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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

The French have always enjoyed a reputation for being much more blasé about matters of amour than Americans, yet the election of new French President Emmanuel Macron, 39, has been accompanied by publicity on his wife, Brigitte—and the fact that she’s 64 and his former high school teacher.

Older men with younger women, too often called “trophy wives,” have long been socially accepted with a wink and a nod, while older women with younger men are derogatorily called “cougars,” with varying degrees of disapproval. Celebrities like Cher, Demi Moore and Madonna have brought these relationships to the forefront, all too often with tongue-in-cheek negativity—but the presumption of sex as the key attraction is particularly demeaning to older women in serious relationships with younger men.

Social acceptance can be a big factor. Cindy Gallop, a web entrepreneur, points to sexism. “It makes people very uncomfortable … to see the gender equation reversed,” she recently told The New York Times. “Out there in the world are many, many younger men who would love to date older women, but would never do anything about it because there’s this appalling societal double standard.”

When such couples do come together, what challenges, beyond social acceptance, do they face?

June Pariano, a La Quinta resident, is married to Chuck, 6 1/2 years her junior. “We’ve been married 23 years this July,” she says, “and we were together about four years before that. I was divorced when Chuck came to work in the same company. I never dated people I worked with, but he was a very good salesman!

“Men’s roles are different now than they were when I was growing up,” says June. “When I was a teenager, I would never have thought of dating a man six years younger, but as you get older, it doesn’t make that much difference.”

Pam, also a resident of La Quinta (who asked not to use her last name), was married to a man 15 years younger. “I was divorced with grown kids when we met; I was 42, and he was ‘almost 30,’” she says. “I never noticed any problems about acceptance by any of our friends, but his family had some trouble with the fact that I was divorced with children.

“Things that mattered to me culturally were not the norm for him, because he grew up in a different era. He had come up during the ’70s, when men came to believe they shouldn’t do anything for women, even like holding doors open. Also, he had no experience with having children, and that was a big difference in our world view. On ordinary things, we were compatible, but our differences went beyond choices in music or what television shows to watch. For example, I often had difficulty relating to his friends, because they had such limited experience compared to me. We didn’t have much in common.

“I must admit our age difference mattered to me more than it did to him in the beginning. It bothered me sometimes that he was so young-looking!” she laughs.

For June, the awareness of her 6-year age difference with Chuck became apparent when they were dating. “I didn’t really know he was that much younger,” she says, “but we were at a baseball game, and they were playing music on the loudspeakers. I asked him to guess the year that song was a big hit, and when I told him, he replied with, ‘I was only 12 years old then.’ I couldn’t believe it!”

I’ve been dating a man six years younger for almost six years. Our age disparity hits me when we discuss our different music tastes and cultural references. My younger brother is my guy’s age. While I was into anti-war protests, my brother was in the Air Force in Vietnam; my music was ’70s rock, folk and jazz, while my brother was into Elvis. With my guy and me, it’s often the choice of Bob Dylan and the Stones versus Paul McCartney and Diane Schuur, or Toy Story versus Trainspotting.

June notes: “Sometimes people kiddingly say I’m ‘robbing the cradle,’ and yet they take for granted that for men, it’s often the case that when their wives reach a certain age, it’s time to get rid of them and get a younger one. There’s still a double standard.”

Pam sums it up thusly: “The differences go beyond whether our choices of music or TV are compatible. Our values were based on different eras. There were no ‘cougars’ back then, but I’m not sure society has changed all that much about what is considered ‘normal.’”

The French president’s marriage was dissected in The Daily Mail, with a newspaper column portraying Macron as a “mummy’s boy” who needs his wife to wipe his mouth and smack him for misbehaving. Ms. Macron was called a “menopausal Barbie,” and he was referred to as “teacher’s pet.”

Here in the U.S., Match.com funded a survey of more than 5,000 U.S. singles and found that 26 percent of women were open to dating men at least 10 years younger. According to Match’s Helen Fisher, “Men want a companion, and we are seeing the rise of women as intellectual partners, as sexual partners, as soul partners.”

If even the French haven’t evolved to the point where ridicule is not an appropriate response to an older woman-younger man relationship, is there hope that in the United States, we are beyond such stereotyping? Alas, not yet.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Occasionally, you meet someone who seems to have been destined to do the work they do—someone who not only is good at their job, but who also loves doing it.

Dierdre Wieringa—better known as Dee—is one of those people.

Wieringa, 60, a Palm Desert resident for the past seven years, serves as administrator/executive director of Caleo Bay Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, a residence facility in La Quinta dedicated to serving those coping with a form of dementia. Built in 2013, Caleo Bay is designed to provide comfort and security to those who can no longer be cared for by family or who can no longer live independently. It includes 24/7 nursing staff, motion sensors in each room to ensure no guest is left on their own, and specialized training for staff to deliver “patient-centered care” with attention to building relationships with clients. 

“The layout is designed to provide a sense of security and continuity,” says Wieringa, “so that no guest ever feels disoriented. As they move freely about, they find continuity in living rooms, dining rooms and activity rooms no matter which corridor they’re in. They never feel like they’re lost.”

Each guest room has a collage of pictures posted outside the door, including a current photo, and pictures from their past supplied by family and friends.

“Guests can find themselves in the pictures as they often see themselves, somewhere in the past,” says Wieringa. “It’s also a great way for us to recognize who they are and what their past history is, so we can better relate to them on any given day.”

The facility also has display cases with artifacts from past decades—from World War II memorabilia to wedding mementos to an old typewriter—because these are things with which those with memory issues can relate.

Wieringa was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She met Ben, her husband of 30 years, and had three children before moving to the United States in 1996.

“We wanted a better life for ourselves and our family,” she recalls. “Ben was offered a chance to work here, so we decided to make the move.”

Wieringa’s educational background was in public relations. Her first job was in property acquisition, then she did paralegal work, and finally she opted to be a stay-at-home mom while her sons and daughter grew up. Once in San Diego, Dee, whose daughter had just gotten married, “wanted to be out there doing things.”

A senior living facility was being built nearby. It was an unfamiliar concept to her—she doesn’t remember any such approach to senior living in South Africa—but she asked if they had any jobs available.

“They hired me as the assisted-living director and then I became executive director,” she says. “Eventually, I was offered the chance to manage the desert facility of Segovia, a high-end independent and assisted-living country club environment.  So, Ben and I came to the desert in 2009.”

Wieringa also served as executive director and administrator at Stonewall Gardens Assisted Living in Palm Springs before moving into her current position at Caleo Bay.

“We strive to find the lighter side of Alzheimer’s,” says Wieringa. “Our staff training includes teaching how changes can cause frustration or turmoil in people who need a sense of stability and continuity. People with dementia often act out or lash out with agitation when they get confused or are faced with the unknown. There are communication skills, like diversion, that can really make a difference to those whose short-term memory is so fleeting. You have to live in their reality and realize that every day is different. I believe in ‘meaningful moments,’ and the staff is trained to facilitate that philosophy. We celebrate something each day, no matter how small, for each resident.”

Caleo Bay also utilizes volunteers from church groups and students, as well as animal therapy, music and dance. Wieringa is also involved in other volunteer activities on her own: She runs a Parkinson’s disease support group and participates in the Dementia-Friendly Café (which I help organize), held monthly for the past two years. 

There are several different types of senior living facilities: independent living; assisted-living, where guests need some help with daily activities; and memory-care facilities dedicated to supporting those in various stages of dementia-related illness.

“The problem,” says Wieringa, “is that people aren’t prepared for the cost of long-term care. Medicare doesn’t cover it, and even skilled nursing facilities limit how many Medicaid beds are set aside. Families always ask, ‘What happens when Mom or Dad runs out of money?’ There is no good answer. Unless the younger generation invests in long-term care insurance (which often include caps on expenditures), especially with dementia diagnoses rapidly increasing and people living so much longer, the baby boomers and millennials are going to be faced with an impossible situation. Even if Medicare did cover long-term care, the cost would certainly break the bank.

“Families often are the only recourse, and they don’t realize that … many caregivers die before the person they’re caring for. Plus, there are so many dysfunctional families or people with nobody to care for them. Whenever a guest dies, even in the middle of the night, I make sure I’m there. I saw them come in through the front door, and I see that they leave the same way.”

With a high-stress job, what keeps Wieringa going? “You can’t teach passion. I love my job. It just makes me feel good to know I’m really helping others and making a difference. There are a lot of lonely old people out there with no one to turn to. One person can make a difference. Working with dementia is hard, but a moment of making people feel good about themselves makes me feel as if what I do was meant to be.”

How many of us can truly say that?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’d like to share some of my reactions to the inauguration—rough notes I took while watching wall-to-wall coverage from Thursday through Sunday.

Think of it as a sacrifice made on your behalf.

TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

I’m a sucker for tradition and ceremonial continuity. Even parades make me cry. So when President-elect Trump and Vice-President-elect Pence visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to place a wreath on Thursday, my first tears of the weekend began to flow.

When representatives of the armed services marched out—holding the flags of their service, along with the American flag—and then executed the perfect turn and dipped the service flags just the right amount to highlight the national flag for the playing of the national anthem, I was moved. The solemnity of the event and the significance of what that location represents cannot be minimized.

INAUGURAL CONCERT

I didn’t cry at all watching this event. In fact, I must admit I occasionally laughed. Aside from the fact that the Trump inaugural committee had trouble booking any major talent … did you notice that whenever Donald Trump puts his hand over his heart during the playing of the anthem, he occasionally pats his chest, apparently attempting to keep the beat with the music? What made me laugh was the realization that the president has no rhythm at all. And who pats their heart during the playing of the national anthem?

THE INAUGURATION

Again, this is a solemn rite of passage in our democratic history—opposing members of Congress greeting each other; four past presidents attending to acknowledge the peaceful transfer of power; and a crowd of well-wishers (along with some protests that included burning trash cans—I’m still not sure what the political significance of that is).

The lasting impressions for me are the appearance and demeanor of our new first lady, and the poise and grit of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Both women did themselves, and us, proud.

The inauguration speech was unfortunate, painting a picture of a dystopian America and playing directly to the president’s election base—with little regard to the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

There was one fantastic statement made by President Trump—if only it had been indicative of the overall tone, which, alas, it was not: “No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

He should have stopped there.

At lunch after he was sworn in, President Trump made a gracious statement acknowledging the Clintons for attending, and saying how much he respected them. This is the same man who only a couple of weeks ago said that Secretary Clinton was “guilty as hell” and should not have even been allowed to run for president.

I guess it’s easier to trash people when they’re not right in front of you.

THE INAUGURATION BALLS

Let’s start with how truly stunning Melania Trump looked, and give her credit for having the good sense, at the third ball—honoring the Armed Services—to thank the veterans for their service and to say how proud she is to be their first lady. If only President Trump had shown that much grace—all he talked about was his crowd numbers and the assumption that those attending the ball had voted for him. His absolute favorite word is “me.”

Let’s also give a nod to Ivanka Trump, whose ball gown, hair style and demeanor was exquisite. However, watch for criticism of the way she attempts to identify with average women and their policy issues when she has never faced any of the same situations. Time will tell what influence she may be able to have on her father, but it’s somewhat telling that it’s her husband who got hired for an important job, not her.

The most glaring reality of the balls was that men can’t dance—regardless of age. Neither Trump nor Pence have any sense of rhythm, and they come from a generation when ballroom dancing was actually taught in school. The younger men in both families are hopeless, too. It did make me miss President Obama—remember his first dance with Michelle?

Also, have you noticed that Donald Trump seems to have no sense of intimacy toward his wife? She often reaches for his hand, but he almost never reaches for hers. While “dancing” with her on inauguration night, Trump could barely keep his attention on her, constantly waving to others in the crowd or doing his signature “thumbs up” gesture. Even during the playing of a romantic song, he wasn’t into her—he was into the adoring crowd. He’s the guy you meet who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more important in the room. There was maybe one moment of affection, and it came from her toward him.

The catty side of me thought: I don’t care how much money or power he has … can you imagine sleeping with that man? Petty, I know, but I’m just sayin’ …

THE DAY AFTER

At the prayer service the morning after the inauguration, the president seemed to have trouble staying awake and engaged. During a prayer, he was looking around the crowd in the church, occasionally with his signature “thumbs up.” He can’t sit still or stay focused for very long. His grandchildren were better-behaved.

Then there was the visit to the hallowed wall honoring lives lost at the CIA—Trump’s first official stop, to assure the intelligence community of his support. He began by saying how much he respects them, then spent two-thirds of his time defending the inauguration attendance, bragging about having the most appearances on Time’s cover (which is not true, by the way), and blaming the media for inventing a rift between him and the intelligence community after he had compared them to Nazis.  

WOMEN’S MARCH

What can one say when millions of women, children and men take to the streets in solidarity across the world?

“What are they marching for?” asked some. As someone who has marched in the past, against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and women’s rights, here’s what: They marched to show that women’s rights cannot and must not be rolled back, and to show their lack of confidence in a president who has publicly disrespected women and the real-life issues that are important to them.

Whatever the differences in individual issues among the marchers, they all stood up for equality without exception.

Marches took place in more than 600 cities across the country, with total estimates now topping 3 million marchers throughout the U.S. More than 1,500 women marched in Palm Desert, and locals Carlynne McDonnell, of Strong Women Advocacy Group; Dori Smith, of Moms Demand Action; Amalia deAztlan, of Democratic Women of the Desert; and Palm Springs resident Eileen Stern made a trip to Los Angeles or D.C., along with many others.

Women and their supporters also showed up by the tens of thousands around the world, from New Zealand and Australia to Rome, London, Austria, Mexico City, Paris, Barcelona and even Kosovo—concerned about not only women’s rights, but also international security, which they believe is threatened under a Trump presidency. Watching this amazing outpouring of support worldwide once again brought tears.

I thought the best sign at the marches was: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” I loved the guy from Long Beach who said, “I’m marching for my 91-year-old mother and my 30-year-old daughter, who both taught me how to be a man.”

Meanwhile, amidst this historic outpouring of solidarity and concern, the new president could only talk about how big his crowd was and how he was being disrespected by “the media” in their mostly accurate reporting.

By the way, in case you didn’t understand the pink-knitted caps with pussycat ears, I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself.

If you are blasé about the changing of the guard, or disgusted with everything political, I want to remind you that your grandchildren’s grandchildren will study the current period in their history classes. We’ve seen the election of the first private-sector president—with absolutely no political experience and no apparent interest in history or traditions or self-restraint. There is much to make fun of in this unfolding reality show; in truth, when you’re worried or afraid or angry, humor can help.

It’s important to remember we’re living in unfolding history. That’s worth paying attention to, regardless of who gets the biggest crowds or who gives the better speech or whether you believe the political process works to your advantage.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but the bottom line for me is that the peaceful transfer of power transcends all else. It endures as the epitome of what we stand for as a nation.

And that makes me cry.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Jon Von Erb did not take a straight path from San Francisco to Palm Springs—no pun intended.

Von Erb was born in San Francisco into a theatrical family, with two gay parents who had met in New York: His mother was a coloratura soprano with the New York City Opera, and his father was a vaudevillian.

“My mom took me to the Bolshoi Ballet when I was about 3 years old,” Von Erb remembers, “and I got hooked.”

While Von Erb’s brother was an athletic football player, Jon became a dedicated dancer and choreographer. What was it like growing up in a family with a gay mother and a gay father?

“In those days, it was a societal thing,” says Von Erb. “They were both in theater during an era when everyone was a smoker and drinker, and it wasn’t really accepted to be that ‘different.’ Otherwise, it was like any theatrical family. I lived a life growing up kind of like an Army brat: I attended about 21 elementary schools and three junior highs.”

Surprisingly, Von Erb said his father was initially unhappy when Jon came out to him as gay.

“He was an avid fan of my brother, the straight football player,” Von Erb said. “I remember when I was working with a ballet company while I was finishing high school, and my final ballet performance was with a full orchestra doing a classic pas de deux with an impossible lift. When the performance was over, the audience just sat silently. Finally, someone started to clap, and the whole audience exploded with applause. My father came up to me afterward and said, ‘I’m so proud of you, son.’ That was the first time he had ever said that to me.” The memory brings Von Erb to tears.

Von Erb later taught Afro-American jazz dancing that he learned in New York and later added Russian ballet techniques when he wound up in New Orleans—where he met the man who would become his husband, Gary Williams, a speech pathologist.

Jon and Gary then resettled to Alaska. “Gary’s sister had moved there,” says Von Erb, “so we decided to try it.”

Von Erb used his background in dance to get a job teaching ballet in Anchorage, and soon after his arrival there, he was offered an opportunity to work in the arts department at the University of Alaska, where Von Erb completed a degree. He also created a dance company there.

The pair later came to Palm Springs in the same way that so many of us have: “We had friends from all over who had moved here who were always saying, ‘Come on down!’”

They’ve now lived here for the past 4 1/2 years. Jon and Gary married three years ago by their backyard pool in Palm Springs, more than 40 years into their relationship.

“We decided to finally get married for legal and financial reasons, but more important, to make a statement for ourselves,” says Von Erb.

Von Erb now works as a certified massage therapist specializing in medical and therapeutic massage techniques that he describes as “intuitive massage.”

“I deal with things like spinal injuries, sciatica, geriatric difficulties and lymphatic effects after surgery,” he says. “When I’m working with someone, my goal is to make it like a connection of rivers that run throughout the entire body. My role is to help create a healing flow. I experience it as intuitive touch. I allow the body to speak to me.”

I met Von Erb at a poetry reading at the Rancho Mirage Library in the newly opened meeting and presentation space. I was attending because my good friend Valerie-Jean Hume (also an Independent contributor) was performing while the participants, many of whom have been published, read their efforts. Participants ranged from an over-90 hale-and-hearty man to a French-accented charming woman, but one participant particularly intrigued me: Jon Von Erb.

Von Erb’s poetry began in earnest while he was in San Francisco from 1989 to 2012.

“There were so many people (in the San Francisco area) who were going through a lot of change: sick, dying,” he recalls. “I started a practice that I called ‘grief massage.’ Whatever the problem, I’d spend an hour listening and then would take the client downstairs to a darkened space, filled with music and atmosphere, and I spoke to them through massage. I’d move them on a path in a bucolic environment, encouraging them to leave behind something heavy that they’ve been carrying around. I could feel the tension going away. Then we’d go back upstairs, and I’d not only listen, but also make observations.

“After the sessions, I’d compose a poem for them about their situation. At the end of our sessions, they would not only have completed the process; they would also have an anthology of their voyage.”

Von Erb now sends poems to about 300 friends and clients every week. His philosophy is fairly simple. “There’s so much to be thankful for. I feel it’s important to pay back all those people who applauded for me all those many years ago. Every day is a new, exciting, fresh day to start.

“Everything talks to you if you learn to listen. People are all searching for someone who reaches out to them first. I’m a hands-on person.”

Literally and figuratively, the description fits him perfectly.

Lady Moon

One night

the moon winked at me

floating above the shadowed

winter skeletons of the sycamore trees.

Her gesture asked me

to scribe a poem in her honor.

In that sparkled moment

as I clutched my pen

her silver shine overtook her intention;

my intention.

Instead, my heart took my pen

and I wrote from recent memory.

Suddenly shivered by

the lack of your warmth

the moon and I

wrote of my longing for you.

—Jon Von Erb, November 2016

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Whether your candidate for president won or lost, the good news is that the election is over.

Pundits will dig into every nuance of why someone lost or how someone won, but none of that will change where we are now. The system is what it is, and it works how it works. As important as it is to be a “good loser,” it’s even more of a show of character to be a “good winner.”

I tend to be a Pollyanna, someone of irrepressible optimism who thinks good things will always happen in the end. My philosophy includes taking every defeat—losing a job, losing a love or anything else—and figuring out what I need to learn so I won’t repeat it; each learning opportunity is meant to get me ready for an even better experience to come.

Yet I can be blindsided and feel like I took a stiff punch to the gut. That’s how I woke up the morning after the election: stunned, numb and overwhelmingly sad. I admit I cried myself to sleep, exhausted by my profound disappointment that a woman would not be president. At least not yet.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined what are known as the five stages of grief: denial (“This can’t be happening!); anger (“Let’s take to the streets!”); bargaining (”Maybe we can get some things done that will be productive.”); depression (“I just don’t care. I’m done getting involved.”); and, finally, acceptance (“We can make it through this. It’s going to turn out all right.”).

While consoling friends devastated by the election who thought all hope was gone and trying to get them to the fifth stage, I began hearing how some people on the winning side were responding to the election: painting hateful racist and anti-Semitic sentiments on buildings, pulling off women’s hijabs on the street, and telling Hispanic-American students that they should leave the country—their country. I was devastated by a 10-year-old Muslim-American boy who just wanted to know, “Why do they hate me?”

All of this hit frighteningly close to home when a dear friend, Ellie, a Hillary supporter, called to say her home in the San Diego area had been defaced, with the word “ASSHOLE” scratched into her garage door.

“I had no campaign signs, and I don’t even remember talking politics with any of my neighbors,” she told me. “I have no idea who did it. I’m scared.”

The Southern Policy Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, received more than 200 complaints within the week after the election. Time magazine reported that anti-Muslim incidents were more prevalent than after Sept. 11, 2001.

Many people watching demonstrators on TV—including the hundreds who showed up in Palm Springs—or hearing about incidents of hatred and violence may feel helpless. Regardless of who they supported, they want to find a way to reassure fellow citizens that they need not be afraid. But they’re not sure what to do.

Some will begin to politically organize for the next go-round; some will write letters or op-ed columns; some will volunteer to support special-interest organizations; some will find other ways to channel their disappointment into having some positive impact.

I discovered the safety-pin campaign.

After the shocking Brexit vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union—a vote which followed a campaign with racist and anti-immigrant undertones not unlike those during the U.S. presidential-election campaign—similar acts of overt discrimination were reported throughout the British isles. Regardless of how individuals had voted—for Brexit or against—many wanted some way to show their vote was not meant as being against any group of people.

Last June, individuals in Britain came up with the idea of wearing a safety pin as a way for people to quietly and unobtrusively signal that they were a “safe ally”—someone OK to sit next to on the bus, or to ask directions, or to make eye contact with on the street.

Not everyone is an activist, or able to speak publicly, or able to take time off from work, child-rearing or caretaking—and wearing a safety pin is a small way to say “I care.” It’s a way to show you believe we are all entitled to respect, regardless of our political differences. It’s a way of saying, “Hatred and violence is NOT what I voted for.”

In the Colorado Springs Gazette, a woman named Jacquie Ostrom said: “I’m wearing (a safety pin) because I believe in acceptance of all people—all colors, all faiths, all sexual orientation. It’s important … to know that we stand together.”

If wearing a safety pin is still too much of a public statement, there are other ways to get to that fifth stage. My niece, Karen, has connected to a group on Facebook that started with the idea, “What if I committed to one act of justice every day?” This approach is dedicated to making the world a better place one day at a time, and encourages peaceful acts meant to show respect for differences among us.

“I’m committing to do something positive and good for someone else every day,” said Karen. “And I’m committing to educate myself and others so I can better understand issues next time around.”  

Another—somewhat more ironic—approach is to make a donation to an organization that will probably face challenges during the next administration, but doing it in the name of someone else. For example, imagine how your Uncle Joe, a staunch Trump supporter, may feel when he gets a “Thank you!” from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Planned Parenthood.

I’ve often said that in evolutionary terms, we’re barely out of the slime as a species. As each new generation takes over, we move ever-so-slowly but inexorably forward. I continue to believe it’s going to be all right. But then, I’m a Pollyanna.

I’m wearing a safety pin.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

There are people you see often and think you know: the tennis pro at the club, the barber you see every couple of weeks, the market clerk who remembers your name, the co-worker you chat with at the coffee machine.

In my case, there’s the woman who engineers my radio show: I see her every Sunday. We share laughs and stories, and I sincerely appreciate everything she does to make my time on the air run smoothly.

I realized I didn’t know her at all the day she came in with her head shaved.

“Wow,” I said. “What a change! Did you decide to do that because summer’s coming?”

“No,” she said, wiping her hand over her newly hairless head. “Mischelle has cancer and is going to have chemo, and she’s worried about losing her hair. I wanted to show her how I’m right there with her.”

Marisol Valle is a board operator and on-air personality at Alpha Media, but she is so much more. Born in Indio 37 years ago, Marisol is the oldest of two; she has a brother, David. However, her mother is the oldest of nine daughters, so she has cousins and family everywhere around the Coachella Valley.

“I could never get away with anything,” she laughs.

Marisol graduated from Palm Springs High School in 1997. She went on to take classes at the California State University, San Bernardino, and then attended the Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting.

“I’d love to have my own talk show on the radio, specifically taking on subjects that affect women and the LGBT community,” she says.

Was it difficult coming out to her parents? “My dad says he knew all along. My mom was angry at first, but that was because I hadn’t told her. They’re fine with me. It’s just not an issue. I was always a tomboy, but I dated boys and found them attractive. I guess I would describe myself as bisexual rather than lesbian, but I just don’t like labels.

“In my 20s, I had a better idea of who I was, and when I met Mischelle, I knew she was someone special.”

At the time, Marisol was working at Desert Arc in their social recreation department, shepherding Arc participants to events like the Special Olympics. “I was moved to the behavior-modification department as an instructor, doing vocational training, and subsequently became supervisor of that area. It was there that I met Mischelle. She was one of my staff.”

Marisol and Mischelle Avalos have now been together for 10 years, the last three of them married. “We were married under the Marilyn Monroe statue when it was in downtown Palm Springs,” she laughs. “Now that it’s coming back to Palm Springs, we’ll be able to celebrate our anniversary there every year!”

In addition to her job at the radio station, Marisol today works as a special education assistant at Shadow Hills High School, tutoring in math.

“I realize math is difficult for everyone,” she says. “I understand math, but I never really liked it. I now know how important it is in every aspect of your life, and I try to pass that along to all the students. You need to know math, even if it’s only so you can help your own kids with their homework. Besides, you never really know when you’re going to need to use algebra: It’s about problem-solving, and you want people to be critical thinkers in the world.”

Marisol would like to go back and complete her undergraduate degree: “As I get closer to 40, I realize the best way to motivate my students to complete their education is by doing it myself. I like being a positive role model for the kids, but I really need to do it for myself.”

Mischelle was diagnosed with cancer in May.

“She’s had five rounds of chemo so far,” says Marisol. “The sixth round will be the last, and so far, the results are looking good. The main thing is that she’s still working (at a Palm Springs animal shelter), and she has received so much love and support and words of inspiration from everyone.”

Have they thought about having a family of their own?

“I like children … at least other people’s children,” Marisol says with a hearty laugh. “When we first got together, we talked about it, but it’s a big responsibility. Maybe we’ll adopt. There are so many kids out there who need a loving family, and exposure to the diversity a nontraditional family can bring. Maybe we’ll decide to be foster parents. It’s so important the difference you can make being part of a child’s life.”

Currently living in Desert Hot Springs, Marisol and Mischelle are great examples of people in your life whom you may not really know—but who are making an impact on the world while following their own path.

As Marisol says, “I’m looking forward to the next chapter on the journey.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The concept of “dementia cafés”—places where people, who all too often feel isolated and socially separated from their communities, can come together to relax and enjoy good company—has evolved and spread from Australia to England to Holland to Japan to San Francisco to Seattle to Santa Fe. It’s estimated that there are currently about 200 such cafés throughout the United States, designed to address the social implications of a dementia diagnosis on individuals, families, friends and caregivers.

Starting anything new is always a gamble, so as one of the founders of the Coachella Valley’s first Dementia-Friendly Café, I am proud to announce that the café is beginning its third year of operation this month.

At the first café, we thought we’d be lucky to have 15 to 20 people; 52 showed up. Clearly, there was a need.

Dementia cafés are not support groups or seminars or daycare. There are no presentations or literature, and no commercial promotions are allowed. It’s simply a place where people can meet others with similar experiences and concerns, and a place where everyone understands the need to just relax and enjoy being out in public without fear or embarrassment. The café is for spouses who need a break from their daily routine, or people who have been diagnosed but are still vibrant and independent, or friends who want to support other friends who are concerned about going out alone.

Too often, those with dementia (and their closest loved ones) tend to sever social connections at a time when they are needed most. There are lots of online sources for information as well as local organizations that offer support groups or counseling, but the café offers a chance to leave the disease at the door and just enjoy an afternoon with others who are happy to be able to do the same. 

According to Palm Desert resident Lynne Bailey, “Socialization opportunities diminish with the disease—for the one with the disease and the caretaker, also. The café is a welcoming place and gives our loved one with Alzheimer’s an opportunity to socialize without explaining, without judgment.” 

One of the first challenges of the founding group was figuring out where to hold the café. Palm Desert resident Dee Wieringa, administrator at Caleo Bay Alzheimer's Special Care Center, worked with management at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at The River in Rancho Mirage to establish a safe, social atmosphere, where people can come together in a relaxed environment. “So many people feel isolated,” says Wieringa. “There’s so much satisfaction in seeing them come out and socialize.”

We were amazed that some local restaurants with suitable space—and far from busy on a Wednesday afternoon—said our “clientele” wouldn’t be appropriate for their establishment. That kind of attitude was exactly why we decided to call it the Dementia-Friendly Café instead of using a euphemistic name. We were committed to finding ways to destigmatize the word “dementia,” since we all remembered how recently people would only whisper the word “cancer.”

Many of those who attend are dealing with Parkinson’s disease. One is Karen Kramer, a resident of Sun City Palm Desert. “We love coming to the dementia café,” she says. “We meet our Parkinson’s group there as a social event, and it is truly a lift.”

All too often, caregivers get into a routine that becomes self-perpetuating. One founder is Rupert Macnee of Rancho Mirage: “My role with the café was to greet folks and to circulate, bringing people together. The experience went a long way in helping me, along with my sister, to effectively manage our father’s care.

“I became much more understanding of his flights of fancy. I learned to accommodate his dreams and perceptions, without blocking them, or trying to make him ‘normal.’ My expectations of how I expected him to behave changed. I knew that to allay his fears was a No. 1 priority.”

Dementia in its many forms is an ever-increasing reality for many families. With that in mind, Dr. Soo Borson, another member of our original group, is beginning a Memory Café in Palm Springs in conjunction with Temple Isaiah. The first gathering is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 25, from 3 to 5 p.m.  Snacks, beverages and music will be offered. Everyone is welcome at no charge.

Meanwhile, the original Dementia-Friendly Café, held on the third Wednesday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m., is entering its third year at P.F. Chang’s. There is no cost to attend. Participants can order drinks or food from the happy-hour menu with separate checks, but no purchase is necessary.

I don’t really believe in horoscopes, although I read them every day. As I began this column, I read mine, which said: “Relationships are not simply about getting your needs met; they are about the profound impact that you have on others and how you are, in turn, affected by their stories.” That has been true for me these past two years as I have greeted everyone who has come to the Dementia-Friendly Café each month. 

Please feel free to join us as we move into our third year.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

A great theater experience allows us to see our human selves reflected back—in a way that moves, informs and enables us to relate to the realities of the lives of others.

When I was 17, my father threw me out because I had stayed out all night. Shortly thereafter, I got pregnant out of wedlock and contemplated suicide. I remember despondently standing in front of a bathroom mirror, ready to slit my wrists, and suddenly saying out loud to my reflection, “If it’s that bad, it can only get better.”

And it did.

Those feelings were overwhelmingly brought back when I attended the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre production of Push, written by George Cameron Grant, and directed by Cathedral City resident Jeanette Knight. The play was this season’s Youth Outreach Production. I first experienced this CV Rep program last year, when the focus was on female bullying.

The theater buses in students from throughout the area to see a one-act play about issues to which they can personally relate. After the production, the audience discusses the play’s themes with the actors and the director, to explore their own reactions and experiences. It’s more than a learning experience: For some students, it’s the first time they have attended dramatic theater and realized its ability to impact an audience.

Push revolves around a young man who comes out as gay to his parents and faces immediate rejection by his stern father. After the boy is thrown out, he subsequently suffers another rejection—by the boy he has fallen in love with—and commits suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming subway train. The play follows the anguish suffered by his sister, who runs away from home and is discovered at the same train station, contemplating ending her own life. As she struggles with her own feelings, she questions whether her brother made a choice, or whether he was “pushed” by others to feel he had no other options.

The performers in Push were almost all students, some of whom have never acted before. Their ability to inhabit the roles and then discuss with the audience the impact of those roles as it relates to their own lives and experiences was not only educational, but also very moving.

Ron Celona, the founding artistic director of CV Rep, participated in the after-play discussion. He noted that the 1,400-plus students who had seen Push were not so focused in the after-play discussions on the bullying and rejection of the boy’s sexuality; instead, their focus was on the suicide, an issue they and their friends had already encountered, either personally or through troubled acquaintances.

Jeanette Knight, originally from Michigan, has been in the desert since 1997.

“My mother dragged me to dance classes, and I now thank her every day for it,” she says. “I stayed with dance, and that’s how I got into acting.”

Knight began doing musical theater, and “I fell in love with the whole theater crowd.” She completed a degree in theater at UNLV, but says, “I’ve learned so much more from doing it outside of college.”

Knight’s local experience includes working at McCallum Theater as the education program manager, running the Beaumont Actors Studio, teaching acting and improvisation at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and teaching classes in improv at CV Rep. “I’ve learned so much about acting by teaching it,” she says.

When Ron Celona approached Knight about directing Push, she jumped at the chance. “I really like doing this kind of theater,” she says. “We can’t sweep these issues under the carpet. The kids who come to see these shows are our future.”

There are two local efforts devoted to assisting young people who feel unsafe or who are aware of someone else who feels threatened or hopeless: Sprigeo is an anonymous reporting and investigation service to deal with bullying, harassment or intimidation in or out of school, with which the Palm Springs Unified School District is affiliated. SafeHouse of the Desert helps teens in crisis; those who feel threatened can go to any Sunline bus stop or McDonald’s and get free transportation to SafeHouse.

My parents finally allowed me to return home, but only if I gave my child up for adoption. In those days, there was no real way a teenage unwed mother could make it, so I lived with the hope that my son had indeed been able to live a better life than I could have given him. My first-born son and I were happily reunited after over 40 years. He is a gay man.

At the end of Push, when the sister decides her life is worth living, and her father apologizes for having rejected his son and contributing to his death, I was overcome with tears. All I could think was: I am so thankful that something inside of me knew it would get better, and that my son was adopted into a family where he was loved and accepted.

CV Rep is truly making a difference. In Jeanette Knight’s words: “It’s rewarding to have a hand in art not just for art’s sake, but to be a part of theater that can help make the world a better place.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival offers young people around the world an opportunity to share their experiences and ideas about creating peace—by making films.

Carole Krechman, a 12-year resident of Rancho Mirage, is the driving force behind this transforming project, which is sponsored by her group, The Peacemaker Corps, a non-governmental organization established as a result of Carole’s experience as chairman of the board of the Friends of the United Nations.

Carole took a rather circuitous path to this endeavor. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School and went on to study architecture at UCLA. She spent many years redoing homes for famous people in the entertainment industry (she can drop names with the best of them!) before moving her specialty to roller-skating rinks, and then in the 1990s, to “family entertainment centers” including ice rinks, bowling alleys and so on.

“I’m especially proud of working in the late 1970s to establish the World on Wheels in South Central Los Angeles,” she recalls. “After the Watts riots, there was a need to rebuild the community. We convinced local politicians and the police that we could provide a safe environment for kids to come. We installed metal detectors, and ended up with a place that was safe and self-integrated, where young people could find companionship and community.”

Carole spent nine years working on projects in China, and as a result was asked to join the board of the Friends of the United Nations, a nongovernmental organization. In 1995, she was made chairman of the board.

“That was the year of the 50th anniversary of the UN,” she says, “and our role was to tell the world what was going on at the UN, to disseminate information that would help to build civil society around the world.”

Carole remembers the impact of listening to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. “He called for a decade of peace and tolerance,” she says, “and the Friends of the UN thought about creating a tolerance award. I left Friends in 1997 and spun off the Peacemaker Corps as a stand-alone NGO specifically focused on young people and those goals.”

Carole was able to secure a grant from Department of Housing and Urban Development and worked in partnership with malls around the country to offer restorative justice programs for youth.

“Our goal has always been to bring people together as colleagues instead of enemies,” she says. “We use education to empower youth to be actively involved in peacemaking in their own communities. When they attend mall events, they can download a free app to participate in global networks and activities.”

The Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival allows young filmmakers to use any technology available to share their own stories. Entries must be no more than five minutes long, and are judged in three categories: age 8 and under, 9-13, and 14-18.

“It hits my heart,” says Carole, “to get a film done on a cell phone from a young boy in a refugee camp, talking about the conditions and expressing his hope for a better life.”

Among the 2015 award winners are two local films made by participants in the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Ashelly Alvarez, of the Boys and Girls Club of Coachella Valley, took second place in the 8 and under category with her film, “Coachella Valley Peace in the Streets.”

Tiwahna Whyte, Vanessa Ledezma and Hayden Poulain of the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Springs won third place in 2015 in the 14-18 category. Their film, “Finding My Strength,” is a powerful personal statement by Tiwahna, who was bullied; she shares the way she handled her reactions. She first talks of confronting a bully and opening a dialogue that led to them becoming friends.

“All I did was stand up for myself. It was the first time I felt powerful. I said, ‘This is how I feel, and you can’t do anything about it, because I’m still going to do what I’m put on earth to do,’” she says in the film. Later, when she was again subject to bullying, she developed coping skills that included writing and sharing her feelings. Her film is a compelling testament to the difference it can make for youngsters to learn from others facing similar situations.

I urge you to go to the film festival website or scroll down to the end of this article to watch the amazing award-winning films submitted by young people from all around the world. The messages include one young man’s response to bullying: “Turn around and look at yourself.” A young girl walked around the streets of New York asking, “If you could change the world in one sentence, what would it be and why?” and submitted responses that vary from eating healthy to making peace. Another boy’s film, depicting physical confrontations, concludes, “You always have a choice, and it can change your own and everyone else’s lives.”

Carole Krechman has created and nurtured a wonderful organization dedicated to educating young people about their ability to influence each other to make a better world.

“I want kids to know they can walk anywhere in the world and know they’re not going to die, that violence won’t end their life,” she said.  

What have you done lately to make a difference? Supporting the Peacemaker Corps might be a good way to start.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Some columns are more difficult to write than others. This one will attempt to transcend partisan politics while I examine my unexpectedly overwhelming emotional reaction to the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president.

In June, I wrote about the reactions many local women had as they voted for a woman for president in the California primary. However, voting in a primary is not the same as actually watching a major party select a woman to be its candidate. That was history being made in real time, and many women I know—as well as some men, and many of my Republican friends—were similarly astonished at the intensity of their emotions while watching the Democratic Party officially nominate Hillary Clinton.

The gains achieved by the suffrage movement have always been incremental—countries where women were allowed to vote locally but not nationally; situations in which women could vote but not run for office; places where voting rights were granted only to certain races or classes. For example, Britain granted unmarried women who were “householders” the right to vote in local elections in 1869, expanding that to include married women in 1894.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to grant full equal voting rights to women. Australia followed with women receiving incremental suffrage between 1895 and 1908, based on where they lived in the country.

Finland adopted full female suffrage in 1906; Norway followed in 1913, and Denmark and Iceland in 1915.

In 1917, when the czar was overthrown in Russia, universal suffrage was declared. Great Britain was still struggling with class distinctions in 1918, empowering women based on being older than 30, or those with a university degree or those who owned certain property. (All men 21 and older were then given the right to vote.)

The United States finally granted women the vote in 1920, when on Aug. 26, the state of Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment. It’s worth acknowledging that this occurred less than 100 years ago.

Black women didn’t gain full suffrage in South Africa until 1994. Qatari women received the right to vote in 2003; Kuwaiti women followed in 2005. In 2011, King Abdullah issued a decree ordering that Saudi Arabian women be allowed to stand as candidates and vote, but only in municipal elections. Their first opportunity did not come until December 2015.

Today, many women still do not have the right to fully participate in their government. In Brunei, there are no national elections at all, although there is universal suffrage for those 18 and older in elections for village leaders. In the United Arab Emirates, just a small percentage of men and women were allowed to vote for the national advisory council in 2011—in fact, one woman was elected to the council—but neither men nor women can vote for the nation’s leader.

There are women we know here in the Coachella Valley who were born before the right to equal agency was achieved here in the United States—and now they have seen history made again. While my own story has always included the right to vote, it has not always included things we now take for granted, such as getting credit in one’s own name, have access to birth control without anyone else’s consent, qualifying for a loan even if one has children, or being able to apply for any job for which one is qualified (as opposed to sex-segregated “help wanted” ads that were the norm when I graduated high school).

Given all of this history—both my own and that of women around the world—I was still not prepared for the overwhelming intensity of my reaction when Hillary Clinton’s name was announced as the official candidate for president by a major political party. Whether you support her or not, she made history—and that’s worth savoring as indicative of how much has changed in a relatively brief period of time. In evolutionary terms, 100 years is a drop in the bucket.

There are still those who resist the idea that a woman can be president, including a 50-ish woman I saw interviewed on television who said, adamantly, “The president has to be a man. Women have hormones, so it has to be a man.”

In other words … we still have a long way to go.

The impact of the nomination of the first woman as a serious candidate for president is not ultimately of importance merely because it is a “first.” It’s important because, whether Hillary wins or loses, never again in America will any little girl have to set her sights lower than any little boy.

That is what brought my unexpected overflowing tears. I admit to having been taken aback upon realizing how much it mattered to me.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that transcends politics.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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