Monday, September 18, 2017

The Distant Vista

I love my country. I can't say the same for the government. But my country, my land where I live is not composed of ephemeral things like the flag or the national anthem or the president. No, my country is composed of the people...all of the people.

Long before we had a government or a flag or an anthem, we were the people. Back then, we didn't waste time worrying about whether someone stood while someone else sang a song. We were too busy for that nonsense. Instead, we were trying to keep body and soul together.

Now, in this new day, our people are more divided than ever. The 'haves' worry about things like whether someone stands when the national anthem is played or not. It's a song. I admit, it has meaning for me, but I was raised in an entirely different era, when most folks took great pride in such things. Now, few care one way or the other, and without the boost of media, no one would care at all whether someone stands or not. After all, I'm willing to bet few home spectators stand for the national anthem. I bet most of them are in the kitchen getting a beer or soda and chips. So that's kind of hypocritical, isn't it?

Now, I have great respect for the flag. It represents our country. But I also respect the right to dissent. Isn't that what our ancestors have fought for over the years? At least, that's what they taught us in school. So...are only certain people allowed to dissent? Peaceful dissent. No one has the right to riot or murder or burn other folks homes or businesses or possessions. No one, regardless of color or religion or gender. Throughout our history, we've protested. I was a young adult during the Vietnam War, and believe me, there was a lot of protest! Folks say they don't remember our country ever being so divided, but I say they just don't remember.

It's impossible to get two people to agree about everything, let alone several million. Every single person has their own agenda. Every one. And it all goes back to personal beliefs, needs, and wants. So, just because you believe something, doesn't mean I have to. That is what our country is all about.

Already, I'm starting to see fake posts about some nebulous person forbidding folks from saying Merry Christmas or calling a decorated tree a Christmas Tree. Just stop it. No one is doing that crap. Fear mongers love to post that crap every year to wind up people. Ignore it and move along. If you want to say 'Merry Christmas' then do so. Go shout it on the street corners.

No one cares!

Why do we spend so much time emphasizing our differences instead of embracing all the ways we are alike? Fear. Bone deep fear encouraged by the few who would keep us divided. Next time you see a post about somebody doing something you don't approve, stop and really think about it. Why was it posted? Whose agenda is being forwarded? What do they really want to accomplish?

I have a dream. I dream of a land where everybody wants the best for their fellow man. Where they appreciate our differences and lend a helping hand to those in need. That's the country I live in.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Inland Sea

The gentleman in the pic above used to be my neighbor when we lived in Houston. He's six feet tall, so...you can judge how much water is on his driveway as he tries to get around his home. Back when we neighbors, his family and our family spent a lot of time together.

Now...as you see, their home is underwater as are their vehicles.

And their story can be repeated, over and over and over. The great inland sea stretching across southeast Texas crept in, covering roads and yards and parking lots, filling homes and businesses, and regrettably also taking lives.

Unfortunately, there are individuals across the country sitting back in their comfortable armchairs, secure in their warm, dry homes and while enjoying the bounty in their pantries, they feel they have the right to critique the unfolding disaster. Well, they don't. They're not there on the ground. They're not spending hours and hours, rescuing folks in the dark, cold rain. They aren't huddling on a rooftop waiting for help. They aren't there.

It's a brutal truth, but you don't know what you will do until you're in that situation. So be quiet. Instead of yapping on like self-important chihuahuas about what the victims should be doing, start asking what you can do to help. Have you stopped to consider that thousands of dollars in school supplies the children of Harvey will need? One small thing. Think about it. Think about medications lost. Think about infant supplies. Computers. Cars. Homes. Even if they can return to their home eventually, they can't live in them until the mold and toxins have been cleaned out. That, alone can take weeks or months. Furnishings are totaled.

When the water is all gone, that's not the end of it. The inland sea is a destroyer. As Mr. Rogers taught us, be a helper.  Helpers offer comfort, solutions, and compassion. Instead of offering negativity, offer love and support. Be a helper.

And for goodness sake, would someone please muzzle the next reporter who asks and evacuee, "How do you feel?"

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Prayer and Action

Harvey--Hurricane or Tropical Storm--is flexing his muscles, showing humans just how puny they are. All over social media, there are sympathetic posts about praying for Texas, Houston, victims, etc., etc., etc... Now there's nothing wrong with prayer, but I'm wondering what you're praying for?

Prayer works best when it's directed and specific. So what are you praying for? Less rain? Sunshine? Safety? Just typing "I'm praying for you," isn't particularly useful. It might be comforting--or not--but when you're trapped in a house with the water rising through the attic floor, it's not useful. What you need at that point is action. Someone showing up with a boat or helicopter.

I know folks reading this are standing there, hands on hips, and yelling, "I live on the other side of the country! What can I do?"

Take action. The folks down there are going to need food. Water. Maybe blankets or clothing. I don't know, but I bet there are folks who do know. Churches. Charitable organizations. Pitch in. They're gonna need help cleaning up. They're gonna need help rebuilding. If you can't go, sponsor someone who can. And if all else fails, they're gonna need money.

I'll tell you what else we all need as a country. A plan. We need to push Congress and the other folks in charge to get off their duffs and come up with a realistic plan for disasters. A comprehensive plan. Right now, help is piecemeal at best. Why does it take so long to call up the Guard when the folks in charge know what a mess things are going to be? Heck, I knew and I live on the other side of the country.

Why do we repeat this crap? Go to the polls and vote the idiots out. Make that a political platform. The people who come up with a comprehensive, workable plan get the vote. Now, I'm not talking about giving people money. We do that, one way or another. Why don't we have a universal disaster insurance? One that covers everything from tornadoes to floods to earthquakes and wild fires? Wouldn't that ultimately be cheaper than the piecemeal approach we have now?

And pass laws to prevent building on flood plains. You might say folks should know better but the ugly truth is they don't. They believe if a builder tosses up a bunch of houses on a field, it must be okay. And it's not. They believe if a builder sells a bunch of houses on the beach it must be okay. Or if a builder plants a bunch of houses on an earthquake fault, it's safe. Well...it isn't. And while you might say those buyers should know better, the end truth is all of us pay when there's a disaster. It's our tax dollars that are used for clean up and disaster relief (whatever form that might take) and however minimal it might be.

Every single year there's a disaster. Some years there are a more. Isn't it time we take action? Really?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Birthday Man

Soooo. The hunk looks pretty good for 71. Fifty years ago today on his 21st birthday, he proposed. His logic when I said yes? It was a present for himself. Back then, we couldn't envision reaching seventy.

Happy Birthday, Babe!



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Blocked!

A while ago we bought a new phone system that identifies incoming callers. Mostly, it lists a phone number with a town/state. If the caller has their phone set up, it lists their name. Once in a great while it simply says 'out of area'. For the record, I never answer it unless I recognize the caller. I figure if it's important, they'll leave a message.

Anyway, yesterday during all the eclipse hoo-hah, we received eleven calls from someplace in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We don't know anyone in Ft. Lauderdale. I'm not sure we even want to know anyone in Ft. Lauderdale. I was getting pretty ticked off when I noticed a button on the phone that says 'call block'. Hmmmm.

The next time Ft. Lauderdale called, I pressed the button, confirmed I wanted the caller blocked and... there was peace, precious peace the rest of the day. Actually, we haven't had a phone call from anyone since then. About 99% of our phone calls are from unknown sources so we don't often actually answer the phone, but this total phone silence is weird.

Since blocking that call worked so well, I've been anxious to try it again, but there haven't been any calls! How can I play with the 'block call' button if no one calls? 😕 Do you suppose all the robo-callers are connected and now they know I can block their calls? Wouldn't that be cool?

I've never understood why people answer the phone when they don't know who is calling--especially as we have all this great technology now. Why would I want to talk to someone I don't know? And consider--it's hard to be caught up in a scam if you never talk to them in the first place. What if everyone just refused to answer all callers they didn't recognize? What would the robo-callers and scam artists do then? Maybe they'd go back to snail mail or something...

So. It's peace and tranquility at the Cook house. And when it isn't, I know exactly how to fix it.

Blocked!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Defining Success

If you search for success motivation on the internet, you'll find a zillion memes and videos and blogs all listing a zillion paths to success. The difficulty is they all have different measures of success when the truth is each of us must define success for ourselves.

For some, success is making a lot of money. For others, getting out of bed in the morning is success. That's why many of those motivational speeches and videos are worthless. They don't take into account the variety of life styles and circumstances humans live with.

I recently watched a video in which a naval officer posited the key to success was making your bed every morning. Now some folks took that literally, I'm sure, and that's okay. But I think the idea was 'start as you mean to go on'. Have a plan and carry it out. Many mornings making the bed is beyond me, so fortunately the hunk makes it, but I still have a system to get my day going. And everyday, whether I feel like it or not, I keep to the system.

I have read many times (on many social media statuses) authors in particular bemoaning their lack of success at finishing a particular piece of writing...and then a couple posts later, they mention they're still lounging around in their jammies with their hair uncombed or their face unshaved. And here's what I've discovered. The job, any job, doesn't get done as long as you're wandering around in your jammies. Because you're not ready. Get dressed.

Once you're ready, decide what your goal for the day is. Some days my goal is to stay awake. Other days, my goal is to go outside. Success isn't measured in huge leaps. It's mostly measured in small steps. The deal is to keep moving forward. Keep going. Choose your own path. And stick with it.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Memory Thieves

"Dad stopped being dad last Friday..." my cousin, Susan.

My uncle has reached the point where he no longer recognizes anyone in his family, including my aunt. She can no longer care for him so he's been placed in a hospice. It's a heartbreaking scenario played out across the country, over and over, as the elderly population succumbs to various forms of dementia.

For some it's a gradual onset that eventually takes them away. For others such as my uncle it's sudden and devastating. Regardless, it's a catastrophic event, heartbreaking to the entire family, but especially for those close enough to have the responsibility for their care. 

There's not anything useful I can add to the conversation. Except I love my uncle and aunt and my heart is breaking for both of them. They've been together a very long time. In December they'll have their 60th anniversary. And it grieves me that this is the way it ends.

If you have a time and place in your hearts, all good wishes and prayers for them are welcome.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Statue Game

Last weekend certain members of our country engaged in the most recent game of statues. It wasn't news--until someone died. Then, it took on an entirely different cast. And what got lost in the name calling and blame calling was the supposed reason for the gathering...the preservation of a statue.

From the earliest times, statues have been created and placed on high supports to honor individuals or ideals or gods/goddesses. Statues have no intrinsic value except that conferred by people. One population might venerate the statue while another will vilify it. In the iconic last scene in Planet of the Apes, the hero stumbles across the destroyed Statue of Liberty. For the inhabitants of the planet, human and ape alike, it had no meaning. Only the hero found meaning in the statue.

All over the world, statues--ancient and modern--stand for ideals mostly forgotten or no longer with any significant meaning. Depending on just how ancient they are, we humans might preserve them because we value their artistic appearance or their historical/cultural meaning. What I find interesting is the fact that these are the statues that survived. They are a small, very small portion of the thousands of statues that were destroyed through war, rebellion, earthquakes, weathering...because humans have always toppled or buried or defaced statues that no longer represented their beliefs or their rulers.

Often the toppling was carried out by angry mobs as a cathartic means of triumph over their previous overseers. For those who object to the removal of statues, they forget such actions have historical precedent. When the populace no longer actively venerates the ideal represented by the statue, inevitably it will come down, either voluntarily or by mob rule.

People change. Cultures change. And the folks in power change. You might say the history of statues is also the history of humans. When the meaning represented by the statue is no longer valid, it will be replaced by some other meaningful object. For those who wish to preserve a statue that's lost its significance, instead of rioting maybe they should offer a new location for it.

Perhaps their front yard.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Faith and Ritual

Faith is pure belief. Ritual is how we dress that faith...and sometimes, ritual is what we substitute for faith. For example, I can firmly believe in vampires. But if I festoon my home with garlic bulbs and holy water to ward off vampire depredations, then that is ritual, with perhaps a side-order of secondary belief in the efficacy of garlic and holy water.

Religion is not faith. It's organized ritual. And not all religion takes place in a church. The military could qualify as a religion. It has a core belief, organized rituals, and a ranked power system. What separates one military from the next is the differences in core beliefs and loyalties. The fact that we assume the military is there for our protection is part of our belief system that may or may not have any validity in truth.

I have met folks who protest they take no part in rituals. However, most of us have a certain routine in our lives that borders on ritual. We get up, we shower/dress, we have our coffee, we check our e-mail--and when our routine is interrupted, it creates havoc with our entire day because it is in fact now ritual.

If we get together with others of like mind and then decided our day would be better is we say...lit candles and drank coffee together, then we're bordering on religion. Maybe we'll decide to light candles in the early dawn, watch the sunrise, and then drink our coffee before we start our day. And so it goes.

Faith on the other hand requires no accoutrements. It just is. We believe. Or we don't. Going to church, dancing naked in the woods, marching with our fellow man, none of those creates faith. I do think one single thing can aid and abet in the faith process and that is mindful awareness. That's hard to do unless we take time for it.

Some folks call it prayer, others call it meditation, and still others call it thinking time. But without it, we might find our faith wavering a bit. No ritual required. Just time.  


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Simple Gifts

Friends are the family you choose. Some folks have the same friends almost from the day they're born. Others have a rotating stable of friends as they move through life. By the time I landed in Baltimore fifteen years ago, I'd moved over forty times across the country, living in several states so I'm more of the rotating stable variety. Distance prevents spending time with old friends, but social media allows me to keep up with them, even if it's not as often as I wish.

Last night I was working on a crochet project when the hunk asked me why I held my hook the way I do...and I smiled as I remembered my friend Joyce showing me how to hold my hook like a writing implement. It might sound weird, but it's a lot less stressful and allows better control. That was more than thirty-five years ago and I still hold it the same. Such a simple, long-lasting gift from my friend.

When I first married, I had a cooking repertoire of zero. The hunk would attempt to teach me, but he often found it simpler to just make dinner himself. Then we moved across the street from our friends, Dorian and Orlando, and Dorian took me in hand. She taught me about making a grocery list, what to look for when we shopped, how to plan a meal, and finally how to prepare the meal. It took months. But my children and the hunk can thank her persistence for all the meals I prepared for the next forty years.

I still have a plaque hanging on the wall that she gave me. "The best thing I can have in a kitchen is a friend who can cook. Help wanted!"

When we moved to Baltimore, I was lonely in that way that you only get when you leave your friends, family, job, church...everything behind. I didn't know what to do with myself. And then I met Jane. She tucked me in, beneath her wings. Listened to my crazy writing ideas. Introduced me to all the places I needed to know about in the new neighborhood. And accepted me for who I am, regardless of how weird that might be. Heh. Another friend, Kelly, sent me a 'surprise'. I took the box downstairs and opened it with Jane. I will NEVER forget the expression on her face when I opened it to reveal a purple vibrator called a 'throbbin' robin'. Still smiling. She was the one I called when I received my first contract offer.

Friends share themselves. Even when they live a long ways away. I have a friend in Australia--Amarinda--who regularly props me up with a 'get with the program, woman!' Sometimes you desperately need someone who will do just that.

Honesty is hard to come by. So I value the two or three writing friends who are willing to tell me my writing sucks. It's a hard thankless job, but they've hung in there, speaking the truth so I could improve my projects. It takes tact. It takes courage. It takes empathy.

It occurs to me to wonder what I might have given back to my friends. I hope they look back over the years and remember me kindly, with affection and a smile. Because that is the essence of friendship.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Mere

The suspect. Watching mystery television is so...frustrating. About eighty percent of the time I figure out who the real bad guy is in the first five minutes. The other twenty percent, the writers paint everyone into such tight corners while leaving huge gaping plot holes that they actually prove the bad guy could NOT have done it! So who was it then?

Aliens, magicians, vampires, were-whatevers...

Then there are the shows that drag out catching the bad guy for episode after episode after episode after episode to the point that the average viewer just stops watching because by this point it's became a bad soap opera. Catch the bad guy already! When you do, kill him off so he can't come back! By now, I don't care about justice or lawyerly posturing or any of that other stuff.

It all makes me long for the days of MacMillan and Wife, McCloud, Columbo, Remington Steele, and all those other shows that entertained us. They didn't require huge multi-member casts that only have five seconds screen time except when it's their turn to be the featured member of the week. What is it with all the big casts? Can't the writers produce a script that centers around a couple characters?

Anyway...I figure it won't be too long before we have an entire mystery series that centers around a were-bear detective with a vampire sidekick, a receptionist who moonlights as a zombie killer, and a pet brownie who keeps the office clean. Maybe a blue alien who gets left behind when his fellow aliens take off after they finish their exploration mission. If so--you read it here first! 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rise and Shine


I'm retired. Every retired person lives their own lifestyle. Some rise with the dawn. Others sleep late. It's all about body clocks and preferences and all that other stuff. To each his own.

One woman I talked to recently was of the opinion everyone should rise early, go to bed early. Otherwise, they were lazy bums. She's free to believe whatever she wishes. As long as I sleep eight hours (whenever that is), I'm good to go.

It's all about getting enough sleep. Back when I was in my forties, I rose at 4:30 AM, ran like crazy all day, tumbled into bed around 11 PM, woke the next morning and did it all over again. So, my math is rusty, but I'm pretty sure I averaged five and a half hours of sleep per day. Not enough.

The body requires a certain amount of sleep to keep it ticking in good working order. While we may live several years in a sleep deprived state, eventually, the time comes when we pay the piper with failing health. If we burn that candle at both ends too long, the effects can be permanent. Oddly enough, one of the effects of sleep deprivation is obesity.

Think about that for a moment. If you're gaining weight and tired all the time, it's probably because you aren't getting enough sleep. If you're dieting like crazy and exercising and doing all the stuff you're supposed to and still not succeeding with your weight loss, you just might not be sleeping enough.

After punishing my body with too little sleep, too much poor nutrition, too much stress, I hit retirement age and discovered the joys of sleeping. When I'm ill, I might sleep around the clock for a couple days. I generally take a nap every day. When I 'rise and shine', I actually enjoy my time awake. My glucose counts are lower. I feel better. And I'm not as cranky and short tempered. Part of my even temper is simply getting enough sleep.

My meds work better when I have enough sleep. Instead of fighting to work with my body, they can actually do their jobs. A couple weeks ago, I had a root canal. When I arrived home from the dentist, I took my pain meds and went to bed. The extra sleep allowed my meds to work so I had minimal pain when I woke up. Too often, we don't understand our bodies. Even the most 'simple' procedure is an assault on the body. Sleep allows our bodies to recover.

Unfortunately, many adults feel guilty about sleeping. Women have spent their lives believing they are supposed to be first up, last down. They use their children's nap times to race around their homes trying to take care of tasks when they should also be napping, because an even-tempered parent is far more important than a spotless home.

Men believe it reflects on their masculinity when they take a nap after a medical procedure. They're men! They're tough! Maybe that's why so many have unexpected heart attacks.

The body does not lie. If you're tired, if your thinking is muzzy, if you're short tempered...take a nap. Then you can truly shine when you rise.