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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fall Has Arrived

Fall officially arrived two days ago, and Mother Nature has taken notice.

This morning the temperature registered a chilly 48 degrees F, cool enough for me to forego shorts and pull out a pair of capris. My fleece jacket is also at the ready for my walk with my dogs. And yesterday we were blessed with a good amount of much-needed rain. 

Fall is a good season and it provides something for all our senses. The morning air feels crisp and cool. Warm clothing and flannel sheets feel cozy against the skin. 

The air smells different. In New Mexico, the smell of roasting green chilis is a common aroma. In some areas, where it still is allowed, burning wood in fireplaces and fire pits fill the air with smells. Fallen leaves have a smell all their own. I get the urge to bake and perhaps make a pot of soup to fill the house with wonderful smells. 

We don't get a lot of changing colors on the trees here in the high desert, although the aspens and cottonwoods will soon be adorned with beautiful golden leaves. Clothing colors move from brights and pastels to browns and darker colors. Low clouds over the mountains will provide beautiful sunrises. The amazing blue New Mexico sky will look even cleaner and bluer than it usually does.

Soon I will hear the calls of thousands of sandhill cranes as they migrate to their wintering areas. The sounds of the propane burners lifting countless hot air balloons into the clear New Mexico sky will fill the morning air.

Even the flavors change with the change of the season. Pumpkin-flavored products proliferate. Three years ago, I noted that Trader Joe's was selling 44 different pumpkin-flavored items. And this year, pumpkin Cheerios made their appearance. This is all lost on me, of course, as I lost my senses of taste and smell more than a year ago. But it's still a nice reminder that fall is really here.

It's what comes after autumn that I dread -- cold temperatures, perhaps a bit of snow and early sunsets that make the days drag by. My arthritic hands will not be happy in the cold morning air. I don't like 4 p.m. sunsets.

But for now, I will make the most of the beautiful fall weather and just perhaps, venture into the kitchen to bake a batch of black walnut oatmeal cookies.



Monday, September 11, 2017

May We Never Forget

Thinking back to this date 16 years ago, I, like so many others, was numb and in disbelief. A plane hit one of the Twin Towers. It must have been a terrible accident, I thought. And then news came of the second plane hitting the other tower. This was no accident.

I worked for a federal agency in the San Francisco area that shared property with the military. Immediately after the attacks, all the access gates were closed, with only the main gate remaining open. Every vehicle entering was searched inside and out and underneath for explosives, and our IDs were carefully checked. We also were quizzed about where we were going. 

I was among a few employees who stayed at work to handle the deluge of requests from local news media wanting to interview our senior managers for their thoughts and "reactions." So I and a couple of other people arranged interviews, coordinated our efforts with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and developed talking points.

This went on for several days, with little time to mourn the horrendous loss of life. Finally, on a day off work, I had time to process what had happened. As I sat in my favorite chair in the living room, watching the endless replays of the airplanes striking New York's Twin Towers, and listening to the non-stop news media coverage, the tears started. And they would not stop.

Life has changed in so many ways since that day, when cowards perverted their Muslim faith and used it as justification to kill innocent people. Now we must remove our shoes, coats, belts and sometimes our watches before we can board an airplane. We go through multiple document checks and are subject to patdowns, scanning and swabs for explosives. We are advised that if we "See something, say something." Security has been drastically increased at federal buildings, airports, stadiums and other places where large numbers of people gather. 

The would-be terrorists continue to change their approaches to killing and maiming innocent people. But American and other intelligence agencies and police departments, along with private citizens who are quick to report anything or anyone suspicious, are fighting back.Terror leaders have been captured or killed, terror cells and plots have been interrupted, and people are willing to get involved in the fight against terrorism on land and in the skies.

Sept. 11 should, in my opinion, be made a national holiday. Cancel Columbus Day, which is a minor holiday celebrated by the federal government but not by anyone else. And it is a growing source of irritation to Native Americans who resent having to honor a man who enslaved and killed so many of their ancestors.

Let us instead honor the thousands who died on that beautiful autumn day in 2001. Let us also honor those first responders who rushed in to help the victims. And let us honor the survivors who will forever carry the physical and emotional scars of that day.

Above all, let us never forget.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Finding Joy in a World Gone Mad


"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir


A Facebook friend recently posted that in an attempt to find joy amidst the crazy, hate-filled world in which we live, she took a walk in nature.

That is precisely what I need to do -- spend more time in nature, or at least, outdoors. I'm just back from a wonderful three-week safari in Kenya, where I had limited wi-fi and internet access. There were no newspaper. It was wonderful being essentially out of touch with the terrible news at home. 

I've been home for just more than two weeks, and that 'vacation' feeling has been gone for a while. In addition to the news about the violence and hatred in Virginia, I have had to deal with two dogs in need of veterinary care, and my air conditioner died on a Friday when the outside temperature was 90 degrees. So my stress level has been pretty high lately.

What I need to do is go for a long walk in the bosque, a wooded area that runs along the Rio Grande. Or I could dust off my bicycle, pump up the tires and go for a ride. Being outside, enjoying fresh air, sunshine and exercise, is the best way to have a mini-escape close to home.

I also escape by reading. My Kindle has more than 60 books on it. I recently finished a book by Hitler's last secretary, and and then I read a book about a couple and the dogs that showed up at their rural home one morning. Reading has always been a great way for me to escape. My current read is by a Holocaust survivor.

Photography is another fun escape, whether it is taking pictures, editing them or designing calendars with them. Looking at photos from my trips, whether domestic or international, brings back vivid memories of those trips and elicits the same feelings I had when I took the images.

 Listening to music on my iPod is a great way to relax as I walk. I listen to all kinds of music -- classic rock, pop, classical and ethnic music. I also listen to a local FM station when I'm working in the house, rather than having the television blaring its nonsense.

I have greatly reduced the amount of time I spend on Facebook with its never-ending items about the latest escapades of the Trump administration. Stepping back also spares me the onslaught of stories about trophy hunters and animal abusers.

I am trying to spend my time in more pleasurable, less-stressful pursuits. Even trimming rose bushes and hedges in the back yard, accompanied by my dogs, on a nice day is relaxing.

Our nation as a whole is very divided, very worried and very stressed. We all need to take a step -- or more -- away from the electronic bearers of bad news and spend some time in the healing power of nature. There is joy to be found in our world. We just have to look for it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Moral and Political Failure

This morning, hours before dawn and for the first time in my life, I lay in bed and cried for my country.

I cried about the resurrection of a hate-filled faction of our country, a faction that calls for the removal of everyone who isn't white. This faction, emboldened to come out of the shadows by the election of a president who supports and approves of their white power beliefs, marches through the streets carrying torches and Nazi flags, chanting Nazi slogans. This faction celebrates the murder -- by one of their own -- of a young woman who showed up to protest the hatred espoused by this faction. This same group plans to protest at her funeral.

I cried for a friend whose family was exterminated in a Nazi death camp.

I cried for the neo-Nazi apologists who continue to defend their president, a president who refuses to condemn the hatred, violence and bigotry demonstrated by the 'white power' groups. He called them "good people," "fine people," and tried to blame the victims for the violence. 

I cried for those who believe the lie that "both sides" were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, as Trump contends and continues to repeat. I cried for our so-called political leaders who continue to do nothing to combat the poisonous words of the president.

The following appeared on Facebook; it is well worth sharing.

"Both sides" did not come armed with long guns.
"Both sides" did not come armed with sticks.
"Both sides" did not come in para-military gear.
"Both sides" did not come with Nazi flags.
"Both sides" did not come with Confederate flags.
"Both sides" were not giving the Nazi salute.
"Both sides" did not drive a car into a crowd of people with the intent of killing and maiming.
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It was only one side that did that.
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That side was the one chanting "Make America Great Again", "Take America Back", and "Blood and Soil".
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That side is emboldened by those who talk about both sides being responsible.


~ Jonathan Odell

After my tear stopped, a wave of nausea swept over me.

Trump's failure to forcefully and unequivocally condemn and reject the violent, racist, bigoted rantings of the KKK, the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis, only emboldens these fringe fanatics. Their beliefs are based upon the perceived inferiority of those who aren't 'white,' whose race or religion is somehow 'different.' These beliefs are the antithesis of what America has always stood for -- equality and equal rights. And yet the president has cast shared blame not only on the Nazi-admiring marchers, but on the victims and on those who gathered to protest the hate.

His failure to speak out against those who want to remove the 'other-than-white,' non-Christians among us, rather than blaming "both sides", is a huge moral failure. The American president has traditionally been seen as a moral leader of the country. Trump has failed miserably as both a political and as a moral leader. None less than David Duke, former leader of the KKK, has praised Trump's blaming of the other side.

Is he in reality a neo-Nazi sympathizer, or is he merely pandering to his 'base' as he plans to run for reelection in 2020? The truth will most likely never be known. What should be clear, however, is the danger he presents to America and to American society.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Unfit to Lead

My heart is breaking for my country, once the greatest nation on earth.

I am angry. I am sad. I am heartbroken. I am concerned.I am disgusted. And I am disappointed.

With the election of an illiterate, orange-tinted buffoon with the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old, our country is devolving into chaos. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, as well as anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-anybody-who-isn't-white individuals and organizations, have been emboldened to act on their sick, twisted beliefs.

And the buffoon occupying the White House (when he isn't away at one of his many resorts playing golf)? He steadfastly refuses to condemn the hatred and the violence perpetrated by his Nazi-loving followers. UPDATE: Two days after the attacks in Charlottesville, VA, he finally, reluctantly, condemned the hatred and violence. He read his words on a TelePrompTer, so clearly the words were not really his. His words would have been much more believable and appeared more sincere had he spoken from the heart.

I travel internationally several times each year, and to a person, everyone who has spoken to me about the juvenile occupying the White House asks how the United States could have elected such a bullying buffoon to the most powerful position in the world. He and his cronies in Congress have made the US the laughingstock of the world.
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Cheetoh-Man has frequently stated, either verbally or in never-ending tweets, his opinion of individuals and organizations that have 'hurt' or been 'unfair' to him. Why is he suddenly so silent when it would be appropriate to condemn the organizations responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Could it be that he wants to retain their support for his inevitable run for reelection in 2020? 

When the black CEO of Merck, a major pharmaceutical company, resigned his position on the manufacturing council to protest the bully's refusal to condemn white supremacy, the bully-in-chief promptly criticized him in a tweet. Neo-Nazis have praised the weak, mealy-mouthed response of the co-called leader of the United States to the terrorism in Charlottesville. They voted for him, and they applaud his actions to keep Hispanics and Muslims out of 'their' America.

Ethnic tensions between certain groups of whites and other ethnic and religious groups in the US are higher than in a long time. I lived through the racial divisions and riots of the late 1960s, and I have no wish to relive those experiences.


All those claiming that they want to make America white again have it all wrong. America has never been a white country. Our nation was founded on the principles of equality and justice for everyone. From early in our nation's history, black Africans lived in the US as slaves. The original inhabitants of this land were not white, but Native Americans. Hispanics played a major role in the history of the American Southwest, and several current states -- California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming -- belonged to Mexico, a nation of largely brown-skinned people.

So to those outside the US, I can only say that this president and his 'make America white again' followers do NOT represent the majority of Americans. Regardless of our ethnic background and our religion, most of us want the same things -- equality, justice, peace and the ability to live our lives without fear. I apologize for the thugs and misfits who are trying to turn the clock back more than 150 years. The so-called 'culture' they are supposedly trying to preserve -- slavery and misogyny among other things -- has been relegated to the dust bin of history. Let's hope it stays there.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The World in Black and White

While on vacation in Kenya recently, I decided to experiment with my camera's 'monochrome' setting, which allows me to take photographs in black and white.

We were watching a large herd of elephants trying to decide whether to cross a crocodile-infested river. The animals had been standing in the river for several minutes, so this was a good opportunity to switch the camera to 'monochrome.'

When I got home, I submitted one image (I would have submitted more but my computer was acting up) to a photo contest at www.viewbug.com. You can see the image here: https://www.viewbug.com/photo/74378314?type=myaward  and below.  I was pleased the next day to see that a fellow photo enthusiast had given this image a peer award. 




I took a couple other shots in monochrome as well.


















Finally, I took this image of several Samburu warriors celebrating and dancing. 





 I don't think I will switch all of my photography to black-and-white, but it's fun to see the world from a different perspective once in a while.



 

Celebrate the Magnificent Elephant!


Today, August 12, is World Elephant Day. 

Elephant populations in both Africa and Asia have shown dramatic decreases due to habitat loss, poaching and conflicts with humans. If the species is to survive, everyone must get involved.

Elephants are incredibly intelligent, caring, family-oriented animals. Female elephants stay with their families -- mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins -- their entire lives. Elephants show compassion.They appear to mourn their dead, even elephants they don't know. Recent studies seem to show that elephants have a sense of self-awareness and recognize themselves in a mirror.

Please never buy ivory or paintings by elephants, and avoid elephant rides or anything else that exploits these amazing animals. The procedures used to train baby elephants -- who suffer incredible trauma when they are ripped from their families -- are horrendous and abusive.

If you can and are so inclined, find a good elephant conservation or rescue organization (I support Save the Elephants and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and get involved. Educate yourself about the plight of elephants, then help spread the word to your friend.

I have been fortunate to observe these marvelous animals in the wild. Elephants are not here to entertain or adorn us. They deserve to be left alone to enjoy life with their families as they are meant to do.