Great Expectations and Grim Reality (WITH APOLOGIES TO CHARLES DICKENS)

As a school principal, I once had a conversation with a parent from Ukraine. His child was in my office because he had refused the bus driver’s direction to sit down when the bus was in motion. The boy showed he had mastered at least some of the English language when he swore at the bus driver.

The father was incensed that his son was in trouble. After all, he asserted, the United States was a place where people were strong, assertive and independent. His son didn’t like where he was sitting and wanted to change places. He was just (literally!) standing up for himself, the way any American would. He knew this was the American way, he said, because he watched Westerns on television.

I like to think the discussion that followed led him to disavow his badly skewed view of American Society, but the view of the U.S. society as a collection of self-centered, non-cooperative individuals does persist.

Our current crisis requires cooperation and concern for others, as well as ourselves. We are all connected. No one person or group can survive long-term if we act primarily as individuals.

We do have great expectations of our society. We often claim that Americans can solve any problem, no matter how difficult: but this is true only if we work together. The failure to do so leads to grim reality.

Stay healthy!



If you are like me, you probably have things you say when you don’t know what to say. For example, I went through a phase where I commented “It is what it is” to almost everything. Of course it is what it is, it can’t be what it isn’t. I realize the phrase has a deeper meaning, but in the shorthand of today, that deeper meaning is usually not conveyed nor understood. We’re left with a shallow saying rather than true communication.

Language is always changing and evolving. Context changes rapidly and that affects meaning. One of my ‘favorite’ sayings illustrates that point- ‘the exception proves the rule.” On the face of it, the phrase is not logical. But, the meaning of the word ‘proves’ has morphed over time. It used to mean ‘tests’, but now we tend to use it to mean ‘support’.

Maybe next time I don’t know what to say, I should remember that “Silence is golden” – and offer a sympathetic nod or hand pat.



My husband, William B. James, a talented thinker, teacher and writer, passed away on September 2, 2014. For the past five years, I’ve left his now ten-year-old laptop computer on the desk in the room he used as an office. The computer could not be linked to the wi fi printer, the programs could no longer be updated and the screen was beginning to show that watery look that indicates it will not last much longer. Most of the time, Bill chose to write on yellow legal tablets. I have placed those in storage, but there was one short draft that was on his computer. I saved it to a flash drive. It appears below. It was good to hear his voice again.


For me, liberal means that we are committed to meeting the basic needs of life for our citizens. This means food on the table and a roof over our heads and then a civil society where education, work and free communication is valued as a way of life. If your first interest is your racial or ethnic group’s advancement, then you are not a liberal; you are a conservative. You are retreating back to your racialized group for comfort and support. Usually it is similar to your family in culture, religion and language. There is a predictable loyalty transference especially if your family has been good to you. This is understandable in hard times but it is not liberal. A liberal is more bold. Liberalism requires that you reach out beyond your ethnic or racial group and make alliances for a better society.

It may make sense to retreat to ones’ own racial group in hard times. New immigrants groups have a long history of racializing their identity and grouping together but this, once again, is not liberalism.

It requires you to be able to think of the citizens of your society as a family when it comes to basic human needs. if you see them as only competing individuals, then liberalism is impossible for you.

William B. James April 15,1942- September 2, 2014

Words Matter- Agreements and Picture Books

Agreement vs Deal

If I were given the power to delete one word from public discussion it would be “Deal”. The dictionary definitions of deal are fairly straight forward. In addition to “distribute”, “to have to do”, “to administer” , “to consider or attend to”, there is “to do business, to trade”. It is this last definition that concerns me. Not everything should be monetized.

In addition to the dictionary definition, words have connotations – in effect a word reputation.

In American English, deal’s reputation is not all that great. “Deal” brings forth the cartoon image of two cigar-smoking older men shaking hands to close a deal made for some nefarious purpose. We talk about “double dealing”, “shaky deals”, “raw deals” and “dirty deals”. The connotation of a “deal” is that one party wins and one loses.

In diplomatic language we speak of “agreements” rather than deals. An agreement is reached through discussion. It can allow both parties some wins some and some losses. This is how our very diverse world, at best, avoids wars and other armed conflicts and provides a reasonable chance of human survival

Picture Books

A picture book (pb) is a story book, usually of not more than thirty-two pages, well illustrated, designed for an adult to read to a child. One of the purposes of a pb, is to help children develop vocabulary and understand the world around them by interacting with adults. The rhythm of the language, sometimes the use of rhyme and word play all add to the experience. Wonderful illustrations help expand the story. Consider the power of the Dr. Seuss books.

There is a current trend in pbs to limit the number of words to five hundred. Recently, a book was published with one ‘word’ – La. This syllable is repeated on every page. I understand the illustrations are beautiful, and I have no doubt this is true, but as a parent, I’m not sure I would want to spend much time “reading” this story to my child. I have heard that the rationale for limiting the text in pbs is that today’s parents really don’t have the time to read a longer story to their child. I hope this is not true. Words matter, even in picture books.


“Over-tourism” or Opportunity?

If you have traveled outside the U.S. within the last five years, you may have realized that you need to develop some new travel skills. While this is particularly true of visits to more well-known places such as Paris, Vienna and New York (Yes – coming from California, I do consider New York a foreign country), those are not the only places where new skills can come in handy.

The skills? 1) Wait and stand and 2) Body Blocking 1A

I recently had the privilege of going on a fourteen-day tour of seven Baltic countries. The area has a long, rich, history and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. There were three destinations where the new skills came in handy. We visited the Hermitage and the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg as well as the museum in Gdansk, Poland. This was my first experience with “over-tourism” on such a grand scale. We employed the “Wait and Stand” strategy as we waited for the long line at the entrance gate to snake its way through the entry and in to the building. Next, we employed “Body Blocking”.

I was reluctant to employ “Body Blocking” at first. After all, one should wait patiently, say excuse me, and above all take turns. But when I discovered that this strategy resulted in an elbow in my stomach and the inability to keep my feet under me, I reconsidered. My elbow came out, I stepped down even though someone else’s foot occupied the area, and I never said “excuse me”.

Although we toured these sites during national holidays in Poland and Russia, most of the people employing the ‘new skills’ were fellow tourists from countries all over the world.

The last few days, the press has been discussing “Over-tourism.” Plagued by tourists in Vienna who jump into the canals from the bridges and tourists who dress “inappropriately,” Vienna is considering levying a fine for such behavior. In an interview, an airline steward remarked that tourist seem to forget common courtesy when traveling. Another commentator blamed “Over-tourism” on the availability of “cheap flights.”

I don’t have a solution to this situation. It would be a great loss if people stopped traveling. Travel is an eye-opener. It can makes us more tolerant, more informed and better world citizens.

ST. Stephens in Riga, Latvia – it has been a Catholic church and is now a Lutheran Church.
Ruins at Visby, Sweden. Visby was part of the Hanseatic League, a powerful trade organization. When the Hanseatic League disintegrated, Visby lost its economic base. The Ruins remain because the town was too poor to rebuild. It is a rich source for understanding the past.



It has been said, wisely, that if you sell your house, you should not return to see what the new owners have done to your house. There are several good reasons for this:

  1. The house (your former home!) will look very different to you. The happy fog of memory makes you think the house was larger and more elegant that it really was – your return visit will confirm it isn’t
  2. The new owners may have changed the house by painting or construction. Undoubtedly, their choice of day-glow orange instead of the sedate cream you prefer will cause shock and dismay.
  3. You will either gloat over the great deal you made when you sold the house, or you will regret what you see because you mistakenly believe your fond memories of life in the house have vanished with the sale. Both are uncomfortable positions.

I’m beginning to think that revisiting favorite fictional characters can have much the same effect. We all have television shows featuring characters so intriguing that we are somewhat saddened when their long-running shows go off the air – for example, The Big Bang Theory. From this, sequels are born.

Jane Austin’s novels and characters are often subjects of sequels. Recently I re-read Sense and Sensibility. I followed that by re-reading Eliza’s Daughter by Joan Aiken, a sequel to Sense and Sensibility. It is well-researched by the author who passed away some time ago. My disappointment comes when Ms. Aiken tells us what happens to several of the main characters of Sense and Sensibility; the three sisters Elinor, Marianne, Margaret and Edward and Colonel Brandon.

It turns out, according to the sequel, that Elinor, who has married Edward, lives in abject poverty with her skin-flint husband. They have a very spoiled daughter. They lost a son when he was only five years old. I had high-hopes for Elinor. She was the sensible sister, She turned into a spineless, quietly bitter woman, very submissive to her husband.

Her sister, Marianne, married Colonel Brandon. They are alluded to in the sequel. They are reputedly very well off. Marianne is quite selfish. She lives in relative comfort while her sister and family live on the estate in poverty.

Margaret, the youngest of the sisters, became a teacher at a school for young ladies. This is not considered a very high-status profession. She, too, seems to be afraid of crossing her penny-pinching brother-in-law Edward.

Such a disappointment! You always hope the characters that had potential develop into strong, confident characters in their sequels. But that is often not the case. It probably makes for a better story when they don’t.

I have high-hopes for another, real-life sequel- the U.S. after the Trump presidency. As long as the major character leaves the scene and is not featured in the sequel, we should be fine.


The Covid 19 Diaries

Fear is a powerful emotion. According to folk lore, fear can change your hair from black to pure white in a flash and it can freeze you, as in ‘frozen with fear’. Here’s the thing; Fear is a very useful emotion. It keeps us on the lookout for danger in our environment and it (sometimes) stops us from making rash choices that could harm us. But, unchecked, Fear can do severe damage to us, both psychologically and physically.

The world has had more than its share of Fear. Every news broadcast features up to the minute “breaking news” about Covid 19, political difficulties and natural disasters. Fear has a megaphone. The more we listen to it, potentially the more fearful we become.

When that happens, we really can become ‘frozen with fear.” It becomes more difficult to sort out real, immediate events requiring immediate action from those events that might or might not occur in the future. It keeps us from taking actions that could alleviate fear.

Constant fear takes a toll on empathy. We become so overwhelmed that we lose sight of the humanity of those around us. In a real sense, we become less human.

Dispensing with all fear would be a mistake. It is a powerful motivator. General Omar Bradley, U.S. Army WW II wrote, “Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.”

We don’t need complete absence of fear, we just need to recognize and direct it.

My favorite quote about bravery and fear comes from Vishnu Verm, a writer, in a September 30, 2014 post, “The Best 26 Quotes About Being Brave.”

“Be Brave. Even if you’re not. Pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.



The typical way of celebrating Thanksgiving is not in the cards for this year due to the Covid 19 virus, but we can all do our own version, celebrate in a new way. Maybe in spite of, or maybe because of the virus and all the other troubles we have seen in 2020, counting our blessings and giving thanks seems more urgent. A neighbor of mine celebrated Halloween by decorating the front yard with ghosts, jack-0-lanters and a gravestone inscribed “RIP 2020.”

So, here it goes, my list of things and people I am thankful for:

My family – small in number and widely scattered, we still stay in touch

My Guy- I’m so glad we found each other!

My critique group – writing is a solitary activity and being able to share that process is necessary in order to keep going

Every grocery clerk, shelf-stocker, farm worker, truck driver and restaurant worker. They are all truly amazing.

Gardeners, plumbers, carpenters, retail workers

Every public health worker, doctors, nurses, janitors, nurse’s aids, office receptionists

Teachers, school office workers, custodians, bus drivers

Small business owners and clerks of all types.

People who voted and helped us realize that we still live in a democracy.

Let’s hope that 2021 will see us move forward. We have a tremendous amount of re-building to do, but we will succeed.


Fields of Fear

This nation has been through a lot of traumatic events in its relatively short history. To name a few: colonialism, slavery, The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, WW I, WW II, Vietnam, The Gulph War, 911, Afghanistan and numerous financial ups and downs.

There are those who take advantage of the truly reasonable fear that accompanies traumatic events. In an effort to increase and sustain their power and popularity, they often resort to exaggeration and outright lies. Their actions threaten the very foundation of our country.

Here are some examples of those who qualify as members of the American Rogues’ Gallery –

  1. Fritz Julius Kuhn (1986-1951) – A naturalized U. S. Citizen in 1934, he previously served in the German Army in WW I. His organization, Friends of the New Germany, attracted thousands of German Americans in the time leading up to WW II. He mirrored Nazi party propaganda (antisemitic and pro-German) and he styled his “meetings” along the lines of the large gatherings in Nazi Germany. Sent to prison in 1939 for embezzlement, he was later charged with more serious crimes. In 1943, his U.S. citizenship was revoked and he was deported from Sing-Sing Prison to Germany in 1945.
  2. Walter Winchell (1897-1972) – A New York Gossip columnist who evolved into a political power-house. He eventually became a firm supporter and friend of the notorious Senator Joe McCarthy. He used his very popular radio show, newspaper column and television show to support McCarthy’s witch-hunt, in the process destroying the reputations and livelihoods of many innocent Americans.
  3. Senator Joe McCarthy (1908-1957) – In the middle of the cold war, Senator McCarthy rose to prominence after a speech in 1950 when he declared two-hundred-five communists had infiltrated the State Department. This was a time of great and understandable fear in the U.S. of the rise of communism and in particular of the Soviet Union, in the aftermath of WW II. Senator McCarthy, unable to prove his assertions, resorted to increasingly outrageous accusations. In 1954, he was condemned by his fellow senators and his reign of terror ended. He died in 1957.

In some cases, but not all, these individuals began with good intentions. Senator McCarthy was seen by some as a patriot. But as time went by, it became apparent that their main concern was securing their own positions of power, both political and financial. Motivations of patriotism and public service fell by the wayside and personal gain took over.

We survived these challenges, but if we respond to today’s challenges by allowing our fears to stampede us into making rash, ill-informed decisions, there will be a rough road ahead.


Just Because You Can, It Doesn’t Mean You Should


I drive a mid-sized sedan, not too big, not so small. It looks good, drives well, gets great mileage and has all the bells and whistles I like. In the past few yeas the percentage of sedans produced has diminished; far more trucks and SUVs are sold.

If you look at any parking lot, you will see the results of that trend. Look closely and you will notice that there are sedans and small cars interspersed. These sedans and small cars are often completely surrounded by SUVs in spaces known as SUV Canyons.

If you observe for a few more minutes, you will notice SUVs and trucks barreling down the aisles of those parking lots. Until recently, barreling SUVS were seen primarily in the parking lots of home improvement stores. But now the phenomenon has spread and can be found everywhere, including grocery store parking lots.

Earlier this week, I went to my local grocery store. In order to avoid parking in an SUV Canyon, I have developed two parking strategies for what I call Defensive Parking. If the parking lot is not particularly crowded, I park next to the grocery cart return area, or next to a tree at the end of one of the aisles. This insures my car will not be blocked on three sides by large vehicles, increasing the probability I will be able to back out without being creamed by an on-coming SUV. If the parking lot is crowded, I search for a place where I can park facing out. Even if you find yourself embedded in an SUV Canyon, when you face out, you can usually maneuver out of the space and avoid being creamed if you move slowly.

On this particular visit, the parking lot was not very crowded, so I adopted the first strategy and parked next to a tree. There were two vacant spaces to my left. When I came back, the two spaces were still vacant. I got in, started the car, put it in reverse and looked back. A large, gray SUV pulled in behind me. I waited for the vehicle to pass, but the driver began a Y turn. i was blocked in. The driver then backed into the space next to me on the left.

The driver gave me a big smile, then opened the driver’s side door and squeezed out of the SUV. I rolled my window down and said “Your car is blocking my view.”

She replied, “Of course it is. My car is bigger than yours. This is a public parking lot and I can park wherever I want.” She turned and flounced off.

Rather than pointing out that it was not a public lot, but a lot owned by the store, I called out in my best “school-marm” voice, “You are a very impolite person!”

Silly though this exchange was, for some reason, I could not let it go. She was thoughtless. She could have waited the additional ten seconds it would have taken me to back out of the parking space before she jammed her over-sized vehicle into the too-small space. But she didn’t. She did it Because She Could.

This driver is certainly not the only one who embraces the maxim, “Do It Because You Can.” Maybe a good part of our current public discontent is the prevalence of the belief that you should be able to do whatever you wish, because you can. Maybe it would be a better place to live if we remember that “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Zoom, Zoom!


And Let It Begin With Me*

Those of us who have lost a loved one due to a terminal illness may have witnessed the amazing support hospice workers provide to patients and their care-givers. It is hard to imagine how it would feel to face death without this support, particularly if you are alone and living on the street. But this is the fate of many of the homeless. Due to our government’s chaotic and illogical response to COVID 19, homelessness is likely to become a reality for many more.

My friend, singer/songwriter/musician Danny Schneider, has taken this situation to heart. To support the efforts of Joshua House Hospice for the homeless in Sacramento, California, he has written and recorded an album entitled The Other Side Of The Window. A signed, limited, edition of one hundred is now available on line. The cost – a one-hundred-dollar donation to Joshua House. Danny’s goal is to raise ten-thousand-dollars to go toward construction and operational expenses. All proceeds from the album go directly to Joshua House.

This will be the first hospice for the homeless on the west coast. Granted, one hospice facility for the homeless is not enough, but it is a critical beginning.

You can find more information about Danny and Joshua House and donate, at or at Danny Schneider – Rockin Original Music. Please visit.

*From Let There Be Peace On Earth by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller


I’m Becoming That Lady in the Grocery Store!

You know, you’ve seen her; the one running her cart down the aisle ignoring the one-way only stickers on the floor, muttering something under her breath and grousing at the store clerks.

This morning, while shopping, I had to repress the impulse to tap my foot while waiting for a woman to move away from the lettuce. I thought she had been there long enough (at least 20 minutes!), and I needed lettuce! But rather than moving on, I waited, my irritation growing.

When you are wearing a mask, the only clue to your mood is body language, such as foot tapping or eye rolling. Fortunately, I was wearing my shades, so no one noticed my almost constant eye-rolling when I encountered someone I felt was thwarting me! (and there were so many!)

I blame all of this on the COVID19 Isolation and mask wearing. It is part of human nature to resent loss of convenience. We hate to have our routines disturbed. After all, routines help us feel we’ve accomplished something, that we haven’t wasted our precious time. It indicates we are productive, smart and wise. None of this is necessarily true, of course, but it is a comforting thought.

When I returned from my shopping trip, I found myself a little resentful that I would have to make three trips to the car to get all of the groceries into the kitchen. That’s when it finally hit me – I was fully That Lady – irritable, grouchy and completely out of line. I didn’t like it.

We are the fortunate ones. Those working on the COVID 19 front lines, health care workers, police and fire, grocery store clerks, delivery people, farm workers, truck drivers, or at numerous other jobs that keep things moving, are suffering far more than we are.

My advice to myself, suck it up and increase contributions to local food banks, so someone else can have the pleasure of having to make three trips to the car to unload the groceries.

Suburban Morning Stroll

I live in a suburban area not too far from a major thoroughfare. Fortunately there are a large number of trees and a nearby creek. Some what secluded, it’s one of those places that, were civilization to suddenly disappear, the resident wildlife would quickly and happily take over the area. In addition to about two hundred homes, there are hundreds of birds, at least one coyote family, skunks, raccoons, gray squirrels and an unknown number of possums.

It is a great place to walk, and due to the stay at home order, lots of dogs are out walking their humans. This morning I ran into a gaggle of adolescent turkeys out on a morning walk with Mom. We often see groups of turkeys on our front lawns. One nearby road even has a Turkey Crossing warning sign.

Suburban Morning Stroll

We are living through a terrible time. It isn’t the result of just one thing, but many things interacting. The less- than- stellar response to the new corona virus and the horrific death of George Floyd have served to highlight the fact that there are social and economic problems that we have failed to address. And the price for those failures has now come due.

In this country, we do have the ability to address our problems, if we so choose. In fearful times, it is more important than ever that we use the powers given to us by our laws and Constitution. One of the most important of those is the right and duty to vote. You probably won’t find a candidate for any particular office you agree with completely (unless you write in your own name); but remember, by not voting, you are giving up your power to someone else – someone that may have positions on critical issues that you cannot support.


Let's Get Political

(apologies to singer Olivia Newton Johns’ recording of PHYSICAL)

I don’t much care for President Trump. I’ve had a hard time determining whether my dislike stems from his personality or his policies. I didn’t particularly care for former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s personality or all of his policies. I’ve never felt that the main quality of a President should be whether the voter would want to sit down with the candidate and have a beer; nor would I choose a doctor or dentist based on them being a “nice person.” Our current crisis has made it clear to me why I don’t care for President Trump; I don’t like the way he “answers” questions.

Preview(opens in a new tab

During one of the recent press briefings from the Covid 19 task force, one of the reporters asked the President if he had a message for the Americans who are frightened and confused about Covid 19. The President responded by a personal attack on the reporter, chiding him for asking a “nasty question” and asserting that he, (the reporter, not the President), was a terrible reporter. Absolutely no answer was given to the reporter’s question.

Contrast the President’s response to the reporter with one of the members of the Covid19 task force who was also on-stage. A reporter began by quoting three health workers. All three indicated a concern that the protective gear used by health workers was in short supply as were the testing kits. They were worried about the escalating numbers of infected people and the possibility that they would not be able to treat all who needed attention. The profession responded by empathizing with the health workers, then very clearly outlining the best way to get the needed supplies at the local level.

He did not make false promises (e.g. the kits have been shipped). He did not attack the reporter or question the validity of the concern. He accepted the question for what it was – information about how the process looked to those in field, actually dealing with the disease. He treated the question as an opportunity to provide needed information.

In teaching, questions from students are treated as important because they show what students do and do not understand. It provides the teacher an opportunity to clarify and provide additional information so students can learn.

In other words, true adults respond to questions as opportunities.

Less evolved people treat every question as a personal attack.