Saturday, November 26, 2011

"My Life As a Turkey" - Great Nature Documentary

Our relationship to animals is often anthropomorphic.  We aways see the animals through our own species-centric view.  This incredible story, "My Life as a Turkey," takes us humans into a highly unsuspecting direction.   Joe Hutto, a naturalist and wildlife writer and artist who lives in the flatwoods of Florida, observes nature.  This is the story about becoming nature.  His observation of imprinting by animals becomes his story of becoming "a turkey" as he helps hatch and raise 16 wild turkeys for two years of his life. This episode premiered on the PBS Nature program November 16, 2011. 

Watch My Life as a Turkey on PBS. See more from NATURE.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Invitation Etiquette: A Refresher

It's that time of the year again when there are many parties, dinners, and social events that require invitations  and responses so that a host or hostess can plan the event.   I want to remind people that invitations that are received need a response and that RSVP means: “Répondez, s’il vous plaît,” or, in English: “Please reply.”  I don't know when we started to be so lax about invitations and their RSVP request so that people ignore them, but it is definitely a major complaint for me.  Emily Post wrote a famous book in 1922 called Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (frequently referenced as Etiquette)  and there is a website for Emily Post for you moderns who only use email and texting.  Emily Post is even on Facebook. more excuses that you don't know what to do when you receive a formal or written invitation.

What does Emily Post say about receiving an Invitation and RSVP?  Please read what she says below:

Invitation Etiquette
Whether it is to a wedding, a dinner party, shower or gala event, an invitation comes with some important obligations. Here’s a quick guide to keep you on the guest list.


From the French, it means “Répondez, s’il vous plaît,” or, “Please reply.” This little code has been around for a long time and it’s definitely telling you that your hosts want to know if you are attending. Reply promptly, within a day or two of receiving an invitation.

2. How do I respond? Reply in the manner indicated on the invitation.

•RSVP and no response card: a handwritten response to the host at the return address on the envelope.

•Response Card: fill in and reply by the date indicated and return in the enclosed envelope.

•RSVP with phone number: telephone and make sure to speak in person – answering machines can be unreliable.

•RSVP with email: you may accept or decline electronically.

•Regrets only: reply only if you cannot attend. If your host doesn’t hear from you, he is expecting you!

•No reply requested? Unusual, but it is always polite to let someone know your intentions. A phone call would be sufficient.

3. Is that your final answer?

•Changing a ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ is only acceptable on account of: illness or injury, a death in the family or an unavoidable professional or business conflict. Call your hosts immediately.

•Canceling because you have a “better” offer is a sure fire way to get dropped from ALL the guest lists.

•Being a “no show” is unacceptable.

•Changing a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ is OK only if it will not upset the hosts’ arrangements.

4. “May I bring…”

Don’t even ask! An invitation is extended to the people the hosts want to invite—and no one else.

•…a date. Some invitations indicate that you may invite a guest or date (Mr. John Evans and Guest) and when you reply, you should indicate whether you are bringing someone, and convey their name.

•…my children. If they were invited, the invitation would have said so.

•… my houseguest. It’s best to decline the invitation, stating the reason. This gives your host the option to extend the invitation to your guests, or not.

5. Say “Thank You.”

Make sure to thank your hosts before you leave, and then again by phone or note the next day.

I mailed out invitations to six couples for Thanksgiving Dinner the last week of October.  Hmmm, what to buy, food for 6, food for 12,  food for 14?  I'll wait for the RSVP replies. My two daughters told me they'd be here, one with her boyfriend. 

I happened to see one of the invited by chance two weeks ago and asked if he and his partner would be there?  "Yes" was the answer.  He called me Monday night to say "No - going to work Thanksgiving Day."

Six of the invited live out-of-state, so I invited them to stay over as our house guests.  I thought perhaps they could not come, but I really want to see them.  Did I get an answer from any of them? Invitation to my sister and her husband - never answered.  Invite to 4 other friends, not even an email!

OK, I'm not a mind reader, so we bought a 15 pound turkey and purchased food and drink for 12 potential guests.  Now it looks like my husband and I are hosting 3 guests.  Oh, today I heard from my daughter - can she bring her girlfriend who just got dumped by her boyfriend and has no where to go?  Of course!  Plenty of food!

May your Thanksgiving Day be full of joy and guests who properly RSVP'ed.


Oh, and Happy Left Overs to you!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Feeling Stressed? "Life Is Short - Wear Your Party Pants!"

"...stress isn't something to try to disguise or eradicate. Stress is a signal. When you recognize it, and work with it instead of against it, you can learn a lot about what you need to do to be happier and healthier. Stress is actually a blessing that can help you realize when you need to make changes in your life."
 - Loretta LaRoche,  Life Is Short - Wear Your Party Pants

Loretta LaRoche is a wonderful speaker and humorist who specializes in stress management.  I bought her book "Life Is Short - Wear Your Party Pants" a few years ago when I seemed overwhelmed by life. I was divorced, had been laid off at 54 years old from my job of 27 years, and I was trying to provide financially for myself and two daughters who were still in college.  I considered myself the "Queen of Multi-Tasking" and felt I always had to be doing "something" - either working, or improving myself, or improving life for others - you probably know the drill. I was a real stress case.  I was trying to "control" everything and everyone in my life - and doing a miserable job.  I gained 30 pounds, developed high blood pressure, was pre-diabetic, and I was a pain in the ass to my family and friends.  What I learned from Loretta is the value of laughter and the importance of self-acceptance. I also learned that the stress I was a feeling was a sign that I needed to make important changes in my life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Facing Anger

My daughter, Amanda

Amid the loving expressions of peace, brotherhood, and good will during the holidays, we often are jarred with expressions of anger and violence seemingly all around us.  Indeed, one of the predominant human feelings of the season is often anger that may arise from minor episodes of impatience and irritation  to major events involving grief, jealousy, moral outrage and the like. 

Anger can be a nuisance in our lives or a major impediment in our successful interaction with others.  It can lead to violence, bodily harm, or permanent loss of love and affection. 

For myself, I have found the teaching of mindfulness habits offered within the Buddhist tradition helps me to face anger. From an April 10, 2008 episode of Being by Krista Tippett on American Public Media, Zen Master and poet Thich Nhat Hanh and others, including a policewoman and a Baptist Minister, talk about how they respond to "living in a world of anger and violence" using mindfulness. Listen to a podcast of this program.

For Warmth
by Thich Nhat Hanh

I hold my face between my hands
no I am not crying
I hold my face between my hands
to keep my loneliness warm
two hands protecting
two hands nourishing
two hands to prevent
my soul from leaving me
in anger

Pema Chodron is one of my favorite Buddhist teachers.  An American woman, raised as a Catholic and whose marriage fell apart from infidelity by her husband, Pema Chodron turned to "the Middle Way" of Buddhist teachings in the 1970's and has become one of the West's most beloved teachers of Buddhism.  Here she talks about how the "hate" she was feeling for her husband led her to Buddhism.

She has written many wonderful books  and also has many oral talks on CD's.  I'm going to buy Don't Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and Other Destructive Emotions [Audiobook] [Audio CD]  by Pema Chodrin and listen to it during the holidays.  Here is a description from Amazon books:
"Life has a way of provoking us with traffic jams and computer malfunctions, with emotionally distant partners and crying children—and before we know it, we're upset. We feel terrible, and then we end up saying and doing things that only make matters worse. But it doesn't have to be that way, says Pema Chödrön. It is possible to relate constructively to the inevitable shocks, losses, and frustrations of life so that we can find true happiness. The key, Pema explains, is not biting the "hook" of our habitual responses. In this recorded weekend retreat, Pema draws on Buddhist teachings from The Way of the Bodhisattva to reveal how we can:

• stay centered in the midst of difficulty
• improve stressful relationships
• step out of the downward spiral of self-hatred
• awaken compassion for ourselves and others"

Friday, November 18, 2011

Alone for the Holidays

As 2011 winds down, we approach the frenzy of the major winter holidays with their high emotional content.  Full of deadlines, financial stress, and a myriad of social events,  it can be a challenging time as we try to experience idealized rituals amid the reality of our imperfect existence.

One of best things I did for myself during Thanksgiving in November, 2002 was to go on a week long Silent Retreat at Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California.  During a silent retreat, you do not speak, and you eat, do chores, and meditate in silence for the entire time except when you have the opportunity to ask questions  of the teachers during Dharma talks.  I was so relaxed and clear-minded after this retreat that I found profound peace and joy in the days that followed, despite the anxiety and expectations of others all around me.

For the next several weeks, I plan to blog on the feelings we as humans feel that are especially amplified during this holiday season.  I plan to share in this blog the words, art, poetry, and music of different spiritual teachers, humorists, and artists that I find have something to offer on how we might survive and thrive during these times.

This holiday season, many of us may not have a partner or family with whom we can share our experiences.  Even those of us with a partner or family, may feel "alone" in our our own separate feelings about values and responses to the rituals of the season. "Loneliness" is certainly a feeling that we humans experience, not only during the holidays, but in our daily lives. We may find ourselves consumed by our loneliness, believing it to be a "negative thing".  We may even suffer depression because of our loneliness. If we accept that being alone offers unique opportunities for personal reflection and growth,  we can experience revelation and renewal as persons.  Tanya Davis, a young Canadian poet and artist, performs her poem "How to be Alone" in a wonderful video by filmaker Andrea Dorfman.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why is the TV Series "Mad Men" Such a Success? The Nostalgic Interest in Mid-20th Century America

The AMC television series, Mad Men, is a huge hit with it's subject matter about Madison Avenue advertsing and the mores and values of 1960's America. This was time of heady rising expectations. There were plenty of jobs for anyone who wanted to work hard. And with the rising expectations of the growing middle class, the dreams of becoming wealthy, owning a home, having a beautiful wife and family were heavily promoted by American corporations looking to sell the commodities and accoutrements to achieve "perfect bliss and happiness..."

The women of "Mad Men"

Don Draper character from "Mad Men
A cultural backlash began in the 1960's.  The film The Graduate was a pivotal film in 1967 as it questioned the best advice of Madison Avenue.  Simon and Garfinkel  (who won immediate fame for their music in The Graduate) introduced their song "America" in 1968.  Their music, exemplified by this song, appealed to many of the children of the American middle class who were questioning so much of what they saw as they grew up in the mid-twentieth century.  

"Let us be lovers we'll marry our fortunes together"
"I've got some real estate here in my bag"
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America
"Kathy," I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now"
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I've gone to look for America
Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said "Be careful his bowtie is really a camera"
"Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat"
"We smoked the last one an hour ago"
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field
"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

So I'm interested now, as I was then, in what was the impact of the culture of mid-twentieth century America on it's people and values.  There seems to be a nostalgia for it today.
Jane Richlovsky is my husband's niece from his first marriage. She is a talented artist living in Seattle, Washington.   Jane paints on recycled fabric such as tablecloths, slipcovers, and curtains, the idealized images of mid-twentieth century America as envisioned by Madison Avenue ad agencies.
Jane Richlovsky and Ron in Seattle in October, 2008

In her artist's statement, she writes:
"I mine mid-century advertisements, cookbooks, and homemaking guides for images of people, food, and appliances, refashioning them into oblique narratives whose characters are cropped off the edges of the canvases, frozen in moments of interaction with the shiny, textured surfaces that surround them. I see the sensuality and beauty in these surfaces - a marbled vinyl floor or a translucent, wriggling jello salad - and painstakingly build up layers of oil paint in an attempt to render them in all their mid-century glory. By focusing on the seductiveness of manufactured objects, I explore how the lingering desire for the American Dream, in all its suburban nuclear excess, is in essence a sexual one. I twist the perpetually nostalgic visual language of advertising to bring to the surface the underlying uneasiness of this idealized dream world."
The Buddy System by Jane Richlovsky

This Is The House You Ordered by Jane Richlovsky

Surface Tension by Jane Richlovsky

Easy as Peeling a Banana by Jane Richlovsky

Day After Tomorrow by Jane Richlovsky

Jane Richovsky is moving to her new Art Studio this month - '57 Biscayne - in historic downtown Seattle. The Grand Opening Reception is today, 6-10PM. See more news about Jane here.

The American mid-twentieth century was the time I grew up (I was born in 1950 in Los Angeles, California).  You could not avoid being immersed in a highly materialistic culture via the new media of television. I remember as a teenager that I was keenly aware that I was so lucky to be born and raised in California in the USA in the mid-twentieth century. But there were many contradictions.  I saw hypocrisy in much of my daily life. I was very unhappy with a war being waged in our name upon farmers and poor people in Southeast Asia.  I was angry at the absence of civil rights for Black people in America and the brutality that authority used against the Freedom Riders.  I joined the Farmworker's movement to fight for a better life for poor immigrants who harvested our food.  I feared the spectre of nuclear annihilation during the so-called Cold War. I experienced discrimination and sexist behavior as a woman in the workplace.

I think that a lot of today's nostalgia and interest in this period in America has to do with our discontent and rethinking on what our American values are  in the 21st century.  Depending on your economic and social conditions, you may remember the last half of the 20th century as a happy time or an awful time.  To understand today's Tea Party movement is to understand the anger and discontent of the predominantly older, white, Christian, and politically conservative people who are not at ease with todays values and culture which has become ever more diverse.  To understand the Occupy movement is to understand the anger of younger and poorer Americans, as well as those from the middle class who are losing their jobs, savings, and homes, who feel that they were lied to and manipulated by Madison Avenue values and capitalism.  I have previously posted on why I believe today's  struggle of labor unions against the right wing political effort to kill them off is a fight to maintain a Middle Class.

So, what do you think?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Eliminate Big Oil Tax Loopholes To Help American Economic Recovery

I resent the obscene amount of money spent by the American Petroleum Industry in their ads that run every 15 minutes on television trying to brainwash Americans into believing that the oil and gas industry is the “savior of American jobs”, “a partner in creating wealth for ordinary people,” and “responsibly developing clean energy sources”.  The hundreds of millions spent for these ads by the oil and gas industry come directly from us taxpayers because of favorable tax loopholes that allow big oil companies to pay less in taxes helping to earn them $1 trillion in profits in the past decade.  One oil company, ExxonMobil, pays an effective tax rate that is less than that of the average American family. They are running these ads to influence public opinion because the American Jobs Act that would promote employment AND pay down the debt would repeal their tax loopholes. Tax loopholes like the 9% tax credit oil companies get as a “domestic manufacturer” that will return $4.4 billion in taxes back to the oil companies this year alone.  Other tax credits they get include a dollar for dollar tax credit on foreign taxes they pay for drilling overseas.  Originally set up in the 1920’s by Congress to offset royalty fees charged by Saudi Arabia, the oil companies get to adjust their corporate income taxes for profits earned in overseas drilling dollar for dollar on foreign income taxes paid.  In the 1970’s, American oil companies actually demanded that the Chinese establish an income tax on US oil companies drilling there so they could take advantage of this tax loophole!  The sweet thing is the oil companies benefit twice with foreign income taxes, both in the refund they get on US income taxes and in that the foreign income taxes are primarily used to improve infrastructure (like roads, airports, ports, security, etc.) that benefits the drilling companies. Today, we need to balance our budget with the help of those who have been most favorably affected by tax laws. Their propaganda that making them pay their fair share of taxes would hurt energy development and jobs is bogus. Between 2005 and 2010, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP earned $546 billion in profits, but cut their work force by 11,200 workers.  Despite $78 billion in profits in 2010 for Chevron, Shell, Conoco Phillips, BP, and ExxonMobil, they spend a mere 1.2% of that on alternative fuels research.  I think if we have a choice to spend American taxes on highly profitable oil companies or on helping to pay down the debt and preserving our economy to benefit the 99% of us, it’s a no brainer.  But we have to speak a lot louder than the lobbyists to tell Congress to vote for the American Jobs Act provisions. And, in 2012, we will remember whose side they were on when we go to the voting booth.