Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fashion Faux Pas

There are some articles of clothing that rarely seem to work. What's that old joke...no woman's article of clothing can ever be as bad as a man's Speedo? Unless you are an Olympic swimmer, this is probably true.

This can also be true for capri pants on really short women and super short miniskirts on really tall women...and bike shorts are a whole other story. Naturally, there are exceptions, and people should definitely be themselves and dress the way they want to. But, there are a few things that just scream ridiculous:

1) If you're a man out on a date with a woman who's dressed in a beautiful dress and high heels, leave the old football t-shirt, baggy shorts, and baseball cap at home. At least make an effort - she made a big one.

2) Flannel pajama pants and slippers are really not appropriate attire for shopping, well, anywhere. If you have to run out in an emergency situation, of course that's different. But to be out shopping on a Saturday afternoon in big fluffy slippers and pajamas is just taking it a bit too far. Is it really that hard to pull on a pair of jeans? 

3) Pajama Jeans. Their ads say they are so comfy and flattering. Seriously? No, they actually look like pajamas made to look like jeans. My Levi's are quite comfortable. If your jeans are as uncomfortable as the girl in the commercial who's squeezing into jeans so tight that they've left bright red indentations on her stomach, perhaps it's time to buy a bigger size of jeans. There's so many different brands and styles to choose from that are actually flattering.

4) Forever Lazy Suits. Yes, forever lazy. They look like a baby's onesie for adults. I'm sure they're comfortable, warm, and the bright colors make you easy to find in your house. But, do we really need something to be called "Forever Lazy" in America? It doesn't do well for our reputation in other countries as being lazy with such a high percentage of obesity.  And, again, just wait...people will think that they're okay to wear out of the house.

Sometimes weekend errands require a good sense of humor. I don't shop at Walmart, but I can only imagine what you see there...if you've seen the hilarious "People of Walmart" pictures, you know what I'm talking about. I suppose you can at least find it entertaining when you're out shopping...but then it does pay to have a camera along.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Loss, Depression & Creativity

I read recently that one in five people suffer from depression - some more severe than others. Working in the mental health field, I see the extremes, the dual diagnoses, and the wonderful people who struggle with all of them. I'm also acutely aware that I deal with depression as well.

I had an 88 year-old client named Muriel who died last year. Her son called me and told me she had taken a turn for the worse, and asked if I could come by and see her. This was in October, right after my own mother passed away. It was difficult, but strangely therapeutic.  I knew Muriel was ill. I knew she had grown terribly thin. But, when I came back into town after my mom's funeral, I was taken aback by how much she had worsened in just a couple of weeks.

I sat with Muriel and talked to her as she went in and out of sleep. I held her hand. I helped her with the things she needed help with. She had been a client for a long time and, as with many of my clients, she was very dear to me. A former schoolteacher who had traveled the world on her own, I admired her strength, and her fierce independence - and loved her warm sense of humor.

Muriel turned to me during my last visit with her and quietly said, "I want you to know, you've always been my sunshine." Needless to say, I will never forget that moment. It touched me so deeply, but also made me sad I hadn't been there for my own mother before she passed away (that plane ride to her funeral was pretty tough the next day - I was too late). I also remembered Muriel asking me one time if I ever got depressed. She said I was always full of laughter and like a ray of light when I visited. She said she simply couldn't see me ever getting depressed. I assured her that I did indeed get depressed at times - just not around her.

A year has passed since that time. Although I know I am still grieving my mother's death, and the holidays are here again, I also still miss Muriel and the two other ladies that died last year. There was Rosemary, who died at 99 1/2, and reminded me of my own grandmother who I lost at fourteen. And then there was Pat, a feisty 86 year-old who always wanted me to stay and play cribbage when we were done working.

But the depression continues to linger on. In fact, it has been there off and on for years. In and out of tough times, losses, and unexpected changes. Although I see it clearly and with compassion in others, it always throws me in myself. Why is the positive, upbeat person others see harboring a sad, disappointed one?

I had recently been thinking I should just give up on writing. I've had to give up on other dreams recently, and I thought maybe it was time to throw in the towel on writing too. But, I've been writing since I was three years old, so maybe stopping isn't really possible. Writers, all artists, have something wired in us that makes us just have to work on our art. Although one in five people deal with depression, the numbers are even higher if you are a creative type. It just goes with the territory.

Searching for encouragement, I came across this post from last March in Joe Konrath's blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. He published a letter from writer Kiana Davenport. His response to her discouragement helped mine as well:
Over the years, I've lost count of the conversations I've had with writers who had similar experiences to Kiana and me. Tales of rejection. Of bad luck and stupid publisher decisions. Of getting the shit end of the stick, over and over and over.

It got me thinking. For every writer popping open the champagne because they just got a new deal, there are dozens who have gotten screwed. And no doubt some of them thought about swimming out to sea. While my depression never got that severe, I certainly wouldn't want to relive those dark, depressing, frightening months without a publishing contract.

But I never have to feel that way again. None of us do. We don't have to rely on a gatekeeper's "yes" or "no" to dictate how we feel about ourselves. We don't have to put all of our eggs into the legacy publishing basket anymore. Hell, we don't have to put any eggs in there at all.
I've only published nineteen articles, one in an anthology, and have two incomplete books that have been sitting on a shelf for a few years now.  I thought it would be a natural flow to the next published piece. But, it simply doesn't work that way. Joe gives not only encouragement, but ideas for self-publishing. Writing has never been easy.  It isn't supposed to be. I wonder if what I've always been told is talent is just mediocre, but I also ask how can you give up something that's such a deep part of you?

Thank you Joe, and thank you Kiana (check out her book, House of Skin) for helping me to realize this. We all get depressed, we all get discouraged. But, writers need to support and help each other get through it, no matter what the outcome.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dorli Rainey

I've been fortunate to work with some pretty gutsy elderly women in my day job. They have certainly taught me as much as I could ever teach them. Along with being total sweethearts, their compassion, wisdom, and life experience just made them that much more interesting.

Dorli Rainey, the 84 year-old lady who was      pepper-sprayed while at Occupy Seattle, reminds me of them.  She was interviewed on Countdown. An activist all her life, including for civil rights and women's rights, her courage and spirit shine through that soft spoken voice:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic

I really admire JK Rowling's writing. Her ability to create not only rich, complex characters, but the entire world of Harry Potter, is just amazing. 

But she's done something else truly amazing. In a post from September 3, 2010, I wrote about the research clinic she planned to open in honor of her mother who had Multiple Sclerosis. Set to open in 2012, the work has now started on building the clinic. According to The Press Association:
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has buried a time capsule to mark the start of building work on a research clinic for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
The clinic, at the University of Edinburgh, is to be set up following a £10 million donation from Ms. Rowling and will be named after her mother, Anne, who died of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when she was 45.
The buried capsule contains written accounts from patients living with multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases, as well as contributions from clinicians, commenting on current treatments and their hopes for the future.
Ms. Rowling said: "I am both delighted and moved to be marking the start of the official building work for the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic. This time capsule captures how it is for people living with MS and other neurodegenerative diseases right now, and the current state of research. I believe that this clinic will have a huge positive effect on both of those areas in the future."
"All patients with these tough diseases need treatments that will slow, stop and ideally reverse damage. This clinic will pioneer a range of studies that over time will improve patients' lives through innovative clinical research."
With this kind of genuine compassion in the muggle world, one can see how her fictional characters seem so real.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Last of the Harvest

As things have been flying the last few weeks, it has been a bit overwhelming with little time to write. I always feel a bit shorted when I can't write - whether it's blogging, working on an article, or other projects.

So, I'll write about our last dinner with the favorites of our garden harvest.  With angel hair pasta, the last bit of pesto (which, try as I might to freeze and save, we always end up eating all too soon), and the last of the kale, sauteed in olive oil with caramelized onions, garlic, and Pepperoncini.  

I'm especially proud of the kale this year, and all the new and different ways we learned how to cook it.  Bright purple with deep green veins in the leaf, it's beautiful and delicious.

It's almost farewell to autumn. The clocks go back this weekend, but it's already getting darker earlier.  The gorgeous bright red, orange and yellow leaves are dropping faster to the ground, creating a blanket of color wrapped around the trees.

I will miss our garden full of rosemary, basil, chives, sage, habanero and green peppers, and the beautiful kale, but then we'll have the cabinet full of fresh, hot salsa and and other canned reminders of the garden...which will be great once the snow starts to fall.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Year Remembrance

© Photograph by C.Y. Hunter

My mother died a year ago on October 4, 2010. In remembrance of Mom, I planted some daisies early this summer in a big clay pot in the backyard.  The plant always had at least two flowers blooming on it all summer long. My mother loved yellow daisies.  

I miss her every single day.  And, as much as I love autumn, it is still hard to let go of the daisies...and all the other garden delights, as we move toward winter.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Aging is Not Lost Youth

I've been pretty down, with very little attention span, since I missed my niece's wedding a couple of weeks ago.  I'm still pretty bummed about this...and really, really needed the vacation.  However, there isn't much you can do when the planes won't fly where you are going.  Can't control mother nature.  I'm sure the fact that it's almost a year since my mother passed away is not helping matters either...yet alone the list of other things that have happened in the last couple of weeks that haven't exactly been fun.

We went to a birthday party for two friends today (husband and wife, their birthdays are just a couple of days apart).  Both of them are a few years older than I am.  I so enjoyed all the people there, but found myself sad upon returning home later.  Of course, there was talk of getting older at the party, and I am already feeling older and very stuck lately - so in need of change. I came across this quote on Already Pretty that I thought was inspiring and cool:
"Aging is not 'lost youth,' but a new stage of opportunity and strength.  It's a different stage of life, and if you are going to pretend it's youth, you are going to miss it.  You are going to miss the surprises, the possibilities, and the evolution that we are just beginning to know about because there are no role models, no guideposts, and no signs."         - Betty Friedan
Thanks...I needed to see this today.  The timing could not have been better.  I hope it will inspire others as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Trading Beignets for Guacamole?

I had my new silk dress, bought at a bargain price, and high heel purple pumps. I had all the little necessities like a mini shampoo bottle and a traveling toothbrush. All ready to go, all excited to see New Orleans, all excited to see my sister, and see my niece get married. Had a little gift to give to her before the ceremony, from her aunt...but we never made it there.

It was a weird weekend last weekend - probably because we kept feeling like we were supposed to be somewhere else. But, it was, quite frankly, one obstacle after the other prior to the trip. There was not getting the vacation request back, then my brother couldn't come, then my dad couldn't come, several client emergencies, the earache that wouldn't go away, then finally not only a marsh fire in New Orleans, but then Tropical Storm Lee hit the area with high winds and heavy rains. The flights, which were exorbitant and overbooked from the beginning - well, then we were cautioned that connecting flights would probably be canceled due to the storm anyway (and all of our possibilities were indeed canceled). If we would have ever gotten there, we would have been too late. So, once again, too far away from family, and too late.  So disappointing.

I spent the weekend painting, going to bookstores. I tend to do those things when I get down. I'm happy to hear they had a wonderful time, despite the storm, and only a few people couldn't make it. I wish I could have been there to help my sister, wish I could have been there to see my niece get married. I'm sure she was beautiful, I'm sure they were adorable - and I know they will be happy for many years.

We went out later in the weekend to a favorite restaurant that makes fresh guacamole at the table. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but it wasn't the same as the warm beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde...and it certainly can't make up for the fact that I missed my beloved niece's wedding.

As we sat by the mighty Mississippi River, its thin, dark blue water in such contrast to the other end of the wide and muddy Mississippi we would have seen in New Orleans, we felt somewhat comforted by the river. We toasted the newlyweds, and wished them many long and happy years together. As disappointing as it was missing the whole event - and our very needed vacation - at least we saw the Mississippi...even if it was on the wrong end and only five miles from home.

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Orleans Six Years Later

I was in New Orleans for the first time a year after Hurricane Katrina.  I went to my niece's graduation from Tulane University.  Water lines were still clearly seen, signs of the destruction were still everywhere - and only one streetcar was running at the time.  Despite all of that, the soul of the city was strong, and I went away thinking the people who lived there were some of the most genuinely nice people I had ever met. 

Katrina became a storm like we'd never seen before.  It was terrible in the way it happened, and the way it was handled.  Today New Orleans is different, forever changed.  There are so many who didn't go back, or couldn't go back.  It's important we remember New Orleans, and the people who were there, and the ones who still are.  They have faced other battles too, but they always display courage.

As I get closer to heading off to New Orleans again - for that same niece's wedding this time - I'm excited to see it again five years later.  With its distinct architecture, jambalaya, poboys, gumbo, and beignets with chicory coffee - and that Dixieland, jazz, and Zydeco music - there's really no other place quite like it on earth. 

Healing is a long process, but with a city like New Orleans, it will not only continue to heal, but thrive again in the process.  And it will hopefully never lose sight of the unique spirit and character that make it so special.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

If Only We Could Do What We Love Full-Time

Whenever I get my hair cut, I marvel at my hair stylist.  She is not only really talented - and makes my long hair a piece of cake to take care of  - but, she truly loves her job.  I call her a hair genius, and a friend.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, that is rare.  I love to write, I love my photography.  Someday, I will do the latter full-time - and hopefully the photography as well.  It's a constant frustration to have a real love and passion for something that I've just HAD to do since I was three years old, but not near enough time to devote to it.  Even after all the routes I've taken in careers...chemistry, accounting, social services...it always comes back to the writing.  Writing keeps me grounded, keeps me sane...it's a form of therapy, a form of expression, a form of artistry.  And, again, just something that's in me that I have to do.  I do spend some nights up way too late writing, and try to get up way too early in the morning to write.  But, I'm always pulled away to my regular job.

I have a quote I carry around with me that I saw a long time ago. I gave a copy of it to a friend of mine who is a filmmaker, but works as a bartender and a waitress.  Her first film was fabulous.  The quote is: "Support your art, don't expect it to support you." So, I try to remember that, but as an artist, of course I'd like to work toward just focusing on the art.  I try to remember that I like my clients, and am basically collecting book material everyday.  But, I do have my moments - many more lately - when I tire of taking care of everyone else, and not having enough time to take good enough care of myself - or enough energy to work on my art and be truly committed to it.

Worst of all, as time goes on, and this week was a good example, I never feel appreciated or respected by the people I work for.  I never feel like any abilities or talents I have are utilized, and I don't fit in. For a kid who grew up all over the country, not fitting in...well, you get used to that.  But, it would be nice to feel appreciated once in awhile when you try to work so hard.

I talked to one of my oldest and dearest friends this morning.  After years of working at a job he loved for the airlines, it was changed drastically, and eventually eliminated after 9/11.  What followed was him doing a job just to get by for way too long.  He did it well, but hated it.  This morning, it was so wonderful to hear the joy in his voice after getting new job a few months ago, which he again loves.  It was a long time coming, and well-deserved.

Hopefully, we will all have our turns at this.  In the meantime, the free spirit in me feels more than stifled at times.  I want to be someone who really loves what they do, be creative and an artist...not someone who is making a living to support it.  Guess it gives me something to attain to, and I certainly know I'm not alone on this one.  In the long run, the good news is, when it comes to retirement someday way down the road...writing is something I'll never retire from anyway.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dressing Funky

I'm really loving some of the fashion blogs lately. Perhaps it's because it's just another way of being creative and expressing yourself in a fun way. For a free spirit, hence the title, I'm not quite adventurous enough with fashion.

I have way too many really fun clothes that stay in my closet. Part of it is my day job. I'm usually relegated to wearing jeans and a shirt (usually layered with a jacket of some sort) because I don't know what I'm doing each day. I also can't really wear my short skirts (which I love) or really nice clothes with my clients. I have so many different things I do each day that one day I might be doing paperwork, the next day moving boxes in a basement. I don't want the clothes to be ruined, and have to dress in a more practical (uh, boring) way. Although, I usually try to wear cool shirts and fun jewelry and funk it up a bit all the time. But, really fun fashion is kept for the weekends. It won't be this way forever...

So, I love the idea of layering skirts and dresses, of layering short skirts with way-too-short skirts over them, and wearing more belts and more of my favorite: tall boots. Harder to do in the heat of the summer, but there are other options for this season. Since it's August, fall is right around the corner anyway.

I particularly like the blog Fashion for Nerds. She has some great ideas and really cool posts. Perhaps it is all the years I spent working at an engineering firm myself, or my years in chemistry, but I can totally relate to where she is coming from. Her blog is a lot of fun, and her outfits are fabulous.

It kind of reminds me of years ago when I finally stopped biting my fingernails and grew them long. Who wants to just wear pale pink nail polish all the time? I went for dark colors...burgundy, black, sparkles, and my favorite: purple. Because, just like fashion, it's yet another way to be creative, fun, and unique. Besides, who wants to be the norm anyway?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Accepting the Red...and the Pale

I was looking at some fashion blogs a few nights ago and came across a post on Already Pretty about the things we're told are not attractive. Is it our knees? Are we to hide our chests that are too large, or make our small chests look larger? Or, as she says in this blog post, does it even go as far as to say our underarms aren't attractive?

Who comes up with this and why do we believe it?

I grew up with an old-fashioned mother who taught me to hide my chest and didn't think women's knees were attractive. I've always been a fan of miniskirts and happen to be quite tall. So, I forgot about the knee thing pretty quickly. And I finally started wearing more flattering shirts that - gasp - showed some cleavage on occasion. I've even recently started being a fan of tank tops. The heck with a large chest and who cares about the underarms? I mean, seriously.

But one of my biggest insecurities came from years of hearing about how pale my legs were. I was told I had great legs...long, and in good shape. But, they were just too pale. So, over time, I stopped wearing my favorite cutoffs. In fact, I stopped wearing shorts altogether. But, I'm a natural redhead - and we are quite often pale. We don't tan, we burn. And we just have to learn to live with it.

Perhaps it's because I grew up all over the country and many of my friends have darker complexions than I do. Their legs always looked better to me. But, then women - especially younger women - tend to compare, and want what we don't have. If we are tall, we want to be petite. If we have brown eyes, we want blue...and, of course, as a redhead my eyes were supposed to be green. And the red hair - which my hairdresser always loved - I hated, because I stuck out.

Fortunately, we grow older and realize that it's the unique things about us that make us individuals. And after many years of being the new kid with the funny accent who was too tall and too pale, and wanted so desperately to fit in...well, now that isn't so important anymore now that I'm older. Now I want to just be me. Red hair, tall, dark brown eyes...and pale.

I can't say all my insecurities are gone, nor will they ever be. But, I can say I'm a bit more accepting than I used to be. The funny thing about it is that now I'm with an African-American man who I really feel is my soul mate. He is the one I should have been with in the first place (not that silly blond fellow I married - and thankfully divorced - back when I was way too young to get married). My guy has beautiful cocoa-colored skin. And he loves my red hair, and encourages me to show a little cleavage, and wear tank tops, and loves my miniskirts. And the funniest thing of all: He doesn't think I'm pale at all. Go figure.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Last Harry Potter...

I did not read the Harry Potter books right away. Maybe it was all the hype. But, after getting the first book at a used bookstore, in the original English version (Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone), I kept reading. And I watched each movie after reading each book - except for the last three. For those I had to wait along with all the other fans.

As a writer, I admire J.K. Rowling's talent. Her storytelling, the way she pulled together seven books, and her rich characters, made them all very compelling to read. It was also fun to see the kids grow up along with the movies...and turn into some pretty good actors. And the rest of the cast is a very impressive list of accomplished actors.

We went on opening night for the last movie. We got VIP tickets for a late showing in a really cool theater. Unfortunately, they did change a few things and leave a few things out that missed the mark. It would be interesting to see why they changed what they did and what ended up on the editing room floor. But, I still enjoyed it.

So, alas, Harry Potter. They were a lot of fun to watch, but I guess I'll always prefer the books in the long run. Because despite all the great effects and great acting in the movies, I really have to agree with Chris Columbus, the director of the first two films. As he stated when being asked about the success of the movies: "It comes down to one simple thing: seven brilliantly written books."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Farewell to a Great First Lady

Betty Ford died today at 93 years old.

A very active First Lady from 1974 to 1977, she had a huge impact on the culture at the time, and in the years that followed. She was admired for her honesty and candor.

After her 1974 battle with breast cancer, and mastectomy, she raised the awareness of the disease. She supported women's issues and feminism, supported equal pay, and the Equal Rights Amendment. She famously said that "the search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women." She also openly admitted to battling drug addiction and alcoholism, and became the founder of the Betty Ford Center, which still helps so many people today.

Although she will be remembered for many great things, she always remained humble. "I was an ordinary woman who was called onstage at an extraordinary time," she said. "I was no different once I became first lady than I had been before. But, through an accident of history, I had become interesting to people."

I always admired her. With courage and compassion, she truly felt that we are on this earth to help others - and she did.
Photograph by Anna Moore Butzner
The Grand Rapids Press, via Associated Press

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Does She Seriously Think She's Qualified?

While talking with a friend the other day, we both said how much of an embarrassment Michele Bachmann is to us as women...and as Minnesota residents.

Her ignorance is only surpassed by just plain stupidity. Wouldn't you look things up before you get up and make a speech about it? As funny as this video is, it is actually not all that far off from some of the things she has said.

Regardless of your opinion, she simply isn't qualified to run the country.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why Isn't Anyone Talking About Minnesota?

Is anyone aware of what's going on in Minnesota? Our legislature is trying to cut health care and services for tens of thousands of elderly, disabled, and low income people. This not only means no services or health care for them, but the elimination of jobs for the people who provide these services. Everyone from social workers to ILS (Independent Living Skills) workers to PCA's (Personal Care Attendants) to nurses to many other providers will lose their jobs. Thousands without care, who either won't make it or end up in nursing homes, which might close as well, along with assisted living and group homes.

These are important, needed services. How about a wheelchair-bound man who cannot get out of bed without the assistance of his PCA? What about the hard working woman who cannot pay her bills, get help with her doctor, doesn't know how to renew her health care coverage, get needed legal help, or receive assistance with all the other countless things her ILS worker does for her? What about the man who has 90% blockage in his heart, but now can't have the operation he needs to save his life? What about the transportation services being cut, without which the elderly and infirm cannot even leave their apartments? The list goes on and on.

Thirty-six thousand pink slips have already gone out to state workers. This next week (July 1st) the rest of us in this field will find out if we too will be laid off. As stated in Strong Progressive, it is many, many things that will be affected.

What about all the Republican talk of creating jobs? Does this fit in with eliminating thousands of jobs and having thousands file for unemployment - thousands who will also lose their health care or be forced to pay the enormous fees that go along with COBRA? And what about all the talk of supporting small businesses? The one I work for - and many others - will be put out of business completely. How exactly will this - along with all the unemployment claims - save money again?

I'm tired of the lying that goes on - the talk of cutting spending, creating jobs...blah, blah. It means nothing. The spending cuts only seem to apply to people who are poor and/or disabled. And the rest of us in the middle. While, in the meantime, another tax cut is proposed for the richest citizens. When does the greed stop?

These are so-called Christians? I guess they think they are blessed with so much because they deserve it more than everyone else? Where is the compassionate heart, the idea of looking out for your fellow man? Some of the most giving people I know - financially and otherwise - have the least amount of money. I have clients who live on next to nothing, and they still volunteer their time to help others, work jobs, and are productive members of society. They do this despite difficult disabilities and pain. Once again, they feel like they are being pushed under the bus. They are not numbers, they are real people who need - and deserve - real help.

And what are they talking about in Minnesota? The new proposed football stadium that will cost close to one billion dollars. Or the fact that if the state shuts down, they won't be able to get a fishing license. In the face of tens of thousands losing their jobs, and as many or more losing their services and health care - in comparison, is this really the priority right now? I'm tired of political games which hurt so many people, and don't affect the ones playing the games at all. This is real life - it is not a game. For all those caught in the middle it is very serious and very scary. It is really downright cruel.

A two page letter was sent out to all the people who receive services, in anticipation of their interruption or curtailment. It contains one particular sentence, that very coldly says it all: "If there is a government shutdown, do not call the state offices. It is likely that no one will be there to answer your call."

As the disparity between the super-rich and the rest of us grows bigger and bigger, isn't it about time we seriously started closing the gap? It's for the greater good of everyone. The economy, and the people in it, will never recover unless the mega rich quit trying to get wealthier and wealthier - while the rest of us pay for it with our health, our jobs, and our future.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

3 Days, 3 Ways

In these economic times, it really is nice to have a new way to make things last longer and be more cost effective. With that in mind, Mississippi Market has a fantastic idea with their "3 Days, 3 Ways" Program. The current article in The Mix (another really interesting assignment), also addresses the need to save money, but still keep things interesting:

These days, everyone is trying to make his or her money stretch a little farther. Mississippi Market can help with groceries in a nutritious and economical way with the “3 Days, 3 Ways” Program. With a twist on traditional leftovers, the monthly program’s recipes start with a protein (they call it a main event), that offers different ways to stretch it across three days. The recipes are nutritious and easy to prepare, and they use ingredients that are either on sale or are reasonably priced. They also alternate between meat and vegetable proteins as the main ingredient. The focus is also on locally grown, fresh ingredients when the season permits. More canned food is used when the snow is falling in the winter months.

Another reason Mississippi Market decided to start the program is to encourage customers to make meals at home. “Cooking at home saves money but typically takes more time. The “3 Days, 3 Ways” recipes allow our shoppers to cook a little more on one day, and make creative use of ‘planned-overs’ to save time and money later in the week,” said Liz McMann, consumer affairs manager.

Even the most devoted cook struggles to find time to prepare meals with today’s busy schedules. The recipes in this program are both intentionally time-saving and healthful. “The premise of the program is that nearly everyone can find one day to spend a little extra time cooking—but that traditional leftovers can be boring,” said McMann. “These recipes do away with reheating the same dish for days and show new ways to make leftovers shine in unique ways. The recipes are fairly simple and the instructions are detailed enough that even those new to cooking can feel confident.”

A very timely and innovative idea done in a very creative way, is one of the many reasons the co-ops always seem to stand out.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

White Roses in Bloom
Photograph by C.Y. Hunter

The first Mother's Day without Mom.

I've been told that the "firsts" are always hard. I miss her. I think I always knew I had an extra special Mom.

I will light her candle for her today...the one I light on all special occasions now. Seven months after losing her, it still seems rather surreal and very lonely. I have wonderful people in my life: fiance, friends, siblings, and a superb Dad. But, as my mom said for many years after my grandmother died: "You never get over losing your mother."

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thanks for being such a wonderful, supportive mom. Thanks for all the things you did for me...and for all the other people you helped in your life. You were a giving, positive person who loved people - and really did light up whatever room you were in at the moment. I was amazingly blessed to have such a great woman for a mom. I will never stop missing you - on all special occasions, and every single day in between.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Tribute to Fred

© Photograph by C.Y. Hunter

On a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon, it seems like a good time to write a tribute.

This tribute is for Fred, a sweet Golden Retriever who was a wonderful service dog and companion to his owner, David, for over twelve years. Fred passed away this morning at the age of 14 1/2 (that's 101 in dog years). He was the oldest working service dog in Minnesota from Helping Paws.

Pets enrich all owners' lives, but for people with disabilities there is an even stronger connection with their service dogs. Fred helped David to live independently in countless ways. Fred did everything from picking things up for David to pulling off his socks at night. And, as with all service dogs, Fred's intelligence and loyalty to his owner had made him so in tune to David, that they really were a team.

To say Fred will be missed is an understatement. My thoughts and prayers go out to David, who has lost an incredible animal and friend. Fred, with his big, fluffy coat and hoarse bark (that sounded a bit like Al Pacino), made a strong presence in any room he was in. His golden face had long turned white, but his always friendly, happy demeanor lifted any gloomy day.

On this truly gloomy day, we know that Fred's presence, his unconditional love, and his companionship will be missed. What a wonderful dog...even as an elderly dog with arthritis, he was still keeping a close watch on his pal - sleeping stretched out across David's bedroom doorway every night.
For years of dedication, Fred, we honor you - for not only being a wonderful friend to David, but for a service well done.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

© Photograph by C.Y. Hunter

"Cottontail on the Trail," sculpted by Jeff Barber, is a huge, bronze rabbit sculpture on Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis. The sculpture is said to "represent both the animal life and whimsey of the neighborhood."

Although I know Easter really isn't about bunnies, I have always particularly liked bunnies...and this one always brings a smile to my face when I drive by...

Monday, March 28, 2011

English Movies You Can't Understand?

Growing up with a grandfather from Norwich, England, who would tell me stories in his native accent, I often find myself translating to others when watching movies with actors with thick British accents.

But, then there was also the time I got off the Chunnel Train in London, having just left Paris, and made a comment about how nice it was to be back to English again...and then couldn't understand anything the station attendant said.

That being said, this is one of the most hilarious videos I've seen from Saturday Night Live:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Honor of Knut

Everyone that knows me knows what a huge dog lover I am. But, I'm really an animal lover in general...and is there anything cuter than a bear cub? Whether it's a grizzly or a polar bear, there's a reason that people started cuddling up with stuffed versions of the real thing many years ago (soon after the famous Teddy Roosevelt Story).

Then there was the more recently famous Knut. An adorable polar bear cub, the world warmed up to him and couldn't get enough of of the little bear. I remember all the videos and pictures of Knut. I watched the videos a few times - he was laying on his back while his owner brushed him or scratched his belly. He was so animated and charming. He may have grown into a giant polar bear, but he still had that lovable face, and the world was captivated by him.

On hearing of his death last Saturday, people mourned the bear in Berlin and beyond. We watched him grow up, heard of his owner's death, and followed the many stories about him. It is sad he had such a short number of years here on earth. According to the Associated Press:

(AP) — Hundreds of fans of Knut the polar bear flocked to his zoo enclosure Sunday to mourn the sudden death of the celebrity who burst into the limelight as a cuddly, fluffy cub hand-fed by his keeper.

The beloved four-year-old died Saturday afternoon in front of hundreds of visitors, taking keepers, animal experts and fans by surprise. The life expectancy of polar bear in the wild is between 15 and 20 years, but animals in captivity normally live even longer because they are not exposed to hunger, thirst or infections.

Knut was rejected by his mother at birth, along with his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days. He attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed cub his bottle every two hours, and went on to appear on magazine covers, in a film and on mountains of merchandise.

Even after packing on hundreds of pounds (kilograms) and trading in his soft fuzz for yellowish fur, fans remained loyal. News of Knut's death on Saturday afternoon around 3 p.m. spread instantly and internationally via Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging.

"We received condolences from all over the world: Australia, New Zealand, Honolulu," bear keeper Heiner Kloes told German news agency DAPD.

There are so many sad things happening in the world. As we deal with wars, the catastrophes in Japan, and all of the local, national, and international news that often saddens our hearts, this story really touched me. It really shows the deep connection that people have with animals and the joy that they can bring into our lives. I will miss Knut and all the stories we might have heard as he grew older. Although I never met him in person, I know he was a really special bear.

It's always understandable when a person mourns a pet. The unconditional love and attachment that's lost is so deep. But, when the world loses a famous bear, the loss is felt as well. We will miss you,
Knut. Because whether it's a soft cuddly pet that has been a companion for years or a giant bear thousands of miles away...they are always missed, and the connection is a strong one.

Knut as a Cub
Photograph by Markus Schrieber

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Donate to Japan

Watching as Japan deals with one crisis after another is beyond heartbreaking. Although they are far away from many of us, I encourage people to help in any way that they can. Here are just two ways to help:

1) Text "Redcross" to 90999 and $10 will be added to your telephone bill. Just think if everyone donated $10 how fast the number would grow.

2) Another way to help is through Renaissance Art, which makes some of my favorite journals and other leather accessories. They are offering two kids' journals for the Japan Earthquake Tsunami Children Emergency Fund. For every journal purchased, 20% will be sent for their aid. These journals are high quality, and beautifully made - and journaling is a healthy way for kids, and adults - to write out their feelings and thoughts. In addition to helping where it is so needed, they make wonderful, long lasting gifts.

Most importantly, please keep all the people of Japan, and the people helping them, in your prayers. Never forget that prayer is very powerful.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Thoughts and Prayers for Japan

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Japan. May you find healing, peace, and comfort during this terrible tragedy.

C. trianaei
(Submitted by Nobuo Oishi)
Japan Grand Prix International Orchid Festival 2004

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Support to Women in Afghanistan

Women may still face sexism in this country, but we do have freedom and can speak our mind. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many places. And in Afghanistan, the entire culture is against women - they are abused and treated as property with no rights.

In a recent Marie Claire article, "Why Are These Women in Jail?" women - and their children - are even imprisoned for many years for absurd reasons:

In Afghanistan, the most commonly practiced form of judicial "due process" simply requires two men to accuse a woman of a crime. Case closed. No burden of proof or defense. A group of respected male elders hands down the sentence. (Men also appear before this council, or jirga, but usually to settle debts or property disputes. Their wives and daughters are often traded and enslaved to resolve such debts.) For women, typical "moral crimes" punishable by prison—or death—include refusing to marry a rapist, having an affair (or simply getting accused of having an affair), and murder-by-proxy, wherein a male family member kills someone and assigns the prison sentence to a female.

An estimated 860 women are currently behind bars in the country, along with 620 girls between the ages of 12 and 17, and 280 children, according to the U.S. State Department and the Corrections System Support Program, or CSSP, a private U.S. contractor tasked with reforming Afghan prisons. Ninety-five percent of these women are convicted of "moral crimes."

Kinah, 21, is a striking beauty with the black-coffee eyes of many in Balkh Province. She sits in one of two rooms that imprison 40 women and 18 children, rocking her 6-month-old daughter, who is nestled in a sheet tied to a chair and bedpost. At age 6, Kinah was promised in marriage to a 40-year-old man, but at 16, she ran away, marrying a young man she loved. She is now a convicted adulteress and widow, as her former fiancé tracked her down and shot her husband. The murderer was sentenced to 10 years; Kinah was sentenced to 12. The room echoes incessantly with children's coughing. The courtyard offers the only escape, where tents serve as shelter from below-freezing temperatures. "Sometimes we have no milk for the children," Kinah says, holding her baby close.

For aid groups in the region, yearly budgets are slim. These groups stay afloat thanks to donations, intermittent federal grants, and iron-willed directors who often work without salaries.
It's frightening that this is happening to women. I wish they had the same freedom and voice that we have. One thing that can be done: buy one of their t-shirts for $25 ("Not Guilty" T-shirt). "The Afghan Women's Justice Project will send the proceeds to the nonprofits helping Afghan women and kids in prison. One shirt purchase buys a child's milk for a month or school supplies for 10 prisoners."

Perhaps buying a t-shirt seems like a very small way to help, but it does spread the message - and offers some support for a truly awful situation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Name is Not Those People

There is often a real disconnection from reality with people who are super rich. Working in social services, I see many people who struggle so hard, and get by on so little – and then get such judgment and lack of compassion from those that are so wealthy they aren’t even in reality anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are many people who make great money who work really hard and really help people. But, there’s just too many super wealthy people who are incredibly disconnected making decisions that they don’t see the implications of.

I saw this wonderful piece framed on the wall at a local food bank that I took a client to. I think there are way too many generalizations that are made in this world. I have some wonderful clients who face terrible health problems, live on next to nothing, and work so hard just to survive.

I especially like:
"I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food stamps. Rent is $585. That leaves $36 a month to live on. I am such a genius at surviving that I could balance the state budget in an hour." I can't help but wish that politicians could see this as well. By talking about cutting programs once again, they are not only not getting it, but are truly missing out on getting to know, understand, and help some pretty incredible people.
My Name Is Not "Those People
By Julia Dinsmore

My name is not "Those People."
I am a loving woman, a mother in pain, giving birth to the future, where my babies have the same chance to thrive as anyone.

My name is not "Inadequate."
I did not make my husband leave - he chose to,
and chooses not to pay child support.
Truth is thought, there isn't a job base for all
fathers to support their families.
While society turns its head, my children pay the price.

My name is not "Problem and Case to Be Managed."
I am a capable human being and citizen, not a client.
The social service system can never replace the compassion and concern of loving Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Fathers, Cousins, Community - all the bonded people who need to be but are not present to bring children forward to their potential.

My name is not "Lazy, Dependent Welfare Mother."
If the unwaged work of parenting, homemaking and community building was factored into the Gross National Product, my work would have untold value. And I wonder why my middle-class sisters whose husbands support them to raise their children are glorified - and they don't get called lazy and dependent.

My name is not "Ignorant, Dumb or Uneducated."
I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food stamps.
Rent is $585. That leaves $36 a month to live on. I am such a genius at surviving that I could balance the state budget in an hour.

Never mind that there is a lack of living-wage jobs.
Never mind that it is impossible to be the sole emotional, social and economic support to a family.
Never mind that parents are losing their children to the gangs, drugs, stealing, prostitution, social workers, kidnapping, the streets, the predator.
Forget about putting money into schools - just build more prisons.

My name is not "Lay Down and Die Quietly."
My love is powerful and my urge to keep my children alive will never stop. All children need homes and people who love them. They need safety and the chance to be the people they were born to be.

The wind will stop before I let my children become a statistic.
Before you give in to the urge to blame me,
the blames that lets us go blind and unknowing into
the isolation that disconnects us, take another look.
Don't go away.
For I am not the problem, but the solution.
And...My name is not "Those People."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Food Co-ops LEED Building Practices

I love having a great co-op right up the street...it's full of natural light, friendly people, and fresh, organic products. It's actually great to have so many co-ops in the Twin Cities. The current article I was fortunate to write for The Mix, "Food Co-ops LEED Building Practices," was especially interesting. I admit, I always enjoy writing for this publication. The assignments are always educational, the editor is wonderful, and they are fun to write. This one in particular really addresses current issues:
The Twin Cities food co-ops have always been ahead of their time. They were selling locally grown produce and organic products long before they gained widespread acceptance. Along with their commitment to natural food and the environment, it only makes sense that co-ops would be innovators who are building to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. By following these principles, the stores have made energy saving choices on behalf of the business and the environment. With everything from providing more bike racks to utilizing more efficient refrigeration to using more daylight and less electricity, the stores are both eco-friendly and highly efficient."
How great that in a time when we are trying to save energy that these stores, which already provide locally grown, healthy food, are also cutting edge when it comes to the environment:

The bright green Seward Co-op Grocery & Deli received the LEED Gold rating in July 2010 for indoor environmental quality, design and materials reuse. “The store has a rain garden, and water-efficient landscaping. Our site retains at least 90 percent of run-off from a storm event. These initiatives make financial sense over time, and positively affect the aesthetics of the store,” said Eric Hatting, initiatives manager. “Most of the sustainable elements of our operations were implemented to improve the quality of life for employees and our community.” They are also proudly using the HOURCAR car-sharing program.

The Mississippi Market also incorporated LEED features into their store. Said Liz McMann, consumer affairs manager, “We’ve been able to take the green practices we have been doing for years to the next level.” The lights have photocell sensors, which automatically turn off lights on sunny days. They also have a staff shower and bike-repair station. “Staff members are able to commute by bike, deal with a flat, and still be fresh and ready for work,” says McMann. “While some green practices don’t have an immediate measureable benefit—it’s just the right thing to do.”

Linden Hills Co-op opened its new location in September 2010, remodeling an existing building a few blocks away from the old site. “After a year in operation, we’ll have the option to pursue LEED certification,” says Allie Mentzer, marketing and member services manager. Linden Hills has insulated exterior walls, which reduce heat transfer; a white membrane roof that replaced the old black tar roof, reducing heat absorption; and occupancy sensors that turn off lights when rooms are not in use. “The salvage company even resold, recycled or reused 98 percent of the material removed from the existing building,” said Mentzer about their strong commitment to reducing their overall carbon footprint.

The stores are not only making less of an impact on the environment, but also doing it in a smart, beautiful way that makes you not only want to shop there, but to take advantage of some of the other opportunities offered in the stores.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year....etc.

Happy New Year! And here's to 2010 being over...a tough year! The year I said goodbye to three favorite clients, dealt with some other difficult things, and then ultimately said goodbye to my mom as well - which really made everything else pale in comparison. I'll always miss her and always have some sad moments. The holidays were tough, my birthday will be tough...but I was so very fortunate to have her for all the years I did. Losing her at 82, after all the battles she beat so bravely, was unexpected, but she lived a full, wonderful life - and she was a wonderful mom. I was extremely blessed to have her for a mother. I have a special candle I will light in her honor for all important occasions.

As far as other things: Politically, way to go for passing the First Responders Health Bill - finally! And way to go for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Service men and women are told to stand with honor and integrity...obviously lying about themselves does not fit into that. It is about time this was overturned. In all the game playing, this lame duck session did indeed get some important things done!

So, moving on into 2011, here's to a healthy, happy year...a year of positive changes, perhaps a move east or west (and a few more after that). As I have spent way too much time being unhappy while I make everyone else happy, I'll draw from my mom's courage, and sometimes lack of editing, and make some strong changes...and with her in my heart, I'm pretty sure this year will be the year I can do it!