December 31, 2019

One of my grandsons and his mom came to visit me a couple of days before New Year’s.  They live in Montana, so I don’t get to see them often.  We went to San Clemente and had a truly incredible time.  The weather cleared up as soon as we arrived, and the sea spread blue before us.  The fish restaurant by the sea was great, as was walking on the pier amongst the expectant fishermen.

And then we walked on the beach.  Subtle, soft, pastel purple appeared on one side of the sky.  For an hour, we watched nature’s artistry unfold, seeping from one part of the sky to another.

Like lava flowing down a volcano, the red fluid filled the palette of the huge panorama in the sky, accentuating the strong black lines of the long pier.  Magnificently, slowly, sculptures of mountains, towns, cities, and rivers emerged from the layers of clouds.  A whole new world was created above us as we stood in awe beneath.

The sand of the beach morphed into a coarse covering of colorful flecks of wet brightness dancing in the sun that was left.  Excruciatingly slowly, the colors receded from the sand.  The people on the beach turned into graceful, happy silhouettes dancing on the beach on their way home.

Nature enthusiastically welcomed 2020 as only nature can!  How will we human earth creatures welcome 2020?

To You from Suellen Zima in kindness and peace

It has been a day of wondering.  Our normal southern California sun did make it out for an unusual very short time.  It also rained for awhile to remind us that we perhaps will not have to face a drought this year.

The next time I looked out my window, everything was heavily misted in fog.  Fog doesn’t come often here during the day, but always seems to fill the air with curious questionmarks.  At one point, since I grew up in snow, it looked almost like snow was lightly falling.

My mind crawled into the fog and went along willingly.  It has been a strange year for me.  I am rather remarkably still alive  after my August, 2018, heart attack.  I still occasionally see the cardiologist who recommended stent surgery and 5 major drugs for the rest of my life.  When I turned down his suggestions, he still agreed to stay my doctor without any expectation I would ever take his advice.  We get along well, and, on some level, he appreciates my self  treatment of exercising regularly and breathing with the trees.

I took on two new tasks this last year that were so new, they both challenged my aging brain.  Both involved clubs that I led.  One was the Shalom Club of Laguna Woods, and the other was becoming the founder of LWV YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard).

After a year of nurturing the new Shalom Club, I have turned it over to other capable people while I will remain in the background.

And I have propelled myself into very new territory for me — finding ways to keep myself and other Laguna Woods residents remain in the Village as they run out of money.

It’s not just a Laguna Woods problem, but also a much wider California phenomenon that is changing the fabric of California society.  Many of us can no longer afford to live in homes we bought years ago because the monthly fee keeps rising while our incomes don’t.  Residents here with deeper pockets suggest we move to Arizona, or Nevada, or Florida and leave Laguna Woods to those who can preserve its present way of life.

It’s complicated — a governor who is requiring every city to have a plan for building more housing.  But within that plan, are many loopholes and inconsistencies that don’t make sense.  We’ve had such a plan for the last 20 years, and what was done?  Nothing.  Can there be hope for a new plan?

There is a slippery slope that goes with not having enough money to pay the monthly  fee of about $700.  It involves endless fines, liens placed on your home, worrying through sleepless nights, and then being forced to sell your home and go … where?

I am taking workshops on homelessness, learning new guidelines on possible options I haven’t yet heard of, and becoming proactive in time to save myself, if not my home.

I am testing the so-called “plasticity” of my old brain to learn new things.  I am feeling active, and challenged.  And sometimes very tired.

Happy New Year!



November 28, 2019

Usually students thank their teachers, but on this Thanksgiving Day in 2019, I want to thank my students.  As I watched a tv news program of grown-up students thanking their old teacher during a reunion, I thought that was nice.  But I imagined a reunion in which I was able to thank my many students over many years and many countries for how they had changed my life and what I had gained from them.

Although I was never trained as a teacher, I luckily learned I was truly meant to be a teacher by circumstance and chance as I traveled the world and wanted to get to know the cultures I was in.  Without a shared language, I reached out to teaching as a way to teach me about the cultures I was living in.  And it worked.

Raised in the U.S., I learned about the countries I was then living in, as well as what the U.S. looked like from the outside.

Through teaching, I experienced third world poverty and the obstacles my students faced.  I learned how other cultures suffered, survived, thrived.  I was able to compare and contrast variations of similar cultures.  I was a part of the history of other cultures over the years as they matured and morphed.

I was fortunate to always have students who wanted to learn English and respected me as their teacher.  As teacher and student, we were kind to one another and appreciated each other’s efforts.

Many also became caring friends who have kept in touch with me over the years so that, on this Thanksgiving, we got in touch with one another, made fast and easy with modern technology, to give holiday greetings.

When I met them, I was middle-aged and they were young.  Now, I am old and they are middle-aged.  Their children have become my grandchildren.   And still we are in touch.

A book I wrote about my travels is in an archive at the Hoover Institution in Stanford University along with 25 years of their letters they wrote to me as China went through its metamorphosis.

If I had never become a teacher, I would have missed out on the happiest, most interesting and adventurous years of my life.




September 20, 2019

I started my day a lot earlier than I like,  but I knew I owed it to Swedish teen Greta Thunberg’s lead for world-wide climate change marches today.

News of the “greenhouse effect” first appeared in 1824.  The first mention of global warming in 1975 was still long before Greta was born.  It was 1995, still before Greta was born, that there was a definitive statement that humans are definitely responsible for climate change.  Three years after Greta was born, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006.

But the humans of the world were mostly too busy thinking about money — how to get it, how to get more, how to pillage and plunder to take what was thought to be rightfully ours as the masters of the universe and the most intelligent of all living things.  Yes, there were a few endearing characteristics of humans, but not enough to deflect disaster.

Much of nature, and many animal species continued to quietly disappear while the human population grew.  It was 1 billion in 1800, two billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1975, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, 7 billion in 2011.  8 billion is projected for 2024.

I won’t be here to verify it, but I strongly doubt humans will outlive climate change no matter how smart we get with technology and out of the box clever ideas.

Greta’s generation may make it into middle age or beyond, but I don’t see a happy ending for humans.  But the ending of humans will be a happy ending for nature because I firmly believe in the ability of nature to reboot and thrive again minus humans.

I ended the evening by watching a science fiction movie by chance called “Knowing” with Nicholas Cage.   In it, the entire earth is destroyed by a massive sun flare.  However, aliens have taken a selection of chosen children into spaceships and transported them by twos with two rabbits to a fresh, pure land with a beautiful large tree.  As I watched the children playfully running toward the tree, I felt a tiny flicker of hope that these children would be better guardians of nature, but a dread that they would once again contaminate mother nature with human arrogance and superiority.

August 11, 2019

Picture this — a piece of cardboard on the ground and a person sleeping on it.  The caption reads, “This bed costs $100,759 a year.”  No, this is not in a far away third world country.  This is the county of southern California I live in.

The happy hobo image of homelessness doesn’t exist.  In Orange County, California, where I live, the face of homelessness is wrinkled, old, and weak.  At the last count made one night in 2019, there were 455 homeless seniors found and interviewed.  Yes, there were also other categories of homeless people found and interviewed.  But there were more homeless seniors interviewed that night compared to every other category.

I learned at a United Way Homelessness 101 lecture on homelessness in Orange County  that the cure for homelessness is putting people in homes.  And, by every comparison,  the cost is by far cheaper than the $100, 759 spent on each homeless person for the many services they use when they are homeless.

While non-homeless people have the wrong notion that the homeless in Orange County are recent arrivals because of the warm climate, the average person found in the one night survey had been a resident of Orange County for about 10 years.

There is a tornado of circumstances swirling in Orange County.   Even a large percentage of working people can no longer afford to live here because the prices of buying and renting are way beyond normal, or even good salaries.  Along with rising life expectancy into the 80’s, 90s, and 100s that can affect income, there is a scarcity of housing in the county in general, and especially for low incomes.   Plus, other expenses are rising beyond an older person’s capacity to increase income.

After my mother died, my father and I moved to a retirement community then called Leisure World in southern California.  Neither my dad nor I had enough money to buy our home, so we pooled our resources and bought a two bedroom home for $73,500.  At that time, the range of prices for homes here was perhaps $60,000 to $600,000.  But the shared cost concept with a monthly fee allowed all who lived here to share in the clubhouses, a tempting variety of amenities,  classes, and over 200 resident-run clubs.

During the 20 years since that time, my dad died, house prices went up and up, and then drastically down and down in 2008, and modestly up again.  And the required monthly fee also increased regularly.  Now, you can still buy a one bedroom home in the Village for perhaps $155,000, but there are many more homes now above a million dollars.

If you can’t continue to pay the mortgage or the monthly fee, you are eventually forced to leave the Village.  And go where?  Certainly not anywhere else in all of Orange County, and most of California.  You can become a statistic of homelessness, and some do.  And, as I’m finding out, more and more of my aging neighbors are running out of money and fear homelessness.  It’s a heavy burden of worry.

I know.  I’m one of them.



I held onto two events rather desperately last week to counter-balance  a world going wildly wonky.

Having lived in Taiwan, I like to hear good news from that relatively small, remote place we usually don’t hear about.  The news showed gay people there happily celebrating their right to marry.  The second beacon of light came from children following the lead of eloquent Greta Thunberg of Sweden in passionately, unrelentingly, continuing to demonstrate one day a week to demand the world recognize the present and future dangers of climate change.

Fifty-five years have passed since the grown-up heroine Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” warned us of the many ways we humans are killing our planet, and ultimately, ourselves.  Why weren’t we listening?

Last week, I remembered a necklace  I once had, but could never quite put around my neck.  It was a miniature coat hanger — the symbol of what was used to abort babies in a time when abortion was not legal.  But it seems I threw away that necklace too soon as more and more states are making abortion illegal again.

And last week I heard a compelling plea from the President of Columbia University that we must become ever more vigilant about the attacks on what Americans hold dear about our government.

And then there was another mass shooting spread across the news in Virginia Beach where it’s legal to bring guns into buildings.

I was born while the Holocaust was raging on the other side of the sea, and my father was being sent there to fight a war.  I lived through the turbulent, tumultuous 1960’s.  But now, more dangerous even than guns, is a mean-spiritedness that is taking over the world.  Sometimes it maims; sometimes it kills; sometimes it wounds slowly, but deeply.

Last week, I saw it as the insidious Ebola virus so seriously, dangerously, and cleverly depicted in “The Hot Zone” as it calmly mutates into the best way to kill humans.

In last week’s comics, Dennis the Menace talks with Mr. Wilson about the news.  Mr. Wilson explains that he likes to stay informed of what’s happening every day in the world.  But he adds, “Even though most of the news these days isn’t great news.  Boy!  I sure miss the good ol’ days!”  And Dennis remarks, “You think there’ll be some good ol’ days left for ME?”

And I think, “Maybe not, Dennis.  So sorry.”







April 21, 2019

It was an emotional evening for me watching the movie, “I Am Somebody’s Child:  The Regina Louise Story” about one black girl who suffered through 30 foster homes and years in a psych ward before the age of 18.  By the power vested in authorities, she was denied the right to be adopted by a social worker who loved her.  Why?  Because the social worker was white, and Regina Louise was black.

How could I not be brought back emotionally to my early 20s as a social worker for foster children in the care of the state of Massachusetts?  I had also loved a mixed racial toddler who I was determined to adopt if I could not find a permanent family for him.  In those days when babies were preferred, 3 years old was “over the hill” for adoption, especially when there were so few black or mixed families adopting children.

I did in fact manage to place him in a foster family with a white mother and a black father who, after 4 years, would be allowed to adopt him.  Although I moved away before that time, I kept in touch with the mother until she confirmed that the 4 years had passed and he would be legally adopted.  Whew!  He would not have to suffer through the all too often string of foster homes that foster children, like Regina, had to endure.  I finally was able to say goodbye, and wished the family well.

But I never forgot that beautiful toddler who captured my heart.  So, a few years later, when it came time to become parents,  my husband and I applied to adopt what was then called a “hard to place” child.  We did not specifically request a mixed black child, but these were the majority of the children who were lingering long waiting for an adoptive home.

The quirk of timing put us into a very small window of opportunity when California began transracial adoptions — mostly white families adopting black and mixed black children.  We quickly became parents of a beautiful honey colored 16 month old toddler of our own.

Not too long afterward, the black social workers of California fought transracial black/white adoptions and brought them to an abrupt end.  Why?  The black social workers said that white people were not capable of properly giving black children a black identity.   They compared  it to “genocide.”

Many years later, in yet another quirk of circumstance, I was living in a retirement community in California where I met a black social worker who had been one of the movers of bringing transracial adoptions to an end.  To this day, she insists that it was the right decision because white people are not capable of giving their black adopted children a sense of black identity.

For better or worse, the times and law did change so that transracial adoptions once again became possible.  And, already more than 40 when they found one another again, black Regina Louise was finally legally adopted by the white woman who had never stopped loving her.


April 6, 2019

Remember the best job you ever had?  You adored playing on the internet until you could break it.  It was your job, your fun, and the best salary you ever made.

Well, tonight I chanced upon the movie “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”  So, of course I immediately thought of “Bennett Breaks the Internet.”  I watched it remembering your fascination with the internet in its early days.  You tried explaining to me how the techniques of animation were developing rapidly.  You made me at least aware and appreciative of what I didn’t understand about animation.  Disney characters came alive in more modern ways.

In those years, people didn’t take formal courses in computers.  People like you with technical brains just worked it out informally.  The computer and you were natural friends.

And, suddenly, at 46, living right there in what became known as Silicon Valley, you died.  And I was left an only child against my will.   It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t right.   But I couldn’t change it no matter how much I cried for you to come back.

That was in 1996.  For many years, I purposely went to at least one movie a year for “you” to see and appreciate the latest computer technology in movies.  I cried because you weren’t there with me when the credits rolled on and on and on with hundreds of names that easily showed  a diversity of names from other countries of origin, and job titles that only made me question what their jobs actually were.

I was 6 years old when you were born, but your generation had an obvious advantage when it came to understanding computers.  And I can only imagine that your innate sense of both intelligence and humor would have shown up if you had lived long enough to contribute to the rapid progress of the internet.

Once again, tears flowed as I both laughed and cried watching “Ralph Breaks the Internet” while learning  more than I ever knew about video games and social media and thinking of my dead-too-soon brother Ben breaking the internet.



































































































March 10, 2019

I wonder who dug the hole under the fence so I could climb under and through into my favorite place to be — here, surrounded by wilderness.

I know that this is forbidden land because there’s an Air Force airport somewhere.  But I’ve never gone close enough to see anything but birds, bushes, trees, flowers, and stuff.

But now it’s winter, and I’ve brought my new ice skates.  There’s lots of icy places to skate here.

The air was crisp.  I put my skates on and tingled with delight — and apprehension.  I really didn’t know how to skate!

Ah, a fleeting moment of joy gliding on a short patch of ice — and then suddenly one leg sunk down and down and down.

Is this what they mean by the word, “marsh?”  Yep, I pulled out a leg encrusted in mud.

Messy, but no damage done that couldn’t be washed off.  It only made me more ready to try again.

The next time, I brought my baby skis and slid and slipped and fell down what surely was a mountain to me.

Years later, showing this wonderland for the first time to my granddaughter, I paid homage to this still remarkable untouched piece of wildness on the other side of the hole under that fence where I first fell in love with nature.

January 26, 2019

I heard the seagulls calling to me and I followed them to Laguna Beach.  They led me to little children giddily running across the sand to splash their toes in the sea.  How can it be both cloudy and sunny at the same time?  It was an aesthetic combination.  I shared some pizza with a seagull.

The sea both beckoned, and said “Stay away.  This is my territory.”

As the seagulls swirled about, a group of kayakers paddled out to make a circle in the sea.  It looked more like a class than a paddle out to honor the death of a surfer.  But, just in case, on a large rock in the sea close by, the many birds stood quietly in respect.  Then, one by one in a very straight line, each kayak paddled to another spot where they stopped once again.

Was it the sun, the grass, some blossoming plants?  They all became my enemy on this otherwise perfect warm and sunshiny day.  A massive allergy attack made me miserable.  A handkerchief held against my nose that had turned into a faucet blocked the expansive view where a pseudo traffic sign on the cliff read rightly, “Infinity Clearance.”

The sun shimmered in a path on the sea top.  That always makes me think of trying to walk across the sea to … where?  The horizon?  Another country?  Outer space?

In the company of seagulls, hummingbirds quenched their thirst in the flowers that beckon to them.  I read recently that flowers know when the birds are near.  Nature is much more clever than humans can imagine.

Sneeze, sneeze, sneeze, sneeze.  Damn, damn, damn, damn — the double edged sword of so many things that can both thrill us and make us miserable.

Gotta move.

After drenching 2 handkerchiefs, I suspected that my allergy wouldn’t follow me into a building.

I went to the Laguna Art Museum.  I knew they were planning a talk that evening and I thought I could hang out there while looking at the new exhibits.

Turns out that there was only one small exhibit available for viewing because they are gearing up for their annual auction to raise money for the museum.

The small exhibit had a  corner where I could sit on the floor and listen to the video while waiting to see if my nose would stop torturing me.

I had time before the evening lecture to walk out again to the beach to watch the sunset – I have grown old, but watching a sunset never grows old.  I knew the perfect place to watch the sun dip behind Catalina Island down to the sea.

The clouds that had been there during the day had dispersed except for one area around the ball of the sun.  They lent an artistic touch of dark sweeping lines that I imagined as Chinese calligraphy.

A small crowd of people had gathered there, including a special touch at sunset — a guitar player quietly accompanying the dipping of the sun.  The addition of music enhanced the spirit of the setting sun as a lone seagull turned a gentle gold color as it flew past the sun.


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