Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthdays of Note

This time of the year brings several family birthdays. My step-daughter, Margaret, had a birthday February 18th.  She lives in Davenport, Iowa and turned 41. I sent her a gift certificate for a massage and facial.  I hope she gets some guilty pleasure from that as she has just had a baby (Max) who is now two months old and is the dominating factor in her life presently.

Having devoted all her adult life to her career as a successful professor of Political Science, now she has signed up for the role of Mom and its new challenges.  I remember career and motherhood as an extremely stressful and rewarding time in my own life. I know she is very capable of anything and my best wishes go out to Margaret and her family!

Max, her very best Birthday Gift
And, yes, those little babies do grow up to become wonderful adults. February 25th was my oldest daughter's 29th Birthday.  We celebrated Amanda's birthday at Barelas Coffee House in Albuquerque.  Barelas is one of those old family style New Mexican eateries where everyone comes to enjoy home-style eats in a casual relaxed atmosphere.

 Amanda's friend, Mario, was there from San Diego. Ron and I were there.  Mary (her sister) and her partner, Matt, were there along with Matt's sister, Pam, and her partner, Brian.  Gus, Mary's old college friend from UC Santa Barbara, now living and working in Albuquerque joined us, too.  I gave Amanda a pastel landscape of the North Valley Los Poblanes Open Space fields and farms that I painted.

Amanda  and friend Mario with pastel painting I gave her


Sisters: Mary and Amanda

Vicki and Ron

Tomorrow, the first of March, I will celebrate my husband, Ron's,  71st birthday.  I made him a cake and a special dinner, with just us to enjoy.  I will be giving him a pastel painting I did.  I hope he likes it.

My new painting for Ron's Birthday
He loves Peeps although I could not fit 71 on the cake

Birthdays are milestones in our lives, sometimes welcome, sometimes despised. For me, they are the opportunity to stop for a few hours in our busy lives and to say: "You are a Special Person in my life."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisconsin Union Fight on the Front Line Against Billionaires' Agenda to Destroy Democracy

It's not Unions that we need to be concerned about when it comes to preserving democracy in America.  No, public employees who belong to Unions are not a "Fat Cat" class different from ordinary folks and living off the taxpayers like Scott Walker wants you to believe..  Indeed, the real threat to democracy in America are the Billionaire Koch brothers who are buying politicians and elections to maintain and broaden their control over American social, economic, and political institutions. Even Shep Smith from Fox News "gets it" as he truthfully calls what is happening in Wisconsin a political battle, not a budget crisis battle. Their goal is to get rid of the most effective opposition the Right Wing has in America: Unions who donate the most money and get out the vote for Democrats and other candidates who oppose the Big Business Agenda.

The Koch brothers helped bankroll the election of puppets like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  They were the major benefactors of the Citizen's United Supreme Court Decision that gave Corporations  the power to dump unlimited cash into elections to influence the outcomes in favor of their interests.  They are paying for the propaganda machine called Americans for Prosperity with the kind of money millions of average Americans could never raise.  If you have any doubt who has the ear of conservative elected representatives and who is controlling the right wing propaganda of the "Tea Party Movement" in America, you can see it ever so clearly in the "punked" Phone Call from "David Koch" to Scott Walker yesterday.  The fake call was made by Ian Murphy, Editor of The Buffalo Beast who represented hisself as "David Koch".  Of course, the busy Governor who is trying to break the back of unions in Wisconsin in the name of "balancing the budget" quickly took the call and loquaciously chattered away for 20 minutes to his Patron about his tactics:

Yesterday in New Mexico, people came to the State Capitol in Santa Fe to express their support for the Wisconsin public employees who are being threatened with the loss of their collective bargaining rights in the full attack upon the Middle Class by the greedy moneybags of the American right wing. Many of the signs associated  the fight for human rights and democracy in the Middle East and Africa with that of the struggle of the public workers in Wisconsin.  A lot of signs also clearly tied their struggle to fighting back against the Koch brothers and corporate greed. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Unions are the Bellwether of the Health of the American Middle-Class

I don't care if you love Unions or hate Unions.  But, I will tell you the truth about Unions.  Unions are what allowed a Middle Class to develop in America in the 20th century. The rise and decline of the Middle Class in our country has always been dependent on the healthy existence of unions. Let me count just a few ways Unions have affected EVERYONE in America:

  • Laws to protect workplace safety
  • Child labor laws
  • Laws to limit workplace abuses regarding compensation and hours of work
  • Equal pay for workers on the job despite your gender, race, or physical condition
  • Minimum wage laws
  • Retirement Pensions
  • Work-place provided Health Care, Vision and Dental insurance benefits
  • Early Retiree Medical Insurance
  • Collective Bargaining
  • Democracy in the workplace
  • Better wages and working conditions
  • Paid holidays, vacations, and overtime pay
  • Family Leave
  • Life Insurance and Death Benefits for families of workers
  • Federal and State laws to restrict business in their pollution of the land and communities we live in

 I don't care if you've never belonged to a Union, the truth is that you have been a benefactor of their efforts. Union workers pay membership dues, but even the non-union and salaried workers still get the benefits of a workplace with collective bargaining agreements because the Company will not allow the non-union workers to have inferior working conditions and benefits in a workplace where a Union Contract has been negotiated.

Today, primarily because of the flight of manufacturing jobs to locations where cheap, non-union labor exist, unions have been weakened.  Now, the Right Wing of this country is trying to completely destroy Unions by taking away the Right of workers to collective bargaining.  Today, they often disguise their efforts at busting unions as "necessary to balance budgets" or "to keep labor rates competitive".  In the first half of the 20th century, it was "to fight Communists".  What is happening in Wisconsin today is a massive uprising of fed-up workers who are saying "NO to the Union Busters" - not only to those in the corporations, but to those in our  houses of elected representatives.

Workers mass in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol to defend their rights

I first became aware of the power of workers controlling the destiny of their economic lives when I worked for the United Farmworkers Union in 1973 in California and Arizona.   The workers who harvested our food were some of the most disenfranchised of all workers.  After working with the UFW and its leader, Cesar Chavez, I knew that unions were the way to get dignity and economic justice for one's life.  In 1977, I began working for one of the largest and richest corporations in the world.  I was hired as an Electronic Assember for $2.81 an hour.  I was required to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO within 30 days of employment.  In the first 90 days, I had employer-paid medical, dental, and life insurance benefits.  I received a Cost-of-Living raise of 19 cents in the first 30 days.  I received a union negotiated pay increase each year.  I was earning a retirement pension.  I had a Stock and Savings Plan. I was entitled to Tuition Reimbursement.  I was paid overtime after 8 hours a day and on holidays and Sundays. I was promoted and laid-off based on seniority with the company.  I worked 27 years for that company.

 Our Union was run by democratic principles with monthly meetings and elections of all officers and representatives by the Union members.  I was elected  by my fellow workers as Union Steward and Negotiator to represent their interests on the job and at the bargaining table.  I was elected and re-elected as their full-time Business Representative where I represented aggrieved workers up to and including binding arbitration.  In 27 years, we went out on strike twice.  Most of the time, we reached agreement, sometimes winning, sometimes losing on various bargaining points.  We had True Democracy in the workplace. Because we had a Contract with the employer regarding our working conditions and compensation, we had Justice on the Job.  I raised a family, bought a home, and retired with a pension.   I gladly paid membership dues and stood on picket lines to gain these privileges.  Many non-union workers think any benefits on the job are given to them by the employer.  This is certainly not my experience.  Even workers who never came to a union meeting and complained about dues always got fair and equal representation on the job because of the union.  As we often hear, freedom isn't free and equal justice on the job and fair pay hasn't come without sacrifices of millions of union workers and their families.

 I will gladly stand in solidarity with my Wisconsin Union Brothers and Sisters on Tuesday, February 22, 2011.  You can join a Solidarity Rally in your State today, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Locally we will be in Santa Fe at the state Capitol Building (backside of the Roundhouse) Tuesday, February 22nd at 12:15pm MST.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Our Winter Road Trip - Part II

This is a continuation from a previous post  of January 29, 2011.  After visitng our new grandbaby, Max, and his Mom (Margaret) and Dad (Jeff), we left Iowa on Friday, January 7th, headed toward Minnesota to visit Ron's youngest daughter, Anne, and her family .  Upon leaving Davenport  that morning, we stopped for breakfast and the first snow flakes began to fall. As we traveled north through Cedar Rapids via I-380, the weather got messier with more snow and blowing wind . We made it to Waterloo and then headed into more rural northern Iowa via Hwy 27 to Mason City and the I-35 junction.  The rural roads here were covered with drifting snow and we didn't see any snowplows to clear them.  In the open farmlands, winds were in the 25-35 mph range and no hills, trees or buildings are there to stop the blowing snow. Here's a video showing what driving conditions were like:

We finally reached Interstate 35 where many cars were disabled from accidents on the slick roadway. A semi-truck suddenly came sliding off the icy road from the south-bound lanes into the median heading right for us. Luckily, the driver kept it from rolling over or going into our lane.  We drove very slowly and decided we needed to get off the snowy highway that had very little visibility due to the blowing snow.

 It was 1PM and we were hungry and cold, so we took an exit in the white-out conditions hoping to find a town.  We were going down a deserted highway and thought we would  be lost.  Looking at our map, we decided to find the nearest town. We found a road that led us to Faribault, Minnesota.  In Faribault, we found a little restaurant that served Greek food and had a candy shop.  After enjoying hot soup and a gyros sandwich, Ron bought a pound box of chocolate truffles to take to Anne and her family.  We drove another hour to Chaska, MN.  We greeted Anne, Brent, Will and Milla at their home that was surrounded by snow and ice.

Grandpa Ron, Ron's daughter Anne,
Grandma Vicki, Son-in-law Brent
and grandchildren Milla (front) and Will (back)
Anne served dinner Friday night and we settled in to watch The Fifth Element movie courtesy of streaming Netflix.  Because of the freezing weather, outdoor activities aren't an option, so we took everyone to the movies Saturday to see the forgettable Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black. Returning home, Ron presented Will with a favorite book on Magic he'd had as a youngster and showed Will how to do some magic tricks. Will is seven years old and loves Legos and drawing.  He is very talented and many of his inventive drawings graced the wall in the dining room. Vicki drew some pictures with Will, and presented two-year old Milla with wooden puzzle blocks that make animal sounds when put together correctly. Milla is a beautiful little girl.  That evening, Brent and Anne took us for dinner at a new local sports pub restaurant with a very eclectic menu: Prairie Ale House in Eden Prairie, MN. They had a nice bar menu with many hand-crafted beers with nice $4 Happy Hour prices so we tried several, including the hearty Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat Stout.

Will last summer
Anne with Milla in 2010

On Sunday, we decided to head home to New Mexico to beat an impending snow storm.  We got as far as Kansas City before the snow caught up with us.

As we drove on I-35 south of Kansas City through the darkness and heavy snowfall, we saw many auto accidents caused by slippery road condiitons. "White-knuckling" the icy roads, we made it to Emporia, KS to spend the night.  On Monday, January 10, we headed toward Liberal, Kansas via US 54 where the snow had  finally stopped.  Our 4Runner was completely covered with ice, sand and salt by the time we made it home to Sandia Park, New Mexico at 8PM that evening.  We breathed a sigh of relief and settled into our beds, happy to be back home safe and sound.  Ron pledged that we would not be making anymore winter road trips to Minnesota and Iowa again.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The song, Hallelujah,  comes pretty close to being the perfect song. Lyrics by Leonard Cohen.  Here are several performances of this beautiful, haunting love song.

My favorite rendition is the powerful version by k.d.lang:

The classic version from the late Jeff Buckley:

Rufus Wainwright's version was used in the movie Shrek:

Then there is the original by the great LEONARD COHEN:


Lyrics by Leonard Cohen

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Here's John Cale's version:

Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Askil Holm, Alejandro Fuentes harmonize so finely with their version:

Flavored with county western by Willie Nelson:

So, who is your favorite artist for singing Hallelujah?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Winter of 2011

Here in New Mexico as well as most of North America, we have had some very cold weather this Winter. Before the new year, we had very little snow and temperatures were mild, but the storm that hit us on February 1st was huge.

Winter Photos by my daughter, Amanda

The land is so beautiful after a snow.  I am lucky because I work at home and do not have to commute.

The weekend before the Big Snow Storm, we bought a cord of good, dry wood.  I had gotten about half a cord of wood from a wood-seller on the Turquoise Trail in Cedar Crest but it was green and the fire just smouldered and clogged my stove-pipe cap.  Wood sellers with their filled pick-up trucks parked in Tijeras and Cedar Crest are usually reliable.  But some unreputable sellers who are trying to make a quick buck illegally cut wood and sell it immediately.  The unseasoned wood doesn't burn well, doesn't warm your house and it clogs your wood stove and stove pipes very quickly.

I climbed onto the roof the last day of January and cleaned the cap and the upper portion of the pipe. Then we settled in for the forecasted "Monster Storm".

It snowed all day February 1st. On February 2 (ironically Groundhog Day celebrated for a critter's ability to predict the length of Winter), the temperature at my home reached 12 degrees (F) below zero and my hot water pipe at the water heater froze.  Moriarty, a town about 45 minutes east of my home, reached 34 degrees (F) below zero, the coldest in the USA that day. This has been the coldest weather in 40 years here in New Mexico. We haven't had a lot of snow except for the 6 inches we got the first week of February.  Albuquerque got about 4 inches of snow and the temperature dropped to below zero.  The city just came to a stop.  Water pipes were breaking all over the city and cars crashed on the ice. The major highways like I-25 north and south and I-40 east and west closed.  The worst that happened was a huge natural gas outage in New Mexico affecting more than 32,000 residents. More than 16,000 residents still do not have gas as of today:

We don't use natural gas or propane.  We have an all-electric house on a "time-of-use" meter to help us manage our electricity usage by using non-peak hours for our high electricity demands.  We installed the wood stove last summer to help reduce our heating bills and to be our back-up source of heat in an electrical outage.

My house in Sandia Park is at 6900 ft. elevation

After shoveling my neighbor's driveway, we went sledding.
Photo by Alma Quillian
The Sandia Mountains with their highest peaks at over 10,600 ft. received about 14-18 inches.  I helped my neighbor, Alma, shovel her driveway.  Then we used plastic sleds to enjoy a few runs. 

My driveway a week after the storm. 
I couldn't get out of the driveway with my Camry because of the snow. 
Luckily we have a 4 WD vehicle.

My oldest daughter, Amanda, and I went snowshoeing in the Sandia Mountains.  I don't ski anymore since I broke my leg skiing at Angel Fire in December, 2000. We have a ski resort about 6 miles from our house on the Sandia Crest highway for snowboarding and skiing.  There are many cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails here, too. In January each year, Friends of the Sandia Mountains sponsors the Sandia Snow Shoe Race.  I didn't do the Snow Shoe Race this year, but I did volunteer to get Sponsers for this year's race and I helped at the registration table.

Blue crisp skies along the Tree Spring Trail
Photo by Amanda

Making a Snow Angel in the snow
View of Albuquerque from Sandia Crest

The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway

Sandia Mountains
Photo by Amanda

Amanda snowshoeing in the Sandia Mountains

Today, as dawn breaks, a new storm is on it's way