Michael & Danielle’s 2006 Newsletter

Hi Everyone,


It was another busy year for us, full of blessings and wonderful times with family and friends.


The year started off with the official announcement of Danielle’s promotion to the rank of 6th degree black belt.  This level is only awarded by the Aikido Doshu (head of the art).  It is a very high rank; Danielle is among the highest ranked women in the art!  In February, our teacher Frank Doran, Shihan, invited Danielle to teach at our semi-annual Division Training at his dojo (school) in Redwood City.  At that time he presented her with her shosho (official document of her rank).  During the course of the year Danielle was invited to teach at several other schools: Mateel Aikido in Redway, CA; Utah Aikikai in Salt Lake City, Utah; Aikido of Santa Cruz; Heart of San Francisco Aikido; Mt. Baldy Aikido Retreat in So. California; 15th Big Sur Weapons Retreat in Carmel Valley, CA; and Aikido Ai in Whittier, CA.


We stayed a couple extra days following the seminar in Salt Lake City and took advantage of some great conditions to ski at Park City and the Deer Valley ski resorts.


The seminar at Aikido Ai was part of a series they conducted in celebration of their 25 years.  Danielle and I were honored to teach as co-instructors.  I was also an instructor at Mt. Baldy retreat and the Big Sur Weapons Retreat.


The big news with our school, Aikido of Monterey, was that our building was sold.  Our new landlords are a group of 2 aikido students and their teacher – from a different school that had been operating in nearby Pacific Grove.  As part of the lease agreement they wanted to have use of the dojo for 3 classes a week, an interesting and very unusual arrangement.  However, things have gone quite well thus far, better in fact than they ever did with our previous landlord.


In March, we took time out for a ‘personal retreat’ at Esalen (www.esalen.org).  It was our first visit since the storms of 1998 destroyed the cliff-side hot spring baths.  It only took a few minutes being there and I wondered why we had not returned sooner!  The baths have been rebuilt, yet much else remains unchanged.  Danielle and I had two wonderful days to explore our personal and shared beliefs, goals, and visions.


On our way down the Big Sur coast we decided to take a guided tour of the Point Sur lighthouse (www.pointsur.org).  For years we’ve driven past it and had wanted to go up there, but the tours are quite limited and our timing hadn’t been right.  Glad we finally made it; quite a dramatic view from there!


We also really spoiled ourselves with two 2-day trips to the Ventana Inn (www.ventanainn.com, also in Big Sur), the first in January and the second in April.  We are so fortunate to have both Esalen and the Ventana Inn within an hour or so drive from Monterey.  Yet the feeling is as if we’d taken a trip to some faraway place.  Both places afford us the opportunity to genuinely relax in a quiet, relatively secluded setting in the midst of some of Nature’s most spectacular scenery. 


As we have for each of the past 6 years, we followed up our annual trip to Mt. Baldy with a “side trip” to Las Vegas.  It was 6 years ago on Memorial Day that Danielle and I were married at Mt. Baldy on the last day of the annual Aikido retreat.  We honeymooned at the Bellagio Resort and that remains our favorite Las Vegas hotel.  Usually we only stay for 2 days, but this year we stayed for 5 days.   I brought my laptop computer along and actually worked each day while Danielle relaxed down at the pools.  We stayed longer this year so that we could attend the opening night performance of the new Cirque du Soleil production, “Love”, which is thematically based on the music of the Beatles.  Danielle’s son, Colin, drove over from Los Angeles for the last night of our stay and attended the show with us.


Colin is still looking for that first major break.  His goal is to get into film acting, meanwhile he’s doing a pretty good rendition of the “starving artist” role.  Actually, last year did bring some significant successes.  In February, he played a major role in the Classical Theater Lab’s performance of Oscar Wilde’s play "A Woman of No Importance" for which he received favorable review in the LA Weekly.  See his website: www.colinevans.us.   He also worked in a few small commercials and had one major role for Timberland, which included both a television commercial and a print campaign.


Perhaps it falls in the category of trying to build up his resume – perhaps he just thought it would be a lot of fun (most likely, both) – Colin joined the “Pirate’s Guild” for this year’s No. Cal. Renaissance Faire.  And a very convincing looking brigand he turned out to be!  Danielle and I were inspired to join in on the fun, and we attended the faire on 3 weekends!  Once we went with friends from Monterey, and another time with my Mom and my sister, Laura.  It was a lot of fun putting together our outfits (e.g. I dyed a pair of aikido training pants red for my outfit; Danielle wore a dress she made in college for a fraternity party) and then augmenting them with a few things that we found at the faire.  It was also fun to drop in on our favorite restaurant in the evening after the faire had closed for the day, still wearing our renaissance garb!


In July we packed up the SS Yellowshark (our 2-person kayak) and headed up into the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Our destination was the remote Hell Hole Reservoir and our plan was to camp for a week.  And we might have made it if not for the fact that the lake was being drawn down at an alarming rate!  Hell Hole is owned by PG&E as a power-shed and that week was extremely hot throughout California, so the plug had definitely been pulled.  It seemed the level was dropping about a foot a day, which turned our original landing area into an almost impassable mud flat.  We ended up ‘escaping’ after only 3 days; we had to lower our gear by rope down a 60-foot cliff to the only alternate landing readily available to us!  A few weeks later we again headed up to the Sierra Nevada’s, this time it was to Hume Lake and a nice, comfortable cabin owned by my cousin.  (It’s a beautiful little lake; one that we used to visit often when we were kids.)  Each day we'd paddle and sail until we found a quiet, secluded place along the shore.  Then we’d put up our hammocks and let the day drift by…


In October, just after Danielle returned from Japan, we packed up the Harley and drove north, through the wine country, and over to the coast.  We stayed 2 nights at a B&B in Mendocino, enjoying some spectacular Fall weather.  Repeating a success from a previous visit to Mendocino, we again had dinner at the Café Beaujolais (their specialty, a sturgeon dish, is amazing!).  The next morning, after an early breakfast, we packed up the bike, and just as Danielle plugged in our intercom system – smoke and flames started coming out from under the gas tank!  The insulation on the wiring had worn away leading to a short.  Fortunately the end result was nothing more serious than the loss of our intercom.  Eventually we made our way up the coast and through the coastal redwood forests, arriving at Redway in time for lunch with our Aikido friends from Mateel Aikido.  


In mid-October Danielle and 6 other Aikido friends journeyed to Japan for a 2 week pilgrimage.  Linda Holiday, chief instructor at Aikido of Santa Cruz, and a long-time friend, who is fluent in Japanese and has been to Japan many times, led the group.  They visited shrines, temples, and scenic locations from Kyoto to Shingu.  The group stayed at ryokan (traditional Japanese inns with tatami mats), temple inns, and hot spring spas during their stay.  They trained at the Aikido dojo in Shingu with Linda’s teacher, Motomichi Anno.  (On a previous trip, 12 years ago, Danielle and I also trained there and met Anno Sensei, who’s kind-spirit and generosity we feel truly embodies the “heart” of Aikido.)  The group also met with the Mayor of Shingu, which is the “sister city” of Santa Cruz.  At Kumano Hongu shrine they performed a ceremony for world peace, and at Nachi waterfall shrine (see photo at left) they left their collected prayers and wishes (and those they brought from friends and family at home) on wooden prayer boards.  The prayer boards remain outdoors, gathering energy from the waterfall, for a month before being burned/released to the kami (spirits).  On the last day of the trip, the group stopped at the gravesite of O’Sensei (founder of Aikido).


In November, the family (including our parrot, Lucy) gathered together in Fresno for Thanksgiving dinner.  The next day we headed north (way north) to stay a few days with our friend, and massage therapist, Lenore Jones, who lives “off the grid” in the vicinity of Blocksburg, California.  She uses solar power for electricity, on-site wells for water, and wood-burning stoves for heat.  It’s an experience!


November (or thereabouts) also marked my 20th year of training in Aikido.  The members of the dojo joined together to obtain a beautiful earthen-jar water fountain and plaque to commemorate the achievement.


Closing out the year, we traveled to San Francisco for the holidays.  We attended a marvelous production of “The Nutcracker” with the San Francisco Ballet. 


SHOP.COM had another successful year: we’re still growing, and we are definitely working hard!  But, as this letter shows, we play hard when we can!


Danielle - Mendocino, CA

Water Dragon Fountain