Thursday, December 29, 2016

I beg to differ

After watching this video this morning, I have to say that I find Mr. Sinek's generalizations specious.

Here's why:

First, it reminds me of the once-conventional wisdom that teens, as a rule, were over-programmed. One really interesting study (before cell phones) gave teens beepers. Whenever they got beeped, they were to write down what they were doing and describe their mood. Turns out most kids didn't have enough to do and were bored: They were way more idle than busy. The investigators concluded that the "myth" of the over-programmed kiddo was perpetuated by highly affluent parents.

Granted, it's my own world, but my on-the-ground experience differs so much with Mr. Simek's I just can't keep quiet. I've worked with quite a few Millennials in professional publishing, nonprofit, public health, and academic settings, and their actions and attitudes have consistently busted the generalizations Simon Sinek asserts:

Millennials I've seen in action:

A. Value a meaningful life over a climb-the-ladder existence
They are much more communitarian and team-oriented than the Boomers with whom I've worked. Seems to be less jockeying for position and prestige and more of a sense of fairness and equity. This desire for impact he mentions seems to be maturing nicely among them. They translate it into creating a collegial workplace setting where they share about the many activities they participate in outside of work, things that add meaning to the their lives, expose them to a variety of people (including being mentors, taking steps in politics, and serving on boards of nonprofit organizations). They also move into graduate programs with apparent ease, seeking information and knowledge they believe will improve how they think or prepare them for more difficult assignments.

B. Demonstrate discipline
Are extremely prompt and usually well-prepared for meetings. They insist on goals for the meetings and clear agendas. They're eager to use the meetings for efficient communication and camaraderie but are quickly ready to get back to work to move projects forward. They hold the rest of us (Boomers) accountable for making progress and keeping our mission front and center.

C. Use the technology to make things better
Make excellent use of mobile devices on behalf of work efforts. In one project, we were trying to build awareness of a Public Health Web site that was a repository of vetted practices. With no funds for promotion, we had to look closely at social media. I worried at the time that public health professionals in state agencies were stuck with firewalls that hindered their Web searches. One astute Millennial reminded our team that most people were carrying handheld devices and were likely to use the cellular networks to access what the silly firewalls prevented them from seeing. Watching how she and other Millennials did the same -- used the cells to access information for work -- it became clear that we could use social media to promote the Web site. And we were very successful. Additionally, whenever we gathered for fun social events, phones were indeed at the ready, but they were available for all ages. There was a hunger for one-on-one conversations that kept the phones from being a distraction or they may have been pulled out to show pictures of family members or of trips. Once work is over, YES, everyone's got them out, with noses buried in them while on the buses and trains. But I have not observed the delayed social skills Mr. Simek mentions so glibly. If anything, I've seen Millennials further along the personal development timeline than Boomers at their age. Just look how many have had to delay home-buying and starting families, owing to the immoral level of student loan debt that TRULY is no fault of their own. 

Why I'm skeptical
Mr. Sinek cites numerous studies that I have not spent time tracking down, but am interested in examining. I spent 8 years in the field of adolescent development research, so this cohort of the population is near and dear to my head and heart. I don't mean to be flip about the studies Mr. Sinek cites, but he allowed no time for discussion or counterpositions. So, I guess that's why I feel strongly about offering a defense of this oft-maligned group of people. 

Sweeping generalizations, ostensibly grounded in strong studies, always make me skeptical. And I really get my back up when I hear parents cited as part of the problem.

Let's see, Freud put a few unfortunate notions into the ethos about poor mothering; Benjamin Spock had a few less-thank-perfect ideas; and if you dig back ages past about our irascible "younger generations," you often hear echoes of the same things that Mr. Sinek mentions: lack of maturity, problematic indecisiveness or impetuousness, inability to delay gratification.

Well guess what? All that comes with age and the accumulation of wisdom over tough, often heart-breaking times. From what I've observed, the heartbreaks that Millennials have seem to be far less about not making partner in the corporate environment and more about the terrible schism in politics and society. I'm rather happy those topics weigh so heavily on them, because I believe their resourcefulness and desire to "have an impact" just might be what we need to get out our current fix.

Ask a different question
How about we focus on the amazing strengths the Millennials bring to their effort to make a living, maybe even learn from them and adapt our own strategies based on their feedback? How about we see them as splendid individuals who are unfolding before our eyes, rather than affixing expectations of their behaviors into our mindsets? How about we change the question to what is RIGHT about Millennials and then go back through all the studies he's cited and look at the study designs, data, and discussions from a different lens. The late Peter Benson did exactly that when he tired of hearing how bad teens were and how poorly they were doing. His willingness to take the time to do that led to a ground-breaking concept in adolescent development: The Developmental Assets. It takes a truly great and inspired mind to change the paradigm in that way.

I have no quibbles (at this point) with Mr. Sinek’s assertion that social media pings dopamine in our brains. But I'll also note that television was considered the great zombifier and addiction of generations past. So if there's any social development delays among our populations, the causes go much farther back than the availability of social media.

My .02.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Get Beckie to Beargrease

I've been having a blast lately learning about using sites like GoFundMe, KickStarter, and IndieGo.

And I'm most excited about helping a fantastic and inspiring woman make her dream come true with one of these sites.

When she worked as a vet tech at a sled dog race I attended, I observed Beckie Hacker tenderly caring for a sweet pup who had a kidney problem. I was mesmerized watching how she curled up around this sick pup, gave him IV fluids, and administered her special kind of therapeutic massage. I think we all were. We just sat there, eyes glued to her as she worked her magic for hours. Eventually, the pup responded and recovered. And we all exhaled one huge sign of relief.

Not long after this event, Beckie decided she wanted to be on the other side of sled dog races; she wanted to become a musher herself.

It's been breathtaking watching this woman completely change up her life for the love of these dogs. As a vet tech, she was highly respected for her knowledge, dedication, and abilities.

But she took a big risk! She left that career behind, left the comforts of a home in the suburbs, built a dog trailer with her own two hands, and moved to Alaska for the summer to train and educate others about dog sledding. During the winters now, she lives in a very remote cabin along gorgeous forest trails up the Michigan's Upper Peninsula where she and her Dream Big Kennel teammates run for miles and miles.

It's not an easy life at all. There are constant breakdowns of mechanical things, tangles of dog lines to fix, wood to haul, buckets of stew to feed the dogs in sub-zero temperatures, poo to scoop, snow to shovel, you name it. But Beckie is undaunted. Not only that, her sense of humor is brilliant. You will not hear this woman whine, but you're very likely to hear some pretty awesome wisecracks.

Beckie dreams of running the famed and grueling Iditarod race across Alaska. To qualify, a musher must run several lonnnnnng races. Last year, Beckie finished the UP 200 in some the worst weather the race has ever seen. Look at her smile!!!!!

At the end of this week, she's going to run the John Beargrease Marathon, which is nearly 400 miles long. It's one of the toughest sled dog races in the Lower 50, up and down the hilly terrain of the NorthShore Trail in Minnesota.

It's hard work to train for these events-and it drains the savings account fast. So, if you find you have an extra $5, $10, or $25 and you'd like to help someone's dream come true, boy, do I have an opportunity for you!
  • Check out Dream Big Kennel's GoFundMe site 
  • Read a few of Beckie's excellent blog posts to get a sense of the amazing spirit of this woman.
I hope we can make Beckie's dream come true. We're soooooo close! We just need one last push to get to finish line now.

And thank you!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Clare's Well moment

by Kathleen Kimball-Baker

Pulling into the gravel driveway,
dust plume in my wake,
my heart bursts
as if barn doors have been flung open
and all the creatures freed
and only love is left

Lacy greets me first--
fur, burrs, and chiding a
lazy yellow cat on the stoop

And then I say
"I'm home!" -- as if it's true

From a place within the farm house
where lunch is simmering,
a lithe figure, wooden spoon
in her hand, rushes forward
and plants a kiss on my cheek.
(Sister) Aggie!

There is no welcome like
one inspired by a saint.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

3 Big Things

I cried twice yesterday, and did my best not to cry a third time. Here's why:

Evidence that love prevails
I sure didn't expect to see in my lifetime what happened yesterday. Marriage became at last simply marriage. Not same-sex marriage or traditional marriage. Marriage. When I read the news about the Supreme Court's decision, it was as if the  Berlin Wall was coming down again. Like a part of one's body that is always in pain, some region of my heart had learned to live with hurt for a long time. That hurt came from the very idea that this country, built on principles of inalienable rights, could withhold so fundamental a privilege from a segment of its people.

Yesterday, I cried. The tears were of joy. But they were tears of deep relief that the pain was gone. I didn't even realize it had hurt so much until that moment.

I am a woman who loves a man, so I will never know the depth of the pain that discrimination has inflicted on women who love women and men who love men. But if the pain I felt for them and for my country was any indication, I think it would have flattened me.

Now it is behind us, but we must never forget the wrongness of the many years before. Love will always prevail.

Amazing grace
Who knew? I sure didn't. He paused to summon his courage, and then the first stanzas of heart-breaking beauty were lifted up in song before a congregation of mourners.

I never doubted the gifts of this man, not even when so many detractors would have me believe otherwise. But Barack Obama's voice yesterday was truly a surprise, a deep, resonant, confident surprise. Where has this voice been for so many years?

I was driving on the freeway when I heard our nation's president boldly and without accompaniment begin to sing Amazing Grace as part of his eulogy for another man who had been gunned down during a violent act of racial hatred. The emotions were so overwhelming, I had to pull off the road, because I could no longer see through the tears. Obama's voice pierced through something yesterday, and it was healing. 

That moment is behind us now, but I'm pretty sure it will remain unforgettable. I would like to think that someday, again love will prevail.

Min-nesota nice 
My hubby picked up the first clue. The parking space kept exclusively for patrons of this tiny Chinese restaurant was gone. Ever the optimist, I suggested that maybe it was part of a new leasing agreement. But when we walked in the door, the air had altered. Min was nowhere to be found. Nor was her husband.

I can't begin to tell you the dread I felt. We've gone to Kwan's Chinese Cuisine for years. It's been one of those incredible little secrets -- constants, really -- that you share only with people for whom you have great affection. Kwan's is where you find red red pleather booths, plastic replicas of jade sculpture, daily specials at $6.99 that come in raised stainless steel dishes with domed tops, and best of all, two of the most reliably cheerful people I've ever known.

Min and her husband came to Minnesota from China one day before the biggest snow storm I've ever experienced in nearly 30 years in this state. And somehow they stuck it out for years. Min knows her regulars' first names and what they're going to order before they say the words. She's pretty much the only one who takes orders, and she moves around the place like a surgeon. Her husband, when he isn't cooking, can be seen hunched over the table closest to the kitchen practicing calligraphy or preparing green beans.

They and their restaurant have been comfort people, place, and food to my husband and I. But we managed to suss out with discreet questions here and there that they'd sold the restaurant, were taking a "vacation" in China, and their return to the US was uncertain.

Whoa. It was like taking a blow to the belly. But I managed not to cry this time. Maybe I was tapped out.

I don't know if I'll ever see Min and her husband again. It's hard to think those days are behind us. But to be sure, I will never forget them, and love will prevail.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

There's a new girl in town

I'm so excited to introduce to you the newest member of of my mushing team: Agate.
Or Aggie. 
Aggie has a "parti" eye - that's when part of the eye has other colors. So pretty! Like a pinwheel!
Aggie came into our lives from the Ohio kennel of the amazing Amanda Povraznik. Aggie is 1/2 Seppala Siberian, 1/2 Alaskan Husky and she's absolutely perfect - all 42 pounds of her, which is mostly legs!

Aggie is roughly the same age as Ginsberg (who's being a complete poop about our new team mate) and a girl with a TON of drive! That's exactly what've we've needed to get us down the trail. While Ginsberg has been a wonderful wheel dog (the dog that helps steer the sled and is closest to the sled), he's just not ever been focused enough to run solo lead. Aggie on the other hand will ONLY run lead. So they're a perfect match.

She's an adorable "talker" who woo-woo-woos up a storm. She's crate-trained, house-broken, and rides in a car like a dream. 

I've taken her to the dog park a couple times, and she's an excellent judge of doggie character. 

Aggie is completely fascinated with airplanes and migrating geese!
I've seen her charm the heck out of a little Bichon with two front legs that work and two back lacks attached to wheels. He rolled as fast as he could to keep up with her. She works her magic especially well with shy dogs and will speak her mind when she thinks other dogs are being too rough or ganging up on a smaller pup.

We're completely smitten, and can't wait to get out for some spring training with our scooter.

So far, I've had people tell me she looks wolfie, like a fox, and like a coyote! So silly. She's just a gorgeous little sled dog who has made our world a lot sillier and much more delightful!

Now, if I can just get Ginsberg to stop being such a grump!

Monday, February 2, 2015

A friend and I kind of RAN into each other on Sunday

So I have this pal who works at the University of Minnesota, one building away from where I work. I hardly ever see him on campus. 

But we kinda ran into each other Sunday at the Subaru Sled Dog Race at the City of Lakes Loppet. His name is Ricq and he races Samoyeds. 

The story behind the shot is that I was on my belly on the frozen ground, elbows firmly planted to steady the camera so I could get some good action shots as the teams flew by seconds after the start. The very icy and fast trail was not especially well marked, and Ricq's team (not Ricq, of course) figured going "haw" (left) looked like a great fun.  

I just kept snapping and thinking to myself, "Hmmm . . . I wonder if this is one of those times when the object in the mirror (or viewfinder) is closer that it appears?" Until I heard Ricq shout:

And here are two amazing things that followed:
  1. He missed me by millimeters, if that much, and
  2. Nary a swear word left this man's mouth. 
Frankly, I thought I was toast, which, oddly enough, is one of the reasons I like this sport so much: the THRILL! By the time I opened my eyes, another musher friend had grabbed his leaders and redirected them back on the trail.

He finished the rest of race unscathed. So did I.

But still . . . I just didn't know there was such a thing as a musher who refrains from swearing when he or she is about to collide with a tree -- or an amateur photographer. Until Sunday.

I lived to tell the tale, and I'm here to tell you, there really are gentleman mushers!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tender and mild

So, about the Christmas story . . . I've had a strange relationship with it, and I think it just got stranger. You be the judge.

For years, the Christmas story saddened me. The image of Mary traveling in the cold, bouncing along atop a donkey while she labored, and the poor confused guy, who wasn't the father of her baby but loved her just same, trying his best to find shelter for her, then being flat-out rejected and winding up in a barn -- all this seemed terribly brutal. No midwife, no creature comforts, no community surrounding her. Just hay, critters, and knowledge that she bore something amazing and bright and beautiful and soon would bring this child forth into the world.

Having birthed 3 babies myself, it was Mary's pain I could not shake in this account of the birth of the Christian savior. That, and the lack of kindness the community showed them, which pained me in a different way.

In the 1990s, some dear friends of mine who were trying to rejuvenate the Women's Guild at the parish we attended asked me to join a Bible study group. Maybe it's changed, but when I grew up, Catholic kids didn't spend much time actually reading sacred texts. It was interpreted for us, which at the time was AOK by me. But as an adult, I began to feel illiterate when it came to this book. So I was intrigued by the idea of reading the Bible and I signed up. Around Christmas time, I agreed to host the group in my home, and we decided to read the birth stories in the New Testament for our discussion.

I'm SO glad I did that, The stories were not nearly as grim as I had built them up in my mind. In fact, they were quite beautiful, inspiring, and yes, full of grace. So thank you ladies of the Women's Guild for that!

Also about this time that I begin to feel a lifting of the sadness that had draped me each year since the death of a beloved uncle 4 days after Christmas in 1984. For the first time in a decade, I began to see the colors, smell the scents, hear the music, and feel the joy of the holidays.

Since then, my love for this holiday has grown bigger and rounder every year, and because our family does not exchange gifts in the traditional way, I am not troubled by the crowds at malls and the traffic jams. Instead, I look forward to the annual Christmas party we attend, complete with carols, dancing (in an area about 6 ft X 6 ft) to "I don't wanna be a duck," polkas, and "Hava Nagila",  little paper cups of some power spirits that whatCarl the tree farmer calls "elixir,"and then on Christmas Eve ordering takeout for dinner and playing the "dice game" as our present exchange, which is filled with plenty of merriment and silliness.

I shipped one gift this year -- via overnight delivery. The workers at the US Post Office were incredibly cheerful on December 23, after dealing with thousands of dorks like me shipping things at the last minute. I overheard one of them bemoaning the fact that she had to come to work on Christmas Eve at 4:30 am. So since I tend to rise early anyway, on the morning of Christmas Eve I took a basket of baked goods, fruit, and nuts to the postal workers to show them how much they are appreciated. I didn't get to see them, but I spied a janitor working, and he responded to my knocking and took the goodies inside to set on the counter for the hard-working clerks.

Driving away, I reflected on how much I loved training my sled dog team on cold crisp mornings like this, mornings when the stars were burning bright but the sunrise was nigh.

And that's when I had the strangest epiphany about the birth of Christ, something I believe will forever make nativity scenes hauntingly beautiful to me. It has to do with food.

Image by James Insogna

So let me back up a minute.

About a year after I had to give up my 6-dog team, I read 2 books that altered how I eat. One was by a man named Marc Beckoff who in his book, The Emotional Lives of Animals, asked readers when they ate meat to ask themselves this simple question: Would you do this to your dog?  He was referencing what is done to the livestock that
Image by Mark Peters via Wired
through the magic of modern agriculture techniques end up tidily on Styrofoam plates covered in plastic wrap in the meat section of the grocery store. (Ever noticed the welling up pink liquid in those packages?)

The answer for me, of course, was no, I could not.

For some time, I had begun detecting a vile taste in meat. The only way I could describe it was it tasted like fear. And that begin to make sense, because, undoubtedly, animals on their way to slaughter must feel absolute terror. Maybe I was tasting the biological byproduct of fear --  adrenaline. Who knows? All I can say is the taste was incredibly unpleasant, and I never knew when I was going to encounter it. Little by little, meat started disappearing from diet for one reason alone: it tasted rank.

I won't regale you with the details of slaughterhouses; far better writers than me have done that plenty well. But suffice it to say that even humane techniques just give me the willies. And apparently, I can taste the result.

In one of my favorite novels, a brilliant piece of speculative fiction, a group of Jesuit priests embark upon the first interstellar voyage to discover the source of music that has been picked up from an array of telescopes on earth. Upon finding the planet, they encounter a species of inhabitants who are sweet and gentle and simple. They are great companions, not the horrific images of aliens that have filled our screens. Members of this species have expressive tails and soulful eyes and they experience the full range of emotions that humans do. Living in hunter/gatherer communities (actually, more gatherer than hunter), they make their dwellings in caves.

The human explorers help them find ways to build their food supplies, and before long the new species is procreating far faster than before, which, as we come to find out, greatly upsets the natural order of things on the planet. See, it turns out that the species was, in fact, livestock for a more sophisticated and carnivorous species which enslaved them to serve as a food source. The humans are shocked to learn this, because the gentle species seems to live so happily and peacefully. The predator species is none-to-happy about the what the earthlings have done, and things go south pretty fast, and the rest is history, in a futuristic sort of way. One Jesuit survives and returns to earth, eventually to tell the story.

As a former anthropology major, I found this novel both beautiful and cautionary. But I didn't quite understand how personal it would become one day. And that was when I read another novel by a quite famous science fiction writer, Dan Simmons, who penned an incredible story about the doomed fate of bold 19th Century explorers who were trying to find the mythical "Northwest Passage" through the Arctic Sea. (It actually becoming not so mythical nowadays). Two ships eventually become trapped in the sea ice. Again, things go poorly for our adventurers, and only one makes it. That man owes his life to a mute Eskimo woman who teaches him to hunt for seal, and nourished by the meat of the sea creature, he survives. But readers learn quickly in this novel that hunting for seal is no easy task. In fact, our survivor comes to find out that the Eskimo woman's people believe that no seal can be caught unless it chooses to be caught, choosing, as it were, to sacrifice its life to preserve another's There is a spiritual exchange between the hunter and the hunted in this novel that can only happen in a setting of free choice.

Reading that book snapped together some powerful thoughts that irrevocably changed me. I realized that I could no longer eat the flesh of animals enslaved for the purposes of feeding the mindless masses. I also realized that I could eat meat that had been fairly hunted. So long as the hunting ground was "level." When one creature's wits are pitted against another and both are able to flee the scene as needed, such consumption seems part of the natural order of things. No fences, no industrial killing machines, just a fair fight.

We are such a predatory species - to the point that I often think we are a plague on this planet. We lost our way at some point in our evolution. We've managed to engineer so many things in a way that has brought the natural order terribly out of whack in our world, particularly with our food system.

Most mammals, humans included, have a built-in system for scaling back baby-making during lean times.  Females stop ovulating and develop what is called amenorrhea when they get too skinny. Today, we associate the phenomena with gymnasts who work out so hard that their first menstrual periods are delayed or with young women who develop anorexia nervosa and starve themselves. But amenorrhea actually can serve the species well -- when everything is in balance. Not enough food to feed everyone, slow down the reproduction until the food supplies rebuild. Wolf packs for example, will split up and individuals will go their separate ways when food is in short supply. When the number of critters they can eat increases, wolf packs are know to reassemble.

I wonder at what point we humans tipped that balance so radically that rather than slow down our reproduction we just came up with new, increasingly radical ways to boost our supply of livestock to keep up with the exploding populations. How did we ever get to the place where we found it necessary to enslave animals to fill our bellies. When did we get so cocky as to believe that we have dominion over the world, to the point that we have changed the climate of our planet, shipped so much waste into the oceans that whole drifting islands of trash have formed, and made ourselves sick?

As far as I can tell, this belief that we have a God-given right to whatever we want on this planet, comes from certain creation stories.  (I'm intentionally using the term God here, but you can substitute what makes sense for you - Higher Power, The Universe, the Source.) The one I know best is from the Judeo/Christian tradition whose sacred texts speak of the original man and woman created in God's form. As it happens, the first man and woman arrived on the scene after all the other lovely animals in Eden did. Made in God's likeness, this couple is given permission to hold dominion over other creations. And the rest is history.

Although I was raised in the Christian tradition, and will most likely always feel a little bit Catholic, you might say that I've come to reject a more than a few central tenants of Christianity, while holding on to certain others.

I absolutely no longer believe humans are superior to anything on this planet. 

Yes, we've figured out a lot of amazing things, though precious few of those things have been in praise of a creator. More so, we have put ourselves in the role of creator and we've forgotten all together just how humble our beginnings were.

Song of the Stars illustration by Allison Jay

But the Christmas story brings us full circle. 

It is a brilliant reminder of our lowly beginnings, a perennial example of how the holiest of one major faith on this planet began life in the humblest of ways.

So consider this: What if God sent his only son to remind us of just this fact, that we, too, are animals: beautiful, two-legged, scruffy, and often unbathed.

This baby was born in a stable, a place where beasts of burden are housed, often for the purpose of slaughter. But what if one of the born-in-a-manger messages is a reminder to us that what we enslave so enslaves us?

I believe that our salvation and our freedom may come from centering our lives around what is most beautiful in our species -- our language, our music, our dance (so far things plenty of other animals are also capable of doing), our ability to conceive of a creator and to praise this creator and our ability to feel compassion for all of creation.

If there is any hope for our species it will be in reminding ourselves that we are part and parcel of creation, that though we may believe that we have been made in the image of God, we are not God, even though we have been bestowed with the most remarkable ability to create.

This man called Christ went on the provide examples of living humbling, of forgiving the sins of the most scorned of peoples, calling attention to hypocrisy, and reminding anyone who would listen to love one another.

I choose to believe his birth in the stable was our creator's elegantly simple reminder that we are born together with the beasts to love together and to be kind to one another, animals included. I like to think that none of these animals nearby where this babe was born ever saw the tools of the butcher, that each was liberated as surely as each of us who have received grace as a result of this humble birth.

I applaud those people who humanely raise animals. The lives of these creatures are so much better than the lives of any animal raised in commercial operations. But these animals are still enslaved. And no matter how humanely, they've lived, I'd wager that the vast majority of them are not choosing the time of their death, not dying of their free will, not offering themselves up in sacrifice. Happy chickens headed for slaughter do not have the option of a fair fight. And that reduces our humanity. We are enslaved by what we enslave.

Am I tempted by the smell of burgers on the grill? Yes, at times. But seriously, it's one of those weird deals where one's body and mind resolve to overthrow the spirit. I simply can't bring myself to eat flesh. I get nauseated thinking about putting it into my mouth. I fully realize how extreme this point of view may sound, especially when I say I do not want to eat slave meat. But the truth is I simply cannot. I will eat some seafood (Lake Superior herring comes to mind), but only if it's wild caught. And even commercial fishing operations trouble me, so who knows if seafood will come off my diet at some point, too.

I must say how grateful that that I've never been forced into a state of starvation. (Sadly, there was a brief period when I starved myself, enslaved by the conventional wisdom of what beauty is.) I'm grateful for incredible abundance in my life, with access to all the beans, rice, kale, and quinoa I can stand. A shockingly small percentage of the people on this planet are so blessed.

As liberated as I like to think I am, I'm know I am very much an animal. But maybe that's a good thing?

So, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Kwanzaa, Gentle Solstice, Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men and women, creation and Creator.

I close with the amazing script on a tattoo of a barista I encountered as I was composing my thoughts on this topics:

"I wanted to hurt you,
but I found I couldn't
stomach it."

Image by Florian Seiffert

Friday, July 4, 2014

What do peacetime, Netflix, and Prince have in common?

And on this fine 4th of July . . . 

I spent some time this morning looking at amendments to the US constitution.

Yes, I know the day is about the Declaration of Independence, but it still felt patriotic to do this.

Couple fun facts I missed during civics classes:
  • Thanks to the 3rd amendment, in peacetime, you don't ever have to "quarter" soldiers in your private home. 
           So, are we in peacetime? If not, I do have a nice peaceful guest room.
  • The 13th amendment abolished slavery -- except as punishment for a crime. Jeepers.
           I am so beginning to understand Orange is the New Black now.
  • Whew! You can still accept a title of nobility from another country and retain your US citizenship. Since 1810, only 15 states have voted yay or nay on stripping citizenship from folks who've gotten too big for their britches -- but the case isn't closed yet! 
        I suppose this shouldn't worry Prince, but maybe it explains why he changed his name to a symbol
       at one time.

Couple ways to be a good citizen today:
  1. Be kind to each other
  2. Welcome a newcomer to the country (cuz truth is most of us have family or friends who were newcomers at some point)
  3. Pray (because you're allowed)
  4. Read some US history (I'd recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
  5. Make sure your firearms are locked away (so no little kiddies get hurt)
  6. Drink in moderation, if you're going to drink (cuz you're allowed)
  7. Jot down a few lines to an elected official about something you want to see change (cuz it's a right and a privilege)
Pip, pip, cheerio!

Image by Loreen72

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mudder's Day

Mrs. Kimball, aka The Big Mudder

My little sister, Lisa, used to scold my middle sister, Erin, when she was trying to boss her around: "Shut up, Erin. You're not the Big Mudder."

Well, we three sisters are all Big Mudders now. And one of us is even a Big GrandMudder. Not me yet, but maybe someday.

In the meantime, I'm a lucky woman to be a Big Mudder. Very very lucky indeed.

May you each enjoy Mudder's Day blessings today.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A little heresy indulged

"Humans have enormous power to affect
the world any way we choose."
~ Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals

Once upon a time I was an anthropology major. A quirky little field of study that to this day shapes the way I think. The most profound discovery early on in my studies was this simple statement from one of my professors: The study of humans makes clear that there is no one right way to solve the "problem of living."

There are, in fact, so many it's mind boggling.

His point continues to be the framework from which I see most everything. It was liberating to hold such a view, to be able to look at behavior and beliefs with as little judgement as possible, especially as a freshman college student! I could observe so much more without jumping to a right-or-wrong point of view. Instead, I saw "different," "original," "interesting" and maybe even"shocking, but fascinating."

I didn't end up opting for a profession in anthropology. Although a wonderful professor took me under his wing my freshman year to groom me for a future graduate student, I couldn't see myself narrowing my focus of study the way one must to get advanced degrees. Frankly, anthropology expanded my worldview so largely, I knew that breadth of knowledge would be my pursuit -- not the depth of it.

And that's why I became a journalist and, for all intents and purpose, a Generalist with the capital G.

The long and winding road of my career has taken me through the fields of news reporting, mental health, higher education, medicine (primary care, sports, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology, and geriatric), youth development, disaster preparedness and response, and emerging infectious diseases.

A year ago, I came across Marc Bekoff's thought-provoking book, The Emotional Lives of Animals, and it yanked into place threads from many fields I've dabbled in and studied, including my passion for dogs and mushing.

As I pondered Bekoff's point about the power of humans to affect the world any way we choose, I had to wonder how we got to this point, which is so far beyond the days when we had to worry about mastodons and being gobbled up by big hulking carnivores.

It's interesting to think that while humans are now at the top of the food chain in the grander scheme of things, having killed off or safely removed ourselves from environments with predators that can hurt us -- the large ones like bears, tigers, lions and such-- we have increasingly made ourselves vulnerable to the tiniest of predators.

I'm talking about viruses, bacteria, and insects like mosquitos and bedbugs. If we keep at our present pace of development and environmental destruction, we put our species at greater and greater risk of being preyed upon by the tiny predators.
Haven't read it but I plan to!

The human approach always seems to be first to wipe out our predators, rather than learning to live in balance with them. Why is that?

When you look at the natural world, it seems like nature finds a way to achieve balance and homeostasis. It's not as if plants and animals ponder how to reach this balance. It just happens. Or does it?

I know some of you will see this as heretical, but I've come to believe that humans are no more God-like than any other animal, and yet we, by virtue of our brain development over time, seem to have removed ourselves by and large from the natural order of things. In doing so, we've created damage. A LOT of it.

So, falling back on my original biological sciences/anthropological world view, I find myself with so many questions.

I have to ask whether this destruction is, in fact, the "natural order of things."

Is what we as a species choose to do simply part of the inevitable evolution of our planet?

How have we managed to drift so far away from our connectedness to all of creation, to the point of thinking we are the master creators.

How do we move ahead as a species?

Do we simply allow nature to take its course as we wreak havoc on our planet and ultimately on ourselves?

Is it arrogant to think any of us can stop this "progress" of humanity?

Is it really just incumbent on individuals to live their lives morally and hope we each regain connectedness to the natural world and make peace with it rather than trying to hold dominion over it?

Will the microbes and tiny creatures ultimately alter the course of human development? (They sure seem to be right now!)  Will it be that the tiniest of predators ultimately hold sway over the world, rather than the creatures whose brain development has led to a belief that their species has the God-given right of dominion over all life on this planet?

Ebola virus electron micrograph
What if the tiny predators already do? Is it possible that microbes are responsible for our aging, for the deterioration in our joints, our organs, our ability to reproduce, our brains. We think about aging as a cellular process with input from the environment. But if we accept the concept of connectedness and the predatory power of microbes, isn't it possible that more is going on here? Are cells really microbes that learned to organize and cooperate in such a way as to create this species called humans?

Is it possible that these tiny cellular forms that have organized themselves for so long now grasp on some level that the organism they've collectively empowered to function homo sapien has drifted so far from the natural order of things that they've got to do their part to restore a universal balance, as in, take us down a notch or two? (I know, talk about the ultimate conspiracy theory!)

And here's where all this "unsupervised thinking" leads me: that, ultimately, the best thing any of us can do is to quiet our minds and bodies, in meditation or prayer, and try to plug into to that universal energy, balance, order of things, God, if you will, and try remember that we're all in this together, we're all connected, and that the only way out is through, together.

And so with that peachy-keen thought, I believe I'll take a stroll through the beauty of creation still available to me. And pet my dogs.

May you, too, find such beauty.

Easter Island by goccmm
Wooly Mammoth by Johnny Lightning
Book cover of Wicked Bugs
Ebola virus from CDC
Ginsberg by Kathleen Kimball-Baker


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