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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.