Friday, November 15, 2013

Bula! Bula! Kava! Kava!

Now, I am not a kava gourmand by any means. But as a recovering alcoholic with social anxiety disorder looking for an occasional way to relax after work without resorting to addictive substances such as benzodiazepenes, kava fits the bill. Kava has a long history of use in religious ceremonies and is seen as a sacred plant.

For a time, kava had a bad reputation as being hard on the liver, but more recent and better studies show that really it's not the extracted root that you grind up, mix with liquid, and drink that is the problem. It's the cheaper pills or teas or certain kava brands that aren't careful about supplying you with ground root only that are the problem. Stems and leaves from the rest of the plant are not good. It's solely the root that should be used. So you have to get your kava from a trustworthy vendor.

The next important thing is that you stay away from "wash and toss" methods of kava consumption. Really this just means mixing the root powder directly with water, giving it a good shake, waiting a little, then straining the kava directly into a glass and pounding it. Or some people just throw it in a blender, blend it with water, and strain that directly into a glass. No, people, there is a reason Pacific Islanders extract the root powder and strain, then strain again before they drink it. "Wash and toss" can work in a pinch, but in general, take the time to strain your kava once, then strain the strained kava a second time. Not only will you get a smoother drink, but it's much easier on your digestive system and is much less likely to cause kava dermopathy (also known as "scale").  Kava dermopathy won't kill you, but it is a pain to develop. Suddenly your hands start getting all wrinkly, like you just took a shower or you've just aged twenty years. If you keep using kava by washing and tossing, the seemingly benign but just ugly dermatitis can spread to your neck, your back... just about anywhere. And in the sun, it burns and stings. Otherwise, it just plain itches. Treatment? Stop drinking kava for a while until your skin clears up. Topical ointments for rashes, like cortisone cream, can help the itching. Keep your skin moisturized and stay well hydrated. And learn from your lesson. "Wash and toss" is generally only for people who really want to get their krunk on.

Here is a short and rather unprofessional video I made of how to prepare kava:

Now, what is a kava "buzz" like? Well, unlike alcohol, kava doesn't make your mind irrational or mess with your ability to think clearly. It doesn't make you less inhibited or argumentative or overemotional. What it does is just slow you down a little and relaxes you. If you're really tense, it can help with stress-related aches and pains and headaches. Don't expect to feel high or stoned, except in the mildest of ways. If you do consume a lot of it, it can slow you down enough that you probably shouldn't drive--for the sole reason that your reaction time will be slower. Basically I just think of the feeling as akin to taking a benzo (Ativan, Xanax, Valium, etc) without actually taking a benzo--which is good, because benzos are truly addictive, whereas kava is not. You could drink kava every day for a year, then suddenly stop, and your body will suffer no withdrawals at all. Perhaps you might develop a psychological addiction, but then again I can't imagine anyone in his or her right mind drinking kava every day anyway... unless, perhaps, they do live in the islands. 

Other benefits to kava: it doesn't give you a hangover. (It is a diuretic, though, so be sure to stay hydrated. Usually I'll drink some Vitamin Water or Gatorade or take a magnesium and potassium tab when I've been drinking kava.) It also doesn't take long for its effects to wear off. Usually I'll have some, then eat a meal, and within the half hour I feel perfectly normal again, not that I felt "abnormal" to begin with... just relaxed and slowed down. For athletes with sore muscles, kava also acts as a muscle relaxant and can relieve spasms. Finally, kava is calorie-free, unless you add a little fat or sugar to your drink. So drinking it won't make you gain weight, and actually, if you're bloated, you will shed some water weight due to its being a diuretic.

Some drawbacks: yeah, you can get "krunk" on kava. This involves drinking quickly a LOT of a very potent strain, like some of the ones from Vanuatu. I don't see the purpose in this. I'm told you basically melt into your chair and sit like a zombie until it wears off. Whatever, to each his own, I suppose. Zombie is not for me. I like the sensation of being relaxed but I also like being clear-headed. Also, there's the taste. Kava doesn't have much of a flavor, but it's not unpleasant unless you've purchased some nasty variety from a bad vendor. Those can taste muddy. Otherwise, the good strains may have a slightly piney taste or a mild peppery taste. But, kava is not a drink intended to be sipped. Your pour some into your shell (or glass) and knock it back. Many people will mix kava with something else to give it a more pleasant flavor. Once, when I was in Kona, Hawaii, at a kava bar, "Mama" offered to make me a smoothie with kava! I declined since I didn't want the extra calories, but really the possibilities are endless.

So, who are the good vendors and the bad vendors? I'd say stay away from Kona Kava Company. Ugh. Nasty. Kauai Kava is a good company. If you're on the mainland, I recommend Bula Kava House in Portland, Oregon. It's a kava bar, but they package and ship kava, too. There's even a decent Fiji waka kava that you can buy from You'll need a cheesecloth for straining all kava (or pantyhose will do).

Bula! Bula! 

Friday, November 8, 2013


Friday, November 1, 2013

Breeders Cup Friday! Pick 5 Ticket

Race 1: 8
Race 2: 2, 13
Race 3: 2
Race 4: 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10
Race 5: 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12

This is a .50c Pick 5 that costs $36. A lot hinges on the hype about Pure Loyalty being true, and on the speed bias for routes on the main track holding true for today as well. Will post other tickets later. Let's make some money today, folks! (Knocks on wood)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Swamped! And Here's Why

Here is the gospel truth. For some time now, I've had two books cooking in my head. I thought I would do the "self help" (basically a recovery book based on things I went through and learned, with an eye towards helping others who are in that boat) first. The other book is a novel. For now, I'm keeping the subject hush hush.

I've started the novel. It just kept thudding at my heart like a big beast wanting to explode its way out.

So.... as I research and write it, and as I continue to teach, I'm afraid this blog is falling by the wayside. I'm actually starting to consider cashing out a mutual fund or two and taking a couple semesters off so I can finish this book without distractions. It will probably never be of the best seller variety and god only knows if it would even find a publisher, but the hell with it. If I have to self publish and lose scads of money, so be it. All I know is that it needs to get out of me.

So now you know. Oh, no doubt I'll be popping in and out every now and then with little things I want to share, but this is why my scribbling has dropped way off. I'm just scribbling on another project.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

People Are Mirrors

Pythagorean students hailing the sun
These students of Pythagoras hailing the rising sun really have nothing to do with mirrors--except that I like the painting, and, well, the Pythagorean school did really swipe a lot from the Egyptians. And the Essenes swiped from the Egyptians. And the Gnostics swiped from the Essenes. And so on. Really, all these ancient mystery schools were teaching pretty much the same things, only adding to them or putting the same ideas in a different way.

So, I've been studying some Essene texts lately, along with the Gnostic Gospel of the Holy Twelve, and H. Spenser Lewis' The Mystical Life of Jesus. Jesus, of course, was likely an Essene--specifically a Nazarean Essene, since the city of Nazareth didn't actually even exist (as far we know) during his lifetime. Anyway. All this is prelude to the idea of the Essenian Mirrors, the idea that the people in our lives serve as mirrors for us in seven different ways.

The first several mirrors are pretty easy to understand: One is the mirror of the moment. Look around yourself and consider the types of people who are your friends. What do they have in common? What they have in common reflects back on you. You are who they are. (That's more or less the same idea as that old saying, "A person can be known by the company they keep.") This is a powerful mirror, because if you suddenly realize your friends are NOT people you want to be like, it's time for you to make a change.

The second mirror is the mirror of that which you judge. When people push your buttons or little things they do drive you off the deep end or gnaw at you, is there any pattern to those things? Say you have many dear friends, but a handful of them drive you bonkers because they have a tendency to tell fibs on occasion. That pattern says that you are judging their dishonesty. WHY is that so bothersome to you? Are they reflecting back to you a tendency to dishonesty that you haven't acknowledged? (As Carl Jung said, we hate most in others those very things we hate most in ourselves.) Or are they reflecting back to you a moral value that is highly charged to you for some other reason?

The third mirror--and this is as far as I've gotten--is the mirror of that which is lost, has been taken away, or has been given away. These persons often fill a hole or a gap in us, representing our yearning for an element of us that is gone. We often get minute crushes on these people until we figure out what's truly going on. For example, say you meet this awesome person whom you feel incredibly drawn to and you think you may be falling head over heels--what's that all about? Is there something in them that you miss about yourself? Maybe you have fallen for a younger person for the simple reason that you miss your own youth, or your own innocence. Maybe you have fallen for an older person because you have lost your own financial stability or the conviction that you have control over your own life. Maybe you have fallen so hard for that athlete because she reminds you so much of how intense you used to be in the gym--until you ruined your shoulders and wrists and tore some tendons and now can't do that and wake up every morning crunching and cracking. If the mirror of loss is in play, seeing it for what it is and acknowledging it can dissolve those feelings of infatuation and you can pursue a more genuine relationship based on things shared, not on things lost.

Anyway, I find all this stuff interesting and wish I'd had it at my fingertips when I was working on my 4th Step. It would've helped me figure out why I'd gotten involved with some of the people I did. If this speaks to you in any way, stay tuned. I'll be posting again once I get a handle on the other four mirrors.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

How to Get Them to Answer Your Texts

Sneak this little ringtone onto their phone and set your text notification message to this in their contacts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Just a Word to the Wise

Some friends and I were talking about dreams on Facebook this morning. It just so happened that last night I had one of those recurring anxiety dreams. Usually I have this one right before a semester begins, but we're only one and half weeks in, so I suppose it's roughly on time.

It's always some variation of the same basic dream: I'm in graduate school at Penn State; I'm about to graduate with my degree; and a week before commencement, I realize I have a math requirement I've totally forgotten about. I've been enrolled in the class and have simply forgotten it. The final exam is the next day or soon, so I have a very short period during which I have to learn the whole course and pass the exam if I want my degree. And math is not my subject.

It's your basic anxiety dream. We all have them at some time or another.

So what does this have to do with parents talking to their kids? Everything. See, I was actually strong in all my subjects until about 8th grade, when arithmetic started to turn into mathematics and simple algebra started being introduced. I had a little harder time with that; it didn't come easily. I made the mistake one term of getting a "B" in math instead of an "A," wrecking my usual all A's report card.

I was punished--beaten--for the "B." Called stupid, lazy, told "if you had a brain, you'd take it out and play with it!"

Ever since then, whenever someone is trying to explain math to me, I just freeze up. It's like my brain shuts down. My mind becomes a wall. I just don't get it. I just can't understand it.

Really it wasn't just math, ultimately. Later on, despite excellent grades, my stepmother wouldn't let me into the academic track in high school, even though the school wanted to place me there, because she told me I was too stupid to go to college. She wanted me to join the Army after high school. Fortunately, at 15, I wound up getting out of that house and into foster care, where I finally landed with a family in which my foster mom encouraged me to apply to college.

And now I have not only a bachelor's degree, but also two master's degrees, and I'm an English professor at a community college.

Yet to this day, I suffer from anxiety problems, the ever-present uneasy feeling that I'm a big fraud, that I'm not as bright as people say I am, that people won't like me, that students will see through me and think I'm the dumbest assed teacher they've ever had. Of course, rationally I know better, and I tell the critical committee in my head to shut the hell up.

I'm writing about this not because I want anybody to feel sorry for me. There are so, so many more people out there suffering much worse, from things more abusive parents than my stepmother ever said or did. Some of the stories I heard when I was in rehab would take your breath away. I just want to post this little reminder--kids remember what you say. You can be a parent, a teacher, a counselor, or anyone in a position of authority. Be gentle. Be tactful. Be supportive. There is never a need to rip someone apart. NEVER.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why Do I Teach? I'll Tell You Why

Well, it's Sunday and I can finally catch a breath after reading a bunch of diagnostic essays and homework assignments. The first week back to school turned out okay--at least I have only one prep since I'm teaching two sections of the same course. Each is a four-hour course, so I round out my schedule with 2.5 hours in the writing labs. 10.5 to 11 hours is all a part-timer can be given in the district because California law states that any adjunct faculty teaching more than that for (I think it's three semesters) in a row must be hired full-time. I believe the law was put into place to prevent the abuse of part-timers. Silly politicians. The solution has simply been for colleges to hire more part time faculty. We can be hired on the cheap.

This is because we aren't paid anything close to an equitable salary to full timers. We aren't paid for summers (unless we work, which I do); we aren't paid for holidays; we aren't paid even for Thanksgiving or Christmas Break. We are actually paid only for the actual hours we are in the classroom or labs. We don't get health insurance. And we certainly don't get a paid sabbatical every seven years.

Even worse is the situation for "freeway flyers," those adjunct faculty who cobble together a full-time job by teaching in two or more school districts.

It's higher education's nasty little secret. Part-timers (adjuncts or contingent faculty) and, at larger universities, teaching assistants, are the ones who teach a good many of the "grunt" courses (developmental courses, composition courses, basic skills courses), while the full-time faculty take the "yummy" courses (in English, many of the lit classes and all of the creative writing classes).

So why do I do it?

Because I can. For me, it is a choice. I had a full-time teaching position for five years, and that was about enough. Fifteen hours of class time per week perhaps doesn't sound like much, but when you teach a bunch of writing courses, that works out to NO LIFE. All I did was grade essays. At least, that's how it felt. And I found myself, after five years, doing things like rushing through papers, winging it sometimes in the classroom, getting lazy about updating material because there just wasn't time leftover to make the extra effort, unless I was willing to work an 80-hour week. I started to feel like I was a lousy teacher--burned out already, not the kind of teacher I wanted to be. Add committee work on top of that. I hated the departmental politics, the sniping, and the drama. I also found myself getting mad at those of my colleagues whose idea of "grading essays" meant reading the paper and sticking a grade on it with maybe a one word comment. I knew one professor who would actually boast that she spent no more than one hour on any single batch of papers. It was no wonder she could take on two extra courses as overload every semester, adding a few thousand to her annual salary. Yeah, I was starting to get bitter.

Ah, but peeps, I am a lucky duck. I have a wife who makes a decent salary, so we don't need me to work full-time. I get health insurance on her policy. I make enough to help pay part of the rent and pay some household expenses and even have some money leftover for fun. (Unlike many part timers, who have children, I really don't have a lot of expenses. My car is paid for.) Yup, I'm lucky. I get to spend more time being the kind of teacher I want to be. I always prep fully for classes. I take two weeks with essays at the minimum, splitting them into 2-3 per day from any single class so I don't get too braindead grading them (my only "rule" is to return one batch of papers before the next batch is due) When a paper is a mess, I've been known to spend an hour one a single one. (Thankfully that is rare! I give most papers about thirty minutes, depending on the length.) I change texts more often and change or tweak assignments frequently. I answer emails from students all day long, sometimes into the evening and even on weekends. I get to know my students. In any given semester, I will adapt teaching methods to better accommodate those who are sitting in the room--even if it is a course I've taught a hundred times. I'm content that I'm doing a good job and serving my students well.

Several full-time faculty have said to me over the years, when a full-time position has opened up, "I wish you'd apply!" And I have just thanked them, chuckled, and shaken my head "no thanks."

Fact is, I'm in the luxurious position of being able to work for shit pay for about (on average) what works out to be around thirty hours a week BUT be good at what I do. This, to me, is better than working for a decent salary with benefits while being overextended and continually stressed and to watch things I care about sometimes having to slip through the cracks.

It is my choice. I may bitch and moan about grading papers and all that when I'm knee-deep in them, but the truth is, I love what I do and I care about my students. The ones who don't care--well, meh, but for the ones that do care and are trying with their whole heart? I'll give them all the time in the world. And I like having the time to do that.

It is my choice. Unfortunately, for one of the most valuable service positions in the world, teachers are grossly undervalued. They are overworked, underpaid--considering their expertise--and unappreciated. What other profession is insulted by sayings like, "Those who can do, do; those who can't do, teach"? I'm a published writer and have also worked as an editor; thank you very much. I can do, and I have. Teachers are routinely insulted in the press or by educrats who have never even set foot in a classroom. Yet in many cases, we spend more time with some kids than their own parents do. We are helpers, coaches, cheerleaders, and counselors in addition to being that person who stands in front of a room lecturing about thesis statements or how to make a coherent argument--or how to correct a run-on sentence.  This is a job for a person with knowledge, empathy, and compassion, yet who is honest enough and has guts enough to be sure standards are met at the same time. This is a job for a person with a sharp mind and a huge heart.

I feel for both the full-timers, and I feel for the part-time "freeway flyers" trying to make a living. I wonder how excellent they'd actually be if they, too, like me, had more time. To me, it's a wonder any of them are good at all. Then again, those who stick with it, despite it all, teach because it's a calling, not just a job. We teach because we want to help other people succeed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

H is for Hackjob: Them Sons-o-Beeyotches!

I owe the cyberworld an apology. Well, it's not really my fault--I'm not quite sure who or what is at fault, beyond the hacker himself--but apparently my Twitter account got hijacked and I've been tweeting people that they should try Dr. Oz's diet plan.

Now, here is the truth. I never actually (or rarely, anyway) actually tweet anything. I simply have this blog connected to both Facebook and Twitter through, so whenever I post something, the blog post automatically feeds to both Twitter and Facebook. And that about sums up the extent of my tweeting.

It's not clear where the hack actually occurred. At first I thought it might just be me, so I changed my Twitter password to something I hope I can remember (I think I wrote it down on a little piece of paper around here somewhere). But now Networkedblogs is down, so it's possible that it was actually their site that got hacked, and I was just an unwitting twit of a client. Twit. Get it?

Regardless, if you got a tweet from me telling you to go on a diet, I do apologize. I don't think you need to go on a diet. All of my friends and all of my readers are perfectly beautiful or handsome just the way they are.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Yadda Blah

Yeah, yeah, bad me. I've been hiding under a rock this week. See, school starts on Monday and so I'm trying to enjoy this last week however I can--unfortunately, it doesn't involve writing much, although I did tweak my syllabus.

So, I've started a new painting (just a landscape, a beach scene) and I've been playing guitar a little. Right now I'm working on learning the picking and bass runs to the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road." It's good to stretch a bit: usually when I pick, it's just fingerpicking, and this calls for a pick and lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs, so it's fun to play. I've also purchased two courses from The Teaching Company (hey! They were on sale), one on the Dead Sea Scrolls and one on the early Jesus Movement, including the Gnostics, and how the final books of the Bible were settled upon. I know about the Council of Nicea, but this promises to delve a little more into the politics behind the choices.

And let's see--I saw The Conjuring with my friend Lisa and Despicable Me with Chelle. I think this weekend I may go see The Butler. That looks really good. And, everybody seems to be in it; the trailer screams "Oscar" at me.

Other than that, life chugs along as usual. Still sober--wow, it'll be four years September 4th. When I stop to think about it, it really does boggle my mind. There was once a time that I couldn't even imagine my life without drinking.

Just goes to show you that people can change. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Funday: Silly Impressions

For those who missed it on Facebook, here I am doing an impression of Janis Joplin. I can get away with this because I'm in recovery myself and have been every bit the same hot mess. We have to laugh at ourselves, or else we'd cry all day long. Janis up there in heaven, I know you're laughing, too.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hapless Tigger Covers the Indigo Girls

"Pushing the Needle Too Far" is one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar because it's so easy to play (basically three chords for most of the song, then just a Bminor, Aminor, and Dwithsus4). You'll just have to put up with my Alpo.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuck? Maybe This Can Help

This crossed my newsfeed on Facebook this morning, and naturally I shared it with a big "Mmmm Hmmm!" running through my head.

It took me back to what I think is one of the most powerful of the 12 steps, Step Four. When I was in rehab almost four years ago, I can recall the chronic relapsers all admitting this was "the step that takes you back out." It is, in fact, a really tough thing to do--to look at your life, your actions, things you've said and done, things that have happened to you and to assess them HONESTLY. See, we all have a natural tendency to ease our own consciences by excusing behaviors by making up stories or scenarios and convincing ourselves they're true or by trying to push all the blame for our shit onto other people. But at the end of the day, the real question is, did you do this or did you not do this? WHY does not matter in the least. You still did it.

(For me, that was really the first major step towards getting better--that, and accepting the truth that I just can't handle alcohol. I don't have a "stop" button. Period.)

After you own your own story, smudges on the page and all, you can then see where your own actions don't align with your values and examine why you chose to compromise them. For me, I found that a fear of some kind was usually the culprit. Take lying, for example. Some people exaggerate their accomplishments or just make up stuff because they fear people won't think the real them is good enough. Or we lie because we fear some other negative consequence--"so and so will leave me," or "to admit to that is to mean I'm a little sick in the head" or "someone who would do that is selfish," and it can be tough to realize you've been acting out of these fears. Or that sometimes you've been making crap up to keep yourself from facing them head on.

But what I learned in rehab is that even people who'd done some godawful things were still wonderful people. Some kid who'd been a gangbanger and still acted like a punk most of the time was somebody I didn't really care to get to know at first--until one day, a stray dog wandered onto the property and I watched him with the dog. I saw so much love and concern for this helpless creature being expressed by that kid that I saw him with entirely new eyes. I talked with him a few times after that and I realized he was actually okay. He'd just been running with the wrong crowd.

Nobody is a perfect person. So rather than beating up on myself for being a dumbass sometimes, I realized I needed to forgive myself and just STOP doing the things that didn't align with my values. You don't want to be a liar? Don't lie. You think you may have some unresolved emotional issues? Get help. You don't want to be a drunk? Don't drink.

And then self-love and self-esteem will return to you.

Having been to hell and back, see it for what it is: a gift. Forgiving yourself makes it easier to forgive others. Loving yourself makes it easier to love others. You learn that happiness is totally within you and is not a thing someone else can give you or some possession can give you.

You set your mind free.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

So... the Jamestown Story

George Percy
I've finally got a little time to settle down and write the promised personal "story behind the story" regarding Jamestown Colony. If you'll recall, some time back I had my DNA tested by 23andMe, and I wrote about it here. Since getting my results back, a handful of people at that website have contacted me to say we're related based on certain genome matches (the company estimates things such as 3rd, 5th, 6th cousins, etc). But I was unable to tell them how we might be related without having a family tree done.

Well, so now I've embarked on the genealogy wagon on, and I have to say, I'm finding out some interesting things. First of all, I've debunked two "family legends"--that we are related to Mary Todd Lincoln and Ralph Waldo Emerson. There is a Mary Todd in our tree, but she is not the one who married Lincoln. And, there is also a Ralph Waldo Emerson, but he is not the same man who was a Transcendentalist and wrote the wonderful essays. But one "legend" is true: both sides of our family have been in America since its founding. I've got Quakers on one side and Revolutionary soldiers on both (including a Capt Mordecai Abrams from London, who fought in the Revolution and was Jewish! on my father's side.)

But this brings me to Jamestown Colony. One of my ancestors is an English gentleman named George Percy, who arrived with the first three ships to Jamestown Colony. His father was Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and his mother was Lady Catherine Neville.

Back to the story. George Percy actually had the highest social rank of every last gentleman on that first trip to Jamestown. I suppose we can guess that he was new to hard labor (although he was an experienced soldier). But he also had terrible asthma and quite possibly suffered from epilepsy. Thus it's not really a surprise the colonists didn't put him on the Virginia Council. Once Capt. John Smith, Gabrielle Archer, and John Ratcliffe took over the colony, poor old Percy became their subordinate and did as he was bidden.

However, he must have gained enough respect since he became president of the colony after the departure of Captain John Smith. But it was during Percy's tenure that Jamestown went through "the starving time" discussed in the video below. Even though Percy kept a record of his time at Jamestown colony, he never mentioned cannibalism--though if he knew it was going on, that's not really a surprise since it would reflect poorly on him. Besides, he was ill so often that he pretty much left the colony in the hands of Archer, Ratcliffe, and another fellow named John Martin. 

In June 1610, when Thomas West (also my ancestor), the 3rd Baron de la Warr, arrived just in the nick of time with more colonists and supplies, Percy gladly gave up his position to him, although he chose to stay at Jamestown. At that point, the colonists were finally able to gain a foothold in the area, largely because they went on a slaughtering campaign of the local Indians. I don't mean just the Powhatans, either. La Warr himself made use of Percy's military experience to send him and 70 men to annihilate the local Chickahominy and Paspahegh Indians. Because of this, de la Warr made Percy Governor of Virginia in his absence, having been called back to England, and Percy held that post until he returned to England in 1612.

Here's the thing that astonishes me: despite his health issues, Percy was at Jamestown Colony from its founding in 1606 until he left in 1612. So many men died--at one point, they were down to just fifty--yet Percy managed to survive the whole time. When he departed, he left a wife there (Anne Percy), so perhaps he intended to come back. He did not make it back, and she died in 1618. He also left a daughter there, Anne Claiborne, who wound up marrying John R. West, the grandson of Thomas de la Warr. John West became the 3rd governor of Virginia.  Their daughter, Alice, married one Thomas Harris--and then it's a straight line to my mother, Joyce Harris Luck.

So, it's an interesting story and interesting that I have a personal attachment to it. I can't say I'm fond of the fact that my ancestors slaughtered Indians, but the flip side of that is that they played a very large part in the founding of this country we now call the United States of America.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jamestown Colony

This is a little small, but if you have a Netflix account, you can also stream the whole documentary on your computer from there. Just search for National Geographic's "Nightmare in Jamestown." Check my blog some time soon for a personal story behind the story.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Are You Here?

What is your soul's purpose for this incarnation? Think hard about what brings you the most joy. Is it, in fact, to find joy? Peace? Happiness? To fight for what you believe in? Is it money? Is it love?

What brings me the most satisfaction is serving others, helping others, or, at the very least, making others smile or laugh.

Then consider what your unique talents are. Mine are writing, clear expression (with a fair amount of humor), diplomacy, and to a lesser degree the arts (painting, playing music). Then put the two together to make a kind of "life objective" statement. Mine goes something like this: I teach and I write with the goals of helping students gain writing skills they will need to succeed in life, and I also try to open their eyes and help them care about the human condition. I try to do so without cracking a whip and breaking down someone's hopes and dreams--though I stick to standards because I'm not serving someone well if I pass them and they're not ready. I draw, I paint, I play music, I kid around to share the human condition as well, but also to spread joy and love. And sometimes I write specifically to share things I hope will help others in some small way--or maybe even a big way; one just never knows.

Sure, I occasionally get tired and whine and moan and complain, but really I'd have it no other way. I'm truly blessed to do work I find meaningful and to also have hobbies that serve my goals, for, ultimately, helping others helps me to evolve and become a better person.

So, why are YOU here?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Last Week of Summer Session, Oy

Well, it's arrived. The good news is it's the last week of summer session. The bad news is it's the last week of summer session. GOOD because afterwards, I get a short break to catch my breath and get ready for fall semester. BAD because this week the Writing Center will be crazy full of students who've slacked off all semester about getting appointments in and their hours done; there will hardly be a moment to breathe or even run down the hall to pee because the stand-by list will be packed full of kids sitting there waiting and hoping that somebody flakes on an appointment or an appointment will run short and we'll be able to squeeze them in. As a bit of an empath, I feel their tension and worry and even rage that there aren't enough of us to see them all. Oh, I'll throw up a mental cone of protection to ward some of those negative energies off, but it can be tough to block them all off.

And then there's my own frustration I have to keep in check, especially with the students who sit down in front of me for their first lab visit of the semester, not caring what kind of help I give them with an essay--some will even outright admit with a shrug, when I ask them "what can I do for you?" "Whatever. I just need a signature." I do my best to summon patience and peace because I know the situation they're in is not my fault--but it's still just a hard week to get through without my own stress bursting through and giving some of them a not-so-tactful piece of my mind.

Oh, well. I've survived it before; I'll survive it again. Meanwhile, I find it helps to meditate and ask the God of My Heart to help me put forth my best and to not get lost in the worst.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Izzy's "Somewhere over the Rainbow" All the Way Through

Okay, well, I showed off my new ukulele my in-laws gave me in my last post, but I failed to mention how nice this one really is. Not only is it a concert uke, but the top is made of Hawaiian koa wood and the inlay is rosewood. It's truly a beautiful instrument.

Now, those following me on Facebook know that I've been trying to learn Israel (Izzy) Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow," which honestly probably isn't a hard song for more experienced ukulele players to play since it consists of only seven chords, but being more accustomed to guitar, I'm having to adjust to much skinnier frets and having only 4 strings as opposed to six or twelve. So the chord shapings are completely different, and the other odd thing to me is that--well, if you even want to consider it a bass note--the lowest note is on the second string from the top. So an open strum sounds like complete discord.

But, brave soul that I am, I've now pretty much learned the song all the way through, although not by heart. So in the video below, I was following along with a video with the words and the chord changes, and it froze on me for a moment and my reaction was to say "fudge." Except I didn't say "fudge." You'll get my meaning if you're familiar with A Christmas Story.

Anyway, here is my first total pass through of the entire song, including me singing, so you're just gonna have to wince your way through the bad notes I hit. No worries, brah, my friend Lisa will be joining me sometime this weekend to sing it and she can actually sing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Temple of Horus at Edfu

Here is my latest painting. As you may gather, it's the Temple of Horus at Edfu, Egypt.

Some background: we visited the temple at midnight under May's full moon. Hence the full moon in the painting, although I was so awed by the colossal "supermoon" last month that I took the license to use that instead.

The painting depicts the view of the entryway pylons from inside the temple in the courtyard. This is basically what it looks like, except the Eye of Horus is not on the pylon, and the statue of Horus is elsewhere in the temple (if memory serves, this one is right outside the Hypostyle Hall, but don't quote me on that).

The entire temple is all about the triumph of light over dark. In Egyptian mythology, Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis, and he kills his evil uncle Set, who had killed his brother Osiris in a fit of jealousy, cut his body into 14 pieces, and scattered him all over Egypt. Isis patiently goes in search of each piece, conjures Osiris by magic back together, and then Osiris goes on to rule the underworld. Each Egyptian king or pharoah was seen as the falcon god Horus, whose job it was to ensure the protection of Egypt from chaos and the continuation of ma'at (truth, justice, order).

But humankind faces a continual battle over darkness and light--the struggle of the Soul to evolve, be purified, and achieve mastery over our most base, selfish, and materialistic desires. Hence behind Horus I painted his shadow (what can I say, I like Carl Jung), ever present and looming. And hence the entire painting shows the interplay of darks and lights. However, the nighttime light (the moon) dominates the painting to display light's ultimate triumph, keeping darkness and the forces of evil in check. The Eye of Horus, a symbol of protection from dark forces, oversees it all.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Back and in a Better Mood!

Yep, when you're grumpy, nothing will cheer you up like shooting a few bullets at imaginary people who get on your nerves!

Actually, as I joked on Facebook, no living critters were harmed in the making of this film. Chelle and I had the rifle--and this is only a Marlin .22 with bipod and scope--set up on the balcony surrounding her parent's house. Chelle had gone out onto the property and tacked up several targets to trees and tree stumps, all at different ranges. This was my first experience with using a scope, so the first issue I encountered was whether or not to keep my glasses on. Ultimately I decided it was easier to shoot without really using them because I am (primarily) near-sighted, so the scope does the job my glasses would do anyway. The bigger problem is that it's more comfortable to me to aim using my right eye. Aiming with the left feels weird to me. That's a problem because I have astigmatism in my right eye, and the glasses correct that. Still, the scope allowed me to shoot accurately enough. The major problem I kept wrestling with was my annoying habit of zeroing in the bulls eye in the cross hairs, then instinctively leaning in closer to the scope when I'd go to pull the trigger. Every time I did that, my beautifully aligned target would go black. Argh! I felt like James Thurber in that famous story he wrote about his failed attempts in science class to successfully look through a microscope at a slide.  "Thurber!" roared his teacher. "You're looking at your own eye!"

But with a little practice (and patience with proceeding slowly--and why not, since the targets weren't exactly moving), I am proud to say I didn't miss a single target and actually even hit a few bulls eyes. (These were neat targets, too, that showed a differently colored splotch where the bullet actually hit.) Here is my best shot on the first day--on the second day I did a little better, but I didn't take photos-- and here is a photo that shows you the approximate distance from the targets to the house.

Bulls Eye!

This was the distance from the closest target.

I asked Chelle how she'd rate my shooting, and she said, "Not bad for somebody totally new to this." Psssssh. Leave it to Ms. Alpha Dawg Deadeye to let me know I need to get significantly faster and better. LOL

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bleah. Ugh. Ack.

Well, heck. I must be in trouble. A couple of people close to me now have asked me if I'm okay.

The short answer is "no, not really." The longer answer is that I'm depressed. Ugh. No idea why--it's not like something has happened to cause a case of the blues. And, it's not sad depressed, such as uncontrollable sobbing. It's lethargic-depressed. I'm just not in the mood to do anything. (Well, except for maybe painting and watching a couple of tv shows--and even then I have to muster the energy to do that.) My job isn't bringing me joy this summer. Playing Castle Age on Facebook suddenly seems less like fun and more like a job, too. I must do this; I must do that. Frankly, I just don't feel like doing anything.

I keep searching for "reasons"--maybe just the anticlimactic feeling one gets after doing something really exciting, like the trip to Egypt. Except... I've been back for a month now, so you'd think that have passed.

Or maybe it's hormonal. Or maybe I've just been eating too much junk (ice cream) and am experiencing blood sugar crashes.

I post silly jokes to try and be funny, and I'm happy to say I haven't totally lost my capacity to smile, but then last night I got dinged by Facebook for violating the Terms of Service. Apparently somebody reported a joke I'd posted. What's peculiar is that I'd found it on Facebook and merely shared it. But I'm not even upset about it. What I feel is disappointed that whoever reported it didn't feel they could simply directly ask me to take it down if they found it offensive or inappropriate. Now, see, I'm left wondering whether the person is just someone who is uptight, or whether they were afraid their kids might see it, or....? So I'm left in the funny position of not knowing whether or not I should even care.

Which makes it hard to, well, care.

So, sorry my blog has been quiet lately. It's because I've been occupying this weird mental space. I'm sure this, too, shall pass. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

On Spirituality

You don't have to experience addiction to have gone through hell, but tremendous suffering of any kind has a way of cracking you open--which feels terrible at the time, but as you heal, you realize that wound has also opened you up. Judging others, following the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law, telling other people how to live, are all concerns that fall by the wayside. What's left is gratefulness and love. Embracing that is a beautiful thing.

Your empathy sparks awake, you feel compassion for others in pain, and the last thing you want to do is feel anger and hate--because so much of that was what you experienced when suffering.

Pursue peace. It's up to each of us to evolve and make a heaven of the Earth we all inhabit.

Friday, June 28, 2013

New Painting and Happy Pride!

Well, Egypt continues to inspire me. Here's the beginning of a new painting. They always start off looking like a mess. But we visited the Temple of Horus at Edfu at midnight, under a full moon, so I'm going to try to capture the feel of that mystical place. The statue of Horus isn't actually behind the first pylons like that, but I want him to be in the painting, so as usual I'm not going for utter realism but more for recapturing the emotions I felt.

Speaking of which (emotions), it's been an up and down week. First SCOTUS undid part of the voting rights act, which no doubt will lead to all kinds of attempts to disenfranchise certain groups of voters. Still, the country is rapidly heading for a non-white majority (this is already the case in California), and the GOP will have to find a way to attract these voters instead of resorting to gerrymandering, or it will die off as "the party of the past." That may not be a bad thing. Its social authoritarianism has been a turn-off to a lot of fiscal conservatives, who otherwise don't care about things like birth control, a woman's freedom to choose, gay marriage, and the like. We could use a new party or two anyway. I know even I am tired of some of the Dem's shenanigans (its getting right on board with the GOP on domestic spying and NDAA, while trying to water down the 2nd Amendment to silly extremes--I mean, a .22 rifle with a 10-round magazine classified as an assault weapon? That's just dumb.) And both parties are in bed with Wall Street and the big banks anyway.

But then, of course, came the real upper: Prop 8 is dead and so is DOMA! I remarked on Facebook with my usual dry sense of humor that it's so nice for others to decide that others can't decide whom I may marry. It is, of course, rather ridiculous that we have to have this debate at all, since marriage stopped being solely a religious institution ever since the government got into the business of handing out marriage licenses and giving certain tax breaks and other benefits to married couples. Still, being legally married in California when my other gay friends have not been able to do so themselves has ... well, been a weird feeling. I can say with all certainty that in the past five years, since Chelle and I and 18,000 other gay couples have been legally wed during that time, the Church has not been thrown into disarray, none of my straight friends have divorced, and in fact several straight couples I know have gotten married, so the institution of marriage seems alive and well.

Oh, and no worries, y'all, about gay marriage opening the door to people marrying their dogs or cats or whatnot. Animals are unable to give consent and thus may not enter into a contract. Neither can children, who are legally underage.

It's PRIDE weekend and I'm still debating over whether or not to head into the city on Sunday to watch the parade and partake in the festivities. This year's should be a particularly joyous party. A lot may depend on the weather--it's been blistering here, and the city should be cooler. Plus there's just something energizing about watching all the dancing queens. FINALLY there is something to truly celebrate this year!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Contribution to Peace

My dear friend Lisa and I attended a peace meditation in the Peace Garden at Rosicrucian Park in San Jose today (a fitting thing to end the summer solstice weekend, don't you think?) and ran into some friends from the Egypt trip (Hi, Carlos! Hi, Jacquie! Hi, Monica!) and made a new friend, Cassie. This was a powerful ceremony because we were reminded that all wars are fought by humanity's "lesser instinct" to control--to take another's possessions, or to impose their culture or religion on others, or to seize control for some other political reason. We were then asked to reflect upon the ways in which we all "war" with others in our own daily lives, in even the smallest of ways. We then concluded by meditating on the following:

Words to live by.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Power of the Heavens

You know, there are all sorts of interesting things going on in the sky right now. This summer solstice weekend coincides with a "supermoon," or perigee, when the moon is closest to the earth, so when the moon is full, it looks huge. The best viewing should be tonight and tomorrow. You can read about it here, or if it happens to be cloudy where you are, see it on Sloop.

But that's not all. There's also an interesting alignment that's been going on in which the Earth on the summer solstice is pointed directly at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Read more about that here.

Just a month ago, I was in Egypt for the full moon, when another interesting alignment was taking place as we were touring the Temple of Horus at Edfu (at midnight, go figure). It was powerful to see that Temple bathed in moonlight. The celestial alignment at that time was of Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus, which is comparatively rare. It all added to the mystical impact of the visit.

The heavens affect the tides, affect our moods, and though I'm not the sort of person who reads my horoscope every morning to see what's in store for Geminis, I do believe there's much truth to "As above, so below." There is simply an extra element--a mysterious one--that exponentially increases the power of meditations and charges the Soul when things are going on with the heavens. As Carl Sagan famously quipped, "Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bob Dylan: "The Times They Are A-Changin'"

I post this in honor of my young friend, Jeff Williams. Youthful adepts like him give me hope for the future.

While you're at it, check out his books on Esoteric Science, Vols. 1 and 2. Jeff was kind enough to credit me as editor of Vol. 2, but really all I did was copyedit the work. There was simply no need to edit his research, style, or vision. If you begin with Volume One, you're in for quite a journey.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Homage to Sekhmet, Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt

Now, my friends on Facebook have seen this painting because I posted pics as I was working on it, but now I'd finally like to write a bit about what inspired it. It represents what I experienced in the Chapel of Sekhmet at the Temple of Karnak, and it honors the goddess.

A brief history lesson for those who may not know: Sekhmet was the Egyptian goddess of war, protection, and healing. She was depicted with the face of a lioness and her breath was said to have created the desert. Most statues of her show her seated on a throne, but the statue in the Chapel of Sekhmet features her standing and holding a staff with a lotus atop it.

When we visited the Chapel, it was before sunrise. We'd arrived at Karnak early (as we did for many sites) for several reasons: to beat the heat and the tourists and to watch the sun come up there, which creates beautiful reflections in the lake and lights up the monuments in astonishing ways.

Now the Chapel itself has been closed off to tourists for about forty years as that section of the Temple is undergoing renovation (although I'm sure with appropriate baksheesh, some of the temple guards are more than willing to allow people to have a peek if they promise to not damage or deface anything). But since it was still dark, we had only a few candles to light our way, so we filed in silently in single file. Once in, the person leading us held up her candle to we could see the statue. We spent some time there taking in Sekhmet's energy. She is a powerful presence. I felt that she sized all of us up, was satisfied our intentions were good, so she settled down to listen to our inner requests.

Since Sekhmet is the remover of obstacles, I touched the statue briefly and asked for assistance removing the obstacles I feel have always gotten in the way of my being my whole, true Self: fears and anxieties, primarily; but also a tendency to being judgmental and snarky when compassion would serve others and me much better.

Afterwards, we all gathered on a small hill to watch the sun rise, and here came the power of the experience. I heard Sekhmet speaking to me. (Yeah, yeah, I've gotten all woo-woo on you; you'll just have to take it for what it's worth.) She wanted me to know that anger is not always bad. She said there are worthless fights, true; but she was insistent that there are righteous fights and that I must stop backing down all the time in the name of peace. One can fight without resorting to actual violence. The other thing she wanted me to know is that it's not so much fear that stops me at times: it's my own mind. If I would just follow my intuitive impulses and do without thinking so much, I'd blossom like a flower. I actually answered her back on this one: What about reasonable caution? She didn't answer but found my question highly amusing, and I felt a gentle, protective touch before she departed.

It still takes my breath away just remembering it.

And thus I made a painting.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Angel Island Immigration Center

Where immigrants first set foot on American soil
So, for our birthday weekend (mine's the 14th, Chelle's is the 17th), we both wracked our brains trying to figure out something special to do that didn't involve traveling out of the Bay Area. Seriously, we've done everything from Bodega Bay to Carmel. Finally we landed on something we hadn't yet done--catch the ferry out to Angel Island.

I think most people know of Angel Island because of Escape from Alcatraz--that's where the escaping prisoners were headed in 1962 because they figured everyone else would assume they'd headed for San Francisco. Of course, the way the Bay goes, they'd have been lucky to make it between the frigid waters and then fighting the current that sweeps towards the Golden Gate and out to the ocean.

But Angel Island is also famous because it's the West Coast version of Ellis Island. Here is where immigrants wishing to enter America would land, be processed, and be on their way to make it in the land of opportunity. Except... that's not how it really happened. The majority of immigrants entering on the West Coast were Chinese, and they were severely impacted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The only way they could legally enter the country was to prove they already had relatives on their father's side of the family here. Proof was not easy to provide, and they were subjected to long, repetitive interrogations; often denied entry, they would appeal; be denied; appeal again and so on. At Ellis Island, where immigrants were of European descent (white), there were no such problems and processing took usually only several hours or at worst several days. At Angel Island, processing took several weeks if they were lucky and some remained in detention for as long as months or years.

The living conditions were not grand, to say the least. They were housed in barracks, the men separated from the women, and except in the case of very young children, children were often separated from their mothers. The dorms in the barracks were cold and drafty; rats ran rampant; the mess hall food was abysmal, and there were always water shortages, so showers and flushing toilets were a luxury. One doctor commented with disgust upon his view of the place:

Of course, the irony is that it's precisely those Chinese characters on the wall that now make the Immigration Center so remarkable. It turns out they are poems. The poems are everywhere. Homesick, lonely, desperate, sometimes angry, the detained Chinese took to carving poetry all over the walls of the barracks--quite literally the first examples of Chinese American literature we have.

Here is an example of one, and just imagine them, hundreds of them, covering the walls:

Numerous signs are posted in the barracks offering translations of some of the poems. Two that particularly spoke to me follow:

The feeling of the place is simply melancholy. Even though later on, during World War II, the Immigration Center housed some German, Italian, and Japanese prisoners of war, the walls mostly exuded sadness. And why not? To travel across the sea to the Promised Land, only to be treated like a criminal upon your arrival--despite attempting to enter the country legally, does give one pause. This is America: will we ever stop fearing perceived threats and fanning the flames of hatred? Or will we always just substitute one group for another as soon as the perceived threat proves itself groundless?

I was heartened to see these words posted from Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Well, I was left with much to think about. Other than the old Immigration Center, I should hasten to add that Angel Island isn't a total bummer of a place: there is much excellent hiking, and the views of the Bay Area (from Mt. Tam to even San Jose on a clear day) are breathtaking. The only way to get there is by ferry, either from the city or from Tiburon, and many people bring their bikes. There are also the remnants of an old Civil War fort (with cannon batteries, just in case Confederate ships ever attacked San Francisco, which never happened); Fort McDowell (a jumping off point for soldiers serving in the Pacific Theater of WWII); and even a now-decommissioned silo that once housed a Nike missile.

But obviously the biggest impact on me was the poems. For a 12-minute video on the story behind the poems, take the time to view this story from KQED, our local PBS station.

Happy Daddy's Day

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.  Funny to think that you've been gone now longer than I knew you while you last traveled this earthly plane. Still, I think of you often and continue to feel your presence. I told you I'd finally get to Egypt, and I did! I'll be listening for you on Angel Island today..... 

Friday, June 14, 2013

I Adore My In-Laws

That's right. Even a newly minted 51 year-old can still get her rock-and-roll on.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Soul Alignment

Check out this guy! Now, the video is a big tease because he never actually plays the instruments; he just demonstrates them. But I was intrigued enough to go to his website and purchase a CD and was pleased to get a personal email from him containing details on how to use the CD for the best effects. I intend to use them in meditation, so I'll report back later on what, if anything, happened.

As a Rosicrucian student, I'm a huge admirer of the Master Pythagoras but frustratingly horrible at mathematics. It's one of the reasons I can't read music--I have a total mindblock because it's too much like math. So playing guitar is utterly intuitive for me. But nature is a huge math and music project: everything is energy, vibration, consciousness, and once you realize that and start tinkering with that (New Age peeps would say "raise your vibration"), you really do start perceiving things that have always been under your nose but just couldn't see them before.

I'm still processing things that happened to me in Egypt, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to talk about them without sounding like a total wackjob. Suffice it to say that being surrounded by 40+ other intuitives visiting all these ancient mystical sites opened me up in ways I hadn't anticipated. I heard things and saw things that, well, I suppose the Syfy Channel would call "paranormal," but really it's not. They're just "extranormal." These things are always there and available to us but most of us are closed off to them. So I came back more open and I want to stay open, bloom even more, in this continual quest to seek the Divine.

Pythagoras called music "A soul alignment." Our bodies are our instruments: we must continually tune them, or attune.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Meet Metal Peacock, Justin Bieber

Far be it from me to even try to top the Bloggess and her famous Beyonce, the metal chicken, post. In fact, if you haven't read it, you must--it's here.

It's one of my favorite blog posts ever. I'm also 100% sure Chelle has never seen it.

So, imagine my stunned surprise when I came home from Egypt to find this metal peacock in our house. It even swings back and forth. Do you remember those little fake birds that would swing back and forth as if dipping their tiny beaks in a birdbath or a cup of water or whatever possessed their owners to place in front of them? When I was growing up, it seemed like everybody over 50 had one on a windowsill.

To my relief, Bieber the Peacock (thus have I dubbed him) isn't meant to stay in our home--he's a gift for Chelle's dad, who likes metal sculptures, and the added bonus is his peacockness (Bieber's, not Chelle's dad's) because our 2 year-old nephew, Christopher, likes peacocks. So, when Christopher visits his grandpa, he'll have Bieber to play with.

In the meantime, our cats have Bieber to play with. Jerry particularly likes him.

Jerry hearts Bieber

Belmont Pick 4 Ticket

Here is what I wound up doing. I went with "most likely" and then some longshots, using what Chelle calls the "Ortiz angle." (Those brothers have been hot at Belmont this meet.)

Honestly, for the Belmont Stakes, I think the Derby trifecta shows up here.

Race #8    06/08/2013
$0.5 Pick-4
# 3,6,7
WT # 1,3,4,6
WT # 1,6
WT # 5,9,14

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tomorrow's Belmont Pick 4: Clueless!

Well, the track should be muddy for the Belmont Stakes tomorrow, so I'm looking for the mudders and the ones that are bred to get the distance. Orb, Revolutionary, Golden Soul, and Will Take Charge are the four that float to the top. Oxbow should get the distance, but you don't really wire the Belmont unless your name is Secretariat. Unlimited Budget can handle an off track but is a little questionable at the distance. She will also get bet down because she's a filly, Rosie is up, and people are hoping for another Rags to Riches. A lot of 'cappers are also liking Freedom Child, who wired the Peter Pan over this track when it was sloppy. Then again, as I said, you don't really wire the Belmont Stakes.

The one million guaranteed Pick 4 begins with Race 8, but that's a turf race and god only knows if the race will be over the turf or the main track. Mizdirection and Better Lucky have both won over a sloppy dirt track. The rest are a question mark on dirt, and who knows what the scratches will be. But it's a strong field: Hungry Island, Stephanie's Kitten, and Centre Court are all contenders. Dayatthespa can't be discounted, either. So, now I've just named the entire field with the exception of one. Given that, I may just go with the ones offering the best value and keep my fingers crossed for an upset.

Race 9: I like four: Capo Bastone, Zee Bros, Clearly Now, and Declan's Warrior.

Race 10: Another turf race that may wind up on the main track, but if you're looking for a single, it's probably Point of Entry. Optimizer, Bombaguia, and Twilight Eclipse are possibles.

But honestly, I have no clue what my Pick 4 ticket will look like until I see the scratches. Given that, I'll post my ticket here tomorrow once I make up my mind.

Update: this morning's news is that the rain has tapered off and the sun is peeking out, so the main track may actually be pretty dry by the Belmont Stakes. Also, the two races above on turf are remaining on turf, though naturally it will be yielding. No info yet on scratches.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


So I have a week and a half before summer session starts, and even then (since I tutor in summers), I won't have to bring work home. This means I can read for pleasure!

On my plate: Zahi Hawass' book, of course, and then another one I'm halfway through that I picked up in Egypt called Omm Sety. I also have already dipped into a novel called Azazael by Yossef Ziedan, which won the Arabic version of the Pulitzer or Booker Prizes in 2009. (It's about a monk, not a demon.) On my Kindle I have Dan Brown's new novel and a couple of Maggie Hope mysteries by Susan Elia MacNeal, Princess Elizabeth's Spy and His Majesty's Hope. I'm also about halfway through Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander. Thus, Tigger is in her happy place.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

So, How Safe Is Egypt? And, Some Travel Tips

The Egyptian flag
A few people have asked me now what it was like to travel in Egypt, was it safe, were there any negative encounters and the like, so I thought I'd give a simple answer and then a longer answer: It's safe for Westerners, and now is actually a very good time to go, since tourism is down due to these kinds of fears, and the Egyptian pound is not as strong as it once was. So actually you can get some real bargains when shopping!

And now for the long answer, along with some other tidbits. Our group had the pleasure of listening to several Egyptians speak about the revolution and the current state of affairs in that country. Really, it's not much different from America on that front. There's some suspicion of government, distrust of the media (propaganda), a genuine desire for democracy, freedom, basic rights, and a stable economy. They feel hopeful--even though everything is not hunky dory at present, the precedent set by the revolution has empowered them. When the people joined together, their voices were heard. The older generation feels that it's now up to the younger generation--those who started a revolution on Facebook and Twitter (imagine!) to keep fighting the good fight. The previously conceived class division of haves and have nots was shattered: the revolution was started by educated youth of some financial means, speaking out in support of all Egyptians.

The reason Mubarak (President from 1981-2011) was ousted is easily understood. For a long time, he was perceived to be a good President. But as he aged, his wife and son started taking over some of the policy decisions, and corruption entered the picture. The son appointed friends to cabinet positions and it seemed likely he was headed to step into his father's shoes. The people felt their concerns were being ignored, and they didn't like the nepotism, bribery, and mishandling of funds. So they took to the streets in protest. After a few days, Mubarak appeared on national television appealing for order and making various promises to improve the situation, and some were willing to give him a chance. But then Mubarak's army began shooting protestors the next day; needless to say that did not go over well, so a full-fledged revolution took place. It hadn't even been planned.

Then came the elections. Well, there were only two candidates: Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (they had been repressed under the Mubarak regime, many of them jailed) and a candidate whose name I forget who'd been in Mubarak's party. One thing that people did not anticipate was how organized the Muslim Brotherhood was. I heard lots of stories about them paying poor people bribes for votes and others speculating that the election was rigged. Morsi also made tons of promises to the people about how their lives would improve, and, of course, none of those have panned out, and now the consensus seems to be that he was just telling the people what they wanted to hear but had his own agenda. The people do not want Sharia law written into their Constitution; they want free and fair elections and a Supreme Court not stacked with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. "The Muslim Brotherhood--they don't represent Muslims," said one person. His point was that Islam stands for peace and that true Muslims respect religious freedom. Although Egypt is largely Sunni Muslim, there are also a fair number of Coptic Christians (and some Jews), and they all get along just fine. Crossing the countryside, I saw many churches and mosques standing side-by-side. When I hurt my knee and room service showed up with a bucket of ice, the attendant said to me quite respectfully, "I will pray to my God that you feel better," and I took that in the spirit in which it was given and thanked him. At no time did I feel criticized or disliked for being a Westerner. In fact, more often than not, when our tour bus blew by any group of people, they would wave "hello" at us and smile.

Any lingering strife in Egypt seems to be between Morsi supporters and those who don't support him. Those who don't support him are waiting for the next election and trust they will be better organized the next time around. Before I left for Egypt, I kept close tabs on the US State Dept news of Egypt and stories in our own newspapers, and there was some to-do about "protests that frequently turn violent" in Cairo. Well, on the bus, we passed by a protest on the way to the Cairo Museum. There were about 40 people standing on one side of the street across from a Marriott Hotel, several blocks away from the American embassy (and, I presume, other embassies and government buildings), and all they were doing was holding signs. So our press tends to overblow stories as well, I think.

In short, I felt safe and welcomed. Consider that tourism is about 70% of the Egyptian economy and that tourism is down, as I said, and in general, Egyptians are delighted to see us. One thing I found interesting was that many vendors seemed to prefer to be paid in American dollars as opposed to Egyptian pounds (one dollar = seven pounds at the current rate of exchange). I expect that's so because they expect their currency to continue to lose value. Dollars may increase in value. So, if you go, bring along lots of ones and fives for tips, along with a credit card, and there's not much need to hassle with exchanging American dollars for Egyptian currency.

Even the Morsi government is dedicated to making Egypt safe for tourists. Military is stationed at every major tourist attraction, and twice we had to get a military escort for places we were going off the beaten path. Well, I take that back: Abu Simbel isn't really off the beaten path since it is a major tourist attraction, but travelers there still need a military escort because it's so close to the Sudanese border. The other place we went that the military insisted on following us to was the El Fayyum oasis (and town), but I'm not sure why. Maybe it's just a rule. In any case, better safe than sorry, although I will say as we were leaving Lake Moerris and returning to our bus, somebody out in the countryside started blasting the Qur'an from loudspeakers. It wasn't the typical muezzin doing his call to prayer. So, maybe there is a pocket of more radical Islamists in that area. Who knows? In any case, when our bus went back through the town, people still waved "hello" at us.

Other things about Egypt to know (that either charmed me or surprised me): public restrooms are a mixed bag. Some are clean; some are not. You do not flush anything down the toilets; you wipe and toss the used bathroom tissue into a basket. As you can imagine, some restrooms can get pretty rank. By the end of the trip, I was preferring to use the bathroom on the bus, and with a busload of 40+ people using it, that should tell you something. But, when nature calls, nature calls. Expect to tip for using the bathroom. Toilet paper isn't kept in the stalls; you are handed a small amount of paper by an attendant when you enter the bathroom. When you wash your hands, you are handed more toilet paper to dry them with. This is why you tip. But this is just public restrooms: hotels are normal.

Unless you are in a store where prices are fixed, expect to bargain when you buy an item. Your first offer will be highly inflated. Say the seller wants 500LE (pounds) for something. Offer 50. He'll say 300. Offer 100. Then refuse to go over that price and start to walk away. He will chase you and say "Okay, okay." Or, he'll continue haggling and throw in more stuff for free. For me, haggling is a headache. (But I'm an introvert.) I'm pretty sure I overpaid for things a couple of times, especially when I'd get the whole song-and-dance about the seller having five children at home and needing to feed them and so on. Truly, I'm a softie, and it was probably obvious. So I didn't mind overpaying at times, especially if the vendor wasn't too pushy. Consider that 100LE is just $14 and that I make in a month what they make in a year, and it was hard for me to argue too much. I rarely accepted change and just told them to keep it.

When leaving Kom Ombo and the Temple of Sobek, one guy approached me, and I didn't even want what he was selling, but he was so gentle and non-aggressive in comparison to the others swarming around us, I told him, "Put out your hand." I slipped a 200 pound note into it and kept on going, walking down the gangplank to our ship. I heard a "Lady!" called out from the shore and turned to look. There he stood, blowing kisses at me. That made my day!

I also received a proposal of marriage--some of the vendors will flirt shamelessly if they think you will buy something. I said I was already married. He said, "Egyptian men can marry up to four wives!" I laughed, but it's true. One of the temple guards we met had three and joked that he was looking for a fourth. He had to be at least sixty years old.

Which reminds me... after the revolution, when there was chaos due to no government and no police in force, there was a small amount of looting, which is to be expected. (Can you imagine no government and no police in this country? I doubt the amount of looting or crime would be small. Yet order largely remained and the crime rate didn't go up in any significant way.) But the one guard with the three wives got his whole extended family to come out and guard the Temple with him. As for the Cairo Museum, a few thieves did break in, looking for gold and for a substance supposedly placed into ancient mummies called red mercury. It's supposed to have all sorts of divine and healing properties, but according to Zahi Hawass, it's bogus and no such thing exists. Newspapers reported that Tut's death mask and all these other artifacts had been stolen, but Hawass says that isn't so. (And if Tut's mask was stolen, that's a mighty fine copy in the museum now, I hasten to add. It looked real to me.) A few mummies were vandalized along with a few small statues, but the damage was minimal. Hawass (Director of Antiquities under Mubarak, so he's no longer in that position) says that during the revolution, when he saw on television that the Cairo Museum was being looted, wanted to rush there right away, but he wasn't allowed to go. Despite the danger at the time, he went there first thing the next morning, only to be greeted by a chain of Egyptian citizens, armed locked together, standing in front of the museum to protect it from further looting. Emotion entered his voice as he was telling us this story, and I was deeply moved.

All in all, the Egyptians are a good, caring, loving people. When I was walking down the stairway to visit the Temple of Luxor, I misstepped and wobbled for a second, and the veiled Muslim woman on the step in front of me quickly reached out a hand to steady me. "Shokran" (thank you) is a word I found myself using a lot.  And I cracked up Housekeeping on the Nile cruiser by asking for a lesson in how to pronounce "Es-salam 'alaykom" (hello). Later on, when one of them saw that my friend Lisa was suffering from a bit of King Tut's revenge, he brought her a cup of peppermint tea, which is very good for soothing the stomach. Point to remember: don't drink the water, and don't eat anything that's uncooked unless it's a fruit or veggie that has been peeled. But that's generally true of any country you visit outside the US.

What else? Ah, yes, traffic. The only rule that seems to apply is direction. Otherwise, there are no lanes. People make their own lanes; needless to say, most cars you see on the road have scratches from being sideswiped. You can also expect to see motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic (the women ride sidesaddle!) and the occasional donkey cart, plus pedestrians crossing even freeways. Cairo is a traffic nightmare. Still, in Cairo, our bus got trapped on a side street because of a car that had double-parked, and at least 6-7 men in the neighborhood came to the rescue to help direct the bus inching forward and back and to look for the owner of the car. At one point they actually picked up the car and moved it forward a few inches. There really is a strong sense of community in Egypt that is sorely lacking at times in America, at least in the heavily populated metropolitan areas. "Don't get involved." "It's not my business." "I might get sued."

And finally, if you visit Egypt, you'll notice that many of the houses stand slightly unfinished even though people are occupying them. That's because there's a law that states if you buy a house and it's not completed, you don't have to pay taxes on it until it's done. So, Egyptians don't like paying their taxes, either. What's not to love about that?

Egypt is so much more than pyramids and temples and tombs and hieroglyphs. (I feel like I'm writing a travel brochure, hmm.) These were my reason for going, but I'm bringing back so much more than that. Another is a greater appreciation for the things we do have here in America: decent hospitals, free K-12 education, good roads, sturdy housing. We take so much for granted, but by comparison, we have so very much. Egyptians and Americans, I think, could learn a lot from each other by sharing the best of each other.

On that happy note, I'll close. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Video of Egypt Trip

Old Cairo--Armana (Ahketaten)--Lake Nasser and Abu Simbel--Nile cruise--Temple of Horus--Temple of Luxor--Temple of Seti I/Osirion, Temple of Hathor at Dendara--West Bank/tomb of Ramose/Temple of Ramsses III--Temples of Karnak--El Fayyum/Lake Moerris--Giza Plateau (Sphinx and Great Pyramid)--Dashour/Sakkara (bent pyramid, red pyramid, step pyramid). Background music by Diane Arkenstone, "The Secret Chamber" and "Seduction" from CD "Echoes of Egypt," available on iTunes.