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Coachella Valley Repertory, the quality theater company currently performing in Rancho Mirage, has a writers’ program, and each year, those writers read or enact their own works during a presentation. Andy Harmon heads the writers’ program, and this year, one of the participants was Anita Harmon—who recited her very personal poetry.

The work, and her presentation of it, was mesmerizing.

Anita, 73, was born and raised in London, and educated at Le Lycée Français.

“I didn’t go on to college because, after all, it was the 60s!” she laughs. “I met Andy when he was on a ‘grand tour’ of Europe on his first summer break while studying at Brandeis University. He was 18, and I was 19. I was waitressing to fund my traveling. I went to France, Italy, Spain, North Africa—all over. Andy and I stayed in touch for four years after that. He came over every summer, and we’d travel together.”

Anita’s mother had an important influence on her daughter, an only child.

“My mom was probably the most unprejudiced woman I’ve ever known,” she says. “She would talk to anybody and everybody. I remember once, in the 1950s, she brought home a very large, black African man. He was studying in London and didn’t really know people, and she just said to him, ‘Come home with me.’ He turned out to be Robert Mugabe.”

Mugabe was a Zimbabwean politician and revolutionary who served as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987, and then as president from 1987 to 2017.

 “I grew up that way, and to this day, as long as somebody will talk to me, I’ll talk back,” Anita says.

Her father instilled in her a love of reading. “He was a bit of a difficult man, but he ran a bookstore for a while, and I could always have any book I wanted to read,” she says. “I was drawn to natural science—insects and animals, things that live under water, and human anatomy. I’d just look at all the pictures. I also read a lot of children’s books. My favorites were Through the Looking-Glass—I liked that one better than Alice in Wonderland, because she met all different kinds of characters—and The Wind in the Willows, because of the friendships. Friendship is the most important thing to me. My best friend, until she died, was someone I met when I was only 7.”

At 23, Anita moved to Boston to be with Andy, and lived there from 1968-1977.

“Andy was majoring in theater arts at Brandeis,” she says, “and I couldn’t work since I didn’t have a green card, so I got swept up in the theater work he was doing. My first job was sewing costumes. Then they asked me to go onstage as an extra. For me, it was like going to the best party ever. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t afraid at all. I felt like the Roadrunner just running straight off the cliff!”

Anita credits her lack of stage fright to the sense of responsibility she felt toward the other actors onstage:. “I never wanted to let anybody down. If you mess up, it’s more complicated for everyone else. That’s why I didn’t really like doing scripted parts.”

Anita and Andy got involved in improvisation, and she considers it her first love onstage: “You go onstage without the faintest idea of what might happen. You just have to take care of each other. It’s like being the catcher in a trapeze act.”

Anita and Andy have two children, one in England and the other in San Diego, and now a granddaughter, Cordelia.

“After 10 years raising my kids, I went back to school and got a degree in psychology,” says Anita. “I practiced for about 10 years. Then Andy and I put together a business doing management training, and brought our improv skills to companies to help with communication.”

Anita has been a resident of Rancho Mirage since 2006. “We lived 35 years in London, and in 2006 decided to come back to California. We’ve basically been retired for 12 years now.”

But retired doesn’t really describe Anita’s life today. While Andy is running the writer’s program for CV Rep, Anita got involved with the poetry workshop sponsored by the Rancho Mirage Library for several years, and has been writing with the hope of publishing her very personal memoir in poetic form.

“When I retired, I finally got serious about writing. I was inconsistent about it until then,” she says. “As much as I’ve wanted to do my memoir, now I’m interested in writing personal essays. I got involved with Andy’s group at CV Rep this past year, because I wanted to be pushed a bit. I’ve also been doing a writing class with friends for the past six years. Every Friday morning, we get together and just write.”

Where does Anita find inspiration? “One thing that always works to inspire me is travel. I went to England for a month last summer and just pulled out my laptop and started writing. A change of scene always stimulates me. And when I’m stuck in one place, I go to a museum or art gallery. Looking at other people’s work gives me a new way of looking at something. When I read other writers, my own voice goes off underneath. I also have a big file where I just keep adding things that I’ve read or overheard that I might want to write about.

“One of my preoccupations is time, not just because time runs out, but because of how ancient the Earth is. … We all tend to forget that.”

Time the soldier toiling up a hill knows his death or life

is all the same to the grass at the summit. Life and Death

The two sides of time, stood still for one moment,

Like the antlers of a deer holding up the moon.

Anita Harmon is a special person who brings the beauty of the world as she sees it to those of us lucky enough to hear her words.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Wayne Sinclair didn’t intend to spend most of his professional life as a medical-malpractice lawyer.

Born and raised in Leechburg, Pa., the Palm Springs resident, now 72, started higher education at West Virginia University.

“I wanted to go to Pitt (the University of Pittsburgh), but the tuition was too high,” he said. “I had originally thought of being a minister, until I was about 21, and explored the seminary twice—once in high school, and once in college. I finally figured out it wouldn’t be a good thing for me. I ended up majoring in political science and minored in history and Russian.

“There were six grad-school slots open when I graduated, so I went into the law school. I was fortunate that a leading national firm, Steptoe and Johnson, had an opening. I started in accident claims, and I remember my first case was a $1,000 accident. I won the thing. We were also required to take court-appointed criminal cases, pro bono. I wasn’t enamored of that type of law. I had about 150 to 200 cases, and almost everyone I represented was guilty.

“I only tried two of those cases in court, one a murder that even made True Detective magazine. Someone once came up to me in a store and said, ‘I was on your first case, and we thought you were so cute that you should win.’

“I moved on to insurance defense and medical malpractice. I represented hospitals and doctors. There’s a need for such a thing as malpractice insurance. Although most doctors are good, there is such a thing as negligence. It becomes a battle of expert witnesses. I learned that when people say, ‘It’s not about the money,’ it is.”

Sinclair’s 42 years of practicing law include being a senior officer and principal with MMI Companies, Inc., an international health-care and professional liability insurance company, which he helped take public. After leaving MMI, Sinclair, along with other principals, formed R2H Herrington, dedicated to medical-malpractice reinsurance audits. He was also general counsel for the Clarity Group, a Chicago-based health-care insurance company, and presently does independent consulting work.

About 26 years ago, while in Chicago, Sinclair met John Di Napoli, 55.

“We met in a bar on a Saturday,” recalls Sinclair. “The next day, I had a Presbyterian lesbian and gay caucus. John came to the picnic with me, and it went from there. When I moved to Washington, D.C., he followed me. He has a degree in community organizing, and once made peace among 12 Wiccan groups! John was on the pride commission that held the first trans pride event in the country, and he won their Engendered Spirit Award.”

Wayne and John have been married for the past 9 years.

Sinclair says he knew he was gay when he was in junior high school.

“Boy, from the Tarzan movies, was my first crush! I was trying to figure it out, but it was all a mess,” he said. “I did a lot of things while I was in college, including drinking too much. I was always asked why I had no girlfriend, and I always said I was too busy. I finally came out at 31, after my father had passed away. I told my mom, and her response was, ‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier so I could have helped you?’

“I’ve worked with gay homeless youth for a long time, and my advice is it’s great to come out when you can, but if you’re going to get thrown out, it’s better to wait. If you’re questioning and have problems, find someone to talk to. Schools have counselors, and there are resources available. But everybody has to do it at their own pace.”

Wayne and John have been in Palm Springs for six years, and Sinclair has brought his expertise to the board of JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio.

“I’ve found out that in the past, they didn’t have the greatest reputation around here. The new CEO has made big changes, including knowing how to hire really good people,” Sinclair said. “All their evaluation scores are now up to A’s, and they’ve put incredible emphasis on patient safety.”

Sinclair is now also serving on the board of the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I got involved primarily because of Elaine Meyerhoffer, the president,” he said. “She and I go to the same church. She knew I was a screaming liberal, so she asked me to join the board.

“In Chicago, I was on the board of The Night Ministry, working with homeless gay youth, which at that time were about 40 percent of those on the streets. I have a real interest in protecting gay youth, and John has been very involved with the trans community. The ACLU here focuses on both of those issues, so I’m pleased to be able to serve.”

An avid traveler, Sinclair has visited 35 countries. Among his favorite places are the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia; the island of Palau; and Istanbul, Turkey, with a particular focus on an area in central Turkey, Cappadocia, where a volcano erupted 15 million years ago.

“We went down 1,500 feet and stayed in an underground cave where a city of 25,000 people hid from the Hittites,” he said. “They have about a thousand sandstones that look like upside-down conical hats. And one of the frescoes is of a man praying, wanting to become a woman, and in the next panel, he is a woman. We try to take a trip every year. It’s amazing what you can find.”

Sinclair’s advice for others? “Be comfortable with yourself. Be kind to yourself. I learned from my law firm to be ethical. My main thing is to be honest and have integrity. As RuPaul says, ‘If you can’t love yourself, who can you love?’”

Wayne Sinclair has had a life full of work, discovery and service. What’s not to love?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m always pleasantly surprised when I realize that someone I thought I knew turns out to be so much more than I could ever have imagined.

Shellie Meeks is my technical producer and board operator at iHub Radio in Palm Springs. I always feel supported when her face is on the other side of the console. Shellie is pleasant, diligent and determined to work around an often-debilitating case of fibromyalgia.

I thought I knew her—and then one day, I was blown away. My subject was witches, and I was quoting statistics about how many (mostly) women were killed in just a year’s time in Salem, Mass., at the end of the 17th century. Off the top of her head, Shellie asked if I knew that 60,000 so-called witches were killed throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

Who knows something like that?

Shellie Meeks, 40, has lived in Joshua Tree with her husband, Cary, for about two years. She grew up in a military family, and her early years were spent mostly in the Pacific—in Okinawa, Japan, and Guam. Her mom, Annie, ended up at the Pentagon, and her dad (specifically, her stepdad who adopted her at age 8), a former B-52 pilot, settled the family, including Shellie and her two brothers, in Virginia.

After graduating from high school in 1995, Shellie had to work to be able to go to college.

“It took me 10 years to get my B.A.,” she says. “I attended George Mason University, and worked sometimes three jobs to pay for it. I was originally studying to be a photographer, but I had to take two art-history classes—and I got hooked. I switched my major to art history.

“I remember when I was about 11, in Guam, I had a teacher who showed us a film … that was set in ancient Egypt. I never forgot it. I also loved museums when I was a kid, and living for so long in the Far East, I really got into Japanese art and culture.”

A favorite professor contacted Shellie after she finished her degree, to let her know they were starting a master’s degree program for art history. She jumped back in. “It was hard and grueling, but awesome!”

A professor in the master’s program, whom Shellie describes as “one of my best friends ever,” exposed Shellie to East Indian art. “It was amazing to see such a different style than I’d ever seen before. He opened a world to me I could never have imagined.

“He was one of the first people who actually said how much he believed in me. It changed my life.”

Shellie’s work life has included a stint as a country-music DJ in Virginia while she was attending the Columbia School of Broadcasting, interning as part of her degree path. “I got part of my tuition paid by taking the placement. They told me it wouldn’t pay much, but would be good experience. The station was run by a guy named ‘Cousin Ray’ who had been in that industry since the 1930s and knew all the country stars from that period. It was interesting and educational, and I enjoyed it, but the pay was less than minimum wage. I was working two jobs just to survive.”

When her mom retired, Shellie’s parents started a business involved with government contracts, and Shellie worked with them for a time. While doing so, she met Cary Shaffner, to whom she has been married for 12 years. “We met in early 2006, and married that December.”

In addition to her work on my show, Shellie also appears on iHub Radio daily at 4 p.m. on The Laura Meeks Show, along with her dad—originally named Laurence, but now known as Laura.

“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” she recalls. “The day I found out about my dad was the same day I had just gotten fired. My brain was focused on that when I got home. I got to the top of the stairs and walked into the kitchen, and there was this blonde woman sitting at the table. I thought, ‘That’s my dad.’ I don’t know where it came from, but I said, ‘Blonde isn’t really your color. You should think about getting a different wig.’

“I had never heard of transgender, but it wasn’t like the world was ending. I just thought, ‘This is really interesting.’ It doesn’t really bother me. She’s still my dad. I found out what being transgender means, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a thing.’

“When I realized my parents weren’t getting a divorce—my mom’s been fine with it, and they’ve been married 35 years—I enjoyed that I could show Laura how to wear high heels and do makeup. It was actually fun. Dad was always very male, macho and military, and Laura allowed him to show his kindness and humor. It brought us closer together.”

Shellie finished her grad degree in 2013, and she and Cary moved to the desert area from Pennsylvania five years ago. She still plans to get her doctorate and wants to teach art history.

“They keep cutting humanities programs—art, philosophy, history—and I want to educate people about how important it is to study these disciplines. I value my ability to use my brain. We can’t progress and understand each other without exposure to the humanities.”

Shellie hopes to have the chance to see the art she has been studying for so long. “I want to see Europe and India, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Parthenon in Greece.

“We have ancient influences even in our current culture, from television to comic books, and we need to understand those influences and how they impact us, often without our even knowing it. We need to be able to see everything in a completely non-judgmental way. It’s so important.”

Shellie Meeks reminds me that we not only need to understand how the past has influenced the present, but also to be willing to expose ourselves to things we might not even know exist—and do it with acceptance and without judgment.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Tom Davis is philosophical regarding his work: “I wouldn’t change a thing. I enjoyed having my own business, but when it became tedious, my attitude was, ‘I’m outta here.’”

That attitude was a lucky break for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Davis, 68, a Rancho Mirage resident, was born in Teaneck, N.J., and grew up in Anaheim. He started doing consulting work in the desert in 1990 and made the full-time move from Orange County in 1997.

“I had my own land-planning and development consulting business,” says Davis, “but when the recession that everybody forgets about happened, many of my competitors were heading to Las Vegas because there was so much development going on there. I wanted to expand my business reach and profile, and I knew the desert had great growth potential. Plus, my wife’s parents were here, and her grandma and grandpa had the first liquor store and motel in Palm Desert, so there were personal connections as well as business potential that made this area desirable.”

Davis earned his degree in landscape architecture from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

“My dad always said to be in a profession where you can be independent,” Davis said. “I was strong in math and had an artistic flair—I liked to draw. I also had a strong design sense. They had an accredited program, which was hard to find in the Western United States.

“I met my wife, Debbie, at Cal Poly in 1970 at a Three Dog Night concert on a blind date. A friend said, ‘You need to meet this young lady.’ We were married after less than two years. After school, I went to Denver because I wanted to ski all the time, and I worked for a company planning a ski resort.”

Davis worked for a firm while he was in college that did work in Palm Springs.

“They educated me about the interrelationship between the tribe and the city,” he said. “I was originally out here in the desert working the territory and doing collaborative work with (Southern California planning consultant) John Q. Adams—yes, he’s a real descendant. I was the physical planning guy; he was the policy guy. Then he died suddenly, and a friend he worked for told me about the Agua Caliente looking for a planner. That was in 1992.

“The tribe was looking for an outsider, not someone beholden to local politics. The tribe is an extended family that understands the importance of outreach and the need to be connected to all sides politically.

“For six months, I was doing a variety of different things as staff to the Indian Planning Commission. When I started with the tribe, they had only six employees, with me and their general counsel as outside contractors. Then we got involved with Caesars Palace when the tribe was getting into gaming and expansion. Land development is highly political. You have to go through architectural review committees, planning commissions and city councils. I went to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento. We all learned a lot as we went along.”

Davis is currently the chief planning and development officer for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. He has built the department to a staff of about 35.

A serious bout with cancer changed Davis’ life.

“I used to be really athletic, but the cancer set me back. I go through life now week by week,” he said. “We bought a house in 2008 on a kind of remote mountain at June Lake in the Eastern Sierras. I hike and go fly fishing. It’s pristine and quiet. I might not see another person for days. For me, a bucket-list item would be to visit with an old friend, sit on the porch, and tell stories … although I would like to make it to Italy.”

For a long time after his cancer treatment, Davis was resistant to make use of a support group. “When I got the bad news from the doctor, I was thinking about all the stuff I’d be faced with. They asked me questions like, ‘Are you worried about your treatment?’ Duh.

“Finally, I went to a support group and I was amazed how therapeutic it is. I could speak frankly, and realized that everybody has something to deal with. That was when I began to talk about what I’d been through. We could all cry and laugh. We could all share our experiences and tell others what works. We talked about lots of simple things we take for granted. I came to realize the positive impact of all that. It’s helpful to share.”

After obtaining a master’s degree in education, Davis has been sharing his knowledge of the tribe by teaching classes, including “Agua Caliente: Then and Now,” through the Osher Institute at California State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus.

Davis is also a reader, influenced by Moby Dick and The Godfather, and he is currently immersed in Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like It in the World, about the building of the transcontinental railroad. “It’s about a turning point in our history,” he says, “and it’s fascinating.”

Tom Davis’ guiding principle is to work hard and play hard. “I want to tell young people, based on my experience, to do something you love. There are different specialties in every era. Find a profession you love to do, and even if one day you wake up with a layoff or disappointment, you’ll just work harder and still enjoy every day.

“I’ve changed a lot in the last several years. Between my cancer and the loss of both my parents within eight months of each other last year, now I wake up, and I’m just happy to be here.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Medical professionals—backed up by numerous studies—say that socialization is important to healthy physical and mental aging.

Too often, retirees or widowed individuals become isolated, don’t want to attend events alone, feel cut off, or are dependent on others to push them to get out and be around others. One antidote we are fortunate to have here in the desert: many informal groups that routinely meet to share friendly talk over a meal—the aging comedians, businessmen, show biz vets, university alums and many others.

About 10 years ago, I returned to the desert after seven years in San Diego, where I completed law school, and I was looking for activities that would engage me to jump back into the local scene. The newspaper said the Democratic Women of the Desert was meeting, so I went.

This was a group of positive, motivated women who wanted to make a difference—they weren’t attending to show off their latest outfit or to dish about absent friends. I was ultimately invited to join the board, and looked forward to the board’s monthly working meetings over dinner at local restaurants.

There’s a special bond that is built when you‘re part of a small group committed to a common goal. That bond was the catalyst for a core group of us to continue the monthly dinners after we left the board. We hadn’t just worked together; we liked each other. This is a group of women who are frank, funny, educated and very much alive. I originally called the group “Dem Dames,” but we came to think of ourselves as “Divas,” recapturing a word too often used as a pejorative and giving it a meaning more akin to strong, focused, take-no-shit women.

Each month, one person volunteers to find a place that can handle 10-plus people in a setting where we can hear ourselves talk, preferably at a round table—and the place should be willing to do individual checks. Surprisingly, we have found many local eateries that meet those criteria and have terrific food.

Perhaps the best part of being a Diva is that, although we are all different ages with varying backgrounds—married, divorced, widowed, still working and long since retired—the camaraderie and shared values make our dinners totally relaxing and comfortable.

Although we share the same political persuasion and are active with campaigns, we seldom talk politics; rather, we share aches and remedies, family joys, funny stories, relationship concerns, good/bad movies and books—and all of the other the topics you freely discuss with good friends.

In April, retired teacher Marlene Levine, a La Quinta resident who’s called the desert home for 50 years, invited us all to share in her 80th birthday celebration as the Diva event for the month, and what a party it was!

La Quinta resident Pam Covington (“No, don’t give my age!”) came to the desert from Santa Barbara five years ago, and shared the name of a terrific dermatologist with me.

Anita Hoag, 74, came to the desert in 1989 from West Coast cities including Newport Beach, Malibu, Westwood and even Hawaii—all a far cry from her native New Jersey. Anita was a registered nurse, but subsequently became a buyer with Max Factor cosmetics. She always looks stunning!

Jan Seiden, 77, has been in the desert for 18 years. Currently living in Palm Desert, she describes herself as “the original valley girl,” having grown up in the San Fernando Valley. (“I can say ‘like’ a lot!”) After her career as a nurse, Jan became an electrologist and an expert witness for the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

Palm Desert resident Dori Smith, 68, has been in the Coachella Valley for 19 years. Her career was in marketing and communication, but she is known for having founded the local branch of Moms Demand Action, supporting sensible gun safety. I’ll always remember: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”

I’ve written about Dorys Forray before—she’s one of my role models for how to age well. A resident of Indio, Dorys is originally from Brooklyn and has been in the desert for 15 years. At 88, she is one of the most vital, interesting, delightful people I know.

Another friend I’ve introduced through this column is June Pariano, 73, also a La Quinta resident. June came to the desert in 2000 by way of Wisconsin and South Dakota. Her career went from manufacturing to advertising, but her local experience in a cosmetic dental practice might explain her perfect teeth. (When I mentioned that, she responded with a broad smile … and those perfect teeth!)

Phyllis Greene, a surprising 80, lives in Palm Desert. She’s been in the area for 21 years. Born in Chicago, Phyllis moved to the desert from Northridge. Her sharp wit must have served her well teaching science and mathematics to middle school students.

Priscilla Richards didn’t make Marlene’s birthday party, but she is another original Diva known for her wonderful laugh. And then there’s me—in the desert since 1985 (except those years in San Diego), a year older as of mid-May, and with so many careers it would take far too many words to include them here.

There are lots of special interest groups, nonprofits, committees and civic boards that meet to discuss and strategize on common subjects, from politics to health to education to LGBTQ issues to the arts to any policy topic you can imagine. And then there are groups that hang together because they share a common interest—a book club, chamber of commerce, animal rescue group, religious denomination or so on.

The Divas are none of these, regardless of what originally brought us together. We are lucky enough to have at least 10 best friends with whom we can relax, talk confidentially, and share our fears and foibles, while transcending age, background and financial status.

Happy Birthday Marlene, and thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to be a Diva!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m starting a new streaming-radio gig on iHub Radio (ihubradio.com), That’s Life, after 10 years of doing a call-in talk-show about politics (which I’ll still be doing on iHub as well). That’s Life will be an hour-long show airing weekdays that explores the things that make us all able to relate to each other—subjects like, “Did you ever see your father cry?” or, “What’s the worst job you ever had?”

Well, that covers two shows during my first week. I admit that I’ve struggled to come up with ideas that span all cultures and ages, and will lead to an entertaining daily show.

This brings us to the amazing group of seniors who attend the weekly You Don’t Have to Be Hemingway writing club; I wrote about them in 2014. The group recently held its sixth twice-a-year “recital,” led by creative director Helen Klein, whose idea it was to start this group. Other participants were residents Phyllis Tucker, introduced by Helen as the queen of Las Serenas, the Palm Desert residential complex where the group meets; Jean Ashworth, once with NASA; Karyn Marmo, whom Helen describes simply as “very funny”; multilingual Rosie Nathan; and Janet Arnot, “grandma deluxe and aerospace aficionado.”

Although they are not professional authors, these women produce stories, memoirs and poetry that are touching, revealing, humorous and enlightening. Most of the writing is done in response to “prompts” that Helen proposes—topics like, “What is your best memory?”; “What do you wish you had known when you were younger?”; “Do you remember something you gave away that you wish you had kept?”; and “Imagine three figurines, a bowl, and a lace doily, then write a story about it.”

You know … prompts that are rather similar to the topics that will be covered on my radio show.

One of the most touching readings was by Phyllis Tucker, “Basking in Beauty,” about the beauty of the innocence of a child bringing the promise of a better tomorrow; the beauty of friendship and being part of the older generation; and what is learned from making mistakes along the way. She recognized the beauty in all of life, and love, and asked, “Who would want to live without it?”

She also expressed her humorous side with “Rudolph’s Resignation Letter,” about the red-nosed icon deciding to take a position with another herd.

Helen Klein wrote “Vertically Challenged,” about her own efforts to transcend being an ever-shrinking short woman. “Everyone is taller than me,” she lamented, “but I think about the list of ‘shorties’ including Harriet Tubman (civil rights pioneer), Charlotte Bronte (of the famous literary family), Clara Barton (the nurse who started the American Red Cross), and John Hancock (a leading patriot during the American Revolution and the first Governor of Massachusetts).” Good company to be in. She completed her story with, “Now if I could only find something to wear!”

Jean Ashworth has recollections of a simpler life growing up in rural Canada in “And They Call It Progress.” Jean considered what her grandparents might think of how life has changed. “I don’t think after having seven children that my grandmother would have thought much of Viagra!”

Rosie Nathan wrote about “A Big Stack of Records” she once found, noting that everything will die one day, but music will live eternally. Another of her stories was “Surprise, Surprise,” about a man suffering color-blindness who finds sunglasses with “magic lenses” and cries with pure joy when he finds himself in a technicolor wonderland. Rosie also tackled “Springtime Again” with images of flowers blooming, the sun shining, clear air, the smell of oranges, and a nest of robins. She’s carried away with the enchantment of it all.

Karyn Marmo penned a three-part account of “Passing the Baton,” involving a dog for which she was baby-sitting … and her husband’s efforts to buy the dog. “I didn’t want another dog. It looked like a small sheep with no hair. At the vet, it took a split second for the dog to need to be muzzled, looking like a miniature Hannibal Lecter.” By part three, “The little dog I swear I didn’t want is now the little dog I love.”

Janet Arnot’s contributions included “It’s the Pits,” recounting the time the gorgeous love of her life had just proposed … to her sister. “There he is,” she recounted. “I want to be swept up by him, the man of my dreams. I look across the room and see them holding hands and then he gets down on one knee. This isn’t how I pictured it.”

Helen closed the recital with “Say What?” “I consider myself a pretty nice person, a good-natured, even-tempered individual, but sometimes I get really pissed off! I may be in my 90s, but I certainly have all my faculties.” She then proceeded to rap!

These women—with their imaginations, energy and talent—are inspirations to me, especially now that I need a broad, all-encompassing subject five days a week. Some questions I’ve come up with so far came straight from “Hemingway” prompts:

“Who have you always wished you looked like?”

“What was your first time away from home, and how did you handle it?”

“What’s the most disturbing call you’ve ever received?”

“What do you remember most about your mother?” (Jean recalled that her mother only ever wore one perfume. “Whenever I feel myself missing her, I put some on.”)

“What was it like where you grew up?”

“What’s your favorite memory?”

I have my own story for every question. If you do as well, call me when I’m on the air at iHub Radio, and let’s talk.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

At what age do we finally figure out what our life is all about? Some of us never figure it out—while others are seemingly lucky enough to figure it out quite young.

Bryanna Czarny, 24, was born in Bellflower, Calif., as the oldest of five children. She spent her early years in Yucca Valley, and has been in La Quinta since the seventh-grade. She came out of a hard-working family: Her father has been a UPS employee for many years, while her mother has proven it’s never too late to go back to school for a career.

Czarny had done some acting in high school, including being nominated for a supporting-actress award. “I had acting coaches who believed in me and pushed me,” she says.

After graduating from La Quinta High School, Bryanna was dead-set on moving to Los Angeles to pursue her education toward a career in television and film production. “My mom kept saying I should go to San Diego, to study toward becoming a newscaster or doing public relations,” says Czarny. “But acting was my dream. Singing was my dream. I wanted to be in entertainment. They finally stopped pestering me.

“My story took twists and turns like I couldn’t have imagined. In the Coachella Valley, I was protected, but didn’t feel like I was expected to do a lot. In L.A., I got in with the wrong crowd and got into drinking and drugs for the first time in my life. I was abused. I was homeless. I even had a gun pulled on me once. I felt overwhelmed, like there was no way to find any help—no tutors or faculty support like I had in high school. No one really knew what was going on.

“I was told that my grades were slipping, and I was going to get kicked out of school. The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my parents. I was lucky enough to finally talk with a counselor who told me, ‘It’s not over,’ and to pick my head up, go home and start fresh.

“Then an amazing thing happened. It was Christmastime, my first day home, with my car still all packed up. I got a text through a friend on Facebook, from a guy I didn’t even know—who is now my boyfriend. I feel as if God gave us each other. We were both going through things, and we were magically put together at what was then the lowest point in our lives.”

Czarny enrolled at College of the Desert. “Little did I know COD was my best option,” she says. “My life changed dramatically. I’ve been maintaining a high GPA, became captain of the soccer team, wrote for the Chaparral newspaper and was featured in The Desert Sun. I’ve had lead roles in COD productions, created the first annual COD talent show, and took part in student government.

“I was even lucky enough to meet Mary Jane Sanchez-Fulton,” a member of the COD board of trustees and a local political activist, “who took me under her wing. I helped her run a march at the state Legislature supporting education. I also got seriously involved again in acting and was lucky enough to get the lead role in Sylvia, for which I was thrilled to win a Desert Theatre League award up against so many experienced people.

“I think I had to go through the struggles to be as strong as I feel right now.”

Czarny is close to her parents, although she doesn’t think they fully understand what she went through.

“I know I messed up, but I’m a whole new person now. My eyes are open,” she says. “I know my family just wants me to be happy and successful, and I’ll do whatever I must to make them proud of me. If I had lots of money, I’d want to (help) my dad retire so my parents wouldn’t have to work so hard. I don’t always say how much I appreciate them.

“I’m not ashamed of what I went through, because I feel as if I can be a messenger for others. Although I still love film and singing and acting, I now know that teaching is the right path for me.”

Czarny, however, has not abandoned her dream of acting and singing. “I’ve been acting since I was a little kid. I even got to do the school announcements over the intercom in elementary school!

“I still hope to get on American Idol or The Voice,” she laughs.

The best advice Czarny has received: “My best friend always tells me, ‘If ever you’re down or in need, keep a fighting spirit, and keep a smile on your face.’ I’ve learned to tell myself: ‘You are beautiful and special. Don’t ever let anyone take away your dreams. You’re capable of achieving what you want through hard work and dedication, and when you get a ‘yes,’ it’s worth every ‘no’ you’ve ever received.’ Whatever happens, never give up.”

I wish I had learned that lesson by the time I was 24. Don’t you?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Palm Desert resident John Peters, 66, came from a confused family background—which, in anyone else, might have led to dysfunction, insecurity and/or any number of psychologically traumatic results. But this ebullient man has not only prevailed—he has triumphed.

Peters was born the youngest of four children in Intercourse, Penn. (Yes, that’s really the name.) His father died 6 months before he was born—and his mother remarried and moved, leaving behind the four kids. His two brothers were sent to an orphanage school; his sister was placed in a similar school.

“There were no social programs back then for a young mother like there are today,” Peters says gently.

Peters was too young for a placement and was adopted and raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle in an Amish community.

“The (Amish) kids were all the same (as ‘normal’ kids), just wearing different clothes,” he says. “Intercourse had a population of about 800. You couldn’t get away with anything!”

Peters’ awareness of how different his family situation was began to develop when he was around 6 years old. “I remember distinctly that a bunch of us were out playing, and this girl called me ‘adopted baby.’ I ran to tell my ‘mom,’ and she told me she wasn’t my mom, but that my ‘Aunt Ruth’ was really my mother.

“I didn’t trust anybody after that.”

Peters found out who his natural father was through a half-sister, born during his father’s previous marriage. (He didn’t connect with her until he was 48 years old. He has also reconnected with his natural sister; they became friends as adults.)

Peters’ interest in education developed when he almost flunked out of high school. “I was put in special-education classes,” he says. “My adoptive parents never went very far in school and thought high school was the top of the line. I loved history and business, but I had never learned how to study. As a senior, I think I was taking about 12 periods of shop!”

He found an outlet in martial arts. “My adopted mom had such limited exposure; she didn’t even want me to do sports,” he recalls. He learned jujitsu from a Sunday-school teacher who had military and police-work experience. Peters went on to learn Kodokan, a specific form of judo in which the competition to take down an opponent is key.

Peters left Intercourse in 1969 to move to Washington, D.C., and went to work with the FBI as a clerical employee. He completed his undergraduate degree while at the FBI, and would then go on to earn a doctorate in applied management and decision sciences, a master’s in career and technical education, an MBA in marketing and management, a master’s in public relations, a bachelor’s in criminal justice, and certificates including a teaching credential with the state of California.

Peters’ final assignment with the FBI was at the training academy at Quantico. “I left because it just wasn’t what I thought it would be,” he says.

The constant moving was also an issue, as Peters was raising his two sons as a single parent. “Mothers didn’t know what to do with me when I showed up at school functions,” he laughs.

He left the FBI to do on-the-ground police work, later becoming an expert witness and trainer for police departments across the country regarding police and correctional-institution policies. He is currently president and chief learning officer of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, Inc. and has been the senior trainer and president of Defensive Tactics Institute, Inc. He also has his own consulting company. Finally, he has produced eight books and 35 videos.

Not bad for a kid raised by people who didn’t believe in education.

Although Peters traveled most of his professional life, he settled full-time in Palm Desert last year.

“I came here on business in 1984,” he says, “to edit a film about defensive tactics with flashlights for police training. I was so impressed with this area. It’s the most beautiful place.”

He bought a condo and commuted between here and Las Vegas, and then held on to it until the market rebounded. Today, he lives with his fiancée, Marilyn, in the house they purchased last year.

They met in a Cal State class. “After we met in class, I remembered her. She stood out in the crowd,” Peters says. “The day we took our exams, we talked. Then I got an email from her months later. We met for coffee. She suggested we walk together, one of my favorite activities, and I assumed she lived near me, since she wanted to start at 6:30 a.m. I was floored when I realized she had driven over all the way from La Quinta. The rest is history.”

As if he didn’t have enough going on, Peters is the president of the Palm Springs Writers Guild and loves encouraging others to pursue their dreams.

Given the headlines about the difficulties faced by law enforcement, what does Peters think we should know?

“I look at my work with police through a lens of honesty,” he says. “When ‘rogue officers’ get in trouble, whether by use of excess force or sexual misconduct, too often they are kept on the job. Some people make mistakes and need to be held accountable.

“Although cab drivers, firefighters and other professions have higher rates of death, police face ‘excited delirium’ behaviors that can be the result of a variety of causes, from dementia to drugs to mental illness. Yes, police need to police their own, but never forget that cops are targets by virtue of their uniform. With the police, the uniform itself means that their deaths are not industrial accidents—they’re murders.”

What’s next for Peters? “Writing topics I want to write; getting involved in community organizations; and part-time teaching.”

One of Peters’ most enjoyable projects was researching how Intercourse got its name. It’s a story I’ll leave for him to tell.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Most of us live our lives within the boundaries and expectations set for us by our families and society. Some of us are lucky enough to discover our calling—like a bolt out of the blue.

I had a friend who was something of a ne’er-do-well in his youth, but late one night while standing on the deck of a ship, he had what he could only describe as a revelation: His calling was to preach the gospel. He pursued that career for the rest of his life.

I met Coachella Valley resident Kate Zenna at a Palm Springs Women in Film and Television event. She is smart, articulate, personable and enthusiastic—and like my aforementioned friend, she found her calling via what she describes as an epiphany.

Zenna was born in Montreal and lived for a time in Newfoundland before she and her younger brother (“I make him tell people he’s my big brother!”) were raised in Toronto.

“I went to Queen’s University,” she says, “and I was always running late. At the last minute that I had to declare a major, I ran into the building next to where I was standing and ended up majoring in geography—the same degree my mom had. My parents used to say, ‘She’s going to be the one,’ meaning I was expected to go far. I thought I might become an environmental lawyer.

“I was only a semester short of graduating college when I literally had a vision. I felt as if I were in a trance: I saw an older version of me on a stage. Somebody was telling me and showing me that I was to be an actor. I had always been kind of shy and awkward, never wanting to be the center of attention. Suddenly, I was going to quit school and do this thing that I had never even considered. My parents freaked out!”

Zenna’s mom urged her to complete her bachelor’s degree. “She said, ‘It’s important to have those letters after your name, in case you need something to fall back on,’ and luckily, I listened to her.”

Zenna auditioned for a part with a local community theater—and got the job. “I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t that hard.’ I moved to Vancouver to study acting at their film school after I graduated. I had to rediscover who I was. It had all been as much of a shock to me as to my parents.”

Meanwhile, Zenna’s acting career flourished. “I was getting lots of roles. And my first paying film job, in Toronto, got me a supporting role nomination for the Canadian Screen Awards.”

A major change in Zenna’s life came when her mother became ill. “There are always situations where somebody has to step up,” says Zenna. “I’ve always been that person. I got really involved when my mom got sick. It flipped a switch in me about taking charge.

“After my mom died, I spent the next three years feeling like a shaken-up snow globe. Finally, I came to Los Angeles, and in 2004, I got my green card and got swooped up working steadily in television and film.”

Zenna has been in major studio movies as well as cable productions, and has worked on all the major television networks. “But even getting lots of jobs, I had to make a living. I know my value as a human being goes beyond just waiting for the phone to ring.

“I learned cooking from my father, and I made really good vegan meals for myself, so I decided to start my own food business. I’m willing ask for help and to accept help, and I knew I needed financing and a mentor. I went online to a website that puts people together and met this amazing CPA from Texas, David Wolfe. He came to L.A.; I gave him some of my food; and his reaction was, ‘I could eat this every day!’ He decided he would mentor me. Meanwhile, I realized that he did promotional videos, and I thought I could ‘mentor’ him to be better on camera.”

Today, Kate Zenna and David Wolfe are partners in ZennaWolfe, a company that uses working actors to train executives how to be themselves on camera. They also co-authored a book, The Responsible Artist: A Financial Guide for Conscientious Creative Souls Who Keep the Dream Alive and Have a Great Life Along the Way, to bring sensible financial awareness to people in artistic fields who too often leave decision-making to others—with potentially disastrous results.

“The book is financial, spiritual and emotional help for everybody, but particularly for artists,” says Zenna. “I’m very protective toward the younger actors who don’t realize what can happen, because the industry won’t take care of you.”

Zenna moved to the Coachella Valley last year.

“As much as I adore about Los Angeles, it got to the point where I realized I wasn’t living the kind of life I wanted. The traffic was paralyzing, and it was the reason I rarely saw friends or took advantage of the incredible cultural events. Since moving to the desert, my social life has not only been revived—but is thriving. And the one thing I noticed most when I moved here is that the people seem so happy! It’s like a small town, and everyone shares the knowledge that we are simply so darn lucky to have found our way here.

“My days are full of fun and include work, writing, creating, connecting with friends or meeting new friends, enjoying the personalities of my dogs—and, of course, cooking healthy and delicious food.

”I’ve always been supremely curious about people and why they’re the way they are. At 13, I wrote an essay about what was at the core of human essence. There are so many layers, including our genetic DNA, family influences, personal experiences and even geography. People need to get out of their own way, but they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Perhaps, like Zenna, they will be lucky enough to have an epiphany.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Can a man ever accurately create realistic, legitimate female characters? Palm Springs author David Hamlin thinks he knows the secret.

“I’m a good listener,” he says. “I’m a great admirer of women who break glass ceilings. There are barriers to be taken down and not accepted, so I write about strong women who fiercely fight for what they want. Throughout most of my adult life, my good friends (have been) women.”

Hamlin’s first two works of fiction, Winter in Chicago and Winter Gets Hot, feature a female protagonist, Emily Winter, a clever and determined reporter working for a Chicago paper at a time when women are just beginning to fight entrenched sexism and reach beyond writing about fashion and entertainment.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Bethesda, Md., Hamlin grew up in a household where there was always a daily newspaper, and where dinner conversation included the political realities of growing up close to the center of government.

“We had neighbors who were high up in the military or members of Congress or working in government agencies,” recalls Hamlin. “It was the culture all around us, and I had the good fortune to experience a superior public school system where we learned an appreciation for government and social action. That was a time of the Freedom Riders and the Congress of Racial Equality. I did participate in some demonstrations.”

That grounding led to a stint as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer.

“I spent three years at the University of Maryland after high school and decided to take what is now called a gap year,” he says. “The VISTA program was about a year old at that point. I trained in Chicago at a time when VISTA’s focus was poor and Indian communities. When I signed up, they were focusing on urban areas so, I ended up working on poverty programs in Newark, N.J.

“That was a time when groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and activists like Tom Hayden were recognizing the needs in black communities. It became the ‘college radicals’ versus the VISTA volunteers. I trained as a community organizer and ended up in Philadelphia for about nine months.

“I gained a far-reaching appreciation for what the Constitution’s framers had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. We take free speech for granted. The public conversation needs to be wide open, with all ideas, and with regular citizens able to pick and choose what to listen to and what to say, without interference by government.”

After graduating cum laude in English and government from Nasson College in Maine, Hamlin ultimately got involved with the American Civil Liberties Union and served as the executive director in New Hampshire. He was recruited to Chicago—and the infamous Skokie case happened when he had been there only 18 months.

“From the day I arrived until I left Chicago, one of my driving desires was to use that platform to help people understand more of what the Constitution says,” Hamlin says. “The Skokie ordeal was when the ACLU supported the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill., a community with a lot of (Holocaust survivors). It lasted through 19 months of extreme stress and tension. I did most of the media contact and public speaking, and I finally left soon after, largely out of exhaustion.”

How did the writing career come about?

“I had done some writing for an independent newspaper while I was working with the ACLU, but the big project came when I was asked to write a book about the Skokie case,” says Hamlin. “That led to The Nazi/Skokie Conflict, published in 1980, a first-hand account of one of the most controversial free speech cases in the 20th century.

It was the first time I thought of writing as a profession. My dad had been a publisher and editor and an international reporter for The New York Times. My older brother was an editor. We always had books in the house, and I learned to enjoy reading very early. I discovered mysteries while I was in college.”

Hamlin and his wife, Sydney Weisman, began a public relations firm when they moved to California. “We met when I was with the ACLU in Chicago. I sponsored a conference for lawyers and I needed to get a good publicist. She walked in the door, and we’ve been together now for 41 years.”

What brought them to Palm Springs three years ago?

“We lived in Los Angeles, running our own business, so extended vacations were never an option,” Hamlin says. “We spent time in Palm Springs whenever we could, so it seemed like a natural choice.

“I had written for clients, including a book about the 75th anniversary of the (landmark Los Angeles) Farmers Market. I’d written opinion pieces and even a political satire column. But I wanted to take a run at fiction. You need focus and energy to do it well, so we decided to retire.

“When it comes to writing, you just have to start. That’s the only way to learn how to do it—and read good writers. For me, it was authors like Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Joseph Wambaugh, and Canadian Louise Penny. There are so many, but I never read them while I’m writing—I don’t want to even inadvertently steal something.”

The striving reporter featured in Hamlin’s first two books is being retired for the time being.

“I want to spread my wings a little,” says Hamlin. “I’m in the early stage of writing another book right now.

“The arc of feminism that I experienced made me a great admirer of women. Their voices are different, and their approach to everything from personal relationships to the culture around them is different. At the ACLU, I began when women were banging on the doors of society. I always interacted with strong women demanding equality.

“One of the lessons I’ve learned in writing a female character came from my wife. She goes ballistic at the idea that men always write about the kind of women who are in jeopardy and running for their lives. She says, ‘Why in God’s name would a woman be stupid enough to wear high heels in the jungle?’”

David Hamlin doesn’t make those kind of mistakes.

Hamlin will appear at Just Fabulous, 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, on Saturday, March 10, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors