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.

Friday, December 4, 2020

My Christmas Gift

 

Today I agreed to donate my brain to medical science. (I’ll pause here to allow regular readers of my published opinion pieces to stop laughing.)

Twenty-two years ago, after an afternoon of heavy yard work, I reached for a cold beer and sat down to rest. As I brought the bottle up to my mouth I couldn’t keep my hand from shaking. I had to hold on with both hands to keep from spilling. That had never happened to me before. I refused to believe it was because of the onset of old age, chalking it up to the after-effects of unusually hard work on a hot day.

But at my next doctor’s appointment, when I was asked to hold a tongue depressor in front of me, I couldn’t hold it steady. I explained my older brother had been diagnosed with Essential Tremor, having undergone deep brain surgery to reduce the symptoms. The doctor told me this neurodegenerative disease is inheritable. He added ET to my medical record.

My symptoms have had a relatively mild effect on my life. No longer able to type, I have to use voice recognition technology to enable me to keep writing these columns. I had to give up model airplane building and switch from finger-picking my guitar to thumb strumming a ukulele.

Those comparatively minor sacrifices, plus coping with modifications in personal hygiene tasks and suffering from occasional social embarrassment, have been my only complaints about living with ET. But as a member of Facebook’s Essential Tremor Awareness Group, I have learned of the many others, of all ages, whose lives have been substantially challenged by the disease, many from a very young age.

When I learned of the study being conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to find future therapies for those suffering from severe cases of ET, donating at death to help others seemed the right thing to do.

The study requires a neurological and cognitive assessment every 18 months to track the progress of the disease. To determine my eligibility to participate, I was given a test of the shakiness of my hands. I was sent the image of an Archimedes spiral that looks like this:   




 

I was asked to copy that freehand with each of my hands. Here’s what my right hand produced:

 



 

My first cognitive test question was, “Who is the President right now?”

It pained me to write “Trump,” since I well remember how, during his 2016 campaign he ridiculed a journalist for his physical disability, imitating him by swinging his arms around wildly. That hit home with me at the time because my Karen, suffering from spinal stenosis, sometimes appears to be conducting a symphony orchestra while she walks unsteadily across the room.

It came as no surprise when I was told I definitely qualified to be included in the study. The next step is to undergo my first comprehensive assessment of cognitive and neurological symptoms. It will take place on January 19 and 20   in two-hour virtual Zoom sessions in our home.

I’m looking forward to it.

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

President Tweet and San Marcos Mayor Meet the Virus

 Donald Trump says his use of social media, countering what he calls fake news, made him president. This morning, as I watched the DOW sink by more than 900 points (so much for his recovering economy), I came upon President Tweet’s latest rant:

Covid, Covid, Covid is the unified chant of the Fake News Lamestream Media. They will talk about nothing else until November 4th, when the election will be (hopefully!) over. Then the talk will be how low the death rate is, plenty of hospital rooms, and many tests of young people.

Today’s CDC Covid 19 report suggests talk after Election Day will be mostly about what a failure he has been in fighting the spread of the virus.

Here are the numbers for the last seven days:

More than 70,000 new cases per day in the United States

More than 4,000 new cases per day in California.

More than 1,000 new deaths in one day in the U.S.

Yesterday, the San Diego Public Health Services reported the City of San Marcos had a total of 1,283 cases.

Mayor Rebecca Jones has no Twitter account, but you can find her on Facebook, where her only mention of the virus is in her October 19 post, listing the rules for her Facebook visitors: “No politics, no Covid, no negativity.”

At the city’s website there’s a tab titled Coronavirus Disease Update, featuring a video message from the mayor, where she assures viewers:

-We are here, and we are prepared.

-You can rest assured that emergency services are fully operational.

-We are keeping as many City services available as possible.

-We also recognize the importance of supporting our residents AND our -businesses in order to keep our community strong.

-Our City is strong. Our country is strong. And we will prevail.

Click on a tab titled, What can I do to prevent getting Covid 19? and you will find this advice:

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Please follow all the steps outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to help protect yourself and others. You can view the latest guidelines and information here.

Mayor Jones, like President Tweet, doesn’t take leadership responsibility for urging her constituents to wear the face coverings that can stop the spread of the virus. Unlike the president, she provides a link to those who do. 

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.

Laughter

Shoulders back

Head up

Sense of humor

Walks in the fresh air

Inner strength

Love

Hope

Laughter

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.