Welcome to the Silver Standard News
As a central element of the outreach work of the Elder Abuse Reform Now (EARN) Project, it is our goal to bring you the latest news on developments in the fight to end financial elder abuse, as well as a wide range of other information to assist senior citizens and their loved ones. From detailing the progress of legislation aimed at ending the practice of financial elder abuse in each of the 50 states to telling the stories of those who have suffered from the effects of this practice, the Silver Standard News is dedicated to making sure that no senior citizen in this country is denied the right to control the assets and property that are rightfully theirs.
To achieve this goal, we will be working on several different fronts; whether it be unraveling legal terminology for our readers or giving them a way to connect with each other, we will work to improve the lives of America's senior citizens by giving them a voice that reflects their concerns and ensures that they are part of a larger community that has their interests at heart.
We will shine a cold light into the darkness of financial elder abuse and the involuntary guardianship that is the favorite tool of the financial abuser. Scrutinize every state, every city, and every court to make sure the citizens of each state understand precisely where their state, and each legislator, stands on financial elder abuse, and how well existing laws protect their elders and punish the abusers.
We will remind every politician that senior citizens control the largest block of money and the largest block of votes. We will apply our motto, taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying." For we will be watching and reporting on the actions of those powerful Americans who, while enjoying the salaries and perks of office provided by the American tax payers, have failed the greatest generation and are now failing their baby boomer children.
In addition, we will give our readers. a look at the human faces behind every aspect of this struggle--not just victims but politicians, legislators, home care administrators, professional guardians, businesses. We will tell the personal stories of the people who have lost their money, homes and dignity due to unscrupulous individuals who are often allowed to act under the cloak of legality. But we will also tell the stories of those who have fought back, who have refused to take the existing state of affairs lying down, and who are winning their battles. We will tell you about those officeholders who are, and have been, their champions. Our aim is to empower our readers, to make them aware that they do not have to simply accept the way things are. Though they may be past the age of lying down on courthouse steps or participating in noisy demonstrations, we will encourage them to put their voice, their votes and their money to good use on the elder abuse front. Collectively, especially when joined by those who love them and younger people who don't want this evil to invade their "Golden Years"—they can create a mighty roar.
Though our principle focus is to inform and make elder abuse a sin of the past, we also hope we will amuse and entertain. Tell us what you want, what your concerns are, how you feel we can do a better job to make the Silver Standard News a vital source for all seniors and their adult children. We look forward to hearing from you.
Happy, Safe Families Are Preserved by Uncomfortable Conversations
Financial Exploitation and Involuntary Guardianship are a lot more uncomfortable
By Mary West
No one enjoys contemplating later-life and end-of-life planning. For a variety of reasons, many older adults postpone making wills and other directives indefinitely. If they are in relatively good health, it just may not seem urgent to plan for a time when they will no longer be able to make sound decisions and care for themselves.
Adult children are often loathe to bring up such topics with their elderly parents. They don’t want to be perceived as being greedy, or they may simply hate to think of a time when a beloved parent will no longer be independent. Helping a senior loved one plan for the future begins with a conversation that may be difficult to broach.
Despite the unpleasant nature of this planning, it’s absolutely necessary, because it leads to greater security. Once the preparations are completed, older adults will have peace of mind, knowing that should a devastating illness strike, their care needs will be met and their wishes regarding artificial life support will be honored. Likewise, they can rest easy, knowing their estate will be distributed exactly according to their directives upon their death. Furthermore, making sure all end-of-life documents are legal and ironclad can help prevent financial elder abuse, which comes in many forms.
In 2018, Wells Fargo authorized a later-life planning survey of 784 seniors aged 60 and older, along with 798 adult children aged 45 to 69. The results painted a picture of how many Americans haven’t made adequate preparations in this area. Below are highlights of what the survey found, as well as real-life cases showing the dire consequences that may ensue from neglecting to put one’s affairs in order.
According to the survey, 57 percent of seniors view talking about later-life needs as a low priority, even when they reach their eighties. Perhaps a measure of denial plays a role in this view, because the average life expectancy of people who reach 65 in the U.S. is the mid-80s. Wells Fargo said the reluctance to plan could open the door to fraud by a trusted person, who, in fact, is untrustworthy.
The survey found that one out of five older Americans is a victim of financial abuse, but only one in ten believe it could happen to them. A key problem is that older adults may misplace their trust. While many believe a stranger is the person most likely to perpetrate a financial scam, statistics show that 66 percent of such crimes are committed by a family member, friend, or trusted person. Case 1 below illustrates how putting confidence in the wrong person can have devastating results.
In Florida, a woman we’ll call Sue named her sister as the designated beneficiary of her trust. Sue’s stockbroker/friend removed the sister’s name and replaced it with her own, thus becoming the residual beneficiary of the estate. At trial, the stockbroker claimed that she had been friends with her client for 30 years, helping with her two sons and chauffeuring her when she was no longer able to drive. The broker claimed that was the reason why Sue had decided to change her beneficiary of the trust from her sister to herself.
Originally, the stockbroker was convicted of financial exploitation of the elderly. However, upon appeal, the court reversed the decision, reasoning that the state could not prove its case. So, you are left with the question—who did Sue actually intend to be the beneficiary of the trust, and, by extension, did the right person inherit?
The survey found that only 40 percent of Americans have made the four most important legal and financial documents. These include a will, an advanced-care directive, a power of attorney for healthcare, and a power of attorney for financial matters. In addition, one third of seniors haven’t spoken with family members about later-life and end-of-life plans such as the identify of beneficiaries, the location of financial and legal documents, and the choice of the designee to manage financial and healthcare matters. Case 2 is an example of how neglecting to make the needed preparations can result in an older adult’s beneficiaries being cheated out of their inheritances.
In New York City, an elderly, reclusive gentleman we’ll call John, with no apparent friends or relatives, lived in a high-rise apartment complex and was lovingly cared for by the building’s staff. Upon John’s death, a handwritten will was discovered, leaving his $4 million estate to the 15 building employees. John had never written any previous will, yet when a nephew appeared, claiming rights to his uncle’s inheritance, New York courts awarded him the $4 million.
This ruling was decided despite testimonials of the building’s employees, and acknowledgement by the nephew that the nephew had visited John only once in the 30 years he had lived there. The ruling was also notwithstanding of assertions from the building’s tenants that John would have been without proper food and care were it not for the kind interventions of the employees. The building staff are contesting the decision. Let’s hope they win.
Experts have estimated that as much as $36.5 billion are lost annually from elder financial abuse, reports Wells Fargo. In fact, financial scams targeting seniors are so rampant that they have been called the “crime of the 21st century.” In the survey, nearly all the respondents expressed awareness of the problem, but the majority, 81 percent, were confident that they wouldn’t fall victim to such scams. 16 of those 81 will end their lives as a victim. This refusal to face reality is why the business of financial exploitation grows and prospers. Conversely, the older children were more concerned, with half saying they thought someone might try to take their parents’ money.
Unfortunately, sometimes the physical and mental decline that comes with aging poses challenges for older adults when it comes to protecting themselves from financial abuse. They may be aware that they’re in danger of being defrauded and, in response, notify the authorities; but despite their best efforts, the ruthless scammers prevail. Case 3 is an illustration of such a scenario.
The documentary The Unforgivable Truth, produced by the Silver Standard, tells the story of the Kibbee Foundation. In a loving act of protection, Mrs. Kibbee had designated a sizable portion of her estate to go to feeding severely at-risk children who otherwise would frequently go to bed hungry. Tragically, upon her death, instead of the money going to its intended recipients, it was channeled into a windfall for a local YMCA, as well as estate-management revenue for the wealth-management department of a local bank.
In this case, a great deal of planning occurred prior to Mrs. Kibbee’s death, but, despite diligent effort, Mrs. Kibbee’s age and infirmity prevented her from overpowering the opposition plotting of the lawyers, the YMCA, and the bank. The perpetrators succeeded in their treachery even though she sent her notarized letters, filed them in to the local court, complaining that the bank and lawyers had created documents that were contrary to her orders and giving instructions for corrections to be made.
The good news is that financial protective measures are easy to put in place if seniors attend to them before their health deteriorates. In addition to making the aforementioned documents and preparations, Wells Fargo recommends the following:
A finding from the survey that will encourage both seniors and their adult children is that 40 percent of the older adults who had done the most later-life preparation reported being very happy. In contrast, only 22 percent of those who had done the least preparation reported feeling this way. Clearly, making the necessary plans imparts a sense of security that promotes happiness. This emotional benefit is one more reason to have those uncomfortable conversations that will lead to financial protection and readiness for the future.
Editors note. Speaking of people who think financial exploitation won’t happen to them. Most people have a very flawed concept of exactly who it is that vulnerable. It is not always the lonely financially naive widow, or the old widower hooked by a young cutie.
The reality is, studies have found that fraudsters use a variety of tactics and pitched tailored to individual victim. Surprisingly, of those studied, the individuals who have proven to be most susceptible to scams are individuals who tended to score higher on financial literacy tests. Where investment fraud is concerned, victims are more often men who are married, more educated, and have higher incomes. These men will listen to the sales pitch and rely on their world and work experience to make financial decisions. They find those who fall victim have experiences more negative life events but, oddly, have a more optimistic outlook for their future. Perhaps this is why there has been an up-growth of free- lunch seminars with enticing tiles that target that audience. They are held at nice hotels and restaurants, even retirement villages and golf clubs. Frequently, in addition to the free meal, there are door prizes—even free vacations Then they are talked into opening accounts or making purchase of financial products that are entirely unsuitable investments.
David Really Can Slay Goliath
But First He Must Show Up
Elaine Renoire Founded NASGA in Response to Grandmother's Victimization
by Anne Wayman
What do you do when you discover your beloved grandmother has been scammed by guardianship deception? If you’re Elaine Renoire, you not only fight to protect your aged relative, you start a national organization to protect the rights of others, so it never happens to another.
The organization Elaine started, along with a small group of fellow victims, is the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse (NASGA). Its name contains their specific goal: to stop guardianship abuse.
Guardianship is a court-created legal relationship that appoints someone to care for a person deemed no longer able care for him- or herself. People may also be subject to a conservatorship, which, in general, deals with the estate of the person whom the court has decided is incompetent. It’s not unusual to find persons under the “protection” of both. It is also, too frequently, used as an effective tool of the financial abuser.
Guardianship is far more widespread than generally recognized estimates suggest: roughly 1.3 million people are subject to guardianship. Based in an ancient English law known as “lunatic proceedings,” it was imported to the United States as a great idea, in theory, that has run totally amok.
According to Elaine, “Guardianship law was designed to be a law of protection…(when) abuse is involved; we find the system is much more protected than the very people the law was created to protect.”
The responsibilities of the appointed guardian are wide. The problem, in a nutshell, is that guardianship gives the guardian almost total control over the elder and their assets with little or no oversight. That control includes the “management” of the client’s money, the ability to sell their home and other property, and determination of whom they can see when, where they can live, what doctors they can see, and so on. The ability to limit whom the client can see, in cases of swindles, often includes preventing family from visiting, either by severely limiting the visiting schedule or stopping relatives from visiting altogether. This unbridled power, can even extend to divorcing a spouse.
Of course, if the guardian is legitimate, this kind of power can be necessary and protective. But without active legal oversight, far too many elders and their families are victims of outright fraud. That oversight is hard to come by.
The unfortunate truth is that,
as the NAGSA website states,
“No one is safe from a predatory guardianship/conservatorship.”
In a bygone era, the elderly were mostly taken care of by family who lived nearby. These days, as people have moved from one place to another, loved ones may be left behind in all innocence, innocence which may lead to neglect and/or make the elder more vulnerable to criminal abuse.
In most cases, the family is notified of the guardianship proceedings when the initial petition is filed in court and a hearing is scheduled. When this happens, the family knows who the guardian is. But in some states, the records are sealed. This means neither the “protected” person nor their family can access the records. In other words, the family is prevented from learning what they need to know that would help them stop the abuse. In the worst cases, the elderly person may be taken from their home by strangers who have managed to convince a judge that no family is taking care of the elder, so they need a legal guardian—with no notice and no hearing, sometimes backed up by local police.
Getting relief from a bad guardianship is difficult and expensive. Without money to spend on legal and other fees, it can be downright impossible.
It’s exactly this type of abuse that Elaine is determined to stop. It wasn’t until Elaine actually began trying to help her grandmother that she gradually realized how many elder-abuse cases involved guardians whose only goal was to strip seniors from as many assets as they could find.
“It was indeed a decade of stress and strife, because the guardianship made it much more difficult for us to take proper care of my grandmother,” Elaine says. “The constant struggles with the guardian drained our energy—energy that we needed to care for my grandmother, who needed 24-hour total care. Care giving is the hardest and most rewarding job there is; the guardianship just made it all the harder.”
In most states, the courts do require regular and detailed reports. But, as Elaine has discovered, no matter how much reporting is done, it’s pretty useless without some process to double-check and follow up. Such supervision by the court receiving these reports is often scant or missing altogether.
An Organization is Born
It was Elaine’s mother’s attorney who first made Elaine understand that her grandmother was far from a unique example of guardianship gone wrong. He was also the one who planted the idea of organizing.
“Get busy! Get on the Internet. Find other families. Get organized…” he told her, and that’s exactly what Elaine did.
Her first step was to find other families who had similar stories. As she puts it, “The Internet was young, and so it took a while to connect with other victims.” She soon had a few friends joining her in her efforts.
“Once a few of us recognized we were basically telling the same story, we decided to organize and start NASGA. We had no idea what we were doing or how to go about it; we just knew we had to do something—that we had to warn people— and that we had to find a way to make it stop,” she explained.
Before long, the word was out, and people began contacting the nascent organization. They acquired their 501c3 designation so that donations would be tax deductible. They got their website built and have kept it updated. They’ve never had a central office, each of them working from their homes and wherever they could to move the project forward. They’ve often contributed their own money, as well as done fund raising as best they can.
The Elderly Aren’t the Only Ones!
As the group met more and more people, they learned that the elderly aren’t the only ones who suffer from guardianship abuse. As a general rule, guardianship abuse can be found wherever there is money—including, for example:
The list goes on and on, sometimes including those with only temporary disabilities.
The unfortunate truth is that, as the NAGSA website states, “No one is safe from a predatory guardianship/conservatorship.”
The goal of NASGA is clear. They aim to stop the abuse of guardianship, just as their title states. That means working in all 50 states, urging state legislators to clean up their own problem guardianships and make funding available to properly supervise those who become guardians.
Along the way, they’ve found some alternatives to guardianship. A favorite is known as Supported Decision Making. The idea is that not every elder or disabled person needs complete guardianship. They could, however, be greatly helped if they had some decision-making support. Supported Decision Making helps elders while eliminating much potential harm.
NASGA has had some significant success. For example, beloved actor Peter Falk was isolated from family and friends when struck with Alzheimer’s. His daughter Catherine led the fight that resulted in a restoration of her right to visit him and to give the comfort he so sorely needed. As a result, she began to work to make sure that other families like hers wouldn’t suffer the torture of being shut out of their loved ones’ lives, especially when their loved ones needed them most. Not surprisingly, Catherine and NASGA formed a partnership to introduce and pass what became known as the Falk-NASGA’s Right of Association Bill. The bill has passed in Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, South Dakota, Arizona, New York, Iowa, the Virgin Islands, and Tennessee. It has since been introduced into several additional states.
Those successes are just the tip of the NASGA iceberg. Their website offers valuable resources that can help you spot and stop guardian abuse, including:
Plus, there’s a search function on every page marked by a magnifying icon.
Asked about the future, Elaine said this:
Our dream today is to see guardianship abuse officially classified as a form of elder abuse with criminal penalties. We are working on proposed legislation to start this process. Additionally, we are blessed to be working with The EARN Project, where financial exploitation of the elderly is the number-one topic. Unlawful and abusive guardianships and conservatorships are often the weapon of financial abusers.
Reform needs to happen overnight, but the reality is it takes a long time. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking faster as we’re getting older. Our goal is to do what we can, while we can, and then hope the next generation carries on our work if we don’t get it all done.
The NASGA website is: www.stopguardianabuse.org
By David Holmberg
I’m from Minnesota, and you might call me a loyalist. All my life, I’ve taken pride in the state’s reputation as a citadel of progressivism. It’s produced an impressive roster of socially conscious politicians—Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, Orville Freeman—and ranks at or near the top among the fifty states in social services, education, and cultural advantages.
But these days in Minnesota, there lingers the stigmatizing taint of elder abuse—the shocking (especially to a Minnesotan) revelation by the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis that “each year, hundreds of Minnesotans are beaten, sexually assaulted, or robbed in senior care homes. Their cases are seldom investigated, leaving families in the dark.”
A 2010 study showed a six-fold increase in reported incidents in the state’s senior care facilities, which may have been a catalyst for a 2017 investigation by the Star-Tribune that uncovered another disturbing statistic: in 2015, “the Minnesota Department of Health received 25, 226 allegations of neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries, and thefts in state-licensed homes for the elderly.”
Said a board member of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, Iris Freeman: “We should all be appalled at this picture. Minnesota used to be at the top of the heap when it came to elder-abuse enforcement, and now we’re becoming known for being non-responsive.”
But the state did mobilize its legislative, law enforcement, and senior care resources in response to the Star-Tribune’s investigation. It was a response you’d expect in a state with a strong collective instinct for change when change is demanded. It improved compliance standards, developed better programs for training and monitoring employees, and opened communications between law enforcement and other agencies.
Eric Klang, the police chief in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, who investigated one of the worst elder-abuse cases in the state in recent years, told the Silver Standard: “Now elder abuse is on everybody’s radar. It’s on the news every night.”
And elder abuse advocate Susan Scheller said that while Minnesota still has less of a problem with elder abuse than many other states, “we expect a lot better.” Referring to the crisis in recent years that has only somewhat abated, she said, “This [situation] is not acceptable.”
The ultimate definition of “not acceptable’ in elder care—other than a suspicious death—is sexual assault. And that occurred on May 8, 2016, at an assisted-living complex called Heritage House, located in the northern Minnesota town of Pequot Lakes.
A 78-year-old resident of the facility named Jean Krause, a former nurse, was assaulted by David DeLong, 59, a caregiver at the facility, who had worked there for several years and had a clean record. DeLong was found that night by a female aide, a few feet from Ms. Krause, with his jeans and underwear at his knees. He was trying to pull them up.
No one at Heritage House called the police for two hours. DeLong, meanwhile, was sent home for the night.
Krause’s red nightgown and mattress pad—crucial evidence in the crime—had been placed in the facility’s washing machine, possibly by DeLong himself.
Klang, the police chief in Pequot Lakes, told the Star-Tribune it was an “infuriating” case. “We had an eye witness to a sexual assault of a frail woman with dementia, and the perpetrator was kept there and then sent home without anyone calling us. That’s not proper protocol.”
DeLong at first denied the assault, but when DNA evidence proved his guilt, he asked a surprising question: “Why didn’t the people who saw me do it arrest me on the spot that night?”
But Klang said DeLong has still not expressed regret for the attack. He’s been in the Pequot Lakes jail since December and will do a year’s time, with ten years’ probation.
Heritage House’s license was eventually revoked by the state health department, and an outside agency took over its operations. The facility had been under investigation since the previous year for other incidents; Klang said he’s still dealing with violations there. “Now we’re looking mainly at failure to provide care—not giving adequate medications to survive,” Klang said. And, he noted, medications had been stolen from Heritage House, a common problem in such facilities.
Since Krause was assaulted, an arsonist also struck at the beleaguered Heritage House, and a patient died due to apparent errors by nurses during a complicated procedure. The head nurse, on whom investigators focused, is no longer employed at the facility.
Staffing problems are a root cause of the deficiencies of a facility like Heritage House, according to Klang and others in the field. “It’s hard to find good help,” the chief said. “Who wants to wipe peoples’ butts and work for a low salary? It takes a special kind of person to do that kind of work.”
Scheller, the elder advocate, pointed to another complex element of staffing, as well as the responsibilities of staff. Since facilities themselves cannot be charged with a crime, a “fine line” between negligence and criminality must be applied to individual nurses. She said there needs to be better communication between law enforcement and elder-care professionals in drawing that line—in defining criminality. And the origins of negligence by nurses can itself be hard to determine.
For instance, Scheller said, in addition to other factors, a death might be the result of a “bad transition” of a patient from a hospital to an elder-care facility.
My home state has made considerable progress in restoring its sterling reputation in elderly care since the Star Tribune investigation. But, unfortunately, a difficult question remains for facilities with culpability for elder abuse that’s ongoing and entrenched. The question: can a facility like Heritage House ever achieve a truly effective fulfillment of its demanding caregiving mission?
Scheller’s answer: “It’s very hard for a facility to turn a corner on elder abuse.” And the main reason, again, is the challenge of adequate staffing. She said that although the major step of an outside takeover was accomplished at Heritage House, the new management did not bring in new staff. So although the head nurse left, there’s apparently been minimal change in staffing since the assault of Jean Krause two years ago by the experienced caregiver charged with helping her survive as her life wound down.
And that traumatic incident must remain a burden for Heritage House to bear. It’s certainly a burden for Krause’s family. They weren’t told of the assault until the summer of 2017, nearly a year after she died. They didn’t understand until then why, in the spring of 2016 after she’d been assaulted, she lay in her bed staring mutely at the walls. They couldn’t understand why she didn’t respond when her children brought her flowers or her favorite desert. They wondered why she always asked if the windows in her room were shut.
“It haunts me,” her son, Robert, said two years ago of his mother’s assault, and her emotional suffering in the dwindling days of her life. “It haunts me.”
THAT A SMALL GROUP OF THOUGHTFUL, COMMITTED CITIZENS
CAN CHANGE THE WORLD;
INDEED, IT'S THE ONLY THING THAT EVER HAS.
Now, almost 100 years after Margaret Meade spoke those words, they are every bit as true. But now, though the organization may be small, it needs to be joined by many voices to be heard.
It can be very discouraging to be greeted by indifference when we try to enlist people's help in our campaign to end elder abuse in America. We just received a letter from a state first lady, who we had asked to speak up about this problem—she said she was too busy. Many simply do not believe it is that big of a problem or that, though it may happen to other people, it won’t happen to them. In fact, one out of every five of those people will have it happen to them and then they ask why this is allowed to happen. I can answer that question. It happens because you, and many like you, did nothing to help stop it - because you were indifferent to the suffering until it was your suffering.
Happily, there are others who care very much and jump right in to do what they can.
The EARN Project made a little poster for Elder Abuse Awareness Month and our wonderful volunteers, all over the country, printed them up and took them to local businesses. We even got a few pictures from two of those wonderful volunteers Angela Biggs and Kathy Dunn.
Top Left: John Witte the owner of Sit n Sip Books in Mineral Wells Texas put our poster in his shop
Top Center: Gerry Lamphier at the National Vietnam War Museum in Weatherford Texas holds up our poster that they put up in the museum
Top Right: Holding the poster they put in the window of the Copper pot Restaurant downtown Clarksville Georgia
Middle Left: The Attic restaurant in downtown Clarksville Georgia put the poster in their restaurant
Middle Center: Regions Bank in Clarksville GA
Middle Right: Christine holding the poster and the sign in the window of Tinder's restaurant in downtown Clarkesville Georgia
Bottom Left: Coz Whitten Skife did a fund raiser for NASGA at her bakery Rosie's Coffee Bar and Bakery in Madison WI And she put up the EARN poster and gave away DVDs of our documentary
Bottom Right: Owner of Garrett Jewelry and Loan in Mineral Wells Texas, Lisa Garrett and friends holding The EARN Elder Abuse Day poster she put up in her shop
Also in Clarksvill GA, though not pictured, the Midtown grill and Ingles grocery
The EARN Project is not a single entity unto itself. It is a place to assemble all the voices of all the wonderful Americans who are not indifferent and wish to add their voice to the chorus that shouts STOP! That is what will end Elder Abuse in America.
If there is silence the abuse will continue and it will hit one in five of us.
Please join The Earn Project. The membership is free and carrying your voice to your local and federal statehouse is invaluable.
You Have The Time
You Can Make the Difference
Changing a Child's Life (In Other Words, How to Be the Pie Lady)
By Leah Grace Goodwin
In the movie The Shack (based on a novel of the same name by William Paul Young), a painful early scene unfolds: The main character, Mackenzie, in this scene a young boy, witnesses his father unhinged by an alcohol-induced rage. He watches, frozen in horrified fear, as his father beats his mother unconscious. Mack then endures a brutal belt whipping at the man’s hands after confessing to another person his father’s bouts of madness. The child is anguished that he stood by and watched his mother being abused—anguished despite the fact that he is a little boy.
Mack limps off down the street, passing by a house on the corner. An older woman (played by Octavia Spencer) comes out on the porch.
“Mack!” she calls. “I just took an apple pie out of the oven. Come have a slice.”
Mack demurs. “No, thanks.”“That wasn't a question,” she points out calmly. “Here you go.”
She sits on the porch steps with him. Somehow, she knows precisely what is going on in Mack’s house—or, at least, that Mack suffers.
“Look at me, baby,” she says gently. “Daddies aren't supposed to do that to their kids. It ain't love. You understand?
Mack does indeed understand, and he grows up to be the gentlest of fathers. At the same time, though, the Pie Lady’s words reveal to him a glimpse of a world in which love is not erratic, demanding constant strategic assessment to avoid torment—a world in which love involves consistent care, healthy boundaries, teamwork, and patience.
As a parent myself, I can confidently say that no parent is perfect, and every parent has his or her own strengths and weaknesses—or, removing assessment language, you could call it a “parenting style.”
That said, many children in this world effectively grow up without parents—parents who are distracted by substance use or domestic violence or homelessness, for example. That’s hard enough for a child, who is in the process of learning how to relate to other people and form bonds and learn trust. Even worse, many children grow up, like Mack, in torment. These little ones learn to walk on eggshells around abusive adults (not that the strategy necessarily works, mind you). These little ones’ minds whirl constantly in fear. These little ones witness and suffer horrific acts. These little ones learn to lie and steal to protect themselves.
All of the above are adaptive behaviors—behaviors designed instinctively for survival. We may be born hardwired with particular personality traits, but our environment shapes us enormously—especially in childhood, when our brains are learning what “normal” and “right/wrong” mean. Adaptive behaviors are not necessarily “good” behaviors—they’re just what get us through the day, through life.
But, as e. e. cummings said, “here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud”: These little ones do not learn their own worth. They do not learn about a realm in which they are trusted, held accountable fairly, cared for, or treated tenderly. They do not learn what a joyful, or even functional, life looks like. The concept is simply outside their imagination. Consequently, their adaptive behaviors can become destructive.
In short, generationally speaking, bedlam begets bedlam. Without outside help, the cycle of misery, as I mentioned in last issue’s column, continues.
As the scene from The Shack reveals, though, it doesn’t have to be this way. Mack does break the cycle of violence and becomes a wonderful husband, father, and friend. Why? Because the Pie Lady on the corner takes him under her wing, shows him care and love, feeds him, pierces his protective emotional armor. Because she tells him something about love that perhaps he didn’t know before.
You can be the Pie Lady (who, spoiler alert, turns out later in the movie actually to be one of the face of the divine). You can help break that cycle of sadness. As a senior, your life experience—and your consistent attention and care—can change the shape of a child’s entire existence. What a gift, to transform a life, and in so doing, potentially transform generations of lives! By offering your time and showing how your life works—how you act in various situations, how others treat you and you treat others—you can bend the “arc of the moral universe” toward functional behavior and kindness.1
But this act of mercy isn’t just a matter of taking an abused or neglected or simply unhappy child to special events. Getting ice cream together or making a sandwich or having a chat on the porch steps is a wonderful thing and a great part of an intergenerational relationship, but that in itself isn’t going to change the world for a little one in hardship. Changing a kid’s life means changing their outlook and actions. It means absorbing them, to the degree possible, into your own life, so that they can actually imagine life beyond the sorrow or silence or horror of their current world.
Here’s an example: Before the Kibbee’s Kids foundation was dismantled by bad actors via corrupt guardianship, its leadership had taken a wonderful, but often behaviorally difficult, group of children under its wings. One of the premises of the foundation was to introduce the concept of positive, rather than negative, reinforcement. So, if a child did something particularly wonderful—something extremely kind or honest or demonstrating consistent effort or the like—that child received a “prize” of his or her choosing.
One very abused little girl, Jenny,2 did something extraordinary and was due her positive reinforcement, her prize. She desperately wanted pink cowboy boots (remember, the Kibbee’s Kids headquarters was in Wyoming, cowboy country). So one of the women in the leadership drove Jenny to a premier saddlery in the area’s nearby city. This particular saddlery is a very exclusive store—not the kind of place that Jenny would ever have dreamed of entering (and if she had, sadly, the kind of place where she would have been closely watched for fear of shoplifting). Jenny, before Kibbee’s Kids, simply would not have fit the saddlery’s elite customer profile.
But the saddlery knew of the foundation and supported its mission. And, of course, the woman shepherding her fit precisely their customer demographic; she could blithely walk through their doors and articulate what she wanted and receive polite and attentive service. This woman’s experience of the world was utterly different from Jenny’s.
In that trip to the saddlery, she opened Jenny’s young eyes to that world. Jenny learned what good treatment looks like, not only from her chaperone but from strangers in a public setting. No one followed Jenny suspiciously around the store. No one ignored her. No one told her to leave. The door cracked open to an entirely new universe.
“Who,” said the salespeople, “is this pretty little girl? And what can we do for you today?”
Six tried-on—all price-tag-free and extremely expensive—pairs of pink cowboy boots later, Jenny had chosen her prize.
The rather extraordinary expense wasn’t the point, and Jenny never heard a word about it. The point was that Jenny earned something, learned that it was okay to express her particular desire for the promised reward, got that reward, and received good treatment.
Yes, it was a special trip, a particular outing. But the most important point of the experience was that Jenny learned what her mentor’s world was like. In her mentor’s world, you see, people were polite to her. They acknowledged her. They listened to her. They did everything in their power to respond to her request. Jenny never had to wheedle or shoplift or cower or negotiate or watch unpleasant interactions to receive attention.
Jenny’s mentor also made a point of showing her trust in the little girl and the other Kibbee’s Kids, despite the possibility of the above-mentioned behaviors that so many abused kids develop—stealing, lying, and the like. She left her purse next to Jenny and the other kids and didn’t remove her wallet. She left change lying openly out in the car or on the counter. She showed her faith in Jenny’s and the other kids’ inherent goodness, in their ability to learn new behaviors as a result of living in a realm where they were valued and treated consistently kindly.
So how to go about absorbing a child into your world?
I offered some suggestions in last issue’s column, but here’s another idea: Become a court-appointed special advocate for a child.
Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) states the following as its mission:
The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association, together with its state and local member programs, supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy so every abused or neglected child in the United States can be safe, have a permanent home, and [enjoy] the opportunity to thrive.
How does being a court-appointed special advocate (or guardian ad litem) work? According to the site,
CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives [until adoption]. Independent research has demonstrated that children with a CASA/GAL volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care and less likely to reenter care.3
86,995 CASA volunteers change kids’ lives for the better every day. Meanwhile, 432,677 children are waiting for a volunteer empowered to find them a safe, loving, permanent home. CASA needs you!
Abused and neglected children face powerful influences of darkness. You, as a senior, have what it takes to counteract those forces. You have the internal resources to change the shape of the future, one young person at a time. Whether your childhood was blessedly golden, or you had a mentor, or you yourself somehow overcame negative influences to develop into a person of character, you can be the Pie Lady who changed Mack’s life. You can show a kid that life may be messy, but it needn’t be bedlam. You can open the door, or slide up a window, into a new life, a life that is not sly and fearful and vicious but joyful and brave and communicative.
Think, please, on that idea: As a senior, you are uniquely powerful. You are uniquely able. You are uniquely wise. You are uniquely gifted. Whether as a CASA volunteer or through another organization, you have the opportunity to change a life, and then some.
And guess what? It’s mutual. That child’s and their children’s lives won’t be the only ones rebuilt for the better. Yours will be, too. Love is a two-way street.
1 Martin Luther King, Jr., Speech at the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963.
2 Name changed to protect privacy.
The EARN Project
From the Directors desk
Elder abuse, and involuntary guardianship, can happen to anyone irrespective of financial position. Social Security checks are a prime target of abusers, Trusts and large estates can be an irresistible temptation to some victim’s children, lawyers, bankers, financial advisors, new best friends and caregivers and, all too often, the professional guardianship institutions, the nursing homes they are “friendly” with and sometimes judges who are in on it. Greed comes in all shapes and colors - and yes, even wearing black robes.
The system is set up in a way that presents temptations so great that even some otherwise good people will do bad things.
Guardians are named by the court and then run roughshod through their ward's life and estate while judges do not hold them accountable.
Guardians go to court and lie to get control of a person and the judge ignores the statements and requests of the family, does not interview the proposed ward, makes no attempt whatsoever to evaluate the situation and the claims of the guardian.
As in a case with which we are familiar, lawyers - representing professional guardians - and judges are friends. In this particular case, there are pictures of this, particularly of the two, over and over again, trying to dodge the photographer as they leave a local bar where they frequently lunch together. Can you guess why that lawyer has never lost a case in front of that judge?
In April, a former NY judge agreed to resign from the bench as he pleaded guilty to federal charges of money laundering and tax crimes and a NY State charge of second-degree grand larceny. All of this could send him to prison for 10 years on the state charges and 20 years on the federal charges.
He, a lawyer, and a financial adviser, had been engaged as estate planners for the trusts of a prominent NY couple. The husband died in 2009 and the wife in 2011 after which, the judge has admitted, he and his associate collaborated on stealing approximately $11.8 million from the trust they had been engaged to manage.
The judge will be sentenced for the state charges in August and on the federal charges in October.
Berkeley, CA police SPENT more than two years investigating a Superior court judge who had served as a court commissioner for the County Superior Court from 2004 to 2009 and as a referee pro tem for the county’s juvenile court from 1991 to 2004.
Court documents state that the judge befriended an elderly woman after her husband had fallen in their home. The trust existing in that friendship resulted in the judge having access to the couple's private documents resulting in his discovery of $1 million in stock certificates and uncashed dividend checks in their home. One month after this discovery, he obtained power of attorney for the couple. Then, after the husband died, he arranged the sale of two Santa Cruz properties which the couple owned followed by a 4-year period where he assumed control of nearly all of the now widowed woman’s financial affairs, putting his name on her financial accounts, worth more than $2.2 million.
He was charged with 32 total counts, all felonies except for two counts of unauthorized disclosure of information, which is a misdemeanor. Had he been convicted of the 32 charges he would have faced a considerable time of incarceration. However, the District Attorney agreed to dismiss most of the charges in return for his no contest plea to two felonies: one count each of elder abuse and perjury.
Though put on leave after his arrest, the judge continued to receive his judicial salary until he was obliged to resign from his employment on the bench. He was barred from judicial office and from practicing law in California. He, most conveniently, paid the $299,436.00, which he called a loan, right after police called him asking questions about the elderly woman’s finances and an additional $5,649.00 before his sentencing.
HOWEVER - it would appear that having friends in high places is not a bad idea if you are going to do anything this heinous - he was only sentenced to five years of probation.
The DA and ADA said, “Justice is served through the resolution of this case” that he “will never serve in a position of trust or authority again as a result of these convictions.” “He did commit a criminal act, and he has been held accountable for it.” Do you think John Q. Public would get such thoughtful treatment for committing such a dastardly deed?
The judge/criminal’s lawyer said that he “appreciates that the sentence took into account the many good works he has accomplished in his life. Isn’t that nice!
A former Nashville General Sessions judge, in jail awaiting trial on five counts of obstruction of justice related to the embezzlement of many thousands of dollars from the County Drug Court Foundation over which he presided, was then further charged with additional charges of obstruction and theft on five additional counts: two counts related to theft from a program that received federal funds, two for obstruction of justice related to witness tampering and destroying documents and one count of committing an offense on pretrial release.
U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee charged that in February 2017, upon becoming aware that he was being investigated by the FBI, the judge attempted to “obstruct and interfere with the investigation" by giving instructions to the Drug Court Foundation's director to destroy documents which would provide information on the exact amount of money that had been stolen and, at the same time, he also attempted to tamper with a witness by suggesting that she lie to the grand jury investigating his conduct.
He will continue to receive his taxpayer-funded pension but, upon conviction of the crime of malfeasance, would lose his retirement benefits.
He will be detained in jail until his trial in June.
This whole problem of elder abuse and guardianship needs to be cleaned up from top to bottom. People go through an entire lifetime, paying taxes, and playing by the rules only to be terrorized and abused by the court system they have been supporting.
A federal grand jury has indicted a Supreme Court Justice who, not long ago, wrote a book about political corruption in West Virginia
The charges ranging from fraud to making false statements and witness tampering. He lied to government investigators and falsely accusing others of malfeasance and engaging in other fraudulent conduct.
When it comes to the problem of elder abuse and guardianship the entire system legal system needs to be cleaned up from top to bottom—laws covering elder abuse, courts hearing cases, investigating of elder abuse complaints and oversight of Guardianship, . People go through an entire lifetime, paying taxes, and playing by the rules, only to be terrorized and abused at the end of their lives by the court system they have been supporting.
In the last few weeks our politicians and news outlets have been consumed by the talk of suffering, caused by our government, on our borders. We are Americans – to create human suffering is against everything we believe in - we have a tradition of trying to alleviate human suffering. Many of our young have fought, far from our own borders, risked their lives and lost their lives, in an effort to alleviate human suffering. This discussion is worth having. However, first, we must turn our attention to the suffering that must be our principle concern and that is American life, American suffering, American senior citizens suffering and dying at the hands of other Americans - some of them in black robes.
All Judges are Considerate, Measured, Conscientious, and Fair
Well… Almost All
Then, why in the world is Texas the only state which acknowledges Judges are not infallible (see below) and, in some cases, due to carelessness, laziness or graft, make decisions that cause human suffering and even death. In those cases they must be held responsible.
10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 each day and this will continue for many years to come. A good number of those Boomers will find themselves the subject of an application for guardianship. Many will need it and receive loving help while others are headed straight to hell. It is judges who sit between the seniors and their fate. Those seniors have a right to expect that the Judges will have thoroughly familiarized themselves with their cases and will make a decision based on an effort to do everything within reason to accommodate the desires of the seniors concerning their living circumstances, their finances, freedom of movement and association.
JUDICIAL ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY came into being in 1871 when Section 1983 was adopted, and our modern Supreme Court has upheld this rule even though history shows that even in 1871 only a minority of courts provided absolute immunity because it is not a good idea.
In making this decision, our modern court looked at functional considerations, such as how often an office holder was sued for money damages and how much these suits interfered with the function of the office. The Supreme Court exists to support the intentions of the Constitution; concerns of an overburdened court system should have played no part in their deliberation. Do we send a murderer straight to prison because 10 people saw him pull the trigger, there is no doubt that he is the murderer, and a trial will simply clutter up our already overburdened system? Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness should never be the price we pay for a well-oiled court system. Human suffering should never be the price we pay for anything.
In 1971, a mother in Indiana petitioned a judge to order a tubal ligation be performed on her 15 year-old daughter. Though she claimed her child was retarded, the girl’s performance in school was appropriate to her age.
Under Indiana law, the judge had no authority to issue such an order. Never-the-less, the judge, without holding a hearing to receive evidence and without providing the child with a lawyer to protect her interests, on the very day the mother had gone to him, ordered the tubal ligation be performed, telling the girl she was going to the hospital for an appendectomy.
Two years later, the then married girl discovered what had been done and she and her husband sued.
The district court ruled the Judge was immune from the suit but the The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed it saying because he had not followed "elementary principles of due process" he would lose his immunity. Finally, in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, reversed the Court of Appeals, announcing a test for deciding when judicial immunity should apply and holding that the judge could not be sued.
This is exactly the sort of treatment our senior citizens are receiving at the hands of some judges. As in all inappropriate instincts, with all people, looming punishment is a great deterrent.
This sort of unbridled privilege just begs for misuse. We should not be surprised when judges misbehave. Temptation and self-interests can be too hard to resist - even in the religious community. In a study, conducted with a group of theology students, the students were told to preach the story of the good Samaritan, then walk to another building where they would be filmed. Along the way, they encountered a man in visible distress. When given ample time, almost all helped. When they were deliberately let out late, only 63 percent helped. When encouraged to hurry up, 90 percent ignored the man. So, let’s not tempt Judges with absolute immunity.
Withdrawing this right, however cumbersome and inconvenient, must be done to protect the American taxpayers from being made second-class citizens by the very courts they support. It is unthinkable that one be forced to support your own tormenter.
On the other hand, Judges need to be protected from everyone who does not agree with their actions. Just opening the door to all complainers would create bedlam.
Looking at a future of many years of Judges making decisions on the fate of our elderly, immunity for judges is a discussion that must begin and right now when many jurisdictions not only provide judges with this right, but are extending the immunity to non-judges.
We hope that more states will follow Texas’ lead in understanding that nothing can be as absolute as “absolute immunity.”
In Houston, Texas, a judge has issued what amounts to a landmark ruling by permitting a wrongful death lawsuit against a probate judge, concerning an adult guardianship case, to proceed.
A woman sued the judge stating that her elderly mother, a ward of the state under guardianship, had suffered broken bones and a rapid decline, due to an order to discontinue her physical therapy thus causing her muscle problems to worsen and contributing to her malnutrition.
In addition, she claimed that the judge ignored requests for emergency relief, including a request made two days before the woman died. Clearly the judge did not exercise reasonable diligence in monitoring the guardians obligation to this woman.
This is a truly brave decision by Judge Rosenthal and can go a long way to help Texas with the problems they have been having with judges and guardianship cases.
A Probate Judge was admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for referring to a proposed ward in a case before her as "Mr. Maggot" and "Maggot Man.” In April, the Texas Judicial Council admitted to the US Congress that nearly half of adult guardianship cases in the state are out of compliance with reporting requirements.
Texas Estates Code (TEC) specifically states that a judge is liable on a Judge's bond to those damaged if damage or loss results to a guardianship or ward because of the gross neglect of the judge to use reasonable diligence in the performance of the judge's duty under this subchapter.
“It creates a limited waiver of judicial immunity, allowing recovery for losses directly tied to the judge’s duties under the subchapter,” wrote Rosenthal in her decision.
Where Did the Fire Go?
By Joan Hunt
Without knowing it, I became an activist at the age of seven. A kid in my school whose name was Junior Johnson used to sit at the end of the slide and watch the girls slide down. In those days, we all wore dresses to school, so Junior was getting an eyeful of assorted pairs of underpants. Our playground was gravel, and on my way back up the ladder I grabbed the biggest stone I could see. On my next trip down, I landed it right in the middle of his forehead. It felt great! He chased me home, where the story came out, and Junior’s career as a voyeur ended abruptly.
I never burned my bra for women’s liberation, because frankly I needed it to have any semblance of a figure, but I have always stuck up for what I believed in. In the sixties, it was de rigueur. We protested the Vietnam War, civil injustice, corrupt government, and parents. We went to bat for the underdog—and, of course, we went overboard. We demanded students’ rights—and surprisingly, we got them.
There was plenty of fodder for the fuel at my college, which still gave demerits for answering the hall telephone in your bare feet. Boys were never allowed above stairs, and we had a particularly sour dorm mother who instituted the nightly lockdown at curfew with the grimness of a prison warden. A political science professor at my school was reprimanded, and then sacked, for showing a film that the administration believed to be “anti-American.” Students were up in arms. We lost that one.
One night, I was waiting on a customer at the Greek restaurant where I worked to help pay for school. The guy had come in with a bunch of his friends, and when I asked him what he would like, his answer was nasty and degrading. His friends laughed, until I tipped a mug of beer slowly over his head and walked away. When I told the restaurant owner what had happened, he grabbed the young man by the scruff of the neck and ejected him from the premises. Had Caesar Bico not supported me, I would have found another job. But he validated my position, and I have never forgotten how it made me feel for him to do that.
I was fortunate to have great role models growing up. President John F. Kennedy encouraged people to ask not what our country could do for us, but to get out there and do our part to make it a better place. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned that we should not judge people by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. My grandmother taught me to BE the change I wanted to see in the world. And my dad said you had to live what you believed every day, whether it was popular or not.
Those were heady times. Challenging. Many people died for their courage. Most of us just became better people. And now we are grown – some might say overgrown. We are on the other side of the equation. Where once we felt overlooked because of our youth, we now are sometimes undervalued because of our age.
And maybe this time it is our own fault.
Since Baby Boomers have begun to reach retirement age, more than 40 million of us have emerged in the United States. We are the dynamic that got things done decades ago, via the sheer numbers of our voices, and we could have that same power now—but we are reluctant to use it.
So, I ask, why?
I remember how impressed I was to read about Mother Jones, the diminutive white-haired Labor organizer who fought for the mine workers and their families in the early 1900s. “I have been in jail more than once, and I expect to go again,” she said. She was in her 80s when she fought off rats with a broken beer bottle during one of her incarcerations.
I am not suggesting that we wield weapons or put ourselves in physical jeopardy. But there are still battles that need to be fought, and we are uniquely qualified to wage them. Who is unaffected by stories about our peers who are suffering from neglect and abuse in local nursing homes? Is it okay that groups and individuals prey on the savings of elderly citizens? Shouldn’t society find a way to help seniors who must choose between food and medications to stay alive? It is a shame that so many of us feel lonely and detached as elders, when we have spent so much of our lives giving to the people and causes that we love.
At different levels throughout my life, I have felt what I can only describe as unreasonable guilt. I have felt guilty being white because of slavery, being German because of the Holocaust, being economically comfortable because of the extreme ravages of poverty—and so on. And a little of that guilt is good, because we are all part of the human condition. What diminishes one of us necessarily diminishes us all. That doesn’t change just because we got older.
It may be easy to look the other way, but at the end of the day, we are still either part of the solution or part of the problem.
By William Wine
There's so much individual and collective charm among and throughout this quartet of senior actresses, they comprise a virtual charm bracelet.
And that's almost enough to allow us to glance past the sore-thumb script limitations of their collaborative contemporary comedy, Book Club.
But as grateful as we might be for the existence of a movie that showcases the natural appeal and nuanced skill of national treasures Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen, we can't help but wish that the script, so carefully designed to appeal to a particular demographic of gender and age, employed them more productively.
The life-after-60 comedy-drama, Book Club, looks in on four women of age— each smart, funny, accomplished, well-off, and fiercely independent—lifelong friends who meet in Los Angeles once a month to drink lots of wine and, if there's still time, discuss whatever book they've just read.
But they cherish their four-member book club as a constant in their lives—one of the few they have—and have been showing up, sometimes from a great distance, for decades.
One evening, they're introduced to Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in the erotic trilogy by E. L. James, which is out of their usual comfort zone and tosses a metaphorical Molotov cocktail into their respective late-in-life complacency, even though the book(s) in question serve merely as an entry point to the narrative and are not really dwelt upon.
Diane Keaton's Diane (in a role written for her) is a recent widow whose two overprotective grown daughters drive her a little bit crazy.
Jane Fonda, playing a wealthy hotelier, Vivian, dates constantly but keeps her love life emotionally distant and no-strings-attached superficial.
Candice Bergen's divorced Sharon, a federal judge, avoids romantic involvements but takes notice of the younger woman with whom her ex is now involved.
And Mary Steenburgen's chef-and-restaurateur Carol stays focused on regaining her husband's sexual interest, which has vanished since his reluctant retirement after 35 years of marriage.
These are the four overlapping and intersecting character arcs that we follow as Diane, Vivian, Sharon, and Carol get involved, respectively, with pilot Andy Garcia, old flame Don Johnson, online blind date Richard Dreyfuss, and distracted hubby Craig T. Nelson.
Their stories aren't quite as compelling as we would like them to be, but the pleasant company, affability, and rapport of the primary actresses keep things pleasant even when they fall short of funny. Smiles of recognition are what the film is after, given that belly laughs are off the table.
Bill Holderman, a producer making his directorial debut, works from a by-the-numbers script that he co-wrote with Erin Simms, an actress making her screenwriting debut. Their well-intentioned premise makes us root for their success, but their screenplay begs for considerable further revision of narrative and characterization.
And it would appear to be their storytelling inexperience that keeps us attentive but not as engaged as we would need to be to have more at stake.
The result is a tepidly told tale during which we easily yield to distractions as the mind wanders: for example, we are reminded of such small-world connections as the fact that Don Johnson's real-life daughter, Dakota Johnson, stars in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.
Or that the four women seem to have been designed to parallel in some way the four characters on display in the television series Sex and the City (you do the math). That there is a predictability to the way things proceed is not necessarily a problem for the film's target audience, given the genre and the credentials that the leaders bring to the party.
After all, we're talking about a quartet of Oscar nominees and several Oscar winners, as well (Fonda for Klute and Coming Home, Keaton for Annie Hall, Steenburgen for Melvin and Howard). We're treated to the expertise of four—excuse the expression—old pros who know how to hold the screen, deliver a line, and demonstrate honed, knowing comic timing, but who surely could use a more inspired or fully baked PG-13-rated script to work from.
As it is, the film is a pretender in the mold of a Nancy Meyers romp, but it lacks the follow-through that the premise sets us up for in such Meyers films as It's Complicated and Something's Gotta Give.
Still, no complaint from this corner is severe enough to obliterate our gratitude that the movie exists as a further reminder of how good the focal foursome is at their craft—and that, like a book club itself, Book Club is a viable alternative for moviegoers tired of or disinterested in the summer's lineup of action-oriented spectacles.
(Following its theatrical run, look for Book Club in the usual digital, video, and TV distribution outlets.)
The Kitchen Garden
By William Wine
The evolution of the “kitchen garden” is a perfect example of form following function. In fact, one can almost imagine some Roman matriarch from 800 B.C. standing in her kitchen door, pointing outside, and explaining to her servant/slave how to create one:
“I want room for basil and thyme, also for apples and artichokes, and I want it to be inviting, but I don’t want people tracking dirt into my clean kitchen!”
And that idea—a mess-free garden area—is the true function of a kitchen garden, which uses shell or stone paths, raised beds, trellises, and concealed but highly effective drainage to keep the dirt where it belongs: in the beds, around the plants.
These early Roman “peristyle” gardens, primarily the property of wealthy landowners who could devote space to them, also included water features for relaxation, statues as focal points, and frescoes on the courtyard walls to extend the feeling of spaciousness. For the very well-to-do, outdoor “rooms” (exedrae) actually extended their living space.
The concept spread across Europe. In France, the kitchen garden is known as a potager—hence the English word “pottage” for a thick vegetable soup or stew. Like so many things French, the Gallic form is both decorative and practical, incorporating the neat, pleasing geometry of plants confined to measured spaces with the ease of use of raised beds, distinctive paths, and trellises on which fruit trees can be espaliered to minimize space use and maximize fruit production.
In the United Kingdom, justly famed for its gardens and parks, this approach to neat and tidy reached its ideal, and to this day the rectangular raised garden bed is known as an “English bed.” To achieve this look, add planks to the top edges of your twinned 2” x 12” side frames and create built-in benches. Or go for a durable stone bench, like the ones in the Burton Agnes Hall Elizabethan gardens.
Like any great idea, the concept of the kitchen garden spread, from England and France to America, where settlers with more land than they could ever have imagined owning in the Old World still preferred kitchen gardens.
Distinct from the regular garden, or “field,” in which householders grew copious quantities of turnips, potatoes, onions, and the like—often on the periphery of acres of feed corn, dry beans, and sorghum—the kitchen garden was a limited space in close proximity to the food-preparation area. Its care and planting were overseen by the lady of the house, and most American kitchen gardens were filled with essentials like peas and healing herbals and lovingly tended, even if the mulch along the paths was only hay and the central garden fixture was a cutting from Grandma’s rosebush back East.
In fact, the kitchen-garden model was reinforced by frontier settlers’ wives, who preferred them close to the house, “just steps from the kitchen,” as Laura Ingalls Wilder put it. Comprising small squares, this garden produced succulent vegetables—including lettuces, tomatoes, radishes, and green onions—that went into salads; small fruits, like berries, for pies; and even such spring and summer favorites as sweet peas, watermelons, cantaloupes, pie melons (“orange melons”), and sugar pumpkins.
In many cases, the kitchen garden could also be relied upon to serve up healing herbs, whether brought as seed from the Old Country or introduced to the settlers as local plants by Native Americans. In fact, the now-pesky dandelion started out as a border plant in some settler’s kitchen garden.
In every case, the items these close-in gardens grew were essential—to feed a family, season a meal, heal an invalid, dye cloth, or simply make tea. They were often densely fenced by “palings,” saplings severed along their length and dug into the ground to form an impenetrable border which could keep out even the smallest animals. (Editor’s note: From palings we derive the term “beyond the pale.”)
Once the kitchen garden was established, housewives could begin to embellish it. Drifts of annual and perennial flowers not only added color but, as with marigolds and alliums, kept bugs out of the garden. Other perennials, like lemon verbena and lavender, provided both fragrance and insect prevention inside the home.
If you want to start your own kitchen-garden landscape project, keep in mind the essential elements and calculate the cost. Using the tried-and-true master carpenter’s formula, “measure twice, cut once,” decide how much room you will need for your design. Every dedicated gardener wants to recreate Versailles, but if you start small—say, two raised beds with built-in drainage, two stone pathways and the perimeter, a centerpiece fountain or potted tree, and a bench, you should be able to DIY it for about $750, including soil to fill the raised beds.
Several amendments to design can add additional interest. Consider dwarf border hedges to let in sunlight but define the space. Add arches (wood for now, metal when you can afford it). If you have a fence wall, consider fastening a trellis frame to it and trying your hand at espaliering. Or simply add a flowering vine for another focal point.
The dry well (see diagram below), if properly prepared, can serve as a rain garden for birds, butterflies, bees, and even some aquatic species like frogs and salamanders. The plank-topped raised beds not only facilitate planting and weeding but also provide room for pots of flowers or herbs, or—best of all—pots of lightly trailing flowers or greens, like ivy, to conceal the wood until it has aged gracefully.
Speaking of wood, choose cedar if you can. If not, go for composite wood (artificial decking), which comes in a variety of colors: red is striking against all that green! Whatever you do, do not use pressure-treated wood—it contains chemicals poisonous both to plants and to you.
Tuck unique little items among your spaces—an old railroad lantern can hang from your tree; an old enameled teapot can peek out of the lettuce. Think of your garden space as another living space and act accordingly. Weatherproof stereo speakers? Why not? A scarecrow? Perhaps only at Halloween, and only then if you don’t have small and easily-frightened children. A sculpture? Always lovely. Whatever you choose, know that your kitchen garden will be unique to you, and gorgeous in the way you—and the whims of nature—choose it to be.
By Elizabeth Sinclair
So called, Last-Chance Tourism, though in many cases an exaggerated statement, is, places in the world that are rapidly changing or disappearing. While many natural wonders are vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels, many manmade sites of cultural or historical importance are also under threat from conflict, urban development, vandalism, climate change, fires, and deforestation. Ironically, tourism may actually help to save these places: if the sites attract tourists and revenue, local governments will be motivated to preserve or restore them. Here’s a short list of sites that tourism could help save—or that you may want to visit before they’re gone.
Shanghai’s Old City, China
To wander the narrow laneways of Shanghai’s historic old city, with its canals, bridges, age-old wooden teahouses, and noodle shops, is to take a walk back in time to China’s past. This area was the original Shanghai, established in the Middle Ages as a trade city, with high walls to protect against pirates. Highlights include historic Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist temples and the contemplative Yu Garden, all dating from the 16th century. While the Chinese government has promised to protect the Old City, several historical houses and part of the remaining wall were demolished in 2002 to build a high-rise hotel and residential apartments. Many old houses are at risk for “modernization.” There are few hotels in this area, but you can stay in nearby Huangpu District, which is within walking distance, or book a room through Airbnb in a centuries-old private home in the Old City.
Post-Independence Architecture of Delhi, India
Most people know of India’s pre-colonial buildings, like the Taj Mahal; however, a group of 62 buildings in Delhi, built after Independence in 1947, are under threat from urban development. These buildings are significant, as they were designed by famous Indian architects and represent the “built heritage” of India after Independence. The sites lack historical protection, and many of them are targeted for demolition. While there, you can also visit the Delhi Heritage Route, which runs six miles from Humanyun’s Tomb to the Red Fort, offering clean-energy buses, improved signage, and walking-tour booklets to encourage tourists to visit Delhi’s more famous sites easily. The Heritage Hotels of India site can help you find accomodation in a range of historic hotels.
Matobo Hills Cultural Landscape, Zimbabwe
The Matobo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural site, are a granite formation about 22 miles, or 35 km, outside Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe, inside the Matobo National Park. The Hills contain one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Africa, with more than 3,500 currently recorded pictures dating back to the Stone Age. Local people still carry out traditional religious and cultural practices here. While the rock paintings are generally in good condition, the sites are under threat from grazing, vandalism, fire, and exposure to sun and rain because of deforestation. You can stay at a range of lodges or cabins inside the park, running the gamut from rustic to luxurious. Bird watching, hiking, and trail riding are available within the park, or you can visit native wildlife in nearby Whovi Wild Area Game Park.
Machu Picchu, Peru
This remote city of the Incas, built in the 15th century, lay covered in jungle until it was rediscovered in 1911. The site has become increasingly popular and now receives about 2,500 visitors daily. All this foot and bus traffic is damaging Machu Picchu. The site lies on a geographic fault line and is also vulnerable to landslides and earthquakes. The Peruvian government, in an effort to control the impact of tourism, issues time-restricted tickets and limits tour groups to sixteen people, and it may introduce further restrictions. If you spend a night at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, a five-star luxury resort only steps from the main entrance, you can enter the ruins before dawn and have the place to yourself. Other threatened archeological sites worth visiting in Peru are Cerro de Oro, containing the remains of adobe houses and temples dating back to 550 AD and threatened by looting and neglect; and the Chankillo Archeological Site, America’s oldest astrological observatory.
Ramal Talca-Constitución, Chile
A 55-mile-long railway branch, the Ramal Talca-Constitución is the last rural passenger rail line—and the last narrow-gauge railway—left in Chile. Built starting in 1888, the railway, comprising tracks, historic train cars, stations, a tunnel, turntables, and bridges, is protected as a national landmark. The line includes the Banco de Arena Bridge, which was designed by Gustav Eiffel. Recent forest fires in the country damaged rail sections and several stations. The entire system faces possible closure in the future, as more local residents use private cars. You can plan an itinerary on Inspirock, including the railway, for free.
Civil Rights Sites of Alabama, United States
A cluster of private homes, churches, and community spaces, in the cities of Greensboro, Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, Alabama, were at the center of the African-American Civil Rights movement. While a few of the spaces are still in private hands, many structures are churches or have been turned into museums. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is spearheading conservation and education efforts. Alabama Tourism offers a Civil Rights Trail itinerary, complete with dining and hotel recommendations.
Venice—the fabled “Floating City” of canals—is slowly sinking, due to rising sea levels and more frequent flooding (aqua alta, “high water”)—from the canals and lagoon around which Venice is built. Massive floodgates are being built in the lagoon and will be operational this coming June. With seven million tourists visiting annually, Venice is inundated with people. Consider staying in Venice for several days if you visit; many tourists only pass through for the day, contributing little to the local economy. Winter, despite the threat of aqua alta, is a lovely time to visit: the city is full of locals (not tourists), churches and historic buildings are often empty, and accommodation is cheaper. The entire Adriatic coast in Italy is under threat from sea-level rise, so if you go, consider also visiting coastal areas such as Puglia, Catania, Cagliari, or Oristano.
Machiya Traditional Townhouses, Kyoto, Japan
These traditional wooden houses, built during the Edo period (1603–1867), were originally used as a combination of shops or workspaces and dwellings for a growing merchant class in Japan. The Machiya are long and narrow, with interior gardens that let light and air into the narrow buildings. Several local historic groups have been helping revitalize privately owned Machiya and established a resource center and Machiya museum. You can stay at one of these traditionally restored houses as part of the Machiya Residence Inn in central Kyoto.
On the EARN website under “State Info,” There is a drop-down list where you can find all the legal information about Financial Elder Abuse and involuntary Guardianship for your state.
As we researched each state, a question arose—though the public chooses those who will represent their interests and safety and, through one manner of taxation or another, pay the salaries of those representatives as well as Attorney Generals, Judges, and District Attorneys, why is there so little concern shown for the senior citizens in so many states? It is particularly perplexing given the fact that those very senior citizens are, more often than not, paying the largest share of the taxes and casting the largest share of the votes.
Over the next year, we will compare all 50 states, each month we will carry forward the state that was the best in the previous month’s comparisons, to see...
WHO IS DOING THEIR JOB.
Letters to the Editor
As we have just begun, we have not yet received any letters. I certainly hope that you will write to us: tell us about your experience with Financial Elder Abuse or Involuntary Guardianship. We will also be looking for people to interview for our monthly video and lovely photographs for our cover.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving demonstrated how much change can be accomplished when we all speak as one and insist on change. Now, it is time for Americans to again speak as one—create a roar so loud we cannot be ignored--no longer tolerating the abuse of our senior citizens.
Join The EARN Project. The membership is free. It will provide you with notifications when your Senate or House have a Bill, concerning Financial Elder Abuse and Involuntary Guardianship, coming up. It will provide a contact to all pertinent officials, through the EARN Project for you to make sure your concerns are heard and addressed. It also gives you access to information on all the laws in your state and an emergency contact list for your state which, at this time, are open to all on our website but, will soon be for members only.
Earn has picked up the baton, won't you please join the chorus —without you there is no roar and no change.
Looking forward to seeing what you send us
Sharon de Lobo
please send your letters through the EARN Contact Form or directly to email@example.com