Tag Archives: Florida

Train of Thought

Union Pacific Railroad City of Los Angeles Astra Dome dining car



It was first thing in the morning and if I was looking for a writing prompt, I didn’t know it yet. But one came in with a “ping” by the head of my bed. My sister was riding a train between Boston and New York and texting me.

Our father gave us our love of railroads when we were very young. On trips out West and to and fro Florida, what I recall most is my sister and I being all over that train. The giant sucking sound as we pressed the button to open the sliding doors between cars and the rollicking floor underfoot as we crossed between luxury Pullman, coach, dining, cargo, and caboose. We couldn’t believe children were permitted to do all this while steaming across thousands of miles.

The train was our world. The porters our friends. It was as simple as that.

I have but one vivid memory of my parents on these trips. One evening, on a return trip from Florida, we had all gone to the dining car for dinner—how I loved the starched white linens and shiney silverware. While there, at a stop, cars were rearranged. Walking back, we found our sleeping car missing. Gone with all our luggage. It isn’t often you see your father befuddled like that.

As advised we disembarked and waited by the tracks for another train—to connect us with our car on yet another train. In the dark of night, deep in Georgia, at a deserted station. The real South. This was beyond thrilling for a couple of Connecticut girls in patent leather shoes and white ankle socks.

Did my sister and I ever wonder, ever ask, why all the porters were black? How did that not capture our imagination? Did it occur to any of us that we were traveling in a frozen moment of time? Although we’d been texting back and forth—my sister was the one who remembered riding on the tail end platform of a caboose—I hadn’t time to ask her this question. Her train pulled into Penn Station and I lost her to New York.







Filed under railroad

March for Our Lives: Truth to Power

photo by Paul Mayer


This past year, I am always marching in one Washington or another. Most recently, in The March for Our Lives in Friday Harbor, Washington, March 24. Large or small, here or there, they are all important.

Friday Harbor Mayor Farhad Ghatan welcomed over six hundred islanders of all ages before turning everything over to the Middle and High School students standing like a chorus in bright orange tee shirts on the courthouse steps. This was, after all, their event, their cause, and their day. A bright blue sky was behind them.

“To those who think we will not change the world: Just watch us.”

 It’s been six weeks since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the Never Again movement that grew from it shows no signs of stopping. Instead, it only grows.

“What if our lives were more important than the rights of guns?”

When the Columbine High School shooting occurred in 1999 I planted columbine in my garden as a memorial. I’d thought the shooting a horrendous, one-time occurrence. We all wanted to believe that. Instead our country went to the dark side, again and again and again. Even the NRA itself went dark.

“What if the gov’t stopped taking money from the NRA?”

“We have grown up with this problem. We knew this stuff. It’s not like a new, fresh horrible thing that’s happening, it’s been preexisting even before we entered the world,” explains Jaclyn Corin, president of the Junior class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Joining forces with her classmates at Never Again, Corin found herself within a few short weeks talking one-on-one to state representatives and addressing the state legislature in Tallahassee, Florida. Advocacy, for her, has been part of the coping process.

Never Again broke the stigma that had hindered gun control activists in our country for decades. When it seemed impossible. When gun sales and gun fatalities were spiking, yet legislation was blocked. As we grew cynical and perhaps hardened, here came these kids—many of whom are too young to vote.

Never Again seized the moment and broke right through–reinvigorating every generation and swaying the public. (A Gallup poll of March 1 found 67% of Americans say the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made stricter. This is the highest in any Gallup survey since 1993).

Student led and focused like a laser, they are the movement with a crowd that was bred online. Never Again is all about voices, votes, and policy change. In Friday Harbor, The League of Women Voters hosted a table to register voters during the march. This happened everywhere.

Our future is speaking and our future can’t get here fast enough. If I were a college or university I would recruit the founders of Never Again right out of High School. They are the wind of change and they are moving mountains.




Filed under students

Meditation for the Greatest Generation

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Lewis Grizzard

One day my mother phoned a number of her old, long-distance friends and every one of them was in some point of transition to a retirement home. One was already settled, a block from the water’s edge in Juno Beach, Florida.

“But how can this be?” she cried, “When just a few years ago I was only sixteen!”

My parents are presently caught up in their own such move. My mother is subject to purging moods where she would get rid of everything and run like her house was on fire. Whereas Dad would have it that they just not go, and fights it every step of the way.

I arrived on the scene and found a sofa missing and the living room rug rolled up but rug pad down, in a house that was still on the market. I was at a crossroads: assist them in packing or restage their house for showing? Or both.

It is important that family help. Mom and Dad had hired a lady, “a down-sizing expert” she called herself, who came and helped herself to things. She combed through their drawers and closets and went off with—well, they are not quite sure what she went off with or where it all went. A Cardinal Cushing Consignment Shop was mentioned, and I have every intention to go there to look for a silver salad utensil that I had expressed interest in. It was perfect for serving a dish we adore in my home, Insalata Caprese (sliced fresh buffalo mozzeralla, sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, seasoned with salt, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil or balsalmic vinegar or both).

My mother and I have done this dance before–she wanted a debutante and what she got was a hippie. There were visits home from college where my blue jeans would magically disappear in the laundry, after all the time invested to soften them, before manufacturers ever dreamed of stone-washing. So I became accustomed then to walking down to The Child and Family Services Thrift Shop in town, combing the racks for my blue jeans and buying them back. I would do this again for that silver utensil.

Which brings me to the tomato. I have a friend who just this week packed up all her belongings and moved from Seattle to San Diego for the tomatoes. Well, there were other factors on her list, but tomatoes, she tells me, were in the top three. I can understand that. I had an aunt who once said of the caprese salad, “I could live on this!” She was the one who introduced me to caprese, and I must say there has never been a more delicious, or more simple, salad since.

I would like to tell my parents it’s not all about the big things in life, like the move, but rather, the little things, such as vine-ripened tomatoes.


Filed under Uncategorized

Everything Matters

This week the world has been shocked to witness what in chaos theory is called The Butterfly Effect, whereby “when a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world it can cause a hurricane in another part of the world.” Or in other words, when an amateur filmmaker in Los Angeles makes a hateful anti-Muslim film, it can cause riots, death, and destruction throughout The Middle East. We witnessed this too with the Qur’an-burning pastor in Florida.

Personally I’d like to see the film maker behind bars as well as the pastor, but the problem is bigger than that. Free speech, for one thing. Democracy demands it. Civility, however, has its own demands. To put it simply, we must respect others.

Civilization is eroding and evolving at once, and perhaps this has always been the case. We know how fast things can erode, as a mere snowball turned into an avalanche while we sat frozen in our seats.  But let’s remind ourselves that The Butterfly Effect works both ways, toward healing, understanding, and enlightenment as well.

Robert F. Kennedy expressed it elegantly, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

What we say and do matters. What we write matters. It all matters.


Filed under mindfulness

We Are Trayvon Martin

Many of us will never know what it would be like to be watched walking into a store, watched as we walk around the store, or watched as we walk away from the store. It can’t be easy being young, male, and black.

Seventeen year old Trayvon Martin was unarmed. Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman was carrying a gun, and that is what shot Trayvon.

Since then on any walk in my neighborhood, I have thought that if I were black, the key chain or cell phone in my hand might easily be misconstrued for a handgun. Especially on a rainy night. And especially if that is what you are looking for, or what you expect of me. We’re talking racial profiling.

Impressive, the solidarity for Trayvon Martin we are seeing, not only at the televised marches across the country, but on local school yards, at bus stops, and downtown in the hours after school. All the young, black and white, are donning the hoods on their sweatshirts. Now, hooded sweatshirts are as ubiquitous and American as blue jeans and baseball caps, and I had no idea until this incident, that many black parents have pleaded with their sons for some time to please, not pull up the hood. But of course they do, just as parochial school girls like to roll up their plaid skirts at the waist. It can’t be easy being a black parent.

How can we help? We can teach our children not to hate. And as a country, it’s the gun laws we need to go after. For anyone in the sight of a gun isn’t any more capable of dodging the bullet than a deer walking in the woods. Which is just how it was on that february night in Sanford, Florida between the hunter and the hunted.


Filed under gun laws, racial profiling

What a Girl’s Got to Do

I am up early and watching the light come on in the east. The homes on that side of the street are utterly dark. All that is visible are the slices of light between the homes. It is much like reading a negative. I have noticed paradigm shifts like this occurring all around lately. Seriously, it’s almost seismic.

I have the most extraordinary girlfriends. One of them phoned this week to inform me that she has been offered an outstanding professional commitment for a year in Jacksonville, Florida.

“But did you tell them you are married and live in California?” I asked.

“They know that,” she said, adding “but I just might do it.”

I tried to think of how she could swing this. Yes, her children were grown and gone, but her husband is a partner in a firm and not exactly mobile. Their marriage is solid, and they are just now coming down the home stretch of a long remodel on their beautiful home, and I know she had been looking forward to that.

“How?” is all I could think to ask.

And she proceeded to explain to me how it just might work…

Perhaps I couldn’t see it at first because I am too tangled in my own paradigm shift. My role has been changing and I don’t have to go to Jacksonville to get it. It’s here. Graduate school sealed the deal for me. During those two years my husband became an exceptional cook. Now here we are. Me with my MFA in Creative Writing under my belt, and he’s still cooking and is better than ever—because all these things, writing, cooking, take practice. Anyway, every sign around the house seems to say that I am now free to write. I’m trying to get used to that and take myself very seriously as a writer, knowing that my husband may very well be retiring by the time we see my writing career take off.

Back to my girlfriend, the one who I honestly think is going to choose to go to Jacksonville. For one year. And rent a charming little bungalow. And decorate as she pleases by hopping around antique shops and such. This is their agenda, for she has her husband’s backing entirely: when she isn’t flying back, he will fly out and together they will explore The South. All the places they want to discover: Charleston, Savannah, Beaufort, South Miami and Key West. As she names them, I realize how much I have longed to see these places too.  They will have one year to do it all and will approach it as they have France or Ireland or any other country. Get a car and go—submerge themselves in the culture, knowing that in a year it will be over and they will both be home in California, all the richer for the experience, as with Ireland or France.

She left me feeling envious of her opportunity. I know what my writing room means to me; what married woman doesn’t fantasize about having her own bungalow? Imagine being able to spring for that. And the romantic interest that could occur looking forward to seeing your lover, your husband, on weekends. And too, all that autonomy throughout the week…

I think she’s going to do it. She’s brave and brilliant and her husband is, as I said, a gem. It’s funny:  I can remember when my friend wasn’t particularly fond of flying. And now she’s all over the map.


Filed under cooking, girlfriends, paradigm shift, relocation, Writing