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Saturday, August 6, 2022

Be Your Priority

Make yourself a priority once in a while. It’s not selfish. It’s necessary.

I saw this graphic on Facebook recently. I don't know who created it, so I can't give proper credit. But I think it’s a wonderful reminder for all of us that self-care is critically important, especially during these stress-filled times. 

So many of us are so busy taking care of our families, our pets, our friends and our homes that we ignore caring for ourselves. I, for one, am guilty of this. I'm pretty good at refusing to do things that may cause me stress. Here is a trivial example. Trying to keep my home dust-free is a battle I never will win. I live in a desert, dusty state that is frequently windy. I also have two dogs, one of them with long hair. So keeping a spotless house is not in the cards, and I have given up even trying. I don’t stress over a bit of dust. And when I do clean the house, I generally take it one room at a time, and one day at a time.

There are days when I simply don't want to be bothered. Not by phone calls. Not by e-mails. Not by text messages. Not by appointments. Not by errands that need to be done. I simply want to be left alone. I love being at home, and I have no trouble keeping myself entertained. I love to read, so my Kindle is my constant companion.

Some might think I'm lazy. But I'm not a lazy person. Sometimes life just overwhelms me. I remember that just a few years ago I used to take off for the day and drive someplace. I would take trips in the local area to just get out of the house, and of course to see what I could find to photograph. I did this during the long lockdown of the pandemic, and it really made a difference in how I felt.

I think the trick is to not just make my mental health a priority, but to actually schedule time to take care of myself. I don't always write it on my calendar, but I should. Writing it down makes it more real and it serves as a reminder to take care of myself. For me, that means reading, exercise and photography. Spending time outdoors is always good for me. If I can take my camera along on my outdoor adventures, that’s even better.

Take time for yourself. Do something that relaxes you. Stop talking about yourself in a negative manner. Learn to say no to give yourself a break. You don’t have to do it all. And don’t feel guilty when you say no. Ask for help when you need it. It isn’t a sign of weakness. Learn to let go of the things in life you cannot control. Remove negative people and those who bring you down from your life. Life is too short to deal with negative Nellies all the time. So surround yourself with positive people, with people who make you feel good. Finally, accept yourself as you are. Sure, all of us have things we can improve upon. But basically, we’re good. We are good enough.

I saw something else online that also struck a chord. It said, simply, ”Find something that makes your heart sing.” 

And then there is this, which I think sums it all up perfectly.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Glorious Rain!

It’s raining!

I live in the high desert of America’s southwest. We are, and have been for years, in a very severe drought. The Rio grande River is, quite literally, dry. 

It rained yesterday, enough to leave a flooded area at the end of the road on which I live. And now once again it is raining. And it is thundering. And the wind is howling. And it is beautiful! It’s such a wonderful feeling to sit inside my house and listen to the rain falling on the skylights in my house. I can almost hear my parched, desert-dwelling plants sighing with relief as they are pelted by the raindrops. I turned my sprinkler system off early this morning, following yesterday‘s soaking rain. The temperature quickly dropped 8°, so I was able to turn my air conditioner, which has been running nonstop for weeks, off for a little while.

In addition to the much-needed water, the storms also bring cloudy skies. I love the bright sunshine of the desert. I would be horribly depressed if I lived somewhere where the sun seldom shines. But every so often, it’s really nice to have a cloudy day.

Our rain storms typically are very short-lived, which is unfortunate. We really need the water, and the sound of the rain is such a wonderful, relaxing sound. But alas, it seems the current storm has passed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

On Becoming Grandma

 I am a grandmother.

My daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby boy just more than a year ago. Technically, that made me a grandmother. But in my mind, he was simply my daughter's baby. Grandmother was not a term that seemed to apply to me.

That all changed when they came for a visit. Suddenly, I really was a grandmother. Although he is too young to talk and call me Grandma, the reality of my new title set in.

He's a cute little guy, with sparse blond hair, blue eyes and a beautiful smile. He is a happy baby, with the occasional, and predictable, bouts of crying. He took to me instantly. He also is a huge flirt, smiling at all the ladies we encountered.

My dogs, who never have been exposed to children, were less certain about this little creature who crawls (he is on the verge of walking), moves jerkily and doesn't look or sound like adults. My oldest dog would simply walk away if the baby got too close. My youngest dog, still very much a puppy at 15 months old, liked the fact that he would drop or throw food to the floor. She really wanted to like him, but she was frightened of him. And she would bark at my daughter if she dared to walk down the hallway. I have no idea what frightened her. There were times when her exuberance frightened the baby. But overall, everybody got along fine.

But back to becoming a grandmother. I adopted my daughter when she was 11 years old, and I never had any desire to birth a child. So little babies are a new experience for me as well as for my dogs. And quite frankly, being responsible for a baby is really exhausting. My daughter is an excellent mother, but I know she is always tired as well. The baby seems to have more than two hands, always wanting to open cabinets and drawers, move kitchen chairs around, etc. Someone, of course, always had to watch him very closely. 

In short, he is a typical, active one-year-old baby. 

He is an extremely sweet baby, and I look forward to watching him grow and to see what kind of person he will become. For my part, I also will grow into my new role of being a grandmother.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

A Close Encounter

I met an elephant in Namibia last week, and his tired eyes looked deep into mine.

I have seen many elephants during my nine safaris in southern Africa. I have visited several times an elephant orphanage in Kenya where I sponsor three orphans. I have long felt a particular affinity for elephants. Their intelligence and compassion amaze me. But the experience I had with this tired-looking old bull elephant is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and it is impossible to find the words to adequately explain my feelings.

It was early evening when we spotted him standing alone (as bull elephants often do) behind some dried plants. It was obvious he was aware of our presence, but he stood still, making no attempt to walk away. It also was apparent that he was in musth, a time of dramatically increased hormone levels in healthy adult male elephants. This bull, whom I call Mutara (I have no idea where I got that name), was secreting a hormone-rich substance called temporin from a  temporal gland on both sides of his face. Musth bulls can be irritable and aggressive, but this bull was very calm. To me, he seemed tired.

After a bit, he took a few steps, which showed a very obvious limp in his left front leg. His tusks, which should have been much longer, had been broken off, perhaps more than once. Our guide estimated his age to be around 50 years. Elephants can live 70 years, but with habitat loss, conflicts with humans, and poaching, many do not make it that long. 

We waited quietly in our safari vehicle, cameras clicking, in awe that we were able to be so close to this magnificent animal. Gradually he started munching on some dried weeds, which appeared to have no nutritional value. 

Then he did something that still brings tears to my eyes. He turned directly toward us, and I swear he looked into my eyes and deep into my soul. Not only did he know of our presence, but he, I believe, was making an attempt to reach me. Knowing how old he is and that once an elephant has worn out its six sets of molars it will no longer be able to chew its food, it seemed that he was telling me goodbye.

I don't claim that I can communicate with animals. I don't pretend to be able to peer into their thoughts and their feelings and into their souls. But something happened between this old bull elephant and me. We connected, we two beings that were brought together by a chance encounter that lasted just a few minutes. 

I don't know whether the four other women in my group had the same feeling as I did. But I do know that everyone was awed by the experience of spending time with this magnificent bull.

I am in awe of the beauty of leopards. I admire the speed of a cheetah. I have always loved elephants. But never have I had such a deep, visceral connection with a wild animal as I did that evening.

My thoughts have returned to this elephant numerous times since our meeting. And every time, tears well up in my eyes and I silently wish him a good, happy, pain-free life, for however long that may be. Whether this truly was a connection between members of two very different species, I will never know. I will never know what this magnificent animal thought about our encounter. 

But I do know this: For a few brief moments, on an unknown level, we connected. And for that, I will be forever grateful. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Another Day. Another Mass Shooting in America.

I have been home from a trip for less than a day, and already the news has reported still another mass shooting.

This shooting took place during an Independence Day parade, by a shooter standing on a building rooftop and using -- what else? -- an assault rifle. The 'alleged' shooter is 21 years old, so he fits perfectly into the age group of too many mass killers.

Once again our political 'leaders' will offer their useless 'thoughts and prayers' to the families of the six murdered innocents, and to the two dozen injured. Gun advocates will repeat the tired mantra that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people.' There will be a smattering of calls for tougher gun laws, and as always, nothing will be done. 

Once again, a small minority of misfits adds to the pervasive sense that  nowhere in America is safe. Not schools. Not houses of worship. Not grocery stores. Not shopping malls. Not movie theaters. Not parades. No place in America is safe. I do not want to live in a country where nobody is safe. And I definitely don’t want to live in a country where our impotent public officials are unwilling and unable to make meaningful changes to reduce this risk to human life. Apparently they are so far up the asses of the NRA that they just can’t bring themselves to do anything.

Nobody in this country needs an assault-style rifle for personal protection, or for hunting, or for any other reason. NOBODY. 

The bottom line is, Americans in 2022, as they were in 2021 and in 2020, are simply not safe going about their daily business. Each of us is it risk of being slaughtered by some individual carrying an assault weapon designed to do one thing and one thing only: to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. These are weapons of war. They are designed to kill. I’m sure our founding fathers did not ever envision the day when pretty much anybody can buy an assault rifle. The second amendment, the most holy of all parts of our Constitutional amendments according to the gun nuts, was written when the only weapons available were muzzleloaders capable of firing no more than four rounds per minute.A fully automatic assault weapon can fire 600 rounds per minute.

Depending on the source, the Highland Park mass killing marked either the 309th or the 300 15th mass shooting this year. That’s right. In the first six months of 2022, more than 300 mass shootings have occurred in this country.

So spare me your thoughts and prayers, and do something!

Stop the Annual Horror Show!

This is for everyone who thinks setting off explosives is great fun to celebrate July 4, New Year's Eve, or any other day.

Do you get some perverse sexual thrill when you light things that go 'boom?'? Does it help you pretend you are a brave soldier engaged in a raging battle to save the country? Does it make you feel like a 'real man'? Does it make you feel like Sylvester Stallone playing Rambo? Or perhaps you believe you are Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies.

Or maybe you a) think it's funny to terrorize domestic and wild animals, or to bring actual military combat veterans into terrorized, quaking individuals. Option b) is that you simply don't give a rat's ass about how you little pseudo war games impact others, because it's your right to have 'innocent' fun, right?

Every July 5, animal shelters are filled with animals that ran away to escape the terror raining down on them. People frantically search for their lost pets, some of which never will be found. And just imagine the terror felt by wild animals. Anyone with PTSD will have been plagued by flashbacks to the experiences that created the trauma in the first place.

My own dogs were terrorized, again, as they are every Independence Day. But this year, the noise was so much worse. My youngest dog, now 15 months old, tried to dig our of her kennel, where she usually sleeps peacefully, while panting heavily. My 11-year-old dog, who is hard of hearing, was equally terrorized, panting so hard I feared he might keel over. 

The explosives used this year were so close to my house that in addition to hearing them, I could see the flash of light as each explosive was set off.

This 'tradition' of mass terror and hysteria needs to end. Are people so simple-minded that they think setting off things that 'go boom' is a fun and appropriate way to celebrate a holiday? Are they so clueless that they don't care about the impact their 'fun' has on others? Or are they simply so selfish and self-centered that they simply don't care?

Thursday, June 9, 2022

A Battle for the Soul of America

I was talking to a friend recently about the state of this country and of the world at large.

I generally am an upbeat person, and when I’m not, I try to make a point of changing my attitude and my thinking to something more positive. But what’s going on in the world right now makes this a real challenge. My friend expressed similar sentiments.

It is really hard these days to stay upbeat. Just look at what we’re dealing with. Ukraine and its citizens are being bombed into oblivion by Russia because of its sociopathic leader's claim that Ukraine is full of Nazis. (Note to Putin: the president of Ukraine is Jewish and lost numerous family members at the hands of the Nazis during World War II). And we mustn't overlook his need for power and to rebuild the former Soviet Union.

We just crossed the 1 million dead mark from Covid in the US, with a big uptick predicted in the US this fall and winter. Pandemic fatigue is real, and no one wants to see a resurgence of this virus.

The Supreme Court seems set to overturn 1973's Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion in the United States legal. 

Various states either have or are in the process of enacting legislation that would make abortion a criminal activity for both the woman and the physician involved.

Nearly every day brings news of yet another mass shooting somewhere in the U.S. Meanwhile, Congress, afraid of losing votes and the NRA's blood money, sits on its hands and does nothing more than offer useless 'thoughts and prayers.'

Millions of cult followers of the former president, who increasingly damning evidence show tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election, continue to foment discord and threaten our nation's democracy.

Prices of everything are sky high. I know, I know. There are are all kinds of excuses for why prices are so high. It’s a shortage of workers. It’s a supply chain problem it’s the war in Ukraine. The bottom line is, it’s greed. Corporate greed. Pure and simple. It isn't Biden's fault. It isn't the federal government's overspending. While Americans struggle to stay afloat, big corporations are raking in record profits.

The climate change crisis, still largely unaddressed by the world at large, threatens the very continuance of life as we know it. Wildfires have so far destroyed more than 300,000 acres in the West just this year, costing several lives and destroying hundreds of structures. And this is in New Mexico alone.

Locally, what the news media calls the 'crime crisis' continues unabated. Albuquerque just reported its 51st homicide of 2022. Shootings, home invasions and break-ins of people’s cars in their own driveways are commonplace.

So yes, it's often hard to remain happy and cheerful. All of these things that cause me stress and sleepless nights are things that are beyond my control. So what can be done?

I do what I can to help. I donate money to organizations that are on the ground on the border of Poland and Ukraine, as well as working inside Ukraine to provide hot meals to the millions of displaced people. I have donated food and toiletry items for human victims of my state's horrendous wildfires, as well as donating large bags of dog food. 

I can’t do anything about the high cost of groceries and gasoline, but I do recognize how very fortunate I am, so I share what I have with others. I watch in admiration the determination of Ukrainian citizens as they fight the Russian invaders. I watch in awe the Americans who have opened their homes and their bank accounts to Ukrainians who managed to make it to America until they can return to their homeland. One couple featured on the news recently hosted 20 Ukrainian refugees. Another took their refugee guests shopping for clothes. 

There still are good people doing good things for other humans and for non-human animals. But it seems we are losing the battle for the soul of our country.