The six of us sat in the Thai restaurant eating dinner while discussing our current book selection “My Name is Mary Sutter” by Robin Oliveira. It is a well researched fiction about a young midwife determined to break the barrier against women in medicine. During the Civil War she practiced as a doctor and you should read this passionate, riveting novel. I don’t want to give it away.

Eating seafood pumpkin curry and about six other scrumptious dishes, we discussed highlights of the book. Each one of us contributed something about the passion and dedication Mary Sutter possessed to be who she was and who she became. We recognized the sacrifices experienced to learn her craft, and her passion for healing.

It is refreshing to speak with this group of educated, articulate women. All of us are or have been successful career women. Many of us are mothers. I enjoy this monthly meeting, sharing viewpoints, and I usually depart with more knowledge than when I arrived.

However, this particular evening was different. It went something like this:

Book Club Question: “Women’s rights have greatly expanded since Mary’s time, but do you believe that women are still limited by prejudice as to what they can or should do professionally? Do you believe men and women should have different roles or responsibilities within society? “

“What women in today’s world can compare to Mary Sutter?”

Silently we sat, sipping water (some of us drank wine), looking at each other as we searched our brains for an answer.

“Of course, we shouldn’t have different roles,” firmly stated the woman seated at my left. “Indira Gandhi. Gawd that was one ugly lady” another stated.

Cringe: The first and only female Prime Minister of India and that’s all that can be said. But while I know she overcame many obstacles and eventually died for them, I could not recall any of her accomplishments.

“Mother Theresa” the sweetest woman in the club said. We all folded our hands and nodded in agreement.

Lastly, and the point of this article, one of us asked: “What about Hillary Clinton.”

“Have you seen her lately? She looks tired,” blurted the woman on the right end of the table.

“Uglier than Indira?” (I kept that remark to myself.)

“She is the most traveled political figure. She recently had a health scare….”

“She looks old and tired. She should really do something,” wink, wink.

Here, where least expected, women were evaluating a strong female political figure on her looks. If Hillary is going to be judged, let it not be on her age, looks, and wrinkles; and let us not forget her hairstyle. It must be on her experience, achievements, ethics and tenacity; the same yardstick we use to measure her male counterparts. “Negative stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning.”

Disturbed by my silence and inaction, I immediately set upon researching everything Hillary. This was not only about Hillary; it was about stereotyping a woman who has earned the right to be remembered for more than her looks.

Hillary has been involved in politics as early as 1964 when she campaigned for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. She was inspired to become more involved with public service after hearing a speech by Rev Martin Luther King. She became a democrat in 1968. From that time on she has worked on committees with then Senator Walter Mondale; campaigned for George McGovern. She was a member of an impeachment inquiry during the Watergate Scandal. She has relentlessly pursued human rights, women’s rights, health care reform. This “It Takes a Village” author is a passionate children’s advocate.

My panties get twisted when I hear she is too old. Ten men were in their 60s when they were President of United States. Vice President, Joe Biden, is 70. World leaders such as the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh and Raul Castro, President of Cuba are in their 70s. Again, disagree with their politics if you please, but discrediting them because of age is discrimination.

Along with age comes experience. Hillary is the only political figure that can claim she was First Lady (1993-2001), US Senator (New York 2001-2009), Secretary of State (2009-2013).

Impressive resume, don’t you think?

She is not without controversy. Name any government figure with 45 years experience that is not. It cost $60 million to investigate Whitewater. Riddled with conflicted information and intense media coverage, Ken Starr and his counsel could not find sufficient evidence linking the Clintons with criminal intent, therefore, they escaped formal charges. The year was 1998 and the name Lewinsky changed politics and cigars forever. I do not condone affairs, but what presidents and their families have paid this high price for having affairs while in office? Unfortunately, we all know at least one woman whose husband has had an affair. However, I cannot name one that has been so criticized for “standing by her man”. Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy come to mind. Like our heroine and protagonist, Mary Sutter, Hillary has dared to breach the political barrier and shatter the glass ceiling.

Listening, while eating my dinner, could be perceived as acceptance. I firmly believe negative stereotyping such as this was is ignorant and damaging. Like the N word, which is the apex of hatred and ignorance, these words are not acceptable.

So what do I do now? I take my pen in hand to spread the word and make a personal vow not to be so passive in the future. I (we) don’t need to get on a pedestal with fire and brimstone. Neither, do I (we) need to accept this injurious banter.

Data from bio.true story, “Hillary’s Choice” by Gail Sheehy, Wikipedia





After all the dishes are cleared and washed, I walk out onto my screened porch. I breathe in the quiet, peacefulness and exhale the frustrations of the day; listen to the hum of the wind whistling through the trees; the low music of our wind chimes; the cacophony of the toads and crickets singing and the occasional squawk of the turkeys.

And then my eyes open to the total blackness. There is no light, not even a moon beam. My neighbors are acres away in this rural part of Northern California. At times I seek solace in the glimpse of their lights shining in the windows. Tonight there is no glow.

The silence and heavenly peacefulness I cherished moments ago have been replaced with overwhelming fear and intense angst in the blink of an eye. The calm breathing quickly transitions into hyperventilation. The once peaceful heart is pounding at record speed.

Why am I afraid of the dark? The majority of children have a fear of the dark and then they grow up. As an independent adult woman, this fear remains with me to this day. Unlike Mack in “Where the Wild Things Are”, I am unable to conquer my demons. Being one of the 5% of adults who admit they are afraid of the dark, I do suffer terribly from insomnia. There is even a name for this condition: achluophopia or nyctophobia. It is “a phobia characterized by an acute fear of the darkness; it is triggered by the minds disfigured perception of what would or could happen in a dark environment” (definition from Wikipedia).

Some scientists believe this phobia is coded in our DNA. Remember the movie where the lions enter the African village and take their human prey willy-nilly? Freud believed fear of darkness is linked to separation anxiety or absence of our mothers converted to fear of darkness.

Personally as a youth, when I had nightmares, Supergirl (the brave me) would fly through the air, hair and blue cape flapping in the wind, and save the day. It was around the time of Super Man reruns on TV.

On business trips I sleep with the lights on. After I have locked the door, I place a chair under the doorknob. Never do I watch “Law and Order” or “Twilight Zone” alone.

Warm baths, glow in the dark stars, night lights, classical music and other tools to eliminate this fear and insomnia leave me restless and irritable. I’ve counted up to 1000 sheep jump that fence. My brain never stops thinking.

But I do know where this adult insomnia stems from. Nine years ago I stoically and heroically conquered breast cancer. The doctor gave me a sleep enhancer because sleeping is imperative to maintaining a healthy immune system.

Fortunately for me, there have been no side effects even when I have stopped taking them for periods of time. However, attempts to not use this medication, leave me bumping into Freddy Krueger in the middle of the night or waking up to Hannibal Lecter sleeping next to me licking his lips “Well Clarice have the lambs stopped screaming” or “How about some fava beans and a nice Chianti”.

My last thought as I leave the porch and prepare for bed is a scene in the book and movie, “The Road” by Carmac McCarthy. Charlize Theron is tearfully saying goodbye to her husband and slowly walks into the darkness. Unable to deal with this new apocalyptic world, she chooses to walk into the cold dark night, the land of no light, the land of cannibalism, and the land of the unknown.

So I take my pill and sleep like a baby. I do not want to be Charlize.


lushI am thinking of taking a part of this essay and adding to a short story I am writing. Please leave your constructive criticisms and advise. It would be greatly appreciated and will be paid forward.

Sada glances at the blank page on her lap. Pen to paper she is thinking about the story she has to write for the next day’s assignment. 

Her mind empty as the document that lay before her, she quickly looks at the baseball game on TV.  Score is 0 to 1; third inning; San Francisco Giants against Colorado Rockies.  Favor Giants, Aaron Rowand up, no one on base. What is up with Brian Wilson and that beard? The hum of the clothes dryer can be heard in the background.

“What do I have to say” she thinks with opened eyes and wrinkled forehead as she sits in the overstuffed chair, wrapped in a blanket hoping for the epiphany to arrive.  She notices the shadow of her pen in hand as it skates across the lined tablet.  Written words make little sense but could be the birth of a new person or split personality. She rereads the assigned chapter “Juggling” for inspiration.  Jerome Stern, the author advises “use actions you can describe authoritatively”.  She outlines a list of her specialties.  Long career in stocks and bonds; motherhood; spouse; divorce; fencing; racket ball, now golf and other usual life experiences. Oh, the disappointment this essay is not flowing with words and ideas, vivid descriptions, detailed and deep expressions that all would enjoy reading.  Pamela Houston, a recent speaker in the class, emphasized writing is not easy, it is incredibly hard.  Sada smiles at that thought because Pam is a talented, experienced awarded writer, and she has the same issues.  What would Amy Tan do?

“Buster Posey up at bat, bottom of fourth, no one on base” screeches the TV announcer.

Frustration increases, distress increases.  Her stomach muscles tighten.  Her throat becomes parched.  She is on the third bowl of stoned ground white tortilla chips.  She pauses for the right theme to race from her brain to her hand and onto that lined tablet.   Every topic that comes to mind simply does not make sense and is not good enough.  The sound of the clock ticks a second, a minute, an hour has passed. Sada closes her eyes, holds her head in her hands and tries to visualize the story. 

She sees a scared little girl sitting in the second seat, third row in the large Catholic city school classroom.  The black board walls and tin lockers surround the 60 little girls dressed in the same navy blue plaid jumpers over white blouses with puffy sleeves.  The eight year old students stare at a large crucifix that hangs on the wall they face daily.  There is a man’s figure suspended on a cross.  He is scantily dressed with blood on his body and thorns crowning his head.  There are nails in his hands and feet supporting him on the cross.  All the eyes are down and hands folded neatly on their desks.  Sister Mary Margaret, dressed in the Sister of Charity habit, stands before the class.  Her fingers fondle one of the large rosary beads wrapped around her waist.  The nun’s eyes scan the classroom back and forth looking for the unfortunate child to answer the question.  Please, dear God, don’t let it be me.  No matter what answer I give, it simply won’t be good enough.

Eating My Way Through Kyoto

Second Stage

Japanese cuisine is very much underestimated. I recently revisited Kyoto and, as with all of my travels, “ate my way through the city”. Never did I walk away from any restaurant or cafe saying: “We don’t have to come here again”. Susan F Stirn, U S Embassy Tokyo 1983, states: “It is said French food appeals to the tongue, Chinese food to the stomach and Japanese food pleases the eye, the palate and stomach.” She is absolutely correct. There is such a wide diversity of foods. All were prepared and served with immense pride.

First one has to open their mind when traveling and enjoy that country’s specialties and subtle differences. In Japan, the food is fresh – be it vegetables, noodles or fish. There is an obvious lack of obese children and adults. Whether we were dining at high end authentic Japanese cuisine or a Raman house in Kyoto station, the service was always excellent. Always upon seeing my twenty two month old granddaughter with us, we were provided (without asking), a high chair with baby utensils – plate, fork, spoon and even “training chopsticks”. Seeing I placed my purse on the floor, the staff immediately provided a chair or bench so it would be kept clean. Like my experiences in Italy, eating is a social event and we were never rushed. However, I learned to carry my own towelettes. Napkins are not always provided.  A moist cloth or a bagged towelette is provided once you are seated. Usually at the end of the meal it is presented again.

The ultimate pleasure here is no tipping. Tipping is neither given nor expected.  Larger hotel meals might add a 10 -15% charge, but we did not run across this in our day to day meals.

At each restaurant or cafe, we were greeted at the door with a welcoming bow and a smile.  After we removed our shoes and placed them in a cubicle or left them neatly on the rock floor, we were shown to our tables.  More traditional meals were served on a tatami floor around a low seating table.

For an authentic, totally fresh dining experience go to Manzaratei in Central Kyoto on Kawaramachi Street.  The coziness and warmth of this Japanese restaurant cannot be overstated. Leave your shoes on the paved rocks before you step onto the hardwood floors. Inside a warm, welcoming glow leads you down the narrow hallway surrounded by smaller eating rooms, to your own private room.  Our group of seven adults and two children were seated in the traditional style as several geisha dressed waitresses entered with our preordered dishes.

We all whispered “itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”) before eating and gochisosama (deshita)” (“Thank you for the meal”) after finishing the meal.

All in all I counted at least thirteen petite sized individual servings.  All served in the exquisitely decorated small plates or bowls. The dishes were delicately prepared. Foods I would not have selected such a radishes, daikon and pickled vegetables were slowly devoured, and I relished every morsel.

My favorite here was a clear broth with a small abalone. This was perfectly prepared tender abalone in a clear delicious broth.  It was a refreshing change from the abalone steak we eat in California – when we can get it.

The second eatery is in the Sanjo area.  It is known for Tonkatsu, a pork cutlet, breaded and fried. We sat at the bar while two – three chefs prepared the preordered feast of Tonkatsu. I lost count of the delicious entrees but there was not one I didn’t eat or like.  Each serving was individually presented to the diner along with a side dish with three dipping sauces: One for the fish; one for the meat and one that was a bit spicy. Thinly stripped vegetables were provided as another side dish of various salts (not Morton’s).

My favorite here was two clams in a tasty, sweet broth. I also enjoyed the various “fried dishes” which were neither greasy nor deeply fried for a long time.  No gastronomic catastrophes here.

I cannot neglect mentioning sushi or sashimi. Raw fish is not for everybody but we have been eating it for years and have no qualms about eating it at restaurants we know or are highly recommended. My son’s favorite is Sushi-at-uosh.  We entered this energetic environment with shoes on and were seated at a booth.  We could see three chefs preparing the food and laughing, joking amongst each other or with people seated at the bar.



The maguro, yellowtail, salmon, mackerel and ebi were the freshest of the fresh and prepared to perfection.  When we were seated, a highly excited waiter came immediately to our table and showed us a morsel food placed on a plate.  I followed my son and daughter-in-law’s lead by nodding my head up and down, smile on my face and said “ooh and hah”. My son asked if I knew what it was – of course, I didn’t.  It must be good because everyone was smiling. He went on to explain that it was the heart of a tuna freshly caught.  They were showing this to us to demonstrate how fresh their fish is.  I don’t know if my son was playing with me (very possible), but he asked me if I noticed it was still beating.

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