CVIndependent

Mon08202018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

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, 76, 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,” she says.

Ribeiro’s forebears emigrated from Cape Verde, an island nation off the northwest coast of Africa, in the early 1900s, when the islands suffered a severe drought and famine. The islands were colonized by the Portuguese, and were a pivotal location in the early slave trade. It was also a haven for Jews and others who were victims of the Portuguese-Spanish Inquisition. The population, with a mixture of European, Moorish, Arab and African backgrounds, developed its own unique Creole culture and language.

“When I was young, a lot of the kids I went to school with came from immigrant families,” says Ribeiro. “Everybody seemed to have grandparents, or even parents, who spoke a language other than English. … There were so many backgrounds in our own family. We were black and Portuguese. My grandpa was a citizen of Portugal. One of my grandmothers was English. I always used to ask, ‘What are we?’”

Ribeiro is described by everyone who knows her as fiercely independent.

“I always felt as if I were an only child, even from about the age of 2,” she says. “I really liked being on my own. My mom instilled in me a desire to be independent. She was in a traditional-role marriage with my dad. She had a beautiful voice, and people always said she was as pretty as Lena Horne. I don’t remember my dad ever being really kind to my mother. I remember when all she wanted was to get a job, and he absolutely forbade it.

“My dad was a hard-working man who was basically living the American dream. His mother had died when he was very young, and the only memory of her that he had was when they lowered him to kiss her in her coffin. Can you imagine? His primary focus was taking care of and protecting his family, but he was something of a playboy. In fact, I met a young woman who was actually a child of my dad.

“Dad got abusive toward my mom, and she threatened to leave him several times. I just know that she never had the chance to live the life she might have wanted. I learned that independence meant being happy by doing what you want to do.

“To this day, I always go everywhere alone. Of course I have friends, but they know not to put any demands on me. I never wanted to be tied down to anyone. I do things when I want to. Even when I had boyfriends, I never lived with them. I didn’t want anyone taking over my world the way my dad had with my mom.”

Ribeiro prides herself on being self-educated and a voracious reader. After she graduated from high school, she wanted a way out of the small town where she was raised. “There were maybe 2,000 people in the whole area, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women, especially women of color,” she said. “I had a friend who had a management job at the telephone company in Boston. When I went in for that interview, I knew they would give me the job. They needed younger people. I may have been the first woman of color they had hired.”

Ribeiro came to California in 1975. “I had a cousin in Los Angeles, and we roomed together for a while. I realized I didn’t want to live right in the city. I found a job in Santa Monica and a place where I could walk to work.”

Ribeiro later moved up to Big Bear Lake and loved it. “It was the air up there, especially after being in Los Angeles,” she said. “I’m totally an outdoor person. I skied, biked and hiked. In fact, it’s because the air was so clean that I stopped smoking!

“Fun to me means getting up early to walk, reading two or three books at a time, and going to cultural events, the museum, art exhibits. And when you go places alone, you meet interesting people. Conversations don’t happen easily when you’re already with someone else.

 “I moved down to the desert because I’m starting to age, and I wanted to be closer to medical facilities. I love living my life here in my own way.”

Ribeiro realizes the women of her generation fought to avoid living their lives in the same roles as their parents. “Men are attracted to my independence—but then I can’t be what they mean by ‘wife,’” she says. “Between the propaganda (of feminism) in the 1960s, and my mom’s marriage, the message that came through to me was that unless you find the right fit, you don’t have to be married. I’ve been asked, ‘Are you a lesbian?’ since I’ve never married. I’m not, but my response is, ‘Sex is sex. If you love someone, what difference does it make?’

“I think I was born with a positive attitude. I’ve always been focused on what’s happening right now. People who glorify the past are boring. Sure, we have memories, but I’m always open to the next new thing coming down the road. Right now, I’m joyful, happy and healthy, and I’m free to do anything I want.”

Thanks to the lessons of her own family and of the changing cultural norms for women in her generation, Jeanie Ribiero lives her life to the fullest.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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

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, and we’d travel together.”

Anita’s mother had an important influence on her daughter, an only child.

“My mom was probably the most unprejudiced woman I’ve ever known,” she says. “She would talk to anybody and everybody. I remember once, in the 1950s, she brought home a very large, black African man. He was studying in London and didn’t really know people, and she just said to him, ‘Come home with me.’ He turned out to be Robert Mugabe.”

Mugabe was a Zimbabwean politician and revolutionary who served as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987, and then as president from 1987 to 2017.

 “I grew up that way, and to this day, as long as somebody will talk to me, I’ll talk back,” Anita says.

Her father instilled in her a love of reading. “He was a bit of a difficult man, but he ran a bookstore for a while, and I could always have any book I wanted to read,” she says. “I was drawn to natural science—insects and animals, things that live under water, and human anatomy. I’d just look at all the pictures. I also read a lot of children’s books. My favorites were Through the Looking-Glass—I liked that one better than Alice in Wonderland, because she met all different kinds of characters—and The Wind in the Willows, because of the friendships. Friendship is the most important thing to me. My best friend, until she died, was someone I met when I was only 7.”

At 23, Anita moved to Boston to be with Andy, and lived there from 1968-1977.

“Andy was majoring in theater arts at Brandeis,” she says, “and I couldn’t work since I didn’t have a green card, so I got swept up in the theater work he was doing. My first job was sewing costumes. Then they asked me to go onstage as an extra. For me, it was like going to the best party ever. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t afraid at all. I felt like the Roadrunner just running straight off the cliff!”

Anita credits her lack of stage fright to the sense of responsibility she felt toward the other actors onstage:. “I never wanted to let anybody down. If you mess up, it’s more complicated for everyone else. That’s why I didn’t really like doing scripted parts.”

Anita and Andy got involved in improvisation, and she considers it her first love onstage: “You go onstage without the faintest idea of what might happen. You just have to take care of each other. It’s like being the catcher in a trapeze act.”

Anita and Andy have two children, one in England and the other in San Diego, and now a granddaughter, Cordelia.

“After 10 years raising my kids, I went back to school and got a degree in psychology,” says Anita. “I practiced for about 10 years. Then Andy and I put together a business doing management training, and brought our improv skills to companies to help with communication.”

Anita has been a resident of Rancho Mirage since 2006. “We lived 35 years in London, and in 2006 decided to come back to California. We’ve basically been retired for 12 years now.”

But retired doesn’t really describe Anita’s life today. While Andy is running the writer’s program for CV Rep, Anita got involved with the poetry workshop sponsored by the Rancho Mirage Library for several years, and has been writing with the hope of publishing her very personal memoir in poetic form.

“When I retired, I finally got serious about writing. I was inconsistent about it until then,” she says. “As much as I’ve wanted to do my memoir, now I’m interested in writing personal essays. I got involved with Andy’s group at CV Rep this past year, because I wanted to be pushed a bit. I’ve also been doing a writing class with friends for the past six years. Every Friday morning, we get together and just write.”

Where does Anita find inspiration? “One thing that always works to inspire me is travel. I went to England for a month last summer and just pulled out my laptop and started writing. A change of scene always stimulates me. And when I’m stuck in one place, I go to a museum or art gallery. Looking at other people’s work gives me a new way of looking at something. When I read other writers, my own voice goes off underneath. I also have a big file where I just keep adding things that I’ve read or overheard that I might want to write about.

“One of my preoccupations is time, not just because time runs out, but because of how ancient the Earth is. … We all tend to forget that.”

Time the soldier toiling up a hill knows his death or life

is all the same to the grass at the summit. Life and Death

The two sides of time, stood still for one moment,

Like the antlers of a deer holding up the moon.

Anita Harmon is a special person who brings the beauty of the world as she sees it to those of us lucky enough to hear her words.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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

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 thing. We were also required to take court-appointed criminal cases, pro bono. I wasn’t enamored of that type of law. I had about 150 to 200 cases, and almost everyone I represented was guilty.

“I only tried two of those cases in court, one a murder that even made True Detective magazine. Someone once came up to me in a store and said, ‘I was on your first case, and we thought you were so cute that you should win.’

“I moved on to insurance defense and medical malpractice. I represented hospitals and doctors. There’s a need for such a thing as malpractice insurance. Although most doctors are good, there is such a thing as negligence. It becomes a battle of expert witnesses. I learned that when people say, ‘It’s not about the money,’ it is.”

Sinclair’s 42 years of practicing law include being a senior officer and principal with MMI Companies, Inc., an international health-care and professional liability insurance company, which he helped take public. After leaving MMI, Sinclair, along with other principals, formed R2H Herrington, dedicated to medical-malpractice reinsurance audits. He was also general counsel for the Clarity Group, a Chicago-based health-care insurance company, and presently does independent consulting work.

About 26 years ago, while in Chicago, Sinclair met John Di Napoli, 55.

“We met in a bar on a Saturday,” recalls Sinclair. “The next day, I had a Presbyterian lesbian and gay caucus. John came to the picnic with me, and it went from there. When I moved to Washington, D.C., he followed me. He has a degree in community organizing, and once made peace among 12 Wiccan groups! John was on the pride commission that held the first trans pride event in the country, and he won their Engendered Spirit Award.”

Wayne and John have been married for the past 9 years.

Sinclair says he knew he was gay when he was in junior high school.

“Boy, from the Tarzan movies, was my first crush! I was trying to figure it out, but it was all a mess,” he said. “I did a lot of things while I was in college, including drinking too much. I was always asked why I had no girlfriend, and I always said I was too busy. I finally came out at 31, after my father had passed away. I told my mom, and her response was, ‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier so I could have helped you?’

“I’ve worked with gay homeless youth for a long time, and my advice is it’s great to come out when you can, but if you’re going to get thrown out, it’s better to wait. If you’re questioning and have problems, find someone to talk to. Schools have counselors, and there are resources available. But everybody has to do it at their own pace.”

Wayne and John have been in Palm Springs for six years, and Sinclair has brought his expertise to the board of JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio.

“I’ve found out that in the past, they didn’t have the greatest reputation around here. The new CEO has made big changes, including knowing how to hire really good people,” Sinclair said. “All their evaluation scores are now up to A’s, and they’ve put incredible emphasis on patient safety.”

Sinclair is now also serving on the board of the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I got involved primarily because of Elaine Meyerhoffer, the president,” he said. “She and I go to the same church. She knew I was a screaming liberal, so she asked me to join the board.

“In Chicago, I was on the board of The Night Ministry, working with homeless gay youth, which at that time were about 40 percent of those on the streets. I have a real interest in protecting gay youth, and John has been very involved with the trans community. The ACLU here focuses on both of those issues, so I’m pleased to be able to serve.”

An avid traveler, Sinclair has visited 35 countries. Among his favorite places are the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia; the island of Palau; and Istanbul, Turkey, with a particular focus on an area in central Turkey, Cappadocia, where a volcano erupted 15 million years ago.

“We went down 1,500 feet and stayed in an underground cave where a city of 25,000 people hid from the Hittites,” he said. “They have about a thousand sandstones that look like upside-down conical hats. And one of the frescoes is of a man praying, wanting to become a woman, and in the next panel, he is a woman. We try to take a trip every year. It’s amazing what you can find.”

Sinclair’s advice for others? “Be comfortable with yourself. Be kind to yourself. I learned from my law firm to be ethical. My main thing is to be honest and have integrity. As RuPaul says, ‘If you can’t love yourself, who can you love?’”

Wayne Sinclair has had a life full of work, discovery and service. What’s not to love?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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

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 the dough, wrapped it in wax paper, refrigerated, sliced and served. He didn’t know you had to bake them! That’s when I took over the camp cook duties to the great relief of the camp staff and guests.

“I never attended traditional professional cooking schools. I went to the School of Hard Knocks. Working under head chefs in lots of restaurants, I learned all the elements you get in a year of formal training: sauces, baking, mise en place (getting everything organized and ready), butchery, seasonings—all the basics. I did go to Mesa College for a while, taking only the classes I wanted in hotel and restaurant administration, but that was it.”

Jackson’s cooking career includes a stint at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and many other high-end kitchens where he honed his craft. He can drop lots of famous names.

Jackson’s dad had moved the family to San Diego, where his father had a construction and sign business. “He was a sign-hanger,” he says. “He had hung most of the neon around Los Angeles in the late 1950s and 1960s. He even worked on the Hollywood sign!

“After cooking in the San Diego area for about eight years,” says Jackson, “I realized I didn’t want the headaches of my own restaurant, so I started working side by side with my dad in the family business for a while.

“I also had become a fishing freak; I would cast a line into a rain puddle! As a young man, I would bring a camera with me when I went on fishing trips, and I began writing articles which got published in national magazines. All of a sudden, I was a freelance photo-journalist.”

Jackson’s family roots in the high desert go back to his grand-aunt and grand-uncle who bought property in 1947 through the Homestead Act. His grandparents and parents also bought in the high desert, and Jackson has acquired additional high desert property; he currently resides there.

“I’ve built three homes by hand,” he says, “and any home-builder who is self-motivated can do it all—carpentry, glazing, everything. You do need a good plumber and an electrician. There’s a story about Spencer Tracy, where he was once on the red carpet about to be interviewed by famed Hollywood columnist Army Archerd. Army asked Tracy about the importance of the star-studded night. Tracy responded, ‘Tonight’s not important. You want to know what’s important? Plumbing.’ I’ve never forgotten that!”

Jackson started playing with the idea of doing a cooking show in the early 1980s. “I was interested in television chefs like Julia Child and Graham Kerr, ‘The Galloping Gourmet.’ I had done some news segments for KESQ-TV in the low desert called ‘Food for Thought.’

“Then, in 1985, I connected with a new hospital satellite network in Los Angeles, one of the first of its kind, designed specifically for doctors and hospitals to further medical information and training. People could watch it in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I did 13 segments of Healthy Lifestyle with co-hosts Bruce Jenner and Jean Carroll. I was the cook and segment host. There weren’t many cooking shows back then, and I had to pay for it all myself, plus pay for the broadcast time. I hoped it would generate a PBS show. I had gotten on TV, but it was not to be, so I shifted back to the family business.”

Jackson’s hope has now materialized—and he has a successful PBS show. Food Over 50 is based on the fact that once people hit middle age, their eating habits need to change along with their changing bodies.

“It’s the time when doctors see blood pressure going up,” he says. “It’s time to start watching salt intake, to start exercising; it’s the age when it’s important to monitor and maintain our health. I’m not a doctor or a dietitian, so I’ve teamed up with Elizabeth Kelsey, who was chief dietician at Eisenhower Medical Center for over 25 years, and who designed the nutrition program for the Betty Ford Center. Every recipe I use is cleared through her, and she does commentary on camera for the show.

“Back in the 1980s, we knew about things like sodium and cholesterol, but people weren’t really listening much. Now there’s much more information available, and people are paying attention. Right now, it’s just me and my director/cameraman in a small space I’ve set up. But PBS has a wonderful system of conventions for programmers, and I got what’s known as a presenting station, WKAR, in East Lansing, Mich. There are 354 licensed stations within the PBS network, and we’re on 290 of them. That’s 82 perecnt of television households in the country!”

Jackson intends to continue featuring the low and high deserts on Food Over 50, with segments on everything from local fresh food markets to working with dementia-related groups to help caregivers learn how to facilitate healthy eating. “I’ve been caring for my mother, and I’ve learned that you have to slow everything down. People eat with sight and smell, but those with illnesses like dementia have limited sensory capability,” he says. “Food must be more flavorful and nutritious. You have to give them time to smell the food and stimulate their appetites. Good nutrition can make a difference, even with physical issues. You also need to be aware of your own physicality and be gentle, like with a young child. You need patience and endurance. ”

Jackson hopes to expand the reach of Food Over 50, and engage in what he calls culinary travel—finding the healthiest and best of every culture’s cuisine. He also intends to “keep teaching fish a lesson, but never catching more than I can eat.”

David Jackson’s patience and endurance is finally paying off.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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 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 them how to flip an egg—we practice with a slice of bread—bake barbecue chicken, and make vegetable soup.”

Phillips, 55, a La Quinta resident, has lived full-time in the Coachella Valley for 23 years. Born and raised in St. Cloud, Minn., he began working in kitchens at the age of 14 as a dishwasher. “In my family, my brothers and I always worked. My parent said we had to work for our ‘stuff,’ so we always had the nicest cars and clothes.”

One night, the fry cook didn’t show up, and Phillips’ boss told him he was going to be the fry cook that night.

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I don’t think anyone really does until after high school,” he said. By age 18, he was already cooking full-time.

Phillips went to culinary school. Some of his teachers owned a catering company, so he picked up additional work. “In those days, we had a cow hanging in the back, and would cut the mold off and cook the steaks. It’s not like that anymore,” he said.

Phillips was working at King’s Supper Club on the Mississippi River when he decided he wanted to take a break from cooking. One of his brothers had started a landscaping business in Moreno Valley, so he headed for California.

“I had never been to California,” he says, “so I went. I worked there for about a year, but I got really tired of pulling weeds in 110-degree heat, so I started working as a cook in a few places.”

Phillips’ career has taken him from San Bernardino to Solana Beach to Garden Grove, and finally to the Coachella Valley. He’s worked at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, Casey’s, Ramada Inns, Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, La Quinta Cliff House, Touché in Rancho Mirage, and Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, among others places. He has been a head chef as well as a food and beverage manager for 39 years.

“When I worked with Ramada Inns, I had to take 197 hours of education courses in hospitality, including management of both the front and back of the house,” Phillips said. “One of the things I learned is that getting to be head chef and food and beverage manager too often means working longer hours but not getting paid for both positions.”

Phillips said he has seen a lot of Coachella Valley restaurants come and go. “Everyone with a little money thinks they can open a restaurant. They don’t realize the overhead costs, taxes and fees, and that you just can’t keep adding things to the menu.”

His work as a chef is how Phillips met his wife, Caroline. “I was working at a hotel in San Bernardino, and she used to come to get my famous ribs,” he said. “One night, we were out of ribs, and she asked to speak to the chef.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Phillips has a stepson, and he and Caroline have a daughter.

In his 40s, Phillips thought he needed glasses and went to see an eye doctor, who sent him to a retina specialist after diagnosing the “wet” type of macular degeneration in both of his eyes. “Dry” macular is slow-progressing, and can often be controlled with diminishing progression over time. “Wet” macular is fast-moving and treated with injections directly into the eye.

“I’ve had 33 injections already,” Phillips said, “and I have so much scar tissue now that they probably won’t be able to give me shots anymore. I have some peripheral vision in my right eye, but my left eye is pretty well gone. The first time they gave me one of the shots, I thought the first shot to numb the area was bad enough. Now they’ve developed a numbing agent that makes it a lot easier.”

Phillips walks with a white red-tipped cane, has a computer with special devices, and proudly says he “can do anything that anybody else can do.”

Although Phillips has been volunteering at the Braille Institute for the past few years, he was originally reluctant to go there at all.

“I think a lot of people don’t take advantage of what Braille offers, because they figure if they attend, they’ll just learn how to read in Braille,” he says. “It’s so much more than that.”

Phillips not only teaches cooking classes at the Braille Institute; he caters holiday meals and special events for up to 100 people. He also teaches a class in history/philosophy asking what he calls “big questions.”

“People need to know there is so much here that they can do and learn—piano, computers, agriculture, cooking and classes in so many other subjects,” he says. “It’s about learning life skills and sensory awareness. I have one student who is totally blind, and I make him do a lot of the work, because he has ambition. There are a lot of people who just want to sit back and feel sorry for themselves.

“My wish is to see my daughter married and to have grandchildren before I totally lose my sight. I’m fortunate. There are some people who’ve never seen in their whole life.”

What advice does Phillips have? “Never give up. There’s always something more to come.”

With an attitude like that, John Phillips could make me enjoy cooking.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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’m always pleasantly surprised when I realize that someone I thought I knew turns out to be so much more than I could ever have imagined.

Shellie Meeks is my technical producer and board operator at iHub Radio in Palm Springs. I always feel supported when her face is on the other side of the console. Shellie is pleasant, diligent and determined to work around an often-debilitating case of fibromyalgia.

I thought I knew her—and then one day, I was blown away. My subject was witches, and I was quoting statistics about how many (mostly) women were killed in just a year’s time in Salem, Mass., at the end of the 17th century. Off the top of her head, Shellie asked if I knew that 60,000 so-called witches were killed throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

Who knows something like that?

Shellie Meeks, 40, has lived in Joshua Tree with her husband, Cary, for about two years. She grew up in a military family, and her early years were spent mostly in the Pacific—in Okinawa, Japan, and Guam. Her mom, Annie, ended up at the Pentagon, and her dad (specifically, her stepdad who adopted her at age 8), a former B-52 pilot, settled the family, including Shellie and her two brothers, in Virginia.

After graduating from high school in 1995, Shellie had to work to be able to go to college.

“It took me 10 years to get my B.A.,” she says. “I attended George Mason University, and worked sometimes three jobs to pay for it. I was originally studying to be a photographer, but I had to take two art-history classes—and I got hooked. I switched my major to art history.

“I remember when I was about 11, in Guam, I had a teacher who showed us a film … that was set in ancient Egypt. I never forgot it. I also loved museums when I was a kid, and living for so long in the Far East, I really got into Japanese art and culture.”

A favorite professor contacted Shellie after she finished her degree, to let her know they were starting a master’s degree program for art history. She jumped back in. “It was hard and grueling, but awesome!”

A professor in the master’s program, whom Shellie describes as “one of my best friends ever,” exposed Shellie to East Indian art. “It was amazing to see such a different style than I’d ever seen before. He opened a world to me I could never have imagined.

“He was one of the first people who actually said how much he believed in me. It changed my life.”

Shellie’s work life has included a stint as a country-music DJ in Virginia while she was attending the Columbia School of Broadcasting, interning as part of her degree path. “I got part of my tuition paid by taking the placement. They told me it wouldn’t pay much, but would be good experience. The station was run by a guy named ‘Cousin Ray’ who had been in that industry since the 1930s and knew all the country stars from that period. It was interesting and educational, and I enjoyed it, but the pay was less than minimum wage. I was working two jobs just to survive.”

When her mom retired, Shellie’s parents started a business involved with government contracts, and Shellie worked with them for a time. While doing so, she met Cary Shaffner, to whom she has been married for 12 years. “We met in early 2006, and married that December.”

In addition to her work on my show, Shellie also appears on iHub Radio daily at 4 p.m. on The Laura Meeks Show, along with her dad—originally named Laurence, but now known as Laura.

“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” she recalls. “The day I found out about my dad was the same day I had just gotten fired. My brain was focused on that when I got home. I got to the top of the stairs and walked into the kitchen, and there was this blonde woman sitting at the table. I thought, ‘That’s my dad.’ I don’t know where it came from, but I said, ‘Blonde isn’t really your color. You should think about getting a different wig.’

“I had never heard of transgender, but it wasn’t like the world was ending. I just thought, ‘This is really interesting.’ It doesn’t really bother me. She’s still my dad. I found out what being transgender means, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a thing.’

“When I realized my parents weren’t getting a divorce—my mom’s been fine with it, and they’ve been married 35 years—I enjoyed that I could show Laura how to wear high heels and do makeup. It was actually fun. Dad was always very male, macho and military, and Laura allowed him to show his kindness and humor. It brought us closer together.”

Shellie finished her grad degree in 2013, and she and Cary moved to the desert area from Pennsylvania five years ago. She still plans to get her doctorate and wants to teach art history.

“They keep cutting humanities programs—art, philosophy, history—and I want to educate people about how important it is to study these disciplines. I value my ability to use my brain. We can’t progress and understand each other without exposure to the humanities.”

Shellie hopes to have the chance to see the art she has been studying for so long. “I want to see Europe and India, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Parthenon in Greece.

“We have ancient influences even in our current culture, from television to comic books, and we need to understand those influences and how they impact us, often without our even knowing it. We need to be able to see everything in a completely non-judgmental way. It’s so important.”

Shellie Meeks reminds me that we not only need to understand how the past has influenced the present, but also to be willing to expose ourselves to things we might not even know exist—and do it with acceptance and without judgment.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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

Tom Davis is philosophical regarding his work: “I wouldn’t change a thing. I enjoyed having my own business, but when it became tedious, my attitude was, ‘I’m outta here.’”

That attitude was a lucky break for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Davis, 68, a Rancho Mirage resident, was born in Teaneck, N.J., and grew up in Anaheim. He started doing consulting work in the desert in 1990 and made the full-time move from Orange County in 1997.

“I had my own land-planning and development consulting business,” says Davis, “but when the recession that everybody forgets about happened, many of my competitors were heading to Las Vegas because there was so much development going on there. I wanted to expand my business reach and profile, and I knew the desert had great growth potential. Plus, my wife’s parents were here, and her grandma and grandpa had the first liquor store and motel in Palm Desert, so there were personal connections as well as business potential that made this area desirable.”

Davis earned his degree in landscape architecture from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

“My dad always said to be in a profession where you can be independent,” Davis said. “I was strong in math and had an artistic flair—I liked to draw. I also had a strong design sense. They had an accredited program, which was hard to find in the Western United States.

“I met my wife, Debbie, at Cal Poly in 1970 at a Three Dog Night concert on a blind date. A friend said, ‘You need to meet this young lady.’ We were married after less than two years. After school, I went to Denver because I wanted to ski all the time, and I worked for a company planning a ski resort.”

Davis worked for a firm while he was in college that did work in Palm Springs.

“They educated me about the interrelationship between the tribe and the city,” he said. “I was originally out here in the desert working the territory and doing collaborative work with (Southern California planning consultant) John Q. Adams—yes, he’s a real descendant. I was the physical planning guy; he was the policy guy. Then he died suddenly, and a friend he worked for told me about the Agua Caliente looking for a planner. That was in 1992.

“The tribe was looking for an outsider, not someone beholden to local politics. The tribe is an extended family that understands the importance of outreach and the need to be connected to all sides politically.

“For six months, I was doing a variety of different things as staff to the Indian Planning Commission. When I started with the tribe, they had only six employees, with me and their general counsel as outside contractors. Then we got involved with Caesars Palace when the tribe was getting into gaming and expansion. Land development is highly political. You have to go through architectural review committees, planning commissions and city councils. I went to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento. We all learned a lot as we went along.”

Davis is currently the chief planning and development officer for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. He has built the department to a staff of about 35.

A serious bout with cancer changed Davis’ life.

“I used to be really athletic, but the cancer set me back. I go through life now week by week,” he said. “We bought a house in 2008 on a kind of remote mountain at June Lake in the Eastern Sierras. I hike and go fly fishing. It’s pristine and quiet. I might not see another person for days. For me, a bucket-list item would be to visit with an old friend, sit on the porch, and tell stories … although I would like to make it to Italy.”

For a long time after his cancer treatment, Davis was resistant to make use of a support group. “When I got the bad news from the doctor, I was thinking about all the stuff I’d be faced with. They asked me questions like, ‘Are you worried about your treatment?’ Duh.

“Finally, I went to a support group and I was amazed how therapeutic it is. I could speak frankly, and realized that everybody has something to deal with. That was when I began to talk about what I’d been through. We could all cry and laugh. We could all share our experiences and tell others what works. We talked about lots of simple things we take for granted. I came to realize the positive impact of all that. It’s helpful to share.”

After obtaining a master’s degree in education, Davis has been sharing his knowledge of the tribe by teaching classes, including “Agua Caliente: Then and Now,” through the Osher Institute at California State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus.

Davis is also a reader, influenced by Moby Dick and The Godfather, and he is currently immersed in Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like It in the World, about the building of the transcontinental railroad. “It’s about a turning point in our history,” he says, “and it’s fascinating.”

Tom Davis’ guiding principle is to work hard and play hard. “I want to tell young people, based on my experience, to do something you love. There are different specialties in every era. Find a profession you love to do, and even if one day you wake up with a layoff or disappointment, you’ll just work harder and still enjoy every day.

“I’ve changed a lot in the last several years. Between my cancer and the loss of both my parents within eight months of each other last year, now I wake up, and I’m just happy to be here.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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

Medical professionals—backed up by numerous studies—say that socialization is important to healthy physical and mental aging.

Too often, retirees or widowed individuals become isolated, don’t want to attend events alone, feel cut off, or are dependent on others to push them to get out and be around others. One antidote we are fortunate to have here in the desert: many informal groups that routinely meet to share friendly talk over a meal—the aging comedians, businessmen, show biz vets, university alums and many others.

About 10 years ago, I returned to the desert after seven years in San Diego, where I completed law school, and I was looking for activities that would engage me to jump back into the local scene. The newspaper said the Democratic Women of the Desert was meeting, so I went.

This was a group of positive, motivated women who wanted to make a difference—they weren’t attending to show off their latest outfit or to dish about absent friends. I was ultimately invited to join the board, and looked forward to the board’s monthly working meetings over dinner at local restaurants.

There’s a special bond that is built when you‘re part of a small group committed to a common goal. That bond was the catalyst for a core group of us to continue the monthly dinners after we left the board. We hadn’t just worked together; we liked each other. This is a group of women who are frank, funny, educated and very much alive. I originally called the group “Dem Dames,” but we came to think of ourselves as “Divas,” recapturing a word too often used as a pejorative and giving it a meaning more akin to strong, focused, take-no-shit women.

Each month, one person volunteers to find a place that can handle 10-plus people in a setting where we can hear ourselves talk, preferably at a round table—and the place should be willing to do individual checks. Surprisingly, we have found many local eateries that meet those criteria and have terrific food.

Perhaps the best part of being a Diva is that, although we are all different ages with varying backgrounds—married, divorced, widowed, still working and long since retired—the camaraderie and shared values make our dinners totally relaxing and comfortable.

Although we share the same political persuasion and are active with campaigns, we seldom talk politics; rather, we share aches and remedies, family joys, funny stories, relationship concerns, good/bad movies and books—and all of the other the topics you freely discuss with good friends.

In April, retired teacher Marlene Levine, a La Quinta resident who’s called the desert home for 50 years, invited us all to share in her 80th birthday celebration as the Diva event for the month, and what a party it was!

La Quinta resident Pam Covington (“No, don’t give my age!”) came to the desert from Santa Barbara five years ago, and shared the name of a terrific dermatologist with me.

Anita Hoag, 74, came to the desert in 1989 from West Coast cities including Newport Beach, Malibu, Westwood and even Hawaii—all a far cry from her native New Jersey. Anita was a registered nurse, but subsequently became a buyer with Max Factor cosmetics. She always looks stunning!

Jan Seiden, 77, has been in the desert for 18 years. Currently living in Palm Desert, she describes herself as “the original valley girl,” having grown up in the San Fernando Valley. (“I can say ‘like’ a lot!”) After her career as a nurse, Jan became an electrologist and an expert witness for the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

Palm Desert resident Dori Smith, 68, has been in the Coachella Valley for 19 years. Her career was in marketing and communication, but she is known for having founded the local branch of Moms Demand Action, supporting sensible gun safety. I’ll always remember: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”

I’ve written about Dorys Forray before—she’s one of my role models for how to age well. A resident of Indio, Dorys is originally from Brooklyn and has been in the desert for 15 years. At 88, she is one of the most vital, interesting, delightful people I know.

Another friend I’ve introduced through this column is June Pariano, 73, also a La Quinta resident. June came to the desert in 2000 by way of Wisconsin and South Dakota. Her career went from manufacturing to advertising, but her local experience in a cosmetic dental practice might explain her perfect teeth. (When I mentioned that, she responded with a broad smile … and those perfect teeth!)

Phyllis Greene, a surprising 80, lives in Palm Desert. She’s been in the area for 21 years. Born in Chicago, Phyllis moved to the desert from Northridge. Her sharp wit must have served her well teaching science and mathematics to middle school students.

Priscilla Richards didn’t make Marlene’s birthday party, but she is another original Diva known for her wonderful laugh. And then there’s me—in the desert since 1985 (except those years in San Diego), a year older as of mid-May, and with so many careers it would take far too many words to include them here.

There are lots of special interest groups, nonprofits, committees and civic boards that meet to discuss and strategize on common subjects, from politics to health to education to LGBTQ issues to the arts to any policy topic you can imagine. And then there are groups that hang together because they share a common interest—a book club, chamber of commerce, animal rescue group, religious denomination or so on.

The Divas are none of these, regardless of what originally brought us together. We are lucky enough to have at least 10 best friends with whom we can relax, talk confidentially, and share our fears and foibles, while transcending age, background and financial status.

Happy Birthday Marlene, and thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to be a Diva!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” 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’m starting a new streaming-radio gig on iHub Radio (ihubradio.com), That’s Life, after 10 years of doing a call-in talk-show about politics (which I’ll still be doing on iHub as well). That’s Life will be an hour-long show airing weekdays that explores the things that make us all able to relate to each other—subjects like, “Did you ever see your father cry?” or, “What’s the worst job you ever had?”

Well, that covers two shows during my first week. I admit that I’ve struggled to come up with ideas that span all cultures and ages, and will lead to an entertaining daily show.

This brings us to the amazing group of seniors who attend the weekly You Don’t Have to Be Hemingway writing club; I wrote about them in 2014. The group recently held its sixth twice-a-year “recital,” led by creative director Helen Klein, whose idea it was to start this group. Other participants were residents Phyllis Tucker, introduced by Helen as the queen of Las Serenas, the Palm Desert residential complex where the group meets; Jean Ashworth, once with NASA; Karyn Marmo, whom Helen describes simply as “very funny”; multilingual Rosie Nathan; and Janet Arnot, “grandma deluxe and aerospace aficionado.”

Although they are not professional authors, these women produce stories, memoirs and poetry that are touching, revealing, humorous and enlightening. Most of the writing is done in response to “prompts” that Helen proposes—topics like, “What is your best memory?”; “What do you wish you had known when you were younger?”; “Do you remember something you gave away that you wish you had kept?”; and “Imagine three figurines, a bowl, and a lace doily, then write a story about it.”

You know … prompts that are rather similar to the topics that will be covered on my radio show.

One of the most touching readings was by Phyllis Tucker, “Basking in Beauty,” about the beauty of the innocence of a child bringing the promise of a better tomorrow; the beauty of friendship and being part of the older generation; and what is learned from making mistakes along the way. She recognized the beauty in all of life, and love, and asked, “Who would want to live without it?”

She also expressed her humorous side with “Rudolph’s Resignation Letter,” about the red-nosed icon deciding to take a position with another herd.

Helen Klein wrote “Vertically Challenged,” about her own efforts to transcend being an ever-shrinking short woman. “Everyone is taller than me,” she lamented, “but I think about the list of ‘shorties’ including Harriet Tubman (civil rights pioneer), Charlotte Bronte (of the famous literary family), Clara Barton (the nurse who started the American Red Cross), and John Hancock (a leading patriot during the American Revolution and the first Governor of Massachusetts).” Good company to be in. She completed her story with, “Now if I could only find something to wear!”

Jean Ashworth has recollections of a simpler life growing up in rural Canada in “And They Call It Progress.” Jean considered what her grandparents might think of how life has changed. “I don’t think after having seven children that my grandmother would have thought much of Viagra!”

Rosie Nathan wrote about “A Big Stack of Records” she once found, noting that everything will die one day, but music will live eternally. Another of her stories was “Surprise, Surprise,” about a man suffering color-blindness who finds sunglasses with “magic lenses” and cries with pure joy when he finds himself in a technicolor wonderland. Rosie also tackled “Springtime Again” with images of flowers blooming, the sun shining, clear air, the smell of oranges, and a nest of robins. She’s carried away with the enchantment of it all.

Karyn Marmo penned a three-part account of “Passing the Baton,” involving a dog for which she was baby-sitting … and her husband’s efforts to buy the dog. “I didn’t want another dog. It looked like a small sheep with no hair. At the vet, it took a split second for the dog to need to be muzzled, looking like a miniature Hannibal Lecter.” By part three, “The little dog I swear I didn’t want is now the little dog I love.”

Janet Arnot’s contributions included “It’s the Pits,” recounting the time the gorgeous love of her life had just proposed … to her sister. “There he is,” she recounted. “I want to be swept up by him, the man of my dreams. I look across the room and see them holding hands and then he gets down on one knee. This isn’t how I pictured it.”

Helen closed the recital with “Say What?” “I consider myself a pretty nice person, a good-natured, even-tempered individual, but sometimes I get really pissed off! I may be in my 90s, but I certainly have all my faculties.” She then proceeded to rap!

These women—with their imaginations, energy and talent—are inspirations to me, especially now that I need a broad, all-encompassing subject five days a week. Some questions I’ve come up with so far came straight from “Hemingway” prompts:

“Who have you always wished you looked like?”

“What was your first time away from home, and how did you handle it?”

“What’s the most disturbing call you’ve ever received?”

“What do you remember most about your mother?” (Jean recalled that her mother only ever wore one perfume. “Whenever I feel myself missing her, I put some on.”)

“What was it like where you grew up?”

“What’s your favorite memory?”

I have my own story for every question. If you do as well, call me when I’m on the air at iHub Radio, and let’s talk.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” 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

At what age do we finally figure out what our life is all about? Some of us never figure it out—while others are seemingly lucky enough to figure it out quite young.

Bryanna Czarny, 24, was born in Bellflower, Calif., as the oldest of five children. She spent her early years in Yucca Valley, and has been in La Quinta since the seventh-grade. She came out of a hard-working family: Her father has been a UPS employee for many years, while her mother has proven it’s never too late to go back to school for a career.

Czarny had done some acting in high school, including being nominated for a supporting-actress award. “I had acting coaches who believed in me and pushed me,” she says.

After graduating from La Quinta High School, Bryanna was dead-set on moving to Los Angeles to pursue her education toward a career in television and film production. “My mom kept saying I should go to San Diego, to study toward becoming a newscaster or doing public relations,” says Czarny. “But acting was my dream. Singing was my dream. I wanted to be in entertainment. They finally stopped pestering me.

“My story took twists and turns like I couldn’t have imagined. In the Coachella Valley, I was protected, but didn’t feel like I was expected to do a lot. In L.A., I got in with the wrong crowd and got into drinking and drugs for the first time in my life. I was abused. I was homeless. I even had a gun pulled on me once. I felt overwhelmed, like there was no way to find any help—no tutors or faculty support like I had in high school. No one really knew what was going on.

“I was told that my grades were slipping, and I was going to get kicked out of school. The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my parents. I was lucky enough to finally talk with a counselor who told me, ‘It’s not over,’ and to pick my head up, go home and start fresh.

“Then an amazing thing happened. It was Christmastime, my first day home, with my car still all packed up. I got a text through a friend on Facebook, from a guy I didn’t even know—who is now my boyfriend. I feel as if God gave us each other. We were both going through things, and we were magically put together at what was then the lowest point in our lives.”

Czarny enrolled at College of the Desert. “Little did I know COD was my best option,” she says. “My life changed dramatically. I’ve been maintaining a high GPA, became captain of the soccer team, wrote for the Chaparral newspaper and was featured in The Desert Sun. I’ve had lead roles in COD productions, created the first annual COD talent show, and took part in student government.

“I was even lucky enough to meet Mary Jane Sanchez-Fulton,” a member of the COD board of trustees and a local political activist, “who took me under her wing. I helped her run a march at the state Legislature supporting education. I also got seriously involved again in acting and was lucky enough to get the lead role in Sylvia, for which I was thrilled to win a Desert Theatre League award up against so many experienced people.

“I think I had to go through the struggles to be as strong as I feel right now.”

Czarny is close to her parents, although she doesn’t think they fully understand what she went through.

“I know I messed up, but I’m a whole new person now. My eyes are open,” she says. “I know my family just wants me to be happy and successful, and I’ll do whatever I must to make them proud of me. If I had lots of money, I’d want to (help) my dad retire so my parents wouldn’t have to work so hard. I don’t always say how much I appreciate them.

“I’m not ashamed of what I went through, because I feel as if I can be a messenger for others. Although I still love film and singing and acting, I now know that teaching is the right path for me.”

Czarny, however, has not abandoned her dream of acting and singing. “I’ve been acting since I was a little kid. I even got to do the school announcements over the intercom in elementary school!

“I still hope to get on American Idol or The Voice,” she laughs.

The best advice Czarny has received: “My best friend always tells me, ‘If ever you’re down or in need, keep a fighting spirit, and keep a smile on your face.’ I’ve learned to tell myself: ‘You are beautiful and special. Don’t ever let anyone take away your dreams. You’re capable of achieving what you want through hard work and dedication, and when you get a ‘yes,’ it’s worth every ‘no’ you’ve ever received.’ Whatever happens, never give up.”

I wish I had learned that lesson by the time I was 24. Don’t you?

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

Page 1 of 10