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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.