Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Me too. But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know if you're a regular reader of this column. You already know about a handful of experiences I've had, starting at the age of 8, where men took advantage of their position of privilege and assumed superiority to make extraordinarily inappropriate and lewd sexual suggestions, because I shared them a year ago this very week in The Trouble With Boobs. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it again, because it is just as relevant - if not more relevant - today.

And of course you know why it's so relevant, unless you've been held hostage in Afghanistan for the last few years or have spent time running for your life from a raging wildfire recently. If so, you're excused. But pretty much everyone else has heard by now about the rich and powerful man in the entertainment history who was caught on audiotape saying some very sexually inappropriate things, followed by scores of women coming out of the woodwork to say that they had been assaulted and pressured sexually by this same man. The fallout from the exposure of that tape has been massive. 

For Harvey Weinstein, famous Hollywood producer and studio boss who was caught red handed trying to pressure a woman into a sexual situation with him in his hotel room, the fallout has included the opening of several criminal investigations, being fired from his job, losing his wife, coming under fire from his children, being expelled from the Academy, and finally landing in a rehab facility to be treated for sex addiction. The fallout for Weinstein has landed squarely and solidly onto his shoulders in a spectacular fashion.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you think I was talking about that other famous rich and powerful man in entertainment who was caught on tape talking about pressuring women sexually, followed by scores of women saying that they had also been assaulted and sexually harassed by this man? The fallout for that guy was being promoted to President of the United States by the electoral college (I think it's important to always remember that 'we the people' didn't elect Donald Trump. By several million votes, 'we' elected Hillary Clinton. The electoral college elected Donald Trump). The fallout for Pussygate has fallen directly onto us. Or, to stick to the theme of this column, it's been forced upon us like a tongue down the throat after a bad date.

But there is some good news. At least that's how I'm going to look at it. Bear with me. I'll get there, eventually.

In the past, many men accused of sexual assault have blamed the victim. In fact victims have been blamed for raping and abuse for eons. Maybe its because - caught red handed -Weinstein admitted to his behavior, admitted it was wrong, and never tried to blame his victims. He is (for the most part) accepting total responsibility for his actions. But the Weinstein situation has opened the floodgates to a wave of women who are coming forward with stories of their own sexual assault. It's shining a big spotlight on just how prevalent sexual assault, abuse, harrassment and humiliation is.

Actress Alyssa Milano is credited for getting the #MeToo movement to go viral on Twitter and Facebook less than a week ago. Since then, other Hollywood heavies have come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. Jennifer Lawrence. Reese Witherspoon. Angelina Jolie. Jessica Chastain. Gwyneth Paltrow. Rosanna Arquette. Cara Delevingne. Lady Gaga. Rose McGowan (especially Rose McGowan).

But what's more important is the millions - yeah, millions - of other women who are speaking up and sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment. The official statistics say that 1 in 6 American women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. But looking at the staggering number of my own friends sharing their #MeToo stories, I think those statistics are off by a long shot. Especially because women I'm close to that have privately shared horrific stories of sexual abuse (especially by trusted family members) have not made those stories public by sharing. And that's ok. Its not ok to pressure women into sexual situations they aren't comfortable with, and its not ok to pressure them into publicly sharing something that causes them great pain if they don't want to. I even joked on Facebook that it might be easier to ask women to post a status saying #NeverMe to make easier to see how few people haven't been assaulted or harassed (so far exactly two of my acquaintances have done that).

In the meantime, I've seen #MeToo posts from Julie. Hilary. Gretchen. Kate. Buffy. Lisa. Haley. Lyn. Melyssa. Linda. Jennifer. Chellie. Ashley. China. Sue. Keri. Quincy. Gini. Jean Marie. Ursula. Kimberly. Carrie. Noelle. Amber. Rhonda. Laurie. Angela. Pogo. Sarah. Mimi. Anna. Dee. Lori. Francie. Jan. Brandi. Laura. Amy. Danica. Debra. Rachel. Judy. Jenny. Maggie. Dana. Dondi. And another Linda, another Amber, another Angela, another Julie and another Jan. By the time you read this I know the list will have grown longer. And each of their posts are followed by a long stream of hundreds of comments echoing similar situations.

A few of their stories:

"I was 21 I had just graduated from community college with my certificate in cosmetology and was a brand new bride.  As I stepped into the hallway en route to the bathroom, the owner of the neighboring business also entered the hallway. We exchanged our typical morning greetings when suddenly he stopped and turned back towards me. "So, where were you yesterday?" he asked me. "Remember? It was my birthday so I took the afternoon off?" He smiled a strange smile and then stepped in close to me. In an instant, both hands reached for the wall behind my head as he pushed his pelvis and entire body into mine, trapping me against the wall. He leaned in and pressed his lips hard into mine before he thrust his tongue in my mouth. After a 2 - 3 second assault, he stepped back and with a gleam in his eye said something to the effect of, "yeah, I forgot to give you that. Happy Birthday." I was terrified, I was disgusted, I was humiliated and I felt dirty. And for a variety of reasons, I internalized the situation as being my fault. That somehow I had earned the right to be violated. And because of this, I told one person but then kept my silence. This was not the first time I was sexually assaulted in my life. Nor was it my last."

"First time I was 12 and blamed myself. Hard to write this." 

"In 7th grade I was lying on a family beach in Hawaii with my best friend, who noticed that a guy about 12 feet away was watching us and masturbating. We got up immediately and wrapped ourselves in our beach towels and walked away grossed out.
* In 8th grade the dad I babysat for drunk-drove me home and put his hand on my leg and tried to kiss me. The next week when his wife called me to sit again, I said no and told her why.
* In 9th grade there was a classmate who in the hallways grabbed girls by the pussy. He got away with that.
* In 10th grade I worked in a country store on a poultry farm, and the guy who delivered eggs from the barns told me if I didn't watch out he would take me into the freezer. I told the boss's wife, and he was banned from the store."

"I still remember the very first time I became aware of sexual harassment. I was very young and my mom was pushing me around the grocery store in the shopping cart. I began to notice her behaving oddly as she kept looking over her shoulder and tried to choose aisles in the store that this strange man was not already occupying. But he continued to follow us around the store, exposing himself to us from beneath his long coat.
And in case you think this is an isolated incident, something similar happened only a couple years ago when I was on a date with a 41-year-old man. When I politely turned down his multiple advances after our date he proceeded to pull his penis out of his pants and tried to force it on me."

"I was one of the 40% of employees that were subject to this in the National Park Service. In addition to sexual harassment, I faced extreme workplace bullying because of being a woman. When I fought back, work life because ugly and no one even at the regional or national levels would take my complaints seriously. "It's just part of working in a man's world," is what I heard a lot. Bull$hit! I hope my daughter never has to deal with this and I will raise my son to never participate in that kind of misogynistic culture."

"I was on Canner St. walking from my apartment toward Yale Divinity School to start my shift at the Circulation Desk at the YDS Library when it happened. Walked 2 more blocks to school, and decided to call the campus Police in case it would keep the guy from doing it to someone else. I still think of walking this block. That day the campus Police took a report. That was that.
I was/am so lucky to have such strong support structures in my life. It is my responsibility to teach my son to treat all people with respect."

I did say there was some good news in all this, right? OK. Take a look at the last sentence of the last two stories. These are women with sons. Women who are empowered and motivated - with loving, woke partners fortunately - to raise their sons to be better people than the generations of men before them. Because that is what it's going to take. To raise our boys to be respectful of others' sexuality, and raise our girls to be confident that they are worthy of that respect.

I believe we're already shifting in that direction, because as I talk to my daughter about sexual trends in college, she tells me that it is becoming the norm, rather than the exception, to get an acknowledgement of mutual consent before two (or more) people engage in sexual activity. That gives me great hope. I think we have the ability to raise our children to understand that they can achieve success in life without being coerced or forced into sexual situations they don't want to be in, and that they can achieve success without forcing or coercing others into a sexual situation. It's happening already, we just need to keep the ball rolling.

Also, another important hashtag is starting to make the rounds on social media, and it's an important one. #ItWasMe. Men who's eyes have been seriously opened by reading the stories shared by women around the nation are now reflecting on their own sexual history, and owning up to behaviors that they've always known were wrong. A couple of my male friends have expressed just that over the past few days, and I hope they understand that it doesn't make me think worse of them. Instead, I feel they have become more enlightened, and are ready to be part of the solution. For that, I respect them more. Here's a few examples:

"I have touched without consent. I have been complicit in my silence. I have pushed people past their comfort zones. I have objectified women. I have benefited from a misogynist culture. I am sorry. #ItWasMe"

"I am so proud of all the woman in my life publicly declaring "me too."
I struggled with whether I would post my own. Publicly admitting victimization is so hard, and I stand with the women who have come forward and those that haven't. But, honestly I think as a man its more important to say "IT WAS ME." Its a harder thing to admit. But this is our part as men. Patriarchy gives us a privilege that women will never know. And while I am a gay man, I know I have harassed woman; even if inadvertent, unintentional, joking, or in kinship. So for every bra I unsnapped, or ass I've slapped, or comment I have made on appearance. For every "hey slut," or "hey hoe", or sexual joke... I am sorry. This a behavior that paves the way for worse harassment. Its a new world and time to change."

 "I'm seeing many brave women (and some men) posting "Me Too" signifying that they have been victims of sexual harassment or abuse. Although I have also been harassed what stands out to me is that I have been a perpetrator. Maybe some fellas will look at their behavior as well. I'm not proud but unfortunately I HAVE."

I want to acknowledge that this is not simply a male/female issue. There are women in power who abuse it, taking sexual advantage and putting pressure on those beneath them. And the victim is not always a woman, nor a member of the opposite sex. This is a global sexual issue about not respecting boundaries.  However, since the beginning of time males have dominated the world in terms of power (white heterosexual males in particular), and although the scales have shifted somewhat to give power to others, these males still dominate the world in a position of privilege and power, and therefore still lead the way as the largest abusers of their position of power. If you don't like what I'm saying, chances are you're probably a straight white dude.

Straight white dudes, you've had your time, and look what you've done with it. The world has not become a better place with you in charge of it. I'm not saying all straight white dudes are bad people, of course. Some of my best friends are straight white dudes. I married one. But you know what he did on our first date? That man - who will be the first to admit that he is as straight and white and ape-brained as they come - asked me if he could kiss me. While sitting two feet away from me. He never touched me until he knew that I absolutely wanted to be touched by him. It wasn't unsexy, and it didn't take the fun out of it. But ultimately, it's why I married him. Because I knew he respected me enough to make absolutely sure I was cool with it, because he didn't want to fuck up the chance to be with me.

But I'm digressing a little bit again. Getting back to the point, things are shifting again right now. Women are becoming more empowered. They're still trying to figure out just how many women participated in the Women's March in January 2017, but so far their best estimate is around 4.5 million. Taylor Swift kicked some serious ass on a radio DJ who thought he could get away with grabbing hers and proved that she is not just a pretty voice, she is a strong woman who demands respect. I wonder what will happen next. Maybe next we'll be ready for a president with a vagina, instead of one who likes to grab women by the vagina. #SophiaMiller2032 #beengroomingmydaughtersince1997

The last time I wrote about sexual assault and harrassment, I couldn't curate a playlist. It just didn't seem right to set my own person humiliations to music. But this time things feel different. I guess I feel that not only am I part of a movement that is gaining ground, but we're growing bigger because even those who have never suffered - those who have been part of the problem in the past - are now joining with us, wanting to make things better in the future. So it seems like the perfect time to share a streaming #MeToo Playlist on Spotify featuring women artists with some incredibly fierce and empowering songs.

 I don't want to force it on you though. I'm just putting it out there, and hey, if you like what I'm puttin' down, think about picking it up and consenting to a good time for your ears!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Pedestrian Never Wins

I feel bad about it, but I honestly wasn't paying attention. When Hurricane Harvey was blowing down houses, killing families and turning entire towns into lakes, I didn't even know. When the Helena fire ripped through Trinity county and people were literally jumping from cliffs to escape the flames that devoured almost 80 houses in a matter of hours, I had no idea. People kept asking me if I'd heard about what happened in North Korea, and my response was "Huh?"

A crap ton of other catastrophes happened the last week of August and on into the first week of September as well, and none of it was on my radar. Our trainwreck of a President made two racist announcements: that he'd pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and next on his agenda was shutting down the Dream Act (and all this right after he signed a directive to ban transgender military troops). And then Hurricane Irma came knocking.

Trying to catch up on the news for just one week has left me feeling completely ignorant, but I think I have a pretty good excuse. The entire world pretty much stopped turning for me and my entire family the day my mom entered battle with a Honda Accord.

It was a matchup like Mayweather vs. MacGregor. In this case the Honda was Mayweather, my mom, Gigi, was MacGregor. Car vs. Pedestrian. And she never saw it coming. TKO. But mom says she'll always remember the horrific feeling of being slammed into unexpectedly, that jolt she experienced just before she lost consciousness. She was crossing Pearl Street a few Wednesdays ago, in Eugene to volunteer planning a fundraising gala for Ophelia's Place, a non-profit that supports and empowers young teenage women. Then she woke up on the pavement with broken bones. Everything was bruised, she was bleeding from the head with holes in her clothes, her bra was cut off (and it was a really nice bra), and  her ruby red toenail polish was scraped off. But when a pedestrian enters the ring with a car, the pedestrian never wins.

It was a teenager that hit her. A sixteen-year old driving his mom's Honda in the left lane of a one-way street with a speed limit of 25 mph. We're guessing he might have been going about that fast when he hit my mom, who had almost reached the other side of the street when the lights went out. We don't know yet what the real circumstances were. Did he not see her because she, just like the street, was covered in black material? Did he see her and just think she'd get out of the way because - duh - he's bigger? Was he distracted by Snapchat, a Facebook post, or a text from a friend? We have no idea. What we do know is that my eighty two year old mom is lucky to be alive, and lucky that doctors were able to repair her fractured tibia just below the knee where his bumper connected with her leg, and her broken humerus just beneath the left shoulder. She has a total of seventeen deck screws holding those parts of her body together. To quote my husband, "We always knew your mom was tough as nails. Now we have the X-rays to prove it."

Our family has been relying on humor to get us through this devastating course of events. Turns out that making someone laugh is a really good way to get things going when one has a bedpan underneath them. Another fun fact: turns out my mom has a really dirty sense of humor. I put a request out there on Facebook asking my friends for a few good jokes to share with mom as I sat by her hospital bedside for 3 days, and her favorite was: Why does the Easter Bunny hide his eggs? Cause he doesn't want anyone to know he's been doin' the chickens.

  Since the accident, my sister and I have been taking turns staying by our mother's side. She took the first 3 days, when mom was flying on morphine and undergoing surgeries, talking with doctors and getting the facts about how long they thought it would be before mom could walk again (a year). I took the next 3, driving 5 hours north and spending hours on the phone with eight insurance companies, trying to figure out how to advocate for my mom and figure out how to start planning for the long year ahead of her.

 I won't go into all of the dirty details involved with advocating for someone's care right now, but what I've learned over the past few weeks is that it's exhausting to love someone as much as they need to be loved during a catastrophic illness or injury, but it's the most important thing you can do for someone you love. And it is not a thankless job. Every day my mother tells us how much she appreciates her daughters and everyone who has visited or sent a card or care package.

The family has been rallying around her, and the nurses say my mom has the liveliest room in the place since she transferred from the hospital in Eugene to a skilled nursing facility in Ashland. We all showed up for a big pizza party and football game last weekend because if Gigi can't go to the party, the party goes to Gigi. We ended up shutting the door and setting up a big fan in the corner to help circulate all the hot air that had gathered in one room and cheered the Ducks to victory. It's probably a good thing my mom doesn't have a roommate right now.

Mom will stay at the rehab place until she's well enough to continue the healing in her own home, hopefully within a few months and after a few modifications to the house. My mom will survive. Gigi's got things to do, places to go, and charitable fundraisers to organize. She wants to be independently mobile again in the worst way possible, and is operating at 120% of her brain capacity. That's why we call her Tenacious G.

Mom's favorite CNA, John, teacher her how to transfer from bed to wheelchair.
 So that's why I wasn't really paying attention when the rest of the world burned up, flooded out and fell apart, but I had some important stuff going on. But I've fund that trying to catch up on all the news that happened during that time is a little overwhelming. Good thing I've got a playlist full of wind, rain, firestorms, broken limbs and speeding cars. And there's even a few filled with North Korean political intrigue, I hope you'll check out the Spotify playlist below. Maybe you've got your own songs about all the crazy events going on in the world these days, and I'll be happy to entertain them in the comments section below. And if you've got a good joke to share, Gigi would still like to hear it, although she has graduated to a bedside commode now with the help of something called a transfer pole. But I like to tell people that my mother is learning how pole dance.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


I've known Caroline since we were both student volunteers at Jefferson Public Radio back in the 80's. While I continued to stay on the radio path, Caroline has gone on to accomplish pretty much everything she's ever set her mind to, which - after a stint working in radio - has included a career as a corporate jet pilot, achieving a masters degree in Business Administration, renovating a house and publishing two children's books while raising a couple of children on her own. In fact she did all that at the same time.

If she sounds familiar to you, it might because I've written about her before. More than once. I think that's because of all the people I know, Caroline is the one who isn't afraid to take the bull by the horns, assess the situation when things aren't going as expected, chart a new course and then set sail, pretty much always ending up at her destination using her own self-propelled steamroller. Goals achieved. So you can see why I have mad respect for this woman (and the parents who raised her, God bless 'em).
Caroline at her previous job. Holding on, and holding her breath.
The only thing is, she forgot to breathe.  Or just never had time. Until now. And now, she has become an expert in just letting go.

For the first time as long as I've known her - for more than thirty years - Caroline is unemployed. And loving it.  Her kids may be loving it even more than she is, because finally, for the first time in their lives, they've got a full time mom. She's there every night to tuck her seven year old daughter into bed and kiss her good night in person. Instead of packing her suitcase every couple of weeks to fly off to Africa or Australia, this mom is packing the car with her son's musical equipment to take him to open mic night to help not only encourage his artistic passion, but to be a part of it.

The whole family gets into the open mic night at Creek Monkey Taphouse.
She's also breathing. Which is a major part of letting go. Or, as Caroline says, "enjoying the ride." And it's not that my friend has stopped setting goals for herself. She's just charted a course that is completely unlike any other journey she's been on in her life, and it's all about healing her Chakra, letting go, stretching her boundaries and her body, and getting her OM on.

The first thing my friend did after ditching the corporate jet pilot gig that left her life "a little bit crazier and more unpredictable every day" was to sign up for Yoga House Co.'s 200 hour Yoga teacher training course in Benicia, CA. She says she did it because she thought it would be a good way to transition from that two decade corporate jet pilot career to her next educational goal, going back to school to get another Master’s degree and a whole new career as a Counseling Psychologist.  "Yep, it’s an odd path for sure," she says, "but going through an intense Yoga training course is the perfect antidote to the stresses of life."

From here on out, I'm just going to let Caroline tell you - in her own words - about the brain and body bending journey that her Yoga teacher training course took her on, and let her introduce today's relaxing yet invigorating playlist that she put together.

"The whole experience turned out to be one of the most beautiful, lovely, and mind expanding things I have ever done for myself.  I formed deep friendships with several of my classmates.  I was able to see life from new perspectives, and practice approaching the ups and downs of life with more ease and equanimity.  And it whipped my physical body into shape. So many gifts have come my way through this training over the past three months! 

One of the parts I enjoyed the most as I was preparing to teach my hour long Vinyasa Yoga class was creating a playlist.  It brought me back to my roots, as a DJ during college at Jefferson Public Radio – spinning New Age hits before and after the Hearts of Space feed on Sunday evenings and as a World Music show host on Fridays.  It’s so interesting how these old skills (and my love for music) came back into use again as I pursue an entirely different direction – 20 years later.  

So, I invite you to take a time out this weekend. Sit back and relax, or get your OM on as you listen to some of my favorite tunes to support a Yoga practice.  Move with the ones that move you, or just sit and chill out to a few of these tunes this weekend.  However you use them, I hope that this music brings you a little bit of peace and happiness.  It probably goes without saying that we could all use more of those two feelings today -- and every day!"

And don't forget to breathe!

Press the play arrow below or click here to access Caroline's Breathe Playlist on Spotify, and let me know what tunes help you relax or heal your mind and body in the comments section below.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summer Love

Have you ever had one of those moments when you fell in love all over again? Not with your lover (although that did happen to me, and I'm forever grateful that I had the chance to get those butterflies again with the same incredible man), but with your town?

That happened to me recently, and it makes me wonder if I'm the only one, or if any of you have become disenchanted with your community, and then suddenly things clicked into place, and BAM! Butterflies. Ear to ear grin. Total contentment. Pure bliss. I'm in love with Redding, and want to shower its face with kisses.

I find it odd that its the littlest things that can make me fall in - and out - of love with the place I choose to live like the flip of a switch. For me, when the dispatcher who fielded our 911 call asking for help when drug selling squatters took up residence in the house next to mine told me that the police weren't going to come, I fell out of love immediately. The city I loved so much didn't love me back. At least that's what it felt like. The switch in my heart (I'm convinced I have one) flipped off. And it stayed that way for awhile.

And then I had a moment last week that flipped my switch back on. And again, it was just the simplest moment.

It was Thursday. I was floating in my friend Carey's pool while she played bartender, bringing out Moscow Mules with fresh mint and fruit. Her husband grilled up sliders, and we feasted on a refreshing arugula and watermelon salad - my new favorite thing. In fact here's the recipe, courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa:

I digress.

I was surrounded by some of my favorite women; the women that I trust and enjoy. The conversation was delightful and fun. The water was perfect. So perfect.

Then another friend Destiny asked, "Have you heard this?" and played her new favorite song of the summer. And then she played another. And then someone else suggested their new favorite song of summer. Within 30 seconds we were all bopping around like a water aerobics class at the Y. I've never felt more 50 than I just did when I imagined what you must be imagining, but I don't care. You know why? Because I'm in love. And it happened in the blink of an eye. I caught feels for summer. For my friends. For my town. Gave me even more love for my husband, my family and my job. But especially for the place I've called home for the past fifteen years.

I didn't realize it right away. It wasn't until I was on the drive home. I rolled all the windows down to dry my hair,  and I realized that I was smiling so wide my mouth was open, and I was singing at top volume to another new song on the radio - one that JPR is playing every single day - the one that has become my personal favorite hit of the Summer of Seventeen. (It's the 2nd song on today's playlist, "Feel It Still" by a band called Portugal. The Man. More on them and their backstory later, because I have a whole nuther cool story to tell you at a later date that came out of the discovery of this song).

Something happens to me when I'm in love. People know it. I can't hide it, nor do I want to. And since that moment I have woken up earlier in the morning, happy to get up and see what the day is going to bring. I brought my car into the Subaru dealership for an oil change, and made a new friend. A picked up the phone at work twice this week and made new friends. Suddenly I love everyone, and everyone's delightful and pleasant. I even left my phone in the bathroom at Lowe's, didn't realize it until I got to Grocery Outlet, and I made a new friend in the parking lot who let me use her phone to call Lowe's...and I even got my phone back.

Things are just falling into place. And I think it has a lot to do with the love revival I'm experiencing with Redding right now. I think people respond differently to someone who has a genuine smile on their face and is content with themselves and their life, and right now that person is me.

Things are good. Blissful. I feel at peace. And I think it all starts with me and my attitude. And the music of summer. I know I've said this a million times, but music has always transported me. If I'm in a bad mood, a kickass song can give me that attitude adjustment I need so badly. I also mark moments of my life by the music I listen to, and if  you were to look through my iTunes playlists, you'd see "Summer of 2008" "Summer of 2009" and now...Summer of Seventeen. All I need to hear is one snippet of a song from any of those collections, and I immediately know which summer that playlist is from, and I'm taken right back to that moment in time, to what I was wearing, what I was doing, and what I was feeling.

Think on that...the songs that made your summers special. But while you're doing it, hit the play button on the streaming Summer of Seventeen playlist on Spotify, and share your ultimate songs of summer in the comments section below, and the memories they bring back. I know I'm not the only one.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hair Of The Dog

This may turn out to be the most appropriately titled column of my writing career.

I love a good martini. I even have my own leopard spotted hand blown glass goblet that I'm especially fond of drinking them from. A birthday present from my dear friends Ray & Kathleen years ago that no one else is allowed to touch.

It was that glass - the one that I always wash by hand - that I grabbed last Sunday evening, to make my favorite summer martini as I prepared to sit down to watch the two hour season finale of Fear The Walking Dead.

What is my favorite summer martini, you ask? I call it the Tropical Lemon Drop. Sounds delicious, right? It is. Believe me, it is. When made correctly. I'll tell you how to make it (and how NOT to make it) below, although I don't really follow an exact recipe. I wouldn't have been able to read it anyway.

I should back up a moment to tell you one important little detail about this story: I have really bad vision. I usually wear thick, tri-focal glasses, and occasionally wear contact lenses (as I was that day), but they are purely for distance. I can't sew, do crossword puzzles or read the measurements in a recipe unless my purple Dollar Tree glasses are perched on my nose. And I didn't have those handy last Sunday.

Back to the story.
The subject of my tale.
I drink out of that goblet almost every day, and it's not necessarily just for martinis, it's for all my beverages, because I'm just that fond of this glass.  I had just enjoyed club soda with a twist of mint from my backyard the previous Thursday out of that glass.

Can I halt our story for just one more moment while I take another short diversion? Thinking of the mint in my backyard,  I just want to mention that while I love my backyard and all the delicious things that grow in it, I'm also a little miffed at it these days. This is mainly because the dogs keep coming in from the yard with little burrs stuck in their fur, and I can't quite figure out where the little devils are coming from.

In fact, just last Thursday I spent a good half hour pulling a handful of burrs (and of course a good chunk of hair) off of my thirteen year old Westie's head. He was so dirty, because when its hot outside, he has a tendency to burrow into the dirt. He's basically just creating a cloud of dust, but I suspect he thinks he's digging down to some cooler dirt beneath the top layer of dirt. He could always come inside to chill, but he chooses to wallow in the dirt instead, and come in dusty and covered in burrs. That particular Thursday after I'd drained my club soda and plucked the burrs from Casper, I brought him and my favorite glass into the kitchen and placed both of them on the counter with intentions of giving them each a good washing by hand in the kitchen sink.

OK, let's head back to that cocktail. I grabbed my stainless steel shaker, and filled it with ice. I poured a healthy slug of vodka over it, followed by a splash of coconut liqueur (maybe two splashes), some raspberry lemonade and a squeeze of lime. I shaked it like I was doing the hokey pokey, grabbed my glass which was still next to the sink (well, to be honest its always by the sink if its not in my hand), poured my martini into it, and took my Tropical Lemon Drop into the living room where my favorite show was waiting for me.

I grabbed the remote and pressed play. I grabbed the glass and took a sip. And gagged. And coughed. And may have peed my pants a little bit as I ran to the sink retching and retching and retching.

Friends, don't do what Valerie did. When making your favorite martini in your favorite glass - the one that is so precious it has never seen the inside of the dishwasher - always look inside the glass first to make sure there are no unwanted guests lurking at the bottom.

I know you think there was a tomato worm or cockroach in my glass, but no. The upside of this episode - what Doni would call a cautionary tale - is that I did not have a tomato worm nor a cockroach in my mouth. But there was definitely something in my mouth that should not have been there.

When I took that sip, here's what I experienced. First, a delicious, coconut tinged vodka washed over my tongue. Followed by an unexpected slight hint of earthiness. Then something that felt like a spider web settled into my mouth. All over my mouth. It covered my tongue like a vodka soaked cotton ball, and tried to force its way down my throat like a bad first date. Then I crunched down on something soft, yet spiky. Like a seed. Or a burr. A burr attached to a lot of dirty dog hair. It took me a second to realize what I'd done, but as soon as I did, I ran for the sink.
It was then that I remembered that as I was picking burrs off my dog a few days earlier, I had placed each burr (and the tangle of hair that came with them) into my empty goblet, knowing that I was about to wash it. At least I intended to wash it. Only I decided to wash the dog first, and then promptly forgot all about washing the glass, and there it sat, until I returned home Sunday evening. If I wasn't blinded by my contact lenses, I might have seen the clump of stuff in the bottom of my glass. Instead, I was completely unaware as I took that first sip of the dirtiest martini of my life.

Hair of the dog indeed.

This dog.
 After you're done shaking your head and finished being grossed out (I'm still not over it), you might want to make sure there's nothing already taking up residence in the bottom of your glass before preparing your favorite martini, and hitting the play arrow below to stream today's Hair Of The Dog playlist on Spotify. Also, I'm curious to hear your favorite summertime cocktail recipes, or your best gross out tales (which are always a hit at our family dinners)!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

You've Got Mail

Everybody's got their hobby. For some, its golf. For others, scuba diving or mountain climbing. For Wendi Harner, its handwritten letters. I have to hand it to my friend, who may be single-handedly keeping the post office alive in this modern age that has moved us from the swirls of penmanship and licking envelopes to sending instant messages with our thumbs. Writing letters is, as Wendi says, "a dying art."

As for me, I belong to the E-mail generation. It's how I communicate, all day long. But I can't even remember the last time my daughter sent me an E-mail. That's because her generation is almost strictly into texting. Young people her age are so into using their phones to text, that they can't even be bothered to speak into one. In fact her outgoing voicemail message is "Hang up and text me!"

But my friend Wendi sends real mail.  Like actual cards and letters that involve stamps, envelopes, trekking to the mailbox and the U.S. Postal Service. In fact sometimes she just throws it out there to the world and offers to write mail to anyone. "Want snail mail? I am your girl," she posted on Facebook. "Send me your address and I will send you something handwritten." 

And she will. She really will.
Everybody, meet Wendi Harner.
I found out about Wendi's passion for writing letters when I bumped into her in Safeway a few years ago and she asked me how my daughter was doing. We've known Wendi pretty much since Day 1 in Redding. When we enrolled Sophia at West Redding Pre-School, Wendi worked in the infant room. Sophia was with the pre-school kids on the other side of the building with Wendi's daughter Maddie, and a friendship was born between kids and their moms.

Back to that day in Safeway. I told Wendi that Sophia was having a tough time in the dorms because the roommate situation wasn't working out that well, and she'd just broken up with her boyfriend. Wendi asked me if Sophia might appreciate getting some mail. I gave her the address, and she actually sent her a sweet note of support which really made Sophia's day.

Wendi says writing has been one of her favorite things to do since she was in grade school and kept a journal. And around the same time, she grew fond of receiving mail, because her grandmother Iris sent her mail on a regular basis which often included goodies like gum, a few dollars or some stickers. So all of the mail Wendi sends today is decorated with stickers. But where did her passion for sending letters really begin? Well, it all had to do with music.

Wendi's collection of stationary.

"I've always been a music fanatic," Wendi told me. "My dream job was to be a singer, musician or radio DJ, and that is no joke! Remember Star Hits Magazine?" That was a magazine that had articles on popular alternative rock musicians like Adam Ant, the Thompson Twins and The Cure. Wendi says there was a section in the magazine called RSVP where you could write in, listing info about yourself and the music you were interested in. That's how she got her pen pals Susan in New York and Paul in Hawaii. "We still send each other snail mail after 36 years, and we all prefer snail mail over any other means of communication." She also had a pen pal in Kansas during junior high, and another in Egypt that she corresponded with for years until he got married, and told Wendi he wouldn't be able to write to a woman any longer. 
Madison Harner, crafter of homemade postcards.
There's one person Wendi has been corresponding with for years and years who has saved every single letter that she's received. That would be her daughter Madison, who - like my own daughter - is away in Oregon at college. Wendi visited her in Monmouth earlier this month and Maddie showed her a big box of letters...then told her mom it was just ONE of the boxes she's saved! Maddie thinks its pretty awesome that her mom sends letters to people. "She sends letters to a lot of my friends, even when they are as far away as France! Her letters make my day so much better, and I'm happy that she can make someone else's day too."

Unlike my daughter, Maddie actually writes back to her mom sometimes (Wendi says for every ten letters she writes she might get one back), but Maddie prefers to talk on the phone - which is also pretty rare these days for a person on the cusp of 21. But Maddie is starting to pick up some of her mother's passion. She says she prefers sending postcards to letters, and although her postcard of choice is to send something from an Oregon state park, she also likes to get crafty and make homemade postcards. 

Wendi gets immense personal satisfaction putting pen to paper, and says it's kind of cathartic. "Often I envision the person I'm writing to opening their mailbox and finding something delightfully positive among the pile of advertisements and bills."

Wendi says she sent over 25 pieces of snail mail last week, which might be a personal record. But she's got an ulterior motive right now. There's an entire movement dedicated to sending supportive and encouraging letters to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and Wendi is all about kicking cancer's ass. So she's asking everyone she knows to join her in writing a letter of support through Girls Love Mail. Its a simple concept... you write a letter or two and send it to someone you don't know. But you at least know that this person has been diagnosed with cancer. Girls Love Mail bundles them and sends them along to cancer care centers. The staff then makes sure that your letter offering peace, support, love and well wishes will make its way into the hands of a woman who has just been giving some pretty awful news. Wendi even promises that for every one letter written by folks she's invited, she'll write another two. So don't let this girl down. She needs to break last week's record!

While you sit down and put pen to paper, let me entertain you with some music to write letters by. Just click on the play arrow in the embedded You've Got Mail Playlist below, or listen to it directly by clicking on the link. And let Wendi know if you've taken her up on the Girls Love Mail initiative with a comment below. It'd make her day. Also, if you know someone who's day Wendi could make with some  handwritten mail, all she needs is the address!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Master of the Mix

A note from Valerie: My friendship with Aaron Williams goes back to the first day of Kindergarten. Not ours, though. It was the first day of school at Manzanita Elementary, 2002. My daughter and his oldest son Brady were in the same class, and we both stood at the back of the room smiling as our kids quickly forgot we were there, and settled into being students.

Over the years Aaron and I spent many a morning chatting on the playground after dropping the kids off at school. He was usually bleary-eyed and dog-tired, after pulling an all-nighter, writing up last night's high school games for the newspaper where he was sports editor for many years. He also had some radio gigs, and has developed a relationship to music that is very similar to mine, and like me music has played a big part of relating to his offspring. His love of music was definitely picked up by Brady, who sadly perished a year ago in a vehicle accident.

Just recently Aaron and I had the chance to hang out and chat again. I told him I would've loved to spent a day in his shoes at his last job, teaching radio to the kids at Central Valley High, and he mentioned that he would love to have a shot at filling in for the Mistress of the Mix sometime. 

What better time for Aaron to do that than the weekend we reserve to celebrate fatherhood? It's a job he knows a lot about, and is so much more qualified than I to discuss. And so, I present to you my friend Aaron Williams. We'll call him the Master of the Mix. Because I said so.

It’s the most important job I’ve ever had. Some days it’s a real challenge, while other days it’s a breeze.

And the pay? The riches are unimaginable – hand-made Christmas ornaments; adventures that make real work seem a million miles away; the smile when they hit the game-winning shot; watching your little boy turn into a kind, thoughtful young man; the promise of seeing them become loving husbands and fathers themselves.

Aaron Williams & sons (from left) Tanner, Brady and Nolan

Being a father isn’t necessarily something you can list on a resume, but make no mistake, it’s a full-time occupation.

Father’s Day is a mixed bag for me. I’m blessed to have had five wonderful young men in my life – three (Brady, Tanner and Nolan) that come to me naturally and my girlfriend’s two (Jeff and Robby) that I’ve been fortunate to - in small part - help raise. Yet, the loss of my oldest, Brady, just over a year ago still leaves an unfillable void that has made everyday - let alone holidays - difficult to navigate.
All 5: Brady in the front, with Tanner, Nolan, Robby & Jeff
Music has always been a huge part of my life. It’s given my life a soundtrack. I remember times, places and events by songs and artists.

My parents loved music. I am an audiophile. My kids have developed wide and varied musical tastes.
It’s amazing to watch the soundtrack of my life meld and grow with theirs.

My Father’s Day playlist includes your father-and-son staples – “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics and the anti-dad “Father of Mine” by Everclear.

Of course, the gold standard is Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I swore when I was about to become a father that I wouldn’t be the dad in Chapin’s haunting tale about missing out on his son’s youth only to have the tables turned as his boy grew to be a man.

But most of my playlist are songs that take me back to times and places with my boys and our many adventures.

My mom used to sing Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” to me as a boy; something I did when my kids were younger.

The Williams Crew on a roadtrip
As they grew, we’d visit grandma in the Bay Area or go hiking in Tahoe and listen to music as we traveled. Songs like Cake’s “The Distance,” Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” and Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” all were regulars on road trips.

Of course, tunes like “I Like to Move It” by Reel 2 Real (off the Madagascar soundtrack) always got a laugh and would become an ear worm – a song that you just can’t get out of your head.
As young boys, they always laughed when King Missile’s “Detachable Penis” would come on … because what boy isn’t deep down a little bit Beavis and Butthead (huh, huh, he said penis.)

As they grew older, we’d play iPod roulette on car trips, with everyone getting a song and then passing it to the next person. We’d always get a random and diverse mix that included everything from “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies to “Battle of Who Could Care Less” from Ben Folds Five to “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay and my choice of “Subdivisions” by Rush.

Some songs in our soundtrack were from concerts we’d see – “Numb” by Linkin Park, “How I Could Just Kill a Man” by Rage Against the Machine, “The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance” or “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters. Silversun Pickups always were a staple, as was rap – my boys are all well-versed in Wu Tang, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Notorious B.I.G.

Silversun Pickups in concert

Along the way, they learned to like some of my music and I even have introduced some of theirs into my soundtrack. For example, hearing Tanner sing “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina always makes me smile and tear up. On the flip side, he turned me on to baseball-player-turned-rapper Mike Stud with “These Days” and he’s now on the iPod and someone I’ve seen in concert.

Brady making his own music
After Brady died, I started listening to some of his music – he was well on his way to being a bigger concert-goer than I was at his age. Some of Brady’s music I could take or leave, but some of it has been a big help in the healing process. There are days when Circa Survive’s “On Letting Go” album is on repeat. And if it’s not Circa Survive, it might be Silverstein or All Time Low’s new album, which was on repeat as I wrote this.

I’ve learned along the way that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most in life. I’ve been fortunate to be part of a journey that’s seen five boys turn in to kind, caring, loving and pretty remarkable young men. And our journey has had a pretty kick-ass soundtrack.

Happy Father’s Day.

To enjoy the music on today's Father of Sons playlist, click on the play arrow below, or access the playlist directly at Spotify. And please share the songs that define your parenthood soundtrack in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017



I have been holding this secret for weeks, and I just can't contain it any longer! But finally, finally, finally the staff at the Cascade Theatre has told me that just like Jodie Foster in Contact, I am OK to GO.  Yeah, you heard me. OK to GO. And that is your cue to stop reading, get your Cascade Theatre membership immediately, purchase tickets to the band that has never let me down, and then meet me back here for more.

Breathe, Valerie. Breathe.

I feel like I've been so excited that I could burst since the day I found out the Cascade Theatre had landed one of my favorite rock bands of the past 10 years, and it's been hard not to tell anyone, but I haven't. Not even my daughter. But now the moment we've all been waiting for is finally upon us, and I have the distinct honor of releasing the 2017-18 Cascade Theatre season lineup. Finally I can tell you that OK GO is coming to the Cascade Theatre November 1st. The band that I can only describe as being a cross between my favorite local band (Papa Fez) and my favorite California band (Cake), on steroids and with a better budget for outfits and video production. You know who these guys are, right? They are THE reason you need to get a membership immediately so you can buy tickets today. Not just so you can get the best seat, but just so you can get in the door. Because I believe this is a show that will be sold out by the time tickets are on sale June 13th to the general public. Tickets go on sale to members June 1st, so grab that membership immediately, call the box office at 530-243-8877, or show up in person at the box office at 1733 Market Street and get in line. The door opens at 11am.

If you're not familiar with all the insanely catchy music of OK GO, chances are you're still familiar with their extraordinarily clever and viral videos that consistently up the ante. About a decade ago they were creating well planned, tightly choreographed low budget videos with the help of a bunch of treadmills (that they purchased and later returned). Now they're making huge, beautiful messes in a zero gravity environment. I just can't love them enough. I know you're curious now, so here's a small sampling of their video brilliance:

I've never seen OK GO live. So I don't know if they'll have a giant Rube Goldberg machine on stage like they created for this brilliant piece of art-science.

Maybe they'll bring in trained dogs or schoolgirls with umbrellas, a marching band or maybe they travel with those treadmills to bring their music alive as they do on video. It doesn't really matter to me. I adore them, I praise their holy name, and I'm so excited to see and hear them, with or without the props. They're an incredible band that creates music that is as fun and catchy as their videos, which are really just a byproduct of their amazing creativity that extends past the recording studio. They're smart, funny and get get bonus points because members of OK GO have worked in public radio and have testified in front of Congress about net neutrality. And back in the stone age of 1999, OK GO taped a lip synched performance of C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips for a public access TV station in Chicago that included a fake back up band made up some co-workers at WBEZ, including Peter Sagal on bass (host of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me) and Ira Glass on the drums (host of This American Life). Peter can tell you all about it, and you should check it out just to see how young Ira Glass was!

But of course, that's just the beginning. On to the rest of the reveal.

The Cascade Theatre crew has been working hard to put together an entire year's worth of live performance, rock, country, acrobatics, musicals, a classic film series and children's summer movies and lots more. The entire calendar is posted below, and at the bottom of today's column you'll find a streaming Spotify playlist filled with some of the performances you'll have a chance to experience live if you're lucky enough to land tickets the upcoming shows. And since I'm big on OK GO, there's a lot of their music on the list, including the song that helped get me through my divorce. You'll just have to figure out that one on your own.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, LeeAnn Rimes, Lukas Nelson, Travis Tritt and Don McLean.
The calendar below begins with a Summer Kid's Movie Club every Sunday afternoon in July as well as a set of four classic films sprinkled throughout the year. But I know, you're all about the music. The first live performance of the season is July 21, with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Other country-leaning acts include LeeAnn Rimes in September, Travis Tritt in October, and next March Don McLean will take to the stage to revive some of his greatest hits. Another name that might not be immediately familiar to country fans, but should be well worth your attention is Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real with Nicki Bluhm coming July 29th. Lukas is the son of the legendary Willie Nelson, so you may have seen them if you've seen Willie play, as they've opened for him many times. They also backed Neil Young for The Monsanto Years, and served as John Fogerty's band for his 2012 tour. Lukas also played guitar or sang on 10 out of 14 tracks on his dad's Heroes album. Young and Jimi Hendrix are some big influences for the band, but they've also got a dirty surf rock twang to them that should appeal to the alt-country surf punk in all of us. There is one in all of us, right?
The Wailers and Joan Osborne
Speaking of legends, Bob Marley's band has long outlived its original lead singer, and continue carrying the torch in his honor for more than thirty years. The Wailers perform in September, and every die hard Reggae fan in the north state should be there. They honor Bob's honor memory, they do the music the way you love to hear it, and I know this show will be incredible.  Another tribute will grace the stage in October when Joan Osborne ("What if God Was One of Us" singer) brings her trio to the Cascade to sing the songs of Bob Dylan. Osborne is gritty and full of soul, and I have no doubt she'll make it worth your while.

I need to back up for a moment, because I failed to mention some of the non-music live shows of the season, which include a night of stand-up comedy with former SNL cast member Rob Schneider in September. You'll also recognize him as a regular face in many Adam Sandler films.

Rob Schneider
Another TV star who is now taking his show on the road in October is magician/illusionist Michael Carbonaro of "The Carbonaro Effect." If you haven't seen this incredible slight-of-hand master in action, check it out, and be amazed. I've always been entertained by his show, but his moments behind the counter in the toy store are brilliant.

In November, the season of Valerie-absolutely-must-be-here-for-these-shows begins with OK GO. followed by the Gin-Blossoms, the rock band who's big hit "Hey Jealousy" still runs through my head all the time, and in December the darlings of the Cascade Theatre return once again with a Pink Martini holiday show, featuring original vocalist China Forbes.

Pink Martini featuring Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes

Other holiday shows this year include an evening with Olivia Newton-John, and the perennial favorite singing, dancing and storytelling spectacular A Celtic Christmas. But the holidays wouldn't be complete without A Cascade Christmas with a whole new storyline.

Marc Cohn, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Olivia Newton John
The new year brings a two-fer in January with Marc Cohn sharing the stage with The Blind Boys of Alabama. Later that month, the Peking Acrobats return to the theatre, followed by another helping of the world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra in March. Other shows rounding out the season include two more live musicals featuring regional talent: Oliver and Hair.

Additional shows are always added during the season, and members continue to get first crack at tickets before they go on sale to the general public.
  • July  2             Kid's Movie Club: Minions
  • July  9             Kid's Movie Club: The Incredibles
  • July 16            Kid's Movie Club: James and the Giant Peach
  • July 21            Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • July 23            Kid's Movie Club: Homeward Bound
  • July 29            Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real with Nicki Bluhm
  • July 30            Kid's Movie Club: Up
  • Sep  15            Comedian Rob Schneider
  • Sep 17             The Wailers
  • Sep 24             LeAnn Rimes
  • Oct   5             Illusionist Michael Carbonaro
  • Oct   7             Manhattan Short Film Festival
  • Oct 22             Travis Tritt
  • Oct 25             Joan Osborne Trio Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan
  • Oct 29             Classic Film: Hocus Pocus
  • Nov  1             OK GO
  • Nov  8             Gin Blossoms
  • Nov 24-Dec 3 A Cascade Christmas
  • Dec  6             Pink Martini Holiday
  • Dec 10            Olivia Newton John
  • Dec 17            Classic Film: Miracle on 34th Street
  • Dec 22            Celtic Christmas
  • Jan 20             Marc Cohn and The Blind Boys of Alabama
  • Jan 31             Peking Acrobats
  • Feb 11            Classic Film: Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • Mar 10           Don McClean
  • Mar 16           The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra
  • Mar 25           Classic Film: Some Like It Hot
  • Apr 19 - 29    Spring Musical: Oliver
  • Jun 15 - 23     Summer Musical: Hair
There's a whole year full of shows on the calendar, and we haven't gotten to the last performance of this year's season. Still to come is a two week run of the Cascade summer musical, Rock of Ages. But with the buzz that's been going around about this show, it's probably not a surprise to anyone that it's about to take over the Cascade stage for two glorious weeks with the music of Journey, Styx, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Night Ranger, and so much more.

Anyone who grew up in the 80's is gonna love this show, which features a live band, a bar, a stripper pole, a small town girl who ends up in the big city, and lots and lots of hair and makeup. It'll be hard not to sing along to this musical, but why would you hold back anyway, right? And who doesn't want to get out of the summer heat and into the air conditioned bliss of the Cascade to see this great show. One quick word of caution, for those thinking about bringing along the kids to this one. This show contains some language and provocative content. In fact the language starts during the pre-show announcement, so don't say I didn't warn you! If you're interested in a pair of tickets to opening night (Thursday, June 15th), leave a comment below - and make it clear you're interested in the tickets - so I can put your name in the hat, and I'll draw a name in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, hit the play arrow on the Spotify playlist below to enjoy music from artists and some of the films in the upcoming Cascade Season, plus a couple of my favorite hits from Rock of Ages as well.