Red, White and Blue

My mother was born in 1914 and was raised in between the wars to love the American flag. She remembered fondly parades on the Fourth of July and other occasions where the flag was carried with loving pride. She was an activist in the 60s, and critical as she was of our government for the Vietnam War and for civil rights abuses, she hated to see the flag defiled. She always saw it as a beautiful symbol of our best intentions and held that affection for it through protests, marches and demonstrations.

From a generation younger, I missed out on that innocence. Burning the flag, your draft card, your bra – it all seemed fair game to me.  For me the flag came to represent a blind and heartless nationalism. In fact, like many of my kind, I chose not to display a flag on the Fourth of July, or any other time. It seemed to have been high jacked by “the other side,” or more accurately, I abandoned it and let them have it. 

faded glory on Roberto’s truck window

My husband, a Vietnam veteran, has hung onto the flag, refusing to let it become a pawn in the “us versus them” battle. He realized after a few months of combat, that he and the others were not there to defend democracy but to support an unpopular government.  Like so many in every war, he fought for his fellow Marines and to survive until his tour was up. Angry as he was at the US government for the lies it perpetrated to justify that war, he never gave up on the flag and wears a flag decal on the back window of his truck.


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The Girl at the Yard Sale

The great thing about yard sales is the element of surprise. Will you sell that top-of-the-line jig saw made in Switzerland, only used a couple of times, still in its fancy case? Will someone not be

able to resist that shawl in beautiful earth tones from Bali? What about the Japanese vase made out of a fat section of bamboo, so simple and elegant?We had a yardsale today and none of the above sold. No matter. It was a great day, and I’ll tell you why.

I was selling a dozen or so Easton Press books. They are the classics, leather bound with fancy gold (real gold, they say) lettering and designs on the covers, gold edged pages and elegant illustrations. I inherited them and although they are handsome on a bookshelf, they just didn’t look comfortable on our bookshelves. They needed another home where they would be loved.

Two sisters came along, shorts, pierced ears, cute purses and ball caps. The younger one saw the books. “Ohhhh. I love books!  These are so great! I just love them!” and she picked up one, petting the cover, fingering the gold embossing. She opened it lovingly, cooing over the print, the illustrations, and generally being a really enthusiastic teenager.

“Do you have Of Mice and Men?” She was almost afraid to ask. It was a long shot that it would be one of the dozen in the box. (more…)

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Feeding People


If you live in New Mexico, you have probably gone to at least one feast day at a nearby Pueblo. And if you have gone to one, you have probably gone to many more. They are wonderful events where the Pueblo and its people are blessed for the coming year, with traditional dancing, singing, and drumming. They are open to the public and although the sights and sounds are deeply satisfying, your Pueblo hosts will not let you leave with an empty stomach. They welcome strangers into their homes and seat them at a table heavy with bowls of red and green chile stew, beans, posole, potato salad, baskets of bread, plates of cakes, brownies…I can’t go on! My mouth is watering as I write. See my previous post for more on Pueblo dances

It is a really awesome thing, to be welcomed into a home and fed. There is a bond between you and your host(ess) and the others eating with you that is like none other. As a facilitator I have come to appreciate the role of food in resolving conflict. Sharing a meal, or even a snack, offers a chance to relax, be nourished, and build a relationship with that person who might look like an adversary on the other side of the negotiating table. It is also a leveler. Lawyers, scientists, community members, tribal leaders, elected officials, cooks and janitors are all equal at mealtime.

And so it is a major frustration for me that federal agencies with whom I often work are not allowed by law to buy food for anyone outside the agency. This has led to such absurd situations as federally sponsored community meetings held from 5:00 to 8:00 pm on a weeknight, where the attendees might have to drive an hour or more and then arrive to find not so much as a cookie and bottle of water waiting for them. This drives me crazy. If I am facilitating, I bring plentiful snacks myself – fruit, vegetables, crackers, cheese, trail mix, juice, coffee, and yes, cookies, lots of cookies. I am not about to try to facilitate an angry crowd that is also a hungry crowd.

Over the years I have worked with the Forest Service as they revise their forest plans. Here in Region 3 (New Mexico and Arizona) there have been dozens of community meetings, public forums, tribal summits on all kinds of topics. I have consulted on some projects and facilitated others, bringing snacks when needed. Forest staff and I have talked at length about building strong partnerships with other jurisdictions – local government, private landowners, other federal agencies and tribes – in order to maximize the impact of land improvements on Forest Service land. I have emphasized the importance of honesty, clarity, and a personal relationship based on mutual caring. They have been willing students, and have implemented the ideas as best they can, within the limits of the law.

Recently, Region 3 Forest Service staff invited me to a tribal summit in Albuquerque to offer my observations on their relationship with tribes.  Over thirty tribes were represented by about fifty leaders and staff. They sat politely and listened to a series of Forest Service presentations on a wide variety of subjects – wildfires, endangered species, forest thinning, pest management, recreation, and more. There was a question or two after each presentation. The atmosphere was a little formal, a bit restrained. Everyone is going through motions, I thought.

And then the Forest Service chief announced it was time for lunch. Tribal members gathered their things and prepared to leave the building, get in cars and drive to Wendy’s or McDonald’s or wherever. They knew from experience that the feds don’t feed people, by law. A fact of life. The reality of working with the federal government.

But when they turned around, what did they see? A line of Forest Service employees coming into the room with dishes, platters, bowls and baskets, heaped with food they had made themselves. There was a huge pan of enchiladas and one of lasagna, a bowl of red chile and one of spaghetti. A man had made spanakopita and stuffed grape leaves in honor of his homeland. A woman had fried chicken as her grandmother had taught her. Another brought a vegetable tofu stir fry, and another a turkey meatloaf. There were endless salads and desserts, all brought by Forest Service staff in a gesture of hospitality to tribal neighbors. They were saying, with this abundance of food, thank you for the hospitality you show us every year. But more importantly, they were saying we understand that a solid, trusting relationship includes sharing food, and not even our employer, the federal government, can stop us from making that happen.

The look of surprise on the tribal faces said it all. Jaws dropped.  They set down their briefcases and their jackets, and headed to the long tables in the back of the room, now heavy with lunch. The mood was light, the room filled with chatter, as people exchanged stories, often finding unexpected common ground. And when the paper plates and plastic ware were deposited in the trash cans, and the leftovers covered in aluminum foil and the Tupperware snapped back in place, everyone made their way back to the front of the room. The presentations continued, but I swear there was a palpable shift from the morning. There was an openness, a relaxation, a feeling of camaraderie between the podium and the audience. All that good food and the spirit with which it was offered had made the difference.

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Time To Listen

I’m pretty old. Like many of us, I’ve been talking a long time. These last few weeks I have realized that it is time to listen.

The older generation often looks on the upcoming generation with curiosity and a dash of terror. How could they be so – fill in the blank — foolish, immature, unfocused, superficial, and on and on. How can they possibly function with their noses (and brains) buried in some device, a device that we in my generation are proud just to be able to turn on and off? They will never learn to communicate, we despair. They will lose all ability to relate to another human being. Look at them, texting each other while sitting shoulder to shoulder on the bus!

I confess I’ve said all this myself, but no more. Since the Parkland shooting, I have closed my gaping jaw and listened to some of the most articulate, smart, committed voices I have heard in a long time. Strong, passionate voices. Fearless, young faces. They command the stage, the podium, the press conference. They demand that we listen. They are laser-focused and they mean it.


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Who Cares the Most

The West is riddled with place names that are offensive to Native Americans. There is Squaw Peak, Squaw Valley and hundreds of others scattered about the landscape. At the request of Arizona tribes the Forest Service is taking on the task of changing place names that contain the word “squaw” on Forest Service lands in that state. This is not an easy task.

Geographic place names are designated and changed by the US Board of Geographic Names through a strict process that is initiated by those living in the area. The Board does not choose the name; they simply verify that the name they assign for official maps and records is supported locally. In the case of the “squaw” named features the Board is authorizing tribes within a certain radius of each feature to choose a new name. (If they fail to reach agreement on new names, the old “squaw” names will remain.)

Enter the mediator. I will be gathering interested tribes together in coming months to take on the job of renaming geographical places. Of course, these tribes already have their own names, probably in their own languages, for these places. The names may refer to some specific characteristic, like color, shape, size, vegetation, etc. Or the names may commemorate an event, from legend or history, where something significant happened. Or, they may honor a fallen hero, a mythical figure, a great leader, etc. (more…)

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Whizzing Down the Mountain

Imagine this. Two ten-year old boys, sitting at a laptop screen watching hotshot skiers on YouTube racing down the mountain, in and out of slalom poles, leaping around every turn, poles stabbing the air, snow flying in their wake. Nothing could be more thrilling, glamorous and seductive for these two who live in the Philippines in the heart of Manila, one of the densest, hottest, muggiest and flattest places on the planet.

Now imagine these boys have convinced their parents to take them somewhere to ski over Christmas break. Yes, their dad is my son and I am the grandma, and so they came to Santa Fe.


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Pleading Guilty: Self-righteous Busy Body in the First Degree

Comments to my last post gave me a lot to think about. My critics accused me of butting in where I had no business when I criticized a man for leaving his car running for over 45 minutes while parked. They called me a lot of things but “self-righteous busy body” sums it up. And of all the things to be called, that really smarts, because that is precisely my least favorite person. But I guess this is not surprising, that we would harbor those traits that we abhor in others.

I’ve always hoped that I would get some pushback on my posts to liven things up, and I guess this qualifies as a “be careful what you wish for” moment. But it was very enlightening for me, and here is what I learned:

  • Critics have a point: That perspective from the other side is worth considering, no matter how tempting it is to defend yourself and blast them back. In this case I have to admit that I would probably do it again on the basis that sometimes it is worth being a self-righteous busy body. After all, the line between good citizen and busy body can be fuzzy. But I will think twice next time, which is probably good advice for us all.
  • Humor disappears: I couldn’t seem to convince my critics that putting potatoes in the exhaust pipe was a fantasy, that I would never do that…well, almost never, but certainly not in that case. Writing style is tricky. I try for easy, clever, entertaining, maybe with a little surprise. But when you have offended someone as I did, the humor is lost and the lens is literal. Another insight to remember when I take something literally that may not be meant that way.
  • Stereotypes take over: I assumed that my critics were all …well, I don’t need to go there. Let’s just say I assumed beliefs and values that are different from mine. I actually don’t know if that’s true, but making those assumptions was the easiest way to distinguish myself from them, to make them the “other.” On their part, they made it clear that they were assuming I was a rigid, humorless, strident, politically correct snob. I plead guilty to busy-body but not the rest…well, let me think about it. Anyway, it hurt to be stereotyped, and I’m sorry I stereotyped them.
  • Dismissing comes next: After stereotyping comes dismissing. “I know who they are and that’s enough.” No need or desire to keep talking, to learn more. The comment that hurt most – yes, even more than self-righteous busy body — was “Just ignore her.”  To be dismissed as not worth another breath, another word, that really got me. I wanted to know more about my critics, and I wanted them to know that I wasn’t the monster they thought I was. How often do I hear friends say they hope they never meet someone from the “other side.” They would never want to talk to them or hear their story. This kind of dismissal hurts. Take it from me.

I confess that much as I welcomed the pushback I did cringe at every new attack (see   for more of it).

And how sweet was a final comment from one of the critics, “Thank you for your reasoned and adult responses. This could have easily turned into an internet fecal storm.”

So, do I still wish for pushback? Yes, indeed, bring it on. I’ve got my umbrella open.





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No Need to Worry

I was going to write something uplifting for the new year – and if you want that right now you could revisit my post from January 2017 (see past posts) which is even more relevant now than then – but I cannot get this guy out of my mind. No, it’s not the one you think. This one has a longish gray ponytail and a silver Lexus with a solar-powered prayer wheel on the dashboard. And this is how we met.

the longest curly fry with Lexus in background

Roberto and I took our ten-year old grandsons to Meow Wolf. It was our first time and we were blown away by the art, the craft, the cleverness and the delight in every room and around every corner. I can’t describe it here, but if you are not local please google it to get the idea. After a couple of hours of amazement we staggered out into the warm December day. Always being hungry, the boys headed for the food trucks. We loaded up with sandwiches and curly fries and found an empty picnic table nearby. As we were happily munching and reminiscing about the Meow Wolf experience a silver Lexus pulled up to the curb just a few yards away and stopped. The driver sat looking at his phone for several minutes, maybe waiting for a child he dropped off inside, I guessed.  We took our time, marveling at the solar-powered prayer wheel on the car’s dashboard, twinkling as it turned in the sunlight. We also marveled at the length of a curly fry and wondered whether we could enter it in the Guinness Book of World Records.

After 45 minutes or so the driver got out of the car — that’s when I saw his gray ponytail — and walked over to the espresso truck. And that’s when a grandson, whose hearing is a lot better than ours, said that he thought the car was running. “It couldn’t be!” I said. “He’s been there so long.” The boys went over to the car and felt it. Yup, they declared it was vibrating. (more…)

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New Year’s Wishes

Hello Subscribers —


Just a quick note to wish you all a fulfilling new year. And also to thank you for being part of my online community. It is comforting to know that you are “out there,” mulling over some of the same curiosities of life that I am.

(My January post will follow when I straighten out some computer issues….speaking of the curiosities of life!)

warmest wishes,


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“I’m going shopping. I think I’ll get some salmon,” I say to Roberto, and he agrees. We both like salmon a lot. You might be imagining a couple of nice salmon steaks, being that there are just two of us, but he and I know that whoever goes to get the salmon will come back with at least half a fillet, even a whole one if it’s small. Because we are not the only salmon lovers in our family.

About twelve years ago a feral cat came wandering through the community. We have a flat roof with a huge apricot tree hanging over it, and he took a liking to that spot where he could look down on us going in and out. We called him Bruiser, he being big and orange and very manly. One day we were standing in the patio looking up at him, and I said in a rather hushed voice, “You know, if we could ever catch Bruiser I would take him straight to the vet and get him fixed.” Bruiser’s hearing must have been excellent because he disappeared for at least a year. I regretted my words and hoped that he would return. We learned from our neighbor Wayne that he was hanging out at his house, and for the next few years we co-parented. Wayne and Roberto built a handsome house for Bruiser, complete with a heating pad and heated water bowl for below freezing nights.

But there was domestic trouble at Wayne’s. His two cats were upset with their foster brother and expressed themselves by spraying the furniture. Nothing would stop them and it apparently became unbearable. In order to save his marriage Wayne trapped Bruiser in a big cage and took him three miles across the arroyo and through the hills to a lovely ranchette with horses and barns and lots of mice. In less than 24 hours he was back at Wayne’s.  (more…)

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