About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a university administrator and a high school English teacher, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Why We Could Lose the War on COVID 19

The day after the World Health Organization declared the spread of the virus a pandemic, President Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office.

“We’re all in this together,” he promised. “We must put politics aside. We must stop the partisanship and unify together as one nation and one family. Acting with compassion and love, we will heal the sick, care for those in need, and emerge from this challenge stronger and more unified than ever before.”

A week later, in his COVID 19 press briefing Trump declared, “I’m a wartime president. That’s what we’re fighting. It’s the invisible enemy. That’s the toughest enemy, the invisible enemy. And we’re going to defeat the invisible enemy.”

By July 3, when the number of cases in the U.S. had skyrocketed to 2,752,704, Trump barely mentioned the invisible enemy in his speech at Mount Rushmore.

The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education. Our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but villains.”

His vow to lead a unified nation in fighting a war with an invisible enemy had vanished, resulting in aiding and abetting that enemy by refusing to practice and promote the only weapons that can stop it: the use of face coverings, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings. He continues to hold huge campaign rallies, while demanding that states and schools reopen, regardless of the spread of the infection in their locations.

Trump believes the way to fight the invisible enemy is to show no fear, by going on the attack in the way wars have always been fought. Attend huge campaign rallies to show your support for the president, go to the beach with friends to show you refuse to be held captive in your home.

This invisible enemy welcomes those who confront it by showing no fear. It needs hosts to survive. Until its intended victims understand that, the virus will win. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Virus of Sextortion

It’s Cocooning Day 50, with no Covid -9 cases so far, in our Château Lake San Marcos community. Karen and I wear facemasks when we leave our condo to take daily walks. We discovered how to fashion a mask by using two rubber bands to hook over our ears to hold a hospital sock over our nose and mouth. We tried everyday socks, but discovered their thickness hindered our breathing. The thinner hospital sock souvenirs, if less fashionable, are more comfortable. Thanks to Netflix, Prime Video, our “Social Distance Singers” YouTube production, and ongoing writing projects, we’ve been able to fend off the boredom of social isolation.

An unexpected benefit in our daily lives has been the unusual absence of scam telephone calls. But that hasn’t kept the online predators away. Yesterday I received this email from a Syed Mehmood Ahmed.

I do know, *******, is your pass word. Hey, you don't know me. Yet I know just about everything about you. Your current facebook contact list, phone contacts as well as all the online activity in your computer from previous 127 days. Consisting of, your self pleasure video footage, which brings me to the main reason why I am writing this particular mail to you. I will be forwarding the recording randomly to 5 people you're friends with. It may be your friends, co workers, boss, mother and father. I would like to make you a 1 time, no negotiable offer. Get $2000 in bitcoin and send it to the listed below address. You've 24 hours to do so. Your time begins as soon you read through this mail

Guilty only of viewing an occasional X-rated film, I was not worried about what the predator threatened to reveal to my friends and relatives. But that first line caught my attention with an actual password I changed ten years ago. Yahoo had announced email accounts had been hacked at the time. Nevertheless, I immediately changed my current password, as added protection from wannabe hackers. An Internet search of the extortionist’s name was of no help. Variations of the name are as common as “Joseph Smith” in the USA.

In a June 17, 2019 CNBC story, Kate Fazzini wrote, “Overall, extortion by email is growing significantly, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Compliant Center (IC3). Last year, these complaints rose 242% to 51,146 reported crimes, with total losses of $83 million.”
I learned attempted extortion is a federal crime, so I went to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and filed a report. It’s also punishable in every state, so I filed a report with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which has law enforcement authority in the city of San Marcos. Finally, I notified the Executive Director of the Château Lake San Marcos to warn our fellow senior citizen neighbors of the threat.

Having to hide from a health threat over which we have no control, it felt good to fight back at those who would take advantage of our isolation. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Remembering My Neighbor

Our next-door neighbor died last night. But he was much more than a neighbor. He was a best friend, a father figure, and a 103 year-old icon of a life well-lived.

Karen and I met him when we moved in to this retirement community two years ago. He stopped us as we passed on the sidewalk in front of our new home. He was pushing his walker. We smiled and said hello. After I shook his hand, he reached for Karen’s, bowing as he raised the back of her hand to his lips. I said to myself, I hope our neighbor’s not a jerk.

The courtly Roland “Ron” Bouchard was not a jerk. In the two years we were his neighbors, we grew to love him and his four daughters as members of our own family.

Before COVID-19 hit, we shared a table with him at Sunday champagne brunches, where he entertained in the dining hall by playing his old-favorite pieces on the piano. When we were occasionally unable to join him, we let him know by leaving notes on his door from “the kids next door.”

When we learned that twenty years ago he wrote his autobiography, My Time in the Twentieth Century, making 25 copies for his family and friends, we asked if we could read it. He agreed.

We were so impressed with his writing skills and the story he told about his growing up in the 1920’s in the same neighborhood as future President Calvin Coolidge, his 25 years in the Navy during two wars, rising from enlisted man to Lieutenant Commander, followed by 25 years as a major department store manager, we asked if we could publish it on Amazon. He agreed.

As I came to know Ron I became closer to him because of shared experiences. He attended a Catholic grade school, where he had some disciplinary problems with the nuns, as did I with Sister Ursula, who sentenced me to hours of kneeling in the hall for misbehavior in class.

Most astonishing of all, the tuxedo he bought 60 years ago now hangs in my closet, a perfect fit. It became mine last year, after the Château held its annual gala anniversary celebration. Ron loaned it to me for the event. When I returned it, he refused to accept it, telling me if I didn’t want it I could throw it away.

My father passed away several years ago. He would have been two years younger than Ron. But I have felt as close to Ron as I did to him. I had no sisters, and since Ron has no sons, last year I asked him if he would adopt me. He gave me one of his famous long stares, but didn’t answer. I took that as a yes and will continue to wear Dad’s tuxedo to the Chateau’s gala events.  

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hiding fromthe Virus: Living the New Normal

It’s Day 14 of our lockdown in the Château Lake San Marcos retirement community. None of our 140 residents have been diagnosed with COVID 19.

Yesterday, according Public Health Services, there were 341 cases and two deaths reported in San Diego County, including 3 cases in San Marcos, 15 in Carlsbad, 12 in Encinitas, 8 in Oceanside, 7 in Escondido, and 5 in Vista.

We pass our time cocooning with the same daily schedule we had before the virus got here.

Awakening at 5 AM, we watch the morning news, beginning with BBC America, since our son lives in London with his wife and our 13-year-old granddaughter. Thanks to our weekly Skype video calls, we stay connected with them during their own lockdown.

BBC America has also become our favorite channel to maintain our mental health. Yesterday morning we watched the weekly meeting of the House of Commons, called Questions to the Prime Minister, when Boris Johnson was called upon by members of Parliament to answer questions about his government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The questions from members of Parliament were the same as those we hear in President Trump’s press briefings. Why are there shortages of personal protective equipment for hospital medical staff? What will be done to help low income families survive the hardship of unemployment? All questions accused the Prime Minister’s government of doing too little too late.

While the subject matter was the same as ours, the civility was not. Unlike press briefings, the questions to the Prime Minister are presided over by the Speaker of the House of Commons, who gives permission to a member to ask a question upon rising from their seat. The questions address the Prime Minister in the third person, not directly, as “Can the Prime Minister tell us why the government is not responding to the crisis quickly enough?” The PM’s reply is phrased accordingly. “The Honorable Member apparently doesn’t know about the many steps we’ve taken.”

Compare that to the response to a polite question NBC White House correspondent Peter Alexander asked President Trump at his recent press briefing. “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” Trump’s response? “I say that you’re a terrible reporter.” Those press briefings have brought us more anger and anxiety than information, so we’ve stopped watching them.

After breakfast it’s on to our respective writing projects, Karen is working on another novel, as well as planning how she can transform an earlier one into a short musical play, suitable for production with a cast chosen from our retirement community neighbors.

At 11:30 we call the dining room with our lunch order. Within about 30 minutes, our server will arrive, pounding on the door before placing on our doorstep the bagful of disposable, recyclable containers carrying our food, fresh from the oven. The server doesn’t wait around for a thank you, but races off to maintain the social distancing required of employees.

Following lunch it’s time for a 30-minute nap, after which we reserve ten minutes to meditate, employing our virtual personal assistant, giving the command, “Alexa! Sound ocean waves.”

After meditation we take the first of our two 15-minute daily walks around the grounds, calling out, “Hi, how are you?” to others seeking fresh air and exercise, putting lots of distance between us.

After our walk we practice singing the songs we plan to perform in our 3:00 daily guitar-accompanied duet from our opened front door.

Late afternoons are reserved for sipping a glass of wine, while watching mourning doves and finches fight over the seeds in our platform feeders, as hummingbirds compete for the crimson nectar in their feeder, just a few feet away.

We can watch the avian action through the glass doors to our patio from the comfort of our couch, while we enjoy Netflix and Amazon Prime Video streaming films. A few days ago we treated ourselves to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Seeing Tracy and Hepburn in action was comfort food for our spirits.

So, all is well with us, here in our COVID-19 cocoon. We appreciate the free room service, choosing from a splendidly varied daily menu. Yesterday we had chicken cordon bleu for lunch, our main meal each day. The day before, we enjoyed the blackened salmon. I'm not kidding. The food here is that good.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Coping with COVID-19: Cocooning in Our Own Chateau

Two days before the pandemic was declared, we received a warning from the executive director of our 55+ senior community. The Château’s salad bar would be closed during meals. Seating in the dining hall would be limited. Two days later we found the second notice, a critical update after the pandemic was declared, taped to our front door.

The dining room has now been closed, and will remain so for at least 30 days. We may order our breakfast, lunch and dinner by telephone. Meals, packed in disposable boxes, will be carried to our front doors. Servers will not be permitted to enter our units or come within six feet of us upon delivery. It is “highly recommended” that we “limit outside guests or other visitors.” We are urged to “minimize all contact with non-residents.”

Karen and I are strongly supportive of these measures, impressed by the chateau’s management from the time our executive director announced his plan at last month’s HOA Board Meeting. We have friends and relatives within an hour’s drive of one of the nation’s coronavirus epicenters, a rest home in Washington state. We are both of an age to worry about the virus, Karen even more so because of her asthma.

You might say we have been quarantined, but we choose to call it cocooned. Quarantined is such an ugly word, implying isolation as punishment. But when I found this definition of cocooning, a “retreat from the stressful conditions of public life into the cozy private world of the family,” that seemed a better fit for this place, which has become our family.

Karen, my eternal optimist and history lover was reminded of her parents experience during the depression. Here’s what she wrote in a letter to our Chateau friends, who’ve become our family.

My mother told me often about that grim day, Monday, October 29, 1929, when the stock market crashed.

"Your father threw open the front door, grabbed me around the waist, kissed my lips hard, gave me a wink, and said, “Pearl, we’ve lost everything but five dollars. Let’s go to the movies and out to dinner.”

Mother was stunned. She said, “But Walter, then we won’t have anything!”

Daddy said, “We’ll have each other, and we’ll figure things out. Come on! Let’s go…I’m hungry for some popcorn!”

Four hours later, Mother and Daddy sat down at the kitchen table (my family’s command center for heavy talks) with paper and pencils, and worked on numbers and ideas to keep them alive. Their list follows.


Shoulders back

Head up

Sense of humor

Walks in the fresh air

Inner strength




Helping others

Stone Soup

Yes, my mother really made Stone Soup and she was proud of her recipe: Find small “just right” stone in yard, drop small stone into pot, heat water in pot, gather anything edible you can find in garden or lawn, and toss into pot. Add salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you may have. (A small slice of garlic adds a wonderful taste). And, of course, if you are lucky enough to have leftovers in the ice box, add them to pot. Simmer for 4 minutes. Dress dinner table with cloth, candles and tree greens.  Dress self in bright, happy clothes and a smile, and call family to dinner.

Mother also served bowls of stone soup during World War II. By then I was old enough to help gather the ingredients and take my turn to proudly find “just the right stone” for the soup.

Stay well and live.

Fortunately, Karen and I are both writers. While we remain cocooned here we will fill our days with writing, taking walks in the fresh air, and singing together. As movie buffs we will stay entertained with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video streaming films. I guess you could say that’s our own stone soup.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The San Marcos City Planning Men's Club

All three male members of the San Marcos Planning Commission whose two-year terms expired in December were reappointed by the mayor and city council in January. The only woman on the seven-member commission, Wendy Matthews, was also reappointed.

There are no term limits for commissioners, allowing for the growth of the good old boys network. Kevin Norris begins his eleventh year on the council, while Bruce Minnery stepped down after eleven and a half years.

Five women were among the twelve new applicants who failed to win a seat on the commission. Filling vacancies with incumbents was a missed opportunity for the city to bring gender balance to the commission.

Here are a few of the qualifications of the women applicants who were passed over.

--A real estate and business attorney

--A marketing and strategic operations manager

--A local business owner

There are also only three women on the fifteen-member San Marcos Creekside Specific Plan Oversight Committee.

Given the scarcity of women on city planning groups, it’s ironic that the five individuals appointing its members, the mayor and city council, outnumber men, three to two.

San Marcos is not alone in North County in its male-dominated city planning. There are no women on the five-member Encinitas commission, one woman on Escondido’s seven-member group, and two of seven commissioners in Vista.

Carlsbad is the lone exception, with four women out of seven.

The San Marcos city website explains, “The planning commission is responsible for evaluating and making determinations on a variety of land use matters for both long-range and short-range planning.”

Given the importance of the city’s land use decisions, adding women would make the commission more representative of the 96,847 residents, the majority of whom are female.

According to the 2018 U.S. Census estimates, the tally of city household ownership shows, while 61% of all city households are owner occupied, 45% of women own the homes they live in, compared to 38% of men.

Research in the business world suggests having more women involved in group planning can improve the value of its decision making.

In a September 21, 2017 article in the business magazine Forbes, (New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making At Work), Erik Larson, the founder and CEO of Cloverpop, a leadership consulting firm, writes, “According to the research, teams outperform individual decision makers 66% of the time, and decision making improves as team diversity increases. Compared to individual decision makers, all-male teams make better business decisions 58% of the time, while gender diverse teams do so 73% of the time.”

In my fifteen years as a university administrator, I learned how diversity on campus committees reduces groupthink, where the loudest voices, rather than the best decisions, can carry the day.

The need for more inclusive representation and better decision making suggest it's time for term limits on the San Marcos Planning Commission.

Monday, February 3, 2020

What Patrick Mahomes and I Have in Common

As I watched 24-year-old Kansas City Chief’s quarterback speaking to the press about his team’s miracle come-back to win the Super Bowl last night, hearing commentators remarking on his achievement at such a young age, I was reminded of my own youthful rise.

Unlike Mahomes, of course, I did not have the size or talent to achieve my dream of a career in professional basketball. No matter how many pushups I did daily to get stronger, no matter how many times I hung by my arms from overhead playground bars to make me taller, I could not grow to match my dreams.

As kids, my older brother and I participated in pickup basketball games, where I would be the last one chosen, called “Little Riehl,” after my older brother, “Big Riehl” got the call to join the team.

But what I don’t have in common with Mahome’s athletic ability, I do share with him in achievements at an early age, beginning with skipping the fifth grade. That didn’t turn out well, since I missed everything about fractions.

Being the youngest in each grade through high school had its challenges, including some bullying in my first year in junior high school, where my father had just been appointed principal.

I’ve have been unusually young in every job I took. My first salaried position, upon graduating from college at 21, was as head basketball coach at Sequim High School on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. I was only three or four years older than my players. That was brought to my attention on one occasion when a school janitor where we were scheduled to play an away game, looked at me and said, “I can’t open the door to the gym until your coach arrives.”

When I was appointed Director of admissions at Western Washington University at the tender age of 28, I encountered the same misunderstandings from admissions applicants and their parents visiting campus. When I greeted them in my office they often thanked me for talking to them, but asked if they could speak to the director.

Okay, I’m no Patrick Mahomes, even though I, too, found myself in positions often reserved for older individuals. What separates us is not only his athletic ability. It’s the respect he gets from his older teammates, showing his extraordinary leadership skills.

That’s an achievement I can only envy and admire.