Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 - This is it...Imagine

It seems long ago since my return to the United States but it’s been only five months. I’ve purchased a car, acquired a smart phone and established a routine with my dog.  I’ve unpacked just enough boxes to be comfortable and rearranged the closets and cupboards.  

I’ve been home long enough where there is no consideration for a cold shower, I don’t remember what peanut butter tastes like and I’ve given up on walking to the market with a backpack.  I recently found a forgotten and neglected bag of garbage in my freezer, an artifact of past behavior.  

Although I have resumed my past and readjusted to my lifestyle in California, I have changed and look at life differently.  I know what it is like to be different.  I learned what it is like to be accepted into a different culture and cared for by people who wanted to teach me their ways.  Yes, I have been the target of racism, but not often. 

Mia, my new granddaughter, arrived four weeks ago and I’ve bonded once again with Ava, my four year old granddaughter.  She often looks at me very sweetly and says, "I love you Grandma".  Ava and I have been baking cookies and cakes, decorating them with icing and candies.  I’ve gained a few pounds which needs some attention but will likely be put on the back burner until January.  I reactivated my gym and spa memberships.  Now I need to actually use them.

I purchased my car in late August and most days it’s parked at the curb, ignored and gathering dust.  I’m not one to remain idol too long, but I must say this has been a nice break from the world around me. I haven’t spent this much time without work since my late twenties.  Never mind how many years it has been since my twenties – let’s just say it’s a lot.  

Life is taking over.  I have been lifted from a slow leisurely pace and into the fast lane.  One day bleeds into the next and many times I have to look at the calendar to figure out the day of the week.  I still fight the fast-lane concept.  Today, I woke up at ten. I was in a panic. I missed Barkley’s grooming appointment. I shot up from the bed and fumbled for my cell phone.  I quickly looked for the number of “Poodles are People Too” only to discover his appointment is tomorrow. I went back to sleep.

I have been putting off writing this post as I knew it was my last.  I spent the entire day looking at pictures and reading old posts today.  It's been awhile since I've had a day of reflection.  My life, while certainly not even close to perfect, is good and 2010 was a wonderful year.

I began 2010 continuing my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer and ended 2010 reintegrating into life in the United States.  I’ve learned a lot about myself; some things I like and others I need to work on.  I’m rested and have some ideas about the direction of my path. So here are a few highlights of my year:

A few of my favorite after-school program students. I taught them literacy and IT

Cheering for the children who race in my village

I taught Junior Achievement. The children are proudly holding up the banks they made.

This painting was made especially for me.  I had it framed and it will be hung at my mountain home.

A vacation with friends in Costa Rica.  We are ready for zip-lining.

My sister (Janyn) second visit to the island

A great rain forest experience and a new friend.

The beauty and sounds of a rainforest

Elaine and I relaxing in Miami Beach
A quick visit to New York that also included Atlantic City, Jersey Shore and Philadelphia

And of course, my favorite - bartender school
Close of Service Conference - Peace Corps EC78
My son Kevin, travels all the way to Saint Lucia to help me move back to the United States. Unfortunately, it rained almost the whole time.

I enjoyed a few last wonders of nature

Listened to a final crow

Visited one of my favorite views in the village for the last time

My very last visit to Vierge Point in Micoud
And then, just like that this adventure is over
I'm home to celebrate Ava's 4th Birthday

And see her Christmas Play

And bake cookies

We enjoyed dinosaurs at the Discovery Center

And I have a new granddaughter, Mia Jo

Barkley and I are back in routine

I have a believer for Christmas

I helped spread information about Peace Corps at the Orange County Peace Corps Association (OCPCA) booth in Irvine

I was the guest speaker at the OCPCA Christmas Party
I have learned about another's Peace Corps experience in Africa
And, I spoke to a great bunch of students at Cypress College about my experience.
Going back to review my year has been fun. I've had a great year.  Just a few years ago, I never could have imagined so many possibilities.

I’m on to 2011 and the next chunk of my life.  I will begin teaching a course at Webster University in January and will look for some meaningful volunteer work.  I hope to fit some travel into my schedule as well.  There are so many places to see in this world.  Thank you for listening to me.  I’ve used you as my sounding board and as a method to keep my service light and not take myself too seriously. Please feel free to comment or email me!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Big Sisters are Special People

No matter how well-prepared, something is likely to slip through the cracks.

I remember when my youngest sister was born. My mother prepared me for what would happen. I would have my own bedroom because I am the oldest. My new sister and younger sister would share the other bedroom. We played dolls and mom showed me how to feed and burp a baby. I was a big part of the change that would be taking place in just a few short months.  I was ten years old when Janyn was born.

When the day came, I was told that I was too young to go inside the hospital. My dad took my sister and me around to the window of my mother’s first floor room. I stood outside the small Hawthorne Hospital that has long since disappeared. I could not reason why they would not let me inside where I could view my sister from the nursery window. As I stood on the flower beds, not caring that I was crushing the flowers and plants beneath my feet, we chose her name.

The call came early Friday morning, just hours after another huge Thanksgiving dinner. I walked into the hospital where I found Brendan, Theresa and Ava. Waiting for the elevator I glanced at the clock. It was just after two in the morning. The attendant wheeled Theresa into her room and we followed. 

I took Ava to an outside waiting room and it was there that I realized that, although Ava has been well-prepared for her new sister, there are still things she does not understand. Ava is just three weeks shy of turning four years old. She was tired. It was time for a small melt-down. After a few minutes in the waiting room and a lot of tears, it was decided we would be far more comfortable if I took her back home to sleep in her bed. 

Ava has a beautiful new sister.  Mia Jo was born the next morning. My middle name is Jo.  I feel honored that Mia will go through her life's journey with this special connection.  

Big sisters are special people. Unlike when my sister was born, the next morning we walked into the hospital and into her mommy’s room where she was greeted by her mom and dad and her brand new sister. She held her and hummed a lullaby. 

We compared feet and talked about her tiny body.

We baked and decorated a cake for mommy. 

Yesterday daddy and I took her to see the new Disney Movie Tangled. There was a special live performance with many of the Disney characters in it.  Of course, she loved both the performance and the movie.  

After the movie she said she would like to pose nice for a pretty picture. It was then we realized there was a Disney store just beyond the theater lobby. She scored some new hair clips for this pretty pose.  Big sisters are special people.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Now

My dad and me in front of the Quonset Hut. That's George, my dog
I lived in a Tucson Quonset Hut when my father was going to college. As a toddler, I have no recollection of those days. But I remember the stories. My dad barely passed high school because he would only attend on test days. Although he aced the tests, attendance was important and this behavior caused considerable strife during his young academic years. Dad did things his way.

He joined the Marine Corps and fought in the war. He came home with a pocket full of savings and flipped a coin. Heads he would go to college, tails he would spend the entire savings in the New Orleans jazz clubs. After countless beers and music-filled nights, he came to California broke and found work in a plastics factory. Once again, he did things his way.  I think he needed that time to compartmentalize things he saw and did during the war; the things that haunted him throughout his lifetime.  

Within a short time he met my mother, who insisted he earn a college degree. That’s when we moved to Tucson, Arizona. He attended the University of Arizona. My dad attended the first class of each course to secure the syllabus and required book. He read the book in the first week, understood the concepts and staying true to his behavior in high school, he only attended class on test days. That way he could watch me and tutor the football players while my mother worked.

My mother never stopped declaring, “you are so much like your father”. In my mind there were no similarities. He was smart. He was a math person. Go figure…well he figured; I never got the hang of it. I’m right-brained. I had to work for my grades. He did things on his own time while I play by the rules.

My father died young, more than thirty years ago. Mom died in 2008. When my sister and I were going through the garage we came across his college diploma. It was mounted onto a wooden board where it hung at work and then, after retirement, in his home-office. This piece of wood represented a lot of work. What do you do with this type of artifact when someone dies? I’m not sure where it ended up. It’s too painful to think that it may be lying in a graveyard dump.

When I was in grad school, few understood the way I would attack a course. I attended the first class in anticipation of acquiring the syllabus and required books. Unlike my father, I attended every single class to ensure I understood the material. I completed a final draft of my course paper by the mid-term and would coast through the rest of the course. I took copious notes during class and just before the end of the course I reviewed my paper, read my notes and outlining key learning points, made appropriate changes. I was always the first done, always the first to present and never, NEVER one to stay up and write a paper the night before it was due. NEVER! I’m not a procrastinator. I like to have things done way before they need to be done. I played by the rules.

Before I left for Peace Corps, I was teaching at three different schools. I usually taught four nights a week. My syllabi were well detailed. I created a detailed class activity sheet for each class. Both were complete before the course began and handed out to students the first night. Many times, I power pointed the assigned books. I searched for appropriate current events and video material.

Each Sunday, I prepared for the week’s classes. I had a bag for each class where I could put appropriate materials, graded papers, books and anything else I would need for the class. The bags were lined up in order of the day of the week. Yes, my life was extremely organized.

There is a saying about time in Saint Lucia. People do things ‘just now’. That means it may get done in ten minutes, an hour, a few hours, or even days. Just now is getting things done on my own time. Since returning from my Peace Corps assignment in August, I have a lot of unstructured time. I will start teaching in January. It’s almost the end of November and I haven’t considered the syllabus. Thinking about the old me, this is quite uncharacteristic. I should have reported my decision on the book last Thursday. The university wants to know. I’m definitely lagging and having trouble getting away from my ‘just now’ time schedule. I’ve stopped playing by the rules.

As I said, my dad did things on his own time. Maybe I am finally living up to my mother’s declaration. Maybe I am like my father. Identifying the book should be a priority. The problem is that I bought a stand mixer this week and I’m more interested in learning to make a good pie crust today. Maybe I’ll listen to some jazz while I bake that pie.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I was stunned. I felt unable to move in those first few moments as I watched the towers crash down while people were trying to outrun the billowing cloud behind them. In the days that followed 9-11, people were patriotic, patient and quiet. A man I worked with was a former marine and a patriot. He ran communications at the company where I worked. He was behind his wooden mahogany desk, sitting in his black leather executive chair.  He was stiff, almost at attention while watching the television in his office. I remember one quiet sentence he uttered, “They are all patriotic now, but they will forget”.

I awoke this morning to my usual routine. I went to the kitchen and poured water into the kettle that would be used to make coffee with my press. I filled the cat and dog’s water bowl and fed them their breakfast. Then I brushed my teeth and took a shower. When I returned to the kitchen, Barkley was studying every move I made. He knew it was time for our walk. I grabbed his leash and said, “OK, let’s go”. We slowly walked on the sidewalk and I maneuvered him around the freshly watered lawns. He’s a small dog and low to the ground. Walking through a puddle is sure to soak his entire underside.

I simmered a chicken the day before. Today, I would make chicken soup. When I returned from the walk, I made a list of things I needed to complete the soup; a can of tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, parsley, peppers and ravioli. I drove to the store and quickly gathered the things I needed and headed home. Upon returning home, I turned on the television and watched a few minutes of the news. I called a friend on the phone and talked for a few minutes.

I picked up the Los Angeles Times and read Joe Mozingo’s front page report on the situation in Haiti. His words are painted with descriptions that leave the reader feeling like they have had first-hand experience. The country was bracing for Hurricane Tomas while dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake earlier this year. Cholera has broken out. People are living in tents. Fortunately, they were spared the wrath of Tomas, but it did present an opportunity to remind people of the suffering the Haitians are experiencing in everyday life. As I read Joe’s article, I remembered my marine friend’s words, “they will forget”.

Castries before Hurricane Tomas
I turned on my computer and opened an email from one of my friends in Saint Lucia. They were not so lucky; Tomas wreaked havoc on the country which was my home for two years. It was before noon, but as I read the email I reflected on things most of us don’t consider in our daily lives. I turned on the water to take a hot shower, to brush my teeth, to fill the tea kettle. I picked up Barkley so he wouldn’t get wet from the freshly watered lawns.
Castries after Hurricane Tomas
Saint Lucia experienced a drought this summer. Pipes in homes were dry during many summer days. In an effort to conserve water, the government shut off the water supply in many areas of the country. Some were carrying buckets of water retrieved from a standpipe. I took my share of cold bucket baths. During Hurricane Tomas, the dam was damaged by a mudslide. The water supply is now in severe crises. People are collecting rainwater to drink. The government is warning people to boil the water they collect. Some do.

Once trees that provided food
I turned on my television knowing I had electricity and dialed my phone expecting service. I went to the store with a list of things I needed, knowing I would get every item on the list plus a couple of impulse buys. Many people are scrambling for supplies. Store shelves are empty and the fruit trees and crops they depend on to feed families are destroyed. The banana industry has been decimated. This is a developing country and the government doesn’t have a lot of money.

Roads sink into the earth
While I drive on well maintained roads, many roads in Saint Lucia are severely damaged. Some have sink holes. A few places could only be reached by boat. 

Shelterboxes provided by Rotary and flown in courtesy of Virgin Airlines
I woke in a warm bed this morning while many people in Saint Lucia are living in tents with outdoor showers and toilet facilities because their homes have been destroyed. One village is so badly damaged there is a question about whether or not anyone will be able to return.

I didn’t respond when I heard my marine friend whisper those words, “they will forget”. He wasn’t looking for a response, but I know what it would have been if he had asked.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Disaster in Paradise

Saint Lucia, the tiny island I called home for two years, was hit hard by Hurricane Tomas last week.  It is difficult to be here and not know about some of my Peace Corps friends and the wonderful friends whose warmth and hospitality made me feel safe and sane.  The media, for some reason, has not focused on this tragedy.

Prime Minister Stephen King has declared a State of Emergency in Saint Lucia and said conservative estimates are around $100M EC.  At least seven lives have been lost, mostly in mudslides.  There is no electricity and water in many parts of the island.  Bridges have been destroyed and the road around the island has been compromised leaving entire areas without communication. 

The HTS Channel website has updates on the disaster in paradise.

Donations for Tomas victims: St. Lucia Red Cross, First Caribbean International Bank, Bridge St. Castries, A/C # 2645392 swift code FCIBLCLC - if you also need other codes are BOFAUS3N, ABA # 026009593 

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I remember the Wang. I bet some are saying, “The Wang?” Alright, so I am dating myself. The Wang was a word processing computer. I used it when I worked at Hughes Aircraft Company in the late eighties or early nineties.  I can't remember the exact date.

I was one of two employees who had one of these amazing machines in my office. Of course, in order to get printed material, I had to call the print room to get permission and then walk a half mile to pick up the material. The room was filled with huge processing units and the printers were the size of a Smart Car.  The floppy discs were half the size of a door.

I was an expert using this computer. I was able to write programs and do work in half the time it would have taken without this technology. I was the go-to person when anyone needed to know how to do something. Then, in a blink, the Wang was replaced. In came the DecMate. These word-processing machines were smaller, cheaper and allowed everyone to have their own little DecMate sitting on their desk. I picked up the new computer system quickly and regained my reputation for being the expert.

Very quickly, however, DecMates were replaced with word processors. Once again I was challenged to learn a new system. I was fearless. I remember the technician saying, “feel free to do anything; you can’t hurt this machine”. I called her back to my office an hour later. I had gotten into the autoexec file and changed the start-up command. She left different instructions. “here’s a list of what not to do”. I was programming in DOS in no time.

It wasn’t long before the PCs were kicked to the door to make way for the MACs. By now, I was tiring of learning one system after another. Of course, within a couple of years the MACs were kicked to the curb and PCs were back. By then, I had lost interest in learning what was behind the system and focused on just using the software at hand.

Change and learning to flow with it is the name of the game.  I’m comfortable with technology, but, having been absent for two years from the technology scene, I find myself in unfamiliar territory. I'm in catch-up mode.   When I left for Peace Corps, Blackberries were just introduced. The Smartphone, like the EVO and the IPhone did not exist. IPODs were only used for playing music, not for taking video or listening to the radio.

I had no clue how to turn the television on when I returned.  During my time in Peace Corps, HD was introduced.  The equipment changed and programming TIVO changed. The remote controls changed.  DirecTV has given way to FIOS and friends have dedicated computers hooked up to their televisions. My 30+ year old son no longer talks; he texts. He calls himself Senior Textioso - whatever that is.  I find myself texting him across the small table in the restaurant. It’s the only way to get his attention.

The clock on my car is still two hours ahead because I can’t figure out how to change it. Worse yet, I programmed an address into the navigation system a couple of weeks ago and while I was driving touched the screen. That must have told the system I wanted to make an additional stop. I had to get off the freeway and get the manual out to figure out how to stop the car from having a fun-filled day in Bakersfield, 100 miles from my intended destination.

Political candidates TWEET and have Facebook pages. I have a Facebook page and can deal with that, but I have yet to understand why I would ever want to TWEET.

I need to buy a DVD player, but the technology is different, and so I came home empty handed. I’m not sure what Blue Ray is, or why I want it, so I need to investigate it before I go back to Costco. 

We rent video’s from a vending machine outside the grocery store. The first time I spent a substantial amount of time going through the video’s while a very long line began forming behind me. Those waiting had a disgusted look on their face and their body language was less than friendly. I’ve since learned to go the Red Box Website before I go to the store. I feel a lot safer when there is a crowd behind me now.

Netbooks were introduced while I was away, but it seems they have drifted away since IPAD had it’s coming out party. I’m still not sure why anyone would want an oversized ITouch that can’t store anything. It seems like a total waste of money to me. I am likely missing something here as anytime I say this, I’m met with disapproving body language and people quickly move away so as not to be near ignorant contaminated ground.

During the time I was away I saw new and amazing technology – the Kindle. I only saw one, but it was eye-popping technology!  I came home to find a dozen different brands and children are saving their allowance to buy them. There is something that is just wrong about highlighting an ebook. You can highlight, can’t you?

I find that I am slightly behind the technological curve which can be dangerously close to being left in the proverbial dust. Today's proverb: She who doesn’t know will rarely be given an opportunity to learn.  

Let me demonstrate this proverb:  I went to the grocery store and there were long lines.  I hesitated to walk up to a self-serve checkout. Why? Because I had produce and I am not sure how to scan it. There was a store employee there who saw my hesitation. She said, “don’t worry, I’ll help you”. What I didn’t realize is that she didn’t “help” me, she did it for me. Why? Because people waiting for self-serve were in an impatient hurry. I fell into the same trap at IKEA when the reader would not scan the barcode.  I can't even talk about my experience at the Post Office.  Let's just say I'm lucky the guy behind me was honest because if he wasn't, my debit card would be paying for several purchases that day.

Here’s the bottom line; the purpose of this post: Yesterday I went to the grocery store and came out victorious. I arrived early in the morning when few were there. I took my time at self-checkout. When the lady asked if I need help, I politely said “no thank you”. So please, all you techies out there – give me a chance to catch up! Yes, I have wrinkles on my face, but I can still learn. I like technology!  Yes I can!  I'm pumped.  I'm going outside right now to learn how to change the time on the clock in my car!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


People give me a sympathetic look when I tell them about the fire. My response is always the same: it turned out to be a good thing. Sure, I lost some things I would like to have, but they are just things. And yes, I got a new kitchen, all new windows and floors, appliances, furniture, clothes, and six months in a hotel with maid service – but that wasn’t the good part.

The good part was that the clutter was gone; it was history – a pile of ashes! I didn’t have to deal with it. I didn’t have to make the decision to part with a stack of coupons that I continually forgot to take to the grocery store and would likely never use. Or, the adorable shoes with the little bow that I knew I wouldn’t wear again because they gave me blisters the only time I wore them. I didn’t need to worry about keeping the trail of paperwork that, if laid out, would likely span over a mile long and lead to nowhere. That was the good part.

The fire was in 2000. Shortly after I moved back into my house, the trash company changed to a different type of trash can. They asked me how many I would like. I requested one. I should have asked for two.

When I returned home from Saint Lucia I brought a few clothes, some pictures, electronics and gifts. This is all I have…well I should say, this is all I “had”.

Last weekend I visited my oldest friend in Frazier Park. Robin and I went to high school together and we have seen each other occasionally over the past forty-five years. It’s nice. Although we have led different lives, we have the same connection we had so many years ago. I stayed overnight at her home, a wonderful ranch style house on eighteen acres of land. We had lunch, picked up pinecones, and rode ATVs.

We looked through our old high school year book, both of us squinting trying to remember the people in the black and white pictures with big hair, the girls with lots of make-up and the boys with suits and ties. These were the most important people in our lives all those years ago. Robin and smiled as we reminisced about how much emphasis we placed on what they thought of us. Now, neither of us could remember any of them and we were sure they wouldn’t remember us either.

While I was visiting Robin, my house was being transformed. Since I’ve been home, there have been more people in the house than beds to sleep in. When I returned home from Robin’s house, my things were out of storage and a few boxes lay resting on the floor. My sons were setting up my bed – a bed I hadn’t slept in since the night before I left for Peace Corps Staging in Miami. I couldn’t wait to sleep in it again – a bed high off the floor filled with lots of pillows, fresh sheets and down bedding.

I looked around the house and two book shelves in the living room were emptied of Ava’s books and the toys that were scattered about the house had disappeared. A couple of drawers and a pantry were emptied. My son and his family moved over the weekend. They are getting ready for their new daughter, due next month.

The next morning I started reorganizing the living room. I have an extensive library of business books. They take up a lot of space and must be dusted frequently. Sometimes, I reference them. My son Jay suggested I donate them to the library. I actually felt a pain in my chest when he said it. One day, no one will own an actual book. Everything will be on e-books. But, I will keep these books and leave them all to Jay. He can haul them to the library.

Where are all the locks?
Over the past week I’ve spent an untold amount of money purchasing organizers for kitchen drawers and cupboards. The more I clean the more clutter I find. How on earth does one amass so much useless stuff? For instance, what are all these keys and what do they open? How long have these old PDAs been in the junk drawer? Why do I keep remote controls after I’ve thrown away the device they belong to? What do these chargers charge? One says that I can only use it with “V1917 Models Only”. What happens if I throw it away and then discover I still have the V1917 Model? I can’t find the stock pot that belongs to the lid that is resting on my stove. It’s a very nice lid and I really hate to discard it. I’m sure I can use it for something.

Why do I have two junk drawers? I know why I have one. It’s because my parents always had one, so it must be necessary. Right? The junk drawer has a myriad of treasures. Extra buttons from clothes that have long been donated to Goodwill and extra light bulbs for Christmas light strands that were replaced years ago. Lots of nails and screws that were left over from things assembled. Pennies…lots of pennies. Why can’t it be dollars instead of pennies?

What is this stuff?
But the vast majority of this treasure is unidentifiable. I must have kept these things for a reason. I’m sure they are important. Please don’t judge me. I know you have treasures at least equal to mine! And if you know what any of this stuff is, please let me know.

I have just started opening my boxes. I don’t have a clue why I have all these clothes…but I have a new rule. I purchased fifty pink hangars. I cannot have anymore than the hangars will hold and each hangar is only allowed one garment. If I buy something, I must give something up. Another rule: the shoe stand I purchased holds thirty pair of shoes. Why on earth do I need more than thirty pair of shoes when I only have one pair of feet!

I look at things a lot different since returning to the United States. Life was simple in Saint Lucia and although it’s unlikely that I will achieve that simplicity here, I am determined to make it less complicated. So, I have bags and boxes destined for the Goodwill Store. And remember when I said I should have requested two trash cans? Well, make that four!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Field

I'm frozen in my thoughts while sitting in my car in the parking lot. I am considering a few square acres of asphalt and concrete. The little painted lines show us where to park, I suppose, to maximize parking space. Someone's small stroke of genius so many years ago.  

Ah, the land of Los Angeles where most have a car, few carpool, everyone complains about traffic and parking lots become hunting grounds while tempers flare and hand gestures are the preferred way to communicate. Concrete trails lead to bistro tables and an eatery, a furniture store, the proverbial nail salon and everything in between.

Although I see life before this oversized strip mall, others likely only see a few stores where one can easily pick up an over-priced cup of Starbucks Coffee or an imagined healthy Jamba Juice which is laden with hundreds of hidden calories. And, we wonder why we are broke and overweight. It’s all too easy. When did life change into a mecca of inconvenient convenience?

Knowing this is the final resting place of my four little friends, I ponder yesteryear and imagine the parking lot as it was: a dirt field with tumble weeds that will eventually be blown down our street through the fenceless neighborhoods which meet Hawthorne Boulevard. 

Just beyond the field, a few tumbleweeds are collected by mom and then, using silver spray paint and a few decorations, they are transformed into snowmen, Los Angeles style. I can smell the odor of trash burning in our backyard incinerator while the neighbors are hanging sweet smelling laundry. I feel the sense of innocent security enjoyed during the 1950s which pours into our nestled neighborhood of cookie cutter houses.

We lived in a typical tract house built after the war and during the baby boom. It was a small three bedroom, two bath house with a washing machine in the garage. Dad had a large family room built onto the back of the house. The large old brick fireplace with a thick wooden mantel held our Christmas Stockings.  A fresh tree was placed near the sliding glass door and the smell of pine needles permeated the air. 

When I’m in the area, I pass by the house. It is completely different and doubled in size now. I only recognize it because I remember the address. I wonder what life would have been like if we had stayed there and not moved to Thousand Oaks. Would my parents have been happier together?

Mom stayed home while dad worked. Every house in the neighborhood had children. One family had twelve children and ate dinner outside on a picnic table, but most families had a more manageable two or three children. There was always something to do because there were so many of us in the neighborhood. Baseball games, bike riding and tetherball were favorite pastimes. The dads would join us in neighborhood Kite Flying contests. I remember these days as carefree and family centered.

The homes were built close together. My friend Sally lived down the street and Linda lived next door her. Their bathroom windows were close and their secret call was “OllieOllieOx” in a high pitched singing voice. Hours were spent giggling and chatting on both sides of the two windows with bathroom doors securely locked. I was part of the not-so-secret meetings during sleep-overs.  Years later Linda took her life.

Mother warned me about the dangers of the vast amount of untouched land surrounding our little neighborhood. I clearly remember the little girl on the news who had fallen into the abandoned well. She lived in another state but this tragedy was national news.  Mom said there could be an abandoned well in this field as well. I heeded her warning and only went there once when there was a purpose. I went with her and she held my hand. I was likely only five or six years old and remember the sadness I felt that day. If I had listened to her about another warning we wouldn’t be out in this dangerous field carrying a shoe box, a cross and a shovel. At least that’s how I felt at the time.

Just two weeks before we headed out to that field, I went into the garage with mom to help her with the laundry. Actually, more than likely it was to ‘watch’ her do the laundry. We heard some squeaking noises coming from a corner inside the garage and upon investigation, hidden from view, were four kittens. The mother was noticeably absent. 

 I was a magnet to the kittens and mom had to drag me away from them. “Leave them alone, Karen. Don’t handle them too much or they will die.” But I couldn’t help myself and didn’t want to believe that they would die because I loved them. I picked them up to play with them at every available opportunity. The kittens sucked on a cloth soaked in formula that mom gave them.

But, they were too small and weak to live. One by one the kittens died; all on the same day. Mom went into the house and brought back a shoebox. I helped her carefully placed each kitten into the box. We set out to bury them in the dangerous and frightening field. I wasn’t afraid because mom was there with me. I was sad, partly because the kittens were gone, but mostly because I thought that I was the cause of their deaths.

It was a few years later when the field was plowed and asphalt was laid. The little wooden cross mom and I constructed for the burial site had likely withered away by then. Block wall fences were built and the incinerators and cloths lines disappeared. I was nearly eleven when my new sister was born. Less than two years later the house was deemed too small and unfit for our growing family. It was time to move on. The ‘For Sale’ sign appeared and within a short time we moved to Thousand Oaks, a small town, but emerging community with new fields to explore.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Ol’ Property Tax Bill

The mail comes fairly early.  I sort through it, first discarding all the annoying flyers, ads and assorted junk mail that few pay attention to and most will immediately toss into the recycle.  Not a single consideration goes into any of this untidy paper, including the expensive glossy color ads which tempt the reader with enticing phrases such as “one day only sale”, or “going out of business” or “half off”.  Let’s be real for a moment; the only useful purpose this paper serves is to keep my dear Letter Carrier, Steve, employed.  For that, I am grateful.

The only other thing that comes with any regularity is a few bills.  Among the bills on this day is the Property Tax.  Looking for a due date, I scan the contents of the envelope when I notice the amount is about $150 over the usual number.  That makes me take a closer look.  Have you ever looked at one of these bills?  Well, I haven’t.  I’ve always been too busy.  I’m a good soldier.  It comes, I pay.  Now, for the first time since my mid-twenties, I have no job or structure and therefore, I’m up for a time-consuming challenge that has no value but even with a null result, I know I will achieve a feeling of satisfaction that I completed the task.

I examined the details of the tax assessment.  I understand why I’m paying for County Parks, Trauma and Emergency Services, the Fire Department and Libraries.  I’m not sure how they arrive at the numbers, but, it doesn’t matter because there are bigger mysteries to uncover in this bill.  With cell phone in hand, I set out to get to the bottom of a bill I have always blindly paid – and will again pay – it’s just this time I want to know what my money is supporting and most important, I want to know WIIFM (a business term for What’s In It For Me).

I looked closer at the bill to discover a section of “Voted Indebtedness”.  This is the part where ‘we stick it to ourselves’.  It includes $4.01 for the Metro Water District.  I have no idea why they are getting this money, but I think it’s safe to bet that sometime in the not-so-distant past the majority of voters thought it would be a fine idea to give the Metro Water District this money.  I’m sure it’s going to some bureaucratic nightmare that won’t ever do me any good but will likely line some executive bureaucrat’s pocket. 

There is a charge for $43.70 charge for Community College.  This is alright as I worked at Los Angeles Harbor College and they needed the bond that is bringing this minority college (among other community colleges) up to date.  I remember voting for this one.

There is a $202.67 charge for the Los Angeles Unified Schools – a charge that I am sure will be squandered while raising bureaucratic ego’s into the stratosphere while we watch drop-out rates sour.  I distinctly remember voting against this nonsense.  My son said this amount will continue to increase.  

Other entries on the bill are intriguing.  I must have missed the class that taught what WB MWD STDBY CHG means because there is nothing on the bill that tells me.  I can only assume I’m in a small minority of people who was absent that day.  So I called to find out.  It is the Western Basin Municipal Water District Standby Charge.  So what do I get for this?  I get recycled non-potable water.  I tried to find out what that means to no avail, although the woman said that farmers might be using the recycled water.  Right, all the Los Angeles farmers – wait, where are all these farmers?  I don’t see any farmers in Los Angeles.  I’m a little curious about this recycled non-potable water because Orange County is recycling toilet water into drinking water.  They said they are going to get back to me on this one.

Who would know that LACO VECTR CNTRL is a pest control administration organization tasked to administer costs for another organization to get rid of mosquitoes.  Huh?  Doesn’t that sound like we have one too many organizations in the pest control fight!  I never knew these pests were a problem in the arid community of Los Angeles, but maybe that $7.25 is well spent.  I asked them how they get rid of the mosquitoes and when the last time they were in my neighborhood, but they aren’t returning my phone calls.

I found that the Sanitation District charges me $135.00 to treat my water.  I asked what they were putting in it but they didn’t know.  That makes me wonder what they really know.

I pay a fee for Flood Control.  I wasn’t aware we had a flooding problem in Los Angeles, but I found out this fee pays to keep our dams, catch basins and channels clear.  I guess they forget about the one in my neighborhood – you know, the one with old shopping carts and trash building up in it.  The woman from Flood Control suggested the citizens should be responsible for this.  Huh?  

There were several numbers that I had to call to get information.  After piecing the data together, this is what I believe I am paying for:  the reason we need the Pest Control people is because the Flood Control people aren’t cleaning out the drains and thus they build a supply of non-potable stagnant water which is ripe for mosquitoes.  After the water is sprayed for mosquitoes by the Pest Control people and then deemed non-potable by the Water Basin people, the Sanitation District treats the water and it is then turned into recycled drinking water. . . or they just give it to the vast amount of Los Angeles farmers . . . take your pick.

Ah, another productive day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Guarding Territory

I watch Riley and Barkley. Riley is the rescued black cat my son brought home while I was living in Saint Lucia. Barkley, of course, is my little toy poodle that someone thrust upon me. I am ever grateful as he is a great source of entertainment and a wonderful companion. Riley and Barkley are in the midst of their morning ritual.

I feed the ball of black meowing fir that traverses my legs causing me to move with caution so I don’t end up on the floor. His frenzied communication is his way of demanding food at the very moment he hears me stirring in the morning. 

I fill Riley’s bowl and he begins eating immediately. I look over at Barkley and he is quietly and politely sitting by his bowl knowing it will be his turn after Riley is fed and peace is restored in the house. Barkley’s bowl is filled and brought to the living room, far from Riley’s sight. Barkley doesn’t eat; he lays down next to it in anticipation.

Once Riley has eaten half his food he comes in search of Barkley’s bowl and the game begins. Riley is a growing kitten and wants, possibly needs, more food than the cup he is given at breakfast. Each time he approaches the bowl Barkley growls at him and with fir flying and feet in the air, they rumble on the floor. Barkley wins, Riley retreats and Barkley goes back to his guarding position.

After a few failed attempts, Riley realizes that he isn’t getting anywhere and he changes his strategy. Riley waits until Barkley’s eyes close and then quietly approaches his bowl. He snatches one kibble at a time, each time moving to safety to eat the food that Barkley clearly has little interest in eating. This goes on until the food is gone. They are both tired and surrender to sleep. The game will commence again tomorrow morning.

It’s interesting to watch the dog guard something that he clearly doesn’t want. I hear about the same cat and dog game on television. The participants are different, but the game appears to be the same. We guard our borders so that people from other countries don’t come into California and snatch a job picking fruit. They come in search of jobs almost no one wants but the illegal that has crossed the border to feed his or her family.

I contemplate the dog and cat game. Maybe if I re-evaluate and make changes to the process, the dog will get what he wants: better food; and the cat will get what he wants: a full stomach. A win-win rather than a win-lose. Maybe the people who are guarding the boarders would be more successful if they would look for the win-win.