Posted by: Laura Carter | May 17, 2015

Life According to Spock

Original post June 2010.

One time, my mother told my teen-aged son, “If you say you are bored one more time, you can leave my house. Only boring people get bored.” A couple of years ago, as I approached 60 years of age, I spent some time contemplating my life.  I was feeling–well–bored!  I felt as if I was hunkering down into a comfortable, yet uneventful, routine existence.  Life should be a luscious feast and I was on a starvation diet. Not wanting to become a boring person, I decided to fix that.

Inspired by my truly adventurous, un-boring mother and the “feed your head” attitude of the sixties, I know you have to exercise the brain, in addition to the body, to stay healthy and active.   I’ve heard we have as many brain cells as the national debt has dollars.  But, if we don’t use them, we will lose them. And, not just our brains, our psyche, our spirit, our creativity and our very love of life need feeding–not the usual fare, but tasty, spicy food.

I put the following words together and adopted them as an action plan: learn, create, try, see, travel, taste, listen, and visit.  Dragging the hubby along, we talked about making an effort to do something we had never done before or go somewhere we had never been, at least once a week.  Now, you won’t see us skydiving or riding a camel across the Sahara, there are plenty of less complicated ways to meet this goal.  Not that you should rule out anything you feel is in your scope of exploration.

We have been working our plan for about two years.  Some things are easy–having a beer while listening to Los #3 Dinners, live.  Some things are a real push for me, especially the going down in the Caverns of Sonora cave thing.  A disastrous exercise was a week long road trip to South Dakota–but that’s another story.  Recently, we visited, for the first time, the San Antonio River Walk extension down to the San Antonio Museum of Art.  Yes, we had to hunt for a parking space and got hot and sweaty.  We also enjoyed the view, the precious time together and the feeling of being a part of the city.  The museum, while not totally new for us, always unveils new treasures and renewed appreciation for art.

I think when Spock says “live long and prosper, he means live long and have a wealth of experiences.
Get out of your mental easy chair this week, do something different and share it.

Me at a "take it apart and make it art workshop" with spare parts and 10bitworks

Me at a “take it apart and make it art workshop” with spare parts and 10bitworks

Posted by: Laura Carter | May 15, 2015

Disabled Hondurans — voices for the voiceless

On February 26, 2015 eighteen members of the Honduran Association of Migrants Returned with Disabilities (AMIREDIS) began a journey across Central America to the United States. Their purpose to “raise awareness about the perils of riding on top of train cars on the Mexican railroad commonly referred to as “The Beast” (La Bestia in Spanish). AMIREDIS activists also “promote justice and rights for disabled persons” as their distinctive commonality is traumatic injuries incurred while riding La Bestia.

AMIREDIS represents more than 70 of the 700 persons in Honduras who have been maimed by a similar train accident.  For those seeking to escape a country rife with corruption, violence, unemployment and poverty, it is a courageous decision to take the long dangerous journey, across Central America and Mexico hoping to immigrate and/or reunite with family. “We have dreams of a better life,” said Jose Luis AMIREDIS president.

At the end of a grueling journey to the United States border, thirteen of the men turned themselves in and were incarcerated in the Eagle Pass detention center. They were transferred to the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall where they stayed for over a month until RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) facilitated the release for 11 of the men who vow to continue the journey. “Thank God for RAICES,” said Jose Luis. “The detention centers have no way to care for people with disabilities, so we are thrown in a cell and forgotten.”

Read May 15th NY Times Editorial re immigrant detention.

Last week at the Episcopal Church of Reconciliation, four members of AMIREDIS, accompanied by RAICES attorney/advocate Mohammed Abdollahi, came to tell their stories to a group of interested San Antonio citizens. Abdollahi said, “These men have a credible cause for asylum.” Elaborated in a court document submitted by Attorney Jonathan D. Ryan, RAICES Counsel for the Respondents, the group’s “advocacy has garnered international media attention, effectively exposing the Honduran government for its incapacity to assist its disabled nationals; while the Honduran nation survives on the remittances of migrants who risk their lives travelling, it does little to support or assist those who return disabled. Consequently, these men now confront both the challenge of coping with their disability in Honduras, as well as retribution from the Honduran government for their advocacy.”

Hondurans seeking asylum
“In Honduras there are a lot of gangs,” Alonzo told us. “Because I didn’t want to join, they were harassing me to the point I felt I needed to take my chances to immigrate, or be killed.” “I had ridden the trains for days, been assaulted and was very hungry, thirsty and tired,” explained Alonso, who left a daughter with his mother back in Honduras. “I ran to get on another train, grabbed onto the railing to pull myself up and was dragged behind for several minutes. Finally I pulled myself up onto the train, but had mangled my leg in the process.” After a quick amputation and medical care in Mexico, he was deported back to Honduras.

“There are no jobs for disabled people in Honduras,” Ifrain told us. “There is such competition for work anyone with a disability is left completely out. And, there are no benefits for unemployment or disability. We come to try to find work and help our families back in Honduras.” He was deported back to Honduras after being assaulted and thrown from a train traveling through Mexico resulting in the loss of one of legs.

group at churchThe group is continuing to visit with people to help spread their message and to raise funds for the journey to the Washington where they hope to speak with advocates and policy makers. They have put their faith in God to help them be a voice for the voiceless, advocating reform in a broken immigration process.  “Nothing is impossible,” says Jose Luis. “We want to talk to President Obama.”

Immigration is a complicated issue. And, I don’t claim to know even a tenth of the legal or legislative aspects. But, I do know a compelling human story when I hear one. I also know that except for the Native Americans, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants.

 

Posted by: Laura Carter | April 5, 2015

A photographer develops

I used to be what you might call a reluctant photographer. Even though I had no particular skills with a camera, every job I’ve had over the past 20 years–at schools and a nonprofit foundation–required me to be the photographer for activities and events. At first, I felt awkward and shy about getting out in front of people maybe blocking their view, or interrupting a conversation to get that shot. The first digital camera I used was the one with the floppy disk. It took passable pictures for some media and not so hot for others.

Since those days, digital photography and I have both gotten much better. Camera in hand, I began to enjoy interacting with people to get a good picture. I became less tentative about doing what was necessary for the assignment. I eased into practicing photography for pleasure, taking pictures not just of students, dignitaries, donors etc, but of plants and things. Since my semi-retirement, I’ve been more deliberate with the pictures I take.

Sure, I’m really just an amateur with a simple camera (a Cannon SX160 IS) and I’m still learning, but here are a few tips.

You have to take a lot of candid type shots to get even one really good one. Try posing people in fun ways when possible. At an event, candid shots often have people putting food in their mouths, pretty much unusable.

Make sure no one in the picture will have a plant or anything else growing out of their head.

Check the lighting, shadows etc. Don’t have people facing the sun and squinting.

Practice, practice, practice. Get creative whenever possible. Get down on the floor or up on a chair or ladder for a different angle. Close-ups can be cool.

Sit in a chair or get down on the floor to take pictures of children. Also, a group of small children will almost never all smile at the same time. As long as no kid is poking another kid’s eye out in the picture, it can work.

The recent work pic was a lot of fun to take.

cropped group pic for blog

I do have a Flickr account with some of my favorite pictures and also to chronicle some events I attended. It’s just me having fun.

Posted by: Laura Carter | March 29, 2015

Waiting to read

kindle and booksThis is a little list of some of the books I’ve recently read–mostly while sitting in hospital rooms or doctors’ waiting rooms. My husband had two episodes of seizures, one in November and one in January. He spent a some time in the hospital and subsequently at various doctors’ offices. Many tests were done and no particular medical reason has yet been established. Texas law dictates that after one has a seizure, one may not drive for three months. So, with Kindle in hand, I’ve been the designated driver. Titles comes with links to the books on Amazon, followed by short personal opines.

Sistina by Brian Kenneth Swain  Not just because he is a friend, I say this is an excellent read. The link is to the review I wrote on Amazon. From there I recommend purchasing and enjoying.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel This story interweaves in different and intriguing  ways from other post-apocalyptic books I’ve read. It’s sweet, suspenseful and leaves you with hope for the human race. And, yes, I am drawn to that particular genre.

Marco Polo-The Journey that changed the world by John Man  I bought this nonfiction book after watching the Netflix Marco Polo series–with naked women ninjas and other such highly suspect re-enactments of Marco’s life under the Khan. The author really dug (pun intended) into archaeological evidence, and tracked down a great deal of historical data. If you want the most true story of Marco Polo, read this.

Colorless Tskuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami I love this Japanese author. He writes enigmatic, intense character novels. This is his latest, but not greatest. Read Kafka on the Shore to be blown away.

Wonderful Tonight by Pattie Boyd As a young woman, Pattie was married to Beatle George Harrison until Eric Clapton ‘stole’ her away. Were they matches made in heaven? Not quite. She led a very interesting life and tells it with great insight and candor, revealing the true personalities of two of the greatest music icons of my age.

Gould’s Book of Fish  Magnificently written, fact-based fiction by Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan. Full of graphic imagery often written with wry sense of humor, it’s not for readers with tender constitutions. Still, if you want real literature, it’s a must read.

Posted by: Laura Carter | March 1, 2015

Remembering the Sabbath

Several years ago I read this wonderful book “Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest” by Wayne Muller, ordained minister, graduate of Harvard School of Divinity and therapist.

In his introduction, Muller explains in a general, not accusatory way, how in the relentless busyness of modern life we have lost the rhythm between work and rest. He tells how we suppose action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something-anything-is better than doing nothing. Because of this, we don’t rest, we miss the quiet refuge that brings us wisdom, and we miss the joy and peace from our moments of rest.

According to Wikipedia, the Sabbath is generally a weekly day of rest or time of worship. It is observed differently in Abrahamic religions and influences similar occasions in several other practices. Although many viewpoints and definitions have arisen over the millennia, most originate in the same textual tradition.

In this book Muller encourages us to remember the Sabbath by living the rhythm of rest and gives meditations and  examples of how to incorporate ‘small’ Sabbaths into our everyday life in a variety of ways—that include setting aside quiet times, taking a walk in the park, lighting a candle and saying a blessing, enjoying a meal with friends.

The following are a few passages that I hope will inspire you, as it did me, to find a quiet place, at any time, to remember the Sabbath as a divine gift of rest.

Readings from the book

In Genesis, a fundamental goodness is presumed throughout the creation story. At every juncture God acts, steps back and rests. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” Genesis 1:31 Sabbath rest invites us to step back and see that it is good.

Mark 2:27, “You are not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath is made for you.” Muller says, The Sabbath isn’t a responsibility, it’s a gift, and if we don’t take that gift, we all suffer. He tells us the point isn’t to take the Sabbath in order to avoid spiritual trouble with a cranky God who’s going to punish you. The point is to take Sabbath in order to be as nourished, fed and delighted as we’re meant to be. “Your life is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be opened.”

meditation, stones, pond,prayerPrayer is like a portable Sabbath, when we close our eyes for just a moment and let the mind rest. Like the Muslims who stop to pray five time a day, like the Angelus we can be stopped by a sunset, a meal and we can pray. Something close to the heart, and simple.

Sabbaths are filled with prayers. But we can begin slowly with a simple prayer like a pebble dropped into the middle of our day rippling out over the surface of our life. Perhaps a line from the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, a short blessing: “May all beings be happy and may all being be at peace.”

A verse in the 23rd Psalm says “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” Even Jesus stepped back from his ministry and the crowds to a place of rest. In doing so he is honoring a deep spiritual need for a time dedicated not to accomplishment and growth, but to quiescence and rest.

Better is one hand full of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind” Ecclesiastes 4:6 Traditional Sabbaths are filled with prayers. But we can begin slowly with a simple prayer like a pebble dropped into the middle of our day rippling out over the surface of our life.

Mother Teresa said “Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can full us up.”At our best, we become Sabbath for one another. Not fixing, not harming, not acting, we can become space, that our loved ones, the lost and sorrowful, may find rest in us. ‘Where ever two or more are gathered, there am I in the midst of you.’ 

 The Desert Fathers counseled, “Go into your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Set aside a period of time in nature or at home, at a church or temple, a library or anywhere you will not be disturbed. Sit, meditate, pray, read, whatever pleases you. Pay attention.

 

Posted by: Laura Carter | January 17, 2015

A letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Dr. King,

The day you were assassinated I was on the campus of Prairie View A&M, which in 1968 was still an all-black college located just west of Houston, Texas. I and several other white students were participating in an ‘exchange program’ in collaboration with the college I was attending.

In those days, Southwest Texas State College students mostly came from small Texas towns. The guys were shit-kickers i.e. studying agriculture; the women aspiring to become teachers, nurses and wives. There were no blacks on campus.

Dr. Clyde Bullion, our very liberal and a tad kooky sociology professor, spent several years opening minds and hearts, encouraging everyone to embrace integration and social justice. He held the first class on Black History and introduced us to African-American writers and poets.  Bullion would stand on his desk and holler out readings from Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Dubois. Quite impressive. We thought the visit to Prairie View made perfect sense for us.

During our two day visit, we were treated respectfully by the students and staff of the college. We attended classes, plays and social events. I remember sitting with a group of black students in an off-campus bar and asking, rather naively, the question surely stolen from me by Rodney King (whose beating and related consequences are attributed to the 1992 Los Angeles race riots) “I don’t know why we all can’t just get along?” Later, stunned and disheartened to the core to hear you were gunned down, we visitors were immediately sent home to “avoid any problems.”

I think you would agree, it seems to have gotten much better. We even elected our first black president! Then, sadly, we are reminded of how deeply racism runs in our country with shootings of unarmed black children and men. #blacklivesmatter, the statistics regarding racial profiling by the police, voter repression tactics in some states, and the appalling racist behaviors of some citizens toward our very own President Obama. These incidences have us facing realities we may not wish to admit.

The statistics also prove inequality still exists.  Here are a few stats from Black Demographics website.

Blacks make up 14.1% of the population in the US.

Percentage in poverty: Blacks 24.2%           All races 11.8%

Percentage in poverty under 18: Blacks 39.6%      All races 22.6% (Appalling so many children of any ‘color’ are living in poverty.)

Graduation rate: Blacks 63.6%              All races 80.6% (Which seems rather low as a whole.)

According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population, and have nearly six times the rate of whites.

Black Median Household income: $33,460

(all races $50,502)

All Black Workers 2012 weekly earnings:$606

(all races $765)

Black Men weekly earnings: $633

(White men $854)

Black Women weekly earnings: $590

(White women $712)

MLK-2014-2

So, Dr. King, there seems still much work to be done. Annually on January 19th, people in cities around the US march to keep your spirit and desire for social justice alive.  I still hope someday we can all get along.

Peace,

Laura

Right here in San Antonio, we have one of the largest marches of any city. For more information on this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day San Antonio March, click here, or find one in your city.

Posted by: Laura Carter | December 31, 2014

How Close Are You to a Superfund Site? | National Geographic

This article stunned me. I had no idea. I’d like to spread the word so people know just how toxic we have become. Nobody talks about this in the media, even in all the environment awareness messages.

How Close Are You to a Superfund Site? | National Geographic.

Posted by: Laura Carter | December 6, 2014

You can’t take it with you

estate saleI stopped in at an estate sale this morning in one of the larger homes in the neighborhood. Even though I had cleaned out my parents’ four bedroom home and been to many an estate sale, I can truly say I’ve never seen so much stuff in my life!

I was fascinated and appalled all at the same time at the many, many things this family had collected over the years–antique furniture, toys, crystal, a dozen sets of dishes, an entire room of Christmas decorations, jewelry, books, clothes… An over abundance of ‘things’ in every sense of the word. Especially, when I try very hard to minimize and repurpose our belongings on a regular basis.

It also reminded of this little story I wrote a few years ago for the Current’s Flash Fiction feature.


 

I always knew my son and his family would have no use for my precious mementos after I am gone.  Bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, stuff!

The furniture I inherited from my grandparents–a phone table with a little seat for comfortable chatting, the antique mantle. The beautiful set of china on which my mother served  holiday dinners that shaped generations of family gatherings.  I cherished these and many other family pieces passed down to me.  But, who wants a framed, handmade baby christening gown?

My books are all going for a dollar.  People are rummaging through my clothes and linens–all which are permeated with the odor of stale perfume. Handbags and jewelry, luggage, kitchen appliances… A bowl full of sea shells or a scorched set of cooking pans–not treasures for sure. The estate sellers are doing their job of clearing the house for sale.  But, there’s no one there to tell the stories.

dresden ladiesMany times I tried to tell the story behind the Dresden figurines. The ones in the glass cabinet that I stared at my whole life.  My parents bought those beautiful little ballerinas, with their tutus of delicate porcelain lace, in 1947 from a German family who had to sell their precious keepsakes to feed themselves. But, how could that matter now? Surely someone will see their value and give them a good home, where they can be admired everyday as a beautiful works of art. The finely etched beaten copper table top my father brought back from Pakistan when he served there in the ’50’s. The painting of the two devilish monks my first true love, George, gave me when I was 18 years old.

After the good things go, it looks like the sad remnants of an inconsequential life. I hover over this scene, on my last pass through this world, the memories fade along with the disbursement of my possessions.  And, now I surely know the truth of ‘you can’t take it with you.’

Posted by: Laura Carter | November 23, 2014

Retirement–what I’m reading

Found on Pinterest

Found on Pinterest

I am a book hoarder. I always like to have many books stashed away–either on my shelves or in my Kindle–to read at some future time. The last few months, I made it a goal to read all the hardback books I’d been saving for retirement, plus a couple of library books.

All of the following books are very good to excellent, except for the last one which was so-so–my opinions only. I’ve linked them to their page in Amazon for your convenience. Also, they are all over the map as far as genre is concerned.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbuagh

Oral History by Lee Smith (highly recommend though you may talk like a hillbilly in your head for a week afterward)

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

The Wayfinders by Wade Davis (I wrote about this one already)

Shoot an Iraqi by Wafaa Bilal and Kim Lydersen (not what you might think and very interesting)

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Bayne (sad indicator at 10)

Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. by Luis Rodriguez (read for banned book week)
 The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (library book, five star rating for post-apocalyptic genre)

Purple Cane Road (Dave Robicheaux Book 11) by James Lee Burke (library book. I’m kinda hooked on James Lee Burke at the moment)

Chasing the Night by Iris Johansen

Let me know if you read any, how you like them.

Posted by: Laura Carter | November 1, 2014

Ebola is the new black

Originally posted on Deconstructing Myths:

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” Like the nameless speaker in Ralph Ellison’s contemporary masterpiece “Invisible Man”, there are those of us who know this feeling of inconspicuousness. The corporate media outlets have unwittingly reminded us all that there exists an entire continent of people who, for all intents and purposes, have disappeared off the face of the Earth. Despite frantic reports of airports blocking flights from West Africa or highly publicized outings of infected health care workers, the outbreak barely registers on the scale of public health concerns in…

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