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PostHeaderIcon Writer turned Songwriter Shares Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PostHeaderIcon Group donates 20,000 Pound of Baby Clothes

Lisa Klein, an Oakland mother of two and the founder and executive director of Loved Twice, will be featured on the Today Show at 9 a.m. today, July 8 for collecting more than 20,000 pounds of baby clothing for mothers in need. She was honored by Major League Baseball earlier this week when she tossed out the first pitch at an Oakland A’s game. She will also be honored by People Magazine and MLB at the 2010 MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim at 8 p.m. on July 13. The game will be live on FOX at 2 p.m. In addition, one of the 30 community leaders honored by MLB, will be featured in the July 19 issue of People, which will be on newsstands next week. Allnewsnoblues.com sat down with Klein to find out how she does this amazing work.


ANNB: How did you come up with the idea for Loved Twice?
LK: After receiving more than 5,000 pounds of baby clothes in the first year, I decided to officially turn my clothing drive into a  nonprofit. When I did this I was overwhelmed with the generosity of help that people offered.  People from many backgrounds: web designers, lawyers, drivers, copywriters helped out and a contact at a naming company came up with the name Loved Twice and made sure it was legally available.

ANNB: Explain the process you go through for collecting clothes?
LK: The baby clothing is donated by members of the community, who leave items in Loved Twice collection bins located throughout the Bay Area. Check www.lovedtwice.org for exact locations. Loved Twice collects, sorts, and distributes free baby clothing to underprivileged mothers and their babies. We partner with case managers at local hospitals, shelters, prenatal clinics, safe homes, and other nonprofit organizations serving at-risk, low-income, and underserved mothers. Each mother receives a box with approximately 75 items, including clothing for sizes 0-12 months, coats, blankets, socks, shoes, a book and a small, safe toy. 

ANNB: How many pounds of clothes have you donated and how do you know this number is correct?
LK: Loved Twice has donated  more than 20,000 pounds of baby clothes to newborns in need. We know this is an exact number because we weigh each and every box before it was delivered.

ANNB: Who are the mothers you are serving?
LK: I know that most of the women are uninsured, unemployed, have no father figure involved in the babies lives. Some even go straight from the hospital with their baby to a shelter.

ANNB: How many hours a wee do you put into the nonprofit?
LK: I work between 25 and 40 hours per week, depending on the amount of donations that are collected.

ANNB: How did MLB/People magazine find out about you?
LK: I received a grant from the Oakland A’s earlier this year. Shortly after, they asked if they could they could nominate me for the People All-Stars Among Us award. This was a national voting contest with more than  1.7 million votes among the 30 contestants. I was the winner on behalf of the Oakland A’s. One of the 30 will have a chance to be in People Magazine. My fingers are crossed that this will be me.

ANNB: How did you promote the vote drive?
LK: I took the opportunity to tell everyone I knew about the contest. Friends, neighbors, Loved Twice volunteers, national moms’ groups and pregnancy blogs. Facebook was a wonderful social media tool as friends could share the voting link with others.

ANNB:  How do you feel about winning?
LK: I am on cloud 9. It is such a wonderful opportunity to showcase our nonprofit.

ANNB: What do you think the  future holds for Loved Twice?
LK:  I would like to see Loved Twice getting bigger locally. With funding, we would be able to expand to counties surrounding Oakland. Our website gives step by step instructions how others can start their own clothing drive in their own community. I am eager to see how far our concept can expand nationally.

ANNB: How can people help:
LK:  Visit our website, www.lovedtwice.org to find out where to donate baby clothes. Monatary donations can be made via our secure website or mailed to: Loved Twice, 4123 Broadway, Suite 815 Oakland, CA 94611. Even a $10 donation can help with the smallest of our current needs: packing tape.---KB





PostHeaderIcon Losing Weight, Finding Jeans That Work


Last week my weight stayed the same and I'm fine with that. I'm holding steady at 45.9 pounds lost. I worried for a moment about the flat week bringing my weekly average down, but I can't beat myself up over it.

A rare occurrence happened last week at the law firm where I work – jeans day! I know jeans are very common in offices these days, but at my firm jeans are forbidden except for the rare occasion, such as the Friday before a long holiday.

I started obsessing about what jeans to wear early in the week even though I knew I didn't have to buy new jeans. I just wasn't sure which of my jeans would fit and look flattering.

I also worried that some of my jeans may be out of style since I haven't fit into them in three years. I woke up extra early last Friday morning to dig out the jeans and try them all on. I tried about 15 different pairs in different sizes, different cuts and different washes.

Of the 15, three pairs still don’t fit. Those pairs were snug around the waist and created a "muffin top," an unsightly circle of bulge hanging over the jeans around my midsection. Another three pairs were in a very light wash, a look that I believe has gone out of style. Three pairs were actually too big and I moved them to the "donate" pile.

The two remaining were:

1) "Boot Cut" jeans from the GAP with a slightly distressed finish

2) Dark, "Straight Cut" from Ann Taylor Loft.

Although my partner, Jeff, voted for the GAP jeans, I chose the Ann Taylor Loft pair instead. They are a little dressier and more appropriate for the office. (See for yourself in the pics above) I chose a high wedge shoe to give me that long lean look.

I love jeans and I'm happy to be able to wear them comfortably.

Meanwhile, as I approach the 50-pound mark, I made a plan to celebrate the milestone as it falls on my mom's birthday in mid-July. I have about two weeks and 4.1 pounds to lose. Do you think I can do it? Tune in to see if I reach my goal. –AV


PostHeaderIcon July Designers Log - Why Hire a Professional?

Recently, Allnewsnoblues.com contributing writer Diana posted a column that posed the question, should you use a professional instead of just asking a friend in making decisions about your wardrobe.  Diana is a fashion consultant and works with men and women on getting the best out of themselves through their wardrobe and using it to better their life, career and how they feel about themselves.

Reading her post, it struck me how similar what she does is to what I do and her point is well taken.  You wouldn't ask your friends about treatment of a health condition.  You'd ask your doctor.  You wouldn't reference a neighbor on your retirement plan, unless of course he was a CPA.  So why do people rely on the advise of a non-professional when it comes to furnishing their homes?

Over the years I have noticed there is often a misconception that being an interior designer is not really a legitimate profession.  Some people I have met have not always understood the benefits of working with someone trained in this field.  They believe it's something anyone can do, and if they themselves aren't good at it, then just ask a friend... or a friend of a friend... and so on.

Today there are literally dozens of what are called "shelter" magazines; publications that showcase beautiful homes and lead you to believe they just happened overnight.  TV shows on interior decorating are popular and fun to watch.  But, where these programs might make it look like that completely finished room was created in 48 hours and on a budget of $500, it just doesn't happen that way in real life.

Interior designers are schooled in their field, work very hard to learn the business and take pride in their chosen profession.  True, it does take a natural talent and creativity, but so much more goes into it than just tossing a few pillows around or walking into a furniture store and buying the display vignette as shown.

Here are some of the many ways a professional interior designer is necessary and how they can help you achieve the living space you desire:

- Designers have access to wholesale resources not available to the general public.  It may seem easy enough to shop at a chain furniture store or resource online, but the best prices, options and choice is still through your design professional.  Today many designers work as consultants, charge only an hourly fee and pass discounts directly to you.

- Without a background and experience in materials, manufacturers and construction, it's very easy to make a mistake and buy something that won't last or will be out of date in a few years.  An interior designer's knowledge will help you in putting together a room that is not only beautiful but reflects how you and your family live.

- Time is money for most people, and many don't have the hours in the day or the energy to shop endlessly for the right furnishings; to contrast and compare and to coordinate a room.  Your interior designer does this and can make the process easy, stress free and do it in less time.

Think about it:  If you've ever had work done on your home, you know that you can't open the door for the workmen at 8 AM, go to work and come home at the end of the day to a completed, perfect job.  There are problems and situations that come up in any installation or remodel.  Your designer is on call and can be the liaison to handle the questions and issues so you don't have to deal with it.

- Every one has their own style and budget.  Hiring a designer will keep you on budget, saving money in the long run, while giving you the space you have envisioned.  A good designer works with you, understands your needs and limitations and helps make your dream come true without costly mistakes.

I often hear from people that in the end, their room and home just didn't come out as they had expected.  They end up disappointed and frustrated.  Your design consultant sees the big picture and can coordinate and oversee the entire project from conception to completion.  They have the expertise and experience to get you from where you are now, to where you want to be.  They take the time to listen to you and understand what you need and how to get there.

So, next time you think your friend can help because her house looks pretty good or you see a room on TV that looks like something you could do yourself, remember that this is an interior designers job.  We love what we do.  We work with you to create a beautiful living environment and save you stress, money and time.

And who doesn't love that?  - SEW

Steve Wallace lives in Danville.  An interior designer for more than 25 years, his work has been featured in Palm Springs Life and he is completing a book about design for publication soon.  He writes a monthly column about design and style for www.allnewsnoblues.com.  

Find him at Design and Interiors in Walnut Creek, California or at
www.designandinteriors.com or call 925 915 1005. 


PostHeaderIcon 7 Lessons Family Business Owners Need To Know

This post comes to us courtesy of Anisha Vikram Shah of Weber Shandwick, the global public relations firm. 

It's old news that small businesses are facing plenty of challenges, but imagine owning a small business and you need to discuss a problem employee ... and it's your little brother.

More than 70 percent of all U.S. businesses are family-owned, and their proprietors often say that success means being one part entrepreneur and one part family psychologist.  To gain deeper insight into what it takes to successfully manage a family-owned business, MassMutual has conducted a study, FamilyPreneurship: What Every Entrepreneur Should Know Before Starting a Business with a Family Member.  After speaking to over 500 family businesses around the country, MassMutual identified seven lessons that family business owners need to know:

It all starts with the intangibles.  Passion for the business and trust between family members and advisers were cited as the two most important critical success factors by current family business owners.  You have to be 100 percent confident your partners are going to be with you through thick and thin, and that your advisers are knowledgeable and steadfast.

Divorce-proof the business.  Regardless of whether the business is owned by a husband and wife team or not - a partner's divorce from a spouse uninvolved in the business can still have disastrous consequences.  Of the 15 percent of respondents whose business had experienced divorce, fully 44 percent had a negative experience.  More than a third have never given the possibility of divorce and its impact on the business a thought.

Who's next?  Most family business owners have inadequate or inflexible succession plans.  While most are worried about how a death would affect the business, and nearly half are worried about how a disability would affect it, many either have no succession plan in place or have one they consider inflexible.

Don't lose it all to Uncle Sam.  More than a third of respondents have no plan in place to deal with estate taxes, which can hurt a family's ability to continue the business and can also erode inheritances.

Communication is the key.  Respondents said that communication is one of the top elements to success because it helps maintain good relationships with family both in and out of the workplace and leads to more effective decision making.

Decide who's the boss and how to make decisions.  Clear definition of roles and responsibilities is critical, enabling the business to run efficiently and ensuring that it avoids paralysis due to confusion over leadership.  Each person has to do what they are best at.  Decision making and disagreement resolution process is also critical to avoid arguments that can stymie the business and hurt morale.  Some businesses adopt a majority rule process.  Others assign decision making responsibility for particular areas to each partner.  And others advocate for a negotiation process.

Strike a balance.  It's easy to get consumed by work demands and to let them invade family life.  Most family business owners discuss work at home and home issues at work, but most say they don't consider this to be a big problem.

These seven lessons are good to remember in this troubled economy.  With America's small businesses having created 65 percent of all new jobs in the last 15 years, the impact of the future of family owned business is more important than ever.

For more information on this and other surveys, contact Anisha Vikram Shah at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


PostHeaderIcon Andrea Closing in on the 50-Pound Mark


This week I lost .5 pounds for a total of 45.9 pounds lost. Although .5 is not a huge amount to lose, I'm satisfied with it because I was on vacation all last week. During my last vacation, I gained some pounds that stayed with me for two months.

My family and I planned to camp, which I thought might present some food challenges. In the past I can recall wolfing down more than my share of s'mores and polishing off the leftover Hershey bars and graham crackers once I returned home. In my mind, s'mores are the consummate campfire snack and a delicious compliment to whatever camp meal I make.

This trip, I gave myself permission to have a s'more and looked forward to enjoying it. When I ate my s'more I thought, "what is all the fuss about?" I didn't enjoy it, despite my marshmallow being toasted to perfection. It was dry and the chocolate wasn't the good quality chocolate I would like to use my points on. So that was it for me and s'mores. There were a few restaurant meals during the week but I made good choices when we were out. That combined with the exercise camping requires made it possible for me to actually lose a small amount.

Meanwhile, I checked out the WW newsletter we received at this week's meeting. There are always inspirational articles and recipes in the publication so I make sure to read it from cover to cover. I eyed the "Grilled Veggie Pocket with Fresh Herb Pesto" recipe with interest and because of the huge amount of fresh basil that is growing on my back porch. I decided to give it a shot and it was delicious and filling. I tallied points for all the ingredients (despite my using only half the pesto and half the veggies) and this sandwich is only 3 points.

Here's the recipe:

Grilled Veggie Pocket with Fresh Herb Pesto

Cooking Spray

1 c. thinly sliced red onion

1 small zucchini, cut into thin strips

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

1/4 c. packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 garlic clove

1 T. reduced-fat grated Parmesan cheese

2 T Weight Watchers Plain Yogurt (can substitute Dannon fat free)

1/4 t. lemon juice

2 t pine nuts

1 Weight Watchers 100% Whole Wheat Pita Pocket, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange red onion and zucchini in a single layer across baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables soften, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat promptly and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, to make the pesto, combine basil leaves, garlic, cheese, and yogurt in a food processor and pulse on medium-high speed until smooth and well blended. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and stir in lemon juice and pine nuts. Add vegetables and toss to coat. Spoon vegetable-pesto mixture into a pita pocket, wrap securely in foil, and take it with you. Yields one sandwich with 1 T pesto. Enjoy. See you next week. -AV

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