First Blog on Baltic Sea Cruise: Politics



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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Using Mantras as a Response to Addiction


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: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

We Admitted We Were Powerless…


You don’t have to get on an airplane or traverse an ocean to make discoveries. About twenty-five years ago, I began visiting church basements and other community rooms where, once or twice each week, men and women gathered to talk about what life is like living with addiction. A counselor friend recommended that every pastor, teacher, social worker and nurse should attend Al-Anon meetings, so I began going.

I became a fan of Twelve Step groups, the most famous of which is Alcoholics Anonymous. Other “self-help” groups related to or similar to AA include Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Alateen and Al-Anon.

Al-Anon is designed for family members and friends of those who have addiction and/or dependency problems.

“Hi. My name is … .”

“Hi … .”

My life was changed by listening to the wisdom of people who dealt daily with problems they faced as family or friend to someone with an addiction. Here are some lessons learned from Al Anon meetings:

• Don’t overreact. Don’t underreact. React Appropriately.
• Fake it till you make it.
• First things first.
• How important is it?
• I can’t start the next chapter of life if I keep re-reading the last one.
• I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.
• I’m not as good as I once thought I was, and I’m not as bad as I sometimes think I am.
• It’s like getting rid of an alley cat. You don’t have to kick it. Just don’t feed it.
• Let go and let God.
• Mind your own business.
• Nothing changes if nothing changes.
• One day at a time.
• Tend to your own affairs.
• The only thing that’s the end of the world is the end of the world.
• We are powerless over alcohol… and powerless over the people in our lives who are addicted to alcohol or to anything else…

When I attend church, I know there is some sort of pain on every pew. When I attend Al-Anon meetings, I know there is pain in every chair.

It is important to say I do not represent AA or Al-Anon or any other Twelve-Step group. This blog represents my desire to share something important in my life with friends. Anonymity of participants is vital. It’s in the name! At the same time, the twelfth step encourages us to “carry these steps” beyond ourselves. My motivation came when a friend with whom I was talking said she had never heard of Al-Anon. This blog is my effort to say how important this program has been to me.

Meetings begin and end with the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.


Categories: addiction, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Signs of Addiction


“To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” Gerald May

For reasons that go back a few generations, I am interested in addiction. I have studied it, and I have experienced it! I have written about it in my book, Overcoming Adolescence. In my opinion, a person can be addicted to about anything, from alcohol to hobbies to food to exercise to money to a need for approval.

Here is a short list of signs, clues and hints that someone has crossed a boundary and could be addicted:

• No “Off” button
• Out of control
• Denial, dismissive or discounting the questionable conduct as normal
• Compulsive
• Lack of moderation/excessive
• Comments and feedback about a particular behavior from family and friends
• Bad decisions made to maintain the habit
• Hiding the behavior
• Financial impact that is disruptive to the family budget
• Self-justification and defensive
• Withdrawal symptoms if the behavior stops
• Continued activity even after negative consequences
• Shutting out other options and activities
• Obsessive

The purpose of this blog post is not to give unhappy people ammunition to diagnose, blame or call out someone whose behavior seems crazy to them. Maybe the person’s pastime is a problem. Maybe it isn’t. Sometimes, an intervention is needed, but be careful of playing psychiatrist or analyst in areas where you are not qualified. Most of us participate in conduct of one form or another that some people don’t like or understand. To a teetotaler, someone who has a glass of wine with a meal is an alcoholic. Overweight people are tempted to call any thin person anorexic. Maybe you wouldn’t spend money collecting that “junk” your sister collects, but if it does her and no one else any harm, leave her alone!

Addiction is real and can create problems for an individual and in relationships. Beware!

Categories: addiction, Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Quotations | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Out of Our Comfort Zones


Who prefers discomfort to comfort?
Not me, but sometimes, it’s necessary. I favor tasty food, sweet smells, a good night’s rest (plus an afternoon nap, if possible). I enjoy warm, moderate temperatures, not too cold, not too hot. I like to look at hills and mountains but prefer to walk on level ground. I am partial to health as opposed to pain and disease.
Yet, I may need some dis-ease in order to grow as a human being. Recently, I heard someone say, “A well-lived life is often uncomfortable.”
If a) your life is perfect, and b) the lives of those around you are equally perfect, and c) if you anticipate no change in anyone’s status, then you have a pretty good case for remaining just as you are.
However, most of us experience changes and challenges in our lives that make moving out of our comfort zone occasionally appropriate.
Two of my dear friends, now retired, are doing what comes unnaturally by relocating to another state to be near their only child. During the prime of their lives, they spent massive amounts of time on the road traveling to care for two sets of parents, each several hours away in opposite directions. The parents were unwilling to make any changes in their own lives. They hunkered down at home and stayed there—hell or high water. My friends decided they didn’t want to inconvenience their daughter in that same way.
Changes in our circumstances happen whether we’re prepared for them or not. Accidents happen. Jobs change unexpectedly. We get older. What worked when we were young, or on our last job, does not work ten weeks or twenty years later. Re-tooling is required. Learning new ideas and modifying old habits require that we move out of old comfort zones.
Climate, foods, textures, accents, music, beverages, favorite family members and friends are all comfort zones.
People who willingly move outside their security spaces for the purpose of personal growth demonstrate courage that is admirable.
People who venture outside their comfort zones for the benefit of helping others are heroes.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Health, Quotations | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Traveling with my Grandson


Lake Barrett is my thirteen-year-old grandson and a terrific traveling companion. We just returned from five days in Arizona, just the two of us, visiting the Grand Canyon, rafting on the Colorado River, visiting cliff dwellings of Native Americans, walking through a lava flow, eating Navajo Fry Bread, Red River trout, swimming in motel swimming pools and otherwise enjoying ourselves.

One key to successful travel with children and teens is to pay attention to their age-appropriate wants and needs. This was not a year to introduce him to the Metropolitan Opera. Some kids, yes. My grandson, no. I am older and supposed to be smarter. Surely there are places and events in the world that would make my grandchild and me happy at the same time. To insist on my own way and/or to treat every minute of a vacation trip as a teaching moment seems silly.

To make a long trip all about their wants and whims is equally foolish.

Rafting down the Colorado River was a good option, something we would both enjoy.

Also, I knew that, after our plane trip from South Carolina to Phoenix, we would be in a rental car for almost 1000 miles. I carried several books on tape that I suspected Lake and I both would like. Then I let him pick which ones to listen to. He chose Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Jack London’s White Fang. It worked. I didn’t insist he put down his video games during those long hours of driving. He looked when I pointed out cacti he had never seen in South Carolina. He got excited when I showed him a coyote in a desert arroyo. Nor I did not expect scintillating conversation for those endless hours in a car. He is thirteen years old, after all.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” –Anonymous

Categories: Family, Health, Holiday, Quotations, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Available for Workshops, Retreats, Banquets, Sermons– Marion D. Aldridge

Close up Hilton Head photo MDA

Marion Aldridge …

Wisdom, humor, Exuberance, Faith…

“…is like your favorite old pair of slippers… honest introspection with himself and his world. His light has a unique brightness.” Craig Williamson, Pastor

“…combines wisdom, wit, and insight.’ Mark Tidsworth, President, Pinnacle Leadership Associates

Available for Workshops, Retreats, Banquets, Sermons
Marion D. Aldridge

Marion D. Aldridge is a popular preacher, public speaker, workshop leader and award-winning writer. Dr. Aldridge is author of numerous books and hundreds of articles on topics including religion, sports, travel, humor and personal growth.
In workshops, sermons and retreats, Dr. Aldridge’s primary life mission has been to help others “get unstuck.” Overcoming Adolescence is a memoir and self-help book about his own pilgrimage:

Marion Aldridge …

“… is my ‘go to man’ when I need someone to speak on a specific issue.” James Goudelock, Chaplain and Pastor

“… both cheerleader and prophet… keen insight into life.” Jay Kieve, Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of SC

“… will challenge, delight, inspire, and enrich.” Randy Wright, Chaplain

“… speaks and writes with deep conviction… a love of God and creation.” Jim Catoe

“… authentic voice… a message of personal growth. If he has something to say, I always listen. Brenda Kneece, Ecumenical Minister

“… sees with eyes wide open, and helps us all to see more clearly…unique and unassuming… depth and clarity.” Tony Vincent, Associate Minister

“… loves life! … grace and joy… laughter and honest reflection. In other words, his love of life is contagious!” Beth McConnell, Pastor

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Humor, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What does an angry person look like?

Have you ever thought about the images we use to describe anger? They aren’t very pretty.

She was out of her mind. Imagine an individual, clutching her decapitated head in one hand. She and her brain, for the moment, are not attached to the rest of her body. If she blew her top, then her brain is not in her hand but exploding from her scalp like fireworks. Flipping her lid turns her cranium into a tilted teapot with all types of gooey gunk oozing onto the carpet. Not an attractive picture.

To say that a person who is mad can’t think clearly seems obvious. With so much brain exploding into the stratosphere and splattering on the floor, and possibly onto family and friends, the function of our gray cells is certainly minimized and muddled.

He was beside himself. Picture twins standing beside one another, the first functioning within a normal range of emotions, the other one, red in the face, pulling at his hair, shaking his fist. Enraged. Out of control. When a person is angry, he is beside himself.

No wonder people say, “I can see you are upset.” You reckon?

I love the Richard Gere quotation from Pretty Woman in which he acknowledges his fury toward his father, “I was very angry with him. It cost me ten thousand dollars in therapy to say that sentence: ‘I was very angry with him.’ I do it very well, don’t I? I’ll say it again: I was very angry with him. Hello, my name is Mr. Lewis, I am very angry with my father.”

Sometimes, we try to deny it. “No, I’m just disappointed,” or “I’m hurt” or, “I’m just concerned.” Well, if your brain were somehow positioned outside your body, I’d say other people could probably tell.

When someone has made you furious, they are a pain in the neck to you. Think of all the body parts involved in anger.

• Our ears are burning.
• We grit our teeth.
• We can’t swallow that.
• We clinch our jaws.
• We could scream.
• We become stiff-necked. Our shoulder muscles tighten.
• We clinch our fists. We are itching to get our hands on somebody.
• We can’t stomach that.
• He makes my skin crawl.
• We are pissed off.
• She is a pain in the ass.
• We could kick her, then smash her and stomp her into the ground.

That pretty much covers the entire body, doesn’t it?

Sometimes anger is so extreme that it gets confused with mental illness.

• She is irrational.
• He went nuts.
• For a few minutes, she was crazy as a bat.
• He was a wild man.

If we admit our anger, then we can begin the process of resolving a problem. If we say we have no anger… well, sometimes, that’s just not true.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Humor, Lists/Top Ten, Quotations, Writing | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Products and Services Associated with Places

This project/list began as a travel aid: What is a country known for that a tourist might enjoy? If I’m going to Denmark, surely I want to eat a Danish pastry. If I were in Sweden, wouldn’t a Swedish massage be a good idea? A Cuban cigar in Havana? Wouldn’t a Swiss watch be an appropriate souvenir from Switzerland?

Of course, words being words, with interesting histories, the country’s name may miss the point entirely. Panama hats are made in Ecuador, but originally were shipped out of the port of Panama, thus the name. In Scotland, what we call Scotch is merely whiskey. The French may stare at you with incomprehension if you ask for French fries. Even when I speak French, the folks in Paris stare at me with incomprehension. Merci, tout le monde.

Belgian chocolate
Belgian waffle
Brazil nut
Canadian bacon
China doll
Chinese checkers
Cuban cigar
Danish pastry
Dutch chocolate
Egyptian cotton
English muffin
English peas
English saddle
French bread
French fries
French toast
German chocolate cake
German engineering
Greek yogurt
Hungarian goulash
Irish coffee
Irish linen
Irish stew
Italian cream cake
Japanese maple
Mexican jumping beans
Moroccan oil
Panama hat
Polish sausage
Russian roulette
Scotch whiskey
Siberian tiger
Swedish massage
Swedish meatballs
Swiss cheese
Swiss watch
Turkish bath
Turkish delight
Welsh rarebit

Categories: Holiday, Humor, Lists/Top Ten, Travel, Writing | Tags: | 2 Comments

The Cross Free Church

In reading a novel that takes place on Lewis Island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, I laughed out loud when the author, Peter May, casually mentioned the Scottish Free Church, located in the small village of Cross, Scotland. Without so much as a wink at the reader, he described events that took place near the Cross Free Church.

Wow! A Cross Free Church. What kind of congregation would that be? No cross. Come to think of it, the Baptists of my childhood wanted no crosses in our sanctuary. Maybe we were a Cross Free Church, too.

I wondered about other towns in Scotland and around the world where the name of the community and the name of the church create some peculiar combinations. I discovered there is a Backside in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, which means there is a Backside Free Church.

There is no town in Scotland named Jesus, so at least there is no Jesus Free Church, as far as I know.

However, the country of El Salvador was named for Jesus, the Savior, so I hope the Free Church of Scotland does not send a missionary group to El Salvador. If they do, they would become the Savior Free Church. Yikes!

Decades ago, W. C. Fields, director of the public relations division of Southern Baptists, wrote a funny article about Baptist Church names. Example: French Broad Baptist Church, so named because of the French Broad River in North Carolina. It was a long, hilarious article and I would love to read it again if I could find it. I can’t remember if there were Brazen Hussey Baptists or not, but there was a Republican Baptist Church and a Democratic Baptist Church. Fortunately, they were not close to one another.

There is a church in Hell in Michigan, and an Intercourse Church in Pennsylvania, a Beer Church in Devon in the United Kingdom. Those church names suggest one kind of challenge.

A totally different kind of difficulty awaits if you worship at the Boring Church in Oregon or the Little Hope Church in Texas.

I suppose I’m still waiting for the Conflict Free Church. But if I joined, well, you know what would happen…

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Humor, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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