Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Good Mommy

My children are adults now. Cera, my youngest, my baby, is twenty-five years old. How did that happen so quickly? Sometimes I look back and wonder if I was a good mother, if I could have or should have done things differently. I'm sure that crosses the minds of mothers all over the world. I do believe I did the best I could at the time, and I take comfort that above all, I loved—and still love—my children unconditionally, with all my heart.

They taught me so much about life, and what is really important, and sometimes I remember these lessons when I look over old photos or videos of them when they were young. Recently I ran across a picture of my daughter when she was ten years old. Her Girl Scout troop had a picnic in the park, an informal party to celebrate their past year accomplishments.

On the other side of the park were snakes. Big snakes like pythons and boa constrictors. All were non-venomous (or so we were told) and accompanied by their handlers. It wasn't long before the Girl Scout party invaded the snake party, and it was an amazing sight.

These preteen girls were petting the reptiles, making tunnels with their bodies while the snakes wriggled underneath them, sitting and letting them slither up and around their arms and legs. Moms and Dads were watching carefully, more than a bit nervous, and as I recall, the snake handlers were amused by the whole situation as they talked about their unusual pets. This was definitely a teachable moment.

Most of these reptiles were really long, twelve to twenty feet perhaps, if I recall correctly. I watched my daughter delight in stroking their smooth scales (skin?) and attempt to lure snakes over to her just to watch them slide in and around her.

Cera was sitting cross-legged, when one of these snakes slithered under her knee and raised its head up to look at her. My first reaction was a bit of panic, then I composed myself and told her – "Don't move. I'll be right back."

As a good mother, you know what I did next, right? Of course, I ran to my car and grabbed my camera! And snapped this picture. And I'm so glad I did, since both Cera and her new snake friend only had patience to pose for a few moments. Then the snake slowly lowered itself to the ground and glided away.

Lessons learned:
  •          Snakes are really pretty cool, unless they are rattlesnakes sitting in the middle of a trail I'm running on.
  •          My daughter was entranced by this encounter, and it helped reinforce her love and appreciation for all of God's creatures.
  •          When you put Girl Scouts in the same park as big long harmless snakes, give up on any of your pre-planned activities – they will hang with the reptiles instead.
  •          The real snake charmers were the real snakes charming the girls.

And the number one lesson I learned? When you're with your kids, always carry a camera.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"I Don't Believe in Bears, So..."

A few years ago I joined a backpacking trip through the Emigrant Wilderness in California. This was a four day trek covering 40 miles of amazing scenery. Our group consisted of sixteen adventurers, one guide, and a bevy of pack horses. Oh, and a yellow lab who belonged to a cook at the resort. This dog loved to join any hiking group going somewhere exciting, and he stuck with us the entire time, begging dinner and a warm place to sleep each night.

Our guide, Colin, was young, only twenty-two years old, yet he was an experienced guide and wrangler. His team of pack horses hauled our tents, sleeping bags, and various comforts from civilization, and we carried day packs with water, food for lunches, cameras, and various other essentials we couldn't do without during daylight hours.

It was an amazing journey. We merely had to follow the trail, and stop when we saw Colin and our packs. He made camp by water sources, so we could filter clean mountain water to drink. Every night we made a campfire, and sat around telling tales, getting to know one another, and sharing spiked cocoa and wine.

The first night, however, several of us had a few questions for Colin. In preparation for this trip, we were dutifully warned that we were hiking in bear country. And these bears weren't like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. They would eat our food, and possibly us, if we happened to be in the same proximity. One of the conditions of joining this trek was to use a bear-proof canister to store anything that had an odor.

I took this seriously. Weeks prior to the hike, I studied the warnings, and watched the videos of bears attempting to open various canisters. I bought one that was highly recommended. It was so bear-proof that I myself had trouble opening it. Perfect! I put my freeze dried meals inside, my snacks, my coffee for the morning, a few candy bars... I was prepared.

Yet, the first night, when I heard someone ask what I dared not – "what about bears?" – I listened intently, feeling my heart race. What if the bear couldn't get in the canister, and decided the human flesh cowering inside the tent would be much easier to access, and almost as tasty as the granola bars?

It was then, when Colin spoke, that I was completely reassured. For this young man who was in charge of our safety and well-being, simply replied, "I don't believe in bears. So they never bother me."

Really? It was that simple? And he backed it up by adding that he actually slept with his food under his bedroll. He didn't even use a tent.

Actually, that was reassuring. I guess because his total belief in his own beliefs helped me feel secure. And perhaps the thought that the bear would go after the easiest food source – you know, the one that wasn't cowering in a tent. Yes, that helped. And I must admit, I was reassured that we had a dog along who would surely let us know if a four-legged, smelly, dangerous intruder entered our camp.

Each night, what did I hear? I heard my camp mates settling down. I heard the dog sniff around until someone opened the tent flap to let him in. I heard the light jingle of bells on the pack horses as they grazed. I heard the sweet rustle of a breeze as it meandered through the trees and bushes. And then, I heard silence. Sweet silence. You really can hear nothing. You just have to listen.

And no bears. Perhaps they found us annoying and chose to stay away. Perhaps they were never close to begin with. Or perhaps, possibly, because one of us truly didn't believe in them, they had no choice but to leave us in peace.

This was an interesting thought. If I believe in something, does that give it life? And conversely, do I have the power to negate something in my life simply by not affirming it? The mind is powerful. And the older I get, the more I believe in my own power. Think good thoughts, good things could happen. Believe the worst, and we better watch out.

Perhaps that's a bit simplistic, but still... I do think I control what is happening in my own life. Even when I don't realize how powerful I am. So now, I choose to not believe in bears...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I'm Melting!

Record temperatures all week, here in the southern part of Idaho where I live. Yesterday it hit 110 degrees. That's hot. Right now, at 7:00pm, it's 104. That's also hot.

I spent time outside, weeding the flowerbeds. Why I couldn't wait for double digit temperatures is beyond me. That weather brings out happy birds chirping. It was so blooming hot that even the hornets gave up and crawled back wherever they came from. 

The only sound that broke the silence was the laughs of delight from the children next door.

They were bouncing on their trampoline, tossing a beach ball back and forth. To add excitement, they also had a sprinkler running over the entire trampoline. In the midst of yanking one weed after another, in 104 degree temperatures, I had to stop and smile at the shrieking and giggles from over the fence.

When the ball somehow made it into my yard, they cried out for me to throw it back. It was then that for just a brief moment, I wished I was a kid again. I would have hand delivered that ball, and joined them on the soaking wet trampoline.

But I was just a sweaty, grubby, middle-aged woman pulling on weeds. Remembering my childhood. Remembering the time when my own children were that age, and how they delighted in the simplest of entertainment, some of it actually safe...

I had one of those lightbulb moments. Aha!

I can't go back in time. But I can appreciate each moment on this wondrous planet. Today is going to be a memory for tomorrow. What kind of memory will it be?

I think it should be a "clean off the sweat and grime and go out for an ice cream cone" memory.


Stay cool, my friends.

Heroes in the Flames

Such sadness. Yesterday I learned that nineteen wildland firefighters were killed in Arizona trying to fight a forest fire threatening homes and citizens in Arizona. These young men were truly heroes.

This group of nineteen young men – in their twenties and early thirties – faced a large, out of control fire coming directly toward them. Official reports are yet to surface, but what I read is that they were following protocol, attempting to slow or stop the flames with a firebreak, when the flames were still small. Then the erratic wind picked up, causing the fire to grow and move toward them. 

With no way to escape, the crew deployed their fire shelters – basically tents designed to provide air and protect the occupant from fire.

But the sudden shift of the flames and the severity of the fire proved too much for the shelters the men deployed. Nineteen souls were lost, in a flash. Nineteen loved ones perished, leaving their families, friends, and fellow firefighters to mourn.

This hit especially hard for me. There is a firefighter that I know – a Hotshot – who is, as I type this, currently on duty at that very same fire. He is my daughter's boyfriend of many years. This brings the tragedy home to me, in a very real way. I love him, as a son. As my daughter's love of her life. As a young man with a great sense of humor, one who is kind and caring, and who has an amazing future ahead of him. He chooses to live a life of hard work and real danger, to save lives and homes. I worry about him. I worry for my daughter who is frightened and on edge right now. And I am so very proud of him. 

I've followed this story in bits and pieces. I've seen the photos of family members and friends mourning their lost loved ones. I've heard interviews from people whose homes were destroyed but "at least my wife and dog were saved" and I wonder.

I wonder – do they realize the sacrifice made by nineteen very brave young souls on their behalf? And by the hundreds of others still fighting to control this unforgiving force of nature? I am sure they do.

How can they not?

Rest in Peace – brave young souls. You are loved. You are missed. Your lives made a real difference. 

Rest in Peace.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Heroes and Courage

When I set out to write this blog, I quickly realized that in order to cover everything I could about heroes, it would take more writing than this simple post could contain.

First of all, I wish hero wasn't a gender-specific term, but since it is for most uses, I want to include female heroes as well. Yes, yes, I know they are referred to as heroines. But truly, what is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear heroine? For me, it's the female lead in a story. Yes, usually they are strong and brave, but do they really have that "save the world" persona that is often attributed to a hero in a story?

But I digress.

To me, a hero is anyone who, in the face of danger, shows tremendous courage. Heroes are willing to sacrifice their own time, comfort, health, safety, and sometimes even their lives for those who are in a position of needing help to survive and/or thrive.

I think of heroes as men and women risking their lives in the military, serving us, fighting a war far from home to help protect people like me. Or firefighters and police officers, and search and rescue teams, often putting themselves in extreme danger to keep us safe.

And what about people who might not risk their lives, but still save ours, sometimes in a manner of speaking and sometimes quite literally? Doctors and nurses, for instance. And I can't forget teachers and life mentors, those who put in long hours and lots of work in the hopes that the individuals in their care will have successful and bright futures?

Let's not forget those who may not be working in particularly heroic professions, but when coming across life-threatening situations will jump into a raging river to save a stranger, perform CPR to try to get someone's heart beating again, drag accident victims out of a burning vehicle when they are the first on the scene?

These are heroes.

I would like to add, that my idea of a hero extends beyond the obvious. Which doesn't diminish the importance of the heroes I mentioned above. They are different kinds of heroes.

The person who sees, really sees, suffering and sadness in a fellow human being, and offers a kind word, a warm coat, a few dollars, or even a simple smile.

Caregivers to the sick and dying, putting their own comfort aside to give peace to those who suffer.

A neighbor who doesn't ignore the neglected or abused child next door, but takes action to save that child. Or who sees mistreatment of defenseless animals, and tries to do something about it.

The person who does something to help another living creature on this planet that we all share, even if it seems like such a small, inconsequential act. I'm reminded of this little quote: 

You may be one person to the world, but you may be the world to one person.

I think that for most of us, we should just strike may be, and replace it with are. Because every one of us has some type of influence on each person we meet, whether it's profound or seemingly inconsequential. Whether it's fleeting or lasts for eternity. Our thoughts and actions matter.

I really love the Starfish Story, adapted from "The Star Thrower" by Loren Eiseley.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

Just because you can't change the world doesn't mean you can't change a part of the world.

One of my heroes is a very dear friend of mine – Eric Hansen. He is a musician who shares his gifts of love and hope to the world through his music. Although his life hasn't always been easy, he is a testament to strength, perseverance, a positive attitude, and love for his fellow human beings. 

Eric wrote and recorded a song called "Hero in the Dark", from the album of the same name, which I would like to share with you. It is a beautiful way to illustrate what I want to say in this post. I do hope you take a few minutes to listen to it.

Thanks to all the heroes in my life, and especially my unknown - and unsung - heroes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Real Torture

What is torture? Sometimes we as humans toss that word around so casually it loses its impact.

"It's torture sitting through another one of these long, boring presentations."

"Don't torture me with that delicious smell of cinnamon rolls while I'm on a diet."

Those instances might not be pleasant, but they come nowhere near the torture that some human beings can inflict on other living creatures.

The definition I'm using for today's post, according to, is "the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure."

Photo from Idaho Humane Society website
This is the aftermath of torture. This dog, a small pit bull bred especially for fighting, is one of 64 dogs rescued earlier this spring from a dog fighting operation in a rural area of Idaho. They were only discovered after a person, or persons, killed a 61-year-old man, his 32-year-old son, and the son's 27-year-old wife, all who resided at the property. The young couple's infant and toddler were both found alive and unharmed.

The people who were killed were in the business of growing and selling marijuana, and also raising and fighting small pit bull dogs. Law enforcement stated that this was not a random act, and it was also not a robbery. They found $95,000 in marijuana plants and cash in the house. Whoever killed these three people had another motive.

Credit KPVI
The dogs lived in horrible conditions, freezing in winter, baking in summer. It was thought that while some were fighting dogs, others with sweet temperaments were used as bait dogs, attacked and killed to keep the attacking dogs mean and blood-hungry.

The Idaho Humane Society (IHS) took on the responsibility of assessing and caring for these dogs. One had to be put down immediately due to severe injuries and nonstop seizures. Bad Rap, the organization that rehabilitated Michael Vick's fighting pit bulls, came out to help with the dogs. Other regional animal shelters offered to take dogs at the IHS to make room for the pit bulls.

When all was said and done, eleven dogs had to be put down because they could not be rehabilitated. Another dozen were soon put up for adoption with carefully screened families. Some were sent to outside dog rehabilitation facilities. And the rest remain at IHS, still being cared for and evaluated in the hopes that they will also find loving new homes.

My daughter works at IHS, and here are a few pictures of her with some of the pitties. As you can see, they are soaking in the love and affection from staff and volunteers.
These pit bulls were bred to be small, as many fighting dogs are. Here is one little girl who is basking in an embrace. 

This picture is so sweet, but sad at the same time. This little dog looks scared, but is simply trusting that she won't be hurt anymore.  (Idaho Humane Society website)

And my daughter getting some love from another of these "fighters". She fell in love many times over...

And I love this video from IHS – this is the first peanut butter (and Kong toy) that this dog has ever had.

So this is a happy ending for many of these dogs. But it came at a price, and adjusting to a life with a soft place to sleep, plenty of water and food, and love instead of pain, will take time.

For those of you who think pit bull dogs (which are actually several different breeds of dogs) are inherently more dangerous than any other breed, I urge you to do your own research. And realize that many dogs seem to look like pit bulls, but actually are other breeds altogether, and are often mistaken in news reports.

For those of you who think mistreating animals is a trivial act – that a slap on the wrist will do just fine – again, I urge you to do some research. Many evil people in our society had a history of animal torture when they were younger. If someone is able to tear the wing off a bird, starve and beat a dog, mutilate a cat, or otherwise torture and kill any one of God's creatures, will they have any regard for human life and well-being? 

Please, be kind to one another. Not just to other people, but to all living creatures. How we treat the least among us is a reflection of who we are in the very depths of our souls. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Good Neighbors, Annoying Landscaping

It's so nice to have good neighbors. I've lived in my current home for seven years. Although most of my immediate neighbors are much younger, married, and with kids (lucky for me, some are Girl Scout-cookie-age), we all get along. Since we don't have a lot in common other than sharing a street, I don't socialize with them, but we have been known to help each other out - for instance, shoveling driveways together in the winter. It's a great neighborhood.

Today, the universe confirmed that I was in the right place, at the right time. I am fairly independent, preferring to try to do things myself rather than ask others for support or help. But sometimes, people just need to step in. And I need to let them.

I guess I should backtrack. When I first moved into my house, there were two bushes planted in the front yard, close to the sidewalk, in an area filled with landscape rocks. They were nice then. About four feet tall, red leaves, nothing exciting. But nothing too outrageous either. I always intended to add flowers, other shrubbery, and maybe even a small tree, to brighten it up a bit.

Then as time passed, those shrubs took on a life all their own, without my permission or encouragement. They grew large and out of control. Probably at least ten feet tall and with a diameter to match. I chopped them back several times, to within an inch of their lives, or so I thought. And each time, they grew back stronger and bigger, and nothing else had room to grow. I kept putting off the inevitable – to remove the entire shrub. Finally, I realized that they had taken over the entire area, and I could do nothing about it. I was tired of them, I wanted them out.

So a few weeks ago, I cut them back down, although the base of each shrub remained, with lots of sawed off limbs shooting out. I wanted them gone. I wanted no more annoying limbs and leaves spraying me in the face when I mowed. I longed for a real tree, some colorful flowers, and something manageable to work with.

Then yesterday afternoon, as I was digging around the stumps, trying to plant something else, I realized the undergrowth of roots had formed a large network of aspiring shrubs, just waiting for my ground cover to open up enough to break out and grow. That was the last thing I wanted. Some of these roots were two inches in diameter, and were so long that they looked like sprinkler lines.

Two of my neighbors, Joy and Erika, were out talking, and they came over to look at the mess. It wasn't long after that Erika's husband Ryan came over and said he thought we could just use a heavy-duty chain and a big truck and pull them out. Then Joy's husband Rob came home, and Ryan soon recruited him to start digging around the roots.

Using an ax, a shovel, large clippers, and a rake, they soon dug a hole around the first shrub, and once the roots were cut, Ryan determined it would be a piece of cake for Rob's truck to pull it out. We didn't have a chain to use. I got on the phone, called my brother, and left to borrow his towing chain. By the time I returned, less than thirty minutes later, they had finished digging around the second shrub.

It took only a few minutes to hook each shrub to Rob's truck, and they both pulled out quite easily. At last, the shrubs that had so annoyed me over the years were gone! 

I had two lessons reinforced from this incident. First, when something really bothers you, address it early on, or it will just grow bigger and more unmanageable. And second, it's okay to ask for help from people, even if you feel you can't reciprocate in the same way. Most folks do like to feel needed.

I also re-learned some truths. Good neighbors are a treasure. Never take them for granted. And you can judge how ugly your front landscaping is by how quickly and willingly your neighbors volunteer to help get get rid of the eyesores.

Okay, they would have helped even if it wasn't that bad. Like I said, they are wonderful neighbors. 

I hope they are around when it's time to plant the replacement tree...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Safe Haven

Once in awhile I would love to travel back in time to when I was a baby – not to stay for very long— but just to revisit what it was like to be swaddled in a cozy towel after a nice, warm bath. To be held by someone who loves me and promises always to keep me safe and warm. 

I wouldn't need more than twenty minutes or so of being babied, that would be just long enough for me to drift gently into a deep, restful sleep. And in the morning I would open my eyes feeling refreshed and content in body, mind, and spirit. 

So what made me stop everything and do a little daydreaming about this? It was a beautiful picture of my niece's children. Her two year old daughter wanted to be held like a baby after her bath, by her older "brodder". And the expressions on their faces. Pure joy. This picture brings a smile to me each time I look at it. 

My grand-niece is barely out of babyhood, and how perceptive she is to remember the importance of trusting someone who loves her unconditionally, who keeps her completely protected and cared for. I am sure it wasn't long after this picture was snapped that she was running around again, independent and relatively self-sufficient for her age. And her "brodder" was there as her protector, her playmate, and her teacher. 

Don't we all need this? Human touch and unconditional love deeper than the ocean? Knowing that there is at least one other person on this planet who will never break a promise to care for you as much as possible, while still letting you be independent, to grow, to learn, to thrive?

While I am much too grown-up to be swaddled and held...sigh...I will never be too old to appreciate those who fill me up every day. The loved ones I can turn to when times are bleak, who will just embrace me and care for me, even when distance requires that they hold me only in their hearts.

So thank you all—family and dear friends. I hope you can feel that I also hold you close in my heart and wish you pure love and joy all the days of your lives.