Donna's Blog

Elephants and Water: Remembering An Unforgettable Encounter

Recently I have been telling the tale of how I tweaked my knee during one of my most memorable adventures. The knee has been acting up and I’ve been going around to the medical community investigating how to best improve its function. You might enjoy the escapade vicariously, sans the knee injury. 

About thirteen years ago I was invited to join a Sierra Club trek in the Himalayas which included an elephant safari. It was scheduled toward the end of the 17 day trek through the lower Annapurna Mountains of Nepal. It was the final highlight, an elephant safari through the jungle of Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal.

Our safari included three elephants and ten trekkers. Our goal was to search the jungle and spot a rare one-horned rhino. The expedition was a great success as we spotted an entire family of them: a mother, father and offspring. All done from atop our 11,000 pound female elephants. When the adventure was over the mahouts positioned the three elephants in the shallow water of the river. Our guide, Raj, then asked if anyone wanted to sit on an elephant and be sprayed. Somehow my hand went up!

Once settled on the elephant’s bare back, I was getting comfortable when suddenly WHAM I was blasted by a trunk full of cold water!! My fellow travelers screamed from the riverbank, “Donna close your mouth!”I tried to close it when suddenly, WHAM!!! She sprayed me again. By now I was yelling with glee! She sprayed me five times!! It was great fun. I could not believe I was in Nepal being sprayed by a gigantic elephant. 

Sometime later, when all of us had had our fill of being sprayed, Raj asked. “So does anyone want to clean the elephants?” 


Again, my apparently autonomous arm shot up! “I do!” I exclaimed. Of course I again had no idea what this entailed. Raj directed me back into the water while my tour mates watched on. By now the three elephants were lounging on their sides in the waist high water. Clearly it was their spa day. I trudged down the bank and positioned myself at an elephant’s back where I began to spread water up on her skin and rub. It was marvelous. As I cleaned her I admired the thick dark grey hide which felt rough to my touch. She seemed to enjoy the attention. 

After a while I grew more confident. I waded up to her head and began cleaning her enormous ear. I rubbed gently and she seemed to lean into my touch. As I continued, I studied her beautiful thick eye lashes, the few graceful hairs on her head. I noted the look of contentment in the visible eye. She was so huge. It was wonderful. I could hardly take a breath for feeling the enormity of the moment I was sharing with her. She was still and relaxed. We both seemed to have moved into a kind of bliss. It lasted for long minutes.

Soon my fellow elephant cleaners were climbing out of the water through the mud onto the bank. The rain was coming down. We were soaked and becoming chilled. Everyone was heading back to camp but me. I was still glued to my elephant’s beautiful head. Finally from the shore, Raj, called, “So Donna are you staying?”


That pulled me from my reverie. “Could I?” I asked meekly.


Raj smiled as he replied, “Yes.” Clearly it was time to go back. But, I lingered, lost in the enormity of the moment as the group began to leave. I knew the elephant’s ancestors thrived in Africa some 20 million years ago. She was probably the closest I would ever get to a creature with links to our prehistoric past. Precious minutes ticked by as I was immersed in the encounter. The elephant continued to lean into me and I into her.

Eventually one of the trainers came back to help me to shore. I was far behind my group and had no idea which direction to turn once I got up from the river. I sort of stumbled along a trail. Eventually, I came upon three Terai women who were out gathering the morning crops. I think they read my zen-like expression and realized I was disoriented. They giggled a bit at my expense. I was, after all, dripping wet in my bathing suit. They knew I was lost!  


They approached me with care, gently turning me around and pointing me in the opposite direction. We shared smiles and one lady squeezed my arm in affection. Here I was, a stranger, half way around the planet in a foreign culture, being assisted by beautiful sari-dressed women who reached out to me as partners in a journey. We did not share language, nor customs, but we did share a bond of understanding. 

Poignant, short lived and beautiful. It was a day that lives in my memory. It was not until the next morning when it was time to pack up and walk to our vans that I realized I could not put weight on my knee!


Goodness! That was a problem! My trip mates took over getting me cold packs and rolling my suitcase to the vehicle. When I got back home and into see the orthopedic surgeon, he immediately scheduled me for surgery to repair my torn meniscus.

Now years later, the knee has started to give me trouble and hence I have taken steps to resolve the problem. However, the majesty of the encounter far outweighs the injury. I smile when I think of it: elephants, water, and the gracious Tarai women. It also speaks to the value of putting ourselves in the path of opportunity.


Does this story remind you of a time that something unexpected or remarkable happened to you? I would love to hear about it. I’ll keep you posted about my knee.


My best, donna 

Other Worlds May Be Closer than We Think

This past President’s Day weekend, my husband, Ken and I were reminded that whole other worlds sometimes are just a short distance away. 
I was invited to speak to my sister Diana’s women’s group in Palos Verdes. I eagerly accepted, reminiscing about how special that area has been in our lives; it is where Ken and I first met when I was just a girl of 14. I was accompanying my girlfriend, Lee. We were visiting her family’s friends for a week in Rolling Hills. The husband, a leader of a group of Boy Scout Explorers, invited some of the scouts to meet us. Ken was among them. That was the start of a lifetime together.
Soon after meeting Ken, I returned to my home thirty miles away. Too shy to talk on the phone, we exchanged letters all year. When my friend Lee and I returned to Palos Verdes the next year Ken had developed more courage, arranging an outing. We were quite surprised when he and a buddy showed up with horses! The plan was to ride over the steep hills and look at the oceanarium known as Marineland of the Pacific which had opened three years earlier in 1954. It was California’s first themed amusement park. Having only heard descriptions of Marineland, we were happy about the day’s plans to actually see it, but quite hesitant about seeing it from the back of horses, sitting behind boys we were just getting to know.
Swallowing our pride, Lee and I climbed on the back of those horses behind the boys. It was an exciting few hours. When it was time to ride back up the tallest hill, I was not about to put my arms around this boy I did not know very well. As my horse started up the incline, I slid right off its rump. After that we all just walked next to the horses up the slope. These are some of our favorite memories. Many years later we married in a church near where we met and moved to Orange County where we have spent sixty years, raising a family and building a life.
When this invitation to speak arrived, Ken immediately offered, “How about if I drive you and we will make an overnight adventure out of it?” Indeed we did just that! We packed our bags, organized care for our many pets and set off, quite oblivious to the idea of entering another world.
An hour later, we arrived in Ken’s adolescent growing up neighborhood on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It warmed my heart to see horses out on this holiday weekend, and to make a stop at the site of our wedding. We delighted in discovering the many colorful peacocks, preening on corral fences and unabashedly strutting down the middle of the roads! I took many photos. 
The driving tour continued to Malaga Cove where Ken had attended middle school, and where we encountered more beautiful peacocks. We hiked a bit to enjoy the views of Ken’s old surfing spots while he regaled me with tales of his ship wreck adventures climbing aboard the crashed freight ship, the Dominator, which was beyond salvage, stuck on the rocks where it had run aground in 1961.
We drove on, admiring the extravagant views of Catalina Island sitting just to our right. We soon drove into the entrance for the glamorous Terranea Resort on the site of the earlier Marineland Park. A quick Google search taught me that eons ago this area of Southern California had once been connected to the Channel Islands. We parked and Ken pointed out the trail we had taken on that long ago horse ride. 
We continued over freshly asphalted portions of a very topsy turvy road. I learned that it is constantly moving and being repaired, as much of the soil in the Rancho Palos Verdes area is unstable. In fact, the home in which we had met in 1956 fell down the hill years ago and had to be demolished.
We drove into the legendary Wayfarer’s Chapel parking lot only to be turned away by a guard. The historic building is red tagged. It is coming down, the earth beneath it moving to the point that the glass windows are cracking, and the structure is unsafe.
Ken told me stories of the beautiful Portuguese Bend Club that had once stood at the nearby beach, and how it had been destroyed by sliding earth. Today all that remains is its memory; there’s very little sign of it; it was taken long ago by the moving earth as have many dozens upon dozens of homes.
At day’s end, we found a seaside restaurant near our hotel and settled into a candlelit dinner. We talked excitedly about the history of the area, the unfortunate movement of the earth, and about the remarkable fact of so many wild peacocks roaming about.
We learned that there are a few other areas in Southern California where early flocks of peacocks were set free to proliferate over time. Research revealed that businessman Elias J “Lucky” Baldwin (Baldwin Hills is named for him) imported a flock of peacocks from India in 1879 which was probably the start of the Southern California peacock population. It is generally believed that Baldwin’s daughter gifted 16 of the family’s peacocks to Palos Verdes developer Frank A.Vanderlip who owned a massive 1600 acre estate on the peninsula around the turn of the twentieth century. An ornithophile, he kept aviaries on the peninsula property filled with exotic birds. Upon his passing the peacocks were set free to roam the hills, and to live on over one hundred years later.
The next day, I arrived early to my meeting excited about my presentation, but also interested in what the locals thought about all those loose peacocks living side by side with humans. I asked a few of the ladies who lived close by. They smiled, sighed, and agreed that they enjoyed them. However, they were quick to point out that the birds are a point of great controversy, that about half of the area’s residents find their squawking and vast amounts of excrement to be disagreeable.
My talk was on the “Colonization of Alta California.” I came attired in the image of the historic figure of La Dona Ysidora Pico Forster, the former matriarch of a massive Alta California rancho. I wanted to grab the listeners’ attention and help them to understand that they are part of California’s astonishing story; its rise from rural outpost to a world class powerhouse economy. I was warmly welcomed by a full audience of interested, attentive listeners. It was a wonderful day.
On the journey home Ken and I got back to reminiscing, recalling our own experience with some neighboring squawking peacocks. Our neighbor across the creek had kept them, and while we heard them clearly, they were far enough away as not to be annoying. We enjoyed having a peacock link. 
As we pulled into the driveway of our home, we marveled at the idea that we had only been gone a bit more than 30 hours and had discovered a whole different environment just a short trip away. Our takeaway is that if we make the effort and get out of our comfortable routines, there’s much to discover, often very close by.
Have you enjoyed taking a new path lately or finding a new world? I would love to hear about it. My best, donna

If This Tub Could Talk!

Friday my friend, Anne, asked if I wanted to tag along to a designer furniture warehouse sale. Eyeing the rainy day, I replied, “Sure.” Strolling through the haphazard pieces of decorative items, I soon stumbled upon a distressed 19th century portable bathtub with peeling paint. It was 75% off. I grew a bit excited imagining its gardening possibilities.
It is light weight, made of tin, probably from the mid 1800’s. It is not of much monetary value, but as a representative of a bygone era where hot water was heated on a wood burning stove and poured into the 40” long x 20” wide tub, it was catnip for my imagination.
I pictured a youngish mother dressed in a long calico skirt, heating a kettle of water over her big black stove. I could almost hear her yelling for her three kids, “Its bath day. Come on you all!” In my mind I could see two little boys whining. “Aww mom, do we have to?” While their little sister grinned from the corner of the kitchen, knowing she could splash to her heart’s content. The tub is big enough for two children or an adult to squeeze into. Smiling to myself, I could not help but wonder what kind of lives its bathers had lived; where had they lived? If only it could talk.
Back in the early centuries of our country, bathing was not the daily custom we enjoy today. Washing up in one’s bedroom at the washstand, using a pitcher of water, a large washbasin, and a sponge was sufficient. Ladies might add a drop of perfume to the water.
Immersive bathing became more frequent and popular as urban homes were constructed with indoor plumbing. Prior to 1900 that was not the norm. In fact, across our history until the 1900’s, bathing was viewed by many with suspicion as it was thought to remove the protective layer of oil and dirt on the skin, thus exposing the skin to the “miasma” of diseased air. Indoor bathrooms, even in 1910, were seen as a luxury. A 1950 Gallup poll revealed that fewer than 30% of Americans took a daily bath or shower during the winter with low income families reporting that children bathed once a week or less.
This morning I planted my friend Janet’s great grandmother Anna Launer’s swamp lily offspring in the tub and placed it on my patio. The two flourishing lilies seem fitting dwellers for the tub as they have a story of their own. In 1898 their “mother” swamp lily, the original plant, was traveling on a rail freight car from Illinois to Los Angeles packed in with the stock for the Launer’s new La Habra ranch: horses, chickens, and assorted plantings. During the long cross country trip there was a rail accident and the freight car with the stock was demolished. The horses and chickens scattered, while the original mother swamp lily lay quietly waiting to be turned right-side up. After a long chase the horses were rounded up, while the swamp lily enjoyed a prosperous life, growing many off shoot lily bulbs that were transplanted. The hallmark of the beautiful pink lily plant is that it can grow for many decades unattended. The plant is treasured by gardeners. One of this lily offshoot plants decorates the entry to the La Habra Historical Museum. There is an inscribed plaque describing the lily’s origins and tumultuous journey to California.
I often reflect on the past, lounging in images of prior times. It seems to me that when we appreciate the past, we better understand the present. I am so grateful that those who had custody of this little tin tub during the last 150 or so years, chose not to toss it in the recycling bin. Maybe it cannot talk but we can imagine what it might want to say, and how happy it is to house the beautiful pink swamp lilies.
Do you have a piece of the past around your home? What does it mean to you? I would love to hear about it.
My best, donna

A Hundred Year Challenge

Hi, happy belated New Year! I’ve been receiving a few “where are you?” “Where’d you go?” notes lately. Last August when that hurricane, turned tropical storm, Hilary hit SoCal it devastated the upper Santa Ana River basin in the San Bernardino Mountains and nearby desert communities. It swept away roads, bridges, homes, and a human life. I understood that it was an historic flood. Ken and I have owned a cabin on the river for 50 years. It was very personal to me and I felt compelled to capture it through the written word, resulting in six weeks of researching and writing. Then the holidays were upon us and last Sunday we celebrated my mother’s 100th birthday. My sister and I hosted a beautiful event with live music, a buffet fit for a queen, and 85 of her friends and family. Mom reports that it exceeded her wildest dreams.

I had the pleasure of sharing highlights of her long and interesting life. In thinking about my remarks, my thoughts naturally turned back to my own childhood, circa 1950. An image emerged of being in the chorus of such operas as Regalletto while our mom, the lead soprano for the Santa Monica Civic Opera Association, sang her heart out as Gilda, alone on the stage in the spotlight. It was a culturally unique way to grow up. The reflections led me to research what life is like for centenarians. My musings set me on a path to thinking about what kind of future I want to create for myself.

I had been toying with the idea of having my groceries delivered. I have now scrubbed that idea as I reframe the whole idea of lifting the heavy bags and carrying them up my stairs. Now I see this task as essential weight training. Reframing is looking at things in a new way. Perhaps instead of lamenting our limitations, we focus on all the things we can still do.

The ladies in my Pilates class recently told me about the Netflix documentary The Blue Zone which examines the five places on the planet which have the most centenarians. It has inspired me to walk up more hills and reduce my sugar consumption. I had been working on that when my historian friend, Pam Gibson, recommended a new book she was reading: Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia, M.D. Fifty year old Dr. Attia is a marathon swimmer, having swum from the mainland to Catalina; a surgeon, and a man set on living well as long as possible, hoping for 100. He builds a case backed up by the newest research showing a path forward as we age. A path that could allow us to be at our vital best. He calls it “health span.” I am at the section in the book where he challenges us to create a Centenarian Decathlon of physical challenges as we age. His “Centenarian Decathlon” is a framework to use to organize our aspirations for our future years. It is a list of the most important physical tasks we want to be able to do for the rest of our lives. It is a lot about exercise and smart nutrition. Anyway, I have mentally enrolled myself in it! I intend to be a finisher.

Each year at my annual physical exam my doctor, Dr. Lo, asks me the required Medicare questions: “Donna can you put your bra on by yourself?” 

“Dr. Lo, I am riding my horses every week.”

Laughing, he replies, “I am required to ask these.” 

“Donna, can you use the restroom unassisted?” 

“Dr. Lo I walk my three huge golden retrievers two miles every day!” He chuckles again and it continues like that…”I have to ask.”

I smile and roll my eyes. However, these Medicare questions highlight the very serious physical limitations which most often accompany old age. In preparing the remarks for my mother’s event I learned that only 1 in 6000 Americans arrive at their 100th birthday. That is about .00002 percent of the population with no consideration as to what shape those persons are in. The United Nations defines anyone 60 years or over as “older.” Some studies distinguish between the young-old (60-69), the middle old (70-79) and the very old, (80+). Apparently I have already arrived at VERY OLD…NOT! 

At its core, The Blue Zone documentary is five episodes of pure inspiration. It is something of a travelogue as well as a show stuffed full of astounding human examples of centenarians who are thriving! I nearly swooned watching a 103 year old Costa Rican man on his tall white horse guiding an unruly herd of big horned steers into a corral. I couldn’t stop grinning as a Japanese woman past 100 shimmied and swayed in a dance for the camera while balancing a bottle on her head. I enjoyed the eighty-somethings on the pickle ball courts of Loma Linda, California. My husband, Ken, tells me that in his alumni class notes for Occidental College class of 1964, that 25% report playing pickleball with regularity!

It’s a new year. We are on Flight 2024. Maybe now is a good time to think about what more we can do to mobilize our strength and maintain our vitality so that when we arrive at the next destination we are prepared to meet its challenges. I for one am excited about the Centenarian Decathlon. Maybe we can do it together? Here is a list of some of my goals: 

Walk my dogs a half hour a day.

Lift up my future great grandchildren

Live in my two story home

Open jars

Bathe my dogs

Travel on an airplane

Walk up the hill to my home

Put on my bra!

I would love to hear what you have been up to, how you have been feeling, and what your plans are?

An Enchanted Day

Across our sixty year long marriage, when Ken and I find a break in our schedules we often head out for what we refer to as one of our “adventures.” We have some favorite spots. This past Saturday was such an occasion. With purpose, we turned off the agony of the devastation in the Middle East reported on the news, focusing our thoughts inwardly. On this day we were heading to Balboa Island, our first home as newlyweds and to which we brought our first new-born baby; It is a place that holds a lot of magic for us.
It was a bright Indian summer day as we began our walk around the perimeter of the island. I felt a wave of peace wash over me as we ambled along, admiring the glistening water and the boats lolling against their moorings. The elaborate Halloween decorations adorning the homes and docks added to the joy. Before long, we came upon a five foot tall sand sculpture declaring “Larbear’s” love for her guy. We grinned. How cute. About 100 yards further up the beach we encountered the actual sand sculptor at work. He was filling two tall plastic forms with wet sand while four little kids, probably under age six, were trying to help him, armed with their own little shovels. The parents seated nearby, nervously called out to the artist, “Are you okay? We can call them in!”
Smiling, he looked over to them. “It’s fine.”
Ken and I enjoyed watching his flock of helpers; one little girl was holding a very full shovel of wet sand toward the top of the form. The form was taller than she. As she struggled to drop her load into the form, it looked for a minute like she might miss. We held our breath, worried for her. But she succeeded! We smiled and walked on, reveling in the warm sunshine, hopeful to see a finished creation on our return.
Taking in the sights of the sunbathers, street artists, and passers-by, we boarded the ferry for the short trip across the Newport Bay channel. Suddenly the ferry’s horn sounded! Things got a bit too exciting as the captain of our ferry issued a second loud blasting warning! A youth a few feet off our bow in a sailing dinghy was on a collision course with us! At the last second, the young sailor was able to make a quick turn and missed crashing into us! Whew!
We arrived for lunch at the historic 1906 Pavilion Restaurant. It was the terminus point for the Red Car trolley of old that traveled from Los Angeles to Newport Beach during the early 1900’s. As the hostess seated us we remarked on the hubbub of people in the dining room. She explained that a 100th birthday celebration was just breaking up at the other end of the large room. Seated, we took in the huge balloon bouquet boasting its shiny silver inflated 100th sign. We couldn’t help but admire the crowd of forty or so people as they dispersed, from babies, to toddlers, to the elderly; smiles on everyone’s face. The day before, my sister, Jackie, our mother, and I had a lengthy planning session for our mother’s 100th coming up in January. I was mentally taking notes.
Ken and I lingered over lunch, entertained by the 100th- year celebrants as well as the spectacular scenes of boats passing outside the window. Our waiter was engaging and we three enjoyed chatting about high school wrestling and his son, a soon-to-be wrestler.
Eventually we paid our bill and left the dining room. On the way out we studied the old photos on display. There was an historic line-up of beauty queens in their long, old-fashioned bathing costumes. Whispering to Ken, I pointed them out, “They enjoyed their days in the sun… and here they are memorialized.” He nodded as he replied, “Indeed we have our time.” He was quiet for a long pause and then he observed, “Donna we are seeing both ends of the spectrum today, a 100th birthday marking a milestone near the end of a very long life, while those little sand castle builders back there are experimenting and learning as they begin their life journeys. It’s remarkable.”
I knew what he meant, that this is our time now and it is precious. He took my hand and we walked on. On the way back we stopped to admire the progress the sand artist had made. We could see that Casper the Friendly Ghost was emerging out of the sand while the gaggle of excited children had swelled significantly. There must have been about nine of them, all of whom, by now, were busily at work on their own elaborate creations. One little girl called breathlessly to the sand artist, “Richard, is this good. Is this enough sand?”
He replied with a grin. “It’s perfect.” As he went back to smoothing out his ghost.
I laughed. ”Ken there is a real life Pied Piper! He is not only creating a delight for we who stroll by, but he is graciously entertaining all those little kids in a very unique way.” My phone camera was in my pocket, but it did not feel right to insert myself into the scene by taking a photo. Honestly, it was just too precious. I needed to let it be what it was.
Of course when I got home I realized I wanted to share with you what an enchanting “adventure” we had on Saturday, and how important it is that we be mindful of all the beauty and joy that is surrounding us. There is so much pain in our world, I think it is important that we do what we can to alleviate it while seeking to strike a balance so that it does not pull us all the way down. It is still our time now and it is precious.
In retrospect I have considered the others with whom we interacted on our brief adventure. I thought how so many of them were making a difference, making the world a bit better. There was a young woman with a seven-month old Golden Retriever, Nash, a twin to our Ginger. We exchanged a heartwarming talk about our dogs with her; that waiter made our day better by sharing of his love for his son. We met Gary, a working artist with a paint brush in hand, who shared a photo of one of the 18 full length knitted coats his wife had created for him, his most prized possessions. Lastly, bearing witness to a real life Pied Piper at work, a man taking time to inspire children, all has to add up to the fact that each of us in our own way can help to make the world better, one little kindness at a time.
As I sign off, I’m including a few photos collected in my phone from other sandcastle, beach visits to Balboa Island and some of my own castle builders when they were young. I hope you have been the beneficiary of some enchanting interactions of late. Whatever they are, I would love to hear about it. My best, donna

The Devastation Wrought by Tropical Storm Hilary and the Forgotten Apple Tree!

When Hurricane Hilary arrived in Southern California on August 20, 2023 as a tropical storm, we residents were as prepared for it as we could be. The news reports besieged us with the seriousness of it for days. My husband Ken, in fact thought the prognosticators were being overly alarmist. In any event, we were warned that a year’s worth of rain could fall in a single event.
Down in the coastal regions of SoCal we mostly weathered the storm fairly well, however in the nearby San Bernardino Mountains, disaster befell those of us with residences along the Santa Ana River. The storm got stuck between the southern ridge of Big Bear’s mountains and Highway 38 to the south. Perhaps eight inches of rain fell on the Santa Ana River watershed in a very short time. This resulted in a massive flashflood. There was the loss of one life, ruination of three county bridges, the public roads were torn away, and homes were lost. There was historic destruction to at least two mountain communities including ours. The roads, water and power were out for weeks. Due to security reasons, we did not share any of this on social media, though Channels 7 and 5 covered the stories as residents were helicoptered to safety.
Two weeks later, over the Labor Day weekend, my daughter, and son-in-law, and I hiked in to survey our home and witness the results of Hilary’s fury. We were relieved to find that our home was intact, though our community was not. After a while, we made our way on foot across the swift waters of the Santa Ana River and climbed up the steep banks carved out by the flashflood. We wanted to visit our nearby neighbors at Seven Oaks.
Our hike that day gave us a first-hand reminder of the enormous power of nature. Hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes and typhoons occur around the world with all too frequent regularity. We see the horror of it; just last week the tremendous loss of life due to flooding in Libya. That was on the heels of the disastrous earthquake in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. For us, seeing Hilary’s wrath focused on the Santa Ana River headwaters became an up-close and personally grim reminder of, not only the power of nature, but of the resilience of the human spirit. World aid has come to the African continent, and the first responders in the San Bernardino Mountains were unprecedented in their efficiency. Medics were helicoptered in to spend the night with the victims of Seven Oaks, at least four of whom had to be dug out of the mud.
On the day of our visit we chatted with those who had stayed behind at Seven Oaks to protect it and to feed the animals left behind. Living without power or water, their stories were heroic; of strength in the face of calamity.
Once back at our own mountain community known as Weesha, I had occasion to sit by myself on a rock to process everything I had witnessed. I sat next to a producing apple tree, long ago abandoned by the most serious flood of the last century, the massive flood of 1938. I sat with that little tree for some time. The forgotten tree seemed symbolic to me of the resilience and bravery shown by so many people across the globe in one horrendous situation or another. I felt compelled to write about that tree. It is written as a fairy tale. Ken and our son Rick found it moving. You might too. The link is below if you care to read it. In the meantime, have you been inspired by the bravery exhibited by people you know? I always love to hear what you are thinking about.
My best, donna
A Fairy Tale by Donna Lewis Friess

There Are Still Lemonade Stands!

The other day I was leaving a local event when I encountered three young children on the corner of a quiet neighborhood selling lemonade from their homemade stand. I smiled to myself. I continued my short journey home and upon entering my own area, I drove by yet another such lemonade stand. This time my eyes filled with tears for the innocence of it. For the next few days my mind kept steering back to the image of those sweet little kids and their entrepreneurial zeal. I basked in the vision of them.
Later that week the real horror of the destruction that consumed Lahaina on Maui became apparent. Lives destroyed. I thought of the ongoing devastation to Ukraine, other horrifying issues which the 24/7 news cycles blasts our way. It can feel overwhelming; the power of the bad news headlines insistent upon grabbing our attention. Oftentimes I even worry about our country’s ability to sustain our democracy. When I let those thoughts run away in my head, Ken manages to talk me down. Anyway, the purity of the lemonade stands moved me so much that I began telling my friends about them. Invariably they’d grin and exclaim, “Well there’s still lemonade stands!” Meaning that in the face of all the negativity in the world there is still purity. I believe that!!
If you too find yourself feeling anxious I think a trick is to practice getting our “calm” on; managing our thoughts and being mindful of where we allow our thoughts to stray. One of my all time heroes is author David Rock in his book Your Brain at Work. He writes: “The human brain likes to wander, it is like a sniffing puppy!” 
Ever since my husband, Ken, received his diagnosis of advanced heart failure and the changes it brings to him, he has become proficient at practicing mindfulness to stop himself from over thinking it. He favors reciting the Serenity Prayer to himself, especially the line “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..” He challenges himself to concentrate his energy on the life paths still open to him.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, and becoming aware of where our thoughts have meandered. It requires that we are conscious and aware — that we learn to choose our response instead of simply reacting 
When we feel our thoughts escalating out of control we can work to contain them by purposefully bringing to mind something positive; we can exercise; we can celebrate being alive; and we can focus on what is right with the world. Years ago, in my Interpersonal Relationship class I had a very stressed out middle-aged woman who had endured decades of therapy regarding her serious “mommy issues.” When my assignment required the students to write on “What is Right with Your Life,” she had an epiphany! She confided to me that she had spent the last thirty years focusing on what was wrong with her life. At the end of the semester she whispered to me in private that that assignment helped her more than all the therapy she ever had put together! Whew! That was a lot to say to me, but it speaks to the power of positive thinking and how important it is to take control of our thoughts.
I think we humans are brave. Fight or Flee is built into our brains. We are absolutely wired to action: but who do we fight? Where do we flee? Really, there’s often nowhere to flee nor anyone to fight, so many of us feel plagued by anxiety. It is normal to have some anxiety. Change and stepping out of our comfort zones can sometimes elicit some profound discomfort, but it can also bring growth. Meeting the new situation head-on can oftentimes dispel that uncomfortable reaction. It is human to experience all this. Maybe we can do better by working to control our wayward, perhaps catastrophic thoughts. We can find realistic ways to manage and live with our anxiety.
So tell me, what is right with you? In what ways are you thriving? How do you get a handle on your own anxiety? I would love to hear what you are thinking. In the meantime keep your eyes peeled for those corner lemonade stands.
My best, donna

From Yoga on the Sand to Life Changing Experience

If we are open to it, one of the great adventures of being alive in the world is that we just never know what can happen if we just say “yes”! Last Sunday one of those unbelievable experiences caught me completely by surprise. Yes I had wandered into yet another unknown, but of course I did not expect anything life changing to happen. It was during our annual family get-away-vacation to Avalon, a tiny city on the Island of Catalina.
On the second day I was chatting with a seasonal local and she invited me to “Yoga on the Sand,” a free program offered by the City of Avalon on Sunday mornings at 8 a.m. I had told her I would go. On Sunday morning I was sort of stalling, sipping coffee, in our hotel room when Ken urged, “Just go. It might be fun. You might get a story to tell!” Hmm I thought. Okay.
I walked the short distance to the front of our hotel and there on the sand were two big City of Avalon canvas pop-up tents. Towel in hand, I walked over and said hi to the three women setting up; the City representative and the two leaders. All three greeted me so warmly that I immediately felt at ease. I spread out my towel. They chatted with me as they set up Tibetan sound bowls, a sound system, and began spreading lavender scents around the area.
Within a short time a group of perhaps ten people gathered beneath the awnings and started stretching as they lay on their towels. Soon “Air-e,” introduced herself. Dressed in a long skirt, and sleeveless top, she introduced co-leader “Lumina.” Lumina was dressed in loose Indian yoga pants and a tank top stating “Breathe.” Her flowing body art proclaimed her devotion to alternative healing methods. Both women exuded peacefulness, warmth and love.
Air-e opened her session and soon asked each of us to share a recent “crappy and a happy” moment. The sharing brought us together. Then we were directed to select a card on which to focus our thoughts during our yoga practice. I selected a card at random. When I turned it over it said, “I radiate positive energy from my being.” Well that seemed prophetic. Our group went through a demanding hour long practice. As it ended we were invited to stay for a “Sound Bath.” By now Lumina was working her Tibetan bowls and more fragrances were filling our atmosphere. Intrigued I stayed. I had never before heard of a “Sound Bath.”
The Sound Bath began. Lumina walked between those who remained, spreading lavender and sage scents. We lay with our eyes covered and enjoyed the explanation of how the sounds vibrations affected our bodies and our energy fields. Gongs played. Cymbals chimed; sounds and fragrances flowed. We were led deeper into our meditation. As an inexperienced person in such things, I was a rapt student. She directed us to see the “light” of all the people across our lives who have supported us. Our direction was to focus on their “light.” I was so relaxed that I did see “lights” in my imagination. Perhaps some hypnosis was taking place. The strongest light that came to me was from thinking of my husband Ken. I became more aware than ever of how much he has encouraged me across our long life together. As my mind began to explore all past and present people who have supported me, I felt a rush of tearfulness, of appreciation for the support I have gotten. I thought of my grandmother, my model for grandparenting.
The hour continued like that. The wind picked up as the sounds continued their vibrations I could hear the waves lapping against the sand . My hands and feet felt tingly and I was deeply relaxed. It felt like my heart rate had slowed down. It was an emotional experience for me. Two more of the “lights” I became aware of were from my childhood girlfriend, Leanne’s, parents. I lingered in that appreciation for all they did for me during my troubled childhood. They were a refuge. I felt transported as I took a broad look at my life and thought about changes that I could make.
After a long while the sounds and vibrations brought us back to a more awake state. My hands and feet still tingled. The wind continued. The others left. I stayed on my towel, as I was rather shocked that I had had such a powerful experience. It was a visceral immersion in gratitude. I wondered if the others had such an experience? I looked around the area thinking perhaps Lumina also had a wind machine? No. It was the natural environment. The breeze had picked up while I was in my deepest meditation. I don’t know what that was about? Air-e and Lumina came to me, encircling me in a group hug. They asked if they could have some photos with me. They took my phone and put their contacts in. When I got back to our room I told Ken all about it; that it had been life changing in that it has inspired me to look more fully into such guided meditation and certainly to continue the experience of sound baths, and to think about my life.
I have long believed that living in gratitude is a solid path toward happiness, now more than ever I believe that. It seems essential to me that we understand that we must be in charge of the life that we are living; that putting ourselves in the path of the unknown may present opportunities and experiences we could never imagine. Maybe I stepped a bit out of my comfort zone on Sunday by going to Yoga on the Sand, but what wonderful rewards I was gifted. I like the sign over my sink that reads, “It is not the destination but the journey that brings happiness.” What a wonderful internal journey I experienced on Sunday! Now I am Googling meditation retreats and Sound Baths. I’m excited.
Have you taken a chance lately and done something new or out of character? What was it? What are you thinking of doing? Will it be a risk for you? I love hearing what you are thinking about. My best, donna

The Well Lived Life

Last week our oldest son, Rick, a long distance runner who has long been an aficionado of audio books during his runs, called me. “Mom I am listening to the most intriguing new book. It’s by a 102 year old lady doctor. She talks just like you do about growing one’s “juice” in order to fully embrace life. I think you’d enjoy it. I don’t listen to too many books where the author reminds me of you. At the end she advises her readers to spend their energy wildly! Mom, I see you doing that.”
I smiled as I clicked off my cell phone. Do I talk so strangely? I wondered as I Googled the author and ordered the book. I discovered that she is very much alive and still working! A few days later I was completely immersed in The Well Lived Life by Dr. Gladys McGarey, MD. She grew up in India in camps where her traveling missionary doctor parents ministered to the Untouchables. Gladys enjoyed a unique upbringing. She reports that when her mother passed away at a very old age, that Gladys could not really be sad because her mother lived a life filled with love and community and had accomplished everything she ever hoped for.
That thought has been roiling around in my mind. Dr. Gladys, as she is called, offers six secrets to a well lived life which include meeting the world with love, and understanding the vast power of community; she says we are truly not alone, that life is about human connection. [Her secrets: We are here for a reason; All life needs to move; Love is the most powerful medicine; You are never truly alone; Everything is your teacher; Spend your energy wildly.]
The other morning as I was trekking up a steep incline of the trail on my old horse, Gladys’ ideas intruded into my consciousness; the power of the human connection. Gladys spent much of her career doctoring to people in Afghanistan and India. She tells of an experience when she was needed in the mountains of Afghanistan, reachable only by donkey. Though she was hardy she was concerned about the ride up a steep trail, after all, at that point she was 86 years old!
The donkey train started up the mountain and Gladys, precariously perched, was beginning to lean awkwardly off the side of the donkey. An Afghan woman seeing her wobbly plight rode up next to her and grabbed the only halter available, Gladys’ bra strap, and held her steady to the top of the trail: the power of community. The women did not even speak the same language!
That story reminded me of one of my most profound travel moments when I too encountered a remarkable sisterhood in the most distant corner of Nepal in 2011. It occurred at the end of a seventeen day trek through the lower Annapurna Mountains. The final activity of the trip was an elephant safari through the jungle of Chitwan National Park.
Our safari was to search out one-horned rhinos from a wooden perch atop each of three 11,000 pound female elephants. When the adventure was over the mahouts settled the three elephants in the four-foot deep water of the river. Our guide asked if anyone wanted to sit on an elephant and be sprayed. The spraying was exciting until my elephant started to roll over onto her side. I quickly scrambled off and swam to shore. Later, when all of us had had our fill of being showered by the elephants, Raj, our trek leader said, “So does anyone want to clean the elephants?”
I had no idea what that meant. I waded back into the river to one of the elephants. Raj instructed us to splash water up onto their big backs and gently rub. I began. It was marvelous. Her dark grey hide was very thick and felt rough to my touch. She seemed to enjoy the attention. Before long, growing more confident, I trudged up to her head and began cleaning her enormous ear. I scrubbed rhythmically as she leaned into my touch. As I continued, I studied her beautiful thick eye lashes, the few graceful hairs on her head, and noted the look of contentment in the visible eye. She was so immense. It was wonderful. I could hardly take a breath for feeling the enormity of the moment I was sharing with her. She was still and relaxed. We both seemed to have moved into a kind of bliss. It lasted for long minutes.
After a while my fellow elephant cleaners were climbing out of the water through the mud onto the bank. The rain was coming down and we were all drenched and becoming chilled. Everyone headed back to camp but me. I was still absorbed in my elephant’s beautiful head. Finally from the shore, Raj called, “So Donna are you staying?”
That pulled me from my reverie. “Could I?” I asked meekly.
Raj smiled as he replied, “Yes.” The group then left while I lingered in the water, truly “soaking in” the experience and the magic. The elephant continued to lean into me and I into her.
Finally one of the trainers came back to help me climb up to shore. I headed up the river bank to walk back to camp. I bumbled my way along for awhile. I was somewhat dazed from being with the elephant, but I was in too much of a state of bliss to actually “get” that I was lost! I continued on. After a while I encountered three Terai women who were harvesting the crops. They saw immediately that I was disoriented. They giggled a bit at my expense. I see now that it was fairly funny. Here was this foreign lady in a soaking wet bathing suit wandering around the perimeter of a massive field, who was clearly lost!
The giggles continued as they gently turned me around and pointed me in the correct direction. We shared shy smiles. By this time I realized I was in a predicament. One lady pulled me in a bit closer and squeezed me in affection. It occurred to me that I was half-way around the planet in a foreign culture, being assisted by beautiful sari dressed women who were tending me as one of their own. We did not share language, or customs, but we did share a bond of human understanding.
That moment and Gladys’ bra harness story remind me how much we need each other. Dr. Gladys believes that when we look for the loving friend in others and spend our energy wildly in the act of living, that those behaviors are part of the secret to a well lived life. She says, “Aligning our life force with community…opens us up to possibilities we may never have considered. Life itself rises up to support us through community.” Perhaps we could adopt a goal to live our lives with so much zeal and so fully that when our time is over the best thing our loved ones can say is “he or she lived their life wholly!”
Have you had an unforgettable moment when someone stepped in to lend assistance which underscored that we are not alone, that we are all connected through our humanity? Are you using your energy wildly? If so what are you doing? I love to know what you are thinking. Also, you might really enjoy Dr. Gladys’ book. It is on
My best, donna

On Growing Happiness

Recently, I have admitted to you how chaotic parts of my life have felt as I have dealt with loss and serious medical conditions with those whom I love. I’ve been struggling to keep balance in my life, to feel happy. The other day my brother, Chuck, emailed a Time Magazine January 5, 2023 article “The Daily Habits of Happiness Experts.” Eager for more answers, I studied the article. It pointed out that “we must do the work every single day of deciding to be happy.” It is a different twist than I had ever thought of: Putting in the Work. It got me to thinking about what exactly is the “Work” necessary to grow happiness?
The article listed the experts’ daily habits: a healthful diet, getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, regular exercise, practicing a hobby, and spending significant amounts of time with friends outside of the work environment. Certainly those habits are part of the Work. They agreed that having a sense of purpose and living in gratitude are also core habits. My own studies have also taught me that a certain level of complexity in one’s daily life can yield a sense of excitement about feeling alive.
All this got me pondering. I woke up in the middle of last night thinking that life is sort of a balancing act, like being on a teeter totter. I shared that idea with Ken about happiness coming from being in balance. He could not have disagreed with me more! He said, “Balance is boring! It is the rush of pushing upward to the top of the teeter totter that yields that kick to one’s heel, that zesty thrill of being in the world.” I responded, “But too much downward push can leave us feeling stressed out, or sadly, bored or lonely.” I know America is suffering an epidemic of loneliness and anxiety and that youth and seniors are hit the hardest; we also have a generation of workers stuck at home working through Zoom and the computer. What is that isolation doing to them? It can’t be a positive condition.
With that in mind, how exactly do we pull in enough adventure, new situations, and new people to bring us joy without stressing ourselves out? The evening news just had an intriguing segment. It was about a high school teacher who dared to have his students put their work and phones away. He then directed them to talk to one another for the last ten minutes of the class. They were bewildered as the teacher usually required quiet. That made the news! The teacher is concerned that we are forgetting how to talk to one another face to face. Could it be that our instant capabilities to silently communicate are messing with our heads? Could these new technologies be cutting us off and weighing us down toward isolation? Is our tech driven world of email and texting making it too easy to isolate?
Last week three different people approached me for help. They were hoping for ideas about how to get back in their lives, how to feel some of the old joy from their youth, how to feel happier. Their drive to feel happier forced me to think more fully about doing “the work” to create more happiness. Our conversations kept coming back to daring to step out of our comfort zones, having enough courage to push the teeter totter up, and exalting in the trip down. I thought about my husband Ken’s high school girls’ wrestling team, how he frequently has to coach them not just about strategic moves but about stepping out into the unknown onto the mat in front of others, being bold enough to go for it. Some of them, unfortunately, cannot face that risk and leave wrestling, others suck it up, anxious and scared, and become accomplished wrestlers enjoying the benefits of trying something new; participating in fresh activities, belonging to a team, making more friends.
Across my life I have had to force myself out of various comfortable cocoons. I’ve never shared with you that one of the reasons I taught for so long, 45 years, was that I was more terrified of trying to create a new life outside of teaching, than continuing in my same known routine. My mind imagined me at home sitting alone at my computer in the fog of a Fall day. I hated that mental picture. Eventually the 70 miles a day commute, and being well past retirement age, was beginning to look silly. I had to become brave and figure out a new life. One year I made up my mind, I would retire! However, I could not go through with it. I told myself that I would miss my students too much. I taught for several more years. Translation: I was afraid of the unknown. You are probably laughing at me right now. What a ninny? It does, however, speak to the emotion involved in keeping the upswing of the teeter totter.
Once I made the move and stepped into retirement I discovered a wonderful new set of risks and challenges. I began getting better at putting my angst aside and going for it even though it is scary. I think you know that Ken recently gifted me a 2014 Corvette for my 80th birthday. Within a few days I was loading groceries into the back of it at Von’s when a stranger rolled by me, asked about the car, and invited me to join his Corvette club. I thought it over for a few days. I looked it up online, filled out a form, and received a call inviting me to the meeting. I was going.
So on January 5, 2023, I put my arms around myself, took a big breath, got into my car by myself and drove into the great unknown. I was pretty nervous. I arrived at the meeting place, a restaurant, with my stomach full of butterflies. I checked in with my contact, sat with him and his wife. That was the beginning of what is turning out to be one of the most unique and joyful experiences of my life. This generous and friendly couple metaphorically wrapped me up in their welcoming embrace and introduced me to others. I was a stranger in a strange place but they made me feel at home. I decided to join. A month later I found myself taking part in something I had never in my wildest imagination dreamed of doing. I was showing my car at the San Juan Capistrano Rotary Car Show along with 400 other car enthusiasts!
What I have learned is that if We DARE TO STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN, sometimes magical things can happen. I had forgotten how much I love cars, that I was actually a lifelong car enthusiast, that there were new friends waiting for me, that new activities would present themselves. I had NO idea. That is the thrill of the unknown, of the upswing of the teeter totter, we don’t know until we try, and the down swing can be enjoyed as an interesting change as well.
So I am interested in you. What have you been contemplating doing? Are you secretly thinking about taking up something new? Going on an adventure? Joining a new group? You might need to step out of your usual routine. It’s possible something marvelous is waiting for you. I’d love to hear from you. My best, donna

Re-enactors Bring History to Life in Famous Swallows Day Parade

Always on the look-out for adventuresome ways to live life, this past Saturday March 25 in my precious hometown, I joined a doozey of a fun endeavor. It was parade day in San Juan Capistrano, its 63rd Swallows Day Parade, one of the largest non-motorized parades in America. After two years of pandemic lockdown and a horse virus that quarantined our horses, the “Back in the Saddle Again” theme was a perfect fit for our community. We were ready to celebrate! .
On parade day, attired in my western get-up, I was excitedly making my way through the throngs of parade entries toward the mission’s horse-drawn floats on which we volunteer docents were to ride. Slipping past two huge red dragon heads, and five teams of majestic draft horses, my breath caught as I spotted a coffin with a sign above it reading: “James Barton – Died Heroically.”
I had stumbled upon a troupe of re-enactors who were staging part of one of San Juan Capistrano’s most notorious murder cases, the Barton Massacre. I knew the case. I knew of Sheriff Barton. I rushed up to the costumed actors and interviewed them as best I could in the minutes before the parade began. Taking their cards so that I could follow up later, I rushed to my designated wagon, clambered up the festively decorated float.
The crowds of cheering parade goers applauded our dray as it rolled along, and my mind drifted to the Barton case. After the defeat of Mexico in the Mexican-American War in 1848, there was much social unrest. Mid 19th Century Southern California was plagued by lawlessness and violence including the tiny pueblo de San Juan Capistrano. One of the most malicious of the marauding crews was the Juan Flores-Pancho Daniels gang which was dedicated to “killing every gringo.” The gang routinely held up stage coaches and terrorized citizens between San Diego and Los Angeles.
The murderous incident which caused Los Angeles Sheriff James Barton and six men to ride south was a particularly vicious series of raids which had occurred in San Juan Capistrano. Recently escaped from San Quentin for horse stealing, Flores was attracted to San Juan because his girlfriend lived here. One particular night the gang members robbed a local general store, killed the shopkeeper, and then blithely enjoyed the dinner the shopkeeper had prepared for himself, while the shopkeeper’s body lay on the table.
The small pueblo was desperate for professional law enforcement. Answering the cry for help, on the eve of January 22, 1857, James Barton, a Los Angeles sheriff, and his men prepared to capture the gang. Unbeknownst to the lawmen, a gang member was planted as a lookout in Los Angeles. Learning of Barton’s plans, the lookout quickly mounted his horse and rode out to warn the others of the Sheriff’s intention.
Tired after a long ride, Barton and his men rested at Rancho San Joaquin, the area today known as Back Bay of Newport Beach, where venerable rancher Don Jose Sepulveda warned them to stop the chase. He told them that the gang was large, maybe sixty men, and that the lawmen were far outnumbered. Don Sepulveda urged that it was simply too dangerous. Also, while the posse rested and ate breakfast, it is believed that a servant, sympathetic to Flores and Daniels’ cause, removed the bullets from the posse’s guns which had been stowed in an out-building.
Undeterred and unaware, Barton and his men mounted up and searched the local hills and canyons to the south. Tragically when they were in the area near Laguna Canyon they were ambushed. When they tried to return fire they discovered that they had no bullets. They ran for safety. Barton and three others were murdered while two of the posse got away to tell the story. That bloody incident became known as the “Barton Massacre.”
In response to the killing of the long time Los Angeles sheriff and his officers, new posses were formed, one led by General Andres Pico. Finally, Flores and 52 of his gang were arrested. On February 14, 1857, Flores was hanged in Los Angeles with several thousand spectators attending to witness his end. Reminiscent of that hunt, there is visible today a plaque off the 241 toll way in Orange County which reads: “Under this tree General Andres Pico Hung Two Banditos of the Flores Gang in 1857.” Others in the gang were rounded up and their ears were cut off and displayed as proof of their deaths. Daniels was captured the following year and hanged.
The Sheriff Barton funeral entry included 10 mourners, plus the “Widow Barton,” a clergyman, as well as the “Spirit of Barton” character, a hovering shroud played by actor Barry Clark. During the parade the mourners were seen as a somber processional accompanied by mournful music. Spectators loved it as the shrouded “Spirit” moved among the mourners swooping and hovering. The “Spirit” especially fluttered and floated near the “Widow Barton” who swooned as she felt the presence of her husband’s ghost!
San Juan Capistrano enjoys a rich history and The Code of the West Reenactment troupe brought some of that history to life in a most entertaining manner during the parade. The Moreno Valley Troup of fifteen members has been together for twenty years and is headed by Julia and Jon Arbough who direct and produce the historical re-enactments. They perform at many events and as a 501 C 3. They donate a generous portion of their earnings to such charities as Tunnel for Towers which helps 9/11 responders, The National Police Dog Foundation, and to Protect the Beagle Dogs. The non-profit group works out of Moreno Valley, California. In the Barton play, Joe Mortimer played the clergyman, Shelley Peters enacted Widow Barton, Julia Arbough was a mourner and her husband Jon acted as the escort to “Widow Barton.”
My take-away from participating in the parade and interviewing some of the troupe’s actors, is the knowledge that there are many extremely satisfying and worthwhile ways in which to invest our human energy and heart. The re-enactors have inspired me to continue my research into one of California’s most important matriarchs, Ysidora Pico Forster. Perhaps one year “she” shall appear in the Swallow’s Day Parade as well. Across my experience I sometimes have conversations with individuals who confide in me that they suffer “aloneness.” They do not feel lonely, but they feel an emptiness, an absence of people in their lives. I encounter that sentiment more often than one might suspect. It is a situation which can be remedied if one is willing to step out of their comfort zone and enroll in some of these different groups. Truly there are friendships waiting to happen. Maya Angelou liked to remind us that A FRIEND MAY BE WAITING BEHIND A STRANGER’S FACE. This is something I am privileged to frequently experience.
What intriguing ways to engage your spirit have you been thinking about. What adventure is on the horizon in your life? I would love to hear from you. My best, donna
Los Angeles Times. May 12, 2009. Mike Anton, “Hidden in O.C.’s Foothills, a gnarled reminder of California’s Past.”

We Stand On Their Shoulders

On Monday March 13, 2023 twelve term congresswoman and persuasive feminist, Pat Schroeder, died. Her passing coincides with National Women’s History Month. Her loss has caused me to reflect on the impact to the generations of American women coming behind me who are benefitting from Schroeder’s important legislation. Many of us today stand on her shoulders and those of other Americans who have worked toward equal rights for women.
When I was hired in 1966 as a full time tenure-track college teacher there was no such thing as family or maternity leave. I was hired at age 23 as a married mother of one small child. It was not a problem. The issue was that Ken and I wanted a larger family and we did not want to sacrifice my career, the alternative, to growing our family.
Ken and I worked the problem. We became strategic. We figured out that if our child’s birth coincided with my summers off, my career could prevail. Beyond our strategy, we were fortunate. Our second child was born July 30, 1968. When classes began the day after Labor Day, we secured child care for our tiny five week old daughter, Julina. I will never forget my drive to work that first day of school; I sobbed the entire way as leaving my newborn was against every fiber of my maternal being. I sucked it up and kept going, knowing that for the rest of my life, leaving her would be one of the hardest things I would ever have to do.
A few years later, once again strategizing toward summer break, luck was again on our side. Baby number three was scheduled to arrive in July of 1971. My voluminous dresses did their best to cover my girth. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell!” was the rule of the day for expectant teachers. In May that semester, I had a meeting with the district chancellor. He held eye contact with me during the entire appointment, never acknowledging my huge mid section. I lumbered through the June graduation in my oversized academic robes. Baby Dan was born the next week. There was never a mention of Donna or a baby boy, nothing, by anyone, not in a faculty newsletter, nowhere. My students understood and threw me a big in-class baby shower. Otherwise, mum was the word on campus except in the faculty lounge where the sentiment was in keeping with Paul Erlich’s Population Bomb which called for a limitation in family size. Certain faculty members enraptured with that idea, were wrapping his explosive books in black paper and delivering them to local maternity wards. My girth and I stayed away from the faculty lounge.
When Colorado woman Pat Schroeder decided to run for congress in 1972 the newspapers described her as only a “housewife.” She drew so little credibility from the media that her name was NOT even mentioned in the articles. Mind you she was a Harvard trained attorney, and an accomplished pilot. In fact, after her election to congress she was chosen as the first woman to ever sit on the Armed Services Committee. Her aviation skills were of value in that forum. Two of her most important accomplishments in the U.S. Congress were to benefit the American family. In 1978 she championed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which barred employers from denying maternity benefits. In 1993 she helped get the Family Medical Leave Act passed which permitted workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with their newborn child, to care for the health of a seriously ill family member, or tend to their own serious health issues without concern for losing their job. Being allowed a leave back in 1968 would have helped my broken heart. My daughter was 25 years old when this important legislation was passed.
Recently, the website sent me a notice that my 2nd great grandmother, Mary Jane Swan Lewis (my grandfather’s grandmother), at age 82 fought across heavy rain and snow on November 2, 1920 in Altoona Kansas to stand in voting lines so that she could finally legally cast her vote for president. The 19th Amendment had been ratified and nationwide women were permitted to vote. Prohibition was the big issue; she could have voted for James Cox or Warren Harding. Her stand on prohibition is lost to me, however, the majority of Americans overwhelmingly voted for the popular Harding whose slogan was “Return to Normalcy.” It warms my heart to think of that lady wrapping herself up in layers of clothing against the snow to stand in a long line to have her say. I stand on her shoulders.
I also stand on the shoulders of my great grandmother Lydia Cram Lewis who was a pharmacist in the family’s R.W. Lewis Drug Company which had nine drug and cigar stores in early 1900’s Los Angeles. I stand on the shoulders of Vera May Lewis, my grandmother who was a pioneer in children’s television. She hosted the first local TV show for kids in Southern California. It was The Playcrafters Club on Channel 5, KTLA, Thursdays at 5, from 1950-1953.
We American women benefit from and stand upon so many shoulders of strong women and men. Some of our influencers have been more outspoken than others. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for instance, was a fearless advocate against gender discrimination. She was also the first Jewish woman and only the second woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Reflecting further upon gender discrimination in the workplace, I think about my Aunt Margie. In the 1930’s during the Great Depression when she applied for an adult night school teaching job, she was forced to hide the fact that she was married; jobs were reserved for men who had families to support.
This month, National Women’s History Month, provides us with an opportunity to pause and appreciate the strides taken forward toward gender equality such as the passing of Title IX in 1972. Title IX legislation gave women the right to equal opportunity in sports and in educational institutions which receive federal funds. There is still a lot of work to be done. We can slide into complacency or we can be inspired. Perhaps Pat Schroeder, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the women behind the passage of Title IX, and thousands of others who have been banging away at the glass ceiling, can embolden us to continue to actively teach our children and grandchildren the importance of gender equality. As the grandmother to nine young women and two future fathers, it has been an urgent matter to me that they have every opportunity available, that they see themselves as equal and believe in their hearts that they have what it takes, and most importantly that they understand the battles that must continue to be won to move to gender equality.
Observing the independent nature of my grown grandchildren, I interviewed them and their parents asking if they could articulate their thoughts on gender equality. It’s a hard question. Not everyone got back to me, but what answers I learned are compelling. My oldest son, no doubt thinking of the arduous Saturday before in which he and four of his daughters endured competing on the muddy, watery trails of the Catalina Marathon, immediately offered up his family’s tireless marathon participation as a metaphor. The marathon participation as vehicle to illustrate that he and the girls’ mother have inspired their girls to believe in themselves, to understand that they can accomplish significant goals, regardless of gender, through determination and practice, even a horrific nine hour trek through mud so thick that it pulled their shoes off!
Marathons, half marathons, 5 and 10 K races have been a family affair of ours for decades now, with almost all of us participating at one time or another. I continued to think about that difficult course and the fact that our daughter and her youngest son, James, also took up the same brutal challenge. The twenty-six plus mile dirt course is exceedingly challenging even when it is dry, imagine wading through knee high lakes and deep gullies! The torrential rains had only stopped two hours before race time!
Our youngest son, Dan, decided to run the steep 10K as a buddy to his 13 year-old daughter, Caroline, as it was her first time to compete. Laughing he admits, “Caroline was so fast that I almost struggled to keep up with her!” Caroline came in first for her age group winning a nice trophy.
This is not to say that the entire family is populated with natural athletes. It is not but it reflects the belief my children have taught their children that they have personal power and can achieve whatever they set their minds to. Statistics show that only .05% of Americans, and only .01% of the world’s population ever complete an arduous 26 mile foot race! The “Can Do” messages we teach the generations behind us are critical to moving forward in human rights. When I asked my 25 year-old granddaughter, Jaycelin, what thoughts about this were in her head as she completed her own 10K run, she responded, “I believe I can do anything I set my mind to.”
Who are the strong advocates both men and women who have helped shape the independent person you are today? What have you taught the younger people in your sphere? Who influenced you to be all that you could be? I would love to know upon whose shoulders you stand. My best, donna

No Regrets – The Importance of Taking Action

The other day I was scanning through CNN on my iphone, when I came upon a Jane Fonda interview in which eighty-five year-old Jane wanted to “clear everything up” before dying. That caught my attention. The interviewer was probing into Jane’s take on life, regrets, and more. Jane has always been of interest to me. Back in the 1970’s during her years of notoriety as “Hanoi Jane” she was a popular figure on the college speaking circuit. Visiting Hanoi as she did was against American foreign policy rules. It turned her into a controversial figure, a sort of anti-hero. College students were intrigued by her and our college booked her as a speaker. As the chair of the speaker’s bureau, I had the responsibility for hosting and introducing her to our packed auditorium. Before I could get lost in that old memory, I began to watch the interviewer who was inquiring about her regrets in life.
.Jane Fonda began to talk about motherhood and the mistakes she felt that she had made with her three kids. “I was not the kind of mother that I wished that I had been to my children. I have great, great, children; talented, smart. I just didn’t know how to do it.”
Wow. A knot settled in my stomach. That was a lot for her to admit. My parents did not know how to raise me and my sister either. The interview was hitting home. I continued to watch as she explained that since her children’s childhoods she has studied parenting and has since learned what she should have done, that she had not done then. These days she says she is practicing “showing up.” She is trying to get things done now while there is still time.
A few weeks ago I wrote to you about the many losses I sustained in December and that it caused me to take action understanding that I have NO TIME TO WASTE. I booked a trip to Panama Canal and am leaving this week, made a date and visited a retired colleague friend and his wife whom I had not seen in seven years, and bought airline tickets to bring my niece out from Chicago for a visit. I had not seriously interacted with her in 23 years. I am taking action. I do not want any regrets.
Years ago, Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen’s book, Loud and Clear (2001), really resonated with me. In that book Quindlen admitted her own regrets which were similar to Jane Fonda’s. Anna regretted that while she was raising her three children SHE DID NOT ALLOW HERSELF TO BE MORE IN THE MOMENT. She confessed that she was too other focused. Now grown she can only look at old childhood photos of those children, but in so doing she does not feel any real recognition. Her regret is that she did not pay more attention, that she was not there in the moment with them.
For many of us our lives have been or are on “turbo thrust.” We have a lot to do and stay busy. Busy or not, I am dedicating this year to finishing up “unfinished business” so that I have no regrets. My long weekend visit with my thirty-eight year old niece was pure joy; and getting to know her remarkable fourteen year old daughter, Scout, was stunning. Some of you may know that when this niece, Kelly, was just four years old, it was necessary to accomplish an intervention to protect her from further abuse. It was life upending for me, certainly the hardest thing I will ever be called upon to do. I risked my marriage, my career, and my life, and we got her to safety. She is currently finishing a master’s degree in social work, policy and administration.
When Kelly was fifteen, I took her on a trip to Ireland. As the later tumultuous teen years came, she moved out of state and we mostly lost contact. During our visit last weekend I discovered that the Ireland trip was life changing for her. She has saved the shampoo bottle and the trip itinerary folder all these years. She had transferred all the photos of that trip onto her phone and shared them with me. On top of all that she has taken her own daughter on the same trip and photographed her in all the places we had visited. I got to see a video of Scout kissing the Blarney Stone as we had done long ago! Sometimes we have no idea that something we offer can be life changing for another. Kelly has been teaching her daughter to be a citizen of the world, one of my most important goals for my loved ones. Had I not taken an action and brought Kelly and her daughter out to my home, and spent many quality hours with them, I would not know any of this, and I would have continued to live with “unfinished business;” and I would not enjoy a solid relationship moving forward.
What about you? Do you have some things hanging that could use closure? Do you feel like there might be some regrets bugging around the periphery of your consciousness? We have time to finish unfinished business, to take action and get some of the “bucket list” items accomplished. My husband, Ken, at 80 says he has no regrets about events in his life, good or bad. The things on his bucket list are things he would like to do again! My heart is full for the actions I have recently taken. What do you need to do? I love hearing from you. My best, donna

There's No Time to Waste!

Recently, I was chatting with my older son Rick, telling him how remarkable my trail ride had been the other day when we encountered a pair of great snowy egrets who had not flinched as we lumbered by. It had astonished me. That reminded me of a rainy day dog walk at the beach last week when a formation of low flying pelicans blew by just over our heads! They had been so stunning that I had exclaimed out loud. I confessed to Rick that, oddly, I feel like I live in a state of constant amazement.
“Oh Mom you’d have loved the speaker we had at a recent firm retreat. He’s bestselling author, John O’Leary. He’s all about: really living, being fully awake, seeing being alive as living a miracle, and understanding that it is possible for one life to change the world.”
Well, that had my attention. I ran out and bought his new book, On Fire, and have been enjoying it.
I continued to mull over how it is that some live in happiness while others seem only to get by. It reminded me of the neighbor I had recently greeted with my hardy, “Hi ya Jim. You getting along okay?” His reply was, “just barely.” I thought about that. Hmmm. Then I considered some of the most exuberant people I know. What is their secret? I understood my own. Somehow early in my chaotic growing up years, I developed an ability to look past the ugly in my life and see beauty. I found a mental escape route that has become a lifetime habit.
Perhaps it’s a function of my recent very big 80th birthday, but lately I have been thinking there is no time to waste. You’ve not heard from me in some time because I’ve been helping my friends with health issues and have been attending far too many memorials. Somehow, all this has reminded me more than ever that now is our time on the planet; that there’s not a minute to spare. I thought of some of the people in my life who seem to live fully.
One of the most positive and happy people I’ve known was my dog breeder friend, Linda Isaacson. For the past ten years I have had the pleasure of a most special friendship with her as she was as “gaga” over our golden retrievers as I. We were morning texting buddies, and it was she who was at the core of our crazy golden retriever summer swim parties. Linda found great happiness in everyday life with her family, friends, and certainly the stunts of our beautiful dogs. We exchanged a lot of photos and stories. She led a joyous life and was generous with sharing herself. We unexpectedly lost her in December. Through our deep sorrow, we find comfort in all the love and “Linda-isms” she shared with us. Of course all the while loving the wonderful golden retrievers she brought into the world.
Yesterday I heard from my former teaching colleague Olga Moran, thanking me for donating to her private charity which helps 35 very poor children in a village in Honduras. Olga is another joyous person, always with a smile. I called and asked about her happiness secret. She told me she loves people and years ago when she went home to Honduras she realized that the children in the village were so poor that they could never go to school. She wanted to help them. She began crocheting hats and baking apple cakes to sell to her friends in Zumba class to earn money for the children.
For thirteen years now she has been going to Honduras, taking back-packs filled with shoes, school uniforms, and supplies. It warms her soul. As we continued our conversation, she reminded me that her life has not been easy, she was born and raised in Honduras and came to America to make a life. She and her husband did that, building a family with two children, however, their daughter is mentally challenged and lives in a group home. Olga says that it has not been easy, there’s been great difficulty, but her love of people, her constant enrollment in Zumba class, and her ability to give back to the poor children of Honduras, fill her with joy and a purpose. Olga is one person changing the world.
My friend James Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Capistrano Valley Boys and Girls Clubs, a man with a big smile, exudes happiness. He has been an inspiration to me for the twenty-two years we have been friends, as he’s easily one of the most joyful people I have ever known. I asked James about that. He said, “Donna, I grew up black, the last of nine kids, in Alameda, California. My mom cleaned and we were on welfare. There were two significant triggers in my childhood. When I was seven years old my sister took me to the Boys and Girls Club and that was life changing for me. The Club gave me hope. When I was about nine years old I walked by a white lady’s house. She called out to me, ‘You have the most beautiful smile. You put joy in people’s hearts.’”
James recalled that the lady’s comment caused his smile to grow bigger. He had no idea that he could bring joy to others. That compliment was huge in his young life and empowered him to understand that he could have a positive effect on others. It became a lifetime habit for him to express kindness and joy. James’ work through the Boys and Girls Club has changed thousands of lives. I will tell you more about these remarkable people in the future.
My global travels have taught me that generally, when children have their basic needs met, their default way of living is in happiness. I recall stopping in the most primitive villages on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and visiting. I would climb out of our tour van and would be surrounded by giggling gangs of half-naked brown-eyed five and six-year-olds. I loved their curious eyes as they studied me. Pulling out my video camera, I would film short movies of them. When they saw themselves, more giggling would erupt. They were in ecstasy! Replaying them over and over, there was so much laughter! I could feel their delight and that of the adults we interacted with through our guides. The poverty was like nothing I had ever seen before; pigs, chickens and dogs were sharing the bare bamboo huts with the families, yet smiles abounded.
Daily, on my dog walks, I look into the faces of the other walkers and generally I see happy. We can choose happy. We can choose to live in amazement and gratitude. We can live purposeful lives. Perhaps as John O’Leary urges, we must remind ourselves to be fully awake to the miracle of being alive. I would love to know what has struck you as “amazing” recently. Who do you know who exudes joy? I love to hear from you.

Change is Inevitable

I recently heard this stunning quote by the Buddha: The biggest mistake in life we can make is to think we have time. Time is free but it’s priceless, you cannot own it, but you can use it; you can’t keep it but you can spend it. Once it’s lost you can never get it back.
Monday morning, fortified with Buddha’s reminder of how truly precious each day is, I knew that I had to pull myself together after the passing of my beloved golden retriever, Lacey, over the weekend. A life change was being forced upon me. I braced myself. After some 3000 morning walks with my beautiful Lacey, and her kennel mates, today was going to be difficult; the first day in many years when my morning walk did not include at least three dogs wagging their way down the trail. Awhile back I had come to the decision that in the future I needed to simplify, by limiting myself to just two dogs. Sadly, I found myself at that juncture far sooner than I had expected
I tied my shoes on, ushered River and Dixie into the car, and prepared for the first day with just two pups. I grimly thought a new beginning. I headed to the ocean determined that today was to be a celebration of all Lacey had meant to us, and that I did not want to lose another day to being so sad.
My grief work has taught me some fundamentals of moving forward in the face of loss. I knew that I had to try to feel better, that allowing what seemed like a concrete brick in my stomach to remain was not the best. I knew I had to reframe the loss and take physical action. It seemed that it was time to practice what I knew.
I decided to change things up. I drove much farther than usual, to a beach trail along the coast of San Clemente starting at the pier. The dogs had never been there before. I parked, leashed them up, and we were off.
Goodness! The moment they were out of the car they became ecstatic over all that was new. There was much excited sniffing as we headed down the hill from the parking lot. I held on, as it felt like I had hold of a team of racing dogs. They were in overdrive, eager to get to the next new scent. Along we strode, faster than ever, then suddenly they’d stop to examine a particular bush, then off again. Their high enthusiasm took me out of myself, plus it was all I could do just to hang onto them! 
Choosing a new environment was stimulating for me too. The waves were huge and the wet-suited surfers were out in force, some flying down the front of the waves, while others popped above the breakers. There was something of a carnival atmosphere as there were so many people about; spectators, walkers and joggers. We power-walked along the sandy path next to the breaking surf. After sometime, I felt my heart growing lighter.
After a couple of miles at this energetic pace, we stopped under a shaded picnic arbor and watched the surfers. River and Dixie were tired by then and happy to sit quietly. It gave me a chance to think about Lacey, of all the fantastic adventures we had had across her almost ten years. I smiled remembering when she was a puppy and I chased her all over the yard trying to get a dead rat out of her mouth! I pictured her patience with our cat, Beauty, who enjoyed lying on Lacey’s head. I recalled how precious it was that she always wanted to carry her leash in her mouth on the way home from our outings. I thought what a truly good girl she had always been, and how much I loved her.
Before long two college girls came by to pet Dixie and River. The dogs loved the girls’ attention. After a bit one of the girls shared that she had recently lost her golden retriever. That prompted me to confess about Lacey. We chatted easily about dogs and the intimacy that can develop between a pet and its’ human. It was a nice exchange, a respectful sharing of feelings. It reminded me how “dog people” sort of get each other. 
River, Dixie and I took our time sitting there. We savored the warm October morning, the sea gulls squawking overhead, the antics of the surfers, and the lively vibe of people going about their business; chatting in pairs, jogging, sipping coffee and enjoying being alive in the world. 
I thought again about Buddha. He once said that “Everything heals. Your body heals, your heart heals. The mind heals. Your happiness is always going to come back.” I know that it true. I know how fortunate I am to have had my devoted companion for all those years.
Ken came into the room as I was writing this to you. He asked what I was doing and I told him. He looked at me, picked up the calculator. “Donna, Lacey was with you for over five million minutes. How truly blessed you are.” Truly I am.
I would love to know what has been going on with you. 
My best, donna

Ancient Rituals and Cultural Encounters: A Powwow in the Heart of Downtown

Savoring Watershed Moments

Hello, it seems I have been missing in action these past months since I last reached out to you. I have had a lot going on, including a ten day escorted tour of Canada’s Maritime provinces for which I hosted my daughter Julina and her only daughter Jaycelin. We had planned the trip many months prior, and were excited about spending time exploring a part of the world together where we had never before ventured.
I’ve been back a week or so returning with Covid and am finally over my covid isolation. Our claims are in to the airline for the three cancelled flights, the lost luggage and the nights spent in the airport. So, finally I can mentally focus on the experience of the adventure itself with two of my loved ones. We learned so much; about the Acadians, the French Canadians who settled in Eastern Canada and suffered consequences in the 18th century due to their Catholicism; the story of the 80,000-100,000 Loyalists to King George III who fled to safety in Eastern Canada during the American Revolution; the intricacies of the oyster farming industry; the immensity of the 110 million pound haul of lobsters harvested annually out the deep Canadian waters; and so much more. All of what we learned was fascinating including meeting the generous, friendly Canadians themselves. However, it pales when put up against the experience of time spent as roommates with my daughter and granddaughter.
As I continue to mull this over, the mental picture projects of Jaycelin jumping up on my queen sized bed and tucking herself under my left arm as I sipped my morning coffee in Nova Scotia. The image fills my heart with joy. She snuggled in just as she did twenty years ago as a five-year old girl. Another mental vision that makes me grin is being on the top deck of the ferry as it crossed from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia, and looking down through the pouring rain to a lower deck where my daughter and granddaughter were delighting in the raw weather. I called to them for a photo and they smiled up at me and spontaneously slipped into dancing an energetic jig right there on the deck of the huge ship! It is all the sweeter for my awareness that Jaycelin’s life in the future will probably not allow the luxury of so many days traveling with her grandmother. 
Exploring these magical trip experiences has provided a channel down which I can see other such long ago precious watershed moments in life. I can look back through a nearly sixty year lens to the last day of my undergraduate education. I was the last roommate to vacate the Lavender Room in the Alpha Gamma Delta house on 28th Street in Los Angeles. It was 1964 and I can vividly see my younger self sitting on my roommate’s stripped down bed, staring out the front window as other students on the Row moved packed boxes back and forth to their cars. I was then keenly aware that my life was about to change drastically, for I would be married the following Saturday. I knew then that I was having a watershed moment; I contemplated what living in the sorority house had meant to me for those two years, and how my life would be very different as I moved into my future. I was right. I did move into my future but not before I took it all in, savoring it.
I shared the idea about these watershed experiences with my husband, Ken, and he too pulled up some exquisite time dividing moments he has savored with his girls’ wrestling team, a journey he began 15 years ago when many of his peers headed for retirement. Perhaps as we move further and further through life, these mindful pauses where we take it all in become more and more valuable.
The agony of our lost luggage and cancelled flights is fading and I am left with some treasures of memory that I will enjoy far into the future. Another such experience was with our tour of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Nova Scotia. Bell, the inventor, was fascinated by flight, inventing flying machines, based upon his study of kites. The museum offers up kites for the patrons. Julina, Jaycelin and I spent a delightful few hours laughing, running, and flying those kites, catching the strong wind off the world’s largest salt water lake, and being somewhat shocked that we had mad kite flying skills!
Travel has many advantages, in that it can allow us to be in the path of opportunities that might not exist in our daily lives. Our trip offered such experiences. I would not ordinarily spend an afternoon successfully flying a kite.
So my take-away from this trip is not just the time spent with my daughter and granddaughter but the value of being mindful of these precious opportunities when they present themselves. They are rare and worth everything. What watershed, time diving moments, have you enjoyed which you can take out and think about in your own life? I would love to hear about them.
My best, donna


I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of “saving” bits and pieces of memories. This morning I got in the mood to clear what I refer to as “my debris field”; the growing stack of thank you cards, invitations and clippings evolving near the phone in the corner of the kitchen desk. I dug into my task, out! Out! out! The thrill of tossing things carried over to my dressing room catchall travel drawer. I got so into my task that I dragged the big kitchen trash can into the room to have at it; sorting through the saved “treasures;” complimentary airline eye masks, combs, tiny packets of extra buttons, cards, receipts, and foreign coins. As I got closer to the bottom of the drawer, I came upon a small stack of blank hotel stationery from my travels. I scolded myself, “Come on Donna, you’ve got to stop saving these sorts of things. People no longer even write letters.” I heard that critical voice in my head.
I stopped what I was doing and stared out the window. Possibly a bit lost in thought, I wandered around the house with the small bundle until I found my husband. “Ken, Ugh! I have been saving blank hotel stationery. How silly I am.”
“I’m not so sure it’s so weird. “ He said, smiling as he drew me into a hug. “You are my revered, possibly strange wife.”
We both laughed. I tried going back to my sorting but the past pulled me into it. When I was a little girl my grandparents, who lived across the street from Farmer’s Market in Hollywood, were my frequent babysitters. Both my grandfather, Big Ray, and my grandmother, Maymie, had a profound influence on the woman I would someday grow up to be. 
In 1929 as a young mother, my grandmother traveled, by herself, around the world, on a six month tour. Her habit was to take a sheet or two of the hotel stationery from every exotic hotel in which she stayed. Across her life, she doled those pieces out in long and friendly letters. She treasured those pieces of paper and taught me to do so.
My grandmother modeled so much for me. When I was 18 years-old she took me as her companion on a six week cruise of the South Pacific on the Matson Line ship, the Mariposa. It was time-dividing for me as it was six weeks of being treated as a real adult. She modeled high values, the importance of independence, and taught me about investments. In 1963, before I married, she drove me around the Venice, California peninsula (now Marina Peninsula) and showed me lots for sale filled with oil wells. She explained that I could purchase such a lot, a block from the beach, for $10,000 and that she would help me. I decided not to do that, but the fact that she took me real estate looking at age 20 was an important lesson.
She taught the value of world travel and having a heart for other cultures and people. It was she to whom I ran as a ten year-old in the Woolworth’s ten cent store in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was eager to show her that I had found a drinking fountain that served mineral water, surely that’s what “Colored Water” must have meant? 
She taught me to have compassion, to treasure the past, and to have an appreciation for the family collection of hand painted porcelain. Only recently did I realize that my living room looks an awfully lot like the living room in her house during my growing up years, complete with her small Chinese nut bowl on the coffee table. Certainly, without her guidance during my impressionable years, being a port of calm in my chaotic childhood, I would not have come to be who I am, to appreciate the past, or to love history, or art. In rethinking about my stash of blank hotel stationery from the 2017 Japan trip, staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo, I am realizing it is emblematic of my grandmother's great influence. 
Maybe I need to relax a little. If saving some sheets of stationery for letters I will never write is some small act which connects me to my heritage, maybe it’s something for me to celebrate rather than to criticize. Surely Maymie helped to mold the anxious girl I once was into the woman I became. Perhaps those little blank pages are in many ways a bit of buried treasure. I shared this with my youngest sister, Diana, who came along 27 years after me. [I have 4 sisters and 3 brothers]. Diana says she too has the same stationery habit! We both laughed and understood that this is one more lovely connection that further binds us to our past. So “treasure?” I think so.
What quirky little habits do you have which draw you closer to some moments in your past? I love hearing what you are thinking. My best, donna

An Extraordinary Encounter

I’ve been aware for a while now of the incredible power of serendipity, placing ourselves in the path of opportunity, where remarkable things often occur. I had such an encounter Sunday at Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Eight weeks earlier, I had signed up as a volunteer to lead a tour for the Wounded Warriors Project. I looked forward to it. That morning, as I donned my docent attire I was aware of a shimmer of excitement charging through my body. I knew the day would be a challenge, that it could rattle my emotions in ways I did not yet know, as I would be touring a small group consisting of veterans who might be wheelchair bound and or blind. I mentally prepared myself. I might need to become the eyes.
I arrived at the mission early on a warm April morning and waited patiently for my guests. I was told that today only one Wounded Warrior would be joining the tour. Soon a tall woman, near my age, with one leg encased in a heavy metal brace, using a white cane, slowly ambled through the gatehouse door on the arm of a young woman guide. I greeted them and introduced myself. I learned their first names.
“Do you hug?” the veteran asked hopefully.
“I do, of course.” I responded as I leaned in. She dodged my big Spanish hat and proceeded to kiss me on one cheek and then the other. Later I realized she was using her remaining senses of smell and touch to get an idea of who I was. That embrace alone was astonishing. She next asked her aide to take our photograph together.
Feeling a bit rattled, and to ensure that I had their names straight, I repeated my name and she offered, “I am Angela Longboat.” I was startled by her intriguing last name. She elaborated, “I am Mohawk. My DNA says I am 93% Mohawk. I am descended from longboat builders, you know, the big canoes which carried ten to twenty men, hence the last name “Longboat.” I grew up on the Rez in upstate New York. When I went to Indian school the authorities changed my tribal first name to Angela.”
Flabbergasted, I shared that I had seen photos of the big canoes the Tongva people built in the Los Angeles basin, I explained how they had extensive trading with the inhabitants of the Channel Islands. I could see that I had Angela’s full attention and she certainly had mine. We proceeded to the grinding stone where my explanations continued. I handed acorns to her and described the pockets in the grinding rock. Narrating, as we slowly walked through the gardens, I described the colorful red hollyhocks, the abundant yellow and pink roses, and the physical structure and texture of the mission. Angela’s recreation therapist joined our group.
Arriving at the museum room dedicated to the local Acjachemen people, I described the display items; the decoy duck, the handmade fishing nets, the beautiful baskets exemplifying the many skills of the indigenous people of the West Coast. Angela said that she had earned a doctoral degree in Native Studies and began telling me of the life and skills of the native people of the East Coast. I was spellbound. I could not imagine that I had a Native American sharing all this with me!
The tour continued. We wandered into the wine making room and I told them that my fourth grade students loved to mash imaginary grapes. I offered that they could go down the three steep steps to the bottom of the vat if they wished. I was thinking it was too much. I was wrong! Angela was up for anything! The three of them slowly descended the stairs, I continued talking about the wine making. At the bottom of the vat, Angela held onto the rail and using her strong left foot, we all began delightedly stomping imaginary grapes. Angela’s face was beaming with joy! As she stomped she exclaimed, “My people placed skins on top of the fermenting vats to enhance the process!”
The tour continued like that, she would ponder what she was hearing and then share her own knowledge. The narration had become a conversation. Understanding she was from out-of-state, I was not sure how much she knew about California geography as I elaborated on the mission’s vast land holdings.
She explained, “I attended Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, and then I transferred to USC.” Having Cal-Poly grandsons, I am particularly interested in San Luis Obispo. I told her that the Mission at San Luis Obispo was an “accidental mission.” Father Serra had not planned on it, but during the early days of the Spanish arriving in Alta California, the soldiers and missionaries were starving until they discovered bears in the San Luis Obispo area. The bears provided a rich food source which got them through a cruel winter. Father Serra decided then to build a mission in that area to ensure the food supply. Angela knew of the area’s bears, “Los Osos”, the bears. She then told me a lot more about those bears, and what kind they were [black bears], than I had known before!
To say that my 90 minute encounter was exhilarating would be an understatement. I would have never imagined sharing one of my favorite subjects with a person so deeply engaged with it, who had lived it. I could tell that I was in the presence of a great intellect, an intellect both humble and fascinated by history, an intellect eager to exchange ideas.
As the day unfolded I learned that the injuries she had sustained were so devastating that she was not expected to ever walk nor talk again, but there she was walking, stomping “grapes,” and offering me a view into the indigenous Native American experience that I could not possibly ever achieve on my own. I was inspired by the who of her; an injured warrior defeating all odds and walking and talking, enjoying life and sharing her knowledge. I mentioned about being inspired to write about her. She handed me her card.
At home I did an Internet search to discover that she had sustained massive injuries during an explosion while serving in Iraq, that she served 25 years in the military and retired as a Colonel. I put myself in the path of possibility and came away being inspired by a true heroine, a warrior, a patriot, and a great intellect. I feel blessed.
I love hearing what you are thinking about. Have you recently had an extraordinary moment or encounter? My best, donna
Internet search included this photo from 2011

The Thrill of the Unexpected

Do you recall a TV show back in the day, People are Funny? It was hosted by Art Linkletter. A theme from that show became a very popular book, also by Linkletter, Kids Say the Darndest Things,” and the phrase became a part of our national lexicon. Other such humorous shows have delighted us across the years. The fact is that people are funny and when one has the sublime pleasure of encountering such a person in such a rare moment, it is something to marvel at, perhaps even to cherish. Last week, I had such an encounter. I am still smiling about it.
It all started when my bestie from the fourth grade, Leanne, learned that her out-of-state twenty-five-year old granddaughter, Raven, was coming from Colorado to stay for a few days, to be accompanied by her friend Lauren. Lee and I had been prone to laughter as girls and teens and pretty much giggled our way to adulthood. Anyway, as Lee got to planning their stay, she discussed possible itineraries with me. Recalling our sun-kissed growing up years, I enthusiastically volunteered to be “Uber” driver and tour guide, as I knew four of us gals together would have an enjoyable time.
SoCal put on its best show for the out-of-staters, gifting us with 80 degree Santa Ana days, the kind of days which Easterners only dream about as they dig out their snow covered cars. The first day, was filled with browsing the boutiques at Balboa, ferry rides and feasting at the historic Pavilion restaurant. The second day was a tour of Ole` Hanson’s Casa Romantica on the cliffs above San Clemente Beach Pier. All of it was as much fun as we had hoped. On the pier, overlooking the surf, our visitors marveled at the California beaches and wet-suited surfers. We stuffed ourselves with delicious seafood at the Fishman Restaurant overlooking the water.
Sated, we strolled along the rough planks of the pier, admiring the day, when we came upon a strikingly beautiful seagull. We stopped and stared at the elegant bird. He did not blink. He stood like a sentry, feathers gleaming in the mid day sun. Lee commented on the beautiful spots on his tail feather. I noted the red mark on his beak. Raven considered its relationship to albatross. We stared. The bird continued to stand erect. We four studied him in awe. We were transfixed.
Suddenly, from across the width of the pier a fisherman appeared, speaking in a falsetto to mimic the seabird, he declared, “Five dolla to look!”
A bit startled, all of us glanced across to the ventriloquist’s grinning face. We, all four, are experienced international travelers and understood at once his joke. In many parts of the underdeveloped world, it is common practice for visitors to ask to take a photograph and to tip for such an opportunity. It is considered a great faux pas to simply take a photo without seeking permission, nor sharing a small payment. Knowing all this, we grinned back at the beaming fisherman, as we began to chuckle.
Soon we moved off a bit from the bird. The fisherman understanding that his audience got his jest persisted, louder this time, still in the bird’s high voice, “You wanna picture? You pay ten dolla!”
That cinched it! It was too funny and we nearly doubled over in giggles as he had hit a nerve of common experience. Between gasps of hilarity, Lauren offered a memory. She explained that as a student in Ghana, she was the first white woman many villagers had ever seen and people often stared openly. Smiling at us and recalling her own joke, she would grin at those gathered around her, and say, “That is five cedi.” We laughed some more.
We had a golden visit, perhaps all the more enchanting for enduring the endless months of mask wearing and fighting to avoid the ubiquitous coronavirus. In any event, the next day the young women made their way to Venice and the sights of Los Angeles. We had luxuriated in their energy, laughter, and in seeing our own corner of the continent through new eyes. My favorite take-away, however, was our delight in the unexpected. Imagine a chance meeting with a fisherman ventriloquist! Maybe the thing about joy, is that it can pop up anywhere, proving once again that people are funny.

On Being Alone: The Power of One

Happy New Year!
For the second time in two years, our coveted tickets to see Hamilton were cancelled due to Covid. Frustrated, my daughter, her husband and I purchased admission for that particular Sunday, January 2, to see the well-reviewed Jane Goodall exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. On the eve of our departure both of my companions fell ill. I considered aborting the trip. After all it is a long way into the city, and I almost always travel with a companion. I realized of late that I had developed a habit of going places with others. I decided I would go alone. Off I went to Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
Upon entering the museum and providing my vaccination card, I was admitted to the spellbinding Goodall exhibit. Wonderful technology allowed a video presentation of Jane explaining to us the importance of anecdotes, observation, and the immense power of the single individual. Goodall fervently believes we can save the environment if we each work together toward that goal. I was inspired. The exhibit further explained that paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey was instrumental in starting Dr. Goodall on her chimpanzee project in Tanzania. On a 2011 trip to Ngorongoro, Tanzania, our family had been captivated by the 3.5 million year-old fossilized footprints of an early hominin discovered by the Leakey family. The Leakeys had been on my radar for years, ever since Richard Leakey was a guest speaker when I taught at Cypress College, and I had the privilege of hosting him.
After an extended time in the Goodall exhibit, I made my way to the Becoming Los Angeles rooms where I encountered photos of the oil fields on Venice Beach where I grew up. I had never seen these powerful views before. They were remarkable in that they showed the density of the 1930’s and 40’s oil wells on the beach shore where I grew up in the 40’s, sandwiched between derricks. As I continued to appreciate the beginnings of my birth city, I became more rapt when I came upon a portrait displayed on the wall of my friend, Jacque Nunez from San Juan Capistrano. Jacque is a Native American and a prominent spokesperson for indigenous people. She has dedicated her life to representing the important contributions of Native People.
I realized that had I been with companions, my tour of the museum would have been far different. After a way too short three hours, I drove myself to Venice Beach where I spent most of my childhood, and where Ken and I visited many times researching for my Venice book in 2020. However, the pandemic lockdown limited our access. I wanted to walk around and take it in with its current bells, whistles and quirks.
I parked on the beach lot at the end of Washington, and walked the few steps onto the fishing pier. I was astonished to discover that I had serendipitously caught the King Tide at its lowest point!! Controlling my impulse to jump up and down with joy, lest others think me strange, I quickly pulled off my shoes and set out walking south on the wet sand toward Ballona Creek. It was a venture I had not taken since 1964, in the summer of our marriage when Ken and I lived in an apartment over the fish market at the pier. The extremely low tide revealed dozens of perfect sand dollars, scallops, razor and large clam shells set among muscle remains and seaweed. I was immediately transported back to my shell collecting, beach walking girlhood on this very stretch of sand. I was delighted and became lost in my old ways of being at the beach, on the edge of the continent, which included a whole lot of alone time, thinking, and being in nature with myself.
When I got home I shared my adventurous day with Ken. Smiling at me he said, “You know Donna, I wasn’t so sure about you driving alone all the way into the inner city, but I am glad you did. I see now that you still know how to be alone. I’m proud of you.”
Continuing my pondering, I recalled two things one of my favorite authors, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anna Quindlin has to say. She urges us to live more in the moment while she wishes that she had simply paid more attention to her children when they were young. She regrets that she kept so busy. The other idea of hers I admire is how important it is for us to be alone with ourselves. I realize that’s what my Sunday was about, a day of being alone with myself. Perhaps when we allow ourselves personal time we have the luxury of thinking about bigger things such as the environment.
I have been writing and thinking about my new year’s resolution for a while now. I resolved to have more open spaces in my calendar, but maybe that is not really it. Perhaps I simply need more conscious alone time. I know that when I am alone to think, creative ideas flow to my consciousness. So my new year’s resolution is to carve out more alone time and to give myself permission to live more in the moment, to set the To Do list aside, and be more with myself. I want to find ways to do more about the environment as well. How about you? Are you taking time to be alone with yourself, to celebrate the power of one? What kind of New Year’s resolutions are you contemplating? I am interested in your thoughts on this subject.
I wish you a wonderful, healthful, peaceful new year filled with respect for yourself. My best, donna

Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us
As I adventure through my life my radar is always on, scanning for unique moments. The other day I went birthday shopping with my granddaughter Kate, who is turning seventeen. We were strolling through the mall after an indulgence at the Cheesecake Factory when Kate encountered a school friend, Angelina. After hugging their greetings, Kate bent down on her knee to meet Angelina’s five brothers, two of whom were toddler ages. The greeting became extended to the point that the children’s dad, Scott, and I introduced ourselves and began to chat as he stood sentinel over the mighty stroller where the two jumpy three year olds were contained.
“Hey, what a beautiful big family you have!” I admired.
“We adopted them all out of foster care.”
With that proclamation my heart did a little skipping thing. Here we were on the eve of the season for giving thanks and appreciating family life, and I got to meet a big, strapping dad who described himself as a stay-at-home-dad while his wife held down a job. Joking, he offered, “She’s the one who has it easy!” We laughed.
Our conversation continued and he shared their personal story of wanting a big family. This was the boisterous result. I told him that long ago, my husband, Ken, and I had fostered a teen for a few years and how well her life had turned out. After learning the names of all the smiling boys and their ages, we parted. Continuing down the mall, Kate filled me in about Angelina and how in the fifth grade she was formally adopted, and how jubilant she had been telling Kate all about it on the school bus.
Later that day when I could really think about this husband and wife growing a lively family of five boys and one girl out of the foster system, my heart swelled to comprehend the colossal commitment this couple has made to change the lives of these very fortunate children. I could feel Scott’s steadfast strength, pride and commitment. Poems and TV profiles are offered up about our unassuming neighbors, people of valor and pluck quietly making the world a better place, but you do not necessarily encounter them at the mall!
The next day I was able to have a conversation with the mother, Aubrey, of this beautiful brood and she reported that she was moved to tears by my “take” on her family. She described how humorous and what a “rock star” her Scott is. She said that she remembered looking in the rear view mirror of their van about a year ago, seeing laughing and screaming children running amuck, and saying to Scott, “How did this happen?” In his wry way he answered, “It escalated quickly!”
She further explained that they had six adoptions in a five and a half year period and that as the mother she feels incredibly blessed, and that having such a husband who would adopt even more and loves them all abundantly is huge.
So often we hear naysayers complaining about the hopelessness in the world, the problems with our youth and more. To me this couple proves that individuals can have a positive impact. Their loving influence on these six children will magnify into the future. We must not believe others when someone decrees that individual efforts make no difference.
Do you recall that Starfish story? The one where the cynical old man is walking along the beach at dawn when he spies a youth far ahead, bending and reaching his arms near the shore line. He had thought the person was doing Pilates poses. When he neared he saw a youth who was bending down, sifting through the debris from the previous night’s storm and grasping a starfish which had washed ashore.
The critical man demands, “What are you doing?”
The young man replies, “When the sun rises the starfish will die. They cannot get back to the sea!”
“Ha. You could never save all the starfish washed up here on the sand. Look, the debris goes on for miles. You cannot possibly make a difference!” The man concluded.
Bending, the youth smiled and flailed a starfish out to sea. “Well I made a difference to that one!”
Indeed there are angels walking around among us. My heart is full as I think of this robust family quietly changing lives and making a positive impact on the world. I wish you a beautiful holiday season. I would love to hear what you have been thinking about, about what angels have been walking nearby. My best, donna

The Little Engine That Could!

Generally, I pride myself on being fairly well evolved in terms of my inner life, but recently I have caught myself believing some internal messages that limited my behavior in a negative way. I am guilty of some bad thinking. Ugh. I hate to admit it but it is true.
Last time I wrote to you, I had discovered yoga through an experience with my daughter and three granddaughters at Goat-Llama yoga. The takeaway from that day was that perhaps there was something to this whole yoga thing. That was 43 days ago and I have enjoyed at least one yoga practice each day since then. What have I learned? I realize now with a back that no longer aches and a new spring in my step, that I was influenced by an inner constraint. I had told myself that the exercise I got with the dog walks, horses, mucking, and such was enough. Well maybe it was, but it was NOT enough for my back. I had limited my behavior with a “I am exercising enough” message. However, I had a tendency to stoop over and my lower back hurt a lot of the time, so there was a need for more.
Enough exercise was limiting belief number one which I am rectifying by continuing yoga. My sister-in-law, Kassie, further inspired me when she shared that she had 250 straight days of yoga and recommended Adriene’s Yoga channel on YouTube. This has been life changing for me. Adriene offers a meditative experience encouraging her participants to set an intention each day. This is not to suggest that there have not been some obstacles to my daily practice; when I began and the dogs were in the living room with me, River, the puppy, thought that because I was on the floor that we were going to wrestle. Well, that did not work. I locked the dogs up. Today when I turned Adriene on my Ipad, the kittens were about. It did not take Apollo but a minute to jump on my back during “Table Top” pose. Not being one to give up, I ignored him. When Adriene had us move to “Mountain,” I was startled as the five month old kitten jumped all the way up to my chest, grabbing hold of my shirt. I staggered a bit realizing this was not all that productive, as I pressed on. I felt like that Little Engine in the children’s story, The Little Engine that Could, as I bravely moved through my poses, thinking, “I think I can, I know I can.” Finally, I realized that Kitten Yoga is not my jam. I am locking them up tomorrow.
The next limiting message I have been hearing in my head is, “You don’t need to travel any more, you’ve seen everything. On the last three small group adventures you were the oldest one. It’s time to hang it up.” I was so cozy at home during the pandemic lockdown with Ken and the animals, enjoying our rural environs, that I had decided enough was enough. I’d stay home in the future. However, I had that Iceland trip planned, paid for, and postponed for two years, so when Iceland opened in September, my daughter-in-law, Jenny, and I went on the trip.
A few days into the expedition I found myself on an amphibious boat cruising around a lake stuffed with ice bergs in the south of Iceland. Hmm. It occurred to me then and has stayed with me, that perhaps I have not seen everything, there is still so much more out there. I certainly had NOT been in an amphibious boat chasing huge pieces of glacier. So I have booked a trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada for next June and I am investigating kayaking in the Arctic Ocean.
The point is that we can create life limiting thoughts in our heads, and then act upon them in a way that shrinks our human experience. I was chatting with my husband, Ken, about this and he shared that he sees the effect of negative self talk on his high school girl wrestlers all the time. He observes girls who must walk off the mat in mid match because they have succumbed to a panic attack. He must constantly work to help them overcome their limiting belief that they are “not good enough.” Their negative thoughts paralyze them. This contrasts with his other athletes who seem fearless, listening to internal messages such as “go for it!” or “what do I have to lose?”
 Our internal world has a profound influence on our behavior, and often times it is unconscious. Once again I am reminded of that Little Engine as he sets off up that daunting hill, “I think I can, I think I can…”
Maybe we can take a lesson from that Little Engine. “I know I can, I know I can, and I know that I do not need to listen to my limiting thoughts when they infiltrate my behavior.” What limiting messages have you had to overcome? What messages are still plaguing you? You know I love to hear what you are thinking. My best, donna

Goat Yoga and a New Perspective

Goodness, I find myself at this “well seasoned” stage of life once again reevaluating my choices, creating a new action plan, and purpose statement. Really? Again?
This has come about in the wake of the long lockdown due to the world wide pandemic. Honestly, I got so comfortable staying at home, entertaining myself with the animals, writing, reading, and exercising that I had sort of decided that I was through with all my running around the world adventuring on big trips. I had kind of thought I would simply mellow out my life at home with my husband and family. That was what I was thinking when suddenly last month a very long postponed journey to Iceland was back on..
I admit I was hesitant. Iceland is far away, and the prospect of being squeezed into a crowded airplane while Delta Variant raged on did not inspire me. However, my daughter-in-law and I had paid our money and Iceland was ready for us. We met up with our dozen or so tour mates and enjoyed the hikes and sights of an eco tour; glaciers, geysers, an active volcano, waterfalls, and more. It was all marvelous, but the higher and further we hiked, the more I was hearing my trip mates commenting on how “spry” I was and that I was an “inspiration.” Mind you the travel mates, excepting my daughter-in-law, were well into their 60’s and 70’s. As the most senior in the group, I felt a sting of being outed as “other.” These “compliments” felt “ageist” as they kept coming to me, making me uncomfortable. I admit I began to feel annoyed. Probably the comments were well intentioned but they hit a sour note and were not really welcome.
However, the majesty of the vast volcanic lava fields, the expedition through ice bergs in an amphibious boat, and the enormity of hiking to Europe’s largest waterfall, were telling me a different story, that there is still so much more to see and do. Then I saw this REGRETS OF PEOPLE WHEN THEY ARE DYING chart by Barry Selby on social media and I began to question my earlier thoughts.
All that was roiling around in my brain on Saturday when I joined my daughter and three grand daughters for Goat and Llama Yoga in San Diego. It was a sprawling class of 30 under a shade at a farm. Not having practiced yoga in a decade I thought I was situating myself at the back of the class where I could hide out. I was wrong. I had inadvertently put myself in the front row a few feet from the instructor, thus challenging me to do my best, to rise above my reticence. Class began. I contorted into the poses, the goats came out, the llamas came out, but my attention was focused on the where of my arms and legs. By the end of the class my back, sore from all the plane rides and driving 1500 miles around Iceland, felt good, really good.
My takeaway from Goat yoga was that I must keep it up, maybe without the goats! I have committed to a practice every day and have been loyal to that decision. In addition I have reevaluated my earlier plan, I am not giving up traveling until I have to. I do not want any regrets. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “yes it was a good life, but I regret that I succumbed to the expectation that older folk should live a smaller life.”
 Also I am changing my perception of what it means when people offer to help me, comment on my stamina, and set me apart. I am going to graciously accept the help when my fellow shoppers at the grocery store want to lift the water or the bag of carrots into my cart. I am going to smile and say thank you. I am embracing who I am, but I will not let it shrink nor annoy me. I am changing my ways. I will make a conscious effort to not let others define me. This is our time now. If we can go for it, why shouldn’t we? I think we need to embrace the attention, say thank you, and keep on keeping on. If any of what I have recently been experiencing resonates with you, I would love to know what you are thinking.
My best, donna

Sometimes the Silver Lining Has Some Mildew

Greetings as summer winds down. Recently, I learned a lesson that sometimes joy comes with a price tag that’s not readily apparent!! The incident reminded me that “no good deed goes unpunished.” On a warm summer day Ken and I adopted a litter of 8 week old kittens. Our home front gang of cats had gotten so old that we joked that they were carrying around their AARP cards instead of hunting critters on our rural property. Ken was insistent that we adopt more cats.
Striking out at the shelters, I turned to Craigslist where I found three male Bengal kittens up for adoption. I made arrangements to meet them and perhaps adopt them. Ken and I met the kitty lady in a motel parking near Knott’s Berry Farm.
We parked in front of the motel, which had seen better days, where we were offered easy viewing of the woman loading the kittens into a personal metal shopping cart at the back of a fenced parking lot. Kittens on board, they were wheeled toward us.
We said our hellos, admired the strikingly beautiful young cats and quickly agreed to adopt them. We placed them into our cat carrier, thanked her, and headed home in the 5 pm. traffic.
I was over the moon!! Shangri La! I had never seen sweeter kittens, nor had we had any kittens in over a decade. As we made our way down the 405 Freeway Ken said, “Donna you do realize that the motel is a county reimbursed homeless shelter, right?”
Ken continued, “I saw four adult people going in and out of that room where the lady was organizing the kittens. Do you remember that she mentioned that they had a dog and the parents of the kittens with her?”
I didn’t say anything, but I thought that’s a lot of folk and animals in one room. We dropped the topic and discussed the kittens’ transition at our home. I did not think more about it. As the days unfolded we discovered that we had the most loving, happy kittens. They were used to be being handled, leaping into our laps for petting and love. We were smitten. The granddaughters and my mother came to meet them. We were all beyond delighted with the new additions. Our days were filled with fun as we played with them, especially after the vet gave them gold stars during their wellness visit as their vaccinations began.
A couple of weeks passed and my son and his family returned from a Lake Powell houseboat vacation. He casually mentioned that his youngest daughter had come down with ringworm on the boat. They used an antidote and the spots cleared up. I assured him that it could not have been from the kittens as they had passed the veterinary inspection. 
However, my son had planted a seed of doubt in my mind. I began to study what I thought were “poison oak” spots on me more closely. Oh no! I realized that I had not contracted poison oak during my horse ride, but that I had 12 ringworm lesions on my face and body. I looked like the Zombie Apocalypse! There were panicky calls. I managed an emergency dermatologist appointment; oral and topical medications were prescribed, and I frantically called the veterinarian, The vet immediately prescribed medicated baths for the kittens and oral medication. We cancelled all our plans and commitments for the next two weeks. I was contagious!
That was the turning point where the bliss had morphed into something else entirely. Conscientiously, our 12 year old granddaughter, Caroline, and I began our nursing duties. We played YouTube videos on how to bathe small kittens. We followed the directions. As we dried the kittens after the first round of baths, we could hear suspicious rasping sounds in their tiny lungs. They had inhaled water. Real worry began to set in. No longer was ringworm the focus but we were concerned that our “cure” had threatened the lives of the kittens. We tucked them in for the night and hoped for the best by morning.
I had a terrible time sleeping for concern over the kittens. The next day, their breathing was still rough and they had developed coughs. I sounded the alarm and the veterinarian worked us into her busy schedule. I worried. The doctor diagnosed pneumonia and prescribed morning and night administration of antibiotics on top of the oral anti-fungal medication. We began a ten day regime of administering three oral syringes of medication per day to each of the three kittens. I was a bit frantic. I spent my time vacuuming, running loads of laundry and disinfecting the kittens’ area.
Slowly, the babies recovered and my lesions and those on the granddaughters healed as well. I no longer looked like a Zombie and the kittens returned to their playful selves. We are all recovering. The kittens never did show any symptoms, the doctor described them as “asymptomatic” and told the story of being an intern in an animal shelter where all 30 of its cats had ringworm. She said it was a nightmare to resolve.
My dermatologist was more philosophical saying, “Well this is the price we pay for loving our critters.” I am still cleaning like a maniac, but we seem to have turned the corner. The lesson I have learned from all this is that sometimes the silver lining has a mildew beneath it. Would I do it all over again knowing what I know now? Hmmm... Of course I would!! They are precious and I know we will have years of enjoyment. Eventually they will be old enough to take over the hunting tasks our older cats have abandoned. 
Did your summer go okay? Are you staying healthy? I would love to hear how you have been doing. My best, donna

More on the 'Power of Yes' - Trang's Graduation Party

Greetings! Across the years you might have noticed that some of my favorite themes in life seem to be marinating myself in serendipitous situations. I practice noticing the small everyday happenings, and perhaps saying yes, when it would be just as easy to say no.
Well, last Sunday was just such a day. As my husband Ken winds up his girls’ wrestling season at the high school, he has been invited to some of the senior girls’ family graduation parties. Last Sunday, he wondered if I would like to join him at one of them? Up for a new experience, but not holding any particular expectations, I joined in for what turned out to be such a thought provoking and sensational feast that days later I am still thinking about it.
We arrived at a beautiful Spanish colonial house on a hill in San Clemente, greeted by Trang, the wrestler and her father. We met a few other guests in a room with about ten people who had also arrived right on time. Within a few minutes, Trang’s mother, Linh, came up to me and said, “The food is ready!” I could see that the thing to do was to grab a plate and get started. As my eyes took in the expansive offering of, perhaps, a dozen Vietnamese dishes, I caught my breath. Incredulous, I asked of the hostess, “Did you cook all day?” Smiling she confessed that she and her daughter indeed had cooked all day, perhaps even some the day before.
Her commitment to her daughter, the party, and the guests, filled me with awe. I understand Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and to see the language of Acts of Service performed by Linh for her wonderful family warmed my soul.
As the first guest to be invited to the food buffet that dominated Linh’s kitchen island, I was so stunned by the presentation that I asked if I might take a photo. Not having my phone with me, she offered to take some for me. I pulled her family into the picture as we posed in front of the colorful dishes. Seeing my enthusiasm she explained some of the what was offered.
Fascinated, I asked further, learning that she had been a sous chef at the Riverside 3 Hotel in Da Nang City where she met her American husband, a retired Marine. I did not know what all of the many dishes were, but I identified chicken parmesan, tender beef ribs, a meat skewer, barbecue pork spring rolls with rice paper (goi cuon), salads, homemade cream puffs, homemade cheese cake, and cut up melon. Following up the next day, I texted Linh my questions about the food. I learned that there was a pasta salad and a banana flowers salad with chicken.
With my plate full of a sampling of most of it, I found a seat at a long table and joined the others, who by now also had plates. The conversations were easy and I enjoyed making some new acquaintances, but what has lingered with me is witnessing Linh acting out her devotion to her family.
She has invited me to coffee and she is offering me her story. For now I know that she with her two daughters, and her new husband, arrived in the US in 2017. Upon arrival, Linh and her teen girls had little English. I admire her bravery to take on a new land, new culture and new language. I know that her daughter Trang is an A+ student with a bright future at the University of Arizona. Linh and I are planning on becoming friends. I feel energized by having had a cultural adventure. When we meet for coffee I will learn more of her life.
I’m still smiling about that day. I said yes, wandered out of my comfort zone by the fact that I knew no one at that gathering, and I was honored to get to be a part of something very special, just because I said ‘yes.” Maybe this is something for all of us to think about as our global seclusion comes to an end. Maybe it’s time we simply wander outside of our comfort zones, and put ourselves in the path of new opportunities. This is our precious time on the planet and it just seems like we should make the most of it. For now I admire the courage of this one mother of two who came to a new land.
I love to hear what you are thinking. My best, donna

Waking a Sleeping Bear

California is racing toward the less restrictive yellow tier; all around us we can feel the stirrings of new beginnings, as our world returns to taken-for-granted lives where we could hug one another and visit in-person. Closed down for fifteen months, I almost feel like a bear blinking her eyes open as she staggers out of a long, dark hibernation.
Last evening, my husband, Ken arrived home after a victorious night of wrestling in which his high school girls’ wresting team sailed undefeated to another South Coast League Championship. Their sights are now set on the CIF-SS Dual Meet Tournament. What seemed almost impossible months ago became a reality, the girls have been allowed physical contact. I have watched Ken and his co-coach struggle all year, trying to keep the teen wrestlers engaged in the combat sport when they only had imaginary opponents. The coaches used creativity and ingenuity to help pass the agonizing months of no contact, social distancing, and mask wearing. Somehow they succeeded.
How have you fared? Were you successful in holding yourself together during the deprivations of: no contact, no outings, no parties, no activities? About five weeks ago, fully vaccinated, my daughter hosted a belated 21st birthday outdoor dinner party for her son James. I was the beneficiary of my first grandchildren hugs in over a year; I felt embarrassed when tears appeared on my cheeks. It shook me to see how much those hugs meant to me. I had been practicing “a stiff upper lip” in the absence of physical contact with my loved ones.
Hopefully, such an event as a worldwide lockdown will not be upon us again. It has been such a complete time-out in our lives that there are lessons to be learned on how we can do better moving forward. What did you learn? Last week, I met with a much younger, single, lady friend for dinner. As we were seated, she removed her mask, and offered that the pandemic taught her that she is unwilling to live the rest of life single. She is going to start a dating campaign and find a life partner.
Well, that certainly opened a serious conversation on the important understandings we have gained from this crushing time. For a vast majority of us we had never heard of Zoom meetings before the spring of 2020, much less understood the advantages of them. We have learned that we can work from home. Probably in-person office hours will never be what they were in the past.
On a more intimate level I found that not being so involved out-of-the-home allowed me to have the zest to act on my creative thoughts. As you know, I woke up the second month of the lockdown with an idea to write about growing up in the 4th most productive oil field in California, on the beach in Venice. I wanted to preserve that piece of my lived history. The months researching and writing that book felt like a pleasure trip because I had the LUXURY of time. I was not trying to cram in writing between teaching college classes, raising a family, or leading tours at the mission. I had nothing but time, glorious time, and because I did not feel rushed, it was an extremely pleasurable writing experience.
Across my life I have not been a “foodie.” My son-in-law’s favorite story to tell on me is that upon all of us arriving in Rome one year, hungry and wondering where to eat, I pointed to a Chinese restaurant across the square. He is still laughing at the idea of being in Italy and me thinking of chow mien! Admittedly, I eat to live, not so much living to eat. However, cooking during the lockdown, three meals a day for 15 months got me more interested in things culinary. I bought an Instant Pot and fell in love with it. When I joined a Facebook Instant Pot cooking community, they welcomed me in as a fellow “Foodie.” I was beside myself with joy for this new designation in my life. I have thrown myself into it all; reading recipes, studying ingredients and how they relate to one another. All this has led to a new orientation toward mindful eating. The result, Ken and I have each lost more than 20 pounds during this lockdown.
Another thing I practiced was creating pockets of silence within me. I’ve carved out long moments of quiet where I let my creative right brain hemisphere have at it. The daydreaming and mulling have allowed me to come up with some new ideas for my art and writing. It has helped me to be still.
Excited about this topic of Lessons Learned from the Pandemic, I did a bit of research asking others what they too have learned. Some of the responses: “to recognize the value of the people that surround you. The pandemic really makes one think about what others bring to your relationship and how important they are.” A friend who lives alone reports: “I have learned even more than ever how important staying positive is and recreating your life in a way to stay safe and active.”
 “The pandemic has taught us that we are way more flexible in our routines than we imagine, but that we still want our routines back as soon as we can have them. We are all very resilient, but we really do prefer to be around people.”
Other insights: “If I can live through this, I can live through anything.” 
“I had to find my inner introvert because I love people.”
“I learned to do handyman jobs and how to prepare for on-camera Zoom meetings and that you can get a pitcher of Margaritas to go!” 
“Slowing down is important. Time with friends and family is most important. Work is secondary. Covid put a spotlight on our necessities and made everything else seem silly. Outdoor activities really are fun, and I don’t need to be around people all that much to be happy. Thank God for the Internet. Lockdown would have been a completely different experience without it.”
What have you learned? I would love for you to share it. Going forward I intend to keep more space open in my schedule. I think I will mark off days in my calendar and not fill my life up with quite so much doing, and aim for more being. I am waiting to hear from you. My best, donna

Simmering Below the Surface

Recently, I experienced some emotional triggers which have given me pause. Yesterday, for example: dressed in my mission docent costume, mentally prepared to deliver a bang-up history tour, I parked my car in downtown San Juan Capistrano. I glanced up to see three big flags in front of the new hotel next to the mission, all flying at half mast. Suddenly the painful reminder of the two recent mass killings filled my soul. It felt like a knife in my heart. I took a few deep breaths to get hold of myself. That grim reminder was sobering. As I walked the short block to the mission I fought down the despair of the senseless violence of the last week. By the time I met the tour guests, I had pulled it together.
Later, I had time to reflect on my emotional reaction to those low flags flying. I checked in with myself. I recalled another such trigger; it was seeing cars in the parking lot of the local elementary school after so many months of mandated lockdown. I had been embarrassed that day to feel tears falling down my cheeks as I noted teachers’ cars; a bit of “normal” was coming back. It caught me off guard.
I kept studying this phenomenon of my interior life, tears at seeing cars in a parking lot? Bummed by flags? My thoughts flashed to the past weekend and how dazed I felt being hugged by my loved ones!! Our daughter and son-in-law had hosted a backyard 21st birthday party for their youngest son. I received hugs! There were 15 of us there, and finally, because Ken and I are both well vaccinated, they felt safe hugging us for the first time in a year. I appeared to keep my cool, but as a hug-starved grandmother, the sensation of gathering up love was layered with more intense emotion than I care to admit.
I think for many of us, perhaps for most of us, we have been in a mental state of “guardedness,” waiting for the next thing to pile on. I think we have been far more stressed during the last year of lock down, our worlds upside down, than our conscious self allows. We are brave, resilient people. We put on our “Can Do” masks and move forward. Of course we do. It is who we are, but I think for many of us there is a simmering vat of emotion seething under the surface. Perhaps now as the world begins its slow return to normal, with 90 million of us vaccinated, and predictions that by summer all who desire vaccines will have them, we can begin to let our guards down.
I am coming to understand that I have been through something extremely challenging, something difficult. During the 15 months of the trial against my father, over 30 years ago, I understood the need to take care of myself, to treat myself gently. Maybe by admitting that we have endured a year unlike any other in our lives we can give ourselves permission to be vulnerable humans. Maybe my tears at the parking lot, the agony of the flags at half mast, are a simple expression of my humanity. 
Perhaps more than ever we must take back up our search for precious moments, for finding joy in the littlest of things, like looking at the passengers in the car next to you at the signal and smiling because they are singing their hearts out, or getting a kick out of something others say. I had a fourth grader on a mission tour the other day, and I asked, “Max, I hope you are not getting information overload!” Max looked at me with his sparkling eyes and exclaimed, “That’s impossible, I live for facts!”
I laughed at his charming candor. The world is a beautiful place, admiring a stunning sunset or the way light plays along the carpet in your home, precious moments are waiting for us. My horse-riding companion, Christine, and I burst out laughing the other day when, on horseback, we had to almost dodge the dozens of swallows who were frantically diving into the mud near us to build their nests. 
Of course living in gratitude for being alive, can help us return to some kind of normalcy. I would love to know how you are holding up and your plans for keeping yourself happy. My best, donna

They Came Before Us: Trail Blazers

I recall how nervous I felt the day in 1951 when my eight-year-old self reluctantly appeared on my grandmother’s weekly children’s TV show!! Today I realize that she, Vera May Lewis, was a pioneer in television! This month, National Women’s History Month, allows us to celebrate the pioneering women on whose shoulders we stand.
Our sagging family album revealed her photo on the set of The Playcrafters Club. It aired on Channel 5, KTLA, Thursdays at 5, from 1950 through 1955. According to the Los Angeles Mirror, Playcrafters Club was the oldest educational children’s program on the West Coast. My grandmother was breaking new ground. Today there are hundreds of programs for youth, but back in the early days of TV, in the late 40’s and early 1950’s, the pickings were slim, relying heavily on regional programming. Hers was a local show sponsored by Los Angeles County. As a Senior Recreation Director, she was assigned as host. It was a 30 minute-long craft program where local children created art projects for those at home.
Today our devices allow us to watch anything at anytime, nearly anywhere!! Ninety-eight percent of Americans have televisions. Back in the beginning things were far different. There was one national children’s program, The Howdy Doody Show on NBC which aired from December 1947 until 1960, and by 1956 The Mickey Mouse Club, and soon others, but hers was an important early step.
I am proud of my grandmother, Vera May Cooper Lewis, born in Los Angeles in 1901. After marriage and becoming a mom, she went on to graduate from the University of Southern California in 1929, majoring in Speech. Her career modeled possibilities for me.
What about your own fore bearers on whose shoulders you stand? What family member pioneered for you? I’d love to hear about them.
Still pondering the trail blazers, I examined a few more pages in our decrepit album and came upon my father’s grandmother. A pioneering woman; she raised her two small children while working full time in the family store. She was Lydia Cram Lewis, born in Minnesota in 1859. She, with her pharmacist husband, Charles H.V. Lewis, arrived via rail to the City of Angels in the late 1880’s leaving the civilized comforts of Des Moines, Iowa, for the rugged frontier of the rough “out west,” where gun fights on Saturday night were the norm, and the population was about 15,000 people.
In my mind’s eye, I can see them lumbering off the train, their hands heavily laden with bags, struggling to hold on to their two small children. Their children, daughter, Fayetta, was six and their son, my grandfather, was two. The trunks and cases would have held their worldly household possessions as well as the starting stock for their intended pharmacy. This 1894 photo is of Lydia behind the counter of the Lewis Drug Company at 4th and Broadway in Los Angeles.
They would ultimately become a family of druggists, owning nine pharmacies and cigar shores in Los Angeles. Lydia would earn her California State Board of Pharmacy certification in 1901; as would both of her children. Fayetta, after owning and operating her own pharmacy, would go on to manage the pharmaceutical department of the Hollywood Hospital, while her younger brother, Ray, would also own his own businesses.
My memory skipped to my favorite of his stores, at Sunset and Gardner in Hollywood. I loved the sparkling medicine ball hanging over the front door. Upon arrival at the store, my little sister and I would spring from the car and dash, giggling, through the front door heading straight for the candy counter! 
Lydia and my grandfather were very close, hence my childhood was filled with his fond narratives about her life. One of my treasures is a collection of his 1903 letters to her. For several months at age 19, for health, he needed to live in the Mojave area, a long, dusty, and bumpy 66 miles in a stage coach from Los Angeles. The penciled, hand written pages describe tasks of everyday life like his packing his trunk for the stagecoach and oiling his gun. Like teens today might do, he asked his mom for clean socks! These stories allow us a peek into lives lived in Southern California almost 120 years ago, and the pioneers who settled our land, making possible the lives we live today. I realize that through my grandfather’s stories, Lydia Lewis has influenced the woman I have become.
I would love to know of one of the women on whose shoulders you stand. I enjoy your thoughts. My best, donna

Enchanted Tide Chasers

As the worldwide pandemic has moldered on with California being particularly locked down, my husband Ken and I have been motivated to discover new ways of living our lives. He is still seeing his high school girl wrestlers a few days each week, and I am just getting back to leading tours at the mission, but it still leaves many hours in which to find creative ways to live.
Our new “thing” began serendipitously back in January after my emotional reaction to the January 6th Capitol insurrection. We began, in earnest, looking for active ways to keep me settled down. More than ever we started taking little adventure trips around our county particularly to the seashore. Our first such visit was on January 12th to Doheny State Beach. We nearly opted to stay cozy on the sofa watching the news, but forced ourselves to go out and we were glad we did. Our timing happened to coincide with an extremely low tide. The tide was so far out that huge rocks far beyond the surf line were exposed. With great delight we hopped from rock to rock, laughing and snapping photos of the flocks of seagulls which refused to be scared away. Later we walked around the harbor and discovered several Black Crowned Night Herons, Blue Herons, and an Egret sunning on the hand railing next to our path, they were far too at home to fly away. I had entered a birder’s Eden and was dizzy with excitement as I snapped dozens of photos.
That trip got us excited to begin studying the tide charts. A few days later we ventured to Crystal Cove, just south of Newport Beach. At the trail head we were chatting with a man, explaining that we were following the tide charts. He looked at me and exclaimed, “Are you a surfer?” I smiled, “No, just a nature lover.” Ken got the biggest kick out of that; he loves the idea that his septuagenarian wife could be taken for a surfer!
These many weeks later, we have both downloaded the tidal app into our cell phones. We think of ourselves as “Tide Chasers!” We have adopted a new habit. We are having the best time following low tides while getting our steps in everyday. Part of the thrill is that we never know what we will discover. Late yesterday, at Salt Creek we came upon a sunset photo-shoot of a very expectant mother, her small child and husband. She was on the wet sand in a long lavender tulle and lace gown, cupping the enormity of her expectancy while holding the toddler’s hand. The husband smiled down at his budding family as the photographer snapped away. Tears filled my eyes. It was beautiful.
Leaving them, Ken and I proceeded down the beach when two single-passenger motor-gliders buzzed twenty feet above our heads, dizzying all us spectators with their crazy dipping, and soaring antics. They came by three different times. It was wild fun to watch them! Walking and chatting about the gliders, we soon encountered several elaborate drip sand castles, one with rock towers adorning it, and endless flocks of seagulls!
As the sun began to sink behind Catalina Island, some kind of magic seemed to settle across the area. Spectators began arriving and staking out their sites to watch the sun’s spectacular Technicolor goodbye. We realized this was becoming a consistent experience: hundreds of spectators assembling each evening up and down the coast. It seems that the setting sun has become a new kind of pandemic spectator sport.
The Covid-19 restrictions have brought on new ways of being, not all of them good. According to some of the posts I see on Facebook, the threat has led to depression and feelings of isolation and desperation. People live with grief, and loss, and worry. These past twelve months have been extremely traumatic for most Americans, and specifically devastating for others. Our suffering is real.
Neuroscience has discovered that it is possible to change the way our brain is thinking when we are “stuck.” Being “stuck” means that our brain mulls a negative thought over and over while it is trying to problem-solve. After that January 6th Capitol incident, I could feel myself being pulled down. This can lead to the arousal state of feeling overwhelmed. We can change that pattern but we must take action to do so. My daughter, Julina, sent me an interesting quote yesterday. “Crisis does not create character, it reveals it.”
We humans are resilient. We can be mindful that we must take action to feel better. Habits come from deep neural maps for thinking and doing certain things within our brains. It is possible to change those maps and create new ones but it takes effort and being conscious of what one is thinking. Steven Covey in, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Our character, basically is a composite of our habits . . . habits are powerful factors in our lives because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, that daily express our character and produce effectiveness or ineffectiveness.” We need the good kind of habits!
I think it is essential to focus on what we HAVE instead of what we do not have. Aristotle said, WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO. EXCELLENCE IS NOT AN ACT, IT IS A HABIT. I invite you to walk outdoors and embrace nature in a new way. Look for a moment of joy. This morning I saw an egret sitting on top of my neighbor’s gazebo. Really? How delightful! Maybe you can become a sunset aficionado, taking photos of its color show, or a recorder of all you see on the walking trail, or a lover of birds or wildlife? For now Ken and I are enchanted by all that can be discovered at the seashore as we chase the tides.
I want to hear what you are doing during this stressful time to keep yourself in a positive state of mind. What delightful habit have you developed? I love to know what you are thinking. My best, donna

Getting On Up That Trail!

I learned a difficult lesson two weeks ago about the impact of our past upon our present. In an attempt to live in the now, many of us actively ignore or suppress old, painful events. Why wouldn’t we?
In all innocence last week, I wrote to a friend who is a self professed “Foodie.” Not knowing that many Foodies, I thought he would be excited about my new Instant Pot and the world of fun which it has opened up to me. My new Instant Pot Facebook friends have welcomed me into their “IP” community as a fellow “Foodie.” I knew my friend would appreciate my newly discovered passion. He also happens to be a rabbi as well as an experienced marriage and family therapist. I dashed off a detailed Instant Pot email, and as a P.S., I confessed that I had suffered a meltdown and an unexpected return of my PTSD symptoms during the horrifying insurrection at the Capitol two weeks earlier. I admitted that I was still a bit shaken by my unexpected reaction to the violence.
He immediately emailed me back, skipping past the Instant Pot message, saying, “Such a strange time. Every therapist I know has been totally overwhelmed. These times have unmasked formerly dormant and, for many, unrecognized traumatic stressors. It reminds us that these wounds never really resolve, but sit beneath the surface waiting to be triggered.”
Oh ugh I thought as I read this. I had hoped, believed even, that my peaceful, secure life filled with creative work, loving people, dogs and horses, had cemented over my ancient childhood agonies. Of course I understood that the dark side of my growing up years, suffering profound abuse at my father’s hands, had left scars. However, as time has passed since the trial thirty years ago, that sent him to prison for his crimes, I have tended to white-wash the enormity of the trauma. Hence, I was ill prepared for what unfolded on January 6th as I sat down on the couch with a fresh cup of tea in hand to witness the certification of the Electoral College vote.
As I watched angry aggressors scale the walls of the Capitol, beat Capitol police officers with flag poles, use stun guns on the necks of others, and throw a heavy fire extinguisher into a crowd of defenders while chanting “Get Pence,” I felt my composure begin to slip. The camera scanned to the gallows that had been erected and showed plastic handcuff ties hanging from violent assailants’ pockets. Glass was broken, a fatal shooting occurred, and the inner sanctum was breached. Violent mayhem was playing out before me. Helplessness washed over me as tears filled my eyes. They rolled down my cheeks. Old feelings of despair overwhelmed me. I could not stop a personally devastating situation. Was our country falling before me?
Before long, Ken, my husband, who had been working at his computer, entered the room. Seeing that I was overcome, he turned off the news, and tried to understand what was wrong. It took him about one second to realize that I had been catapulted back into deep-rooted feelings of my past horror. He got me out of the house, onto my horse, and up the trail. He walked beside my horse. Before long I felt better, and could finally talk about it.
I was stunned to learn that those archaic, helpless feelings were lurking beneath the surface of my happiness. I had no idea that our democracy was so fragile, that such a breach was even possible. I had no clue that I could be rendered defenseless against an attack on our way of life. In the last few days, I have learned that others experienced similar reactions. One woman we know awoke at 5 a.m. the day after the terrorists’ attack, and was repeatedly physically sick to her stomach. Other friends have confided that they cried all day on January 6th. It seems to me that we need to more fully recognize what lies beneath our surface; that we need to respect our pain that has gone before.
The temperature on our national political stage has turned down some, and perhaps as a country we are getting back toward something more acceptable to most. I know that a whole lot of fun is going on in social media with the Bernie Sanders memes, and that millions of us are still celebrating our young poet Amanda Gorman. I think one of my takeaways from all of this is that dramatic events on the national and international stage can profoundly affect us. Being human, we do not have to pretend we are okay when we are not. We can admit to real feelings. We can understand that perhaps there is no such thing as “cementing over them.”
We have been through a lot. Isolation alone is hard on our spirit. Sheltering in place, not seeing or hugging our loved ones, unable to gather and celebrate with each other, or worship together have been incredibly traumatic. Mixing in rising death rates, the weakening economy, and extreme political unrest adds up to a recipe for astronomical stress levels.
More than ever it is important that we take extra special care of ourselves, that we find new ways to engage our minds. Probably no one would have imagined that I would go crazy playing with my new Instant Pot, but I have. It is an adventure! Even my children are sharing their favorite recipes with me. I’m making dishes I only dreamed about, and learning new techniques. It’s exciting!
The future cannot help but hold events that can trigger our old feelings, but we can acknowledge those feelings, and use our tools for mindfulness and maintaining our resilience. We can focus on the positive in things, celebrate our daily victories, and nourish our bodies. These actions are key to feeling better. We know that daily exercise and interacting with positive others (and finding fun where we can!) are ways to keep ourselves moving forward. Perhaps we need to find time to leave the Instant Pot to do its thing and get on up the trail! I enjoy hearing how you are holding up and what you are doing to stay okay. My best, donna

Let the Ordinary Become Extraordinary!

This morning on my dog walk along the oceanfront, I encountered this remarkable rock art left by an anonymous stranger for anyone who is paying attention to enjoy. I could not believe what I was seeing; a small flock of birds created on the edge of the beach parking lot. A shiver ran through me as I pondered the simple beauty and magnificence of the tiny flock.
As the dogs and I strolled along, I reflected on the sentiments expressed in the Christmas letters my friends have been sending. The dominant theme is: “Out with 2020,” “I haven‘t done much this year,” “A terrible year.” Such sentiments are part of our collective experience, perhaps exacerbated by California’s most recent shut-down, again limiting our freedom. Together we have endured the worst national health crisis in a century, and witnessed an unprecedented political polarization. To say the least, it has been distressing. However, as 2020 comes to a close, it affords a perfect opportunity to take a personal step toward healing. We can begin to have hope as the Covid-19 vaccine is administered, and the national political hotbed cools down for awhile. Perhaps we can work on where we allow our thoughts to carry us.
Where go our thoughts, so follow our feelings. Even though another mandatory lockdown leaves us more isolated than ever, there are certain actions we can take to redirect our outlook toward the positive. Ten years ago this week, I packed up my office at Cypress College and loaded the boxes of books and papers into my car. I said my goodbyes, and as in many retirements, I was physically escorted to my car. Adios! After 44 years of appearing on campus every school day, the uncertainty of my future plagued me. Could life possibly hold as much meaning without my students? Truly, I had no idea.
Those who have followed my posts have witnessed the fact that I have, indeed, found some interesting places to focus my attention. I have long adopted the HABIT of looking for Precious Moments. Historically this is a good time for all of us to do just that, mindfully adopt the HABIT of focusing our attention on the small delights lurking around many corners, like the impromptu flock of stone birds this morning, or another rock sculpture I saw yesterday. My daughter, Julina, has the habit of photographing the sunrise many mornings and sharing the extraordinary colorful photos with me. My friend, Sioux, discovered a beautiful hand-painted rock in the shape of a heart the other day, and has gleefully posted it on social media.
If one has their eyes peeled there are unique forms of public art hidden in small corners. Several cities around SoCal have invested in public art. At the corner of Coast Highway and Palisades Drive in Dana Point there is a beautiful portrait of famous author, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. adorning the electrical transformer box. That painting is sponsored by the City of Dana Point. Another city with awe-inspiring public art is Venice, California, where whole buildings are adorned with gorgeous murals. Our pets offer moments of delight as well. My granddaughter, Caroline, often shares photos of her cat, Stella, doing hilarious things.
The habit of keeping our eyes open for little delights can be our challenge for this holiday season. The universe has even seen fit to help guide us toward a positive outlook for the coming year. It has aligned the planets Jupiter and Saturn so close to Earth that on December 21st they will appear as one glorious bright star. Imagine that, a huge bright “star” visible to the naked eye. The last time this “Great Conjunction” occurred was in 1623, and before that in 1226. This bright “star” is most often referred to as the “Christmas Star”.
Developing the habit of looking for “surprises” is a valuable tool for making the negatives in our lives to seem to be a little less important. More than ever, this year I wish you a safe holiday season with a heart full of promise for a better year to come. I cherish the words you send me and look forward to reading what you are thinking about. My best, donna

Staying Sane During This Insane Time

It has been interesting to me in conversations with my husband, Ken, to reflect on how his 50 San Clemente High School female wrestlers are handling coming to in-person classes knowing that there is only a small chance they will get to wrestle at all during this year of Covid-19. He says they keep showing up and that their spirits are pretty good. He and his co-coach create alternate activities for them. On Veteran’s Day they had a voluntary “meet” with Dana Hills’ girl wrestlers on the beach in Doheny where they participated in sort of a socially distant “fitness Olympics” with the other team. From the photos it looked like a great turn out and that the girls were engaged and enjoying the competition.
So Ken and his co-coach are being creative. Maybe that’s part of the solution to how we can stay sane during this insane time. There’s no argument that keeping safe during this pandemic is a huge challenge. My daughter who teaches 7th grade English feels like she is talking to herself when she teaches her students on Zoom. Sometimes she resorts to dancing to keep their attention. I know that my grandchildren are struggling to understand the materials in their classes while staying engaged. It’s hard not seeing our loved ones or hugging them. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Depression is rampant. Food scarcity is real, but we still have hope. We know a vaccine will be coming soon.
Living on the “corona-coaster” I hear some of my associates saying they miss people they don’t even like. Others report that “they are bored with being part of a major historical event!!” For me, personally, I am at a place where running errands and walking the dogs are big highlights which count as “going out.” Of course all of us get that it is up to us to figure out how to accomplish contentment when our old activities are shut down. We are now forced to become even more inventive in how we live our lives.
My sister Diana, after months of lockdown with all four of her family members working from home and going to school on-line, had a genius idea. It was very difficult to execute, but she was successful. She finally found a cabin high in the San Bernardino Mountains which has good Wifi and needed work and a family to love it. They closed escrow. Last week they enjoyed their first snow-fall while working on-line from 7200 feet elevation. They are bewitched by a new life.
Others in my life have discovered the thrills of RVing, and are planning road trips around America. My friend Mary is taking two art and drawing classes on Zoom. She is full of more energy and excitement than ever as she faces new art challenges. My daughter, Julina, has taken up Pickle Ball and is playing several evenings each week. For my part, you know I wrote that memoir-history book, Growing Up Venice a few months ago. That led to me embracing my Los Angeles roots and joining the Los Angeles City Historical Society. I kept pulling on that historical society thread which led to me becoming a part of their board of directors. It’s captivating to meet new people (on Zoom) and to think about new ideas.
Our challenge is how to adapt to this crazy period in the world. We know time is slipping by quickly, like warm sand through our fingers. We cannot afford to waste any of it; it’s too precious and too fleeting. You may recall that brain science has discovered that we humans have some 50,000 thoughts per day, and that about 80% of them are negative. They kept us safe during the cave-man days, but negativity can tear us down in today’s pandemic. It can freeze us into inaction. We need to be actors in our own lives to live to the fullest. Here’s a remedy to overcoming negative thinking’s detrimental effects:
This is our time now and it’s more important than ever that we make the best use of it. You know I always enjoy hearing from you. Happy Thanksgiving, My best, donna

Fire Drill!

Ah it’s Fall! I know you are staying safe, and you were probably isolating a lot during what seemed like an endlessly long hot summer. Such a weird time in our lives!
A week or so ago Ken and I had settled down to watch our favorite Netflix show on a Saturday night about 8 p.m. when we got a call. Four of our granddaughters were on their own for the weekend as their parents were out of town. A brush fire had broken out across the street from their property and the main road into their development was lined with more than a dozen fire engines. Authorities were stopping any traffic in or out of their community. The loud water dropping helicopters were racing back and just above the girls’ home earnestly trying to stop the fire. At the same time, the West Coast of the USA was pretty much on fire and we were all in hyper-vigilance mode.
The youngest (15 year-old) sister was starting to freak-out for obvious reasons! Her older sisters made the decision to ease her anxiety by calling us, the grandparents, and getting her out of there! Of course they were welcome to evacuate to our home.
Within thirty minutes, the girls had filled three cars with nine chickens, two dogs, two cats (one feral in a cage), a turtle and two snakes, and arrived at our home. Luckily, Ken had built a cattery for my mother’s cat which has since found a home. The chickens quickly took over that space. The dogs were nestled in my large home office, while the girls settled the cats. The snakes and turtle remained confined (much to our relief) as we recalled raising our own family with snakes and guinea pigs sometimes living under the dishwasher or behind a drapery! Settled into beds, the youngest began to relax. Ken and I finished our show. Within a few hours the firefighters had the brush fire under control and the immediate danger had passed.
What has stayed with us across these days since the alarming event is the behavior of our four granddaughters. This had been a for real fire drill and they performed like a well trained Army Special Forces unit. The fifth and oldest daughter, Jill, who lives elsewhere, dropped her plans and hurried to her sisters. She talked to the sheriff, and they had agreed that the girls should evacuate. Jill saw the girls to our home. Knowing her sisters were safe, Jill left.
Preparing to leave, the four evacuees tended to first things first. There was no bickering or questioning the steps in the evacuation. The first order of business had been the well-being of their youngest sibling. Next, valuables, jewelry, photo albums, computers, animals, and essential clothing were stuffed into the vehicles. Upon arrival at our house, the reverse order; securing the many animals and organizing sleeping arrangements. While one sister found a litter box and set up the cats with water and food, another walked the dogs on the back lawn. It was almost as if they had prepared for this for years. Each found a task and carried it out.
One incident particularly impressed me. Our 20 year-old Emily, future veterinarian, who has been taming the feral cat, considered allowing it out of the cage into a closed bedroom. Megan, at 23, was a capable general. She decreed, “No, the cat will be better off in its carrier overnight.” Emily, the lieutenant in charge of animals, deferred to her older sister. No push back.
Animals and girls and even grandparents got through the night without further event. The girls didn’t sleep much, but they knew they were safe and had done all they could in such an emergency.
For our part, as the older generation, we often worry about the future of our fragile civilization and our precious planet, and then something like this emergency happens and the youngsters step up. Whether they are saving themselves, fighting wars, fighting wildfires, or policing our cities, we see that they come through. I personally feel humbled by the competency of the younger ones coming up behind me.
Once we were the youth. I recall a Spanish teacher in high school telling our class that we were “the do nothing generation.” That stayed with me. We were only sixteen years-old. That seemed a rude thing to say to us, considering we were barely getting our driver’s licenses! As the decades unfolded, my generation and those behind us, saw to some of the important human rights and environmental changes ever known. We were not a “do nothing generation.”
During this global lockdown I had so much time on my hands that I looked back at my growing up years and have written about it. Growing Up Venice: Parallel Universes, is now available at Amazon in Kindle, paperback and hardcover color formats.
In this book, which is the history of some lost aspects of Los Angeles/Venice history, I share my lived experience on the oceanfront in Venice. I grew up during the 1940’s, side by side, with a working oil well in one of the most productive oil fields in California. My story visits the Holocaust and Bolshevik survivors who lined the benches along the boardwalk in Venice, the Gambling Ships in Santa Monica Bay, the arrival of the Beat Generation to the Gas House, and the subsequent Hippie invasion. We journey through time past the amusement piers, to the new ethos of Venice, the craziest beach in the world, and to Silicon Beach, a new home to the electronics industry. You might enjoy my tale, certainly a love story is woven through it.
I always enjoy hearing from you. Let me know how you are doing. My best, donna

Turning a Forced Time-Out into a Gift

Hi! I’ve missed writing to you. I took such a drastic action to fill up these months of Covid-19 lockdown, that my hands have been really full. If you follow me on Facebook, you may know that Ken and I adopted an 8 week old puppy, River, a few weeks ago. River is keeping us hopping! Caring for her now structures our days and nights. When I am on the patio for the 2 A.M. potty break, I have to laugh, realizing that I certainly did take an extreme action to occupy myself! But there’s something more to my late night visits to the cool outdoor air. They have allowed me to appreciate the stillness of darkness and the beauty of not being so busy all the time.
 I guess I am seeing my life in new ways. I’m reveling in the LUXURY of just being. I am enjoying every minute of River’s development. Last week I heard her bark for the first time. A few days ago, I carried her in my arms into the pool and watched her dip and splash her little front paws. Last evening, Ken placed an empty bottle on the ground so that River could check it out. She was so adorable, barking at it, then leaping up in the air, running around, and leaping and barking some more. It was fascinating to her! Finally, she was brave enough to touch the bottle and drag it under our chairs. Ken and I watched, adoringly, like young parents, all the while throwing balls for Dixie and Lacey.
It’s not all smooth sailing. There was a dust-up when she too rambunctiously approached two of the cats. They were less than impressed, got all big with their hair on end, and went after her. She cried and ran behind the sofa. I rescued her. It was a hard lesson for her. She was consoled later when each of those same cats rubbed against her.
I hope you are making the most of this unusual period in your life. It seems we must play the cards we are dealt, so that even with a bad hand, we can make it our time now. Because of the difficulties in the world, we have been forced to step out of our sometimes crazy-frenetic schedules. We can rail against the circumstances, or use this occasion to renew and reinvent. Perhaps we have been given a gift of time?
One of my favorite research books on the science of human happiness is: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In his book, the author teaches us that happiness is nothing more than living in the FLOW of the moment when we are engaged in something meaningful to us. We can feel happy making a cake, conditioning for a 5 K run, or growing zucchini. One of the big tricks is to live in the present doing things that give us a little thrill. This requires that we become mindful of our thoughts, and pin down our dreams, and make the effort to fulfill them. I hope that you are doing just that, finding joy in some of the simple things during this unusual time in history.
I love when you write to me. I have written a new book . It is the best of my childhood, growing up in the fourth most productive oil field in California, on the Venice Peninsula. I have captured some aspects of Los Angeles history that could be lost forever. Growing Up Venice: Parallel Universes is on Amazon in paperback, while we are waiting for the color hardbound copy to be available in a few weeks. I’ll let you know when its ready. I am looking forward to hearing from you and learning what you have been doing to stay sane during this insane time. My best, donna

Toot Toot! Here Comes the Helms Man!

Hi there! I hope this note finds you well. Back in April, when we learned that our Covid-19 isolation orders would continue for some time, I woke up one morning with a new idea. We had been tackling the attic,
Grandmother Maymie at Venice Beach circa 1927
and I'd been going through old photos and papers belonging to my great grandparents and grandparents. They were intriguing, depicting rare views of old Venice Beach, California, when it was known as Venice-of-America. How sweet it was to see my great grandparents smiling out from their perch on the sand at the end of Venice Boulevard in 1900! My family arrived in Los Angeles around 1887 when the train came through from the Mid-West and spent a great deal of their time in the coastal area of Los Angeles. 
     It got me thinking. I, too, had lived some remarkable aspects of lost Los Angeles history. The look backward inspired me to write the story of 
Donna Poses in the Front Yard 1948
my growing up years in Venice, California during a period when it was an industrial zone, the fourth most productive oil field in the state. I know it sounds crazy to tell you that my next door neighbor was a gigantic oil-well derrick attached to a working pump house, whooshing up and down during all the days and nights of my growing years. We lived in a 400 square foot bungalow built out of war surplus materials. It was located right on the beach, but surrounded by these steel monoliths. 
     Energized, I began writing, while Ken kept offering to drive me on research field trips up to Venice. The trips were fun and easy because the traffic during lockdown was non-existent. The book Growing Up Venice: Parallel Universes will be available soon. For now I want to share a particularly charming result I encountered.
Venice Beach Oil Derricks circa 1940s
    About a week ago, Ken and I drove up to the old Helms Bakery Building on Venice Boulevard in Culver City. The trip was prompted by a picture of a Helms truck and childhood memories we both have of its visits to our neighborhoods. It is a design center now, boasting a pedestrian walk with restaurants and places to meet up. We took photos, bought chocolate éclairs, and took an outdoor seat looking across the street toward Paramount Studios. Of course, it was something of a walk down Memory Lane for me. My third grade field trip had been to this famous bakery. I could almost see the huge metal machines mixing thick dough, and could smell the sweet aroma of baking cookies. The friendly "toot toot" of the Helms Man's yellow and blue truck was clear in my memory.
  My most beloved remembrance is during visits to our grandparents. They lived near the Farmer's Market at Fairfax and Third Street in

 Hollywood. My sister and I would hear the Helms whistle and race around the house looking for our grandpa. He would smile at us as he escorted us out to the waiting truck. The Helms Man would grin as he opened the double doors at the back of his truck, and slowly guide the smooth wooden drawers out, revealing row upon row of pastries. There was never a rush. I could take my time and choose the perfect treat. I mostly went for the cream puff in the top drawer. The Helms Man would hand it down to me, wrapped in a paper. My grandfather would pay, and I would run to the porch, sit down, and slowly enjoy the creamy sweet. The memory for me is more than the Helms Man, it's wound up in the idyllic days with our grandfather. He was wonderful, a storyteller and one who took the time to teach me. The Helms Man sparked something old and cherished in my life.
     Our Helms trip made a wonderful day, and I posted a  few of the Helms photos on social media. The result I received was staggering!! Many of my social media friends enthusiastically shared their experiences. They told me the Helms Man went all the way to Fresno, to Laguna Beach, to San Diego. It was so much fun to read what they had to say. One friend, Karen, told me about how her mom put the big blue H letter in the window so that the Helms Man would stop by, others told me about getting candied apples, sugar cookies, cream puffs. They recalled the metal change maker around his waist; that sometimes he would let them place the coins in it. I learned about how as kids they would hear the whistle and come racing. One friend, Royce, said he and his brother would beg for a coin from their grandma and go running. One time his brother tripped and lost the coin! Oh No! They missed the Helms Man as they searched for that coin. He invited us to look for that missing coin from 50 some years ago at his corner in Long Beach! 

  The Helms Man whistling through our neighborhoods was a daily ritual for thousands of us children in Southern California between 1932 and 1968. When the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles struggled financially due to the Depression, retired banker turned baker, Paul Helms, with his newly opened bakery, stepped up. He helped out and tied his bakeries to the Olympic athletes. His was the "Choice of Champions." The Olympians continued to ask for Helms bread across the next twenty years. Helms also participated in the Rose Parade, sponsored television shows, and provided the bread for the Apollo missions, becoming the "first bread on the moon." Even though his products were never sold in markets, he was remarkably successful. When he died in the late 1950's the family operated the bakery for another ten years. Today it is commemorated as an historic building and the area is noted as The Historic Helms Bakery District. I would recommend a visit. Perhaps you could enjoy a cream puff as you sit and take a little side tour to your past.
    When I wrote the Helms Bakery post, I had no clue that my friends would be so overjoyed by recalling their own precious memories. The Helms Man was commonplace to us, perhaps that is part of it; the innocence of us as children running for our jelly donut. I know that writing my new book, remembering what it was like to range free across the sand through all the days of my childhood, has helped me get through this trying moment in history. It has reminded me how grateful I am for being alive; what a gift life is. We are going through one of the most complex, frightening times in our lives. Our world has been turned upside down and many of us are reeling trying to remain upright. Maybe that's what we all need to do, search our memories for precious moments, and notice other such events in real time. Perhaps we can remind ourselves each day, what a gift it is to be alive.
    You know I would love to hear any of your memories or your Helms Man story. My best, donna

Locked Down and Gloved Up!

Under cover of early morning darkness today, masked and gloved, I sneaked into Von's Market, accepting a freshly sanitized shopping cart from a worker at the door. As I passed the colorful Easter candy display, I felt a sharp pain, like a kick, grip my stomach as tears sprang to my eyes. No Easter gathering this year. I pushed the cart forward and worked to shed the jab of the emotional toll this lockdown is having on us.
The day before, on the walking trail with my dogs, a man approached from about thirty feet away, and seeing me, lifted a mask to his face. I quickly veered out into the empty street. He lowered his mask and gave me a brief wave from a great distance.
     Something like four billion of us on the planet are under mandatory lockdown. In the 200,000 years of anatomically modern humans, there has never been such an isolation occurrence. Firstly, across human history the populations have been much smaller, and certainly no opportunity for mass communication. You and I, right now, are living history.
     We Baby Boomers grew up learning about the agonies of the Great Depression, hoping no such thing would befall us. The recent strong economy and low unemployment rates have lulled us into a sense of safety and comfort. That view has suddenly been shattered.
     Ken and I have been deeply respectful of the CDC guidelines.Staying in, spraying down grocery bags, sanitizing the groceries, and leaving packages on the porch for several days. Our schedules are pretty open. For the most part we are doing okay. Across our long marriage my chief complaint has been that I wished my husband were home more. Well he's home now and I have plenty of time with him. Guess what? I like it! The other day, when I returned from a walk, he was so proud because he had been sewing!! (I know, Ken sewing is pretty wild!). He proceeded to demonstrate his creation. Using a clean white dusting cloth and a paper coffee filter, he had manufactured a serviceable mask. He was so proud!
Ken Proudly Displays His Homemade Mask

Anyway, we've completed a few projects around the house, read some books, and of course done a lot of cooking, but what surprises me is how exhausting it is not doing that much. Do you, too, feel a strain of exhaustion?

     It occurs to me that many of us are in a type of grief mode. If it is not grief, certainly it is anxiety. The economists agree that we are headed for a deep recession. The financial unknown out there alone is plenty to scare us, and certainly the daily CORONA VIRUS DEATH REPORT is enough to do in the strongest of us.

Our losses are lurking under many different layers: not seeing our loved ones, having our freedom of movement curtailed, losing our daily schedule and its familiar comforts of coworkers, the mental challenges of work, and feeling the sting of missing our friends. Others of us are beginning to experience the agony of actually losing loved ones to this virus.

As a survivor of child abuse I have had a default "setting" for "hyper-vigilance." What this means is that I am unconsciously preparing for the next assault. It's possible that you also may be unconsciously gearing up for the next blow. This is a hard way for us to live. Our reaction to the world pandemic may be the only aspect over which we have some control. Perhaps this is a good time to work on training our brains. For me, I now recognize that I feel exhausted because my world has upended. Going forward I am going to respect that fact and give myself a break, maybe even a nap!

     So recognizing how stressed we actually feel is a good first step. Deciding to control it is another positive move. This is a good time to calm our minds through meditation, walking, yoga and relaxation techniques. Maybe we should limit the time we watch the news. Every time the economists discuss the next most dire prediction, I feel my anxiety climbing.

     I downloaded Zoom and am having "meetings" with my family. I am also getting better at remembering to use Facetime, and being grateful. Brain science has proven that when we live in gratitude our happiness levels elevate. In addition, when we help others, we tend toward feeling better. The local food banks desperately need our help, as do elders who need grocery deliveries. Our friends need phone calls and texts. My beautiful daughter-in-law texted me this sign: INTROVERTS PUT DOWN YOUR BOOK AND CALL YOUR EXTROVERT FRIENDS. THEY ARE NOT OKAY!! Yes, we can help our friends and neighbors. 

     Certainly there is no silver bullet that is going to rescue us anytime soon. The laboratories around the world are working as fast as they can on a vaccine. For now we are keeping our distance and wearing masks. It seems to me that it is our job to respect how truly stressful this is and give ourselves permission to understand that: this is a really big deal! In the meantime my family and friends continue to share outrageously hilarious videos and photos. I love the Chris Mann Youtube parody on the right margin. The other night my friend sent this question to me: DOES ANYONE KNOW IF WE CAN TAKE SHOWERS YET OR SHOULD WE JUST KEEP WASHING OUR HANDS?

Hello From Rainbow Land

     Hello my friends! Wow are we challenged or what? This sequestering is more grueling than the calamities in a bad Hollywood Sci-Fi film. So we are mostly all sheltered in place, unable to go about much semblance of our normal lives. We are only in the middle of Week One, and some of us are already chafing at it, while others ignore the threat completely. ABC News this morning showed thousands of partying youth crowding the warm sands of South Beach, Florida. The on-camera quote by a grinning young man, "If I get Corona, I get Corona. We planned for this vacation for months."
     As the world shuts down in an unprecedented way, something unseen in our lifetimes, we cope with not just the threat of this deadly and invisible virus, but a very real and serious economic reality as well. In addition, we face the risk presented by those who are cavalier about the seriousness of it.
     I am certain that the attitude we choose to take toward this crisis, toward our freedom being curtailed, will determine how well we get through it. My hero, Austrian psychologist Dr. Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, was locked up in a Nazi concentration camp. He was horrified to see men literally fighting over a scrap of grizzle lying on the prison floor. After his release, he wrote that in that moment, he decided to turn his incarceration into a sort of real-time laboratory study, to determine what it was within the psychology of the prisoners which determined who survived and who died. What he learned was that those who survived had a larger goal than survival. They focused on something to accomplish or do once they were free. He saw that they had a purpose that kept them going against the worst odds. The survivors had a WHY to live. For Victor, he wanted to find his family. During his long life he wrote many books about what he learned regarding finding one's purpose and about pursuing happiness. His thinking has been a cornerstone to my own philosophy of life.
Entrance to Rainbow Land
     Somehow I managed to survive the worst abuse a young girl can suffer at the hands of her father. My incarceration sentence was my entire childhood.  The secret to my survival with my sanity intact was to have a get-away plan. My purpose was to create a life where I was "normal," once I was free. I knew that adulthood would bring freedom. It was an overriding vision which somehow guided me through the horror. You know me well enough to know that I have succeeded, against heavy odds. This explains why I live in gratitude. I am so grateful to be free.

     Our challenge is to accept our current reality and do as we are instructed by the authorities. The societal goal is to get the virus infection curve to flatten so that the lowest numbers of us become ill and our medical facilities will be able to cope. I am fascinated to begin to study the reactions from those around me to this mandate. Hundreds of missives are coming my way each day via the news, posts on social media, telephone calls and emails. 

     Certainly for many Americans, our sense of humor is firmly in 
Toilet Paper Sand Castle
tact. My friends are sending and posting truly hilarious bits. The toilet paper hoarding has struck a funny bone for many. I cracked up at the photo of a huge sandcastle created on Balboa Island made of toilet paper rolls crafted of sand. I saw a poker game pic where they were betting toilet paper rolls, and innumerable messages about the crazy role reversal where 50-somethings are forced to admonish their Baby Boomer parents Not to Go Out!

     On Monday, the first day of our California "quarantine", my ten year old granddaughter, Caroline, sent me a long video called Rainbow Land. Caroline had already created a miniature theme park down the hall in her home and into the living room. Many rainbows were in evidence. There was an "art museum" taped to one wall, a fun zone with a ball pit, then a "pin the gold on the rainbow" attraction, water rides and so much more!! Seriously, how clever to invent a Pin the Gold on the Rainbow game!!!

     So this is our challenge. We can bitterly bemoan the state of affairs, huff and puff about the governmental "overreaction," or figure out a game plan for the foreseeable weeks, perhaps months, to keep ourselves on an even keel. Maybe we figure out how to pin the gold on the rainbow?
Moms Create Challenges

     The moms around me are creating plans to help their shut-in children to cope. My daughter is sending challenges to the other young people in the family. The other night the challenge was to hold a plastic cup of water on your forehead as you contort into a sitting position, and ultimately to a position where you can set the cup of water on the floor without spilling it. The videos of my daughter and her daughter accomplishing this feat created the challenge for the cousins. Other moms have a schedule of family game time, family walking time, free time, chores time and so on. The moms are gearing up! It is still okay to go outside in the fresh air. We just need to keep our distance from those not in our family.

     Clearly our attitude is up to each of us. I am journaling each day, because when we come out the other side, it will be hard to remember exactly what it felt like to have our freedom of movement taken away from us, our jobs, good hugs, and our human face-to-face interactions. I think we will forget, like we might the pain of childbirth. Anyway, I'm writing it down.
Toilet Paper Poker

     I loved this post. "When this is over: may we never again take for granted a handshake, full shelves at the store, conversations with neighbors, a crowded theater, Friday night out, the taste of communication, coffee with a friend, a boring Tuesday, or life itself! " Or toilet paper! That's my addition. So for now. Our challenge is to take the best care we can of ourselves. To adjust our attitude and soldier on.

These Birds Get It! Friendships and Happiness

This morning after a walk at Dana Point Harbor, I stopped by the local feed store to pick up some grain for our horses just as it
Baby the Cockatoo
was opening. The clerk was busy rolling a white Cockatoo in its huge cage outside to be in the sun. He was squawking. It caught my interest. I followed the clerk. She went back into the dark store and from another area, rolled out a second big cage with an Amazonian Parrot in it. I asked if they were friends as she pushed the heavy cages side by side. Before she could answer, the cockatoo jumped on the side of his cage nearest the parrot, and said, "Hello" as clear as day. The parrot jumped as close as he could get and they began a very loud, animated conversation. I could see that they were thrilled to be in each other's company. Clearly they are friends.
Cody the Amazonian Parrot
     In fact they were so happy that I could not stop myself from pulling out my phone and taking a video clip of their lively and loud exchange. (see video in right side panel) I lingered for a while. The clerk secured the cages. She was not impressed with their zeal, nor with my enchantment over them. She said that they were not hers and they were a lot of work, that they belonged to the store owner. She did share that the parrot is 42 years-old, named Cody, and the cockatoo is 20 years-old, named Baby.

     I concluded my business and stood at the cages a while longer, admiring the birds and talking to them. "Hello" was exchanged many times between us.

     Grinning, I got in the car, and drove home. I began thinking about them in conjunction with a class I took a few weeks ago. It
was a part of USC's "Back to College Day" on the Los Angeles campus. My favorite class taught the newest brain research into human happiness. The professor said that as humans we are "wired" to be socially embedded within a group; that we need relationships to thrive. So here I was, witnessing the two birds reunited after a whole night apart, and they were beyond delighted to see one another. Clearly the importance of social relationships does not only apply to humans.

Back to College Day
     As I was driving, I basked in my own delight reminiscing about the morning's walk with a new friend. We had just enjoyed a vigorous hour-long walk around the harbor. I smiled to myself as I replayed the funny memory she shared during our walk. When we first met, a few months ago, we were strangers, standing next to one another for an all-volunteer photo shoot at Mission San Juan Capistrano. She had looked at my name tag and asked, "Are you Donna Friess?" I recall smiling yes. She jokes about it now because clearly my badge said I was Donna. She had followed up with, "I'm reading your book. We Gardening Angels are passing it around to each other."

     We had introduced ourselves. The photo was taken and we went our separate ways. Later that day, I thought about how nice and friendly she was. I obtained her phone number and called her. "Hi, this is Donna. I think we should be friends!" She agreed and we settled on walking as our get-acquainted activity. This morning as we parted, I grinned saying, "A friend is a gift you give to yourself." She laughed. The fact that we had enjoyed such a fun morning caused me to think more about that happiness class and the professor's research.

     He made the point that we humans are creatures of habit. I thought about the fact that for many people, as they age and their available pool of friends begins to shrink; they can fall into the habit of being relatively isolated. My work with the members of my loss support group reinforced that idea. Part of the goal of support groups is to encourage the participants to move out of their isolating comfort zones, and find new ways to become socially connected.

     Columnist Helen Dennis in a recent article wrote about her own 62 year-old friendships and how rewarding and comforting they are. She explained that friendships contribute not just to happiness and feelings of fulfillment, but also to longevity. Her
Orange County Register article dug into the research of social scientist, Dr. Lydia Densworth, who reported that health and longevity in primates were based primarily upon social bonds, and how well and regularly the animals interacted with other animals. Similarly, she wrote, it is the same with humans; friendships affect our physical and mental health.


Happiness Tank
     During my group work with Women in Transition, "women striving to reinvent themselves," I often bring in a big chart I created. It is a huge graphic of a "Happiness Tank." I use an exercise where the participants assess how "full" their own happiness tanks are. We look at our physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional selves. I have noticed across the classes, that early on the women tend to give themselves low scores. As the weeks progress, they come to rate their happiness tanks as more full. They also connect to one another, making friendships that often continue long after the class. I have thought to myself that it was not so much what I was teaching them, as the fact that they were in a supportive group of like-minded women, and they had a chance to bond with each other.

     We are responsible for our own happiness. We cannot expect others to provide it for us, nor can we put it off waiting until a future date such as retirement. One way to keep our own Happiness Tanks full is to find new ways to connect with others, and to treasure the friendships we do have. If the parrot and cockatoo can get such a great kick out of being in the other's company, it seems like we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves the gift of a few good friends, and to see them often. Perhaps it is a matter of importance to our own health and longevity. It is worth the risk to ask: "Could we be friends?"

Learn Like You Are Going to Live Forever

 The other day at Mission San Juan Capistrano I strode across the courtyard in my docent attire, eager to meet the tour group waiting for me. There were about thirty fourth graders and ten adults. I greeted them with a big smile and introduced myself. Then I asked where they lived.

     "We are from Brea, in North Orange County."

     "That's great! You've come a long way," I responded, "and we are so happy to have you here. Does anyone know what "brea" means?
Oil Wells and Homes Coexist in Brea, California Today

      My question was met with silence. I looked at the group. They looked at me. I grinned into their expectant faces. After a moment, I announced that it means "tar." Their astonished expressions grabbed at my heartstrings. Without losing a beat, I went on to explain how the Native Americans, who had built the Mission, used tar to line their canoes and baskets to keep them water tight, that they could even boil water in their sturdy containers. The hills and canyons of Brea have been rich sources of tar and petroleum for centuries. I knew that the early ranchers avoided buying up the tar-filled acres because the gooey substance clung to the sheep's feet and soiled the wool. The settling farmers of Orange County were oblivious to the value of the "liquid gold" beneath the ground.
Native Americans Built Sturdy Canoes

     That did it! I could feel their eagerness to learn more. I bundled them into their imaginary time machines and off we went. The rest of the hour-long tour zoomed by, fueled by their interest. When it came time to part ways, I asked each student to share what aspect of their visit had meant the most to them. In sweet whispers so many replied, "Everything!"

     Needless to say, witnessing their excitement of discovery filled me with awe. It also humbled me to think that as a career educator I had found a rewarding niche for myself in retirement.

     That encounter prompted me to focus on the idea of life-long learning, and what it can mean. The day before, I had attended an art history class at the Mission. We learned in some detail about the Mission's extensive art collection. We were taught about the paint mixing techniques used by the medieval master's in liturgical art. The ancient works tend to be dark as the minerals they had to work with were from finely ground rocks and minerals mixed with linseed oil. I listened to the lecture and took notes. It was not until many hours later, when I was watching a YouTube video on those long ago practices, that an epiphany flashed through my brain!
Liturgical Art Was Dark Due to Pigments Available
     Connections flooded my mind. As a porcelain artist, I realized I have been utilizing the same techniques as the old masters for over four decades. We carefully mix the powdery minerals with a binder, like linseed oil, we call it "mixing medium," to create our paints. We then fire our painted pieces in a kiln to adhere the paint to the porcelain.

Porcelain Art Today - Mixing Paint
     What fascinated me is that I sat through the entire lecture about 18th century painters and did not connect their techniques to my own. When I did, I was exuberant! My discovery nearly bowled me over!! I continued to ponder my ideas: about the excitement of discovery, and its connection to human happiness,
     Today, I was in the produce aisle at Trader Joe's with my ten-year old granddaughter, Caroline. I reached for a container of banana nut squash zig-zags. That action caught the attention of the woman standing next to me. "How do you eat those?" She inquired.
     "Well, I cook them in the microwave."
     "In their plastic container?"
     "No, I place them in a covered glass dish."
     "Do you add butter?
     "No, just a few tablespoons of water."
     "For how long?
     "Maybe three minutes."

     I turned, Caroline smiled, and I began to push our cart away. The delighted lady exclaimed out loud (clearly talking to herself), "Oh I just love learning new things!"

     Caroline and I exchanged a knowing look. The lady was pretty funny, certainly she was persistent, but her remark speaks to the fact that learning new things, discovery, is a huge turn-on and probably an element in maintaining one's happiness.
     Anyway, this is something I'm going to continue to ponder. I particularly appreciate Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts about life-long learning. He said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow, Learn as if you were to live forever."

My Evening With Mrs. Claus

     Sometimes I can hardly believe the crazy places I find myself inhabiting! It stems from my philosophy of "saying yes" and "putting oneself in the path of opportunity." That personal mantra has taken me, among other things, to the heights of the Himalayan Mountains where no inhabitants have ever seen a car, and to being forced to leap off the back of a big female elephant who felt like rolling over in the river in India! There's an element of surprise humming quietly in the background of my life. You may not be that shocked then to discover that last Saturday night my job was to be Mrs. Claus' helper. We weren't at the North Pole, but it was an extraordinary experience which I will hold close to my heart.

     It was Mission San Juan Capistrano's second year for our big opening night of the holiday spectacular "Capistrano Lights." I was the docent assigned to "Mrs. Claus." The stage was set. The staff and the volunteers were ready. The musicians had warmed up, our 35 foot tall musical tree was in perfect working order, Monsignor McKiernan was standing by to share his poem, the tamales were heating, and the lights were twinkling, as we anticipated the arrival of 2300 guests. I had a little knot of excitement in my stomach as I was not sure what being there to help Mrs. Claus actually meant. I supposed it was about crowd control. I was wrong.

     Our own Acajaman tribal member, Jaque Nunez, was volunteering her energy as Mrs. Claus. She was all made up in a white wig, night cap, Mrs. Santa red dress with a strand of lights blinking around her neck, granny glasses, and a big warm smile. As the little children began to come around, we could see that they were shy of meeting Mrs. Claus. Jaque would gently call to them, "I have been waiting just for you." Slowly they would approach and she would bring them in closer, all the while whispering encouragements. The shy little ones would soon warm up to her, while their eager parents stood back beaming their joy. I quickly understood that my role could be to record the magic that was taking place in front of us.

     "Would you like for me to take a photo of all of you with Mrs. Claus?" The cell phone cameras would immediately appear as the family members posed with their children. More smiles. Sometimes the parents would hang back, a shyness of their own resisting the moment. I would grin one more invitation, and be rewarded by their excitement to be a part this special time with their children and Mrs. Claus.

The Musical 35 Foot Christmas Tree
     As the evening moved forward Mrs. Claus' joy for each child continued, and I got a better handle on my job of recording memories. Mrs. Claus greeted and chatted with literally hundreds of children, while I snapped their photos. Even though photos with Mrs. Claus might seem insignificant in the broader scheme of life, it was a night I will remember, for the fact that it was an example of people adding value to their lives and creating happiness.

     In retrospect, I realize that it takes effort to create our own happiness, to put ourselves in the path of opportunity, and to take the risk of saying yes in life. I see that we must be actors in our own lives. We cannot wait for opportunity to find us. Last weekend was a very stormy time. It was raining on Saturday night when those families bundled their children into the car, drove to the Mission, found a parking place, and made their way into the historic landmark. They took a risk to make memories and to create cherished holiday traditions. Those hundreds of smiles told me it was worth the effort. I also think about Jaque and about myself. We could have been at home in front of our fireplaces, but we, too, were adding value to our lives by being a part something bigger, something for the community.

The Courtyard Aglow with Holiday Joy

     I think happiness does not come to us serendipitously, but is created through our actions. The holidays are a time of the year in which we can get caught up in unnecessary details, when we might succumb to feelings of being overwhelmed. Perhaps mindfulness can be applied to the season. We can ask ourselves, "does this effort add to my happiness or detract from it? With a small effort we can create our own value and only take part in activities which add joy.

     For me, spending five hours with "Mrs. Claus" and greeting hundreds of guests, personally added to my happiness. Enjoying Jaque Nunez in action fills me with admiration and wonder.

     I feel grateful to be alive. I feel grateful that both my husband and my mother have come through scary health issues this year. I think the more we can live in gratitude and mindfulness, the happier we will be.

     Capistrano Lights is open through January 6th. I invite you to bring your family and friends to enjoy our historic landmark, the beautiful ruins of the Great Stone Church, the lovely Serra Chapel, the most historically significant building in all of California and the beautiful lights.

What Matters Most?

 Last year my favorite county beach was destroyed by high surf. The result was that it was closed for over a year. The damaged public restrooms and parking meters were removed, and a wall of massive boulders was installed to push back the surf.

     Of course, that just meant that I had to drive further away for my frequent dog walks. A week ago, I finally returned to discover free parking and that dogs are now allowed in the surf during the winter months. I have been ecstatic about this after a lifetime of NO DOGS ALLOWED.


Dogs Enjoying the Surf

     Today, having a free morning, I packed my pups into the Jeep and we were soon frolicking in the enticing but cold waves. After a while, we continued on our walk, where I encountered my friend Randy. I regaled him with my excitement about going in the ocean with the dogs. Randy smiled as he listened and then explained, "You know Donna as we get older, it's the little things that matter the most."

     We said our goodbyes, and as the dogs and I walked along, I pondered what Randy had said. Mulling over his remark, I looked up as a gang of Stroller Warriors, maybe 20 mothers and fathers pushing strollers, rolled past me. I grinned at one of the mothers. She had a small child perched on her left hip and was pushing another in a stroller. I wondered if she, caught up in the noise of raising two very small children, could in any way fathom how precious her act of exercising with her family and friends was? I thought maybe, maybe not. I felt a lump in my throat for those long ago days when my stroller was full of two children with a third tagging behind me, which for me today, is remembered as beautiful music. Surely, these small, everyday, acts must not only be appreciated in retrospect?


Stroller Warriors

     I continued on, grateful for the two golden retrievers at my side, thinking about Randy's words. It is our ability to assign value to the commonplace that can make a difference: from ordinary to extraordinary...Certainly, dogs in the surf is a small thing, but I am over the moon about it!

     I thought about the ordinary. A few hours earlier, for the first time in the two months that my mother's cats have resided in the cattery in our backyard, I was able to hold both of them. Not a very big deal, except that these two old scaredy cats would not even let me see them during the first five weeks of their residency at our home. After awhile they would be out where I could see them and not run away, and now they actually let me hold them! I see value in that ordinary act of petting two cats.



     If you have been following my posts, you know that I have been struggling with the big changes in my mother's life. Moving her into assisted living, her unhappiness with it, clearing out her big home, preparing it for sale, and then selling it, all have played havoc with my peace of mind. I have been practicing mindfulness and learning more techniques in the area of creating a sacred, still inner space. I am having some success, minimizing the anxiety which has seized me during all this tumult.


      Wellness guru Deepak Chopra has a new book out, Meta Human: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential. In the book, Chopra encourages us to discover our inner stillness so that we can heal ourselves. I haven't read his book yet, but I have been looking into the notion of inner quiet. Chopra's "stillness" is the journey into ourselves for the purpose of achieving an inner silence. If you recall from my previous mentions of the brain studies, our brain often jumps from thought to thought like a crazed monkey, or as David Rock says in Your Mind at Work, like a "sniffing puppy." The trick is to focus with enough concentration to stop that kind of random mental skipping. For me, the problem has been my old pattern of trying to "fix" whatever is not okay with my mother. Of course I cannot fix ill health, old age, blindness and immobility. My challenge is to find a way to still the problem-solving part of my brain that keeps working on the issues.

      I am learning to follow guided meditation through an app on my phone. I have been making "dates" with myself to sit quietly with the intention of calming myself. I am working on being present in the moment, giving my full awareness to what is occurring in my head and then steering my thoughts back to the "now" and striving to create stillness. When I am able to do this, I feel a warm flush of peace entering my system.

     I know that being able to ease my anxiety allows me to be more resilient and more prepared for what comes in the future. For now I am going to continue to revel in taking Lacey and Dixie into the surf, in holding my mother's fluffy cats, and in admiring the young moms rolling past me at the beach. I am celebrating the ordinary, for the fact that oftentimes I find these things to be extraordinary.

     I wish you a peaceful Thanksgiving and as always, I love to know what you are thinking about. My best, donna

Puppet On A String

     It is easy to fall into living on auto pilot. One never knows when a life changing event will occur and old, worn-out, ways of living life might resurface. It has been interesting for me to realize that even with all the studying and therapy I have enjoyed across these many years, that my old dysfunctional behaviors want to leech into the present. About a month ago I made my usual morning wellness call to my nearly 96 year-old mother, who is legally blind, lacks much mobility in her walker, but still lived on her own. I discovered that she was too ill to call for help or even to shift the pillow under her head. She lives less than a mile away. I immediately went to her bedside and got help. There was a five day hospital stay, a surgical procedure, and according to the doctor, a very close brush with death. He thought she had only hours before succumbing had there not been medical intervention.

     My sister and I dug in fast, and visited assisted living establishments. We found a roomy one bedroom apartment with a terrace in a nice facility. Over the course of several days my granddaughter, Kate, and I physically moved our mother's personal items into her new place. One of the biggest stressors, upsetting her the most, was what to do with her fourteen year-old cats, one of which is diabetic. After some sleepless nights, I realized that I could have a cattery built on my property. I would take over the cats' care. My husband, Ken, agreed to build the cattery. We soon transferred her cats to our home. I took a deep breath. I thought we had gotten her and her cats to a safe place and settled.

Cattery Built by Ken

     Immediately, however, the calls started coming in on my cell phone. I seemed to get at least one call a day where she urgently needed something. One day she called complaining about the establishment's weak coffee. I dropped everything and jumped into my car and brought her stronger coffee. I reacted like that for over a week, jump jump jumping. On another day when I thought she had finally adjusted to her new life, I went to take her to lunch only to be sat down in a chair and lectured on why she should be allowed to live independently elsewhere. It was not a very pleasant lunch.

     So after weeks of sketchy sleep and an anxious stomach, I have had to almost slap myself on the side of my head to stop my "auto pilot" puppet behavior. Across the years, even with her limitations, I have supported her insistence on living independently in her two story house full of stairs. Her recent scrape with death proved that she could no longer live alone.

     On a recent Sunday morning, after another comprised night's sleep, I was sipping my coffee and staring at the fire, my stomach still in knots, when I realized that I had fallen into my old survivor behavior left over from my childhood which had been less than ideal. I was trying to "fix" everything, trying to make everyone happy, so I would be safe. I had an intervention with myself. I explained to that little girl who lives inside of me that she is NOT in charge of everyone's happiness. I gave her permission to stop reacting like a puppet on a string. It is not easy to quiet her down as our mother is very unhappy and is insisting on living elsewhere independently. There is a lot of "noise" and it's hard not to react.

     I have been blessed with empathy, I feel what my mother is going through, giving up her home, her beloved pets, her vision, her mobility. I feel all of that, but I must understand that I cannot fix it. We must not allow ourselves to be made to be responsible for someone else's happiness. It is hard enough to accept responsibility for our own. Of course this will all be resolved somehow. I must remember to set personal boundaries and keep my eyes open so that I do not slip into old patterns. I must not allow Donna to be a puppet on a string!

Puppet On a String
     I have come to see that I have been guilty of failing to place proper boundaries around myself. I see that I have allowed another's unhappiness to affect my own, and that I have permitted the little girl inside of me to run roughshod over the adult. I am forcing myself to examine my own behavior. I must remind myself of the negative impact of allowing rigid roles from the past to dictate one's behavior. Those old roles can strangle us. I am doing better. I am setting limits even though the stress continues.

I hope that by revealing my struggle that you might heighten your awareness to some of the emotional traps that are out there, and understand that navigating the sometimes tumultuous waters of life is not always easy sailing.

I love hearing from you. My best, donna

Burning Man 2019 - A Social Phenomenon

My fascination with culture building has kept me a devoted fan of the popular reality TV show, Survivor. When I learned that my wonderful 24 year-old grandson, Jake, had managed to purchase a ticket to the famous Burning Man event this year I was enthralled. I could hardly wait to hear all about it. Three days after his return, we met for lunch. Seated comfortably in a corner booth at The Sun Dried Tomato, I plied him with questions about his recent nine-day-long sojourn into that world held at "Black Rock City, Nevada."

Jake Enjoying the Desert

As a social scientist and world traveler, I have been blessed to have visited and studied the Wonders of the World as well as many of humanities' great works of art. I have been fortunate to create a life where this is possible, however my travels have shown me little comparable to Jake's adventure.
I can barely visualize a "city" of 70,000 inhabitants which rises up from nothing in the bleakest of deserts only to be burned down or physically removed nine days later. Truly, I can't imagine. In my world we would preserve the art and turn it into a World Heritage Site.

Folly - Wooden City

I had done my homework before I met with Jake. I understood that Larry Harvey had founded this phenomenon thirty years ago when he gathered his friends for a bonfire at the beach near San Francisco, burned an effigy, and celebrated the Summer Solstice while trying to get over a bad break-up. As the event grew and was moved from the beach to the desert, Harvey had a vision. He saw the event as a "shared intention to restore community and creative expression." 
I knew that Burning Man had grown to become a world-wide social phenomenon attracting "Burners" to play and create in the arid, dust blown Playa and Black Rock Desert, one hundred miles north of Reno each year. As Jake opened the photos on his phone and began to describe the many roving "art cars" and the "light art," and the massive temporary art exhibits, I felt lightheaded from the thrill of it all. Even the "Burners" themselves are part of the scene with their costumes and makeup. His photos showed me lots of fur, jewelry, tutus, masks, and goggles. I knew there was nudity. (My grandson did not have such photos in his collection, however he knew that I had come to my majority during the turbulent 60's, The Age of Aquarius, and was pretty immune to certain aspects of communal living). He described a party he attended on a big 747 airplane which was rolled onto the sandy desert and gutted. It became a dance hall with portions of the top of the plane removed so participants could enjoy the view of the "city" which follows an organized grid pattern with the camps erected along designated blocks.
Airplane Converted to Dance Hall
A favorite photo was of an art car which was a lit-up sailing ship with three masts, mounted upon a truck chassis. I could image how majestic it must have appeared "sailing" across the dark desert at night. I loved the photos of the "Folly" which is a life-sized multi story "town" made of wood. An important piece was a giant wooden birthday cake upon which stood the 40 foot tall Burning Man effigy. Further reading taught me that the "soul of Black Rock City has always resided within the structures, the artists and the builders." Fifty years ago, Woodstock was built on its music. Twenty years later, Burning Man, which has persevered for thirty years, is built on its art. The burning of the "man" marks the culmination of the celebration.

The Art Car Ship "Sailing" Past

The communication teacher in me is interested in the development of cultures. I got a kick out of the event's tribal greeting. Instead of a handshake, there is a hug; instead of hello, during the first days of the gathering, it was "Welcome Home." As Jake recited the tenets of the gathering I could not help but flash back on recent television accounts of the 1969 crowd of a half million at Woodstock. Woodstock was a cultural flashpoint. I thought of its ethos of peace, and love against the protests of the Viet Nam War; I also recalled the massive mounds of debris left in its wake.

This is the Burning Man Code:
Radical Inclusion - anyone may be a part of Burning Man
Gifting - Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving
Decommodification - (Immunity from market dependency)
Radical Self Reliance
Radical Self-expression
Communal Effort
Civic Responsibility
Leaving No Trace

The "city" is guided by its own laws and mores. Jake explained that safety and consent are of key importance and there was a visible police presence. Money is not allowed, only gift giving. (Cash is only allowed for the purchase of ice and coffee). Brand names are taped over or marked out. One of Jake's favorite activities was riding his bike on the open desert and stumbling upon pieces of art. Another interesting moment was walking into a boutique and finding a piece of clothing he liked, and being invited to take it. No charge, gift giving being the cultural norm.

Giant Birthday Cake with Burning Man - Later Burned Down.
Jake smiled as he explained the feeling of strolling into the playa (the sandy dry lake bed a bit away from the city) in the middle of the night to think; to appreciate the beauty and darkness of the desert, and the enormity of living in a social experiment where one is free from ordinary social constraints. Always careful, he assured me that he was safe in the dark. He wore lights on his clothing as mobile art pieces were often moving past as well as bicycles.

My guess is that Burning Man will continue to grow, but as the rich and famous want in on the action, hiring folk to set up and tear down their camps, rolling-in expensive RV's and personal chefs, it will change. For now, much of the community building, art installations, and personal expressions remain somewhat true to Larry Harvey's vision.

Dust Storm

A quick Instagram review showed video snippets of the scenes. I encourage you to explore the event online. I know from studying world history that in ancient times there were similar communal rituals such as those centered at the Winter Solstice. Events, like Stonehenge, where humans gathered eons ago to celebrate life are not new, but we know so little about them, while this event is alive and growing during our time. I find it magical and exciting!

As we finished up our lunch and Jake prepared to go back to the "real" world of work, I knew that I would not be attending Burning Man for many reasons including the heat and sand, however, through the luxury of narrative and photos, I am able to glean a sense of the adventure without the dust storms or high temperatures. I've had a vicarious thrill through my grandson's special experience. Surely this wild city is in a class of its own, far different from my adventures around the world, but most importantly, this has given me something precious which my young man can eagerly share with his very fascinated grandmother. I feel lucky.

I love hearing what you think. My best, donna

Gateway to the Past

Happy Labor Day! This holiday signals the end of summer for many of us; time to put our boogey boards and sun hats away and begin the routines of Fall. As Fall is a time of change, I had decided to move some of the wall art in my home, and had begun thinking about what to do. I considered taking some pieces to our home in the mountains. Last night, however, I awoke in the middle of the night out of sorts. The mere thought of moving a certain piece distressed me. It is an oversized canvas, painted by my son, Rick, when he was five years. I realized in the dark of night, that the painting has comforted me since 1970! It has captured a moment in time for me. It reminds me of a long ago past when my little kindergartner son, Rick, passed his time flying his kite while his two and a-half year old sister rode her plastic Big Wheel nearby, a time before my last child was born. I realized that I cannot bear to move it.

"Flying Kites" by Ricky, age 5

     That got me thinking about art and its ability to freeze time. Perhaps that is the most heady aspect of art, including film and photography; its ability to stop time. My thoughts raced ahead of me to my docent training at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. That, too, has been an adventure in stopping time; in sifting through history, as we tell the mission's 250 year story.

     A while back, I was in a training session where the Mission's plein air exhibit was being curated for us docents. During the lecture, my eyes wandered to the eastern wall of the adobe room. I gasped as my eyes landed on the lovely oil painting of silent film star Mary Pickford's wedding done by renowned impressionist Charles Percy Austin over a 

Mary's Wedding Vowel Renewal

hundred years ago. As I gazed at the charming work, my brain took me back to a sleepy San Juan of a century past. I knew about silent film star Mary Pickford. I could not help but smile at the temerity it must have taken for her to ask the resident priest, Father O'Sullivan, to perform the renewal of her wedding vows!! 

     The setting for the painting is at the Mission between the colonnades. The portrait captures the couple as they emerge from the Sala after the ceremony. Flowers and musicians embellish the scene. It is a lovely piece gifted to Father O'Sullivan by the artist.

     This painting, too, offers a gateway to the past. It reminds me of when tempers were running hot in the tiny village of San Juan. Mary Pickford, a darling of the silent movie era, arrived in San Juan in 1910 as a part of the entourage of pioneer filmmaker G. W. Griffith's big movie making crew. I could imagine the scene in town when Griffith pulled up to the depot with three rail cars full of actors and equipment prepared to film the first every movie made in Orange County. The film, Two 

Mary Pickford

 Brothers, was a period piece where the outlaw scenes were to be filmed in the local foothills. That portion of the filming came off without any problems, but trouble started when the locals observed the filming on the downtown streets. As the actors moved in a mock processional toward the Mission a crowd gathered to watch. Before very long, however, some of the townsfolk got the idea that Griffith was belittling a funeral procession that had taken place the day before. The observers became hostile to the point of throwing rocks at the actors!

     The situation was growing uglier by the minute. It was only after some cajoling and quick negotiations by the town's hotel proprietor that the angry crowd settled down. Griffith suggested a peace offering of holding a rodeo and roping show to be performed by the cowboys in his troupe. That did the trick and the filming was allowed to continue. Whew!

     Across her life, the Canadian born actress made 40 movies for Griffith's company, plus some 160 films for others. Her contribution to the art of film is undisputed. She co-founded United Artists Studio with Charlie Chaplin and her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks. She was also a founder of the famous Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, known today as The Academy. She was known as "America's Sweetheart" decades before Shirley Temple usurped the title.

Young Artist: Ricky, age 5

     To think that something as simple as a painting or photograph has the power to transport a person backward in time is awe inspiring. Recalling Rick (who was Ricky back in 1970) as he flies his kite and his baby sister wheels by on her plastic trike, somehow takes me to a different world. Thinking of Miss Pickford and her love for the mission allows me to appreciate history in a different way. What power these items can have! Clearly, I have learned a lesson. I will not be moving my son's painting!

Bathed in Love

     Last week I had the honor of being asked to eulogize our fallen friend Jean. As I listened to the nine or so other speakers my heart filled with pride for learning of Jean's legacy. Many of her friends from across the span of her seventy some years stood to share their most precious thoughts about her. We heard about her independence, her feisty spirit, and her commitment to raising the children in her life; her kids, niece, and grandchildren. What resonated with me the most were all the stories of Jean's unconditional love for people.
     I often write of the importance of celebrating each day as if it were our last. The truth is we just do not know. I believe that it is important to not take even a single breath for granted. Jean and her husband, Jerry, spent the night with us last March, and her health seemed fine. Then a month later, it turned and she was unexpectedly gone by the end of April. Her legacy, however, lives on. Her 19 year old grandson Liam, in particular, talked about how lucky he was to have had such an involved and affectionate grandma; that she was foundational in his growing up years, and that she will always live on in his heart.
Jean and Jerry visit in March
     Once again I am reminded of the quote: People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Jean had the talent of ensuring that her family and friends felt like they were the most important people in her life, and I think they were. She bathed them in love as she listened and cared.

     Jerry shared with us that toward the end Jean said that she would make herself known through a white feather. He reports now discovering a rather constant sighting of white feathers tucked in interesting spots along his path. After the memorial, he took his grandchildren to the beach. Not surprisingly, there was a white feather on the sand. Standing on the warm sand at Seal Beach, as Jerry lifted the feather, Liam, exclaimed, "I'm worried about the bird from which grandma is getting all these feathers!"

     Jean was one of those rare people who made you feel good just by being in the room with her. She may be gone from this earth but not from our hearts. Her passing reinforces for me once again the importance of celebrating each day we have in this life.

     I am home from a vigorous trip to Japan with my son and his wife and their number four daughter, and I am resting up boogie boarding at San Clemente Pier. 
June Visit to Japan
Boogie Boarding at the Pier

You are old, but you are fast!

     I am still cracking up laughing at the hilarious 4th graders who were in my mission tour this week. It has been my pleasure the past few years to be a Mission San Juan Capistrano docent, leading tours for both adults and fourth graders through the grounds and buildings which tell the story of the Mission Era and Native Americans. Sometimes a certain group of students becomes unforgettable like this one. This class consisted of about 20 boys, three or four girls, and six parents. When I met them I could tell that they were excitable. I knew they had just endured a two-hour long bus ride from the inner city of Los Angeles to get to the mission. They were wiggly, pushing, talking, and jumping around. I started with my usual welcome spiel about this being a mobile classroom and being respectful etc. I sensed this group was particularly boisterous which is not unusual, this time of year with summer coming, and with a predominance of ten year old boys. I took a deep breath and got them into their imaginary "Time Machines" and we set off going backwards in time.

     We began the tour at the cow hide. I fought to keep their attention as they touched the fur and wondered if it were a bear? With so many stimulating artifacts about; a stack of dirt at the adobe brick station, the wine vat, an old cart; the boys' attention was all over the place! I thought to myself, "herding cats?"
Learning About California's History
     At the wine fermentation vat I managed to grab their awareness, and got them all stomping on imaginary grapes to make the "wine." Still boisterous; excitement was flowing out of them. As our tour continued, I noticed a shift. Their hands started popping up. They wanted to share. "I read about that in my social studies book!" "I know about the acorns..."

     So many hands in the air, so many wanting to tell me what they knew! I watched as their excitement morphed from being in a new place, to the thrill they were experiencing in making connections to their classroom lessons. It was exciting for me as I was witnessing education in real time, before my eyes. They were engaged in learning. The process was rowdy and boisterous and beautiful and inspiring. It was magic....they were applying what they already knew and they were bursting at the seams doing it. I was in every teacher's dream.
Donna Enjoys Being at Docent

     You can imagine how captivated they were by the 240 year old soot on the ceiling of the padre's kitchen, and how breathless they became staring at the golden alter in the Serra Chapel, bathed in the sounds of the Gregorian chant. As the tour progressed I could see more connections unfolding for them. By the time we got to the bells in the sacred garden they could barely contain themselves because they understood what they were seeing.

     As the tour wound down, I was on a tight time schedule needing to get them to lunch before their next activity of making adobe bricks. They knew I was rushing to pack it all in and they began saying, "We don't care about lunch. We want to stay with you Miss Donna and learn more about the mission." "We are taking you back with us!"

     As I power walked them to the lunch tables, I was laughing at their suggestions. One young man skipped up ahead to walk with me and exclaimed, "You are old, but you are fast!" That really made me smile!
The Mission Inspires Donna to Paint
     I delivered them to lunch on time and congratulated the teacher and parents on their wonderful kids. As I left the mission, I could feel a giant grin on my face. I told the front gate staff that I had just become ten years younger! The students' energy had been contagious.

     As the seasons of our lives change, I think it is important that we put ourselves in the path of new opportunities and experiences. Perhaps now is the time for us to live life a bit differently than we did during some of the earlier seasons?

     My husband is coming along well in his recovery and has gone back to coaching high school girls' wrestling. We are looking forward, laughing as we think about being old while walking fast!

Life Itself

    This morning, the dogs and I hiked down the steep hill at Salt Creek. As the ocean came into view, I was pleased to see crowds of surfers and on-lookers lining the shore, scrutinizing the dozen surfers paddling frantically into the next breaker. Trucks with WSA logos were parked all along the beach road. As we continued, a woman stopped me to meet my dogs. I asked about the event. "It is a Western Surfing Association competition. I'm taking a break."
     "What's your role?" I asked.

     "I'm a judge." 

     "Oh how nice." Offering a connection, I replied, "I only know Kevin Skavarna in the surfing world." 

     "Oh I know Kevin. He's wonderful." 

    We smiled at each other enjoying the common ground of world surfing champion Kevin. I felt proud to have known him since he was a little boy, and to be able to share about him. We exchanged our names and smiled our goodbyes.

    As I walked away I passed a trio of wet- suited adolescent boys deeply engaged in an animated discussion. They were wet and shimmering. I admired their slim forms and how heavily engrossed they seemed in what they were doing. They were so in the moment. I thought they personified life itself. 

     Life itself. I thought about that for a moment as I continued on. A beautifully perceptive participant in my loss support group two days earlier had described her recently deceased husband as being "life itself." That description resonated with me. What a powerful testament to the man he had been; what a beautiful compliment.

    After awhile I found a picnic table next to the water's edge and sat down. The dogs settled in the shade under the table, while I gazed at the scenes unfolding around me. A couple walked by arm in arm. The young man tickled the girl. She giggled, leaning into him and smiling. I thought how sweet that simple gesture was. A teen came by with his dog and caught my eye. He was sporting the tallest Mohawk hair-do I had seen in some time! The surfers continued to master the waves as the photographers snapped photos. Life was all around me.

    Somehow it provided a fresh counterpoint to my last two weeks. I had just completed long nine days supporting my husband at Mission Hospital. Ken had undergone a very serious, life threatening heart surgery. Those days were new proof to me of the preciousness of human life and the extent we go to protect it. During the eight days he was in the ICU, I witnessed a number of "Code Trauma" emergencies. I watched as the medical staff rushed to the rescue. One night after there had just been another "Code Trauma," it was time for me to leave Ken's room. As I walked down the hall, I passed by the patient who was the subject of the emergency. I was awed to witness an entire room full of professionals tending to her. The next day I was relieved to see that she was still in her room.

    During those difficult days, I grew used to the wailing of ambulances and fire engines as they rushed to the ER department; first responders fighting to keep people alive. I had the opportunity to witness our modern medicine in action, to see up close the dedication the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and hospital staff have as they do everything within their power to support life. It was a lesson in living.

    I understand that it is easy to be affected by the negativity around us. I was recently in New Zealand, only missing the massacre in Christchurch by 15 hours. Bad things happen. The news is full of emphatic stories detailing the worst in humanity.

    My time at Salt Creek today, and my nine days at Mission Hospital, have provided me with a renewed commitment to the importance of celebrating the beauty of life, in cherishing our loved ones, in reveling the fact of our breathing and beating hearts, the magnificence of the Super Bloom adorning our hillsides, and the idea that we, right now, have the luxury of being alive in the world. So that is my renewed perspective. I am grateful that Ken is now home and recovering.


Good Luck Charm

     I ventured into the unknown on Wednesday February 6, unsure of exactly what was going on, but determined to honor my commitment.It started two weeks ago while I was having my regular nail appointment at the Vietnamese salon where I go. As the ladies were putting the finishing touches on my fingers and toes, they commanded, "You come back for Vietnamese New year. You come back. Come at 10 am. The shop will be closed. It is the first day of the New Year. You come back. The owner will be here. You come back."
     Not certain what I had to do with the Vietnamese New Year, nor with the shop being closed, I negotiated that I could come at 11:00, allowing time for my morning activities. I put it in my phone calendar.

     I protected the time slot for them, still unsure of what this was about. Across the decades, teaching at Cypress College, my Vietnamese speech students would regal my classes with colorful 
Celebrating Tet in Vietnamese Culture
stories of Tet, the Lunar New Year on the Chinese calendar. They told about the exchanging of tiny red envelopes filled with money for the children, to bring luck. They shared about boisterous parades and family feasts. They had taught me that the Vietnamese New Year is a very big deal.
On the day in question, I called the shop at 10 am. to confirm my appointment. No answer. I called at 10:30. No answer. Not one to fail to honor an obligation, I dragged myself away from the research project I was doing and drove to the shop. It was dark. I walked up to the door and tried it. It was open. I walked in and all three technicians were waiting for me. 

     Excitedly, they greeted me with big smiles as they directed me to sit down. I sat. Instantly, all three began to work on me.
The Ladies of Club Nails.
     As my treatments began, they shared that in their culture it is important to bring good luck for the coming year. They needed me in the shop because, as they explained, "You are the happiest client we have. You will bring us happiness and luck across the year."

     What? I thought to myself. I asked, "You mean to tell me that of your hundreds of clients I am the happiest?"

     "You are. There is one other lady who also laughs but she is traveling in Israel. You are our good luck charm. You are good omen."

     I wasn't too sure what to make of this so I relaxed back in the leather spa chair as they continued working on me.
     That evening my daughter, Julina, called and I described the odd experience I had at the nail salon. She jumped on it. "Mom, that wasn't odd. Those ladies chose you across their entire business because you live what you say. Mom, your mantra is Happiness is a Choice. You are living proof of that."

     Feeling the need to say something, I responded, "Oh, well okay."

     She continued. "Had you grown up in a Leave it to Beaver childhood their choice of you might not have meant anything too much, but your growing up was horrendous, and yet you have chosen happiness. It proves that it is possible to be mindful and choose one's way of being. Mom that was really cool what they did. Mom, you have to write about that. It is possible to choose one's attitude."

     A bit stunned, I thanked her and we went on to other topics. Later on as I prepared dinner, I was thinking about what she said. I thought about my Loss of a Loved One support group participants. They are working on their mission statements, their guiding purpose for the next chapters of their lives as they struggle to move forward through grief. My mind fast forwarded to the years of coaching women in transition, how miserable they seemed in the beginning of our classes and how joyful they became as they learned that they could choose their responses to life events. I thought about my response to my own devastation. One of my guiding goals as a young teen was that I was not going to let my father destroy my happiness. It was important to me. I was determined. 

     I succeeded.

     I have invested a considerable amount of energy studying humanhappiness. My hero, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, in his famous best seller, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, teaches that joy comes in the midst of the flow experience, that is while we are engaged in doing something we find meaningful. We can find happiness in doing! I know that sometimes good feelings simply come from having something to look forward to; that is important to take regular daily exercise, to eat properly, to be around uplifting people, and to celebrate one's blessings. It is up to us to take care of ourselves.
     Time is short. If we are not careful it can simply slip through our fingers like grains of sand. Right now, this moment, is our time and I think we need to make the most of it. While I am not so convinced that I am a good luck charm, I do know that I respect the traditions and beliefs of those around me and feel honored to think that the ladies at the salon feel that I will bring them luck and happiness in this New Year.

Ah Sweet Serendipity!

Donna's Favorite Beach Closed
The recent storms have wrecked havoc on my favorite dog walking spot just south of Doheny Beach. Waves hitting the parking lot have been devastating; as a result that area has been shut down. This has forced me out of my comfort zone. I have been hunting for new walking spots near the edge of the water (within the confines of the dog law) for a few weeks now. The other day I hit the jackpot! My new adventure spot confirms that: "LIFE STARTS OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE"

Recently the dogs and I visited Salt Creek County Beach situated next to the Ritz Carlton Hotel. We walked down the steep hill and headed north on the trail. After a few miles we turned back south. Hugging the cliffs and walking near the waterline, we encountered a serendipitous spectacle I had not seen for nearly 60 years from back when my husband and I used to pay a dollar to drive on this very beach. The waves were humongous!
Giant Surf

A group of elite surfers, clearly having heard that some of the biggest waves of the year would be brewing at Salt Creek came en masse with their boards. Dozens of wet-suit clad surfers were straddling their boards, lined up in the water waiting in the waves for the next 6-8 footer, To my delight, there was an occasional gigantic ten foot wave which climbed up above the smaller ones. The huge surf alone was a show, but that was not all. I was privileged to witness the best of the best surfers traversing the waves, often in the barrel for great distances. I observed them swooping up and completing "air-revs" (360's) on the lip of the waves, and then gracefully returning to ride the face to the shore. I was awestruck! 
Dixie and Lacey chill Watching Surfers
Dixie and Lacey chill Watching Surfers

I took a seat on a nearby bench, securing the dogs in the shade of the picnic table, and sat spellbound for the next two hours. About ten professional photographers with their 18 inch-long lenses began to take spots nearby to film the show! It was high tide. Before long, a wave cracked close enough to us spectators that one photographer yelled as his equipment was sprayed by the salty water. The gaggle of photographers moved back. I stayed fixed on the bench.

As the athletes staged more and bigger tricks, those of us on the sidelines couldn't help but shout out our delight at the spectacle. There was a lot of cheering as the show was so out-of-this world. Also, the water soaked photographer was really complaining loudly about his $5000 lens being wet, and adding to the volume. 
Elite Surfers Consider Waves
It was one of the most incredible days I have enjoyed on my beach dog walks. What is interesting to me is that the surfers were not the only aspect of the adventure that day; the spectators were also noteworthy.

With my fluffy and friendly Golden Retrievers at my feet, I guess I was approachable. Anyway, one man with a giant camera lens to his eye, sat down next to me. Before too long he introduced himself. He taught me something of surfing photography, and I discovered that he is a famous photographer with thousands of followers! A bit later a tattooed young man came up to meet my dogs. We visited comfortably, as he shared more about what I was witnessing in the waves.

I learned that he is Ryan Rustan and he and his dog Sugar are National Big Dog Surfing Champions. He opened the photos on his phone and introduced me to Sugar. He sent me a few still photos of her.
Ryan Rustan with Lacey

Eventually I tore myself away from the surf show and headed up the hill to the car. As I drove home, I could not believe the remarkably good time I had had, and was unable to wipe the grin off my face. It was a golden day that might stand out in any year. It wasn't just the surfers, it was also about the friendliness of those random strangers. I had put myself in the path of opportunity by sitting down on the bench. I had also wandered outside of my usual comfort zone.

When I got home I Googled Sugar the Surfing Champ and was delighted by the many national news videos in which Ryan and Sugar starred. I'm still smiling about that day. Maybe this is something for all of us to think about for this new year of 2019, maybe it's time we wandered outside of our comfort zones, and put ourselves in the path of new opportunities. This is our precious time on the planet and it just seems like we should make the most of it.
Sugar the National Surf Dog Champ

We Have the Power to Bestow a Precious Gift

     I got up in the dark the other morning so that I would be on time for the 7 a.m. meeting of the Monarch Beach Sunrise Rotary. I had been invited to present my talk about Horses and the Settling of California. They were a magnificent and attentive group of about 25. As the meeting adjourned at 8:30 a.m., I found a small crowd around me. Many wanted to share something from their own lives with me. I felt their urgency. One gray haired man said he had been my student in the 1980's. Another, a lady named Anita, excitedly told me that she is the descendant of one of the great ranchero dons. He was Don Antonio Maria Lugo who was born in 1775 at the Mission of San Antonio de Padua of Alta California. She said one of their family adobes is still standing. It is one of a very few two-story structures then built in the pueblo of Los Angeles. It dates to 1840. She told me more; her grandson's first name is Lugo in honor of that early Californio. She lamented that she did not know more history. I invited her to become a certified docent at Mission San Juan Capistrano, thus learning more. She beamed at the possibility of it all. 

     I was familiar with the Lugo name and raced home to Google more details. I exhaled in great satisfaction as I discovered rich stories of her ranchero ancestor. He once owned one of the most magnificent horse and cattle breeding ranchos in all of Southern California. More importantly, I had another, more valuable, take-away from my morning experience. I realized that I would have learned none of this from my listeners, if I had not eagerly listened to what they wanted me to know. To listen is a special gift we can readily give to others.

     It seems to me that we have a precious voice within. This is a voice that does not use words. It is the intuitive inner voice that whispers to us, "step back and just listen." I believe that many whom we encounter have a deep hunger to be heard, to be seen, to feel a human connection. The good news is that we have the power to bestow the gift of our attention. We can listen. <