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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Posted by: Laura Carter | October 20, 2014

TEDxSanAntonio # 5

Ideas-In-Action-TEDxSanAntonio-280wThis year’s TEDxSanAntonio event had a decidedly different tone from the four previous events. I think that’s as it should be. Constantly evolving with fresh speakers and topics, each event–a mind opening, idea sharing experience–then becomes a unique memory for its audience.

Hosted again by Rackspace, the auditorium filled with a record crowd of close to 700 attendees and volunteers. With the theme “ideas in action,” speakers often left the audience with a call to action–to become advocates for change–to fight for immigration reform; to provide better access to quality heath care; to challenge the soda companies and their sugary ways; to learn how to share ourselves more and to tell our own stories. One speaker gave us tools to determine what might be a problem, or maybe a dilemma; and another stated it was a problem we aren’t encouraging girls enough to learn STEM.

We learned “life is improv,” and ‘hacker’ is not a bad word but creativity. Because the “old ways can’t get us to the new place,” we should improve support for urban impact entrepreneurs and develop urban agriculture. On the other hand, ‘colonias’ can become engaged communities. We nodded our heads in agreement that our schools are often “educating with broken tools” and project- based learning is so much more effective.  We stood on our feet and put our hands together with acceptance for a journey of self discovery as a young man came out of the closet and onto the stage as a drag queen. We heard a poet and a river speak the distinctive language of San Antonio.

Kori Aston hand-painted this picture while she told a story of strength and love.  It’s a good word for TEDxSanAntonio, one that I find each year. All the speakers’ names and topics are posted on the TEDxSanAntonio website  All the previous speakers’ videos are there as well. This year’s will be there after processing.

Kori Aston painting

Kori Aston painting

An experience better enjoyed live, plan to attend next year’s event–no doubt already being planned. Better yet, take heed to the issues presented, choose to make a difference in your community with your time and talents. Join the TEDxSanAntonio community by engaging in a Salon, a smaller, usually more ‘hands-on’ event, scheduled throughout the year.

Posted by: Laura Carter | October 10, 2014

Enjoying retirement with a nap

Some time ago, both my husband and I made the decision to retire in the summer of 2014. In preparation for beginning this new phase in our lives, I did some reading on the subject. I came across some articles by Dudley Tower, PhD on his website Dynamic Aging Institute. According to Tower, “dynamic aging is a unique, systemic, more fully engaged, and proactive approach to one’s own aging process.” He states the retirement isn’t meant to be a “leisurely declining into oblivion.” And, the retiree should “…engage completely with life, develop fresh skills and qualities, and find creative new areas of your life…” I find this approach both validating and exhilarating.

Among all the other changes and new adventures, it may seem a minor point, but one of my first challenges has been learning how to ‘sleep-in’. I put away my wristwatch the day I retired and no longer set the alarm at what I now perceive as a God-awful early hour. But, I still wake up about the same time as I always did when I was working and am unable to get back to sleep. The cat doesn’t help as he obviously has not changed his schedule for breakfast and going on his morning inspection of the yard.

asleep with a bookMy solution? I treat myself with naps. I cherish this new freedom to incorporate a nap into the day’s activities. I lie down in the quiet and close my eyes for as little as 20 minutes, or sometimes longer. My favorite way to nap is to bring a book and drift off reading.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, napping offers these benefits for healthy adults, including:
Relaxation
Reduced fatigue
Increased alertness
Improved mood
Improved performance, including quicker reaction time, better memory, less confusion, and fewer accidents and mistakes

That works for me!

And, now, that this post is done, excuse me while I go take a little nap.

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