Sunday, January 13, 2019

That's so "Jackson Elementary"...


I woke up, stumbled down the hall towards the kitchen, and...by rote, made my Sunday morning coffee. As I sleepily filled the carafe while looking out the kitchen window, my jaw dropped. It was so very quiet; there was a thick fog in the valley...and the trees were laced with what I call "snow frost". "Magical" is the only word I could think to describe it.

As if the "frost fairies" came in the night and dusted everything with powdered sugar.


There are so many things that make me happy on most every morning. Snow frosted views from my warm, cozy home. Fresh ground/brewed coffee. Thick woolen socks to keep my feet warm. Great-smelling laundry that just came out of the dryer. An egg scramble with fresh mushrooms and onions. A bowl of oatmeal with fresh blueberries. Clear roads on West Main (thank you, City of Riverton!). Texts and messages from family and friends asking how I'm doing. Taking a drive down Sunset Drive on a Sunday morning...


That's Sunset on a Sunday...

Today I drove past Ashgrove Elementary School. It triggered many memories. True stories ahead...

I originally attended Jefferson Elementary School, in Kindergarten. I loved Mrs. Frost! I think we all did. To me, she was a "Mary Poppins"-type who would take us on an adventure of some sort, every day. School was magical; it was the highlight of my day, every day! Mind you, before I even started Kindergarten, I was steeped in piano lessons at the age of four, so I was immersed in music. My Mom created a "school closet" loaded with books, instruments, crafts, math and science projects. But to sit with my classmates and dream about what was possible in the world, well...back in the day, our teachers could very well nearly been the staff of Hogwart. That's what "school" meant to me.

But I was also a weird one. A nerd. My mom took me to a specialist for an IQ test when I was very young, and although I was considered a "genius", I never 1) knew what that ever meant, and 2) ever questioned adult authority. My parents raised me to respect my elders, respect present institutions in place for my good.

However...there was this ever-so slight complication. An issue:

My laugh.

I transferred from Jefferson Elementary to Jackson Elementary...to the classroom of Mrs. Legler, who had absolutely no sense of humor at all. In fact, the first Parent-Teacher conference report indicated that (in so many words): "Carol disrupts the class with her laughter, causing others to laugh..."

Etc. etc. You get the drift.

Upon hearing such, my Mom immediately pulled me out of Jackson Elementary and put me right back into Jefferson Elementary, where Mrs. Sackman and the entire classroom threw me a party, with a banner that read: "Welcome back, Carol. We love your laugh!"

I have carried that story with me throughout my life. My Mom and I would laugh about it, right up until the day she died. Laughter is and always will be the best medicine! Because, c'mon...if you can't laugh at what is truly funny...what is truly "true"...truly tragic...then what is life really about?

Those who know me well, know that I've been through pretty dark times. What held me through? Laughter. Laughing in the face of death. Laughing in the face of anxiety and stress. This, too, shall pass...like gas in the night.  

This Government shut down is another fart in the wind. So laugh! Laugh in the face of disparity. Laugh, because we know better! Laugh, because those who voted for these idiots will hopefully know better! Because...

This is Soooo "Jackson Elementary"...

Carol Harper

Monday, December 31, 2018

"Turn Off the Main": 2018, A Year in Review

I made a new friend recently, and we sat down for a couple of brewskies and some "Facelook" time. We got to talking about what we had learned in the past year, and I'm happy to say that most of the things we experienced, we could laugh about...and just a few we had to ask the bartender for "another". All in all, we were able to fill the little think clouds over our heads with some pretty good memories...and pop all of the others. That, and a few pints of Guinness...!

He told me a story about how when he was young; he learned a lot from his dad on how to fix things and, as a result, became a pretty good fix-it guy...handy with tools, good trouble-shooting skills, etc. He recalled one job in particular where he was working on a water pipe that had burst, and right when was pretty proud of himself about fixing the pipe, he thought he'd tighten it a bit more with "just one...more twist..." The part broke, and water went gushing everywhere, creating a worse problem than the one before. His father, calmly standing by and watching, said: "Well, did you think about turning off the main?"

Hooray for the teaching moments of life...and some things only need teaching once for the learning to sink in (no pun intended).

Believe me, I'm always looking for those application components of life. I readily admit that there are moments where I can SOOOooo get on overload and distracted, but one of the most important mottoes of my life has been: "Keep it simple and excellent. The more complicated you make it, the more you have to manage."

We could also add: "...and the more things can slip through the cracks and create more problems than the ones before."

So what did 2018 teach me? What did I learn? For me, it was a year of many adjustments, twists and tweaks, but I'm happy to report that I've been able to solve many problems because I remembered to "turn off the mains" and focus on the things that really matter:

My family and friends. My home. My job, my clients. My life. My thoughts and feelings. Choosing my path; deciding what to do and who I want to be. Some of these choices have required great sacrifice. But at the end of the year, I can look back with a brand new friend and honestly say it was a good year, raise the pint and say, "Here's to simple and excellent!"

These are some of the things I've learned in 2018:

- Utah drivers are the worst drivers I've ever known.
Once a month, I usually visit Ogden (Riverdale area) for some R&R...see my massage therapist, catch up on shopping at stores that aren't in Wyoming (Trader Joe's, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ross, etc.), catch a movie at a theater with reclining seats...get my fix for pho and Indian cuisine and other favorite restaurants.
   However, driving in Utah (every time I've gone) is a nightmare! Doesn't even matter what kind of vehicle they drive, they whiz past me at 15-20 mph over the speed limit, cut in front of me with absolutely no regard for what might be in their peripheral vision/blind spot...they tail you unmercifully, even in icy, snowy conditions. Accidents are usually very bad, and jam up the roads for hours.
   It's not even that I'm from a small Wyoming town! I've lived and commuted in San Jose, Sacramento and Nashville. I've driven through St. Louis, Lincoln, Denver, LA and San Diego, and I would still say SLC/Ogden is the worst ever.
   What have I learned? The back roads! 😉

Coffee that is consumed en masse (in one day) can be, like, the equivalent of freebasing crack.
The Roasters Rendezvous weekend (Sept 7-8) was EPIC for this coffee aficionado! Attending this wonderland with me? One of my HS girlfriends, Cheryl [Hubbard] Payton, and we had a blast! Literally. We wandered through the Farmer's Market downtown in front of Bar 10, where they served coffee-infused adult drinks. The next day was the actual sampling of coffees and workshops. It was, like, a Disneyland for rural coffee drinkers. I can't wait until next year. If you wanted to and didn't make it, come on up and make a weekend of it here in Riverton, WY in 2019! Hell, I may just do another open house just for some of the roasters!

When road-tripping...always stop if your gut tells you to.
I've taken several trips in, out, around and through the state this year, and sometimes I would see something, do a double-take...and wanted to stop. I should've stopped...but didn't. I've learned to take that exit...capture that sunrise/sunset photo, check out those tourist traps, stop at that old diner, take that road less traveled.
   This year, I'm gonna make it more about the journey than the destination. I have so many friends to thank for taking me to places I never even knew about...and had enough energy to catch up with me and my road trip spontaneity!
   Have Prius, will travel!
The Grand Tetons

Stream near Dubois

Sinks Canyon, above Lander, WY
It's the little things...that are the BIG things!
The smell of fresh ground coffee brewing in the morning, and that very first sip! Wasabi peas. Bubble baths after a long day. The perfect margarita. Your favorite songs on your playlist. Watching a summer sun set with a cold beer or wine cooler. A game of pool with old vinyls playing in the background. Family/high school reunions.
   Growing a garden. Cooking up some new recipes and getting your "kitchen witch" on! Dancing at a pow wow and sharing an Indian taco. A Sunday drive through the Wind River Canyon.
   Blowing bubbles. Chocolate-dipped candied ginger. Buying an ice cream cone in Farson. Playing vintage music on the piano...listening to vintage music!
   Pop popcorn and binge-watch my favorite shows. Finding a bird's nest in your breaker box. Listening to the horses neigh, the coyotes howl, the owls hoot and the hawks screech...
   Chatting with your best friend until late at night...or early into the morning...
   Saying or doing something nice for someone. Thanking someone for saying or doing something nice for you.

Ignoring and letting go of certain "nouns" (people, places and things) has been a great move towards inner peace.
I have rid myself of the noise of greed, jealousy, hypocrisy and, well...folks just being downright mean, wanting nothing to do with me. That's okay. In fact, it's more than okay, because that saves me a lot of "trouble with the mains".
My philosophy of life is very simple: Be good. Be nice. Be strong.
Be good. We know what it means to be a good person. If you choose to be bad, I'm going to avoid you. Doesn't mean I judge you; it simply means I have nothing in common with you. Everyone knows what it means to be good...even if you've been through a lot of bad. Don't make it an excuse.
Be nice. How difficult is it to choose to just be nice?! I could be nice...or I could be an asshole. You treat me like crap, I could respond with just as much crap. But why? What's your end game in being the asshole, in being known as an asshole?
   Suck it up. Take the higher road. Or better yet, get eye level and say, "Hey, I see you, I get you. I've been there, too." Because, really...we've all been there. Everyone has a story. You might be surprised how close your story is to the life you're judging. So be nice. You may be looking into a mirror...
Be strong. We have ALL been through SOME kind of shit! We all have our battle wounds and scars. They've shaped us, formed us...hell, they may have even defined us, to a point. But they can make you bitter or better. Remember to "shut off the main". If the past or present is what's dominating your mind and soul (no matter what or how you believe), or is consuming you...let it go. Focus on you, and how you want to be...not how others want you to be. Politically, socially, spiritually...ALL aspects of life. Rid yourself of all of the marketing schemes, the motivational speakers, the preachers from the pulpits. You know what is good, nice and right...even if you found out that what is good, nice and right was through the wrong means. Your own timeline and life lived is what will make you strong.

And good. And nice. And that is my hope for all of you in 2019. That we will be good and nice and strong. That we will not accept bad as good. That we will think with our own minds and not what is media-marketed to us.

Because when I sat with a new friend this weekend, thinking about the past, present and future, I also thought about the path that I've recently forged for myself. It's not the "main"...

It's a new path, but...it is a good one.

Happy New Year, everyone!

- Carol [Starks] Harper



Sunday, November 18, 2018

Red Flags

Been trying to figure out how to write this post today...bear with me...it's a long one.
(Oh, and just FYI...today I've been sucking down the last dregs of my Skyway Roasters beans.
- On Friday evening, November 16...I was at a birthday celebration in Midvale (Happy Birthday again, Nicki!) As most of you here in Wyoming know, that was the evening the recent snow began to fall. I think I headed out from the party back home at around 9-9:30. Had only one beer that night, over the course of about 2-2.5 hours, and lots of water, so I was good to go. Not drunk or buzzed. Just tired after a long day...)
🚩(Red Flag #1: Fatigue DOES affect your acuity.)
- So...a significant amount of snow had accumulated on my little Prius. It was dark, and for some reason, I couldn't find my scraper/brush anywhere (I do have one, it just wasn't in the car...a lot of good that did me at the time)...so I brushed the snow off with my bare hands and a plastic bag I found in the car.
🚩(Red flag #2. Make sure your vehicle is fully equipped for Winter weather.)
- Because it was dark (WY nights)...and snow covered the country roads...I crept out of the parking lot and temporarily put on my brights so I could adequately find the 8 Mile Rd/134 intersection. No problem for me (fully admitting that even I...born and raised in these parts...was a bit disoriented) but...I could see it could be a problem for someone who didn't know these back roads.
🚩(Red flag #3. Know exactly where you are in relation to main/cross roads...especially at night. And tell a friend or family member where you are, in case of an emergency. You might not have cell service, and if you're in an accident, emergency personnel and First Responders need pertinent info.)
- I went down 8 Mile Rd (speed limit=55) at about a 35-40 mph. Dealing with kaleidoscope vision (due to the falling snow/wind)...I kept on a steady crawl within ONE set of tire tracks made by the auto ahead of me. Yes, there were deer...fortunately, none of them pranced out in front of me, but they were on the edge of the road, totally deciding whether to...
🚩(Red flag #4: Unpredictable conditions. Do you really want to hit a deer at 55 mph on a dark, snowy, low-vis night? Um, no.)
- Once I got to the highway, I looked both ways, over and over, and didn't venture out until I saw that it was completely clear, NO headlights whatsoever, either direction. Crawled out...
🚩(Red flag #5: You think Main highways are gonna be cleared off frequently. Um...nope.)
- Was doing awesomely fine, then made it about 3 miles away from my home on the edge of town, when some !@#$% coming down the highway from the other direction...decides that they're invincible in their awesome, big ass truck...and whizzes by at high speed.
🚩(Red flag #6: There are !@#$% assholes in big trucks who don't understand the !@#$% laws of physics...much less give a flying !@#$ about other vehicles on the road, except for theirs.
- The after-effect of the truck, combined with the weather/wind...literally "whooshed" my entire little car UP OFF of the pavement, and set it completely out of control. I went zig-zagging across both lanes of the highway. Doesn't matter that I had all-season tires...I did my very best, turning into the slides. At no time did I brake, but...I could "feel" the fish-tailing from the back end. It took everything in me to not "over-correct" and stay calm. I was just lucky that there was no oncoming traffic when it happened...or ironically, the Riverton EMS crews would've had to scrape me up off the highway!
So there, yes. I said it. And I get that everyone thinks it's a !@#$% joke that I drive a Prius, and that they might feel they have to compensate for their own insecurities through their big ass vehicles, but...let me lay it out on the line for all of you:
1. Just because you have/drive a 4WD truck/vehicle, doesn't mean you're invincible. You are most likely more the problem than the solution in hazardous road conditions.
2. I've only been with the EMS crews for a shy of a year, and I know very well that any conditions on the road...dry, wet, snowy, slick, DUI, etc...do not discriminate. Whether it's drunk driving, careless driving, reckless driving...pompous ass driving...you put everyone at risk with your stupidity. And you know what? You never know. The person/people you hit and injure/kill might be someone you know, a friend or a family member(s).
3. I drive a Prius, okay? I get the jokes, and I'm good with them all. I'll laugh with the !@#$ best of y'all. But c'mon. Don't !@#$% dent my car with your door. Don't spit on my windshield/windows. I'm not going to disrespect the vehicle you drive, as long as you don't disrespect the vehicle that I drive. Isn't it ludicrous (and I realize that's a big word for some of you) that it's come to this in the world? Yet, it is what it is.
I told this story because it's something I just experienced, and thought I'd share. If you've read this far...OMG, you read!!!!
Given that, here are a few helpful web sites:
http://icyroadsafety.com/tips.shtml
https://exchange.aaa.com/safety/driving-advice/winter-driving-tips/#.W_HfJOhKjIU
https://www.myimprov.com/8-tips-safe-driving-slick-roads/
https://driving-tests.org/beginner-drivers/things-to-avoid-when-driving-in-winter/

(Hey, Millennials...Google the rest, I'm not going to spoon feed you...)



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Seeing the Signs...you had to be there...

Last weekend was just getting way too warm, so I headed North. Good choice, as the night dips down to "just right" chilly. Still jacket-weather up at Brooks Lake, and the morning sky, a bit hazy, but as just as beautiful as I remember. The landscape is not the same since the Lava Mountain Fire back in 2016, but the gorgeous green still fights its way through:


I love road trips. Probably the wrong weekend to trek up to Jackson Hole (July 4th), but the drive did not disappoint. Got some great shots of the Grand Tetons. I will never get over the magnitude of these mountains. No photo can do them justice. I know, it's been tried...and I'll still say that you need to see them for yourself. Call yourself a professional photographer, but...when you stand before these incredible edifices, it's too spiritual for words:




Yeah. There's that. My Sunday drives have been epic. As a Music Director for any given church or denomination with four walls and a sound system...nothing can compare to God's grandeur in nature. When I turned the corner on the highway and realized what I was looking at...I stopped the car, broke down and cried. We are so very little. We are so insignificant. At that moment, I knew where my "church" was...where my "religion" was.

Had enough caffeine to get me "there"...and that was Jackson Hole, WY. Like I said...the most wrong place to be on a holiday weekend, however...as different as the culture was, I sat on the side, sipping my iced latte and watched the crowds stand in line. I don't know if I was more grateful that they were at Jackson Hole Roasters instead of Starbucks, or that I was just smelling beans from a block away.



Iced latte for me that day. Could feel the morning heat growing to the point of "tolerable", but I did spy the coffee grinders in the window above. Totally coolio...and a perfect start to a perfect day trip...tourists and all. I know, I know...most of them were probably wondering why a gal in a corner booth had it all to herself.

Hey. It's coffee. Deal.

As I escape on the weekends from the country and global drama...I can't help but feel how blessed I am here in the great state of Wyoming. Living in one of the least populated states in the Union has its perks, in that...I can roam free. One of the very few states where I can. And I have to think why that is...

Recently, the Mokelumne River...on the border of Amador County and Calaveras Counties in California...was [finally] designated as a "wild and scenic" river. It amazes me that so many had to fight for that, for so many years. One of my friends in CA, Katherine Evatt, had been fighting for the Moke for so long, and to celebrate such is a huge milestone. But...why? Why the fight?

http://www.foothillconservancy.org/

When I see the Popo Agie River crash into a mountain...when I see the Wind River flowing wild and free in the Wind River Canyon...it makes me wonder why California's politicians and lawyers just can't "get it". No one should have to should have to fight for Earth's streams and rivers to flow free! I'll tell you this much, for any  "government" in a global community to have to designate a river as "wild and scenic" (especially to Native Americans) is completely and utterly laughable.

It's wild and scenic..."because we said so". Really? No. It was wild and scenic before you said so.

I have to admit, I've been living in way too many cities in the past decade. Too many political jurisdictions. I know I can't escape it; politics are everywhere. But when I look out at the Riverview Valley from my back deck, I know what is true. That the places I drive to, and the places I call home have a voice of their own.

A few mornings ago, while enjoying my coffee on the back patio...I saw an eagle with a huge snake in its mouth fly above me. An amazing sight. How many ever get to witness such a thing? The strength of the eagle to keep that snake in its beak, the snake curling up and around, trying to break free. I don't know if the Great Spirit meant for me to see that, at that point in time, but I did see it, and was it a sign? I don't know...

Freedom. It means so much to so many people. To assume to define it is folly.

As I get back to work...getting on that gerbil wheel again (I'm no fool; I very well know I'm a prisoner to taxation without representation)...my hope is that we can take the blinders off and see what is "wild and scenic". What freedom really means...not just here in the U.S., but in a global community who aches for understanding and so much help. The signs have always been there, and I totally admit, I myself have been blinded. But what do I see? The strong tree in a fire-devastated forest. The reverenced, magnanimous mountain. The vast, sage-brushed prairie. The rivers that have always been running free...

I am ecstatic that the Thailand soccer team is freed. That made global news. But I also think about those in our own communities who are not free...from violence, abuse, criminal injustices, bigotry, etc. Do we really need "signs" before us, before we wake up and help those in need? Because these problems are in America, folks. It's the reason why America is not "great again". We cannot live in a hypocrisy...say that we're great when, indeed, we are not.

To me, it is time that America sets the example of true freedom, as our Founding Fathers would have wanted. Something so "wild and scenic" that it would shock even those who would put up walls to understand the magnitude...as great as the Grand Tetons brought tears to my eyes.

Ah, well. I guess you had to be there...


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Looking Up

Last Sunday, my coffee mug drew me to one of the most beautiful places in the world: The Wind River Canyon, just a road trip away from Riverton, outside of Shoshoni towards Thermopolis. With java close by, and yes...maybe a bit of old school country mixed with 80's big hair bands on the radio..I set out on a day's journey that brought tears to my eyes.

Shoshoni, Wyoming holds many dear memories for me, mainly Yellowstone Drug Store. I can't tell you how many times this was a pivotal stop for me in my personal history from childhood until now. A little store that had "every little thing"...knick-knacks, souvenirs...the ol' classic 50's-style tables, chairs and stools. But most of all, those malts. Real malt! The kind that had those little bits that crunch in your mouth as you sucked 'em up through that big straw. A favorite stop if you were on your way to or back from Boysen...or Thermopolis...or just wandering through. Alas...

As I took to the road...I couldn't help but stop and take a few photos to resurrect some memories:

Shoshoni has become a ghost town. All that is left is a couple gas/convenience store stations. A stop for photographers who want to know the history...which I did impart to one photographer with quite a big lens. She had no idea about Shoshoni's history, so I told her my own brief story.

Forward and onward (through a few tears), the drive took me through Wind River Canyon. Most of you have seen my cover page on Facebook, but I'm tellin' you right now, no photos do this beautiful canyon justice:


Whenever I venture out on a day/road trip, I always look up, down and around. Not only are the beautiful skies an obvious clear blue...the perspective of that little car you see, and magnanimous rocks of that canyon is enough to make anyone bow heads in prayer on a Sunday afternoon. Which it did for me. All I had to do was to look up. The sky...the tops of the canyon...the sun...

On to Thermopolis. Gone is the A&W that my family used to frequent. So I drove around that "curve" into town and landed at the Thermopolis Cafe for coffee/brunch. It was quite packed, but I was able to get a seat. The coffee is absolutely thin and horrible, but the ambiance is great. The artwork is by Alison Schaetzle (Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alison.schaetzle.1). Love the colors, and it's apparent that the locals love the venue as well. All ya had to do was look up:


In, around and through. People, places and things. The nouns of our lives. And verbs!

I haven't been completely devoid of what is happening in the world these days. I might live in one of the most sparsely-populated states in the Union, but...I'm no fool. Yes, I read the headlines (oh wait..yes, I do actually read!)

One of the biggest things in the news is the "illegal immigration" issue. As I've commented on so many posts, I find this all incredibly ironic. Here's why.

I was a Native American infant raised in a white, Mormon household. I was fortunate enough to have adoptive parents who respected my heritage enough to take me out (albeit up to a certain age) to the Wind River Reservation and meet my Native family. I know that not many Native children get this privilege, but I was blessed to have parents who believed that it was best for me to have and hold that privilege. However, I was also raised as one loyal to the United States of America, and was immersed in studies of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, I have to say...

Today, I am torn.

To see what is going on - with children and families at the border of this great nation - absolutely sickens me. This is not the great country I was raised to believe welcomes all with the "Statue of Liberty" promise. And I'm well aware of the broken promises and treaties of the Native nations between the U.S. Government, so don't even go there.

So where am I, on the spectrum? This is not a political problem. It is not even a social issue. This is not about "fake news"...the current President...

This is a PEOPLE problem, a moral issue. How you were raised to be..down to your very roots and family. How you were taught to believe. It's about history lessons.

And you cannot wipe away history. 

U.S. History cannot shed the genocide and displacement of Native Americans. U.S. History cannot just eradicate the purpose of WWII...the Holocaust, Japanese Internment camps, the lives and conditions of Chinese railroad workers. The Depression Era. All wars fought under some political guise (of which my own son, as a US Marine, was a part). And I don't even need to go into the problems of domestic violence, school shootings, animal cruelty and drug/human trafficking.

But don't bury your head in the sand just yet...let's look at the U.S. Revolutionary War, shall we? How many were trying to escape religious, political and social tyranny? How was America founded? Yet now, today...how many are now trying to escape today's horrors, whether it be a social, economic or political hell...or just plain scared and living in fear? Oh, but does it really matter? As long as it's not happening to you and your family/loved ones? If you believe what the United States Constitution was founded upon by our Founding Fathers, well...you have your own heart to examine.

Because if you don't, you...like Shoshoni..are a ghost town.

I am completely convinced that what is happening today would make our Founding Fathers roll over in their graves. I am a Constitutionalist...but I am also Native American! Things are so much more complicated today, but don't ever think that the issues back then are not the same now. America will never be "great again" until we capture the vision of our Founding Fathers. And yes, they made mistakes! But aren't we supposed to be doing things better?? Aren't we supposed to be better human beings, as our visionaries hoped for? What "Christian Nation" closes doors, calls anyone "heathens"...and for what reason? And yes, I'm going to "go there"...

What would Jesus do???

I look at the town of Shoshoni, and mourn the days gone by. I wish I could have that real vanilla malt. I wish I could sit at the A&W and have that authentic root beer float. Gone are the days, but...I guess I'm in a bit of denial, because I'm never going to get those days back again.

But I can make things better, and continue to try to believe that good can triumph. That promises can be kept. That hearts can be turned...

All we have to do is...look up. At those fireworks...

(Probably made in China...)


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Coffee With A View: "The Answer"


Well, we had some pretty big "WY-sized" boomers (thunderstorms) out there yesterday...hail came down and lightening cracked right smack overhead. Scared the caffeine right outta me (or into me, lol!)...watched as the pea-sized hail pummeled the back deck and the glass table, crossing my fingers that the hail wouldn’t get any bigger! But this morning, I'm enjoying my Kenyan medium roast, overlooking a fantastic view of the fresh green valley below, with a Sunday reflection of: Belief.

For the past 30 years or so, I've held positions as a [church] music director, keyboardist/organist, choir director, worship leader, etc...which means that I never really had a full, "normal" Saturday-Sunday weekend in a few decades. Being a music director has been a very fulfilling career, and I learned a lot about the different denominations of Christianity along the way. Music will always be a part of me and a part of everything I do. However, taking an indefinite sabbatical from religion in general has proven to be a wise choice for me at this point of my life’s journey, and I've had no regrets.

World religions have always fascinated me...or I suppose I should say that belief intrigues me...what people believe and why they do. I have been blessed to have friends from many diverse walks of life and faith, and have learned much from them. I've read many holy books...the Bible, Q'uran, Bhagavad Gita...I've taken courses and classes on world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Catholicism and Early Christian History (I still have the course materials). I spend about ten minutes every morning in meditation (before I’ve had coffee, lol). My Native American heritage has had quite a bit of pull lately...

As I peruse Facebook, I see yet many more pages and sites claiming to have “The Answer” to life, to happiness. I occasionally click on them, merely out of curiosity. Most of the time, it’s yet another motivational speaker sell-job...and, as sometimes what they have to market seems viable...quite honestly, I’m just not much of a joiner these days. My own path has led me to a point where I’ve had to really renew and reflect, wring out my heart, mind and soul, and “take the wheel”, so to speak. Doing so has been enlightening, in that…for the all myriad of religions, beliefs and paths, one question in my mind will always remain:

Why isn't the world a better place?

Crime, violence, abuse, neglect, bigotry, human trafficking, child slavery. War, division, greed. Pollution of our air and water. Lying, stealing, cheating, back-biting. But we've been "saved"! "Enlightened"! Does “membership” include someone controlling me, telling me how to feel, think and believe? Yeah, how's all that been workin' for us lately?

I recently read an article recently about world hunger (GlobalIssues: "Food Waste Enough to Feed World's Hungry Four Times Over") Astonishes me that, with all of the programs, ministries and charities, the problem of world hunger still hasn’t been eradicated. A friend recently brought to my attention that child marriage is legal in 48 US states, 19 of which have no minimum age. However, all 50 states have laws stating that minors cannot sign contracts. Think about it. This means minors cannot file for divorce…can’t vote, can’t own property, can’t access many services. Yet, she can be forced to marry (which prompts the question in my mind: Is this just a way to legalize rape? What exactly is the definition of “statutory rape”?) Most of all, is this morally veracious? Hey, it’s law…I suppose just like the law is so “clear” on illegal immigration. But this is just yet another example of how, just because it’s the "law" - as antediluvian as it is/might be - doesn’t mean it’s right.

Hypocrisy is so rampant in the world today, and in my own observation and experience, religion has not only complicated our innate faith and moral compasses, but has participated in perpetrating wrong and justifying it. Calling bad good, and good bad. We don’t know the facts or truth anymore because it's all become extremely subjective. We polarize to what is marketed to us, what is popular, drawn to all the “pretty colors”...only to discover that they were motivated by either an obvious or hidden agenda.

After a recent “soul wipe”, I replaced and embraced my own, simple faith, which is: Be good. Be nice. Be strong. If your belief system or religion works for you, great. If it makes you a better person, great. But don’t tell me how I should think, feel or believe. Don't define (or judge) my faith, my spiritual journey. Just know that, in my own “holy book” of life, religion has thousands of years of catching up/proving to do…and has been in the red for just as long. I always tell my clients to “keep it simple and excellent. The more complicated you make it, the more you have to manage.” Organized religion and politics have complicated everything to a point where there is more stress than peace…more cynicism than sanguinity…more laws than ethics…more fear than freedom.

Yesterday, I attended the Eastern Shoshone Pow Wow at Fort Washakie. I took some photos and videos…had a difficult time keeping the tears back. My favorite part of pow wows are, of course, the music. The drums…the song and heartbeats of our mother Earth. Sometimes I wish the whole world could come together in one big Pow Wow and get back in touch with our innate faith. Yes, even atheists must have faith that the sun will rise and set...that rain (hail) will fall...that all will be well when we sleep at night...

So the question is: Are we making the world a better place?

When people ask me what I believe, I ask them if they believe that they are a good person. When they say they believe they are, I tell them, “Then I believe in you.” They will prove it by what they do, what they say, and how they live their lives. Not because they believe in a holy book, not because they’re a member of a church, a political party, or because some preacher, prophet or motivational speaker said it was the way to do it...but because “The Answer” is inside of us. We need start giving ourselves some credit for living lives that have been (and are) filled with love, success, joy and celebration, as well as experiencing hurt, pain, suffering and lapses in judgment. It’s called wisdom, which can only be gained by learning and living, not anyone else’s, but our own timelines.

Oh dear, my mug is empty…time for a fresh cup!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Helping the families at the border

Hey, folks...as you know, this whole "families separated at the border" thing has been on my mind this past week, and you know me...I'm always wondering where action can be taken, and/or where solutions could start gaining some ground.
Today, a friend of mine e-mailed me the list below. Please feel free to share with anyone you might would be interested.
Caffeinated bottoms up!

Carol


  • South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project is providing free legal services to asylum seekers detained in South Texas.
  • RAICES is a nonprofit that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families and refugees in Texas. It’s accepting donations and volunteers at its website. In addition, the #postcards4families campaignwill donate $5 to RAICES for every postcard kids write to help the separated immigrant children.
  • The CARA Project is currently recruiting attorneys, law students and paralegals with experience in asylum work. The group asks volunteers to be fluent in Spanish or willing to work with an interpreter.
  • Kids In Need of Defense partners with major law firms, corporations and bar associations to create a nationwide pro bono network to represent unaccompanied children through their immigration proceedings. Volunteers don’t need to have immigration law experience.
  • The El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center provides legal representation to immigrants who might not be able to afford it otherwise. It’s accepting volunteers and donations.
  • The Austin Bar Association Civil Right and Immigration Section is coordinating training for pro bono attorneys to handle credible fear interviews for asylum seekers. 
  • Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley shelters immigrants who've recently been released from U.S. Border Patrol custody. 
  • American Gateways provides legal services and representation to detained parents. It's currently seeking volunteers to represent detained parents and is accepting donations.
  • Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services is the largest provider of free and low cost immigration services in West Texas and says it's the only organization in El Paso serving unaccompanied children.
  • Justice for Our Neighbors provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant individuals and families in Texas.
    • The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is looking for more child advocates to visit the immigrant kids inside the detention centers weekly and accompany them to immigration proceedings. It is also raising money for advocates who will deal specifically with family separation cases.
    • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is raising money to provide immigrant children "immediate shelter and beds, medical services, counseling and therapy to help them deal with the trauma of family separation."
    • Together Rising is collecting money that'll go to advocacy groups that are working to reunify immigrant children with their families. 
    • Comfort Cases is raising money to provide backpacks to the separated immigrant children. Each case will contain items such as blankets, pajamas, toiletries, a stuffed animal, a book, a journal and art supplies.
    • The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is training adults who want to become “child advocates” who will work one-on-one with unaccompanied immigrant children while they are subject to deportation proceedings.
    • Tahirih Justice Center is providing free legal and social services to immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence.
    • Circle of Health International has staffed a clinic caring for refugees and asylum seekers immediately upon their their release. Their McAllen clinic is currently seeing upwards of 100 patients a day.
    • The Office of Refugee Resettlement requires that all people who want to foster one of the unaccompanied immigrant children be fully licensed by their state. If you are not already licensed, the agency recommends contacting organizations such as United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.
    • Annunciation House is helping serve immigrants and refugees in El Paso. The organization is accepting donations here.
    • The Human Rights Initiative of North Texas is representing asylum seekers as well as unaccompanied minors — including those separated from parents.
    • The Salvation Army of El Paso is supporting 17 shelter rooms for separated families while they await reunification with their children and their court hearings.
    • Baker Ripley's team of immigration attorneys are providing representation to detained families seeking asylum as well as working to reunite children and parents. 
    • La Posada Providencia in San Benito runs a shelter for people who have applied for asylum and been released from detention centers while their cases are pending.
    • The Children’s Immigration Law Academy has pro bono attorneys representing children in immigration-related proceedings. It's also providing specialized training to legal service providers and volunteers who're serving unaccompanied immigrant children.
    • The Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee in El Paso started the Fronterizo Fianza Fund, which will go toward things like posting bond for asylum seekers.