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Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Good Old Days Were ... Hot!

It's funny how something as simple as getting into a car can bring back a memory from childhood.

I got into my car, which was parked as usual in my garage, this morning prior to going to Trader Joe's. The car thermometer read 80 degrees F, so I decided to drive with the sunroof open rather than turning on the air conditioning. That simple act took me back to my childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, where summers were (and still are) hot and humid.

When I was a kid, cars didn't have air conditioning. We simply rolled the windows down, and perhaps the adults in the front would open the small 'wing' windows on each of the front doors. This is my memory of family trips to go camping in Wisconsin or to drive to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and other sights. We usually made a trip to southern Illinois every summer to visit my grandparents as where. It was hot, and we were terribly dirty and windblown by the time we stopped for the day. But the motels where we stayed had swimming pools, which, even for someone like me who can't swim, were a welcome delight. My grandparents' house, however, had no pool.

Our house also didn't have air conditioning, although eventually my father installed a window unit in my parents' bedroom and then one in the dining room. I remember lying awake many nights, unable to sleep despite a fan running in a vain attempt to stay cool. Windows were open to let in any breezes, allowing me to listen to the crickets chirping outside. 

These days, especially living in the high desert as I do, air conditioning is an absolute necessity. Being able to have the windows open is a rare luxury limited to only a couple of weeks in the spring and a couple of weeks in the fall. Otherwise I am cooped up inside my air conditioned house, shut off from the outside world. As an old person now, I don't think I could easily handle life in the heat and humidity. But it's nice to reminisce about the 'good old days' once in a while and appreciate the advances that make life so much more comfortable.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Photographs and Memories

I am a photographer.

I don't earn a living at photography, but I do sell photo calendars and images. I donate the profits to charity. I travel to many places in the US and overseas with my cameras, always looking to capture that next great photo. I offer images for sale on a Web site (www.annsullivan.zenfolio.com). I'm adding new images all the time as I continue to develop the site.

Going back through tens of thousands of images on my computer has been a time-consuming but rewarding experience. I have rediscovered photographs that I haven't looked at in a few years. I have realized that some of those forgotten images are actually quite good and should be shared with the world. Looking at them with fresh eyes has been, pardon the expression, a real eye-opener.

But the biggest joy of going through these images is remembering the circumstances and the places where the images were captured. I recently ran across a photo of an elephant going down a hill. It isn't a great picture, but as soon as I saw it, I immediately remembered that I took this image as we were driving to our lodge in Borana, Kenya. The road was steep and winding, and it seemed to go on forever. 

It amazes me that a glance at even a not-so-great photograph can awaken so many memories. How does my mind recall the circumstances and the location where this photo was taken? How can the simple act of looking at an image on the computer screen take me back to that day last July? I can look at a picture of a leopard sprawled in a tree, for example, and remember how excited I was that our guide spotted this animal on the ground nearby, and then waited with us in the vehicle until the other safari vehicles left. We then got to spend several minutes with that magnificent cat as it climbed a dead tree and relaxed before heading off to sleep. We were on our way to the airstrip to start our journey home, and this sighting was a wonderful way to wrap up a fantastic trip.



 Looking at this image of a jaguar in a cage in Costa Rica doesn't make me sad. The animal isn't caged for entertainment or so people can pay to take its picture. No, it is caged because a kind man with permits trapped the jaguar rather than to allow it to be killed for killing cattle. He planned to relocate it to a safe area, far from cows, and release it. We were on a farm photographing scarlet macaws when our guide quietly told me about this big cat. It was a thrill to see it, and to know about the kindness of the local man who saved its life.

I love digital photography. I love the challenge of improving my skills, and the challenge of capturing wildlife in its natural habitat. I love sharing the beauty of places and wildlife with people who will never get to visit these special places, who will never get to see a family of elephants or a pride of lions in the wild. And now, I love the memories looking at my images bring to mind.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Ten Questions to Ask Yourself

I read an interesting article in the on-line Oprah magazine a while ago, discussing 20 questions everyone should ask themselves. I am not a big Oprah fan, but the article was intriguing. The 10 questions below are from the article. The explanations are mine.

What questions should I be asking myself?
Asking this question can prepare us to be more self-aware and thoughtful. It lays the groundwork for asking other questions that may impact our lives. 

Is this what I want to be doing?
This question can apply to a job, a relationship, or any other facet of our life. Ask yourself frequently whether you like what you are doing. Are you happy? If the answer is 'no,' what can you do to change things? Life is too short to waste doing something that we really don't enjoy. It's too short to simply 'settle' for a job or a relationship. Changing jobs or leaving a relationship can be daunting, but if we can overcome that initial fear, we may well find that something even better awaits us.


Why worry?
Does worry change things? Does it create a different outcome? I'd guess that worry never changes anything. Nor does it lead to anything positive. Rather than wasting time worrying, why not focus on those things you can control, not those beyond your control. If I am worried about passing a test, I can control how prepared I am and how much I study for the test. I can't control which questions will be on the exam or how the teacher will grade. A little bit of worry might motivate us; too much worry can literally make us sick. I experienced this myself recently.

How do I want the world to be different because I lived in it?
This is a huge question for me, especially now that I have reached 'senior citizen' status. How has my existence changed the world around me? Is the world a better place because of me? Have I made a difference? I do know that I have made a difference. I have adopted several dogs and given them loving homes. I photographed animal cruelty cases to provide evidence to use in prosecuting the abusers in court. I have served as a foster home for golden retrievers, and I have volunteered with animal welfare organizations. I donate food and money to food banks. I was a blood donor. I paid for the community college tuition of a young woman I know. I am sponsoring the high school education of a teenager in Kenya who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend high school. So I have made a difference in some small ways. I'm not a great philanthropist or the leader of a powerful movement, but my actions have impacted the lives of others. Of that I am sure. But there is so much more I could do. There is so much more yet to do.


How much junk could a chic chick chuck if a chic chick could chuck junk?
Although awkwardly phrased, this question points to the worthwhile practice of a good house-cleaning from time to time. I don't mean merely dusting the furniture or vacuuming the floors. I'm talking about getting rid of toxic relationships, negative habits, time-wasters and surplus 'stuff.' I have been doing these things, and they do make a difference.

What's so funny?
How often do most of us, as adults, have a good laugh? I'd bet it isn't very often. Kids tend to laugh a great deal and to find humor in many things, often the grosser the better. As adults, we often look upon raucous laughter as inappropriate. According to the article, our "laughter rate" drops from 400 times a day for toddlers to a daily average of 15 for adults. I wrote a blog entry a while ago about 'what makes you smile?' Let's expand that to ask 'what makes you laugh?' Determine what does make you laugh, then make a point of laughing as often as possible. It's good for the body and the mind.

What do I love to practice?
I love to practice writing and photography. Although I don't take pictures every day, I try to do at least a bit of writing on a weekly basis. And I'm always looking for new opportunities to practice my photography. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly can bring improvement and be enjoyable at the same time. And notice that the question asks "what do I love [not like] to practice?" If we don't love what we practice, we never will truly excel at it. Mastery requires a passion, whether it's playing tennis, cooking or taking pictures. I recently met a man on a winter trip to Yellowstone National Park who talked about his passion for photography. He has a job that doesn't involve photography, yet that is his passion. He has outstanding camera equipment, he is a very good photographer, and his passion for his art is evident in how he lives his life. I have taken several wonderful photography trips to Africa, Alaska and Yellowstone, among other places. And I definitely have seen improvement in my photography.

How can I keep myself absolutely safe?
No one, of course, can be absolutely safe. Accidents happen. People get sick. Businesses fail. Natural disasters occur. I was mugged on the first day of my first trip to Santa Fe in 2004, in broad daylight, just a few yards from my B&B and next to a church. I was shaken, but unhurt. Two women leaving the church just at that time waited with me until the police arrived, then they took me out for a drink. And I got my camera back. So it ended well.

We can live our lives in fear of the unknown and the untried, or we can find the courage to stretch ourselves to do those things that at first seem pretty scary. I moved from California to Texas because I needed a change and wanted some new challenges at work. I stayed there for 3 years and realized I really didn't like Houston or Texas. But while there, I got the opportunity to live and work in Moscow for 3-1/2 months, I learned a lot and I had some great experiences. Had I played it safe and not moved to Houston, I would have missed some wonderful experiences and opportunities.

Where should I break the rules?
Sometimes we have to break, or at least challenge, the rules. The rules used to say that women were not allowed to vote, kids worked in factories for hours every day and there were no safety rules in the workplace.

Because people broke the rules, those situations have changed. Women spoke up and demanded the right to vote. Laws were passed limiting the number of hours and types of work children can do. Sometimes, the 'rules' aren't rules at all. They are simply limits we place on ourselves, usually for reasons unknown. Sometimes we have to think with our hearts and not just with our brains. What self-imposed rules are holding you back?

Are my thoughts hurting or healing?
Dwelling on the negative things that might happen, or worrying about the 'what ifs' in life, can drain our energy and kill our chance at happiness. This has been a big lesson for me. Studies have shown that people who are consciously grateful are happier. I have written previously about creating a gratitude list of 100 things. Some people make a 5-item gratitude list every day as a way of reminding themselves of the many positive things in their lives. Thoughts, just like sticks and stones, can hurt us.

 If you want to read the entire article and the author's perspective on answers to these and the other questions, go to http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Martha-Becks-20-Questions-That-Could-Change-Your-Life_1

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Finding Freedom

I am enjoying a newfound sense of freedom.

My adult daughter recently left town without notice after stealing money from her employer. She didn't tell anybody where she was headed, although I had a pretty good idea. I worried myself sick until I realized that she is an adult, she makes her own decisions and she alone must face the consequences. This isn't the way I raised her to behave, but this situation is out of my control.

Initially I couldn't sleep (which is difficult even without the additional stress), my intestines were in knots, and the pressure in my eyes was elevated to the point where I had to start using eye drops to bring it down. So I increased my walking to 4 or 5 miles every day. Whenever I started to worry, I told myself to stop thinking about the situation and I forced myself to think about some of my favorite images from nature. This change in thinking worked, and my sleep returned to normal, as did my intestines. I won't know about the eye pressure until I get it checked later this month.

Once my stress level was under control, I became incredibly productive. I worked on several projects every day: cleaning house, doing yard work, exercising, and setting up my new photography Web site. I also did a lot of reading. My energy level soared. I actually feel lighter, no longer weighed down by worry.

Just because I don't worry about my daughter's situation constantly doesn't mean I stopped caring about her. It simply means that I started caring about myself. It means that I refuse to sacrifice my emotional and physical health worrying about something and someone over which I have no control. Until she gets help with her addiction and other mental health issues, I must of necessity maintain a healthy distance from her.

I never knew that distancing myself from toxic people could be so liberating. I am excited about my new photography venture (www.annsullivan.zenfolio.com). I am rediscovering images that have sat unseen on my computer for several years. I can see how much improvement I have made in my photography skills. I am learning two photo editing programs, and I love the results.

I hope that some day my daughter will return to the family as a healthy person. As her mom, I would love to reestablish the great relationship we once had. But until she acknowledges her addiction and gets serious about treatment, I refuse to allow myself to be taken advantage of any longer. I am really enjoying the sense of freedom and lightness I have discovered.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Check Out My New Photography Site!

I am pleased to announce that I now have a new Web site featuring my best and most popular photographs.

At www.annsullivan.zenfolio.com you will find stunning images of landscapes, flowers, animals big and small, big cats, sunrises and sunsets, birds and scenes of the American West.

New photos are being added every day, so please check out this new site, and check back often to see what is new! 

www.annsullivan.zenfolio.com 

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Greatest Sacrifice


Today is a special day in the United States. It's Memorial Day, a day set aside every year to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our country.

Please take a moment from your barbeques, beers and family gatherings to remember those who died in service to our country. I have visited the American military cemetery in Normandy, France, and walked among the more than 9,300 graves there. I have seen the wall listing the names of those missing in action on D-Day. I have visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (many times) in Washington, D.C., and touched some of the names engraved on its marble. I have visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington and watched the honor guards silently pay tribute to the war dead whose remains still have no names.

Although Memorial Day was set aside to honor America's human war dead, I also honor all the animals that died as well. Countless horses, donkeys and dogs contributed to the war effort. And dogs still serve, and die, with our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.

This morning, as I started my day, I paused while listening to birds singing on the local classical radio station and thanked all those men, women and yes, animals, who died for our country. 

Please remember these warriors who sacrificed everything. 

The D-Day landings took place on the beaches below this cliff.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"This Isn't the Time"

I don't get it, and I'm tired of trying.

I don't understand the American obsession with guns. There was another mass shooting at an American school last week, this time in Texas. Ten people were killed -- eight students and two teachers -- and 10 were seriously injured. As usual, politicians offered their useless "thoughts and prayers" and still refused to do something -- anything -- to address the problem of gun violence in America. 

The arguments of pro-gun people that we hear over and over include:
  • More laws won't stop the violence. We already have gun laws, and they don't work. Criminals don't care about laws.
  • Guns don't kill people. People kill people.
  • You liberals are just trying to take away our guns.
  • The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
  • Let's put armed guard/s in every school.
  • This isn't the time to bring this up.
  • Hundreds of people are shot in Chicago every year, and nobody talks about it.
  • These deaths are the price we pay for freedom.

Let's address these arguments one at a time. No, laws don't stop criminals from committing crimes. They never have. So since gun control laws don't work, according to some, why do we bother with laws at all? It's illegal to murder someone. It's illegal to drink and drive. It's illegal to rape someone. It's illegal to speed. It's illegal to rob a bank. By this logic, since people continue to commit these and other crimes, we might as well just get rid of the laws that make such acts illegal, right?

Right, people kill people using guns. It's much easier to kill 10 or 20 or 50 people using a gun than it is to kill them with a knife or to strangle them.

Nobody is trying to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. People are asking for common-sense solutions, not to disarm people. Perhaps the second amendment needs to be rewritten to guarantee the right to bear the type of arms available when the amendment was written -- musket loaders.  

Sure, once in a great while someone with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. But if police respond to a shooting situation, how will they know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy? Police will assume that anybody brandishing a gun is a bad guy until proven otherwise.
Do we really want to return to the days of the Wild West, with shootouts in the streets?

Armed guards in every school is not a viable solution. When teachers are spending hundreds of dollars of their own money to provide needed classroom supplies their districts can't afford, who is going to pay the billions of dollars it will cost each year to put an armed guard in every school? The same goes for the call to install metal detectors in every school. Perhaps there should be a large tax on every gun sold, with the tax money used to fund armed guards and metal detectors in every school.

"This isn't the time to discuss this" is one of the most ridiculous responses I have heard. So exactly when is the right time to start discussing possible solutions to the ongoing gun violence in America? It wasn't time after the Columbine shootings. It wasn't time after the Parkland shootings. It wasn't time after 26 first graders and teachers were gunned down in Newtown. It wasn't time after the Virginia Tech shootings. So tell me, when is a good time to discuss the murder of hundreds of innocent people in the US every year?

Yes, Chicago has a serious murder problem. People should be talking about it. People should be outraged. But the fact is, those are not mass shootings, and people pay less attention to individual murders than to mass murders. That doesn't mean the people killed or wounded are any less important. 

Deaths from gun violence are the price we pay for freedom? The cost of freedom is the deaths of hundreds of innocent people every year? No, allowing people to slaughter people just because they got fired or are having a bad day or the wife left them is not the price of freedom. We aren't talking about soldiers protecting their country. We're talking about people attending a concert, going to a movie or going to high school, and being killed because they are participating in everyday activities.

Don't ask me what legislation I think would help solve the problem. I don't know. I'm not an expert in gun violence. I'm not an expert in public policy. Legislation on its own won't make a difference. But I do know that Congress needs to stop blocking the CDC's wish to study gun violence as a public health issue. I do know that there need to be discussions -- minus the rancor, accusations and name calling -- about how to address this problem. As long as the NRA and its followers continue to reject every proposed action, there will be no progress. Nobody is trying to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. Stop pretending that is going to happen. It isn't. This isn't an all-or-none situation. I do know that we need to find a middle ground. And that won't happen as long as the NRA and others care more about guns and money than about human lives.

My father and grandfathers hunted squirrels and rabbits. There were guns in the house (shotguns). They were not kept in a gun safe. But we kids knew not to touch them, and frankly, getting them out to play with or use to shoot somebody never crossed our minds. So what has changed over the years?

We can point fingers at a myriad of people and organizations. Despite what that well-known intellectual and rabid NRA shill Ted Nugent says, it isn't preservatives in our food that cause mass shootings. One of the victims of the Texas shooting is now being blamed for causing the shooting because she repeatedly rejected the advances of the shooter and reportedly "embarrassed" him in class. We live in a culture of 'blame the victim,' a culture of violence, where if a driver inadvertently cuts off another driver, there is a risk of road rage escalating to the point where one driver pulls a gun and starts shooting. A 6-year-old girl in the car with her dad and brother was shot and killed in a road rage incident in Albuquerque a couple of years ago. Was her death "the price we pay for freedom"? I think not.

There is no easy answer. There is no "if we do this, gun violence will stop" answer. But don't we -- gun owners and non-gun owners, Democrats and Republicans, city folks and rural residents -- owe it to ourselves and our kids to at least try?