Please turn off all electronic devices

I am in my 50s (how did that happen?). I did not grow up in the world of personal computers, cell phones, tablets, iPods, etc. It was with great excitement that my family bought a color television. The old black and white set was relegated to my mother’s bedroom, where it sat on her dresser with its wire coat hanger antenna. When one of us was sick (or pretending to be), we would camp in Mom’s room and watch from her bed. We didn’t have remote controls. As the youngest of 4 children, I was the human remote control (“Hey Gen, change the channel to Mannix.”)

old tv
I think we got 4 channels.
Mannix, starring Mike Connors, ran from 1967 to 1975.

A fun Friday night at the Cottraux house was eating TV dinners in front of Mannix. My teenaged sisters were usually out on dates, so it would be me, my brother, and Mom, each with a TV tray and the dinner of choice. I enjoyed these, surprisingly. They were considered a treat. My food tastes have changed, thank goodness!

Yes, I actually enjoyed these.

None of us in the immediate family like to talk on the telephone. In fact, some of us (me) hate to talk on the telephone and have telephonophobia. This is a real thing, the fear of telephones, and is considered a form of social anxiety. But my teenaged sisters HAD to have their own phone in their bedroom. It was a beautiful Princess phone. I thought my sisters were so COOL and I wanted to be just like them. Still do in fact.

I’m not sure if my sisters’ phone was pink, but I thought it was beautiful.


I had no interest in mobile phones when they came out. None. Plus they were huge and hideous.

old mobile

I finally got a mobile phone in 2000 when I was working for California State Parks on a 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. shift and was often the first one at the park on cold, dark mornings. I justified it as a safety thing. I never talked on it. I had it for years. It didn’t even have games that I know of.

nokia 6101

So how did I become the person at the summer residency program at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine who always had her iPhone in her pocket and had trouble setting it aside during activities?


I’ve written a little bit about the week in Maine:

I’m finally headed to summer camp…

Falling in love with frogs

This was a time to enjoy being in a beautiful natural setting with amazing people and at least 5 species of awesome frogs. It was not a time to be worrying about where to charge a phone. Some of my favorite activities:

The Bioblitz Dance (Bioblitz Dance)

The Bioblitz Dance is an ongoing “dance” challenge as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial.  The dance was created by John Griffith of the California Conservstion Corps. You too can do the Bioblitz, and post the video to YouTube under the title “The Bioblitz Dance”. It’s fun! And remember, it MUST be done outdoors.


Seton Watching (Go Out and Seton Watch!)

At first I heard the name of this activity as Seated Watching. Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was a naturalist and wildlife artist, born in England to Scottish parents. His family emigrated to Toronto, Canada when he was a child. He reportedly retreated to the woods to escape his abusive father.

Ernest Thompson Seton

The idea is pretty simple. Find a comfortable spot outdoors, sit quietly, and observe. Each of us chose a spot, and every day for the week we had varying lengths of time set aside to go sit and observe. You might think my spot was the frog pond, but it wasn’t. I did my own version of Seton watching in the early morning hours at the pond. My “official” Seton watch spot was in a hammock under the trees at the edge of the meadow leading to the pond. My first choice was actually an old school desk in the woods, but I couldn’t remember which trail went there, and the hammock was empty and close by.


The instruction was to observe a spot about the size of a magazine spread, but since I was looking up into the tree canopy, it was a little different. But still amazing. The play of light through the leaves varied each day depending on time and weather. The sounds of the wind through the trees (I think they were birches) was always intriguing. I could hear birds all around me but I couldn’t see them. I stayed awake. And I didn’t look at my phone.

Wonder Walk (Wonder Walk instructions)

Wonder Walking is done in pairs, with each person taking a turn as the Leader and as the Follower. We did this on the first day when we really didn’t know each other, so there was an element of trust that had to be assumed in turning yourself over to a stranger to be led eyes closed. The odd thing is that I was much more relaxed as the Follower than I was as the Leader. Maybe not that odd, when I think about it!

my hand
Rafael leads me on a Wonder Walk. Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.
with Rafael
Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.

If you are at all curious about Wonder Walking, I am game to go on one with you. Just let me know!

Group Outdoor Art Project

When this activity was announced, my first reaction was “Can’t I do an art project by myself?” Once a loner, always a loner.( I am trying to prove that wrong in my old age.) As an art museum registrar, I found it particularly interesting that all of the groups chose to do ephemeral, performance pieces. Some involved sound, including music created with natural objects in the environment. Flowers played a big role in other offerings. My group did a participatory, silent piece that resulted in a bird bath filled with flowers. It was quite beautiful. And I enjoyed the group process more than I admit.


Also highly recommended: eating your meals with friends out of doors. And campfires with campsongs (learn the lyrics to Señor Don Gato; you’ll thank me) and (vegan) S’mores. 

Veggie dog on the dock at Castine, Maine.
Who doesn’t love a campfire?
Age 54, my first S’mores experience.
Illustration by John Manders

Get outside, and please, turn off your electronic devices!


Falling in love with frogs

Maybe it started with Kermit the Frog, the iconic Muppet with a heart of green-gold.

How can you not love that face?

As someone who struggles with anxiety and self-esteem, Kermit singing Bein’ Green, written by Joe Raposo, on Sesame Street in 1970 (maybe I was a little old for Sesame Street at 9 but then again, is anyone ever too old for Sesame Street?) touched my soul and still does.


I still watch The Muppet Show when I have a chance. 

Or maybe it was our grandfather Papa, singing the folk song A Frog Went A-Courting to us when we were children. Although this wouldn’t explain my sister Ellen’s fear of frogs. Maybe that’s from Mom supposedly cooking frogs’ legs for Daddy and the legs jumping out of the pan. Mom swore this was true.

From the children’s book by Janet Kay Jensen.

On You Tube I found versions by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and a bunch of guys with guitars who I never heard of. But I think Pete Seeger is the closest I’m going to get to Papa.

There are some seriously stupid jokes about frogs. I like stupid jokes. Unfortunately, in many of them things don’t go well for the frog (you know, the word croak being the punchline).

Waiter, waiter, do you have frog legs?

No, I always walk this way.

What do stylish frogs wear?


A few years ago, I took a class called Phobease on dealing with phobias and anxieties. No, frogs weren’t on my list, though they are on Ellen’s. One of Dr. Fear’s (aka Dr. Howard Liebgold) sayings was “If you have to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” I never liked this saying. I get it. If you have to do something that makes you anxious, just do it and get it over with, and do the hardest first. But I felt bad for that poor so-called ugly frog. At the end of the class, Dr. Fear handed out little plastic frogs to all of us. I still have mine.


I recently spent a week in Maine at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry with a group of my fellow Humane Education students. It was there that my love for frogs was finally made clear. I don’t sleep well away from home, especially if I get in the habit of drinking coffee during the day. And if I’m anxious. Which I was.

Sleepless in Surry.

Not wanting to wake my cabin mates (did I mention we all stayed in a bunkhouse together? I’m finally headed to summer camp…) I found myself out of doors in the early hours of the morning down at the pond.

the pond
The Pond.
my feet at the pond
Girl meets pond.

I am not particularly an outdoorsy person, and going barefoot is one of my phobias. But there I’d be at 5 a.m. in the damp, on the dock, watching and listening at the pond.

my feet with sunset
Pond and feet at sunrise.

I don’t mediatate either; I always feel like my hyperactive brain sabotages me. But I could easily spend an hour or more in the early morning sitting on the dock listening to the frogs. 

(I don’t know how to embed the videos I took, so this sound clip from You Tube will suffice.)

bullfrogs 3

I was curious if there were any poems about frogs, particularly American, New-Englandy style ones. And lo’ and behold, Robert Frost wrote a poem called Hyla Brook. (Hyla is the genus of the small green tree frog.)

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 5.42.28 PM

I also decided to search for frog sounds on iTunes. I am not the only one who loves the sound of frogs!

frog sounds search

I’m considering forking over $9.99 for this one.

frog sounds search album

I can play the sounds while I do the next best thing to pond meditating, which is spending time with the animals who share a home with me.

pretend pond
Our version of the frog pond.

Of course, I have no idea how Einstein and Misty will react to the frog sounds. It might not be as calming for them as it is for me.

Maybe they’ll prefer this selection: Hair of the Frog by Three Weird Sisters. And don’t get me started again on the whole “three sisters” thing! A Tale of Three Sisters

Hair of the Frog


A Tale of Three Sisters

3 sisters

pretty sisters


There are three sisters living in my spare bathroom. They are very beautiful girls, each different from the other and I love them all. Their names are Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. They are in fact triplets, although there is a big, middle, little connotation to their size and attitudes.


Joelle, the big sister. Confident and social, and physically the biggest as well. She’s also great at IT.
Amelie, the middle sister. A bit of a loner but always gentle with her sisters.
Last but not least, tiny Elodie. Never underestimate the smallest!

I find myself reflecting on sisters and sisterhood. I am the youngest of three sisters (the youngest of four siblings, but my brother isn’t getting much space in this post; sorry Steve!). Our mother gave us each one of these pins several years ago. I rarely wear mine, not because it doesn’t have meaning, but because I just don’t wear pins often. Mom, bless her heart, never seemed to understand that we didn’t really want to dress alike or get the same gifts.

Maybe I don’t wear it because the Far Fetched label makes it seem like an impossibility that three sisters are getting along?

There are many stories of sisters. I found several versions of Native American legends of the three sisters and planting “three sisters gardens”. This version is from the Cherokee:

Once upon a time there were three sisters. The first sister was very tall and strong; her name was Corn Girl, and she wore a pale green dress and had long yellow hair that blew in the wind. Corn Girl liked to stand straight and tall, but the hot sun burned her feet and hurt her. And the longer Corn Girl stood in her field, the hungrier she got. And every day more weeds were growing up around her and choking her.

The second sister was very thin and quick and fast, and her name was Bean Girl, but she wasn’t very strong. She couldn’t even stand up on her own. She was good at making food, but she just had to lie there stretched out on the ground, and she would get dirty and wet, which wasn’t good for her.

The third sister, Squash Girl, was short and fat and wore a yellow dress. She was hungry too.

For a long time, the sisters didn’t get along. They each wanted to be independent and free, and not have anything to do with the other two. So Corn Girl stood there with her sunburned feet and got hungrier and hungrier. And Bean Girl lay there on the ground and got dirtier and wetter. And the little fat sister Squash Girl was hungry too.

So Bean Girl talked to her sister Corn Girl and said, “What if I feed you some good food, and you can hold me up so I don’t have to lie on the ground and get all dirty?” And Corn Girl thought that was a great idea. Then little Squash Girl called up to her tall sister, “How about if I lie on your feet and shade them so you won’t get sunburned?” Corn Girl thought that was a great idea too.

So the Three Sisters learned to work together, so that everyone would be healthier and happier. Corn Girl helped Bean Girl stand up. Bean Girl fed Corn Girl and Squash Girl good food. And Squash Girl shaded Corn Girl’s feet and kept the weeds from growing up around them all.

And that’s why the Iroquois and the Pueblo people and the Aztecs and everybody in between planted their corn, their beans, and their squash together in the same field – the Three Sisters.

I accept my role as Squash Girl happily!

Unfortunately, my sisters live more than 3,000 miles away and we don’t get to see each other very often. I don’t have many photos of us together, and it is very rare that there is a photo in which all three of look as gorgeous as we really are. Pictures from our childhood are all packed away and not yet digitized.

sisters photo
Not so great photo from a few years ago after an Atlanta Braves game.
Yes, the brother is in this time.

Continuing the exploration of sisters, on the serious side there is the play The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, written in 1900 and first performed in 1901.


The three sisters in Chekhov’s play, Olga, Masha and Irina, are living in a drab town a year after their father’s death and finding life tedious. From IMDb:

Olga, Masha, and Irina Prozoroff lead lonely and purposeless lives following the death of their father who has commanded the local army post. Olga attempts to find satisfaction in teaching but secretly longs for a home and family. Masha, unhappy with her marriage to a timid schoolmaster, falls hopelessly in love with a married colonel. Irina works in the local telegraph office but longs for gaiety. Their sense of futility is increased by their brother’s marriage to Natasha, a coarse peasant girl. She gradually encroaches on the family home until even the private refuge of the sisters is destroyed. They dream of starting a new life in Moscow but are saddled with the practicalities of their quiet existence. Despite their past failures, they resolve to seek some purpose and hope when the army post is withdrawn from the town.


There are also several geographical sites named Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters in der Abendsonne
The The Three Sisters, Alberta, Canada.
Three Sisters, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.
The Three Sisters islands, Queensland, Australia.

But I prefer popular culture sisters. In Little Women, there are four sisters, so that never worked out for me to label them as me and my sisters. Meg was clearly my sister Cathy, sweet and nurturing and maternal. Jo was obviously Ellen, funny and athletic and the one who holds them together. But was I kind, sweet, sickly Beth or artistic, selfish and temperamental Amy? I think I was a bit of a mix, without the sickly part. Of course, we all had a bit of each sister in us.


Then we get to the Gabor sisters. I don’t think there are any personality matches there (thank goodness).


As a child of the 1960s, I watched endless reruns of Petticoat Junction.


And I can’t leave out the Brady sisters! Oddly, my favorite was poor maligned middle sister Jan. I couldn’t stand goody two-shoes Marsha or insipid youngest Cindy. And Jan had the long beautiful hair.

brady sisters

My favorite isn’t a story of three sisters but of two. The 1954 movie White Christmas is not the best (or the worst), but at the beginning of the movie  comes the song Sisters, by Irving Berlin.

There were never such devoted sisters

Never had to have a chaperone “No, sir”
I’m there to keep my eye on her

Every little thing that we are wearing

When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome
She wore the dress and I stayed home

All kinds of weather
We stick together
The same in the rain or sun
Two diff’rent faces
But in tight places
We think and we act as one

Those who’ve
Seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us

Many men have tried to split us up but no one can
Lord help the mister
Who comes between me and my sister
And Lord help the sister
Who comes between me and my man

In the film, the song is performed by the Haynes sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Vera-Ellen was a dancer, not a singer, so for this song, her lines were actually performed by Clooney as well (i.e., Rosemary Clooney sang a duet with herself).


I, however, am partial to the version done in the film by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.


But you are here to see kitten pictures! Here you go, the three beautiful sisters at their weigh-in yesterday.


Please consider fostering for your local shelter or other animal rescue organization. Not only do you help them save more lives, you get the wonderful opportunity to spend time with some amazing animals such as Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. I foster for the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, CA. It’s one of the best things I do in my life.




Half the Sky/A Path Appears


(Note: This is an assignment for HUED 630 Human Rights at Valparaiso University.)

The saying “women hold up half the sky” is often attributed to Mao Zedong. Whatever else might be said about the Chinese Communist Revolution, Mao did push for the abolishment of child marriage, prostitution, and concubinage as well as getting women into the workforce and appointed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. This is according to authors Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009, Vintage Books).



Other sources refer to the ancient Chinese proverb “Women hold up half the sky, but it’s the heavier half” (Kelly Osterhaler, 2009) and note that it’s been attributed to Confucius as well as to Mao Zedong.  Whatever the source, the oppression of women and girls continues to be one of the world’s major humanitarian issues.

Confucius statue

WuDunn and Kristoff are the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. WuDunn is also the first Asian American to win a Pulitzer Prize.


Their book, PBS documentary series (2012), and Half the Sky Movement: The Game (no longer available, but you can still watch the trailer here and check out other social impact games at Games for Change) focus on sex trafficking, maternal mortality, sexual violence, microfinance, and girls’ education.



Heavy subjects, yes, but also subjects we can work to make changes toward and improve the lives of everyone across the globe. Kristoff and WuDunn note on page xxii in the introduction to the book, “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process underway–not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful business women.” They also offer practical ideas for way we can all help. The last two chapters of the book are What You Can Do and Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes. I think we can all spare ten minutes! You can also follow the lives of the women featured in the documentary series on the Half the Sky website. Women such as Rebecca Lolosoli in Kenya


and  Duyen, Phung, and Nhi as they continue their education in Vietnam.

In 2014, WuDunn and Kristoff published A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity (Knopf Doubleday), which begins with another quote:

“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing – but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”
—Lu Xun, Chinese essayist, 1921

Lu Xun
Lu Xun

This was also made into a PBS series, in 2015. See the trailer here. The United States is featured with other countries in this series, with episodes that include a survivor of sex trafficking in Nashville, breaking the cycle of poverty in West Virginia, and 2 organizations in Atlanta that combat domestic violence.


Find out about more about ways to help and to share your story at A Path Appears.

Should you doubt that any one person can do anything to spur change, I suggest the book Free the Children, by Craig Kielburger with Kevin Major (1998, Harper Perennial) and the website Free the Children. I bring up Craig Kielburger’s story for several reasons. First, to show that a motivated individual, no matter what age, can speak up and make a difference. Second, in this post focused on women’s rights and oppression I would argue that child abuse is closely aligned with abuse of women and that women’s and children’s rights are interconnected. Enslaved children include young girls who go on to be enslaved and abused women, and the sex trafficking of young girls is particularly of concern to anyone concerned with human rights.


Brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger are the founders of Free the Children and ME to WE. The Canadian humanitarians, activists, and social entrpreneurs began their work over 20 years ago to fight child labor and exploitation.Craig was 12 years old when he began, Marc was 17.


In the epilogue to his book, Craig cites the oft-quoted Gandhi, “We must be the change we want to see.” He follows this with “That change starts within each one of us. And ends only when all children are free to be children.”