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The summer is well underway

Christine Vernon

The summer is well underway here in the Northern Hemisphere. We've had record heat and we've had record cold. We've had so much rain in the Chicago area that it is green and lush, rivaling a tropical rain forest. With it have come hoards of mosquitos as well, but it was a hard winter and people are grateful to be outside and active despite any challenges nature presents.

Michael Jackson has been laid to rest and the world is getting down once again to a new “normal”, an adjustment made time and time again as the world turns and changes with each turn. I heard someone say this week, “The one thing I can say for sure is that 'Life goes on'”. It's true, that's the one constant.

President Obama has met with the Russian President and also with the Russian Premier and our hope of establishing better international relations around the world seems underway. That is the wish of this President and those who put him in office but it is a close call. The election in the US was not a landslide. The US is divided in many ways, polarized on many fronts. And the balance could turn again in just a little over seven years. There are those who want health care and those who want boot straps. There are those who want isolationism and those who believe that if you don't visit a bad neighborhood, sooner or later it is going to visit you. There are those who want prosperity for themselves and there are those who want prosperity for all. It's not easy to make sense of it all sometimes.

Every boarded up house, and, often, “For Sale” sign, are evidence of some hardship. It is not easy to ask for help but there is no shame in needing it and/or asking for it. There is always enough to go around. Lack is not real in the United States and it hasn't been in most of our lifetimes. I write this from Springfield, Illinois, the State Capitol, where many are watching budget deliberations to see if Illinois lawmakers have any chance of straightening out the incredible fiscal crisis that plagues our State. Coincidentally while I was there today, there was a rally in the Rotunda to protest budget cuts which will seriously impact vital programs for children. We wait and watch.

We Midwesterners are an optimistic lot though. People seem to do extraordinary acts of kindness on a daily basis. You have to listen to the stories that don't make the news to catch many of these inspiring reports from neighbors, sometimes done though Churches and charities, often done in secret, done spontaneously. It is an almost hidden network and level of societal interaction. Becoming aware of these kindnesses is like birdwatching. They are there and they are gone quickly but the sightings leave you with a sweet and content feeling, remembering the things that matter.

Under Spirit, there is piece by Canadian Gilles Gagnon, about discerning What Really Matters. We have a piece from Life Coach Denny Balish encouraging a reclamation of self, a kind of soul retrieval, something she can speak of with authority because it is a procedure she has been through in recent years. There was a quote some years ago from a well-known actor who said that therapy was like undergoing heart surgery without anesthesia. Who would have known in advance the cost of the therapuetic process? Still, the outcome is often more than worth the inconvenience. There are many things we can't change in life but we can change our thinking every day by learning new things. Is there anything more statisfying than that?

It was a less than perfect weekend over the 4th of July in Chicago. Of course there were festivities everywhere but you can't help but wonder about the wisdom of pyrotechnics when you hear of a record number of accidents across the nation, and they are hardly environmentally friendly. In Chicago, eleven people were killed over the holiday. We are going to have to make advances in the science of having fun.

Interestingly, “Staycations” have caught on. It's like dancing in a small space.  People are enjoying their own neighborhoods and yards in highly imaginative ways, creating unique outdoor rooms and environments to enjoy. Gardens seem greener and seem to have more variety each year. Everyone seems to be growing some portion of their food during the summer even if it is only tomatoes and basil. People seem to be more creative than ever finding solutions to difficulties and challenges before them. And, as often seems to happen during difficult time, people seem to draw closer to one another for support.

It seems timely, speaking of the science of fun and the value of nature, that we feature as our Not-for-Profit, Nature Rocks, an invaluable online resource for parents with information on affordable and fun activities in nature that positively enhance family bonding. Founded by The Nature Conservancy, REI, Children and Nature Network and ecoAmerica, their work provides a tremendous educational resource for anyone who takes the time to access their website, a phenomenal public service.

And we are grateful to Deborah Sabusawa for her piece on using herbs and herbal concoctions. In addition to experimenting with herbs, Deborah is a professional pastry chef and formerly a Brazilian Jazz singer! She is an important part of our braintrust at Women's International News.

We asked Mark Butkus to get us started on a Green life, something like Green 101 when we became aware of his work at Green Works Link and Mark kindly obliged with Green Jobs on the Rise. We hope Mark will continue to bring us along, those of us who are enthusiastic about living a responsible Green life but still somewhat in the dark about what it means to live Green.

Our good friend, Claudia Hausdorf writes of her disappointment and frustration with her return and reentry into her native Germany after many years of living abroad. It prompted me to write “Bumping Up Against Each Other”. It ranges from unfortunate to sad to deadly. I've included a website to look at with excerpts from author Mark Francis who gives us some insights into cultural differences from his experiences happening living as a non-native in Guatemala.

In the community where I live, for many years, beginning in the 1960's, community leaders and residents were dedicated to what was called “The Gospel of Diversity”. It was preached in all sectors of the schools and community groups, even police had sensitivity training, an effort to raise consciousness and awareness about something many of us already believed - that racial, ethnic and cultureal diversity makes for a great tapestry and richness when it comes to life experiences. In recent years, as younger people advanced in positions of leadership, they didn't seem to bring the same consciousness and awareness of the importance of creating an atmosphere for respect for all cultures, for a climate of diversity. They did not seem to grasp the effort and work that is required to teach children and citizens to understand and appreciate all cultures. Years of conscious effort went into nurturing this climate in our community. During candidate speeches in a recent local election where I live, one candidate said “What's the big deal about diversity?” It was discouraging to hear that.

We have our work cut out for us when it comes to reigniting respect for all and effectively implementing conflict resolution. When diversity works, it can't be diversity about basic human values, people have to agree on the basics...for instance The Ten Commandments provide a good guideline. Apologies to atheists but the Ten Commandments come from The Old Testament after all, and that would make them common to The Koran, The Torah and The Bible which covers most taxpayers. Once those precepts are accepted as operative, rules most people are already living by, not all rules we legislate though except for Thou Shalt Not Kill.... neighbors can enjoy cultural differences, ranging from everything to cooking and decorating, textiles and fashion, to theater and art, to language and expression. Mutual respect lays the foundation for this. Nationalism and exclusivity, cliques and clannishness, just aren't part of this social model.

If you enjoyed our piece about Kentucky artist Ann Stewart Anderson, our first featured artist, be sure and look up her eight minute interview at the Pyro Gallery on youtube which shows Ann speaking about her work and includes even more of the fascinating images featured in her retrospective exhibit. Our new featured artist is Diane Thodos whose current exhibit Zoe/Thanatos (Birth/Death) is at the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center at 801 West Adams, 4th floor, in Greektown in Chicago until August 23rd. Both women have in common much inspired work from the women of Greek mythology, goddesses, although their styles of expression are vastly different. We hope you enjoy reading about Diane's work and we are so happy to have the opportunity to feature her artwork.

Finally, we have a brief piece, a memorial to people dear to us, dedicated to a few who have served in the Armed Forces. It is that time of year when we think of them again and again and again.

Have a safe and enjoyable summer.

Christine Vernon

Christine Vernon is the founder and editor of Women's International News.