Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Rubens in the Prado

     Peter Paul Rubens. How his name conjures images of hefty women--but this painter is so much more. His painting is luminescent, literally larger than life. And the Prado offered two massive rooms of his work. He is epic, mythic--taking the tales that have inspired mankind and translating them into oil on canvas.

    At once both sublime and sensual, not words, nor the pictures here can convey how beautiful his work is.

Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma, 1603...Image via Wikipedia     The first painting I saw as I entered was "Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma." It had to be fifteen feet tall and if allowed to touch the work, I would have sworn you could feel the satin in the horse's coat. This picture does not do the work justice.

     Included in this room was a series of work depicting the apostles--many rarely ever exhibited.

c. 1625                                Image via Wikipedia     In "Abraham Offers the Tithe to Melchizedek," Rubens captured the concept of the tithe. Melchizedek is resplendent. You know he is God. And Abraham is rich and powerful, still he bows before this king and offers him a tenth of all he has. The humility, the grandeur, the positive qualities of God and mankind are captured in this work.

Rubens Adoration of the MagiImage by André Durand via Flickr
     "The Adoration of the Magi" was  massive, luxuriant, gorgeous. Inspired by Titian, the little image here does not do this justice.
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pros and Cons of Spain

     Our visit turned up some delightful Spanish concepts--ones I think we would do well to adopt here in the U.S.

1.  They do not waste.
  •      After we found the car we hid underground in Spain (see first Spanish blog), I couldn't get the lights to turn on in my room. With no knowledge of the hotel extension and the fact that my Spanish stunk almost as bad as the clerk's English, I returned to the desk. It turns out, in order to turn on the lights and TV, the guest must insert her card into a slot against the wall near the door. It turns on the lights. When you leave and remove the card, lights stay on for about 30 seconds, then automatically go off.
  • The hallway lights are motioned censored, so they're not on all the time--only when someone needs them.
  • They use ceramic cups rather than the American paper cups that fill our trash cans.
2. With that last thought in mind--they take their time.
    A photo of a cup of coffee.Image via Wikipedia
  • I ordered a coffee at an outdoor kiosk. It came in a ceramic cup. I sat, and drank it before I wandered about the attraction.
  • At roadside stops, the coffee isn't to go. We sit, relax, enjoy and then travel.
  • Meals out take a long time. You enjoy conversation and drinks and each stage of the meal.
3.  Obesity is rare--or at least to my eyes.
  • Snacks come in small quantities. (Snack sized containers).
  • People don't walk around with their "sippy cups" of soda or coffee or whatever.
  • People walk places.
4.  They are energy efficient.
  • Windmills dot the landscape.
  • There are fields of solar panels.
  • The railways are cheap, reliable, fast and ubiquitous.
  • Their cars are fuel efficient.
5.  The people are friendly and trusting.
  • One man left his shop unattended to help us find our way.
  • The man from wom we rented our apartment needed a small bit of coaxial cable. The sales clerk gave him the entire role and said, take what you need, bring the rest back and I'll charge you.
  • In one store, we browsed about five minutes when another customer came in. It turns out, she was the clerk who apparently ran an errand.
6.  The countryside is preserved and the little guy can make a living.
  • The villages nestled together. When the town ended--the countryside began. I saw little urban sprawl.
  • No mega stores--Walmarts or Home Depots or Best Buys stole all the industry. Mom and Pop grocers thrived along with the Mas Y Mas chains. You could shop in dozens of privately owned stores to find your needs. Few malls exist.

Spain, of course, has its flaws. But I learned to slow down, to savor life and enjoy. I would love to return to a simpler life.



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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Living Like a Spaniard

Mountains outside Alicante
The Calpe W

        We left Ronda and traveled six hours to the coast. The scenery changed--often times becoming the bland rolling plains similar to central Spain. At the coast, things changed. Jagged, bare mountains rose to the left of us, the Mediterranean rolled out to the right.                                            Calpe. Located on the Costa Blanca is landmarked by the giant Pinon Ifach--a Gibraltareque rock rising from the Mediterranean. Two sandy beach curve away from Ifach's peninsula creating a geographic W. Once explored, Calpe doesn't offer anything too exotic.
      We walked the beach. Daily we visited grocery stores--Spain has many on every few blocks as all the refrigerators we'd seen were tiny, apartment sized appliances. Our top floor apartment offered stunning views of the sea and the fishing fleets and the beaches, but we had no TV or radio, no Internet. We had each other and quietness.
      As we neared the end of week two, the desire to return home beset us. As Americans--and me--as a DeFord--we were used to going all the time. Used to rushing through lines, grabbing our "sippy" cups of coffee or coke and getting it done.
     Throughout Spain, if you took a cup of coffee it was served in a ceramic cup meant to be drunk in the establishment that sold it. If you nursed it for hours, that was okay. You had time. Time was free. Enjoy it.
     Somehow I slowed down. I found myself sitting at Spasso's, a seaside cafe, nestled in a leather chair. For a euro, I'd order my coffee (no refills), use their free wifi and enjoy "human" contact, sea breezes and sunshine.
     Slowing down, enjoying life, and appreciating my own person circumstances became three Spanish characteristics I don't want to lose.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Standing Upon the Rock

     As my ship glided past in the night, I strained to see the mighty British rock guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean. Darkness swallowed it and we sailed on to Cadiz. This time in Spain, I would not only see Gibraltar, or Gib as the locals affectionately call it, I would climb it.

First commercial Iberia flight lands at GibraltarImage via Wikipedia     A chance to speak English and the evocative power of the Rock of Gibraltar drew us to the tiny British outpost. The town itself crowds itself on the western slope of the giant rock. To get in, we had to go through British customs--more a formality than an actual inspection. We then walked across the airport landing strip and entered the town.
A can of Coca-Cola Light coffeine free.Image via Wikipedia     We took a cable car to the top. Here we stopped of a can of Coca Cola light and walked out onto the patio to catch a glimpse of the formidable rock. The sign out of the cafeteria said no food was allowed beyond that point. Of course that referred to food--not our drink. I brought my freshly opened, expensive can of Coke out onto the patio and placed it on the binoculars pedestal and pointed my camera.
     Before I realized it, a Barbary ape with her baby snatched my soda, ran to a clear space in the middle and took a sip. It turned out she didn't like Diet Coke and left the can and me not knowing if I should laugh or scream at losing my soda.  Didn't those apes know they were supposed to be living halfway down the mountain?
     The views were breathtaking. Neil and I explored the top, walked down, saw hundreds of apes and incredible views. We walked and walked and walked and walked. Came to a dead end, backtracked and walked some more.
     At Casemates Square we ate fish and chips, then wandered back across the landing strip and back into Spain. A delightful, British day.


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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

El Castillo de los Reyes Christianos

             The ILT (AKA GPS) got us to Córdoba fine. It’s very good with its gross motor skills. However, once there, it took us down "streets" that made the roadways of Arriate look huge. The tires of our tiny Clio scrubbed the curbs of these two way streets.
            We found a parking spot—somehow with few problems once we got to the real roadways and set off to find the Mezquita. I asked—people told me to walk through the arcos, turn derecho or derecha—two distinctly different meanings and voilà. Or I should say hay usted.
            We wandered through arcos and little streets and asked once more.
            “Vaya por los arcos…”
Those words were spoken at the speed of light, so I understood only the hands. I have learned the language of hands well.
We walked through another arch, and before us spread what I thought was the Mesquita. It cost less to enter than guidebook said the Mezquita should and it certainly didn’t match the descriptions.
Had we seen the Castle after the grand cathedral of Córdoba, I would have thoroughly enjoyed every square inch and lingered throughout the afternoon—but anxiousness to see the former mosque took away the glory of this old castle.
A fortress, today almost a perfect square, had sat here since Roman times—and it grew to serve the purpose of various dynasties. Its final design settled in 1327 under the reign of Alfonso XI.  However, the gardens demonstrate the Arab influence. They reminded me of the Alhambra, only more impeccably maintained. Ponds and fountains, flowers and trees, all made this an exquisite experience—one not to miss.





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Friday, November 5, 2010

Córdoba—Introducing the Mezquita









             Leaving the mountains of Andalucía, we found the first “wetlands” of our trip. The land leveled out and the city of Córdoba rose before us. Here we visited two magnificent buildings: the Mezquita and Le Castillo des Reyos Cristianos (The Castle of Christian Kings).
            The Mezquita—no picture we have can do this justice. It was a church in Visigoth times, turned into a mosque and returned to a cathedral. When you enter the cathedral, 850 red and blue columns surround you, a visual forest—too dark and too grand to capture in a photograph. At one time, archways opened to the Patio de los Naranjos let light pour in. When made into a cathedral, beautiful windows filled in the archway.
            In the far corner (facing south, which is unusual) is the Mihrab, the mosque equivalent of a high altar. Muslims faced the Mihrab, a fixture in all mosques, to worship. Ornate as all Arabic architecture, the photograph doesn’t capture the beauty of three thousand pounds of glass and enamel decorate it.
            In the center of the room, sixteen columns were removed to make a chapel, fronted by the Royal Chapel—a burial place for kings—never opened to the public. However, Córdoba was kind, and the chapel is not entirely walled off. The dome and the walls can be glimpsed—stunning.
            In the Tesoro (Treasury) is a HUGE monstrance—the Christians wanted something glorious enough to hold the body of Christ. During the Feast of Corpus Christi, sixty days after Easter, they still parade this through the town.
            Then we come to the Cathedral itself. Glorious in gold and silver and carved mahogany.
            España—muy guapa.
           
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Ronda-

            Set in the heart of Andalucía, in the beautiful Serranía de Ronda mountains. Its gorge—El Tajo—is a 360 foot drop of breathtaking beauty. The New Bridge (Puento Nuevo) was built in 1751 and still supports cars and tourists and still displays the glory of this countryside.
View from Puento Nuevo
            After walking over the bridge, I travelled down to the bottom of the gorge along a dirt path with no guard rails to the Jardines de Cuenca—a feat unacceptable in the US. Worth every breathtaking step (literally). Stunning.
Puento Nuevo from the Jardines de Cuenco
            In Moorish town, behind tiny (two way) streets that barely fit one mini European car, lay the city walls. Walking through arches and down cobbled steps, we arrived at the Arab baths. These were well preserved—used during Arab occupation for hygiene as well as socialization. From here, you can get a faboulous view of the old bridge (a relative term)—also still in use.
The Bullring
            The bullring, a quarter of a mile down the road, birthed the “art” of bullfighting in Spain. It originated as a training grounds for soldiers and has developed into an art form. The fight takes place in three acts: the first is a parade, the second a lot of fancy tricks by the matador, the third features the kill. And the kill is barbaric. Picadors pick the bull with darts to “drain” the stress of the journey and the matador, with a curved blade, must stab the bull in the precise spot to kill it instantly. In Ronda, only one bullfighter died in the ring and his remains were buried there.
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LOST (Part 2)

            …So we unloaded the few little things we had in our Hobbit room (except it was up and not down). It had to be no more that 15’x15’ with a king sized bed. I felt like Alice when she grew too big. We then began our search for our car.
            Neil swore he’d find it. Remember, it was buried in a garage somewhere in Madrid—but we really only had about a kilometer radius to search. I’m not sure who was the silliest—Neil for saying he could find the car when he gets lost in Plattsburgh, or me—for believing him. I guess desperate minds believe anything.
            We crossed the bridge with no problems. But then—all the roads here fan out from traffic circles. I think we had four choices. I followed Neil up one. About a quarter of a mile up he said, “This isn’t right. I think it’s the other.”
            We walked up that one—again a quarter mile. This road had wrought iron fences like the one where we parked the car. But again—the wrong road. Back we trudged and then up a third, then back, then peaked down the fourth—obviously wrong.
            We started the process all over. Finally we took a little road along the “river.’ (They appear to be not much more than evaporating creeks). Little things began to look familiar—a bench, the park along the river, we turned up a side road because of obstructions and what did I spy? The wrought iron fences.
Renault ClioImage via Wikipedia            Two more streets and the cervasaceria we stopped at came into view. We turned back down the road and there stood our garage. We scurried in, found our itty-bitty Clio and drove to the hotel.
            Our twenty-five minute trip lasted over three hours.
            Now all we had to do was figure out how to turn the lights on in our room. (Or how to use a bidet—what use are they?)
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

LOST (Madrid Style)

            It was an omen. After four hours trying to get a Blackberry set up for our overseas adventure, as I sat in the airport in NYC, I couldn’t make a phone call. As I waited for my plane, I decided to call my mother and tell her how easy it would be for her when she joined us in Spain. The call wouldn’t go through. If it didn’t work here, how could it in Europe?
            I took a deep breath and decided to act grown-up about it (and you know how well I do that). After an uneventful and sleepless flight we descended to Madrid. With our landing, the European attitude descended upon me. Calmly, with patience, I passed through customs, presenting the entrance paper filled out on the plane. The custom’s official handed back the receipt—one I needed to present upon returning—the one that couldn’t be lost. I tucked it into my passport. And yes—but you’re getting ahead of the story.
            We picked up our bags, decided to change some, not all our money—mistake two. Got our car and a GPS which should more accurately be named ILT (I’m Lost, Too). Thus ended the well-planned version of our trip.Night view from the Gran Vía, a downtown avenu...Image via Wikipedia
GPS navigation solution running on a smartphon...Image via Wikipedia            We decided to drive south from Madrid because we had a seven hour layover in the airport—we could drive faster. We’d stay in a hotel whose name we couldn’t pronounce. It was located a mere twenty-five minutes from the airport, and we’d walk about a bit to get the feel of this foreign capital, find a restaurant and enjoy.
           "ILT" didn’t know where the hotel was. She directed us through the city all right, brought us to a road just minutes from our destination, then sent us into a tunnel.
            And the tunnel went on and on and on and on. And on. (It was a LONG one).
Once back in daylight, wandering crowded streets with no names posted, with directions in spewed out in meters, “ILT” wended us through the shoppers and tourists and Madrilejos, back onto a major road, and somehow back into the same tunnel.
We took a different exit from the tunnel, wended other unfamiliar streets, took a side road, a quick exit onto another road and…yep. The tunnel.
I think we hit that thing four times. Each time, as we entered, the "ILT" told us we would be at our destination in one more minute. It would display the little checkered flag announcing our arrival just as daylight disappeared from the tunnel and we lost satellite reception.
Finally out once more, we took fate into our own hands. We were near our hotel (albeit in two hours rather than twenty-five minutes). We found a garage. Parked. Neil, who did all the driving—(thank you, Jesus)—wanted to take a cab.
We found a Cervaceria, got a Coke, took a bathroom break and asked directions.
And can Spaniards speak fast! The waitress drew directions on a napkin. Somehow we figured she said we could walk faster than we could drive. And I understood next to nothing.
I should say nothing. I couldn’t even follow her directions on the napkin.
We took a cab.
And in two minutes we arrived at the hotel. Neil assured me he could find the rented car, parked in an underground garage, on an unnamed street somewhere in Madrid.
And I found that believable.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

I Fell In Love: Sarah

     Thirty-four years ago I met the most wonderful person I've ever known. She lay on my belly, her beautiful round face staring up at me. Eyes bluer than any robin's egg held mine. I fell in love with the child who would become my closest friend.
     She's a faithful friend. Once the bond had been made, Sarah will not abandon those she loves. I've seen her hurt and listened to her tears over a friend who would no longer return her love. Sarah has a plethora of good friends, but she grieves over the one lost one just as Jesus mourned the one lost sheep. She continued seeking the connection that broke and her love an persistence restored it.
     No mother could be so devoted. All who meet her children acclaim their goodness. One couple decided to have children because of the example set by Caroline and David. Why are these children good? Because my daughter pours love and discipline into them.
     Sarah will sacrifice time on holidays--and her own family time to travel to be with family. As most live on Long Island, the few vacation days she has are spent catering to the needs of those she loves. She drove 300 miles one way, on a weekend, just to attend my surprise party (and surprise retirement fete). She couldn't dream of missing it.
     Her talent amazes me: look at her photography, photoshop skills, scrapbook pages. She plays the flute and oboe and designs amazing rooms in her house.
     She adores Jesus, loves her family and Neil and me. My best friend and kindred spirit.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bullfighting

Manzanares_naturelle.JPGImage via Wikipedia
Do you know where in Spain bullfighting was born?
Why was this event created?
Why do they call the  rings: "Plaza des Toros?"
Why is the cape red? Who is the most revered bullfighter in its birthplace?
Before going into the ring, where does every matador stop?
Where in the paper will you read about bullfights?
Walkway named for Ernest Hemingway, Ronda, Spa...Image via Wikipedia*****************************************************
Shortly, Neil and I will be heading off to Spain--and forcing our travelogue on anyone sweet enough to read my blog. One of the first places we'll travel is to the birthplace of bullfighting: Ronda, Spain in the Andalucia region. It began here to train knights in combat.

Ronda actually uses a ring and always has. However,  bullfights used to be held in the village square, thus the term Plaza des Toros.

The most revered bullfighter in Ronda is Francisco Romero, who, according to Rick Steves, melded chaotic and noble bullfighting to create the current format. He is also credited with the using the red cape. The bull is color blind and the color of the cape was probably used to camouflage the blood. His son Juan made it more an art form and his grandson, Pedro, who killed 6,000 bulls in his career.

Ronda (Spain), Chapel Templete de la Virgen de...Image via Wikipedia
As bullfighting is an "art," the results are found in the culture section of the newspapers.

Last of all, the last stop a matador makes before entering the ring is at the chapel--he prays to Mary in hopes of seeing her again.

Unfortunately, (Or probably fortunately for me) we won't see a fight. They're held in September. We will however tour the ring.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Case for Intolerance

I will climb out on the proverbial limb and utter an obscene word: intolerance. Sometimes it's good.


Take for example smoking. When I first began teaching, smoke swirled around my classroom. I asked for an air purifier and got this teeny little machine that had minimal effect on my air quality. My room abutted the teachers' room. It had no outside windows and the the smoke wafted through the cut-outs in the ceiling that allowed the fluorescent lights to run.


We all experienced smokey restaurants, businesses, homes, cars, mass transportation. Today, no one can light up on school property--not even in their car with the window rolled up. Smokers used to congregate at doors of businesses and stores to smoke. Today, many places require that they stand a distance away from the entrances. We no longer tolerate the health destroying effects of tobacco.

The same goes with dog droppings. Years ago, no one cleaned up the "litter" and only the property owner was expected to scoop the poop--or the walker, in whose case had to scrape the poop. Today our local rec park stocks plastic bags to make it possible to clean up after dogs. Homeowners will stop recalcitrant dog owners and insist on this basic decency.

Restricted To Adults Aged 18 And Over Sexually...Image via WikipediaWe've become intolerant of sex abuse--those guilty can never erase the stigma of their crimes; intolerant of physical abuse; intolerant of driving under the influence

Isn't it time to become more intolerant? Cursing? Indecent clothing? Sexually explicit comedy on sitcoms? Stereotyping Christians as intolerant or hypocritical? Sexually active behavior? Pornography?


Without foregoing mercy, love, kindness--without forgetting Christ's forgiveness, we need to take a stand against what is offensive and wrong, refuse to accept it. If we do, perhaps these behaviors will follow in the fate of second hand smoke and dog doo-doo.



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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fourth Amendment Rights

The fourth amendment to our constitution states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." 
The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments t...Image via Wikipedia 
Increasingly, our government is violating this right in the name of safety.
Anyone who has read my blogs or facebook posts, understands my position on airline searches, especially the new scanners which create a virtual strip search. We've heard about Arizona's law that questions suspected illegals when stopped for a traffic violation.
How many have heard of the search and seizures here in northern New York?

The border patrol has the right to stop any public transportation within 100 air miles of any international border, including coastlines. According to Udi Ofer, a lawyer for the ACLU, 2/3 of all citizens live withing this area.
In effect, the agents can board any bus or train or boat and if they suspect someone of not being a citizen, they can demand to see their papers. However, in this country, it, so far, has not been mandated that we must carry proof of citizenship at all times.

In the feature case, a Chinese student who attended Potsdam State was arrested under suspicion of something. He ended up in varying jails for four months. Meanwhile, all his papers were with the sponsoring teacher. Unfortunately, he returned to China and his parents will not let him return to the United States. It is sad when China feels we are too controlling.

In a similar vein, my friend and her husband stopped about a half-mile from the U.S. border. He needed to fish out his enhanced ID which was in his wallet and on which he sat. When he arrived at the port of entry, the agent asked him why he stopped a half mile away. He then sternly warned him to not stop until he got to the station. How did they know he stopped? What difference does it make?

A good female friend with red-headed and fair-skinned was stopped, frisked, manhandled and handcuffed at the border. She had the misfortune of bearing the same name as a black man on the wanted list. The same thing happens repeatedly to Sylvie Nelson of Saranac Lake. She's stopped repeatedly, handcuffed, frisked in front of her kids because her name is similar to a black man's from Georgia. She's cleared each time, then stopped the next.

Sadly, Big Brother is watching and we may need to head to China to find some liberty. 
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lucky Baby by Meredith Efken

If you love the cliche and love to predict the outcome of conflict, if easy answers is your comfort in a good book, then skip Meredith Efken's Lucky Baby.

Her book presents a poignant look at four dynamic characters as their lives change when Meg Lindsay decides to adopt a child from China. As the principal violist for the Noveau Chicago Symphony and a Christian married to an atheist physicist, Meg and husband Lewis, decide to adopt a little girl with a cleft palate. With a child in their home, Meg knows she'd create the idyllic life.


However, the arrival of the child, Eva Zhen An, forces Meg, Lewis and Eva's devoted friend in China, Wen Ming, to confront the mother issues that have wounded their lives.



No answers come easily. No choices are made because of the obvious. Warm. Funny. Poignant. Laced with the highly poetic magic realism, Efken's book is guaranteed to touch your life and stay with you for a long time.



I recommend this book without reservations.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Life on the Ropes

This image was first published in the 1 st (18...Image via Wikipedia
I can't believe I get paid for teaching the high ropes course. Sadly, I don't get to zip down the zip line or fly like a squirrel, but I watch people conquer fears and push themselves beyond their comfort zone. Their tasks look frightful, but really, so much safety is woven into the fabric of the course, that one has to work hard to be in danger.


We start by tying a double Studebaker. One probably would hold, but he put in a double. Our final square knot has two safety knots. This harness is then checked by the instructors. The belayer wears her own, with a friction device, and heavy rope, she attaches herself to the climber after checking her harness. This would be about the second check.

The climber, attached firmly to the belayer, climbs the zip tree. At the top, his harness is checked again. She stays attached to the belay rope until she's tied onto the zip pulley. Every caribeaner is squeeze checked--before the climb begins, as the harness is swapped out.


It's then she gets to zip down the steel cable that had been inspected. Layered under all safety protocols are the years of training the teachers and inspectors hold. The course is designed so that if one tool fails, another will hold.


So, too, with God. We are told Galatians the works of the flesh, as defined in The Message:Is "...trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness;  trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits;  the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn't the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God's kingdom."


Why is sex out of marriage bad? Getting tipsy? Working for the most toys? One upping our neighbor? Some of these things, in themselves, may not hurt us or others right now. However, eventually, a sinful lifestyle will hurt us and others. When we're tipsy, we may flirt. When we flirt, we find ourselves falling in love. Then come affairs, sexually transmitted diseases, destroyed marriages, ruined health, death. One drink, like our harness not tied with a square knot, probably won't kill us or ruin our lives. However, if we get behind the wheel and our charmed life flee, what can the consequences be?

Be safe. Obey God. His ways are not designed to ruin our lives, but to save them.













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