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PLAYING GAMES GREEN MACHINE

2020

KENWOOD AT 50 AUTHOR SUSAN SWARTZ YOUR AGE AND MONEY BUDDHISM FOR BEGINNERS FACIAL TRANSFORMATION

SONOMA • MARIN • NAPA NORTH BAY’S VIBRANT 50+ LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE | A BOHEMIAN / PACIFIC SUN PRODUCTION


Jackson


2020

SONOMA • MARIN • NAPA By Way of Introduction 4

ALIVE

SOCIAL

Botox Alternative

The Games We Play 6 Where the good times roll

CULTURE

Woman of a Certain Page 12

Get Jaded 38 PORTFOLIO

Of Decades and Dividends 42 Just a number: Your Age and Money

Laughing in the Dark author Susan Swartz

GREEN

Renaissance Man 18

The iNaturalist A citizen scientist social network

Dramatist Ron Severdia has an app for that

EPICUREAN

Green Machine 48

SPIRIT

I Wanna Rock 52

Kenwood Hit the HalfCentury Mark 28

Finding Zen at Spirit Rock

Lauded winery turns 50

Kathleen Barnette renews you with yoga

Smells Like Gen X 32

Namaste Now 58

Finding Nirvana in a glass

PUBLISHER Rosemary Olson

SENIOR DESIGNER Jackie Mujica

EDITORS Daedalus Howell, Charlie Swanson

GRAPHIC DESIGNERS Jimmy Arceneaux

COPY EDITOR Mark Fernquest

ADVERTISING DIRECTOR Lisa Marie Santos

CONTRIBUTORS Will Carruthers, Mark Fernquest, Karen Hess, James Knight, Don R. Lewis, Charlene Peters, David Templeton

OFFICE MANAGER Liz Alber

DESIGN DIRECTOR Kara Brown PRODUCTION OPERATIONS MANAGER Sean George

ADVERTISING ACCOUNT MANAGERS Michael Levinson, Danielle McCoy, Marianne Misz, Mercedes Murolo, Lynda Rael CEO/EXECUTIVE EDITOR Dan Pulcrano

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HARRY SANDHU

TIME IS ON MY SIDE W

hen told there’s such a thing as an Up series, the younger among us will think the Pixar film about a man and his floating house has spawned sequels. The rest of us, however— those who have clocked a halfcentury or more—might hearken back to some vague memory of the British documentary film series that appears at the local art house every seven years. It goes like this: a film crew interviews the same 14 people every seven years— beginning in 1964 when the subjects themselves were just seven-year-old

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children. I recently strolled by a poster at The Smith Rafael Film Center that advertised 63 Up. Time has flown, landed and deboarded. When the prospect of editing a magazine named 50Up came my way, my first thought was, “Damn, I’m old. And where’s the film crew?” Then, as I began working with our wonderful writers, I realized the sorts of stories we could tell were greatly enriched by the fact that everyone featured within them had experienced some of the most dynamic decades of this and the previous century (which still sounds weird to say doesn’t it?). With so much behind us and so much to come, I’ve finally come to understand our culture’s emphasis on being in “the moment”—the present is really the only time to catch our collective breath. We’ve done

so much and there is so much to be done. After all, the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades—who cares if they’re bifocals now? No matter what sequel of the Up series is age-appropriate for you (70 Up and 77 Up are surely coming in lockstep with the march of time), there is something within 50Up—our inaugural issue—for you. We hope you take the time to savor it. As some sage once said, “The bad news is, time flies. The good news is, you’re the pilot.” And the better news is that you might qualify for a senior discount. Just keep in mind, no matter how old you get, there is always somebody older. And when 105 Up plays on a screen near you, I’m sure you will be ready for your close up. —Daedalus Howell, Editor


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THE GAMES WE PLAY Grown-up fun without making it weird BY DON R. LEWIS

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off what you’ve accumulated in useless knowledge over the years? »»

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PHOTO BY ERIK MCLEAN

onoma County has a wellspring of “things to do for adults,” perhaps more than many other counties in the United States. With a booming wine and beer industry, many hiking trails and a plethora of golf courses and sports leagues, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what one can’t do. However, with so many options and free choices, it can often be refreshing to be around other grown-ups in a communal activity away from the hullabaloo of sports bars or the crisp, late winter air of the outdoors. Maybe pick up a new skill, hone an old one or show


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One option is one of Petaluma’s newer establishments, the cleverly named “Wine or Lose” board game café. Yes, you read that correctly, Wine or Lose is a “board game café.” The obvious next question is, “what’s a board game café?” We’re glad you asked. Wine or Lose opened last fall at 131 Kentucky St. in Petaluma. Essentially, it’s a place where you can grab food or drinks and choose from over 300 board games the café has in stock. While many coffee shops and pubs may feature a battered Yahtzee or a puzzle missing a few pieces, Wine or Lose offers popular choices including Monopoly, Clue, Chess and the classically benign Chutes & Ladders. They also feature buzzworthy games like Catan, Carcassonne and Azul, as well as several independent games created locally and abroad. The café boasts an impressive variety of food choices, from filling meals such as minimeatloaf, baked mac & cheese and seasonal pot pies, to “snackier” fare such as corn fritters with local honey butter, pretzels,

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and cheese-and-mashed-potato spring rolls. Owner Craig Karas has over 25 years of chef experience—so he knows good grub when he sees it. Reached by email and asked about the seeds for the unique café, Karas says, “We are board-game enthusiasts, and everywhere we traveled we tried to find a café or spot to check out new games. As foodies, we also wanted to enjoy delicious and comforting food. We never really found exactly what we were looking for, so we decided to create it ourselves.” The “we” in that quote refers to Craig’s wife Amanda, who adds, “Our customers range from young kids, to kids at heart. We have seen everyone from an older couple coming in to simply enjoy our menu for brunch to young first dates playing games as they get to know each other.” Indeed. Perhaps bring a group of friends to battle it out for world domination over beers and Risk, or maybe meet a new friend during a passionate game of Candy Land.

The café is “all ages”, yet also has an outstanding selection of wines and beers. It’s hours are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 4–9pm, Fridays 4-10pm, Saturdays 11am to 10pm and Sundays 11am to 9pm. Games aside, perhaps you’ve been looking to scratch a creative itch but aren’t sure how to proceed. In which case you need look no further than Artstart, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit that specializes in public art. Its first-ever “Pints and Paint Party” is on Thursday, Feb. 20, from 6:30–9:30pm at the Old Possum Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Speaking by phone, Artstart Board President Jayne Burns said the idea came to them rather organically as the organization recently moved in a few doors down from Old Possum Brewing Company on Sutton Place in Santa Rosa. “We had gone over to Old Possum after we moved into our new base of operations,” Burns says. “We saw they had a great space on their wall for a mural, which is what

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One of Petaluma’s newer establishments is the cleverly named ‘Wine or Lose’ board game café. Yes, you read that correctly, Wine or Lose is a ‘board game café.’ «« we specialize in, so we started

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50 UP 2020

talking to them about doing a mural. From there we became great friends and had this idea to do a ‘Pints and Paint Party’ which we are hoping to make into something we do every other month or so.” For $40, attendees will be given all the art supplies they need to create a masterpiece of fine-painted portraiture. Or, more honestly, they will be given a brush, paints, a small canvas and one free pint of beer to use as a starter excuse for whatever rendition they pull forth from their dormant creative ether. Food will also be available for purchase at Old Possum. “Pints and Paint” is all about having fun, and aspiring artists— or, those who wish to show off amongst a group of newbies—will even be given a helping hand from Artstart lead artist Hannah Day. Also on hand to guide painters will be a “real-life model,” which Burns then confesses will in fact be “a glass of beer surrounded by some hops and wheat, tying into the theme and all.” All information, as well as a link to tickets, can be found at the Artstart website (Artstart.us) and Old Possum Brewing is located at 357 Sutton Place in Santa Rosa. If board games bore you

and the only thing worse than painting is sitting and watching it dry, check out some of the local offerings for Trivia Nights around Sonoma County. In fact, a quick Yelp search shows the quaint, yet ridiculously fun, Flagship Taproom in Cotati (with a new location in Santa Rosa opening soon) ranks No. 1 in terms of Trivia Nights, perhaps due to their gregarious hosts and “Theme Nights.” Co-owner Matt Inlow says the taproom tries to plan out their themes based on what’s happening in the world that week. For instance, he notes, “we’re doing one based on love for Valentine’s week and one on presidents for President’s Day. During the power shutdown, we did a night on electricity and power sources, and during the Super Bowl we focused on Missouri and San Francisco trivia.” There are also quarterly trivia tournaments. The taproom is all ages until 9pm, at which point it’s 21 and up only. As you can see, there are many fun, out-of-the-ordinary adult activities in Sonoma County. With the weather keeping folks indoors or at ubiquitous bars that are open year-round, it’s nice to know there are interactive options available all around.


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WOMAN PAGE OF A CERTAIN Susan Swartz’s novel explores the lives of women in their 50s and 60s BY CHARLIE SWANSON

S

usan Swartz has always had a knack for finding and telling stories. In fact, the longtime reporter, columnist and author made a living of it for over 40 years, using her column space to speak out about social movements and chronicle personal journeys with insights that both connected communities and encouraged empathy.

Susan Swartz suddenly passed away this past February. This is her last interview. 50 UP 2020 12

COURTESY OPEN BOOKS

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Swartz may be best known for her two nonfiction books, Juicy Tomatoes: Plain Truths, Dumb Lies & Sisterly Advice About Life After 50, published in 2000; and its

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follow-up, The Juicy Tomatoes Guide to Ripe Living After 50, published in 2006. Now, Swartz is stepping into the world of fiction with the debut of her first novel, Laughing In The Dark. Originally from the East Coast, Swartz was already writing while living in Pennsylvania. She doesn’t remember if it was her first husband or her who flipped the coin between moving to the East or the West Coast, but Swartz ended up in San Diego before coming to the North Bay in 1973, where she’s lived ever since. “I’ve always been a reporter, but more a feature writer,” she says. “I think of myself as more writerly than reporterly, whereas my husband was just the opposite.” Quickly after moving to Sonoma County, Swartz began working as a reporter at The Press Democrat, where she met her husband, reporter Bob Klose. The two were married for 39 years, until Klose’s death last November. Swartz took on a full-time column in the ’90s, when The New York Times bought the paper. In her column, Swartz covered topics surrounding feminism and social issues, which has long been her forte. “I had a journalism teacher in high school,” Swartz says. “We didn’t have feminists then, but she was one—she spoke to us about

racism and sexism, and she was fantastic. I just loved her. In her own work, Swartz writes about women with a fearless feminist streak. “My daughter’s friend in high school at the time asked, ‘Why do you hate men?’” Swartz says. “I said, ‘I don’t hate men!’ I decided I had to write more and more about what feminism really was. One of my favorite lines that I borrowed from another writer is that ‘I became a feminist as an alternative to becoming a masochist.’ It was the only thing I could actually be; I had to be that.” When Swartz was approaching 50, she became sensitive to what the media had to say about women over 50, particularly about them being over-the-hill or having no value. “I don’t look like that, I don’t feel like that,” she says. “I have no women friends who are ready to get on an ice flow and get pushed out to sea.” With that in mind, Swartz went on the road to find stories about real-life women over 50, seeking out and shining a light on those who faced and overcame challenges later in life and who continued to change the world. Those stories became her first book, Juicy Tomatoes. Swartz says she did the follow-up, The Juicy Tomatoes Guide to Ripe Living After 50, because there was still so much to say about women and age.

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“And of course it’s still an issue, but not as much,” she says. “Because we’re out there and we’re representing ourselves better.” Swartz also acknowledges that living in the North Bay has been beneficial to her journey of aging. “Northern California is a great place to be getting older, because you see people out there; not only doing stuff like running for office, marching in the streets, what have you,” she says. “We do it alongside and with other ages, there’s not as much separation. I saw a woman I know who was getting involved politically, and I told her, ‘We need your strength and your youth and your veracity,’ and she said, ‘We need your wisdom.’ I think both sides appreciate that we can do it together.” Now retired from the Press Democrat, Swartz always had the idea for fiction writing in the back of her mind, though she knew that the differences between writing journalism and writing fiction was akin to the difference between being a red snapper and being a mermaid. Up until now, Swartz’s fiction writing has appeared in shortstory anthologies like Cartwheels on the Faultline, and the majority of her inspiration comes from women’s writing groups she’s involved with. “It’s fun working with all these women, collaborating and editing and brainstorming,” she says. “I think writers need other writers.” The writers’ group also inspired Swartz’s novel, and Laughing In The Dark is—unsurprisingly— centered around three Northern Californian women in their late 50s and 60s. The longtime friends each face their own trials and challenges in aging. Jude is afraid she will inherit

her mother’s Alzheimer’s, Franny is a burned-out educator looking for love late in life and Anna is a breast-cancer survivor in a rocky marriage and living with her mother-in-law. The book’s action, which takes place over the course of an eventful year and is bookended by summer camping trips at Lake Sonoma, is based on her own experiences with friends. “I love epilogues, so I had to have one in my book,” Swartz says. “It’s interesting to watch all of these things happen to people and then find out what happened years later.” Now, with Laughing In The Dark available from Open Books, Swartz continues to look for the next great story, and she keeps her notebook close at hand. “You can always write down a great line you overheard at a coffee place or some idea you have when you’re walking,” she says. “Just keep going and know that you’re going to stumble upon an idea that makes you want to get up in the morning.” susanswartzwrites.com.


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Ron Severdia is the creator of PlayShakespeare.com and the Scriptigo app used by Kenneth Branagh.

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on Severdia, 51, is a man of many talents.

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play “Basket Case” by Green Day. That’s exactly 3 minutes, 1 second.

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COURTESY RON SEVERDIA

Ron Severdia goes from pages to stage, script to screen


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Severdia has not performed the straightjacket act in front of an audience in quite some time. He’s been too busy escaping from all traditional definitions of ‘day job.’ ««

“I’ve timed it so the whole escape takes exactly the same length of the song,” he says. “Nobody thinks about how important that part is, the timing. They watch you struggle, and struggle—which is where your acting skills come into play. They watch you get out of this piece of the jacket, and then that piece of the jacket, and it’s very exciting because your audience has taken the journey with you. But nobody realizes that it’s all choreographed. It’s a story. It’s all about timing each piece of the escape to happen at specific parts of that song.” For what it’s worth, Severdia, of San Anselmo, has not performed the straightjacket act in front of an audience in quite some time. He’s been too busy escaping from all traditional definitions of “day job.” At various times in his life, Severdia was an actor, a magician, a playwright, a producer, a programmer and computer app designer, a teacher, a graphic artist, a technology company owner, a restaurateur, an advertising consultant, and a marketing director, not to mention various other occupations he found himself in, in various other

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countries he happened to be visiting. Currently, he is the head of design at Optimizely, a Bay Area company that creates A/B testing optimization platforms for companies around the world. He’s won countless accolades for his stage work, in or out of a straightjacket. In 2017, he appeared in the World Premier of Rex Picket’s Sideways, a stage adaptation of the popular winecountry book and movie. In December of 2018, he appeared in Left Edge Theater’s production of Duncan MacMillan’s powerful one-man-show about suicide, Every Brilliant Thing, for which he was honored last October with a Marquee Theater journalists Award for Outstanding Solo Show. “I’m a theater guy,” he says. “I always have a lot of irons in the fire, but I’m always doing something to do with theater.” No kidding. Though few associate his name with it, he’s the founder and creator of PlayShakespeare, the original—and most popular, by far—Shakespearethemed, portable literary resource. He’s also the creator of Scriptigo, an app designed to help actors and writers collaborate on plays, movies

and other script-based projects. Severdia was born at Marin General Hospital on Jan. 12, 1969, just over six months before the first moon landing took place—a statistic he takes a significant amount of pride in. His grandfather was a colonel in the U.S. Army, and therefore traveled around a lot, a habit that was passed on to Severdia, who’s done a fair bit of globe hopping himself. His grandparents settled in Kansas, where his mother was born, but eventually moved to Marin County. “Most of my mom’s younger years were spent here in Marin,” he says, noting that in addition to himself, his mother had two additional sons, one of whom passed away at the age of 16, due to what Severdia describes simply as a gun accident. “It’s unclear whether it was an accident or suicide,” he says. “That’s a kernel of the reason I wanted to do Every Brilliant Thing; because of the subject matter, and because in recent years, so many beloved people—Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams—have taken their own lives. These are people who masked their depression really, really well, and then suddenly, like my brother, they aren’t here anymore.” Severdia’s other brother lives in Sonoma. “He’s the opposite of me,” Severdia says. “He’s covered in tattoos, he has a shaved head. He’s, like, a Harley Davidson kind of guy, but he’s definitely artistic, in his own way. He does custom metal fabrication.” Their mother still lives in Novato. His parents split up when he was young, after which he moved with his father to Santa Cruz,

where he went to high school until graduating with his diploma at the age of 16, having legally emancipated when he was 14. For a time, he attended high school while also attending Cabrillo College. Years earlier, at the age of 7, he’d taken up the craft of magic and sleight-of-hand. “I loved doing magic,” he says. “It was a great way to challenge myself.” Initially thinking he might like to become a lawyer, Severdia took criminal-law classes, before moving to Baton Rouge for a brief stint at Louisiana State University. “That was a kind of crazy tangent in my life,” he says, pausing for several long, potent seconds before moving on to his return to San Francisco, and his enrollment in a program at American Conservatory Theatre. It was his childhood fascination with the art of magic—card tricks, illusions and prestidigitation—that helped him establish a certain comfort level and artistic affection for the idea of making a life on the stage. While at A.C.T., he wrote Houdini: The Escape, a play about the illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini. To promote it, Severdia staged a public recreation of one of Houdini’s famous exploits. It included being handcuffed, placed in a box and dropped into the San Francisco Bay from the wharf at the end of Herb Caen Way, formerly the Port Promenade. “I rehearsed it before doing it, obviously,” he says, explaining that, like Houdini, he took a series of ice baths in preparation for being plunged into the freezing Bay waters. “Cold water can really mentally distract you and put you off your game, which can be dangerous because it

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Creating community and connection in the North Bay

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takes the utmost focus and concentration to do what you need to, to get out of whatever it is you happen to be trapped in.” The stunt worked like a charm. A number of Bay Area newspapers covered the event, and the A.C.T. show was a tremendous success. And then he graduated. “On a whim, “ he says, “I decided to go travel for a year, and figure it out, whatever ‘it’ was—whatever I really wanted to do with my life.” So, he moved to Czechoslovakia. “I had a friend in Czechoslovakia,” he says. “I had just graduated in June, so in August I did a full certification program so that wherever in the world I went I could teach English. I discovered that the city that paid English teachers more per hour than any other city was Vienna, Austria. This was 1991, just after the Berlin Wall came down. And Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where my friend lived, was just over the border from Vienna, Austria. So I few to Bratislava, and the next day I went to Vienna and got a job teaching English.” He eventually met a woman from North Carolina whose husband worked for Deloitte & Touche, a large financial-services company headquartered there. An experienced actor herself, she suggested they find a theater project to work on together, and Severdia mentioned his Houdini play. He adapted the script to give her a role, got her husband’s company to put up the money for a theatrical run, and ended up staging the show in Bratislava, Vienna and Prague. “As a way to grab some publicity, I decided to do what I’d done in San Francisco, and

recreate some of Houdini’s stunts,” he says. “I was chained up and locked up in a big packing crate and throne over a bridge into the Danube River. So I did that, and obviously, I escaped. But it was October, so it was pretty cold in that water.” The public response to all of this was wildly positive, and Severdia instantly became a celebrity in Vienna and Czechoslovakia. For the next few years, he made something of a side career doing television shows and stage performances. “I don’t really think of myself as an escape artist, despite having done those kinds of effects,” he says. “I’m an actor. The Danube thing in the river, and the straightjacket act, worked because it was a very visual, theatrical kind of an effect. Honestly, it’s more entertaining than most magic stuff. “With a lot of magic, to me, it’s all some variation of, ‘Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone, you’re an idiot.’ That’s the three-step formula of so much of what passes for magic. And then rinse and repeat over the course of a twohour show. “The straight-jacket thing, it’s very entertaining. I stand there and get tied up, I play ‘Basket Case,’ I get out of the straightjacket, exactly as the song ends, and everybody cheers. Just like magic.” Eventually, Severdia drew on his celebrity status to create—along with a local businessman—an Americathemed restaurant in Austria. “We called it Sam’s, for Uncle Sam,” Severdia says. “It was pretty successful.” All the while, he’d been tinkering with graphic design, marketing and computer programming, mostly to help

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It was his childhood fascination with the art of magic that helped him establish a certain comfort level and artistic affection for the idea of making a life on the stage. ««

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out friends whose businesses needed public-relations support. After six years, he visited Northern California for Christmas, during which time he made the decision to return to the states and to Marin County. Once back, he began reconnecting with old theater people, landed a job with the San Francisco–based brandingconsultancy firm Landor, became a board member of Ross Valley Players for five years and explored a number of theatrical projects, including performances with Marin County Shakespeare Company and a controversial “reverse-casting” production of Othello at San Francisco’s EXIT Theatre. Among his other daring theatrical adventures was a solo performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which he played 40 distinct characters—complete with magic effects, of course. The show, directed by Julian Lopez Morillas, went on to win the 2006 Critics Circle Theatre Award. The next year, Severdia returned to Europe to perform A Christmas Carol in Prague. “It was a huge theater, and I thought, ‘No way will this find an audience big enough to fill this place, and besides, it’s going to be in English,’” he says. “But it did really well. I was shocked.”

Back in the U.S. again, Severdia went on to stints at eBay and Apple, and started his own tech company, which he’s still a stockholder in. “I was basically self-taught, as far as computer programming goes,” he says. “But whenever someone tells me something will be hard, I want to do it. The harder something is, the more obsessed I get with figuring it out.” That, in a nutshell, is how Severdia came to create PlayShakespeare.com, a website and smartphone app that essentially puts Shakespeare’s entire canon in a person’s pocket. What makes this particular Shakespeare app so special is that it’s the very first one of its kind. “When Apple opened its App Store, with just 150 products available on it, PlayShakespeare was one of those 150 apps,” Severdia says, adding that by the end of 2019, his company saw its 11 millionth download. “The original inspiration was that, as a Shakespearean actor, I was well aware of how heavy the complete works of William Shakespeare are, as a book. That volume weighs a ton. So I wondered, what if every single play of Shakespeare’s was available to an actor or director on a

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THESPIAN “I always have

a lot of irons in the fire, but I’m always doing something to do with theater,” says Ron Severdia.

««

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portable device? Then the iPhone came along, and I thought, ‘There’s the way to do it.’” In addition to the full searchable text of Shakespeare’s canon, including the sonnets, PlayShakespeare features reviews of Shakespeare plays around the world, numerous research and study tools, and indepth analysis of characters, plots and more. The app has proven itself invaluable to many people. He regularly receives emails from teachers telling him about how they use the app in their classroom. Actors frequently tell him how valuable the app has become for them when preparing for a role. “I once ran into Kenneth Branagh, at Comic-Con, when he was there promoting his Thor movie,” Severdia says. “I said, ‘Oh, hey. Do you have a Shakespeare app on your phone?’ And he said, ‘Oh … yeah, yeah,” and he pulled out his phone and showed me his app. And I said, ‘That’s my app. I designed that.’ And he said, ‘Really? I use it on the train all the time, looking up stuff. It’s really great. I love it. Thank you.’ What better endorsement can you get for your Shakespeare app than Kenneth Branagh?” Severdia has yet to receive the same commendation from Branagh about his other creation, Scriptigo, on which an entire play or screenplay can be uploaded, with alterations and notes made, and read and used by an entire cast of a show. He estimates that Scriptigo, launched in 2017, is actively used by 2–3,000 people daily. Asked if he still finds time to do any magic tricks, Severdia shrugs, admitting he does tricks for relatives’ kids at Thanksgiving. Still an enthusiastic world traveler, he occasionally surprises locals with tabletop illusions while visiting Japan or Cuba. “Magic is a great way to bridge different languages and cultures,” he says. And yes, though it’s been a while, if called upon to do so, Severdia says he could definitely still do the straightjacket act. Complete with Green Day song. “But I should probably rehearse it a few times first,” he adds, with a smile.


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KENWOOD HITS THE HALFCENTURY MARK

The times they are a-kinda-changin’ at Kenwood Vineyards BY JAMES KNIGHT

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ou try and tell the young folks of today that there was a time when naked ladies weren’t cropping up on wine labels faster than Amaryllis belladonna in late July, and they won’t believe you. But such was the case when, in the 1970s, Kenwood Vineyard’s wine label reproducing an artist’s painting of a relatively demure, but not altogether abstract, nude figure, amid grapevines on a hillside, was rejected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for being “obscene and indecent.” »»

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FIFTY YEARS ON Kenwood Vineyards has helped define the wine experience of its namesake area for half a century.


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WINERY ROAD Kenwood Vineyards’

winery beckons visitors.

««

Fifty years on, how’s this one-time upstart, or one might say, if one’s had a little wine, “edgy,” winery coming along? Winemaker Zeke Neely admits that the winery’s half-centennial kind of snuck up on him. “I remember seeing the email … 50th anniversary is coming up,” Neely recalls. “And I’m like—we should be doing something!” Give him a break—Neely’s one of the new kids at Kenwood. He joined the Sonoma Valley winery in 2017. But he’s schooled in its history, which is right at our feet. “You can see, in the floor, where the old wood tanks used to be,” Neely says. “This was the kind of winery where the locals would come up with a jug, and you fill it up at the tank, and then take it home for dinner. Sort of like growlers— which I think is really cool. It’s sort of an Italian-village model.” The winery was built by brothers Amedeo and John Giovanni Pagani in 1906, and revived by their heirs after Prohibition. Then in 1970, with their brother-in-law John Sheela, brothers Mike and Marty Lee, fresh out of UC Berkeley, changed the name and changed the business model.

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“They made a number of improvements along the way,” Neely says. “And I think they basically achieved what they wanted to do.” What Neely wanted to do wasn’t to make wine, at first, even though he studied at California wine-mecca UC Davis as an undergraduate. “I knew there were winemaking majors, because my roommate was one,” Neely says. “But I thought that you had to have parents that owned a winery to be a winemaking major at UC Davis.” So he graduated with a degree in biochemistry, and worked in the biotech industry in South San Francisco for six years. But he found that every time he and his wife took a vacation, they ended up in Wine Country. And then he talked to an assistant winemaker in Calistoga about what the man did for a living. “It’s basically food science—a lot of it is science-based,” Neely says. So, despite generally liking his job, he decided to swap his career. “You can work on a drugdevelopment study your whole life, and never have anything to show for it,” Neely reflects. “Because, it’s like, one out of a thousand ever makes it to clinical trials. One out of a thousand of those ever makes it to a drug. And so, you could actually work 50 years in the biotech industry, and not have anything to ‘point at,’ you know?” Neely was thinking, at the time, about the year he took off after high school to work construction jobs and save up money for college. “And I remembered that one thing that was fulfilling about construction was, you build a fence—that’s the fence right there,” he says. “You build a deck—you can stand on the deck. You know?

So it was very fulfilling, and the wine industry, to me, is the same way. You have to use your intellect, you have to use your senses, but at the same time, you have a product that people can enjoy. Every year.” Neely returned to Davis, got a master’s degree in viticulture and enology, and then worked at Bonny Doon, Trefethen and Orin Swift. Now, he’s helping Kenwood Vineyards to reinvent itself after its heyday as a household name in California wine. Neely says that back when California wines dominated grocery store shelves, “they were making just massive amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, in these huge blends. The great thing about that is, you have such huge market share, and name recognition. The downside of that is, when that’s no longer financially viable, you have to somehow … ‘premiumize.’ Is that a word?” Neely jests, but yeah—winemarketing folks say “premiumize” all the time. “You have to become more premium—which is easy to do from a winemaking standpoint,” Neely says. “You just invest more, get better vineyards, pay more attention in the cellar—that sort of thing. It’s totally do-able. But the consumer perception of how premium your brand is … is difficult to adjust.” And therein lies the the rub—that the downmarket, if dependable, Kenwood red blend rubbed the wrong way. So out it went. But along with it, the premium Artist Series Cabernet got the boot, too. Part of Kenwood Vineyard’s midlife crisis is, they’ve stopped hanging out with dangerous artists.

The last of the Kenwood Artist Series, the 2014 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, is a richly hued claret that grips the palate just enough, but not too much, to leave an impression of toasty oak and classic Cabernet fruit. The Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel might have gone the same way, if it wasn’t for Neely’s intervention. “When I started here, they had delisted Jack London Zinfandel,” says Neely. “They weren’t going to make it. But that’s the only Zinfandel I really love! So I convinced them: Hey, why don’t we make enough for wine club and tasting room sales, because people still come in, looking for Jack London Zin. Because, it’s kind of a stalwart.” Kenwood Vineyards has had an exclusive contract with the heirs of author Jack London’s ranch since 1976. London didn’t make wine—in fact, in 1913 he published a sort of backhanded, anti-alcohol screed that recounted the fantastic wine parties he enjoyed on the San Francisco Bay—but he did plant eucalyptus trees that are said to still influence the wine’s character. A meeting of art, literature, and wine, the brooding, spicy Zinfandel is a Sonoma Valley original and frankly, still a headscratching value, too, even if some of the vineyard’s auxiliary varietals—Syrah and Merlot—have been traded in for a red blend ($35). So, it’s full circle, after all. It’s not sold in a jug—but the nicely balanced red is suitable for any of your Bay Area party moments. Kenwood Vineyards, 9592 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. Daily, 10am to 5pm. Tasting fee, $20–$25. 707.282.4228. kenwoodvineyards. com.


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SMELLS LIKE GEN X

Wine for the post-Boomer, pre-Millennial generation BY CHARLENE PETERS

F

WINE OF THE TIMES

Members of Generation X.

50 UP 2020

JILL WELLINGTON

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acing a near future with prohibitive tariffs on French goods, the wineloving generation most likely to suffer could be Generation X (born in early 60s to late 70s), as this group continues to build up its wine cellars, but may be economically forced to exclude many essential French vintages. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are likely to have already achieved well-stocked cellars and are currently enjoying glasses full of Old and New World wines, while the Millennials are still drinking wine from their parents’ cellars. »»


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Given the dearth of ‘luxury’ lifestyle items I and many others in this generational cross-section lacked while growing up, it should not be surprising that as adults, we (I) gravitate toward luxury whenever we can. ««

The Oxford Dictionary describes those within Gen X as “typically perceived to be disaffected and directionless.” No wonder. Even the defined years of this generation— some say broadly 1960s to 1970s; others claim strictly 1965 to 1980—are nebulous. As a wine lover who falls on the cusp of Boomer and Gen X, I can attest to the theory that generational eras can shape both tastes, economics and worldview. My baby pictures are little square prints in black-and-white, not color. As the “latchkey child” of working parents, I played (unsupervised) outdoors until the streetlights came on. Color television had recently become an option for watching the seven channels viewable by sets with foil-wrapped antennas. In high school, I abandoned my trusty transistor radio for an 8-track tape player. In fact, as a teen, when my grandmother gave me her car, I had 8-track installed; such luxury items weren’t standard equipment. Given the dearth of “luxury” lifestyle items I and many others in this generational cross-section lacked while growing up, it should not be surprising that as adults, we (I) gravitate toward luxury whenever we can. When I began learning about the world of wine as an adult, I tended to be influenced and guided by prestige labels I’d heard or read about. Predictably, I made a beeline to the palatial Domaine Carneros winery on my first visit to wine country, and I fell hard for its flagship bubbly, Le Rev.

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Carneros is the only American Viticultural Area (AVA) located at the intersection of two major wine regions, the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Wines from this region are of course attractive to all generations, but they’re especially enticing to Gen Xers. Why? Because this AVA produces exquisite and expensive pinot noirs and chardonnays, including plenty of sparklers, not to mention it spans two valleys loaded with luxury wineries and 5-star resorts. Hilary Berkey, marketing director for Vintage Wine Estates and board co-chair of the Carneros Wine Alliance, says, “No matter what generation you’re born in, this is an exciting time to discover Carneros. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Oakland or San Francisco, and many of our top tasting rooms are being refreshed for a more upscale experience.” I concur that Carneros appears to be enjoying a renaissance. Gen Xers are particularly attracted to the French-chateau design at Domaine Carneros, and to the captivating sculptures at Artesa and Donum wineries. Meanwhile, a new Auberge Resort and another luxury hotel are being constructed to accommodate these new visitors. “Carneros offers tastings of eclectic varietals as well,” Berkey says, citing pinot meunier at Bouchaine as an example. She suggests guests “get to know the flavor profiles across the AVAs” as they map their visit to Wine Country.

In her role at Vintage Wine Estates, Berkey oversees 15 wine brands located in Oregon, Washington, the Central Coast, Napa and Sonoma. Gaze, a wine cocktail brand, is taking Gen X and Millennial drinkers by storm. Targeted to yoga moms (and dads), tennis dads (and moms) and golfers who want to drink light after exercising, Gaze is a canned wine with minimum alcohol that appeals to these health-conscious tipplers. While Baby Boomers have not shown much interest in jumping on the bandwagon of light blended drinks with kombucha, green tea, or coconut water, such wine alternatives are nectar of the gods to Millennials, and for the youngest of them, such beverages are a gateway to drinking real wine, much as white zinfandel often served as a gateway for Gen Xers.

SOCIAL MEDIA Jason Elkin, a partner at Buhman Estate Vineyards in Napa, says the overlap of Millennials and Gen Xers can be identified through social media channels. His research shows that Millennials post to Instagram more than Facebook, but it’s the exact opposite for Gen X. “But anyone from 25 to 55 loves to run around taking selfies,” he adds, “whether they intend to share them socially or not.” When it comes to Gaze canned wineinfused cocktails, Berkey of the Wine Alliance agrees. “The target audience for Gaze was originally Millennials, and we promoted the brand using digital marketing tactics, but we use different tactics to promote it to Boomers—a lot more Facebook postings,” Berkey says. “Promoting it to Gen Xers falls somewhere in between. For them, Gaze is Instagram-focused, but the posts bleed over to Facebook.” Berkey’s prior career experience with The Wine Market Council offered her an instructive glimpse into Gen X, which is a smaller and oft-overlooked group. “Gen Xers generally have a bit more

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ENGIN AKYURT

VINTAGE Spinning with sparkling.

««

disposable income at this point in their lives, while Millennials have primarily been exposed to wine through their parents,” she says. “They have sophisticated palates but little or no disposable income.” Given the research, the best target audience for wine club memberships right now is clearly Gen X. “Wine is an exploratory category of product, and a lot of decisions are made at the retail shelf level,” Berkey says. According to the 2020 Wineries Industry Market Research Report, wine sales in the US reached $22 billion last year; an annual growth rate of 0.4 percent. Wine purchased by Boomers, who once dominated sales, is on the decline, just as their age is on the incline. Millennials have fallen short of the wine consumption originally predicted of them, partially due to the widespread legalization of cannabis, a factor that provides a well-priced alternative to wine (or any alcohol) consumption. This leaves the door wide open

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for Generation X. With their focus on brand names, they’ll spend more for established labels; they lack the time or interest to explore obscure labels but are drawn to luxury brands and wine club memberships that make the choices for them. What’s unique about the wine market is that every vintage is different, and this fact translates to an almost absurd abundance of choices and embarrassment of riches. Whether single varietal wines, blended varietals or blends in cans infused with cannabis or green tea, wine remains the oldest luxury product in the world and will continue to attract generations of enthusiasts. For now, however, the segment to watch is Generation X, the smallest group with the heftiest wine budget. Charlene Peters is a wine writer living in Napa Valley. She can be reached by email: SipTripper@ gmail.com


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GET JADED

ROLL WITH IT The jade roller is a beautiful tool that looks like a tiny, fancy paint roller.

Rollover Botox, gua sha and jade rolling offer natural alternatives BY KAREN HESS

I

f botox and fillers have left you jaded about aging, there’s another alternative that can leave you jaded in a good way—jade rolling.

Jade rolling is based on historic traditional Chinese medicine practices for health and cosmetic purposes. It’s a facial-massage technique you can do in the salon or at home. The jade roller is a beautiful tool that looks like a fancy, tiny paint roller, with the roller part made of jade—or sometimes other gemstones. It’s rolled across various parts of your face to increase circulation, stimulate lymphatic drainage and reduce puffiness. Another related traditional Chinese medicine technique is called gua sha. Gua sha uses a flat, wide stone to scrape and massage the skin. Practitioners claim these tools also reduce wrinkles, smooth your skin and make you look younger. But do they actually do any of those things?

»»

50 UP 2020

KAREN HESS

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Practitioners claim these tools also reduce wrinkles, smooth your skin and make you look younger. But do they actually do any of those things? ««

I went to Sädé Spa in Santa Rosa to find out. And since many beauty treatments are so female-centered, I took my partner with me to see if these processes work for men with facial hair. (Spoiler alert, they do!) Tracy Merriken, a licensed esthetician, treated us. Tracy began her career as a juvenile-hall social worker and eventually wound up working with burn survivors. She became an esthetician in order to teach her patients how to apply makeup to cover their scars. Later she worked at a doctor’s office, where she noticed that many beauty products and treatments contained plastics and sometimes caused allergic reactions. She began to look at alternatives. “I want to educate and bring awareness to other options, and we haven’t had a lot of options,” she says. “People want to go allnatural, but what does that mean?” According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, “Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with FDA.” “I have a passion to teach others how to slow down the signs of aging in a natural way that doesn’t involve filler or chemicals,” Merriken says, of her natural facials and classes. Merriken immediately set the stage to engage all five senses in a relaxing treatment for both of us. Organic essential oils were an integral part of the process, and gentle lighting and relaxing music accompanied the treatment. Se began with gua sha. This process involves going over the surface of the skin with a specially shaped stone. While

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traditional gua sha sometimes bruises the skin intentionally, Merriken takes a more gentle approach. She started with the application of natural products created by Debbie Burns, owner of the Sumbody skincare line in Sebastopol, and used the stones to gently massage my entire face. Erin Wilkins, L.Ac., an acupuncturist and clinical eastern herbalist at Herb Folk and Open Hand Acupuncture in Petaluma, also uses gua sha to increase circulation of blood, lymph and qi energy. “Gua sha has been used as a folk remedy for thousands of years,” Wilkins says. “Not only for facial and beauty treatments—it’s also effective to break down scar tissue, address inflammation and reduce morning sickness.” While I’m past the need to alleviate morning sickness, inflammation is the latest issue on the horizon, so sign me up. Next, Merriken used a jade roller on my face. It felt warm and smooth on my skin. She also uses other gemstone rollers in her practice for different effects. Jade is a naturally warming stone and ideal for massaging oils into the skin. Rose quartz, however, stays cooler, and is therefore better for reducing redness. In a recent interview in Glamour magazine, Jennifer Chwalek, M.D., a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, explains: “The real benefit of jade rollers or facial massage is improving circulation and lymphatic drainage, so you look more glowing and less puffy.” Merriken also uses mushroom- and spoon-shaped stones as part of her lymphatic-drainage massage.

“I’m continually seeing the difference with lymphatic drainage, and I’m a big proponent of movement,” Merriken says. “We’re moving qi, blood and fluid and within that is lymph. I’m getting results that are very powerful.” One contraindication is if you’ve had Botox injections. Merriken says that it’s completely OK, but she needs to know so she can work around it. She explains that the stones can break it down and even move it to a new area, which would not be the effect you are looking for. The treatment concludes with an herbal water to rehydrate, completing the sensory experience. Wilkins, of Herb Folk, further explains, “Facial work can be a powerful form of holistic mind-body healing. One of the most profound benefits is how gua sha and jade rolling softens emotional holding from the face and chest. We communicate and connect with others face-to-face—we carry so much in our eyes, jaw and forehead. And yet, many people have not experienced selfcare practices to unwind years of muscular and emotional holding from the face." It was a luxurious treat and provided my partner and I an opportunity to take time out and relax into the experience. It also really did smooth the skin and reduce wrinkles in a natural way for both of us. As someone who hasn’t had botox, it was visibly better than my current go-to—doing nothing. Meriken has seen many clients transition off injectables and go with these treatments instead. From the results I witnessed I believe it could be a viable, if less dramatic, replacement. “These practices are generally very safe and easy to try at home,” Wilkens says. “However, it is helpful to talk with a trained acupuncturist or esthetician to give you a sense of the best technique and areas to focus on for your specific needs.” For treatments, classes and products to help you explore the world of jade rolling and gua sha, go to sadespa.com or herbfolk.org.


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OF DECADES AND DIVIDENDS Financial benchmarks for those in their second centuries BY DAEDALUS HOWELL

AGING ASSETS Everyone’s situation is different, but financial experts offer some suggested benchmarks for guidance.

I

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We reached out to several financial professionals to get a gauge on suggested financial benchmarks for each one of your decades from 50 up. But no matter where you are in the financial timeline, saving something is better than saving nothing, says Anita Hutchinson, the CMO and VP of Marketing at UMe Federal Credit Union in Burbank. “Here at UMe, we believe that it’s never too early to start planning for retirement,” she says. “But, it’s never too late, either. Be smart and do what you can.”

YOUR 50S “By the end of your 40s, aim to have 5 to 10 times your current annual salary saved,” says Hutchinson. “But, any saving is good saving, so do what you can. Implementing a long-term growth strategy—an investment strategy with the goal of increasing the value of a portfolio over 10-plus years, usually above market returns—during that decade can set you up for future success.” When you reach your 50s, Hutchinson recommends saving even more.

»»

PHOTO BY ADEOLU ELETU

f “time is money,” then “perhaps age is wealth.” Of course, some things age better than others. Wine for example, some varieties of cheese, and when properly invested, your hard-earned dough. Ask any financial planner when you should start saving and they will say “Yesterday.” Or better yet “Yester-year” with “year” meaning decades ago.


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No matter where you are in the financial timeline, saving something is better than saving nothing. ««

“Do your best to chip away at your debt,” she says. “Make some extra mortgage payments, if you can. Finally, it’s a good idea to start thinking about long-term care planning. It’s easier to qualify for coverage in your 50s.” Robert R. Johnson, Ph.D., CFA, CAIA, is the professor of finance at Heider College of Business at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and is also co-author of several books, including The Tools and Techniques of Investment Planning. He says to stay invested in stocks at 50. “Ironically, one of the biggest problems of retirees and near-retirees is assuming too little risk and settling for lower longterm returns,” Johnson says. “According to data compiled by Ibbotson Associates, large capitalization stocks—think S&P 500—returned 10 percent, compounded annually from 1926 to 2018. Over that same time period long-term government bonds returned 5.5 percent annually and T-bills returned 3.3 percent annually.” Danielle K. Roberts, a Medicare and retirement expert, personal finance blogger and cofounder of the award-winning, national insurance agency Boomer Benefits, reminds us that, “The great thing about hitting your 50s is that you can take advantage of catch-up contributions to further boost your retirement savings. Adults who are 50 or older can put additional contributions into their IRA and 401(k).” According to Roberts, once you’re in your 50s, you can add an additional $1,000 a year

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to your IRA and an additional $6,000 per year to your 401(k). “If these extra contributions are feasible for you, this can make a huge difference to your retirement savings over the next 15 years,” says Roberts, who also suggests opening a health savings account. “I recommend this to just about everyone trying to prepare for healthcare costs in retirement. The money contributed to an HSA is yours forever and compounds interest over time. You can even use the money in the account to invest in stocks and bonds to accelerate your savings. “The money you contribute to your health savings account lowers your tax burden for the year. In 2020, you can contribute up to $3,550 as an individual or up to $7,100 for families, and people aged 55 or older can contribute an extra $1,000 contribution each year as a catch-up contribution.” Chad Hill, the chief marketing officer of Hill & Ponton, a national law firm that helps disabled veterans get the right compensation for injuries that occurred while serving in the military, reminds us that our 50s are often our peak earning years. This brings with it a host of possibilities. “You’ll have the funds to jumpstart your 401(k) to a place that can sustain you,” Hill says. “Begin to invest in an IRA next, having two places you can invest in with fairly little concern. You might also want to dip your toes into stocks and bonds. The market is always fickle, and those on the older side

might cut some of their years off. But if you can stomach it, and know that in general, the market trends upward, you have another safe investment on your hands.”

YOUR 60S The term sexagenarian can indeed be a sexy premise—at least for your retirement savings—if you take the advice of Ali Dhanji of Raymond James & Associates, Inc. “Kicking off the retirement years, focus on dollar average and avoid dollar ravaging by increasing fixed-income exposure to 60 percent,” says Dhanji. “Look at setting up a trust and work on your estate planning.” Andy Roberson, CFP and wealth management advisor with WestPac Wealth Partners, takes it further: “Become debt-free as you continue to save 15 to 20 percent of each paycheck; optimize your social-security strategy by having the main wage earner delay his/her benefits to age 70; re-position some of your pre-tax 401(k)/ IRA assets to Roth IRAs. Think about what your life will be like after your working career (your second act) is over, so it is not such a shock when you retire. Seek the help of a financial professional who, just like a trainer at the gym, can help you optimize your finances to help you achieve financial balance, security and happiness.” For Johnson, “derisking” is the name of the game once you’re in your 60s. “When a person is within a few years of retirement, say five years, they should begin to reduce their risk exposure in retirement accounts,” Johnson says. “A large downturn in the market immediately preceding retirement can have devastating effects on an individual’s standard of living in retirement. The exact time a person retires can have an enormous impact on the quality of their retirement if their assets are focused in the equity markets.” KIS Finance Managing Director Holly Andrews also advocates planning ahead— like, really far ahead. “If you haven’t done so already, now would be a good time to start putting some money

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aside for funeral costs,” she says. “It’s a difficult subject and not one that’s easy to talk about, but leaving it up to your family to cover can put a big strain on them at a time which is already difficult without having money worries. You could start putting some money into a separate savings account, leave a lump sum in your will if you have it available, or alternatively start paying into a funeral plan. Doing this while you’re still working will also help as it will be a bit easier for you to spare the money as you’re not taking it out of your pension income.”

YOUR 70S

Without that Satisfaction —Which is necessarily Spiritual in Nature – there is no Real Happiness.”

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Dhanji reasons many people in their 70s have moved deeper into retirement and are starting to take Full Age Retirement (FRA) Social Security. “Reduce equity exposure to 30 percent and increase fixed Income to 70 percent,” he says. Among the important decisions to consider—downsizing and/or your retirement destination. “Once you’ve reached retirement, it’s time to start planning a budget,” says Chris Terschluse, head of Marketing and Content at Chime. However, retirement budgets may differ from traditional budgets. “To begin with, in place of an income, you’ll be living on monthly withdrawals from your 401(k) of about 4 to 5 percent a year, along with any social security and pension benefits. Your expenses may be different as well.” If you’ve paid off your house, Terschluse says you can feel comfortable lowering how much of your money goes towards housing expenses. “You can also start budgeting for things such as charity

donations, life insurance and other ways to be generous for your loved ones,” he says. “Keep in mind, however, that you should budget with a long-term vision in mind. That way, you’ll be able to maintain this throughout your entire retirement.” Johnson, again, pushes for those at the septuagenarian mark to continue to derisk their portfolios. “But don’t take this derisking to extremes,” he says. “Many investors fail to recognize that their time frame is much longer than they may believe. If one retires at 65, one may have a lifespan of an additional 30 years. Holding too-conservative a portfolio can lead people to run the risk of outliving their assets.”

YOUR 80S AND BEYOND “By now you most likely have your estate plan and are deciding on living in your own house or in assisted living,” says Dhanji. “With healthcare cost going up, increase the stability of your (guaranteed) income by increasing fixedincome exposure to 80 percent and protecting what you have.” Dhanji also points out that Social Security, plus portfolio income, plus distributions, will help satisfy the increasing and costly needs of day-to-day expenses. When you cross the century mark, however, Dhanji is less circumspect. “Well, you’ve lived a good life, and surely chasing market returns would be your last priority at this stage—allocate your portfolio completely to fixed income,” he says, then adds that if you happen to become a supercentenarian and you still have money remaining, “Go bullish again! Nothing to lose now.”


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GREEN MACHINE North Bay naturalist puts app to good use BY WILL CARRUTHERS

LET’S GET NATURAL Amateur naturalists and trained scientists are increasingly using the iNaturalist app to share data about flora and fauna in the face of climate change.

iNaturalist allows hobbyists and professional scientists to share photos of plants and animals with the exact location of their discovery. Depending on a user’s experience level, they can identify the specimen

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themselves or ask other users for help. Top users have posted several thousand photos of their own and identified just as many specimens for other users. Users often have a specialty—some post pictures of birds, while others focus on fungi. Although the app was created with the intention of getting people outdoors, there is also a do-gooder angle to iNaturalist.

Amateur naturalists and trained scientists are increasingly using iNaturalist as a platform to gather and share data about flora and fauna in an era of changing biomes spurred on by global warming. In the North Bay, Sonoma State University’s Center for Environmental Inquiry (CEI) is using the app on multiple projects to good effect. On their website,

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PHOTO BY CASEY HORNER

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f you are a data geek with a fondness for the outdoors, we may have found the app for you.


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DAEDALUS HOWELL

the Center offers species lists for the Fairfield Osborn Preserve, the Galbreath Wildlands Preserve and SSU’s campus. So far, 59 members have uploaded 1,582 observations of 491 species at the Osborn Preserve, a 450-acre piece of land on the northwest side of Sonoma Mountain. Students have observed 444 species on SSU’s suburban campus near Rohnert Park. Julie Wittmann, an SSU naturalist who started the iNaturalist Osborn Preserve project, has used the app in other jobs as well. As a high school science teacher, she assigned her students to gather data through iNaturalist for a group project. “I used it to engage my high school biology students,” Wittmann says.” The functionality is akin to the Facebook of biology. It allows you to post photos and have written exchanges between teachers, naturalists and students globally. During her masters studies at SSU, Wittmann rallied volunteers and trained herpetologists—scientists who research amphibians and reptiles—to study the accuracy and usefulness of iNaturalist, which was developed by the California Academy of Sciences. To start, Wittmann and her two coauthors gave basic instructions to 10 volunteers about what they should look for—lizards and salamanders mostly— and how to upload their discoveries to iNaturalist. Meanwhile, the herpetologists used conventional methods, recording their findings with pen and paper. Working over an eight-month period at the Pepperwood Preserve in Sonoma County, the group uploaded 1,169 observations to iNaturalist, including a picture of a black salamander, a species which Wittmann says had never been recorded in Pepperwood before. While the herpetologists were better at spotting some species—lizards that grow skittish during hot weather proved difficult to photograph, for instance—the iNaturalist users gathered good data. The trained scientists remained more accurate, and the iNaturalist users could have used

APPS GO GREEN The iNaturalist app

in action.

more training, but the combination seemed promising, according to the study. If an iNaturalist user does find and photograph a species, chances are the discovery will offer more data than conventional methods to future researchers. Unlike conventional observations, iNaturalist photographs are time stamped and carry a precise GPS code. “What’s really nice about the iNaturalist observations is that there’s photographic evidence of these things with GPS location, date, time and user information,” Wittman says. “That makes it really important data rather than just listing what flora, foana or fungus species you found.” Somewhat by accident, Wittmann’s studies created a snapshot of wildlife before and after wildfires. The Pepperwood Preserve, where Wittmann’s study of the efficacy of

iNaturalist data was focused, burned down in the October 2017 fires. In October 2019, half of the study area burned again. As a masters student at SSU, Wittman researched amphibians and reptiles at Osborn and Pepperwood Preserves for three years leading up to the 2017 wildfires. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I was collecting pre-fire data,” Wittmann says. A current graduate student at SSU gathered similar data after the 2017 fires. Together they are preparing to compare pre- and post-fire data on amphibians and reptiles at the same preserves. However, schools are not the only groups using iNaturalist on projects. Naturalists in the North Bay and elsewhere are using the app to crowdsource their projects. In 2016, Sonoma County Regional Parks launched an effort on iNaturalist to track milkweed and Monarch butterflies in county-owned parks. The Sonoma County Mycological SocietyZ—a group that studies and gathers fungi—sponsors an iNaturalist project called “Mycoflora of Sonoma County,” one of the most popular projects in the area. So far, participants have logged 2,715 observations of 611 species of fungi in the county. In Orange County, the local chapter of the Native Plants Society is using the app to track the progress of its “A Buckwheat in Every Garden” campaign. The buckwheat flowers “will provide valuable nectar and forage for our native pollinators, butterflies and other animals,” according to a description of the project. During a time of species loss, citizen observations could begin to play a larger role in tracking, understanding and hopefully reversing the problem. In 2014, the national Audubon society, the bird-watching group with chapters around the country, asked its members to begin considering the possible impacts of climate change while watching birds. Similarly, the Madrone Audubon Society, Sonoma County’s local bird watching group, lists 107 threatened birds on its website for members to keep an eye out for.


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I WANNA ROCK Spirit Rock offers a thoughtful destination north of the Gate BY MARK FERNQUEST

50 UP 2020

f your 2020 is off to the the same start as mine, we may both be in for a challenging year. There’s a lot of stress in the air. It seems every day brings with it new “lessons,” which I’m doing my best to “learn.” Truth is, in these heady sociopolitical times, taking a day or two to slow down is a worthwhile pursuit. Sometimes we need to stop, take a long breath and reflect on what is important to us. The good news is, Northern California has its share of retreat centers to help you find your personal “Zen.” Here’s one that offers a distinctly unique experience. »»

SPIRIT ROCK

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SPIRIT ROCK Officially founded in 1988, Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s roots extend back to Insight meditation retreats first held in California in 1974. Well-known author and Buddhist-practitioner Jack Kornfield played a key role as a Founding-teacher in the center’s establishment. Having evolved over the years, Spirit Rock now offers a variety of different Buddhist retreat programs in a sublime natural setting of oak trees and rolling hills in Woodacre, deep within the farmlands of West Marin and almost within eyeshot of the Pacific Ocean. I visited it recently, on a wintry weekday

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afternoon. After a relaxing, hour-long drive southwest from Santa Rosa—a drive which took me off Highway 101 and down country roads through rolling green hills of ever-increasing majesty—I pulled onto the meandering Spirit Rock driveway and followed it to a visitor parking lot. From there I took a stroll across a creek and through a small meadow, then up to a large and inviting wooden building—the Community Meditation Center. I went inside and discovered a remarkably cohesive, self-serve bookstore and an enormous meditation room that has to be experienced to be believed. Total silence greeted me during my

SPIRIT ROCK

INTO THE LIGHT The architecture at Spirit Rock showcases the area’s natural light.

45-minute self-tour of Spirit Rock. There’s no other way to say it: Spirit Rock is a very, very quiet place. And peaceful. I barely heard a voice, barely saw a person, the whole time I was there. And this lies at the essence of its appeal—it’s a place where people can meditate in tranquility and access the places within themselves that are lost to them in the hustle and bustle of the workaday world. According to its website, “The teachings of the Buddha (Dharma) and the practices of Insight Meditation (Vipassana) and lovingkindness meditation (metta) are at the heart of all the programs offered at Spirit Rock.” As far as accessibility, “Spirit Rock

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It’s a place where people can meditate in tranquility and access the places within themselves that are lost to them in the hustle and bustle of the workaday world. ««

offers a breadth of programs in a variety of formats to fit anyone’s schedule, needs and meditation experience—from two-hour, drop-in classes and daylong events to silent residential retreats lasting from three days to two months and advanced-practitioner programs spanning a year or more.” Retreats can include sitting, walking, eating and work meditations, as well as Dharma talks and meditation “practice” meetings, while regular classes include a women’s group, a recovery group and a Monday-night Dharma Talk with Jack Kornfield and guest speakers. Online classes are also offered. And, most classes are suitable for practitioners of all levels. Check out the website (below) for specific classes and programs. Rachel Uris, the current director of development at Spirit Rock and the former director of development and marketing communications, was happy to speak to me about her role at Spirit Rock. While she admits to also being part of the organization-wide decision-making team, she hastens to add that what she really does is think strategically and cultivate the heartqualities of generosity and gratitude. Which makes sense, given that she is a Buddhist, and Spirit Rock is a Buddhist retreat center. But, what is a Buddhist? “... to me this means I’ve committed to the five ethical precepts outlined by the Buddha and I’m interested in developing kind awareness with all conditions,” Uris says. “Spirit Rock was conceived as a place of truly accessible Buddhist practice, committed to both the teachings of the Buddha and to meeting the needs of our contemporary daily life by offering tools for wise action in the world.”

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But, rest assured, retreats at Spirit Rock are for all Insight meditation practitioners, not just Buddhists. “Spirit Rock is a place full of humans being human, so this is a perfect place to practice!” Uris says. Amy Charnay, of Santa Rosa, would concur. “I have attended several day-long, and one week-long, retreats,” she says. “The grounds are beautiful and peaceful and the teachers are typically excellent. It’s a wonderful place to explore one’s own mind.” And now consider this true story, which is just magical enough that it needs to be told: Orion Letizi, 47, of Berkeley, grew up in Sonoma County but had never visited Spirit Rock, nor to his knowledge knew anyone who had, til one blustery day five years ago. On that day he was out for a very long bike ride. He’d left San Francisco’s South Beach earlier that morning and biked all the way to Fairfax, where he’d stopped for lunch. “My goal was to make it out to Tomales Bay to eat oysters,” Letizi says. It was to be an overnight journey. At that time in his life, Letizi went on a lot of long-distance, food-oriented bike rides, such as to North Beach to eat dinner, or to Sausalito to get a cappuccino. His big goal for the year was to ride all the way out to Tomales Bay to eat oysters. But his bike rides were the manifestation of a larger, internal journey—one in which he sought deeper, more profound meaning in his life. “I had this vision I was on,” Letizi says. After lunching in Fairfax on this day, he continued west up Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, and as he climbed a very steep hill he felt the urge to pee. But, no worries. He told himself, “I get to the top, there’s

going to be no problem getting to something.” But when he reached the crest he was met by a gale-force headwind … and now he had to pee very, very badly. Cranking away for all he was worth, he made it down the hill into the flats of Woodacre, desperate for relief. On he went, til finally he simply couldn’t go any farther. At that moment the wind hit Letizi with such force that he veered off the road, onto a driveway … and the wind stopped. He rode a little bit farther, wondering where he was, then, absolutely desperate to pee, he began to walk his bike, further up the drive, limping now, towards a large main building. Where was he? Was this wind-less sanctuary for real? Lord, but he had to go! He parked his bike in front of the building and went inside. There was no one there, but there was a bathroom, which he used. Basking in the relief of that averted crisis, he explored the building, realized he was at Spirit Rock, and came upon a delightfully well-stocked, self-service bookstore. He found several spiritual books he wanted and dropped a check into the cash box. Was this the perfect pit stop, or what? As he walked out of the building, a door opened nearby, spilling a group of retreatants onto the deck. Two or three of the practitioners were crying, clearly experiencing epiphany-meltdowns. At this moment Letizi’s unexpected turn into Spirit Rock reached its zenith. The experience he was seeking, had been seeking, ostensibly on his long-distance bike rides, was occurring beside—no, in front of—him. He had an epiphany he’d reached his destination; a turning point in his life. So realizing, he got back on his bike, pedaled back to the highway … and rode back to San Francisco—Tomales Bay be damned. The kicker? The next day he explained the event to his mom and she said, “Oh, Spirit Rock! I go there all the time!” Perhaps we will all have our moment there. Spirit Rock Meditation Center, 5000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Woodacre. 415.488.0164 www.spiritrock.org.


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NAMASTE NOW Kathleen Barnette renews you with yoga TRICIA WOLF

BY KAREN HESS Kathleen Barnette practicing yoga on the beach.

W

hen Kathleen Barnette started practicing yoga in her 30s, it was for the physical benefits. What she didn’t realize was that yoga would evolve into a wellness lifestyle that served her own health and her community’s health. Since then, she’s served the Petaluma community as an esthetician at Alkhemy For Your Skin and as a yoga instructor at Renew Yoga. “I’ve been an esthetician for over 25 years, and along that journey I’ve been getting older at the same time, which has been a beautiful challenge,” she says. “It’s helped me navigate ageism in our society. Since I’m in the beauty business, when I turned 50, people were saying, ‘You must be having a really hard

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time,’ and I was like, ‘No I’m really not,’ and I started thinking, ‘Why is that?’” Barnette, who will be 55 in March, discovered that wellness comes in many variations and it takes finding the right combination of wellness for you to keep you feeling good. “If you start the process of self-discovery and what wellness means to you, you’ll tap into different modalities based on whatever you’re passionate about,” she explains. “The reason I’m not having a hard time is because I’ve been doing the personal work, from the inside out. Not just emotionally and spiritually, but physically, and that’s where the yoga ties in.” For those who think it might be too late, Barnette assures them it’s not and recommends they not be afraid of things they haven’t tried before. “A lot of people are intimidated by the yoga studio because they think they have to bend themselves into all different poses,

look a certain way and wear the right clothes,” she says. “The Renew Yoga studio is welcoming to all people—we celebrate the beginner. Come as you are; just get into the studio and move your body.” Men and women will benefit from trying yoga or some kind of movement practice as they age. “Men have a hard time aging too, we forget about that,” Barnette says. “We think it’s just women, but men also care about feeling and looking good.” Her advice for those who want to find their wellness practice is to just begin. “Start by walking or doing a little yoga, and just being curious,” she says. “Get out there and try some different things to see what excites you. It’s up to you because no one else is going to do it for you.” Renew Yoga is online at renew.yoga; for Alkhemy For Your Skin, call 707.479.2235.


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