Monday, March 29, 2010

The Festival of Freedom and Spring

The festival of Passover is upon us. For those who observe Jewish law stringently, it means a lot of cleaning and switching dishes and shopping and cooking. For those who observe less stringently, it may mean some of those things, down to picking up a bottle of kosher wine or a bunch of flowers on your way to the Seder.
But as we are making matzah ball soup by the gallon, dealing with a kosher-for-Passover brownie mix, or setting the table for 22 guests, it's a good time to remind ourselves that Passover is the holiday of freedom, and the celebration of Paschal lamb and unleavened bread. But it's also the festival of spring. Wear something bright and cheery, notice the wildflowers on the hillsides, and sing words from Song of Songs - "for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing is come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

California Does It Again

California gets knocked around for a lot of, shall we say, off the beaten path behaviors.  The state deserves the saying, "Everything loose in the country eventually rattles its way to California."  We've given the world Governor Moon Beam and EST, vegan restaurants, the Governator, and our amazing ballot initiatives which allow any cause with enough signatures to get on the state ballot.  That process has its ups and downs and generally the downs far out number the ups as evidenced by Proposition 8 and the yes you can, no you can't, well maybe some of you can get married or stay married outcome.
Now we here in La La Land have an opportunity to raise the edgy bar a lot higher because on the November ballot will be an opportunity to legalize the sale of a tiny bit of marijuana and the growing of a few marijuana plants in our homes or backyards.
Yay California.  This is a wonderful ballot initiative.
Here's why.
People are already buying marijuana.  If said sale becomes legal the state can impose a sales tax and possibly boost the economy of our steadily sinking financial ship.
An additional advantage is that lately the people in this historic laid back state have been pretty tense what with twelve per cent unemployment, massive foreclosures, and property values so low it's hard to even give away a house.  People will have an opportunity to legally return to being laid back.
But here's the most important reason marijuana should be legalized in California.  The rest of the country needs a good laugh and this will provide that much needed national dose of dopamine.
It's a win/win situation.
I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Scraps the Cat Goes to the Vet

I'm used to taking The Family Dog to the vet. No problem. He gets in the back of the car, looks out the window until we get there, and is as joyously enthusiastic about being at the vet as he is about being anywhere else.

It must be close to twenty years since I have had to take a cat anywhere in a car and it has been five or six years since Scraps the cat had to get in a car. The convergence of the two was not ideal. She yelled. She squawked. She hollered. She bellowed. I tried to turn on the radio to drown her out, but I couldn't take the combined noise level. It took about twenty minutes to get to the vet and I was a nervous wreck by the time we got there. The vet put a little catnip and some treats on the examining table to help Scraps feel at home. That was hospitable, but what about me? I could have used a nice glass of Chardonnay and a piece of chocolate, myself.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Daddy Was A Cowboy

Forty years ago today my father, at the age of fifty-eight, died.
From him I learned to treat all people - regardless of their station in life - with equal dignity and respect.  He also taught me one winter day as the snow fell outside the tack room's open door to repair a saddle horn using two threaded needles instead of just one.
He tipped his hat to women and listened with reverence to the seemingly pointless stories of the many eccentric characters who wandered into our ranch lives.  He played the harmonica and loved to sing.
He married the love of his life.  Together they rode the open ranges of Arizona until fences forced them to settle down.
In the only letter he ever wrote me, he urged me to never forget that I was an Arizona ranch girl raised on galloping horses with my hair flying freely in the wind.
I haven't, Daddy.  And I won't.
Ira Franklin Walker - His memory is a blessing.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

For Lo The Winter's Gone

And the time has come to eat outside.
Here's my suggestion for a first day of Spring get out of the house wherever you live light meal:  wine and cheese and plenty of time to enjoy both.
The California Temecula valley has amazing wine.  My first day of Spring choice today is the 2007 Estate Zinfandel from the Wilson Creek Vineyard because it's important to remember that we can't always drink their Almond Champagne.  And the cheese? Cotswold and Gouda.
The wine and the cheese are easier to come by than the time.  Sometimes we just have to declare time to sit and savor and feel the change from day to evening and from winter to spring.
Today might be a good day to start claiming our most precious and most fleeting resource -- time.
Take it with or without the wine and cheese.
After all, they will keep.
Time will not.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Okay. I Did It Again

I finished another Patricia Cornwell novel featuring the indomitable Kay Scarpetta.
The lives of the central characters have become even more outlandish, the plot all the more predictable, and the writing -- well, must I even comment?
And yet how can I call this writing horrible if I can't put the book down.  Of course a more complex question is -- Why am I so drawn to these characters?
Clearly I'm addicted and my family enables my addiction.  They give me these books as gifts.  Of course, I beg them to do so and yet they cannot seem to recognize my shameful addiction.
The good news is that I can only read as fast as the books are published.  The bad news is that they seem to be published at an alarming rate.  They are the gerbils of books.  They just keep reproducing.  At this point I'm only one book behind having no more to read.  Of course, by the time I read that final book Cornwell will have published a dozen more.  I do have my boundaries, though.  I refuse to watch the television program or the movie based on the character.  Or at least I think I refuse.  On the other hand, perhaps I really do have no shame.
At any rate, if you want to share or just explore my shame, read 'Scarpetta'.  You will probably regret the decision but at least I won't feel alone.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Want My Hour Back, Ben

We've got Benjamin Franklin to thank for daylight saving time -- for our gained and lost hours -- for sleeping past Sunday morning appointments -- for all that stuff we experience twice a year when we set the clocks forward or backward.
So, thanks for nothing, Ben.
Here's what happened.  While he was an American envoy to France, Benjamin Franklin (who, by the way, gave us the pithy saying Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.) suggested that the folks in France could save on candles if they got up earlier.  And one thing led to another.
Messing with time isn't anything unusual.  We've been doing it for as long as -- well, the day is long.
None of this manipulation has even come close to solving the real problem.
No matter what we do to slow it down, time still flies.
So, Ben, give me back my hour.

Leaping Lizards

Back East, it's easy to tell when spring arrives. The snow melts. The crocuses pop up. The buds appear on the trees and you can smell it in the air. In Southern California, it's more subtle. But The Family Dog knows that spring is here. Today, he saw his first lizard.

The little lizards that live here disappear somewhere in cold weather. I don't know if they spend the winter burrowed in the ground, hibernating under a rock or vacationing in Puerta Vallarta. I do know they're back. The Family Dog saw his first one today.

The Family Dog loves to chase lizards. He has never caught one and he probably never will. He doesn't stalk them in a serious way, the way he does with rabbits and squirrels. They are more like a video game to him. He sees one and goes crashing into the bushes after it. During the season I become used to this game and, when I see a lizard (almost always before the Family Dog does) I just let go of his leash. Today, I wasn't expecting it, and went crashing into the bushes with him. The lizards are back. Happy Spring.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We Are What We Eat

We are also how we treat what we eat before we eat it and how we treat the people who participate in the preparation of our food.
Food, Inc. is a film with a companion book.  Both deal with industrial food and how that food makes us sicker, fatter, and poorer.  It's not a fun film and it's not a feel good film.  It is at times sickening and disgusting and shows things I don't even want to think about let alone watch.  It is also one of the most important films we may ever see.
The film exposes what has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli and are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.
The film pulls back the curtain on essential issues about which many of us are unaware.
 For example --  Approximately 10 billion animals (chickens, cattle, hogs, ducks, turkeys, lambs and sheep) are raised and killed in the United States annually. Nearly all of them are raised on factory farms under inhumane conditions. These industrial farms are also dangerous for their workers, pollute surrounding communities, are unsafe to our food system and contribute significantly to global warming.
 For example -- Some of our most important staple foods have been fundamentally altered, and genetically engineered meat and produce have already invaded our grocery stores and our kitchen pantries.
This isn't a dooms day film.  It ends by hopefully telling us what we can do to take charge of our food supply and what we can do to move away from foods seemingly mandated for us to eat.
Watch the movie.  Allow it to change your life.  Allow it to save your life.
(Click on the image to make it bigger.)

Also - There's A Hole In My Bucket, Dear Liza

Okay.  So I got tired of walking into walls and staggering down hallways and looking for all intents and purposes like I was under the influence when I wasn't.  I knew I had a sinus infection and finally gave up the 'I can get this on my own' mindset and went to see my doctor.  She agreed that since I wasn't under the influence I must have a sinus infection.  Pulling up my medical records she expressed astonishment that I had not taken a medication in at least a decade.
"I don't like them," I replied.
"Then why are you here?" she asked not unkindly.
I explained that since I was getting on a plane in a couple of weeks and flying across the country I preferred to swallow my distrust of western medicine and - as long as I was swallowing - down some antibiotics too.  I added that whatever side effects western medicine might dish out to me seemed a better option than exploding ear drums over Kalamazoo.
While her agreement was not noticeably enthusiastic, she did write the prescription for ten days worth of Ciprofloxacin.  She seemed to think this was a good choice considering my distrust of all things pharmaceutical.
Off I went to the pharmacy where I was given my bottle of stuff and asked to wait because the pharmacist needed to talk to me.  Since I had a few minutes to consider the miracles of modern medicine, I started reading the Ciprofloxacin patient education sheet.  The first thing I learned was that Ciprofloxacin is a medicine.  So far so good.  It is used for treating certain infections caused by certain germs called bacteria.  Okay.  That certainly seemed, well, basic.  It may also be used to prevent or slow anthrax after exposure.  Interesting.  Useful information.  And just before the pharmacist stopped in front of me I learned that if you have ever had an allergic reaction to Ciprofloxacin in the past do not take this medication.  I assumed the reason I shouldn't take it to be that -- wild guess -- I'm allergic to it.
But the pharmacist was waiting to tell me important stuff so I had to shift focus from my reading to his presence.  After all the man had walked all of six or seven feet to talk to me.
With all the solemnity of a beginner executioner, he cautioned me that a possible side effect of Ciprofloxacin was a softening of tendons.
"Tendons?" asked I.
In response he flexed both hands and then lifted a leg to flex a foot.
"Tendons," he then replied.
"How will I know my tendons are softening?"
"You can feel them."
I felt both writs and then both fore arms.  I couldn't distinguish a tendon from a finger.  I was getting worried.
"I can't feel them now.  How will I be able to feel them if they get soft?"
He held a limp wrist in front of me. I worried the conversation had changed and my questions remained unanswered.  He waved the limp wrist.  I watched his hand flop uselessly back and forth.
"This is how," came his explanation.  "You won't be able to use your hands or your feet depending on which tendons get soft."
"What should I do if that happens?" I reasonably wanted to obtain as much information as possible while I could.
"Call your doctor immediately?"
I should have thanked him right then and there, picked up my pills while I still had useable hands, and gone home.  The conversation was just too seductive, though.  I couldn't resist.
"If I've lost the use of my hands because of soft tendons, how will I be able to pick up a telephone much less punch in a telephone number?"
Whereupon the pharmacist looked at me like I was the anthrax against which Ciprofloxacin might have some beneficial impact, took three steps to his right, and said in a really loud voice, "Next."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kind Of Like Silly Putty

The ability to bounce back is essential for growth and well being.  Sometimes that bouncing back is simple and other times it seems like a task not even Sisyphus would attempt.  Arizona State University's Resilience Solutions Group based in the Downtown Center in Phoenix researches why some people or groups of people exhibit resilience and others do not.
In June, 2007, Adelheid Fisher wrote that "For people living in many of the small towns sprinkled across the American heartland, hope is the kind of four-letter word that is rarely used to describe the future. Family farmers are a dying breed as are the merchants on Main Street.  Reynolds, Indiana is different. Although its population has dwindled to 533 souls, and there are more hogs in the fields than kids in the local schools, Reynolds is reinventing itself.  In 2005, the State of Indiana declared Reynolds a BioTownUSA. The designation refers to the citizens' determination to kick their dependence on foreign oil. They generate power from resources in their own back yard–soybeans, used French fry oil, and pig manure. The residents are eager to embrace the future. More than 20 percent of them already have retrofitted their automobiles to run on alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel."
If a town can be resilient so can each of us.
Part of resilience is hanging on to hope.  Another part is sustaining our interests, our motivation, and our direction in order to regain our own sense of momentum.
These are difficult times.  We will bounce back.  The important thing is to hang on not to what we've lost but to what we have and what we can achieve.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Holes In The Head

Come to find out we've all got a bunch of holes in our heads.  Those holes are called sinuses or sinus cavities.  They take up a lot of space and their purpose isn't quite clear.
According to Wikipedia, a number of possible functions has been proposed:
  • Decreasing the relative weight of the front of the skull, and especially the bones of the face. The shape of the facial bones is important, as a point of origin and insertion for the muscles of facial expression.
  • Increasing resonance of the voice.
  • Providing a buffer against blows to the face.
  • Insulating sensitive structures like dental roots and eyes from rapid temperature fluctuations in the nasal cavity.
  • Humidifying and heating of inhaled air because of slow air turnover in this region.
Here's what they mainly do -- get infected.  Or at least that's what mine mainly do.  I know the symptoms.  I feel woozy, disoriented, unsteady on my feet, confused.
I was pretty sure my interpretation of these most recent symptoms was correct.  I wanted to be certain before I began my Sudafed regimen or, as a last resort, went to a doctor.  I mean, unsteady on the feet, feeling disoriented, acting bizaare -- those could all be related to other things.
So I poured myself a Scotch - Chivas Regal this go around.
Yep.  I experienced an increase of the identical symptoms.
The next morning, after a couple cups of coffee, I started on the Sudafed.
If it isn't the Scotch then its a sinus infection.
Now if only all life could be that simple.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Last Musing About Jay Leno

I know there are more important things in the world, but will someone please explain to me how an entertainer can be funny at 11:35 p.m. and not funny at 10:00 p.m.?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Get In The Flow

I certainly don't care what you do and it doesn't really matter what you do.  Here's the thing.  You want happiness?  Then find something and immerse yourself in its flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi knows a thing or two about happiness.  He's studied it.  He's written a couple of books about it.  And he teaches courses related to his studies and his writings.
Here's what he's discovered.
People who lose themselves at least for awhile each day into something outside of themselves categorize that lost time as 'happiness'.
Wow!  That's it?
Wow!  That's it.
When we focus our attention on something else besides ourselves we recall that time of attention as a time when we felt happy.  When we are in the 'flow' we feel happy.
According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation.  The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.
 Here's the thing.  The 'flow' doesn't seek us out.  Our job is to find it.  And the 'it' is not the same for everyone.  We claim 'it' or we declare 'it' and the 'it' becomes our entrance into the flow and into happiness.  What the 'it' is doesn't matter at all.
So seek out your 'it', declare 'it' and lose yourself into 'it' for awhile each day.
Collect stamps.  Track the normal rainfall vs. the current rainfall.  Monitor the downward descent of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Try to figure out how to correctly pronounce Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  I don't give a rat's ass what you do and neither does anyone else as long as what you do does not cause harm.
Track the corny dialogue found in each episode of Grey's Anatomy.  Seriously.
It doesn't matter.
The important thing is to lose yourself in whatever it is you choose and lose yourself for awhile each day.
At the end of the day you will realize that for at least awhile you were happy.
Give it a try.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Counting Cats

It's happening again and again. No sleep! Cats gone wild chasing each other during the wee hours of the mornings - up and down the stairs - scampering across my bed, digging their claws into any exposed body part - growling, hissing, yeowling and screaming at each other. Nobody can sleep. My poor dog looks at me as if to say, "Stop those spoiled brats". I jump out of bed with a spray water bottle spraying them and running throughout the house so they know I mean business. Soon enough I find both of them swinging through the cat door into the garage and under my car as allies - both of them staring at me as though I'm the culprit. I can't believe it! After all the chaos, I crawl back into bed and, of course, no sleep - insomnia sets in - again. I try counting sheep but all I seem to count are cats. I wonderzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Neither snow nor rain nor -- whatever

Luckily, the United States Post Office has no official motto.  The words -- Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. -- are mistaken for such a motto but are just the inscription on New York City's main Post Office building at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street.  At any rate, those words used to pretty much sum up the reliability of the United States postal system.  It's met its match, though.  What neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night could stop Saturdays can.
And that's the way it will apparently be.  No more mail delivery on Saturdays.  No more pacing back and forth awaiting the arrival of Penny Savers and solicitations and, yes, bills.
I can't remember the last time I received a letter.  Cards still trickle in come holiday time but fewer and fewer of them, too.
My family used to only receive its mail in post office boxes.  The first box I remember was P. O. Box 761.  That was our address.  After that we moved to P. O. Box 63.  Even if we had lived in the town in which those post office boxes were located those numbers would still have been our addresses because no one in either town had mail delivered to their homes so we certainly couldn't have expected such service miles out in the country.
Now I live in a pretty big city and yet I still have a post office box -- P. O. Box 1497.
Go figure.
Old habits die hard.  I guess that's why many of us will still pace back and forth even on Saturdays waiting for one last hand written and carefully folded letter from someone we yearn to hold.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Disaster Solution

I first noticed this curiosity almost five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Television and newspaper reporters were busily interviewing people who were running out of supplies, desperate for food, water, blankets and medicine. How is it, I wondered, that they could get reporters and cameras and lights and generators to the places where the hardest hit victims lived in order to broadcast their plight to the world, but they couldn't get them the supplies they needed to live? The phenomenon repeats itself with every global disaster. At the time of the earthquake in Haiti, the nightly news reporters bemoaned the inadequacy of the airports to handle incoming flights bearing supplies, yet never seemed to notice the irony that the plane that brought them to Haiti was part of what was holding things up.

When I saw this morning's news with the same old story going on, now in Chile, it occurred to me. Disaster relief organizations; take note. Just follow the reporters; wherever they are going is where you will be most needed. That should work until our world gets smart enough to tell them to stay out of your way.

Learned Optimism

Hope doesn't - like the Fuller Brush Man - come knocking on our doors.  Hope hides and waits for our seeking.  If we don't want it we won't have it.  If we don't look for it we won't find it.
In fact, we always find that for which we seek.  We want to be proven right and will do just about anything to make sure that happens.  For example - if I believe people are mean spirited I will seek out the worst of human nature and find it because we all have it.  If I believe people are good I will seek out human goodness and - guess what - find it.  Whatever we look for we find.
So - these are times that often seem to discourage hope and optimism.  Let's keep turning toward delight.  We will find it somewhere.  Maybe even everywhere.  Just keep looking.

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's In The Eye Anyway

She told me that all of her life friends and family had been urging her to 'just be normal'.  What they meant was 'just be like the rest of us' and since she refused to be mean spirited, bigoted, and constantly social she was not 'normal'.  They berated her to party more and think less.  The words wounded until eventually she believed that 'something was wrong with me'.  She yearned to be normal like the people with whom she felt little in common.  She descended into depression.  Now she's beginning to appreciate her strength and her spirit that refuses to allow her to change who she is just to please people who resent the very qualities that make her so unique.
The Fantasticks -- the longest running musicial in New York theater history -- gave us many wonderful lines.  My faviorite is spoken by the young Luisa:  "Please God, please don't let me be normal!"
Those are easy words to speak when audiences applaud.  They are not so easy when families condemn.
Being different is tough.  It's not as tough, though, as giving ourselves away just to please others.
And sometimes it's a long road back home.
Hang in there.