A ukulele is in the house

When I was nine years old, my grandma Clara gave me a guitar for my birthday. For about six months, I walked up the street for weekly lessons — until my guitar teacher broke the disappointing news that he was moving to, well, Spain.

My interest dwindled, and I took up other extracurricular activities, including Little League baseball. I still embraced music: singing in the church choir and later, the Concert Choir at middle school.

I still enjoy listening to string music. One of my favorite stringed musicians is Israeli-American cellist Amit Peled, whom I’ve heard in concert at InConcert Sierra in Grass Valley, as well as with his “Cello Gang” (who are the students from his studio) at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where our son is going to college.

We’re “empty nesters,” and the pandemic has keep us at home more than we’d like, so I decided this week to spend some time learning a musical instrument that is less demanding than a classical guitar: I settled on, well, a ukulele.

Boomers remember that Tiny Tim helped make the ukulele popular singing “Tiptoe through the tulips.” But my interest stemmed from something more romantic: Hearing the instrument at sunset at the “House Without a Key” restaurant at the famed Halekulani Hotel in Hawaii.

The ukulele is gaining in popularity. Japanese-American Jake Shimabukuro is a renowned ukulele virtuoso and composer, as was the late Hawaiian, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. And pop culture icon Billie Eilish has embraced the ukulele, with her signature model from Fender, the renowned electric guitar maker.

I did some research and bought a respected model from Petaluma-based Kala Music Co. at Foggy Mountain Music in Grass Valley: a mahogany concert model meant for an adult beginner. The owner confirmed it was a good choice.

Kala Music has an app to learn the ukulele online, and I signed up for the beginner’s course. I spent some time learning the chords this afternoon and figure I will dedicate about 30 minutes a day to this new endeavor.

Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until her 70’s, so I figure I can learn some songs on the ukulele as I settle into the lifestyle of “60-something.” Aloha.

Judge rules CA’s ban on assault weapons is unconstitutional

“A federal judge on Friday struck down California’s ban on assault weapons as unconstitutional but left plenty of time for the state to file an appeal,’ as NBC News is reporting.

“The state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court, the judge wrote.

“Judge Roger T. Benitez, who has favored pro-gun groups in past rulings, described the AR-15 rifle, used in many of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings, as an ideal weapon.

“’Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,’ he wrote in Friday’s decision.

“’Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR15 type rifle,’ Benitez continued. ‘Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.’

“He praised the AR-15 as a rifle that should be formally protected by the law for its ‘militia readiness.’

“Gov. Gavin Newsom was indignant in a statement late Friday.

“‘The fact that this judge compared the AR-15 — a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield — to a Swiss Army Knife completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon,’ he said.

“The office of Attorney General Rob Bonta said it would appeal.

“’Today’s decision is fundamentally flawed, and we will be appealing it,’ Bonta said in a statement Friday night. ‘There is no sound basis in law, fact, or common sense for equating assault rifles with swiss army knives.’

Owners: New Moon Cafe in Nevada City is in escrow

This message is now posted on the New Moon Cafe’s website:

“Some news…

“After 23 years, we are posed to move on to our next adventures. 203 York street is now in escrow and we are on the eve of our last few weeks serving you all.

“We will be serving normal take-out this Friday, June 4th. If you’re sitting on gift certificates, please call in and redeem them for take-out.

“It has been a beautiful run. Thank each and every one of you for helping make it what it was. We have enjoyed our time with all of you and our staff through thick and thin.

“We are rich in memories and happy to have you part of our lives. We’d love to serve you one last time. 

Peter & Buzz”

Our Sierra FoodWineArt magazine previously reported that the popular restaurant was up for sale. The latest asking price had been $975,000.

Remembering Madelyn Helling in Nevada City

Cathy Wilcox-Barnes spoke about Madelyn

About 100 locals gathered in Nevada City on Saturday morning to remember beloved local Madelyn Helling, who passed away at age 95 in March, and to dedicate a new historical monument.

The group — including a “who’s who” of community leaders, volunteers, and longtime residents — dedicated the monument and kiosk that memorializes Nevada County’s railroad history. It is located on the grounds of the original train depot site —(AKA Clamper’s Square) between the northbound Highway 20 off-ramp and Railroad Avenue.

We recorded a heartfelt tribute to Madelyn, president emeritus of the Nevada County Railroad Museum, from her friend and longtime local Cathy Wilcox-Barnes (above).

Others spoke including John Christensen (a tireless volunteer at the Railroad Museum), Duane Strawser, Bill Falconi, Daniel Ketchum, David “Sparky” Parker and Nevada City Mayor Erin Minett, among others. Former City Manager Beryl Robinson, a local legend, also was there.

Our county library is named after Madelyn. We often enjoyed visiting with her — including our lunches together at the New Moon Cafe — and have been proud donors to the Railroad Museum, a delightful venue that celebrates our community’s “sense of place.”

The Human Library: Where you check out people instead of books

“With all the violence and conflict in the world, it’s refreshing to know that people from all different demographics are able to sit down together around the world to have an open conversation,” according to TODAY.com

“That’s what Ronni Abergel, 42, has achieved since launching the Human Library in Copenhagen in 2000. Just as you would at a library, you can check out a ‘book’ on a certain topic for an allotted period of time. The only difference is that the ‘book’ is actually a person who you can have a conversation with — and learn from.

“I figured that if we could make people sit down with a group attached to a certain stigma they don’t like or even know about for that matter, we could diminish violence,” Abergel told TODAY.com.

“The type of books you can borrow range from someone who is transgender, deaf, blind, obese or homeless to a person with autism or even a refugee. In the 16 years since its inception, Abergel brought the concept to more than 70 countries, including the U.S.”

The rest of the article is here.

Nevada City Winery’s longtime winemaker Mark Foster is retiring

Mark Foster, the longtime winemaker of Nevada City Winery is retiring, Sierra Foothills Report and Sierra FoodWineArt magazine has learned.

The job for a new winemaker has been posted, and the new hire will be the fourth in the winery’s history.

We have enjoyed knowing Mark over the years. He is a dean of winemaking in the region.

Mark joined Nevada City Winery’s team in time for the ‘92 crush. “Wine is the perfect blend of art and science,” he has said. But like most winemakers, Mark enjoys a cold bear (Czechoslavakian pilsner) on a crush day, as our magazine has reported. Mark has a master’s degree in Enology from UC Davis.


Thirty years together – from Bodega to Baltimore

Thirty years ago today we were married at St. Theresa of Avila Church in Bodega, California. The white, wooden church with a steeple sits on a hilltop above the small, coastal town. Ansel Adams made the church the subject of a black-and-white photograph in 1953, and we have a copy hung on the living room wall.

Today we’re celebrating our anniversary at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, of all places. Our “room with a view” – on the 16th floor of this glamorous high rise – has a stunning vista of Baltimore Harbor.

Much of the land around us has been redeveloped, with a new Whole Foods Market; this stunning 22-story hotel (where we saw the Boston Red Sox gathering in the lobby last night before an Orioles game); and a waterfront headquarters for sports retailer Under Armour. (Workers get to ride a ferry across the harbor to work).

We are here to visit our son as he finishes his freshman year at Johns Hopkins University. We’ll celebrate together and fly home together.

It’s been a fun trip so far: We’ve walked around, visited some of the city landmarks (Fort McHenry is home to the “Star Spangled Banner”) and enjoyed some good meals (including fresh Maryland crab).

We joked that Baltimore was not the first place we predicted we’d be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, but life is one “excellent adventure.”