Saturday, September 19, 2020

In Praise of Praise

      One thing that I like about myself, is that I am a planner. I think about what is coming and I prepare. (Preparing for a pandemic? Separate blog post!) Also, I practice: I set a goal, plan the steps to accomplish it, record my progress, and celebrate success.

       For example, I decided last year, on my birthday, to take a long walk every day, regardless of weather conditions.

*    I got a pedometer app on my phone to track my steps. (All my friends count their steps, so I am following the crowd.)

      *    I told my doctor my plan and goal.

*    I incorporated a secondary plan: taking photos of Mt. Blanca for a possible picture book.

       This year, I reported to my doctor that I was taking about 28,000 steps a week. (Truthfully, my friends win; they are taking 10,000 steps a day!)

       She celebrated!

       However, something about myself that I don't like, is that I am generally a reserved, reticent person. I struggle to introduce myself to strangers – although this becoming easier for me as an Airbnb host. Also, I am good at conversation, but not at asking people about themselves.

       Although I often appreciate something about a person – style of dress or hair, voice, hard work, helping others – words of praise rarely leave my mouth. They stay inside me and add to the pile of regret I've stored up over the years. I wish, for the hundredth time, that I could give praise easily.

       Recently, I received an unsolicited comment from an acquaintance, praising me for my writing. She sent me an email saying: "… you are such a good writer; you include personal experiences, historical perspectives, and make it all relevant to a current situation. Well done!"

       My heart soared with happiness! 💖🙋💥

       Her comment included specific details, how my writing helps, and a final pat on the back.  This was a perfect compliment: praise that recognized my skills and gifts, inspiration to continue,  and encouragement to get better.

       I want to pass this gift of praise, that I received, on to others.

       I don't want to be reticent anymore, especially when it comes to praising others.

       Here is my plan.

1.      Set a goal: give an unsolicited compliment every single day. Just like taking a walk, I wish to give praise. Is there an app for that?

2.      Steps to accomplish my goal:

*    Tell everyone in the world through my blog. (Ok, I only have about two followers, but still … )

I'm starting this week, at the 2020 Autumn Equinox, before we head into the dark, dreary time of winter, because this seems a wonderful time to begin a project of praising others.

*    Decide how or where to record my progress (since I don't currently have an app):

o   Report in a current journal -- I don't use any on a day-to-day basis right now.

o   Create a separate daily journal (I am very good at creating and using journals.)

o   Computer spreadsheet noting date, time, person/s to whom I praised.

o   Call or text someone who cares.

3.      Record progress: see options above.

4.      Celebrate success:

*     Report on this blog 4 times/year on equinoxes and solstices.

*     One year from now, on the 2021 Autumn Equinox, make my year's report in my blog, get a growler of my favorite beer at the local brew pub, light a big fire in our fire pit, dance naked in the moonlight.

Okay, probably not that last bit, so don't come sneaking around to spy on me for a thrill.

But you are welcome to join me this time next year. We can lift a glass in praise of praise. Even if we're still separated, or lonely, or sad.

       My hope, of course, is that praising others will eventually become easy and comfortable for me, just like taking a walk. I won't need to track the compliments I give each day, or have an annual celebration – Wait!!!

       Maybe an Annual Moment in Praise of Praise anyway!

      

 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Mask Choices

      Many years ago, in my rebellious late-thirties, I chose to defy the law requiring me to carry insurance on my car. According to the law, if I didn't carry a specific type of insurance, I could be arrested and sent to jail for several months.

       Being a libertarian at heart, I objected to being forced to buy something. My money is my own; whether or not I spend it on car insurance should be my choice. I was willing to face the financial consequences if I had an accident.

       Also, putting someone in jail because they didn't pay for something, felt a lot like debtor's prison to me. (Didn't England get rid of that two centuries ago?) Jailing a person because they don't pay a bill deprives them of the livelihood to pay any bills. Also, they become a drain on social resources, rather than just a drain on a debt collector. It is completely counter-productive, which is why debtors prison was abolished.

       For these reasons, I did not carry vehicle insurance.

       In the course of time, I was stopped for speeding – well, okay, the third time or so --  (Remember, this was my rebellious period.) and ticketed for not having insurance. The police officer was not interested in my views on debtors prison.

       Neither was the judge. When I told him why I didn't carry insurance, he listened politely, then told me the fine I would need to pay and the deadline to prove I'd purchased it.

       Of course, I had a choice: pay the fine or go to jail.

       Also, I could have challenged this law in the court system, maybe even taken it to the Supreme Court!

       E gad! Years and lots of money.

       As so often happens, my family was the deciding factor. I had little kids who I preferred to be with than being in jail. Our finances were adequate but not for a lengthy legal battle based on a perceived lack of freedom of choice.

       I paid my fine, bought insurance and continue to do so.

       I understand the desire to not wear a mask, the irritation with authority, the disbelief that this is happening.

       However, I obey traffic laws, tax laws, and obscenity laws whether I like them or not.          

       Wearing a mask is another kind of law, or at least a social etiquette rule; it is addressing a much more serious issue than car insurance: a world-wide infectious disease.

       I believe, in my heart of hearts, that by choosing to wear a mask I am saving people's lives. I hope you do too.

   

 This gorgeous psychedelic cats mask is available at https://www.etsy.com/shop/MapsandScraps, a shop in Minneapolis run by a friend of my daughter. The masks are two sided, so you get two for the price of one. Many designs to choose from. (No one paid me to talk about these masks, I just want to.)

I've received many compliments on this mask, which is an interesting upside. 😏

Also printed in the First United Methodist Church of Alamosa, Mid-Week Message.

 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Chicks and Hope, Anyway

       I lifted one of the chicks and plopped it down into the brown hands of the little boy.

       He gasped. "Oh!" Took in a breath. Stilled. Said again, "Oh."

       This ten-year-old had been following me around for half an hour, filled with questions that he barely heard the answers to, curious but cautious, and roving non-stop.

       I was showing him our new baby chicks.

       During this spring and summer, while COVID-19 ravaged the world, our flock went from eighteen chickens to six. Coyotes or foxes had taken a daily toll. This is the price we pay for letting the chickens range freely around our yard and grounds: they become prey to the local food chain.

       Our six chickens were only laying two or three eggs a day, barely enough for us, much less our Airbnb guests. Our reliable, standard food resource was threatened, adding to my fears of  apocalyptic disaster.

       Finally, my partner ordered six chickens from a mail order catalogue. They arrived in a cardboard box with wire-covered holes and small plastic cups inside for food and water – watched over by the post office employees! The next week, we learned that a local farm store had day-old chicks, so Partner went shopping and returned with twelve very tiny, fluffy, cute chicken babies.

       One of these chicks is what I handed to the little boy.

       "Put your hand under its feet so it doesn't fall," I told him. "And cup your thumbs around it to help it feel safe."

       His head was tilted down so his black cap hid his dark eyes. He held completely still, staring at the tiny, fluffy, peeping life in his hands. That moment stretched out as we stood, toe to toe, silently studying a baby chick.

       Having chicks again reminds me that life continues. That despite the invisible pandemic monster outside the door, we can bring healthy little babies inside our hearts.

       Fluffy, peeping chicks and awe-struck little boys remind me to hope.

 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Encapsulated

        A close friend of mine contacted me and said, "I went to your blog to catch up and you haven't written since March?!"

       Her words made me weep.

       Even as I write my answer to her, I weep.

       What could have happened since March to keep me from the page and bring on all these tears?

       The answer is mind-numbingly global and deeply personal.

       In March, our world shut down. I'm not referring to my family's world, but to the Entire World. We all stepped off a curb and into a separate dimension, one of those dystopian, apocalyptic times described so painfully well in science fiction novels.

       Every single person was ordered to go home, quarantine, refrain from contact with anyone. No travel, no concerts, no summer vacations. No going to the grocery store much less visiting the sick and dying.

       Faced with the magnitude of living inside a pandemic, what was there for me to say?

       I attempt, in my blog posts, to be hopeful, funny, personal yet universal.

       How to be hopeful when we were all terrified of the invisible, deadly monster outside our doors? How does one even mention "hope" when faced with a world-wide plague? Like everyone else, I was deeply afraid.

       And any attempt at being funny in such a terrible time, would be irreverent. It would feel like I was belittling our mutual, real, anxiety. Even writing about the antics of our chickens felt cheap and thin.

       And finally, why write about my personal experience of these terrible times when everyone else was experiencing the same? Any feelings I would write about were shared by billions of other people. I could not think of any unique angle for myself.

       And then, in late May, when I was finally sharpening my pencil to write blog posts, a horrific act of violence was perpetrated against a black citizen by a white police officer -- using his bare hands to kill on a public street, witnessed through video by the entire world.

       This act occurred in downtown Minneapolis, six blocks from where my daughter lives. She is a hard-working, tax-paying citizen who was suddenly inside a war zone.

       Every night more disturbance occurred there and every day I talked to my child about surviving there. This went on for a week.

       Then another week.        

       Then another week.

       My experience of that time is unique, and I knew I would write about it on my blog. But I couldn't write then. The intensity of my feelings would have destroyed countless pencils, burned up pages and scorched my desk, got me kicked off the internet for my foul, bitter language.

       I have wanted to write about that, and about my own tiny survival of the 2020 Plague, but I have been in a time capsule of suspended animation.

       It took the love of a friend to get me back here.

       So often, as a writer, I feel alone. Why bother to tell stories or to react to the news of the day? My voice is tiny, insignificant, unheard.

       And then, out of the blue, someone wondered where my voice had gone. She tapped on my capsule and inquired about me.

       Because I love her, and because I do have a voice, and because my voice craves to be heard – even by one beloved friend – I return to this blog.

       My blog will be different now because I am different. But truthfully, every single one of us is different now.

       We are in a new dimension, a time of apocalyptic change.

       I will attempt to report about it from my tiny place, even though the reporting makes me weep.

       Thank you, friend.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Survival Training

Wow!
In the last three weeks, it feels like three months have passed! Every day our lives are changing as we face a deadly pandemic in our country. Although we are confined to home, and seem to have lots more time than usual, the time we have crawls.
Maybe it's the fear we're all feeling that changes our perception of time. We're all wondering if any of us will survive; whether we will survive.
To help you feel less afraid, I want to give you a message of survival, but be warned: it is not a message about how great you are, how you can accomplish your dreams, how this will all go away if we close our eyes and sing Kumbaya. (Confession: I love Kumbaya. My family has accused me of singing it at every funeral and pet grave. Hmm. Maybe they're right?) Still, this is not that kind of message.
Once, on vacation with friends, we visited Arches National Park in Utah. The scenery and hikes were spectacular. We decided to hike to the top of that famous arch that is in all the scenic magazines. I believe we intended to watch the moonrise. However, as darkness settled in, members of our group became uneasy. By full dark, they were just plain scared.
"There are mountain lions here," one woman said.
I shrugged. "We are four women chattering, they'll stay away from us."
"But what else is out there?" She didn't seem comforted by my mountain lion assessment, and had gone on to worry about bears.
That night I wondered why I was not afraid. In fact, I realized, I have very little fear of the wilderness. I am aware of dangers – such as the mountain lion that might have been watching our little group huddled in the dark on top of a giant rock – but I feel prepared with knowledge and experience to survive any encounter.
So where did I acquire that knowledge and experience? How did I gain confidence in the back country? When did I learn survival skills?
I learned as a child.
From my earliest memories, my family went camping, as far away from human habitation as my dad could get. We all learned to catch fish – my first catch was at 7, after my two little sisters! – to stay within shouting distance of camp, and to go downhill to water if we were ever truly lost. We were warned about the dangerous animals in the Rocky Mountain forest.
So much that I learned, I cannot even remember! I must have been told that screeching magpies and blue jays usually signal a predator nearby. I must have learned that if lost and hungry, I could always search for grubs in dead logs (Eww!). I must have learned how to use leaves and even pine needles for toilet paper, and to climb a slope carefully so that I wouldn't break a leg.
These lessons did not come as cheerleading: "Atta girl! Good job!" They came as calm, clear warnings. They were about my survival, not about my self-esteem.
There's a difference, isn't there?
I believe I am confident about being in the wilderness because I was taught survival skills, not how to accomplish something. The language of survival training is precise: "Here's what you do if you get lost: go downhill until you get to water and stay there." While my parents obviously hoped I would never get lost, they prepared me for it by explaining exactly what to do. If I actually became lost, they would not be there to cheer me on, I would be on my own.
We are in a time of survival. We are separated from each other, from the very social networks that often sustain us, encourage us. We lack comforts, such a TP, and food. We wish this whole thing would end tomorrow so we can get back to our lives. We obsessively watch the news or news feeds, counting the virus cases and deaths in the country, in our state, in our town. Our fears build.
Here is a survival message from me to you. By the time this pandemic is over:
·         We will have learned how to wipe our butts in inventive ways. (Personally, I'm saving up newspapers. Aint' comfy, but gets the job done.)
·         We will have improved our skills at Scrabble, Monopoly, jigsaw puzzles, Trivial Pursuit, chess, backgammon …
·         College dormitories might be obsolete! And also college cafeterias! (I did a lot of flirting in my college's cafeteria, so – Dang!)
·         We will appreciate our jobs, bosses, co-workers more than ever, or else we finally will leave that crummy job.
·         We might choose a new career path, such as health care; or leave a career path, such as health care.
·         We boomers will finally learn how to be on the internet beyond email and Facebook.
·         We will value Social Security and health care more than ever.
·         We will all have stories about our version of the illness: the fever, the fatigue, the lack of eggs in the house, the cough.
·         We will all know someone who died of coronavirus, probably from our own circle of friends and family.
Like being in the wilderness without survival skills, this is a scary time. Prepare yourself by being informed, keeping your family informed. Like my parents taught me what to do if I got lost, you can teach your kids about the reality of their lives right now. "Stay inside, keep a 6 foot distance from others, hands away from face, report if you feel hot or have a cough."
If I had a magic wand, I would load it with magic to reduce fear, and wave it over the whole world. I don't.
But I do have confidence. By this time next year, people will once again shop for toilet paper when they feel like it. The economy will be crawling back to health. Most of us will get sick, but we will be alive by this time next year.
See you next year, on the other side!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Chickens and Bedtime

Chickens wake up at the crack of dawn. Literally, as soon as a teeny, weeny bit of light creeps across the sky, chickens open their eyes.

This is a blessing and a problem for people with roosters.

Roosters, when they wake up, lift up their lovely, red wattled heads and announce to the world that the sun is coming up. "Cock-a-doodle-do!" they shout in English.

Roosters -- well, all chickens -- are very dumb, so they must think that the rest of the world is as well. They shout about the sun coming up over and over. "Cock-a-doodle-do! Cock-a-doodle-do! Cock-a-doodle-do!"

If you live on a farm, and getting up early is helpful, you might not mind this organic, annoying alarm clock. You might welcome it in the same way city folk welcome the loud, clanging of their mechanical alarm clocks.

Wait!

Does anyone welcome the sound of an alarm that wakes them from a deep and happy sleep? Doesn't matter the alarm, does it? We all dread it.

Sidebar: This is something retired people look forward to: no alarm clocks any day f the week. Unless we fill up our schedules with volunteer commitments and grandparenting obligations, we get to sleep in. I recommend this. End sidebar.

So roosters and hens awake with the first tiny glimmering of the sun. Roosters crow about it, which is why most cities, if they allow people to keep chickens, don't allow them to keep roosters. Can you imagine the racket if every other home had a rooster crowing at the sun every day?

Hens don't crow. Probably they blink their eyes, stretch out their wings, turn to each other to start gossiping and planning their exciting day of eating.

On the other end of the day, chickens put them selves to bed.

No kidding!

They are very dumb creatures in so many ways, but this is one great thing about chickens: at dusk they head for their roosting spots. By dark they are safe in their chicken house, nestled up against each other, falling asleep.

One time, my sister watched our house and chickens when we went on vacation. After the first day, she called us in a terrible panic. "I've been chasing the chickens to get them to bed, but I can't get them into the henhouse! They're all gonna get eaten by coyotes! I'm exhausted! What should I do?!?!"

We said, "Oh, dear. Take a deep breath. Make yourself a cup of tea. Wait. Wait a half-hour or so. When you go outside, you'll find that the chickens have put themselves away for the night."

She was very offended that we hadn't told her this vital, and surprising piece of information about chickens. She was right, but we are so used to this wonderful chicken blessing, that we hadn't thought about it.

I sometimes wonder if people would be as enchanted by chickens if they had to round them up every night and carry them to the roosts.

So besides giving eggs so generously, this is a great reason to have chickens: they put themselves to bed at night without any complaining or whining or requests for bedtime stories.

Did you know this about chickens? It's a great reason to get some, don't you think? Go tell you parents, siblings, city council.







Monday, March 2, 2020

My Vaccination Story, Part 2: No Joking


Last week I told the story of how I contracted hepatitis as a child after the kids in my school were vaccinated.You may recall that my parents, for religious reasons, chose not to have us kids vaccinated. Because of inadequate sterilization of needles, our entire community became ill with hepatitis, including everyone in my family. I have been infected with hepatitis every since.
Fast forward from my six-year-old self to my young adult self. I was teaching at a tiny rural school, married, and expecting to start a family one day. That's when I learned about measles, which had just erupted among the students in my school, and pregnancy.
Measles, when contracted by a pregnant woman, affects her baby in serious and deadly ways. These babies are born with complicated mental and physical defects. Many of them don't survive into adulthood.
I was terrified. I didn't want my future babies to have birth defects – especially if I could prevent it. Other diseases were similarly bad for gestating babies, but the information about measles really shook me up.
I went to our school nurse, who was a county health nurse, as well as a ranch wife. She was absolutely unflappable and no-nonsense with children. I asked her how I could get vaccinated.
Okay, she was flapped by that. She wanted to know why I was asking such a thing, why I didn't already have vaccinations, etc. After hearing my story, and accepting that I wasn't teasing her, she and I planned for me to receive the normal round of vaccinations along with the children when they got theirs.
So there I was, standing in line with the Kindergartners to get my vaccinations. They eyed me skeptically, like maybe I had forgotten to get in the teacher line or something. I assured them I was there to get my vaccinations, just like they were. Fortunately, me and the five-year-olds were not stuck with needles, but only had to stick out our tongues and swallow the vaccinations put there.
I have never, ever regretted this decision.
According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) [German measles] can affect almost everything in the developing baby’s body." Because of the vaccinations I received at that little, tiny school, I didn't have to worry, when I was pregnant, about being around someone who was sick with measles that could infect my baby. Maybe my baby would have disabilities anyway, but I had taken significant action to prevent that. The relief was huge.
I made sure my own children were fully vaccinated. Would I have done so if I knew the pain for babies of getting shots at the tender age of six months, and later shots for ____? You bet. The pain of the shot is nothing compared to the pain of coping with a child with birth defects.
I read the material about possible side-effects for my babies, and I was willing to deal with those side-affects from vaccinations in order to make sure my children were safe from terrible diseases, particularly measles. Remember, I had side effects from a vaccination I never received, and recovered and led a normal life 
What if I had known about the possibility of vaccinations creating autism?
I believe I would have gotten the vaccinations anyway.  The fear of my babies or grandbabies being infected by measles – or something worse – far outweighed my concerns about potential personality problems such as autism.
Autism is a serious condition. I have a sister who probably fits on that scale and maybe I do too. (I prefer to claim that we come from a know-it-all, nerdy family.) Remember, we did not receive vaccinations, yet have autism attributes anyway. 
The evidence showing that vaccinations cause autism is not nearly as strong as the evidence that measles causes extremely serious birth defects.
Birth defects have been an area of social concern for decades. My uncle was born in 1936 with one leg longer than the other, and his sister – my mother – gave donations every year to a birth defect foundation. Parents are much more savvy now, and they try to figure out why their child has a birth defect. They challenge the system, including the FDA, about medicines dangerous to unborn children.
Certainly, more babies are now born without the effects of measles. Thank goodness!
To all parents who are feeling reservations about getting your children vaccinated, I urge you to protect your grandchildren by getting your girls vaccinated at least. I urge you to get your sons vaccinated to keep them from getting measles and possibly infecting unborn babies they may come in contact with.
If you are a young adult and you were never vaccinated – and you do not have a religious concern -- consider doing so immediately. If you can't afford to go to the doctor, please find a clinic and tell them your story. They will help you. There are many, many programs available to help people maintain healthy lives, and vaccinations are part of that.
Young women in particular, you will not regret protecting your future babies from birth defects.
My relationship with vaccinations is complicated. Yours doesn't need to be. 
Get your children vaccinated, get yourself vaccinated, make sure your grandchildren are vaccinated, as soon as possible. 
Protect our unborn babies.