Saturday, January 19, 2019

The 2019 Women's March in Denver

Today was the third Women's March in Denver.

The first was held January 21, 2017, to protest Donald J. Trump's positions and Presidency; to promote women's rights, immigration reform, climate science, and health care reform; to counter religious discrimination, violence against women, and LGBTQ abuse; and to address racial inequities, workers' issues, and environmental issues. Other than protesting Trump's policies and his presidency, those goals have not been fully achieved. But we're on our way.

I missed the first Women's March. I had just had knee replacement surgery. By the 2018 March, I was there. I don't know that that March was responsible for getting out the second-highest midterm election voter turnout rate in the nation. It was certainly an indication of Colorado's response to the 2016 election. Democrats swept into office.

And if that 2018 March foretold what would happen in the midterms, I hope today's is indicative of what the current administration in D.C. has to look forward to.

Here's a sampling of what today's March was like. Keep in mind that I am not a photographer by training -- just by enthusiasm.

This was the same sign I carried last year. It's sturdy and speaks for me. It'll be good for next year's March, too.

Last year I went with my friend Lou and my daughter and her now-husband. This year they were all else where so I went alone. But as you can see I certainly was NOT alone.

There were lots of signs -- some serious, some witty, some snarky, some irreverent, some very, very  pointed. But the participants were friendly and upbeat.

        This sign pretty much covered it all.                    "Hang On Ruthie Hang On" referring to
                                                                                    Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

      This beautiful calligraphy was done by this man.               and this is what was on the back.
                                 This sign says "Women are the Wall and Trump will pay"

                                                                  'nough said!

                                   In Our America              This woman was there with her walker   
                                      All are                                                                             
                           Welcome, = , &  (heart)                                                                               

I was afraid yesterday's snow storm would keep people away. And it probably did some. The neighborhood streets were snow-packed but the main streets were clear. And, of course, the light rail was running just fine.

All ages participated -- from babies in strollers to octogenarians. This reassures me that as my generation leaves the scene, there are new generations who will continue to persist and resist as needed.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama -- a review

Michelle Obama's memoir is perfect to start 2019. It's open and eye-opening. This book scatters seeds of Yes-we-can, gently telling us little bits about people who are not to-the-manner-born, but learn,
do well, and make a difference. It's her view of herself and her experiences and of the people around her that strengthens my optimism about America. And about humanity in general. Optimism that is being sorely tested.

Wikipedia identifies Michelle Obama as "Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American writer, lawyer, and university administrator who served as the First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017." This paragraph identifies her as her, not just the wife of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, first black President of the United States. Not just as first black First Lady of the United States.

More than half the book is about her life before her husband ran for president. And that life was amazingly normal, working class, American. Her father, Fraser Robinson III, worked for the City of Chicago at a water treatment plant. And her mother, Marian Shield Robinson was a stay at home mom until Michelle went to high school. Both were born in Chicago to people who'd come North during the Great Migration. (I knew nothing about the Great Migration until I read Isabel Wilkerson's book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, published in 2010 by Random House.)

Like my own family, there were only two children -- Michelle and her older brother Craig. Being less than two years apart, they were always close (also like my brother and me, although I'm the older one.) The Robinsons maintained close ties to their extended family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, great-aunts and -uncles, and lots of cousins. All, of whom lived close enough to get together easily and often. And, let me tell you, from personal experience, a small family of four doesn't feel small at all with that many kin close by.

Michelle says she wasn't really aware of racial problems until she was older.

When she was small, Michelle's South Shore neighborhood was more diverse than my white one was. Oklahoma was determinedly segregated.

Bryn Mawr, her elementary school was considered one of Chicago's best public schools when she started kindergarten there. The children in her class picture are described by a classmate as "five little white faces and 23 shades of brown faces and one Middle Eastern face.”

By the time she finished the 8th grade, there were only brown faces. The children may not have questioned where their white and wealthier classmates went, but the grown-ups knew what was going on. At least some did.

When Michelle was entering the seventh grade, the Chicago Defender, a newspaper widely read by the African American community ran an OpEd describing Bryn Mawr as a "run-down slum" governed by a "ghetto mentality." Michelle's school principal, Dr. Lavizzo wrote his own letter to the editor in which she says he made it clear that "he understood precisely what he was up against. Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It's vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear."

She says "There were predatory real estate agents roaming South Shore, whispering to home owners that they should sell before it was too late, that they'd help them get out while you still can." They used the word everyone was most afraid of -- 'ghetto' -- dropping it like a lit match."

In Oklahoma City, it was 'busing.' My parents bought it and moved us to the suburbs.

Mrs. Robinson did not. Michelle describes her mother -- "She'd lived in South Shore for ten years already and would end up staying another forty. She didn't buy into fearmongering and at the same time seemed equally inoculated against any sort of pie-in-the-sky idealism. She was a straight-down-the-line realist, controlling what she could." A yes-we-can kind of mom.

And one thing Mrs. Robinson could do was to lobby for "a special multigrade classroom ... grouping students by ability rather than by age -- in essence, putting the brighter kids together so they could learn at a faster pace.

 Dr. Lavizzo's background is a yes-we-can seed. The multigrade classroom "was the brainchild of Dr. Lavizzo, who'd gone to night school to get his PhD in education." Night school.

The importance of education is emphasized throughout this book. Michelle's brother Craig was offered basketball scholarships to the University of Washington and Princeton. Washington's offer was a full ride. Princeton would cost $3,500 per year. Although Craig told his father he'd rather accept the University of Washington offer so it wouldn't cost the family anything, Mr. Robinson, being a yes-we-can kind of father, wouldn't hear of it. He wouldn't let his son choose based on saving them money. They'd figure out a way. And Craig chose Princeton, no doubt, breaking trail for his sister.

Michelle was a determined student. She was salutatorian of her high school graduating class. Her inspiration to follow Craig to Princeton? A high school counselor told her that she wasn't the sort of student to go to Princeton. Hah! Another yes-we-can seed. She graduated cum laude from Princeton then went on to Harvard where she got her law degree. And, yes, she was a normal, working class daughter who achieved a big salary at a prestigious law practice back in Chicago which she needed even though she continued to live with her parents in South Shore so she could pay back her college loans. And that's where she met Barack Obama. She was his mentor. It was part of her job to lure him to work for the law firm when he graduated Harvard Law.

As it turned out, he lured her away. And into the White House.

There is so much in this book. So much. So much. Becoming is a good read, an inspiring read. I could fill pages with Michelle Obama's words. Her fears. Her aspirations. The places she went and the people she met.

And she explained something to me that I did not understand. Why, or at least part of why, we could celebrate electing an African American man to be our President, a face to prove that America truly does hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That all people are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. From that to the shameful situation we have now.

Here's what she said:
         "For more than six years now, Barack and I had lived with an awareness that we
          ourselves were a provocation. As minorities across the country were gradually
          beginning to take on more significant roles in politics, business, and entertainment,
          our family had become the most prominent example. Our presence in the White
          House had been celebrated by millions of Americans, but it also contributed to a
          reactionary sense of fear and resentment among others. The hatred was old and
          deep and as dangerous as ever.

        "We lived with it as a family, and we lived with it as a nation. And we carried on,
          as gracefully as we could."

I do believe that we, as a people and as a nation, will survive this regressive period in our history and again move forward. We will work toward the American dream of true freedom and equality of opportunity for all.

Yes we can.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Letters to Santa (1 of 4) -- Flash Fiction

Three years ago I wrote this series of four letters to Santa -- all flash fiction.
Two years ago I reprised them.
Last year I set them as my Christmas tradition.
Here they are again, this year.

image from

Dear Santa,

I saw you in the Thanksgiving Day parade. You looked right at me. I was between 14th and 15th Streets. In front of the Silver Spoon. You have such kind eyes. 

       You probably think I’m too old to be writing to Santa. Maybe I am. But 53 isn’t so very old.

Anyway, my husband Marvin died three years. Ironic isn’t it, him dying on Black Friday.

       Rodney’s moved back in. He’s my son. Thirty-two years old. His wife served him with papers  the Monday before Thanksgiving. Pretty cold-hearted to do that Thanksgiving Week, don’t you think? Still, it is nice to have the boy home again. He made the Thanksgiving turkey. The whole dinner, actually – green bean casserole, dressing, stuffed celery. And three pies. Apple, pumpkin, and pecan. Marvin always liked pumpkin. My favorite is strawberry-rhubarb, but never mind.

I thought Jennifer was a nice young woman. She just didn’t appreciate Rodney’s financial ventures. Adventures, more like. Not long after they married, he went in with a friend raising ostriches. You know, the birds. Turns out the people already in the business were selling breeding stock and dreams of wealth. They convinced people that there would be a market for the meat and hides. It never developed and Rodney got stuck with the birds. Those birds will eat anything. One of them knocked my sunglasses off and swallowed them before I could pick them up. I covered the vet bill since it was sort of my fault.

I’m glad the zoo agreed to take them. Abandoning them in the national forest just didn’t seem right.

Then Rodney bought gold when it was at its height. And there was that land in New Mexico. The photos were beautiful. Mountain scenery. But no access and no water. I’m not sure what he intended to do with it.

But the boy’s always worked. It’s not like he spent her money on any of these, shall we say, investments. I think she objected to the way he works, too. He can’t seem to stay with a job very long. He was at that investments counselling place the longest. Good money, but his heart just wasn’t in it.

I don’t think the girl was pleased with him raising rabbits either. He brought the rabbits with him – two does and their litters. I’m not sure how many babies there are, but their eyes are open and they’ve got hair. Or is it fur? They are so cute.

I know my Home Owners’ Association probably has some rule against keeping rabbits, but he’s got them in the basement so nobody will ever know. I’m glad Marvin finished the basement.

We do have some good news. My daughter Becca is expecting. A little girl, due in a couple of weeks give or take. You know how that goes. Anyway, hopefully by Christmas. That’ll make four for her.

It's just as well that Rodney and Jennifer don’t have any children. Under the circumstances.

You may think I’m crazy, but I’m going to mail this. I’m not really expecting any response. I would have written to Marvin, but that seemed wrong somehow, him being dead and all. I just needed someone to talk to.

Very truly yours,


Monday, November 5, 2018

Writing or When Was the Last Time I Cried?

Sometimes inspiration is not enough. Motivation is not enough. Sometimes I need a cat to gently nudge me into action. Okay, wrong adverb. Wrong verb. Wrong cat. There's nothing gentle about Kočka. He bites.

In this case, the inspiration comes from Facebook. One of those questionnaires. You know --

     "It's fun to learn odd little things about my friends.
          1. What’s your middle name:
          2. Last time you cried?
          3. What's your favorite pizza?"

As a writer, these random questions can start me thinking. And, rather like an artist too poor to hire a model, I can explore my own reactions to stories. Stories that my friends tell me. Stories I find in the media.

My Michigan cousin Gary's questionnaire on Facebook reminded me of my own tearful responses to two recent stories in the media.

The first was a National Public Radio piece on Flint, Michigan.

A little background:  A series of changes to the water supply led to a federal state of emergency declaration in January 2016. Because of lead contamination, Flint residents were instructed to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. The water is now declared to be safe, but residents are instructed to continue to use bottled or filtered water until all the lead pipes have been replaced, which is expected no sooner than 2020.

The NPR story aired on October 26. The reporter Ari Shapiro was revisiting Flint citizens to find out how their lives are now, almost three years after the emergency declaration. The last interview of the piece was a woman, who along with her husband is raising two boys. Her name is Jeneyah McDonald.

During the interview her 9-year-old son Justice speaks up, "Why does the pipes break in Flint and in the others they don't?"

The reporter explains that Ms. McDonald goes into a long, fact-based explanation about the state government's decision to change water sources in an effort to save money. Then the reporter says that later when the children are not in the room, she says that question from her son really threw her.

     "MCDONALD: It's his first time asking me that ever. And that kind of - that was a lot.

      SHAPIRO: Is it hard to know what to say?

      MCDONALD: It is. It is, and especially trying to contain my emotions 'cause I don't, you know,
      just want to break down in front of them 'cause they're not understanding, why is she so upset?

      SHAPIRO: What's the answer that you would have given to that question if it had not been asked        by one of your children?

      MCDONALD: I probably - honestly, I feel like it was done on purpose because Flint is
      predominantly black. And who cares? I feel like it's pretty much where the nation is right now.
      You see young black boys getting murdered by white police officers all across the nation. So
      what do I think as a black mother raising black boys? How do I think a government that's
      predominantly white - how do they - they showed me what they feel about me and us here in
      Flint. They showed us.

      Everyone want to say racism is not alive. It is so alive, and it's so sad. And I - you know, it's
      hard not to teach your kids about it without sounding racist. You know what I mean? I don't
      want my children to hate anyone because of the color of their skin. I just - I want to be careful
      when I'm answering things for him because I want him to be an adult that's able to change the

And what made me cry? It breaks my heart that this is happening in America today. That America must be taught by this mother, who has been on the receiving end of racism, saying "I don't want my children to hate anyone because of the color of their skin."

Not all my tears come from a broken heart. Sometimes I cry when I see something so beautiful or hear a story that opens my heart.

With all the ugly campaign advertising on commercial TV recently, I've found refuge in Public Television, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and TED Talks.

Four days ago, I listened to Andrew Solomon giving a TED talk about "How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are."

Solomon is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and a past President of PEN American Center. His book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression won the 2001 National Book Award, was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and was included in The Times list of one hundred best books of the decade. Solomon's Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity was honored with the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award.

His work has been mostly about how people deal successfully with adversity. Parents with handicapped children, people living in the midst of war, people surviving their own disabilities. In this twenty minute TED talk he describes forging meaning and building identity from his own life's adversities.

Solomon tells a story about Harvey Milk. You may remember Milk was the gay activist elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1977 and then assassinated a year later along with Mayer George Moscone in San Francisco's City Hall.

Solomon says when Milk was asked by a young gay man what he could do to help the gay movement, Milk said "Go out and tell someone. There's always somebody who wants to confiscate our humanity and there are always stories that restore it. If we live out loud, we can trounce the hatred and expand everyone's lives."

Solomon ends his talk exhorting us to "Forge meaning. Build identity. And then invite the world to share your joy."

My tears were from my heart opening. For the assurance that there are people like that out there.

This is what writing is for. To tell stories. To connect people to other people so they can share stories.  Just like the song says, "Put a little love in your heart. And the world will be a better place for you and me."

For the NPR story click Flint. To watch this TED talk click Solomon

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Everything Is Bigger in Texas

Southwest Airlines

Remember my History Vacation blogs?

The last day of our History Vacation when I flew home, I met Marcia Olson and the plane hit a truck. Two most fortuitous events.

I always meet the nicest and most interesting people while flying. Marcia was one of my seat mates on my flight home. She's in education. And music.  And she lives in the Denver Metropolitan area, as do I, so we visited all the way from D.C. to Denver by way of Atlanta.

We had to change planes in Atlanta. I was planning to lunch in Atlanta but ....

When the plane landed there, it hit a truck. I know, how does a plane hit a truck? It happened in the Gate area. The truck was parked where it shouldn't have been and the visibility from the pilot's seat is quite limited. It wasn't a big collision or anything. Just knocked off the tippy-end of one of the wings, the part that has that little flashy light.

It delayed our deplaning but not so much that we missed our flight to Denver. Just missed my lunch. Now the folks who were supposed to stay on the plane and fly to Philadelphia, they were inconvenienced. Like my son John said regarding repair of the plane so they could continue their flight, "It might take a while for the glue to dry."

Long story short: Marcia and I became Facebook friends and she messaged me to check my emails because she got a voucher from Southwest for another flight. Me, too!

Wednesday I used said voucher and flew to Dallas for my grandchildren's birthdays. I boarded the light rail into Denver, transferred to the train-to-the-plane, and was through security at the airport, all before sunup. I haven't seen the sun except for that time period we were flying above the clouds until today.

(We didn't hit anything when we landed.)

Gotta say -- all that stuff you hear about things being "bigger" in Texas is true. This is an agave plant outside the Half Price Books flagship store in Dallas. It's huge.

And that nonspecific pronoun "it" is perfect here because it can refer to the huge agave plant or the huge bookstore.

The day after I arrived I further confirmed the truism of Texas being the home of "bigger." This is the welcoming entrance to a home I passed on my Thursday walk.

That sorta piled-up plant in the background is prickly pear and it's taller than I am. Of course, Central Texas has had rain of Biblical proportions and prickly pear is a cactus so given enough water, it will enthusiastically achieve its genetic potential, .

And this, folks, is a high school football stadium. Yes, that's right high school.
The two pedestrians are my 6 foot-two-inch tall son
 and my normal adult size daughter-in-law.

If you haven't noticed, I gotta tellya, I'm not much of a traveler and even less of a travel blogger. If you want to read some good travel blogs, check out my friend Anabel's blog She and her husband live in Scotland (hence the title) and they travel often and widely.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lord Finn -- A Movie Review

My friend Al Mertens has a film out. His first as writer and director. He graciously allowed me to view it prior to its release and asked me to review it.

In Shakespeare, theater is either history with familiar names and events and outcomes. Or it is comedy with laughs and obstacles to the inevitable happily-ever-afters. Or it is tragedy where the hero is a person of high birth or one who holds a position of status.  And that hero’s journey unravels because of his own character flaws.

Lord Finn is a tragedy. But certainly not a Shakespearean tragedy. Daniel Finley, well-played by Ben Richardson, is Lord Finn and he hates Shakespeare. The old English speech he enters and exits seamlessly are of Mallory’s King Arthur or Dickens, not Shakespeare.

This heartbreakingly realistic film follows three main characters, none of whom is high born or holds a position of status. They are the people we’d rather not know.

Daniel Finley, his father is a Native American and his mother an Anglo, is mentally ill. The movie opens with him on the ground out behind an Indian casino. His speech is absurd, nonsensical. And his manner, aggressive. You and I see people like him on the street. We avoid eye-contact and pretend that they don’t exist.

Jasmine, a Native American prostitute, enters the story by inducing a car thief to help her steal a john’s car. She’s not the kind of woman a man would bring home to his mother or a mother would point to proudly.

And Cheer, a hostile, white, lesbian, prison inmate. She’s in for selling drugs. We meet her in an AA meeting inside the penitentiary. Even her fellow cons dislike her.

They’re not traditional Shakespearean characters with traditional character flaws like ambition or jealousy. With all their problems, their tragic flaw is how they deal with the tragedies in their lives. It’s how Daniel and Jasmine deal with loss. And for Cheer, it’s how she deals with never having had.
Daniel refuses to take his medication. Jasmine fills her sleepless nights with drugs and johns. And Cheer uses people, alcohol, and whatever other drugs she can get hold of to make her way in whatever world she’s in.

Each of them is an outcast. The movie brings us into their lives. Our sense of discomfort with people like them dissolves and we no longer want to ignore them. We no longer dismiss them with the old saw “There but for the grace of God….” We want to know how they got like that, what’s going to become of them.

Sissie, Daniel’s beloved, younger sister is played by Suzy Weller. She touches the heart of the story -- of all our stories -- when she says twice, “He’s all alone in there.” Once of her brother and once of their father.

Each of the three -- Jasmine, Cheer, and Lord Finn -- is all alone in there.

Lord Finn has abandoned sanity and rejected that part of himself that is his father. Jasmine, played by the beautiful and talented Jamie Loy, has abandoned her birth name and the person she loves most. Sarahjoy Mount plays the mercurial Cheer, who moves from being victim to being predator and back again. She has abandoned freedom and any possibility of acceptance in the world for the surety of prison.

Each of them is like hail damage in a windshield. Fissures spread across the glass from pock mark to pock mark. To the people they should be or could be closest to. People who suffer their own damage.

In his debut film, Al Mertens has written and directed a serious film about people we all know. A father or a child. A girl we went to school with. Someone we once loved. And about us, too. As difficult as these people’s lives are…as difficult as our lives are…in the end, he reminds us that no matter how “alone in there” we feel, the truth is we are not alone.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Book of Polly -- A Review

Okay, y'all! I gotta write this review because I think the book is overdue at the library and a friend of mine loaned it to me so I'm sorta on her dime.

It's not that it took me so long to read the book. It reads very fast. In fact, I finished it within three days. Not because I'm a fast reader. It's just that I couldn't put it down.

Officially, it's identified as a coming of age story. It's from Willow's point of view and Willow is Polly's very late-in-life daughter. Willow's father died before she was born. Her siblings are grown and gone -- her sister converted and married to a self-righteous, evangelical Christian and her alcoholic brother has left the family and the country. Both disappointments to Polly and sorely missed by her. Polly is also estranged from her family, friends, and even her hometown across the state line in Louisiana. Willow has no one other than her mother.

This story is set in a small town in East Texas, so it's not so surprising that Willow tells a tall tale or two in defense of her mother. Who, it's true, in no way, shape, or form fits the standard mold for mothers. Polly's too old. She's too outspoken. She hasn't any friends. Doesn't get along with the neighbors, goes to Willow's school armed with a falcon on her shoulder. (Yes, a real falcon.) Hates her neighbors and squirrels. And they hate her right back. Well, the neighbors do.

Truth be told, with neighbors like that, I didn't blame her one little bit. But then, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with Polly as a neighbor either. She's altogether too fond of firing off her shotgun and who knew she was firing blanks?

Polly never talks about Willow's dead father or why she herself will never go back to her hometown. So Willow is obsessed with her mother's history.

She is also obsessed with her mother's age. And her smoking. She's terrified Polly will get cancer and die, then Willow will be all alone in the world.
     "Polly never used the word cancer. It was as if invoking it would be an invitation for it
      to slide under our door and slink inside her cigarettes. So she said Bear. People had
      lung Bear, stomach Bear, skin Bear, or worst of all (and she said this in a whisper)
      hinder Bear -- colon cancer. 'My uncle had the hinder Bear,' she said delicately. 'He
      shrank down to ninety pounds, poor fellow. But they cut it out of him and he was okay
      for a few years. 'til he had a heart attach while leaning over a rain barrel and drowned.'"

Hepinstall's descriptions of people! The way they look.
     "Darcie Burrell -- a reed-thin woman with a permanently conflicted expression, as though,
      deep inside her, someone was trying to bathe a cat."

The ways people can be mean like when Willow's sister's step-son declares that Polly is going to hell, Willow retorts,
     "'How could she go to hell, she's a Christian? She goes to church.'
      He nodded. 'A Methodist church. My dad says she might as well go to a nightclub.'"

Having, myself, been raised in the Methodist church in several small Oklahoma towns, I laughed out loud.

You know it's a good book when it has characters you'd recognize on the street. And if it can make you laugh and cry. And when you finish it, you're satisfied. And you hope that Kathy Hepinstall is not like Harper Lee who had only one book published, because The Book of Polly is so good, you want more.

And there are more. Check at your local library.