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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Worldwide Audience

I am always amazed when I see where my readers live.

In 2017, readers in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic (Czechia), France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, S. Korea, Spain, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Venezuela have visited this blog at least once. There were more readers from Poland, Russia and the United Kingdom than from other countries, aside from the US.

I often wonder how these readers found my blog. I would love to know so I can expand my outreach. And I would love to hear from my readers with their questions, comments and opinions. .

Wherever you live, thanks for visiting. Please share this blog, and come back soon!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Heavy Heart

It's the holiday season, and I'm trying to get into the spirit by listening to Christmas songs.

But it isn't working. My eyes are filled with tears and my heart is heavy as I read about yet an another dumped dog. This one is a black Labrador retriever, seven to eight years old, and nearly blind from cataracts. She is safe in an animal shelter for now. No one has come for her. Will she die, alone and afraid in a strange place she can't see, nameless and abandoned?

My heart is heavy a lot these days. Our country is being torn apart by the sociopath in the White House. We are inching toward an unwinnable nuclear war with the equally mad ruler of North Korea. The so-called leader of the free world has just ignited more hatred in the Middle East by his ill-thought decision to recognize Jerusalem -- a city revered by all three major monotheistic religions -- as the capital of Israel. The man-child in the White House and a Congress filled with people care only about making themselves and their rich pals even richer. It matters not if their actions hurt the majority of Americans, or whether they damage or destroy our leadership position in the world..

Our environment and our wildlife, even animals in Africa, are under attack from this mob of greedy, heartless, soulless people. Hibernating bears are shot as they sleep in their dens. Wolves are killed by poachers and get away with it by claiming 'self defense.' Dogs and cats continue to be brutalized, with the criminals getting off with a slap on the wrist, if they are caught. Gun violence continues unabated, while the Congress sits on its hands and collects its payments from the NRA. Pedophiles and sexual predators get elected to office, but only if they are Republicans. Democrats accused of sexual assault get hounded out of office, while the Republican party lines up to endorse and throw money at its perverts running for office.

Congress is now turning its sights on reducing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and possibly veterans' benefits next year, all to pay for its recent tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. And as California burns, the recently passed tax bill will eliminate the deduction for personal losses due to wildfire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

We have lost our humanity. We have no compassion or concern for others. Yes, I know there are good people who work to help those in need, who rescue animals and try to protect our public lands. But we are far outnumbered, and outspent, by the forces of evil. How can those who seek reasonable, rational measures to at least attempt to reduce gun violence possibly hope to win against the millions of dollars in bribes given to members of Congress? How can those of us who want to protect our public lands from mining and drilling hope to compete against the billions of dollars of the oil and gas industries? Simple: we can't. 

The beautiful hills of southern California are a raging inferno, with more than 750 homes destroyed, more than two dozen horses killed and 200,000 people forced to evacuate. Meanwhile, the Republicans are behind a bill that would remove the income tax deduction for losses arising from natural disasters such as wildfires and earthquakes.

It's hard to be happy and joyful with all the negativity, nastiness and evil all around us. So celebrate if you can. For me, there will be no Christmas decorations in the house, no holiday baking. There will no family celebration this year.There will be nothing but some Christmas music (I have more than 40 Christmas CDs). 

People got us into this mess, and people working together can get us out of it. Let us hope that next year will find our country in a better position.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Arming of America

Another shooting. More senseless deaths. And still more useless thoughts and prayers. No actions to stop the violence. No discussions. Not even a vote to allow the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the problem. Just more useless thoughts and prayers.

Two high school students were shot and killed at Aztec High School in northwestern New Mexico in early December. Details are still being released, so the identity of the gunman and his relationship, if any, with the students he murdered is still unknown. What is known, however, is that when these students headed to school that Thursday morning, they and their families expected them to return home after school.

Gun violence research came to a screeching halt in 1996, when the Republican-majority Congress threatened to remove funding from the CDC unless it stopped funding research into firearm injuries and deaths. As usual, the NRA was behind this move. And as usual, it won.

Meanwhile, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 is working its way through the NRA bought-and-paid-for Congress. This bill, HR 38, would amend the federal criminal code to allow a qualified individual to carr a concealed handgun into or possess a concealed handgun in another state that allows individuals to carry concealed firearms. 

In addition, the bill specifies that a qualified individual who lawfully carries or possesses a concealed handgun in another state (1) is not subject to the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm in a school zone, and (20) may carry or possess the concealed handgun in federally owned lands that are open to the public. 

So if I go hiking in a national park, I now have to worry about running into some clown with a concealed handgun? Now that's a comforting thought.

I guess the NRA has to get its money's worth from its paid employees in Congress. But as a private citizen who has not had a need to own or fire a weapon in more than 65 years, I am not thrilled about this latest piece of pro-gun legislation. This is just one more thing that saddens me. 

We are at the point where even studies of what contributes to gun violence can't get funded. What is the NRA afraid of? This isn't about taking away guns from people. It isn't about violating their Second Amendment rights (although I question how many gun owners are actually part of the 'well-regulated militia" the amendment refers to in granting gun ownership right. It's about common sense. It's about keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable. 

I'm tired of the old mantra that we have enough gun control laws on the books, and that criminals don't follow laws anyway so new laws won't work. If that's the case, why don't we get rid of laws that prohibit drunk driving, since people continue to drink and drive? Why not remove laws against bank robbery since people still rob banks? 

I can't afford to buy my own politicians, so I guess there is nothing to be done. All we can do is wait for word of the next mass shooting. The next school shooting. The next shooting at a concert. The we, along with members of Congress, can once again offer our thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

And In Today's News ...

Here are a few of the headlines in today's newspaper:

  • Guardianship firm ex-CEO admits stealing $4 million 
  • GOP considers tax-hike trigger if revenue short 
  • Gun retailers enjoy blockbuster Black Friday sales 
  • Supreme Court refuses gun case (in which a gun advocate sought a constitutional right to own a semiautomatic assault rifle)
  • Trump takes another crack at Warren at event to honor Navajo
  • Franken apologizes for conduct
  • Religious conservatives on wrong side of sex scandals (opinion piece)
  • Signs the U.S. is hungry for pre-Black Friday values (opinion piece) 

These are just some of the headlines in one small newspaper in one town in one state. New Mexico as been described as being 'purple' -- a mix of politicians in high office of both parties. We have a two-term Republican governor, but both houses of the legislature have Democratic majorities. Both US senators are Democrats, and representatives from the northern half of the state are Democrats, but the sole representative from the more rural southern part of the state is an ultra-conservative Republican. Albuquerque's outgoing major is a Republican, but the incoming major is a Democrat. Rio Rancho has a Tea Party Republican major. Voters in the state narrowly voted for Hilary Clinton in the last presidential election.

To me, these headlines accurately represent the current state of politics in America and highlight the deep divides facing our country. Greed, sex scandals, verbal insults and racial slurs by the president, battles over the 'right' to own semiautomatic assault rifles, tax reform and dismay at the lack of morals in the country -- these are indeed the challenges we are facing as Americans. Red, blue or purple -- regardless of the color of a given state, the challenges are pretty much the same.

There are no easy answers. Sexual harassment and assaults are NEVER appropriate, whether the assaulter is an average Joe or the president of the United States. Those guilty of such actions need to be punished, including removal from office if they are elected officials. Stealing from the elderly and the disabled (and anybody else) is NEVER OK. Using racial slurs against anybody, US senator or not, is NEVER OK. NO ONE --religious conservative, liberal or anybody else -- should stand up in defense of those charged with sexual assault. What makes a recent case even more troubling is that the accusers were teenagers when the claimed assaults occurred, and some of the defenders are religious leaders.
I read a newspaper every day when I'm home. Some articles I read from beginning to end, while other I simply scan. I have never noticed how accurately the newspaper captures the essence of the major issues facing our country. 

In all honesty, these headlines scare and worry me. The moral fabric of our country is so torn it may not be repairable. The political and racial and ethnic divides are the size of the Grand Canyon. There is little, if any, middle ground. 

This makes me sad, very sad.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Christmas Present

I don't like the modern version of Christmas.

It sounds good, doesn't it? A season of joy, goodwill, family and giving to the less fortunate among us. But the reality of Christmas these day is far, far different.

The non-profits use this season as a reason to ramp up appeals for money, sending out endless piles of sorrow-filled letters, complete with a convenient form and unstamped return envelope, so we can mail in our donations. But that's just the beginning: Once we send money, we are immediately added to a list to be hit up for more and more money via mail and e-mail. I am still getting appeals for funds from a group I donated to ONCE more than 20 years ago! I got something in the mail recently with the always-present form on which to check the amount I wanted to give, starting with $500 and decreasing to $100.

The Christmas shopping season, which previously began the day after Thanksgiving, now starts in August, when the first decorated trees begin to appear in stores.Television commercials breathlessly scream about the "lowest prices of the season," "doorbusters" and cars for lease for "only $699/month." And don't forget the search for "the perfect gift." Black Friday has now become Gray Thursday or even Gray November as the push to buy, buy, buy begins ever earlier each year.

Malls are insanely overcrowded as people push, shove and fight to get the hottest 'must have' toy or electronic gadget. People rush around mindlessly as they spend money they don't have on things others don't want or need, all in the name of Christmas. Recent videos showed throngs of crazed shoppers pushing, shoving and tripping others, with some people literally being knocked down and at risk of being trampled.

STOP the madness for a minute and think about this season. It isn't about finding "the perfect gift" or putting oneself into debt that will take months to pay off. It isn't about stressing our minds and bodies as we strive to host the perfect family gathering or prepare an unforgettable meal. Forget those happy family gatherings where everybody smiles and has a good time. Do you know families like that? I don't! Think about the real meaning behind Christmas. 

Besides, it's hard to get into a celebratory mood when this year has brought still more mass murder by gun-toting men, when the Congress remains firmly in the grip of the NRA and therefore refuses to do anything about the increasing gun violence in our country, and when the country itself is ruled by a mentally ill man-child more interested in his golf game than in addressing the problems facing America. Let's not forget the Republican-led attacks on our wildlife and wild places, all in the name of greed. There is absolutely nothing to celebrate.

Once upon a time, when I was a child, Christmas was about spending time with the family. It was about watching the kids' faces light up on Christmas morning. It was about going to church as a family. It was about surprising family members with something they'd been wanting, and not going into debt to do so. It was about sharing with those less fortunate. My family, in addition to donating to church, also always sent a check to the children's shoe fund sponsored by the local newspaper.

Black Friday shoppers have less control than this herd of stampeding wildebeest..

One doesn't have to be religious or Christian to celebrate the meaning of this season. But somehow I think pushing, shoving, shooting someone and going into debt as we search for "the perfect gift" or the "must-have' item is not what this season should be about.

My Christmas celebration gets smaller each year. I have given my artificial tree to my daughter and son-in-law, along with nearly all the lights and many decorations and other holiday items. I will donate to my favorite charities, as I do every year, but not to those that bombard me with incessant demands for money. I will do a small amount of holiday baking, and if the opportunity presents itself, pay for groceries for someone in line at the store. 

Don't be one of the herd this holiday season. Slow down. Be kind. Be patient. Be generous with your time and your resources, no matter how limited.Volunteer your time. Spend time and spend holiday spirit rather than spending so much money. 

Go see the neighborhood Christmas lights. In Albuquerque, you can visit the River of Lights at the zoo and be awed by the magical creatures and plants created of colorful lights. Don't be another member of the herd rushing around mindlessly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving is just one day away. 

This has been another rough year for me. I have had three retina surgeries this year, but I am thankful that I live in an area that has not one, but several, very skilled retina surgeons. Without them, I would be facing a life of blindness. And I am grateful to my friend who has driven me to eye doctor appointments more times than I can remember when I am unable to drive safely with two dilated eyes.

I have had some housing issues this year, including a leaking roof that caused damage to the ceiling in my pantry. But I am thankful that the minor repair was covered by the roofing company's warranty, and that the small hole was repaired quickly and easily. (The drywall in the ceiling hasn't yet been repaired).

My air conditioner, which is only 4 years old, has had ongoing problems and finally was destroyed by a lightning strike. I'm certainly not thankful for that, but I am grateful that this happened in late September, after the worst of the hot weather had passed.

I am thankful that  my dogs, for the most part, have remained healthy this year. Layla suffered a bou of colitis, but medication and a soft diet for a few days cleared it up. And I am thankful that Bailey has decided that Benny is OK and a good playmate for her.

I am thankful for my friend in South Carolina, who is always there with an encouraging word or advice when I need it most.

I am thankful for the travel opportunities I have enjoyed this year, with trips to Yellowstone National Park, Cuba, France, Kenya, Utah, Morocco and Joshua Tree National Park.

I am especially thankful for my travel companions from England and Scotland that made our three-week trip to Kenya so special. And I am thankful for the wonderful wildlife sightings during that trip, the best ever during my five trips to Africa. I am thankful for the people I have met during my travels with whom I am still in contact. I now have friends in Kenya, Ireland, Scotland, Russia, Germany, England, Turkey, France and other countries.

I am thankful for having clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. So many people, even in the United States, don't have these essentials. And I am thankful for our nation's natural beauty -- the mountains and forests in particular -- that give me so much pleasure. I am so thankful for the individuals and organizations that fight to protect our wilderness and our wildness, and to protect our air and water from those who want to destroy them in the name of profit.

I am NOT thankful for the current state of the American nation, nor for the current administration. But I remain thankful to live in a free country.

I am grateful for my house and my car, and for never having to worry about having clothes to wear or food to eat. 

Despite life's challenges -- and we all have them -- we are better off than the vast majority of people in the world. We do have much for which to give thanks. For me, Thanksgiving is not just a speed bump on the race to Christmas. It's isn't about 'Black Friday' or 'gray November' or staring the search for 'the perfect gift.' Thanksgiving deserves its own holiday and its own special recognition.

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with warmth, joy and a spirit of sharing.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is This the End?

All great civilizations eventually lose their power and grandeur, and.then they collapse.

Ancient Egypt. Ancient Rome and Greece. China. The Mongols. All eventually lost their power to other, more powerful, civilizations.

The US, it seems, it just the latest in a long line of world powers that is on the verge of becoming a once-great nation. Already some are calling Germany, not the United States, the leader of the free world. China's economy is now the second greatest in the world. The US has a tremendous deficit as it continues to spend more than it takes in. We have trade deficits with every country with which we trade. Our country has never in recent history been more divided politically, economically and racially. 

The current administration is doing everything possible to undo the legacy of former President Barack Obama. The latest attacks are on the environment -- rolling back protections to keep our air and water clean, to shrink the size of several national monuments, to allow the shooting of hibernating bears, and to allow mighty hunters to bring into the United States the heads, feet and other body parts of elephants from Zambia and Zimbabwe. With elephants facing extinction due to the insatiable Asian demand for ivory trinkets, this action will further the decline of an already shrinking population of elephants. Why? So Drumpf's kids, Donny Jr. and Eric, can pursue their sick passion for killing endangered animals?

Roy Moore, who is running for US Senate from Alabama, is a well-known (albeit unconvicted) pedophile who preyed on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Yet his supporters remain steadfast in their desire to see him elected. Like-minded people voted for Drumpf despite his long history of sexual assaults on unwilling women and girls. Many of his supporters call themselves 'conservative Christians,' something they most certainly are not. Their words and actions couldn't be more unchristian.

The much-touted Republican tax reform bill, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, not only will add trillions to the national debt, but it will actually raise taxes on Americans earning less than $70,000 per year. Who gets the tax cuts? Who else but corporations and the very wealthy.

Overspending on the military, government corruption and political instability, ineffective and inconsistent leadership, and the loss of traditional values have been cited as some of the reasons for the collapse of the Roman empire. Drumpf is proposing a huge increase in military spending. His administration is the most corrupt in recent history. His 'leadership is ineffective and inconsistent. And traditional American values have largely been replaced by a 'me first, whites only' mentality. Urban crime is rampant, and gun violence grows more common by the day. 

The rich get richer. The poor and middle classes struggle just to survive. The environment is under attack by those who want to use it for profit regardless of the damage done. The voice of the 'little guy' is ignored. Voters blindly follow their party allegiance and often vote against their best interests. Millions of Americans feel unheard and powerless.

I have little hope -- baring a major uprising and demand that elected officials actually listen to their constituents -- that America will not continue its decline. I'm just glad I won't be around to live my life in what until now has been a great country and a beacon to the world.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Has Happened to Us?

What a world we live in.

Consider these recent events in the news:

  • In Spain, police beat voters in Catalonia who showed up to vote in an independence referendum opposed by the Spanish government. 
  • The US territory of Puerto Rico, decimated by a category 5 hurricane, is visited by the American president, who complains about the cost of helping the devastated island recover. Meanwhile, the people continue to go without housing, food, water, electricity and medical care.
  • In Las Vegas, a man possessing 49 weapons, some of them semi-automatic rifles converted into machine guns, fires for nearly 10 minutes on a concert crowd, killing 58 people and wounding 500 others. 
  • In Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), half a million Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have fled persecution and attacks by Myanmar authorities. 
  • The US Congress is working hard to remove designations that protect several national parks and national monuments, opening the areas to mining and other extractive operations that will destroy those areas.
  • The Endangered Species Act is under attack by Republican members of Congress.
  • Despite frequent mass shootings in the country, the Congress is so deeply in bed with the NRA that it refuses to even consider passing laws to help curb gun violence. This is not about taking guns from people, but rather, passing legislation to prohibit the sale of devices that make it possible to turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns.
  • Poachers throughout Africa continue to decimate elephant, rhinoceros and lion populations to satisfy the superstitions of the Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian countries.
  • A US senator who has received money from the NRA is now blaming the victims of the shooting in Las Vegas for not "taking precautions" and "getting small." What kind of precautions were these concert-goers to take, don a Kevlar helmet and bullet-proof vest? This clown is typical of the state of American politics. 
  • Neo-Nazis and the KKK held a rally in Virginia, carrying Nazi flags and chanting Nazi slogans against Jews and blacks. 
  • Scientists are warning that we are facing the sixth mass extinction of plant and animal species. 
  • Increases in the Earth's temperature threaten low-lying coastal towns. The current administration's response? Label it 'fake science."
  • A gunman with a semi-automatic rifle enters Sunday morning church services in rural Texas and slaughters 26 people, nearly half of them children.

Rather than being advanced in our thinking and in our stewardship of Mother Earth, we seem to have reverted to our pre-human ancestors' way of thinking. Take what you want, and when you are finished with it, just toss it aside. 

I have already lived the majority of my life, and for that, I am grateful. I do not like what our world has become -- overpopulated and lacking a moral compass. The only thing that seems to matter is money. We can't eat money when the farmland is gone. We can't drink money when our water sources are too polluted. We can't breathe money when the air is too dirty to breathe. We can't enjoy magnificent wildlife or forests when they are gone forever.

Aren't we humans better than this? Are we really willing to let greed and hatred take over our world? Have we not learned that there are ways other than killing to solve disputes and disagreemens? Do we still not realize that we humans are much more alike than different? Have we learned nothing from the centuries of war and destruction? Sadly, it appears we have not.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

For Sale -- Your Personal Information

I'm a big user of the Internet. I shop online. I get directions and business reviews online. I compare prices online. I have an online blog that features a weekly photograph, and I offer photos for sale online.

But lately, I have felt that my personal space is being invaded just a bit too much. If I search for a new camera lens, for example, an ad for that lens will soon appear on my e-mail and Facebook pages. My new Samsung phone now includes an e-mail section called 'promotions' that is nothing more than ads of Web sites I have visited (but never provided any contact information to). jI get e-mails from businesses that claim that I 'opted in' to receive their spam e-mails -- something I never do. I always uncheck the box that has conveniently been pre-checked for me that says I want to receive ads and other information from the company. But that doesn't matter; I still get spam from the company.

Not too long ago, I spent many hours scouring the Internet for information about myself. I did this after I found one site that included far too much personal information about me, including my name, street address and even a map showing the location of my house. So I started checking sites that offer to sell personal information -- name, address, age, phone number, e-mail address, previous places lived and possible relatives -- about anybody. I contacted each company by e-mail (there usually is a way to contact the company, although it isn't always easy to find), and stated that the company had no right to publish, sell, barter, trade or give away my personal information, and to take it down at once. Every company did. And now when I search for myself, I find only references to my blog and my Facebook page. 

Nobody should have the right to sell my personal information. It isn't about the money these companies make. I realize it's all about money, no matter the wishes of the customer. It's about their collecting my personal information, including my unlisted phone number for which I pay an extra monthly fee, and selling it to anybody for any purpose. With identify theft running rampant, why would I want so much personal information to be available to anybody who wants it? 

And consider this: the Republicans have passed -- and Trump signed -- legislation that allows internet service providers to collect and sell an individual's personal browsing history without consent or notification. Here is a link to the story:.

There is nothing bad or embarrassing in my browser history. But I strongly object to the information about what I do on my computer -- unless the government has indications of a threat to security -- being shared with others who have no right to it. I am tired of personal information about my, my Web browsing habits, where I shop online and which pages I visit, being offered for sale without my consent.  

I contacted my ISP to ask what its policy is regarding distribution of its customers' browsing history. In response, I was sent a link to a lengthy document that appears to say that the company, while making vague promises about protecting personal information, can share the information with other companies for marketing and business purposes. The document never directly answers the question about browsing history.

I suppose there is nothing anybody can do about this, especially this sell-outs in Congress have decided to reward their masters in business and ignore the rights of individual citizens to keep their personal information just that ... personal.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Seeking Beauty

I spent yesterday working on a flower calendar because I need to replace the hatred and negativity that is everywhere with something beautiful. 

Following my third retina repair surgery since spring, I am facing the possibility that vision in my right eye may never be the way it used to be. While I can 'see' with that eye, I only see shapes and colors, with no details. I am unable to read with that eye, even with a magnifying lens. And my tar and gravel roof has started leaking, resulting in damage to the ceiling in the pantry. So times have been a bit rough for me lately.

So I decided to focus on things of beauty -- flower photos. I put together a calendar that is now for sale for $22, domestic postage included. Proceeds will go to the Elephant Crisis Fund to combat elephant poaching and the trafficking of ivory. As I looked at these photos, several of which I took last year in Costa Rica, it was as if I saw them for the first time. The colors seemed so vibrant!

This morning, I awoke to news of the slaughter of 58 people and the wounding of more than 500 others in Las Vegas.

With all the ugliness and anger in the world, I find myself turning more and more to nature for comfort.

"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home," wrote.Gary Snyder. And right now, we need more nature, more beauty, more reflection, more peace. 

I find peace and relaxation in nature, whether walking along a river, hiking in the mountains, sitting on my patio or photographing wildlife in Africa or in Yellowstone National Park. Nature is where I go when the worries and fears of the world threaten to overwhelm me. 

Wherever you find peace and beauty, I hope you visit often. Find what brings you peace, whether it is music or literature or through the lens of a camera. Find it, cherish it and make it an important part of your life.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fall Has Arrived

Fall officially arrived two days ago, and Mother Nature has taken notice.

This morning the temperature registered a chilly 48 degrees F, cool enough for me to forego shorts and pull out a pair of capris. My fleece jacket is also at the ready for my walk with my dogs. And yesterday we were blessed with a good amount of much-needed rain. 

Fall is a good season and it provides something for all our senses. The morning air feels crisp and cool. Warm clothing and flannel sheets feel cozy against the skin. 

The air smells different. In New Mexico, the smell of roasting green chilis is a common aroma. In some areas, where it still is allowed, burning wood in fireplaces and fire pits fill the air with smells. Fallen leaves have a smell all their own. I get the urge to bake and perhaps make a pot of soup to fill the house with wonderful smells. 

We don't get a lot of changing colors on the trees here in the high desert, although the aspens and cottonwoods will soon be adorned with beautiful golden leaves. Clothing colors move from brights and pastels to browns and darker colors. Low clouds over the mountains will provide beautiful sunrises. The amazing blue New Mexico sky will look even cleaner and bluer than it usually does.

Soon I will hear the calls of thousands of sandhill cranes as they migrate to their wintering areas. The sounds of the propane burners lifting countless hot air balloons into the clear New Mexico sky will fill the morning air.

Even the flavors change with the change of the season. Pumpkin-flavored products proliferate. Three years ago, I noted that Trader Joe's was selling 44 different pumpkin-flavored items. And this year, pumpkin Cheerios made their appearance. This is all lost on me, of course, as I lost my senses of taste and smell more than a year ago. But it's still a nice reminder that fall is really here.

It's what comes after autumn that I dread -- cold temperatures, perhaps a bit of snow and early sunsets that make the days drag by. My arthritic hands will not be happy in the cold morning air. I don't like 4 p.m. sunsets.

But for now, I will make the most of the beautiful fall weather and just perhaps, venture into the kitchen to bake a batch of black walnut oatmeal cookies.

Monday, September 11, 2017

May We Never Forget

Thinking back to this date 16 years ago, I, like so many others, was numb and in disbelief. A plane hit one of the Twin Towers. It must have been a terrible accident, I thought. And then news came of the second plane hitting the other tower. This was no accident.

I worked for a federal agency in the San Francisco area that shared property with the military. Immediately after the attacks, all the access gates were closed, with only the main gate remaining open. Every vehicle entering was searched inside and out and underneath for explosives, and our IDs were carefully checked. We also were quizzed about where we were going. 

I was among a few employees who stayed at work to handle the deluge of requests from local news media wanting to interview our senior managers for their thoughts and "reactions." So I and a couple of other people arranged interviews, coordinated our efforts with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and developed talking points.

This went on for several days, with little time to mourn the horrendous loss of life. Finally, on a day off work, I had time to process what had happened. As I sat in my favorite chair in the living room, watching the endless replays of the airplanes striking New York's Twin Towers, and listening to the non-stop news media coverage, the tears started. And they would not stop.

Life has changed in so many ways since that day, when cowards perverted their Muslim faith and used it as justification to kill innocent people. Now we must remove our shoes, coats, belts and sometimes our watches before we can board an airplane. We go through multiple document checks and are subject to patdowns, scanning and swabs for explosives. We are advised that if we "See something, say something." Security has been drastically increased at federal buildings, airports, stadiums and other places where large numbers of people gather. 

The would-be terrorists continue to change their approaches to killing and maiming innocent people. But American and other intelligence agencies and police departments, along with private citizens who are quick to report anything or anyone suspicious, are fighting back.Terror leaders have been captured or killed, terror cells and plots have been interrupted, and people are willing to get involved in the fight against terrorism on land and in the skies.

Sept. 11 should, in my opinion, be made a national holiday. Cancel Columbus Day, which is a minor holiday celebrated by the federal government but not by anyone else. And it is a growing source of irritation to Native Americans who resent having to honor a man who enslaved and killed so many of their ancestors.

Let us instead honor the thousands who died on that beautiful autumn day in 2001. Let us also honor those first responders who rushed in to help the victims. And let us honor the survivors who will forever carry the physical and emotional scars of that day.

Above all, let us never forget.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Finding Joy in a World Gone Mad

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir

A Facebook friend recently posted that in an attempt to find joy amidst the crazy, hate-filled world in which we live, she took a walk in nature.

That is precisely what I need to do -- spend more time in nature, or at least, outdoors. I'm just back from a wonderful three-week safari in Kenya, where I had limited wi-fi and internet access. There were no newspaper. It was wonderful being essentially out of touch with the terrible news at home. 

I've been home for just more than two weeks, and that 'vacation' feeling has been gone for a while. In addition to the news about the violence and hatred in Virginia, I have had to deal with two dogs in need of veterinary care, and my air conditioner died on a Friday when the outside temperature was 90 degrees. So my stress level has been pretty high lately.

What I need to do is go for a long walk in the bosque, a wooded area that runs along the Rio Grande. Or I could dust off my bicycle, pump up the tires and go for a ride. Being outside, enjoying fresh air, sunshine and exercise, is the best way to have a mini-escape close to home.

I also escape by reading. My Kindle has more than 60 books on it. I recently finished a book by Hitler's last secretary, and and then I read a book about a couple and the dogs that showed up at their rural home one morning. Reading has always been a great way for me to escape. My current read is by a Holocaust survivor.

Photography is another fun escape, whether it is taking pictures, editing them or designing calendars with them. Looking at photos from my trips, whether domestic or international, brings back vivid memories of those trips and elicits the same feelings I had when I took the images.

 Listening to music on my iPod is a great way to relax as I walk. I listen to all kinds of music -- classic rock, pop, classical and ethnic music. I also listen to a local FM station when I'm working in the house, rather than having the television blaring its nonsense.

I have greatly reduced the amount of time I spend on Facebook with its never-ending items about the latest escapades of the Trump administration. Stepping back also spares me the onslaught of stories about trophy hunters and animal abusers.

I am trying to spend my time in more pleasurable, less-stressful pursuits. Even trimming rose bushes and hedges in the back yard, accompanied by my dogs, on a nice day is relaxing.

Our nation as a whole is very divided, very worried and very stressed. We all need to take a step -- or more -- away from the electronic bearers of bad news and spend some time in the healing power of nature. There is joy to be found in our world. We just have to look for it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Moral and Political Failure

This morning, hours before dawn and for the first time in my life, I lay in bed and cried for my country.

I cried about the resurrection of a hate-filled faction of our country, a faction that calls for the removal of everyone who isn't white. This faction, emboldened to come out of the shadows by the election of a president who supports and approves of their white power beliefs, marches through the streets carrying torches and Nazi flags, chanting Nazi slogans. This faction celebrates the murder -- by one of their own -- of a young woman who showed up to protest the hatred espoused by this faction. This same group plans to protest at her funeral.

I cried for a friend whose family was exterminated in a Nazi death camp.

I cried for the neo-Nazi apologists who continue to defend their president, a president who refuses to condemn the hatred, violence and bigotry demonstrated by the 'white power' groups. He called them "good people," "fine people," and tried to blame the victims for the violence. 

I cried for those who believe the lie that "both sides" were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, as Trump contends and continues to repeat. I cried for our so-called political leaders who continue to do nothing to combat the poisonous words of the president.

The following appeared on Facebook; it is well worth sharing.

"Both sides" did not come armed with long guns.
"Both sides" did not come armed with sticks.
"Both sides" did not come in para-military gear.
"Both sides" did not come with Nazi flags.
"Both sides" did not come with Confederate flags.
"Both sides" were not giving the Nazi salute.
"Both sides" did not drive a car into a crowd of people with the intent of killing and maiming.
It was only one side that did that.
That side was the one chanting "Make America Great Again", "Take America Back", and "Blood and Soil".
That side is emboldened by those who talk about both sides being responsible.

~ Jonathan Odell

After my tear stopped, a wave of nausea swept over me.

Trump's failure to forcefully and unequivocally condemn and reject the violent, racist, bigoted rantings of the KKK, the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis, only emboldens these fringe fanatics. Their beliefs are based upon the perceived inferiority of those who aren't 'white,' whose race or religion is somehow 'different.' These beliefs are the antithesis of what America has always stood for -- equality and equal rights. And yet the president has cast shared blame not only on the Nazi-admiring marchers, but on the victims and on those who gathered to protest the hate.

His failure to speak out against those who want to remove the 'other-than-white,' non-Christians among us, rather than blaming "both sides", is a huge moral failure. The American president has traditionally been seen as a moral leader of the country. Trump has failed miserably as both a political and as a moral leader. None less than David Duke, former leader of the KKK, has praised Trump's blaming of the other side.

Is he in reality a neo-Nazi sympathizer, or is he merely pandering to his 'base' as he plans to run for reelection in 2020? The truth will most likely never be known. What should be clear, however, is the danger he presents to America and to American society.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Unfit to Lead

My heart is breaking for my country, once the greatest nation on earth.

I am angry. I am sad. I am heartbroken. I am concerned.I am disgusted. And I am disappointed.

With the election of an illiterate, orange-tinted buffoon with the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old, our country is devolving into chaos. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, as well as anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-anybody-who-isn't-white individuals and organizations, have been emboldened to act on their sick, twisted beliefs.

And the buffoon occupying the White House (when he isn't away at one of his many resorts playing golf)? He steadfastly refuses to condemn the hatred and the violence perpetrated by his Nazi-loving followers. UPDATE: Two days after the attacks in Charlottesville, VA, he finally, reluctantly, condemned the hatred and violence. He read his words on a TelePrompTer, so clearly the words were not really his. His words would have been much more believable and appeared more sincere had he spoken from the heart.

I travel internationally several times each year, and to a person, everyone who has spoken to me about the juvenile occupying the White House asks how the United States could have elected such a bullying buffoon to the most powerful position in the world. He and his cronies in Congress have made the US the laughingstock of the world.
Cheetoh-Man has frequently stated, either verbally or in never-ending tweets, his opinion of individuals and organizations that have 'hurt' or been 'unfair' to him. Why is he suddenly so silent when it would be appropriate to condemn the organizations responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Could it be that he wants to retain their support for his inevitable run for reelection in 2020? 

When the black CEO of Merck, a major pharmaceutical company, resigned his position on the manufacturing council to protest the bully's refusal to condemn white supremacy, the bully-in-chief promptly criticized him in a tweet. Neo-Nazis have praised the weak, mealy-mouthed response of the co-called leader of the United States to the terrorism in Charlottesville. They voted for him, and they applaud his actions to keep Hispanics and Muslims out of 'their' America.

Ethnic tensions between certain groups of whites and other ethnic and religious groups in the US are higher than in a long time. I lived through the racial divisions and riots of the late 1960s, and I have no wish to relive those experiences.

All those claiming that they want to make America white again have it all wrong. America has never been a white country. Our nation was founded on the principles of equality and justice for everyone. From early in our nation's history, black Africans lived in the US as slaves. The original inhabitants of this land were not white, but Native Americans. Hispanics played a major role in the history of the American Southwest, and several current states -- California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming -- belonged to Mexico, a nation of largely brown-skinned people.

So to those outside the US, I can only say that this president and his 'make America white again' followers do NOT represent the majority of Americans. Regardless of our ethnic background and our religion, most of us want the same things -- equality, justice, peace and the ability to live our lives without fear. I apologize for the thugs and misfits who are trying to turn the clock back more than 150 years. The so-called 'culture' they are supposedly trying to preserve -- slavery and misogyny among other things -- has been relegated to the dust bin of history. Let's hope it stays there.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The World in Black and White

While on vacation in Kenya recently, I decided to experiment with my camera's 'monochrome' setting, which allows me to take photographs in black and white.

We were watching a large herd of elephants trying to decide whether to cross a crocodile-infested river. The animals had been standing in the river for several minutes, so this was a good opportunity to switch the camera to 'monochrome.'

When I got home, I submitted one image (I would have submitted more but my computer was acting up) to a photo contest at You can see the image here:  and below.  I was pleased the next day to see that a fellow photo enthusiast had given this image a peer award. 

I took a couple other shots in monochrome as well.

Finally, I took this image of several Samburu warriors celebrating and dancing. 

 I don't think I will switch all of my photography to black-and-white, but it's fun to see the world from a different perspective once in a while.


Celebrate the Magnificent Elephant!

Today, August 12, is World Elephant Day. 

Elephant populations in both Africa and Asia have shown dramatic decreases due to habitat loss, poaching and conflicts with humans. If the species is to survive, everyone must get involved.

Elephants are incredibly intelligent, caring, family-oriented animals. Female elephants stay with their families -- mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins -- their entire lives. Elephants show compassion.They appear to mourn their dead, even elephants they don't know. Recent studies seem to show that elephants have a sense of self-awareness and recognize themselves in a mirror.

Please never buy ivory or paintings by elephants, and avoid elephant rides or anything else that exploits these amazing animals. The procedures used to train baby elephants -- who suffer incredible trauma when they are ripped from their families -- are horrendous and abusive.

If you can and are so inclined, find a good elephant conservation or rescue organization (I support Save the Elephants and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and get involved. Educate yourself about the plight of elephants, then help spread the word to your friend.

I have been fortunate to observe these marvelous animals in the wild. Elephants are not here to entertain or adorn us. They deserve to be left alone to enjoy life with their families as they are meant to do.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Loving the Southwest

What makes people prefer one type of climate over the others? It's definitely good that not everyone likes the same sort of climate.

While some love cold and snow, I get grumpy when the temperatures drop. Some people love cloudy, rainy climates, while I get depressed without a lot of blue skies.

I grew up in the cold and snowy Chicago area. I lived in damp Maryland and in hot and humid Houston. I love the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay area. But at this point in my life, no place beats the high desert of New Mexico.

I love the vastness of the state, the low humidity and the crystal blue skies. I love the privacy my half-acre lot provides, along with the unobstructed views of the Sandia Mountains. At night, I can look up at a black sky with countless twinkling start. I love the open spaces and the ability to get away from the crowds without facing a long, traffic-clogged drive. Most of this part of the country is less populated (aside from Phoenix) than the rest of the country.

Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, has a population of only 600,000. Yes, traffic can be terrible, and crime is a real problem, but one doesn't even have to leave the city to view hundreds of ancient petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument. A mere five miles from my home is Coronado Historic Site, which has  nothing to do with Spanish explorer Coronado, but it does include the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo. Among the ruins is a kiva, or underground ceremonial chamber, that included some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian art ever found in the US. (The original murals have been removed for safekeeping, but copies decorate the inside walls of the kiva).

From central New Mexico, I can easily drive to the beautiful red rock area of Sedona, Ariz., or to Abiquiui, made famous by American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. I can reach Durango, Colo., in less than 4 hours. I can be at the other-worldly beauty of White Sands in 4 hours. When I attend a photography trip in Moab, Utah, later this year, I will make the 11-hour drive through a beautiful land. I can be in Santa Fe in less than an hour.

Every morning I watch the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. They aren't terribly pretty mountains, especially compared with Arizona's and western New Mexico's red rocks, but they are impressive as they soar to 10,567 feet. And they are home to some amazing sunrises. I try to keep a camera handy so I can dash outside whenever I see one of the fiery sunrises over the mountains.

Yes, it can get hot during the summer (it's been hovering in the 100-degree F range for a couple of weeks). It is very dry. And the winters are colder than I would like. But the small amount of snow we get each year generally melts in a day or less. Water is a constant concern, especially given the unrelenting demand of local governments to encourage construction of still more houses. 

I enjoy the blend of three cultures -- Native American, Hispanic and Caucasian -- in my state. I love visiting some of the historic buildings, some of which date back hundreds of years. The crisp air of spring and fall bring a much-appreciated change

My yard was xeriscaped after removal of a water-guzzling lawn. The yard is beautiful and perfect for a desert climate, with drought-tolerant and low-water trees and plants, artificial turf and lots of colored, decorative gravel and boulders. The plants bloom every spring with flowers of a variety of colors. And there isn't a cactus in sight! My yard also includes two peach trees and a cherry tree, too young to produce fruit just yet.

The Southwest states have the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Sedona, Monument Valley and so many more gorgeous locations. Other parts of the country, of course, have their own natural beauty. But in my mind, the Southwest has more beauty than anywhere else in the United States.

I hope my little slice of heaven stays just as it is, without a strip mall on every corner and houses crammed onto tiny lots.There is barely enough water to go around, even with careful water use and conservation of this valuable resource. Let's hope our so-called leaders can see beyond the demand for more and more tax revenue and stop encouraging people and businesses to move into the desert.

Friday, July 7, 2017

19th Century Wisdom

The great 19th century American author Mark Twain once wrote:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I believe this statement is just as true now -- perhaps even more so -- than when it was published in 1869, in his book The Innocents Abroad. We now have a president who seems bent on curtailing America's involvement with the rest of the world, and who has already taken steps to limit the programs set in place by his predecessor to increase people-to-people interactions between Americans and Cubans.

I am a well-traveled person. I have visited Africa several times, as well as Europe and the Middle East. I haven't yet made it to Asia or South America, but those places are on my list of places I hope to visit. I learn something and I make friends wherever I go. I have Facebook friends -- people I have met in person -- from Turkey, Russia, Ireland, Kenya, Scotland, England, Germany, Costa Rica, Spain, Chile, Botswana and France.

By visiting these and other countries, I have gained a better understanding of other cultures and people. I am more informed when I see a news story about something that happens in one of those countries. When I heard about another attack on a French police officer on the Champs Elysees, I knew where that is because I walked down that well-known Paris boulevard a month ago. When I heard about a military action against protesters on Istanbul's Taksim Square, I can relate because I was there just two weeks previously. When a story surfaced about a knife attack at Jerusalem's Western Wall, I can see the wall in my mind, as I visited Israel three years ago.

Travel provides a real life education and broadens one's horizons. It has increased my self-confidence and ability to be flexible and to take things as they come. The rest of the world doesn't necessarily do things the way Americans do. Although I usually travel with a group, I also spend time exploring on my own. Yes, a friend and I were lost in Istanbul; neither of us knows a word of Turkish. But we found our way. 

Traveling makes me see more similarities and fewer differences in people regardless of where they live. People care about the same things regardless of where they call home: family, education, food, shelter and safety.  Don't we all want those things, regardless of where we live? 

I travel with a variety of companies and for a variety of reasons: photography, adventure/hiking and just plain tourism. I wish more Americans had the opportunity to travel abroad and experience other cultures. One culture is not 'less than' or better than another. Our American isn't better than the cultures of Peru or Kenya or France. Learning about other countries and cultures can broaden our horizons and make us better informed citizens of the world. And the more we know about other lands, the less reason there is to fear them.

Monday, July 3, 2017

America's Shame

On the same day he met with the president of South Korea -- a nation facing attack (possibly nuclear) by its neighbor North Korea, which is led by a mad man -- the president of the United States was more preoccupied with attacking via Twitter two morning talk show hosts who frequently criticize him. And despite criticism by members of both political parties, and pleas for him to stop his bizarre tweets, he did the same thing the following morning. And on the morning of the third day, he released a video clip showing him punching a character with CNN as its face.

This wouldn't be funny even if it were done by a middle school student. That the source of these verbal attacks and name-calling is the president of the United States is, at the very least, shameful and unprecedented.

Our country is divided like at no time in recent history, from the halls of Congress to Main Street. Unprovoked attacks on black citizens and on Muslim-Americans have increased dramatically. Yet what is the president doing to try to bring the country together? Absolutely nothing! He has not spoken of unity, of coming together to face our country's problems, or taking America's rightful place as the leader of the free world. 

Instead, he adds fuel to the fire with his off-the-wall tweets and pronouncements. He continues his verbal assaults on women. For the first time in decades, the White House did not hold an Eid celebration to mark the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He says nothing when Americans are gunned down on the roads and in their homes. He offers no condolences or support to the survivors and families of victims brutalized by violence. Instead, he uses the killings as an opportunity to gloat.

His latest is a demand that the states turn over to some commission -- a commission whose members are a secret -- a list of all registered voters and their personal information. His excuse is that there was rampant voter fraud in the last election, a charge he has never been able to prove. He is obsessed with the fact that he lost the popular vote to his opponent by more than 2.5 million votes, and in his mind, that is due to voter fraud, illegal immigrants voting, and other crazy explanations.  

And now the US State Department, operating under the ban on Muslims from coming to the United States from certain countries, has refused to issue visas to an all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan. These brave young women, who live in a country that oppresses women and often does its best to keep girls from attending school, wanted to come to the US to compete in a robotics competition. But of course, the list of banned countries doesn't include predominantly Muslim countries with which his excellency has business ties.

He continues his outright war on the news media, referring to any media outlet that runs stories not favorable to him (even those that report things he himself has said and done) as "fake news." His administration has held daily briefings from which the news media were banned. Hitler and other tyrants did the same thing.

He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the Thafront of the group for a photograph. He insulted the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia during his first few weeks in office. He has publicly chastised the leader of Germany, one of our strongest allies, for not paying enough to support NATO. He has insulted veterans. He congratulated a veteran who had lost his legs in combat for winning the Purple Heart. The man has no compassion and no filters. He simply blurts out whatever comes into his brain.

It should be obvious to all but his most obtuse followers that Donald Trump's mental health isn't what it should be, especially for the man who occupies the most powerful position on the planet. The presidency needs a cool, calm, intelligent person, not a petulant, nearly illiterate, I-know-more-about-everything-than anybody person who is unable to resist attacking any individual or organization that in his mind has insulted or been 'mean' to him.

This isn't about his policies or cabinet picks or his plans to remove 23 million people from the health insurance they now have. There is absolutely nothing about this 71-year-old man with the mind of a child that I like. I agree with none of his policies. But this isn't about policies. It is about the damage he has already done to our country. We are the laughingstock of the world. Rather than leadership, we get buffoonery. 

All Americans want what is best for their country. We may have very different beliefs about what is best, but we should find some common ground and work to bridge the chasm that divides us.  That, I hope, will include replacing a dangerous tyrant-in-waiting from the highest office in the land. Meanwhile, let us come together as Americans and celebrate the greatness of our country.