The *Real* Santa (I Met Him!)

My two-year-old daughter managed to take a four-hour nap today.  All parents know what this means – it means that I was in for a long night because there was no way she was falling asleep anywhere near her 8 PM bedtime.
My solution to this was to take us both Christmas shopping after dinner.  I had been meaning to go to 2nd and Charles, a store that sells used books mostly, but also DVDs, CDs, and even musical instruments and toys.  I think it is my new favorite store as I have always found a home in big bookstores (a dying entity), and most importantly, it is eco-shopping at its finest!  (Buying used anything lessens the impact on the Earth.) 
When I was done there, the Tuesday Morning next door lured me in.  (Ooo, pretty lights.)  We browsed the aisles.  
“Mommy, a kitty,” A. exclaimed, spotting the stuffed animals.  I handed a soft and squishy yellow plush cat to her.  
“Okay, but you know the rule.  You can carry it around while we shop, but when it’s time to go, it stays here.”  
“Okay,” she said merrily.  (I’ve trained her well on this, believe me, for my sanity and my bank account’s sake.)  
Two minutes later, she picks up a pink bag with a penguin on it.  “Okay, you can carry it, but we are not taking it home.”  Then a Cat in the Hat puzzle.  Then a mug.  Then a sip cup.  Then a jewelry box. Then a princess-y something.
We received many a smile and some “she’s so cute” due to A’s delight in just about every little thing in the store.   By the time we reached the cash register, she had traded out everything except for a pink “ballerina outfit” as she called it.  I waited in line as she chanted, “Mommy, I love this pink ballerina dress.  Mommy.  This ballerina dress is so pretty.  Mommy.  It is pink with a heart on it.”
I (utilizing a very important parenting skill) have learned to tune this sort of thing out — this chanting of “I want, I want, I want.” Dutifully, I hummed back, “Mmm-hmmm.  But we are not taking it home.  You can ask Santa for it if that’s what you want.”
The line was really taking too long at that point.  A woman checking out smiled again at us. I shook my head playfully smiling, insinuating, “Kids.  You know.”  I then paid for my item and said, “Okay, it’s time to give the lady the costume.  Remember you can always ask Santa for it.”  A. obeyed, and we were almost successfully out the door…
Until, the smiley woman asked the cashier for the dress.  Then the smiley woman bent down to A’s height, holding the dress up for her, and said, “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.” 
Then she stood up, and somewhat shyly said to me, “I don’t have any children to buy for this year, so you know, I just wanted to give that to her.” 
“Wow, thank you so much, “ I said, truly touched.  I directed A. to say “thank you” too, which she did.  (I think we were both a little dumbfounded actually.)
We took a few steps towards the door.  I turned to thank her again, the reality of the act settling in.  This time I asked her her name, and I introduced A. and myself.  We all said merry Christmas again….really meaning it…and both smiling even bigger.
And I tell you what.  That simple act.  That random act.  That kind act from this one woman in a store in the middle of Birmingham, Alabama, was such a true one.  This small gesture had so much power! It’s going to sound corny no matter how I write it — but driving home, I knew I had been touched by the Christmas spirit.  Really.  I felt downright giddy, with a little jingle bell tingle inside of me.  I was just smiling!  I said a prayer for the lady, that she sincerely have a merry Christmas, and I also asked for opportunities to pay this little-act-but-huge-kindness forward.  I want everyone to feel this feeling! 
Because there really is so much kindness in the world.  So much good.  It seems to get muddled in all of our humanness sometimes, and that’s okay.  I have faith in it.  I have faith in humankind.  There are just so many good people.
Santa is real.  Corny again, but he really does live inside each and every one of us.  So when we tell our children to believe in Santa, what we are really saying is:  Believe in Good.  Believe in Joy.  Believe in Generosity, Kindness, and Love.
In the end, we are telling them to believe in the good in themselves…and the good in others.
No matter how much darkness we have to endure while on this planet, we can all rest assured:  Santa Lives.  
It’s up to us to keep him alive, for there will ALWAYS be good.  So keep believing.
Merry Christmas, sweet people!  May random acts of kindness find you this holiday season and beyond….


A Good Gift (sometimes has a little surprise)

A friend of mine had sent me a file of a short story called “The Man Who Planted Trees.”  I was eager to read it, but I usually save my leisure reading for when I’m curled up in bed ready to go to sleep,  and the last thing I want to do is be looking at a computer screen then.  He kept asking if I had read it, claiming that I was going to love it, and I kept saying “No, I’m on the computer too much as it is,  but I will, I really will.”

Finally, fed up, he graciously gave me a hard copy as a gift.

The book is just lovely to hold.  I was admiring it, happy to receive such a thoughtful gift, when I exclaimed, “Oh!  Andy wrote the forward!”  My friend looked at me curiously (as if I was a little nuts really.)

I explained to him that Andy used to be my “boss.”

Opening the book to Andy’s contribution, I was delighted to see a description of TreePeople where I used to work when I lived in Los Angeles.  Andy is the founder of this dynamic and visionary non-profit organization where, you guessed it, we planted trees (well, actually, we guided entire communities to plant trees).  Andy was also my neighbor and has become my friend.

TreePeople is an organization close to my heart.  And here it was, finding its way back to me in Alabama, where I currently live.

And my friend was right.  I love this book.  The illustrations are actually wood engravings based on this timeless story about, yes, a man who planted trees (and so much more).  It reads like a fable, and an endearing one at that.

And I got to read it the proper way, in bed in my pajamas with just my bedside lamp on.  And in one delicious sitting.

If you are looking for something to give this Christmas, I recommend this.  It’s the perfect holiday read — short and sweet — made for sitting by the fire, sipping hot cocoa.  And it’s printed on recycled paper to boot.

Have a merry one!  And plant a tree (or ten) to make up for the one that you purchased for Christmas!


I Heart Yoga

This beautiful video inspired me.  Entirely.  I adore this guy, and I love that he had the insight to document his process.

Then it inspired me to post a blog I wrote a year ago and never put up.  (I have a few of these that are waiting in the wings for the right time.)

Here it is:

I love yoga.  Yoga has saved my life (slight exaggeration, but only slight).  It’s my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balm.  It’s my community, my medicine, my thing-that-keeps-me-balanced.  In the past, when I’ve written gratitude lists, having access to good yoga definitely makes the top five.  If you have tried yoga, and you didn’t like it, try another teacher.  If you have never tried it, well, I guess you don’t know what you are missing out on.
Because I want to write about things that inspire me for The Sparklit, I must write about my friend, Heather “Radja” Duplex, who recently posted a video about being committed to yoga, mostly because, while what she said in the video was great, what had the most impact was how lovely and happy she seemed.  I haven’t seen Heather face to face in probably five years. 
Heather and I met in Los Angeles in 2002 through a mutual friend, an artist (hi Todd!), and the times I remember with Heather were full of laughter, girl talk, and a little bit of curiosity on my end.  After all, she was SO dedicated to yoga like nothing I’ve ever seen, and she cooked and ate things like kale and quinoa as if those foods were the most natural things to grab for in the grocery store, and she was a Reiki master, but really didn’t talk about that much.  At the time, I was still in the early years of being a yoga student (5 years in approximately, and I now know that is nothing), and I had recently taken my Reiki I training, and although I had been a vegetarian for a while, I had never made kale in my life. 
Heather and I would lose touch from time to time (I moved to Idaho, she was traveling a lot), but whenever we would see each other again, it was with joy and interest.  I watched as her life evolved beautifully – taking the yoga further and falling in love with Prem and eventually moving to Kauai (a favorite place of mine), and now Bali (where I am so wanting to go one day, soon please?).  She is truly an example of a person who walks her walk, talks her talk, and has followed her passion for yoga and her desire to live authentically to a place that few of us dare to tread. 
I was so happy to see the videos that she and Prem have posted for several reasons.  (Go to their website, www.ashtangaworld.com for those and more.)  First of all, I am excited for their dedication to yoga and to the yoga community.  Second, Heather looks gorgeous as usual, and I just have to say, I can guarantee this woman has never had botox!  (She would laugh heartily at that suggestion!) Her appearance is a result of clean living, my friends – dedication to yogic practice, including what she eats (and drinks).  That’s not to say she won’t have a piece of chocolate cake or a beer from time to time, but seriously, this woman keeps her system clean.  And it shows.  Look at her eyes!  Shimmery clear gorgeous.  A mermaid on land, I like to call her.  (I dare you to guess her age.)
So, if you are inclined to go to Bali, or take your yoga practice to new heights, these are the people to call.  I have never met Prem myself, but I trust Heather’s judgement.  Ha! And so should you. 
Looking forward to the next time our paths cross, Heather!  xoxo
Heather and Guruji back in the day
I encourage y’all to do/try yoga.  It will better your life in every way!  If you are a beginner and you’re nervous about not being flexible or falling down or anything, just chill out.  Stop with the excuses; you’re only cheating yourself.  We were all beginners at some time.  Trust me, we have all looked and felt dumb, and I think it’s probably part of the process of getting out of the ego!  Since yoga is so new to the West, I guarantee that many people in the class started as adults and know exactly where you are.  More than that, no one really cares what you look like.  Plus, you get as much benefit from being stiff as a board and MOVING than the gumby next to you.   Yoga has nothing to do about how “good” you are at it.  I know this is shocking to our Western brains, but it’s true.  A good teacher will make you feel welcome in class.  Please try several teachers as there is a ton of variety in yoga and the teacher affects your experience entirely!  My first yoga was Kundalini.  I have since added Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow, Sivananda, among others to the mix. 
If you need names of teachers in Birmingham, AL; Los Angeles, CA; Sun Valley, ID, I have personal experience in all places, and I’d be happy to recommend!  (Austin, TX and NYC and Mobile too!)
Doreen Virtue claims that the ancient yogis infused prayers into the poses.  I believe it.  And after watching the video at the top of the page, don’t you believe it too?  
BEST HOLIDAY GIFT:  Give someone a gift certificate to yoga!  
I found this floating around FaceBook.  This woman is 83 years old!!!


The Night Before the Election, My Republican Mom is on the Fence

I posted a question on Facebook the other day that read:

I’m feeling political today (can you tell?) Please POST HERE: Why you are FOR your candidate? With so much bashing of the “other guy,” I’m interested in what Romney and/or Obama has done or will do that makes you want them to take on the role as the leader of our country. Thanks! Opening up dialogue (from California to Alabama and in between). I think there are some folks on the fence that need to hear your voice.

To commemorate the 2012 election tomorrow, I’m going to post a response.

The following is from my mother, who has voted Republican her whole life.  Just so you know, we do not talk politics much in my family.  Some, but not much.  But here she is, showing up as one of the few responders to this question.  In fact, approximately 1% of my Facebook friends said something on the topic.  I suppose that is better than none, but it is surprising that people do not want to engage in dialogue, but they are perfectly fine sitting in front of the TV for hour upon hour watching the stuff.

Anyway, here’s her piece:  

First, thank you, daughter, for asking for thought-provoking and thought-providing dialogue. It’s time; time to cast our votes!
When formulating in my mind a response to your request to give reasons I will vote for either President Obama or Governor Romney, I am reminded again that all of our views are skewed and biased by who shared information (i.e. friend or foe, media, parents, etc.), what was shared (what information is  revealed and what information is concealed), where(our community, state, political rally, school, church),  when(timing matters), which (which media, for example),  and how (how information is presented is as important [or more so] than what is presented).  With that being said and with risk of being targeted from the left and the right, I am on the fence!  I will mention several issues to explain why I am unsure which candidate will take us down the “right”; health care, jobs, education, energy, and defense. Realizing that each of us presents our own biased (yes, biased) opinions and that we never really know the results of either path our country will take, I would like your feedback to help me and others make a somewhat informed decision. Does writing about and comparing our views help us not only to clarify our own but to understand others’ views if we are willing to try? 
Healthcare: Do I want health care available for all Americans whether poor or rich? Yes! But how all Americans can receive excellent health care feasibly has not been explained. Obama seems to want it to happen, but it seems to me that quality of and access to good medical care will be decreased though a seemingly socialist system that we simply can not afford.  Will our freedom to choose which doctors we see and under what circumstances be limited by government mandates?  How will Medicaid and Medicare be affected?  How will we pay for Obamacare? (I hate the fact that this important issue is about money again!). How can a government-run medical system be successful?  On the other hand, Romney has not convinced me that he wants to help all Americans receive health care.  I don’t understand his voucher system proposal at all.  It seems private insurance companies will benefit rather than patients.  I think private insurance companies already have too much power to (1) regulatefees that benefit them to the detriment of providers and clients and (2) to brainwashtheir clients into thinking providers are over charging when insurance companies are making the largest profit.   In summary, Obama’s plan seems to grant power to the federal government to make choices that I think should be made by individuals while Romney’s plan seems to give private insurance companies the power to benefit more than individuals in need.
Jobs   We are aware that jobs are not available to many people in this country who want to work.  Romney says he will help businesses supply jobs by not raising taxes so more people can be paid. Therefore, he predicts that his plan will supply jobs to Americans.  How does Obama plan to generate jobs?
Education:  Should the federal government (Obama) or state government (Romney) oversee our school system(s)?  It seems in K-12 education, true learning has taken a back seat to standardized testing.  For example, I helped a third grader to appreciate reading and learning by talking with her and listening to her read. When we met, she asked when she would be tested (she was already nervous about the test that would come). She found it difficult to understand that she would not be tested and that I knew nothing about nor cared about her levelof reading.  I cared about her learning to like to read and about her well-being. Which candidate will more likely actually try to see what is needed for individualsto learn rather than focusing on numbers? 
Post Secondary education is another story.  I like Obama’s idea to support community colleges so that more people can be educated for technical jobs.  What are some other ideas of candidates to improve post-secondary education, to lower tuition, and to create jobs for students when they graduate? 
Energy: Based on what I have heard, I believe Obama is going in the right direction with creating alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, etc.  However, has federal funding been spent efficiently in order to make the gradual change to alternative energy use?  I think Obama is considering future needs by making available technology accessible while I feel Romney is too focused on gas and coal. Romney is proposing the use of more coal. Why Coal?  I do not understand why he implies coal is better than other alternatives or is there another reason for his support.  If you have some ideas about the coal/gas issue, will you share? By the way, speaking of energy conservation and alternatives, I hope as Katie and others have suggested that we make a conscious individual effort to save energy by using bikes, our legs, energy-efficient cars, and public transportation.
Defense I believe we all want to feel safe and protected when threatened.  Romney proposes more defense spending; Obama proposes cutting defense spending.  As far as I know, neither has been explicit about why.  The defense topic involves many more issues than spending including safety, jobs lost and gained, provisions of veterans, efficient spending, political gain, proper training, support (financial, jobs, respect, medical) for veterans and many others.  Why does Romney think we need to increase spending? Does cutting spending as Obama proposes put us at risk by jeopardizing our safety?  If so, how does Obama plan to protect our country if defense spending is cut?  I was leaning toward Romney on this one until I heard a seemingly credible source discuss defense spending among other topics. 
Last Tuesday night, October 30, 2012 on NPR (National Public Radio), I heard Thomas Ricks, a military expert who is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who covered the military for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal for many years, and was part of two teams that won Pulitzer Prizes for military coverage. Ricks is   author of a book about U.S. generals called Firing” the General” to Fight Better Wars. To access Ricks’ discussion go to www.npr.org/2012/11/01/164096479/ricks-firing-generals-to-fight-better-wars
You can hear Ricks’s opinions about defense spending starting at 24:50 – 31:40 of the 39:15 minute segment. Ricks says the US military has more money than needed but the money is not spent effectively and he says when wars end (such as in Iraq), the need for spending goes down. Therefore, Ricks does not know why Ryan and Romney want to spend more on defenseRicks thinks we need to question military leadership in tactics and spending. I would like to know more about why Romney thinks we as Americans will benefit from more defense spending and why Obama thinks we can be protected and safe with less. 
In summary, (yay!), remember syllogisms? According to an online dictionary a syllogism is a logical argument involving three propositions: a formal deductive argument made up of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. An example is, “All birds have feathers, penguins are birds, therefore penguins have feathers.” As you know, politicians present syllogisms hoping we will support them while avoiding explaining details.. For example, Romney implies, “Americans need energy sources, coal is an energy source, therefore Americans need coal”. Question the syllogisms. We need more information.  What are some syllogisms that come to your mind that the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign have used?  The writing process has provoked thinking and helped organize my thoughts. Nobody which way we vote in choosing which path our country will travel, it is impossible for anyone to know what will actually happen on either path. Thank you, Katie, for inspiring me to write. Voting is Tuesday!   
Laura Jane Rogers
Nov. 3, 2012
Me, Mama, Maryanna, and Beth circa 1980
THANK YOU, Mama, for writing!
And here’s my mom’s bio:
Laura Jane Poole Rogers
Doctoral Degree
Ph.D, Speech Communication, The University of Southern Mississippi
Master’s Degree
M.A. Communication, University of South Alabama
Bachelor’s Degree
B.A., Psychology, University of South Alabama
 Personal History
Grew up in Eutaw, Alabama in 1950s and 60s.  Attended the U of Alabama starting in 1970. Married David A. Rogers, DMD in 1972.  Four children;  Katherine, Elizabeth, Maryanna, and David; 1 granddaughter and two step granddaughters.  Lives in Mobile, AL where she teaches part time at the University of South Alabama.  


It’s Crape Myrtle, Not Crape Murder!

What’s wrong with these pictures?

Unfortunately, we see a lot of this around the South this time of year.

These are Crape Myrtles.  They are typically beautiful trees with smooth trunks and blossoms that occur in the mid to late-summer, with colors ranging from white to lavender, red to pink.  They are such a refreshing sight in the heat of the year, and I have an affinity for them.

So it absolutely makes me cringe to see them in this shape!

I heard someone refer to it as “crape murder.”  And from what I’ve learned from this type of “pruning,” they are spot on!

Arborists and tree specialists refer this kind of cutting as TOPPING.  Topping is, for the most part, very bad for your tree.  So why are so many people doing it?  Why is it so accepted around the region?

I still haven’t fully figured it out, but my best guess is because they want to control the shape of their tree.  For example, in the photo above, the crape myrtle was planted beneath a power line.  Duh.  Next time, choose a better spot for your tree.  Planting the right tree in the right place is the first step in ensuring your tree has a long, healthy life!

Another reason I believe people top their trees, is because, in a few months, the topping will become barely noticeable.  Instead, there will be several sprouts coming out of the branches where the cuts occur, giving the tree a full look again.  The tree does this because it’s in emergency mode, so in reality, those extra branches aren’t really so pretty after all.    Here’s an example of a topped tree where the branches have grown in:

Notice the “knobs” where the tree sprouted out new branches due to stress

Therefore, an amateur will say something like, “But it grows back.”  Yes, but at what cost?

A good rule of thumb is to not prune more than 25% of the crown (branches) of the tree at one time.  When you top, you prune 100% of the tree’s crown!  Not only does it look hideous and choked for those few months while it’s growing back, it also causes the tree tremendous stress!

In fact, the Arborists’ Certification Study Guide (ISA) lists Eight Good Reasons Not to Top your tree.

1.  Starvation.
2.  Shock.
3.  Insects and Disease.
4.  Weak Limbs
5.  Rapid New Growth
6.  Tree Death.
7.  Ugliness.
8.  Cost.

Beware of tree services that practice bad pruning.  Think about it: if the tree grows back at this accelerated rate, then guess what, you have to call the tree guys again to come cut it again.  I smell a money-making scheme.

But now that you are educated on the matter, you can insist that they only prune a quarter of the tree’s crown in order to keep it in its natural form.  Tell them that hacking off branches like that are not proper pruning techniques, to boot.  If they try to talk you out of it, call another company that has a certified arborist on staff.  Or heck, call me!

When properly cared for, trees will give back exponentially.  Here are some crape myrtles in their natural form taken after their bloom….   Pretty, huh?   They are known for their graceful shape — let’s keep them that way!

Crape Myrtle in its natural form 

Rows of Crape Myrtles at the Birningham Botanical Garden


Move Your Stuff, Make a Wish!

Bippity, boppity, boo!  If your fairy godmother were to descend upon you right now, what would you wish for?  While feng shui is not exactly “magic” per se, it can help you to manifest your deepest desires.
You may be saying: “Yeah right!  How can moving around objects in my house do that?”  
Perhaps an example would better explain.
One client wanted a boyfriend.  She was in her mid-twenties, friendly, attractive and successful, yet she seemed to be “blocked” on finding a guy.  When I went into her bedroom, I noticed about ten to twelve bouquets of roses lining some high shelves.  The catch:  these bouquets were dead! 
First, no matter what is in vogue with so-called dried flowers, the fact is that they are dead flowers, and therefore lacking in positive life energy, and therefore not considered beneficial feng shui.  Second, when I asked this client about the roses, she claimed that they were all from ex-boyfriends over the years, and she just didn’t want to part with them! 

Would you rather have these?

These flowers were a symbolic “block” in her life.  I explained to her that these dead roses represented a fear of letting go of the past.  On a subconscious level, was she afraid that she wouldn’t find love again?  Having anything from past lovers can negatively affect future relationships.  Especially roses, the quintessential symbol of love!  Dead roses equal dead love in feng shui. 
I asked her if she was ready to move on.  She immediately said, “Yes!” and we found a huge garbage bag and threw each and every bouquet into the trash.  We were even laughing at the absurdity of it all!  The change in the room was profound.  She couldn’t believe the difference!  It turned out that she was more than willing to let go of the old to make room for the new.

…or these?
Sure enough, within a month’s time, she was happily dating someone new!
Feng shui, of course, is not always so obvious.  Our homes are full of symbols, subtle or not, that are affecting our lives. 
Ask yourself the following questions about your own home:
1.     Is there anything that I have hanging or showing that is from an unhappy time in my life?  i.e. photos from a family trip gone awry or artwork from a friend that betrayed me?
2.     Am I able to find things when I need them?  Every object should have a “home,” or a place just for it.  Hire a professional organizer if you find organizing a challenge.  It’s worth it!
3.     Are my clothes representing me today rather than a past identity?
4.     Is there anything I greatly dislike in my home that I’m keeping because it was a gift from a loved one? 
5.     Are there a lot of broken items or unfinished projects laying around?  If so, make a promise to yourself to get them fixed or get rid of them!
Many times, when we discover what is preventing our wishes from coming true, our desires then come to us easily and effortlessly.  Remove the obstacles and the rest will take care of itself.  It’s like lifting a dam from a river – the good just flows in!


Janis Joplin May Have Had a Thyroid Problem

Janis:  well-known for her voice 

“Katie with the voice.”  

That’s what someone called me my Freshman year at college, to remember my name.
I had no idea what she was talking about.  
Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, I went to a small school with the same people my whole life.  And knowing me my whole life, my voice was nothing of distinction.
Since that first year of college, I’ve had many comments on my voice.  “It’s sexy.”  “Gravel-y.”  “What’s wrong with your voice?”  “You must have nodules on your vocal cords.  You should get surgery.”  “I love your voice.  It’s so unique.”
All I know is that, back in my partying days, I would lose my voice all too often.
But this is all about to change.  My voice, that is.  If Laurel at Organic Harvest has anything to say about it.
on Hwy 31 in Hoover – yummy!
My neighbor told me about “a woman at that organic grocery store on Highway 31 who would look at your eyes and make you a smoothie with whatever supplements you need.”
My neighbor was off a little bit.  I went into the store.  I found Laurel.  She’s a peppy woman of about sixty with clear eyes and a bright smile.  She has traces of hippie in her, but a clean, well-spoken hippie.  
I asked her if she would read my eyes.
She stared into them for a few instances, then began rattling off, not on the supplements that she would put into a smoothie, but on symptoms I’ve had since before I could remember.  Dry skin, thin hair, crackly voice (which she noticed of course), joint issues (super-recent), etc. etc.  
“You have some thyroid issues.  It’s affecting your liver…..” …and more. 
Then she told me that more than likely, I needed more iodine in my diet.  She claimed that many, many people have thyroid issues that go undiagnosed and can lead to things, including heart problems, anxiety, and depression, to name just a few!  
She said a lot more, but honestly she was speaking so fast, and there was so much new information, I didn’t catch it all.  What stuck however is that, when she was 19, doctors told her she was going to die.  She said she knew in her heart that she wasn’t, but that she was going to have to do some work in order to live.  She researched and experimented with alternative treatments, curing herself.  Now she’s offering her expertise at Organic Harvest in Birmingham, Alabama.  She’s not a doctor, she doesn’t have a Ph.D., nor a Masters.  She works at an organic store and educated people on diet and health…in her own way.  And she gets her information by observing the irises of your eyes!
So consult with her at your own risk.
I for one did not see any harm in taking her prescription: 
(Paraphrased)  “Take your temperature 3 times a day for 4 days.  Also, get some iodine from the drug store and paint it on your inner arm.  Let me know the results of both.”  
And then her promise:  “You will see.  You’re going to have more energy than you knew you could have.  Your body has had to work really hard to overcompensate for your thyroid.”
It turns out my temperature was almost 2 degrees below normal!  And the iodine soaked into my arm within three hours.  With some people, it takes 24 hours!  My body really wanted it!
So now, I’m slowly integrating a specific type of iodine that she recommended.  I’m taking Vitamin A.  And a little Magnesium (suggested by someone else.)  
It’s only been a week.  Have I noticed a difference?  I’d like to say yes, but honestly, I don’t know.  I’m going to give it another week or two, then I will report back to Laurel and let her know if there has been improvements in my temperature and the way I feel.  
So… if you don’t recognize me on the phone in the next month or so, I’ll know I’m on the right track.  
Windows to the soul…and perhaps your physical ailments too!

Was I Wrong about the Trees at Park Lane?

I’m having a moral dilemma, and I need your help answering the question above.

Since I posted my last blog (Man-Made Tornado To Come Through Birmingham), I’ve been on a whirlwind of conversations, meetings, and even an interview with Fox 6 News.
I guess I stirred some things up — it turns out that people actually do care about trees — and they care about how this development is going to affect the community.
But I need to confess: There are some things I left out of that blog.  And there are some things I have learned since.  
To begin, I knew good and well that some of these old and beautiful trees on Park Lane property were not in the best condition.  
magnolia at the mercy of a power line on its right side = why it’s important to plant the right tree in the right place!
this one needs some love
After all, they are old.  My grandparents aren’t in tip-top shape either.  You know?
The problem is this:  in an urban environment, trees may have to be eliminated if they pose a risk to people.   This is proper practice and very much a part of urban tree care.  (And a great reason to take care of your trees when they are young.)
Also, I was fully aware that, as part of the development, they are intending to fix the stormwater drainage issue here.  Park Lane is deemed a flood zone.  Therefore, they are planning to raise the grade a couple of feet in order to tend to this problem.  In order to raise the grade, one must, well, start over.   Tree trunks buried under two feet of new soil just won’t do.  The tree will die. 
So, while we may want to say Cutting Down Trees & Development is bad, bad, bad, it’s just not that simple.
In fact, a lot of folks think that Lane Parke is a really good idea – loss of “green” or not. 
Fred Spicer, the Executive Director of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, was kind enough to speak with me.  The Gardens are directly across the street from Park Lane Apartments. Luckily, the developers have included him on some of the decision-making, and Fred had a lot of information to impart.  
one of my favorite trees at the BBG — a gorgeous Ginkgo — stunning yellow color in the fall
pretty roses at the Birmingham Botanical Garden
Fred says, “Lane Parke has the potential to benefit the Gardens and the community in terms of visitorship, connectivity, and tourism,” while taking care of some stormwater run-off problems in the Gardens and at the Park Lane site.  
He also believes that the traffic issues in Mountain Brook Village could possibly be cleared up as a result of this development.
After hearing his reasons and taking some time to consider, I agree with him.  Lane Parke has the potential — if it’s done right.
But if it isn’t, then what we are left with are a bunch of knocked-over trees and bulldozed historical buildings.  
I’m talking about Smart Growth.  And I’m not referring to trees.  Smart growth is a popular term in modern urban planning, and I see it as a necessity given the rate at which “development” is taking down trees and putting up buildings — buildings that sometimes end up empty after a few short years. 
The way I see it, ALL growth needs to be smart…
…especially in the heart of Tree City USA.
I reiterate:  I see the potential in a new and improved Mountain Brook Village, including functioning walking paths that connect the village to the Gardens to the Zoo to Jemison Trail to the YMCA, including large shade trees IN the parking lots, including bike lanes and bike racks, and picnic areas, with cans for recycling, please.  
currently in Western parking lot;  not best functioning
Mountain Brook Village would be a great place for people to come spend the day — shop, eat, visit the zoo, visit the gardens, enjoy the wooded Jemison Trail.  Park their cars, walk, ride their bikes, and be.  It truly would be community-building.  (Right now, it’s just hot and traffic-y.)
In fact, studies show that pedestrian-friendly areas profit more.  Why?  Because people are moving slower, enjoying themselves, browsing — and buying.  
Now, with all my questioning and conversing, one thing that I have found:  there is conflicting information in regards to this development.  Add to it the fact that Park Lane is in Mountain Brook boundaries, but Park Lane Road is part of Birmingham, things really get tricky.
Not to mention the newspapers (the primary source of information a few short years ago) are shutting down left and right, and emails, blogs, Facebook, and smaller publications are doing their best to take their place.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” In the Age of Communication, no less.
I know that it’s not exactly in Lane Parke‘s marketing plan to shout out that over 200 trees are being cut down to do it, but think of the shock and sadness of the residents as they drive down Park Lane Road when those trees are gone!
in front of the apartments along Park Lane Road — this one is in good shape!
 So.  I wrote that blog to inform all of you.  
That’s all.  It wasn’t really my job to tell you.  I did it anyway.
And you responded.  In a big way.  After all, trees are our lifeline.  I think perhaps on a subconscious level, we’re all getting a tiny bit alarmed at the rapid loss of all these beautiful beings.  Rightfully so.   And at what cost?

mature liquidambar on Park Lane site

 At the end of all these musings, all I can say is that what I have found is that this development has a lot of moving parts, and there is no simple answer.   Was I wrong about the trees?

Well.  They are still alive.  They are still giving.  Life-giving.  So no, I don’t think I was “wrong.”

Then again, what if Lane Parke became a model for green, sustainable, forward-thinking developments everywhere?  What if the new landscaping plan was gorgeous and we could have that canopy back, healthier and better within the next twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years?  What if people not only came from all over the South but the nation to witness Alabama’s smart growth in action?   (Wait.  Alabama?  Smart growth?  In the same sentence?  Now that’s press.)
In that case, I think the trees here would gladly sacrifice themselves.  (Although in my heart or hearts, it still makes me sad.)  And if we could save a few more some how for the short and long term, all the better.
So many people have said, “Oh, Katie, the Lane Parke development is done.  It’s happening.”
No.  Nothing is “done” until the first tree is cut.  Moving parts or not.
In fact, word has it that they are still waiting on some things from the Cities of Birmingham and Mountain Brook as far as approvals.
So it’s not “done.” There is still time.  But not much.  Park Lane Apartments will be officially tenant-free this Sunday.  So take action immediately! 
1.  Letters to the Mayor of Birmingham, Mayor of Mountain Brook, and City Council members.  
     A. Express your concern for the Lane Parke development, and that you insist it be sustainable and an example of smart growth – in every way!  And until that plan is up to par, the trees and buildings should still stand.   Attend city council meetings — this project has been delayed dozens of times so far.  Your voice counts!
    ***B.  TREE ORDINANCE – In many cities, there are strict regulations on killing a tree, even when on private property.  Write your Mayor, and insist that a smart tree ordinance be put into place as soon as possible.  (i.e. there is one sitting on the desk of the Mayor of Birmingham – let’s get it moving!)***    
          A.  Mountain Brook, Mayor Oden: lastvalhalla@aol.com
          B. Birmingham City Hall — Third Floor
          Office of City Council (and/or Office of Mayor)
          710 North 20th Street
          Birmingham, AL 35203
          (205) 254-2000
2.  Become a member of the Birmingham Botanical Garden.  This is an amazing resource.  Not only is it gorgeous, they offer great educational opportunities to the public, including the children of under-served areas.   They depend on our funding!
3.  Educate yourself.  Our planet needs all the voices it can get.  The more you know, the stronger your voice.  Read, discuss, and attend your local classes.  Smart growth, urban planning, sustainable living, tree care, are all good key words to put into Google.  
4.  Get to know a tree.  Climb one.  Sit under one.  Observe one.  We, as a culture, have lost our connection to these great beings.  Reclaim it.  And encourage your children to as well.  AND OF COURSE!  Plant at least one tree before you die.  The right tree in the right place please.
To conclude, I’m going to pass on a quote a friend sent me this week.  It struck a resounding chord.
“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods.  But He cannot save them from fools.”     — John Muir

Man-Made Tornado To Come Through Birmingham

Forgive the dramatic title.  But I have a point.  Read on.

In short, approximately 250 trees are slated to be bulldozed in Mountain Brook/Birmingham, Alabama beginning the first week of September.

Ironically, Mountain Brook, Alabama calls itself Tree City USA.  Indeed, the diversity, size, and number of trees in Mountain Brook is impressive. It’s a beautiful sight – in the Fall with the golds and reds, in the Spring with its blossoms, in the Summer with the (God bless it) much-needed shade.  In a way, it’s our pride and joy, right?  If there is one thing Birmingham has, it’s a lovely array of trees.
I’ve learned, however, that when there is an abundance of something, humans have a tendency to take it for granted.  We’ve all heard the old adage, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
So you would think that when over 200 trees are to be cut down in the heart of Mountain Brook that there would be some fuss about it, right?
You’d think.  But let me ask: is the first time you are hearing about this? 
It is?  Don’t worry.  You aren’t the only one.  I attended a Tree Commission meeting for the City of Mountain Brook.  There were approximately eight people in attendance, all members except myself and another fellow.  And even some of those attendees – members of the Tree Commission, mind you! – did not realize that this many trees were to be cut down.
So, let me re-phrase.  You have heard of it.  It’s the Lane Parke development.  What you see in the photos are apartments that have been around a long, long time.  You know them.   The apartments where either you lived, your best friend lived, your parents lived, or your brother lived?  Everyone knows someone who has lived there it seems.  They are truly part of Birmingham’s history.
Yet, not only will they be demolishing all of these classic, sturdy buildings, but they will also be tearing down every tree you see in sight…and many more.    

Bye-bye a chunk of Mountain Brook’s canopy.  And right in prime locale too.  In fact, the Park Lane Apartments are directly across from the Birmingham Botanical Garden.  So much for Tree City USA.

Why are they doing this, you ask?  There will be stores, an inn, and some new apartments in its place.

Notice the missing tree canopy, and the weak attempt to add a tree into the drawing.  Mind you, there will be many, many cars, and those were left out as well.  Pretty building though.

And parking.  Lots and lots and lots of parking.  (I can hear Joni Mitchell singing right now.)

Not only are approximately 200 trees on the Park Lane property going to be wiped out, but because they think that widening Park Lane Road is a good idea, they will also be taking out some trees that belong to Birmingham’s Botanical Garden that line Park Lane Road.  Property of Birmingham, mind you. 
Trees on the left – Birmingham property — will be gone to make another lane of traffic.  Is this necessary?

This photo was taken this morning, Wednesday, at approximately 8:30 AM (rush hour).   These trees are surrounding Birmingham’s Botanical Garden, and are therefore Birmingham property.  They too will be cut down.  All of them.

Notice the shade in the photo.  NONE of that will be there.  The trees across the street are part of Park Lane.

So why do I care? 

Because I’m a Certified Arborist.  That means I know a lot about trees.  But much much much more than that, it means I CARE about trees.  And the more that I have learned about them over the years, the more impressed I have become. 
I will not go into the benefits of trees here (it’s too long for this particular blog).   But I am asking you to spread the word about these gorgeous, planet-cooling, shade-making, animal-housing, oxygen-producing, air-cleaning, rainwater-capturing amazing trees that benefit Mountain Brook and Birmingham more than we could ever understand.  EVERYONE in this community – from ages eight to 88 — should know about this development before it happens, and have a chance to speak out if they feel inclined.

After all, the trees are humble.  They aren’t going to shout out all the good that they do for the world.  They can’t yell for a chainsaw to stop.  They can’t debate, whine, plead, cry out, or persuade.

They don’t have voices.

But we do.

They can’t fight for their lives.

But we can.

After all, we mourned the losses of the trees in the tornadoes.

Photo Courtesy of al.com

We mourned the losses of the trees at Auburn. 

dying oak at Auburn University — photo source

I hope we don’t have to mourn these too.

please help

WHAT CAN YOU DO?  (I’m working on the best avenues, but to begin….)
1.  Please write or call one or all of the following people on the Tree Commission of Mountain Brook and tell them how you feel.
2.  SPREAD THE WORD — Share this blog on Facebook.  Comment here.  Email me with your desire to help.  Even if you live outside of Birmingham, we need you!  Change happens in numbers.


Swiped Bike…and the Good that Came From It

I’m back in Los Angeles, where the flowers are brighter, the breezes are softer, and the skies are bluer. It’s been so lovely to reconnect with my home away from home and, more importantly, the people in it. Yet, one of the sweetest reunions yet, was the one with my good ol’ bike, Trusty, my silver, sleek Trek hybrid that has been patiently awaiting my return.  She stays in LA, and that way, I have no need to rent a car while here.  She’s my one and only – we met while filming CarLess in LA — and she’s been my faithful ride ever since.

Until yesterday.

I strolled up to my friend Cristina’s house, outside of which I had locked her to a street sign, to see that she was not there.

“Cristina!” I hollered.  She came bounding out of the house (windows are open in LA).

“What is it, honey?”

“My bike got stolen.”

“Oh nooo!”

I laid on the grass.  I yelled at myself at how stupid I was (the lock I borrowed was not the soundest).  Why didn’t I put her inside the gate?  Why didn’t I use a better lock?  Why did this happen!?

I had a breakfast date in Santa Monica, and my day was planned around a lovely beach/bike path ride to get there.

“Katie, are you sure you want to lay on the grass right there?  There are a lot of dogs in this neighborhood.”

She wasn’t quite understanding my pain.  What was dog tee-tee when my bike had been swiped!

“Cristina.  I need a minute.  Go inside.”

Seeing my distressed, she obeyed.

“Dammit,” I thought and said out loud to myself while laying on the grass.  “Dammit!”

I made myself get up.  I dusted myself off.  I went inside, and I asked for some fingernail polish remover.  Cristina’s roommate, Lauren appeared (a fellow Southerner) and they both expressed their sentiments for my loss then chattered on about something else.

As I wiped off my mermaid green nail polish, it dawned on me that only ten minutes prior, on my walk over to Cristina’s house, I was so happy, and how I was looking forward to a good day, how life can just be swell sometimes…only to turn the corner and to find my bike gone, gone, gone.

Then I thought, “I’m not going to let this ruin my day.  I’m getting over this now.  There’s nothing I can really do.  And Only Good Can Come From This Situation.”

Now this is a favorite mantra of mine:  OGCCFTS.  I learned it back in the day, I think from a little book called the Game of Life by a woman named Florence Scovel Shinn.  It’s a good one to say to yourself when things are looking bleak.  And in my experience, it almost has a magical power.

This time turned out to be no exception.  Read on.

So, as I’m pondering this, Cristina and Lauren are gabbing on about some bike that their former roommate had left on the side of the house.  They said I could use it.  I’m imagining a nasty old thing, rusted to the rims, with no chain and no brakes, that would be a painfully slow ride to Santa Monica.

I sighed, “Maybe.”  And I thought about how a person feels when their dog dies, and someone tries to offer them a new puppy the next day.

They went on: “Manny said that he didn’t want that bike.  He said to just put it on the side of the street. I don’t want it.  Cristina, do you want it?”

Cristina didn’t want it.  Lauren didn’t want it.  Manny didn’t want it.

“Katie, do you want it?”

Why the hell would I want it? I thought.  But I kept my mouth shut and agreed to go look at it.

Turning the corner to the house, my expectations were low.  But then I saw, gleaming underneath a fine layer of dust, the word Trek.  It was a teal green Trek mountain bike.

“It’s a Trek,” I said, almost in disbelief.  (Why the heck were people passing this bike up?)

[Note:  I rode Trek bikes during my entire time filming CarLess in LA.  I started on a borrowed mountain bike, believe it or not, then bought the hybrid.  So I have a special affinity for Treks, even to the point where I thought about calling the film, Trekking Los Angeles (because that’s what it felt like!)]

I checked the brakes.  They worked.  Cristina grabbed a cloth and we wiped it down.  Sure it had some rust, but this was a FAT bike.  Sure it was a men’s bike, a bit too big.  And yes, the tires were a little flat, but we found a pump, and in a few minutes, I was good to go!

“I’ll take it!”

The wonders of life!

Happy again, (but still a little stumped/shocked), I rode off on my new bike, which I quickly and appropriately named “Lucky.”

I rode the bike path under a sunlit sky, and when I got to Santa Monica, at a certain crosswalk, I saw a familiar face approaching.

“Hey Conan,” I said.  (Yes, it was Conan O’Brien, crossing the street, coming towards me.)

“Hey.  How are you?” he said.

“Good,” I replied, and we went on our way.

Really good.

The rest of the day unfolded and I must say, it was nice to have my new green good luck charm with me.

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