Monday, December 24, 2012

My Christmas Tree Post

This is my last post of the current year.

I told my human mom that I want to send Christmas greetings to all my kitty friends, but I need her help. I want to tell you about my Christmas tree.

I know many of my friends think the Christmas tree was put up so that they can play with all the shiny ornaments, the lights, the tinsel garlands and the bows. Not me. The tree is there for me to sleep under.

Don't get me wrong. I pawed at that little bell, but it didn't ring? What good's a bell if it doesn't ring. So, on my first trip toward the tree, I lay partly on the green rug, partly on the white "snow." This was after I took a thorough tour of the tree and sniffed the toys in the sleigh.

Once I was sure there was nothing that would hurt me, I curled up on the fake snow. It's very comfortable here. I can watch what is going on without worrying that I'll get under someone's feet. My mom can be very clumsy at times. Even when she watches out for me, I can circle around behind her. Then she steps on me. I squeal and earn plenty of pats and hugs. I'm never hurt, but I don't want her to know that. I'd miss my hugs and pats.

Now that the tree is mine, I can move deeper under it. By now, I'm at home and sound asleep, as opposed to the cat naps above. If you look closely, you can see I wasn't really asleep. No more fooling around, It was time for a serious nap. I usually stay under the tree for a couple of hours. Maybe longer. I always sleep next to the little sleigh. The toys keep me company. They don't come out to play until after dark. My mom and dad wonder why I'm so noisy about four in the morning. One of the little bears in the sleigh is quite a character. He likes to tweak my tail. I don't find that funny, so I chase him.

So after my middle-of-the-night romps, I have to retreat to the safety of my tree.

I wish you all a very Meowry Catsmess and a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Not My Christmas Tree Post

Warning! I'm a very pissed  off kitty. This post was supposed to be about my Christmas tree, but Bruiser ruined it. Do you see that bare patch of my back? Do you? There's a smaller one on my right hind leg, too.

I tangled with the feral cat that hangs out across the street. We call him Bruiser because he has no manners and is very mean. He had the audacity to walk onto my driveway. I warned him not to come any closer. I wanted him to go home. Much hissing and laid back ears. He ignored me. He thought this was his property, so he jumped me. He's so much bigger than I am. I held my ground as long as I could, only getting a tiny nick in one ear. When he attacked again, I ran off. I'm faster than he is, but he was too close. He got claws in my back and leg.

I was all right for a few days. My human mother dressed my wounds with something that stung and smelled bad. I thought I'd heal. I spent a couple of days in the house (my choice) before I went outside again. I started feeling bad about the time the wounds healed. My body ached. I ate and drank normally, but I didn't have any energy. Finally, my human parents really looked at my body. Even though I get a good grooming every day, the lump on my spine came on over night.

I didn't fight too hard when my mother put me in the carrier. I knew the kitty doctor would make me feel better. What I hadn't figured on was him shaving me. I mean, it's so humiliating to have a bald spot. And right before the holidays. Anyway, I had something called an abscess. The kitty doctor drained it. Boy, did it smell bad. Now, I'm almost healed but it's going to be well into next year before my furs grow back. For now, I'm bare with a bit of stubble growing in.

I don't want to go to any Christmas parties because I look awful. I can only find solace in my food dish.

Sign. I hope you don't get any boo boos this holiday season.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Serendipity, Facebook and One BFF

Last week I had one of those experiences that only come with being a Facebook user. And a blog reader.

The whole thing started back in sixth grade when I met my best friend forever, Curly Pam. We went through junior high and high school, undergraduate years at UCLA and into and beyond graduate school. Thick as thieves, we promised to be best friends. And we were, until we grew apart. I came to think that Curly Pam was meant to be my best friend for those years, but who was not meant to come into the future with me. Still, I never forgot her. Our paths crossed about every few years when we'd find an old address book and reach out with a letter. Until about ten years ago when the letters ceased. The last one came back, undelivered and undeliverable.

I wondered what happened to her. Had she died? Did she no longer want to correspond with a friend from the past who wasn't enough of a friend in the present or future? The last letter I had was from Fairbanks where she was living with her bush pilot husband, Jay. Had their plane crashed?

That brings us to the present. I love The Blood-Red Pencil, a blog written by a group of writers on a wide variety of topics. One entry was a wonderful review/discussion about a Western writer named Slim Randles. Can there be a better name for a Western writer?

Slim Randles? I knew a Slim Randles and his younger brother Bob Randles back at UCLA when dinosaurs walked the earth and dirt was young. I clicked the links and read Slim's bio. Too many touch points with what I remembered about my friend's brother. I asked the blog writer what she knew about Slim, but she didn't know if he was from Southern California or not.

I found Slim on Facebook and sent him a message. Within minutes, he responded that he was indeed THAT Slim Randles and could put me in touch with his brother. This would not have happened if Facebook didn't let these links come together.

Slim and Bob both married Pams. Slim married Red Pam back in the the late '60s, moved to Alaska and homesteaded out on the Yukon River. Bob married Curly Pam, my grade school friend, back it the late '60s. They didn't move to Alaska until a few years later. In time, both Randles brothers divorced their respective Pams.

My Pam, Curly Pam, stayed in Alaska and eventually married her bush pilot, Jay. After the birth of their son, I lost touch. We moved on with our respective lives.

So, why did it hurt so much to know that Curly Pam died from cancer this year? Because my husband and I didn't get up to Fairbanks where Curly Pam and Jay lived two years ago when we went to Alaska. Because I could have been a better friend and written more often.

Upon reflection, and news from Slim and Bob, I think my friendship with Curly Pam was meant to lapse. I miss knowing she is no longer of this world. I remember growing up together. And I rue not being a good enough friend to grow old with her.

I am so grateful to Maryann Miller for writing her column on Slim. After all, who could forget that name? I didn't and now I have answers to many unanswered questions. Thank you, Maryann, for helping me close a door to part of my past.

Monday, November 26, 2012

He Doesn't Write, He Doesn't Call

For months, I thought we had a real relationship. I mean, I didn't see it coming, but when I got the first e-mail, I confess I couldn't believe it.

At the beginning, the e-mails were general, wanting to be my friend, never asking anything of me. I replied in kind. I wanted to be his friend, too. I never expected anything but being a pen pal, but that was good enough for me.

Then he called. Once, twice in a month. I could hardly answer his questions. His voice was so deep, so rich. I fell in love. I confess, I fell in love with a voice. Sometimes it was raspy. I worried he had a cold. Sometimes it was strong and vibrant. The calls became more frequent, as did the e-mails. Within half a year, we were in constant contact, exchanging e-mails daily. I couldn't call him, so I had to wait for his incoming call. I never thought about why he didn't give me a number.

My friends said I was nuts. He was probably married and trolling for a sucker. I knew different. He wasn't trolling for a sucker. He was interested in me, and only in me. He never asked for much money. Just a few dollars here and there. No asking for access to my bank accounts. No asking for large sums. Just a few dollars. I could afford a few dollars, so I sent him the money.

Then, one day the calls and e-mails stopped. My in-box was empty. My phone was silent. Where had he gone? Were my skeptical friends right after all? Did he have someone else? Someone younger? Richer? I wept, but never let my friends know how devastated I felt. I had pinned my hopes and dreams on a voice at the end of a long phone line, warm words in e-mails. And now, thundering silence, except for my sobs. I feel dirty, used, used up.

Much as I hate to admit it. I've been dumped. Worse yet, Bill Clinton, the Big Dog, dumped me. Again. I guess he was only after my money, one $3.00 donation at a time.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Memorable Days

Yesterday I got up to fix the Thanksgiving meal for my beloved husband Terry. I'd been up more than an hour when I remembered what the historical date meant for me.

Every generation has a day in history it will never forget. For the Greatest Generation, it might be Pearl Harbor Day, D-Day, the end of World War II. They can tell you where they were, what they were doing, when they heard the news.

The Baby Boomers can tell you what they were doing on November 22, 1963 when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

Later generations have their memorable dates as well. The day the space shuttle Challenger exploded. 9/11.

Every year since 1963, I would wake up and remember what happened and where I was. This year was the first time I didn't think about the assassination the second my feet hit the floor. I felt a pang of guilt. Had the events of the day ceased to be important, to have an impact on me? I don't think so, but time has a way of replacing historical dates with personal dates. Our private dates are those we hold closest to the heart.

The day we met our spouses (spice? What is the plural of spouse, anyway?). Our anniversary. The day children were born. Graduations, more weddings, grandchildren, all become more important and push the historical dates aside.

I heard the first reminder of what November 22 meant at a news break at halftime in the third football game. Now, I didn't have television tuned to news channels at all, so there might have been earlier mentions. I doubt it. As time has passed, more people alive today were born after 1963 than before. For them, the assassination wasn't a current event but a historical one. For those of us who remember, it forms part of the fabric of our memories.

Yesterday my husband and I added another personal memory to that fabric. We plan to continue adding more memories with each passing day. To you and yours, remember your memories, personal and historical. They make you, you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

We Get What We Deserve

Tomorrow, Americans have an opportunity to elect a president. Why do I say "opportunity?" Because turnout will be nowhere close to 100% of the electorate. To think that we are so cavalier about being able to vote makes me weep. People who live in countries where they are oppressed for even thinking about voting would gladly stand in lines to have their vote registered and counted.

Back in 1996, Martin Walker wrote a book, The President We Deserve, about Clinton's reelection campaign. His thesis was we knew who the president was; we knew his infidelity; we knew his foibles. And we reelected him anyway.

I want to that that a step further. No, I'm not advocating for or against our current president. If you feel you must pounce on me, pounce for what I write, not what you think I believe.

In talking with people over the past year, I'm dismayed at how many are turned completely off by the campaigns. Both campaigns. Up and down the ballot. My friends are burned out from the yelling, negative saturation TV ads, lies and half-truths. Too many are threatening not to vote at all. And herein lies my concern.

If you don't vote, we all get the president and Congress we deserve. If you don't vote for or against a candidate, any candidate, you could be part of the process that gets the other guy elected. If you stay home, you lose your right to bellyache the day after the election and for the next four years. You have not done your civic duty.

I want to see a major change in voting laws. I want voting to be mandatory, not optional. All citizens should have to go to the polls and cast a ballot. Maybe some would vote without learning thing one about the candidates. Hell, that happens today. But 100% turnout should be the least we could do.

I also want a box on the ballot in every category that is "D) None of the Above." Here in Virginia, and a few other states, our choices for president this year would be (in alpha order), A) Virgil Goode, B) Barack Obama, C) Mitt Romney and D) None of the Above. D would likely win. At least, the human winner would not be able to claim a clear mandate from the people if 51% of 50% vote for him. I know it would never work. I know no one has the fortitude to suggest such a change.

But, one of these days pigs will fly and Hell will freeze over. Right now, pigs flying and Hell freezing aren't on the ballot. Two things we can safely bellyache about. Think I'll go for a walk and look for flying pigs.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Confusion

Mocha here. I have no idea what Halloween is. My humans don't do much to celebrate. My human mom hung a witch on the door. It's not even scary, if that was her plan. I think she looks funny. She's too far off the floor for me to play with. Was that part of my human mom's idea?? I was not amused.

We live in the country, so little kids didn't dress up and go door-to-door asking for treats. My human dad bought one bag of treats for himself. Meh! But, my human mom made sure I got my crunchy treats last night.

Two days ago, my human mom scared me. She walked around the house with a yellow stuffed animal on her head. She said it was her costume and that she was dressed as Trump. What's a Trump? My human dad thought she'd lost her mind. She said the costume was easy to wear. So there!

All day, my human mom worked at her computer. She does this every day, all day long. Except when she stops to scratch my ears and let me play innie-outie at the door. I love going outside. I love coming back inside. Sometimes I'm out only a few minutes. My human mom says I should be named Patricia Finnegan, because when I go out, I want to come in again. I'm always on the wrong side of the door. She's wrong. I'm Mocha. Don't even try changing my name.

I looked out the window last night. Sometimes a little black kitten comes to visit. My human mom calls him the interloper. I think he wants to play, but when he comes over to visit, he runs when he sees me. So, of course, I chase him. I just want to play, too. He didn't come over last night. I watched and watched. I don't know who was on the deck, but my human mom took this picture. What do you think it is?

I hope you had a happy Halloween. I think it's a kitty celebration. I got the treats I wanted. And I didn't have to play any tricks. Except prairie dogging this morning to wake my humans up.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Know How You Feel

Really? You know how I feel? How do you know how I feel? You have no idea what I'm thinking deep inside, what I've experienced.

What prompted these questions have been a series of incidents that happened to friends. And most of their friends didn't know what to say, so they fell back on these tired old tropes.

Depression surrounds too many of my friends right now. I had a week-long funk where I was so not productive. Finally, I dragged myself out of it through meditation, sage smudging and other activities many readers will shy away from. Too woo-hoo for them. So be it.

One of my friends has been in a deep depression for weeks. No work. Little money. Too many children in the house. I can't help him, but I can listen. I didn't say I knew what he was going through. I've been out of work twice in my life. For that, I've been lucky. He's been out of work for over a year. He keeps looking for employment in his industry, one that is not coming back. I've tried mentoring him into looking outside his comfort zone. Unfortunately, he's not comfortable looking outside his comfort zone. He sits and waits. I don't know what he's going through, but it's a downward trajectory. One that may not end happily.

Another friend, a woman, has been in such a deep depression that she hasn't left her house alone for three years. Her husband drives her wherever she needs to go, but to venture to the post box in the co-op where she lives--no way on God's green earth. She doesn't cook, read, bathe. Most of the day she lies in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for something. Meds don't work. She's tried them all. You can tell her she needs to try one more, but she won't listen. I don't offer advice. She doesn't want it.

When all hell broke lose immediately following the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, friends with an inclination to depression plunged. This time I know how they feel. It's that cosmic angst thing. Some of us feel cosmic pain. We are the lucky ones. Some only feel their own pain. They are the unlucky ones. With cosmic pain, we can seek understanding of the situation. We can say, "this too will pass," because it almost always does. What I can't say is that I understand how everyone feels. You can't tell me you know what I'm thinking. I share with you only what I want you to know.

Please don't insult your friends by pretending to understand unless you have undergone exactly the same loss and suffered the same grief. You can help by asking a question and keeping silent while your friend talks. The last thing he wants to hear is a story about your great Aunt Sophie who had something similar. When someone or a country is suffering, it's all about the person or the country. It's not about you. Just once, listen before you speak. You might hear something whispered that is important.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Kid Numbers

I don't know about you, but I fatigued by the continually reiteration of kid numbers. You remember kid numbers. "There must be a bazillion names on that wall." "I want a gazillion pieces of candy on Halloween."

I feel that way about the word "trillion." You'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the first state with a trillion dollar budget might have been California. The first US city might have been New York. Now, both run trillion dollar deficits. I can't wrap my head around a trillion.

I listen to arguments from both political parties about trillion dollar spending bills and trillion dollar deficits. The argument falls on deaf ears. I have trillion dollar fatigue. No longer am I shocked by these kid numbers. No longer do arguments to spend more, tax less, cut budgets mean anything. Just a bunch of hot air. I know you won't agree with me. That's your Constitutional right. Blow off your steam. Accuse me of siding with one candidate or another. You'd be wrong.

I'm cranky. Yes, I listened to the presidential debate this week, part of the time with the sound off. Body language made the debate comical. Loved it. When voters tried to get to the bottom of difficult issues, they got sound bites. That's another level of fatigue. Maybe I'm just tired of the whole political process that has gone on waaaay too long.

No matter who wins, we will get the president we deserve. And that's the topic of a later blog. For now, I hope I get gazillion pieces of candy on Halloween.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Compassion in a Global Society

On October 11, I went to hear the Dalai Lama speak in Charlottesville, VA. I've read most of his books, those that have been translated into English, and have followed his teachings for a few decades.

The Dalai Lama's message of compassion in a global society, in a secular world outside of religion, is one of his most enduring teachings. He began his talk with a definition of "global." Most of us might think he would talk about man's inhumanity to man, the horrors of war, injustice toward women and minorities. And most of us might ask ourselves how we can be compassionate in such a vast world.

The message was much more immediate. The Dalai Lama defined "global" as anything outside of our own self, meaning that when we work to be more compassionate ourselves, we can influence the person next to us. We may not be able to change something happening on the other side of the world, but we can be responsible for our own thoughts. While different religions may pray to different "bosses" (his term), he would rather we think of all human beings as our brothers and sisters, to be open to the oneness of humanity itself.

This was driven home recently when a friend lamented that people preferred to be ignorant than to better themselves through reading and education. When I asked what she could do to show compassion to even one individual, she said that individual had to get his nose out of his cell phone and read. Never did I hear her talk about something she could do to help that individual. To do so would have meant she, too, might have to change her behavior.

The Dalai Lama has long been an advocate of meditation and prayer, even when there is no guarantee that our prayers will be answered. He talks eloquently about how materialism doesn't bring inner peace, but thoughts of greed, mistrust, violence, jealousy. None of these help us to be happy; rather, they go a long way to ensuring we will be unhappy.

He talks about how trust is the basis of friendship. I can attest to this from a personal anecdote. Recently, I found out a friend lied about something inconsequential. I called him on it, since we were on the phone when he trapped himself. I now wonder how many times he lied about things that were of consequence. Our relationship may never be the same. Only he can repair it by being truthful going forward.

The Dalai Lama teaches that all great religions are built on compassion and trust. Regardless of your religious traditions, he stresses that his brand of secularism must not disrespect other's religions, but we must respect those who do not believe as we do. Those who harbor negative thoughts deny themselves a sense of inner peace and rest, of loneliness.

I left his presentation with one thought, something his translator said during his introduction. He told a story about being denied access to the Dalai Lama that morning. He'd left his badge at home and the Secret Service wouldn't let him in. In following the Dalai Lama's teaching, he asked himself if this was the time to laugh. Don't get mad. Weigh the message and laugh. He laughed. Most of us who left the pavilion did so lighter of heart and more willing to laugh in the face of adversity.

Now, if he would only turn his attention to compassion in poliitics.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Voting Blocs

I listen to both candidates' handlers and the pollsters talk about voting blocs as if any identifiable group is a solid block of wood. Whites, Hispanics, seniors, women. I got to thinking about where I fit in.

Okay, I'm a fairly angry white woman. A senior citizen. A voter. In the 99%. And now in the 47% of those who live off the government. Let's break this down.

Forgetting the angry part, let's look at women voters. We come in all colors, ages, sizes and capabilities. Do senior women vote differently if they are black than if they are white? Do affluent Asian women vote differently than affluent black women? Do young women just out of college vote differently from retired women? The answer is probably yes, but the pollsters would have us believe that this candidate or that has to get the women's vote to win. Which group of women?

I recently heard a fascinating discussion on this very topic on NPR. It was about courting the Hispanic vote. Again, which Hispanic vote? The Cuban-American vote? The Mexican-American vote? The speaker, a Hispanic journalist in Florida, reminded the commentator that many Hispanics are deeply religious and, therefore, tend to be conservative, yet again pollsters tell us that the Democrats have this bloc locked up. Not sure what the logic is, but if the pollsters say it, it must be right. Right? Not according to this journalist.

He had an very good point about groups of Hispanics not liking other groups of Hispanics. He didn't mean in the Crips versus Bloods sense, but that many Mexican-Americans felt some Cuban refugees received preferential treatment when they migrated to the States. Maybe right, maybe wrong, but his final point was what got me thinking. He asked the commentator to identify the one group of Hispanic-Americans the other hyphenated groups disliked the most. His answer: Puerto Ricans. By birth, they are citizens and don't have to apply for visas. Never thought of it that way.

Still don't know which bloc is mine. All I know is, I will vote. I haven't missed a general election since I was old enough to cast a ballot. Don't think I'm going to start now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Not To Lose Money at the Track

In August, my husband Terry and I made our annual trip to the races in Saratoga, NY. We planned the trip so that we can hit the track on Friday and then celebrate our daughter, Aleta's, birthday on the weekend. Gorgeous drive and lots of fun.

We usually put aside the amount of money we are willing to lose. Sometimes we break even; sometimes we lose; sometimes we come out ahead. This year had an added dimension to the spending issue.

Of course, gas is higher this year, so that was a factor. We stay at a local hotel next to our daughter's condo, because she has no room for guests. No biggie. We eat out, so both Terry and I have a mini-vacation from cooking and cleaning.

Our drive to Pine Bush, NY, was uneventful. 500 miles and a great audio book. We arrived in time to walk across the street for a diner dinner. When in New York, it's diner food or Italian. I picked Greek at the diner. The next morning was race day. And that was the day we learned how not to lose money at the track.

We were ready to leave when Terry turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. Dead. The hotel had jumper cables and a nice guest gave us a jump. We figured we could recharge the battery on the interstate, because from Pine Bush to Saratoga is about 150 miles. Should do it. NOT.

We were about ten miles down the road when the RAV 4 began behaving badly. Like turning itself off. Like turning itself back on. Like lurching. We pulled into a gas station. The RAV 4 died without a whimper. We fussed under the hood, but nothing worked. I finally called a tow truck. The nice, fourth-generation owner of Young's Service Station took us back to Pine Bush. 

By now I'm figuring we'd blow off the races, hang at the pool and make lemonade. But, all we needed as a new battery. Off we went, two hours late. We got to the track for the last half of the races, enjoyed perfect weather and several close finishes.

Now don't ask about expenses. No, I didn't lose much at the track, but the towing and the battery more than tripled what I would have wagered. So, if you don't want to worry about losing money, pay for a dead battery and only bet on half the race card. Great day, but not expected at all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Unrepentant 47%er

I am an unrepentant 47%er, one of those leeches on society that Mitt Romney disdains. And of course I'm also a 99%er. Here's how I got to be a 47%er:

In college, I needed financial help, even though my undergraduate years were at a state college. Oh, wait. A state college is subsidized by tax dollars. Check #1. I qualified for federally-funded student loans. Check #2. I paid them back with interest on time.

In grad school, I qualified for more federally-funded fellowships. Check #3. Private university; no state funds required.

When I went to work, I paid taxes on my income. I paid faithfully into Social Security and Medicare, never believing that either would be around when I retired. Paying my fair share was my responsibility, rather like paying for the privilege of being a US citizen. I hoped there would be enough Social Security and Medicare for my mother and mother-in-law when they retired and needed the promise to be fulfilled. Both drew leech-y entitlement checks. Check #4.

On April 1, 1984, a day that would be fraught with irony were it not so important in my life, the federal government initiated a tax-deferred saving program called 401(k). Designed to become the primary source of retirement funding for individuals, it was a government godsend. Check #5. I opened my first 401(k) account that very day and paid in until I retired on December 30, 2012. Now, as I draw from my own funds, I pay those deferred taxes. Check #6. Again, a privilege that allowed me to retire on my own terms.

I'm eligible for Medicare. Check #7. I applied for and received coverage, means-tested, to be sure, from another government program. I have private supplemental insurance, but Medicare is part of the package. Sucking off the government teat once again.

And in three months I will begin drawing Social Security. Check #8. I paid into it for 40 years. But, it's a government handout to those of us too lazy to work, those 47%ers who want a free ride. There's nothing free about Social Security. It's an entitlement I paid for, not a handout.

With all those government programs, I was able to get a great education, find well-paying jobs, work for 40 years with only two layoffs and retire when I was ready. I never had to draw unemployment insurance, food stamps or any other aid to the needy. Still, in Romney's eyes, I'm a parasite on society and on the government dole.

Ain't it great being an unrepentant leech on society???

Monday, September 17, 2012

Am I Better Off?

That loaded question is making the rounds on all the talk and news shows. I've been thinking about it since the primaries began last century (or so it seems).

Am I better off? Absolutely. I have my health and health insurance. I am retired, although not drawing Social Security yet. With government intervention back in 1984, I started building IRAs and 401(k)s. I kept building until I retired last December. Even with three huge financial busts that smooshed my investments, I'm better off financially than I was four years ago. Or eight years before that. Why? Because I can pay my bills and not fuss too much about future payouts from Social Security. Still a 99er, but safe for now.

I looked at the stock market, because our IRAs and 401(k)s are invested in various financial instruments. Four years ago on November 20, 2008 the market was staggering 7,550. Today, it is over 13,500. Will it stay there? If I knew that, I'd buy a lottery ticket and pocket the winnings. So, yes, in this one marker, I'm better off that I was four years ago.

Are my friends better off? One with a child who has cystic fibrosis has health insurance for the first time. She's better off. One friend keeps his 21-year-old son on his health insurance. If he couldn't, he'd be paying over $1000 a month in meds our of pocket. Not sustainable. Another is working after being unemployed for two years. He changed careers and his attitude on working. Is he making less than before? Certainly, but he has more time with his family and is a healthier person. Have some of my friends lost money? Of course, but some of their investments were in the high risk category.

Over all, my friends and I are in a better place that we were four years ago. But that doesn't hold true for many others. We still need to put people back to work. We need to keep health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and for young people who find it hard, if not impossible, to find work. We need to realize some jobs are not coming back. We need to think outside the box and find other ways to feed the chilluns and keep a roof overhead. Just like we did with the bust when high earners lost everything and still found ways to move forward. It's a challenge, but they did it. Isn't it time for a different group to try new things, new ways of making a living?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Teaching Today

I taught for seven years back when dirt was young and students had already learned to think by the time they were in one of my classes. I taught at both USC and UCLA. Comparative lit, English composition, Japanese literature. All electives but for English comp. Comp lit and Japanese lit were lecture courses. Never more than 35 students in a class--except for the multi-discipline introduction to Japanese culture taught by a religion prof, an art historian, a historian and me for lit. That was lecture only to about 125 students.

I always had a curriculum published before classes began. I also had lectures prepared, pithy remarks noted for use if a class went silent. Other than keeping to the curriculum, 90% of my lecture material went unused. Why? Because I wanted my students to engage in thoughtful, informed discussions on what they read. I'd ask questions, call on students (yes, the dreaded "what do you think about what Mary just said, Johnny?"), guide a discussion.

I told students that while I expected some answers to the books we read, if a student had a different interpretation I would listen. If the interpretation was "wrong" but if the student proved his thesis, I'd grade accordingly. I had one student who was completely visual for themes and tests. Drew his test answers. Produced great projects. I kept his material for years. Creative, but was most likely lost on more rigid teachers.

I was so lucky when I was in the classroom. Sometimes half a class was men on the G.I. Bill. Yes, that G.I. Bill for Vietnam vets. These students had come out of a traditional education, where they learned the three Rs as well as deductive thinking. They didn't struggle with SOLs, but had to pass PSATs and SATs to get into college, G.I. Bill or not. I had students older than I, who had seen things I would never see, who brought different experiences into a classroom.

I got to thinking about some of these students the other day. I wonder what happened to them. No matter what they decided to do in life, they knew how to think and how to present their arguments based on their interpretation of what they read.

I couldn't step into a classroom today. I spend a lot of time with teachers and some students. I read student writing contest entries. I see so little deductive reasoning, so little free thinking. Even when we had a fiction writing contest, I didn't see creativity like the student who drew his exams.  I worry that today's youth can't think outside the box, can't look for patterns that aren't presented in the form of an exam answer, can't engage in civilized debate.

No, my teaching methods wouldn't work today. So, I post a question: what would Socrates do today were he in a classroom?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

We are losing our heroes. They are dying off at an unseemly rate. Hundreds if not thousands of World War II veterans die every day. Soon, there will be no more. Our astronauts are aging or dying of disease.

We lost Sally Ride, a hero for women all over the world. We just lost Neil Armstrong, whose "one small step for man" stiffened the shoulders of Americans everywhere. 

I was in a tiny mountain village on that wonderful day. After three weeks in a Zen nunnery, my abbess called me to walk into town with her. We weren't supposed to leave the grounds for the six-week program I'd enrolled in, but this 90+-year-old tiny holy woman walked me down to the town. We stopped in front of a television store, where I swear the entire town's population was standing around, watching grainy black-and-white images of a man in a bulky space suit stepping onto the dusty surface of something other than Earth. I never felt so proud.

Our heroes are leaving us with memories and few people to replace them. No space program, although the men and women at JPL should be recognized as heroes for landing Curiosity on Mars. Every person who served in Iraq and Afghanistan is a hero, but they are unsung. We're not throwing parades. Neither are we throwing insults the Vietnam-era vets received when they came home, broken and bent.

We need heroes. Some are small heroes whom few people will ever meet. Like Travis Redman. Who's Travis Redman? Certainly not a sports star. Travis is nine. He was upset last year when a schoolmate came to school wearing clothes that didn't fit. He asked his legal guardian Joyce Riley if there wasn't something he could do.

From a simple question to a room full of donated clothing, Travis had his answer. Yes, there was something he could do. Travis posted some flyers at local churches, attracted the attention of the Roanoke Times. Before long, donations flooded in. By the time school was a week away, the donations filled an entire room.

Riley washed and folded all the donated clothes, even burning out one washing machine before a friend donated a used replacement. When the day came to distribute the clothing, each child received two outfits, plus shoes purchased from cash donations.

Where have all our heroes gone? They are under our noses. We just need to look harder for them. Like Travis Redman. He saw something he could fix and fixed it. He is my hero.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Aunties and Uncles and Writing

Yesterday, my forever human parents, Betsy and Terry, had a party for me. I was so excited. Last year, they had a party about the same time, but they didn't invite me. I had just joined their family as their forever kitty. They weren't sure if lots of people would upset me. It probably would, but not this year.

This year, I got to come. When the first people arrived, I watched from a safe spot under a Chinese bench. There weren't too many, so I came out. Before I knew it, Auntie Betty Franklin petted me. This was good. And then Uncle Dick Raymond petted me. And the more aunties and uncles petted me. I felt a bit sad because last year I didn't get any pets. This year, I got more than I could count.

Sometimes, too many people were in the living room. I needed a bit of a time out, so I retreated to the top of the stairs where I could watch over everything going on below. When I thought people were missing me, I went back down. I sniffed everything on the floor. Lots of my aunties have kitties at home, but some had dogs. Yuck.

I was the life of the party. I didn't meow or get under foot, but whenever anyone held out a hand I was right there to receive my due rewards of pets and ear skritches.

My human parents said this was a party for the Valley Writers. I want to join. I'm a writer, too. How do I join? Do you have to vote me in? If so, please vote me in. I have a lot to say.

This morning, I told my forever humans several cute stories from the party. At 4 am.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friending Blackie

Hi. Remember me. I'm Mocha Java and I just turned two. I've been with my human family, Terry and Betsy, for one year. I've learned so much. They use different words than I'd heard before. And I've taught them so much. Let's just look at one difference.

A new kitty came to visit a few weeks ago. He's all black with cute white paws, just like mine. He peeked into the basement door one day. It was early in the morning, but I'd been playing with my mouse for about an hour. I dashed downstairs and saw a new face looking in my door. I hissed and whipped my tail back and forth. I hadn't invited this new guy. He needed to learn some manners. He sat, his tail wrapped around his paws. He didn't move. I lay down, my tail in a straight line behind me. My female human came looking for me. I didn't break the staring contest with Blackie. I also didn't growl or hiss at him. He needed to learn a lesson about coming onto my lower deck. After a very long time, he stood, stretched and walked away. I'd won.

Two weeks later Blackie came back. This time I was on the outside steps down to the lake. He pranced his way through fallen leaves and jumped up on a step a few lower than were I was sitting. He didn't ask if it was all right. So, I puffed up my tail and started walking toward him. He held his ground for a few steps before he bolted back the way he came. I chased him. Then, I crouched in the leaves about fifteen feet away from him. We stayed that way for a long time. 

Eventually, Blackie crept back toward me. I let him get close. I gradually backed up to a large tree and settled down. It took a while, some more growling and tail whipping before I let Blackie lie down on the other side of my tree.

What this is all about is friending a kitty, kitty-style. Both my humans talk about friending people of Facebook, whatever that is. I don't think I have a Facebook. But I do have a friend in Blackie. If he doesn't get too close and if he behaves, he's welcome to visit.

So, I know how to friend kitties. Now, what is all this stuff about the "terrible twos." I need to know so that I behave right, don't I?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How's It Working For Ya?

If you are like me, you're probably weary of the ongoing debate about extending the Bush-era tax cuts for another year. That would push any real decision on tax policies out past the current election cycle.

Let's take a quick look at one of the arguments about extending these cuts. One party says these cuts are absolutely necessary for the wealthy, because it is the wealthy who create jobs. Really?

The other party wants to increase taxes on the rich, so that they pay more. The rationale seems to be: they earn more, so they should pay more.

Now, these tax cuts went into law in 2001 and 2003, were extended in 2005 and several times afterwards. They were supposed to sunset in 2010. They were extended twice since the sunset clause was thrown out. And now we have both parties want to keep them in place for another year.

So, we have a disconnect between wanting to put more money in the pockets of the rich, who are supposed to be creating jobs so the unemployed can find these new jobs and add to the tax pool, and the real fact that jobs are not being created by individuals. They are created by corporations. Oh wait, I forget. Corporations are people. Well, dang. There goes that argument. But, the current debate is not about reducing corporate tax structures but about keeping tax rates low on the rich.

I'm not rich. I'm not poor. I'm middle class, part of the 99% club. I have friends that are searching for jobs. They don't want a hand out. They want to work. They don't want to see the rich piling up what could be tax money in their personal accounts.

Corporations are sitting on piles of money. They are unwilling to spend, because they don't see any buyers for their goods and services. Without people out there with money to buy the goods and services, we won't see much of an economic recovery. We'll continue pushing out tax cuts and deepening the deficit. And the vicious circle goes ever on and on.

We can't have it both ways. Either we accept the fact that tax cuts have not shown benefits in creating jobs or we don't. Either we face the fact that tax cuts in general add to the deficit or we don't. Either we accept that we pander to the political climate and push bad policies in order to get elected or re-elected or we don't.

Regardless of how this plays out, I have some questions. Are you finding it easier to find work because the tax cuts on the rich are creating jobs? Are the jobs popping up all over the place? Is the jobless rate tumbling below 8%? Are you part of rebuilding the economy through employment and paying your taxes? Probably not.

So, let me close with this last question: How are the current tax cuts working for ya?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sex and College Sports

As many of us did, I followed the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia trial with mixed emotions. I didn't sit in that courtroom. I didn't hear the testimony. I watched the verdict when it was returned. And it brought back a memory I'd rather not think about.

Those of you who read this blog may remember an earlier post where I ended with "I was raped."

I was. On my college campus. In the classroom where I taught Freshman Composition. By a football player. Two weeks before the Rose Bowl game.

The player, a starter on the team, came into class with a form for my signature. He wanted me to give him a passing grade so that he could play in the bowl game. He was riding a solid F, because he'd only been in class three times all term, had never turned in a lick of work. I told him to stay after class when I fully intended to tell him why I couldn't sign his eligibility form.

Instead, this starring player decided I wanted to have sex with him. He told me so during the attack and afterwards. He attacked me on my desk, raped me and left.

I went to the campus health clinic, had a rape kit done, filed a report with the campus rent-a-cop, and another with the real police.

And then I marched the eligibility paper and copies of both reports into the head coach's office. I pitched a major league fit until he saw me. He brushed off my claim until I made him call the player into his office. I faced my attacker and the coach and proved the player had attacked me. His right had was wrapped in a bandage. Under it was an infected bite. A deep one in the webbing between thumb and forefinger. So deep that my teeth went through that webbing. The player said I liked rough sex and he was just giving me what I asked for.

The coach believed the attack happened. Hard to ignore a pus-filled hand. He had someone else sign the eligibility form. My attacker played in the bowl game. My university lost. I couldn't have been happier. The player left school immediately after the game, never charged with a felony.

I often wonder what happened to him. I should Google his name to find out what prison he's in, but I just don't care. The system let me down, but by biting him, I left a mark that won't go away.

He didn't leave a similar mark on me. I survived his rape and moved on. May Sandusky's victims find the same strength and move past this. Sandusky won't.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Sheriff Rode into Town

A few decades ago, a tall sheriff rode into town on his mighty white horse, leaned on his saddle horn, looked around and smiled.

"This is a wonderful green and gold area with lots of money, lots of jobs and low taxes. I can make it better."

The sheriff won election to a high office. He reviewed the state budget, which had a surplus, and started spending. He looked at the jobs and saw that many were low-paying and filled by people who did not have legal papers to be in the state. He saw that surrounding states had many more poor people than his green and gold state did, so he invited them to move into his state and apply for welfare. He started new projects that would help the people.

Soon the budget was empty. In fact, the sheriff had spent more money than he had, so he raised taxes. A lot, to cover his spending shortfalls.

When he thought he'd done all he could for the green and gold state, he looked around for more challenges. He saw that the greater land needed his magic touch, so he ran for national office. It took a couple of tries, but he won over common sense with wonderful rhetoric. He called out the menace of a red foe trying to destroy our way of life. He promised to build up the military to fight this foe at its doors, not on our shores. He promised to keep taxes low. He promised to keep government small.  He promised many things, and he was elected.

The people were taken in for a long time. The sheriff did to the greater land what he had done for the green and gold state. He raised taxes, built up the military more than necessary, threw money at government projects and spent more money than he had.

The sheriff is long gone, but his memory lives on. Some of the new sheriff-wanna-bes ride through the land evoking his name and calling for a return to his policies.

If the people of the greater land listen to the new sheriff-wanna-bes and select them, the greater land will continue budget deficits, high costs for a military it no longer needs, spending on government projects and high taxes.

And that, dear readers, is a parable on what Reaganomics did for the green and gold state of California and the greater land of the United States. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Not Me

"Who broke the wine glass in the kitchen sink?"
"Not me."
"Who left the toilet seat up?"
"Not me."
"Who's responsible for the mess the economy is in?"
"Not me."

Are you like me and have tuned out the noise about the election? Fingers point everywhere but at the speaker's own chest. It's always someone else's fault. I will grow old waiting for a politician to take responsibility.

Who's fault is the economy? Everyone's, with no small help from many different administrations. Government overspends. And spends on the wrong thing too many times.

TARP, set up by Bush II, had to be administered by Obama. Some of it worked; some of it didn't. I don't hear a calm voice looking at each million dollars spent, reporting back to the voters where it went, how much we were paid back, etc. I hear one candidate saying "he did everything wrong." I hear another saying "not me."

If we hadn't bailed out GM and Chrysler, how many jobs would have been lost? One candidate says the managed bankruptcy should have been supported through private equity, but I don't think a Bain Capital would have been willing to write a check. The managed bankruptcy was bailed out by the taxpayers. One candidate, who didn't like the bailout, now takes responsibility. "I always said GM should go into bankruptcy and I was right." Sorta.

The list is endless. I grow depressed thinking about it.

Do you have children? Were you a child once? Do you remember when your mother realized for the first time that you were growing up? Do you? What was the turning point?

For my mother and me, it was the first time I said, "I broke it" rather than "it got broke.

Isn't it time for our government officials to take the high road and grow up?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Try as I might, I can't like him any more

No, this is not a political post, although it could have been. It's a sports post. I try, I really try, but I no longer like Tiger Woods. When he first shook up the golf world, I thought we had a real role model for golfers of all ages. And he was for the longest time. Then, his personal and physical problems got in the way of being a role model and playing great golf.

Too many have already commented on the lies Tiger led. I don't want to repeat them here. I hoped he would come out of those problems, rehab his lower body and get his head back in the game. He hasn't.

He played really well just before the Masters. He won his first tournament in ages. And when his game left him in Augusta, he became a role model of the wrong kind. He cursed. He slammed his clubs into the ground. He threw at least one club. I was embarrassed by his behavior.

He didn't make the cut this week. Same crappy behavior. If he were a kid, he'd be in a time-out for violating the rules of golf, one of which is to behave with decorum.

I thought a lot about Tiger's career. It's hard to remember when he played with joy like so many of the younger players do today. He doesn't look like he's having fun. He walks the courses like a robot, growling and glowering, looking for the game he had a dozen years ago. He won't find it in the rough. He can only find it between his ears. He sure isn't looking there.

I really try to like him. I can't. I wonder what Pops would think if he watched his son play today. I'm glad he's not green-side any longer. He'd be in tears.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's All About Respect

I've been listening to all the events surrounding Earth Day today:  planting parties, gardening parties, concerts, barbeques. You name it, we do it to celebrate Earth Day. I question why we need Earth Day at all.

I grew up in Southern California when dirt was young and the sky was brown. I didn't know until I was mid-way through grade school that were there mountains to the north of where I lived. I'd never seen them. Why? Because the sky was smog-brown.

California passed really strict clean air laws governing auto emissions. We complained, because these damned new catalytic converters made cars more expensive. By the time I went to college, seeing the mountains north of where I lived was a daily event.

California didn't have Earth Day, but it had a respect for the planet we live on, the air we breathe, the water we drink. The rest of our country didn't catch on right away. Eventually, government began more regulations to save the earth from us.  People complained. Corporations complained. "Overturn the regulations and let us be responsible." That didn't work before. I'm not sure it will work today.

I looked at the small part of Planet Earth where I live. We have so much work to do to respect our world. In two weeks I'll take part in our local Clean Up Smith Mountain Lake weekend. Last year we took out more than 160 tons of trash in two days:  tree snags, refrigerators, a bowling ball, plastic water bottles, plastic chairs, plastic shopping sacks. Plastic, plastic, plastic.

Three weeks ago I gleaned three miles of roadside leading into our housing development. I filled six giant garbage bags, sorted for recycling, in three hours. I could do it again today and get the same results. People still throw trash out car windows. Trash flies out of the back of pickup trucks. Either way, it finds its way onto our roadsides, our waterway, our lakes.

If each of us did our small part to reduce, reuse, and recycle, if we didn't use the planet as our personal trash pit, if we respected our planet, every day would be Earth Day. Every day we would make our planet a cleaner, safer place to live. If we ignore the problems, regulations or not, we stand too good a chance of destroying our world. And there will be no "beam me up, Scotty" to a different planet.

Good bye for now. I'm going outside to dance in the rain and thank the gods for today.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bra Burning

I wonder if television realizes how great a debt it owes to the women's movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Back in those less than good old days, women had the vote, received less pay for equal work, and kept our mouths shut about society's dirty little secrets. When we found our voice through activism, and our anthem thanks to Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," we brought a lot of secrets out of the closet.

Until women started standing up for themselves and speaking out about the unspeakable, media paid little if any attention to domestic violence, rape and child abuse. Those were secrets best kept in the closet and handled "within the family." When a woman spoke out, she was ridiculed and disbelieved.

Much has changed. Much hasn't. But when we came out and said, "I was raped by my father/stepfather/date," we found freedom in voicing the unspeakable. Society could no longer ignore its dark side. We made sure it was out in the sunlight. I stood with a group of rape victims in graduate school. We told our stories. We weren't proud of what had been done to us, even though some tried to make us believe rape, incest and abuse were our faults. We were proud to stand up and say what happened.

We wouldn't have battered women's shelters and homes for abused children if we hadn't burned our bras and shouted for attention.

Television has benefited from our bravery. Where would Law and Order: SVU be without the ground breakers who dared ridicule and ostracism for speaking the truth. We wouldn't have the police focused on these horrible crimes. We wouldn't be able to keep attention on what's really going on in the dark. Turning the bad into entertainment may not be everyone's favorite way of getting a point across, but it works.

Think about all the movies in the past several decades that talked about abuse. Kramer vs. Kramer. War of the Roses. Add your own titles. You can come up with a dozen without trying. Through the lens, we learned how our actions affect our children. We've seen how abused women (and men) lack self-esteem and would do anything to hide what's happening to them.

We have a lot of work to do to eradicate these menaces, but our voices will not be silenced. Yes, I burned my bra. Yes, I marched for women's equality. Yes, I sang our anthem. Yes, I stood with my sisters when we spoke out. More women than men pelted us with tomatoes and eggs for telling the truth. Still, I stood up for myself. I'm proud of what I did. I can't take back what happened. And I won't be marginalized and shoved back into the closet.

I was raped.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I recently read an article in The New Yorker where "aggressive medievalism" popped up. Those of you who know me have to realize I can't put this phrase out of my mind. The article focused on one religious group that wanted its principles to be the laws of the land. Right now, I can think of three situations where aggressive medievalism fits. There are countless others, but three will make my point.

The article discussed the rise of ultra-Judaism in Israel. One plank of ultra-Jews is the role of women in society.  They wear wigs as a sign of modesty. They cover their hair in public. Ultra-Jews would take all rights away from women, including the right to vote, to right to speak your mind, the right to control what happens to your body. Your husband is all-powerful. To live in that society under the religious rules of this group, women would not be much more than property.

Look at radical Islam in Afghanistan. Women must cover themselves from head to toe when out of the house. They must travel, even to shops, with a male relative going with them. They should not go to school, hold jobs, do anything but keep their husbands happy and bear sons. Radical Islam would not allow women to get educated, vote, move about freely. Or so we read in newspapers and magazines.

Radical Christianity isn't far behind. Some in our country would like to take women's control over our bodies and families away. Some would like health care to require women bear children resulting from rape or incest, as well as from loving relations. Some would like women to return to "traditional" roles.

No one has defined traditional roles other than through health care. Do they include wives being chattel? Being pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen? Voting the way their husbands or fathers tell them? Stop working? 

My gut tells me that the latter is not part of aggressive medievalism. If we weren't two (or more) income families, many more would live in poverty. If we are forced to bear unwanted children, we push more families deeper into poverty. If we are forced to care for disabled or seriously ill children without some insurance umbrella, we drive families into depression, despair -- possibly violence.

Women need to roar against aggressive medievalism. Strength in numbers can change thinking. It can at least force people to think before they open their mouths. Or not.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

I don't know if this post belongs on this blog or not. It certainly doesn't belong on my writing blog. Either way, I want to talk about guilty pleasures. You know, those things that make us feel good, but we may not necessarily talk about them. Like really good dark chocolate. Like a rare find of a terrific red wine. Like returning to a single malt Scotch to celebrate some secret victory.

Like seeing the Moody Blues one more time in concert.

Last night, my husband Terry took me to see the Moody Blues again. The tickets were my Christmas present, one I had no trouble waiting to use. We were very close to the front of the Salem (VA) Civic Center, so we could see every drop of sweat.

I've seen the Moodies probably a dozen times, both before and after Red Rock. Before, the show was all about a rock and roll band with a song book I know by heart. After Red Rock, it was about that same band and song book but added the dimension of orchestral music. I love both renditions of the band. Last night, it was the band. Three guys, plus four back up performers, playing their hearts out for an adoring audience.

Graeme Edge still plays drums like a maniac. At 71 (on March 30), he acts like he doesn't know what age is. John Lodge on bass guitar has lost weight but still looks terrific in his late sixties. And Justin Hayward, the 65-year-old baby of the group, reminds us with every chord why the Moodies are still touring and drawing huge crowds. That man hasn't aged much, except to put on maybe ten pounds. Must weigh about 150. At 6'2" he's still skinny as hell. Ray Thomas, the flute player, retired in 2002 and is missed, but the girl who plays flute now is wonderful.

I couldn't help contrasting this concert with previous ones. The civic center filled with cheering fans, all much grayer than at earlier concerts. The first time I saw the Moodies, my hair was brown. Now it's gray. I was a size six. Now, I', not a size six. I remembered all the words to the song book then and still do. When the civic center filled with smoke from dry ice machines, I remembered how different earlier concerts were, when the smoke was marijuana and hashish. And when we stood for "Nights in White Satin," we no longer lit our Bic lighters. I used my Zippo app on my smart phone. Some things do change.

As I left the concert, I heard groups talking about "Sojourn," and "Children's Children," and "Threshold." They were debating their favorite albums. I wore the same tee shirt to this concert I've been wearing for 17 years. It's "On the Threshold of a Dream" and gorgeous. I only wear it to Moody Blues concerts or when I'm in a Moodies frame of mind. It may have gone to its last concert.

After every earlier concert, I always thought, "I can't wait to see them again. I wonder where it will be."

Not this time. I may have seen my last Moody Blues concert. It's a bittersweet thought.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


You guys knew I couldn't keep silent forever about the Trayvon Martin killing, but if you are expecting a blog post echoing the outrage that fills television news, you're sorely mistaken.

This post is about Trayvon. More, it's about what our society loses every time a child is killed. Trayvon makes headlines because of the unusual confluence of him wearing a hoodie, being armed with a box of Skittles and a can of iced tea, walking while black. It's about a law that allows people with guns to use them if they feel threatened. I don't know if George Zimmerman was attacked or felt threatened. I do know the police told him not to follow the boy. He made his choice.

More, though, it's about our loss of future leaders, workers, thinkers, fathers, mothers. Taking the life of a child damages our collective future. We lost more than just a single life. We lost all that single life could have contributed to his family, his community, his country. Children die violently nearly every day in the United States. In one weekend alone, more than a dozen children under the age of sixteen were murdered, died in gang violence, were the targets of vigilantes.

I'm guilty of crossing the street when four hoodie-wearing black teens walked toward me on Park Avenue. I was scared. I judged them by the color of their skin, the way they walked, their hoodies. I don't know if they were doing anything more than walking down the same sidewalk I was. I'll never know. I do know I'll never get over feeling guilty of judging them.

It's chilly today. I'm sitting here wearing a hoodie, but as an angry, 60+ white woman, I don't feel someone will shoot me for my fashion choice. It wasn't the fault of the hoodie. It was the fault of society for damning all hoodie-wearing young men to being a threat. We must learn that every life lost to violence diminishes society. We must protect ourselves, our communities, our children. When we do not, we put boys like Trayvon at risk of being a threat.

When does it stop? When do we value every life? When do we write laws that make sense? When do we enforce laws already on the books? When do we use common sense? Too often, common sense is a most uncommon commodity.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's All About Values and Ethics

It's all about values. It's all about ethics. It's all about wanting something so badly you're willing to compromise both values and ethics to get it.

This happens all the time in politics. The dreadful term, flip-flopper, haunts politicians from John Kerry to Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum. The term itself implies no one can learn, no one can change his mind following the input of new data. Scientists change their positions all the time. With new experiments, new photographs from space, new studies into how drugs work in the body -- all allow thinking people to learn, modify their positions, and publish new findings that expand knowledge.

Sports teams want to win. Now we learn that the New Orleans Saints wanted to win so badly they put bounties on opponents with the goal of knocking the players out of the game. Players kicked in money to pay the "winner" who injured an opponent. Coaches knew about the bounties and did nothing to stop the system. The head coach, Sean Payton, wanted a Super Bowl so badly he was willing to compromise his value and ethics to get the ring.

Or did he? Is Sean Payton one of those coaches who would literally do anything to win? It looks like it. This isn't over. More information will come forth during investigations. Will that expand our knowledge? Will it help us learn from Payton's mistakes? Will Payton learn from his mistakes? Or will he try to blame someone else rather than taking responsibility for his team's actions? Will he admit he compromised his values and ethics? Will he apologize to the team's fans? Will the fans accept they had a rogue coach? Or did the fans also want the ring so badly they will overlook a few bumps and bruises that could have been career-ending for those on whom the bounty rested?

Have we compromised our ethics and values for so long that few see Payton and his coaches' behavior as wrong? Have we?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

Yes, that's Dr. Phil's favorite question. It applies to two events recently that brought a ten-year debacle into focus for me. I've sat on the sidelines for a couple of weeks, hoping the furor in Afghanistan would dissipate. Instead, we learned of another event designed to incense the populace and defame our country's name.

A couple of weeks ago a group of American servicemen burned the Koran and other holy works, leading to riots, deaths among Afghans and Americans, and the wiping out of ten years worth of effort to win over the hearts and minds of the locals (if you listen to two different presidents). It took one thoughtless event, dumping books a group of servicemen mistook for trash into a fire, to turn too many Afghans against us. Servicemen died in the riots, including one young man from southwest Virginia, or were executed in a ministry where they worked to help the Afghans. Death by riot is one thing; death by a trusted co-worker is murder. Our soldiers are supposed to be trained in the sensibilities of the local population, particularly where it comes to religion, mosques and the Koran. What were they thinking?

And Sunday we woke up to a report that a serviceman left his operating base and went door to door in two villages, executing men, women and children. 16 lives gone. Nothing condones wanton killing. Yes, our servicemen and women are under incredible pressure. Yes, they crack, but to slaughter innocents in their homes is mass murder. The serviceman should be on the next plane home and tried in US courts. If he's left in Afghanistan, the government there will demand he be turned over to its jurisdiction. We refused to sign up to local jurisdiction in Iraq. We can't do it in Afghanistan. What was he thinking?

Don't even get me started about urinating on corpses. What were these soldiers thinking?

Our politicians and military world-wide will be asking the same question:  what were they thinking? How can we prevent incidents from wiping out all the blood, sweat and treasure spent in Afghanistan and Iraq? Is it by following some politicians and cutting and running from Afghanistan? Is it getting involved with strikes against Syria? Iran? What are the politicians thinking?

We need calm heads to guide our troops at this stressful time. We can't afford anymore "mistakes" or "lapses in judgment." We can't continue asking what were they thinking? The answer today seems to be:  they weren't.

Lots of people won't agree with my position. So be it. I can stand the heat, because I don't want another serviceman or woman to die in what is now a vain effort to help a country that doesn't want our help.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear Newt

It's time for us to break up. I can't sugarcoat how I feel, so I'll put it bluntly.

You came back after a long absence, promising you were a changed man. You were nicer. You were no longer angry. You had great ideas to improve every aspect of life. You had found God through the Catholic Church. You even had a new wife who wears a platinum helmet on her head.

I gave you a umpteenth chance. I really tried. I tried to overlook your nastiness when you were talking to people. Whether it was one of the other men in my life or a group, you couldn't restrain yourself. You made false promises. That makes me not trust you. A colony on the moon? Get real. With who's money? $2 gas? How you gonna pay for that? Ask the subsidized oil companies to give up their obscene profits? I doubt it.

You said you'd roll back laws you don't like. Laws you helped write. Laws that only Congress can roll back. You told us you were a historian, but then you prove you know nothing about civics. You once wrote a contract on America, except you called it a contract with America. That didn't work in the nineties. Why do you think rehashed ideas would work today? You forget that if you don't learn from history, you're meant to repeat its mistakes. Looks like you have no new ideas, just reheated stuff from a couple of decades ago.

You found God. Well, bully for you. I wasn't sure He was lost, but if you found Him, you must know what you're doing. In politics, you're not our savior. You offer no solutions to our problems.

I have nothing against Helmet-Head. I hope she's happy. I don't think she's going to be the First Lady, though. Wonder if she'll stay with you when you have to concede that we really don't want you.

One thing I know: You won't be the Republication nominee. We just don't have the stomach for one more angry, fat, white guy with no new thinking. We just don't. So, Newt. This is a Dear John letter. Go away. Don't come back. If you try, we might have to take out a temporary restraining order against you.

Signed, The General Electorate

Friday, February 24, 2012

Snow Cat

Mocha here.

Still trying to get over cold stuff on the ground last Monday. I'd never seen such stuff. It looked like it would be fun to play with, but it was cold and hurt my cute paws. I wanted to go out. I begged and begged until my mom let me out. She warned me I wouldn't stay long. I went to the end of the deck. What's that? Paw prints leading away? Wonder if my friend Spats came over. I wonder if he's still out there. Maybe we can play?
No? I think Spats ran off before I came out. Oh wait, there's a squirrel over there. I want to chase it. No, I don't. I'll get my paws wetter. But I want to chase the squirrel. Oh what to do? What to do? Do I get brave and dance across the snow? Do I sit where it's dry and watch the birds and squirrels have fun? Do I just say "meh" and ignore the snow?

Nope. I'm going back inside. This cold white stuff just isn't for me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where Were You...?

This sounds like the start of a parlor game. Where were you on such and such a date? It is kind of a parlor game but with a more serious intent. This game falls into two distinct parts: personal and global memories.

Personal memories are the seminal events in the life of a family. You never have to ask a mother where she was when her children were born. She was kinda there, kinda involved with the delivery. Dads of previous generations, not so involved. Births, deaths and weddings fill up books and calendars, but not too many in a family can really say where they were when they heard about the birth or death of a relative. It's just the way it is. We note the date, send cards and gifts. And we are pretty much done.

Global memories are different. Depending on the generation, people remember when events of global or national importance happened. The Greatest Generation can tell you to the second what they were doing on Sunday, December 7, 1942. They can tell you what they did immediately afterwards, because many of the men and boys enlisted the next Monday.

Adults of the next generation know what they were doing on November 22, 1963. Even more than sixty years later, I still remember what I was doing and how I felt when I heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. This couldn't happen. No one in the modern era imagined that one man could throw the nation into a tailspin, out of which the citizens found a new patriotism, a new willingness to work together for a common good.

Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and the Challenger explosion frame the space age. One good, one terrible. Both led to national pride, renewed patriotism. The moon walk may have resulted in working together for the common good. Not so the Challenger tragedy. After the grief healed, we as a nation went back to our old ways.

Fast forward to the current generation. Will its seminal moment be 9/11? Not everyone can recall the year this happened, but the date is part of the national psyche, our national vocabulary. We drew together as a nation and as a member of the world community. Flags blossomed from porches for a while. Heads of state in Europe said we were all Americans. It took 19 men and three airplanes to reawaken our national pride and willingness to work together.

So will this be the seminal event for the current generation? I hope not, because after that tragedy the nation plunged into financial darkness, divisiveness in government and in our neighborhoods, suspicion of anyone whose beliefs are different or who look different "from me" and a renewed demand that we be a nation governed by values. Like gun owning. Like telling women what to do with their reproductive tracts. Like telling the poor they really don't count. Like telling the rich that they do.

Is this the memory we want our children to take away? I sure as hell hope not.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing Stuff That Looks Like Other Stuff

Over the weekend, I went to the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference for the fourth time. It was the best conference yet. The speakers were focused and professional; the panels were alternatively funny and thought-provoking.

On Saturday, I went to a class called “Creating Fraudulent Artifacts: How to Construct Stories that Masquerade as Other Forms of Writing,” taught by Matt Vollmer, assistant professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech. The title is a mouthful. I almost skipped it. I am so glad I didn’t.

Have you ever seen a piece of paper lying on the ground and wondered what it was? Did you pick it up? If you did, what did you learn about the person who dropped the paper? Even if it's a receipt for gas, you can learn a lot about the driver depending on how much gas he put in his car.

Matt challenges his students to write short stories that pretend to be something other than a short story. What, you say. So, go think about what your grocery list says about you. Can you create a story out of that list? What do you buy? How many people are in your household? What are your favorite brands? It’s more than a brain-teaser. It’s a different way of looking at the world.

Matt said his technique is fun, subversive and liberating. It breaks up writer’s block, requires the reader to become a participant in the story, encourages experimentation and gives the writer a way to turn the ordinary into art.

I got to thinking about this. What do the emails in my span folder say about me? Can I write a “dear john” letter to a politician? Can I look at something as common as a dinner receipt and create a vignette for a novel?

To quote a losing politician from 2008, “you betcha.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

Losing Control of the Keyboard

Hi. My name is Mocha Java, Mom and Dad’s new kitty. I came to my new forever home in mid July and am trying to learn to type. It’s not that easy when you have five toes with claws. I kepp hitting the rongg keys.

Did you see my spots? The vet says I’m a patches tabby, but I'm a fawn-colored Ocecat. That’s a cross between a tabby and an ocelot. Mom says I can be anything I want as long as I’m her kitty.

I thought I’d take over today, because Mom is recovering from a death threat one of her FB “fiends” sent her after her last post. That is not a typo. I meant fiends, not friends. The man wrote her a private message through FB, whatever that is, and called her a Satanist. He said if he didn’t kill her, he hoped someone else would.*

I read the post. I didn’t understood much of it since it wasn’t about mousies or chipmunks or head noogies. Why people would want to hurt my Mom just because of something she wrote?

Mom laughed about the threat, before she unfriended the fiend. She’s going to take a few days off from her blog, since she doesn’t want to upset too many more people.

She was silly and left the computer on last nite. It’s not eazy standing on a ball on my back leggs. I don’t know what else to write. Maybe I’ll crawl into my hooch and sleep. Or, stick my head out and keep an eye on Mom. I need to proteck her.

I hope you like my first post. I want to be a better riter, so I’ll try and come back.

* Mocha writes the truth about the death threat. I didn’t take it seriously, because my proselytizing post led to several amazing conversations – and one idiot who ruined my week.,/p>

Monday, January 23, 2012

Spare Me Your Proselytizing

Not everyone will agree with this post. I understand. I know I'll be stepping on toes, but I'm not going to stop writing it.

Please, do not to use "Christian" in every sentence. Listen to our politicians who say each is the only true Christian in the Republican race. Rick Santorum calls himself a true evangelical Christian. Newt Gingrich calls himself the only true conservative--read "Christian"-- who can get elected. Mitt Romney avoids any discussion of religion, because too many do not understand Mormonism. And Ron Paul just avoids the whole sticky mess.

It's not just the politicians. I was at three different lunch meetings recently where people were introduced as true Christians. Yes, these were secular luncheons. One speaker talked about how the Constitution established the U.S. as a Christian nation. Not true. Not in the Constitution, but that one myth impossible to erase.

Don't get me wrong. I respect your beliefs, even when or if they don't mirror mine. What I dislike intensely is the overuse of the word "Christian" or crediting God with everything. My friends who have different beliefs feel marginalized when they hear such statements. No one says, that's really Jewish of her. Or, she acts like a good Muslim. What about, his behavior represents his Buddhist beliefs.

You wouldn't like it, I bet. I don't like it when you push your beliefs on me. And it's not just being a Christian. People have the audacity to ask me what church I belong to, if they don't see me at their church. There is a reason that the Constitution separated Church and State, did not define our country by any one religion, and protected our rights to worship/believe as each citizen saw fit.

It can really be a minor action that irritates. My former auto mechanic wrote "Jesus loves you" on the back of my annual inspection sticker. A local bookstore owner subjects all patrons to a sermon on her beliefs. Alas, I no longer shop at the only indie bookstore in a 25-mile radius. It goes on and on.

I feel judged negatively if I don't respond in kind with validation of someone's Christian values. I have strong values. I am very spiritual I don't push my values on anyone. For me, it's enough to live them, not brag about them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Politics of the Absurd

If you want to watch what happens when all bodies of government are controlled by a single party, doesn't matter which one, just watch Virginia. It's a microcosm of politics of the absurd.

Our governor, Bob McDonnell, gave his state of the state address last week where he called on the legislature to work together for the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He asked the state senate, which is evenly split between two parties, to put aside their differences and work to move our state forward. 'Course, he may be running for Vice President...

Wonderful words, but meaningless. Our lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, wasn't paying any attention when he approved Republicans to head every major committee. Yes, there is a 50-50 split, but Bolling casts the tiebreaker. He started the session by putting his brand of Republicans in charge of the major committees, even though there were many Democrats with seniority and half the seats.

Don't forget the attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who hates everything Democratic and everything Obama.

So if you think there is anyway this divided country can work together for the benefit of the country, think again. Just watch Virginia. You won't need MapQuest to see where this road leads.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Five Flakes

Last week I was excited to see five flakes roaming around. No two were alike, although all wanted to get to the same place. All were white. All were untouchable. We've had no snow yet this winter, so the appearance of the flakes was out of character.

Wait a minute. Did you think I was writing about the Republication candidates? Well, if the metaphor fits, so be it.

We are without much cold weather where I live in southwestern Virginia. We've only had the fireplace burning a couple of nights. The furnace itself doesn't run much either. Keeps the heating bills under control, but I miss some of the nicer aspects of cold weather. Is this part of global warming? No, it can't be. Republications don't believe in global warming.

Let's look at global warming in light of the campaign in New Hampshire. The candidates threw heated missles at each other in two debates. Some hit their marks. Others missed. Some candidates haven't figured out that the Granite state isn't soft and squishy with its questions like Iowa was. Voters lobbed tough questions and too often received talking points in return.

While no two snowflakes are alike, they have several things in common. They are cold. They melt on contact with the ground. While no two candidates are alike, they have several things in common. They want to be president. They tell us they will be very different from President Obama. They don't tell us how they will be different. They don't tell us what they will do to bring jobs to the unemployed. They don't tell us how they will balance the budget, but it will be better. Just trust us.

I trust snowflakes to be cold. The last Republican who asked us to trust him was Richard Nixon just before Watergate. We all know the end of THAT story.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Donner, Party of Six

If we studied US history, we should remember the Donner Party, that doomed group of travelers who found themselves trapped in the deep snows of what is now Donner Pass. We all know what happened.

The same thing happened yesterday in the Iowa caucuses (or should that be caw-cuses?). Six went in. Three were strong. One was clinging by a thread. Two were the walking dead. The one clinging by a thread broke Ronald Reagan's cardinal rule: never speak ill of your fellow Republicans.

It was bound to happen, since Iowa is a winnowing process. With Tuesday giving the voters a chance to speak, much was on the line, according to the politicos and the pundits. Early in the day, Mean Newt showed up and called Romney a liar. Twice. He just couldn't help himself.

ABM candidate Santorum had a very strong showing, scaring the sh** out of Romney, who beat him by eight votes. Not percent. Votes.

So, Mitt and ABM Santorum came away in a virtual tie with 25% each. Ron Paul came in second with 21%, showing that his message continues to meet approval of many voters. Mean Newt should be embarrassed with 13%, although his spin doctors will say he wasn't "really" campaigning in Iowa. And the walking dead? Perry and Bachman should drop out, although that would leave us with no one to laugh at. Until Mean Newt opens his mouth today.

If this were a restaurant, we'd hear Donner, Party of Six. Donner, Party of Five.

Can't wait to see what happens next.