch wants to make fine wine accessible to all – now selling its Cabernet Sauvignon by the six-bottle half-case. (Punch is usually only sold by the full case). Single bottles can be found at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park and select Andronico’s. Punch's motto is made "By Insiders, For Insiders."  For more information about Punch, go to www.punchvineyards.com.--LM


Leslie Mladinich, a 20-year industry veteran, is a former full-time newspaper reporter whose most recent freelance writing and editing includes blog and newsletter articles for UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. She has a growing wine background from sensory analysis, Wines of California, and viticulture classes completed at UC Davis Extension and Las Positas Community College in Livermore. In addition, she pours in the tasting room at Mitchell Katz Winery. Find more of her wine writing at www.ofwanderandwine.com and journalism and professional communications work at www.lesliemladinich.com. This is her third contribution to allnewsnoblues.com.


Last Updated (Tuesday, 08 April 2014 15:18)


PostHeaderIcon Vegan Iron Chef Plants Biz In Bay Area

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Purple eyeglasses and a facial piercing give Karine Brighten the vibe of a young woman at home in creative pursuits. But it is not music or art that consume her thoughts, it’s food. Plant-based food, to be specific, and sharing the joys of a plant-based diet with others.

Brighten has been vegan for nine years. Originally from Canada, she was studying criminal justice while her husband attended law school when his studies on animal rights and factory farming turned both of them away from meat. At the time, it was an ethical decision that affected her shopping habits and dinner plate, but not her professional life.

Yet after earning her criminology degree and going to work in the field, she found she just wasn’t passionate about it. Hoping to put her strong organizing skills to good use, she enrolled in an event planning program. “It sounded fun,” she smiles.

After completing the program, she found an internship in Petaluma with a group called Daily Acts, where she helped with fundraising over the summer and got the itch for working in nonprofits. She worked for a while post-internship with a large Canadian event planning company but the itch remained, so when the couple moved to California so her husband could pursue his Ph.D., she decided to start her own business. She enrolled in a three month program in Oakland for women entrepreneurs, Women’s Initiative, and straight out of the box, she landed big vegan event planning contracts. “They were all just people I knew. The timing was right.”

The timing was right.  Over the last several years vegan eateries and lifestyles have not only gained acceptance, they have flourished. From the upscale Millennium in San Francisco to Souley Vegan, a neighborhood soul food joint in Oakland near Jack London, to the growing number of vegan Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, and fast food restaurants, vegans are no longer huddled by the salad bar at omnivore haunts. They want their own venues, their own chefs—their own places to eat, drink, and be merry.

Recognizing an untapped market, Karine threw herself into the world of vegan celebrations. “First I did a walk in San Francisco to support Farm Sanctuary,” she remembers. She planned the opening for Berkeley’s Nature’s Express, then organized the opening of Cinnaholic in downtown Berkeley. Along the way, she earned her Green Business certification—all Karine Brighten events are sustainable and eco-friendly. “It’s really, really important to me,” she says.

As her reputation in the vegan event planning world gained a foothold, Karine heard about a group in Portland that had put on a vegan version of the hit Food TV program Iron Chef. “I knew I had to do a local version,” she smiles. The First Vegan Chef at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco was a huge success that sold out weeks beforehand.


More than 250 people turned out to watch vegan chef luminaries such as Chef Eric Tucker of Millennium, Phil Gelb vegetarian chef and caterer, and winning Chef Lisa Books-Williams, who wow’d the judges with creative raw concoctions including ‘Luscious Live Dumpling filled with a Cashini Mirepoix and Wilted Greens.’The event had been billed as the first such bash, but she had to ask herself, was it lightning in a bottle that drew a vegan-curious crowd who would not return, or was there really a longing for this kind of showcase for plant-based gastro-glitterati?


"It turns out there IS such a longing: the 2nd Annual Vegan Iron Chef thrilled a room full of vegan gourmands on March 23rd at SOMArts Center, with guest chefs Jay Astafa from New York City, Bay Area raw food chef Jillian Love, and Chef AJ of Los Angeles. Chef Astafa won with creative dishes such as cauliflower encrusted in ramen powder with umeboshi-chrysanthemum sauce and fresh pappardelle pasta, burdock cream sauce, braised cabbage and garlic-rice cracker 'Parmesan' crumbles."

As she continues to push forward, expanding her vegan event-planning empire, the hardest part, according to Brighten, is just finding the gigs. While her dream business is a list full of vegan animal rights causes 'celebre', the fact is most nonprofits do a lot in-house, she says, to save money. “I get a lot of wedding requests,” she adds."

Weddings are a great venue, she admits, because you get to expose a lot of non-vegans to plant-based eating, and for Karine Brighten Events to succeed, she knows she needs to pull in both the converted and the curious. Something food competitions excel at.-- SF

Sonja Fitz works as the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley. This is her first story for Allnewsnoblues.com

Last Updated (Thursday, 27 March 2014 20:43)


PostHeaderIcon Thrifty Finds at Savers

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We all know there are thrift stores and then there are thrift stores, with a wide variety of differences.  On a scale of keeping up with the values and the sensibility of shopping for gently used or repurposed items in a world of high tech, high definition and high end price tags, innovation and practicality of best value commerce makes sense and more cents!  In business for 60 years, originating with the San Francisco store,

SAVERS is the largest for-profit thrift chain, with 315 locations in the U.S., Canada and Australia.  Their slogan, “Good Deeds, Good Deals” is founded on the “Nifty-Thrifty” virtue that Ben Franklin espoused, and expresses their two-fold mission:  alliances with non-profit organizations and proceeds going directly to local community donation centers.

Operating like a swap station, the concept of interactive business takes on new meaning.  A donation center is located on site of the discount establishment, receiving clothing, household goods, books, toys, furnishings, bedding and more.  For each bundle of donations, a coupon for 20 percent off the next purchase is exchanged to the customer for use within the store, along with a tax receipt.

Each shopping day differs, with thousands of new discoveries daily. Fabulous finds range from collectibles, unexpected treasures, to wearing apparel varying from designer to vintage values.  Some portion of the inventory is comprised of tag-on, never used, new items.

Orange tagged items indicate a 50% discount, every Tuesday Seniors are given 20% off purchases and seasonal rewards and other incentives are promoted.  The “Thrift Cycle” of SAVERS defines a higher purpose with core values of “giving back and providing opportunities.”  When you donate and shop at SAVERS, you support local non-profits, and recycling benefits the planet, sparing landfills.

Upon entering the store, one cannot help but notice how clean, well-organized and easily defined the areas of merchandise can be recognized.  Observing a mature couple comment, while visualizing the expansive array before them, she could be heard saying “Oh my, we’re going to be here awhile.”  He responded with a resounding “OH, yeah!”  The convenience of shopping carts and roll-around baskets allow for gathering all the fabulous finds on your ultimate treasure hunt.

Locally, there are 7 stores within a 50 mile radius:  Berkeley, Dublin, Milpitas, Redwood City, Vacaville and 2 in San Jose.  In Dublin at 7117 Regional St., SAVERS is located in the former Mervyn’s building. Business hours are:  Daily 9 – 9, Sunday 10 – 7.  Phone:  925.551-0945.  The Dublin outlet partners with Epilepsy Foundation of America.

Founded on a mission of teamwork, the Bellevue, Washington based organization employs 20,000 workers, offering “a culture and a conscience” unique in the industry.  Worldwide, new emerging markets in struggling countries gain benefits from having a resource available to supply them with saleable merchandise. What doesn’t sell, of the highest quality goods, in the U.S. outlets is sent to developing nations around the globe, to offer in their marketplaces as affordable, useful items.  Last year’s sales yielded sufficient revenue to contribute $180 million to fund programs and services to 160 non-profit partners in the U.S., Canada and Australia.--KRB

Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer and thrifty shopper. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.

Last Updated (Sunday, 09 February 2014 03:03)

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