Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Right to Vote

This won't be a political post, that will come tomorrow. This is a post about voting rights and voting laws. Now I'm originally from Maine. It's generally a rather liberal state more often than not, especially in terms of social programs. I am now living in Alabama (hopefully this was obvious by the name of the blog) and from what I have gathered since moving down here two years ago, Alabama considers itself to be a very conservative state. There have been a few stark differences between Alabama and Maine in terms of voting laws that have seriously concerned me. I am no voting laws expert, but these are just my observations. I am not going to compare voting laws in every state, just the two I have had personal experience with.

Now in Maine, you can register to vote at the polling place on Election day with no issues and no hassle. Photo ID and proof of residence to register to vote, but no ID is required to actually vote. Whenever I voted, everyone was quite nice and helpful. I never felt rushed or pressure in any way. The rules aren't necessarily looser in Maine, they are just designed to help people vote. You can find all of Maine's voting laws here. There is one in particular that stood out to me. According to the State of Maine, "I may not be harassed when voting or be pressured about how to vote.  21-A MRSA §§672 and 682". I most certainly feel that this is a vital component of voting laws and of Democracy as a whole. There is nothing more important than access to voting in order to support a Democracy. You cannot expect a Democracy to survive as such if any segment, no matter how small or large, is disenfranchised form voting. I feel that Maine does a good job in attempting to assist voters in accessing their polling places and any and all voter applicable voter information.

I have found Alabama to be very different, however. It seems that large segments of the population are disenfranchised, though that may just be my perception. I don't know how wide spread the polling locations are; I'm hoping there aren't massive lines to vote tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes after I vote. The biggest issue I have I discovered while reading through the Alabama Voter Guide for 2012, available here. Everyone reads and makes decisions at their own pace, some quite fast, like myself, and some quite slow, for a whole variety of reasons. In Alabama, there is a time limit on how long a person can be in a voting booth or at a voting machine. The sample ballot for the county I am in is two pages long. I can read that in much less than a minute, but someone with dyslexia or poor vision may have a great deal of trouble reading the ballot in a short period of time, let alone make decisions and enter their decision, either on a paper ballot or the voting machine. In Alabama, voters are only alloted a total of five (5) minutes in a voting booth to make and enter their decisions. If you don't believe me, look at the section called "Time in the Booth" on page 9 of the Alabama Voter Guide for 2012. I cannot imagine anyone being able to make an informed decision on something of this magnitude in five minutes, especially if they haven't had the chance to look up the ballot ahead of time, which is absolutely plausible if someone works two jobs, which is very common down here. I can not imagine being rushed out of the voting booth in five minutes and I read incredibly fast. I have no idea if this is constitutional, but I hardly think that it's fair. I think it's just another way to disenfranchise voters, especially the uneducated and poorly literate. Everyone needs to be able to vote, regardless of their abilities.

So this is my question, if someone is in a voting booth or at a voting machine and they are clearly engaged in the act of voting, is it acceptable to put a time limit on a right given to us by the Constitution of these United States?? Can you, in good conscience, tell someone they only have five minutes or twenty five minutes to make a decision that will impact the future of this great country?? Please provide your answer in a comment with any additional opinions. I really want to see how other people view this. And do me a huge favor... No matter your preferences, your beliefs, your politics, VOTE. It is as much your right as your responsibility. This country was founded on Democracy, on the voice of the people. If we don't exercise our voice, then what is the point of having one?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Simple Pleasures, or The Adorable Birds on my Porch

There are many little things in life that make us smile. I was reminded today of the simple joy of bird watching. We've got a little porch on the back of our apartment. Shortly after we moved in, we started putting bird seed out on the railing, and now we have a bird feeder. We have a whole variety of adorable birds who come visit. We've spent a year and a half cultivating a "friendship" with these little birdies and they do often come visit.

We have nearly a dozen Chickadees who come visit. They're Carolina Chickadees, so they're smaller than the northern Chickadees. They dart to and fro, almost faster than the eye can see. Sometimes they dart a little faster than their eyes can see and occasionally run into tree branches or my sliding glass door. They always fly away unharmed. They are so much fun to watch. They swoop into the bird feeder, grab a seed (usually the biggest one they can find quickly), and dart off to the nearest tree branch (hardly more than a twig) to eat the seed unbothered. They chatter at each other and avoid all of the larger birds, except the mourning doves. They have a tendency to perch in odd positions and will literally queue up along the chain holding the bird feeder to wait their turn at the perch. It's really, really cute.

Very similar to the Chickadees are the nuthatches. We have many brown-headed nuthatches and a couple of pygmy nuthatches, though that may be the same one who visits over and over again. I think the brown-headed nuthatches are my favorite. They look a little like chipmunks and act a little like them, too. They are jumpy and easily startled. They are also rather acrobatic, hanging from the bird feeder or the railing at very strange angles, even upside down. Like the Chickadees, they too prefer the largest seeds, which are usually the sunflower seeds. They do tend to quarrel a little more than the Chickadees, but require much less space to calm down. I love seeing the little brown headed nuthatch walk around on the folding chairs we have on the porch; they go upside down and sideways and backwards. It's really funny. I don't see very much of the pygmy nuthatch, though that may just be because it is hard to distinguish it from the brown headed nuthatches. When I can tell them apart, the pygmy nuthatch is very shy.

Next among our regulars are the Northern Cardinals. The males are a little larger and much brighter than the females. The males are a rosy red color and the females are mostly brown with a faint reddish hue. They are much larger than the Chickadees and the nuthatches, which allows them to be possessive of the bird feeder when they are present. The Northern Cardinals mate for life, so we have several mated pairs who come to visit. Last spring we got to see them feed their young. It was really cute.

We also occasionally have gold finches and house finches, though I think they are migratory since we don't see them very often. They grab what they can and disappear. We also have a single woodpecker who hangs around on the trees behind the apartment. She only comes up to the porch when there is suet out, and since it's getting colder, we've put the suet out so they birds can fatten up.

Last but not least, we have mourning doves. I thought we only had four mourning doves, but apparently only four come up on the porch. The seed has attracted nearly a dozen mourning doves who wander around on the ground below the porch, eating the seed that the nuthatches through away. They are the hubby's favorite bird, but I think they are a little less intelligent than the other birds we have visiting. They are rather adorable though, with their clumsiness and their head bobbing.

These birdies are my simple pleasure down here. When I feel helpless or hopeless, I look out and watch these little creatures go about their day, eating seed and interacting with each other like there isn't another care in the world. It isn't the end of the world to them if I don't have a job or the apartment is messy. And as hard as it is to remember sometimes, this will all work out for the best. Watching the birds is my escape, however brief, from the frustrations of everyday life. We must all remember to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, whatever they may be. So I will go on laughing at the antics of my little birdies and enjoying the subtle humor of Gene Roddenberry, and, for a brief moment, forget my frustrations and cares, until the sound of my computer dying brings me back to this harsh reality.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Driving in Alabama

Before moving down here, I assumed that driving was the same no matter where you went in the U.S. Traffic would change, but the act of driving should stay the same. You pay attention, give the driver in front of you plenty of space, used your turn signal, and just generally be aware of what is going on around you. Simple, right?

It is very different down here. For me, driving is a verb, an action. When I go someplace, I am driving. Driving should not be a byproduct of needing to go some place. It should not be something you do while drinking alcohol, eating, putting on make up, brushing your hair, or blogging. In Maine, I occasionally saw a woman putting lipstick on at a red light, and I often saw the same man drive by me while shaving when I was waiting for the bus. Down here, I once saw a man driving forward while rummaging around in his back seat.

The rules are different here. I took driver's education to get my permit, then drove with an adult over 25, usually my one of my parents. I had my permit for nearly 9 months before I received my license. Here, anyone can take the license test without any training, as long as they are at least 16. Most people don't take driver's education, so they have had no formal driver training. It really shows in the driving abilities of most people. Driving down here feels like I'm taking my life in my hands whenever I leave the house. Simple things like red lights, restraining lines, one way signs, and speed limits seem to be foreign concepts to many people here. I've never seen a local stop behind the restraining line. Even green lights seem to be a foreign concept. Often I'm stuck sitting behind some doofus at a green light for 3, 5, or even 10 seconds while he composes an opus on his cell phone. When I honk to prompt him to go, he often looks around like someone just called his name. It is so frustrating. This really also might just be an issue of not paying attention, which is a pandemic down here, too.

This lack of knowledge is absolutely visible on a specific road down here. That road is called 280. It's a U.S. route that's 6 to 8 lanes wide, 3 or 4 in either direction. It has traffic lights every few hundred yards and the speed limit is 55 mph. The road is so horrendous that it is frequently an election platform for the local politicians. I used to have to drive out it for work. It once took me an hour and a half to go 10 miles. There are dozens of accidents on 280 everyday, often with severe injury. This presents additional problems. Since most drivers were never taught how to drive, no one knows to pull to the right for emergency vehicles. It is nearly impossible to get an ambulance or fire truck to the scene of a really bad accident.

Although the lack of knowledge is a big problem, the biggest problem is inattention. No one down here pays attention to anything. Everyone just seems to be careening through life with their eyes fixed on some distant goal, instead of enjoying every day. I wonder if it has anything to do with their faith. To my understanding, a very large number of Alabamians are southern baptist. Everyone here seems to be fixated on heaven and the afterlife, and it seems like they forget to enjoy the beauty of each day. I'm not very good at living in the moment, myself, but I hardly think this is a dry run. Even if there is something after this, I hardly think we are supposed to waste this one fixated on something that may or may not happen. I know it's cliché, but remember to smells the roses, to watch the sun rise, and tell the people who matter to you that you love them. We've got this life now, let's make the most of it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Home can mean many things. Home may be where you sleep at night, where you feel the most comfortable, it may be where you live now, or where you are from. There's the old adage, home is where the heart is. That's definitely true for me. Home is absolutely where my husband is, since he has my heart, so right now home is in Alabama.

Home is also where I'm from, which is nearly 1500 miles away from here. It is sometimes very hard to be so far away from what is familiar, what is safe. However, it is probably the hardest to be away from the people I love. I've been down here for more than 2 years, but that doesn't seem to make it any easier. I can now go longer without that painful twinge of longing for my family and my friends, but often it's the little things that remind of them.

Sometimes the most random things remind me of home. The smell of baked potatoes remind me of my dad. A woman wearing a pair of cool earrings reminds me of my mom (she has a collection of earrings that would Imelda Marcos' shoe collection to shame). Seeing some cool new crunchy product for kids reminds me of my good friend. All of the Halloween decorations that are out remind me of my little sister. She always made Halloween fun. An adorable kitty in the neighbor's window reminds me of my aunt who LOVES cats. Watching the Big Bang Theory reminds me of my brother from another mother.

It's tough being so far away from home. I can't go to my parents house for dinner when we are almost out of food. I can't do my laundry at their house, either, though that's not as much of a problem anymore since I finally have my own washer and dryer (I really loathe the laundromat). We don't really have friends down here, so there aren't many people to hang out with, or to talk with. There is no one to have girl time with, or go for a walk with. I'm getting a lot better at being alone, but I still really don't like it.

This time of year is the hardest. It starts with my sister's birthday in the beginning of October going all the way through to my mom's birthday in March, including all of the holidays. It is very difficult to be away from my family for the holidays. This will be my third set of holidays away from them. It's not easy for my husband either, but he just hides it better.

Alright, enough of me feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes it helps to just let it all out. I feel better now. Homesickness sucks.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Local News

I do not watch the local news. I actually don't watch any news anymore, since I moved to Birmingham. I know, it's terrible. I can't possibly be an engaged citizen if I don't know what is going on in the world. I do still read the news. I read national and global news on many different news sites, and I follow many different local news organizations on Twitter. I have found that 140 characters is the perfect amount of information to tell me what the hell is going on. If I'm really interested, I will click on the link and learn more. I don't do that all that often, but I have a general idea of what's going on.

Last night I saw a Tweet that I absolutely needed to know more about that didn't have a link to a full story. I still can't find a link to a text story, but here is the link to one of the local news stations video story. It's only a couple of minutes long and I feel that it is really important to be aware of this trend.

Birmingham, Alabama is using a citizens' patrol. They trained several citizen volunteers from a community that experiences a lot of crime for several weeks at the local police academy so they can help police officers stop crime. I understand that sounds like a pretty sweet idea, but I am very afraid of where this is headed. I may be a little alarmist, but this sounds very, very familiar to me, and not in a good way.

Now for the history lesson. If I remember correctly from high school and college history, there was a political regime that relied on everyday citizens to report crimes and suspicions to the local authorities. I'm sure it started out innocently enough, trying to protect their neighbors, but it pretty quickly escalated to finger pointing, beatings, and assumptions of guilt by the authorities. That regime was the Nazis in Germany. The citizen policing and the citizen spying sent thousands of people to Concentration camps and their deaths. Now I understand that Alabama isn't Nazi Germany, but this really scares me. Congress has been debating indefinite detention lately, and there is the PATRIOT Act. Nearly anything can be done in the name of National Security, including what the TSA does, which would be termed sexual assault if done by anyone else.

Birmingham is calling this a pilot program, and I'm hoping they very quickly realize that this is a very bad path to venture down. We'll have to see. I don't live in this particular community where this is being tested, and I am very grateful for that. All I can do is keep an eye on this news story and keep all of you posted.


P.S. - I realized after I posted this that it was a very one sided story. This particular community is frequently in the news for violent crimes, including murder. I'm sure the city of Birmingham and the residents of this community really just wanted to make it safer, and that is very admirable. This program, however, in my humble opinion, is absolutely not the way to go. The police down here already use anonymous tip lines, and most neighborhoods have a neighborhood watch. I think the problem really stems from people being afraid to get involved. These volunteers are taking a big risk by being part of this program. Who knows what kind of retaliation they could face when it becomes known that they helped the police arrest and convict someone. This was a big risk for them to take, and that is admirable. I'm just afraid that this power is going to eventually go to someone's head and it's going to become quite the mess. All we can do is wait and see.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I have come to the realization that I hate Halloween. I know, that seems so silly, why hate a holiday full of candy and little children in cute costumes, but I do. Halloween as a grown up is terrible.

When I was little, Halloween wasn't really scary. The haunted houses only had one or two surprises; the corn  mazes were just long enough to make you nervous just before you found your way out; and the adults in costumes identified themselves just before you got too scared. My little sister was the one who made Halloween awesome. She made her own costume every year since she was very little. It was always so much fun to watch it come together. One year, when she was young, she was the three headed dog from Harry Potter. She wore a homemade dog costume she sewed herself and used two of her stuffed animals to be the other two heads. It was fantastic! Halloween makes me really miss her.

As I got older, and I was a little to old to trick or treat, it was fun to watch the little kids come to the door and see what they had dressed up as. My dad and I would hand out candy to the kids from the neighborhood. I never really understood the concept of Halloween parties as a teenager or in college. Costumes were fun, but most of the time people would watch horror movies or go to actually scary adult haunted houses, or at least what I considered scary. So not my cup of tea.

I HATE being scared. I don't like people jumping out at me. I don't like horror movies, and I certainly do not like actually scary haunted houses. Apparently, this is a problem in Alabama. It seems like everyone here likes to be scared. There is this haunted house in Alabama that is supposedly the scariest in the south. I wouldn't know since I'm too scared to even look at the website, but the news stories say people come from all of the surrounding states to get scared witless. I saw the commercial one day and had nightmares that night. In thirty seconds, it became obvious that Halloween in the south was absolutely not for me.

This wouldn't be a problem, except that hubby and I were invited to our first adult Halloween party this year.  I am starved for human contact down here, since I can't seem to make any friends, but I am so afraid to accept the invitation. What I consider to be scary doesn't seem to line up with what everyone else thinks is scary, so when they say it won't be scary, I am not exactly convinced to take them at their word. They are lovely people, but I really loathe to be frightened and I seem to frighten very easily. Let's put it this way. I went to see Zombieland with a dear friend one evening while it was still in theaters. That scared the crap out of me. I am still not entirely sure how I made it home in once piece after the movie. I didn't sleep that night and I twitched for the next week straight. My father thought it was hilarious! The slightest sound would make me jump out of my skin and make my heart literally skip a beat, and people were NOT trying to scare me. Needless to say I don't do scary well.

So far this Halloween season has been quite a challenge for me. They have been advertising horror movies all day for weeks now. I haven't had a good night sleep in almost a month because of those beastly commercials. I thought commercials aired during the day had to be rated for all audiences, but I must be mistaken. I understand different things can be aired in the evening, but to watch a terrifying commercial about an NC-17 horror movie at 3:30 in the afternoon while watching Jeopardy really ruins my day. That's pretty much the only thing I watch that isn't PBS or Netflix. I just don't understand why so many people like to be scared so much.

So the real question is, do I accept the invitation to Halloween party with cool people that isn't supposed to be scary and risk being scared?? Or do I hide in my home for yet another year and save myself the heartache and horror??


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Drive

The drive down to Birmingham was the most harrowing I have ever been a part of. It was nearly 1500 miles of nerve-racking, nail biting terror. My father and I planned the route together; we would go down through New England then go west through New York to Pennsylvania and then follow the spine of the Appalachian mountains. It was a beautiful route. What my father and I didn't plan for was all of the construction we encountered on the way down, especially in Pennsylvania. We went from the familiar, southern Maine, New Hampshire, wide around Boston, to the less familiar, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, to the altogether unknown, Virginia, Tennessee, and, finally, Alabama. My father would drive the moving truck and my husband would drive his car. My job was to navigate, to tell them when to turn, to find lunch, and to find a hotel when we were finally too tired to drive anymore. Sure, it sounds easy, but it turned out to be a lot harder when you have never been to where you are navigating.

We left early on Thursday. Way too early for my taste, but my father insisted, because leaving at the crack of dawn means we'll beat rush hour. My father led the way; the truck we rented had a governor on it and with him leading, we could figure out exactly where it shut off the accelerator. The biggest challenge we had until Connecticut was figuring out how to do the tolls and stay together, since the truck wasn't able to gun it. We figured that out while we were still in Maine, which meant no one was behind us honking. It was a pretty uneventful drive, until we reached Connecticut.

Connecticut was horrifying. Connecticut drivers are considered by many from New England to be the worst drivers in the country. I can now say with absolute certainty that they are NOT the worst drivers in the country, though they may still be the worst drivers in New England. Have any of you seen that M.C. Escher drawing that looks like stairs in 14 different dimensions?? Well, that's what the highway interchanges look like in Connecticut. I had to figure out where to go and what lane to be in when there are cars coming onto the highway from both side, beneath us, and above us and cars exiting in all of those directions, too. There are certain parts of the highway in Connecticut that are so bad they have car insurance vehicles stationed on the highway all the time. Trying to change lanes with just a car was incredibly difficult; it was nearly impossible to do so and make sure there was enough room for a 16 foot moving truck, too. Needless to say, we did not enjoy driving through Connecticut.

Once we got through Connecticut, we headed west over the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York. The view from the Tappan Zee is so beautiful. I always try to take a picture, if I'm not the one driving. We kept driving, stopping for gas and bathroom breaks as we needed. We stopped just past Harrisburg for dinner and for the night. My father thought that if we stopped early and went to bed early, we could get up early. Apparently the going to bed early part was important. I found a nice hotel just off the highway with a gas station right nearby and what looked like a couple of restaurants. We checked in and parked the car and the truck where we could see them from the rooms. Our entire life was in those two vehicles and it would have been a terrible bummer if anything was stolen. We brought in what we needed for the night, relaxed for a few minutes, then walked over to the restaurant in the adjacent parking lot. It turned out to be an amazing Japanese restaurant with fantastic sushi. Talk about serendipity! We had a lovely dinner, then went back to the hotel room to figure out the details of the next day, then off to sleep.

Friday became a day of the unfamiliar. However we started the day with something quite familiar, a traffic jam. They were doing construction on the highway where is went over the mountains in southern Pennsylvania. It felt like we were stuck in traffic forever, but I think it was only an hour or two. We made it just through Roanoke before stopping for lunch. We had a delicious lunch at a quaint little Mexican restaurant. We wanted to press through to Birmingham, but we lost a bit of time in the construction in Pennsylvania, so we decided we were going to stop just after Knoxville.

But of course we reached Knoxville at rush hour on a Friday. That was not the smartest thing we had ever done. Now I thought Connecticut was scary, but it doesn't even hold a candle to Knoxville at rush hour on a Friday. I have never feared for my life as I did on the highway in Knoxville. My dad and my husband are both excellent drivers, but I was absolutely sure we were never going to make it Birmingham. Cars would enter the highway at no less than 110 miles an hour and would immediately move all the way to the left lane across four lanes of traffic without looking or without caring, just careening through space. Cars would cut across in front of the moving van without enough space to put a piece of paper. We were only on the highway in Knoxville for a little while, but it felt like a lifetime. We finally stopped for the night just after Knoxville, and once the adrenaline was out of our systems, we slept like the dead.

While we were afraid for our lives, my mother was flying down to Birmingham to meet us Saturday when we arrived. She was going to purchase cleaning supplies and get the rental car. We finally met her early in the afternoon on Saturday in Birmingham. Our harrowing drive was finally over. Nearly 1500 miles and more than 24 hours of actual drive time later, and we had finally made it to our new city. Now for a much deserved rest, at least until we signed the lease and started moving into our new place. Our new apartment was actually rather pretty. There were bunch of windows in the living room and a window over the kitchen sink. The bedrooms were really large and the BOTH and WALK IN CLOSETS. I have since learned that many homes and apartments in the south have walk in closets. Score 1 for the south. You are lucky to even have an itty bitty closet in every bedroom back home. I LOVE my walk in closet.

Needless to say, we moved in without too much of a hitch, my parents left, and we started our life nearly 1500 miles away from our friends, loved ones, and family and the support network. We only had each other to lean on, and that might have been the scariest part of being so far away from everyone we have ever known. This was going to be the ultimate test of our relationship. If we could navigate this, then we could do anything as a couple. So far so good.