Make a Little Trouble Out There

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”

Nora Ephron

To the 1996 Wellesley graduating class

There are certain famous people who, when they die, I feel the loss personally, though I never had a personal relationship with them.

Nora Ephron is one of those people. I loved reading everything she wrote, loved seeing every movie she wrote and/or directed. Loved Love, Loss, What I Wore, the play she and her sister Delia co-authored (based on a book by Ilene Beckerman).

She made feminism fun, someone wrote. She did, because her form of feminism included romantic comedies, and saw the value of a good marriage.

Take a leap with me now, if you will.

We just came through an election (in case you didn’t notice). The choice was clear to me: the old paradigm (Traditional) versus the new paradigm (Traditional Shmraditional: Let’s Get Real About Reality).

Single women voted overwhelmingly for Obama, because, the ladies of Fox News proclaimed, they were selfish. They thought only of themselves and their birth control pills. In their worldview, married women voted for Romney because they had children and so were concerned about the future—the future of their children.

Their children, I would point out. Not children. Their children.

This of course assumes that none of those single women who voted for Obama had children.

Traditional shmraditional: Let’s Get Real about Reality.

I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving at a retreat. Many of the participants were gay men who were in their early to mid thirties. They were born, I realized, about the time (late 1980) I began volunteering with the Hospice program at San Francisco General Hospital. Earlier that year, a small article, published deep in the first section of the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that a number of gay men had been diagnosed with a type of cancer that had previously been seen primarily in elderly Italian and Jewish men. It was Karposi’s sarcoma.

Soon after that came the articles about a mysterious gay cancer, then gay-related immune deficiency syndrome (GRID), and speculation about reasons for this phenomenon. Poppers? Drugs?

Soon after that, San Francisco General Hospital was inundated with what became the AIDS epidemic, and young gay men began showing up as hospice patients. In 1983, an AIDS ward was established at SFGH, not to isolate AIDS patients, but rather to ensure that the emotional as well as physical needs of patients were met.

It broke the model of hospital wards: the rooms that were normally reserved for staff (one for nurses, the other for physicians) became a community room where patients and staff socialized. Staff was encouraged to engage with patients, to not distance themselves, to shed tears with them, hold them when they cried, laugh with them when it was time to laugh. Staff supported each other. They were encouraged to take care of themselves, to acknowledge the toll it took on them, and take a break when needed.

This was at a time when terminally ill patients, regardless of the illness, tended to be isolated—treated as failures by the medical model that put physicians at the top of the delivery system.

I wrote an article for the hospice newsletter about the ward. Over a three-hour period I sat in the community room, listening to patients talk about their experience on the ward—friends decorated their rooms, patients became active in their care.

The AIDS epidemic raised bigger health issues, the clinical coordinator who developed the ward believed. He believed that the AIDS ward could serve as a model for how health care can be delivered.

It’s funny how memory works. I had forgotten about my visit to the AIDS ward until the retreat. The experience of this generation of gay men was far different from what was happening to their age group thirty years ago.

I was single during that time. I had no children. I don’t know whether not having children freed me to get as involved as I did with hospice. I also worked with the Gray Panthers, advocating for nursing home reform, advocating for changing the way the medical community delivered geriatric health care, standing up against age discrimination. I also worked at a center for independence of the disabled, where I became involved in advocating for removing impediments that banished people with disabilities to the backrooms of our society.

I did all of this because I was concerned about the future—mine and those who came after me.

I have stepchildren now. Our Thanksgiving was one of the smallest it has been in a number of years. Two of my stepdaughters were there, my step grandsons, my husband, and the son of a friend who now lives in Texas. Normally, I relish a large crowd, but this year, the intimacy of it comforted me. The people seated at the table loved and cared about each other. They wanted to be there.

I care about their future. Their future includes good health care, security in age, a world in which women have control over their reproductive health.

Being concerned about one’s children is natural. But to think that all one has to be concerned about is one’s own children is to doom oneself to a La Brea tar pit.

Women, real women, care about the world, as well as their families. They know that they are interdependent.

The ladies of Fox News don’t understand that. They chose to be a lady, to accept the status quo, to possess love of family, and definition of family, as a value that they and they alone possess.

Gay marriage was barely a dream thirty years ago. Gay adoption hardly on the horizon.

With this election, I think we chose shmradition over tradition. A black family lives in the White House. Gay marriage will soon, I think, be a nonissue. There will just be marriage—a commitment between two people who love and are committed to each other. Some married couples will want to raise a family, others will choose to remain childless.

The people who have taught me the most over my life are the ones who made a little trouble out there—the ones who threw tradition aside, who risked disapproval so that the human heart could experience the breadth of humans being human.

Put on your hats and gloves, straighten the seam in your hose, and go make a little trouble out there. The world is ready for the heart of a woman to forge her path in life.

A Cornucopia of Enoughs

Enough:  adequate for want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire


In addition to this being NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it’s been a month when people post a daily comment on Facebook what they are thankful for.

I have participated in neither. Not because I wasn’t thankful, or because I don’t have a novel to write. I was simply distracted. I forgot to notice when the calendar turned from October 31st to November 1st.

Fortunately for my guests, I have had enough undistracted brain cells that I recognized in enough time that Thanksgiving dinner is today.


I was raised to believe that there wasn’t enough to go around. Not enough love. Not enough talent. Not enough opportunity. Not enough enough.

And yet, there it was in the dictionary. “Enough.” Gazillions of copies sold with enough in it. A word so old that it’s spelled weird.

I don’t think I am alone in being raised with this misunderstanding—that there was not enough enough. Actually, I know I am not alone. The last election was a lot about that. A deep fear among those who have more than enough, that someone else having enough would take away from their enough. And then they would not have enough.

Not to mention fear that there aren’t enough experiences of God to go around.

For me, the best thing about this last election is that enough diversity trumped more than enough money. The outcome asserted that there is enough room at the American table for both June Cleaver and Roseanne Conner. Adam and Steve and Steve and Janet. Jesus and Buddha. Spanish and English. All other languages and English. Atheists and polytheists. Chris Christie and Barack Obama. And so on.

So, today, to show my gratitude, I’m going to celebrate that there is enough enough to go around.

Enough love.

Enough food.

Enough God.

Enough talent.

Enough words.

Enough enough.

’Nuff said.

The kitchen is calling.

The Day the Story Died

   The present is where the past flows into the future  —Author unknown to me

I have always wanted to time travel, to go back in time and walk on the ground as it was at a particular moment in time. I think I got that chance when I visited Hagemann Ranch in 2010.

It was my goddaughter Katie who inspired me to visit. Diagnosed at two with Autism with a speech delay, she said her first words on a horse at four as part of Hoofprints on the Heart’s pilot equine therapy project.

I thought I would have to drive five-miles out Mines Road to find Hoofprints on the Heart at Hagemann Ranch. Instead within two lefts and a few stoplights from my home in downtown Livermore, there it was, surrounded by a suburban neighborhood—what Livermore most likely looked like at the end of the nineteenth century. Original farmhouse, blacksmith shop, building that was Livermore High’s original gymnasium among others.

It must have been what it felt like as well—a quiet, slow pace that belonged to an era that predated airplanes, telephones, automobiles, not to mention the Internet.

The City of Livermore had purchased Hagemann Ranch with a $1.8 million dollar loan from HUD, and signed a Regulatory Agreement with Hoofprints on the Heart to lease it to them for 50 years for $200.00 per month. In exchange, Hoofprints would provide adaptive riding services to low-income residents, and care for, restore, and preserve Hagemann Ranch.

Barbara Soules, one of Hoofprints’ founders and the volunteer executive director, gave me a tour of the facility, introduced me to the horses and therapeutic riding. I had read that “Horseback riders who jump the Grand Prix fences of terrifying heights talk of throwing their hearts over the fence so their horse jumps after it.” It looked to me that with therapeutic riding, the horse carries the rider’s heart in its own, a deep healing connection between wounded human and powerful animal. I suspect the healing goes both ways.

In addition to therapeutic riding for children and adults with neurological and physical disabilities, Hoofprints on the Heart was completing an agreement with the Livermore VA to provide equine therapy for veterans. The Livermore VA treats veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There had been an internal request within the VA for proposals for equine programs. The Livermore VA had requested $12,000 for 20 vets to receive the therapy at Hoofprints on the Heart. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in February 2011.

They also had a community garden that would be a revenue stream. An historic one-room schoolhouse was scheduled to be moved to the site. Third graders would tour the site to learn about Livermore heritage as part of the curriculum for learning about local history.

This was a story: Livermore’s heritage being used to teach us in present day how and why our heritage mattered, and how we could continue it into the future. Several months later, two board members conducted a hostile takeover of Hoofprints on the Heart—one lived in Marin County (sixty miles north west of Livermore) , the other in Contra Costa County (adjacent to Livermore’s Alameda County). It was clear that they had waited for Barbara Soules to finalize the agreement to make their move.

Claiming that they had the support of City staff for the takeover, they removed Barbara Soules as executive director because she was an “entry-level” ED and they needed someone with more sophisticated experience. They also voted her off the Board, then banned her from the property.

Without available funds, they hired an executive director who had no experiences with horses, no experience with the disability community, no experience as an executive director, and no experience with California non-profits. Her closest previous experience was with the city of Calgary in Canada.

I was at the meeting where the insurgent board took over. I have rarely seen such vitriol. Several others were at the meeting as well. We protested that they were not following their bylaws (they weren’t). The new Board president wrote a letter to the City staff referring to us as a loud-mouthed rowdy crowd.

I don’t like bullies. That is what the two board members who hijacked the organization and the historic site were.

Livermore’s mayor has excused this by saying that sometimes a hostile takeover has long term benefits.


But, within seven months, rumors began swirling that Hoofprints was out of funds and would have to close its doors. They stopped paying the executive director. They received funds that were originally said to be donated for a covered arena—then later said to be for operating expenses. So they were able to operate on bare bones for a few more months.

Eighteen months later, this insurgent board has driven Hoofprints on the Heart to near insolvency, put the historic site at risk, fired the caretaker, and killed the story.

In addition to cancelling the veteran’s program, they have plowed under the community garden—the only “improvement” to the property is a very expensive archway to an uncovered arena that is dedicated to a suicide victim from Nevada. They have no scholarship funds, so it is questionable whether they are serving low income as required by the HUD loan used to purchase the property. The grounds have deteriorated, it is not clear whether they have paid insurance or for the alarm systems, and it does not appear that they have 24/7 management of the facility. If a fire broke out, the historic home would be destroyed in minutes. One doesn’t even want to think of what would happen to the horses if their building caught on fire.

Their only employee is the program director who provides lessons.

In late August of this year, I wrote a letter to the local newspaper expressing my concern. It was countered with a letter from the board that addressed accusations that had never been made, and that resorted to name calling (the person writing the letter had previously referred to me as a loud mouthed woman – which of course I am, but I don’t think he thought it was a compliment). In September Cynthia Patton (Katie’s mother) and I went before the City Council to express our concerns. The Mayor asked a member of the city staff to respond, which he did with misinformation.

At the next City Council meeting, Hoofprints’ board members appeared before the City Council and introduced bald-faced lies that our Mayor and city staff sadly perpetuated. They claimed that they had turned the organization around and were struggling because of my letter, sent to the editor just a few weeks earlier. They admitted that they had lost all funders and didn’t understand why.

We requested a public records search. One of the documents returned was the Regulatory Agreement the City signed with Hoofprints. After reviewing all the documents, we realized that Hoofprints on the Heart was out of compliance with virtually all requirements.

We produced a four-page list of due diligence questions we wanted the City to ask Hoofprints. Three weeks later, another City staff member asked for a meeting to get him up to speed on what we wanted. We want a thriving, community-based organization that provides therapeutic equine services to people with disabilities, with at least 50% of its clients identified as low income, we said. We also wanted a veterans program. And we wanted a board that reflected the community served at Hageman Ranch. Fat chance, he replied.

Whatever his reason for meeting with us, the purpose was clearly not to listen to our concerns. He dismissed the Regulatory Agreement as just a kind of informal document that the City could willy-nilly decide whether or not it wanted to enforce. When I asked if there was concern about losing the HUD loan, he said that would be no problem, that all the City cared about was the land. I asked if he cared whether veterans or my goddaughter were served, he said no, but he appreciated my passion.

I don’t know what his agenda was, but it is clearly not the best interest of Livermore’s constituents.

I think this sad tale resonates beyond Livermore.

The story got killed because the heart of the organization got torn out of it. The insurgent board acted with hubris, and defaulted to defamation and finger pointing when their incompetence began taking the organization down.

Why the City is not concerned about this is another story – a perplexing one. For not only do they seem not concerned, they seem to be enabling this organization, even though they know it has lied to them.

The property was purchased with a $1.8 million dollar loan from HUD. City staff claim that it is being repaid with federal funds. That means the taxpayers who are paying for this travesty extend beyond Livermore’s borders.

Perhaps the most painful part of this for me was watching the story die.

As a writer, I need to get out of the way of the story. It needs to be wrapped in compassion for being human. My ego needs to step aside so the compassionate truth can emerge.

In his Nobel speech Faulkner says the writer must leave:

…no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.”

We need to restore the story to Hagemann Ranch. We must allow the past that flows through our present create a future that takes care of the most vulnerable among us. We must throw our hearts over the fence and follow after it.


If this concerns you please go Hagemann Ranch and Hoofprints on the Heart Have been Hijacked on Facebook and Like the page. Cynthia or I will be updating it regularly.

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