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What is it about the desert that encourages many people who come here to retire to instead rediscover their passion?

Joseph Gole (www.JosephGole.com), 72, is the cantor at Har-El Congregation, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Palm Desert. His career, in a way, began at age 9, when the teacher at his Hebrew school began to give him solos, and then at age 11 included Gole in Friday night services.

“I was actually the catalyst for my family becoming more religious,” he says.

“My mother wanted me to take math and science, but I knew I wanted to pursue music, because I knew that was where my strengths were. I did my first High Holidays service at 14, and while at Hebrew High school, when I was 15, my teacher brought me into another temple to do services. In high school, there was an arts direction you could take. At 16, I was singing with The Young Americans. I remember that while in high school, the choir teacher got another job and left; we had a madrigal group that I ended up conducting.”

Gole and his brother, an attorney, were born and raised in Los Angeles. Their mother, now 96, had emigrated from Poland at age 14. “She dabbled in real estate and could be very giving and charitable,” he says, “but … she had lost most of her family, and the trauma of those experiences never fully left her.”

Gole’s father, who died in 1999, was the youngest of nine children, born in America to Russian parents. “His mother was born blind,” Gole recalls, “and he was raised by his siblings. He worked as a contract administrator for the government. He was a very constant man, somewhat rigid, but he was also a frustrated musician and singer—that’s why he started me at 5 on the accordion. He was always very supportive of the direction I chose.”

Gole attended Los Angeles Valley College and then graduated from the music department at the University of Southern California.

“At 14, I had a band, hired the musicians, and played the accordion and sang. I put myself through school playing music at events like weddings and bar mitzvahs,” Gole says.

Gole’s first job as a cantor came at age 18 at Temple Emanu El in Burbank.

“It was part-time, a small synagogue, and I had a limited role,” he says. “I’d show up at services, conducted the choir, and assumed some responsibility.”

Gole later became cantor of Sinai Temple in Westwood, a Conservative Jewish synagogue, at age 25 and served there for 10 years. He moved on to other temples before returning for a second stint 18 years later.

In the Jewish religion, there are different strains of worship: Orthodox, the strictest in observances; Conservative, which relaxes some of the rules of the Orthodox—for example, allowing congregants to drive to services on the Sabbath; and Reform, which emphasizes Jewish ethical tradition over the obligations of Jewish law. The Reform movement, to which the majority of American Jews belong, has sought to adapt to modern sensibilities, and sees itself as politically progressive and social-justice oriented while emphasizing personal choice in matters of ritual observance.

A cantor is a clergy member who may lead worship, officiate at life-cycle events, teach adults and children, run synagogue music programs, and offer pastoral care.

Gole’s self-description as a cantor: “I’m not stuck in my ways. I like mixing it up. I like doing things differently. Until World War II, cantors were all European-trained and came from a very traditional environment. After the war, immigrants weren’t coming here so much anymore, and the schooling of cantors broke into different organizations.

In 2016, Gole—divorced after 28 years of marriage with two children, a son (now 26) and a daughter (31; “She gave me a beautiful grandson!”)—was renting in West Los Angeles when he realized what a value it was to relocate to the Coachella Valley.

“Although I wasn’t really ready for retirement,” he says, “I wanted to get away.”

Now working with Har-El, Gole is coaching a young man preparing for his bar mitzvah; and a young man singing for the holidays at the temple. He has gone on cruises as a pastoral presence for Hanukkah and Passover services on board.

One of his current joys is working with a group of older women who wanted to prepare for bat mitzvah, which was not necessarily available to them when they were young. Bar mitzvah has always been a rite of passage for young Jewish men at age 13, including the privilege of reading from the Torah in front of the congregation. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, bat mitzvah is now also available as a rite of passage for young women, generally performed by giving a lecture on a Jewish topic or reading from the Book of Esther in the Old Testament.

“The women I’m working with have developed a real sense of community,” Gole says. “The experience of studying together for bat mitzvah became very meaningful for them. To be able to have this interaction is what makes it all so meaningful for me.

“I realize now that at 25, I was scared. At 35, I was still in touch with people from my old temple associations. I hadn’t comprehended the impact I’d had on people—I hadn’t really appreciated (it) in the moment. That realization was very powerful for me, that I could touch people in such a profound way. It’s been an important part of my life ever since—the interaction with people at critical points in their life, whether happy or unhappy. The fact that I get to share in those moments offers a powerful opportunity.

“I’ve realized that my journey has been to explore and understand my inner self—a truly liberating experience. … My message is to follow your passion. Find mentors who will encourage you. Don’t be afraid. We’re all afraid. Just follow your heart.”

Cantor Joseph Gole has done just that, and rediscovered his passion here in the desert. Isn’t there a story in scripture about that?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

How do you tell the story of someone who describes herself as a “diva/goddess”—especially when one of the first things she says is, “I can’t imagine anybody would be interested in my life,” in an apparent contradiction?

Let’s start the story of Cardriner (Car-dree-ner) Bowden in 1963, three years after the famous sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., an attempt to integrate public spaces. Bowden was a freshman at a historically black college, North Carolina A&T State University, where Jesse Jackson was also a student.

“One day I was told, ‘We’re going to integrate the theater today,’” she recalls. “I didn’t have anything to do that day, so I went. We stood at the back of the line, thinking if they started arresting people, we wouldn’t get arrested, and would have time to get out of there. They reversed the line, so we got arrested first. I was in jail for 11 days. It was actually a lot of fun. We were singing and dancing. Those not arrested were outside the fence. It didn’t really feel like jail.

“Of course, whenever I applied for a job, I had to list that I had been arrested. They look at you really funny. But then they’d ask about it, and once I explained, it became OK. It wasn’t held against me.”

Born and raised in Goldsboro, N.C., Bowden was an only child whose father died when she was just 6 weeks old. She was raised partially by her grandmother, but also lived for a time with an aunt in Washington, D.C.

“The school there was the biggest I’d ever seen,” Bowden says. “I’d come from a place where I used to know everybody. The family my mom worked for (in Goldsboro) was white, and they were very nice, but Goldsboro wasn’t the kind of place I wanted to be in. I remember there was a billboard on the highway that said, ‘The Grand Dragon of the KKK welcomes you to Wayne Country, North Carolina.’ … The black women were teachers or nurses or worked in the homes of white people. I couldn’t see graduating from college to go back there to live.”

After spending summers working in Washington, D.C., Bowden left North Carolina to move there after graduating from college with a degree in education in 1966.

“I didn’t really want to teach, so I became a secretary at the Veterans Administration,” Bowden says. “But I knew I really didn’t belong there. I decided to teach, and got a job in Clinton, Md., teaching typing, shorthand and business machines at the high school level. I was one of the only two African Americans they’d ever hired, but I was young and knew I could deal with what I would encounter in a white school. I remember that a child of the pilot of Air Force One attended that school!

“I actually had to rent a car to go to the interview, and before I could even get back to the sorority house, where I was staying, the principal had called to tell me he was hiring me. I told him I didn’t even have a car or the money to buy one, and he called me back to say he had talked to the teacher’s credit union and told them to approve a loan for me.”

Bowden pointed out that Clinton was the place where John Wilkes Booth went after shooting Abraham Lincoln. “It’s where Mary Surratt was hanged as Booth’s accomplice. The principal of the high school, during my first year teaching there, wouldn’t make me come to night meetings, because the Klan might be looking for me.”

After teaching for six years in Maryland, Bowden made her way to California in 1972 to get married.

“He was a guy from my hometown who had been in the military. After he was discharged, he wanted to stay in L.A., and I agreed to relocate,” he says. “I came out during Christmas break and took the exam administered by the Los Angeles Unified School District. I had already taken and scored high on the National Teacher Examination. When L.A. hired me, the first year, I started as a substitute teacher at a school in Watts. The other teachers were so impressed that at the end of that first year, they had a vacancy, and I was hired.

“They saw potential in me, and said I should go into administration. I never had any discipline problems in my classrooms, so I became dean of student counselors at Locke High School, but I needed a master’s degree to go into administration, so I enrolled at Loyola Marymount University. I’ve always learned that when you do good work, they reward you.”

Bowden went on to become an assistant principal; a coordinator for Angel Gate Academy working with at-risk middle school students; an operations administrator handling everything from complaining parents to difficult events like school shootings; and assistant director of violence prevention and intervention at the Board of Education offices.

Bowden, then divorced, decided to retire in 2007.

“I’d always loved the Palm Springs area,” she says. “When I was working, I’d come down in the summertime when hotel rates were cheap. I wanted to be in an active-adult community, and decided that Del Webb’s Sun City in Palm Desert fit the bill. It’s ironic that all the work I do here is actually away from Sun City.”

Bowden volunteered in the Eisenhower Medical Center boutique for six years; was a volunteer usher at McCallum Theater from 2008-2017, and serves on the board of the theater’s Muses and Patroness Circle; volunteers at Well in the Desert and is on the nonprofit’s board; advises Thermal high school students with their annual choreography festival; is vice-chair of the public safety commission at Sun City, helping residents by working with local police and fire departments to provide safety programs; and for six years was women’s fellowship chair at Friendship Church, organizing luncheons and obtaining speakers. Oh, and every year, she is Mrs. Santa Claus when Well in the Desert presents their Christmas meal with toys for the children.

“I see people who are homeless and struggling, and realize that could have been me,” Bowden says. “My mom instilled in me that I needed a solid education so I could always take care of myself. Everybody who comes through the shelter has lost a job, or been in a bad relationship, or someone died, and they become homeless. If I can say something to change how they feel about themselves, or help them see there can be a better future for them … listen, I worked hard and was fortunate. It’s not too late for anyone. You should never give up.”

I ask: How did she get such an unusual name? Bowden laughs. “I was the first grandchild on my mother’s side, and my mother told my grandma she could name me. Grandma then told one of her friends she could name me. I have no idea where the name came from or what it means, but I’ve certainly never met anyone else with that name.”

I’ve never met anyone else with the grit, charm, wit and dedication of Cardriner Bowden. She says she’s crazy, and laughs about her “mouth” and how it can get her into trouble—but she makes a difference, never shies away from confronting a wrong, and is fierce while always being kind and loving.

If that doesn’t describe a diva/goddess, what does?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 9 to 10 a.m. on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

Felina Danalis, 46 and now a Palm Springs resident, was making a difference on a global scale.

After graduating magna cum laude in international relations from Georgetown University, she earned a graduate degree in international economics at Johns Hopkins’ Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, including a year studying in Italy and an internship with the Associated Press. She then walked straight into a job with the World Bank.

“I was in the department that helped countries get development money,” she says. “I wanted to help make the world a better place. After all, I had been schooled in free-market solutions to everything, and I wanted to know more about the world. I traveled to places like Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Macedonia. It was fascinating, and the best training I could ever have had as a first job—if you don’t count folding sweaters at Benetton while attending college.”

After her three-year stint at the World Bank, Danalis worked for the Greek foreign minister, who wanted an adviser to his cabinet who had international-development expertise.

“I couldn’t read or write Greek,” she says, “in spite of my parents both having come to America from Greece. I actually lost a lot of my hair the first six months, just from the stress.”

After two years advising the Greek cabinet, Danalis was recruited by the European Union to go to the Balkans as a program manager when the European Parliament allocated funds for the Serbian government.

“I was on track to being a true American success story,” she says, “but then I was in Belgrade when I witnessed a horrendous incident that would change my life.”

In 2002, Danalis and a friend were sitting in their car when a man walked past them and began to get into the car parked in front of them.

“He opened the door—and the car just exploded, and so did he,” Danalis says. “I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t be alone and couldn’t be with people. It was a very frightening place to be. Everyone around me was well-meaning and said the equivalent of, ‘Suck it up. If you’re going to do work like this in the world, then things like that will happen.’”

In 2003, Danalis left Belgrade and went to live on the Greek island of Kefalonia, where her father had been born.

“I told people I was going to write a book,” she recalls. “That’s what you say instead of, ‘I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ In my year there, I learned so much about myself.

“When I got my graduate degree, it was handed to me by (former U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright, who was the embodiment of a tough woman. I believed that my toughness was my greatest asset. What I learned that year in Kefalonia was that my emotions and compassion were my greatest assets. I felt that the system that was preparing me to make it in the capitalist world had lied to me.”

Danalis moved to Athens and was there for 10 years, working as a consultant to the sustainability and corporate responsibility industry, helping companies improve their bottom line by focusing on people and the planet as well as profits.

An only child—born in New York and arriving in Southern California in 1980—Danalis came to the desert in 2011 to take care of her mother, who had Stage 4 cancer.

“I stayed in Palm Springs because by the time my mom died, I had made a home here,” she says. “Besides, I met the love of my life!

“My parents met each other at a Greek restaurant in Greenwich Village. Mom had come to the U.S. when she was 9, my dad when he was already an adult. My mom had had a traumatic childhood, so although she was very artistic, she never had the self-confidence to stick with any idea. But she always told me, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to.’”

While taking care of her mother, Danalis studied Buddhism and taught at the Buddhist meditation centers in both Palm Desert and Palm Springs. Since 2011, she has been pursuing her mission as a “mindfulness coach.” Danalis (felinadanalis.com) is a regular presenter at the Golden Door spa in San Marcos, working with individuals and groups online, and presenting programs for Planned Parenthood, Cancer Partners in Palm Desert, and the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs.

“There’s too much homogenization in the world right now,” Danalis says. “We need to stay in touch with our individual cultural roots, combining the best of our traditions with modernity. We’re all so stuck to our phones; it’s all about transactions but not about relationships. We sometimes forget that we are human beings with a connection to our history underneath it all.

“I’m concerned about the implications of economic inequality that results in a lack of access to health care. Stress has an impact on illnesses, and I believe we can make a difference in our own well-being by not focusing so much on ‘self-help,’ but rather on the cultural and social impacts that influence our health.

“Mindfulness, to me, is helping particularly women master resilience in the face of stress, anxiety and the drama in their lives, so that they are able to have more impact in the world. It’s a kind of spiritual fitness—just as we exercise our physical muscles to be physically stronger, we need to exercise our spiritual fitness muscles in order to be able to be still. Only then are we able to have a social impact that can change the world.”

Sometimes, traumatic events do not stop us; they can make us stronger. Felina Danalis exudes a positive energy that is infectious. She is still making a difference on a global scale—just not in the way she originally thought she would.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

Peripatetic is a word based on the way Greek philosopher Aristotle studied and learned: by walking about. Today, that word also describes an itinerant—one who travels about for duty and business.

Dan Paris fits that description.

Paris, 68 and a Rancho Mirage resident, was born and raised in Cleveland, in what he describes as “a Hungarian ghetto.” His father was a soccer-playing immigrant from Hungary who had worked in the salt mines as a child. His mother had been born in Cleveland, but Hungarian was the language spoken at home.

“Knowing another language is an advantage,” says Paris. “It’s like another culture given to you. … I was very inquisitive as a kid, and I always had to excel. … I’d get interested in something and stick with it for a while. I was always looking to do things that made a difference to me and that helped others, either directly or indirectly.”

Paris went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., initially planning to major in German, but he quickly changed to biology, thinking he would go into the medical field.

“I planned to become a doctor, but that meant being inside all the time,” he says. “However, the college allowed students to design their own focus, and I decided to make another major for myself in film. I took classes in film editing and camera work, and even made a film about an artist at the college.

“While at school, I took half a year off and went to Europe to work at the British Film Institute. After a week, I decided I was going to visit the great centers of Europe and Africa and shoot some film. I got a van in Amsterdam and drove to Paris and then to Morocco. I was fascinated with the London Tube (the underground transit system), which had a really creepy ambiance. I visited some family relatives in Hungary during the time when Eastern Europe was still under Soviet domination. I ran out of money in Morocco, so I worked on a fishing boat for three weeks while waiting for some money to come from home. When I got back to college, I put all the experiences together on film.

“While at college, I rented a basement apartment, and one of my memories is that the Humphreys were my neighbors!” (Hubert Humphrey was a senator who served as vice president from 1965-1969 and lost a presidential bid to Richard Nixon in 1968.)

Macalester allowed students an “interim term” to explore their own interests, and Paris had a friend at the UCLA film school. “He asked me to come out,” recalls Paris, “and thus really began my film career.”

Paris now describes himself primarily as a documentary filmmaker—although his peripatetic nature still prevails.

After college, Paris stayed in Minnesota for 20 years, working with a small film-production company. He was then offered a job in New York, but the weekend before he was going there, his then-girlfriend invited him to her family’s lake cabin.

“On the way,” he says, “her dad had to stop at this beautiful farm, 100 acres with a lake and a four-bedroom farmhouse that needed a lot of repairs. It was for sale for only $14,000. So instead of taking the job, I bought the farm. I’d had some experience in gardening, and I pretended I was a farmer for a year. I even rented a cow from a local farmer! I’ve made some bad choices, but I always pick the choice that I think will make me happy.

“After a year, I needed to get a job. I became a human-services technician at a state-run nursing home, which became one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was a kind of dumping ground for people without family support or who had illnesses that nobody wanted to deal with. I had taken care of my great-grandma when I was young, so I jumped in. I made a documentary film while I was there, based on interviewing the residents. My attitude was that I was going to get into whatever their reality was from day to day, and not try to pull them into mine. That film was actually used for training at that facility for many years.”

Paris later began a career in log-building. “I cut the logs myself and built from the ground up. I just finished and sold a project in Idyllwild built in the old Norwegian style. I even taught classes in how to do it. And I just finished doing a house here in the desert that was featured during Modernism Week.

“I’m always doing several things at once. I put together small film festivals while I was in school. I did sponsored films for corporations while I was in Minnesota. I’m not about to earn a living as a documentary filmmaker, although my current project is filming a series of 15-minute profiles of people in the Coachella Valley who love what they’re doing. I search for unheralded individuals with a passion for their work, and their struggles to help themselves and others to find joy and celebration in their lives. I’d love to pitch it as a series for local film festivals or maybe to run on PBS. It would be a good project to do with film students at College of the Desert.”

Paris loves to cook, dance, watch sports and hike. His enthusiasm when he speaks is engaging. He’s been married to Lori for the past 28 years, and they have a blended family from prior marriages.

“We’re totally opposite,” he says. “She is cautious, a thinker, but we mesh well together, like oil and vinegar once they’re blended.”

Paris came to California almost 30 years ago after visiting his film-historian older brother in Los Angeles.

“I love the desert,” he says. “I love the diversity here, and I love the proximity of five grocery stores within a five-minute drive. But my first week here, I had a nightmare that I couldn’t find a parking space that wasn’t handicapped. That speaks to my anxiety.”

Dan Paris has settled into the desert life, but if his past is any prologue to his future, he will continue his peripatetic lifestyle, always looking for a new way to express himself.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday 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

Back when the news was being dominated by the federal “zero-tolerance policy” which was resulting in family separations at the border, I attended a presentation by the writers’ group at Coachella Valley Repertory—always a great way to experience local talent.

The final writer performing her original work was Barbara Fast, the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, doing a piece she called I Am Miriam. She told the story of Moses’ journey down the Nile in a reed basket, into the arms of the Egyptian princess who adopted him into the royal kingdom, from the perspective of Miriam, Moses’ sister.

In Fast’s version, Miriam followed her brother’s journey and then suggested to the princess that she could get a Hebrew woman to breast-feed the baby—enabling their real mother to suckle her own infant. When Fast said her line about how no child should ever be separated from its mother, the audience gasped—a collective intake of breath at the ironic current relevance of that age-old story. I still get goosebumps when I recall the moment.

Barbara Fast, 67, has been in the desert for only a year and a half. She was born and raised in New York City, the only child of working parents.

“I was what used to be called a ‘latch-key kid,’” says Fast. “My mom and dad were big influences on me. I would get to go to work with my dad sometimes, at the Veterans Administration, and I learned to have respect for those who serve in any capacity in our government.”

In high school, Fast specialized in math and science. She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, majoring in philosophy, and went on to earn a law degree from Georgetown University.

“My senior high school year was 1968, when so much was going on, particularly the King and Kennedy killings,” she says. “I had already become involved in local political campaigns, and then once I was in college, there were the Kent State killings, bus riders in the South, and marches. Fairness and justice were always really important to me.”

As a lawyer, Fast went into trial practice. “It was what I seemed to be good at, and I loved the thinking,” she says. “I became a prosecutor in New York state—not a defense lawyer, because I was all about justice and discretion on behalf of the people. In the late 1970s, New York was coming out of bankruptcy; graffiti was everywhere. I felt I was participating in upholding standards. Every day, there were ethical issues.”

The work required an enormous commitment. Fast and her husband decided to move to Connecticut to start a family, and she began to teach law.

How did Fast go from law to religion?

“My husband is Jewish, and I’m sort of Catholic (from a mixed marriage),” she says. “We decided to raise our children in the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Westport. I was doing lots of volunteer work on environmental issues and was asked to give personal witness at the church for Earth Day. I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing to do five minutes, but I realized then that although I had always been standing in the back, I wanted to be in front of the church. I wanted to engage the hearts of the people.

“We live in this world, and it’s about how to live with integrity and joy. We don’t know for sure what happens afterward, so we can only imagine and wonder. What I do now is about how we live our lives. If we can ask the right questions, we can get to the right answers.

“Somebody once said to me, ‘If it knocks more than once, it could be God knocking.’ I’ve never forgotten that. I applied to go part-time to Yale and felt at home in divinity school, studying the Old Testament and ethics.“

Fast met her husband, Jonathan, in college, but it wasn’t until they met again at an alumni event that they got together. They have now been married 35 years.

“I have three wonderful children: Molly, my stepdaughter, and two sons, Ben and Dan. Jon was a novelist, but we both made career shifts at about the same time. He started teaching social policy, and I went into divinity school.”

What brought them to the Coachella Valley?

“About two years ago, we decided to retire, after kicking it around for about a year. I had served churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then back to Connecticut, and I was tired. After the Sandy Hook shootings happened nearby, I was in a state of trauma. It was all just so sad.

“Jon was retiring, and our son Ben was in Los Angeles, so we looked around there. Then we came over the mountain originally thinking it was ridiculous—it was August, and the temperature was about 114! But we fell in love with this area. It’s affordable, and there are so many creative people here. We wanted a place that was near a UU church, and when we attended, we found a great group of people, friendly and smart. We knew the church was in transition; they weren’t ready at that time for a full-time pastor, but I did preach there a few times.”

Shortly after arriving in Rancho Mirage, Fast sought out the CV Rep Writers’ Group, run by Andy Harmon.

“It’s wonderful,” she says. “I had crafted stories as part of sermons, not just about individuals, but about human beings in general and the human condition, trying to make connections with how we are living now. I had presented stories, after gathering evidence and analyzing it, as a lawyer. Then I did it in sermons. Now I wanted to expand my capabilities. Biblical text is very compact, so when I was writing about Miriam, I asked myself, ‘Why did she go into the water? How did she get there, down the Nile? What must it be like to sacrifice your child?’”

Fast says a “calling” is when your greatest love meets the world’s greatest need: “It takes different shapes at different times of your life.”

Lucky for us, Fast’s current time of life is here in the desert. She shares stories with her “audience” every Sunday, making a difference in the community, and bringing goose bumps to her listeners.

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 am incensed that the president of the United States may have been caught on tape saying the “N” word, and that his administration can’t “guarantee” that such a tape won’t surface.

He ran a campaign that cast “political correctness”—the progressive notion that we should recognize the impact of language relating to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—as having run amok.

The “N” word inherently assumes a sense of superiority to those being thus described. I steadfastly maintain that the word, and its hateful presumption, cannot possibly be said or even thought unless it’s already programmed into your thinking.

Racism is a cancer at the core of our culture. It’s in our cultural DNA.

I was lucky enough to be raised in a household where racist language was never heard or used. I had a mother who always used any situation to inculcate the equality of every individual. If we drove past some men digging a hole in the street, we often noticed that the one down in the hole was usually black, while those watching him work were white. My mom would say, “Isn’t it a shame that those guys are just standing around watching the other guy work?” I got the message that nobody should be considered better than anybody else, particularly based on the color of their skin.

That concept is what got me to volunteer as part of the 1960s civil rights movement. I worked with the Black Arts Workshop in Pacoima, a diverse suburb in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, participating in what we called “confrontations,” gatherings held in the living rooms of middle-class white people, most of whom thought they were not at all prejudiced. They were always shocked to realize they harbored deep-seated biases, even though most of them never said offensive words (at least never in public), and proudly proclaimed they had never acted in any way that might be seen as prejudiced. But had they ever spoken up or acted when they had been around others expressing those thoughts? Almost never.

I have black stepchildren who came into my life for a few years in the early 1970s—with whom I have warm, loving relationships to this day. I still remember my shock that 5-year-old Kim had never had a black doll. When I brought one home for her, I remember the look of wonder and delight on her face when she realized the doll looked like her. Yet social research has shown that black girls prefer white dolls—because those are the “good” ones. This is what our culture teaches them.

My own children never batted an eye when I began living with Milt, and they readily accepted his children as members of the family. My kids had grown up learning what I had learned from my mom: The only difference was in skin color, not unlike hair color or eye color or height.

Milt had been raised in a black community in northern Louisiana, and he grew up seeing himself equally valued relative to all those around him. His experiences later in life in a largely white society came as something of a surprise, especially because he had never internalized that he was somehow “lesser.”

We need to actively root out the racism at the core of our culture. What curriculum is your school district using to teach American history? In some school districts, slavery is minimized, and its ultimate impact on our culture is never mentioned. In bridge clubs and book clubs and social-service organizations, people drop words or phrases or raise their eyebrows when race is an issue, and they need to be publicly called out on that. It’s enough sometimes to just say, “I find that really inappropriate.” Staying silent should never be an option.

The “N” word has never, and could never, come out of my mouth. I never learned it. My children don’t have it in their heads, either. But we all know it’s a pernicious part of the American culture, and it must be excised as we would remove a tumor. It’s about making it never acceptable anywhere. It’s about realizing we inherit racism as part of our cultural DNA, and it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize it and call it out, so future generations won’t have it in their heads either.

Teach your children and grandchildren to be “politically correct”—if it means they won’t have denigrating words and concept in their heads, and that they will call out others who feel free to express prejudice. That way, perhaps we won’t perpetuate the cancer to yet another generation. We must improve mankind and move our society always forward.

Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike than we are different.”

For me, it’s personal.

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

Our families influence who we become—and like many women who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, the conflict between the politics of the era and what she saw in her own home shaped Jeanie Ribeiro’s life.

Ribeiro, 67, was born and raised in Onset, a village that calls itself “the gateway to Cape Cod,” about an hour outside of Boston. “It’s not far from where the Kennedys have their enclave. We used to say we were on the poor side of the bridge,” she laughs. “But we were only about two blocks from the beach. As a kid, I could go to the back bay all by myself and just hang out.”

Ribeiro and her siblings—two sisters and a brother—lived around lots of family. “We had aunts and uncles and cousins from my mother’s family all around us, and my father’s family lived only about 20 minutes away,” she says.

Ribeiro’s forebears emigrated from Cape Verde, an island nation off the northwest coast of Africa, in the early 1900s, when the islands suffered a severe drought and famine. The islands were colonized by the Portuguese, and were a pivotal location in the early slave trade. It was also a haven for Jews and others who were victims of the Portuguese-Spanish Inquisition. The population, with a mixture of European, Moorish, Arab and African backgrounds, developed its own unique Creole culture and language.

“When I was young, a lot of the kids I went to school with came from immigrant families,” says Ribeiro. “Everybody seemed to have grandparents, or even parents, who spoke a language other than English. … There were so many backgrounds in our own family. We were black and Portuguese. My grandpa was a citizen of Portugal. One of my grandmothers was English. I always used to ask, ‘What are we?’”

Ribeiro is described by everyone who knows her as fiercely independent.

“I always felt as if I were an only child, even from about the age of 2,” she says. “I really liked being on my own. My mom instilled in me a desire to be independent. She was in a traditional-role marriage with my dad. She had a beautiful voice, and people always said she was as pretty as Lena Horne. I don’t remember my dad ever being really kind to my mother. I remember when all she wanted was to get a job, and he absolutely forbade it.

“My dad was a hard-working man who was basically living the American dream. His mother had died when he was very young, and the only memory of her that he had was when they lowered him to kiss her in her coffin. Can you imagine? His primary focus was taking care of and protecting his family, but he was something of a playboy. In fact, I met a young woman who was actually a child of my dad.

“Dad got abusive toward my mom, and she threatened to leave him several times. I just know that she never had the chance to live the life she might have wanted. I learned that independence meant being happy by doing what you want to do.

“To this day, I always go everywhere alone. Of course I have friends, but they know not to put any demands on me. I never wanted to be tied down to anyone. I do things when I want to. Even when I had boyfriends, I never lived with them. I didn’t want anyone taking over my world the way my dad had with my mom.”

Ribeiro prides herself on being self-educated and a voracious reader. After she graduated from high school, she wanted a way out of the small town where she was raised. “There were maybe 2,000 people in the whole area, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women, especially women of color,” she said. “I had a friend who had a management job at the telephone company in Boston. When I went in for that interview, I knew they would give me the job. They needed younger people. I may have been the first woman of color they had hired.”

Ribeiro came to California in 1975. “I had a cousin in Los Angeles, and we roomed together for a while. I realized I didn’t want to live right in the city. I found a job in Santa Monica and a place where I could walk to work.”

Ribeiro later moved up to Big Bear Lake and loved it. “It was the air up there, especially after being in Los Angeles,” she said. “I’m totally an outdoor person. I skied, biked and hiked. In fact, it’s because the air was so clean that I stopped smoking!

“Fun to me means getting up early to walk, reading two or three books at a time, and going to cultural events, the museum, art exhibits. And when you go places alone, you meet interesting people. Conversations don’t happen easily when you’re already with someone else.

 “I moved down to the desert because I’m starting to age, and I wanted to be closer to medical facilities. I love living my life here in my own way.”

Ribeiro realizes the women of her generation fought to avoid living their lives in the same roles as their parents. “Men are attracted to my independence—but then I can’t be what they mean by ‘wife,’” she says. “Between the propaganda (of feminism) in the 1960s, and my mom’s marriage, the message that came through to me was that unless you find the right fit, you don’t have to be married. I’ve been asked, ‘Are you a lesbian?’ since I’ve never married. I’m not, but my response is, ‘Sex is sex. If you love someone, what difference does it make?’

“I think I was born with a positive attitude. I’ve always been focused on what’s happening right now. People who glorify the past are boring. Sure, we have memories, but I’m always open to the next new thing coming down the road. Right now, I’m joyful, happy and healthy, and I’m free to do anything I want.”

Thanks to the lessons of her own family and of the changing cultural norms for women in her generation, Jeanie Ribiero lives her life to the fullest.

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

He’s tall, lanky and attractive, with a quick smile and garrulous wit … and he cooks!

David Jackson, 63, was born in East Los Angeles and raised there with his two sisters until his sophomore year in high school, when his dad was transferred, and the family moved to Toronto.

Jackson started cooking along with his grandmother when he was about 3. “I had a Swedish grandma,” he says, “and learned to cook all kinds of wonderful Swedish dishes. I started working as a cook at about 16, while I was still in high school in Toronto, in the kitchen at a nice hotel.

“Then I went to a fly-fishing camp near the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. I was hired as the dishwasher and kitchen assistant; however, the lead cook was a 25-year-old clown who didn’t even know how to make icebox cookies; he thought you just made the dough, wrapped it in wax paper, refrigerated, sliced and served. He didn’t know you had to bake them! That’s when I took over the camp cook duties to the great relief of the camp staff and guests.

“I never attended traditional professional cooking schools. I went to the School of Hard Knocks. Working under head chefs in lots of restaurants, I learned all the elements you get in a year of formal training: sauces, baking, mise en place (getting everything organized and ready), butchery, seasonings—all the basics. I did go to Mesa College for a while, taking only the classes I wanted in hotel and restaurant administration, but that was it.”

Jackson’s cooking career includes a stint at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and many other high-end kitchens where he honed his craft. He can drop lots of famous names.

Jackson’s dad had moved the family to San Diego, where his father had a construction and sign business. “He was a sign-hanger,” he says. “He had hung most of the neon around Los Angeles in the late 1950s and 1960s. He even worked on the Hollywood sign!

“After cooking in the San Diego area for about eight years,” says Jackson, “I realized I didn’t want the headaches of my own restaurant, so I started working side by side with my dad in the family business for a while.

“I also had become a fishing freak; I would cast a line into a rain puddle! As a young man, I would bring a camera with me when I went on fishing trips, and I began writing articles which got published in national magazines. All of a sudden, I was a freelance photo-journalist.”

Jackson’s family roots in the high desert go back to his grand-aunt and grand-uncle who bought property in 1947 through the Homestead Act. His grandparents and parents also bought in the high desert, and Jackson has acquired additional high desert property; he currently resides there.

“I’ve built three homes by hand,” he says, “and any home-builder who is self-motivated can do it all—carpentry, glazing, everything. You do need a good plumber and an electrician. There’s a story about Spencer Tracy, where he was once on the red carpet about to be interviewed by famed Hollywood columnist Army Archerd. Army asked Tracy about the importance of the star-studded night. Tracy responded, ‘Tonight’s not important. You want to know what’s important? Plumbing.’ I’ve never forgotten that!”

Jackson started playing with the idea of doing a cooking show in the early 1980s. “I was interested in television chefs like Julia Child and Graham Kerr, ‘The Galloping Gourmet.’ I had done some news segments for KESQ-TV in the low desert called ‘Food for Thought.’

“Then, in 1985, I connected with a new hospital satellite network in Los Angeles, one of the first of its kind, designed specifically for doctors and hospitals to further medical information and training. People could watch it in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I did 13 segments of Healthy Lifestyle with co-hosts Bruce Jenner and Jean Carroll. I was the cook and segment host. There weren’t many cooking shows back then, and I had to pay for it all myself, plus pay for the broadcast time. I hoped it would generate a PBS show. I had gotten on TV, but it was not to be, so I shifted back to the family business.”

Jackson’s hope has now materialized—and he has a successful PBS show. Food Over 50 is based on the fact that once people hit middle age, their eating habits need to change along with their changing bodies.

“It’s the time when doctors see blood pressure going up,” he says. “It’s time to start watching salt intake, to start exercising; it’s the age when it’s important to monitor and maintain our health. I’m not a doctor or a dietitian, so I’ve teamed up with Elizabeth Kelsey, who was chief dietician at Eisenhower Medical Center for over 25 years, and who designed the nutrition program for the Betty Ford Center. Every recipe I use is cleared through her, and she does commentary on camera for the show.

“Back in the 1980s, we knew about things like sodium and cholesterol, but people weren’t really listening much. Now there’s much more information available, and people are paying attention. Right now, it’s just me and my director/cameraman in a small space I’ve set up. But PBS has a wonderful system of conventions for programmers, and I got what’s known as a presenting station, WKAR, in East Lansing, Mich. There are 354 licensed stations within the PBS network, and we’re on 290 of them. That’s 82 perecnt of television households in the country!”

Jackson intends to continue featuring the low and high deserts on Food Over 50, with segments on everything from local fresh food markets to working with dementia-related groups to help caregivers learn how to facilitate healthy eating. “I’ve been caring for my mother, and I’ve learned that you have to slow everything down. People eat with sight and smell, but those with illnesses like dementia have limited sensory capability,” he says. “Food must be more flavorful and nutritious. You have to give them time to smell the food and stimulate their appetites. Good nutrition can make a difference, even with physical issues. You also need to be aware of your own physicality and be gentle, like with a young child. You need patience and endurance. ”

Jackson hopes to expand the reach of Food Over 50, and engage in what he calls culinary travel—finding the healthiest and best of every culture’s cuisine. He also intends to “keep teaching fish a lesson, but never catching more than I can eat.”

David Jackson’s patience and endurance is finally paying off.

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 don’t cook. It’s not that I can’t; I just don’t enjoy it.

Still … I can’t imagine what it would be like to learn to cook if I couldn’t see.

At the Braille Institute in Rancho Mirage, Chef John Phillips teaches people with limited vision how to develop what he calls “the basic skills a food handler would need to know in a professional kitchen,” including using knives safely (“There are NO plastic knives in my kitchen!”), chopping vegetables, making sauces, defrosting frozen foods, baking meatloaf, gauging food temperature, practicing sanitary precautions and using a fire extinguisher—all the basic skills that enable someone to safely prepare simple meals.

“I sometimes have four or five people in the class who can’t see at all, so I will pair them up with someone with at least partial sight,” Phillips says. “We don’t do foods that are deep-fried, but I can teach them how to flip an egg—we practice with a slice of bread—bake barbecue chicken, and make vegetable soup.”

Phillips, 55, a La Quinta resident, has lived full-time in the Coachella Valley for 23 years. Born and raised in St. Cloud, Minn., he began working in kitchens at the age of 14 as a dishwasher. “In my family, my brothers and I always worked. My parent said we had to work for our ‘stuff,’ so we always had the nicest cars and clothes.”

One night, the fry cook didn’t show up, and Phillips’ boss told him he was going to be the fry cook that night.

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I don’t think anyone really does until after high school,” he said. By age 18, he was already cooking full-time.

Phillips went to culinary school. Some of his teachers owned a catering company, so he picked up additional work. “In those days, we had a cow hanging in the back, and would cut the mold off and cook the steaks. It’s not like that anymore,” he said.

Phillips was working at King’s Supper Club on the Mississippi River when he decided he wanted to take a break from cooking. One of his brothers had started a landscaping business in Moreno Valley, so he headed for California.

“I had never been to California,” he says, “so I went. I worked there for about a year, but I got really tired of pulling weeds in 110-degree heat, so I started working as a cook in a few places.”

Phillips’ career has taken him from San Bernardino to Solana Beach to Garden Grove, and finally to the Coachella Valley. He’s worked at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, Casey’s, Ramada Inns, Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, La Quinta Cliff House, Touché in Rancho Mirage, and Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, among others places. He has been a head chef as well as a food and beverage manager for 39 years.

“When I worked with Ramada Inns, I had to take 197 hours of education courses in hospitality, including management of both the front and back of the house,” Phillips said. “One of the things I learned is that getting to be head chef and food and beverage manager too often means working longer hours but not getting paid for both positions.”

Phillips said he has seen a lot of Coachella Valley restaurants come and go. “Everyone with a little money thinks they can open a restaurant. They don’t realize the overhead costs, taxes and fees, and that you just can’t keep adding things to the menu.”

His work as a chef is how Phillips met his wife, Caroline. “I was working at a hotel in San Bernardino, and she used to come to get my famous ribs,” he said. “One night, we were out of ribs, and she asked to speak to the chef.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Phillips has a stepson, and he and Caroline have a daughter.

In his 40s, Phillips thought he needed glasses and went to see an eye doctor, who sent him to a retina specialist after diagnosing the “wet” type of macular degeneration in both of his eyes. “Dry” macular is slow-progressing, and can often be controlled with diminishing progression over time. “Wet” macular is fast-moving and treated with injections directly into the eye.

“I’ve had 33 injections already,” Phillips said, “and I have so much scar tissue now that they probably won’t be able to give me shots anymore. I have some peripheral vision in my right eye, but my left eye is pretty well gone. The first time they gave me one of the shots, I thought the first shot to numb the area was bad enough. Now they’ve developed a numbing agent that makes it a lot easier.”

Phillips walks with a white red-tipped cane, has a computer with special devices, and proudly says he “can do anything that anybody else can do.”

Although Phillips has been volunteering at the Braille Institute for the past few years, he was originally reluctant to go there at all.

“I think a lot of people don’t take advantage of what Braille offers, because they figure if they attend, they’ll just learn how to read in Braille,” he says. “It’s so much more than that.”

Phillips not only teaches cooking classes at the Braille Institute; he caters holiday meals and special events for up to 100 people. He also teaches a class in history/philosophy asking what he calls “big questions.”

“People need to know there is so much here that they can do and learn—piano, computers, agriculture, cooking and classes in so many other subjects,” he says. “It’s about learning life skills and sensory awareness. I have one student who is totally blind, and I make him do a lot of the work, because he has ambition. There are a lot of people who just want to sit back and feel sorry for themselves.

“My wish is to see my daughter married and to have grandchildren before I totally lose my sight. I’m fortunate. There are some people who’ve never seen in their whole life.”

What advice does Phillips have? “Never give up. There’s always something more to come.”

With an attitude like that, John Phillips could make me enjoy cooking.

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.

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