Friday, December 26, 2014

The Joy of Parenting

The mistakes are endless. If you think you haven’t made any, or that none were made while raising you, you are wrong.

I was older when I had Nick, in my 30s. Still, I made a ton of mistakes. We all do. And of course everyone jumps right in with their corrections.

 “How could you let him roll off the bed?”

“Um, I didn’t let him… it just happened. It was without my permission.”

I knew about babies. I had babysat most of my life and people used to call me a natural mom when my little sister was born and I hovered over her every little move. Once when my mom yelled at her for something like spilling milk, I looked at my mom sternly and said, “She’s just a baby.”  That was a bold move to make with my mother, but she retreated.

When Nick was a few days old I asked the hospital nurse to bring me a bath for him, and she said, “Yes, we will have someone show you how to bathe him.”

I said, “No that’s okay, I know how to bathe him, I don’t need a lesson.” They stood there and watched me anyway. Then ooh'd and aah'd when I didn’t drop or drown him.

I made big mistakes though. I fought with his dad in front of him. I drank and had hangovers and was cranky for no discernible reason. I smoked around him—a lot. When his grandparents treated him like the Prince of Japan, I over corrected and always knocked him down a peg. “No you are not the smartest kid in the world. You’re just very smart.”

When he mowed the lawn, instead of thanking him I would say, “You missed a spot.”  It was thoughtless really. I wasn’t always thinking about self-esteem or self love--or loathing. I just wanted the lawn mowed or the bed made.

“Take your stinky shoes off outside please.”


Please don’t bleed on the carpet, I’ll bring you a Band-Aid outside.


“I’m too tired to play Nick.”

Ding Ding

I quit drinking and smoking by the time he was 4 and 5 respectively.  It helped some, but not for everything. I was less cranky, but still tired. A single mom is always tired, I guess. There are no breaks. There is no, “Go ask daddy to read you a book.”

Once when we were driving down the street I saw a woman in the car with four kids, none of whom were in car seats or seatbelt, and all of whom were hanging out windows. At the stoplight I rolled down my window and yelled at her. “Put those kids in car seats or I’m calling the police!”

“Sorry, if I embarrassed you, Nick.”

“No problem. Actually mom, I’m proud of you.”

That was the first time I thought, maybe I’m doing this right.

When he was about 3 years old his dad and I took him to a fair and we got him a churro. He had to go potty so I told him I would hold it for him while daddy took him.

“Promise me you won’t eat my churro mom.” He knew me well.

“I promise.”

Then I ate it.

Ding Ding Ding

We bought him a new one of course. But, he still tells that story, almost 27 years later. Ooops.

As the years went by, I made a million more mistakes and did a few things right.

Last night when he was here for Christmas dinner he told me, he just told his friend a story of when one time when he was about 8 years old we were at the bank and found some money at the ATM machine.  He told his friend, “It must have been so hard for my mom who was dead broke back then to walk me inside the bank and have me give it to the lady that worked there.”


Parenting is moment by moment. You can have a grand plan but chances are each kid will be different and each response will fit the moment. The day I walked him into the bank I was broker than broke.  I’m sure I thought, if just for a second, about the pair of shoes I needed, or the coat he needed, or maybe some groceries. The fact that he not only remembers the day, but also recounted it to a friend means it was a parenting moment success. A rare pearl.

Recently, my son informed me he is going to be a dad. I know he will be a good dad and he will also make some mistakes, like I said, we all do. But, I have faith that he has a few pearls of wisdom he can share with his son (or daughter) to make up for the days when he’s tired or cranky or just says something stupid.
I know he remembers the time when he was 8 years old and I woke him up at midnight to go to Madrone Canyon and watch the meteor shower. Or when he was about 11 and I took him to San Francisco's Ocean Beach to watch the waves crash over the wall and the cliffs. Or the time we found a place called Skylonda and laughed so hard saying "I live in Skylonda man" like a stoned out hippie. Little pearls. I can't wait for him to have this joy.

I hope my skills as a grandparent are better than I was as a parent. Perhaps I’ll be the one to make him feel like he’s the Prince of Japan, and his mom will get him home and say, “We don’t have princes in this country but you’re the Prince of your Room.”  


Sunday, December 7, 2014

It's Good to Hear a Thank You

As a writer, I try to bring as much attention to myself as possible. Writers want to be read. Which is not quite the same as agreed with though I like that too. When I get a thumbs up, or a thatta girl, or more rarely someone that tells me they love what I wrote, I am always pleased. I always say I write for myself, and I do because I have to write—it’s what I do. It’s how I communicate, and it’s how I release the pent up everything that I walk around with every day. Believe me, you would rather have me write than the crazy lady alternative, but people liking what I write- really makes me feel good.

But, on a work level, at my job, I try to fly under the radar. I try to not make mistakes.  I’m fairly sequestered after the first two years of trying to do my job and support an office full of agents too. The bosses put me in an office on the 3rd floor in the Novato office, that I share with a couple of other women (agents) who get me, and understand my job requires concentration most of the time.

My job, is the Marketing Coordinator for Bradley Real Estate. We have about 450 agents and 13 offices in Marin, Sonoma and Napa. When I started, we had 9 offices and 250 agents. It’s a hands-on, detail-oriented job, which does not really come natural for me. Anyone that has ever worked with me knows I am a big picture thinker and usually leave the details to people who are better suited to that work. The Bradley’s gave me a job when there were no jobs though, so I was determined to not just do the job but also find better ways to do it.

On heavy advertising weeks I can build up to 12-13 pages of ads (in 3 days), which could be up to 125 ads.   In addition to building the ads for four newspapers, I write copy, I proofread, I correct images—or reject them if needed. Occasionally I talk to agents about different aspects of their marketing. I also read every MLS listing and correct any issues they may have that could get the agent fined, or Bradley Real Estate hauled into court. (As well as spelling and grammar errors.)
What I like best about my job is that my bosses let me do it. They give me guidance when I need it of course. They trust me to make good decisions and they trust me to be there. Because they have this trust in me, I try to not let them down. In almost 5 years, I have called in sick twice, both times for no more than two days. Once when my shoulder froze and another time when I had a terrible virus. I’ve left early a few times, but only if all my work is done.
Anyway, last night at the Bradley Holiday Party—a swanky affair at the Marin Country Club, I was awarded Employee of the Year. I have to say that I was surprised because I really try to fly under the radar. They brought me up on a stage with glaring lights in my face to announce this news and all I could think was – boy they sure keep a good secret. So I pretend slugged my boss, Jason, in the arm.
It really is nice to be thanked for working hard. It’s nice to be noticed since many of those 450 agents never see me and don’t know who I am when they are looking right at me. I try not to make a big noise, so I am generally forgettable from holiday party to holiday party I find myself saying, “Oh no, we’ve met a few times.”
If anyone out there is an employer, you should take a lesson from mine. Let people do their jobs, and say an occasional thank you in one form or another. A good employer lets people build on their strengths and lets them innovate to keep up with the growth.
Rob, Melissa & Jason

So, I want to thank my employers, Rob and Melissa Bradley and Jason Lytz for letting me be me, with my less than round edges, and my forthrightness, and my guard-dog personality. I appreciate them too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Black Lives Matter

My credentials:
  • Daughter of a police officer, great-grand-daughter of a police officer.
  • Have dated or been friends with many police officers.
  • Mother of mixed race (adult) child former member of USMC who served in Iraq.
  • Aunt of mixed race children.
  • Caucasian
  • Champion of freedom and human rights in all countries.
  • Witness to passive and overt racism, oppression, segregation and bigotry every single day.
  • Human Being
HUGE DISCLAIMER: I do not hate the police- in addition to family members, I have had several friends in law enforcement. But I don’t put anyone on a pedestal. I have known plenty of bad police. Plenty of police that thought nothing of beating the crap out of someone with a Billy Club, or molesting hookers because they were hookers. So I’m not in denial about the black community and crime and I’m not in denial about the white racist police.
I bet a few of you have been waiting for me to weigh in on this subject. I needed to wait until I had more information and until I could no longer stand what I was reading in the news and on social networks. Until I could write without anger.
Upfront: Looting is NOT protesting. Protesting is legal and an American right. Looting is illegal and stupid… mass hysteria never helps anything.
I know people (I’m sorry to say) that say “black” like I say “child molester”. To them being black is a disease, an inferior disease that thank God they weren’t born with. God… thank GOD because we all know he didn’t intend to make anyone black.  Having a black president has unfortunately widened the divide and increased the hate 10 fold. No one ever says, the President is half white. Never.  People seem to embrace their racism, and own it—“I hate blacks” they say. They call black people stupid and lazy, monkeys and apes, and of course they are all on welfare-- and don’t they know about birth control? They should all be spayed, like cats and dogs. I mean seriously, if you are dirt fucking poor why would you keep having kids? They keep playing the race card, when will they get over the whole slavery thing?  We haven’t had slaves for over 200 years.  (That would be incorrect.)  Or, I’m not racist but if they act like animals…
So, I decided to tackle some of these statements. And, I know- going in, I will not change one stupid racist mind. But, this is for my son, my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews and anyone who would like to support the fact that we all bleed red and the color of our skin should not matter. And if we don’t wake up—and start treating people right, we are no better than any other country who subjects their citizens to various forms of tyranny. We might as well be the Middle East.
I read an article called How Often are Unarmed Black Men Gunned Down by Police? in the Daily Kos that was mind boggling. I’ll recap a bit here for you—but you should read the whole thing.
One source, in a report called "Operation Ghetto Storm" says that in 2012 that of the 739 "Justified" shootings shown above from 2012, 313 of them were Black.  44% of them or 136, were unarmed. 27% of them (83) were claimed by Law Enforcement to have gun at the time of the shooting, but that could not be later confirmed or the "gun" was in fact, a toy or other non-lethal object. 20% of them (62) were confirmed to have been armed with a gun, knife or cutting tool.
This report, which was gathered by searching media reports, obituaries and even facebook pages of deceased persons includes the following table as an example.

The report goes into much further detail- but here is where I want to interject my own thoughts.
I have a feeling that Officer Wilson was afraid of black people when he shot Michael Brown. I say that because of statements he made during his Grand Jury testimony—and well, his actions on that fateful day. But also because I see it in everyday life. I walk a lot. And I noticed that when white people see a group of black teens or Hispanic teens walking, they cross the street. But not if it’s a group of white teens. Personally, I think all teens have obnoxious potential, but when I stay on the same side of the street, this is what I hear almost all of the time. “Cute dog. Can I pet your dog?” Scary right? Big bad black teens. Or they say nothing. They keep their heads down and have no eye contact, because that’s what they have been taught. Don’t even look at white people… it makes them mad.  Now if you think I’m exaggerating let me tell you that many years ago I heard someone say when talking about black men, “You should see how they look at my daughter.” The truth is- everyone looked at her daughter that way because she was a looker, and she turned heads. That is a whole different problem—for another day. The difference though, when a police officer a “peace officer,” is afraid, the dynamic changes. Scared policemen are one of two things, they are either bullies, or nervous Nellies. Neither one is going to make them better at their job.
I’ve written before that I don’t think it’s always about race. And while I still think that is true I understand a little more now than I did at the time I wrote that and now I see how racism has permeated just about every walk of life. So it’s no wonder things come to a boiling point—and spill over from time to time. How could it not? Even if it doesn’t appear to be about race- I can see where it would almost always feel like it is.
I keep seeing this stupid meme floating around the internet about how white people didn’t protest when OJ Simpson got off. But the truth is there were marches, non-violent protests and certainly grand disappointment through-out Nicole Browns and Ron Goodman’s communities. The case was divided racially, and sadly, it’s because of that, that I believe justice was not served. How these racial divides started is history. Our American history that we often sweep under the carpet and try to sugar coat. I’m particularly appalled by the following things I’ve heard people say. “Not all slaves were treated poorly. Or  “Slavery ended 129 years ago, get over it.”  People have this “Gone with the Wind” view of slavery and the white folks loving their slaves (though whipping them if needed) and said slaves loving their white folk. Fictional half-wits, feet shuffling, numb-skulled, down right stupid black people. How would we feel if almost every portrayal of white people was like that? For 100 years – for 200 years? Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmons) wrote Huckleberry Finn and created a black character with honor and wisdom and heart. While the era he was writing about used words which we no longer find acceptable, his intent was not to demean when he used those terms. His intent was to enlighten his generation of bigots. He took some heat for that.
Bigotry isn’t just about black people. I see the same issues happening with Hispanic immigrants, and indeed, some Hispanics who were born here—since unless you ask for a birth certificate, like they did with President Obama, you really have no idea where someone is born. Interesting enough, this never happens with white immigrants. There are 1000s of Russian and Irish immigrants (some illegal) in San Francisco; I’ve never heard a soul complain or request a birth certificate.
In the historical, semi-guide book “The Cool Gray City of Love” Gary Kamiya speaks of the hatred towards the Chinese “in 1877 when more than 500 [white] men stormed San Francisco’s Chinatown from two directions and were beaten back by two phalanxes of policeman, one on Pine and one on Broadway.”
Five years after that episode the first significant immigration law, the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted severely limiting Chinese Immigration.  An expression used at the time went like this: “We hate the Negroes because they are citizens and we hate the Chinese because they won’t be.” (Early Chinese settlers had no desire to be American Citizens.)  
Earlier this year, over 200 white protesters stopped busses full of Illegal immigrants (mostly children) who were being transported for processing to be deported. These unaccompanied illegal immigrants, predominantly from Central American countries, such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were fleeing their country for one reason—they didn’t want to die. While the protests were non-violent, the anger was evident to me. The protesters didn’t even want the deportation process to be in their city because they were positive they would be over-run by illegal children.
People have been using the term “White Privilege” and many whites go into defensive mode when they hear that but its origins are legitimate. Common replies to that “accusation” are “I have worked hard all my life.” “I have never asked for a handout” – the point is being missed.  White privilege is not about how hard anyone works. White privilege is about the fact that white skin is valued more than black skin. White schools are better, white kids have more opportunities; fewer whites are arrested for the same crimes as blacks. And it goes farther than that—but that is a different article too. 
When I lived in North Carolina it took me a while to realize why there was a private school on every corner (across from the church on every opposite corner). That was how the South initially (and in my opinion, still) got around desegregation. I worked with a black woman who had a college degree and was married to a banker, lived in a good neighborhood and wanted her kids to go to the predominantly white school because that’s where the better teachers worked, and that was where the  most money was spent on education. This was a big topic of conversation on talk radio when I lived in North Carolina. A very heated topic because whites did not want blacks in their schools.

A week after Michael Brown was shot to death my son posted this on his facebook page. It made me proud.

Racism is a plague. It’s so deeply rooted that many of us don’t even know we are being racist. I said black person to someone once, and there was a black person within ear-shot and the person I was talking to shushed me. So let me be clear. You can say black to a black person. It will be another at least 100 years before we are color blind. If you can’t start talking to black people and Hispanic people and Asian people, things will never change.
This is not about Ferguson, this is not about Michael Brown. This is about disproportionate statistics and reality regarding crime and people of color.
From a ProPublica article by by Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones and Eric Sagara : The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.
And finally- today’s news from the New York Grand Jury to not prosecute a white policeman, who put an illegal chokehold on a black man for illegally selling cigarettes. It’s starting to look like it’s okay to kill people for stealing cigars or selling contraband, it’s starting to look like it’s okay to kill a kid in a hoodie that looks scary. Even resisting arrest—should not be an excuse to shoot someone when there are several other options to knock him or her on their ass.  It’s starting to look like white Americans would rather shoot someone than use the legal system to punish them for their crimes.
When my son was here last week he taught me how to say hi in Chinese. I was so excited I couldn’t wait to try it. I couldn’t believe I never knew, growing up in San Francisco. He picked up Arabic when he was in Iraq, and speaks it fairly well. Whenever he hears people speaking Arabic and it’s not a private conversation, he always says hello and a few pleasantries. Nice right? Bridging the gap—making friends. He has friends from all walks of life, and I’m so glad that both his dad and I were able to surround him with many different cultures and let him learn—we all bleed red.
I am calling out racists. I’ve been doing it for a few years. It’s not right to judge people by the color of their skin – whether you are morally guided by a religion or intellectually guided you should know for a fact that racism in any fashion is wrong.
Do you think you are a racist?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Veterans Day 2014 ~ Let's Do Something

I'm posting this a little early this year. My niece asked me yesterday to help her with an essay about why we appreciate our veterans.  I started out by renaming it "Why We Should Appreciate our Veterans." And I explained to her that not everyone does appreciate them. I wasn’t going to write about Veteran’s Day this year at all, because I feel like I’m beating a dead horse and most of the people that read my blog agree with me anyway.  But then I happened across an article in the Washington Times that made me realize I can’t speak up enough when it comes to our veterans.

The article I’m referring to was about Marin County’s radical, conservative talk show personality Michael Savage.  Savage was quoted as saying:

“I am so sick and tired of everyone with their complaints about PTSD, depression. Everyone wants their hand held, and a check -- a government check. What are you, the only generation that had PTSD? The only generation that's depressed? I'm sick of it. I can't take the celebration of weakness and depression.

See, I was raised a little differently. I was raised to fight weakness. I was raised to fight pain. I was raised to fight depression. Not to give into it. Not to cave into it and cry like a little baby in bed. "Boo-hoo-hoo. Boo-hoo-hoo." Everyone has depression in their life. Everyone has sickness and sadness and disease. And loss of relatives. And loss of career. Everyone has depression in their life. But if the whole nation is told, "boo-hoo-hoo, come and get a medication, come and get treatment, talk about mental illness." You know what you wind up with? You wind up with Obama in the White House and liars in every phase of the government. That's what you wind up with. It's a weak, sick, nation. A weak, sick, broken nation. And you need men like me to save the country. You need men to stand up and say stop crying like a baby over everything. Stand up already. Stop telling me how sick you are and sad you are. Talk about the good things in your life.

When have you last heard that? Oh, everyone's holding their hand. "Oh, welcome to Good Morning America, sir. You almost committed suicide, how interesting. Please tell us your story." Maybe a young child who's on the edge can commit suicide. What a country. No wonder we're being laughed at around the world. No wonder ISIS can defeat our military. Take a look at that. Take a look at that, why people aren't even getting married anymore to have children. They don't even have the guts to raise a child. The men are so weak, and so narcissistic, all they want to do is have fun. Bunch of losers. Just go have a brewski and look at the 49ers, you idiot, you. They won't even get married, won't have a child, it takes too much of a man to do that. What a country. You're not a man, you're a dog. A dog raises babies better than most American men do.”

I was so disgusted by his remarks I had to walk away from my computer for the evening. Granted—he is mentally ill. Granted—he is a hate monger, a bigot and an all-around creep, who has never served a day of his life in the military. Who has never seen combat and who has lived a very cushy life with his two Marin County homes, one San Francisco home, private security and oh yeah, lots of money. He’s such a despicable human being that I am embarrassed he lives in Marin or even the Bay Area—but he does.
Savage often makes ridiculous claims, such as:  “99% of autism cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out.”  
In 2009 Savage was banned from the UK on May 5, 2009, then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that Savage was on a list of individuals banned from entering the United Kingdom as he is "considered to be engaging in unacceptable behavior by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence.”
I just want to tell him one thing. All those veterans, from all those wars, paved the way for your rotten mouth to spew your homophobic, xenophobic, bigoted, ignorant, vile and utterly ridiculous thoughts on our airways.  And to the people who listen to Savage—shame on you. 
Originally named Soldiers Heart (Civil War 1861-1865) and also known as Shell Shock, Combat Fatigue, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)  and finally PTS (Post Traumatic Stress), dropping the “disorder” to help end the stigma. PTS is nothing new, and nothing to scoff about. It can be mild or severe and as debilitating as loss of limb. Getting out of bed can be a struggle, remembering to take your meds, or go to the VA Hospital next to impossible. Families are torn apart from lack of support or understanding. This is not a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of thing. No one wants to live in this hell and that is why so many with PTS have committed suicide.
Twenty-two veterans a day, one every 80 minutes, commits suicide. Studies (National Center for PTSD Vol.20) indicate that “10-18% of combat troops serving in OEF/OIF have PTSD following deployment, and the prevalence does not diminish over time.”
If you care about our veterans you’ll stop the blame game and do something to help a veteran.  Politicians may have made this mess, but the American people have the ability to fix it.  Be the solution. Show your appreciation to those who have sacrificed not only years of their lives, but for some their limbs, their sight, and for so many their own peace of mind. Don’t just thank them for their service, show them you care.  
Here are some ways you can help in Marin and the greater Bay Area, by donating, volunteering or guiding a veteran to any of the following:

The Pathway Home  (OEF, OIF Veterans with PTS and TBI)

*If you are outside of the Bay Area a simple Google search of “veteran’s resources” in your area will bring up several website.s Check them first to make sure they are legit- if you are not sure- feel free to send me the link and I’ll research it for you.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Don't Just Sit There

Have you ever tried to raise money for a good cause?  It’s tough right?  People don’t want to see pictures of starving children, children with flies on them, bald children, women with breast cancer scars, people in wheelchairs, veterans with missing limbs, veterans with burn scars so bad they are unrecognizable, or homeless people, or mentally ill people. You can barely get people to give up a NEW toy at Christmas for Toys for Tots… I know, I’ve tried!
When my son joined the Marine Corps, I became deeply involved with an organization called Marine Parents raised money through a variety of ways, but it was always a struggle. The founder and many of us volunteers worked day and night to be able to send care packages to deployed Marines, help the wounded warriors and their families, provide support and much needed information to families of all Marines from boot camp through veteran status and provide support for Gold Star Families—you know who they are, right?
When asked to join the Board of Directors and head the fundraising and development aspect of the organization, I learned real fast how quickly people can forget to call you back, not respond to your emails or letters or just flat out say no. Support for the troops does not necessarily equate to SUPPORT for the troops. All that flag waving… is meaningless unless we take care of our troops.
When the recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge appeared on the horizon, I could not have been more thrilled. A little understood, fatal, hideous disease, which hasn’t received much attention since Lou Gehrig was “struck out” with it in 1939 and subsequently died in 1941, at the young age of 37. It killed my dad in 1991 too.
So little is understood about this disease that they really don’t know how or why people get it. What they do know is that military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS. There is no single test for diagnosis, and at this time, there is only one drug, that may prolong life by a few months. At the time my dad was diagnosed with ALS, there was no drug. In 23 years, they have created one drug that might give someone an extra two months.
For a few weeks the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took Facebook, YouTube and Twitter by storm and managed to raise an unprecedented 100 million dollars. And it did so because it was different—something almost anyone could do, and it was something people who couldn’t afford to donate, could do to help raise awareness. Wouldn’t everyone want to participate? Well, some people don’t want to help-- some people who care less about humanity and more about their own lives. Some people who are too lazy to do their homework before they decided something isn’t worth their time. I know of one person that called the ALS campaign “crap.” (She was promptly unfriended.) Some people started posting untrue tax records for the ALS organization trying to debunk the organization and the Ice Bucket Campaign.
Across the board—not just ALS, but with Childhood Cancer, Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Cancer of the Prostrate, Colon Cancer… and that is just some of the cancers not even all the diseases. For everything we don’t understand—for everything we don’t have a cure for we need funding.
There is no shortage of causes for people to participate in and if something isn’t your cause- I get it- I really do—but don’t slam other causes or all causes because it makes you feel better about not giving a shit.  
A couple of things I learned while I was fund raising on a grand scale was corporations are interested in numbers. They want to know how much traffic your website gets, how much money you get from grants, how you plan to raise the next 10,000 and then the next 10,000. They want to see official tax records and they want to know the percentage of money spent on administrative services.  In the case of medical charities, we would want to know the percentage that goes to actual research. So if you are going to go after an organization for a large grant- have your ducks lined up. These aren’t bad things for us to understand either—in order to get the maximum bang for our buck or our sweat.
I also learned that people run from scary stuff. People didn’t want to hear about troops with missing limbs or blinded or brain damaged… because if they thought about it, they would have to admit that it might happen to their loved one. Cancer is scary, MS is scary, homeless people are really scary… And, the mentally ill… forget it, no one wants to even think about them. But, we have to—because our society is becoming immune to humanity and human frailty. What people say and what they do, don’t match. We are not doing enough for each other. The days of feeding a stranger are no more- yet fifty years ago, that was the norm. Now if a hungry person knocks on our door they are likely to be shot.
The ALS Ice Bucket campaign may have seemed like a gimmick to you- but gimmicks work better than guilt. And gimmicks work better then screaming.  Sadly- many people don’t want to confront reality. They want everything to be pretty  (or fun) so their denial can’t be broken. The ice bucket challenge was a huge success. It may not be long term, like some of the walks or runs, but as far as awareness goes—it got everyone between the ages of 13 and 80 to think about ALS and I would call that a successful campaign.  
If you think there is nothing you can do, you couldn’t be more wrong. Here is a list of a few different way to raise funds for a good cause.  If you can come up with something new, that isn’t dangerous then explore it as an option. Check your charity in one of the charity watchdog websites provided at the end of this article.

·         Walk/Run-a-thon
·         Ride -a-thon
·         Bowl-a-thon
·         Golf Tournament
·         Bazaar
·         Spaghetti Feed
·         Crab Feed
·         Sidewalk Sale
·         Casino Night
·         Bake Sale

If you are stuck for worthy causes, just open your eyes. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. You are going to see pictures of bald children, children with tubes, and dark circles and maybe even some children that have passed away. Don’t look away. Don’t pretend that if you don’t look it doesn’t exist.  It does – and they need all the help they can get.  Do something.

Helpful Links:  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin's Flight From Earth

He was part of our identity—all of Marin really, but mostly those of us that went to school with him. I went to school with him but we weren’t friends or buddies. He was friends with my friends and I knew who he was because I knew who everyone was; he might have known who I was—we never talked about it later. And later he worked with my boyfriend in Sausalito, and after that I became a good friend of his brother Todd. We knew each other. He was Toads little brother and I was Cable Car Katie, a name Todd gave me since that was my usual mode of transportation. We didn’t hang out unless we were both visiting Todd at his bar on Chestnut Street in the Marina. And then, we were quiet, polite, and probably thirsty.  I waited on him when I was a waitress in Sausalito. I left him alone- and he appreciated it. He was an introvert when he wasn’t being an extrovert.

I was in a management class about 20 years ago in Livermore, California. I might as well have been a 1000 miles away from Marin it was so different there. The terrain, the people, the smell… nothing was the same. The man who was facilitating the class asked all of us to write down something that most people didn’t know about us.  I never write anything of consequence when asked to do this because if people don’t know things about you they probably shouldn’t—so I wrote down I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH ROBIN WILLIAMS.

When we read them aloud, the facilitator’s head snapped to me… and he said, “That’s what I wrote too.”

He had gone to College of Marin with Robin; I had gone to Redwood High with him.

Marin County has had many stars, a lot of favorite sons and daughters. Some spent only a short time here and we claim them anyway… like greedy little grubbers who want all the credit for other people’s success.  Writers, musicians and actors often find Marin County amenable to their needs. We don’t chase after them or ask for autographs, sometimes we nod, but mostly we let them alone and maybe that is the attraction.

Robin always had a melancholy layer just below the surface. If you ever met him, you would know that. And like many people that suffer from depression, reason escaped him, logical thought was stuck in some deep dark pocket of his brain and what surfaced was the last resort, the last decision he would ever have to make.

He was part of our identity—in some weird subconscious way. So the fallout of his demise – his purposeful leap to the next world, has been hard. It’s taken a toll on so many people – some that never met him but loved him for his art. And those of us that knew him, though not well, we are left with an empty feeling, and ask, “How could you leave this soon?”

He’ll be part of the Redwood High Memorial Wall now, a wall I was just reading all the names on last week. I was thinking I should add my little brother and now there is one more, and College of Marin’s Memorial Wall too. Maybe they’ll have a plaque at some bar he went to once or twice, and the along the Dipsea Trail. He won't be forgotten anytime soon-- but what killed him will be, it always is.

I wish, I know we all do, that he would have picked up a phone.



Sunday, August 3, 2014

While I Was Walking...

Life is strange sometimes. I could have easily– no, more than easily-- it was almost a given--turned out to be a bitter old woman.  I might have been the lovely Miss Haversham, cobwebs and all. Instead, due to some fluke, some twist of fate and perhaps a bump on the head,  I have become more compassionate in my mature years. This surprised me, so I had to do some double checking to make sure I hadn’t turned into a Marin County left wing, hippy dippy who has lost touch with all reality. When the two completely different subjects I wanted to write about converged, I took it as a sign from Buddha or my late mother,  who keeps an eye on things, (okay that's dippy) that I should sit down and try to explain to everyone what I was thinking about all year long, and why I couldn't focus their conversations about vacation locations or new TV shows.
Cyberbullies and Homeless People

Sometime last year or maybe the year before I made the mistake of starting to read the comment sections on public blogs and newspaper articles.  I was stunned at how vile people could be. Most of whom use an alias but some, so sure that their responses are acceptable behavior, use their real names. Some people are just bullies who would never say anything to anyone’s face, but feel safe doing so in cyberspace. The attacks shocked me and I am not easily shocked… in fact I can be frightfully candid when the situation calls for it… but some of these situations did not call for anything other than compassion. I wanted to write to these publications and blast these bullies for being bullies… but that didn’t seem right either. I knew I couldn’t shame them, so I just sat on it for a while, waiting for the urge (to verbally smack them upside the head and make them see how puny their brains were), to dissipate. I tried not reading the comments, but when the two issues converged, when the hideous comments written were about the one other thing I was feeling passionate about and writing about—well, I had to act.

But, let me digress for just a minute here--I started walking around my little town sometime in April of 2013. First a mile, then two and then three, four, five and six miles some days. Around July 2013, I ran into an old friend, my old roommate from the 70s who I hadn’t seen for over 30 years and we started walking together with our dogs and talking about everything including our shared shock of how people view other peoples misfortunes with such disdain. I realized then, that if I was out of step with the world so was she, so at least there were two of us. My wheels started turning.

It was on my alone walks though, with just my dog, that I started noticing a lot more homeless people than ever before. They were camping out in public instead of the open space areas. Small areas of trees next to shopping centers, or schools or churches, usually near a creek but always near foot traffic. Some of them had carts full of their belongings, some had only backpacks, some had built lean-tos, some looked spaced out, and some looked drunk, some looked crazy; some looked depressed (Who wouldn’t be?). A few had dogs. One lady hung out at the laundry mat in the afternoon until it closed, one guy parked his cart and his collection of I don’t know what  on one of the main streets and greeted everyone that walked by like he was the mayor. Their faces were dirty and wrinkled beyond their ages and most of them were missing some or all of their teeth. Their hair was matted and yes, they smelled bad. I didn’t see one person who could have gone and gotten a job that day. They needed more help than that.

During those first few months of walking, the weather was still warm. I found myself looking for them though, making sure everyone made it through the night. A seed was planting.

While all that was happening, a debate started hitting the town council meetings, the bloggersphere and newspapers about affordable housing. From what I read, the majority of people in Marin County were not pro affordable housing. Some cited valid reasons like high density and traffic and others plain and simple said if you can’t afford to live here you should not live here. Others still, said they didn’t want the riff-raft in their neighborhoods. They didn’t want blacks or Mexicans moving in from other blighted areas (Like Vallejo). Wait a minute I told myself… I can’t afford to live here! I barely get by and I have 2.5 jobs.  I don’t smoke or drink or take vacations. How can these folks ever get back on their feet without some help?

As I watched the debates unfold, I started making mental notes of things that sounded off to me. The issue was three fold or four fold and the information was one fold. My confusion was compounded by the fact that many people I know and respect were coming down on the anti-affordable housing side and I couldn’t figure out why exactly.  I knew two things. 1. Marin has an abundance of homeless people (many people with children) and 2. Marin and the Bay Area in general has an extreme shortage of apartments and homes for rent. (At any price.) The rental market, which I am very familiar with because one of my 2.5 jobs is a licensed Realtor, is off the charts this year. I leased one three-bedroom two-bath home in San Rafael for over $3,200 in one week. Another, in Novato, in less than two weeks.

I started digging for facts. What I found online was not surprising since it backed up what I saw while I was out walking. But, what I saw while walking was worse than reading about it. It was real, it was human. It was inhumane. We care more about homeless animals than people in this county. That’s what I saw. That is what I see every day.

The First Fold:

According to a report by the Marin Independent Journal, the homeless biennial count in January of 2013 was 933, which was down from the previous years. However, the precariously housed, people that may be facing eviction, or are living in overcrowded homes or couch surfing, numbers have increased to 4,388, up from 4,179 in 2011.  

The report continued. “Diane Linn, director of Ritter Center in San Rafael, which provides services to the homeless and working poor, said that number continues to rise because of economic pressures and a lack of local affordable housing.

We are sorely short of affordable housing options. There are no single-room housing occupancy options," Linn said. "It's bad for the working poor out there. It's getting harder and harder."

(*Linn is no longer the director. Peter Lee has been the director since 2014)

 The Second Fold: Plan Bay Area, ABAG, and SB375:

Plan Bay Area is a state mandated, long-range housing and transportation plan designed to reduce pollution and greenhouse gasses.

ABAG:  Formed in 1961, the Association of Bay Area Governments is the comprehensive regional planning agency and Council of Governments (COG) for the nine counties and 101 cities and towns of the San Francisco Bay region. ABAG has limited statutory authority and requires major city and county votes for action. The concern of ABAG is long-term growth, big picture, sustainability and conservation.

Signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, SB375 is the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008; a State of California law targeting greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles.  The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) sets goals for the reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions. Passenger vehicles are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions statewide, accounting for 30% of total emissions. SB 375 therefore provides key support to achieve the goals of AB 32.

The Third Fold -Citizen Marin: Citizen Marin is comprised of the leaders of neighborhood and community groups from throughout Marin County who are wrestling with the demands of the Sustainable Communities Strategies and SB375. They struggle with the concept of overbuilding Marin County with affordable housing like high-density buildings in otherwise single-family home neighborhoods. They cite issues like crime, traffic and simply maintaining “our small town quaintness”. 

Citizens Marin group disagree with the scientific conclusions and contend that the density mandate of 30 units per square acre is too high (20 is acceptable) and that affordable housing (apartment complexes) will increase the crime rate.

I could go on and on here about the debate—but I’m really only interested in the human element of the whole situation. If I have learned nothing else in my 62 years, it’s that you have to care about other human beings. I see homeless people and want to help, but I’m not sure how. I give them money; sometimes I buy blankets and distribute them. I have made sandwiches and brought them to people, but all the little things I do does nothing to answer the greater problem.

To help me understand the greater problems regarding affordable housing I made an appointment to talk to Mary Kay Sweeney, the Executive Director of Homeward Bound of Marin.  Homeward Bound is Marin County’s chief provider of shelter and residential services for homeless families and individuals, serving approximately 1,400 people per year in 14 inter-related residential programs. No one understands homeless and the working poor better than Mary Kay Sweeney and the people that work tirelessly at Homeward Bound of Marin.

Mary Kay Sweeney replied to my email request to meet and was gracious enough to spend more than an hour with me explaining the homeless issue in Marin and answering some of the questions I had regarding affordable housing. Many of my questions were based on citizen responses to online blogs and hearsay information from colleagues. I wanted to confirm my suspicions that some of the facts people were sharing in cyberspace (and over lunches) were complete or partial fabrications.

One of the responses I read on the Novato Patch –replying to an article on affordable housing was this one by someone who calls himself/herself Bubbasixpack. (I’m sure he/she means beer and not abs)

Bubbasixpack July 09, 2013 at 04:33 PM

There are lot of empty houses in Richmond, but they're empty because they moved here when invited by the developers who couldn't fill the places they built in Novato. Fill up the empty housing before we build more. Don't like where you live? Too bad. Stay in school and out of jail. It worked for me.

I asked Mary Kay – specifically if she was importing people from other cities to fill affordable housing units. She shook her head slowly- adamantly no.  I felt she had heard that question before- and she was weary of it.  “No”, she said, “in fact, it’s the other way around; since there is little or no affordable housing here we sometimes look in neighboring counties for our transitional people.”

Bubba’s comment was one of the milder ones.

I read everything I could get my hands on regarding this issue- but the most important research I did was right on the street. I started putting dollars bills in my fanny pack that I use when walking the dog. As Toshi and I walked around town and ran into homeless people, I started looking them in the eye and saying hi. Just hi. They all wanted to pet Toshi. No one asked me for a dime. A few times, I made sandwiches and delivered them but mostly I just started giving them a buck or two when I could. The most important thing was that I said hello. They were no longer invisible-- to me. Or scary. Or crazy. Did they need baths? Yes. Did they need meds? Some did. Would they spend my lousy dollar on cigarettes or booze? Maybe. All of them, every single one of them thanked me and said God bless you. Some told me their story. Some didn't want to talk but all were polite. All of them pet Toshi and got some Toshi love.

Homelessness is a costly issue. There are multitudes of problems that arise from the homeless people including wild fires started at encampments, defecating and urinating in streams (or in Open Space areas) littering near streams where many of them camp out. Transporting to hospitals due to exposure to weather extremes or overdoses (on an already unhealthy body), hospital expenses, arrests for loitering, illegal camping, etc. I’m not sure but I think there has to be a better way to manage this issue.

You might think that everyone that is homeless is a junkie or drunk or someone who refuses to take their meds—but you would be wrong.  Many people just like you and I are just one or two paychecks away from homelessness. Anyone with a minimum wage job or even slightly above would be in real trouble if they lost a week of work due to illness. Many low-income people work three jobs to stay alive in Marin. If you lose your job and your home, getting into a one-bedroom one-bath apartment in Marin County (providing you have excellent credit) can easily cost 5000.00. In order to afford the least expensive studio in Marin you need to make over $20.00 per hour.

Many argue, why wouldn’t people go where they can afford to live? There are several reasons. Many of Marin’s homeless are from Marin- some from one time affluent families in Tiburon or Ross. They stay because their families are here, and occasionally some help them out, and because they are familiar with the terrain. I can’t imagine being homeless and camping out and having to go to a strange town where I didn’t know the safe places to go.

About 9% of the homeless in Marin County are veterans.  Some suffer from PTSD or TBI. Many suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. I’ve run into to a few of these vets while walking Toshi, when I am wearing my USMC sweatshirt. They always ask me if I was a Marine. No, I tell them. My son is. They tell me then, that they were Navy or Army or they just say Semper Fi and I know the rest. “Thank him for his service,” they say. Then I guiltily thank them for theirs—because clearly, our whole country did not.

As the weather turned bitterly cold, I found myself driving around in the morning and taking inventory of the homeless people I knew. They had their regular spots and if there weren’t where they were supposed to be I worried.  I knew some wouldn’t make it through winter. That was a sad fact.

In this 2013 report on homelessness in Marin County – the statistics are eye opening. In one of the wealthiest counties in the nation—we have a ridiculous number of homeless and almost five times that precariously housed individuals.

I’m not sure when Marin became so full of itself. Marin was originally inhabited by the Miwok Indians and built on the backs of ranchers, fishermen and blue-collar workers. In the early 1900s, Tiburon, one of this country’s wealthiest cities, was a blue-collar railroad town, with cargo trains running daily. The wealthy people that did live here were largely philanthropic and donated to a variety of causes without fanfare. Most of us that grew up here, most, not at all wealthy, but some who grew up in wealthy families too, find this snobbery and lack of compassion disgusting.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I do believe if there were more people like Mary Kay Sweeny of Homeward Bound in the world, that this problem could be solved tout de suite. She seems to have compassion, ability to solve problems and implement processes for long-term success. Why city leaders across Marin wouldn’t want to help her expand or copy her methodology (without quid pro quo) I don’t know. Politicians it appears are only in it for their votes and don’t really care about anyone who isn’t making it to the polls.

I can’t do anything about the bullies. They are stupid. They are not worth my time. The only thing I can do because I am not a millionaire, is help the organizations that actually are doing something, by either spreading the truth about homelessness thereby changing the way some people think of the homeless or donating my time and money to places like Homeward Bound or Ritter House and teaming with other organizations that raise money for homeless veterans. Some people want to stay angry, I won't waste my time on them.  

Across the nation, there are homeless people who need help and across the nation, there are not enough facilities to help them. Every year- every damn year, we find homeless people frozen to death or somehow killed by the elements. It seems like a no-brainer to me. If it’s fear it could be you… all the more reason to do something. I don’t know where the anger towards these folks comes from. Oh yeah… your tax dollars. Well- in that case remember the veterans… the ones we owe EVERYTHING to. Remember the sweat of all the underpaid workers in the country that keep food on your table, watch your kids, clean your houses, change your oil, rotate your tires, cut your lawns, make your fast food, work at your favorite retail outlet, or work at any one of a million restaurants or bars you frequent. Because when they lose their jobs, (or even lose work due to illness), they are in jeopardy of losing their homes.

I’m still walking. I’m still handing out dollars or sandwiches and in the winter I’ll go to Goodwill and other places and buy blankets to give away. It’s not enough. People have to care or this problem will not go away.

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