Thursday, August 16, 2018

Cleaning Out

How easy it is for us to ask others to do something that is difficult if not impossible for us to do ourselves.  I'm in the process of trying to clear out some of the accumulated clutter of the past nineteen years.  Prior to moving to Emporia, we moved at least every three or four years if not more often.  Anyone who has ever moved knows how easy it is to throw away or sell things when you are facing the overwhelming task of packing; out it goes, into the trash, into a box to deliver to "Goodwill" or into the front yard for a garage sale.  Suddenly, the pain of giving up is not nearly as painful as that of having to pack and move everything.

But, oh how difficult it is to sort things out when there is no pressing emergency.  What to throw away and what to keep?  The decision is easier in the business world than it is in our personal lives. One can access the AICPA's (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) 21-page document which describes the prescribed process and requirements for record retention in American business today.  When I was working, I had one rule for throwing out any business documents which did not fit the legal requirement.  I asked myself one question, if I needed this in the future, would I know where to find it?  If not, out it went.  You would be surprised how many documents fit that criteria.

That is only talking about business documents which are very factual and come with no emotional attachment.  It is even more difficult to determine what records and mementoes to keep for our personal lives. Not only do we have governmental and legal requirements to deal with, but we have memories which are much more difficult to put a price on.

Digging through the accumulation makes me think of my mother who died in 2014.  As her remaining years wound down, she moved first from her large suburban home in Kansas City to a smaller house next door to us here in Emporia.  Her next move was to an apartment in Presbyterian Manor and finally, she moved into a single room in the assisted living wing.  How hard it must have been for her to let go of a lifetime of memories; how difficult to watch your life's possessions shrivel down to the point where everything could be kept in a single dresser and night stand.

Like most of her peers, experiencing prosperity after the great depression meant moving up into a better neighborhood and bigger house whenever possible.  The bigger house meant there was more room for possessions, so my mother acquired more and kept more. While she had the ability to take care of everything, there was no reason to throw stuff out.   Of course, separating oneself from one's possessions doesn't happen overnight.   In my mother's case, it began when she was in her mid-eighties.  When it became obvious that she could no longer stay in the home she had known for twenty some years, downsizing had to begin.

Paring down her possessions for her first move from her home in Kansas City with a full basement and attic to her much smaller home here in Emporia, was a daunting task. We spent weeks going through closets and cabinets, clearing out items that had been forgotten for years. In the end, after an enormous garage sale and donating almost a full truck load to the Salvation Army, we still had to call 800-Got-Junk to haul the remnants away.  

When I think of all the possessions that we accumulate throughout our lives, I can't help but think about all the emotional and mental baggage that often loads us down.  In addition to physical objects, we also hold on to grudges, hurt, bad habits and harmful relationships.   I’m guessing most of us could stand a good internal house cleaning.  The problem with holding on to our past is that it clutters up our mind and in a lot of cases, unless we take a real deep hard look at ourselves, we don’t realize that those issues are there.  Nevertheless, our unresolved issues are occupying space in our minds and in many cases preventing us from moving on. 

Just as I’m finding, while cleaning things out, a lot of the things that we hold on to are nothing but trash; junk that is long past it’s usefulness.  My motivation to keep sorting through nineteen years of accumulation is that the more I sort through, the more I can envision how liberated and free I will be when I get rid of all this unnecessary stuff that I have been holding onto.  Letting go of our emotional or mental clutter can be liberating as well.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

No Smoking

Sometimes the slightest thing in the news, something you just glance at and go on your way, an unobtrusive fact that has absolutely no effect on your own personal life will stick it in your mind and you will muddle it around until it takes on a life of its own.  Such was the case with something I noticed this week.

According to CNN, a policy that was announced two years ago by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that bans smoking in or near public housing went into effect yesterday.  Now, anyone who lives in public housing will be unable to smoke in their own home or within 25 feet of any public housing building.

Why should this affect me? I don't smoke, it was a terrible habit that I gave up over 30 years ago. I don't know anyone who smokes any more. As the article suggests, this new rule may reduce the amount that the U.S. government spends on health related and other issues such as property damage related to smoking by $153 million.  

Sounds good, doesn't it unless you are a smoker.  After all, why should people who are living in government housing, getting help from the government, living off of our tax dollars be able to determine how they want to live or live in such a way that creates an adverse effect on the lives of the rest of us?

My first thought was perhaps this will force people to get a job and take financial responsibility for themselves if they want to continue to have the freedom to smoke.

After a few minutes of feeling smug about the situation, I re-read the article and noticed something. This is not a law enacted by our elected officials.  This is a policy, put in place by a government agency, one that is appointed not elected. This is not something that we as a nation voted on. It's something that the government is telling us we have to do.

When did our government become so far reaching? This is not what the founders of our country, what the various states that made up the original thirteen colonies intended when they came together to form the union. Whether we act like it or not, that's what we are, this United States, a union, much like the EU.  The intent was never that the union would be greater than the parts. The intent was that this union of different states would provide a common defense and regulate commerce between various states.

It's no wonder that the voters in Great Britain decided they did not want some overreaching government to have control over their lives.  They may have looked at the U.S. and realized what can happen when the federal government takes control of the rights of the people. They may have realized how the United States is beginning to look more like the USSR than the land of the free.

I may not be a "states rights" person, but I think the federal government is reaching too far into our lives. They are already telling us how we have to eat, pretty soon they'll be tearing down all the barriers, building chicken coops to house all of us in communal rows, telling us how we have to decorate our houses, what books we have to read, what media we have access to and what we have to think.

If anyone is going to do that, let it be the states. I can choose where I want to live. If I want to be around people who freely smoke marijuana, I'll move to a state where that's possible.  If I want to be with the crazies I'll move to California.

In the states, each of us is closer to those who are making the decisions that affect our daily lives. I do not want some bureaucrat in Washington DC deciding whether or not I can smoke in my own home, even if doing so is going to kill me.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Heart Matters

It's probably not a good thing when your cardiologist calls you on a Saturday afternoon. "Do you have a minute to talk?" he said.  'Sure', I thought, as I sat down in the nearest chair.

It seems that I didn't quite pass the stress test that followed a visit to his office in June.  After some discussion the decision was made that I would have another cardiac catheterization, so one was scheduled for Friday the 13th. I decided not to look at that as an ominous sign, but I was not looking forward to it.  The last two cardiac cath's have made me so sick my husband thought I was dying and I just wished I would. With the promise that something could be done to alleviate the sea-sickness I usually experience, I went along with the schedule.

Well, Friday the 13th has come gone and I am still here and as it turns out I am in pretty good shape for someone plagued by my heart conditions.

All of this has caused me to think a lot about the heart.  We are all plagued by heart conditions, whether we recognize it or not. It's such a small organ, no bigger than the size of a balled-up fist yet we cannot survive without it. People can live for years with no brain function, but once our heart stops beating, life ceases to exist.

Our hearts do not just measure whether or not we are alive, it also measures the quality of our lives. As I look around our nation I'm afraid our hearts are not doing a very good job.
We seem to be letting our brains make all of the decisions: in money matters, in friendship, in political matters, in whether or not we are going to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, and in how to deal with those who are different from ourselves.  All of our decisions appear to be based on calculations that we think are financially and materially right for us rather than on what is best for the heart. We're like someone who knows they should eat right in order to best take care of their heart, but who is too addicted to junk food to do the right thing.

In a sense, our nation has become heartless and   question how long we can survive.    It's one thing when a nation becomes heartless in dealing with its enemies. It's an entirely different thing when it becomes heartless in dealing with itself.

We all have friends who have quit speaking to us because of political differences. How stupid and senseless. We have not even taken the time to determine if we have any common ground, any areas where we might agree, any philosophies that we can rally around together.

I was reminded once more of one thing this week; that my heart has an impact on the entire body. When it is not working correctly, my entire body suffers from the effects. Our country is suffering now. It will not get better until we all have a heart catherization and look deeply within to see where the hardened places are. Only when we root those out will our country be able to heal.

I would be nice if I could blame all of my heart issues on genetics.  I could of course. My grandmother died from heart disease when she was in her sixties.  My father and uncles all had heart problems. But, as much as my genes play a part, my actions are to blame as well.  I do not eat as healthy as I should. I could exercise more. I cannot blame anyone else for the condition of my heart.  I have to accept that there is more that I could be doing to improve my heart's condition.

Likewise, there is something that every citizen of this country can be doing to improve the heart condition of our country.  We can exercise more restraint and better judgment in dealing with those who do not share our same viewpoint. We can reduce our craving for the sensational, for the violent reaction to the opposition.  We can take in healthy and positive thoughts as opposed to existing on a diet of negativity.

As an old proverb says, "Above all, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life."  I would suggest that we need to guard the heart of this country. It was founded upon sound heart-healthy principles.  We cannot let it be destroyed by carelessness. The heart matters!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

All About the Noise

Another Fourth of July holiday is over and it's been over a week since the sound of firecrackers started. Every year they start slowly, an occasional boom here and there, but crescendo into a mortar barrage by the actual holiday.

Fireworks are not as innocent as they seem and I don't understand people's fascination with them. I like a good firework show put on by professionals or at least people who have had some practice dealing with fireworks displays, but I don't like all of the cheap fireworks that people light off in the middle of the street and middle of the night each year.

The obvious reason for my frustration is the danger involved, but I also question why the people who can least afford fireworks are the ones willing to blow up all that money. How can someone who lives on food stamps afford a display which probably costs several hundred dollars and why would they want to?  Possibly, since they have so little in their control, there's some pleasure to be had from watching something that they really cannot afford go up in smoke. Perhaps it's a metaphor for their lives. That may also be the reason why a lot of lottery tickets are sold to the poor and the majority of the people who spend their money on cheap carnival rides are usually those less fortunate as well.

Then there's the safety issue. Hundreds of people are injured every year by fireworks, some through foolishness, but most through ignorance of how dangerous fireworks can be.  I learned from experience that even the most innocent firework can be dangerous. The summer after my sophomore year in high school we were lighting fireworks in the backyard. Someone set off one of those little parachute fireworks that used to be common. They didn't provide much of an explosion... just enough to send a small little paper parachute up into the air where it would gradually float back down to earth because of an attached lead weight. The one we lit did not go off. After what seemed like enough time I leaned over to see what the problem was.  At that precise moment it exploded. The weight attached to the parachute hit my glasses and I ended up with shards of glass in my left eye. Panic ensued until we found an ophthalmologist willing to meet us at his office where he plucked out the glass fragments that were in my eye and sent me home with an eye patch to wear for a couple of weeks. The only good thing to come out of that event was finding a good eye doctor who would be there for me through several other unfortunate self-imposed accidents with the same eye. I have had problems with that eye ever since, and a natural fear of fireworks. I no longer worry about my head getting blown off but I am concerned occasionally about the house being set on fire.

My issues around fireworks are minimal compared to some of the members of our military who have spent time in combat zones.  Why does the average citizen think they should create all of this thunderous noise for days surrounding the holiday? I don't know many who served in the Gulf War, but I had friends that served in Viet Nam.  For years, after their return, the slightest unexpected noise like a car backfiring or sonic boom, would send them to the floor in terror. I would imagine it is the same for our more recent vets.
Fireworks on any day but the Fourth are difficult for vets with PTSD according to Thomas Demark, a psychiatrist with the Kansas City VA Medical Center's PTSD program.  "Try to limit your firework use to the Fourth of July', he said. "The fireworks -- vets expect them on the Fourth of July. But it's the one's the day or two or the week or two before or after that are unexpected."

"Give honor and respect to this country and the freedom that we have and also to be aware that, for some veterans, this isn't a great day of celebration. It's more of a day of mourning and can cause memories of traumas that occurred during combat, so be respectful to them," said Demark, an Army Reserve veteran.

Why would we, on a patriotic holiday, make life miserable for those who have fought so bravely for the freedom that we are celebrating?  Emporia as the founder of Veterans' day, should be especially sensitive to veterans on the 4th of July. Perhaps, in honor of those veterans, we should limit the lighting of fireworks to only the holiday.  It's the least we can do for veterans and everyone sensitive to the noise.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Cars I've Owned and Loved

We bought a new car.  I really didn't want one.  Our old one was fine with me, but it had over 260,000 miles on it and was beginning to show its age.
The problem with age, whether it is humans, animals, or cars, is that aging is costly.  Our aging dogs are keeping the vet in business and the same was true of our mechanic.  It seemed that every week I was taking the car in and saying, "we've got to stop meeting like this."  But, just like any elderly person there was always another part that had to be replaced in our elderly car.  We decided there were some things we could live with, like the driver's side door that no longer opened, but when we received the prognosis that the brakes required another $900 procedure, we decided to release it to automobile heaven.

So, we bought a new car, or a new used car I should say.  We found a 2015 model used car with 5,500 miles .  Eureka!  The days are long gone when I feel the need to impress friends or neighbors with the latest new gadget or car, although that was not the case in my younger days.  Like a lot of us when we were younger, the type of car that we drove was always very important.  In fact, the first car I bought was the only other used car I have every owned.  All the rest have been driven off of the dealer's showroom floor, new. 

My first car was a Dodge Dart,  gold with white leather interior and a push button transmission.  I would never have picked out that car.  My father found it for me shortly after I graduated college when I needed cheap transportation to my first real job.  My father always had a fondness for Chrysler products.  I don't know why.  He was a quality control inspector for Ford for years, which might say something about the quality and reputation of Fords in those days.  He found a good deal on a car that never gave me any problems, but, it was not the car of my dreams.  It wasn't me. 

I drove that Dart for a couple of years while I settled into having a steady paycheck and finally made my way to the Volkswagen dealer to buy my dream car, a yellow VW convertible.  I loved that car, except in the snow.  It got around great, but the top was not air tight.  I would find myself chugging up steep, icy hills  , passing other cars that were spinning out, all the time being  surrounded by snow swirling throughout the interior.
That car was followed by another VW, a red Karmann Ghia convertible, one of the most fun cars I've ever owned.   A guy I worked with convinced me that I needed to sell it to him and as a result, I ended up owning the first Toyota of three.
The Toyotas were followed by two Hondas and then a Saturn, which was followed by a Ford Ranger and then two Volvos, which were purchased not for aesthetics, but because they were safe and reliable cars.  When you get older, safety and reliability become more important than whether or not your car makes a statement.  The last two cars, the Volvos, were also the only automatic transmissions that I ever owned with the exception of that push button Dart.

Our new car is an automatic also, but it is not a concession to age.  I still prefer to drive manual transmissions, but they are becoming impossible to find here in the U.S.  Stick shifts are not only fun to drive, but safer than automatics.  You can't be a lazy driver with a stick shift.  You have to think ahead.  Then there is the challenge of being able to idle at a stop sign on a hill without using the brake.  Automatics don't offer the same opportunity.

Our little old Ford Ranger has a manual transmission and we will probably keep it until we die.  It will keep running until then as it has no electronic parts. There is very little that can go wrong, unlike the cars manufactured today which purposely have computer obsolescence built into them.

Our new car has all of these electronic warning systems, for backing up or monitoring a blind spot.  It has GPS and Wi-Fi, but these luxuries are little more than computers that can go bad at any time and where is the fun in that.  The cars today may be as efficient as a cell phone, but they will never provide the thrill of driving down a deserted two lane highway in the middle of Western Kansas at 100 miles per hour with the top down.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

All That Life Has to Offer

Well, another Dirty Kanza is over and everything is slowly getting back to normal around our house. This year, as usual, we hosted several riders and, as usual they were a delight to be around. I admit that I find the DK riders easier to host than those who come to town for the Glass Blown Open. A lot of that may have to do with the age of the participants and the difference in the physical stamina necessary for the two events as they require different abilities and mindsets. But in spite of the differences, each event enriches our lives and that of the community in a profound way.

Now that we have all of the laundry done and the beds made, we can reflect back on the past week. Hosting complete strangers and traveling has a lot in common. You learn something about others and in the process you often learn a lot about yourself. 

I was well into my adult years before I had the time and means to travel any distance. But even low budget trips within the United States, if only to a neighboring state, exposed me to a world outside of my own and rather than appeasing my appetite, only served to make me hungry for more.

The same could be said for entertaining guests. With each new guest we host, I've become more fascinated with my fellow travelers and, just as I want to experience every foreign country that I possibly can, I want even more to become acquainted with all the fascinating people that are out there. I want to know their stories. I want to hear about their triumphs. I want to commiserate with them in their struggles. In short, I want to get to know all the people I can...the good, the bad and even the ugly. Because, in the long run their stories are my story. More importantly, their stories put mine in perspective.

I think of the one guy we met last week who lost his wife of eighteen years just a couple of months ago. I think of him racing 200 miles through, and in spite of, his pain. I think of how bittersweet it must have been to finish and not have the one he loved the most there at the finish line to congratulate him.

I think of his friend who, at the last minute, rode his motorcycle all the way from Denver to be his support for the race. That's what friendship is all about, the willingness to share both joy and sorrow.

Are there lessons for me to be learned about myself in their stories? You bet! Some of them are good lessons, reminders of the times we have persevered and come through difficulties, and some of them reveal how often I fall short. But in this life, if we ignore the lessons that cause us to be critical of ourselves, we will never grow. As one of our guests said after watching the racers come into the checkpoint where he was waiting to support his brother who competed and finished in the 100, "I can either kick back in my recliner and watch the world go by or I can get out there and experience life."

There are always lessons to be learned along the way. I'm sure all of the participants in the DK learned something about themselves. They most certainly learned something about the Flint Hills of Kansas. Hopefully, they also learned something about the good people who call Emporia home.

Thanks to the DK and the GBO, we get the opportunity at least twice a year to experience life at a different level, even if only vicariously. Jim Cummins and those started the DK some twelve years ago probably could not have envisioned what the DK has become today, a world renown bike race with a reputation for being the "Premier" gravel race in the world. Those of us in Emporia may think that term is just our own hype, but, the truth is the entire biking world is aware of the Dirty Kanza. The Global Cycling Network, a YouTube channel with 1.25 million followers located in Bath, England, reported on the race this weekend alongside the Criterium de Dauphine and the Hammer Series, both bike races in Europe. This worldwide exposure draws participants from all over the world. The same can be said for the Glass Blown Open. These events don't just expose outsiders to what life is like in small town, middle America, they enlarge our world as well. We are all bound to be changed.

Hopefully, for all of the citizens Emporia and the surrounding area, these events will inspire us to get out there and experience all of the people, places, and things that life has to offer!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Without Love

It's was a beautiful morning. I was sitting in my garden having a rest after putting in some more plants and then the day was shattered, like so many have been recently, by the news of another school shooting. “When is it going to end?” I asked myself. Everything has changed once again. What I was going to write about no longer seems relevant. The only things that matter now are all the families who have to go through the pain of losing their love ones in such a senseless way.

In a nation like ours, with all the resources that we have available why can't we solve this problem? Have we become so desensitized that we have no desire to hold those to account who are responsible for this madness?

It isn't just the gun manufacturers. It isn't just the mental health community or the social case workers that let people fall through the cracks. It isn't just the media, who in a way glorify the violence and its perpetrators by broadcasting the chaos that they create over and over and over ad infinitum. It isn't just the manufacturers of video games who have created a culture of violence. It isn’t just rap that glorifies violence and an in-your-face lifestyle.

It's all of us, even those who care about our fellow man. It's all of us because we were at rave at each other. It is each one of us thinks we are in the center of the universe and our own well-being is the most important thing.

I think we need a major reassessment of our worth. It doesn't matter how many cars you on or how many square feet your houses are or how fashionably you were dressed or what fine restaurants you've always dined in. We are failing as a society and as individuals if we fail to protect our most precious possession, our children and each other.

The problem is, laws are not going to change the situation. That's the first thing we talk about, gun laws, all kinds of proposals have been made for how to correct this situation with laws, but none of them are going to make the difference. We have to address the reason behind all of the desperate lives that cause people to think they have no recourse but to lash out at others.

This time, however, the cacophony of protests was dimmed by another unlikely event taking place, the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. For a few hours on Saturday morning, a good portion of the world was transfixed as an American commoner, with one failed marriage behind her, of mixed race, raised by a single black mother, from a family that could be described as dysfunctional at best, vowed before God and the world to love and be faithful to the person who is fifth in line to the throne of England.

Accompanying all of the pomp and circumstance that is a Royal wedding, was a fiery message about love by a very black American Episcopal priest, Bishop Michael Curry taken from the book of Amos in the Bible. His words may have been for Harry and Meghan, but they were words that the whole world needed to hear.

“When love is the way -- unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever flowing brook. When love is the way poverty will become history. When love is the way the earth will become a sanctuary. When love is the way we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way there’s plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God’s children.”

And I would add, when love is the way, we won't have to worry about our children being slaughtered in their classrooms by their peers.

Does it sound too simple? Perhaps yes, but desperate times call for desperate measures and sometimes there is nothing more desperate than love. The words to the old Doobie Brothers hit come to mind: “Without love, where would you be now?” Look around, this is what it looks like without love.