Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It All Starts With Believing

As often happens, I awoke this morning with my mind whirling. Today, I awoke thinking of Shakespeare's Henry V's "St. Crispin's Day" speech, William Wallace's "Just One Chance" speech, and George Patton's speech to the 3rd Army. Each of these speeches, yes, even Patton's, moves me, a pacifist, to want to join my "band of brothers" (and sisters), weapon in hand, and leap into the fray. Why? The words are so compelling that something awakens in my being. I'm not sure what it is, something primordial perhaps, but whatever it is, it is powerful, and it is passionate, and it turns me into a we, by connecting me to my fellow human beings in a momentarily purposeful, noble action.

On the other hand, when we go to peace marches or rallies, we hold hands, and we sing, and we give one another flowers, or we hold candles--all symbols of peace, all lovely, individuals joined together, but not quite the same way because nothing in our peace activities  lights the fire in the belly quite like the St. Crispin's Day speech. Think of peace songs. Many of the songs about peace are hesitant and tentative: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", "One Day," Waiting on the World to Change," "Give Peace a Chance," and "Blowin' in the Wind," to name a few.

Perhaps everything gets muddled because when we think we are thinking of peace, we are actually thinking anti-war, which is a very different thing. It is a negative, rather than a positive. I've marched in a few anti-war marches carrying signs (two memorable times with all three of my sons), and I've sung anti-war songs since I was a child. I long for no more war, and I long for peace, but in hindsight, it seems like my activism has all been against war. I want to change that and be active for peace. But how? 

First, we need to define peace. When I define it, I mean flourishing as well as no more war. Flourishing is something we can all get behind, right? It's something positive, and we can be passionate about it, can't we? Or can we?

Why, I wonder, aren't there speeches about peace that rouse the listener to action like the St. Crispin's Day speech does for battle? I took this question to my students today because we are discussing peace and war, but we could not come up with an adequate answer. So I am bringing it to you, my thoughtful blog readers. What can we say, what can we do to rouse those who long for peace to passionate action? I'm eager to hear your ideas, and I'm eager for someone, one of you perhaps, to write the St. Crispin's Day speech for Peace. We need the words first to rouse us, to rally us, and to unite us together in a noble purpose much larger than our individual selves. We need a muscular, dynamic, robust, vigorous, vibrant peace if we are going to truly make the world ready for amity. And we cannot lose heart. It's so easy to say that peace won't work, that we humans prefer division to unity, certainly history attests to that. But we cannot give in to our doubts; we must believe that peace is possible. It all starts with believing. Then, we must talk about how and what and why until peace is no longer just an abstraction but becomes a  reality.

Take care,


St. Crispin's Day speech by Kenneth Branagh in the film Henry V:

William Wallace's "Just One Chance" speech by Mel Gibson in Braveheart:

Patton's Speech by George C. Scott in the movie Patton:

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Two Grandpas

My two grandpas were fascinating individuals and were very different from one another. Although one died when I was only eight years old, and the other died two months shy of my fiftieth birthday, both had a huge impact on my life.

My maternal grandpa, Ted, was Welsh and was a hard-working man, a quiet man, a gentle man, the very definition of a good man. He was a Bekins mover, and when he got home from a hard day's work, he loved to have Velveeta cheese and a beer, both with salt--I kid you not. Or maybe he just did that once to make me cry out, "Ugh, grandpa, salt on cheese and in beer--that's yucky!" Whereupon, he laughed. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a very clear memory for me.

My grandpa Ted was my hero. When I was four or five, the whole extended family went to Knott's Berry Farm. We were in a store, and I was looking at something. When I looked up, no one was around. I went outside the store's door and looked around, but could see no member of my family in any direction. I went back into the store and waited. I was too scared to talk to the store clerk. I waited and waited, and finally I saw my grandpa come in the store and start looking up and down the aisles. I cried out, "Grandpa!" and ran to him. He got down on his knees and hugged me tightly, and he kept saying soothing words to me. Then, he took me outside to find the family, who had separated to look for me. This memory is very precious to me because I do not recall my grandpa Ted being very demonstrative, but that day I knew as clear as could be that my grandpa loved me.

Another proud memory of grandpa Ted is his "color" blindness. In the 1950's, the world was very color conscious in that the races did not mix a lot. My grandpa and grandma, however, stayed living in their Los Angeles home as their neighbors changed from white to black. My grandpa and grandma were friends with everyone, and everyone was friends with them. My grandparents showed me from the start of my life that there is no difference between the races except for skin color. I played with the neighbor kids from the time I could go outside. I was in and out of their homes, and they were in and out of my grandparent's home. Grandpa would sometimes take me to the corner store where he would get a beer and a cigar, and the nice black store owner would give me a popsicle or ice cream bar, while he would chat about this and that with my grandpa. I was so young that I did not realize what a special experience I was enjoying. 

However, this lovely experience with my grandparents and their neighbors showed me for the first time that my dad was a bad man. One day when I was five, he came to pick me up early from my grandparent's home and saw me playing with one of the neighbor girls. He ordered me into the house and said terrible things about my friend. He was mean to my grandma and said if she let us play with "niggers" again, he would not allow them (my mom's parents) to watch us anymore. On the drive home, I tried to figure out why my dad was so angry, but he just told me that I was a dumb kid who didn't understand how the world worked. Only I did understand. 

Kids can tell the difference between good and bad, and that day I realized that my grandpa and grandma were good, and my dad was bad. From that day on, I kept playing with the neighbor kids, but I kept a close eye out for my dad's car, which fortunately never showed up early again.

On Christmas Eve 1959, we got a phone call while it was still dark. My parents woke us kids up and hurried us into the car. My mom was weeping uncontrollably. My grandpa had died at only sixty-four years old and just a week after he had passed a physical, which he needed yearly for his job. 

My mom never recovered. She had been a daddy's girl, and when her dad died, she became lost. Perhaps it was because she was married to a brute of a man, who was as unlike her dad as a man could be. I remember on Christmas Eve one year later--my mom had just turned thirty--seeing my mom looking out the kitchen window with tears running down her cheeks. I tried to cheer her up by reminding her it was Christmas Eve, but she started weeping and sobbing. She told me, with heart-wrenching pain oozing from each word, that my grandpa, her dad, was the only man who had ever loved her, and now he was gone, she didn't know what to do anymore.

I've always thought, rightly or wrongly, that my aunt handled her dad's death better than my mom because she had married a prince of a man. My uncle Chuck is as kind a man as has ever been, and he comforted my aunt when she was sad. My uncle is such a lovely human being that I longed to be his daughter when I was young. My cousins are blessed.

One more thing I must share about my grandpa Ted. My grandma told me that she had a rule when she was dating that she would not kiss a gentleman until the third date (remember, this was the 1920's). However, grandma said when she went on her first date with my grandpa that she just knew he would not go out with her a second time if she didn't let him kiss her, so she broke her rule, and she never regretted it. In fact, until the day she died she always told me not to be too rigid because bending your rules sometimes resulted in the nicest surprises.

My paternal grandpa, Bill, was very different from my maternal grandpa. My paternal grandpa was Austrian and stowed away on a ship to get to America when he was in his twenties. He was a gregarious, passionate, demonstrative man, who pretty much wore his heart on his sleeve. He could be a snob, be judgmental, be unyielding and be sexist. He was funny and was one of the most curious, intelligent individuals I've ever known. We loved each other deeply, and when I was grown up and lived four hundred miles apart, we talked to each other every week and sometimes more. We talked about the books we read and politics and whatever was current in the news.

My grandpa Bill was a maitre d' at three of the nicest restaurants in Los Angeles, retiring from Chasen's when he was seventy years old. When I spent a week with my grandparents in the summer, some of my fondest memories are eating at 1:00 A.M. whatever treat grandpa brought home from the restaurant. My favorite was sharing half a roast duck. Afterwards, we would sit in the living room, and my grandparent's parakeet would fly about the room, landing on our shoulders to give us kisses, and grandpa would regale us with his stories, often of the rich and famous, who frequently behaved less than stellarly.

My grandpa could be very wise, but his blind spot was his only child, my dad. He knew that my dad did not treat my mom nor me well, but he did nothing to try to change his son's behavior. When I was a child, a part of me was disappointed in my grandpa because I desperately wanted a white knight to ride in and save my mom and me from my dad, but another part of me had an inkling of understanding. The last time I saw my grandpa in person, we talked about this. He told me that he was ashamed of his son's behavior, but he also loved him. He said, "Katinka, he's my only son. What could I have done? I couldn't risk losing him. I love him. What he did to you and your mom was wrong. I wanted to talk to him, but I just couldn't. Can you understand?" And because I had four children whom I loved more than life itself, I finally did understand.

My grandpa loved food, and he passed that love onto me. We would eat anything and everything. He was a gourmet cook, and I was not, but we both were gourmet eaters. When he came to visit us in 1996, my four children were ages six to thirteen years old. My husband and I decided to take grandpa along with our children to one of our favorite French restaurants. Seeing grandpa's pride in all of us as he watched his great-grandchildren behave beautifully for two hours, eating escargot and pate and everything else we ordered, while chatting quietly together and with the adults, made my heart sing. The "icing on the cake" was when the maitre d'/owner came to compliment us on our children, saying he had never before seen children so young behave so well. My grandpa beamed with joy, and he proudly told the man that the children were his great-grandchildren.

During this same ten day visit, something happened that made me very proud of my grandpa. He played chess with the boys everyday. Grant was six and Hugh was eight, and both played well, but grandpa would beat them, which they expected. Gavin was eleven, and he beat my grandpa as often as grandpa beat him because Gavin played daringly. The day before my grandpa was to return home, Amy told me that her feelings were hurt because grandpa never asked her to play chess with him. I had been so busy trying to make my grandpa's visit fun that I hadn't noticed. Immediately, I went to ask grandpa about why he hadn't played with Amy. He said that girls don't play chess (remember I said he could be sexist). I laughed so hard and flopped on the bed. Grandpa looked puzzled. I asked him whom he thought had taught the children to play chess, and he replied, "Gordon, of course." By then, I was laughing so hard I was almost choking. I said, "No, grandpa, I taught them. I always played chess, but you would never play with me because I was a girl, remember?"

My ninety-one year old grandpa looked so startled and a bit ashamed. In that moment, he saw something he didn't like in himself, and saw how much he had missed in his life by his assumptions. He went to Amy and apologized, and then he offered to play chess with her. She didn't beat him, but she got close, and he told her how impressed he was with her abilities. He even managed not to add "for a girl." I loved my grandpa so much in that moment because it takes a real man to admit he was wrong, and especially to admit that to a child. At ninety-one years old, my grandpa was a real man.

He lived five more years, and when his second wife died, he was planning to come live with us because he wanted to spend as much time with his great-grandchildren as he could, but sadly he caught pneumonia and died before we could make that happen. When he died in 2001, I wept. I still miss him dearly.

One last note about my paternal grandpa, Bill. When grandpa first visited us in 1989, Gordon said to my grandpa that he had met the rest of my family and could not fathom how I turned out the way I did. He said that he had thought I had spontaneously generated because I was so different, so unlike anyone else in my family. And then he said, "But, now I know you, Bill, I can see that Katinka got a lot of who she is from you." Gordon could not have given my grandpa a better compliment. For the rest of his days, grandpa loved to remind me of that.

My two grandpas, deeply loved, so different from one another, helped make me the person I am today. I give thanks for them always.

Take care,


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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Celebrating Our Better Natures

For me, Christmas merriment begins the day after Thanksgiving. Our friends, the Gore family, come to visit that weekend, and their arrival ushers in the festivities. We cut down our Christmas tree; the Christmas lights go up; and Christmas music floats on the air for the next four weeks. Everyone you meet seems more patient, more understanding, and more caring. Peace on earth and goodwill toward one another shimmers all around the world. Briefly each year, we celebrate our better natures and glimpse what heaven might be like.

But one verbal mine is hidden below the surface, and it can explode all the goodwill with just two words: Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Already the "war" has begun. On my Facebook page, I am greeted with "let's keep Christ in Christmas," and the gauntlet is thrown down for the unwary agnostic, atheist, Wiccan, Buddhist, Muslim, or whatever other believer in a non-Christian faith to pick up, and someone always picks it up, whereupon a heated exchange of words takes place. For the life of me, I do not understand why expressing goodwill towards one another, regardless of the phrasing, can instead bring about an absence of goodwill. It is counterintuitive.

While I do not wish to belittle anyone, at the risk of doing so, the whole phrasing thing is silly. If there is God and Jesus is our Savior, which I personally believe, I doubt either one gives a hoot about how we express goodwill to one another. God doesn't need anyone to keep Christ in Christmas. He doesn't need defending. Good heavens, he's God after all. When we get on our high horse about keeping "Christ in Christmas," we aren't defending Christ, we are being sanctimonious prigs, and we are creating distance, when God wants us to be close. God wants us to get along with one another anyway we can. So if we who believe in God have a hissy fit about someone saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," it is we who need an attitude change to become more gracious and tolerant because we are supposed to be reflecting a loving God.

Furthermore, you individuals who prefer to say "Happy Holidays" should not make it illegal to say "Merry Christmas." That is just as nutty and just as disparaging to Christians as Christians have been to you. It is not a legal battle we should be waging with one another; rather, we should be appreciating that both phrasings are ways of sharing with one another the spirit of love and joy that the season represents. We need to understand that we are saying essentially the same thing--peace on earth and goodwill to everyone. And we should smile in agreement, reach out a hand, hug, and cherish the brief time each year that we feel connected to one another, no matter how we express that connection.

So this year and every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I shall merrily go about my days saying "Merry Christmas" to you, and I look forward to hearing "Happy Holidays" along with various other greetings from my Wiccan, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim friends because, bottom line, what we all want is to celebrate our better natures and bring Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all at Christmas time and all the year long.

Merry Christmas


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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Making the World a Better Place One Bridge at a Time

I hate bridges! Imagine my delight when I discovered that there is a word for that fear--gephyrophobia--and that I am not alone with this fear, which cripples, debilitates, and makes one's world small.

One time in 1988, Gordon was driving us across the Columbia River, and I panicked. I huddled on the floor under the glove compartment, barely breathing. My young children were frightened for their mommy, but I could not be brave for them. I was terrified, pure and simple. An earlier time in 1982, I was driving from the East Bay to San Francisco, when I realized (it was my first time driving that direction) that I was on a bridge. I completely freaked out and stopped the car. Fortunately, it was during rush hour, so the traffic was quite slow. Gordon was taking a nap, woke up, and very kindly changed places with me, while I sat hyperventilating on the floor of the passenger side of the car.

After Gordon developed dementia, and I had to take over the driving, I realized that I had to conquer my terror at driving over bridges, or my world would physically be a very small place. My first bridge was the Golden Gate Bridge. It was January 2002, and I was taking the kids to Inverness. I played a Peter, Paul, and Mary CD very loudly in the car, and sang along to the songs the whole way across the bridge. I was so proud of myself, but the kids were just ho-hum. They did not realize what a HUGE thing I had just accomplished in my fifty-first year of life.

I still do not enjoy driving (or walking, for that matter) over bridges, but now I will cross them because I want to continue making my world larger.

And bridges are what we need in this country after our contentious election. We need to build  bridges and walk across them to heal our country and to make it ideologically larger and more inclusive. Building bridges may be a perilous endeavor, but it is a necessary one, and we need to build them together and cross them together--Democrats and Republicans, gays and straights, all ethnicities, military men and women and Greenpeace activists, all religious people, agnostics, and atheists, men and women, the young and the elderly, and the rich, the poor, and everyone inbetween. Our country is fractured with huge chasms between the various factions, and these chasms can only be crossed by building bridges of understanding, tolerance, and acceptance. 

We can only build these bridges when we quit looking at each other as enemies, as right or wrong, and we see, instead, our similarities, the things we have in common, and embrace them. This world of newly built bridges will make all of our worlds larger, fuller, and more harmonious.

But how do we do this? First, we have to genuinely want to build bridges. We have to leave our preconceptions and assumptions behind. We have to seek truth. A good first step might be to get rid of Fox News and MSNBC and go back to straight news. Has there ever been a finer moment than when Edward R. Murrow exposed Joseph McCarthy? I think not!

We also have to quit casting blame. We will never agree on who is responsible for any particular problem. Instead, we need to acknowledge the problem and go forward from there. Simple when you are no longer looking for blame.

And gloating? Completely forbidden. Gloating is not gracious, and bridges can only be built in a state of grace.

Building bridges is not easy work, and traveling across them is sometimes almost impossible, as I can personally attest to, but building bridges and traveling across them is what we must do in order to make our country and our world a better place to live for everyone.

So, all you people who voted, go up to that family member, co-worker, or neighbor who voted differently from you, sit down over a cup of coffee, and commiserate with the Republican voters who feels angry, lost, and scared; congratulate Democratic voters who mostly feel an immense relief that their man won; and discuss third party viability with everyone. Then, start building bridges.

Take care,


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Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Tale of Two Grandmas

When I was a little girl, I loved both of my grandmas, but I only liked one. I called them my nice grandma and my mean grandma, and I still refer to them that way today, though I now know it's not really that simple.

My grandmas got married about the time that the depression began. They had their babies, my parents, a month apart. Both families were poor, but that is where the similarities ended. My grandmas' reactions to raising children during the depression were vastly different. My nice grandma lived in the world with an open heart and an open hand. To her, the world was brimming with possibility as long as she was with the family she loved so much and could worship God whom she loved dearly. She went to church every Sunday. My mean grandma, on the other hand, closed her heart and her hand. Her world shrank to her husband, her son, and herself with only a smidgen of room for her mother, her sister, and her brother. If she had faith in God, it died or became irrelevant.

When I was a little girl, my nice grandma sewed us cute outfits, played with us, read to us, told us stories about her childhood, drank a glass of milk with us when Engineer Bill did his "red light, green light" milk drinking on his program, and hugged and kissed us hello, good-bye, and for no reason at all, just because she loved us. In contrast, my mean grandma gave my sister and me lots of lovely gifts. We had dolls and clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue. She would give us a dollar every time she visited. But we were sent to our room for the duration of the visit, except for dinner, and were never played with or talked to, and were told how good a grandma we had to give us so many nice things. We got a formal kiss good-bye.

As you might imagine, I did not like the clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue, but I wore the outfits my nice grandma made me until I outgrew them or they were rags.

When I was four years old, my parents went on a trip. They left my sister with my nice grandma, and me with my mean grandma. My grandma sat me alone in front of the black and white TV to watch Peter Pan with Mary Martin. She didn't watch it with me, nor did she want to hear what I thought about it when it was over.  Even as a young child, I was a sharer, like I am today, so it was agony to watch the show and not have anyone to talk about it with. She didn't read to me, and my only happy moments were when my grandpa was home. He was loving and fun. Faced with another night alone with grandma because my grandpa worked nights, I rebelled. With all my four year old might, I demanded to be taken to my nice grandma's house. After a lengthy phone call, they agreed. Of course, my nice grandma punished me for being a naughty girl, but punishment from my nice grandma was MUCH nicer than spending any more time with my mean grandma.

The next year, when I was five years old and halfway through kindergarten, I developed pneumonia and was sick for months. My mom had to work, so my nice grandma came to stay with me during the week. My maternal grandpa, also a true sweetheart of a human, dropped his wife off on Monday and picked her up on Friday. Grandma was so fun. She would get into my mist tent with me and read me stories, so I wouldn't be scared. She played stuffed animals with me. She watched TV with me. She made me laugh. She made me goodies to eat, and she hugged and kissed me. I felt very loved.

As time went by, and I grew older, I realized that while my nice grandma was, indeed, nice, my mean grandma wasn't really mean, she was just cold and distant. She didn't like my mom, hadn't wanted her son to marry my mom, and wasn't thrilled about us kids. She loved us in her way, but her way wasn't very child friendly. What I didn't realize yet was that she was harming herself with her coldness even more than she was harming her grandchildren.

In my mean grandma's desperate attempt to make her world safe and comfortable, a behavior that stemmed, I've come to believe, from her reaction to being poor for so many years in the depression, she kept her world immaculately clean, ordered, and small. Bars were on her heart. Self-protection was paramount. She kept her mom, my great-grandma Nani, in a tiny room an hour away. I was heartbroken when I saw my beloved Nani's room, which was only big enough for a bed and a dresser, because I knew my grandma had plenty of room for her mom to stay with her, but she only let her mom visit once a year. My Nani never complained, but I complained on her behalf, making my grandma frequently angry with me because I wouldn't mind my own business. No matter how often I asked, my grandma never let escape one hint or whisper as to why she was so mean and stingy to her mom.

My mean grandma also kept a ledger, which she showed to me one day in my early twenties. It was filled with what she gave people as gifts and what they gave her as gifts. She listed loans and when they were paid back. She put notes beside the names, and these were not flattering. My mean grandma had a balance sheet life, and she always felt she was on the wrong side of the balance.

My nice grandma, on the other hand, gave and gave and gave with never a thought about what she got back. I have truly never known a nicer human being. She had a joie de vivre that was inspirational. She would take the bus across the country to visit her sister in Florida and come home with a list of new friends. When I was getting married in 1975, she went with me to the bookstore, and when we couldn't find The Joy of Sex, she walked right up to the cashier and asked where it was, explaining that her granddaughter was getting married and was a virgin, so she needed the book. I almost died of humiliation, but I also loved her for it. Nothing daunted my nice grandma.

When it came time for my grandmas to die, they died as they lived. My mean grandma slipped into a coma, shut off from us who loved her, while my nice grandma beamed with joy when she learned that she would be seeing her beloved husband and her beloved Jesus soon.

However, before my mean grandma slipped into a coma, she did something that made me very proud of her, and gave me a glimpse into the woman she might have been if she had been willing to risk uncertainty. She was feeling poorly on Christmas. She had cancer and knew this was probably her last holiday with us. She was so weak that she could barely sit up, but she somehow got up, wrapped her dressing gown around herself, and made her way into the living room to spend the evening with us. It was the only unselfish, loving act I can remember her making, and in that moment, I saw what a strong woman she was, and I respected her and loved her very much.

Who knows why we respond to life the way we do? Do we have a choice about how we respond? I've always puzzled about why one grandma came out of the depression with an open heart and hand, and the other with a closed heart and hand. Perhaps that's how they were before the depression. I shall never know. What I find fascinating, though, is how children are so perceptive about the people around them. From my earliest memories, I knew who was the nice grandma and who wasn't, and the distinction became clearer and clearer as I grew up. The big difference from childhood to adulthood was that I developed sympathy for the one who wasn't because her life, while safe, was so very small.

And my nice grandma? Well, if she were alive, she would by 99 years old today. I wish she were still alive. I miss her everyday, and I honor her memory by trying to have an open heart and hand like she did, but she's an impossible act to follow.

Take care,


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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Our Grand Education Adventure

Once upon a time, almost thirty years ago, I had a baby; in fact, over time, I had four babies. When my first child was born, my daughter Amy, I was elated and terrified all at once. I had never been fond of children, and now here I was spending twenty-four hours a day with one. However, I was very fond of Amy; in fact, I loved and adored her. I just didn't know what to do with her. I hadn't a clue.

To fill up our days in between baby activities, like bathing and diaper changing and feeding, I played music for her, sang to her, and danced with her. We strollered around the neighborhood. But while all of that held a certain fascination, I was bored, and I figured Amy must be bored too. What to do? I am not a crafts person. I do not cook. I do not garden. In fact, I am not very good at most child geared activities. Finally, it came to me. I would just be myself and share with Amy my joy of learning and critical thinking.  In addition to all my love, joyful learning and critical thinking, I believed, were the best gifts I could give to my daughter, along with the skill of knowing how to learn--that is, knowing how to research when you have a question and where to find the answer.

I had been reading to Amy since she was in my womb, mostly nursery rhymes and Greek myths and fairy tales, things I thought a baby would enjoy. Now, I started reading her the newspaper, and I discussed it with her. Granted, it was a little lopsided at first, but over time, as she began to talk, the discussions became scintillating. 
We also explored our walking distance and driving distance worlds, and I would explain everything I could about whatever we were exploring, and when I didn't know something, I took her to the library to search for the answer. Amy loved the library. We learned to use the card catalogue, and I let her pick out her own books as soon as she could crawl, which meant that we finished the bottom shelf of the children's section in the library first. I never talked to Amy in baby language; I always taught her synonyms and antonyms; and I always asked her questions, especially the question: "why?"
A truly delightful moment occurred when Amy was being fussy in the middle of the night, and I read to her Howard's End by E.M. Forster, and she loved it. She became quiet and listened. When I stopped reading, she whimpered and then grinned when I started reading again. I began asking her what she thought about one passage or another. Of course, she couldn't answer as she was only four months old, but she would look intently at me, and I knew that was the right thing to do, ask her questions, even when they seemed to be over her head because it gave her something to reach for.

When Amy's brothers--Gavin, Hugh, and Grant--joined the family, I did the same thing with them--read to them, asked questions, analyzed and searched for answers. When Hugh was born, I read Narnia and poetry to Amy, age five, and Gavin, age three, while I nursed Hugh. Amy and Gavin were especially partial to T.S Eliot, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson then, which delighted my heart.

When it came time for school, I faced a quandary. Amy flat out refused to leave our mountain idyll and her brothers for any amount of time. She told me that she would run away from school, and I'd never find her, and my heart would break, but it would be all my fault for sending her to school. She said she could learn more at home. Lol, this is what all that early critical thinking unleashed.

Gordon came home from work one day with the solution--homeschooling. One of his patients was doing that with her children, and she loved it. Hmm, my good friend, Kristy, was doing that with her five children, and she encouraged me to do it too. But I was unsure. What did I know about teaching reading and math? What did I know about teaching young children? I had taught college, for heaven's sake! But with Amy adamant about not going to school, I was left with no choice, so I did what I always do when faced with a new situation--bought lots of books about homeschooling and learned how to do it!

I must say, for me, at least, I can't speak for my children, the twenty-four years we spent homeschooling were the most delightful years of my life. I enjoyed every day of being my children's mom and teacher. When you think about it, everything can be a learning experience. For instance, one day the children saw a commercial with a huge, tasty looking hamburger at a local fast food restaurant. Instead of telling them my negative opinions about junk food,  I popped them all in the car, and we went to buy lunch there. The look on each of their faces, when the food was delivered, was priceless, especially Gavin's. He felt cheated. The burger was tiny, and it tasted terrible. So we discussed why the hamburger looked so good on TV--to get you to buy it. This led to a discussion about commercials and being manipulated by companies that want you to buy their products. I like to think that this early lesson has helped my children become wise consumers. :)

Our days were filled with math, science, reading, writing, languages, history, films, and many electives, which I let each child choose for her/himself so that there would be one class that each child definitely looked forward to. Year after year rolled by with me learning as much as my children. I had to learn how to teach my two dyslexic children to read, and I had to get four different math books for the early years because each child learned math differently from the other three. It was fascinating and illuminating, and, most of all, it was humbling. I taught my children from kindergarten through high school, but had I done a good job? I didn't know for sure, and a few close friends confided their doubts over the years, but I somehow knew, when talking with my children, each of whom thinks deeply, broadly, and outside the box, that they would shine when they went to college and out into the world because they were consummate learners.

Amy was the first to go to our local community college, and while she finally looked forward to going to school, and she was no longer threatening, as she did in middle school, to be homeless and push a shopping cart rather than learn math, she had the jitters. She was afraid that she might fail. I told her that if she failed, it was ok because it would be a learning experience. We would examine what the problems were, and we would figure out a strategy to correct whatever needed fixing. She was nervous, and so was I, but I didn't let her know it at the time. Both of our lives seemed like they were on the line--Amy's academic future and the measure of my life's work. Wow, what pressure!

Well, it's been eleven years since Amy set off for her first class away from home. During that time, Amy, Gavin, and Grant have graduated with BA's, earning mostly A's, a couple of B's, but nothing lower. They are thrilled (perhaps mightily relieved is more accurate) that our homeschooling turned out so well, and I am immensely proud of my children. Amy has her MA in English and is working at a local community college. Gavin manages a towing company and finishes his MA in Sociology this coming May. And Grant works as a security guard, interns at a non-profit that finds housing for the developmentally challenged, and is taking graduate classes in Urban Planning. He will earn his MUP (Masters in Urban Planning) in May 2014.

Our grand educational adventure that began when Amy refused to go to school has ended with Amy getting a tenure track position as an instructor in a community college. Now, that is amusing!

Take care,


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Saturday, October 13, 2012

An End Girl's Broken Dream

My mother dreamed of becoming a dancer from the time she was a little girl. Somehow my grandma and grandpa found enough money to get her lessons, even though it was the middle of the 1930's depression.

My mother practiced all the time, even when she was tired and in pain. Her dance teachers said she had great promise. During World War II, my mother danced with a troupe that performed for our soldiers in the States. She was the youngest in the troupe and barely in high school, but she loved dancing with all her heart. Her dream was to dance with the Radio City Rockettes, and after high school, she signed a contract with the overseas troupe of the Rockettes to be an end girl.

What is an end girl? She's one of the two shortest girls in the troupe. So, my mother and the other shortest girl would be on either end of the line of dancers. Naturally, every dancer wants to be the center dancer, who is the tallest dancer, because every eye in the audience goes to her first, but my mother consoled herself that the end girls would stand out as the next most noticed girls because they were easily distinguished from the long chorus line of dancers. My mother's dream had come true. All her hard work had paid off, and she was on her way to the life she always dreamed of and wanted. My mother was over the moon with happiness.

But her boyfriend was not. Her boyfriend ripped up the contract and tore the blouse off of my mother so that she could not go back into the office to get another contract. Her boyfriend said he couldn't risk losing her to another man overseas, so he whisked her away to Arizona where they eloped. My mom thought it was SO romantic at the time.

Alas, she soon learned that it was not so romantic after all. The newly married, very young couple lived with the groom's parents, who were not pleased about their son marrying a dancer, who, in their minds, was a "loose woman," and they were even less pleased when she became pregnant, unplanned, five months later with me.

My mother told me that when I was born, she knew what real love was for the first time. She went on to have my sister sixteen months later. But my mom was not happy. She desperately missed dancing. Although she loved us, my mother was not cut out to be a mom. She just did not enjoy it. Years later I learned that, deeply unhappy in her marriage, my mom had fallen in love with another man when I was about four years old. My grandma talked her out of leaving my dad, and many years later, my grandma deeply regretted doing that.

My mom taught dancing on weekends to little girls. She even taught my brownie troop to do the can-can for a mother-daughter event, but some of the other mothers criticized her for having us flip our lacy, fancy slips up, just as you are supposed to do in the can-can. My mom did not like those small minded women.

Later, when I asked my mom to teach me how to dance, she told me "no." She told me that she couldn't have one of her daughters live the dream that she had given up; it would hurt too much. We had to find other talents, which turned out to be ok because my sister had little to no rhythm, and my legs are way too short to be a dancer.

When I was seven, my mom had another child. My dad told her that she had to try to give him a son out of gratitude that he hadn't kicked her out when she fell in love with another man. The new child was, indeed, a son, but it did not make things better between them. My mother had a horrible, what we now know, postpartum depression. A year later, when she was just coming out of it, my grandpa died. My mom was a daddy's girl, and she never recovered from this loss.

My mom spiraled down, down, down, and my dad responded by becoming more and more verbally and physically abusive. Our home life was a nightmare. My mom took valium; my mom drank; my mom hid in the bathroom and slipped notes to me under the door. Sometimes, when no one was home but the two of us, she would come out of the bathroom and pour her heart out to me. I tried to help, but I was a kid and then a teenager. What could I do? I listened to her, and I read the horrible romance novels that she had developed a liking for as a retreat from her miserable marriage so that we could discuss them, but, really, what is there to discuss in the average romance novel? Every, single one had some handsome, misunderstood, dark haired, romantic, rich man swooping in and saving the young woman from some brute of a guy. I could almost see the appeal to my mom, but I thought the stories were dumb.

Once when I was sixteen, I asked my mom to leave my dad, but she said, and these words still haunt me to this day, "If I leave your dad, then I gave up my dream for nothing." I responded that she could find another dream, but she told me that I didn't understand.

And to this day, I still do not understand. My mom ended her life two years later, and for forty-two years I've tried to understand why she didn't just tell my dad to "Go to hell." My mom died at age 39, a young woman. She never knew her children as adults, never knew her children's spouses, never knew her grandchildren.

My mom had so much to offer the world. She was smart, funny, talented, and, when I was a young child, full of life. She should not have been a mother, though I am grateful to have been born. In a perfect world, my mom would have seen my dad's ripping her contract and tearing her blouse for what they were, the actions of a bully, not a lover, and she would have gone back into the Rockette's office, head held high, in her bra, and signed another contract!

But this is not a perfect world, and my mom didn't sign another contract. My mom has been gone a long time. In my mind's eye I always see her dancing, and I am writing this so that she will never be forgotten.

Take care,


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Sunday, September 30, 2012

We Have Something Special

Yesterday, a lovely group of individuals gathered together to share a meal and several hours of lively conversation. It was the 4th annual reunion of SJSU English professors and students, who became friends during the 1970's and 1980's, and then followed various paths until re-connecting in 2009.

Thirty-five years ago, I was an undergraduate student in English at San Jose State University. I was new to the bay area and a returning college student in my late 20's and knew no one. One day, a professor I liked a lot asked me to join him and some friends for coffee before class. My shyness almost kept me from going, but curiosity beat back my shyness, and I went. Consequently, I found a group of friends who made me feel "at home" for the first time in my life.

These like-minded individuals shared my interests. Everyone read AND talked about what they had read. Everyone had strong opinions and stated them. We all watched PBS and went to art house films, so we had people to talk with about what we watched. We talked politics, and sometimes we even gossiped. It was a heady time; it was invigorating; it was comfortable; it was pure joy! 

But even better, our egalitarian group of people was open-hearted. Everyone and anyone who wanted to be part of the group was welcome and made to feel so. We celebrated Fridays together, graduations together, holidays together, major birthdays and anniversaries together, weddings together, and new babies together. In fact, the last time I met with all of them as a group before our reunions began was in 1990 at Lisa's baby shower.

In our group, Lisa and I were particular friends. She had been my doula for Gavin's birth. We saw each other through marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Her son and my youngest child are the same age. Though our lives went in markedly different directions for awhile, we kept in touch, and we kept each other up-to-date on whatever we learned about our group of friends.

Though my children knew only a few of the members of our group, this group of friends loomed large in my children's lives. They grew up hearing numerous stories about everyone in the group, and this group gained an almost mythic stature in my children's eyes. They expected to have the same experience when they went to college. Alas, that has not been the case. While they have formed some friendships, they have not found a group like the one I found so long ago. 

I talked with one of the Scotts in our group, and he said around the 1990's, something changed. Individuals still made friendships, but a lovely, lively group like we had so enjoyed didn't seem to happen very often anymore. Theories abound as to why not, but it mostly remains a mystery.

Our group was and is special. Though we had our occasional ups and downs and intrigues, mostly we had an abiding fondness for each other. So, when Nancy and Lisa ran into each other in 2009, they thought it would be fun to hunt everybody up and get together again to catch up on our lives Those who could make the reunion in 2009 had so much fun, picking up where we left off, that we decided to meet up on a yearly basis; thus, our annual reunion was born.

We are mostly gray haired now, and we range in age from fifty-three to eighty-seven. Our children, if we chose to have them, are grown, and some of us have grandchildren. Some of us are still working, and some of us are retired. But despite the differences and all the years apart, our fondness for each other and delight in each other is as sure and true now as it was way back when.

I can't speak for the others in our group, but these people are, in some way I cannot explain, part of my core being. With them, I found my first "home," and that sense of home is one that stays in my heart always. 

I am grateful and blessed to know these people, and I can't wait until next year's reunion!

Take care,


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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Grandma's Birthday

Long ago, my grandma called me in tears. She had just received a certified letter from her daughter telling her that she had thirty days to move out. This notice arrived on her birthday. She was, as you might imagine, devastated. I was furious at my aunt. How could she do this to my grandma, her mother? I asked grandma if she wanted me to talk to my aunt, but she said no. She said that she didn't want things worse by having the family fight. That was my grandma for you. She always thought of her family before herself.
Grandma moved into an apartment, and she seemed to adjust well.  Four months later, she discovered that she had cancer. She died in less than a week. 
The pain in her voice when she called me on her birthday has haunted me ever since. I have no answers as to why my aunt did what she did. However, I wrote a short story about how I imagine my grandma's 73rd birthday morning played out. While it is purely my imagination, my scenario is based on the many mornings I spent with my grandma during my childhood and when she spent a week with me after I got married. Here is the story. 

                                               Ginny’s Birthday
    Ginny awoke on her 73rd birthday, as she did on every birthday, happy to be alive and grateful for her family.  She sat up and reached eagerly for the stack of unopened birthday cards that awaited her delighted opening. Ginny loved cards, and her many grandchildren always remembered to send them to her early, so they would be waiting for her to open when she woke up on her birthday.
   After reading her cards, laughing at the funny ones, and shedding a tear at the sentimental ones, Ginny dressed and headed to the kitchen to have breakfast with her daughter. Ginny lived with her daughter and son-in-law.  Several years earlier, the daughter had wanted money to buy a bigger home, so she had made a proposal to her mother: you sell your home and give us the money, and you can live with us rent free for the rest of your life.  Ginny’s husband had died when she was 56, and Ginny loved her family more than herself, and, though she hated to admit it, she was lonely living alone, so Ginny agreed, despite the misgivings of other family members. Now, as Ginny saw her daughter drinking coffee at the kitchen table, smiling, and saying, “Happy Birthday, Mom,” Ginny believed for the millionth time that she had made the right choice fourteen years earlier.
   Ginny prepared her favorite breakfast: a half of grapefruit with sugar sprinkled on top, toast with jam, and a cup of tea. She sat at the table across from her daughter. They chatted companionably for a bit, shared the paper, and discussed how they were going to celebrate Ginny’s birthday that day.
   Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the doorbell rang. The daughter went to answer it, and called to her mother to come sign for a piece of certified mail. Ginny was excited; what could it be? A birthday surprise from one of her grandchildren no doubt. Ginny eagerly signed for her mail and returned to the kitchen table to open it. The daughter sipped her coffee, her face hidden by the open newspaper, incurious about her mother’s mail.
   Ginny carefully slit open the envelope and pulled out its contents. She gasped as she read the words, and tears began to form in her eyes, which were wide with disbelief. “You have 30 days to find another place to live.” The daughter sat silently, never lowering the paper, as Ginny, choking back a sob, stumbled her way to her bedroom, which was hers for only thirty more days.

Take care,
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hummingbird Moments

Our internet server was down this morning, so when I finished the two delivered-to-our-home newspapers, I found myself eating breakfast with our dog Mollie and cat Oreo, who sat attendance on me, waiting for the goodies I share with them each morning, and no online New York Times. "Woe is me," I thought, "or is it woe am I? I can never keep that saying straight. How am I going to function without my editorials?"

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of iridescent beauty, so startling and so lovely, that I gasped with pleasure. Sitting on a limb of a bush in front of our dining room window was a stationary hummingbird looking at me. For a brief second or two, we regarded each other, and then, in a blur of wings, she was off. My heart was full of wonder and joy.

While I cannot recall another time when I've seen a hummingbird sitting still, we do have another hummingbird with different coloring who occasionally greets me when I take the trash cans down to the cul-de-sac. She hovers in front of my face, looks straight at me, her wings whirring, and appears to greet me. Then, she either flies around me once, or she flies off to the nearest fruit tree. Each time this happens, I feel blessed, as if the hummingbird and I have made a mystical connection.

It occurs to me that I am perhaps missing many such enchanting moments, glued as I am to books and my computer. As I've gotten older and more aware of my shortening time on earth, I've been trying to fill my brain with as much written knowledge via books and the computer as I can, but perhaps it would wiser to spend more time with hummingbirds instead.

Take care,


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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Recognizing A Teachable Moment

When I was a little girl, my favorite day of the year (after Christmas and my birthday) was the first day of school. It was like being given the keys to the toy store and candy store combined, but better, because school was a marvelously magical place where I could learn about everything. School was an ebullient delight, and I tried to never miss a day, and would plead with my mother to let me go to school when I was sick so that I didn't miss out on a scrumptious tidbit of knowledge. No day at school was boring, but some days were so full of wonder that I didn't want them to end.

Perhaps the biggest excitement each year was finding out who was going to be my teacher because the teacher made the whole year good or bad. Back then, it seemed like a complete mystery how students were paired with teachers. Looking back now, though, I can see a method to what seemed at the time their madness.

Out of all my teachers, I only had three duds--my kindergarten teacher, my 2nd grade teacher, and my 4th grade teacher. What do I mean by duds? They were boring and uninspiring, and it is my guess that they didn't like children. Fortunately, my terrible teachers were followed by gems in 1st, 3rd, and 5th. 

My kindergarten teacher didn't believe I could read when I told her I could, so she put me in front of the class with a book and said she was going to teach "Miss Smartypants a lesson" about lying (interesting that she thought humiliating a five year old was teaching a lesson--goes to the heart of her character). Well, I read the book aloud, with no errors, and she blew up. She called my mom and read her the riot act. My poor mom; she hadn't done anything wrong. She didn't really teach me to read; I more or less learned on my own. Fortunately, I was seriously sick most of the rest of the kindergarten school year, so I was spared my teacher's loathing (and I had the great joy of my grandma reading books to me hours at a time--heaven).

1st grade brought Miss Nichols. To my six year old eyes, she was a wonder--tall, beautiful, and smart. Plus, she seemed to like children. She quickly discovered the readers in our class and put us in a separate group to read books of our choosing, after we had finished the "Dick and Jane" books, of course. But Miss Nichols, along with my mom, taught me something even more important than "book learning;" they taught me not to lie.

All the children in my class wanted Miss Nichols to come over to their house, and I was no exception. My parents were not too social and said no when I asked if I could invite my teacher over for a visit. Undeterred, I invited her anyway. Well, wouldn't you know it, I was in the shower when Miss Nichols arrived. When I stepped out of the shower, my furious mother confronted me in the bathroom. She told me to put on my pajamas and commanded me to come apologize for lying to Miss Nichols. I was mortified. I couldn't tell her I lied. I pleaded with my mom to cover for me and back me up, but my mom said my punishment for lying was to confess to Miss Nichols that I had lied and ask her and my mom for forgiveness. You can imagine my agony and torment. How could I walk into the living room and face Miss Nichols, and in pajamas no less? Somehow, I summoned up my courage and walked into the living room and apologized.

I thought I was home free, but, no, Miss Nichols, with a nod to my mother, asked me to sit and have a cookie and some lemonade and explain to her why I had lied. It all came out that "fat Margo" bragged and gloated that Miss Nichols liked her best in our class because Miss Nichols visited Margo's home for dinner. I explained that I wanted Miss Nichols to like me too, so I figured that I had to have her over for a visit. Miss Nichols tried somewhat unsuccessfully to hide her smile, and she remonstrated with me not to call Margo fat (though she was) and she told me that she liked students best who were honest and loved to learn. Really? I could do that. I already loved to learn, and now I had an incentive not to lie--Miss Nichols would like me if I were honest. That lesson has stuck with me all these years.

The less said about my 2nd and 4th grade teachers the better. They were a disgrace to their profession. Thankfully, they were aberrations. Miss Hayashi, my 3rd grade teacher, and Miss Copeland, my 5th grade teacher, however, were shining stars in my galaxy of teachers. They made me and all the other students in my class love learning so much that every day was pure joy, and I tried, with amazing success, once I could choose my teachers, to have some of the finest high school teachers and college professors who have ever taught in a classroom. I liked some of my college professors so much that lifelong friendships sprang up, some decades old, and some just a few months new, but all treasured.

Now, in just a few days, I will be standing in front of two new classes full of students, and I hope that I will inspire my students, like my best teachers inspired me, to learn life lessons as well as book lessons.

Take care,


For those of you who might be wondering, as of today I have sold 105 copies of my book Dueling With Dementia: Not The Love Story We Planned. One thing that is exceptionally thrilling is that readers in seven countries (Ireland, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Austria, Iran, and the USA) have read and liked my book. That is really humbling.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Joy Of Voting

When I was five years old, my mother took me into the polling booth with her, where she cast her vote for Adlai Stevenson. I didn't understand voting at the time, but I did think it was great fun to stand in a booth with a curtain closed behind us. I urged my mother to explain to me what she was doing. She said she was voting. I asked if I could vote too. She laughed and said not until I was twenty-one. Voting was for grown-ups, my mom said. She told me it was a right and a privilege to vote, and that I should never take it for granted because there were lots of countries where citizens did not get to elect their leader. I was so excited and could hardly wait to grow up so that I could vote.

Four years later in 1960, my very sweet grandma Virginia and I watched the Democratic and Republican conventions together, and we watched the Kennedy-Nixon debate. My grandma told me that it was important to understand both parties so that I could be an informed voter and vote wisely. Election night that year was the first election night I stayed up watching the election returns. I was thrilled, especially when my candidate, John F. Kennedy, finally was declared the winner the next day.

Four years later, my parents made a radical turn and became Goldwater Republicans. I was puzzled how two people who voted for Kennedy in 1960 could vote for Goldwater in 1964, but my parents did not care about my questions. I was enlisted to stuff envelopes and go door to door stumping for Goldwater with my childhood friend Nancy. It was a real eye opener. We had so many doors slammed in our faces. We weren't certain whether we were right or wrong, but we sure saw how strong people's feelings are when it comes to their candidate.

Four years later, still too young to vote, but now starting to think for myself, I decided that I was for Bobby Kennedy, while my parents were for Nixon. For the life of me, I could not understand how anyone could be for Nixon. My grandma Virginia and I stayed up on primary night, both of us hoping for Bobby to win our state of California, and, sure enough, he did. But, then tragedy struck. Bobby was assassinated. My grandma and I hugged each other and cried. We couldn't believe it. We felt lost.

Four years later in 1972, I was finally old enough to vote. I was ecstatic and couldn't wait to step into the voting booth. I decided that I was for Hubert Humphrey because I felt badly that he had lost in 1968, and I thought he had the best chance to beat Nixon. My boyfriend, who I loved very much, was for George McGovern. I liked McGovern a lot, but I thought he was too naive and too nice to be president. On the night of the California primary, my boyfriend took me to McGovern's California headquarters in Los Angeles to watch the returns with others who worked on his campaign. What a thrill to be in the room when McGovern and his wife entered, and he gave his victory speech. My boyfriend and I kept hugging each other with undiluted joy. We didn't get home until after three in the morning, and I had to get up for work at six, but it was worth it to get so little sleep. We were part of the democratic process, and we felt so alive, so patriotic, and so full of joy.

Fast forward to 1988. My daughter Amy was five, and my son Gavin was three. We go to the polls to vote, and I take them into my booth with me just as my mother had done with me thirty-two years earlier. I got tears in my eyes, as I explained the privilege, responsibility, and in my case pure joy, of voting. I did the same with Hugh and Grant four years later, and I'm delighted to say that each of my children votes in every election. I am SO proud.
Two things that trouble me these days, however, are how many people stay home and don't vote, not even by absentee ballot. I cannot understand how any citizen who has the chance to vote chooses not to vote. What's up with that? Do these people want to live in a dictatorship? Do they want someone else deciding their lives? 

And then there are the voter ID restriction laws being enacted in many states, especially swing states. This is crazy. Voter fraud is so rare as to be statistically negligible. Many of the legislatures enacting these laws are brazen enough to say it is to elect a Republican. This is disgusting. Democracy demands a level playing field, which means that all citizens should be able to vote, and we should be making it easier for them so that more people will participate in our democracy. And, Citizens United should be thrown out immediately. Corporations are not people! They have no right to influence voters.

If I had my way, we would take the money out of politics. We would get rid of lobbyists.  Elected officials would earn a small stipend and have to buy their own insurance--I bet we'd see universal health care enacted in no time--and no lifetime pension other than Social Security. Why should our elected officials have better benefits than the average citizen has? Also, each candidate would be given exactly the same amount of money to run his/her campaign, and there would be a time limit of a month to air commercials, which could only be positive. No negative commercials manipulating the voters with fear. We need to think of the future of America, not just the next election cycle. We need to think bigger and outside the box. We need to look at the positions of all our political parties and find a way to create a coalition. We need to bring back the joy of voting and of being an informed citizen.

It's the joy that is missing. Fear makes us think small, makes us think only of ourselves and this moment. Joy opens us to potential and opportunity. Joy expands our world and encourages us to think bigger and more inclusively, a bigger tent for all people. So I say that this year we should bring back the joy of being an informed voter so that people will be eager to get to their polling place on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. And be sure to bring your young sons and daughters with you into the booth so that they can start looking forward to growing up and being able to vote too.

Take care,


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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Favorite Child

Just a moment ago, one of my sons phoned, but I did not know whether it was Gavin or Grant. Their voices sound the same when they greet me, and when I ask which son is calling, each son inevitably replies, "Your favorite son." Well, they are both my favorite son, so what do I say? I try to figure out which son is most likely calling at that moment and then say his name. Just as inevitably, I hear laughter, their laughs are quite distinct from one another, and then I know I guessed incorrectly. There follows a teasing, "I knew it," followed by another laugh. I immediately feel horrible, fearing that one son will think I favor the other or vice versa, when in reality, I love them both with all my heart, and you can't love anyone more than that.

Ever since Gavin joined his sister Amy, and then later Hugh came along and finally Grant arrived to complete our family, my children have tried to find out who is my favorite child. The better question would be if I have a favorite child, but, no, they assume I must. Why is that, I wonder? They guess one or another, and they are always wrong because I do not have a favorite child, or, more accurately, each one is my favorite child at the same time. Each child is part of my heart. My heart has four chambers, and I have four children. I tell my children that I have a four part heart,  and each child is a chamber of my heart. I cannot pick an auricle over a ventricle; my heart needs all four chambers, or I would die. In the same way, I cannot pick one child over another because I need each one to make me whole and complete.

Before I had my children, I liked to think that I was a puzzle with missing pieces, though I wasn't sure what was missing. When each child was born, another piece of the puzzle that is me was filled in. Once all four were born, the puzzle that was me was complete. Each child fits in my life and heart in his or her own special way. Their essences are unique, and neither can take the place of the other. That is why I love it best when we are all together because then life seems whole and complete--everything fits, at least for me.

For my children, however, I am just a portion of their individual puzzles, probably part of the border.  My children are in the process of filling in their life puzzles, finding what makes them complete, and it is thrilling to sometimes be another puzzle piece in their life puzzle and sometimes an observer from my border spot. Sometimes, too, it is sad when I realize that my portion of their puzzles is getting smaller, though I know that is the way it is supposed to be.

My four children, however, are the pieces of my puzzle that make me whole, so I hope they always know that each one is my favorite child every minute of every day.

Take care,


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Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Blowing Bubbles Kind Of Day

Yesterday was a perfect day for blowing bubbles, but I couldn't find my bubbles until last night, so I blew bubbles on the deck this afternoon in honor of yesterday, watching the rainbow bubbles floating all about me and feeling happy.

When my children were young, I bought quarts of bubbles at a time. The kids and I would blow bubbles because it was a happy day, a sad day, or just a regular day that seemed to require bubbles. We would laugh and chase the bubbles about, trying to catch one of the rainbow-colored spheres, believing it would bring good luck or grant a wish. We would laugh as whatever dog we had tried to catch a bubble, only to have it burst on her nose. We would laugh because bubbles are fun. Any day becomes a better day when you blow bubbles together. That is why yesterday was a perfect day for blowing bubbles.

Yesterday was my middle son's birthday. 24 years ago on July 14, Hugh was born. When each of my four children was born, I was euphoric. My heart felt like it would burst with joy, but it did not burst,  instead my heart stretched to include one more child, one more blessing. The moment each child was placed in my arms, I felt more complete than the moment before, and it is impossible to imagine the world without each of my four children in it.

Hugh's birth held a special surprise--he was our only child to be born who didn't have a complicated, death-defying birth. He was our only child whose umbilical cord Gordon got to cut. He was our only child we got to see turn from blue to pink while lying on my chest, and he began to nurse immediately. Because he was so "well-born," Gordon wanted me to change the middle name we had agreed on of Gwydion to Evan because Evan means well-born one. I felt apprehensive about this, superstitious in a way, sure we should stick with Gwydion and not call attention to the ease of Hugh's birth, but Gordon was insistent. Had I known you could have two middle names, I would have named our son Hugh Evan Gwydion, but I thought you could only have one middle name. Completely illogically, I will always believe that had I stuck with Gwydion, Hugh would have avoided schizophrenia.

But Hugh did not avoid schizophrenia. Eight years ago, he had his psychotic break, and his paranoia and delusions keep us from celebrating his birthday together, or even contacting him at all. Hugh's schizophrenia has taught me about a kind of love I did not know existed--a sad, patient love of open, empty arms waiting, with an everlasting wisp of hope, to welcome Hugh home with a giant hug.

Until that moment comes, however, I shall continue to blow bubbles because when I'm blowing bubbles, I am momentarily transported back in time to our deck in the Santa Cruz mountains, and I feel the happiness and hear the laughter of all of my four children and me as we try to catch a rainbow-colored bubble without breaking it. Perhaps if I can catch a bubble one day, that will be the day that Hugh comes home with his schizophrenia vanquished forever.

Take care,


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Friday, July 13, 2012

There Is Always Tomorrow, Until There Isn't

From childhood on, we are inundated with the promise of tomorrow. Annie sings in her musical, "The sun'll come out/Tomorrow/ So ya gotta hang on/'Til tomorrow/Come what may." So, we learn from an early age that all we have to do is get through today, and tomorrow everything will be better, or, at least, it might be. It's an implied promise, and it's a false one because there just might not be a tomorrow.

I don't mean to sound all doom and gloomy, but I do want to impress upon you that you won't always have a tomorrow to say the things you wish you'd said today or do the things you wish you'd done. You have to say what you want and do what you want today.

One night in March 1970, my mom came to kiss me goodnight. She had been annoying me all evening, yelling at me for washing my hair. I told her that I was 18 years old and could wash my hair without her permission. We went round and round, neither of us giving ground, and by the time she came to say goodnight, I was in no mood for a goodnight kiss. For the first time in my life, I told her no kiss that night.

My mom came to my room twice more. The second time she told me that I needed to kiss her so that I wouldn't have any regrets. All that did was make me angrier. I told her that she was only 39 years old and that I'd have thousands of days to kiss her, but I was NOT going to kiss her that night no matter what she said. She looked at me so sadly, far out of proportion for what was going on. Little did I know.

The next morning, I heard a strange sound. It was a gunshot. My mother had killed herself, and we would share no more goodnight kisses. 

Not kissing my mother goodnight on her, unbeknownst to me at the time, last night alive affected me deeply. It changed me profoundly. I determined that I would let people know that I care about them. I would tear down my protective wall. A risky behavior on my part, one that leaves me vulnerable to possible hurt and rejection because many people want to keep their walls up to protect their feelings and don't want their protective walls scaled. I had to learn to share my feelings while not storming others' barricades. I had to find ways to connect. I absolutely refused to let anyone else die before I told him/her that I cared.

To this end, I always hug and kiss good-bye and goodnight. When I love a person, I say so. When I like someone, I hug. No one, and I mean no one, is going to wonder about my feelings. I am big into good-bye waves. I wave until a car filled with friends and/or family members is out of sight. I blow kisses. I send cards. Friends call me a rememberer. I make sure that I leave nothing important unsaid, and probably, as a consequence, share too much unimportant stuff, but that's a small price to pay for making sure the important stuff is said. When I die, I'll be sad, but I'm not planning on having regrets for words left unspoken.

There is always tomorrow, until there isn't, and we don't know when the "isn't" is going to come. Death, mental illness, dementia, all things that take our loved ones away from us, usually come when least expected, and they do not announce their intentions to rob us of our loved ones. So, when you like someone give a hug, when you love someone share your feelings. If we say it today, we won't have to worry about there being a tomorrow.

Take care,


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Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Jesus Way of Respect

Like many of you, I've been delighted to see liberal Christian organizations springing up and being active on the internet and on Facebook. It reminds me of my youth--the Jesus Movement, 1960's and 1970's Christian rock music, and the magazine The Wittenburg Door. It reminds me of when Christians were socially active, when they wanted to live as Jesus lived, when they wanted to make the world a better place, and when they were inclusionary.

I know these Christians have always existed, I'm one, but, like me, many have been underground for decades because the loudest Christian voices in recent years have become exclusionary and sometimes ugly, and some of us liberal Christians got tired of being beaten up, called wimps, or ignored. So, now that liberal Christians are speaking up loud and clear again and challenging their more conservative brethren, I should be happy, right? But, I'm not completely happy because many (not all) liberal Christians have begun acting like many (not all) conservative Christians. They are becoming strident and judgmental. They call each other names or infer the displeasure of Jesus. Their cute slogans that you can post on Facebook share a truth, yes, but with a barb in it. That is not the Jesus way of respect.

How many of us when we are told we are wrong or when we are shamed, say, "Oh, thank you, I hadn't realized. I shall change immediately"? I'd venture to say none of us. Our egos do not like to admit we are wrong. Instead, when challenged, our hackles rise, and we dig deeper into our philosophical trenches. 

What disturbs me is that instead of bridging our differences, we humans are deepening the chasms. This troubles me, and I think it might also trouble Jesus. As Christians, we must lead the way on respecting one another because that what Jesus did--he respected people, especially those different from him. Despite my advancing age (61), I am still naive enough to believe that if the Jews and the Palestinians respected one another's humanity, they could solve their discord. The same with Iran and the USA, the same with gangs, the same with family dynamics. It all comes down to mutual respect.

We hear a lot about loving our fellow human being, and to that end, we give food aid or put up shelters, and all that is good. But, it is when we respect our fellow human being that real change results. When we see others as being just like us, that's when we make changes because what is good for us is good for others, what is bad for us is bad for others. Simple, really, but oh how we humans complicate it.

Jesus gave us a simple illustration of respect. We can argue well past when the cows come home, but no one can prove definitively what Jesus thought about drinking wine. What we do know is that Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. He didn't judge; rather, he joined in the celebration. Maybe that's what we should do with those different from us--join in their celebrations without judging, and we can only celebrate with others when we respect them.

Last night, my son Gavin and his girlfriend Michelle brought her parents to our home so that we could meet and share a meal together. Gavin spent the day smoking tri-tip and chickens, and we all cleaned and prepared side dishes and dessert. We were excited and nervous, which is often the case when you are meeting new people.

When Michelle and her parents arrived, we introduced ourselves and started getting acquainted. Michelle's mother gave me a bottle of wine. I was very touched because I knew that Michelle's parents do not drink. I thanked her for her kind gift. The kids and I had decided ahead of time that we would forgo our wine with dinner out of respect for Michelle's parents, so we all had water, tea, or lemonade.

As the evening progressed, we got onto the subject of raising children. Michelle's father and I have very different views on this subject. Michelle is an American born Chinese, and her parents are from China, so her father was telling me how Chinese parents raise their children. I shared with him how I raised my children, which differed in many ways from his way. What I found interesting is how much we learned from each other because we respected each other. Neither of us was going to change the other one's mind, but we both had to agree that despite our respective differences, all of our children had turned out well, so we both had done something right. My theory about this, and it's only my theory, is that if children know they are truly loved and cherished by their parents, then the children will turn out well, no matter what the cultural differences of parenting. 

When I awoke this morning, I was thinking about the lovely evening we had had with Michelle's parents, and I was thinking how respect for one another was the secret. Michelle's parents love her, and I love Gavin. Gavin and Michelle love each other, so our love for our children encourages us to set aside whatever differences we may have about drinking wine or raising children and embrace our similarities, which are that we are parents who love our children and who respect and celebrate our children's choices. Neither of us told the other he or she was wrong about something. Neither of us called the other a derogatory name. No subtle barbs camouflaged in a platitude were exchanged. We two families had a lovely evening sharing with one another, and, as a result, we both learned from one another. This is what I think Jesus wants us to do.

So, let's try the Jesus way of respect. From now on, instead of deepening the chasms of our differences, let's build bridges over our differences and find ways to celebrate our shared humanity.

Take care,


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