Email Vesta
Blog Home Page

Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Many Ways to Love

Our annual LOVE issue is one of my favorites of the year. I’m in love with love and all its ramifications. I have a fervent belief that if we all treated each other the way we wish to be treated, our world would be just fine. Yes, I know it’s totally unrealistic in its simplicity. It seems so simple, and yet, so very complicated when anger rises in our chest, indignation…any number of emotions that take us away from a centered place.

Love is not just romantic love of course. And kindness goes hand-in-hand with consideration, and even that is not simple. Consideration involves thinking ahead to the consequences of our actions. If we do this…then that will happen. And another one…if we don’t do this, than that won’t happen.

A simple example of the last one is part of why I have articles on financial planning in this love issue. I know of two young families who lost a parent recently. One to illness, the other to an accident. These parents did not have life insurance. This left the other parent financially alone to continue raising their children.

People claim they don’t have enough money to cover this expense, but literally, less than $20 a month would have saved the surviving parent the stress of carrying on solo. We can throw away $20 in an afternoon, or on treats we don’t need. How different these peoples lives would be if that one expense had been met.

On the same financial planning subject, we have parents planning for their demise - again for their children. No one gets out of this alive! Last month we had an article written by Robert Feuer on how he realized that he needed to take care of his aging parents. You have no idea how many people this happens to - suddenly - without warning. Aging, parents are fine then all of a sudden they are not. The task of loving care falls on the next generation. Pre-planning makes that so much easier on everyone.

So along with the joys of romantic love, we have family love, friendship...and pet love. It’s what makes our hearts swell with warmth...even a sunrise or sunset - whatever!

The up-side of life wraps itself around our hearts in the most wonderful way. Wouldn’t it be perfect if life was all happiness and joy? Well - maybe. If you believe in the yin/yang balance of everything in the Universe, you know that love balances hate, joy balances anger, peace balances war, good balances bad. So in the’s ALL good. Life is designed to balance.

OK....enough of all that - happy love Day/Month/Year & Life! ~ Vesta

How to Make
Love Last

‘Til Death Do Us Part

By Vesta Copestakes
I’m going to get real personal here because I think I’ve discovered something truly remarkable...lasting love. See that picture?

That’s my sweetheart Alan and me, taken without a moment of preparation so it’s as real as it gets. Dani-Sheehan-Meyer captured the very essence of our happiness with each other. Total comfort. We’re home.

I was talking with my sister-in-law, Sharon, about how happy I am with Alan - how very home I feel. She lamented that she had felt exactly the same way until my brother was killed almost four years ago. She was home. Wherever she was with Dave, was home. It’s one of the ways to define love - do you feel safe? Relaxed? Totally at-ease and accepted for who you are? Then you are with the right person. That’s home.

Many years ago I interviewed a couple who had been together for more than 70 years. They looked genuinely happy with each other. Not just happy - but happy to be sharing life together. They told me what defined why it worked so well for them.

- it’s the spark that starts many love affairs, and also the one that holds love together when stress, tension, anger, etc. get in the way. The desire to be close melts barriers when they rise between lovers.

Similar Values - you both look at life through the same colored lenses - value the same people, things, ways of being and interacting with the world. When you assess a situation you tend to come to the same conclusion whether you have discussed it with your mate or not.

- whether it’s religion or a philosophy of life, you both approach faith in a similar fashion. It doesn’t mean you have to go to the same church, or both be Christian, or Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. It does mean that whatever faith is the language you speak, you share belief or dis-belief in a similar way.

- no one is perfect in every way, so couples who share life successfully tend to be very patient and tolerant of their sweetheart. No differences of opinion, different ways of doing things, etc., are so important that they get in the way of loving. You thrive on your differences as much as you do on your similarities.

What was remarkable about the elderly couple I interviewed, is that they had met and married within two weeks when they were very young. For most of us, romance is more a series of relationships until we define who we are as an individual, and what works and doesn’t work for us as a couple. For Alan and I, we didn’t find this lovely balance until we were 52. Lucky us that we found each other at all.

Last February, I wrote about The Rule of Two & a Half Years that defined how long it takes for most people to come to the conclusion that they either do - or do not - belong together. Once you cross that line and feel confident you can relax into love, the rewards are spectacular. That’s happiness you can wrap your arms around.

The most rewarding aspect of what I call “mature love,” is that when we get older, we aren’t in such a rush. Our expectations have been tempered by time, and yes, disappointment. How fortunate are the few who find this kind of love when they are young. If it survives raising a family with all the stress that entails, then they are the blessed few.

Any person who knows the profound joy of sharing life with someone they love, knows exactly what I’m writing about. And as Sharon knows - the cliche “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” is very real and true.

The Hidden Power of Friendships
by Melissa Smith Baker

I’ve often wondered why we choose the friends we do. We pick friends for the joy and comfort they bring us; but if we’re willing to get close, they might also help us with the unresolved emotional issues that we’re still carrying from the families in which we were raised.

I had never thought of this possibility until I was caring for a friend who was dying of cancer. Every time I visited her, unexpected revelations arose. As I witnessed my friend Betty’s process, I realized how much she and her husband, Pete, reminded me of my own parents. There were striking parallels between the two relationships. Each couple shared similar marital issues, yet they handled the death of their spouse completely differently. Betty and Pete, unbeknownst to them, became a catalyst in helping me heal part of my past.

When my mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, my father couldn’t accept her illness and the likelihood of her death. He banned family and friends from visiting her. After a few months he was emotionally incapable of caring for his wife whom he’d been married to for over 40 years. To get better care and find peace, my mother decided to leave her home and go die at the home of a best friend.

As with my parents, Betty and Pete didn’t share many interests as the years went by, and their marriage had become constrained and unsatisfying. What was contrary to my parents’ scenario was the fact that as soon as Pete heard that Betty had ovarian cancer, he rallied to serve her. He helped her set up a community of caregivers, took her for drives out to the coast, and redecorated their home so that everything would be peaceful for her healing. Was Pete making amends and acting out of guilt? Perhaps in part, but if he hadn’t tapped into his love for Betty, he wouldn’t have been able to be steadfast and resolute for so many months on end. The situation in the lives of both of these couples cried out for action, bringing out the best in Pete and the worst in my father.

Poignantly I watched as Pete did what my father hadn’t been able to do; namely, care for my mother and show his love during the final year of her life. Betty expressed and asked for what she needed and wanted, and in turn got to witness and receive her husband’s heroism. They hadn’t always been there for each other during their long-term marriage; yet, during this crisis while Betty became empowered, Pete gathered his strength to redeem himself.

Witnessing the transformation of a husband and a wife in a real-life situation—not in a novel, play or film—I felt as though the ending of my parents’ story was being rewritten, too. Even though the marital dynamic of these two couples was almost identical, replete with infidelity and addiction, Pete and Betty succeeded where my parents had failed.

The final days of my parents' relationship could have been a heroic moment. One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is a model of their growing, thriving marriage. That was not my parents’ legacy to me. Betty and Pete's exemplary behavior helped me see that my parents weren't a tragic and pathetic couple since they were struggling with marital trials and tribulations that take place in many long-term relationships. I no longer was ashamed of their inability to resolve their problems. I could “rewrite” their final chapter and integrate the best of who my parents were instead of the worst.

Whether or not a loved one is dead or alive, it’s never too late to untie the knots that bind us to our past, even though it’s often not possible to untangle them within our own birth families. When I had gotten to know and love Betty and Pete, sometimes I had judged them for their all-too-visible problems, not conscious that those very issues were ones that I had been familiar with as a child. I am grateful to Betty and Pete for inviting me into their lives and exemplifying what my parents might have become.

If Betty’s dying had been a play, it couldn’t have been more perfectly scripted for me. It moved me to discover compassion for my parents’ humanness and to step more fully into my adulthood. I honor friends as much as family these days and am being more careful about criticizing them, knowing that their painful issues might very well be the keys to the unraveling and healing of my own past.

A Lesson in Loving

By Joy Lovinger
My father died in 1994. My mother had been his caregiver and it was a very prolonged, painful death. Mom was on her own after that, after 52 years of marriage. I wasn’t worried about her – she had lots of friends and was a very social person. I talked to her daily, even though she lived in Florida and I lived in California. Just a “hey, how are you, I’m thinking of you and I love you” kind of call.

Then one day in 2000 I called her and she sounded different. When I asked what was wrong, she said “potato” and kept repeating the word. I called a neighbor and he went over and was told by my mom that her best friend tried to poison her by sticking something sharp in a baked potato. Turned out the bridge in her mouth had broken and the wire was loose and exposed. I flew to Florida and saw that her apartment was in disarray. There was food in the freezer dated 1991; drawers were filled with receipts from Publishers Clearing House, money and jewelry was stuffed in pockets of bathrobes. I had no clue what was wrong – I only knew something wasn’t right. I quickly made plans to move her to California and found her what I thought was the perfect living situation. After about 6 months, it was clear she wasn’t functioning well – she couldn’t dress herself, take her medications or even shower. Cold cereal ended up in the fridge and milk in the pantry. I took her to the doctor who diagnosed Alzheimers disease.

At this point, Mom had run out of money and I was at my wit’s end. I brought her home to live with me and spent the next couple of years going through my savings taking care of her. I know now that much of what I did early on, even though it was done with the best of intentions, was not right. In frustration I argued with her about small details that, in the big scheme of things, really didn’t matter. When asked where my father or some relative was, I told her they had died. I acted like a disciplinarian instead of loving caretaker. I was taking away her dignity and independence. It often felt like a duty rather than a labor of love and I am still fighting with the guilt.

When Mom finally broke her hip, the hospital discharged her to an excellent skilled nursing facility where she remained for the rest of her life. She lost her speech and still did inappropriate things but she was almost always smiling and safe.
You hear all these stories about Alzheimers and it is a horrible, horrible disease. But there are lots of moments of joy that people don’t talk about. Like the almost childish delight I gave my mother when I gave her a dish of ice cream; or the giggling fit she had when I gave her a talking donkey stuffed animal; like the way she held and kissed my foot when I leaned back and rested it on her wheelchair; like the way she laughed when Brian, my partner, hid from her and made strange sounds and the determined way she set about trying to find him.

At the time it was hard for me to see what a gift I had been given. I was so caught up in her physical demands and so tired all the time that I often forgot to enjoy my time with her. I realize now that I had given her a couple of great years while she was still cognizant enough to enjoy them. And I learned patience, understanding and what unconditional love is all about. It may have been the toughest experience in my life but it was an invaluable experience and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Protect the Ones You Love
By Ute Scott-Smith, CHFC
Last month we focused on general steps to shape up your finances. This month we will address one of the most important ways you can protect your loved ones.
Building a strong financial future is very much like building a pyramid. The most critical part of a pyramid is the foundation and the foundation of your financial pyramid is an emergency fund that can cover 3-6 months of living expenses and insurance protection in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

As an individual you need Health, Auto and Homeowner’s insurance. More difficult to determine is the need for Disability, Renter’s, Umbrella and Long-Term Care insurance.

If anyone else’s financial security is dependent upon your income, such as a spouse, partner, child or dependent parents, you will also need to consider obtaining life insurance.

You need to buy insurance wisely: the right kind…the right amount…at the right time…at the best price.

Not sure if you need insurance?
Let me tell you the story of friends of mine. He was a well compensated bank manager and she gave up her job as a producer for a T.V. network when the first of their two sons was born. They did not own life insurance and his sudden death dramatically changed her life. She could no longer afford the mortgage, had to sell the house and move to a different town near her parents so they could watch her two young sons after school while she worked all day at a low-paying office job. Those kids not only lost their father, but their home, school and friends in one fell swoop. Now imagine if she had received a life insurance benefit that was sufficient for her to keep the house, enable her to get job training and thereby obtain a well paying part-time job while also taking care of her sons?

What kind of Life Insurance is right for you?
When you seek to protect your loved ones from the loss of your income during your working years, the best option is inexpensive term life insurance with a guaranteed level cost for a specific number of years. This is pure insurance without any savings component and by far the least expensive option.

If you will need cash at your death to pay high estate taxes or provide liquidity because funds are tied up in a business or real estate, then buy permanent insurance such as whole or universal life. Permanent insurance also has a savings component in addition to the insurance.

What is the right amount of term life insurance?
A very simple general rule is to buy 15 times your income when you are the main breadwinner; 10 times if you have two income earners. You also need to account for a mortgage, business ownership, desire to fund a child’s college education and more. Each situation deserves a special calculation and a good advisor will sit down with her clients and discuss your assets, liabilities and goals to determine the appropriate amount.

Once you have sufficient assets or children are grown, insurance may no longer be necessary and coverage can be adjusted or discontinued.

What is the right time to buy insurance?
If you think you should have insurance, the right time is now!
As part of the application process for insurance coverage, the insurance carrier will review your medical records, test cholesterol, blood pressure and weight to determine if you qualify for the best rates. It is always best to apply while you are healthy.

Dear Readers: Do you have a financial question in mind? Ute Scott-Smith, ChFC, of The Social Equity Group, is an independent, fee-based investment advisor specializing in socially responsible investment management and financial planning. Ute lives in Graton and maintains her office in Sebastopol. Please contact her at (707) 495-7084, email or through her website

Love your Family, Start Planning Now

By Carolyn Kelly
How many times have you thought, “What will happen to my family and my property when I die, or become incapacitated?”

If you’re like most people, you don’t think about it often because the subject is so unpleasant and you suspect that “putting your affairs in order” will involve time and money you don’t have right now. You also might have heard that estate planning is only for millionaires. You are inclined to put the whole subject on the back burner until something happens that makes you think about it, such as a trip to a foreign country, your son marries a girl you’re not crazy about, or, you have a serious illness.

The problem is, none of us know when one of the big D’s - death or disability - will strike. Either could happen before we are prodded into action, and then it will be too late.

But do you really need to plan for your estate?

Yes. Everyone has an “estate” and should have an estate plan. An estate is everything you own and have the right to dispose of at your death.

If you don’t set up a plan, your family will be forced into court upon your death or disability. The court will offer up a default plan (per statute) which may be quite different from the plan you have in mind.

Plus, the court process allows many of your relatives (and occasionally other interested parties) to have a say in what they think is best. Is that what you want?

I’ve participated in a number of contested conservatorship cases (where the court appoints a person to manage the affairs of another person unable to care for themselves or their finances). One case involved brothers fighting over the care and custody of their aging father. The trial costs for just one of the brothers was $85,000, payable from the father’s estate. Then the appeals began.

Similarly, dying without a Will in place (or other testamentary disposition, such as a Revocable Trust) can cause trouble. The “intestate” distribution of your estate through the court will be fairly straightforward, but ancient tensions may cause family members to fight over other matters to be decided during the proceeding.

You can avoid this whole mess
A properly executed Uniform Statutory Form Power of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directive would have avoided the conservatorship case mentioned above. A properly executed Will (or Revocable Trust with a “pour-over” Will) can avoid unneeded court intervention altogether.

What you need to do

(1) Prepare a Power of Attorney ( a statutory form is found at Probate Code §4401). This document authorizes another person to manage your finances for you if you become incapacitated.
(2) Prepare an Advance Health Care Directive (a statutory form is found at Probate Code §4701). This document authorizes another person to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated, including who will “pull the plug” for you and when.
(3) Prepare a Will. A Will directs who gets your assets at your death except for those assets which pass outside your Will, by law, by some other means, such as life insurance, retirement accounts, or joint ownership of some kind.
(4) Or, consider creating a Revocable Trust (with a pour-over Will, designed to “pour” assets into the Trust at your death, if necessary). A Trust is an entity which holds your assets for life (except certain assets, referred to above), sets out how to manage them if you are incapacitated, and directs how to distribute them at your death. The key is to get, and keep, all possible assets transferred into the Trust so there is no need for a probate of the Will at your death.

A Will requires a public probate which can be costly and slow, but is safe because the court is involved. A Trust is private and provides for faster distribution of assets, but is less safe and may be more costly in the long run if the Trust is mismanaged.

So let’s get started
The hardest part is collecting all your asset information. Contact me at or 829-1471 and I will send you a simple questionnaire to complete and take to your attorney, or, if you don’t have an attorney, you can always contact me.
You love your family and want to leave them happy memories of you, not headaches. Give them a Valentine’s Day present they’ll never forget; a properly prepared estate plan. Happy planning!

Labels: , ,