CVIndependent

Tue06252019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After hearing the lamentable Rush Limbaugh refer to the “chickification of America,” because NFL football players wore pink to support breast cancer research (men have breasts too, you know, and also get cancer), I was fuming and determined to write about my anger and frustration.

In spite of that initial impulse, here’s what I’m NOT writing about today:

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As someone who was once in an abusive relationship (and if it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone, men included), I’m NOT writing about how important it is that society recognize the reality of how difficult it is to leave and to stay alive. I’m NOT writing about how 44 percent of all women murdered with guns in the U.S. are killed by a current or former intimate partner

More than 135,000 women became extremely poor in 2012—not just poor, but “extremely” poor—and people 65 and older are now more vulnerable to poverty, up significantly from 2011. Although my big fear is to end up eating cat food, I’m NOT writing about why women haven’t demanded compensatory Social Security for those whose “job” is to be a homemaker and mother, so they can survive old age.  Nor am I writing about the growing economic disparity between those at the very top and everyone else, and its disproportionate impact on women.

• The United States is among only eight nations in the world who don’t give women paid maternity leave—it’s often unpaid if you get it at all without jeopardizing your job—and our need for universally available and affordable day care is an embarrassment among nations. But I’m NOT writing about how this affects women’s ability to hold gainful employment or complete their education and thus be economically independent. 

• Women are not present at all on the boards of major corporations. Twitter has a seven-man board with no women; 36 percent of the 2,770 largest public companies have no women on their boards; and companies with women on their boards have better overall economic results. Yet I’m NOT writing about why women aren’t controlling and influencing all investment decisions based on this regrettable fact—although if we could get rid of apartheid, we should be able to get qualified women on corporate boards.

• While “half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time,” I am NOT writing about the callousness of those who refuse to make work pay a living wage, or who demand deficit reduction by penalizing the vulnerable with food stamp cuts, or who characterize those who need assistance as lazy and unmotivated “takers,” yet won’t support the education or child care that would allow self-sufficiency. 

• Even as abortion and access to “women’s health services” are increasingly subject to ridiculous and onerous restrictions, I’m NOT writing about the difference it makes who appoints judges to federal courts—although it does.

As a political commentator, it’s enticing to address any of these issues and take both policy and political stands. But I decided to write about something bigger than issues or politics: the need to set an entirely new policy agenda. I believe that women, and men who respect women, are uniquely poised to make that happen.

My experience as a mediator has shown that when two polarized sides of a debate are dug in, there is room to head right down the middle and define a new way of moving forward.

Politicians are staking out ever-more-radical positions for niche constituencies, so I am sending out a clarion call to women of every political stripe: WE can demand a new agenda. 

There are more of us. We live longer. We’re getting more educated. We already do whatever we have to do to take care of ourselves and our children. We make choices—not always good ones—and we live with the consequences. We have a collective voice, and it’s time to be heard.

Get involved. Demand, as a group along with your neighbors, to meet with elected officials at every level, and tell them you expect them to pay attention, or you will organize voters against them. If big business and the wealthy can influence public policy, organized and informed voters as a bloc can have an even greater impact.

We can’t leave it to anyone else. Change takes time. Results won’t come quickly. But we have to be present and involved, invested for the long haul.

Get informed. Educate others. Consider running for office. Vote in EVERY election, no matter how small or local. Contrary to conspiracy theories, votes do count! 

Don’t get suckered in by slick slogans designed to “sell” a candidate with sound bites that don’t really inform.

Visit nonpartisan websites like the League of Women Voters or No Labels. Spend as much time on this as you do playing computer games.

Bottom line: I think it’s time for a women’s strike. 

What if, for just two days, women (and the men who support them) across the country stayed home from work, didn’t cook or clean, didn’t deliver a tray of drinks, didn’t operate the cash register, didn’t re-hang clothes on the racks, didn’t make appointments, didn’t help people fill out forms, didn’t sell anyone’s home or didn’t process a bank deposit. 

What if a few agenda items—paid maternity leave, universal child care, comparable equal pay, a raised minimum wage, and greater representation where decisions are made—were highlighted as SO important they must no longer be ignored?

If all else fails, there’s always the Lysistrata strategy

This is adapted from a speech given to the Sun City, Palm Desert Democratic Club on Oct. 28, 2013.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m always fascinated by people who find ways to change their lives and pursue their dreams.

Leanna Bonamici, 58, of Palm Springs, is a great example of such a person.

After a career in insurance and real estate, Leanna became a wine consultant, buyer and educator, teaching classes on how to have “wine-pairing dinners.”

“It was a very engaging subject,” she says. “I loved it. People would say, ‘I have to impress my boss.’ I always told them that the best bottle of wine in the world is the one that’s your favorite!

“But after 10 years, I wanted to do more. I was interested in how to reach the masses of people who aren’t really into wine.”

Growing up in Los Angeles, Leanna had wanted to be a producer—organizing projects and seeing them come to fruition. “I wanted to be behind the scenes. For years, I carried around the UCLA extension catalog, and I finally took classes in production. I’ve always loved that side of things. Anybody can have a great idea, but how do you monetize it?”

Leanna wrote to various show business experts, asking them questions about getting into the production side. “I especially contacted women in the industry. They were very congenial and helpful,” she says.

While working for an independent producer, Leanna attended a production-related event in San Diego, put on by the San Diego Film Commission and the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. “There were world leaders in the industry, and I knew after that what I wanted to do. I got a day job with a fundraising organization, putting on events to raise money from people in the entertainment industry. Putting on events is production—you have to know where every fire is and how to put it out.”

Leanna came to the Coachella Valley in 1998 when her mom died, and her dad got sick. She committed to being his full-time caretaker. Her first “job” here was volunteering for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

“While my dad was healing,” says Leanna, “he came up with a plan to pay off the national debt! So when he read about possible bankruptcy in Desert Hot Springs, he devised a plan to help the city. In the process of speaking about it at a council meeting, someone stood up and said, ‘I’ve got a local TV show, and I’ll put you on the air.’ So I thought, ‘I can work with them and produce a wine show.’”

When Leanna learned that a post-office building in DHS was becoming available, “I was asked if I could turn the building into a studio for local producers to use.” She made a deal to buy the building. “For the next 10 months, our entire family transformed the building into a production facility for rent by others, including post-production capability. Then I began developing projects of my own.”

Leanna produced a documentary about the mineral waters of DHS, and a television series about restaurants, Two Forks Up, both of which aired locally. She also produced a feature film which, she says smiling, “is still awaiting distribution.”

Leanna’s most visible current project is Shorts Showcase, featuring short films from around the world, which runs on PBS stations throughout Southern California. “I was thinking about this project for a long time,” she says. “I especially love the documentaries. They’re real stories and history.”

Leanna is now partnering with Palm Desert resident Carole Krechman on the CV Studios Entertainment Network. “We’re building a network for premium content—no gore, violence, or porn. We just want good product,” Leanna says.

One new show is Cooking It Up With Karly, featuring 11-year-old Karly Smith, a talented youngster who demonstrates healthy food alternatives for young people and their families. Another is the 30-minute weekly series The Real Desert, featuring desert resident/historian Steve Brown.

Leanna was a founder of the Palm Springs Women in Film and Television chapter in 2001. “We bring together women and men connected to the entertainment industry, as well as raise money for scholarships that support interested young people.”

Leanna’s hope for the CV Studios Entertainment Network includes support for the development initiative articulated by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership that focuses on creative arts and design as one of its core sectors for economic development.

Leanna is also supportive of the performing arts pathway being offered by Rancho Mirage High School. “I love the idea of having that here,” she says, “but there are not enough jobs. We need to back up those students by building good production facilities locally.”

If money were no object, what would Leanna be doing? “I love what we’re building with network and production capabilities. However, if I had total freedom, I would still be producing, but I’d do the wine documentaries I’ve always wanted to do. I want to tell those stories, reaching the broadest audience possible—and I’d be doing it for the fun of it as well!”

As for pursuing one’s dreams, I finally graduated college at 59, then got a law degree, and just completed a master’s degree in Education. Like Leanna, I believe it’s never too late to change your life.

What are you waiting for?

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Embarrassing confession: I’m writing a book. I’ve been working on it for years.

After bothering neighbors who have successfully been published, I’ve now discovered that there are two sides to the story (no pun intended): the writing side—inspiration, ability, dedication, discipline; and the business side—publishers, distribution, reviews, press.

First, the business side.

With self-publishing, one generally pays a fee up front and gets limited assistance; as orders come in, books are printed to fill those purchases. The writer gets a percentage of total sales, but can also purchase books at a reduced cost and sell them on his or her own at book-signings or via websites. The publishing companies may perform other services for additional fees.

Self-publishing—including eBooks—is now so prevalent that it is no longer considered “lesser” in a world where big publishers no longer control the game.

For Dessa Reed, a Palm Springs poet, getting published put her on what she describes as “an arduous path” in 2000.

“I formed my own publishing company and did it all, from writing … to word placement on a page, getting a graphic designer to do the covers … finding a recommended book manufacturer … filling out forms … finding a distributor to accept my book who sells to (the) only company that feeds the bookstores. … Then came the marketing—book talks, emails, a million talks to ladies’ luncheons, keeping track of sales tax, etc. etc.

“I paid for all that up front, but then everything was profit … although I still had to pay 40 percent distributor commissions.”

Whew!

The first publishing experience for DeAnn Lubell, a fiction writer in La Quinta, was quite different.

“My dad knew people in the book business in New York who knew someone at Doubleday. They found a small press to publish my first book way back when I was in college. I had a baby and a job—I just knew I had to write.

“I’ve now been working with a publishing company which does books on demand. I paid a fee, and they assigned an editor to work with me, did all the indexing, and facilitated book distribution to get into national bookstores. I gotten 500,000 downloads on eBooks. They’ve been terrific to work with, but you don’t really make a lot of money.”

Neither Dessa nor DeAnn works with an agent.

“I’ve done it on my own,” says Dessa. “I tried talking to agents and publishers. You get 15 minutes to ‘pitch.’ Where I’ve gotten help is from others who have written—hearing speakers, going to workshops, and through local writing groups, like the Palm Springs Pen Women and the Palm Springs Writers Guild.

“Today, self-publishing is almost the only way to get into print,” says Dessa.

DeAnn’s experience with an agent led to frustration. “I could have had an HBO miniseries. I’ll never forgive that the opportunity was missed.”

Then there’s the writing side.

For DeAnn, inspiration came early. “I was born a writer. I was about 9 or 10 when I first tried to write a novel. My role models were (comics reporter) Brenda Starr and the heroine of the movie Foreign Correspondent. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Two months into college, I walked into the editor-in-chief of the city newspaper and announced that I wanted to be a reporter. I got hired!”

Always an avid reader, at 18, DeAnn read about the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelée on the isle of Martinique, a French colony.

“The story was that as a result of politics and discrimination, the evacuation of 30,000 to 40,000 people from a small town was prevented, and all but a handful died within the first four minutes when the volcano erupted. There was a man, Fernand Clerc, who tried to get people out.

“The story captured my heart and soul. I felt the need to write about it, but I took an oath to myself that first, I would actually set foot on the island.”

“I wrote other things and worked producing ballets and writing for publications, but Martinique never left my mind. Then, in an amazing coincidence, 20 years later, we were selling our house, and Yves Clerc, Fernand’s grandson, came to look at it.

“As we talked, and I learned he was from Martinique, I told him of my fascination with the story. He arranged a two-week visit to the island along with introductions to key officials and historians. It was like winning the lottery!”

DeAnn finally published The Last Moon. “It sat for five years,” she says, until she read it with fresh eyes. “I had a revelation of how to re-form the book, and finally, it was written the way it should be.”

It has gone on to win awards from literary organizations and high praise from readers.

Dessa Reed’s inspiration came in a very different way. In 1997, Dessa was in an auto accident from which she was not expected to survive. She spent months recovering.

“It changed my life so completely,” she says. “It made me adventurous and untraditional. ... I bought a beautiful book to write in, and whenever I had a thought, I just wrote it down. It helped me through it all. And, somehow, they turned into poems.

“I had never written a poem, so I went back to school and learned about how to use language properly: metaphors, alliteration, word techniques. I had never thought of myself as a writer. I certainly wasn’t thinking of it as a career, but it turned into one.

“My passion is to help people, especially young people, express themselves,” says Dessa. “I tell students, ‘Your language skills are the most important things you’ll ever need in your life.’ I see what writing can do for people and the difference it has made in my life.”

She holds workshops, speaks to classes, has produced poetry to encourage others to work through adversity, and is now evolving into essay- and editorial-writing.

DeAnn’s advice for aspiring writers? “You have to know how to write and what the publishing world is looking for. In my case, it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to.”

As for me, it’s back to writing. Keep your Kindle handy!

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

We like to group things: a covey of quail, a flock of ducks, a flight of swans, a pack of wolves. I spent last week attending two very different events where neighbors come in groups.

First, I had lunch with the Democratic Women of the Desert (DWD) to hear a discussion about the current and future state of Medicare.

The program, on Sunday, Sept. 15, featured our local congressman, Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician who has been instrumental in providing health-clinic services in places ranging from Haiti to our own local poor communities; and Dr. Jeffrey E. Kaufman, an Orange County urologist who also teaches at the University of California at Irvine and has participated on the California Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee since 1997.

A streak of tigers.

Later in the week, on Thursday, Sept. 19, I attended an evening meeting of the Palm Springs chapter of Republican Women Federated (RWF), produced by Elise Richmond. (Elise does a conservative call-in talk radio show every Sunday morning just before my own show on KNews Radio.)

The Republican Women’s event featured author and filmmaker Joel Gilbert, presenting a showing of his film, Dreams From My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception, described as “the real history of Barack Obama and his family.”

The film purports to prove, via a combination of known facts and “re-creations of probable events,” that President Obama’s father wasn’t really his father, and that Obama is a committed Marxist-Socialist (with some “red diaper baby” Communism inexplicably thrown in, as if all three meant the same thing).

I had heard Gilbert interviewed before, and wanted to see for myself what his film was about. Given the opportunity within the same week, I wanted to compare the experience of the two partisan groups.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes.

Both events included women and men in attendance, although there was a greater percentage of men at the RWF event, perhaps because it was a “special event,” as opposed to a regular meeting.

Each group had a “social hour” preceding the start of the programs where members can meet and greet, renew acquaintances and catch up on news and gossip.

A murder of crows.

Food was part of each meeting as well. DWD was a lunch meeting, well-catered by the facility with a lovely table setting—in fact, extra tables had to be moved in to handle an overflow crowd. RWF had a buffet-style table with spicy wings, thick-crust pizza, garlic bread and salad. The wings were delicious!

A brood of chickens.

DWD’s attendance was diverse, with board members (including the president, Josephine Kennedy) from African-American and Hispanic heritages, spanning all ages. There were lawyers, teachers and retirees.

A drove of donkeys.

RWF’s attendance was, at least to my eyes, all-white. There were lawyers, teachers and retirees.

A herd of elephants.

DWD’s stated purpose is “promoting social, economic, and political policies that reflect women’s priorities.”

One of RWF’s stated missions is to “increase the effectiveness of women in the cause of good government through active political participation.”

To me, the most interesting contrast between the two groups is that DWD is clearly “Democratic” in identifying itself—part of a political party—while RWF’s website conflates “conservative” with “Republican,” as if the two were necessarily synonymous.

A business of ferrets.

The DWD meeting opened with Kennedy welcoming everyone, introducing club officers, noteworthy guests and aspiring candidates in attendance. None did more than stand and acknowledge the introduction.

A convocation of eagles.

RWF opened their meeting with a prayer, which included requesting God’s assistance to Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to hold firm in the U.S. Senate on overturning the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The prayer closed in Christ’s name. (Do they have Jewish members?) That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, something that did not happen at DWD. Introductions of club officers were also made, and State Assembly candidate Gary Jeandron was introduced and gave a short folksy speech, calling Palm Springs RWF “my club.”

A pandemonium of parrots.

The discussion of Medicare at DWD was thoughtful, loaded with facts, and frank about threats to guaranteed care for the elderly and disabled, primarily due to rising health care costs.

It was valuable to hear, from the perspective of medical doctors, the impact on the medical profession of increased demand, lowered reimbursements, and a dearth of primary-care doctors. The discussion covered proposals to increase the numbers of primary-care doctors, as well as the expansion of medical services provided by physician assistants and trained health-care workers.

A colony of penguins.

RWF showed Gilbert’s entire film, after brief opening remarks by him. The film seems designed to scare rather than to inform. It includes a narrator, supposedly President Obama’s “voice,” reporting conversations that would have taken place privately between two individuals. Gilbert does not explain how he knows what actually occurred. Oh, yeah, there’s that pesky disclaimer, a “re-creation of probable events.”

A scourge of mosquitos.

A question-and-answer session followed each program.

At DWD, the questions (including mine) centered on budget cuts, health care for the poor, the expansion of insurance coverage, and a refutation of claims of rationing of health services, particularly to the elderly. The answers were not always what the audience wanted to hear, but included serious discussion about Medicare’s future.

At RWF, questions (including mine) about how some of the dots were being connected, often based purely on conjecture, were often responded to by writer/director Gilbert with, “Look it up on Google.” Yet, when one does, one finds primarily Gilbert’s own commentary, and similar conjecture without much supporting evidence.

A fever of stingrays.

Perhaps the strangest part of the movie was the claim that President Obama had plastic surgery to redo his nose so that he wouldn’t look as much like his “real” father. However, no proof is offered other than side-by-side photos.

A wisdom of wombats.

When I first told Elise that I planned to attend the RWF meeting to see the film for myself, she jokingly responded, “Be sure to wear a trench coat—you never know what might happen!” I asked that she not introduce me; I wanted to experience the event without prejudicing how others might perceive me or change their interactions.

However, after I asked a couple of questions, Elise decided she would introduce me anyway. This came after another attendee followed up on one of my questions with what seemed like equal perplexity at the illogic of some of Gilbert’s claims. (Perhaps Elise felt the need to make sure everyone knew I wasn’t really a Republican.)

A colony of bats.

Following the meeting, a woman commented on my “nerve” to have attended, and one gentleman, who introduced himself as a lawyer who occasionally heard my show, said that although we probably wouldn’t agree on anything, he was glad to meet me and was pleased that I was there. We had a brief conversation about the claims that had been made of Obama being “an avowed Communist-Socialist.”

I suggested that Obama had never moved toward a government takeover of all means of production (socialism); and that, in fact, Obamacare would be a boon to private insurance companies. And hadn’t the stock market rebounded nicely under Obama? The lawyer acknowledged that I had a point.

A host of sparrows.

What did I learn from these encounters?

The Democratic Women of the Desert, although admittedly partisan, seemed far more interested in getting and understanding information about issues.

The Republican Women Federated, although admittedly at an event with a specific purpose, were focused on trashing the president.

Before I left the RWF event, Elise thanked me for coming and showing “such courage.”

Why on Earth would anyone need courage to attend a public meeting?

A nattering of neighbors.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m having a bad hair life. Not just a bad hair day … a whole lifetime!

I was born with stringy, straight, thin (and ever-thinning), blonde (well, at least I got something right!) hair. To perm or not to perm? Short or long? Cut or grow? Color, highlight or go natural? Wig or no wig?

Thank God for good hairdressers! And when you go to a salon, doesn’t the hair of the person doing your hair make a difference?

My new role model in life is Cindy Melchor, 53, of La Quinta.

Cindy received a high school equivalency degree at 16. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I didn’t want to go to school. I had been a model once for a neighbor who was in beauty school, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It looked like something that would get me out of school.”

She attended beauty college at the age of 17, and has been doing hair ever since.

In July 2011, a small, cancerous lump was detected by mammography in one of Cindy’s breasts.

She had to face a real dilemma: She knew the treatment would rob her of her hair.

“I had had lots of clients over the years who had gone through breast cancer. Most of them had done just fine and recovered. I know people die from it, but that never entered my mind. In fact, when the doctor told me, I initially laughed about the absurdity of it.”

Exactly one year before Cindy’s diagnosis, her sister had also been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cindy Melchor“She was the first one I told, and she just freaked out. But my clients had changed my perspective. I just thought, ‘OK, it’s breast cancer; it’s nothing. Lots of people have had it and turned out just fine.’

“I didn’t look at it as a death sentence. It was just a bump in the road. The only time I cried at all was when I told my daughter.”

Cindy began treatment, first with a lumpectomy, and then chemotherapy for four months. Radiation treatments followed for a couple of months after that.

“After my first treatment, my hair began to disappear. I lost everything—hair on my head, all over my body, my eyelashes and eyebrows. But none of that bothered me as much as having to wear a wig.”

Cindy was uncomfortable with the physical feeling of a wig, although she adds, “The shaved head didn’t bother me. To see yourself bald is really weird. At least I had a decent head!

“I walked around fine at home and around my family. But I wore the wig whenever I went out—even to get the paper. I just felt as if, out in public, everyone knew. When I see someone in the market, bald or wearing a head scarf, I always think, ‘Cancer.’

“For me, going out bald meant people would identify me by the disease, and that bothered me. That part didn’t bother my sister at all.”

Cindy had no discomfort talking about her condition with her clients. “I told everyone. I’ve never been secretive about it.

“Walking into the shop for the first time with the wig on was actually the hardest part of the whole experience. I never hid anything about what I was going through. My clients and co-workers all went through it with me, and that helped, but it made me the center of attention—and I just hate that.”

How long did she wear the wig, and when did her own hair return?

“To look like me, (it was) about six months after I completed chemo,” says Cindy. “I took the wig off when my hair was still very short and spiky. I look at pictures of me during that time, and it just doesn’t look like me. I actually took the wig off too soon.”

Cindy’s twin granddaughters were born just after she stopped wearing her wig, and she now has a third grandchild. “If money was no object, and I could do anything I want, I can’t imagine wanting to do anything other than spend more time with my daughter and grandchildren.”

Does Cindy have any advice for others who have to go through what she did?

“It’s such a personal thing,” she says. “For me, it was about not being the center of attention. You have to do whatever is comfortable. I realized my own vanity and my desire not to be the center of attention, but in the end, what was most important was that the cancer didn’t define me.”

If there is reincarnation, and we have to keep coming back until we’re perfect, I want to come back with Jennifer Aniston’s or Farrah Fawcett’s hair … or as Cindy Melchor.

Oh, and get regular mammograms—just do it!

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

There are some things we don’t readily share with friends and neighbors—like having paid one’s way through college by dancing around a pole. Or that romance with the golf pro. Or the nip/tuck during a “vacation” last summer.

Or that my grandmother once performed an abortion on herself using knitting needles.

With restrictions increasing on the rights granted by Roe v. Wade, women are being encouraged to talk about their experiences so that young women know what it was like—and what it could be like again.

It wasn’t until 1960 that “the pill” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for contraceptive use. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut struck down a state law that prohibited the use of contraceptives, because the law violated the “right to marital privacy.” Prior to that, even married women could not get doctors to prescribe contraception.

And if you were single? Forget about it.

June Pariano of La Quinta remembers well what those times were like.

“It was around 1969 in Racine, Wisc., and I was 23 or 24 years old.

“At that time, insurance did not pay for the pill, but broke as we were, I found the money and chose a doctor whose office was close to our apartment. When I went in and asked about a birth-control prescription, he gave me a sermon about how women were put on this earth to bear children, and it was ‘against nature.’ He finally agreed to give me a 6-month prescription and said he would not renew it.

“Six months later, I went to another doctor who asked me, ‘Don't you want to have children?’ I was so angry that I was being questioned about such a personal decision.

“I joined NOW (the National Organization for Women). We organized, wrote letters, drove to the state capital and fought like hell to get the politicians and the churches out of our bedrooms. Now it seems the politicians want to expand government to bedrooms again!”

Although abortions have always been a last resort for women (witness my grandmother), who have used everything from bleach douches to wire coat-hangers, it wasn’t until 1973 that the Supreme Court said the “right to privacy” protected a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy prior to “viability.” Before that, other options for American women were to go to another country, if they could afford to, or to seek out illegal abortionists—therefore risking their very lives to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

I did just that, in 1967, and would not wish the experience on anyone. It was sleazy, unprofessional and frightening—but not as frightening to me as continuing the pregnancy. I had given up a child for adoption when I was 17, and did not want to go through the daily agony of wondering whether I had done the right thing yet again.

I’ve never regretted that abortion, and react strongly to those who blithely say, “You can always give the baby up.” They’ve obviously never gone through it.

Dori Smith is a retired public-relations professional living in Palm Desert.

“In 1984, I helped my best friend’s daughter get a legal abortion when she was 18, and I realized how hard it is for any woman to even make the decision. She was so grateful. She went on to college, has two children and a great marriage, and even works with children now. She wouldn’t have been able to if we hadn’t helped her.

“Back in 1965, I got pregnant at 15 in my first sexual relationship, the one time we didn’t use any protection. I was so afraid. When I told him, he was scared. We didn’t know what to do.

“Abortion was illegal, so I asked him to find someone to do an illegal abortion. We never could find anyone. I finally told my mom after four months, and my parents gave permission to get married. I thought I was in love. What do you know at 15?

“We shouldn’t have been parents at that point in our lives. I was such a young mother; it was difficult for me to give my son as much as I could later with my daughter. I was so young and immature.”

Would Dori have made a different decision if she had been able? “Of course, it’s difficult to separate a living human being from what I wish I could have had as a choice back then. Because I was married, I couldn’t attend my senior prom, and I didn’t finish college until I was 32.

“I’m mentoring a young woman right now who’s 15. I think about myself dealing with those huge issues at that age. If my mom had just talked to me about sex and birth control. That’s what bothers me about those against abortion—they’re also against sex education. It’s as if they want us to be punished for having sex.”

Priscilla Scheldt Richardson of Cathedral City was married with two sons, 9 and 12, when she got pregnant in 1981 at the age of 38.

“Babies were being born with severe conditions to women my age. I’m so grateful I had a doctor who believed in my freedom to decide whether to continue a compromised pregnancy.

“He said there was no point to an amniocentesis unless I knew I would terminate the pregnancy if the fetus was damaged. Otherwise, he wouldn’t risk my health or the fetus with the test itself.

“My then husband and I talked carefully and decided what was most important was to protect the quality of life for our existing sons.

“As it turned out, the fetus was normal—and we went ahead with the pregnancy. My children know this story; they understand that was our thinking at the time, and they respect that.

“Some might call our decision selfish, but having that choice is so important to protect. Without that choice, our lives might have been entirely different.”

Women who have gone through these decisions are married, divorced, widowed. They teach your children, play tennis with you at the club, volunteer at local charities, participate in your organizations. They’re your friends and neighbors.

Share your stories.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

What do you do with all the “stuff” that’s left after someone you love has died?

As someone currently mired in combing through my late husband’s disorganized-pack-rat accumulation three years after his death, I’m plagued by the question. So I decided to talk to some of the women I know who have been through it.

Esther Crayton, who will turn 79 on July 27 and lives in Palm Desert, is one of the many Coachella Valley widows who has faced that issue.

First married at 17 just before high school graduation, Esther had the first of two sons about a year later, and remained in that first marriage for “about seven or eight years—it’s hard now to remember the exact dates.”

Why the divorce? “He said we had to move to Mexico, and I decided I’d rather end the marriage.”

Subsequent to that divorce, her children’s father “took the kids to Mexico, kidnapped them.” Esther was finally reunited with her sons when her ex came across the border to work and was picked up on the warrant for his arrest following a traffic violation.

Esther had always wanted to be a nurse, so in her late 30s, after her sons had graduated, she enrolled at College of the Desert in what was then their 2-year R.N. program. She retired after more than 20 years as a delivery-room nurse at Desert Hospital in Palm Springs.

”I loved that sometimes I would be at the market, and someone would come up and say, ‘You were my nurse when I had my baby!’” she says.

Esther’s retirement came after she successfully helped bring a nurses’ union to the hospital. After several years of intense wrangling, the California Nurses Association representation was finally approved.

“We marched out in front of the hospital to get a union,” remembers Esther. “When I was working in an aerospace company way back when, having the union was one of the reasons we got good pay and benefits, and I wanted that for the nurses at Desert. The amount of money the hospital spent to fight the union would probably have more than paid for the increases we were asking for.”

Esther was also very involved in the women’s rights movement, and had a leadership role in the local chapter of the National Organization for Women for several years.

After the end of a second marriage, Esther was reunited with a man she had met many years earlier, while working at the aerospace company. “Sunny” was married at the time they met, and he decided to stay in his marriage until his children were grown. Later, he and Esther lived together, eventually becoming “registered domestic partners” until his death eight years ago.

Why the nickname “Sunny”?

“It was funny,” says Esther. “His first and middle name were the exact same as my second husband. One night, we were out, and the music playing was ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ I told him that from then on, he would be ‘Sunny,’ and he was.”

When Sunny died, “his kids came and took some things. The one thing I remember we fought over was a painting. Other than that, I didn’t keep much of his personal stuff. I was in a daze, so upset, and not really paying attention to what was happening. The big problem was selling the house—his kids wanted to cash out his share, and I couldn’t buy them out.” Esther had to move.

Today, Esther now says simply, “I miss him. He had always handled some things, and I wish I had taken more time to figure it all out.”

Another woman who had to deal with what to do with the “stuff” after a death is Marilyn Mitchell, also of Palm Desert. Marilyn was widowed after 38 years of marriage to Gordon “Whitey” Mitchell, a well-known writer and jazz musician. Marilyn has distinguished herself as a long-time leader and supporter of the Palm Springs Women’s Press Club.

“I got rid of the socks and underwear first,” said Marilyn. “I did keep a tuxedo that meant something in terms of memories, and some other clothing items that had meaning to us based on where we bought them, or where he had worn them.

“Whitey was very organized,” she says. “That made it much easier, so it didn’t take too long to go through and decide what to keep. After some time, I finally sold his beloved bass to Neil Diamond’s bass player. Whitey would have been so upset, because it wasn’t going to be playing jazz!”

I asked Marilyn if she had any words of wisdom to help me in what seems like an insurmountable task. “I asked myself: Who will really care about this years from now? I know someone who kept absolutely everything for over 25 years. For me, it was finally time to just let go and move on.”

Good advice from one of our neighbors. 

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Retirement here in the Coachella Valley is generally a time when you expect to kick back and just enjoy life.

But when my husband died about three years ago, I couldn’t retire. I needed to go back to work.

In spite of a J.D. law degree, several years of experience teaching seminar classes, and having set up and run a training department within a corporation, I did not meet the standards to teach in California. Whatever you may think about our education system, California’s teacher-qualification rules are strict and specific.

It was purely by chance that I saw a small notice announcing a meeting for a program that allows individuals to capitalize on their previous experience to qualify to stand in front of a classroom. It was being offered by the California State University at San Bernardino, at their Palm Desert campus.

It was at that meeting that I met Dennis Larney.

If you saw Dennis Larney on the street, he would seem like all of those other guys you see in the retirement areas of the valley: He’s of a certain age, maybe a former businessman, in pretty good shape. You might assume he plays golf or tennis, likes movies, maybe enjoys classical music or standards, is probably married, and is relatively comfortable. Yet Larney is not what you would expect at all—and he is representative of a whole group of locals who are not content to “just enjoy life,” but instead feel compelled to share what they have learned.

Larney had a successful career in finance, including 16 years at General Electric and a stint heading up commercial lending at Chase. He spent time in Eastern Europe training emerging capitalists, and in spite of degrees including an MBA, Larney found himself lacking the legal credentials teach. That spurred him to enroll in the teaching credential program sponsored by CSUSB.

Now 78, Larney, a Palm Desert resident, is coordinator of the Career and Technical Education program on the CSUSB-PD campus.

“We all know our own subjects, but we don’t know how to teach,” he says. “A program like this really helps you define yourself so you can give back to help a new generation.”

Thanks to Larney’s affable enthusiasm for the program, I was sold. And the kicker was that CSUSB waives tuition for students older than the age of 60!

I expected my fellow students to be mostly like Larney and me: of a certain age, retired, experienced in the “real world” and wanting to share their knowledge. However, I found real diversity in the program—from the classically trained actress to the community organizer to the retired judge to the psychologist to the former U.S. Navy admiral, with a mixture of ages, races and backgrounds.

Among my classmates:

• John, 54, La Quinta, began working at 13, Air Force Russian translator, management background, completing his bachelor’s degree in psychology, volunteers with a local nonprofit support services agency: “My passion is helping others. I’m thinking about the future and retirement, and hope to do something I can carry on with in later years, perhaps as either a teacher or counselor to those coming behind me.”

• Rupert, 66, Rancho Mirage, documentary film producer, previously with NBC: “I think teaching is one of the most constructive things that talented folks with a lot of experience have left to do.”

• Mel, 91, aerospace engineer, worked on the Saturn moon missions and space shuttle, former contractor to the armed forces, forensic engineer and expert witness: “I would like to finish my working life as a teacher in designing space-mission boosters and vehicles.”

• Marilyn, 62, Palm Desert, recently divorced, running her own business-consulting company, experienced in sales and marketing presentations around the country: “I’m not sure I’ll actually teach, but the credential gives me options as I move forward with a new focus on my life.”

• Arnie, 76, Indio, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who studied culinary arts at College of the Desert and does comedy acting when he can get cast: “I needed to learn how to do a lesson plan and present my package of up-selling skills in a professional way.”

• Tom, 63, Rancho Mirage, a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly, post-grad studies in real-estate development, an urban planner: “I realized how little I really knew and how much there was to learn to be a better teacher. Over the past several decades, I’ve come to realize the importance of the role of higher education in economic development. This credential has given me a foundation to build upon and a focus on future mentoring. My instructors and fellow students are both interesting and inspiring.”

I agree with Tom: The people with whom I’ve shared this program are interesting, inspiring, motivated and committed to doing more than just relaxing and “enjoying life.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) They’ve gone on to teach reading and math in lower grades; teach business, marketing or law to adult students; private tutoring; volunteering; and consulting with local businesses and school districts. They remind me that we don’t always know our neighbors.

I figure if we’re still here, there’s still something we are supposed to do—if we can just figure out what it is. Regardless of one’s age, or perhaps because of it, Dennis Larney and CSUSB are offering the opportunity to help people figure things out.

What are you doing the rest of YOUR life?

For more information, visit pdc.csusb.edu/majorsprograms/careerTechnicalEducation.html. Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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