Category Archives: Reflections on living

From Rural Texas to Beverly Hills: A Few Observations

I have lived in Beverly Hill (or BH to the locals) for 21 years. I came to LA with my family when my brother Jim was sick and needed support during the last year and a half of his life, and we moved to Beverly Hills because we needed a good school district for our kids. Who knew what unlikely lessons I would learn from living here?

1) Everyone in Beverly Hills hesitates when people outside BH ask them where they live. Most – including my family and me – hem and haw and say, “LA.” Only when people press with, “Where in LA?” do most of us answer. Why you ask? Aren’t you proud of where you live? The answer is prejudice. Most people have a stereotypic view of Beverly Hills residents, mainly that everybody is rich and snotty. People get a look in their eye when you say, “I live in Beverly Hills,” and it’s not a particularly friendly look.

2) Not everybody in BH is rich. Many are well off, of course, and some are rich – usually the “above Sunset Boulevard” set, but there are also a fair number of average citizens in Beverly Hills. The people who do “well enough.” There are even some people who have several generations of family living together in one apartment, primarily so their kids can attend the school district.

3) One of my biggest misconceptions when moving here was that people were so rich that they didn’t have “real” problems. Imagine my embarrassment when a BH housewife and mother of one of my daughter’s friends sat in my living room and told me about her child with severe birth trauma and her father, who lived far away and was dying. I felt so ashamed that I had pre-judged her as someone who couldn’t possibly understand how “the rest of us” feel.

4) Beverly Hills 90210 is not an accurate reflection of Beverly Hills and especially BHUSD. When we first moved here, I expected to see the non-actor equivalents of the 90210 show on the schoolyard in Beverly Hills. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that BHUSD has a very large contingent of Persians Jews and that in the elementary school my kids attended, 26 nations were represented. My children were in the distinct minority as Christians and I would soon need to educate myself on Jewish traditions.

5) Iranians here call themselves Persians and have a poignant history. Don’t mind me, but before moving to BH, I hadn’t spent a lot of time on Iranian history. I have had the occasion now to know many Persian Jewish families. Many of my students are Persians. I have heard poignant stories from many of their parents’ and grandparents’ escape for Iran when the Shah was overthrown, and their arrival in the United States with traumatic memories and sadness over leaving their beloved homeland. I have had the opportunity to learn much about this lovely and lively culture.

6) Jews come in as many varieties as Christians. Probably most people already know this, but coming from a little Texas town where there was only one Jew, and he was only half and a practicing Unitarian, well…to say I was underexposed is an understatement. Most of the Jews I know are Reform, but not all. It’s been educational to learn about this rich religious tradition and to get to know people who range from being Jew “ish” to Orthodox.

7) You really can see celebrities at restaurants and in the grocery stores here. Not always, but often enough. I have seen over the years a whole range of well-known people: Arnold driving down our street in his Hummer, Ben Stiller jogging down our street, Katie Holmes (a while back) walking in West Hollywood, Rod Stewart at Coffee Bean, Keanu Reeves waiting outside a movie theater, Jane Fonda in the elevator in the parking garage of that same theater (ArcLight Hollywood), David Arquette in an auto accident near our house, Lindsey Lohan emerging from the high-rise across the street from our house, Dave Navarro at a local bakery, Christina Ricci sitting at the next table at a restaurant, Jeff Goldblum grabbing take-out from a restaurant where we were having breakfast, K.D. Lang at Whole Foods. More, I’m sure, but those are the ones that quickly come to mind. That’s always a little fun. The whole “celebrity sighting” thing. Half the fun of living in LA.

8) People in Beverly Hills are just like people everywhere else. I have spent a lot of time in Beverly Hills working as a volunteer with PTA. I coordinated the parenting workshops for the BHUSD for over ten years – that was my gift to the district for educating my children so well – which meant one workshop in each of the five schools every year. I have met with the core people in each of these schools many times and I’ve come to realize that the same type of people in every town and city across the U.S. (and the world) join together to help children. They are down-to-earth, generous with their time, and civic-minded. Never mind if they arrive in a ten-year-old Toyota or a brand new Bentley, they are cut from the same cloth.

9) Beverly Hills has no discount stores. Damn. I have to drive 45 minutes to get to the nearest Costco. And don’t think I don’t see half of Beverly Hills there. They are there.

10) People in Beverly Hills (and LA) dress down, not up. People are more dressed up in North Dallas then on Rodeo Drive, for the most part. “California casual” means you can walk into Gucci in your shorts and flip-flops, and salespeople never know if you’re rich or not. That is a gift for someone who is not driven by fashion. Not to say fashion is not here. It is everywhere. That same woman sitting in her sweats at the restaurant for breakfast, might be wearing Prada tonight. The difference is she will be dressed up to go somewhere, not just heading down to the local bakery for a croissant.

11) People are pretty here. It’s true. Go to the local mall or out to Runyon Canyon for a hike and be astounded by the number of beautiful people. It is not surprising since many “beauties” move here in hopes of a television or movie career and stay long after that dream fades. Still, it makes people-watching extra pleasant.

12) It doesn’t really matter where you live. I love LA and I love California, but I’m a Texas girl through and through. I bring those hometown values with me here and I take my city experiences back to Texas, where I love to spend lots of time. You take you with you wherever you are so places are not nearly as important as one might think.

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Repost: Childhood Play as a Clue to Ideal Career

You know how sometimes you read that if you go back to what you loved doing when you were a little kid – 4, 5, or 6 – then that will tell you what your ideal occupation should be? Well, in my case, this is exactly true since when I was a little girl, my favorite thing in the world was to teach my imaginary students all about reading and writing.

When I was a little girl, I had my own schoolroom (the south porch) where I “taught” my students. I went to Woolworth’s Five and Dime and bought not only writing and phonics workbooks, but also grade books in which I kept meticulous records of my students’ attendance and grades. I made up names for all of my students and each had marks for participation, as well as homework and test grades. I stood up at the front of my imaginary class and used my little chalkboard to go over grammar concepts. I called on students, reprimanded them for talking, and praised them for trying their best. Clearly, I was a child with an active imagination and a deep love of teaching.

Fast forward a few years, and there I was getting my Master’s degree in Counseling and starting off in the field of Mental Health. Lord knows, I really wanted to teach, but counseling was a close second and paid a bit more. Then my husband came along and lured me into the world of antiques and off I went on the adventure of learning about art, antiques, history, buying and selling, and small business ownership. That was an education in itself, but I must say as much as I enjoyed all of that, I still longed to teach. I wanted my students and my classroom back in my life. I couldn’t shake the allure of chalk dust on my fingertips.

Then, I came to LA and after my brother died and we were trying to figure out a way to survive here, I answered five blind ads for teaching jobs in the LA Times, got five interviews and five job offers. I must admit that it was mid-summer and these schools were desperate for teachers, but somehow I landed a job at one of the top private elementary schools in LA, the movie industry school. I saw Jack Nicholson bringing his children to school and Jamie Lee Curtis walking through the halls. I was hired to teach 4th grade Language Arts and, of course, I was in heaven. No longer imaginary students, but real ones and they were smart and excited and loved to write.

The problem came in the form of money – or lack of it – since even though that school charged a hefty tuition, I was down at the bottom of the totem pole and my salary was hardly enough to help support our family in rural Texas, much less Los Angeles. So, after one year and a long talk with my husband, I decided to go look for a job out in the “real world,” hopefully with a higher salary attached. In the meantime, I had a few deep-pocketed parents who approached me to work with their kids during the summer while I looked for a job. Was I willing to teach writing to their kids privately? They would be happy to pay me well if I would.

That was 16 years ago. Those students turned into more students and here I am sitting in my living room where I sometimes actually pull out a chalkboard and go over grammar. I don’t have to have a grade book, but I have lots of workbooks and I get a stream of students coming in for small group lessons and one-on-one. They range from 4th grade all the way to adults. I praise them when they do well, shush them when they’re too talkative, and generally recreate my 5-year-old classroom almost every day. And I couldn’t be happier.

There clearly is wisdom in looking at what you loved when you were a kid to help you gain clarity about your career. It certainly has worked for me. I could never shake that love I felt for teaching when I was five. I hope I’ll get to continue until I’m seventy-five.

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A Letter to a Long-Dead Friend

I was thinking about your death the other day. About how you had been reluctant to let me know you had lung cancer, and then pretended you were getting better just before you died. I was disappointed that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth, or was it that you just couldn’t tell yourself the truth? I guess I’ll never know. It seemed more than coincidental that you died on the day that your propane tank ran out. But then again, you always were a practical sort.

We arrived two days later in the dead of winter in north eastern Missouri and met your sons at your home. They had missed your death by a few hours because they had gotten stoned on the way to the Houston airport and missed their flight. Your daughter-in-law who stayed at home swore she saw you walking in her back yard at the exact time that you passed away. I wondered about that since you had made it clear to me that she wasn’t high on your list of favorite people, and as a new ghost couldn’t you have chosen instead that old Chevy van your boys were driving ever so slowly? They would have been happy to see you.

I think you would have been pleased with the turnout of the Amish who came to pay their respects. They clearly appreciated the time you had spent driving them to and fro to town or to weddings or funerals in your van. They came that cold night in dark blues and blacks, the women in their bonnets and shawls, the men in their waist coats and dress pants, the children little miniatures of their parents. They stood in a circle round your dining room table where you lay in state in one of their homemade pine coffins. They remained there in silence for several minutes before the women turned and started serving the pies and cakes they had brought and filling big mugs with steaming coffee that we had brewed up for the occasion. The Amish were in no hurry to leave. They stood in small groups and chatted among themselves, leaving us “English” to do the same. After an hour or so, they headed out into the cold to their horses and buggies and quietly climbed inside. The sky was cold and clear with no city lights obscuring the view of the Milky Way or Orion. The air was clean as it had followed the same path you had when you’d tried to outrun your past, first in Canada and then in the US.

Back inside, I sat with your family and friends around the kitchen table and we told stories of you and your exploits. How you’d pulled drowned rats out of the cistern of that very house when you’d moved in and only boiled the water for a day or two before deciding that was good enough. How your dog had kept you warm when you’d fallen two nights prior, before a friend had discovered you prone on your kitchen floor, in the coma from which you would not emerge. How when my husband and your younger son were moving your body from the undertaker’s van into the house, your son broke down in tears and left my husband holding all 5’ 8” and 150 pounds of you in his arms, dead-weight. “She had the last laugh, for sure,” he said, knowing too well what a love/hate relationship you two had had.

I couldn’t believe you were dead so soon, only 64, when you had survived so much: World War II in Germany, the dual suicides of your parents when the Russians invaded, the “scales falling from your eyes” when the camps were liberated and a Jewish woman knocked on your door to ask if you had a comb, the years post-War as a German woman in England with a sadistic new husband who hated your German sons. How could something as small as the endless cigarettes you smoked finally succeed in bringing you down?

You knew I was angry that you had harshly disciplined my oldest daughter when she had “misbehaved.” You narrowed your eyes when I said, “If you ever touch her or any of my children again in anger, I will throw you out of my house without a word.” Perhaps that’s why you didn’t want to tell me about your illness. Maybe you thought my reaction was overly dramatic. After all, your second husband had thrust your oldest son in a water barrel and held him there by his heels. You said you picked up a brick to hit him, but he brought the child up out of the water just in time. Perhaps you thought that spanking with a board or a light slap to the face were nothing in comparison. You surely could tell that I didn’t give a good god damn what you thought when it came to the welfare of my children.

The day of your funeral was cold and gray and filled with the sound of horses and buggies as the Amish formed a procession to their cemetery. They had already dug your grave in that cold ground before we came and then used ropes to lower your casket into the earth while we watched. Each person walked by and tossed a handful of dirt on top of your casket and then all the men grabbed shovels and quickly filled in the hole. I knew you’d be pleased that you were on top of a hill looking out on pasture land; that the Amish made an exception and allowed you, an English driver, to be buried among them; that your closest family and friends were there to see you properly planted.

I do miss you. I miss your passion and vigor; your gypsy nature and sense of adventure. Your big laugh, gold-sprinkled front tooth, your deep-blue eyes.
You were the first woman I’d ever met who lived life like a man, never limiting your vision or considering a task too big. I loved that you travelled cross-country without a thought; kept a German shepherd as a guard dog so you could walk at night whenever and wherever you pleased. I admired how free you were of all the fears that women share. Of strangers, dark alleys, and breakdowns on a lonely road.

Not you.

Too bad your temper got the best of you when it came to my kids. That breach was not an easy one to mend no matter how deep our affection. After all, it required looking a situation straight in the face and naming what was going on.

Trusting in the truth.

I hope you wander across that pasture land and enjoy the open country and the bright shimmering stars. You deserve some freedom and peace after that life of yours. You deserve some peace indeed.

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Facebook Responses to My Gas Nozzle Story

Interestingly, admitting my foibles about my recent gas hose dissection brought forth a plethora of comments, mainly from those who were willing to admit their mistakes as well. I’m glad to see I am not alone in the realm of doing dumb things. Is this a birds of a feather thing or just the universal condition? I’d like to think my friends aren’t the only ones who are crossing over three medians to get to that road they want or else trying to drive a friend’s car from the passenger seat only to crash straight into a building.  Then again, I may have a few friends who are as foolhardy as I am. I like to think we all have these stories of bad choices, particularly in reference to cars and driving, and some of us are just better at keeping those transgressions under our hats than others.

My husband Ray has delighted in telling everyone we know my severed gas hose story. He likes to throw in a few details of his own like, “I was standing in the Del Taco line and Len comes in and says, “Ray, I drove off with the gas hose still attached to the car and now they want me to pay $250. What should I do?” Ray pauses for effort, then says, “I told her, ‘Len, I think you ought to pay them.'” What I was really doing was trying to explain there was an insurance option, but when you have a thousand dollar deductible, there’s no point in bringing in the insurance company when you can solve the problem for $250.

I will say that I have been entertained by the wide range of comparable stories that have been shared on Facebook where I always post my blog. From the sound of it, old ladyhood is not the real culprit. Distraction or just plain ole bad judgement seems to be running right up there at the top of reasons people find themselves in situations similar to me driving off with the gas nozzle still firmed placed in the opening to my gas tank.

So, take this as a cautionary tale. Focus, focus, focus. And no more cell phone texting when you are supposed to be listening. It appears trying to multitask is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Heading to bed, folks. Thanks for some entertaining stories of your misadventures. They definitely brought a smile.

We’ll be talking again tomorrow.

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Going to Say Good-Bye to a Childhood Friend

I went to the viewing of my childhood friend, Marsh White, today at Waldo funeral home here in Sherman. I wanted to pay my respects since I can’t attend the funeral tomorrow in our hometown of Bonham, Texas.

I haven’t seen Marsh in person since we graduated from high school together back in 1971. However, he has had a big presence on the Internet over the past several years and I have gotten a window into Marsh’s life through his frequent religious postings. You see, Marsh studied at Dallas Theological Seminary and was quite a man of God. In fact, a woman who was at the viewing said she had met Marsh at the University of Arkansas many years before when she had listened to him deliver a talk on Daniel. She said she contacted Marsh 25 years later and told him how much that talk had meant to her and how it had bolstered her belief in the Christian faith. Quite a testimony.

Marsh was a stellar football player in high school and college and went on to play with the pros. The photos of him are ones that flanked his coffin today. He died of pancreatic cancer.

I know the world with miss this gentle giant, but Marsh is now free from the painful confines of a physical body.

Rest in peace, my friend, and may light perpetual shine upon your soul.

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A Few Thoughts and A Tentative HBO Recommendation

I am here in Texas, sitting in the room we call “the green room” because it has green floral wallpaper and a deep green ceiling, and I am struck with how odd “time” can be. Once I get here to this house, whether it is 6 weeks or 6 months, after only a few hours, I feel as if I’ve always been here. Very strange. It is as if my California life recedes into a pocket in my brain and I am fully immersed in my Texas existence, which includes life in a big Victorian, buying and selling antiques, organizing our rather large collection of odds and ends as well as dealing with renters either here or Fort Worth. I have a full set of friends and neighbors here just as I do in CA and we have many similar discussions about art, design, music, writing and concerns about the events in our country and around the world.

When I am in CA, I have a similar experience: Texas fades away and I am fully there with a life that looks a little different because of my teaching, the presence of our kids and grandkids and the orange grove, but very much the same in many other ways.

I suppose our brains have the capacity for serious compartmentalization.

I am hurrying tonight to finish this post because Ray is waiting on me to watch the next episode of the new HBO series, “The Night Of.” We saw the first episode last week and I can highly recommend what I have seen so far. A complicated story with lots of twists and turns. I will write more when I know more.

On that note, I’ll say good night. I hope your Sunday was relaxing and you are gearing up for a good week.

I’ll be checking back in with you tomorrow.

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A Special Gift: To Serve in Brit and Mark’s Wedding

I had the privilege to serve today as subdeacon at the wedding of two of our beloved parishioners, Brit Bjurstrom and Mark Frazier, at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, Hollywood. This was my first time to perform my duties as subdeacon at a wedding and it meant that I served at the altar with our priest, Canon Ian Elliott Davies and our deacon, Walter S. Johnson, during the Nuptial High Mass and administered the wine during Holy Communion.

Not only was it an honor to be in the altar party, but as subdeacon I had the opportunity to stand directly in front of Brit and Mark (and alongside our priest and deacon) as this beautiful couple exchanged their vows. I heard their voices quiver and saw tears in their eyes as they pledged their devotion “until we are parted by death.” I witnessed their declaration of love and commitment to one another as they exchanged rings, and I felt deeply touched to be allowed access to this intimate moment. I saw firsthand how Holy Matrimony is indeed a blessed sacrament.

I wish Mark and Brit the happiest and most fruitful of lives together. I wish them a love that grows deeper everyday and a life that embraces joy, hope and charity. I trust they will learn and grow and change and become exactly who they are meant to be with God’s help.

Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Thank you for the gift of this day.

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