Saturday, December 29, 2012

Forgive but don't Forget

An observant reader responded to my last blog with an important point, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget; I know he’ll do it again.”

I agree with her. She obviously knows from experience. And yet, what about that popular saying, forgive and forget? Let us take look. We agree on forgiving; a grudge benefits no one; it’s nothing but a heavy burden on us.

So forgive wholeheartedly. It will free and ease your mind and soul. However, do not forget—you’ve learned a valuable lesson that you want to remember.

If the subject of your grudge is a person, make sure you distinguish between two types of causes—was it an inadvertent incident, such as dropping your favorite vase, or is it someone’s regular behavior that is upsetting you?

Forgive and forget the incident. Yet someone’s regular behavior is a different matter. The chances are slim that a person will change his or her behavior. We all know how difficult it is to alter our fundamental habits, weaknesses and predilections. It’s a fact we need to accept.

You probably have friends that have separated and moved back together again—repeatedly. They forgave and forgot, and did not take into account what drove them apart in the first place. Mere promises are not enough, however earnest and sincere they may be meant. A promise is something we’d like to do, but not necessarily what we’re able to carry through.

Do not forget to include yourself on your agenda of forgiveness. Suppose you answered your cell phone while driving to the mall and got a pricey ticket (it’s around $200 I found out the hard way). Pay it, take a driver’s class and then forgive yourself, but do NOT forget it. You don’t want to get another ticket; more important, you want to drive safely.

To quote Alexander Pope: “To err is human, to forgive, divine,” or more down to earth as Mother Theresa put it: “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.” And here is the most appropriate by Thomas Szasz: “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the na├»ve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”

Best wishes for a healthy and rewarding 2013,


Friday, December 21, 2012


Nothing can mar our happiness more than bearing a grudge. It weighs us down like dark, gray clouds heavy with condensation. 

Once a year we celebrate the Season of Good Will toward all men, and even though it may be hard to let go, it’s worth every bit of effort. 


No heavier burden than to carry a grudge.
Let go, don’t judge,
Life can be tough for all of us.
Have hope, don’t fuss,
We all, who walk this planet Earth,
Sometimes forget our higher worth,

Happy holidays,
From my book, In Search of the Good Life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Season of Good Will

There’s something uncannily cheerful about the Christmas season; it’s impossible to escape it. Everywhere colorful lights, merry music and happy faces. It’s a Season of Good Will.

And it’s quite contagious. If we’re lucky, it’s contagious enough to affect even our hard-nosed politicians—to buckle down, forget their party righteousness, and focus on the good of the country. It’s what non-politicians would call cooperating.

A few months ago, when election campaigns and politics started to get to me, and my hair turned grayer by the hour, I decided to make an early New Year’s resolution. Instead of getting upset about politics I’d switch my thoughts to GRATEFULNESS for not being a politician. It worked wonders; I’m grateful all the time.

May your thoughts be happy ones,


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Joys of Volunteering

It’s one of life’s great blessings to be in a position to give rather than having to take. And it requires so little. We need not be rich, have great strength, big talent or an abundance of time. All we need is a kind, free spirit that is willing to help. Many a person is less fortunate than we are.

There are no monetary rewards of course, yet volunteering makes the soul rejoice. Aside from that, any interaction with people creates an endless variety of experiences; some of them can be quite amusing. Let me recount one that rather lacked what you might call the right spirit.

I’m on the board of managers of our condominium. There are five of us—hard-working volunteers. But once in a while someone gets on the board with a personal agenda. Aggie was one of them. She had hardly been elected when she requested $200 for supplies—paper (lots of it), stationary, pens, a stapler…. “They’re absolutely essential,” she insisted. “Otherwise I can’t be efficient and effective.” We asked her to submit an itemized list so we could mull it over.

Two weeks later she requested reimbursement for two projects she had undertaken.  One was for getting some 25 empty boxes from Safeway across the street. “We’ll need them when our office gets painted,” she pointed out. Eighty dollars for old boxes? We could have picked them up ourselves, for free.

But did she really pay someone? I asked our faithful custodian, “Max, did you get all those boxes for us?” “Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “Aggie asked me to.” “Did she pay you?” “Of course not, Ma’am; I did it during working hours,” he assured me.

The other request was for $185 for someone she had hired to test our intercom.  After much prodding she gave us the person’s name and city, a Mary Cushing in Walnut Creek. But why test the intercom? It works fine, and when it doesn’t, AT&T fixes it. Since the check was to be made out to Aggie, I decided to call all the Mary Cushings in W.C.  The fourth Mary C. knew Aggie and I cautiously proceeded, “Then you know her nice condo here in Alameda,” I said. “I don’t,” came her answer. “I’ve never been to Alameda. I know her only from work.” According to Aggie, Mary Cushing had called some 200 residents on our intercom from our various entry doors to test the system.

I wish we had asked Aggie how she defines volunteering. It might have enriched the Webster Dictionary, but probably impoverished those in need. Our president gave her two options—to resign from the board, or to answer a few questions during a full assembly. She resigned.

Too bad—no rejoicing for Aggies soul, nor money for her coffers.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Statisticians are unanimous—married couples live longer. It’s not surprising. As we grow older and have survived the turbulent years of childrearing and employment, we become more tolerant of the strengths and weaknesses of our partner, and we appreciate the warmth of a home and the comforts of companionship.

It puzzles me therefore, why anyone would frown upon someone’s desire to share life’s path in matrimony or even “fine” people for being married. Two foes of marriage come to mind: people against same-sex marriage, and the Federal Government.

Clearly, all unions are not alike, just as people are not alike. Some scientists fault our hormone levels—the more or the less testosterone, the stronger or weaker the attraction toward the other gender. Nature is inscrutable. We can’t decipher her motives.  Yet, why make this a reason for keeping two individuals from entering into a warm and secure relationship? 

Perhaps I’m prejudiced in their favor. My daughter’s husband was transferred to New York and they had to leave their beautiful Victorian home behind. She had spent years restoring every detail to its original splendor and was broken-hearted. However, as luck would have it, two delightful gay people, who had fallen in love with each other, fell in love with the house and rented it. The house became the festive backdrop for their marriage, which had just been made possible. 

It will take for a society to adjust to a new way of thinking. However, as our last election confirmed, people are growing more tolerant. Six states do allow same-sex marriages now, while another five states sanction a civil union. Worldwide, we find eleven countries that have legalized it. Did you know that according to the U.S. census we have 115,064 same-sex households with children in this country? Having a loving home certainly improves a child’s chances for happiness than growing up in a foster-home or an orphanage.

The second foe of marriage is the Federal Government. It quietly “fines” every married couple with a “couples” tax! A married couple pays considerably more income tax on their combined taxable income than these two individuals would if they were not married!  But why?

I hear it will be worse next year. Obama’s Affordable Care Act levies a .9% surtax on any income above $200,000 for an individual, but the exclusion for a married couple is not $400,000 as we’d expect. It is only $250,000!

The IRS justifies it with its Head of Household Rule—a married couple needs only one bed, one stove and one roof. It ignores the possibility that one bed for two may lead to needing more beds in the future, that the kitchen and roof may need to be expanded and that expenses are bound to multiply.

Did our government forget its pledge to protect and promote the Pursuit of Happiness of its citizens? Levying a marriage fine certainly looks like it.  Be this as it may, always remember that a successful marriage requires falling in love many times, and always with the same person.

Until next time,

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Israel and Hamas

Alarming saber rattling, rockets and bombs! This region is spreading horrendous dread.

We do not need another calamity. I still remember World War II and the suffering it set off across Europe—it claimed so many lives; it caused such devastation!

Can we steer clear of Nostradamus’ sinister words and the biblical prophecies regarding Armageddon? If we put our minds to it, I’m sure we’ll find wiser solutions.

Of course the price is high: keeping the peace would dent much human ego and pride to which we still tenaciously cling. It would violate our ancient beliefs that land belongs solely to one people and no one else. It would restrain our desire to hate those who are different. It would reign in our emotions. It would prohibit us from killing those we do not like, and deny our age-old desire to prove that we’re better and stronger than others.

How clearly I remember one particular day after the war. My young aunt together with the entire staff of the local hospital had been taken hostage and shipped off to Russia; and so was the hospital— dismantled and shipped East, its patients left in the street, and the staff never heard from again. That same day, father watched helplessly while Communists took away his best friend. Moments later they were looking for him. He sped home and within seconds we were in the car, leaving our home—never to see it again:

“…A mile or two before the train station, we ran out of gasoline. We abandoned the car and continued on foot, mother and my little brother a few steps ahead, father and I behind, as if we were strangers. The streets were deserted. Devastation everywhere. The ruins rose into the gloomy sky like eerie phantoms. Some buildings were sheared off as with a razor blade, baring the bowels of deserted offices and homes. Paintings still dangled from the walls. Unmade beds were quiet witnesses that someone had slept in them before a shell knocked off the other half of the room. A boot balanced precariously on a ledge. 

Here and there in the rubble yellow sheets hid unburied bodies, an official precaution to warn those who were still alive of typhoid. Somewhere a dog wailed, forsaken, hungry and scared. Just like us.

At last, the station came into view, but our hope was short-lived. The platform was packed with hundreds of other pitiful refugees and fugitives, some sleeping, some crying, most of them numb with misery—waiting. No one knew if trains were still running. It was rumored that the tracks had been blown up. Hitler had given Albert Speer, his architect and minister of armament, instructions to destroy everything and burn it to the ground before the enemy approached. …” *

The war-years had been pure terror, but the years that followed, years of devastation, hunger and need were even worse and lasted much longer.

Those years made us understand the futility of war. Mankind, it seems to me, has become more tolerant and more willing to cooperate with one another. May we succeed in steering clear of letting our baser instincts carry anyone away. The final price of war is higher than the price of keeping the peace.

Have a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving,


* taken from my memoirs, “The Madman and His Mistress”

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Many years ago, Kate Mailliard asked me to give a series of talks on business ethics. I was delighted, because Ethics and Character, I felt, are the only real possessions we own— war or disaster can destroy everything else in an instant.

First I interviewed a UCLA professor of Economics. “Business Ethics?”, he laughed, “that’s an oxymoron.  There’s no such thing.” 

Next I talked to several business owners, not large corporations—they are of a different breed even though the Court designated them as personsEach of the business owners I talked with assured me that good ethics are at the very core of any successful enterprise. Without good, honest and responsible work and service no customer will return.

The professor, I later heard, did own a business once, but it went bankrupt, and he became a professor.

When I heard about The Principled Academy in San Leandro, CA, my curiosity was piqued. Over tea with Kristina Seher, the school’s co-founder and Head, my confidence in America’s future was rekindled. “Our primary concern is to build a child’s character,” she said. “We feel that each child is special and has a unique gift which needs to be discovered and encouraged. I always urge each teacher to find and showcase each student’s gift. 

“A few years ago, we had an extremely quiet girl. Her parents did not speak English; academics were difficult for her, but she had beautiful handwriting.  Her teacher entered her in the state’s Penmanship Competition, and she won it four years in a row. It changed her life. She discovered a deep joy in her accomplishment and a re-assurance of her worth, so much so that she decided to enter college this year.

“All of my teachers,” Kristina explained, “focus primarily on each child’s wellbeing and character development, and then on academics. They are urged to look for the beauty inherent in each child that may need awakening. In a safe environment, the children learn that they can make choices in life, bad ones and good ones. Most young children are quite forgiving of each other.  Beginning in middle school, however, if adults do not intervene to help them learn empathy and compassion, they begin to hold grudges, and tend to ostracize students who are in some way “different”.

“At that age, teacher involvement with each child becomes even more important and challenging. We have an autistic child, for example, who was mocked by a bright classmate. We had a private talk with the latter, who, as we suspected, had never heard of autism. We assigned him to do a research paper on autism, and an evaluation of his choice of action as a classmate. We invited his parents to participate when he presented his report, because parent-involvement is crucial in character formation. His report was a good lesson in compassion from which everyone profited.

“One of our new middle school students had struggled academically in his former school, and rather lacked in self-esteem.  One of our teachers realized that he showed a talent for acting, and encouraged him to join the Video Club.  Since then, he’s had several “starring roles” in the character education videos that this group is producing for our younger students. Nothing could have helped building the boy’s self-esteem better than knowing that he is a valuable and contributing member of the Principled Academy community.

“Frequent conversations with each child and following their progress create a culture of caring, integrity and character, as well as a memorable school experience. This is truly important because the behavior we learn early in life will carry us forward into adulthood.”

The Principled Academy strikes me as the very model environment that all our children need and deserve. It is sad to realize that many of our public school teachers today are fearful of violating the law or of getting sued when discussing the contributions of the world’s great traditions that have shaped our cultures.  Some feel even hesitant about teaching common courtesy!  These trends need reversing, unless we want to live in a world of chaos devoid of neighborly care and cooperation, where people care for nothing else but their own personal entitlement.

Thus, The Principled Academy focuses on character education; 
it looks for the uniqueness and special talent of each child;
and fosters compassion, tolerance and cooperation among its children to create a successful community.

In the words of former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, “The essence of education is to teach a person what deserves to be valued—to impart ideals as well as knowledge.” In brief, “All real education is the architecture of the soul.”

Thank you, Kristina Seher, for your grand gift to our children!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Personal Choices

My last post evoked a storm of controversy. Why did I let my ex-husband “off the hook from paying child support and alimony?”… “ It’s his responsibility!” … “You needed the money!”…

All true. Nonetheless, I decided not to choose that path. Perhaps it was pride—I wanted to be able to stand on my own feet, rather than be a burden to someone. Perhaps I wanted to avoid the mental anguish to count on payments that might not come or I might have to plead for. Time is too precious for that.

It’s true, I had no assets, but I had landed a job. Money was not of prime importance to me, probably because I grew up in Europe where you do not mention the word. The focus is on values, education, manners and consideration for others.

For me this path felt right. I had confidence in the future. I was willing to work hard, I wanted a happy and harmonious life for my children and me. Staying within our means was a small price to pay. Obviously, this approach is not for everyone.

True, we didn’t wear the latest fashion! Our tight budget called for setting priorities. Ours were sports, art and music. I added moonlighting jobs and acquired second-hand tennis rackets and bicycles and later a fine, upright piano. It wasn’t a Grand, but it still sounds grand today. Instead of visits to the hairdresser I took first aid courses so I could join the Ski Patrol and we could ski—I still remember fondly the ball we had at ski swaps getting ready for the slopes.

This unconventional course of action allowed the children an unclouded and good relationship with their father and a cordial one for me during social functions when a father’s presence is important.

I have a tenant, a good-looking young woman with two children. Her rent is always late because her ex-husband hasn’t paid yet. One day she gave me his phone number so I could call and remind him—but no thanks. Every month the power company sends me a warning that they’ll turn off her utilities—luckily that’s not my problem either. Eventually, the rent does arrive, but I feel sorry for the constant stress she suffers.

Life calls on us daily to make choices. Some are easy and automatic.  Others require thought when a solid foundation is helpful to make wise decisions—something permanent and indestructible like values, because our rational mind is willing to justify just about anything.

May you be fortunate in making yours,


Saturday, October 6, 2012

When things go wrong

How does one cope with an unexpected, painful divorce? It’s not easy! However, life goes on and whether we like it or not we need to deal with it.

Mine came out of the blue. We had barely moved to the Bay Area when my husband had to go back to Los Angeles. Six weeks later he returned. The children and I decorated the house with flowers and shopped for his favorite foods to celebrate.

I was making the beds when suddenly a wave of cold terror gripped me. I shot up and turned around. In the doorway stood my husband. He looked somber and distant.

"I want a divorce," he said.
I was thunderstruck, unable to comprehend or think. Like a robot, I helped him pack and made him a sandwich for his trip back to the other woman. Within an hour he was gone. The idea of a divorce hadn’t sunk in yet. My head was throbbing with pain.

Wearily I re-read his letter. Where had I failed? Where did I go wrong? Most troublesome were his words: you are too good for me... you deserve better...with her I can smoke and drink.  True, I didn’t smoke and drink, but I didn’t mind that he did. There had to be some plausible explanation, some grievous faults of mine.

This was 30 years ago. It was an emotional tsunami from which I thought I'd never recover. But eventually I found answers and learned lessons that stood me in good stead in solving the problems that crop up ever so often.

Don't complain; take action. I had no money and no job, not even a credit card or checkbook. Whenever I needed money while I was married, I had to ask my husband for it. Never again! I looked for work and soon had a full-time job and moonlighted at three others. Hard work, I found, can be an excellent remedy for a troubled soul.

End dependency. When he asked to postpone the alimony and child support payments for a month, I wrote back that I had a job and needed no further support—a crazy move according to most levelheaded persons. As it turned out, it was a good move for me; it restored my pride and saved me from ever having to worry that a payment might not come. It taught me to live within my means. And that made me thrifty, independent and free. I don't advocate this approach to others, though it worked very well for me. Do what is best for you.

Remain civil. One of my cardinal rules is never to speak ill about anyone, especially not to children about their father. After all, he is their parent whom they need to respect and love, primarily for the sake of their own emotional well-being. To his credit, their father adhered to the same rule. There's nothing in the world that courtesy cannot achieve better than anger.

Focus on understanding. It's useless and indeed harmful to become bitter. Yet his words that I was too good for him had cut me to the core. Kindness meant everything to me. Why did being kind destroy my life? I finally figured it out. My husband had fallen in love with another woman. His emotions had propelled him to act, but his rational mind had to justify it in socially acceptable terms. An emotion is like a hypnotist’s suggestion: close the window when you wake up. We wake up and close the window, and then we call upon our reason to justify it: “It’s cold outside.” In other words, kindness had nothing to do with the divorce.

Forgive. You've heard the expression, "time heals all wounds." It took me seven years. I came across an article that spoke about the healing effect of putting onto paper what disturbs us and then forgiving the persons who were involved. So I sat down and wrote. It was the last time I shed a tear. I concluded the letter with the words, that I had put it behind me and forgiven him. And I meant it. It's a strange thing, when I mailed that letter, a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I knew I was on the right path.

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. There's a vast difference. Forgiving means letting go of a grudge for having been hurt. It does not mean to forget it. It would be foolish to ignore a lesson we've learned the hard way; we don't want to repeat it. People rarely change their basic characteristics. Studies have shown that people who remarry their former spouses can succeed only when they thoroughly take into account and make adjustments for their differences that once tore them apart. It's important, therefore, to remember the lesson we've learned—just as important as to forgive, because forgiveness heals us of our emotional turmoil and pain. The Dalai Lama is a shining example.

The foolish neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.   Thomas Szasz

Until next time,


PS.   Part of this story is taken from my book, Live, Laugh and Learn  (available also for Kindle)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Staying young

Most of us want to live a long (and happy) life. But who wants to get old! Neither you, nor I. Since we can’t have one without the other, it’s best to make the BEST of it. We can grow old and yet retain some of the wonderful feelings of youth.

Happiness is number one. Being miserable contributes to no one's happiness, except our enemies. Happiness is within our control—we have no one to ask for it, and no one can take it away—not even Uncle Sam. We alone decide if we want to be cheerful or depressed. Of course, it’s not always easy; listening to the daily news can be a mighty damper—the ups and downs of the campaign, nuclear power in jumpy hands, riots about videos, floods and fires, or the wrinkles in our face. All sad, sad, sad. But can our sadness change any of it? Not very likely. On the other hand, our smile may cheer up someone. And, most importantly, it'll cheer us. A smile steers our thoughts into more upbeat channels. Our gloriously beautiful Earth provides much to be grateful for. As Shakespeare says: Assume a virtue if you have it not.  And smile.

Our health and stamina decline as we grow older; so it’s vital for us to walk and keep active, and stay away from the refrigerator. We need less food, and more gentle movement to keep our muscles alive and our body flexible. As to medications? Doctors often assume that their patients feel short-changed if they have to leave their office without a prescription. Worse, I hear that some doctors have a vested interest in some pharmaceuticals or pharmacies. I told my doctor that I’m no friend of pills, and he’s never prescribed me anything yet, except for something temporary like a flu.

A sense of adventure and curiosity, and the excitement of discovering or learning something new is one of life’s greatest pleasures. When we finally retire, we have more leisure to pursue these joys. My life has always been filled to the brim, but since I retired, the days seem shorter than ever—there's so much to do, to explore, to write, to share. My daughters gave me a new bicycle and pink and blue roller blades when I turned 65; I took up playing the piano at 70, I read more books in foreign languages now, and am having a ball volunteering. And think of all the wonders that Google is willing to reveal if we ask for it! It’s unimaginable that we once had to do without it.

Cherish your friends; and honor them for being your friends. Treasure them in good times as well as in bad. Loneliness makes for poor company; we thrive in interaction with others. A pet may help, but a pet ties us down and needs daily care. If you’ve moved away from your friends, join a group, volunteer or become a friend to the friendless. To have a good friend is one of the greatest delights of life, as R. W. Emerson put it.

I’ve found the perfect solution for our declining youthful beauty, but you may not like it. I found light bulbs with low, low wattage and use them near my mirrors! I feel better when I’m not reminded of my wrinkles and glad to discern nothing but a cheerful grin. It seems ludicrous and a losing battle to pretend that we're younger than we are.

It's more fun to put some twinkles in our wrinkles, and be proud of our age! We’re still alive, and eager to make the best of it. And that is all that matters. It's grand to enjoy the fruits of our efforts—no more crying babies at two in the morning, instead some darling grandkids to spoil. No more rush hour traffic to fight, instead full devotion to the daily paper. We have leisure to do what we like.  It’s worthwhile to be grateful for, or, if you’re still young, something to look forward to.

Come to think of it, the last ten years have been the happiest of my life.

Until next time,

Monday, September 10, 2012


“Don’t clear the table yet,” I anxiously exclaimed. We’d just eaten two slices of toast. “The toast made me hungry!”
“That’s what carbs do to you,” my daughter replied. “They stimulate the appetite.”
It’s true. We should have added an egg, or lots of peanut butter. We had three more slices of buttered toast and felt better; at least for the next hour.
“I’ve got to look into that carb phenomenon,” I decided, and did. I quizzed google, which came up with 34 million websites in 0.16 seconds flat! It’d take years to read them all, but here’s what I found. First of all, ignore the many fads; just use the basic guidelines and good common sense if you want to enjoy a happy, long and healthy life.
Carbohydrates are highly essential for all of us. They turn into glucose that provides us with energy and stamina. Some carbs, however, are healthier than others:
Unhealthy carbs include sugars and refined and processed foods. Most processed foods contain added sugar, primarily corn sugars, for which Monsanto has invented some 19 different names. When they reach the stomach, they activate a mechanism that makes us crave more and more food, which has caused a steady and alarming increase in the weight of our population. (For details see the June 28 post below: Health Hazard — Sugar)
Healthy Carbs come in two varieties, simple and complex—stick with them. They include all the natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk products. We need both types.
  •      Simple Carbs are quickly broken down by our body and are found primarily in fruit, but also in refined sugars and processed foods. Do avoid the latter two. If we’d live on nothing but fruits and vegetables—as much as we could eat— we’d be as skinny as could be. The more we indulge in processed foods, the more weight we consistently add.
  •      Complex Carbs take longer to break down and do not cause a sugar rush. They include the starches found in starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, corn and dried beans), and in grains and breads. Legumes (dried beans and peas) are a good source of fiber and protein, and an excellent substitute for meat.
Carbohydrates provide us with Fiber, which plays a vital function in our digestion. Some fiber is soluble, as found in most fruits, nuts, legumes and oatmeal; some fiber is insoluble, as in most vegetables, seeds, brown rice and couscous. Both types are good for us. Consequently, it’s much better to eat berries or a piece of fruit than to drink a glass of fruit juice.
Grains need special mention. They are a good source of fiber and provide us with many vital nutrients. Unfortunately, most of these nutrients get lost when the grain is extensively processed and refined. The less processed food we eat, the better off we are.
In summary, carbohydrates are an essential food, but they differ greatly in their effect on our health and weight. Minimize foods that are processed and avoid foods that are sweetened with corn sweeteners. Give preference to vegetables, legumes and fruits, rather than juice, cheese and meats. Eat slowly to prevent overeating. And be consistent. You’d be surprised how quickly eating good and healthy food turns into a wholesome habit. And you’ll save money in the process.
Until next time,