It’s the year for change, right?

Before you go–yes, you’re in the right place.

I just changed the decor a bit.

After 18 months, I felt that it was time to be a little crisper, a little clearer, and so I sought out a new theme. It’s the season of green around our territory at the moment, so this felt right.

Meantime, I’m probably out in the garden weeding, AGAIN, so I’ll be back to post when it rains.  Happy summer, everyone!

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All the news that (gives us) fits

Before I went to law school, I was a newswoman. Print media. Since then, I’ve been kind of a news fanatic. I’d devour the Miami Herald or the Cleveland Plain Dealer or a NYT, if I could get my hands on one. The Today Show was a must, and occasionally the evening news, too.  The advent of CNN, heaven. Ditto the Weather Channel.

In the last four or five years, though, I get my fix satisfied by online sources. I check breaking news on CNN.com multiple times a day. Same with TWC. I read a number of blogs and online magazines, rather than anything in print.

News? I get my news from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. And today, I find the survey that proves I’m not the only one, as reported in the Huffington Post. Time magazine’s survey showed that, post-Cronkite, put up against the big networks’ news anchors, Stewart was selected by more people as the most trusted newscaster in America.

I’m sure Jon Stewart is laughing himself silly. He’s the first to point out his is a “fake news” show, especially when politicians fall over themselves to announce campaigns on his show, and so on. He has no pretensions that he’s even in competition with the networks. While he has a liberal bias, he’s generous poking fun at all sides, and no subject seems to be off limits.

Maybe that’s why we find him so appealing. As someone who’s done hundreds of interviews, I think he has an amazing interview style. He has no pretensions about the news, either, or the stature of his guests (and he gets some incredible people, considering it’s supposed to be “just” a comedy show). He asks the questions news anchors won’t ask. He often demands that his guests take a hard look at themselves as well as their products, and he asks for real commentary in relation to what’s happening in the world.

In the comments to the Huffington Post story, there is assorted discourse, but one commenter points out that to get the jokes on this program, one needs to be well-informed and well-read. The expectation of audience preparation is much more than what we find on the 24-hour news machines, where talking heads keep handing out pap for the masses. Stewart wants us to think, and encourages alternative opinions to those of TPTB.

Where have we seen this function before?  Ah, yes, in the court jesters of old. Timothy Johnson explains the court jester thus:

The Court Jester was the one who could challenge traditional, conventional wisdom by doing one thing:  making fun of it.  He might highlight the seemingly trivial elements of an idea, or he might downplay what everyone else was ooo-ing and ah-ing over.  He might parody the players connected with an idea so the king could see the idea in a new light.  He might reverse everything – logistically, chronologically, philosophically – allowing those in his audience to see it from different angles.  Regardless of how he accomplished it, the Court Jester was the one person whose perspective could rise above the knowledge of the King’s advisors (translated:  yes men).

Granted, the most likely consequence to Stewart’s pushing the envelope is a greater Nielsen share rather than a beheading. But in this age, it seems like regular news networks have become much less interested in crucial issues that will have real impact on our lives (really? a month of undying Michael Jackson coverage, day and night, when environmental and global concerns are shoved to the rear?). They’re competing for ratings, trying to win popularity contests with more and more strident headlines, snagging the entertainment value of the day.

Stewart points this out himself on the program of July 20, where he mocks some requests from network news people who wanted to get Hot-Topic flavor of the month South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford on their shows.  But with all that’s going on in the world, is that really the news we want to see?  Is that even news any more?

Not me. I’ll stick with Jon. Less entertainment, more issues I care about. And maybe just a little radical thinking. Vive le difference!

Saying yes

I’ve had quite a bit of conversation in recent days about my travels, and the extent of my potential insanity for making them. The subject came up again when my two sisters and I got together for the purpose of wishing one of them hail and farewell as she heads out to New Mexico to graduate school.

She’s leaving a settled job to return to school, as she has a couple of other times before. She and I have both traveled extensively around the country, we’ve moved to far-flung points, we’ve jumped into opportunities with both feet and half a parachute from time to time. She mentioned that she is having similar conversations about “How brave you must be!” with friends and co-workers.  But we both agree it’s the way to really live.

She has wanted to get back to Albuquerque for years, and I think just gradually she was able to turn her eye, her resources and all her desires to point in that direction long enough that it finally came together.

I’m a sincere believer in that, too. Over my years as a published writer, I’ve found that being confident things will happen, connections will be made, and that yes, I can publish a book someday, has worked for me. But it doesn’t stop there.

This month, after the fabulous Wild West trip, I had some fantastic photos of our journey, and I finally said yes to entering them in a national contest.  I’m sure they’ll get thousands of great photos, and I know my chance of winning isn’t guaranteed.  But even the knowledge that I’m participating in something larger than my little sphere is stimulating and exciting!

My sister said she had recently seen the film “Yes Man,” with Jim Carrey, and  found it very meaningful for just this reason.  It is much too comfortable to sit back and live the same way every day, never changing the routine. That may be life, but is it LIVING? Surely it’s right to take interesting choices, allow your path to twist and turn, run uphill and down? Isn’t it?

Now, no doubt there are going to be those big “gotchas” occasionally when you let your gut take you on a merry ride.  Like the time she just HAD to have that huge Dodge truck. Like the time I married that guy–again.

On the other hand, she raised a great son by herself against a lot of odds and now has a bachelor’s, a master’s and is going for the Ph.D even though she dropped out of high school.  I left my job as a reporter/editor when I was a single mother of two and went to law school, and as a result have helped literally thousands of people over the last 20 years, including an awful lot of battered women who are now living in safety.

I think that’s what encourages me to care for these kids I have now, with their special issues.  When I had the opportunity to add them to my life, I said yes, and over the years my family and I have been able to help them make incredible progress. We say yes to therapy when it works, and yes to our own abilities when we need to take time off. We say yes to vacations that would throw other families into a tizzy and then beam when Little Miss can now tell you every president on Mount Rushmore and show you every state she went through in the Wild West.  Take that, fourth grade geography teacher!

As I think back on my life, there were many times I said yes that perhaps I shouldn’t have, and there have been repercussions that have been dealt with.  But I know in my heart I much more regret the times I’ve said no and should have gone for something instead. So I’ll keep on saying yes. Give it a try–you might learn something wonderful about yourself!

The road goes ever on and on

I’m not a person for living in big cities.

I often regret missing the opportunities and options for activities and cultural events, especially where the children are concerned. But we can go visit those if we choose, like our visit to Roboworld in Pittsburgh just before we went west. (Being able to touch the Lost in Space robot was AWESOME.)

Most of my life, I’ve lived in smaller cities and towns, occasionally in the country. That’s my comfort zone. You have access to what you need, if not all you’d like. Groceries, gas, government offices….le sigh for the lack of Starbucks and real ethnic food. No, Taco Bell doesn’t count.

On the Wild West trip, though, I chose a route through Idaho and Nevada for the purpose of traveling along a route on which I had set some characters in one of my stories, just to get a personal view. I had a good idea, from reading and photos, but neither had prepared me for what the terrain and surroundings were really like.

There was nothing.

U.S. 50 in Nevada

U.S. 50 in Nevada

No rest stop, no gas stations, no cell phone service, no other drivers, no strip malls, no houses…no people. Nothing. For miles and miles and miles.

This was a novelty to me at first, and I admired the sagebrush and high desert territory. After a hundred miles, a hint of doubt and discomfort started to slip in. What ifs. What if the car broke down? What if we ran out of gas? What if something happened to me? What would the children do? Who would pick them up and protect them from the desert sun? And what if those were horrible people?

Of course, by that time, I had worked my head into a pretty negative place, the scenery was way off the agenda and I was thinking about panic instead. How could there be a place so far from civilization that they don’t even have a portapotty?! When we came unexpectedly across some road work and had to stop in a batch of semis, I’d never been so thankful for construction in my life. I got out, stretched, had a drink (water, sadly as I didn’t have anything stronger) and yanked my last nerve back into line.

The rest of the journey to California proceeded in alternately white-knuckled and deep-breathing phases, aggravated by the high altitudes (Austin, Nevada was 6,600-plus feet).  Grateful for the children’s issues for once, as they were mostly oblivious to my worry, I plowed on, and we made it fine.

The experience, however, did leave me to question my decision-making. All my adult life, I’ve been very independent– changing jobs, moving, going back to school, getting married, getting unmarried– without paralyzing concern over what the consequences might be. This choice showed me where I could be vulnerable, something I don’t face about myself often. It was an interesting lesson. I honestly don’t know if I would do it alone with two children again.

the adventure awaits

the adventure awaits

In The Lord of the Rings,  Frodo recounts to the other hobbits Bilbo’s thoughts about traveling in the world: ” ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ ”

It’s hard to believe there are still places in this country where there is so much open space. We were lucky to be able to travel this summer and see that even though there are overcrowded neighborhoods in big cities and way too many glittery strip malls eating up natural land in the suburbs, there are still places where you can get a breath of fresh, clean air and see every one of the stars at night. I hope some day you get to see them too.

Independence day

To celebrate independence this year, we decided to take a trip. What? you say? Didn’t you just get BACK from a trip?

Well, yes.

But this trip was to celebrate K’s independence and her externship at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC.  We’d never been there before, and it gave us an excuse to take the whole family (even the poor Cabana Boy, who missed the whole Wild West adventure) away for a weekend.

After several weeks looking at mountains, one would think we’d seen it all. But no.  The Great Smoky Mountains are very different from  everything we saw out West.

Forested peaks

Forested peaks

Fading into fog

Fading into fog

Deciduous trees are liberally mixed with pines and other vegetation, including the landscape-devouring kudzu.

As we crossed through the tip of Tennessee and continued on into the mountains of North Carolina, we started to see once again the smoky layers of blue-gray peaks in the distance. Beautiful.

We arrived about dark on Friday night, just in time to head downtown to the weekly drum circle held in  Pritchard Park:

Anyone with a drum can join in; I left my set of bongos with K so she can become part of the music any time she’d like.

We were astounded that there was so much life downtown even at 11 p.m. We stopped at Kilwin’s for incredible late night ice cream, and then walked around the Grove Arcade, just window shopping and enjoying music on all sides.

Saturday morning we headed out to the  Biltmore Estate. Even more incredible in person than from the pictures I’d seen, the castle itself is huge. K told us much about it, and we walked through the gardens, the large conservatory, saw the petting farm and ate in K’s current restaurant assignment, The Stable:

Inside the Stable

Inside the Stable

We met her chef, who had nice things to say about her, and we got a look at the loft space where K and her fellow pastry chefs make their magic.

The vistas on all sides held those smoky blue mountain tops. The estate stretches as far as can be seen.  I loved the pergolaed garden walks:

biltmore 020 biltmore 021 biltmore 023 biltmore 028taking a well-deserved rest

taking a well-deserved rest

The flowers and plants were beautiful:

biltmore 017 biltmore 036fantastic...

fantastic…

As the day heated up, so did we and we took an air-conditioned break at the mall before our dinner at Havana in the Grove Arcade, the best Cuban food we’ve had since El Rancho Luna in  Little Havana, Miami. Three thumbs up for ceviche, ropa vieja, empanadas and much more.

Sadly we said good night to K after a wonderful day. She’s got early work tomorrow and we have a long drive. But it was great to explore a whole new area of the country and see how she’s doing in her new grown-up life.

Back to life, back to reality…

It may be a catchy phrase in the musical world, but it’s kinda sad in real life. It has taken several days to find the top of my desk and get re-organized, back to the life of helping people get what they need.

But the final legs of the trip had their moments as well.

We made reservations for an Econolodge  in Wall, South Dakota, intending to see the world-famous drug store (a serious misnomer if I ever heard one) the next day. After enjoying the evening ranger program at Mount Rushmore, with its deeply patriotic overtones, we drove the hour and a half to Wall, watching an amazing red lightning storm off to the east ahead of us.  Little Miss and her brother spent the hour picking out constellations from the star-filled sky of the wide-open spaces.

When we arrived, the office was closed.

Closed. Black. Dark.

Taken aback by this development, we paced around a bit, trying to find someone in charge, until B spotted some envelopes stuck into the key deposit box. Yes. Our keys, left in the open for anyone to take. This put us off considerably, but it was midnight and everyone was tired, so we checked out the rooms, in an underground basement area completely blocked off from the rest of the motel–more like a bomb shelter than a comfortable place to sleep.

At least no one had broken in.

So we crashed, and found that the wireless internet we’d been promised didn’t work in the basement. Sorry, no one to call to ask for help. That disappointment was nothing compared to the discovery that the “continental breakfast” consisted of watered down apple juice and a shelf of powdered sugar donettes. I don’t know what continent that was from, but I really hope we never travel there.

The kids and I ate cereal that we’d brought and took the rest of the morning to visit the pool (the only part of the visit that worked) while B & C headed out for a quick tour of the Badlands. Then we went downtown to the unbelievable Wall Drug.

Without question, the favorite part of the block-wide store was the Backyard, a very kid-friendly place where they had a water fountain courtyard. Ditto Boy got thoroughly soaked:

Taking to water like a carp

Taking to water like a carp

Took both kids awhile to get the hang of the jumping water, which flowed in time to the rhythm of the music playing in the background. But it worked.

We were all mesmerized by the smell of fresh-cooked doughnuts, but the lines for food were outrageously long.  Thank heaven for that college degree B worked so hard for!  She finally badgered some poor woman into confessing that there was a doughnut shop in the next room and we didn’t have to wait in line! So we grabbed a box of heaven and went on our way.

Giddyap!

Giddyap!

As the mad rush west produced its hurry-hurry mode through the corn states, we did the same returning. Though it was more amusing as B began the game of “I Spy Corn!” of which we were thoroughly enamored for at least five minutes.

We left Sioux City, an interestingly-laid out place, with the intention of making it to Chicago to see my Health Maven sister, but we just got started too late. Instead we just hauled ourselves cross country, heading home–except for one last bit of frivolity.

Seems we’d burned out a headlight somewhere during the trip East. The blinker, too, mutinied somewhere after Iowa. The kind highway patrol in Ohio pulled us over to point this out, and took pity upon our chaotic state, apparently, as we had a Canadian driving, a Pennsylvanian owning the car, and a Nevadan camped in the back with two children  in the detritus of a 14-day trip. We got a warning, telling us we “had been observed committing a criminal offense.”  Kinky.

But then several hours later, 3 a.m, an hour or so from home, B spots a car that suddenly turns around to follow us, its headlights flashing.  We’re a little puzzled, but we figure it’s probably the Pennsylvania State Police. It was. He let us know the headlight was out and checked the warning from Ohio, and we wondered why he hadn’t used his red and blue lights.

They weren’t working.

So he didn’t give us a ticket and we didn’t give him a ticket and all was well.  We were dead to the world for about a day before my young companions went their separate ways, hopefully knowing the extent of my gratitude for their help and the joy of their company. I am blessed.