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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I recently attended a seminar on technological literacy in K-12 classrooms, held at California State University San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus. It was conducted by one of the five 2014 California Teachers of the Year, Jessica Pack, from our own James Workman Middle School in Cathedral City, along with Derrick Lawson, principal of Colonel Mitchell Paige Middle School in La Quinta.

Soon after, I received an amazing book, Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education, by John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, about what he sees as an attempt to destroy public education.

Let me explain how these subjects are connected.

Jessica Pack is one of those teachers we would all remember if we had been lucky enough to be in her classroom. She teaches language arts, social studies and technology to sixth-graders. Her enthusiasm about introducing varying types of technology to her students, and her pride in the results she has seen, is genuine and joyful.

“For me,” says Pack, “anything less than a passionate approach to education isn’t enough. I am a change agent, constantly learning and changing as a professional in order to transform my classroom further, and reach my students more effectively than ever before.”

Pack’s approach to teaching is to establish a “memorable, extraordinary and safe place” for students to learn. She is involved in organizations that promote a technology-rich classroom environment, and acknowledges that in her classroom, the students are often teaching each other.

In Pack’s classroom, students are encouraged to create their own short films, using technology to demonstrate and share what they are learning. “When students use technology, they are absolutely fearless,” says Pack. “Instead of just being consumers of education, they become producers, showing their thinking and reasoning, and demonstrating mastery of subject matter.”

Samples of the short films made by Pack’s students were awe-inspiring, particularly because the students had planned, written, produced, filmed and acted in the films—and the subjects they tackled were substantive and meaningful.

Lawson, speaking in his enthusiastic, rapid-fire style, gave anecdotal evidence showing the difference the effective integration of technology can make in the classroom, particularly for students for whom routine memorization or outdated methods of teaching just don’t work. One example he gave was when eighth-grade students worked in teams to pick a current news event and relate it directly to an issue covered by the Bill of Rights. “The students get more invested in what they are learning.”

“We’re no longer in the Industrial Revolution when it comes to education,” Lawson says. “We have to match the learning tool to the student. We’re looking for evidence of learning and what we can do to enhance that learning. We have to know how to embed learning so it sticks and can be demonstrated.”

After the encouraging view of current educational methods presented at the seminar, I began to read Kuhn’s book. I’ve often talked about what I see as an assault on public education in the “reform” movements of recent years—privatization, charter schools, “choice,” reduced funding, endless testing, teacher-bashing, and depressing statistics about the lack of educational equity, particularly for poor and minority students. Kuhn hits all of that from the perspective of an educator and administrator who is committed to public education and sees it as under attack from the “save the test but not the teachers” approach to education.

“I write this book to warn that the folks spending their leisure time declaring the American public school system an utter failure have an embarrassing number of conflicting interests and ulterior motives. … They tenaciously peddle their remarkably consistent message: Schools are bad. Unions are the problem. The free market is the solution. … (M)aybe they’re misleading us.”

When you witness for yourself the dedication and professionalism of teachers in our local public schools—who have to teach all students and not just those they pick and choose, and who are attempting to reach their students while keeping up with technological changes that happen faster than anyone can anticipate—you realize that Kuhn’s concerns about America’s commitment to public education are valid. Our free public education system is necessary if we are to survive as a culture.

Regarding the concept of testing as the be-all and end-all of evaluating our educational system, Kuhn writes that because “school- and teacher-ranking systems are built on mathematics, they are presented as unassailably objective. … The tests themselves may be objective … but the structures elaborated on the tests are often fraught with subjectivity and perfectly suited for behind-the-scenes manipulation.”

Kuhn describes the move toward low-cost fixes along with “investors and CEOs with stakes in educational technology or charter-school management organizations” as “an alliance of the well-meaning and the self-serving … It is ultimately cheaper and faster to cut down unions than it is to dig up our structural inequalities.

“In a young century already noted for brazen corporate malfeasance in fields ranging from energy to mortgage finance to banking to insurance, a ceaseless PR campaign dedicated to the devaluation of our public school system led by corporate lobbyists and billionaire anti-unionists should give us all pause. The crusade to cheapen this public trust is breathtaking for its audacity and its tenacity.”

Teachers need to be supported and valued for the professionals they are, and we need to let them know we recognize and appreciate their commitment to preparing the Americans of the future.

I learned at the seminar that education is about a lot more than preparing students to enter the workforce. It’s about teaching students to create, to work together, to respect differences, and to think for themselves, question everything and share what they learn. Every student is entitled to that, and only public taxpayer-supported education guarantees that for all.

Stop falling for schemes that attempt to shovel tax dollars into private education. Don’t be misled by what sound like quick-fixes or a return to “the good old days.”

Public education is essential for the socialization and citizenship of future generations, and the survival of our collective and ever-evolving culture. In Kuhn’s words: “Reform should be done by educators, not to them.”

The educators I saw at the Cal State seminar prove that Kuhn is right.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can coincidentally coincide.

I recently wrote about Cathy Greenblat and her stirring book, Love, Loss, and Laughter, featuring photographs of people with various types of dementia and reminding us that “someone is in there.” Cathy has inspired a local coalition of individuals and organizations to make Coachella Valley into a “dementia-friendly community,” patterned on similar projects around the world.

And now for something seemingly unconnected: The Board is a group of men, mostly of a certain age, that gets together monthly for lunch to gab, exchange stories, listen to speakers and generally socialize. They also occasionally have an event where womenfolk are invited. I recently attended just such an event, the day after attending a meeting of the “dementia-friendly” group, where one of The Board’s members, Larry Delrose, showed a film he wrote and co-produced, called Night Club.

Delrose’s film includes such film stars as Mickey Rooney, Sally Kellerman and Ernest Borgnine, in a story that centers on a residence facility where many patients have dementia. The film shows both the compassion and care given to such patients, as well as the callousness often encountered. It includes scenes that members of the audience laughed at nervously—possibly because the film showed many people in a situation in which we’re afraid we’ll one day find ourselves.

Delrose is a Rancho Mirage resident who has been in the Coachella Valley for 34 years. At 63, he has been married for 40 years, and has two daughters and five grandkids. He previously was a real estate investor, wrote a book called Directions to a Happy Life, and began acting and movie-making later in life in an effort to “pursue what you love to do in life.”

Why a movie on this subject? “I thought the movie business needs more mainstream movies that address social issues (instead of) extreme violence, dysfunctional families, horror and action,” says Delrose. “I thought I could present socially aware subjects to the moviegoer in a way that they could learn something about life, without being preachy, corny or too depressing.”

In her pursuit of photographs of people with dementia-related illnesses, Greenblat was determined to capture what makes them laugh, sing and dance. Delrose affirms that “music, dancing and being around younger people can help all older people feel better, especially music, (which) is like a free anti-depressant drug.”

This conclusion led Delrose, in part, to Night Club: “I want to make movies that expose a social issue for thought, make it a great script, get some well-known skilled actors, and bring in lots of kids and music. Night Club was a test for me to see if my idea was right, and based on how I saw people react, I now know that I’m on to something.”

What would it take to de-fuse the stigma attached to a diagnosis of “dementia”? We had a president, Ronald Reagan, who may have already been experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s while still in office. Singer Glen Campbell went on tour after his diagnosis, and only recently had to cancel performances due to escalating memory issues—although he is continuing to speak out about his condition.

Other famous people have gone public with their diagnosis and have helped de-stigmatize Alzheimer’s: actors Charles Bronson, Charlton Heston, Rita Hayworth, Burgess Meredith, Peter Falk, Estelle Getty; renowned composer Aaron Copeland; boxer Sugar Ray Robinson; singer Perry Como; and basketball coach Pat Summitt.

I can remember when the word “cancer” struck fear even in those who had not received the diagnosis. We whispered the word. We didn’t talk publicly about it. Then first ladies Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan shared their own experiences with us, along with many others. Now cancer is recognized as a disease that can be detected and in some cases cured, or at least somewhat controlled; we have learned not to shun or fear people who have it. We speak out about it and walk with signs to raise awareness. Although we still fear hearing the diagnosis, we no longer worry about “catching it.”

A similar transformation took place around HIV/AIDS. None of us want to be told we have it, but we no longer fear being around people who have been diagnosed, as when people were afraid to send their children to school because they might “catch it.”

That is one of the goals of a “dementia-friendly community”—to not only de-stigmatize those with the condition, but to educate ourselves and our communities to understand that “someone is in there.”

The next time the person in front of you in line at Starbucks is confused by too many choices, or someone at the checkout counter at the market has trouble counting out change, instead of getting impatient and huffy, offer to help. That is the first step toward the Coachella Valley being a dementia-friendly community—and we all have an investment in that.

You can make a difference.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

He’s known as Peter the Reader to the students he meets with weekly at Bubbling Wells Elementary School in Desert Hot Springs.

Peter Fredric of Palm Springs is literally—and literarily—changing lives.

“I saw an article in the paper,” says Fredric, “and I was looking for an opportunity to do something in the community. So, since I love reading and communicating, I decided to check it out.”

What Fredric checked out was BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools). The original idea was to use actors to engage students in the joy of reading.

“I did some work as an announcer and reporter for television, became a tech writer, an account executive, came to the desert to build affordable homes, and worked with local KESQ in their creative-arts department,” says Fredric. “I began my first classroom assignment with BookPALS in 2007. I just wanted to make a difference.”

That same impulse led Tere Britton, a Rancho Mirage resident, to take on managing the BookPALS program in the Coachella Valley.

Britton worked with NBC in community relations when she was a single young woman. After a move to Chicago, where she was involved on the boards of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Art Institute, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Britton eventually settled in the desert.

“I saw a posting in 2007 from Palm Springs Women in Film and Television (PSWIFT) looking for someone to run a local BookPALS program,” says Britton. “I remembered that when I was in the third-grade, an actor visited our class and read to us, and I was mesmerized.

“We now have 50 readers in 14 schools from Desert Hot Springs to Indio. I try to assign readers to schools as close to their homes as possible. Readers don’t have to be in show business; anyone can volunteer.

“Many of the classrooms we visit are in socioeconomic areas where students aren’t being read to at home, for lots of reasons, not least of which can be language difficulties. When you read to kids, it’s so important and fundamental to their lives.”

Jill Mincer Singer, of Palm Springs, is also a BookPALS reader. After a long, successful career as a designer, Singer is now semi-retired. “I decided I wanted to do something worthwhile for children. I heard about BookPALS from a friend, and it seemed like such a good idea.

“When I walk into a school and down the corridors, and the kids yell out, ‘Hi Mrs. Jill! You read to me last year!’ or ‘I love the book we’re reading!’ it makes me feel good. There is so much joy in their faces, and they’re so appreciative to have us coming into their classroom.”

Does a reader need special talents? “No,” says Singer. “Whoever reads should just be pleasant, friendly, speak clearly and use some inflection based on the story, or the kids won’t stay engaged.”

Peter Fredric says a reader just needs to enjoy reading, care about kids and show up. “The students come to depend on me to be there. You build a relationship with them, and you see that you can make such a difference in a child’s life. One girl told me she is now reading to her mother and helping her mother learn English. Toward the end of the year, I even have them read to me.”

Says Tere Britton (right): “There are no specific qualifications. Our focus is to stimulate interest in reading and writing. The teachers teach them how to read; what we do is encourage them to enjoy reading, and to want to do it on their own. We are enabling them to become critical thinkers, and exposing them to new ideas and concepts. And this program gives students a chance to relate to people in the community from diverse backgrounds whom they might never otherwise meet. Every reader brings something special to the classroom.”

BookPALS readers don’t need to choose the books themselves; school librarians will find age-appropriate books, or classroom teachers make suggestions, although many readers enjoy digging through the children’s section of the library. Britton provides training, and teachers are completely supportive of the program.

I read for BookPALS one morning a week for two years, at Cathedral City Elementary School in third-, fourth and fifth-grade classrooms. With my grandchildren far away, it gave me a chance to interact with children, and it quickly became the highlight of each week.

I learned how dedicated elementary teachers are, how anxious to learn the children are, and how much a program like this can impact students’ future success in school and after. I keep the stack of valentines they made for me, including the one that said, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

A personal awakening came when I discovered a delightful book called The Cheese. It’s a funny story of “The Farmer in the Dell” from the point of view of the cheese that ends up standing alone at the end of the song. Before I began to read, I asked how many remembered the song—and only one hand went up. I realized these third-graders came primarily from homes where the cultures differed from what I experienced growing up, and they hadn’t been exposed to things we tend to take for granted. What a thrill for me when, after I sang the song for them and explained the game, they understood and loved the irony of the book.

My greatest joy came when reading a story with a twist, like Stone Soup and watching as a face here, and then a face there, lit up with recognition of where the story was going. These were students whose thinking skills were being stimulated, and I left those encounters so full of appreciation for what they were giving me.

BookPALS gives a book to each child annually. “For some students,” says Britton, “it may be the first book of their own they’ve ever gotten. I tell them, ‘This is your very own book. You can even start your own library.’”

Talk to your neighbors and friends about this program, and consider giving a couple of hours a week to an activity in which you will make a difference, and you will enrich your life in ways you’ll never be able to measure. You will just feel it, and it will fill your heart with pride and joy.

Peter Fredric says, “Real men do read to kids.”

Jill Mincer Singer says, “Doing this makes me feel so very, very good.”

Tere Britton says, “We encourage children to know the magic of books. Children learn through our readers how to enjoy reading. This is a labor of love.”

For more information, or to get involved, email Tere Britton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Scroll down to watch a video on BookPALS. 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

In 2000, Pay It Forward, a movie starring Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and Hayley Joel Osment, made an indelible impression on me.

I believe every occurrence in every moment of our lives is open for us to learn something from it—if we can just figure out what that lesson is, whether we like it or not. We can then pay it forward in how we live our lives.

So it’s the start of the new year, and we’re doing what we do every year—comparing lists of bests and worsts, wins and losses of the previous year. One list I’m always both ready and reluctant to see: celebrity deaths.

The older I get, the more I notice that lots and lots of people I used to “know” are gone: movie stars, local heroes, famous leaders and friends. But instead of lamenting losses, I’ve decided to celebrate lessons learned and pay them forward.

Jonathan Winters died this year at the age of 87. He was the reason my late husband, John Aylesworth, came to Los Angeles from New York, to produce one of Winters’ television series. Although I never met him, “Jonny” had an enormous impact on my life. He was the first comedian I had ever seen who played out his childlike stream of consciousness. We all have it; we just don’t often “see” it, and hardly anyone can express it in real time. (OK, Robin Williams can, but he didn’t die this year.)

Sometimes, when I’m noticing every little thing that distracts me from what I’ve set out to do—those flowers need more water; I should spot-clean that rug; better put those shoes away; have to mail those letters; where are my keys—I think of the way Winters made each of those tiny observations funny: by sharing them, using characters to mock them, taking our obsession with them to its absurdity, and making us laugh at ourselves through him.

I try to catch myself and verbalize—even if I’m alone—the games my mind is playing. I laugh out loud. Thanks for that, Jonny.

Agua Caliente Chairman Richard Milanovich died in 2012, but to me, it feels so recent. He was very smart about how the tribe made local political contributions—generally to support likely winners, so that tribal interests would be heard. Milanovich and I met when we participated in several events on the same stage; we always were glad to see each other. He was a warm and charming man.

When I announced I would run against Sonny Bono in the 1996 election for Congress, everyone assumed it was unlikely that I would even make a decent showing against such a well-funded and high-name-recognition politician/celebrity. The chance that someone like politically sophisticated Milanovich would support me seemed impossible—but he was an early, quiet supporter, without being asked, with great warmth and encouragement. I’ll never forget that. I learned that it’s not enough to hedge your bets; it’s also important to do it with sincerity and class. Richard Milanovich was a class act.

Local philanthropist, socialite and TV-station owner, Jackie Lee Houston, known for her pile of blonde hair and her amazing presence, died in 2011, but that, too, seems like yesterday. I didn’t “know” Jackie Lee, but I did meet or see her a couple of times—and each time was significant for a different reason.

My first meeting with Jackie Lee was at a birthday party for singer Jack Jones. The crowd was glittery; the atmosphere was festive; the private home was lovely. A chair—situated somewhat to the side of the crowd, strategically and beautifully placed near a small table with a slender lamp on it—looked like an ancient throne of some kind, festooned with ribbons. I noticed it when I arrived, and it had remained empty.

Then, all of a sudden, there was a subtle shift in the air, and Jackie Lee was magically seated in “the chair.”

I am nothing if not brash—to the point of occasional not-socially-correct behavior—and I figured since we were at the same party, it would be neighborly to say hello. So I approached “Mrs. Houston,” introduced myself with a couple of lame local references, and commented that I had been wondering for whom the throne had been placed.

She laughed heartily and remarked that she knew she had forgotten something—“my crown.” For the remaining moments of our ensuing conversation, I was completely at ease. Now that’s a skill to pay forward to everyone you encounter!

My other lesson from Jackie Lee Houston was about her husband. I’ve never officially met Jim Houston, but at several events at which I was in their company, I saw the kind, loving, compassionate and totally supportive role he played on her behalf. That is the appropriate way to show true loving concern for someone you care about. I remembered that example when my husband was ill.

Eleanor Parker was an actress when movies like The Man With the Golden Arm were being made. She died in 2013 here in Palm Springs.

The 1955 film was highly controversial at the time, and was denied the Motion Picture Association of America seal because it dealt directly with drug addiction. It also starred Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. (When I was in my teens, there was nobody I wanted to be more than Kim Novak!)

Parker’s performance in that movie has never left me. Her insecurity and the irrational fear of losing her relationship with her drug-addicted husband led her to a manipulating dependence that was debilitating and totally destructive. I never forgot the lesson Parker’s character taught me: Co-dependence goes in both directions. I’ve remembered that with the alcoholics and druggies and vampires I’ve encountered over the years. Thank you, Eleanor!

Finally, we lost actress Julie Harris in 2013. She was brilliant, and I remember seeing her in The Member of the Wedding back in 1952. I identified with her spirit and her frustration at what it means to have to grow up.

In 1955, Julie Harris again stunned me in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, directed by Elia Kazan, playing opposite James Dean. Any man who has not seen that movie should do so. If ever a script expressed the frustration of brotherly competition, and how one figures out what it means to be a man, this is the one.

I most remember Harris’ plaintive tone of voice, her fragility combined with enormous strength and determination, her yearning to bring healing to a distressed family, and her compassion and love for a man struggling to find himself.

The lesson from Julie Harris in East of Eden? Love is the only thing that matters, and it has to begin with knowing how to love yourself.

Pay it forward. Happy New Year!

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 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

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

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