Category: Uncategorized

Gifts From The Sea

Talking with a new friend the other day, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the Florida lifestyle and how amazing it was to be able to live outside most of the time. The air is so clean, even though many of the cars here are “super-sized” – from full-sized 4WD Ram trucks to Cadillac Escalades and Range Rovers. The incredible amount of plant life here must help to clean the air. I’m not so sure about our canals and the rivers and bays, but over time, I expect I’ll find out. There was a manatee in our canal this morning.

So, from a health and beauty perspective, it’s really easy to take care of skin here as long as you stay away from noseeums and mosquitos. The humidity may make my hair curl but I don’t care. You have to use sunscreen because the sun is so strong here, but again – it’s easy to do and worth spending what you can to get good mineral sunscreen. (Note: don’t use the cheap stuff for a lot of reasons – the chemicals are associated with cancer, they seep through your skin, and if you go in the water at all, they are toxic to fish and coral and other living creatures).


You get up and you’re sweating … you get out of the shower and you’re sweating …

LOL no! I just got in from a run.

Which brings me to clothes and makeup. You know, all sci-fi writers have abiding interests in clothing and makeup.

Welp – you don’t need many clothes here in SW Florida and there’s little point in makeup. You will sweat it off. If you put anything on that’s going to stay on, it will be so harsh and garish that it will look awful. The less, the better. Now that I have my hair back again, I am so happy. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time because, when I started, I was actually trying to save money. Then over time it became “How long can I grow it?” Of course it’s not my style. Glad to be “me” again.

So enough about me. On to the coyotes of Sanibel Island. And a story about a book I’ve looked in many times, but never read. The reason we are in Florida is that I had complained several times to Bruce how sad and depressed I was that there seemed to be no shell left on any California beach. I think it had been at least five years since I’d found any notable shell on any beach, anywhere up and down the state. Maybe in July or August of last year, we even went to Silver Strand State Beach which is south of Mission Bay and noted for shells (supposedly), and I was able to find only one sand dollar in a 3.5 mile walk. You still cannot find anyone openly discussing the lack of shells on beaches in Southern California (and Central Coast and northern beaches). It’s clearly a result of climate change. When we went fishing from Dana Point shortly before we left, the guys on the boat talked openly about how dirty the water was. Before we left, we started to see commercial fishing offshore, which hadn’t been seen close to California beaches for years. And the smog had been creeping in, stunning to see after years of cleaner air and so much effort. Environmental badness all-round.

So, in January, we flew to Sanibel Island and stayed for a week. Not only did I mail two big boxes of shells home, I left these shells with our neighbor Elizabeth when we moved. There are more than enough shells here that they seem to be an endlessly-renewable resource. Judging by spring and summer here, winter seems to be a little better shell season than these times, but I’ve picked up a few treasures. Bruce and I even got two “grandpappy” shells while touring the Everglades in January – a massive lightning whelk and a fighting conch – both at least 8-10 inches in length.

Not long after we returned to Southern California, we were looking at places to move to along the southwest Florida coast. And we left – nearly the last day that we could, I think, during the first part of the COVID-19 crisis. We drove cross-country March 26-March 30.

Sanibel and Captiva Islands are a little south of where we are now in Punta Gorda. They are world-renowned for the beauty of their shells and their preservation of unspoiled nature for wildlife. A large part of Sanibel is the J.N. “Ding” Darling Nature Preserve. Both islands have not allowed high-rise development, and there’s ample open space as well as, on Sanibel, the extensive “Ding” preserve and wildlife area. It is a haven for birds, fish, dolphin, you name it. If you have ever wanted to see a roseate spoonbill, “Ding” is one of the places to go. If you love seabirds, you will see every type you can imagine at “Ding.” Also, wear bug spray.

So, when I was growing up, my grandmother, the renowned and feared “Nana,” had a few favorite things, one of which was a slender, beautiful volume, Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Growing up, I often looked in this small book, and I suppose I read a little of it, but what I mostly did was gaze at the delicate drawings of shells which were its illustrations. I thought it was about the ocean; little did I know that now I was re-acquainted with it by a lady on Sanibel — it was about this lovely woman’s ideas of where a woman should go, and each chapter, inspired by a shell that she had found while staying on, not Sanibel, but the smaller, more northerly companion island, Captiva. Captiva is today, the demesne of rich people’s mansions, a couple of resorts, and the awesome, retro, down-to-earth Jensen’s Marina. Oh – and the beach at the end of the road is very nice – but there’s no such thing as “not a nice beach” in Southwest Florida.

Yes, I found where I should be by haphazardly visiting the island where a woman my grandmother deeply admired, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, had written a beloved book about women finding their way in life. Through shells.

We are so out of touch with nature, I think, that such things seem novel — strange — unusual. A shell seems to us to be a magical thing, but perhaps ever it was so.

So we took Gambit to one of the beaches on Sanibel last week (Algiers Beach, I think).

I think this is Stump Pass Beach but … hey … that’s the Gulf of Mexico.

Driving back, we weren’t far from the “Ding” Darling Preserve when Bruce said, “What’s that in the road? A deer?”

“It’s deer-colored,” I said. But as soon as the fairly tall, rangy animal moved, we could tell it was no deer.

Hm. What is it?? It was almost fox-like in coloring, but far too tall to be a fox.

Probably too hard to see from this sad attempt at blowing up the picture, but it was a very dark and sleek looking, tall, rangy coyote. He ran in front of our car, glancing back over his shoulder at us, then disappeared into someone’s property on the other side of the road. As soon as he looked back, I knew from his yellow-green eyes he was a coyote.

Yes, there are coyotes on Sanibel Island, between 25 and 30 of them. They have only been there since 2012, or so “reports” say.

Before we left Laguna Woods, our much smaller, sandy-colored So Cal coyotes were boldly trotting in twos and threes throughout the neighborhood, looking for stray 3 pound Yorkies or elderly cats to gobble.

With eyes and ears open here, there are so many animals to see and so many beautiful plants. Just — bug spray.

I now have a book that I need to read that I should have read years ago — it is among the hundreds I left behind or gave away before we moved. Did you know that at one point, I had 5,000 books? No? Oh, well — they are all gone to good or bad or no homes now.

Now I pick up shells on the beach, but seldom keep them. I have a tiny collection of orange and red scallops. I keep them in a tiny porcelain dish with a miniature sea turtle in it that I bought for Bruce this past Christmas. Small and light, I saw nothing wrong with taking this dish with us to Florida.

Every day it seems, comes a new revelation, a change of feeling, a different insight.

Jogging with Gambit earlier, we saw Big Boy, the massive Muscovy duck who must surely outweigh Gambit’s 11 pounds, heaving his bulk across Marion Ave. near the teenage alligator’s pond. Big Boy has improbably grown even fatter in this heat and seems to do little except shuffle between the two ponds throughout the day. He held up a number of cars on his journey, and was so lazy that as we passed, the best he could do as he lay in the damp grass under an elderly oak was mouth vague warnings through his gray/white/red mottled bill.

The evening is soft now and the westerly sun is casting its long rays through the lanai shutters. The sun stays strong here even in the late afternoon, right into sundown.

I think of the beautiful, fine-boned Mrs. Lindbergh walking along Captiva’s shores. Hurricane Charley came in 2004, one of the strongest ever to hit the U.S. So she may well have walked between Captiva and North Captiva — the hurricane cut a channel between the two islands, and North Captiva can now be reached only by boat, like a lot of places here.

I see her bend to pick up a shell; I could never associate the awkward “Sanibel Stoop” with such a lovely woman. I think of the quiet lives of the imagination these women must have lived, for I feel her in my mind as I see my grandmother, and as I see Eleanor Roosevelt. Their lives ever so much freer than so many womens’ yet still, so very unfree. From their clothing to their hair to what they could say, they held their innermost thoughts to themselves. But then shell by shell, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote her Gift from the Sea.

So many things, our culture has taken from us, from our ability to be kind to each other and accept our differences, to our ability to notice the tiny things: a shell, a dragonfly (for there are so many now, and they are as big as hummingbirds!), the tiniest flicker in the water which is a fish, the flashing ripple of a tarpon’s fin, the way the sun on the water looks like ever so many diamonds.

We are part of life, we are part of nature, and yet so many have forgotten even these, the smallest things.

I think when I am able to read Gift from the Sea, so many veils will be lifted.

Stump Pass State Park, Manasota Key, FL

How soft the Gulf is — how blue and warm and gentle.

Until there comes a storm. And so — there is. Tonight, though they say, not a bad one.









How Many Alligators Are There in Florida? 1.25 Million!

So, what happens when you take a 5th generation southern California native and uproot her 2600 miles away to the semi-tropical southwest Florida gulf coast?

Well … these are the “selected” shells. I limit myself to one handful per trip, only ones I’ve never gotten before. I now know the names of many of these. The orange ones are scallops. Like the little ones we eat.

So I really like Florida. It reminds me of when I was a kid in California. It’s not crowded like L.A. and Orange County have become. There’s still plenty of room for enthusiasm and exuberant displays of individualism.

This here is Gatorz in Port Charlotte. A homey, down to earth kind of place. This here below is a “gator” as in 6-foot alligator I saw crossing a divided 4 lane highway in Englewood. We have a small one that lives in one of our nearby ponds.

So I was driving down the highway on the way to walk around downtown Venice, FL and this car is stopped in front of me. Why is he stopped? What’s going on …

Ohhhhhhhhh. This massive gator was just completing his stroll across the busy, divided highway. I managed to get my camera out to capture him just as he hunched his massive body and started to insert his snout into the bushes by the side of this big housing development. This guy was just owning the entire road. I had only seen big gators sunning themselves before and this guy’s massive, catlike muscular movements amazed me.

So, not being an expert or anything, what I have to say is that these animals are in no way awkward, lumbering, or “slow.” No way could a person outrun a determined gator. So let ’em be. I am in awe and I learned – there are 1.25 million alligators in Florida. They are no longer endangered.

So, I see sea turtle nests on all of our beaches. Everyone who knows me knows my feelings about any type of turtle or tortoise, but I especially love sea turtles. On our honeymoon in Kauai, I got to snorkel around the island and I was able to swim right alongside a sea turtle for at least 2 minutes. They are so graceful and gentle and powerful.

So you can’t really see in this longer-distance picture, but there are sea turtle nests all along the green strip of vegetation on the beach. This is Don Pedro Island, one of the state parks you can get to only by boat.

I’m anything but an expert but one of the things that decided me about leaving California for Florida (among the many, many things) was that my impression after only a week’s visit to SW Florida was that the environment in Florida was a lot healthier than California. For someone who’s spend her whole life outside in California and seen the degradation of the 60s and 70s and the renewal of conservation and clean air efforts – whatever battle this was, is one I think that has been at least temporarily, lost. Not only is there what I glumly called “the diaper zone” in all hiking areas (a 1-2 mile radius around any parking area where you’ll find discarded diapers, beer cans, bottles, etc.), we went to Sanibel and Captiva in January because I’d finally gotten fed up with searching for the least, tiniest sea shell up and down every beach in the state at all hours of the day and night.

If people don’t think there’s something “wrong” with the fact that there are no sea shells on California’s shores – I could find no “official” information about this, and while younger people at conservation organizations would readily say they agreed with me – the shells are GONE – this isn’t something that I can currently find any information about. But trust me. Seashells were never as numerous on California beaches as they are on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but they were there. Now?


I wanted to come to Florida not just for the shells but everything else. The clean, soft white sand beaches, the kindly (at least when there’s no storm) Gulf waters, the sun (sure – it’s Skin Cancer central – what do I care?) and the incredible variety of wildlife. Not just the 1.25 million gators but the birds, the fish, the rays, the dolphins, the manatee. The little dark bunnies and the petite dark squirrels. The gopher tortoises and sea turtles.

This is the Tiki Hut white bird (great egret). There’s another one just like him who hangs out at Pinchers in Fort Myers Beach – that guy’s named Henry. This right here is Henry, waiting for his oyster. He likes shrimp and oysters — who wouldn’t?

There is an additional group of fellow residents here in Punta Gorda with whom we share the community. I haven’t gotten a good shot of the young dolphins that fish in the early morning or evening in our canal. But I have gotten some pictures of the birds. We’ve got Big Boy the massive Muscovy duck and his girlfriends (there’s another younger male whom they prefer, but Big Boy, a distinguished older gentleman, occasionally gets them back — as captured here on camera).

Big Boy was living under my Jeep for a while … but he’s moved back to a larger pond nearby.

So if you are out on the water you’ll see a lot of water birds, like this cormorant. They like to sit on the channel markers and dry their wings.

The waters are literally full of fish—all kinds of fish—all ages, all sizes, all types, from snook to snapper and grouper.

It is really hard to take a good picture of a moving animal in the surf but I was glad I got this picture of a young brown ray. I saw these guys “playing” in the surf in January and thought “they’re so active!” No doubt – these were males chasing females to catch them and mate.

Having petted any number of rays, they don’t feel anything like what you’d think. They’re warm and their skin feels like skin. You can feel how strong their muscles are. They are obviously intelligent and have very distinctive personalities.

Which brings us to — this is my best picture of a manatee. There is a large group that gathers at Jensen’s Marina on Captiva.

Manatees are exactly what people say: “the cows of the sea.” There’s obviously a strong bond between mother and calf. These animals spend most of their day grazing and they are — let’s see, how to say it politely —  not the most active creatures in the world. They basically float in shallow water and eat sea grass. The rules for all the canals, marinas, docks, and intercoastal waterway anywhere around here are meant to protect the manatee from harm and preserve the sea grass they depend on. So many fish live in this seagrass, too.

In addition to these animals, we have chickens (white Ibis) which flock exactly like chickens but are Egyptian-appearing birds, and an unbelievable array of sea and shorebirds, from sanderlings to sandhill cranes.

I was walking on the beach on Manasota Key and came across a sandhill crane observing a boy of about 10 who was fishing. The crane was gauging his angle of attack if the boy had managed to catch a fish. I didn’t have my phone or I would have taken a picture of this amazing scene.

And we have many pelicans, both white and brown.

The one at the bottom left of the frame had sidled near to Bruce on the beach and was looking at him with a profoundly loving expression. He seemed like a young, naive and affectionate pelican. I hadn’t realized until I came across this friendly group on Sanibel Island how pretty pelican faces really are. They have a light covering of fur-like feathers and really gentle-looking, soft eyes.

Which brings me to dolphins. I can’t say I have any one favorite type of animal over another. To me, all animals are wonderful and I’ve even managed to overcome my instinctive dislike of horseshoe crabs. I keep telling myself, “maybe they are really nice despite the way they look.” But I really love dolphins. Those we had plenty of in So Cal. The dolphins here on the Gulf are supposedly the same common dolphin, but they seem smaller and livelier. This is my best dolphin picture, from the Everglades.

Yeah yeah I know. Well at least my thumb isn’t in the picture.

So as I noted, we have a couple of juvenile dolphin who fish in our canal in the early mornings and at dusk.

So, I have only been living in SW Florida for a little over two months and visited for a week in January and I have already got a huge number of pictures of animals and birds.

There are so many state, local, and city parks and beaches here. And they’re all free or very low cost to visit. When I first went to Sanibel, I was stunned.

“You can pick up the shells on the beach?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the ranger at the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (worth a post on its own — I’ll get ’round to it). She explained anyone was welcome to collect any empty shell, but leave living animals on the beach. Having been “fooled” by at least three massive lightning whelks burrowing into the sand, it’s very possible to pick up a perfect-looking shell that looks perfect because it contains a living animal.

So every day there are hundreds of thousands of new shells on the beach. People pave with shells here. The very land of Florida is made from sea creatures (coral and shells). The mangroves and the shells make new land. That is the Everglades 10,000 Islands (where the dolphin picture was taken).

People fish here, heck they fish all day and night long and guess what? There’s fish being born and growing all the time. There are thousands of tiny sprats hiding under the docks outside our small place and this is just one dock among thousands within a mile of here.

So, you know how they talk about Florida in California and on the news. Florida is full of stupid rednecks, right? It’s full of flesh-eating bath salt maniacs and people who get DUIs on riding lawnmowers.

Well. I moved from a place that was rapidly becoming totally hostile to natural life and human life — my native born home, California.

And I don’t see any of those things here. I have yet to meet a stupid, ignorant person here in Florida and I have met a lot of intelligent, knowledgeable, and caring ones. I see nature and animals thriving here. I feel the life here.

I can’t describe this feeling adequately, but maybe you’ve felt it. I’ve felt it several times here, from the “Ding” Darling refuge on Sanibel Island to Don Pedro Island and the Everglades. I’ve felt it driving along country highways on the way to unspoiled, uncrowded beaches. It’s a feeling of wordless, overwhelming joy in life. It’s the feeling where you know there is something more, something vastly bigger than your own small self, and that there is a force of life and nature that’s all-encompassing and so, so powerful.

I’ve felt it on Kauai too. But it had been many years since I felt it in California.

And that makes me sad. Because my former home was once one of the most beautiful and life-filled places on the planet.





Space X Launches 2 crew into space May 27 2020

Now I Can Cross Watching Astronauts Blast Into Space Off My Bucket List

I never thought I’d see a crewed rocket blast into space at Cape Canaveral, yet — here I am. I also never thought I’d live in Florida, and likely would never even visit the state, yet — here I am.

I do remember Apollo 11 landing on the moon and I remember Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the flag. I recall sitting on the living room floor in our house in the orange grove cross-legged, eating an Oreo and drinking a 6-oz glass of milk. The living room walls in the grove house were cedar panels. I remember Rebel sitting next to me, his big head and floppy ears resting on his big old paws. Rebel was a phlegmatic Basset hound with deep brown, mournful eyes. I had learned to walk by clinging to his ears and toddling.

It seemed very easy for these two guys to hop out of the Lunar module and caper around the moon. At age seven, I thought the big rocket was just like the small rockets one of our teachers had launched at school. In my mind, flying to the moon was maybe a little farther than flying to Paris. My child’s mind told me that the astronauts were just like The Little Prince only instead of a nice costume and scarf, they wore puffy, funny suits.

The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery

This is in my child’s mind. All through school, we drew peace symbols, stuck “ecology” stickers on our notebooks, and learned about the Apollo astronauts. I was certain that by the time we were all grown up, the world would be a beautiful, green, peaceful place, and astronauts would be flying all over the universe.

Just like Star Trek.

I was too young to be allowed to stay up and watch Star Trek. But by the time I was in third or fourth grade, it was on every day after school. Most days now, I can’t remember everything I’m supposed to do, but nearly every Star Trek episode is burned into my brain. Within 10 seconds of the show’s first scene, I can tell which episode it’s going to be, from the idiotic ones like “Space Hippies” or “Landru” to profound ones like Harlan’s episode.

So at the same time I was eating the Oreo, drinking my small glass of milk, and wondering at the stars, it was the height of the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been in their graves one short year.

I didn’t know what war was. When Bobby Kennedy was shot, I was only a few blocks away in the waiting room of a doctor who was planning hip surgery on my beloved Bampy (my grandfather). I heard them say Bobby Kennedy had been shot on the small white radio in the waiting room, and I heard the nurses crying.

“Can’t the doctors fix him?” I asked.

No — the doctors couldn’t fix him.

How could I imagine I’d grow up to write a book about Buzz Aldrin or accomplish the few goals I had as a female science fiction writer?

And so I never imagined I’d see two men go into space on a big rocket. But so I did.

Space X crewed launch May 27 2020

Nothing about Cape Canaveral or Merritt Island was like what I thought it would be. One way to see the launch is to take a boat on the Banana River as close as you can get. You motor out as fast as you can and wait. The countdown you hear on TV  is delayed from the real launch. So by the time those at home see the launch, the rocket has already reached the clouds.

It is not as loud as I’d imagined. The rocket looks like a small glowing needle rising through the sky.

It’s beautiful.

It’s also small and frail and very human. It’s as frail as the Wright Flyer I saw over my head, and the Apollo space suit — thin white canvas — that I saw at the Air & Space Museum in 1993. Also on that trip I experienced this.

It was difficult for me to write this because there are so many feelings of hope and pride and disillusionment and grief mixed together when I think about space.

I just searched my name on Amazon to link one of my books and despite the fact I have published 40 books, it was suggesting another person’s name. I had to work very hard to find my own book.

Small and frail and like specks of dust are we all.

As we rode out (twice — the first launch was scrubbed due to late spring storms) in the boat, there were so many others on their way. This flotilla leaving Cocoa Beach was mostly small yachts, a few sailboats, several jetskis, little skiffs, and a scattering of speedboats. There were people up from Miami in the group, but most were local, aside from Bruce and me and a couple of others from Florida’s west coast. A few had also flown in from other parts of the country.

Every soul I saw save three were … hard to say it … whiter than me.

And this wonderful launch I saw had two worthy astronaut heirs to the Apollo 11 crew, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Do people even know their names like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? Do people know any of the Space X astronaut names?

A lot of people know the name of the man behind this current launch: Elon Musk.

As we just moved from California, I would estimate at least 10-15% of the cars on the road back home were his vehicles. And I do give Mr. Musk credit for resurrecting the name and ideas of a once-nearly-forgotten man: Nikola Tesla.

But I bet I haven’t seen more than four Teslas on the road — including on the Space X launch days — in the 75 days I’ve been living in Florida. Dodge Boys and Carroll Shelby rule here.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Florida. I love the beauty of the sea here, the rich nature, and the incredible feeling of just being here. We are in a small town in SW Florida, Punta Gorda, and it’s very much like the small town in Southern California where I grew up in the orange grove and had my cookie and milk and watched the astronauts walk on the moon on that long-ago day. I keep wanting to take pictures for my friend Merry Mary and my friend Cathy because the City Hall is so nice here, and the houses are so much like Redlands, but tropical.

Gambit loves it here.

You see amazing things every day here.

If I can remember back to that long-ago day, over 50 years ago, I was a little girl eating a cookie, drinking cold milk, and dreaming of the stars like Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince, and at the same time, there was a terrible war no one wanted or understood, there were people protesting in the streets for the most basic of rights, and my mother had died of pancreatic cancer leaving a 3 month-old baby (me) and a ten-year old son (my brother Sammy) and her husband, my father, behind.

And I think it has been so hard for me to write this because in so many ways, not because things have gotten worse, but because things have gotten easier for so many people. But in the way of the world, when the basics of our lives ease, it grows so difficult to understand the important things.

We lose track of what’s important. We trade values for money.

I see and hear the same statements today as I heard not long before that moon landing day while playing outside in the driveway as my Bampy sat on the porch with his friend from the Sheriff’s office drinking a “highball.” I never heard my Bampy’s voice raised in anger before, but I heard it this day, and stopped riding my tricycle. He stood and said loudly, “Get off my porch ___________ if you’re going to use that word. You get out and don’t come back.”

And this was the first time I had heard that word. I’m sure you can guess what that word was. The “N” word.

Maybe they were talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe they were talking about somebody else. But I do know that ______________, who had served with my grandfather in the Sheriff’s office in Redlands when he was Constable during World War II, got up and left and never came back to our house again.

My grandfather was specific in his lessons to me. He wasn’t a man of many words, but he’d often tell a brief story or two while we drove around the grove in his Rambler. I was small and couldn’t do much but felt very proud to help him open the flumes or sometimes, even lift the gates so he could light the smudge pots. That was in the days when they still smudged.

The feel of the damp sandy loam, the smell of the earth, the dark dust on the orange tree trunks and limbs, and the shiny dark green leaves and the smell of orange blossoms. I’ll never forget.

It was the same then as it is now.

When I saw the Mercury capsule that had carried John Glenn into space and back at the Air & Space Museum in 1993, I was struck speechless by how small it was. I could encompass its battered and blackened heat shield with my arms. It was barely large enough to hold his folded, strapped-in body.

They say at times the atmosphere dips so low that the peak of Everest is above it.

And sitting with my little cookie and my glass of milk, I didn’t know the difference between the air and space. I didn’t what Everest’s death zone was, nor know what it took to launch a person into space. I never wanted to be an astronaut nor thought it possible for me, but I didn’t understand the rules of society that made the Space X crew pretty much the exact same type of crew as Armstrong and Aldrin back then. I know those rules backward and forward now.

Did I know then that Gene Cernan would be the last man on the moon — to this day? Not at all. Who could have imagined what would have happened after that hopeful day of pride and achievement, July 20, 1969.

So, I think, it’s about what we imagine and wish will happen next. In this, I can’t fault Elon Musk and do not want to fault Space X as much as I dis-admire the racism and colonialism that has provided him and his company with the funds to pursue space ventures. As much as I disapprove of our government’s appalling corruption which has denied the space program the funds it needs, so that a “private business” can pursue space business and our government can declare we have a Space Force like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It stands to reason there are other life forms out there — and we are building things and approaching it as colonizing, violent ripoff artists.

Space should be for every person, not just a select few. And there are many things we need to leave behind in general, from racism and gender bias to the drive on the part of some to endlessly rob, cheat, steal, destroy and kill.

I watched every Star Trek show over and over as I grew up. Star Trek obviously didn’t include money and the “money” and greed-oriented characters (as well as gender biased) were personified by Harcourt Fenton Mudd. A dreadful man, as I recall.

It doesn’t seem like there’s much opportunity for the average person to have anything to say about the way things are going these days. All the same, to those who are continuing to treat others badly and who are so egotistical and value-impoverished, I want to stand up like my Bampy did and say “Get the hell off my porch and never come back!”

Keep going into space, by all means. But the right way, for the right reasons.










My Baby Died in My Arms And I Was Accused of Killing Him

My Baby Died in My Arms And I Was Accused of Killing Him

My son Anthony Sterling Rodgers, who I called “Lali,” died in my arms on the night of January 11, 2005. He was exactly six months old.

In terms of his eyes, they were blue.

I have never felt such fierce love as I did for Lali. He was a pure spirit of love.

It was my second day of work at Beyond Shelter and I had stayed late to meet the board of directors. It was also one of the rainiest periods in Los Angeles history and I struggled to drive home in near-hurricane conditions.

Twenty minutes before I got home, I spoke to Lali’s father Alan on the phone. He had just fed Anthony, he said, and was putting him down to sleep. Earlier that day my daughter Meredith had gotten sick with the flu at school and Alan had packed Lali in the car, driven down the hill, and brought her home.

When I came in from the garage, Meredith was on the couch in the living room. She got up and was quicker than me to get to the bedroom.

Alan was downstairs in his office.

Why had Alan put the baby in —

I can see this in my mind but it’s very difficult to say.

Meredith found Lali. He was in her arms and she said, “Mom — “

Mom. I just had dinner with her. I love her so much.

He was unconscious and there was putty-colored milk all over his little face.

I can’t describe what it was, but I put him on the floor and started to breathe in his mouth.

CALL 9–11!

I tried so hard to clear his airway but I couldn’t. I pressed his little chest. I breathed in his mouth. Our neighbor ran in. She took over.

I heard the ambulance. The sirens stopped. Our front door was wide open and I could see the lights flashing in the hallway. Red white red white red white —

I screamed for them.

Nobody came.

They were on the wrong side of a jerry-rigged fence that divided the two halves of our short street in Woodland Hills. They had to drive all the way down winding streets and come back the other way.

I estimate it took about ten minutes.

At the hospital, they worked on Lali for over an hour.

One thing that took me many years to verbalize was that I felt Lali’s soul leave right after I saw the flashing lights.

I couldn’t accept that. It was why I cried out so.

— Where was Lali’s father, the horror writer and editor Alan Rodgers? —

When he realized what had happened, he had a cardiac “event” and was also taken to the hospital.

Lali was a late baby, an unexpected baby — I was 41 when I had him. I was independent. I was making good money teaching at 3 different colleges and earning several thousand dollars a month writing.

I was a late baby, an unexpected baby — my mother Sterling was 40 when she had me. She had been fighting pancreatic cancer for at least two years before becoming unexpectedly pregnant. She stopped chemotherapy and radiation upon learning she was pregnant with me. I was born three months prematurely and she died three months after I was born.

In 2003, I had put money down on a small house in Calabasas and was going to move there — leaving Alan —to start a new, happy life with my daughter.

I had withdrawn from a sexual or romantic relationship with Alan, whose life was in constant, unremitting, unspeakable turmoil due to his horrific, decade-plus divorce and custody battle over his three children. Alan was depressed (he regularly threatened to kill himself — and a lot of people would have, or murdered their ex) and he had already begun to suffer personality changes due to small strokes resulting from inherited small vessel disease, made much worse by his misuse of alcohol and tobacco. I didn’t know that then. I just knew things were bad, and I had a Down Syndrome baby and a 12 year-old daughter and that’s why I’d started working at Beyond Shelter.

I had already been looking for a house and had saved enough money to buy when Southern California was engulfed by fires very similar to those devastating Northern California today, fifteen years later.

Lali would be a big boy now, in high school.

Alan was terrified by the fires. The smoke poured across the valley and hellish red glare lit the hillsides day and night.

Alan said it was like one of his stories, for he had written a number of apocalyptic visions after moving to Los Angeles to follow his children who had been parentally kidnapped by their mother (his ex) and her new spouse — an individual who had previously indicated to Alan that he was his “best friend.”

The kids weren’t around and Alan seemed softer, almost like his old self.

As a 5th generation Southern Californian I wasn’t afraid the fires would make it all the way through miles of suburbia to our house.

We made love.

Two and a half months later, I was driving to class at Moorpark College and I felt nauseous.

I didn’t even really need to buy the home pregnancy test but I did need to go to the doctor.

I had a choice.

I chose to give Alan an opportunity to be a good father to this child and — even if I did end up moving out — I knew I would never do what his ex-wife had done to his children.

I knew that Alan had sacrificed everything, including a potential happy marriage with me and mini-celebrity-dom in the sick and twisted world of “publishing” and “horror writing” to be there for his children no matter what happened.

At my age I knew there was also a big risk of the baby having problems. I didn’t go for early amniocentesis to “prove” Anthony had Down Syndrome or didn’t. I didn’t opt for anything except Level III ultrasounds. Anthony’s body was growing normally. There was nothing physical on the ultrasounds indicating a problem.

Before he was born, Lali was completely different to my daughter Meredith. He was calm. She pummeled my ribs 24–7 with her little heels.

Before she was born, I was sure Meredith was a boy. If I hadn’t had the ultrasounds and known Lali was a boy, before he was born, I would have sworn he was a girl.

When I was about six months pregnant I talked to a lady who was in charge of the Down Syndrome Association in Los Angeles. Her son was a gifted actor and a handsome young man. He had been in CSI and other popular shows.

I went to see him and his friends performing in a theater company. Down Syndrome young people were attending UCLA. My dad and brother were Bruins.

Even if Lali didn’t have Down Syndrome, I wanted to learn about it. It was nothing like what I thought. These kids were wonderful. I felt wonderful just watching them and talking to them.

They were gifted —

Their emotional IQ was off the charts.

One of the happiest memories I have of Lali is shopping at Christmas-time at the Target on Ventura Blvd. I had half a day off. I put him in his seat in the cart. The store had the cutest display of a toy train, cotton snow, and little lit Christmas houses.

He was only 5 months old but eagerly looking at the choo-choo, the little houses, and the little people, laughing every time the train tooted its horn.

He loved them so and I bought three and put them in the huge living room in this massive, insane house we lived in because Alan wanted to prove to his children he could “provide” for them.

I’m not writing about what Alan’s ex-wife and her spouse did and forced the children to do after Lali died.

But next to Lali’s death and being charged with responsibility for it — the baby who I would die for right now this minute if it would give him back his life — what that woman did to Lali’s Christmas houses was the lowest point of my life. Alan suffered gross domestic violence and so did I — and so did my completely innocent daughter who today, like me, has a diagnosis of PTSD.

She found Lali first.

The night Lali died, the ER nurse put him in my arms.

They let me sit with him and hold him as long as I wanted.

I held him for an hour.

I called Mike and told him what happened. He said he would come first thing in the morning to get Meredith.

When we got back to the house, Meredith and I stayed in the living room, where she had been on the couch. This would be the last night either of us spent in that house and the last time she was ever there.

First, my cell phone rang. It was the organ donation people. Would I give permission for my son’s organs to be used?

Of course, I said. Then she started asking questions.

Was he an IV drug user?
Did he smoke tobacco?
Did he use alcohol?

He was a six month-old baby with Down Syndrome.

I lay on the couch staring at the ceiling. There was very little “me” left. I wanted Meredith to go with Mike. That was it.

My breasts ached. I was in physical agony and my soul had shrunk to a tiny flicker.

Then I saw lights flashing outside the front door and a series of loud bangs.

It was a man and a woman backed by Sheriffs. I saw two of the same ones who had responded before when the ambulance finally made it the right way up the hill.


This was approximately 2:00 a.m. My daughter and I were questioned separately for five hours. The man and woman tag-teamed us, switched up, went backwards and forwards.

At 7:00 I watched the woman put my daughter in the back of a patrol car in our driveway.

They were taking her to Mike, so I guess it saved him a drive out to Woodland Hills.

The next time I saw my daughter it was at Ed Edelman’s Children’s Court in Monterey Park.

I was not allowed to spend time alone with Meredith for the next three months.

Public service message to women: if you are involved with a man who has an extreme custody battle and you have children of your own, you can’t be involved with him. You are putting your innocent child at intolerable risk. I didn’t “get” this then but I absolutely “get” it now. You would too if you’d walked in my shoes. And if you were white like me, you wouldn’t be lecturing people about how to live their lives because during my unhappy months sitting in that place of horror I saw countless children ripped out of the arms of their mothers. Forever.

For nothing.

The only differences between me and those moms was the color of my skin, the number of my friends in influential positions, and the balance in my bank account.

By the end of it, the balance in my bank account was pretty low, too.

Both Alan and I were charged with responsibility for Anthony’s death. Alan’s children too were called in to the court even though they had barely seen their little half-brother and knew nothing about anything and should have been shielded —

as my daughter was.

The first thing I said to the judge was “Please, let my daughter stay with her dad and grammy. She shouldn’t miss school because of this.”

The judge agreed.

I’m not going to over-dramatize what happened to me at the Ed Edelman Children’s Courthouse.

After the first three days, the judge herself realized why the officers had shown up the way they had, and why my daughter and I had been questioned the way we were.

Alan’s ex-wife had the same first name as me.

On my first courthouse appearance I was presented with a stack of paper about 10 inches high that consisted of over 200 reports made to DCFS about Alan Paul Rodgers abusing his children.

The DA was screaming at the judge and pointing her finger at me, her eyes as big as saucers —

– SHE left her baby with a father who left her children alone to play with electrical outlets!
– SHE left the baby with a man who let her children eat popcorn off the dirty floor!
– SHE left her baby alone with an alcoholic who beat the children!

I was still in shock, like the people in war who lose their loved ones, then are dragged to some insane mock trial.

Alan’s children were 16, 14, and 8.

SHE was his ex-wife and the first time I’d heard these allegations was right there being screamed at me.

I didn’t really have an attorney. There was some court-appointed woman who assumed I’d murdered Lali with a phone cord.

The judge herself looked at the paper and looked at what the DA had written.

“This defendant is not the mother of the children or the woman who made these allegations,” she said.

I stayed at my job — which I did eventually 6 years later quit — and I know I did a horrible job. But my boss did keep me on.

My friends at Saddleback stood by me.

My friends in Redlands stood by me.

Mike stood by me. Grammy stood by me.

I used the money I had saved to put down on the house in Calabasas (it was a mobile home) to pay the best attorney I had encountered that Alan had contacted during his custody case. He knew me and he knew how monstrous Alan’s ex and her husband were and how much abuse had gone on. He was able to quickly communicate that the child abuse reports were custody-battle motivated.

I did exactly what he said. Meredith never had to go to that place and she was able to get started in school in Redlands.

Three months later, the attorney told me they were going to close the case.

It was the same judge. She was a blonde, blue-eyed Jewish woman.

I went in my suit, I went before work.

Once again, waiting in that long line to enter the facility. I think they tried very hard to make it “decent.” I know all of them there thought they were doing the right thing.

Even on that day, even though I knew for me — the ordeal was almost over — and yes I had an Armenian case manager visit my crappy little apartment in Redlands with its minimal furniture and she did go through my drawers and closets to prove there was “no man” living there (Alan was forbidden contact with any children involved and he had much more to answer for than I did because he did leave Lali by himself with his bottle).

I looked around in that line, and this was indeed one of the moments that defined a new realization for me. Much as I wrote about my encounter with criminal CHP officer Craig Peyer, who eventually escalated from pulling young blonde women over to murder, I realized that for me, an ending was possible. And an opportunity for some type of recovery for my daughter.

No justice: just escape.

By the skin of my teeth.

As to the other grief-stricken women whose children had been taken away in patrol cars — brown-skinned, brown-haired, brown-eyed — I knew it wasn’t going to go so well for them.

I was already working at Beyond Shelter and I had worked at Family Service for ten years. I had been in those courtrooms and I had been a mandated child abuse reporter.

I had been caught in this maelstrom because my baby had been born with Down Syndrome and he died because his father put him on the end of the bed with his bottle. He drank the formula while lying down and choked. He aspirated the formula and struggled in his blanket. He was unconscious when Meredith found him and could not be revived.

And because Alan’s ex-wife and her husband had been calling in false reports against Alan for years and DCFS responded to her house — likely while I was sitting in the emergency room holding my dead baby in my arms.

She — a screamer herself — apparently screamed to them all the bad things Alan had done to “her babies” while they were young.

At 2:30 a.m. after I’d been asked if my baby was an IV drug user and smoker by someone who insisted “I have to ask the questions and you have to answer if you want his organs to be donated — “

Then the investigators showed up and questioned me and my daughter for 5 hours.

It’s a good thing our stories agreed.

When they put Meredith in the patrol car that morning, the woman — slightly better than the man whom I now know was certainly dirty and bad — said:

“Sometimes we have to take children from good mothers.”

I lost my son and my daughter on the same night.

I just had dinner with Meredith. I love her so much.

There was a man behind me in line at the courthouse that morning.

A middle-aged white man and I liked nothing about him.

He was garrulous, eager to show everyone around a thick white binder he had which consisted of court paperwork and a photo album.

In the album — and I can see the pictures to this day — were photos of three little girls. They were dark-skinned and dark-haired.

The youngest looked to be about five, and the oldest, about ten. They were standing stiffly, each dressed in elaborate dirndls and old-fashioned white cotton and lace shirts, buttoned tightly at their necks, with frilly, puffy sleeves. White frilly socks. Black patent Mary Janes.

These are my daughters! he said. Today they’re going to terminate the mother’s parental rights [he actually said “the mother”] and my wife and I will finalize our adoption.

My wife works for DCFS.

There’s nothing you can do, I told myself. You are here for you and Meredith.

For you, today, it’s going to be over.

At the end of the very brief proceedings, the blonde, blue-eyed Jewish judge rapped her gavel, stood, and walked around the bench.

I cannot say I had friendly feelings toward her or anyone anywhere in that place, but she held out her arms.

I let her embrace me.

“That’s it,” she said. “It’s over. You can go home and take care of your daughter.”

Then she said, “I’ve closed the case and ordered the records expunged.”

My attorney said he knew of only five cases expunged in the entire history of the children’s courthouse.

So, you might find a web page that accuses Alan Rodgers, me, and even my daughter, of murdering Lali. It’s probably still there. You might even see it referring to “court records.” You’ll see the man promises videos of Alan’s children talking about how he abused them and killed their little brother.

That’s the same guy that told Alan he was his “best friend,” that then broke up his marriage and kidnapped Alan’s kids, married Alan’s ex- (after she had 2 kids with him) and was responsible for the overwhelming majority of over 100 false child abuse reports made against Alan over the entirety of the custody battle.

So here is a postscript. Alan’s custody battle pre-dated me, and it post-dated me.

Alan is himself, now dead. He died in 2013 after suffering a series of devastating strokes.

That web page I mentioned appeared three years after the judge told me I could go free and be a mother to my daughter without fear.

Seeing that s**t is what pushed me over the edge into full-on PTSD.

The motive? Unbeknownst to me, Alan had hired a private investigator to find his children, who had been parentally kidnapped — yet again — after he too, was exonerated for responsibility in Anthony’s death.

We used to call the guy who did all this “Mr. Moron” and it’s much too kind a term. His behavior should be very familiar to everyone whose lives have ever been ruined by having contact with a narcissistic psychopath.

There is a lot more to the story. But the important part is: the truth did come out in my situation.

I remember shards and pieces. I remember sitting on the front steps in Woodland Hills about a week after Lali died, talking to a CSI.

She told me flat out “We didn’t find a mark on him. We know how he died.”

And she explained to me how it had happened.

The responsibility Alan truly had — and he had been accused of drinking at the time and had not been — was not accepting that Lali had Down Syndrome.

There were some miracles with Lali. About four days before he died, he was sitting in his high chair eating dinner with us and he looked up at me with his shining blue eyes, held up his arms, and said, “Mama.”

As clear as day. “Ma-ma.”

A Down Syndrome baby speaking his first words at six months old.

So yes, that was kind of a miracle and yes, I did get to see and hear that and I am so very grateful.

So here’s the thing. Down Syndrome babies can’t swallow very well and shouldn’t ever be put down with any kind of food or bottle. They must always be allowed to finish drinking or eating completely before lying down.

I didn’t know that — although I wouldn’t have put Lali in that location and when I was with him, I was breast-feeding him not using a bottle.

But that’s what the CSI woman told me that day sitting on the step. She let me hold the little doll they used to represent a child, to show where Lali had been found.

That was what had happened.

“My daughter found him first,” I said. “She gave him to me.”

In terms of his eyes, they were blue.

I could never understand why the Lord took him. But I know I prayed and still pray, “Lord, please let Lali’s life have meaning.

It did for the little boy who got his heart and for the little girl who got his corneas. And for the other organs and skin they were able to use.

He was Lali. A pure spirit of love.

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