Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Cards

Grandma kept a special address book for Christmas cards. In it held the addresses of most everyone she knew in the last 40 or 50 years. Some were crossed off due to death. Others had new last names. I never saw her scratch out a name in the fashion of "unlike".

All the cards Grandma received were placed in a table top wicker sleigh basket spray painted gold. News from Florida. New York. Mississippi. All sitting atop her round, birch laminated coffee table alongside the milk glass candy jar and several angels.

The year Grandma died I had to answer her Christmas cards.

My Christmas cards are taped around the wooden hallway door frame. In other houses I taped them to doors. At the peak of card giving, I had two doors covered with beautiful notes of joy and celebration. When I moved into my new home in 2006, that first Christmas saw TWO door frames covered with swinging Christmas cards. TWO!  Photo post cards of my friends Daria and Virginia and their two girls, another friend with her dog. Christmas letters telling of the year's adventures. Cards shaped like they should hold money or a check, but they don't. Cards shaped like they wouldn't hold money or a check but they do.

There are Jesus cards and silly cards and funny cards and nature cards. Dogs peeing on snowmen and Wisemen delivering gifts to the babe in the manger. There are sparkly cards and handmade cards, cards from Target and cards from Hallmark. I love them all.

But a sad thing is happening. Every year the number of cards is declining. Not due to death or divorce or moving oversees or changing religious preference. Maybe it is the email and ecard thing. I don't know. Maybe I am losing friends. I have only half as many cards on my door frame as last year.

Even the grocery stores, which used to have bins of Christmas cards are cutting back. I couldn't find any cool cards this year. What is happening to this wonderful tradition?

Maybe next year, instead of sending your Christmas greeting on Facebook or LinkedIn or My Space or email or by ecard, you could get out an old fashioned pen or pencil and write me a card. You can find instructions on how to address an envelope online. No need to lick the stamp, they lick them for you. Just pop in the mail a week before Christmas and you'll make me the happiest woman in town.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Capitalism and Our Endangered Earth

In nature there is an amazing process called succession. It is the evolution of a community. I know you have seen it yourself. A field is plowed and left fallow, pioneer species adapted to disturbed soils and full sun move in. They change the conditions in the field, and soon small shrubs appear. As they grow they produce shade, which gives other plants who like shade a place to grow. And so it goes until eventually we end up with a forest of large trees.

In nature there are cycles that replenish things critical for life on earth - water, air, gasses, compost, to name a few. Interrupting these processes causes a tremble in the web of life, one that can be fatal to our planet over time.

In nature, there are a finite number of minerals, trees, land, freshwater, oceans, coal, oil, shale, iron ore, metals - everything we use to create the "things" that feed our addiction to consumption. The operating word here is finite.

In nature there is a concept called "carrying capacity". It is the maximum level at which a habitat can indefinitely sustain a species. A sustainable state, if you will.  If a species exceeds its carrying capacity, there are food shortages, increased aggression for the limited resources, high rates of disease and epidemics, poor health, social upheaval, and death. Does this sound familiar? Turn on the news.

The past few years I have come to believe that capitalism is failing. I have observed the divide growing between the rich and and everyone else. The driver of capitalism and the globalization of the economy is simple. Greed. Make more money so you can make more money. No matter what the cost to society or the Earth. Buy the cheapest parts to get the biggest profit margin, regardless of whether someone in a country across the sea was paid three dollars a week and an entire community's water supply was polluted by the waste coming from the factory. As long as the profits keep growing.

It is no wonder that the Democrats and the Republicans can't find a solution to our economic woes. There isn't one for our current system. It is doomed to fail, it is already failing. We need a new one.

We humans continue to separate ourselves from the living Earth we are a part of. We think there is an infinite supply of natural resources. There isn't. We have separated ourselves from our fellow creatures and most people don't possess an even basic understanding of how things interact or work together in the natural world. This is an extreme departure from the way we lived for thousands of years.

Our love affair with technology isn't helping either. It is taking us even further from our place in the world as one of millions of species of animals. Few take the time anymore to learn about the Earth. It is much more intoxicating to spend hours on Facebook or hooked up to an iPod. Do you know who lives in your backyard, sharing their home with you? Do you know the names of the birds that sing to you every morning? Or where they go in the winter? Or whether their lives are being threatened by development down the street?

Black Friday is a good name for the craziness that the marketing experts have created in our society. It is a capitalistic feeding frenzy. And now, let's open the stores on Thanksgiving so we can lure shoppers away from their families to get a deal and increase our profits for the year.  Who cares if our employees want to be home with their families on one of the most traditional American holidays? It is all about profits.

When will we wake up and say enough is enough?

One of my favorite people in the world is Jerry Mander (yes that is his real name). He has contributed several important books that give wake up calls to society. His latest is called "The Capitalism Papers". It is brilliant. I would encourage all of you to get a copy and read it with an open mind. This is not about pushing socialism or communism, this book is about why capitalism has outlived its usefulness through economic succession. It is also about the Earth and her carrying capacity for the seven billion humans occupying the planet. And we are fast approaching eight billion. When I was a child, there were only three. What are we doing?

When cost is the most important consideration in the decision making process, society has failed and its decay imminent. It is already happening. The human population is in a constant state of war. Our climate has changed. We are experiencing an increase in natural disasters. We are permitting the destruction of wild land set designated as wilderness and national parks, lands protected for future generations, all at the pleasure of the oil and gas companies. Drill baby drill. This is the rape of Mother Earth.

We live in a state of threat, real or imagined. Increased security. ID tags that you must wear around your neck at all times when on the job. More passwords than holidays. Drones flying in the skies. More people carrying concealed weapons. More laws letting you shoot and kill someone simply because you felt threatened. Maybe you were, and maybe you weren't. We'll never know.

I don't like writing blogs like this. But we have to look at what is happening. Not one piece at a time, but at the whole picture. A social ecological perspective, if you will.

There is hope, there is always hope. It begins with honesty.

"Hello, my name is Barb and I am a recovering capitalist".

I believe if we all rediscover our part in the web of life, there is a chance we can turn this thing around.  We have to learn to care about others again, instead of living in fear and paranoia that someone is out to screw us. We have to ask ourselves about what is truly important to us. And we have to educate ourselves about our environment and the affects we are having on our Mother, the Earth.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Love, the Elusive One.

I have been thinking about writing a blog about love for some time, and the more I think about it the more confused I become. I can't define love.

I once thought I could. When I was a little kid I thought love came from my parents. They fed and clothed me, encouraged me, taught me to do things. Gave me hugs and kisses. I thought it was found in the families on the Wonderful World of Disney. Everyone happy, everything turning out ok. Challenges were faced together, you talked things out, and in the end everyone turned in with smiles on their faces and shooting stars streaking across the sky.

Then I started to get older. Nothing in the real world matched what I had seen on TV. I should have watched soap operas. Now that was reality.

I learned that the love I feel in my heart is considered a sin by some people and that, in their eyes, I deserve to be beaten or killed for it. I learned that lesson before I finished high school. Love a sin. Really?

I have always thought that love is a verb rather than a noun. And by loving you create a state of being that is comforting, warm, joyful, secure, stable. One that promotes an inner sense of well-being which supports us achieving our goals and dreams. That is not to say there aren't conflicts that arise, but through loving actions things can be worked out.

When I try to define love I can say what it isn't much easier than what it is. It is not betrayal, abuse, neglect, hurt, pain, indifference. It is not infidelity or caretaking or denigration. It is not control or the snuffing of another's dreams.

I have always believed love is a creation, every growing and evolving, deepening and strengthening. It is like a garden that you carefully tend, and if neglected will surely wither and die on the vine. But if well-cared for, provide an abundance of life sustaining crops to carry your through.

I have learned that at times what I thought was love was something else disguised as love - need, dependency, lust. I have learned that we live in a troubled world where few know how be in healthy relationships and that it takes the courage to stand in front of the mirror and take care of business first before we can even stand a chance at achieving that beautiful thing called love.

I have learned that you can deeply love someone without it being reciprocated. I didn't think it was possible to feel that sense of connection without it being a mutual thing. I thought that the life of the connection could only come into existence if it was felt by both people. I was wrong.

I always figured that as I got older and did enough self work I would finally understand love. I would recognize it when I found it. No more mistakes. I would at last be able to put down those elusive roots. I have worked hard for that. But I have learned that I still have no idea what love is. My search image is off, my filter is defective. I still can't recognize it.

That breaks my heart.

So I am hoping that someone who knows how to do this thing called love finds me someday and teaches me the things I am missing. I am a willing student.

Roots take along time to grow and I am running out of time.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Voter Has No Face - Vote

I am rerunning my blog of March 11, 2012.....I felt it needed to be said again. Go vote!

There is something very moving to me about voting. I have a ritual now. I walk four tree lined blocks to our local elementary school, an old brick building on Massachusetts Avenue, and stand in line with my neighbors. Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, poor people, wealthy people, young people, old people, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, the employed and unemployed...  We are all there to have our voices heard, to put a mark on the tally sheet expressing our hopes and dreams for a future we have yet to realize.  Our hopes and dreams may resemble each other, or they may be so different that we could step outside and have fisticuffs. Yet in that moment, we stand side by side as Americans, choosing our future. I may not agree with your political views, but I will defend your right to vote.

My Beloved just became a United States Citizen last fall. This morning we were talking over our morning coffee and I asked how she felt after voting for the very first time.   

She simply said that in a voting booth, our votes all count the same. It doesn't matter what you look like, how much money you make, who you are. We are all on equal footing once we step into the booth. In that one moment, we are all the same.

Well said.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Name is Barb and I am a Whistler

"Barbara, quit whistling!", my mom would yell, exasperated at my serenading her in the kitchen. That was the best place in the world to whistle, it was so LOUD! Of course, I would continue to whistle until she yelled three times, then I would acquiesce to her demands.

I am not sure when I started whistling, it seems like I have been doing it all my life. That is the thing about whistling, it just happens. You don't really pay attention to it. It is like breathing.

There is a cafe in the building where I work and the woman who runs it is blind. She recognizes me by my whistle as I walk in the door, but the first time I visited her cafe she thought I was a man. I never thought about whistling and gender before. I told her no I am not a man, and yes, I love to whistle. She smiled.

Then there was that day I walked out of the bathroom, whistling of course. Large bathrooms are even better than mom's kitchen. "Oh, so YOU'RE the whistler," said a woman on her way in. Busted. No privacy for me in the stall, I thought.

Many people have told me how much they love to hear me whistle, how it reminds them of someone long gone. I guess it is a dying art. I usually only see old men in bib overalls whistling in the Farm and Fleet Store. Maybe farmers are just happier people.

Why do we whistle anyway? Is it to attract a mate? Hasn't worked for me yet. Is it a physiological expression of happiness much like tears are of sorrow? I would agree with that. Whistling makes me happy. And when I am happy I whistle. A positive feedback loop.

Perhaps it is an evolutionary link to the days when we were once bird-like. Oh wait, we crawled out of the primordial ooze as reptiles. But birds originated as reptiles, right? Hmm. Facinating.

I was standing in line at the grocery store one day when the person behind me started whistling. I was startled to hear a fellow whistler, and turned around only to see it was a woman whistling! I said to her, "Hey! Another whistler like me!" We talked about our love of whistling and found we were both unable to control the little tunes that pop out of our pursed lips.

The only other female whistler I ever saw was at a nursing home in Indiana. The entertainment of the day was a woman who whistled to cassette recordings of tunes from yesteryear. She would stand there holding her microphone and whistle away to the captive audience. Interesting. Never thought of doing that.

One place I worked had a very unhappy secretary whom nobody liked. Many times a day I would have to walk through the office area to get to the copy machine. Sometimes I would whistle. Well, OK, probably lots of times I would whistle. One day she yelled at me. "Will you please not whistle in this office?", she said, not very nicely. I guess whistling was too happy for her grumpy demeanor. It was carpeted for gosh sakes, not like a bathroom or a kitchen!

If you are a woman, like to whistle, and believe in superstition, don't read Wikipedia's entry on whistling. You will find out that in the Philippines it is improper for women to whistle in public. The US Navy has a saying that only homosexuals whistle. In old England, the saying was "a whistling woman never marries". Oh god, why didn't anyone tell me these things when I was but a child?

Someday I hope to attend the International Whistler's Convention in South Carolina. Check out the site, there are some videos of award winning whistlers. I listened to a few of them, and I must say I think I could hold my own pretty well if I practiced up a bit. Now a word of caution, if you have never seen a whistler perform, it does look a bit strange, but you get used to it.

Well I say, if Snow White says it, it is good enough for me. Give a little whistle.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yearning for Christmas

A couple weeks ago I stopped in the pharmacy and noticed the Christmas merchandise was starting to fill the shelves. Have you noticed that this red and green stuff appears earlier every year? First it was just around Thanksgiving. Then it crept to Halloween. I bet next year they'll jump right to the Fourth of July, although I hope they keep the holiday aisles separated by some distance, I just dread the thought of red, white, and blue juxtaposed with the reds and greens of Christmas.

There is a huge part of me that loves Christmas, that is to say the one I remember from my childhood. Christmas began with the long trip from our house in central Ohio to my Grandparents' home in northern Indiana. I knew we were getting close when we crossed the bridge over the Maumee River in Toledo. My Grandparents' cinder block house was built into the side of a hill, and the driveway wound around to the backside of the house. It was surrounded by snowy woods full of hickory and sassafras trees. The lower level, which was entered from the rear, had a finished basement, tool room, and bathroom on the north side and a two car garage on the south side. A carpeted stairway went up the middle.

In the basement was a kitchen, a beautiful field stone fireplace built by my Grandpa, and Grandma's working 1920's player piano, which gratefully now lives with me. Grandma kept Christmas lights strung around the ceiling all year long. This basement was the place of singing and card games and sitting in front of a fire. It was a magical place.

But back to the story. We would all pile out of the car, bags and packages in hand and enter our family home. There, at the top of the stairs, the wooden door would open and Grandma and Grandpa would be waiting with open arms and hugs and kisses. And just behind them, one of the most wonderous things I have ever laid eyes on. The Christmas tree. Their tree was always flocked to create the illusion of snow covered branches, which were then covered with beautiful old-fashioned glass ornaments. And tinsel. Lots of tinsel, which was made of lead! My eyes would immediately dart to that space under the tree, which was usually overflowing with packages. My sisters and I would race to the brightly wrapped boxes, scanning each and every tag for our names. There's one! There's another! Oh the anticipation was overwhelming. What was in the boxes?

Frankenmuth has nothing on Grandma. She loved Christmas and her house transformed into another world. Santas of all sizes appeared in every room, little reindeers and elves, garland and candy dishes. Large plastic candles on the porch. Green and red placemats and runners covered tables and counter tops. Angels took over the bathroom with a herd of reindeer. Wreaths were hung on the walls and door. You couldn't help but catch the fever of the holiday.

The night before Christmas was spent with trying to sleep on the pull-out davenport in their study. The three of us girls would all sleep in that bed, with the door closed. Directly in our line of sight, if the door was open, was the Christmas tree. Can you imagine having to lie in bed for hours staring at a door that blocked your view of the most incredible sight a child could ever see!

But soon, eyes grew weary and before I knew it, morning came. It was still dark of course, but that didn't stop me. I jumped out of the bed, flung the door open and stared wide-eyed at the tree, its colored lights glinting off thin strands of tinsel. The whole tree seemed to glow! And then the realization hit me, Santa had come! I would shout to my sisters "Get up! Get up! Santa came!", and then run to my sleeping parents and grandparents, imploring them to get out of bed and come open presents. The whole thing was just magical, plain and simple.

Those memories are imprinted in my brain. That is what Christmas is to me. And the hell of it is we grow up. Life happens. Parents divorce. Grandparents die. Family moves away. Houses are sold.

But Christmas still comes.

It is a constant reminder of a simpler time. A time of childhood, when magic and wonder ruled. A time when many Elders were still with us, including my Great Grandparents. A time before divorce. This is how my child mind remembers it.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Sometimes I think it is a disservice, a set up if you will, the whole Santa Claus thing. It trains us as kids, imprints on our brains, a very pleasurable tradition that will blow up in our face as soon as we reach the age when we no longer believe in Santa Claus. It is all a trick.

My problem is I still believe.

So is it any wonder Christmas is depressing and confusing? I am still waiting for Santa Claus to come, with Rudolph leading his team of eight flying reindeer. I still yearn to go home to that magical Christmas tree and two loving Grandparents.

How could anything else ever compair?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dear Grandma

Dear Grandma,

Just wanted you to know I am thinking of you today, the seventh anniversary of your passing. Don't worry, I won't cry. At least not too much. I know how you feel about that. "Quit your crying," you would tell me. I can't help it Grandma. I miss you.

I wish you could have seen the fall colors this year. Up here in Michigan we had one of the most beautiful displays I can remember. Now, I know you hated the fall. I don't blame you. Grandpa, your Sister, and your Nephew all died during the season when the hickory trees in your yard were brilliant yellow. That must have been so very hard on you. And then what did you go and do? Die on October 24th! Well, no matter what you say, I think the fall is absolutely beautiful and it was a fitting time for you to go home.

A new friend of mine has given me lots of hickory nuts, and every night when I come home from work I sit and watch some TV and crack nuts for hours. I am watching the Mason jar starting to fill, it is almost halfway there. I remember watching you bent over, clad in your mother's red plaid wool jacket, picking up hickory nuts from your yard. You showed me how to tell the good ones from the bad. I could bet the farm that when I would come home to see you there would be dozens of hickory nuts spread out on your patio table. I loved that about you Grandma. And I made it a part of me. Thank you for that.

I know you would be proud of me working for the State of Michigan. I would love to tell you about all the things I am learning. You were always the one I shared everything with. My hopes and dreams, my heartbreaks and my joys. You were my best friend. I cherish the memory of our talks as we sat in the matching blue Lazy Boy recliners, watching TV and critiquing all the commercials. I remember when you were so sick and I told you I didn't know what I would do without you. You told me I would be just fine. And that you weren't going to die for a long time. Within three months you were gone.

I have tried to go on with my life, Grandma. But it isn't the same without you. There is a hole in my heart that I don't think can ever be filled. Too much changed when you left. There is no home left to go to. The family no longer celebrates holidays together, something we did since the day I was born. There are no more honey-do lists. Or pot roasts made special just for me. I think that hits the nail on the head. No one has ever made me feel as special as you did. Now I feel very alone in the world and not really special to anyone.

So I guess what I want to say to you Grandma on this special day, is thank you for the tender and sometimes tough love you gave to me, for being there when I was at my lowest, and being there when I was at my best. For sharing your stories and laughter and struggles and regrets. For teaching me to be kind and work hard, and to have strong values and and a strong work ethic. Thank you Grandma. I will always hold you close to my heart.

With love,
Your #1 Granddaughter, Barbie

p.s. give Grandpa a hug for me and tell Great Aunt Lana the sassafras tea was good this year.

Out of Sight Out of Mind, or, Dye it All!

I was watching the wonderful but short lived series "Firefly" over the weekend. There were these really horrible monster-like people called Reevers that rode around in menacing space ships spewing dark black ominous smoke from their exhaust.  That smoke was brilliant. Just the visual image of it billowing from the ship as it chased its prey screamed danger and anyone with half a brain would run like hell.

It got me thinking. I used to smoke. Like everyone else, I knew the health risks. I was aware there are over 30 known carcinogenic compounds in one cigarette. And that smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema. But I smoked anyway. Why? Because I couldn't see any danger. I could read about it but it didn't affect my body in any real time, tangible way.

But what if cigarettes billowed black smoke when you lit one? In fact, what if every nasty, toxic chemical in them billowed black smoke? Do you think people might quit smoking? You bet.

So what if everything in our world that was toxic billowed black smoke?

Oh that is scarely, I mean think about it. There are the obvious culprits, such as cigarettes and pesticides and herbicides and car exhaust. And there are the not so obvious, like outgassing from you new car interior or your pretty new carpet. Or the waves from your cell phone that have been linked to cancer. Do you need to crack the window yet?

Wouldn't it be great to dye every harmful substance a digusting rotten flesh green color? Then, when it rained, you could actually see all the pollution in the rain drops. You could watch the ribbon of putrid green flowing down your street, dump into that pretty little river you fish in, and meander all the way to one of the Great Lakes we know and love so well. Imagine the beautiful blue water of Lake Michigan with seaweed-like strands of putrid green flowing through it. Perhaps the whole lake is green by now. Who knows? We can't see it.

No one could possibly ignore the health of our planet if billowing black smoke and rotten flesh green were everywhere.

Could they?

Oh, but then time would pass and people would become desensitized to the grotesque greens and thick black smoke. The ultra conservatives would say the green yuck and billowing smoke were not caused by pollution at all, silly, but was rather a natural, cyclic event. Nothing to worry about. Babies and children would cry. Dogs would cough. Environmentalists would yell. And time would march on. We would invent a new product that, with one quick application, would recolor everything. Ray-Ban would design some groovy new shades that allowed you to see through that nasty smoke and a whole new market would be created! Jobs jobs jobs! Maybe we could create more smoke to increase sales!Apple would release its new iPhone 6 with a built in respirator and life would be good once again.

Green ain't so bad. Smoke is the new black.

I say we dye it all and see what happens.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Commitment, as Defined by a Chocolate Chip Cookie

Wikipedia defines commitment as this:

"Commitment is the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.. It is also known as a pledge or an undertaking."

Huh. The state or quality of being dedicated. Interesting.

In the good old days, when someone made a commitment it meant something. Remember that saying, "A person is only as good as their Word?" Their Word. Does that mean anything anymore?

We have reduced the English language to abbreviations. LOL. LMFAO. WHRTEL2A (we have reduced the English language to abbreviations). Maybe that is part of the problem. We losing our ability to recognize words.

Maybe it is too many choices. We can't commit, because maybe, just maybe, something better will come along. Who hasn't been put on hold while your phone buddy takes a call from someone else. "I'll be right back," they say. You wait five minutes and hang up. No commitment to even talk on the phone. Something better came along.

How about relationships? My oh my, don't make a commitment, you might actually have to consider someone else for a change. You might have to compromise with another person, or work out some issues. You might have to be responsible for your own actions.

Join a group? What does that mean? I can check out what they are doing on Facebook. Why do I need to actually be a part of the thing? Let someone else do all the work. I just want to consume it.

Repy to an email? What for? I don't have time. Besides, they'll email me back, if not, who cares?

I think the answer to restoring commitment in our society is found in the teachings of the Chocolate Chip Cookie (CCC).

Everyone loves a good cookie. My personal favorite? Chocolate Chip. But the only reason that Chocolate Chip Cookie even exists is because all the crumbs and chocolate chips have made a commitment to each other. They will stick together no matter what. Well, except in the case of when they are dunked into milk, in which case it is every crumb and chip for themselves (they can't swim as a group). Chocolate Chip Cookie is defined soley by the agreement of those crumbs and chips to stick together. And through this agreement comes the most delicious food item to ever cross human lips. Because each part holds up its end of the bargain, the Chocolate Chip Cookie has a glorious, celebrated life.

So whether you are a crumb or a chocolate chip, honor your commitments. Make your life deliciously whole. And in doing so, you will honor the other Cookies in your life. And everyone will live happily ever after.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Mysterious Bird

One morning I awoke slightly before sunrise, which is usual for me. It was summer, the time when robins start singing at 3:55 am. I rolled to the side of my bed, swung my legs over and did my ritual stretch. The dog didn't move, still blissfully snoring away. I glanced at the digital numbers shining red in their dashes, the clock said 5:58. I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, did other human bathroom things. But something caught my attention. I could hear a bird singing outside and it wasn't a robin. I followed the song which led me back into the bedroom. My window was cracked open and a beautiful melody flowed through the screen and up into my ears. I leaned downed and listened. Who was that?

It is true I am a biologist, but I have never become proficient in the language of birds. I know many of course, and can converse quite fluently with barred and screech owls, sandhill cranes, mourning doves, and chicadees. But this song was totally unfamiliar to me. Maybe it was a migrant gone astray. Maybe it was an escaped pet. I shook my head and went on with my day.

The next morning, I heard this beautiful song again. This time I went out to the backyard to look for the mysterious visitor. It stopped singing. Must be a shy little thing, I thought. I waited and listened. Nothing. Shrugging my shoulders, I went back into the house. Wait, there it is again! I ran into my bedroom, leaned down to where the window was opened and listened. The bird was singing again!

I tried to memorize the call. I counted notes, I counted phrases. I tried to write the melody out. For several days I listened. The bird was only out around 6 am, stopped singing when I went outside to find it, was not native to this area. I was stumped.

I scoured the internet for bird calls. I listened to my recordings of bird calls. I finally spoke with a couple of ornithologists (bird experts) that I worked with about this unusual visitor. They didn't have a clue.

What struck me most about this bird was is punctuality. It always called around six in the morning, which was odd because the sunrise was well underway and most early birds would have been singing for at least an hour by then.

This was driving me crazy. I had never been stumped before on any animal identification.

I remember it was a Thursday. I heard that bird again. It was 6 am. I leaned down over my night stand to the crack in the window to listen. I got closer to the window. The bird seemed to get a bit quieter. Huh? I leaned back a little, the bird got a bit louder. I leaned down a little more and the bird got a bit louder. I leaned down further until my ear was directly over the Tranquil Sounds alarm clock radio sitting on my dresser.

The alarm, which went off at 6 am, was set to Rainforest.

God did I feel stupid.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

It all started when I began researching the subject of storm water for my new job. I was astounded and distressed by what I learned. I have been driving now for 40 years and not one time did I ever consider where the rainwater went that landed on the road. Nor did I ever stop to think what was in that water. Never. I was ignorant. Now I know.

Much of the time it ends up in our rivers, streams, and wetlands. It ends up in roadside ditches or makes it way into ponds and lakes. What is in it? Heavy metals, gas and oil, fluids from cars, PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), salt and deicing  agents (sometimes deicing agents contain cyanide), suspended solids, get the picture. And where does most of the mercury come from that is found in many fish species today? "About 70 percent of the mercury in the air is the result of emissions from coal combustion, mining, incineration of mercury-containing products and other human sources", according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

What's in the rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes? Birds, fish, muskrats, beavers, otters, invertebrates like mussels and crustaceans...and people. Do you want to see some eye-opening maps of Michigan's rivers and streams which show impairment due to pollution or E. coli? Click here and download the PDF, look for the maps. Have a box of tissues with you. It is alarming. Or, to really have the state of our waters stare you in the face, open Appendices B1, B2, and B3. Until you know what you're looking at, the tables seem daunting. But the point is to simply note the NUMBER of water bodies that are affected by a host of problems. It is sobering, to say the least. Fortunately there are many people working on cleaning up the waters, but we have a big battle.

I saw a documentary called "Exporting Harm" a couple weeks ago that that showed poor Chinese village folks, including children, recycling mountains of discarded computers and other electronics. A large portion came from, you guessed it, the USA. The people had huge piles of this junk in front of their homes, lining their streets. They took everything apart with no safety precautions, boiled down parts over small open fires. There is much sickness in this village, as you can imagine. The environment is also being devastated.

Last night, I read an article in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Mother Jones called "Killer Apps". It is all about the the refinement process of rare earth metals used in our smart phones. How companies hired locals, paid them good money, to take toxic waste away. Dump the toxic waste wherever they wanted to. Why would the locals do this? Because the companies told them it was fertilizer. So one driver took it to his uncle's farm, offering it to him to spread in his fields. Radioactive waste. Or that it was quick lime, so one painted his house with it. Lies upon lies. Now, this particular village has high rates of leukemia, birth defects, more health issues.

I love driving on a nice new road. I feel good about recycling. I like my iPhone. At least I did.

This is the greatest failure of capitalism. Profit rules, above human health, environmental health, everything. And we as consumers blindly keep right on consuming without asking the first important question - is this latest and greatest thing good for our environment and our health? There is a reason dogs don't poop in their den.

I am a fairly intelligent person, but I don't want to be required to research every little thing to determine its harmful effects on me, the environment, poor people in another far away land. I don't want to have to delve into the scientific literature to see how polluted my rivers and streams are, or whether the particular food item I am eating is a GMO. We can no longer trust much of anything that we buy. Sadly, we have lived in ignorance so long that virtually everything in our lives has a dark side that we really don't want to know about. And who wants to spend endless hours getting more and more depressed by what we learn?

The solution? Rather than trying to figure everything out about the state of the world, I have decided to start from scratch. Live simply. Grow my own heirloom and native varieties of food. Eat organic, locally grown produce from farmers I know. Make as many things as I can myself, or if I have to buy it, strive for all natural materials. No more electronics. When this computer goes, it goes. I buy anything I need from the antique malls and thrift stores. I am reducing electronics and the use of electricity.

It is true, ignorance is bliss. But I am more interested in health. How about you?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Join Now and Receive This Free Gift!

I can't believe I got suckered by AARP. I remember vividly when the junk mail started coming to my mailbox. The moment I turned 49. They sent me something every month, trying to get me to join. I just tossed the envelopes into the recycle bin.  Now, five years later, I opened a mailing. Staring at me from a colorful insert was the coolest insulated bag I had ever seen, with a carabener attached no less! Ok, I was hooked. I would join just to get that awesome free gift. I can always use an insulated bag, and I have a thing for carabeners.

Last week my free gift arrived. I was so excited...but when I opened it I felt vamboozled! By AARP no less! The bag was a mere 6 inches tall, the carabener a humiliating 1 inch long! What the hell!!!!! Nothing like the bag in the picture, with a full sized carabener swinging from its side.

I should have learned when The Nature Conservancy suckered me in with a very sweet looking tote bag over 10 years ago, which never arrived I might add. And I was an employee at the time!

Never again will I join an organization because of the "free gift when you join!" ploy. Well, except for Michigan Public Radio, who always comes through with the best stuff. I am waiting right now for my  French Press Travel Cup....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Surly Advance of Decrepitude

People used to say I looked young for my age. "What, no way are you 50, you look like your in your 30s!". When I was in my 40s, I looked like I was in my 20s, maybe early 30s on a good day.

Today, I look the age I am. What happened?

I have always feared having the look that some unfortunate souls have, you know the one. The rode hard and put away wet kind of look. You can see their misfortunes in the sadness of their eyes or the wrinkles in their face. There is a difference between that look and the one of someone who has spent most of their life outdoors. That is a different look. Your skin is seasoned by the sun, not chiseled by despair.

Since the last time I looked youthful, life has given me many challenges. Several deep personal losses. People I loved and one I still do, jobs I loved, homes I loved, a dog that I loved. I have been in the Great Depression. Some things were put on me, some were bad choices on my part. All of it was learning.

Today, I feel old. Older than my age. I see the seasoning of the sun AND the chiseled lines of despair in my face now. I look in the mirror. I try to relax every muscle in my face. That helps a bit. But I still look tired. After years of interrupted sleep and pretty constant stress, I AM tired. The aches that come with getting older are just add-ons to the chronic pain of fibromyalgia and arthritis that I have lived with for 30 years.

Even my body is turning into the look of an "old lady". Hell, some of my clothes are part polyester. Oh god, what is happening to me, the backpacker, the rock climber, the all-conference star athlete of Edwardsburg High School???

(Sniff, sniff, blows in hankie).

I will not go down without a fight. I will visualize myself the way I should be, strong, fit, healthy, pain free, even as an Elder. I will celebrate the wrinkles, they are my biography. But the flab! No Sir! I will eat well, I will lose weight. STOP. If I lose weight, think of all the wrinkles that are just waiting to show themselves...I have to think about that one. I will put little sticky notes around my house to tell me to be positive, laugh loudly, love hard. I will starch my work clothes. I will faithfully read my AARP magazine and send in my pledge dollars to Michigan Public Radio, PETA, the Humane Society, and Obama. I will do push-ups every day, however I can, and ride the exercise bike so generously loaned to me by a friend. I will refrain from using blue language at other drivers. And I will sing.

I don't recognize the world so much anymore, and frankly the technological high speed rail train can keep right on a chuggin without me. Facebook is like a piece of candy on the sidewalk, all the ants flock to it, but I am one of the few that don't. I yell, "Hey over here, wanna look at me and speak some real words, maybe visit a real farm or something?" But people are transfixed into the little electronic screens of their "smart phones" and iPads, thumbs flying at the keys like chicken beaks pecking on the ground. Ok. Fine. Note to self, add new sticky note to bathroom mirror. "Celebrate old age isolation!".

But I DO want to recognize myself. If I lose that, well, then I am lost. Wanna have coffee?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What it Means to be Uninsured

For most of my adult life I have been blessed to have health insurance. And I took it for granted. I had no concept of what life is about without it. Until I was unemployed.

When I lost my job, I kept my insurance under the COBRA program. It cost me a substantial percentage of my unemployment. That lasted a little over one year. I then had no health insurance for the next two years.

What was life like without health insurance? For one, I was extra careful. I didn't want to get injured, because it could cost me my house if I racked up even $100 worth of medical bills. So I thought about everything I did. I opted out of cleaning my gutters for fear of falling off the ladder. I dashed my plans to climb Mt. Everest. Ok, just kidding. But you get it.

I prayed I wouldn't get sick. I have had annual bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia for years and I was scared that such an illness would strike. I prayed some more.

I couldn't go to the dentist for my three times a year periodontal cleanings. I prayed that gum disease wouldn't come back.

My glasses broke. A friend told me I could get glasses online for $50. So I sold enough wild foods to pay for a visit to the eye doctor, got a prescription, and ordered new glasses. They broke within a month. Super glue now holds the frame together. I guess you get what you pay for. I think about those folks who can't afford to go to the eye doctor. They don't get to see the stars at night or the leaves on the trees, maybe they can't even read. How can this be?

I prayed that my thyroid issues would stay the same, because I could no longer get my annual blood test, ultrasound, or biopsy. I worried about what might happen should the cysts get larger. Or turn cancerous. What would I do?

At night I limped around my house (and still do), because I have a painful tendinitis in my Achilles tendon. I have had this issue for over a year. It is affecting my ability to walk normally. I could not afford to get help.

Then I was offered a good job with full health insurance benefits. As soon as I could, I got my thyroid tested. I had my feet checked out. Today I saw a podiatrist, who says because the tendinitis was left untreated, I have developed scar tissue that may or may not go away with the proper treatment of physical therapy and inserts.

Ten weeks ago I could not get any help for my health issues because I had no insurance. Five weeks ago I went to a doctor, had blood work, Xrays of both feet, and a visit to the podiatrist for a very small copay. What a difference a month makes.

I am still the same person as I was prior to getting my job. Yet now, I feel, I AM, privileged. What makes me so special as to have health insurance while so many are without?

I watch others I love struggle to meet their monthly private pay health insurance payments, only to deal with prohibitively high deductibles when they need to use it. They choose not to get help for things they are suffering with. They might as well not have any insurance at all.

I have lived on both sides of the fence on this issue. And that experience strengthened my belief that everyone should have equal access to health care. There shouldn't be "haves" and "have nots" when it comes to the health of our bodies and minds. We are all special, sacred human beings. Each and everyone of us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

For the Good of All

I like to imagine a world where everyone has enough. Enough food, enough shelter, enough clean water, enough love. Enough joy and happiness, flowers and songs, friendships and fulfillment.

I want to walk through my life with my eyes open. I want to see others. I want my actions to be for the good of all.

How I wish for a world where we all lived that way.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Drones, Privacy, and Space

I value my privacy. When Google made it possible to type in my address in their search box, click enter, then be able to view my house from my street, I felt a bit uneasy. I didn't give them permission to put my house out there like that. I immediately thought of people who don't want certain other people to find them for safety reasons.  Here's another weird thing about those maps. There are never any people in the pictures.  Never.

A couple of colleagues who also work for the State of Michigan told me yesterday they had recently seen a drone flying in Lansing. One was spotted on Grand Avenue last week. A second sighting occurred at the Blues Festival in Old Town, where a drone was observed hovering over the crowd. Upon looking at several pictures online, I deduced that these were either news drones or police drones, based on the descriptions given to me by these two folks.

I don't know about you, but I really don't want these flying spies hovering around my town. I have nothing to hide. But to me, this is an Orwellian invasion of privacy that crosses my limits of comfort.

The limits of what tactics can be employed in the name of security are set by what society will allow. This, of course, assumes society knows what tactics are being employed, but that is another discussion for another time.  The limits are set by how much privacy and personal freedoms we are willing to give up. The greater the security, the higher the loss. The point at which we become uncomfortable with the invasion of our privacy and loss of personal freedoms is highly individual.

How do we deal with this issue as a society?

There are now drone clubs. What is to stop the average Joe from attaching a camera to his drone to spy on his ex-wife or that cute woman he followed home from the diner? What is to stop private companies from selling their services to Corporations for the purpose of spying on employees or the competition? Or high tech criminals, scouting out a potential target?

How about hunting? Who says no one will arm a drone for remote hunting? Or remote killing of another person. That is already done in war. What about our police departments? Will they eventually use drones as assault weapons on unruly crowds or criminals. Do you see where I am going with this?

I would have no qualms about shooting a drone out of the sky if I saw it in my neighborhood. But I don't have a gun. Maybe my hose would bring it down? Or a slingshot? Maybe a Super Soaker? Paintball on the camera lens? How about a stone from Lake Michigan? Do you think that would work? I used to be pretty good at throwing a softball...

We seem to be driven to occupy every bit of space on this planet. I don't know about you, but I want SPACE. To breathe, to swim, to walk, space for my Relations that also call this planet home. I don't want signs of humanity everywhere.

When I was growing up there were no ATVs or jet skis. Four-wheel drive vehicles had not come into fashion. One could go in the woods on State or Federal lands and enjoy nature, the peace and quiet, the solitude. You could take a rowboat out on a lake to go fishing with maybe a small Johnson or an Evinrude motor mounted on the back. You'd drop your anchor, put on the bait, and sit back for relaxing sunny morning of fishing in Michigan.

Then came the powerboats and jet skis. And the ATVs and the four-wheel drive trucks with the giant tires that go mud running through our bogs and wetlands. We want to occupy every possible space on this planet as loudly and destructively as possible. At least some do, without thought or concern for something we seem to have forgotten nowadays. Peace and tranquility. Sometimes I just want to take a hike in the woods and be with nature, away from technology and the modern world. But we find new ways all the time to travel into the wild places without using our legs. It is harder and harder to find quiet in the wilderness. To me, that is a form of invasion of privacy. Mine and all the other Beings that call the woods home.

Drones are just another extension of the human occupation of all available space. I say leave the air to the birds, bats, and insects. Leave it to the wind and the rain.  If you want to play with drones, do it at an airfield. I don't want drones flying around my city, especially those with cameras and weapons. And I don't know what to do to stop them.

God I am sounding old. And I like it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal

The unique odor that our underarms emit is caused by bacteria, and that unpleasant scent we smell is gas, a byproduct of that bacteria. Something like swamp gas on a tiny scale. At least that is what I read somewhere once upon a time. In the U.S., body odor is considered  disgusting and we take great pains to hide it.

I used to love the James Cagney commercial, you remember it? I practiced and practiced imitating him in the bathroom mirror..

"Dry up shweetheart wit dis. New Right Guard in dah silver can. Stops odors. Keeps you dry. Knows more about your problem den you do."

When I moved back to Lansing in 2006 one of my first stops was the East Lansing Food Coop, to stock up on supplies. Instead of deodorant (which I don't really need as I rarely perspire, I just want to feel grown up), I prefer using a salt rock. It creates a saline environment that the bacteria can't live in. And it has no scent, nor does it contain aluminum, which has been linked to breast cancer by some reports.

I paid $7 for my Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal. Right on the label it says it lasts up to one year.  Mine is still 3/4 of the size it was when I bought it. It has been six years. I believe it has at least 12 years to go. That would make me, oh, 66 years old. Maybe even retired. It likely will outlast my dog Tiny.

I don't have exceptionally small armpits, either.

So I guess this is a testimonial for a healthy product that lasts much longer than the average dog's life. And it works well, too. Check it out.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Patches and Badges

I was once a Brownie and then a Junior in the Girl Scouts of America. One of my favorite things about being a Girl Scout, next to camping, was earning patches. Forever in need of approval, these small round embroidered symbols of "I did good" decorated my Troop 837 sash. I couldn't wait for the ceremony where I was awarded my next hard earned patch.

Each patch represented a piece of who I was. A camper. Safety conscious. A helper. I was proud when I wore my green uniform to school on our meeting days, flashing that sash to anyone who glanced my way. "See who I am!", that sash would exclaim.

My next identity patch was a high school varsity letter covered with little gold pins representing each year I was on the varsity basketball, volleyball, and softball teams. Pins for Captain of the team. Pins for All-Conference. A medal for being an honors student. I wore that varsity letter jacket all the time.  "See who I am!", that jacket would exclaim.

Today I wear a plastic identification badge around my neck all day, proving I am a State Employee.  Wherever I go people know I am a government employee. "See who I am!", that identification badge exclaims.

But the most important of these are the ones we place on ourselves. They don't come as a pin or a badge or a patch, but as behaviors we exhibit based on what we believe about ourselves. These define how we move through the world, the choices we make, the work we do, our relationships.

If we proudly display the patch of honor and self-confidence, we walk a path of integrity and purpose. If our badge is that of a gardener, we probably find ourselves gleefully playing in the dirt on our days off, planting and weeding and tending.

If we define ourselves as caretakers, we cannot find satisfaction in equality but only in neediness.

If we believe we are victims, we see ourselves as helpless and create our own personal prison, keeping others out and us in. We do not see our personal power, something I believe we are all born with.

If we believe we can make change, we reach out to others and create community and movements. We organize and rally. We energize.

If we believe we are vulnerable, we try to control. We don't feel safe.

These badges are as obvious as the ones on my Girl Scout sash. The are embroidered in our words and actions. The beautiful thing is we can earn whatever badge we want to by living with intention. We can visualize our lives to be whatever we want them to be and that is what they will become.

Our lives today are what we visualized yesterday. Are you satisfied?

Wanna earn a new badge? Believe you are what you want to be. Because, really you ARE that person. You just don't believed it yet. But if you can dream it, it is already there.

So what are you waiting for? DREAM! BELIEVE! I'll give you a ceremony for that new badge.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I've Been Here Before

Now you may think I am crazy after you read this blog. So be it. I've been called worse. What I am about to write must be said, it must come out. I don't know why. It just does.

I've been here before. How do I know this? The constant state of disbelief. The absence of desensitization. The deep, intense grief that shadows my existence, coming from a place of knowing this land before it was violated. There can be no other explanation. I've been here before. So I will step aside, and let the old Spirit within me take the pen, and speak the words that must be said.

"My Soul weeps for Mother Earth and All My Relations. In my time, we honored all things. We spent our time finding food, making tools, having ceremonies. We shared what we had with each other so no one went without. We took care of each other. It was our duty. It was our way. Our children and elders were our first concern. They were the past and the future of our People.

Our waters were sweet, the blood of Mother Earth. The land was good to us and gave us many plants and medicines. The animals were our sisters and brothers. Yes, we killed them for food and made many things from their bodies, but we honored them for this gift. We took only what we needed. We saw the balance in nature and our place in it. We held much love and respect for the land and all creatures who dwell here.

I cannot bear the sorrow when I look at what has happened to this great land. You have poisoned your waters and your food, you kill animals and each other for no purpose. And you hold no sorrow in your hearts for these deeds. You no longer know the names of the trees and plants, the birds and the fishes. You cannot find food in the woods. Most do not know how to gather medicines or hunt.

Our homes returned to the earth when they no longer were of use. Your homes are full of toxic materials and are bulldozed or burned, and buried into Mother Earth. You have more than you need. And you are no longer concerned with your village or children or elders, only of yourselves and those things you can possess.

My heart cries for Mother Earth. And my heart cries for you."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coming Home

I remember it was fall, October I believe, in 1998. I had been driving nine hours in a 14 foot Ryder truck which contained all of my belongings. My dog Idgie (part Spitz, part Cocker Spaniel, totally cute) and I had traveled across the Cumberland Mountains, the flat land of Ohio, and the northeastern corner of Indiana. I pulled into the familiar winding driveway that took me around to the back of my Grandma and Grandpa's house. I had come home.

Grandma and Dad were waiting for me. Grandma had her hair covered with a scarf and wore her mother's red plaid wool jacket. She had on her work "sneakers" and was ready to unload. We spent the next several hours emptying out the truck into her garage. I was exhausted. But I was home.

Grandpa had passed away in 1997 and Grandma was understandably still quite heartbroken. Life must have felt very empty in the absence of her other half, someone she was married to for nearly fifty years.

I had been in Pennsylvania since 1992 and most of those years were spent battling depression. By 1998 I was out of a job, broke, and heartbroken. I needed Grandma. She needed me. So I went home.

For the next two years Grandma nursed my wounded Soul back to health. I tackled her "honey do" lists, tried to get her to eat morels, and helped her learn the computer. We watched TV together, ate ice cream together, laughed together. Sometimes we cried together.

Grandpa's chair was no longer empty. I also took over some of Grandpa's jobs. Like cutting fresh pussy willows for Grandma in the spring. I decorated the Christmas tree. I mowed the lawn. I critiqued commercials with her. We had a good life.

I got better, and Grandma began to smile again. When it was time to move on with my life and return to Michigan, I promised Grandma I would always be there for her, like she had been for me. I hugged her long and hard, and smelled her soft gray hair. A part of me didn't want to go. I wanted to stay in Grandma's love forever.

Those two years were some of the most precious of my life. Grandma became my friend, my confidant. She learned my darkest secrets and my greatest triumphs. I learned the story of her life, her childhood, her tragedies, her fears. I saw a strength in her I never knew existed. I learned her greatest regret was not joining the Armed Services. She would have been good at that. I saw a woman with a heart so big it could have encompassed the Universe. But she wouldn't let that part of her show so much.

Grandma was a proud woman. She had a right to be.

She was my hero.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Sense of Place

What do you love about the place where you live? Is it the little hummingbird that comes to your feeder? Or that rose you planted ten years ago that still blooms each year?

Is it the sound of the spring peepers in the marsh across the street, singing you to sleep at winter's end? Or the thunder and rain that makes the air smell so sweet?

Is it the stray cat that steals a meal wherever she can? Or the old hound dog that has been your best friend for years?

Is it the morel mushrooms that surprise you as they pop up once in a blue moon? Or the spring beauties with their pink-striped white flowers, dotting the edge of your yard?

Is it the intoxicating scent of your lilac bush as it gently swirls in your bedroom window at night? Or that annoying robin that starts to sing hours before the sun appears each morning?

Is it the northern lights that danced in the sky back in 1990? Or the Big Dipper and Milky Way that enchant you at night?

Is it the lullaby of the crickets on a hot summer night? Or the yipping of coyotes in some distant field?

Is it the paper wasp nest hanging from that branch in the corner of your yard? Or the bee hive you carefully tend?

We protect that which we know and love. A sense of place grows strong conviction and the more we get to know that place we call home, the more we will protect it from harm. Maybe we are letting people hurt the Earth and the land we love because we don't get out so much anymore. We don't know the peeper or the paper wasp or the robins like we used to.

Do you love the sand dunes? Do you love the Great Lakes? Do you love the coastal shores? Do you love the great north woods that we call Michigan? Our wild lands, waters, lakes and rivers? Our bears and moose, elk and wolves? Our geese and cranes, deer and mushrooms? Our sunsets and sunrises, our clean fresh air?

We protect that which we know and love. Where is your love? Are you willing to protect these things?

The March of the Worms

Every time it rains, the sidewalk and plaza behind Michigan's Capitol are islands for the worms that live in the Capitol lawn. State workers and Legislators mindlessly walking to and fro between State buildings step on them. Nike-clad office workers with iPods which shut them off from the world squish them. Some poor worms drown. It is a slaughter.

Me? I stop and pick them up and toss them back into the grass. People stare and shake their heads. Some take a wide detour around me. "Eeewwww," one high healed woman whispers. The iPod zombies don't even notice.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Perfect Food

Grandma Barton used to eat a sundae for dinner most nights of the week. "I believe I'll have a dish of ice cream," she would say to me from the comfort of her sky blue Lazy Boy recliner. "I'll get it. Do you want nuts?" I would ask from Grandpa's sky blue Lazy Boy recliner.  "Oh yes," she would reply. "Bananas?". "Sounds good," she would say. Off I would go to the kitchen to pull out the pail of ice cream from the freezer. Vanilla with chocolate swirls. Grandma had a stack of ice cream pails in the cupboard. They were good for many things.

I would scoop out several round balls of this delicious treat and place them in our bowls. I would then add Hershey's chocolate syrup (or whatever was on sale at the time), slice up some Dole bananas, and sprinkle with dry roasted peanuts. Jab in the spoons and we were good to go.

Back at the Lazy Boy ranch, we would settle in to eat our sundaes and watch Jag or Xena.  "Grandma, you know you really should eat a healthier supper," I would lecture. "I am 85 years old. Hasn't hurt me yet," she said proudly. "I guess your right," I said, eating another bite dripping with chocolate syrup.

My Beloved and I have started a similar ritual. We both used to get those ice cream cones from the ice cream truck when we were kids, you know the ones. Ice cream in a waffle cone, with chocolate and peanuts on top, all wrapped in paper?  Our local grocery store carries them, so when we need a little dessert, we stop in for a mini sundae.

These cones are the perfect food. A little dairy (ice cream), some protein (nuts), carbs (waffle cone), and dessert (chocolate). The green? My dollar I give the cashier. Grandma was right. Sundaes are good for you and healthy, too.

Grandma is gone now, but every once in awhile I still fix myself a hot fudge sundae with Dole bananas and dry roasted peanuts, put on an old episode of Jag, and sit back in Grandma's old sky blue Lazy Boy. Just for old times sake of course.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Feet Still off the Ground

My feet are still not touching the ground. I try to speak what is in my heart, but there are no words. Only nameless emotions that fill my eyes with tears. I have been catapulted from the status of a long-term unemployed statistic to a state specialist in water quality. Three years of despair and anxiety slowly evaporating, those dark colors pushed aside by the serenity of pastels. I will get my first paycheck at the end of the month. I am still behind and it will take time, but I will catch up and then burst forward. I will have security. I will be able to sleep again.

Only one more unemployment check, then goodbye social safety net.

I still don't recognize myself when I get up and prepare for my day at the office. I am used to wearing my outdoor duds. I am comfortable going out into my beehives or searching the woods for bark to make my hickory bark syrup. Now, I awaken to an alarm clock, take a shower, put on nice clothes, grab my black leather computer bag and head off to the office, which is located directly behind Michigan's capital.

I pinch myself every morning.

I was welcomed back to the Department of Transportation with hugs and smiles. Folks I haven't seen for 20 years still remember me. Some I know their names, others I only remember their face or voice or the way they walk. We all have aged. I feel welcomed, wanted, loved. And yes, even adored by some. How wonderful after three years of rejection. It is surreal. It is unbelievable. Excuse me while I pinch myself again.

I didn't tell anyone, but I was ready to give up just prior to being offered this job. I felt abandoned by society, cast off like a well-worn shoe. I was quickly losing hope. I don't give up easily, but I can now share with you that I was close. I didn't know what else I could do to change my lot in life. Then a miracle happened. I found a job.

I say a miracle because I found out that I did not make the initial cut of applicants!  Civil Service apparently screened me out. So they had a round of interviews, and didn't find the right person. Resumes were collected from the applicant pool, folks here decided to do it the old fashioned way, they went through each one by hand and selected seven new candidates. I was one of those seven.

So you see, this is truly a miracle.

I asked the Creator to put me where I was needed most. And now I will be looking out for our waters, making sure they are protected from pollution and sedimentation. I am honored to have such an important job.

Every morning I give thanks, and every night before I go to sleep I again say thank you for this miracle. My life is changing in ways most of you will never know, thankfully.

My Beloved has helped make this new chapter more beautiful than it already is. She has made sure I have nice clothes that match (not my forte), new underwear that don't show lines through my new pants. She got me a haircut at a real salon, whatever makes a salon real. She made sure on day one I was dressed to impress...first impressions you know. I love her so much.

My first day ended with many phone calls and did it go? Tell me all about it!  I had so many people rooting for me.

I must end this as I am tearing up again and am at my new desk. My Beloved would scold me for crying at work. No one here knows of my struggles over the past three years and I doubt many if any would truly understand the hardships. Someday maybe I will share that, but for now I am Barbara J. Barton, Aquatic Resource Specialist, Michigan Department of Transportation. I like that much better.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Happy Birthday Grandma

"At night when it was time to go to bed, Dorothy and Lana would make me go up the stairs first. They held the candles, and up the stairs I would go. As soon as I was halfway up, they would blow out the candles and start stomping their feet. "Phyddie there's a bear, run Phyddie there's a bear!" I would race up those stairs lickety split, scared out of my wits."

Grandma Barton and Dad

"Well, one day I was out to the barn with my Dad and I found a dead rat. I picked that thing up by the tail and asked Dad if I might have that old rat. Sure, he said. So I put that rat behind my back and found Dorothy. I walked up to my sister and pulled out that rat and chased her all around the barn and back again! She was a screaming and hollering, my sister, they never told me there was a bear again!"

"Another time, why I was just a young girl, my Dad told me to take the car and drive down to the creek to get us some water. I couldn't believe he would allow me to do that! So he put the old milk container, you know, those big metal milk cans? He put that can in the back of the car and I drove off down the lane to the creek. I filled up that milk can with water at the spring and drove back home. My Mother was beside herself! Dad said I could do anything I set my mind to. I never forgot that."

On July 26, 1918, Phyliss Hope Barton was born in Steuben County, Indiana. Phyddie, as she was called, was a blond haired, blue eyed beauty who loved cooking, bowling, shows in Chicago, Patsy Cline and Nat King Cole, Yahtzee, the Moose Lodge, and traveling with her girlfriends. But most of all she loved her family. All our gatherings were held at Grandma's house in the later years. The fire was lit in the basement fireplace, the player piano started, and the whole extended family would sit around Grandma's large dining room table eating foods that Grandma spent a week cooking. Or maybe pulled out of the freezer from our last meal together a year earlier. There was one particular fruit cake that came out of the freezer every holiday for three years. She threatened that it would continue to go back in the freezer until it was eaten up. She wasn't kidding. Those were great times.

Grandma Barton helped me through the darkest time in my life and gave me the love and security to reclaim a life almost lost to depression. She was my worst critic and my biggest fan. And my world hasn't been the same since she left us.

On this day, the day Phyliss Hope Barton was born, I honor her memory and feel so blessed to have had her in my life. She left some big shoes to fill.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Freedom. What a complex concept. Really, I mean think about it. Can anyone ever have complete freedom? I first thought, "Well yes, if one lived all by themselves." But even a solitary life would have restrictions on freedom simply due to the absence of other humans.

Freedom is fluid, ever changing. It depends on who is in power. It depends on what society values and accepts. As long as we have to live together, freedom for one may mean a restriction of rights for another. Case in point. Say Sally believes it is her right to spit on the sidewalk whenever and wherever she wants. However, she has a highly contagious disease that can be spread through spitting, sneezing, and coughing. Her community passed an ordinance that prohibits spitting on the sidewalk due to the threat of widespread illness. The right of society to be healthy results in the loss of Sally's personal freedom to spit on the sidewalk.

The bottom line is that sometimes your rights infringe on my rights. Yes, you have a right to blow up loud explosive fireworks for three months during the summer. And I have a right to live in peace and quiet if I choose. Yet we cannot have both. The best we can do is compromise, where we both lose a little bit, or gain a little bit, depending on whether you are a glass half full or half empty kind of person. You can light your fireworks between noon and 7 pm, I can have my peace and quiet before and after. That is the price of living together in a society.

I have heard many folks claim their freedom is being taken away because other have rights to birth control. This puzzles me, because one has nothing to do with the other. To take away the right to choose birth control certainly takes away freedom. Because one may disagree with birth control does not mean their freedom is affected by the fact others can and do use it. The no-birth control folks are still free to not use birth control. End of story.

Gun control is another area where the debate on what freedom means is alive and well. The Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. This was ratified December 15, 1789 in our Bill of Rights. The population size of Europeans colonizers in the United States is estimated at 3.9 million in 1789. They did not have have assault weapons back then. Today, the US population is around 314 million. Today we have assault weapons. I wonder what the Second Amendment would look like if there were assault weapons like the Gatling gun in existence in 1789. Perhaps it wouldn't have changed a thing, I don't know. But this is another example of how freedom for one group can infringe on the rights of another. Again, it goes both ways. To restrict gun ownership restricts the freedom of gun owners. To not have restrictions on gun ownership (example, allowing anyone to own an automatic assault weapon) infringes on the freedom of others because they can be directly affected by gun violence (unlike our birth control example).

Another very complex example is that of energy companies. Do the few individuals that benefit from oil and gas drilling have the right to destroy our environment, make billions of dollars, and leave the rest of us to clean up their messes? Society benefits from the energy they produce. Society and Mother Earth and all the Beings we share the planet with suffer for it. Does their right to run a business supersede the right to have clean air and water? Where does freedom appear here? I would argue that society places freedom in the lap of the big energy companies, and restricts the rights of society. In other words, we value oil and gas over a clean planet. If we didn't, there would be restrictions on their freedom to explore and drill.

Many folks want less government regulation. They feel that this restricts their freedom. If each one of us were an honorable, respectful person, then we wouldn't need regulation. Additionally, we would all have to agree on everything. Example. Some folks think is just fine to dump their garbage in wetland. I disagree. So does the government. We have regulations to protect our environment because it is our home. It is our health. It is also where millions of other species live, processes go on, it is a gift to us from a higher Being. We wouldn't need environmental regulations if everyone respected Mother Earth. But not everyone does.

Another example. Some people are racist and bigots. They would practice their racism in ways that would negatively impact other people. So we have laws to protect minorities. We wouldn't need these laws if we respected each other regardless of the color of our skin, sexual orientation, religion, etc. But not everyone does.

We are always pushing the limits, just like children. The result? More regulations.

So you see, freedom is a very complex issue. Living together demands that we compromise. For us to have an exceptional quality of life we must respect our differences, understand that just because we disagree on an issue, it doesn't mean freedom is taken away. Or, it might mean one of us may lose a bit of freedom for the greater good of society. Or, we both may have to give a little and thus each lose a degree of freedom. But we also gain something.

It's called harmony.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Magic Chicken

Breakfast is my favorite meal. I eat the same thing every time. Scrambled eggs, bacon, salad. Every time. I stopped at my favorite breakfast joint today, still celebrating my new job. While waiting for my "usual", I read the city's alternative newspaper. In it was a story about the Tour de Coup, a bicycle tour of ten urban chicken coups. How cool was that! I have always wanted chickens, but didn't think my beagle and a flock of feathered intellectuals would play well together. Still, when I read that story, I secretly wished for a chicken.

Now you may find this very hard to believe, but I swear it is true. When I arrived home, I found a chicken in my backyard. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Tiny, my beagle, was chasing a chicken! I grabbed the dog and put him in the house and went back outside. Sure enough, there was a Barred Rock hen, walking around like chickens do pecking at the ground. A magic chicken! The one I wished for!

I didn't know what to do! My heart was pounding. I have never known a chicken before, well that is not entirely true. Mr. Berry, my neighbor in Three Rivers, had two chickens that he carried around, one under each arm. Reddy and Whitey. I babysat, or chickensat, them once. But all I did was feed them. Anyway, I figured the chicken must have flown the coup somewhere, and it was up to me to find her humans.

I contacted the Allen Neighborhood Association, as they knew everyone in town who were weird enough to have chickens. I was connected to one of the staff members who herself has chickens. She put the word out and it spread like wildfire. "Did you lose a chicken?" was the email's subject line. Lots of LOL, hahahhah, etc.

I went back and reread the article. They mentioned several chicken tenders by name, so I started calling around. I finally reached Chicken Bob. I think Chicken Bob got his name from being the first person in Lansing to have chickens. He also just got a goat and has his bees on the garage roof. Anyway, Chicken Bob gave me some pointers about what to do with the chicken, who I am calling Henny Penny. He told me he would be happy to come over and build me a coup. Or, he could take the chicken and bring her into his flock. We agreed to talk later.

I went to the feed store to get some chicken feed. They were out, but said the chicken would eat cracked corn, so I bought a bag. I was really excited to feed Henny Penny. I watch Grandma do that on the Walton's. And I knew the chicken must be hungry, as the neighbors said Henny Penny had been running the streets since at least yesterday. So I stuck my hand in the bag, grabbed a handful of corn, and tossed it around the ground. Henny Penny came strutting over and started eating! What joy! After feasting on the corn, she went over to the dog bowl I had filled with water and she began to drink. OK. Alright. I can do this chicken thing.

Chicken Bob and I talked later. I told him no one had called yet claiming Henny Penny, although several neighbors said they would take that chicken, with drool running down their chin. He again offered to build me a coup. Chicken Bob said I needed to make a perch for Henny Penny, as she needed to be up off the ground at night to feel safe. We agreed to talk tomorrow and make a decision as to whether he will take Henny Penny or we will build a coup.

I went out to the garage and looked for a suitable perch. There, resting in a corner, was my favorite morel mushroom hiking stick. Perfect. I mounted the hiking stick between two pine patio chairs and secured it with zip strips. Would Henny Penny find it suitable?

The rain was falling, so I knew the chicken would be seeking shelter behind the garage where I have my grill and patio furniture, protected by a metal awning.  I waited an hour then snuck out. I peeked around the corner of the garage, and the magic chicken was sound asleep, perched on the hiking stick!

I am going to ask Chicken Bob if he will be a foster parent to Henny Penny until I figure out how much I will have to travel with my new job. If I think I can do it, I want Henny Penny to live with me and Tiny and the bees. She is the magic chicken that I wished for, after all. And I will get her some friends, because magic chickens should never live alone.

UPDATE: I awoke this morning to crowing. Henny Penny is actually Henry P. Penny. That complicates things. Roosters aren't allowed to live in the city of Lansing. Anyone know any rooster rescues? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's Finally Over.

On Tuesday, July 17, 2012, I received a phone call that will change my life.

"Hi Barb, this is Donna from MDOT. I am calling to offer you the position you interviewed for."

I was stunned. I was speechless. I said, "Really?"

"Really," she laughed.

"That's great, that's wonderful!" I said, trying to hide the three years of desperation that has aged me and worn me thin.

She told me all the pre-job things I needed to do, explained the drug test and physical. I said, "So this is when we discuss salary, right?"


My friend Julie told me to request a salary in the upper third of the range. So I did. She gave me the maximum. The maximum. I pinched myself. Was I dead? Did I get transported to a parallel universe? As professionally as I could, I said, "Wow."

The second the call ended I began to sob. And sob. And sob. Three years of stress, feeling like an outcast, less than, over the hill, unwanted, broke, it started to lift. I had no idea of the weight I was carrying. Rationally, I knew it was there and I wondered what the absence of stress would feel like if and when I got a job. And there it was. For twenty minutes I wailed. I let it all out. My unemployment was finally over.

I called everyone I knew, starting with my Beloved. I called my family, my friends, my old co-workers. I had a celebratory lunch with a friend. I told my neighbors and the chicken lady at the market, whom I celebrated with over a mango gellato. I sent emails. I wanted to stand on top of a mountain and cry and shout to the world, "It's over!"  I never celebrated an ending before. It feels great.

I can live again, I can be part of the world again. I can work for change, protect the waters, talk biology with my colleagues. I can get my drain fixed and my cupola repaired. I can fix the tiles in the bathroom that are falling down. I can pay off my debts and have a savings account. I can get my teeth cleaned. I can get a color printer cartridge. I can breathe.

After spreading my good news, I went to my backyard and gave thanks to Great Spirit for giving me the strength to endure the past three years. I gave thanks for the work that I am about to do, that I am honored to protect the waters. I thought of my Beloved, my family, and my friends, whose money, food, emotional support, and friendship carried me like a boat in a storm through this difficult time. I could not have kept my house without them. I could not have kept my car. I could not have my home and the things that make it so. I might not have been able to hold on emotionally if it wasn't for them.

I thought about all the people I don't really know who sent me prayers and well wishes from my sisters' Facebook pages when I interviewed for the job. I know their good energies helped.

I thought of the phone calls where I sobbed that I couldn't take it any more and my loved ones comforted me. They never judged me. They held my hand and told me it would be OK.

I will never forget the things I have learned or the love that was given to me. I will not forget the other people here in Michigan that don't have a job. I know many of them don't have the support that I do. I can't imagine what life is like for those folks. I know how much stress and desperation I felt and I have good friends and family behind me. I am humbled by the experience. And I hope to never go through it again.

So, dear friends, thank you for seeing me through one of the darkest times of my life. I hope that from reading my stories about what life is like being unemployed for a very long time, you have developed understanding and compassion for others in the same place as me and work for equality and fairness in our world. Everyone wants and needs a home and security.
And now I can proudly say I have mine once again. Blessed be.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Are Pigs Naturally Fat?

I was watching a rerun of Northern Exposure this morning, an episode about a mosquito festival and a truffle sniffing pig, when I suddenly wondered if pigs were naturally fat. I remembered some photos I had seen a long time ago of laboratory rats that had been fed so much food they looked liked grotesque hairy sausages. Seemed that they, like other animals, will eat and eat and eat if given an unlimited supply of food. For whatever reason, that truffle sniffing pig looked like a laboratory experiment to me. Grotesquely obese. What does a normal pig look like, one that is fit and trim?

According to Wikipedia, pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. Pigs include the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domestica), its ancestor the wild boar, and several other wild relatives. Pigs are omnivores and are highly social and intelligent animals. We are averse to eating other highly social and intelligent animals, so why do we put aside this aversion to gnaw on a pork chop? Pigs rank fourth in the list of most intelligent animals in the world, behind chimps, dolphins, and elephants. Who knew? They learn tricks faster than dogs and their grunts are a complex form of communication. The are very close to their mates. Pigs like to snuggle up with each other at night when they sleep, are very family oriented, and live in Tribes. Sounds like my kind of people.

Pigs don't have any sweat glands, so they don't like heat. That is why they have to roll around in the mud, to cool off. They are also fantastic swimmers. Whodda thunk?

To imagine what a healthy, fit pig would look like, I turn to the wild boar. Wild boars live a natural lifestyle, eat whatever they can find, and burn lots of calories doing so. They are lean and mean. Maybe that is it, domestic pigs don't get much exercise so they gain weight. I can relate to that. I learned a baby pig eats so much its first week it actually doubles in weight! But I wasn't satisfied with this crumb of information, I needed more.

So I searched Google and asked the question "why are pigs fat?". Turns out they aren't. Pigs are giant muscle bound animals with small legs, making them appear to be portly. Just shows you can't judge a book by its cover.

I learned many things today while researching Pig. Pigs and I, we're a lot like each other. And I am sure I will think twice before biting into the next piece of bacon.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Kitten in the Tree

I was unloading several boxes of canning jars from the back of my Jeep today when I heard a meow. Then another, then another. I looked around but didn't see anything. I heard a few more meows, took a last glance, and carried my load into the house.

After getting things put away, I sat down in my recliner for a rest, something Grandma taught me. I noticed a Pedestrian stop on the sidewalk and then look curiously up into a tree. He tilted his head this way and that, much like my beagle does. A step to the side, back again, forward two more steps. Finally shaking his head, Pedestrian walked on. OK, my curiosity was piqued.

I grabbed my cup of coffee and walked to where Pedestrian had stopped. "Meow, meow, meow," called the cat. I could not tell where the sound was coming from. I walked up and down the sidewalk, cocked my head to one side and listened. "Meow." I finally gave up and went to the neighbor's door.

Knock, knock, knock. Blondie answered.

"Do you hear a cat?" I asked.

"Yeah, it has been up there in that tree since nine this morning. I tried to get it to come down but it just went up higher," she said. It was 96 degrees F at that moment, which was precisely four o'clock in the afternoon. All day? The cat was in the tree all day? No water, no litter box, no food? What the hell was she thinking? This is precisely why I don't carry a concealed weapon.

I went home and fretted. The cat was obviously a teenager. And it was over forty feet up. I remembered seeing our mighty firefighters saving cats from trees on TV when I was a kid. So I called the Fire Department. I was greeted by an answering machine. I left a message, but no one returned my call. I then dialed the Humane Society. No, they don't rescue animals. Try Animal Control. I pushed the buttons. "Select one for English..." the phone tree started. I hate those things. Finally, I reached a Human. "We don't rescue cats out of trees. Neither does the Fire Department. You could call Trapper Man," the Human said. Trapper Man. Great.

So I called Trapper Man. Sure, he could come out and get the cat. Do I want to keep the cat or should he take it to Animal Control? "I don't know," I replied. I would need to do some research on that. He said he had another appointment and then would be over. Oh, and it would be $60. Ouch. I claimed hardship and he said I could have the senior citizen discount of $48. In some circles I am a senior citizen. I said OK. What else could I do?

I went back to Blondie's house and informed her brother that we would be attempting a cat rescue from their yard.

The two hours I had to wait were grueling. I imagined the cat shriveling up from heat exhaustion or exploding from holding it too long. I researched how to treat feline dehydration and learned I needed to get Pediolyte. But I couldn't leave! I kept looking at the grass under the tree, half expecting to see the cat impaled on the dead, dry, stems, having fallen to its death while trying to walk on swinging tree limbs in a dehydrated stupor.

Finally, Trapper Man came.  He brought his teenage daughter, and they attempted to get the cat down using an extension ladder, my 15 foot long push pole, and a nine foot extension pole with a noose at the end duct-taped on the push pole . A snare, he called it. It won't be pretty when the cat comes down, but it will survive. I cringed. I prayed. He told stories of snaring coyotes and raccoons and opossums. Gasp! He said the cat would be using one of its nine lives. Oh God. What if it already used eight!

Soon, the neighbors started to gather and we eventually had about a half dozen kids and adults meowing to the cat, calling to it, whistling to it. I got a very large blanket and had all the kids grab an edge. Remember playing parachute? Who knew how practical that game would be!  We positioned the kids directly under the cat, who had climbed another ten feet up. If the cat should fall, we were there to catch it. But it didn't. Cat made herself comfortable and just stared at us.

After two hours, we gave up. Cat kept climbing higher. We needed a bucket truck. Trapper Man didn't want any money but I gave him twenty bucks for his efforts.

The cat is still up in the tree. I am still watching the grass. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Art of Snoring

My Grandma Aldrich was the world's greatest snorer. She could snore so loud that the walls of her house would vibrate. Literally! When I would visit Grandma for a weekend, she would sleep in her bedroom at one end of the house and I would sleep in the guest room at the other end. Both of our doors were shut. I could still hear her, loudly. How could such a proper woman put out such prehistoric noise?

Once I took Grandma on a trip to the UP. We had to share a hotel room everywhere we went. It is a wonder I didn't crash the van due to sleep deprivation. Grandma passed away in 1995. I swear sometimes at night I can hear a rumble in the sky.

Snoring is an art. My family is great at it, our tradition passed on from generation to generation. I have been told I share in this talent. Sadly, none of us mastered Grandma Aldrich's great snore. At the risk of being filleted by my family members, I am pleased to present to you my award winning docudrama, The Snoring Bartons! I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Do They Have to Look So Gay?

I have heard it said many times by people observing other people who happen to be lesbian or gay. "Why do they have to make themselves look so gay?" To this day I never have been able to understand what that question means. I have never heard someone say "Why do they have to make themselves look so straight", or "Why do they have to make themselves look so Black". Or Asian, or Hispanic, or bi-lingual. I just don't get it. So let's talk about this. It is just as politically incorrect to call lesbians gay as it is marginalizing women under the all-encompassing "he", so for brevity I will hereto refer to gays and lesbians as G&Ls.

My hunch is that these are the folks that say "It is OK to be gay or lesbian," but think in the privacy of their own mind "Just don't flaunt it". It makes them uncomfortable. They can ignore the fact someone is G&L if that person looks just like them, act just like them, talks just like them. But if G&Ls dress different, gender bend, talk about the sexual parts they possess instead of the ones of the opposite sex, then the discomfort rolls in like a freight train.

It comes from an assumption in that individual that it is basically wrong or bad to be G&L, and that if you are, you should hide it, certainly don't flaunt it, don't let everyone around you KNOW that you are G&L. I especially like the don't flaunt it part. That has a special definition reserved only for G&Ls. Flaunting includes many things, some if which include holding hands or giving your sweetheart a peck on the cheek, dressing in ways that you feel comfortable. It may mean that you have one too many piercings or tattoos. Flaunting is in the eyes of the beholder. Most of these expressions are considered normal behavior in the straight world, but if you are G&L, you are flaunting your queerness. Interesting.

So it seems that "looking too gay" has nothing to do with what the G&Ls are wearing or acting like, but that the observer feels uncomfortable around G&Ls. Perhaps they fear guilt by association. I mean really, whose business is it what someone else is wearing? Who cares whether a male acts feminine, or a female masculine. What difference does it really make? Why is it anybody else's business anyway? And why does it evoke such hatred and anger in some people? I don't think these folks would want someone telling them what to look like.

I have no answers to any of these questions. I have heard theories and postulations. But I will follow Occam's Razor, a principle urging folks to "select from among competing hypotheses that which makes the fewest assumptions and thereby offers the simplest explanation of the effect." In other words, the simplest explanation. People don't like to feel uncomfortable and thus want others to change in order to relieve that discomfort.

When I moved to Pennsylvania, I thought there were more lesbians there than anywhere I had ever been. Many women had short hair, were masculine-looking, and dressed comfortably in plaid shirts and jeans. I stereotyped them. I was wrong. They were farm gals, straight farm gals. High society dress would not have suited their lifestyles one bit. I wonder what the "Why do they have to look so gay" folks would think about these women.

When I was working on my last CD, I had a good friend (at the time) look at the draft CD cover, which had a photo of me and my guitar in the woods. "Why do you have to look so lesbian?" she asked. I don't think I have to add she was straight, or so she claims. I was floored. I was speechless. What does a lesbian look like? And why would I want to avoid looking like one? I am one! How could I look any different?

Whenever I hear someone say, "Why do they have to look so [fill in the blank]", I want to say, "Why do you have to look so straight? or white? or fat? or skinny?" I mean really, come on, what kind of question is this?

I just don't get it.