The Commonality of Totality

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. Why? Because lately it seems what most inspires me to write has to do with what divides us.

But over the last few days, and especially today, as Americans talked about the eclipse with varying degrees of excitement, I found myself wondering why it was such a big deal.

Why did people travel from all over the country to the “Path of Totality?”

Even in places that wouldn’t experience totality, the atmosphere this morning buzzed with excitement.

“Do you have your glasses?”

“Are you going to go outside to watch?”

Our office even encouraged everyone to take a few minutes to leave the office to go outside to watch.

I’ll admit, I hadn’t motivated myself enough to go out to search for ISO-certified glasses with which to watch the eclipse, though I was lucky to have a couple of co-worker friends who shared theirs.

But, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have glasses, because I found myself almost more interested in the crowd of people outside our office building than the sun playing hide-and-seek.

Pinhole Eclipse

So many smiling people. Some wore funny glasses. Some, like me, carried pieces of paper with pinholes. A few had cardboard boxes. Everyone shared whatever viewing instrument they had, with anyone who needed it. We shared stories of previous eclipses, shared our double shadows, took pictures of strangers.

Double Shadows

I continued to think about this event, even after the moon had given way to let the sun shine again. Why such a big deal?

Sure, it’s a rare and awesome event. Yes, it makes us think about our relative insignificance in the universe, and how little control we have over so much of what happens in our lives.

But I decided this was “an event” because in an age of growing division, this eclipse gave us commonality–something we could share.

It felt good to focus on what we have in common instead of what divides us, even if it was only for a few minutes.

Even Allie and Tommy got into the excitement!

Posted in Life | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Slippery Slope of Passivity and Prejudice

Memorial Day. A day we honor our fallen soldiers for their bravery and sacrifice.

I tend to be a relatively passive person. I could attribute this to a philosophy of “Live and let live,” or “To each his own,” a belief that everyone is entitled to his opinion, even if I disagree.

But, it would be more accurate to say I hate conflict and will usually avoid it at all costs.

Some might call the first “excuse” commendable. But, the second–and probably more accurate reason–is cowardice or at least, a lack of bravery.

But today, I’m speaking up, because passivity only serves to grease the slippery slope of prejudice.

This morning started off like any other weekend morning–sipping coffee as I perused the news. I’d already read two of the stories in the past few days–the tragic stabbings of two Portland men who stood up to hate, and the story about the Denver Post sportswriter’s tweet about the Japanese winner of the Indy 500. Both stories angered me–obviously in varying degrees–but upon first reading, for a dozen different reasons, I passively “let it go.” Why?

  • It was easier to let it go than say or do anything about it.
  • Besides, what can I do?
  • I’m tired of anger and hatred.
  • I don’t want to offend friends and family.
  • Is it possible I’m numbing to the frequency of prejudice?

But this morning, I mentioned Terry Frei’s tweet to Steve.

The more I talked about this tweet, the louder and faster I spoke:

“Can you believe that after more than 75 years since Pearl Harbor was attacked, this man, this educated journalist, still doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a Japanese man to win the Indy 500 on Memorial Day? What did this race car driver have to do with the attack on Pearl Harbor? And what did those Muslim girls on the train have to do with terrorism? You know, prejudice is a slippery slope, and in my opinion, Terry Frei is only slightly higher on that slippery slope than the ignorant bastard who stabbed those two men on the train.”

I was surprised at anger that practically spewed. I thought I’d “compartmentalized” it, shoved it into the faraway recesses of my mind.

Still, as I hung my flag outside, made a smoothie for breakfast, planted some flowers in the backyard, I continued to try to shove my anger aside. But I couldn’t stop thinking about these two stories, until I realized they’re bound with the same ugly string of prejudice. Only then did I understand my anger, and as I thought about the the abundance of anti-Muslim comments I see on Facebook and how similar some of them are to comments I read from Jeremy Joseph Christian, my anger was fueled.

Prejudice is a slippery slope.

I’m not saying Terry Frei’s tweet about being “uncomfortable” that a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, won the Indy 500 on Memorial Day is comparable to the horrific stabbings of two men by a white supremacist. But the thought that a Japanese race car driver should be resented for winning a race more than 75 years after Pearl Harbor is a result of the same ignorant mindset as those who would believe two young Muslim women should be lumped in with all other Muslims as possible terrorists.

Japanese people are not, 75 years later, connected to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslim. Not all Christians are white supremacists and not all white supremacists are Christian.

Today, we remember our fallen heroes. I also honor the three men who, on a train in Portland, Oregon on May 26, stood up against hatred. Two lost their lives–Ricky John Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, was also stabbed and is in serious condition.

The least I can do to honor the courage and sacrifice of all of our heroes is to speak up against prejudice. To honor the three Portland heroes, I also contributed to a GoFundMe account.

Click HERE if you’d like to contribute to Tri Met Heroes. According to the Washington Post:

A GoFundMe spokesman confirmed to The Post that the company would ensure funds are sent to the victim’s families.

God bless all of our heroes.

# # #

A few of my past blog posts on prejudice’s slippery slope:

Fear of the Huddled Masses

A Way of Life

Unhyphenated Patriots, Part 2


Posted in hate, prejudice, racism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Celebrate National Poetry Month

Join me in writing a haiku each day to celebrate National Poetry Month! Every haiku enters you in a chance to win a copy of my book, Life: Haiku by Haiku.

Life: Haiku by Haiku

April is National Poetry Month! lists “30 Ways to Celebrate.” My favorite on the list is:

Put a poem in a letter.

But, I modified it a bit. During the month of April, instead of putting a poem in a letter, I’ll write haiku every day on my blog.

As a reminder, here’s a definition of haiku:

I invite you to join me beginning April 1. Below I’ve posted a theme for each day in April.

April 1 – spring
April 2 – colors
April 3 – dogs
April 4 – cats
April 5 – life
April 6 – love
April 7 – flowers
April 8 – trees
April 9 – school
April 10 – books
April 11 – clouds
April 12 – water
April 13 – summer
April 14 – ocean
April 15 – children
April 16 -snow
April 17 – rain
April 18 -writing

View original post 193 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Baby Steps

I’ve started a new website for my young reader books: Hope you’ll follow along!

JM Vanek

Today, a new author is born–J.M. Vanek. That’s me!

Actually, I’ve been around for awhile, but as Jan Morrill, author of The Red Kimono and a few other books. But I’m preparing to start a new path–writing books for children, middle grade and young adult.

My middle grade book, Mo’s Shadow, will be released by Birdsong Publishing, June 2017. This is a story very close to my heart. It’s about a young girl named Mo, who befriends an alcoholic neighbor after her own parents divorce because her father drinks too much. It’s based on my own experiences of finding my way to love, from loss and back to love again.

My picture book, Magical Red Kimono, will be released by 4RV Publishing, Fall 2017. This book, too, is close to my heart–well, aren’t they all? 🙂

It is based on the characters, Sachi and Jubie from…

View original post 116 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tami’s Serendipitous Second Half

My youngest sister, Tami, is full of surprises. A former Miss Oklahoma, she has had a long career in broadcast journalism. Polished, professional and talented in a variety of ways, I must admit, I had some concerns about whether or not she’d be happy living out in the country, because I, too, was once drawn to the solitary peace and quiet of country life, and learned the hard way–it was not as easy and peaceful as I’d expected.

But Tami seems to have found a new passion, and it came about serendipitously. I’m happy to let her share her story in the following interview. (Note: I originally suggested Tami pick five of her favorite questions to keep this post short, but as with all little sisters, she doesn’t always follow directions. 🙂 Actually, she didn’t see my note. As I tried to edit down, I decided it was all too interesting, so I’m posting the entire interview.)


Baby sister Tami is on my mom’s lap. 🙂

Jan: If you could describe your professional life over the last twenty years in six word sentence, what would you say?

Tami: Follow the path of Forrest Gump.

Jan: How long have you lived in the country?

Tami: Danny enthusiastically purchased the ranch in November of 2015, but it took me a while to warm to the idea. He gently but persistently pushed, going as far as to move all of our furniture and housewares from storage starting in May. He set a firm “move-in” date in August, but I kept coming up with reasons to push for a later date. We finally spent our first night on the ranch on September 11, 2016.

Jan: What did you expect when you moved to the country, and how is reality different from that expectation?

Tami: I expected my back to hurt a lot. I expected long commutes, annoying traffic, not being able to shop for the things I need and enjoy. My reality is that I love our little country grocery store and shopping at Atwood’s Ranch and Home. I love being able to pick up homemade canned peaches and other foods like Grandma used to make.


I also expected peace and quiet, which I got in spades! There’s nothing in the world like walking out the front door and watching the blood red sun set across the wide-open sky. I can’t describe the feeling when my horses hear me walking out to the pasture and come galloping to meet me at the gate.


Jan: What ignited your passion to save horses from slaughter?

I believe God puts us where He needs us, with whatever skills He’s given us, to do His work. That may sound corny to some, but that was what I meant when I said, “Follow the path of Forrest Gump.” Like Forrest, I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time for each step in my personal and professional development. From the day I happened upon college cheerleader tryouts as I aimlessly toured campus with a college-bound friend (I made cheerleader and got a scholarship!) to the day I was “discovered” and became a TV news entertainment reporter, to the time I was “re-discovered” and recruited to run a newsroom for a local TV news affiliate, I see God’s hand in every place I’ve ever landed.

The same is true with rescuing horses.

As an investigative reporter, I see potential stories everywhere. A post popped up on my Facebook page from a group called Save a Slaughter Bound Horse. I assume Facebook has algorithms that recognize when you have an interest, and your newsfeed fills with posts and topics related to your interests. Danny and I bought each other horses for Christmas, so many of my posts revolved around horses. The Facebook gods decided I would appreciate the post about Jake – a big, beautiful gelding that looked remarkably like my new mare, Aubrey. Jake was set for slaughter, said the post, unless someone paid his “bail.” I watched the post throughout the day as concerned Facebookers desperately pleaded for donations.

A skeptic to the core, I posted question after question: “Who’s making money off of this?” “How do I know where my money is going?” “How do I even know Jake exists?” “What’s wrong with the horse?”

jakeAs Jake’s (literal) deadline inched closer, I struggled with the probability I was about to throw hundreds of dollars at a fake horse. I Googled. I watched YouTube videos about horse slaughter. I was literally sick to my stomach over all that I learned about these horses – many of which are perfectly healthy but just no longer useful to their owners. Little Suzy outgrew the pony that helped raise her. Windmare the race horse wasn’t fast enough to win big money. Bub the workhorse had arthritis after years of working the fields. Often well-intentioned owners give their companions away on Craigslist or sell them at auction, having no idea a kill buyer intends to sell their faithful servant for slaughter.

I learned that American slaughter horses are crammed in to trailers and holding pens in the most inhumane, undignified conditions. These precious beasts that once grazed verdant pastures and gave their hearts to their masters, now defecated all over themselves and the horses packed up against them. Pregnant mares, seriously injured horses, aggressive stallions, all jammed in with little Suzy’s once-prized pony.

I paid Jake’s remaining bail knowing I could be throwing my money away. I just couldn’t let this beautiful creature die like that.

Jan: Tell us about your challenges and your joys in saving these horses.

Tami: We just brought in our second horse (originally Landers but renamed Elvis by my daughter) last week. Where Jake was immediately and obviously deeply grateful and affectionate, Elvis is very spooky and afraid of anything that moves. It’s a challenge helping a horse that, so far, doesn’t want to be helped. Jake is already adopted to a good home. Elvis may take longer. I have faith that we will make a connection and he’ll come around.


Jan: In the past, you have suffered from severe back pain. Now, you are able to ride horses. What do you attribute that to?

Tami: We actually don’t ride as much as I’d like because of my back. I spend time with them every day, but mostly just to feed, groom and talk to them. Mucking the barn, cleaning out the troughs, and hauling feed and hay also strain my back, but I just made a decision to do it. It’s almost like being a parent. You don’t get to pick the days you feed and nurture kids and animals. They need it every day, so you just decide what’s important and do it.

Jan: You’re in the process of establishing a 501(c)(3) for your horse rescue. Can you tell us about that? What are your long-term goals?

Tami: Yes, I’m in the process of making Swingin’ D Enterprises a 501c3. We’re currently an Oklahoma registered nonprofit corporation. Our goal is to save healthy horses bound for slaughter so they can be nurtured back to health and placed with families that want and need them. Part of our work is the actual rescue of horses from kill lots, which make money off of horses based upon what slaughter houses will pay for meat in other countries; the other part of our work is public awareness. Regular citizens can press their members of Congress to vote for HR113 – The Safe Act, which makes it illegal to transport horses to slaughter in other countries, and keeps it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption.

Jan: How has this new chapter changed your life?

Tami: I’ve always been the animal rescuer, much to the dismay of anyone who lives with me. But working with horses has given me a whole new appreciation for the power humans have to help or destroy other living creatures, and the duty we have to give them happy, healthy lives. When I look into the eyes of these horses, I imagine how hard they worked to please their masters and how, at some point, they were a gift to someone. Someone likely bought these horses and gave them as an unforgettable gift that lit up someone’s heart for a time. Now they’re forgotten, starving and severely abused. That really resonates with me at this point in my life. I don’t want any creature to feel the emptiness of leaving this world feeling so betrayed.

Jan: Do you have any advice for someone trying to find their passion?

Tami: My first piece of advice would be to find what’s really important in life. For me, it’s not social stature or celebrity or money or material things.

Jan: What’s your greatest life lesson? (So far?)

Tami: My greatest life lesson is that God is never finished with me. He’s always showing me something new, and using me in ways I never imagined.

Jan: Do you have a favorite horse yet, and why, or is that like having a favorite child?

Tami: Bingo! It’s like having a favorite child or favorite dog. Each horse has its own personality, and each brings moments of joy and frustration. Bo is the aloof gelding that thinks he’s a stallion. Aubrey is the pampered princess with attitude. Jake is the precious, grateful old soul. Elvis is the big oaf, afraid of his own shadow.

UPDATE: Earlier this month, Jake was adopted by a teenage girl named Lauren, who had been dreaming of a horse like Jake for years. To see Tami’s Facebook video, click the link below!


If you would like to donate to Swingin’ D Horse Rescue, click HERE.

Swingin’ D Horse Rescue

Tami Marler

Check out one of my sister’s talents:

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments