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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Another Day, Another Shooting

Another day, another mass shooting in America.

I always check the news headlines shortly after I get up each morning. The recent headline announcing the murder of 12 people at a bar in southern California wasn't really a surprise. In fact, it was the 307th mass shooting (defined as a shooting with four or more victims) of 2018 in the US. As a result, 328 people have so far lost their lives, according to NBC News.

And as is typical of the Republican Party, one of its newly elected representatives announced that what’s most important is to protect the Second Amendment. Not to try to get a handle on gun violence. Not to make it possible for people to appear in public without fear of being slaughtered. Apparently the ability of college students and other regular Americans to go out and enjoy themselves without fear of being murdered by some idiot with a gun is only of secondary importance.

It wasn't long before the NRA chimed in with an inane attack on physicians who routinely treat victims of gun violence, calling them 'anti gun.' Such is the NRA's stranglehold on Congress that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are prohibited from even studying gun violence as a public health issue. If the deaths of thousands of Americans from guns isn't a public health issue, I don't know what is.

Excluding most suicides, at least 15,549 people were killed by guns in the United States in 2017, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that tracks news media and law enforcement reports of shootings. More than 15,000 lives lost in just one year to gun violence -- and that isn't a public health issue worth studying?

I am certain that the framers of the Constitution, when they wrote the holy Second Amendment, never dreamed of a day when semi-automatic and assault rifles would be so readily available. After all, the weapon of choice then was the musket loader. 

Nobody is suggesting taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. Aside from the legal issues, that isn't even remotely physically possible. But so far, the NRA and its puppets in Congress have rejected even moderate, common sense proposals to keep guns out of the hands of those who should never have them. "Gun laws don't work," they cry. Apparently they don't want to even attempt to tackle this problem since the laws we have aren't preventing mass shootings. So why bother having laws at all? Driving under the influence is illegal, yet people still do it, so we should simply get rid of laws that prohibit DUI, right? 

An article in Time magazine from earlier this year ( suggests some common-sense ways to tackle the gun violence problem in America. What do we have to lose by at least exploring these and similar proposals? 

Someone asked me recently which policy changes I propose. I replied that I don't propose any policy changes, as I'm not an expert in that area. What I do know, however, is that we need to do something to at least start to understand and address this problem.


Friday, November 16, 2018

What Makes You Blessed?

This is an appropriate question at this time of year.

It's easy to overlook all the blessings in our lives. Each life has its ups and downs, its successes and failures. I, like most people, tend to focus on the challenges in life. Our country is struggling; it is divided more than it has been during my lifetime. Acts of violence and hatred have skyrocketed. 

I have continued to struggle with eye issues that have left me with greatly diminished vision in what used to be my 'good' eye. I have had four eye surgeries, a non-surgical procedure, a laser treatment and two injections into one eye in less than two years. My vision will never be what it used to be.  But
  • I am blessed that I can see well enough to drive, to read, to travel and to take part in my passion of photography. I can continue to live independently.   
  • I am blessed to be able to travel the world. In 2018, I visited Yellowstone, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Alaska, Brazil, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Colorado and Ethiopia.   
  • I am blessed to own a beautiful home that I love. It provides shelter from the heat, cold, rain and wind. It is a safe haven for me and my dogs. It has gorgeous views of the mountains.
  • I am blessed to share my life with three loving dogs who ask for nothing more than a daily walk, good food and lots of attention. 
  • I am blessed to have a good friend who has been, and is, willing to drive me to countless eye appointments.  
  • I am blessed to have food for myself and my dogs. My pantry and my freezer are filled with food. 
  • Unlike so many Americans, I am blessed to have good health insurance that pays for almost all of my medical expenses, including my expensive eye surgeries. 
  • I am blessed to have a wonderful, supportive friend in California. We seldom get to visit in person, but she is just a phone call away.
  • Overall, I am in good health. Eye problems aside, I have no major health issues.
  • I am blessed to live in a free country, despite its current problems, divisiveness and corruption.
I could go on to list many more ways in which I am blessed. But you get the idea. Regardless of our circumstances and struggles, there are blessings to be found in our lives. 

With Thanksgiving Day just a week away, I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to think about the blessings in your life. And please consider what you can do to be a blessing to others. Perhaps you can volunteer for a cause that's important to you. Perhaps you can give an elderly neighbor a ride to the grocery store. Visit someone who is lonely. Donate food to an organization that helps feed those who cannot afford to buy enough food for themselves or their family. 

I wish everyone a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Vetarans Day 2018

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, Remembrance Day in some other countries.

Let's step back in time, back 100 years ago on this date in 1918.  At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice was signed with Germany, bringing to a close the 'war to end all wars.' This four-year war cost tens of millions of lives, both military and civilian. The Allies saw more than 6 million deaths, with another 4 million dying on the other side. Millions of civilians died of starvation and disease brought about by wartime conditions, and the flu pandemic took countless other lives.

Although exact numbers vary, Wikipedia states that "The total number of combined military and civilian casualties during World War I was about 40 million: estimates range from 15 to 19  million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history."

While many people think only of American, English and German combatants, troops from India, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Russia, Romania and Serbia fought on the Allied side. Fighting alongside Germany were troops from Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.

On this day, the centennial of the cessation of hostilities, let us pause to remember all those who died fighting 'the Great War." Don't be like the current US president, who flew to France to attend ceremonies marking the end of World War I but who couldn't be bothered to visit an American cemetery in France because it was raining. Other world leaders managed to get there with no problems. Remember the men who fought and died in the rain and the mud of France, Belgium and other European countries. Remember those who suffered the horrors of mustard gas attacks. Please take a minute to remember those who died, those who were injured and those who suffered from starvation and disease brought about by wartime conditions.

I know, 1918 is generations removed from those of us now living. It is ancient history to many. There are no surviving veterans of 'the Great War.'  But remember that American military personnel continue to serve in harm's way, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in many more countries. Men and women continue to get up every day and don a military uniform, regardless of where they serve or what jobs they hold. My former son-in-law is on active duty with the US Air Force. Veterans still live among us, veterans from World War II, the Korean Conflict, Viet Nam, and conflicts in the Middle East.

Don't be a coward like the US president. Stand proudly to honor all veterans, following the examples set by Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau, who put away his umbrella and stood in the rain as he spoke of the sacrifices of generations of soldiers and sailors. Take a lesson from the leaders of France and Germany who stood together, hand in hand in the rain, to pledge that never again will their countries go to war with each other. 

Remember all who sacrificed, including some 16 millions four-footed animals -- horses, dogs, mules, donkeys, cats and even camels and elephants -- with the lives of 9 million tragically cut short by war. Their sacrifices have gone untold for far too long. The 'Great War' ended the lives of so many. Let us remember and honor all of them today.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I Voted Today

I voted in today's midterm elections this morning.

Voting in American elections is something most of us take for granted, but this time around, the stakes couldn't be higher. Will we citizens sit back and allow the person in the White House and his cronies in Congress to run roughshod over our constitutional rights? Will we allow him to continue his racist attacks and his violence-inciting words unchallenged?

This person has publicly questioned whether public protests should be allowed. He has attacked the family of a US soldier who died fighting tor his country and who happened to be Muslim. He has called the news media "the enemy of the people." He is sending thousands of troops to the US/Mexico border to confront migrants -- mostly women and children -- marching toward asylum in the US. He continually hurls insults at people he doesn't like, calling them 'Pocahontas' or 'a dog', among other insults. His followers, emboldened by his rhetoric, are increasingly taking actions against religious and ethnic minorities.

I haven't voted in a couple of city elections, but I always make a point of voting in state and federal elections. Just look what happened when millions of eligible voters didn't bother to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Of course, the 2018 midterms aren't a presidential election. But by voting wisely, we have the chance to at least put the brakes on the efforts of the party in power and its attempts to cut benefits to seniors, veterans and the most needy among us. We have the opportunity to restore a semblance of balance in Congress. We have a chance to say 'Enough is enough' when it comes to attempts to remove millions of people from the health insurance rolls. We have the chance to stop the rollback of environmental protections.We can say enough of cutting benefits while giving more and more money to the ultra rich.

Never have I valued the freedom to vote more than I did today. And never have I felt the importance of my vote as I did today. People around the world have fought, and died, for the right to vote. Voting is a precious right that we must not squander.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Make Yourself Happy

I want to share something that makes me happy.

This country has been torn apart by the antics of the current Republican administration. I have written about my dismay and anger resulting from what has gone on, and still is going on, in the U.S. 

But today I want to write a positive blog post. I'm going to write about something that made me happy, that made me feel good.

It's a long story, but a 7' tall artificial Christmas tree, along with two storage containers of ornaments, recently was returned to me. I didn't want it, as I know I will never put such a big tree up again. So I wanted to find it a new home, with the minimum amount of work on my part.

I know a local therapist who works at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. I had previously donated a sleeper sofa to the shelter, so I reached out to her to see whether the shelter might want the tree. As it happens, she was just leaving to visit the shelter, so she checked with staff when she arrived. YES! They wanted the tree. That was great news. I also included more than eight strands of colored lights and two large boxes of ornaments.

When I talked to the guy who was going to pick everything up, I asked whether the shelter would like my 55" Sony rear projection television. It works great, but I had bought a larger set with a brighter screen last year. YES! They would like to have the television as well. And by the way, I asked, could they use a couple of women's jackets? One is a down jacket, the other a dressy wool coat. YES! They would like the coats as well. I also had a large bag of colored pencils that I donated.

After the fellow left with all the donations in his truck, I was so happy to have a) found a home where these items I no longer wanted would help others and b) cleared out my garage.

When online friends congratulated me for my good deed, I realized that while these donations helped others, they also helped me. Donating to the shelter allowed me in some small way to fight back against the hatred and the negativity that are consuming our nation. I'm sure many of the women in this shelter had to flee their homes with little but the clothes on their backs. I hope their kids will enjoy using the colored pencils to color and draw. 

We all need to practice small acts of kindness to peacefully protest the anger and hatred in our country. It can be something as simple as donating a few cans of food to a food drive, delivering dog or cat food or old towels to an animal shelter, or donating some time to a local charity you support. 

It wasn't the thanks from friends and acquaintances that made me happy. It was simply the feeling of doing something for others with no expectation of anything in return. It doesn't take a lot to make a big difference. And it benefits the giver as well as the recipient.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Wild Africa

I've been longing to return to Africa and reminiscing about an amazing 3-week trip to Kenya in 2017.

That was my fifth trip to Africa, and my third to Kenya. I was joined by a friend from Scotland and a couple from England, all of whom I had met the previous year on a trip to Kenya. The trip saw us visiting four different camps in northern Kenya, for stays lasting from four to seven days each. 

This adventure was outstanding in so many ways. In addition to seeing and photographing lots of wild animals, we went for a horseback ride in Borana. We were able to get pretty close to giraffes and zebras, as well as enjoying the beautiful weather. We followed a pride of 15 lions one late afternoon, with two of the pride's three adult males walking just an arm's length from our vehicle. We watched a beautiful leopard and her cub over the course of three days. She was totally unperturbed by the presence of numerous safari vehicles.

Also while in Borana, we were part of a group that replaced a radio collar on a lioness. Once she was located, a Kenyan veterinarian tranquilized her with a rifle-fired dart. After she was down, she was quickly moved into the shade, her eyes were covered and water was poured over her to keep her body from overheating. After the old collar was removed and the lioness fitted with a new one, the veterinarian collected blood and tissue samples. Then a lion researcher took a variety of body measurements -- from length of the animal's tale to the size of her paws -- before the vet gave her a drug to reverse the anesthetic. We had hoped to be involved with the collaring of a male lion the next day, but he and his pals were in an area too inaccessible to be safely reached.

I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's elephant orphanage in Nairobi three times. The 11 a.m. visit is open to anyone, while the 5 p.m. visit is open only to those who sponsor one or more of the orphans and who sign up in advance. It was great fun watching the babies rush to their individual stockades at the end of a day spent in Nairobi National Park. Each baby gets a bottle or two of special milk formula, as well as freshly cut greens before being closed in its individual stockade for the night. 

I spent several minutes with one of my three sponsored orphans (the other two had moved on to the next phase of their preparation for return to the wild). Mbegu is now four years old and described as a 'mini matriarch.' While making our final visit to the orphanage, we ran into Iain Douglas-Hamilton, noted elephant researcher and father of Elephant Watch Camp's manager and wildlife filmmaker Saba Douglas-Hamilton. We had met Iain the previous year while visiting the camp in the Samburu National Preserve.

We visited the Maasai Mara to watch the Great Migration. Some 1.5 million wildebeests and countless zebra make this annual circular migration through Kenya and Tanzania.

I got to meet the student whose high school education I am sponsoring. She 8is Turkana, from one of the many tribes in Kenya. She was very shy, probably due to her developing English skills and the fact that females in her culture are expected to be submissive. She said that chemistry is her favorite subject in school. We learned that we both love Coke (she had had Coke only once before), and both of us have blue as our favorite color. The lunch that was served was entirely foreign to the students, and mine definitely did not like lettuce! Another sponsored student, also Turkana, visited his sponsors at the same time.

I tried some portrait photography with a few of the incredible Samburu people who work at EWC, although I would have liked to photograph more of them. The tracker assigned to my group, a young man named Skanga, was extremely cooperative and seemed to enjoy being photographed. 

This trip was a bonanza for watching lions, including males, young adults and mothers with cubs. We were lucky enough to see a lone male cheetah, as well as two different mothers, each of which had two older cubs in tow.

In all, I shot more than 9,500 images with my two cameras. Of course, thousands got deleted when I got home, but I still have some good images. The wildlife viewing was phenomenal, and my photography has improved considerably since my first trip five years ago. I won't get to visit Kenya again for a couple of years, but I hope my trips to Ethiopia and Botswana will be equally as rewarding..

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Change in Priorities

I have written previously about doing what you love and making time for yourself. That is something I used to neglect. But no longer. 

I have placed myself at the top of the list, something that wasn't easy to do. I am now my top priority. My physical and emotional health are my greatest concern. My adult daughter is a gambling addict who has cut off all contact with me and fled to California after stealing from her employer. She is an adult and makes her own decisions. She also has to face the consequences of her actions. I have realized that I have to worry about myself, not her. I wish her well, but there is nothing I can do to help her unless and until she seeks help.

Even as a retiree, I often find my days filled with obligations -- meetings with air conditioning technicians and roofers, doctor appointments (I have had a lot of those due to ongoing eye problems), grocery shopping, and veterinary appointments. Throw in the usual household chores such as dusting and vacuuming (a never-ending task with three long-haired dogs in the house and a dusty environment outside), and suddenly 'free time' becomes a foreign concept.

I never considered myself a very creative person, but I now realize that I am creative. I am a good writer and a better-than-good photographer. I often carry a small digital camera with me when I'm out and about, as I never know when I will spot something I would like to photograph. I am always looking for opportunities to join photography trips to interesting places. I went on a photo trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks recently, as well as a photo trip to Colorado. 

I love to travel, and I take eight or so trips every years, including several international trips. These trips allow me to indulge my passion for photography, meet new people and learn about different cultures. Friends have noted how happy I look while traveling.

I spend time talking on the phone with a very good friend in California. I do a lot of reading. I exercise every day. I produce photo calendars that allow me to share my photographs with others while raising money for charity at the same time.

Self-care is a difficult thing for many people, particularly for women. But it should be our greatest priority. Caring for ourselves doesn't make us selfish. It doesn't mean we don't care about others. But if we don't take care of ourselves, how can we take care of others? Remember those announcements before an airplane takes off, the one about putting our oxygen mask on first before helping others? That's the same thing self care does for us. We can't care for others if we don't care for ourselves first.

I know what you're thinking. "You're retired, so of course you can make self care a priority. I have a stressful job. I have little kids to take care of." I know, it isn't easy. But you, and those for whom you care, will be much happier if you can slip in a little self care every so often.

Life is too short, especially when we get old, not to take care of ourselves. So go ahead. Indulge yourself. Read that book you've been wanting to read. Take a nap. Get a massage. Embrace your favorite hobby. Visit that place you've always wanted to visit. Life life with no regrets!