My Golden Gate Dream Globe


“You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” … Oscar Hammerstein, “South Pacific”

This is my Golden Gate Fog Globe, which I got at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. When you give it a shake, it fills up with sparkly, magical fog. The fog settles gradually, revealing the iconic bridge in all its beauty.

Those swirling sparkles are like my dreams (although I prefer thinking of the stuff in my brain as mist, not fog). I’ve had a lot of dreams over the years, some coming true, some not. Now a big one is settling into reality: GONE DOG, my canine coming-of-age novel, has just been published.

Here’s what is obvious: to make this or any dream come true requires hard work, perseverance, luck, and the support of others. Take, for instance, my dream of getting a law degree, which I did at age 35 with three young children. Whew.

As for GONE DOG, the hard work is not over. I’m now entering the mystical marketing stage: How to spread the word about Puppins, the rescued black Labrador retriever who narrates the book. Puppins is a teen (in human years), dealing with the perennial teenage questions: Who am I, where do I belong, and what’s for dinner?

Introducing GONE DOG to the wide world of readers will be a big task. Ask any unknown, newly published author. Unless you are dishing political dirt, in which case an audience is guaranteed, it’s an uphill battle.

Of course I’ll do the usual marketing things. But here’s a dream that’s swirling around in my brain: A book tour. Not just any book tour. I’ll go on the road with a borrowed black Lab in a rented van decorated with a huge image of my book. We’ll tour the waysides like John Steinbeck did with his dog Charlie. We’ll stop at small-town libraries and animal shelters, meet kids and adults, give readings from GONE DOG, pass out dog treats, and promote animal welfare and rescue efforts. And just have fun. Maybe we’ll sell a few books!

Fanciful? Of course. But who’s to say I can’t do it?

If you don’t have a dream, how you  gonna have a dream come true?

(For more about my book, click on the GONE DOG page on this website, and on my sales page on Amazon.)

My Historic ‘Sleeping Beauty’

WANTED: Rich “prince” to awaken sleeping beauty and bring her back to life.

Just down the street from where I live is this adorable little building. You could drive by it a hundred times and never notice it, because its classical facade hides shyly behind a high wall of greenery.

Sadly, it’s been sitting there, unused, for many years.

I’ve walked by this corner almost daily since I moved to San Rafael, and my insatiable curiosity finally led me to Google the address. Who knew my lonely little building was once a miniature palace?

This small gem began as a pavilion in San Francisco’s 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition. It was part of the Liberal Arts Palace, housing the Victor Talking Machine Co. exhibit on the future of the Victrola.

In 1916, a bevy of prominent San Rafael women, members of the San Rafael Improvement Club, purchased the Greek Revival pavilion and had it moved across the bay. They knew it would make a perfect clubhouse.

These civic-minded ladies were a formidable force. Already, they had combated huge swarms of mosquitoes that bred in the town’s swampy bay. By 1917, club members had planted 6,000 trees, some of which still shade the streets of Downtown San Rafael.

Over the years, the pavilion served not only as headquarters for the Improvement Club, but also as a community gathering place for dances and special events.

Eventually, the club had to sell the building, no longer able to keep it up. Unused since 1997, it’s now in private hands. The grounds are well maintained, but there are no visible signs of life behind that screen of shrubs.

According to Google, the pavilion is 60 feet square, has hardwood floors, and can hold up to 200 people. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. (Only one other building remains from the 1915 Exposition: the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts.)

I want someone with money and a dream to come along and “kiss” my Sleeping Beauty. I want it to be awakened, re-purposed and enjoyed, to once again be a charming part of the local community.

Here’s an idea: Wouldn’t a “Ladies’ Ice Cream Emporium & Historical Museum” be just the thing?


New Meaning from Old Love Letters

I never really knew much about my father. He was killed by a drunk driver when I was five. My mother, left with three little children and not much in the way of resources, was devastated.

For years, she was unable to talk about him. No photographs of my dad were displayed in our home. Childish questions about him brought no answers, just tears. Her memories remained raw, too painful to share.

But she kept hundreds of letters he’d written to her, almost daily, during their four-year courtship. The marriage was postpone numerous times. First, they waited for him to regain his health after a near-fatal illness during his premed studies.

Then they waited until he got a a master’s degree and university teaching job, because he wanted to be a good provider. (The family came later. More waiting until, against all odds, he finally got his long-delayed M.D. degree.)

He went on to become the sole physician in Ellettsville, Indiana, where he soon became an integral part of all aspects of community life. He only lived another seven years before the fatal accident, but his impact on the town was huge. I guess you could say he was a big fish in a small Midwestern pond.

As an adult, I was given copies of the glowing obituaries for Rayburn Castle Austin, M.D., written years earlier. It was like reading about someone I’d heard of but didn’t really know.

Then, just before my mother’s death at age 96, she gave the letters to me and my sister, and we divided them up. I stuck mine away in storage, unread, while I moved around the country.

When I finally brought the letters home, I stared at them. Why did my mother keep them all those years? To my knowledge, she never re-read the letter — too painful. So she must have intended for her children to read them. Maybe that was her way of helping us to finally get to know him.

I decided I should read the letters.

My mother stored them in cardboard boxes in her overhead garage space. Unfortunately, mice found them, and a number were destroyed beyond readability; others were left decorated with big holes and mousie teeth marks.

Still, many of them were in surprisingly good condition. But reading them was not easy. My dad wrote with pencil and green ink, which had faded over time. And his handwriting, a typical doctor’s script, was difficult to decipher.

But as I read, a picture of him began to emerge. Some of the letters ache with loneliness and longing for his sweetheart, true love letters. Most are accounts of his everyday life, with all its joys, difficulties, rewards and frustrations.

I saw that by using the words he wrote, I could build up a mind’s-eye model of him, the way a child builds a Starship out of Lego bricks.

So that’s what I did. It’s a picture that will always be unfinished, but now I can fill in a lot more of the white spaces: who my father was, the ways I’m like him, the ways we differ. That means so much to me.

I wish I had truly known him, but I am so grateful for what I’ve learned, and so thankful to my mother for her unexpected gift.

Note: None of her letters to him have survived; perhaps she destroyed them.

Postscript: A month after his death, my dad was given a posthumous Community Service Award by Indiana Governor Henry F. Schricker, who paid tribute to his life of service, and presented a memorial plaque to his young widow, my mother. At the ceremony, held at the Ellettsville Consolidated School, the governor also placed the first shovelful of dirt around a tree planted in my father’s memory.

Until I read about the award as an adult, I never knew that at the school I attended as a child, there was a tree planted for my father. I wonder if it is still there.

You Can’t Take It With You – But What If You Could?

Mummy at Legion of Honor

The saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” The ancient Egyptians, however, believed something quite different.

There’s a fascinating exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Art Museum — “Mummies and Medicine: The Future of the Past” — that chronicles research being done by a team of Stanford University scientists, using up-to-date technology to unlock the  secrets of the museum’s two resident mummies.

The primary aim of the research is to explore how these people lived, died, and prepared for eternity. They believed that the spirit endures forever. Furthermore, at some future time, it will be reunited with the body, which has been preserved by mummification.

Therefore, during one’s lifetime, it was necessary to plan ahead. You specified the kind of tomb you wanted (and could afford) — maybe not so different from what some people do today, buying a cemetery plot and tombstone, and spelling out what should be written on it.

The ancient Egyptians went a step further. They wanted to make sure they had crucial things with them during that long, eternal time. So, they would make a list: “Here are things I might need, and these are my most treasured belongings. Please put them in my tomb, along with Mummified Me.”

For example, they might designate such things as furniture, clothes, and everyday items deemed essential, along with expensive things to preserve their status. (Or, maybe just to keep their heirs from getting it.)

Apparently the Egyptians were very diligent about “advance directives” and end-of-life planning. Anyway, it made me think. What if our culture encouraged the same practice? What material things would be considered indispensable? The latest designer jeans? A fully loaded iPhone? That new Tesla?

Maybe just a lot of books. And a lot of Godiva chocolates.

Five Wishes for Dying a Good Death

Helen and Laddie at Hospice House

When I lived in Washington State, I worked for a while as communications liaison for Hospice of Kitsap County. It was an education for me about the hospice philosophy and its emphasis on death with dignity.

I’ve also volunteered for hospices in Washington State and Florida. In Fort Myers, my teenage granddaughter and I took our little dog Laddie to visit patients at Hope Hospice House, after he passed a test and became an official “visiting dog” — complete with name tag.

Helen and Laddie brought so much joy to the patients. Those who were able to talk often told Helen about dogs they’d had. And everyone, patients and families and staff alike, loved to pat Laddie, finding comfort in his soft fur, soulful eyes and calm presence. (Laddie passed away in 2016; he is sadly missed.)

I don’t fear death. But like most everyone else, I would like to die a good death. Maybe in my sleep, or from some instantaneous, noncriminal event.

Dying a good death means this to me: NO PROLONGED HOSPITALIZATIONS, NO HEROIC MEASURES, NO CPR. No well-meaning family members or doctors trying to keep me going by artificial means. Please, just say a prayer for me and let me go.

To help ensure a more peaceful end to my life, I’ve filled out “Five Wishes” — a document that spells out how I want to be medically treated — or not treated — when I can no longer make healthcare decisions for myself.

“Five Wishes” also lets me specify who I want to make these decisions for me at that time. And how comfortable I want to be; how I want people to treat me; and what I’d like my loved ones to know.

The “Five Wishes” form is available online at nonprofit  and at hospices and doctors’ offices. When signed and witnessed (notarization is not required in most states), it serves the same purpose as an Advance Directive for Healthcare, and is recognized in 41 states. Written in everyday language, Five Wishes is a really good thing to look into.

Hospice is a really good thing, too. I hope that if faced with a terminal illness, hospice will be involved sooner rather than later. Its nurses and social workers are dedicated, professional and caring. Their aim is to keep you pain-free, as comfortable as possible, and — in most cases — at home.

Here are some photographs I’ve taken at the Hospice by the Bay Resale Shop here in downtown San Rafael, Calif. The store has a lovely assortment of treasures for sale; it’s run by volunteers, and it’s all for a good cause.

Ok, So I’m Branding Myself

I guess it’s not the same as reinventing myself. It’s just trying to doing that thing that seems to be required now: having a brand, building a platform. Going whole-bore into social media. Letting the world know who you are, and what you are up to.

Branding myself, so far, has not been painful, unlike that branding that goes on in Texas among cattle. It involves, mostly, taking photos of the giant butterfly ceiling kites at Copperfield’s Books in San Rafael. I’ve used one of them as the header image on this website and blog.

I’ve also used one of my butterfly kite photos on the front and back of my card (above), which I designed online. Easy and fun.

Here are some more kite photos:

Butterflies make a good brand, don’t you think?


What Were Those Wise Men Thinking?

Italian Nativity Scene, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, Calif.

Did you ever wonder what Mary and Joseph did with those rare and precious gifts the Three Wise Men brought?

When they got back home, did they use them to set up a trust fund for their baby’s future education? Or maybe Joseph traded them in on new tools for his carpentry shop. After all, his son would someday follow him in the family business, right? Who needs to go to school when you can learn a good trade right there at home?

I suppose his parents were pretty disappointed when their boy chose to become an itinerant preacher. Not much chance of making a decent living in that profession.

Anyway, what good are frankincense and myrrh? So impractical. Like getting an engraved silver baby cup from your in-laws. No possibility of an exchange.

Those Three Kings were a little out of touch with everyday life. Why didn’t they give the baby something useful? Like a year’s supply of diapers, or toddler-sized swaddling clothes. Babies grow so fast.

Still, all that really matters is that gifts come from the heart. That’s what makes them rare and precious, like the Three Magi’s gifts so long ago.

Photos of Downtown

So Many Things to Do in Downtown San Rafael, my current hometown. Here are a few of my favorites, along with photographs taken mostly on tree-lined Fourth Street (including some from my series of reflections in display windows.)

How about learning to lunge and parry at Marin Fencing Academy, or wandering over to Fifth Street to view political memorabilia at the new Museum of International Propaganda?

Take in an art film at the art deco Rafael Theater, have a cool game of pool at Classic Billiards, or join in an ongoing board game at GameEscape.

Admire the 1951 MG Supercharged Roadster at Jack L. Hunt Classic Cars:

Or follow your favorite superhero at Blue Moon Comics:

Other possibilities: sample some of the 16 beers on tap at Pint Size Lounge. Sweat it out at Red Dragon Yoga. Enjoy good coffee and fresh blackberry scones at Arizmendi co-op bakery. Search for treasures at Hospice by the Bay Resale Shop:

Here are more ideas: Curl up on a comfy sofa at Rebound Books and dip into an old novel:

Have your palm read by “Angel” (no relation) at Psychic Readings:

Get your nails done at Neverland Beauty. Admire the sparkly purple Mexican chair at Folk Art Gallery:

Take a free drawing lesson at Riley Street Art Supplies:

Or, enter through a beaded Frida Kahlo curtains and get a styling at Pin Up Hair Emporium:

Visit St. Raphael’s Catholic Church and Historic Mission on Fifth, where mass is celebrated in Spanish, Vietnamese, Haitian and Portuguese as well as English.

You get the picture. It’s hard to be bored here!


The Future of Kids & Pets

Kids & Pets

Two generations from now, children will no longer need human contact. At least that’s what one futurist predicts.

My question is: If that’s so, will kids still want the comfort of a furry pet? I’m betting they will.

In “Lo and Behold,” a documentary about the Internet, filmmaker Werner Herzog interviews a wide array of  web pioneers, technologists, sociologists and visionaries, as well as experts in artificial intelligence and robotics.

They talk about the history of the World Wide Web and its current effects on culture and society. As for what they see in their crystal balls for the future, it may be amazing — but it’s also scary.

For instance, that forecast about children two generations down the line not needing human touch. If that turns out to be the future, I’m glad I won’t be around to see it.

On the other hand, maybe that dreary prediction is coming sooner than predicted: Toyota has a new mini-robot, a pocket-sized guy that understands kids’ questions and answers them in Japanese. (English is coming.) Who needs real parents?

If children do evolve to no longer need contact with humans, will words such as “cuddle” and “snuggle” fall out of use? My hypothesis is, no — they will still be spoken about live, furry creatures.

No matter how technologically advanced the human race becomes, I think kids will always need the comfort and companionship of puppies and dogs, kittens and cats, bunnies and ponies and horses, guinea pigs and hamsters. Even pet rats.

The photos posted here are of my four granddaughters. Over the years, they’ve had a wide variety of furry friends. They have cared for them, played with them, and turned to them for solace when life got hard.

And even though my girls are teenagers now, their love affair with pets goes on. May it always be so!



Reflections on San Rafael

Reflections is the name I’ve given to a series of photographs I’m taking of shop windows in downtown San Rafael, my current California home. Here is an example:

I love San Rafael. I’ve had a lot of “hometowns,” but San Rafael is one of the best.

This city is old. It has authentically interesting architecture. Its downtown and neighborhood streets are lined with trees. It nestles in the surrounding green hills of Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and a few miles up Highway 101. And if you’re standing in the right spot, you can see the peak of iconic Mount Tamalpais.

This town is not upscale, thank God. It’s not a tourist destination, like Sausalito or Tiburon. And it is more diverse than most Marin County towns, which I appreciate.

Fourth Street is San Rafael’s mile-long main drag. It’s a “walker’s paradise,” according to, which gives it a walkability score of 96 percent, based on the ease of walking to such everyday destinations as banks, post office, markets.

The downtown area draws pedestrians year-round  to do business and shop in its stores, many of which are family run. Like shops in Europe, they tend to specialize. On Fourth Street, you can find a shop for everything from fresh-made sourdough bread to sports cards, from comic books to lacrosse gear, from classic billiards to classic cars.

It’s a good place to walk your dog. Most of the shops have doggy water bowls in front. “Guide Dogs for the Blind” has its headquarters on Fourth Street, and trainers, clickers, and future service dogs are everywhere.

Coffee? Food? There’s a Starbucks, of course. But on Fourth Street, independent coffee shops are alive and well. So are an amazing variety of places to eat: Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Japanese, French, Korean, Thai, Burmese, Middle Eastern, Californian, down-home American. And such local favorites as House of Bagels, Johnny Donuts, Double Rainbow Ice Cream, and Pizza Orgasmica: “The Original Sin.”  Not a fast-food franchise in sight.

People actually come downtown at night, meeting friends, having dinner. Every Thursday evening, all summer long, several blocks of Fourth Street are closed to traffic and taken over by the San Rafael Farmers Market. Locally grown fruits and veggies are the big draw, along with stalls selling roast corn, fresh oysters, fried-chicken-and-waffles-on-a-stick, homemade tamales, Himalayan sandwiches and Polish “dawgs.”  Live music for the adults, pony rides and giant inflatable slides for the kids.

Of course, San Rafael has its problems. Including the homeless, more numerous here than elsewhere in Marin. Balancing their needs with those of the town’s citizenry is not easy, and the search for answers is ongoing. My little church is involved in the effort, along with other churches and organizations.

As for the Reflections series, I have certain rules: First, the window display must be interesting. Second, the reflection must show layers of neighboring buildings and the passing scene. I’ll post more of these photographs in the future.

The Reflections image at the top of this post was taken at D’Lynne’s Dancewear, which sells costumes as well as tutus and tap shoes. Reflected in D’Lynne’s window, behind Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty, is the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Theater, a restored Art Deco movie theater that focuses on foreign, art, classic, and documentary films. It is run by the nonprofit California Film Institute (of which I am a member).

And here’s a favorite place on Fourth Street:

Double Rainbow Ice Cream




Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén