Monday, December 28, 2015

A True Baltimore Superhero

When it comes to politicians, especially career politicians, I have little use for them.  Most are best at keeping power in order to feed at the public trough for a lifetime, sharing little of the average citizen's struggles.  My favorite has always been former Mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer, who served the citizens of B-town for more than 50 years at both the state and local level.  He loved the city of Baltimore and the State of Maryland with a passion that you either cheered or booed, but his efforts on behalf of the everyday Joe made him a perennial favorite to voters.

Yet another is about to join him on the pedestal of honorees - Senator Barbara Mikulski, a small (4'11") yet ferocious woman who has made her way into the history books

The daughter of a Highlandtown grocer, Mikulski's ear-to-the-ground talent and megaphone mouth gave her grassroots appeal when she blasted onto the scene in the 1960's.  A social worker who was also a community activist, she led the opposition to paving over a giant swath of downtown Baltimore for an interstate highway.  Buoyed by her success, she ran for and was elected to the Baltimore City Council at age 35.  She beat formidable odds to become the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in 1986.

The Fair Pay Act for women would never have made it to President Obama's desk without her.  Mikulski is the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Congress as well as the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee.

For all of the groundbreaking factoids, she is my hero for a most important reason:  she comes from an era when politicians actually did things for the people who voted them into office.

I love that she is a graduate of my alma mater, the Institute of Notre Dame.  I love her bulldog-like ability to get things done.  If it's beginning to sound like I'm just another Democratic drum-beater, I am not.  I don't even belong to the Democratic Party.  However, I am an ardent supporter of anyone in office who remembers who she represents.  Mikulski's ex-staff members are strewn about the state in legendary numbers because they failed to live up to her standards of service to the public.  So powerful that Presidents fear getting on her "wrong side", she is the rare exception to the political hacks who are elected with huge PAC funds and corporate contributions.

At 79 years of age, she is not seeking re-election despite the fact that she would surely win again.  I don't begrudge her a more restful lifestyle, but I will miss her tenacious drive and ability to represent the common people of this state as well as showing women everywhere what one small, but loud voice can accomplish.

Thank you, Barbara, for all you have done.  The City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland and the United States of America will miss you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Moving to a new home presents multiple do-over opportunities:  a chance to purge enough junk to pretend you're not a hoarder, a chance to change your decor from forty-year-old traditional mahogany pieces that cost a fortune to Ikea (since your old furniture didn't fetch much on craigslist), and a chance to simplify, since you're only taking what fits in your Prius.

I'm doing all of the above, plus getting a new mattress. since I don't remember when I bought the last one.  An intriguing piece on the internet caught my eye, about a start-up in Los Angeles called Casper with a novel approach to the totally boring process of mattress shopping.   I know what kind of mattress I want.....a Tempurpedic.....but I just can't bring myself to spend 3 or 4K on a freaking mattress.  Yes, I know, we spend a third of our lives in bed...with the exception of prostitutes, but that's a different story......but two-thirds of my life is over, so I discount that statistic.

Casper will ship me a memory foam and latex mattress rolled up in a box for about 25 percent of the cost of the Tempurpedic, let me sleep on it for 100 nights, and if I don't like it, they will come pick it up and refund 100% of my money to boot.  I like that, but I still want to have some idea what it feels like.  

There aren't many places to test drive a Casper, but since I was in Los Angeles - their corporate home - for a few days, I decided to do just that.  My youngest daughter and I took the 4-year-old and the 10-month-old to Griffith Park to ride the ponies and visit the trains at Traveltown.  Trusting Waze to help us find the Casper showroom, we drove up the steep, narrow streets of the Hollywood Hills and wondered what kind of business could be located in this affluent, residential area.  A home with a big "C" on the front door and a Casper shipping box on the sidewalk came into view.  We looked at each other, wondering about the safety of entering a private home and asking to try out the bed.  She stayed in the car with the kids while I ventured inside.  

The living area's walls were all glass, affording an expansive, scenic view, like a Hollywood home in the hills should.  Four people sat at a table with desktop computers, answering customer calls.  A twenty-something with impossibly white teeth and blonde hair asked if I had an appointment.  An appointment? To lie on a matteress??

It must have been a slow day, as she checked her tablet and saw they had an opening, so I was admitted to a bedroom with an equally gorgeous view and given a clean pillow.  I mentioned my waiting family and the blonde with the blinding smile lured them inside with promises of water and juice.  The four-year-old propelled herself onto the bed and the ten-month-old spied an opportunity to nurse before vomiting copiously on the clean carpet.  She spent a few minutes gazing out the window while the other one pushed Trader Joe's rocket-shaped cheddar crackers into the vertical fan.  I shut my eyes and tried to decide how the mattress felt while calculating how long it would take to get home in L.A.traffic.  Would the wiser course be to hunker down at Magnolia Bakery until rush hour was over? 

I remain undecided.  I still prefer the Tempurpedic experience, but keep coming back to the Casper price.  At least I have 100 vomit-free nights to see if I want to keep it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Lately I’ve felt a bit like Sally Field’s character in the 1976 book-based movie, “Sybil”, which is the story of Shirley Ardell Mason, who suffered from dissociative identity disorder (more commonly known as multiple personality disorder).  No, I’m not breaking apart from long-suppressed psychological trauma, but contemplating the different faces that all of us present to others.   saint1
As a young parent, life requires us to exhibit a persona of infinite patience, boundless energy and determination.  I alternately portrayed a saint, a teacher, and the embodiment of love and comfort during that time.  Once the kids grew older and ventured out of the house, I could finally unleash my inner demon who uttered the “f-word” and the like with abandon.  My halo continued to tarnish when they learned what physical act was required to create a baby.  As one of my daughters put it, “Ewwwwww, you and dad did that THREE times?????” to produce her and her two siblings.  making out
I’m thankful that my grandchildren are still too young to peruse my Facebook page or read one of the four books I’ve written (“Ednor Scardens”, “The Body War”, “The Hurting Year”, “On Gabriel’s Wings”).  To my adult children, I’m still supposed to possess infinite patience, wisdom and other saintly qualities, but the years have taken their toll.  My filter is wearing ever thinner.
grumpy woman
“Tell It Like It Is” was a popular song (sung by Aaron Neville) and became a 1960’s catch-phrase, but I still hold back from saying what I really think about people and their choices, ideas, situations, etc. to avoid hurt feelings, but I know the day will come when I’ll be just like my mom by the time she landed in assisted living.  No matter how often I visited or what I brought to please her, she still seemed unable to understand why I no longer had the figure I had in my twenties.  Anytime I bent over to retrieve something on the floor, she would sigh and comment, “You have GOT to get rid of that ass!”  Depending on her condition, I never knew which of Sybil’s personalities I’d be visiting  that day.   Mom passed away a few years ago, and my turn will
come eventually.

Now that I think about it, that might not be so bad.  It could be the basis for my next book!

Kathleen Barker’s books and personal blog can be found at: pics 071

Saturday, August 8, 2015


***Please note that this article previously appeared as my contribution to the Girl Who Reads blog****

Most authors I know are also voracious readers.  We love beautifully crafted words that paint rich tapestries.  Yet life intrudes, in the form of jobs, families, and the day-to-day minutia that consumes us, leaving little time for us to pursue our own writing much less enjoy that of others.

I tend to get involved in books that are series, most recently Diana Gabaldon's Outlander (2004, Dell, Amazon).  After devouring roughly ten thousand pages, I felt lost when the most recent book ended.  Stories on a grand scale are what I want most, and my next reading project is Winston Graham's Poldark (2009, Sourcebooks Landmark, Amazon).  I'll let you know when I resurface from the complete 12-book narrative.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up
Needing a short fix while waiting for the Amazon Stork to Prime-drop Poldark, I discovered an unlikely candidate:  Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (2014, Ten Speed Press, Amazon).  How on earth could a cleaning book make the New York Times' best seller list?  Why would anyone want to spend more time than necessary on cleaning, much less read about how someone else does?  There had to be a reason.

I have not finished testing her methods yet, but Kondo's weird little ideas are resonating with readers who have adopted her mantra that the things you own must give you happiness.  If they don't, you should get rid of them.  As I begin my journey of shedding decades of accumulated "stuff", I find myself happier.  Gone are the categories of clothing that were jammed in my closet...the fat clothing, the perfect size clothing (which is never quite achieved), and the sentimental items that haven't been worn since college.

Kondo's description of her younger self sounds downright obsessive-compulsive, as she searched to fine-tune her skills.  Her near-desperation feels foreign to the possession-loving Western world.  Yet it is these very things that make us dread the cleaning and organizing that those ever-growing amounts require.  It made me think of comedian George Carlin's routine about organizing our "stuff" so that we could make enough room to go out and buy more "stuff".

As a cleaning consultant in Japan, Ms. Kondo has lists of clients who wait breathlessly for their turn to secure her guidance in their own homes.  I WILL eventually reach my goal of possessions that spark joy, but I cannot do it all in one fell swoop as she recommends.  A dark 18th century Englishman from Cornwall beckons, promising his own sort of joy, and I'm answering his call first.  

Saturday, July 11, 2015


I've often wondered if the love of reading is a result of genetics or environment.  As the daughter of a woman who never read for pleasure and a man who made weekly treks to a public library, hauling home multiple books each trip, I landed squarely in the read-to-excess group. Still, I'm not sure it just happened out of the clear blue.  In addition to seeing Dad sitting on the couch, reading every night, I also attended schools with rigorous, year-round reading lists.  What began as an annoying academic requirement soon blossomed into a love affair.

My father knew the importance of good grades, so he gave me a quarter for every "A" I brought home on periodic report cards (yes, I am that old). Of course, twenty-five cents is unlikely to incentivize many students today, but researchers found long ago that avid readers develop superior skills that far surpass good spelling and larger vocabularies. Grammar, writing and speaking ability, general knowledge and I.Q. all expand with reading.

Curling up on my sofa with a book is such a deep pleasure that the seat cushion has developed Dad's telltale depression that my brother and I once snickered at.  Yet where my father's stack of library books was quite modest, I have a coffee table with multiple sloping piles, patiently waiting their turn.  My to-read Everest is out of control.  Magazines are relegated to in-flight reading to spare myself the agony of tossing unread print material into the trash.

Those of you who are yelling at this page, telling me to get a Kindle...yeah, I have one, and it only exacerbates the problem.  Towers of books can, at least, physically rebuke me by their visual presence.  Downloaded ebooks are imprisoned in a thin, black orphanage, emitting no sense of urgency.

For decades at my house, spring cleaning did not apply to books.  Until Hurricane Katrina.  Although my treasured books were not damaged, I decided to move from a four bedroom house with two large attics to a townhouse with no attic.  It became clear that I must learn to survive without my textbooks and anthologies from college at the very least.   Potential loading and unloading friends could be enticed with the promise of no 100-pound boxes of books to lift.

Seven garage sales followed over a two month period.   The ten-cent books flew off the table.

As I continue to downsize, it's become easier to part with things. I was actually doing quite well...very well indeed...until I started to write books as well as read them.

So, just let me know if you'd like a German 101 book from 1968.

(Note that this is a repost from my recent contribution to the GIRL WHO READS blog).

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Today's piece is a re-post from the January 7, 2015 blog of my guest, Regina Sokas, who is a fellow member of a Facebook group called "Justice for Catherine Cesnik and Joyce Malecki".  It exists to keep alive the investigation into the 1969 murders of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik and of Joyce Helen Malecki, cold cases which may have the same perpetrator, and which have commonalities of location and who the victims knew, including Father A. Joseph Maskell.


In a sense, it was the perfect storm of evil intention and opportunity. The man was Chaplain at an all-girls Catholic high school, for a time the only male in the administration or faculty, the lord over a group of nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame, led by the soft-spoken Sister Mary Virginia.

Class of 1970
As a student, I knew nothing about the adults in charge of my days. Like a perfect Freudian analyst, each remained a blank canvas upon which I could project my own thoughts. For example, I imagined that Sister Mary Virginia came from a family of some prominence with social and financial standing in their community. She had a rarefied air, like she stepped over or around the more tawdry elements of her job.

I don't remember ever having a one-on-one conversation with Vice Principal Sister Nancy Cavey, much to my relief as I projected upon her a rather ruthless, militaristic persona. I imagined that she came from a place where people learned that life was unfair, that resources were limited, and that if you had to step on someone else to get be it. If Keough High School had ever instituted a Hunger Games, she would have organized it.

Sister Judith, on the other hand, I spoke to on far too many occasions in her role as Dean of Students (i.e. Dean of Discipline). It was her job to ream out wayward students. I was just irritatingly rebellious enough to come to her attention. The critical difference between her and Sister Nancy was that Sister Judith didn't really seem to relish inflicting pain. Sister Judith seemed, for lack of a better description, normal.

Archbishop Keough Administration

Two of the administrators on the 1970 Aurora yearbook page don't ring a bell with me at all. Then there was the Chaplain (lower middle), Father A. Joseph Maskell. Did I sense that he was evil? Probably not, since evil and priest were a combination not yet familiar to me.

I avoided him like the proverbial plague, but that might be simply because I had arrived in high school with a keen mistrust of all authority figures already in place, although my early nemeses were mostly nuns. If I heard any whispers about him, they were faint. I didn't need much urging to stay out of his confessional.

Eventually defrocked, albeit decades and decades after he abused multiple young girls, my sole interactions with Father Maskell's office were acts of minor pranking of which I should now, as an adult, be ashamed, but of which I am instead absurdly proud. Then again, he has shown himself to be a rapist and, most probably, a murderer.

I knew her as Sister Joanita
 In one sense, Sister Catherine Cesnick disappeared for me the summer before my senior year of high school when she did not return to teach at Keough. She and another young sister had moved out of the convent into an apartment and were teaching at a public school. We weren't close. In fact, I kinda didn't like her, but then again I had that whole authority figure issue.

When she disappeared in November of 1969, it was publicly blamed on her stopping to shop at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center.

That this looks now to be a lie is only the first sin, although a grave one. Edmondson Village had been the site of a shady real estate practice called blockbusting -- a way to stimulate white flight and make a buck by buying low from the white population and then selling high to the incoming black population. Falsely blaming Sister Cathy's disappearance on the Edmondson Village Shopping Center was a variation on the-strange-black-guy-did-it and capitalized on fears stoked during the riots that had taken place the previous Spring following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination.

The mysterious black guy didn't do it, of course. It now appears that Father Maskell did. How did he get away with it? That's where evil really had a field day. You see, Maskell had a part-time gig as a police chaplain. Let me spell it out: Rumor back in the day was to avoid going to confession with Maskell as he somehow violated the oath of the confessional. Hints were that he used blackmail. I now believe that he did use his position to identify naive and devout girls who might be more vulnerable to his abuse.

Now add to this that he used his position as chaplain to the police to once again corrupt the sacraments -- this time in order to identify those police officers whose morals aligned with his own rotting soul. A group of unrepentant enforcers, if you will, who raped at his direction. You can read more of the details in Inside Baltimore.

I wasn't there. Isn't that what people often say when faced with so-called "he said/she said" situations? I was there in the building. I had the faintest inkling that something was not kosher about the chaplain. I didn't know the truth.
Me and my best friend

Sister Cathy knew the truth, because she was told. She promised that she would do something about it. Shortly after this conversation, she disappeared. Two women who were girls at my school during the years I was there have come forward and told police, told a reporter, told a court, told us all that they were shown the body by Maskell and his police coconspiritors. 'This is what will happen to you if you tell.'

Maskell was defrocked, eventually. He is now dead. If there is a hell, he's stoking the fires. His law enforcement accomplices have yet to be identified, although some of their colleagues are willing to anonymously speak the truth. (See the link above.)

I believe my fellow students. I believe the anonymous police officials. I believe the decision by the Catholic Church to finally defrock him. I wish I knew who knew, how much they knew, and when. I probably never will.

For what little it is worth, I want to go on record to my former classmates and say, I believe you. I stand beside you. I hope someday you feel justice, but that hope is faint because justice is elusive and often bows to power. It is difficult to name two more powerful organizations in Baltimore than the Catholic Church and the Baltimore Police Department. Solidarity can have power, too. It is power of a different, more spiritual, force, but it is real. I join my power with yours. Heal, my Keoughites. Speak your truth with healing. Amen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


When a new movie that is based upon a book hits the big screen, do you watch the movie or read the book first?  The chicken-or-egg process of a good story likely evokes a moment's hesitation. My own answer? It depends.

Unlike many of my bookaholic friends, I do not keep an eagle eye on the New York Times bestseller list. My never-ending to-read list comes from a select group of guinea pig acquaintances who have given a book a big thumbs up.

Don't get me wrong. I love a good movie too, but it's rare to find one that captures the images that my mind has conjured from the book that it is based on. Usually films have difficulty compressing the story satisfactorily into the 90-120 minute attention span of the average movie audience.

Recently, I had two completely different book vs. movie experiences. The first evolved from a former classmate and Facebook friend who raved about a book that involved a historical romance AND time travel. Normally I hate time travel tales, but she carried on so that I bought the book just to shut her up. How good could it be if it had been written over 22 years ago and I'd never heard of it? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

As I became more entangled in the story of Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall, I dreaded reaching the end of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. Yet I need not have worried...there are 8 books in the series that range from 848 to 1488 pages each. I plowed through them all at a record pace. Much to my delight, I discovered that a television series began last fall on the STARZ channel. I quickly added it to see how disappointed I would be at the small screen version of such a tale. I have watched these first eight shows several times in anticipation of the next new installments that start April 4th. Reading these books has enriched my appreciation for the televised series, which is done very well, indeed. In fact, I plan to read all 8 of the books again, more slowly, to appreciate what I devoured quickly in the first go-round.

This scenario is not always the case.

Not too long ago, I watched the movie Gone Girl.  It was so entertaining and smartly made, that I felt sure the book by Gillian Flynn would be terrific. SO wrong (cue the Debbie Downer music here). After nearly 100 pages - and hating every paragraph - I'm not sure I'll finish it. All I can do is wonder how the book was ever a bestseller. Clearly, I am in the minority here as there are over 37,000 reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

A great book won't always be a great movie, and a mediocre book can be a very good movie. Where do you stand: book or movie first?

(Note that this is a repost from a guest blog on "Girl Who Reads")

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Nearly two years ago, I posted a blog (link: about a high school friend of mine whose teen obsession with music and all-things-Beatle resulted in her production of "Good Ol' Freda", an acclaimed documentary film about the Fab Four's long-time, faithful secretary, Freda Kelly.

The film premiered at the famous SXSW (South x Southwest) Film Festival on March 9, 2013.  Since then, Kathy McCabe, her nephew-director Ryan White and Freda Kelly have been touring worldwide to over 100 film festivals and Beatles fests.  You may have heard of Ryan in the meantime if you watched HBO's presentation of "The Case Against Eight".  He and Ben Cotner were the directors and writers of this look at the aftermath and events that led up to California's Proposition 8, which added a new provision to the state's Declaration of Rights that defined marriage as only "between a man and a woman".  They won the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 and, more recently, the prestigious Humanitas Award in January 2015 for this film.

From its Kickstarter fundraising campaign beginnings, "Good Ol' Freda" has grown from claiming multiple Best Documentary awards at its many screenings to mainstream Netflix status.  Television stations in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia and South America have featured this amazing film.  This special part of Beatles history was the first independent documentary to receive permission to license The Beatles' music from the master recordings.  Kathy and Freda can't help but laugh when they exit an airplane restroom, only to see Freda's face on the video screens of passenger seat backs during their travels.

When asked what sticks in her mind about her travels to promote the film, McCabe shakes her head and states, "What's beautiful to see as we travel is the love and respect that Beatle People give Freda.  She has been so touched by the response.  In a way, they're paying her back for all the great things she did for The Beatles, their families and fans.  People just want to hug her, tell her their little stories, and have their picture taken with her.  Many of them bring items to show her what she sent them 50 years ago from The Beatles Fan Club.  In Mexico City last December, a man brought in two sets of Beatle autographs (one set included Freda's own signature) and asked her to authenticate them.  They were the real thing...probably worth about  about $50,000. She sent things like this to fans routinely during those years and when the Beatles Fan Club ended she gave away all the leftover Beatle items to fans."   

The juggernaut that is "Good Ol' Freda" continues in 2015.  Visits to Rome, Austria, Mauritius, Italy and Chicago are already scheduled, with more to be added.

The big local news is that Freda Kelly herself will appear at a fundraising screening for the Catonsville (Maryland) Community Foundation on October 10, 2015.  Tickets are $30 and available from Joe Loverde by phoning (410) 788-2425 or by contacting him at  Don't wait - because the show is already half sold out!  

When I asked Kathy how she felt about her amazing accomplishment, she smiled.  "It's the little film that could.  We never dreamed it would take off the way it has.  We figured it would be big for Beatle fans, but never dreamed we'd be traveling for two or three years straight since the film's release.  It's really been a wonderful ride, but it wouldn't have happened without the support of family, friends, Beatle People/organizations, and many total strangers.  We're very grateful to everyone who helped us."

If you want a copy of Good Ol' Freda, you can order it on

Kathy also keeps autographed copies on sale if you'd like to get one directly from her (  If you would like to follow Freda, you can 'Like' the Good Ol' Freda Facebook page.