Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 2013

I remember when I was young and I couldn’t wait for life to hurry up and happen. Half my life was like a long bad dream I couldn’t wake up from and I thought if I hurried through life, I would get to that place where I was mellow, and smart and happy. Now, I need it to slow down a little. How in the hell did 2012 go by so quickly? I just turned 60 and now am sliding into 61- face first. SIXTY. Crap that is old. And I’m not much smarter than I was 25 years ago- mellower only because I’m tired out- though no smarter, much, much happier.  

I know- you are only as old as you feel. I get it. But I wake up stiff and on cold days I limp from my arthritic feet, knees and hips. In the morning, I am approximately 110 years old. By noon I’m back to 60. Just a kid.
As always, I am glad to usher the year out and get started on the new one. I almost can’t remember most of the year- except of course the months long presidential campaign from hell.  And this past December filled with sadness for so many families.

My year wasn’t bad. My job changed for the better and I was given a nice new office on the 3rd floor with a view of the Novato hills and the lovely Stars Restaurant. I can come home and walk my dog at lunch if I remember to look up and notice the time.

Toshi loves his bath
I stayed healthy-except for a bad December cold, my dog stayed healthy (which meant no vet bills for the first year in many, my family stayed healthy- and really, you can’t ask for more than that.

Elsie and Renee
My best friend’s mom, Elsie almost ducked out on us- but decided to come back and kick some ass. (I’m guessing about the ass kicking- but she is fully capable.)

My son seems to have found some peace and tranquility- and for that, I am extremely grateful.

I continue to write and had a few small publications this last year- and that always encourages me to keep going. I plug along, trying to hone skills.

I think the highlight of my writing year was a publication /radio broadcast at KQED in San Francisco. It was a piece about our veterans. I was proud to be chosen out of the many essays they receive and very proud to help enlighten the public about veteran’s issues.

I always love the New Year because it’s a clean slate. (for me anyway) – I like the fact that you can clean out your office, house, brain, and throw things away before you start making new messes.

Like last year, I’m not making any big plans for this year- I’ll keep doing what I’m doing because it seems to be working. I’ll write a little, maybe sell some real estate, take a few hikes and hopefully this year I’ll spend a little more time with friends and family than I have the last few.

My wish for all is that you have a healthy and happy 2013, that you be kind to one another. Be generous with your love and have an abundance of empathy. It’s okay to give a homeless person a couple bucks if you have it. (Don’t worry about what they spend it on), and try not to hate anyone. Hate will eat you up like cancer- and leave you very ugly from the inside out.  Find peace and keep the hope.

Happy New Year 2013

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Christmas Wish

I wish it were always the Christmas Season. Well without the frenzied shopping thing. And maybe without the stress of not enough food to feed the hungry, not enough homes for the homeless- or blankets for that matter.

I wish we could keep that spirit of Good Will Towards Men. Well, mostly good will. Not everyone has it. Some people decide to take babies away from their parents and parents away from their babies. Christmas destroyed ever after. Drunk drivers wipe out whole families, gunmen killing for sport, drugged out mothers and fathers (for lack of better names to call them) forgetting their kids in cars on snowy nights while they cook their meth. T’is the season.

Missing loved ones long gone- or newly departed- is always a little worse at Christmas. It’s a sadness we rarely feel on the 4th of July.

What if we could ratchet it back a few notches?  What if we went back to homemade gifts- started in January? What if we gave some of those surplus dollars to people who could actually use some food?  What if we were able to shift the way society values life? Then the Christmas Season would be great right?

What if everyone just slowed down a little and read something once in a while- instead of watching crime shows on TV?  Instead of watching news, that isn’t news anymore- delivered by people that have forgotten the basics of journalism- what I learned in 7th grade when I wasn’t even paying attention.

The Christmas season must have been nice at some point in time. Some people have tried to keep tradition alive. My niece throws a lovely Christmas Eve dinner party and decorates the house like the North Pole. It was peaceful and full of joy, as it should be. Of course, she was exhausted afterwards. And her co-host husband- a firefighter had been up for 30 hours after receiving 25 calls while on duty the day before. Merry Christmas to him and all of our first responders- it’s a bad time of year for them too.

My son and I celebrate the un-Christmas. He is a Buddhist and I am a Doubting Thomas – want to be Buddhist– but we like the day for rest and relaxation. We usually go to a movie, but this year he was sick and I was just getting over something so we didn’t do anything but eat a nice dinner. That was enough for us.

I’m always irritated by people who want to go back to simpler times- like in the 50’s when kids could ride their bikes down the street without being shot or kidnapped. Because there was bad then too. The McCarthy era, extreme racism, The Cold War, Korean Conflict. Women’s rights were just a dream. I remember my mom always got a migraine at Christmas.

I honestly do wish that Christmas could be about more than what it’s become. I would wish for Christmas all year round if it could be good for everyone. But for now- Christmas lasts long enough and sometimes a little too long.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No Simple Solution

Everyone wants answers- but there are none. At least no answer that would make me say- oh, okay- now I get it.

There is so much crap on the internet I’m afraid to open my facebook page for fear I will lose another friend because I can’t take the adamant blaming of the left or the right. Really people, is that your best? Blame the other guy? I saw people blame President Obama, I saw people skip right over the fact that 20 babies were killed and say they will never give up their rights to own a gun. We’ll have to take them out of their cold dead hands. Okay- I can do that. I don’t think gun laws are the only answer to the problem though. I think there is so much more- but if people don’t discuss the issues with empathy, with keeping the families of the murdered in their hearts and minds first and foremost- then you are missing the whole point of humanity and democracy working for the greater good.

I don’t think anyone is going to go after your deer-hunting rifle or your 6 shooter. But do you need an arsenal? And if so why? Because if it’s from delusional paranoia that the liberals, the Muslims, the Jews, the Mexicans , the Blacks, are taking over the world, then guess what? Maybe we should rethink to whom we are giving these guns.  

Was the Newtown shooter mentally ill? Yes. Was it his mothers fault for having guns around an unstable person? Yes. I have no idea if she did the best she could or not. No idea at all- but guns around unstable people is always a mistake. The trick is how do you know when someone is going to crack? And how do you legislate that?

Some people are saying we need to bring prayer back into our Nation. My faith in God- was already waning when the horrific murders of 27 people in Newtown took place. I have always wondered about a God that would let children (especially) suffer so many horrible things. Believers always say- but he saved so and so… and he was there to hold the pieces together after the fact- but really- if you are GOD you should be able to do more right? Babies are innocent- no matter what the Christians say about being born with sin.

In fact- the way I see it -religions and the myriad differences of all of them causes more problems than they solve.  Just ask the survivors in Oslo. Just ask some Jews. Just ask some Muslims.

So the anti prayer in school people are freaking out because they don’t want church and state mixing it up and the 2nd amendment people are freaking out because they are afraid they will have to give up some of their semi-automatic weapons.

I read an article where they decided to arm the teachers. Does anyone besides me see something crazy about that? Militaristic? What if the teacher takes a shot and hits a kid?

On March 13, 1996, unemployed former shopkeeper Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School armed with two 9 mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers, all legally held. He was carrying 743 cartridges, and fired his weapons 109 times. The subsequent police investigation revealed that Hamilton had loaded the magazines for his Browning with an alternating combination of full-metal-jacket and hollow-point ammunition. Hamilton made his way to the gymnasium and opened fire on a Primary One class of five- and six-year-olds, killing or wounding all but one person. Fifteen children died together with their class teacher, Gwen Mayor, who was killed trying to protect the children.

In 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.  The Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. He used a semi-automatic weapon. A group of people who never hurt anyone… who prayed on a very regular basis. Why? Why would anyone want to hurt them?  

The Norwegian police charged a 32-year-old man, whom they identified as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections, over the bombing of a government center and a shooting attack on a nearby island that together left at least 92 people dead.

There is so much information about this that I am including a Wikipedia link – the numbers of dead vary from 80-92- the Wikipedia information on the dead is incorrect-

(The following paragraphs are of particular interest to me) 

“He decided to obtain a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock pistol legally in Norway, noting that he had a "clean criminal record, hunting license, and two guns (a Benelli Nova 12 gauge Pump-action shotgun and a .308 Bolt-action rifle) already for seven years", and that obtaining the guns legally should therefore not be a problem. 

Upon returning to Norway, Breivik obtained a legal permit for a .223-caliber Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine, ostensibly for the purpose of hunting deer. He bought it in late 2010 for €1,400 ($2000). He wanted to purchase a 7.62x39mm Ruger Mini-30 semi-automatic carbine, but gun laws in Norway may have prevented Breivik from obtaining it.

Getting a permit for the pistol proved more difficult, as he had to demonstrate regular attendance at a sport shooting club. He also bought 10 30-round magazines for the rifle from a United States supplier, and 6 magazines for the pistol (including 4 30-round magazines) in Norway. From November 2010 to January 2011 he went through 15 training sessions at the Oslo Pistol Club, and by mid-January his application to purchase a Glock pistol was approved. 

Breivik claimed in his manifesto that he bought 300 g of sodium nitrate from a Polish shop for 10 in December 2010, in order to make a bomb fuse. In March 2011, he legally bought 100 kg of chemicals from a small Internet-based Wrocław company. The Polish ABW interviewed the company owner on 24 July 2011. Breivik's Polish purchases initially led to him being put on the watch list of the Norwegian intelligence, which did not act because they did not believe it was relevant.
He had also planned a last religious service (in Frogner Church) before the attack. He was a fundamentalist Christian. This guy planned this for a long time. Yet not one person thought he was a problem not even Norwegian Intelligence. 

In June of 2012 a gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, entered a theater in Aurora CO- not far from where one of my best friends lives and  set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. James Eagan Holmes, was arrested outside the theater minutes later.

Meanwhile the mental health communities are adding up how much money it will take to fix all the broken people ( a lot) and the families- the poor families of these children- these babies, these heroic teachers, These Scottish babies, these Norwegian teenagers, these Batman enthusiasts- their poor families are mired in grief. Normal grief is bad enough, but can you imagine knowing your baby spent their last minutes in total fear?  I can’t.

My parents never recovered from losing my 27-year-old brother in an accident – my mother died two years later. I think the stress triggered my Dad’s ALS- he died 7 years later. You do not recover from that grief. Not in a lifetime.

I don’t believe in church and state mixing it up- but I’d be willing to let go of that fight if they could pray nondenominational prayer- another words not Christian. Not Hebrew. Not Muslim.  Or even better if school taught about all religions- without favoritism. Maybe if that were to occur they would see the common thread and not the great divide. Religious tolerance would be a wonderful thing wouldn’t it?

I know too, that a lot people like to hunt and have rifles, and I would have more respect for people who hunted animals with a bow and arrow- but I get it- sort of, and I understand it’s a sport- but irresponsibility with these guns is unforgivable. LOCK THEM UP. Think about who has access. And do not underestimate a curious kid. My dad was a policeman -I never, ever saw his gun.

I know a few people- especially military who love their guns- they were trained – and trained some more to use them properly. (Although many of them who suffer from PTSD and TBI should not have guns anymore either.)

A little give and take. Is that too much to ask? A dialogue that brings up all the issues- and looks for solutions. Less finger pointing – more open-mindedness.

I see the biggest problem as people that don’t want to get involved, that won’t call the police when they see suspicious behavior, that won’t report a neglected child, that won’t report a child molester, that won’t report anything about anyone because it’s none of their business. I wonder how many people thought this Newtown killer was off the rails and didn’t say anything to anyone.

If praying makes you feel better you should pray. But I don’t expect it to change anything. I believe ONLY action will change anything. Prayer is inaction. It’s thought. It’s letting Gods will be. It’s acceptance.  I refuse to accept that 15 babies should be killed, 20 babies should be killed or 91 teens should be killed or 12 Batman fans should be killed, because there are bad, sick, confused people in the world with access to semi-automatic weapons.  (The Scotland killer used handguns.)   

Personally, I am going to act. I am going to fight for more responsible gun control, no assault weapons, and better mental health care for the nation. If they want prayer in school I will fight for all religions to be taught and not just Christianity. I’ll fight for people to start getting involved. Pay attention. For me it’s a no brainer; the ONLY way to honor the dead and give their families something – some little bit of light in their darkest hours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Gift of Compassion

 If the holidays remind us of one thing only, it should be the gift of compassion. In the last year I have known so many people who have had catastrophic events happen and for the most part instead of running with their tails between their legs, they faced these events with grace and came out the other end - with the gift of compassion.

There, but for the Grace of God, go I. I probably heard that 9 million times before I understood it. I understood it completely when a fellow Marine mom shared the Marine’s had come to her door, and her son would never hug her again.

She was full of grace. I knew I could never be like her. I would have been full of anger and I don’t even know what else. Hate- I suppose.

But that was the first time I fully understood that expression. Sadly, it was repeated more times than I could count. It’s what I said to myself every time I saw a another loss.

I’m not at all religious, I say Happy Hanukah as much as I say Merry Christmas. Or I say Merri Kirasumasu because I like the way it sounds. Happy Holidays works just fine for me- because to me it’s all about the spirit of giving. It’s more than one holiday, it’s several throughout the month. A month of good things if we do it right.

For me, it’s not about shopping either. I have given up joining the herds of people at Macy’s (Open 48 hours straight this year up until Christmas Eve.) Toys R Us and all the other must get to their sales, locations. I'll shop a little- but I won't kill myself or go broke to get it all done.

I like to use this time of year to remember (and try to help when I can)  those less fortunate than myself. I don’t mean necessarily poorer-although that too- but people who have no love in their life. People who live in fear. People who are sick- either physically or mentally. People who have lost their way. People who have forgotten what happiness is. People who have not shared a smile with someone. People, who for whatever reason have not seen or heard from their families and loved ones- these are the people I think about during the holidays.

In a year where we heard so much divisiveness, where everyone hated everyone else for thinking differently, looking differently, praying to a different God, I wondered if we would ever stop the hate long enough to celebrate the wonders of the holiday’s. I hope we have -maybe some of the wounds will heal.

HOLIDAYS- they belong to everyone.

The gift of compassion is the best gift you can give someone. It costs you nothing- and pays huge dividends.  Smile at the cashier (especially at Macy’s during their shopathon.) 
Be kind to restaurant and hotel employees who won’t have any days off between now and Christmas, and many will work Christmas too.  (If you even think of not tipping during the holidays just stay home.) Be kind to your grocery clerks- you have no idea what their life is like during the holidays. Be kind to your co-workers, employees and business associates. Be kind to your family- and be kind to yourself.  Ask people how they are and wait for their answer. Listen to them.

We never know what is going on in someone’s life. The homeless, scruffy –bearded, tattooed 27 year -old standing on a corner with a far-away stare might be a homeless Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran. Don’t presume anything. He may not be some bum that should just “get a job.”  There but for the Grace of God, go I.

We don’t know what happened to some of these people who have lost everything- including their dignity. Maybe it was drugs, alcohol, chemical imbalance, death, war, destruction- or just life.

Compassion is what we owe each other as human beings and what we so often lack. It takes a minute. Just a minute to smile at someone.

So every December, a particularly hard month for me due to several losses. I try to find the good. I don’t always succeed. Not every minute of everyday. But I think with every passing year I inch a little closer to the compassion we should have for one another. 

The hard thing for me-while I seek compassion, I lose tolerance for those who have none. Maybe I’ll just keep repeating- There but for the Grace of God go I.

Merri Kirasumasu ~ Happy Hanukah ~Assalamu Alaikum  (Peace Upon You)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It’s All Your Fault!

My Mom and her kids. Linda, Katie, Johnny and baby Angie
I bet that headline got everyone’s attention. I would venture a guess that at one time or another we have all muttered those words to someone- or screamed them maybe.

In my crazier years, back in the late 60’s and all of the 70’s- I used to blame my mother for everything bad. My father and my step father too. I blamed teachers, bosses, boyfriends and anyone else who was handy, for my shortcomings.

I would call my mother in the middle of the night, crying and crazy and say things like it’s your fault I’m crazy, it’s dad’s fault I drink too much and it’s your fault I’m crazy. My mother would say something like- “Stop drinking and you won’t be crazy.” And then I would hang up on her.

Kids are a product of who their parents make them, yes, they really are, but at some point in time- we have to take responsibility for our own actions and stop the blame game.  

The blame game usually goes back several generations. My mother blamed her mother for dying when she was 8 years old and leaving her to fend for herself. And I remember my great–grandmother telling me (in her 80’s) her mother was very cold and had no love for her and that made her distant her whole life.

I came to the party a little late. But, I got there. At some point in time, my sisters and I started calling my mom a character builder and giving her credit for our good stuff. We took what we liked from our respective fathers and ignored the rest. My older sister adopted her dad’s ability to rough it and find adventure,  my little sister got her dad’s sense of humor and some artistic qualities, and I have to give my dad credit for my amazing ability to research/investigate anything.

My son was doomed from the start. His dad and I both shared some quirky – if not downright bad character traits. I tried not to make all the same mistakes my parents made, but still there were times when I was less than a stellar parent.

If my son blames me for his problems (assuming he thinks he has problems), I have never heard him say so.  Once in awhile he will infer he picked up some crappy character trait from me- but it never feels like blame- just a fact. (Perhaps, I am in denial?) He does give me credit for some good stuff, so I’m glad I didn’t have to die in order to get some kudos.

So, when should we stop blaming our parents? That is the big question. Should it be the minute we start making our own choices? Should it be 18 or 21 or 25 or 28? Should it be when we have our own kids? Should it be about the 100th time we made a shitty decision and blamed everyone but ourselves? YES- to all of the above.

As long as we continue to blame other people for our problems, we are victims. The minute you stand up, take responsibility, recognize your shortcoming AND your attributes and take the steps to change for the better- you have entered the adult world. If you are crying the poor me song then you need to look at yourself through new eyes.

If you have kids of your own and you are making the same parental errors your parents made, STOP.  Just STOP. It’s not that hard. Make a list if you have to- of every bad parenting decision your own parents made- then put an X next to the ones that you are repeating- (I know you are.)  (Then throw the list away and forgive your parents because guess what? NO ONE- NOT ONE BABY- COMES WITH INSTRUCTIONS.)

The only people that are going to continue to play the blame game after that exercise are the ones who are happy in their misery- and who would rather not take responsibility for their own poor choices. That my dear friends, is like mental illness. There are medications for that. Albert Einstein is attributed for saying “ The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  I’m fairly sure he didn’t say this but it’s a true statement. I proved it myself.

If you don’t address these issues- the constant blaming others for your problems, you may one day find yourself all alone. That is the only choice you leave the people you have blamed for your – read YOUR- problems.

So I’m going to blame my mom today- for making me a survivor. For my cooking talent, for my over abundance of self-inflicted self-esteem (deserved or not) and for all the story fodder. Thanks Mom. It’s all your fault I’m here to tell the story.

** In memory of my mom, Beverly Francis Arietta
B: July 10 1931 D. December 9 1984

Monday, December 3, 2012

Finding Your Voice

For a writer, voice is important. It’s what will separate your submission from a thousand others. Grammar can be fixed (sorry editors) voice – your voice, has to be present, has to be clear and above all has to stand out from the crowd.

It’s the same for people who don’t write. You can be loud and obnoxious. You can be clever and witty. Or you can be as quiet as a mouse or variations and combinations in-between. There are a million ways to communicate and I have always chosen blunt over flowery and honesty over tact. That isn’t necessarily right, but it’s my voice, who I am and I’m not sure at 60 years old there is time to change the way I communicate or if  am even willing to change. I’m used to me.

I have noticed that many women don’t find their voices until later in life. Many women, especially my age group, and the generation before me, went from home to marriage, fell from one form of subservience to another (equal footing being a rarity until recently)  and many learned (erroneously), that being quiet is what keeps the peace.

When you spent 45+ years of your life not uttering a peep and suddenly, you decide to speak your mind- you may have a tendency to go overboard. You may speak to things of which you have little knowledge; you may be so adamant that you leave no room for discussion or reply. Finding your voice is not just about saying what you think. It’s not about freedom of speech, which is so often mistaken for I can say any stupid ass thing I want.

My mother used to say if you don’t have anything smart to say don’t say anything all. Most parents say that if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, but smart was more valuable to my mother than nice. (And she passed that gene to me)  I don’t know how old my mother was when she found her voice, but I’m guessing in her early teens. By the time she was 30, which is when I was nine and remember conversations with her or listening to her talk to other people, she was in full command of her voice, if not her actions.

The problem for many women when they find their voice later in life is that it takes the people who know them by surprise. Friends and family may think it’s hormonally induced diarrhea of the mouth, or worse that you have lost your mind completely.  A simple statement like, “I don’t really like your taste in music.” can turn into a full-blown episode of “Where is my wife, mother, sister… and who are you?”

People change.  This is true no matter what your gender. With any luck, we get smarter with time. If you got married at 18 years old and you manage to make it through the changes, then you grew together at the same rate. If you don’t make it then chances are you grew apart- or maybe one of you found an unexpected voice.

All my life I have encountered people who would have rather I lied to them than been honest.  People who thought I should change my delivery and be more tactful. I admit- with age has come a little bit more tact, but the honesty factor never waivers.

If you ask me a question, be prepared for the truth. A nickname some friends gave me back in the 70’s was Frightfully Candid Katie. I think the fright part has diminished over time. Sometimes.

The reason I am able to say what I do to whomever I please, is that I’m not afraid of the consequences. I never have been. It’s an annoying irreverence, I understand that- yet it’s who I am.  More brave than smart. But I was born this way and I have had 60+ years to hone it.

The one thing I have tried to learn over the years is to not be wrong. And by wrong I mean- I try not to spout off when I have no clue what I am talking about- and I also try- (and sometimes fail) to own up to it when I have no clue what I am talking about.

If I had a daughter – or for my nieces and great nieces now, I would try to teach them to go ahead and always say what you think- but give it the 3 second rule. Just wait 3 seconds and ask your self ONE question- Do I know what I am talking about?

Everyone should find his or her voice. It’s not just for writers. Communication is the end all. It’s the most important thing you will ever learn. (Says me.)  If you can’t communicate your needs, they will never be met. If you can’t communicate your feelings, they will never be acknowledged. If you run from every uncomfortable conversation, you will never have the satisfaction of getting someone to see things from a different perspective.

If you have recently found your voice and find yourself stepping on toes and dodging piles of poop like landmines, then you might want to practice that 3-second rule before you spout off. Then read- read everything about everything, it’s amazing what little tidbits will come in handy when you are having a conversation.

I’m not sure what prompted me to write this. Maybe I ran across a timid mouse that couldn’t get their cheese, or maybe I know more than few people that have a voice screaming inside them- LET ME OUT.  Maybe- I know someone that needs to be heard and doesn’t know where to start.

Start here. Start now. It’s never too late.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving - for Real this Time

I almost forgot to be grateful today. I posted on Facebook for everyone to have a Happy Thanksgiving and give thanks- but I was not giving thanks myself.  For a minute, I forgot that my life is not too bad. I have a roof over my head, a nice car, a good job, I’m relatively healthy, I have a healthy dog who loves me, (as long as I continue to provide food and shelter). I have a son who at-long-last seems to be thriving and doing something that he likes or maybe even loves.

Ah yes- the son. Ever since I was a little kid, I almost never let myself get excited about anything. Oh sure, I’ll say I’m excited but, I seldom really go there. Instead, I always wait for the disappointment that is sure to follow, if I dare get even a little excited about anything my childhood disappointments come rushing back like a needle in my eye and the nausea commences.

So, Wednesday afternoon- almost within seconds of dropping the turkey in the bucket of brine, Nick called to say his schedule changed and he had to work. I thought-wait- just last night you said you would be here! I got EXCITED! – I didn’t say that though. I tried to not lay a guilt trip on him, which doesn’t work anyway because he isn’t Catholic or Jewish. He is a what will be, will be, Buddhist. I instantly blamed the restaurant business, the worst business in the world... and then I remembered, it was the restaurant business that kept me alive most of my life. And Nick, is exactly the kind of employee I was. I was always the go-to girl. How can I be upset now?

I was careful on the phone but he knew I was disappointed. I said something stupid about him missing good food, which is stupid because he works at one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. Why do people go to Japanese restaurants on Thanksgiving anyway? It would never occur to me- even though I don’t really know of one Pilgrim restaurant, or even an American Indian restaurant. Why not Japanese?

I forgot, for just a minute about the troops eating Thanksgiving in Afghanistan, or for some not eating anything at all. I forgot to be thankful about my surrogate mom, Elsie, who by the grace of a Dr. defying her DNR last week is still with us and with the tender care of her daughter Renee, will be for years to come. I forgot to be thankful for little Sophie May and her warrior spirit, on the road to recovery, after cancer surgery and treatment. I forgot to be thankful that President Obama was reelected. (sorry to those of you that are not). I forgot to be thankful for our whole democracy. I forgot to be thankful for the cease-fire in the Gaza strip. I forgot to be thankful for my sisters, my brother, my stepdad & stepmother, my Uncle Richard and Al, my cousins, my numerous nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews.

I forgot to be thankful that I am a survivor. I forgot to be thankful that I found my passion and occasionally get to practice it. I forgot to be thankful that my son came home from the war and many mother’s sons did not. And not just my son, but the sons and daughters of many friends came home- safe and relatively sound.  I forgot to be thankful that I’m not in the shoes of some other friends whose sons and daughters are still in harms way or still recovering from grievous injuries.

The list of things I was thankful for was much shorter than the list of things I forgot to be thankful for. My mom would have called that bass ackwards.

By the end of the day today, after I cooked a turkey that soaked in brine all night (thank you for the recipe Wanda), I made the best gravy I have ever made and a damn good stuffing. I made mashed potatoes and guess what I’ll be eating for quite a few days? I hope that Nick will get here before it’s all gone- but if not I’ll make him something good.

I really am thankful to still be in this world, this crazy world where people don’t get along because of religious differences, political differences, racial differences, cultural differences, gender differences, ad infinitum.  I’m thankful I still have a few brain cells kicking around and that the people who love me- love me for me. (and my cookies.)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone- with gratitude.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Papa

Charlie Wigington

Happy Birthday Papa

My dad would have been 86 today but Lou Gehrig’s cut his life short 21 years ago. He was an imperfect man with perfectionist character traits and a heart as big as Texas.

He was good at so many things- a good policeman, a good investigator, a good writer, a good singer, a good painter, a good builder – the list goes on. But, I never saw him as happy as he was when he was listening to music he loved.

When my brother was in his motorcycle accident, Dad came up from Los Angeles, my sister, Angie and her (then) husband introduced him to Leon Redbone’s music and Dad fell hard.

His favorite was “Seduced”. This song brought my dad the only pleasure he would have during those horrible days after that accident.

So Happy Birthday Dad- Here is your tune. ;o)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gold Star Mother’s Day


Today is Gold Star Mother’s Day- you probably didn’t know that. It’s not on your little Hallmark Calendar- or probably any other calendar you have lying around the house or office.  The last Sunday of September has been Gold Star Mother’s Day since June 23rd 1936. This year- and almost every year as long as I have been reading newspapers, there is little or no coverage. There was no big write up in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Huntington Post, the Boston Globe or any other major news group in America.

The White House posted a proclamation by President Obama.

The first Gold Star Mother I met was in 2004. Diane, the Mother of Travis Layfield. Travis was from the city I lived in and Nick knew him, though not well. Nick was still a boot at SOI in Camp Pendleton and I felt it was my duty as a Marine Mom to represent Nick and I at the candlelight memorial being held for Travis at his high school.

LCpl. Travis Layfield
I stood there, inconsolable, sobbing hysterically. A Marine standing next to me asked me if I was family. “No. I’m a Marine Mom.” He nodded his head, maybe hoping his mom was stronger than this woman standing next to him was.  Later I hugged Diane. I told her how sorry I was. I had no words of wisdom for her. I just knew I never wanted to be in her shoes.

That was the last Marine’s memorial I attended, but sadly, not the last Gold Star Mother I met. Later at Marine Parents’ conferences, I met many others - too many. I marveled at their grace. Though I could tell some were angry, some were broken; some were motivated to carry on.  All of them had broken hearts.

Sometimes I found it hard to look them in the eye. Hard- but I still did it. What I have realized over the last 9 years, is that people don’t really want to be reminded of the lives lost at war. Not even the mothers of active duty Marine’s, soldiers, sailors and airmen. The combination of survivor’s guilt and fear that you will one day be in their shoes is too much for most of us. We avoid it like a horrible plague.  

Sometimes I think Americans are an ungrateful lot. It seems like we should be doing more for our Gold Star Families. (And our active duty and veteran members of the service for that matter.)  And I admit, I could have done more, but fear kept me from getting too close to that group. I did not want to become a member of that club.

I googled Gold Star Mother’s Day, last night and found out there were no articles in any major news group. I did it again today- still no articles. Next year there will be articles- I’m going to start sending them in now. I’m a little late in my gratitude, but I’ll do what I can to make up for it.

Meanwhile, if you happen to run across a Gold Star Family- look them in the eye. Say thank you for your sacrifice. Take a minute from your busy day to let them tell you about their son or daughter who gave their all, for the United States of America. 

I found this prayer on one of Travis' many tribute walls. I think it is fitting for today. 

Anywhere is the Center of the World

Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.

And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy...
But anywhere is the center of the world.

Black Elk (Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crazy Days- Parental Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

My phone went off at 11:12 last night- just as I was drifting into REM sleep. I looked at the screen and Nick’s name and number staring back at me. In the one-second that it took me to pick up the phone and hit the answer button, my heart raced and every terrible thought that could squeeze into that time frame, did so.

I hit answer, heard a strange echo noise, and instantly I was thrown back in time to satellite phone calls and sometimes mortars in the background, a 2-5 second delay. Nick? Nick? Nick? No answer…fear racing though my veins like ice water. Time stopping.

Wait. He’s not in Iraq anymore. He’s been home for 5 years.

This is my self-diagnosed Secondary or “Parental” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Five years later, I still have heart palpitations when I get a late night call. Anxiety attacks when I haven’t heard from him for more that a week. Even though I know he was getting off work around 11PM and even though I know, he is not in Iraq... I sort of live with this constant underlying fear.

I stayed on the phone repeating his name longer than I should have. Listening, making sure he wasn’t being mugged. It was a butt dial. He didn’t mean to call me. I text’d him just to make sure. “I think you butt dialed me.”  “I did, sorry.” “No prob. xox nite.”
“Goodnight mom, Xo”.

It took me 2 hours to go back to sleep.

I know all parents have this to some extent. We all fear that middle of the night call. It can never be good news. An accident, jail, sick… it’s never a call at 3 AM to just say I love you. 

If I were the only Marine parent that had this disorder, I would probably keep it to myself. The truth is though-- I started seeing this pattern amongst us during their deployments five years ago. Our inability to turn the car that last corner to our block, for fear the US Marines were parked out in front, delivering the news. Bad news.  Months of sleeplessness, night after night lying awake, waiting for a call, an email or instant message. Killing ourselves with good karma, buying brownie points with God, bartering our souls. I swear to you God, I will never ask another thing of you. Never.

Mood swings, depression, anger, confusion, memory loss, are all part of the deal. And when it didn’t go away after one year, or two years, I knew we had ourselves an issue. It’s a bona fide disorder, which almost no one knows about.

Five years later-- the symptoms remain the same. Everything is magnified. I remember that first few weeks when Nick got back from Iraq and I wrote “Please Tie Your Shoes” an essay about how even though he was home I was still going to worry. Little did I know. So little.  

I’m sure I drive my son crazy. I study him as if he’s the statue of David by Michelangelo. Like he is this amazing work of art and I am looking for flaws, the pieces chipped away by time or vandalism. Like a mother gorilla, sometimes, I want to groom him. Make sure he’s clean and presentable. And maybe smack him a little in the process – for good measure.   I always ask “How are you doing?”  He knows what I mean. Sometimes I get a straight answer. Sometimes he just walks away from me. I abhor smother mothers and yet, I have become one.

I took anti anxiety pills for a short time, but I don’t like to take drugs so I toughed it out as much as I could. Still, I have days when my heart races and I feel sick to my stomach. I have to reel myself in and understand what is going on so I can function. Many of my Marine parent friends have these same symptoms.

I remember when Nick was actually in Iraq, I went to the doctor for some stress related thing. She asked me what was going on and I burst into tears and told her. She put down her chart, stood up and gave me a hug. A good hug, the kind a mom gives her kid when they really, really need a hug. Then she wrote a prescription for sleeping pills and Xanax. If only hugs worked.

I wish a hug could fix PTSD and P-PTSD. I wish I could hug my kid every day before he walks out his door- but he’s all grown up- and while he still gets a good hug from me when I see him, an everyday hug from mom is no longer an option. I wonder if he has noticed, when I do get a hug from him, I hang on a second longer than I ever did before.

Intellectually, I know that PTSD is the direct result of a traumatic experience. And we parents, while traumatized by months on end of worry and fear, do not witness our buddies being blown up, or have sniper bullets whizzing past our heads, or mortars going off 30 feet from where we are sleeping. For us it’s a direct result of knowing that your child is in harms way for months on end and you can’t help. You can’t do anything about it.  All the praying in the world barely makes a dent in the fear. Pride is not enough to sustain bravery. We run on fear.

I feel bound to understand this because I want to help bring recognition to it whatever “it” is - and because I would like to help other people who think they have lost their mind-all due to fear.

I need to tell myself the next time the phone rings after 11PM- while I am still in partial slumber, It’s probably a butt dial. Take a deep breath. Because even if it’s bad news, I’ll need to take action. Being paralyzed with fear won’t help a soul.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why I am Voting For Barack Obama

Most of my friends and some of my family are Republicans.  But, I am an Independent voter. I always vote for the person, not the party. And I usually don’t share my politics with the world, because I hate the ensuing arguments. But this time, I think it’s important. I want you to know how I came to this decision. How much homework I really did.  I want you to know I have been fact checking for 4 years and that I have taken nothing anyone said at face value.

Last presidential election I did not vote for Barack Obama. I supported Rudy Guiliani. I voted for John McCain (by default) simply because I thought his experience in war and with foreign policy surpassed Barack Obama’s. The war on terror, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan were my big issues at the time. Bigger than the financial crisis looming on the horizon- bigger than anything.

When I watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in 2008, I cried. I imagined the pride the blacks across the country must have felt. I was proud of America too. For not letting race stand in the way. Well- some didn’t anyway.  

The hate grew. Over the course of the last 4 years, I have heard the vilest things come out of people’s mouths about the President, and those horrible words have actually pushed me into his corner. If you know me then you know having me as an ally is s good thing. I am loyal and true and I will back you up with everything I have. So here I am. Voting for Barack Obama in 2012.  And here is who you can thank for that.

The Birthers, The Tea Party, The Conspiracy Theorists, The Bigots, The Zealots, The Christian Coalition all of whom would turn back the clock and burn free-thinking people like me at the stake if they could. Some people are so ignorant (like Birther’s) they would believe lie after lie, even though the truth is right in front of them.

The issues are important to me. Chances are, at 60 years old, I will not be getting pregnant any time in the future. But if I did, I would want to be able to decide if I could terminate the pregnancy or not. My body- my decision. I have never wanted and certainly don’t want now- anyone telling me what I can do with my body or turning back the clock on civil rights, civil liberties, and basic compassion for people of all ethnic origins and sexual orientation.

I have always been an independent person. My mom used to say I was the first women’s libber she ever met. But, I was never really a women’s libber, I was always more concerned about my personal freedom and not too wrapped up in the needs of all. A Katie’s libber is what I was.

Now, I feel compelled to make a case for voting Democratic. Or voting anti hate.  That’s what I am doing. The hate has worn me down. The people that have taken on the hate rants have turned my stomach. The people that have called the President of the United States a nigger, a monkey, a socialist, a radical, un-American, anti-American, elitist and so on and so forth. They have made my mind up for me. I am now deaf to their hateful noise.

I was worried that Barack Obama didn’t have military or foreign relations experience in 2008. Now I know- he has gained both of those things 10 fold. While he never served in the military, he is willing to listen to those who do- and those who have. When he ramped up the troops in Afghanistan, it surprised me. That fact that he continues to look for better ways to deal with Arab nations and the far-reaching pockets of terrorism around the world can only be viewed as intelligent.

For everyone that calls Obama a socialist- let me ask you this. Do you collect Social Security? Do you collect Permanent Disability?  Have you ever collected Unemployment wages? Are you enrolled in Medicare or any other government based medical care? Then you are a socialist. Did you go to public school? Socialist. Enjoy public parks? Socialist. Socialism refers to State Ownership. A truly socialist state would be one where the government owns and operates the means of production.
Is it a bad thing to want to see old people or sick people taken care of?  It is a bad thing to want to help people help themselves?  The United States has always embraced social welfare. It is not a new concept that came in with Barack Obama.

I watched both conventions, and heard many of the speeches. I heard Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Ann. Romney, Julian Castro, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Barack Obama. I kept an open mind- though admittedly- it’s difficult when I already knew I was at odds with Republicans on some of the issues. Mitt had a small chance with me before he chose Ryan as a running mate- but the minute I learned what Ryan was about, (I had to read up because I didn’t know who he was)  my Katie’s Libber kicked in.

I liked Barack Obama’s speech; I didn’t feel manipulated by his words. It wasn’t over the top. It wasn’t full of pregnant pauses and coy looks. It was in my opinion humble and hopeful. And hope is a good thing. Without hope, we are nothing. Without education we are nothing in this global society, without the ability to stay healthy and productive- there is no hope. 

Also- It would be incredibly simplistic to say that the problems that plague the U.S. at this time could be cured in 4 years.  I have to agree with President Clinton on that one. And the way I see it by voting another new guy (with no experience) in we would face another 4 year learning curve.

Then of course, no one gives a speech like Bill Clinton. I know Republicans that wish he were running again. If I was short on hope before his speech- I was full up afterwards.

I don’t hate Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or any politician really. There are some I dislike, but not enough to spend time writing about them. I actually do believe that most of the people that serve the nation in some capacity love their nation and do what they think is right. I respect that.

In the end - it’s the lack of hate and abundance of hope that has won me over to the Barack Obama camp. I just can’t see anything good coming from so much hate.  

I think it’s important to note that extremism on either side of the political spectrum is distasteful to me. Extremism creates more problems than it solves. It’s almost never based on facts- but instead emotion. Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Moore and their ilk, are conspiracy theory nuts who really don’t like America. They make mainstream democrats look bad. I wish they would go away- They are incredibly angry people- and they are angry about made up stuff, which is scary to me.

I’ve been called a bleeding heart liberal because I believe in things like affordable medical care, equal pay and equal rights for ALL. I never used to be- but maybe with age I have become more compassionate and lean towards liberalism. Maybe with age I have become less about my own interests and more about how to leave this world for future generations. Fairly recently I started really caring about recycling, the air we breathe, the fuel we use and all the things that might not change in my lifetime- but maybe I can help make better for future generations. Just recently, I started believing that there is a better way to solve problems then by going to war and blowing up our own kids and the sons and daughters of other countries, in name of freedom.

 I care about our troops more than I can say and those of you that know me know that is the truth. But I want them to have the very best chance to stay alive and in one piece. I want every effort made to avoid more military casualties. I have seen too many DOD releases in the past 11 years. Too many Gold Star Families and too many men and women have lost limbs, sight, hearing and mental capacities. For every wounded warrior success story, there are 50 more that have not done well, that may never be able to function in this world again. What good is freedom, if no one is left to exercise it?  

Just recently- I feel enlightened. Better late than never they say.  

Maybe your vote will cancel out my vote. (and visa versa) But I am voting for the future, for women and men of all sexual orientation, for all races, creeds and religions.  I am voting for education, I am voting generations to come. I’m voting for a better world. I am voting for hope and humanity.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

So Many Words

So it turns out I do have an opinion about everything. That probably does not surprise some of you- but it sort of surprised me. It surprised me because I have spent the last few years prioritizing what things I cared enough to write about. (Sorry for the end of sentence preposition.)  Little did I realize that when I can’t write- my frustration level rises and suddenly I do have an opinion about everything.

After almost a month of no writing, here are my thoughts in a rather large nutshell.

I had two of my late brother’s three grandchildren here for four days, along with my own son. That is so many more people than I am used to I thought I might get cranky, but I didn’t at all, well,  at least not until the last half of the last day and that was more of me over mothering my son (and shrinking the jeans he specifically asked me NOT to wash.) and him getting cranky, then me returning the favor. At least that’s how I see it.

The girls are 14 and 11 and they are great kids, my niece Joanna and her husband Ben have done a great job with these kids. They are smart, funny, beautiful and just a dash of crazy. They fit right in here. The 5 year old stayed home, maybe I’ll take her next year.

Nick came up because he loves these kids, and I have to say they are easy to love. I’m not the super duper aunt I was to Kelly & Marni when they were young and I was young too- I am older and tired as hell and maybe a little less flexible when it comes to letting kids do things. But, I really did enjoy having the girls here.

While the girls were here, we heard the news about the killings at the theater in Aurora. A dozen people I spoke to must have asked - why would someone do this? There is no why. He is just crazy- there is no why good enough to explain this to my satisfaction. It’s not the fault of the movie, or the theater, or the President of the United States (I actually heard someone blame him) – and maybe it’s the fault of society in general for being cowards in the first place and not calling a nut a nut when they meet one. For allowing kids to act out and do what they will because they don’t want to deal with the fall out. Or maybe he was just born crazy. None of the reasons will ever bring any family member or loved one peace. Not one reason will make them say- oh okay- I get it now- INCLUDING calling it God’s big plan. Bullshit. No God worth a damn would plan this. Sorry all you God people- but I’ll never buy that load. Either God is good or there is no God- you can’t have a bad God.

I have noticed an uptick in the people interested in Veterans and their issues. Since I have been writing about this for 3 years or so, I have not seen a lot of attention out there- and certainly not a lot of answers or solutions. But in the past few weeks I have seen numerous articles and interviews on the subject- and maybe- just maybe the nations leaders will start to HEAR what is being said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 18 veterans die by suicide each day.

18 is 18 too many. They come home to families that love them but don’t know how to help them- and many of them alienate their families because they feel alienated from a world that does not understand where they have been or what they have done.  It’s the silent rule- don’t talk about it. Just deal. 

If you really want to help these veterans – then don’t forget to thank them for their service, if you have the ability to employ them do so, and try not to waste the life that all veterans have made possible for YOU; many by sacrificing their own lives. Do something selfless- just try it.


Chick-a Fil: Who cares what some Southern Baptist cracker thinks about anything? Really.  We all know there are religious zealots in the world- some are Christian, some are Muslim, and some are Jews or whatever. ( I have never met a Buddhist zealot) . Honestly- I bundle all of them into the same package and toss it out with the garbage.


Facebook: People- USE YOUR WORDS. I am sick to death of seeing little posters with little sayings written by unknown or possible some known people. An occasional quote is one thing- but 20 in row? Ugh.


I watched with pride this week as a group of my fellow Marine Parents joined forces to help another Marine Parent whose 18 month-old granddaughter was recently diagnosed with cancer. Votes and prayers were asked for, and votes and prayers were given for little Sophie May, and her family ended up winning $10,000, which will go towards her medical bills. (Which of course is not fully covered by insurance.)  See link below to read more about Sophie May. The contest is over but positive thoughts are still needed.

The Olympics: I wish I had more time to watch the Olympics. I admire so many Olympians – especially those that against all odds make it through and then win a medal. Or maybe they don’t win a medal but they get there and they realize they have done something amazing.  I was especially moved by the South African runner Oscar Pistorius- because once again I was reminded that we can overcome many obstacles in life if we have the right attitude.

Politics: I saw a chart in some magazine that showed how much people have donated to the presidential campaigns. It made me sick to think that people would spend that much on political campaigns and not donate it to other more deserving causes, like – oh I don’t know- how about our veterans? How about the MILLIONS of people with no food for their kids because they have been out of work for forever? How about cancer research, ALS research, Parkinson’s research, MS research, MD research?   I have studied both candidates and I don’t love either one of them. For me it comes down to this: Who is most likely to get us into another war? Who has the least (or most) experience with diplomacy? Which one is the least arrogant?  (a toss up). Intellectually, who can best back up that arrogance?  Who has made up the most (and stupidest) lies about the other party? 

I am a registered unaffiliated voter. I have never voted for a “party” and I don’t understand why anyone does. I vote for the person that I identify with the most. I vote for the person that will make life better for the MOST people- even if that does not include me.

Here’s the thing about me though. I don’t hate either one of them. I don’t blame sitting presidents for every stupid ass thing that goes on in the world. (Especially things they have no power/control over.) I wouldn’t make up lies about either candidate to make my favorite look better. (Nor do I believe 75% of what I read in the media- ANY media.)  I research every single statement. Every. Single. Fact.

I would be less worried about the future if I thought people used common sense when going to the polls and not hatred. My only hope is to cancel out the vote of some moron voting for someone just because they “hate” the other guy.

Well- I think that is everything for now. Since I have gotten all this off my chest, I think I can now work on my novel without crazy lady thoughts jumping in my head and making my characters say things that they would not normally say. I’m sure you all wish I kept a daily journal so you wouldn’t have to deal with my occasional brain dump, but if I had time for a journal I would have time to write- and I just don’t.