A little bit of country comes to Oakland

HILLS NEWSPAPERS: January 14, 2011

The three guitars resting on her living room couch tell the story. “These are the girls” says Oakland hills singer/songwriter Caren Armstrong — each instrument poised to be played by an artist who can make the strings sing.

Mention the name to any local guitarist and you’ll find Armstrong has a big following. The free-spirited redhead with hair the color of warm cherry wood teaches as many as 25 lessons a week in her cozy hills apartment and is a regular in acoustic clubs around the Bay. But her monthly songwriter’s showcase may well be her signature event. Continue reading

Boy plays piano to help children around the world

OAKLAND TRIBUNE: January 6, 2011

For many kids, playing the piano is a rite of passage that ranks somewhere between breaking a bone and getting braces. But for 13-year-old Omar Abdul-Rahim, the piano holds the key to helping other children.

On Sunday, this eighth-grader at Corpus Christi School in Piedmont will play a benefit concert for the George Mark Children’s House in San Leandro, a hospice for terminally ill children. It’s his second fundraising performance in a year, and it underscores how even a child can make an important contribution in the world.

Omar’s epiphany came after hearing a speaker in church make a plea for donations for children living in the slums of Calcutta. After Mass, he went up to the representative and said, “I don’t have any money, but I can play the piano.” Continue reading

Happy Wanderer: North Carolina’s Stormy Shores bring History Alive

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. The rain fell in punishing waves and the wind whipped the trees like a dungeon master. There were voices, too…shrill, torturous sounds coming from the sea that was thrashing about,  just yards from my bedroom window.

My mind was racing. 400 years of history were flashing before me as I lay in my bed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Wind and weather forged this chain of four islands – spits of land surrounded by sea and constantly shifting sands.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading

Happy Wanderer: Easter in Savannah – A Trip Back in Time

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of America’s most beautiful cities has General Sherman to thank for its survival. When Savannah, Georgia fell to the North in the Civil War, Sherman spared it from the fiery fate he’d metered on so many other Confederate towns. The gilded southern seaport survived – and still thrives – to this day.

Savannah was part of the last New World Colony (under King George the Second) and this history is evident today. In fact, 22 of the 24 original town squares still grace this southern bell, providing a gathering place every two or three blocks for the townsfolk and visitors.

It was Easter weekend when my daughter and I pulled into Savannah and up to the Planters Inn. This 200-year-old boutique hotel on historic Reynolds Square would be our home for the next two days, and a launching pad for as many tours as we could take in dress heels.

Yes, I said heels, and I don’t recommend it for everyone. But we wanted to immerse ourselves in the style and grace of a bygone era. Besides, it took a whole day of shopping to find shoes for our pastel dresses and we weren’t about to leave them in the closet. Continue reading

Happy Wanderer: Pond Skimming; Wet and Wild

HILLS NEWSPAPERS: March 19, 2010

Some folks are born with a silver spoon. I was born with two boards. My folks had me skiing when I was old enough to walk. That’s not unusual in Minnesota, where everything you’ve heard about winter is true. It’s cold, it’s long and it’s spectacular.

But something happens to Minnesotans in spring. We get a little giddy. Call it cabin fever, but we celebrate the first thaw like we’ve won the state lottery. We go a little bonkers.

So you can understand why the most vivid memories of my youth involve bikinis and Viking horns and snow skiing on water. It’s what you do when the weather turns warm and the powder turns to mush.

Pond skimming has become more than just a wacky way to ring in spring. It’s bringing in big business to resorts that might otherwise be looking at some lonely last days before a long summer break.

Continue reading

Happy Wanderer: Around the World in 16 Days


These days, sending a student off to college almost always includes a semester abroad. Add up the cost, and you know the strain this can put on the family budget.  But at St. Mary’s College, last month, my students and I traveled the world in 16 days – for less than $300 each.

Before you go crazy doing the math, I’ll mention the “world” part was figurative. We didn’t really circumnavigate the globe; we rented a motor coach and stayed close to home. We toured world class cities, quaint coastal towns, French-inspired vineyards and Irish coasts – all within an hour’s drive of Moraga.

Below is one of the many outstanding student presentations shot on this trip.

Continue reading