Sunday, April 25, 2010

Green Again!

I was surrounded by green as I walked through the Springbrook Nature Center today. Trees that were only budding a week ago, were dressed full out in green today. It had been raining since yesterday and all the leaves were washed clean. The cool breeze had a bite to it, refreshing and cleansing as I breathed it in.

There is a feeling of wildness walking through the woods here. Everything grows in a random, haphazard way. In the dense woods, trees grow up grotesquely. They are not full, rounded and lush as they would be in a perfectly designed city park. The branches here curl upward seemingly reaching around the more prominent, older trees; searching for the sustenance of the sun. Here the old and dying trees coexist with the new growth. It is real. It is life.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fiction: Stranger

"You are in danger stranger out on the road tonight."

"Your car is not working and there is a storm fast approaching."

"Get in. Come with me. I’ll drop you some place safe and dry."

"So where are you from?"

"Why are you out on this stormy night?"

"You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. "

"Things will get better. "

"Sunshine and blue skies are in the forecast tomorrow."

"What’s that you say? You want to turn here?"

"That is a mighty desolate looking road. So you live back here?"

"I guess you like your privacy."

" Pull over? But, there is nothing here?"

"Ok, I’m pulling over. Just don’t shoot me!"

"Ok, I’m getting out!"


" Don’t! "

Photo by Mary Moellenhoff

First published on on October 18th 2007

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why do we allow fear to dictate our choices?

This is a question that I have asked myself many times in the past weeks. It puzzles me. Our country was not founded on fear, it was founded by a people who stood up and fought for their rights rather than be subjugated and ruled by a faraway king. They did not fear, they were angry at the unfairness of a system in which they did not have a voice. They stood up and threw off the monarchy that ruled them and formed a new government. If they had feared, they never would have won. But against long odds, they did win!

Our country has always stood up to fear as we faced many challenges. The words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 at his first inaugural address echo that sentiment:

"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."

Roosevelt did not allow fear to dictate his actions. Nor was it the focus of his first campaign. In the election of 1932, our country was mired in the Great Depression. Roosevelt ran his campaign on hope and inspiration. He led Americans to believe that he could bring prosperity back. He gave people hope.

So why today are we allowing ourselves to be governed by fear. Why is it so hard for so many to believe a message of hope? I have no answers to this. But for myself, I would rather follow a leader who inspires me to hope than one who is trying to scare me. How about you?

This article was first published on my Newsvine column November 3rd 2008. the day before the election.

The photo is public domain from the FDR Library

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mentally retarded does not equal stupid

I literally cringe whenever I hear someone call another person "retarded" when they have done or said something stupid. I feel in many ways it is ignorance on their part, or laziness. I have even seen and heard people using the term "developmentally disabled" in the same way. In using the terms incorrectly, they are doing a disservice to a group of people who, by no fault of their own, have diagnosed, medical disabilities.

To clarify my point, let's look at the definitions of each term.


1. Slow to learn or understand; obtuse.
2.Tending to make poor decisions or careless mistakes.
3. Marked by a lack of intelligence or care; foolish or careless: a stupid mistake.
4. Dazed, stunned, or stupefied.
5. Pointless; worthless: a stupid job.

noun. A stupid or foolish person.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


1. the act of retarding or state of being retarded.
2. something that retards; hindrance.
3. slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress, etc.
4. Music. a form of suspension that is resolved upward. Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Developmentally Disabled:

a disability, as mental retardation or cerebral palsy, that begins at an early age and continues indefinitely, leading to substantial handicap. Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

The way I interpret each definition is that in the cases of retardation and developmentally disabled, it is not a choice. It is instead a physical diagnosis. It is not something they have control over or can help. However, being stupid is.

I have had the misfortune throughout the years to know and work with individuals of whom I would definitely refer to as stupid. They were generally careless in thought and action. Their actions usually resulted in mistakes which could have been avoided. But, I really don't need to go any further into this as I am sure you all know people who fit this description.

I have also been blessed to know and work with individuals who have a medical diagnosis of developmental disability. These are people that you may not have had the opportunity to meet. I work on a regular basis with six such women. In many ways they have become as close as family to me. They are a constant source of inspiration. They can learn, it is just that they learn differently. It is always a challenge for me to find the key to unlock that process. It is not their fault if they can not learn something, it is mine for not finding a way to teach them. I am constantly amazed and sometimes amused at their intelligence, particularly when I observe them interacting with new staff who don't know the rules and are frequently outsmarted! They are not stupid, (but sometimes I wonder about the staff that I work with...)

I have seen them struggle to understand why they cannot be like everyone else. Why they can't marry and have children. Why they can't do things that others can. I have helped them grieve over the loss of family members who died. Those were the same family members who ignored them and sent them away. I have spent holidays with them and watched their sadness when others left to go home to loved ones, knowing they had no one. They grieve, they hurt, they long for attachment and a sense of belonging just like you and I. They are not stupid.

My job is that of an advocate. My goal is to try to assist them in living their lives as close to normal as I possibly can. It is a challenge I happily take in helping them be a part of their community, just like everyone else. For the most part, in my experience, the individuals who I have worked with are the most accepting, loving, people I have ever known. They don't make judgements, perhaps because they know what it is liked to be judged. The only flaw I have seen is that they trust too easily and can be taken advantage of. It is a large part of the reason that they need to be protected by law.

I guess what I am asking here is that you take care in the words that you use. More people can be hurt by the careless use of language than you might know. By using the word "retarded" when you actually mean something else is doing a great disservice to a wonderful population that is by no means "stupid."

* This was originally published 11/26/2008 on my Newsvine column.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Random thoughts

Driving home from work yesterday morning I was forced to yield to five deer. I slowed as I saw them emerging from the trees. They had no fear as they crossed the road about ten feet ahead of me. At the time there was no one behind me, but I turned on my hazard lights anyway. They just meandered across the road without even a glance in my direction.

I pulled off to the side so I could take a picture. I had my camera with me, but it was buried in the bottom of my bag which was laying on the backseat of my CRV. So I grabbed my phone to try to get a quick shot. But I missed it. Opportunity lost. My mistake was in opening car window to get a clearer shot. I forgot that I was playing an Elvis Costello CD. On hearing the music the deer all looked at me and then took off into the woods on the other side.

I really didn’t mind missing the shot though. I have been told my photos are good, but to me, they never quite capture what I am seeing. So I just have the memory of the moment.

When I was very young I wanted to be an artist. We had a chalk board that came from an old one room schoolhouse. The school had been converted into a dwelling for the elderly parents of a neighbor and they had no use for the chalkboard. We had it propped up in a corner of the dining room next to a window. I loved to draw on it. I think it was my Aunt Teckla, my Dad’s sister, who upon seeing one of my drawings told me I should be an artist. I don’t even know if I was in school yet, but at that moment, I wanted to be an artist.

I did paint a little. But I drifted into other interests as a teenager. However, I never really lost the desire to create. I started taking pictures in my mid-twenties and since then, soon after began to write as well. I just had an innate need to be creative, to capture what I was seeing and interpret it for others. But, I now get frustrated as it never seems to come out as I see it. I don’t know. Maybe I haven’t found my medium yet.

These past few years I have had little time to do anything creative. When I do try, nothing comes. I just get more frustrated. I feel like I have lost a special part of me. Maybe it is just an age thing. But, I miss it.