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Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Random Act of Kindness

Please allow me to brag a bit about my wonderful 22-year-old daughter.

I am extremely proud of my daughter. Despite the fact that she is strapped for money -- she is still developing her clientele as a newly minted hair stylist -- she recently paid for some dog food and a soft drink for a man who appeared to be homeless. 

Here's what happened. She was on her way home from work and stopped to return a DVD to the RedBox machine at a Family Dollar store. The man and his dog were in line ahead of her. When the man realized he did not have enough money to pay for his purchases, he left the store without the dog food and drink. My daughter ran after him. He went back into the store with her, and she paid for his purchases. He gave her a hug. 

The total purchase was only a few dollars, but for a struggling hair stylist it meant giving up her tip for the day. And this is not the only time she has shown compassion to someone who is down and out. She once saw a homeless man standing on a street corner asking for money. She drove out of her way, bought the man a sandwich and returned to the corner to give it to him. In response, he tossed the sandwich away. What a thoughtless gesture from someone supposedly in need! Maybe he wanted money to buy cigarettes, booze or drugs.

But that hurtful action hasn't deterred her from other acts of kindness. And what makes her kindness more remarkable is her background. She had a terrible childhood, filled with deprivation, abuse and rejection by her birth parents in Russia. She lived with a variety of family members, eventually ending up in an orphanage. But despite everything she had been through, she looked out for the younger kids in her orphanage, and she has always loved animals. 

Children with her background and early childhood trauma often lack compassion for others. They frequently abuse animals. So where did she learn to be so compassionate? Certainly she didn't learn this from her birth parents. For whatever reason, she has retained her innate kind spirit and selflessness despite her traumatic early childhood. She loves animals, especially dogs and cats. I like to think I had something to do with this, but her good heart has always been a part of her. I just set a positive example for her.

So to say that I am proud of her doesn't begin to explain how I feel. Her kindness and generous heart are just two of the things I love about this young lady. I hope she is richly rewarded for her kindness and that she continues to be a positive influence in this world where too often we hear only about young people committing crimes.

Well done, Дочeньka! May Karma reward you for your good deeds, and may you never lose your compassion for the less fortunate among us.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

In the Valley of Wolves

I recently won a book from Living with Wolves, an Idaho-based wolf advocacy group.

To enter the contest, I had to state what draws me to the wolf. My response: "Wolves speak to my soul. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them in the wild and listening to their howls." My entry was one of five chosen to receive a signed copy of Howl: Of Woman and Wolf by Susan Imhoff Bird. 

I almost never win anything, so this was a great surprise, particularly given my fascination with wolves. I recently finished reading Doug Smith's Decade of the Wolf, which is a behind-the-scenes look at the politics, science and logistics that went into the decision to release 31 gray wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996. These wolves were the first to inhabit the park since the wolf population was exterminated by the park service in the 1920s. Those original 31 animals have given rise to a current population of some 100 wolves living in 11 packs as of December 2014. 

Now I am reading In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter's Immersion into Wild Yellowstone by Rick Lamplugh. His book is a series of essays about his observations of his winters spent volunteering with the Yellowstone Foundation's Wolf Watch program. He has some wonderful insights into the balance of nature and the interaction between species. This book is an informative yet very personal view of Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.

Yellowstone's wolves are a major tourist attraction, boosting the area's economy with dollars spent on lodging, guides, meals, gasoline, souvenirs and other things. One study estimates that people visiting Yellowstone to see wolves pump some $35 million/year into the economies of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. I love Yellowstone, especially the bison and wolves. I love the variety of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and other thermal features. But the reason I keep going back is the wolves. 

It is such a thrill to see the wolves up close, although that rarely happens. More typically, I get to see them through a high-powered spotting scope. Although I dream of getting close enough to capture a really great photo with my long (400 mm) lens, that hasn't happened yet. But I am forever hopeful. 

I will be going back to Yellowstone later this year, after the crowds have gone. I have even hired a guide/photographer for a private wildlife and photography tour for two days. There is something so magical about Yellowstone and its 2.2 million acres of wildness. Where else can a visitor hope to see grizzly bears and wolves, herds of bison, moose, big horn sheep, pronghorn, mountain goats and bald eagles, in addition to more than 10,000 hydrothermal features such as geysers, mud pots, hot springs and steam vents?

I would love to live close enough to Yellowstone to visit on a regular basis, but the winters there are far too harsh for me. And I avoid the park's masses of visitors during the summer months. But my once or twice yearly visits during the spring, fall or winter are the highlights of my year. Since I can't live there, I guess I will have to be content with reading about these fascinating animals and visiting as often as possible.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

In Remembrance

Today, January 28, is NASA's Day of Remembrance.

This date is honored every year to celebrate the lives of, and mourn the deaths of, 17 brave astronauts who died while advancing the exploration of space. Also remembered are the lost crews of the Russian Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11 missions, as well as others who died while advancing our knowledge of space. 

 The first loss -- Apollo 1's crew of Virgil 'Gus' Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White -- occurred on Feb. 1, 1967, in a horrible fire in their space capsule as they were training for their upcoming mission. An electrical spark ignited the pure oxygen in the sealed capsule, which created an incredible inferno. The crew was unable to escape through the closed hatch. Apollo 1 was scheduled to be the first of NASA's manned lunar landings.

The seven-person crew of space shuttle Challenger, mission STS 51-L, perished when their spacecraft broke apart 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986, exactly 30 years ago today. Commander Dick Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair and Judy Resnik, payload specialist Greg Jarvis, and payload specialist/first teacher in space Christa McAuliffe died when cold temperatures caused a failure in O rings on one of the two solid rocket boosters, allowing pressurized burning gas to reach the liquid fuel in the external tank that powered the initial phase of launch. Although I didn't yet work for NASA, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news -- at a post-op appointment following eye surgery the previous day. It's a day I will always remember.

The loss of space shuttle Columbia on mission STS 107 on Feb. 1, 2003, hit me the hardest, as I was a NASA employee then. That day is one that will forever be etched in my memory, along with the day President Kennedy was assassinated and Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the United States. 

My supervisor called me early the morning of the accident, saying simply "We've lost Columbia." I knew exactly what he meant. I replied, "Oh, no, not again." Three words -- "We've lost Columbia" -- started me crying, something I do to this day 13  years later when I think about that awful day. I immediately called our news chief at his home in San Francisco, waking him up, and telling him the grim news. We started calling our public affairs staff and asked them to report to work. 

By the time I got to work, every phone in the office was ringing. Reporters wanted to do stories live from the NASA center where I worked in northern California. They wanted 'reaction' from NASA, so we began coordinating our response with NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., making arrangements with our senior staff to speak to the news media, preparing fact sheets, talking points, etc. But all that didn't matter a whole lot. What mattered was that once again, people had died while exploring space. What mattered was that we, the NASA family, was mourning. We had no idea at that point what had caused Columbia to break apart as it streaked across the U.S. toward its planned landing at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Commander Rick Husband, pilot Willy McCool, astronauts Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Mike Anderson and Laurel Clark, along with Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, perished that fateful day.

Everyone was in shock. But we all pulled together to do our job. Our support staff called to offer to come to work to help with office tasks such as making photocopies and taking messages. Even one very pregnant public affairs officer showed up to help. I felt very close to that mission, as I had worked in the newsroom in Houston's Johnson Space Center for the first half of the mission, fielding media inquiries, answering questions, providing updates and arranging interviews. So when I was asked to do an interview with a local television reporter, it was all I could do to get through the interview without completely breaking down.

The American human spaceflight program is now in a hiatus, with the only Americans in space being ferried to the International Space Station via a Russian Soyuz space capsule. I would guess that few Americans even know there are Americans in space. Fewer still probably are aware of the NASA Day of Remembrance or the reasons for this sad day. 

Exploration of harsh and dangerous places is never without risk. The crews we honor today paid the ultimate price to push forward our exploration of space. Please let them never be forgotten. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

What Do You Think?

I am always amazed at the countries my readers represent, and how they tend to show up in groups. Right now, I'm getting a lot of visitors from the beautiful country of Ireland. For a while, it was Germany, and before then, Russia.

I should keep a list of the countries my readers call home. Most readers are from the U.S., but my blog has had visitors from France, Ukraine, Turkey, Gibraltar, Mexico, Romania, Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, Australia, France, Moldova, Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia. I am always curious about what brings readers to my blog posts.

I get few comments, but it would be nice to hear from readers. Who are they? Where do they live? What do they do for a living, or for fun? Where did they hear about this blog? Are they regular readers, or do they just drop by on occasion?

Sometimes I get frustrated by the lack of response to my posts. Do people like them or hate them? Are the posts interesting, inspiring, boring or informative? I really do want to know what readers think. Has a particular post prompted you to take action, or to see something in a different light? 

I write because I love to write. It is a great way for me to share my thoughts and feelings with the world, or to blow off steam. I get great pleasure from crafting a well-written sentence, and from revising a sentence until I find just the right word to use. I have no formal training in writing or journalism, although my talent for writing was first noticed by an 8th-grade English teacher. I wrote for my middle school newspaper, and I later spent eight years as the communications director for a large California humane society, followed by some 20 years as a NASA public affairs officer, writing primarily news releases according to a specific set of criteria. 

Now I write for fun. I know that may sound strange, as many people struggle with writing, but it has always come easily to me. Ideas for my blog come from a variety of sources -- personal experiences or observations, things I read about in the newspaper or online, my family and my travels.

Whatever the source of my ideas, I truly enjoy writing and I would love to hear from my readers.

So as we begin 2016, I wish you all a wonderful new year.

Happy New Year! ! 
С новым годом!  
Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!
¡Feliz año nuevo!
Frohes neues Jahr!
Mutlu Yıllar!
Щасливого Нового року!
Heri ya mwaka mpya!  
Bonne année!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Crackpots in Cowboy Hats

The title, "Crackpots in Cowboy Hats," is from a New York Times opinion piece by Timothy Egan. The entire column can be found here:

One of the great things about America is its public lands: national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, wilderness areas and other special places set aside to preserve nature and the plants and animals that live there. They are meant to be open spaces preserved for human recreation and as habitat for the plants and animals that call these areas home.

Unfortunately, a small group of crackpots has decided to take over a wildlife sanctuary in Oregon until the federal government accedes to its demands that public lands be turned over to local management. Wow. These demands are so ridiculous that they leave me dumbfounded. Why in the world would the federal government turn over public lands to a small group of people? What about the word 'public' do these clowns not understand? What about the rights of people -- the majority, by the way -- not included in the select group of fools that thinks it should be given control over public lands? They have no more right to take over public lands than I do. These lands have been set aside for the enjoyment of the public, not to exploited by a few numbskulls that refuse to recognize the authority of the federal government.

Unfortunately, this group of law-breakers is just the latest in a deliberate -- and growing -- gun-toting campaign aimed at seizing public lands and exploiting them for their private benefits, from grazing and mining to logging. I, and I would guess the vast majority of the American public, do not want public lands turned over to a select few crackpots for exploitation and their personal enrichment.  

Is it not enough that public lands are already leased to cattle ranchers for grazing, at prices far below what other ranchers pay to use private lands to graze their cattle? And at least one rancher owes the government more than $1 million in grazing fees. His refusal to pay, and the feds' refusal to either collect payment or remove his cattle from federal lands in 2014, is a major reason for the current stand-off. The current group of thugs, emboldened by the government's non-response to the last incident, is led by a son of the Nevada rancher -- the chief crackpot in a cowboy hat.

I love our public lands. Yellowstone National Park is my favorite place to visit. These lands, and the resources they hold, do not belong to us as individuals, as corporations or as special interests. They are there for the enjoyment -- not for the consumptive use, raping, pillaging or financial benefit -- of individuals or special interest groups.

I grew fed up with the attitude of many ranchers toward wildlife that might set a toe on public lands used for grazing. These misguided ranchers don't hesitate to kill wolves, bears or other 'undesirable' wildlife that might threaten their cows. So I have given up eating beef.

I know that federal officials are trying to avoid a confrontation in the current stand-off. They don't want to do anything to turn this group of gun-toting thugs into martyrs for their misguided cause. But how about doing something to hasten their surrender, such as turning off the heat and phones in the building, and cutting off access to the building by reporters and sympathizers? They should refuse to allow any new supplies to be delivered to the crackpots. But instead, they have allowed more gun-toting crackpots to enter the area held by these American terrorists.

Now ask yourself this: If a federal building were taken over by armed Muslims -- 'terrorists in turbans' -- or armed black men, would the response be the same? Would officials just sit back and try to wait out the invaders? Would they be offered safe passage back to their homes, as was done with the crackpots in cowboy hats? Would officials allow reinforcements to join the initial group of trespassers?

I think we all know the answer to those questions.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Forgotten Memories

I have been in the mood to get rid of stuff I no longer want or need. I started my decluttering by getting rid of a dozen or so old VHS tapes. Not only have I not watched them for decades, but I can't watch them due to a lack of a VHS player.

Next on the list was my four-drawer file cabinet. It is stuffed with receipts for large purchases, owner manuals, insurance information, etc. I threw out some 99 percent of my daughter's middle school and high school report cards, old medical reports and similar outdated paperwork. The next folder was labeled 'burglary,' and contained all the documentation from the burglary of my house in California in the late 2000s.

Since the case was closed once the insurance business was sorted out and paid, and at least two of the culprits were brought to justice, there was no need to keep any of the paperwork. But reading the victim impact statement I wrote, and delivered, at court really brought back the unpleasant memories. As I reread the two-page statement, the anger I felt at having my home and my belongings violated jumped off the page. The word I used to describe how I felt was 'pissed.' Now maybe that isn't a word I should have used when speaking before a judge in a courtroom, but that is how I felt. I described how I lay awake the night of the burglary, staring in anger at the ceiling, and how my daughter was too terrified to go to sleep. I spoke of the feeling of being violated, of wanting to wash every item of clothing the thieves had touched as they dug through my dresser drawers. I reported on the cost I had incurred for the insurance deductible, the time off work, the effort to find a value for every stolen item, and the cost of having my door locks rekeyed and an alarm system installed. 

Very few of the items were recovered, but the two miscreants (or their parents) were forced to reimburse me for the stolen items and the expenses I incurred. But as I said in my impact statement, not only were physical items and cash stolen from me, but so was my (and my neighbors') sense of security. We lived in a nice, supposedly safe neighborhood. Many of my neighbors were elderly; some of them lived alone. Their sense of security and safety in their homes was destroyed. Nobody could replace that.

I put a padlock on the gate to my back yard, had the locks changed on the doors, and had a monitored alarm installed. I did the same thing when I moved to another state. I now have a monitored alarm, locked gates, and three dogs that don't hesitate to sound the alert at the slightest provocation.

Perhaps I shouldn't have taken a close look at those papers. Perhaps I should just have tossed them in the recycle bin or into the shredder. Some memories are best left alone and unremembered.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Resolution-Free New Year

It's January ,2 the start of a new year.

I'm not one to make a bunch of resolutions. I set goals for myself, primarily related to exercise and weight, but that's about it.

My biggest goal is just to be happy and to enjoy my life. I want to be mindful of my blessings, share my good fortune with others, support my daughter however I can, and get the most from the amazing trips scheduled this year. While I'm at it, I would like to improve my photography skills and do a better job of promoting my photography Web site ( 

If I can finally find a place with the kind of weather I like, affordable housing and mountains, I might decide to move. But so far that perfect place remains elusive. 

So those are my plans for 2016. The older I get, the more I focus on the present, knowing that how much future I will have is out of my control. Please, take time to enjoy this life. It's the only one you have. Don't waste it on pettiness, anger, backstabbing, gossip or any of the other negative things that can fill our lives. Appreciate the good things, let go of the bad things. Let those you love know how you feel about them. Get out and enjoy this beautiful world. And don't forget to make time for yourself.

I wish you all a happy, peaceful, prosperous and kind 2016.