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Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Hate Cats

Sam in my car
This week my house has gone from having nine cats down to five, which is still about four too many, in my opinion.  This morning, I’ve had enough!

Three of our cats are our pets.

Paul is a female cat that Bitty and her boyfriend found abandoned on the side of the road and brought home to my house last summer when she was about three months old.  This was shortly after our other cat Levi had disappeared, so we loved her and kept her and she became family.  Bitty took her with her when she moved out last fall, leaving us without a cat.  That’s when we adopted Freedom from a lady who had found her abandoned.  (We like rescues.)  Paul moved back in a few months ago when Bitty moved in with Grandma and couldn’t keep her there.

Freedom is a dark calico and the only one in this whole story that I (stress *I*) voluntarily adopted.  She was skittish and had a terrible attitude until she had six babies, then she mellowed out.  In the last two days since we’ve been finding new homes for them, she has become quite needy and vocal.  She walks around the room calling for her babies then howls at the door to be let out.  Moments later she’s howling to get back in.

Sam is one of Paul’s babies, now going on five months old, that the Hubs insisted we keep.  He has the greatest personality of the bunch.  He gets along with Allie (our Border Collie mix, also a rescue), tries to get along with Paul and Freedom, and even took on a mothering role with Freedom’s kittens.  But like all cats, he can be pretty ornery at times.  This morning, for example.

Around 4 a.m. I woke up because a HUGE pregnant Paul refuses to potty in the same litter box as Freedom and her babies and wanted outside.  I let her out and came back to bed.  As I was readjusting the ear buds with my phone, Sam decides it’s playtime.  He jumped on my chest and attacked the cords, chewing and batting and swatting my fingers when I tried to protect my electronics.  I managed to get him off me and go back to sleep.

An hour later I awoke to Paul wanting back in, so I let her back in.  I could not have been asleep long (no ear buds this time), when I was startled awake a third time by Sam pouncing on me.  I thought I must be moving under the covers in my sleep, but even after I stopped and got my arms out, he was still chasing some imaginary whatever-cats-chase.  At least that’s what I thought until something cold landed on my arm.  I don’t know whether it was dropped there or came voluntarily while trying to escape the cat, but it was a little toad.  A toad!  Where did that come from?!  I put the toad outside and closed the window.

By now Freedom is howling from inside Butterfly’s room, but I’m not ready to get up yet.  After what seemed like half an hour, the Butterfly put her out, which meant now she was howling outside MY door.  It was daylight now anyway, so I gave up on sleeping, grabbed yesterday’s coffee cup from my desk, and headed to the kitchen.  On the way out the door, I saw that while chasing the toad, Sam had spilled the Hubs’s tea that was on his night stand… right onto his laptop. 

I took my coffee cup to the kitchen and got a towel from the laundry to clean up the spill.  Then I took the laptop out to the garage and blew out all the tea I could with the air compressor.  Why does it smell like a litter box in the living room?

I messed with the laptop for ten minutes, trying to get it to come on.  It won’t.
  So I call the Hubs, who is isn’t home yet from the night shift, and tell him his laptop is probably ruined.  In retrospect, that one step could have waited.  Now where is my coffee?  I haven’t MADE coffee.  Back to the kitchen I go.  It still smells like cat poop! 

*huff*  I head back to my room to light some incense and bring it to the living room.  Butterfly’s room doesn’t stink and my room doesn’t stink, and that’s where the litter boxes actually are.  Turns out some cat (probably Sam) has been pooping in my big bamboo plant and there’s at least a pound of poop in there!  I retrieve the scoop from my room, a bag from the kitchen, and clean out the bamboo plant.  Now the kitchen trash needs to be taken out, Allie wants outside, Freedom is hungry, I’m hungry, the living room still stinks, the laptop won’t come on, and I’m getting a headache!  I haven’t even been up half an hour!

Does anyone want a cat?  Or two?  Or five?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Open Letter to Phil Robertson

Dear Mr. Robertson,

I spent most of my life as a blood-washed Southern Baptist Bible-thumper.  Even by your probably narrow definition, you would have called me a Christian.  I had made a profession of faith, took Jesus as my lord and savior, and was baptized as a child at a country church in a small east Texas town you’ve never heard of.  I knew the Bible, graduated from a Christian university, taught my children about God and the ways of righteousness, and encouraged others to do the same.  I was a real Christian. 

And now I’m not.

The idea of me leaving the faith because I came to believe in Truth instead of mythology is probably impossible for you to grasp, and if we met, you’d likely say the same things some of my Christian friends said before they walked out of my life, like, “Then you were never saved to begin with.”  But I was, sir.  I believed it all just like you do.

It is because of the beliefs I held for so many years that I understand where you come from.  I understand that since the Bible declares itself to be completely true, you accept everything in it as true, without equivocation.  I defended you for your stance on homosexuality last year when your socially incorrect statements made news, because whether people want to believe it or not, the Bible does say homosexuality is wrong.  I defended you because I knew you spoke out of obedience to something you believe in, regardless of the consequences, and I find that admirable. 

Perhaps I was able to do that because I’m not gay.  I wasn’t the target of your God’s wrath.  I am Atheist, though, and this time your absurd ignorance does not have any mythology to stand on.

The horrific scenario you spoke of at the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast last week is nothing short of asinine.  You suggested that an Atheist could not recognize evil in something as vulgar and traumatic as the rape of his wife and children and the threat of having his penis cut off by the same sadist criminal. 

Brother, have you gone MAD?  In what universe does a person’s mere belief system make them a good person with proper discernment?  Perhaps you have forgotten that your Bible also says faith without works is dead.

I have personally known two violent rapists.  One was a sociopath – a repeat offender who denied his guilt, brought others to bear false witness against his innocent victims, and never showed remorse.  The other turned himself in before the crime was reported, admitted his guilt, accepted his punishment as a lamb led to slaughter, turned from his wicked ways, and changed into a person I was proud to call a friend.  Which do you think was the Christian?  The first one, of course.  The second is a practicing occultist.  Yet you would deny that such a man could recognize right from wrong.

Just because I don’t believe in something called sin and do not subscribe to your particular mythology does not mean I have no sense of right and wrong.  It does not mean I believe harming others is acceptable.  It does not mean I have no sense of compassion, morality, or consequences; and it most certainly does not mean I am evil.  It is not a deity that keeps me from raping and mutilating others, Mr. Robertson; it is common decency.

Your harsh and uninformed condemnation of me and my fellow non-believers is why so many speak with disdain against those who, like you, still need a book to tell them how to behave.  Most of us simply ignore your theology, accept your strange ways, and love you unconditionally.

I am grateful for my Atheism, Pastor.  Shedding a synthetic religion and embracing the universe as it really is has taught me more about the divine nature of Truth and Love than any book or preacher ever could.  Perhaps you should try it.  Only then you would see the utter deficiency of your hollow faith.

Stephanie Nalls

Atheist and Former Fan

To read about the incident that prompted this letter, click HERE.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reality Check

The past week was easily one of the worst of my life, and like most difficult times, I never saw it coming.  
Last Wednesday, the Hubs and I were eating in our bedroom when he went to the kitchen for more salsa.  He didn't come back after a couple of minutes; thinking maybe he couldn't find it, I went to help.  I walked into the kitchen to find him crouched in a football stance in front of the open refrigerator with my 16-year-old daughter looking at him.
"Baby, what are you doing?"  He didn't answer.  "Honey!?"  No answer.
"Sheridan, what happened?" I asked with a firm urgency.  "I don't know.  I heard him fall and just now walked in here."  He must have stumbled backward from the fridge, bumped the pantry doors and landed in this semi-squatting position on the floor.
My instincts shoved all other thoughts out of my head and took over.  Rocking him back onto his bottom on the floor, I spoke to the Hubs again, calmly asking assessment questions he wasn't answering.  "Are you in pain?"  Wuh…  I put my hand on his chest but couldn't feel anything.  He wasn't hot, wasn't sweating, wasn't pale or flushed.  He seemed to be looking straight through me.  "Can you see me?"  Yy… uh….  "Sheridan, bring me the blood pressure monitor.  Top drawer of my night stand."  One of the kids asked me later, "Weren't you scared?"  Of course I was, but keeping my head about me to respond effectively made an impression.
I kept asking questions, kept him conscious, kept getting no legitimate response.  His blood pressure is always very low, but now it was high -- 190/120, but his pulse is what scared me.  The man who could run a mile and keep his heart rate below 70 had a pulse of 151 just sitting there on the floor.  I told my daughter to call 911.  "I think he's having a stroke or something."
The operator had our address and I told her my concern before he started vomiting and Sheridan took the phone.  By now the other two kids were in the kitchen.  I asked for towels, which they brought, and otherwise waited for orders.  Sheridan passed along the question from the operator, "Why do you think he's having a stroke?"  I told the Hubs to smile, and he did.  I told him to touch my face, both hands.  He half-slapped both sides of my face at the same time.  It wasn't a stroke.  "It's not.  Tell her it's not!"  I tried to get him calm, help him communicate.  "Breath with me.  In through your nose (we inhaled together), out through your mouth (we exhaled together).  Look at me.  Baby, can you talk to me?  Does your head hurt?  Does your chest hurt?  Do you need a drink?  Can you hold my hands?"  I'm not sure how I understood his answers.
The fire department was on its way from the station a mile or two away, and the Hubs was trying to come back to himself, saying "ok" over and over, trying to stand, and pushing me away from him.  He refused to stay on the floor with me and was obviously confused and unaware of his physical limitations at the moment.  He heard me tell Cheyenne to go wait in the driveway for he paramedics and suddenly became paranoid.  Within a couple of seconds after getting to his feet, he didn't recognize me anymore.  He resisted my help to steady him by squeezing my hands and said, "I don't care" when I told him he was hurting me.  I didn't know then whether he was getting better or worse, but I was all out of ammo.  I didn't know what to do.  I finally saw the flashing lights in the window of the kitchen door.  I hoped I could settle his mind before they got through the garage.
Everything until now probably happened in the course of only three or four minutes but it felt like I had been trying to get him to respond for a long time.  When the paramedics finally came inside, he was already coming back to himself but clearly was not there yet.  His vitals were still higher than I was comfortable with, but as long as he was headed in the right direction, the paramedics didn't seem too concerned.  They discussed his admitted dehydration and dismissed the idea that his stomach medication could have caused all this, even though he had accidentally taken too much that morning -- a quadruple dose, in fact.
Within fifteen or twenty minutes, he was drinking something, getting some fruit to replace the taco salad his stomach had rejected, and joking about how "This is why you should never run around naked.  Something may happen."  In an hour, the kids were doing their own thing, the Hubs and I were back in the bedroom going over the events to see what he remembered.  We didn't think he was THAT dehydrated, and searching the side effects of his medication was little help.  His pulse had returned to normal and he had full control of his faculties, even if he seemed a little off mentally.  He insisted he was fine.  The whole thing was just plain weird.
I wish I could tell you it was the end of the story, but it isn't.  He went to the kitchen to get more tea (because he probably still wasn't thinking clearly enough to realize he needed water instead), and again he didn't return immediately.  Going to find him, I met Sheridan in the hallway.  "Where's Dad?" she asked.  I told her he had gone to the kitchen.  "I don't think so…" she trailed off as she ran to the kitchen with me behind her.  Not finding him, she ran to the garage and was back a split second later shouting, "MOM!!"
This time he was completely unconscious on the floor of the garage.  He appeared to have slumped against the weight bench for support and passed out.  I couldn't wake him up.  As soon as I touched him, his body seized violently and the vomiting began again, covering his shirtless upper half and most of me.  It's amazing how many thoughts your brain can produce in a millisecond when it needs to.  The way he threw up AS he seized told me the thing in the kitchen was a seizure, too.  What the hell was going on here?!  The man is healthy as a horse!
Sheridan asked if she should call 911 again.  Yes.  No.  Not yet.  With the next seizure he fell over, head back, and I was afraid he would choke.  He was too heavy and too strong (and in effect, fighting me) for me to get him on his side when we were both slippery.  "YES!  CALL!!  And get your siblings!!"  The struggle that ensued to get him on his side while every muscle in his body flexed and convulsed resulted in a nauseating mess of me trying to wrestle him to consciousness or at least safety.  Then it got worse.  
The retching finally stopped and he was turning blue.  He wasn't breathing.  HAD he choked??  Sweep his mouth.  I couldn't because his jaws were clenched shut.  Back blows.  I pounded on his back with my hand and fist, screaming at him to breathe.  I jerked his head around against another spasm.  No result.  There was no air moving.  By now Dakota was in the garage trying to help me keep him on his side.  "His back!" I shouted.  "Get him on his back!"   We seemed to struggle forever.  My thoughts were still clear, but the calm voice that had been impressive earlier disappeared as I grew more desperate.
Even as the body-wracking seizures began to subside, he was still purple. Sheridan had told me paramedics were on their way again and stood waiting for instructions.  I could hear Cheyenne crying and ordered her to stop being hysterical and move my car so the ambulance could get close to the garage.  With the Hubs on his back, still not breathing, I was becoming exhausted and Dakota was about to lose his cool.  He shook his dad and screamed, "Wake UP, Dad!!!  I NEED YOU!" 
I realized air was only going to get in his lungs if I forced it.  I wiped the puke off his mouth with a towel, shook him one more time, and took a deep breath.  The kids remember me saying, "You're really going to make me do this aren't you, you son of a bitch?"  I lifted his neck, held his nose, put my mouth on his, and blew.  I could hear a rattle as the air entered his lungs and knew it had gotten through.  Chest compressions.  "One... Two... Three... Four."  No change.  Dakota yelled for me to do it again.  I did.  "One... Two... Three... Four.  BREATHE, GODDAMMIT!!!!"  Another breath.  "One... Two..."  Then he gasped.  The seizure finally released his chest enough to breathe on his own.   I think I laughed.
He still wasn't conscious, but he wasn't convulsing, puking, or changing colors, either.  I was trying to catch my breath and get my own bearings as the paramedics arrived; two of them were here only an hour ago.  I told them I wasn't doing this again and to take him in.  One recognized the seizure immediately, even though he was lying still and literally snoring while unconscious.  While I answered questions from a couple of the responders, the others bagged him and attempted to get him on a board to take him to the ambulance.  I cleaned him up as best I could and went inside to rinse my own hands and face in the kitchen. 
Cheyenne had started the car, gotten clean clothes for the Hubs and me, gathered my phone and purse.  Everything was in the car and waiting for me.  Again I gave clear, concise orders for Dakota to find the hospital on a map and direct Cheyenne to it.  Sheridan was to keep her phone free so I could contact them if necessary; I rode in the ambulance, texting family and listening over my shoulder to the paramedics as the Hubs woke up.
In the Emergency Room, they gave him two saline IV bags, took blood and urine, and performed an EKG and CAT scan.  Other than "a little dehydration," they found nothing.  They, too, dismissed the possibility of his medication having caused the problem.  In a few hours, we were home.  The only fitting word to describe the Hubs was "bewildered," though Sheridan said he still seemed "intoxicated" later that night.  I was scared to death; if he left my sight, I had a small panic attack.  I don't DO panic.  Obviously, I didn't sleep a wink Wednesday night.

On Saturday morning he left for work in west Texas, against our wishes and better judgment, and we were right to worry.  To make this long story somewhat less so, I'll just say he fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road.  He truck sustained minor damage, but he walked away with only a burn from the seat belt on his neck.  He sounded drunk when I talked to him moments afterward -- somewhat incoherent, disoriented, slurring speech, and couldn't really tell me what happened.  I knew he wasn't drinking, and I knew he wasn't right.  This is when I called on my Facebook friends for prayer and spiritual support.

In desperation and perhaps through divine intervention, I called on a friend I should have contacted days earlier.  After briefly explaining all that happened and answering a few questions, a Cherokee healer told me his magnesium was low.  Within minutes I was scouring the web to confirm his diagnosis and found it to be exactly right.  The Hubs headed on to the job site with orders from my gifted friend to get magnesium supplements and take measures to correct his other electrolytes.  I was almost giddy, knowing we had found the solution.  Today, five days after beginning treatment that cost all of $14, the Hubs IS himself again.

The Hubs has always been somewhat invincible, and that attitude is probably what caused this problem.  We now realize that he had ignored symptoms for months, maybe longer, thinking they were isolated and unrelated to each other.  Long-term use of his stomach medication and the stomach problem itself had led to a minor magnesium imbalance, which goes hand-in-hand with an imbalance of the other electrolytes, especially potassium.  That day's dehydration and the mild overdose that morning probably caused it to bottom completely out.  Because those minerals are essential for neurological function, it was his 'neuro' system that shut down.  A few more days without treatment, further dehydration when he got to work, or another seizure could very well have killed him.

For all we've suffered in our lives, the one thing I knew is that the Hubs would always be there.  In less than 90 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon, out of nowhere, I came face to face with the reality that my security was an illusion, and it has shaken me to my core.  I still panic when he doesn't reply to a text, and absolutely everything about him is seen under a magnifying glass.  If he trips over a word, forgets something, snaps at me, or leaves my side for even a minute longer than I think is reasonable, I get a little hysterical. 

Combined with starting home schooling and the many related activities, losing my personal space, buying a car and needing to buy two more, fear of my old dog dying soon, getting behind on house work, dissatisfaction with my own body and fear about his, frustration with many things and people, and what all of that is going to cost us.... I'm well past my stress limit. 

I admit I'm struggling with keeping it together for the first time in a very long time, and I cry multiple times a day, usually for no specific reason.  I used to take all this stress in stride, but I seem to have forgotten how.  Shouldn't that be like riding a bicycle?  People keep saying they're worried about me because this simply isn't how I handle things.  I agree, but I'm getting better.  I'll have all my balls back in the air and have a smile on my face in no time.  Please keep sending my family your light, peace, and healing until then.  My gratitude for those who have reached out to us in the last week far surpasses my ability to express it.

Of course I learned some things from all this.  I have no idea where I learned CPR, how to handle someone who is having a seizure, or how to test for a stroke, but I'm glad I know those things.  You need to know them, too.  I have certainly explained all my actions to my children and made sure they know how to respond in similar situations.  I'm not sure I could have done it without them.  They are truly my heroes.  I am also committed to putting some legal matters in order -- matters we were too young to worry about before now, like Power of Attorney, Advanced Directives, and conversations with family about "what if something happens."  But the greatest lesson I learned was from Dakota.

Somewhere in all this, I felt the need to get everything in order.  Get laundry caught up, get a shower, get phone calls made, get supper ready.  As I walked through the kitchen, Dakota asked me for a hug.  I went to squeeze his hand and said, "I don't have time for a hug right now."  He caught my arm and told me plainly, "Don't ever say that, Mom.  Don't EVER say that."  I never will again.  There is always time for a hug. 

Go hug your wife.  Hug your husband.  And squeeze your kids until they make you stop.  Right now.  Because there may not be time tomorrow. 

Helpful Links
How to check for STROKE
Learn the signs of a HEART ATTACK
(Note they may be different for WOMEN)
Learn more about handling SEIZURES
Get general First Aid training through RED CROSS

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Control through Fear

I had a bit of a wake-up call a couple of weeks ago when a friend sent me a message on Facebook.  “What in the world is happening down there?!”  Attached was a link to a story about a Mexican drug cartel taking over the small Texas town of Sarita, which is only two hours south of me.  Violent gangs had forcibly occupied the public areas, and citizens had fled to the outskirts.  My friend’s next question was, “Are you armed?”

We quickly learned the story was a hoax and had been published on one of those horrible satire websites that print fake news stories that sound pretty believable.  What struck me after fear and anger subsided was that we live in a day and age where even a jaded skeptic like myself hears a story like that and doesn’t automatically call balderdash.   Why were my friend and I so quick to believe it?  Perhaps we’ve been conditioned to.

The influx of illegal aliens across our southern border has been deemed a crisis by the media; yet other groups say there is no crisis at all.  Some are calling it a humanitarian crisis, saying the US has an obligation to help them.  Others are calling it a national security crisis because we don’t know who those people are.  Still others say this is much ado about nothing because illegal border crossings are at an all-time low.

Either way, the government and media have labeled the event a “crisis,” which naturally evokes fear in us.  If they had reported and handled it as though it had no real effect or was nothing out of the ordinary, we probably would not be so concerned.  But we have been told to fear it, so we do. 

We fear the crime, disease, and other dangers the illegal immigrants may pose in our society.  We fear having to support their basic needs with increased taxes.  We fear breaking our churches and charities by overextending their resources.  We fear breaking the spirit of the American people by diluting our patriotism with outsiders who may eventually show loyalty to our corrupt government rather than to our sacred heritage. 

The very fact that our borders are not secure incites fear in many.  If people from every nation south of us can cross the border undetected, why can’t terrorists from anywhere in the world enter via those countries as well?  Is Congress no longer able to carry out the few duties granted to it by the Constitution, or do they just not want to?  Maybe the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was just for show. 

Inciting fear in the American people isn’t a new idea, and it isn’t limited to the border issues.  Since the September 11 attacks, we’ve been led to believe there are terrorists hiding in every corner and that no public place is safe.  In the same breath they tell us that the terrorists are radical Muslims, they also tell us calling them “radical” is unacceptable.

However, it IS acceptable to refer to a gun-toting, Bible-believing, Constitution-defending, job-holding redneck as a radical.  They’re the real terrorists, you know.  Anarchists, even.  Racist, homophobic, blood-thirsty, tinfoil-hat-wearing, hate promoting, ignorant anarchists.  (I hope you can hear my sarcasm.)

If all this is a little overwhelming, just look to Big Sis for guidance.  Homeland Security’s Advisory System color chart tells us which days we should be more fearful and which days to relax.  Here is a bit of trivia about that.  Threat levels have never been reduced to blue or green, which are Guarded and Low, respectively.  It has only been raised to orange or red, High and Severe, a handful of times.  We nearly always have a yellow, or Elevated, risk of a terrorist attack.  It’s a dangerous country we live in, folks; that’s why “If you see something, say something.”

We also fear planes being hijacked, buildings being blown up, suicide bombers at sporting events, and shooters in public schools.  We fear all kinds of violence.  Gun violence, gang violence, domestic violence, bullying, and crime of all sorts.  Drug crime, hate crime, race crime, cyber crime, and people hurting our feelings. 

Sometimes we even make up new words for things we fear, like microaggression.  These attacks include such abhorrent actions as calling something a sin or simply disagreeing with someone’s choice.  You’re not supposed to support things that go against certain agendas because someone may call you intolerant, and we’ve been told that being judged is the most horrible crime of all!  Not every fear is of an attack, though; we also fear losing things.

We fear the economy falling apart and leaving us all homeless, jobless, hungry, and broke.  We fear the earth not being able to sustain us, running out of fresh water, salt water, clean air, and places to put our trash.  We fear our computers being hacked, our phones being tapped, our secrets being told, our innocence being lost, and waking up from the American dream.  Real or imagined, the government perpetuates these fears.  Why?

As long as there have been relationships, people have used fear to dominate each other.  Even the serpent used fear of ignorance to get Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit.  They fell for it, and things have gone downhill ever since. 

Ben Franklin warned us against sacrificing our liberty for safety because he knew we would become slaves to the idea of security and those who claim to provide it.  He knew that when people are afraid, they behave in ways they normally would not. When people are afraid, they allow violations that would seem horrendous any other time.  But we’re scared, and we’ve been told such violations protect us from those fears.

When a woman asked Franklin what he had given the People, he answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.”  Have we kept it?  Have we preserved a government that derives its powers from the consent of the governed?  Have we bound our leaders down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution?  Or have we allowed fear to usurp the security of our entire republic?

Maybe FDR was right:  Maybe the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

The above article appeared on the cover of the August 2014 edition of The Northeast Texan.  

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.