2010 in review…or not


It started a few weeks ago, back in the beginning of December. Slow at first, only a few articles or blurbs here and there, gaining in momentum as the month wore on. It’s tough to compete with Christmas and all its consumeristic glory and brouhaha, but now, this last week of the month, it has taken over. You’ll even find apologies for it here and there, using the lack of other news as the excuse. Neither here nor there, it’s a trend, it’s a given, it fills the holes left by the incessant Christmas carols and rants about how much people are spending. Yes, it’s Year In Review time, and nothing is going to rock that boat, no matter what. So, what the heck, I’ll submit to the trend of the day. And, why not? It’s an easy topic to tackle:

2010 in review: it was great and it sucked.

Boy, did it ever suck. The year flicked me around at the end of its whipping tail until it finally flung me loose with a major splat.

Boy, was it ever great. Eyes wide open, I rode that wild and wooly tale into its final chapter and met that brick wall head on.

That’s it in a nutshell. The result is so complete that there ain’t no sense in looking back at all the particulars of the year. No, that would just be a bunch of hot air with little meaning. And it seems that chronicling it all would cement all the bad and dilute all the good.  The lessons were learned while they happened; and if not, then I’m sure Karma will serve it all up again for another try. The stream of time lacks an end-of-year marker, we just choose to lift our leg and mark the spot ourselves, so the pendulum continues to swing uninterrupted.

So, I choose to continue riding the upward swing. Let 2011 come, bring it on, ‘cause I’m on a roll.


Can you hear me now?

On the surface, that is an easy question to answer. We all talk. And talk, and talk. Sometimes, we actually have conversations, and other times, whatever we say falls on deaf ears. On a deeper level, what results from being unheard or misunderstood are feelings of devaluation, our self-esteem and confidence fall, we lose trust, and while we're licking our wounds, we are also then guilty of not listening.

good conversation with listening is priceless. Heard, you feel valued, empowered, confident, and able to see new possibilities and potential. How far does the imagination have to stretch to envision a life where you listen and are listened to?

Listening is a skill. It is something that can be learned. And, as you go around listening to others, they start listening back. It spreads! You'll also find you do a good bit of the "do" list and not so much of the "don't" list already. A little bit of focus and monitoring and listening will become natural.


Home for the Holidays

There are times when I love so much that it hurts to breathe. More often are the times I want to give that love, to sing it out, to shout it out. Christmas seems like the perfect time to give it all, to release the pent up love without constraint, to bring a smile to a worry-creased brow and a light to a dulled and tired eye.

But, retreat is what I do. It's a melancholic, pensive sadness that I feel as I experience the various emotions that others unknowingly radiate and project. Too often, what touches me is far more instances of loneliness, sorrow and fear than joy and happiness. It's a heavy weight, and I retreat further so that what I feel doesn't add to what others may feel.

There are many alone in their loneliness. The elderly, the single, the orphaned, the bereaved. The lines are long at food banks and for free meals. Cupboards are bare and homes colder, teeth chatter and stomachs growl. Hope is thinning. Hope for tomorrow may be all that's left.

My retreat is temporary. It's not right to deny giving, sharing, being there for others. No bright colored wrapping, no bows or glitter; just me. All of me.

There is a peaceful calm that comes from returning naked to the true nature of giving. May you share your love in the same way.

Welcome home.

*Image: "Maitreya 2" by Nicholas Roerich.


I gotta learn how to cook and hope I get better as I go!


You may not be old enough to remember, but there used to be a time when there were more real restaurants than there were fast food joints. When someone decided to open a restaurant, it was because they really could cook. There was no doubt that the food you were served, hot and fresh, was going to be great and perhaps better than what you could make for yourself at home. Sadly, those days are long gone. Around here, there are no “real” restaurants. There are restaurant chains galore and more than a few of each fast food place in each town. Neither are very appealing.

I don’t care if it’s fast food or a chain restaurant, it seems that as soon as they are no longer “new,” the quality starts declining, and it sinks fast. I’ve long ago stopped hoping for something tasty to come out of a McDonald’s or Burger King or Taco Bell. Two or three times at Red Lobster or Olive Garden and you know that it wasn’t just an off day for the kitchen. Count your blessings if what the servers placed in front of you was actually edible, because that is the rarity. You pay the big bucks, and you still end up with junk food.


I’m not quite “checking in” yet


“Geolocation” is 2010’s buzzword. It’s taking off. It’ll change everything. It’s the thing to do.

Well, I know very little about this geolocation thing. From what I can tell, you go places and “check in” with your cell phone, a smart phone. While you’re there, you can make a comment about the place, a public comment, that others can read should they happen to be into “checking in” and reading others’ comments about where they are.

I imagine the whole thing is loaded with danger. It seems the biggest concern is advertising the fact that your home is open for burglary. For me, that’s not much of an issue – I have dogs. The big danger for me would be walking around while messing with my iPhone trying to get “checked in” and typing out a comment. I can see myself walking into people left and right, bumping into racks of clothes, knocking displays over or walking into walls while I struggle to get my ol’ iPhone to pinpoint just where on earth I am.


Remembering Straight from the Heart


Straight from the Heart, playing at Bronco’s, Saturday, June 12, 1993. It was a big night for us. We were booked in “the club” in Binghamton, NY, we had both of our drummers playing that night, Chris Adams and Mike Ricciardi, and we had a photographer and someone taking video. From beginning to end, it was a great night of playing.

From the beginning, which began days beforehand, it was exciting. This was “it” as far as I had experienced in my music career. I had the perfect band, the best players in town, and the music we created was beyond compare. I bought a brand new, expensive pair of cowboy boots for the occasion.


They are OUR fallen heroes. Remember that.

Arkansas Fallen Heroes Memorial Flag Field, Searcy, Arkansas, December 12, 2010.

It began with one man struck with a tragedy most of us will never experience: His son was killed in action in Iraq. Not settling for just a name on a list as the only memorial to a life lived in honor and cut short by war, he set out to bring to life the sacrifices made by all Arkansas Soldiers. You see, those Soldiers lost their lives fighting for our freedoms, our way of life; not just for their own families, but for everyone that calls the United States home.

As anyone who has lost an important person in their lives know, a death is extremely personal and it comes with a pain unlike any other pain life can deal out. How someone handles loss is personal, unique and individual. There are no set rules laid down by society when it comes to feeling the emotions brought on by death. Sure, we have rituals and ceremonies and expectations of outward behavior, but those mores don’t touch the emotional pain felt deeper than anything else. Perhaps it’s this extreme pain that causes us to build fortified walls around our hearts. Not only do we distance ourselves from loss, but we run from it. We resist with all our might in order not to come close to feeling what we can only imagine. It is a nightmare none of us wish to experience.


The storm will pass quickly for some, but not others

arkansas, gusty winds, power outages, artic cold front, homeless

The roars of wind gusts sound far away, yet threatening in their unpredictability. The little valley is protective, a place to hunker down in a sense of semi safety. Still, the gusts roar, muted though they may be by the house’s walls and the valley’s shell of distance. The force, unseen and terrible, is hidden further by the dark of night. What flies in front of street lamps is so fleeting that the roar becomes the only hint of what nature is up to.

The weatherman sends out a challenge. The gusts are so strong, he said, that huge tree branches can snap and take out power lines in the process. If you dare, and if it’s safe, snap some photos and send them in. And, don’t forget; with the winds so high, the humidity is low, so spreading fire is a particular danger. Since the gusts are bringing an arctic blast with them, a fire would be warming relief. But, who would be out there, in the middle of the night, in this kind of weather?

I hear the roaring gusts from within the walls of my house, my dogs nestled against me, in the warmth of a few extra layers of clothing and another blanket thrown on the bed. The safety is relative and at the whim of nature’s forces. A window could be shattered or the roof peeled off. Frightening thoughts, calmed only by remembering that it’s possible, but not probable. My mind can only begin to imagine just how bad this storm might get, but once the storm passes, it will be over.

For me, this storm will pass. For me, once the gusts become still, once the arctic chill moves on, the extra layers will be peeled off and the spare blanket folded on its shelf. The power will be restored, and the fallen branches, put out to the curb will be picked up and discarded by the city. For me, the storm will become just a blip, barely remembered a few days later.

Yes, for me, the storm will pass and life will go on as usual. I am not homeless.


Acing the passion part of fruity

passion, depression, joy, fun, life as a nut, losing it

Step right up, folks. It’s the roller coaster ride of the year. Test your mettle, challenge your might, but keep the end in sight. It’s the Mobius Strip of perpetual twists and turns, guaranteed to keep one foot here, the other in the bathroom…

That’s what I come up with when I ask myself if I’m nuts or not. I don’t have to ask anyone else what they think, ‘cause I already know the answer.


Passion is a good thing. No doubt about it. It’s one hell of a powerful driving force and a major boot to the ass of motivation. What would we be without it? Why, we’d be kin to that rock half buried in the mud, hiding away nine-tenths of ourselves like icebergs.

I could wax poetic for days about it, but think about it: What would life be like if we didn’t feel, if we didn’t feel strongly about things?


Observing monstrosities on a daily basis


I’m an observer.

When it comes to politics, it seems that, as an observer, I am viewing a monstrosity. It is so huge that there is no way to back away far enough to get the whole animal in sight at one time. This makes it particularly difficult because if I don’t get The Big Picture, none of the pieces fit together. In other words, I have a fundamentally flawed concept of what, exactly, politics is.

Pare that down, which I need to do in self-defense, I look at government. It’s also another monstrosity, convoluted and diluted beyond the reaches of fathom, and the only conclusion I can draw from it all is that it is a massive number of hands, none of which have a clue about what the other hands in the pile are doing.

Well, ok, I’m not getting anywhere in my efforts to find solid ground to stand on to begin to understand. So, it’s down to picking out pieces. We have a president, the commander in chief, the one elected to be the man sitting on top of the monstrosity. Likened to this huge redwood, he’s sitting someplace “way up there,” out of sight, out of reach and out of touch with his roots and the ground those roots root through for sustenance.


Worked yesterday, unemployed today

Unemployed in Arkansas, jobless, unemployment extensions, employmentImagine it. A year ago, things couldn't look brighter. After years of managing a chain pizza restaurant, an ill family member’s needs demanded a relocation to a much smaller city with fewer opportunities for her. But, not for long. A new store was in the works, and the owners recognized her growth-focused business savvy and offered her the job of managing their pizza store in a new, prime location.

The young, inexperienced owners set her free to set up and run the business the best she knew how, and it worked. Of all the stores the young owners had, hers was the only one posting consistent and growing profits. She was customer – and detail – oriented, and it paid off many times over.

Then, bright and early Sunday morning, the owner followed her into the store and told her, “You are our best, you do the best job and you have the best store, in fact yours is the only store we own making money, but because you don’t hang out with us, you’re fired.”

Just like that. Monday morning, she’s in the unemployment office, holding little hope that she will be found eligible. She was in shock. She was lost. She had no choice.


Shut up about it!


The ranting and raving is enough to curl perfectly straight hair. On and on and on it goes, the endless, self-righteous prattle about this or that or the other thing. What is painfully obvious is that all this noise is nothing more than the whines of the weak minded and power hungry. To all of the lip flappers, I say, “Shut up!”

Just shut up about it. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

You can’t possibly know what it’s like right now to be unemployed after the factory who worked at most of his adult life closes down to move production to Mexico. So it happened a year and a half ago, so what? That doesn’t mean that the unemployed can turn right around and find someplace else to work. Do you know what those unemployed workers are facing? Do you know what it feels like to suddenly find perfected skills obsolete and unneeded? Do you know what it feels like to fear the future?

That’s right, you don’t. So just shut up about the unemployed. You seem to think it’s more important to rant about giving the rich those extended tax breaks instead of thinking about whether your neighbor can keep his house and feed his children. 

Hot + cold = warm. Ah, much better.


It’s always us old fogies that catch the flack for being set in our ways. You-can’t-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks and all that hoopla. Well, I’ve got an old dog that learns “new tricks” all the time, and it is effortless how well he teaches me a few things along with him. It’s one of those things that I try to keep a sharp eye on, this thing of being a stuck-in-the-mud.

Sure, change is harder to roll with now that my bones are completely calcified in my half century of time on Earth. But even in my old age, it’s plain to see that change is a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem to be so at first. The thing is, once the clock ticks, things are changed anyway. So, there’s no sense in getting stuck. No sense at all.

If you think about it long enough, it seems silly. On the surface, it’s the path of least resistance. If you’re not stuck in the mud, so to speak, then the river of life doesn’t smack into you, push you hard, before it rolls off your staunch surface to flow right on by. OK, you’re standing strong, but that river of life just waves a fond farewell in retrospect as you fade away to a dot in the rearview mirror. Those fellow sticks stuck-in-the-muds standing right along with you will not hesitate to call you names like “liberal,” “fence sitter" or “weak” when you decide to break loose and go with the flow.

And that is the trap. The stuck-in-the-muds proclaim loudly, with a bit of logic to support their superficial arguments. It’s when those arguments become hard and fast, completely stuck in the mud of either hot or cold that they then become extreme. That extremism is what becomes the antithesis to life itself. Life cannot exist in extreme cold or extreme heat. It needs both; it needs the nutrients of the flow of the river. Life depends on nurturing warmth.


It takes a lot of practice to lose the grump


The tone was unmistakably raucus and self-righteous and loud enough that I heard it through cubicle walls halfway across the office. The deep voice sounded like he was giving the people at the front desk a very hard time, and half recognizing it, I jumped up and came to their rescue. I didn’t recognize him, but he sure recognized me with a loud,

“It’s my money and I want it now. It’s mine.”

What could I say? What I did say was, “Are you giving my people a hard time up here? Quit that and come back here with me.” I didn’t give him a choice. I just spun and headed back to my cubicle. After a few clicks I had his info up on my screen and got myself caught up pronto. Now, I remembered him. A few more clicks and I found some juicy stuff that I kept to myself – for the moment.

His attitude was demanding, grumpy, grating, irritating … all around and downright unpleasant. I let him vent his tirade and inserted the proper eyebrow elevations and frowns in the appropriate places. He described this, explained that and brought himself back around to getting what he thought was his due. I had no chance to get a word in edgewise unless I asserted myself far more than is usual, and it got old fast. Finally, at the end of his story, I printed out that juicy stuff I was holding back on and placed it on the desk in front of him.


Unemployment extensions end, but not announced

Economy"…[I]f your regular benefits exhaust during the week of Nov. 27, you will not be eligible for an unemployment extension at this time."

In February, April and May of this year, Congress chose to take leave instead of voting on legislation that would extend unemployment benefits beyond regular amounts. The first time made a huge ruckus in the media. The second one, not so much. By the time the May lapse occurred, a peep here and there came through the wires, even though it wasn’t until July 22 that the Unemployment Compensation Act of 2010 was signed into law. That law, as written, expires on November 30.

This major lapse in news coverage of a topic that effects roughly 10% of all of us incites rage in me. This is important for hundreds of thousands of people trying to find a job when there are none to be found, trying to feed their families and trying to keep a roof over their heads. Why hasn’t it been all over the news?


One flew over the squirrels’ nest


Fridays. Just the thought of having two days off to do whatever makes a Friday a good day. No holds barred, fun day. Most of the time, I have that fun all by my lonesome.

In between the mad rushes at the office, I stepped out to enjoy the sun, the colors, the uncanned air – and the squirrels. Said squirrels have become brave, playful and a bit obnoxious lately, and I have fun with it.

These two squirrels were having themselves a good ol’ time. The chased each other, played hide-and-seek, ran through the tree branches and made a racket running through the leaves on the ground. Motor-mouth that I am around animals, I uninhibitedly – and loudly – chattered and jabbered a running commentary of their antics. Since I’ve done this all year, the squirrels are used to my voice and once in awhile, I imagine that they are actually listening.


Putting the face to the story


I imagine every mother could write a book or ten about their child. I know I could. This is my son Tim, who stopped in to my office to see me today. He hates having his photo taken, or so he says. I took many with my iPhone, and caught him struggling not to smile. He had very long hair when he woke up this morning and came to see me right after he had a stylist take a pair of shears to his head. One extreme to the other, and I have my handsome son back.

Since I wrote so much about Tim the other day, I figured I’d put a face to the story. He makes me proud.

I love my boy!


Too much to focus on, but not enough focus

I’ve got to figure out what Ward I now live in and research the aldermen running, because I am going to vote.

Oh dangit, that’s what I feared: the front tire is soft, really soft.

Did you hear that? Must be a race on Race St.

We all have our heads stuck up our arses. It’s our nature. No, it’s because we can’t hear much, see far or feel much. We’re really myopic.

It was really good to see my son. I’m still glowing about that.


What a Sunday this has been


Striking, isn’t it? The day started with this incredible sight, and it took my breath away. There was no choice but to stop a moment to lose myself in the wonder. A great truth was spoken, and the earth celebrated.

A tearfully frantic call woke me this morning, bright and early. A car was being towed for lack of proof of insurance. Frantic, sobbing, whining girlfriend. I’ve made the same mistake, drove around with things not quite up to date, so I knew what it would take to fix. Or, so I thought. It seems there’s a monthly quota to meet for ticket writing, and my son and his girlfriend were nabbed red-handed. The result wasn’t a slap on the wrist. No. It was a citation and an impound. Talk about overkill. The car was insured; there just wasn’t that little ol’ piece of paper to be shown. Even with the insurance company itself on the phone, there was no stopping that tow and impound – with a hefty price tag to go along with the experience.


Social networking: Out with the old, in with the new?


I got to thinkin’….

With Facebook touting 500,000,000 active users (Is that enough zeros?), is it positioning itself to replace the Social Security numbering system? We all have ID’s, so instead of a number, how about our Facebook profile address instead? It seems more user-friendly; but we won’t talk about the security issues. Then again, just how secure is the Social Security system? Out with the old, in with the new.

The buzzword-of-the-day, of course, is social networking. Funny how that works. We’ve always had social networking, we’ve always done it. We’re social animals at heart. No man is an island, so they say. But now it means setting up a Facebook account and friending a bunch of people that you’re not likely to encounter in your day-to-day life. You know, that part of life that entails eating, sleeping, going to work, paying bills, talking to people face-to-face, etc. Is that a good thing?

I haven’t decided yet.

From my own perspective, I’ve come up with a few pros and cons:


It’s simple, really…


…but it’s not easy. It takes a good, sharp knife to pare away the things that get in the way.

There’s a tendency to define value based on differences. When you get into a car, you expect the seat to feel a certain way, to line you up in the exact position you need to be in to drive. You expect the key to go into the ignition, and when turned, the car starts. You expect the car to start. You expect the wheels to turn the tires and move the car down the road. You expect the car to brake when you hit the one pedal, and go when your foot hits the other. You expect to guide the car safely along the roadways, and you expect everyone else will do the same.

But, what if someone else drove the car before you and moved the seat? What if the car doesn’t start when you turn the key? What if one of the tires went flat? What if nothing happened when you pressed on the accelerator – or the brakes? What if someone decided they weren’t going to obey that red light and plowed through the intersection?


We are all the same


OK, people. It’s time to dust those cobwebs out of your heads and think with me a bit here. I challenge you. I dare you. If you’re not up to it, just click on by and we’ll catch you later. OK?

Democrat, Republican, tea partier. Black, white, yellow, red, all of the above, none of the above. Young, old, young acting, old acting. Rich, poor, wish-you-were-rich, somewhere in the middle. Christian, Buddhist, Hindi, whatever.

Every single one of us, right here and right now, satisfies the biological definition of life: We eat, drink, breathe, reproduce and make waste, sometimes from both ends. We all have red blood, we all require oxygen and water, we all sleep, we all fart, and we all have needs and wants. There is not a single human being on this planet - that is alive - that does not fall into the same category.


Who’s smarter, him or me?


The line is drawn in the sand, the gauntlet drawn. It’s past “challenge” and into “battle” now. It’s a battle of the wits, the brains, the ingenuity.

This is Saki. He’s a mutt for all intents and purposes, but he has to be the smartest little dog I’ve ever known. He’s the one that has me going, and it’s something that has been going on for weeks now.

You see, I fenced in the back yard so that the dogs could all be outside while I’m at work (and as the landlord insists), and that project took quite a bit of doing in itself. With my son’s help, t-posts were driven, a gate put up and used, rusty, no-climb field fence was stretched to create a nice little outdoor haven for my dogs. It’s a secure haven, almost like a fortress. Except…

There is something more. I have proof.

It was wondrous. My eyes were big and my mouth an O. We saw it on TV, my cousin John and I, so we hunted around for the perfect branch with a Y for a fork and snapped it off the tree. It didn’t work for John, and as cynical as he was at such a tender age of 10 or so, that didn’t surprise me. So, I grabbed onto that stick and held those branches tight. I walked slowly and concentrated hard. Then, I felt it. That stick was pulling down, even against the good grip I had on it. A step or two closer to it’s intended target and I could feel the skin of my palms starting to stretch and pull, almost painfully. As hard as I held that stick, it still pulled itself down to point at some obscure spot on the ground. My mouth’s O could have been the start of “ouch” as much as it was the shape of wonder. John accused me of doing it, though only half-heartedly. He watched, but didn’t see my fingers move.


Making a case for lima beans

Lima beans. I suppose they are healthy to eat in their own way. Perhaps if more people ate them, instead of, say, a Big Mac, they wouldn’t be fat. Maybe they even taste on the par with a Big Mac; but, who knows? I imagine that everyone is indoctrinated at a young age when Mom decided to spoon a pile of lima beans next to the slice of meat loaf and said, “No desert unless your plate is cleaned off.” One exploratory bite of a few lima beans and the question immediately pops into the mind: Just what is for desert anyway?

I’m not going to go off and do a bunch of research to make the case for eating lima beans. I’m just not interested. You see, in my case, chocolate cake wasn’t enough of a reward to eat those fateful lima beans piled onto my plate as a kid. Let’s just say I hadn’t quite yet developed an insatiable craving for chocolate. Not yet anyway, and one bite into the tough skin and the gritty guts of a few lima beans and I immediately wished our family had a vegetarian dog to clean up the mush I so wanted to spit out of my mouth.


Creaking, crackling adventure


Can’t have a day off without some sense of adventure, and lately, that’s been anything, anything at all, that is even remotely out of the ordinary. The sun was shining through the window perfectly, and as it filtered through the leaves of the philodendron, it warmed the room. It’s hot outside, but cool in, and completely enjoyable. It’s all a matter of angles, so the adventure came when I decided to climb up on a chair to shoot down. For me, that is an adventure and a whole new way of viewing things since I’m pretty short.


Imagine there’s no Heaven

The horrifying images of commercial planes flying straight into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania were shown repeatedly across the nation’s communication networks and media. Those images are ingrained into our collective consciousness, along with the thousands that perished that fateful day in 2001. The iconic skyline of New York City is changed forever, the gaping hole once viewed sucks us back to a reality that is traumatic and nightmarish.

The United States is a young country. From its inception, it grew exponentially to dominate the world financially, politically and militarily. Our hegemony kept in check by the morals and values of the forefathers that created this nation. We stand for liberty, justice, equality in our minds – for some, in our hearts – yet instead, we became the playground bully, the spoiled brats of the world.

Is it naiveté? Or is it innocence?


On September 11, 2001 in Upstate NY


September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday morning like any other in upstate NY.

I had a 9:30 a.m. class to teach, my first of the day. As was my habit, I walked into the Business Office of the community college to check my mail before heading into my computer lab across the hall.

“Good morning, June,” I said as I walked by the secretary’s desk. Bustling along, it took me a few steps more before I realized she hadn’t greeted me like she usually did. I stopped and turned to see her staring up and to her left.  Following her gaze, I found she was staring at the TV that is always on CNBC with the stock ticker going across the bottom of the screen and the sound off.

I only glanced at the screen, saw the image of the World Trade Center, and since it was around 9:15, only one of the planes had hit.

“What are you watching?” I asked. It never hit me that it was a live broadcast of the news. What was shown on the TV looked like just about any other show or movie we’ve all seen a thousand times. Looking at June, her mouth was slack, her face blank, and I feared the woman was having a stroke. It was only when I walked back to her and repeated my question that she shook her head, her lips visibly flapped; she closed her eyes tight and then looked up at me.

“A plane flew into the World Trade Center,” she said in flat, toneless voice.


From the outside, looking in…again


Talking about living behind shuttered windows the other day brought a few more thoughts up that are a bit less than comfortable.

Here I am in my own little world, only to be startled to find the Great Dane next door gone. I heard and saw nothing. I wondered if the dog died, though I did hear him bark late last night. His chain and line are gone, and so is his water bucket and food dish. Sad, I felt saddened and at a loss. What happened to the dog? Hearing car doors slam, I peaked out through the window blinds and saw two pickups drive off, loaded with furniture. My neighbors are moving out, and I never got to meet them.


Like peas in a pod


Peas in a pod. That’s what life in the city is like.

Each house has its own little yard. Maybe there are things in the yard for the kids to play on, maybe not.

Maybe the back yard has a dog chained up or in a cage, maybe not. And, maybe there are flower beds and shrubs, and maybe not.

What each house has are windows with mini blinds, all pulled shut. Those mini blinds are all white and all closed. The houses aren’t the same, but each house’s windows are.


At a crossroads in history, the Internet changes everything

Have you ever wondered why it’s so easy to look back in time and see the major turning points in history? I suppose the reason lies with the complexities of day-to-day life that so many crucial things go by us without notice. Does it have to be that way? No. Let me throw a few points out for pondering to get the ball rolling:

The Industrial Age pressured our society into becoming individualistic. This was necessary to keep members of the available workforce separated as much as possible so that workers couldn’t organize and the fear of losing a job to an immigrant could be reinforced. Yes, the system thrives on a racist, discriminating society.

Church on Sunday was about the only chance that laborers could get together socially, with the church responsible for moral and ethical leadership that, often, echoed the wants of the local industry more so than Biblical teachings.

Individualism was reinforced more and more as the consumer market had to be “stimulated” in order for capitalism to continue to grow. At first, it was a matter of breaking up the cohabitation of extended families. As each family unit – father, mother, children – set up house, the more need there was for houses, appliances, furniture, etc. The demands of the job and now the distance between extended family members made it difficult to maintain social ties and family influence disintegrated.


Up is up, no matter what


Just a bit of rain fell, just enough to leave behind a few puddles in the parking lot. Walking around with my head down, deep in thought, consumed by worry and not far from falling into a deep depression, I saw the puddle under my feet. There, reflected in its wondrous glory was “up” – the fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky with infinity the ultimate presence. There, right there at my feet, was “up” just as persistent in getting my attention as my “down” state of mind was working to blind me to it. Up is down, and down is up.

Sometimes, there’s just no point in giving in. Sometimes, everything yells that giving in just isn’t a choice. No, there’s no way to give in..

…or give up.


The art of diplomacy in the face of indignant disregard

Self Portrait by Ruth Kristoff


It took me years to understand the concept, and even longer to build it into my …presentation. Truth is truth, right?

Sometimes, practicing the diplomatic delivery of truth ends with a very bloody tongue. I had thought my tongue would heal from Monday’s practice session, but it ended with yet another round today:

“I am well educated and worked at the corporate level. I demand what I have coming to me.”

Oh, bite my tongue, and bite it hard. What I wanted to say in reply was “So, you’re better than everyone else?”

What I did say was, “This is based on law. The applicable laws were stated in your determination. The law is the law. Where there is any room for interpretation to apply those laws to your situation is outlined in the Reasoning and Conclusion section.”


Embarrassed to be a member of the human race


On the rare occasions that my father had the time, he would sit and watch our first color TV and laugh with the same fervor that we imagined Santa Claus laughed. He would watch Roadrunner with glee, and the Honeymooners and Archie Bunker. I couldn’t understand the comedy of cartoons, couldn’t relate drawings to what my eyes saw around me. I couldn’t understand the jokes on the Honeymooners or Archie Bunker; couldn’t understand why the people on TV behaved like they were reading out loud from a book and pretending so badly to be whatever it was they were pretending about.

From the get-go, my mind translated what I saw on TV to be nothing like reality. I didn’t have to be taught that what was on TV wasn’t real. It was way too obvious. What was shown on the news became the same; it was pretend, fake, put-on, farcical and made up. I could understand Captain Kangaroo, but not the shooting of President Kennedy that they interrupted Captain Kangaroo to show. I didn’t understand why Mr.Green Jeans didn’t step onto the screen to explain what I just saw. Instead, there was Walter Cronkite in tears, saying the president had been shot. Not long after, it was Martin Luther King that was shot, and then Malcolm X. Still, it wasn’t reality.

No. It was on TV, so it wasn’t real. No one ever said otherwise.


Smarts in a bottle?

smartwater-bottle-newlabelI guess if you dress anything up with a young, nubile, pretty girl - a naked pretty girl - it will sell like hotcakes, right? I can almost forgive the underlying nuances of such an advertising tactic considering how hot and thirsty I was when I bought a quart bottle of this smartwater stuff. And while I reached for the bottle in the store’s cooler, men weren’t knocking me down to get at that beautiful model hidden in each bottle, nor were there women gnashing past me to get the stuff that makes that beautiful model beautiful. I was safe. I was thirsty. I managed to satisfy that thirst and live through it.

Then, I fell into a guilt trip. That purchase was not exactly a “green” thing to do. To be honest, it was the bottle that got me. Very tall, slim and crystal clear. And who couldn’t use some bottled smarts? I popped the cap, tipped it up and drained that bottle in two gulps.

That bottle ain’t just an average single-serving bottle of beverage. It’s made with a heavier, sturdier plastic that your usual, run-of-the-mill soda bottle. It doesn’t collapse in your hand when you suck hard on it. As cool looking as it is, I figure there has to be a few more rounds of usefulness to it. No sense in wasting a perfectly cool bottle, is there?

Oh, the advertising tactics are amazing. It says it’s “vapor distilled,” like what happens to water falling from clouds. It’s in its purest form, the bottle says. Um, haven’t you noticed the pollution in said clouds and atmosphere? What exactly is vapor distillation? Is there really even such a thing? I want to see it.

And, it’s not “pure” water. Why bother doing this special, unheard of purification process if you’re just going to turn around and add electrolytes? Aren’t those the things added to Pedialyte for dehydrated babies or the things you give a horse after a long trailer ride? No. These electrolytes are added to smartwater “for taste.” Taste? Isn’t water supposed to be tasteless?

I’m confused, and frankly, I don’t care. I gulped down that bottle of vapor distilled, electrolytes added for taste water so fast that all that just never crossed my mind. And, to assuage my guilt trip for buying water in a bottle, I filled that bottle back up and popped it in the freezer when I got home. Hey, that heavier, sturdier plastic bottle came in handy after all.

Bottled water. Jeesh. Water that sits around gets old and rank, and that’s when water has a taste. Yuck. But hey, the bottle is cool.

Sad and glad for all the challenges and changes

overgrownfencepostJuly has been baking. All the ingredients for major change have come together, all at once, to form obstacles far greater than just bumps in road. While it's a bit crazy, a dark cloud hasn't hung over all the challenges. In a matter of time, what all comes out the other end will be complete with some form of icing on the proverbial cake.

You all know I love my place. I love that Odin is right here, up close and a major part of my little pack of animals that is my home. If I had my way, I’d build a house that included a stall for him so that he could come inside at night with the dogs and I. Ah, maybe one day… But now, I am moving. The reality of it all is that I can’t afford to go through another winter here. Heating this house ate all my income and threw everything else into the wind. I have to move.


Spam comments anyone? Me neither.


A few months ago, someone from somewhere in Asia decided to start leaving comments on all my blogs written in Chinese with links to what appeared to be porn sites. Is that something you’d like to see here? Me neither.

So, I increased the security.  First, I enabled CAPTCHA. They must have real people behind all those spam comments because it had no effect. Then, I enable comment moderation. I kept getting the spam comments, but at least they weren’t ending up on my blogs. Persistent spammers, that is for sure.

Once in awhile, I’d find out that someone tried to leave a comment on my blogs but wasn’t able to because the embedded comment form didn’t work. When I saw those same complaints from other Blogger bloggers, I figured it was time to come up with a Plan B.

I ran into DISQUS, a commenting system, on a few tech blogs that I read often, and soon came to appreciate the functionality it gives to commenters, and I’m soon to find out what it will do for blogs.

The problems with the comments have gone on long enough to discourage comments here, and I hope this change to DISQUS changes that and recreates the open, active forum for discussion that I have always strived to achieve.

So, try it out. How does it work? Do you like it? Is it easy to leave a comment?

Let me know what you think~


What it takes to bring you the news

typewriterI look at my schedule and find I’m due to cover a small town’s city council meeting on Monday. Last Monday, in a different small town, was another city council meeting. And, there will be yet another one on some other Monday of the month as it is every month. As a freelance reporter for a small, daily newspaper, I have my beats; those city council meetings, a few planning and zoning committee meetings, and once in awhile, a special event or feature article.

It’s not often that we think about what it takes to bring the news to you on a daily – nay, minute by minute – basis, just like we rarely think about what it takes to put an automobile together, the canned goods in a grocery store, or the electricity through those countless miles of power lines. None of the work is visible, unlike the construction of a new home, a building or a roadway.

Now, with a tanked economy sinking many newspapers out of business, along with the transition to online delivery, news has taken an even harder hit with little revenue to keep the process going. Not many understand that without the news, the government and everything else runs amok. And, it is now since there are far fewer reporters out there witnessing and writing about what is going on. The news, especially the local news, is what keeps us together, on the same page and participating members of our community.


A storm rolls in, then out again


It was a nice day, partly cloudy, the sun going in and out most of the day. It wasn’t quite as hot, in the low 90’s, and the humidity had dropped just enough for the grass to dry out enough to mow from yesterday’s momentary rain. I spent an hour and a half on the mower, didn’t complete the front part, but had to stop. I sunburned.

Then, out of the blue, up from the south (I’m facing east to take this photo) moving quite rapidly, a wall of thick, heavy cloud moved in and took a lot of the daylight out of the day.


Get past the words


“It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so.” Ernestine Rose

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed more and more people questioning, not only the daily horrors that are so rampant in today’s world, but the existence of God when no answers are found to explain the hell that life has become for so many. Whatever the hellacious circumstances that weigh so heavily on so many hearts, the pain has become palpable and overwhelming for anyone who feels. When things go so wrong, when the horror reaches beyond our ability to manipulate or control is when, in self defense, a person will look outside themselves for the cause, for something, anything to blame for all the bad that has happened.

That I understand, or at the very least have an inkling of why, does not belittle the fact that my heart cried out when I saw the above quote by Ernestine Rose floating by on my Facebook wall. You see, there is no connection between atheism and religion, though religion – organized religion – may be the driving force behind the choice to doubt the existence of God or a Supreme Being. A child is born into the totality of life in a pure state, and a child is able to perceive more of life for the simple reason that language and linear thinking has not yet had the chance to veil the child’s vision. You have experienced this sort of solidification of your being into your body just as you have witnessed it happening in the children you’ve met. You reason it away by the terms and phrases you learn from others and from the countless organized religions out there. Even if you come from a family that did not “practice religion,” much of what constitutes organized religion is incorporated into our culture and is inseparable. Regardless, logic dictates that a fundamental belief in God is not a given in the particularly religious, nor does the opposite, that a particularly spiritual person is religious.

Religion, all religions are a man-made construct. “God created man in His image, then man turned around and created God in his.” At best, religions are organized to pass on morals, mores, values, ideals to everyone and each successive generation. At worst, they are manipulative, controlling and dominating – never for the benefit of all.

Take the words out of the equation. Do not think of God or a religion. Instead, think deeply enough to dig down to and through the walls that language and thought have built. When you find your heart, listen. Listen hard.

A mind committed to compassion is like an overflowing reservoir - a constant source of energy, determination and kindness. This mind can also be likened to a seed; when cultivated, it gives rise to many other qualities, such as forgiveness, tolerance, inner strength, and the confidence to overcome fear and insecurity. ~Dalai Lama


Weekend fireworks a time to build trust and confidence


The long, hot, sultry, dog days of summer are here, complete with a growing drought and weeds galore. We are hammered by horse flies with bodies the size of a large man’s thumb and ticks that suck until they drop off their victims and splat open in a pool of blood. It’s a marvelous time, which I can now say in honesty since I recharged the A/C in the truck. Temps in the low 80’s used to feel too hot up in upstate NY, but now, I don’t complain about the heat until it starts nudging up to 100. We’ve adjusted to life in Arkansas, Odin and I.

This horse and I have become close in ways that has never been described in all the horse books I’ve read, and those ways are far from what the TV trainers like Pat Parelli and Clinton Anderson blast away about on RFDTV. Sure, they have a few good points and methods, but neither come close to what I have with my horse. I have no magic, I’m not psychic, I have no special tools or gear, I’m not young and lithe, and I have no specific method that I follow to get to where I’ve gotten with my horse. And, there is no secret.


Out from under the weeds and thistles

Compassion is like a sense of caring, concern for others’ difficulties and pain; for family and friends, and all other people, even enemies. If we think only of ourselves and forget about other people, our minds occupy a very small area and even tiny problems appear very big. When you develop concern for others, your mind automatically widens; your own problems, even big ones, will not be so significant. ~Dalai Lama
How easy it is to forget such fundamental truths such as this. No problem. As soon as I forget, I am reminded. Lately, I have fallen into The Trap, that way of withdrawing, covering up, hiding in self-defense, bending and bending under the weight of others’ pain, all the while forgetting that the drained batteries will be recharged and that we are never given more than we can handle. It’s like everyone and everything I ran into was in sore need of tending, but I didn’t feel like I could handle it. I learned the lesson, a tough one, yet again. It feels like this:


Oh, oh, oh, you know

heat Oh, I don’t know, you know? You know what I mean, I’m sure.

Oh, the stifling heat. Walk outside and into an oven. Drown in endless glasses of ice water and spray down legs with the hose. The humidity can’t be wiped off faces and arms, and the sweat pours from places never known to emit moisture. It’ll save on the water bill since there’s a lot less flushing going on.

Oh, the endless tension and stress in the news. If it can go wrong, it does. It’s all Dominoes, all connected, and it’s just a matter of time before they are all knocked down. Lickety-split, the blocks tumble faster and faster. Oh, you know what I mean.


Caution: uneven lanes ahead


I lost my mind somewhere, and I have a feeling it took a jump off the bridge that I was taking this photo from. (This is facing east, going across the Arkansas River that separates North Little Rock from Little Rock.) This bridge illustrates perfectly what it feels like to have my mind go one way and my heart another. Discombobulating. If I recall, they call that being torn, right?

It’s everywhere too, like the world is mocking me. On the highway into town they’ve shaved off a few layers of asphalt, with one lane stripped and the other not. Nice little ridges are left for the sides of your tires to catch on and throw your car around a bit. One up, one down. Which lane is the one to be in? Bump up or bump down? Mock away, world. I’m still trying to figure out how a train can cross that bridge. They fly down the tracks, and somehow, that bridge doesn’t look like it would drop fast enough. I’ll get back to you about the lanes when I figure out the bridge.

Have you ever had that feeling?

I know what it is. The temps have been up around 100 degrees for three weeks now. I’ll blame it on the heat. The heat is discombobulating. Heh.


A slap upside the head


The other day, our sunset held more than just the sun dipping out of sight behind the mountains and trees. To the south was this spectacularly illuminated cloud that made that particular sunset far more than just a sunset. It caught the eye of many, with many of them taking a photo and sharing it on Facebook and blogs. It’s almost like nature in all its glory becomes more awesome and breathtaking when we all need to be reminded that it is nature, it is everything, that depends on us. So, it gives us a gift, a huge, remarkable sight to slap us upside the head as a reminder of our responsibility to all of life. Nowadays, it can’t just be delegated to “those with the ears to hear and the eyes to see.” It’s too late for that.

Yes, it’s too late for that. We’re in a big mess. Every moment of every day, I see more evidence of just how big this mess has become.

I watch the news like a hawk. I yearn for an indication that the politicians in Washington are even aware of the impact their games have on people, real people. Instead, it’s politics as usual, and real people,watch their lives crumble under their feet. Do politicians ever look up and see?

Sure, we have information overload. We have access to so much information that buzzes around our heads like a swarm of angry wasps that we do whatever we can to swat that noise away from our ears, in self defense. But, that information is not the danger. Far from it.

There has been a shift, a dramatic change in all the information that is available. All those talking heads, those pundits that have always shaped public opinion by offering up their drivel after a politician’s speech no longer have the power in their hands to push America into their version of a neat little pile. That power is gone. What has taken its place is social networking like Facebook and Twitter where everyday people, you and I, post our own reactions and opinions way before the pundits have a chance to open their mouths.

Now, finally, the voice of America comes from us! We have our voice and we are using it. What we haven’t realized yet is that our voice, our very voluminous and powerful voice, has the responsibility to shape our own future – and fix the big mess that we’re in.

You see, our responsibility goes beyond ourselves, our families, towns, cities, states and country. Our responsibility includes all of life, all of nature, every living thing in our environment. Nature is slapping us upside the head almost every day now, trying to get us, humanity, to wake up and take the responsibility that comes with being the highest life form on the planet. Sweltering heat, bitter cold, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts, deafening thunder and murderous lightning are all slaps upside the head. So are the incredibly beautiful moments that nature gives us. She is reminding us of the way life could be all the time.

And, it’s all up to us how it’ll be, disaster or beauty. It’s our choice.

It’s time to wake up. Take responsibility and use that voice of yours.


It’s all in the release

odinheadtossThere are times when I waver, split between the joy of life in all it's totality and fear of walking life's paths alone. Every fleeting thought is ripe with potential for both fear and joy. When the scales tip toward joy, which they do more often than not, life is astounding, glorious and rich. When the scales tip the other way toward the negative, fear rises up and overwhelms. No matter which way those scales tip, it is all symbiotic. When I remember the symbiosis, I remember that I am never alone. This I learned from my horse.

Odin never ceases to amaze me. I have never met a horse so expressive, interactive and communicative. I’m sure that has more to do with the years we’ve spent together than anything else, with those years spent growing and learning and growing some more.

To point at anything specific that has shaped our relationship is riddled with many of the terms that rile horse people on either side of the spectrum from traditional to the so-called natural horsemanship fad of the day. All the way up and down that spectrum are things of value, things to learn and things to incorporate into a relationship with a horse. So, my first bit of advice is to be an extremist in a different way – take it all in.


I have great neighbors!

The blue pickup pulled out of the driveway and headed slowly toward me. The truck pulled into my driveway, the window rolled down and he said, “You’ll be over tomorrow, right? I’m cooking out again, and I want you over there.” His usual, big smile on his face, he insisted. “If you don’t, I’ll send Jason and Jennifer over to drag you over.”

That’s my neighbor, Larry. He’s taken to inviting me over every Sunday to “socialize,” as he calls it, insisting that he’s going to teach me Southern ways if it kills him. He’s persistent, that’s for sure, and for the first time in my life, I have great neighbors that have become a large part of why I call this place “home.”


BP working to contain oil and profits only

Discover Enterprise: Photo taken from bp.com

I’m not a scientist, not by any means. As much as I’ve been following the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I am not satisfied that I’ve learned enough to know what’s really going on. Those reporting the news of the disaster are no more learned than I am, so the result is a dumbed-down version of the important points.

What we know is that, under the ownership and direction of British Petroleum, the Deepwater Horizon drill rig didn’t follow the rules which resulted in the April explosion and sinking of the rig, taking 11 lives in the process. Now, oil and natural gas are streaming into the Gulf from the hole in the ocean’s floor, and several attempts to stem that flow did not work. First, a huge containment dome, then a ‘top kill’ attempt to push the oil back into the ground with heavy drill water and junk, and now a top hat is in place. The top hat has one pipe up to the Discover Enterprise and several vents, which allows it to capture 6,000 gallons of escaping oil a day so far; a mere third of the oil spewing from the hole.


We are all the same

The Dalai Lama in Madison, WI on May 16,2010, giving the talk, "Investigating healthy minds." Photo from the Dalai Lama Facebook page.

As human beings, we are all the same; there is no need to build some kind of artificial barrier between us. With this attitude, there is nothing to hide, and no need to say things in a way that is not straightforward. So this gives me a kind of space in my mind, with the result that I do not have to be suspicious of others all the time. And this really gives me inner satisfaction, and inner peace. ~ Dalai Lama

It is the simplest, the purest of things, that can divide or bring us together. It’s not that these things are opposites. Instead, the simplest and purest of things diminish the possibility of the opposite’s existence.

As human beings, we are all the same. What muddies the water from the start is the seemingly inherent inability to distinguish belief from knowing. All it takes is to simply sit down and think it through, to come to understand, to find the place within where believing it to be true and knowing it to be true reside. In so doing, the walls between us disintegrate. We are all the same. We eat, drink, breath, excrete and reproduce. We all live on the same planet within the same closed atmosphere. Nothing that you do goes without reaction, and it is the same for everyone.

As human beings, we are all the same. We are all born with the potential to be anything that we choose. All of us has the potential to be an artist, musician, physician, athlete, leader, physicist, mathematician, actor, dancer, orator, writer, architect or philosopher. All the potential is there in each and every one of us, and the possibilities are endless. Which potential we choose as our focus is the beginning of the wonderful variations that allow us to grow while contributing diversity to the whole. We cannot survive alone, we cannot exist outside of the whole that is humanity. And, humanity cannot exist without it’s myriad of endless diversity. We are all the same, each of us one piece of the whole pie.

Yes, we are all the same; every single one of us.


This and that for now


There are so many amazing things, those stop-and-smell-the-roses moments that are uplifting and affirming in stark contrast to all the negatives floating around.

Almost an exact year ago, I took photos of these same flowers. They are unique in that there are only two of them growing close together on my whole property. They bloom, last about a week, then disappear. The pretty color is highly visible and pronounced amongst all the other colors still struggling to change from brown to green. I’ll mark my calendar for next year, the third week of May, to capture these lovely blooms once again. I was amazed to see them again this year.

It’s amazing how wonderful it feels to have a sort-of vacation. Five days off in a row! I’m curious to see just how I’ll use the time to myself and what I’ll actually do, if I choose to do anything at all.


You can save a life

depression-worker349x442He looked like he had the strength of an ox. Wide, muscular shoulders, thick thighs and corded neck made his sitting figure seem far too still and compliant. The gray hairs over his ears and peppered among the black of his moustache and eyebrows appeared more a sign of his years of struggles than of his age.

I’d seen him at work years ago, saw his back hunched in effort to pull pallets of product onto the store’s floor, watched him pull far more pallets out than any of his coworkers; and though his eyes would smile, he never stopped to talk.

When he came in to my office last week, I finally understood why. He stutters, and he is barely literate. It took awhile, but he explained his circumstances. He had a job that is now only working him one day a week, and he is about to become homeless.

At the end, he looked at me and fought with himself awhile before he finally dared to say, “I am thinking of ending it. There is nothing left.”


All it takes is a few words

riverstonesI hope to paint a picture with fewer bristles and a lot less paint. It's comfortable for me to include as many observed details as possible to accurately convey the story. Now, I aim for that whole story without all the little details.

And that, folks, takes paring things down to the nitty-gritty, down to the bone, and building up from there. The power to tell the story lies within a few well-chosen, powerful words. All it took to boil back down to the basics was observing throughout a day or two how a few words here and there changed everything.

“I don’t care what you’re doing. I need this done right now.”

Oh, really? The audacity! Pfft. Take a hike!

“I know you can handle it and you’ll do just fine. But, if you need help, I’m right here.”

She only came for help two times, and for things that she was supposed to “bump up” anyway. And, she did a great job the entire day.

“We couldn’t do better, so we figured we’d join you.”

I was motivated by the need for safety, and quick and accurate information is necessary when the potential for a tornado is swimming around out there. I’m also terrified of severe thunder storms, so pecking out the updates kept my mind occupied and the terror at bay.

“Men aren’t interested in 50 year old women. He remembers you like you were 15 years ago, and that bubble is going to burst when he sees you are fat and old.”

Ouch! So, men are driven by the innate desire to procreate and ‘spread their seed’ in places that will fulfill that desire. Darwin was never a very romantic theorist. Can I be 100 percent sure that it all won’t turn out that way? No. But, a few words here and there from him give me hope. Those words are affirming. Those words from him make me happy and whole. Those are the words I choose to hang onto with all my might.

“That horse came up to you? Yes it is a big deal.”

Oh, so I can attract horses, but not men. Sigh.

“You just might see me at your door in June.”

You bet I’m going to hang onto those words. They scare the crap out of me, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather see than him standing in my doorway.