Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Arizona Trivia Tuesdays - You Have the Right to Remain Silent...

.... and you are aware of this right thanks to a challenge to the State of Arizona's Gestapo-like police tactics by dedicated attorneys for 4 criminal defendants, among them Ernesto Miranda, whose famous name we all know.

In 1963, Mr. Miranda was arrested by Phoenix police and taken into custody, where he was interrogated and confessed to a crime, without having been told that he could refuse to answer questions or have an attorney. The confession was used at trial and he was convicted, and sentenced to 20-30 years imprisonment.

His dedicated attorneys pursued appeals through the Arizona and federal court systems, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in what would, these days, be a record-short time. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the confession was inadmissible because of the inherently coercive nature of custodial interrogation, and overturned his conviction. [see footnote 1]

The Court went further, though, and held that without a requirement to provide defendants with a warning about their rights, the U.S. Constitution's Fifth and Sixth Amendment protections (right against self-incrimination and right to have a lawyer) would be rendered essentially useless.

So, thanks to Arizona and the attorneys for Mr. Miranda, we now have the ubiquitous "Miranda Warnings" recited on every cop show on television, approximately 18,642 times per week! Yay, Arizona!

* * * *

footnotes (because I'm a lawyer and lawyers love footnotes):

1. Although Mr. Miranda's initial conviction was reversed, he was retried and convicted again in 1967, even without the use of the illegally obtained confession. He was again sentenced to a 20-30 year term of imprisonment. However, he was paroled in 1972. (This was before Arizona adopted some of the most stringent sentencing laws in the nation, and virtually eliminated early release credits.) According to Wikipedia, Mr. Miranda made a living for a while by autographing police officers' "Miranda warning cards," and was later stabbed to death during a bar fight on January 31, 1976.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mountains and Deserts and Trees, Oh, My! - Part III, Trees

Did you know that Arizona is home to the largest stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world? The pines are in the Coconino National Forest, which covers 1.8 million acres -- and includes the Mogollon Rim [footnote 1].

You can also drive on "Cactus Forest Road" in the Saguaro National Park near Tucson. Although Cactuses technically are not "trees," when there are thousands upon thousands of them all together, it does begin to resemble a forest.

(Barely made it on Tuesday this week! Busy lately...)

* * * * *

Footnote (because I'm a lawyer and lawyers love footnotes):

1. The Mogollon Rim is an approximately 1000 foot high cliff that runs at about a 7000 foot elevation (i.e., it is 1000 feet to the top of it from the 6000 foot elevation area below) for approximately 200 miles across central Arizona at the edge of the Coconino National Forest. (I know, I probably should have put that "Rim" thing in with the "Mountains" portion of this series).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Arizona Trivia Tuesday - Mountains and Deserts and Trees, Oh My! (Part II - Deserts)

According to the Arizona Fish and Game Department, there are 21 deserts in the world, and parts of 4 of them can be found in Arizona -- all four of the major deserts found in the continental United States.

Here is a map that shows the approximate boundaries of the four deserts with portions in Arizona:

Each of these deserts is slightly different in character.

The Sonoran Desert is probably the one most people think of when (if?) they think of an Arizona desert. It is the green one on the map above, and is in southwestern and central Arizona, as well as Southeastern California and its namesake, the State of Sonora in Mexico.

The Sonoran desert is one of the wettest deserts in North America and averages from 5 to 17 inches of rain per year, depending on where you are and varying from year to year. For example, the Phoenix area averages about 8 inches per year. Most of the rain falls during the summer monsoon season (about a month of intermittent intense but short storms) and the winter "rainy" season (gentler, longer lasting but still intermittent rainy spells).

It is also the largest of the desert areas in Arizona, surrounding cities you've probably heard of like Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma, and ones you may not have heard of, like Gila Bend, Casa Grande, and Ajo.

The key Sonoran Desert plant is the iconic saguaro cactus, like the one Snoopy's brother, Spike, lived in near Needles, California. When there are lots of them together, I sometimes think they look a little like people standing around at a cocktail party, waving to their friends across the room with one hand and holding their drink in the other:

Other times I think they look a little like Spongebob's pal Patrick - kind of goofy. Of course there are other cactuses, too, such as the prickly pear and the ocotillo. And let's not forget tumbleweeds. Yes, they really do exist, and they are quite prickly.

Critters in the Sonoran desert include coyotes, roadrunners, mountain lions, bobcats, gila monsters, and the Sonoran desert tortoise (not to be confused with the Giant tortoises found in places like the Galapagos Islands). The Desert tortoise is generally 10 to 15 inches long, and can live for up to 100 years.

The Mojave Desert is found primarily in California, but stretches into parts of northern and western Arizona, Nevada, and (according to some but not all maps) possibly Utah, as well. It is the blue one on the map above.

Death Valley, California, is in the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Desert is slightly higher in elevation than the Sonoran, and averages only about 5" of rain per year. The key plant is the Joshua tree, also known as the Yucca palm, a very strange looking plant indeed:

You'll also find Mohave desert tortoises here, which are similar to the Sonoran desert tortoises but are considered a different species.

The Great Basin Desert is often called the largest U.S. desert, covering approximately 190,000 square miles (most of those are not, of course, in Arizona). It is the brown one on the map above, and it stretches from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Columbia Plateau in the North to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts in the South. In Arizona, it is found primarily along the north rim of the Grand Canyon, with some scattered portions south of the Canyon; some experts disagree that this area is part of the Great Basin Desert would call it the Colorado Plateau instead, and consider it a separate region.

Regardless where you think the borders lie, the Great Basin Desert is considered a "cold desert," with its generally higher elevations (at least 3000 feet, generally 4000 to 6500 feet) and northern latitude. It also receives more regularly spaced rainfall, approximately 7 to 12 inches per year.

With its higher elevation, cooler climate, and more regular rainfall, the plants and animals differ substantially from the Saguaros and Joshua trees and heat-adapted critters found at lower elevations. Typical plants in the Arizona portion of this desert include sagebrush, blackbrush, saltbush, and greasewood, with occasional yuccas and very few cactuses. A single blackbrush plant can live to be 400 years old!

Here is a photo of a sagebrush plant:

Animals in the Great Basin Desert include mule deer, with their huge ears, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope (along with the usual desert species such as lizards and snakes). Ranches in the Arizona portion of the Great Basin desert also host two introduced buffalo herds.

A baby Mule Deer:

The Chihuahuan Desert is the one in orange on the map above. Many consider it to be the largest North American desert (as opposed to U.S. desert); others (including the Wikipedia writers and the drawers of the map above, apparently) consider it to be the second largest North American desert, after the Great Basin Desert. It is found in portions of southeastern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as large portions of Northern Mexico, including the Northern half of the Mexican State of Chihuahua, its namesake (and also the namesake of a certain small dog).

The elevation is typically higher than the Sonoran Desert, ranging from 1000 to 10,000 feet. Additionally, although total rainfall is similar to the Sonoran desert (ranging from 6 to 16 inches, and averaging around 9 inches per year), most of its rain falls in the summer rainy season; it lacks a winter rainy season.

Thus, the plants and animals are a bit different from the Sonoran desert. Instead of desert tortoises, you'll find hawks and prairie dogs. Javelina, coyotes, and jackrabbits are also common. Jaguars have been reported, too, but extremely rarely, as they are endangered and there aren't many of them.

Agave plants are common in this region. Agave plants are not cactuses - they are actually members of the lily family! - and are also commonly known as "century plants." They grow and accumulate nutrients for many years, usually about 30 years, then they grow a tall flower stalk, flower once, and then die. Flower stalks on some varieties can reach up to 30 feet tall! Some varieties of agave plants are used to make tequila and mezcal.

The agave lecheguilla, a very small agave species, is found only in this desert and is considered an "indicator plant" for the desert. Here are two photos, one flowering, one not:

Although the plant is small, the flower stalks range from 6 to 15 feet.

The Chihuahuan desert is one of the most biologically diverse desert regions; I haven't even scratched the surface of the cool plants and animals that can be found there.

Join me next week for part III - Trees!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ten Years

On this day in 2002, three people I loved died. It wasn't this date, though -- It was January 20. But it was the Sunday of the MLK day weekend.

Teri was one of my best friends. We originally met because she was a teacher at the school where my husband taught. She invited us for dinner with her and her husband, and it took off from there.

Teri had an upbeat, positive outlook on life, but in a practical sort of way, without being sappy or annoying about it. When I was in a good mood, she was fun to share it with. When I was in a bad mood, she knew just how to help. She was not one to say, "There, there, it will all be fine!" without further analysis. Instead, she would listen carefully, understand, and then encourage positive action to make things better.

She would call me often, sometimes to ask for advice or a favor; other times just to talk and "catch up."

Sometimes, she would call me at a "bad" time when I was feeling stressed out and overwhelmed and frazzled and, well, just not in the mood for a telephone call. It was almost as if she knew I needed her. Because I loved her, I would push away my impulse to say, "I can't talk now. I have to go." And we would talk. And I would feel better as we talked. And by the end of the telephone call, I would feel calmer, happier, more ready to face whatever problems the day had thrown my way.

She invited my husband and me to the "Magic Castle" in California -- a members-only club for magicians, to give them a venue to practice their new tricks. Somehow she had a connection who could get us all in, so we went. It was fantastic and amazing. We went from room to room seeing different acts, from card tricks to pulling doves out of a hat to vanishing objects and floating assistants -- all incredible -- and enjoying delicious food and good wine.

We started a book club, and read a lot of great books and talked about them while enjoying more good wine and great food.

We hosted baby showers for each other, and she asked me to be a part of the baby-naming ceremony at her synagogue after her first child, a girl, was born. The ceremony was fascinating. I'm not Jewish, so it was the first time I'd ever been to synagogue, and the first baby-naming ceremony I'd ever seen. I loved it. She named the baby "Maya."

As our babies grew into toddlers, we would get together and let the kids play - they would paint or color or play with toddler toys. My daughter was about a year and a half older than hers, but they got along reasonably well and seemed to enjoy seeing each other. Maya was a bright baby, with wise and beautiful big brown eyes. She was friendly and outgoing and happy.

Teri's husband, Efrain, was a soft-spoken, somewhat shy person around adults, but he could entertain a child for hours with nothing more than a ball or a stick and his incredible imagination and sense of fun. Perhaps because he grew up without much in the way of material goods in Mexico, he had learned to make the most of what he did have, and to make it fun.

He had such patience with babies and toddlers. When my daughter was learning to walk, he'd walk with her all over the house, stooped over so she could reach his hand, never complaining that his back hurt or that he wanted to sit down. She'd smile and smile at her accomplishment: walking with Efrain, showing him treasures in every room.

We loved this family, almost as if they were a part of our own.

And then it all came to an end. Too suddenly. Too soon.

On Friday, January 18, 2002, I arrived home after pulling an all-nighter at work to complete a project, and I faced a weekend of work, too, to finish the next project. I was tired, and overwhelmed, and stressed out, and resenting the fact that work was going to ruin what should have been a three-day holiday weekend.

Teri called, wanting to get together over the weekend, and I had to say I couldn't. We talked a while, but probably a shorter time that we should have. I felt calmer and happier when we hung up, but not quite ready to face the day. So I skipped our daughters' class that day. We had both signed our kids up for a community "play" class, so we could talk while our kids played. I took a nap instead.

I may never forgive myself for skipping that class, and for rejecting her offer to see each other that weekend, because I never saw my friend again.

I worked all day Saturday, and all day Sunday. I worked all Sunday night, and got home Monday morning.

On Monday, I learned that Teri, her husband Efrain, and their daughter Maya had been killed in a car crash on Sunday evening. I cried a lot and kept repeating "Nooooo, no, no, no, no, no, no, noooo" over and over. I wanted to make it un-happen, but I couldn't.

I wanted to turn back the clock to a time when life was good, and beautiful, and happy... to a time when the only petty thing I had to complain about was work. I wanted to turn back the clock and un-hear the death story (surely this couldn't be reality, could it?), turn back the clock still further, and accept Teri's offer to get together over the weekend, or at least call her on the phone on Sunday to delay her departure from home.... anything so that she would not have been where she was at the death-time, so that death, in the form of a drunk driver, would not have taken her, and her beautiful family, from me.... from all of us.

A drunk driver, Francisco Romero, had been driving his BMW SUV southbound at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour on Pima Road (speed limit 55) near its intersection with the ironically named Happy Valley Road, in Scottsdale, Arizona. He hit a dip in the road at the intersection and his SUV literally sailed through the air and across the yellow middle line, and hit Teri's little Subaru car, which was northbound nearing the same intersection, head on. The SUV bounced off my friends' Subaru, and hit the pickup truck driving behind them.

Teri and her daughter, Maya, were pronounced dead at the scene. Teri's husband, Efrain, died at the hospital a short while later.

The couple in the pickup truck behind Teri's car were also severely injured. A passenger in the drunk's SUV was killed, and another severely injured. The drunk caused a lot of heartache in one blast of stupidity - four dead and three injured, in less than one minute. He was later sentenced to 31 years in prison for those crimes.

Maya would have turned two that week. She was scheduled for a big birthday party with chocolate cake and ice cream. She had not yet tasted chocolate. She never would.

Maya and Teri had visited me at home a week or two before. Maya and my daughter had painted and I had admired their art work. Before leaving, Maya handed me her painting and said firmly, "You keep." I did. I still have it. She'll never paint me another one.

She was such a bright little girl, friendly and enthusiastic and beautiful. Words like "tragic" or "awful" don't even begin to capture it...

The worst thing about losing three dear friends at once was that grieving was ... still is ... so difficult. You start to recover your breath from the shock of losing one friend, and then the memory of the loss of another punches you right in the gut. I couldn't breathe properly for weeks.... and it still takes my breath away today if I'm not careful.

I'd start to dry my tears about Maya and then, Efrain.... sweet, kind, creative, fun-loving Efrain. He was from Mexico, had come to this country on a green card, worked hard, studied hard, earned his citizenship, and then married Teri. His beautiful daughter was the light of his life. When the paramedics arrived at the accident scene, his first thought, despite the pain he must surely have been suffering, was his baby girl in the back seat. "Take care of Maya first," he told them. They didn't have the heart to tell him she was already dead.

I'd start to breathe again and then I'd remember... Teri... she's gone, too... and the wind would be sucked out of me once more. My book club buddy. My confidant. My fun friend. My fellow mom. My massage therapist. A few weeks before Teri died, I had been in a very minor car accident, and had pulled some muscles in my back. She was a certified massage therapist, and she insisted I let her use her healing skills. She was good; the sessions helped a lot.

At the last session, a week before she died, something prompted her to tell me how much she valued our friendship, enjoyed the fact that our families got along so well together, our kids could play together, but that she really loved how we could just talk... Thank God for Teri's openness. I was able to tell her that I loved her, too, was so thankful for her presence in my life... I wouldn't have another chance to do that.

Some memories brought a tiny bit of comfort, a sense that at least my friends had achieved some measure of happiness and contentment before the terrible loss.

His whole life, Efrain had always wanted a yellow VW Bug, like the toy car he had played with as a child. Teri and Efrain had shared one car for as long as I'd known them, but shortly before the accident, she had managed to save enough money, and had bought him his dream car as a birthday gift.

Teri had wanted nothing more than to have a child. She had struggled for years to get pregnant. Maya was her dream child, and I'm so thankful she had the chance to have her baby....

They had recently purchased a home with a pool, and adopted a dog.

And Teri and Efrain were so much in love, with each other and with their baby girl. They were grateful each day for the good life they were able to live.

And as I daydream about the happiness they had found it hits me again, the horrible, awful, unnecessary, and completely unfair loss of such good lives ...

I went to the funeral, in California. The funeral parlor was packed with mourners, each with his or her own special sense of loss, yet I could not imagine a loss more profound than the loss Teri and Efrain's parents faced: not only the loss of their child and daughter- or son-in-law, but also of their dear sweet Maya, their darling and long-awaited grandchild, before she even turned two. Parents should not have to bury their children, much less their granddaughter... How does one even begin to accept that such a travesty is true?

Seeing the coffins was another punch in the gut. Two regular sized plain wooden boxes, and one tiny one for Maya. It was just so wrong. It felt like we were burying them alive; they couldn't really be dead, could they?

I stood in the rain with tears streaming down my face. I was glad for the rain, for the vast gray, gloomy clouds and the cold, damp day. Sunshine and singing birds would have been unbearable.

The cemetery was beautiful. Grassy rolling hills, trees, simple flat grave markers on the ground ... unobtrusive, simple ... one could look around and maybe begin to feel a small bit of peace.

Words were spoken over the coffins. People stood, numb and stone-faced or teary-eyed ... or cried and hugged each other ... or sat in limp helplessness in the mud against a tree .... while others - mothers and aunts and grandmothers - wailed and screamed "NO!" and flung themselves on the coffin. Your choice. So many ways to feel grief....

There was an awful racket as the giant machines were revved up and brought over for the task of lifting each of the coffins and lowering them into the giant hole.

The three coffins were lowered into the gaping pit. Two large ones, and the smaller one between.

The pit was not beautiful. It was breathtakingly awful. Too big. Too deep. Too dark for my friends to endure.

And then, as is apparently the tradition at a Jewish funeral, each of the attendees was handed the shovel in turn to begin the process, which the machines would later finish, of filling the giant grave. I almost couldn't bear it, putting that heavy, rain-soaked earth on top of my dear friends (surely they're not really dead, are they?) but I did and once again the breath was sucked out of me as I realized the finality of it all. They are not coming back.

Someone poured a jar of beach sand in with the mud. Teri had always loved the beach... The thought, unwelcome, "as if it matters now."

No one knew quite what to say or do. Nothing could make any of it any more bearable. So I stood, and cried. Someone came to me for a hug, but I felt no comfort. There is no comfort at such a time for such a loss. Not from humans, nor from God.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two, Please

Do you remember the moment your daughter became a teen instead of a child?

I remember the moment it happened to me -- when I moved irrevocably from childhood to teenager in my stepmom's eyes.

We were shopping, and I held up an awesome[see footnote 1] shirt and said, "Wow, I love this! Will you get it for me?"

Her eyes widened as she looked at the shirt, and she replied, with just the smallest hint of a sarcastic tone, "Oh, absolutely, but you'll need two of them!"

"Two? ...Why?" I asked.

"Well, so you'll have one to shit on, and one to cover it up with."

See how she did that so masterfully? She said yes, but I knew she meant no, and she even cursed! Every kid knows that parents don't curse in front of their kids, so even while she was insulting the crap out of me (or at least, my taste in clothing), she was also complimenting me by letting me know she now considered me an adult - someone she could curse in front of.

She was (still is, really) a master of contradictions and subtlety and using humor to defuse otherwise potentially tense situations.

* * * * *

Footnote 1 (because I'm a lawyer and lawyers love footnotes): Translation of the word "awesome," as applied to clothing, for those without teenage girls: "hideously ugly and horribly trashy, and even if you are laughing at this post you are secretly hoping your beloved innocent daughter or granddaughter never wants to wear anything remotely resembling it."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Arizona Trivia Tuesday - Mountains and Deserts and Trees, Oh, My! (Part I - Mountains)

The highest point in Arizona is Humphrey's Peak, elevation 12,637 feet. It is 128th on Wikipedia's list of the 180 highest mountain peaks in the U.S. Humphrey's Peak is part of the San Francisco Peaks range, just north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The peaks were named after St. Francis of Assisi, not after the city of the same name.

Humphreys Peak was named after Brigadier General Andrew Atkinson Humprheys, a Civil War hero who led Union troops at Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and others. He later became the U.S. Chief of Engineers and directed the famous "Wheeler Surveys," the U.S. Geological Survey that explored and surveyed the Southwestern U.S. in the 1870's.*

The Arizona Snowbowl, which is Flagstaff's ski resort and not a college football game, lies on the Western slope of Humphrey's Peak. Yes, you can go skiing in Arizona!


Semi-interesting (for geography nuts, anyway) sidenote related to Humphrey's work with the U.S. Geological Survey: "Baseline Road" in the Phoenix metropolitan area is so named because it is sited along the "baseline" of the Gila and Salt River Baseline and Meridian.

What the heck is that, you ask? (Or maybe you didn't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway).

The U.S. Public Land Survey System was established in 1785 to survey and parcel land so that portions of it could be released for sale to (or homesteading and eventual ownership by) private owners.

The surveying system was used to subdivide the land for sale to private owners in most of the United States, excluding the original thirteen colonies and a few other states in which the land already had been divided and sold before the survey system was established. The system selected points of origin for surveying land which would include both a true north-south meridian of longitude (called a "principal meridian") and a true east-west parallel of latitude (called a "baseline").

Baseline Road runs along the true east-west baseline that was established to serve as the basis for the land survey for most of Arizona. The entire Phoenix metropolitan area, and indeed most of Arizona, is laid out in a grid emanating from Baseline Road.

A part of Apache County in Arizona is laid out in a grid emanating from the Navajo Baseline and Meridian, which originates in New Mexico, and a very small portion of land near Yuma, Arizona (on the California/Arizona border) is measured from the San Bernardino Baseline and Meridian, in California.

Fascinating stuff, right?

Monday, January 9, 2012

More Email Fun

Received in my email inbox recently -- a look at the ridiculousness that is our beloved American Standard English language:

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England.

Boxing rings are square,
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing,
Grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

You can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them,
What do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

We ship by truck but send cargo by ship...
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
While a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

Your house can burn up as it burns down,
You fill in a form by filling it out,
and an alarm goes off by going on.

In closing..........

If Father is Pa and/or Pop, how come Mother is Ma but not Mop???


If anyone knows the original author, please advise -- I'd be happy to give credit where it is due, but I have no idea who originally wrote this piece.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Feature - Free Range Kids

It's been months since I've done a "Friday Feature." But this blog is a good one, and I want all of you with kids or grandkids to go read some of it, so here's my "shout-out" about it:

I've been reading the Free Range Kids blog a lot, lately, because it has helped me to "let go" of my kids a bit more, and, more importantly, to let go of the irrational fear that previously accompanied any "letting go" that I did.

We are fed a steady news diet of scary stories about kids who are abducted, molested, and/or killed. We are also fed a steady advertising diet of new "safety" products that the advertisers tell us are absolutely essential to keep our children safe in our apparently completely unsafe world.

Parents have become afraid to let their kids out of sight. They have become "helicopter parents," monitoring every move their kids make, driving the kids everywhere they go, hanging around at every kid birthday party, interfering in every activity their kids engage in ... They buy their 8 year olds cell phones so the kids can call them... why, exactly? Presumably so they can call "if there's any trouble." But the only time the kids are even out of sight, typically, is at school... where, usually, cell phones are not allowed!

All this, despite the fact that, statistically, kids are safer now than at any prior time in history.

I remember, as a 10 year old child, riding my bike along a fairly major street, without a helmet or other safety gear, several miles to the school I attended. My parents were gone when I left the house, and still gone (at work or school) when I returned home. I was a "latch key" kid, I guess. But I didn't feel neglected so much as empowered.

My parents gave me enough money to ride the city bus to and from school each day, and some days I did, but I learned quickly that if I'd ride my bike, I could use the money for other things, like soda, ice cream, comic books, toys, movies, and more.

I remember after school and weekends and summers being allowed to roam free with my friends after school and again after dinner for hours at a time without so much as checking in, and the only rule was I had to be home by dark, which in Florida in the summer was 9 or 10 p.m.

Sometimes we pushed that a bit. It would be *really* dark... Sometimes I ignored my mom calling for me from the door of our house. I'd get yelled at when I got home, those nights, and a lecture about how she was worried about me, but it didn't stop her from letting me play with my friends other nights.

We'd ride our bikes after school and on weekends for miles and hours - without helmets, knee or elbow pads, or other safety gear.

I rode my bike a couple miles past my school to a farm on the outskirts of town to take horse riding lessons each week. By myself. And then rode home again.

We'd count our pennies and dimes, and when we had enough of them, we'd ride to the movie theatre and see "Rocky" or "The Bad News Bears" or whatever else was new and exciting.

We'd go to the local 7-11 and buy comics and candy, then hang out at one of our houses eating and reading.

I'd climb to the top of the best climbing tree in my yard - the one with lots of branches close together - and watch the people and cars pass by below, smiling because they didn't know I was there. I fell once, climbing down. Knocked the wind out of me and got a few bruises, but I didn't complain -- didn't want to be banned from tree-climbing.

I'd often go to friends' houses who had moved to other neighborhoods. Sometimes my parents would be so kind as to give me a ride; usually they told me to ride my bike -- it was only a couple of miles.

My friends and I would dig up bugs in the yard, and we learned the hard way that the beautiful large furry red ants were not actually ants but wasps.

We'd go for ice cream at the Baskin-Robbins and sample all 31 flavors before deciding which one to buy. I'm sure the employees hated us, but we had a blast.

We'd walk to the nearby park playground and play, for hours at a time, unaccompanied by any adults, on the merry-go-round, see-saws, and other play equipment that is now considered "too dangerous" and has been removed from most playgrounds across the country.

Schools had playgrounds back then, too - and they generally were not fenced in and locked off, but were open on weekends and summers for community kids to use.

We'd walk to the public swimming pool unaccompanied and swim for hours. If you passed the test (swim this far, tread water for this long...), you'd be issued a card that said you could go in the deep end of the pool even though your parents weren't there. You had to pass the test, because you wanted to jump off the high dive which, of course, was in the deep end of the pool.

All of this was when I lived in Florida. I moved from there the summer I turned 12.

When I was young, I flew often, alone, to visit grandparents, aunts / uncles, and other relatives. I started with non-stop flights and people meeting me at the gates, and worked my way up to changing planes and even changing airlines on occasion, and meeting folks at the baggage claim area.

When I was 17, I drove from Virginia to Alabama and back on my own in my 1965 Mustang (which I've written about previously, here), with nothing more than a map to help me navigate. This was before the days of cell phones and GPS systems. Fortunately, in the good ol' USA, you can go most anywhere just by following the signs on the interstate highways, as long as you know the major cities along the way.

These days, I worry that I'd be arrested for child neglect or endangerment if I let my kids do half the things I did as a kid.

I love the Free Range Kids blog, because it supports what I think is my better impulse, to allow my kids the same freedom to explore, to grow, and to develop self-confidence that I was given.

Too many kids these days reach adulthood without knowing how to navigate to their local convenience store alone, much less across the country by plane or auto. This needs to change. Kids are more competent than most people give them credit for.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not "anti-safety." I'm not advocating abandoning bike helmets or car seats. These are useful safety precautions that do not impede everyday life.

I am, however, increasingly frustrated with our society's infantilization of kids. Kids should be expected and allowed to develop appropriately, which includes developing self-reliance and the confidence to navigate, by themselves, in the world.

I recognize that some of the activities advocated on the Free Range Kids blog may be outside your comfort zone. I'm not advocating that you go straight from telling your 8 year old that she can't go outside without you to sending her across New York City on the subway unaccompanied. That would probably freak her out, anyway.

I am also not advocating that you send your child out to ride her bike in the street if you live on a major highway or in gangland central.

But for the vast majority of my readers who likely live somewhere in a decent urban, suburban, or even small town neighborhood, your kids will be fine if they ride their bike down the street, or walk the dog a few blocks without you. Try it! Once they get past feeling terrified by this new freedom, they will love the feeling that you trust them and that they can do it on their own.

I am, quite simply, advocating incremental change. Change toward allowing our children more freedom and responsibility, and trusting that they can handle it and will not suffer for it.

Read the blog. Teach your kids how to stay safe (hint: it's not about running from all strangers, but about knowing which neighbors you can trust and which ones are "creepy" and avoiding the "creepy" ones; it's not about staying on the sidewalk or in your yard at all times, but about learning how to cross the street safely).

Then trust your kids more and give them some well-deserved freedom.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Feature -- Arizona Trivia Tuesdays

Little-known fact: the western-most battle of the Civil War was fought in Arizona, near Picacho Peak, which is a smallish mountain (2000 ft elevation) between Tucson and Phoenix, south of Casa Grande, Arizona.

The battle took place on April 15, 1862, and was a skirmish between a Union cavalry patrol consisting of 13 men and their commander from California and a party of 10 Confederate pickets from Tucson. (A "picket" is a group of troops placed forward of a position to warn against an enemy advance).

Accounts of the action vary depending on who you consult, so I won't try to give you a "play by play" of this very short (approximately two hour) battle, or even declare a winner.

Nevertheless, the consensus seems to be that three Union soldiers were killed; three were wounded; and three Confederate soldiers were captured.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

May you all have a healthy and prosperous year in 2012.

And may you all remember to share that good fortune with those who are less fortunate, in whatever way and with whatever time you are able.

And may that sharing, health, and financial good fortune bring you much happiness and joy.

Remember, you have only one life, and only one year 2012. Make the most of it!