Three Courageous things we can change right now

“The Serenity Prayer” has been drifting in and out of my mind ever since this whole coronavirus nightmare began. It’s the mantra of all 12-Steppers, and a reminder that not everything is under our control. When we feel compelled to take control of a situation, or person, we repeat this prayer in our minds as sort of a psychological reset button:

God, grant me the Serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

and Wisdom to know the difference.

A lot of people focus on the Serenity part of this, and stop right there. Some move on to embrace “Courage.” But it’s “Wisdom” that’s actually the key, because how do you know if you need Serenity or Courage if you haven’t used your Wisdom to figure out if the best course of action is acceptance or change? The entire concept of this mantra rests upon Wisdom.

As it pertains to coronavirus/Covid-19, it doesn’t take a lot of Wisdom to figure out that until a vaccine and a cure are found, this microscopic monster is completely out of our control. No point in wasting any Courage on fighting the virus itself. That’s up to the doctors and scientists. All the rest of us can do is focus our Courage on sheltering in place, wearing masks and gloves in public, amping up our hand-washing routines, maintaining social distance, and avoiding unnecessary errands. These are things we can change. The rest of it? This virus has a clear non-discrimination policy: It doesn’t care about your race or religion or age or income — anyone and everyone could be the next victim. Other than taking the precautions you can, the rest is all up to Lady Luck.

Maybe that’s where the Serenity (if there’s any to be found) comes in: We change what we can and hope for the best, because all the worry and anxiety and dread in the world will have zero impact on luck.

Zero.

All that said, it’s pretty much impossible to consider the proliferation of this pandemic in the U.S. without considering the one who enabled it: Donald Trump. First, he declared coronavirus to be a liberal hoax. Then, he downplayed it as something that would magically disappear in April (more than 30,000 dead in the U.S. and counting as of today). Next, he attempted to relabel the virus as the “Chinese Virus,” and paint the Chinese at fault (thereby providing a convenient enemy). The ultimate transgression occurred this week when he canceled U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, blaming the WHO for not taking charge of this virus (redirecting blame for its spread in the U.S. away from himself.) Right when the WHO needs our funding the most!

Trump squandered an entire month in the early days of this pandemic, as well as any opportunity we had of preventing its spread. Of course he denies all that, and seems to be utterly unaware that videotape exists.

Sadly, because the Republican Senate refused to give Trump the impeachment he so richly deserves and remove him from office, we’re now in the midst of one of our country’s biggest crises, completely devoid of a stable, mature hand at the helm. It’s the worst case scenario, in 365 degrees. We’re stuck with an infantile, sociopathic megalomaniac in charge, and all I can say about that is thank Goddess for state governors. At least there are some adults in the room.

I can’t be rid of Covid-19 or Trump soon enough. I’m not sure which will ultimately cause the most carnage. While all we can do is wait for an end to coronavirus, as for Trump, we can do something about that. The tick-tick-tick of his clock running out is the ambient background in my mind.  Sadly, we have to muddle through until November before we can jettison the worst President in U.S. history.

Thanks, Republicans.

The notion of a landslide loss in November has Trump worried. So worried, in fact, that I’m certain that his motivation for recently refusing a coronavirus relief bill if it included funding for the U.S. Postal Service is because mail-in ballots will contribute to his downfall. He’s mentioned them as “corrupt” multiple times, even though five states do mail-in voting exclusively, without incident, and ironically, even though he votes by mail himself. Mail-in paper ballots are almost impossible to hack electronically, so there’s  no room for remote manipulators to flip every other Democratic vote to the Republican side. Bottom line, Trump realizes that he can’t win if he can’t cheat. He doesn’t care what he destroys as long as he gets to call himself a winner.

What a loser.

How does all this tie in to the Serenity Prayer? I put my Wisdom to work, to help me recognize the things I could change that actually required no Courage at all: I contributed to Joe Biden’s campaign, because he’s our only hope of getting rid of Trump, and I bought two books of Forever stamps to funnel funds to the U.S. Postal Service. Just to be saucy, I did a third thing: I contributed to Amy McGrath’s campaign for the Kentucky Senate. She stands a good chance of ousting longtime incumbent Mitch McConnell.

McConnell is the main reason that the impeachment didn’t culminate in the removal of Trump from office. He sets the tone of this morally bankrupt Republican Senate, which blocks any and all liberal or progressive efforts just on principle, regardless of value or benefit to the public. If you think about it, McConnell is even worse than Trump because he knows better, he knows the Constitution, and he knows how government is supposed to work. But he’s willing to abandon all that, and all of us, as well as his oath of office, just to cling to the coattails of a shallow, self-serving imbecile.

When we #DumpTrump in November, it will be icing on the cake to #DitchMitch as well. Many of us will do so using mail-in ballots because we can’t let a nasty virus prevent us from exercising our Constitutional right to vote. And we’ll need those stamps to do so!

While the end of the virus is still not within sight, the end of this presidency is. Until then, stay home and stay Serene, my friends.

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 10.47.44 AM

Rebooted reboot

I know, I know, I know…

I popped back in from outer space on January 1, all ready to reboot this blog and get back to opining about all sorts of things about which no one asked my opinion, and then… *crickets*

So, a funny thing happened on the way to that reboot. Not “haha” funny, but unusual and highly distracting. I realize that “highly distracting” means almost nothing coming from someone who darts off after the first “Squirrel!” but this time, I think these things will qualify even for those with the most steadfast spans of attention.

I was waiting to really get going on blogging again until my book cover was done and I could swing down that path. Because yes, people, Squirrel or no, I did manage to complete my first book last year and all in all, I am pretty damn pleased with it and myself.

To kick off my celebration of finally accomplishing something, I attended the annual Pagan convention, Pantheacon, in mid-February and went to Llewellyn Worldwide’s author gathering, and saw my book cover for the first time! What a surprise, and what a peak experience that was! I was over the moon. So yes, “The Elements of Horse Spirit — The Magical Bond Between Humans and Horses” is happening, my friends! I have photographic evidence, and also heard that it went to press two weeks ago. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon right now! How cool is THAT!

I returned from Pantheacon all set to shine a spotlight on the next leg of my life’s journey and got slammed with an unexpected surprise. After many years of relentless arm pain and restriction, it turns out I had not only a bone spur under the end of my collarbone, digging right into the nerve that runs to the deltoid muscle, but also two rotator cuff tears — one partial, and one a full thickness tear, the latter of which being the truly troublesome part.

After consulting with a surgeon, a specialist, and my own dear doc, the opinion was unanimous: The rotator cuff must be repaired before the severed ends scar over because at that point, it will no longer be repairable. At that point, I’d be looking at a shoulder replacement. And ANY replacement of ANY body part weirds me the hell out, so that was incentive enough to make my decision easy.

In February, the surgeon gave me a window of six months to repair the damage. Initially, I wanted to do what all good journalists do, and push that surgery out to the last possible moment… let all that good old deadline energy propel me through. However, both the specialist and my doc said, “Do it NOW.” I have to wonder if both of them knew that coronavirus was heading our way, and if I stalled, there’d be a good chance my surgery would be denied as “non essential” during the midst of this pandemic. Thankfully, whether foresight or conservative medical opinion, I did as they said, and had my shoulder repaired on March 3.

I went in for surgery, and the world was relatively normal, albeit caution about hand-washing and being aware of activities that might spread the virus was floating around. I came out of surgery, and the entire world turned upside down. Within one week, the shelter-in-place orders went into effect in California and we were all thrust into a new, unfamiliar reality. And possibly not a temporary one. We will likely be living this way until a vaccine is found, and that could take as long as 18 months, so, well… maybe invest in a bidet because that’s a LOT of toilet paper that we don’t have, my friends.

What does this all have to do with your alleged writing reboot, Debra? Jeez, get ON with it.

Well, it’s this: I imagined that even though I had to wear a bulky arm sling 24-7 for the entire first month, I’d still be able to write. I imagined wrong. Sitting at the computer with that thing on required uncomfortable contortions that made focusing on writing pretty much impossible, and my hand and arm were as weak as a newborn kitten. Beyond the physical discomfort, I discovered that following general anesthesia, plus extreme sleep deprivation due to the sling and only being able to sleep (or attempt it, rather) in a recliner, I’d lost my words as if someone locked the room in my brain where they all are. Locked out! I struggled to find the exact word I was trying to say, and to even finish a sentence. For someone who lives in a world of words, this was most unsettling. I said a lot of things like, “I need to go get that thing to do that… thing… ” and sometimes I’d hear a sentence come out of my mouth and my ears would detect that I didn’t use the words I’d intended to. That was upsetting all by itself.

And then the coronavirus tsunami washed over us all.

It didn’t take long before my good old pal Anxiety roared back into my life, further paralyzing my ability to write anything longer than a snarky Facebook post. What irony, right? Suddenly I’m gifted with endless time to write, and between physical discomfort and psychological anguish over our impending collective doom… I’m unable to write a damn thing. And so… I gave up on writing for the rest of March, and on into early April, until I could get the sling off. Just completely furloughed my brain and decided that epic hours spent playing Candy Crush and watching reruns of The Office was forgivable under the circumstances. “Just heal,” I told myself. “That’s all you need to do.” And so, the days wore on, just an endless cycle of changing from P.M. pajamas to A.M. pajamas and back again.

Until this morning. Today is the first time in nearly six weeks that I’ve been able to sit at a keyboard and use both hands without pain, AND have enough psychological bandwidth to write something reasonably coherent. Milestone, people! Yes, the whole coronavirus thing is running like a ticker tape through the back of my brain, but as I said… this is now our reality. I must teach myself to write again in spite of it, because this is where we’re stuck, and this is where we’ll stay. Thank Goddess it’s totally comfy to write in PJs, which ironically was always my ultimate dream. Somehow, I didn’t quite imagine it this way, but this is what it is.

And here we are, all the way to the end of a column! Hopefully my writing Muse has been kickstarted! This may not be my best work, but hey — it’s SOME work, and that’s more than I’ve done since January. It may contain typos because my post-surgery anxiety-saturated brain is still struggling a bit, so apologies in advance. But hopefully, my reboot is officially rebooted! Now if we just could go awhile without anything else funny happening. (Note to the Universe: No more surprises, please. Enough’s enough. You’ve made your point: Control is all an illusion. We get it. Don’t be a dick and hammer it home. Nobody likes a dick.)

Me, seeing the cover of my book for the first time at Llewellyn Worldwide’s authors party at Pantheacon in February 2020!

 

 

Knocking down the cobwebs

Pffft… pffft… pfffffffft….

Dang, there are cobwebs all over this place, aren’t there! Dust everywhere you look! I’m almost ashamed to admit that I haven’t made a single post since last May.

Almost.

Because it wasn’t simple garden variety laziness or lack of organization or—squirrel!!! (this time)… I had a super good reason: I spent most of last spring and summer working on my first book, “Elements of Horse Spirit – How Horses and Humans Heal Each Other,” to be published by Llewellyn Worldwide in June 2020! Yes! I finally achieved the one milestone I always wanted: to write at home, with neither boss nor employees, and preferably in pajama pants all day long! Cocktails by 4 p.m.! The dream is alive!

The reality of that lifelong dream, however, is that I wrote this book on a fast-track, suggesting an absolutely preposterous timeline (two months for the first draft), and then set out to meet it. And I did. But it wasn’t done there… revisions and editing followed, and the book wasn’t done done until Labor Day, and that’s not quite true either, because the manuscript has moved on to another editor, and within the next couple months, the draft copy will be proofread and copy-edited yet once again, until it goes to press in March.

It was an incredible amount of work, and I’m beyond thrilled that this is finally happening (I turned 60 last year, so I’ve taken “late bloomer” to the next level), but the upswing of all that work is that I squeezed all the words out of my brain. Nothing left but a chalky, haggard husk, except a few TV theme songs rolling around in the dusty corners. Nothing left but an endless loop of “... love is all around no need to waste it…” But, yeah, temporary cognitive depletion notwithstanding, it looks like I am, in fact, going to make it after all! Somebody get me a beret to toss in the middle of town square!

Why am I feeling a splooge of confidence about that? Well, Llewellyn has given me the green light to start on my second book, which will be especially for the Pagan-curious, and those interested in a little guidebook about discovering their feral side and exploring the Pagan world; a Pagan preschool primer of sorts.

Yes, Pagan. In fact, both books are of the Pagan slant, which may or may not come as a shock to some. Those who recognize my Pagan core, recognize my Pagan core. The rest just assume I’m some old tree-hugging, whale-loving hippie who owns too much silver jewelry with weird looking symbols, and has a bad tarot addiction. After many, many years of (badly) hiding my true Pagan self, and with print journalism far in my rearview mirror, I can finally be completely congruent. Whew. It feels great to exhale.

Why did I pretty much stay in the broom closet all that time? Simple: Paganism didn’t pay the bills.

And yes, it’s true: I am just done with journalism. For multiple reasons. That ship hasn’t just sailed, it’s hit a coral reef, ripped its belly open, and sunk to the bottom of the sea, where happy little seahorses and clownfish and crabs are repurposing it into a sweet little underwater condo.

Honestly, it was never my goal to be a journalist or an editor anyway, and I was never particularly interested in newspapers either. It’s just what happened while I was busy making other plans.

Oh, life… you are such a scamp!

All that said, I did have a passion for writing opinion, and that was the hardest piece to release, but here we are, a year and a half later, and I can count all the columns (I suppose I should more appropriately say “blog posts” now) that I’ve written on one hand in that span of time, and I just don’t really care. I sort of lost interest in the whole opinion gig. I went internal, shared my opinion on social media here and there, but even that has become a bit “meh” to me. I’ve realized, in retrospect, that I never succeeded in changing people’s minds, let alone the world, but holy crap, did I try. I became very accustomed to a 360-degree “fists up” mentality all the time, and became quite the verbal scrapper over the years. Yes, kitty had claws, and she wasn’t afraid to use them. But the more time that elapsed between my official last column and the present moment, the less interest I had in continuing the constant shit-disturbing. War, even in words… huh – what is it good for? Absolutely nuthin’.

Except endless arguments and flaming social media threads that ultimately accomplish even less.

Evidence: Hillary did not win in 2016. And Kellyanne is still talking.

And so, I sat on the banks and let the endless river of potential column topics just float on past (and wow, did the current occupant of the White House float plenty of jetsam downstream). Some looked mighty tempting, but all in all… I just let it drift on by and got reacquainted with myself instead. I didn’t even produce a pithy column on turning 60, as I had when I turned 40 and 50 because… does it really matter? It’s a number. It’s also a lot of judgment. Are we done with “OK, Boomer” yet? That’s about as five minutes ago as “five minutes ago.”

Other than the joints in my hands having some pesky arthritis from all that tapping on a keyboard for nearly 30 years, what’s the point obsessing over that number? Is 60 all that different from 59? (Here’s a short story on that: No.) Besides, it’s not about the time you’ve spent on earth as much as it is about how you spend the time that’s left. And what’s left is pure gold, and must be spent wisely. I’m not squandering it on tempest-in-a-teapot mudslinging anymore, whether in print or online. It’s just sad and tired, and does nothing to improve anything. I’ve lost the urge to prove that I’m right. It’s good enough that I know that for myself. All of y’all will have to figure it out for yourselves.

All that said, I’ll try to do a better job of blogging (good Goddess that sounds so weird and wrong… it’s like a new haircut… I guess I’ll get used to it) here and there. I’ll aim to do a better job of dusting and knocking the cobwebs down from time to time. (Disclaimer: I’m a shitty housekeeper.)

Anyway, onward to a new year, a new decade, and a new trajectory!

 

 

 

They spit on the grave of every soldier

On Memorial Day, hopefully, we pause to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country. Some died in the process of that ultimate gift, others returned home broken and battered. All of them put their country before their own goals and ambitions, and personal gain. All of them will have little American flags flying over their graves on Monday, my father amongst them.

There is no greater sacrifice than to give your life for the greater good of all. In our country, for the military, this has meant to do your duty with honor in your heart, knowing that standing up for the Rule of Law and our Constitution is the ultimate responsibility, even to the point of risking your own life.

I must ask, when all the politicians mouth words of praise for fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, wearing their obligatory lapel American flag pins and giving “heartfelt” speeches, how they go home and sleep at night if they aren’t pushing hard for impeachment of the most corrupt, dishonest, unbalanced President in U.S. history?

I have listened to news program after news program, talk show after talk show, and every discussion of impeachment revolves around the calculation of how such a move will affect the 2020 elections. Every time I hear it, I could launch from my chair in flabbergasted disbelief. When you distill this conversation down to its essence, these politicians are completely focused on their own personal gain and re-election than on the Constitution they swore to uphold.

Just like this President who unabashedly puts his own self-interest above every single thing that happens in this country, when you think about it, every politician who talks about the effect impeachment would have on the 2020 election rather than doing what is right is essentially doing the same thing: What’s in it for me, and to hell with the country.

I ask again: How do you people sleep at night? Have you no honor? No shame? No integrity?

The definition of a sociopath is one who walks through life doing whatever he wants with absolutely no concern or empathy for anyone he harms. Walking over people is how he operates in the world. Clearly, our President fits this description. However, I suspect that a lot of politicians fit this description as well, based upon their drive to protect themselves and their jobs above all else.

Sociopaths can be very convincing and charming when it serves their own needs. They’ll lie to your face without blinking if it means you’ll vote for them. If you voted for someone who now balks at impeachment, sorry, my friend — you’ve been duped by a sociopath.

Having sworn to uphold the Constitution and now flagrantly not doing that by refusing to impeach a President who so clearly deserves impeachment, many times over, means that these politicians are as guilty as he. Theoretically, there could be a clean sweep through Congress if all those who swore to uphold the Constitution and now will not were held up to the Rule of Law. To add irony to insult, these politicians make decisions that affect the lives of every member of our Armed Forces.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi week stated this week that the President is involved in a cover-up and has obstructed justice; “is” and “has.” Not might have. And yet, she drags her heels when it comes to holding him accountable. When stating that these are “impeachable offenses,” she nearly chokes on the words. And why won’t she push harder, and respond to the demands of the far-left freshman Democratic representatives? Because her only calculation is how it will effect the 2020 election.

I admire Nancy Pelosi, but I am hugely disappointed in her choice to put ambition ahead of country. Hugely.

Sometimes you are called to put your own needs aside and do what is best for the greater good of all. Sometimes you dedicate yourself to your country and the Constitution it stands for, because that is the right thing to do. People who feel this why will have little American flags fluttering over their graves on Memorial Day. And every politician that will not set his or her own needs aside and serve their country first spits on those graves.

Unknown-1

Photo by History.com

End abortion by ending unplanned pregnancy

That sound you hear is the collective orgasm of Right Wing self-righteousness now that abortion is illegal in Alabama, and more states are poised to fall like dominoes to propel women back to the days of back alleys and coat hangers.

Would it be horrid of me to wish an incestuous unplanned pregnancy on the 12-year-old of every Radical Religious Right Winger who is declaring this a victory for Pro-Lifers? Well, probably. Maybe karma has less of a conscience than me.

You go, karma!

Although women absolutely have the right to control their own bodies, the Pro-Lifers have one valid point: Once a fetus is viable outside the womb, having an abortion is unacceptable unless the mother’s life is at risk. “I was here first” is still the checkmate move. That said, most women suspect they’re pregnant after one missed period. Maybe two. If you’ve missed three, and it’s unplanned, and you haven’t started the process of doing something about it, well, my sympathies swing to the unborn child. If it can survive outside the womb, it’s a baby and not a fetus. Unless you’re 12, and were impregnated upon your first sexual experience before you ever even had a period. Now we’re talking about something else entirely. It would be child abuse to force a 12-year-old to give birth. This is why we can’t have black and white laws. We need to have the room to consider each situation independently.

I’ll give this one to the Pro-Lifers: Late term abortion is murder. It’s heinous. Crushing the skull of a fully formed, viable fetus and vacuuming its brains out is unfathomably cruel and gruesome. We wouldn’t do that to a dog. At some point in gestation, a fetus’ right to exist supercedes the woman’s right to choose. If you’re in your third trimester, you need to let nature finish its job. Sorry, you don’t get to go merrily along for seven months and then play the “oops” card. Unless you’re 12. And then, we’re really in a bind. It’ll take a lot of hand-wringing to work this one out.

Abortion isn’t a black and white issue, but Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers refuse to see it as anything but. Neither side is capable of rational, intelligent discussion about abortion, only ranting and raving, waving picket signs and shouting each other down. They cancel each other out, like a positive and a negative, and add up to zero.

Pro-Choicers’ have zero empathy for the fetus. It’s not just a lump of flesh, people. I know. I’ve had two of them inside me. It kicks, it rolls, it hiccups, it sucks its thumb. It’s alive. Trust me, the first time that “lump” drop-kicks your spleen, you know it’s got a mind of its own. And, more importantly, a life. Once a fetus becomes viable, removing it from the womb isn’t “abortion,” it’s “murder.” Pro-Choicers must concede to respect life before the umbilical cord is cut, or they have no credibility.

Before you Pro-Lifers get all “Amen, sister!” on me, temper your enthusiasm. The “Pro-Life” label is a misnomer. There’s nothing remotely “pro life” about your position. Mom’s single, unemployed, and can’t feed another mouth? She should’ve thought about that before she uncrossed her legs! Mom’s only 14? Well, the little slut was old enough to have sex, wasn’t she! Her 40-year-old uncle fathered the child while raping her? Tough. But, hey Mom, Jesus loves you! Good luck in the Food Stamp line! God bless!

Fucking hypocrites.

Life doesn’t end at birth. A single mother can’t feed a child on “Jesus loves you.” The pregnant woman’s body and life will be drastically changed forever. The father, however, can simply walk away, and live to impregnate another day. Where’s the Pro-Lifers’ obsession and angst about THAT? Until the Pro-Lifers respect life after the umbilical cord is cut, help pay to support all those unwanted children for 18 years apiece, and hold fathers equally accountable, they also have no credibility.

SO, both sides have credibility issues, as well as empathy issues. How about all of y’all shut up for three minutes and let all five of us who are left have a crack at a sane discussion about abortion.

First, viability and semantics. Currently, 22 weeks is a make-it-or-break stage of gestation. Prior to that, survival outside the womb is unlikely. To be safe, let’s round down to 20 weeks. That’s five months — more than enough time to decide to end a pregnancy. After five months, the fetus is viable. Now it’s a baby, and killing it is murder. At that point, the right to exist outweighs the right to choose. But if that pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, and a caesarian is impossible, the mother’s life comes first. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, particularly when it’s your own body.

This is where the Pro-Lifers fall flat on their self-righteous faces. They’re against abortion. But they’re just as avidly against birth control. You want to end abortion? End unplanned pregnancy. Abortion isn’t the issue. It’s the symptom of the real problem: unplanned pregnancy. Stop the unplanned pregnancy, and you stop the abortions. Can I get an “Amen, Sister,” Pro-Lifers? Or does your desire to also end premarital sex weigh more than your desire to end abortion? Because if you even have to hesitate to answer that question, do not embarrass yourself one moment further by mouthing a word against abortion.

Before all the Pro-Choicers get all “You go, girl!” on me, may I point out that with choice comes responsibility. Abortion isn’t birth control. Birth control prevents pregnancy. Abortion doesn’t. Pro-Choice should also mean: Choose to take birth control pills until you want a baby. Period.

And what if, despite employing every means possible, sperm still meets egg? There are home pregnancy tests that detect pregnancy within one week of conception. One week! And if you can’t afford one, go to Planned Parenthood. And if you decide to terminate the pregnancy, do it now. To wait for months is irresponsible. And, at some point, yes, it is murder.

And, while we’re busy laying the entire burden of unplanned pregnancy on women, what about the men? Why do only women shoulder the full burden? Those guys who are all, “Oh, baby, baby, baby” at the heat of passion should have to accept the baby baby baby that results from it. It takes two to make the fetus — it should take two to kill it too.

Pass a law that the fathers must stand beside the doctor with their eyelids pried open “Clockwork Orange” style, and watch as the woman’s cervix is pried open and the fetus is vacuumed out in bloody bits and pieces? It should be mandatory that whatever the women endures, the man must witness. Maybe be required to scoop up all the bloody, gooey sheets and body parts, and walk them to the hazardous waste disposal, vomiting all the way.

So, I bet you’re scratching your head trying to figure out if I’m Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. I’m neither. Or both. I believe unplanned pregnancies are a tragedy, and abortions even more so, and we should be heaving free contraceptives at any and all females in an effort to prevent them. We need contraception we can implant in girls before their periods begin and remove when they’re ready to make a mature decision about having a child.

In a logical world, Pro-Lifers would be funneling money into Planned Parenthood, not plotting to blow clinic up. It’s called PLANNED Parenthood, you dolts, not Abortions-R-Us. If you did the most miniscule amount of research, you’d discover that Planned Parenthood prevents far, far more unwanted pregnancies than it terminates. In real estate, it’s “location, location, location.” To end abortion, it’s “prevention, prevention, prevention.”

Ah, but there’s not really logic in this discussion, because it’s not just pregnancy that the Radical Religious Right is obsessed with. It’s sex itself. Specifically, contraception. There are some in the RRR who don’t believe women should enjoy sex unless it’s a byproduct of getting pregnant. Abolishing abortion and making access to birth control difficult is the first step to gaining control of womens’ bodies. What we have going on now in the U.S. is far beyond Pro-Life. It’s the first salvo in an all-out war on women’s rights.

Ladies! There are people out there, right at this moment, regrouping and working on laws to govern what you can and can’t do with your own uterus and your own vagina! Before it became a television series, Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” was a futuristic dying world, wherein a woman’s role in society is whittled down to becoming nothing more than “a uterus on legs.” I suspect that Atwood intended her novel to be a warning, not a how-to manual.

Oh, yeah. It’s on.

We women are the voting majority in this country and if we don’t wise up and wield that power, we’re going to lose that too, along with everything our mothers and grandmothers fought for. We’re the frog in that pot of water with the heat rising so slowly, we’ll eventually boil to death from our inability to perceive the change in temperature.

And girfriends, it’s getting’ hot in here.

 

 

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”???

Shut.

UP.

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

SHUT!

UP!!!!

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.

Whew!

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=VbOU2fTg6cI
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.

HARD STOP.

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.)