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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rediscovering Her Roots

I adopted my daughter from Russia the day after her 11th birthday. At age 22, she has now lived half her life with me in America. Although she can understand some Russian, her ability to speak her native language is quite limited.

Because she was older when she was placed in an orphanage, she has memories of life with her birth family, including siblings, cousins, aunts and grandparents. She also has many questions. I once asked whether she wanted to search for her birth parents (there are groups that work with investigators in Russia to search for birth families), but she wasn't interested.

Then last year she said she would like to do a birth family search. So I contacted a woman with a good record of finding birth families in Russia, in conjunction with a man 'on the ground' in Russia. We provided the requested information, my daughter wrote a letter to her birth mother, and the search began. Through the efforts of the brother of the director of the last orphanage in which she stayed (he is a police officer), we were able to get the address of the birth father. But no trace of the birth mother was found. She had moved and nobody knew where she was. The investigator in Russia also gathered some information about the birth father, who reportedly was still in and out of jail. But the search for the birth mother hit a dead end. 

Then a few weeks ago, my daughter was watching an episode of 'Millionaire Matchmaker.' The matchmaker herself was adopted and did a search for her birth mother. That prompted my daughter to start her own search, beginning with Facebook. And amazingly, she found her! The name, city and birth date all matched. My daughter used an online translating program to write a brief note in Russian, and a couple of days later, she got a response.

She and her birth mother have chatted via Facebook nearly every day since then, although the 12-hour time difference makes contact difficult. The birth mother speaks no English, but my daughter's online translator helps the communication. 

My daughter is finally getting answers to some long-held questions about her past, updates on various family members (several of which have died of heart disease, which apparently runs in the family) and at least a partial explanation of a variety of things her parents did that resulted in my daughter being placed in an orphanage. She also has learned that one of her great-grandparents was Polish.

The birth mother, according to my daughter, refers to me as my daughter's mom, so she is not attempting to reclaim that role. My daughter refers to her birth mother by her name; she calls me 'Mom." My daughter is showing great maturity in handling this sudden and uncomfortable situation. When the birth mother asked whether my daughter hates her, my daughter's response was that no, she doesn't hate her. After years of therapy and the act of growing up, she forgives her birth mother but will not forget what she did. 

I also have become Facebook friends with the birth mother. We chat via Facebook on occasion, but mostly about our dogs. But my daughter shares with me her conversations with her birth mother, at one point asking whether her talking to her birth mother upset me. It doesn't upset me at all. I am happy she is getting answers to her questions and that my daughter hopes to become friends with the woman who gave birth to her. My daughter's love and loyalty are with me. I just don't want her to be hurt again. Birth mother has said she doesn't want to lose my daughter again. The birth father has had little to say, and my daughter has shown little interest in communicating with him. This is a situation that will take considerable time to play out.

So this year is ending with a new beginning for several people on both sides of the globe. I hope my daughter and her birth mother find comfort in their budding friendship. It also has prompted my daughter and me to work on improving our skills in Russian, so we can better communicate with someone who appears to have finally got her life together and wants to get to know the daughter she rejected years ago.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Picture the World

Here's a bit of an unusual blog post: a photo from everywhere I visited in 2015.

January found me hiking on New Zealand's beautiful South Island, where sheep outnumber people! It was here that I discovered that despite my allergy to wool, I can wear merino wool with no problems. I also took my first helicopter ride, which flew over and then landed on Fox Glacier. I even got to walk around on the glacier for a few minutes.


In February, I got to visit one of my most special places, Yellowstone National Park. Some 4,000 bison call the park home. This herd is the only remaining herd of pure bison in the country. Other herds have been 'contaminated' with cattle genes. Bison are joined by a large herd of several thousand elk, as well as moose, pronghorn and mule deer. A variety of predators, including grizzly and black bears, wolves, coyotes, fox and cougars, help keep the prey populations in balance.

In March, I enjoyed a trip to Israel, including Jerusalem's Old City, the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, Masada, Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea. We also made a half-day trip to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, now under the control of the Palestinian Authority. And we visited the place on the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, according to legend.

From Israel we drove to Jordan, where we visited the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Jerash, the capital city, Amman, and for me the highlight of the trip, Petra. And as in Israel, we visited countless ancient Roman cities, which continue to be wonders of engineering and construction some 2,000 years after they were built..

I wrapped up this trip with my second visit to Turkey, this time visiting parts of this large nation I had not seen during my first trip. One of the places we visited was an Australian cemetery, with markers for some of the ANZAC troops killed in the battle of Gallipoli. Many of the bodies were not recovered, but each soldier has a marker in the cemetery, just one of several in the area. Nearby was a cemetery for soldiers of the Ottoman Empire who had died in battle.

Lion track
In May I went on safari in Botswana, a country rich in wildlife. There is nothing like being awakened by the trumpet of an elephant just yards from my tent in the middle of the night! I got to watch elephants swim and learned a bit about tracking elephants and lions by following their tracks in the dust. I also got to watch cheetahs, lions, African wild dogs and leopard, and saw an amazing variety of beautiful birds.

From Botswana, I journeyed to Zimbabwe and Zambia to view the spectacular Victoria Falls. The falls are so huge they can be viewed from both countries. It was an interesting sight to watch a herd of wart hogs grazing on the lawn outside my hotel in Zimbabwe. In Zambia, I spent one night in a fabulous hotel reachable only by boat.

Then it was on to Spain to hike part of the ancient pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James). This was the most moving of all the trips I have taken. We didn't hike/walk the entire Camino, of course, just 50 or so miles of the highlights. I think I'm too old to walk the entire route, which takes just more than a month and entails sleeping in hostels on a space-available basis, but this was an amazing experience.

August found me visiting Yosemite National Park for a week of hiking and a day in San Francisco. It's a beautiful park full of magnificent, soaring granite cliffs, including the famous Half Dome and El Capitan. And of course it was a thrill to see the thousand-year-old giant sequoias. Can you find me in the photo?

In September I flew to Chicago to visit family and take a quick road trip with my sister to revisit places from our childhood, visit the graves of relatives and reconnect with our cousin and her family.

I was back in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks for a photography trip in late
The Grand Tetons from Oxbow Bend, Wyoming
September. The aspens were at their peak of color, the park wasn't terribly crowded, and the weather was cold at night yet pleasant during the day. We watched a grizzly bear foraging for food before beginning its winter hibernation, as well as a black bear and her cub, wolves and moose, plus trumpeter swans.

Sub-adult male  bears sparring near Hudson Bay.

The year's travels wrapped up in late October with a trip to Churchill, in far northern Canada, to view and photograph polar bears as they awaited the freezing of Hudson Bay and the beginning of the feeding season. The bears hadn't eaten for some 7 months!. Polar bears are amazing creatures, supremely adapted to live on the frozen tundra and ice.

This has been an amazing year for travel, with trips to many new places and a return to Turkey, a country with a centuries-old history. I have some outstanding trips scheduled for 2016, including a tiger photography trip to India, safari in South Africa, hiking in Ireland, photography trips to the canyons of the American Southwest and Costa Rica, and a trip to hang out with elephant researchers in Kenya.

2016 is shaping up to be a great year for travel!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Simple Pleasures

Today is Christmas Eve, but I can't tell by looking at my house.

The only decorating I did this year was to hang a fresh pine wreath on the front door. And I bought that only to help out a local animal rescue that was selling them. There is no Christmas tree, no ornaments or lights, no Christmas-themed things hanging on the walls or sitting out. I just don't have the spirit to decorate this year. And for the second year in a row, I didn't send Christmas cards, and my holiday baking hasn't happened yet.

But I am content. As I sit in my office reading a book, my three dogs are sleeping contentedly on the floor nearby. My third dog, Benny, isn't officially mine yet, as the paperwork making his adopting final hasn't been mailed to me. But he is mine nonetheless.

Outside, the day is grey, with threats of rain or snow. But I was able to walk the dogs and finish my exercise. I have listened to most of my 40-50 Christmas CDs. I got to spend time with my daughter at the beautiful River of Lights at the Albuquerque botanical gardens. Each year, the gardens are transformed into a wonderland filled with wire sculptures covered with some 2 millions lights. 

My house is warm and secure. I have donated money to some of my favorite charities, and several bags of food to the big food bank. My daughter is happy in her new career and engaged to a great guy. I have lots of food in the pantry and freezer. I got to travel to many amazing places this year, and my travel schedule for 2016 is already filled with adventures to foreign lands. My life is good.

It is these simple pleasures that have become most important, not the endless search for 'the perfect gift' or fighting the hordes at the mall to buy things for people who need nothing and whom I seldom see. Nothing brings me more pleasure than traveling someplace I have never visited, or visiting Yellowstone National Park to watch wolves and bison. My favorite place to be is in nature, hiking, taking photographs or just observing. Fighting hordes of people in a mall isn't something I am willing to do. A walk along the river, a hike in a beautiful national park or getting up early to photograph an amazing sunrise -- these are the things that fill my heart with joy.

So on this Christmas Eve 2015, I wish you tidings of joy, peace, contentment and pleasure in the simple things.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dear Daughter

Dear Daughter,

December holds so many important dates for us. Today, you are 22 years old. December 21 is the date I went to court in western Siberia and appeared before a judge to get approval to adopt you. December 28 is the day you landed in America to begin your new life. How far we have come since then!

When you arrived in your new home, you spoke no English, and I sometimes struggled to find the right Russian words to communicate with you. I remember sitting at the kitchen table looking up the Russian words for 'numerator' and 'denominator' as I tried to explain fractions to you.

Shopping for pretty new shoes. .

We went through many very difficult times together, you because of your abandonment, trust and reactive attachment issues and ADHD, I because I was totally unprepared to deal with a child with so many issues. But we muddled through together. I learned a great deal about the issues adopted kids often bring with them. And you, although you resisted going to therapy for a long time, eventually embraced the help that was offered to you. Through it all, as hard as you tried to hurt me and push me away, I never gave up on you, although I came close a couple of times. 

You graduated from high school and remained adrift for a couple of years, working a succession of fast-food jobs. Then you found a job as a server and did great at that. And then you decided you needed to prepare for a job that would serve you in the years to come, and that wasn't in the fast food business. So you went to cosmetology school, where you struggled until you transferred to a school more in tune with you. You got an externship at a local salon, you passed your state boards and got your license, and your externship became a real full-time job. After dating a succession of losers, you found a great guy and you recently got engaged. 

Just a few days ago, you reconnected with your birth mother on Facebook. Communicating with her in your native language, which you haven't used in several years, is a challenge, but you are 'talking' to her online. You have forgiven her for the things she did and for rejecting you, but you will never forget. And that is a huge step in healing emotionally. Because not forgiving someone hurts you, not the person who hurt you. I hope you get answers to the questions you have carried with you for so many years. And I love the fact that you are willing to share your conversations with me.

I am so incredibly proud of you, of everything you have overcome and of the kind, compassionate, successful young lady you are. I may not have given birth to you, but I definitely am your mother. And you are my daughter, for now and for always.

Happy 22nd birthday!



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Welcome Home, Benny!

My fifth golden retriever died from a brain tumor in April 2014. Since then, I have realized how much I miss having one of these wonderful dogs in my life.

Unfortunately, goldens are very rare in New Mexico. I know I could drive to California or Tennessee and adopt a dog from one of the rescues from which I got previous goldens, but that would mean a long road trip with my two little dogs for a 'meet and greet.' So I started looking locally.

The local animal control listed an adult male golden, so I paid him a visit, only to learn that he isn't a golden at all, but a Labrador retriever. The shelter in Santa Fe had a golden mix that looked a lot like a golden, but before I could get there, he was adopted. I found a little golden/corgi mix at a local rescue group, but he was adopted before I could complete the home visit. Friends of the family had talked about rehoming their golden, but decided they couldn't part with her. So I resigned myself to having to drive to Tennessee or California next year to find my new golden family member.

Then I got a phone call from the foster mom of the golden/corgi, telling me that he was available for adoption. She brought him to meet my dogs, which were uncharacteristically accepting of him. She completed my home visit, but she said the dog was scheduled to meet another family two days later. She would report her findings about the two home visits, and another woman would make the final decision. So I waited. And a  few days later, I got the call -- the other potential adopters had changed their minds, and the little dog (named Bailey) was mine if I wanted him. Arrangements were made for a 2-week trial period to make sure he was a good fit with my family.

Since I already have a dog named Bailey, I started calling the newcomer Benny. He fit into the family very quickly and smoothly. True, he has some rough edges we need to work on, such as staying off the furniture, not jumping on people, doors, etc., and not pulling when we go for a walk. But those are fixable things. After just a couple of days, I knew that Benny was here to stay, although the final adoption paperwork has yet to be completed.

This little guy, who looks much like a golden retriever with his long, red coat in the body of a corgi, has been through so many changes lately. So it's understandable that he remains somewhat uncertain. But his playful side is showing itself, with back yard zoomies and chomp fights with me when I sit on the floor.

I bought a no-pull harness for Benny and had it sized at the wonderful local pet food shop where I bought it. Benny is quickly learning his new name and 'sit,' but we are still working on staying off the furniture. He likes to sleep under my bed at night rather than on the soft blanket I put on the floor for him. And that's fine. Perhaps he will feel safer sleeping on the blanket as he realizes he is home for good.

I can't think of a better Christmas gift for either of us. Welcome home, Benny!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Stress-Free Christmas

It's less than two weeks before Christmas, and I am feeling no stress.

Why? I'm sending no Christmas cards. I have done no decorating aside from hanging a fresh pine wreath on the front door (I bought it as part of a fundraiser for a local animal rescue group). I am not putting up a Christmas tree despite having some lovely ornaments collected over the years. I have done almost no shopping (I made a quick trip to one store and got a couple of things for my daughter), and I plan to do a bare minimum of baking, and only because I really like the cookies and this is the only time of year I make them.

I have started to work my way through my collection of 40 to 50 CDs of Christmas music, but that's it as far as 'celebrating' the holiday goes.

It's actually very liberating not to be caught up in the traditional holiday madness. I'm not wracking my brain trying to think of something to mail to relatives I seldom see and who don't really need anything. I haven't sent cards since 2013, and I haven't heard that anybody missed receiving a card from me. Since I am retired, I have nowhere to take extra fudge (my recipe makes 3 pounds) and cookies, and I'm not supposed to eat a lot of sweets. I don't enjoy going to the mall any time of year, and I particularly avoid it during the holiday madness.

Sure, I still wish people a Merry Christmas, and I enjoy listening to my CDs. But I much prefer avoiding the pushing crowds, the long lines at the post office and the stress of trying to figure out what to mail to people I seldom see. I do enjoy buying things for people when I have an inspired idea or see something I think they would like. But I hate feeling obligated to buy something for somebody just because they bought something for me or because we 'always' send things to each other.

I have donated several bags of food to the local food bank, I volunteered my photography skills to a local animal rescue group, and my daughter is coming over this week to make cookies for her salon's cookie exchange. We plan to go to Santa Fe together and next week, we plan to go together to the annual Festival of Lights. I am looking at the snow-dusted mountains from my window. And I am in the process of adopting a new dog who needs love and stability in his life.

That is how I am celebrating Christmas this year. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Photos with Santa Claws

I recently was asked to be the photographer at an 'animal photos with Santa Claws' fundraiser for a cat rescue group. Now, I'm not a cat person, and in fact I am allergic to cats. But I have a friend who volunteers with this group, and I served as photographer for a St. Patrick's Day photo shoot for the same group earlier this year. Besides, I don't do much volunteer work any more, so I agreed to be the substitute photographer.

Photographing animals is always challenging, but the dogs and cats (and three ferrets) who came to the event were generally well behaved. One cat was not happy, and loudly expressed his displeasure with a series of loud growls. The three ferrets were squirmy and wriggly, but their human 'mom and dad' kept them under control. And some were less than happy about having to wear antlers or hats. The hardest to photograph was a solid black cat that glowered at anybody nearby and growled loudly. His black fur made him a difficult subject to capture. Animals ranged from a huge great Dane (in the photo with Santa) to a tiny, 12-week-old Chihuahua puppy and a very active, and strong, 18-month old bull terrier.

My Facebook news feed is usually filled with stories of animal abuse, so it was really nice to spend time with people who truly love and care for their animals.

I  am glad I was able to help out with this event, which raised much-needed funds for the rescue. And I hope the people who attended enjoy the photos of their animals with Santa Claws.

I love you, Santa.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Favorite Place

I have been fortunate to travel to many wonderful places around the world the past couple of years. Yet the only place that brings tears to my eyes and a longing to my heart when I read about it or watch a video is right here in the United States.

That very special places is Yellowstone National Park, founded as America's very first national park in 1872. I first visited Yellowstone in 2013 on a January trip with the National Geographic Society. Most of the focus was on the park's many thermal features, such as geysers, mud pots and other hot-water attractions. And of course, watching the magnificent bison in the snow was an amazing experience. Yellowstone in winter is truly a magical place. Gone are the massive crowds that clog the roads during the summer. All but a couple of roads are closed, and access is limited to those participating in organized snow machine tours or group tours that travel in the park's famous Bombardier machines, with skis on the front and treads on the back.

I returned to the park twice in 2014 on wolf-watching trips, and I was hooked. Although wolves are typically reclusive and stay well away from people, I was fortunate enough to see a few of these amazing animals. Despite two more trips in search of wolves in 2015, I have not been able to get any really good pictures of them. They are simply too elusive, particularly given the large groups of people that gather whenever word of a wolf sighting spreads through the park.

Even so, I love going to Yellowstone. I won't go during the summer months, as there are simply too many people. And as much as I hate cold weather, the winter months are by far the best for spotting wolves. I have been lucky enough to watch the Lamar Canyon family
trotting across the snow at sunset as my group stop atop a nearby hill. I got to see a couple of members of a wolf family no more than 100 yards away one morning. And getting to hear a group of wolves howling to one another is an amazing experience.

A lone bull bison plods through deep snow up a hill.
I also enjoy photographing the bison that call Yellowstone home. I love seeing them sweep the snow with their massive heads to reach the scant grass below, or watching them lie down near thermal features in search of warmth (although they are built to easily handled the incredible cold of Yellowstone). Nothing says Yellowstone in winter like a bull bison covered in frost.

A red fox pounces on a mouse or vole with uncanny accuracy.
I have watched a grizzly bear foraging for food in preparation for a long winter hibernation, and a few minutes later watched a mama black bear and her cub dash up a hill. Elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes, moose, red fox, mule deer and mountain goats are other species that call Yellowstone home.
Yellowstone symbolizes the wildness, and wilderness, that we have lost in so much of the country. It has thousands of thermal features and countless water falls. It is the best place in the world for wolf-watching. It is home to the last wild herd of bison, untainted by cross-breeding with domestic cattle. It has some 10,000 thermal features.  

I have visited six countries in Africa and I have been in awe at the magnificent animals that live there. But my heart always returns to Yellowstone. I wish I could live there year-round, but the winters are just too harsh for me.

Yellowstone is the place where, if my final wishes are followed, my ashes will be scattered in the Lamar Valley. Then I will spend eternity with the magnificent wolves of the Lamar Valley.
The Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Ginger Snaps

I have really scaled back on my holiday baking the past few years. I don't need to eat a lot of cookies, and since I'm retired, I can't share the goodies with people at work. So I cut back on the variety of cookies and most years, eliminated the fudge I always made for Christmas. 

But today I made some ginger snap cookies, something I haven't done in decades.

As I mixed the dough, I remembered that my dad always liked ginger snaps. Then I remembered that my grandmother, who has been gone more than 25 years, also liked this kind of cookie. So what was it that prompted me to make a cookie that I haven't had in decades? And I wasn't even sure I liked ginger snaps. I am not a fan of ginger tea or ginger anything. But something caused me to buy a package of ginger snap mix. Why now? 

I used one of my mother's old mixing bowls to mix the cookie dough. So making some cookies reminded me of both of my parents and of my paternal grandmother. She was an excellent cook until dementia took that skill away from her, and I am certain she never used a store-bought mix to make her cookies. 

I also remembered the delicious butterscotch cookies my mother used to make, and how I loved eating the uncooked dough. I do remember making butterscotch cookies after college, but that's something I haven't done for decades as well. I bet I can find my mother's hand-written recipe on an index card, along with some other favorite recipes she gave me. I also inherited some of her old cook books. It's fascinating to read the original recipes that call for lard and other things we health-conscious Americans no longer use.

And yes, I do like ginger snaps. But better than the cookies are the warm memories making them brought to the surface.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Perfect Gift

Want to find 'the perfect gift'?

It's easy. It doesn't come in a box. You don't have to shop for it or order it or drive all over town trying to find it. It always fits and it never goes out of style. There are no screaming commercials involved. Best of all, there is no financial cost.

What is this 'perfect gift,' you ask? It isn't a fancy car or expensive jewelry or clothes that the recipient doesn't want or like. For me, it is spending time with my daughter, baking cookies or preparing Thanksgiving dinner together. After years of a somewhat contentious relationship as she worked through the demons of her horrible childhood in Russia, we now have a great relationship. She is now a mature, considerate young woman of 22. We are mother and daughter, but we are also close friends. She knows she can come to me with any concerns or problems, and I do my best not to judge or try to solve the issue for her, but to offer suggestions and advice. 

Her salon is having a cookie exchange next month, and she is planning to bake cookies at my house, with its larger kitchen, lots of cookbooks and Mom's advice and ingredients. Spending time with her, making memories and traditions that she can share with her children in the future, is what I like about the Christmas season. I have always done a lot of holiday baking, including my world-famous fudge, but as I got older I scaled back on the cookie making. Now I can continue to bake and share my knowledge with her.

I don't know how many more opportunities there will be to share these special times. I keep thinking about moving to a more progressive, less dangerous state, and one with a warmer winter climate. She doesn't want to stay in Albuquerque forever. Her boyfriend in in the military, so he can be deployed at any time. So as the old Latin saying goes, 'Carpe diem' or 'Seize the day.'

Another 'perfect gift' for me is being able to make a large donation to my favorite charities, including the hospice that cared for my dad at the end of his life, as well as ]golden retriever rescue groups from which I adopted two of my dogs. Finally, I always buy food baskets to be distributed to needy members of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. Now those are 'perfect gifts.'

So there is no need to search high and low for 'the perfect gift.' The perfect gift is here, just waiting to be shared..  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Think Gratitude

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

On this eve of the day Americans set aside each year to offer thanks and gratitude for our many blessings, I want to pause and offer a few thoughts.

Our country, and indeed, the world, is embroiled in a fight against the evils known as ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda. These shadowy organizations pose a major threat to the lives and safety of millions of people around the world. They have no conscience, they show no mercy in their campaign to subject the world to their corrupt version of Islam. Quite simply, they must be stopped. I am grateful that unlike the people of France, Libya, Nigeria, Tunisia and other countries, we have largely been spared from their horrors.

And we who live in the safety of this great nation -- despite ongoing threats from those who would do us harm -- have so much for which to be thankful. Let's start with our first responders -- police, firefighters, EMTS and other medical personnel -- who give up time with family to serve those who need help regardless of the day or time.

I am grateful for the members of our military, especially those far from home and in foreign lands, and for the family members left behind to face yet another holiday without their loved ones.

I am grateful for those among us who continue to raise their voices and fight the good fight to save and protect the planet from those who see it only as something to be exploited. Countless individuals and organizations in the U.S. and around the world fight each day to stop pollution, trophy hunting, killing contests and the killing of elephants and rhinoceros for their ivory and tusks. Others fight to prevent Congress from selling our public lands to the highest bidder for mining, drilling or clear-cutting of our forests.

I am grateful as well for those who work tirelessly to save domestic animals from abuse and neglect, and for those dedicated souls who work to safeguard the most vulnerable among us -- the children and elderly. Our system may not be perfect, and far too many fall through the cracks, but we would be so much worse without it.

Think of those who serve hot meals to the hungry and homeless, who provide counseling and warm clothes and a safe place to sleep to those who have none. And be grateful that we are blessed with so many selfless people.

I also am saddened that Thanksgiving is becoming little more than just the prelude to a season of frenzied shopping and overspending in search of 'the perfect gift.' We need to save the shopping until after Thanksgiving. I am grateful that my daughter, at almost 22 years old, recognizes the difference between needs and wants. I have bought her a couple of things for Christmas -- things she can use -- and will give her some money to help with her bills. But long gone are the days when she wanted countless things she didn't need.

I am so very grateful that after years of struggling to find herself and her place in the world, and of struggling with lack of self-esteem, she now is a graduate of cosmetology school, she has a good job in a local salon, and she is in a committed relationship with a very nice young man. Coming from a childhood in Russia filled with abuse, neglect and rejection, she now is able to both give and accept love, and to realize that she deserves to be happy.
  So however you will spend this most American of holidays, I hope it will be filled with true gratitude for all your blessings. And please don't forget those not as blessed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Am Tired

I am tired.

I am tired of wildlife being slaughtered in killing contests to see who can kill the most coyotes, wolves, foxes or whatever in a 2-day period.

I am tired of elephants being slaughtered by gun, spear, poison, snare or any other means so some Chinese can have ivory trinkets.

I am tired of trophy hunters killing bears, tigers, lions, zebra, giraffe, mountain lions and other 'trophy' animals for sport, to spread the hides on the floor or hang the heads on the wall of their 'man cave.'

I am tired of our government officials selling our public lands to the highest bidder so they can be raped and destroyed in the never-ending search for coal (that does little more than cause terrible air pollution), minerals, etc.

I am tired of ranchers being allowed to graze their sheep and cattle on public lands for next to nothing, and then destroying any predator that dares bother their herds or flocks.

I am tired of rhinoceros being driven to extinction so some Chinese or Vietnamese man can make himself feel virile by consuming ground-up rhino horn. Really? Come into the 21st century. Rhino horn just makes men who use it look like weak, pathetic losers. Rhino horn is made of keratin -- the same thing of which our fingernails are made. So go chew on your own finger nails and leave the rhino alone!

I am tired of the pangolin, a small, scaled mammal, being killed so, again, the Chinese can cure cancer with the scales. Grow up, people! Pangolin scales do not cure cancer. They are made of keratin, just like human fingernails. Your mumbo-jumbo, magic potions are a joke. And they are endangering the world's wildlife.

I am tired of our elected officials -- elected in theory to represent the people who elect them -- ignoring the wishes of the people, instead acting only to make their paymasters happy. Lobbyists, big oil and gas, ranchers -- they all have much more influence with elected officials than do we 'little people.' Case in point: In New Mexico, some 70 percent of citizens supports the reintroduction of the highly endangered Mexican gray wolf. But the state game and fish commission, packed by the governor with pro-hunting and pro-ranching shills -- does everything in its power to block such reintroduction efforts. Case in point: The vast majority of citizens oppose giving driver licenses to people in the state illegally. Yet year after year, the legislature refuses to either overturn this ill-conceived law or institute a two-tier system of licenses for those in the state legally and permits good only for driving (and not for use as identification). After all, we don't want to hurt the feelings of the illegals. 

I am tired of Congress refusing to do anything -- anything -- about the escalating gun violence in this country, all because most of the members are bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association.

I am tired of living in a country that has billions to spend on unwanted weapons, but 'no money' to provide health care and housing for thousands of American veterans. 

I am tired of reading about the billions of dollars in foreign aid we give to countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan each year, while Americans go hungry every day, or live on the streets or in their cars.

I am tired of writing to my senators and getting a non-answer in response. Recently I wrote to ask that my senators work to defeat several pieces of legislation that seek to remove Endangered Species Act protections from America's wolves. I got no response from one senator. The other sent me a form letter highlighting the history of the Endangered Species Act. Nowhere did he respond to the specifics of my letter.

So yes, I am very tired. And I feel hopeless and disenfranchised. What I and others like me want is irrelevant. Big money is the only thing to which people listen. And sadly, we little people can't compete. Doing what is right isn't important as long as the decisions line someone's pockets.

I worry about the world my daughter and others of her generation will inherit. It is likely to be a world devoid of many species of animals, with denuded forests, polluted water, and national parks sold to the highest bidder for exploitation. 

I'm glad I won't  be around to see this new world, as I know it would break my heart. And what is especially sad is that we have the means to do so much better, but human greed wins out every time. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Do You Feel Blessed?

Do you feel blessed?

I do. Despite all the things that have been causing me stress recently, I know that I am blessed.
  • One of my little dogs was sick recently. We never did figure out the reason. But I am blessed to have access to good veterinary care, including a variety of specialists, to try to figure out what was wrong with her.
  • With the arrival of cold weather, which I hate, I am blessed to live in a nice house to keep me safe and warm, and to be able to pay for the propane to keep it warm inside.
  • Unlike many in the state where I live, I am blessed to have enough to eat. I do not have to worry about where I will get my next meal. My pantry and freezer are overflowing with food. So I buy canned goods and other non-perishable foods when on sale, so I can donate them to food drives throughout the year. 
  • I am blessed to have access to safe, clean drinking water.
  • I am blessed with good health. I can see, hear, walk and take care of myself. 
  • I am recovering from a pulmonary issue that has left me coughing and having breathing difficulties. Fortunately, a trip to a local urgent car center provided testing and medications. Fewer than 24 hours later, I am much improved. And all of this at no out-of-pocket cost to me because of Medicare and private insurance. 
  • I have a good, reliable car to get me where I want to go.
  • I have a pension and savings to pay for unexpected bills, such as the new furnace I'm getting next week.
  • I am blessed that my daughter is happy and healthy, and has a good job and a great boyfriend.
  • I am blessed to live in a country that allows me to move wherever I choose to live, to worship as I please and to live my life the way I want to live it.
  • I am blessed to have clothes to keep me warm in the winter. Many do not, and suffer through the cold winter weather. 

Now think of the billions of people around the world who do not have these things, who don't have ready access to food and water, who are homeless, lonely, sick or living in terrible poverty. Think of those enslaved or oppressed by their governments, who are unable to vote. Think of those fleeing for their lives to escape war and persecution and terrorism.

So no, our lives aren't perfect, but we are blessed to have the lives we have.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and please share your blessings with those less fortunate.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Are You Serious?

Are the people who are up in arms and calling for a boycott of Starbucks and its overpriced coffee really serious? They are upset because the mega coffee chain made its 'holiday' cups plain red this year, with a green company logo, and left off the previous snowflakes, snowmen and reindeer. They claim the company is 'anti-Christian.' Really? Are they serious?

Since when do snowflakes, snowmen and reindeer signify Christmas? To this Christian, they don't. They signify the winter season, but they have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

And really, people, are your lives so shallow that you choose to waste your energy on how Starbucks opts to serve its $6 cups of coffee? Can you not be bothered to spare a thought for the hungry among us, or the veterans suffering from PTSD, or the homeless shivering on the streets at night? How about the millions of refugees from Syria and other countries who walk hundreds of miles in an attempt to find safe haven for themselves and their families? What about the carnage of our youth, including a 9-year-old boy enticed into a Chicago alley and executed because his father is in a rival gang? Is the design of a damn coffee cup the most important thing in your pathetic lives?

And before you decide to boycott or picket or send a nasty letter to Starbucks, consider this. According to a story on CNN,

"Starbucks already picks up the tab for its employees to go to college. But now the thousands of military veterans who work there are getting an added perk: Free tuition for their spouses and children.

"The offer is good for any current or former military member working at Starbucks. They can use the scholarship to send either their spouse or one child to enroll at Arizona State University's online program. 

The company currently pays tuition for all full- and part-time workers who don't already have a bachelor's degree. But this is the first time it's extending the perk to family members of its employees." 

So what are all these people with their panties in a knot doing to help our veterans and their families? What are they doing to help feed the hungry or shelter the homeless? My guess is, nothing.

So stop bitching about a non-issue, get your priorities straight, and do something -- anything -- to help! Maybe you can start by skipping a cup of overpriced coffee in a red cup and use that $6 to buy food for a local food bank. I recently bought 12 cans of vegetables for $6. What did your $6 buy?

What Will It Take?

I follow numerous animal welfare/conservation/environmental/animal protection groups on Facebook. I support some of them financially. Most of these pages have thousands of followers. Elephant Voices, for example, has close to 300,000 followers, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust close to 350,000 fans. Save the Elephants has more than 431,000 fans. The Cecil the Lion page has some 33,000 fans. And the numbers continue to grow.

These numbers started me thinking: Given the large numbers of people who really care about wildlife, why are we so powerless to stop the slaughter? These hundreds of thousands are people who oppose the wanton slaughter of wolves, who oppose the numerous coyote killing contests and who are adamantly opposed to trophy hunting and the killing of elephants and rhinoceros for their tusks and horns. Countless others are equally concerned but have no Facebook accounts.

So why are we so powerless? What will it take before we succeed in stopping the slaughter? What will it take before the human race wakes up and realizes that animals have a right to live, and that the earth is not here for us to pillage and plunder?

It isn't that we don't voice our opposition to these atrocities. We contact members of Congress, governors and newspaper editors. We hold marches and rallies, and we sign and share countless petitions. Why are we so easily ignored?

It has to be that our opposition has BIG BUCKS to buy influence at the highest levels. We also have morals, something that appears to be sorely lacking these days among the high and mighty who run our government on all levels, the oil and gas companies, the ranching conglomerates, the trophy hunting clubs, pro-hunting and -trapping groups, and other 'opposition organizations.'

To be sure, there are a few well-funded pro-wildlife, pro-environment organizations. Some of them even have lobbyists. But the numbers pale in comparison with what the opponents of wilderness preservation, non-consumptive uses of the ecosystem and animal advocates can muster.

We do occasionally see some small progress. The number of great whales being slaughtered has decreased. Recycling has become a way of life for many. But at the rate we are moving, many species will become extinct, the environment irrevocably damaged. State fish and game commissions are little more than the mouthpiece for ranchers, hunters and 'outfitters.' Politicians are in bed with the enemies of wilderness, wildlife and non-consumptive uses of the environment. How else do we explain the wholesale attempts to sell our national parks to oil and gas companies? How else do we explain the annual slaughter of bison in Montana at the instigation of the ranching industry?

Studies have shown that living animals in the wild bring in much more money than do hunters, through eco-tourism, safaris and other venues that leave the animals in peace. When I go on safari in Africa, I know the money directly benefits the local people. The guides, housekeepers, cooks and other support staff typically come from local villages. And while trophy hunters like to brag about how their money helps the local population, in reality most of the money goes to just a handful of people -- the guides and outfitters -- not to the local villagers.

I and many like me go to far northern Canada to view living polar bears, not to kill one to stuff and display in our 'man caves.' The same goes for people who go to Yellowstone for the opportunity to see wild wolves or to Alaska to see grizzly bears close up. These animals are worth so much more alive than dead. I have been to Yellowstone five times in the past two years, expressly to see the wildlife, wolves in particular. My trips contribute to the local economy in the form of meals, hotels, souvenirs and guides.

So the question remains, why does the culture of death continue despite overwhelming opposition to consumptive, non-food uses of wildlife? A recent story on Facebook bragged about a killing contest designed to slaughter so-called 'vermin,' including peacocks, goats, rabbits and other small mammals. Worst of all, children were encouraged to participate in the slaughter. Contests like this aren't hunting. They are held simply to allow the sick-minded individuals who participate to kill living beings for no reason other than 'fun.' Is it any wonder our country has become such a soul-less, violent place?

We need to teach our children compassion and respect for all life. There should be no place in our society for the wanton killing of animals for fun, for trophies to hang on a wall, for ivory trinkets or for the supposed mystical powers of rhino horn, pangolin scales or anything else. Enough is enough!

We know we will have an uphill battle against politicians who ignore the will of their constituents (nearly 70 percent of New Mexicans support the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into its former range), yet the state steadfastly blocks all attempts to do so. We know we are fighting ancient cultures that continue to believe that rhino horn makes men more virile. Fortunately, well-known representatives of these cultures are now speaking out against the use of ivory and rhino horn. We cannot defeat the enemies of wildlife and wilderness with dollars alone. But maybe more people will see the light and realize the inherent value of wilderness and the animals trying to survive.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Most of us live in a world of color, but how often do we stop to pay attention to the colors that surround us?

I live in the high desert, where there isn't a lot of color aside from browns and tans, But today was a day when I was struck by color. First, I admired the crystal blue New Mexico sky. A combination of altitude (some 5,300 feet), low humidity and clean air make the skies over this state the bluest, most crystalline skies I have ever seen.

Then I noticed the bright red leaves on a tree in a neighbor's yard. We don't see a lot of red
or orange leaves around here, so this tree is a special delight to see amidst the golden leaves of the cottonwoods and aspens.

I made some pumpkin bread today, mixing it in one of my late mother's green mixing bowls. I always think of her when I use one of her three, non-matching green bowls.

As I walked up to my front door, I spotted a few bright yellow flowers still blooming despite the below-freezing overnight temperatures.

At the end of the road on which I live, my neighbor has a bright blue gate. It reminds me of the many brightly painted doors I saw in Ireland. These touches of colors really pop in an area where nearly everything is a shade of tan.
My dining room windows are home to a variety of plants, including a small red cactus of some sort, as well as another non-thorny cactus plant that is about to bloom with a plethora of bright pink flowers. 

As I look out my office window, I see beautiful golden leaves on some trees a couple of houses down. My wool pullover is a bright turquoise color.

As I got older, I gradually, and unknowingly, have shifted my wardrobe colors so now I have a closet full of turquoise and teal (my favorite colors), red and purple clothing. I have some dark blue, black, gray, bright blue and white clothing as well, but bright colors are my go-to items. 

It's nice to see that even in this dry-as-dust area where earth tones predominant in the landscape and on the houses, Mother Nature still gifts us with bursts of color.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Simple Act with Big Dividends

It had been a hectic morning. One of my dogs wasn't feeling well. And I was once again having trouble getting a prescription filled due to a 'manufacturing issue.' So I was a bit stressed.

But then, as I stood in line at the grocery store, I found the perfect thing to relieve my stress and make some other people feel good. Ahead of me in line was an elderly Native American woman. Small and with a weathered face, she sat in one of the store's electric shopping carts to do her shopping. So I quietly approached the cashier and told her that when she rang up the woman's purchases, I wanted to pay for them.

The woman was waiting to get a pen to complete her check. The cashier asked "Do you want to tell her?" So I said to the elderly woman, "You can put your check away. I'm getting your groceries for you." She looked stunned and asked me why. So I told her that someone had done the same thing for me once, and I told him that I would pay it forward. She asked to give me a hug, and then she gave me a blessing.

The woman, the cashier and I were all a bit teary eyed by then. The cashier told me that I had done a wonderful thing. She said that with so much violence and hatred in the world, it was nice to see something good. I replied that I hoped my simple act would start a ring of kindness.

The woman's groceries cost less than $20. But the look on her face, and the reaction of the cashier, were priceless. And I no longer felt stressed. It really does feel good to be kind to people with no expectation of anything in return. It also reminded me to be humble and never to forget the many blessings in my life. Giving back in some small way is a chance to put my gratitude into action.

Acts of kindness don't have to cost a lot of money, but their impact may be huge. Maybe, just maybe, if more people performed random acts of kindness, the world would be a nicer, happier, less violent place. We have nothing to lose, but oh so much to gain.