Five years later and our breasts are still angry as hell

One year ago, I wrote about the fact that I wrote about this topic four years prior to that, and was surprised that not only was the issue unresolved, it’s ongoing: horrific breast rashes triggered by Victoria’s Secret bras.

Rinse and repeat.

Women continue to contact me each week on this blog, reporting that they’re suffering with itching and rashes on their breasts, which means that manufacturers continue to churn out products made from fabrics infused with irritating chemicals. And the garment manufacturers know it. They just don’t care. Why? Because the percentage of customers that react to these chemicals with allergic contact dermatitis is relatively miniscule. It’s cheaper to ignore them than to do anything about it.

Note that I said “manufacturers” because the problem has spread beyond Victoria’s Secret. While most women commenting on my blog report issues with Victoria’s Secret bras, more and more are reporting the same thing from bras made by other manufacturers.

This makes sense because Victoria’s Secret is the largest and most popular bra manufacturer, therefore, by the numbers, their customer base is larger, and within that base, the number of women with an allergic reaction is larger. It makes further sense other bras are triggering the reaction because the issue isn’t Victoria’s Secret bras per se. The issue is the fabric itself, available to any garment manufacturer. In fact, this is how Victoria’s Secret handily crushed a lawsuit filed in 2008 by a women claiming her rash was so severe that she was disfigured from the formaldehyde that Victoria’s Secret was putting in their bras.

Victoria’s Secret responded that never added any chemicals to their bras. Technically, this was true. They didn’t add chemicals to their products — the chemicals were already in the fabric, from which their products are made. The plaintiff lost her case. And yet… the rashes continue.

Despite claims of innocence, I know for a fact that Victoria’s Secret is aware of the issue because I was contacted by two of their representatives, who gave me very carefully worded responses to my concerns, and also because Victoria’s Secret follows me on Twitter and I doubt it’s because they’re my corporate fangirls.

I think Victoria’s Secret’s motive in contacting me was to see if my plan was to lawyer up. This sentiment is very common amongst women visiting my blog. They’re furious about being mistreated and betrayed by a company to which they’ve been loyal, and their reaction is “take ’em to court.” Over the years, however, and also because Victoria’s Secret’s pockets are deeper than all us disgruntled customers combined, I’ve come to realize that the courtroom isn’t the place to address the problem. The place to address the problem is our wallets.

Even though I’m unable to find a product I like as much as Victoria’s Secret’s, I’ll never buy anything from them again: bras, panties, sleepwear, lotion or perfume. And, their “Heavenly” perfume was my favorite. But I’ll never buy it again. I don’t reward people or companies for disloyalty.

When women come to me seeking advice, this is what I tell them: See your doctor and have your condition documented, and if your doctor doesn’t know about bra-related contact allergic dermatitis, direct her/him to my blog; rather than get your money back for the bras (which Victoria’s Secret will happily do without quarrel because they’d love to destroy your “evidence”), store them in a zip-lock — you never know when (under a more caring administration) the federal government may step in and take a look at harmful chemicals in fabric, and they may want sample evidence; to determine if the bra is really causing the problem, don’t wear it until the rash is healed — about three weeks — and if you’re brave, put it back on and see if the rash comes roaring back. If it does, that will confirm your suspicions.

What does the rash look like? In my experience, it began as rough, dry, tissue-paper like skin on the areola, that didn’t get any better with moisturizer or lotion. Over time, it began to itch. Over more time, it began to itch more and welts appeared all over the breast. Over even more time, the itching became excruciating and irresistible, like poison oak, and I scratched myself raw and bruised. Even then, I couldn’t stop scratching. And then I got some new bras and started to notice the itching subsiding with the new ones and exploding if I wore the old ones. Little by little… I narrowed it down to two specific bras, and — bingo — I figured it out: it’s the bras.

As consumers who have this allergic sensitivity, we must take responsibility for recognizing the symptoms and avoiding the triggers. We have the ability to protect our own health. And here’s something to consider: Those of us with the allergy are the lucky ones. Our bodies alert us when we’re coming in contact with a toxin. Those who don’t react to the chemicals are continuing to saturate their skin with toxins, which build up in your bloodstream and tissues.

Our skin isn’t merely a covering. It’s an organ, and it absorbs chemicals. That’s why nicotine or hormone patches work: the skin slowly, constantly, absorbs the chemicals, just as it will in a lesser but more pernicious way from chemically laden fabric.

The real concern is “toxic load.” How much cumulative chemical exposure can our bodies handle before our own genetic triggers go off and react with cancer or immune disorders? That’s still a medical a mystery. Until the mystery is solved, here’s the takeaway about toxic load: the less, the better. There are chemicals in our air, our water, our food (yes, even organic food, unless it’s not exposed to natural air or water), and most of this is unavoidable. But we can avoid the products that our bodies tell us are harmful. Once you’ve experienced the allergic reaction, you’ll recognize it immediately. Your body is telling you “stop!” Your body is right.

(For more information about breast rashes caused by bras and fabrics, search “boob blog” right here on this blog.)




Teens start talking about their mental health struggles

I was asked by the Friday Night Live club mentor at Winters High School recently to do a story on their upcoming Mental Health Awareness Week event, and while normally I might be inclined to pass this story on to one of the reporters, this one grabbed me.

While I’m no fan of guns or the NRA, even in light of the epidemic of school/mass shootings, I don’t think gun control is the complete answer. The mental health issue still must be addressed, because there are all sorts of ways for a deranged person to kill lots of people, from cars to pressure cookers, and the fact is undeniable: It’s the person pulling the trigger that actually causes the carnage.

It’s that person we need to work on. We must teach kindness, empathy and anger management beginning in kindergarten and onward through high school. Prevention may be more difficult than cure, but the results are infinitely richer.

In my day, school was the only safe place from my tumultuous home life. Nowadays, going to school seems ominous. Who will snap next? Much of the “cure” talk has included gun control, arming teachers, fortifying classrooms and having armed guards on campus. Even with all that, I’m skeptical that a deranged person dedicated to creating horror will not find a way around all those things. Sociopaths are very creative.

So, when FNL mentor Olivia Rodriguez asked me if I wanted to write about their prevention event, I immediately said “Yes.”

At the interview, I sat at a table with Olivia and some FNL members and we started clicking through the basic information and schedule. As I asked more questions about the mental health issues themselves, the students began opening up about what their worlds are like, and depression and isolation are front and center.

Several said they feel like there’s is no one they can trust to turn to and, worse yet, they fear that if they do reach out, that person might not care.


I asked Olivia, who has taught for 12 years, if she’s seen an escalation in mental health issues amongst teens and, if so, what has changed. Her response was “yes” and “social media.” By contrast, she said that in her own high school days, back-stabbing was limited mainly to passing nasty notes and doing the whole “mean girls” thing; only a handful of people involved.

Today, it’s no longer backstabbing. It’s front-stabbing. It’s right in their faces. Victimization, bullying, harassing and humiliation is played out on social media, and the reach is exponentially farther and faster than the nasty notes of days past. A single humiliating or hurtful post not only singles someone out for a thread of vicious comments, the “shares” start to fly, and in moments, a teen is in a very painful and unavoidable spotlight… with no way to escape.

And here I viewed the impact of social media on teens mainly as a colossal waste of time, a distraction from real life, a huge danger if texting and driving or walking and, worst of all, an activity that is retarding them developmentally and socially. They aren’t learning how to read body language and facial expressions (beyond emojis) because rather than interacting with each other, their faces are buried in their cell phones with their thumbs a-flyin’. The world doesn’t exist around them anymore. It exists in their cell phones.

But I learned it’s so much worse than that. Because social media is embedded in teens’ lives, it’s their source of approval and validation. It’s where they get attention. Should that attention spin in the wrong direction and become a source of pain, stress and sadness from which they can’t break free — from a teen’s perspective, it ruins their lives. They’re teenagers, for heaven’s sake! They have no defenses, no coping strategies, and in the case of social media bullying, they’re wildly outnumbered.

Think back, all of us who haven’t been in high school since the 80s or before: Weren’t our teen years not painful, awkward and drama-laden enough, without the added magnification of social media bullying? Teens have never been well-equipped for dealing with drama. Every heartbreak or insult is the end of the world, and now, the social media stress is omnipresent in their lives, 24-7.

But there’s another angle, said one student: Sometimes lack of attention is just as painful, like when you post a picture of yourself where you think you look pretty and… nothing. No one “likes” it or comments. You become publicly invisible. And it hurts.

As these students shared their experiences, I wanted to throw my arms around them and say, ” In 10 years, none of this will matter! All this high school drama and conflict will disappear! You MUST trust that this too shall pass!” But, I kept quiet because I know that I might as well just walk around quacking like a duck. That much about teens hasn’t changed: old people are lame, and that goes double for everything we say.

All this said, these students were opening up a little, and that’s the beginning of hope. They’re learning to talk about their feelings and encourage others to seek out support; they’re creating activities to bolster self-esteem, and talking kindness and empathy. Better that all this begins in kindergarten, but hey — late to the party is better than not showing up at all.

Speaking of showing up… could we show up for these students who are getting to the heart of the matter regarding school shootings, violence, bullying and mental health? There are three ways: reach out to Olivia at the high school and offer financial support, sponsor a table at their lunchtime event on Friday, May 18, and offer information about local mental health services, and/or volunteer to help. We need to show up and set an example about the value of kindness.

It’s all about the kindness, man. It’s the flower we can stick in the gun barrel.

Feline existentialism and the strategy of the settler and the searcher

Minnie and Maxx… Yin and Yang

Everything you need to know about satisfaction (or lack thereof) can be learned from my cats, Minnie and Maxx, the Yin and Yang of feline existentialism.

Minnie, jet black from head to tail, was clearly traumatized before I adopted her. She wanted nothing to do with people whatsoever and communicated that quite clearly. When I’d pick her up, she’d clench her entire body and then suddenly twist into the air and take off like a rocket at the first opportunity, leaving tracks of red slices on my arm or chest after using them as a launching pad for her back feet.

Consequently, I didn’t pick Minnie up much in the early days. I just left her alone and didn’t put any pressure on her. Four months later, she popped up on the footrest of my recliner, stared at me intently with her huge green eyes, and then delicately walked up my body, curled up on my chest, began purring and fell asleep. She’s been my Velcro kitty ever since, and has claimed me as her personal human. We’re each other’s familiar.

I like to describe Minnie as reclusive or sensitive or shy. My husband describes her as “psycho” and insists that she’d eat my face if she had to. Let’s not be judgmental, now. Who’s to say whose face we might eat if we had to survive? One can never truly be sure.

So, why on earth did I adopt a cat like Minnie, given that on that Petco Black Cat Adoption Day, there were scores of other choices, peering miserably from their cages and sliding their silken ebony paws through the grating as if beckoning and begging, “Please, pick me!!” As opposed to Minnie, curled in a ball in the back of her cage, trying to block out the world.

Well, the reason is that curled around that curled up black ball was a big, boisterous pure-white lovebug, licking Minnie furiously as if trying to comfort her. I called to get his attention and he came straight to me, rubbing his body back and forth on the grating, nibbling my finger affectionately, oozing love.

“I’d like to hold this one,” I told the rescue mom.

Once he was in my arms, there was just no way I was going home without that big purry squirmy ball of adorableness. I named him Maxx, (Cattus Maximus, of course) in contrast to Minnie (Cattus Minimus, and yes, I know that’s not a real word), because he overflows with personality. He makes facial expressions like a person, and is doing his best to speak English. He often calls “hello,” (it sounds like “herro”) when looking for someone, usually my hard-to-impress daughter, who he’s completely charmed.

One recent lazy “couch, coffee and cats” Sunday morning with my husband, Minnie was curled up in “her” lap (it used to be mine) and Maxx was perching on the back of the recliner, jumping onto the sofa arm, walking across the back, squirming around apparently unable to get comfortable, and then jumping down to go scratch at my daughter’s bedroom door and yowl “Herro” because he was displeased with the amount of time it was taking her to wake up, and I started analyzing the existential difference between Maxx and Minnie.

Yes. I’m about to anthropomorphize shamelessly.

Here is Minnie, never imagining she could be happy at all, let alone in the company of a human. Humans meant fear and pain. Except for one. Me. She is perfectly content to be bonded only to me, and makes zero attempt to interact with anyone else. She’s satisfied and grateful to have just this much. However, if she’d take the risk to interact with more humans, she’d reap an abundance of cuddles and strokes. But no. That’s just too risky for her. The luck of finding one loving human exceeds her wildest dreams and to seek more might ruin everything.

In other words, Minnie is content with “enough” — just enough, and not one bit more, whether it’s human attention or food. She’s a dainty little thing, all of about nine pounds and never overeats, satisfied with whatever food I give her.

And then there’s Maxx.

There’s NEVER enough for Maxx — food, water, attention, toys, playtime or even soft horizontal surfaces. He wants them all, and he wants them now. He’ll walk all the way across the house just to harass Minnie out of her warm, peaceful little spot, simply because he can’t stand for her to have something he doesn’t. And that goes for food too. If she starts to eat, he butts in and pushes her aside. Just because he can.

At the risk of cat-fat-shaming — Maxx is rotund. Joe calls him “Maxxie the Hut.”

At more than twice Minnie’s size, Maxx is immense both in bulk and personality. Everyone who comes to visit is drawn to him, perching on his cat tree and serving as the official welcoming committee. He chats them up, rolls around and flirts, and is simply irresistible. Minnie, on the other hand, greets visitors by streaking away to hide.

So, here’s that feline existential irony: Minnie seeks, and receives, relatively little in life, and is content. Maxx demands everything there is and usually gets it, but is restless and always wanting more. Even though he actually gets more than Minnie, he’s never content.

Some might call Minnie’s behavior “settling” — a dirty word in my book, one tick away from “giving up.” But maybe there’s happiness in settling? Is there satisfaction in not yearning for what might be beyond the horizon? Conversely, by perpetually chasing the horizon, we fail to realize that we can never really reach it. There’s always more.


If you settle, you give up the search. You “get there.”

If you search, you give up settling. You never “get there.”

Which is the better strategy? I’m not quite sure. I’ve been both a settler and a searcher. I’ll let you know when I “get there.”



Facebook privacy is a steaming pile of unicorn poop

Wait, what? Facebook compromised our privacy? That’s outrageous! What’s next? Santa Claus isn’t real? Unicorns don’t poop glitter?

OK, I can’t actually verify the validity of unicorn poop, having not yet seen one with my own eyes, and I can’t personally attest that they don’t excrete a sparkling rainbow-colored swirl. But I’ve known since I was 10 that the fat man in the red suit is a total hoax.

I mean, really. Even a child with the IQ of a radish can consider the logistics of flying reindeer (that have no wings, mind you) pulling one roly-poly dude in a sleigh filled with ONE — count ’em — ONE bag that holds enough toys for all the children in the world, and they will all be delivered in one evening.

Utter B.S.

Just like the notion of Facebook privacy.

Come on, people. If you’re shocked to discover that Facebook not only compromised but sold your privacy and personal information, just exactly how naive are you, and B), maybe you shouldn’t trundle out into the world without a chaperone. Also, FYI, C) Santa isn’t real.

It’s not just Facebook, my friends… it’s Google, it’s Safari, it’s Amazon… it’s all of it. They’re all watching what sites we visit, what we search, what we click on, and gathering that information to parlay it into profit. Or power.

Did you think it was merely a bizarre coincidence that you just searched for backyard chicken coops on your browser or on Amazon, and suddenly your Facebook sidebar is littered with ads for chicken-related things? The internet giants… they talk. They share our information. And, they’ve been doing it for years.

This became glaringly obvious to me when we got a new computer at the Express office. Because I’m mostly the only one using that computer and mainly just for office work as opposed to searching for column information (and man, does that result in some wacky stuff popping up in my Facebook sidebar), its browser history was pretty much pristine.

Until that one slow afternoon awhile back, when my work was caught up and things were really slow, so I decided to search for the one thing that would make my life complete: red cowboy boots.

Not only must they be red, they must also come in a women’s size 10EE, which apparently doesn’t actually exist in the cowboy boot world. Ergo, my search was fruitless and I must resign myself to plain old brown boots. Men’s. Wah. However, my browser hasn’t give up so easily. I can’t go online on that computer without being bombarded by ads for red cowboy boots. My homepage,, has two rows of cowboy boot teasers above where the news stories begin.

Hey — ya gotta have priorities.

So, if you’ve ever searched for anything online, Google and Amazon and Facebook and Safari have already logged and categorized that information. Besides your searches being monitored, if you’ve ever done one of those fun, dumb little Facebook personality quizzes, you pretty much handed your information to whatever entity was behind it.

Back in the early days of Facebook, these quizzes seemed harmless, and who amongst us doesn’t need to know “Which Character on ‘The Office’ Are You?” (Pam) or “What is Your True Spirit Animal” (owl). Just good fun, right along with Farmville, the most grotesque waste of time since watching paint dry, and yes, I did it too.

As for the quizzes, when they started notifying me that by participating, I’d be granting access to all my personal information, contacts, photos and posts on Facebook, I’d give them a big fat “nope.” But many of my Facebook friends didn’t, took the quizzes, and thereby handed my information over as well. But, at least they know which Game of Thrones character they are now. So worth it.

But, there’s no point being bitter or angry. What’s done is done, even though I’m surprised that anyone would grant that sort of personal access to an unknown entity. But also, it’s pretty silly to get all high and mighty about other people giving my information away when the notion of “online privacy” is simply delusional. It’s right up there with glitter poop.

There’s no privacy online. Everything you share, post or say can be forwarded to 7,000 people with one mouse-click. Posting on social media is akin to walking around naked in public. Anyone and everyone can see what you’ve got, and many will exploit it however they can.

Wait, what? There are people online who are insufferable pricks?

I’m aghast!

Where is my unicorn! I must saddle up and fly away!

Oh wait. That’s Pegasus.

(Maybe I think about horses too much.)

As for Facebook, should we abandon it? What’s the answer? That’s exactly my point: There’s no answer. Your personal information is gone, gone, gone, baby, like a bird set loose from a cage. That bird has flown, and it ain’t ever coming back. Abandoning Facebook to protect personal information that’s already been compromised is like closing the proverbial barn door after the horses are loose: pointless.

That said, getting off social media has its merits. For one thing, think of all the things you could be doing besides staring at a computer screen. Facebook is a vortex: it siphons your time and, therefore, your life. Life isn’t anything but time… why waste it on Facebook?

But I get it, and I’m as guilty as anyone — sometime Facebook’s just good fun. But not when you’re embroiled in a whirlpool of drama and nasty comments because someone you used to respect posted something so outrageously asinine that you’re psychologically incapable of letting it go by.

Been there, done that, have the long list of “un-friends” to show for it.

Little by little, Facebook has become more aggravation than fun. Since it’s too late to save our information, let’s go back to only posting cat videos and photos of our food. Let the Russkies try and figure out how to throw our next election from that.



The mystery of the incredible balding horse: soy allergy

Most of you won’t make it to the end of this column. You’ll get a few sentences in and think, “Meh,” and move on to something else. Those who stick with me may leap up and cheer in joy and relief.

Why write about something with such narrow appeal? Well, for one really fantastic reason, we have a world-class veterinary school in our area, and this may be new material for them. If you know a veterinarian or vet student, show them this column, particularly if their focus is horses. Whether or not this topic applies to other animals, I’m not sure. But I suspect it does: inexplicable hair loss.

It began innocently enough last summer. My horse started scratching his rump against the fence. A lot. Enough that he’d torn chunks of hair from his tail. Simultaneously, a weird crusty patch began forming on his flank, and I scratched it with my fingernail and shrugged, and figured it would probably go away.

It didn’t.

Not only didn’t it go away, but the hair began to fall out, creating a quarter-sized bald patch. I bathed him with Dr. Bronner’s soap (because ordinary horse soap is not good enough for my Pendragon) and put tea tree oil on it. The bald patch continued spreading. I tried mild Betadine wash. More spreading.

Next I tried old-school M-T-G lotion, which smells like the residue in a barbecue… it was stinky, but the spreading stalled for a bit.

But only for a bit.

Meanwhile, Penn’s tail-rubbing was out of control. He’d rubbed his dock (where the tail meets the backbone) bare, and rubbed red, oozing sores on both sides underneath his tail, where there’s only skin, and developed what looked like seborrhea all over his tailbone. No matter how much I brushed it out, it would be back the next day.

The bald patch was now a couple inches in diameter, so I called the vet. She took skin scrapings and pulled some hairs to examine for parasites or fungus. The test results came back clean as a whistle. No mange, no ringworm, no parasites, no fungus. It wasn’t rain rot or sweet itch. It was a mystery.

My vet prescribed some special shampoo containing chlorhexadine and some skin-soothing ingredients. Every other day, despite that we were now heading into winter and the mornings were becoming very cold, I washed Penn’s flank and tailbone in icy water, overflowing with apologies as he cringed, but tolerated all this nonsense.

Once again, the balding stalled, then came roaring back with a vengeance, approaching about a foot in diameter, and still creeping. Penn and I were starting to be shunned at the barn. Whatever my horse had, nobody else wanted their horses to catch it. And, I couldn’t blame them. The bald patch was really ugly, and the skin there was angry and curdled and flaky. Oddly enough, it didn’t seem to be contagious, because I was cleaning his tail and bald patch with my bare hands every day, and never caught it.

I next tried chorhexadine wipes, which worked on my cat when he had a bald patch. No improvement. Then Equiderma lotion, which treats a variety of equine skin problems. The bald patch continued spreading and the sores on his tail were now big, red and raw. I started bolting awake in the middle of the night, imagining my horse completely bald, wondering where I could purchase sunscreen by the gallon.

My stable pals showed Penn’s bald patch to their own vets, farriers and trainers, but none had seen anything like it. I sent photos of Penn’s side to another vet for a second opinion, and he also had no immediate ideas about the cause.

In a fit of desperation, I threw sanity to the wind and consulted Dr. Facebook, posting about my situation along with photos of Penn’s side and tail. I got all sorts of responses, but one in particular stood out. A gal named Trish said she’d heard of this sort of reaction from soy allergies.

That seemed pretty wild, however, right about the time the balding problem started, I started supplementing Penn’s feed with AniMed flaxseed oil blend, ironically, to make his coat shinier. The label indicates that soybean oil is actually the first ingredient, but doesn’t list percentages, maybe this “flaxseed oil blend” is really 99 percent soybean oil.

Having consulted Dr. Facebook, I asked Dr. Google for a second opinion, and discovered one lone blog post from a woman whose horse was frantically itching his hair and tail off, and had developed seborrhea in his tail. Just like Penn! The culprit? Soy allergy.

So, I stopped giving Penn the AniMed oil. Within one week, the spreading stopped. By two weeks, the skin was smooth and hair started growing back. The tail-rubbing slowed down, and the seborrhea diminished. Now, a month later, the hair is growing back nicely, the seborrhea is mostly gone and the sores are healed.

I reported my success back on Facebook, thanking Trish profusely for saving me thousands of dollars in vet bills, and a couple folks commented that their child or relative has a soy allergy that caused extreme hair loss. I have to wonder how many people or animals are being treated for strange hair loss that maybe gets called “alopecia” or an immune disorder, when in fact, it’s a soy allergy. Turns out, there’s plenty to be allergic to. Google the harmful effects of soybean oil, and prepare to be alarmed. Even more alarming, soybean oil is ubiquitous in our food supply, for both people and animals, and much of it is “Franken-food” — made from GMO soybeans. (Thank you, Monsanto.)

So there it is… equine skin mystery solved. If you, your child, your pet or your horse also has a chronic baldness problem, I suggest you experiment by eliminating soybean oil from your/their diets, and see if the skin problems clear up.

And, by the way… you’re welcome.

This was Penn’s bald patch in January, while still on a soybean oil supplement.


This was Penn’s bald patch, the first day off of soybean oil supplement.


This was Penn’s bald patch two weeks after stopping soybean oil supplement.


This is Penn’s bald patch one month after stopping soybean oil supplement.




The answer to gun violence is ‘all of the above’

As the gun control debate rages on, the most frustrating aspect of this ideological fight to the death is its “either/or” nature.

It’s not “either/or”. It’s “all of the above.” It’s injecting sanity into our gun laws, like raising the purchase age to 21. If you aren’t yet mature enough to buy a six-pack of beer, you sure as hell aren’t mature enough to purchase lethal weapons.

As for assault-style weapons, ban ’em. They’re designed for killing people. Period. They aren’t hunting weapons, unless the hunter just wants to blow an animal to bits and, in that case, s/her needs a mental health evaluation before being able to purchase any weapon.

If assault-style weapons can’t be banned outright because too many politicians have the NRA’s tongue down their throats, then a secondary license should be required, just as is required for driving an 18-wheeler or bus, and that includes a mental health clearance.

The NRA would scream bloody murder over all these ideas. Let ’em. They’ve become the proponents of bloody murder (follow the gun industry money), so let them scream it too. The national tide is turning. We don’t have the stomach for stepping over the bloodied corpses of children to worship at the altar of the Second Amendment anymore, and that includes many NRA members themselves. The NRA’s screaming is — finally, thankfully — starting to fall on deaf ears.

We don’t just need sanity in our gun laws, we need it in our schools and communities as well, and yes, much of the burden falls on schools, simply because that’s where the kids are. The financial burden, however, should fall upon you and me, the taxpayers. We need to step up and provide funding that puts a mental health professional on every campus. Wouldn’t that be entirely more cost-effective than stationing an armed guard on every campus? And entirely more sane than arming teachers? That’s about the looniest idea ever. I can just imagine some terrified first-grade teacher firing a pistol wildly at an armed shooter bursting through the door, as bullets from his/her own gun ricochet around the room and kill the very students that teacher is trying to protect.

No armed teachers.

Just no.

Not a viable part of the “all of the above” solution.

Rather than arming them with weapons, we must arm teachers with advanced training in psychology and mental health, so they can spot students who on the psychological edge, and get them right over to that on-campus mental health professional. Teachers need a more useful tool in their toolbox than stamping “suspended” across the foreheads of students who seem too difficult to deal with.

Another factor in making schools, our communities and our country safer is to inject the notion of “civility” into our schools; make interpersonal and communication skills, anger management and conflict resolution part of the daily curriculum.

In other words: teach students to behave like humans, to respect each other’s boundaries and be kind to one another. And by the way, high school is far too late. It must begin in kindergarten. Maybe earlier. Before you exclaim that it’s impossible, go talk to the folks at The Treehouse preschool here in Winters. They’re already doing it, with toddlers. Our schools then continue with these interpersonal skills at each grade level. So, don’t say it can’t be done. It’s being done. And if we can do it in Winters, we can do it anywhere.

So, we’ve been focusing on what everyone else needs to do, which is the go-to strategy for all armchair quarterbacking and pontification, but alas, you and I don’t get off so easy. Like Michael Jackson sang, change begins with “the man in the mirror.”

What can you do, in your own community, to help make it safer? Who in your community is slipping through the cracks? Made to feel ‘less than’? Doesn’t have a place at the collective table?”

Figure out the answers to those questions, and start there. Volunteer in a reading program or for a suicide prevention hotline. Coach a sports team. Clean up graffiti. If you don’t have the time or strength to do those things, give financial support to programs that provide such services or activities, even if it’s just a little bit. One dollar by itself isn’t much. But one dollar donated by many adds up. There you go! A starting point: create a “Give a Buck” effort and collect dollar bills to support a good cause.

For me, the answers to those questions led me to Wolfskill High School. It never sat well with me that anyone in my community gets labeled “uninvited.” “Unwanted.” In the “adding insult to injury” category, besides being treated like pariahs, many Wolfskill students are dealing with difficulties and situations that would crush the rest of us… on top of navigating the social and hormonal maelstrom of adolescence.

What possible good comes from ostracizing a struggling teenager and systematically dismantling whatever shred of self-esteem s/he has left? Let me field that one: None. Absolutely none. Moreover: What possible bad comes from that? A cornucopia of horrific possibilities.

My own “walk the talk” commitment was to reach out to those students and through the vehicle of their own school newspaper, strive to elevate their confidence and self-esteem, develop basic job skills, and raise their position in the community; to give them a platform to show their worth and talent. Three years in, it’s happening. Those students continue to amaze me with their stories and personal development as writers. It didn’t take much, really, just patience, coaxing, and encouragement. All they needed was an opportunity to shine — as opposed to being relegated to the shadows.

So, will it have an effect? Will my community be safer because of this effort? I believe it will. I hope so. At least it’s action, which is worth its weight in gold, as opposed to thoughts and prayers, which carry no more weight than the air with which they’re uttered.


Our problem isn’t gun violence — it’s domestic terrorism

School shootings — they always happen somewhere else.

Except when they don’t.

How many of us, for one fleeting, guilt-drenched nano-second, felt a flash of relief that the latest mass shooting didn’t happen in our own town? We dodged a bullet. Many bullets.

This time.

Who amongst us ever even heard of Parkland, Florida before Feb. 14, 2018? It was some average little town, filled with average little people going about their business, and with the pull of a trigger, instantly became the center of the universe.

Well, for now. Until the next shooting. Film at 11.

What if next time, it’s your town or mine that becomes the center of the universe? Are we ready? I decided to find out and do a story for next week’s Winters Express, and interviewed our superintendent of schools, Todd Cutler, and police chief, John Miller, to find out what they’re doing to keep our schools and community safe. The short answer is: everything they can. The other short answer is: not enough.

Is it their fault that it’s not enough? Heavens no. They’re doing what they can with what they have to work with. Both entities have taken some excellent proactive steps. Our school district rekeyed every classroom door on every campus, and every door now locks from the inside. Efforts are made to raise student awareness about being alert for potentially threatening behavior on campus and on social media, and to report it. There’s an unarmed security guard at the high school keeping watch.

Our police department takes reports of threats very seriously and checks each one out. They have a school resource officer visiting campuses and building relationships. Our police department also benefits from Chief Miller’s expertise in active shooting situations — something in which he was trained after the 1999 Columbine shootings.


How can these school shootings not only continue, but be escalating. What has happened to us, as a nation?

Miller outlined for me some law enforcement history regarding mass shootings and how to deal with them, beginning with the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Austin, which resulted in the creation of SWAT teams.

Fast-forward to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida. SWAT teams were on the scene, but many victims died because the emergency medical personnel were trained not to enter such a situation until the shooter was either captured or killed. As a result, EMTs now receive protective gear and special training to enter “warm zones,” escorted by law enforcement, and get to shooting victims sooner. With each new horror, law enforcement learns a new skill, but sadly, those with evil intent learn much quicker.

We talked about sociopaths managing to kill many, even where guns are illegal. All it takes is a crowded street and a car. How can you prevent this? Ban crowds? Or cars?

Consider the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, using a homemade explosive device contained in a pressure cooker. Do we ban pressure cookers? Or the 1995 Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, detonated from a rental truck containing a bomb made from fertilizer. Do we ban fertilizer or rental trucks? It struck me that these two bombings were labeled “terrorism,” and then it struck me yet further: Why aren’t school/mass shootings?

What, exactly, constitutes terrorism? I consulted with Professor Google, and discovered a website,, that lists definitions from several agencies and entities. I zeroed in on the Department of Homeland Security’s definition:

“(15) The term ‘terrorism’’ means any activity that— (A) involves an act that— (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

Mass shootings inarguably qualify under section (A), and because there’s an “or” in section (B), they also qualify there: (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. It’s all right there: Mass shootings are dangerous to human life and illegal, and are intended to intimidate civilians.

Mass shootings ARE terrorism.

It’s paradigm shift time.

Let’s call “school/mass shootings” what they are — terrorism — and get the full weight of the Department of Homeland Security behind our gun violence epidemic rather than expecting small local police departments to save us, because people, our homeland is anything but secure right now, and it’s not because of Islamic extremists or ISIS. It’s because of US. WE are the enemy, and we’re under seige.

Redefining the problem will guide us toward more effective strategies than will our collective disgust for the morally bankrupt NRA. The NRA, vile as it is, isn’t the problem. The problem is human evil… terrorists. In my mind, “evil” and “terrorism” are not only interchangeable words, but the true problem.

Does that mean we shouldn’t tighten up our gun laws? Oh, hell no. Were it up to me, they’d all be collected and melted down into rebar for reinforcing our decaying bridges and overpasses. But the trouble is (and it simply destroys me to acknowledge that the NRA is correct on this point) only law-abiding citizens will give up their guns and criminals won’t. Laws mean nothing to sociopaths and criminals. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them, and tighten them up, too. But even then… there are still pressure cookers. And fertilizer. And cars. Evil.

Rather than indulging in our well-deserved loathing of the NRA (because, let’s face it — that is a dead end), let’s turn our energy and focus toward our chronic, ongoing domestic terrorism epidemic. The sad and chilling fact is that as it stands, you and I, our children and our loved ones, are all potential victims of terrorism. We must stare the real monster in the face before we can destroy it. There are terrorists amongst us, right now. What do we do about that? I don’t have an answer. But I’m now asking the correct question.


It’s time to chop off the head of the gun violence serpent — and it’s not the NRA

Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers.

The next politician offering thoughts and prayers for the victims of our mass shooting du jour (today, it’s 17 dead in Florida) needs to be run out of Congress on a rail.

Here we are again. Another school shooting. It’s absolutely vulgar. We, as a nation, have become absolutely vulgar in allowing it to continue. Wasn’t the Sandy Hook massacre enough? That was six years ago, and nothing has changed. According the New York Times (, there have been 239 school shootings nationwide, with 438 students shot, of which 138 were killed.

And what are we getting from our so-called Congressional leaders?

More thoughts and prayers. I want to vomit every time I hear that phrase. We’re up to our eyeballs in thoughts and prayers. We need action, and we need it now.

That said, piling on to excoriate the NRA, while cathartic (and also richly deserved), is not the action that will change anything. The NRA only has as much power as Congress members give it. The NRA cannot make or change any laws. The NRA does not own the Second Amendment. The blame buck does not stop with the NRA. It stops with Congress.

If you can catch the first 30-minute block of the Feb. 15 Morning Joe news/talk show (, I implore you to do so. I beg you. It was the most passionate, sane, logical discussion in the wake of yet another school shooting I’ve heard yet. Maybe I feel this way because FINALLY someone who has a much bigger microphone than I is saying what I’ve been saying all along: Too many Congress members are beholden to the NRA because they gladly take their blood money in order to get reelected — even though only 96 percent of the American public (including many NRA members) want changes to our loosey-goosey gun laws.

The gruesome root of our gun violence epidemic is not the NRA. It’s the self-serving, morally bankrupt politicians who will take huge sums of cash from a morally vacant entity in order to protect their cushy jobs. Apparently there are scarce few politicians who can resist the lure of lining their campaign pockets with gun lobby cash, and this is where change must begin. It’s time to ban the acceptance of campaign funding from lobbyists — all of them.

Campaign donations should only be allowed from individuals, and maybe a cap on it, say, $1,000 max. This would help decontaminate our election process and even the playing field for all candidates. We’d hear from a wider variety of candidates rather than just the ones who wantonly accept any and all funding regardless of that donor’s moral fortitude or lack thereof.

Forget the NRA. Just forget it. Focus your outrage on the politicians who suck at their teat like greedy piglets, too weak-willed not to be seduced by generous donations. They must go. Weeding them out of Congress is something we all CAN do. It is ACTION.

Following the Las Vegas massacre last fall, ran the numbers on NRA donations ( Bile will swell in your throat when you read the hard numbers:

~ In the 2016 election cycle, $5,900,000 was given to Republican candidates; $106,000 was given to Democrats. Politico reports that, “The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks money in politics, found that in 2016 more than half of the members of the House of Representatives — or 232 of the 435 — received money from gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America. That money went disproportionately to Republicans. Only nine Democrats received campaign contributions from these groups.”

They key phrase is “more than half”: The majority of House Representatives are there because of gun lobby money, and are beholden to their donors. These are the individuals currently in office who truly deserve excoriation:

Paul Ryan, $171,977, Republican, Wisconsin, District 1

Martha McSally, $77,063, Republican, Arizona, District 2

Mia Love, $63,350, Republican, Utah, District 4

Kevin McCarthy, $42,000, Republican, California, District 23

Will Hurd, $35,850, Republican, Texas, District 23

Kevin Yoder, $34,050, Republican, Kansas, District 3

Bruce Poliquin, $32,400, Republican, Maine, District 2

Mike Coffman, $30,843, Republican, Colorado, District 6

Ken Calvert, $30,466, Republican, California, District 42

Ed Royce, $29,100, Republican, California, District 39

Barbara Comstock, $28,407, Republican, Virginia, District 10

Scott Tipton, $25,550, Republican, Colorado, District 3

The list of Congress members accepting gun lobby donations greater than $100,000 since 1990 shows some repeat offenders. Those currently in office include:

Paul Ryan, $336,597, Republican, Wisconsin, District 1

Don Young, $195,272, Republican, Alaska, At-Large District

Ken Calvert, $144,466, Republican, California, District 42

Steve Pearce, $129,250, Republican, New Mexico, District 2

Pete Sessions, $121,776, Republican, Texas, District 32

Ed Royce, $111,120, Republican, California, District 39

Bob Goodlatte, $104,900, Republican, Virginia, District 6

Martha McSally, $104,445, Republican, Arizona, District 2

Mike Coffman, $101,693, Republican, Colorado, District 6

There are many more who accept NRA/gun lobby contributions, but these are the greediest pigs at the gun lobby trough. This is where pressure must be applied, not useless cathartic railing against the NRA.

Bottom line: If you supported these people, you helped perpetuate our gun violence epidemic. Want to be part of the solution? Ditch your thoughts and prayers, and actively lobby against these co-conspirators, and donate richly to their opponents. Shine a light on those who aid and abet mass shootings, and shine it brightly.

When you vote for these people, you support the NRA and the gun lobby. Period. A vote for those who accept blood money is a vote for more innocent children to be slaughtered.

Maybe next time it will be your child. Your grandchild. Your spouse. Ask yourself if you’re okay with that next time you’re in the voting booth. The blood will be on your hands too.






Let’s abandon the Annual Light String Ritual

“So, are your Christmas lights up really early or are you really late taking them down?” asks Joe the Butcher, who I’ve re-nicknamed Joe the Jokester — Joekester for short.

Before you hurtle down the wrong mental trail, no, Joe the Butcher is not sketchy mobster-type Guido relative or affiliate on my Italian side. (And while we’re at it, let’s get over that sad, tired stereotype. All Italians do not have ties to the Mafia. The best in food, art, wine, fashion and culture, yes. Mafia, no. We’re getting woke about everything else, so let’s get woke about Italians too.)

Joe the Butcher actually IS a butcher, specifically for the world-famous Buckhorn restaurant, and if you’ve ever enjoyed a delicious filet or slab of prime rib, you’ve tasted his work. If you live here in town, you may also know him as Joe the Paperboy, walking down the sidewalk every Wednesday morning, tossing the Winters Express on this driveway and that. (And the ones that aren’t getting an Express tossed there… you’re dead to me… subscribe today unless you think getting all your local news from social media will turn out well. Here’s a short story about that: No.)

My house happens to be on JTB’s walking route, and yes, obviously I don’t really need an Express delivered to me, and could easily get one at the office, and yes, I already know every single piece of news in it because I either put it there or supervised the person who did, but I just like getting the newspaper at my home. It’s a comforting little reminder of days gone by, and the older I get, the more that matters.

Before I wander too far into the weeds, having established the setting of this story, let’s return to the plot: JTB is ribbing me because our house is the last one on the street with cheery Christmas lights still dangling from the roof. The annual ritual of putting up and taking down the Christmas lights has been delegated to my husband because I’ve tried to do it myself on numerous occasions and just can’t get those little plastic clips to stay on the lip of the gutters and also because I get mild vertigo if I go too far up on a ladder. After the second step, the world begins to sway and swirl.

As for taking them down, I’m only slightly better getting them off than putting them on, but I’ve developed my own system if Joe just can’t seem to get around to it: From the ground, I hook the light strings with a rake and rip ’em off by the roots. The clips break, sometimes the lights do too, but come April or May, right about the time I become obsessed with cleaning up the yard, I no longer care about the collateral damage that may result. I’m an intrinsically impatient person (ok, that Italian stereotype may stand) and I want them down NOW. But it’s not April yet. The Christmas lights are safe, for now.

I responded to JTB’s ribbing with a sarcastic smile, and said, “Take your pick,” but simultaneously had an epiphany: We’re going about this light string thing all wrong. Why put the light strings up and take them down at all? Brilliant solutions immediately flashed into my head, and now all I need is some brilliant engineering-type person to make it happen, or at the other end of the spectrum, someone looking for a nice little side business, because come on — the Annual Light String Ritual is just dumb.

First brilliant idea: Light strings pre-programmed to suit more than one holiday. Why should Christmas get all the bling?

So, beginning with Christmas, we get classic multi-colored lights. Like the newspaper in my driveway, they’re nostalgic and comforting. For New Year’s Eve, all white twinkle-lights, like champagne bubbles. Next, the lights change to pink and red for Valentine’s Day, then green for St. Patrick’s Day, and pastels for Easter.

Between Easter pastels and the red, white and blue lights of Independence Day, we need summer colors, and in these parts, the colors of summer are azure blue like the sky and gold like our beautiful hills that are transforming into fuel for fire season, which hits its peak in August. After the Fourth of July, the lights turn gray and red — gray for the smoke that fills the air and red for lights on all the fire trucks and emergency vehicles endlessly screaming by.

In October, the lights then transform to orange, black and purple for Halloween, then orange, brown and yellow for Thanksgiving, and then there we are — back to multi-colored Christmas lights again, and not a single plastic clip was harmed in the process.

Awesome sauce, right?

But wait… the brilliance doesn’t stop there!

Second brilliant idea: Let’s get innovative and environmentally friendly, and keep the seasonally appropriate color-changing lights, but ditch the light strings themselves. We need roof gutters that have built-in color-controlled lights. Maybe we can initiate that concept by adding holiday lights to those rain gutter guards that keep out autumn leaves, with the lights built right into the edges!

Some smartypants tech company should hire me just to sit and come up with this stuff.

Until that happens, we’re stuck with brilliant idea number three: light string maintenance businesses. The first service tier is to put your own lights up and take them down. The second tier of service includes rolling up and storing those lights for you. The third tier, the gold standard, is that each year, Light Strings R Us arrives at your home and puts up brand spanking new light strings that they own and maintain themselves.

There’s money to be made here, people! I’d do it myself, but there’s that pesky ladder issue.

OR: We can just leave the damn lights up there and deal with a little ribbing.

Well, until April, anyway.

If we can’t believe in Ellen, we can’t believe in anything

Everything I know about all that is good and true in the universe has been shattered. I stared in wide-eyed dismay at the television screen and shriveled back in horror. No, not the State of the Union address, because seriously… you didn’t think I’d exchange an hour of my life to watch garbage spew from the weird, round little mouth of the Toddler in Chief, did you? Come on. You know me better than that.

It happened on my recent trip to Los Angeles, while staying with my sister. After five straight days of celebrating my daughter’s 30th birthday a little too boisterously, by the fifth night, we were all spent, and while one last round of karaoke and Jello shots at the corner karaoke bar sounded enticing, a “chill & TV” night sounded even better.

But which show to watch? My sister and her boyfriend like sports. I’d rather stab knitting needles through my eyeballs. My husband, probably only one eyeball, but still. My daughter would probably rather stab knitting needles through everyone else’s eyeballs than watch sports.

She has a dark side.

But she loves comedy. What a conundrum, that daughter of mine.

My husband would pick anything to do with science, which would make my sister whither and die of boredom. Me, I’d go for MSNBC political porn or maybe my guilty pleasure, my secret little “happy place,” The Voice.

Yes, I love The Voice.

Don’t judge me.

In summary, there is no television show in existence that would please everyone. So, I decided to just take charge and grabbed the remote. The first show listed on the channel guide was Ellen’s Game of Games. Bingo. It has lots of action, like sports. It’s a reality competition like The Voice. It’s comedy, because, come on — Ellen DeGeneres is one of the funniest human beings alive.

Sadly, no science for Joe, but that’s what more wine is for.

Now, I’ve seen “Hollywood Game Night” a couple times, not intentionally but because it just happened to be playing when I turned on the TV and I was feeling too lazy to change the channel. That show was amusing enough, and also hosted by a tall, blond, wickedly talented and super cool lesbian — Jane Lynch — so I’m figuring Ellen’s show is something along those lines.

It’s so not.

So so SO not.

By the time the first competition was over, I wanted to grab a couch cushion, clutch it in front of me and peer out over the top with one eye in sheer dread. This was no happy, cutesy, feel-good game show. It was also not a mere public humiliation for a prize of $100,000, for which some people will apparently do anything — not only to themselves but also their spouses, partners, relatives and friends. Beyond all that zany nonsense, Ellen’s Game of Games was alarmingly dangerous!

And that’s where the cognitive dissonance twisted my brain like a saltwater taffy machine. There was Ellen Degeneres… sweet, adorable Ellen DeGeneres… with her big bright sparkling blue eyes and cuddly voice and dazzling smile… serving as glib ringmaster to a cheering three-ring circus of public sadomasochism.

(Note to Ellen, as well as the contestants… you realize there are private clubs for that, right?)

Exhibit A: the “You Bet Your Wife” competition. Husband is pitted against husband, while their wives dangle face down in harnesses on wires, blindfolded, high above huge vats of whipped cream. The husbands were asked to bet how many questions their wives could answer on a particular topic. If their wives fall short, they literally fall — right into the whipped cream.

Now, you’re thinking, “So what, they got sticky, big deal.” Oh no, my friend — the whipped cream was the least of my concerns. The women were suddenly dropped without warning, and the wires would yank them to a halt just above the whipped cream, like Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible,” then hoisted back up, poised to be dropped again.

Hmmm… Oprah used to give cars to her TV show guests. What does Ellen give them? A neck brace? Set of crutches? Free ride to the emergency room?

(Note to chiropractors and personal injury lawyers… start advertising on the Ellen’s Game of Games show, and pass out business cards at the door. A cornucopia of new clientele awaits you.)

So, the loser of “You Bet Your Wife” ultimately gets completely dropped — SPLAT! — into the whipped cream. No surprise. But the winner? She also gets a Coliseum-style thumbs down from Ellen and abruptly plummets into the whipped cream too.

In another competition (the name escapes me, because I was irreparably traumatized by that point), three people stood on platforms and were asked ridiculously easy rapid-fire questions (apparently there’s an inexhaustible supply of idiots willing to risk great bodily injury and public humiliation if the price is right), and the bottoms of the platforms of those who answered incorrectly suddenly drop out and they fall screaming to who knows where. And the winner? You guessed it. Down she goes.

And there’s Ellen, chipper and charming as a glitter-pooping unicorn, orchestrating the whole thing, clearly entirely unbothered by flaunting her sadistic side, and that’s the most distressing part of this entire freak show. If we can’t believe in Ellen anymore, what can we believe in? Down is up, up is down — what sort of bizarro alternate universe have we landed in? Evil Ellen is as unimaginable as Altruistic Trump. But there it was. Evil. Pure, adorable evil.

You can’t detect it on the surface, but just like my darling daughter, Ellen has a dark side. However, unlike my daughter, based upon the pre-carnage I witnessed, I’m certain Ellen would actually use the knitting needles. And, there’d be plenty of enthusiastically hyperventilating idiots perfectly willing to loan their eyeballs as targets for a chance to win some cash.

Hey, Joe… pass the wine.