1 Nov

English: The bow of a godola in venice

The handsome, perspiring gondolier cheerfully explained the day’s primi (appetizer) and secondi (main course) before taking our order. Wandering just off St. Mark’s Square in Venice, in the midst of throngs of tourists awaiting gondola rides in the humid, 100 degree heat, I noticed a nondescript open door set back from the canal. Curious, I thought—if this was a restaurant, it might provide a memorable experience. Indeed, it was one of the highlights of the trip to Venice. The male owner gestured for us to be seated while serving two tables filled with gondoliers and another table with local, smartly-dressed women. With no written menus, the owner shared the daily offerings. Due to our limited Italian, even hand signals were not enough to understand the day’s menu. To the rescue came a gondolier who sprung from his seat, translated the menu options, took our order and served us our wine! As more locals entered, each immediately went behind the small bar and retrieved water, wine or sodas. In the meantime our food was being skillfully cooked by the owner’s mother in the small kitchen in the back. Keeping a watchful eye over the family’s osteria is the Nona (grandma) whose large picture hangs in a prominent position near the entrance. The wafting aroma of garlic and fresh herbs signaled the impending arrival of our meals. The homemade pastas, grilled chicken and lamb were simple, yet delectable, the hallmark of good Italian cuisine. The locals appeared to be running tabs, but we settle “il cuonto” with cash, as no credit cards are taken. I don’t recall the name of the establishment and couldn’t find it on any restaurant websites or travel resources. Even if I knew its name, I wouldn’t reveal the location of this local gem.

Two Palace Hotels: San Francisco and Madrid

11 Jan

One of our favorite hotels in San Francisco was the (new) Palace Hotel (left is the Garden Court). Originally built in 1875, it was gutted and demolished following the great 1906 Earthquake and rebuilt. Famous tenor Enrico Caruso was performing in San Francisco, staying at the hotel at the time of the earthquake and swore he would never return there. The hotel also has rare indoor pool for San Francisco (on the third floor if I remember correctly).

When I was in Madrid I twice stayed at the Palace Hotel (right), and was surprised at the La Rotunda at the similar ceiling. I highly recommend both hotels.

#Palacehotelsanfrancisco #Palacehotelmadrid #decorativeglassceilings

Lazing Leopard

8 Jan

Due to the inability to travel currently, I will post some photos and memories of some of my prior travels.

Leopard relaxing in Tanzania. Local author of a book on leopards told us you can spot leopards by their legs hanging from tree branches, when they otherwise are camouflaged by the tree. (This photo is not mine.)

#leopards #tanzania #africantravel #abercrombieandfitch

Thanksgiving Reminisces

23 Nov

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

Not long after I moved to Spain six years ago, (from the Central Coast of California), a Norwegian friend expressed interest in trying an American Thanksgiving. I was happy to do it, and invited a group of friends, not anticipating some of the challenges to come. While this year does not allow for Thanksgiving and other holiday get-togethers, I am reminiscing and laughing about a couple of past Thanksgiving celebrations.

It took some effort to find some of the American ingredients, like canned pumpkin pie filling, spices like sage for the stuffing, but found a whole turkey at the local carnicería (butcher.) When I purchased the turkey, I was asked if I wanted it cleaned. At first I said no, then asked to have her remove the remaining feathers and pins.

Surprise Thanksgiving morning as I began to prep the turkey, and discovered the giblets (internal organs) were not in the usual bag as in the U.S., but were still attached to the cavity of the turkey, so I had to detach them. No bueno. There were items inside I had never seen in the U.S. bag of giblets. Worse yet was the head was still attached, and I had to detach it, which took over an hour. I began to think there would be no turkey for dinner. Finally, got it in the oven, but the electricity in the stove and other appliances kept shutting off due to too much electrical demand, (a repeated experience at my dinner parties.)

In the end, it all worked out and the guests expressed pleasure at all the traditional American Thanksgiving offerings. Or perhaps they were afraid to give me their real opinions. I doubt I will ever make a whole turkey again.

I am reminded of my last Thanksgiving in the U.S. before I moved to Spain, which I wasn’t sure would happen. My three sons had other commitments on Thanksgiving, so I asked if they wanted a family Thanksgiving on an alternate day. All three enthusiastically agreed so they found a mutually agreeable date. Even with the standard Thanksgiving dishes, the dinner was atypical in their chosen topic of discussion: best and worst U.S. vice-presidents. I could add nothing elucidating to the conversation. As I was putting all the dishes on the table, I remembered the bread was still in toaster oven; I have an unfortunate habit of burning bread. My middle son remarked, “It’s not dinner until Mom burns the bread.” Good times.



My Experience with Insidious Misogyny and its Relationship to Current Politics

10 Oct

I have reflecting on and been disappointed by Trump’s misogynistic attitudes towards females, especially women and other people of color, and also in his cohorts i.e., complicit cronies, (sorry can’t pass up and obvious opportunity for alliteration.) And I realized I have experienced similar treatment in my professional, which resulted in my eventually resigning and moving to Spain. (Photos are a sample of some of my new life experiences.)

I worked as a reputable, and highly-regarded Forensic Psychologist in California for over 25 years. I started working in the largest forensic psychiatric hospital (Atascadero State Hospital) at that time in the world, which I did for about eight years while beginning my private practice, (while starting a family.) As I was becoming increasingly successful in my private practice, the clinical “head” of the Psychology Department, Dr. David Plate, attempted to sabotage me by saying I had not submitted my paperwork on time for the annual review. I don’t remember exactly what he tried to do, but I think it was to get me disciplined or set the path for firing. I spoke to my female administrative boss and gave her all the data, and she advised me to take it to the Medical Director of the Hospital. I had no idea what might happen, but after presented my information to him, the issue was dropped.

I should note that the Dr. Plate seemed to have issues with minorities and women, which was one of the reasons I became involved in the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Committee, eventually being a co-chair on a sub-committee and chairperson of the committee. When I started working at the hospital, I was shocked at the disproportionate number of white staff compared to the patient population which was much more made of various minorities, e.g., brown, black, etc., so I got involved to try to increase staff to be comparable for better patients’ receptivity to a variety of staff and better treatment outcomes.  To be clear, this committee simply sat in on interviews and tried to assure everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or having a relative working at hospital, had the same fair shake at a position. I am and was data-driven, so I would always present the facts.

I had an excellent reputation with regard to my forensic psychological interviews, written reports, and testimony, well perhaps not counting a Judge who made me come to court to testify when I had only given birth to a baby about a week earlier, (the same Judge who after I testified the father had molested his child by digital penetration, the Judge said he knew what was and was not molest, and that was not, and that I was wrong.) This Judge also made other outrageous rulings, mostly in favor of fathers in child custody cases, and in favor of male expert witnesses.  In retrospect, every time, I was ever treated horribly, like tricked to show up for a court case that was already resolved, being subject to scurrilous and untrue accusation while testifying, it was almost always by men, never substantiated.

There were other similar experiences, but I just moved on. I was working a ridiculous number of hours and raising three sons, some with special needs, by myself, and I was making enough money to raise them and have a decent lifestyle.

I was recruited by the Department of Mental Health (now department of State Hospitals) to start working at the newly passed Sexually Violent Predator Program in March 1996. Over time, how they structured our pay ranged from hourly, to a Department set fee for evaluation, to bidding for how we were paid. Two very interesting and informative things happened. First, during the contract bidding a group of male evaluators said we could not communicate about our big with other evaluators, which my other colleagues and I did not, but when the bids were published, it was clear that this subset of male evaluators had colluded because all of their bids were basically the same, and the people with the lowest bids could take large numbers of referrals and only the relatively small remaining number went to the rest of us with higher bids. They also tried to blame ME for the contracts going to bid because I made so much money. The money I made during the time prior to contract bids was set by the Department per evaluations and testimony. I did the second most work, so I earned the second most money. Interesting, another male colleague had earned 50% more money than I did prior to the implementation of contract bids, and he was never blamed. Later, a female colleague told me their blaming me had to do with my being female, but I ignored that.

Then the SVP Department hired psychiatrist Ronald Mihordin, M.D., J.D. who had a history in forensic evaluations and administration of programs. He was known for advocating his evaluators not make a connection between mental illness and violence under the Mentally Disordered Offender. Instead of allowing seasoned evaluators to independently form their opinions, as is the standard and the law, he would call and try to cajole evaluators to change their opinions that there was no connection between the individual’s mental illness and violent conduct. He fired numerous evaluators from that panel including me, after I told him I could not testify to his opinion. During his stint with MDO, he said anal digital penetration of pre-pubescent child was not sexual violence.

When he later was made the director of the Sexually Violent Predator Program (SVP), he quickly called the law “The Gulag.” He did things to undermine the law, including “training” that was not consistent with the state of the art to us experienced SVP experts, even though he had never done an SVP evaluation. He told us to ignore the “gold standard” for predicting risk of sexual re-offense. He hired people not considered to be fair, experienced and neutral experts, to advise our panel on how to do evaluations. He put up samples of my reports as what not to do at trainings, such as being too detailed about the crimes. Really?  No attorney complained of my quoting the details of the crimes.

He started communicating and helping defense attorneys to get their dangerous patients released, which was totally in contrast to the intent of the law the people who supported it. He was undermining public safety. When I would testify and was asked what I thought about his guidance, I would give my honest opinion that he was undermining public safety. I think that, my being female, but also his comment to me once while testifying at Court that I was making too much money, were his motivations. Interestingly, he advocated for hiring State Contracted employees to do evaluations, and they were being paid over $100,000 a year and each only doing an average of one evaluation a year. I was being paid a few thousand dollars per eval, and my annual wages were based on the amount of work I did.

I did what I could to protect public safety. But he and the Department black-balled me and I wasn’t getting any new work. When I called the Department to ask why I wasn’t getting new referrals, the male administrator at the time, who I did not know, greeted me by asking, “Is this Starr Wars?” (Starr is my last name.) It was clear there would be no transparency or corrective action.

Fortunately, because I had done so much prior work, I was still getting sufficient business with updated reports and court testimony, and I also did private fair consultation and evaluations for both defense and prosecuting attorneys for SVP. Mihordin had it out for me I was told by colleagues. He was the same type of misogynistic, arrogant, threatened by women person as is Trump, and other similar men, malignant narcissists who have particular issues with competent and successful women, like recent comments about Trump’s comments about Kamala Harris being a “monster, unlikeable, and a communist;” calling Michigan Gov, Gretchen Whitmer names and whistle-calling his base which contributed to plans to kidnap her, kill her, and start a race war; disregard and contempt for some females testifying about sexual assault including about Supreme Court nominations; referring to women as “nasty” even though he has sex outside of marriage and with call girls; and too many more to mention. His vitriol is also bad with people of color.

Mihordin took a sudden retirement when the Attorney General was informed of his plan to testify for the defense in favor of a repetitive child molester who Mihordin had never even evaluated and was not qualified as an expert to testify on.

I was done, last son graduated from high school, sold my house and all my belongings, and moved to Europe where I am much happier. However, it wasn’t until recent consideration of Trump’s and other similarly-oriented males that I realized I had been subjected similar attitudes and behaviors; none of their behaviors or scurrilous comments had any basis in reality or were ever substantiated, but had long-lasting negative consequences.


Yet More International Food Porn

30 Oct

Best quiche ever: La Maja, Altea (nice view of Mediterranean Sea)


Artichoke confit with Spanish jamon serrano: Restaurante Mi Casa, Albir

Beef Pho (Vietnamese soup: Be Katsu, Albir

Burrata Salad: L’Etiquette, Altea

Seafood and avocado arepas (Venezuelan cornmeal used as sandwiches): You Lounge, Albir


Goat cheese salad with sesame seed croutons: La Maja, Altea


More food porn with international dishes from the Costa Blanca

28 Jul

These are some of my favorite food finds in the Costa Blanca area of Spain, including a couple of my own:

Jon Dragon Roll: Be Katsu. Albir; and other Vietnamese and Japanese food offerings (which I don’t remember the name of) 




















Scallops with leeks: Ma Maison, Altea

Bouillabaisse: Sabor, Altea

Asparagus tortilla: Ceverceria Ca Pepi, Alfaz


Chopitos (baby squid): Ca Pere, Altea

Goat cheese salad with duck gizzards confit: L’Etiquette, Altea with Mediterranean sea view

Homemade (casera) Korean crispy fried chicken, roasted cauliflower and other ingredients in spicy Korean gochujang sauce.

Tuna and avocado rolls: Hasaki Sushi, Altea

Escargot (no comments please): Belgomar, Albir

Homemade: miso, sambal chicken wings and green beans, plus sauteed mushrooms


5 Year Spanish Residential (Non-Lucrative) Visa

10 May

celebrateHooray! I have just successfully completed the requirements for my Spanish residential/non-lucrative visa, which, as a U.S. citizen allows me to live in Spain full-time for the next five years.  This is my fourth renewal visa renewal, although many more trips were required to the various locales needed to fulfill all the necessary requirements.

This current visa renewal is for a period of five years, and was surprisingly simple compared to my earlier Spanish visa applications. The initial one, which I started while I was still living in California, was rather complicated to understand and complete all the requirements. First, there was the initial application in 2013 which I was required to submit at the Spanish Consulate in San Francisco, which was determined by where I was living. These are detailed in this blog post. Once arriving in Spain, there were additional steps to change the temporary visa into a permanent one. Ironically, by the time I received that visa, in November 2014, it was time to start the renewal process for my first renewal, which was for thankfully was for two years.

As many of the visa renewal requirements for the first two year visa were similar to the initial application, the process was easier, although still not without some challenges. The third renewal was also for two years, and again, increasingly easier, especially as I could go to nearby Benidorm to get my fingerprints done, as opposed to the long trek to Alicante.

I could not find the information on what documents were required to submit for the five year visa, so I assumed I would need to submit the same documents for my five year visa as I did for my prior visas. I diligently got a financial statement from my portfolio manager along with a statement of my projected social security benefits, which I had translated by a certified Spanish interpreter; a copy of my current medical insurance policy; documentation of my address being registered with City Hall (Ayuntamiento); copies of all pages of my passport and more.

When I went to submit my renewal request with the application form for the five year visa, documentation of having paid the application fee at a local bank, along with the other copious documentation, I was surprised to be informed that other than the application, documentation of paying the required fee, they only wanted the copies of my passport pages. Of course, they wanted to see my original passport to compare the copies, and my current Spanish Visa residency card (NIE).

A few weeks later, I received a letter indicating my application was approved. The letter, which was in Spanish provided the instructions to complete the Visa. While my Spanish is pretty good in social situations, official documents and other non-everyday Spanish are more challenging. I managed to decipher the requirements, setting up an appointment for my fingerprints to be taken in Benidorm, and instructions to print out another “TASA,” for which one has to pay another bank fee.

Feeling quite confident, I arrived as scheduled. But when I presented the papers , the officer kept asking for the  “resolución,” and I repeatedly replied in Spanish I didn’t understand. Eventually I understood he was asking for something that was sent to me in the mail, so I guessed it might have been the letter I received indicating my visa was approved and requiring the additional steps of setting an appointment and paying the TASA. He told me to return two days later with the required document. Still unsure of what document was required, the following day I went to the Oficina de Extranjeria, with all of my current application where I intended to inquire which document was the “resolución.” Fortunately, the screening officer at the front desk knew immediately what the needed document was and quickly identified it. Still unsure, I returned to the Benidorm Police Office at the designated time, although the officer did not arrive until an hour later. When I was eventually called to his desk, he indicated I had brought the proper missing document, and, after quick digital fingerprints, my visa was approved. I just had to return in 30 to 45 days to retrieve it.

UPDATE: So when I went back 31 days after it was approved, the police officer simply informed in Spanish that my visa had not arrived. He offered no dates as to when it would arrive. I arrived 46 days after the approval even though they said I could only pick it up between 30 and 45 days. Since it was a Monday, the 45 day window fell on a Sunday and I was fairly certain they would not have returned it. Fortunately, it was there. Whew! Interestingly, the renewal papers said I could work, even though my application was for a “non-lucrative” visa; don’t know why but maybe after five years of residency one is able to work in Spain. As a retiree who often worked 100 hours a week, I have no inclination to work.

Nature and Iconic Buildings In SLO (San Luis Obispo) County

2 Apr

San Luis Obispo California has been named by Oprah Winfrey as “the happiest place in America.”  New York Times best-selling author and explorer, Dan Buettner, called San Luis Obispo the top spot for the happiest places in the United States in his book Thrive.  San Luis Obispo was also one of ten recommended best places to see by the L.A. Times. I was fortunate to live there for nearly 30 years with my three boys, and here are some photos that show some of the highlights.

Whale breaching at Morro Bay




Hearst Castle, San Simeon

Hearst Castle pool

Monarch butterfly grove: Pismo Beach

San Luis Obispo Mission (1772), with bronze sculpture of local bear

Iconic, kitschy Madonna Inn: famous restaurant, theme hotel rooms, and great live music for swing dancing

California wildflowers: Eastern San Luis Obispo county

Historic Queen Anne house: San Luis Obispo

Vineyard near our home in Templeton

Elephant seals during their migration and breeding: San Simeon

D’Anbino Cellars: wine and top live music venue by award-winning cousins in music, film, and tv

“Goatee” surfing: Pismo Beach









2 Jan

Back: Red Holloway, Ernie Watts, Jay Graydon Front: Charlie and Sandi

Back: Red Holloway, Ernie Watts, Jay Graydon
Front: Charlie and Sandi

The “Famous Jazz Artist Series” was started in 1991 in San Luis Obispo County after renowned jazz vibraphonist, Charlie Shoemake, and his acclaimed vocalist wife, Sandi, moved to Cambria and noticed a dearth of major jazz artists performing on the Central Coast. How Charlie and Sandi ended up on the Central Coast is a fascinating tale. Growing up in Houston, Charlie developed a passion for both music and baseball, excelling in both. He was on the high school’s city championship baseball team, and attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals. Initially he planned to pursue both in college, but then decided to really excel, he would need to focus on only one. So in 1956 he moved to Los Angeles to become involved in the jazz scene. In a proud aside, Charlie mentioned his grandson is now being drafted by a professional baseball team.

The 1950s were an exciting and inspirational period in Charlie’s music career as he honed his craft. He shared that he was particularly influenced by his informal studies with pianist Jimmy Rowles, as well as learning from the innovations of his idols Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and other talented innovators. Charlie eventually worked on the biographical film on American saxophonist, Charlie Parker released in 1988. During the 1950s, he met his future wife Sandi at a Si Zentner rehearsal, where Charlie was substituting for an absent band member.

Sandi’s path to a music career was influenced by her father who was a semiprofessional drummer-vocalist with Dixieland bands. As far back as she can remember, she wanted to be singer. To that end, in 1956 she enrolled in the acclaimed Los Angeles City College’s music department where she quickly rose to being a featured vocalist. After her second year of college, she was hired as a vocalist by trombonist Si Zentner’s Orchestra, which played various venues on the west coast, and was a regular attraction at the Hollywood Palladium. Sandi shared that she had a chance meeting with Charlie at a Si Zentner rehearsal; within two days they decided they would eventually marry, which they did in 1959.

During his early professional career, Charlie became a sought-after accompanist for well-known vocalists. He adoringly shared he has always enjoyed accompanying Sandi, but he felt many of the singers he was accompanying were not of her caliber. Thus Charlie decided to switch his musical focus to vibraphone, which he had begun playing in high school. For a year, he spent nearly every waking hour in exhausting practice. His efforts were rewarded in 1966 when he became the vibraphonist for the fabled George Shearing Quintet. George Shearing is a piano jazz legend,  best known for his composition Lullaby of Birdland, a jazz standard. Born poor and blind in London, George’s father delivered coal to Buckingham Palace. In 2007 George was knighted by the Queen of England in Buckingham Palace for his contribution to music.

During the year Charlie was honing his skills on the vibraphone, Sandi did studio work to help keep the family afloat. While Charlie was touring with the George Shearing Quintet, she was a staff vocalist at N.B.C. from 1965 to 1971, in addition to singing with other television shows including The Andy Williams Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Lennon Sisters-Jimmy Durante Show and specials for Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Dean Martin and others. She was particularly proud of her time performing with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra.

Charlie working with Barry Harris on movie "Bird"

Charlie working with Barry Harris on movie “Bird”

In 1973, driven by a desire for change and to be home more with his wife and son, Charlie opened a jazz improvisational school in Los Angeles. In spite of the widely-held belief that jazz improvisation couldn’t be taught, his school was a success. He was the only teacher at his eponymous school. By 1990, he had taught over 1500 students, with many students going onto successful careers including Ted Nash (trumpeter with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis), Kye Palmer (trumpeter with the Tonight Show Orchestra and formerly with Woody Herman and Poncho Sanchez), Andy Martin (top jazz trombone recording artist), and smooth jazz artists Dave Koz and Richard Elliott. During a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) at the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center in March 2013, Wynton Marsalis verbally recognized Charlie Shoemake, who was in attendance, as an important mentor and teacher to Ted Nash who was a featured soloist at the concert, and is the first person other than Wynton Marsalis to be a featured composer for the sensational orchestra. When asked about the recognition he received at the concert, Charlie stated, “I didn’t teach Ted Nash how to play, but what to play, how to improvise.”

Following the local JLCO performance, Ted was contacted by this writer for comments on his time studying with Charlie, and in spite of a busy performance schedule, he generously agreed. During the April 8, 2013 interview, Ted said he initially was trained classically on piano starting at age seven and clarinet at age 12. At age 13, Ted stated he started playing sax and was in the junior high jazz band. Ted’s high school jazz band director enthusiastically recommended studying with one of Charlie’s students. Ted’s father, (well-known jazz and studio trombonist, Dick Nash), decided that Ted should study jazz improvisation directly with Charlie. Charlie was very busy at the time bbut agreed to accept Ted as a student. Ted noted Charlie’s teaching method involved “memorizing transcribed music” from such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. Ted stated that the 2 ½ to 3 years of studying with Charlie gave him a foundation that he still uses, even with “new improvisation and harmony.” When asked about his being the first composer for JLCO other than Wynton Marsalis, Ted replied that he was the first “featured” composer, although they had some prior visiting composers who had provided some arrangements. Ted noted that this Portrait in Seven Shades helped forge a new direction for JLCO. Although he did not mention it, Portrait in Seven Shades was a Grammy-nominated album representing seven different artists including Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, and Jackson Pollock. On the Shoemake’s website, Ted is quoted, “When I began lessons, I could hardly play. Three years later, not only could I play, but I was working professionally with many groups, including Lionel Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and even Charlie’s own quintet….Charlie was the ONLY teacher in Los Angeles with a method of teaching jazz improvisation that actually worked.”

In the early 1990s, Charlie closed his school and relocated with Sandi to what he described as “the beautiful little ocean village of Cambria” where they began bringing in major jazz artists. During their two Sunday show times, Charlie accompanies the guest artists by playing piano or vibes and Sandi graces the stage for select vocals. The series was held at the Hamlet Restaurant in Cambria (which is currently under renovation), and is presently appearing at D’Anbino Vineyard and Cellars in Paso Robles. A list of the stellar artists who have performed at the series and more interesting information on Charlie and Sandi can be found on their website

Sounds of Shearing Tribute Group: Joe Bagg, Ron Anthony, Charlie Shoemake, Luther Hughes, Colin Bailey

Sounds of Shearing tribute group: Joe Bagg, Ron Anthony, Charlie Shoemake, Luther Hughes, Colin Bailey Courtesy: Bob Barry

When asked to share a humorous or interesting experience, Charlie said that due to an unavoidable delay due to a national crisis, the George Shearing Orchestra didn’t actually perform on television until two days after they were scheduled. Sleep-deprived due to the schedule changes, when the band was called back for an encore, the bassist forgot to take off his sunglasses. During a second encore all of the band members sported sunglasses, along with George, who regularly wore them due to being blind. Charlie added that when the band would arrive late for a gig, George would humorously say it was because he was driving.

Last year, instructors from the music departments at local Cal Poly and Cuesta College, both of which have outstanding music programs, approached Charlie to work with some of their students. To that end, the non-profit Central Coast Jazz Institute was recently established, which is “dedicated to the instruction and preservation of American jazz music.” Charlie spoke passionately about how the donated funds provide scholarships for jazz instruction of private students of all ages, as well as a lecture series.