Friday, December 29, 2017


Now that the days have gotten short, my late-day walks keep happening in the dark. Though I’m only out for twenty minutes and only on my own cul-de-sac, somehow those jaunts have stopped feeling perfectly safe.

To see where I’m going and also to ward off speeding drivers, kidnappers, and coyotes, I carry a small flashlight, which I wave in circles. Still, it occurred to me recently that I ought to have some kind of reflective vest to make more of me visible. With that, I sent out a Christmas Wish List, and the resulting gift far exceeded anything I could have imagined. 

Christmas day, my son Chris and wife Betty-Jo, could hardly contain themselves as I ripped open the package. Inside was a light-weight, vivid orange vest, which prompted one of the eleven-year-olds to comment, “Oh . . . you’re gonna be a crossing guard!”

But no crossing guard ever wore anything like this. Once the thing was velcroed into place, Chris reached to my waist and pressed a button. Immediately I lit up. Up and down my chest–one row down from each shoulder—ran a string of bright red lights. Chris pressed the button again. With that, the lights began pulsing, going on and off in some kind of mysterious rhythm. Though I couldn’t see them, two similar rows flickered up and down my back.

Again one of the kids commented. “Grandma, you’re begging someone to come steal you!”  Well, that was one viewpoint.  

Two days later, I couldn’t resist giving the vest a try. But we’d lingered late at Chris’,  so by the time I actually went walking it was past 9:30.  But hey, I was “lit up,” so surely no harm lay in wait.  Augmented by my waving flashlight, I did two laps. The only noticeable change was a lightly-pulsating stop sign at the top end of our street. Fascinated, I stood and watched. I’d never before seen that sign doing anything. Which is when I realized it wasn’t the sign flashing, it was ME!

The next day my neighbor called. “Late last night, two very thin men were walking down the street,” she said. “I looked at the clock, it was nearly ten. They stopped at your driveway and turned off their flashlight. I was afraid you might get hurt. I said to my husband, ‘I’m calling the cops,’ but he talked me out of it. I’m just checking to see if you’re okay.”

“Yeah, we’re okay.” For a second I was baffled. Two thin men?  Stopping at our driveway? Ready to attack?

Suddenly the scenario became clear. “That was me!” I said.


“I’ve got this vest. It lights up.” 

“But it was so late!” she said.  “And I saw TWO guys. Both very skinny.”

“I left around 9:40,” I said. “And the vest has two sets of vertical lights—one on each side of my chest. And I did turn off the flashlight at our driveway.” 

“Really!” she said. “I’m so relieved.” 

For some reason, neither of us laughed.

But that was then.  Within minutes, I reported back to Chris, and hilarity ensued.   

Later I thought, If my new vest turns me into two people, so much the better!  Safety in numbers, and all that.   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Sometimes a trip can be too good to be interesting . . . at least to anyone else.

Which is what happened on our recent, 11-day excursion to Scotland with our granddaughter, Lauren,* and her husband, Dan.  Describing it later becomes a problem.

Prior trips were easier: On this one we never saw an old, drunken Brit stumble into the street, spilling all his coins, while all the kindly souls around him scrambled to pick them up.  We never raced across an airport or train station, barely catching the conveyance before it left. We never re-visited the old Yorkshire Moors lady who lived in a desolate house near a deserted train station. In a trembly voice she asked about California. “Have ye got heather?” she asked, and we said No. “Have you got bracken?” No again. “If ye haven’t got heather,” she complained, “and ye haven’t got bracken, what do ye have?” 

We never sat in a British pub listening to a World War II pilot, Wilford Wise,
and his brother regale us with hilarious tales of local drunken drivers—especially the one whose auto careened off the road and finished with its nose poking into a stream . . . whereupon the portly driver simply lay there until morning, sleeping it off.    

Instead, thanks to the ministrations of our nurse, Lauren . . . “Everybody needs to travel with a nurse,” she said, (meaning people our age), and the strength and helpfulness of our restaurant manager, Dan, we were treated to nearly luggage-free strolls across airports, train stations, and along tourist-heavy Inverness and Edinburgh streets. Between them, the “kids” pushed (and carried up stairs), three double-decker sets of luggage, leaving Rob and me to navigate with our canes—though occasionally, as we traversed the miles-long underground catacombs of Heathrow airport, they plopped us into wheelchairs.  

Most evenings we sat in one hotel room or another and played “99”, a tricky card game.

It all began with the morning we invited Dan and Lauren to join us for breakfast at Tustin’s Spires Restaurant. Somehow the subject of Scotland came up, and before the meal was over, Rob’s surprise that the two had never been there, turned into something like, “When do you want to go?” 

“No, not next year,” he added quickly. “I don’t measure my life in years anymore, just months.”  Which became a trip planned for late October. As we drove home afterwards, Rob said, “Well that was certainly an expensive breakfast.”

Just because the Scotland trip was smooth, doesn’t mean it lacked amazing episodes. Thanks to our friendship with “Lou,” who lives in Tustin and distributes fine liquors, we were treated to an all-day trip to the Glenfarclas Distillery near Inverness.

To our surprise, the CEO himself met our train in Elgin--and in his Range Rover drove us at lusty speeds past numerous distilleries in the Scottish countryside. Afterwards, his tall, exceedingly handsome associate from New Zealand took us through the Glenfarclas Distillery itself. There we saw the clear mountain brook, the giant copper stills, and the barley grain that eventually becomes fine liquor.  The tour ended in a cool, dank warehouse, where we marveled at wooden barrels, lying on their sides in endless stacks, all full of expensive Scotch, some dating back to the 1950s. 

I asked, “What would it cost to buy a bottle filled from a 1950s barrel?”    

Our guide smiled.  “We don’t get many orders. Such a bottle would cost thousands.”  

Our tour ended with dated, printed menus for a luncheon on the property . . . which began with hors d’oeuvres with the CEO, the CFO and 2 other staff members, plus small, powerful shots of expensive Scotch. When my first swallow sent a burning trail down my throat, I set the glass aside.

The 5-course luncheon menu described appetizers, soup, salad, lamb cutlets and a chocolaty dessert. You would have thought we four innocents were either celebrities or major distributors of Scotch whiskey. 

Outstanding as well was the Sunday afternoon Evensong at the Yorkminster Cathedral in York, England. With what clarion voices the all-male choir, augmented by an organ, filled the vast cathedral halls with harmony. The voices ranged from deep, dark masculine to those of mere children--who yet sounded like sweet sopranos. Occasionally, to our amazement, one of those very young boys would sing an ethereal, unaccompanied solo.  Rob and I studied the white-robed choir: one boy was so small his dark hair was barely visible over the railing.     

A highlight for us were the reunions with two sets of English friends—Amanda Case and her chum, Joyce, in York, with whom we’ve been close personal friends for 45 years. And in London, Peter Dobbs and wife Michelle. Peter, then a British army officer, was present when our son, Bobby, won the British hang gliding championships in 1975—at which time we stayed in the Dobbs’ home.

Back then, Peter’s mother, Marie, gave me her fascinating novel The Listener,(using the pseudonym, Anne Telscombe), about the family’s tour in Russia, (with four mischievous sons),  when her husband was the English ambassador. Marie eventually became famous in Britain for having finished a novel by Jane Austin.

Equally amazing: Peter’s recent job of rescuing CEOs, kidnapped by foreigners and held for ransom, was the subject of a movie, Proof of Life, with Peter’s role depicted by actor Russell Crowe.  

Both Peter and Amanda have visited us in America. 

If ever our contemporaries travel to foreign lands, I suggest they take willing grandchildren, who can turn an otherwise-grueling trip into a hassle-free, and yes, delightful excursion.

* (Lauren is also the nurse who, on a cold night last January, organized bystanders and saved the lives of two potentially hypo-thermic passengers whose car went off a winding mountain road and landed in a river.)   

Thursday, November 23, 2017


I couldn’t have been more surprised if a turkey suddenly appeared on our patio and begged to come in.

Because I’m not cooking this Thanksgiving, my perusal of the Los Angeles Times was slow and leisurely.  When I finally arrived at The Opinion pages,  I was still in low flame mode--especially since my favorite section has always been Opinion.  I relish getting the extra, underplayed “facts” attached to a passionate point of view.   

When I glanced at the featured “letter” (nicely placed under a full-color picture), I suddenly remembered I’d sent the paper my own version/opinion of a recent article.  I began reading . . .  then jumped to the bottom. 

Oh my Lord, the letter-writer was me!  

Rob said, “Why the sudden shriek?” 

Well. Mainly because The Times promises they’ll “let you know” if you’re being published. But four times, now, I’ve simply been surprised.  When I sent my email, I knew it was too long . . . yet here I was. Meaning relevance outranks length.  

Here’s how it appeared:   DEBATING CHILDBIRTH: re “Is ‘natural motherhood’ really more feminist?” Opinion, Nov. 19.    Then—my letter: 

        In 1950, pregnant with my first child, I read Grantly Dick-Read’s “Childbirth Without Fear.” I urged my respected obstetrician to let me deliver “naturally,” or drug-free. His astonishment was obvious.

        In those days, that meant no husband present either. For five hours, alone, I suffered a rising river of pain. Finally, no longer able to stand it, I begged for relief. The “shot” put me under—so deep I was still unconscious when my 11-pound, 3-ounce baby boy was born. Subsequently, with five more births, only one was exactly as Dick-Read described—relatively fast and mostly pain free.

        Since then I’ve seen a daughter and daughter-in-law give birth, one with no drugs, the other with an epidural. Both scenarios came out great.

        My point? Childbirth pain is neither ennobling nor necessary, and nothing is gained by being a “martyr.”  Women should feel free to follow their own inclinations.  

Today I phoned a few people for copies to send East. Then discovered “copies" aren’t available when you get your news on a phone.  Oh, well. It’s still a good surprise.

Monday, November 13, 2017


Today I couldn’t get past the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

There he is, top of the page (above the fold), clasping the hand, patting the back, and gazing into the face of a known killer—Rodrigo Duterte, leader of the Philippines. Weeks earlier, he’d praised Duterte for “taking care of” the drug problem.  Oh, yes, the man really takes care of it . . . Never bothering with the nicety of trials, his henchmen have murdered thousands—literally—of Philippinos who were dealers, or even suspected users, of drugs.  You kill enough people, the problem is solved. 

Along with Russia’s Putin, Trump makes it clear he admires men who are “into” murder.       

Worse, for citizens of the United States, was today’s headline: GOP’S rush to approve young judges.  Brett J. Talley, Trump’s latest appointment, according to the Times, “was unanimously rated ‘not qualified’ by the American Bar Association’s judicial rating committee.”  Appointed as a  lifetime Federal Judge in Alabama, he’s practiced law only three years, has never tried a case, blogged about “Hillary Rotten Clinton,” and has pledged his support of the NRA. As Trump says about Talley, only 36, “When you think of it, (his youth) has consequences . . . 40 years out.” 

I’m not alone in fearing the worst from our leader. A group of 27 psychiatrists, who ordinarily refrain from diagnosing public figures they’ve never personally met, could no longer remain silent about what they see as a threat to the country.  Early this year, as a group, they felt compelled to speak out. Together, they’ve written a book called,       THE DANGEROUS CASE OF DONALD TRUMP.  The subtitle: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.  

The book is now # 7 on the New York Times best-seller list.

I’ve read it, and found so much quotable material I could never produce enough blogs to do the book justice. Gail Sheehy, PhD, writes, “Beneath the grandiose behavior of every narcissist lies the pit of fragile self esteem; more than anything, Trump lacks trust in himself, which may lead him to take drastic actions to prove himself to himself and to the world.”

Lance Dodes, M.D. adds, “ . . . someone who cons others, lies, cheats, and manipulates to get what he wants, and who doesn’t care whom he hurts, may be not just repetitively immoral but also severely impaired, as sociopaths lack a central human characteristic,  empathy.” 

Michal Tansey, PhD, expresses the ultimate in scariness:  “ . . . even more frightening are Trump’s attraction to brutal tyrants, and also the prospect of nuclear war.” 

Like thousands of others, I’m waiting for everyone to recognize that our country is in the hands of a recognizably sick and truly dangerous man.    

Wednesday, September 27, 2017



America is suddenly on a perilous path.

Far from becoming “Great Again,” this nation is ripping apart internally . . . with an ever- widening rift the size of the Grand Canyon. Thanks to the vitriol spewing from the White House, we are now all turning against each other: spectators against knee-bending athletes, legal citizens against productive illegals, poor against de-regulated rich, Christians against Muslims, Democrats against Republicans, the still-simmering Confederate South against blacks, healthy tax-payers against insurance-needy sick.   

We should have seen this coming: Way back when, Trump declared that Vietnam hero John McCain was not a hero; he railed against the Kahn family who lost a son in Iraq; he bragged that because he was famous, women would allow him to grab them . . . well, anywhere; he threatened protestors—“I’d like to punch him in the face!”; he inspired campaign mobs to scream, “Lock her up!”    

Since then, Trump has given voice to every American who has a grievance against anyone. Like never before, in every state acts of venom are on daily display.

Internationally, it’s worse; even our closest allies no longer trust us. They simply don’t believe that America will keep its word . . .  on global warming, on immigration policies, on United Nations support, on the Iranian agreement, or anything else.   

Scarier still, the nation that once feared or quietly disliked us, is now inspired to rise up and yes—go to war. Because of Trump’s big, raging mouth, we’ve never been so close to a war with North Korea.  Meaning the horror of nuclear weapons is suddenly a possibility.

There must be a way, legally, to rid America of its terrifying leader.

If not . . . What will become of our country?

Monday, August 28, 2017


For 17 years I’ve been following the career of Joe Arpaio.

In 1999, I was writing a book about addiction, (SAVE MY SON). Having visited more than a dozen correctional facilities in Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, and California, I learned from most sources that harsh prison and jail treatment not only does nothing to help rid inmates of their addictions, it tends to make embittered addicts worse.

Among the names that kept coming up was Arizona’s sheriff, Joe Arpaio. His treatment of prisoners was legion, famous among professionals in all areas of law enforcement, but especially among those treating addicts.

It wasn’t enough that Arpaio humiliated male prisoners by forcing them to wear pink underwear, he also brutalized them physically—in so many ways he became a lightning rod for lectures on how NOT to treat convicts. He re-instituted chain gangs, he kept Latinos (exclusively Latinos) in tents whose summer temperatures rose to 120.  He brutalized pregnant Latinas, ensuring that none who gave birth within his jails had infants who survived. In various ways, his staff regularly tortured their inmates.  Contrary to his claims, his recidivism rate was terrible.  

To no one’s surprise, Arpaio labeled his own jail a “concentration camp.” To keep it full, his deputies routinely stopped Latino drivers for no reason except to quiz them about their immigration status. When a judge demanded he stop this practice, Arpaio tried, surreptitiously, to get the judge’s wife in legal trouble. But his deputies never ceased their illegal traffic stops.

I tried to include Arpaio’s record in my book, but my co-author refused, fearing he’d lose conservative votes as he, himself, ran for sheriff. 

Eventually, as we all know, Arpaio was convicted of defying court orders—and faced jail time. But now this horrible man has been pardoned by another horrible man.

None of us need reminding of our president’s own past sins—groping women, cheating workers on construction sites, refusing to rent apartments to blacks. Neither he nor Arpaio  will ever do anything to make the world proud. But at least they have each other.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Our great grandkids weren’t the main attraction of our recent visit to Norfolk, Virginia.  Yet in a way, they were.  Knox, 3 ½, and baby sister Harper, two-ish,  were like low-flying hummingbirds, darting in and out of every scene.  

When Rob and I flew East to Norfolk, we’d come to witness a momentous event: Marine Sergeant Christian Carpenter, (husband of our granddaughter, Erica), was about to become a 2nd Lieutenant.  Erica’s parents, Melanie and our son, Ken, had invited us to stay with them and be part of the festivities.

The event was scheduled for a Monday at precisely ten a.m., to be officiated by Christian’s battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel down from Quantico.  Because Christian had just graduated from Old Dominion University, ODU allowed him to be commissioned on a central quad--in front of three stately flagpoles.

When Rob and I arrived, the spacious quad was mostly empty—except for half a dozen spectators and three lonely chairs, conspicuously facing the flagpoles. Rob and I quickly gleaned that Christian had provided the chairs . . . for the two of us, plus Melanie’s mother. Gradually, the crowd grew larger.    

As befits the military, at the appointed moment, Christian, in uniform, marched from somewhere behind us, did a precise left turn, and positioned himself smartly in front of the Colonel.  At that very moment, from the other direction, Knox came racing across the cement, and with a broad grin and loud voice, called out, “Hi, Daddy!” 

Fascinated, I saw that Christian’s expression never changed.  Somebody scooped up the little boy, and the ceremony went on.

A dramatic and unusual part of the commissioning was Christian’s father, a retired Air Force sergeant, in uniform, ceremoniously approaching now-Lieutenant Carpenter, and saluting him—to which Christian returned the salute.

The commissioning qualified as a Big Moment. Yet almost bigger for me, was a brief encounter between the two kids: Afterwards, I happened to notice Knox busily climbing up and down the few steps that led to an elevated cement area. From a distance, little Harper saw him too. Off she ran toward her brother, arms extended. At the last moment, Knox saw her coming, and turning, he drew her into an embrace. For a moment they hugged. Then Knox took Harper’s elbow and led her over to an adult. A photogenic moment.    

Later, Erica said, “Harper idolizes her brother—wants to do everything he does.” I thought, It seems to go in both directions.

During our three days there, Ken and Melanie provided no fewer than three feasts, the final—with 35 guests--to celebrate Christian’s new status. At the last minute, Melanie was dubious: in rainy Norfolk, an outdoors event seemed dicey. Though a few sprinkles accompanied the set-up, we all took a chance and settled into eating at four long tables. No rain at all. But just as the last person finished, a downpour began, slowly at first. I asked Melanie, “Did you pray about this?”  She smiled, leaving me unsure.  Then I thought, Well, it’s obvious you did.  

Whether Melanie has divine connections or not, she and Ken clearly share some kind of obscure--make that diabolical--ESP. To Rob’s disgust, and mine, they beat us soundly in Password.  But not like you’d expect, seldom with clues and answers that made sense. When Melanie began with the word “Mound” and Ken said, “Anthill,” Rob and I were flabbergasted. Later she said, “Tennis,” and Ken answered “Racquet,” which lacked all logic. And so it went.  As the points piled up against us, Ken admitted to other, similar triumphs. “One of our friends accused us of cheating. ‘You studied the cards in advance,’ they insisted. But how could we—with hundreds of words in the box?” 

Soon, as we kept playing and losing, Rob began blaming me.  Well, I’ll admit to some significant memory lapses. But I can also spot hopeless when I see it. In Password, you’re bound to lose to a pair who unfairly read each other’s minds.

Those three days were full of surprises—the most startling when I plunked down on a piece of plastic that covered their elegant living-room couch.  Suddenly my bottom was alive with pins and needles . . . as though I’d sat on Melanie’s famous “mound” -- meaning “anthill.”  I leaped up, demanding of Kenny, “What did I just sit on?” 

“Oh,” he said. “The plastic is electrified . . . to keep away the dog.” 

“Well, it certainly worked on me,” I said, and from then on I viewed that couch as Pavlov intended . . . with pre-programmed avoidance.

The nicest thing that Melanie did for me, personally, was invite her friends to a book signing—meaning we brought an extra suitcase filled with nothing but books.  She made it a 2-5 cocktail party, and her neighbors and pals graciously let me speak to them about the craft of writing, then bought some 32 books. 

As I sat autographing volumes, somebody brought me a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  Before I could eat the second one, I sensed that something had flashed by very close and continued on without pausing. I looked, and my cookie was gone. Yards away, I spotted my treasure, clutched in Knox’s hand.  Aware of her child’s thievery, Erica made him give it back.  And so I reclaimed my treat, now in two messy chunks. 

And there’s Knox for you, affectionate, supremely well-coordinated, and capable of fast and clever deception.  As we departed on the last day, Knox, who’d been up too late the night before, was so exhausted he was sobbing uncontrollably. Still, Erica made him hush long enough to hear us say, “We love you, Knox.”  Erica whispered in his ear. For a few seconds, Knox stopped his crying and said, “I love you too.”  And then he picked up where he left off, once more sobbing.  And so we departed, with a darling child waving at us through his tears.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


                                         (Familiar Topic, Largely Re-Written)  

I’ll admit it—I’m mesmerized.

Like a deviant caught staring at a disgusting video, I’m drawn to this unproductive, dramatic, often calamitous, national spectacle.  To Trump.  

Utterly spellbound, I can’t look away . . . all the while, castigating myself for a kind of morbid curiosity. Why do I find him so compelling? This man who lies gratuitously, who attacks everyone (even those in his own party)?  Who never utters a well-turned phrase unless he’s reading from a teleprompter. Why am I so focused on a childish egotist who, if left alone, will bring calamity down on our nation?

I see the word “Trump” in a headline, and I read it. Always. Every word. With bated breath I search the text,  caught up in his latest, mind-boggling utterance (or threat), the immature, unfiltered attacks that reveal him to be . . . well, amazing. It must be because traditionally, villains are fascinating. Even more, because, to some unfathomable degree, he has managed to fool so many people.

So yes, I’ve become repetitious. And I know it.  But lately I’ve tried to control myself, have stopped uttering every wayward thought.    

Forgiving myself, I recognize that my personal problem dates back to my childhood, when, since age six, I began immersing myself in books. But always those which were exciting, all focused on the human condition . . . full of conflict and drama.  In every case I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t turn away until I saw how the story ended. To me, as a child stuck on an isolated, heavily-forested ranch, those books were more compelling than my everyday life . . . because how breathless can a child remain over a lot of beautiful but quiescent trees?

Now, as an adult, I’m once more caught up in an ongoing drama. But this one is real. This one matters.  In some ways my well-being depends on how it ends. (Will I continue breathing clean air, drinking pure water?)

But so do millions of other lives hang on the outcome, most of them more intently than mine.  To these millions the story’s ending will determine the size of their paycheck, (will the rich get all the tax breaks?), the nature of their daily interractions (do they need to hide from ICE?), their protection from corporate misdeeds (will all the regulations disappear?) and most assuredly, their level of healthcare.  At the fingertips of an unpredictable narcissist lie decisions which can determine how long most Americans will live.   

It gets worse: the whims of an ignoramus may affect the very survival of our planet. 

So who can look away for a moment—who can fail to hope the story ends the way it should. That this  . . . well, this unglued failure of a man continues his steady decline. That he becomes so unthinkable, so lost in his own ego, that he, or others, will ensure that he disappears from the White House forever.

Only then can I finish the book. Without those headlines, America will no longer be a riveting soap opera. Without this so-called president, we may have a government that is rational, objective, qualified.  With a chance at equanimity.     

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


I’ll admit it—I’m mesmerized.

Like a deviant caught staring at a disgusting video, I’m drawn to this unproductive, dramatic, often calamitous, national spectacle.  To Trump.  

Utterly spellbound, I can’t look away. 

Since childhood, I’ve immersed myself in books, always those which were exciting . . .  almost all focused on the human condition, full of conflict and drama.  In every case I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t turn away until I saw how the story ended. To me, as a child stuck on an isolated, heavily-forested ranch, those books were more compelling than my everyday life . . . because how breathless can a child remain over a lot of beautiful but quiescent spruce, fir, and pine trees?

Now, as an adult, I’m once more caught up in an ongoing drama. But this one is real. This one matters.  In some ways my well-being depends on how it ends. (Will I continue breathing clean air, drinking pure water?) And so do the lives, most of them more intently than mine, of millions of others. To these millions the story’s ending will determine their ability to make a living, the nature, good or bad, of their social interactions, and most assuredly, their level of healthcare.  At the fingertips of an unpredictable narcissist lie decisions which can determine how long most Americans will live.   

It gets worse: the whims of an ignoramus may affect the very survival of our planet. 

From the story’s start I was both amazed and repulsed . . . that so many Americans were taking seriously a possible leader who reviled the press and all his opponents, who lied in every speech, and who possessed zero qualifications.

Once elected, his goal was narrow, disingenuous, and dangerous: because they weren’t his ideas, he vowed to undo every beneficial ruling made by his predecessor—and also to appoint leaders who would destroy the very bureaus they were chosen to lead. Scott Pruitt, of EPA, once sued to rescind all efforts to curtail environmental pollutants.  Now as leader, he tries to unravel every beneficial rule. Betsy DeVos not only knows little about public schools, she heavily favors charters.  Now she heads the Department of Education. 

On a continuous basis, Trump has cancelled Federal support for the Arts, for programs like Head Start, for Teen Pregnancy Prevention, for Hate Group Opposition, for International Family Planning, for Investigative Science. Forget big pharma: Only government scientists like those in the CDC and NIH, have the resources and the will to unlock the antibiotic that will curb the latest, uncontrollable pathogen. (A micro-organism, by the way, that threatens to go on a world-wide killing spree.)   

Look around: if the cause is exemplary, Trump has taken away its funding.   

So of course I’m watching, day by day. Reading everything. Listening to all the words, Tamping down fear. 

Who can look away for a moment—who can fail to hope the story ends the way it should. That this  . . . well, this unglued failure of a man continues his steady deterioration. That he becomes so unthinkable, so lost in his own ego, that he, or others, will ensure that he disappears from the White House forever.

Only then will America return to a government that is rational, objective, and qualified.

Thursday, July 13, 2017



A year ago I never would have guessed it would end this way—that two families, strangers to each other when the year began, would shed tears as one family went back to Norway twelve months later.   

Last night I hugged two little boys over and over, trying not to notice their tears, fighting a lump in my throat because I was uncertain when I would see them again.  Cornelius and Constantin—only 11 and 5 when we first met. Back then their names seemed too elaborate for their small bodies. Yet today the names evoke images that have become a palpable ache, linked to all the moments we spent together. Those elegant names: how quickly they seemed to wrap around each boy until they fit exactly right, and how inevitably Rob and I came to love the boys themselves. Though the two were unique, the older a serious student, the younger an imp, they both had a sweetness that drew us in.

We first met the Norwegian Glittenbergs a year ago, when they moved in across the street from my daughter Tracy and her Paul. Our first glimpse of Constantine, who’d just turned five, was like finding an adorable, pet child who spoke no English. He was tow-headed and small, with a button nose and a child-actor’s assortment of expressions: wonder, humor, dismay, delight, all enhanced by a missing front tooth. When we spoke, all of us around Tracy’s dinner table, Constantin leaned toward Cornelius, an elf with eyes on his brother’s face as he awaited a translation. Had he been old enough for kindergarten in Norway, he might have known some of what we were saying.

On that first get-acquainted supper, Tracy brought in her next-door neighbors, the Bowers, who also had four children. One of them, Elizabeth, has a voice so lovely that a few years ago at age twelve she sang at Tracy’s daughter’s wedding. Tracy announced to the group, “I hear that the Glittenbergs also have a girl who sings. Mathea-Mari, can you and Elizabeth go in the house together and find a song you both know?”

For fifteen minutes, the two girls—one Hispanic the other Norwegian--disappeared. When they came out, the two joined in a harmonic version of a popular melody, which was so lovely it stunned the whole group.  Only later did we learn that Mathea-Mari, now sixteen, is famous all over Europe as a solo performer . . . and that her family picked a leased home in Tustin, partly because it was close to an airport from which her father could take her back to Europe for frequent, scheduled concerts.   

“How lucky,” our family remarked later that evening, “that we didn’t know about Mathea-Mari in advance, or we’d have all been intimidated.” 

The year became a miracle of increasing closeness between the two families—which often included Rob and me. We saw less of the two older girls--Olivia, a senior, and  Mathea-Mari, a junior, who were consumed with homework at Beckman high school. But we spent hours with their younger brothers. Early in the year, Tracy taught the boys a card game, ‘golf,’ in which the lucky card is a joker. One of the first things five-year-old Constantin learned to say in English came with a cry of joy, “I got a joker, Mama!” 

Cornelius, a slender eleven, displayed an awareness of everything around him. He wore glasses, and he was half an actor, playing a quick succession of roles as he responded to every idea that flew by. We always knew what Cornelius was thinking. He and I quickly became buddies, exchanging hugs with each new encounter.  One day Rob and I found him on a nearby road, walking home from school. We stopped to give him a ride. When he jumped into our car, he said, “Your car smells like my Grandma’s car.”

“Is that good?” Rob asked, and he said, “yes.”

How often we arrived at Tracy’s to find little Constantin dashing into the house and flying with a great leap into Tracy’s chaise lounge . . . where he didn’t exactly sit, but splayed out into a disorganized pattern of white, skinny arms and legs.     

Frequently invited to dinner with Tracy and Paul, Rob and I often found the party included two small boys as additional guests . . .  and an evening that ended with games of golf. As I sat across from the two blond kids, I was mesmerized by a parade of shifting facial expressions, as though our family had been touched by budding movie stars, by two faces lit with a kaleidoscope of emotions, every change of thought or mood expressed more vividly than with words.

Even Tracy’s small, black-and-white dog, Ollie, became part of the entertainment. On days when she walked Ollie, Tracy fetched Constantin to go along, the boy only slightly larger than the pet.  Soon she and Constantin went on errands together, and she even brought him and Ollie to the park, letting them entertain each other as she played tennis. And he spent a day with her at Videoresources . . . becoming an instant mascot for the company.    

Charming kids don’t happen by accident.  We became warm friends with their parents, J.P. and Katherine, both young, good-looking, and solid in their own skins.  Increasingly, the two families spent more and more leisure time together—visiting California sites, like beaches, an “escape” room, friends of Tracy’s, and even our son Chris’s ranch.  And the family was with us on multiple holidays—Easter, Mother’s Day, the Super bowl, Christmas.      

Thanks to kindergarten and all those two-family adventures, Constantin became steeped in English. By year’s end, now age six, he knew everything we were saying--and he’d even learned to read in English. Sometimes when I arrived at Tracy’s, I heard a tiny voice calling from a window across the street. Though I couldn’t see him, I knew it was Constantin, spinning out a greeting.

Our last day with the Glittenberg’s was both memorable and poignant.  Around noon, the two daughters borrowed my Prius to take their driver’s tests, hoping, before they left, to earn California driver’s licenses. To our delight, both succeeded.  When I got my car back, they’d had it washed.

Dinner at Tracy’s that evening was bittersweet.  The two boys couldn’t stop weeping . . . the younger, still no bigger than a puppy, curled up in his father’s lap, the older leaning against J.P.’s shoulder . . . a tableau momentarily interrupted by the arrival of “Addie,”  Constantin’s fellow kindergartner. He’d mentioned her occasionally, and now her mother admitted, “One day they went to the park.  And they (she spelled it out) K.I.S.S.E.D.”  We all burst out laughing.

Later, mother Katherine read from her laptop, a long tribute to our family, and especially Tracy.  And then came gifts from the Glittenbergs to all of us, among them cookies from Hawaii. Rob and I returned home, already feeling nostalgic and sad.

If only sadness hadn’t been part of the departure . . . but it was. As Tracy drove them to LAX, everyone in the car was singing except the two boys. “It was so heartbreaking,” Tracy said. “They couldn’t stop sobbing."

The consoling part is, we know we’ll see the Glittenbergs again, either in California or Norway. Feelings as strong as we all felt for each other can’t be entirely eliminated, either by time or space. For that we’re grateful.         


Thursday, June 22, 2017



Imagine yourself standing at the edge of a thousand foot cliff, with a ferocious wind whipping your hair and sand blowing in your eyes and nothing below but threatening, rocky space. Your oldest son has just persuaded you to launch into that space, a tandem passenger on his hang glider.  The only problem is, you are a forty-four year old mother, a devout coward, with plans to stick around and raise your six kids.  What on earth are you doing here!

Thus began one of the most terrifying events in my life, an experience I Iook back on now with utter disbelief, wondering still how I ever strapped myself into such an elemental contrivance as a hang glider and flew off a cliff so awesome I couldn't stand near its edge . . . how I soared to two thousand feet--with small planes flying below us--and managed not to faint . . . and how, though I shamelessly begged my son to bring me down, I eventually came to love it! 

None of it makes sense now.  Why did I momentarily stop being the person who has steadfastly refused to ride on Space Mountain and who, in the movie theater, subconsciously feels around for a seat belt? 

In fact, why did I do any of the things I did back in the early days of hang gliding?          

I’ve tried to explain all this in my book, HIGHER THAN EAGLES, which is an account mothers everywhere will understand.  It is the story of how life creeps up on you: how one can have five sons and a daughter and never imagine that three of the boys will become flying-mad kids and persuade you they must fly; how rational parents are talked into starting a hang glider manufacturing company and then persuaded to help run it; how sons drag their parents to championships, claiming they can win . . . and then WIN; how boys imagine they can set world records . . . and then SET them. 

HIGHER THAN EAGLES is about being a parent who follows her kids' dreams--and because of them lives richly for a time, more richly than she ever imagined.  But it is also about loss and coming to grips with tragedy.  About trying to understand the why of losing a child, and realizing in the end you will not only never fully understand, you could not, looking back, do anything differently.  That it was the children themselves who led you to make decisions you would make again in a minute. 

I wrote HIGHER THAN EAGLES because I had to.  Though it took fourteen years to find a publisher (and I sold six other books meanwhile), I knew I'd never give up.  Once it became the lead title for Longstreet Press, I was free to go on to other books--and to continue teaching novel-writing, which I love as much as writing itself.  For who else but a budding novelist really wants to know how to make a scene come alive . . . or finds daily discoveries about the craft of writing as exciting as I do. 

If writing were as lucrative as it is compelling, there would be few other professions, for how else can we preserve forever the things we've experienced.  The images.  The ideas.  The feelings.  The logic.  The lack of logic.  The sheer craziness. 

And so I live both in the "real" world and the world of the imagination, and I cannot see myself doing anything else.

(When a writer’s club asked for an essay in advance of my appearance, this is what I sent.)