Monday, September 30, 2013

Life is Like a Piano

Today is Monday, September 30, 2013.

Translation: Life is like a piano.  There are white and black keys, but you have to know how to play both in order to have a beautiful melody.

Apparently, others have had the same insight.  Tom Lehrer wrote, "Life is like a piano.  What you get out of it depends on how you play it."

Someone else put it this way: Life is like a piano.  The white keys represent happiness, and the black keys show sadness.  But as you go through life's journey, remember that the black keys make music, too..."

If I had to describe my life right now as music, I would say that the music is fairly quiet and melodic, with a few jarring notes here and there.  The music is slowly gaining in tempo, getting a bit faster now, and the orchestration is getting a bit more complex as I find ways to weave skills I learned earlier in life into the tapestry of my life as I am living it now.

If your life were a musical composition, how would it sound?  Perhaps your composition would have a number of different movements, to represent different periods in your life.  Some of them would be sad, played in a minor key, while others might be light and joyous.  Certain parts might have quite a bit of discord or disharmony.  What does your composition sound like right now?  Is the music being played at a quick or slow tempo?  Is it a march?  a waltz?  Is it jazzy, classical, New Age? 

If you aren't making the music that you want to make, how could you change the melody or the tempo?  How could you change your music from a minor key to a major? 

You are the composer.  It's your life, your music.  :-)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Wisdom of Mark Twain

Today is Sunday, September 29, 2013. 

 Mark Twain is the pen name of author Samuel Clemens, who lived from 1835 to 1910.  Interestingly, he was born during the appearance of Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it," too. That was actually not such a bad prediction, as Halley's Comet comes every 75-76 years.  Clemens died the day after the comet returned. Some people just seem to have an inner knowing about things like that.  His obituary in the New York Times cited him as the "greatest American humorist" of the times.  Although he failed at many other things in life, his writing and his humor were his strengths, and perhaps they were his true purpose in life.  If so, he certainly fulfilled his purpose, and he has left us with a legacy of valuable insights about life.

It's true that he was a humorist, but his commentaries on life were pretty accurate, and his advice is sterling.  Here is a sample of some things he said.  Like a lot of famous people, many quotes have been misattributed to him, particularly since the advent of the Internet.  I tried to check out each of these quotes before including them, but ultimately, if you don't have the original source in your hand, it's hard to tell, sometimes.  Quotes are in bold, followed by my comments.

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

It's true that not many people expect others to do the right thing, but when we act according to our beliefs, we at least show some integrity.  The problem is that what I think is right is not always what you think is right, but you can't legislate morality, so the best anyone can do is to do what is right according to your lights, regardless of what others are doing, and try to refrain from judging others for what they do. 

 It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

Just take a look at the morning or evening news to check this one out.  I think a lot of people make themselves miserable by insisting that life should make sense somehow.  Well, it actually does make sense in the fullness of time, but not in the details.  Trouble is, we live in the details.

Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

These days, if you live in a big city, chances are that the undertaker will not even know who you are, unless you are famous.  Still, the point is made that if we live to capacity, even an undertaker whose business depends on our death will mourn our passing.  I once went to a funeral where every speaker seemed to say, "He was a good man."  Nobody actually gave any details, though.  I knew the man, and he was, indeed, a good man, but he never really distinguished himself during his lifetime.  Perhaps the vast majority of us are like this man, and if that is so, then perhaps it is enough for people to say that you were a good person at your funeral, even if they can't give any examples.  Maybe it's just the general impression that counts.

When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old.

Hmmm, don't tell that to the advertisers, because so many of the ads are for products that are geared to make you look young when you're not, anymore.  I wonder if this sort of statement can be generalized to include other attributes.  If people flatter you on how smart you are, does that mean you're getting stupid?   What about if people flatter you that you are right.  Does that mean you are wrong?   If people say you are beautiful, does that mean you are really ugly?  A person could get really paranoid about this one.  It's true that people do tend to be especially "kind" to others in social situations, but I don't think they really mean the opposite... do they?

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

This is the best advice, I think.  These days, it is recognized that our physical age doesn't always tell the whole story.  There is "emotional age" and "spiritual age" as well.  You can be emotionally mature or immature, and spiritually mature or immature, or even intellectually mature or immature, regardless of the maturity level of your body or your chronological age.  We all know some middle-aged people who are emotional infants, and most of us have at least heard of a child who seems wise beyond his or her years.  It's too bad that the Western culture we have adopted as our standard here in the United States does not seem to recognize maturity in any of its forms as something worthy of our respect. 

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.

Mark Twain lived in an age when the term for human beings in general was always "man" so this statement can and should apply to women, as well.  Once again, if the advertisers had their way, they would tell you to forget about this advice, because they really want you to buy their products so that you will have the approval of others.  When we stop wanting approval from others, even from our loved ones, we gain a measure of freedom and authentic personal power (as opposed to power over others). 

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. 

This is a good point.  The next time you hear someone belittling another, ask yourself what they are getting out of it.  It may be that they are only trying to make themselves feel smart.  If you take their advice and fail, then they will be right, as well.  Don't give them the satisfaction. The world is full of people who have had negative things to say about people who ultimately succeeded brilliantly.

A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that the person in question didn't listen to the naysayers, and he or she wasn't  looking for approval from others, either.  It's a good thing that there are such people in this world, because if there weren't, we'd all be sitting around twiddling our thumbs in the dark, cold, hungry and bored, because we wouldn't have learned to tame fire to keep us warm or cook our food, we wouldn't have tamed electricity to provide light and power, and we wouldn't have invented computers or made them so small that individuals can carry them anywhere.  We wouldn't have invented the wheel to create machines that transport us to interesting places.  

Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments flit away and a sunny spirit takes their place.

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.

I put these quotes together because they basically say the same thing.  A lot of ideas can be expressed with humor that would seem unpalatable any other way.  Twain's humor was on the dry side, but his insights into life were spot on, and the humor conveyed his message in a way that people could accept and laugh right along with everyone else. We can all benefit from making light of situations, occasionally, although it's a temptation, at times, to trivialize certain situations that should really retain their gravity in our minds.   Humor is well used whenever it deflects anger.  As many others have noted, it's hard to be angry when you're laughing.

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

I like the metaphor of anger as an acid.  It's true that anger does more harm to the person who is angry than to anyone he or she might be angry with.  Anger keeps us chained to the past, because in order to maintain our anger, we must keep reliving the incident that made us angry in the first place.  When we send out anger vibrations, we poison the space that we are in, and others often unconsciously pick up our vibrations and act on them without ever realizing that the anger they are feeling is not their own.  We absorb a lot of anger from people around us and from the media.  How many angry words have you allowed into your subconscious today because you left the TV on, even if you were not actually watching it?  You might be surprised.  The next time you spend an hour or two watching TV, keep a pad of paper by your side and tally how many angry comments are made, even if you are only watching a drama.  It doesn't matter if the anger is "real" or not.  Your subconscious and your nervous system don't know the difference.

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

Forgiveness is the ultimate act of grace, which has been defined as love's response to imperfection.  If anger keeps us chained to the past, forgiveness allows us to let go of the past and move forward into the future.

Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

It's true, kindness speaks volumes, and it usually translates pretty well between cultures.  Whether or not you go to church or consider yourself a spiritual person, if you can be kind to others, you are on the right track.  

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

It's getting embarrassing to see the level of entitlement in this country.  There's a very fine line between saying, "I paid into the Social Security system when I was working and now I'd like my money back," and saying, "I'm poor and the government should give me some money."  But it's not just about the Social Security system.  There are other types of entitlements.  White males feel entitled.  Whites in general feel entitled.  Christians in the United States feel entitled.  The rich feel entitled.  The highly-educated feel entitled.  Congress feels entitled.  

Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.

The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

It's true.  We make ourselves miserable.  Misery is actually a choice.  It's hard not to feel sorry for ourselves sometimes, but it's always possible to choose otherwise.  One of the best ways to do this is to focus outwardly, on others, rather than thinking about ourselves all the time.  When we focus on helping other people, our own misery recedes into the background and we realize how easy it is to let go of it. 

The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.

Why do people fear death?  They fear being snuffed out, nullified.  But if we have had any positive impact at all on people, or, for that matter, any negative impact, we will be remembered after we pass on.  If we have accomplished our life purpose, we will have done our part in the Divine Plan, whether our part is remembered or not. 

Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

Sorry, I just had to add this one.  A lot of Americans are not happy with Congress these days, especially with a federal government shutdown being threatened by those who value party ideology over the good of the people.  It appears from Twain's comment that Congress has been this way in the past, so maybe they are just fulfilling their purpose in this lifetime, too, for whatever lessons their idiocy can afford the rest of us.  :-)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Day in the Life

Today is Saturday, September 28, 2013.

Scattered among the big-news stories on Friday were a few shorter articles that ranged from heart-rending to frightening to amazing.  Here's a sample, with my comments. 

Jean Fritz Pierre
Photo from his memorial
Facebook page
Truancy calls:  A New York father lost his 16-year-old son in a drowning incident that occurred while on a school field trip this past June.  This fall Prospect Heights International School has been repeatedly calling the father, Jonas Pierre, to say that his son, Jean Fritz, is suspected of skipping school.   What an awful thing for a parent of a dead child to endure, especially when the child died at a school function!  I'm aware that school districts in New York City are huge, and that truancy calls are often automated in the big districts.  Still, it's too bad that things like this don't get fixed until some news organization gets hold of the story.  Meanwhile, although an investigation into the death cleared school officials from any wrongdoing in the child's death, the father is suing the New York Department of Education and the City of New York for $5 million.  A spokeswoman for the New York Department of Education told the news media that she would make sure the father did not get any more calls.  I have no idea how the father's suit will turn out, but when you figure the cost of education, don't forget to figure in the cost of litigation and settlements.  Most really big districts are involved in at least one active lawsuit more or less constantly.  :-(

Medical emergency: A United Airlines flight from Houston to Seattle made an emergency stop in Boise, Idaho, on Thursday evening, saying that the pilot had suffered a heart attack.  The plane was allowed to land and stop on the runway, where it was met by paramedics.  The pilot was rushed to the hospital, where he died.  Fortunately, the co-pilot handled the situation well, and passengers praised the airline for the way the emergency was handled.  An incident that could possibly have posed danger to the 161 passengers and 6 crew members was handled professionally.  Good for the airline, and good for the passengers.  Very sad for the pilot's family.   :-(

Lizards on the loose: A woman in Cape Coral, Florida, suspects that a Nile monitor lizard ate her 12-year old cat.  She saw the lizard in the days before the cat's death, and found her cat's hair and some remains in a neighbor's yard on Friday morning.  Nile monitor lizards grow to the size of 6-9 feet long, and have huge claws that can rip into a carcass three times their size.  They just rip their prey apart and eat the insides right out, bones and all.  The woman is devastated at the loss of her cat, and is now making it her business to warn neighbors in her area about the presence of Nile monitors.  Apparently, there are thousands of these lizards in Cape Coral.  They are an "invasive species," which means they are not native to the area.  In fact, they originate from Africa. 

How did these lizards get to Florida?  There are several theories.  Local legend says that a pet store went bankrupt sometime in the '80s and the owner let loose a bunch of monitors in an area that was unpopulated at the time.  Another theory is that wholesale distributors of exotic pets dumped monitors on purpose, hoping they would procreate and provide a steady inventory to be caught and sold later.  Others think that a series of lizard owners over the years bought monitors when they were still small and then couldn't take care of them or just didn't want them anymore when they began to grow into small dinosaurs. What makes this area so attractive to the lizards?  400 miles of man-made canals in Cape Coral.  The water and the climate are just right for them, and experts say that the lizards can burrow right through the soft banks of the canals into the earth, tunnel through, and come up in somebody's yard.

Meanwhile, the housing market in Cape Coral is not doing so well, because of the recession, and the growing population of monitor lizards is not helping the situation.  I sure wouldn't want to buy a house there.  Would you?  :-(

No good deed goes unpunished: When a Goodwill store in Naples, Florida, found out that their 19-year-old employee, Andrew Anderson, had been giving customers discounts, they fired him and had him arrested for grand theft.  The young man did not deny the charges, but said he was unaware that what he was doing was illegal.  He thought he was doing the right thing, in the spirit of that Goodwill stands for.  (Goodwill is a charity that resells used clothing and household items that have been donated by members of the local community.)

An investigation found that Anderson did not make any personal profit on the transactions, so Goodwill decided to drop the charges.  However, they stated that the discounts amounted to around $4,000.   Anderson was bailed out of jail for $5,000 the same day he was arrested, so he didn't spend much time there.  It must have been a scary and confusing experience for him.  Here he thought he'd been doing the right thing giving people discounts.

No word on whether the young man will be allowed to work at Goodwill again, or whether he will have to seek another job.  Hopefully, his arrest will not keep him from employment elsewhere.  The only winner in this situation seems to be whoever got the bail money – unless they had to return it.   :-/

Martha Stewart at an Apple store in
New York in 2010.
Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Martha's broken iPad: The other day, Martha Stewart dropped her iPad and cracked the glass.  Awwwww.  It happens.  She escalated the situation when she took to Twitter to complain that she wanted Apple to come and pick up her iPad and fix it.  OK, sure, she offers apps such as CraftStudio for iPad, but did she really think Apple was going to send a guy to her door to fix it?

As a long-time Apple customer, I know that Apple has a pretty good repair and support operation, but the vast, vast majority of us do have to trot our equipment to the store to have it fixed.  Welcome to the world that the rest of us live in, Martha, honey.  :-(

Miracle at McDonalds:  Last Tuesday in Fort Worth, TX, a 24-year-old man who has served jail time and who has been sentenced to anger management classes for past offenses walked into a McDonald's restaurant and threatened employees and customers with a gun. He told them to give him their car keys and money.  He even pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed and would not fire.  One customer attempted to pin the perpetrator against the wall, to no avail.  While people dove for cover, the perpetrator walked outside the restaurant and fired his weapon a couple of times.  It worked.  Then we went back into the restaurant and tried to fire again. And the gun jammed.  Again.  The cops were called and the gunman, Jestin Joseph, was captured.  He is being held on $500,000 bond.  Joseph told police he didn't mean to hurt anybody, but his entire crime was captured on video, and as one newscaster commented, the gunman tried to fire his weapon a number of times.   Why did he do that, if he never meant to kill anyone?   Apparently, the anger management classes that he was sentenced to last time failed.   I truly hope that this one gets put away for a long, long time, even though nobody was hurt in the incident.  :-/

Treasure on Mont Blanc:  An unidentified French mountain climber came across a small metal box containing rare, uncut jewels – rubies, sapphires, and emeralds in pouches stamped "Made in India."  The honest young man brought his haul to the police, who are trying to trace the heirs of the original owners.  French law says that if the owners cannot be identified, the climber will get to keep the jewels, which are valued at over $300,000.  When the investigation is complete, somebody will be very rich.

There are two possibilities for how the jewels ended up on the mountain, both tragic.  Air India flight 245, "the Malabar Princess," was en route from Bombay (now called Mumbai) to London, and was preparing to make a stop in Geneva, Switzerland, when it crashed on the mountain in a storm.  All 48 persons aboard were killed.

The other possibility is an Air India Boeing 707, the "Kanchenjunga," that crashed in nearly the same place in 1966.  A diplomatic pouch from that flight was found last year. 

Climbers in the Alps often run across debris from crashed planes, and sometimes baggage or even human remains.  Even if the climber doesn't get to keep the jewels, he will have quite a story to tell his grandchildren.  :-)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Asleep at the Switch

These are actors posing as pilots to make a point. 
Photo credit: Corbis/AOL
Today is Friday, September 27, 2013. 

Have you flown to an international destination lately?  Have you flown on a British airliner?  If you have, you may be putting your life at risk.  ABC News reported yesterday that a pilot and co-pilot self-reported an incident to their airline and to the U.K.' s Civil Aviation Authority in which they both fell asleep at the same time for an unknown amount of time while the aircraft was on autopilot.  The incident occurred sometime in August 2013.

In case you think this is an isolated incident, when I did a bit of research into the matter, I got another article from AOL news, dated April 7, 2011, in which it was reported that the same thing happened – a pilot and co-pilot fell asleep at the same time.  Once again, the incident was self-reported, and once again, it was a British-based airline.  In both stories, the name of the airline was not disclosed, and neither were the names of the pilots.

In the earlier article, the blame was laid at the feet of the European Union because it wanted to increase flying hours of pilots from 900 hours to 1000 hours a year.  That's got to be an economic decision.  Money obviously talks, here.

Due to time zone changes on international flights, it is conceivable that a pilot could have as little as five hours of sleep in a period of time that includes two nights.   One British authority said in 2011 that tiredness accounted for 15 to 20 per cent of accidents.  According to the ABC News article in 2013, an investigation of an accident involving Air France, in which a plane crashed into the ocean, revealed that the pilot had only slept one hour the night before the flight.  All 229 people aboard that aircraft were killed.

I'm assuming that the pilots are self-reporting these incidents in line with the pilots' union policy of opposing more flight hours for pilots.  I just wish these incidents were not so hushed up - we need to know what airlines these incidents are on, so that passengers can complain and force the authorities to amend regulations in favor of pilot – and passenger – safety!  :-/

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In the Twilight Zone

Today is Thursday, September 26, 2013.

We must be living in the Twilight Zone, because the news media says that Senator Ted Cruz,  R-TX, voted with 99 other senators - that's a unanimous vote - to fund Obamacare, after spending 21 hours straight filibustering against it!  

Cruz now says it was always his intention to vote to move forward on the Senate debate of the House measure, but you sure couldn't tell that from what he said earlier.

"Any senator who votes (to move forward with debate on the House measure) is voting to give Harry Reid the authority to fund Obamacare," Cruz said.  Cruz did not technically do a "filibuster," because his speech did not actually delay any votes, and given the fact that he voted with the Democrats, anyway, what was the point?  Was this all for show?  

Senator John McCain, R-AZ said that  "the people spoke" on the issue when they reelected President Barack Obama in 2012.  While McCain does think it's worthwhile to make efforts to "repair" Obamacare, it is not worth shutting down the government to do it.  McCain has got his finger on the pulse of the people, in this instance.

Obamacare has never been wildly popular, mainly because of a lot of trash-talk against it generated by opponents.  A great many people don't even really understand it that well.  But shutting down the government is hands down way, way more unpopular than Obamacare.  According to a CBS poll, "eighty percent of Americans say threatening a government shutdown during budget debates is not an acceptable way to negotiate; only 16 percent think it is."   

So will the government be shut down over Obamacare?  With poll numbers like these, probably not.  Most likely, there will be some sort of announcement of an eleventh-hour agreement, or perhaps an extra-inning negotiation in which some sort of consensus will be reached – for now, anyway – only a few hours after the deadline.  (No harm, no foul, right?  I don't know... what do you think?)

It is unlikely that Obamacare will be fully repealed, or even seriously defunded, although it may be revised in the future.  Meanwhile, it would be nice to just see how it works. Unfortunately, in Republican-controlled states, no help will be given to folks to apply for coverage.  In spite of this, the proof will be in the pudding, and people will be watching how things play out in both Republican and Democrat-controlled states, and there's no question that comparisons will be made.

Meanwhile, some pundits are saying that Cruz' speech had nothing to do with Obamacare and everything to do with creating a Republican coalition.  Some coalition, though, when it sounds like it will be dominated by the ultraconservative Tea Party.   Where are the centrists? 

Passing legislation in the United States Congress is like a ping-pong game.  A bill is introduced in one of the houses (House of Representatives or Senate) and passed, usually with much debate, many amendments, and a lot of pork added, then the other house hassles over it.  Sometimes the other house goes ahead and passes a bill on the same issue.  Then there is a lot of haggling over the two versions until one heavily modified version wins out.  The whole thing resembles a ping-pong game.  Back and forth, back and forth.   

 Will Congress be able to agree on a budget and move on?  Somehow, I have a feeling that they will just find a way to delay that until after the next election cycle.  This is getting very, very old.   :-(

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Perspective or Oversimplification?

Today is Wednesday, September 25, 2013.

 "Each of us is a tiny being, permitted to ride on the outermost skin of one of the smaller planets for a few dozen trips around the local star."  – Dr. Carl Sagan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

 On the face of it, this statement is true.  Carl Sagan, the consummate scientist, prided himself on saying things that were scientifically true, proven by objective experiments that adhered to a strict scientific protocol.  Sagan had little use for religion or faith, because he felt that religious people closed their minds to new discoveries that might upset their beliefs.  It's true that there are such people in this world.  Christians, in particular, seem to be especially guilty of this.  It's why the most conservative of them fought so hard and so long against evolution, which is now largely discredited, anyway, so arguing about it ended up to be pretty much a waste of time.   Christians were also against the idea that the earth revolved around the sun and that the earth is billions (not just thousands) of years old.  These ideas didn't do as much damage to their faith as they once imagined it would, although there are still a few holdouts.  Now, a lot of Christians are against the idea that climate change is beginning to occur more rapidly than we have ever known, and that human activity on earth may have more to do with it than we would like to admit.  I'm not saying Christians are the only ones against climate change, but they seem to be in the forefront of those against the idea.   So yes, it does seem that religion can cause people's minds to be a bit closed.

Still, I think there is a major "apples and oranges" issue with science and spirituality.  Science largely has to do with the physical universe and nothing outside of that physical universe.  Science relies on proof that is "objective," that is, a hypothesis can be verified by more than one person.  A particular result can be replicated in a lab and agreed upon by anyone who does the experiment properly.  If the results cannot be verified in some physical way, then they cannot be verified at all.

Spirituality, on the other hand, deals with the spiritual realm, heaven, if you will.  The physical world is known as the "lowest"  (lowest in vibrational terms) of the worlds of God, and there exist many other non-physical realms (higher in vibration than anything in the physical universe).  Since these realms exist at a vibrational level that is above the physical, no physical instrument can detect them, and therefore they cannot be verified by science.  In addition, spiritual experience is a phenomenon that is largely unshared; in other words, it is subjective, and not objective.  While some elements of an experience may be shared by more than one person, each person's spiritual experience as a whole is unique to that person.  Since spiritual experiences are subjective, any "proof" is also necessarily subjective.  You may have heard people say that they cannot be talked out of a belief in past lives, for example, because they have remembered one of theirs.  This is subjective proof, which relies on our gut instincts about what is true and what is not.  

It would be nice, I guess, if science could "prove" the existence of God, but basically, I don't think that will ever happen, as long as science continues to deny the existence of supra-physical realms.  Besides, what makes science any more important than spirituality, anyway?  Modern science is just now beginning to discover what many ancient spiritual paths have known for a long time.  So what if they couldn't prove it before now?

Sagan often remarked that religious people closed their minds to new ideas, but he never seemed to realize that scientists close their minds, too, to the spiritual realms of existence.  Who is more closed minded?  It's hard to say.   Meanwhile, Sagan's definition of us as tiny beings who ride on the surface of a minor planet around the local star a few dozen times totally trivializes human life.  That's not perspective. That's oversimplification.  And it's arrogant, to boot.  :-)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

People Who Walk Their Talk: The Fowler Family

Left to right: Elizabeth Omilami, head of Hosea Feed
the Hungry, Willie Fowler, Tamara Fowler, and Carol  Fowler.
Image credit: Jonathan Phillips/Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Today is Tuesday, September 24, 2013. 

Willie and Carol Fowler had a problem.  Their daughter, Tamara, whose wedding was to take place in 40 days, announced that the wedding was off. They had reserved a fancy venue called Villa Christina in Atlanta for the reception.  The food and entertainment for the wedding reception had already been ordered and paid for. What to do?

Carol was about to cancel the venue the morning after her daughter's announcement, but Willie told her he had prayed about the situation all night.  He said he was directed to donate the reception to a charity called Hosea Feed the Hungry for homeless people in Atlanta, Georgia.  That's how the first annual Fowler Family Celebration of Love was born. 

The event was held on Sunday, September 15, for 200 homeless women, children, and families, who were transported to the venue in buses.   Appetizers were served outdoors, where children had some space to run and play, then the event moved indoors, where the kids were taken to a special room for food (chicken fingers, fries, fresh fruit and chocolate chip cookies) and fun activities, such as face-painting, juggling, and clowns.  The adults feasted on salmon or chicken and listened to a motivational speaker.   

Elizabeth Omilami, head of Hosea Feed the Hungry, mentioned that the event was a real learning experience for the children, who learned something about manners at a formal event.  When the hors d'oeuvres were passed around at the beginning of the event, the kids were wondering whether they were being offered the whole plate, or just one.  That comment made me smile, because I know that kids in depressed economic circumstances rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to learn the social niceties.  I remember taking some second-grade students to a restaurant one year.  The place we took them wasn't fancy at all, but there were kids who had never eaten in a restaurant before in their lives.

Quilsa Foster, of Hosea Feed the Hungry, explained the most amazing thing about the event.  "All the plates were empty and there wasn't any leftover food at all," she said.  "It was an eye-opening experience.  You go to weddings sometimes and you see a lot of people really waste food.  We take so many things for granted. These clients or guests, as we call them, they don't." 

Carol Fowler had this to day to everyone.  "It's just that wonderful, rewarding feeling.  If we could just inspire one youth in that crowd to rise above the situation today and be a very responsible member of society tomorrow, that would be extremely rewarding.

"If you have cancelled an event, do not walk away," she continued. "Pick up the phone and call your favorite charity and offer it to them.  We're regular, working people and anybody can do this. This is not star stuff."

The Fowlers plan to host another event for the homeless next year and make it an annual affair.  What a gift of love!  :-)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why I Don't Chat with Strangers on Facebook

Today is Monday, September 23, 2013.

At the age of 60, I'm not that often chatted up on Facebook by guys I don't know, but occasionally it happens.  Normally, I only accept friend requests from someone I know.  However, I have added people – male and female – who indicate they are members of my religion, Eckankar, and who have a number of mutual friends, even if I don't know them personally.  I have also added people who have commented on one of my blogs.  If they are at all active on Facebook, I will then generally see them comment on or "like" something that I have posted, or something that one of our mutual friends has posted, or I will see something that they have posted on my newsfeed, and I may "like" it or comment on it.  

When I see what my new friends have posted or commented on, I get a sense of who they are and how alike or differently we think.  I don't mind having friends whose opinions or politics are different from mine.  While I don't consider myself a flaming liberal, I do tend toward the more "progressive" views, just left of center.  Still, I have a number of dear friends who are conservative on economic and national security issues.  I'm not one who unfriends people simply because their views differ from mine.  I do draw the line, however, at people who are constantly argumentative, not only with me, but with my friends, not just once or twice, but several times, and if a person continually posts pessimistic comments, I just unfriend them, rather than quarrel about it.

Once I have interacted with the person in a more public way (through comments or "likes"), I generally feel OK about chatting with the person privately, if the opportunity comes up.  I may have a comment on something the person has posted that I think should remain private, and I know that I can make my comment privately using the "chat" feature.  The person can decide to respond or not, but they will see the message eventually  Or the person may leave a message for me for the same sort of reason.  I can respond to it or not.  The person can tell whether I have "seen" the message or not.  (When Facebook says I've seen the message, that means I've clicked on it.  Whether or not I have actually read it is impossible to tell.)

What bugs me is men who see that I'm online and start up a conversation by simply saying "hello" or "hi" or "How you doin' tonight?"   This may work in person, but it's just not a very good starting gambit online. 

If it's someone I've communicated with before, that's fine, but if the person hasn't bothered to read or comment on my posts, it seems a little odd.  I'd rather have the person make some sort of substantive comment, such as, "Thanks for sharing....," or "I agree that....," or "I liked the quote you shared."   When a person starts out with "hi" and I've never interacted with him before, I refuse to respond, and I delete the message.  If the person bugs me twice, I simply unfriend him – and yes, it's usually a guy.

These days, I have so many Facebook friends that I feel I can afford to be discerning about allowing new people into my circle of friends.   I'm not looking for an "instant Internet boyfriend."  :-/

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pumpkin Time!

Today is Sunday, September 22, 2013.

The pumpkins are ready for harvest! 

The other day, I read about some ways to preserve a pumpkin, particularly after it has been carved into a jack-o-lantern as a Halloween decoration.  I couldn't believe all the ways that were suggested.  Fortunately, several people went to the trouble of testing them so that the rest of us don't have to, and they very kindly put the results of their efforts online for all to see.

Just for the record, I'm going to list the various preservation treatments, so you know what was tested.   

K-Y Jelly
5% Bleach Solution: 1 tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water
Clear acrylic spray paint (clear coat)
Wet Platinum Silicone Personal Lubricant
Honda Spray Polish (automotive spray polish)
Chlorox Clean-up with Bleach  (not diluted)
Furniture polish
White glue
Pumpkin Fresh (commercial product for preserving pumpkins)
A "control pumpkin" (no preservative at all)
An uncarved pumpkin, also as a control

Before you start you need to pick out a good pumpkin.  Here are some things to consider. 

Try to find pumpkins with smooth, blemish-free skin, but remember that as long as one side looks fine, you can carve that side and keep the blemishes on the back side.   

Avoid any pumpkins with soft spots or mold, as these have already started to rot.   

Check for stability by putting the pumpkin on a flat surface.

Buy your pumpkin locally, so that it hasn't been bumped around in a truck.  

Make sure the pumpkin still has par of the stem left on.

Buy pumpkins closest to the shape you will need for carving.  For some designs, a round pumpkin is best, while for others, an elongated shape is better.  

As soon as you have carved your pumpkin, you must preserve it immediately.  The very best methods of keeping pumpkins looking fresh involve bleach, although the Pumpkin Fresh product also works.  No method will work for more than about 14 days!   This means that if you wish to have jack-o-lantern decorations that are at their best for Halloween, which is the night of October 31st, you should ideally carve your pumpkin no more than about 4-5 days before the holiday. 

You need to soak your pumpkin in water with bleach for at least 8 hours, in the beginning.  Then carefully pat the inside and outside of your pumpkin dry and turn your pumpkin upside down to let all the liquid drain out. 

After that, you must spray it with a mist of water and bleach solution or Chlorox Clean-up with Bleach every day to keep it from drying out, but be sure that you do not leave any liquid pooled on the inside of the pumpkin.  Another thing you can do is just soak the pumpkin in cold water overnight to re-hydrate it, then dry it off carefully in the morning

Keep the pumpkin out of direct sunlight. 

Pumpkin Fresh does work, but it's quite expensive and may have to be special-ordered.  Also, you have to use a lot of it to keep your pumpkin hydrated.  

The absolute worst ways to keep your pumpkin fresh, according to the studies, are Vaseline and white glue.  

Note that if you don't carve your pumpkin at all, it will last longer than a carved pumpkin that has been preserved. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weight-Loss Struggles, and an Epiphany

Image:  Eddie Berman/Women's Health
Today is Saturday, September 21, 2013.

The other day a friend of mine told me a story that I feel is important to share.  She attended a "boot camp" style exercise workout at a local gym.  It wasn't her first time there, either.  It was her third or fourth time.  

"Boot camp" routines are apparently all the rage now.  Inspired by exercise routines for military recruits, they are a combination of resistance training and high-intensity cardio workouts.  They can be done indoors or out, and you can organize one yourself, rather than paying for the privilege of joining a class at the local gym. 

This friend of mine has been attending Weight Watchers meetings for about a year, and she has already lost 100 pounds, which is a smashing achievement.  She has gained a great deal of self-confidence, and has also managed to quit smoking this past year.   When you look at her, you realize that she probably has another hundred pounds to lose, but she's done so well, so far, that everyone in our group is proud of her.  One of her greatest insights, so far, has been, "I'm worth it." 

When this lady tries something, she gives it all she's got.  A week or so ago, she commented that she had been at this boot camp exercise class, and although it was definitely a challenge, she was proud of herself for doing it, and she was planning to go again. 

Well, she did go again, a few days ago, and this time, she did the full amount of reps for each of the exercises, even though it took her longer than the others.  She was standing in the front row, right in front of the big floor-to-ceiling mirror.  Some of the other members of the class who had finished their routines began to stare at her as she continued to labor away at the exercises, and a few of these people had judgmental expressions on their faces.  She kept going, even though she could see in the big mirror how others were reacting  behind her.   The leader, bless her heart, encouraged her to continue as long as she could, because she could see that my friend really wanted to do all the reps for each exercise.  

Just to give you an idea of what we're talking about, here, let me give you a list of the exercises in their routine.  Keep in mind that they did three sets of each of these!  For the first two, I have included links so you can see what type of exercises she did.

100 steps
10 Burpee's
50 lunges
20 push-ups
50 sit-ups

I certainly could not do even one round of these exercises!  Some of the boot camp class members probably couldn't them either, with an extra 50-100 pounds on their bodies!  

As she struggled to finish the exercises, my friend felt judged and very embarrassed.  She wanted to quit, but would not let herself skip any reps or make any half-hearted attempts.  She did everything by the book, maybe not perfectly, but she did it.   She felt like crying, but held it together until she got to the parking lot.   Then, as she walked home, she started to cry.  

She made light of it at our Weight Watchers meeting the other day, but at the time she was miserable.  She joked that she was hot and sweaty, she stank, and the damn mosquitoes were all over her as she walked home, which made her mad.  She was bawling so hard that her husband couldn't understand what she was trying to tell him.  In frustration, she simply cried in the shower. 

When she'd had enough crying, she blogged about her experience, then let it all go.  She commented that last year at this time, had she had an experience like this, she would have gone right to the refrigerator to eat in order to make herself feel better.  She had an epiphany about this experience, and so did I, once I heard the story.

An epiphany is a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way. What this young woman and I – and perhaps others in our Weight Watchers group – understood was that it's OK to express our feelings, rather than keep them inside.  It's the effort of keeping the anger, the embarrassment, the mortification at bay that makes us overeat in emotional situations.  It helps to have someone who understands the situation, which is why it was important for my friend to tell her story to us at the Weight Watchers meeting.  I could feel the love and acceptance surrounding my friend as she told her story, and I saw a lot of people nodding their heads in empathy and total understanding.

So instead of eating to make myself feel better, I'm going to let my feelings out.  I'm not sure how I'm going to accomplish this, but anything is better than stuffing myself full of calorie bombs in order to make myself feel numb. 

And... a message for all those fit and svelte women at the boot camp class:  Each of you who stood in judgment of my friend made a very poor and uninformed choice.  This woman deserves your praise and admiration, not your pity or your condemnation!  :-/

Friday, September 20, 2013

Owning Up to Our Mistakes

Image credit: Whisper of the Heart/Facebook
Today is Friday, September 20, 2013.

"More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren't so busy denying them."  –Harold J. Smith. 

 This quote is uniformly attributed to a fellow named Harold J. Smith, but nobody knows who he might be.  He's not an author, and he doesn't have a bio anywhere online that a person can read.  Maybe he's the same as that fellow, "Anonymous," I don't know.  Whatever.  The quote is certainly a true statement, in my humble opinion.

Actually, it's not so much that people deny making mistakes as it is that they refuse to take personal responsibility for their mistakes.  It is so much easier, they think, to just blame the situation in general, other people, the "system," the authorities, the media, the public schools, the economy, the weather, or whoever currently occupies the Oval Office in the White House.  People also blame their parents and their general upbringing, but of course their own kids' mistakes are not their fault.

When a student fails a test, it's the teacher's fault, or the test was too hard.  It never has to do with how little they studied for the test, or how much they drank at the frat party the night before.  When a businessman makes a mistake, it's the fault of a co-worker, or maybe the deadline just came too soon.  When a housewife gets dinged for not keeping the home in order, she blames the kids, who go from one room to the other creating chaos, or her husband, who never helps her.

When a person who is late for work gets stopped for speeding, it's the fault of the police, or maybe the alarm clock didn't work right this morning.  It has nothing to do with the fact that the person hit the snooze button and overslept.

The problem with blaming someone other than yourself, or blaming something outside yourself, you are giving away your power to control the situation and make changes.  When you accept responsibility, you can make changes that will hopefully create a better future.

It's your choice.  :-)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Change of Seasons - Thinking About Fall

Image credit: Home Decorating/Facebook
Today is Thursday, September 19, 2013. 

Fall will officially be here on Sunday.  Today we had one last warm day, and I'm thinking it probably won't get really warm again until next summer.  Meanwhile, the temperatures will fall into the "comfortable"range for a few weeks. 

All the long-range forecasts I've checked say that, although it's really too soon to tell, it looks as if winter will be colder this year, with lots of snow.  Interestingly enough, Old Farmer's Almanac is predicting snow and cold for October 29-31, just after our Eckankar Worldwide Seminar.  I was planning to drive home from the Twin Cities on the 29th, but will have to watch the weather, I guess, when the time comes. 

Today I saw a little animal, maybe a chipmunk, run across a road with two cars (one of which was mine) coming toward it from opposite sides.  The little guy made it, I've never seen anything that small run that fast across such a distance.  It occurred to me that it was kind of "bushy-tailed," which tends to mean that winter will be harsh.  Mother Nature always seems to have some sort of early warning system, and the animals seem to grow thicker coats in advance of a particularly cold winter.  

This year, I think I will ask the maintenance people for a cover to go over my air conditioner, because last year, even though it wasn't that cold, the air still came through the vents, and my air conditioner - and both windows -- are facing north, where the coldest air comes from.

Meanwhile, my allergy misery is just about over, and that can never come too soon.  I may even be able to open my windows and get a bit of fresh air after the first frost.  I haven't opened any windows since very early spring because of allergies.  I haven't had to contend with much dust, as a result, but I miss the fresh air.

This summer was pleasant, overall, and I enjoyed it, especially after our no-show spring.  While fall weather may be much cooler, it may also favor us with just the right conditions for the leaves to put on their best show before falling off the trees.   :-)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Staying Calm in the Storm

Today is Wednesday, September 18, 2013.

Timber Hawkeye is a student of world religions and psychology, and a successful author.  He believes that people turn to religion or spirituality for upliftment and motivation, and that one reason people stay away from religion is the rules, the dogma, the prohibitions.  People don't really need the ceremonies and rituals anymore, just practical wisdom that will enable them to get through their daily lives.  He feels that the best message is a simple one.

Hawkeye spent a lot of time studying Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, which do have a simple message, but like all religions, it does have a lot of dogma attached.  That's why he wrote his book, Buddhist Boot Camp.  The aim of the book is not to convert people to Buddhism, but to empower people to become enlightened on their own. 

"I was looking for something inspirational that people today would not only have the attention span to read all the way through, but actually understand and also implement in their daily lives," says Hawkeye, to explain why he wrote the book.

He self-published his book on Lulu, but also wrote a blog and kept an active Facebook page. The book is now being sold by major bookstores, which is rare for a self-published book.  "I just stick to being honest, with the intention to awaken, enlighten, and enrich the lives of others, and the rest falls into place," he said.

The message in today's quote is a good one for me, now.  A lot of things on the news and a few things in my personal life, as well, are a bit stormy, and it's good for me to remember to stay at peace within myself, no matter what is going on around me.  That way, I can deal with each situation as it comes up and keep my attention focused on the present, rather than fuming over things that happened in the past or worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future.  :-)
I was looking for something inspirational that people today would not only have the attention span to read all the way through, but actually understand and also implement in their daily lives. - See more at:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gearing Up for Autumn

Today is Tuesday, September 17, 2013.

It's that time of year again, when the season is about to change, and I feel the need to sort and toss things, re-organize cupboards and closets, and make the switch from spring/summer clothes to fall/winter ones. Here in the Midwest, where the temperature varies by over 100 degrees (F) from the coldest temperature in winter to the hottest in summer, we essentially have to have two separate wardrobes, with a few basic "in-between" items.  

Recently, I was asked if I would give my grand-niece flute lessons until she can take lessons at school, so I delved into my storage area to find my old flute.  This meant dragging a whole bunch of boxes out of the closet, but it turned out to be a good thing.  I realized that one of my plastic storage boxes had begun to cave in from the weight of things on top of it, so I got a couple of new boxes and re-packed things.  A few items I felt that I could actually part with, so they are now in their new, temporary home, the Dumpster.  I also saw a bunch of things that I didn't remember I had, such as a LOT of office supply stuff.  Will not be buying anymore tape, pencils, markers, or notebooks for a while, until I have used all the older things up.  I'm not exactly a pack-rat.  I'm the type of person who buys something, puts it away, and then forgets that I have it, so I buy another one.  Then when I deep-clean, I find that I have two, or four, or... ten or a dozen.  Some of the office supply stuff is left over from when I retired from teaching a couple of years ago.  (And no, I didn't take it from the school.  It was stuff I had bought with my own money.) 

Cleaning time is a great time to think in terms of spiritual housecleaning, as well.  The physical cleaning we do is a metaphor for inner cleaning, where we can toss out old beliefs that no longer serve us, unrealistic dreams that are only using up energy, and all the little petty grievances that, if we hold onto them, threaten to embitter us, enslave us, and keep us off balance.

What's in your spiritual closet that you can let go of now?  What needs to be saved and made use of?  What needs to be dusted off and taken better care of?  :-)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Being Reflections of One Another

Today is Monday, September 16, 2013.

"Be a reflection of what you'd like to see in others.  If you want love, give love.  If you want honesty, give honesty.  If you want respect, give respect.  You get in return what you give."  -Anonymous

Good old Anonymous is at it again.  Another great quote. I like this one because it's positive and pro-active.  

It's true that if we want to see a reflection of ourselves, all we have to do is look at the people who surround us.  Sometimes we see a quality that we'd rather not acknowledge, but when we do acknowledge it, we have the power to change it.   We, in turn, are reflections of others.  The part that a lot of people miss is that we have control over the situation.  All we have to do is decide to be mindful about what we think, do, and say.

As long as we're here in the physical plane, we will always be "imperfect."  There will always be times when we fail to handle situations in the most graceful way.  Life will happen, and we will encounter situations that inspire fear and generate anger in us.  The trick is to get in the habit of stepping back and refusing to allow ourselves to react to things without thinking them through. I'm not suggesting that we all sit and ponder every little thing that comes up, but particularly when anger and fear are involved, it's important to gt in the habit of waiting a beat before responding.   

Is it true?  Is it necessary?  Is it kind?   

I've known people – including myself – who have justified actions that were less than exemplary with these three questions, but if we are truly honest with ourselves when we answer these questions, we can avoid doing and saying things that will make a bad situation worse. 

Recently in the news, there was a story about a waitress at a well-known seafood chain restaurant who was refused a tip by a patron.  The patron, who charged his purchase, wrote a two-word note on the bill on the "tip" line, including a racial slur. The waitress, a 19-year-0ld nursing student, took a photo of the charge slip with her phone camera and when she went home from work, she posted it on Facebook.   The meal charge was $45, so the waitress was expecting a large tip.  15% would have been $6.75, and 20% would have been $9. 

I'm not defending the restaurant patron for his racial slur – that was uncalled-for.  I can understand the anger that the waitress felt.  I would have been angry, too, if I were in her place.  However, I question the wisdom of putting the photo of the bill with the derogatory note on the Internet.  

The restaurant reacted by suspending the waitress with pay, but reports that she was fired have escalated the anger of all who feel that the patron's action was unconscionable, and made the waitress into a kind of martyr for the cause of racial equality.  The restaurant is trying to investigate to find out what really happened.  The "suspension days" have not actually caused the young woman to miss any work, so the "with pay" stipulation has no real meaning, since the waitress wasn't scheduled to work during the suspension period, and reportedly, the waitress has not been taken off the work schedule.

The restaurant's reaction is understandable, as they know that if patrons are made angry, they will not come back, and they may choose to sue the restaurant.  They also know that they need to keep their waitstaff happy, or they will quit.  Naturally, the patrons win, since they are the source of the restaurant's profit. 

The waitress and her father, who posted the photo his daughter took on his own Facebook page, said that their reason for posting in social media was to make people aware.  That's understandable, too.  However, if they are honest with themselves, they will have to admit that they are also angry, and that they wanted to punish the patron who wrote the note.  While the waitress' anger is understandable, she could have handled the situation another way.  She certainly didn't have to post a photo of the customer's bill online.  

Looking at the situation from a spiritual point of view, even though a person's anger is understandable, given the cause, the hard fact is that it is never OK to lash out in anger with the intent to punish.  Sure, if the waitress had made her comment on Facebook without a photo, and if she had simply stated that she was refused a tip by a racist patron, she could have gotten her point across, although admittedly, it might not have had the "punch" she wanted to convey.  

I was surprised to note that this young woman is not the only waitress who has posted a negative comment about her patrons on Facebook.  A waitress in North Dakota posted a photo of herself holding a sign that suggested Native American patrons who dined at the restaurant during "pow wow weekend" were not good tippers.   That waitress and one other employee were fired over the incident.   

Another waitress in Oklahoma posted a photo of three police officers who had been patrons at the restaurant, calling them "stupid cops."   What was she angry about?  Well, it appears that her toddler was visiting Grandma's house, when the child pulled down his pants and urinated in the front yard.  A passing police officer gave her a $2,500 "public urination" ticket.  The police chief later apologized, dropped the charges, and fired the officer who issued the ticket. That was apparently not good enough for this waitress.  The woman's post went viral and was featured on the local news, after which viewers began to call for the waitress to be fired.   The restaurant complied.   Since the ticketing incident had occurred a year before the Facebook post, the officer who issued the ticket was not one of the men in uniform pictured on the waitress' Facebook page.  The woman was unable to let go of her anger over the ticketing issue, and she has now generalized her anger toward all police officers.  I imagine she feels anger now toward the restaurant and the viewers of the local news, as well, and I'll bet she feels good and sorry for herself.

A few years ago, a waitress in North Carolina was obliged to work an hour past her normal quitting time to serve some lunch patrons who had stayed for three hours.  They left a $5.00 tip.  The amount of the bill was not disclosed in the report.  She was also fired for posting a rant on Facebook.  The young woman said at the time that she had only about 100 friends, all of whom she knew, and that her page was "private" so that only friends could see it.  That would mean, of course, that one of her "friends" turned her in to her employer. 

In all of the incidences, the people involved were mirrors of each other's anger, racial hatred, greed, and thoughtlessness.  The waitresses all made the mistake of taking their anger public.  :-/