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Saturday, December 31, 2016

What Was Really Lost in the Election

Do you know what lost in this year's presidential election? 

No, not the Hillary Clinton campaign or the Democratic party. Here is what really was lost: truth, integrity, tolerance, diversity, compassion, inclusiveness, science and fact. 

The biggest loser in this campaign was the truth. While people expect politicians to lie and to say whatever they think will help them get elected, Trump took lying to an entirely new level. According to an article in the Washington Post on Nov. 4, "Trump repeatedly made claims that were mind-boggling. He said the unemployment rate was 42 percent when it was really 5 percent. He claimed there were 92 million jobless Americans, a number that included everybody who didn't want to work, such as retirees and students. He even said he could ave $300 billion/year on a Medicare prescription drug program. Trouble is, this program costs only $78 billion per year." Ooops!


Hillary Clinton also told her share of lies, mostly about her private e-mail server, that its use was permitted, and that she hadn't sent or received any classified information. Um, not exactly. She also claimed that she had tried to join the Marines just before she married Bill Clinton but was turned down — and that she had come under fire while in Bosnia. Neither of these statements is true.

And how about Trump's insistence that he saw thousands of Muslims in New York/New Jersey celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, 2001.  Those celebrations never happened. He denied starting the 'birther' movement that claimed that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, instead blaming it on Hillary Clinton. He repeatedly denied making certain statements despite numerous witnesses and video recordings of him making those very statements. Then he attacked the news media for being 'unfair' to him.


Statistics and facts also fell victim to the truth. For example, Trump claimed that 58 percent of black youth were unemployed. The actual number was less than 20 percent. He claimed that more Hispanics lived in poverty under Obama. In reality, the number has decreased. He claimed that the murder rate is the highest in 45 years. In reality, the murder rate is about half  what it was during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Post article continues, "While campaigning for president, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) loved to tell the story of an elderly man sitting in prison for 10 years — just for putting dirt on his land. But just about every aspect of Paul’s recounting was inaccurate and misleading. The man was convicted for his role in developing 67 mobile home lots inside federally protected wetlands, building on wetlands without approval and knowingly selling land with illegal sewage systems that were likely to fail."

So yes, there are many, many examples of how the truth, facts and integrity lost in this campaign. Candidates apparently had no qualms about stretching the truth and telling some real whoppers. Even if fact-checking organizations reported the lies, the candidates' supporters apparently didn't care.

Tolerance and civility were other victims of this campaign. Protesters who dared attend a Trump rally were ridiculed and often physically attacked before being thrown out for daring to oppose the dictator-in-waiting. Trump loved to invent demeaning names for his political opponents: 'Little Marco' Rubio, 'Lyin Ted' Cruz and so on. The collective intelligence of the nation appears to have taken a hit as well, given the number of people who believed every lie that was told. 

Since the election, hate crimes against minorities have skyrocketed. White supremacist groups are holding rallies giving the Nazi salute. And so far the appointees are, surprise, more old, white men. The appointee for US attorney general is a known racist. So much for diversity in the new administration.

Compassion also went out the window, as Trump publicly mocked a disabled reporter, as well as making fun of the appearance of various women. And who can forget his ongoing battle with the family of a young Muslim-American soldier who died fighting for his country, or his Twitter war with a former Miss Universe whom he called "Miss Housekeeper" because of her Latin heritage? And what about Republican plans to slash Social Security benefits and turn Medicare into a voucher system that will drastically reduce coverage for millions of senior citizens? And let us not forget their plans to cancel the Affordable Care Act (i.e., 'Obamacare'), thereby leaving tens of millions of Americans with no medical insurance. Where is the compassion in that?

Trump has nominated a climate-change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. His vice president opposes the teaching of evolution in favor of creationism. So science and facts are other victims. 

There is a growing backlash against these appointees, and people are beginning to challenge those who voted for Trump but claim they aren't racists. If they aren't racists and if they are not speaking out against the growing incidence of hate crimes, they at the very least condone the racist, homophobic, misogynistic comments of Trump and his minions. If they don't support these disturbing statements and trends, they need to speak out against these actions and sentiments.

Yes, all of these things lost when Trump won the electoral college vote, despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. But the biggest loser of all is America. We are now the laughing stock of the world (except for Russia, which helped engineer Trump's 'victory.') I have heard from friends in Kenya, Ireland, France and England who are appalled and frightened at the prospect of an America led by someone who claims to be smarter than everyone else, more knowledgeable than all the top generals and who doesn't need the daily intelligence briefings traditionally provided both to the sitting and incoming president.

So yes, America, we all lost. By the time his followers figure out what this psycho is really about, it may be too late. I can only hope that people, particularly members of Congress, will come to their senses and act, for once, in the best interests of this country, not the party.


 

Around the World in 2016

Once again, I was fortunate to be able to do a lot of travel in 2016.

In February, I made my second trip to Kenya. I spent two nights at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi,
a place where endangered Rothschild giraffes arrive every morning for breakfast of special 'giraffe pellets' provided by the hotel so guests can feed the tall visitors. I got to visit the amazing David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage twice, during the public visit and again during a behind-the-scenes visit for people who sponsor one or more of the elephant orphans. Then I stayed at the incredible Elephant Watch Camp, run by well-known conservationist Saba Douglas-Hamilton. Her father, Sir Ian Douglas-Hamilton, founded the Save the Elephants research organization, and has been studying African elephants for more than 45 years. It was such an honor to meet Ian when he joined us for drinks and dinner one evening.

In May, I traveled to India on a tiger safari, topped off by a visit to the Taj Mahal. What a thrill it was to watch these beautiful and endangered tigers in their natural habitat.





 

From India, I flew to South Africa, where I was joined by a friend with whom I have made two previous trips to Africa. I have wanted to visit Kruger National Park for quite some time, although I found it disappointing during the terrible drought there. But I did get to see leopards a couple of times, as well as several lions.




July found me driving to Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation for a couple of days of photography. I explored on my own, and I also signed on to a sunrise and sunset tour that took me to places off limits to non-tribal members.






Later that month, I flew to England for a walking/hiking trip that included a visit to, and tour of, Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey. I also visited the exterior of the home of Isobel Crawley in the series, heard some tales from the woman who owns and lives in the home, and visited the church where Lady Mary got married, as well as the village of Bampton and the village library, which was used as the hospital in the series. To top it all off, I got to have dinner with a delightful English couple I met while in South Africa.


In August I returned to Great Britain for a hiking trip in Ireland, my second trip to that beautiful island. We got totally drenched during one day's hiking, but otherwise we had pretty good weather. My group stayed in some amazing manor houses, and I got to revisit a couple of places I saw during my last visit in 2004. And while having lunch in Cork, I started talking to a local woman who invited me to join her. She took me on a trip to the Cork marina, bought ice cream for me and our taxi driver, and gave me suggestions about things to do during my short time in Cork. We stay in touch via Facebook.












September took me on a photography trip to the canyons of the American southwest -- Bryce Canyon, Zion and the Grand Canyon. Although I have visited these national parks before, it was great to return in the company of two excellent photographers and guides, and to visit areas of the parks I had not previously seen.




In late October I returned to Yellowstone National Park for a two-day guided photography excursion, although the wildlife I had hoped to photograph was very scarce. We saw no wolves or bears, both of which were high on my list of species to photograph. Even the abundant bison and elk were scarce. And our search for a great gray owl turned up none of these amazing birds. Still, Yellowstone is an amazing place.



My final trip of 2016 was a winter escape to Costa Rica in late November on a guided photography expedition. I was in Costa Rica on a hiking trip a couple of years ago and really like the country. I've never been into photographing birds, but the avian population in that country is just amazing.






I am so fortunate to be able to visit, and revisit, so many amazing countries and places in the US. Next year promises to be equally as exciting, including a photography trip to Cuba, a photo safari in Tanzania, a visit to the Normandy beaches of France, a return visit to Kenya, Berlin and Poland (Auschwitz), a trip to visit a friend in Scotland and a hiking trip in Joshua Tree National Park. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Nostalgia

It's Christmas Eve 2016. I'm listening to one of my favorite Christmas CDs, by Mannheim Steamroller. And I feel nostalgic.

Christmas isn't a big thing for me. For the past three years, I have neither sent out holiday cards nor set up a tree. This year I didn't even set out my many Christmas decorations, including my small collection of hand-carved, wooden Grandfather Frost statues from Russia. And I have really cut back on my holiday baking. Gone are the days when I would make three or four kinds of cookies and a 3-pound pan of fudge. As a retiree, I no longer have the option of taking my sweet treats to work to share with coworkers. And I certainly don't need to eat all those calories by myself. I did make some peanut butter cup cookies to share with my daughter and son-in-law, and some shortbread for me. But that's it.

I am nostalgic because I'm thinking back to just a few years ago when my daughter (adopted at age 11 from an orphanage in Siberia) would get so excited about Christmas. I loved to shop for her and watch her face light up in delight on Christmas morning. She, of course, always had a list of things she wanted, and I was always able to come up with a few surprises as well.

She was so good at finding her presents, no matter where I hid them, that I finally resorted to hiding them in my office at work. But even that didn't keep them safe. So a co-worker suggested I hide them in her office when my daughter came to work to see me. So that's what I did. 
 
Now, my daughter is 23, newly married and living a 45-minute drive from me. She and her husband will join me for Christmas dinner, but the joy of watching her open gifts is long gone. This year, as for the past few, I gave her money and gift cards. They recently moved into a rental townhouse and requested money to help pay for things for their new place. I also bought her a good set of kitchen knives and a toaster oven, two things she needed. 

I know she has bought a couple of small items for me. There isn't much I need these days, but she did buy me a turquoise wallet to replace the one that wore out, as well as a couple of things for my house. So there is no surprise there. But that's OK. I don't need anything, and money is tight for her.

So even though the days of watching her face light up on Christmas morning are in the past, I still get to spend some time with her and my son-in-law on Christmas day. And that's a pretty special thing.

 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Gentle Gifts of Joy

May this season come to you quietly, peacefully, with gentle gifts of joy.

I'm stealing this expression from a Hallmark holiday card my daughter recently received. I love the sentiment and the simple wish the words convey.

Quiet and peace are two things I appreciate immensely. I do my best to avoid noisy places and people. My love of nature and wilderness springs from my desire for quiet. I love nothing more than spending time outdoors, soaking in the beauty, preferably in the company of some of this world's magnificent animals, accompanied by my cameras.

Sadly, ours is not a world of peace and quiet. Urban life is a cacophony of sounds. Cities are packed with people and cars, trucks and motorcycles. I remember hating the incessant noise of life in Moscow. My life in busy northern California was so filled with noise that some days I wanted to scream from the honking horns, squealing brakes, rumbling motorcycles, sirens, low-flying airplanes and helicopters and blaring televisions. Now I live in a quiet area, on a 1/2-acre lot. Sometimes at night I can hear coyotes howling, but otherwise life is blissfully quiet.  

Urban violence takes countless lives every year. Innocent Americans are caught in the crossfire or deliberately targeted by gun-toting thugs. My daughter and son-in-law's car was broken into and personal papers and other items stolen. Countries around the world are wracked with religious and political violence. Car bombs, suicide bombers and bombs dropped from airplanes kill innocent victims and destroy markets and hospitals.

Who among us can't use some 'gentle gifts of joy'? Joy, of course, can take many forms. Certainly physical items can bring us joy. But that joy often is fleeting. More long-lasting is the joy that comes from doing for others. I was ordering a couple of things online recently to replace some items that had broken or were worn out, when I remembered that my daughter had said that she and her new husband needed a new knife set. So I included a good set of kitchen knives with my order. That simple act, of doing something for someone I love, brought me joy. Similarly, paying for another's grocery purchase or doing something nice for someone with no expectation of anything in return can bring great joy to the giver and to the recipient.

May we be all be blessed to find our own quiet, peace and gentle gifts of joy during this season and throughout the coming year. If we don't find them, we need to take steps to search in our own way for the things that bring us joy. Let us pledge to work to bring more peace and joy to our troubled world.

.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Costa Rica Images

New photographs from Costa Rica are now available. Costa Rica is an amazing country with delightful people, brightly colored birds and flowers, and unique mammals.


I love the vibrant colors on this wooden oxcart wheel spotted at a hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica. Imagine how it will brighten a room! I'm going to order a print for my dining room.

Available in a variety of sizes and options at
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-color-wheel-ann-sullivan.html?newartwork=true



This white-headed capuchin monkey apparently grew tired of being on the ground, climbed a nearby tree and decided to relax. Notice how his long tail goes directly up the trunk of the tree. Available at  http://fineartamerica.com/featured/feeling-lazy-ann-sullivan.html








The resplendent quetzel is found in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America. Males like the one pictures have beautiful long green tails. We waited several hours for this bird, which we could see tucked away in a tree among the leaves, to finally alight on this branch in the open. Available at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/resplendent-ann-sullivan.html?viewall=true







Finally, here is one of my most favorite photographs, of two scarlet macaws 'helping' a photographer. He, unfortunately, did not appreciate their help. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/helpers-ann-sullivan.html?viewall=true

Friday, December 16, 2016

Will America Survive?

How far our country has fallen.

Rather than working to take care of the most vulnerable among us, Congressional Republicans, led by House speaker Paul Ryan, are moving quickly to 'reform' Social Security and Medicare. Their idea of 'reform' is massive cuts in benefits. 

In Texas, Republican legislators have enacted drastic cuts to early childhood intervention programs that have resulted in three programs closing so far. The cuts are aimed at reducing Medicaid costs by $350 million over two years.

The GOP's attack on what it calls 'entitlements' is nothing new. As someone who was forced to pay into the Social Security and Medicare programs through a payroll tax my entire working life (more than 40 years), I find this derogatory use of the term to be offensive and insulting. You damn well better believe that I and others like me are entitled to the benefits we were promised and forced to pay for.

The Republicans claim that Social Security is going broke. But they refuse to mention an easy solution to the perceived shortfall -- simply remove the cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax. Currently, all income over $118,00 is exempt from the Social Security tax. There is no cap on the Medicare tax, so why is there one on Social Security?

According to a 2013 opinion piece in the New York Times, "Simply by eliminating the payroll tax earnings cap — and thus ending this regressive exemption for the top 5.2 percent of earners — would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, solve the financial crisis facing the Social Security system."

So why is only 'solution' lawmakers can come up with to cut benefits? And why not admit that the program has enough in its trust fund to fully fund all obligations without beginning to draw down the fund until 2019 if nothing is done?  Its reserves are estimated to be depleted by 2035. But even at that point, there will still be enough income coming into the program to pay 79 percent of the benefits owed. (http://time.com/money/4452457/is-social-security-going-broke/)

These facts make me wonder what the real reason is for the Republican party's zeal to slash benefits. Maybe this party of so-called "family values" hopes that without enough income to live on and without adequate medical care many of these 'useless' poor and elderly will die and not be such a burden on society. Think I'm making this up? Nevada Republican Congressman Cresent Hardy, speaking to a Libertarian Party expo in Las Vegas, claimed that people· with disabilities are a drain·on society. He categorized the elderly as "a draw on the government." 

And in other news, the North Carolina Republicans, whose candidate for governor narrowly lost his reelection bid, are now taking action behind closed doors to severely limit the powers of the incoming Democratic governor. The legislature called a surprise session and introduced bills to limit the governor-elects ability to make cabinet appointments, remove state and county election boards from Democratic control, slow the progress of legal battles to the state supreme court (which has a majority of justices appointed by Democrats), and make elections to the supreme court partisan. And as expected, the outgoing Republican governor signed the legislation.

So the citizens of North Carolina spoke at the polling place and voted to replace the incumbent governor, and now the Republicans in the legislature are acting to ignore the voice of the people by hamstringing the newly elected governor. Is it any wonder the citizens are packing the legislative chambers in protest? 

I read a lot of outrage about these plans to screw the average American, but outrage online isn't going to change anything. Where is the AARP in the fight against cuts to Social Security and Medicare? Where is the outrage about Russia's apparent hacking to influence the outcome of the presidential election? What can we little people do to stop the Trump appointments of insiders with conflicts of interest to cabinet-level positions? 

I don't know what the answer is. Signing petitions to his excellency certainly isn't going to influence him or his adult children, who are sitting in on meetings with international leaders and plan to have offices in the White House.

I have voted in every presidential election since I was eligible to vote. Sometimes my candidate won, and sometimes my candidate lost. But never have I been so upset and frightened by the prospect of any incoming president. I have in the past voted for Republicans for president and for governor. But never again until the party returns to its roots. Trump, and his party, have lost all sense of decency, all sense of responsibility, to the country and its citizens. No longer do they act in the best interests of the country, but in the best interests of their corporate puppet masters and lobbyists.

America has survived a civil war, two world wars, other international conflicts and terrorist attacks. But can we as a nation survive this Congress and incoming president?

 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Random Thoughts and Random Acts

I definitely have not found the Christmas spirit this year. In fact, I put away the few decorations I had set out.

So I decided to carry out a random act of kindness in an attempt to find at least a bit of the holiday spirit. As I went through the check-out line at the grocery store early this morning, I noticed a man in line behind me with a bag of three doughnuts. I told the cashier I wanted to pay for his purchase, too. He first said no, but I told him I was just paying forward a similar kindness someone had done for me and to please let me do this for him. So he relented, thanked me and went on his way. Now buying three doughnuts isn't a big deal, and the total cost was less than $2, but I hope it brightened this man's day just a bit. And I think the cashier appreciated this little act of kindness as well.

As I was walking my dogs later in the morning, I recalled a time some 20+ years ago when my husband at the time and I, along with our dogs, would make up a couple of plates of homemade cookies, fudge and fruit cake and deliver them to the sailors standing guard at the gate to the naval air station. This was in the 1990s, before acts of terrorism made it impossible for our military to accept gifts from unknown people. I worked for NASA, which occupied one side of the naval air station site.

The look on the face of the sailor pulling a boring guard duty on Christmas Eve as we drove up and handed over a couple of plates of homemade sweets was priceless. These sailors were young, probably around 20 years old or even younger, and most likely spending their first Christmas away from home.

We carried out this tradition for several years, until the naval air station was closed and the gate guards became rent-a-cops. Somehow I was no longer motivated to carry on the tradition after that.

It's a shame traditions such as this have gone away because of the actions of a few misguided individuals who might want to poison the food, fill it with ground glass, etc. I would love to take some homemade goodies to a local police station or fire house. 

Since I can't do that, I have challenged my Facebook friends to perform a random act of kindness (or several) during the holiday season. And now I'm challenging you, my readers, whichever country you live in, to do the same thing. You don't have to say what act of kindness you do, but I would love to know that people are doing something nice for others during this season of giving.

It doesn't matter whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or none of these. It doesn't matter whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I simply would love to see people around the world carrying out random acts of kindness as an antidote to the hatred, cruelty and suffering in our world. You can do anything, from buying doughnuts for a stranger to holding a door or visiting a shut-in neighbor. Your act of kindness need not be expensive or take a lot of time. It is, after all, the thought that counts. And we never know just what that kindness may mean to someone.

If you want to share your act of kindness, I would love to hear about it. If you want to keep it to yourself, that's fine, too. Just think what a difference we can make in the world if millions of people start to do something nice for someone just because, with no expectation of anything other than brightening the day of someone who may desperately need a bit of kindness.

 Will you join me?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Wanna-Be

I feel like a wanna-be.

I am a wanna-be photographer and a wanna-be writer. Yes, I have a photo Web site, and people tell me how much they enjoy my photos. I am a pretty good, but not great, photographer. But apparently no one likes my images enough to purchase a print. And yes, I wrote and self-published a book about my experiences raising an 11-year-old girl from Russia. It sold a handful of copies. And yes, I have had this blog for eight years. Despite having readers from Europe and Asia, most posts are read by fewer than 40 people, and I never get any feedback. My blog has a grand total of 14 followers.

So my creative endeavors aren't exactly a rousing success. I'm not sure what I'm doing, or not doing, to account for these pathetically low numbers. I enjoy writing and I love photography, but some feedback once in a while would be nice. 

I won't give up these activities that bring me so much joy, but a bit more feedback (or sales) would be wonderful. I don't want to become a wedding photographer or take photos of high school seniors. I'm not interested in starting a photography business. That would be work, and I definitely am enjoying my retirement. I will continue to photograph the places I visit, landscapes, wild animals and the occasional interesting piece of architecture. All profits from photo sales are donated to a scholarship fund that helps rural children in Kenya attend high school. So I'm not out to make money from my photography. My writing will be limited to this blog. 

So what's the answer? I'm still looking, but if you have suggestions, I would love to hear them. And please enjoy this photo I took recently of the quetzal, a rare and beautiful bird that lives in Costa Rica.


 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Godspeed, John Glenn

John Glenn died at age 95 on Dec. 8, 2016.

US Marine. Fighter pilot. Test pilot. One of the first seven American astronauts. First American to circle the globe in a space capsule. US senator. Presidential candidate. Oldest person to fly in space. Highly decorated combat veteran and civilian. Larger than life hero.

Any one of these things would have made Col. John Glenn an amazing man. But he accomplished all of these things while remaining an approachable, down-to-earth person.

I was fortunate to meet him, briefly, when I worked at the Johnson Space Center. My sister and 3-year-old niece were visiting me in Houston, and I took them on a tour of the space center. We were in a large building that housed several mock-ups of the space shuttle and space station that were used in astronaut training. I knew the woman who managed the facility, and she told me that John Glenn -- who at the time was preparing for his return to flight some 36 years following his first trip into space -- was in the building talking to a couple of people. She said if I waited a few minutes, I could meet him. 

There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity. When he finished his conversation, I walked up to him, introduced myself as a member of the JSC public affairs team and told him what an honor it was to meet him. I also introduced my sister and niece, and asked whether I could get a photo of him with my niece. I didn't have the nerve to ask for a photo of myself with him. He readily agreed, grabbed a folding chair leaning against a wall, sat down and put my niece on his lap. I snapped a quick photo (complete with a vacuum cleaner in the background) and later had him autograph it. My niece, now a college graduate, still has the photograph.

I couldn't believe this wonderful chance encounter with such a famous man. He was a highly decorated combat veteran, a retired senator and the most famous American astronaut of all. And he was so nice! That seems to be what others who knew and worked with John Glenn remember most about him -- his kindness and approachability. Another, much less famous astronaut I met in the course of my job, was rude and haughty, a general jack ass. But Glenn seemed humble despite his many accomplishments.

He remained married to his wife Annie for 73 years, quite an accomplishment, particularly for such a famous person. He continued to live in the state where he was born, Ohio. John Glenn, like his equally famous fellow Ohioan Neil Armstrong, remained true to his humble roots.

John Glenn was the last of the original American astronauts, the Mercury 7. With so much talk these days of sports figures being called heroes, John H. Glenn, Jr. was a true American hero. I am so fortunate to have met this amazing man, to have shaken his hand and talked to him for a couple of minutes. I have met a few celebrities during my NASA career, but none has left the lasting impression as this American space pioneer.

Godspeed, John Glenn.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why I Hate Winter

I HATE WINTER!!!!

I hate the below freezing temperatures. I hate the short days and long nights. I hate the gloomy days. I hate the desolate look of my yard. I hate my aching hands whose arthritis is exacerbated by the cold. I hate exercising in the cold. I hate walking my dogs on a frozen morning. 

I hate the sound of my furnace running non-stop, gobbling up endless gallons of pricey liquid propane. I hate the sound of the humidifier running non-stop with its irritating sound. I hate getting zapped every time I take a step and then touch something. It doesn't matter what I touch -- dog, faucet, anything -- I will get zapped. I hate the constantly runny nose, the dry skin and chapped lips. I hate the winter allergies and head colds.

I hate getting out of bed in the total early morning darkness, leaving my flannel sheets behind as I dash to the kitchen to feed my twirling dogs. 

I hate the layers of clothes required to stay somewhat comfortable outside -- heavy coat, scarf and gloves as a minimum. Boots and balaclava if it's really cold.

I hate my fogged up glasses (and camera lens if I'm doing some outdoor photography). I hate the frozen ears despite the warm hat I wear. I hate falling on the snow or ice. I hate having to limit the time I spend outdoors (and not enjoying the small amount of time I am outside). 

I don't ski or ice skate or snow board or play ice hockey. So what's the fun in winter? As far as I'm concerned, there isn't any. I was just in Costa Rica, a warm, humid, tropical country. While at first it seemed strange to see Christmas trees and lights while wearing shorts, I quickly adapted and realized that my life of Christmas in a frigid season isn't the reality for many people. And truth be told, I could easily get used to spending Christmas on a beach somewhere.

Anyone want to join me?

Ready for a Change!

I need to make a change in 2017, and the image below sums up my wishes pretty well.

Something is missing inside me.  My daughter is newly married and living with her husband.
My life seems to have little purpose these days. Maybe that feeling is due to my lack of volunteerism the past couple of years. I stopped volunteering at the two local organizations where I had been an active volunteer  because I didn't like the way I and other volunteers were treated. Since then, I have searched for new volunteer opportunities but haven't yet found anything that suits me. And with my busy travel schedule, I've been reluctant to commit to anything that requires regular participation.

I am restless, which perhaps accounts for my many travels in 2016 and an active travel schedule planned for 2017. I keep thinking about moving away from New Mexico to somewhere with a more temperate climate, but again, nothing other than California (where I can't afford to live) seems to have everything I'm looking for. I want a place with a Mediterranean climate, access to outdoor activities, environmental awareness, an affordable cost of living, and that is not overcrowded. And I need lots of sunny days, too. I'm not asking for a lot, am I?

I keep busy, but not with meaningful activities. I am pursuing my love of photography to a greater extent. I took a couple of trips this year specifically for photographers, and I always have my cameras with me when I travel. But my photo Web site has sold not one image in the more than two years I have had it operational; my photo exhibit at a local medical office has generated zero interest or sales, and my offer to make calendars to order with any of my photos generated sales of only 12 calendars. People always say how much they enjoy my pictures, but apparently not enough to purchase one. So it's pretty discouraging. I don't pursue photography as a business, but I would love to use it to raise funds to benefit a scholarship fund that help Kenyan students from rural areas attend high school.  

My life is good, better, in fact, than many. I just feel like I'm in a rut, so I need to pick myself up and figure out how to make a good life even better. Anybody want to join me? I think I will start by performing a random act of kindness.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I'm Missing That Charitable Feeling

I have been away from home for several days, and I picked up the accumulated mail yesterday evening. As expected, it was nearly all requests from charities for more money, or it was holiday catalogs. And it all went directly into the recycling bin outside.  

I usually donate a considerable amount of money to a variety of charities during the winter holiday season. But this year I don't feel very charitable. Maybe it's because I spent a lot of money on landscaping and other home maintenance this year, as well as paying for my daughter's wedding. I also gave her a chunk of money as a down payment on a car. And of course, I did a lot of traveling as well. Maybe I feel this way because of the distress that has beset a large portion of our citizens following the results of the presidential campaign. And perhaps I feel overwhelmed by the demands to donate. There are so many causes I support -- food banks, hospice, environmental and animal organizations -- that I simply cannot donate large sums to all of them. And truth be told, I hesitate to donate because I know that my donation will mean an onslaught of even more demands for money in the future. One organization, Mercy Corps, still hits me up for money despite the fact I donated only once some 20 years ago! And the Albuquerque Rescue Mission still sends out regular demands despite my repeated requests to stop sending me appeals.
 
Whatever the reason, I'm afraid there are more than a few charities that won't be getting donations from me this year. I know the need is great, and I will donate to a food drive for the state's largest food bank and to the hospice that cared for my father. But those big checks won't be making an appearance this year.

Perhaps charities need to purge their donor lists every decade or so and stop sending appeals to people who clearly no longer are willing to donate. Why waste the paper and postage on someone who hasn't made a donation in 20 years? And charities also need to be responsive to donors who ask to be removed from their mailing lists.

So I guess this year I will be a Grinch and not donate at the level of past years, because sadly, whatever I give just results in still more demands for money.

Friday, November 25, 2016

I Have Found 'The Perfect Gift'

Yesterday's newspaper was little more than several pounds of ads for "the perfect gift" and 'black Friday' doorbusters. Yawn.

I am so done with the Christmas hype and stress. My newly married daughter and son-in-law have asked for money for Christmas to help pay for new furniture as they move into a townhouse and out of the husband's bachelor pad. So money is what I will give them. And I'll probably get a couple of gift cards so they can enjoy a meal out or a coffee treat once in a while.

After visiting Africa four times in the past three years, my perspective on what is important has changed considerably. Never one to engage in the mad dash to buy 'the perfect gift,' I am now even more aware of the crushing poverty that envelopes so much of the world. And having that knowledge makes me even more dedicated to doing something to help.

Earlier this year I visited the Soweto region of Johannesburg, South Africa, and saw the one-room tin shack in which a mother and her children live. The community was excited to have recently obtained access to running water -- not in each shack, but through a community pump. A couple of years ago a friend and I visited a school in rural Kenya that has no electricity or running water, only a few books, no computers or high-tech equipment. Each classroom has dirt floors, and the children, all neatly dressed in uniforms, walk miles to school every morning and home again in the afternoon. Another group I follow on Facebook posted recently about the shoes the children wear, made of old rubber tires. American children would be appalled to be seen wearing rubber shoes, but these kids are excited to have any kind of footwear. 

So pardon me if I don't get excited about America's annual shopping -- and spending -- frenzy. I plan to donate to a scholarship fund for pasturalist Kenyan girls so they can attend high school. Perhaps I will support an after-school program for Soweto students. I will donate to the hospice that cared for my father at the end of his life, and to a couple of animal rescue groups. I also will donate food to local food drives as I do every year.

The older I get, the less I need things. I value the feeling that comes from knowing I have helped those in need, especially given the overwhelming suffering and sadness in our world. I value experiences gained from travel and the friendships I have made during those travels. I don't need more clothes or more knicknacks to collect dust. Experiences, memories and digital images from my travels don't clutter the house or require dusting. 

Feeling more connected in some small way to people on the other side of the planet, people with whom I have little in common, is really my 'perfect gift' this holiday season and throughout the year.



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving 2016

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and a good time to pause and consider all for which we can be thankful.

It hasn't been a great year for me. In February, while on safari in northern Kenya, I fell and broke my wrist. But I am thankful for the quick response of the camp manager and several of the local Samburu staff. I am thankful for the pilot that flew to a remote airstrip to get me and fly me to Nairobi, for the compassionate care I received from the hospital staff, and for the skilled surgeon who put my wrist back together at 1 a.m. I am thankful for the young Kenyan nurse named Barack who kept my mind off my pain by sharing his love of American history with me as I waited for surgery. I am grateful for the assistance I received from the other members of my group, particularly my tentmate and retired Scottish nurse who did everything from tie my shoes to help me get dressed after the surgery

I am grateful for the skilled eye surgeon who removed the cataract from both of my eyes and for the friend who drove me to my first post-op appointment until I was cleared to drive. I am grateful for my good health and for being able to walk at least 4 miles every day. When so many my age face serious and debilitating health problems, I am still active and healthy.

I am grateful that my daughter married a very nice young man serving his country in the Air Force, that they live just 30 minutes away, and that she is doing well in her job as a hair stylist. 

I am thankful for the many opportunities to travel this year -- to Kenya, India, South Africa, Monument Valley, England, Ireland, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Costa Rica, Mexico and Guatemala. 

As the weather turns cold, I am grateful for my wonderful, warm house with its beautiful views of the mountains. I am grateful for my three dogs that keep me on my toes every day and love me beyond words. Unlike so many, I have more than enough to eat, I have warm clothes, a reliable car and good health insurance.

Despite the angst I feel about the most recent presidential election, I am grateful to live in a free country where people are allowed to vote without fear of repercussions. I value our ability to peacefully protest. I am grateful for the members of our military who keep us safe and free, and for the first responders who daily risk their lives in service to others. 

I won't be preparing a Thanksgiving meal this year for the first time in decades. I have lost my sense of taste and smell, so I'm not very motivated to spend hours cooking a big dinner that I won't be able to enjoy. But I can spend the day knowing I have plenty to eat and thinking about the many blessings in my life. Because in the end, regardless of our troubles, we in this country do still have much for which to be thankful.





Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Special Place

It's early Sunday morning. I'm sitting at my desk, drinking a cup of hot tea and watching a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. Although it's just 32 degrees outside, and I hate cold weather, I am enjoying the serenity of this early morning.

I love my house, but I think my favorite room of all is my office. Of course, I'm retired, so I don't actually work in my office, but it's where I typically listen to music, watch the goings on in the yard, pay bills, write and work with my digital photographs. My three dogs are always nearby on the floor. Bailey has a spot on one side of a mall table next to a large oak bookcase. Layla prefers the other side, near the half bathroom. Benny likes to be near the French doors. 

The walls of my office are decorated with a variety of photographs and artwork. A have a print of an Ansel Adams photo of Yosemite's Half Dome, a close-up portrait of a Yellowstone wolf with snow on its face, a beaded wall hanging from South Africa, a print from a local Native American artist, and pictures of my previous dogs and my family. And books, lots of books. I have a comfortable library chair and ottoman next to a reading lamp and table that belonged to my parents.

The downside to this room is that since it was built after the original house, it is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. For some reason the heating and cooling don't work very well in this room. A ceiling fan and space heater help, but it isn't as comfortable as the rest of the house.

But this room is my special place, a place of quiet and reflection. I love being able to look out on the large back yard and the mountains in the distance. Sometimes I can see a road runner on the top of the cement wall, or a Coopers hawk in one of the trees. 

I think it's important to have a special place. I also have favorite places outdoors, too, but my office is my special room in the house. Where is your favorite room? The kitchen? The workshop? 

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Weighty Question

What is this obsession among people who work in doctors' offices about making patients step on a scale?

Unless there is a real medical need for me to get weighed every time I visit a doctor, I will continue to refuse. And so far there has been no medical necessity. I'm sure the people telling me to step on the scale are just doing what they are told to do, but I no longer comply.

I started refusing last year after I had two appointments with different doctors on the same day, and I was told to step on the scale at both. I had obliged the first time, but the second time I replied that I was weighed that morning and my weight hadn't changed over the past couple of hours. Both doctors were part of the same large medical group, so my weight was available.

Most office personnel seem taken aback but accepting of my refusal, but once in a while one of them makes her displeasure obvious. I don't care. It is my right as a patient to refuse this or any test, and getting weighed is a test. In addition to being unnecessary, it is highly inaccurate. What is the point of getting a weight on a fully clothed patient wearing jeans, a sweater, a jacket and shoes, and who just finished breakfast and drinking juice, tea and a large glass of almond milk less than an hour previously? 

I understand that large weight gain or loss could indicate a serious health problem. If that happens to me, I certainly would bring it up with my primary care physician. I would not discuss it with the ear, nose and throat doctor or the osteoporosis doctor, both of whose offices I visited recently. My weight has absolutely no relevance to the reasons I visited those medical practices. And if my weight is needed so my doctor can prescribe the correct dosage of a medication or before surgery, by all means I will comply. But forget about getting weighed just because patients always get weighed.

Part of my refusal to submit to unnecessary weighing is my growing opposition to the ever-increasing collection of personal information by businesses. I have spent hours removing my personal information from various Internet sites that sell it to anybody for a fee. I refuse to provide my Social Security number to get a quote for car insurance or to set up an account with a veterinarian or physician. I will not give my address simply so I can sign a petition. I have a separate e-mail account that I use when required to provide an e-mail address on some Web sites. I will not give someone my phone number except in rare cases. I always 'opt out' of businesses being allowed to share my personal information "with carefully selected companies may be on interest" to me. But my e-mail account still gets bombarded with spam, as does my cell phone get flooded with calls from telemarketers despite being on the useless do-not-call list.

So my refusal to get weighed at the doctor's office (I weigh myself at home every morning) is part of a bigger attempt to regain control of the information being collected about me. I am an average size and weight, so my refusal to step on the scale has nothing to do with being ashamed of my weight and everything to do with trying to reclaim control of my personal information. 

This may be a losing battle, but it is one I will continue to wage.