After the fire: returning to Harbin

It was our 10th anniversary last week. We used to spend every anniversary at the place where we were handfasted: the Harbin Hot Springs temple. But we couldn’t, because the temple is gone. And so is Harbin Hot Springs. Well, as we knew it, it is. The Valley Fire swallowed it in a monstrous blaze in 2015, and disgorged nothing but ash and grief.

Little by little, the new Harbin owners have been working to rebuild, but it turned out that they were horrifically underfunded, so progress has been painfully slow. And even with all the money in the world, how could those funky, creaky, wonderful old ramshackle lodges, or the sweet little market full of organic wonders, and the stunning temple ever be rebuilt? That temple was a breathtaking masterpiece of hand-fitted wood, the roof spiraling up like an upside-down morning glory into the sky, topped with a delicate spire that would poke out from atop the thick tree canopy.

I’d seen photos of the ongoing rebuilding process on Harbin’s website, following horrific photos from just after the fire… all that precious, sacred property blackened and crumbling. It was like a death. There just isn’t anywhere on earth like Harbin, with its New-Agey, loving, peaceful vibe, and people who worked and lived there, creating a serene Shangr-La, a respite from the rush and roar of daily life: No phones, no televisions, no amplified sound, no alcohol, no drugs, and yes, frequently no clothes, particularly down by the pools. And yoga. Lots of yoga. Harbin was where you could be comfortable in your own sun-warmed skin, soaking in healing geothermal waters, amid an ever-changing but always similar “community” that flowed in and out of the grounds each week.

Harbin was our very favorite place on earth, and one weird, gray September afternoon nearly four years ago, a tsunami of flame devoured it. It was a crushing loss, too painful to think about, because it seemed impossible that Harbin could ever exist again. But, earlier this year, Harbin announced they were letting in limited numbers of day visitors, and last month, overnight stays in their new “Creekside Caravans,” a little fleet of campers up on one of the hillsides, as well as tent camping.

I asked Joe if he wanted to go back for our anniversary, either to give “new” Harbin a chance, or bid it one final farewell. He was as lukewarm as I about the thought of returning, and like me, assuming we’d be bitterly disappointed. But yet, we hadn’t returned since the fire, and going back one more time felt like a delayed graveside service. Some of our best memories happened at Harbin. We owed it that much, to touch the coffin, turn away, and dab the tears.

So, we reserved a camper, and set out along the back roads through Pope Valley with lower than low expectations. I assumed everything taller than our knees would be gone. As we crossed from Napa to Lake County, we entered into the heavily fire-scarred area… blackened trees grasping the blue sky like twisted skeleton claws… reaching desperately for help that never came. But, at the ground level, it was lush and green, and yellow, orange, and purple wildflowers dotted the hillsides. Even in the inferno’s aftermath, life would not be denied.

We rounded the turn onto Highway 29, and then entered Middletown, and I was amazed that the tiny shopping center across from the high school, as well as the school itself, was still standing. But leaving town as we neared Harbin Springs Road, it felt surreal, like reverse deja-vu… remembering something that never was; a feeling that I haven’t been here before… but I have. The stark lack of a tree canopy was shocking, and more gnarled black bones reached up from the ground. But, here and there, a defiant tree would be sprouting leaves anyway, and in some of the low spots, there were trees that seemed only slightly singed, and some miraculously untouched.

We pulled up to the grounds, and there was not a familiar thing in sight other than that the rebuilt check-in gate was in the same spot as before, as was the parking lot on up ahead, now completely visible for lack of vegetation. We were directed to some mobile units to check in  and catch a bite to eat while waiting for our caravan to be ready, and sat at a picnic table, feeling disoriented and stunned… Wasn’t that over there… and isn’t this were that was… Wow, it looks so tiny without the buildings…

We were both delighted when we pulled up to our caravan, an adorable re-creation of a vintage  ’50s camper, complete with turquoise and cream paint (awww, it matched the old lodges!), and we were astounded by what was available inside: stove, oven, microwave, refrigerator, shower, toilet, and heating and air conditioning. Wow! This is actually kinda sweet!

We quickly unloaded our stuff and headed for the most wonderful spot in the world… the warm pool. We walked the old footpath between where the Meadow Building once stood and on into the pool area, surprised at how the bay laurels and manzanita were springing back, covered in fresh, green foliage. And, birds were singing, bugs were buzzing… there was far more life than I imagined. I was anticipating that everything would be gone or dead, and thrilled to be wrong.

Up at the pool area, the good news is that there are now SEVEN bathrooms; the bad news is that they’re in a big ugly mobile unit. That said… there used to only be one stinky, funky toilet in the steamy, funky dressing room and, well, there’s something to be said for clean, ample toiletude!

We ditched our clothes in a dressing tent, and then there it was… the beautiful blue warm pool, reminiscent of the old one… same shape, same rails, and warm water that feels like sinking into an angel’s sighs. And… what is this? No crowds? Free space anywhere we like? Wowsers! Back in the old days, sometimes you had to wind your way through bodies just to find a place to stand. Now, it was almost like having it to ourselves. In fact, at one point, we did have the warm pool to ourselves, and that has never happened before! I took the opportunity to practice some Watsu on Joe. Clearly, I need some professional training…  I dunked myself while trying to turn him! Oops! Oh well, at least there were no witnesses!

And the sauna. Oh. My. GODDESS. The new sauna is a gazillion times better than the old one. Three times the size, plenty of room for anyone and everyone. The old one felt like being in a can of hot, sweating sardines. The new one gets two thumbs way up!

We spent our evenings relaxing at our caravan, with the entire expanse of star-filled nighttime sky before us, and in the morning, rather than having to get dressed and go to the cafe for coffee (my main complaint about old Harbin), we made our coffee on our little stove, sat at our little table, and gazed out at, well… the rows of other campers. BUT… there were green hills in the distance, and birds, lizards, and squirrels flitting and scampering about right outside.

One morning, after a long, leisurely morning soak in the pool, while drying off on the blissfully uncrowded sundeck, I decided that new Harbin was equal parts heartbreak and hope. It will never, can never, be what it was. Even so, it was obvious that what it was becoming could still be something pretty special.

“I’m not nearly as disappointed as I thought I’d be,” I commented to Joe. “I think this will really be wonderful some day. Not what we knew, but wonderful in its own way.”

He agreed wholeheartedly, and said he actually liked the campers better than the lodges, and when we came back, he’d rather stay in the campers again. (Access to coffee first thing in the morning matters!)

In addition to discovering that Harbin is doing its best to recover, there were some amazing highlights:

One, just at dusk near the pools, we saw a deer! I was overjoyed! It was young, and alone, but I’d assumed that the Harbin deer were dead or gone, never to return. But there he was, happily chewing the bushes and grass like nothing horrible had ever happened. What a miracle!

Two, I was able to see my very, very, very favorite massage therapist, Cora. I nearly did a backflip when I saw her name on the roster, and when we saw each other again, we hugged so tight and girl-squeeeed. Just getting a massage with Cora is worth the drive up there. I’m so happy to see that, like Harbin, she too is recovering, and can smile again.

Three, while sitting at lunch one day, we made a new friend, Lisa, also an “old-timer,” and we chatted about the old days, and agreed that there was hope. That was a slice of old Harbin – sit at a table, make a friend. And then her friend, Cameron, pulled up with us too, and we got to talking… she was an old-timer too, also a writer, hasn’t written in awhile, needs to get back to it, asked me about the book I’m writing, and then I asked her about her books, and…. wait a minute… What did you say the name of one of your books was? “The Bad Girl’s Guide to the Party Life”?? And also, “The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want”???



I have both of those sly, sexy little books! LOVE THEM! You mean you are THE Cameron? Cameron Tuttle? THE “Bad Girl”????!!!



Oh, you better believe I fan-girled all over her! I met an icon! How cool is that?

And, there was a fourth thing: While we were basking in the sunshine in the warm pool one morning, against the far wall — “our” spot — a man holding a small blue flowerpot of bright pink and purple flowers waded through the pool and placed them on that back wall ledge where, once upon a time, a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers appeared there every morning as if by magic. Ahhh… someone else “remembers.”

Those of us who remember… we need to return. Old Harbin was weathered and seasoned by decades of peaceful, gentle, loving energy that permeated everything. That will only happen again if those of us who remember start returning and infusing it with that old energy.

A place isn’t rebuilt merely with boards and nails. It’s rebuilt with memories. It’s rebuilt with love. You can rebuild a structure, but only love rebuilds love. And that part’s up to us.






Biden — his time

It’s been fascinating and a bit overwhelming watching the list of Democratic primary contenders try to make themselves seen, single grains of sand on a beach of political noise that they are. But several have captured my fancy: Mayor Pete, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris, in that order come out on top. But in my heart, I worry if any of them can withstand the Trumpster blitzkrieg on Election Day. Currents of racism, sexism, and homophobia sadly run deep and wide in this country.

Pete Buddigieg is simply brilliant. He is so calming, so intelligent. When he speaks, he sings the song of my people, and it feels like a sweet, soft lullabye. He’s smart, he’s patient, he’s kind, and he’s a veteran. He’s everything Donald Trump is not. He’s the Anti-Trump! Although I’m simply enthralled with him, to be fair, when you think of dealing with foreign affairs at the international level and wrangling with dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, Buddigieg is very thin in that department. But the real issue that will trip up a successful presidential bid is that he’s gay.

I don’t have a problem with his sexual orientation, and you probably don’t either (or you wouldn’t even be reading my stuff!), but there are plenty of folks out there who do. They run mainly in two camps: the Mike Pence type who believe that Jesus hates homosexuals and God will spank them all (and not in a good way), and the knuckledragging, severely intrinsically homophobic Right Wingers, who I suspect are so rabid because they’re terrified of their own normal same-sex curiosity. You know, the ones who would yell “faggot!” out in public and then puff up their chests because it made them feel manly. One word for both camps: Ugh. Sadly, they vote.

Here’s the thing: I can already hear the latter homophobic camp making the “butt gig” jokes. It’s disgusting and outrageous, but I guarantee that they’re already saying it. And our Idiot in Chief is cackling right along with them, because he’s just that juvenile. It’s stupid and base, but then, so are Trump supporters. (Not normal Republicans, mind you. I’m talking about the flag humpin’, MAGA-hat wearin’ Trumpanzees.) Don’t underestimate their ability to show up and make an X next to his name, even if they can’t spell. They only need to master one letter of the alphabet, and clearly they did in 2016.

Then there’s Amy Klobuchar. So midwest. Fair and tough. Too tough, some say, on her staff. However, that’s because she doesn’t have a penis. If she did, no one would even comment about that. I really like Amy. Like Mayor Pete, when she speaks, I feel calm. I feel like everything will be OK. I feel like an adult is finally in the room. She may not be fancy. She’s kind of like a trusty Buick Regal, and not even a new one. But she’s ever so safe. After the last two years of this presidency, “safe, calm, and fair” sound super awesome to me. However, there’s that lack of a penis. As evidenced by the number of women who supported a sexist, self-admitted groper, who dumped wife after wife in a row for a newer, shinier model, not only are there men who won’t vote for a woman, there are women who won’t vote for a woman.

Which brings us to Kamala Harris, both female and a woman of color, and although she’s a rock star — intelligent, experienced, and a true and fearless fighter — there are people in this country who will see “woman” and “dark” and will not vote for her. Some folks will not confess their prejudices outright, but in the privacy of the voting booth, they let their fears and mistrust rule their choices. I hate that this is the case, but it is. Waving American flags and baseball and apple pie aside, we are still a nation that has a huge population of backwards assholes.

Hold up that mirror and take a good look at yourself, America. You ain’t all that.

After the last election, which seemed like it should have been a slam-dunk, weren’t we surprised when the ball tipped off the hoop and the other team won. I just don’t know if this is time to take any chances. That horror has made me extremely gun-shy. This is no time to take chances and aim for lofty, philosophical pie in the sky. We have one singular mission: Extract Trump from the Whitehouse. Period. We can put Climate Change and a whole array of social needs at the top of our to-do list in Congress, but we need to get rid of Trump to make that happen.

And now we have the candidate.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is IN! Let the marching bands play and the balloons fly!

In every poll, Biden crushes Trump. Why? Because he appeals to the middle of the road voters and independents. He peels off all the essentially fine Republicans who held their nose and voted for Trump anyway, simply because they couldn’t stand Hillary. He also doesn’t scare the latently sexist and homophobic. This voting block is legion. And they will swing the election, not Millennials or Trumpsters. They literally are the swing vote.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s another old white man. But he’s not just any old white man. He was vice president to one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, decent men who ever sat in the Oval Office; Barack Obama. Obama is famously quoted as saying that choosing Biden as his running mate was amongst his wisest decisions. Besides that huge character endorsement, with eight years of vice presidenting under his belt, Biden is richly and thoroughly qualified to lead this country amid the challenges from foreign nations and dictators, and represent our country as a kind, experienced, gentle but tough man, with the country’s interests ahead of his own. In the midst of the social, political, environmental, and international shitstorm currently buffeting us about like frantic, panicked leaves in the wind, Biden is a calming presence. We can relax. Uncle Joe has got this. Everything will be OK.


Although I have been, and am, solidly in the Biden tank, and truly believe he’s the best person to hit the reset button on this country and rid us of Trump, we don’t need him in the White House for two terms. He’s earned his retirement, and while that might seem like that should be his next logical and natural step, he’s putting it aside for the greater good of all. It’s one of the oldest movie plots around: Over-the-hill wise, tough old hero overcomes all odds and with superhuman strength, rides in and saves the day. It’s pretty much every Clint Eastwood movie made since he turned 50. I want a hero, dammit! I want to be able to look up to someone and say, “I don’t have to fret about this anymore. Our hero will save us!” (This is where I clasp my hands to my cheek and swoon!)

That said, we don’t need Biden to be a hero for eight years. Only four. He only needs to ride in, clean up the mess, and hand a shiny, pretty package to the next person — his running mate and vice president. Biden needs a “new blood” candidate who will engage the Millennial voters, the far left, and progressives. Beto? Well, Beto is so wet behind the ears, you could grow moss there. I still do not “get” the buzz about Beto. He’s about as spicy as Wonder Bread. What’s his message anyway — hey, I’m really young and handsome? Nope. I vastly prefer my three aforementioned favorites, Mayor Pete, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris.

Weighing them all against each other, Amy Klobuchar has the most experience and the least baggage for turning off voters who are still stubbornly clinging to White 1950s America. In this election, she is the safest bet. And, we’ll have four years to adapt to the idea of a female president and catch up with the rest of the civilized world. Maybe when Amy runs in 2024 and Uncle Joe relaxes into a well-deserved, golden retirement, she can take the next step in chipping away at our phobias, prejudices and insecurities.

Klobuchar-Buttgieg 2024? Dare I dream?

No, I dare not. Not for now, not right at the moment. Because right now, 2020 and getting Trump out of the White House is the only thing that matters. And Biden is the guy. People sometimes comment that he didn’t win the last two times he ran for President. Well, duh. Stand back and look at it from the 10,000 foot vista: Did we really need him then like we need him now? No. It wasn’t the time. The Universe was saving him for the really important moment, and that moment is now. Bidin’ its time. And it’s now. Biden — His Time. 2020.


Here is Joe Biden’s campaign announcement video, released today:
It will help you remember who were were before we forgot who we were.

What Would Jesus Do about Notre Dame?

The Notre Dame Cathedral in flames, April 15, 2019. Photo by NBC News.

Watching flames engulf the Notre Dame Cathedral on the evening news was simply stunning. I was — am — saddened to see such an architectural masterpiece, with such rich history, go up in flames. The building itself is unparalleled, and the artwork and artifacts inside irreplaceable. And the stained glass… just the stained glass is a pinnacle of human artistic achievement.

I am not Catholic, nor am I on the same page with the Catholic Church philosophically or spiritually. However, I truly appreciate what the loss of such a historical treasure represents. I don’t feel sad for the Catholic Church (it is grotesquely well-funded), but I do have empathy for those who are mourning the loss of this cathedral. Weddings, funerals, christenings and comfort were found by many, through the centuries. The building has more history and meaning than just the material from which it was constructed.

This 12th century cathedral miraculously withstood the French Revolution, and World Wars I and II, unscathed. How ironic that not war or malice or earthquake or flood but simple human error was the likely cause of its ruin. The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation but it appears that it was simply an accident. Oops.

As the flames disappear and officials inspect what is left of this scorched structure, it’s becoming apparent that the cathedral can’t be rebuilt exactly as it was. And maybe it shouldn’t be, because a modern fire sprinkler system is clearly needed. One report said that even if it were possible to completely recreate it, there aren’t trees in France big enough to be used to make the wooden beams. All that can be done is to sweep up the mess, wash away the smoke and char, and decide whether to rebuild or stand back and consider the options.

Here in California, we are well aware of the devastation that fire can cause. Just ask anyone who lived in Santa Rosa or Paradise during the recent colossal fires that turned these towns to scorched earth. So many died. At least no one died in the Notre Dame fire. That’s something to be thankful for. But should it really be rebuilt, exactly as it was?

Consider the 9-11 Memorial that was built rather than attempting to reconstruct the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I have been to that memorial, and standing next to it is about the most eery and surreal feeling I’ve ever experienced. There’s a heavy, solemn energy to it that is palpable. There was a recognition that what was there could never be again, and anything built in its place would carry a legacy of horror and death… Better to create something that inspires us to think about the fragility and unfairness of life, and strive to be better people.

Like Santa Rosa and Paradise, what’s gone is gone. To recreate them exactly is impossible. Like the World Trade Center, maybe what was isn’t what should be in its place going forward.

To date, more than a billion dollars has been pledged by wealthy French individuals and businesses, as well as donations coming in from around the world, to get cracking and clean up the site and rebuild it. Let’s just curb our philanthropy for a moment and consider that the Catholic Church allegedly seeks to do the will of Jesus Christ and support and follow his teachings. (Pedophilia issue notwithstanding.) This being Holy Week, let’s pause for a moment and ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” Imagine if he were  presented with a billion dollars to be spent in his name, and the choice was to rebuild a fancy, expensive building or to use it helping the poor, sick, homeless and hungry. Do I even have to articulate his immediate response? It’s obvious.

So before one board is hammered and one nail is pounded, let’s consider the angles of this sad historical loss:

  1. The building is destroyed. After the tears, take a breath and accept it. No matter what arises in its place, it will not be that historic building that withstood war and history and time. It’s gone.
  2. There are people sick and starving all over the world, and a billion dollars would go a long way toward helping them. Has one dime been spent to help them?
  3. What Would Jesus Do?

Yes, the image of Notre Dame in flames is horrific. But I ask you…. is it more horrific than this:

This Pulitzer Prize winning photo by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, also known as “The Struggling Girl” was taken in Sudan in 1993, as the near-death child was observed by a patient vulture waiting for a meal. The photographer, ovewhelmed with grief from the starvation he saw took his own life a few months later.

A billion dollars to rebuild a building. Is there even a dime for the starving?


Matthew 25:40-45 New International Version (NIV)

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’


(For more information about Kevin Carter and “The Struggling Girl”, click here.)

Julia’s tree is gone

We need things that remind us to smile. Such was the random, rogue little juniper tree that sprung up in a random little place on what Winters folks call the “S-curve” just east of town, between County Roads 31 and 32.

Nobody really noticed the tree, despite driving past it on trips back and forth from Winters to Davis, where it thrived like a scrappy little dandelion springing up defiantly between cracks in a sidewalk and surviving anyway, until one day several years ago during the holiday season, somebody decorated it. At first, it was just sparkling tinsel garlands that would disappear after the holidays just as mysteriously as they arrived, and when Christmas rolled around again the following year, the tinsel would return, and eventually even battery-powered light strings popped up. How can you not smile at that!

Now, during the holidays of course, there’s a sea of Christmas decorations and trees. Who could notice one more? But there was something about that tree that caught your eye, and heart. As the then-editor of our local newspaper, the Winters Express, a newcomer to town suggested a story about that weird little tree, and in the deep, dark winter, I thought that was an excellent idea. I assigned the story to my ace city reporter and assistant editor, Julia Millon.

This is my favorite photo of Julia, which I took after our trivia team (the defending champions) took the trophy again in 2018. It was Julia’s first time on the team, and her bright smile says it all.

Writing a lighthearted, whimsical story, thus far, wasn’t really in Julia’s wheelhouse. She was brilliant with city stories, able to distill all the boring but necessary information into a tasty-bite sized story anyone could understand. Actually, Julia was just brilliant, period. I’ve met a great many people in my life and during my 26 years as a newspaper editor, and I will state unequivocally that Julia was one of the brightest, maybe the brightest person I’ve ever known.

Hmmm, you may be thinking… if she was so bright, how did she end up at the Express?

Good question.

Better answer: Julia was plagued with a chronic medical condition that prevented her from doing a lot of things, and a job at the Express was flexible and didn’t aggravate her discomfort. Ironically, despite her pain, she defied that condition with a vengeance. The girl was a BEAST, and I mean that in the best way possible. Beyond our office, she was a dedicated trail and long distance runner, already becoming a well-known name in the running world. I remember driving past her one morning while she was out running in shorts along the roadside, and realizing, holy crap, she has the muscled thighs of an Olympic champion! A true hardcore athlete — something we never realized at the office, where she usually appeared in baggy workout pants and a huge fluffy jacket, even at the peak of summer heat, her unruly black hair balled up into a crazy bee’s nest, and rarely revealing much about herself. Full of mystery, that girl with cinnamon colored skin, and deep, soulful brown eyes, and a smile that, when it flashed (and only for good reason) could light up a cavern.

As the years passed at the Express, I was gradually getting to know Julia as a person, which required some digging because she didn’t offer up much about her personal life, tending to keep quietly to herself, tapping away at a computer while munching on a big bowl of cabbage salad for breakfast. When she did comment on something, it would be laser-sharp and right on target. She had a clear, quick mind and a sarcastic wit that would get us all chuckling. So far, however, when it came to writing, she’d kept mainly to dusty, dry city-related and local government stories. How would she do with a front page fluffy feature story about a goofy roadside Christmas tree? We were about to find out. I half expected her to turn down the story as too trite, but she took it quite gladly. The results were delightful… her dry wit and inquisitive mind sparkled through each line. (Read the actual story here.)

“Julia!” I exclaimed to her, “You never told me you were so funny!”

And, of course, she just flashed that big, bright smile, shrugged, and said nothing at all.

My mind was already galloping ahead to more feature stories I could toss her way.

But then, last January, a dark cloud passed over the Express in the form of new ownership. Within weeks, I knew for certain that one or the other of us had to go, lest we be trapped in a perpetual Tiger Vs. Dragon battle. Not being the owner myself, there was only one choice: I had to move on. This decision tore at my heart, having devoted half my life to that publication and the community it served, but that sadness was mitigated when Julia agreed to take over those reins — a big leap up and only a month to make it happen. But, being a beast in every way, Julia rose to that challenge, and we laid out a four-week schedule for her to learn everything. And by week three, damn if she didn’t have it mastered. The Express would be just fine.

And then came week four.

My last.

That week, Julia would schedule all the stories, do all the photos, make all the editorial decisions about what goes where, and lay out the entire front section while I sat by and observed quietly. She was ready. I was ready. Game on!

That fourth week began on Memorial Day, a holiday, so I expected to meet with Julia the next morning, our press day, and the training wheels would come off and away she’d go. I had complete confidence in her. Early that morning, as I was getting ready for work, came that heart-crushing phone call: Our former publisher told me that Julia was killed in a car crash late last night.

I screamed. I wept. I nearly dropped to my knees.

I couldn’t believe it. Not Julia! It’s a mistake!

But no, the police chief confirmed the worst. It had happened, and it was, in fact, Julia.

My heart was torn when I decided to leave the Express. That morning, it was ripped from my chest and splattered to the winds. We got through press day somehow, and the last story and column I ever wrote for the Express, through the blur of hot tears, were about Julia.

It’s been about eight months since that horrible moment, and not day has passed that I haven’t thought about Julia, in particular whenever I passed by her tree. That’s how it became known as “Julia’s tree.” A bittersweet smile would tug at my mouth, and I’d say, “Hey, Julia!” and remember that adorable pixie face, the shining dark eyes and beaming smile. That tree helped keep happy memories of her alive for me, and others who also who knew the story of the “Tree from nowhere.”

This was “Julia’s tree,” which brought joy to those driving east from Winters, California, on the S-curve between County Roads 31 and 32. It was chopped down over Presidents Day weekend, 2019. (Photo by Stephanie Atherton)

But then, over the last weekend, a friend messaged me that the tree was inexplicably cut down, lying there in a sad heap by the road. I posted about this on Facebook and NextDoor, and there was an immediate outpouring of grief and shock, because it wasn’t just those of us who loved “Julia’s tree” that were upset — turns out, hundreds of others who never heard the story loved it “just because.” It always made them and their children happy.

And now, like Julia… it’s just gone.

Was it the property owner who cut it down? Did it damaged in the recent storm? Was it random “just because I can” vandalism? Who knows. All that is certain is that a lot of people are really sad about this. Many of them suggested planting a new tree there, and initially I thought that was a great idea, and then it settled in… “Yes, but it won’t really be Julia’s tree.” I have mixed feelings. Somehow, losing the tree sticks fingers in the old, poorly healed wound of losing Julia. On the other hand… every time I pass it now, I will be reminded that the tree is gone.

My thoughts and feelings are so muddy, I just don’t know if it’s better to plant a new tree or not. What I do know is that I wanted to spread the story behind Julia’s tree, to tell it to those who didn’t know, and moreover, to commemorate a bright, beautiful girl who was tragically snatched away from us far, far too soon. Those who knew her already know. Those who didn’t, well, they’ve missed out on someone very special. Even so, may the story of Julia’s tree remind us all that life isn’t a guarantee and we must never take it for granted, and that even when faced with daunting challenges, we must thrive anyway.

Today, February 22, 2019, would have been Julia’s 28th birthday. Let’s dedicate this day to her, and always hold her in our hearts, and remember her big, bright, beautiful spirit that now runs with the wolves she so loved on some starlit celestial path.

I found this joyfully howling wolf patch at a convention over the same weekend that Julia’s tree was cut down, yet unbeknownst to me. I got it intending it to be a joyful memory of her. Julia loved wolves, and they will now serve as my symbol to keep her memory alive.


Klobuchar may be The One

Remember when Congress swung back to the Republicans during Barack Obama’s second term because the Democrats squandered their Congressional control by attempting to play nice with Republicans and got “shellacked,” as Obama himself described it? Even when given ALL the marbles, the Democrats still managed to fumble them all. The Dems don’t even bring a knife to a Republican gunfight. They show up with a poem. And then they get their butts handed to them every time. The proverbial herd of cats is entirely more organized.

Well, pass the Purina, because it’s time for the cat pack to get as mean and organized as a Spartan phalanx. That’s what it will take to remove the cancerous orange tumor in the White House. Sadly, the red warning lights of Democratic self-destruction are already flashing. If they don’t focus on the goal, the Dems will blow what should be a cake walk. Why? Because many of the candidates in the race so far are talking about what’s true and good and close to our Liberal bleeding hearts rather than the task at hand: Getting rid of Trump. Save the Liberal wish list for House and Senate candidates — that’s where all the hard work gets done anyway. When it comes to the 2020 Presidential election, the ONLY thing that matters is winning the game.


If you don’t win, you don’t get to play.

Just WIN, dammit!

Winning means defeating Trump. That’s the ONLY goal that matters. More than equal rights, more than the environment, more than equitable income distribution, more than illegal immigration, more than anything. Just get that tumor out of our collective body before it metastasizes.

To accomplish that, Democrats must stick as close to the political center as possible. This is not the time to wave our far-left Liberal flag, no matter how noble it may be. This is the time to peel off as many centrist, independent and disgruntled Republican voters as possible. Yes, Republican. They are key. Not all Republicans are Trumpsters, and they’d like a better option. But if Elizabeth Warren gets the nomination, those disgruntled Republicans are going to hold their nose and vote for Trump again, because in their minds, he stinks less than she does.

And let’s be clear: I ADORE Elizabeth Warren. She’s a warrior tigress, and under any other circumstances, I’d be standing in line for my Warren 2020 lawn signs. But these are unusual circumstances. The stakes are sky high. I want a sure thing. And it’s spelled B-I-D-E-N. That said, Warren would be a kickass running mate. The VP candidate plays the “attack dog” role in a campaign, and I can’t imagine a better attack dog than Warren.

As for Biden, be still my heart. I was a Biden fan when he was running against Barack Obama. Uncle Joe may seem like an old softie, but if you’ve ever seen him go after someone in a hearing, that big smile turns into sharp fangs, and oh, can he bite! Unfortunately, not everyone shares my adoration for Biden, and from my perspective, much of the criticism is simple ageism. But reconsider, my friends, because the best way to peel POC-fearin’ Republicans away from Trump is with another old white man.

I HATE that this is so. But it is. Biden is a safe bet, and paired with a female or POC running mate, once Uncle Joe has cleaned up this mess we’re in, the baton can be handed to a fresh, new generation. Besides, if Kamala Harris and Corey Booker seem awesome now, they’ll be that much more awesome with a vice presidential term on their resume. And let’s be clear one more time: I ADORE both Harris and Booker, but in 2020, we don’t have the luxury of taking chances. We need Uncle Joe for the win.

But wait, you say. Bernie Sanders is an old white man too!

Get out of here, Bernie. The first requirement to run as a Democrat is to BE a Democrat. And, like Warren, he’s too far left to peel away Republican voters. Too risky.

There are many others who’ve announced their candidacies so far (think Democratic clown car), but I don’t have the bandwidth to consider every one of them. I’m so Trump-fatigued, all I want is for the pain to stop. All aboard the the Biden bandwagon! That’s been my thinking up to this point.

And then… I caught the Feb. 11 Rachel Maddow Show. Rachel did a three-segment interview with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. I was sorta kinda aware of Klobuchar, but not enough to form any meaningful opinion about her. Well, now I can! In short: Dang!

Watch the entire interview here (Rachel begins about one minute in). See if you have a “Dang!” moment too. Klobuchar is just so… normal and Midwestern-y. So calm and comfortable, intelligent and confidant. So soothing. So NOT Trump. She’s oxygen when most of us are suffocating. She also has an excellent track record for getting things done, and, get this: Many Senate Republicans have nothing but nice things to say about her. They’re actually able to work cooperatively! In these toxic, polarized political times, this is exactly what we need.

Her main criticism? Apparently she’s tough to work for. Meh. Were she was a man, that “criticism” wouldn’t even surface.

As I watched the interview, it slowly began forming in my mind: Wow… I could get behind her. Even my hardcore Bernie Bro husband commented, “I would vote for her.” I can’t even articulate how HUGE that is.

But here’s the thing: Biden hasn’t actually announced that he’ll run. What a relief to know that if he decides to bow out, there’s another option. What a huge relief. Because if Trump gets reelected, Dante will have to invent a few more levels of Hell. We’ve already bottomed out.


(Watch Klobuchar’s snowy February 10 announcement of her 2020 presidential candidacy here.)






Sirius XM is white male privilege radio

In the midst of paring down my expenses after setting off on adventures in self-employment over the summer, I jettisoned all sorts of stuff: hair care clubs, skin care clubs, subscriptions, and more. The one guilty little pleasure that survived the cut was my Sirius XM subscription. And you know what? I don’t really miss that other stuff. But I would have missed my XM radio, and that was reinforced to me last week, when I had to leave my car in the shop to get the radio replaced because it had an illumination issue. The lights weren’t on, even though the music was home.

So, I toodled around in a super cool Chevy Colorado that only had basic AM/FM (what sort of Third World country is this, anyway?), and I was more than ready to get my car and my tunes back. However, when I pulled away, I discovered that when they replaced the radio, the stations were randomly blasted all over — XM, AM and FM all scrambled together. I am entirely too OCD to tolerate this for more than five minutes, so at the first opportunity, I parked the car and methodically began restoring musical order, one station at a time: The Bridge, Deep Tracks, The Coffeehouse, Classic Rewind, Soul Town, yup… Sports channels, nope… MSNBC, check… BBC, check… NPR, check… Fox News, get the hell out the back door… ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, yup… Beatles, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, yup, yup and yup.

I hadn’t set up my XM stations since I got the car years ago, and was wondering if there were any new stations since then. I figured I’d find out while I went along, and quickly filled up all six sets of station pre-sets. Damn. Out of room. Oh well, all my faves were still there (disgusting lack of a Led Zeppelin channel notwithstanding), and then it slowly dawned on me… heeeeyyyyyy…. There’s a channel for Tom and Willie, and also Elvis, Sinatra, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and Ozzy Osbourne… where are all the legendary black artists?

Where are the Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson channels?? And, no PRINCE channel?? That is music blasphemy!!! Prince was the most talented human being to ever grace this planet! Otherwordly talented! And Kenny Chesney gets a channel before PRINCE? I call shenanigans. Or maybe I should just call racism. Because it’s painfully obvious that that’s what this is.

Sure there are a couple rap channels, but they’re devoted to Eminem and Pitbull! No black artists featured on the rap channels?? WTF?

And yes, I do like rap. Gimme a little Gin & Juice with my California Love, baybay…

AND! Where are the channels devoted to legendary female artists? I already mentioned Aretha… where’s the Barbra Streisand channel? Linda Ronstadt? Christina Aguilera? Whitney Houston for freak’s sake? Where the hell is Whitney? Can you even talk about American music without mentioning Whitney?

Taylor Swift? (OK, not that I’d listen to that one, but she is inarguably a pop icon with an immense following and therefore commercially lucrative.) Do you think an Alicia Keys channel is a tad overdue? The woman is a Goddess. She’s on fire! Give her a damn XM channel! And that goes double for Beyoncé. Ever hear of her, Sirius XM? Alicia is a Goddess, but Bey is the Queen of the musical universe! Where’s her XM channel, for freak’s sake?

No MADONNA channel?

What sort of fuckerie is this, anyway?? Like her or not, Madonna inarguably spun the music world on its ear.


Mic drop.

Give her an XM channel!

Where the hell is the Lady Gaga Little Monsters channel?? She’s Madonna 2.0, and spun the music world onto its other ear! Get going on Gaga!

While we’re looking into sexual and racial diversity… how about a little brown, boys? Sure Pitbull claims Hispanic bloodlines and has an XM channel —  but is it because he looks like an average angry white guy, thereby making him safe and palpable to Sirius XM’s target audience: Mainstream White America? #Ugh.

How about a little brown in there, Sirius? Ever hear of a guy named Carlos Santana? Do you think maybe he deserves his own damn music channel? Would I listen to a Shakira channel? My hips won’t lie! Absolutely! Gloria Estefan?? I’ve worn out my Gloria CDs. It’s time to take her digital! Get her an XM channel, dammit!

Admittedly, relative to the vast number of legendary black, female and black female artists, there are few legendary Hispanic singers, so I could almost give Sirius XM a pass on that. Almost. Maybe not.

Hey SiriusXM: You may not have noticed, given that you exist in Whitey McWhite land, but here are a lot of Hispanics in the U.S. The Mexican music world is huge. And also wonderful. Why isn’t that reflected on Sirius XM? Donde esta  “La Musica” channel? Do you even begin to realize the depth of that untapped Hispanic music world? No. Clearly you do not. Do you further not realize that lots of white folks love Latin music?

I know.



But, first things first. The glaring lack of channels dedicated to legendary black or female or black female artists is downright shameful. American music would not exist as it does today without black singers and musicians. Period. Even more so than women. Black music is the bones of most all the music we know and love here in America. Why is this not represented on Sirius XM? Maybe because white privilege exists at the corporate level too? White privilege is less about what whites do experience than what they don’t experience. It’s just like male privilege: It’s not about what men do experience, it’s about what they don’t. With their white male featured channel lineup, Sirius XM is perpetuating a world where it’s all about white males, and everyone else can just divvy up whatever scraps are left over.

Hey, Sirius, XM: The 1950s called and they want their white male privilege back.

And also, Sirius XM, this is your official notice: You just been woke.

I know. It pinches. Feel the pinch and make it right anyway.

I see their faces

From time to time, horrifying images from the Holocaust death camps pass before my eyes, prompting me to consider the magnitude of the unfathomable cruelty inflicted on an entire race of living, breathing people… grandparents, children… young people… newlyweds… babies.


If I consider that moment in history long enough, it sucks the oxygen right from me. I don’t have the cruelty gene in me. I am unable to force my brain to even go there. I am intrinsically unable to inflict pain or violence on a completely innocent person. Sometimes as I consider what some humans have done to other humans, I seriously wonder if I’m simply not of the same species. Or maybe they’re not.

I was not yet born during World War II, so all of the images and stories from it are in shaded gray photographs and film clips… something that, while growing up, was a thing that happened a long time ago and shall never happen again. And of course, I grew up, and discovered that bigotry, racism and cruelty continue to flow through the collective psyche of our pathetically flawed species like a current of toxic waste.

I was watching some documentary awhile back, forget which one exactly, in which there was a video clip scanning past a group of starving, suffering Jewish women in a concentration camp… their eyes, pleading and pain-stricken… wrenching to look at. But not as painful as the eyes that held nothing at all anymore. Just dull resignation, like candle wicks gone cold. If you don’t convulse in compassion when you see such suffering… again, we are not of the same species.

And then… I suddenly imagined the faces of my Jewish friends in that clip… Sunny or Amy or Beatrice or Sivan or Beth or, or, or… and it was like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus. Putting the faces of actual beloved women I know, women who have enhanced my life in so many immeasurable ways… imagining that every one of those faces touched other lives in the same way. I can’t even bear it.

The shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue yesterday again prompted me to think of my friends’ faces, male and female, and how any one of those people could have been them, and despair wells in my heart. Putting a personal face on these tragedies ratchets up your empathy. Try it. Think of your own Jewish friends behind hogwire in a death camp or being herded in for a “shower,” or simply attending a family religious ceremony peacefully in their house of worship and then being gunned down by a racist lunatic… that’ll make it sting a little more.

I was pondering all that this morning, thinking of my Jewish friends and how I’d feel if something happened to them, and then it hit me… thinking of familiar faces as victims was easy. But there’s another side to that coin. What about the faces of the perpetrators? Those who shout (or silently think but won’t speak the words) “All Jews Must Die!” Or all Blacks. Or all Liberals. Or, or, or… what if I insert the faces of people I know who hold racist views into the role of Nazi or mass shooter? That’s a whole nuther kind of sting.

Try it. Insert the face of the most racist person you know onto the Pittsburg shooter. You know who they are. They routinely spout racist, hateful things, parrot what they hear on Right Wing TV and radio; marginalize those they irrationally despise as the “other.” Their “other enemy.” The one who steals what they feel they’re entitled to, simply by virtue of the color of their skin or the symbol of their church.

I imagine people I know throwing the switch on the showers or firing their machine guns at emaciated, naked men standing on the precipice of a mass grave in a concentration camp… and laughing. Let me tell you, it’s a mind fuck. Stopping to consider that the murderers and torturers and mass shooters all have familiar faces too, to someone.

There’s the more difficult task. Putting a human face (rather than a monster’s) on those who hate and those who kill, and realizing that they’re around us too. I know people like that. But I don’t view them as friends. I can tolerate a great many things, but I will not tolerate a racist.

I’m not a violent person by nature. I don’t believe in physically lashing out to solve differences. However, words are also weapons. What happened in Pittsburgh has renewed my resolve. I will stab a verbal machete into hateful, divisive words. Not into the people saying them. Just their words, their bigotries, their actions. Stab a machete through those. Every. Single. Time.

Yes, words are weapons. Very powerful ones. But the larger weapon is silence. If you aren’t brave enough to slash hatred with words, at least don’t tolerate it. Walk away from hateful people. Shun them. Cut them out of your life. Let them know it’s not OK and you refuse to tolerate it. Don’t participate in enabling their poisoned souls. If you think about it, shunning a racist is an act of kindness, because silence equals endorsement. It assists that person in remaining psychologically toxic.

Silence. Stab a machete through that. If you have to start there, then start there. A small start is better than no start at all.

“Silence must die.”

Megyn Kelly, we hardly knew ye

Photo by

I know when I say that I’m feeling sorry for Megyn Kelly, it’ll have the same reaction as farting in a crowded room. People will wrinkle their noses and get as far away as possible. Well, hold your nose, because I do.

Kelly is one of NBC’s more recent news anchors, with her own block of the Today show at 9 a.m., and what made her actually interesting is that she’s a Fox “News” transplant. She arrived on the Blue side of television after departing from Fox, maybe after an epiphany that the truthfulness of most everything spoken on that network, with the possible exception of the weather, was suspect. Somewhere along the line — maybe after Donald Trump so famously referred to her as “bleeding from her wherever” after she grilled him mercilessly during a presidential debate regarding his blatant misogyny — Megyn had to choose between her integrity and her paycheck.

Brava! You chose well, Megyn!

That said, at first, that was an awfully hard Left turn for me to navigate. I had to set down my precious disdain for anything and everything associated with Fox “News” and give Megyn a chance. She was walking away from the Dark Side, and in my mind, that deserved such a chance because maybe she is setting an example. Others on the Radical Right may follow her lead. Megyn was a walking talking crossover vehicle for Fox viewers realizing they needed to hightail it to somewhere sane. Or maybe they were just tired of being assholes. Whatever the reason, Megyn pointed out the exit a door for those folks.

I remained skeptical of course, because Megyn had been hanging out with the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but she seemed to be reasonably human after all, unlike her former harpy co-workers. By all accounts, Megyn — with a reputation for being fearless and articulate — was doing just fine at NBC. She was learning to adapt to a liberal atmosphere. She was gaining a new audience and siphoning away some of Fox’s. And then, yesterday… she face-planted.

Oh, Megyn, Megyn… how is it possible that anyone your age, with a background in journalism, (which implies that you know how to check facts and do research) doesn’t understand the inherent racism of blackface? Blackface was designed to ridicule an entire race, one that has experienced (and still experiences) horrific treatment and , sadly, ongoing racism? You’re a smart gal… but this was your “I didn’t know Chicken of the Sea wasn’t chicken!” moment. We’re left slack-jawed in amazement that anyone could be that dense.

But there it was.

“It’s not chicken???”

And, like a toddler asking completely inappropriate questions at the most awkward moment, Megyn continued and asked why blackface was racist if it’s Halloween and you’re dressing up like a character, citing a TV personality who dressed up like Diana Ross and wore dark makeup. Megyn asked, “Why is that wrong? Who doesn’t love Diana Ross?”

Ummm… ummm… how to put this in a way that even a clueless innocent might understand…  Because not everyone feels the same way about everything, and what is not painful for you is very painful for someone else, and therefore, in civilized society, we don’t do things that hurt other people.

Maybe that’s a start… and then hand Megyn a U.S. history book and send her to her room and tell her she can’t come out until she’s read the whole thing, and oh yes, there will be a pop quiz.

I watched Megyn stumble deeper and deeper into the mud of her own making in that segment, while her guests squirmed uncomfortably, trying to explain how blackface, even on Halloween, is offensive. It was one of those moments where you want to grab someone by the back of the neck and walk them away and hiss in her ear, “Just stop talking!!!”

The backlash from this incident was swift and harsh. Did she have it coming? Oh, yeah. We must hold people — particularly those in positions of power —  accountable. The following morning, a visibly angered Al Roker, the usually jovial weatherman for the Today show, said that although Megyn apologized to her staff, audience and co-workers, she owed a larger apology to all of People of Color for saying something so offensive. Roker was spot on. She deserved to get the stink-eye in the company cafeteria for a good long time. But Megyn listened, and quickly issued what seemed like a heartfelt apology and, more important, she finally “got it” — blackface is just completely offensive, in all situations. Even on Halloween. She learned something, dammit! But that wasn’t enough for NBC. By the end of the next day, Oct. 24, the news was out that Megyn was being canned by NBC.

NBC… I get WHY you made that decision, because you must be pristinely PC, however, jettisoning Megyn wasn’t a very well-considered move. Given, Megyn revealed that she has some astounding blind spots in her understanding of U.S. history and racism. However, if you watch the clip, she seems to be genuinely trying to understand. She didn’t seem mean or intentionally hurtful  — just utterly clueless.

It’s not chicken. It’s tuna. They called it Chicken of the Sea to get squeamish people in the 1950s to try canned fish, and probably also to play on the “tastes like chicken” explanation for anything that tastes dicey. And the mermaid on the logo… also not chicken. There are no chickens in the sea. It’s tuna. TUNA. OK? 

I know, Megyn…



So, let’s just go with the theory that somehow, Megyn never learned the truth about blackface in all these years. She existed in the Fox “News” echo chamber, and remained completely clueless… Blithely going through life hurting and offending people without ever realizing it. But here’s the thing… stop and consider how many other essentially kind but grotesquely clueless Americans there are out there? Megyn represents an uncomfortably large portion of the population that’s just as clueless, and harbors the exact same questions. But at least Megyn asked. She was trying to understand. And then, holy cow, did she get a heaping helping of understanding from every direction. Oh, she “gets it” now.

And got canned anyway.

That’s troubling for other potential Fox crossovers, who are beginning to have an inkling that what they’re hearing isn’t quite accurate. Like Megyn, it’s as if they’ve been raised by wolves and have no idea how to behave like a human. But they’re trying to understand. They want to ask questions. But having seen Megyn excoriated for her clumsy attempt to gain understanding, and may think instead… “Hmmm… if I ask a question, I’ll get my head chopped off too. Think I’ll stay in the Fox hole where it’s safe.” And just like that, we prevented more folks from seeking truth. Remaining ignorant is less painful than ridicule.

Well, we didn’t. NBC, this one’s on you. You botched a truly teachable moment. One that could have opened up a conversation and raised awareness and understanding. But, in a knee-jerk reaction, you didn’t look outside your own interests and ratings to recognize that Megyn blundered into the tip of an ugly racist iceberg. You had your chance to bust it up, and by firing Megyn, you are helping it to continue drifting along. You should have accepted her apology, issued a stern statement, and encouraged Megyn to start thinking, looking and interacting outside her lily white box.

For a network that likes to trot out the “The More You Know” tagline, you really blew it. it was a chance for Megyn and so many more like her to know more. And now they won’t.

Show me your boobs

breast-pe2Show me your boobs.

I don’t mean in a “flash your titties and I’ll toss you some Mardi Gras beads” way. Or “just for fun” or “let’s be naughty.” This is serious. Post some photos of your breasts, right here on this thread. Not pretty tittie photos. Photos of the miserable rashes, welts and bruising caused by your bra.

When I first started writing about the horrific rash caused by my Victoria’s Secret bras, information was very scarce online or anywhere else about this condition. It took me a long while to recognize the pattern of unbearable itching connected to two specific VS bras I’d just purchased. I started searching for information, and discovered the story of a women who believed it was formaldehyde in the bras that caused her allergic reaction — which looked just like mine: ugly, angry red welts, with an itch worse than poison oak, so bad that scratching until I bruised and broke the skin was less painful than trying to tolerate the itch.

I started writing about bra rashes, and rashes caused by Victoria’s Secret bras, and women began pouring from the woodwork, reporting similar conditions. The vast majority were associated with wearing VS bras. Since that time, other brands have popped up, creating similar reactions, but VS is still the largest offender — likely because they’re the largest manufacturer.

People have asked about suing VS, but I think that’s a dead end. It’s been tried, and it failed. For one thing, their position is that they don’t add chemicals to their bras. True enough — the chemicals are already in the fabric and they purchase that fabric after the fact.  So, they can legally claim innocence. For another, no one seems to have died from “contact allergic dermatitis” caused by whatever is in the bra fabric. That said, who knows who might have died from absorbing those chemicals over long periods of time? Those of us who react to the chemicals are the lucky ones — we stop wearing the bras. Those who don’t continue to expose themselves to toxins. Who knows how much they have absorbed through the skin, and what those chemicals do once they reach a toxic load? Could there be a connection to breast cancer?

VS will not acknowledge this problem, let alone take responsibility. I’ve talked to their reps on the phone, and they carefully choose their words so as not to even hint of culpability. But they KNOW there’s a problem. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have reached out to me. Yes, you read that right: VS contacted ME, not vice versa. They KNOW. Many, many women have returned their bras to the stores, and get their money back, no questions asked. Of course they do. If VS has the bras, they can destroy the evidence.

The most egregious facet of this story is that VS is aware of the problem, and they just don’t care. Despite customer loyalty, despite the fact that all of us with the allergy would flock to buy the products we want (and sadly, no one has found an acceptable substitute product), they just don’t care about us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve easily spent thousands at Victoria’s Secret over my life. Add us all up, all the money we’ve collectively spent… it’s substantial. Amazingly, VS doesn’t care. Which reveals just how much money they’re making. Easily enough money to deal with this issue. They don’t even have to acknowledge it. They could just quietly make it go away.

I suppose, legally speaking, it really isn’t VS’s problem that some of their customers react so violently to whatever is in that fabric. It ultimately isn’t their fault that some of their customers have allergies. We are like people with any other allergy — peanuts, eggs, fish. It is up to us to recognize our symptoms and carefully avoid products that contain that allergen. That said, food products are labeled with their contents. Clothing is not, other than basic fabric, like cotton, linen, etc. It’s time that allergens and chemical content are listed on labels so those of us with the allergy can safely buy products, rather than suffer the “trial and error” method of excruciating itching, bruising and welts.

It would also be wonderful if VS and other garment manufacturers could produce hypoallergenic lines of clothing. Make them just as cute and sexy as the others — but without the poison. They’re capable of doing this… they just don’t want to.

However, maybe if there was a collection of visible evidence of what this chemical allergy does, it would not only be taken more seriously, but maybe some intrepid clothing/lingerie manufacturer would strike out and make hypoallergenic bras and panties that don’t cause pain and misery. So… show me your boobs.

If you have that bra rash, take a selfie or ask your partner, a friend, or family member to take one for you. If possible, to protect from being labeled as porn and banned from social media sites, cover your nipples with your hands. Just get a picture of the rash caused by your bra. When I’ve collected enough, I’ll launch a Facebook page for this. VS, and all the other clothing manufacturers may be ignoring this issue and hoping it will disappear, but actual photographic evidence is much harder to ignore than words.

Let’s get the evidence IN THEIR FACE.

One more reason to post photos: It will help the many, many women out there who are frantic because they believe they have some sort of exotic breast disease or cancer discover that they aren’t sick after all. It’s their bras that are making them sick.

We are only a few weeks away from Breast Cancer Awareness Month — October. I’m hoping we will have enough photos and testimonies to have a Facebook page by October 1. If all the women who have responded over the years to my Boob Blog posts participate, it will be MORE than enough.

So, show me your boobs. Because pictures speak a thousand words. Let’s start yelling.

Banning fireworks would be ‘safe and sane’

Setting: In the background, the blue-green coastal hills just west of Winters are obliterated with dull, gray, choking smoke, that just gets thicker as the hours tick away and firefighters try desperately, and ineffectively, to get hold of the latest wildfire scorching the land. In the foreground, “safe and sane” fireworks stands are doing healthy business.

What’s wrong with this picture?

No, not the obvious irony  — it’s that fireworks sales are allowed at all in California, which is nothing but a vast sea of kindling from June through October. The rationale: these are great fundraisers for local youth sports teams.

No. Just NO. This is dumbshittery at its pathetic worst.

First off, sports teams – sell cookies. Wrapping paper. Offer community services. Raise the prices at your snack shacks. Do a boot drive, a swim fin drive, or just start a GoFundMe. There is absolutely no rationale for risking the property and lives of people statewide, of destroying vast acres of natural lands and endangering and even killing animals both wild and domestic, just so ya’ll can play Little League or be on the swim team for $10 less. Enough’s enough. The pyrotechnics party must end.

Hey, here’s an idea: How about if the sports teams and other non-profits that raise money through fireworks sales be required to donate their proceeds to a California fire-fighting fund, and only collect the money that’s leftover?

Short scenario: Ain’t nobody collecting a dime, because it will all go to fighting fires, and it will amount to less than 1% of the millions upon millions, and even billions, in damages that happen due to fires in California every single year.

Unlike states that enjoy four seasons, California only has two: Fire Season and Not Fire Season. Why on earth should anyone be encouraged to light sparking fires in the heart of Fire Season?

Here in Winters, with the County Fire blazing on and at this moment, 44,500 acres scorched and only 3% containment after fire crews have battled this blaze all of yesterday, last night and today, to even entertain the idea of hundreds of happy idiots blithely lighting miniature explosive devices on fire on every block is jaw-droppingly stupid.

At least our City Manager had the good sense to cancel the annual July 3 (yes, July 3) fireworks display, for a variety of reasons, including very poor air quality right now, as well as the fact that with an active fire burning in the hills, and lives and property on the line, if emergency crews need to get through on the one and only highway that leads to that area, the last thing they need is to attempt to navigate through streets choked with cars and people from the thousands that descend upon our town to see free fireworks every year.

And why do all these people come to Winters? Because the cities where they live don’t allow them! Surrounding areas have wised up — no fireworks displays, no fireworks sales. Why? Because they’re smarter than we are! What does Winters get out of this gig? NOTHING! They ask people to donate to the fireworks, but the vast majority park themselves outside the school grounds so they don’t have to drop a buck or two in the donation can. It’s lunacy!

In addition to clogging the town with people and cars, these folks buy their fireworks here and then settle in on any random corner or parking lot and set off their Block Party packs. When all the fun is over, they pack up and leave the charred trash right there for our city crews to clean up. Our city doesn’t make a dime from these folks, but it spends quite a few.

Oh, but meanwhile, the sports teams are cheering because they’ve made money. The city and community would be better off to donate funds to the teams in exchange for banning fireworks sales. Adding in fire crews running to this and that lawn or roof fire started by fireworks, and the city might come out ahead by banning fireworks and giving the teams money.

This is the fifth July in a row that rural Winters and the hills to the west suffered wildfires that turned the sky gray and the sun into a red, glowing ball, and the air became acrid with smoke. Our cars and sidewalks are covered with a film of ash, and our lungs and sinuses probably are as well. And we have four more months of Fire Season to go, and plenty of kindling-covered hills and fields primed to go up in smoke with one spark.

For me, this was the third year in a row that I stood guard along with my stable pals near Lake Solano where we board our horses, but this year was different. Whereas the last two years, we merely stood guard and fretted, this year, mid-afternoon, a sheriff’s posse officer pulled onto the property and said we needed to get the horses out NOW.

There are about 40 horses on that property. Some of the owners were out of town. There were not enough horse trailers for all of the horses, even if everyone was there. We asked if we could go and drop horses off and come back. The answer was “no.” We were told that once we left, we would not be allowed back in.

In the case of me and my stable sisters, all together, we were two trailer spaces short. So, what do you do? Flip a coin to see whose horse stays back and maybe burns to death? Luckily for us, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Posse brought in a trailer and rescued the odd-man-out horses, one of which was my own beloved Pendragon. Thankfully, the horses were all safely rescued, and all the other horses were eventually evacuated as well. No small feat when you consider that in addition to the emergency situation, horses aren’t exactly the most cooperative animals when they are terrified and smell smoke. And, they weigh about 1,500 pounds each.

Thankfully, they all made it out alive, and the stable is still standing. This time. For now. The fire, as I said, is only 3% contained at this moment, and the wind could kick back up any time.

But what if the wind had shifted yesterday in a moment? What if our only choice was to leave our horses or die? Only those who’ve never loved a horse with all their hearts would say, “Just leave.”

Now true, the County Fire likely wasn’t started by fireworks. However, the Cold Fire (I think that was the name — there’ve been so many that I’ve lost track) was started by campers out near Monticello Dam setting off fireworks under dry, windy conditions. That particular fire turned the beautiful Stebbins Cold Canyon into ash. It was heartbreaking. Was losing that pristine nature preserve worth setting off a few Piccolo Petes or Sparkling Showers or Flaming Dollar Bills (what they all should really be called)? Let’s give that a collective “HAYULL NO.”

There are those who object to the notion of a long-overdue fireworks ban and say, “Well, this fire wasn’t started by fireworks.” Fair enough. But will the next one be? Why the hell would you even take that risk? How stupid are you? Do you put on your own pants in the morning or do you require assistance?

Is it fair to have fire crews go running around after little front lawn fires while acres of dry brush are being gulped by flames and racing toward someone’s home and livestock herd? I’d say the only fair thing in that situation would be to tell the fireworks-lovin’ homeowners to bust out the garden hose because they created their own problem through nothing but sheer, grotesque stupidity.

Add to all that the massive air pollution from all the sidewalk fireworks displays and the impact on local creeks and streams after all the ash and debris is washed into city drains, as well as all the trips to emergency rooms from “safe and sane” fireworks accidents, and there is just not a single valid reason to allow fireworks in California, and maybe anywhere else either.

Safe and Sane? What a JOKE. The ONLY “safe and sane” solution is to ban all fireworks sales in California. Period. We have enough trouble fighting fires caused by other things than to risk igniting another one just for the sake of simple entertainment or to save $10 on the registration fee for our kids to play sports.

This was the view of the sky over the stable where I board my horse. It was about 3:30 p.m., the height of a sunny day. Yet, the sky, and the whole area was as dark as dust from smoke from the County Fire yesterday.