When Will It Be Over?

giant-meteor-2016Please! Make it stop!

That’s how a lot of people are feeling about the 2016 presidential election. So I had to chuckle when I saw the novel solution to this endless and demoralizing campaign season proposed on the above bumper sticker.

Still, planetary annihilation seems a steep price to pay, especially when you consider that the race will actually end one way or another in just a few weeks.

So rather than clutching our heads and moaning, “When will it be over?” a better question is “When it’s over, how do you want things to be?”

For me, the choice is easy.

For starters, I’d like a president who actually believes that climate change is real, so will try to do something to prevent planetary annihilation.  Or not bring it about more catastrophically than even a giant meteor would:

“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”  — Tony Schwartz, the repentant ghostwriter of  The Art of the Deal, in conversation with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.

On a less dire note, I’d like a president with steadiness and grit.

I’d like a president with lifelong dedication to public service and fighting tirelessly to improve the lives of children, women, families, and ordinary Americans.

I’d like a president who will appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold a woman’s right to choose and overturn Citizen’s United.

I’d like a president who will build upon and improve Obamacare so that everyone can have high-quality and affordable healthcare.

I’d like a president who will make college more affordable and create good-paying jobs for the world we live in now.

I’d like a president who is famous for the ability to listen, do the homework required to understand complex issues, work collaboratively even with people whose views are different, and find solutions to vexing problems.

I’d like a president with experience, heart, keen intelligence, and respectability on the international stage.

I’d like a president who doesn’t insult and mock people, incite violence and prejudice, cheat people, lie routinely, drive businesses into the ground, and require 24/7 attention.

That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. And spending my free time volunteering to help elect her.

Sure, I’m not thrilled about her hawkishness or the self-inflicted wounds we sometimes see. But even if she’s not my ideal candidate, I’d vote for her even if I didn’t think her opponent would be an unmitigated disaster whose elevation to the highest office would reward and reinforce all that is worst in America.

Fortunately, I like and admire Hillary, and think she’d make an excellent president. But if you share only my misgivings about Trump and not my enthusiasm for her, you can still vote while holding your nose.

That’s it. That’s the choice. No third-party votes or staying home to “send a message.”

Because that message might result in President Donald Trump.

I’d rather withstand a giant meteor.




Fifteen Years Out

Candle in the darkIt’s been fifteen years since nineteen men on a suicide mission turned the Twin Towers into smoldering rubble and America into a traumatized nation. I turned off the TV soon after the horror broke. Back then, I had no need of seeing the black billows of toxic smoke on continuous loop, the skyscrapers imploding again and again. Instead I fastened on stories of humanity’s best in response to humanity’s worst—people standing in line for hours to donate blood; young kids emptying their piggybanks for the Red Cross; volunteers forming brigades to get food and supplies to rescue workers; the heroism of first responders; outpourings of sorrow and support from all over the globe.

It’s hard to remember such ordinary and extraordinary acts of kindness and courage now, obscured as they are by what often seems a world in flames. Those planes flew not only into the heart of financial and political power, but right into our collective psyche, fracturing a unifying moment into long-lasting reverberations of fear and vengeance.

As we commemorate the trauma that has so shaped our new century, I’ve found again a remnant of hope. The Red Bandanna: A Life. A Choice. A Legacy, by Tom Rinaldi, recounts the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old volunteer firefighter turned equities trader who led people from the 78th floor of the burning South Tower to safety, returning again and again to rescue others before dying himself when the building collapsed. His body was found six months later. Those whose lives he’d saved remembered him for his red bandanna, something he’d worn since his father gave it to him at age seven.

The NPR segment in which I learned about the Man in the Red Bandanna featured Crowther’s mother, Alison, speaking at the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial in 2014. Here’s what she said:

“It is our greatest hope that when people come here and see Welles’s red bandanna, they will remember how people helped each other that day, and we hope that they will be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small. This is the true legacy of September 11th.”

Her words bring back to me what I felt in that briefest of pauses fifteen years ago, when people’s love and generosity and courage prevailed over hatred and fear.


What are your thoughts on this anniversary of 9/11?


Rocky Mountain High!

The last time my husband Jonathan and I hiked the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, our daughter Emma–now 28–was 3 months old and scrunched at the bottom of a Snugli. When we reached the highest elevation, we heard strange little gasps emanating from the carrier, so we raced down to lower altitudes so as not to deprive our newborn of oxygen.

This time around, we were the ones gasping for oxygen, at least for the first couple of acclimatizing days. Here are some highlights from 9 days of hiking:

And here is Inkwell and Brew, the café in Estes Park where we’d go for lattes, almond-poppy-seed bread, and decent wi-fi to reward ourselves after our treks:


I know you’re supposed to unplug on vacation, but one of the most delicious aspects of our vacation besides baked goods was following the news of Donald Trump’s many self-inflicted wounds and plummeting poll numbers. Here is my screen shot from FiveThirtyEight’s August 7 predictions:Polls on vacationMay he keep up the good work, and get to earn the long vacation he so richly deserves!

Jonathan has a cousin in Newfoundland who has been encouraging us to visit for some time, so we decided to take him up on his offer. Since Denver’s east of San Francisco, we were practically already there! Why not just extend our trip?

We stopped first at Quebec City for a dose of walled-city charm after the limitless grandeur of the Rockies, and to scope out the emigration possibilities should Trump prove correct in his prediction that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any votes. .

Quebec City is where the English eventually defeated the French, although you might assume a different outcome given that Quebec is the only Canadian province in which French remains the sole official language (the entire country is officially bilingual).


IMG_0945Despite the ubiquitous cannons glorifying the constant battles between the French and the English, we loved the beautiful old city:


After two days in Quebec City and two flights to Newfoundland, we learned that some time zones are on the half hour and that cousin John and his wife Elizabeth are the most gracious and generous of hosts. IMG_0957They showed us a grand time on the water and in the cafes close to their home in Corner Brook, including a night of traditional music.


We also took a fabulous boat tour and hike in Gros Morne National Park, where trails end at Adirondack chairs instead of cafes.

We said goodbye to the green of Newfoundland and returned home to drought-scorched California. My journey continued the very next morning to Long Beach with Emma, where she is starting an MFA program in drawing and painting. Now she’ll be closer to sea level, fighting for oxygen in the atmosphere of greater Los Angeles.

Katie at Long Beach Bluff 8.2016

You’ve come a long way, baby!


Vacation highlights?


bernie and hillary signs (multiple)On the morning of the California primary, I waved my “Hillary” sign at a major intersection during rush hour. When my shift was over, I stopped to chat with two young women on the opposite corner who were holding “Feel the Bern” signs.

“Did you go to the rally last night?” I asked, referring to Bernie’s final get-out-the-vote push in San Francisco.

“Yes! It was so amazing!” they exulted.

“That’s so exciting!” I said, adding before I went off for my morning latte, “As long as we all come together in November.”

Although I meant it sincerely, I must have come across the way every middle-aged mom comes across to children wary of criticism disguised as sweet talk. Their tone darkened immediately: “If we do, Hillary owes us big time.”

I thought of these young women as I watched the Democratic Convention, struck by how young so many attendees were. They had come full of hope and passion, the tears streaming down their faces as their hero Bernie took to the podium. I recognized those rapt faces, those tears. A long time ago that had been me (albeit in my living room, not on any convention floor) soaking in the glory of my hero, George McGovern, incredulous and heartbroken that our noble mission had fallen short.

But I was also myself as I am now: an older woman who felt horrified by the lack of respect and decorum these same young convention-goers showed as they booed and jeered the speakers.

Then I thought of another indecorous young person—my daughter. When Emma was in high school, a classmate’s mother died. My husband and I were away at the time, but when we returned we learned that Emma had attended the memorial service wearing a hot pink wig and a matching sequined mini-skirt that barely covered her privates.

Horrified and ashamed, I lamented my daughter’s inappropriate behavior to a friend.

“Well,” that friend responded. “At least she showed up. That’s what matters.”

Thank you, Bernie supporters, for showing up, with all your passionate, rowdy, heartbroken, idealistic, organized, and chaotic fervor. You have improved the debate, improved the platform, improved Hillary, improved the country. We do owe you big time. I hope you continue to show up.

That’s what will matter, in November and beyond.

Supreme Safety for Women

Supreme Court BuildingIn a major decision upholding a woman’s right to choose, the Supreme Court just overturned a Texas law that imposed severe restrictions on abortion. Under the guise of protecting women’s health, the law’s real aim was to make it much harder to gain access to safe and legal means of terminating a pregnancy. A majority of justices called out this deception in no uncertain terms.

On the same day, the Supreme Court issued a separate ruling that also furthered genuine rather than sham protection of women. By a vote of 6-2, the Court upheld a federal law that bars people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning guns even if their actions are deemed “reckless” instead of “intentional.” The little-known case pitted gun-rights groups against advocates for victims of domestic abuse.

Unlike false claims that abortion clinics compromise women’s health, batterers with guns pose a real threat. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, people with a history of committing domestic violence are five times more likely to subsequently murder an intimate partner when a firearm is in the house.

The Supreme Court’s decision is in sharp contrast with a do-nothing Congress that consistently ignores strong public support for common-sense gun laws. Although the ruling does not mend the spotty and poorly enforced patchwork of state gun laws that leave so many at risk, it blocks an attempt to undercut a 1996 federal law designed to protect victims of domestic abuse. Had the Court decided the other way, states trying to stem the tide of violence by keeping guns out of the hands of abusers would have been stymied.

In upholding a law that actually protects women while overturning one that doesn’t, the Supreme Court decisions stand as a pointed rebuke to predominantly Republican lawmakers who profess to care about women’s safety even as they undermine it.


Is It Safe?

Earth from space“Do you think I should still go to Israel?” our 25-year-old daughter Ally asks. She’s nervous after the June 8th  shooting deaths in a popular Tel Aviv market.

“Security’s incredibly tight there, so you’re probably safe,” my husband reassures her.

“I confess it makes me nervous,” I chime in, “But who would have thought before this weekend that it was risky going to Orlando, Florida? These things are incredibly scary, but still really rare.”

They don’t seem rare to Ally. She was 8 years old when two teenagers unloaded their lethal anger at Columbine; 10 when the Twin Towers fell; 12 when we went to war against Iraq. Ally was terrified whenever planes flew over her middle school, afraid they’d drop bombs. Mass shootings have unfolded with increasing regularity throughout her life—Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown. A year after Ally graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a disgruntled young man murdered six students on the same streets she had walked along every day during college.This Friday marks the first anniversary of Dylan Roof’s murderous rampage in a South Carolina church. The Planned Parenthood gunman, San Bernardino, Orlando–the list goes on and on, though many more daily gun homicides and suicides never make the news.

“Has it gotten worse?” Ally asks. “Were you scared growing up?”

We recount the threat of nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, the war in Vietnam, Jonestown, the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. These were our times. People just a few years older feared polio. Our parents lived through all this as well as the Great Depression and WWII.

The truth is, though, that I was never scared. Even the possibility of my older brothers and male friends getting drafted seemed abstract. The outside world seemed far away, the violence less random.

But now with news feeds implanted in our brains 24/7, the outside world has broken through.

My family is lucky. We’ve never had to flee a war zone, worry about catching a stray bullet walking in our neighborhood, gone hungry or homeless, been brutalized by police or bullied for being different.  Ally fears an infinitesimally small possibility, not the grinding daily reality too many live.

I remind Ally of a service trip to Mexico she made a few years earlier with a church group. Before they left, the minister tried to assuage parents’ anxiety about drug violence.

“The world is a risky place,” she said. “I worry each time my own children travel to faraway countries. But then I realize that the far greater risk comes from never leaving home.”


How do you answer the question, “Is it safe?”



Getting Out the Vote

Bernie and Hillary signsOn Sunday I got lost in the hills of a nearby neighborhood canvassing for my candidate in the Democratic presidential primary. This is not something we Californians normally do, since the contest is usually put to bed by the time we vote in the primary. And since California is the deepest shade of blue among the blue states, hand-to-hand combat with our neighbors in the fall is unnecessary. Mostly we just write checks and work the phones so we can disrupt people’s dinners in swing states.

This year, though, friends and neighbors are passionately divided over Hillary and Bernie, who are neck and neck in the fight for California’s cache of 475 delegates. Victory (or defeat) is of highly symbolic if not mathematical importance.

I have liked both Sanders and Clinton from the beginning. Both have significant and different strengths and vulnerabilities. For a long time I was undecided, and certainly thought I could vote any which way in the primary because it wouldn’t really matter.

I no longer believe that. And I am no longer undecided.

I am proud to be walking neighborhoods and voting for Hillary Clinton. She has greater depth and versatility than Sanders, and would be more effective at governing and moving a centrist country toward progressive solutions.

Bernie has been a valuable spokesman and motivator for the defining issues of our day. At one point I would have loved to vote for him in the primary.

But Republican leaders, in keeping with their damaging “party above country” stance, are now falling all over themselves to support a candidate they know to be unfit and unqualified for any office let alone president. Democrats can no longer afford to stay in their usual favorite formation, the circular firing squad.  I’m all for the primaries playing out, and for Sanders having a big say in the platform and at the convention. But an ongoing two-flank battle for the nomination itself is a foolish pipe dream that only weakens Hillary (who has legitimately won millions more votes and nearly 300 more pledged delegates than Sanders).and strengthens the Republicans for the fall.

I’ve decided to work hard and vote for Hillary now not only because I think she’d make the best President, but so she’s in a strong position to take on Trump.

My friend Ruth used to say, “My heart’s with Bernie, but my head’s with Hillary.” I know many people whose heads and hearts line up for Bernie, and now Ruth and I both count ourselves among the many whose heads AND hearts line up for Hillary. If you are still divided  within yourself, please consider what I am saying, and choose Hillary for California.

Most important, no matter how you vote in the primaries, vote Democratic in November.

Vote Democrat

Baby Blue

Baby BlueWhen I called our insurance company to put our brand new, baby blue car on the policy, the agent asked, “How many miles are you planning to put on it?”

“None,” I confessed. “I’m afraid to drive it.”

Our old car was riddled with dents and scratches. Naturally, I blamed our daughters, who’d learned to drive on it.

Would our pristine Baby Blue suffer the same fate?

“We won’t let them touch this one!” I’d vowed to my husband.

In all honesty, though, I was responsible for at least half the damage to our old car. I had even dented its front left fender while pulling into the garage the very first day we drove it home from the dealer.

The fact that our new baby was all-electric intensified my fears. The car was either eerily quiet or emitting weird beeps. We couldn’t tell if the engine was on or off, or how to work the lights and windshield wipers. And it was so tiny!

My husband and I felt just like we did as new parents coming home from the hospital with our perfect infant. Was she still breathing? What did those strange noises mean? How badly would we mess her up?

Still, there’s no going back. Just as kids can’t remain in a bubble, cars can’t stay in garages forever. Baby Blue just turned a year old, with close to 8,000 miles on it. Our daughters, now in their twenties, have traveled around the world a time or two. So far, everyone’s made it through pretty much unscathed. There’s a ding in the car’s windshield, but I’m happy to report it happened on my husband’s watch. As for the dings our daughters have taken on, it’s anyone’s guess how they got there.

In either case, life bangs you up a bit, but hopefully doesn’t flatten you.

And if anything big goes wrong with Baby Blue–well, that’s what insurance is for!

Too bad it doesn’t cover raising kids!


That “first ding” fear with cars or kids?


adviceMy mother dispensed some puzzling advice: “Don’t grow old,” she was fond of saying.

This always brought me up short.  It seemed hard to imagine that the woman who thought I was God’s gift to the universe was advocating my early death.

Less morbid but equally impossible was another one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “Don’t be like me!”

This is like asking a duckling not to imprint on the first living creature it sees. For better or for worse, we women bear the stamp of our mothers.

My advice to my own daughters is more pragmatic:

  • Pay off your credit cards on time and in full every month.
  • If you want to save money, never order alcohol at a restaurant.
  • The secret to delicious cakes, cookies, and brownies is to always under bake them.

What I’m really saying to my daughters, of course, is DO be like me—sober, responsible, with no greater vice than a sweet tooth. That way, assuming your sugar consumption is under control, you’ll be sure to grow old, with a measure of financial security to boot!

My daughters, now in their mid-twenties, roll their eyes at my advice. They find it hilarious that I’ve never had a hangover.

“Have you ever had ANY fun?” they ask.

“I have fun!” I protest. “I hike, go to the movies, listen to NPR . . . “

I’m beginning to see how I sound just as impossible to my daughters as my mother sounded to me. The difference is that she tried to warn me away from the trap of similarity, while I’m inviting them in.

I’ve attempted to heed my mother’s advice not to be like her, determined to escape the black hole of despair she sometimes fell into. Taking to her bed in the middle of the day, my mother tried to fill that void with cigarettes and Agatha Christie novels and Hostess cupcakes. I do not smoke. I do not read mysteries. I never nap. The empty calories I consume come from artisanal breads and flourless chocolate cakes, not the bologna sandwiches and stale baked goods my mother favored.

Still, she pops up within me, having seeped into my pores despite my best efforts. I, too, embarrass my children by chatting up the grocery store clerks in the check-out line or fulminating against those with different political views. Unlike my mother, however, I never hurl ashtrays at the TV screen when politicians I loathe appear. But that’s only because I don’t smoke.

My mother followed her own advice—she did not grow old.  Done in by three packs a day and all those Hostess cupcakes, she barely squeaked past 70. I hope to defy her particular counsel about aging. But I’ve long stopped fighting the fear of becoming her. Now that my mother is gone, I wish I was more like her. For one thing, I realize there’s a whole genre of detective fiction I’ve missed! And how I’d love to hurl invective if not ashtrays right along beside her at various presidential candidates. I’d give anything to tell my mother how glad I am she passed on to me her politics, her humor, her intelligence, her passion for social justice, and her deep, deep love for her children.

My daughters still fear turning into me, just as I once feared turning into my mother. They can’t imagine a worse fate than the dull, safe life I have mapped out for myself and seek to impose on them. They don’t yet know that such a life might be worth emulating.

Since I never co-signed for my daughters’ credit cards, I do not know if they are now paying exorbitant interest and late fees to banks, or how many expensive cocktail bars show up on their statements.

But already they make a mean chocolate cake. I guess there’s hope that they’ve been listening after all.


What’s the best and worst advice your mother gave you and/or that you’ve given your kids?




Electable Enough?

Bernie and Hillary signsThese are exciting times for those of us who reside in the dark blue bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area. Like the parents of teenagers, we’re used to being ignored by presidential candidates unless we’re being asked for money. But this time, our votes almost matter. That’s an unfamiliar feeling.

We’re also unfamiliar with impassioned disagreements among hitherto like-minded friends and neighbors. Now we get to experience what the good citizens of Ohio routinely practice—living peaceably through constructive persuasion alongside people who hold stupid and wrong different beliefs.

Take, for example, my Friday hiking buddies, who are Feeling the Bern. As for me, all I feel is heartburn at the prospect of any Republican in the White House.

“Okay, I’m officially undecided,” I said to my friends last fall. “The thing I care most about is electability. Persuade me.”

“I don’t give a damn about electability,” responded Gary. “I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils!”

“Same here,” chimed in Sharon.

Then Gary decided to turn up the charm on his undecided prospect: “One thing I’ve never liked about you,” he railed at me, “Is how willing you are to compromise your principles.”

Reading my mind before I could even open my mouth, Gary added for good measure, “And I don’t care about the Supreme Court!”

Like I said, this was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Justice Scalia was still alive. The presidential prospects of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were widely viewed as DOA. But as this crazy primary season has unfolded, all bets are off about who’s the most electable.

On most days, it seems like even I could beat Donald Trump. But given Hillary’s earned and unearned negatives, Bernie, pointing to national polls, argues that he’s the better candidate to prevail in the general election.

I’m still not feeling the Bern, though.

I love Bernie. He has assumed the mantle of electoral politics that the Occupy movement unwisely shunned. I am grateful to him—as I am to Occupy—for articulating issues like economic injustice, and for making Hillary a better candidate. I ought to feel as Sharon did when I first asked her if she was supporting Sanders: “He stands for everything I believe in? Why wouldn’t I support him?”

George McGovern stood for everything I believed in back in 1972. I supported him with the fervor so many of my friends now feel for Bernie. Like them, I was convinced that our righteous cause would prevail. How could it not? I still remember the disbelief I felt, the tears I shed the day after Richard Nixon creamed him. Those who lived in the one state McGovern carried coped by affixing bumper stickers that said, “Don’t Blame Me: I’m from Massachusetts.”

I do not want the cold comfort of a bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t Blame Me: I Voted for Bernie.” Because even though polls show that Sanders currently does better than Clinton in the general election, Bernie will likely get creamed once the Republican attack machine gets going. Besides, most of his supporters aren’t willing to pony up the taxes his proposals require. And even if they were, there’s that inconvenient truth known as Congress mucking up the political revolution.

I want a strong and competent Democrat in the White House who will get there with the votes of people more moderate and hawkish than I am. I want incremental progress rather than a failed revolution. I want the balance on the Supreme Court to shift left. I’m ready to skip the high hopes—and crushing disappointment—the candidate of my dreams evokes. Been there, done that.

I want Hillary. She’s highly intelligent, dedicated, a hard worker, and an indefatigable champion of women, children, families, and the middle class. She’s a credible player on the world stage. She knows how to govern. Besides, we need Bernie to remain a potent voice for change, a voice best amplified by remaining an outside critic.

I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s words: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Hillary Clinton can be the foundation upon which Bernie Sanders and the movement he’s sparked can continue to build.

But no political revolution or incremental progress will come about if Hillary and Bernie supporters who are duking it out right now stay home come November. These bumper stickers I saw today say it all:

So whether you’re Ready for Hillary or Feeling the Bern, get out there and vote!