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Know Your Neighbors

01 Jan 2014
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In 2000, Pay It Forward, a movie starring Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and Hayley Joel Osment, made an indelible impression on me. I believe every occurrence in every moment of our lives is open for us to learn something from it—if we can just figure out what that lesson is, whether we like it or not. We can then pay it forward in how we live our lives. So it’s the start of the new year, and we’re doing what we do every year—comparing lists of bests and worsts, wins and losses of the previous year. One list I’m always both ready and reluctant to see: celebrity deaths. The older I get, the more I notice that lots and lots of people I used to “know” are gone: movie stars, local heroes, famous leaders and friends. But instead of lamenting losses, I’ve decided to celebrate lessons learned and pay them…
18 Dec 2013
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I was struck by the recent story of a 65-year-old woman who gave up a baby son when she was 19 and unmarried. The story ended tragically: She discovered he had been one of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing when he was only 21. Then I saw the movie Philomena, based on a terrific book by Martin Sixsmith. It’s the lovely story of a woman who sought to find her adopted son after more than 50 years of anguish. Those stories brought home for me how lucky I was to receive perhaps the greatest gift I’ve ever received, about nine years ago. I, too, had given up a baby boy at birth, when I was barely 18 and unmarried. It was the “dark ages” of the 1950s, when young women had few choices. Most adoptions then were “closed,” meaning no information could be garnered by the birth parent after…
04 Dec 2013
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It’s just not supposed to be this way. When a young child dies, there is always an outpouring of support for the parents, and a lamenting of the lost possibilities of a life that will never be fully realized. But what about the loss of an adult child, whose life has already taken its own direction? My youngest stepson, Thomas Aylesworth, died at 34, a victim of melanoma. He had received treatment in his 20s for a skin-cancer growth on his shoulder, and successfully came through it to pursue a successful career as a chef. Several years later, he discovered a lump in his chest. Six months after that, he was gone. The doctor said to think of this virulent type of cancer as if someone scattered seeds in an empty lot, and eventually, some of them took root. It was little comfort for the family, but at least we…
20 Nov 2013
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Higher-education degrees are increasingly based on what you can do rather than how long you sit in a classroom, so it is pertinent to ask how technology is affecting K-12 education. A recent symposium, “Literacy Summit 4,” held at Cal State San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus, brought together four teachers showcasing their efforts to incorporate computer-based learning into their lesson plans. The east valley’s Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) has made the news based on its ambitious goal of providing 18,000 iPads to its students. Katherine Quintana, who teaches at Coral Mountain Academy in Coachella, has already begun using the iPads under the CVUSD pilot program. Quintana has co-produced a short video documenting the project’s use by 120 teachers in CVUSD classrooms. “The capabilities are endless,” says Quintana. “Students are empowered to find their own answers to questions. It’s instantaneous, spontaneous and exciting—a change-based learning model that supports critical-thinking…
08 Nov 2013
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After hearing the lamentable Rush Limbaugh refer to the “chickification of America,” because NFL football players wore pink to support breast cancer research (men have breasts too, you know, and also get cancer), I was fuming and determined to write about my anger and frustration. In spite of that initial impulse, here’s what I’m NOT writing about today: • October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As someone who was once in an abusive relationship (and if it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone, men included), I’m NOT writing about how important it is that society recognize the reality of how difficult it is to leave and to stay alive. I’m NOT writing about how 44 percent of all women murdered with guns in the U.S. are killed by a current or former intimate partner. • More than 135,000 women became extremely poor in 2012—not just poor, but…
23 Oct 2013
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I’m always fascinated by people who find ways to change their lives and pursue their dreams. Leanna Bonamici, 58, of Palm Springs, is a great example of such a person. After a career in insurance and real estate, Leanna became a wine consultant, buyer and educator, teaching classes on how to have “wine-pairing dinners.” “It was a very engaging subject,” she says. “I loved it. People would say, ‘I have to impress my boss.’ I always told them that the best bottle of wine in the world is the one that’s your favorite! “But after 10 years, I wanted to do more. I was interested in how to reach the masses of people who aren’t really into wine.” Growing up in Los Angeles, Leanna had wanted to be a producer—organizing projects and seeing them come to fruition. “I wanted to be behind the scenes. For years, I carried around the…
09 Oct 2013
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Embarrassing confession: I’m writing a book. I’ve been working on it for years. After bothering neighbors who have successfully been published, I’ve now discovered that there are two sides to the story (no pun intended): the writing side—inspiration, ability, dedication, discipline; and the business side—publishers, distribution, reviews, press. First, the business side. With self-publishing, one generally pays a fee up front and gets limited assistance; as orders come in, books are printed to fill those purchases. The writer gets a percentage of total sales, but can also purchase books at a reduced cost and sell them on his or her own at book-signings or via websites. The publishing companies may perform other services for additional fees. Self-publishing—including eBooks—is now so prevalent that it is no longer considered “lesser” in a world where big publishers no longer control the game. For Dessa Reed, a Palm Springs poet, getting published put her…
25 Sep 2013
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We like to group things: a covey of quail, a flock of ducks, a flight of swans, a pack of wolves. I spent last week attending two very different events where neighbors come in groups. First, I had lunch with the Democratic Women of the Desert (DWD) to hear a discussion about the current and future state of Medicare. The program, on Sunday, Sept. 15, featured our local congressman, Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician who has been instrumental in providing health-clinic services in places ranging from Haiti to our own local poor communities; and Dr. Jeffrey E. Kaufman, an Orange County urologist who also teaches at the University of California at Irvine and has participated on the California Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee since 1997. A streak of tigers. Later in the week, on Thursday, Sept. 19, I attended an evening meeting of the Palm Springs chapter of Republican…
11 Sep 2013
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I’m having a bad hair life. Not just a bad hair day … a whole lifetime! I was born with stringy, straight, thin (and ever-thinning), blonde (well, at least I got something right!) hair. To perm or not to perm? Short or long? Cut or grow? Color, highlight or go natural? Wig or no wig? Thank God for good hairdressers! And when you go to a salon, doesn’t the hair of the person doing your hair make a difference? My new role model in life is Cindy Melchor, 53, of La Quinta. Cindy received a high school equivalency degree at 16. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I didn’t want to go to school. I had been a model once for a neighbor who was in beauty school, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It looked like something that would get me out of school.” She…
28 Aug 2013
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Government workers! Political appointees! Those people—and we love to trash them. Elected officials, whether at the local, county or state level, need professional staff to help them represent us, the people who elected them. Political staff are literally public-service employees: They represent an elected official by serving the public. Recent studies indicate that public-employee salaries, with benefits included, may lag a bit behind the salaries of private-sector workers. The average annual salary for a political staff job is $59,000, near the mean that defines “middle class.” When economic times are tough, and politicians want to score points, we hear lots of calls for “those people” to lose their jobs—implying that we don’t need them. But who are “those people,” and what exactly do they do? Pat Cooper, born in Blythe and currently living in Indio, did not grow up in a political household. She became issue-oriented when she joined the…

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