July 22, 2013

Ups and downs happen.  We think of ups as happy and downs as sad.  But what about the ups and downs of  animals on a brightly colored carousel?  Who doesn’t smile when they see the animals on a carousel going round and round?

They have certainly made the 50,000 people of Albany, Oregon, happy.  Slowly, colorfully, creatively, these carousel creatures are changing this town’s depression when the local timber economy weakened.  In 2002, a lady named Wendy Kirbey, proposed a menagerie on a Victorian-style carousel to the city.  A budget of $150 and a handful of volunteers got to work carving the fanciful animals.

Now 300 people have donated 150,000 hours doing what it takes to chisel, sand, and paint a roaring Chinese dragon, a horse with a fish tail, a Chinook salmon with a lily pad saddle and over 4,000 sculpted scales, among other creatures.  Money comes into the program through an adoption system for each of the 52 animals, some with personal touches suggested by the adopters.

There are talented volunteers who once worked with the likes of George Lucas, but there’s a place for retired art teachers, an auto body shop owner, and adults who haven’t lost a child’s sense of play.  Even without being on a carousel yet, the animals attract many visitors.  They are put on display in local hotels, restaurants, and shops for all to see.  As many as 2000 visitors a month come to tour the workshop where the work is in progress.

But what about the carousel for the animals to ride on?  In 2003, the great grandson of Gustave Dentzel came to the rescue.  Descended from a family of earliest carousel builders, he donated a 1909 carousel mechanism that was updated by former machinists of the Albany paper mill.  When all 52 animals are finished, the working carousel will be set up to attract a permanent crowd of happy visitors.

And that’s one very creative way, very effective way of putting smiles back on many faces.

December 13, 2011

I love watching the annual CNN Heroes of the Year show that started five years ago.  It takes a whole year to get nominations of innovative do-gooders from people all over the world, have on-line voting to select just ten of them, then select one of the ten to be the top winner, and prepare a Hollywood extravaganza to honor them.  Modeled after the award ceremony for the Oscars,  it has all the drama, glitz, tension, and tears of the Oscars.

Yes, there are stars there too, but they are secondary to the wondrous assortment of inspirational people the stars introduce who saw a need and became passionate to fill it.  The range of the good deeds of the heroes is very impressive, not only geographically but in every other way.   They overwhelmingly come from the 99% who are not wealthy.  They are “ordinary” people in overdrive.

Some are motivated by personal tragedies, such as a father and son who help non-professional football players who suffer devastating lifelong injuries that confine them to wheelchairs.  One energetic Italian chef in the U.S. prepares spaghetti with gusto and lots of nutritional marinara sauce for children who would otherwise go hungry.  A young widow mourning for her soldier husband created a sisterhood of young widows to keep each other alive and vital.  One grandmother opens her arms and her doors to gang members and street kids who think guns are their friends.   By offering them alternatives, these street kids decide to follow paths out of gunshot range.

Some help at home, wherever in the world that may be.  Others make dreams come true in faraway places.  The Hero of the Year went to Bali, Indonesia, to set up midwives and clinics for childbirth so new mothers and their babies don’t have to die for lack of proper care.   One very poignant Young Wonder named Rachel has brought fresh, healthy drinking water to Ethiopian children.  Rachel was 9 when she went online with Rachel’s wish to do something helpful for her fellow humans.  Tragically, she died in a car crash and contributions soared until she had received hundreds of thousands of dollars to do good things.  How proud she would have been to know all the good her wish has been able to do.

One African man visiting the U.S. saw the waste of thousands of small bars of soap being thrown out by hotels and motels every day.   He developed ways to collect the unused bars of soap before they are discarded, re-makes them into new bars of soap and, with wide smiles and  boundless energy, distributes them to African villages and teaches the children that using soap helps them stay healthy.

There were many barriers and hurdles, including finances, that these heroes overcame with their high motivation to make the world a better place, and can-do optimism.   We can’t all do what they do on a large enough scale to be a CNN hero, but I felt particularly proud of all the volunteering I have done, and still do, in my own life.  One of the reporters said he had investigated how many volunteer jobs it was possible to do with organizations within a five mile radius in Los Angeles and he came up with over 700!

Thank you CNN Heroes for giving us an evening to celebrate pure goodness of the heart.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

I’m getting ready to go on vacation for three weeks, first to visit a good friend, and then to spend my granddaughter’s winter break with her when I don’t have to share her with school.   It strikes me as strange to take a vacation from retirement.  After all, isn’t retirement a never-ending vacation?  Your time is your own and how to use that time is totally in your control.

But wait!  Retirement isn’t quite all that free.  First of all, there’s 60 to 90 minutes of exercise 6 days a week required for my self-imposed mandatory heart medicine.  Since I no longer drive, that means taking a bus to get to the fitness center for weight training and cardio, to the gym for aerobics, and to the senior center for yoga.  Of course, I have to fit in a shower at some point in the day to wash off the sweat.

So much for the body.  But then there’s the brain.  How many times have I been told that the brains of seniors must be stimulated to keep it from atrophying?  I have friends who love doing  jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, making up original riddles, doing crossword puzzles, finding the hidden words, and beating themselves on electronic games.  I hate all those things, and always have.  But when I was younger, I didn’t see any need for exercising my brain.  It just happened.  Now, as I regularly forget people’s names and why I walked into a room, I wonder if I shouldn’t force myself to do those brain stimulating games I hate.

They say that learning languages is a good way for an old brain to stay active.  I’ve studied Chinese off and on for years, never progressing past a certain level of survival Chinese.  But a Chinese resident of our retirement community has offered to give a class once a week, so I’m trying again.  Most of what I’ve accomplished so far is just re-learning what I’ve forgotten over the years.

Volunteering has always been a part of my week, so I continue to volunteer for clubs and committees, am the President of a local branch of the National League of American Pen Women, and am entering the tenth year of spending my Sunday afternoons as a docent with seals and sea lions at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

I noticed a shift as I aged from “doing” to “being.”  So, I make time for “being,” going down to a pretty creek near my home and sitting in a tree, taking solitary night walks, meditating and deep breathing.  I am usually reading a few books at a time, which is another form of “being” because it brings me to different ideas, new places, stationary travels, without “doing.”  I try, but don’t often succeed, in getting through one Saturday and one Sunday newspaper a week.  I used to get magazines, but they were an expense I’ve had to cut out of my dwindling budget.

Socializing is necessary for mental well-being, and mutual enjoyment.  Since I live alone, I need to allot time for being social and nurturing  friendships.  Living in a retirement community helps by offering many activities, club events, and chances to be with other people.  I won’t say there aren’t any isolated people among the 18,000 of us who live here, but there are numerous, convenient, and easy opportunities to be social.

I used to spend a lot of mental energy on planning what comes next, where to live, where to go next, how to find a job.  Although I like to be thinking a few months or a year in advance of travels, my future planning doesn’t extend too far into the future anymore.  It is in proportion to my lower energy level and my severe financial restraints.

Reluctantly, more of my mental energy seems to be going into physical realms.  Blood pressure and cholesterol and keeping down my food intake are daily thoughts.  There seems to be an increasing rate of “little” problems — strange twinges, tweaks, creaks, and pains that weren’t there when I went to bed.  Of course, Medicare reminds me regularly of all those regular preventive tests they think I should be taking.  It’s boring – and scary – as friends succumb to all sorts of ills.  I count my health blessings daily along with wondering, as I did today, if I really should still be climbing up a ladder to clean the outside of the my bedroom windows.  I still do all my own housecleaning, but it’s more tiring than it used to be.

In fact, retirement is a busy time.  No wonder I need a vacation!

Comments??  Please e-mail to Suellen@ZimaTravels.com

May 26, 2010

How do I make sense of the world? Probably from a mixture of my upbringing, the time I was growing up, and my own personality, I stayed very naive far too long.
I believed that all policemen wanted to help people and were my friend. Except for one very nasty teacher in the second grade, most of my teachers were nice people who lived up to my third grade teacher’s name, Miss Darling. And officials and politicians wanted to make the world better.
The 1960s was a heady, idealistic time. I heeded the words of the organization Zero Population Growth, and the warnings of the book, “The Population Bomb,” and adopted an unwanted child instead of creating yet another American consumer of valuable and limited resources. I did volunteer work or worked for very little money, incorporating into my personal finances the non-profit mentality of the places and causes I worked for. I wrote passionate letters to prevent a pipeline being built in Alaska, the killing of whales, and against hunting. In fact, I worried a lot about the environment.
When I saw fly-encrusted unrefrigerated meat being sold on the streets of China in the early 1990s, I just knew that that couldn’t happen in America where the government protected us from unhealthy meat. When I saw pharmacies in China where remedies for every malady were concocted with secret recipes no one else knew, I knew that that couldn’t happen in America because we were protected by government agencies that tested every drug for years. When I saw rampant corruption in the Third World for myself, I was confident that American politicians behaved better.
I knew that bad things happened. Hadn’t I been born at the time when World War II was raging, my father was a soldier, and Jews were being annihilated? As a young child, I heard about bomb shelters, Cold War, and nuclear bombs that could destroy the world. In fact, when the lights went out all across the East Coast one evening when I was coming home from my first job after college, I was sure we were being attacked by either aliens or Russians.
Nature made more sense to me than human beings. So, when I first heard the words uttered casually by a Stanford University professor during conversation at a faculty dinner, his simple sentence caught my attention. In fact, his sentence is the one that has replayed in my mind more often than any other sentence. I can’t say I really understood it when I first heard it, but I intuitively felt it was correct.
When I eventually learned that the American governmental agencies I so trusted had been poisoning me with chemicals, preservatives, bad food, unhealthy food, dangerous food, as well as being cruel to the animals awaiting slaughter, the professor’s wise pronouncement explained why. When the ridiculously expensive medications that had been so well tested turned out to be lethal, I thought of the professor’s words. When I nervously watched my little cache of retirement money disappear in 2008 as though with a magician’s wand, I could understand why the banks betrayed us and our politicians printed more money to give to them.
And these days, watching the struggling sea creatures in the Gulf slogging through oily guk, stately pelicans enveloped in black death, and babbling BP executives in fancy suits, I think once again of the professor’s wisdom that explains such man-made catastrophes.
The words of Robert B. Betts in his very readable book, “Along the Ramparts of the Tetons,” made excellent sense to me. He suggests writing a list of the achievements of humans. He then points out, “You will also probably find that just the list of achievements you have jotted down is so seemingly impressive it reinforces the natural inclination of our species to regard itself as something special indeed, central and vital to the order of things. But as busy as we have been and as much as we may think we have left a mark, this globe has spun around very nicely without us for five billion years — a disquieting reminder that humans are not one of creation’s irreplaceable components.”
He might well agree with the professor, whose name and face I can’t remember, but whose logic has given me comfort for more than half my lifetime. What did he so easily utter? Simply put, “The big brain experiment is a bust.”

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