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PostHeaderIcon Katy Perry: Hot or Cold?

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Not too long ago, we had a late evening play date that included a Wii game called 'Just Dance'.  The game was a blast and we opted to purchase it for our own game collection.  My daughter is in a very diva girly girl stage, so the only songs she will dance to are 'the girl' songs.  One in particular is her favorite, “Hot ‘n’ Cold” by Katy Perry.  Little did I know just how ‘hot’ Perry could be with Elmo, and how ‘cold’ she could be with a lot of tot parents!

I'm not a huge Katy Perry fan, but I wasn't going to discourage my little girl boogieing down to “the white dress song”- which is “Hot ‘n’ Cold” on Just Dance.

Last week an entertainment news article caught my eye.  Katy Perry's duo with Elmo was pulled off of “Sesame Street.”  We actually don't watch much “Sesame Street” in my house, however, I do love the duet's that artists do for the show.  When I saw that the song was a version of “Hot ‘n’ Cold” I had to check it out.

The video starts with Katy Perry all dressed up in a low-cut green dress with a sheer neckline and ready for Elmo to play dress up.  However, Elmo wants to play tag and leads her throughout “Sesame Street” in great confusion.  The song itself is actually pretty cute, Katy sings that they use to be like twins, but now he just runs away – ending with him 'tagging' her and running off laughing. Take a look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqbi_gWELyU.

Sounds innocent enough, right?  Not according to the folks who pulled the episode off the air quickehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqbi_gWELyUr than the cookie monster can devour a cookie.

Don't get me wrong, when I am babysitting or working in my child's class, I make sure my cleavage is very well covered, and I'm sure she could have picked something a little more classy BUT...

She's playing dress up.  My 5 year old daughter has quite the wardrobe of very girly princess clothes, including a mermaid outfit that is designed fairly similar to the one Katy is wearing.  It's not like Perry is sitting and bouncing in front of the camera.  I decided to put it to the test.  Would my kids wonder about this low cut woman chasing around Elmo, or would they enjoy the song and not even notice?

My children are very open, and there have been times at the gym where my (then) 2 year old son has pointed at women in the locker room commenting on their 'boobies'.  Did either of my kids mention Perry's “exposed” chest?  Not at all.  My daughter laughed about Elmo who was popping in and out of the screen.  My son giggles about Elmo’s “tag song” and in the three days since they’ve seen it, they haven’t made any comments in regards to Katy’s cleavage.  My son asked the other day if he could watch Elmo and his girl friend.”  That's about as dirty as it gets.

I understand being a paranoid parent.  I understand thinking that Perry might have worn a bit higher neckline on her dress, but there are so many other things to worry about. Instead of worrying about my children watching this video, currently I'm more worried about the fact that every time my 3 year old hurts himself he proclaims “cramp”, or that my baby has an unknown food allergy. Decide for yourself if it was worth pulling from “Sesame Street”, and while you do that  I better grab my potential mountain climber off the table, yikes!--AG

 Amy Gaerlan is a stay at home mother of 3. Between chasing her children, she does freelance writing, Professional Organizing and Virtual Assisting. Amy is in the process of creating and launching her website Mommy Optimistic, which focuses on the happiness of being a parent. Look for another piece by Amy next month.


Last Updated (Monday, 04 October 2010 18:57)


PostHeaderIcon 100 Mile Charity Run May Take 26 Hours

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Katie Murphy, a Gale Ranch Middle School teacher, is training to run a 100-mile race to help send children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses to The Taylor Family Foundation’s Camp Arroyo in Livermore.

Earlier this week, allnewsnoblues.com had a story about Day in the Park, a gala fundraiser on Aug. 29 to raise money for Camp Arroyo, which hosts children with HIV/AIDS, skin and heart disease, colitis, diabetes, bipolar, autism, and other chronic and critical illnesses. The camp also serves those with developmental disabilities.

Campers and their families are given a chance to gain independence, build self-confidence, become more optimistic, and benefit by taking a break from the struggles of living with an illness or disability. 

Thousands from the Bay Area are expected to attend the Day in the Park event with food, wine, music and a silent and live auction.

But Murphy, who lives in San Ramon, has set her sights on raising $5,000 to send 10 children to camp next year.
Murphy was inspired to dedicate her 100-mile Cascade Endurance Race through the Cascade Mountains of Washington, to the children at Camp Arroyo after her physical education and leadership classes at Gale Ranch Middle School participated in The Taylor Family Foundation’s Coins for Camper’s campaign drive in the spring. They raised $2,500, enough money to send 5 youngsters to camp.

Murphy is an athlete but she is also no stranger to illness.

One day, not long ago, Murphy woke up with a nut allergy. After being rushed with hives to the hospital, her life changed. Like the kids who attend Celiac Camp at Camp Arroyo, Murphy now has to watch everything she puts in her mouth. She can't just go out for dinner or even to a friend's house to eat without asking a dozen questions about how each dish was prepared. Eating nuts can make her severely ill or even kill her.

A life-long runner, Murphy knew she had to raise the bar and run farther than the usual 26.2-mile charity marathon.  After completing the San Diego 100-mile Endurance Run in 2009, she set her sights higher. About 6,000 feet higher. The Cascade 100-mile Endurance Run has a total elevation gain of 20,470 feet across the 100 miles. The highest point of the run will have runners reaching an altitude of 5,840 feet.  Murphy expects to take 26 hours to complete the run.

Murphy is keeping a training blog at www.katiesmiles4smiles.com, so friends, family and those who are just curious can see what it takes to train for a 100-mile run, which happens to be Aug. 29-the same day as the Day in the Park event. You can also donate to her cause on that page. She has raised more than $3,000 to date but hopes to get to $5,000 in the next few weeks.

For more information about Katie Murphy, send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
For more information about The Taylor Family Foundation, send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated (Thursday, 19 August 2010 19:54)


PostHeaderIcon Pillowcases become Dresses for Girls

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A pillowcase can be so many things. A trick-or-treat bag, a makeshift shopping bag and even a laundry carrier. But a nonprofit organization called “Little Dresses for Africa.” has found another use for the pillowcase: dresses for little girls in Africa.

For nearly three years now, people, church groups, people in nursing homes, senior centers, children at schools and civic groups have been turning pillowcases into   beautiful, functional dresses in just four easy steps. The project first started in the fall of 2007 after a short mission trip to Malawi by Rachel O’Neill of Michigan. Upon returning home, she set her sights on sewing 1,000 dresses by the start of 2008. To date, the group has delivered more than 50,000 dresses to 13 countries of Africa.

People from every state in the nation have donated money or dresses or both. South Dakota was the last state to make dresses, according to information on the group’s website, www.littledressesforafria.org.

Some folks in the East Bay recently joined the dress-making project, sewing dresses for girls in Haiti. Earlier this spring seniors at the Center for Elders’ Independence (CEI) in Oakland’s Eastmont Center and CEI’s San Pablo location made 50 dresses.

CEI’s staff donated pillowcases, while recreation therapist Lillian Jackson cut and machine stitched the fabric. Seniors completed the hand-stitching. They sewed on lace and pockets and used ribbons to create shoulder ties. Marcelina Cruz, Patricia Masangya and Telefora Horstman made dresses in many different sizes, center officials said.

“Our contribution is not significant in number, but it will make a world of difference to the girls who wear our dresses,’’ Jackson said.
The project makes a difference for CEI’s seniors, too. CEI provides a program of all-inclusive care for the elderly. Services include comprehensive health care and social services that enable seniors 55 and older to continue living at home rather than enter a nursing home. In addition, CEI provides a variety of social and recreation activities to help seniors remain active and engaged.
“The project has been tremendously rewarding for our seniors,” added Jackson. “It engages their minds, their hands and their hearts, all while they interact and enjoy each other’s company. It’s exactly the kind of project we seek out for our seniors.”
For more inforomation go to: http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/blog/ To learn how to make a dress go to: http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/blog/?page_id=477---KB


Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 20:13)


PostHeaderIcon Wildhorse: Horseback Riding Theapy

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On a recent afternoon, heading out for Las Trampas Regional Wilderness Park in San Ramon, a colorful open house invitation along the road caught my attention.  Bright balloons were posted at the gate to Las Trampas Stables, adjacent to the park on Bollinger Canyon Road. 

The event was planned by Fremont resident, horseback riding trainer, Dr. Kari Ann Owen, the founder of  the Wildhorse Program. Owen started the venture four years ago but recently moved to San Ramon and held the open house to introduce her horseback riding therapy for physically and mentally disabled children and adults to the community. At left, a volunteer says hello to a program horse.

On grand opening day, the excitement, anticipation or expectation of a real horseback ride was palpable. 

Families arrived with children in strollers, wheelchairs and between the grips of both parents’ hands.  The aroma of hot dogs on the grill and the strumming sounds of country crooner, Dustin James and his band, led people through the gate and past the covered arena.
Giggling children and their parents lined up to be fitted with a riding helmet to be mounted atop the tamely indulgent mare, Suzie.  

Volunteer chaperones, flanked on both sides of the horse, led the mounted rider on the bridled horse in a slow walk to ensure the safety and protection of the rider.

As program director and head instructor, Owen attests to the benefits of horses interacting with autistic, developmentally challenged and physically limited children and adults. 

“I have seen scoliosis stopped in its tracks and then lessened.  I have seen and taught a blind man to ride at the walk and trot.  And, I have seen autistic children hold conversations about camping and wildlife with our volunteers,’’ she said.

A “wounded warrior” herself and once confined to a wheelchair with a crippling sciatic nerve injury in 1993, she became inspired to serve others.

As a result of her own personal experience with physical challenges and the subsequent rehabilitation, she began teaching able-bodied and disabled riders in 2001. She is out of the wheelchair now, but continues to use a service dog’s guidance on uneven surfaces such as stairs.

Parents, families and trainers alike observe the therapeutic advances made from the riding experiences.   Parents of Dylan, a young student with autism spectrum disorder, related their enthusiasm about his positive progress attributed to the riding experience. 

“We love what Wildhorse has done for our son…his attention span, ability to follow verbal directions, and confidence have increased…also see a marked decrease in hyperactivity and sensory related issues,’’ According to writings on her website.

As reported by Owen, the teaching approach is inspired by Centered Riding, “which allows the body to relax and breathe, inspired by images and dreams of the heart.”    Yoga techniques and arena games, for both able bodied and disabled riders, are also included in the format.
The year-round program features an indoor arena in a peaceful, idyllic setting, nestled among natural wooded landscapes.  Lessons include physical warm-ups, mounting and riding exercises on Suzie, a gentle nineteen year old American Standardbred mare. Another therapy horse, Woodstock, an Arabian in his twenties, is co-leased from The Las Trampas Stables on the property.  A photo on the website shows the horse and rider interaction, as well as program details at: www.freewildhorse.com.

Licensed by the State of California as a non-profit organization, Wildhorse is an affiliate with North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), and Dr. Owen is a registered instructor, certified by NARHA.

 Owen said the supportive environment and encouraging training methods aim to improve focus and enhance muscle strength. 
“Wildhorse’s mission is to provide physical, emotional and social support and strengthening to the greatest extent we can for all students, with any type of disability or diagnosis,’’ she said.

Work on completing specific tasks by using “repetition, practice, empathy and love provide the greatest help,” she relates.  She and her staff have been successful with blind and deaf students, phobic and depressed youth and adults and those with cerebral palsy or autism. Owen is hopeful that the program will be open to combat veterans and cancer patients in the future.

Karen R. Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer and San Ramon resident. She writes regularly for www.allnewsnoblues.com and can be reached through This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated (Tuesday, 29 May 2012 06:51)


PostHeaderIcon Writer turned Songwriter Shares Story

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On the morning of 9-11, yes that 9-11, I stood mesmerized at my TV as the Twin Towers fell in Manhattan, a city where I'd spent two memorable years in grad school studying Latin America and journalism.

In less than an hour my brother was to arrive to take me to Kaiser for surgery for colon cancer.

At the sight of towers falling in New York, though, I realized how little my own health, and life, really mattered in the universe. Six months later, after healing from surgery and chemo, I realized another thing. I couldn't go back to my life of writing marketing materials for corporations. I had no idea how much longer I would live … and I wanted to go out playing music.

I'd also heard on NPR that playing music and getting plenty of exercise strengthens the body's immune system, which could help keep me alive longer. Playing music daily and bike riding at least every other day, became my life.

Of course I'd been noodling around with guitars since my teen years, but I now took up the instrument with new interest. Looking for other musicians to jam with, I met a music critic who writes for a lot of newspapers and magazines, and was also a songwriter who needed someone to accompany him on guitar.

So I did, and didn't realize it at the time, but my talented friend was also teaching me the basics of songwriting, something I'd tried in the past but failed at.

Next I landed a paid job as guitarist for an Oakland church, and played there regularly for nearly two years, during which I learned some intricate chord structures used in the pop-like "contemporary praise" music the church band played.

During the work week, I would write my own songs, the act of which gave me a thrill I'd never felt before, even after decades of making my living as a writer, first as a newspaper reporter, then as a writer of corporate brochures.

Usually a song would start as a phrase that stuck in my mind. (For example, "60% Chance of Flowers" is a song about a TV weathercaster whose man does her wrong.) Then, alone in my living room, I'd strum guitar to get a feel for the mood of the song and a chord progression that would best express it. Often the only other sounds were birds in the green explosion of trees just outside my windows.

When I had the song's basics worked out, I'd move to my den and sit in front of my computer, guitar in my lap, and type out the lyrics, adding the chords on the lines above the words. In the following days, I'd play the song over and over, getting to know it, much like one gets to know a new friend.

My first songs weren't much to brag about. One I called "Cancer Blues" was predictable and uninspired. But I got better at it. A lot of my songs were, and still are, about issues. Or, as a radio DJ told me recently, "You write songs about things that are important!"

Sticking to the issues, I soon wrote a song about the attack on Iraq under George W. Bush, called "Skies on Fire." In the lyric, I tried to put myself in the place of an innocent bystander who is on the ground during an air raid, and wondering where his loved ones are.

I made a basic home recording of that song and sent it to KECG, a public radio station in El Cerrito. The host of a show called WorldOneRadio played it! Several times! I was shocked and awed, and made plans for fame and fortune in the music business. Like most singer-songwriters, I'm still waiting.

Music has given me a lot, though. Often a shy person, I'm now more comfortable in front of a crowd. Writing songs still gives me a unique thrill (a bit like writing a muckraking news story did during my reporting days). And, yes, after nine years, cancer hasn't killed me. Four years ago, my oncologist called me "cured."

I still love to perform in public and will take the stage at 11:45 pm Saturday, July 10, at Berkeley’s Starry Plough Pub (http://www.starryploughpub.com). Opening the show will be Sparky Grinstead & The Backorders (mellow pop) and Tiny Television (folk-Americana).

For samples of my music, and to read more, please visit
http://www.reverbnation.com/stevetaylorramirez.--- STR

Last Updated (Thursday, 23 June 2011 00:58)

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