A Star Trek lesson we need to heed

Fifty-five years ago, the original Star Trek TV series was launched. The show survived just three seasons, still that does nothing to diminish the impact the program had. If you don’t believe me, take a look at your cellphone. Then, glance at Captain James T. Kirk as he flips open his communicator. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise traveled the galaxy in the hope of doing good.

Kirk and his crew were tasked with exploring the universe. The opening voiceover still gives me chills. Space: the final frontier; These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!

While I was just a kid at the time the series came out, I was enthralled by the situations the Enterprise crew endured. I know what you’re thinking. The show today looks cheesy, with sometimes silly special effects and actors routinely chewing scenery. But back in the mid-1960s it was mesmerizing. And often the stories had deep sociological meaning.

While there are several episodes dealing with planetary pandemics, I will skip those since I, at least, need some rest from that particular subject. Instead, the one that sticks in my head is “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” The story centers around the planet Cheron whose people have been fighting a civil war for 50,000 years. Kirk and his crew attempt to negotiate a peace with two ambassadors who are so embittered by their hatred toward one another that no one on the Enterprise can get through to them.

Commander Spock and Captain Kirk struggled with the prejudice of the people on Cheron who’d been entangled in a race war for 50,000 years.

The ambassadors insist that their people are too different to get along. Finally, Spock—Kirk’s Vulcan second-in-command—points out, “The obvious visual evidence, Commissioner, is that he is of the same breed as yourself.” What Spock is alluding to is the fact that all the people of Cheron are black on one side and white on the other.

I was 14 when this episode aired in 1969. Race riots had plagued the US for several years, including those in Newark, New Jersey, not far from where I lived. The TV images of the anger and destruction were frightening. Though I will admit here that I was raised in a predominately white suburb, I camped every summer with girls of all kinds—black, white, brown. We spent our days together, slept in the same tents every night, and never gave it a second thought. So, the violence I watched on the news was confusing.

Kirk has no idea why the ambassadors of Cheron hate one another. Finally, in exasperation, he looks at them and says, “You’re black on one side and white on the other.”

One man puffs up his chest. “I am black on the right side.”

When I heard that line, something clicked in my brain. I now understood the idiocy of racism. And—don’t laugh—I truly believed that soon everyone would realize the stupidity of demeaning others because of what they looked like. In my misguided innocence, I thought that very soon racism would be relegated to the past and that we would all get along. Cue “Kumbaya”.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Today, at 65, I wonder what went wrong? How did so many people of my generation not get the message?

I’d like to think we can still repair the damage we’ve done to one another, but maybe we can’t. Perhaps, if we’re not careful, we’ll end up like the people of Cheron, who annihilated themselves and destroyed their planet because of their hate. My 14-year-old self found it hard to feel sorry for them. After all, they were the instrument of their own destruction.

We might be too.

Here’s hoping we come to our senses in time.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Children do not have the right to play school sports

A recent vote by the AIA to cancel winter sports had parents and athletes in an uproar.

Recently, the high school sports governing body here in Arizona—the Arizona Interscholastic Association—voted to cancel the winter sports season, a cautionary measure taken due to the alarming prevalence of Covid-19 cases in the state.

The hue and cry were immediate. AIA board members were harassed and threatened, while athletes marched outside the association’s headquarters protesting the decision. Parents pushed back, demanding that their children be allowed to play, saying that the kids had the right to participate in sports.

But that’s not true. As a high school teacher of twenty years, I often had to correct my students in this regard. Sports— as well as all extracurricular activities— are a privilege not a right.

School sports are a privilege not a right.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, understand that I spent forty years of my working life in sports, both as a journalist and an official, where I called football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball games. (As a disclaimer, note that I worked baseball and football for the AIA.) That said, I agree wholeheartedly that children glean important life skills from participating in sports, like being part of a team, understanding the need to win and lose graciously, and learning how to get up and try again after they’ve been knocked down. I always encouraged my students to participate in sports.

However, we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has killed close to 380,000 people in the U.S. alone and almost two million worldwide. Over 90 million people have had the disease, some of whom may have debilitating side effects for the rest of their lives. And the virus shows no hint of waning.

Arizona is currently the worst hot spot in the country. So, when a host of doctors proclaimed that it would be dangerous for school sports to continue at this time, the AIA board made its decision.

“Unfortunately, it is expected that the state will see a continued rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations for some time,” Dr. Kristina Wilson, the chairwoman of the AIA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said in a recent article in the Arizona Republic. “As medical professionals we cannot in good conscience recommend that students engage in a winter season under the current conditions.”

It was not surprising then that the board members decided against having winter sports, though the 5-4 vote shocked me. With our hospitals verging on full occupancy and infection rates ravaging the populace, I would have expected a 9-0 vote.

Kids are tougher than you think. Disappointment is part of life and, despite what parents are saying, it’s not generally a tragedy.

But what really stunned me was that, following hysterical online bashing and wailing about the terrible damage this decision would do to kids, the board backtracked. A second vote was taken and the winter season was reinstated.

The parents of these athletes should be ashamed, especially those claiming that their children’s mental health is at stake. Kids are tougher than you think. Yes, there will be disappointment, but that’s part of life and dealing with it is a lesson that can’t come too soon. And let’s not forget patience, perseverance, and perspective.

This reminds me of the lyrics to that old Rolling Stones song. “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you might find, you get what you need.” It’s time we imparted that message to our kids, not the one that says you should bully people into submission to get your way.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Officials in the booth? Really, it was all my idea

A long time ago, back when I hoped to earn a paycheck in front of a TV camera, I had what I thought was a moment of brilliance. Why, I opined, wouldn’t TV networks want to hire sports officials and put them in the broadcast booth? The idea seemed like a win-win.

Of course, I was a tad biased. I had taken five years and learned to officiate five sports: football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball. All with the hope that my new-found on-field expertise might wrangle me a job as a sportscaster. While blowing whistles and calling balls and strikes did eventually help me get my foot in the sports journalism world, I never in 15 years as a reporter met any other broadcasters from the officiating ranks.

When I was a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN, I suggested it might be a good idea to put former officials in the broadcast booth. My colleagues thought I was crazy.

Fast forward to today, where former officials are now miced up and sharing their thoughts on calls with the viewing public. That makes me want to hop into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and confront my old colleagues at ESPN.

“It would be great,” I explained in the newsroom back in 1990. “You could put officials in the booth and they could explain why certain calls were made.”

Crickets.

“You know, clear up confusion for the viewers.”

My remarks, as I recall, were met by head shakes indicating that I was certainly out of my mind. Who would ever want to listen to sports officials speak? They intimated.

Fast forward thirty years and there they are, with the NFL leading the way. Former officials and now rules analysts Mike Pereira, Dean Blandino, and Terry McAulay, among others. Then there’s Gene Steratore, who along with his 15-year NFL career spent 20 years calling college basketball games and is now an analyst for both sports.

The question is, what took the networks so long? Sports rules are complicated. Don’t believe me? Ask someone to explain what constitutes a catch is in football. Or the reasoning behind and execution of an infield fly in baseball. Or the difference between a foul ball and a foul tip. Or when icing is waved off in hockey. Or how to tell a charge from a block in basketball. Or what constitutes traveling. Oh, wait. No one calls that anymore.

While fans might better understand their favorite sports by listening to former officials in the booth, maybe they’re happier just arguing about the rules.

Anyway, if you don’t believe me, pick up a rule book. Just read one page. I dare you. Rules and their corresponding diagrams can sometimes look like hieroglyphics with descriptions written by folks from MENSA. So why not hire people who study those books for a living? Then they can dumb down the rules to make them more digestible to the viewing public.

Then again, many fans thrive on controversy and arguing about calls is high on their list of entertaining things to do. Maybe if they actually understood the rules, some of the fun might be drained out of sports fandom.

As a purist, I think it’s better to truly understand the rules, but since I spent four decades as an amateur official, I’m clearly more than a little biased.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Doggy Drama and Kitty Stress

Our obligation to our pet friends is to be there when they need us.

As pet parents, we enjoy the lovely pleasures our four-legged friends bestow upon us. But, of course, it is then our duty to take care of them, which I don’t oppose. However, sometimes, those trips to the vet can be daunting.

One such time involved my blue-eyed cattle dog Bella. A frantic call had me hustling home from school to find my dog with a severely injured leg. When the vet took a look, she shook her head. “I’m sorry. Bella appears to have either ruptured her Achilles tendon or broken her leg.”

Though I hated to ask–lest I seem like a bad mom–I inquired as to the expenses.

“With X-rays and treatment, somewhere between two and three thousand dollars.” The vet appeared apologetic.

I wanted to ask if it might be easier—and cheaper— to amputate Bella’s leg, but I didn’t want the woman to think I was a barbarian. So, I would have to put my dog down, because despite my love for her I had to have a modicum of fiscal responsibility. I started to cry.

Blue-eyed Bella was labeled a drama queen by the vet.

“Let’s take a look.” The vet whisked Bella away while I blubbered.

A short time later, the doctor returned with a strange look on her face. “Well…it appears…”

I braced myself.

“…there is nothing wrong with Bella.”

“What?” I squinted at my dog who appeared to be smiling at me.

“I’d say she’s just a drama queen.”

Then I got the bill, which came in at $603. Drama queen, indeed.

More recently, my cat Morgan began acting strangely on a Sunday afternoon. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that, more often than not, they get sick on the weekend, when the majority of veterinary clinics are closed. So, the only option is to take one’s sweet beast to the emergency vet, where upon entry one must fork over their first-born child and the proceeds from a 401K.

 Still, pet owners are obligated to stem their pet’s suffering, so off to the emergency clinic we went. Morgan—and I see no way to put this delicately—couldn’t pee, a life-threatening situation.

Morgan, on the left, suffered from kitty stress which sent us to the emergency vet on a Sunday afternoon.

The vet estimated that after treatment and recovery I’d owe two thousand dollars. I blanched. My son looked into my eyes. “I’ll pay half, Mom.”

“Do we have any options?” I asked, trying to figure out how to tell my boy his cat would soon be dispatched to the Rainbow Bridge.

“Well, we could treat Morgan and you could take him home and keep an eye on him. That would be $646.”

I let out a breath. “Done!” I handed over my Mastercard.

When Morgan was safely ensconced in his carrier for the trip home, I asked what had happened. She gave me several possibilities before hitting on the main culprit. “He may have suffered from kitty stress.”

Kitty stress? I mulled that over and eyed the cat. “What, do you have a mortgage payment due? Are you worried about buying groceries? Problems at work?” Morgan stared at me with big gold eyes.

We finally determined that the night a neighbor’s cat bolted in the front door for a brief visit might have been when said kitty stress occurred.

I signed the credit card receipt.

My son smiled. 

The cat, still high on pain meds, purred softly on his fluffy blanket.

My job now is to limit kitty stress. I’m open for suggestions.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Requiem for an Umpire

John Lawrence Higgins–1955-2020–has died of Covid-19.

Forty years ago, I made plans to attend umpire school in St. Petersburg, Florida, a strange journey that had me calling balls and strikes alongside 104 men, a time that would change my life in more ways than I could imagine. I went to camp because I wanted to become a better baseball umpire so that I could improve my knowledge of the game and ultimately convince some forward-thinking news director to hire me as a sportscaster. While that is what happened, something else occurred on those dusty fields. I met the man I would marry, though that event occurred seven years later.

Higgs and I married in 1988 seven years after I met him at umpire school.

I mention this now because John Higgins—an irreverent, funny, big-hearted man—has succumbed to Covid-19 at the age of 65. Higgs would insist here that I also point out he could be a royal pain in the ass, still he never failed to help others who needed a hand. He was a lover of animals which always had our home filled with stray dogs and cats that became part of the family and a teller of stories that often had people doubling over in laughter.

Higgs and I married in 1988, despite the fact that his baseball supervisor insisted our union was not a good idea. Higgs, who was a minor league umpire for 12 years and still hoped for a shot at the big leagues, laughed when he was told that baseball didn’t like its people involved with the media. I was a sportscaster in Phoenix at that point. I told him we could put off the wedding, but he refused. Shortly after we married, he received a letter in the mail. He’d been fired. Higgs struggled for a time—baseball was his first love—but then launched himself into a career as a chef, since he loved cooking almost as much as baseball.

It was while working in various restaurants that Higgs found young people to take under his wing. One, a teenager from a home awash in drug addiction, had committed an armed robbery. Still, Higgs brought him home and instead of prison the judge agreed to let him live with us. That boy grew into a chef who is now married to a teacher and is the father of three children. When I later became a foster mom, I realized that Higgs might have started me on that journey.

Despite being fired from baseball following our marriage, Higgs did make it to the big leagues for one game in 1991, when there was an umpire strike. He worked the plate opening day in Toronto.

Higgs and I divorced in 2000. He moved to Mexico, then Florida, so I hadn’t seen him in years, though we communicated regularly through e-mails. We remained friends. And, had he arrived on my doorstep, we would have certainly hugged and celebrated the good times.

While I don’t know what happens when we die, perhaps for Higgs there’s a baseball diamond under a blue sky. Maybe, his old friend John McSherry—the formable Major League umpire who died behind home plate in Cincinnati on opening day in 1996—is there with him. And they’re telling stories. Anyone who had the pleasure of being around the two of them when they were on a roll can attest that they could have been a stand-up comedy team.

Two years ago, I wrote a story about how Higgs and I met. I am posting it again here.

Farewell, my friend.

Play Ball!

UMPIRE SCHOOL: A TWISTED LOVE STORY

I attended Bill Kinnamon’s Umpire School in 1981. Major League Umpire John McSherry–who would die while working home plate in Cincinnati on opening day in 1996–sits in the front row, third from the left. His partner in crime, minor leaguer John Higgins, sits behind him to the right. I’m in the picture, too. See if you can find me.

I entered a tiny office in St. Petersburg, Florida, signed the legal forms, and was escorted to a single-story cottage across the road that fronted the facility. Unlike all but a handful of the 105 students registered for Bill Kinnamon’s Umpire School Class of 1981, I would have my own room, since putting me in the dorm with the guys was obviously out of the question.

I plumped the thin pillow, leaned back on the cot, and scanned the schedule that would direct my life for the next five weeks. Baseball rules classes, on-field clinics, and scrimmages in which students would participate as both umpires and players. My stomach twisted at the thought of anyone seeing me in the field. I’d never played baseball or softball. I could already hear the “She throws like a girl” jeering and wondered if there was any way I could actually avoid having to throw a baseball.

The next morning, we campers lined up in rows. “He’s out!” I called, straightening to my full height, bringing my left arm horizontally across my chest and my right up and bent at the elbow. Both hands were clenched in tight fists. Out calls from scores of wannabe umpires echoed across the dusty field.

“Jee…sus Christ! That was pathetic!” Senior instructor Joe Brinkman grabbed the bill of his cap and slapped it against his leg. “Sound like you mean it!”

Furtively eyeing one another, we campers bent over again, hands splayed just above our knees. We stared at imaginary bases, pretending the runner and throw were arriving almost simultaneously. “He’s out!” I joined the others; glad I didn’t have a high voice. I might have been able to blend in, had it not been for the long, auburn ponytail. Cutting my hair short might have been prudent.

Major League Umpire John McSherry, 375 pounds, walked unsteadily through the lines of aspiring umpires, saying nothing, looking decidedly uncomfortable: the result, we would learn, of some especially painful dental work and a night of bubbly self-medication.

“He’s out! He’s out! He’s out!” We screamed over and over, working on our posture and intonation. McSherry wiped a hand across his face: the February Florida heat causing spots of perspiration on his red cheeks. As I bent down in preparation for another out call, he passed by without even a glance.

It was not until later that night, when my name was announced during dinner, that McSherry sat up and stared. “Anne? Anne? There’s a girl here? You’re kidding me?” He turned to the Minor League instructor who stood by his side. John Higgins pointed me out. McSherry looked over and waved his hand in the air as if the whole idea was simply too ridiculous to consider.

The days were grueling: long and hot, on the field and in the classroom. One of the tenants of umpire school was that all campers should have an equal opportunity to be treated badly. The logic being that umpires will, by nature, be victims of disdain when working games, and if you can’t handle the abuse in school, you will never survive on the field. With this in mind, campers were sometimes picked to perform certain special tasks. My big moment came one beautiful sunny day.

“Butler!” McSherry called out, making sure my fellow fledgling umpires heard. “Bring the balls up to field two for this afternoon’s drills.”

“Yes, sir!” I said, chin up in my best imitation of an Army recruit.

I’d watched him berate campers, throwing his hat, tramping around the dusty diamond like a bull with hemorrhoids. He’d go nose to nose with these grown men and they would shrivel. In fact, 12 campers would simply grab their gear and quit, walking away rather than endure the punishment.

Fifteen minutes prior to the afternoon drill session, I arrived at the door where the equipment was stored. Higgins, who everyone called Higgs and who seemed to be McSherry’s Sancho Panza, smiled as he leaned up against the wall, arms folded across his chest.

“I’m here to get the balls for field two,” I said. Higgs was cute with bright blue eyes.

“Don’t worry about it.” He smiled. “They’re already on the field.”

“Really? But John insisted that I bring them up.”

“Nope. You’re good.”

I was one of the first people at the field, so I waited and watched as the group assembled, the last few stragglers running full speed up the dirt road, because being late was never, ever acceptable.

“OK, we’ll be doing first base drills,” McSherry said. “It’s about listening to the ball hit the glove and seeing the foot on the bag. Listen and look. That’s what you’re going to do. Got it?”

“Yes, sir!” the group called out as one.

Then McSherry paused rather dramatically. “Who’s got the balls?” Silence.
“Who’s got the balls?” he yelled louder. “Who was supposed to … Butler! Where are the balls?”


“I … I went to get them and Higgs …”

“Where are the fucking balls?”

I stared at Higgs. He avoided my gaze.

McSherry squinted at me. “Get ‘em, Butler! And while you’re gone, your friends here will run laps around the field.”

My eyes grew wide.

“Start now, gentlemen! Run! Run!

I bolted across the field and down the hill faster than I’d ever moved in my life. But I didn’t get away quickly enough to avoid hearing the curses that were being hurled my way by my fellow campers.

When umpire school finally came to an end after five long weeks, it was strangely hard to leave. It was as if we all suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, where we had learned to love our captors and wished to emulate them.

Like most of the other campers, I flirted with those professional baseball dreams, even though a job would have meant life in the low minors, shuffling from tiny town to tiny town, little pay, low budget motels, and the built-in cruelties umpires endure daily.

When it came to picking the campers who would be recommended for that life, most of the school staff members decided it would not be a good idea to send a woman up the line. It was 1981, after all. It’s interesting, and came as a bit of a surprise, that I had a friend in John McSherry. I would find out years later that he was the only one who rated me in the top 15. But with most of the other staffers positioning me much lower on the list, my eventual ranking was 32. The top 30 candidates were certified for duty in Minor League instructional camps. I was told that McSherry thought I had good officiating instincts.

Did I deserve a job? Probably not. About ten days into camp, I injured a hamstring, which limited my mobility. And, in all honesty, I have always been a horrible runner, which just about anyone who’s ever officiated with me can attest. Apparently, one day my awkward stride caused McSherry to growl. “Jesus Christ, Higgs! She runs worse than I do!”

How do I know this? Five years after I attended umpire school, I ran into John Higgins. Then, I married him and John McSherry was there at our wedding to celebrate.

Look out Covid–books to the rescue!

The world remains in the grip of a pandemic and we need a way back to life as we knew it.

Those of us on planet Earth are trying to negotiate our way through a world-wide pandemic. The novel corona virus Covid-19 has us all is various states of lockdown with no idea when we might get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Our current situation made me think of my mother who at 95 has been mostly stuck in her independent-living apartment in Colorado for nine months, with no access to the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren she moved there to spend time with.

Note here that my mom is different than many women of her generation. She left home at 18 to work for the war effort at Maryland Drydock where, she is quick to point out, she did a man’s job, but never earned the same pay. She has a college degree from Penn State University that she earned in 1948. Just under five percent of women had completed a four-year degree back then, so it was no surprise that my mom was a bit of a freak. Before she married and had three kids, she was a radio reporter in Washington, Pennsylvania, this despite the fact that she was initially told “girls shouldn’t cover the news.” Later, she was a reporter at the Grand Rapids Herald in Michigan and she wrote a series of historical fiction novels. In fact, she was the only woman in our neighborhood who held a job when I was a kid, a situation that had other women staring at her with suspicion.

I first realized my mom was rather atypical the day she marched into our local bank with her paycheck in hand. “I’d like to open a checking account,” she told the teller.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, you need your husband’s permission to have a bank account.”

Um…when the dust settled, my mother had her bank account and my father’s signature was nowhere on the application.

During World War II, people pulled together and supported the war effort, many growing their own food in victory gardens.

While our current situation is difficult, my mother is quick to point out that she’s lived through a lot of tough times, including the Depression and World War II, which made me consider her thoughts on global crises.

“I have to say that people did try,” she said of the civilian populace during World War II. “There were drives for tin for the war effort. Everything was rationed: gas, meat, sugar, flour, tires. You were careful with whatever you had, [because] companies…just switched from making personal products to products for the war effort. We had a victory garden in the back yard. Everybody did it. It was patriotic to do these things.”

While World War II was a terrible time, my mom thinks our current pandemic is more difficult to deal with.

“The virus is everywhere. We can’t see it,” she said. “The virus is indiscriminate. I honestly think this is worse. The psychology is worse, because we’re losing communication with other people.”

My mom is trying to do better about connecting. The grandchildren just bought her an iPad so she can facetime with the great-grandchildren. And while she rarely leaves her apartment and struggles with the sameness of every day, she is managing.

My mom moved to Colorado to be near her great grandchildren, but Covid has shut down their visits.

“I have thought through every crisis I’ve had to live to with,” she said. “It all depends on your ability to not fall into depression.”

Which requires finding meaningful things to do.

“Every morning I read the paper and I watch the news,” she said. “I always read books and that’s been a tremendous help. The only thing you can do is get out of yourself. Books help you do that.”

I don’t know when I’ll see my mother again. Plans for her 95th birthday were scuttled over the summer. Though mom is a pragmatic sort, not the least bit sentimental.

“I’ve lived my life,” she said when I asked if she’s nervous about getting the new vaccine. “What in the hell am I saving myself for?”

Knowing the battles my mother has waged, I think the Covid virus might have quite a fight with her. I doubt the little bug is willing to take the chance.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Barbie, the mystery rock, and the best Christmas present ever

I have been a rock collector most of my life. Somewhere there are photographs of me in diapers putting rocks in a cup. My addiction goes back that far.

The mineral collection at New York’s Museum of Natural History inspired me as a child.

I wonder sometimes how my predilection with minerals began. It might have been those trips to the Museum of Natural History in New York when my siblings and I were young. I recall being astounded by the dinosaur bones and the massive model of a blue whale that hung from the ceiling in the Hall of Ocean Life. But it was the Hall of Gems and Minerals that always left me with my mouth hanging open, as I gaped at the sparkling stones, their colors astounding in their depth and variety.

A Barbie or a geology kit? Barbie didn’t stand a chance.

My parents noticed my love of rocks. I know this because when I was twelve, Santa brought me the best gift ever. It was a metal box that opened into three sections, a geology kit that held the most wondrous things. There was a rock hammer, a small black rockhounding book with color pages of minerals, a scratch plate to help identify specimens, and various neat-looking glass tubes filled with things I can’t recall. The idea was to help me determine just what types of rocks I’d collected. I’m sure you can imagine that I no longer found my Barbie the least bit interesting.

Since that time, I have gone rocking whenever and where ever I could, so I have amassed hundreds of specimens, and the fact that I used to move around a lot—following reporting jobs that took me to different markets over the years—sometimes proved problematic. Once, when I was headed to Bristol, Connecticut to work for ESPN, there was some concern as to what the network was paying to move. The question was posed to my mother, who was at my new home when the movers arrived, as I was still driving across the country.

I have a lot of rocks. About 400 in my living room alone.

“What is all of this?” someone from ESPN asked.

“Rocks,” she said coolly.

“Rocks?” Apparently, they didn’t believe her.

My mother wasn’t always so understanding where my rocks were concerned. There is the often-told, family tale about me returning home from summer camp one year. My mother lifted my suitcase from a line of others by the bus and the handle broke. The many rocks I’d brought home tumbled into the street. While I rushed around collecting my treasures, my mother stood red faced with embarrassment.

When she determined I had too many rocks, she would—often while I was away at camp—toss my rocks into the garden. It would rain and my specimens would sink into the mud. But when I got home I would dig them up, clean them with my mother’s Waterpik—she didn’t know that until decades later—and return them to their proper places in my room.

Where did the mystery rock come from? I’m still looking for an answer.

Generally, one travels to old mine sites or wild places to collect specimens, so the day my sweetie-pie and I were walking the dogs on a city street in Phoenix stands out as the strangest place I’ve ever found a beautiful rock. We live in East Phoenix, an eclectic, mid-century kind of neighborhood. I spied what I thought was an ice cube in the road, which considering it was nearing 100 degrees seems silly when I think about it now. I kicked it and felt the weight. I reached down and picked up a big, brilliant quartz crystal.

“Where the hell did this come from?” I looked around. The stone was as out of place as a polar bear in the desert.

 I went home and placed the specimen in my case, but felt uncomfortable. It must belong to someone. If I had found such a lovely piece and lost it, I’d want it back.

So, I returned to the street where I’d found the crystal. I noticed several nice pieces of petrified wood in the yard nearby, and considered that the specimen might belong to the people who lived there. No one answered when I knocked. I tried again a few weeks later and the homeowners informed me that no they weren’t rock collectors, thanked me for asking, and closed the door.

I put the mystery rock back in my case and I will cherish the memory of finding it.

The crystal returned to its perch in my rock box, the mystery of its origin unsolved. But that’s the thing about being a rocker. It’s not just about collecting specimens, it’s about the stories that go along with them. Those who know me well understand that if I’ve had a glass of wine or two and they ask about my rocks, I will tell them endless stories of my rocking adventures, whether they want to know or not.

So, while you too are welcome to ask, be forewarned. It could be a long night.

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Looking for a career? Ask yourself 3 questions

What do you want to be when you grow up?

One of my jobs as an educator—a vocation where I spent twenty years teaching journalism and communication skills—was to encourage my students to think about the future. This isn’t easy with kids, especially high schoolers who rarely contemplate anything beyond the next Friday night.

Still, in my teacher mind, there was nothing more important than getting my students to think about life after school. We talked a lot about college, which I defined as any educational experience following high school graduation. I made it clear to my students that not everyone needed to attend a four-year university, but everyone had to have more training, because a high school diploma would not get them much in the working world.

You can’t be anything you want, but you can be many other things.

“You need to be thinking about your careers,” I’d say brightly. Then I’d see their eyes roll, since teachers had been asking them “What do you want to be when you grow up?” since they were in elementary school. But often the next statement from their educators would be, “You can be anything you want!” Which, of course, isn’t true, a point I would often make, one that would elicit furrowed brows and descent.

“What do you mean?” a child called out. “I’m going to play in the NBA.” At which point I had to make a decision. I have never wanted to be a person who crushed other people’s dreams, but, at some point, logic had to prevail. “Well,” I’d say to the pro-basketball hopeful, who more times than not was several inches shy of six feet. “that would be nice, but it takes a lot of hard work and certain physical attributes and athletic skills that not many people possess.”

Said child would look at me with suspicion. “But I can be anything I want.”

“With our current technology, can a blind person fly a plane?” I countered.

No matter how much I want to be an official in the NFL, I am too old and slow.

Heads shook around the room.

“I’ve been an amateur football official for almost four decades. I really wanted to be the first woman official in the NFL. I’m almost 65 years old. Anyone think the league will hire me now?”

Several students laughed.

“Of course not, because I’m too old and slow. Can Shaquille O’Neal be a thoroughbred racehorse jockey?”

Shaquille O’Neal could wish all he wanted about being a thoroughbred jockey, but he’s too big.

The kids thought about that for a moment.

“Shaq is a giant man. Put him on a horse and the poor animal wouldn’t get very far, so even if he wanted to be a jockey, he couldn’t.” I scanned the room, hoping they understood. “Here’s the thing, while we can’t be anything we want, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of things we can be. But how do we decide?”

Silence.

“It’s really simple. Ask yourself three questions. What do you like to do? What are you good at? And what will someone pay you to do? Think about your hobbies. If you’re very fortunate, you will find a career that involves something you love. For example, if you like animals you could become a veterinarian. If you play the guitar, you could perform or teach music. If you like to cook you could become a chef.”

“I like cars,” a kid called from the back of the room.

“Great! You could go to school to learn to fix cars or maybe design them.”

“I like to bake!” another child said.

“Then maybe you could take business classes and open a bakery.”

“I still want to play in the NBA!” My young athlete squinted.

“That’s fine. Strive for that. But even if you do become a professional athlete, remember those careers are generally very short. Most players are only in the league for less than five years. What will you do then?”

I could see him thinking about it.

We all need to have a plan B.

“You need to have a plan B, in fact everyone does, because you will probably have several careers over the course of your lifetime. And you could certainly stay around basketball, if that’s what you love. You could be a coach or an athletic trainer or work in public relations or marketing. You could be a sports journalist.”

He nodded slowly.

“What do you like to do? What are you good at? What will someone pay you to do? Three of the most important questions you’ll ever ask yourself.”

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Romance Novels: Why are they so popular?

Once, after reading one of my manuscripts, my agent said, “I really like the historical part of the story. Why don’t you write it as a stand-alone romance?”

I have a pretty good idea about where this book is going, don’t you?

I winced. A romance novel? Me?

I’ll admit here that I’ve been a bit of a snob in regard to that particular genre, which I was surprised to discover is the number one book-selling category on the planet. Not sure why I’ve often scoffed at romance novels. Perhaps it’s the covers: the swooning women with their heaving breasts, the muscular men, all sixpacks and flowing hair. Those books just never sang to me and I never understood why other people wanted to read them.

So, in an effort to learn, I contacted some of my lovely romance-writing friends. I put on my old reporter’s cap and grilled them like a detective looking for clues, my goal to understand why anyone would want to read a romance novel.

Boy, did I learn a lot!

Author Tina Ruiz says romance novels give readers a glimpse into another world.

“Romance gives us a glimpse into another world,” said author Tina Ruiz. “Sometimes it’s a world that we don’t have around us. Romance novels are like fairy tales to grown up women, where the men are nice, cater to our every whim, and shelter us from everything that might make us sad or hurt.”

“It’s possible the diversity of romance novels is a magnet for diverse individuals,” said romance author Nancy Kay. “From contemporary, to historical, to mystery and thrillers there are any number of themes to attract a number of tastes.”

Okay. But why are these stories tops in sales department?

“In my humble opinion it’s because we live in a shattered world that is full of bad stuff and romance is the ultimate good stuff,” said author Catherine Castle. “True love, loyalty, people who care about each other’s happiness.”

“Simple answer – escape,” said author Sloane Taylor. “Escape from the husband/wife who takes you for granted. Escape from the kids demanding all your time with not even a thanks. Escape from the boss who is a major ass. Escape from the bills that keep mounting. And especially in today’s world – escape from the pandemic and it’s personal repercussions.”

According to author Vonnie Hughs, it’s the happy endings that many romance readers enjoy.

“The mainly happy endings in a frequently bitchy world,” Australian author Vonnie Hughes explained.

Hughes went on to say that romance novels don’t cost as much as other genres and they tend to be shorter, so don’t require a big investment of time.

I have certainly read books that contained romance, though that part of the story was mostly secondary to the plot, so I was curious as to what exactly defines a romance novel. Of course, my first thought in our post Fifty Shades of Grey world was sex. But Ruiz pointed out that actual sex is not always the big draw.

“It is the illusion of sex that grabs our hearts,” she said. “In a lot of movies, the man and woman don’t even kiss until the very last scene.  That moment gets built up from the moment they meet until the end of the book or movie.  It’s the part we are all waiting for, so when it happens, it is absolutely wonderful.”

Still sex is often part of the format.

“Reading a book where sex is prominent is pretty awesome,” Ruiz said. “Because it gets portrayed in a different way than we have it in real life.  Some men…are not perfectly, let’s say, kempt, when they walk into the bedroom.  The men in the books and/or movies are like a Prince Charming. Every hair is in place, his teeth shine, his eyes twinkle, and his breath is probably minty fresh.” 

Author Nancy Kay says it’s the diversity of romance novels that make them so popular.

Another rather obvious requirement in a romance novel is that romance needs to be the most important part of the story.

“The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work,” Kay said. “There can be subplots as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.”

And, there’s something else I learned. Romance novels apparently should not end on a depressing note. There must be an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending,” Kay said. “In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? I can now see the appeal of romance novels. Perhaps it’s time I gave one a try.

How about you?

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Why aren’t kids going outside?

It’s rare for children to play outside today.

I was listening to the radio the other day when I heard a public service announcement that surprised me. It was sponsored by the Discover the Forest campaign, which according to its website “encourages parents of tweens to take their kids to nearby forests and parks to reap these benefits and instill in their children early on a love for the outdoors, thereby developing future stewards of the land.”

Anybody else sad? How did we get to the point where we need to encourage people to go outside and walk in the woods? As I recall, no one ever instructed me to do that. I just did. And memories of the forests and streams of Northern New Jersey are some of my fondest memories. Today, however, many children don’t even go outdoors, instead huddling inside four walls most of the day.

Screen time has many children huddled indoors. And fear of giving up their devices, even for a short time, has them shunning their natural surroundings.

One easy to pinpoint problem is their addiction to electronics. People under twenty were nursed on cellphones and tablets and now find it almost impossible to give up their devices. Tell kids they’re going to a place with no cellphone service and many will simply refuse to go.

Fourteen million U.S. children and adolescents are obese. Getting them to play outside would greatly reduce the problem.

Then there’s the news. As a former journalist I’m annoyed by the propensity of the media to reinforce the idea that our world is really dangerous. That strangers lurk behind every tree to kidnap and kill children. This stranger-danger paranoia is absurd. The reality is that kids are much more likely to be victimized by someone they know: mommy’s boyfriend, their baseball coach, or Uncle Bill. That’s why child abduction is such big news. It’s incredibly rare. And yet many parents won’t let their children explore the natural world out of fear. Kids sense this unease and become frightened at the prospect of being outside. One result of this mania is that we now have an obesity problem, with 18.5% of children and adolescents tipping the scales in the unhealthy range. That’s close to 14 million young people. Imagine if those children got up off the couch and went for a walk in the woods or played in a park.

There’s a big, beautiful world out there and seeing it in person is so much better than viewing it on a screen.

What can we do? Parents, while I appreciate your deep desire to protect your kids, try to relax and give them a little freedom. When they’re young, take them outside to explore. When they’re old enough to go alone, set rules that will keep you calm in their absence. Have them tell you exactly where they plan to play and when you can expect them to come home. Teach them the proper way to address a stranger. Explain that they should never go exploring alone, so they should always invite their friends along. Show them how to contact 911 in case of an emergency.

Then, try to relax. Your children are outside practicing valuable skills, like making their own decisions. Will they make mistakes? Of course. But that’s the way we learn.

The vast majority of kids–88%–say they like being in nature. So give them a chance. There’s a beautiful world out there, and seeing our wild lands on a screen is no substitute for being there.

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb