I am an author, CPA, entrepreneur, Foundation President and a website editor. I would like to think I am making the world a better place.
July 2, 2015
As a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, I see a lot of G-rated and PG movies with my foster kids. Those adventures have become one of the unexpected rewards of this program.
Last week I had the pleasure of seeing “Inside Out” and I can truly say it is one of the most amazing movies I have seen in years. It is one of those special creations that only Disney/Pixar can produce. It is billed as appealing to children, and I can truly say, from my personal experience, that it spoke to that little girl still inside of me.
I went with a 10-year old foster girl, and we kept looking at each during the movie. I think we were trying to see what feelings it was bringing up in each of us. The movie centers on the issue that we all have a variety of emotions, and it is OK to acknowledge them. The main characters are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust.
At the end of the movie, she asked me if I liked it, and I started to gush about it. I posed the same question to her, and she smiled and replied that she also loved the movie. I went on to ask which character she liked the best, and she responded “Sadness.” I felt my own Sadness come up when I heard her words, until she went on to explain why.
She informed me that “I also liked Joy, but how can you know what Joy is, unless you know what Sadness is.”
I became totally speechless, for there is nothing an adult can add to these words of wisdom.
Kudos to the everyone at Disney for creating this educational, inspiring and conscious work of art. See this movie and you will find out what I am talking about!
July 1, 2015
I love taking a long walk around the neighborhood. There are lots of different smells by the sidewalks, and even more in the park. Plenty of places to pee and kids to watch on the playground. And my favorite part is walking down to the shopping center – the smells from the restaurants are great, and sometimes there is a morsel or two of food on the ground. If I am really quick, I can get it in my mouth before my Mom sees me.
The other day we were walking by the Ralphs super market, past the area with the outdoor tables and chairs for the employees to eat their meals.
There were a bunch of men sitting at the tables, and one of them came over to pet me. His breathe smelled kind of funny – something I didn’t recognize. Mom said it was alcohol. (Note to self: Not my favorite odor).
I already knew these men were “homeless,” as my Mom and I had talked about this before. She told me I had been homeless at one time, so I think I kind of relate to them.
One of the men came up to my Mom and asked what my name was and if he could pet me. When someone asks about me, she always says the same thing – “His name is Jon Stewart, but I call him Stewie. He came off of the streets of West Los Angeles.” And she always lets the “homeless” people pet me. She told me once that sometimes that is the only act of kindness they get in a day.
This particular homeless man petted me, and then he stopped and looked at my Mom. He said to her “Please don’t ever make fun of your dog, or call him names, or treat him badly.” He went on to say “Cause I know what it is like to have people make fun of you and hurt your feelings.”
My Mom started to get tears in her eyes – like she does when she is watching a sad movie on television. She turned to the man and said “That’s good advice, and thank you for sharing it with me. It’s good to be reminded of these things.”
As we started to walk home, the same man yelled at us. “Mam, you seem like a nice lady. Would you like to be in a movie we are making?”
My mom stopped and asked what the name of the movie was going to be. He said “The Outsiders.” My Mom chuckled and said “You know, sometimes it’s good to be an outsider.”
As we were walking away, my Mom decided to stop and turn back to talk to the men one last time. She said “Let me know when you start shooting that film – I would fit right in!” We continued on walking, and I stopped to look back.
The man with the smelly breathe was smiling and crying at the same time. I think they were “happy” tears.
This encounter made me do some dog-thinking (yes, dogs do think).
I don’t understand a lot of things about humans.
It seems to me that people are not so different from dogs. It’s pretty simple – everyone wants to be loved and acknowledged. We need to know that our existence is important, no matter what our circumstances.
I feel like a lucky little guy, yet sometimes I do feel bad that dogs are sometimes treated better than people.
Maybe the world would be a better place if everyone had a taste of homelessness, so they would appreciate what they have, and know what it’s like not to have anything.
But then what do I know.
I’m just a dog!
November 3, 2014
On November 3, 2014, Marion Witte of Ventura, California was inducted as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for the County of Ventura by Judge Bruce A. Young. CASA is a unique non profit organization which recruits, screens and trains community volunteers to become the voices of children who find themselves in court through no fault of their own.
Ventura County CASA has existed since 1985, when a group of concerned judges, attorneys and community members felt that objective, caring support for these children was necessary during court proceedings and during out of home placement. The CASA advocate, as an officer of the court, is the eyes and ears of the court, reporting the child’s progress and needs to the judge and the attorneys.
October 20, 2014
The annual 25 over 50 Awards Program salutes Ventura County’s accomplished and exceptional leaders who continue to leave an imprint on our thriving community through their achievements, leadership abilities, philanthropic efforts, and dedication to the betterment of Ventura County.
The following biographical information was published in the Ventura County Star on Sunday, October 19, 2014.
Marion Elizabeth Witte is sometimes also referred to as “the lady who buys out the entire house.” During the holidays, Marion often will purchase tickets for a local community production in order to offer underprivileged children the opportunity to enjoy live theater. Not only does this offer some entertainment for needy families in the community, but it also greatly benefits the local theater community. Marion is tirelessly focused on her commitment to making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children and families, founding and managing the Angel Heart Foundation, whose vision is that “All Children Deserve a Safe and Just World.” She serves as the editor-in-chief of the foundation’s two sister websites – Next Generation Parenting and Brave New Leaders, which are devoted to encouraging positive parenting and empowering youth. Marion is training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate and is developing a self-esteem program for the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura. She is also an active, trained volunteer for Junior Achievement and has volunteered for Girls, Inc. and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I enjoy traveling and experiencing world cultures. My recent trips include journeys to Peru, Australia and New Zealand. Where and when were you happiest? When I am able to touch the life of a child and provide them with hope for the future. What book is sitting on your nightstand? “I Hope I Wake Up the Morning.” Where is your favorite place to take visitors? Downtown Ventura, Serra Cross at Grant Park and McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream & Yogurt! What is your all-time favorite movie? “Fried Green Tomatoes” with Kathy Bates as Towanda – it’s on my license plate. What “group” did you hang out with in high school? An eclectic group of folks—the “nice” girls and the nerds. My favorite group was the “bad boys.” What chore do you absolutely hate doing? I don’t like scrubbing floors for some reason. What does Ventura County need? The same things as the world — more innovation and creative thinking. Which word or phrase do you most overuse? Wow! What was your worst Job? Hoeing sugar beets for eight hours a day in North Dakota in 100-degree temperatures at age 16. And earning $1 for each mile-long row completed. What Is your favorite invention? The toilet. What is your greatest fear? Not having a toilet. What are you most proud of accomplishing? I am proud of the wonderful woman my beloved daughter has grown to be. What is your biggest pet peeve? Narcissism. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Speak a foreign language and ballroom dance (I know, it’s never too late). What did you do growing up that got you Into trouble? Pretty much everything — drinking, carousing, missing school, basic delinquency. If you could paint a picture of anything, what would you paint? The south island of New Zealand where “Lord of the Rings” was filmed. What is your most treasured possession? My lovely little rescue Shih Tzu, Jon Stewart Witte (aka Stewie). What do you most value in your friends? Being real. Being honest. Being loyal. What is your motto? It’s not the truth that will hurt you — it’s the lies.
September 22, 2014
Click on the photos or the arrows to follow our Grand Peruvian Adventure!
March 30, 2014
When someone you know has cancer, please understand that it is safe to say that word out loud. Try saying it – CANCER. You won’t catch it by verbalizing it. And you won’t catch it by having a conversation with someone who has it. And if breast cancer is the illness being dealt with, you can say the word breast – you won’t get your mouth washed out with soap!
There is no Cancer Book of Etiquette which describes the best way to talk to a friend or relative who is dealing with this illness. Because of that, I would like to share some of my personal experiences and observations, in the hope it may help anyone who is faced with this situation now or in the future.
Some folks didn’t know what to say when they are informed about someone else’s cancer diagnosis, as at first the news catches them off guard. For others, their own fears set in, probably about what is going to happen to their friend or relative, and probably how it will impact them. My dear cousin, Denise, suggested that sometimes not knowing what to say may result from a feeling of guilt for not being the one who has to go through the journey. In spite of the difficulty of the situation, I have found most people to be very kind and compassionate, and each person handles the situation in a way in which they were comfortable.
As I go through this process, I’ve learned a lot about the difference between what it means to be sympathetic and to be empathic.
Sympathy is the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief or misfortune.
Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.
While I believe any statements of care and concern are normally well-intentioned, and usually well-received, the impact on the listener of using a sympathetic approach versus the use of an empathetic approach is quite different.
It has been interesting to observe that many people opt for the sympathetic route, as it tends to skirt around the issue of emotions. Even if you don’t want “to go there,” you need to understand that the cancer patient is having strong feelings about the situation. I found that when people were being sympathetic, they would make comments like:
– Thank God they caught it early.
– We are blessed to have wonderful medical care in our community.
– You are lucky you have good insurance.
– At least it’s your breasts and not another organ.
While the above statements reflect a level of compassion, they didn’t really address the underlying emotions that I was experiencing during this time. In fact, the one about “at least it’s your breasts” left me thinking, “As opposed to what?”
For me, the empathetic responses I received just “felt” better, and they established a relationship of understanding between the speaker and me. And so, if I were personally going to try and be as empathetic as I could be, I would opt for using one of the following statements, as they are more relatable, and they communicate at an emotional level:
– What you are going through SUCKS.
– I can’t believe that would happen to YOU.
– When I went through this illness myself, I felt (fill in the blanks).
– It’s OK to be angry (or frustrated or pissed off).
– Life is NOT fair.
And so my friends, if you know someone who is dealing with cancer, I suggest you offer a small dose of sympathy, and a large portion of empathy. It may seem like a matter of semantics, but it really does make a difference in the degree of compassion the listener experiences.
There is also another statement you might consider avoiding. “If I were you, this is what I would do.” Although one’s intention is saying this may to be instructive and helpful, if you have never had cancer, you really have no idea what you would do. And the listener knows that all too well, based on their own compelling personal experience.
Some of the best ways to support someone dealing with cancer, or any other debilitating disease, are:
– Be a good listener to your friend or relative.
– Invite them to share whatever part of the journey they want to with you.
– Support whatever decisions they make or options they choose.
And yeah, it sucks that we have to think about any of this. See how I threw in some empathy there!
March 17, 2014
The Blessings in Cancer
As I thought about the next item to put in my Gratitude Jar – the idea of cancer came to mind. And in case most of you think I have lost my mind, I really haven’t. Like many of you, I have had many challenges in my life, and in the end, they all provided valuable lessons. I believe having cancer will turn out to be my greatest teacher.
I have decided to pursue a holistic approach to my healing, and have undertaken a program to educate myself about nutrition, energy healing, cellular oxygenation, infrared treatments and a variety of other healing modalities from around the world.
I am grateful for the information I have gathered so far, and even more thankful for the lessons I have learned. I am sure more will unfold as I go through this process. I am sharing some of my experiences, as I believe they can be valuable to all of us, whether or not we are going through a medical challenge, or trying to avoid one.
I have now come to believe that both healing from disease and preventing disease occurs on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. These are three of my observations:
1. Physical Level. My research has led me to believe that nutrition plays an extremely important part in our health – and in the development or prevention of disease. A significant portion of our food source comes from genetically-modified plants and antibiotic-injected protein, and our ground water supply has become polluted through the dumping of factory waste and the use of fertilizers and pesticides. One has to make a concerted effort to avoid, or at least counterbalance, the effects of the toxicity in our world. A healthful diet, with real-food supplementation, seems to provide the best solution we have today.
2. Emotional Level – Physical health or chronic disease often has at its core an emotional component. The toxic people and situations in our life are as poisonous as any chemicals we ingest through our food sources. In order to heal, or stay healthy, one needs to let go of these type of individuals and activities, release any negative thoughts about the same, and “let it go” with love and forgiveness. Although this can be a painful process, I have discovered by doing this I have left an opening for more supportive, kind and loving individuals and circumstances to come into my life.
3. Spiritual Level – A big part of healing, or staying healthy, is having a positive attitude and staying grounded in whatever belief system sustains you. I know that can be a difficult task, especially if you are in the midst of a health challenge. I think it is important, as best we can, to maintain an air of hope and optimism in our life, no matter what our circumstances. I am trying to do this by placing a positive focus on my own healing and surrounding myself with people who support me. It also helps to share my journey with others, and to remember to stay in a place of gratitude for all I have in my life.
Yes, I am grateful to this thing we call cancer – as odd as that may seem. I now view my world in a different light – one that is clearer and more focused. I do not know for sure if that would have happened without my diagnosis. My hope in sharing this post is that people will take a moment to ask themselves if they are taking charge of their own health and their individual well-being, so that they do not bring some form of “dis-ease” into their life.
I don’t know where this journey will take me – although I do know that I am on the right path, at least for now.
March 1, 2014
The Blessings in Receiving
One of the challenges I decided to take on during my encounter with breast cancer was to reach out – and be willing to receive whatever came back. Sounds so simple, yet it is difficult when you have spent your entire life being a “doer” and a giver. If I am to be totally honest, maybe I was worried that no one would respond. Boy, was I mistaken. I am still amazed at the response I received from people. Friends took me to doctor visits, cooked for Angela and I, took care of my little dog Stewie, sent flowers, baked cookies, came and sat with me, cried with me, did research for me – and let me know daily how much they cared.
The acknowledgments I make below are in random order, and they have no bearing on the level of appreciation for the efforts made by each person.
Angela – Thank you, My Dear. I cannot adequately put into words how amazing you were as you went through three surgeries and hospital stays with me. I imagine it was difficult for you, as I know you thought you might be losing me. But you were a trouper throughout it all, and I can see you came out stronger yourself.
Bev – Thank you for the constant, unwavering love and support that can only come from a friend of 60 years, from the beautiful state and the beautiful people of Minnesota.
Kaila – Thank you for walking me through the emotional aspects of this process, and sharing the specifics of your very personal journey with breast cancer. And most of all, thank you for supporting me in the decisions I am making.
Denise – Thanks for pushing me forward and onward, for reliving some of the emotions you encountered with your own breast cancer, and for going with me to the doctor’s appointments to make sure we heard the same thing.
Michele – Thank you for both the human food and the soul food you provided – and for understanding that all of this is really not about cancer.
Michael – Thank you for sending so much light into my life – and for the Minnie Mouse pajamas!
Wanda – Thank you for reminding me about the importance of receiving, and for the love that you and Mike sent from Oregon.
Angie – Thank you for creating a prayer circle for me in the Desert, and for doing weekly healing meditations with me on the phone.
Anna and Victoria – Thank you for giving Stewie the love and attention he needed when I wasn’t home, and a sacred place to stay overnight, when he was more than a little scared.
Jennifer – Thank you for wanting to be part of my family, and for the sunflower arrangement you sent that is so reminiscent of you and the sunshine (at least in summer!) in Massachusetts.
Catalina and her family – Thank you to my adopted family in Washington for all your love and concern, and for including me in your daily worship.
Christie and Jim – Thank you for the Wisconsin love and the yellow roses, and a reminder of what “my people” are really like.
Kris and Paul – Thank you for the gifts from Palm Springs – including flowers, cookies and love!
Barb – Thank you for your guidance and support from Washington – it was as though you were right here next to me.
Rosemary – Thank you for the information you gathered and sent me from your home country of Australia, and the love and intention that came through in each of your messages.
Linda, Donna, Grace and all my “Belle” friends – Thank you for the flowers, cards, visits, phone calls and the type of support that only a group of women can provide.
Darlene and Anthony – Thank you for being the kind neighbors who brought over flowers and food, and research material to assist me with my choices.
Rudy – Thank you for letting me know you went to church every Saturday to pray for me, and for being man enough to cry in front of me. I was so moved.
George from Japan, Anna from New York and Diane from Colorado – Namaste to my healing friends from places far away
Thank you to all!
February 22, 2014
Just so we are on the same page, my trip to New Zealand was not a gift from The Make-A-Wish Foundation. I had it planned well before I was diagnosed with breast cancer!
New Zealand is a magical place, and the South Island of that country is almost mystical. We journeyed to the world-famous Milford Sound in the Fjordland National Forest, traveling through the small towns of Five Rivers, Mossburn, Manapouri and Te Anau. Every turn in the road delivered an incredible new view. Hundreds of miles of magnificent glacial mountain ranges, millions of acres of posh green open farm ranges, breathtaking glacial fjords, subtropical rain forests, a collection of the largest lakes, rivers and waterfalls in one location, and a year-round temperate climate. And baby seals and dolphins to top it all off.
This country is a national treasure, if only based on its sheer beauty and magnitude. When you add in the royal blue skies and the fluffy white clouds, this is one of the most scenic places I have ever visited on my travels.
And while all of this was amazing, there was a place in the southern part of the North Island that left us with an equally magical feeling. It is the location where parts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed – yes, there is a real-life Hobbiton in the Shire. The original movie set has been recreated in exquisite detail as a permanent structure for Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans to visit and photograph.
The tour guide is quick to remind everyone that the structures are facades, and that the characters playing the Hobbits were not filmed in the tiny huts, and that they are always uninhabited. With all due respect, I think she is wrong. I am pretty sure, at dusk, when are the tourists are gone, the real Little Folk come out to do what they do best – frolic and play.
When I returned home from our journey, I immersed myself into 10 hours of Lord of the Rings, and five hours of The Hobbit. I was hoping I would discover that I was just like Gandalf the Great, but alas, I think I am not. Perhaps in my next incarnation.
I am really more like Frodo Baggins. One person taking their own heroic journey, not really understanding what it is all about, yet willing to take on the challenge. The solution is not always obvious, and the outcome is never certain. Frodo had to deal with the Dark Lord of Mordor. I have to deal with cancer.
I like what J.R.R. Tolkien said – “Hobbits, although small in size, are sturdy of body, determined in their actions, and capable of the grandest of deeds.” So now, when I go through periods of uncertainty, fear and not knowing, I go back to New Zealand, in my mind, and think about what Frodo would do.
Yeah, I’m a hobbit!
February 17, 2014
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Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.
Oops – I think that beginning has already been taken.
In November, I was diagnosed with cancer in my left breast. Yes – me folks.
It takes a while for an announcement like that to sink in, especially when you’ve been told by everyone performing the multiple mammograms and the needle biopsies that there is nothing to worry about. Then you get “that call” from your doctor, the unfortunate person who has to deliver the blow, with the accompanying apology of “I’m sorry, but it turned out to be cancer.”
The first few days after receiving this news are filled with an assortment of emotions and thoughts – including denial, fear and anger. Throughout angst-filled days and sleepless nights, one tries to absorb all of this, as you wait for the first (of many) doctor’s appointments to come. Your mind runs wild with possibilities, none of them very favorable. You think about what you did to cause this. Was it the food I ate? Living an unhealthy lifestyle? Some random gene run amuck? A pathetic cry for attention? Or maybe karma? Yeah, that must be it, Marion. Payback for something I did wrong in a prior lifetime.
You sort through all these possibilities, and in the end, decide that the “why” really doesn’t matter at this stage of the game. You are facing a significant challenge, and it’s time to take charge, get informed and make some rational decisions.
It is a natural progression to take the step that the medical profession hates – you get on the internet. And after reading what’s online, if you weren’t scared before, you’re convinced it’s time to get your medical power of attorney in place. The web is a wonderful place to obtain information, as long as you temper your search by challenging what you are reading for its authenticity. I chose to believe, or not believe, the information presented based on the idea that “if it makes sense to me, then it’s right for me.”
I came to learn throughout this process, which I am writing about in this blog series, that we have given away too much power to the disease – and the word – cancer. Many people speak about it in terms of “how long do I have to live.” Diagnoses of heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating diseases are rendered every day, yet none bear the stigma or fear that cancer does. I would like to be a part of changing that perception.
And somewhere in the midst of all of this, I asked that question we all ask – why me? I would talk to God at night (or whoever it is up there listening). I asked him why it was me that had to go through this, when I had already been through so much in my lifetime. When I was done feeling sorry for myself, I quieted my mind, and I waited. Then from someplace, either inside or outside of my head, I heard these words.
And why not you, Marion?
I was in no frame of mind for one of these esoteric, spiritual communications from somebody I couldn’t see, and whose existence I now questioned. Ironically, that message was delivered to me the day after the surgeon I met with said he needed to go in and cut out the tumor in my left breast. Based on what I heard from the Master of the Universe and my surgeon, I had a lot to think about.
So I did what was right for me at the time. I put God’s message on hold (at least for the time being) and I ignored the doctor. Instead of going in for surgery, I decided to go on my dream vacation – Australia and New Zealand. Yes, I needed to go to the Middle Earth where the Hobbits lived. Those little guys always died of old age – not cancer. I wanted to find out what their secret was!