This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on July 6, 2003.
We watched ducks fly over the lake at sunset while we savored a gourmet meal. Seated in an elegant restaurant with a marvelous view, we were presented with great food and wine, accompanied by excellent service and a rustic, but elegant, ambience. Who could ask for more? We couldn’t wait to get back to the tent.
My husband and I have endured endless teasing for our unusual camping style. Those who taunt and tease us do not appreciate how hard it was for us to find common ground – in a campsite, in a tent, in our search for nature’s way. Early in our marriage, we bonded our two views of the natural world, but not before one of us lost a $50 bet.
My husband and I met and fell in love in the Rocky Mountains. Beneath the stars we inhaled cool mountain air while our romance warmed. We married at Denver’s City Hall and departed for California to begin our life together, with my two young children, and great optimism.
Shortly after we were married, my new husband planned a camping trip – a family bonding experience. It sounded like a good idea at the time. In the middle of July we found ourselves on the floor of Yosemite Valley – in a tent, with only one of us ready to rough it. The rest of us were cold, hungry and ready to go home.
My daughter cried her eyes out when she lost the stuffed animal that she had cuddled from birth. The next day a mama deer’s hoof hit my son center in his chest, propelling him several feet in the air, as he approached her fawn. This camping trip was a disaster.
The romantic, nature-loving couple tumbled head on into reality. One morning we stood by a babbling mountain stream, arguing, yelling, and disturbing the pastoral scene. I wanted to shower, I wanted to eat a real meal. He was tired of my demands and wondered where his nature girl went. Where, indeed?
My new husband’s campsite cuisine was wanting. His carefully planned meals often burned and took hours to clean up. The children and I stood by the camp stove, waiting for nourishment, watching it go up in smoke.
I hated the group showers with mounds of wet tissues and globs of hair gel clinging to the cement floor beneath me. My husband understood my need for cleanliness but bristled as I insisted on waiting in interminable lines every morning to shower. By the time we took two hours to prepare breakfast, and two hours to shower, it was time for lunch.
On that fateful morning I looked at the icy water swirl around the rocks in the stream and squinted as the water reflected the summer sun. I wanted to go to the showers, he wanted to see El Capitan. Impulsively, I told him I would jump into the stream to get clean and forgo the hot but crowded shower.
“I dare you,” he said. “Fifty bucks if I do?” I challenged.
He knew his whining camping companion would never jump into the cold water. Our eyes locked. I plunged into the icy mountain stream. He howled with laughter as I pulled myself from the water, dripping wet and laughing too.
It was time to compromise. He agreed to eat at restaurants for the rest of the trip. The Creampuff Brigade agreed to forgo the showers and to wash our faces and hands at the campsite. Our compromise, forged by that babbling brook 20 years ago, holds today.
Our children are grown and gone, so it is just the two of us who pitch our tent at the campground. We depart to the nearest restaurant for a wonderful meal. Just before sundown, we return to the campsite and enjoy a lovely campfire.
When we tell people of our unique camping style the response is always the same: “That’s not real camping!” “What is real camping?” I reply.
We spend more time communing with nature than those folks who spend all day cooking and cleaning up. We don’t camp to be self-sufficient, we camp the easy way to free ourselves for the true purpose of being in the out-of-doors – to see God through nature, to seek peace through quiet ways, and to spend cherished time together.
The compromise we struck all those years ago has enabled us to enjoy nature and each other and that is as “real” as camping gets.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on November 27, 2004.
My mother and I arrived at the outpatient surgery center promptly at 8:00 a.m. She
took me to the doctor when I needed to go, now it was my turn. They called her name
and she walked into the surgery suite while I wished her well and promised to guard her
A woman who looked to be my age was also waiting and we began to talk. She was with her mother-in-law, who was having a cataract removed. The similarity of our situations bonded us, as women often do. We are caregivers for our aging parents, members of a rapidly growing sorority.
Her mother-in-law had moved in four months ago. It seemed like a lifetime. Mama had
little short term memory, broke most of the heirloom china, lit the oven to heat food she
was supposed to warm up in the much safer microwave. She worried about Mama all
She no longer chatted with girlfriends at lunchtime but ran home to take care of Mama. She was getting nervous tics and fighting with her husband. Mama came to them because her daughter, the only other sibling, was worn out and went on anti-depressants.
I told her about my mother’s retirement community. My mom had an apartment on the third floor. Pull cords were placed in the bedroom and bathroom; one yank would bring help right away. She usually fixed her own breakfast and lunch but ate dinner in the
dining room with the other residents. The van went to the grocery and drug store
Her apartment was rented month-to-month. Although the fee seemed high at first,
it covered everything: utilities, cable, security, transportation, weekly cleaning, meals in the dining room, activities and, best of all, peace of mind for both of us.
When Grandma goes to live with family she is most likely in her 80’s or 90’s. In her
60’s and 70’s, she was probably traveling, still working or doing volunteer work. She
may have replacement hips or knees and survived cancer or a heart attack. It’s highly
likely she has a short term memory loss that makes her a danger to herself and others.
Modern medicine has yielded many blessings and living longer is a big one. That
longer life comes with a passel of medical bills, Medicare paperwork and prescriptions
that must be re-filled, not forgotten.
Most elderly people have several physicians, including, but not limited to: neurologists,
cardiologists, oncologists, internists and ophthalmologists. All those doctors order diagnostic procedures and lab tests that require appointments.If physical or occupational therapy is prescribed, yet more appointments must be made - and kept. Transportation has to be provided.
The image of grandma at home with the family, baking bread and knitting, is as mythical
and beautiful as a Norman Rockwell painting. Grandma requires a lot of medical care
and as much monitoring as a curious toddler. Life is frustrating and sad; end- of-life
issues must be faced.
Put her in the middle of a boisterous family, add a few teenagers, with both mom and
dad working full time, and you have a recipe for failure. Place her in a well run
retirement community and you afford her the opportunity to remain independent - and
out of her daughter‘s kitchen.
Placed in the hands of caring professionals - cooks, servers, housekeepers, security
personnel, activity directors and van drivers, Grandma can relax and concentrate on
needlework, visiting with new friends, or even writing a memoir.
My companion asked for the number of the retirement community. I wished her well as
she left with her mother-in-law. I hope the family will look hard at the reality they are
living and pray they will have the courage to consider a retirement community, for
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on July 5, 2009.
As part of continuing education for my job, I took a forty-hour class at the Rio Hondo
Police Academy. The other forty-seven students and I were from a variety of
professions: code enforcement, animal control, fire fighters, park rangers. On the first
day, I had a flashback to my civics class in junior high school, more years ago than I
want published in a newspaper. Corny as it sounds, history came alive.
The instructors were retired law enforcement officers and they all reflected on their
twenty-five to thirty years as a peace officer. I had to get used to “peace officer” instead
of “police officer.” Our teachers started their careers in the 1970’s, just after the
turbulent 60’s, and were front-and-center for the implosion of drugs and gangs. One
reminisced that he started out writing his reports on a piece of paper with a #2 pencil.
Technology has made the peace officer’s job much easier.
I got my flashback on the very first day when the instructor started with the U.S.
Constitution, which was ratified by all thirteen states in May of 1790. The instructor
stated that the U.S. Constitution is the longest lasting written constitution in the world.
He described the three branches: judicial, executive and legislative, and how they were
designed to restrain one another. Here I was, almost 230 years later, reminding myself
of how our country was founded and feeling pride that it has stood the test of time.
The very first session of the U.S. Congress proposed ten amendments to the
Constitution to further clarify the rights of individuals, commonly referred to as the Bill of
Rights. We’ve all heard about the various amendments, including the First Amendment
that gives citizens the right to free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press
on TV shows like Law and Order.
Going over it from a peace officer’s perspective gave it a new slant. This was
especially true of the Fourth Amendment – freedom from unreasonable search and
seizure. The instructors went into a lot of detail about traffic stops and under what
circumstances an automobile can be searched, a concept the framers could not have
conceived of back in the summer of 1776.
I looked around the room as we considered the founders of this country: all white,
male landowners. The authors of the U.S. Constitution established this document “in
order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings
of liberty.” At the time it applied to them, and not to women, African American slaves or
My classmates included African Americans, Hispanics and Asians. About half of us
were female. Of the five instructors, two were African American, one was Hispanic and
the other two were white. Our union, adhering to the principles drawn up by those well-
intentioned, flawed men, hasbecome more perfect. Their collective wisdom and
foresight produced a Constitution that gave people who had little or no freedom a way to
peaceably fight for it.
We spotted the current class of the Rio Hondo Police Academy as we went to and
from our classroom. I noticed that they ran or marched everywhere, in unison, the
leader shouting out commands. They pretty much reflected the diversity of my class and
looked to be in their early twenties. The trainees were in tip-top shape with a look of
earnestness in their faces that could not be missed.
I had a flash-forward as I watched them run by. Thirty years from now, in 2039,
those who choose to become instructors will stand in front of a class and describe their
career trajectory through times that we cannot imagine today. Much older and well
seasoned in law enforcement, they will still begin their class with the U.S. Constitution
and the rights and freedoms that it protects. The only thing we can be sure of is that #2
pencils will not be involved.
Kathleen Vallee Stein