Not Today

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Please don’t make me get up today.

Don’t make me face the drama or lack of

Don’t ask me to be of use to others

Don’t look for wise food choices from me

Don’t think that just because I know better I will do better

Just for today let me wallow in a state of nothingness

Let me neglect myself and by doing naught for myself do nothing for others

OK

I have taken a deep breath and girded my loins

Thank you for this day

May I be open to all the opportunities that come my way

 

Exactly and precisely…as you are

Last week I was with Max, my youngest grandson who is turning 18 on March 15. I was admiring him from behind and made the idle remark that I didn’t know if the back of his head looked like his dad’s or his Uncle Stephen’s. He turned and in an exasperated tone said, “Why can’t it just look like my head?” 

I felt his frustration at my remark. I hugged him and assured him that his head was his precious own.

It was a reminder to me of how often my words sound as though I am not satisfied with someone. I am guilty of uttering such remarks many more times than I should, to him and to all the people I love.

Feb 19, 1968, was the date for the first episode on PBS of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. May you enjoy being yourself today.1-IMG_1980

 I Like You As You Are

Lyrics by Josie Carey | Music by Fred Rogers


I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I like your disposition
Your facial composition
And with your kind permission
I’ll shout it to a star

I like you as you are
I wouldn’t want to change you
Or even rearrange you
Not by far

I like you
I-L-I-K-E-Y-O-U
I like you, yes I do
I like you, Y-O-U
I like you, like you as you are

 

 

Revisiting Old Resolutions

IMG_2094 As 2018 dawned someone asked me how I had done on the resolutions I posted two years ago. Here they are, followed by my thoughts on where I stand with them today.

  • keep in my heart the joy and love I felt during Christmas 2015.
  • to push myself when inertia engulfs me.
  • to use my talents.
  • to squeeze more laughter out.
  • to connect to the positive energy around me.
  • to remind myself that one person’s actions can make a difference.
  • to be ready to listen rather than speak.
  • to spend minimum time wondering why I can’t remember someone’s name.
  • to lie in the grass on a spring day.
  • to accept the things I cannot change.
  • to relish my children.
  • to sweat only the big stuff.
  • to practice those exercises so I can remember people’s names.
  • to build on honoring myself as I honor others.
  • to ignore urges to overeat, overdrink, under exercise.
  • to keep a carrot-games, travel, books-in clear sight at all times.
  • After the name remembering exercises move on to “where did I put my…”

I probably feel best about moving towards positive energy and paying less attention to negative thoughts and people. I am happier with myself and more accepting of my lifestyle although I still have those times of doubting that drive me crazy.

The ones I have no difficulty with have to do with enjoyment. I have no problem enjoying anything that comes my way, as ridiculous or simple as it may be. And if it is something I can tell on myself, all the better.

I did scare myself when I almost didn’t publish my last post…”NOT Another Phone Story!!!” Because I see the incident described, not as just misplacing glasses, but not recognizing my glasses. That’s why I thought others would hmmmmm and tilt their heads after reading it. Even with my friend’s scoffing at this, I hesitated to record it.

I  still think it is deeper than losing glasses on top of my head BUT no matter. I’ll just add a new one:

  • to push through the fear.

Diversity

The following is an essay written by Stelmo Stepp, 16-year-old sophomore at Upperman High School, Baxter, Tennessee. She won a county-wide high school contest with her thoughts. IMG_9020

Her mom’s note: This is Stelmo’s essay on diversity. They were told not to write about race or disability, rather another form of diversity they see in their school. Also, that it didn’t need to be a true story, so I don’t know how much of this rings true for herself…

 

I walk into the cafeteria on the very first day of school and look around. Where am I going to sit? I glance around frantically looking for a familiar face. I see a bunch of jerseys, some cheer bows, some with purple hair, the nerds, the troublemakers, and then some band lettermen. Who do you choose to walk towards?

In my school, not many of these people mix with each other. We, for the most part, stay separated from one another. It’s like when people are afraid to mix their foods together or for their foods to touch each other because it could make some disgusting concoction. Have you ever had cake and ice cream together, or peas and mashed potatoes? Together these foods make amazing mixtures that are even better than the foods by themselves.

It’s time to make my decision. Who am I going to sit with? Being a cheerleader I would gravitate towards the bows, but it’s time to mix it up so let’s go towards the nerds. I sit down and interrupt their conversation about chemistry and calculus. For a second they glance up at me then turn back to each other and continue their conversation. I listen intently trying to figure out what they’re talking about. When someone finally says something that I understand, I join in on the conversation. In return, I get a bunch of confused looks from the people sitting at the table. They have a “how can a cheerleader know this?” look on their faces. We continue our conversation until lunch is over and now I have friends that just 35 minutes ago were strangers.

In middle and elementary school, they used to give us the “don’t leave anyone out” talk. I used to never understand this speech because growing up in my household everyone was completely different, but in some ways, we were all alike. For the most part, we’d all hang out together and never leave anyone out. I didn’t get why they gave us this speech till I got to my 8th-grade year and starting high school. I started looking around realizing that we were slowly separating into groups or “cliques.”

For a long time this didn’t make any sense to me. As I get older the cliques somewhat fade, but they are definitely still there. There are still groups of people who refuse to sit with each other or even associate with each other. My 8th grade and freshman year the football and soccer players were never really friends until one of the football players joined the soccer team. From this the two realized the others weren’t that bad.

Two weeks ago, I got my letterman for cheer. I got in the car and my mom was in the passenger seat and I handed her the jacket. Now before I finish this story I’m going to give you some background information on my mom. My mom grew up as a clogger with her friends, her mom, and her mom’s friends. She was also a Girl Scout and has always been the smart weird kid (weird in a good way of course). My mom has had purple, pink, or/and blue hair for as long as I can remember and the majority of my friends tell me she is the “cool mom.”

Anyways, back to my story. I get into the car and she takes the jacket and starts laughing to herself. She is beyond stunned by what I have just given her. I ask her what she was laughing at and she goes, “Never would I think I would have a daughter who has a letterman.” I asked her what she meant and she concluded with telling me she was the furthest thing from a letterman jacket when she was in high school. That was her. Then my dad was in the band.

If my parents were in high school with me right now, no lie, I would probably not be friends with them or have very many conversations with them. Which is very strange because my mom is my best friend. In the society we are in we are taught that these people hang out with these people and only them. There is an invisible barrier that divides our student population into multiple cliques. Our teachers, administrators, and some parents try to break up these groups. Give students a chance to get to know one another, but a majority of the time it fails.

Not many people like change and don’t want things to change, including myself. Until the past month I stayed with my group and didn’t really venture out very often, but the second I did I was making many friends. I met some amazing people who I’m slowly growing closer to. I’m finding that mixing my cake with ice cream is turning into an amazing blend of flavors and friends.

 

 

 

I

Connections!!

Today I leave Knoxville at 12:05 pm and arrive in Nairobi at 9:20 pm Thursday. Doubly excited (if possible) because with the help of my friend, Dee White, I am going to be able to visit the Mara Hyena Research Project camp where she volunteers during the summer each year. WOW!

Below is an article I wrote about Dee and the hyenas of the Masai Mara which was published by KnoxZine in 2014. I am reprinting it with their permission.

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Getting the Last Laugh In

“Hyenas aren’t sexy,” says Dee White, from her charming Holston Hills cottage.

White, close to retiring after over 25 years as a social worker and Coordinator of New Born Screening in the Genetics Center at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, was finally able to return to her first love, animals.

She became involved in hyena research on the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya.

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“I grew up with animals around and have always had a keen interest in animal behavior.  I’m not sure when I first dreamed of going to Africa. The desire seems to have always been with me.

A Long, Strange Trip Begins

“As child of the ’60s my life took a few turns before I settled down.

“In 1965 I attended UT for two years.

I wanted to become a veterinarian but was strongly discouraged from pursuing that goal by professors who said I was just taking up space in pre vet courses.

“This was before the UT College of Veterinary Medicine was opened. They said there was not a vet school in the country that would admit me, a female.

“When my fiancé was drafted, I quit school and joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). After he was killed in Vietnam I went to Mexico for a while and then ended up in St. Louis where I found a job at the Missouri Botanical Garden.”

St. Louis Zoo

While working there, White had the chance to apply for a job at the St. Louis Zoo. Her timing was excellent. Women had never been hired as keepers before, but a nursery—the first for the zoo, was being created in the basement of the reptile house. Soon a Children’s Zoo was built and populated with small exotic animals. More animal births occurred. In the busy summer months students helped out as volunteers.

One outstanding high school student volunteer was eventually hired at $1.25 an hour. That student was Kay Holekamp. White said Holekamp had an understanding of the animals’ needs and a gift for working with the sensitive charges in the nursery.

After a few years in the nursery, White wanted to work with large animals in the main zoo.

The mind set at the time was that women wouldn’t be able to handle the labor involved.

Dee White, overcoming sexism at the St. Louis Zoo, and working  with a Bengal Tiger.

She eventually worked in all animal areas, proving that women could do the job. Today the majority of zoo keepers are female. She also was the first female union shop steward at the St. Louis Zoo.

Realizing she needed to finish her education, White returned to the University of Tennessee. “I was in my thirties and knew what I needed to do to finish my education. I was by far the oldest in any of my classes.” She finished her BS and went on to get a Master’s Degree in clinical social work.

Finally, Africa

In 2008, at a St. Louis Zoo employees’ reunion, White tracked down Kay Holekamp, her favorite former employee.  Holekamp was now a Distinguished Professor at  Michigan State University. Her research team focuses on behavioral ecology and evolution. They have been studying spotted hyenas in the wild for 26 years. This is the longest on-going research of larger mammals.

As the two women renewed their old friendship, Dr. Holekamp remembered White’s dream of going to Africa. Five years ago, Holekamp invited White to visit the research team in Kenya.

“I burst into tears and went to the bank, cleaned out my savings account, and bought an airplane ticket. The first year was just to unite with an old friend and to fulfill an old dream that I thought was lost. I was there for 2 weeks and fell in love with the country and the animals.

It turned out I could do something to help the project so Kay hired me.

Dr. Kay Holekamp with research assistants in the field.

White is now Field Notes Coordinator for the western Mara. She has been to Kenya five times and her retirement from UT allowed her to stay two months this year.

Working in the Field

“When we are working in the field, we live in tents, use pit toilets, eat two meals a day, and live a pretty Spartan life. We are in a remote field camp guarded by Masai askaris (soldiers) at night. Many wild animals use our paths to get to and from the river at night and sometimes during the day.

(l-r) Benson, Masai Research Assistant; Stephen, a soldier; and Wilson, a Masai Research Assistant.

“We have to be hyper vigilant so as not to spook any animal who might run us down. We have to watch where we put our feet and keep an eye to the trees for snakes. Baboons and vervet monkeys are a constant nuisance, as they will steal anything that looks interesting. A particularly rowdy group took my tent all the way to the ground this year.

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“Hyenas are most active just before dawn and just before dusk so we leave camp by 5:30 in the morning, in the dark, and track animals who are wearing radio collars. We usually find them at a communal den or on a kill. Then the behavioral observations begin. Everything is recorded and then transcribed and eventually entered into a massive database.

Collard spotted hyena.

“Mid-day is very hot and is spent transcribing notes, repairing tents or solar panels, getting water, running errands, or teaching at local schools and giving lectures at tourist lodges. At 5 in the evening we go back out again and follow hyenas till 8 or so. Then it’s back to camp for dinner and bed. Then we get up the next morning and start all over, 7 days a week 52 weeks a year.

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“This year local drought situations created a competitive situation between the Masai cattle and the wild herbivores on the Mara. Twenty four hyenas of our clan were lost because they ate from poisoned carcasses put out by herdsmen. The mothers died and their babies (all but one) starved to death at the dens waiting for moms that never came back. Because dominate animals feed first at a carcass some of the dead were high ranking females.

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“We are going to be watching closely to see how the clan re-ranks the surviving members. There is a possibility that lower ranking females may form a collation and take over leadership of the clan.  Another possibility is that the clan could split in half. It is all fascinating and exciting and I can’t wait to go back next spring.”

Retirees can take it easy or they can be open to new opportunities that come their way. White says, “I am not done, not done at all.”

Dee White with a sedated spotted hyena.

To learn more about spotted hyenas and the MSU Hyena project in the Masai Mara visit The Kay Holekamp Lab. Her students maintain a blog, Notes from Kenya, with stories and photos of the hyenas, camp life, and research news. Also enjoy the amazing photography on the Mara Hyena Project page on Facebook.

Photographs courtesy of MSU Masai Mara Hyena Project.

http://www.Knoxzine.com

© Judy S. Blackstock, 2014.

Return

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” 
                                                                        ― Pascal MercierNight Train to Lisbon

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When I was nine years old, my mother received the book I Married Adventure as a monthly book club selection. The zebra-striped cloth cover intrigued me. I opened the book and that began my love affair with Kenya.

Growing up in East Tennessee in the fifties, without much television and no internet,  our world was much more isolated than today.  Reading the book, poring over the pictures of the exotic animals and people of Africa fired my imagination and became part of me.

Fifty years later my two children gave me the surprise of a lifetime with a birthday gift of a two-week safari in Kenya.

I was handed a dream and its reality was better than the dream itself.

  • Arriving at Jomo Kenyetta Airport and climbing into a van with five unknown women, later fast friends known as the African Queens.
  • Crossing a dry river bed going to Amboseli with the snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro in full view
  • First day of game drives producing gazelle, gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, elephants bathing in the Ewaso Nyirio River, cheetah, sleeping lions
  • Sleeping under mosquito netting in a four-postered bed
  • Balloon ride above the Masai Mara, skidding over termite mounds upon landing

Animals, or saving souls, are often the reasons for coming to Africa. For me, it was the opportunity to see exotic animals in their home environment. I returned two more times by the end of 2003 because of the atmosphere and the people.

Now I am going again. The trips before were planned out well in advance with a set itinerary and touring with other people. This time is almost spur of the moment, and less than two weeks stay.  I am going by myself,  staying with Mbuthia, my driver on the other trips, and his family.

I look forward to taking a safari to the place I fell in love with so many years before –Lake Paradise in the Marsabit National Reserve.  I am blessed to be able to complete my circle.