Google +1

Monday, December 31, 2012

Fighting Back Against the Heart of Darkness

"With such a killer culture in the United States, with such a dismissal of the value of all life, is it any wonder that little children are killed in Connecticut, people gunned down in Aurora and American military wipe out Afghani families? There are clear connections here–no difference between slaughtering wolves and their cubs and killing children. The heart of darkness rules this nation and has since its origins in Colonial times. The people must change."

This comment was posted recently on a blog called Howling for Justice, which monitors the ongoing slaughter of wolves for 'sport' and 'fun.'

It does seem that "the heart of darkness" has taken up residence not just in America, but throughout the world as a whole. Syrian army troops routinely shell civilian neighborhoods. Palestinian terrorists detonate bombs on crowded Israeli buses, while Israel lobs bombs into residential areas of Palestine. Thousands suffer and die in Somalia while armed factions fight. In the U.S., innocent school children are murdered as their teachers try in vain to protect them. Firefighters are ambushed by a crazy person who set his house on fire, then shot and killed two of the firemen who responded. Congress goes on vacation after failing to deal with the nation's pressing problems. Animal abuse is rampant, and usually unpunished. The president of Russia this week signed a law banning all adoptions of Russian orphans by U.S. citizens, dooming the children to a life of poverty and discrimination. Wolves are murdered with guns and traps simply for being wolves -- for 'sport.' What a sick sport it is to kill animals for fun.

What has happened to the human race? What makes us so cruel and uncaring about others? People are rude. I see it all the time when I am out walking. Cars blast by me on the dirt roads of my neighborhood, leaving me in a cloud of dust. I frequently pick up trash tossed from cars onto the nearby streets -- often a McDonald's bag in the same place day after day -- an obvious repeat litterbug. Drivers run red lights and stop signs. Children and animals are abused, perhaps even killed. People trample other shoppers in a frenzy to take advantage of some must-have 'deal' on Black Friday.Thieves empty storage sheds full of donated toys for needy children. Innocent commuters are shoved in front of on-coming subway trains. And yesterday, as I finished my daily walk, I passed my neighbor skinning a deer carcass suspended from a large hook on the back of a truck. Two deer heads lay on the ground nearby. This is NOT something that should be done on a public street, in full view of everybody who happens to pass.

But more than simply being rude, so many people are filled with hate and anger. Rather than settling their differences in a civilized fashion, they pull out a gun and murder their opponent. Or they show up with a whole arsenal and murder countless innocent people. Sometimes people are killed because they are different -- gay, Hispanic, Asian or African-American. The prevailing attitude seems to be that everyone who isn't like us is 'less than' human and doesn't deserve respect. If somebody has something we want, we feel justified in taking it.

Where, and how, do we start to cleanse ourselves, our nation and our world of this darkness? How do we regain a more civilized society? Obviously, the causes of evil are many and varied. Today's newspaper contained an editorial cartoon that suggested the following reasons for the prevalence of evil in today's world: exposure to violence, dissolution of the family, decaying morality, mental illness, apathy, desensitization, lack of social contact, pop culture and unearned fame.

Turning around our society won't be easy. It isn't so much a matter of money (aside from doing a better job of providing mental health care) as it is a matter of attitude. The 'me first' attitude must change. We need to teach our children respect and healthy boundaries. We need to instill in them a sense of compassion, caring and sharing. We need to control or eliminate the violent video games and television programs to which our children are exposed. We need to teach our children about the wonders and beauty of nature. The natural world is not here for us to exploit; it is here to teach us and to restore us. We need to help those in need, whether we know them or not. We need to connect with others in person, not just via e-mail or Facebook or Twitter. We need to make time for our families, not just for our jobs.

There is no easy solution, and whatever we do won't result in an immediate change. But we must start. The 26 acts of kindness movement initiated by NBC News reporter Ann Curry is a wonderful start, with people throughout the world carrying out their own acts of kindness in memory of the 26 people killed in Newtown, CT, just before Christmas.

How about it? Whether you do 26 or one act of kindness, I encourage you to make 2013 the year you -- we -- start to fight back against the heart of darkness. Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Looking Back on 2012

I can't say I'm sorry to see the end of the year 2012, which saw the death of my father and the unplanned pregnancy of my teenage daughter. But the year saw several good things as well, and it is those on which I will dwell. I made a real effort to get out and do things I enjoy and visit new places, and I did a lot of hiking and photography.

In June, my daughter and I visited Sedona and the Grand Canyon. We spent a day at the Grand Canyon last December, so it was nice to return in warmer weather. It was a short trip, but one that motivated me to return to Sedona next year for hiking and photography. Sedona's red rocks are beautiful beyond words. I also hiked 1-1/2 miles down into the Grand Canyon (and back up), something I had never done before.

In the spring, a friend and I visited the lovely Monastery of Christ in the Desert, near Abiquiu. It is very isolated and quiet, and set among some of New Mexico's beautiful red rocks.

In July, my daughter and I spent six days in London, followed by a couple of weeks visiting Russia, her birthplace. We went to Moscow, where I used to live, followed by a trip to Tyumen' and Berkut in western Siberia, and finally to St. Petersburg. While in Berkut, we spent several hours with the former director of her orphanage and were treated to a Russian lunch in her honor.
Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace

One of the Kremlin Churches and Ivan the Terrible bell tower.

Catherine Palace

Mesa Verde's Cliff Palace
I went hiking to several places I had not visited before: Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado, and Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah. I also took my very first rafting trip, on the Colorado River, which was a lot of fun. What a treat it was to stay in the Red Cliffs Lodge, on the Colorado River and among towering red rocks a few miles from Moab, Utah.
Colorado River near Moab, UT

Death Valley's Zabriskie Point

A month later, I went hiking in Death Valley. It isn't a place I want to visit again, but I am glad I got to see it. Even in October, it was quite hot. It is much rockier than I had expected.

My daughter and I spent a late-autumn weekend in Durango, CO, riding the narrow gauge steam train from Durango to the old mining town of Silverton. The train chugged along through lovely aspens and along a sparkling river, stopping a couple of times to take on water. When we reached Silverton, we stopped for lunch and explored the town.

I continued my weekly volunteer work at St. Felix Pantry, and my daughter and I helped at the pantry's annual free community dinner on Thanksgiving Day. I also continued volunteering with Wanagi Wolf Rescue, which said a sad good-bye to Silver Bear and welcomed new wolf O-tai-oni. I even volunteered to work a couple of shifts at a low-cost spay/neuter clinic sponsored by the Santa Fe Humane Society and by New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better.

Aztec Ruins
I enjoyed some local events as well. I went with a friend to a sunflower festival, an Indian market at the nearby Santo Domingo pueblo and to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, where I bought an amazing Navajo rug. I also visited the ancient ruins at Chaco Canyon, Pecos National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins in northwestern New Mexico (which have nothing to do with the Aztecs).

I also made four trips to the Chicago area, two by car and two by air, all related to my father's illness and death.

In November, after three years of writing and editing, I finished my book about the challenges and joys of raising an adopted child. It will be available through in early 2013. Formatting is now complete, and a cover has been designed. I am looking forward to finally seeing my book in print after such a long time.

For 2013, my daughter and I have tickets to a Carrie Underwood concert in early March, and we hope to return to see Celine Dion perform in Las Vegas again. I have made reservations for a hiking trip in Turkey in May, and one in Yosemite National Park in September.

I am hopeful that 2013 will be a good year for everyone, that it will bring greater peace and compromise in the world, and greater respect for our environment and the animals struggling to share the world with us.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas is Missing This Year

It's two days before Christmas 2012, and rather than feeling excited and joyful, my heart is sad.

Despite the relentless commercials touting 'the perfect gift' and the daily newspaper stuffed with last-minute ads, the holiday spirit is burning rather dimly this year. There are several reasons for this.

My father died in April, and although I didn't live near him, I find myself frequently missing him. His death means that my siblings and I now have no parents, as my mother died in 2006. That we have no more parents or grandparents is a hard fact to accept.

My daughter is pregnant with a baby girl, due to be born in early February. She has decided to place the baby for adoption with a wonderful couple, who can give this new life all the things my daughter cannot due to her age and circumstances. Anticipation of the heartache to come for my daughter worries me greatly.

The U.S. economic problems continue to rush the country toward the so-called fiscal cliff, while members of Congress and the president have headed to their respective homes for the holidays, leaving the nation's problems unresolved. Apparently going on vacation is more important to our elected 'leaders' than doing the critical work they are paid to do. Why do they care if Social Security or pension checks are late? Middle- and lower-income people obviously don't matter to them. Only the multi-millionaire leaders of industry are important.

The nation remains under a deep pall resulting from the murder of 20 first-grade students and six teachers at a school in Newtown, CT. The last funeral for the tiny victims was held yesterday, so this is hardly a time for joy and good cheer. And rather than addressing the critical need to prevent future tragedies such as the one in Newtown, politicians point fingers and wring their hands, while the National Rifle Association's solution is to put armed guards in each of the nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States. School districts that don't have money to hire more teachers or provide school supplies are now supposed to fund armed guards in every school?

More people are seeking assistance to feed themselves and their families, while the prospect of $7/gallon milk looms ever closer due to the failure of the inept Congress to act on an agriculture subsidy bill. The small food pantry where I volunteer served 960 meals this Thanksgiving, compared with 520 meals just a year ago.

Our people are hurting. They are hungry, they are unemployed or underemployed, they are frustrated. We are facing big tax increases in 2013, while our Congress goes on vacation and while our country continues to give billions of dollars to foreign countries whose people hate us for being Americans. And why in the world is the U.S. buying bullets and weapons for Israel to replace those used to kill Palestinians? Let the Israelis buy their own weapons! Rather than spending billions of dollars to set up a postal service in Iraq, why not use some of that money to shore up our own, struggling postal service?

We need to start taking care of our own people. Make sure that Americans have food, shelter and medical care. Non-profit organizations and individuals cannot solve the problems of homelessness and hunger. We cannot provide the mental health care needed by many people, nor can we as individuals and non-profits provide the range of health care needed by the uninsured.

The world economy is on the verge of collapse. The war on wolves is growing, with more states allowing hunting and trapping of wolves this year, and others rushing to join the slaughter. Animal abuse is rampant, and often, unpunished. The world seems overtaken by greed, selfishness and evil.

So no, there is little Christmas spirit in my heart and home this year. I put up the tree and decorated it. I have made fudge and baked dozens of cookies, and I have listened to all of my Christmas music CDs (probably close to 50 of them). The Christmas cards have been mailed. But the holiday spirit remains elusive. I pray that 2013 will bring a new spirit of love, compassion and sharing to our once-great nation and its citizens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finding the Spirit of Christmas

Is it me, or has the Christmas season lost its luster?

There seem to be fewer houses with outside lights and decorations, fewer Christmas cards in the mail, and less holiday music on the radio. Of course, the newspapers and television channels continue to bombard us with 'perfect gift' ads and commercials, but the whole spirit of happiness, joy and sharing seems to be waning. And really, how many people are going to buy a new Lexus for their spouse as a Christmas gift?

I have done a half-hearted job of setting out our Christmas decorations, but the lights remain in the box and we are still undecided about whether to put up our artificial tree. It hardly seems worth the effort this year. My holiday baking was a bust, thanks to new cookie sheets that burned many of the cookies and destroyed my desire to bake. I am, however, enjoying my annual tradition of listening to each of my 40+ CDs of Christmas music. I also take my little iPod along that contains nothing but Christmas music when I exercise.

I'm doing my best to get into the holiday spirit. A friend and I recently joined a group of people volunteering at the state's largest food bank, in Albuquerque. We spent two back-breaking hours taking donated canned goods from huge bins, carrying them in crates and then depositing them on the appropriate shelf for boxing. The urge to bake, despite the earlier catastrophe, is creeping over me once again, and I couldn't resist the temptation to make fudge, most of which I will give away to appreciative friends. My daughter and I attended the annual holiday stroll and Christmas tree lighting in Old Town Albuquerque. Despite all these efforts, however, the Christmas spirit remains elusive in our home.

Christmas isn't about finding "the perfect gift." It isn't about buying gifts for people we barely know. It isn't about spending tons of money and racking up huge credit card bills. It's a religious holiday, first and foremost. And it's about spending time with family and friends, about remembering to be grateful for our blessings and sharing with those less fortunate. That is the true spirit of Christmas. At my age, and at this stage of my life, there is nothing I need, and few things that I want. My daughter, who is preparing to get her first apartment in a few months, asked for money for Christmas, which she will apply toward a deposit on her apartment. So even if we put our tree up this year, there will be only a few gifts beneath it.

Spending time together, donating some food and toys for the needy, and being mindful of our blessings -- these things, not the number of packages under a tree, represent the true spirit of Christmas.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Winter. The very word conjures up feelings of cold and darkness.

As readers of this blog know, I don't like winter. I don't like the cold. I don't like the short days and the early sunset.

But lately, I have begun to find a few things to like about my least-favorite time of year. The list isn't long, but it's more than I would have expected.

  • I love to be in bed, snuggled between flannel sheets and warmed by a pile of fleece blankets.
  • Winter is the time for comfort foods such as soups, stews and chili. It's the time to cook from scratch and fill the house with the wonderful aromas that only homemade foods have.
  • December also brings out my desire to bake cookies. I usually make several kinds, including sugar cookies, peanut butter cup cookies and Russian teacakes, in addition to fudge and sometimes, chocolate walnut strudel.
  • I appreciate my daily cup of hot tea more than ever on cold winter mornings.
  • I love putting on a cozy sweatshirt or sweater to hold off the cold.
  • The always beautiful New Mexico sky seems even crisper and bluer during the winter.
  • Winter also brings out more of my compassionate side, when I think about the homeless and those who can't afford to heat their homes. This prompts me to donate to organizations that help feed, clothe and shelter the needy.
Don't get me wrong. I still hate the cold and the frozen pipes. And it's so hard not to go to bed at 8 p.m. when the sun sets by 5:00.

But winter isn't all bad, I guess. Besides, after a long, cold winter, I appreciate spring that much more.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Remains of a Life

My sister and I recently shared a very bittersweet experience. With help from her husband, son, father-in-law and nephew, we removed the last items from our father's condo. Then we cleaned it and got it ready for its new owner.

On the one hand, we knew how happy Dad was during his final three years. He lived in a wonderful assisted living facility, in a bright and cheery condo with a beautiful view of a wooded area. But there was something so sad about going through his worldly possessions, deciding what to do with them (keep them, donate them or set them aside for later when our brother will be there to go through them with us) and gradually emptying his place of everything that once had been his.

This was, I thought, the remains of his life. His life was reduced to boxes of 'stuff.' Possessions that at one time had some value to him and to our mother were suddenly being discarded. His clothes went to Goodwill. Most of his furniture and linens was distributed to the women who work as housekeepers in the facility. His kids took items of significance or interest to them. Still, as the items in the condo dwindled, my father's presence also disappeared, until at the end, no trace of him remains in the place he called home for three years.

So that's it. The remains of an 87-year life are nothing more than assorted items (some family heirlooms, others of unknown origin) and boxes of family photographs.

There were some pleasant surprises along the way, however, including the discovery of previously unseen (by my sister and me) photographs of my mother as a teenager and young adult, and photographs of my 18-year-old father in his Navy uniform during World War II. What a handsome couple they were. We still need to go through several old family photo albums,which undoubtedly will hold even more surprises.

We found pictures tucked behind other pictures in frames, including one of a young woman we didn't recognize. Who was she? A relative? A friend of one of our parents? There is no information on the back of the picture, so we will probably never know who she is.

This experience has made me aware of two things: the need to purge some of my many personal items so my daughter isn't faced with the overwhelming task of going through  my possessions after I pass. And the importance of putting pertinent information on photographs, so future generations will know who the people are in the pictures.

Each of my siblings and I have kept some of our parents' personal items. I have a small table, a coffee table, an antique dresser and two chairs, in addition to some of my mother's cookbooks and recipe cards. I also have many of their CDs, mostly 'big band' music, with a few classical CDs and a couple of Christmas albums. These items serve as tangible reminders -- visible memories -- of the lives of my parents. Seeing the furniture or listening to their CDs serve as tangible reminders of my parents. But more important than these things, I have personal memories, as well as the lessons I learned from them: fiscal responsibility, and the importance of family, sharing and generosity. They taught us these lessons, not in words, but through their actions.

What is important really isn't the material items we collect throughout our lives, but the memories we create, the good we do and the lessons we teach our children. These are the things that make our lives worth something. Material possessions will be discarded, but the lessons we learn, what we teach our children, and the things we accomplish will live on.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Autumn in the High Desert

This is such a wonderful time of year in the Southwest. The high desert heat has given way to mild days and very chilly nights. The New Mexico sky is a crisp blue, and the aspens and cottonwoods are bedecked in beautiful golden leaves.

Fall is usually brief in this arid, high-desert land, and the transition between summer and winter often passes in a few short weeks. This makes appreciating this special time of year all the more important. I dread the cold and darkness of winter, so I try to savor this time of year as much as possible.

This is the season for homemade soups, stews and chili. It's the season for flannel sheets, fleece jackets and sweatshirts in the early morning, and for long pants after months of wearing shorts. It is time to relish being outside, knowing that the howling winds and frigid temperatures aren't far away. One of my favorite things about fall is the ability to leave a bedroom window open at night. I love the feeling of cool air in the room, while I snuggle in my bed, warmed by flannel sheets and blankets.

Fall in New Mexico also is the time for tens of thousands of birds, including the beautiful sandhill cranes, to take up their winter residence at Bosque del Apache and other areas.

This is the time of year to have the tank filled with propane, to have the roof inspected and to do last-minute yard work. Even yard work isn't as objectionable when done on a gorgeous day.

Unfortunately, fall also is the time when members of the local field mouse population decide to make their annual invasion of my house, in search of food and warmer temperatures. Despite two years of a pest control man doing 'exclusion' work to seal potential access points, this year once again found mice in the pantry (one of them chewed open a new bag of veggie straws), in my daughter's bedroom and in her bathroom. It's still too early to tell whether round three of exclusion work has solved the problem.

The weather forecast is calling for temperatures to plummet into the 20s at night in just a couple of days, with highs in the low 40s and strong winds. So I have just one more day to enjoy the beauty of fall. Already, the approaching Pacific storm is impacting the area, with cooler temperatures and mostly cloudy skies.

So today I will enjoy excercising outside, knowing that soon I will be driven inside, where my treadmill waits patiently in the garage.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sharing to Prosper

"You have to be able to share to prosper in this world." -- Curtis Naseyowma, carver of kachinas, representations of benevolent spirits.

The timing of this quote in today's paper is so appropriate. We are now in the traditional season of sharing. Halloween is barely behind us, but the stores are filled with Christmas music, brightly decorated trees and special displays to entice shoppers to spend their money.

This time of year causes me to more greatly appreciate my blessings, and as a result, I am more generous in my charitable donations. I donate a considerable amount of time, money and food throughout the year. But there is something about this season that makes me want to do more than usual. And I am fortunate to be able to share my bounty, when so many in this country are in need.

Maybe it's the thought of people going hungry at Thanksgiving, a time when Americans traditionally stuff themselves. As a volunteer at a local food pantry, I see the faces of hungry people every week. Maybe it's the thought of the homeless, cold and hungry as the nighttime temperatures drop into the 30s. I have always hated cold weather, and spending a cold night outside is unimaginable. Maybe it's the Christmas season that makes me more aware of how blessed I have been, and continue to be.

I have a beautiful house to keep me cool in summer, warm in winter, and dry when it rains or snows. I have nice clothes and warm coats. I have food in the pantry and in the freezer. I never have to wonder where I will get my next meal, or think about making my food stretch until I can get more from the food pantry or food bank.

Lately, I have found myself touched more than usual by the stories of abused animals in need of veterinary treatment. I was moved by the appeal for funds from a shelter for the homeless in Albuquerque. A friend from the food pantry and I have signed up to work a shift at the biggest food bank in New Mexico, and to deliver cases of bottled water to a homeless shelter. I have taken advantage of sales at local grocery stores to purchase cans of hearty, non-condensed soup for $1 each for the food pantry. I'm sending a check to the sister of a friend who has lost everything as she struggles to survive a second bout of cancer and pay for her medical treatments.

These are all small acts. I mention them not to pat myself on the back or to seek glory or acclaim. I'm not that kind of person. I do what I do because it makes me feel good to help, and because I feel obligated to share my blessings with those less fortunate. 

There are so many ways to share that don't require a great deal of money. Buy an extra can or two of soup or vegetables when they are on sale, and donate them. At this time of year, there are collection barrels for non-perishable food in many grocery stores. If you have a garden or fruit trees, consider donating some fresh produce to your local food bank or pantry. Volunteer a few hours a week for whatever cause moves you. Be a big brother or big sister to an at-risk child. Help a child with homework. Teach someone to read. Help immigrants learn English. Visit a lonely person in a nursing home. Walk dogs at an animal shelter, or foster a cat until it can be adopted.

My family was not wealthy, yet we we were taught, by example, to help others. My mother was active in church activities that raised funds for a variety of programs. My father bought cases of canned goods and donated them to the annual food drive held by his assisted living facility. After his death, we donated non-perishable food from his condo to the local food bank, as he would have wanted. My sister donated the furniture, lamps and linens from his condo to several immigrant housekeepers, who were thrilled to accept these items for their families.

I believe that sharing does make me prosper. The dictionary defines prosperous as "having or characterized by financial success or good fortune." I feel prosperous because I have a wealth of blessings and good fortune. And I have the rewards that come from sharing my time, talents and resources with others. So yes, I do feel prosperous.

I hope that my daughter also learns the true meaning of prosperity and the spirit of giving to others, and that she will carry on our family tradition. If I can pass on to her a generosity of spirit, a willingness to serve others and an appreciation for her blessings, I will have done my job.

May you also prosper through your sharing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's a Small World

I am always amazed when I see how many readers of this blog are international. Of course, most readers are from the U.S., but it's still incredible to note that one day, there were more readers from Russia than from the United States.

Over the past couple of years, I have noted readers from the U.K., Canada, France, Latvia, Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Greece, Venezuela, Kenya, Chile, Hungary, Latvia, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Slovenia, Australia, Bulgaria, Malaysia and India, to name just a few.

My readers don't provide much feedback, so I have no idea what they think about what they read. This blog covers a variety of topics, which means it is likely that readers aren't interested in just one area of discussion. I also can't tell whether any of my international readers are repeat visitors. So if you are reading this blog from a country other than the U.S., I would love to hear your feedback. Where did you hear about the blog? Are you a repeat visitor, or is this your first time? Is there anything you would like for me to write about?

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers

I would love to hear from my international readers. It's amazing to think that this little blog, with only a handful of followers, and which is written on my computer in the southwestern part of the United States, can be, and is, read by people in all corners of the world. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Welcome Fall!

Today is the first day of autumn. It is also a feast for the senses. Sights, sounds and smells unique to this time of year abound. The brilliant New Mexico sky, always a crisp, bright blue, seems bluer than ever. The nights and early mornings are wonderfully cool, although daytime temperatures still climb into the mid 80s. I can sleep with my bedroom window open, which is wonderful after months of having the house closed up against the searing heat of the desert. The air conditioner remains remarkably quiet much of the day.

I love autumn. Especially in the desert, it is such a refreshing change from the constant heat. If we're lucky, the annual 'monsoon' season will bring us some much-needed rain as well, although that hasn't happened yet. Fall in central New Mexico also heralds the roasting of green chiles, a wonderful smell (although I have yet to buy a 30-pound box of chiles, roasted or otherwise) and the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world's largest. I love the sight of hundreds of hot air balloons gliding overhead, and there is something special about the sound of the propane burners when they light to heat the air and keep the balloons aloft.

Birds have started their migrations, following the Rio Grande on their journey south. On a morning walk along the bosque, I heard the honking of geese and the noises of what appeared to be hundreds of sand hill cranes flying over the river. The cottonwoods and other trees are starting to show yellow in some of their leaves. Sunrise is later, which I appreciate since my bedroom faces east. The down side is that the sun is setting earlier, too.

Fall in the desert brings out a profusion of yellow flowers -- sunflowers, black-eyed susans, chamisa and other plants with bright yellow blooms.

My thoughts also have turned to cool-weather comfort foods such as homemade soups and stews. It's still too hot for soup, of course, but I know it won't be long before the wonderful aroma of simmering soup fills the house.

And after months of wearing shorts and short-sleeve tops, it is a nice change to be able to wear 3/4 sleeves or a jacket early in the morning. It isn't long, however, before I have to change into short sleeves once again.

This is a wonderful, but often unappreciated, time of year. People tend to think of autumn in terms of the end of summer, or the return to school, or as the precursor to a long, cold winter. I think we should appreciate autumn for its own merits: cooler weather; crisp mornings; warm, wonderful comfort foods; perfect weather for sleeping with the windows open; and an opportunity to spend more time outside enjoying the beauty of nature.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Of Rhubarb Pie and Other Sweet Memories

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I stopped by Flying Star Cafe, a New Mexico restaurant chain, for dessert. I had a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie, something I hadn't tasted in many, many years.

I mentioned this to a friend who also volunteers at the food pantry every Wednesday (as I do), and we started talking about the seemingly lost art of home cooking. She makes her own granola, croutons and salad dressing, among other things. I mentioned that my mother and maternal grandmother used to make rhubarb pies.
Photo courtesy

My grandparents grew their own rhubarb, along with corn, tomatoes, green beans and other vegetables. The pie crusts, of course, also were made from scratch, which made for some very tasty pies. My mother always said that her homemade pie crusts weren't very good, but no one in our family ever complained.

This discussion opened a floodgate of memories for me, as I recalled that both of my grandmothers, as well as my mother, were excellent cooks. Of course, they didn't have a lot of choice, as there were no frozen dinners, ready-to-eat meals, take-out or any of the other convenience foods we take for granted.

My mother's fried chicken was the best, bar none. A typical Sunday meal after church might include fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy (all made from scratch) and corn, followed by a homemade dessert. Her roast beef and homemade noodles was just as awesome. She made wonderful chicken and dumplings, too.

She canned fruits and vegetables during the summer, and made jams and preserves, so we ate a lot of natural foods, with no preservatives or artificial ingredients. There were some things I didn't care for, such as liver and onions, brussels sprouts and stewed tomatoes. But those are the only foods I recall not liking.

I remember the first time I had pizza. My mom had bought a package of Chef Boyardee pizza mix, and she made this strange but wonderful new food for us one Sunday evening. Another treat that heralded the coming change in the way Americans eat was an occasional trip on Sunday evening to McDonald's for burgers and fries. Burgers cost just 19 cents each. I think there was just one McDonald's in our city, and the other fast food places such as Burger King, Taco Bell, Sonic and others hadn't yet made their appearance.

I haven't yet tried to make my own rhubarb pie (I don't even know whether it is possible to buy fresh rhubarb in the stores here in New Mexico), although I have in the past tried my hand at pie-making. My yard in California had peach and apple trees (among others), and I made apple crisp and peach cobbler, which were delicious. But I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust. I have tried to find a frozen rhubarb pie, but both stores I searched had only a limited selection of pies, and neither carries rhubarb pies.

My daughter, who has grown up on prepared foods, has shown little interest in real cooking, although she likes my homemade soups. She wants us to attempt to make her all-time favorite Russian food, pelmeni, dumpling-like things filled with ground meat. They are, I'm told, not hard to make, but very time-consuming. She wants to have pelmeni and borshch for Christmas dinner, so we will need to do a trial run with the pelmeni before then.

I guess the occasional slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie from Flying Star will have to suffice for now. Maybe this little trip down memory lane will prompt me to do some real cooking, rather than relying on prepared foods. I know the food will taste better, and be better for me, without all the added chemicals, artificial colorings and flavors and the preservatives. And just maybe it will help keep those memories of days gone by alive a bit longer.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nature's Healing Touch

May the sun bring you energy by day.
May be moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away your worries.
May the breeze blow new strength into your being.
May you walk gently through the world and
Know its beauty all the days of your life.

Apache blessing

Isn't this a beautiful blessing? It speaks to me of the healing power of nature, and just reading it gives me a sense of peace as I contemplate the feelings of the sun, rain, moon and breeze.

My daughter and I recently took a trip to Russia, the country where she was born, with a 6-day stop in London on the way.  London, Moscow and St. Petersburg, where we visited, are major cities with millions of residents. People rush aout, pushing and shoving and in general behaving rudely. Streets everywhere are packed with people and traffic. Drivers show their impatience at the slightest delay by blasting their horns. Tourist spots are jam-packed with people. Although I enjoyed our visit, I was more than ready to get back to the peace and quiet of my home in New Mexico.

It's easy to forget how much strength and rejuvenation I get from spending time in nature. The quiet and peacefulness calm frayed nerves. The colors of the crystal blue sky, a gorgeous sunrise and flowers in bloom are a feast for the eyes. The smell -- of pine trees or the desert after a (too-rare) rain -- is delightful. And the sound -- or absence of noise from traffic, sirens and auto horns -- is a welcome relief. I love sitting in a secluded spot, listening to the birds sing, the wind in the trees, and the absence of noise.

My house is filled with images of nature -- wolves, sunrises, sunflowers -- soothing earth tones and lots of light from large windows and several skylights. I can see the Sandia Mountains from my bedroom, living room, dining room, office and back yard. While they lack the beauty of the red rocks of Sedona and southern Utah, it still is such a treat to see the Sandias in their magnificence and changing moods every day.

I also now understand how crucial it is that I be outdoors in the light, whether hiking, walking around, driving with the windows down and sunroof open, or dining on a restaurant patio. I just naturally gravitate toward the light and the outdoors. I have always needed lots of sunlight, but during a trip to New Mexico a few years ago, I realized just how much I need it and how I unconsciously sought the comfort of sunshine and open spaces. 

I am blessed to live in a state with so much natural beauty and so many open spaces. Just 2 miles from my house, I can walk along the Rio Grande on wooded trails. Or I can walk on a dirt path between acequias, part of a 200-year-old gravity-powered irrigation system still in use today. I did that this morning, and was treated to the sounds of chirping birds and buzzing cicadas, and the sight of scampering lizards and horses peacefully grazing in their pasture. This was a much-needed respite, and a good reminder that I need to get out and do this more often.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Food for Thought

I'm sure other parents can relate to what I am feeling. In addition to my titles of mom, daughter, sister, friend, volunteer and retiree, I have another one: human garbage disposal.

I came to this realization one morning after eating the remnants of my daughter's spaghetti (from several days earlier) for breakfast. I hate to waste food, so I often find myself cleaning out the refrigerator of food my daughter started but didn't finish, or wanted me to buy for her and then decided she didn't like.

I don't mind eating leftovers, but I do draw the line at some things. I will not, for example, eat the remaining garlic mushrooms she asked me to buy. I hate mushrooms, so these will not grace my plate, ever. The same goes for tomatoes, radishes and cucumbers. For a while, I was cleaning out a large assortment of bread products: wheat bread (mine), white bread (hers), bagels and English muffins. And since I don't eat pork, the leftover pepperoni pizza will have to be eaten by the one who wanted me to buy it. The same goes for her pepper jack cheese, which is hers and hers alone.

I don't mind tossing out the occasional slice of sourdough bread that is now as hard as a hockey puck. But I refuse to waste food just because she decided she no longer likes it, or "forgot" it was in the refrigerator.

Fortunately, food is not all that important to me. As long as my stomach is happy, it really doesn't matter what I eat. So leftover spaghetti for breakfast is OK, although I usually eat more traditional breakfast fare. As a volunteer for the past year with a local food pantry, I am well aware of the numbers of people unable to adequately feed themselves and their families. So the thought of letting good food go to waste just because somebody 'forgot' that it is in the refrigerator (despite numerous reminders from me) really rubs me the wrong way. I have bought new food items that sounded good but turned out to be something I didn't care for, but I still ate them. Very rarely is something so bad I throw it away. I will eat it, and make a mental note not to buy that item again. 

Maybe when my daughter starts buying her own food she will understand how expensive it is, and how important it is not to waste it. As someone who usually didn't have enough to eat as a child in Russia -- both with her birth family and while living in an orphanage -- she has personal knowledge of hunger. But it appears that she has forgotten what it is like not to have enough food. I hope she never knows hunger again, but I also hope that she never takes an abundance of food for granted.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Earth, Teach Me

The first time I read this Native American poem on Facebook, it brought tears to my eyes.
I am an environmentalist, and have been for many years. I recycle everything possible. I pick up trash when I'm out walking. I own two hybrid vehicles. I conserve water and energy. I donate unwanted clothing and household items to non-profits. I take my own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store.
I also am a firm believer in solitude and self-discovery. This short poem seems to hit all the bases and cover the things that are most important to me.
Earth, Teach Me..

"Earth teach me quiet ~ as the grasses are still with new light.
Earth teach me suffering ~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility ~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring ~ as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage ~ as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation ~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom ~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance ~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal ~ as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself ~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness ~ as dry fields weep with rain."

- A Ute Prayer

Monday, May 21, 2012

Life Lessons from a Dog Named Mercy

I love this item I found recently on the Facebook page of the Mission of Mercy Animal Photography Project, which works to improve the odds of shelter animals being adopted by providing high-quality photographs of them. Mercy was the founder's first rescued great Pyrenees dog.

The 14 Things I Learned from Mercy

1. Never be afraid to show your love, anytime or anyplace
2. Never give up, EVER.
3. Anger, jealousy, stress and hatred have no place in a happy life.
4. Accumulate experiences, not stuff. Experiences last longer and are always happy.
5. Never judge any creature or person by their appearance. You will miss finding a lot of great friends and friendships.
6. If you just do it, you will never regret it. Take a chance once in a while.
7. It is said that dogs live in the now. Zen teaches that we should also live in the now. Both are right.
8. Make time, not excuses.
9. Digital images are free, but they are also priceless.
10. An affliction is only one if you let it.
11. There is no downside to smiling or laughing. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
12. Speed is not all that it’s cut out to be.
13. Unconditional love is as easy to give as it is to receive.
14. Going potty outside is OK!!!!!

This dog must have been pretty smart to have realized these life lessons. I hope I am smart enough to put them into action (well, maybe not the last one). Thanks, Mercy!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Learning to Love

A couple of years ago, my daughter, who was adopted from Russia when she was 11 years old, made a comment about her "real mother." That comment hurt me a great deal, although I know that was not her intent.

In her mind, her "real" mother was the woman who gave birth to her. I am her adoptive mother. However, I consider myself to be her real mother, as it is I, not her alcoholic, abusive birth mother, who has raised and guided her. I am the mother who is always there for her, through good times and bad.

As with many mothers and teenage daughters, our relationship can be contentious at times. Because of her traumatic childhood and attachment issues, she doesn't always make the best decisions about friends or actions. I have been to hell and back more than once because of things she has done. But through it all, my love for her has remained strong. Her love for me, however, has been in question.

Because she has attachment issues resulting from her life of turmoil and trauma, including time in a couple of orphanages, she was unable to trust that I am her mother forever, that I will never abandon her and that she is worthy of a mother's love. In her mind, if she didn't let me (or anyone) get close to her, she could protect herself from being hurt.

After years of 'testing' me to see whether I would, as so many adults in her past had, abandon her, and after years of therapy and self-reflection, she finally seemed to be learning how to give, and receive, love. I was warned by more than one therapist, however, that she will probably never care about me as much as I care about her. I had to accept this reality; this is how she is. It isn't her fault. As a result of her trauma, her brain is wired differently than that of a non-traumatized person.

Over the past few years, she has seemed to show more concern for me, but I always questioned in my heart how sincere she was. She did, after all, have to learn to be a daughter, how to accept love and what it means to be part of a family. She also seemed to find it much easier to tell friends that she 'loves' them than to tell me.

One Mother's Day a few years ago, she said she would cook dinner for me. But when it was time to start cooking, she was "too tired," so I cooked the meal. There was barely any acknowledgment that it was Mother's Day. So on Mother's Day 2012, I was pleasantly surprised to see my daughter's post on my Facebook page (grammar errors notwithstanding):

Your a mom that doesn't care about cards, flowers, or any other stuff. Your the mom that deserves and needs to hear more often that you are the greatest mom I could ever have. And that I want to thank you for all of your support and help through these years. I am sorry that I don't thank you enough but I just want to let you know that I appreciate and love you more than anyone could through the good and the bad. I love you. 

It seems that she has at last learned about giving and
receiving love. Despite my request that she not buy me anything, she proudly presented me with a new turquoise wallet. Turquoise is my favorite color, and I needed a new wallet, so it was obvious that she put considerable thought into this gift. She also took me to lunch at my favorite barbeque place.

It is sad that she has had to learn about love and that it was a foreign concept to her. But I am so grateful that she has at last learned about love -- what it means to give love and to accept it. She certainly deserves a life full of love and happiness.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I recently read a little book called When God Winks, by SQuire Rushnell (yes, his first name really is spelled like that). I found it to be interesting, but I wasn't overly impressed by the book.

Not long after that, my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. That's when I started to recognize all the godwinks that were happening in my life. I think the fact that I read this book when I did was in itself a godwink.

The author defines godwink as "1. An event or experience, often identified as coincidence, so astonishing that it could only have come from God. 2. Answered prayer." My siblings and I experienced a series of events that could have come only from God. There were simply too many for them to be coincidences.

After three weeks in the hospital and a terminal diagnosis, my father wanted to spend his remaining time at home, but he needed a live-in caregiver to assist him. A nurse at the hospital gave us a two-page list of caregiver agencies. My sister decided to call two or three to get an idea of the services offered, and the cost. My father was very concerned about the cost, so we wanted to assure him that we were getting a good agency at a reasonable price.

My sister picked agencies at random to call. One of them she called because its name is the same as the name of the street on which our grandmother had lived. That was definitely a godwink.

We all liked the agency representative who came to talk with us at the hospital. We liked the agency's philosophy, and the fact that it charged considerably less than the other agencies for the same service. The agency representative -- the daughter of the founder -- said she had a caregiver in mind, and we set up a time to meet him.

Godwink number three happened right after he came into the room. This young man knew my father! He had cared for another man in the same assisted living facility where my father lived. When he and my father met in the hospital, it was like two old friends getting together. My father broke into a big grin when he saw his caregiver-to-be.

We had spoken with a local hospice and plans were in place to provide medical and pain management services to my father, in addition to the live-in care to be provided by the caregiver. But on the day he had hoped to go home, my father's condition worsened, and we decided that he should go temporarily to the hospice's in-patient facility to get his pain under control, assuming there was a vacancy. We didn't know whether there was a place for him or not. The hospice has only 16 beds, but the nurse who came to arrange my father's release and transfer from the hospital said there was a room available. So there was the fourth godwink.

By this point we were all amazed at the godwinks that were taking place as my brother, sister and I continued to make decisions on behalf of my father. We were surprised that things were falling into place so easily at this very difficult time.

Godwink number five happened after my father entered hospice. The chaplain dropped by to visit and asked my sister what kind of music my father liked. "Bluegrass" was the answer, to which the chaplain replied that he just happened to have a CD of bluegrass music in his car. He brought the CD into my father's room, and Dad enjoyed his favorite music for the rest of his time in hospice.

Another godwink, in our minds, was the amazing hospice facility and staff. After having to remind hospital aides to bathe my father or wash his hair or brush his teeth, and to argue with a nurse about giving him more pain medicine, it truly was a miracle to have him in a place where every single person, from the janitor to the physicians, was kind and compassionate. This compassion extended not just to my father, but to his entire family. And the facility itself was beautiful, serene and full of love.

But there was one more godwink to come. At the time, it didn't seem like anything special. A year ago, my father had gone with Honor Flight Chicago on a day-long trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorial. His escort that day was the then-commanding officer of Naval Station Great Lakes. The captain had never escorted anyone on an Honor Flight before, and he was transferred to another posting soon after, so it is doubtful that he has served as an Honor Flight escort since then. He wore his 'dress whites' that day, and he and my father, a Navy veteran, had a great time seeing the various monuments and memorials in Washington. When my sister e-mailed the captain about my father's passing, he responded in less than an hour that he would "expend every effort" to attend the funeral had he not been at sea on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I had never heard of godwinks before a Facebook friend mention this little book. I guess that was the very first godwink in this most recent series of events. Once I told my siblings about godwinks, they, too, began to see that they do indeed exist and that a higher power was orchestrating these seeming coincidences.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Life Lessons from Death

Watching someone wait to die is a terrible thing. It's also an eye-opener.

My 87-year-old father was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. Because of his age and health status, treatment options were extremely limited.

He refused any treatment, even physical therapy to make him more comfortable. He wanted nothing other than pain relief. Despite the drugs he was given, he was still in a lot of pain.

His wishes were very clear; he wanted to die. But he also wanted to go home, so his doctor removed the IV lines and his family began to prepare to carry out his wishes. Fortunately, all the siblings were in complete agreement about what to do -- get our father home, and let him make as many decisions as possible regarding his care.

Seeing my father in a hospital bed, frail and too weak even to roll over, was very difficult. Although he has had two major strokes and several small ones, until he was hospitalized a month ago, he was able to care for himself, walk (albeit slowly) and drive. Now he is facing death. He is extremely weak, completely bedridden, and he needs assistance with everything. His eyes are sometimes open, but his gaze is elsewhere.

We had arranged with a local hospice to provide medical care and a hospital bed, and we hired a wonderful live-in caregiver. The bed was set up in the living room so our father could watch television and look out his patio door into the woods nearby. But despite our best efforts, he never went home again.

On the day we had hoped to have him transported home, it became obvious that he needed more care and more pain management than his caregiver could provide. There was room at the hospice facility, so he was taken there by ambulance. This facility is a non-profit organization with a wonderful staff of doctors and nurses who specialize in palliative care, managing chronic medical conditions and end-of-life issues.

There he remains, drifting in and out of awareness. All three of his children have said their goodbyes. For us, waiting for him to die has been a "weird" thing, to quote my daughter. We know he will not recover; he won't get better. So it is a waiting game, with a known outcome but an unknown timetable.

Watching our father go through this has made us aware of the fragility of life and what is  truly important. My sister commented that it was strange to realize that all of my father's material possessions-- he lives in a two-bedroom condo in an assisted living facility so he doesn't have a huge amount of possessions -- suddenly seem insignificant. These things, which had value and were important to him, now are just things. We will donate his clothes to Goodwill. Family heirlooms and keepsakes will be divided among the children. Furniture will be made available to residents of the facility, and anything remaining will be donated to charity. Any remaining non-perishable foods will be donated to the local food pantry or residents. Soon the condo itself will be listed for sale, and nothing but photographs, a few personal items and some family heirlooms will remain with the children. And of course, the memories his children and grandchildren will hold.

This experience also has encouraged us to live life while we can: to take those long-dreamed-of trips, do things now rather than later, donate to the charities important to us, spend time with our children. The clock is ticking on each of our lives, and none of knows when our time will run out.

This also has brought my brother and me closer together. We don't see each other often (he lives in Alaska, I in New Mexico), but we have grown closer since our father's illness. We stayed in our father's condo and ate together at least twice every day for two weeks. All the petty arguments and personality clashes of the past were forgotten, as we and my sister pulled together to do what was best for our father.

It's a cliche, but it shouldn't take a parent's terminal illness to cause us to forge new relationships with our siblings, our spouses and our children, or to finally recognize what is truly important in life.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Favorite Quotes

I spend a fair amount of time on the Internet, so I'm always seeing quotes that seem to 'speak' to me. Today, I'd like to share some of my favorites.
  • Life is like a camera. Focus on what's important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don't work out, just take another shot.

  • What would you do if you weren't afraid? -- from Who Moved My Cheese? 

  • Do more of what makes you happy. 
  • One woman's trash is now the world's treasure. -- Anonymous comment about Patrick, the pit bull starved to the point of death and thrown down a trash chute in a garbage bag.

  • How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. -- Winnie the Pooh

  • Man's heart away from nature becomes hard. -- Standing Bear

  • Do what you can with what you have, where you are. -- Theodore Roosevelt

  • The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. -- Mahatma Gandhi

  • Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.  -- Dalai Lama 

  • Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. -- William James 

  • Always desire to learn something useful. -- Sophocles 

  • Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can,To all the people you can, As long as ever you can. -- John Wesley  
  • If you can dream it, you can do it. -- Walt Disney
  • Worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere. -- Erma Bombeck
It's interesting to note that many of these quotes are from everyday people, not just from authors, religious and political leaders. Wisdom is all around us, from fictitious bears to housewives.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    A Winter Walk

    When I got up this morning, the wind was howling and I quickly determined that I would not be going outside at all. I told my dogs there would likely not be a walk for them today. But after I got back from some errands, the winds had died down a bit, so we went for our usual 1-mile walk.

    After lunch, I was faced with two choices for my exercise, neither particularly pleasant. I could brave the wind and exercise outside, or I could walk on my treadmill in the garage while staring at the inside of the garage door. After seeing some interesting cloud formations over the mountains, I grabbed my camera and headed out. I figured if it was too bad, I could come home after a mile and finish on the treadmill.

    The New Mexico skies didn't disappoint. I got to photograph fascinating cloud formations, fallen fences and a tumbleweed barreling down a bone-dry flood control channel. The winds, while strong, weren't too bad. I rather enjoyed my walk despite the less than ideal conditions.

    This was another of those days where I was glad I took the chance and ventured outside. I have noticed that as I get older I am becoming more cautious, so it was good to go outside my comfort zone. I don't want to become one of those old folks stuck in her ways and unwilling, or too afraid, to take a chance, even if it's only to brave the weather for a winter walk.

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Out and About

    I love hiking, outdoor photography and visiting new locations. There is nothing that invigorates me like a hike in a new and beautiful place, camera in hand.

    So why did I feel like I had been hit by a train or spent too many hours at a bar? (For the record, the strongest 'drink' I've had in months is a Coke Zero). I had a good night's sleep, but when I woke up, I was really dragging. Maybe I had too much fun.

    Pedernal and Abiquiu Lake
    I hadn't been hiking in several months due to the cold and windy weather. And I hadn't been on a photo trip for a while either. So I jumped at the chance to visit an area a couple of hours north of home, in the Abiquiu area made famous by renowned artist Georgia O'Keeffe. I first dropped by Ghost Ranch, and despite the freezing wind, walked around for an hour or so, admiring the blue sky and the red rocks.

    From there, I drove about 15 miles south, to Plaza Blanca (White Place) to meet up with a dozen or so photographers. This little-known, privately owned area is reached by leaving the highway and traveling a couple of miles down a dirt road and through a gate at the entrance to property owned by the Dar Al-Islam mosque. I had hoped to be able to photograph the outside of the mosque, but it was behind a locked gate (as it is closed every weekend). A short distance away is a small parking area overlooking fascinating white rock formations.

    The sky was just what I had hoped for -- a brilliant blue unlike anything I have seen  anywhere except New Mexico. The landscape varied considerably, from towering white hoodoos to areas covered with small rocks of various colors to mounds of what looked like gravel.

    In the distance we could see the snow- covered peaks of the Sangre de Christo mountains. We walked around for two hours, braving the wind and cold temperatures, looking for the perfect shot nobody else saw. This is definitely an area I want to revisit on a warmer day, although there is no way my photographs can capture the mystery and beauty of the area.

    So why was I so tired the day after such a great outing? Maybe it was the wind, or being on my feet for several hours, or walking on an uneven surface as I explored Plaza Blanca. Or maybe (I hate to admit this) it's because I'm no longer able to do the things I used to do with the same stamina and vigor I remember from my younger days.

    Whatever the reason, it won't stop me from doing the things I love. There are so many fascinating places to explore and photograph. New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment.

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    My Boycott List -- Does It Really Matter?

    I recently realized how many things are on my boycott list. Then I started to wonder, does a consumer boycott ever really make a difference? Or does it merely give those of us who boycott something a sense that we are doing something rather than just sitting around and stewing about some injustice. I do know that I will not give my money to any company, state or nation that does things to harm animals and the environment. But I don't know whether a boycott ever achieves the change desired.

    Back in the 1970s, when whale killing was rampant, I did my best to boycott all things Japanese. I also added Norway and Denmark to the boycott list, since those countries also engage in whaling. At the time, most electronics were made in Japan, so like boycotting made-in-China products these days, a boycott was not easy. I will buy something made in Japan if there is no alternative, although the country still engages in blowing up whales. And although I like Norwegian Jarlsberg cheese, I refuse to buy it or any other product from Norway or Denmark.

    Here are some of the other companies and countries I boycott:
    • China: I boycott anything made in China for a number of reasons. Recent, repeated reports of Chinese manufacturers using toxic chemicals in pet and baby food to cut production costs are one reason. I refuse to buy anything that could enter my body or the bodies of my daughter and dogs, if it is made in China. This includes toothpaste and dog treats. Another reason is the Chinese attitude toward animals, as evidenced by the photos shown on Facebook of a Chinese woman roasting a live puppy over an open flame, and nobody did anything to stop the atrocity. Widespread pollution and disregard for human as well as animal life are the other reasons. I have walked away from clothing, watches and household goods made in China and I will continue to do so.
    • Any state that allows, and especially encourages, the slaughter of wolves. I won't buy Idaho potatoes or anything made or grown in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming. These three states couldn't wait to start the wolf-hunting season -- with bows and arrows, by airplane and snowmobile, traps or by any other means. They just want to murder wolves. So the bag of Idaho potatoes I picked up at the grocery store went right back on the shelf. And there it will remain. Likewise, I won't be taking any vacation trips to any of those states, either, although I would love to return to Glacier National Park in Montana.
    • Nike recently renewed its contract with animal abuser and convicted felon Michael Vick. It has been documented that Vick not only bankrolled a dog-fighting operation on his Virginia property, he also apparently took great delight in personally murdering dogs that didn't fight well. He electrocuted them, hanged them, drowned them and slammed them repeatedly against the ground. He laughed as family pets were torn to shreds by his fighting dogs. There will be no Nike products purchased with my money. If Nike thinks having a murderer like Vick on the payroll will entice people to buy their products, they are badly mistaken. 
    • Subway sponsored the BET sportsman of the year award, which went to Vick. Although Subway tried half-heartedly to distance itself from the honoree by stating that it simply sponsored the award but did not select the winner, my money will be spent at Quizno's, Dion's or some other sandwich shop until Subway figures out that its association with a felon who murdered animals for fun, and who still hasn't figured out that what he did was wrong, is not good for business. 
    • I recently added beef to my list of boycotted products because the attack on wolves is being led by cattle ranchers. If enough consumers start foregoing steaks and burgers, ranchers might start to pay attention. I also boycott anything made of wool, and have done so for many years, since sheep ranchers also are vocal advocates of wolf slaughter.
      Will cattle ranchers feel pain when I order chicken rather than beef? Will Subway notice the loss of a sandwich sale because I won't eat there? I doubt it. But if thousands, even millions, of people take their business elsewhere, maybe the company won't be so quick to defend its marketing choices. And maybe it will be a bit more thoughtful in the future before sponsoring an award over which it has no control. Same goes for Nike. I don't like Nike running shoes, so I am not a major consumer of Nike products. But if I need socks or other athletic gear, you better believe that I won't be buying anything with the Nike swoosh on it.

      Corporations don't often listen to consumers; the only thing they seem to respond to is profit. Letters, e-mails and phone calls have little impact on corporate decisions. But if enough of us hit these companies where they live -- the bottom line -- maybe, just maybe, we can wake up a few of the corporate gazillionaires who run these companies.

      I don't know how effective consumer boycotts are. Japan, Norway and Denmark still engage in blowing up whales 40 years after the boycotts of the 1970s. Nike still stands by its corporate felon spokesperson. Ranchers and hunters in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana still take pleasure in slaughtering wolves. Whether my refusal to provide financial support to those whose policies I disagree with will matter in the long run isn't clear. But at least I know that my money isn't going to support those who either take pleasure in harming animals for fun and profit, or who turn a blind eye and do nothing to stop the slaughter.

      At the end of the day, the decision to boycott a company, country or product is a personal one. Each of us has to do what he/she feels is right. At the very least, we need to be informed consumers when we make our decisions about how and on what to spend our money.

      Tuesday, February 14, 2012

      Share the Love

      Oh, joy. It's Valentine's Day again. A day to spend a small fortune on the obligatory jewelry, fancy dinner, roses and/or chocolates. A day of compulsory romance and $5 greeting cards with sappy verses.

      I hate this day. It is so artificial, so contrived. Shouldn't those we love receive our expressions of love every day? Wouldn't a dozen roses mean a lot more if they were a surprise, presented for no reason other than to say "I love you"?

      "It's the smallest things, the tiniest measures.. 
      The heart remembers, and always treasures." 

      I don't know the author of this quote, but I think it is wonderful. This artificial holiday isn't about flowers and candy and what we buy for people. It is the little things in life that make it special. The point of this day, as contrived as it is, is love. We cannot put a price on love; it is priceless. And it has the greatest value when it is shared.

      So today, tell your loved ones (two- or four-footed) you love them. Spend time with them. Give them a hug. Do something special with or for them. And while you're at it, how about sharing your love with those who really need it -- those in nursing homes who may not have family nearby; animals waiting, alone, in animal shelters for a family to love them. Donate some time at a food pantry, soup kitchen, animal shelter or pre-school. I would much rather have the $80 (average cost for a dozen roses this Valentine's Day) donated to a struggling charity than wasted on flowers that will be in the trash in a few days. So today, I paid for a cup of coffee or tea from Greenbeans Coffee ( to be provided free to 10 members of our armed forces serving overseas. It's a small way to brighten the day of someone serving far from home.

      Love is like the proverbial candle under a basket; it has so much more impact when it is uncovered and shared.

      Sunday, February 12, 2012

      Helping in Small Ways

      I love animals, but I find it difficult to volunteer at animal shelters and humane societies due to the large number of unwanted and homeless dogs. (I care about cats, too, but dogs have always held a special place in my heart).

      I worked for a very large humane society in California for eight years, until I got burned out. I volunteered with a variety of animal shelters and rescue groups after that. Then I found I couldn't handle the cruelty and heartbreak and never-ending stream of homeless and unwanted animals any more. I have had to 'unlike' numerous Facebook pages because I can't bear to read about yet another horrible abuse case, or another dog in desperate need of rescue or funds for medical care. I simply cannot save them all. So my volunteer efforts have been focused on wolf rescue and feeding the hungry at a local food pantry.

      But yesterday, I did something to help dogs by volunteering at a low-cost spay/neuter clinic sponsored by New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. I didn't have to worry about seeing homeless animals at risk of being killed due to a lack of homes. There were no abused animals. All the dogs and cats I saw were there because their humans care enough about them to have them sterilized.

      I put in 4-1/2 hours, mostly comforting dogs post-surgery, bringing dogs back to the recovery area after their operations, cleaning dirty cat cages and keeping a tiny Chihuahua warm until his family came for him. It wasn't difficult work, but it was rewarding. Each of the 27 dogs and 12 cats spayed or neutered that day should have a happier, healthier life as a result of a simple surgical procedure. And they will not add to the millions of homeless, unwanted dogs and cats in this country.

      The dogs ranged from a tiny Chihuahua to a 91-pound dog named Brutus. Some were frightened, all were confused and stressed. Some were quiet, while others howled and barked their displeasure at being confined. Volunteers comforted and spoke to those most distressed. I enjoyed sitting with a beautiful Rottweiler named Grim, and talking to Brutus and his son Beast. A pit bull puppy named Zoe was absolutely adorable, and covered anybody she could reach with kisses.

      There was a steady stream of people arriving all afternoon, some seeking vaccinations or microchips for their dogs, others wanting to sign up for next month's spay/neuter clinic. It was gratifying to see so many people caring enough about their dogs to bring them in for treatment. And where appropriate, people were gently educated about how to take better care of their animals. I pray that the woman who feeds her dog a diet of chicken nuggets will realize that despite how much she loves her Chihuahua, that diet is a major reason he has ear, teeth and skin problems. He needs to be put on a diet of quality dog food.

      I definitely plan to volunteer again next month, maybe for a longer shift. I can no longer handle the emotional stress of volunteering at a facility filled with homeless animals. But I can, and will, support the proactive efforts of New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society to improve the health of dogs and cats and at the same time keep them from adding to the already staggering numbers of animals in shelters throughout the state.

      It felt good to do a little something to help eliminate the problem of too many animals and not enough homes. I didn't organize this monthly effort; I can't do the surgery; I donated just a few hours of my day. My efforts were minimal; other volunteers were there all day. Some set everything up the night before the clinic opened.

      So to those who comment that "I could never work in an animal shelter; it's just too sad," I say "I understand your feelings. Why don't you sign up to volunteer at a vaccination clinic, a spay/neuter clinic or some other program that helps animals?" It's a great way to contribute in a small way, and to be inspired by those who make these programs possible through their dedication and hard work.

      My hat is off to all who work so hard to make these clinics not only possible, but such a success that there is a waiting list for spay/neuter surgeries. See you next month!