Hate Speech: Liberal Style

“All Republicans should die.”

That’s what a liberal friend said to me at lunch a few weeks ago. It gives one pause, doesn’t it? Well, at least I hope it does, whether you’re liberal, conservative, in between or above or below.

I’ve been hearing a lot of such sentiments from my many liberal friends. (Mind you, I’m a liberal myself, which is why I have so many liberal friends.)

I am of an age where I think of the Democrats and the liberals as the party of love. But over the last two years in particular, it’s gotten to a point where politics are off limits in many of my friendships. It’s a rabbit hole of negativity.

I am particularly concerned when people my friends use broad terms, like “all Republicans.” Like assuming that every asshole on the road is a Republican (I know several liberals who are bad drivers and one that might qualify as an asshole—on the road, I mean). It’s the sweeping nature of the condemnation that bothers me.

Republicans, like Democrats, come in all sizes, shapes and colors. I happen to have some Republicans that I respect in my life. My father is one of them (even though he’s dead now). He was super conservative and I was radically liberal, but we always managed to find common ground (sometimes with difficulty, and most often in the realm of economics). And I learned some of the things about why he was conservative (e.g., a small-business owner dealing with one-size-fits-all government regulations) and that has helped me to understand conservatives in a small way.

Which is to say, they are not all alike. I expect there are as many reasons for being conservative as there are for being liberal.

And for this reason, I suspect that liberals and conservatives might have a lot more in common on a lot of issues than they realize. We box each other into categories and demonize the worst in each other. So easy to do, and almost expected. A knee-jerk reaction.

A potential remedy: The next time you’re in a situation with someone on the opposite side of the political fence, spend some time finding what you have in common. It might not be as hard as you think. Talk about books or health care. Or maybe the number of people in prison. Or the price of soybeans.

Just…talk.

A Basket of Happiness

It is not so very often I start out loving a book. I started to love this book before I even got to page 1. In the introduction to Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, Kathleen Dean Moore writes:

This book moves from gladness to sorrow, as life often does, and climbs through what might be prayer or a kind of stillness, to restored meaning and hope, to peace, maybe even to celebration and the courage to be glad again.

I had set out to write a different book. I had begun to write about happiness.”

I have moved past the first part of the book, Gladness, and am now immersed in Solace. Yet a part of the gladness holds on: Moore’s concept of the happy basket.

It started as an experiment. She decided to start keeping notes of when she found herself extremely happy, “happy in that deep-down, exhaling, head-back way.” She decided to keep a basket—the happy basket—to collect these notes of what she was doing at the time she experienced these deep happy moments. The experiment was to last a year, but she cheated after about 8 months and looked. Here were some of her happy moments:

Rain, after no rain. And company for dinner, after a long time without seeing friends.

Phone message from Erin. Nothing to say, really, but she sounded content. She had a good day. I could tell by her voice she was healthy. This makes a mother glad.

Frank and I held hands in bed last night, as we often do. We lay on our backs and held hands. This makes me happy, feeling the warmth and strength of him beside me.

Walking fast in the morning, down the path to the bridge.

A patch of sun and a glass of wine after work.

She wanted to analyze the happy moments—look for patterns, possible trends. What she found was that “Almost all the happy moments take place in a pause, a slowing down from job and routine.” She also found that happiness isn’t really the opposite of sadness—she found an odd relationship between sadness and happiness, but not necessarily oppositional. She wonders “if the opposite of happiness might be something else—meaninglessness, maybe, or emptiness.” I find that worth a good ponder.

I love the concept of tracking happy moments, and I know exactly those moments of which she speaks. My description would be somewhat different: You are filled with a sense of exuberance, of awe—wonder at the universe, at nature, at your wonderful luck in life.

So I decided to do the happy basket thing, but it took several days before I had one of those truly happy moments (I feared that the basket would be empty at the end of the year, but my fears were for naught). I had one of those moments yesterday. I wrote it down, along with the date and time, on a scrap of paper. Today, I found a basket to use and a place to set it. And now there are two scraps of paper in the basket.

Can you possibly not want to do it? I am going into the project assuming that almost all my happy moments will be in nature. Based on my two measly current scraps, however, I’m thinking “almost all” might be overstated. But, the data are young and the basket is large, and I am going to the end of the year.

Do you really know what makes you happy? Do you want to find out, or at least get a clue?

And really, why not? Like a gratitude journal, a happiness basket can do no harm. And even though it would be cheating, if you’re partway through the year and hit a rough spot, reading a few scraps from the basket might give you an insight, or at least a lift.

Maybe. I don’t know. I just started today. I think I know a few things about myself. But I think this fun and easy project might teach me a lot about myself that I don’t realize.

And who couldn’t use a little more happiness in their life?

Baby Birds, Butterflies, and DIY Bug Spray

gray_catbird_3I took a break while mowing this morning to pick up some sticks in the backyard. I went to throw them on the brush pile, and a small fluttering something on the ground caught my eye. A baby bird! At first I thought it might be a thrush, but then I saw its tail and I wondered if it might be a baby catbird. As if to confirm my suspicion, an adult catbird landed on a lilac branch about two feet away from me. With my attention diverted, the baby scurried away.

I scurried away too. I got a glass of iced tea and sat in the breeze to enjoy the backyard—mess that it is—for awhile. While I sat there the adult baltimore_oriole_6catbird returned, hanging around the smaller birdbath that it seems to favor. I saw a little movement back behind the lilacs, but didn’t espy the baby catbird again. I did see a female Baltimore Oriole, perhaps come to feed on the red-twig dogwood berries.

When I did resume mowing, I gave all areas near the dogwoods and lilacs a fairly wide birth. I didn’t want to take any chances; I like having catbirds in my backyard. They first showed up a few years ago, and each summer since, I’ve seen them more often. This summer I have seen them almost daily, both in the front yard in the ornamental lilac tree, as well as the back at the birdbath, on the fence, the high wires, and in the dogwoods. And the calls! Even when I can’t see them I often hear them. But this is the first year I’ve known they are nesting so close. I am exceptionally pleased to be hosting a catbird family!

The catbird wasn’t the first young bird that I’ve seen in the yard this year. A few days ago there was a fledging blue jay (with attendant parents) in the crabapple tree (mostly). Holy cow were they loud! Earlier a flock had (slowly) passed through—screaming and calling and laughing. I couldn’t tell if there were 20 or 50. A lot if them, though, prancing around among the leaves and branches near the tops of the trees. I couldn’t read. I could only watch them.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a fledging cardinal, also in the crabapple tree, also with both parents. (If you see cardinals and you wonder, you can tell the youngsters by their black beaks. The adults have bright orange bills.) If ever I have thought of chopping down the crabapple tree (and I have, because the squirrels use it as freeway central to my roof), I am loathe to do so after these fine, mesmerizing moments.

On another matter, while mowing the front this morning, some kind of nasty bugs kept landing on me and biting, hard! Always where I couldn’t see them. I finally ran into the house and grabbed my homemade bug spray (I had only tried it once before) and sprayed me, my clothes, and my cap. I had no more trouble with bugs. Maybe these particular nasty bugs just went away, or maybe it was the spray. I will continue testing. If you want to test for yourself, the recipe is below. It takes a couple of weeks for the herbs to infuse, but it’s still July, and at least in Minnesota, that leaves at least two months of biting bugs.

DIY Bug Spray

Take one large handful lemon balm, and a large pinch each of basil, thyme, and catnip. Chop fine (or tear up the leaves by hand—this is my preference), put in a jar, and cover (plus 2 inches) with witch hazel. (Witch hazel can be found in most grocery stores, co-ops, and pharmacies.) Put in a cool dark place (or at least a dark place—I use the linen closet) for two weeks, shaking daily. 

To use, strain the herbs using a fine mesh strainer (or cheesecloth). Then add enough water to the herbed witch hazel so the volume increases by half (e.g., if you have 2/3 cups witch hazel, add 1/3 cup water; if you have 1 cup witch hazel, add 1/2 cup water). Now add a few drops of essential oils: citronella, basil, lemongrass, thyme, peppermint, eucalyptus, clove. I didn’t have many of these, and added only citronella, lemongrass, and peppermint. It seems to be working. Play around with the oils, depending on what you have and your preferences.

Store in a glass bottle and spritz away!

great-spangled-fritillaryAs for the butterfly, that was a gift while I was sitting and drinking iced tea, waiting for the baby catbird to escape deep into the dogwoods. (Doesn’t it sound like I have a huge yard? It’s a tiny city lot.) It rather zipped through the backyard (the butterfly, not the baby catbird), not the dallying kind of butterfly I’m used to with my monarchs. Something in me said fritillary. And after looking in my books and talking to my butterfly friend, I’m pretty sure it was a great spangled fritillary.

Really, life doesn’t get much better than this.

April Reprise

April was a most excellent month. Longer, warmer days, forsythia, migrating and returning birds, and new things to see every day. I also did a lot of reading in April (21 books), mostly nonfiction (9) and poetry (8). The reading theme for April was spirituality/religion, a hugely broad theme when you apply it to titles of books. For example, here are the nonfiction books I read:

  • Tap Dancing in Zen, Geri Larkin
  • Letter to a Priest, Simone Weil
  • Seeds From a Birch Tree, Clark Strand
  • Simple Truths, Kent Nerburn
  • The Fragrance of God, Vigen Guroian
  • Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams
  • The 7 Lively Sins, Karen Salmansohn

The two standouts here were Tap Dancing in Zen (which will require its own post on truth telling, among other things), and Finding Beauty in a Broken World (which I’ve already written about).

The subjective input as to what constitutes a spiritual title allowed me pretty free range with the poetry. Here’s what I ended up reading:

  • In Quiet Light, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
  • God’s Loud Hand, Kelly Cherry
  • Just This, Margaret Chula
  • Sleeping Preacher, Julia Kasdorf
  • Cold Angel of Mercy, Amy Randolph
  • Easter Sunday, Tom Clark
  • Pure Pagan, Burton Raffel (ed.)
  • A Silence Opens, Amy Clampitt

This is what I love about the reading theme: Since it involves primarily the title rather than the content of the book (though that is my own personal parameter, and I sometimes eschew it), you can often go far beyond what you might think of as suitable titles.

Only two of the four fiction books I read fell under the theme: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman; and Personal Demons, by Stacia Kane. It was not a strong fiction month. Enough about books.

After a bit of a hiatus, I’ve recently gotten back into my herbal work. I think it all started when I planted the chamomile seeds outside in the middle of April. (They are sprouting now.) And then I ran out of my ginger-chamomile-clove-black peppercorn salve (which is good for sore muscles), and that was the trigger. I’m planning on making a couple more, including one based on thyme which I’ve only recently come to appreciate. It’s nice to be back in the herb groove again. In the garden, sage and feverfew are returning, along with comfrey and St. John’s Wort.

As for birding, I try to remember to bring binoculars with me pretty much everywhere at this time of year. I added 48 birds to my year list in April (which more than doubled it). I added one bird to my lifelist (Ross’s Goose), and one bird to my yard list (Brown Thrasher—it hung around for the longest time; I was absolutely thrilled). A few other fun birds and date first seen:

  • 4-1: Great Egret
  • 4-4: Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • 4-9: Common Loon
  • 4-10: Hermit Thrush
  • 4-14: Black-Crowned Night Heron
  • 4-23: Horned Grebe
  • 4-30: Wild Turkey

With the exception of the Yellow-Headed Blackbird, all were seen in Minneapolis. I love this city.

I had a bit of a breakthrough with the clarinet. I was getting quite discouraged when I couldn’t get the lowest keys on scale. What I remembered in my fingers (I’m relearning since high school) didn’t match what I was reading in the lesson book or hearing. What was I doing wrong? What wasn’t I getting? Was it broken? Why is this key so floppy?

I couldn’t figure it out.

And then, days later. Maybe after I felt guilty about ignoring it too long, I should at least put it away in its case. But look, what’s this? This small little wire here, sticking out. That doesn’t seem like it should stick out like that. What IS this? I have never noticed it and the wire doesn’t seem right, but there was a little place that looked like the perfect home where it would snug-in, so I tried it and the clarinet was fixed!

I was exceptionally pleased. Such a small thing.

Such a lovely month. But I did miss the April showers.

Mother Earth

mags2One of the things I’ve paid serious attention to in my reduced financial circumstances is magazine subscriptions. In my times I’ve subscribed to a lot of magazines—as many as 20 at once. Note, I rarely subscribe to weekly magazines (although Time, Newsweek, The Economist, and The Week have all had their moment in the sun). But monthly and quarterly magazines also pile up, and so do the costs.

And the waste. Sooner or later, I get to the point where I realize I either need to get rid of these unread magazines or become a hoarder. I’ve always the best of intentions when I subscribe, but with all the competition (i.e., books), the magazines tend to pile up. But I have always (at least in the past) been a sucker for a really good deal, so I will sign up for a year of The Atlantic or National Geographic for $10. Never mind that I never fully read even one single issue. And I’ve done it more than once.

So I have whittled my subscriptions down to two: Orion and Mother Earth Living. One for the earth, and one to help me step more lightly on the earth. I’ve just finished the March/April issue of Mother Earth Living (a good thing since I just got the May/June issue in the mail). I always learn something new with this magazine, but the March/April issue was particularly rich. To wit:

I learned that room deodorizers often contain formaldehyde (most especially spray and wick deodorizers). Ugh. Who wants to spray the living room (or kitchen!) with formaldehyde? So easy to make your own: water and a few drops of an appealing essential oil—thyme, tea tree, and oregano are suggested in the article. I have found I love a room freshener with several drops of sweet birch essential oil. I also add a bit of vodka because it mediates the oil and water. I didn’t invent it, I found it on the internet. Here’s a good example of a recipe and ideas for DIY natural air fresheners.

Mother Earth Living often suggests various uses for common household products. This time they offered 15 uses for coffee grounds. I produce coffee grounds every single day. They go very nicely on the compost bin, but I found these other surprising uses for them:

  • Refrigerator: A jar of open coffee grounds in the back of the refrigerator works as well as a box of baking soda.
  • Onion hands: When your hands reek of onion (or garlic or any other strong thing), rub them with coffee grounds. This will absorb the odor. I’ve tried this and it works!
  • Clean and de-stink garbage disposal: A teaspoon of coffee grounds and baking soda will clean the blades and clear out lingering smells.
  • Blueberry plants: Coffee grounds are acidic and very happy-making for acid-loving plants such as blueberries, tomatoes, roses, and hydrangeas. (I highlighted blueberries because I just got mine last year and that’s where I’ve been focusing my efforts. My hydrangeas seem to be doing quite well. But maybe I’ll give a few rounds to my poor struggling rose bush.)
  • Seed starter: Really? Yes! Coffee grounds help release nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus into the soil which is great for seedlings. (Keeping this for future use as I’m still abysmal at starting seeds. Oh, wait—chamomile seeds! Yes, I have just done it.)

I learned that you should plant shallots in early spring for a late summer harvest. I have missed that boat. I also learned more about German Chamomile (those would be the seeds I just put the morning’s coffee coffee grounds on), yarrow, and lemon balm.

containerAlso, here are some things you can grow in a one-gallon container: basil, parsley, marigold, chives, lettuce, and nasturtium. If you have five gallons of space you can go for tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. Things that do well in planter boxes: pole beans, peas, Swiss chard, arugula, parsley, chives, kale, lettuce, basil. I am hoping to try at least two new things in each category this year. I’ve never tried growing vegetables in my planter boxes!

A final note. The editorial to this issue discusses intrinsic goals (e.g., personal growth, close relationships, contributing to community) and extrinsic goals (e.g., making a lot of money, possessions, status).

Dozens of studies show that the more people prioritize intrinsic goals relative to extrinsic, the more they feel alive and vital, and the more likely they are to experience pleasant emotions: In essence, they are happier. Those who focus their lives on intrinsic goals are also more likely to be helpful, prosocial and more concerned with ecological sustainability.”

Wow, it’s snowing again.