For the Love of Screaming Hairy Armadillos

Really. This is an actual thing.

I thought my life was complete back in 2013 when I learned there were hirsute lobsters in this world. Little did I know, I wasn’t thinking big enough. Then yesterday, and I can’t even remember how, I discovered that the planet also contains screaming hairy armadillos.

Really. This is an actual thing. You can even hear what their screams sound like in this video.

This makes me so happy. I just love the diversity in this world! I love anything that reminds me that there is more than one way to live, behave, and look. And this cool little guy is rather in-your-face about it. I mean, how cute is this?

This dude sports a suit that screams (sorry, had to), “Don’t mess with me. Just admire my style.”

According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo website, these armadillos mostly live east of the Andes in the Monte Desert, in Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They’re pretty solitary, and pretty small. They usually only get up to about 2 pounds, and are at most 16 inches long, if you don’t count their tails. (Incidentally, if you’re ever in Washington DC, I urge you to check out this zoo. It’s one of the best in the world, in my opinion. I’ve seen animals there that I didn’t even know existed before that.)

These creatures mostly chow down on plants, beetles and other insects, with the occasional lizard, frog, toad, bird or rodent just to shake things up a bit. They also seem to consume a lot of sand, and it’s unknown whether this is by accident or on purpose. Their stomach contents have been known to be as much as 50 percent sand.

If the diets of these armadillos didn’t tell you they were highly adaptable, their sleeping habits would. They tend to be nocturnal in the summer, and diurnal in the winter. They can also go long periods without drinking.

With a name like screaming hairy armadillos (which I could repeat a million times and still be smiling), you’d think they’d be rather annoying to live around. But in truth, the only time they scream, much like me, is when they’re mistreated or hassled. They occasionally grunt while foraging for food (also like me), but usually they’re pretty quiet and keep to themselves in their burrows. (Again, like me. Hmmm. This could be my spirit animal.)

Farmers do consider them to be pests, though, and in fact humans are their greatest threat. Not only are we degrading their habitat, but we also hunt them for their meat, and their shells are sometimes made into a guitar-like instrument called a charango.

Check out this concert:

I’m sorry. I’m thinking that that instrument’s sound, while pretty darned cool, is not so unique that it couldn’t be produced in a less grizzly fashion. Am I alone in this opinion? Humans suck.

Nature, on the other hand, is awesome. What a strange and delightful planet we inhabit. Next time I’m feeling down, or feeling like a freak, I plan to say to myself, “A world that has made room for screaming hairy armadillos can’t be all bad.”

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Help Broaden a Child’s Horizons: A Diverse Book List

Scroll down for the highlighted book list!

I know this to be true: Children with access to a broad range of perspectives, those who understand that one must look at history through a variety of lenses and consider the motivations of the historians who came before them, will grow up to be educated, open-minded individuals who have a much better chance of having a positive impact on the world.

It is imperative that we teach our children critical thinking skills as well as the ability to be humble. If they don’t discover that “our way” is not the only way, they will be incapable of thinking outside the box to create the solutions that their generation will surely need for their survival. If they don’t learn about the many choices in this world, they will not be capable of making informed decisions in their own lives.

There is a trend in our schools to cut off access to any knowledge that might offend closed-minded adults, and we allow this to happen at our peril. I want our future leaders to know some things without question:

  • Other cultures have other perspectives.
  • Evolution is real.
  • People with special needs deserve kindness, too.
  • Christianity is not the only religion in the world.
  • Some people choose not to believe in any religion at all.
  • Women have made a positive impact on this planet, as have people of color.
  • Science is real, and it evolves over time as we continue to explore new paths of inquiry.
  • Getting to know people who do not look like you is a very good thing.
  • We live amongst people who have different sexual orientations and/or gender identifications than we do, and that fact should not be considered a threat.
  • Diversity is beautiful and provides the broader perspective that we need to effectively solve problems.

It becomes increasingly evident that if we want children to have a well-rounded education, we will have to take matters into our own hands. For many years I struggled to find a way to assist in this effort. Then I realized that I may not be able to change the world, but I can certainly make a difference in my little corner of it.

Since I genuinely believe that that access to books that might not be found in our increasingly-censored schools is imperative if we want our children to have a global perspective, I decided to start a little free library in front of my home. This library contains books for adults as well, and it has become increasingly popular over time.

The fascinating thing about this library is that the adult books often come back so that other people might enjoy them, but the children’s books almost never do. That’s perfectly fine. Kids love to read books over and over again.

Unfortunately, that means that it’s very difficult to keep enough children’s books in stock to meet the demand. People are kind enough to donate books occasionally, but they’re rarely as diverse as I would like them to be. For example, I have dozens of books about Christmas, but no books at all about Kwanzaa, Eid, Diwali, Hanukah, or Ramadan. I can’t afford to purchase all these books myself.

The other night I was thinking about this problem, and finally accepting the fact that putting out pleas on the Facebook pages for my community was yielding nothing, and I began to daydream about the kind of books I’ll like to have for the library. A wish list of sorts.

Then I remembered that Amazon allows you to make wish lists. So I hopped over to their website and started making one. It’s a work in progress, and will definitely expand over time.

So, without further ado, check out my list entitled Children’s Books for Clark Lake Park Little Free Library. 

Because this cause is so near and dear to my heart, I encourage you to use this list as a resource to obtain books for the children in your lives. If this list causes people to put even one diverse book in the hands of even one child, the world would be a much better place.

But make no mistake: I would also be thrilled if your generosity extended to my little free library. So, if you’re willing to purchase one of these books for the kids in my corner of the world, I would be almost as thrilled as the child who ultimately receives that book. The wish list contains my shipping information.

Thanks for your consideration. It takes a village!

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My Blog through the Eyes of Others

Rereading things from the perspective of someone else.

For the most part, when I’m writing this blog, it’s coming from the heart. I try not to alter my writing based on how it will be perceived. I just put it out there and hope it speaks to the people who give me the gift of the time it takes to read it.

Sometimes, though, once someone I know well has commented on it, I’ll go back and reread it from their perspective. We’re all different, of course, and none of us can truly inhabit the mind of another, but since I know these people and how they react to various things, I can guess at their reactions to my posts, beyond what they’ve already commented.

I’m not sure if this habit of mine is good or bad. It’s interesting to look at my posts from different angles. At the same time, I don’t want to start altering my posts purely for popularity’s sake. That wouldn’t feel authentic.

I find it fascinating that we all see things in very different ways. For the most part, I think that diversity revitalizes us all. That is, until you look at people out on the lunatic fringe, who are in their own strange little unreal worlds. But I digress.

How do you see my blog, dear reader? I’d greatly love to know!

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The Cultural Iceberg

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down.

I took the picture below at the Highline Heritage Museum. It’s really a densely packed topic, and I love how they have simplified it in a nice graphic display. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

They prefaced this image by saying that about 10 percent of most icebergs are visible above the surface, and that culture is the same way. There’s a lot of culture that’s hidden beneath the surface. Here are some of the cultural encounters I’ve had.

  • Body Language. In Turkey, raising your eyebrows means no. Once I mastered that, I was able to fend off many aggressive salesmen. But it never came naturally to me.

  • Personal Space. When I lived in Mexico, I never quite got used to how “in your face” people preferred to be. I’m sure I came off as rather distant and cold.

  • Self. I once dated a Maori, and his extended family was continually in his house, for weeks at a time. That would drive me nuts. I need my “me time”. I can’t be myself when I’m surrounded by so many people, but he didn’t feel like himself when he was alone.

  • Time. I’ve long been fascinated by the Aboriginal Australian sense of time, but try as I might, I can’t grasp it.

  • Animals. I’ve had many friends from many cultures who are horrified that I allow my dog in my house.

  • Expectations. A Hindu friend of mine once told me that we Americans expect to be happy, and are constantly disappointed when we aren’t. In other cultures, he said, no one expects to be happy, and they’re therefore pleasantly surprised when they are.

  • More Expectations. A friend from Spain once told me that we Americans always seem to think everything is solved with an “I’m sorry.” He was really surprised by that.

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down, one from another. The picture below really shines a light on that in a beautiful way. There’s more to individuals than the clothes that they wear and the accent they employ. It makes me really want to get to know people beneath the surface.

Cultural Iceberg

This may be a cultural thing, but I truly believe that an attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Cruise Ship Feudalism

The first time I was called madame it made me blink.

The first time I was called madame it made me blink. But it was our Indonesian cabin steward aboard our cruise ship, so I thought maybe it was a language barrier. He was very polite.

But then it happened again, this time from a Filipino server at the buffet. And again, and again, from various East Asian crew members aboard the Noordam. I began to suspect they were instructed to address me in this way, and it made me squirm. It was courteous, yes, but this isn’t the 1800’s and I’m hardly a madame. I half expected the men to start pulling their forelocks.

In any other situation, I’d be lucky to be considered a member of polite society. I shop at Goodwill more often than I’d care to admit, and my car is 17 years old. And yet, I could afford to take a cruise without having to work thereon for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end to do so. So there’s that. And so I took my awkward place in the cruise ship hierarchy.

Never having grown up in a blatant hierarchical system, such as the class system of Elizabethan England, or in India, where Untouchables still exist in some areas, I’ve never felt comfortable with having people considered greater or lesser than I am. I know this type of discrimination is all around me, of course. I can’t relate to people who buy 700 dollar shoes at Nordstrom, and they often look at me with disdain. If I enter a really rich neighborhood (or a really poor one if I’m honest), I feel uncomfortable. But as a white person in America, much of the time I have the luxury of overlooking these nuances.

I don’t know what it is about cruise ships that cause the layers of society to be so sharply defined, but I couldn’t seem to get away from it during my journey. It was a little hard to take. While I enjoyed my time aboard, it also made me chafe and feel a bit ashamed.

From my observations and also from a lazy Google search, there seems to be 4 distinct classes on the Noordam. Where you found yourself in the pecking order determines how many hours you work, the number of roommates you have, the food you eat, the amount you are paid, and the respect that you are given.

On the top level are the officers. Since Noordam is a Dutch ship, most of them seem to come from the Netherlands, or Northern Europe at the very least. They tend to carry themselves like Gods, and keep themselves separate from everyone else, including the passengers. They eat the best food and often have their own staterooms. Being at the top of the heap, they of course do not appear at all uncomfortable with the system, and in fact can be quite condescending to those below them.

Next come the passengers. We, of course, are a necessary part of the system because we are the cash cows. In fact, a great deal of time and effort is expended on extracting as much money from us as is humanly possible. Upselling is the order of the day. Of course, we have good rooms, based on what we are willing to pay, and good food, with access to even better food, if we are willing to pay. Many of us are decent and kind and probably work hard for the money that we use to pay for the trip. Others are whiny, complaining, entitled a$$hats who seem to expect to be catered to at every waking moment.

The third level is comprised of members of the staff. Mostly they came from the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. They are in charge of the entertainment and administrative aspects of the cruise. They work hard, but their hours are not as long as those of the crew. They often have one roommate, and get more days off in port. Their food is not as good as ours, but it is tolerable.

And then there is the crew. I really felt sorry for the crew. They are predominantly East Asian, particularly from the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. They often work 10 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end without a day off. Their pay is abysmal, and their food is even worse. They usually share a room with three to five other people. I honestly don’t know how they manage to remain so courteous, other than the fact that there would be dire consequences for them if they did not.

The entire boat seemed to be full of shining happy people. Everyone acted like they loved their jobs and wanted to be there. Everyone said hello as they passed in the halls, and we were made to feel very comfortable and pampered. But every once in a while, cracks would show on the surface. The exhaustion would become evident. Stress would peek through behind the smiles. Sometimes I had to work really hard not to feel sad and uncomfortable.

I overheard one crew member mention that she just found out on that very day that she lost a loved one, but she wouldn’t let the company know because she didn’t want to break her contract and lose her job. That, and she had no way to get home for the funeral anyway. All this while catering to passengers and smiling, smiling, smiling. It broke my heart.

One of the places where the class division was most evident was in the Vista Lounge, the largest entertainment venue aboard. I always enjoyed my experiences there. Comedians, musicians, demonstrators, educators. It was all good. But I’ve always felt as though cruise ship entertainment was a bit too nervous, a bit too slick and over the top. It didn’t occur to me until my Google search that they were being watched and could lose their jobs if they didn’t give it their all, despite any illness or injury they were experiencing. That’s got to make you feel like a puppet on a string.

One night, volunteers from the Filipino members of the crew put on a variety show for us. It was late at night. Their set pieces were made out of plywood and cardboard, as opposed to all the glitzy, high-end productions on other days. And at the end, a few of the cast members had to rush off to get back to work rather than take a final bow and experience our praise and applause for their efforts.

Come on, Holland America. These people were providing your passengers with free entertainment. Couldn’t you pay them and allow them to miss one hour of work? Couldn’t you provide them with a production budget? That, in a nutshell, is how the hierarchy works on these ships. And there’s no justification for it.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved my time aboard the Noordam. I’m glad I did it. I’d recommend it to others. I’ll take away many happy memories from the cruise. I’m sure there were passengers who looked at the entire trip through a different lens. As a matter of fact, I often felt like I was seeing things through two different lenses at the same time. The luxury, the fun, the beauty were there as well. But I still felt the things going on below the surface. That’s just how my brain is wired.

One comedian said it best. “How many officers does it take to change a lightbulb? None. They need a Filipino for that.”

Noordam

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Cultural Traditions

New experiences give us a diverse palette with which to paint our lives.

Recently I kicked off my holiday season by going to Julefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum here in Seattle, Washington. It’s become one of my favorite traditions since I moved out here, because I’m half Danish, and my mother always shared that cultural heritage with us, particularly around Christmastime. I ate my Æbleskiver and I purchased my Juleneg for my yard. If you don’t know what those things are, you aren’t Danish. That’s okay, though. You can learn.

That’s what I love about cultural celebrations. You don’t have to come from that particular culture to enjoy them, but if you do, it adds another layer of pleasure to the experience. The whole day, I felt as though my grandmother were peeking over my shoulder and smiling. I was transported back to childhood and beyond.

I have never even been to Denmark, but all things Danish seem to speak to me. “Here are your roots. Here, you are home.” It’s a warm, comfortable, welcoming feeling that I get nowhere else. The Danish would call that Hygge.

If you have an opportunity to explore your cultural heritage, I highly recommend that you do so. I don’t know how these vibrations get passed down through the generations, but there’s a good chance that you’ll find that things resonate with you. It’s a wonderful feeling. It tells you more about who you are.

This planet is chock full of heritage. That’s what makes travel so exciting. That’s why I welcome immigrants of every stripe. New experiences give us depth and breadth and they open our minds to new possibilities. They broaden our horizons and give us a diverse palette with which to paint our lives.

Experiencing other cultures is not the same as cultural appropriation. That theft comes with mockery and arrogance. Experiencing, on the other hand, is a way to honor our differences. It says, “I don’t know much about you. Please tell me. I want to learn.” I can’t think of anything more valuable than that mindset. Can you?

Æbleskiver
Æbleskiver! Yum!

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Shaping Your Life

When all is said and done, your life will be what you make of it.

Until very recently, I thought of my life as being linear. Birth, growth, death… aren’t we all on that inevitable path? But that makes life sound way too much like a treadmill. (All you’d have to do is look at me once and you’d know that I hate treadmills.)

Now I think of life as being three dimensional. That allows room for a lot more options. It more accurately reflects the diversity of the thousands of lives being lived on this planet. We each shape our lives. We are architects. We are sculptors.

We can be smooth and calm and uniform. We can be rigid and boxy and rough. We can zig and zag and branch off in wild directions. We can embrace. We can repel. We can circle back upon ourselves, or we can shoot forward like an arrow. We can take inspiration from others, or we can set out on our own. We can be steady and solid, or we can wobble unpredictably.

Don’t restrict yourself to a linear life, unless that’s what you truly want in your heart of hearts. Create something beautiful. Only allow others to influence that creation if you can look upon them and see the beauty within. (And don’t forget to thank those who help you shape your life in a positive way.)

When all is said and done, your life will be what you make of it. So make it special.

geometric

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Don’t Compare. Contrast!

A lot of women in America (and, I’m sure, in other places as well) are trained from practically birth to compare themselves to others and find themselves wanting. We can’t live up to those photoshopped models in the fashion magazines. How many of us look in the mirror and are unsatisfied with what we see? I know I am. My thighs are bigger than your thighs. Trust me. I know.

This “training” is such a big part of our culture that I suspect many of us don’t realize we’re doing it. I’m sure, for example, my mother didn’t do it intentionally. But those times that she said she wouldn’t “be seen in public” with me “looking like that” sent me a message, loud and clear. There’s some unwritten standard, and I do not meet it. And I got that message at school, on TV, in magazines, in music, from every man and boy who crossed my path, ad nauseum.

If you ask women to name someone they know who is thinner, or smarter, or prettier, or more popular, or taller, or shorter, or better in any way than they are, those women, if typical, will be able to answer you with very little hesitation. It’s sad that we all carry that baggage around with us. It’s tragic. There’s a reason that 90 percent of all people with anorexia or bulimia are female.

There’s also a reason why this culture persists. It’s convenient for retailers. It keeps us buying shoes and clothes and make up and shampoo. And it’s convenient for men. If we weren’t weighed down with all this comparison foolishness, our confidence would soar and we’d rule the world. We can’t have that, now, can we? Oh my goodness, no.

Let’s all concede that no two people are alike. Everyone will be more or less of this or that than the person standing next to them. Personally, I’m thrilled at the diversity in the world. I think we need to start thinking of contrasts instead of comparisons. It would be ever so much healthier if we got into the habit of acknowledging each other’s strengths and capitalizing on them.

For example, I have one friend that I go to for advice on publishing books, and another who is my style guru. A third can tell me everything I need to know about home remodeling and repair, and a fourth is an expert on the environment. And these people, I’m sure, come to me when they need input about matters that are more in my field of expertise. Together we are a formidable, amazing force in this world. And no two of us look alike. No two of us are alike.

As the meme below indicates, we may not all be identical, but we’re all awesome!

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Why I Say Happy Holidays

I like chestnuts at this time of year, but this particular chestnut is getting old. I’m referring to the annual debate about whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Here’s why I think the answer is clear.

When I say Happy Holidays, I am wishing you a Merry Christmas. I’m also wishing your neighbor a Happy Chanukah, a Good Festivus, a Lovely Winter Solstice, a Happy Kwanzaa, a Joyful Yule, etc. I do this because I love all my diverse friends, every single one, and I want them all to be happy. I wish them all well. Is that really so terrible?

By saying Happy Holidays, I’m not disparaging your beliefs or the holiday you choose to celebrate. I’m not saying Christmas is evil or your religion needs to be abolished. If anything, I think Jesus would be all about spreading the love and including as many people in that love as possible. By saying Happy Holidays, I’m showing my dedication to peace on earth, good will toward Men. All of them. Every last one.

I genuinely believe that the majority of people who say Merry Christmas don’t mean any harm. I think their wishes come from a good place and are sincere. Well wishes from an open heart are always welcome by me. In fact, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, that’s the only time I’m perfectly comfortable responding in kind. Because their stance is already established. We are fellow celebrants, so there’s no risk of discomfiture or offense. So, Merry Christmas to you, too!

On the other hand, by insisting everyone say Merry Christmas, you are sending a very different message. You’re saying, “If you’re not Christian, that’s your problem. I don’t have to take you into consideration. My holiday is the only right holiday. You are wrong for not complying.” You are also assuming that every person does, or should, think and behave exactly like you. You are taking the entire month of December hostage, and making it awkward for anyone else to celebrate anything else. You are excluding people.

Why wouldn’t you want to open your arms and your heart wider? Wasn’t that Jesus’ central message, after all? You are turning this into a debate that’s so contrary to the holiday spirit that it makes me want to spit out my egg nog, throw up my hands and forget the whole thing.

So, um… Happy Holidays.

peace

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Become an N! (Trust me. You’ll Want To.)

I must confess that I’m terrible at reading other people’s blogs. I tend to be too overwhelmed by writing my own every day. So every once in a while, I’ll go on a guilty binge read.

A few months ago I was doing just that, with one of my favorite blogs, This Labyrinth I Roam, written by my friend Anju. I love her perspective on life. I also love that her world has been completely different than my own. Even though her labyrinth has only intersected with mine in cyberspace, we have a connection. I hope we get to meet face to face someday.

After reading, oh, a couple years’ worth of her blog entries, several jumped out at me. They had to do with a project called N-N-1. She and a blogger friend of hers, Norm, who writes a blog with the delightful name of Classical Gasbag, thought it would be interesting to see what people all over the world were doing/seeing/experiencing at the same point in time. As Norm explained recently, in N-N-1 the first N stands for the number of participants, the second for the number of photos (they should be the same), and the 1 stands for one time.

The plan was that they’d pick a moment, and each would snap a picture at that time, and then do a 50-100 word write up about it. It could be prose or poetry. Whatever the photo inspired in each photographer. Then they’d send that to the host, who would compile it into a blog entry. Here’s a link to a recent one hosted by Norm.)

It turns out that this project is incredibly revealing. It shows how diverse our lives can be. It shows different landscapes, different activities, and different perspectives. These blog posts always leave me feeling really great about the world. We got this, people. Because we all have our unique ways of existing, that diversity leads to strength.

So far, so good. But since they really did have participants all over the world, picking the same time became a bit problematic. 6 p.m my time would be 2 a.m. for folks in Europe, for example, so it tended to hinder a lot of people who would otherwise be up for the challenge. Eventually, they decided to regulate it to each individual’s time zone.

So, long story short, I’ve volunteered to host the next one. And I’ve chosen 6 p.m. (your time zone) on October 31st to be the pivotal moment. I figured that would yield some interesting Autumn or Halloween pics from those of us who had those experiences and chose to focus on them, and even more absolutely-nothing-to-do-with Autumn or Halloween pictures from people in other parts of the world. Fascinating.

So, would you like to participate? If so, contact me using the form below, and mark your calendar for October 31 at 6 p.m. Then send me the photo and the write up by no later than 6 p.m. your time on November 7th. I’ll compile them all into an interesting blog post and send you the link. Anyone can participate. You don’t have to have a blog. (But if you do, send me a link to it as well, and I’ll give it a plug in the post. It’s a great way to increase your readership!)

Also, feel free to share this invite with other friends who might want to play, too! The more far flung, the better! This is going to be fun! Join us!

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