Siesta Key: a friendly place in Florida

Less than 100 miles North of Naples, but worlds apart, Siesta Key is a place to relax, squish your toes in the sand, run into the waves, and watch the sunset with friends.  It is as unpretentious as it is beautiful.  The restaurants are relaxed.  Children are welcome.  Live music fills the air, mostly in a style that would cause Jimmy Buffet and Willie Nelson to feel right at home.

The restaurants are lit with colorful lights, which sends the message it is the holiday season year round?  The music and the incredible smells of restaurant specialties, such as coconut fried shrimp, pulled pork and barbecue, entice

visitors and locals alike.  Who would choose to eat at home when the restaurants offer such great food and entertainment.  But then, why not eat at home when the grocery stores have such a wide assortment of Florida grown fruits, vegetables and fish  A happy dilemma, indeed.  The housing ranges from very modest to elegant.  While there are rows of lovely high-rise condominiums, it is the smaller homes and cottages that are the most interesting.

Many families have boats docked behind their homes, necessarily small enough to navigate the shallow waters and slide under bridges to reach the Bay.  Situated right on the canals, you can’t help but wonder if the crocodiles are lying in wait in the grasses by the shore.

If it is country clubs you want, or  elegant surroundings, go further south.  But if you are enthusiastic about simple things, like walking alone or with children along the beach, and if you’re excited about watching the ever-changing colors of the water and the sky, visit Siesta Key.


All the news that’s fit to print

Layoffs are the order of the day for print media.  An estimated 3775 newsroom jobs were lost in 2011 alone, spread among newspapers large and small. Across the nation, newspapers papers, magazines, even books are giving way to Internet-based news and literature. The Washington Post, an icon in the publishing world, has recently reduced its staff.  Our own Kansas City Star has announced repeated layoffs including, most recently, in mid February, 2012.  As readers we are concerned with the ways in which the loss of traditional sources of information shrinks our ability to gather meaningful date on the important issues of the day.
Does this really matter if Internet sources are ready to provide us information?  The question, at least in part, is whether internet media will assume the mantel of investigative and in-depth reporting, on a local and national level, that inevitably declines as newspapers that have sustained reductions in news room staff.
Remember All the President’s Men, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein? They spent months meeting with an anonymous informer identified only as “deep throat” before publishing a series of articles in the Washington Post exposing the Watergate scandal that resulted in President Nixon’s resignation and prison sentences for key members of his staff.  Our own Kansas City Star has repeatedly exposed incompetence and corruption throughout the metropolitan area.  The repeated reductions in staff leave the news room gutted, with at best only limited ability to seek out corruption, or report more than minimal local news.

The reduction in paid subscriptions and advertising revenues may make staff downsizing inevitable.  At the same time, competition between and among internet news source makes the competition for audiences more intense.  Facing that challenge, the Washington Post has expressed a commitment to continue it’s in-depth reporting, while moving aggressively to increase readership of its Internet paper.  Relying on online metrics to identify the number of clicks each of its articles receives, it is able to monitor constantly the popularity of each article, identify those with limited interest and replace low performing articles on a ongoing basis.  In this environment, is it reasonable to worry that articles about Kardashian weddings and celebrity probation violations will attract larger audiences than  school board meetings, second injury funds and low-level corruption. Focusing news and media attention on “easy news”, ie. news that is easily available through multiple sources, is cheaper and faster than authorizing journalists to spend months on a single article, or even a series of articles, requiring extensive research and exploration. It will be even more of a challenge to find a means by which journalists will be vigilant about reporting the mundane, but critical issues facing local communities.

It is difficult to criticize the paper media.  Their goal in 2012 is not to expand profit, but to secure survival while finding new resources and audiences.  In the interim we must, each of us, support and encourage  journalism that helps us to remain knowledgeable of the challenges that continue to confront us.  Certainly, this is essential to an educated citizenry.

Edward R. Murrow explained the problem this way: “the newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end, the communicator will be left with the problem of what to say and how to say it”.

Reply With Quote

Old Soil and New Life

I have been focused a lot lately on children. From childhood illness, to separation, to challenges at work, my world currently feels child centered.  Our family now is looking forward to two happy arrivals in the coming months.  As a future great-aunt, I am just filled with love and curiosity about the little ones who will join the current members of our next generation: Elliot, Asher and Sophia. I wonder about how their lives will be impacted by the world around them, the values that will come through our own children and those that will be formed by the outside world.

I love the description of family in Naomi Ragen’s book The Ghost of Hannah Mendes: We are planted in old soil, enriched by the lives of so many who came before us, the nourishment is meant to flow through us on to the newest branches so that every branch grows a little taller and blooms more beautifully still.

Our family is fortunate that Meg’s generation shows every indication of growing tall and blooming beautifully.  They seem to share the best of our family strengths and values rather than our weaknesses.  Universally they care about the environment, a healthy economy, healthy life habits.  They care about respect for human dignity.  They take an interest in government while maintaining a respectful regard for civility and understanding the importance of forming opinions based on research and study rather than on demagoguery.  We have raised them well, and now we rely on them to nurture their own children, nieces and nephews.  Understanding that, and understanding that it is they who will have the primary responsibility to shape the environment in which their children are raised, what wisdom can we pass on to them.

My mother used to say that when you have raised a child you become an expert in raising that child, but that it doesn’t really how to raise another child.  Of course, every child needs to be raised lovingly, with an early focus on healthy diet and healthy life habits. They need to be read to, to be given lots of hugs, and loving discipline.  They need to see modeled the values that have shaped us as strong, productive family.  They need to be intellectually stimulated from an early age, and to have parental involvement in the schools where their educations will continue.

But these basic parental responsibilities (and joys) do not directly speak to respect for the uniqueness of each child. Dr. Mel Levine, in his book A Mind at a Time, describes parenting this way: “Some minds  are wired to create symphonies and sonnets, while others are fitted out to build bridges, highways, and computers; design airplanes and road systems; drive trucks and taxicabs; or seek cures for breast cancer and hypertension . . . Parents have a special responsibility and joy as they get to know well and to cultivate their children’s individual minds.”

So the wisdom I would want to share with them is that parents support  their children best, when they learn to understand and nurture the uniqueness in each of them, helping them to develop their special strengths and to help them to accommodate to their inevitable limitations.  As to the future, I can only chuckle that Forrest Gump’s mother was probably right when she reminded us that “life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  I am excited to find out.

Naples, Florida: a place of sun, water, and glamour

Naples prides itself on it’s natural beauty combined with the elegance of the architecture and the high-end shopping and dining options. Retirees flock here, from the less affluent in trailer parks to the very affluent tucked away in gated communities, with views of golf courses, marinas, boats and canals. The food is amazing; shopping abounds. Life in Naples is truly a change of pace for Northerners getting away from the ice and cold of winter.

Rich or not so rich, everyone has the luxury of the sun, the water and the climate.  What I noticed first about the seniors we encountered was that people appear to be healthy and physically active. Perhaps the easy availability of a multitude of fresh  fruits and vegetables, the broiled fish and shellfish, all make it easy to have a healthy diet. The climate encourages outdoor exercise, and the beauty supports a positive attitude. That was certainly the impact on me.

Water is a major attraction in the area.  Soft sand beaches give way to marinas with power boats.  Sailors go to areas with deep harbors such as Marco Island. Get away for a weekend, the winter or live here all year.  It will take your breath away.

The Few, the Proud, the Montford Point Marines

February is Black History Month.  It is an important time to celebrate African-American history.  It is equally to acknowledge the contributions of our friends of color. The successes of the present arise out of sacrifices from the past.  While they are too many to list, this is a great time to thank the Montford Point Marines who volunteered and served in World War II, after President Roosevelt entered a Presidential Directive integrating the Marine Corps.

We are all familiar with the Buffalo Soldiers formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1866 to fight in the Indian Wars.  We have also heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American aviators in the Army Air Corps, who trained at Tuskegee, Oklahoma, beginning in 1941.  However, I had never heard of the Montfort Point Marines. They were activated in August 1942.  Between 1942 and 1949, 20,000 men volunteered to serve in the Marines. They trained in a segregated facility in Montford Marine Camp[1] in Montford Point, N.C.  Point, North Carolina.   Initially, they were trained by white officers.  Quickly African-Americans took over their own training when, by 1943, American Americans finally became noncommissioned officers.  Like the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen, they chose to fight, despite segregation, in order to show their national commitment.  Cassandra L. Paschal has written about them that they believed “that if they could show their homeland their valor they would return to a country that in its gratitude would give them all of the freedoms provided in our Constitution.”

Montford Point Marines were assigned to support white troops.  However, they often found themselves in the thick of battle. They served, fought and died in the Pacific Theater in places with names like Saipan, Okinawa, Guam and the Mariana Islands.    Shortly after World War II, in September 1949, President Truman ordered the end of segregation in the armed forces.  Thereafter all armed forces were integrated.

On November 23, 2012, House Resolution 2447 was signed into law by President Obama.  The resolution granted the Congressional Medal or Honor to the Montford Point Marines.  While 11 members abstained from voting, not a single “no” vote was entered.

Equality under the law did not come quickly.  But the service of these brave men has finally been acknowledged and honored. To those who served, “Thank you for your service”.

[1] Renamed Camp Johnson on April 19, 1974, in honor of Sergeant Major, Gilbert H. “Hashmark” Johnson, a Distinguished Montford Point Drill Instructor

Loving Lila

There are few joys in life more gratifying than the relationships we have with children.  They represent pure love and a joy that is unparalleled.  We thrive on their unconditional faith that we can make all things right.  But sometimes we cannot protect them from life’s great challenges. That is the case with Lila.

She is so young and so loved, surrounded by family and friends who have treasured her since before she was born.  Now Lila is ill.  The same loving community that has sought to love and protect her is now focused, for the next days, weeks, and months, on every step of her diagnosis, her treatment, her care and her recovery.  The outpouring of love and support for Lila and her family forms a protective shield around her as though to protect her from the dangers in her own body.  If love alone could cure, she would not be struggling now.

As I write this I am aware that there are many children just like Lila.  Children who are ill or injured.  Children whose families love them as we love Lila.  These children are no less precious.  Their pain is no less overwhelming.  Their fear no less all-consuming.  Committed families and friends draw on personal and spiritual communities as we place our precious children in the care of skilled physicians and pediatric specialists.

Surely there is no good that diminishes the suffering, no words that lessen the burden. Yet, somehow the love of a supportive community and the compassionate care of high quality doctors and nurses help Lila and her family navigate through the perils and fear.  Lila, and all the children like Lila, move through each step toward the future holding our hearts in their hands.  Be safe, Lila.

Green Begins With You

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

There are so many different ways to be “green” nowadays. Being green can mean anything from reducing the miles you drive in your car every day to growing your own food. For many people, recycling is the first big step into reducing waste and helping the environment.

Most people are familiar with the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The idea is that reducing waste is the most important step. Reusing items also helps reduce waste but still allows for consumption. And then comes recycling. If you are unable to avoid consuming products that will cause waste, it is important to consume products that are recyclable (or at least the packaging is recyclable). While recycling still has a higher carbon footprint that reducing or reusing, it at least prevents waste from entering our already overflowing landfills and allows us to reuse those materials in another form.

Recycling is easy. In most places, it’s ridiculously easy. Many refuse companies like Deffenbaugh, Unicycler, etc. offer curbside pick-up of both trash and recycling. In Petaluma (and other parts of California), our waste management service also provides a green waste bin for compost and yard waste. Between recycling and compost, we rarely have more than a single bag of trash in the week. Often times, we don’t even put out the trash bin every week because there’s hardly anything to put out.

Green bins can be found all over the place. In parks, airports, office buildings. Where do you see green bins? We’d love to know!

Hands Around Shollenberger: A day to demonstrate commitment to a local gem

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

Shollenberger Park is located on the south side of Petaluma. It also sits on the east side of the Petaluma River. This wonderful park is home to a huge variety of birds, many of which do not have an equally safe environment close by. The habitat created by the wetlands and the surrounding park is ideal for both birds and bird watchers alike, while also creating a beautiful sanctuary for walkers, runners, families and their canine companions. My husband and I have brought Lily and Cousteau here several times.

Though I am new to Petaluma, I have quickly become aware of the dedication to preserving local gems such as Shollenberger Park. Many of them fall under siege from developers and changing times, but the support from the community to protect these areas is quite amazing. Shollenberger in particular is at risk of having a new neighbor, an asphalt plant, which would be located directly across the river. Environmentalists are concerned that this addition would compromise the integrity of the wetlands and surrounding habitats, as well as destroying valuable resources for local wildlife.

As a demonstration of their commitment to protecting the park, over 1300 people gathered at Shollenberger on Sunday for “Hands Around Shollenberger.” Supporters wore red, as a Valentine’s Day dedication to the park, and stood hand to hand all the way around the two-mile trail. It was an amazing site to see. Neither the cold nor the wind could keep these hearty souls away. At 3:00pm, a plane flew overhead to take an aerial photograph of the event. I am excited to see the results. It truly was inspiring to see the dedication from local citizens to preserving Shollenberger Park.

If you are interested in learning more about the effort to protect Shollenberger, I recommend visiting the Save Shollenberger Website here.

Beauties of the Country Club Plaza

Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza is renowned for its holiday lights in the winter and fountains in the summer. But, it is February. The lights no longer brighten the sky and the fountains will not flow until Spring.

However, do not despair. Beauty still abounds. The Plaza is nothing less than a world-class museum, holding even lifelong residents in awe. Art is everywhere. There are statues cast in places such as Seville, Venice, and even-Utah! There are lovely murals. Even the Spanish architecture itself is beautiful.

We are all drawn to the massive fountains that dominate the environment. But it is winter. Time to focus on the wonderful small treasures, nestled in unexpected places. No less elegant for their diminutive size, they are waiting for the alert tourist or knowing resident.

Made in the USA Series: The U.S. auto industry gets a well-earned nod during the Super Bowl

It has been a tumultuous 4 years in the automotive industry. The bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler as well as the near bankruptcy of Ford Motor Company shook Detroit to it’s core. Stock prices plummeted as we watched what appeared to be the end of Detroit’s influence in the industry. It was a roller coaster ride. But, that was then. This is now.

Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday. It seems that everyone watched the game. Even people who don’t care about football watch the ads. I loved the Volkswagen ad focused on a dog’s motivation to become physically fit, and was bemused by Chevrolet’s spoof of the Mayan calendar’s 2012 doomsday predictions. But it was Clint Eastwood, in Chrysler’s ad, “Halftime in America,” that inspired us to envision a new era of national rebirth.

Released before the Super Bowl was Chrysler’s new advertising campaign, “Imported From Detroit.” The message of the ads is that we don’t “have to cross an ocean to obtain luxury.” But is this message accurate? We did some checking and found that there seems to be a rebirth of the U.S. automobile industry. In addition to manufacturing plants throughout the world, foreign and domestic automobile manufacturers have significant operations in the U.S. Here are just some of the companies with manufacturing and/or assembly operations in the United States—

Domestic Companies 

Ford Motor Company—Ford, Lincoln and Mercury in Michigan; Missouri; Illinois, Kentucky; and Minnesota.

General Motors–Buick in Michigan; Cadillac in Michigan and Texas; Chevrolet in Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana and Louisiana.

Chrysler—Chryslers in Michigan; Dodge in Michigan and Ohio; and Jeep in Detroit, Ohio and Illinois. Chrysler announced on February 3, 2012, that it will add 1,800 jobs at its plant in Belvidere, Illinois, where it assembles the Dodge Dart, Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass.

Foreign Companies 

Honda—Ohio, Indiana and Alabama.

Mercedes Benz—Alabama.

BMW—South Carolina.



Suzuki—Georgia and Tennessee.

Volkswagen—Tennessee. Its new plant in Tennessee employs 2000 workers and was recently recognized for its commitment to environmentally responsible manufacturing.

There is a lot to celebrate for the U.S. economy in the revitalization of this industry. We had a rough “first half” in our economy, but we are rebuilding. The economy is growing. And we are going to have a much better “second half.”