Newspaper Writing


Add fires to U.S. disasters! What a year 2017 has been for disasters in the US–hurricanes, floods and now fires. Climate change has not been holding back. In California we were grateful for our excessive rain this past winter, but we’re paying a price for more greenery with extreme fires in both Northern and Southern California. Every September and October, we have months of hot dry winds called Santa Ana’s that encourage fires.

Because I now live in residential area a few miles from our mountains, I am essentially safe from wildfires. Not from earthquakes, but that’s another subject. I’ve experienced many massive wildfires during over 50 years in SoCal. I remember several  fire disasters while living in the Conejo Valley area, northwest Los Angeles County.  The Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains are considered prime fire territory. I learned a great deal about fires from direct experience and from being the Editor of the local Acorn newspaper in Agoura Hills.

A fire is an exciting topic when you write the news. Since I knew people all around the area, I could get a variety of personal stories when the October 1982 fire roared into town. Costs were estimated at $5 million then—probably a pittance compared to current fires. This fire started close to Bell Canyon, an exclusive area of homes to the east of Agoura, on a Saturday and burned 54,000 acres and 65 homes before it ended in Malibu on a Sunday. It followed a typical pattern: racing from one set of mountains and a valley before leaping the 101 Freeway, then burning through the Santa Monica Mountains before reaching the beach. Fires in the last few years in Southern California have been even more extensive and damaging.

My family home was spared; we lived in Hillrise, a housing development north of the freeway surrounded mostly by wild grass and some oak trees. Grass burns rapidly if the fire is close enough but it’s easier to control; the fire doesn’t stick around to really take hold, unlike the highly combustible chaparral in the mountainous areas (referred to as a bush fire). I climbed the hill behind my house to watch in horror and fascination as the smoke, propelled by strong winds, climbed into the skies and the fire got closer. How people fared depended on where they lived and if they’d cleared the brush around their property.

The photo below is the smoky view from my backyard hill.

 In Old Agoura, a nearby neighborhood north of the 101 Freeway full of small ranches and various animals, friend Rita was terrified in her home, still under construction. “We lost wood, paint, and the hen coop,” she said. “But the chickens lived. I don’t think they will ever lay again!”

Toni, who lived south of the freeway in the vegetation-rich mountains, struggled to keep control of her horses while she hosed down the hill behind her home. Just as the fire seemed to get out of control, a fire engine arrived. The noise spooked a horse, which lost its footing and rolled on top of Toni’s sister. Paramedics took the slightly injured sister to a nearby hospital, and she was fine.

“The wind strength was unreal and the smoke so dense you couldn’t see the flames,” said Fran Pavley, who also lived south of the freeway.  Pavley, who has been politically active for years and served many years in the California legislature, still lives in the area.

When fires consume the vegetation in the canyons prevalent throughout Southern California, there can be hell to pay for residents of these bucolic areas, and to those who fight the fires. A fire chief told me that one of the fires that had burned through steep and scenic Malibu Canyon was left to burn itself out. The energy generated was more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in WWII.

Nature always regenerates. After a fire, spring brings flowers that hadn’t been seen since the last fire, perhaps many years before.


Fire in Malibu in 2007






I keep track of my important keepsakes from my life as a military brat. As a fledgling reporter, from October 1956 to May 1958, I cherished the school newspaper and held onto 17 Barracan newspapers from Wheelus Air Force Base High School just outside Tripoli, Libya. I’m surprised how well they’ve held up considering I’ve moved about 20 plus times since my family left Wheelus for the US in 1958. The photos are a bit blurry, but we didn’t have top quality printing. Nevertheless, the copy is still easily readable. I’ll share more of them as time goes on, but I had to present my first big story on the front page–Ebb Tide is Theme of Junior-Senior Prom–even though I didn’t get a byline. I made sure I didn’t forget this milestone since I wrote in ink: “I wrote this” on my copy!

Barracan May 1958

Barracan May 1958

From the inside of the March 26th newspaper, I found that “Platter Chatter” written by Errol Cochrane announced that the number one song request on Armed Forces Radio was Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star,” and the number two was Elvis Presley’s “Don’t.” Chuck Berry had number six with “Sweet Little Sixteen.” John Carlson wrote the column “Teen Town Tips” and wrote that there would be a Hay Ride at the Teenage Club. Three “six by’s” (trucks) will be used and there was room for 60 people. The cost was quite reasonable — twenty-five cents each! I remember attending this event with Tom Henderson, who was also my date for the Junior-Senior prom. I even remember Tom joking about Johnny Mathis’ latest song, “No Love but Your Love.” Tom thought Mathis’ words sounded like “Nola Fajola.” It’s a funny and poignant memory since Tom passed on a few years ago. The Quidnunc column was high school gossip and written by Sharon Rayl. She reported on those who went to the base theater to see Elvis Presley in “Jailhouse Rock” — like Chuck Montgomery and Betty Hubbard, Bill Butcher and Carolyn Kunz, Steve Gaynor, Karen Gamel, Kathie de Russy and Arnell Gross. There was a new two-some around campus–Al (Atomic Age) Kulas and Mary Pat Riordan. Al Kulas left this world just this year. I wonder where Mary Pat is?

These memories from long ago have been fun to relate, especially since there are so many former Wheelus students who have kept in touch over the years. I have been meaning to scan more copies but time slips away and I’ve had a surgery that delayed me for a while. I had wanted to copy them for our Wheelus reunion in June but the good intention was there without the results. I have new copies for my blog on my To-Do list for later.


Paraphrasing Shakespeare, whose 400th birthday was the other day, Hamlet said to Horatio: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I have always been interested in the supernatural; I’ve had some experiences and know many friends who have had them as well. It’s a great topic for articles and stories. I’ve written a short book on Amazon about a true fascinating positive encounter—Angels in Uniform—and I interviewed a man who was living in a haunted house. The interview, upon which I based this blog, was published in the Daily News Southern California newspaper when I had a column.

Glen Peterson had bought a dilapidated “castle” in the Santa Monica Mountains and began restoring it years ago. Resembling a German castle on a hill with its bell tower, gables, decorative wood beams, courtyard and guest house, the home was built in 1939 by Theodore Spurkuhl, a Paramount Studios director of photography known for his pioneering use of spotlights. Spurkuhl worked with many of the film greats: Ronald Coleman, James Cagney and Fred MacMurray, for instance, and was noted for his work on “Beau Geste” starring Gary Cooper.

SparkuhlHomeSparkuhl Home

Spurkuhl put a great deal of energy into building the home. Since it was wartime, he even added a secret room in case the Japanese invaded or the Germans won the war. His descendants, who visited the site while Glen was restoring it, thought the cinematographer might have put too much intensity into the building project since he died in 1940.

Before Glen bought it, the home was owned by actor Nick Nolte, who purchased it in 1975 during the filming of the TV miniseries, “Rich Man, Poor Man.” The other primary actor in the series, Peter Strauss, had also bought property nearby. Coincidentally, Strauss’ property was later sold by Glen, who had been a real estate agent, to the National Park Service. This 1970s miniseries was featured on a PBS documentary “Pioneers of Television” not long ago.

The 70s were wild and crazy for Nolte. I remember seeing his old yellow Cadillac broken down by the side of a mountain road one day. Nolte and his friends partied quite a bit and the house suffered a good deal of damage. It was finally abandoned to birds of all types, squirrels and various other animals. It was a mess of animal droppings and the like when Glen began his restoration.

One evening after the house was beautifully finished, Glen was home alone enjoying a quiet evening. While listening to a new Terence Trent Darby recording and near the end of the song, Glen heard a loud knocking on the back door. He checked both inside and out and found no one. Back inside he restarted the song. The knocking began again at the exact same place.

This time he checked the windows, “I had repaired the windows just that morning,” Glen recalled, specifically to keep them from opening due to strong winds. They were all still closed, and he began the recording once more.

Glen played the song eight times, and he told me, “the pounding kept happening at the same time each time.” Every time it happened, he checked for a reason for the knocking, but found none. On the ninth try, the record played through to the end, and there were no further knocking sounds.

The mysterious last two lines of the song that finally played were: “No grave can hold my body down; this land is still my home.”


StripGuyThis past week, the second Magic Mike film featuring male strippers debuted in movie theaters. I wouldn’t doubt that there will be plenty of women buying tickets to see the very fit, six-pack bodies of Channing Tatum, Michael Strahan (of football fame and co-host of the Kelly and Michael morning show on ABC-TV) and others. There’s no real meaningful story behind the film; it’s strictly for fun and viewing pleasure. It reminds me of the 1980s: male strippers began to be all the rage when  Chippendales was established in 1979 as the first all-male stripping troupe in a Los Angeles nightclub.  The very attractive men would strip down to a G-string and allow women to watch. Not long after, women would tip the strippers by walking up to the stage and tucking currency in the guy’s skimpy underwear. This type of entertainment is commonplace now but it was slightly scandalous years ago. Chippendales and similar shows  are now worldwide besides in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

I attended a similar show at that time, and I don’t remember if it was part of the original Chippendale’s or a copy of the show. I had a purpose, although a fun one. I was the editor of the local Acorn newspaper in the Conejo Valley that was distributed in Agoura, Westlake Village, Oak Park and Thousand Oaks. Since I wasn’t taking this assignment I had given myself “seriously,” I decided to write it from the point of view of an innocent “country bumpkin” and be shocked and astounded by all the near-naked bodies. I enjoyed coming up with a few Southern sayings from my dim memory of them.

Even though we female attendees of this event were living in Los Angeles, the home of the entertainment industry, there were many young women there who weren’t familiar with this slightly shocking revelation of the fit and toned male body. I think I’ve lost the original copy of the silly old story, but I do have a photo to share. I took this photo of one of the enthusiastic strippers, who probably had a mix of Native American and Latin heritage, and he loved posing for me.

StripGuy copy

StripGuy copy

StripGuy 1

It was somewhat unique at the time to bring such a show to the “boondocks” of the Conejo Valley. We were the next valley over from the more famous San Fernando Valley, which in more recent years has been home to porno films. Remember Mark Walberg’s fairly salacious “Boogie Nights” with Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore?  It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley.

Whizin’s Center, where my Acorn office was located, was a unique Western style shopping center. In one of the buildings there was a spacious room that was once an old restaurant and was large enough to accommodate a stage and tables for the ladies to imbibe food and drinks while they watched the naughty entertainment. That included me–after all I had to document the experience. Many have seen the original “Magic Mike” or even the older British film, “The Full Monty” and can imagine what went on. Our entertainers that night, however, failed to completely disrobe. They wore a G-string to hide their equipment, so we didn’t get to see the “full monty,” just everything but.

This photo, one of the many I took during my journalism career, has always been a favorite. He shows just the right attitude for what he’s doing. Fortunately, he had on enough clothes for his photo to be displayed in a family newspaper.






My writing career has been an adventurous one: lots of fun, great experiences and for years very little money. As I tell my editing clients—you must create through love, not desire for quick fame and fortune. Like most creative endeavors, writing is rewarding for the heart and soul but it takes time for compensation to reach your wallet, much less the bank. Sometimes it never does.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

Reporting stories began with the Barracan, the Wheelus Air Force Base High School newspaper in Tripoli, Libya. I was 14, it was the 1950s and our high school had less than 100 students. The school was surrounded by palm trees and the Mediterranean Sea was a short walk away.  Wheelus High was filled with typical American teenagers: jeans, loafers, saddle shoes, and crinolines to poof out our circle skirts were typical attire. We had proms, one radio station that played rock ‘n roll (an audio version of “American Bandstand”—unless you were new to Wheelus, you probably didn’t even know that TV program existed), and a teenage club that had its own student band, Stardust.

Although I wrote a few stories, I only recall one of them—the Junior-Senior prom with Ebb Tide as the theme—held at the Tripoli Beach Club. Ginny Stewart had a coketail party first at her family’s nearby villa. The entertainment as I remember it: a fully dressed Libyan woman in a very modest wrap-around indoor garment  doing a belly dance to a rhythmic drum. She pushed some of the shawl-like elements of her dress down to accentuate her hips. The woman was most likely a servant of the Stewarts and could be less modest within the house. Outside she would have worn barracan, an all-encompassing white wool garment that covered her head to toe, exposing only one eye and her feet.

In college—William & Mary in Virginia—I wrote for the Flat Hat college newspaper. Lots of stories I no longer remember, but I was pleasantly surprised at one class reunion when a displayed scrapbook had three of my stories!

When my kids were in grammar school and didn’t need my full attention, I wrote my first column: Hillrise Highlights, which covered local events and soon turned into a political campaign to get a nearby highway bridge widened in Agoura, California. As a concerned citizen, I participated in gathering signatures to get the County of Los Angeles or the State interested in funding the construction.

I graduated to covering news for the Acorn, a weekly newspaper for a rapidly growing suburb of LA, in the Conejo Valley, on the border of Ventura County. By the early 1980s I was the editor, responsible for a little bit of everything—writing and editing, headlines, photos, attendance at chamber of commerce meetings and mixers. City incorporation attempts, wildfires, water quality, and commercial/residential growth were some of the pressing issues in those days. There were also the unusual stories: my trip in a hot air balloon in a fur coat and attending a nightclub show of sexy male strippers, an early Chippendales-type show.

In the 1990s I got to mingle with a few celebrities on a couple of magazines I helped co-create, write and edit. One of them featured Bob Hope for our initial cover. Alas, Hope was recovering from prostate surgery and the closest I got to him for an interview was visiting his manager’s office in Burbank, a testament to Hope’s many movies with its giant blowups of movie stills going back to the 1930s.

Beverly Hills Country Club, a posh tennis club, decided they needed a magazine featuring their members. My boss was an enterprising Iranian who spoke English but was not fluent in writing English. For our first cover, I interviewed Barbara Eden in her home along Mulholland Drive. Delightful and personable, she wore a cropped top and low riding pants, showing off her still fabulous figure and revealing the belly button blocked out on “I Dream of Jeannie,” her famous TV series. Yes, the cover was “photo-shopped.”

Appropriately for a sports club magazine, I did stories on members, Rafer Johnson, the Olympics decathlon champion from the 1960s, and 1940s tennis champion Jack Kramer, who had remained active in the sports world promoting tennis and then golf. My first tennis racket was a Jack Kramer and I told him so. Both of these athletes were gentlemen and easy to chat with.

The 1990s included a few years of writing a weekly column, People and Places, and local play reviews for the Daily News, a major newspaper that still exists. I must have seen and reviewed about 200 plays, performed by a range of talent of all ages. I was a positive reviewer; it was essentially community theater and equity waiver. I recall a production of “Mr. Roberts,” starring Harry Belafonte’s son-in-law. Belafonte was there and I was thrilled to shake his hand as he told me he loved community theater. No, I did not hum any calypso songs!

One of my weekly columns focused on Jake Lloyd, a seven-year-old starring in his first movie, “Jingle All the Way” with Arnold Swarzenegger (before he became the Governator). Jake was charming; on the sound stage of 20th Century Fox, he led me up to a sort of catwalk on the upper levels of the living room set, where I could have an overview and see where the cameras and lights were positioned. They were filming the last scene of the movie that day. As filming is erratic, the last scene of filming would be the actual first scene of the movie. Jake went on to play Anakin Skywalker in a Star Wars movie, “The Phantom Menace.”


Life is enhanced when there are risks involved. A little fear is good for the soul—like going up in the sky ensconced in a very small basket attached to a huge hot air balloon. I didn’t go around the world in 80 days, just into the Southern California sky early in the morning. The experience was thrilling and great fun, and I didn’t have to pay for it.

Penny, an adventurous single friend who owned a beauty salon, had had a momentous birthday the previous summer. I’ll guess she turned 40. I attended her party, and one of her most exciting gifts was a balloon ride for two. Since she didn’t have a significant other in her life at that point, and she was promotion oriented, she decided I would be the ideal companion for this unique venture. I would write about it in the Acorn, the local paper I edited.

Champagne before takeoff

Champagne before takeoff

Up in the Air We Go!

Up in the Air We Go!

We planned to make it a special event by drinking a champagne toast before we took off, even though it was only 7 a.m. To further enhance the experience, we found a local businessman who sold fur coats; he agreed to lend two of them in exchange for some free publicity. Fur was the ideal covering for two babes on an adventure, after all!

Witnesses and a photographer were needed, so we enlisted the aid of our kids, dragging them out of bed on a Saturday morning, long before they were ready. Sunrize Balloons used an empty field for their launching site in Moorpark, which was an area of rolling hills and low mountains. Aware of weather patterns, the experienced balloonists scheduled flights early since mornings usually had mild winds.

We arrived at our outdoor rendezvous ready for anything, and it didn’t disappoint. We were going up with a male pilot, and two other passengers, captains in the local fire department, who were hilarious, we soon discovered. Except for the pilot, we were all novices.

There were five of us in the balloon basket as it gently lifted up. Right away, the jokes began between us. The subjects of going up, hot air, and balloons offer plenty of material, naughty and silly. Humor also helps to ease any anxiety as you realize you’re in a small basket and could fall out! No parachutes available.

It was overcast as we lifted up, but we soon saw the sun in a very blue sky dotted with clouds. The view below us encompassed the burgeoning cities of Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Westlake Village surrounded by the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills. Except for the occasional joke and the sounds of gas blowing hot air into the balloon as we rose higher, all was serene and mystical. I felt fragile and powerful at the same time.

When we descended, the pilot decided to show us a few balloon tricks. I believe he called it “bunny hopping” as he guided the basket up and down again in a brushy area surrounded by hills. The fun was short-lived; a prickly bush caught the basket. Rather than risk his passengers, even though we were only about ten feet off the ground, the cautious pilot radioed for help. His team drove a pickup truck over the small hill, anchored the basket and helped us disembark—ladies first, of course! We’d had a fantastic ride and being “rescued” at the end made it even more memorable.





I’ve enjoyed writing for newspapers since I was 14 and doing stories for The Barracan at Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Libya in the 1950s. I reported for the Flat Hat at the College of William and Mary and a few years after I got married and moved to California, I went to work at a new weekly newspaper. I’ve loved all my forays into the world of journalism.

In 1978, when I was first hired as a reporter, the Acorn was a little newspaper (8 to 16 pages) and might have had a circulation of about 10,000. It had once been just a “shopper” with ads for local businesses in a hilly valley between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills, northwest of Los Angeles. Besides the venerable and almost ancient oaks, the Reyes Adobe, built in 1796, was the most historic point of interest in an area dotted with ranches, which was developing into a suburbia filled with new housing.

My husband, a civil engineer for Los Angeles County, worked in nearby Malibu, a quirky but famous beach location just a short drive through the mountains. We bought a home in this sylvan area in 1970 because houses in Agoura were new and reasonably priced, and it was an ideal area for raising our two children.

When I answered the ad for Acorn reporter, I was offered $25 a week for a few stories. Although it was only a pittance, I wasn’t desperate and the job required very little time, ideal since my kids were both under ten. My first big assignment was to put together a special issue of stories detailing the new development plans for Agoura and Westlake Village, which were rapidly expanding with shopping centers, restaurants, and quite a few small businesses.

After hours of work calling builders, picking up photos and maps, and typing the stories, I was feeling cheated by my low pay. Gathering my courage, I cornered Bill, our gregarious owner, and demanded more. He agreed and paid me the enormous amount of $40! I didn’t complain; it was too much fun working there.

Bill was just the man to run a paper: he’d been in the armed forces and then gone into sales. He kept a cheap little cabinet in his private office filled with booze, obviously remembering the days when bosses drank at the office and when they went out to lunch. (Anybody seen “Mad Men” on TV?).  For the most part, I’ve found that newspaper people, no matter how influential their paper, are generally congenial and have outrageous senses of humor.

The Acorn was located upstairs in a fairly new at that time, all-wood, rustic-style building, part of Whizin’s shopping center, named for Art Whizin, its founder, who had an office near us.  Designed like an open plaza with a roof, the downstairs featured Koi carp fishing ponds, a few shops and a couple of restaurants. From the center of the high-peaked ceiling of the second floor hung a huge mobile with a wooden Indian and other Western artifacts, created by Whizin’s son, Bruce.

Fairly current view of Whizin’s Center. Canyon Club features bands of all types.


The office was small, only three rooms, and messy, like a newspaper office is supposed to be. Way before computers, we had old-fashioned equipment I wasn’t familiar with. One of our printing machines—perhaps the headlines?—produced lots of tiny perforations and these paper circles got embedded in the shag carpeting. Some years later my husband went into his own business and rented this same office. Some of those bits of paper were still in the carpet!

The Acorn is still operating, all these years later, but from a different location. It presents local news from Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Westlake Village and Calabasas.





I find that newspaper people are generally lively and fun to be around. Their senses of humor can be outrageous and sarcastic since they’ve read or seen so much in life. I have my favorites who write for the LA Times. Steve Lopez is a regular columnist and is famous for his  non-fiction book, The Soloist, about a schizophrenic homeless musician. A few years ago it was made into a movie starring Jamie Foxx. Lopez touches on many subjects, much like my approach on this blog. I’ve even Emailed Lopez with compliments and he replied. Today’s column was a funny one about missing some of LA’s crazy news while he was on vacation back East, particularly Justin Bieber’s latest mischief, supposedly throwing eggs at his wealthy next door neighbor’s home in a gated Calabasas, CA community. Apparently, 11 sheriff’s cars responded to the complaint!  I know the area well since I’ve often eaten at a nearby restaurant, and that area was part of the San Fernando Valley territory covered by the weekly newspaper I wrote for years ago.

Reading Lopez’s column reminded me of some of the people I worked with in the newspaper/magazine biz, especially a couple of fellows who were in the production side of the business. Jan was a whiz in semi-professional bridge and always seemed to be laughing, telling jokes or sharing the latest gossip. He knew lots about the newspaper technology of the 1990s but didn’t take any of the so-called “news” seriously.  Roger was quieter, had a French last name and wore slip-on shoes like the Crocs of today.  These two guys, who made sure the stories were properly typed, cut and pasted onto the pages, had a wicked sense of humor. They knew I would laugh at almost anything, and it quickly became a game to see if I’d catch certain deliberate mistakes. I remember there was one item that involved pickles and the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, but you’ll have to use your imagination for that one.

The most hilarious incident (not X-rated) that I remember during my years at The Acorn was a brief announcement in the Community Events section. I saw the small headline about an art exhibit featuring a painter who had created several wonderful oils, one in particular titled: “Jesus, Mary and Bill.” A man named Roger something was hosting the event, and my mind made no connections between this exhibit and our production fellow. Since Southern California is filled with zany artists, I figured the item was  legitimate. It wasn’t until the paper was printed that I discovered my mistake. The following week when I was back checking for errors and writing headlines, Jan pointed it out. I had forgotten Roger’s surname, which would have given me the clue. We all had a good laugh, and I learned a lesson about not believing everything I read.

Some stories I wrote were pure entertainment, like the one about the latest craze, a male version of striptease performed for women only. In Los Angeles when the club Chippendale’s was new and unique, it featured sexy young men dancing and stripping. Someone enterprising decided to bring a similar show to the boondocks, which Agoura was sometimes labeled.

Whizin’s Center had a large room that was once an old restaurant. It could accommodate a stage and tables for the ladies to imbibe food and drinks while they watched the salacious entertainment. That included me–after all I had to document the experience. Many have seen the British film or the stage play, “The Full Monty” and can imagine what went on. Our entertainers that night, however, failed to completely disrobe. They wore a G-string to hide their equipment, so we didn’t get to see the “full monty,” just everything but.

This photo of one of the dancing strippers shows just the right attitude. Fortunately, he had on enough clothes for his photo  to be displayed in a family newspaper.





Fire season in California can start at any time, season or not. There was a fairly large one not long ago in Riverside and another one even more recently. Men aren’t the only ones who fight the blazes. I discovered some out-of-the-ordinary firefighters when I wrote a story about  Malibu Conservation Camp 13 some years ago. A film director friend thought the story was so interesting that it would make an exciting movie.


Nestled within the Santa Monica Mountains off a lightly trafficked road in Encinal Canyon is the camp, which housed at that time about 100 women, who were convicted felons serving time for embezzlement, drug use and drug sales. To serve their time there, they are classified as trustworthy; as a minimum security facility, the camp is run on the honor system. It’s not meant to be a vacation; these gals, in their 20s, have to stay in top physical shape to fight the fires they are called out on. Who needs a gym when you have to climb up hilly terrain daily, from 1.2 miles to 2.6 miles, and do it in 25 to 58 minutes? Crews of 14 women inmates stay “on call” 24 hours a day, and they have to respond within five minutes after a fire call is received. This is serious business.

At the time I interviewed the camp commander, and he pointed out the difference between male and female prisoners: “We don’t have the gang affiliation problems. Women get along better; they’re inclined to do a good job with the least amount of problems.” It’s intriguing for me to look back at this story at a time when women are becoming more powerful in the workplace and actually running huge companies. When these female firefighters have served their time, their excellent training qualified them to eventually work with the California Department of Forestry.

For a woman who has to serve time, getting sent to a camp in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains is a great alternative. It seemed a bit like a summer camp, and all was not work. They had a library, TVs, a hobby-craft program and a lot of support for recovering drug users. Visitors are allowed on holidays and weekends, and those who come to visit enjoy a scenic drive, and good mountain air mixed with moisture from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

On my way back from my interview, I still vividly remember a very large owl in the middle of the empty two-lane road. He was in the midst of devouring something—perhaps a rat or other small animal. I slowed down to appreciate him. He was not intimidated by me in my small car. Moments later he spread his amazingly large wings and flew away into the trees.




Just before the new century dawned, I discovered there’s a system besides astrology to determine personality types. The Chinese nature science of Feng Shui has been around for at least two thousand years, a testament for longevity and proof there’s something to this way of thinking and/or analyzing.

As a weekly columnist for the Daily News, a Los Angeles newspaper, in the 1990s, I was always looking for material (much the same as I do now for my twice-weekly blog). I had gotten a mailing for Creative Options Day, a women’s event at Cal Lutheran University and noticed Pat Sendejas’ name as a speaker on Feng Shui. It was the perfect way to explore something new and get an interview at the same time.

It took a while to connect with this very busy and talented woman, but after we did the interview, our relationship turned into a long friendship and even a business relationship. I have edited several of her books, like: Live Your Life on Purpose.

As Pat succinctly says, “Feng Shui is the Chinese art of living in a harmonious environment in order to receive the greatest benefits in life, health, love and prosperity. It’s based on years of philosophy and mathematical calculation, and interprets the types of energy in a home or a business. It’s based on when a building was constructed and where it is placed, its interior design and environment, and the people who will live or work there. There is no good or bad,” according to Pat. “If you’re aware of what’s happening, you have more choices to make changes.”

In Feng Shui, all humans are a certain natural personality type: Earth, Metal, Wood, Water or Fire, depending on the month and year you were born. Pat determined I was an Earth Yin, which fit me perfectly. Simply put, I am the nurturing “Mother Hen” who worries about others—the type who advises friends to take a jacket when it’s cold outside! Supportive colors for me are red, purple, and burgundy, and I like water (I’ve been a swimmer all my life). I’m also partial to things made of earth, like ceramics. clay, and rocks.

Directions are important to the various Feng Shui types. As an Earth Yin, I should ideally sit in a chair that faces Northeast or West, and for the best sleep, my head should be directed either toward the Southwest or the Northwest. In case I search for a man in my life, my ideal partner would be an Earth Yang, who would be creative and a people person, although stubborn!

How energy flows in a home is important to Feng Shui and Pat’s book describes in detail what to avoid in placement of furniture and how to enhance the energy. However, energy changes every year and every month and learning about the best remedies is very important. It’s all quite fascinating and if you’re interested in exploring, go to the links below.

A thorough description of the philosophy of Feng Shui would involve more than this blog is designed for, so I’ll offer a link to a free Feng Shui info sheet and a link to Pat’s website.


Yin Yang Symbol

Pat Sendejas’ Special Report on Feng Shui, go to:


Pat Sendejas website:



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