How Trump Inspired Me to Teach My Children

“Did you hear what Trump said about keeping Muslims out of America?” I asked my son the other morning before school. He was looking at the L.A. Times Sports section while I made breakfast. It was the week after the mass murder in San Bernardino, and we hadn’t talked about it. Maybe because I’d been too anxious about all of it, or too busy with getting life taken care of — kids to school, work done, make dinner, repeat.

“Well, they do sort of want to kill us,” he answered softly. His face said, “isn’t that a reasonable move?”

My stomach dropped as I questioned my bona fides as a parent: Had I allowed my child to become a xenophobe? Where had I failed?

Actually, I understand how a young teenager could feel this way. If you read headlines that “Islamic terrorists” are killing people around the world and down the freeway, it is not irrational to agree with the simplistic sentiment “we should stop letting them in until we get to the bottom of this.”

Folks are scared. So the plain notion — keep ’em out, lock the doors — makes sense, unless you read beyond headlines. Unless you are aware of history. Unless you remember America turning away Jewish refugees, and interning Japanese Americans. Unless you know context. And as his mother, that’s where I come in.

I confess, we haven’t talked much about terrorism. His world view is based on many things, but he doesn’t know what I believe, and he needs to know. He may not know that while terrorists claim to be “Islamic” they do not represent Islam. It is not top of mind that targeting any religious group – creating registries, shutting down places of worship, banning refugees – is 100% contrary to American values, and our Jewish values.

I am ashamed of my omission. I grew up in a home where we debated politics, where my parents taught us about initiatives or candidates they supported or opposed, and why. I thought I’d recreated that home just by being myself, but clearly I hadn’t. Or not enough.

How did that happen? It dawns on me that, unlike my parents, I shield my kids from many aspects of my life rather than incorporate them. Where my mom schlepped me with her to the market or dry cleaner or political rally, I go to the market — and call my Congressman — while my kids are in school. It’s easier for me. But the consequence is I am not transmitting my values. We miss opportunities to talk. And in these times, it is more important than ever to talk about what we believe, what kind of world we want to live in.

Back in the kitchen, my heart raced as I envisioned my son slipping into the darkness of Trump-ism because I hadn’t taught him better. I had one minute to set him straight before sending him off to school. I trotted out everything I could think of, not sure what might pierce his focus on the NFL match-ups for the weekend:

“Islam is not a violent religion. Most Muslims are peaceful.”

“Muslims are just like Jews and Christians. We’re cousins!”

“If a bad guy was a Jew, that wouldn’t make all Jews bad, would it?”

“Remember when we visited Manzanar, the internment camp? That’s what happens when we scapegoat an entire group of people, when we act based on fear.”

“Even Dick Cheney thinks Trump is off his rocker!”

He puts the paper away, ties his shoes, and I take a breath.

“Did you hear anything I said?”

“It’s okay, Mom. I understand.”

There is so much more to say. I want to tell him that the world is a safe place, despite the headlines, and that we do not have to live in fear, or act out of fear.

I need to work on my speech, but the conversation has started.

No More Massacres, No More Wasting Time

It has been a rough week. Emotionally, I’m spent. Our latest American massacre hit me hard. (I should specify that I mean the one in San Bernardino, in case while I’m writing helicopters and hashtags are moving on to a newer, fresher massacre.) I can’t shake the dread. Maybe because it’s on the heels of Paris, which showed us that simple pleasures cannot be enjoyed without looking over your shoulder. Maybe because San Bernardino is physically closer to me than other recent shootings – a place I’ve been and could give you directions to. But most likely, it’s because earlier this week, while reeling from the horrors in San Bernardino, our phone rang with a message: “This is your Principal. Today we had an anonymous telephone threat at our school.” A threat to shoot up the playground.

Do you remember watching the shooting rampage in Columbine unfold? The bafflement you felt? I remember crying, feeling numb. But now, the numbness is gone. Every new shooting brings sighs of regret and outbursts of anger. But we move on.

Perhaps that’s for the best? We still have to send our children to school, go to work, fly on airplanes to visit grandparents. We have to go to the doctor. We cannot persist in a state of numbness and crying, so we have adapted to the new world order. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we have to leave our homes. We have to push the feelings somewhere in our psyche that says, “this won’t happen here.”

And then it does.

We have a choice: If shooting massacres are par for the course, we either take them in stride, or we have a radical revolution.

To be clear, I am not advocating a revolution of more guns. We cannot shoot our way out of this danger. (I understand the temptation of thinking “If someone at that [school, church, office] had a gun, maybe they would have stopped the killers.” But that sentiment flies in the face of data. To wit: There have been many massacres on military bases. I would be okay with more police officers, more licensed, vetted security (as opposed to every parent in carpool packing heat). But the radical revolution I want is to stop shooters before they start shooting, to make it harder to get guns.

We can debate if the 2nd Amendment allows it, but we do not have to debate if this works. We can point to Australia. We can decide to stop wasting time debating.

This morning, a packed auditorium of angry and terrified parents showed up at our elementary school to find out what the Principal and District are going to do about safety, in light of the telephoned threat. It was an hour of blaming, worrying, demanding answers and suggesting improvements.

After this tense meeting, I headed to Torah Study. I walked in late. I took a breath and exhaled. I couldn’t concentrate. I listened half-heartedly to the conversation, the joking and questions and responses. My mind was on the playground, filled with scenes of what could have been. I tuned in at the last minute to hear our rabbi say, “Being present for one another” is what makes everything okay when nothing else is okay.

“Being present for one another” can be a path out of despondency, and it can be the catalyst to make a safer world:

Be there for each other. Rally together with one voice to change our culture of defending an absolute unfettered right to as many guns and bullets as you want. (Be there for each other may also counsel me not to demonize people who disagree with me. I’m going to presume that even the NRA is opposed to mass murder by gun, even if they happen to be part of the problem.)

Be there for each other. Pick up the baton when someone needs a rest from this campaign.

Be there for each other. Call your Congressman and Senator every day until they tell you their plan to make us safer.

Be there for each other. Inspire each other to think of creative solutions, because we are stuck in a stalemate that does not make us safer.

Be there for each other. Encourage each other to stay as outraged and motivated by heartbreak as we once were, and still need to be.

An Exquisite Hunger for Action

I went to City Hall this morning to support the LAWomen15 — women fasting to advocate for a $15 minimum wage. The organizers had told me I could fast today “in solidarity” with them. My husband would be skipping breakfast for a scheduled blood test, so I could be in solidarity with him, too. I thought I’d do it.

I skipped my usual coffee and cereal while the kids got ready for school. I absentmindedly popped a raspberry into my mouth as I made their lunches. It’s easy to forget to fast when food is abundant.

As I was about to leave for the trip downtown, something caught my eye: On the kitchen counter, half an apple glistened on wooden cutting board. It had been a small apple to begin with. I’d sliced it and put it in my son’s lunchbox, along with raspberries, a granola bar, and a slice of pizza from last night’s dinner.

I considered the apple. I thought about how I’d feel stuck on a crowded freeway, my stomach empty. I could imagine its crunchy, moist, sweetness refueling my brain and body.

I ate it.

Hunger is something so painful that if you do not have to experience it, if you have a choice, you are compelled to relieve your discomfort, to satisfy your body’s basic need.

Some of the women who are fasting — full-time employees of McDonald’s and Burger King and Walmart — routinely choose between food and rent. That is NOT okay.

Mary Carmen LAWomen15

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The LAWomen15 had not eaten for 14 days. They are being heard. Mayor Garcetti came down from the tower to the street to speak to them, saying he supported their action. Some Council members did the same. Then the women, followed by clergy of all faith, solidarity fasters, and supporters like me walked into City Hall. The women addressed the Council, the people who can change their situation.

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They spoke eloquently. They were received with respect. They had sacrificed deeply, putting their bodies in jeopardy, to tell these sympathetic people, who had eaten breakfast and looked forward to lunch, that they needed to act with haste.

I followed them out of Council chambers, and left City Hall.

I walked two blocks, unapologetically knowing that food was my destination. I ordered a three dollar coffee, and felt both awe and guilt that I spent that much on empty calories that disappeared from the cup in two minutes. As I prepared to eat my gourmet sandwich, an uncommon, authentic sensation rolled through me: This called for a blessing. I took a deep breath, and exhaled a prayer of immense gratitude for the food I was about to eat.

Complacency is companion to plenty. I suffer from it as much as anyone, as much as the elected officials accustomed to studies, commissions, and five-year plans. Let these valiant women’s fast create an exquisite hunger for action.

Will Leaders Listen to Hungry Women? #Women15

Women are starving on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. How is it possible that news of eight women on a hunger strike for a livable minimum wage escaped my notice?

If you also haven’t heard, I’ll fill you in. On April 16, several women began a fifteen day fast to demand immediate action to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

What’s the urgency? In a letter addressed to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the L.A. City Council, written on the fifth day of their fast, they explained:

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Women comprise a high percentage of minimum wage workers, and many are the sole parent or earner. As the fasting women wrote to L.A.’s leaders, “Women’s equality means raising the wage to nothing less than $15 so we can truly afford child care, prevent family evictions, and fully participate in the workforce.”

Put another way: if you care about alleviating hunger and homelessness, about ensuring that children have quality day care and are ready to learn when they go to school, implement a livable minimum wage. The rest gets solved.

Some argue that a $15 minimum wage is a job killer. But competing studies support each side’s position. The only thing we do know with 100% certainty is that our current situation is failing. People are hungry. Family homelessness is rising. Multiple families live together in garages. Even full-time wage earners qualify for and receive government assistance. That last fact should galvanize everyone, from liberal to liberatarian. Reliance on government support depresses not only the economy, it dampens the spirit. In the California Department of Social Services offices recently, I witnessed men and women and children wait for hours to meet with case workers in order to continue receiving adequate funds for food and rent. It amounts to mountains of wasted time, frustration, and indignity, instead of hours working for dignified wages.

Yes, there are details to be worked out Should tips be included? Should small businesses be excluded? Our leaders have decisions to make. But one thing should be settled: the urgency and need for immediate action for low-wage workers is real. City leaders should act as though it is the size of their paychecks at stake. That it is their family’s pantry that is empty.

L.A. may be behind the curve compared with our sister cities of Seattle, SeaTac, San Francisco, Oakland, who have adopted a higher minimum wage, but I, for one, believe L.A.’s leaders have the courage, compassion, and vision to accept the challenge.

Women Fast for 15

Thoughtful, respectful comments and dialogue are appreciated.

Laura

#IWishMyTeacherKnew: Teen Edition

If you’re one of the sage people who avoids Twitter, you may not have seen these striking statements by one 3rd grade class in Colorado. So let me tell you: a teacher, wanting to understand her students’ lives better, assigned them this sentence to complete. “I wish my teacher knew…”

Holy heartbreak, the responses that came back. She, and a gazillion websites, have been sharing them on Twitter. Take these two:

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When I taught kindergarten in Watts, months after the ’92 riots, I didn’t have to assign that sentence to understand the world my kids lived in. They offered up their innocence on the altar of the classroom carpet, sitting crisscross applesauce, hands raised obediently: “They shoot a lot at night here.”

I can’t help but imagine what a high school teacher would learn if they assigned this sentence, “I wish my teacher knew….” Even in our gleaming public high school, kids face all kinds of stresses: poverty, abuse, brokenness. Perhaps: “I wish my teacher knew I have nightmares every night,” or “I wish my teacher knew I woke up at 4 a.m. to ride the public bus to get here,” or “I wish my teacher knew I haven’t seen my parents in over a year.”

But what difference would it make for teachers to know this? Their job is just to teach, right?

Half-right. As educator/humanitarian/visionary Chaim Peri writes in his book The Village Way, contrary to conventional wisdom, adolescence can be a time of great healing. And kids without loving adults at home need to look elsewhere for their mentors: to teachers.

Peri, founder of Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, works with traumatized teens — orphans, immigrants, exiles, and survivors of war in their home countries. They succeed like crazy, becoming productive adults, by re-creating the sense of “village” that Hillary Rodham Clinton brought into the American lexicon a few years back.

“We need to offer [teens] an aura of togetherness,” says Peri in his book, “a sense of inner coherence and emotional solidarity that defies the swirling chaos around us. We must recreate, intentionally, through the messages that we constantly broadcast to our children, the sense of belonging and togetherness that once defined human existence.”

“If I could tell every educator just one thing, it would be that each hour of the teenage years is precious, each experience as potent in its capability to heal or to wound as countless hours of childhood experiences.”

His call to action: each of us has it within ourselves to become a mentor and heal a child.

My husband and I heard Chaim Peri speak when we were in the midst of deciding whether to become stand-in mom and dad to an 18-year-old unaccompanied minor from Guatemala. His talk sealed the deal.

Between stepping up and her move-in date we were scared as hell, worried that we were going to ruin our family’s happy life. We have never more wrong.

I’m not saying you have to welcome a stranger into your home to do a world of good. You can go to 826LA. Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It takes a village, and we are the village.

What other groups do you know that offer the chance to mentor? Share in your comments.

 

 

“Have a Great Day at School! Don’t Get Killed, Honey!”

Am I a lazy parent because I sent my sons to school knowing there’s a decent chance they will be shot and killed, but all I can do is hope for the best?

Because resignation is the feeling I had this morning reading more about last week’s “child murders children story.”

Do school shootings now occupy the same class of “terrible, unpredictable, unavoidable” as car accidents – they happen, but there’s nothing to be done besides crossing one’s fingers and not dwelling on the negative “what ifs”?

I know there are actions to take. Groups to support in their tireless efforts. Women Against Gun Violence. The Brady Campaign. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. There are messages and memes to share on Facebook. But what does that amount to? The gun that the Washington state football-player-Homecoming-Prince boy brought to school was bought legally and registered to someone in the family. Distraught over a breakup, it seems he texted his friends to join him in the cafeteria and then vented his sorrow with bullets. We can imagine that if there were no gun at home, he’d have punched a hole in the wall, or even someone’s face, and lived with his sadness until things got better.

I join the groups and I share the buttons, but look: even legal guns wreak havoc! So is the solution to accept that this is the way things are, or to radically change the way things are…or to believe in slow change? Slow change doesn’t seem to be working.

Do you want to keep crossing your fingers every day that it’s not your kid who gets shot?

Do we end this tyranny of guns? Share your concrete suggestions. And please be civil to each other.

Yes All Boys, Yes All Girls, Yes All Women, Yes All Men

The “girl as trophy” trope is being challenged again. The tragedy in Isla Vista has made us question how we — all of us, women and men — let it become thought of as normal. (This article sums it up nicely.)

I’m not laying blame on any one movie or filmmaker. It’s not all Judd Apatow’s fault. It’s everywhere you look, for time immemorial. I learned the role of trophy as a little girl watching Popeye and Bluto fighting for Olive Oil, for crying out loud. My kids see that cliche story line again and again, whether it’s Nickelodeon or PG-13 movies I shouldn’t let them watch. Even “The Most Interesting Man in the World” bears guilt for (or simply expresses) the culture that led a disturbed young man to a rampage as, in advance of Cinco de Mayo, he advised that it’s best to start “with two.”

"Start with Two"

“Start with Two”

(Granted these ladies are not blonde, but they are beautiful. And totally lucky to be with that guy.)

I am TIRED of the trope that women are the trophy. The object, not the subject. Did anyone think to ask these two ladies if they gave a shit about the old guy with the scratchy beard? No. Because if anyone did, I’m pretty sure they’d say, “Hell, no. It’s Girls Night Out and we’re going dancing with ourselves.”

I don’t have the answers. I’ll flail around, trying these tactics:

1. Drop an editorial comment while my sons watch TV, asking about the female-object-of-desire character, “I wonder what she wants to be when she grows up?” or “Why would she like either of those dudes?” or “I bet she likes math (or history, or art, or anything that’s about HER).”

2. Be a role model of a strong woman.

3. Find books, shows and movies where women and girls have agency. (Really, we’re back to Marlo Thomas and the Story of Atalanta all these years later?) Marlo Thomas

4. Watch and share any of the thousands of videos from http://www.Makers.com, mini-documentaries about pioneering women that PBS will be debuting this Fall, and which are immediately available on http://www.makers.com. I think I’ll start with the one about Violet Palmer, the first female NBA referee.

Makers.com

Makers.com

5. Don’t let up. We’ve got a world to change. For our boys and our girls.

What are the ways you’ve thought of to challenge these cliches? Please click the comment icon to the right of the headline above to share.

Thanks,

Laura

 

 

 

 

“It Might Be Wonderful”

I was searching for the source of a quote I read years ago, whose essence has stuck with me, if not it’s precise language. It was attributed to Gloria Steinem.

She said, “The great thing about not knowing what comes next…” (and I thought, Yes? Yes? What is it? Please tell me what’s great about all this not knowing business!!) “…is that it might be wonderful.”

“That’s all? It might be wonderful?” Insufficient payoff for the terrible heaviness of not knowing.

I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to live into her radically optimistic world view. For me, not knowing what came next was painful, almost unbearable. In the cosmic sense, of course, none of us knows what’s next (earthquake, or flood, or call from the Nobel committee, etc.). But much of the time we think we do. We have enough information at least to predict what next month or next year brings. For me, the decision to sell our house a few years ago launched us on a journey of major not knowing. I wanted the quote as a lead-in to the book I’m working on about that journey.

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Because the journey has moved me toward understanding that quote. It has taught me that not knowing becomes easier.

Riverside Park at sunset

Not easy, but easier. I try to live more in the second half of Gloria’s statement than in the first. It might be wonderful.

Cannonball into Merry Meeting Lake, New Hampshire

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Laura on Rope Swing, Lake Todd (Newbury, NH)

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s up to us to make it wonderful.

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I didn’t find that quote today, but I did find a rich and deep interview of a curious and brilliant mind. I give you Maria Shriver interviewing Gloria Steinem, and two of my favorite passages from their conversation:

The most hopeful.

SHRIVER: Do you think that you ran a revolution? Do you think it was successful?

STEINEM: Well, first of all, I think we’ve just begun. If you think about the Suffrage Movement as a precedent, it took more than 100 years to get the vote and for that movement itself to run a certain course. We’re only about 40 years into this movement, so this particular wave of change certainly has a long way to go. It’s not in the past.

The most daunting.

SHRIVER: Is there some part of your life that you think represents a cautionary tale?

STEINEM: I think the biggest thing is probably that I wasted time.

SHRIVER: You feel like you wasted time? In what way?

STEINEM: I continued for too long to do things that I already knew how to do, or to write stories that I was assigned instead of fighting for stories that I couldn’t get, or doing ones that I thought were important on my own. The wasting of time is the thing I worry about the most. Because time is all there is.

You heard her. Back to work.

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http://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/gloria-steinem/

Mother’s Day again: Vote for Wendy Greuel for Mayor

I’ve heard from friends today and the past few days asking — who should I vote for for Mayor? One said, “I’ve never been undecided this close to election day. Who are you voting for?”

Well, since he asked, I’m happy to tell him. I’m voting for Wendy Greuel.

Let me say, there’s a wee tad bit of discomfort in talking about this. There are some lovely people with a different point of view. I’ve got no problem with that. I’m not trying to shill for votes (okay, yes, well, I am) but I’ve got two very good reasons for doing so:

1. A friend asked my opinion, so I’m giving it to him in this very private way. (Really, I don’t have that many readers.)

2. I was very impressed with Wendy after meeting her, and I’ve heard excellent reports of her can-do effectiveness from people I trust.

3. My Mom asked me to.

Some of you know my mom. She is fantastic. She is hard-working, loving, committed to healing the planet (and really needs to learn to say “no” more when asked to serve on committees or, ahem, to babysit…pleading guilty here). She is a woman who walks the walk. Literally. She has canvassed and gone door-to-door and made phone calls (I hope you were polite to her).

Last night she asked me to do her a little favor, while I was in the “Expressing Motherhood” show to express my mother’s deep wish, to tell people who may be wondering, who may be undecided, to please vote for Wendy. Do it for your city, do it for yourself. And if all else fails, do it for my mom. .

Pandering for votes, or helping undecided friends make up their minds, or simply a belated Happy Mother’s Day.

Thanks for listening.

Laura

 

Grandma Power: Electing Women and Protecting the Environment

This week is the Grandmother Power Blogging Campaign, brainchild of photojournalist Paola Gianturco and writer/inspirer Tara Mohr. The goal: to connect women to flex their power to change the world.

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Me and my grandmother, Lilli, on her (nn%&*st) birthday last year.

And why not? Grandfathers have run most countries and Fortune 500 companies. We could use more healing Grandma power, and Grandma strength. My kids are lucky to have two of the best.

In that spirit, today I bring you my mom, Fran Diamond, in her own words.

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Take it away, Mom!

My own Grandmothers, Rose and Sarah, gave me love, comfort and life lessons that are with me still. Grandma Rose enveloped me with pure love and endless admiration whether deserved or not. Baba Sarah loved me as much and set an example of humility and generosity. They set a high standard for being a grandparent.

Today my four grandchildren inspire me in so many ways, including the work that I do. Knowing that what I do affects them makes an enormous difference in the decisions that I make and how I look at things.

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For over forty years there have been two themes to my life’s work: Environmental activism and electing pro-choice, progressive women to public office.

In l968, I joined my husband and neighbors to fight against oil drilling along the coast of Los Angeles when it was threatened by Occidental Petroleum and Armand Hammer. After a twenty-year David vs. Goliath battle, “No Oil” won and the coast of Los Angeles is protected from off-shore oil drilling.

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Since l999, I have served on the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. Our mission is to restore and protect the surface and groundwater of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We have made tremendous improvements in water quality. Just looking at the Heal The Bay report card, you can see that many beaches that were given F, D, and C’s before are now A+ most of the time. When I see surfers in the water or families at the beach, and when my grandkids go boogie boarding, l know that my work is making a difference.

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That is what keeps me going, as hard as it is at times. When we are debating policy issues and scientific standards, I think what is best for those kids and the future. I see the beautiful, sweet faces of my grandchildren, and I know what I have to do.

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Even before I became an environmental activist, I worked to elect women to public office. In the early 1970’s there were no women in the U.S. Senate, or for that matter the California State Senate. Without women’s voices we don’t really have a representative democracy. Women bring a lot to the table that is different from men. I believe that women are more collaborative and naturally think of what’s best for children and families. It is my belief that when both candidates are equally qualified, we should vote for the woman until we are closer to parity in elective office. Right now there are only 20 women in the U.S. Senate out of l00. Next year we may have no women on the Los Angeles City Council or citywide office. That is shameful. That is not the world I want my granddaughters or grandsons to live in.

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That’s part of why I am working to elect Wendy Greuel to be the Mayor of Los Angeles. I have known and worked with both candidates for a long time. They are both good people. Wendy Greuel, however, is the most qualified and has the leadership skills to move L.A. forward. What I know about Wendy Greuel is that she listens to all sides, can make decisions and knows how to implement them. She knows how to get from A to Z. She is willing to tell people what they might not want to hear. She is tough, decisive and fair. Los Angeles has been a city for l63 years and we have never had a woman Mayor. Now it’s time. I know that both my granddaughters and my grandsons will benefit from having Wendy Greuel as Mayor.

This year I will turn 70. I have never been more inspired to achieve my goals. Maybe it is because of four amazing young people, Rebecca, Noa, Aaron and Emmett my adored grandchildren. Through them I can touch the future. And it is amazing.