Rediscovering Your Love and Need for the Outdoors

My first blog post for #HikeLikeAWoman.

Rediscovering your love and need for the outdoors

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Recycling taking a step backward

Here is my latest column for the Herald-Leader.

https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article231570068.html

You’re the Soft One, Governor

I’ve lived in Kentucky my whole life and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love the people here. We squabble and fuss amongst ourselves sometimes, but we stick up for each other. And unless you’re Rand Paul’s neighbor, we tend to help each other out. Which makes me wonder, as the top executive in our state, why does Matt Bevin detest us so much.

Earlier this week, Bevin, who is so much more sophisticated than the rest of us poor folk, criticized the decisions of local school districts to cancel school on Wednesday when wind chills were predicted to be 15 degrees below zero.  He said he was worried about the future of America if we cancel school due to cold, that we are getting soft.

You know what is soft, Governor? Soft is not being human enough to comprehend the discomfort, much less the danger, of a child who has no coat, no hat, and no mittens. Soft is not having the imagination to put yourself in the shoes of a child who might not have had breakfast or even a decent dinner, and has to walk a mile to school or wait for half an hour for a bus.  Soft is not being able to remember a time when you were hungry or cold. Soft is not being able to envision your children in the position of some of the 25% of Kentucky children who live in poverty (approximately 250,000 kids).

Soft is not being able to empathize with people less fortunate than you or understand the struggles that so many Kentuckians face, whether it’s lack of food, shelter, access to jobs or health care. Kentucky is made up of people who are not like you.

Soft is not accepting offers from teachers and school board members to spend a frigid morning outside without appropriate winter attire.

Soft is not supporting a living wage, which would enable parents to provide suitable winter clothing for their kids, because your rich business friends might lose a bit of money.

Soft is relying on prayer to curb gun violence and painted rocks to address the opioid epidemic in this state. Soft is blaming mass shootings on zombie shows and pornography. We’d prefer you actually develop concrete ideas to fix these problems.

Soft is being too intimidated by teachers and public employees to invite them to help you negotiate a fix to fund the public pension system. Soft is not being able to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with you without lashing out.

Soft is being unable to handle criticism, which must be the reason you have blocked so many of your constituents on social media.  This must also be the reason you call us thugs and compare us to drowning victims that you have to “knock out” to drag to shore. Because you know better, don’t you, Governor? After all, we are just unsophisticated Kentuckians and can’t be trusted to make decisions about our own lives. Or bodies.

Soft is not granting interviews to non-conservative media. What are you afraid of, Governor, that you won’t be able to bully and name-call your way out of tough questions?

Soft is protecting your immense ego from public opinion by banning the people you represent from the Capitol, the People’s House. Are you afraid of our voices? It’s your responsibility to listen to us.

Soft is being a grown man who throws the temper tantrums of a toddler when he doesn’t get his way, then gaslight-apologizes by saying you are sorry we misunderstood you. Soft is being so arrogant that you have to tout your “intestinal fortitude” and “cajoles,” to go against public opinion so you can do what you perceive to be the right thing for Kentucky. In case you’ve forgotten, Governor, you represent us.

You are a bully, Governor, and bullies are soft. You don’t have the initiative or the willpower to make life better for the people of this state. You only care about getting your way under the guise of protecting us from ourselves. We plainly see how you despise us. You don’t have to suffer us much longer.

November is coming.

 

 

 

The Long Road to Altruism

The wind was harsh, cutting right through our clothes and chilling our skin. My son protested wearing a coat, insisting he’d be warm enough in his sweatshirt and brand new Ninja Turtle hat and gloves. We compromised; he had to take the coat but he didn’t have to wear it. It was 36 degrees outside.

As we got out of the car at our neighborhood Wal-Mart Marketplace, we saw a friend and her mom ringing the Salvation Army bell, the red kettle nestled between their two bundled up figures. They looked at us with relief, exclaiming, “There they are!” It was 10:59 a.m. My son and I had one minute until our shift began.

*

I’ve found it hard to find meaningful ways to engage my children in community service. They are only 10 and 7, so while opportunities continue to expand the older they get, for the elementary-aged child it’s not easy to find these experiences.

We are lucky to attend a primary school that has a different service project every month, so we’ve shopped for the Firefighter’s Toy Program and collected cat food for the animal shelter. They’ve lugged in diapers and baby wipes and winter coats and gloves. Last year they bombarded me daily with requests to give them canned goods to take to school so their classroom could fill up their food pantry barrel first and win extra recess time.

These are fabulous ways to prompt children to think about folks who aren’t as fortunate as they are, but I want them to get their hands dirty, to discover the pleasure that comes from giving of their time and effort, not just a canned good. I want them to feel their privilege and come out the other side with an intrinsic desire to help those who aren’t as privileged as they are.

*

My son put his insulated faux-fur lined royal blue Columbia coat, a gift from his Aunt Emily, on the ground in the middle of the kettle stand. I shot him the “you-know-you-need-to-wear-that-to-stay-warm” look and he just grinned at me. He’s a stubborn little thing.

We listened to the instructions on how to greet people, how to wear the red apron, and to never touch the money. We each had our own bell to ring and we got right to it. It was so cold.

We greeted everyone with a smile, graciously thanked people who donated, and wished them a Merry Christmas. It feels so good to connect with other people in the spirit of giving. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if I’d tried. I frequently glanced over at my boy and watched him shyly say thank you and wish strangers a Merry Christmas. Besides being cold, which of course he’d never admit to, I think interacting with strangers was the hardest part of our shift for him. He got into ringing the bell and dancing around, but chatting with people he didn’t know made him uncomfortable.

*

The past couple of years I’d hoped to take the kids for a shift of bell-ringing, but the time slots always conflicted with basketball games or other commitments. It’s hard to teach my children to help their neighbors when I couldn’t make it a priority to do it myself.

*

“Well, if you can stand out here in the cold and ring that bell, little buddy, the least I can do is put something in that kettle,” a chipper balding older man dressed in shorts and sneakers said to my son as he walked quickly into the store and of the wind. He stopped to high-five my son first, though. After looking at me for reassurance, my little guy raised his hand and smacked the man’s open palm.

Then he turned to me and smiled.

People gave us the change from their pockets, the dollars from their wallets, and almost always did so with a smile. Even the ones who didn’t drop anything into the kettle smiled and greeted us. I knew that smile. It’s the one that says “Oh, look at that mom with her child teaching him to do things for others aren’t they cute and I wish I had some cash to give them but I gave it all to the bell ringers at the last store but it warms my heart to see them out here like this in the cold.”

I knew that smile because I’d given it to other people many times before. It’s real. It’s genuine. There’s hope for us yet.

*

Volunteering makes me feel good about myself. If I’m honest, that’s part of the reason I do it. It’s not the only reason, not the main reason, and not the motivating reason, but a reason nonetheless. I struggle with guilt about these feelings sometimes, but in the end, who cares about the reason people volunteer? As long as it’s making a positive difference in the world, that’s all that matters. A friend once declared he wasn’t going to read any book just because Oprah told him to. I said if it takes Oprah telling someone to read a book and that person reads, then who cares why, but that person is reading and that’s a good thing.

*

“Mama, I’m cold.” Ha.

“Then put your coat on.”

“When is our time done?”

“We’re about halfway through.”

*Eyeroll*

“But I want to be done so we can go to the library,” he said with a tad of whine.

“If you are cold you can put your coat on. If you choose not to, I don’t want to hear any more whining about being cold or asking me when our shift is over. We are out here because some people don’t have big coats to keep them warm like we do and this money people are donating will help buy coats for people to keep them warm.”

And just like that I’m my mother. I really hate to admit all the parenting she did right.

My son thought about his admonishment for a second and then went back to ringing the bell, running in place as he did so to keep warm, not even glancing at his disregarded coat.

One man gave us a $20.00 bill while singing a Christmas carol. My son’s eyes got big. “See how nice people are and how good it makes us feel to do nice things for others?”

Shameless. Whatever works, right?

*

I spend a good chunk of my time complaining about political leaders and the condition of my state and country. I try to put just as much energy into advocating for issues I believe in, but let’s face it, the scale usually tips to the negative side. Having strangers smile and thank my son and me for simply standing in the cold and ringing a bell felt very peaceful and positive and hopeful. Watching so many people give their hard-earned money to the Salvation Army was a dose of benevolence that, like the chill, really stuck with me. I needed it.

*

Toward the end of our shift, an extremely tall man walked up and started digging into his pockets to find money to give us. As he dropped his donation into the kettle, I told my son, “You see this man right here? When Mama was your age she would have done anything to meet him in person.”

My boy looked up,way up,and the man smiled, shook his said and said, “nah.” I said, “This man is Sam Bowie and he was a great basketball player for UK. A legend!” My son, who is only beginning to be schooled in the legendary history and crazy fandom that is UK basketball, didn’t know quite what to make of that and gave us a confused grin. Sam Bowie thanked us and gave the hair on the top of my son’s head a little ruffle as he entered the store.

A friend of mine who used to work at a movie theater here in town said Sam Bowie used to bring throngs of kids, probably economically disadvantaged kids, to see movies all the time. He’d laugh and cut up with them, giving them all the popcorn and candy they wanted.

What a role model. I later told my son about Sam Bowie and the movies. He said that was nice.

*

When the next shift arrived, we were nearly frozen. I took on the kind of chill that stays with you all day no matter how many pairs of socks you wear or how many blankets your wrap around yourself.  The day had stuck with me. I hoped it would find a way to stick with my son too.

*

The week after our time with the Salvation Army, I was going through my son’s school take-home folder. His class has an activity called “Weekend News,” in which the students write a news article about their weekend.  His read, in part, and I’m correcting for spelling here, “On Saturday we had to ring a bell to help people. It was cold and boring. I had to stand the whole time.”

Sam Bowie he is not. The path toward social consciousness is a meandering one, advancing one bell-ringing shift at a time.

Reflections On Voting

I’ve been voting a long time. I’ve voted in every primary and general election in Kentucky since 1989, with the exception of the gubernatorial primary in like, 1999 or something. The Governor was running unopposed that year, so…

Still, that’s something like 60 elections. Not bad.

My 10-year old daughter and 7-year old son have accompanied me to the polls for almost every election since they were born. I was never taught to value voting but by George my kids will. It’s a privilege we should not take for granted. It is sacred to me.

This election felt different than the previous 59. I’m usually happy to take my daughter into the booth with me and have her spin the dial as we make our selections (Kentucky has always had electronic voting during my adult life; it took me a while to understand what a hanging chad was).

This year, though, I was nervous. What if she accidentally selected the wrong state representative? The wrong state senator? The wrong mayor? THE WRONG CANDIDATE FOR THE 6TH DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE! What if she hit “cast ballot” before I could check all my selections? I could accidentally vote for the wrong person!

The fact that it is nearly impossible to accidentally cast a ballot was beside the point. Even worse, once we got to the voting booth I realized I didn’t have my reading glasses with me. WHAT IF I WASN’T ABLE TO READ THE BALLOT?!?

I wasn’t this apprehensive two years ago when I voted for the woman I’d hoped would be the next President of the United States. This vote really, really mattered.

I felt like I needed to smoke, drink, and eat a cheeseburger all at the same time.

Thankfully, I was able to vote for everyone I hoped would win, my kids beside me, without incident. We got our “I voted” stickers and took our selfie. Life was good.

As we were chatting with the poll workers and my children were enthusiastically helping themselves to the complimentary cookies, I saw a man come out of the voting booth with his son. He was talking about how he voted for the few races that mattered to him, but then let his son, who appeared to be 5 or 6 years old, make all the other selections. He specifically mentioned that his son chose the person running against my candidate for my state senate race. I was appalled.

His vote cancelled mine out. He let his son randomly vote for a person against whom I’d actively campaigned, who I really believed was detrimental to the people of my district. And he did it for entertainment.

Did that man consider how his vote might affect the outcome of the election? Did he care? We had one house district race in Kentucky that was decided by one vote. ONE VOTE. We might routinely say every vote matters, but dude, EVERY VOTE MATTERS.

Why did he bother voting at all? Maybe he had a spouse who encouraged him to vote for certain people. I’m certainly guilty of asking family members to vote the way I want them to vote.  Maybe he only cared about a few races and the others, well, to hell with them. I don’t know.

Was he teaching his son that voting was a patriotic duty or simply a light-hearted and fun activity where you get to bush buttons and eat cookies? I don’t know.

What I do know is that the more I thought about it over the course of the day, and the higher my anxiety rose about the outcomes of the election, the angrier I got.

I am one of those annoying, but entirely correct, people who say that if you don’t vote, don’t you dare complain to me about any aspect of government. I want none of it. Save your energy and put it toward being the change you want to see in the world, you know?

I’ve heard the argument that voting doesn’t matter (remember the one-vote margin of victory), that things won’t really change (they can-have you paid attention to the world during the last two years?), and the system is so corrupt that nothing will ever fix it (maybe, but we can’t give up on our democracy; it’s not perfect but it’s the best in the world).

You don’t get to sit back and not vote; your birthright doesn’t condone complacency. Oh, wait…it does. You have the right and the privilege to be a part of your own government. Or not. Good people died so you could sit on your ass. How about honoring them by getting up off the couch to engage in your community? And your country? And make it better.

The right to vote is sacrosanct. Kentucky, and especially my own county, saw higher voter turnout rates for this mid-term election than the last presidential election. That’s something. That proves people are actively taking a part in their own futures. And that is glorious.

My kids will always know that one person can change the world. And that their vote matters. I hope that little boy will learn that too.

Stop “Othering.” And Vote.

Note: A slightly edited version of this appears as an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader. https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article221163395.html

In the last two weeks this country has witnessed pipe bombs sent to Democratic leaders, two murders in our own state most likely motivated by hatred of African Americans, two women shot just for being women, and the mass murder of eleven Jewish people in their synagogue. Just when I am doing my own praying to God to make this violence stop, our President tweets a blatantly racist video demonizing Hispanic women and children for trying to escape horrors in their own country the type of which we can barely fathom.

It has to stop.

Francisco Cantu, a former Border Patrol agent working in the Southwestern United States, wrote a book called The Line Becomes A River. In it, he discussed Carl Jung’s thoughts on “the other,” humanity’s inclination to perceive, “the other as the very devil, so as to fascinate the outward eye and prevent it from looking at the individual life within.” He thought when we begin to think of “the other” as being something to be feared or shut out at any cost, we risk the very survival of our society. We’re too busy mistrusting “the other” to see that we are all human. We all cry, we all bleed, we all love.

I recently visited a mosque for the first time, not only to learn about the faith and meet my neighbors, but to show support for them in the wake of the President’s travel bans. The mosque received a death threat the evening after my visit.

I attended, with my children, an interfaith service to support migrants and refugees in our community after we learned that our government was taking babies away from parents at the border. Brown babies.

Now I’m wondering if it’s safe to take my children to a synagogue to show our Jewish neighbors that we stand in solidarity with them against hatred. Or should I be afraid that we have people in Lexington as angry as the perpetrators of this week’s atrocities? I don’t know.

I’ve had many opportunities to show my children that we live in an open, supportive, loving community. Yet I know people here who have been bullied or assaulted because they are African American or Latino or Muslim or LGBTQ. An “other.” I love Central Kentucky with all my heart, but I wonder if there is hatred and loathing simmering underneath our bluegrass and basketball. I can guess the answer.

All this “othering” of people has to stop. We are all just people no matter who we love, how or if we worship, and the color of our skin. We have to stop being so afraid of everyone who isn’t exactly like us.

I’ve been an “other.” Growing up in near poverty in Eastern Kentucky, raised by a single mother, I’ve had people typecast me as a poor, little, white Appalachian girl. It isn’t fun. We are all “others” in some way.

I’ve tried to examine my own privilege and understand as best I can what it’s like to not be a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman. I’m trying to open my eyes. It’s not easy to confront my own biases and misconceptions, but I need to. We all do.

What can you do? Strike up a conversation with someone who isn’t like you.  Go to a different part of town. Visit a new church. Ask questions. Be respectful. Try to understand what it’s like not to be you. And most importantly, right now, vote.

Gardening Up Some Hatred on Mother’s Day

Usually on Mother’s Day I’m waxing poetic about my mom and how I miss her and how I carry on the tradition of spending the day in the yard planting flowers and enjoying my family.  This Mother’s Day I did spend the day in the yard, most of it with my family, but I felt a sentiment I usually don’t feel on that particular day.  Hatred.

Hatred for these damn forsythia bushes that I just can’t kill. You might be wondering what this has to do with Mother’s Day at all, loathing of the natural world not quite being a familiar sensibility on this day when we celebrate everlasting maternal love, but I guarantee you, as I hacked away at these immortal inhabitants of this yard I purchased eight years ago, I have never felt closer to my mother.

For my entire life I remember my mother trying to kill the forsythia bush that resided at the corner of her mother’s front porch. I never understood why she hated it so much when she loved flowers of all types.  The forsythia was a large, shapely, consistent bloomer with bright yellow flowers that offset perfectly the white siding, green roof, and red brick porch of my Nanny’s house. But hate it she did.

After my Nanny died and my mom moved into the house, we had many conversations about how that bush needed to die. I don’t recall any spoken plans detailing how she was going to accomplish the flowercide, but I imagine her mind constantly devising and evaluating methods to send that bush home to its maker. She’s probably up there in heaven right now lamenting how she never got to kill that forsythia bush (and also laughing her ass off at me as I wade my way through this maze called parenting).

So it’s with these memories in the forefront of my mind that I begin cleaning out my back garden against the fencerow. We are one of the lucky back yards that houses the above-ground containers for the below-ground power lines, big green and gray metal boxes that really don’t add anything to a garden. It is here where the former owners of my house planted two very hardy forsythia bushes (West Virginia forsythia bushes of which they were very proud as my new neighbors told me). And I understand why. The fountain-like shape and long leafy tendrils of the forsythia make it perfect for hiding unsightly utilities.

Only these forsythia bushes have never bloomed for me, not in eight years now, and seem to exist only to make my back yard look like an overgrown, unkempt wilderness area. But not the fun kind where kids can explore and make forts—the kind where you are likely to get bitten by a snake or step on a rusty nail and have to get a tetanus shot.

I gave them their shot, though. The first spring they didn’t bloom I said well, hey, maybe the spring was too wet or too hot or too whatever. Then the second spring came around and I got nothing.  No blooms. Just the creepy overgrowth that made kids afraid to play with my children in the back yard.

By the third spring, I was ready for the forsythias to die. I didn’t want them to die, but if they wouldn’t bloom their glorious yellow flowers for me or keep themselves into a reasonably tame shape in my garden, I had no choice, right? They had to go.

 

I tried cutting them down to the ground. I mean, I chopped them up level with the ground, but didn’t dig out the roots. Have you ever seen a mature forsythia root ball? It’s huge!

The next spring, there they are again and healthier than ever. Still no flowers. Jerks.

I try painting Round-Up on them, sure that this would do the trick, and careful not to get any of the chemical on any of the surrounding plants that I actually wanted in the garden. Nope. Bastards took the Round-Up and laughed in my face.

Another year I’m cutting off every forsythia shoot I can get my hands on and I find myself so close to the electrical box that I can hear the humming coming from inside. Great, not only is my blood pressure up from hating these damn bushes so much, but now I’m getting zapped by the electrical currents in the back yard too. Thanks a lot you unwanted non-blooming oversized banes of my gardening existence!

One summer my friend Melanie was visiting me and I told her about my forsythias that wouldn’t die. She’d just made breakfast for us and suggested we pour the extra bacon grease onto the roots of the forsythia to kill them. I say OK, I’m willing to try anything. Turns out the bacon grease didn’t kill the forsythia, but it did kill the large cedar tree right next to it. Sigh.

So this past Mother’s Day as I’m sweating and cursing and cutting the blasted bushes down to their roots again I realize this hatred of the forsythia is one more attribute I seem to have in common with my mother the older I get. I never realized how much I could loathe a part of God’s creation until I had a forsythia of my own. Bless our hearts.

My mom hated that forsythia bush until the day she died. I am afraid I might be on my way to the same fate. At the same time, though, it just goes to show that you never know what connections might present themselves on a holiday as steeped in emotion as Mother’s Day. Even if it is hatred.