Saturday, December 31, 2011

In the Land of Milk and Honey

Dearly Beloved, we are riding out the last day of the year with a wee hour insomniac session and wish to memorialize 2011 as the year of the goats. It was actually the last year and a half, but I will generalize.

I am learning to say the goats instead of my goats. For an aspiring Buddhist, I use the word my entirely too much. And the goats no longer live here on my land with me. There is the word my again.  The land we co-inhabited is now minus the two goats who once stayed in the back yard. 

The darlings are happier now - I believe I can say this with certainty. They were born in North Carolina on a magical goat farm. My family packed them up from a scenic wonderland and brought them to Juliette where there were no peacocks strutting around or seventy or so more goats to herd around with.

They weren't my goats in the beginning anyway, but still the idea of them gave me a sly goat grin. My Capricorn heritage prepared me to compare myself to goatiness long before the goat girls ever graced my presence. I became responsible for the girls because I have legs which work. Because they had needs which needed to be met - twice daily feeding,  browsing in the woods, hoofs to trim and water to fetch. If there is a possessive pronoun to be used, perhaps the operative phrase would be: I became their human.

When I visited them at Salamander Springs last week four days into their new living arrangement; I discovered the goats are not loyal like dogs. They already had adopted a new person to be their human. They were in goat heaven with acres of honey-suckled bottomland to graze and a farm full of humans, dogs, chickens and ducks.

And then again, six days later I visited them and they had been bad goats; escaping their acres of  fenced land and meddling in human areas. This landed them in the chicken coop, a virtual Hawaii vacation compared to my over browsed back yard. Their sly goat grins still hung in the air with a Cheshire quality as they lounged with Bantams. To these goats, a banishment into the chicken coop is like throwing them in the briar patch. In my yard, they often sat outside the chicken coop watching all the chicken drama as if this was the finest entertainment on the planet. 

I miss the girls, but I am glad they have gone to a real homesteading and teaching farm. Wwoofers come and go there - young people who will always fall in love with the goat girls' beauty and charm. These goats are with good  and responsible people, earth dwellers like the goats themselves.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How I Exercise

After approximately 10 years of VERY little physical exercise, I've begun swimming laps somewhere between once and three times a week for thirty to forty five minutes.  It feels wonderful. Endorphins, flatter stomach, and a weight drop of about ten pounds are some of the most obvious rewards. 

Swimming is one of the most joyful activities of my entire life. I learned to swim well as a child. (Thank you, Mama and Daddy and Camp Martha Johnston and the Elks Club). I even took water ballet my fourteenth summer and some of the flips and twists and turns I now enjoy come from  these lessons.

The last time I exercised my body steadily was from 1996 to 2000 where I journeyed from a klutzy white belt to a disciplined powerhouse of a brown belt in Okinawan Karate.
This has influenced everything in my life.  

I exercise my goats some, but not enough.
 As you can tell, they are quite fat.

I exercise going to the chicken coop several times a day looking for eggs. Then I get even more exercise as I look all over my yard for the undisclosed destination where the wild chickens lay. Their eggs are a real delicacy. I haven't seen any in two months or more, but I look almost every day.

I exercise my temper on occasion. Too much, I am sure, because it is quite fit.  Lately I've been trying exercise silence or at least letting my husband have the last word.

I exercise my right to vote every chance I get.  I've exercised my right to peacefully assemble to protest the war in Iraq several times.  I've yet to exercise this particular right in the Occupy Movement, but they have my attention.  Police violence against peaceful protestors isn't exactly my idea of how power should be exercised.

I exercise my freedom of religion, attending the 
church of my choice most Sundays.

I exercise my right to free speech, but I try to use it judiciously. My intention in writing is not inflame others, but for my words to help people find common ground. My purpose also involves helping others' voices be heard, especially my husband's voice. He is a common sense genius and he is a catastrophically combat wounded Vietnam veteran.

Back in my younger days, being just a kid in the sixties, I watched our country burn, I saw riots in the streets, saw presidents, would be presidents, and civil rights leaders assassinated.  It made a deep impression on me, as did rock and roll. Believe me, growing up in Macon, Georgia, home to the Allman Brothers, there has always been a judicious amount of rock and roll.

I'm a child of the sixties and came to age in the seventies which left me a rebel without a cause. I never used to look twice at military types, having decided early on I was a peacenik.  Then in my thirties I began meeting all kinds of Vietnam veterans and listening to their stories. Then when I was thirty five, I fell in love with one who, to me, had the most riveting story of them all. I pledged to tell his story. He agreed to let me. I exercise this agreement all the time. 

I don't much exercise the right to bear arms. I don't like them, don't trust them. I trust my self defense techniques I learned a decade ago much more than I trust myself with a gun.  I did get a rifle,  for home defense or in case a rabid animal gets in my yard, but I hope to never use it.

All and all, I exercise a great deal. I hope you do too.

all art by Carole Dixon

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Thank A Veteran?

by Carl C
spoken Nov. 13, 2011

Welcome to my church. I signed the book here 20 years ago.

Will all military veterans please stand.    
Let us honor those among us who were and are willing to lay their lives on the line for the rest of us.

My name is Carl C and I served as a United States Marine Corps Rifleman, mostly in the mountains of the Demilitarized Zone, Vietnam for almost a year, between July 1968 and May of 1969. I joined the Marines in 1967 and was put on the Permanently Disabled Retired List in September 1969.

A young Veteran of our recent WARS who was being interviewed on PBS last Friday night was talking about how great it was to be in uniform when people would come up shake his hand and thank him for serving his country. Now, out of uniform, the armed service and homeless, all he gets is: oh you were in the military, that's nice, that will be 5.95 for that coffee.

What it means to be a veteran to a lot of people is once you take off your uniform, you are just another American living in a world without structure or respect while often carrying a mindful of experiences that have no place in civilized society. There is no use for the many skills that are second nature to the military person. Once you are out of uniform you have to learn to channel this energy into something useful.  

I can't speak for other veterans whose experiences are different from mine.  I was catastrophically wounded. It changed what was attainable for me and what wasn't. I went from being a physically fit 19 year old to being a mutilated 20 year old. I had to depend on others to do the smallest things for me. I had to become independent again, by learning such things as how to walk with crutches, climb up and go down stairs without falling or injuring my already damaged body and how to to drive a car with my left foot and left hand.  

Catastrophic injuries are very common for the veterans of our latest wars.

I don't know the answer to help these veterans. I don't see what is out there for them as far as opportunities are concerned. A career and or educational goals can often go a long way in keeping the effects of PTSD at a manageable level. But if the past is a predictor of the future, our Congressman and Senators will continue to cut and nibble away at our hard earned compensation and benefits for military veterans.  

A thank you is real nice, but these veterans need more than a thank you.  So if you have an opportunity to help a veteran in any way to show your appreciation, please do so.

I will say though, it is nice to be thanked and this is something we can all do - thank a veteran. It is the least any of us can do and it always makes my day when I am thanked.

We stopped at our favorite place to eat in Metter, GA on our way home on Veterans Day after visiting with my son on his birthday, November 10th,. which by the way, he shares with the United States Marine Corps. Taped to the door of the restaurant was a sign that said "free buffet for veterans." Some chain restaurants offer a limited free menu on Veterans Day, but at Bevricks, everything was free. This was a nice surprise; I was going to eat there anyway.  It wasn't cheap for the restaurant. Lots of veterans were eating there. Their tables were full of veterans. It was a great gesture and made me feel appreciated. They even took my picture and said they would post it on Facebook. This unexpected free meal is something I won't forget. 

I usually go to a local cemetery to attend a memorial service on Veterans Day. The services are nice and it is great to be thanked, but our lives were changed irrevocably by our service every single day and alters the way we see the world.  I see Memorial Day as the day to honor the dead and November 11th as the day to honor our living veterans.  

No matter how we might feel about our country's policies, most people join the military with honorable intentions to protect the common good of all of us. Let's keep these veterans in our thoughts all year long, not just on a designated day in November. And yes, a thank you goes a long way in honoring their sacrifices any day of the year.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupying the Hard Rock Hotel

I'd never been to any of these middle Florida resort extravaganzas before. I swore I wasn't curious about Universal Studios - not at all interested in the American Pretend Universe and yet there I went. We were there because Carl C's son wanted to have fun and make memories with his father. We explored a mountain trip (too hilly for the handicapped) and the Keys (too long a drive for bad hips) and ended up  in Orlando Florida at the Hard Rock Hotel with its huge pool and total accessibility.

Upon arriving, I with stunned about how seduced I was with Rock and Roll when I was young and how it now seemed to be a domain for the rich and self absorbed. My original condemnation was pervasive, but during our stay my preconceived notions about the resort began to melt away.

Looking around I saw a great many employed people who were pleasant and urged me to abandon worry and step into a safe and wholesome environment. Enjoy myself. Just as I thought I was getting in the swing of having fun;  I read a private message in facebook from my youngest granddaughter.

"I've got namona, Nana. Cough. I gots the medicen."'

My younger self warred with my older self. "Worry," says my old self. "Don't worry, be happy. It is under control," said the earlier incarnation of myself, the part of me who gets this place and was ready to party. I hardly remembered how to put my cares aside, but I was trying.

The plant life at this resort was beautiful, micromanaged and non-native. The curves in the landscape and buildings excited my imagination and gave the illusion of great space, though I knew the paths were convoluted with plantings hiding the proximity of the next path. I had the illusion I was somewhere foreign, another country or a new reality. The resort was perfectly choreographed. We rode the water taxi which conveniently schlepped us from one destination to another in beautiful blue green dead water. Water seemed a precious commodity there - water, water everywhere without a drop to drink. 

I was not wearing an "occupied" sign and my main act of rebellion was my eclectic Walmart wardrobe. It was Halloween around there, the time to darken into my shadow and become more who I truly am - so I wore more and more scarfs everyday and even used precious cash to buy a golden snitch to hold them in place. The magic was palpable. I sat in gratitude and sunlight.  My expectations of wicked rich people were not being met. I was carrying with me a big dose of judgement about people who vacation at Universal Studios. Slowly, I let go of this.

The next day, my granddaughter wrote to me:  "I'm at Memama's house. I just threw up and Memama went to go get Daddy and I am alone." I got on the phone and discovered all was under control.

Roger Rabbit was the first movie I ever saw which blended cartoons and people. CityVille, part of the Universal Studios Resort Center, gave a mirage of these two worlds coming together and by the end of the second day, I had succumbed to the illusion of the place. Around the pool, in the common areas - everywhere, I saw families, not vile wealthy people. I noticed there was actually an economy here. A bellhop told me the park was dying until the Harry Potter section opened summer before last. Now it is a destination spot for people from all over the world.

Halloween at the Hard Rock suited me and the accumulation of scarves began my transformation into the bag lady of the lobby. This met the requirements of my occupation agenda even as I recognized having money isn't dishonorable in itself, and vacationing here is not a manifestation of the devil. Though I understand the ecological havoc this resort must play in the area, I loved the stimulation to my imagination and the joy I felt there. My step-son's generosity and care for his father touched me deeply.  Leaving my cares in the capable hands of the next generation was a lesson in letting go. Awareness of my own prejudices brought insights.

I urge everyone to occupy their own lives no matter where they are, to look around, and become aware of their fellow Americans and to stop demonizing our own people, businesses and government. Yes there are bad corporations out there and an unholy covenant between these businesses and the policies of our nation and there are wrongs that need righting. Despite these grave concerns, my vacation taught me to not be so serious about everything and to not to protray those who have jobs and money as wicked. It brought me back in touch with my rock and roll youth and blended it into my present life. After all, without the music where would we be now? Rock and Roll gives our movements life, moves the people, tells their stories and provides us all with the collective energy to transform. So rock and roll, hootchie coo!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fallen Tree

I am in the woods with the goats near the newly fallen sweetgum tree.  The tree is about seventy feet long without any branches in its first forty feet. it broke about fifteen feet from the roots and fell between the branches of another tree.  It goes for quite awhile before the trunk of the tree dips and touches the ground.

The tree fell on a quiet night which followed several days of rain. The rain deprivation has weakened and killed quite a few trees on our property. This tree had a flaw in its trunk, was top heavy and rain soaked with the bottom of the tree leaning one way and the top another.
It was growing beside a creek and a ravine and all of its massive root system has been exposed for years and yet that part of the tree still stands.
Carl C and I heard it fall during the night and the next day the goats and I went on expedition to find it. It didn't take long.

The goats love these leaves which are ordinarily so far from their reach. I've been bringing them to browse here for almost a week. 

I awoke this morning with thank you on my lips. Thank you for my husband, our sons, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren. Thank you for my mother, for goats, chickens, dogs and cats. Thank you for our land, for friends and relatives. Thank you for beautiful days and peaceful nights.

Artemis nuzzles and nibbles me and butts my shepherds hook. Her nervous energy is connected with the dogs' high spirits. I pull a dogwood branch down for her pleasure. She attacks the branch with a nervous intensity. 

The dogs sit close and attentively. Mosquitoes  and the attentions of Artie chase me from me from my post by a delicious oak limb. I move to the far end of the fallen sweetgum tree and a bit farther up the slope. 

The further from the creek, the less buzzing insects. With a woodpecker setting up a loud chatter, Artemis moves down to the sweetgum.
This fallen tree's life is celebrated in the quiet gratitude I feel in its presence. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Endless Striving

Just as the Dublin VA hospital is laid out on an amazing grid which competes with Hogwarts in its complexity; the requirements to receive VA medical benefits consist of  convoluted mazes of doctors, departments, committee meetings, changing (and confusing) laws, frustrated veterans and VA employees. Veterans are faced with situations where it is difficult to know what entitlements they have earned. If they are tenacious enough to find out, then following the path to attain these benefits can take years and a single minded persistence.

Last week at the Dublin VA, Carl C had a 10:00 dental appointment and an appointment in the Pain and Rehab Department at 1:30. He took the intervening time to roll into the Patient Advocate's office to research his August 2010 perscription/referral for a three wheel hand cycle. The mobility device will allow this wheelchair bound veteran to get around in rougher terrain than the world of sidewalks offers.  The sidewalk offers long gazes into the woods and excursions into depression and PTSD while the off road world offers nature, state parks, rides with grandchildren, fresh air tingling in a man's face who has not felt the exhilaration of running in 42 years.

Heart doctors to determine good health, EKGs, paper shuffling, bouncing from Primary Care Manager to the Rehab Department to Prosthetics and over a year later and this claim has yet to become a reality. He is eligible to get it, but making it through the bureaucracy to produce this freedom-giving mobility device as a reality is taking immense commitment and focus - as has every benefit he has petitioned for in recent years. He paid in blood for these services and yet his attempts to collect are met with resistance and sometimes hostility. 

Paperwork does not just land in the appropriate place at the VA institutions. The veterans and/or their service advocate must keep in constant contact with their applications or they languish in one department or another without ever being manifested.

VA employees have been mandated to spend less and less money. Frequent policy changes make for nightmarish working conditions. For the veteran, committee meetings to appeal for earned benefits resemble being on trial in a courtroom. Resounding no's come from the major medical inquisitorial teams and battered veterans roll, creep, and drag from the meeting room defeated by the system they fought for.

Laying blame becomes ridiculous. The United States of America is in trouble and drowning on sound bites. Large sections of our population revel in the creation of heartless laws which shrink our government and reduce access to services for our veterans.

If our wounded combat veterans are not entitled to RECEIVE their benefits, then who is?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reinventing Myself

Creating a timeline of what I've done to make money over the last thirty one years is an insightful exercise, especially in these economic times. When I entered the job market, a person was expected to find a job, settle with it and keep until they retired and yet it took me over a decade to begin learning a skill which I now consider my career.

In 1980 my BA degree in Anthropology from the University of Georgia rendered me a laughing stock for any jobs available in my area.  I had no basic job skills; I couldn't even type. I went to an employment agency to find job. They found me one picking up and delivering crown and bridge work all around Central Georgia. If I could have stayed in just this one job I got right out of college at the Dental Lab, I'd be retired and rich. I would have learned to work a trade, had a fabulous 401K or whatever those retirement accounts are called.  I don't know because I don't have one.

I left the dental laboratory. But before I did that I got married and had a child. My husband and I went out drinking with the boss on a regular basis. The boss began hitting on me. I refused him. My marriage sucked. The baby was sick all the time. I was completely suckered punched by life and I quit the job, two days before the money vested in me would have become mine. This revelation from my boss came later after I could not claim the money. Quitting was a bad life choice if I wanted to have a settled and prosperous life making crown and bridge work  -except it wouldn't or couldn't have worked out - not with a boss hitting on me, a sick child and a bad marriage. I left this job and went straight to work at a dentist office cleaning children's teeth and there I battled a huge pelvic infection and was fired six weeks into the job. I went home with my year and a half old son and licked my wounds for about six months. Then I went back to work.

I got lucky this time, getting employment from a woman psychologist. I was hired because I told her I could type a little bit and she didn't realize how much typing the job entailed. She regretted her decision for awhile, but she allowed me to learn to type on the job and I also learned to file insurance and medicaid and typeset psychological reports. Soon enough, I became reliable and competent. While working there  I read the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual from cover to cover and self diagnosed myself on several fronts and grew savvy at diagnosing others too. Like my husband's secretary who was histrionic and bi-polar, not to mention mean as a snake to me while she cozied up to my lawyer husband and all his cronies.

There were three businesses in the building where I worked and before I knew it, I was copying specs for the architects across the hall, and working afternoons in a land and timber company. In 1985, I got pregnant again and left a few weeks before my second son was born.

That's just my first five years in the work force. I've traveled a long distance in the intervening years. My varied job history is what is expected from young people now. They stay at a job long enough to learn a skill and move on for more experience. I was ahead of my time.

As I look at my timeline; the most impressive trend I see about myself is that I have reinvented myself time and time again. One of the more important innovations was in the early nineties when I began getting jobs to train myself in graphic design.  I went from job to job collecting many different skills.

Now I wonder, is it time to reinvent myself again?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Career Graph

A blog post on design got me thinking about new ways to represent my career in graphics. Information design has been a speciality of mine for years, and here is a new way and personal way to express it. What would your career graph look like? I realizing there are many ways to express mine visually. More to come.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sixty Six Hours

by John Haywood

   I decided to quit smoking… about eight years ago. I’ve tried quitting cold turkey, cutting back, swapping to lights, and exercising whenever I had cravings. Nothing has worked. Every time I saw someone else with a cigarette it just drove me crazy. I had to have one. I managed at one point to go two months without a cigarette, found myself playing hackey sack in a smoking area, and finished a friend’s cigarette. And there I was, back to smoking.

Last month I went camping with a group of friends and a one of our group had these electronic cigarettes, Blu Cigs he called them because, well, the tip glowed blue. He let me try one and it wasn’t bad. Not as strong as a regular (or as the e-cig community calls them, analog) cigarette, but better tasting. He informed us that he hasn’t smoked an analog cigarette in months and didn’t even miss them. Well that offended the cigarette gods that I sacrifice to multiple times a day and I pulled a smoke out to tempt him. I sat right next to him and puffed away. He did the same, but when he puffed there was no coughing, no throat clearing, no squinting to keep the smoke out of his eyes. He said he could breathe again for the first time in years. I was astounded.

See these e-cigarettes don’t burn, they vaporize. Inside is a liquid that is basically just water and nicotine. No smoke, no tar, no crazy chemicals. My wife and I decided right then that we had to get this and try it out. Imagine being able to breathe. That’s what I’ve had to do for years now, imagine.

As soon as I got home I researched this Blu Cig, and found out that even though it cuts the price of your habit in half, it is expensive to start off. But so are all the quit smoking aids and in my experience they don’t work that well. A month later, despite the initial cost for my already poor family, we ordered our Blu Cigs. We smoked the last of our analogs and delved into our new packs.

That first evening we were fine, still giddy on our new product and feeling very proud of our prudence. The next couple of days, however, were a different story. We started our withdrawals. We were shaky, irritable, headachy and just plain hostile toward one another and the children. BUT we did not have to pick up a cigarette. My wife started coughing up some strange science experiments and our chests were tight as our bodies decided to begin expelling years’ worth of accumulated death in waiting. We pondered over this as we puffed on our vapor, watching all the smokers at her work coughing, spitting, and otherwise enjoying the habit of smoking.

We are on our third full day without, and we woke up feeling much better. We are still irritable, but we are able to deflect our anger into acerbic humor. My wife keeps smelling her fingertips and saying, “They don’t stink.”  I no longer have a bees’ hive in my head and I’m not gazing as longingly at the empty packs on the floorboard of my car. Pretty soon I may be fit for polite society again and able to play with my dog without being winded.

There are other benefits as well. While the neighbor kids steal their parents’ cigarettes and start the cycle again, my kids will no longer have that option. They will no longer think “If it’s okay for you, then it’s okay for me,” because it is NOT okay for any of us. No more burns on clothing or in the car. My asthmatic younger daughter hasn’t complained of difficulty breathing all week (that alone makes it worth it). I can tell my doctor that I will make it to my children’s graduations, and hopefully their children’s as well.

But what it really boils down to is this: Thank you Phillip, you may very well have saved my life, and the lives of every member of my family. You are awesome.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Welcome Home - A Tribute to a Hero

1000 meters (1 Klick)  outside Con Thien in Vietnam, Carl C was greivously wounded on May 27, 1969. His weeks long homecoming parade from Vietnam consisted of a few days in hospitals from Dong Ha and DaNang, Vietnam, to Guam, Japan, and onward to Washington DC. There he was transported from an airport to a military hospital in a bus with chained link fencing over the windows to keep protestors from bashing them. A few days later he was on board an intensive care hospital flight to the Charleston, SC naval hospital and months later made it to Georgia's Dekalb VA Hospital. Along the way, he underwent over 25 operations and  spent months in a body cast. He was
put on the Marine Corps' permanently disabled  retired list with a VA disability of 100%  plus loss of use of a hand and a foot . 

Since 9-11 and America's recent wars, being a Vietnam veteran has finally become honorable. Before then, veterans from Vietnam weren't welcomed  home by their fellow  Americans, not even by some veterans of previous wars. Our country was disenchanted with that war and blamed the warriors instead of the politicans. After all the Vietnam vets  became the symbols of  an epidemic of drugs, violence, homelessness and other symptoms of dysfunction. 

Nine years ago, my husband, Carl C, joined the Marine Corps League. Slowly my long haired, bearded recluse of a husband transformed into a rehabilitated Marine. He found his long lost tribe. These men were several generations of Marines and they understood and supported each other. Carl C greeted all combat veterans from then on with, "Welcome Home and Thank You."

A fellow Marine came home from Afganistan last week with both legs amputated  and many other injuries. His hometown welcomed him with a parade, declared the day, "Tony Mullis Day" and politicians galore escorted him to a ceremony in his honor where they took the opportunity to talk.

Through MCL Detachment 970, Carl C was able to participate in this 2.7 mile Georgia hot summer day parade. As an annoymous veteran, he rolled in his wheelchair  behind the Marine Corps League Color Guard and a lone Highway Patrol bagpiper. At 62, my husband was the youngest man of the lead contingent who were the only ones in the parade who walked (rolled) the entire way.  Heroes each one.