CVIndependent

Mon12102018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Anita Rufus

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.

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.

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

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

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

Who knows something like that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A serious bout with cancer changed Davis’ life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who have you always wished you looked like?”

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

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

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

“What was it like where you grew up?”

“What’s your favorite memory?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t trust anybody after that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zenna moved to the Coachella Valley last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the writing career come about?

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

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

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

What brought them to Palm Springs three years ago?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Hamlin doesn’t make those kind of mistakes.

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

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