Father’s Toast at Wedding of Julie Aldridge and Tom Kelley (by Marion Aldridge)

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Julie and Tom come from parents and families that have been good examples to them for almost three decades. I am grateful that their success in marriage does not depend on one of us giving a brilliant toast on this wedding night that will give them the keys to success. They already possess those keys. Now it is time for them to live out what they already know.

Pray for love, but not for perfection.

Learn to live with failure, for it will come, and then pray for grace to move on and let go.

Pray for plenty of time to walk through life together, and a bit of time for independence.

Enjoy beauty. Value truth.

Work hard. Take naps.

Listen to one another. Listen. Listen.

Treat one another as adults. Good marriages need two strong and competent partners.

Be responsible.

Be smart.

Be kind.

Be patient.

Forgive.

Hang in there. Keep on keeping on. Show up.

Be patient for the right reasons and be impatient for the right reasons.

Be happy.

Eat well. Sleep well.

Keep growing.

Categories: Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

First Day of Firsts

By Laura Newberry-Yokley

I woke up thinking about firsts this morning. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Do you remember your first kiss? Where were you? Who were you with? I was in England on a high school orchestra trip. The British boy, Daniel, who I kissed, had been around the proverbial block, but I hadn’t. When he asked me why I kissed the way I did, I told him that was how Americans kiss.

Notice the way you try something for the first time. I remember when my friend asked if I had ever tried a cumquat. Most of us haven’t. They’re very small oranges that are sour as all get out. I took the cumquat and popped the entire thing into my mouth. All at once, my eyes started to water and my mouth puckered up. What a rush of citrus! Then, a girl, Heather, tried one. She nibbled a bit on the rind. “Hm, this is quite good,” she said, and proceeded to finish it. Do you stick your toe in to check the temperature or do you dive head over heels into the deep end?

Several weeks ago, my first child had her first day of first grade. A child will approach any experience with excitement and wonder. Most will lead the way with gusto, ready to take on whatever comes her way. When did we learn fear and unsureness? Say you’re a professional and you’re sitting in a board meeting with over 200 of your peers. Will you stand up and ask a question? Or, you’re on a conference call. Will you speak up if you disagree with what is being said? Why not?

When was the last time you did something new? I often recall the poem by Robert Frost. Something about taking the path less traveled. Something about forging your own way.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

I’ve experienced both trail blazing and treading along a well warn path. Neither is right or wrong, or good or bad. We are both creatures of habit and of playful spontaneity. This is a reminder to look up. Are you on the treadmill? Have you fallen into wheel ruts unable to get out? Have you switched on your autopilot? If you’ve tuned out, then who is flying your airplane?

I often use drawing or walking to help rekindle “firsts” in my life. I write with my dominant right hand. That’s why I draw with my left, which gives me direct access to the right side of my brain. Walking allows me to pick different sites and routes. As I walk, I listen to books about spirituality and self-exploration. This is an exercise to help me explore both my external and internal landscapes.

So, today, try something new. Something you’ve never done before. Have a “first” today and notice your spirit is lifted right away.

***

Laura Newberry-Yokley is Director of Cultural Innovation at Sonrisa Products LLC. Laura holds a Master of Arts in Women’s Studies in Religion from Claremont Graduate University and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Classical Studies from The College of Wooster. A world sojourner and spiritual pilgrim, her primary research interests include: health disparities, faith- and community-based health education, cultural and language training for missions and work, pilgrimages, and women’s divine and cultural expressions of Latino and Black America, India, Pakistan, Greece, Spain, and Mexico.

Visit www.sonrisaproducts.com to learn more.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Watchin’ for Rainbows” Guest Blog by Steve Vassey

My daughter Anna came running up to me today after church, her latest creation of crayon and construction paper clutched in her outstretched hand. “Look what I made in Children’s Church,” she said, placing the artwork between us.

It was a page of cream-colored paper, folded in half, with bright red writing across the width of the page. “A Pocket of Help,” it said boldly.

“These are the things I can do to help you next week,” Anna declared proudly. And with the practiced motion of a salesman opening his portfolio, she flipped open the page.

Glued inside the fold of the page was a small paper pocket decorated with flowers, grass and a cloud-bedecked sky. Inside the pocket, their lobed tops peeking shyly over the lip, were three paper hearts: one orange, one red, and one blue.

Anna plucked the hearts from the pocket and began to eagerly explain each one. On each side of each heart she had drawn a picture representing her proposed helpful activity. She displayed each one carefully, announcing its intended purpose: “Feed my babies,” she said of the drawing of the baby bottle. “Help you vacuum,” described the stylized upright vacuum cleaner. “Brush my hair . . . , pick up the trash . . . , clean the dishes . . . ,” she continued, pausing with each announcement.

Then we came to the last picture: a small, meticulously drawn rainbow spanning the blue paper heart. “And watchin’ for rainbows,” she said with a final determination.

It was at that moment I realized wisdom presents itself in a multitude of forms, many of which are utterly unexpected. Here before me was a beautifully balanced week of life: a time for work, a time for play, and a time to sit back and be amazed by the world God has put before us.

Anna is still fascinated and amazed by the world around her. A bird’s feather or a dandelion tuft are sources of excitement and wonder. Somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost that ability. I can’t recall the last time I sat in awe of the beauty of something or marveled at the complexity of the life around me.

I gratefully accepted Anna’s “pocket of help,” especially in watchin’ for rainbows. I can use the advice of an expert.

***

Steve Vassey is a writer of blended fantasy. His first novel, The Centaur on the Stairs, will be available through Amazon later this year.

Steve began writing by recording vignettes of the small, but special moments in life. From there, he began a short story that “didn’t know when to stop.” He’s been writing novels ever since. A past president of the South Carolina Writers Workshop, and retired from careers in environmental science and information technology, Steve lives with his wife, Jody, in Cayce, SC, along with an outspoken cat and a forty-five pound lapdog.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In Defense of Vacation

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 In my mind, vacations are as American as apple pie and baseball. Europeans take them even more seriously than we do in the U.S.

So I was a bit surprised to read a short devotional recently by someone who has obviously got a bad case of the Protestant Work Ethic. This anonymous author argued that we should attend to more important matters and asked questions such as, “In two years, will it matter?” Holiday planning was denigrated as a “smaller, less meaningful concern.”

I respectfully disagree.

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In the Christian faith, we believe Sabbath is built into the rhythms of our psyche. All work and no play makes Jack and Jill very dull indeed. When I take vacations, when I get away from the usual ruts and busy-ness, my batteries are recharged. I am replenished. Rest and restoration are desirable.

 Travel makes me a bigger person. I think new thoughts. I enjoy new experiences, new sites, new smells, and new tastes. I understand the world we live in more fully.

 Travel provides many of our family’s most meaningful memories.

  • My wife Sally and I were in Paris for her 40th That was a pretty big deal.
  • My daughter Jenna and I remember our trip to New York City during a Christmas holiday when snow covered the parks and the roads.
  • My daughter Julie and I recall time together in Princeton, New Jersey, exploring a beautiful campus and one of America’s most fascinating small towns.
  • My grandson Lake and I will always remember rafting down the Colorado River and eating Navajo Fried Bread in Arizona.

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 So, allow me an alternative opinion.

 I believe travel, holidays, vacations, time off, Sabbath and time away are hugely important.

 

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Categories: Family, Health, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Why I Went to St. Petersburg, Russia (Fifth Blog about Baltic Sea Cruise)

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A few years ago, I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace for the first time ever. (Today, September 9, by the way is his birthday.) I knew almost nothing about Russia other than their part in World War II followed by their paranoia and belligerence during the Cold War.

War and Peace is about the experiences of several families during Napoleon’s attempt to invade Russia from 1805 through 1813. (I was so dumb I thought Tchaikovsky’s War of 1812 was about the American War of 1812. Instead, Tchaikovsky’s tribute celebrated Russia’s resistance of Napoleon.)

Surprise: Charleston, South Carolina, was founded prior to St. Petersburg, Russia, which was established by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. He wanted Russia to have a Baltic Sea port with access to Europe. St. Petersburg was more European than Russian for centuries, with residents speaking French rather than Russian. (Maybe all my friends knew that, but I didn’t.) Great portions of War and Peace were written in French! My curiosity about St. Petersburg and Russia was piqued.

Having never read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I decided to read that classic on our cruise to St. Petersburg. It seemed fitting, but it was not a good idea. Since we were on a luxury cruise for which we paid a lot of money, I probably should not have been reading a depressing book about the slums and the criminal world of a massive and gloomy 19th century Russian metropolis, even if the city was/is St. Petersburg.

Tourist sites in 21st century St. Petersburg are similar to tourist sites in other European cities—museums, castles, and famous landmarks.

I’m glad we went. I don’t ever need to go back.

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Categories: Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Some Things Go Wrong When You Travel…

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Every trip has problems—from wrong turns to bad weather to ill health. I don’t want to be too glib because the world does occasionally provide terrible twists and horrifying turns. People can and do die unexpectedly. That’s a different subject. (See Grief.)

 

One of the challenges of travel is to distinguish between difficulties and disasters, between inconveniences and crises. Some people are adrenaline junkies and make a lifetime habit of fanning small brush fires into full-scale forest fires. Don’t do that!

 

On airplanes, the flight attendants will introduce you to safety features. On a cruise, you will be required to participate in a “muster drill.” These are done not to frighten passengers, but because preparation and safety are serious matters. The best cure is often better preparation. Be smart. Unless you are a journalist, don’t travel to an area where there is political unrest.

 

Don’t cut connections too closely. Give yourself and your luggage enough time. If you’re going on a cruise, don’t fly into your departure city the same day the ship is leaving. Give yourself some wiggle room.

 

For big trips, buy travel insurance.

 

Prepare yourself medically. Be up-to-date on your shots and prescriptions and carry what could reasonably be needed. You don’t need to over-prepare. Ships have doctors. Unless you’re in a remote third-world village, you can find a pharmacy.

 

Lost luggage happens, which is why every travel article ever written tells you to put necessities and a change of clothes in a carry-on bag. Don’t argue with the experts. Just do it. Otherwise, prepare to be bedeviled by irritations of many kinds for your entire trip.

 

It will rain. Colds are easy to catch on airplanes. Motion sickness is common even on modern, stabilized ships. A few hours or a few days of unpleasantness are not tragic. You are allowed to whine just a little bit, then…

 

Move on. As I have been taught by some of my emotionally healthy friends: You didn’t cause this problem. You probably can’t cure it or control it. Do what you can, then move on.

 

Enjoy the trip!

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Categories: Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Third Blog on Baltic Sea Cruise: Being a Tourist

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Every now and then I write high-minded thoughts about the great philosophical, theological and political questions of life. But make no mistake: I love to play. I love to see new sites, experience new sensations, hear new sounds.

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While there is a season to ponder larger-than–life matters, there is also a time to gawk and just say, “Wow!” So, on our cruise to eight nations bordering the Baltic Sea, we did a lot of things that tourists do—we laughed a lot, we danced a bit. I smoked a couple of cigars and drank excellent coffee sitting at outdoor cafes with my friend Randy Wright. We ate too much. When we returned from the Russian ballet (Swan Lake), the cruise ship offered us vodka shots. I’ve never had a vodka shot in my life but ended up drinking Sally’s as well. Then somebody else’s. Don’t need to do that again, but it was my one time to be in Russia, so…

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Great, memorable, stunning, interesting, humorous, awesome, impressive experiences and sites. Life is good. God is good.

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Categories: Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Second Blog on Baltic Sea Cruise: Green Spaces and Public Art

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In the “These are a few of my favorite things” category are Green Spaces and Public Art in cities. European cities, which have been at it a lot longer than American cities, get it right. Savannah, Georgia, gets it right. I especially like the surprising little gardens that seem to pop out of the cement in unexpected urban settings. As an avid walker, I love both open spaces and accessible outdoor art. In the past month, I have taken walks in Copenhagen (Denmark), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Helsinki (Finland), St. Petersburg (Russia) and Tallinn (Estonia).

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Everybody kids me about the money I find when I am walking, but even better are the park benches, the fountains, the flowerbeds, and architectural surprises.

When nature and humans interact creatively and pleasurably, that is a good thing.

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First Blog on Baltic Sea Cruise: Politics

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I grew up during the Cold War. I believed what we were told in America about the imprisonment of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and the truth was even more fully told, we had proof of the “menace of communism.” Russia may have participated in the liberation of many countries after World War II, but go to Buchenwald Concentration Camp some day and visit the mass graves there from the Soviet Era.

Recently, Sally and I joined friends Randy and Diana Wright on a tour of most of the countries bordering the Baltic Sea, including many former “satellite” nations of the Soviet Union. In addition to very traditional tours in some cities, we were intentional about taking a “Solidarity Movement” tour in Poland, seeing the Gdansk Shipyard where Lech Walesa led a workers revolt against the repressive Communist regime. Even on a pleasure trip, I want to do something more than see pretty sights!

The best sightseeing outing ever was a retro “Soviet Era Tour” in Tallinn, Estonia, where we were greeted by a uniformed comrade who required that we answer questions justifying our existence and credentials before we were allowed to get on the Soviet Era conveyance. I was allowed to board the bus because, as a writer, I could be helpful as a propagandist to the KGB. Others “tourists” (who had paid good money for this privilege) weren’t so lucky and had to march in circles until they demonstrated they could be obedient servants who did as told and asked no questions.

Our tour guide claimed the bus had no brakes: “Soviets need no brakes. We only go forward.” That turned out not to be true, in more ways than one. The bus did stall and passengers had to get out and push. Funny.

This excursion, which was an option less than ten percent of our small ship’s passengers chose, was billed as “The Tallinn other tours don’t show you.”

Our first stop was at a huge prison where political prisoners were housed, including our tour guide’s grandfather, for being too capitalistic (owning too many cows). His next-door neighbor was also imprisoned there for flying a flag from the pre-Soviet Estonia for fifteen minutes. His neighbor was jailed for five years and his grandfather was eventually shipped to Siberia, and died there. “Our family was nothing special,” he said. “Every family has similar stories.”

Treasure your freedoms, Americans!

We were also taken to a sad, decrepit, run-down “cultural center,” the Great Guild Hall. Behind it statues of Lenin and Stalin had been discarded, now ignored and surrounded by woods and weeds.

Estonia is beautiful, a thriving country with a robust economy. Would you rather live there or in Siberia? During the Soviet Era, Russians poured into Warsaw Pact and Baltic Sea territories and many stayed. So Estonians are very worried about what is happening in Ukraine. They fear it could happen all over again in their homeland.

On a tour of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the tour guide took us through the former “Throne Room” of the Tsar. She mentioned that it had been used recently for an important governmental function. Someone asked if Putin had sat on the throne. Her answer: “ No. Not yet.”

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Health, Holiday, Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Using Mantras as a Response to Addiction

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Mantras are usually associated with religious rituals, especially in Hinduism and Buddhism. Mantras involve the repetition of a word or phrase to help with awareness, focus and dedication. The refrain can be spoken or silent. It can be, “Thank you, Jesus,” or “Om…”

Mantras have not been a part of my religious tradition, but, years ago, Dear Abby got my attention with a letter about the usefulness of mantras in a secular setting. If I remember correctly, the letter-writer had been overweight and lost a lot of pounds as she matured. High school friends, when they saw her, commented endlessly about her weight-loss: How did it happen? Why did it happen? Tell me about it. To avoid getting mired in a conversation about a painful subject she wanted to put behind her, she developed a mantra, “That’s a part of my life I don’t talk about any more. Let’s discuss something else.”

Unwilling to settle for that, some of these acquaintances attempted to manipulate the conversation to return to the topic of their choice, her weight: “Come on. We were great friends. How did you lose that weight? You can tell me.”

She repeated the mantra: “That’s a part of my life I don’t talk about any more. Let’s discuss something else.” No matter how tempting the question, the mantra worked.

In dealing with addictions and other bad habits, a mantra can be helpful. A mantra for yourself is even more powerful than one you speak to someone else. Here are some to consider:

• Put the fork down.
• Turn the computer/video game/iPhone off. Turn it off.
• Go home.
• Shut my mouth.
• I’m not in charge of this.
• Get out of the kitchen.
• Put your hands in your pockets.
• Just say No.
• Walk away.
• I am somebody.
• Do something different tonight.
• Don’t buy this today.
• Let it go.

My life is better because of a handful of mantras that keep me focused.

Categories: addiction, Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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