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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Know Your Neighbors

17 Oct 2018
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Back when the news was being dominated by the federal “zero-tolerance policy” which was resulting in family separations at the border, I attended a presentation by the writers’ group at Coachella Valley Repertory—always a great way to experience local talent. The final writer performing her original work was Barbara Fast, the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, doing a piece she called I Am Miriam. She told the story of Moses’ journey down the Nile in a reed basket, into the arms of the Egyptian princess who adopted him into the royal kingdom, from the perspective of Miriam, Moses’ sister. In Fast’s version, Miriam followed her brother’s journey and then suggested to the princess that she could get a Hebrew woman to breast-feed the baby—enabling their real mother to suckle her own infant. When Fast said her line about how no child should…
02 Oct 2018
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She was born 63 years ago as Laurence Meeks. “While I was growing up, my mom called me Laurie,” Meeks recalls. “I think she read Little Women too much! I didn’t want to be called Larry, like the character in Leave It to Beaver, and I had a female cousin named Laurie, so everybody shortened it to Laur. That stuck even when I was grown and in the Air Force. “That is, until I became Laura.” Born and raised in Wayzata, Minn., into a family with three brothers, “I was raised in a totally male environment,” Meeks says. “I was second oldest of two boys from my mom’s first marriage, which ended when I was quite young. Then, when she married my stepfather, they had two more boys. “My mom and stepfather are both gone now, but my dad, who had been a stockbroker, is still alive at 90 and…
19 Sep 2018
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When you meet Sharron Stroud, you immediately see the light that surrounds her: It’s not just the light blonde hair, but a radiance that shines from within. Stroud, 74, a 17-year resident of Palm Springs, is minister at the Innerfaith New Thought Spiritual Center, which meets Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at Temple Isaiah. “I was always spiritual,” says Stroud, “from the time when I was young. A neighbor used to take me to church, where I always found a sense of community that I didn’t have at home.” Born in Oklahoma, Stroud arrived in California at 3 months old and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. “It was a home filled with alcoholism and domestic violence,” she recalls. “My dad was a World War II vet who worked as an artist at Disney. But he had problems. He used to say, ‘You’ll never amount to anything.’ My mom, on…
05 Sep 2018
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When you meet John McMullen, one thing becomes immediately clear: He likes to talk. Considering McMullen has spent his life in radio and alternative media, it’s clear he recognized his direction very early. McMullen, 55, and a Palm Springs resident since 2007, began his obsession with media arts in elementary school. “I had always been fascinated by the people’s voices coming out of the box on the dashboard,” he recalls. “My uncle was a well-known radio personality (in the Seattle area), and I remember sitting in his lap while he was on the radio. I told my uncle, ‘I’m going to go into TV—you can get awards!’ He said, ‘Why not radio? There are awards there, too.’ He relished having me want to follow in his footsteps. My cousins and I spent summer vacations from age 12 working at my uncle’s radio station. “I remember in the fourth-grade, my best…
22 Aug 2018
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I am incensed that the president of the United States may have been caught on tape saying the “N” word, and that his administration can’t “guarantee” that such a tape won’t surface. He ran a campaign that cast “political correctness”—the progressive notion that we should recognize the impact of language relating to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—as having run amok. The “N” word inherently assumes a sense of superiority to those being thus described. I steadfastly maintain that the word, and its hateful presumption, cannot possibly be said or even thought unless it’s already programmed into your thinking. Racism is a cancer at the core of our culture. It’s in our cultural DNA. I was lucky enough to be raised in a household where racist language was never heard or used. I had a mother who always used any situation to inculcate the equality of every individual. If we…
08 Aug 2018
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Our families influence who we become—and like many women who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, the conflict between the politics of the era and what she saw in her own home shaped Jeanie Ribeiro’s life. Ribeiro, 67, was born and raised in Onset, a village that calls itself “the gateway to Cape Cod,” about an hour outside of Boston. “It’s not far from where the Kennedys have their enclave. We used to say we were on the poor side of the bridge,” she laughs. “But we were only about two blocks from the beach. As a kid, I could go to the back bay all by myself and just hang out.” Ribeiro and her siblings—two sisters and a brother—lived around lots of family. “We had aunts and uncles and cousins from my mother’s family all around us, and my father’s family lived only about 20 minutes away,”…
25 Jul 2018
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Coachella Valley Repertory, the quality theater company currently performing in Rancho Mirage, has a writers’ program, and each year, those writers read or enact their own works during a presentation. Andy Harmon heads the writers’ program, and this year, one of the participants was Anita Harmon—who recited her very personal poetry. The work, and her presentation of it, was mesmerizing. Anita, 73, was born and raised in London, and educated at Le Lycée Français. “I didn’t go on to college because, after all, it was the 60s!” she laughs. “I met Andy when he was on a ‘grand tour’ of Europe on his first summer break while studying at Brandeis University. He was 18, and I was 19. I was waitressing to fund my traveling. I went to France, Italy, Spain, North Africa—all over. Andy and I stayed in touch for four years after that. He came over every summer,…
11 Jul 2018
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Wayne Sinclair didn’t intend to spend most of his professional life as a medical-malpractice lawyer. Born and raised in Leechburg, Pa., the Palm Springs resident, now 72, started higher education at West Virginia University. “I wanted to go to Pitt (the University of Pittsburgh), but the tuition was too high,” he said. “I had originally thought of being a minister, until I was about 21, and explored the seminary twice—once in high school, and once in college. I finally figured out it wouldn’t be a good thing for me. I ended up majoring in political science and minored in history and Russian. “There were six grad-school slots open when I graduated, so I went into the law school. I was fortunate that a leading national firm, Steptoe and Johnson, had an opening. I started in accident claims, and I remember my first case was a $1,000 accident. I won the…
27 Jun 2018
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He’s tall, lanky and attractive, with a quick smile and garrulous wit … and he cooks! David Jackson, 63, was born in East Los Angeles and raised there with his two sisters until his sophomore year in high school, when his dad was transferred, and the family moved to Toronto. Jackson started cooking along with his grandmother when he was about 3. “I had a Swedish grandma,” he says, “and learned to cook all kinds of wonderful Swedish dishes. I started working as a cook at about 16, while I was still in high school in Toronto, in the kitchen at a nice hotel. “Then I went to a fly-fishing camp near the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. I was hired as the dishwasher and kitchen assistant; however, the lead cook was a 25-year-old clown who didn’t even know how to make icebox cookies; he thought you just made…
13 Jun 2018
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I don’t cook. It’s not that I can’t; I just don’t enjoy it. Still … I can’t imagine what it would be like to learn to cook if I couldn’t see. At the Braille Institute in Rancho Mirage, Chef John Phillips teaches people with limited vision how to develop what he calls “the basic skills a food handler would need to know in a professional kitchen,” including using knives safely (“There are NO plastic knives in my kitchen!”), chopping vegetables, making sauces, defrosting frozen foods, baking meatloaf, gauging food temperature, practicing sanitary precautions and using a fire extinguisher—all the basic skills that enable someone to safely prepare simple meals. “I sometimes have four or five people in the class who can’t see at all, so I will pair them up with someone with at least partial sight,” Phillips says. “We don’t do foods that are deep-fried, but I can teach…

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