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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Farewell to 2014

The end of 2014 is just a few days away. This has been a busy year, filled with both sadness and  happiness.

Sadly, we said goodbye in April to our 12-1/2-year-old golden retriever, Tia, due to a brain tumor that ultimately caused unstoppable seizures. Tia was my daughter's best friend, and her death left a huge hole in our family.

I did a lot of fun things this year. In January, I made a trip to Yellowstone National Park, primarily to observe the various thermal features (geysers, mud pots and thermal pools) and observe wildlife in winter. I tried my hand at snowshoeing for the first time, which was a lot of fun. February found me traveling to far northern Canada to visit Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world. The bears were already on the polar ice, but the purpose of the trip was to see and photograph the northern lights. We did see them, but they were not very spectacular. One morning's wind chill was -68 F, which seriously curtailed that day's outdoor activities. I did go on my first dog sled ride, however, albeit a short one.

In March, I drove to Sedona for a couple of days of hiking and photography. Late March sent me on a bus tour of central Europe. The group visited Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps) and the 'black Madonna'. Next came beautiful Vienna, where I saw a performance of the world-famous Lippizaner stallions.
We visited Budapest and took a dinner cruise on he Danube, then toured Prague and made a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia's capital. During this trip I was taken under the wings of three delightful Jewish women who provided great fellowship and fun for me as a solo traveler.

Yellowstone called me back in April for a few days of searching for wolves (seen only through high-powered spotting scopes).

In May, I joined a friend I met on last year's hiking trip to Turkey on a fabulous African safari to Kenya and Tanzania. As luck would have it, no one else signed up for that trip, so we had the safari vehicle to ourselves. We spent many wonderful days on game drives and nature walks, photographing and observing elephants,lions, buffalo, gazelles, cheetahs and dozens of bird species. We ended our trip with a few days in Cape Town, South Africa, including a visit to the cell on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years..

July took me hiking in Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula and enjoying the quiet beauty and lush wilderness of this special area. A special treat was a river rafting trip on the restored Elwha River.

Another trip to Yellowstone in November blessed me with the opportunity to observe a wolf pack interacting with a couple of grizzly bears (through a spotting scope) and to hear a nearby wolf briefly howl.

This year's travels wrapped up with a hiking trip to the tropical paradise of Costa Rica. Although the hike was more difficult than advertised due to the deep mud and ever-present tree roots on the trails, we had two amazing guides, wonderful food, outstanding accommodations and terrific animal sightings. We saw several kinds of monkeys, macaws, hawks, coatimundis, toucans, sloths, and the most breathtaking sunset anyone in our group of eight travelers had ever seen.

In July, I adopted two papillon sisters, little dogs whose owner was fighting a terminal illness and could no longer care for them. They are almost 8 years old and are quite a change from the retrievers to which I had been accustomed. They are much more needy than my previous dogs, but they have adapted well to their new home. We are working on improving their socialization skills and leash behavior, but they are making progress.

My daughter broke off a long-term relationship with a less-than-ideal guy, and is now dating a wonderful, polite, considerate fellow who is an airplane mechanic in the Air Force. She plans to complete her cosmetology studies by early summer.

So that was our 2014. I am looking forward to another busy year of travel and adventure in 2015, beginning with a hiking trip to New Zealand.

I hope that 2015 brings you happiness, love, peace and good health.

Friday, December 26, 2014

What Happened to Christmas?

What happened to Christmas this year?

The television was filled with screaming commercials about finding 'the perfect gift.' The mail and the newspaper were chock-full of ads for everything from jewelry to pajamas to appliances. The news was filled with stories about the rush of last-minute shoppers. But despite the frenzy, something was missing this year.

Several people mentioned that they just didn't feel the Christmas spirit this year. I understand this sentiment, as I felt exactly the same way. I wasn't much in the Christmas spirit last year either, but I attributed this mostly to my age and the fact that I'm fed up with the overly commercial aspects of this holiday. And of course at my age, I don't want more stuff. There is nothing I need; there is nothing I want.

Even my 21-year-old daughter didn't have the Christmas spirit. So what's behind the holiday malaise this year? Is it the racial discord, the protests and riots that have been sweeping the country? Is it a general change in our country's attitude toward life and the world? Is it an improving, but still somewhat shaky, economy? Or is it, as I suspect, the over-commercialization of what was once a religious holiday? The push to buy, buy, buy for Christmas now begins in August, and it never lets up until the holiday. The traditional greeting of 'Merry Christmas' has been supplanted by 'happy holidays' or 'season's greetings' so as not to offend anybody. Why can't we wish people a Merry Christmas? If someone doesn't celebrate Christmas, fine. Just smile and say 'thank you. The same to you.'

I suspect that what this country needs is a return to old values. We need to rediscover the value of family and friends, the importance of the simple things in life, and focusing on what we have rather than on what we think we need. We need to look for opportunities to be of service to others, for opportunities to share our blessings, our talents and our time. What we share with others will ultimately come back to us tenfold. I believe that if more of us would do this we would find a greater sense of personal satisfaction and perhaps some of the emptiness we feel despite our always busy lives would be replaced by feelings of accomplishment.

Do we really need to get up long before dawn to stand in a long line to fight for the latest electronic gadget? Do we need to put ourselves into debt in order to prove to our family members that we love them? Can we not be satisfied with the gifts of spending time with those we care about, or with making and sharing simple gifts with others?

I was pleased to read a heartwarming article in today's newspaper about the congregation of an Albuquerque Jewish synagogue that prepared and served breakfast on Christmas morning at a homeless shelter so the employees could spend the morning celebrating with their families. Although the members of the synagogue don't celebrate Christmas, they certainly exemplified the Christmas spirit. Even better, several families brought their children to help because they want to instill in them the spirit and importance of giving back.

So kudos to the members of Congregation Albert for helping me see that the spirit of Christmas still lives.




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Christmas Wish

This Christmas I wish for no packages under the tree, and for nothing of material value. I have all that I need, and more. Instead, I wish for
  • a return to civility among Americans
  • an end to racial discord
  • food for the hungry
  • housing for the homeless
  • an end to wars that take our service men and women and put them in harm's way
  • a government that actually listens to the people and does what is best for the country, not what is best for a political party or elected 'representative'
  • an end to the war on wolves, cougars, bears and other predators
  • respect and concern for the environment
  • an end to child and elder abuse
  • a government that takes care of its own country first, then worries about those in other countries
  • concern for the environment and protections for public lands, rather than allowing special interest groups (cattle ranchers, mining companies, etc.) to plunder and pillage them for corporate profit
  • a new view of our world that sees inherent value in other animals, not just economic value 
  • a renewed emphasis on what really matters in life.
I recently visited the Central American nation of Costa Rica. The United States could learn a lot from this small country of 5 million residents. Its environmental consciousness is very high. Great strides are being undertaken to protect sensitive plants, animals and lands. Recycling is a way of life. Hotels pride themselves on earning four- or five-leaf certifications for their sustainability programs. People use motorcycles and scooters, not huge gas-guzzling cars and trucks, to get around. They eat locally produced, fresh foods, consisting of mostly seafood, fruits and vegetables. Serving sizes are appropriate, but not the massive size served in America.

The world seems to be at a tipping point, and if we don't do something soon, I'm afraid it will be too late. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind

I woke up this morning with the words of the song '500 Miles' and the voice of Mary Travers echoing in my head.

Last night, I watched a PBS program titled '50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary,' and that song was one of those featured in the program. Thinking about the tremendous impact that trio had not only on American music, but on how we as Americans think about ourselves and our nation, made me yearn for a return to the music of that time.

American folk music reached its pinnacle in the 1960s, a turbulent time indeed. Folk music was a vibrant catalyst for social change. It played a prominent role in the civil rights movement, in the anti-nuclear movement, in the farm workers' move for better working conditions, and in the growing opposition to the war in Vietnam. 

Folk music had a powerful message. It rallied people to action, and it brought attention to a variety of social injustices. Prominent musicians such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary used their talents to rally people to effect social change. They didn't sing just because they were paid to sing. They sang because they believed in the messages of their music. Some were active participants in the movement to cause social change.

I miss that music. It had a message, it spoke to people and it was easy to listen to. Songs such as 'If I Had a Hammer' and 'Blowin' in the Wind' made me think. This music questioned the status quo and dared us to dream of a better world.

Sadly, it seems that things haven't improved much over the past 50+ years. Pete Seger died earlier this year, Mary Travers in 2009. The voices of a generation, of a series of protests, are falling silent. Folk music and its influence are but a distant memory. We need a new generation of musicians to continue the battle cry against social injustice, wherever it is found.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Creating a New Version of Christmas

Last year, I turned against Christmas.

No, I'm not denying the real reason for Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (although some scholars believe the birth actually happened in April, not December). I am, however, fed up with the constant media hype about 'the perfect gift' and commercials depicting a loving man buying his beautiful family a $50,000 Lexus for Christmas. I am fed up with seeing Christmas decorations in some stores in August. I am fed up with being bombarded by demands for money from various non-profit organizations, some of which send me an appeal every week starting in July.

I understand that not everybody celebrates the religious aspects of Christmas, and I have no quarrel with that. I once had a Jewish colleague at work who celebrates Christmas in its non-religious aspects. But for many people, Christmas is nothing more than an adventure in shopping and spending. And apparently stores and online sellers would like to keep it that way. People get trampled or shot as they rush to get the latest must-have electronic gadget or toy on Black Friday (which now starts on Thanksgiving). Fist fights break out as people squabble over the last remaining item without which there just will be no Christmas. So this is the Christmas spirit?

My mailbox, my e-mail, and my Facebook feed are swamped with appeals for money. Yes, I know that times are tough and the need is great, but enough is enough! I cannot donate to every worthwhile charity; I cannot save every animal in need. I cannot help fund research into every worthwhile medical issue or help feed every hungry person. I do what I can, but it seems that never is enough. The more I donate, the more frequent the appeals for still more money.

I don't want to hear radio stations playing nothing but Christmas music on November 1. I want to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving without it being just a bump in the road on the way to the over-hyped Christmas season.

I am disgusted by the whole business. This year, I will not mail Christmas cards to anybody. My shopping, which is very limited already, will be done online with organizations that use the proceeds to do good. So far I have ordered salsas and preserves from Shane's War, to benefit an organization that works to improve the lives of animals in underfunded animal shelters. I also will shop at the Southwest Indian Foundation, which works throughout the year to provide food, shelter and heat to impoverished residents of the Navajo Nation. I will make fudge and a variety of cookies to send to some out-of-town friends.

I plan to spend the week before Christmas in a place where commercialism and greed haven't yet overtaken the true meaning of this day. Then I want to enjoy a day with my daughter and my dogs, although her Scrooge boss expects her to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

 I love Christmas music, and I have more than 40 CDs of Christmas tunes by a wide variety of artists. I have a collection of ornaments from around the world -- Russia, Poland, Kenya among other places. I like to decorate the house, although putting up a tree is a chore. I want to find ways to celebrate the true meaning of this special holiday, and that does not include fighting throngs of shoppers at the mall and driving myself into a frenzy in an ill-fated attempt to find 'the perfect gift.' I will not run up massive debt buying things for people who don't need or want anything. Instead, I will make my shopping count by buying from organizations that put the money I spend to good use helping others.

This season really is about giving back to our communities, helping those not as fortunate as we are, fighting for what we are most passionate about (whether that is an endangered animal species, preservation of wilderness, fighting an injustice or feeding the hungry), and—as old-fashioned as it might appear—doing what is right. Please join me in creating a new, less stressful, kinder and more meaningful version of the Christmas holiday.

Friday, November 28, 2014

'The Perfect Gift'

And so it begins. The annual push for 'the perfect gift' is under way.

I truly have come to hate that phrase. What is 'the perfect gift' anyway? Is it a $60,000 Lexus? An expensive diamond ring? Maybe it's warm clothes, new shoes, or a nice hot meal. Maybe it's an unexpected act of kindness or some hours spent volunteering for a non-profit organization.

Yesterday's newspaper's news sections seemed an afterthought, tucked behind countless ads breathlessly touting all the great bargains to be had on 'black Friday' or 'black Thursday.' It took a while to even find the news sections of the paper, buried as they were among dozens of ads.Thanksgiving day no longer is a day of family, food and football. Now it's a race to see which store will open the earliest. Midnight opening no longer are good enough. Some retailers are open all day on Thanksgiving, while others open their doors to the impatient crowds at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. Greed rules!

My daughter will be 21 in a couple of weeks, and there are only a couple of things on her wish list. There is nothing I need. My wish list includes a couple of 'oldies' CDs and a copy of the Carole King biography. That's it. I have been trying to get rid of a lot of my things, so the last thing I want is a bunch of new 'stuff.' I get much more pleasure from donating to my favorite charities than from pursuit of things that aren't needed.

I wish we would return to the old ways of celebrating Christmas, with an emphasis on family, faith and charitable works. I understand that not everyone celebrates the religious aspects of Christmas, but the rampant commercialism, the emphasis on finding 'the perfect gift' and the push to show someone how much you love them by going into debt, is a sad commentary on our society.

So give up the search for 'the perfect gift' and focus on what truly matters. People are expecting homemade cookies and fudge from me, which I will gladly supply. This year, give of yourself, your time and your talents.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Be Thankful and Be Happy


As Thanksgiving 2014 approaches, let us pause amidst the rush and stress of our daily lives to reflect on the many blessings we have. Life may not be as good as we would hope, we may have personal, family, health or financial struggles, but always remember that there are millions of people in this country and around the world who are so much worse off than we are.

Life often isn't easy, and it often isn't fair. Dreams don't always come true. But rather than focusing on what we don't have, on our problems and struggles, let's focus on what we do have.
  • Do you have a safe, warm place to live? Many don't. Imagine living on the streets in all kinds of weather.
  • Do you have food in your pantry? Many struggle to put food on the table. This is especially true in New Mexico, where I live. This state ranks first in the number of children who don't get enough to eat. It ranks second in the number of senior citizens who struggle to get food. That is an appalling statistic.
  • Do you have warm clothes for the winter? Many face the cold weather without adequate coats, hats, gloves and shoes.
  • Are you healthy? Not everybody enjoys good health. If your health is good, count your blessings. Many struggle with health problems. And many struggle to pay for needed medications, or have inadequate or no medical insurance.
  • Do you have a job, whether it pays well or not, even if you don't like it? Many have lost their jobs and struggle to make ends meet. Some have searched for employment for so long that they have given up.
  • Do you have friends or family? Many, particularly the elderly, suffer from loneliness and isolation.
This time of year is challenging for a lot of people. Daylight is short, temperatures cold, and there is the ever-present pressure to have a perfect holiday gathering and to find 'the perfect gift.'  It's sometimes difficult to focus on our blessings. So let us make a real effort to appreciate all we have, to reach out to those less fortunate than we are, and to be happy whatever our circumstances. As the saying goes, "It isn't having what you want. It's wanting what you have."

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Value of Wildlife

I am sickened and disgusted by the current war on wildlife. From coyote killing contests to trophy hunting of magnificent bears, the slaughter never stops.

How can anybody take pleasure in slaughtering animals that mean no harm to anyone? Hunting deer or other animals to provide food for one's family is somewhat understandable. At least then the animal's life is not wasted. But shooting a wolf, bear or mountain lion for fun, or to make a rug, is just sick. And just as bad are the Facebook photos of the grinning cretins proudly posing with their trophies. Who can possibly consider this to be fun? I even saw a picture of a naked mighty hunter, posing as he straddled a beautiful but dead bear. Can you say 'pervert'?

How about the picture of the newlywed couple proudly posing with a dead zebra they had just shot, or the family that paid tens of thousands of dollars for the right to murder a gorgeous male lion?

I never will understand how anyone can kill an animal -- be it bird or bear, wolf or wolverine -- for fun. The Albuquerque
newspaper ran a photo a few months ago with an article about the popularity of hunting classes for young people. The photo showed a teenage girl posing proudly with a sand hill crane she had shot. Why did she murder a sand hill crane? These beautiful, graceful birds are no threat to people. They eat corn and other grains. And they are not consumed by humans. So why did this girl feel it was OK to kill this bird?

New Mexico, where I live, is not a state hospitable to wildlife. Some cities have coyote-killing contests. The excuse is that coyotes are a threat to cattle. In reality, coyotes kill very few cattle, and slaughtering coyotes has no effect on predation rates. In fact, such contests may even cause the remaining coyotes to increase their rate of reproduction. And the prize for the team that slaughters the most coyotes over the weekend? A case of beer. Attempts to ban coyote killing contests in this state were rejected by our wonderful legislature.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a wolf was killed by a mighty hunter just outside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, where approximately 100 gray wolves live in peace, safe from fools with rifles. The unfortunate animal -- an alpha wolf -- had left the park, and was killed by a macho person with a high-powered rifle. No matter that this wolf was wearing a clearly visible radio-tracking collar. Loss of one of the alpha wolves in a pack frequently results in the demise of the entire pack.

Two highly endangered Mexican gray wolves -- which are illegal to shoot at any time or
place -- recently were found killed. One of them was the alpha male of his pack. Their cause of death is under investigation, but I'd bet my house they were killed by hunters or ranchers.

My heart breaks when I read about the murder of Satao, a magnificent bull elephant who had lived more than 50 years. He was killed, as are so many African elephants, so the Chinese can enjoy their trinkets of ivory. According to National Geographic, "Conservationists estimate that 30,000 to 38,000 elephants are poached annually for their ivory, which is shuttled out of West African and, increasingly, East African seaports en route mainly to China and other Asian consumer countries such as Thailand."

Money, it seems, trumps everything else in this world. For enough money, anything can be bought -- wildlife, glorious landscapes, politicians. It makes me ill to see what our world has become. And now that the Republicans control both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, I fully expect the attacks on our environment and wildlife to grow even worse. I am very afraid for our country. Our precious wilderness areas
and the wildlife who live there must be protected. They are not commodities to be sold to the highest bidder. Public lands and national forests belong to the people of the United States, not to oil companies, ranchers or any other group wishing to pillage these natural wonders for their own financial gain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wildlife Under Attack

I am sickened and disgusted by the current war on wildlife. From coyote killing contests to trophy hunting of magnificent bears, the slaughter never stops.

How can anybody take pleasure in slaughtering animals that mean no harm to anyone? Hunting deer or other animals to provide food for one's family is somewhat understandable. At least then the animal's life is not wasted. But shooting a wolf, bear or mountain lion for fun, or to make a rug, is just sick. And just as bad are the Facebook photos of the grinning cretins proudly posing with their trophies. Who can possibly consider this to be fun? I even saw a picture of a naked mighty hunter, posing as he straddled a beautiful but dead bear. Can you say 'pervert'?

How about the picture of the newlywed couple proudly posing with a dead zebra they had just shot, or the family that paid tens of thousands of dollars for the right to murder a gorgeous male lion?

I never will understand how anyone can kill an animal -- be it bird or bear, wolf or wolverine -- for fun. The Albuquerque newspaper ran a photo a few months ago with an article about the popularity of hunting classes for young people. The photo showed a teenage girl posing proudly with a sand hill crane she had shot. Why did she murder a sand hill crane? These beautiful, graceful birds are no threat to people. They eat corn and other grains. And they are not consumed by humans. So why did this girl feel it was OK to kill this bird?

New Mexico, where I live, is not a state hospitable to wildlife. Some cities have coyote-killing contests. The excuse is that coyotes are a threat to cattle. In reality, coyotes kill very few cattle, and slaughtering coyotes has no effect on predation rates. In fact, such contests may even cause the remaining coyotes to increase their rate of reproduction. And the prize for the team that slaughters the most coyotes over the weekend? A case of beer. Attempts to ban coyote killing contests in this state were rejected by our wonderful legislature.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a wolf was killed by a mighty hunter just outside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, where approximately 100 gray wolves live in peace, safe from fools with rifles. The unfortunate animal -- an alpha wolf -- had left the park, and was killed by a macho person with a high-powered rifle. No matter that this wolf was wearing a clearly visible radio-tracking collar. Loss of one of the alpha wolves in a pack frequently results in the demise of the entire pack.

Two highly endangered Mexican gray wolves -- which are illegal to shoot at any time or place -- recently were found killed. One of them was the alpha male of his pack. Their cause of death is under investigation, but I'd bet my house they were killed by hunters or ranchers.

My heart breaks when I read about the murder of Satao, a magnificent bull elephant who had lived more than 50 years. He was killed, as are so many African elephants, so the Chinese can enjoy their trinkets of ivory. According to National Geographic, "Conservationists estimate that 30,000 to 38,000 elephants are poached annually for their ivory, which is shuttled out of West African and, increasingly, East African seaports en route mainly to China and other Asian consumer countries such as Thailand."

Money, it seems, trumps everything else in this world. For enough money, anything can be bought -- wildlife, glorious landscapes, politicians. It makes me ill to see what our world has become. And now that the Republicans control both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, I fully expect the attacks on our environment and wildlife to grow even worse. I am very afraid for our country.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fall Has Arrived

Today seems like autumn. The temperature never climbed past 55, the sky is cloudy and we have had periods of rain. Add to that the first day of being back on Mountain Standard Time, and it finally seems that fall is here.

Some trees are still holding on to their red and golden leaves, but it now seems that winter can't be too far away. It's a day that makes me want to cook a pot of soup or stew, or maybe bake some cookies. It's definitely a day for comfort food, warm and satisfying. It's a day to break out a sweatshirt or sweater, and to slip into corduroy slacks.. It's a day to stay inside and listen to that all-too-rare sound of rain on the skylights. It's a good day to ensconce myself in my comfy chair, prop my feet up on the matching ottoman, and enjoy a good book. I bought this chair last year from a furniture consignment shop. It's covered with a print pattern of books, which makes it perfect for my office. It isn't too big, and it's very comfortable. Nearby is an old floor lamp that once belonged to my parents. Most mornings, I read the paper while seated at my desk. But on Sundays, I sit in my library chair, enjoy a cup of hot tea, and read the Sunday paper.

As I write this, the remains of a rotisserie chicken are steeping in the slow cooker. A friend just e-mailed that she made a pot of meatball soup and some brownies today. There is a freeze warning for this area tonight. Grocery store ads are filled with the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Yes, fall has arrived.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Clean-Up

This fall, in addition to cleaning up fallen leaves and sticks in my yard, I am doing some interior clean-up. And unlike the never-ending chore of raking leaves, interior clean-ups actually have a conclusion and a visible result.

Recently I gave away a really nice glider chair. It had belonged to my parents, who rarely used it, and then to my dad. After he died, I agreed to have it shipped to my house because it was a nice chair and nobody else wanted it. Unfortunately, I never had a good place to put it, and it ended up in a corner of my bedroom. So I finally decided it needed to find a new home.

I also took a car full of miscellaneous 'stuff' to a local thrift shop run by an animal rescue group. There were clothes, a pair of Russian crystal candlesticks, a dream catcher, jewelry, a set of matching coffee cups and saucers, and a variety of other things. And I still have a stack of books to donate to the local library book shop.

I like to get rid of things, to declutter, although it never seems to make my house look any less full. But I've been giving some serious thought to moving to another state, perhaps as early as next year, so I am motivated to lighten the load. After all, why pay to have things moved, only to get rid of them in my new town?

I like to know that my no-longer-wanted items are given to organizations or people that can use them, so anything that is usable goes to a non-profit thrift shop, coat or shoe collection for the homeless, etc. Knowing that my things are helping someone else is a good feeling. I have never missed anything that I gave away, nor have I regretted disposing of something. Once it's gone, it's gone. I feel mentally 'lighter' after unloading items. I guess it's similar to the feeling I get after having my teeth cleaned every six months. 

 I know that spring is the traditional time for cleaning and decluttering, but this fall is an opportune time for me. Next on the list to be decluttered is the pantry, which is stocked with a dozen or more boxes of cereal waiting to be donated to the next food drive. Not much will be thrown away, but a general reorganization definitely is in order.

An added incentive for me to get rid of things is a possible relocation, perhaps as early as next year. No decisions have been made, but I am doing research, talking to people who live in the state I am considering, and checking out housing prices. There is no need to pay to have stuff moved, only to dispose of it in my new location.

Even if I decide not to move, it's always a good feeling to have a house and garage that are less cluttered. I believe that we need to declutter our lives from time to time, getting rid of surplus or unneeded possessions, and getting rid of people in our lives who aren't there for us, or who behavior or words bring us down. I try to surround myself with upbeat, supportive people, and have ended a friendship that caused me more stress than enjoyment.

We don't need people who are a hazard to our health (physical and emotional), attitude and happiness. My daughter learned this lesson the hard way. After several years of dealing with a friend's drama and jealousy, she ended the friendship. She, and I, are much happier with this constant source of irritation and frustration in her life. Similarly, I ended a relationship with a woman who verbally abused me and many other people, and who manipulated and took advantage of me. Again, am I much happier without this constant source of irritation in my life.

So don't limit your clean-ups to merely getting rid of old clothes an d shoes. Sometimes the best clean-up we can give ourselves is removing negative people from our lives.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pretty in Pink


Yesterday I did the 2014 Albuquerque Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, along with 15,000 other registered walkers, and I suspect, a good many who were not registered.

Although breast cancer has not (thank God) struck my family, this is a cause that I have supported for many years. In 2003, I completed the  3-day, 60-mile Avon Breast Cancer Walk from Santa Clara to San Francisco. Two years later, a friend and I did a 2-day, 26-mile walk. I have done the Albuquerque Making Strides walk three of the past four years, missing the walk the year my father died.

Although I was disappointed to learn that this year's walk had been reduced from the previous 5 miles to just more than 2 miles (it was advertised as a 3-mile walk), I still appreciated the opportunity to join a couple thousand people on a beautiful fall day to bring awareness, show support and raise funds.

As I waited for the walk to start, I was once again struck by the diversity of the walkers. There were fat walkers and thin ones; old and young; kids in strollers, elementary, middle and high school students, individual walkers and teams of walkers. A JROTC group handed out water and monitored the course. One man wore a shirt announcing that he was walking for his wife. A boy wore a bright pink shirt that said "Real men wear pink." A girl scout troop walked. I saw a man doing the walk on crutches, and another with a brace on each leg. One woman was in a wheelchair pushed by a family member. I saw many women wearing a pink 'survivor' sash that proclaimed their victory over this horrid disease. Walkers spanned many ethnic groups: white, black, Hispanic and Native American (I'm sure there were Asian walkers, too, although I didn't see them). This is as it should be, as breast cancer crosses all racial and ethnic lines. The most common color yesterday? PINK. There were pink T-shirts, pink tutus (including one on a Boston terrier), pink hats, pink shoes, even pink hair.

These walks are always very emotional for me. They are inspiring and they help restore my faith in a humanity that often seems to have lost its concern for others. For one morning at least, I was able to push aside the dark, painful acts that fill the news, and enjoy being part of a movement that celebrates the survivors, honors the deceased and offers hope to those fighting breast cancer. And this group raised $354,000 to help fund research, provide support to those suffering from breast cancer, and help pay for mammograms for women who can't afford them.

The Making Strides for Breast Cancer Walk is all about hope. And my hope is that some day, this walk will no longer be necessary.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pumpkins On the Rise

For as long as I can remember, autumn has been pumpkin season. Typically this means decorative pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pie. But this year, the round, orange version of winter squash is making a real comeback. Pumpkin, it seems, is experiencing an explosion in popularity.

Apparently, pumpkin's popularity has been on the rise for several years. According to one food industry market research firm, sales of pumpkin-flavored foods have increased 234 percent since 2008. Sales of all pumpkin-flavored foods and beverages increased 14 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to market research firm Nielsen. A recent trip to Trader Joe's provided evidence of this increased popularity. I saw pumpkin-flavored coffee, granola, pancake/waffle mix and pumpkin bread mix, plus many more pumpkin-themed foods and drinks. Below is a complete list of pumpkin-flavored items offered by Trader Joe's, courtesy of The Gothamist:

1. Real pumpkins
2. Pecan pumpkin instant oatmeal
3. Pumpkin soup
4. Pumpkin bar baking mix
5. Pumpkin pancake and waffle mix
6. Harvest Blend salad with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin cornbread croutons, and pumpkin vinaigrette
7. Pumpkin kringle
8. Pumpkin cream cheese muffins
9. Pumpkin bagels
10. Mini ginger pumpkin ice cream mouthfuls
11. Pumpkin pie mochi ice cream
12. Pumpkin ice cream
13. Pumpkin bread pudding
14. Pumpkin pie
15. Pumpkin macarons
16. Mini pumpkin pie
17. Pumpkin cheesecake
18. Pumpkin croissants
19. Pumpkin waffles
20. Pumpkin cornbread croutons
21. Pumpkin Joe-Joe's cookies
22. Pumpkin biscotti


23. Pumpkin spice chai
24. Pumpkin cornbread mix
25. Pumpkin seed brittle
26. Pumpkin butter
27. Organic canned pumpkin
28. Pumpkin spice coffee
29. Pumpkin spice salted caramels
30. Iced pumpkin scone cookies
31. Pumpkin O's cereal
32. This Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar cereal bars
33. Organic frosted pumpkin toaster pastries
34. Country pumpkin spice granola cereal
35. Pumpkin cranberry crisps
36. Pumpkin butter
37. Pumpkin cream cheese
38. Pumpkin beer
39. Pumpkin seeds
40. Pumpkin ravioli
41. Pumpkin scone mix
42. Pumpkin dog treats
43. Pumpkin yogurt
44. Pumpkin spice tea

Never have I seen so many pumpkin-flavored items for sale, and not just at Trader Joe's. The World Market chain of stores also offers pumpkin scone mix, and I saw recipes this week for spiced pumpkin biscuits, pumpkin spice cookies and pumpkin cream soup.
Pumpkin spice beers are popular at this time of year, and how about some pumpkin spice beef jerky?

Some attribute pumpkin's increased popularity to Starbucks' introduction of the pumpkin latte a decade ago. Whatever the reason, pumpkin farms are booming. Pumpkin is making a real resurgence, after having been cultivated as a food crop in North America for more than 5,000 years. Pumpkin ice cream or doughnuts, anyone? Or how about a glass of pumpkin wine?

I am not a big fan of Halloween and jack-o-lanterns, but I have to admire this winter squash and its ability to reinvent itself after 5,000 years.





Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Morning Has Broken

I have never been a morning person, although for many years I got up at 4:30 a.m.

Dragging myself out of bed hours before the sun came up was never my idea of a good time. But I would feed and walk my dogs, go for a 3-mile run, then shower and get ready for work. My work day began at 7:30 a.m. I guess my body got used to waking up early, because I still frequently awaken long before dawn. I also inherited my parents' propensity for waking up very early every morning.

One recent morning I decided to get up rather than pretending that I would fall back asleep. It was still very dark outside, so after taking care of my dogs, I decided to go for a walk. After a few minutes, the sky started to lighten, and the hulking outline of the Sandia Mountains became visible. Then the eastern horizon began to turn pale pink and orange. 
After my walk, I took my small dogs for a walk, something I won't do until the sun is up due to the presence of numerous coyotes in the area. If they are near us, I want to be able to see them. After our walk, it was time for a cup of hot tea while I read the morning newspaper.

I actually enjoy being outside early in the morning, despite the grumbling about waking up so early. Especially at this time of year, the air is cool and crisp (45 degrees F), there is almost no traffic, and the day feels new and clean. Some mornings, I can see the mass ascension of hundreds of hot air balloons in the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Depending on the wind, some of them fly right over my house. Even without the balloons, however. I enjoy a wonderful walk on a beautiful fall morning.

In just a few weeks we will be forced to move our clocks back, which means the sun will rise an hour earlier. This is not a change I like, as this means I will wake up even earlier (my bedroom is on the east) and the sunset will set an hour earlier, making for long, dark evenings.

So I guess the only thing under my control is whether or not I choose to get up early and enjoy the quiet and solitude of an early fall morning in the high desert.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Donor Fatigue

I have 'donor fatigue.' I donate quite a bit of money to a variety of human, environmental and animal welfare charities every year. But this year, I feel anything but generous.

I attribute this to a couple of factors. First, I am facing some major home repair bills, including a new roof for my house and restuccoing of the house and the wall that surrounds my large back yard. Cost for this work probably will exceed $40,000. Second, I am really tired of being hit up for money on a daily basis. I started receiving Thanksgiving appeals in the mail more than three months before Thanksgiving. I realize that the need for feeding and housing the homeless doesn't stop during the summer, and I wouldn't have been put off had the appeals been based on that fact. But really, hitting me up, not once but repeatedly, for donations for Thanksgiving three months in advance? I have asked FIVE times to be removed from this group's mailing list, but I continue to receive mailings, the most recent one just yesterday.

My Facebook news feed, and my e-mail inbox, are filled with appeals for funds, many of them marked 'urgent' or 'emergency.' I have unsubscribed from several organizations' e-mails (which I never signed up for to begin with), and I have 'unliked' a lot of groups on Facebook. I simply cannot donate to every worthy cause.

Feeling overwhelmed by the number and intensity of demands for donations can lead to something dubbed 'donor fatigue,' described by dictionary.com as "a general weariness and diminished public response to requests for aid to needy people or donations to charitable causes."

I first heard about donor fatigue years ago when the news was filled with on-going reports about starvation in Africa. At first, people stepped up and donated, but when the problem continued without any seeming improvement, donor fatigue set in. This is one reason for donor fatigue -- a perceived lack of progress. For example, despite major advances in treating various cancers, there is no 'cure' and millions die from this horrid disease every year.

Fat salaries and compensation packages paid to executives of mega-charities are another reason for donor fatigue, as are a high level of 'administrative expenses' and reports of misuse of funds. Some so-called charities seem to exist only to raise funds. Years ago, I donated to CARE. However, I stopped donating, and have not given a dime since then, after I received weekly appeals for donations from this group. One day, I received TWO different appeals from CARE on the same day! It seemed that whatever money was raised was used simply to produce more demands for money.

I still plan to donate to my favorite organizations, but only when I want to donate, not in response to incessant requests for money. Donor fatigue has definitely taken hold. One of my favorite organizations, Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue (www.magrr.org), has a large holiday fundraiser every year. It's done online, and I always make a generous donation in memory of my adopted golden, Gage. I never receive appeals for money from this group during the year, not even in its e-mailed newsletter. I wish more organizations would follow MAGRR's model. In the several years since I adopted Gage, MAGRR has always met and exceeded its fundraising goal. So this approach obviously is very successful.

So, non-profits of the world, give a thought to how donor fatigue is impacting your donors. While I may support your cause, I -- and many others -- don't appreciate being hounded for still more donations. We also don't like to see the money wasted on incessant mailings that could be put to use helping those you claim to help.


Monday, September 22, 2014

200 Blog Posts!

It's hard to believe that I recently published my 200th blog post.

When I decided on a whim to start a blog back in 2009, I never thought that 200 posts later I would still find things to write about. Ideas can come from almost anywhere: newspaper ads, news stories, personal experiences. Nor would I have believed that I would have readers from around the world. For some reason this blog draws a lot of readers from Russia, and at times Russian readers outnumber those from the U.S.

It's always interesting to see where my readers come from: Brazil, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Canada, Romania, Malaysia, Ireland, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and so many other countries -- even Armenia! I would love to hear from some of my international readers, to find out where they heard about this blog and what their impressions are.

I love to travel throughout the world, and to exchange ideas with people from other countries. Some of my most memorable travel experiences involve interactions with everyday people. While living in Moscow in the late 1990s, I had opportunities to chat with some local residents who shared my love of dogs. During last year's trip to Croatia, I spent some time sitting on a bench overlooking the water in Split, chatting with an older woman about life in Croatia and how it had changed since independence. She spoke English with some difficulty, but we were able to communicate. When I mentioned that I speak Russian, I she recited a poem in Russian that she had been forced to memorize as a school girl when Croatia was part of the Soviet empire.

I have Facebook friends from Russia, Turkey, Kenya and Ukraine, in addition to Canada and Great Britain. I know some of these people personally, having met them during my travels. I enjoy learning about other cultures, other languages and other people. With so much division and hatred in the world, this personal connection may help bring people together one by one. I have friends from a variety of religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim, as well as non-believers and those from a variety of Christian denominations. Having lived in Moscow, I learned to respect the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church, such as wearing a skirt and covering my head when entering an Orthodox church. While in Turkey, I followed Muslim customs when entering a mosque. When I visit Israel next year, I plan to respect customs in that country. Travel does, indeed, make the world a smaller place. After my trip to Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa earlier this year, I now pay far more attention to news stories from that vast continent.

So to the more than 13,000 visitors to my blog (some of them more than once), I say 'thank you' for stopping by. I welcome your feedback, or if you prefer, just a comment that lets me know where you are from.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of Year

Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile. -- William Cullen Bryant 

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald 

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. -- Henry David Thoreau

"It's the most wonderful time of the year," to borrow a line from a song. No, I'm not talking about the Christmas season. I'm thinking about autumn.

Even here in the desert southwest, there is a distinct and welcome feeling of fall in the air, although the cottonwoods and other native trees haven't yet begun to cloak themselves in beautiful shades of yellow and gold. It sometimes is cool enough to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows for a couple of hours in the morning. Although autumn doesn't arrive officially until Sept. 22, and daytime temperatures still often reach well into the 80s, the new season is beginning to make an appearance.


My appreciation of this wonderful time of year has increased greatly since I moved to the high desert, with its long, hot, dry summers. Autumn brings changes detectable by sight, sound, feel and scent. We don't get the beautiful red and orange leaves typical of maple trees, but our cottonwoods and aspens still can put on a gorgeous display of gold. 

Autumn mornings are cooler, and the sun begins to peek over the shoulders of the Sandia Mountains to the east later in the day. I appreciate this, as my bedroom faces east. The angle of the sun is lower and the days are shorter than during the hot summer. The rising sun and clouds on the horizon create brilliant sunrises. And bright yellow flowers bloom along the roads and acequias.
 

In addition to the cooler nighttime temperatures, another sure sign of autumn is the appearance in the skies over central New Mexico of hot air balloons. I saw a couple dozen balloons early one recent morning as I was out walking. In just a couple of weeks, the skies will be filled with hundreds of colorful balloons from around the world participating in the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Depending on the winds on a given day, many of the balloons fly over my neighborhood, and some pass directly over my house.


The famous New Mexico green chiles have been harvested and chile roasting is underway at many grocery stores in the area, with the smell of roasting chiles filling the air. Shoppers snap up 30-pound bags of the spicy chiles, freezing them after roasting for use during the rest of the year. The fall rains, the last of the ‘monsoon’ season, have arrived, bringing much-needed moisture to parched yards and plants, and replenishing a bit of the water in the Rio Grande and lakes, streams and rivers throughout the state. Southern New Mexico has been getting too much rain – an irony in this bone-dry state – and many areas have been flooded. But the rest of the state remains very dry. Even some of my desert plants have struggled to survive our years-long drought, so these rains are always very welcome.

Even the air is different in autumn, with a different smell than is found the rest of the year. It feels crisp and seems lighter somehow. Once in a while I get a whiff of smoke from someone's fireplace or fire pit, and the smell of fallen leaves adds to the different aroma.


With the changing of the weather comes planning for my annual road trip Durango, CO, to ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The 45-mile route is lined with
mountain creeks and beautiful aspens, ending in the old mining town of Silverton at some 9,300 feet above sea level..
 
I have started to eye the row of cookbooks in my kitchen as I yearn for the pleasures of a hot cup of soup, or the aroma of black bean chili or stew cooking in the slow cooker. Thoughts of making pumpkin bread and cornbread make an appearance. My morning cup of tea, a daily ritual throughout the year, is even more enjoyable on a cool, crisp morning.

Soon I will be able to leave a window open in my bedroom at night. In the early morning, I can open dining room windows to let in the fresh, cool air. I am looking forward to wearing different clothes than the hot-weather shorts and tops I have worn for months. Long sleeves, sweatshirts and light jackets will emerge 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.

It's now time to replace the brightly colored summer tablecloth with one filled with browns and oranges, and to set out the autumn-themed accents in my house. Even small changes in decor make for a refreshing change.

I dread the cold, dark days of winter, as I hate to be cold. 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, awesome azure skies, and a desire to prepare some home-cooked comfort foods.

 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Life's Annoyances

A lot of things have been annoying me lately.

One thing that really annoys me is having to make repeated phone calls or trips to accomplish something that should be quite simple. For example, when a company advertises a special deal on some service (tree trimming, for example, or carpet cleaning), why doesn't someone from that company respond to my request to schedule the service? Why does it take several days of phone calls to schedule an appointment for my daughter to see a medical specialist? Why do I have to explain things to a different person every time I call? Why do people promise to call me back, then fail to do so? Call it common courtesy, common sense, business sense or whatever you wish, it certainly is in short supply these days.

Another thing that annoys me is the constant requirement to register with a company, to provide detailed personal information, just to get some basic information. As an example, if I want more information about a house listed for sale, why do I have to set up an account or register just to learn details about the house? Is the realtor really willing to lose a potential sale because I refuse to register? Why should I have to provide my full name, address, phone number and e-mail address just to be able to track a package on the UPS Web site? Really? I have the tracking number, so that should be sufficient. Why do I have to set up an account in order to sign a petition? And why should I have to 'opt out' of having my personal information shared/sold/loaned to other companies? I should have to 'opt in' if I don't mind receiving an onslaught of junk mail and spam e-mails. My personal information is just that -- mine and personal.

I am very careful about revealing personal information, but caution and limited dissemination don't seem to do much good. I don't want to find my personal information available online to anybody who wants it. That just isn't right, and it is an invasion of my privacy. I have given nobody the right to publicly broadcast or disseminate my personal information. Since I pay the phone company every month to keep my number out of the phone book unpublished and unlisted), why do organizations feel it is their right to take and disseminate my personal information for their financial gain? Why am I unable to protect my personal information and keep it private? When I order something online, I always uncheck the box that says I agree to receive 'offers from carefully selected companies that may be of interest' to me. Yet I still receive e-mails that state that I am receiving this spam because I agreed to receive offers from that company. No, I did not agree to receive anything aside from updates about my order. And I certainly did not agree to have my personal information sold to other companies. Aside from the annoyance factor, every time my information is disseminated without my knowledge or consent, it increases the opportunities for identity thieves to steal my identify.

The government's 'do not call' list is a joke. Maybe bona fide companies respect it, but I got so many calls from telemarketers that I finally shut my home phone off. If it rings, I don't hear it. Anybody who needs to reach me has my cell phone number. And lately, I've been getting telemarketing and spam calls on my cell phone. I block the numbers, but that doesn't keep new calls from coming in from different numbers.

I'm sure I'm fighting an uphill battle to protect my privacy and my personal information from telemarketers and other scam artists. Ultimately the blame lies with companies, businesses and non-profit organizations that feel it is their right to take my personal information and give it, loan it or rent it to other businesses. I understand that the government tracks our transactions, spies on our e-mails, etc., but when did we Americans cede to non-government organizations our right to privacy?