Camping

Saving the Environment to Save Ourselves

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Earth Resting Atop a Leaf --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis There are so many changes communities could do to be more pro-active in protecting their ecosystems. Some communities have started this process slowly. Everyone understands it should be a priority but getting the money to peruse it is always difficult. I began to do some research on what some options are and things a few cities are doing now. In examining large and mid-size urban cities I have located environmental areas that are at risk of becoming damaged beyond repair. These risk areas are biological habitats, clean air and water pollution. A city’s rapid growth and continuing urban sprawl is currently endangering indigenous plants and animals. However I feel with implementation of the recommendations I have found any city will see a substantial improvement on their ecosystem and a lighter footprint on the environment as a whole.

Regarding  air quality – City buses and large construction equipment owned by the Department of Transportation need upgrading to newer engines or equipped with emission control devices such as idle reduction technology. Cross country locomotives going through communities can also be retrofitted to cut down on the mission pollution. This is a big concern since a major train yard often sits right in the middle of a highly populated area. Idling diesel engines not only omit harmful pollutants but waste fuel and cause engines to wear.

Promote transportation choices – Cars as transportation options are slow, dangerous and frustrating especially when you’re in the middle of a big city gridlock. They are also a huge user of oil. Taxpayers cover the load of road maintenance and constructions of new roads. Moving people by bus, train, bicycles or on foot is more efficient and kinder to the environment. These options are under used because communities are not actively diverting funds like the gas tax from road construction to Greenway construction. If it’s inconvenient most people will not use it. Working with your local park board to design and maintain a bicycle pedestrian trails that crisscrosses the city will encourage people to use them. It is also recommended that City Council consider a fund or pursue grants as a way to keep these trails and public transit terminals safe such as well lighted crosswalks and patrols coordinated by local police. City buses can be fitted with bike racks on the front so riders can take their bike in inclement weather. Employers could offer to pay for bus rides to work and create a more flexible schedule coinciding with the bus schedules. In Manila the Philippines, the Asian Bank is providing $300 million toward a ground breaking project that gives its people a lease to own E – trike. This kind of concept would be a great solution on a smaller scale for the various universities in your city. Parking is always an issue and with 1000+ students using cars it would make a huge difference in greenhouse gases.

Establishing green spaces and urban forestry – Urban forestry and green spaces should be developed and maintained wherever possible to promote a diverse and healthy environment. You could start a committee of interested residents to create an action plan for potential land preservation. They could also develop partnerships with local nonprofits who are engaged in land conservation like the local Park Board or conservation department. Green spaces are important to our health, mentally and ecologically. These green spaces could be intermingled with the Greenway bicycle and pedestrian trails to encourage people to use this as a form of transport.

Fuel-efficient cars – Everyone knows fuel-efficient cars get much better gas mileage but there are also other important environmental advantages such as releasing fewer emissions and carbon dioxide is cut in half. Electric cars are the most fuel-efficient. There are no tailpipes so no omissions can escape. Their motors convert 75% of the chemical energy from the batteries to power the wheels. You can compare that to conventional gasoline powered engines which produce only 20% of the energy stored in gasoline. Carpooling Promoting carpooling is another recommendation that could move your city toward a more eco-friendly community. Studies have shown that the average American car emits 23,600 pounds of CO2 a year. If four people shared rides in one car the emission savings would be three times that amount. The riders are also saving on gas, wear and tear on their car as well as maintenance. Encouraging large manufacturing companies to promote carpooling with their employees could help implement this system. They could offer incentives such as prime parking spaces.

These recommendations are good in theory but difficult to implement. Retrofitting and upgrading the city’s public transportation and heavy machinery will take additional funds or diverting funds from other necessary projects. Urban forestry and green spaces like creating bicycle pedestrian trails also take funds to complete and a lot a promotion to get community buy-in so they will be used. Carpooling has to work on many levels like similar work schedules, riders need to be compatible, the sacrifice of independence of doing errands on the way home and the number of riders needs to stay consistent. And promoting fuel-efficient cars would need funds for marketing plan to justify the initial cost which is more than traditional gas engines. In addition electric cars have no infrastructure built in to refuel electricity across the country yet. Nothing worth having is usually easy but in this case well worth the effort.

It will be a slow progress to turn the environment back to a safe and sustainable world but in the process we are saving ourselves. A look into 50 years from now could see big urban cities decaying from the inside out if a pro-active stance to save their ecosystems were never taken. We need to keep that in mind when voting for and supporting these positive changes. It’s our own humanity we are saving.

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For My Mother

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My sister and I told our Mother we would never put her in a nursing home. That’s what we told her, my sister and me, without a thought about our own job commitments and physical limitations or the fact that Mom might eventually need 24-hour care with her Parkinson diagnosis advancing. Although our intentions were courageous there finally came a day that we had to break that promise even though we fought hard for every option we could scrape up.

So what were we so afraid of that a nursing home would be the very last option? The fears were many and unfortunately all too common. The primary ones were lack of quality care and compassion, neglect, bad food, loss of autonomy and deterioration of her mental health. Like almost all grown children faced with this decision we were somewhat optimistic at first, thinking if we looked hard enough we would be able to find that one nursing home that really cared, and, they would take Medicaid.

Even though I worked in the disability field at the time with experience to the contrary, my hopes were high. We carefully screened three or four skilled nursing facilities and included Mother in all the decision-making. By the time two months had passed we were transferring her into a third one. The nursing homes changed but the problems remained.

This process was wearing on Mother’s normally strong, courageous and happy attitude. I can tell you from experience that even the most aware and extrovert personalities will succumb to the daily chipping away of their self esteem until all that remains is the defeated complaining, and most important, complacent, victim. That is what happened to our Mother and in the end fear resided within her and she begged us not to “stir up” trouble as they make her pay for it later with neglect.

There are circumstances that I feel give way to a propensity for corruption of nursing home services. I have listed these below.

  • A lot of registered nurses, because of inexperience or just plain “burn-out”, are unable to see past the documents they are required to complete to the true priorities in caring for their floor – safety, hydration, and attention to serious medical problems, adequate nutrition and cleanliness. Mainly for cost savings, nurse’s aides fill these important roles while the nurse does the exhausting paperwork. My Mother and many others on her floor seldom saw a nurse even though C-Diff infection continually ran rampant throughout the nursing home.
  • Lack of supervisory staff especially on evening and all night shifts allows thievery and neglect and even abuse.
  • Nursing aides and C.N.A.’s are hired and kept on minimum wages. They are not honored or valued for the compassionate work they do. This leaves an employee pool of mostly inexperienced, undereducated employees that are more often than not in desperate financial crisis. And, as anyone knows desperate people do desperate things.
  • Lack of sensitivity training and communication skills leaves patients and their loved one frustrated and angry.
  • Social Workers for the Nursing Homes are responsible for the entire population of residents.       Almost always they have the education but no hands-on experience as well as no idea how to apply the social work “theories” so neatly addressed in text books to the overwhelming reality of old age. Once again, social workers directly out of school with no experience are less costly for the establishment.
  • A kind of desensitizing effect happens as patients become room numbers and bed numbers.       Being kind or socializing means you might become “attached” and then lose them.

I have been in a few decent nursing homes; however, they did not take Medicaid. And, in the nurse’s defense I think they probably started out caring and ended up in such a governmental paperwork cave-in that they just gave up trying. I really see the focus of the problem being how the money is allocated through reimbursements from both Medicaid and Medicare. Below I have included some ideas that I think would go a long way to solve at least some of the problems.

  • Wage Pass-Through – I was reading about this on the Internet as a way to get the money directly to the people who do most of the work. A certain portion of public Medicaid monies can be passed on directly to nursing assistants. States could look at this policy instead of Medicaid monies going for overhead, misuse and profit first.
  • Minimum staffing laws that are strictly enforced. Training and testing that a new employee must complete before starting. Review testing during six-month reviews.
  • Allow residents to spend time with the facility’s dog or cat for emotional therapy of unconditional love. Non-Medicaid expensive nursing homes do this and it is very therapeutic.       It’s a shame that the no-pet restriction is usually only for poor people.
  • Nursing Home Workers Unions – this is done in some states and the quality of staff and treatment of patients has shown a rise in quality.
  • Put in severe consequences when prosecuting corrupt nursing home corporations that defraud elderly Americans of huge amounts of money that should go to their care.       Let this country take a stand – if you steal money intended for the care of our mothers and fathers, you will go to prison for a long time.
  • All managers and supervisors read the study, “Quality in Long Term Care-What We Can Learn from Nursing Assistants”
  • Take residents for walks or get a tandem bike for those who are able to ride one.       But, most of all get them outside.
  • Put their pictures on their doors (Younger ones too) and who they were, what they did.       Some nursing homes are doing this now.
  • Give nursing assistants a break. Congress should consider changing the Federal Tax Code to include, for example, something like, “If an individual is employed as a direct caregiver and earns fewer than 30K a year, one thousand dollar tax credit is available.
  • Let residents vote on a different “employee of the month” and give that staff a small bonus or gift certificate or time off with pay

These are just some of the ideas I had. I am sure there are many more by frustrated loved ones like me. There has to be a better way than the current “waiting rooms” for death approach. At least now there is an option for aging in place with home care assistants like the programs from Independent Living Centers but still no funding for 24hr care.

My Mother did not have a dignified ending like my sister and I had longed for. She suffered for almost a year with C-Diff infection that half the nursing home had. It causes fever, diarrhea, vomiting and weakness. Mother had lost nearly half her weight from hardly eating and vomiting what she did get down. She sat in her recliner one evening ringing and calling for a staff that never came to help her to the bathroom. Sitting in her own urine all night was more than she could endure. She pushed herself up but before she could safely reach her bed just a foot away, she slipped in her own urine and broke her hip. A day later we were told about it when they decided to take her to the hospital. She had successful hip surgery but chose death anyway and refused food and water rather than life at the nursing home. Three days later she died. They called it “failure to thrive”.

No kidding.

Afterglow

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tractor

Afterglow

My earliest memory of Daddy is watching him plow furrows in our field with an old gray mule named Jack. Jack was not fond of his work and was soon replaced with a little red tractor with huge wheels on the back and a tall metal pipe that puffed smoke as it meandered its way up and down the pasture. I would play happily with my animals while watching his huge tall frame bounce up and down on the metal seat in rhythm with the rumble of the motor.Then the day would come to plant. Everyone in the family helped. I loved this part even though I was always getting scolded for putting too many seeds in one place. It amazed me when the little seedlings began to sprout above the ground. I could always tell exactly which ones were mine.

The afternoons were another favorite time for me. That was when Daddy fed all the animals. As I heard the old wooden screen door squeak, I knew he would be coming down the steps to find me. “Come on Sugar, let’s feed the chickens,”He would say. He would grab the heavy burlap sack like it was a bag of feathers and pour cracked corn into the old gray pail. I would run to open the wooden gate that led to the chicken house and we would holler, “here chick, chick.” The chickens would come running at break neck speed tumbling over each other in order to get there ahead of the rest. Next were the rabbits with their little brown pellet food, then the cats, dogs and finally the pigs. They took longer because he would first cook the pig slop in a huge galvanized wash tub over an open fire. I was never sure what all he put in that big tub except some ingredients I recognized from suppers we had eaten and a lot of corncobs. It smelled pretty good to me so I could understand why the pigs shoved and squealed as he poured the mixture into the long wooden trough.

Daddy and I had a love of animals in common and he let me have all sorts of orphans he would find on the road including five dogs, a dozen or so rabbits and more than a few cats that had kittens faster than the rabbits had bunnies. He taught me how to love them and to honor them as gifts of wonder.

When I was six we left the farm and moved to California. Daddy was one of the union painters that painted Disneyland castle as it was being built. When the job was finished we returned to Mississippi where Daddy worked at what he loved best, hunting and fishing. I would squat down beside him to discuss all kinds of puzzlement’s in my world, which were many, and he would answer each one as he shucked oysters, throwing the meat in a large white bucket and the shells in a pile that looked like a mountain. The fish odor was pungent in the humid air but I didn’t care as long as I got to ask my questions. When he finished he would ice down the buckets and take them to the fish market.

SONY DSC  Sometimes I would get to go to the ocean with him to go “floundering”, as he called it. I would walk slowly beside him in the tide pools carrying the old green kerosene lantern barely above the water as he spotted the flounder and stabbed them with the razor sharp gig. “Don’t kick the sand now Sugar,” he would remind me. I learned the relationship of the moon and tides and what nights were best for fishing. There were always wonders to behold on these “flounder nights” like jellyfish, man-o-war, alligator gars washed up on shore, crabs with their beautiful orange and blue colors and all sizes of starfish. We would fish until almost midnight or until Daddy had enough to take to market the next day.

As the evenings grew cool and the leaves starting falling and tumbling down the roads, fishing season was over. The hunting and trapping season would begin. That was the time we would discuss the squirrels preparing for the winter and watch the summer birds fly in formations heading further south or west. Daddy had a sack of wild birdseed for those who braved the winter and a sack of waste corn for the squirrels that he affectionately called “tree rats”. The over-hang on the back porch would be full of hanging mink pelts on little surf boards made of wood, drying out in preparation to sell to Sears and Roebuck. Every evening he would oil the traps and check them out using a stick to see if they closed correctly. They would snap together with a loud clank that never failed to make me jump. He only trapped what he could sell. It was a balance of man and nature that he honored.

Within a year the onslaught of commercial fishermen and large mink farms forced Daddy out of business forever. He decided it was time to work at house painting full time. He was a perfectionist in anything he created and painting was no different. It made him very respected among customers allowing him to work steady from referrals. The next few summers we traveled back and forth from Florida to California finally settling in Phoenix, Arizona.

Arizona took some getting used to for all of us but soon Daddy had found the best places to enjoy his loves, fishing and hunting. He taught me how to shoot a rifle by the time I was twelve and started allowing me to go on the deer and turkey hunts if Mom went. But, I loved animals too much by then and killing them for any reason just wasn’t in me so I stopped going. However, I did enjoy the fishing trips even though I didn’t fish. It was a time I could be near him. He would always teach me something new just when I thought I knew it all. He would get in his little 17-foot fishing boat at dawn and return with his catch before the rest of us were even up.

When it got too hot to fish he took us for a ride around the lake and pointed out the animals and reptiles that inhabited the sheer canyon walls. He taught me the different varieties of cactus, mesquite trees and river oaks. It was with him that I saw my first cactus wren hovering over a lone cactus bloom. As the day closed he would make a big campfire and marvel at the wonders in the crystal clear night sky. He would point to the big and little dippers, the Milky Way and find falling stars. Right before turning in we would locate the moon and try to be the first to name the correct phase then find the North Star. Then it was off to sleep listening to the music of locust humming and the echo of coyotes howling. Nature was familiar to me; I had no fear of it. Daddy had taught me that.

As my teenage years crested on the horizon, nature began to change our relationship just as surely as it had brought us together. The Goddess started to sing its ancient melody in my Soul and I began to set different priorities like finding a life mate, which included all the prissiness and domestic skills that went with it. I was securely under my Mother’s wing now preparing to become a woman. Even though I loved Daddy dearly, we had different destines to follow.

When Daddy was 78 years old, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and soon a Nursing Home became necessary to keep him safe. My heart broke for him and anger at the injustice of it all swelled up in my throat. When I visited him he saw me as the child I once was. I ached for him to see me as a woman and to play with his grandchildren. Then one day as I was sitting there watching him, something happened to me. My Ego got out of the way of my Soul and saw clearly that this was actually a gift, an encore, to a beautiful time we had shared. I began to appreciate this travel back in time and enjoyed many hours of conversation on nature and animals, fishing and hunting. We would walk outside by the tiny flower garden and watch the catbirds swoop down on an unaware cat or admire a flock of birds flying toward Mexico.

During the fall of 1981, the children and I moved to Illinois for a job opportunity for my husband. Although it hurt me deeply to leave Daddy, I told myself he would always be there and my Mom and brothers and sister would take good care of him. I promised myself that I would fly back next summer to spend time with him. By March I was back, not to watch the birds fly in from their winter homes but to hold his huge weather beaten hand while he lay in the stroke induced coma he had been in for days. I could barely withstand the deep sorrow I felt for this once strong and gentle man. When I was young I didn’t know he never had the opportunity to go past eighth grade, only that his wisdom was beyond compare and that he alone built the bridge that connected me forever to Mother Nature herself.

As I bent down to touch his cheek with a kiss, his eyes opened ever so slightly. Those familiar dark brown eyes gazed into mine and I heard him say, “Hello Sugar”, then he drifted back into his peaceful slumber never to awake again.

He is gone now but the afterglow of his light shines in me as I see the beauty of animals through his eyes and feel the mystical heartbeat of nature through his touch.

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My Spiritual Retreat

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Roaring River State Park

One of my favorite places in the whole world is not exotic or even world-famous. It is a trout park by the name of “Roaring River” near Cassville Missouri. Pictures of it does not do it justice. Its beauty has to be touched and breathed in. It’s a sensory infusion of rushing tumbling ice clear water, trout bolting from the depths to gulp down a dragonfly and the sound of whipping trout lines. In the evening the campfire’s glow and soft voices of friends and families echo around the high valley walls as they laugh at their stories full of memories of long-ago and the adventures of the day. At dawn the smell of bacon and eggs frying in old cast-iron skillets permeate the air.

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The river seems surreal as the morning mist creates clouds that hover over it. The rainbow trout are hungry this time of day but everyone must wait for the whistle to blow that indicates fishing is open. It is this combination of family, friends and nature with its exquisite beauty that feeds my soul.

Ratatouille My Way

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When I was a single mom still raising my four kids I took a job managing a 150 site KOA campground. It was on the Gulf Coast and hundreds of snowbirds would come down during winter months passing through to Florida. There were also campers from other countries touring America with their rental cars and tents. Once a week I would put on a potluck event which was a great opportunity to taste food prepared from different areas of the America as well as other countries.

One of my kid’s favorite was a ratatouille casserole brought by a couple from the eastern seaboard. I learned to make it and served it often. I have not made it for years and when I tried to look up a similar recipe on the web there was none so I dug out my old notebook and decided to share with everyone. This recipe was always popular when I brought it at holiday time and it is a great way to use up any leftover cheeses you have in the refrigerator. When this starts baking the aroma is delicious.

  • 1 large bottle Italian Dressing in the bottle
  • 2 cups small diced yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 medium or 2 small diced eggplant, peeled
  • 2 green peppers, cut in big chunks
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut in big chunks
  • 1 large or 2 medium zucchini squash, diced
  • 1 large diced yellow squash
  • 1 large can diced or whole tomatoes, no need to drain
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 8oz box mushrooms (optional)
  • Bread crumbs
  • Any and all left over and new cheeses like Swiss, cheddar, parmesan, Monterey jack, asiago (literally any cheeses, the more diverse the better).
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large skillet with high sides or a deep Dutch oven place all the vegetables and seasonings together including the bottle of Italian Dressing. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer and cover. Continue simmering until vegetables are caramelized and in a thick sauce. This takes an hour or so.

When done turn off and set aside. Prepare a large enough baking dish with spray oil then start layering starting with the vegetable mixture just covering the bottom, then any of the cheeses mixed together, then a sprinkle of bread crumbs. Repeat the layers and finish with a light cover of the cheeses.

Bake at 350 until cheese is golden brown on top. Let set for 15 mins before serving.

Still Camping

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Tent-Camping

Most of my friends would probably characterize me as energetic, determined and fun loving.  It is true I want to be active and involved with life, especially nature.  I love camping and everything that goes with it like the smell of wood blazing in a campfire, cooking on an outside table, waking up to the sounds of Crows, Finches and squirrels chattering.  It feeds my Soul and brings me comfort I can find nowhere else.  That is the reason I decided I was not going to let the disability I incurred almost 20 years ago keep me from what I have enjoyed all my life.

The early years of camping with a disability were arduous to say the least.  At that time people with disabilities were not even considered in the planning of recreational outdoor areas.  The Americans With Disabilities (ADA) was brand new in 1990 and nothing was even close to being enforced.  Some planners and budget minded designers perceived laws like the ADA as intrusive.  Just like the Civil Rights Act implemented in 1964, both have been praised and ridiculed as an answer to equality.  There is no doubt, however, the guidelines enforced by both have made our society a better place to live and work for everyone. For people with disabilities it ensures equal opportunities to access the very same experiences and privileges people without disabilities have always cherished.

 Now it’s beginning to be a whole new experience with accessible docks, concrete pads to camp on that allow smooth wheel chair access, accessible toilets and showers, raised picnic tables and fire grills, accessible entrances to lodges and bait shops and plenty of disabled parking.  I no longer have to take a lawn chair into the shower to sit in or take a roll of paper towels for hand drying because the hand blowers were too high or be restricted to one or two places that were not to steep or rocky to fish safely.  One of my favorite camping areas is Roaring River State park located just south of Cassville about an hour from Springfield.  Known for it’s premier trout fishing, it nestles in a valley with clear ice blue water meandering from a deep underground cave.  If you are lucky enough to wake before the whistle that signifies fishing is open, you will drink in a breathtaking view of the mist lifting off the earth in a mystical silent dance.  A weekend there and you will feel like you’ve had a two-week vacation.

There is also a huge variety of adaptable equipment for anyone with any disability to enjoy their favorite outdoor activity weather it’s camping, hunting, fishing, archery, bird watching or just walking.  A great place to find out about all of these wonderful technologies and actually try some of them out is at the annual “Day At The Range and Outdoor Adventure Fair” held at the Andy Dalton Shooting Range in Bois D’Arc. Additional information can be found on the web at www.swcil.org or by calling Southwest Center for Independent Living at 417-886-1188.  This is a great way to find out everything available to you and maybe some things you didn’t even know existed!  And where else can you have all that and a free lunch too?

 I have always believed being in outdoor recreational activities promotes life long development of character as well as camping skills, teamwork and appreciation of the environment.  It gives a chance to experience first hand what none of us can afford to lose, our connection and responsibility to the earth we share. Camping is a group experience for my family and my four kids were raised loving it.  Now I can enjoy it equally with them and my eight grandchildren.  Thanks to the dedication of disability advocates and the visionary planning of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the outdoors in Missouri is available to all of its citizens. Everyone knows Nature is ever evolving so why shouldn’t we?