Thursday, November 29, 2012

Night Time Neighbors

Meet our neighbors out here in the desert :)





Kitty!!!! We have a bobcat in our yard! We thought one was around the area but we finally have evidence. Paul bought the most awesome thing - one of these motion sensor video cameras. Hunters use them (in fact the camera case is camouflage). We have it running up at the building site to see what animals (or people) come around. The camera is triggered by movement and works in the dark. We've captured cottontails and jack rabbits, desert mice, coyotes and now - a bobcat! A very chubby, fluffy bobcat. So cool.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Photos

Just some Scenic Byway photos from Thanksgiving week in Utah and the long drive home to the California desert.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Passing of Time

Time is such a weird concept, isn't it? I am referring to how sometimes it can move so fast and at other times so slow. Everyone always talks about how as we get older time moves faster. It is a common phenomenon and I have definitely felt it.

It is believed that with new, first-time events, we retain much more detailed and vivid memories of those things, and then as things become more familiar and less experiences are new, we don't focus as much on the details or recall them and they don't feel new, and thus time seems to move faster. This happens over long periods of time as well as over short ones. On the large scale we feel this as we get older in life and years and decades pass, but we also feel this on a small scale, say during a week of vacation. You know how when you go on a vacation the first few days seem so long and move slowly in a good way? Then as the days continue and you get closer to the end of the vacation, they seem to speed up, flying by.

Time also feels like it is moving faster when we are busy. It slows down when we are bored. As we get older we typically get busier, and this is why we feel time is moving so much more quickly. I am never bored and always busy so time is flying by at warp speed for me most of the time these days. I was on a one week business trip in Liberia just two weeks back and the days were so busy that the week flew by. However, on the way home our plane broke down and we were stuck and it took two days to get home when it should have only taken one. That period of time moved so slowly it was painful.

We've been living in California for just less than five months and it has been such a crazy, busy time. Talk about time moving fast. Just since July we packed up and moved, we've been in the process of building a house, my work load at my job has intensified, I've been on three international business trips, and we've had ten visits from family and friends! Because everything has been so new and busy and intense it has felt like we've been here much longer than five months. It feels like years. Life in Salt Lake, where we just lived for two years, seems so long ago. And my life before that in the Washington, DC area, even though I lived there for more than 20 years, feels like another life time.

Yet it was strange while we were back in Salt Lake because while it feels like its been so much more than five months that we've been gone, at the same time while we were up there it felt like we had barely left, or even like we still lived there. Driving by our old house it felt like we should just pull into the driveway and walk in and settle right back into that old life. It is so weird to have it feel so long ago yet also feel like its still there.

I was just on the road for two weeks - a week in Liberia for work and then a week up in Salt Lake for the Thanksgiving holiday. That always feels crazy - one day you are in your day to day life, then suddenly you are on a plane half way around the world and spending a week in a completely different world (Monrovia, Liberia), then suddenly you are back on a plane and then off to your old home (Salt Lake) for a holiday week. Then you are back home in your routine. Having all of that over a two week span feels so odd. The concept of time and day to day reality is so out of whack. I've been doing this kind of international business travel now for 15 years and it still always feels strange and messes with my sense of time.

Other periods of time that seem odd when I think about them...I've been married for just over two years and my husband has only been in my life for just over three years yet its hard for me to recall life without his presence. The time of my first marriage feels like another life and another life time. I've been working at the same place for almost 10 years now and I find that hard to believe. While those first few years are difficult to remember and again feel like another life time, it also seems crazy that I've been there almost 1/4 of my life!

Have you ever thought about the decades in your life and what each one of those decades was like? How different each one is and how they represent you and your life? I know that I am not the only one that looks back and says wow - how did I get here, to this age? Where did the time go. If you have children I know it feels crazy to look back at how fast that time goes - I think that is because its all new - every stage of growth, every step into adulthood - because it is all new, the memories are more vivid for you and you are busy raising that child - newness and business are the things that make the time feel like it is moving so quickly.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Madam President Liberia

Yesterday evening I arrived in Monrovia, Liberia. Guess who was on the plane on the Brussels to Monrovia leg? The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who happens to be the first elected female head of state in Africa AND a Nobel peace prize winner from 2011 for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. (Just say it: wow!). She was just re-elected for a second term last year.

I was giggling at an episode of Modern Family on the in-flight entertainment system when I happened to look up and see her standing just a few rows ahead of me in the aisle chatting with some young Liberian ladies. Thank goodness I hadn’t fallen asleep! Can you imagine missing that? The poor guy who was sitting next to me missed it all because he was in the bathroom.
The President is easily recognizable, always wearing her distinguished local dress and head wrap. She was walking around the plane saying hello to her people. And those young Liberian women that I saw her talking to were enthralled and excited to be in her presence. Watching that – their faces – was very, very cool…such a wonderful role model for these young women. First female President on this entire Continent! And Nobel Peace Prize winner!!

She made her way slowly down the aisle and when she got to me she looked at me and smiled and said something like “it is good to see you,” as in its good to see you headed to Liberia. I sat there dumbfounded with a big, excited grin on my face and said “it is so wonderful to meet you”…which sounded so dumb when I said it - like I was meeting her at some cocktail party or something. You should have seen me giggling excitably with my Liberian neighbors in adjoining rows as we all chatted about how it was such a surprise to see Madame President coming down the aisle of the plane.
Of course AFTER she passed I thought of all the clever things I could have said; how I should have introduced myself and told her about where I work and our project (she knows of it so she may have recognized the work if I had brought it up); how I should have pulled out my iPhone and shot pix of her. But it was probably best not to be pushy. She was probably tired like the rest of us.

It was a cool experience on the Byway. After all it is not every day that a national President and Nobel Peace Prize winner walks by and brushes your arm and looks at you and smiles. Ellen I hope you kick some serious ass over this last term and keep those young women proud of you as a role model.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Desert - Fall - Sky - Small Town Life

Fall is here in the desert. The temperatures are wonderful in the day and the sun doesn't feel as hot. The nights have a chill and its time to break out the wood stoves in the evenings. The sunrises and sunsets look different, and of course the days are growing shorter. It feels so odd to see the darkness coming so quickly after 5 pm when we've just spent months hanging outside in the evenings until 7, 8, 9 pm.

The best part is the changing temperatures. Over the summer if you wanted to be outside, hiking for example, you needed to get out and be done by 9 am. The rest of the day and into the evening was just too hot. Now the whole day carries pleasant temperatures, and the sun feels less intense. Perfect for hiking, which I've been trying to do more of (I recommend Pipe's Canyon and Big Morongo Canyon Preserves - minutes away from our house and just as beautiful as Joshua Tree, but with less people.)

I didn't think I would get to experience changing Fall color here in the desert, but there are some desert bushes that are flowering and changing color. Downtown in Yucca Valley, where folks have planted non-native deciduous trees around houses and buildings, there are changing colors. In certain areas out here that have natural water springs (the preserves I noted above for example) and thus different plant life, those landscapes are changing color too. Check out some photos.

Yesterday we had a lot of cloud cover and a tiny bit of rain. It was so strange to have that kind of cloud cover after so many days of clear sky. The rain, even though only a brief, light shower, did its beautiful thing of releasing all the smells of the desert. Its been awhile since we had any rain so that was a nice surprise. Later in the day we had a rain shower - the sun pouring down bright and strong with a light rain in the middle of it. If I would have gotten up away from my computer (work!) and walked outside and around the side of the house I would have seen a double rainbow up over where our new house is. I heard about this later. I am so disappointed I missed that. Lesson learned - when its raining out here STOP and get up and go outside and take it in for a few minutes. The work can wait.

It is cloudy again this morning - which makes for amazing skies. This is a big sky world out here and I never get tired of looking at the sky. Included here are a couple of shots I took driving up the road to visit some friends for dinner last night.

Speaking of friends...there are so many beautiful people that we count as friends who have all found their way out here to this desert oasis. It is another amazing thing about life out here. I sometimes joke I have a better social life here than I did back in Washington, DC. A different kind of social life of course, but one that is richer. Because it is slower and smaller, and thus more manageable. When you live in a small place, you get to know your neighbors more. There is a smaller pool of people and you cross paths more often. I see people I know all the time in the grocery store and I love that. There isn't much of a night life in the nearby town, so social life here is about meeting up for a hike or a book club or going to people's houses for dinners or a house party or meeting up for a beer and some free music at Pappy & Harriets.With so many musicians and artists around there are always small shows one can attend if that is your thing.

Fall here has been a very Scenic moment on the Byway. Hiking and hanging with friends, watching the world around us change and get ready for winter. Desert - Fall - Sky - Small Town Life...all beautiful.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Look Out for those Sociopaths

Moving a little away from the travel theme of this blog, here's another Byway Contemplation and Byway Memories post inspired by something I saw on Facebook today. Today on Facebook someone I know posted something on their wall with this link.

Oh, do I know this link. What's in the link? Just a summary profile of the characteristics of the common sociopath. And I will never forget the day I read it.

It was some years ago. I was at work, sitting in my office, freaking out about my personal life. It was dawning on me that I was dating a sociopath.

I had been in the relationship for awhile and crazy things had been happening and I was a mess. But that was the day that it hit me like a ton of bricks and I suddenly realized exactly what I was dealing with. I don't know why I hadn't honed in on it sooner - I suppose because we sometimes live in denial about our relationships. That day I had an epiphany that saved my life.

I frantically searched the term "sociopath" on the internet and read in detail, and with dread, what I was already living. It was the wake up call, the slap in the face, the reality check that I needed to help me end that relationship.

I never considered myself in physical danger. The person I dated wasn't violent. I know he loved and adored me. He was just a pathological liar of unbelievable extremes. Oh these weren't your garden variety white lies people tell each other all the time. These were whoppers. The kind that remind you of the characters from bad 20/20 exposes where they report on some guy who had his spouse, family, friends fooled and lied all the way to jail or being murdered. His whole life was a lie. He spun a web of deceit. Everything he told me was a lie. He was delusional. He lied to impress me, about things I didn't care about and never gave any indication that I cared about. When he got caught he spun more and more lies. The lengths he went to in order to maintain the illusion were mind boggling. He lied to make himself seem better than he really was, and that made it really very sad. After some distance and dealing with the anger I held over the betrayals, I could allow myself to feel sad for him. Because he was a sad, sad little man.

That experience hurt. It gave me some serious trust issues that I've learned to manage over the years. So many years have passed that I can think back on that period and laugh about it. Some of my experiences are actually quite entertaining, publishable even. I've toyed around with writing about it, going so far as starting to write up one particularly hilarious story. Some of my friends know about it. It really is one of the funniest things that has happened to me - where I caught him red-handed in a series of ridiculous lies.

Sometimes I can't believe what happened to me. That is the thing about sociopaths. They are very smart and very devious. The person I knew was highly intelligent, professional, attractive. You would not know he was a sociopath until you became involved with him and got entangled in his lies. If you are just an acquaintance, then the lies don't mean anything and don't hurt you. But if you become involved with a person like that, then those lies will hurt you.

So I share the link and the list below because I am reminded to do so today. I don't want the opportunity to pass to give a shout out on this matter. I think its good to understand the nature of a sociopath and then be on the look out for them and steer clear. Trust a woman who knows.

The link:

The Profile:

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self
    Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."
  • Pathological Lying
    Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
    A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
  • Shallow Emotions
    When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Incapacity for Love
  • Need for Stimulation
    Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
    Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
    Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
  • Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
    Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.
  • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
    Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
  • Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
    Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.
  • Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
    Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
    Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Other Related Qualities:
  1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
  2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
  3. Authoritarian
  4. Secretive
  5. Paranoid
  6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
  7. Conventional appearance
  8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
  9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life
  10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
  11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
  12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
  13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
  15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

(The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare.) 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Happened Last Night

This is not a political blog, but hey, yesterday we had the election. Its what's happening on the Byway. I wasn't planning on writing anything about it, but when I checked my email this morning I had all of these CNN update emails from the election results last night and reading them I was left thinking - WOW.

Why wow? Well, of course there is the fact that Obama was elected for a second term. I voted for him. I was pretty sure he would win. But more than that. Here are some of the things that came from this election. Same-sex marriage legal in Maryland (my former home state), and Maine! Legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state (I didn't think I would see that in my life time). Massachusetts will now allow medical marijuana use. In Wisconsin the first openly gay senator. A record 20 women will take Senate seats! Virginia went democratic for the second time - before that the state had 10 consecutive republican presidential wins. Some pretty interesting and progressive stuff. Some wow stuff.

But of course we remain a house divided. Painfully divided. Democrats retain a majority in the senate and Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives. The anger I've seen and heard leading up to this election is awful. It is so weird. Because I feel like our country has been slipping backward in tolerance and cooperation. Everybody's shouting loudly. I worry about the rhetoric and the misinformation and the division.

I understand there are a lot of disappointed folks out there who dislike Obama and wanted Romney to win or just wanted anyone to win besides Obama. Well to them I say - I may not agree with you or understand why you dislike Obama so much, but I can understand how you are feeling. Because I felt this way when Bush won his second term. I was in shock, disbelief, sad, angry, frustrated. I could not fathom how anyone with a brain who read and breathed the air could have voted that man into a second term. Perhaps you feel that way about me right now. I hate to sound so dramatic, but it was the one point in the life time of politics I've lived through that I felt the lowest. No wonder Obama won in such a landslide that first term, with his campaign of hope and change. We were all so disgusted and tired from that eight years of nonsense, it was like a rebirth and a chance to try to start changing and fixing things.

During those eight years of the Bush administration I was ashamed of my country and my nationality. I am not afraid to say that because I love this country and its beautiful history and people.  I feel grateful every day that I am an American. I've spent a lot of time outside of America working in other countries and I see how lucky we are, how lucky I am. There but for the grace of God go I. Had I been a woman born in many of the places I've worked, unless I had been born to one of the wealthy, elite families, I'd probably be dead by now. And my life would have been brutal. But during those eight years, I was ashamed. I stopped being ashamed when we elected Barack Obama. I am proud to be an American when I have a leader I can respect.

Oh I have my issues with Obama's first term. There are things he did that I did not like. There are things he did not do. But overall I feel he did a decent job in a very tough situation cleaning up the mess that was left to him. He needs four more years to keep up what he started. So now he can get back to it.

Is my liberalism showing? :) Last night I was thinking about how every state I've lived in over my life time is pretty much a democratic state, except for one: Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and now California. The only one not like the others? Utah, where I lived for two years before moving to California. I loved living in Utah and I love that place, although it did feel odd to live in such a conservative state, especially as every place else I've lived is so liberal. Also, every other state where I've lived has such a huge, diverse population. Utah has such a small population and much of it very homogenous. I found that fascinating.

I know that some of my Utah family and friends were hoping Romney would win. I could have lived with a Romney win. It was not my choice, but I could have lived with it. But of course I am happy that Obama won and I am happy about all the other "wow" results of last night's election. It gives me hope for our country and our future. I hope people will defuse the anger and focus on cooperation.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Friendly Scrub Jay

Out here the blue jays are called Western Scrub Jays. Yesterday in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in Morongo Valley we were hiking on the Desert Willow Trail and while stopping to look at something we discovered this little guy sitting next to us in a tree. He was so close and unafraid, we didn't know what to make of it.

We traveled a little further and stopped at a bench on the trail to have our lunch. Suddenly the little scrub jay was there with us. We realized he was not afraid of people and actually sought us out. It was obvious that people have been feeding him.

We decided to share our lunch with him. He would sit on a branch just above our heads and then when we put bits of bread, dried fruit and apple out on a log next to us he would jump down and eat them or take them and hide them in nearby places, either burying the scraps under the dirt, or in the case of the dried pineapple, in the crevices of a nearby tree. He was so tame he ate from our hands. It was a magical and memorable experience.

If you find yourself hiking that trail, look for this little one, and be sure to take care of him.

Fall in the Desert

One of the things I miss from life back east is Fall. The kind of Fall you get in Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, and Virginia - the areas where I have lived most of my life. I miss the changing colors of the trees, the chill in the air and its crispness, the smell of fallen leaves. But today we went hiking in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, and I was able to get a little taste of Fall out here. The preserve has a creek that creates a marsh area with willow and cottonwoods, so you find green vegetation, with colors starting to turn now that the temperatures are cooling. And in one spot I swear it smelled just like Fall. What a wonderful place for hiking. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Full Moon Rising

Full moon rise over Black Lava Butte, this week. I wish I had a better camera to capture this. Out here the moon rise is pretty amazing.


Viewed from the top of Black Lava Butte.