To my mom.


My mom would have been 88 today. This photo is from her last New Year’s Day, when my husband Mike and I went to Long Island for several days.

While we were on that trip, we wound up going out to a Mexican restaurant one night with my mom, my sister and her three kids. After waiting a long time for a table, we ordered a pitcher of margaritas for the adults at the table. It was enough for four drinks. Tentatively, my mom took a sip.

“That’s good!” she said.

Mom was in her 70s. She’d raised six kids with my dad. She’d had a long career as a teacher and then an assistant principal. She’d travelled to Japan, China, and elsewhere with my dad. And she was then fighting cancer. Yet she had never tried a margarita before that night.

The seven of us placed our dinner orders. Minutes later, the waiter brought our appetizers for the table to share–plus another pitcher of margaritas.

“We didn’t order another pitcher,” Mike politely told him.

“No, you didn’t,” the waiter agreed. Then he nodded to my mom. “But she did.”

Tonight when I finish work, I’m going to make a margarita. I’ll measure out the tequila and Cointreau. I’ll juice the lime. I’ll put a bit of salt on the glass rim. And then I’ll raise the glass.

To my mom.

And to always being open to new experiences—no matter what point we’re at in our lives.


Life’s a beach


At Rocky River, Ohio. Photo (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski, all rights reserved.

If there’s a beach, I want to be there. With the release of WalletHub’s 2018 report on the best beach towns to live in, it’s nice to see some familiar towns among the listings.

Familiar lake haunts

Our family had lots of fun beach outings in Bay Village, Ohio, the Number 8 beach town on the list. When the kids were little, my husband and I would trek down the long cliff stairs at Huntington Beach with kids in

tow, along with a blanket, sand toys and drinks. This got easier once the kids were old enough to carry their own sand toys!

Once at the bottom of the cliff, there’s a nice sandy beach, and if you go at the right time of day, you can even get some shade if you’re far enough back — something my fair-skinned husband especially appreciated. The lovely views include the broad lake, where you might see a steamboat, sailboats or other recreational boats on the horizon. Towards the east is the city of Cleveland. And on a summer evening, you can see the sun set to the west. The swimming is good, too, with lifeguards at their posts during the summer season. And once everything has been packed and trekked back up the hill, there are flush toilet restrooms and a foot wash up top, along with an ice cream stand.

There’s a much smaller beach at Rocky River, Ohio, the Number 13 lake beach city on the WalletHub list. One of my favorite afternoon breaks is to get in some exercise with a walk through the spaghetti-like warren of streets near the lake and then reward myself with some time resting up at the lake with some water and a good book.

Ocean beach favorites

As for the ocean beach list, my husband and I had a lovely vacation in Naples, Florida, the Number 2 town on the ocean beach list. I returned there for a visit last year with one of my daughters and her family, and would love to go back again. And I managed to arrange several business trips to allow just a bit of extra time for a quick trip to the beach in Santa Monica, California, Number 6 on that list.

Although it’s “only” Number 129, Wantagh, New York, is the site of Jones Beach, where I spent a lot of time back in my college years. The traffic can be abysmal on weekends, but my fix for that was to go very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. That way I’d also minimize my chances for sunburn.

Charleston, South Carolina, has wonderful history to discover, plus fantastic beaches and lovely resorts that brought our family back for return trips. At Number 13 on the list, it’s a great destination. Just above it on the list is Portland, Maine. The water there was chilly when I visited there with one of my daughters years ago, but it was a fun town with great hiking just a short drive from the city.

At Number 111, Savannah, Georgia, has its own brand of southern charm. My husband and I loved our visit to that historic city. For beach time, we shifted half an hour away to Tybee Island and its clean, quiet, broad beaches. Also on the list is Tarpon Springs, Florida, at Number 96. My husband and I spent a lovely morning at a nearby Gulf of Mexico beach before exploring the town, which struck us as being like a year-round Greek cultural festival. There’s a wide variety of excellent Greek restaurants, shops with Greek American arts and crafts, and a thriving local sponge industry.

I didn’t see Sandbridge Beach in Virginia on the list. The quiet peninsula south of Virginia Beach has mostly vacation homes or condos for rent. For that reason, it’s not really a “city to live in,” which is what the WalletHub folks were assessing as they considered affordability, weather, safety the local economy, education, health and overall quality of life. But for a vacation trip, it’s well worth visiting. Over the years we made four trips there, from when the kids were little and then when they were adults.

New destinations to discover

I admit I haven’t made it to Lahaina, Hawaii, the Number One ocean beach city on the WalletHub list. But a trip to Maui isn’t something you just do at the drop of the hat. On the other hand, Traverse City, Holland and Alpena in Michigan are each less than an eight-hour drive away. There are plenty of ocean beach destinations I would love to check out as well.

Will I wind up settling back by the ocean sometime in the future? I honestly have no idea yet. But I do know that for me, the beach has always been somewhere special. It’s a place to play, to romp and to have fun with others. It’s also a place for contemplation, tranquility and restoration.

So, yes, if there’s a beach, I want to be there.

Fierce, Yet Fun

dangerouslyfierce-coverLife continues to be hectic here. As I struggle with work assignments and family matters, I’m also trying to cope with everyday hassles. And then there are things like death and taxes. But sometimes I just need to escape.

Some days that means calling friends and heading out for an adventure. Some days an escape is a long walk. Some days I head to the gym or yoga class. And on some days I curl up with a book.

Last week I finished Deborah Blake’s romance novel Dangerously Fierce. I know and love the brave woman to whom Blake dedicated the book. Plus, I generally enjoy light romances. So, I got a copy of the paperback version. And I started reading it one night when I really needed an escape.

I hadn’t read either of the two earlier books in the Broken Rider series, and I wasn’t familiar with the folklore underlying the fantasy premise of the book. However, you don’t need to understand the whole back story before you start reading. Blake fills you on things as the story moves along, so you don’t feel lost. And she gets right to the story so that you care about the characters and want to know more.

Of course, Bethany and Alexei find each other and fall in love. After all, this is a love story. But in the process they and Bethany’s father all have some healing to do. Each struggles to adjust after major setbacks so they can find a way forward. And they find that way by loving and caring for each other.

To my mind, this approach offers a lot more hope than any platitudes about a “new normal.” That phrase often comes across as “Suck it up,” or “get over it.” Yet some setbacks or tragedies can still leave us reeling from an awful loss. If we turn to those we love, we can find our way forward. We can find happiness. And we can help others to be happy too.

Along the way, Blake’s story has a very pregnant dog, a magical witch, a drug smuggler, a dragon, a sea monster, and some other colorful characters. Because, hey, setbacks may be a fact of life. And, yeah, fiction reflects the truths of life. But fiction can also provide a fun escape when we need a break from hassles and deadlines. And that can be a magical thing.


What a season!

Courtesy of Daniel Ostrach.

Today Mike would have been sad about the Indians’ loss to the Yankees, but either today or tomorrow he would have been writing up a summary of the Indians’ close games in the Division Series. And within the next week or so, he would have been writing up his season’s end column about the 2017 season.

And what a season it was!

Mike prided himself on being a Luddite–composing his columns as emails, rather than online-based blog posts. The emails originally went out to his firm’s Cleveland Tickets group, but then expanded to multiple email lists with 1,000 or more direct “subscribers” on five continents. And many of those people in turn forwarded his columns to others. I started “subscribing” a couple of years into this venture, largely because so many people were stopping me to talk about Mike’s latest insights and prognostications. Many told me he was better than any sportswriter they’d ever read.

But Mike considered himself a fan, not a sportswriter. Nor was this any kind of business development strategy—despite one serious comment by my former department head that he thought it was a brilliant way to keep one’s name foremost in clients’ and colleagues’ mind. I just shook my head at the guy and just told him, nope, that wasn’t why my husband did it. I could have added that Mike was one of the most modest, humble men I’ve ever known, but I don’t think that guy would have been able to understand the meaning of those words.

No, indeed. Mike had started writing the email columns for fun. And he continued doing it for fun. This was something he did in his spare time, never charging a penny. That’s because baseball was one of his passions. His writing conveyed both that passion and his knowledge.

On a more private level, I cherish the memories we made together at games. Sometimes we’d go together. Sometimes he’d take one or all of the kids. Sometimes I’d take one of the kids. And sometimes we’d all go as a family, or we’d go with friends. Baseball isn’t just a game. It’s about the experiences fans have at games, strengthening ties that bid us together as families and friends, and bringing people from many different backgrounds together.

Thank you to all who have continued to go to games with me now. I don’t have the knowledge or strategic insights Mike had about the Indians and baseball in general. But some of his passion did rub off during our decades of marriage together. And it’s still good to make more memories together enjoying baseball.

As Mike would always end his columns, Go Tribe!



Scientists take a stand against “alternative facts”

“We need to base policy on facts,” says AAAS president Barbara Schaal. AAAS is the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Schaal spoke at the organization’s annual meeting in Boston this morning. She’ll be giving a major address on the same theme later today.

Schaal’s statement about the need for fact-based barbaraschaal021616policies seems obvious when you think about health care policy, climate change policy, energy policy, education policy, and a host of other areas. Yet, as recent headlines show, many people in the United States’ current government seem to have other views.

Just last month, Kellyanne Conway, an official counselor to U.S. president Donald Trump, went on national television and defended untrue statements by Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer. Conway said Spicer’s untruths were just “alternative facts.”

“When officials use words like ‘alternative facts’ without embarrassment, you know there’s a problem,” says Rush Holt, the chief executive officer for AAAS.

That’s not all.

Trump has said he doesn’t  believe in climate change, and his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency has said he considers the scientific finding that human activity is contributing to climate change to be a “religious belief.”

The administration and Congress have also taken actions that signal problems for science. Science-based rules have been rescinded. Various lawmakers have announced an intention to axe the Affordable Care Act and replace it with some undefined something. The president has issued executive orders that are keeping scientists from several countries from entering the United States. Other executive orders have laid down arbitrary guidelines that will make any future rulemaking almost impossible. And scientists within some agencies have been given orders not to talk to people outside the agency about their work, which would include journalists and other scientists.

Why worry?

“The case for science is important,” stresses Schaal. Basic scientific research forms the foundation for many things that we depend upon for our well-being: infrastructure, health care, technology, and more. “It’s important to keep that technology pipeline going,” she says. And that “begins with basic research.”

For example, think about how much you rely on GPS to get where you need to go. The basic research that makes that possible began decades earlier.

“We would not be able to have accurate GPS without Einstein’s theory of relativity,” Schaal says. That’s because the technology needs to account for differences in speed between the satellites used for the system, differences in gravity, and so forth.

In short, says Schaal, science is “essential for modern life.”

For basic research to continue, though, funding must continue. And in the United States, a huge chunk of that money comes from government programs. Good scientific research can also continue only when there is a free flow of ideas.

‘Science is international’

“Science is international,” Schaal continues. “Science is science without borders.” When scholars come to the United States from other countries, they add to the scientific knowledge here. And that in turns helps people around the world.

Trump’s executive order, banning people from certain Muslim-majority countries, would frustrate the free flow of ideas and information. That’s one reason why AAAS spoke out against the travel ban when it was issued in January. (A federal appeals court has ruled against the ban, but it’s not yet clear whether Trump will appeal or try another move to reinstate the ban.)

Politics seems to be playing a role, not only in the travel ban, but also in how the administration will shape its policy decisions. Environmental rules that were based upon years of scientific study and that had gone through detailed rulemaking processes were rescinded—apparently for political reasons. Similar signs bode poorly for other crucial protections for health and the environment.

“Climate science is extremely important for the future of nations and the future of the globe,” notes Schaal. Because of that, statements such as Pruitt’s, claiming the findings of mainstream science on climate change are just “religious beliefs,” are especially worrisome.

Another big worry is that the country could be unprepared to deal with a crisis where scientific knowledge and guidance are crucial. The administration has not yet announced science advisors or leaders for various agencies. That could hamper day-to-day rulemaking and policy work. It can also leave the country vulnerable if a catastrophe happened, such as another offshore oil spill or nuclear emergency.

“What we want is for every government to use science to help it make its policies,” Schaal concluded.

Scientists and supporters are heeding the call, and independent work is underway for an April 22 March for Science.

“This march is gaining energy. It is not petering out,” says Holt. “The tee shirts are selling fast.”

Calling all people of good conscience

image“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

It’s unclear who first said this famous quote or a variation of it. But its truth is very clear — self-evident in the same sense that Thomas Jefferson used the word when he penned the Declaration of Independence. And in my opinion, the recent actions by Donald Trump and his cronies make that quote a call to action right now for all people of good conscience.

The call to action applies to all the people who voted for someone other than Donald Trump in the last presidential election. It applies to those people who didn’t bother to vote. It applies to those people who were unable to cast a ballot as a result of voter suppression efforts that had a disproportionate impact upon people of color and those who are poor.

And that call to action applies most of all to people who voted for Trump but keep insisting that they are not racist, bigoted, sexist or against basic constitutional freedoms.

I am not willing to accept the platitudes of people who said I shouldn’t worry because the president would have good advisors. Nor am I willing to give a pass to anyone who claimed that they were not supporting all the vile things Trump espoused during the campaign, but only voted for him or went with a third-party candidate (thus giving Trump a majority in a state) because they wanted to shake things up in Washington and see a return of economic prosperity.

By doing nothing now, those people are backing all the awful things the new regime is doing. That regime is working to get rid of protections for people who need health insurance in order to stay alive. It is blatantly violating the civil rights of people who have a lawful right to be in the United States. It is imposing its views of religion upon third parties (both inside and outside the United States), while cutting off basic health services. It is shutting the borders to refugees and fomenting hate.

That government is allowing conflicts of interest to persist while Trump and others keep their tax returns secret. That government is disparaging a free press. It is shortcutting science-based decision-making and cutting off public access to information. That government’s orders are denying due process. And statements and actions from its leaders are laying the groundwork for further erosion of first amendment freedoms and other constitutional rights.

If any people who claim they voted for Trump really have any decency, they will speak out publicly and denounce those actions.

They will go on social media and post a picture of themselves at a march or other demonstration in support of human rights or post a picture of their sizable donation check to the ACLU or another organization fighting against the new regime’s efforts to bolster hate and suppress basic freedoms. And they will paste on their profile pages a copy of their emails or call logs to the government, objecting to these wrongs.

Those people must also show me that they are taking affirmative steps to support efforts to have a return to transparency in the government’s dealings, to preserve core provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and to protect the American people from the evils of conflicts of interest by Trump and his cronies.

Otherwise, don’t expect me to believe that you are really good people. Frankly, in my view, people whose actions helped get this regime into power and who now stay silent share in culpability and are in a sense collaborators.

The Constitution starts with the words, “We the People.” Well, we the people need to stand up for the rule of law and everything that the Constitution stands for. We need to speak out and take lawful action in whatever areas of influence we have. And we ALL need to do it now, particularly those people who claim they really are good people, regardless of whom they voted for.

As the quotation says, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

Happy New Year?

Saying “Happy New Year” seems kind of odd when I’m anything but happy. But hey, I want other people to be happy right? And it would be nasty and rude to snap at other people when they give me a similar greeting.

Last year started out a lot happier. My husband was with me, and we went for a lovely hike after arriving back home after a great trip out of town with our kids. And although one of our daughters had been very ill in 2015, last year dawned with hope. She had finished a very strenuous medical regimen, and all indications were that she would get better and put aside the disease that had plagued her the whole year before.

Image (c) K.M. Kowalski.

Image (c) K.M. Kowalski.

As the year continued, our hope grew. Our daughter’s tests came back with good news in January, and she was stronger when I saw her in February.

That same month, my husband drove six hours while I was away at a conference so we could be together on Valentine’s Day. The following month, we were again with our daughters for Easter. And in April our daughters came to join us for Opening Day—although due to a game postponement we wound up going out for great Lebanese food instead.

Meanwhile, things were looking up for my husband and me. We were both more in love than ever. On Mother’s Day last year we went for a challenging hike, lunched at a winery, rested a bit at home and then had a romantic dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. We had planned a trip to Europe for late spring. And when I was out of town visiting my daughters in mid-May, the last words my husband said to me in a phone call were: “I love you. I’m looking forward to Europe.”

They were the last words I would ever hear from him. Just after my plane landed on my return trip, I learned that he had died while I was away.

And then, as if that weren’t enough, our daughter learned later in the summer that her disease had returned. More surgery and additional medical treatments would be needed. And now she, I and our whole family are praying that she’ll be okay.

So, no, I’m not in an especially gleeful mood. I’m not feeling particularly happy.

But I appreciated people who told me “Merry Christmas.” Christmas was indeed rough without the love of my life, and I was feeling anxious about lots of things. Yet there also were moments that were merry: my grandson asking “Again? Again?” when he wanted me to give the dreidel another spin or set the balls into continuous motion on his Pound and Roll Tower; having him curl up next to me as we read and hearing him say “more good book” at the end; wandering through a Christmas lights display at an arboretum; sharing fun with my daughters’ friends; going to church together; hiking through the woods; and more.

Christmas was different, but under the circumstances, it was as lovely as it could be.

This new year will be different too. And, under the circumstances, I hope it will be as happy as possible.

So, yes, I want people to wish me a happy new year. And I want their prayers for me and my family.

Happy new year, everyone!