This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on August 10, 2008.
I told the clerk at the sporting goods store how much I loved my old tent while I stole
glances at the sleek little floor model sitting on the showroom floor. The skinny poles
were bright and shiny, unlike my tent poles that come in sections held together with
elastic cords. Mine are the kind of poles that can slice your fingertip off if you aren’t
My family has had the same tent for 20 years. We got it when the kids were young and
we camped every summer at Dogwood campground in the San Bernardino Mountains.
When we bought the tent in 1987 it was promoted as easy to assemble, and it is, with
two people working together as a team. Tents these days can be removed from their
bag, tossed into the air and land fully assembled and ready for sleeping bags.
What fun is that?
Now that the kids are grown, my husband and I camp only a few times a year and can’t
justify purchasing a new tent, so we just keep patching the old one. We’ve had several
of the zippers replaced and I carefully patch the tiny holes before they get to be big rips.
We had the elastic cords that hold the poles together replaced when their stretch gave
out. There isn’t much more we can repair on our faithful old tent. It’s kind of like driving
an old car. Our tent may look a little dated, but, hey, so are we.
The real value of our tent is sentimental. That old nylon enclosure has been home for us
at the campground and holds many happy memories along with the smoky scent of the
campfire. I remember our little mutt coming out of the tent early one morning the year
we took her camping. She curled up in a corner of the tent at night after an evening
curled up in front of the campfire. We lost her to cancer the following winter but her
doggy spirit remains in our tent.
Our kids have many happy memories of camping and came to love the out-of-doors, far
from TV, telephones and various electronic gadgets. Spending an evening with no
electricity can be very instructive to a kid who has grown up close to appliances.
We are a car-camping family and always stay in a campground with bathrooms adjacent
and a fire ring and picnic table nearby. We camp in relative luxury, but we gaze at the
stars at night, listen to the wind sifting through the pine trees and get scared as we
imagine wild animals lurking outside our tent in the middle of the night, as if we
are deep in the wilderness. Nonetheless, our children resonate with nature and it fills
their spirit as only the beauty of the natural world can.
Our last camping trip this year will be in August. As we pull into the campground,
we’ll see young families setting up tents that have several rooms, tents with front
porches and awnings, and dome tents that look a little like flying saucers. Today’s
almost indestructible miracle fabrics will enable those tents to last 20 years, as ours has.
One of these days we’ll get new-tent fever, but until then we will proudly pitch our
old tent and sit by the campfire till we get our fill of toasted marshmallows and kinks in
our necks from looking at the stars. Until then, our old tent will do just fine.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Time's L. A. Affairs on June 16, 2018.
When I looked up and saw a handsome man in a tuxedo, holding a violin, my fate was sealed. I was an usher at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver and Paul was Principal Second Violin.
After the concert was over I was stationed at the edge of the stage until the patrons left the hall. He told me later he had watched me showing patrons to their seats for several weeks and waited for an opportunity to start a conversation.
Shortly after we started dating, Paul auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and I pretended to be happy when he got in but I was devastated. He would be moving to Los Angeles to start the summer season at the Hollywood Bowl. We had six months before he left. We both knew a long distance romance would eventually fizzle so we made the most of the time we had.
On the night he left, in the middle of the most intense embrace I have ever experienced, Paul said, “I have to see you again.”
I felt relieved that it wasn’t over but unsure of how we could move forward. He was Jewish and I wasn’t. After graduating from Yale music school (and playing in the Santa Fe Opera during the summers), Paul had dated many women who were as equally accomplished as he was. I married my childhood sweetheart, dropped out of college and started a family and then got divorced after nine years of marriage. We were an unlikely couple. Still, we had a deep bond that we didn’t want to break.
I went to visit him in Los Angeles after he got settled in an apartment in Brentwood. I grew up in the Midwest and had never seen the ocean so we went to the beach and watched the eternal waves slapping at the shore, seeming to mock our tenuousness.
We had breakfast Café Casino and sat on the patio with a view of the Pacific. The talk began to include discussions of marriage.
The freeways were intimidating and I got a crash course in Thomas Brother’s maps.
I had to get used to actually seeing the air as well as breathing it, a mix of fuel and salt air that stung my nostrils. I loved the palm trees and exotic plants that were mixed with ancient oak trees. We took the obligatory drive through Beverly Hills and walked along Rodeo Drive.
Could I live here? Coming from Denver, I was a Rocky Mountain snob and could see what Angelinos called “mountains” when the smog lifted.
Then I looked into Paul’s eyes and knew that my future was there. More marriage talk ensued. His parents said they would disown him if he married out of the Jewish faith. I had to consider introducing my children to a stepfather. When we were dating in Denver and I wasn’t sure of our future, I didn’t have the children, Benjamin, 5 and Autumn, 8, spend much time with him.
My first time at the Hollywood Bowl was magical. It cannot be fully experienced until you actually sit in the audience and feel its immense scale. As the sun sets, a cool breeze comes up. I loved watching him playing with the other musicians, making great music.
One night, towards the end of my visit I found my seat at the Bowl and gazed down at the stage as the orchestra tuned up. I had a bottle of wine, drank too much of it, and contemplated the obstacles that seemed insurmountable. Then I walked down the steep walkway to the backstage area to see him at intermission. I watched Paul's face light up when he saw me in the crowd. I knew then that I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
I went back to Denver and we experienced a rocky period that included a broken engagement, reconciliation, and another engagement that ended with him breaking it off for good. We were both miserable. A few months later he reached out after I sent him a kiss-off letter and we were married at Denver City Hall eleven days later. That was 36 years ago.
When my children and I moved to Los Angeles in June of 1982, Paul and I took them to Disneyland right away. My new husband jumped into parenting. He subscribed to Parents magazine, bought a grill and a family-sized tent. His orchestra schedule left him free in the afternoons when the children got out of school.
He sat in kid-sized chairs at parent/teacher conferences, took the children to orthodontist appointments, and was a stead presence during the tumultuous teen years. He parented them with an open heart and loved them as his own. I have a great husband, my children have a loving father and now we have three beautiful grandchildren.
Paul recently retired from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On his last night at the Hollywood Bowl I sat in the audience, as I had so many years ago, and was abundantly grateful that I took a chance on love.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on May 23, 2004.
I greeted the bank teller and handed her a couple of checks to cash. As she processed
them she glanced at my Cal State Los Angeles tee shirt and asked me if I had been a
student there. I told her I graduated from Cal State Northridge, it is my son who attends
Cal State Los Angeles.
She looked to be in her early twenties and told me she had a year to go and was finding
it difficult to finish college. I felt compelled to share my story, briefly, in the time it took to
process the checks. I told her it took me twenty years to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in
Psychology; a process that is supposed to take four years.
An adjacent teller overheard the conversation and looked at us. We all smiled. Twenty
years? Both the 20-something tellers realized that it took the length of their lifetime for
me to earn a four-year degree. No wonder we all smiled.
I told her I never regretted my twenty-year struggle to earn a college degree. I tried to
think of ways I could encourage her to continue her education so I quickly listed the
advantages: I earn more money now, I can answer “degree required” ads in the
and – most importantly - now that I have it, it’s mine forever.
She seemed interested in my story and told me she had gotten as far as her senior
year. She was taking some time off and was finding if difficult to go back, to which
I replied, “go back.” Every time I quit, and there were many, it was much more difficult to
start again. By the time I finally earned my degree, I was older than many of my
I got the feeling the young teller enjoyed her job and liked getting paid for her efforts. It
gets very tiresome to sit in a drowsy classroom hour after hour, taking notes and
regurgitating facts back on a Scan-tron form. At the end of a semester of hard work
there is a grade on a piece of paper - it can’t be cashed at the bank.
If you throw in a car, an apartment and the high cost of tuition, spending time and
money on college just doesn’t seem important. College is the ultimate in deferred
gratification and the benefits sit on the far edge of a youthful horizon.
Going to college enriched my life. I learned to think, to reason and to argue a point.
Along with learning how to use my brain, I learned to wait patiently in long lines and
to satisfy petty bureaucratic requirements. In exchange, I lived in the world of ideas and
thought, literature and theories. Overcoming my strong inclination to balk at the
bureaucracy for the sake of learning taught me to take the bad with the good and
prepared me for the real world.
As I left the bank I wondered if I said too much or sounded too preachy to the young
woman with one-more-year-to-go. I hope it won’t stretch to twenty. I’d like to think that
my words of encouragement will help her re-enroll and stick it out. I hope she will
run the last mile, collect her diploma and take great pride in her accomplishment.
Every year when graduation season approaches I thrill once again to the stirring strains
of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. No other music evokes the vision of caps and
gowns, proud parents and eager young graduates, sweating under the hot sun or in a
crowded gymnasium. Pride in accomplishment fills the air along with the music, and
graduates of all ages bask in their gratification, no matter how long deferred.
Graduation day is more hard won for some people than others. But every graduate
deserves that quick moment when her name is announced, several dignitaries shake
her hand and she walks off the stage with a college degree that will be hers forever.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on May 20, 2018.
The Boy Scouts have rolled out their new organization called Scouts BSA. Shout the good news – girls can hang out with boys! As a professional Girl Scout for ten years in the San Gabriel Valley, I predict this poaching of girls will not succeed. In all the years I worked for Girl Scouts, there was a mutual respect between the two organizations. Indeed, it was Robert Baden-Powell who inspired Juliette Gordon Low to start Girl Scouts so the young women could participate in the same activities as the boys, but separately.
Over the years, Boy Scouts didn’t permit atheist boys to join. Girl Scouts didn’t do that. Instead they told atheist girls that when they recited the Girl Scout Promise, they didn’t have to say “God.” Otherwise they were free to join. Then Boy Scouts kicked out gay Scout leaders. They felt strongly enough to take it to the Supreme Court, who ruled in their favor, thus upholding their bigotry.Girl Scouts took a “don’t ask - don’t tell,” approach. If a leader did a good job with her troop, Girl Scouts did not exclude her due to her sexual preference.
I watched hundreds of girlslearn and growin the all-girl environment provided by Girl Scouting. Their character was just as developed as boys, but also included an emphasis on inclusiveness, self-reliance, and team-work. Many girls went through the entire program together, from Daisy (ages 5-6) through Senior (ages 15-18), and remained life-long friends.
Juliette Gordon Low founded Girl Scouts in 1912. Before women could even vote, Low taught girls to strive to do more than society allowed at the time. Low had many more obstacles than Baden-Powell did in getting her organization going due to the inferior status of women early in the twentieth century.
I am a feminist, and deeply believe in equality for men and women. But I also believe in Girl Scouting, where girls and women work together in an all-female environment. This is especially true for tween girls – ages 13-15 –who have been known to act silly around boys so they can avoid threatening them with their intelligence and drive. In their Girl Scout meetings, young women can hone their leadership skills with each other, minus any drama, and then broaden out to the larger community.
The Boy Scouts proudly claim the Eagle Award as Boy Scout’s highest achievement. Most people are unaware that there is an equivalent award for Girl Scouts called the Gold Award. Girls earn the same type of badges that the boys do to earn the Gold Award. You can call it the Eagle, or you can call it the Gold – it’s an equal achievement, period.
I don’t think Scouts BSA are aware of the fierce devotion of Girl Scout volunteers. My job at Girl Scouts was to train the leaders. Young moms came to the training sessions, exhausted after a full day at work, but determined to become a Girl Scout leader. I am certain that a well-trained Girl Scout Leader will not step aside and let a man lead her troop. Why should she? There is nothing to be gained by putting a thriving Girl Scout troop in with a bunch of boys.
My young granddaughter came to visit last summer from Brooklyn. I sent her to Girl Scout camp in Altadena for four weeks. Each week had a theme. The first theme was: “Who is in Charge? Girls!” She loved her PA (Program Assistant) who was a few years older than her and was a volunteer at the camp. Having older girls work with younger girls to provide a positive role model has been very effective in Girl Scouting.
In a troop with boys and girls together, the special bond between girls and women will be lost. Young girls need strong female role models. If all they see are male leaders, feminism will suffer a setback. Women have come too far to give up their power and autonomy.
When my granddaughter sat on the “singing steps” every afternoon as she waited for me to pick her up, the PA’s taught the campers Girl Scout songs. They sang Girl Scout songs. Get it, Boy Scouts. They sang Girl Scout songs.
Girl and Boy Scouting have taught both sexes many values, instilled discipline and created life-long friendships. They have done this successfully for 107 years, with mutual respect for one another. Now the Boy Scouts seem to think they can offer their brand of scouting to everyone. They can’t. Girl Scouts has an equally valuable organization in every way, and they always have.
Boy Scouts, keep your mitts off our girls.
Kathleen Vallee Stein