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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Joys of Travel

A Facebook friend posted this on my wall recently. I love the sentiment, and I am so very grateful that I have the means and the desire to travel the world.

Soon I will return to Africa for another safari, this time to Botswana. I also will spend a couple of days on both sides of Victoria Falls, visiting both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides. And for next year, I'm looking into a safari to South Africa's Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands, possibly with a side trip to Rwanda for some gorilla tracking.

This year's winter getaway to a warm climate will take me to Peru, the first South American country I will visit. And I'm investigating a trip to India to photograph tigers in three national parks. So 2016 should shape up to be an exciting travel year.

One thing I enjoy is buying books by local authors when visiting far-away places. While in Jordan, for example, I bought a book from a New Zealand-born nurse who moved to Jordan after marrying a Bedouin. The book is titled, not surprisingly, Married to a Bedouin. Although the Bedouin husband died several years ago, his widow splits her time between both countries. Her book is a fascinating glimpse into a way of life that remained unchanged for thousands of years. I would love to visit Petra again after reading this book.

While in Cape Town last year, I bought a book by South African-born veterinarian Clay Wilson, who grew bored with his medical practice in Florida and decided to move to Botswana to work with wild animals. Reading this book provided a great introduction to the country, its wildlife and its problems.

International travel really opens my eyes to current events in other countries. When I hear about something happening in Jerusalem's Old Town, I am familiar with the location because I have been there. I follow stories about the terrorist attacks in Kenya with much more interest now, having been to Kenya, enjoyed the hospitality and friendliness of its people, and having stayed in touch with my Kenyan safari guide through Facebook. Likewise, I remain friends with one of my Turkish hiking guides and can get an unfiltered view of that country's political challenges from her.

My only regret is that I didn't start traveling earlier in my life, so I wouldn't feel compelled to cram so much into just a few years. At my age, I don't know how much longer I will be able to travel. But I became friends with several people in their 70s who continue to travel the world, one of them on her own. So I am hopeful that I still have many more years of exciting adventures ahead of me.

In the meantime, the open road continues to call!





Friday, May 22, 2015

The Worst Feeling in the World

The worst feeling in the world is that no one wants you.

One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody. -- Mother Teresa

These statements appeared on my Facebook page not long ago. And although they appeared on the page of a dog rescue group, they are just as relevant to humans, perhaps even more so. Feeling loved and wanted is crucial to the development of healthy human relationships. If a young child is separated from its mother, no matter how well cared for the child may be, the child almost certainly will have difficulty attaching to people in appropriate ways.

And consider another quote by Mother Theresa: The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. Feeling loved and accepted by others can help people avoid such problems as depression, loneliness and anxiety.

The pain of feeling unloved remains part of my family. I cannot imagine the pain my daughter, who was adopted from Russia at age 11, must have felt, knowing that her birth parents didn't want her and didn't care about her. How hurtful it must have been for this sweet little girl, who adored her mother, to be ignored and rejected by her. Imagine being a little child and being passed from one family member to another, until one day your mother takes you to an orphanage and leaves you there. You never see her again. My daughter described feeling "like a doll or toy that is passed around until you get tired of it."

Her birth mother blamed my daughter for the death of a younger sister, despite the fact the mother herself killed the baby. Another thing my daughter has mentioned several times is that her birth mother didn't bother to go to my daughter's birthday party one year. This hurt my daughter deeply, as it would any child. Although her birthday is very close to Christmas, she has had some sort of celebration every year since she became part of my family. One year it was a movie and pizza with friends; another year she chose a trip with friends to the shopping mall, with a stop to see a movie. The type of party was her choice, but we always celebrated her birthday. Now that she is an adult, the two of us go to dinner to mark her special day, and she also celebrates with friends .

When children suffer intense trauma, they invariably will have attachment problems. They are unable to trust others, and to form healthy bonds with their adult family members. They are fiercely independent and they insist on being in control. This battle for control can lead to major difficulties in the family. Early childhood brain trauma is every bit as real as is physical trauma, and the effects may be even more severe and lifelong. While this sort of trauma leaves no physical scars, the emotional damage can be debilitating. It also can have lifelong impacts on the individual's physical health.

My daughter spent years testing me to see whether I, like other adults before me, would abandon her. As she later admitted, she thought that if she could push me away, if she hurt me enough, if she refused to let me get close to her emotionally, she could spare herself  the pain of being abandoned yet again. She did everything she could think of to push me away, to make me give up on her. And she admitted that she wanted me to hurt emotionally because she was in so much pain herself.

We all need to feel loved, whether we are children or adults, orphans or part of a family, Russian, Chinese, French or American. Rejection by one's parents is a common thread running through the lives of many serial killers and other psychopaths. And sadly, our world is filled with people who feel unloved. Some are children, while countless elderly languish in nursing homes with no family or friends to visit them.

We now know a lot more about the effects of abandonment on young children. While most of us are not in a position to help, we can reach out to children we know are struggling to fit in and be accepted. We can invite the not-so-popular kids to our children's birthday parties. We can make an effort to engage them in conversation. And we as individuals can help rectify the loneliness of the elderly. We can visit them, whether they live in nursing homes or in our neighborhood. We can volunteer as drivers for programs such as Meals on Wheels. We can invite our neighbors to go out for coffee or a meal.

Sometimes even the smallest gestures can mean the world to a lonely person.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Buy a Photo, Help a Great Cause

I wrote about this endeavor last year, but it's time to remind followers of this blog about my photography site.

I have been interested in photography for decades, and I consider myself to be a better than average photographer. (The photograph of the wheel to the left was honored in a photo competition by the travel organization Backroads).  Now that I can afford to buy some additional equipment and have time to pursue my passion in retirement, I am enjoying this hobby even more. I'm a long way from being professional, but I enjoy the challenge of capturing a scene and of always trying to improve my photography skills. Wildlife and landscape photography are my favorites, although I also really enjoy photographing old buildings and wheels. And of course, nothing can compare with photographing animals in Africa.
Friends and acquaintances have told me for many years how much they enjoy seeing my photographs from trips throughout the U.S. and around the world. So late last summer I decided to make my best photographs available for sale, with 50 percent of profits being given to one of four  non-profit organizations of the purchaser's choice. All images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or downloaded without prior consent.

Although I support a wide variety of non-profit organizations, I have chosen four to be the recipients of proceeds of my photography venture. Buyers can chose one or more of the following:

  • David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which runs a nursery for orphaned elephants and rhinos in Kenya and prepares them to return to the wild; 
  • Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue; 
  • Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue; or 
  • Road Runner Food Bank of New Mexico. 
My photos can be viewed, and ordered, at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-ann-sullivan.html They are available in a variety of sizes as high-quality photographic prints, on canvas or metal, or as note cards. All products come with a 100 percent satisfaction guaranteer. If you're not happy with a purchase that you made on FineArtAmerica.com, for any reason, you can return it  within 30 days of the order date. As soon as it arrives, a full refund for the entire purchase price will be issued, excluding shipping costs.
Featured images in my galleries include animals, landscapes, architecture, cars and trucks, sunrises and sunsets, and people.

Please visit http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-ann-sullivan.html  and check out this opportunity to get a great photograph and support a non-profit organization doing life-saving work at the same time, at no extra cost to you. Check back often, as new photos are added as appropriate.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Sad World Indeed

Some days, I feel very sad. There are so many times when the things I read bring tears to my eyes.

I am saddened by what I read in the newspaper and on Facebook, and by what I see in my own city. Some things are are worldwide significance, while some affect only a small group of people.
  • Two major earthquakes in Nepal have left more than 8,000 people dead, hundreds of thousands homeless. Aid has been slow to arrive due to the isolated nature of much of the country, blocked roads and landslides, a small central airport, etc.
  • Some young woman from New York state has been visiting numerous national parks in the western U.S., and defacing them with her self-described 'art.' She paints her 'art' with acrylic paints that are very difficult to remove, then posts pictures of herself with her creations on Instagram. It's as if she is proud of her vandalism. Authorities know who she is and where she lives, so I hope she is arrested, convicted and sentenced to federal prison.
  • Tornados in the U.S. continue to wreak major destruction of large areas of the country's heartland.
  • Someone (or perhaps more than one) has been pulling down street signs in my neighborhood. The signs are atop stop signs, which are not pulled down. Is this really a fun thing to do?
  • School shootings, once unthinkable, continue to take lives. A recent shooting in Washington state left four students dead and another seriously injured.
  • Several police officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty recently. 
  • Protesters angry over the killing of a young black man aren't content to simply protest and march. Looting and burning now seem to be part of the protesters' agenda, although these destructive action most harm people in their own neighborhood.
  • The remains of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham were found and identified. Her alleged killer also is charged with the murder of another college student several years ago.
  • At the rate elephants in Africa are being murdered for their tusks (33,000 each year), the species may well be extinct in 20 years.
  • ISIS, the extreme Muslim group terrorizing the citizens of Syria and Iraq, continues its blood-thirty ways, executing innocent people.
  • Boko Haram, another group of Muslim extremists, continues to abduct school girls and force them into slavery and to murder innocent villagers.
  • In Kenya, uncontrolled growth in human activity is impacting both the movement of wildlife and the sustainability of people and land. The number of new crop fields, settlements and fences is staggering. The fences are all made with illegally harvested cedar.
  • A driver in Southern California hit three 13-year-old girls who were trick-or-treating as they were in a crosswalk. He struck and killed all three and then fled the scene.
  • Government-paid cowboys run newborn buffalo calves and pregnant cows to the point of exhaustion to force them back into Yellowstone National Park.
  • Wildlife and the environment remain under constant attack by special interest groups such as cattle ranchers and the oil and gas industries, who seem to feel that America's public lands are there for their exploitation.
  • Our so-called elected leaders seem to care only about the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Meanwhile, the wealth gap between the 1 percent and the rest of Americans continues to grow.

Try as I might, I cannot begin to understand:
  • what joy some people find in killing an animal for 'fun,' or in destroying others' property.  Facebook recently has had several pictures of women grinning stupidly as they posed with the dead African animals they had shot, including an elderly giraffe and a baby monkey 
  • why the radical Muslims feel it is their right to kidnap, torture and murder people who are no threat to them. That is not what the Koran teaches.
  • how people can be so blind to the world around them and be so willing to sell out to the highest bidder
  • why some believe the laws don't apply to them.
I can't speak about people in other countries, but we Americans seem to have lost our moral compass. It is impossible to have a calm, rational discussion about politics without someone resorting to name-calling. The conservatives refer to those with more liberal points of view as 'libtards.' Liberals refer to conservatives as 'repugnicans.' The never-ending political ads on television are all about slamming the opponent, not stating what the candidate plans to do to make things better for the American public. And most of the claims are outright lies. Is it any wonder that the U.S. Congress has an approval rating of only 13 percent?

I recently read a column in the newspaper that I thought was very interesting. The columnist asked rhetorically whether the end of American society as we know it might be not too far off. He cited the rise, the glory and the ultimate collapse of the once-great empires of ancient Rome and ancient Greece, and he pointed out parallels to contemporary America. For example, there is too much economic inequality, and we are consuming the world's natural resources at an alarming rate. Our economy and traditional leadership in technological innovation are on the decline. Our education system, especially in the critical fields of math, science and technology, are falling behind other countries'.

It seems that no one is willing to take responsibility for their actions. Everybody pleads 'not guilty.' No one steps up and says 'Yes, I did it. I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I'll take the punishment.' People look for the easy way out. No one wants to own up to their actions. Everybody else is responsible. It's never my fault. My daddy didn't love me; my mommy fed me junk food. It isn't my fault. As an example, a college student who twice failed a required course in her chosen nursing curriculum is suing the university for her failure to pass the course. She claims the university didn't provide her the necessary accommodations, although the school did provide accommodations. Perhaps the only accommodation this student wanted was to have someone take the exam for her, or to get a passing grade despite failing the course.

I don't know what has changed, but when I was a kid my parents taught me to take responsibility for whatever I did and to accept the consequences. We were taught to disagree without resorting to name-calling. We were expected to respect our own, and other people's, property. I taught my daughter that actions have consequences, either good or bad, and that she and she alone has to assume responsibility for her actions.

Our governments are dysfunctional, with partisan politics overshadowing the public good. No public agency -- schools, police, courts, mental health facilities, hospitals -- ever has enough money, despite increasing taxes. Lawsuits are instigated for the most minor perceived slight. No one is responsible for anything. Everything is somebody else's fault.

I know there are still good people out there; I read about them sometimes. But the sad thing is, these acts of kindness and heroism shouldn't be so rare as to make the news. They should be the way we act and the way we treat each other. I was so pleased when my daughter told me recently that she bought the drink for the guy in line behind her at the Starbuck's coffee shop, because someone had done the same for her a while back. Perhaps if we each pledge to do some random acts of kindness, we can start to change our cold, dysfunctional world. I don't know how we fix a dysfunctional and corrupt Congress. I do know we have to try to make our world a better place.














Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sounds

As I was lying in bed early one spring morning after taking care of my dogs, I realized how quiet it is at my house. That quiet is one of the reasons I bought this house. It's on 1/2 acre, so I have no immediate neighbors, and the lot to the east is still undeveloped. There are no sidewalks, and the roads are not paved. One of the things I disliked about my house in California was all the surrounding noise. It wasn't far from a busy expressway, the houses are jammed together, and my house was near a busy park that was home to never-ending Little League baseball games nine months of the year. So when I moved to New Mexico, I looked for a house with lots of peace and quiet.

I started to think about sound. My world is never completely quiet, as I have suffered from tinnitus (ringing in the ears) for as long as I can remember. And my hearing isn't normal, either, as an inner ear infection when I was 10 years old took about 2/3 of the hearing in my left ear. The hearing in my other ear, however, is better than normal.

But I digress. I think of myself as more of a visual than auditory person, given my passion for photography and writing. But there are certain sounds that are wonderful to listen to, and others that drive me up a wall.

Sounds I enjoy include
  • a tennis ball hitting a racquet's sweet spot
  • a whale exhaling as it breaks the water's surface
  • wolf howls
  • coyote songs
  • the chug-chug of a train 
  • the sound of a train whistle in the distance
  • running water in a stream or river
  • saxophone music
  • boots crunching on crisp snow  
  • rain on the roof
  • the propane burner of a hot air balloon
  • the afterburners of a high-performance jet
  • birds chirping
 I used to live just a couple of blocks from a railroad track, and I always enjoyed hearing the trains going by late at night, whistle blowing. And years ago the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., had a huge locomotive on display. Every so often a recording of the train chugging alone and blowing its whistle would play.
Sounds I really don't like
  • crying babies
  • the shrill voices of little kids
  • traffic noise
  • fax machines
  • honking horns
  • loud motorcycles 
  • loud people
  • the generic noise of a crowd of people
  • howling winds

Some people go crazy when they hear the squeaking of Styrofoam. That sound doesn't bother me much. But a crying or worse, screaming, baby quickly sends me to the breaking point.

What became obvious as I wrote this list is that the most annoying sounds are predominantly not natural, while the sounds I like are mostly the sounds of nature. But these days, the sounds of nature are too often drowned out by the artificial noise that has taken over our world: blaring televisions, booming music, obnoxious commercials, traffic, crowds, hovering helicopters, honking horns. Some people feel a need to have the television on whether they are watching it or not, just for the noise. I am not one of those people.

Music is another sound that I greatly enjoy, but it has to be my kind of music.  I like classic rock, classical music, easy listening, smooth jazz and I can listen to country music, although I don't care for the super twangy stuff. I cannot stand rap, however. Good music can be relaxing and distracting, and it can be a real mood booster. Who doesn't enjoy driving down the highway with the stereo turned up, grooving to our favorite tunes?

I do know that the wrong kinds of sounds can affect my mood. When I lived in Moscow (a bustling city of more than 11 million people with very impatient drivers and terrible traffic), the cacophony of traffic -- squealing brakes, honking horns, revving engines -- could turn a good mood into a bad one very quickly. It was difficult to relax and to sleep with the constant noise. But the sounds of nature are very relaxing and calming. Walking or hiking in the forest or on a beach is a wonderful way to let go.

I appreciate knowing which sounds are irritating and which are soothing, so I can minimize exposure to the former and maximize exposure to the latter. So think about how sounds impact you, then make a point of surrounding yourself with your favorite sounds.