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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Smack Attack

This weekend we did something we don’t do nearly often enough – took the kids to the beach.  Rockport has a beautiful State Park with volleyball courts, picnic tables and umbrellas, clean shores, and sand under your feet when you’re in the water.  Just my kind of place! 

We chose a stretch of seaside that wasn’t crowded so we didn’t disturb anyone and could have some space to ourselves.  Within a few minutes, we learned that jellyfish tend to have the same idea.  For some reason, the danger of this did not dawn on me.

 Having never seen a jellyfish in the wild before, I was fascinated.  Strange globs of gelatinous ‘something’ lay in little piles on the sand bar that was visible at low tide.  Dozens of them.  They felt like raw chicken breast and were transparent except for the white clover-looking shape on their backs.

In the water, we got to see them floating.  I was intrigued by the fact that they didn’t have tentacles.  They couldn’t sting without tentacles, right?  I used my long Styrofoam noodle floatie to catch one, just to look.  I got another one flipped over so we could see the lacy feeding structures on the bottom.  A couple hours later Wikipedia and some little kids told me those were harmless moon jellies.  They’re beautiful, graceful little creatures that luminesce under a black light – like sweet little ocean fairies!

But then I met their evil sadistic cousins, the sea nettle.  Those horrible creatures take advantage of the fact that humans can’t even see them under a foot of hazy Gulf water.  We had caught one of those with the noodle, too; I was amazed that the tentacles were over two feet long even though the hood was barely the size of a baseball.  Seems like overkill, doesn’t it?  I guess we should have apologized for disturbing that one because he came back and brought friends. 

The Hubs and the Kid were pulling Bitty on an inner tube several yards in front of the Butterfly and me as we waded through hip-deep water from one shallow sand bar to the next.  We observed the occasional moon jelly, but the abominable nettles were nowhere to be found. 

We were halfway between the third and fourth sand bars when I remarked that in another fifty yards, we might actually be in water deep enough to swim in.  That’s about the time I felt seaweed brush across the top of my right foot.  But wait!  There ISN’T any seaweed out here.  Oh, no!  That was a jellyfish!  In the split second it took me to have that little conversation with myself, the sting began.  CRAP!  It WAS a jellyfish!!  I took a step backwards to get away from it, and another one snagged my other foot.

I. FLIPPING. PANICKED.  One little sting, I could handle.  No problem.  But in a microscopic instant I was certain I had waded into a whole swarm of them and there was no way out!  The violent man-eaters had me surrounded.  I was going to be on the evening news, and the pictures would show my contorted, distorted body wrapped in jellyfish tentacles like a fly in a spider web.  Panic reached a whole new level when the Butterfly at my side yelled, “Ow!”  We were both going to die right there in the water!! HEELLLLP!!!

With my vain attempt to leave the Butterfly to die while I jump straight up out of the water and run along the top of it back to the shore thwarted by physics, I stumble-waded at least a mile back to the sand bar, wailing and dragging her behind me.  Maybe it was only a couple yards, but whatever.  The Hubs was somewhere in the distance behind me asking if I was ok.  DID I LOOK OKAY???  Didn’t he see I had just escaped DEATH?!

He stole the inner tube from Bitty to get to me faster, probably more concerned that with all my caterwauling, I’d drown myself long before the jellyfish sting did any damage.  She scaled the Kid like a telephone pole, and they all headed my direction.  I vaguely remember someone looking at my foot to make sure I hadn’t been attacked by a shark or lost any of my digits in the vicious attack and asking me stupid questions like whether it hurt.

Then it happened again.  The awful sea dragon stung me again, this time on my thigh.  That’s it.  I was done.  I was heading back to dry land, or at least water shallow enough to see through.  Everyone else could stay right there and become serpent guts for all I cared.  I was outta there!!

Of course I calmed down when I made it to the shore without actually dying or losing any limbs.  I was dizzy from the hyperventilation and there was no way I was going to put my belly in the watery pit of Hell and SWIM to shore, so my legs were quivering from wading at breakneck speed through the water.  

A few minutes later, as we headed to a safer area, I consulted the internet about the abominable little fear-mongers.  It turns out that besides the mild sting on my feet and leg, they’re fairly harmless, too.  We probably had indeed walked into a smack (not a swarm), but it wasn’t a bloom (many, many smacks together) so I was never in any serious danger.  We would have been safer in a more populated area; we and the jellyfish had chosen that secluded place for the same reason – to get away from other people. 

We spent the rest of our trip in a place designated the “saltwater swimming pool” with the same murky water and smooth bottom, but the little kids there assured us that all the sea nettles were “over there,” away from all the people.  They were picking up the moon jellies and petting them like frogs, so we took their word for it, waded in, and relaxed safely – smack dab in the middle of the crowd.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Watch Your Mouth

A few weeks ago, my dad asked me why people feel the need to swear on Facebook.  Even though Facebook isn’t exactly a public forum, I think the question he was really asking is, “Why do people swear in public?”

The older generations think people who use profanity lack respect, but this is only partially true.  If clean language is not the virtue it once was, then dirty language cannot be a lack of it.  Ricky and Lucy would have never cursed at each other, but they also portrayed a very unrealistic notion that sharing a bed with your spouse was a concept too filthy to show on the air.  Years later, in one of the most wholesome shows of my childhood, Cliff and Claire Huxtible were shown in bed together with no complaints; it was no longer taboo.  Times change, and so does our level of what is respectable.

One common assumption is that people who use four-letter-words probably aren’t smart enough to use any others.  I find that insulting.  I’m an educated and intelligent woman, and my language can be quite creative.  Such words supplement my vocabulary, not replace it.  I also know when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t, so if you look back through the 200-plus blogs I’ve published here, you won’t find me talking like I do at my house or around my close friends.  Usually.

I did write this one article about a certain kind of woman, and I used the B-word in that one quite a bit.  Words like rude, mean-spirited, or snooty accurately describe those women, but none of them fully encompass the vision I was trying to create.  That particular word, because of the connotation that goes with it, was the only word that would do.  Sometimes profane words are simply necessary.  Of course this is rarely the case.

Those who don’t usually blush at words that were once taboo are sometimes offended when “God” is added to the oath or damnation.  Being cussed TO and cussed AT are different, and being called certain words can be extremely offensive.  Sadly and all too often, people resort to swearing at a level that is almost violent, intended to intimidate another.  This is not the norm, either.

Some people, particularly men in rugged lines of work, seem to use swear words in place of um, uh, or just breathing.  My daughter and I had the displeasure of listening to a conversation recently where literally every other word was the F-word.  I understand the (albeit nonsensical) use of the word in its adjective form, but to also use it as an adverb, verb, noun, and interjection was definitely overkill.

Even the most clean-mouthed people swear occasionally, often when angry, and not always to the level of vileness that can’t be used on network television.  The British Psychological Society recently concluded that swearing relieves pain.  Participants in a physically uncomfortable situation could tolerate it longer if they were allowed to cuss. 

Cussing also relieves stress, so it probably made my mother feel better to yell at me to clean up the colorfully described “mess” that was my bedroom when I was in high school.  Swearing was a safe form of aggression that dispelled some extra energy and kept her from taking a swing at me.  (For the record, my mother is a saint, and regarding my room is just about the only time I’ve ever heard her cuss.  Must have been worse than I remember.)

Like most other forms of relief, it becomes less effective when overused.  If cursing is part of your standard vocabulary, then that string of four-letter-words you let out at a driver who cuts you off probably doesn’t do you much good.  Your sweet grandmother who swore under her breath when she cut her finger on a kitchen knife got more out of it than you do.

For most of us, salty words are exactly that -- spice we add to magnify the flavor of our language.  Those expressions punctuate ideas we feel can’t be expressed in mere words, even when we speak with great emotion.   Watch your mouth around kids, little old ladies, in family restaurants, and at church, and you probably aren’t going to catch anyone’s wrath.

Even most prolific potty-mouths don’t usually do it at a level that makes your ears bleed, and only a tiny fraction of people never swear at all.  So if you’re somewhere between Mother Teresa and George Carlin, you’re pretty normal.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Would Term Limits Solve Our Problems?

The framers of the US Constitution were brilliant men who did an excellent job of providing us with a foundational document to define our nation’s government, so before we discuss the pros and cons of term limits, we must understand why they set up the election system the way they did.

Until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, the Constitution stated that Senators were to be chosen by the legislature of each state because they represent the state.  The President and Vice President were to be chosen by Electors selected by the States’ legislature, and the People were to elect their Representatives directly. 

Representatives were chosen by popular vote because they represent the People.  So the founding fathers thought that except for the House members, citizens should elect men who would elect men who would elect men to run the country.  Why?

In Federalist Papers #68, Alexander Hamilton wrote that “No man can be a competent legislator who does not add to an upright intention and a sound judgment a certain degree of knowledge of the subjects on which he is to legislate.”  He was saying that to hold office, you must care about the nation, make good choices, and have some knowledge about the decisions you’ll be making. 

Hamilton also argued that since the general population did not have that knowledge, they were not capable of determining who did.  He believed elections “should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the [office]” and that a smaller group created “circumstances favorable to deliberation.”  Apparently they expected our Electors to actually decide who was worthy of office.

With several levels of security in place to make sure the most suitable person was chosen to serve the nation, the framers of the Constitution opted not to set term limits.  Any Senator, Representative, or President could serve as many times as the Electors (or People) saw fit to put them in office.  They assumed that when an elected person was no longer fit, they would no longer be voted into office.

Unfortunately, our forefathers never foresaw what our election system would look like today.  Today there is no deliberation; in 48 states, all the Electors vote as the majority of the People vote.  (The other two states’ Electors vote in the same proportion as the People.) 

Not one state charges Electors with making the decision themselves; they merely condense the number of votes.  State legislatures do not normally choose the Electors, either; the two major political parties do.  But legislators make the rules, so maybe that still counts.

Many believe that the founders’ protective measures have failed, and Amendments to prevent multiple reelections have been proposed several times.  One even made its way into the Constitution.  

Only a handful of Presidents before Franklin Roosevelt had sought a third term.  FDR holds the unique distinction of having been elected four times.  Had he not died in office, he would have served sixteen years.  In 1944, NY Gov. Thomas Dewey said, “Four terms, or sixteen years, is the most dangerous threat to our freedom ever proposed."   Since 1951, the 22nd Amendment has limited a President to two elected terms, and up to two years of a succeeded term.

In the past, some states’ legislatures imposed term limits to their US Congressmen.  The Supreme Court eliminated those rules in US Term Limits vs. Thornton (1995), stating that a “patchwork of state qualifications” was inconsistent with "the uniformity and national character that the framers sought to ensure."  If term limits are to be levied against Congressmen, it must be done on a nationwide basis.  But is that the solution?

Supporters of the 22nd Amendment believed term limits would prevent so much authority from being held in a single office again.  That obviously is not the case.  Half of the Presidents elected since its ratification have been elected twice.  Since most of those have exhibited more authority than most people are comfortable with, one might argue that our current fail-safe isn’t working, either.  If it doesn’t work with the highest office in the land, why would it work with lower offices?

Proponents of term limits commonly suggest two terms for Senators (12 years) and five or six terms for Representatives (10-12 years), so both Houses may be equally restricted.  Others may argue that twelve years is too many for any person in power – even state governors.  If ten years is the absolute most a President can serve, should any person be able to serve longer? 

Such restrictions might indeed lower the levels of corruption, back-scratching, and paybacks to the special interest groups because those things do take time to achieve.  Regardless of the details, term limits alone are not enough to reign in a runaway official bent on taking more power than he is rightly permitted.

Neither Dewey nor the framers imagined the money that is now poured into every national campaign from corporations, PACs, and other groups – especially for an incumbent who has acted in their interest, even in a single term.  They could not have predicted how the power of the People would be so subverted by the almighty dollar and its friend the mighty media.

Nor could they have predicted the internet, which gives every person access to information that would help them determine who is most qualified to hold office, eliminating the need to choose people to make those decisions for us.

Besides limiting the number of years a person may hold a seat in Congress, we must also create fences around how those people are elected and how they behave in their official capacities.  Men and women who agree to represent us and be our voice on a national level should be elected directly by the voters and influenced by nothing except the needs and will of the People they serve. 

Limiting service to two terms only guarantees a change of the name on the door.  If we want to put our country back on track, we have to change how it operates. 

Turning off the mainstream media and demanding “an upright intention” from our elected officials are more effective measures than setting a timer.  Prohibiting campaign donations and gifts from anyone except individuals would force newly elected officials to serve only the People who elected them.  And soundly voting them out when they do not please us would certainly create a drive for better performance. 

But the very lawmakers who need these restrictions are the same ones who would never establish them.  Congress has already forgotten who they work for.  Maybe it’s time for the States to create a Constitutional Amendment that will help them remember.  Otherwise, we might forget, too. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Wreck Blog

There is a cool place called Jacob's Well stuck back in the woods between Austin and San Antonio near Wimberley, Texas.  It’s a natural swimming hole, and I do mean HOLE!  If you’re in the area and looking for a fun place to visit with the kids, I hear it’s the kind of place you never forget.  Two of my kids went last summer and wanted to go back.

For about a month, the Kid has had it in mind to go the first weekend of summer vacation before the graduate moves out.  He wanted it to be a “just us kids” trip with the newly-adult Bitty driving.  He and the Butterfly rounded up two friends, some beach towels, swimsuits, and a few Sonic drinks, and piled into my car. 

Bitty drives a 2003 Beetle, which is essentially a four-seater, so my 2010 Dodge Journey made more sense.  Thank goodness for that decision.

Everything was fine until they came into Gonzales, about an hour from home.  On Hwy 183 as you come into town, the speed limit drops from 70 to 50 before the first intersection.  Apparently the driver of the single cab 2000-ish model Ford F-150 in front of her didn’t notice until it was almost too late and slammed on his brakes.

I feared he had brake-checked her for following too closely, but all her passengers insist that was not the case.  She simply wasn’t able to stop my big car as fast as he could stop his little truck. 

She hit his reinforced chrome bumper hard enough to bend it under a little, but the collision did much more significant damage to my mostly fiberglass body.  As you can see above, the hood is curled and the bumper, grill, and all front lights are busted.  Both quarter-panels were pushed back far enough to pop off trim near the rear view mirrors.  The dropped ball hitch on the truck pushed the radiator back nearly a foot on one side, pouring fluid out on the road. 

As Bitty pulled the car to the side of the highway, the Kid called me and the driver of the truck took off!  What kind of coward does that?!  There was no way he didn’t know she had hit him and probably caused significant damage.  Fortunately, the man behind Bitty was an off-duty police officer and knew what to do.  He followed the guy!  An older couple stopped to make sure everyone was alright.

The off-duty cop wasn’t able to get a description of the driver because his face was hidden by his cell phone, but he did write down the license plate and noted the truck description.  He called local law enforcement and waited with my shaken daughter until they arrived.  He gave them the truck information and told them where to find it – at the soccer field about a mile away.

A Sheriff’s Deputy (who the kids named Paul Blart) filed a report of the incident while two city cops (the Super Trooper and Inigo Montoya) tracked the man down.  According to the officers, he was given citations for hit-and-run and leaving the scene of an accident.  The man had an ID on him but no driver license; however, they could not cite him for driving without a license or request his insurance information because he wasn’t driving when they found him.  Bitty did not get a ticket.

Only the Kid, who was in the front passenger seat, was a little sore the next day, and I’m sure they will all be sore later, but there were no significant injuries.  The airbags did not deploy, which concerns me a little, but it doesn’t matter now.  My insurance company declares a total loss when repair costs are 70% of the value, but considering the price of car repairs these days, I don’t see how it could be anything else.  I’ll know in a couple days.

A few months ago, my throttle control sensor light was coming on intermittently, but the shop had trouble finding the exact problem.  The fourth time I took it in, a long-time Dodge mechanic shook his head and patted my hood like it was a dying patient and mused, “These white Dodges….” 

“Are they cursed?” I laughed.  He said, “They’re something!” 

I really love that car and I don’t like change, but I don’t like getting phone calls saying, “We had a wreck,” either.  I haven’t ventured to think about what vehicle I may want to buy if it comes to that, but one thing is for sure.  It won’t be a white Dodge!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

For Bitty on Graduation

You know... I had this all planned out.  The whole graduation business was going to be merely functional, no emotion involved.  As a middle decan Cancer, I should have known I was kidding myself.  This is a terribly emotional day for me as my oldest child becomes an adult tomorrow.  I can only hope she's handling it better than I am.

In the human mind, time is meaningless.  My own high school graduation was twenty-two years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.  Yet it was only this morning that my kids were rough housing and goofing off as I was trying to take the official "last day of school" picture, and it seems like decades ago.

Several months back, I had a dream about writing.  Not the spiritual experience or creative release of creating a written masterpiece, but the physical act of writing.  In my dream I could see an old fashioned fountain pen writing on old paper.  No sooner than the words I couldn't read appeared in pretty manuscript, the ink faded to a dark sepia as if a great deal of time passed as the ink dried.  For Mother's Day last month, my own mother sent me a fountain pen like the one I had dreamed of.  Today I saw my dream become reality as I penned the words below.  I sealed the envelope only minutes ago.  Or was it hours?

I shed my tears today because a whole new life begins tomorrow, and I won't have time for this silly nonsense of crying and being sentimental.  Life is what happens when you aren't paying attention.  Well, I intend to pay attention, for too much life has passed in the last eighteen years to possibly remember in a single blog post.  The letter below is to my sweet rubber chicken on her graduation day.  Please send her your blessings as I pour myself another shot of Jim Beam.

My Dear Cheyenne,

There was a page in the back of your baby book for me to write you two letters -- one when you were born, and one when you graduated high school.  I never got around to writing the first one, but I've waiting eighteen years to write this one.  I never guessed it would be so hard.

Even as I weep for the child you no longer are, I smile at the woman you are becoming.  I have watched you grown in love, compassion, grace, and wisdom.  Some days I swear you haven't learned a thing since you were six, with your childlike innocence.  And some days you show everything you've ever experienced in a single breath.  Life has not always been kind to you, but you always choose joy over sorrow.  You are an inspiration to so many.

Tomorrow as you walk across that stage, being eighteen years and five hours old, while you try to remember which hand goes where and how to walk in high heels, I'll be remembering how tiny your toes were when you got your first pedicure at two weeks old.  I painted them pink as I told you how much we loved you.  We still do, sweet child.  You will never know until you are a mother yourself.

So much of my life has centered around you for almost two decades.  Bear with me for the next two, because I have no idea how to do whatever comes after this.  You are beautiful, Cheyenne.  Inside and out.  Always love deeply, and you will have all you ever need.  My sweet girl, I love you.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Paradigm Shift across the States: Bundy Ranch vs. Big Brother

The paradigm has been threatening to shift in this country since the first coordinated Tea Party Rally on Tax Day 2009, and maybe last month it finally did.  There was no Tea thrown overboard and no shot heard ‘round the world, but the overreaching federal government definitely saw the whites of their eyes on the Bundy Ranch in southern Nevada.

For twenty years, rancher Cliven Bundy has been fighting the federal government in the courts, where many people believe such things should be handled.  He stopped paying grazing fees years ago when the Bureau of Land Management stopped holding up its end of the deal by halting actual management of the land.  Instead, Bundy put the money into managing the land himself to keep it fit for grazing.

At some point the courts ordered Bundy’s cattle removed at the Bureau’s insistence.  Bundy argued that BLM doesn’t have the right to remove cattle because the land is owned by the State of Nevada rather than the federal government, and more importantly, he has vested water rights.  Standing on the Tenth Amendment, he declares that his water rights, granted by Nevada before it was even a state, outweigh federal regulation.

In Nevada, water works like this.  If you came upon unclaimed water prior to the dates of key legislation (beginning in 1905), and you put the water to beneficial use, the water and the land surrounding it were yours.  That’s it!  Water is more valuable than gold in the Nevada desert, so vested rights usually override all other legislation.  The Bundy Ranch’s rights were originally vested in the 1870s.

When the Bureau of Land Management showed up with armed agents, armed contractors, special forces cowboys, cattle trailers, fencing materials, ATVs, dump trucks, backhoes, and even a helicopter early last month, a call went out to America’s citizens.  Twitter and Facebook came alive as messages from the Bundy family and local supporters went viral.  “We need your help!” 

Protesters began arriving within hours.  Then came the ten minute video of agents using stun guns and shoving protesters, holding back menacing dogs, and warning that they were “going to get hurt.”  Protesters were angry but not violent, so who was going to hurt them?  Was the BLM really threatening to harm people over cattle grazing on the wrong side of a fence?  Yes.  There is no other interpretation of that video, which is still available on YouTube.  Aerial videos taken later by news crews resulted in the FAA establishing a no-fly zone above the ranch.  Why?  They were only following the court’s orders.

According to reports from the Bundy family, the BLM’s warrant was to confiscate cattle and remove them from government property.  The Nevada Dept. of Agriculture guidelines prohibit transporting them outside the district without brand inspections, which the BLM did not possess.

Days after they withdrew from the operation, the Bundy family found more than forty cows buried in a mass grave and two bulls lying in the open, dead from multiple gunshot wounds.  An agent reported that the bulls were “euthanized” because they were a danger to agents and other cattle, but no statement was made about the mass grave.  In addition, agents had caused extensive damage to water tanks, water lines, fences, and other infrastructure; none of that was allowed by the warrant or inevitably caused by the execution of the warrant.  It was vandalism.

While social networks and conservative news outlets blasted the story everywhere, fed-up citizens and private militias from several states made their way to the Bundy ranch for what was tagged online as a Range War.  In the following week, mostly unarmed patriots descended on the ranch riding horses and in pickup trucks, bearing flags of all sorts, demonstrating peace but making clear that if the BLM wanted a war, a war they would have.

After several days and untold hours of bad publicity, the Bureau suspended the operation citing safety concerns.  His federal ego wounded, Nevada Senator Harry Reid promptly took to the airwaves, calling protesters “domestic terrorists.”  In a videotaped interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he said Cliven Bundy says the United States “is a foreign government, he doesn’t pay his taxes, he doesn’t follow the law.”  He even claimed protesters (terrorists) “want the federal government to hurt women and children.” 

Those statements are all blatant fabrications.  There is no evidence to suggest Bundy has unpaid taxes.  He denied the BLM’s authority over his land, but he fully recognizes the federal government – he even called on Congress to reprimand their own, indicating he didn’t think all of Congress approved of Reid’s comments.  “It’s your job to rein him in a little bit,” he said.

Bundy reminded Fox News’s Sean Hannity that it was the government who first showed up with guns, not the protesters, and publicly asked Sen. Reid, “Why are you calling for a civil war?”  The response came from the New York Times, which followed suit in spreading lies by editing his words to make him look like a racist; suddenly every mainstream media channel was covering the story.  Bundy’s personal friend and African-American Marine known as Charlie Delta defended the rancher, saying he hoped the real patriots would see through the smoke.

Experts estimate the BLM spent over a million dollars on this failed-for-now operation, which is about what they claim Bundy owes.  Some people have stated they would feel more comfortable supporting the Bundy family if he had paid the grazing fees, but Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore asks MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, “Since when in the heck do we send the federal government with arms to collect a bill?” 

One of Bundy’s 50 neighbors who was bought out by the BLM over the last two decades argues that Bundy does not owe the money anyway and calls him a hero for “single-handedly taking a stand” against the overreaching federal government.  According to the BLM contract, signing it is a prerequisite for paying fees.  He was not allowed to pay the fees without a contract, yet the government claims he owes the money because of the contract.  Sounds like doublespeak, and Cliven Bundy and his neighbors are not the only victims.

When Kit Laney bought the Diamond Bar Ranch in NM in 1985, he inherited the bank’s agreement with the Forestry Service to make modifications to the water supplies on the 180,000 acre ranch where his 1,200 head of cattle would graze.  Nine years later, the rules had changed so drastically that he was forced to use mules and wagons to make those improvements and only 300 cows were allowed on all that land.  In February of this year, the federal government removed the remaining animals, leaving his water without “continuous beneficial use,” which will probably force him off the land as well.

In a similar situation, the E. Wayne Hage family also fought for over twenty years to protect their ranch and lost on several fronts.  The US District Court in Reno finally ruled that the Hage family did own the land and granted them $14 million in damages, which the BLM is still contesting.  The court also ruled that the BLM and Forestry Service had “conspired” to violate the Hages’ rights and prohibited the organizations from denying or withdrawing permits without cause.  That obviously isn’t working.  But these problems are not just the West.

Along 116 miles of the Red River border between Texas and Oklahoma, the states can’t seem to decide where the boundary lies.  In 2000, a vague border was set according to the vegetation line.  Unfortunately, the river moves and takes that line with it.  Oklahoma believes that when the river moves south, the border moves south, but when the river moves north, the border stays south.  In true Big Brother fashion, the BLM recently decided to simply confiscate the land to solve the argument.  They claim it’s their land anyway because the States never had the right to deed land to its citizens. 

When asked by Stuart Varney (filling in for Neil Cavuto) whether he had a problem with guys with guns opposing federal force, Gov. Rick Perry’s answer reflected the opinion of most Texans and patriots: “I have a problem with the federal government putting citizens in the position of feeling like they have to use force to deal with their own government.”

Cowboys don’t take too kindly to people taking the stuff they’ve poured their blood, sweat, and tears into for generations, and especially so when it comes to land.  If the federal government does decide to “Come and Take It,” let’s hope Gov. Perry remembers that when we elect a man in a hat, we expect him to be a cowboy.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Habits of a Quitter

Two months after quitting
shampoo.  No styling products.
Just straightened.
The following article appeared in the April 2014 edition of The Northeast Texan.

In the last year and a half, I’ve quit three major things, and I’m pretty proud of that.  Christmas before last, I quit biting my fingernails.  If you’re not a nail-biter, you may not realize what an accomplishment that is.  It probably comes with less social stigma than any other bad habit, so there is less external pressure to quit.  The biter almost never experiences any significant consequences, so there is less internal pressure to quit, too. 

The only real reason to change is that keeping dirty fingers in your mouth all the time is unsanitary.  Personally, I just wanted pretty hands.  Fifteen months later, my nails are strong and healthy and grow fast enough that sometimes I even complain about how often I have to groom them.

But that’s not my greatest accomplishment.  My greatest accomplishment came on December 20 of last year when I smoked my last cigarette.  After smoking a pack a day for the better part of 23 years, I finally gave it up out of desperation.

A week before Christmas, I came down with the flu.  During the three or four days I laid on my mother’s couch, suffering hourly breathing treatments for asthma and taking cold medicine every four hours on the dot, I didn’t even want to smoke. 

A couple days later when I finally did want a cigarette, I had a little talk with myself.  “You’re already through the three-day nicotine withdrawal, and that’s the hardest part.  Just go ahead and quit.  It should be easy from here!”  And it WAS!  The most valuable advice I ever received about quitting was this:  The craving will go away whether you smoke or not.  So you can make the craving stop by surrendering to it and tossing your goal out the window, or you can just wait it out.  The craving will pass.

This past February, I quit shampooing my hair, mostly out of curiosity.  I heard that women everywhere are swapping their chemical-laden commercial shampoo and conditioner for baking soda and vinegar.  Everyone has their own way of doing it, but no, you don’t feel like a fourth grade science experiment, and no, you don’t walk around smelling like a jar of pickles. 

One of my friends grabs a handful of soda, wets it enough to make a paste, and works the paste through her hair.  Most people, however, make a solution of soda and water with varying ratios.  Mine is about 1/3 cup of soda in a repurposed 20-ounce Coke bottle with a dish soap lid on it.  It leaks a little, but that doesn’t really matter in the shower, and it gives me an easy-to-use squirt top.  Some people wet their hair first, but I apply about 4 ounces of the solution to my dry hair, rub it all in for a couple minutes, then rinse it out. 

There is much debate about whether the Apple Cider Vinegar rinse is helpful or necessary, and I tried both ways.  I didn’t use it at first, but my hair was dry as straw and I was sure that if I crushed it in my hands, it would crumble like dry leaves in autumn.  It was frizzy, tangled, dull, and I hated it! 

I decided to start over with a fresh shampoo, fresh trim, and new determination.  This time I used the baking soda shampoo but kept my commercial conditioner.  That was a little better, but I was still happier with my Pantene.  If it was working for so many women, why wasn’t it working for me?  Turns out, the secret really was in the vinegar. 

Your scalp is a 4.7 acid on the pH scale (7 is neutral), and baking soda is 9 base.  You need the vinegar to put your head back in proper pH balance.  As soon as I read that, I sprayed my whole dry head with ACV (not just the ends of my hair as every website recommends) and let it sit for about twenty minutes before rinsing.  After doing the same thing the following night, I felt like I had a new head of hair.  I can’t think of any reason I’ll ever need to use shampoo or conditioner again. 

Quitting my fingernails and quitting smoking are both common goals, but you may be wondering, why quit the shampoo?  Well, why not?  Why apply synthetic chemicals to your body when it’s so easy not to?  I don’t know if they’re really bad for me or not, and I’m still not a big proponent of doing everything naturally, but if it’s cheaper, works better than the store-bought stuff, and isn’t even an inconvenience, why not do it the natural way?

As a smoker I thought, “I’m doing a world of bad by smoking, so what difference is the tiny bit of good I’d be doing by not using shampoo (or buying organic or whatever)?”  Now that I’ve stopped sucking hundreds of known toxins into my lungs twenty times a day, I feel like every little bit helps.

The trade-off to quitting anything is that you can’t just quit and do nothing.  If you give up one bad thing, you have to pick up something good in exchange.  I wish someone had told me that before I quit smoking because what I picked up was a bunch of pounds.  But don’t worry – I’m quitting that soon, too.