Google +1

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye to 2013

In just a few hours, 2013 will fade away, and a new year will begin.

I'm not one to celebrate on New Year's Eve, but this day is nonetheless a day for reflection of the year just ending and anticipation of the one to come. What will 2014 hold for me and my family? Will it be a good year or a bad one?

2013 was a mixed bag for me. In January, I self-published my book about the challenges and successes in raising an older adopted child. From Hopeless to Hopeful: Raising an Older Adopted Child is available from, and My goal in writing this book was to provide information and hope to other struggling adoptive parents

My teenage daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in February. The baby was adopted by a wonderful local family and is doing well. We got to visit her several times this year. Had her circumstances been different, my daughter would have kept and raised her daughter, and I know the decision to place the baby for adoption still haunts her.

I did some wonderful traveling this year, to Turkey and Vermont for hiking, and to Croatia and Slovenia (with a day trip to Montenegro) as a tourist. I have some interesting trips, both domestic and international, planned for 2014 as well.

Sadly, I had to say goodbye to my 15-year-old dog Mila, when arthritis and hip dysplasia finally got the best of her. And shortly before Mila's passing, my 12-year-old dog, Tia, started having seizures and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We don't know what her life expectancy will be, as there is no way of knowing how quickly the tumor is growing. So far, she is having more good days than bad, and the bad days aren't too bad. She still enjoys carrying her toys around, and we take a walk together every morning.

I decided to spend some money on myself, so I splurged this year and bought my first luxury car, a used 2013 bright red Mercedes Benz C250.

With my previous volunteer activities coming to an end, I continue to seek one or two new places to volunteer. Despite my great love of animals, I find that volunteering in a animal shelter is too painful emotionally. I know I will find something before long. I need a volunteer opportunity that is fulfilling yet drama-free.

One of my goals for 2014 is to take more day trips in New Mexico. This is a beautiful state with many fascinating places to explore. I also want to go back to Sedona (Arizona) for photography and hiking, and possibly return to Utah to further explore and photograph the beautiful red rock country near Moab.A trip to Monument Valley remains on my list as well.

I have signed up for an on-line photo editing course, and I also hope to get back into brushing up on my Russian language skills prior to a return visit to St Petersburg later in 2014.

There is no point in worrying about the year ahead. It will unfold as it unfolds. I have many exciting plans for 2014 as I strive to make the most of the time I have been given, work to make the world a better place in some small way, and continue to improve myself.

May 2014 bring you and your loved ones peace, contentment and good health.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Humbug. Christmas is just a couple of days away. I am sitting at my desk listening to Christmas music, with tears in my eyes.

No, this isn't the holiday blues. My heart is broken by all the cruelty in the world. Every night before I fall asleep, comfortable and warm in bed, I think about the people and animals spending another frigid night outside. I think about the millions of dogs and cats killed in this country every year. I think about the wolves, coyotes, bears and other animals trapped, shot and poisoned for fun. I think with disgust about the all-too-common coyote-murdering contests held in many states, including my own state of New Mexico. I think about the children whose families can't afford to provide enough nutritious food for them. I think about the abused and broken bodies I read about every day on Facebook, and about the older animals dumped by their 'families' after years of love. I think about the elderly languishing alone in cold, darkened apartments or in nursing homes.

I am saddened and appalled at the ongoing lack of justice our so-called justice system metes out. A youth in Texas steals his family's car, gets drunk and kills four people in a fatal car accident. His defense? He is from a wealthy family and his parents never taught him right from wrong. He allegedly suffers from 'affluenza.' Really. His punishment? Probation and time spent in a country-club facility to correct his 'disease' of being from a wealthy family.

People abuse dogs, cats and horses, and if anything, get probation or community service. Innocent dogs are used as live bait to train fighting dogs. Other animals suffer horrors too terrible to mention. A teenager in Colorado is upset with a teacher, so he takes a gun to school. Unable to find the teacher, he shoots another student in the head at point-blank range. She lingers for a week, then dies four days before Christmas.

Our wilderness, and the animals who inhabit it, are under growing attack. Special interests, such as the oil, gas and coal industries, and their puppets in Congress, want to open vast areas of wilderness to drilling and mining. The well-financed ranchers and their puppets want to strip Endangered Species Act protections from U.S. wolf populations. In Alaska, hunters are legally allowed to set up bait stations to attract grizzly and black bears. As the animals feed, mighty hunters perched in trees shoot the animals. What a great thrill that must be...a feat of real bravado.

Our so-called representatives in government are nothing more than sell-outs to their corporate masters. They vote according to the businesses that give them the most money, rather than reflecting the will of those who elected them. The federal government is the most dysfunctional it has ever been, ignoring the citizens of this country in favor of party politics and posturing.

The human race seems to be going backward in its attitudes toward the world in general, and toward animals in particular. Wild animals are not ours to murder for fun or to hang a trophy head on the wall. They are not to be slaughtered for their tusks or because some cultures believe the penis bones of big cats are aphrodisiacs.

We collectively need to develop a conscience. We need to minimize our impact on the earth and the environment, not rape and plunder it. We need to develop a sense of compassion for one another. Sadly, despite the heroic efforts of environmental champions and animal rescuers, we seem to be losing the battle.

I see little 'peace on Earth' and no goodwill toward anything or anyone that won't make us money. I applaud those who work tirelessly to make a difference in this world, but oftentimes, I feel completely hopeless that things will improve.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgrabbing!

Happy Thanksgrabbing is the title of a column in last Sunday's newspaper, and it seems very appropriate this year.

The annual push to find 'the perfect gift' has started even earlier than in years past. Some stores actually put Christmas items on display in August, and a local Albuquerque FM station switched to playing nothing but Christmas music in early November. Not only are we bombarded with 'Black Friday' commercials and ads earlier than ever, but now stores are bleating about 'pre-Black Friday' sales. And of course, opening at 6 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving isn't good enough any more. While a few stores opened at midnight last year, this year finds several major retail chains opening on Thanksgiving Day. Talk about corporate greed.

I find this rampant consumerism to be very disheartening. There is nothing in this world that I truly need to buy. I even have a hard time coming up with a short list of things I want, and I put together that list only because my daughter wants to buy something for me for Christmas. So my list includes a bottle of perfume and a couple of music CDs. I enjoy music, so a new CD is always welcome. But truth be told, I get much more pleasure from volunteering at a food bank, or donating food, or buying a wood-burning stove and a couple of food baskets for needy families on the Navajo reservation.

The Thanksgiving holiday is just that -- a day set aside in gratitude for the blessings we have. I live in a beautiful home; my daughter and I are happy and healthy. Our dog, while battling a brain tumor, is doing OK and I can afford the specialized medical care she needs. I have plenty of food in the pantry and freezer. I have money to support me for the rest of my life. I have medical insurance. I am able to travel abroad, and I have hobbies that I enjoy. I have friends both here in New Mexico and in other states, even in other countries. So life, while not perfect, is good.

Friend and mentor Michelle Millis Chappel recently wrote a blog post titled "Why I'm Still Grateful When Life Sucks." Despite life's ups and downs, challenges and losses, we still have things for which to be grateful. Even when there doesn't appear to be a lot for which to be grateful, we need to really think about the things we have. We need to look for the opportunities within the challenges, to recognize that there are many, many people far less blessed than we are. Look for life lessons within the setbacks and disappointments. We need to realize that this is the only life we will get, so we need to make the most of it. And that doesn't mean having all the latest gadgets and toys, the most expensive house or the fanciest car. It does mean recognizing that life, even our mundane, everyday life, is precious. 

So, after you pause to consider your blessings, resolve to make life happen. Do something to bring yourself closer to achieving your dream. Reach out to make a difference in the life of another person or an animal in need. Share your talents with others. Resolve to not give in to the Thanksgrabbing pressure.

Make Thanksgiving a state of mind, not just one day in late November.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When the Travel Bug Bites ...

I love to travel. I love to explore new places, try new food, photograph the people and history of places I never visited before.

This year, after three years of retirement, I finally got to start traveling. I spent nearly two weeks hiking in Turkey and exploring the ancient cities of Ephesus and Istanbul. I visited the beautiful state of Vermont, hiking and photographing the fall colors. My final trip of 2013 was to the southern European nations of Croatia and Slovenia, with a day trip to Montenegro, the most recent of the former areas of Yugoslavia to become a country (2006).

Although we did a lot of travel by bus, there was time to explore the culture, history and architecture of this ancient region. In the Croatian city of Pula, we stood inside a Roman coliseum that once seated some 23,000 spectators.

Today, the arena serves as a concert venue that seats 5,000 people. We visited part of the vast underground spaces that once housed animals and were the 'green rooms' for gladiators awaiting their turn in the vast arena. It is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four preserved side towers. Constructed from 27 BC to 68 AD, it is among the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world. It also is the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia.

We visited two other towns on the Istrian peninsula that day, Rovinj and Pobec. Along the way, we had magnificent views of the countryside. We spent hours driving within a few feet of the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. We visited outdoor markets selling flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables and local products such as lavender, honey, olive oil and white truffle oil. I had a light lunch of a burek, a phyllo dough pastry filled with cheese, fresh from a bakery. Eating on the go gave me more time to walk around, explore and take photographs.

We explored other ancient Roman ruins, including the retirement palace of the Emperor Diocletian in Split. Later, as I sat on a bench in Split, admiring the views of the sea, a local woman sat down nearby. She asked whether I was a tourist, and we started to chat. She spoke very softly, and her English was sometimes difficult to understand, but we talked for several minutes. When she learned that I speak Russian, she recited a poem in Russian that she had been forced to learn many years ago in school. She still remembered it all these years later. Chatting with local residents always has been a high point of international travel for me.

We traveled south along the Adriatic coast to Dubrovnik, visiting the ancient walled city of narrow cobblestone streets, then climbed the steep steps and walked on top of the thick stone walls, which afforded wonderful views of the city below.

We crossed a tiny finger of Bosnia wedged between two areas of Croatia on our way to Montenegro. This small country bears more traces of its Soviet past than do Croatia and Slovenia. Montenegro's houses looked older and shabbier, its roads much rougher than its neighbors. But the city of Kotor has centuries of history reflected in its ancient churches and palaces. In Budva, I walked the narrow cobblestone streets in search of a place to eat. I found it in a tiny bakery, where I enjoyed a wonderful walnut-filled baklava.

I really enjoyed visiting the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, a vibrant, modern city. Our last stop was the town of Bled, nestled at the foot of the Julian Alps. Our hotel was near the beautiful Lake Bled, with a lovely walking path on the lake's edge. Despite the heavy rain and fog, Bled Castle was visible on its perch high above the lake.

We heard about the history of the region, from the ancient Illyrians to the Romans, World War II and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Former Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito still looms large in this area, despite having died in 1980. Born in Slovenia to a Croat family, he was buried in Serbia.

Croats, I learned, have little love for the neighboring Serbians, who attacked their country in the 1990s. Nearby Italy has considerable influence in both the names of towns and the regional cuisine. Many regions were conquered by the Republic of Venice, by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and by the Ottoman Empire. The area is home to a variety of nationalities, including Croats, Slovenes, Serbs and Montenegrins, and a variety of languages and religions (Roman Catholicism, Serbian Orthodoxy and Islam). The architecture of the regions illustrates the styles of Venice, Austria-Hungary, the Ottomans and the Communists. There are examples of Baroque, Renaissance and a variety of architectural styles, sometimes in a single building. Ancient Roman temples stand near 11th-century churches.

As an American living in a fairly homogeneous country where ethnicity isn't a major factor, it was interesting to visit an area that has been part of a variety of empires, where ethnic identity was of great importance for many centuries, and where ethnic discord ran rampant, along with a battle for territory, during the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995. Serb forces carried out a program of ethnic cleansing in largely Bosniak (Muslim) regions of the country. Cities were destroyed and countless Muslim residents were slaughtered or put into concentration camps. Of course, I heard about the history of the region and the wars from my Slovenian guide. I'm sure a Serb or Bosniak guide would have offered a much different perspective. Still, the history and politics of this region is extremely complex and difficult for me as an American to understand.

I am looking forward to expanding my exploration of the world in 2014, with trips planned to central Europe, the Baltic states and Africa. I wish I had been able to travel when I was younger, but I feel so blessed that I have this opportunity now. If only there were a way to avoid the 9-hour flights to and from Europe!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

When Love Hurts

Yesterday, I killed my beloved old dog. It was done for all the right reasons, but my mind still struggles. I made the decision out of love, but it still feels as if I killed her.

She was 15 years old, and her hip dysplasia and arthritis were making it very hard for her to walk. She still had a good appetite (not surprising for a Labrador/beagle mix), but even that wasn't as robust as in the past. When I came home from a week-long trip, she walked to greet me, but gone were the whines, wags and happy kisses. The next morning, she had a great deal of trouble on our walk, going sideways in a crab-like fashion and breathing with difficulty.

It was then that I knew that Mila was telling me that she was ready for the next phase in her life. I had prayed for a sign, so I would know that she had decided to move on. I did not want to make that decision solely on my own; I needed for her to give me a sign. I certainly wanted to respect her wishes, no matter how painful for me.

So we walked slowly home. I woke my daughter to let her know and to give her an opportunity to say good-bye to Mila. She offered to go with us to the vet clinic, something I know was not easy for her, but an offer that I greatly appreciated.

When we got to the clinic, I let Mila take her time and sniff the bushes in the front of the building. Inside, I offered her some small dog treats and beef-flavored chews. Mila was not nervous and panting as she had been on previous visits to the veterinary clinic. I believe she was ready. She understood why we were there, and she was at peace. The staff had prepared a room for us, with a quilt spread out on the floor.

As we waited, Mila looked into my eyes three or four times. I believe that she was saying "Goodbye and thank you. Thank you for rescuing me and giving me a wonderful life, and thank you for letting me go with love." I sat on the floor with her as the staff made their preparations. I insisted that they shave the spot on her leg and insert the catheter in the room with me, so I could comfort Mila. The vet gave Mila a sedative to relax her. I was on the floor beside her. Although she had lost most of her hearing, I believe she knew what I was saying to her.

Mila put her face against my chest, and I held her close. One hand gently scratched her chest while the other rubbed her ear as I held her tightly. She passed away quietly, and she is now reunited with Jack, Toby and Gage.

Being able to release a beloved animal companion, whether a dog, cat, horse, rabbit or gerbil, from a failing body and pain is a blessing, albeit it a very painful one. I take some comfort in knowing that I sent Mila on her way to Rainbow Bridge with love. I was with her until she took her last breath, and she saw my face as she closed her eyes. She felt my hands stroking her fur and she rested her face against my chest. She was safe and at peace. It was as peaceful a passing as I could have asked for.

Still, deciding to end an animal's life, even to release it from pain, is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching decision. It is something that I knew was coming, yet I could in no way prepare myself for the pain it caused. And yes, I still struggle with the idea that I took her life. Yes, she could be frustrating and stubborn. Yes, I got tired of cleaning up pee from the floor. But that pales in comparison with the love we shared. She was the most loyal of the dogs who have shared my life. I love Mila, and I will always miss her.

I love the lighting in this photo, and how determined Mila looked as she walked toward me.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Silent Footsteps

The footsteps shuffling down the tile hallway are silent now. No more the wimpers as she sleeps, feet moving in chase of an elusive rabbit. Stilled is the heart of the hunter that caught and killed a road runner just a couple of years ago. Silent is the howl of her beagle voice. Quiet is the nose that once explored millions of unseen scents in the air and on the ground, earning her the name Mila the Explorer. No more is that sensitive nose that seemed to know what was in the shopping bag before it was even unpacked.

I catch myself going to look for her when I come home, to make sure she is OK and take her outside for one of her many potty breaks. When I hear a dog walk into the room where I am writing, I wonder which yellow dog it is. And then I remember -- there is only one yellow dog in the house now. There is but one bowl to fill each morning and evening, only one leash to attach to but one collar.

Mila was not an easy dog in her youth. Seemingly discarded while pregnant, with no microchip or collar, it appeared she had never set foot inside a house. She was not house trained, she hid behind the furniture, and she never learned to play. She did, however, learn to appreciate the comfort of a soft dog bed. She suffered from separation anxiety, tearing down drapes and doing some $300 in damage to plantation shutters. Even years later, she would chew up remote controls, books and shoes. Later still, she settled down and became less destructive. But she would wander through the house looking for me if I moved to a different room from where she was sleeping. And if I left the house, I often would find her waiting by whichever door I had exited.

Mila was aloof and disliked a lot of attention. She hated having her nails cut and would tolerate only a couple of minutes of brushing. But she enjoyed our nightly snuggle on her bed, the belly rubs when she was being silly and rolling around on her back, and having her soft ears stroked. And oh, did she love a good neck massage.

It is these things, along with the most beautiful gold eyes I have ever seen, and her unrivaled devotion to me, that I will always remember. Rest well, my Missy Lou, my Piglet, my Sweet Pea. Run free, with no pain and no bad hips or arthritis to slow you down. Follow your nose wherever it may lead you. And know, my faithful friend, that we WILL be together again, never to be separated. I love you, Piggy.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Glimpses of Autumn

Tomorrow is the official start of autumn. And although daytime temperatures still reach the low 80s, there is a definite feeling of autumn in the air here in the high desert.

I live in the high desert, and this is a wonderful time of year. Nighttime temperatures are dipping into the upper 50s and low 60s. Some nights I can sleep with my bedroom window open. Daylight hours are shorter, but sunrises are more beautiful than ever. Clouds hovering just above the horizon reflect the beautiful pinks and oranges of the rising sun. Leaves are showing just a hint of yellow. And for central New Mexico, one sure sign of the approach of autumn is the reappearance of dozens of hot air balloons in the crisp blue skies over Albuquerque.

This summer has been especially hot and dry, so I am looking forward more than usual to the coming of fall. The chili crop has been harvested and chili roasting is under way at many of the major grocery stores in the area. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is just weeks away. The fall rains, the last of the 'monsoon' season, have arrived, bringing much-needed moisture to parched yards and plants. Even the native desert-dwelling plants have struggled to survive a serious three-year drought, so these rains are very welcome.

To really get a taste of autumn, I recently drove to Durango, CO, to ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The 45-mile route is lined with creeks and beautiful aspens. Because of all the recent rains in Colorado, the rivers and streams are overflowing their banks, churning and angry. Terrible floods have hit parts of the state. And the aspens, except for a few in the higher elevations (even higher than the 8,000 feet where I was) have not yet started to cloak themselves in gold and yellow.
I was disappointed that the leaves hadn't yet turned, but it was an enjoyable trip nonetheless. And the autumn chill definitely was present.

So in a week or so, I will fly to Vermont, where the fall colors should be glorious, for some time spent hiking and photographing nature's beauty. 

Even here, in the desert southwest, there is a distinct and welcome feeling of fall in the air. My thoughts once again are turning to the pleasures of a hot cup of soup, or the aroma of chili or stew cooking in the slow cooker. I am looking forward to being able to wear different clothes than the hot-weather shorts and tops I have worn for months. Long sleeves and light jackets will reappear from the closets where they have waited the past several months. Soon, tens of thousands of birds will make their annual migration through central New Mexico on their way to their winter homes. The honking of geese and the unusual calls of the sandhill cranes will soon fill the skies.

I never look forward to winter's cold and darkness, but the coming of autumn is always  welcome. What's not to like about this time of year? It brings cooler temperatures, crisp nights, glorious leaves of many colors and awesome azure skies.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Remember 9/11/01. Remember where you were, what you were doing. Remember the gut-wrenching feeling when you heard that the planes crashing into the World Trade Center were not an accident. Remember the sinking feeling you felt when you watched, over and over again, the twin towers imploding, the clouds of dust and debris chasing shocked New Yorkers as they fled for their lives.

Remember the horror when you heard the numbers killed that day, the people going about their daily lives, the first responders entering the buildings as others fled. Remember the passengers on American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175. Remember those first responders who still suffer the physical and emotional damage inflicted by the events of 9/11. And remember the search and rescue dogs and their handlers, who worked tirelessly to find survivors, or more often, human remains.

Remember the fireball after American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. Remember the 125 people who died there, people who came to work that fateful morning as they did every day, never dreaming that that would be their last day alive. Remember the survivors who suffered terrible burns and psychological scars, and those who rushed to help them, many from neighboring cities.

And remember the passengers on United Airlines flight 93, who almost succeeded in overtaking the plane's hijackers that terrible day. Their heroic actions caused the hijackers to slam the plane into a field in rural Pennsylvania, denying them their planned attack on the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Just remember. Always remember. We must never let this day fade into history, with barely a mention in the daily newspaper as has happened with the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Take a minute from your day to remember, and pledge that you will never forget.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Everyday Heroes

A lot of people are called heroes. Some -- soldiers who risk their own lives to save their fellow soldiers in combat, for example -- truly are heroes. The same can be said for police officers, fire fighters and other first responders who place the safety of others above their own. 

Sports figures and entertainers are NOT heroes in my book. They make a lot of money, sure, but they are far from being heroes. They don't save lives, they don't cure diseases, and they don't risk life and limb to save others.

Today I want to focus on the unsung, everyday heroes among us. Remember the Biblical story of the widow's mite? The story says that a poor widow, despite having nothing, donated two small coins (mites) to the temple in Jerusalem, while some wealthy men gave much more. The lesson is that the sacrifices of the poor, while small, mean more to God than do the greater, but relatively lesser, donations of the rich. The widow gave from the heart, while the wealthy men gave from their abundance. I would call this ancient widow an everyday hero.

I recently heard a modern-day tale of a woman who to me is an everyday hero. She donated $2.50 to a local non-profit animal rescue organization because she wanted to help. This woman has no income, yet she still wanted to do something to help. I was very touched by this woman's generosity, not because of the amount she gave, but because her donation obviously represented both a sacrifice and a gift from the heart. 

Similarly, when my daughter was too young to have a paying job, she donated $5 from her allowance to support my fund raising for a walk against breast cancer. I was extremely touched by her willingness to give despite her small amount of money. This small donation was a sacrifice for her, and it had immeasurable value to me. It was a gift from the heart.

Everyday heroes are those who willingly serve as foster homes for animals in need of a safe place to stay while they get a bit older, recover from illness or injury, or wait for their forever home. Many foster parents pay for food and medical care from their own meager resources. They provide love and help their temporary charges work on any problems or behavioral issues they have. Other everyday heroes serve as foster parents to children unable to live with their parents, providing love, guidance and a stable environment.

A woman in New Mexico, despite being unemployed, helps feed the hungry on the streets of Albuquerque. She buys some of the ingredients, friends buy others, and a group of people gets together to make burritos. Last time she and her friends handed out 117 homemade burritos. They also handed out bottled water. This month, they hope to make 200 burritos, dozens of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and hand out cases of bottled water. I have volunteered to donate three jars of crunchy peanut butter and 10 dozen eggs. That's the least I can do to support this everyday hero.

The local newspaper recently carried a story about a woman who saw two homeless men eating food they had found in a Dumpster. When other people laughed at them, she decided to get involved and do something. So she now purchases, prepares and distributes food to those living on the streets of Albuquerque. She is an everyday hero.

These people, who sacrifice from their limited resources, truly are everyday heroes. Bill Gates can write a check for $10 million, and not even notice given his immense wealth. But people who donate from their limited resources -- from their hearts -- are my heroes. They are all around us, quietly making a difference in their city or town, seeking neither publicity nor fame. Are you an everyday hero?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Leaving a Legacy of Love

I recently read a blog a mother had written about the legacy she hoped to leave her young child. That started me thinking about my own legacy.

I want my legacy to be not my house, my car or my investments. My legacy isn't even the heirloom furniture and painting that belonged to my grandparents and then to my parents. These are material things, and while they have importance and value, they are not what I want my legacy to be.

No, I want to leave my daughter something much more important, yet intangible. I hope that my legacy will be the things I have taught her through words and example. This legacy has far greater importance to me than any physical items I can leave her. In 50 years or 100 years, will the size of my bank account or the kind of car I drove really matter? Will anybody care? What will matter is the legacy of love I hope to leave my daughter.

She grew up in Russia, in a family of abusive alcoholics, unwanted and unloved. She has had to learn about love, how to receive it and how to give it. This process was slow and difficult, but she now knows what love is. This, I believe, is my greatest legacy: helping someone learn to love and be loved.

Other intangibles I want to leave my daughter are compassion (for animals and people), generosity, honesty and integrity. My mother showed her compassion through a variety of activities at her church. She and my father both contributed every year to the local newspaper's shoe fund, which provided new shoes to needy children. And my dad always donated cases of canned goods to the local food bank every holiday season. These are parts of the legacy from my parents, and I hope they are things I will leave my daughter. Like many adopted children, she struggled for years with the concepts and practice of honesty and integrity. She does at last appear to have grasped these concepts and their importance. A concern for the environment and a willingness to volunteer her time, talents and resources for the benefit of others are things I hope to leave her as well. She is a kind and compassionate young woman; some of this she learned from me, but her kindness and compassion also are innate traits.

Someone recently commented that I "know how to live," which I think is a great complement. I know people who live their lives much more fully than I do, but I am pleased that someone thinks this about me. Although I don't take unnecessary risks, I do not sit home because a longed-for experience makes me nervous or has some risk involved. So I want to leave my daughter a sense of adventure. I want her to want to learn new things and to explore the world. I want her to embrace, not fear, challenges.

I also want my legacy to include a sense of where she fits into the world, to know herself and to be proud of who she is. College most likely is not in her future, but she is attending cosmetology school. So I hope she becomes the best hair dresser she can be.

Thinking about my legacy has been an interesting exercise. It has given me food for thought, and I hope it makes me a better person.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

When the Travel Bug Bites

Earlier this year, I was bitten by the travel bug. And despite a wonderful two-week trip to Turkey, I am still being bitten by this bug.

I have a hiking trip later this year to Yosemite National Park, to Vermont for hiking and photographing the fall colors, and finally, to Croatia and Slovenia. I've also booked a trip with National Geographic for winter wildlife viewing in Yosemite National Park in January. And I'm already thinking about other travels for 2014. There is so much of the world I want to see, so narrowing my list to just a couple of countries every year is a challenge. In addition to  the Yosemite trip, I am making plans with a friend for an African safari in the spring. And I have already booked a trip for a year from now, to the capitals of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with a final stop in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, Russia.

I am looking into a winter trip early next year to northern Canada to photograph the northern lights. Morocco, China, England and Cinque Terre are other destinations high on my list. Although I spent two weeks bicycling in southwestern Ireland nine years ago, and I spent close to a week in London last summer, I would still love to revisit those countries and spend more time exploring the countryside. I also love the thought of living in a foreign country for a few months, as I did in Moscow in the late 1990s. I really enjoyed living in an apartment in a foreign city, shopping at the local markets and having the time to explore the city on foot, rather than rushing around like a tourist trying to see all the major attractions in a short amount of time.

Sometimes, when I'm browsing on-line at potential trips, the images shown and the thought of visiting these places literally take my breath away and bring tears to my eyes. I have a stack of catalogs from various travel  organizations. I love going through them and imagining future trips, and of course I always watch HDTVs House hunters International.

As a senior citizen, I don't know how many more years of good health and mobility I will have. So I am trying to do as much travel as I can while I can still get around well. Someone recently told me that I am living the life she would want for herself should she win the lottery. I know that I am blessed to have the financial means and the adventurous spirit to travel, and I am looking forward to adding even more destinations to my list.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Morning Fun

I love nature. I love to be outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air. So when I looked outside early this morning and saw the makings of a beautiful sunrise, I grabbed my camera and headed out for a walk.

The sun had not yet risen above the shoulders of the Sandia Mountains, but already the sky was turning pink.

Clouds, the remnants of last night's storm, lingered nearby. The air was cool and still smelled of rain. The neighborhood, always quiet, was completely deserted, with no cars on the roads. Even the wildlife were nowhere to be found. I saw no coyotes and heard no birds.

New Mexico's altitude, low humidity and clean air result in a sky that is exceptionally crisp and beautiful, and this morning was no exception. Although the typical crisp blue wasn't yet as glorious as usual, the clouds were fascinating in their various shapes and colors.

I ended up walking just over two miles. When I got home, I leashed up my dogs and the three of us headed out.

My old dog Mila, who will be 15 in a couple of weeks, has been struggling lately and some days I have to cut our walk short because her back legs just don't want to cooperate. But this morning, she was in rare form. The three of us walked just under a mile, with Mila moving along at a good clip, bunny-hopping much of the way because of her hip problems. But she wanted to explore, so we went 'off road' a bit and explored a couple of undeveloped lots. We went back to the road, but she wanted to go exploring some more. She wasn't ready to come home yet, but I figured I had better bring her home before she overdid the exercise. It was such a pleasure to see the old girl having such a great time and moving so well.

This was the most enjoyable walk -- with my dogs and on my own -- that I have had in a long, long time. All the elements came together to make a perfect morning: a beautiful sunrise, cool temperatures, the lingering smell of last night's rain in the air, and a beautiful sky. My old dog had a lot of fun during her walk as well, doing what she loves best -- exploring the neighborhood. It was a wonderful start to Sunday morning.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Power of Touch

We know that touch -- a massage, a hand placed on a shoulder, a hug -- can make people feel better, both physically and emotionally. Touch has been shown to increase the levels of endorphines, chemicals in the brain that are natural stress and pain fighters. I witnessed an example of the healing power of touch last night with my dog.

Mila, my elderly dog, is just a month shy of her 15th birthday. She has both arthritis and hip dysplasia, both of which can be uncomfortable. She also pants a lot, which can be attributed to heat, pain or anxiety. Heat isn't a factor, as our house is a comfortable 73 degrees. Pain is a possibility, but Mila takes both an anti-inflammatory and a pain medication. The most likely reason for her panting is anxiety, according to the owner of the veterinary clinic where I take my dogs. He explained that elderly dogs sometimes feel anxious, which results in panting.

Last night, Mila was panting a lot. So I sat beside her on the floor. She has never been a dog to like a lot of attention, but she does enjoy our nightly time together. As I do every night at bedtime, I sat on the floor with her. Although she is very hard of hearing and didn't hear me speaking to her, I still believe she sensed my words on some level. I kissed the top of her head, held her face in my hands, rubbed her soft ears and massaged her neck, which she loves.

It wasn't long before the panting stopped, her eyes fluttered closed and her head relaxed further into my hand. After a few minutes, I got up. Mila rolled onto her side and fell into a deep sleep. She remained this way for an hour or more. Her panting never resumed until the next morning.

I do believe that touch can heal, or at least relieve anxiety. My old dog proved this last night.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Making Ripples

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. -- Mother Teresa

Isn't this a great quote from Mother Teresa? It is so true. Few of us as individuals can change the world, but we can create ripples. And those ripples can create great tidal waves. Think about the ripples created by Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson, Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their actions and words resulted in profound changes in the world.

Founder of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa devoted her life to caring for the "poorest of the poor." This order, active in 133 countries, runs hospices and homes for people with HIV and AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. The sisters run soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programs, orphanages and schools. She brought attention to the plight of people shunned by others due to extreme poverty and illness.

Rosa Parks, by her refusal to yield her seat in the 'colored' section of a bus to a white man after the 'white' section became full, sparked a movement for equality and civil rights. She became an international symbol of resistance to racial segregation. Her simple act of defiance sparked a year-long boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., transit company. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses were unconstitutional. Although social mores don't change over night, Parks's quiet defiance lit a spark in the civil rights movement.

Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring helped launch the U.S. environmental movement by documenting the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, on birds in particular. An investigation ordered by President John Kennedy that confirmed Carson's allegations resulted in strengthened regulation of chemical pesticides and the banning of the pesticide DDT.

Indian nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi used non-violent civil disobedience to achieve  India's independence from the British. His actions led to the now widespread use of non-violent marches, protests and sit-ins when citizens feel compelled to protest against laws they consider to be unfair. Decades later, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., employed similar tactics to advance the cause of civil rights.

What can we learn from these people from different places, countries and backgrounds? The message I get is that we never know when something we do may light a spark that creates change, or at the least, impacts another individual. That change most likely won't be immediate or dramatic, but the saying that 'great oaks from little acorns grow' is true of social change as well.

Each of us, no matter our status, has the potential to make ripples. We don't necessarily have to 'rock the boat', but each of us can make some ripples during our lifetime.

Monday, July 8, 2013

May I Go?

Do you think the time is right?
May I say goodbye to pain filled days and endless lonely nights?
I've lived my life and done my best, an example tried to be.
So can I take that step beyond, and set my spirit free?

I didn't want to go at first, I fought with all my might.
But something seems to draw me now to a warm and loving light.
I want to go, I really do; it's difficult to stay.
But I will try as best I can to live just one more day.
To give you time to care for me and share your love and fears.
I know you're sad and afraid, because I see your tears.

I'll not be far, I promise that, and hope you'll always know,
That my spirit will be close to you wherever you may go.
Thank you so for loving me. You know I love you too,
And that's why it's hard to say goodbye and end this life with you.
So hold me now just one more time and let me hear you say,
Because you care so much for me, you'll let me go today.


by Susan A. Jackson

I saw this poem on Facebook, and reading it immediately brought me to tears. This poem doesn't just speak of the loss of a beloved companion, but for me, it reminds me that my dear, much-loved dog Mila will soon ask me the same question.

My other dogs always let me know when they were ready to get their angel wings. My first, a little 11-pound dog named Patches, sat on the bed and looked at me in such a way that I immediately knew that she was asking to be released from her cancer-riddled body. Most recently, golden retriever Gage collapsed during a walk and just a few hours later was discovered to have metastasized, inoperable cancer. 

So now I must wait for Mila to tell me when she has had enough. For a dog that is nearly 15 years old, she is in pretty good health, aside from hip dysplasia and arthritis. She gets a couple of kinds of pain medications every day, but sometimes she stills seem uncomfortable. As much as I want to travel, I am staying close to home so I can spend as much time as possible with Mila. And when the end does come, I want to be with her, holding her and kissing her head until the very end.

Someone once said that one way to know when it is time to let a beloved animal companion go is to list three things that animal enjoys. When the animal is no longer able, or no longer wants, to do those things, then it is time. For Mila, eating, exploring our large back yard and going for walks are three things she loves. So far, she still enjoys all of these things, although our walks are slower and shorter now.

So until Mila no longer enjoys her favorite activities and she tells me in her own unique way that it is time for her to go, I will treasure every second with this sweet old dog.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What Are You Doing for Others?

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, "What are you doing for others?"

 -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We all have a duty to do good.

-- Pope Francis

I love these quotes, which are wonderful reminders of the importance of doing good.

I do a fair amount of volunteer work now that I am retired. The causes closest to my heart are helping to feed the hungry and being a voice for wolves. I volunteer once a week at a local food pantry, preparing and packaging food for distribution to the needy. Along with a friend I met at the pantry, I also have volunteered at one-time events at other food distribution efforts. It's a great way to socialize and have fun, while helping others at the same time. I also volunteer with a wolf rescue organization in the area, doing photography, helping with the organization's Web page and outreach events, and managing its Facebook page. Once a year I also spearhead the development of its calendar, a major fundraising effort.

I also donate money to a variety of charities. I want to see the good my donations can do, while I am still alive, rather than having the money donated after I am no longer here. Yet despite these efforts, I feel that I should be doing even more. I am blessed to have the good health, time and financial resources to help.

Lately, I have been thinking about becoming a volunteer driver in the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program. For many reasons, getting to and from treatment appointments is a challenge to many people. Some people don't have a car, and some are unable to drive themselves. I could help out by driving people to treatment. 

As I have become older, I have felt a stronger call to get more involved in the things that are important to me. I suppose this is a natural result of getting older -- wanting to leave a positive mark on the world, and to perhaps leave things better than they were. To be sure, there is so much more that I could be doing.

I was talking to another volunteer at the food pantry one week about the importance of keeping busy and staying involved as we get older. She will be 85 next month, and she volunteers at the pantry two mornings each week. We both agreed that volunteering is so much better than just sitting at home alone, watching television or being bored. Volunteering helps the organization for which we volunteer and the people it serves, but it also helps us. It keeps us active and involved, and it feels good to be able to help the less fortunate in some small way.

Doing for others is important for another reason -- it can help us keep our own problems and worries in perspective. Doing for others should make us realize how blessed we are, and that there are so many people in the world who have so little.

So, "what are you doing for others?"

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spring in the Desert

I love this time of year. The weather is typically warm during the day, yet cool enough to leave a window open. Nighttime temperatures are perfect for sleeping. Spring in the desert offers a few short weeks when neither the air conditioner nor the furnace is needed. Even on windy days, early morning is often calm. The dead-looking browns of the desert are brightened by newly emerging, soft green leaves on the trees. Desert plants such as cactus erupt with colorful flowers.

The sun rises early, so my dogs get restless around 5:30 a.m. I usually get up and feed them, let them outside, and then we all go back to bed. Usually they fall back asleep, while I enjoy just lying in bed, listening to the quiet, enjoying the cool of morning and just being still.

I have an absolutely fabulous mattress and very soft sheets, so my bed is a place of comfort. Sometimes in the very early morning I can hear donkeys braying just over the hill, or the howling of coyotes. Very often, I hear nothing at all -- no traffic sounds, no airplanes overhead, not even any birds. The high desert where I live has few song birds, although later in the day I will hear quail and sometimes a road runner. The quiet is wonderful. Once in a while, I will listen to a new smooth jazz radio station.

The sunrises over the Sandia Mountains can be spectacular if there are clouds nearby. The sky ranges from pink to orange to fiery red and yellow. Now that my back yard has been transformed into a xeriscaped paradise and I have washed the winter dust off my patio furniture, it is time to resume my practice of sitting outside in the early morning with a cup of hot tea as I read the morning newspaper. My dogs love the cool weather, rolling in the grass and exploring the property.

New Mexico's crisp, azure sky continues to amaze me with its brilliance. Aside from pollution from dust storms or wild fires, the air is very clean. That, combined with the altitude, makes for glorious days. The only thing I wish for to make this time of year even better is rain. We are in the third year of a terrible drought, so rain is most welcome in any amount.

Knowing that the desert heat isn't far off makes this time of year even more special, so I will savor this wonderful season as long as possible.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hunger in America

That one in every six people in America -- the richest country on Earth -- struggles with hunger is totally unacceptable. In 2010, 17.2 million households were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States, according to the World Hunger Education Service. More than 50 MILLION Americans don't have dependable, consistent access to food due to limited financial resources, according to the non-profit organization Feeding America.

In my state of New Mexico, nearly 40,000 people seek food assistance every week. Some 381,690 people in this state struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America. The small food pantry where I volunteer provides groceries for the equivalent of 2 million meals, feeding more than 200,000 individuals, each year. The elderly and children are most at risk of going hungry due to lack of resources. One in five kids lives in a family that struggles to put food on the table. Food-insecure children are 30 percent more likely to be hospitalized and are 1.4 times as likely to repeat a grade, according to Feeding America.

Why is there no public outcry about this? Why are we so complacent about the lack of one of the essentials of life -- food --  to 50 million of our citizens? Why is this situation acceptable? Why are there no protests in the streets? Why is there no congressional investigation into the suffering of millions of our people? Why is it acceptable for our government to spend billions of dollars on aid to other countries, while our own citizens go hungry? Farmers are paid not to grow food, while people suffer from lack of nutritious food. 

People receive food through a patchwork of programs, both government-funded and private. Some school districts send home backpacks of food with needy children each Friday, so the kids will have something to eat over the weekend. Some provide free or low-cost breakfasts, in addition to lunches, during the school year. Many of those who receive food assistance are the working poor, who despite working one or more low-paying jobs, are unable to afford enough food for their families.

I volunteer in the food pantry kitchen every week for 3 hours, working with other volunteers to package food for distribution. Some weeks we sort and package eggs. At other times, we bag donated bread or tortillas, mushrooms or carrots, flour or sugar. The kitchen volunteers are all women in their middle or senior years, and the work can be hard and back-breaking. One volunteer will soon turn 85 years old! But nobody complains. We are doing our small part to help feed the hungry. And we all are passionate about ending hunger in America.

But this is a problem that cannot be solved by the small, private food pantries, or even by the large food banks, which are struggling to meet the increased demand for food as donations dwindle. This problem will be solved only when we start to really care about helping our most vulnerable citizens receive the food they need. 

I take advantage of sales at local grocery stores to buy canned vegetables and soups, or dry pasta and cereal, to donate. I know that groceries are expensive, and I know that I am blessed that I don't have to worry about feeding myself and my daughter. But just think what a difference we could make if 1 million of the people in this country of 330 million bought one extra non-perishable food item and donated it to a local food bank or pantry. That would be 1 million more cans of food!  This might not solve the problem of hunger in America, but it would surely put a dent in it.

A friend, who herself sometimes needs food assistance, recently gathered her friends and family and made 117 homemade burritos with ingredients she bought herself. They then took the burritos, along with bottles of water, and handed them out to homeless people in town. Similar grassroots efforts can be found throughout the country.

In some communities, people are encouraged to plant an extra row in their gardens and donate the food to a local food bank. In other areas, volunteers 'glean' or remove the fruit and vegetables remaining after the harvest. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people donated the extra fruits and vegetables from their home gardens? More grocery stores and restaurants now are donating food, rather than throwing it into the trash. Every donation helps.

But we need more involvement, more donations of food and money, more on-going food drives, and more volunteers. But what we really need is greater awareness of the problem of hunger in America, more people to speak out against this failure of our society, and a greater commitment on all levels to do something about it.