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In the eight grade, my mother allowed me to read Travels With Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck. She had some reservations about it, so she read it first. Ultimately, she felt it was a book all Americans should read, including me, her then 13 year old daughter.

Always a voracious reader, Travels with Charley had been on the top of my reading list for a while. And why not? I loved the great outdoors and my best friend had four legs and a constantly wagging tail. I just knew this book would hold my attention during that long hot summer. What I didn’t know was that it would give me life lessons that I value to this day.

I  particularly loved the conversations Steinbeck had with Charley as they toured the country. No matter that I couldn’t drive nor that my dog was 14 years old, I still imagined my trusty old dog and I one day heading off into similar adventures. 

But there was so much more to Travels with Charley that I didn’t begin to understand and that’s why, to this day, it remains one of my most treasured reads.

For one reason, I was old enough to know what I didn’t know. It was clear to me as I read the book that much of what I was reading was surprising, even shocking. My mother had warned me … and then welcomed me to share productive conversations as I tried to make sense of a world so much more vast and complex than my little neighborhood.

The racism Steinbeck recounted shocked this little white girl in suburban San Diego. In my experience, my Mexican friends were the target of snide remarks and mean spirited  pranks.  More than once my friend Cece was saddened or angry because of  something someone had said. In my loyalty to her and her family, I didn’t begin to understand why being from Mexico was such a terrible thing.

But reading this book exposed me to the racism that existed all across our country. I remember being dumbfounded. It was bad enough my Mexican friends suffered but black people as well? I couldn’t begin to process it. For the first time in my young life, racism took on a broader, more menacing and distressing meaning to me.

I was also fascinated by Steinbeck’s description of the many differences between people all across the country. It had also never occurred to my young self that Americans were all that different from one another. His take on the impact technology might have on the future, my future, had my mind spinning. And why did Steinbeck seem to portray our government, the one I pledged my allegiance to every morning in school, as oppressive? What exactly was social reform? And really, did everyone drink as much as he did?

My mother and I had lot’s of conversations that summer.

In the end, that book was my first step out of my little bubble. It opened my eyes to so much in the country. It filled me with questions and laid the foundation for a lifetime of human discovery.

I’ve never lost my love of reading, nor my need to understand people who differ from myself and my experience. I think this is especially important as we age. Life can feel harder with each passing year. We gravitate towards wanting our lives to be more simple, less demanding. We have a tendency to seek all things familiar.  Sadly, as a consequence of this, some people get especially rigid with age, more convinced than ever before that their way is the only way.

I know it’s easy to get locked into our “bubbles”. Why not?  We know the parameters quite well, our belief systems are finely honed. It simply feels more comfortable, more secure inside of our little bubbles.

But sadly, as we see more and more frequently these days, hiding out in our own little worlds creates problems … within families, neighborhoods, and all across the country.

Perhaps you might consider reading a good book with a different perspective than one you hold. Consider tuning into a different news source for a fresh perspective. How about connecting with people who are different from yourself and engaging them in conversation? 

We’re never too old to learn something and learning something outside of our bubbles may be just the thing our country needs right now.

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I’ve always been a reader. It’s just what we did in my house. A love of books was instilled in us at a very young age.

One of my single working mother’s biggest parenting successes was our weekly trips to the library. For as long as I can remember, during the glory days of our childhood, she would take  us to the local library to stock up on books.

Part of the thrill of our regular library visits was the search. I’d often ask my teacher for book recommendations that I could then track down at the library over the weekend. For whatever reason, the Dewey Decimal System fascinated me — it was the secret code to everything the library had to offer! I loved looking up the titles in the musty card catalog, slowly leafing through each tattered card until I found what I was looking for. Then, it was off to the shelves, hoping against all hope that I would find the book there. This simple process always made me feel so self-sufficient.

During the miserably hot summers of southern California, I’d lay out under the maple tree in the cool grass and read all afternoon. In the winter, I’d curl up on the couch with my cat Jinx, happy to escape into whatever book I had selected for the week.

One library incident has always stood out in my memory. In the eight grade I heard about John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley: In Search of America.  All I knew about the book was that the writer toured the entire country in his camper with his adored dog, a standard poodle named Charley. Passionate about camping and dogs, it’s little wonder the book appealed to me. I put it to the top of my list for our Sunday trip to the library.

I was thrilled to find it on the shelf and quickly met my mother at the check-out desk. When it was our turn, I placed the book in front of the librarian so she could work her magic with her faithful rubber stamp. She pulled the book towards her. Seeing the title, she looked at me, then my mother, then back to me.

“Are you checking this out?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I answered, a bit surprised by her question and the especially harsh tone of her delivery. Something was amok but I didn’t have a clue.

Turning to my mother, the librarian huffed “She is far too young for this book. I can’t allow her to check it out.”

Who knew an already quiet library could go absolutely silent but in that frozen moment, it did. But what happened next completely floored me. My exhausted mother, who was anything but confrontational practically every waking minute of her life, did the most extraordinary thing. She shot back at this judgmental woman, “I’ll decide what my daughter can and cannot read. If you are more comfortable, I’ll check out the book in my name.”

A moment later, securely tucked under my mother’s arm, Steinbeck and his faithful dog left the library with us. I couldn’t wait to open the cover of this forbidden book.

My mother must have read my mind as she was the first to break the silence in the car. “I’ll read it first and then I’ll know if you’re too young to read it.”

In the end, I did read Travels with Charley that summer but my mother offered it to me with some defined guidelines. She said she felt I was old enough for the material but that there was going to be plenty I didn’t understand. She made me promise I’d come to her with my questions and said she expected us to have plenty of conversations about what we’d both read.

I know now, after raising my own children, what a wonderful bit of mothering she was offering me, all because of a powerful book. As our children — and grandchildren —grow, we need to support them, be available for their questions and concerns, and these days more than ever, explain the complicated world to them as best as we can.

To be continued …

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Dear Tracey,

My granddaughter moved here five years ago to go to college. She graduated and got herself a job. I don’t think it pays all that much but she is supporting herself and paying off her student loans. I know that says something about her character.

She was happy to finally move into her own apartment a month ago. Last weekend, she invited me and her Grandpa over for dinner. She said she wanted to cook us a “special” dinner because of everything we’ve done for her these last few years. She said I wasn’t to bring anything. I didn’t like showing up empty handed but I did.

It was a fun evening until we sat down to the table. It wasn’t much of a special dinner at all. You see, she’s a vegetarian, says it’s for health reasons. We’re pretty much meat and potato people. She proudly described all of the dishes she had made. Tofu this and bean sprout that — my poor husband poked around his plate. Neither one of us was all that interested in what she had made, except for the delicious rhubarb/strawberry pie she made for or dessert.

This girl’s known our eating habits for as long as she can remember. She never left my table hungry. Don’t you think she should have had a little meat somewhere on the table for us? Wouldn’t that have been more respectful?

Signed,

Hungry Grandma

Dear Reader,

Let me get this straight. Your granddaughter is a self-sufficient college graduate, has her own place, and is also paying off her student loans. Best of all, she loves her grandparents so much she cooks them a “special” dinner to show her gratitude and tells them not to bring anything.

Your granddaughter  sounds like a real success, one that would make most grandparents very proud. Instead you’re having trouble with her food choices, suggesting this hard working young woman is disrespectful because she didn’t serve what you always want. Sorry, but I just don’t follow.

Granted, I think when hosting a dinner, it is helpful to ask guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies or preferences. But to expect her to completely disregard her own beliefs in healthy eating simply because her grandparents don’t have much experience with vegetarianism seems a bit unreasonable. (It doesn’t sound like you accommodated her food preferences for all of the years she ate at your house.)

As for having “a little meat” on the table, perhaps you don’t realize that many vegetarians can’t tolerate the odors meat produce when they are cooked. Providing meat for you two may have left a lingering smell in her apartment.

I am more inclined to think your granddaughter wanted you to truly experience who she is. It sounds like she went to great lengths to serve you healthy food.

Disrespectful? No, I actually think this dinner may represent just the opposite. Your granddaughter’s menu may be the ultimate compliment. It seems to reflect a belief that her grandparents are open and flexible enough to try a vastly different foods from those they regularly eat.

I certainly hope she invites you back sometime for another “fun” evening, even if it means you have to try foods that you aren’t familiar with.

***

To B.P. who scolded me in a lengthly letter after reading my column, “We’re off to see the Wizard” posted here on August 1, 2018. Unlike your younger sister, I do not believe “having fun” is the only way to cope with grief. Please read my column “Grappling with Loss”  — published 7/9/18, in the Times Standard newspaper. (Eureka, CA.) It addresses much of what you felt I had missed in that subsequent column. It sounds like you have had your own share of pain. I’m very sorry for that.

***

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Dear Tracey,

I know it’s usually my younger generation that gets accused of being addicted to our electronic devices but in my family it’s my dad who has the biggest problem with them.

That’s okay, I don’t have to live with him, except now he wants to give our son a smart-phone for his tenth birthday. My husband and I are strongly against it but my dad just doesn’t relate to our concerns. (We love our son but the kid can’t remember to feed his fish or put his bike in the garage at night. Besides, we’re not ready to have him exposed to social media.)

But no matter what we say, I have the feeling that when my son is opening his presents, that phone will be there. How do I get Grandpa to see that a ten year old isn’t ready for a smartphone? And what do we do if he goes against our wishes and gives one to our son anyhow?

Signed,

Frustrated Daughter

Dear Reader,

It’s tough whenever a grandparent refuses to respect what parents want for their children, especially when it comes to critical issues regarding healthy development and maturity.

I think your dad is really overstepping the bounds on this. It’s up to you and your husband to determine how you will raise your children, not him.

That said, before you tackle this topic again with your father, make sure you two have clear reasons about why you don’t think your son is ready for this gift.

NPR published some guidelines on this topic that may be helpful: 

“Many agree that there’s no magic age to give a kid a smartphone. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused kids and technology, says that rather than considering the age of a child, focus on maturity. Some questions to consider are:

  1. Are they responsible for their belongings?
  2. Will they follow the rules around phone use?
  3. Would having easy access to friends benefit the for social reasons?
  4. Do kids need to be in touch for safety reasons? If so, will an old fashioned flip phone …do the trick”

From the little you have said, your son doesn’t sound mature enough to handle a smartphone. If you agree, try explaining your logic, along with concrete examples of this, to your dad one last time.

If he still refuses to honor your wishes, take deep breath and tell him that if a smartphone arrives on your son’s birthday, it will go on the shelf until you and your husband feel your boy is mature enough for it. Make sure your dad knows that you will also be telling your son the same thing.

Make sure your son knows what may happen and be prepared for a less-than-enthusiastic reaction. This may be a tough life lesson for him. (What kid doesn’t want fancy, high tech devices these days?) I would be surprised if you end up temporarily feeling like the bad guys. But your son will survive and be better because of your parenting.

Stand firm with your dad. Remember, it doesn’t matter what he wants. The only issue here is your task of raising a responsible, well-rounded child.

***

Local folks – a reminder! Applications for my new PBS North Coast show What’s on Your Bucket List? are now being accepted. For information and to apply, email <pbsncbucketlist@gmail.com>  write to: PBS North Coast, PO Box 13, Eureka, CA 95502 or leave a message on my work phone, (707) 845-8348. (Please state your name and mailing address clearly and slowly. Thanks.) Hope you’ll join me for a fun adventure right here in Humboldt County!

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Like many of you, I watched the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz” when I was a little girl. I have vivid memories of this colorful, captivating story. I wanted to be friends with the sweet and bewildered young Dorothy. Her endearing Yellow Brick Road travel companions, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion were enchanting. Granted, the flying monkeys made me bury my head under my arm, but the kind and caring Glinda, the good witch, made everything all right again.

Because of these rich memories, I auditioned for Humboldt Light Opera Company’s summer production of “The Wizard of Oz.” It may be a bit of typecasting, but this six-foot-tall woman is happily playing a tree in this lively, charming production. Among other things, I get to sing back-up for the Tin Man. What a hoot! (More typecasting? My sweet husband plays Dorothy’s Uncle Henry.)

However, given our recent past, neither one of us could imagine meeting the demands of a show like this. We were (and still are) slogging through grief from the loss of beloved family members.

 From personal experience, we knew that a show of this magnitude takes energy, concentration and a real commitment. The success of HLOC, which celebrates its 45th anniversary with this production, is the result of the hard work of many volunteers. Cast, crew and orchestra members put in incredibly long hours to take a show from thought to opening night and Oz is no different.

After considering our many positive experiences with HLOC, while acutely aware that our hearts were functioning at half speed, we decided to go ahead with the production. We trusted Oz would end up being something that made us feel better. And it is.

Last night’s rehearsal was a perfect example. I’d been in funk for most of the day, but I dragged myself to rehearsal. Once I stepped inside, I could hear our Munchkins singing their hearts out. I peeked in the window and saw these delightful little pips dancing away. I immediately felt lighter.

I was then pulled into a different room to try on the beautiful concoction I’ll be wearing in the Emerald City scene. Sneaking a peak in the mirror, I chuckled over my luscious, flamboyant ensemble and my mood took another step in the right direction.

While my sleeves were pinned, I enjoyed our amazing teenage girls as they slipped into their equally dazzling costumes. (Trust me, the visual extravaganza of Emerald City will be a feast for your eyes!) We have such a talented bunch of kids in this production. From the cutest little Munchkin to two of our remarkable leads, Hannah Davis (Dorothy) and Ty Vizener (Scarecrow), I appreciate these very likable young people. Alongside their boomer and senior cast members, we are all working hard to fulfill our performance and production responsibilities.

Next was our musical rehearsal, which ended up delivering the final piece of my good mood. Singing just does that for me, especially when I’m surrounded by friendly, collaborative people who have one goal in mind, to bring the very best possible Wizard of Oz to Humboldt County audiences.

And that’s where you come in. Won’t you join us for this lively, iconic show? You’ll be swept away by the pure magic and visual splendor of this production. And if my experience is worth anything, I’m willing to bet your mood will be pretty bright by the final curtain!

A special note for grandparents — this is an especially grandchild-friendly production. “The Wizard of Oz” offers a cast of delightful characters, memorable music, endless action, all brought alive through colorful sets and costumes. Why not make it a family affair? There will be three matinees at 2 p.m. on Sundays, Aug. 5, 12 and 19. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Aug. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18. (Oz runs at the HSU Van Duzer Theater.)

Tickets range from $13 to $19 with a $1 discount for children and seniors. To purchase tickets, go to www.hloc.org, call 707-630-5013 or drop by HLOC’s ticket office at 92 Sunny Brae Center, Arcata. (Open Monday through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

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I’ve always been a believer in the value of doing things that were interesting, maybe even amazing, and usually quite fun. Even if the particular activity made my palms sweat and my knees knock, the end result typically included great feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Sure, I’ve had to adapt this approach with my advancing years but so far, age hasn’t prevented me from trying new things. Which is why I’m happy to invite you to join me on my latest “new thing” — PBS/North Coast’s program, What’s on Your Bucket List?

That’s right, those wonderful folks at KEET (Eureka, CA) have given my idea for this new show the green light! Production on What’s on Your Bucket List? has officially begun. (The program will air in 2019.)

Now, here’s where you come in. We are currently looking for twelve lucky people to join me. Together we will check off something of your Bucket List right here in Humboldt County.

Each episode of ‘What’s on Your Bucket List?’ will highlight the experiences of two local residents as we explore some thing or some place in Humboldt County that has always intrigued you. Whether it’s trying a unique activity, learning a new skill, or interacting with a particular group of people you’ve never met before, you’ll give something new a shot, feel a sense of accomplishment, and best of all, have fun.

Now, if your reaction is a huge “no way” I ask you to consider a few things because life is for living, right? 

Regretfully, I’ve noticed people may respond to the aging process by narrowing their vision, questioning their abilities, and ultimately withdrawing further into themselves. They begin to believe the many negative stereotypes of older people, often buying into the myth that opportunities to explore and experience new activities are limited or even impossible.

Realistically, age can also hamper our activities because of  financial and/or physical limitations. These situations only compound an individual’s belief that he/sh cannot explore the world around them.

It’s time to toss those thoughts out of the window! What’s on Your Bucket List? will give you the opportunity to be fully supported  — remember, I’m tagging along on each activity —  as you finally experience something you’ve always wanted to try!

The possibilities are endless. Maybe it’s finally time to cruise Humboldt Bay on the Madaket or perhaps instead, you’ve wondered what it would be like to get a little closer to this body of water by trying out a kayak?

Have you ever wanted to tour the redwoods on horseback? Or is your secret dream simply being pampered at a spa? Any interest in trying your hand at black smithing? How about tap dancing? Maybe you’d love a backstage tour of a television station or theatrical production? How about a cooking lesson from a local chef or baker? Does it sound like fun to throw out the first pitch at a Crabs game?

In other words, you name it and we’ll try to make it happen! There are so many amazing activities available to us here on the north coast. Why not join me for this unique experience?

Requirements? You have to be at least sixty and willing to have some fun!  We also encourage you to have one of your children and/or grandkids join us. Finally, please note that we will work hard to accommodate any physical conditions you have that may limit your options.

If interested, and I hope you are, request an application by emailing <pbsncbucketlist@gmail.com>, writing to: PBS North Coast, PO Box 13, Eureka, CA 95502 or by leaving a message on my work phone, (707) 845-8348. (Please state your name and mailing address clearly and slowly. Thanks.)

I believe this will be a fun project for all of us. Let’s explore our own backyard together. Come on … what’s on your bucket list?

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