Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Snow in AugustWatchersRising SunThe Andromeda StrainThe ShiningThe Hunt for Red October

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The American Dream for One Latino Woman

I am a tie-dyed American. My roots are dyed in the colors of the plaid tartans of the Scottish Duncan clan and the glazed in the spicy fires of the Latino Puchi family. Both cultures hold me firmly planted in the United States of America. Forever may it wave over the grave of my Mamanina, my grandmother and a woman who spent most of her life wishing she could be an American citizen. Suzanna Puchi was an immigrant since 1914, she finally realized that dream at age 75 in October of 1977.

Papanino, my grandfather, became a citizen on May 17, 1941, when my mother was 12 years old. Juan Baptista Puchi was a grocery store owner in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. His formal naturalization certificate reads "True American identification as registered by the United States Government." He was 47 years old. 

Mamanina never believed she was smart enough to pass the test but she longed for the recognition of citizenship in the country she called home. She worked side by side with Papanino in the grocery store, had a child in the states, moved to Los Angeles to start a new life when my grandfather died and my mother was only 16. She worked in the garment district in Los Angeles, owned property, sent my mother to college, paid her taxes, had a driver's license and a passport. But was not a naturalized citizen. She filed with the post office for her green card as was the custom and without fail.

She confessed to my mother, at one point, her desire to become a citizen when she was in her 70's. It was something she had always wanted but feared the failure. This brilliant business woman doubted her ability to learn the details of our government, its structure and the complexities of the Constitution on which it was founded. The historical dates required memorization and an understanding of our past that she felt were beyond her capabilities. 

My mother assured her that if she wanted this dream to come true, she would help her make it a reality. So they set to work learning what my grandmother had lived for over 70 years; in a country that she called home but that did not recognized her as its own. There were no classes to attend, so together my father and mother gathered materials for her to study. I was grown with a family of my own. Some of this I remember, but most of it I took for granted. Mamanina had always lived with us, so in my mind she was just as American as I was. When I was in Civics classes, it never occurred to me that my grandmother was not a citizen. It was a boring class filled with boring details about government, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. To me it was a grade on my report card. To her it was a dream she had worked her whole life to achieve.

In October of 1977, at the age of 75, Mamanina's dream came true. Shortly after she took the test, my family moved from Woodland, California to Roseburg, Oregon. It was there that she received the letter with her picture and the White House emblem. The swearing in ceremony was held in Sacramento and my father drove her there and stood witness as she realized that dream and said these words.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

It occurs to me, that as a natural born American, I did not have to study, take a test or declare my allegiance under oath to the United States of America. And yet, my grandmother spent her whole life working, paying taxes, contributing and wanting the privilege of those same rights. The day she pledged her allegiance to the United States of America was rich with pride and satisfaction beyond measure for her and for her family on both sides of the border. She died four years later at age 79.
My father insisted that every national holiday an American flag be placed on Mamanina's grave. I pledge that symbol of her faith in this country will continue to be a part of our American roots. Long may it wave!
Image: photo taken of Mamanina and great granddaughter, Jala in 1977 by her granddaughter, Eularee

Teaching old dogs new tricks

In this complex and often chaotic world of ours, we have common ground. Technology. There is no way to get around it, over it or under it. We must go through it. Of course, you can tell yourself you are immune by not owning a cell phone or perhaps you don't even own a computer. But the reality is, these and many more technologies surround us in our everyday habits. Even the check-out stands at the markets are automated. Newspapers, magazines and books are slowly but surely moving into a more online state of being. Banking, credit cards, bill paying, even the cars we drive are becoming "smart" Resistance is futile.

This week I had to face one of my weak links in the technology chain. I am firmly planted in the Mac camp of the computer world. PCs are aliens as far as I am concerned. We do not speak the same language and frankly, that is fine with me. I come from a family of Mac users. Until recently my Dad had a Mac Classic in his office. 

My son, however, makes his stand in the PC camp. He is a genius when it comes to working his way around that foreign object and yet he still understands the Mac. You might say he is computer bilingual. With that extraordinary skill, I have implored him to teach me what I need to know in order to teach a group of students age 50 plus, how to use the PC and all its evil subsidiaries.

Together we spent two hours at the community college computer lab, bonding. Son teaching mother the intricacies of the PC world of computing. He patiently watched me fumble around with the right click, left click mouse while trying to find terms of equal definition for what he was showing me. For instance, the PC calls the "trash can" the recycle bin. The short cut "CTRL A" on a PC is the Command button on the Mac. You use backspace instead of delete. You hit enter instead of return. Fascinating!

One of the classes I will be teaching is the basic knowledge of Microsoft Word. Fortunately, I am very proficient in this application, but then I look at the Windows screen and ask him where is the Palette? The what, he replies. Lesson number 25, there is no palette tool in Word PC. Sigh. I begin at square one or "new" in this case. After a while, I begin to get the gist of it and continue to be grateful for the Mac and its seemingly more intuitive nature.

I have had to use the PC begrudgingly on several occasions so although it is not completely foreign to me, it is certainly not the country I choose to live in. But I do know that despite the language barrier, I can now navigate my way through the Windows world without the use of my GPS. Thankfully the students I am teaching have no sense of direction so my broken PC speak will be adequate to help them on their inevitable and long overdue journey into technology. Teaching this old dog a new trick has been a brain exercising experience and one I can now teach with great empathy. 

Learning is the gateway drug to not only expanding our minds but also instilling new confidence in our ability to converse, participate and contribute in the ever-changing world. Presenting ourselves with new challenges keeps us vital and interested in the role we play in life. Whether it is learning a new task, how to operate new equipment, retool for a job or keep up to date in our careers, learning continues to be a mind- blowing experience.

Images: Flickr by Sarah G


The Expectation of Perfection

I suppose the biggest myth of aging is that you somehow become better with age. Like a fine wine or a masterpiece of art, you are at once beauty and grace after years of refinement and it is smooth sailing from here on in. The truth is the challenge of making a better life is constant, from cradle to grave.

This myth is fueled with such delusional visions of "golden years" and "aging gracefully" as if it just happened, a rite of passage. A expectation of perfection once you reached a magical age. A reward for years of struggling through lousy jobs, squeezing every dollar, moisturizing, excercising, eating healthy, raising kids, sacrificing, educating and surviving. 

Truth is, all of those moments are preparing us for what is the real test of time. The extraordinary living that occurs once you crack the senior ceiling. Old age is another country, another level of being. Unfortunately it is far from being perfect and often there is an ill wind blowing taking us off our original course heading. 

I have had the great pleasure of watching several of my friends embark on new beginnings as they move into their fifties and sixties. It is not a graceful or golden moment of revelation that they had arrived but more of a determination to break out of a cycle of going nowhere in a hurry. Opportunities presented themselves but they had the wisdom of their years to know it was the right time and the right place. 

This new country is not necessarily one of their creation. It has flaws, some risk and certainly not perfect. The downside of outliving friends and family comes with a huge pricetag. The shifting economy, loss of a job or retirement and rising health issues create an unfamiliar landscape. And then there is a moment when you realize, I am still young enough to make changes, alter course and perhaps sail into the sunset albeit in a dinghy rather than a yacht. 

The expectation of perfection now gone but in its place is the fire of hope for something new, something unexpected. That is what aging is really about. The myth of smooth sailing now gone, we use lifetime of recipe to make some great lemonade. The shift from quantity to quality of life is liberating and gives us license to be creative, even risk takers. 

As we become mythbusters, we give rise to the hope of all that is old is new again. New jobs, new digs, new friends, new expectations. It may not be perfect but it will never be dull.

Image: Flickr by kulicki


In the pink

Everywhere we go these days, we see the pink ribbon symbol for fighting breast cancer. Bob Carey, photographer and loving husband, has decided to take that one step further. He is photographing himself in a pink tutu locations around the country. Crazy? Only to those who don't know his story.

Carey poses in whimsical and poignant settings dressed in nothing more than a pink tutu. Bare chested and vulnerable, Carey has captured the spirit of creative expression in meaningful and humorous pictures to bring a smile to his wife, Linda, as she battles breast cancer.

Diagosed in 2003, Linda has been fighting this battle for 9 years. Thought to be in remission, the cancer reoccured in 2006 and she now brings her spirit and determination, along with her beauty to treatment every 3 weeks. Bob has focused on the tutu project as a way to laugh at themselves and share the healing power of laughter with others.

Although most wives would have sought medical attention for a husband dressed in a pink tutu, Linda was tickled pink about the project and found someone to make the perfect pink tutu. Bob has since photographed himself in dozens of positions and locations and is publishing a book of his stoires and photos entitled simply, Ballerina.

Lest you think this is some silly self-indulgent dream, Bob is donating the proceeds from the book to a foundation that will help women in their struggles with breast cancer on a more personal level. Women who have health insurance needs, medical or transportation costs. The money goes directly to organizations including and the Beth Israel Department of Integrative Medicine Fund, that make significant differences in the lives of women with breast cancer and in the people who love them. Carey's goal is to raise $75,000 through the sales of the book.

One more way the color pink is fighting the good fight for breast cancer. As a 21 year survivor of breast cancer, I applaud the efforts of this man in his pink tutu. If you would like to support this effort, information on becoming a sponsor is available on the Tutu Project website. A perfectly pink way to further the project.

Images: Bob Carey, Ballerina, The Tutu Project



What is financial freedom?

I spent the afternoon in an annual meeting with my financical advisor. The first thing we always do is update paperwork to be sure that goals have not changed. From surfing the waves on the California beaches to riding the growth index of investments, our goals have taken new shape with retirement looming on the distant horizon. I was more interested in what the future might look like rather than the mundane paperwork my advisor insisted we go through point by point.

It occured to me, as we began to calculate the "experience" status, that our investments had been with the same company for about 15 years. The experience status lets the company know how long you have been a customer so they can track the growth of your portfolio. Fifteen years! In all those years we had been slowly (very slowly) accumulating for a time when we would retire. Like most of us in 2008, our retirement account took a big hit. The question quickly came to mind, "Are we there yet?"

Recently, I was part of a discussion with a couple of single women friends who were determining what direction they should take with their financial lives. Both turning 62 this year, one is currently retired from teaching and the other working part time. The question of drawing early Social Security was definitely on the table. Another friend has been fighting lymphoma for the past 8 years and although she is in remission, she fights graft/host disease on a regular basis. She works long hard hours as a respitory therapist and her doctors have long argued with her about the toll it is taking on her health. She will turn 60 in the next month. 

The truth is none of us can afford to retire and as the age creeps up as to retirement age (holding at 66, up from 65), Boomers want to enjoy the golden years, rather than work through the best of them. Our generation has a great work ethic, we just want to enjoy the work we do at this stage of the game. My Dad said that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I think Boomers have reached a place in life where that truly reverberates, especially as most of us begin to take care of our aging parents.

Here are a few points to consider when considering early Social Security.

• Your benefits depend on when you were born. If born 1929 or later you need 40 credits (10 years of work) to qualify.

• Your benefit payment depends on how much you earned during that time and the age at which you retire.

• Retiring at age 62 will mean your benefit will be 25% lower than at full retirement.

• Delaying retirement will mean your benefit will increase automatically until age 70. Born after 1943 that increase is 8%.

• Experts believe you will need 70-80% of your preretirement income when you retire. Social Security benefits are about 40%.

Contact Social Security in advance of retirement to know exactly what to expect. This is another crucial piece in your financial planning and should be a part of other investment resources.

There are arguments to be made about taking the money early and enjoying it longer and in good health. If, in the case of my friend in remission, there is a health issue to be considered in early retirement, be sure to do your research in Social Security Disability. This may be a better option for your health care and financial needs. 

As with most big decisions in our lives, being prepared is the best advice any financial advisor will offer. Do your research with Social Security. They have informational publications that are very helpful. Filing early is important. Knowing what your bucket list holds is a good way to measure what plans you need to make for the financial freedom to accomplish them. The question then becomes "What's in your wallet?"

Image: Flickr image by o5com