Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Triumph of Evil?


The recent actions in Charlottesville and the subsequent comments by our President have created so much backlash that it is difficult to say anything more without it being repetitive. One thing in particular I didn't hear - of course, I may have missed it - is that if the rally had not been so highly publicized in advance, there would not have been anyone there to protest against the hateful groups. Of course, the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and the White Supremacists wanted the publicity. That way, their numbers might increase each time they congregate. With their current seeming acceptance, if not encouragement, by the President they continue to get bolder and more military-like in their appearances. I also think the huge media coverage of their events encourages them as well. 

I was reminded of an incident in Denton, Texas in the summer of 1993 or 1994. My best friend Carol and I met at my Barn, along with her gentleman friend at the time. We had heard there was to be a Ku Klux Klan rally in the Civic Center Park (later named Quakertown Park) that afternoon. We made our "peace" and "love" signs, stapled them to wooden posts, and set off to show the Klan that love could overcome their hate-filled rhetoric. I ran across an article presented for a Master of Science Thesis by a University of North Texas student, Gary Ray Webb in August 1994. In part, he wrote about the Klan rally:
"Female keynoting significantly differed (from the males). As the rally began, a group of 4 protestors, 3 of them female, arrived with signs in hand. Two of the females, dressed in clothing reminiscent of the 1960's, stood near the center of the crowd, singing peace songs. At one point during the rally, 6 of the 8 people bearing anti-KKK signs were female." 
Quakertown Park by Glenn McLain
It was a large crowd, considering one they held earlier in Grapevine was cut short due to lack of interest. There were enough angry, aggressive anti-Klan people attending that if it were held today, there would probably have been some sort of violence. The speakers were often completely drowned out by not only shouts from some in the audience, but my friends and I got others to join in singing loudly with us, "Let There Be Peace On Earth" and "Love is the Only Power". I don't think all of the speakers had their chance to be heard before they gathered themselves together, looked at us with disgust, and with their police escort exited the area. Police had the foresight to have them park very close to the rally space, so they didn't have to walk the gauntlet except for a short distance. The only violent acts we witnessed were one young black man hit one of the Klan members in the face before he was stopped by police, and another one spit a huge amount of something red on a Klansman's white shirt. We continued singing as they drove off. 

Some churches in the area chose to hold a type of peaceful prayer service rather than attend the rally. Their thinking was that it was better to ignore them. I fear that that way of dealing with the Klan and other hate groups has been instrumental in the growth of such groups in recent years.  A good article regarding "Silence=Complicity" was written by Kevin Curry, a blogger at The Admitted Liberal . I urge you to hear his voice on the subject. I'm not advocating violent resistance at all, but there must be a way to show their rallies are not welcome other than resorting to violence. I like to think that a loving presence such as the one shown by many of us, kept the aggressiveness at bay.
(ABC News)
The Klan members who spoke that day had done their best to appear like ordinary, upstanding citizens. The men were dressed in business suits, and the women in dresses. They were not accompanied by anyone carrying signs or flags.. or dressed in any kind of uniform. There were young, clean-cut men handing out brochures of some kind to those who would take them. Looking back, this seems scarier than the marchers we saw at Charlottesville.. armed and carrying Nazi and Confederate flags. At least one was able to tell who the "bad guys" were.

There was an element of religious leaders present in Charlottesville holding the peace -- and probably praying during the rally. And last night, thousands of people gathered to hold a peaceful candlelight vigil, marching along the same route as the white nationalists, carrying torches, had used days before. They were "showing up" against racism, bigotry, and hatred. Sooner or later, this kind of resistance will surely make a big difference. And we will triumph over evil.
("Blessed are the peacemakers.." Matthew 5:9 KJV)

Let peace begin with me... and you... and you... and you!
Marilyn

Thursday, August 3, 2017

PLANNING HER FUTURE

The older my grandchildren get, the harder it is to keep up with all of their activities. I'm always curious about the ones in high school or college. They can change their minds frequently about their plans for the future, and this grandmother likes to be "in the know". 

Ashlyn is the middle child of my daughter Carajean and her husband Branch. She has been something of a social butterfly most of her young life. I could always count on a good story from her mother about her antics. I also resort to questioning Carajean about Ashlyn's college life and courses. This time I enlisted her help in getting Ashlyn to slow down long enough to let me know about her busy, busy life. She will be a Senior at Oklahoma State University this fall, and has been working most of this summer. I was thrilled when I got the following. The first part is a speech she gave at her best friend's wedding. I would have loved to hear this in person.

Maid of Honor Speech
"First off, I’d like to say how happy I am to be here to celebrate this beautiful couple. For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Ashlyn, and 16 years ago I met a really loud, crazy little girl whom I didn’t know at the time, would be my lifelong best friend. 

The first time Channing ever came over to my house, my mom had made us dinner. She asked Channing what she would like to drink and Channing, being the impressionable little 5-year-old that she was, responded in her raspy voice, “I’ll have whisky on the rocks”. Obviously, she had no idea what whisky on the rocks was, and of course my mom gave her orange juice. This is just one of many examples of how she has brought my family and myself endless laughter and joy over the years. 

Channing and I have been through many phases of life together. From my parents saying we weren’t allowed to be friends anymore (for reasons some of you may know and some of you should be glad you don’t), to being the most loving and supportive friend I could ever ask for during all kinds of change, loss, and heartbreak. I am extremely lucky to know Channing. Ever since we were kids she has always shown so much compassion for people, whether she realized it or not. It has always been in Channing’s nature to care for people, but just in this past year, the amount of change I have seen in her is incredible. 


Ashlyn, Nimbus, Channing
There was a time when I felt like I was out of touch with myself, and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of self-doubt. Channing looked me right in the eye and told me 'Ash, I know who you are. Don’t think for a second that you are alone, because I am here. It’s okay to not be okay, but just know that this is not forever.' This was a defining moment in our friendship, and in my life. Those words were so comforting, and impactful.

They say that you are friends with people that you want to be like, and I can 100 percent agree with that statement because not only is she the life of the party and can light up any room she enters, but because she is the most intentional person I know. I believe there is something we can learn from everyone, but I think there are so many things we can learn from Channing. She knows herself, and inspires people to get to know themselves. She unknowingly shows God’s love by example every single day, and I can honestly say she started a change in me ever since that day she spoke.

I remember when she met Josiah, Channing told me, 'Ash, he might be the one', and I have to admit, I thought 'oh that’s just Channing being Channing... she will be over him in a couple of months' (sorry Josiah). In my defense, Channing has always been intense... she feels intensely, she loves intensely, and I had to learn to take what she said with a grain of salt at times. Boy, was I wrong. Ever since she let herself love and be loved by Josiah, I have never seen her any happier. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but the girl glows… As if she could be any more beautiful. Their love is so real, and so contagious. Seeing them together has given me the courage to refrain from settling… both in love and in life. 

I’ve had little time with Josiah, but it didn’t take long for me to know that he loves Channing. People say that it is important to marry someone that brings out the best in you. I believe it is evident that they bring out the best in each other, and I have complete faith that God molded Channing and Josiah for each other. I couldn’t have picked anyone better for us to spend the rest of our lives with. And I say 'ours', because we are a package deal. They don’t know this, but I’ve been looking forward to our trip to Cancun for weeks now. I wish I was being serious... unfortunately, I have to let her go, but I know she is in good hands. 

Congratulations Channing, and Josiah. I wish an endless amount of happiness, patience, and love for the both of you."

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Ashlyn continues:
"This summer has been one of my favorite summers that I have had in a long time. I spent 4-weeks shadowing various PAs (Physician's Assistants) and nurse practitioners in different departments throughout the BSA Hospital system. I am also taking two online classes one of which is forensic psychology, and the other is one that monitors my shadowing hours. I really enjoyed shadowing, and have made the decision to officially pursue a career as a PA. I really enjoyed working in the ER. I think I need something fast paced, and more hands on than clinical work. A couple of months ago I was really upset because I didn't know if I wanted to be a PA, and had the urge to get my Masters in Psychology. I wanted to be a therapist. I thought my personality was better suited as a therapist, because all of my friends tend to come to me if they need someone to listen, but I quickly realized that I don't think my heart can handle being a therapist.

Kappa Alpha Theta
I leave next Friday for Stillwater. (She attends OSU). I have rush for my sorority a week before school starts. I am going to be in 16-hours next semester, so it definitely will not be easy. I'm in Nutrition Pathophysiology of Chronic Disease and Human Metabolism I, which will be my toughest classes.

I am planning on graduating in May 2018, and moving back to Amarillo to work for a nurse practitioner I met here in Amarillo. I want to be a CNA, which is a Certified Nursing Assistant. I am doing this instead of jumping into PA school, because they require hands on experience, which I thought was stupid at first, but I am actually beginning to appreciate. I want to love what I do, and don't want to jump into anything too fast. 

These are just future plans, but I've realized that there are just some things in life I can't control, so who knows what will happen. I'm just going to try the best that I can, and go from there. I'm really nervous/excited for the challenges I'm about to face. My life is about to change a lot in this next year, but I'm going to try my very best to just embrace the change, and see that so much good can come out of change. I've always known I am very blessed and live a great life, but this summer I have realized that I am so extremely thankful for my family and friends. My parents have provided a life for me that a majority of people don't get, and I am going to do everything I can to make them proud."

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Oh, my sweet Ashlyn, you have already made them prouder than you can ever imagine. You make your "Fancy Grandmommy" pretty darn proud as well! I see a wonderful life ahead of you... You can do anything you want to with your many gifts and talents. The speech you wrote is so moving and beautifully written, you might even do some writing in your future.

Love, pride, and gratitude for all the children in my life,
Marilyn

Thursday, July 27, 2017

IMAGINATION

Audrey
Two little girls were playing in the yard. One was holding a tin can, stirring small pebbles in it with a stick. The other little girl asked her what she was stirring. She answered, "Beans." "Those aren't beans! They're rocks," said the other little girl. "Just use your imagination," answered Audrey, my oldest granddaughter.

She had a wonderful imagination as a child. While I don't think she was in need of "beans", she was probably manifesting other parts of her future with her delightful antics. Always eager to put on a "show" for the adults in her life, she often danced and acted out her favorite songs and videos of the day. I will never forget the time when she was about three years old. She picked up a small brass horn I had, and using it as her microphone, climbed to the middle of my bed, began jumping, and started singing "Ten Little Monkeys Jumping On a Bed".

Audrey is all grown up now, and working with EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) as a Habitat Exchange Program Specialist. She is also extremely talented as a musician and dancer. These are not her profession, but they still bring much joy into her life as she performs in an orchestra as well as enrolls in dance classes as time permits. I'll bet her tender heart also played a huge part in choosing her profession in environmental causes.

Imagination. What a wonderful tool to have if we know how to use it properly.

One night this week I heard Stephen Colbert interview an actress who has won two Tonys for her acting on Broadway. (Sorry, I don't remember her name.) What caught my attention was her answer when he asked her if she always expected to be a winner. She told him that when she was young, she aspired to performing on Broadway. At age 15, she would use her hairbrush as a microphone, stand in front of her mirror, and practice a speech thanking everyone for her Tony award.

 A couple who attended Unity with me many years ago had married after 
meeting at church and dating for awhile. The woman told me that she was envisioning the "love of her life" for quite some time before they met. She said she would dance alone in her living room, holding her arms up as if she were holding onto a partner. When they met, and when they shared their first romantic dance, she knew her vision had materialized. Sounds a little crazy, huh? Read on.


Someone very close to me.. my late sister Jean, did something similar when she was young. She told me that when she was unhappy, she would dress in something very lovely, pour Tab (a diet Coke at the time) into a champagne glass, and pretend she was sipping champagne, and waiting on her date with a man who would love her and shower her with all the good things she wanted out of life. And you know what? She realized that dream when she met and married her husband, Mike. They had a wonderful life together. Early on, he was so in love he asked her to make a list of everything material that she wanted out of life, and he promised to fulfill it. He did that and more. The list even included frivolous things like a mink coat. I don't know if she ever wore it. Mike never knew about her pretense of being well-off and in love with someone like him when she was younger. It took quite a few years for that to come about, but it did. Was it magic?

It is nearing the anniversary of my sister Jean's death, so stories and pictures of her keep coming to mind. This one is at what we always called The Barn - a structure my former husband built for us to live in temporarily while he built our permanent home on the same property. It was built with a package of lumber from Payless that they termed a barn. Little did I realize at the time that it would be my home for nearly 20-years, thirteen of those years I lived there alone with my little dogs and many cats to keep me company. During that time I often referred to it as my Walden Pond -- without the pond. Lots of happy memories of those years spent in The Barn.

The two-room Barn was filled comfortably with antiques, a wood-burning stove, and lots of furniture and family mementos collected through the years. The one thing it didn't have that I really wanted/needed was a real desk. I fashioned one out of a couple of two-drawer metal file cabinets (white - this is important) and the rectangular-shaped top to a card table (blue) I laid across them. This was positioned in the large back room of the Barn so that each time I walked to the door, I would glance over and look at it. I used this for several years, always thinking I needed a real desk.

One day my son Matthew called and said, "Mom, how would you like a desk?" It seems the apartment manager where he lived was getting rid of furniture that had been left behind by tenants. There was a small desk, and Matthew brought it to me. As he got out of his car he told me I might not like the color, and he would take it back if I didn't. I knew immediately what it would look like. I said, "It's blue and white, isn't it?" He looked surprised. And, of course, that's what it was.


The small desk indeed had a blue top with two white drawers down one side. The only difference was my makeshift desk had two file drawers on each side. We both got a big laugh at this. I realized that my constant viewing of the old desk was accompanied by the thought, "I've got to get a new desk". The picture in my mind was very close to the manifested new desk. I told myself that I should have pictured a pretty antique oak desk!

By now, you might be familiar with the Law of Attraction that I am writing about. We've all heard the expression, "Be careful what you wish for." That's easy to do when we are consciously wanting certain things in our life -- a new car, perhaps a new home, or even a new baby or pet. However, it's the unconscious thoughts or wishes we must be careful to control. Especially our hateful or negative thoughts. If we are constantly thinking of things or people or experiences we do not like or want, the energy we put into those thoughts can, and often will, manifest those very things in our lives.

(Sometimes I believe it was the collective thinking of millions that got our current President elected. Maybe we should be concentrating on having someone new - and saner -- in the White House. All together now... )

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When my daughter Carajean's son, Tanner, was about 11-years old, his imagination took the form of homemade videos. As he showed a talent for it, his dad Branch took him one summer to a week-long seminar on the art and techniques of making videos. The ones that he created afterwards were so good that it was hard to believe someone that young could have made them. He cloned himself in many. Because I loved them, I often shared them with friends, and bragged on him.

Tanner just graduated from high school in May, and for a Senior English assignment, he and some of his cousins and friends made the following "film noir" of Shakespeare's classic "Hamlet". I was so impressed, I asked for permission to post it.


This was filmed in my daughter's home, and the cast of characters is as follows: 
Ace Detective Prince Hammy - Jorden Hix
Polonius and referee- Tanner Archer
Claudius and Ophelia- Race Schaeffer
Horatio - Holden Archer
Gertrude - Jewel Goodfellow

Tanner wears the plaid hat and mustache very well! Oh, and by the way, it's not surprising that they made a grade of 100 on this project, is it?

Tanner will attend the University of Texas this fall. Even though he is very interested in the environmental sciences just like his older sister Audrey, I wouldn't be surprised if he is enticed by Austin's artistic, musical, and filmmakers' venues. (He is also a very talented cellist.) Who knows, maybe he will someday be another Al Gore, and make wonderful movies that will be instrumental in saving the environment as well.

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If you will look back over your own life, you might be surprised at the things that happened to or for you that were something you had desired or dreamed of at an earlier time.  Tell me about them.

Peace, love, and sweet dreams,
Marilyn

STAYING CONNECTED


I love hearing from friends via email. No matter the distance, time seems to collapse as I read their messages, and we are once again together, chatting over things important or insignificant. I am blessed with communication from family and friends near and far away. Some I haven't seen in over 35 years, but the memories of their friendship are still fresh and alive. I may not remember all the little details, but I always remember the loving, joyful emotions that accompanied us on our friendship journey. And what fun continuing these friendship connections through modern communication means.

In one of my recent devotionals, the subject was how "every particle is connected to every other particle in the universe." That reminded me of an experience I had when I first started studying metaphysics and learning to meditate. One night I was awakened from a dream that stayed with me to this day. In my dream, I was walking among a large crowd of people. I was amazed to see what looked like white arcs of a cloud-like substance that connected all of us from the tops of our heads! Most seemed oblivious to this phenomena, however, I thought I was supposed to see this as a teaching experience. Proof of our connectedness?

 (Claudia Rogge - a famous photo artist from Dusseldorf)

Needless to say, no photo exists that shows the arcs that connected us in my dream. However, this artist has some remarkable photos that demonstrate our connectedness in unique ways. I found this on a Russian site, believe it or not. All Day Plus The site really looks interesting. When I have time, I will go back and review it.

When I really want to get "woo woo", as my son Craig calls it, I like to think that not only are we all connected to each other, but to everything on this planet, and everything's made of the same "stuff". I don't mind having the same quantum level makeup as a vegetable. That's why they are so good for us. By the same token, if I am the same as the animals on this planet, would that make me a cannibal for eating meat? (Oh, no, my vegan daughter will jump on this observation.) Sometimes I feel like I have the same quantum level makeup as a rock. Do you ever feel that way?

I realize that this is a screwy - and probably inaccurate way to speak of quantum anything. But recently I sent off for my DNA testing to get a better idea of just "what" it is that makes me me. Can't get much more quantum than that!
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In today's world, if one is as blessed as I am with almost everything in the electronic world that I can possibly want - or understand, it is easy to maintain various connections with others, but difficult to find enough time in the day to make use of all our "toys" that do so. I've had a desktop computer for many years now. Although it has been tedious at times to learn enough to do the things I wish to do with it, I can now:
  • Search the web for anything under the sun that I wish to know.. the world's largest encyclopedia of knowledge at my fingertips. I have a great Ad Blocker that Matthew installed, but I also know how to search "incognito", thus fooling the advertisers or any other nosy entity who wishes to snoop on my viewing habits. Not that I view anything I wouldn't want found out. I'm too prudish for that!
  • Print out any texts or photos with my laser printer...from recipes to family history, newspaper articles, emails, and letters to keep.
  • Scan and save photographs from my own or others' collections in my possession, and save them to one or more places on my computer. The scanner is another electronic time consumer of mine that I wouldn't want to do without.
  • Create and maintain two blogs that I publish when I have the time and the inclination/inspiration.
One can always watch movies or listen to music on a PC. However, my children have gifted me with better options. First it was ROKU, which allowed me to watch Netflix and other movies, TV, and news programs on my television. Most are viewed without annoying commercials. (It came with its own "box" and remote control.) I could also choose the kinds of music I want to listen to on Pandora through my ROKU. I connected my old stereo to the TV in the living room to enhance the music through the speakers.

Image result for Amazon Fire Sticks
Last Mother's Day son Matthew gifted me with two Amazon Fire Sticks that take the place of ROKU. They do everything and more that ROKU did - plus Amazon's and Hulu's original TV shows and movies. There is so much on there one could subscribe to, it takes forever just to scan through the lists! I have one in my living room and one in the bedroom. One even has the feature like Alexa that lets me ask for whatever I want to view. If they have it, it shows up! These plug into the television sets, come with remotes, and use WiFi to work. (Of course, one must sign on to Amazon Prime to use these. Another gift from Matthew, I am on his account.)

As a home telephone, somehow Matthew hooked my phones up to a system through my WiFi and Google for a low price of around $10 a year. This does everything a regular landline does.. voice mail, unlimited calls anywhere in the world (I think -- haven't tried international calls yet), and more. Missed calls, voice mails, etc. are transferred to my computer and stored there. The only drawback - if my internet connection drops, which it does frequently lately with the new service provider Spectrum (don't use them if you have a choice!), you might lose the call. As I don't use the telephone very often, that isn't much of a problem. I also have a small (free - my sons tease me and call it an Obama-phone) cell phone to use in an emergency or when I was driving. I can even text on it if need be. I have adamantly refused an iPhone.



Related imageMy favorite electronic "gadget" is the small android tablet seen here. It is a little larger than a smart phone, and I can do nearly everything on it that I can on my PC. There is even an app that allows me to take telephone calls "face-to-face" if I wish. I don't use that as I'm often in my pajamas nearly all day. And vain female that I am, since I no longer wear makeup every day, I certainly don't want to let anyone see my face that close up! Therefore, I use the text option more often. I can take and send and save photos and videos with it. Record voices or sounds. View and answer emails, search the web, and my favorite, read the news sites throughout the day. As I don't have cable TV, I can stay up-to-date with the latest. There are apps for everything (but could quickly put way too much data on there), and I play solitaire when commercials come on my broadcast TV. My favorite pastime throughout the day and night is to play Words With Friends - a type of Scrabble. The tablet has sounds to alert me when messages or games appear ready for me. It also has a Google feature that will answer questions similar to Alexa.

If I need to type something very lengthy and don't have access to my PC, my granddaughter Audrey bought me the neatest "keyboard" that I can rest the little tablet on, use blue ray, and !voila! - a miniature computer!

How's that for staying "connected"?


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Before closing, I want to share the following award that was issued to my
youngest grandson, Matthew Travis Rider, who turned 15 last month. Not only has he thrilled us with his accomplishments in golf in recent years -- making the high school golf varsity team this coming semester,  making the A and B Honor Roll consistently, but he also participates in volunteer work with both his church group and the Young Men's Service League, the Viper Chapter.

(Update, July 28: Travis's dad Matthew informed me that it was only 70 hours of volunteer work. Sorry.) Travis put in over 70 hours of volunteer work last year. This is "The President's Volunteer Service Award", issued under the Points of Light Award program, started by President George H.W. Bush in 1993. It celebrates "The power of the individual to spark change and improve the world". Way to go, Travis! Another of my grandchildren on his way to changing the world for the better. God bless.

Peace and Love,
Marilyn

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

LIVING ON A SMALL ISLAND

I have known Mary for over twenty years. When we first met, she lived in
Mary
an earth-sheltered home in a community known as Rainbow Valley north of Denton, Texas. She was (and still is) a very interesting person. I shared many an experience with Mary, including a wonderful sweat lodge she led, a smudge circle of women held in my "barn", and even healing sessions conducted hands-on. Part shaman, established herbalist, former massage therapist, and now an islander who is still working for FEMA. She and her husband Jaye are both ready to fly to any major disaster in the United States.

As they are approaching retirement, Mary's dream and Jaye's desire both included living on an island in the sun. Having found a place, they moved there this past spring. I asked her to write something about the experience of living on one of the U.S. Virgin Islands after originating in a relatively small town in Texas. She sent me the following, along with a few photographs they have taken. 
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"One of my lifelong dreams has been to live on a high hill right on the ocean, so that I can be one with wild, raging storms. It did not necessarily have to be on an island. I found such a house here on St Croix. (A long way from Texas.)

(View at the side of my house driveway. The island in the distance is Buck Island, which is a national monument made so by JFK. The islanders are very proud of it. Only goats and turtles live there. Day visitors allowed. Beautiful white coral beaches.)

My astrologer had been telling me for years that I was going to be doing some traveling. When I transferred to the FEMA Regional office and became a DAE (disaster assistance employee) for Hazard Mitigation, my traveling extended beyond Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Colorado. 

I met Jaye when I went to work for FEMA in 2000. He was my supervisor for seven plus years, when he transferred to the Region. We had a good working relationship, and we then became good friends. Sometime around 2012 we started to get to know each other better, and did some traveling together - going to see my kid and his kid who both lived in Colorado. 

Jaye's son Kyle got married on Ambergris Caye in Belize about twelve years ago, and Jaye fell in love with Belize. He had dreamed about moving there when he retired, as he wanted to be some place that stayed warm year-round. Even though Belize has what appears to be a good Retirement Program for expats, I do not like Belize. Belize works from a very blatant graft system, and I am not comfortable with that.

Over the course of three years, Jaye and I made three trips to the Palencia Peninsula in Belize, one trip to Panama, and one to St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. His son Kyle and wife Johanna had moved there in August of 2015.


Seventh Wave (St Croix)

(I was curious about this Seventh Wave photo when Mary sent it. When asked, this was her reply)..
According to some old books on the movement of the waves and docking or beaching a boat, one would try to ride the 7th wave in as it is said to be the strongest and would take one further upon the beach. When watching waves pound on a beach or rocks, the 7th wave is nearly always the biggest or highest. Right after it is a small wimpy wave which would be when one would launch a boat as there is less resistance. Or so my dad always said. He was in the Navy in WWI. Also, 7 is one of those numbers that has a lot of significance in the cycles of things. [See A Little Mysticism, Please].

When Jaye's son Kyle moved to St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, of course we had to visit. St Thomas is six miles long and about that wide in some places, with close to 50,000 people on it. It is the cruise lines shoppers' paradise. We stayed several days and discovered that St Thomas is just too small and crowded, the hills are really high, and the roads are treacherous. Jaye voiced his concern to Kyle, and he told us about St Croix. With all the wanting to be someplace warm, the Virgin Islands weren't even on the radar at that time.

Our Porch View
St Croix is 28 miles long and 7-10 miles wide; about the same number of people as St Thomas, more laid back, and though it has some high hills, they are not crowded together as much. We spent over three weeks here last July, and drove this island from stem to stern. We put over 500 miles on the rental car. We stayed 10 days in a condo high up on a hill that looked out on the ocean and Buck Island and the reef, and then the rest of the time in a resort that had like mini apartments. We got in touch with a realtor, and saw several houses. We weren't going to buy anything, we just wanted to get a feel for what the different types of housing were like.
View From Our Porch.

Jaye proposed somewhere along the line. On our return to Texas to prepare for the move to a rental house in St Croix, we went to the courthouse and got married. After deciding what to take and what to get rid of or store of our belongings, arranging for shipping, including our truck, we made our move to St Croix by April 1st of this year.

Our House
 In St Croix we drive on the left-hand side of the road. You can legally turn left on a red light! To be able to leave this island one must plan ahead. There are only two ways off here. By airplane or by boat. The airport can handle fairly large planes that carry at least 100 or more people, and it is about the size that Dallas Love Field was twenty years ago. Also, there is now a ferry that can carry about seventy-five people, that goes to St Thomas which is 40-miles away across open water.

All, that being said...St Croix is really not a cruise ship sort of place. The two major towns are old and though at one time they may have drawn more tourists and still do if someone is staying here for a few days at one of the resorts or rented a room some place. St Croix does not have a good port and therefore there are not very many activities near town unless one wants to charter a fishing trip, go snorkeling or scuba diving or just a sail. The main draw are these other things that one can do here.  There are high cliffs with beautiful clear blue waters. Lots of water sports, fishing, sailing and para-sailing; lots of beaches, and lots of places to hike and camp. Places where one can get away and be in the quiet. All of these activities take time and most cruise ships do not stay in port that long, especially as small an island as St Croix is. As far as I know, the cruise ships are no longer coming to this island. 

Christiansted (credit: Kayak.com)

We live in an area called the East Bank or End and we are about 3- or 4 -miles from Christiansted. It is kinda deceiving as there are many curves and small hills. Also, at the east end of the island is a casino. There are several large resorts, that also have nice restaurants, that hold special events. There are three yacht clubs, three or four golf clubs, and a brand new Cinemax high tech theater.

Christiansted Waterfront

There are two major towns on St Croix - Frederiksted which is at the West end (where the big cruise ships can come in closer and send out boats), and Christiansted, which is on the East side. These towns are the major hubs and the buildings there are very old. They are in repair, it seems like all of the time, with either paint, stucco, or whatever else it takes. Then there are several neighborhood business centers where there they have a general store, bank, and post office. There are three hospitals, and doctors of all kinds here. Although most people go off the island for specialty surgeries and such.

Rainbow Beach - St Croix

All beaches are supposed to be open to the public, though some of them are on private property and walled off, or on a resort where they may charge a day fee. There are plenty of places where one can find a path or road leading off a main road to a beach, plus, there are several public parks.

Before Hurricane Hugo, and a couple of hurricanes before that, took out most of the sugar plantations, the islands were sectioned off by the many plantations, and some had some very strange names. The neighborhoods that sprang up in those areas, kept those names. If you are not a local and know your way around, it is hard to find someone's house. Most house numbers are not in chronological order. 

I realize that I have given you several facts and not much "goo". While there may be issues, such as a lot of mosquitoes and "no see ums" nibbling at you at all times of the day, for some people all this beautiful sky and water is worth it. 

A lot of the islands along this arc are very commercialized and make a lot of their money off of tourists. Though some of the smaller ones can be a little more primitive, and do not have as many conveniences. The cost of food is about 1/3 more than in the States, as very few things are grown on the island.

Downtown Christiansted - (Credit: amay.com)

Here on St Croix, you probably won't find anyone living in a grass hut, even though there are some rough/poor places where people have pieced shelter together. 

I honestly can't say that I like it here better than Texas. I can say that I am comfortable here, and it is quite an experience. Sometimes the dream is better than the reality. Would I recommend that someone do this? Definitely - if they can do it without breaking the bank."
Mary E. (Smith) Hendricks

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Not only do the island's sun, sky, and water appeal to retirees and visitors alike, but Mary sent me several days of the St Croix calendar of events that appeal to anyone looking for a good time as well! They have something going on every day of the week. One recent day's events:

Saturday, July 15, 2017:
Luke Slupesky at Cafe Fresco from 10:30am-1:30pm
League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) monthly meeting 3rd Saturday of the month beginning at 1pm at the AARP office in Sunny Isles Annex. More info call 332-1482.
Bingo at Rhythms at Rainbow Beach beginning at 4pm
Open Mic Night with Richard Schrader SrGeron RichardsCedelle PetersenWinnie Oyoko Loving and Sherelle Freemanat at Dorsch Center from 5:30-7:30pmMore info.
Mercy Child for Sunset Sail at Lyric Sails from 5:30-7:30pmMore info.
Alex Scimeca at Castaways from 6-9pm
Dr. Roy at The Golden Rail at Mill Harbour from 6-9pm
Coral Fire for Buffet at Thali Indian Grill from 6-10pm
Bill Bass Steel Pans at Deep End Bar beginning at 6:30pm
Romanza at The Buccaneer from 6:30-9:30pm
Steve and Friends at Freedom City Surf from 6:30pm-9:30pm
Eric Vincent at The Galleon from 6:30-9:30pm
Summer Film Fest showing "Hidden Figures" at Baked CafĂ© beginning at 7:30pm
Satellite Watch: Hubble Space Telescope from W to ENE from 7:31-7:39 pmMore info.
Brian McCullough Band for Grand Opening of Two Fat Chicks Tropical Micro Brew Pub (old Pink Spot location) from 8-11pm
Karaoke at Lost Dog Pub beginning at 9pm
Disco Dance Party with DJ at balter from 10pm-1:30am
DJ Ninja at Divi Casino from 11pm-3am

Me? Give me Texas. By the way, Mary, tell Jaye that Austin stays warm (almost) year-round!

Dreams do come true,
Marilyn

Saturday, July 22, 2017

GOD(S) AND CHAOS - PART II

by Cameron Young


      Next I met Shintoj. I stayed for several days in a remote part of the jungle in the Christian Communist state of Kerala (a conversation for another time). My final morning there, I had to wake up at 5 am to catch an auto rickshaw, a bus, a train, and then take a cab - all to catch an afternoon flight to Calcutta in time.
  In the jungle, you don’t have ample internet access and not all bus and train schedules are posted online anyways. There’s no helpful signage that guides you to the proper transportation, and if there is, it’s usually in Hindi. This was a common theme during my travels. The beauty of such a challenge was that it forced me to ask people for help. One such person was a man who epitomized the helpfulness and hospitality of the Indian people. We were headed the same direction, and he made sure I got off at the right bus stop, bought the right train tickets, and didn’t get on the compartment where I would’ve had literally no breathing room.



    Then, there was Pankaj Kumar and his mother, complete strangers who, through the website Couch Surfing, opened up their home to me in Kolkata, and provided home-cooked meals and a bed at no cost. We bonded over sports, and he took me around the entire city on his motorbike (Calcutta on motorbike is an unforgettable experience, I should add). Both he and his mom were practicing Hindus, and it was wonderful to see them exercise their daily rituals to signify their devotion to their Gods. Pankaj also took me to the Ganges river to watch him and hundreds of other Hindus bathe there in honor of the festival Makar Sakranti.

     There is a phrase from ancient Hindu scripture: Atithi Devo Bhava which translates to “The guest is equivalent to God.” The people mentioned above, to me, embodied the Indian spirit and the Paramatman or higher self; of selflessness of giving. The Indian people embrace collectivism, and in all of my interactions with them, I found it striking how little the words “I” and “me” were used. Since I was in a somewhat delicate and egocentric place, especially at the beginning of my trip, encounters with people like this were a constant reminder to step outside of myself.
       Perhaps the most holy of experiences, however, was Bodhgaya. I was sitting under the Bodhi Tree, a descendant of the original tree where, according to Buddhist scriptures, Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha first sat under when he reached enlightenment. Thousands of Buddhists from dozens of countries make pilgrimages here every year, and to be in their presence and hear them chant was remarkable.
      
    As you can tell by the surgical masks people are wearing, Bodhgaya is a very dense and polluted city, with tons of people and little space. My experience here was holy, but anything but tranquil. Yet, here we see hundreds of people singing, and worshipping that which is beyond their individual selves. That is Paramatman. That is the big “I.” That is enlightenment. That is God. And there I was, in all of this flurry of activity, no longer Cameron, the Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, Liberal, Queer, Caucasian American, but free, insignificant, and one with all existence and non-existence around me.
     We are all comprised of matter which is infinite and never ceasing, and it’s only our individual consciousness that declares us to be separate from everything else. And we have no control of order and chaos, and if we refuse to embrace that, we will suffer. A great truth realized by the aforementioned Eastern religions. 
Image result for walt whitman song of myself      What’s most noticeable of Whitman’s Song of Myself is its free verse style, which at times seems completely random and unstructured, but the closer you look, you see an underlying narrative of his finding divine self within the randomness of the universe. 
    “To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow, All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.” “All truths wait in all things, they neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it, They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon, The insignificant is as big to me as any.” “No words of routine this song of mine, But abruptly to question, to leap beyond yet nearer bring…. The saints and sages in history- but you yourself? Sermons, creeds, theology - but the fathomless human brain, and what reason? And what is love? And What is life?” 
    I could see this same phenomena amongst Indian culture. The divine order amongst this chaos, and the willingness of the Indian people to embrace it as naturally as breathing. It doesn’t always feel romantic and beautiful. Often times, It’s smelly. It’s dirty. It’s loud. But it’s life! No more. No less. Amen.


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Amen, Cameron, Amen. 
"Chaos - A system rearranging itself to a higher sense of order."

PEACE
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

GOD(S) AND CHAOS - Part I

My oldest grandson, Cameron Young, recently gave the following talk to the Westside Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is currently the Director of Lifespan Religious Education. He told of his trip to India, along with photos he took while there. As this is rather lengthy, I decided to post it in two parts. 

I always thought that Cameron would be a professional performer (he was a voice major at LSU, and sings opera), but not only does he have the ability to present a good sermon from time to time at his church, he shows a remarkable gift for writing as well! Proud grandmother speaks.

GOD(S) AND CHAOS
by Cameron Young

   Those of us in the western world tend to view what is spiritual and what is holy to be only synonymous with what is tranquil and calm. Wealthy westerners spend thousands of dollars going on spiritual retreats being drawn in by taglines such as “find your inner peace,” “align your chakras,” “heighten your cosmic vibrations,” and a classic “embrace the power of positive thinking!” Not to negate the validity of eastern religious practice, especially yoga and meditation, which provide immense benefits for body and mind, but since the new age movement of the 1960s, we’ve seen the emergence of bastardized eastern practice that has drawn in thousands. The fundamental difference between the true practices and the new practices is that, while eastern spirituality encourages you to embrace discomfort and learn eventually to accept it, the latter teaches to spiritually bypass any feelings of unease and that only the positive feelings are valid. 
   Having visited India for a month, I quickly realized there was a market for this. There were these very expensive Yogic retreats offered to Europeans and some Americans where people got to come to India, yet conveniently got to avoid the Indian people and cultural climate. The noise. The smells. The poverty. The “chaos.” Not only is that antithetical to those philosophies, but that mindset is also racist and classist. Upon leaving for India, I certainly had an over-romanticized vision of it, and though I might’ve been looking for some semblance of self-realization, my motives were quite different from the ones previously stated. I recognized the spiritual validity of being out of one’s comfort zone.
   I left the U.S. thinking that I had left most of my ego behind. I’ve never been too attached to material possessions, in the spirit of our second UU (Unitarian Universalist) principle, I’ve made it a practice to have open and compassionate relations with others, and I like to think my spiritual practice enables me to approach most situations calmly and objectively. The moment I set foot in Mumbai, I became painfully aware of how wealthy I was in that context. People, mostly in desperation, wanted my money, and so I became a target for some to scam, rip off, or simply pester. Despite having plenty of it (everything was so inexpensive), I found myself clinging to my money and possessions in a way I never had before. While some level of a defensive disposition is healthy in such an environment, my hypervigilance coupled with jet lag was manifesting in paranoia. My adventuring was often coupled with sensory overload and a constant need to look over my shoulder. 
    My third night in Mumbai, I ventured to Chowpatty beach, because the beach is a relaxing and tranquil place, right? I stuck out like a sore thumb.



 
 As a practicing Zen Buddhist, I’ve become quite familiar with the writings of Shinryu Suzuki, who’s often accredited as father of the American Zen movement. In his most famous work, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki speaks of small mind vs. big mind, or little “I” vs. big “I.” “We create airplanes and highways,” he writes “And when we repeat ‘I create, I create, I create’ soon we forget who is the actual ‘I’ which creates the various things; we soon forget about God. This is the danger in human culture.” He goes on to write “But because we do forget who is doing the creating and the reason for the creation, we become attached to the material or the exchange value.”
   Suzuku writes of the Buddhist understanding of God, which can be simply understood as the oneness of everything, or as UUs like to say, the interconnected web of all existence. Suzuki is implying that the danger in human thought is the illusion of self, the illusion of attachment, and the illusion of creation. Anything we perceive as being created by us, we’re really just rearranging matter already manifested in nature. And when we think this way, we become attached to these material things, we fear the loss of those attachments, and thus emerges the little “I” or the ego that separates us from everything.
   Welcome to my existential crisis upon entering India. My sudden anxiety and possessiveness over my pocketbook, my phone, my laptop, and other belongings, at least at first, constantly interfered with my enjoyment of an otherwise grand adventure.
   Though this realization of the dichotomy between the egoic little self, and the higher, universal self is fundamental to Buddhism, it’s by no means unique to it. The Transcendentalists of young America, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Channing, all Unitarians at one point or another, were perhaps the ones in the west who most eloquently articulated this truth. Transcendentalism went as far as to say that institutions and illusion of order actually corrupted the purity of the individual, constantly citing the validity of a human’s subjective intuition. 
   We heard earlier a reading from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. He goes on to write “I exist as I am, that is enough, if no other in the world be aware, I sit content, and if each and all be aware, I sit content.” Here, Whitman is implying that our fundamental purpose is our subjective experience. What emotions we feel, what thoughts we perceive, and how we internalize those experiences trumps anything that happens extrinsically, including the materials and institutions we create.
   So what was the primary spiritual philosophy that influenced the Transcendentalists and early American Unitarians? You might be surprised that, it was the Hindu religions of India, which similarly gave birth to Buddhism. Many of them were actually fascinated with Hinduism, and though they may not have interpreted it with complete accuracy, some of its core tenets dramatically informed their spiritual outlook. 
   Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about the relationship in Hinduism between Atman (the individual self) and Paramatman (the eternal self, where individuality vanishes into selflessness). Emerson calls it the over-soul, and that it must be reunited with the individual self to, in his words, “recover that unity which had been clouded and obscured by the magical illusions of reality.” This is important for two reasons: 1) is the relationship between little “I” and big “I” that I’ve cited before, and 2) Emerson is citing the qualities of Hinduism that imply that reality is inherently spiritual and that spirituality is not about escaping reality. This leads me back to my original subject line, “God(s) and Chaos.”
   Western Judeo-Christian theology tends to have a dualistic approach to chaos vs. order, and perceives that order is superior, whereas eastern theology, originating in Hinduism, has a more non-dualistic approach in which chaos and order are two sides of the same coin, thus cosmic inevitabilities. You can see these differing philosophies reflected in our culture. When this American first set foot in Mumbai, it seemed as though a place with no order.
   I’ve shown you the picture on the beach. Another example is the traffic laws - there are none. The driving in India is every person for themselves, and every inch of space on the rode is claimable. Drivers will get to within an inch of hitting the next car. Upon further examination, however, you realize how skilled the drivers are and that major accidents are not more ample than they are in the west. I would see some of my taxi and rickshaw drivers accomplish feats with their driving that I could only dream of doing. Another example of order within chaos is the Dabbawala system of Mumbai, a 125-year old lunch delivery service that navigates the streets of Mumbai, appears to be chaotic and random, but is actually incredibly sophisticated. 
   As I’d indicated previously, this anxiety I felt from culture shock, lack of amenities, and the chaotic activity was resulting in a breakdown of ego for me, but there were several remarkable people and extraordinary experiences I had along the way that helped me to once again see beyond that little self. That Atman.
   First, I met Muhammad Ali, a Muslim rug salesman in the town of Hampi. We had chai together every evening, on my way back to my guest house. He had a gentle spirit, and a great sense of humor, often making fun of the way I smoked and coughed on his cigarettes. 
   Muslims make up a quarter of the population of India yet have none of the institutional power there. They’re highly marginalized, but this man did not have resentment towards those of different faiths, but rather an earnestness to learn about them. He seemed to effortlessly get along with the Hindus, Buddhists and Christians alike, all of which have substantial numbers there. One of the most beautiful aspects of India is its religious pluralism. My last night in Hampi, I had just been pick-pocketed - only petty cash. I told him what happened and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “If someone in this country steals from you, it’s because they are desperate.”
(To be continued)