Trying to reconnect with my teenage sons, I decided to take them on a two-week volunteer program to Antigua, Guatemala. We were placed in a home stay and our volunteer site was an after-school program for disadvantaged youth. The school had few resources, but provided a safe place for the kids to do homework and play sports.

By trade, I am a teacher, and naturally like to be front and center. But not this time. This experience was for my sons. They led the activities, solved the homework problems, played in the soccer games. I made it a point to hold back. As a result, my sons’ Spanish and confidence improved exponentially.

At dinnertime, we exchanged both humorous and sad stories with fellow housemates. We heard about giving door-to-door vaccinations, working at a 500-child orphanage, rocking babies at an HIV clinic, repairing walls at the elderly home. At times I felt like complaining. Most of the trip we were without Wi-Fi. The showers were usually freezing cold, occasionally scalding hot. The family’s pit-bull made a mess in my sons’ bedroom and barked well into the night. The overloaded bus packed us three to a seat, as I felt the sweat from the stranger beside me as well as the one standing over me.

I refrained from complaining. In all these situations my company of three teenage boys had not complained once. They were laughing, finding humor in our inconveniences. The boys regularly dropped their spare change into the bowl of a crippled man we passed daily on the street. Yes, a dose of the underdeveloped world is maturing for teenagers, but for me as well. Just observing my sons, I was reminded and humbled: I had nothing to complain about.

With a Perspective, this is Anne Monty Zhang.

Anne Monty Zhang is a high school teacher in Morgan Hill.

I love beautiful things, and my house is full of them; paintings, sculpture, musical instruments, and art books to rival any library. I’m a painter and my studio is at my home, so much of the inventory of my life’s work is also here.

I live surrounded by vineyards and trees in a pastoral and soul satisfying setting. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t kiss the ground.

Recently, I was driving on a twisty back road when suddenly, fire trucks and emergency vehicles were screeching by. I was 10 minutes from my house, and the air was rapidly filling with smoke. I turned around to race home. The fire was on the next ridge sirens were blaring and Cal Fire planes were crossing the sky. Although the wind was blowing in the other direction, I knew that if they changed my house could be gone, just like that.

In that moment all I cared about was saving my cat, Lila, and my dog, Moe. I knew I couldn’t save my work; so in an instant I let it all go. I thought of those people you see on the news after a devastating fire takes everything they own, yet they seem grateful and calm, which always mystified me. But on this day I completely got it: nothing mattered, not even my work, only my animals. Only life mattered. No things mattered. None of the irreplaceable objects I cherish couldn’t be replaced.

All I wanted was a guitar, so that if I did lose everything at least I could play the blues. So I threw a guitar and a computer in my car, and got my animals and was ready to drive off and watch my house burn. I felt so peaceful and focused and free. Although there was time, I didn’t load up suitcases with as much stuff as I could grab. I just let it all go.

Fortunately, this turned out to be just an exercise, because thanks to the incredible work of Cal Fire and the local firefighters here in the Valley, the fire was soon completely contained, not even a blip on the radar of all the devastating fires that rage through California.

But for me, this is the day I became a monk. And a blues man.

With a Perspective, I’m Adam Shaw.

Adam Shaw is an artist living in Sonoma County.

I do not want to make a big deal of the memo. The memo does not define the company whose employee commented on women’s ability to excel in tech industry. It is one individual’s perspective at a point in time as this piece is mine.

But it did bring back memory of comments heard tens of years ago while growing up about 8,000 miles away from here. The things I heard defined me in a lot of ways. I wondered why could not people see my strong brain as easily as they could see my full bosom covered carefully with a shawl. My mother, who knew a thing or two about survival, advised me to develop fit-in techniques. But the fire in my belly would not let me.

I arrived in the U.S. 20 years ago: Became the first person ever from my family to work overseas. Relatives and colleagues finally went wow. They finally saw my strong brain. Since then, my brain has grown stronger in a country that worships merit regardless of the body — black, white, brown, male, female — from prime meridian back to prime meridian, and everything in between.

I have a good sense of what America really is about or so I thought until I moved to the Bay Area. I noticed for the first time the salad bowl instead of the melting pot, the clusters of ethnicities that seem intimidating to break into, sort of like sororities and fraternities. And I noticed the workplace. I was conscious, again, of my being a woman. I was told again that men define themselves by their jobs and women don’t. I was told again – 20 years later and 8,000 miles apart — to be submissive. I wanted to fly away, just as I had done 20 years ago. Except this time I had more luggage than the two suitcases I came with and perhaps stronger roots. So I just moved on. My strong mind could fight bias but not the negativity and the toxicity.

But my fire is alive. I am more ambitious than ever. My ambition now includes raising two Americans capable of seeing strong brains, not just their mother’s but everybody – black, white, brown, male, female — from prime meridian back to prime meridian and everything in between.

With a Perspective, I’m Shubha Sinha.

Shubha Sinha lives in the East Bay and is active in youth leadership development.

The Band-Aid was invented in 1920. It did not become popular until World War II, when we sent millions of sterilized pads overseas. The first decorative Band-Aids appeared in 1951. But as to when it became a metaphor is lost among the untreated wounds of time. From my extensive research, however, I do know that it is a much-despised metaphor, especially by those frustrated by some problem. It signifies a stop-gap measure plus the pain of removing something that has gone on too long, unless ’twere done quickly.

The word “Band-Aid” often appears in the same sentence as “cure,” the one representing an unacceptable reality and the other an unattainable ideal. Cartoon politicos often sport multiple patches and a dazed, post-accident look. This is to some extent, unfair. Whether the problem is immigration, financial or personal, all solutions are Band-Aids.

In politics, Winston Churchill didn’t call democracy a good form of government, just the best we had come up with in 2,500 years. The far-seeing framers of our Constitution limited their aim to creating a more perfect union, not a perfect one.

In economics, capitalism for the moment is in charge, but for those not at the top of the food chain, it’s hardly The Cure.

We solve marriages with insoluble problems by dissolution…until the next time.  Particular diseases come and go, but the common cold remains. There are no cures for war or a broken heart, for political stupidity or greed, for bigotry and intolerance. No one in the history of the world has found a cure for the human condition.

And yet, the quest goes on, as futile and relentless as the search for the Holy Grail or the Fountain of Youth, or belief in the South Sea Bubble, the Housing Bubble and the orgone box. Everyone is looking for the perfect adhesive, the perfect solvent, the thing that will take the life out of life, the unexpected and the expected.

Let’s be thankful for band-aids, of many different sizes and colors. They may provide only temporary relief, but they let us know we still bleed. And there are always more where they came from.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator.  He lives in the East Bay.

Every week, I go to the gym with Edivan. Over the past year, we’ve developed a routine: Edivan’s wife will pull to the curb and he’ll open the door. Face the curb. Left foot down. Right foot down. Stand up straight. Right foot onto the sidewalk. Left foot onto the sidewalk.

Two years ago, Edivan was attacked and suffered severe brain damage. Doctors didn’t think he would live, but he did. Then they said he would never walk, but he did that too. Before he got hurt, Edivan played semi-pro soccer, running, jumping and doing backflips.

These days, our celebrations are rather mundane in comparison: “Last week at the park, Edivan jumped!” or “Edivan stood on one foot for two seconds today!” The humor that Edivan and I share is often bittersweet: “I’m getting fat,” he’ll joke. “Yeah, when are you gonna get your six-pack back?” I’ll ask. “One day…”

He says that sometimes. When we watch people lifting weights, he’ll point at them: “One day.” “When are you gonna do a backflip again Edivan?” “One day.”

Most weeks, I don’t really think about these things, about Edivan lying in a coma or relearning how to walk and swallow or how long it will take for him to play soccer again. Usually all I think about on Fridays is how early I have to wake up and whether or not Edivan is leaning too far to his left when he walks. But every once in awhile, I step back and think about the man in front of me and it hits me: what a miracle it is to simply walk, breathe and swallow, what a joy it is to be alive. But those moments fade. And eventually I get back on the eternal treadmill of to-do lists and emails and somehow creating more clutter trying to unclutter my life.

I hope that one day I’ll be able to find joy in every step, to celebrate things like standing on one foot for two seconds, to be present to every one of God’s miracles.

I hope one day I am as alive as Edivan is.

One day.

With a Perspective, I’m Nate Lee.

Nate Lee is currently a Chaplain at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

I turn on my computer, pretending to read the New York Times. My husband Andy sits in his favorite chair reading the print copy. Little does he know as I nod my head to his rants about the country’s latest political disasters that I’m actually staring at puppies.

We lost our beloved Golden Retriever three months ago. She was near 11 and dying from lymphoma. The treatment would have made her suffer more and would have added only a few months to her life, if that. At her age we were not going to put her through that. So, we made that horrible decision we pet owners are forced to make from time to time. We had her put to sleep. My husband cuddled her while I wailed in the waiting room. I have been with all my pets when they died but this one was my heart dog. I couldn’t bear it.

We’ve been grieving for weeks, convinced we’ll never get over it. We go to parks for dog fixes. The house is too quiet, the sofa too cold, the bed too roomy, the hall too empty, the carpet too clean. I can get in the car without sitting on a ball. All wrong.

This isn’t a good time for us to get another dog, Andy says. We are still grieving. We have serious things to deal with – medical issues, financial decisions, possible travel. We should put it off awhile he says. I know he’s right.

Reason vs instinct. I try to balance those opposing forces in my brain all the time and it usually works pretty well. But this time, as I steal another peek at a floppy-eared mutt, my reasoning goes packing. I know I shouldn’t be tempting myself, but what can I do? Devour the paper’s numerous scandals? My heart sinks.

Andy gets up from his chair and I click off the SPCA web site, but page after page of wiggly critters hide underneath. Andy walks by and I feel sneaky, like I’ve been looking at porn. Puppy porn.

“That Trump,” Andy says.

Yep, I say. “That Trump.”

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is a retired environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.

It’s summer, and San Francisco is filled with tourists. In line for coffee, I got to chatting with a visitor from Europe. I asked him what he found surprising about the United States.

The food, he told me.

Because it’s so good, I asked, or because it’s so bad?

No, he answered, because it’s so much. Visiting the Midwest, he’d been shocked by portions in restaurants. 32-ounce steaks, 20 silver dollar pancakes, two-pound burritos. One meal could feed a family of four in his country, he told me. He had started ordering from the children’s menu.

Listening, I quickly changed my order from a 31-oz Trenta to a 12-oz Grande. But looking around, I decided he had a point. With statistics showing half of Americans overweight, and 30% obese, maybe we are all stuffing ourselves silly. But if we’re addicts to huge portions, restaurants are the enablers. A study analyzed 123 menu items from restaurants and found some contained more calories than the total daily amount for an adult.

America is the land of bigger is better. We love huge helpings. And restaurants are happy to sell it. The names alone are gluttonous: supersize, Triple Triple Triple Burgers, mega-size ice cream sundaes, Big Gulp.

A diner near Sacramento features a dish of a, yes, five- pound hot dog, If you’re still hungry, it comes with a side of one pound of fries. Not to mention those all-you-can-eat buffets. Ours must be one of the few nations with actual eating contests, where competitors win by gorging the most pies or hot dogs.

I’m not the most careful eater, and I’ve been digesting that traveler’s observations. Now I’m making an effort to eat not only better, but to eat less. Cooking smaller portions, bringing home half of restaurant meals, not eating because I’m bored or because it looks good, though I’m not hungry.

So a supersize thank you to that unknown tourist who pointed it out. He’s probably back in his country by now, where he can he can dine out and his meal won’t be served on a plate the size of a pizza pan.

Hmmm – pizza – now that sounds good.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

While you were adjusting to the changing climate or catching up on the latest White House scandal, the state Assembly, once again, considered scrapping daylight time. After all, Arizona and Hawaii don’t have it. Springing forward in March and falling back in November is disruptive: traffic accidents and heart attacks go up, productivity dips.

But … it turns out getting rid of an hour of light at the end of the day is wildly unpopular with parks and rec departments, Little League, surfers, runners and other casual exercisers, and the Facebook group “Save the Light.” Contrary to folklore, farmers don’t care one way or another.

So the latest proposal is permanent daylight time for California.
Seriously. That’s about as likely to happen as Calexit, the on-again, off-again idea for California to secede from the U.S. Did state Assembly members consider the complications before voting in favor of Assembly Bill 807 and sending it on to the state Senate?

Let’s stop for a moment. Under permanent daylight time, the sun wouldn’t rise till 8:25 AM in January when kids go back to school in the dark after winter break. Also, imagine being in a different time zone than Oregon and Washington – but only from the first Sunday in November to the second Sunday in March. Heck, most people now don’t realize it’s PDT, not PST, until November 5th.

California operates in a global economy. Do we really want to make it harder for the rest of the world to do business with us in order to have everlasting daylight saving time?

For this goofy idea to become reality, the bill needs approval by the state Senate. Then it would go on the ballot because Californians can always use another issue to vote on. If that passed, Congress would need to approve the change. And we all know how much the U.S. Congress loves California. I don’t know whether it’s time to shake my head or laugh.

I think I’ll laugh.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

Debbie Duncan writes and reviews children’s books from her home on the Peninsula.

When I opened the jury duty summons, I cringed. I recalled times I’d been summoned to just wait around for days, or answer personal questions in front of strangers.

I arrived on July 3, as work colleagues enjoyed a day off. In the courtroom, a young man sat stoically next to his young public defender. And I was struck by the weight of this task to decide someone’s freedom. But I knew that I could weigh facts and come to a reasoned conclusion. Soon, I joined 11 other men and women in the jury box. We were young and old, and many races. Some were retired; several had high-powered jobs.

After days of testimony, we gathered in the jury room. The case was complicated, and we carefully reviewed the judge’s instructions. It was stressful but there was tremendous goodwill. One juror, an ER doctor, baked cookies. We were almost unanimous in finding the defendant not guilty on four charges: Almost, because one person vehemently disagreed. I couldn’t understand why he came to a different conclusion. We made reasoned appeals. It was frustrating but the next day, we voted again. On two charges, we voted unanimously not guilty. Our careful conversations had shifted this person’s views. We wished the defendant well, then scattered.

I was proud that people plucked from busy lives and thrown together to determine the fate of a stranger could be so thoughtful. I know people groan when they get their summons, and try to shirk what feels like a huge imposition. For me, as the country was celebrating its birth, it was the most patriotic act that I could undertake.

With a Perspective, I’m Stephanie Rapp.

Stephanie Rapp works in philanthropy in San Francisco.

I’m eight years old, playing at a party when a woman walks in, her children hiding behind her legs. I know what she’s going to ask.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

I look up at her, and everything is still, the facade intact. Then I begin. The room was quiet, but now it’s echoing with the letter “K” as I push at my name, only the first letter coming out. In place of more letters come convulsions, my lips shaking, my face red and shuddering from side to side, almost as if I’m choking.

“Why won’t you tell me your name?” She thinks I am emphatically shaking my head at her. So I run upstairs.

I’m 12 years old, sitting in the office of my speech therapist. “You’re pushing again,” she says, my ears hearing her but not listening, my eyes roaming the room. “Ease into your words…you know you stutter even more when you try and push through them.”

But I wanted to pretend I wasn’t in this room, with this batty, spectacled lady who looked like Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter, instead of PE, where she would “pick me up” every day, my eyes glued to the floor as we left. I wanted to pretend I didn’t stutter.

A classmate once imitated me perfectly, blocking on the first syllable of a word before pushing the rest through. “Bas-ketball”; but my friends were there, told him, “That’s not what he said,” and I imagined that it hadn’t been what I had sounded like after all.

Then I met someone else who stuttered. This hulking basketball coach would attack his stutter, ramming at the block on his words. But he had so much confidence we didn’t think anything of it; that was just how coach talked.

So I stutter. Stutter like Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter-only I’m no longer nervous about it.

Now I’m 19, at another dinner party, talking to a family friend. Another woman joins us. “What’s your name again?” she asks me.

I feel my heartbeat quicken, imagine my violent stutter interrupting the soft hum of people’s small talk. Then, I smile.

“It’s Kiki,” I tell her.

With a Perspective, I am Kiki Fann.

Kiki Fann is a writer and guitarist in the Bay Area.

If you’re like most people, before this year’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare you probably didn’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. Just to set the record straight, Medicare is the federal health insurance for the elderly, and Medicaid is the governmental health insurance program for the poor. Care for the elderly. Aid to the poor.

Things have changed a lot in the last few months. Some are now suggesting Medicaid may the new third rail in politics, a testament to its role in stalling and ultimately derailing Republican repeal efforts.

Medicaid is arguably our healthcare system’s best kept secret. Since its inception in 1965, it’s grown to outstrip Medicare in terms of the number of people it touches. The numbers are astounding. Medicaid currently covers one out of every five Americans and one in three Californians. It also covers nearly 50% of all births and 40% of all children in the U.S., not to mention 65% of all nursing home residents.

It’s easy to understand why people don’t realize the outsized societal role Medicaid plays when you realize that it’s actually 50 different programs. Known as Medi-Cal here in California, it’s HealthWave in Kansas, Green Mountain Care in Vermont, and EqualityCare in Wyoming. It’s not just differences in branding, though. Every state’s Medicaid program is unique in terms of who’s eligible and what services are covered

The result is a patchwork program with big gaps as you move from state to state. Obamacare began to fill in these gaps by expanding Medicaid to nearly all low-income adults. It was the single biggest step towards universal coverage in the last 50 years, but plateaued after 19 states decided against expanding their programs.

The House and Senate proposals initially went far beyond rolling back Medicaid expansion. Instead, they would have fundamentally restructured and undermined its function as a safety net program. It was resistance from key Republican governors and senators that served as a turning point for the repeal effort, ultimately leading to its demise.

Turns out that maybe as a country we do care after all.

With a Perspective, I’m Dr. Alice Chen.

Dr. Alice Chen is chief medical officer for the San Francisco Health Network.

I have become a prisoner of the furniture. What I really want to know is where did it all come from? It seems like yesterday I moved halfway across country with everything I owned in half a Volkswagen Bug. Today I have a house full of chairs, tables, sofas, beds, and lamps, not to mention dishes, glasses, pots, pans, bureaus and closets full of clothes, and hundreds of books and records. Today’s possessions would hardly fit in an entire giant moving semi, much less half a VW.

Do I get any joy from all this stuff? Well, yes I do, from some of it. My wonderful comfy bed, the Le Creuset pots, the chair my friend Rolando and I upholstered ourselves – they bring me pleasure. But oh! The freedom of a light load!. . . being able to pull up stakes in a heartbeat, to go somewhere more exciting, or more beautiful, or less complicated. Over the years that freedom progressively disappeared until the last time I made a significant move, from San Mateo to Oakland, I had to hire a moving company. Too much stuff.

Now I’ve been in this house 25 years. It is what you would call “fully furnished.” Even the garage-slash-workshop is fully furnished with every manner of hand tool and power tool. The backyard storage shed is fully furnished with wheelbarrow and gardening and farming tools. The basement is fully furnished with extra refrigerator, chest freezer, stocked shelves, washer, and dryer. When I venture into gridlock traffic here, I weigh the option to maybe live more in the country and have a dog, I get high anxiety just thinking about managing the winnowing out, packing up, and moving of all this damn stuff.

I still don’t know where it all came from, but it seems intent on keeping me from going anywhere.

With a Perspective, I’m Dana Hill.

Dana Hill is retired from a career in the airlines industry and currently tends bar at a Berkeley resort. She lives in Oakland.

Teenagers are allergic to housekeeping. Except they aren’t.

For a decade I’ve watched my teenage students enthusiastically clean our school.


Day One we establish: this is your space. Teachers and students stand on equal footing making rules.

We got most rules down smoothly; flush the toilet, trash inside the can, wipe your feet. Ah, but not about the kitchen. The rule “clean your own mess” was interpreted variously. What if someone wanted to use the burger pan after you? Or the ketchup you got out?

“Wash” — did it mean scrape and wash or wash but allow food bits to clog the drain, or wash but never dry? A precarious tower formed by the sink.

The rules needed amending. More discussions. But a revelation: the teenagers wanted to wrestle with the problem. They led in figuring out solutions. They had firm ideas and defined styles. They attacked the squalor like the most obsessive 1950s homemaker. Fascinating.

They patiently examined the issues again and again, chipping food out of the microwave to see whose lunch had exploded, getting down on their knees to figure out whose sandwich had turned green in the refrigerator. They cared deeply about their kitchen. Theirs.

Kids developed cleaning specialties. Pat “owned” loading the dishwasher, Elias mopping the floor. Kids went at the stove and wore out several Brillo pads. They loved the bedlam created by vacuuming and gleefully exterminated other people’s germs in the bathroom.

Was this procrastinating math class? Insanity?
They felt important. So rarely do we let our overgrown babies contribute in ways that are essential. A clean house wins appreciation from everyone. They were making a difference. Teenagers are eager to learn adult proficiency, as long as it is on their own terms. Let them run the show and they do an excellent job.

Children crave meaningful work. They can see right through “make work” foolishness. We rob our teenagers of fulfillment by denying them work that carries value.

The secret of a teenage housekeeper: he just wants to own it himself.

With a Perspective, I’m Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator and founder of REAL School Marin.

There are three things found only in the Americas that I really enjoy – cactuses, monkeys with prehensile tails and hummingbirds. In the Old World, that is, Africa, Europe and Asia, there are ecological equivalents of hummingbirds called sunbirds. They, too, are small with iridescent colors and are flower pollinators. But they can’t hold a biological candle to our hummers.

The Cuban hummingbird is the world’s smallest bird, the size of a bumblebee. Hummers are the only birds that can fly backwards and even upside down. They beat their wings at an astonishing 150 times per second. Some in temperate climes hibernate nightly in a state of torpor to save energy. They have the fastest heartbeat of any animal, 1,000 per minute. You get the idea. Amazing birds.

Two species of hummingbirds are easily seen in the Bay Area. Anna’s hummingbird is now a year-long resident, perhaps due to planted ornamental flowers. They weigh no more than a nickel and appear mostly green. The males display for the females by ascending to 130 feet and then plummeting to the ground with a burst of noise produced through their tail feathers. They orient this dive so that their iridescent throat feathers flash in the sun, hopefully impressing that female.

Allen’s hummingbirds migrate here from southern Mexico where they have wintered. They arrive early in January and males perform a pendulum breeding display, cruising back and forth in a wide arc in front of the female. They are slightly smaller than the Anna’s and are coppery orange with a little green on the back.

Less common is the Rufous Hummingbird. These smaller hummers migrate from Central America all the way up into Alaska and, boy, are they feisty. Often fighting off birds twice their size for access to nectar. We only see these brilliant birds in the springtime. As their name indicates they are coppery brown.

Whatever their species, hummingbirds are special birds that grace our gardens, perform astonishing feats and make us stop whatever we’re doing just to marvel at their beauty and their ability.

I’m Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

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