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Film Reviews That Still Stand Up

Back in 1996, I was employed as a Senior Writer for Boxoffice Magazine, then the premiere national magazine for the film exhibition industry. My job consisted of writing film reviews for new releases, mostly independent movies, as well as interviewing movie theater owners, film producers and directors.

I was reading some of the reviews I wrote back then and really enjoyed reminiscing about that time in my life when I would see 3 or 4 films a week and get paid to watch them and review them. What a great life that was!

Here’s an example of one of the reviews I wrote for Boxoffice Magazine, which sadly, is no longer is published:

WAR STORIES OUR MOTHERS NEVER TOLD US 

*** I gave this movie three stars

   Featuring Pamela Quill, Flo Small, Tui Preston, Jean Andrews, Rita Graham, Neva Clarke McKenna and Mabel Waititi. Directed and produced by Gaylene Preston. A First Run release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 88 min.

In this retrospective documentary, produced in association with The New Zealand Film Commission and New Zealand On Air, seven aging women recount in intimate detail their heartfelt stories of love, romance, marriage and–too often–loss, as the men were called away to World War II.    Juxtaposing images of then and now, thanks to vintage war film footage and treasured sepia photographs of the interviewees, each woman relates in remarkably candid detail the way things were back then recalling their often-frantic efforts to marry before the war wrenched away the men they loved. Using a single camera, the women, now in their late ’70s and ’80s, respond to questions posed by an off-screen interviewer. As these memories bubble to the surface, so do the bottled-up emotions associated with their youth as they relive the times and memories of 50-years ago. In presenting these interviews in a simple, unencumbered format, the focus remains on the significance of the stories each chooses to tell, shedding a whole new light on world history–that of a women’s point of view.    While the dialogue is occasionally difficult to understand (due to dialect differences), the film is extremely interesting and informative, presenting a range of human experiences. From the POW widow to the female army soldier captured by the enemy, to the wife of the conscientious objector who suffered for her husband’s political views, each story is unique. For those who are too young to remember a World War or even those who do, War Stories pays homage to those times. Rather than dwelling on sadness, it celebrates life–that of the survivors and the men who never came back from the war.  -Pat Kramer

If you would like to read more of my film reviews, please click on this link: Writer For HireBoxoffice Magazine – Writer For Hire (writerpatkramer.com)

#TheBigShift: Mine Was At Age 30

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/thebigshift-mine-age-30-pat-kramer

Changing things up in one’s work can be invigorating and exciting, especially if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do but never pursued. Depending on what age you are, it can be a very good plan or a very uncertain one. When LinkedIn asked me to write about #TheBigShift, I knew exactly the story I would tell – here it is:

My Aunt Ronnie Kramer made it possible for me to pursue my dreams

When I was 30 years old, I took that “Big Step” into the unknown. I had been working as a radio news reporter and broadcaster for nearly ten years and I had reached the top of the paygrade for the market I was in as a woman. Women were not being paid the same as men (maybe still aren’t) and I was tired of working late night, early morning and weekend shifts at a pay that was not exactly practical for supporting myself.

My dad’s younger sister, Aunt Ronnie, lived in Los Angeles and worked in the entertainment industry as an agent for technical people on movies and TV. She and I had always been close but I had never had the opportunity to spend consistent time with her. Instead, it had been short visits whenever she was back in New England. Ronnie reached out to me around this time and broke the devastating news: she had been diagnosed with lung cancer and told that she only had six months to live! When I called her to tell her I was sorry to hear this, she asked me to come visit her – and to make it soon!

At the age of thirty, I was already dissatisfied with my life, my job, and the endless cold winters. I had been looking around for my next job, beyond the broadcasting industry, but it was looking bleak. I didn’t have job skills outside of being a writer, reporter, and communicator. I knew I would have to start all over doing “something else” but I wasn’t sure what it was. So I made my airline reservation right away and I took a few days off from my current job.

Ronnie and I finally got to spend some time together but I can’t say that it was that great. The shadow of her disease was always present, although we both chose not to talk about it.

Instead, I decided to interview for some jobs in Southern California. I had always wanted to be a writer for a record company or my dream job, writing for Rolling Stone magazine! Instead, I took another job working in marketing and sales for a Cable TV company, because again, I needed to support myself if I were to start all over again. Then, my plan was to work my way up to that dream job.

Lucky for me, I had the sales skills to convince all three companies that I interviewed with that week to hire me. One was in Anaheim, one was in Los Angeles, and one was in San Juan Capistrano. I took the job offer with the company in Anaheim and made arrangements with Ronnie to move in with her when I came back to start my job. All was looking good and I was invigorated by the thought of changing my life and leaving what I didn’t like, behind.

True to the plan, I moved to L.A. in June 1988 and moved in with Ronnie for a month while I figured out what to do for the long-term. That job in Anaheim lasted two months and then I realized I didn’t like the work culture. I ended up interviewing with another company and taking a job in Newport Beach. I moved in with some roommates in La Habra, CA and spent the weekends in L.A. with Ronnie. But a year later, I changed jobs again to work for a company in Simi Valley so I could live closer to Ronnie. When she passed, in November 1989, I had to make a decision: was I here to stay or was going to go home? I decided to stay because I hadn’t yet reached my goal of working as a writer.

The next ten years were rough. I supported myself working at an ad agency, writing PR content for three different public relations agencies, and yes, being a writer! I freelanced for many newspapers and magazines during the 1990’s, among them: Variety, Boxoffice, Music Connection, HITS, Los Angeles Business Journal, Pasadena Weekly, Insurance Journal, and the L.A. Times. Not long after Ronnie died, I launched my own writing business, Writer For Hire (www.writerpatkramer.com). The one thing I knew, deep down in my bones, was that I was going to make my certified, small, woman-owned business Writer For Hire a success, no matter how hard I had to work!

Looking back, the big, life-changing move I made in 1988 was all worth it, despite everything that I had to do to start over. I moved six or seven times between 1988 and 1995. Would I do it again at my present age? I don’t think so. You get used to certain things in life – financial security, your support systems which include co-workers, friends, and neighbors.

That being said, if I ever were to move somewhere outside of Los Angeles, I would certainly continue my business. That’s a given; it’s in my bones. Once a writer, always a writer. So when LinkedIn asked me to write an article about #TheBigShift, I knew this story would be about that change I made that was all worth it.

Had I stayed in Massachusetts and settled for a different life, I would never have experienced the life I now love. Looking back on all the hard work it took, it was all worth it. Thank you, Ronnie, for helping me make it happen. I wish you were still here to see me now.

“Preventing Tragedy: Hiking Safety Tips That Every Hiker Should Know Before Going Out in Our Local Mountains”

Learn to Use a Map and Compass and Always Prepare for the Unexpected

On April 13th, the Crescenta Valley Group of the Sierra Club joined the Verdugo Hills Group to present a very insightful program called “Preventing Tragedy: Hiking Safety Tips That Every Hiker Should Know Before Setting Out in Our Local Mountains.” This presentation was moderated by Pat Kramer of the CV Group and David Eisenberg of the Verdugo Hills Group. Participating in the 1.5 hour informational presentation were four members of Montrose Search and Rescue: Doug Cramoline, Steve Goldsworthy, Janet Henderson and Cindy Weiner England who stated that if you are lost or injured or someone you know is missing, call 911.  If you are in a wilderness area, the dispatcher will be able to activate search and rescue. There is no charge for Search and Rescue services.

Along with Montrose SAR, there were three instructors from the Sierra Club’s Wilderness Training Course: Will McWhinney, Chapter Outings Management Chair; Jane Simpson, Leadership Training Chair; and Lisa Miyake, a WTC instructor who gave a highly-informative talk on what tools and information can save your life, whether you are hiking alone and injured, are lost, or are with a partner and run into a problem.

If you missed this presentation, you can still watch it with this link, and please share it with your friends. It might save someone’s life:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22aY0Pcy2mI

You are also welcome to access these document from this fascinating presentation:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aisbUR-zUhUHWwCXZxVe1BsPI_wCgoOjpYFRADC0Dgc/edit?usp=sharing

The Rocker Recliner

In my bedroom I have an upholstered chair known as a “rocker recliner.”  My dad was in the furniture business as a manufacturer and this blue, velvety upholstered chair came from his factory, Mechanics Furniture Manufacturers, in Worcester, Massachusetts back in the 1970’s. The rocker recliner was a popular item back in the day. It allowed the person using it to rock or to recline and it swiveled side-to-side.

Ronnie Was My Grandparents’ Pride and Joy

It was originally owned by my aunt Ronnie Kramer who lived in North Hollywood, California. Ronnie was the pride and joy of our family because she worked in “the industry” as personal assistant to Danny Thomas and later, his daughter Marlo Thomas (of “That Girl” fame), before starting her own recruiting agency for film production workers.

Ronnie was my dad’s younger sister and with just a 20 year difference between us, we related as if she was my older sister. I moved to Los Angeles at her invitation in 1988 after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Together, we braved some of the hardships she underwent during the short time we had together. When she died in November 1989 it was up to me to dispose of many of her personal possessions.

I kept the rocker recliner as a memory of her and also of my father’s furniture business. As a child, I spent many weekends exploring the four floors of “the factory” at 306 Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA, playing hide and seek with my brother and sister. When I was a little older, I was allowed to work there sweeping the floors around the double rows of sewing machines where the Italian ladies worked.

My Rocker Recliner Brings Back Fond Memories of My Years in Worcester

I loved being there and over time I got to know all of the longtime employees pretty well. There was Frankie Pelligrino, the shop foreman and his wife Vickie, the head seamstress. There was Angelo Pelligrino – Frank’s brother, who was an upholsterer and who I considered my friend. Then there was Emil, the German fabric cutter who was stern but always nice to me. I also remember Jimmy Mitti, the shop’s truck driver (although my Uncle Arnie would sometimes fill in when a delivery needed to be made) and Joe, the African American driver who worked there at one time.

It was at the factory where I developed an appreciation for people of all cultures and in doing so, I always felt like we were all equal in stature. I may have been the boss’s daughter but I felt just as much at home with the people who worked there.

Most every night now, I sit in that rocker recliner because it brings me comfort to think back to those days. That chair is all I have to remind me of the factory. It closed in the early 1990’s after the furniture manufacturing industry moved, first, to the southern United States, and then, to China. I know my dad was always very disappointed that he wasn’t able to leave us more of an inheritance from the more than 50 years of the factory’s existence.

The building, which my family owned, was sold to a records storage facility which now anonymously occupies that location with its chain link fence and padlocked front door. It’s no longer the friendly place I used to visit as a child with its well – worn wooden stairs leading up to the office or down to the furniture showroom.

The last time I stopped by the old factory building, the security guy motioned me to leave and wouldn’t allow me to take a quick look inside.

I won’t ever go back there again, but I will hold onto that rocker recliner until it falls apart. Every night before I go to sleep, I sit in that chair and I enjoy the legacy of this 50 year old upholstered chair, now well – worn, and I get to hold onto a piece of my past.

Speaking Experience is a Great Asset in Any Industry

In 1993 I was asked by a well-known Los Angeles publicist to contribute my expertise as a news journalist for publicists attending an industry event held at UCLA. It was my first public speaking event and I was nervous but I knew my topic area very well, having served as a news journalist for nearly ten years for radio and print media. In fact, you could say I was at the “head of the pack” when it came to getting elusive or difficult people to give me an interview.

In 2019 with “Ask the Experts” host Eszylfie Taylor of Taylor Insurance & Financial Services

Meeting One of My Heroes

I laugh now when thinking about my first “real” interview while still a student at Emerson College in Boston. My professor had assigned the class to interview the person who most influenced us in our careers. I had chosen Hunter S. Thompson, known as “the Gonzo Journalist.” Hunter had written the controversial book on the Hells Angels motorcycle club, which I had read while in high school. He later went on to write “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and several other books which defined him as a rather edgy and (some would say “weird”) and always intoxicated journalist.

I managed to get a ticket to see Hunter, who happened to be speaking at U. Mass, Dorchester that month. I brought my trusty little tape recorder with me with its little plastic mike and I hung out backstage waiting for Mr. Thompson to arrive. He was late. Very late. And when he did show up, he had a fifth of Jack Daniels with him which he nipped off of behind the podium.

While I didn’t really have any journalist credentials, I did have to do this assignment and it was the last minute before it was due. When Hunter raced off the stage rather abruptly, I followed him down the hall. He jumped into an elevator – and I jumped in with him. I recall him saying, “Oh God. What do you want?”

I explained that I was a student trying to complete this assignment and I told him that I admired his style of journalism and wanted to get a few quotes from him. Honestly, he was trapped. He couldn’t avoid me so he mumbled something that I used in my paper and then he got out of the elevator.

After saying my goodbyes to his staff, who had been so kind to arrange my ticket, I realized that I couldn’t get back to campus because the MBTA had stopped running for the night. I was in kind of a quandry as I didn’t have the money for cab fare and this was not a good neighborhood to be walking at night. So I did what any young journalist would do – I asked his staff if I could catch a ride with them back to Boston.

Again, they took pity on me and said they would squeeze me in their car. What I didn’t know was that Hunter was also going to be riding in that car, and boy was he surprised when I jumped into the backseat right next to him – actually, almost on his lap! I remember what he said to me: “Oh God. Not YOU again!”

And that was my first interview, of which I was very, very proud!

I went on to become a news reporter for radio – a broadcast journalist – and later, a print journalist, as well, writing for Variety, the Los Angeles Business Journal, San Fernando Valley Business Journal, Boxoffice magazine, Pasadena Weekly, Insurance Journal and many other publications.

Working as a news journalist provided me with great opportunities

My career has given me access to some very interesting and successful people, among them: Jerry Rubin of “Yippie” fame, film actress Ginger Rogers, King Carl Gustav of Spain, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Rick Wakeman, keyboardist for Yes, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, bluesmen John Mayall, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, and the list goes on.

So getting back to my first panel as a journalist, I wrote a speech outline where I listed every tip I could think of as I went through the process I used to prepare for an interview. Some of it was common sense tips but it all derived from my, then, 15 years of experience in interviewing people for news stories.

The speech went well and after doing it I was excited to do it again. In 1997, I took an extensive course to become a Certified Seminar Speaker and with that added boost of confidence the floodgates opened up: I started giving workshops for the L.A. Community College System called “Jumpstart Your Business with Free Publicity.” At the same time, I hit the road, whenever I had some free time, to give a speech to business associations called “Self Promotion for the Self Employed” and “Do’s and Don’t for Media Success.”

Since that first little speech in 1993, 26 years ago, I’ve developed several more, very popular speeches such as “Utilizing LinkedIn to Maximize Your Business” which I have presented to high-level business associations, including: Vistage, Worldwide, ProVisors, NAWBO-LA, American Association of Daily Money Managers, Pasadena Bar Association, the San Gabriel Valley Financial Planners Association, Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce, Entertainment Publicists Professional Society, Bruin Professionals, Asian Business Association, German-American Chamber, Glendale Chamber, Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber, Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs all over Southern California.

Speaking to high school students on behalf of the YBA program
Speaking to high school students about the importance of getting a degree.

Since I believe in giving back to others, I also speak to high school and college students seeking journalism or business degrees. To date, I’ve presented at Loyola Marymount University, Pepperdine University, UCLA Extension, the University of Southern California and UC, Pomona as well as at 15 high schools in Los Angeles.

Now I share my experience with others

While I’ve been out doing speaking engagements, I’ve received my own fair share of publicity through interviews with hosts from KCKC AM, Bill Black’s Exit Coach Radio and Eszylfie Taylor’s “Ask the Experts” show as well as the Los Angeles Daily News, Crescenta Valley Weekly, Inland Empire Business Journal, and for my alma mater, Emerson College.

My newest speaking engagement takes me into the hearts of those living in retirement homes where I speak about “The Importance of Writing Your Memoirs.” I enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of those who attend as they think about their own beloved memories.

If you are thinking about the virtues of speaking on a topic of your profession, I highly encourage it. You may find, like me, that you like it and it may lead you to even greater experiences in life.

The Value Our Stories Provide to Others – Writing Down Memoirs

We never really know how much we miss someone until they’re gone – and the same could be said for the stories they told us. I had a very loving grandmother in my youth, who was the family record-keeper. She knew everyone’s story and kept in touch with everyone on a regular basis. When she passed, she took those records with her because no one thought to write them down.

As a writer, I wish I had taken the time back then to ask her questions about her past and to keep a journal of the stories she told me. But I didn’t at that time because I was young and those stories didn’t have the meaning they do today as I have gotten older, myself, and developed an interest in my family’s heritage.

About five years ago, I started a search for my family’s history using online resources like ancestry.com. I also started contacting everyone who had any memories of the older generation of my family and interviewing them for their stories. In the process, I was able to create a memoir of my maternal grandmother’s family which included several relatives that I had never met. With their consent and after several phone conversations, we met and are now regularly in touch on Facebook. When I travel back to Massachusetts in three weeks, I will be staying with one of my cousins and meeting her sisters, brothers, children and grandchildren for the first time. They are all interested in hearing my stories about the family we share and I’m just as interested in hearing theirs!

If there is one thing I could impart to those reading my blog, it would be to start interviewing the older generation now. Capture their stories on paper or video and spend the time it takes to create a family memoir. I have gotten so much value out of my own experience of doing this – although it did take about three months and at least five revisions to get everyone’s stories included!

Families hold the key to who we are and who our descendants will be. We share a common history with our elders and they have meaningful stories that should not be lost. Whether you want to hear their stories now or record them for later, I can assure you that you will be glad, someday, that you took the time to do this.

I’ve written five memoirs for seniors so far this year — at the request of their children. Each person wanted to partake in this process and got great meaning out of doing this. I am always happy to assist with this as I have served as a news journalist for many years and interviewed 1,000s of people from all walks of life. Sometimes it’s easier for someone to share a painful memory with a stranger than with their family members because it’s just too personal. I take the time to listen and I enjoy participating in this process that helps others see the value of a life well lived.

Three Day April 2018 Sierra Club Camping Trip on Santa Cruz Island

From April 21st to the 23rd, I camped on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands and in fact, the largest island off the coast of California. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the western 76% of the island, while the eastern 24% is owned and managed by the National Park Service. I had previously been there three times before but never for camping and was excited to see what trip might have to offer led by the Wilderness Adventures section of the Sierra Club.

When I arrived at the Island Packers dock at Ventura Harbor at 7 a.m. on Saturday, I was greeted by 10 other Sierra Club campers. Several of us quickly formed a bond on the boat ride over as we watched dolphins playing in the wake of our boat. After about 1.5 hours, we pulled in to the dock at Scorpion Anchorage and began to unload.

Santa Cruz Island, formerly the home of ten Chumash villages with over 1,200 people, was named “Limuw” or “in the sea.” The Chumash people occupied this island for at least nine thousand years until 1769 when the Spanish missionaries began converting the island people. In 1822, the last known Chumash occupant left the island for Ventura where many were forced to work and live at the Mission. Later, the island was known for sheep and cattle ranching, a hunting club, fruit and nut orchards, and for smuggling illicit contraband.

Santa Cruz Island is the most diverse of the eight Channel Islands with grasslands, coastal scrub vegetation, oak woodlands, and 77 miles of sea caves and coastline inhabited by giant kelp forests. This, alone, makes it a natural attraction for kayakers, snorkeling, bird watching, diving and many other activities.

After disembarking our shuttle boat, we set up camp at a group campsite about a mile from the dock, making our tents as comfortable as possible in a grove shaded by Eucalyptus trees. The first hike I took was to Potato Harbor, which is one of my favorite vantage points on the island. Here, at the top of the cliffs, you can look down several hundred feet to the sea caves below and, depending on the cloud action, view a bright green or deep blue sea. The name “Potato Harbor” comes from the oval shape of this scenic harbor. The trail along the top of the island is flat and easy to hike but the climb up is steep from either the campground or from Scorpion Canyon.

After this refreshing hike, we had an hour or two to rest before it was time for Happy Hour – and what a smorgasbord we had! There were close to 40 people in our group and each had brought an item to add to the communal salad. We had hors d’oeuvres galore and no one went hungry.

After our meal, we sat in a circle and each introduced ourselves, talking about what we did for a living and our reasons for coming on this trip. This was a great way to get introduced to the others, most of whom had arrived on Friday and were staying until Monday.
Following that, we had an interesting presentation from Tony Chapman, a legendary kayaking instructor with Santa Barbara Adventure Company, who told us stories about his work leading kayaking trips and rescues, going back several decades. He was briefly interrupted, during his talk, by a group of middle-aged people, camping at the next campsite, who were all dressed up in “onesie’s.” If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically pajamas that zip up, but in this case, many of the outfits also had tails sewn into their rear-ends!

The group were celebrating several birthdays and from the looks of it, they were already pretty intoxicated when they formed a conga line and danced through our campsite in their wild outfits! Fortunately, they had the good sense to take their party to the beach at around 9:30 p.m. so we all go some well – needed sleep!

The following day, we had the option of climbing the 2,450’ Devils Peak, the highest mountain on the island, with about 1,800’ elevation gain. I started the hike with the others but decided, early on, to rest and enjoy my time on the island by taking an optional side hike. After a short nap in a dry river bed with a killer view of the mountain range, I hiked back up to Potato Harbor to gaze, once more, upon that view.

Sunday night, we all assembled for Happy Hour again, after which, we took a short hike to try to see the native bat species when they flew out of their caves into the night sky. We waited, and waited, and as it started to get colder, most people headed back to camp. I decided to hang in there with one other lady, holding my flashlight up to the sky to create a beam of light. Just as I was about to turn in, a bat swooped down by my head to snap up its insect prey. It startled me, but I was glad I got to experience that. (One of my other friends, who was walking back to camp, actually did see five or six bats fly out into the night). All in all, it was very exciting!

On our last day, most people opted for a 2.5 hour kayaking trip to the sea caves around the island. However, I chose to stay on dry land and do a hike to Smuggler’s Cove, a delightful harbor on the back side of the island that got its name from the illegal sea otter trade that took place between 1769 and 1848. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. Just two hours out and an hour and a half back, this hike wove through a cypress grove, named Delphine’s Grove, an olive grove, grassy hills with purple clover, yellow mustard, and white and pink morning glories, Monkey Flower, Lemonade Berry, Santa Cruz Ironwood, and many other native island plants on this island. The final mile of the hike was down, down, down to the sea. At the beach, we saw island foxes and lizards darting around, both of which are prevalent throughout the island. The island blue jay, island fox, deer mouse, and island spotted skunk are only found on the Channel Islands – and nowhere else in the world.

The descent to the Cove was pretty steep and I wondered as I walked down, how I was going to feel climbing back up. Well it was well worth it – it was such a beautiful beach and quite a dazzling vantage point in every direction. Climbing back up the hill reminded me of the Hobbit story with its rolling green hills and the light brown-red dirt on the paths. It looked like a fairytale to me.

The hike was just short of eight mikes, roundtrip, but the views from the top, coming back to Scorpion Anchorage were sensational. It was rejuvenating to see everything from the top of the island. This was a hike that I would like to do again.

After a leisurely lunch, we all lined up by the dock to return to the mainland. After loading the equipment on board, we enjoyed our ride back to shore to return to our individual lives.

Saying goodbye was hard to do because of the great friendships that were formed over these three days together. But as we said our goodbyes, we agreed to stay in touch and try to get together again for another camping trip. I hope that happens because you can’t find this kind of an experience anywhere else. I can’t wait to sign up for my next adventure!

Take Advantage of Spring Rains with Some Helpful Drought-Saving Measures

Springtime in Southern California is a time of rainfall. Given that we rarely get any rain in our Mediterranean and desert climate, now is the time to take advantage of it with a set-up of rain barrels and other catchment devices.

I have several in my yard which are set up under places where the gutter releases a steady stream of water when it’s raining. I ordered mine off Amazon.com and utilized the City of Los Angeles’ rain barrel rebate program, formerly available through the DWP website under their Consumer Rebate Program. When I ordered my rain barrels, I received rebates of a certain amount for up to two barrels, although I remember that it took about a year to actually get the rebate.

My rain barrels cost me $80.00 and $60.00. You can pay a lot more for a rain barrel at a retail store so I felt this was a good price. Unfortunately, the one that was $60.00 lost its effectiveness when I discovered, much later, that it was empty. Apparently, there was a hole somewhere that I didn’t notice. The other rain barrel is still working after three years. I added a few more receptacle to catch water in my yard and now have them in every corner where I can capture rainfall.

I find it very handy to have rain barrels in my front and back yard as I have a pretty extensive garden and my succulents need water more frequently when it’s hot and dry. Having water nearby means I can just open a spout to refill my watering can without having to unroll the hose (which always seems dirty and difficult to manage).

If you are going to use your rain barrel for drinking water, be sure to add bleach to it. I’m not sure what the exact proportion is but you can find lots of information online regarding water purification and safety.

Another way I conserve water during our drought season is I keep several buckets in my bathroom which I use to bail out water after a shower or bath. In other words, I close the drain when I take a shower and then scoop up soapy water in the buckets and haul it outside to use on my garden. The soap doesn’t harm the plants – it actually helps reduce bothersome insects and keeps my garden green all year ‘round.

By having buckets of water in your bathroom or kitchen, you can reduce your water bill greatly and you’ll also become more conscientious about how much water you actually use. I know that after hauling full buckets of water down my stairs , I learned to become more conservative about the length of my showers and the amount I fill the bathtub for a soak. (I used to use eight buckets of water, per bath; now it’s about 4 – 5 buckets).

As I mentioned before, I also recycle my dishwashing water, several times a day. The food particles in the water contribute compost to my plants while the soap wards off insects without having to use pesticides.

By taking a few easy measures to conserve water and reuse your greywater, you will have an abundantly greener yard without a high water bill.

For more information on the DWP’s energy conservation measures, go to: https://www.ladwp.com/ladwp/faces/ladwp/residential/r-customerservices.

My First Service Trip with the Sierra Club

In August 2017, I completed my first Sierra Club Service Trip, where I spent 7 wonderful days at Yosemite National Park working on various restoration projects. The trip was an eye opener for me in many ways: I learned a great deal about my capacity to serve on a work team, I came face to face with my limited stamina and got reacquainted with an old rotator cuff injury. On the other hand, I got to enjoy living and sharing meals with 15 Sierra Club members who were more experienced in this than me, and best of all, I gained access to the behind the scenes workings of Yosemite, one of our best loved and most visited national parks.

For six nights, I camped at a pristine campground shaded by 50’ Yellow Pines alongside the cool and clear Merced River. The view was like nowhere I have ever been before with the towering monoliths of Sentinel Peak and El Capitan on either side of us. When we weren’t working, I was gazing at or swimming in the mountain-fed river. I also took walks to the various scenic points in the park including Lower Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Village.

Sleeping in a tent was not new to me, but admittedly, it had been a few years since I had camped for more than two nights in the open air. What I discovered was that I don’t sleep well in the “great outdoors.” Every twig that snapped, every snore that was uttered, and every zipper that was opened on a nearby tent was heard by me. This was probably due to my fear of bears making an appearance — or it could have been my hyper vigilant state, in general.

On the whole, this trip was well organized by Charlie, our outgoing and always cheery Group Leader, with four days of service work and a day off in the middle of the week for us to explore the many trails that intersect the Park. On my day off I chose to hike to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point off Glacier Point Road. Joining me was a perky and energetic 79-year old woman and another who was 72. Both were in great shape and were excellent companions for the hikes.

We started the hike to the 8,127’ Sentinel Dome first, which was just 1.2 miles from the parking lot off Glacier Point Road. The weather was beautiful although smoke from the two active fires there obscured some of the views. From the top of the polished granite dome, I was able to see Vernal Fall (317’) and Nevada Fall (594’) which were flowing dramatically in full force. There were also astounding views of the monoliths in Yosemite Valley with nice views of El Capitan and a side shot of Half Dome, the most recognized and photographed mountain in the Park.

From Sentinel Dome, it was another 1.2 miles to Taft Point which ended at Inspiration Point, a sheer cliff that dropped about 1,000’ to the Valley below. Taft Point is at 7,100’ elevation (as compared to the 4,000’ Yosemite Valley floor). While we were there, we got to see a group of young men who were straddling a thick cord tied to two points, about 40’ apart, above the abyss. As we watched them, the young man slipped and hung upside down by his hands while suspended in his harness. It was a frightening sight and one that I didn’t wish to watch for long.

Both hikes offered wide views of dramatic scenery and a good workout with all the ups and downs on the trails.

For our four days of service work, we started each day at 9 a.m. and worked until 3 p.m. duffing and fluffing, weeding and seeding, and shoveling and breaking up hard dirt surfaces for new plants to be set in the ground. Each day started with a visit from Park Service personnel who instructed us on our mission for the day. This included a background explanation of what the Park was trying to accomplish, whether it was for recreating a wetlands environment for birds and water mammals, removing invasive plants from the meadows, collecting seeds from native plants for replanting, or removing duff (mulch) from a Native American historical site.

Each task was within our capability and we had plenty of time for rest and water breaks when they were needed. On the first day of service, we got to meet “Bill,” a Miwok/Paiute elder who oversees the sweat lodge at Camp 4, the site where his ancestors lived and where he grew up. He told us about the old days and what it was like living in Yosemite for four seasons and how his grandmother made traditional baskets that were sold there. While we were working on shoveling the duff into the back of the truck, we got to watch the felling of a 70’ tree that had to be removed due to damage from beetles. Seeing the tree fall in the forest was amazing. The thud from the weight of the tree shook the ground and reverberated off the mountains!

Back at our campsite, we enjoyed freshly-made meals by our excellent cook, Laurel, who prepared three meals daily for each of our days there. I can tell you from my own experience, no one left hungry and each meal was nutritious and healthy. As each of us enjoyed our meals, we also got a chance to help assist in their preparation and in the clean up that followed, overseen by our “Sanitation Engineer” Group Trainee, Doug.

At night, we sat around a roaring campfire and listened to informative presentations on the history of Yosemite by the Acting Supervisor of the Park, who explained the Park’s policies and various environmental concerns. We learned about photographer Ansel Adams and how he helped put Yosemite on the map and we heard a proposal by one of our group members to create an integrated Hut-to-Hut system for America, similar to what they have in Europe and Scandinavia. We also got schooled, by our group leader, on Sierra Club policies, procedures, facts and figures, as it related to Yosemite.

After a long day of working outdoors, I loved swimming in that cool river and gazing up at the stars at night. But what I will most remember are the meaningful conversations I had with my fellow Sierra Club members, who each brought with them experience in being a part of Service Trips. On this trip, I got to give back and to be involved – not just as a “taker” but as a “giver.” It was a new role for me and one that I hope to repeat again as I help spread the word of “leave no trace behind.”

Photos by Doug Pilcher

Writing Family Memoirs: MEMOIRS CAPTURE SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS IN FAMILY HISTORIES

One of the most interesting aspects of my work is in writing family memoirs by interviewing the eldest member of the family and capturing the significant moments of their lives. I am honored to provide this service to people all over the world through telephonic interviews as well as Skype interviews, and sometimes in person. By doing these interviews, I am able to record stories from senior family members whose legacies then live on to benefit future generations.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of interesting people, such as:

  • Lawrence, a wealth advisor and investment broker who wanted his family’s ethics and values to be preserved for future generations
  • Vito, an Italian-American banking official whose very colorful memories of growing up on Long Island may someday become a comedic screen play
  • Gloria, a psychotherapist in Burbank, whose traumatic journey to her present career began with her parents sending her from Iraq to America, all alone, at the age of six to attend boarding school
  • Israel, a Chicago-born Hasidic Jew who defied his family by choosing a career path other than that of a rabbi, breaking their centuries-old lineage of high – ranking religious leaders

Everyone has a story to tell, whether of family members who fought in the war, grew up during the depression, or survived difficult circumstances that they wish to impart to others.

For my own family history, I chose to blaze paths in all four directions through my mother’s and father’s parents’ lineages, and in doing so, I learned who my ancestors were and what their struggles entailed in coming to America from Russia, Germany and Austria. Like most kids of the Baby Boomer age, I always tried to blend in and not be different, but now as I get older, it’s important to me to know more about the past.

My family histories were interesting and painful, joyous and sad, but most of all, they were enlightening. I got to interview more than 35 surviving members of one branch of my family and about two dozen for the remaining 3 branches. I learned of family feuds that kept going until death, of commonalities in the causes of death of my ancestors, and I learned of tragic losses that people bore and survived. It was fulfilling to produce these stories and it brought the surviving relatives all closer together.

Memories are important – and that’s why I love to write people’s memoirs. Once I capture stories on paper they live on after a person’s life ends. Story telling is an art and involves the ability to compassionately listen to the telling of stories, along with the ability to document and retell it in living color. It is the type of writing I enjoy doing most and the one that gives me the greatest satisfaction in doing what I do as Writer For Hire.

If you are interested in capturing the memories of a loved one, don’t wait too long. Memories can fade as one ages and waiting too long can make a big difference in the accuracy of a story. Most of all, once a person passes, there is often a big gap in information that no one else can fill.

How does it work? The process is relatively easy:

A family member serves as my point of contact with the loved one who I speak with by phone or sometimes in person. I then document their memories and turn it into a story. The process can be as short as one afternoon or it can evolve into a series of conversations that are told in the form of an essay. If more than one person wants to interact with me, I can involve them in the conversation or speak with them privately. For more information on Writing Memoirs, please email: pat@writerpatkramer.com or call me: (818) 353-5699.