Goodnight, Journal friends

No, really, this time I mean it: I’ll miss you lots, but I’m not coming back

Today is my last day working for the Salina Journal. I’ve been here for 15 years, minus two years when I entered Part 2 of my mid-life crisis, during which I married a guy in Iowa, quickly realized that was a big mistake and moved back into my home in Salina, since it hadn’t sold. I then worked a couple of jobs I clearly wasn’t suited for and was eventually invited back to the Journal in 2008, this time as an assistant editor and supervisor for the copy desk.

The past seven years have flown by. The past couple of years have been focused on researching and then installing a new content management system, which integrates what the reporters and photographers produce for the paper and what we editors, clerks and webmasters format for the online version of the Journal. We’re still learning the finer points of the “new” system, which was installed in October.

I became the Template Goddess prior to installation, a title I relished. I was in charge of fonts and styles and all the little pieces we use to put the puzzle together each day. Now those royal duties have been passed on to others.

I thought I’d offer a couple of lists — what I’ll miss and what I won’t miss as I semi-retire.

What I’ll miss

My boss. Ben Wearing is the best boss ever. Always upbeat and patient, he makes incredible cheesecakes and delicious double-chocolate-chip cookies on a regular basis. He can’t eat any of it, so it’s always a selfless act of gratitude toward his staff — which happens to be his default position. Every day, he models what it is to be a generous, hard-working, cheerful human being.

My staff. Each one of the copy editors, clerks and our graphic designer has a distinct set of strengths. Each one brings those strengths to work every day, and together, they work hard to put out a quality newspaper.

The reporters. You have no idea how much our reporters care about getting the story right. Their dedication and work ethic is commendable. Assistant Editor Sharon Montague, their supervisor, is at the top of the line in that effort — conscientious to a fault.

The photographers. Tom Dorsey has the eye and the heart to creatively capture what’s happening in our little slice of the world and the skill to bring out his images’ best features. His friendliness and sense of humor puts everyone at ease. And I think he works for chocolate. The other photographers (stringers and interns) who have helped fill our pages work hard and produce volumes of photos, week after week, whether we can fit them in the paper or not.

The sports guys and folks in other departments here in the plant … well, they’re like family, and I’ll miss them a lot.

Whenever I hear someone say something derogatory about “the media,” I think about my co-workers and shake my head — it doesn’t apply to these folks. They’re all here because they care about getting the stories right and producing a quality product.

OK, I admit it, I’m also going to miss the free popcorn on Friday afternoons. … And the health care and dental benefits. And my paycheck! What am I going to do without a paycheck?

What I won’t miss

I won’t miss reading about and seeing pictures of shootings, bombings, slavery and beheadings, all the crap that’s going on around the world about which I can do nothing. I won’t miss proofing obituaries, and I won’t miss working every Friday and Saturday night.

Clearly, I’m burnt out.

Mostly, I’m looking forward to reading good news for a while.

As I move to pursue a slower-paced lifestyle at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage — what Fred Elliot referred to in his column this past week as a “commune” (it’s an “intentional community,” if you please, Mr. Elliot) — I’m looking forward to seeing what my new neighbors are up to — gardening, building, milking goats and making cheese and such.

But aside from that, what will I do with my time when I don’t have a 40-hour-a-week job?

I’ve been pondering a question this summer that relates to my occupation in a much broader sense. The question is, is the universe friendly? I’ve found an answer that’s been helpful: I make the universe friendly. That’s my job.

All of us who value goodness, kindness, friendliness, doing what’s right to the best of our ability; all of us who are honest, who expect honesty from ourselves and seek truth in everything; and all of us who value beauty — the beauty of a child’s giggly face or a grandmother’s warm smile, the beauty in the stars and flowers and animals, in music, in art, in character — all of us make the universe a friendly place.

That’s our job.

While I’ll be a few hundred miles away, I plan to continue to fill this space at least occasionally. Ben has promised me double-chocolate-chip cookies.

— Roshana Ariel has been assistant editor for the Journal for the past seven years. She’s moving to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri. She can be reached at roshana@roshanaariel.com. This column first appeared in the Journal on Aug. 15, 2015. 

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Hopping in right direction

Consequences of climate change are all around us and they’re getting worse

I spent the weekend at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, where I’m moving in just a month. I had to get re-energized about the move, the physical details of which during the heat of July had become a long, hard slog.

I also wanted to bring my dog, Booda, to visit so the community could meet him and he could get acquainted with his new digs. Anyone who wants to live at the village has to be approved for residency; that includes pets. The ecovillage has policies in place for dog-and-human ratios. Booda just squeezed in, ratio-wise.

Booda loved the huge soccer field, where I threw balls for him. He was intrigued by the goats behind an electrified fence in the middle of the village and the young donkey that carted 5-gallon pails of humanure down the path while his caretaker sang a soft, lilting song to soothe him.

We took a late evening swim in the pond as we watched the sun set behind dark clouds in the distance, lightning flashing from time to time far away.

Booda loved meeting people and was on his best behavior inside the Milkweed Mercantile, where there’s a happy hour every afternoon and where I ate meals.

In addition to the Mercantile owners, jack-of-all-trades Kurt and amazing cook and innkeeper Alline (who was on vacation), the establishment is blessed with a village member who is a skillful chef. Every organic meal was delicious, healthy and beautiful to behold.

Being there immediately reminded me of the commitment these folks have made to live sustainably and gently on the Earth. In the hot, humid weather, everyone was managing their windows and doors to bring cool air in at night and then closing everything up at about 5 a.m., when the sun would begin to warm things up again.

I saw only one window air conditioner in the village, and it wasn’t on. I suppose it’s for the triple-digit days, to take the edge off. Everyone uses fans.

When I got back, I read in Tuesday’s paper about President Obama seeking to clamp down on power plant emissions to try to slow global warming by changing the way we get and use electricity.

Of course, “Within minutes of Obama unveiling his plan, numerous groups said they’ll sue,” the story reported.

A coal mining company planned to file five lawsuits. West Virginia’s state attorney general said his state would launch “an aggressive legal campaign” and predicted that half the states in the nation would join in. GOP candidates said, “Obama’s actions are burdensome to business” and would block job creation, the story said.

I don’t know; try doing business when the coasts are flooded, storms are more fierce than ever and wildfires rage year-round.

Climate change is affecting us now and getting worse.

The journal Nature Communications recently published a study by ecologist and fire scientist Matt Jolly and his colleagues; it said, “The average duration of annual wildfire seasons lengthened almost 20 percent between 1979 and 2013, and the amount of land vulnerable to burning almost doubled.”

Thomas Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, told Congress in June that, since 2000, the forest service has almost doubled its spending on fighting fires from $540 million to $1 billion last year.

The length of the wildfire season “correlates closely with changes in temperature, humidity, rainfall and other climate indicators,” CNBC reported.

Wildfires aren’t just increasing in the Western United States. They’re also burning for a longer periods on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

“Just a little climate change,” as Bill Nye, “the science guy,” has said.

In Wednesday’s paper, we ran an Associated Press story about a vast algae bloom that’s endangering marine life from California to Alaska.

“So-called ‘red tides’ are cyclical and have happened many times before,” the story said, “but ocean researchers say this one is much larger and persisting much longer, with higher levels of neurotoxins bringing severe consequences for the Pacific seafood industry, coastal tourism and marine ecosystems.”

The current bloom also involves some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid, the story said, and that’s harmful to people, fish and marine life, up and down the food chain.

That’s disruptive for business and jobs, too, isn’t it? But we can’t sue Mother Nature, and she’s not responsible, anyway.

All of this is depressing. We’re so hooked on our charmed way of life, which is so completely entangled in coal and oil. I admit I’ve been running my AC more than usual this summer, sort of a last fling of sweet comfort before I begin a more sustainable way of life. I’m as guilty as anyone else.

At Dancing Rabbit, which uses “the grid” as a giant battery, residents are charged three times what the electric company charges for power, to discourage usage. That surcharge is used to buy more solar panels to make the village more self-sufficient. And residents are encouraged to use most electricity during the day, when the sun is providing the power. In addition, 70 people share four vehicles, one of them electric.

To me, that looks like a few steps, or hops, in the right direction.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on Aug. 8, 2015.

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300 simple steps

What does it take to be the best person one can be? Maybe one step is enough

I gave a talk at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship this past Sunday called “300 Simple Steps.”

It was a bit of a spoof on a book I read a year or two ago called “Three Simple Steps,” by Trevor Blake. Blake grew up in Wales in an impossibly poor family, and he spent a lot of time reading books about successful people. He claims he used these three simple steps to bring himself out of poverty and become a multimillionaire:

1. Control your state of mind. Be disciplined; don’t listen to complainers or gossipers; don’t read or watch the news.

Well, right there, I figured, I’m doomed.

2. Take quiet time. He suggests 20 minutes or so the first thing every morning. He adds a 2b: Get outside in nature every day.

3. Write down your imaginations. He uses the word “imaginations” instead of “goals” or “intentions,” because “imaginations” evokes a more playful, easy quality. You’re imagining how an upcoming meeting or vacation or other event might go (positively imagining, of course).

So, what’s up with the 300 simple steps? It occurred to me that Mr. Blake had left off a few, like change your oil, check your tire pressure, change your passwords and don’t make them too predictable.

We all have our own collection of simple steps, depending on where we live, what we do for a living and the various challenges that arise in our lives.

Of course, we should read and exercise; bathe and get plenty of sleep; eat nutritious food, preferably organic, preferably grown in our own gardens, which leads to this one: Pull weeds before they become weed trees.

Here’s one I learned about six months ago: Put up party lights. When I had my 60th birthday party, I had my son drape various rooms in my house with holiday lights, and I’ve left them up ever since.

Strive to do your best … while accepting your limitations.

You should also take time for culture — poetry, music and art.

Here’s an important one: Don’t talk about or visualize anything you don’t want. Visualize how you want your life to be.

TED talks are great places to find simple steps.

Amy Cuddy’s talk about body language is brilliant. Here it is in a nutshell: Physiologically, our bodies change our minds. That’s it.

Cuddy suggests you spend two minutes before anything stressful, before you go out the door in the morning, or in a bathroom at work before a meeting — just strike a powerful pose for a couple of minutes. (She advises the “winner’s pose”: Arms up and out, head up, like you just crossed the finish line.) Your body chemistry actually changes and you become more powerful.

Cuddy offers a twist on the “fake it till you make it” mantra: Fake it till you become it, she says.

No. 143: Keep learning all your life.

No. 228: Pick a disease or malady to help you learn. For example, if your favorite disease is alcoholism, you learn what’s important in life, how to overcome challenges, how to manage cravings … and in the process, your life is greatly enriched.

I chose depression as my malady for life. It has been a wonderful teacher.

Depression is not just about sadness — it’s the weight of burdens that seem to physically sit on your shoulders, like big, burlap sacks filled with rocks. It’s like the lights are dimmed and your eyes open only half-way; it’s painful to look up.

And on top of that is the sadness that comes in big waves of lumps in your throat and a physical aching in your chest.

Then there’s the hopelessness, that this pall on your body and mind will never lift.

Still …

If all our problems were hung on a line, you’d probably choose yours, and I’d probably choose mine.

No. 286: Name your inner voices. I’ve got several: Inner Critic, Mr. Fear, Mr. Dread, Little Girl, Strong Woman, Teenager, Miss Lonely, Mom. (Mom’s the best: super positive and supportive.)

Once you start naming your inner voices and having conversations with them, you realize there’s a very fine line between mental health and mental illness.

No. 215. Write down your dreams, and if you’re really an over-achiever, work on becoming a lucid dreamer (meaning, you wake up within your dreams and learn to control them). Why waste those seven or eight hours a night, when you can travel, solve problems and meet new people in your dreams?

No. 287. Don’t argue with the body. This is an instruction I heard from Jerry Seinfeld, who said it came from his father. If your body is tired, take a nap. Don’t try to power through it; listen to the body.

No. 265. Take different perspectives. Try to get in the heads of people you come in contact with.

And take the perspective of being a tiny bit of consciousness hurtling through space and time on a little blue marble orbiting a star in a rural spirally arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, one of hundreds of millions of galaxies in the known universe. And realize we are little nodes of consciousness in the universe experiencing the universe in our tiny constellation of ideas, emotions, friends, family and community.

No. 300: Love. That’s all. Just love.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on Aug. 1, 2015.

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Garage sale treasure trove

Is the universe friendly? Some people fall into your life at just the right moment

Everyone has a garage sale story. And I now have my own.

A week ago Friday and Saturday, I opened up my driveway and carport (I don’t actually have a garage) to the public to pick through my worldly goods.

But before I get into that, let me tell you about my new friend, Phyllis. She’ll be happy that I’m mentioning her in my column because she loves serendipity and quirkiness.

Phyllis is the mother of a guy I met during the visitor program at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, which I attended at the beginning of June. Brent, her son, lives in Chicago, and he’s planning to move to Dancing Rabbit, as am I, around the first of September. He’s been busy selling his business, fixing up his house and also having a garage sale.

No romantic story to tell here; Brent’s gay. But we became fast friends as we got acquainted with the village and its residents.

Phyllis came to visit Brent at Dancing Rabbit while we were there. She had just returned from serving more than two years in the Peace Corps in Jamaica, and she spent a couple of days taking part in the visitor activities with us at the village.

It just so happened that Phyllis has always wanted to live in Lindsborg, just because, having stopped at the Swedish town in the midst of her travels around the country, she thought it looked adorable. When Brent emailed me in mid-June to ask if his mom could stay at my place whenever she got ready to look for a house or apartment there, of course I said yes.

Wouldn’t you know, the week she decided to move to Lindsborg was the same week my sister was arriving to help me put the garage sale together. So when she called, I said, “Sure, Phyllis, come on down. I’ll put my sister on the air mattress in the office and I’ll put you on the couch in the living room, and, by the way, we might put you to work.”

“That would be fine,” she said. “And you just kick me out if I get in the way.”

Get in the way? She mowed my lawn and helped with pricing and took us to dinner and told stories of her fascinating life. Oh, the stories she told.

On garage sale days, Phyllis was out there in the driveway, moving products, chatting up the customers and laughing her big-hearted laugh.

While my sister, Priscilla, had planned to come down to help, Phyllis just fell into the equation by happenstance, as though the universe knew I’d need another set of hands and feet to plow through all my stuff.

This is an idea that’s been coming up lately — the idea that the universe is friendly, that everything happens for a reason, that if it’s meant to be, it will all fall together. (By the way, Phyllis found her apartment in an old Victorian house on her first day looking.)

These past few weeks have been full of reasons to be grateful for the people close to me. A couple of friends came over and helped me clean out my basement. Within 45 minutes, we had the whole thing empty.

Another friend came over to go through my books and a large linen closet. Others have carted things away to take care of in their own homes. Another friend came over during my garage sale to straighten, vacuum and feng-shui my home, just in case anyone wanted to look inside, since we had a “House for Sale” sign outside.

It’s easy for me to imagine the universe is friendly with such generous helpers.

Garage sales force you to see how much stuff you’ve accumulated. As we dragged things out to organize and price, I kept thinking of all the money I’d have in the bank if I hadn’t bought all that stuff I found squirreled away in closets and cabinets — some of which I didn’t remember ever having owned.

I found an old 1950s sewing box full of big, flashy earrings and parts of necklaces and such, jewelry I’d worn in Hawaii or Texas or California decades ago. I thought it should go in the “free” pile. Phyllis insisted that I put a price on it.

“Some little girl is going to love that,” she said. I imagined a 6-year-old pulling on her mom’s sleeve to buy it for her.

“OK,” I said. “Three dollars.”

You don’t see Geiger counters at most garage sales, but I had one for sale (a funny birthday gift) for 10 bucks. Lots of people picked it up and pondered it, and finally one old gentleman brought it to our cash table … along with the jewelry-filled sewing box. Maybe there’s a 6-year-old granddaughter in his life.

One of the sweetest treasures at my sale was a lovely woman who handed me an envelope with a card thanking me for the columns I’ve written and saying she hoped I’d continue writing about my new adventures.

I plan to, I told her.

I’ll remember her warm smile and kind words for a long time.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on July 25, 2015. 

Posted in Evolutionary Thought, Friendships, Kansas, Salina, Spiritual thought | Comments Off on Garage sale treasure trove

Interview with former Westboro Church member is surprising, fascinating

What’s it like to be a member of Westboro Baptist Church? Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of the church’s late pastor, Fred Phelps, tells her story of growing up in and eventually leaving the infamous Topeka church in an interview with author, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris, which you can find here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/leaving-the-church. I found it completely surprising and fascinating.

Phelps-Roper, now 29, reveals the history behind why church members picket churches, funerals, newspapers and other venues. (Here at the Journal, we have a wooden sign from a long-ago picketing by the church that reads “THE FAG RAG, Lk 17:30”).

If you think it’s all about hate, you’d be wrong. If you think it’s all about getting attention, you’d be right. But not to attract more members to bring in more dollars. It’s about being obedient to God and telling people about God’s laws as they understand them, something the letter writers on this page do on a regular basis.

And they’re not just picking and choosing Scriptures at whim; they’re studying and memorizing and, according to Phelps-Roper, digging deep. One might say they follow the Scriptures more faithfully than most Christians. Because they are reading the Scriptures literally and taking action on that literal interpretation, a comparison has been drawn between Westboro and Islamic State militants and other fundamentalist extremists (although, of course, Westboro hasn’t killed anyone).

I was surprised to hear her describe her life in the church as full of love and security and cheerfulness. She and her siblings were encouraged to be kind and considerate and loving toward their classmates (they attended public schools), so that no one would have anything bad to say about them other than disagreeing with their beliefs. She said they were expected to get good grades and described her family as well-educated, with many holding advanced degrees.

Why did she leave the church? She found a hole in the theology, and there’s just no recourse for a member who disagrees with the church’s interpretation of Scripture. As far as her parents are concerned, their daughter is “the most evil of the most evil,” she said, because, according to them, she knew the truth and turned her back on God.

Phelps-Roper is articulate, smart and insightful. I highly recommend the interview.

Speaking of Scripture, former President Jimmy Carter gave a recent TED talk about what he calls the No. 1 human rights issue on Earth: the abuse of women and girls.

The reasons, he says, include the misinterpretation of religious Scriptures in the Bible and the Quran.

“The Scriptures are misinterpreted to keep men in an ascendant position,” he said. “That is an all-pervasive problem, because … if an abusive husband or an employer, for instance, wants to cheat women, they can say that if women are not equal in the eyes of God, ‘Why should I treat them as equals myself? Why should I pay them equal pay for doing the same kind of work?’ ”

Carter goes on to describe one particularly abhorrent abuse of girls: genital mutilation.

“In some countries, many countries, when a child is born that’s a girl, very soon in her life, her genitals are completely cut away by a so-called cutter who has a razor blade and, in a nonsterilized way, they remove the exterior parts of a woman’s genitalia. And sometimes, in more extreme cases but not very rare cases, they sew the orifice up so the girl can just urinate or menstruate. And then later, when she gets married, the same cutter goes in and opens the orifice up so she can have sex. This is not a rare thing, although it’s against the law in most countries. In Egypt, for instance, 91 percent of all the females … have been sexually mutilated in that way. In some countries, it’s more than 98 percent … . This is a horrible affliction on all women that live in those countries.”

The former president goes on to talk about honor killings, wherein a family member kills a girl if she is raped or sometimes if she wears inappropriate clothing.

Carter also talks about slavery, now commonly called human trafficking.

“There were about 12.5 million people sold from Africa into slavery in the New World back in the 19th century and the 18th century. There are 30 million people now living in slavery.”

The State Department reports that 80 percent of those sold into bondage each year are women and girls sold as sex slaves.

Kansas is no longer prosecuting girls younger than 18 involved in prostitution, but rather their pimps and customers. This approach has worked very well in Sweden, Carter said, to bring prostitution down.

Carter continues with the numbers of sexual assaults taking place in the military and on college campuses. Laws need to be changed, he said, to prosecute those who assault women in these institutions.

Why are things this way?

“In general, men don’t give a damn,” Carter said. Men enjoy “the privileged position that we occupy.”

Carter calls on women in powerful nations like the U.S., who have the freedom to speak and act, to be more forceful in demanding an end to discrimination against girls and women all over the world.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on July 11, 2015.

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Hair today, gone soaring

It’s amazing how we’re connected to people, even creatures around the world

I’m deep in the business of cleaning out my house and selling many of my worldly possessions on eBay.

My paraglider and harness sold in less than an hour on the auction site. The best little vacation I ever took was flying my motorless glider on a beach near Monterey, Calif. The constant air flow coming off the ocean and curling up the steep dunes allows paragliders to soar for hours above the beach. To see a video of me paragliding, go to You Tube.com and search “Roshana Ariel Sand City.” You’ll see me with my hair cut short.

Speaking of which, I even put human hair for sale on eBay: Long story short (no pun intended), I became obsessed with hair extensions when I decided to grow my short hair out and wanted to get through the awkward stage quickly. (Trust me, hair extensions don’t help you avoid an awkward stage.)

What a fascinating business that is. It’s hard to get a handle on what the worldwide hair industry is worth; you can find estimates of anywhere from $700 million all the way up to $500 billion annually, when you count all of the brands of weaves, wefts, extensions, wigs, toupees, brokers, processors, distributors, beauty supply stores, websites, styling tools and appliances.

My bizarre hair extension phase lasted about six months several years ago and included, at one time or another, accoutrements such as hot wax, thread, clips, fishing wire, tiny metallic rings and clamps, as I tried various ways of attaching the hair wefts to my head.

One quickly begins to wonder whose hair one is wearing.

Apparently, much of it comes from India, where Hindu women go to temples to participate in a ritual of purification. Daily Mail, in the United Kingdom, reported that “Six hundred and fifty barbers sit in lines on a concrete floor, deftly tying up into ponytails the hair of women seated in front of them” at such a temple. The procedure is called tonsuring — the shaving of the head as a sign of religious devotion.

At an earlier time, the hair from the ceremonies would be used to stuff mattresses. But in the past couple of decades or so, the temples realized they could make a mint selling the hair to brokers, who bundle it up and send it on its way to a worldwide market.

India exports an astounding 2,000 tons a year, the Daily Mail reports. Hair extensions are also huge business in China and Malaysia and other parts of the world.

I used to think about the women and girls in Third World countries who sacrificed their hair — perhaps for religious reasons, perhaps in desperation to feed their families — and I imagined wearing their hair as an act of kinship, with a healthy dose of gratitude. Maybe some imagine their hair will adorn the head of an aristocrat. Sorry to disappoint. I doubt they can imagine that it’s sold in brightly packaged sleeves hanging by the hundreds in beauty supply shops throughout the First World and on thousands of online sites, each promising only the finest, shiniest, most virgin hair available.

Anyhoo … I found my stockpile containing many sleeves of colors, blends and lengths of human hair in my hall closet and emptied them all on the floor, took lots of pictures, and advertised the bounty on eBay. A Kansas woman won the auction Thursday.

While in the process of cleaning out the basement, I came across a box of canned food, put away long ago in preparation for ice storms, electric outages or end times. One can caught my eye: tuna fish.

Most of you know that I’m a vegetarian. For a long time, I was a pescatarian, meaning I ate fish (but not chickens, cows, pigs or lambs). But when I began reading stories about how fish feel pain, too, I gave up seafood, as well. (I’m reading a book now called “Animal Wise,” which documents fish doing “tricks,” using tools, and learning and modeling behaviors.)

This past week, we learned about how at least some of the fish we buy, for our consumption or our pets’, is caught by slaves in Southeast Asia. (Wal-Mart and Kroger were mentioned as stores that receive such shipments, in the Associated Press story published Wednesday in the Journal). The story featured a young Myanmar man, Myint Naing, who was taken more than two decades ago by an “agent” who promised a good job and was sold into slave labor on a boat, sometimes working day and night in the cruelest of conditions. He recently was reunited with his family.

As I sell my stuff, keeping a fraction of what I thought I needed, I’ll be tangentially connected to a guy in California who is flying my paraglider and a woman in McCracken who got a great deal on human hair. And who knows? Maybe Myint caught the very fish in the can of tuna that I found in my basement Wednesday and ate last night.

We are all linked, aren’t we, to people around the world who make our clothes and phones and countless other products; who catch our food and give up the hair off their heads.

Even the air we breathe has gone round and round the globe, filling the lungs of people and myriad creatures here on planet Earth, arriving in our own bodies, connecting us all.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on July 4, 2015. 

Posted in Integral Philosophy, Peace, Spiritual thought | Comments Off on Hair today, gone soaring

Friends come out to play

As I embark on big change in my life, Inner Critic, Mr. Fear, weigh in on decision

‘‘Look, you’ve already run out of stuff to write, and you’ve written less than a page,” ranted my special friend, Inner Critic, as I began writing my column for this week. “You’re not going to write up there. You’re going to be lazy and depressed and complaining that you made another huge mistake with your life,” he added.

“Up there” refers to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri, where I’ve decided to move in a couple of months. “Another huge mistake” refers to other momentous wrong turns I’ve made in my life, which, after all, haven’t turned out that badly. I did end up with a brilliant son from marriage No. 1, which was clearly a match made in La-La Land.

I’m reminded of the quote I’ve seen a couple of times on Facebook: “On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100 percent.” (Author unknown)

My Inner Critic is not the only one visiting me lately. Fear has stopped by with a future vision of me cowering outside of my house, which is being devoured by rain- and heat-fueled vegetation. In this vision, the house hasn’t sold and still contains the huge desk-hutch combo in my home office and boxes my son left in my basement almost 15 years ago, now covered with cobwebs. Fear tells me my house will never sell, and I’ll never be done cleaning out the several tons of miscellany.

“Hello, Mr. Fear,” I say. “You’re in spectacular form tonight.”

“Who else is here to say hello?” I ask. “Miss Lonely? Are you frightened, too? I think we have that base covered, sweetie. There’ll be plenty of people around to engage with if we just show up.”

Who else? Mr. Dread? Do come and sit down. … You’re quite right; it’s nearly impossible to imagine picking up every single item in this house and moving it somewhere else:

•  into a trash bag

•  into a box to take with me

•  into a bag to be taken to charity

•  out to my driveway to sell or give away

•  into my friends’ hands to deal with at their houses

And every item gets the honor of a careful decision. Yippee!

Shortly after I decided to move, I started reading the hugely popular book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I have to admit, author Marie Kondo is right about how fun it can be to sort through closets and drawers if you have the right attitude.

Who knew I’d been folding and storing T-shirts wrong my whole life? They should be folded as many times as needed to make them stand up, vertically, in the drawer. It really does make it easier to pick the one you want to wear, and, she notes, they’re not as wrinkled, either.

And who knew that after sorting through all my socks, and after throwing out a dozen pairs or so, I’d still have 60 pairs left. I’d been putting them away all wrong, too, she taught me. They should be relaxing in the drawer after all the work they do on our feet, not stretched out and wadded up like potatoes. These, too, should be folded and stored upright in the drawer in soft, happy swirls.

I wonder what Kondo is going to say about cleaning out the basement. If it’s anything short of, “Call in the Marines,” I’m not sure it’s going to help me.

As for my Inner Critic, he was awakened while I was doing a yoga class series with Dr. Melissa West, who offers excellent classes on her site, www.melissawest.com/tv-show-namaste-yoga/. In this series, we’re learning to befriend our Inner Critics since they have so many insightful suggestions for our lives. While we hold yoga poses, Dr. West asks us to query ourselves with questions like, “What are the subtle qualities of my experience with my Inner Critic?”

I’m afraid there’s nothing subtle about my Inner Critic’s voice, who seems to get off on tearing me to shreds. With his bad attitude, I seldom let him out to play.

While my brain is stretched thin as I move into a new future, my body is stretched, too, in yoga poses, and mind and body gradually unwind and relax.

In the latest yoga class, about discernment as it relates to our Inner Critic, West read a poem by Elizabeth Massey (or Massie or Massy; I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to find out more about her). I found it wonderfully calming:

Sometimes my boat drifts to deeper waters

Waters to which I have been called.

I look back to the shore

But I also want to know more

about myself, about life.

As I hold steady the oars,

I row in the direction of my Inner Guidance, steady and aware of my body and breath.

From here, I can see the ripple effect on the water

and also deep within me.

I notice the layers, one by one

And their connection to this deep pool of water

I call myself.

Namaste, my friends.

— Roshana Ariel is an assistant editor for the Journal. She can be reached at rariel@salina.com.

Posted in Evolutionary Thought, Optimism, Peace, Spiritual thought | Comments Off on Friends come out to play

Just a hop, skip and a jump

A new adventure begins as I make my way to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

I took a break from writing while spending 10 days at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri. What an adventure!

There were 11 visitors in the June session, ranging in age from 16 to 70-something, hailing from California to northeast Connecticut. It was quite an eclectic group, all interested in finding out more about sustainable living, natural building and alternative energy.

Dancing Rabbit is a village of about 60 residents who are committed to using about 10 percent of the resources of the average American (electricity, water, propane, automobile fuel). Most of the homes are built with straw bales (which provide great insulation), reclaimed wood or other natural or recycled materials. The houses employ passive solar energy and thermal mass design, as well.

A free-standing 25 kilowatt array of solar panels powers many of the homes in the village, and individual solar panels are common on the houses, too. Wind energy is also employed on the 280-acre farm. Conservation is key, as the village endeavors to send twice as much solar- and wind-powered electricity back to the grid than it uses.

The village uses a “humanure” system (toilets use no water, and you cover each “contribution” with sawdust from a local lumber yard) so that the resulting compost can be used for trees, and water isn’t fouled with human waste. Water is caught from roofs and filtered for drinking. County water is available to supplement captured rainwater.

Dancing Rabbit exists as a demonstration village, offering education through nationwide speaking tours and numerous onsite workshops on permaculture, natural building, gardening, etc., as well as twice-monthly tours and the intensive visitor program.

Four of the visitors in our group (including me) are applying for residency at the village. Residents must live in the village for six months before applying for membership. After approval for membership, a new “Rabbit” can lease land and build a home or buy an existing one.

For me, the move will be monumental. I’ve written long lists of pros and cons. Here’s a sample of the pros:

•  First, I’m 60, and I’ve been working since I was 15. I’m ready to retire from my full-time job and do something different. Living at Dancing Rabbit would allow me to do that because I can live much more cheaply.

•  I would be living my values. I would be forced to drive much less and it would be easy to live more sustainably. (DR members must give up their personal automobiles; the village has three diesel-powered cars and one truck for errands into town or to airports or train stations. And it’s not cheap — 65 cents a mile.)

•  I love the communication style at DR — open, honest and clear.

•  I like and admire many of the people I’ve met there.

•  At DR, I feel that if I can dream it, I can create it. The village exudes an optimistic, creative vibe. The pioneering, edgy aspect of living there makes it all the more interesting.

•  I feel welcome. At the very least, I would help the gender balance, which would further help growth. (Right now, men outnumber women at DR by a 60-40 ratio, which is the limit.)

•  It would be a chance to leave “the world” behind (in terms of media: war, terrorism, political bickering, consumerism, advertising) and live in a place with no crime.

•  I would see sunsets, stars and the moon more often.

•  I would trade traffic sounds for crickets, cicadas and birds. (Motorized vehicles are not allowed in the village.)

•  I’d have more time to read (something other than news wires … you know, books).

Living in my 1,400-square-foot house in Salina feels like a huge luxury after spending 10 days pooping in composting toilet-buckets a block away from my room (I stayed in the Gnome Dome for my visit; check it out: www.airbnb.com/rooms/5720642). But I’ve simply grown weary of working 40 hours a week (albeit in a pleasantly air-conditioned office with a wonderful staff). I don’t mean to complain, and I know that I am incredibly fortunate, having won life’s lottery growing up in the peaceful Midwest to well-educated parents.

Here are a couple of cons:

•  Having lived in Salina for about 15 years, this feels like home. I have numerous friends and colleagues, know my way around and feel comfortable here.

•  Selling at least half of my stuff (we all have to do this at some point in our later years) and giving up my house seem like almost insurmountable challenges.

In many ways, the move seems drastic. But the truth is, if I want to stop working full time, I simply can’t afford to live in Salina. And the older I get, the less energy I’ll have for a big adventure like this.

So, I’m making the leap. The adventure begins.

Anybody want to buy a two-bedroom house with an above-ground pool and fireplace a block from Heusner Elementary School? Send me an email.

This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on June 20, 2015.

Posted in Climate, Evolutionary Thought, Friendships, Optimism, Politics / Government, Sustainability, Travel | Comments Off on Just a hop, skip and a jump

Animals: things or beings?

Some truths are just too hard to bear, but we can’t look the other way forever

Are animals things? Or are they sentient, pain-feeling beings?

Are they units? Or are they miracles, with all of the bodily systems humans have — of blood circulation, food digestion, waste elimination, neural pathways, thoughts and emotions?

Should animals have rights? Should they have rights like people?

Should they be allowed lives free from unnecessary pain, or are they just so many widgets that can be tossed about, kicked into compliance and ripped apart to be formed into unrecognizable bites of processed food, filled with fat, covered with salt, evolutionarily irresistible to the human palate?

Many people say this is the next battle for rights. It won’t be civil rights, since animals aren’t considered citizens. But if they’re not citizens, or people, what are they?

They’re not nothing.

I must be on all the animal rights mailing lists because I regularly get mail with photos on the envelopes so appalling I can’t even open them. There are photos of horses being used for the women’s hormones Premarin and Prempro, which is made from the urine of mares (the drug’s name is short for PREgnant MARes’ urINe), who are kept confined in stalls, constantly impregnated for a dozen years or so, with a bag connected to them to collect their urine. I took Prempro for years.

I get mail from sanctuaries that take in maimed or starved animals and nurse them back to health. I get links to videos of pigs being abused in factory farms.

Did you see the movie “The Cove”? It’s the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary about the horrific slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Fishermen there find a pod of dolphins, then make loud, clanging sounds to herd hundreds of them into a tiny cove. Older dolphins are brutally killed for their mercury-laden meat, leaving the cove water red with blood while the babies watch in terror; the babies are captured to be shipped to marine mammal parks around the world to entertain us.

Recently, Japanese aquariums agreed to stop buying dolphins caught in the controversial hunt. But the hunts will continue:

“We are hunting under the permission of the Japanese government and prefecture, and so we will continue to protect our fishermen and the methods. We will not quit,” Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen said May 21, according to The Associated Press.

Why are the fishermen protected but the dolphins are not? Why has it taken so long to move even slightly forward on this issue while intelligent, pain-feeling, social animals are bludgeoned to death year after year?

Walmart has taken a step forward. The United States’ largest retailer, it was reported May 22, will ask its meat, seafood, poultry, deli and egg suppliers to adopt animal welfare standards that include sufficient space and easy access to food and water.

I’m not too encouraged. They’re going to “ask” the suppliers, not require them to do anything different. “Sufficient space” seems vague; is 1 or 2 inches around an animal “sufficient”? Access to food and water has not generally been an issue. Access to too much food might be (the better to fatten them up so that, in the case of chickens and turkeys, some can barely walk).

Nevertheless, Walmart has plenty of clout, and animal rights activists think this will push other retailers and suppliers to follow suit. It’s also urging suppliers to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals, an important step.

Walmart said it supports the “Five Freedoms,” which were established by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1965 for all animals under human control. According to the FAWC website, “The welfare of an animal includes its physical and mental state, and we consider that good animal welfare implies both fitness and a sense of well-being.”

Here are the Five Freedoms:

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst — by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.

2. Freedom from discomfort — by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease — by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom to express normal behavior — by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.

5. Freedom from fear and distress — by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering.

Based on the mail I get, the news I read and the videos I’ve seen of animal cruelty, we are a long way from those ideals. Maybe I’m just seeing the bad actors.

In some states (Kansas, Missouri and Iowa among them), ag gag laws have made it a crime to photograph abuse or to lie on a job application for the purpose of documenting abuse on farms.

I think that if slaughterhouses and farm operations had webcams installed, people would become appropriately sickened if they saw animals abused and wouldn’t dream of putting them on their dining tables.

On the other hand, perhaps if webcams were mandatory, farms and slaughterhouses would follow the above guidelines or lose their rights to operate, and those who prefer meat in their diet would be assured that the animals they eat were treated well and killed humanely.

It’s simple: If we’re eating meat, we owe our lives to animals.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on May 30, 2015.

Posted in Animal cruelty, Evolutionary Thought, Vegetarian diet | Comments Off on Animals: things or beings?

Why I almost gave up beer

I’m all about the scientific method; that’s why I must continue my experiments

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

— Benjamin Franklin

The above saying is regularly misquoted. On T-shirts, posters and mugs, it often is written, and attributed to Franklin, as: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

In either case, we can safely assume that Franklin, like me and maybe you, found that drinking a delicious alcoholic beverage, nurtured by nature and helped along by man, can be a near-sacred experience.

Anybody who knows me at all knows that I like beer.

Ever since I discovered the good stuff, about five years ago — the chocolate stouts, the seasonals, the craft beers with surprising tastes, such as ancho chile pepper or crème brûlée — I’ve found many reasons to celebrate with brew.

Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer.

 Henry Lawson

A few weeks ago, I was talking with some friends about neck and shoulder pain that I’ve had for quite a long time. It’s just stress, I figured, made worse by sitting in front of a computer all day. I get a massage once a month, which has helped a great deal, but lately the pain and stiffness seemed to be getting worse.

The folks I was talking to, while sipping a nice dark stout, mentioned that food sensitivities could be causing or contributing to my discomfort. One guy, Travis, said he went on an “elimination diet” a while back to try to find the cause of his aches and pains.

An elimination diet is just what it sounds like: You eliminate foods from your diet that could be causing inflammation or other distress — typically sugar, grains or gluten, dairy, caffeine, citrus fruits, nuts or nightshade vegetables (eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes). After two to four weeks, you gradually add foods back to your diet to see if symptoms return.

Travis, with the aches and pains, stopped eating everything except meat and vegetables and found that he felt much better. He’s been on that Paleo-type diet for a long time.

“Who knows?” he said, noting my dark brew. “You might be sensitive to alcohol or hops or something else in the beer.”

“Noooooo!” I cried.

But the more I thought about it, I realized the only thing that had changed in my diet in the past few years was the addition of beer. I also figured it was the easiest thing for me to quit, at least for a few weeks. Giving up my morning coffee or the cream or sugar in said coffee was almost unthinkable. I’m also rather fond of bread, nuts, tomatoes and citrus fruits.

He was a wise man who invented beer.

— Plato

Shortly after that conversation, on a long-distance drive, the stiffness in my shoulders and neck intensified. It felt like a rusty, powerful vice was gripping my head and neck so that I could barely turn to look behind me to switch lanes. Ibuprofin did nothing to relieve the discomfort. I realized that I had probably drunk more beer than usual over that weekend as I hung out with friends.

Maybe there was a connection.

So I decided to experiment. I quit drinking beer.

By the end of the first week sans beer, there was definite improvement. It felt like that rusty vice got some oil and released its tight grip on my head. It wasn’t completely fixed, but the range of motion had increased significantly — enough that it was easier to exercise and stretch, which would lead to more improvement.

Was it the alcohol? The hops? Some other ingredient in the brew? Was it just a coincidence? Psychosomatic response? Placebo effect?

Well, I had to find out. So, after three weeks, I put some chocolate stout back in the fridge and looked forward to my next imbibery. And the next … and the one after that.

After all, I couldn’t tell if it was the beer that helped my neck unless I drank enough to see if it had a deleterious effect again.

Beer’s intellectual. What a shame so many idiots drink it.

 Ray Bradbury

So far, my hypothesis is that the negative effect that seemed to arise after a larger-than-usual dose of beer was just a coincidence.

One thing’s for sure: This will take a lot more exploration and analysis. For the sake of science, I’ll just have to keep investigating.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on May 23, 2015.

Posted in Science | Comments Off on Why I almost gave up beer