How I Learned I Had White Privilege

It was around 1989 0r 1990. Our daughter was in youth sports–a swim club. I was at a parent’s board meeting. We were working on logistics for an upcoming club swim meet. If you don’t have a club swimmer, you may not realize that these meets run from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening. Those are the short ones. Bit meets, nationals, Olympic Trials run 7 to 10 days. But even the short ones, if they are too far away, it may require hotel reservations, transport for kids with different schedules, etc. And crucially, short ones tend to be outside, and require at least one of those blue pop-up tent things–the kind you put lawn chairs and blankets under, because the actual time your kid swims is brief–minutes, maybe twice a day–and bleachers, even if there are any, are hard and hot. Thus, tent awnings. Essential survival items.

Anyway, one of the parents was a respected African-American journalist for a major news organization. Someone said to him, “the tents are in my garage–just swing by and pick them up”. He looked at us as if we had lost our minds. “I’m not going into a white person’s back yard and garage by myself,” His tone was incredulous that anyone would ask.

No one else, at that table would have hesitated. The response, from all of us white people, living in the same neighborhood as he did, would have been “Sure.” Being in someone else’s back yard, or garage, wasn’t anything we’d think about, wasn’t anything to think about, wasn’t anything to cause concern, or caution.

He had to think. He had to have concern. He had to be cautious. He couldn’t “just do it.”

That’s white privilege.


Is Looking Pretty Familiar: 1967, 1992, 2020

The view forward, as of today, June 2, 2020, changes day by day. I’ve got no idea what will happen in the next few hours, let alone the next few days. I know that this post is not the one I started yesterday, and may well be irrelevant by the time you read it. The rearview mirror. though. . . .but, like anything else we do now, you need to read the disclaimer:
I am a white woman, over 70. I am not a sociologist, historian, physician, statistician, public health official, nor do I claim expertise in any particular segment of knowledge. I am, and always have been, intellectually curious and as a result I know a little bit about a lot of things. I try to stay with verifiable facts, but I readily admit that each and every one of us is an editor; our brains are selective in what they see, and register, and remember. Those memories may be influenced by biases formed by our experiences, even if we may not recognize it, so we each see the world through a unique perspective. All that being said, my memory of 1967 is pretty clear.
I was a 22 year old, newly married, graduate of Michigan State. We were living in Lansing while my husband finished his MA in journalism. It was late July and we were at a party at the home of one of our friends’ parents, in an affluent suburb of Detroit. I don’t remember much about the house, but it must have been on a large piece of property because the party was going on at the bottom of a hill. I think there was water nearby. As we ran up the hill towards the house, a line of five or six men, in full riot gear, stood to meet us. I remember the men with long guns; my husband remembers details of their tactical gear. I’m not sure what others there would remember. I know we were escorted back to the house and told to stay put. We did.

We knew there were riots in Detroit, but they had never seemed to be relevant to our 20-something selves. Why would they? Because we were not affected. Our cause, if we had one at all, was the Vietnam war. Being drafted did affect us. We didn’t notice that in the great cities of the midwest, industrial jobs paying decent wages were disappearing, and white flight to the suburbs was in full swing. The result: a lower city tax base, impacting education, housing, social services, the burden falling disproportionately on those who could not flee. How tragic is it that we are talking today about fair employment, good educations, and decent living accommodations?
In 1992, we were living in Los Angeles, with one high school aged daughter at home. The riots broke out when four white policemen were acquitted in the beating of a black man, Rodney King, at the end of a police chase. It was documented on videotape by a civilian,

The Rage and the Destruction

It Grew and Spread.

Crowds gathered, overwhelming police. White drivers were pulled from their cars and beaten. A large part of the conflagration focused on Koreatown. Tensions between the Korean-American and African American communities had been building for years, with robbery, violence and death. The National Guard was called in, as were federal troops.

National Guard

Dusk to dawn curfews were imposed. Helicopters hovered overhead. Our neighborhood was untouched, as were some affluent white communities closer to the main action. Even though many of us drove through burned out areas while driving our children to school, I don’t remember any serious talk about any underlying reasons. People shook their heads at the verdict, decried the violence, and on the whole, ignored the rage. In public discourse, sociologists tended to perceive the riots as a backlash to Korean and Latino immigrants moving into black neighborhoods, the economically minded reiterated economic disparity from market changes and a nationwide recession, and resulting high unemployment. Still others spoke of inadequate treatment in education, social and financial services, and of course, documented police brutality. Politicians called for police reform, deplored racism or decried anarchy, and called for greater enforcement of the law against the rioters.I remember a lot of opinions, but not much listening to any that didn’t coincide with their particular worldview.

I’m still in Los Angeles in 2020. We’ve got a pandemic where those with the least resources and low paying jobs are “essential workers”, required to come in contact with people, bringing the virus back to their community, which suffers the greatest proportion of illness and death. Poor schools. Underfunded social services. Documented police brutality. Calls for reform. Calls for severe prosecution. And we have riots. Curfews. Copters. The National Guard. Possibly federal troops. It’s all way too familiar.

And yet, it’s different. We are all now being stoked by outrage, by the instant gratification of media, both social and mainstream that coincide with, and encourage our own biases and principles. We listen even less to those whose perceptions differ from our own.

Calls for action rush out immediately to those inclined to hear them. The President uses military tactics to clear peaceful protesters from a public park, for a cynical photo-op, co-opting the symbols of a religion he does not follow. He subtly, and not so subtly, endorses civilian violence. Peaceful protests are hijacked by looters, and probably by others with their own agendas. Far right wing? Far left wing? Foreign powers? Who knows? But maybe someone. I know Los Angeles pretty well now, and I know that there aren’t a lot of loose stones and bricks ready to throw at police officers in the Fairfax district, or at Rodeo Drive, or in Santa Monica, in the neighborhood I served as an Associate Pastor. Angry mobs don’t come prepared with bolt cutters, or with tools to pry ATMS from the wall. I watched local news as their on the street reporters broadcast scenes of apparently organized theft. I also saw many of the people who had come out to exercise their right to peaceful protest try to stop those who were perverting their message.

I support Americans’ rights to lawfully assemble and peacefully express their views, whether or not they coincide with mine. I condemn looting, especially when it is organized, cynical, and makes mockery of that basic right. It’s theft, plain and simple. I have been friends for many years with a now retired senior LAPD officer, and I respect and support him and his colleagues. I am conscious of the many difficulties and dangers they face as they do their best to protect and serve.

On Monday, June 1 I saw thousands of regular Angelenos of all colors, come voluntarily to clean up the aftermath. I support them most of all

I’ve scanned through the cable channels, and the national newscasts. I’ve seen little of the protestors trying to protect stores, which they did, confronting the disrupters, which they did, and voluntarily cleaning up the detritus left by anger, manipulation, and wanton destruction. Like I said, we all edit to fit our own narrative. I’m sure I have, too. For me, maybe, just maybe, there is some hope. And maybe, just maybe, this will help us address underlying issues. Maybe, just maybe, it will give everyone, on all sides, a chance to talk, an opportunity seldom taken to listen, to gain some insight into another’s view. Maybe, just maybe, we will begin to heal, and BE AMERICANS, with a goal of liberty, and justice, for ALL.

Maybe, just maybe, this will be my last riot.



So, it’s summer and our movie going choices are down to franchise films, remakes, and an occasional over- long examples of  ego, and self- indulgence (looking at you, Quentin Tarantino), or just a remake (cough, cough Disney’s Aladdin and Lion King) .With the exception of Yesterday, I haven’t seen a film that captured imagination or heart, at least among the major releases.

So, faced with the choice of The FAST and FURIOUS spin-off of Hobbs and Shaw – a franchise that started as an auto race-chase-explosion movie and now seems to have morphed, according to the trailer, into the standard implausible characters acting in implausible manners and  doing impossible things through CGI to save the world from total destruction – or the above referenced Once Upon a Time in Hollywood revisionist gore-fest… Perhaps the best choice was Spiderman: Far From Home.

  • Hobbs and Shaw
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Spiderman: Far from Home

Which could have been titled

Marvel’s Spiderman’s High School European Vacation.

It’s clear that Marvel intends to continue to extend the “Marvel Universe” into new and under -explored or hitherto unknown characters, while old friends fade away. RIP, Tony Stark, but worry not. Your legend, and your gimmicks linger, at least for a while.

Tom Holland’s undoubted charm in Avengers: Endgame, is wisely used here, to make a completely (almost) believable sixteen-year-old superhero who really just wants to be a teenager with a couple of very cool, better than skateboarding, tricks.  Unfortunately, while he is eagerly planning to be away with his high school classmates, including the very hot MJ (Zendaya) the superhero uberboss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) needs his help to counter yet another threat to all mankind.  Nick Fury—I doubt if anyone has ever just called him Nick—is forced to rely on this inexperienced friendly neighborhood Spiderman, since all other Avengers have either joined Tony Stark in the great beyond, or are “off-planet” Which sounds a little like the movies I was dismissing as trivial. The difference is that:

1) Marvel clearly intends to venture further and further into its’ “Universe” and we might as well keep up with it

2) Tom Holland.

Make that 1) Tom Holland, the saving grace of this movie. He makes the struggle between….

“I just want to be a normal teen”

– Peter Parker


“with great power comes great responsibility”

– Ben Parker (Uncle Ben)

Choices Believable

Even though you know in the end he will do the right thing, and save the world, you  also empathize with his desire for a short vacation from that “great responsibility” thing.  He doesn’t want to save the world this week; he just wants to hang, and maybe pursue his attraction to MJ while in a foreign locale.

In a sort of coming of age as Spiderman story, it’s a decent plot line.  Ignoring all the pseudo-scientific mumble jumble, young Peter Parker learns that either choice, “normal teen” or “superhero” has consequences both big and small, for himself and those around him.  Nick Fury learns that being the awesome boss of a secret society of superheroes doesn’t necessarily provide him with the skills of coping with a sixteen-year-old. MJ and other high school kids and teachers provide some of the light touches of coping with adolescents and begin to understand about those who are different in some way.

In a sort of coming of age as Spiderman story, it’s a decent plot line.  Ignoring all the pseudo-scientific mumble jumble, it’s basically young Peter Parker learning that either choice, “normal teen” or “superhero” has consequences both big and small, for himself and those around him.  Nick Fury learns that being the awesome boss of a secret society of superheroes doesn’t necessarily provide him with the skills of coping with a sixteen-year-old. MJ and other high school kids and teachers provide some of the light touches of coping with adolescents and begin to understand about those who are different in some way.

All good reasons to see the film, which, if not still in theaters, should pop up on cable or streaming services in the not too distant future.

But mostly, see it for Tom Holland. He makes me wish that, like Peter Pan, he won’t grow up an will be my friendly neighborhood Spiderman forever.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Shelby Larsen Rating


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Yes, of course you should see this movie. After all, it’s about Mr. Rogers.  And on top of that, it has Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers is nice.
Tom Hanks is nice.

Why wouldn’t you go?

If you go, you too will be nice…. For a while.

Niceness is in short supply right now.  And, truthfully, this movie is not only all about nice, it is nice. Mr. Rogers was a hero to generations of our nation’s children.  Mr. Rogers taught that even when we grow up, it is still possible to be nice.  Unfortunately, we forget that lesson, somewhere in middle school and high school, when emotions run strongly.  It’s then, that what Mr. Rogers taught us, that though being human means having emotions, they can be managed. It is one of the tragedies of our time that so many people forget that. They forget to do what Mr. Rogers did best: listen.  Listen, without condescension, to children. Listen to their worries, their fears, their pleasures.  Listening to them leads to liking them, in his memorable words, “just the way you are.”

There is not a lot of listening, not a lot of liking “just the way you are” going on these days, evn in the movies.  Maybe especially in the movies.

The movie isn’t really about Mr. Rogers. Fred Rogers, in and of himself, is not inherently dramatic. This film is about the effect that Mr. Rogers had on the people whose lives he touched, which, due to the ubiquity of television, was pretty much the whole country.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood made its national debut on February 19, 1968.  The country was fraught with controversy over the Vietnam War, the “flower power” youth revolution, and, in general, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s perhaps too simple to see the show as a comforting, culture -countering response to the fractures that roiled the nation’s adults.  Just so, it is easy to see character of Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, alienated from his family, emotionally conflicted journalist who sees himself as a righteous purveyor of truth, as a stand in for current culture.

But perhaps that is taking a metaphor a little too far. This is, after all, a movie, and a movie needs some plot, some drama.  Lloyd’s initially dismissive attitude towards the assignment—interview the iconic children’s host for an article about heroes in Esquire magazine—becomes, as he interacts more with Fred Rogers, a spiritual journey.  Spiritual journeys are notoriously hard to film, and so, the Vogel family dysfunction become the somewhat shaky (we’ve seen it all before) storyline to illustrate the values embodied by Fred Rogers.  Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, Rev. Rogers –yes, he was an ordained minister in the mainline Presbyterian denomination—his spiritual journey is unknowable.  He didn’t talk about himself much. He simply was who he was.

The film touches on Mr. Rogers faith, by showing him at prayer, a mention or two of God, and a reference to his reading of Scripture. I wish it had done a little more with his faith.

(Full disclosure. I too am an ordained mainline Presbyterian minister, and I always wish that films would show a little more of behavior deeply rooted in faith). Nevertheless, his faith, and his spiritual journey, whatever it was, made him who and what he was.

Today, we would probably label him as highly empathetic; he looked at people, saw them, and responded directly to them. He deflected questions about himself,  his methods, his creativity, his life, by asking about the lives of others.  If you want to get a feeling for him personally, go to  other sources. The 1998  Esquire article that served as inspiration for the film, Can You Say . . .Hero? recounts journalist Tom Junod’s interactions with Mr. Rogers.  The 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, focuses far more on Fred Rogers himself.

This movie is about values; of seeing others, of listening to others, of appreciating others.  Of being present for others. That’s the message Mr. Rogers not only spoke but lived. Really. He wasn’t a saint, though we are never shown his failings. We don’t really care, because,  for a little while, kindness and niceness are appreciated.

So, this movie is about a thoroughly decent and nice man.

This movie has nice Tom Hanks doing a very good job of portraying this nice man.

Why wouldn’t you go see the movie?

Maybe it will make you think about being nice.

For more than a little while.

The world could use more niceness.


Avengers: EndGame

Are you thinking about a nice night at the movies in the next two weeks? Then you are about to see the long awaited and/or highly hyped, expected to break all box office records film, AVENGERS: END GAME. It will be playing at the Island Cinema, on both screens, for the next two weeks.

Upfront, I need to admit that I only have room in my head for one complicated mythology, full of interacting characters with detailed backstories, evolving and improbable connections, confusing narratives that seem to be designed only to fix up a previous plot issues, full of magic or faux science. The Avenger series has all that, but much of my headspace is taken up by the mythology, etc. of Game of Thrones. Also, full disclosure, I have only seen about half of the twenty-two films that now make up the MCU (that’s Marvel Comic Universe to the uninitiated). I did watch Avengers: Infinity Wars the night prior to seeing Endgame. It didn’t help me much. I am certain there were references, callbacks, locations and past relationships that I did not catch. I can, however, state definitively that Endgame is better than Infinity Wars. It may be the best MCU film I have seen, on a par with Black Panther and the original Iron Man. If you are not too bothered with details like “Who is that? He looks like the other guy?” Or, “What’s his/her powers? Whose posse are they?” Endgame will work for you as a stand-along feature.

I am Iron Man.

– Tony Stark

Endgame has all of the best features of a super-hero movie. Love of friends, of family, of great threat (to the end of civilization, as usual), discovery of limitations, sacrifice, supreme sacrifice for others, etc.  It also has touches of humor, some of which I missed because the audience chuckled when I didn’t, some of which I found funnier than they did because I wasn’t familiar with the reference, at least not in the same way. Some of the humor was sophomoric, 13 year old boy stuff. Some was funny in a wistful, nostalgic way, one of the many surprising layers in this movie.

It is a long movie. The first hour tends to be spent in setting up what is, what was, and planning for whatever is to come.  There’s a sort of “getting the band back together” vibe to it, plus a plot line constructing  a “time heist” that will fix all that has gone wrong.  This combination of tried and true movie themes, planning a heist, putting together the team, time travel, and saving the universe, combined with a few shots highly reminiscent of iconic shots from other films, brings the audience in synch with the basic premise.  Particularly enjoyable is the quick explanation of why all the time travel paradox rules from other films don’t apply here, thus opening up the possibilities for interactions usually portrayed as impossible, improbable, history-changing or worse.  This climaxes with Captain America giving the rousing pre-game, pre-battle speech seen hundreds of times before, ending with a variation of “be careful out there!”

The middle of the film cuts between various efforts to complete the mission. Things go right, things go wrong, our heroes are forced to improvise, and “being careful out there” is quickly discarded.

By this time, all bathroom runs should have been taken care of, because, even though there is a lot of running time left,  the film does not have as much of the prolonged video game type battles often seen in the genre.

Finally, after an old-fashioned fade to black, Endgame comes up with a moving and elegant tribute to the costs of abandoning a not-so-secret human identity to be a super-hero and save the world. It touches upon who people were, how life changes even for those with superpowers, what is achieved, what was lost, and what can be done to face the future.

For these Avengers, it’s the End, not the Game, that matters, both to them and us.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Shelby Larsen Rating


2017-2020 Catchup

(Sheltering in Place, Quarantine, Whatever . . .it’s Groundhog’s Day!)

Indeed, whatever your views on weather prediction by rodents, or Bill Murray movies, it’s hard we hope that at some point 2020 brings you the usual—peace, love and joy, family and friends, gratitude and kindness. All things that we are all in need of right now.
We find ourselves now in a world of separation from others, on the one hand, and a lot of togetherness in our living quarters, on the other. It’s been a time of remoteness, where everything is electronic, and often frustrating, and time consuming, yet also the only way we have to communicate with those we love and cherish. Days blend together, and in the hours we are not staring at screens, pounding on keyboards, or just waiting for the security confirmation code to be sent to you for the site you just accessed yesterday, there is time to think. And remember. And realize what we have missed.
I have to confess, and apologize, especially since I can’t quote novel coronavirus as an excuse, for having been in the ground-hog day repetitive time-loop for the past three years, in a really negative way. Somehow, December and January 2017 got away from me, and I did not get my usual seasonal greetings out; I felt badly, but thought I could do better in 2018, except that turned out to be the year we decided to downsize, sell our house, and buy a condo. That happened in fall 2017 and we completed all of it and MOVED in January. Stressed out, I barely got through Christmas, and I suspect that even if I’d found the time, expressions of goodwill and cheer might have been just a tad insincere.
Now, though, it has been forcibly brought home to me how much I treasure all of you, and all of the memories we have, together and apart. What have I to really do but think, and remember. So, if you still think of us, and perhaps have a few moments to read, I am offering you a quick tour through the last three years.

Yes, we actually have bought a condo in Florida, and spend winters there. How stereotypical! I never would have thought that would be us. But we do love the laid-back lifestyle on Sanibel Island. It also gives us proximity to Alexis and her family. Tonya and Wendy and their families are both now in Los Angeles, so we are near them, as well. We have learned, over the years, that family is, and always will be, first. (I’ve posted a few letters from the past that demonstrate how the family grew and grew and grew and grew.)
Forging ahead, if you are interested, please see the Cliff Notes of what I should have written to you in 2017. 2018 and of course, 2019.
Short version, all the usual things happened: Chuck and I and our adult kids and their spouses aged up a bit, grandchildren grew. There were graduations, plays, recitals. Life, as we knew it, went on. Time passed. Those years, particularly the downsizing/moving part, made us realize that the three score and ten years of life had some actual meaning. We decided to try to get through our “bucket list” of travel while we still had the physical ability to do so.
Still with me? Feel free to stop whenever. I mean it. I am not one of those “oh, no not another Christmas letter!!” people. I like getting Christmas letters, I like keeping in touch–I know, I know–so really, please stop whenever you want.

2017: Memorable Moments
To celebrate our 50th anniversary, (December 30, 1966), we decided to take a cruise out of New Zealand to the sub-Antarctic islands right after Christmas. Where?? you may ask, and it’s a fair question. We have become interested in the polar regions, having been to Antarctica, and having gone through the Northwest Passage in previous years. So, the sub-Antarctic islands are a small chain of islands uninhabited (for good reason) by humans, and thus have prolific wildlife. It was on this trip that I learned that there are 17 sub-species of penguins, and that there are quite a few people (I think of them as the Penguinteers, though that may not be the official group name) whose purpose is to observe all 17 sub-species in their natural habitat. Though several penguins common to the Antarctic live on these islands, there are three found only in these sub-Antarctic islands. Thus, there was great excitement amongst the group when it was announced that conditions were favorable to dropping anchor in an area often unfriendly to sailing, hence its name, The Snares, giving access to the breeding grounds of those rarely seen penguins. Unfortunately, The Snares lived up to its name. and the ship sailed over an uncharted “pinnacle” which ripped a hole in the hull, making it necessary to navigate out, with disappointed, to say the least, Penguinteers hanging over the sides for a possible sighting. The Captain, with his usual insouciance and cheer (did I mention this ship was French?) announced that the slight, 15 degree list to starboard was due to the water rushing into one of the ballast compartments, but we were not to worry, because all of the compartments were watertight. We were to return to New Zealand for repairs, due to the fact that we were out of normal shipping lanes. Thus, should there be a problem, there were no other nearby ships. This sounded sinisterly familiar, like maybe the Titanic, but perhaps the explanation was more reassuring in French than in the English translation. We spent a day returning to a repair port, while I contemplated if I would share my piece of wrecked lifeboat with Chuck. I would. Probably.
In March we had a much more peaceful trip, embarking as we do every few years with our three daughters on a “family vacation”, in which three adult women immediately return to childhood, and my Mom persona kicks right in. Seriously, we had a delightful barge trip on the Thames river, and Chuck and I feel so fortunate that our girls still enjoy being with us and with each other. The highlight: a private tour of “Downton Abbey”.
Our other big decision was to sell the house, and downsize into a smaller dwelling, since we were spending more time on Sanibel Island off the west coast of Florida, and, after all, there were only two of us now. We thought we’d find a condo, because between our “bucket list” traveling and the time we were spending in Florida, maintenance was getting harder. Finding a California condo turned out to be more difficult than we thought, or else we were just too picky. This resulted in something else I would never have thought we’d do; when a unit came up for sale in a complex we knew well, we bought it over the Internet. Fortunately, we had a trusted friend and agent looking out for us, and our daughter Wendy went with her to check it out, Facetimed details to us, and we took the plunge. We do like it, but, as was the plan, it is smaller. Thus, we spent a lot of time Marie Kondo-ing the things we have accumulated over the years. I tried to give a lot to the girls, but it turned out that much of what I treasured did not give them joy. We made a large charitable donation because I really couldn’t face the idea of an estate sale. Also, because Chuck kept taking things back that were marked to go, and that might have annoyed people who thought they’d bought them.

2018: Memorable Moments
Actually, early 2018 is pretty much a blur. Our house had sold within a week of listing it, and we had to be out by mid-January. My calendar shows that the packers came January 8th. We needed to have some work done in the new place, so it wasn’t ready. We did the only logical thing: we had them put everything into the two rooms in the condo that weren’t being worked on, and lacking a place to live, we decamped to Sanibel. We unpacked slowly over the spring and summer, and are now mostly settled in., though I am often unsure about our ownership of certain items (Did we give them away? Send them to Florida? Toss them? Put them in some unlikely drawer?) and spend quite a bit of time searching for things I may or may not own.
Feeling buoyed by the success of the Thames river cruise, we decided to return to the bucket list, and settled on a trip to China in May. Everyone should see the Great Wall, right? Chuck, thoughtfully, booked us massages at the hotel spa the night we arrived after a long flight. We were the last appointments, and evidently someone forgot to notify the night staff that there was still activity at 10:00 pm. When I came out of the massage room the hall lights had been turned off, and I started to walk towards a light that I knew must come from the reception area. Unfortunately, in the dark, with my aging eyes, I did not see a step, tripped, fell, and broke my right shoulder. Result: a middle of the night trip to the Chinese emergency room, hurried care consultations, repair of five separate shoulder breaks, and a week in the Chinese Private Hospital, which I have to tell you, was a very modern facility. Chuck was able to see parts of Beijing outside of the hospital, and I got a quick tour by wheelchair of part of the Wall, and a Panda habitat. China, checked off the list. Just as well, in retrospect. Summer back in LA, lots of physical therapy.
The families all came to Big Bear, in the mountains outside of Los Angeles, in late July. We rented a large party house and enjoyed each other’s company. All good.
The rest of the year, once again, was rinse and repeat: plays, recitals, visits, friends, food, and unpacking ,unpacking, unpacking.

IF you are still with me, 2019: Memorable Moments
All family members remained well, working, volunteering, performing, studying, rinse and repeat. We are so fortunate. Otherwise, China, and the almost Titanic incident, served as, perhaps counter—intuitively, encouragement to return to the travel bucket list. We weren’t getting younger, and weren’t ready for a life of river barges, nice as that was, just yet. It was time to keep moving. In the spring, Chuck and I went to Singapore—very clean, very orderly, which actually creeped me out some. I guess I am not used to order.
From Singapore, we boarded a ship from our favorite French cruise line (yes, we forgave them The Snares , and besides, they gave us a big credit for that incident) and went to Borneo and Indonesia. Highlights there included a visit to the protected habitat of the Komodo Dragons. They are very big, and definitely scary, but at heart just nasty giant vicious carnivorous lizards. We moved on to Indonesia, where highlights included the orangutan preserve, water buffalo races, and village visits. The orangutans are not easily accessible, and the habitat very limited, which forced consideration of conservation issues. They are very cool to watch, though. Just a note: in the photo of the water buffalo race, that water is very dirty. Very dirty. Very very dirty. The genesis, and purpose, of this event is to plow and fertilize the fields, so you get my drift.
Next, Wendy’s boys had yet to experience Europe, so when school ended, we took off for Italy. Because it was all new to them, and we only had a week, we went with a limited itinerary: Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento. Their reaction: “Wow! It’s really there and looks just like what’s in the books”. Actually, that was very rewarding, particularly in their appreciation of the history—and the art—they got to see in person.
We should do that again. Perhaps, one day before they are too old, we can.
While on the Borneo trip, and under the influence of French food and topical skies, we decided with a couple of fellow travelers, that we would sign up for the Siberia and Russian arctic trip offered later that year. That’s why the fall found us embarking from Nome across the Bering Sea, to Siberia. Two things here: getting an American visa into Russia can fill a couple of months’ time, so perhaps you can consider it as a great quarantine activity. Also, Siberia looks exactly like you think it would. On our one visit to one town, (escorted by a Russian warship) we were treated to a staged production of “local culture” and some cookies. The various cultural groups listed as participating did seem to have a number of the same performers. Also, the pedestrians became familiar faces during our few hours on shore. I was dubious of their ability to walk up and down the same streets continuously, but since that has become pretty normal in the US these days, perhaps I was too quick to question. After that, a sail along the Siberian coast which looked, well, Siberian. Final stop, Wrangell Island, above the Arctic Circle. Wrangell is a world heritage site, and home to the largest population of polar bears anywhere in the world. Also, perhaps the largest walrus breeding ground. And lots of seals. We found the bears to be healthy, and presumably happy. They looked well fed. The walrus were big, both in size and number. They also are very smelly. The seals are cuter.

So, 2020.
We all know there isn’t much personal news out of 2020 yet. Neither of us have used the time to learn a new language, other than Zoom, write a novel, or do any of those great self-improvement or creative things I see on the Internet. If you have been so productive, I congratulate you. We feel that getting through frustration, occasional depression, cabin fever, an innumerable amount of streaming episodes and series, while still remaining married, is about what we can handle. We do what work we can, we spend time on FaceTime, and we love (from an appropriate distance) all of our marvelous family. In these unprecedented moments, we count our blessings. We extend our sympathy and prayers if any of you, or your loved ones have suffered with the virus. As I said in the beginning of this very long tome, this unprecedented time, has made us realize how fortunate we have been in our lives, and how much more important the relationships we have had, over the years, are than all of the busy busy busy that I did instead of writing to you. We realize how important YOU ARE to us. What will 2020 bring? I don’t know. Neither do you. Or anyone. But I hope that these moments of thought, and memory, and appreciation do not ever leave Chuck and me.
Our best to you all: May hope, grace, faith, friends, and love be yours, as we proceed through the year. And if you haven’t all given up on me, may I remember to communicate when the holidays come round again.


2016 Christmas Letter

February 15, 2017


We hope you had a Happy Holiday, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Lovely Valentine’s day!!

This is probably the latest Christmas/New Year’s letter ever.


I wish I had a good excuse—but mostly it was just the fact that it takes me more time than it ever to get anything done.

That couldn’t be a factor of getting older, could it?

Or maybe it could. We went to Hinsdale in June (2016) for our eldest daughter’s Tonya’s daughter’s eldest son, Andrew’s,  high school graduation.  I LIKE TYPING IN ELDEST ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE (We are definitely “not supposed to be this damn old”—slightly misquoting Garth Brooks—Nevertheless, he is now established at TCU.) While there, we were able to see his sister, Emily, perform as “Annie” in a local theater production. (“Tomorrow! tomorrow!!)” As people with years of theater going behind us we are totally objective when we say she did the red wig proud.

While there, I noticed that Jayne was 1) driving 2) out with friends a lot, and 3) had become a very nice and pretty young lady. (time for a few bars of “Sunrise, Sunset”)

In March, we took our California grandchildren, Henry and Alex to New York, New York, (“It’s a wonderful town”).  Henry had never been there before, and I don’t think he was too impressed. He announced it was “cold”. That could be because he only packed shorts, flip flops and a sweat shirt. Undaunted, we took the boys to see most of the tourist sites, as it was fairly clear it wouldn’t be a travel option for Henry again, soon. (“California, here I come, right back where I started from”). When asked if there was anyplace else he’s like to travel, he thought about it and replied “your condo in Sanibel.  (any Beach Boys song). We did take him from the Pacific beach to the Gulf shore beach in June, picking up Riley, Alexis’  daughter on the way. (any other Beach Boys song)

They also had another week in Sanibel in August, when we held our usual “everyone in Sanibel” reunion” week. (“Hail, Hail, the Gang’s all here”).  Our trips to and from Florida have also provided us with the opportunity to visit with our youngest daughter’s twins  “Princess Teagan”, and “Business Executive Lucas ” as well. (“a world of pure imagination.’) and their sister Riley,  undeniably  (“the leader of the pack”.

Chuck managed to work in two photographic expeditions this year—one to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for fall colors (“the autumn leaves, all red and gold“) and another to upper Canada “the land of the midnight sun, where the bears and the polar bears run”)

On December 30, 2016, we marked our 50th anniversary, and left for a holiday in New Zealand and environs.


Your very delinquent friend, Shelby (the blame is all mine; Chuck would have been all over this)


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

In a national review, the author said that there were two types of people;

1) Avid Quentin Tarantino fans

2) Those who weren’t reading the article.

I did read it, but I have always put myself in the “Not a Tarantino Fan” category. I have to admit I’ve really tried not to see it. Besides, I rely a lot on my movie going children and grandchildren. My sixteen-year-old said it was “terrible”. The fact that they were actually checking ID’s at the theater for age, as well as the focus of the film being on Charlie Manson and the Manson murders made me suspicious that Tarantino’s penchant for excessive and often gratuitous violence would be in full evidence.

“Mostly boring, though the leads were good, and Brad Pitt was looking like Robert Redford”.

by: Tonya Lawson

But when I thought about it, every one of those reactions was age-related. The Manson murders are as real to a sixteen-year-old as Lizzie Borden’s ax; his mother could remember some of the late seventies, and Robert Redford was her go-to handsome movie star.

And my husband and I were exactly the right age to have experienced 1969, and know the horror that put an end to the innocence of the Summer of Love. So, since it was apparently very popular, we went to see it.

It probably demands a certain amount of disclosure here. In addition to our age, mentioned above (we were both 22), my husband has worked in the television branch of the entertainment business all his life.  We live in Los Angeles. It probably gives us a somewhat different filter through which to view this film.

That said, I was wrong. I was wrong to avoid it, wrong to prejudge it based on reported subject matter, and wrong to worry about the violence. There was far more violence in Hobbs and Shaw, though Tarantino’s is undoubtedly more graphic.

It is definitely, as the title “Once Upon a Time. . .” implies, a fairy tale.  It is a group of separate, episodic encounters loosely strung together by Tarantino’s imaginative recreation of what Hollywood in the late sixties  was or should have been. The lives of Rick Dalton, former star of a 50’s-ish TV western that looks very similar to 1960’s Warner Brothers westerns, and his stand-in and buddy, Cliff Booth, intertwine with glimpses of the Manson “family”, the embodiment of dark side of the freedom bestowed by casual sex and even more casual drugs, loosely strung into vignettes of a time and place that no longer exists.

Tarantino has, though, wisely chosen locations that do still exist in one form or another. “We were there last night” my husband whispered to me at one point. “Look, that’s where we walked across the street.” I also recognized places I frequently drive by. This may  not be of much significance to others; after all, one restaurant, one movie theater looks very like any other, and none of the locations significantly move the plot, such as it is, along. But they make those vignettes feel very real.  My only real criticism regarding authenticity was that, even in 1969, not everyone was dancing all the time.  On the other hand, it’s a killer soundtrack.

I doubt , too, that the younger patrons appreciated all the references to old television shows and movies that permeate the script. I am quite sure, though, that choosing them, using clips, and even re-creating scenes was done with appreciation, attention to detail, and love for the past.

DiCaprio (Rick) and Pitt (Cliff) are more than believable in a best -friends, partners, co-worker kind of relationship. They are ably surrounded by a cast that includes Margot Robbie,

Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Damian Lewis and Al Pacino, among others. Cameo appearances abound. There’s not a discordant note anywhere in the performances.

Like all good fairy tales, it pits good against evil. The relentless, malevolent, inescapable nature of evil is tamed by bringing it down to human size, where it can be conquered by those who are the least likely heroes.

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Like I said, it’s a fairy tale.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Shelby Larsen Rating

You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me

In February, I sat down to write a series of Lenten thoughts. I was concerned that I was not “being still”.  I thought that I needed to take time from being busy busy busy to “be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46). Or find inner peace. Or self improvement.  Or something. And boy, did I get that. The time, that is.  Didn’t get inner peace. Probably not self improvement. Maybe a little connection with God.

Come on. Coronavirus confinement was not what I expected. Lent, Easter and beyond, it’s just been a lot of not being busy busy busy. And you know what? I don’t think I’ve self-improved much. I haven’t “used this time” to write a theological treatise, or even a not-so-great American novel.  In all honesty, I haven’t even used this time to read a theological treatise, and though I have read more than one novel, I don’t know that any of them will stand up to the test of Great Literature. I’ve wandered through Netflix, and Amazon.  I have found Acorn and Britbox, which have provided me with a steady stream of well done period dramas, and tidy Agatha Christie-ish “mysteries”.

On the positive side, I have learned Zoom-speak. I’ve learned there are a lot of people on the Internet, some of whom do not think before they type.  And many who make very creative videos. I especially like those that have a whole family participating. It makes me think that enforced togetherness may produce some dynamic that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

I’ve learned that in many ways I am fortunate, because I found working, and mothering, and wife-ing (maybe that’s  not a word) to be difficult enough, back in the day, without having to be a teacher, too.  And to think I used to complain about car-pools. I’ll bet there are a lot of women who would gladly car-pool if only there were activities to car pool to.

I’ve learned that I am very very fortunate, because we have a financial cushion to get us through these times. Fortunate because as  “things open up again” I will have choices about where to go, and how to interact with others. I am no longer one of those people whose livelihood depends on close contact with other people.

And I’ve learned that there is a place between being busy busy busy and being bored bored bored. Maybe that’s the sweet spot. I am pretty sure finding ways to keep oneself occupied while all by oneself thinking only of oneself, and interacting only with oneself or members of one’s immediate family is not a way to live.  Equally, busy busy busy wasn’t the answer, either. Maybe that was just another mode of self-involvement.

Maybe it’s true that we don’t know what we have until we lose it.  I miss people; not individual people (although them, too) but People. I don’t want my old life back; too much has changed. But I want a community back. People who don’t agree with me; people who do agree with me; people with their own lives, their own purposes. Even people in cars creating traffic. I want that back.

I just hope, that when we do start coming together again, we remember what we missed during the “stillness of the coronavirus months” and maybe, maybe we can just smile as we pass each other on our new pathways.

If we do that, maybe the stillness will have helped re-connect to God.



Lent Uncategorized

Lent: Why?

Okay, as you can see from yesterday’s post, I’ve had Psalm 46 in my head, lately. The beginning of the verse is “Be Still”. I thought about “being still, and realized I wasn’t. Still.And thought I should be. So I set a goal to try, every day, for a sense of stillness.  What I think is now being labelled “mindfulness”. Taking the time out of the chaos that envelops us to simply know that God is God.  I had trouble sitting down and forcing myself to this blog today. So much to do. I’d already taken a time out for lunch with a friend–two hours lost!  I need to figure out why I feel I have to do this? No one else is going to care about my navel gazing.  What and why is “knowing God”? A mystical experience, maybe? Becoming a “better person”? I don’t want to do it as a personal self improvement exercise, though my self can always use some improvement.  Is there any significance to feeling the need to do this at this particular time?
Something perhaps to think about. If I can take the time.