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.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Not My First Rodeo

I'm ashamed to admit this, but I'd totally forgotten that it was Rodeo week in Redding. It was only for about five minutes, this past Monday morning, but it was long enough. I was standing in my kitchen right around 9am, admiring the deep violet hues of a hydrangea bush I'd just planted in the backyard, when I heard the gunshots.

I actually grabbed the phone to call 911 before I gave myself an eyeball roll and chuckled. I should've known. It's not like this is my first rodeo.

It reminded me of the moment a few years ago when my husband experienced the same thing during his first Rodeo week in Redding. He called me just after 9am on a Monday morning because he'd just heard a slew of gunshots coming from the direction of downtown. He wanted to make sure I was okay, and told me to lock the door...and then he wanted to know why I was laughing.

Oh nothing, honey. It's just a bank robbery.

Moments later, my friend Matt Grigsby posted photos online of this gang heading down California Street, displaying guns and flags.

Here's another bombshell confession: This week marks my 16th rodeo week in Redding, and I'm still not entirely sure if these guys are supposed to represent the thieves, or the posse chasing after them!

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy rodeo week. I really do. I think I've done my best to embrace Redding's western heritage, especially since so much of rodeo week - outside of the actual rodeo, that is - unfolds right outside my office door. I have to literally weave between thousands of pancake eaters on my bicycle just to get to work during the Asphalt Cowboy's Pancake Breakfast. The boys in yellow have already shown up on the block twice this week (they generously reward me for the inconvenience of not being able to drive my car to the office for several days in a row during the festivities by giving me breakfast tickets).

I also really enjoy going to the rodeo, and that's most definitely because I enjoy the sport of cattle roping and the athleticism of bronco riding. It's most definitely not to ogle cowboy butts. Definitely not that.

This year my husband surprised me with a brand new cowboy hat, which he purchased in the authentically western state of Nebraska. It's white and gorgeous, and he probably looks better in it than I do, but I'm going to wear it anyway. I've got the jeans, I'm good with shirts, I've even got a bolo tie. There's just one thing I'm missing, and I'm putting it out here, just laying it out here, in case there's some boot company out there in the world looking for a public radio celebrity endorsement.

What I'm saying is that I don't have cowboy boots.

I used to have the most amazing pair of cheetah spotted boots made out of some kind of animal hide with pointy silver toe tips and heel plates that I found in a little store in Mexico back in 1991. I loved those boots so hard that I wore them under my first wedding dress. But alas, they contracted a bad case of mange about ten years later, and I had to put 'em down. It was a sad day. Since then, I just haven't found a pair I really like.

Until now.

So I'm just laying it out there to the universe that I'm a size 8 1/2 wide, and I really dig these:

But I also like these, these, these and these.

 But in the meantime, if you happen to run into me at the rodeo, or the pancake breakfast, please pardon my lack of appropriate footwear. and if you know anyone in the funky boot manufacturing industry that you could pass some information along to, I've got an extra ticket for the pancake breakfast for you. I'm also reviving my Honky Tonk Girl playlist  - one of my favorites - for all you buckaroos to enjoy as you kick up your heels while the rodeo is in town!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Viva Mexico

Ten years ago. It was Cinco de Mayo, and I found myself at the Del Taco drive-through ordering a burrito (which really isn't a thing in Mexico, btw). On a whim, I asked the kid at the window if she knew what Cinco de Mayo celebrates, and she didn't have a clue.

I filled up at the gas station next door, and asked the attendant, who had a distinctly Latin American accent if he could tell me what Cinco de Mayo was recognized for. Turned out he wasn't Mexican at all (he was Guatemalan), and he didn't know either, but thought it was the day Mexico celebrated its independence from Spain.

Pero no. Mexico's Independence Day is September 16th. Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates a much smaller, sort of obscure (but also important) moment in Mexico's history. But just like the U.S. has taken St. Patrick's Day and morphed it into a wild day of binging on green beer and corned beef (and pinching), we've also taken a holiday that Mexico traditionally celebrates with a somber military parade and have turned it into a wild day of binging on tequila and Mexican food.

I don't want to rain on anybody's margarita parade, I just think that it's good to know the reason behind your Saturday morning hangover. Because while everyone in the United States is gung ho to hoist a Corona and dance to a mariachi band on the fifth of May, how many people really understand what its all about? Well amigos, I'm gonna tell you. So crack open a Dos Equis, and get ready for a little history lesson.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico's victory in one singular battle with the French.

Oui, the French. Or to point the finger more directly, Napoleon III. This guy was the nephew of the original playground bully, Napoleon I, who was exiled to a remote island after invading, conquering, or going to war with Italy, Egypt, Russia, Austria, England, Prussia, Spain and Portugal (and I probably forgot a few) during his maniacal military career. But fifty years later, his nephew was in charge of things, and decided to follow in his uncle's footsteps by taking Mexico.

Mexico had already asserted itself and separated from Spain (which happened in 1810). But there were still some hard feelings there. Which is why, more than fifty years later, Spain at first jumped on board when Napoleon III decided to stage what he called an 'intervention' (as if Mexico had a tequila problem the French wanted to help with). And so did England.

Why? Well the claim was that Benito Juarez, the newly elected president of Mexico, decided to undo some of the things that had been enacted during the previous conservative government's administration. If you like to draw similarities, it was kind of like how the new conservative led U.S. government is recalling the Affordable Healthcare Act of the last administration. Part of Juarez's plan included halting interest payments to Mexico's foreign debtors: France, England and Spain.

This was Napoleon's moment, and he seized it. He convinced Spain and England to join him in pressuring Mexico to resume payments, but most of the history books (and Wikipedia) will tell you that Napoleon was really planning to conquer Mexico all along, to get his hands on more territory and the country's rich silver resources. Napoleon sent ships. So did Spain, but when they arrived at Veracruz in March of 1862, and realized what Napoleon's plans really entailed, they broke off their little affair and went home. England followed suit, leaving France to invade Mexico on its own.

And here's the thing: they won the war. For a time (it was a short time), Juarez's government was ousted, and Emperor Maximilian was crowned. But within a few years Juarez was able to gain control again, Maximilian was executed, and the French went back to France.

A depiction of the Mexican cavalry
kicking butt on the French troops in 1862.
But there was one battle in that war that Mexico won. It was on the fifth of May, in the colonial city of Puebla. The French had twice as many soldiers (8,000), but they seriously underestimated the passion and strategy of the 4,000 Mexicans. Long story short: David conquered Goliath. More than 450 French soldiers died in battle; only 83 Mexicans perished. The French withdrew, licked their wounds, and went on to other battles. By the way, the French came back and fought another battle in Puebla a year later, and this time they won.

Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated in the state of Puebla to commemorate the grit and proud machismo of its people, as well as their willingness to stand up and fight against bigger forces. But since Mexico didn't actually win this war, the whole country doesn't mark this day with celebrations. Its normally recognized with a military parade and a re-enactment of the battle on a hillside near Mexico City.

How does the United States factor into Cinco de Mayo? It totally doesn't. We didn't have any part in this whole escapade. We had a pretty good excuse: Our hands full at the time with a little skirmish we called the Civil War. But once our war with ourselves was over, we stepped in to protect our ally to the south, and threatened Napoleon III with a new war if he didn't pull out his troops and go home. So he did, and eventually President Juarez was returned to power in 1867.

So I suppose we did have a part in helping Mexico establish its sovereignty once again as kind of a big brother, which kind of justifies our happy celebration of all the fun aspects of Mexican heritage on Cinco De Mayo. As long as you sweep under the rug the fact that our nation's current president is now endeavoring to build a wall between our two countries. Sigh.

There are many other wonderful aspects of Mexican culture besides pinatas, tequila and tortilla chips. Mexico's music scene has really been blossoming in the past decade, producing some very catchy, incredible music that I have just been waiting for an excuse to share with usted. Taste some of this muy sabrosa musica for yourself by pressing the play button below and checking out today's Viva Mexico playlist. If you're hip to the Mexican music scene and have some favorites of your own to add to the list, lemme know!


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Put Your Money Where Your Ears Are

There's a hit list, and Big Bird and my workplace are both on it.

Maybe you've heard that the president has a plan to get rid of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Not just reducing funding (again), but eliminating its $445 million in funding altogether.

Ouch. That hurts. 

There's a bunch of other worthy agencies on the Trump administration's chopping block, but I hope you'll humor me for a bit while I try to clear up some of the misconceptions about the CPB and public media funding, and help people understand what the situation really looks like from someone who's been living and breathing public media for the past three decades. I thought the best way to do this is to answer some of the questions I get from time to time about public broadcasting, although most of these questions have been asked by people who don't actually listen to public radio or watch PBS.

Before I get into the real issue, though...the #1 question I am asked on an (almost) daily basis about public radio?

You call yourselves Jefferson Public Radio. Is that because you're part of the State of Jefferson movement?

No, we are not. When our flagship station in Ashland, OR became more than one station back in 1988, we decided to find a new name. We played around with a lot of names, but ultimately decided on Jefferson Public Radio because our broadcast area at the time mirrored the borders of the "mythical State of Jefferson" effort that was launched in the 1930's. That effort (you can read about it on our website here, filed under "About") ended when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, redirecting everyone's energy and attention, but also resulted in achieving one of the SoJ's goals, which was a better road system on - as well as to and from - the coast. JPR does not get involved in politics, except when there are political efforts made to defund us.

Which brings me to the current proposal to defund public broadcasting.

What is the CPB and why does it need $445 million dollars?

The CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) was created about 50 years ago to serve as an agency that distributes operating and programming grants to individual public radio and TV stations. So Trump isn't just trying to defund the CPB's operating budget, he wants to remove the funds that the CPB distributes to individual stations across the nation. The grants received by some large stations equals a pretty small portion of their budgets, like 10-15%. But for smaller stations in rural areas, that CPB grant is everything. More like 80% of their budget. Without that grant from the CPB, they shut down. Stations like the one I worked at in Alaska, which is the ONLY radio station on the dial, are in serious danger. It is the ONLY source of daily news if you don't have TV, or live off the grid. Public radio is so vital in rural Alaska, that the crew for the HBO documentary news series VICE traveled there last month to film a segment about the proposed budget cut, and interviewed the entire staff of the station I used to work at for an episode that is expected to air on Monday.

Is that money distributed evenly?

Heck no. Of the $445 million, $400 million is distributed to public media. The CPB keeps the change for system support and administration. Public TV gets 75% of the distributions. Public radio gets 25%.
But aren't public radio stations sitting pretty after the $225 million gift from McDonald's a few years ago?

Sigh. No. Joan Croc, widow of the legendary McDonald's empire builder Ray Croc, bequeathed a gigantic gift to public broadcasting when she passed in 2013, bless her kind, philanthropic soul. But the only station that specifically benefitted from her gesture was her hometown public radio station, KPBS in San Diego, CA. She left it $5 million. The other $220 million went to National Public Radio.

Yeah, but doesn't that money trickle down to stations?

Nope. You see, NPR is its own entity. It produces some incredible programs, like All Things Considered and Morning Edition. And public radio stations, like ours, pay them a lot of money (like a lot a lot of money) so that we can carry those programs. We are affiliates. But if we didn't have the money to pay them, they are not going to give us those programs for free. Besides, NPR took that $220 million and put it into an endowment so that NPR's future could be stabilized. To help it weather through tough times like now.

If public media is defunded, will Sesame Street disappear?

Negatory. You can tell your children to rest easy, and hug their Tickle Me Elmo doll extra tight tonight, because the production of Sesame Street would be able to endure losing federal funding. That's because the popularity of this show has been savvily leveraged in extremely lucrative licensing agreements, large corporate sponsorships and has even entered into an agreement with HBO. But Forbes hit the nail on the head when they claimed "Trump's Budget Won't Kill Big Bird, But It May Make Him Endangered."

Here's why, short and sweet: Killing the budget for public media won't stop the production of programs like Sesame Street and All Things Considered. But it will be much more difficult for people to access these programs if there is no longer a public radio or TV station in their vicinity.

What's so ironic about this, is that stations in big cities (where lots of educated, liberals tend to congregate) will mostly survive. But stations broadcasting in the sparsely populated, rural plains of America's conservative heartland are in grave danger of going dark. And the saddest part is that denying our country's young people quality news and educational programming makes them collateral damage in a struggle for control over the minds and the tax dollars of our nation's adults.

Speaking of danger, retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal thinks funding public broadcasting makes our nation safer, and that re-routing the public broadcasting budget to support the military is a mistake. My friend Cork sent me a NY Times Op-Ed piece written by this former leader of the Joint Special Operations Command. He was also fired by President Obama for saying unflattering things about his administration. Which makes what he has to say, being a conservative military man, all that more relevant. And speaking of the military...when our nation is attacked, or decides to attack another nation, as we suddenly saw last night, if you're going to turn to your radio for more information, who is dedicated to covering the event? Public radio. In fact, we ditched our fund drive on day one to focus on special coverage of the administration's missile launch on Syria.

What about MY public radio station? 

Well, I think that right now, more than ever, we are finding out that if something is important to you, that you need to speak up for it. The public radio station I work for receives about 12% of our funding from the CPB, about $400K per year. I don't think losing that money won't kill us, but it will force the station to make some very difficult, unpopular decisions.
What can I do?

First, if you love your public radio station, put your money where your ears are, and support it financially (same thing for your public tv station). Up until now you've been donating about $1.35 per year with your taxes for public broadcasting whether you like it or not. We don't know if this budget item will really pass, but if it does, we - the listeners and viewers - need to get in front of it and pick up the slack. In advance.

Then, what you can do is grab your piggy bank, sit down and consider an amount that makes sense to you. Maybe you could even sit down as a family and decide on a total amount that your family feels comfortable donating to charity over the year. Then, check out this list of the organizations that the Trump administration is targeting for annihilation, and figure out which ones are meaningful to your family, and start figuring out what percentage of that total amount you want to donate to each organization. And of course, it certainly can't hurt to let your elected officials know what you would like your tax dollars to support.

Lastly, you can follow through and make those meaningful contributions. And don't doubt how meaningful even a small donation can be. Remember... even $1.35 a year adds up.

By the way, this week Jefferson Public Radio is making it super easy to follow through with a desire to support this public radio station. Our Spring Fund Drive is going on right now. Since you're already online, making a donation is as easy as clicking over to our website.

And while you can always stream one of JPR's three stations while you're there, you can also hit the play arrow on the Put Your Money Where Your Ears Are Spotify playlist below and check out some of my favorite songs about the radio, money and taxes!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bang! Bang!

Ever have one of those weeks when you wish you had a do-over?
I’ve just had one of those weeks.
It was one of those weeks where you wish you could just line up every bad interaction, every bad moment, every negative thought, every awkward discussion and every nasty disagreement like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery and hit bullseye after bullseye after bullseye.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
If only that was possible.
Alas, it ain’t. So I’m stuck with that.
We’re not Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, or the incredibly adorable Domnhall Gleeson in About Time (my favorite film of 2014), or Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow (my second favorite film of 2014) . There just aren’t any do-overs in real life to hone our life skills. I wish there were, but we’re pretty much stuck with the day we just lived, every time.
Great. Big. Sigh.
But you know what always makes me feel better?
When I’ve had a really horrible day; a really rotten, no good, horrible day, there’s one sure fire way to put a smile back on my face and make me forget about all my problems, at least for a little while, and that’s an upbeat song I can sing along to.

Lost your job? Relationship blow up in your face? Total your car? Get a bill for $7,235 more than you thought it was gonna be? Well, I can relate. But you know what? There's a lot of us who can relate. So I'm hoping that a lot of us also rely on music to help pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move in an upward trajectory again.
Feel free to share your shitty stories of the week with the Mistress below (maybe it'll make me feel better?) and then whatever your woes, put 'em aside for a moment. Long enough to hit the play arrow on the Bang Bang Playlist below. Pull out your finger pistols, and dance yourself out of the fast lane of that horrid mindset and onto the good mood expressway. And if you've got any songs that pull you out of misery and put you in a better place, let me know what they are. We'll come up with another playlist of mood-altering songs together. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Flag Nerds

Hey, wanna play a game? It might help you win a thousand bucks.

Have you ever seen that episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon and a lady friend host a webisode of "Fun With Flags?" A real fan would know that there's not just one but five episodes, and a total flag nerd would also probably know that a flag nerd is called a vexillologist. I can't even say that word.

I'm not that nerd, but financial planner Aaron Hatch totally is. So is recovering architect Emily Applekamp, for that matter. In fact I wouldn't put it past these two (both members of Catalyst Redding) to actually host their own webisode of "Fun With Flags" in the near future. That's because these two, along with the rest of the Catalyst gang, have come up with a contest to design the new Redding city flag that will feature a cash prize of $1,000.00 (and a handful of smaller cash prizes as well).

The other night I met with a bunch of Catalyst Redding members over pizza and beer to play Good Flag Bad Flag. If you're interested in winning that thousand bucks, you might want to take this opportunity to read further and play a few rounds with us. You can leave your answers in the comment section below. I'll be the judge and figure out a worthy prize for the best answer. It should be fun (unless you were the designer of the current Redding city flag).

Round One: Tell me what's wrong with this flag. (Hint: it can be more than one thing. Extra hint: It IS more than one thing.)

Speaking of judging, I'm not going to be winning that thousand bucks, because I am, full disclosure, one of the judges for the Redding City Flag Contest. One of a bunch of judges (including several other media personalities including Carl Bott and Patrick John), who will be distinguishing the good flags from the bad flags and narrowing submissions down to five finalists. Each of whom will win a cash prize of several hundred dollars. Then y'all - the humanity of Redding - will get to ultimately decide who wins that thousand bucks...that person being the designer of the new flag which will fly from city hall (and let's hope a bunch of other places in town), proudly symbolizing Redding as the place we call home.

OK, Round Two: What city does this awesome flag belong to, and what makes this design great?

Before we get to the next round, I want to share a little history with you, and a pretty funny TedTalk, then I'm gonna lay out some rules, and then I'm gonna challenge you to put the right side of your brain to work by drawing a little picture in a 1 inch by 1 1/2 inch box. Four things. You can handle it. Oh, and if you want the answer to Round Two, watch the video.

Are you game?

First, the history. It wasn't even two months ago when the city council ended up on the receiving end of some furious criticism from constituents over the plan to redesign the city's flag. You can read our own Jon Lewis' recap of how the whole thing went down here, but basically Francie Sullivan had an idea to create a city flag, not realizing that Redding already has a city flag (city staff came up with a design, and when it was shown publicly, people got pissed, saying it was a waste of city staff efforts and money (an estimated $2,500) during a time when the focus needs to be on fighting crime, drugs and homelessness.

Personally, I think $2,500 is a drop in the bucket when it comes the city's current problems, but I get it. City staff and department heads need to listen hard right now to the fed-up citizens of this town and get a little more creative when it comes to dealing with these issues. But enough about that, because I'm also of the mind that those who criticize should be ready to be part of the solution, and I'm not quite ready to run for city council. Maybe not ever.

But Catalyst Redding Young Professionals, a local volunteer-based non-profit, agreed with those angry citizens. The city has more important things to focus on right now. They heard councilman Brent Weaver's suggestion that somebody hold a contest to design a new flag, and Catalyst Redding members have taken the idea to heart. They're willing to put up their own cash not only for the contest, but for manufacturing the flag, which will be presented to the city as a gift.

That's free. At no cost to the city. And no city staff time involved in the effort. It's a beautiful thing.

There's no cost to enter the contest, and its open to every single resident of Shasta County. If you have a four year old artist at home with some crayons and a piece of paper, that child could be the designer of the next Redding city flag. In fact that would be pretty cool. If you think I'm joking, check out this amazing and simple flag that everyone should recognize. Which is the point, of course.

Round Three: What country belongs to this flag and what does that red dot symbolize?

Oh yeah, and now, without further adieu, check out this rad TedTalk about what makes a great city flag and how city flags can not only help establish a better connection between citizens and their city, but how some young entrepreneurs might be able to really capitalize on manufacturing some cool swag once Redding gets a new flag. Its a little lengthy. But its so awesome. And if you want to win $1,000 I strongly suggest that you take a few minutes out of your day to watch flag nerd vexillologist (just try to say that word out loud! Just once!) Roman Mars wax on about the worst city flags ever:

If you've made it this far, you're interested, right? So you're ready for the rules.  You can find them at the Redding City Flag Facebook page, but just in case you don't have Facebook, its open to anyone of any age as long as you live in Shasta County. You can submit as many designs as you want. It should be original, positive in spirit, use six or fewer colors, and should not be mean spirited, or use references to alcohol, drugs or religious symbols. And submit it by the end of March.

I think that pretty much covers it, but if you're really serious about entering a winning design, watch that TedTalk, and consider some of the main points Roman Mars made about design elements that can make or break a flag.

  • Keep it simple
  • Use meaningful symbolism
  • Use a small number of basic, solid colors
  • No lettering or seals
  • Be distinctive or be related
If you're ready to get started creating your own city flag design, try drawing a 1 inch x 1.5 inch box. I know that sounds small, but that's how people see an actual flag from a distance. If your design is too complex for that box, then it might be too complex for a flag.

OK people of Redding, get to the drawing board, let your freak flag fly, and hit the play arrow below to get some musical inspiration with a Fly Your Flag playlist.

One more thing. A special word to those of you who have been reading this column thinking "This is ridiculous. A new flag isn't going to solve any problems." Just remember that this is a fun exercise to get us thinking positively and creatively about our city. And friends, wouldn't you agree that thinking positively and creatively is exactly the first step needed to solve pretty much any problem?