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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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Engage Brain Before Speaking

Why do people think it necessary or appropriate to comment that while it's nice that I adopted my daughter from Russia, there are many kids available for adoption in the US as well? And to make this statement to my daughter is particularly appalling.

Does this mean that Russian (or Ukrainian or Chinese, etc.) children are less deserving of a loving family than are American kids? Do people think that because we are American, we are more special than people in other countries? Do our children deserve a good home more than children in other countries? Was this thoughtless person suggesting that I could have adopted a 'better' child from the US?

As my daughter pointed out, children in foster care in the US generally have it better than do kids in an orphanage in a third-world country. When she was in an orphanage, she never had enough to eat, she didn't have anything of her own (even clothing was shared) and she got little attention from the caregivers in the orphanage. I'm not saying that life in foster care is easy. I know it's a struggle and not something to be wished on any child. But sometimes foster care is better than the alternatives.

I didn't set out to adopt a child from Russia. In fact, I had no plans to adopt a child from anywhere. But circumstances brought my daughter and me together, and I made the decision to adopt her. She was 11 years old, far older than the age most people want to adopt. Had she stayed in Russia, she most likely would now be a prostitute and an alcoholic
as her birth family was. Or she might well be dead.

Has it been easy to raise an older adopted child? No, there were times it was extremely difficult. But I now have a kind, compassionate daughter who is a successful hair stylist married to a terrific young man in the military.

I saw a similar sentiment recently when a Texas family adopted a little girl with Down syndrome from China. Someone questioned why the family didn't adopt an American child. I assume by "American" she meant 'white.' I replied that I adopted my daughter from Russia, but not to worry, Julia is white. So I didn't bring one of those 'other' kids into our country. We all know that girls in China are often discarded by families that want boy babies. And a child with a disability has zero chance of being adopted by a Chinese family. So why not celebrate this family's decision to adopt this little girl?

Why do some people find it necessary to state that "This is great, but..."? Attitudes like this really offend me. I adopted a child in need of a loving family. Does it really matter where she was born?

My path to adoption was the right path for me. Fate brought us together. I speak Russian, and I studied Russian history, geography and politics in college. I have lived in Russia. So this was the right path for us. The right path for someone else might be to adopt domestically. Who am I to question the path set before me? 

So please don't ask about an adopted child's 'real' parents. Don't ask about her background or history. If she wants to tell you about it, that is her decision. But I am my daughter's 'real' mother because I am the person who raised and educated her and helped her to become a good person. Her birth mother, with whom she restored contact last year, recognizes me as my daughter's mother. 

There are numerous articles on-line about what to say, and not say, to adoptive parents and their children. So I suggest that before opening your mouth and inserting your foot, or insulting or hurting someone, educate yourself. Or just keep your mouth shut and celebrate the fact that a child in need -- regardless of country of origin -- has found a loving home. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Shaking My Head

 Lately I have been shaking my head a lot, astounded by what I have been reading on social media.

There is so much hatred, anger and vitriol these days, more than I've ever seen. It seems that it is impossible to have a civilized discussion about any polarizing topic, including religion, politics and gay marriage. The discussions quickly deteriorate into nothing more than name-calling. Why is it impossible to have rational discourse?

I and several other people were recently labeled as 'haters' after I posted that I thought it was disrespectful for someone to post a photograph of the body of a man who had died in a car accident. That makes me a hater because the person who posted the image (and who later removed it) runs an animal rescue organization? I was accused of condoning terrorism because I have a Turkish friend who is a Muslim. I was 'unfriended' on Facebook, presumably because I am pro-choice and this woman is anti-abortion. I unfriended a couple of people who apparently felt it was OK to lecture me on what I should feel and think about religion and politics. Share your point of view, certainly, but do not lecture me.

And now that the presidential election is over, Facebook is filled with angry posts and arguments. I admit, I am frightened and sickened by the thought of a Trump administration. Already we have seen increased violence and hate crimes against gays, blacks and Muslims. Somehow pictures of cute puppies and kittens in my newsfeed don't seem very important or fun any more. There is a pall of gloom over this social media outlet.

I worry about what the Trump administration will do to our public lands and wildlife. But I'm not attacking anybody. I don't call people names. I support peaceful protests. Yet it seems 'the other side' thinks it is fine for them to threaten riots if their candidate had lost the election, but when Clinton supporters take to the streets, they are told to "just get over it" and to stop protesting. Not too hypocritical. But I agree that there is no place for riots and destruction of property. Others say we should give Trump a chance, to see what he does, and not to worry about what he might do. Based on his inflammatory campaign rhetoric and on the historic actions of the Republican party with regard to gay rights, the environment, public lands and wildlife, I'd say we have a lot to worry about, particularly now that the Republicans control both houses of Congress.

People are worried, and people are frightened. Telling them to "get over it" and to "move on" is not helpful. A president-elect that waited several days to finally tell his followers and supporters to stop the violence against minorities, to accept others who may not look or believe as they do, is not helpful. How about listening to people's fears and worry rather than belittling them? How about trying to understand why they are fearful and worried? How about trying to be a voice of reason and calm in these times of fear and uncertainty rather than planning a 'victory tour' of the United States?

There is a genuine, palpable fear in our country. Add to that the deep philosophical and political divisions in which we are embroiled, and conditions are ripe for an explosion of anger and fear. I hope I am wrong. I hope Trump surprises us skeptics and turns out to be a great leader and president. I will be the first to say I was wrong about him and his political party. But until he steps up and starts acting like a real leader, I will remain worried and fearful.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Cannot -- I Will Not --"Get Over It"

My eyes filled with tears and my heart and soul with fear for this country when I awoke the day after the election to the news that my countrymen had elected a racist bully as president. My body shook with a cold chill. 

People say to "get over it" and to "move on." How can I move on when the things I value most about this country are at great risk? I'm not upset and I didn't cry because we elected a sociopathic bully. I'm not angry because my candidate (whom I voted for as the better of four very poor choices) didn't win the election. I'm upset and sad because the country I know and love is about to change for the worse. This election has created a tidal wave of grief, but not for the reasons many think. And sadly, it has resulted in an emboldening of those whose hatred and racism until now have remained largely below the surface.

And I will "get over it" just as much as many Republicans got over the fact we have our nation's first black president. All this Republican-dominated Congress has done since Day 1 is obstruct anything Obama tried to do, including refusing to hold hearings on his Supreme Court nominee. So if you expect me to "get over it," you will have a long wait. 

We just elected our first dictator-in-chief. We elected someone who is a serial adulterer, who is guilty of -- and brags about -- sexual assault, who is a pathological liar, who mocks the disabled and attacks women based on their looks, who insults the family of a Muslim-American soldier who died fighting for this country, who routinely stiffs companies he has hired, who belittles political opponents akin to what one would expect from a grade school child, and who plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and replace it "with something terrific." He also has made it clear that he knows more about the Middle East situation than America's best, most experienced generals. His hubris knows no bounds.

Trump is full of BS and will look out for no one except himself and his fellow dictators. Is it any wonder he was praised by none other than Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un of North Korea? He disavows climate change, and two of his sons are trophy hunters that enjoy nothing more than going to Africa and slaughtering endangered elephants and other animals for fun.

So yes, I expect to see the further destruction of our environment and wildlife, the further arming of our nation, and growing divisions between the educated and uneducated populace. Get ready for World War III, and perhaps another civil war. Expect to see attacks on minorities, gays and women explode, and the uneducated white men who apparently swept Trump into office will feel emboldened and beat their chests to show how superior they are. Already we are seeing instances of racist graffiti and attacks on minorities. Trump may not directly tell his followers to carry out acts of hatred, but his words certainly give the impression that he doesn't mind if they do.

When he says "Make America Great Again," what he really means is make America the way it was in the 1950s. Make America look like it did on the "Leave It to Beaver" television show -- mom stayed home and cooked, all while wearing heels, pearls and a dress. Blacks knew their places and stayed in segregated parts of town while attending segregated schools. Gays remained in the closet. Abortion will once again be illegal and relegated to back rooms and alleyways. "Locker room" talk that insults and demeans women and girls will be the norm. Our black president will be put in his place once and for all by the racists who defeated his chosen successor. "Pussy grabbing" will become a national pasttime. The KKK is undoubtedly gearing up to promote its sick, racist platform.

Trump has already shown signs of the coming dictatorship, wanting people to cancel the election and make him president. He banned certain media outlets from his rallies because they dared to report what he said. He is thin-skinned to the extreme and relentless in attacking anybody he thinks was 'mean' to him. 

He is gearing up to change climate agreements and to undo most of Barack Obama's progress on energy and the environment. He most likely will scrap the Paris climate accord. He has said he wants to eliminate the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. If reports are correct, he plans to fill his administration with lobbyists and recycled old white men like Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. And for America being a nation that is welcoming to all regardless of race or religion? Forget that. Trump has made it very clear that he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, and that Mexicans are rapists and other criminals. So much for inclusion.

So forgive me if I am upset that Trump appealed to the racists among us and got himself elected emperor. I understand that people want change, that they feel ignored by our government. I don't hate people who support him, but I do hate what he stands for. I fear for the future of our public lands and wildlife. I fear for our planet. I hate that our citizens who happen to be non-white and of a non-Christian (or no) religion are fearful. Electing a lying, cheating narcissist who admires overseas tyrants is not the answer to the issues facing this country.

So no, I'm not going to "get over it" any time soon. There is far too much at stake. I won't be joining protests in the streets, I will not engage in name-calling, but I also refuse to be happy about this election that has made my country the laughing stock of the world.

Sunday, November 6, 2016



The print ads and television commercials breathlessly scream about the great bargains and deals, the limited quantities and limited-time offers people don't want to miss. The ads get louder, more obnoxious and more in-your-face every year. And they start earlier every year.

I cringe at the chasm between reality for most Americans and what the advertisers want us to believe. Particularly distressing are the commercials for new cars, as if somebody is going to watch a commercial and then rush out to buy their beloved a new $65,000 Lexus for Christmas. Or they can make payments of 'only' $600/month plus tax for the next six years. Such a deal!

The Christmas push, which used to begin the day after Thanksgiving, now starts in August with the first appearance of Christmas trees and decor. Thanksgiving, once a major American holiday, is now little more than a bump in the road in the rush to spend money we don't have on things we don't need.

Personally, I find it disgusting that a season about peace, love and goodwill is now all about deals and commercialism, complete with pushing, shoving, grabbing, tripping, stampedes, gun violence and fist fights over a small number of electronics or toys available at discounted prices to lure in the unsuspecting shopper. I find it disgusting that some radio stations begin to play 24/7 Christmas music in October, and that on Thanksgiving Day last year I was subjected to an ad on my favorite radio station wishing people "Feliz Navidad and Happy New Year." Really? This ad was a waste of money anyway, as it was for some cosmetic surgery business that wasn't open until four days later.

A couple of years ago, I was in Costa Rica on a hiking trip just before Christmas. The hotel in which I stayed in San Jose had a small nativity scene set up, but no other Christmas decorations. The nearby shopping mall I visited was similarly devoid of Christmas decorations and screaming sale signs. Had I not known that Christmas was just a couple of weeks away, I never would have know it was the holiday season. For Costa Rica, Christmas remains a time for family and celebrating the true meaning of the season. And fortunately for me, I will get to visit this beautiful country again this year and escape, for a while, the madness of the American Christmas season.

Are we trying to buy our way into the spirit of Christmas? Are we trying to prove we love our friends and families by going into debt buying them expensive things they don't need? What are we teaching our children about overconsumption, excess and managing expectations? Are they going to learn the difference between wants and needs? My daughter used to be friends with a girl whose mother worked for me. The mother, divorced from an abusive husband, never had money to spare. But she showered her two kids with the latest electronics, video games, whatever they wanted. Then she would borrow money from friends to pay her bills. I believe she was trying to compensate for a poor family life by spending money she didn't have on things the kids didn't need.

I am trying to simplify my life by getting rid of things I no longer want, need or use. If my daughter buys me a box of my favorite candy or shortbread for Christmas, great, but she understands that there is absolutely nothing I want or need. I saw a 'Black Friday' ad last year for a 65" curved flat screen television that I would love to have. But did I buy one? Of course not, because the television I have works just fine. When it dies, I will consider a curved screen television, but not until then, because a new television is a want, not a need.

Last year, as my daughter set off on her life as an independent adult, I bought her a couple of things for her birthday and Christmas that will make her life easier as she cooks for herself and her then-boyfriend. And I bought gift cards to a couple of her favorite eateries so she could enjoy a meal out once in a while, and some cash to help with bills. But there was no mad dash to find 'the perfect gift.' For me, 'the perfect gift' is having a daughter who has found her way, who works as a licensed cosmetologist, and who recently married a nice young man who is serving his country in the US Air Force. That is a perfect gift. 

It is remarkably freeing to not have to worry about Christmas cards (I'm not sending any for the third year), shopping, decorating the house (I'm not putting up a tree again this year), hanging lights or doing a lot of holiday baking. If I want to bake cookies, I will, but there is no pressure to bake several kinds of cookies and make fudge as I used to do. I will work my way through my 40-50 Christmas music CDs, but that's about it as far as Christmas goes. I also plan to make a special effort to donate food to some of the local food pantries, something I do throughout the year. And I will most likely go through my clothes and donate any unwanted winter clothing to a coat and cold-weather clothing drive.

You won't find me at the mall or any of the big-box stores after November. Too many people get totally stressed by trying to plan and execute the 'perfect' family gathering, party or whatever, on top of caring for a family, going to work and dealing with life's many annoyances. It's time to take a step back, downsize and simplify, and focus on what truly matters -- spending time with family and friends, sharing our blessings and working to achieve peace on earth and goodwill toward others. This year needs all the goodwill and peaceful efforts we all can muster.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Check Out My New Photographs!

Here are a few new photographs available

 New growth fills in an area previously burned by a wildlife near the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

 Grizzly bear Bella at Montana Grizzly Encounter near Bozeman, MT.

 This colorful scene was photographed at Yellowstone National Park.
 Travertine terrace near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Large amounts of calcium carbonate dissolved in the very hot water are deposited as the water reaches the surface and cools. This photo has received three peer recognitions from other photographers on!

Please check out my images for sale All proceeds from sales of photos and unique, made-to-order calendars are donated to the Save the Elephants scholarship fund. And please check out my Facebook page, Desert Mountain Photography. I'm on Instagram at annsullivan5891 and on Twitter at @AnnSullivanNM.