Thursday, April 26, 2007

Adventures of Ella

This post will be written in the "voice" of my dog Ella, pictured above. We adopted Ella last July 4th weekend and I have developed this habit of "speaking" for her so I thought I would write for her. Isn't she the cutest?
Adventures of Ella
by Ella T. Dog

Spring has sprung and my pet humans have been taking me on a lot of different adventures to the city, the mountains, the beach, and all sorts of other places. This past winter, I went on all kinds of snow adventures in the mountains with my pet humans. They had to wear funny shaped huge shoes to walk in the snow. These springtime adventures are special because last spring I didn't have any pet humans. That's me, in the picture to the left, at canine-american activism day at the VT statehouse. Some of the humans will tell you that this event was part of nation-wide effort called step-it-up to bring attention to the issue of global warming, but us pooches had our own little meeitng. The issues discussed were licking rights, protection of land, and of course the whole human dilemma.

We also went on this thing called "vacation" to Maine. Humans have these things called jobs that get in the way of them going on adventures whenever they want. Poor humans. When we got to Maine, the sign said, "Maine...the way life is supposed to be." I was a little offended because I really like Vermont and I have a philosophy that I have developed that life is not "supposed to be" anything and you are not "supposed to be" anywhere." OK, enough with my deep thoughts. Back to my adventure in Maine. First, we went to this huge city called Portland. We stayed in a big building called a hotel. There were way too many two-leggers there. The best thing about the hotel was the gigantic bed that me and my pet humans could all fit on very comfortably. I didn't get kicked at all. I walked all over the city and smelled thousands of dogs. The picture to the left is me hanging out in front of a coffee shop with Robb (isn't he handsome?) enjoying the sun and looking cool. The bad part about the city was I couldn't figure out where to go to the bathroom because there was hardly any grass. Sorry to be so frank, but this is an important issue and I feel the need to share my dilemma.

After we left Portland, we went in the mobile dog bed and we ended up at the ocean. I've been to the ocean before, but since we live in the mountains I'm not used to it and it was very exciting. I ran around like a wild woman and drank some extremely salty water (note: Do not drink salt water. It looks pretty, but it makes you sick) As you can see from this picture, I can run extremely fast and my pet humans can almost never catch me once I get going. You have to let them catch you every now and again, just so they keep trying. It's this whole ego thing that humans have going on.

Well, that's all for now. I hope all you pooches and pet humans are enjoying springtime. Summer is just around the corner and you know what the means... more adventures. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Flowers in the Mud

I had about 5 different ideas for what I wanted to write about over the past several days, but the horrific events at Viriginia Tech today have muddied my mind and heart. I first saw the news on-line this morning that 2 students had been killed by a gunman in a dorm at Virginia Tech. My heart sunk at the thought of another innocent young life. Then, this afternoon I read that, more than 30 people had been killed by a gunman on the Virginia Tech campus. Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that a country that has spent the last 4 years "fighting terrorism" by sacrificing over 3,000 young Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilinans, is now facing a surge in violence at home.
The weather today seemed to match the news; the late spring snow that fell yesterday was melted by a heavy rain. The snow covered ground began to turn into a muddy mess. It often seems like the earth/weather are reflecting what is going on in my own life. Perhaps it is just that nature offers metaphors for every kind of human emotion and we just notice the metaphors in nature that match our current mood or thoughts. The shootings at Virginia Tech left me with a heavy and unformed sadness that is comprable to the mud that comes after a late spring nor'easter. The thing about spring mud is that flowers always follow. So, out of this mud, both human and natural, come flowers. It is my hope that instead of just a media blitz of horror, the massacre at Virginia tech, will bring some positive changes, that will lead to a more peaceful world. For now, my thoughts are with the families and friends who lost loved ones to this senseless violence. It is our responsibility to plant flowers of peace in their place.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Weaving in Loose Ends

Weaving in loose ends. That's what I have been up to lately, both literally and metaphorically. I finally finished my mom's Christmas present (Christmas 2006). While I still need to block it, but everything else is done. It is "The Kimono Vest" from Cabin Fever. I used Cascade 220 for the main color and Berocco Trilogy for the contrasting color.This is largely due to a very patient and determined knitting mentor, Bridgette from the knitting studio, who I hung out with for about 3 hours yesterday at the store while I finished the vest. She said I wasn't allowed to leave until I finished and she meant. When I said I was hungry, she just told me to eat some of their snacks. When I got frustrated, she reminded me to sit back down and finish so that I wouldn't have to pull this vest out of the bottom of my bag anymore. Having been a fifth grade teacher who has forced (encouraged) many students to finish projects that they wanted to abandon, I feel like I got a taste of my own medicine. Since she had to wait 3 1/2 months for her finished Christmas present, I think she deserves a matching purple top to wear underneath.
Now that I have completed the "Christmas" vest, there are plenty of other pieces of loose yarn hanging out in my bag of knitting tricks. I did start working on the second sock made of the Cherry Tree Hill and Louet Gems I posted earlier. I would have turned the heel, but my #3 dpn's are occupied with a basic brown and red sock of Louet Gems that I started for Robb. Robb's sock is pictured to the left. For those of you second sock cynics out there who think I didn't post a picture of the aforementioned second sock because I didn't really start it, I am going to post the completed pair later this week.

In addition to loose ends of yarn, there seem to be a few other loose ends out in the world. For one, Winter is a very loose end here in Vermont, that I would like to bind off. We got at least six inches of wet, heavy spring snow today. While I am not usually a complainer about the weather, I have had enough of the white stuff and am ready for the green chlorophyll decorations that spring usually offers.

There also seem to be some loose ends in Washington D.C. world of cyberspace. It seems that those responsible for the firing of U.S. attorneys have lost the e-mails that were related to this matter. While, guess what, Uncle Sam, I think I accidentally lost all the records that show the income I earned this year. Oops. I hope they will be as lenient and forgiving with me as they are of the Bush administration.
That's all for now. I hope that next time I write it is about planting seeds and prancing around barefoot on the green grass.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Morality: Shopping Spree or Daily Investment

It being the week of Passover and Easter, I have noticed an unusual number of bloggers that do not traditionally reference their religion, reflecting on this high traffic week of religious traditions. Before I offend anyone, I would just like to preface this post by letting you know that since I am the product of a minister (mom ) and rabbi (dad), I have decided that I have some level of diplomatic immunity on this topic.

I imagine, having made this comment about my parent’s religious background at other social gatherings, that a few ears may have perked up. So, let me explain. I had a rather confusing religious upbringing. My mother and father met when my mother was at Union Theological Seminary studying to be a minister and my father was at Jewish Theological Seminary studying to be a rabbi. They had a class together. I think it was Hebrew. Anyway, my mom ended up converting to Judaism for my father, but she tells me that she never felt Jewish. When I was 3, they separated, and my mom did not continue to follow the Jewish tradition, but looked for a community in which my sister and I could learn about both traditions. So, she found the Unitarian Church and that seemed to make sense to her. Then, my father went to court to make sure that I was raised Jewish (I know, I don’t understand how the whole separation of church and state allowed for such a trial). The court ordered that I should be raised Jewish, but be raised by my mom in a Unitarian home. To make a long story short, I was raised Jewish in the sense that I went to Hebrew School and had a Bat Mitzvah, but I also celebrated Christmas and other Christian holidays with my mom and her family. My father is no longer alive and my mom is a Unitarian minister. The story is even more complicated, but that gives you some clue about why I might have some mixed emotions about the whole religion thing.

So, in terms of Passover and Easter, there is always an unusually high number of people who seem to suddenly decide to become observant Christians or Jews this week. When we walked to breakfast this morning, the streets were bustling with church-goers. Since we go to breakfast almost every Sunday morning, the markedly higher number of churchgoers this morning was very apparent. My major issue with this sudden rise in religious observance a few days a year is that I am concerned that some people feel that by going to church or synagogue on a couple of “important” holidays every year, they do not have to abide by any moral code during the rest of the year. I know that, for some, religion is a way to strengthen their daily moral efforts and integrity; it allows them to make the effort to be a good human being on a daily basis. The “important holiday” type of religious observance is what I will call “shopping spree” morality (kind of an oxymoron). Unfortunately (or fortunately) religion is not like going clothes shopping. You can go to the store and buy all (or most) of the clothes you need for the season in one trip. I do not believe this is the case for morality. I think being a compassionate and moral human being takes “daily investment”.

Just to clarify, I do not think you have to go to church or synagogue every week to live a moral life. In my opinion, I do not think you ever have to go to church or synagogue to demonstrate or prove your morality. You just need to make a daily effort to be thoughtful and compassionate towards other living things. That is hard work. It takes discipline and effort. If going to church or synagogue gives someone strength to live their daily life in a moral way, then so be it. If, however, organized religion becomes a way to excuse immoral behavior in daily life, then that becomes what I call, “shopping spree morality.”

One additional clarification, I realize that there are other reasons for participating in organized religion other than for moral guidance or approval. Religion is very connected to family and community traditions, some of which have become almost secular. In a world that is obsessed with individualism and progress, religion does offer many the comfort of community and tradition.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring has Sprung...Kind of

April in Vermont is technically spring, according to the calender, but you are just likely to be shoveling as you are gardening. A couple days ago, I looked at the flower bed in front of my house and there was no snow. Images of purple pansies and yellow tulips came into my mind as I began to imagine the possibilities of an earth warm enough to support flowers. Yesterday, snow began to fall and my flowerbed (see picture to left) became a repository for snow instead of a vacant plot of earth just waiting to support a menagerie of flowers. I have spent enough winters in Vermont to know better than to think that the snow would be over after March 21st, but being the optimist that I am I fell hard for the beutiful spring-like weather last weekend. To my defense, this is my first spring living back in Vermont in eight years and it is easy to forget about April (and sometimes even May) snowstorms. When I woke up this morning, there was at least six inches of fluffy snow and our yard looked more like a winter wonderland than a potential garden. People like to complain about the weather, especially when there is snow in April, but if you step back and try to forget for a couple of days that it is "supposed to be spring," you can actually enjoy the beauty of a spring snow followed by a relatively mild day. As Bob Dylan's song says, "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows".
Plus, when there's still snow on the ground, it puts me in the mood for fiber fun. I am half-way through my second pair of socks. Since my first pair was worsted weight and I used #5 needles. I decided to do this pair in sport weigh with size 3 needles. I mean, who needs worsted weight socks in April. It's spring! The toe is Louet Gems and the rest of the sock is Cherry Tree Hill Supersock. Oh, that sock makes my heart pitter patter. I think I'm in love.

Speaking of beautiful sock yarn, I recently acquired this beautiful skein of wonderous wool from Pippi. What's even better is I got to purchase it in person. Pippi and I, as you may be able to tell from the similarity of the landscape and weather in my picture and the picture in Pippi's April 5th post (today) we are neighbors. Well, not exactly neighbors, but in Vermont I think ten miles apart still constitutes neighbors. She came to knitting night at the Knitting Studio, which is actually a secret meeting of the Central Vermont Society of Anarchists (Shhh...Don't Tell). The colors in Jammin' are even more beautiful in person. Until the tulips decide to pop up, I think I will just meditate on the greens, purples, reds, and yellows in this yummy yarn. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, the colors will start to appear in nature, too.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Nation Behind Bars

I “opened up” the on-line version of the Burlington Free Press this morning to see an article about the huge disparity between what Vermont is spending on higher education versus “corrections”. It turns out far more of Vermonters’ tax dollars are going towards supporting incarceration than higher education. If individuals who committed crimes actually had the opportunity to recover and become productive members of society through the tax dollars spent on corrections, this use of public funds would not be so frustrating to me. There have been some very innovative and successful educational initiatives in prisons that have allowed individuals who have committed a crime, but are no longer a danger to society, to re-enter their communities successfully after incarceration. An article in Education Update from May 2005 entitled Prison College Programs Unlock the Keys to Human Potential explains the successes of some of the educational programs in America’s prisons. It also explains the cost efficiency of education relative to incarceration and how America is moving away from the rehabilitation model to a justice system that focusing on retaliation and “getting even” with criminals.

Statistics have indicated that the cost of keeping a prisoner in prison for one year exceeds the cost of educating prisoners for one year by a 10 to 1 ratio. Despite the obvious advantages, the movements away from prison reforms that educate and rehabilitate have been cut severely in the past ten years. The concept of prison reform has been replaced by policies that are punitive and in favor of permanent incarceration.

Here is another example that supports that wonderful quotation, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. Why is our prison population exploding? What is this relationship between the rising cost of the “corrections’ system and the inaccessibility of higher education to low and middle income citizens?

Let’s look at a possible scenario of a 22-year old from a low-income family who graduated from high school, but could not afford to go to college. What are the career possibilities for a young adult with no college education in Vermont? Many of the blue-collar jobs that were available 50 or even 15 years ago have moved overseas because of the cost of labor in America compared to China, Honduras, Sri Lanka, or other nations where the cost of living is considerably lower and the labor laws are considerably less rigid. So, what jobs are left for those individuals without a college degree. There are seasonal jobs based on the tourist industry or retail positions, which have a very low wage scale and usually no health benefits. So, here is this 22-year old, a member of Vermont’s “next generation” who is working multiple jobs to try to become independent, but still can’t make ends meet. Along comes an opportunity for a chance to get some “real” money through stealing or selling drugs. This life of crime might actually mean that they could have a “livable wage”. If they end up in prison, at least they will have health insurance. So, who can blame this young adult who was unable to pursue higher education or find a job as a skilled laborer for turning to crime. Compared to the life of a minimum wage worker, prison might actually not seem like a bad option. Perhaps this is why the following alarming set of statistics that I found on the Real Cost of Prisons Project website is the brutal reality of America today.

By the end of 2001, one in every 37 adults in the U.S. has either done time in a prison or were incarcerated in a state or federal prison. If current incarceration rates hold, 6% of all Americans, 11% of all men, 17% of Hispanic men and 32% of all African American men born in 2001 are likely to end up in prison at some point in their lifetime.

So, how do we end this trend of escalating prison populations and “corrections” costs? Education, education, education. First, higher education needs to be affordable all of those who are qualified and interested. Second, there needs to be more opportunity for skilled labor for those who prefer not to pursue higher education. These are preventative measures. If they do not work and an individual winds up incarcerated, unless they are a real danger to society, there needs to be a model of restorative justice that offers those who are incarcerated training and/or education so that when they do re-enter a community, they are able to be successful.