Archive | August, 2011

College Smart: The Value of Music

College Smart: The Value of Music

Posted on 25 August 2011 by Michelle Reed

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Why Nature Matters! Mexican Nature by Tanya Huntington

Why Nature Matters! Mexican Nature by Tanya Huntington

Posted on 24 August 2011 by Patricia Gras


As you all know on Living Smart we appreciate nature and what it does for our soul. I had the opportunity to meet American artist, photographer, writer  Tanya Huntington who lives in Mexico and came to Houston to share her work in an exhibit “Mexican Nature”

Tell me about the exhibit.
This project is titled “Mexican Nature” and explores a traditional dichotomy in the arts: urbi et orbi, urban vs. natural settings.  In this case, the images being contrasted through visual arts and poetry have to do with a series of trips across the Republic of Mexico I have taken over the course of the past two years.
How and why did you pick the areas of the country to visit and take your photos or write your poems.
At first, I was lucky to be in the company of one of the continent’s top nature photographers, Antonio Vizcaíno, who does wonderful work with his NGO, América Natural. He showed me the ropes, so to speak, and I benefited enormously from his perspective and know-how, since before meeting him I had been an “asphalt flower,” as they say in Spanish, for many years. Then I received a grant from the National Fund for Culture and the Arts (FONCA) to continue the project on my own. My idea has always been to visit locations where there is still pristine Nature (while these places still exist), and stay there for a few days–longer than the average tourist, let’s say. The experience of being outside, as transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson would have advocated in the 19th century, is compared and contrasted with our 21st century anthropocentric and largely urban worldview, under which natural resources are over-exploited, finite, and often endangered.
What was your favorite part of this process? What was the most challening

My favorite part without doubt was getting back to Nature, as they say, and how inspiring that has been.  Realizing that you can step outside the rat race and think and create outside the box. And realizing that I am fully capable of trekking, swimming, climbing into a private plane for a close-up view of a volcano crater, camping for weeks on end, etc. The most challenging part has been the danger inherent in travel in Mexico: from military blockades on the highways (no horror stories to tell there, fortunately) to a confrontation in Campeche with a local custodian of what are known on the map as natural reserves (he had been drinking too much and was carrying a machete).  Then there was that bout with dysentery in the tropics…
Your poetry and your work show the disconnect between nature and human beings. What was the underlying motivation for you to talk about this subject? It is so essential and yet, few intellectuals hardly mention it.

In general my work has always been about examining topics considered passé or obsolete and questioning why that is. In this case, given the widespread destruction of natural areas, I have also wanted to explore how our aesthetic view of Nature has necessarily changed due to this circumstance. In Mexico, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, it is increasingly difficult to find panoramas that do not feature human impact. This means that rather than our environment, or surroundings, Nature has become something urban and rural dwellers alike have to search for–almost as if we were on a quest–because only glimpses of it can be caught in our day-to-day existence.
On your performance, you talked about Te white goddess by Graves. What does that mean?

As you were able to observe, during the performance I gradually “erase” myself with white clothing and body makeup. On the one hand, this is about trying to subversively revert anthropocentrism.  On the other, I am trying to evoke those primordial goddesses that Robert Graves writes about in his thematological book because she was prevalent in human society at a time when coexistence with Nature was, perhaps, a factor as well as the control and exploitation of its resources. Ever since childhood I have been a fan of Artemis and her ilk.
Do you believe so called progress requires the destruction of nature? Can the two coexist?

I believe that since the Industrial Revolution, when we became obsessed with progress, it has been based on bad management of natural resources.  Obviously, once you have cut down all the trees, there are none left.  Once you have depleted the oil reserves, there are none left.  Once you have polluted all the water–and so on and so forth.  With a world population of over seven billion, we must urgently change this suicidal tendency and promote sustainable management of our resources. I am not saying, “go out and live in the wild”–although I know a writer, Leonardo DaJandra, who did that for almost thirty years. Rather, I am saying that we need to preserve the wild in order to survive as a species.
There’s a huge feminism movement that advocate in favor of nature. Can you elaborate on that?
Since Lovelock in his Gaia hypothesis called the Earth a superorganism nearly a half century ago, there has been a tendency to think of Earth in the feminine, as our Mother.  Is that what you mean? I believe that all of humanity, men, women, and children, should become advocates in favor o Nature.


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What do Birthdays (aging) really mean?

Posted on 14 August 2011 by Patricia Gras



I am no longer 20, 30, 40 or 50. I have been on the planet for longer than I could imagine. The fact is when you are too busy living, you don’t think much about your age. That is until others remind you how old you are. They can’t help themselves. They must sing Happy Birthday to you as part of a rite of passage. So I just keep passing and passing and the years go by and I am still at 30. I feel 30. I can’t tell my age. (Yes, I know I am not 30) I wonder if others can. I didn’t know what I was supposed to look like at this age. I didn’t know that my joints and muscles and other body parts would hurt or start hurting. I didn’t know much about menopause either.  All I knew is that I was not supposed to want to get here. In other words. AGE. Yes, it is part of life. We must AGE. Many women particularly worry about this.  We live in a world where women who are pretty, young and athletic are the ones who are popular and featured in the media. Those of us who are no longer considered those traits are supposed to worry.  We are getting older and our so-called knights in shining armor may no longer find us attractive, sexy or desirable.  This is the time many men leave their partners for younger women and “older” women have to start over.  But here is my question. Do I need to fight aging by worrying? Doing plastic or bariatric surgery? Using a different type of make up or clothes? Or do I just accept this is a process and I have to embrace it? I believe both are true. I have to accept it and I don’t believe I have to take all these drastic actions, but I must do something for myself. I must find what it is that brings me joy. What can challenge my brain? What will keep my body fit and what it is I am supposed to eat to stay young or younger.


What brings me joy is my work, so I am safe there. I love what I do. I always have and I always will. That’s half the battle since we spend most of our time in our jobs. Yes Ladies and Gentlemen. We spend 30 to 70 percent of our lives doing our jobs. I can’t imagine living my life hating my job. Some may say. I don’t have a job! That can be worse, though some people find hobbies that bring them joy and fulfillment.  If you are over 50 and you still hate your job, consider taking some career development or career planning courses. Read, “What Color is Your Parachute.” Do some soul searching. It is time. And don’t find excuses that you can’t because you have a family to feed. We all do. Everyone has responsibilities but what are you here for if you are miserable? What is the point of living if you can’t enjoy it? Changing careers or jobs does not mean you end up in the streets. It means you get out of your comfort zone and begin to look inside and out to find what makes you tick.


The second challenge is keeping my brain fit. This is a tough one. I tend to forget things. Don’t ask me why. Am I aging? ADD? Too busy? Too nuts to know? What do I do to avoid this? Learn new languages. For you, It might be taking a course in mechanics, or basket weaving or biology. It has to be something intellectually challenging. Not necessarily something you love and is easy for you. I remember my most challenging subject was economics so I ended up getting a degree in it. (I hate being bored, that’s probably why I have not had too many long-term relationships)

You have to do things that challenge you intellectually. If you watch Fox, begin watching John Stewart! If you watch MSNBC go watch fox!  Open your brain. Don’t get comfortable and don’t fall into routines. I only read such and such. I only watch such and such. BORING! That  WILL certainly help you age faster!!!


How to stay fit. That is also challenging. I made a decision that no matter where I am. I have to move. I don’t sit around. I can’t afford to. No excuses. I don’t need a gym. All I need is music and a desire to move. If there are stairs, I use them. If I park, I do it far away so I am forced to walk. When I am at home I either dance or do housework and just MOVE. I do some weights in between.  I do this every day. I also weigh myself every day. I just can’t let myself go. Staying thin and fit takes work.  There is no magic pill, exercise, and affirmation if you don’t do the work. Period.  Just do it!


Meditation is not for everyone the way we think of meditation, but if you breathe and think about it, you are in fact meditating. Prayer is a meditation. Walking can be a meditation. Being in nature can also serve as a meditation. I wake up every morning praying and I do the same before I go to bed. I don’t do it for my brain. I do it for my soul and because I love God and my soul needs to communicate with my master. I also do it because I am eternally grateful God has give me my life.


I can’t stop the fact that every year, people insist on singing me Happy Birthday and that there is a number attached to my age that changes. A lot of other things come along with my age, but I am not about to get upset about it. I choose to live my life fully with all the aches and pains and the joys and surprises, the challenges and the failures, the wrinkles and the disappointments. I choose life and that takes work. Keep singing me Happy Birthday. The day you stop, is the day I have to knock heaven’s door and hope they’ll let me in

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Prayer and Hope

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Patricia Gras

What I am grateful for:
My belief in the power of prayer

What I learned this week:
I can choose what I think. By changing a negative mindset I can change my life.

I can do something about injustice in the world because I live in a powerful, generous and compassionate nation.

What I learned this week: I am not a victim. I can choose to be proactive to change the world.
that is why I joined this campaign to stop violence against women
Patricia Gras

What I am grateful for: I can choose to make a difference. I can choose hope over despair.

What I learned this week. I can do something to bring misery to an end by concentrating on what I can do instead of pointing fingers.

The stock market is on a roller coaster ride. People are dying of hunger in Somalia. There are riots in London. Climate disasters including tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and droughts are almost a weekly occurrence.  The economy is bad EVERYWHERE. Many CEO’s who bring their companies down get bonuses for their hard work and it appears politicians only care to win elections despite the horrible consequences of their actions or inaction. To top it all, it is hot!

Virtues such as ethics, integrity, compassion, tolerance, prudence seldom make the news. Many are suggesting we need a revolution. I say we need a “renewal.”

Americans have what it takes to take their country back from the greedy. They are everywhere….In government, corporations, institutions, neighborhoods.  It is time for those who believe in these virtues to stand up for what is right. WE need to believe in ourselves again. We need to be born again. We can’t keep pointing fingers at everyone else, because we need to start with (as Michael Jackson used to sing) the “man or woman in the mirror.” That’s you and me.

I can only share what I have done to live in peace despite the chaos surrounding everyday life.  I focus on improving my relationships. I keep an attitude of gratitude and I make every effort I can to be kinder, more understanding, more joyful and compassionate with the people around me.   Am I successful? Sometimes I am not. There are times I want to throw the towel and stop believing things will get better, or that people will wake up, or that the planet is not suffering.  I do know I have to be the change I want in the world. I want to be the peace I want in the world. I know this for certain, if I can’t find that within me,  I sure won’t find it elsewhere.  Think about it. You can make a difference. Start today.

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Sparking Creativity

Posted on 09 August 2011 by Patricia Gras


BY Julie Blanco and Patricia Gras

Dr. Raul Cuero thinks children and adults are  both at a creative disadvantage when born into luxury.  He begins to say that creativity deals with how you precede nature. You have to be a good observer of nature and understand your place in it. Children today are spending too much time indoors on computers and are given a limited scope of the world in which they are living in. “They need to spend more time outdoors, making observations and playing with nature because whatever we do with equipment, whatever we do in term of ideas, everything come from nature [sic].” Cuero believes another problem is happening to children’s creativity. Since children are spending so much time on electronics, they are experiencing a lack of communication. He believes that “ideas emerge from interaction with other ideas.” He stresses the importance of interacting with others. Simply sitting on your porch drinking tea with a friend can spark creativity by bouncing ideas back and forth in conversation. A misconception that Cuero noted is that you learn by reading.

On the contrary to learning straight from books, he believes that you learn by doing. A problem that comes from this is that children are not able to think for themselves. Many times they are stuck in situations where they have to follow strict instructions and are left with no opportunity to create. You need to use your hands and play with nature to create new thinking. Cuero says, “When you do something you have many questions, and when you have many questions, that’s the way you have creativity.” Cuero thinks college students also  pose as a prime example of the creative disadvantage epidemic . As a college student you spend the majority of your time studying, doing projects, and getting distracted by the internet and phones. Students have become captivated by the ever-so-popular social networking sites of Facebook and Twitter and also with the evolving phone technologies.

If you walk across a college campus you will see a mass of students on their phones surfing the internet, texting their friends, pretending to text their friends so they’re not just awkwardly standing around, and on the rare occasion, actually making a phone call. The problem with this picture is that students are relying on technology to communicate and build relationships with others rather than doing so face to face. These students need to find a way to break the cycle of sitting inside and being on a computer all day. They need to enjoy friendships and embrace the outside world more frequently than when they walk to class, that is if they even go to class.

Fortunately, there is a way for University of Houston students to find a way to spend time outdoors with their peers. This can all be done through a program called Outdoor Adventure. While participating in this program, students are introduced to outdoor activities in hands on, learning experiences. Students are able to soak up the essence and beauty of nature while spending time with old and new friends.  Activities that support this include the use of the Climbing Wall in the rec center, day and overnight trips across Texas, Educational Series to learn the basics of outdoor skills, and Teambuilding for group and individual development through experimental activities. The Outdoor Adventure program provides students with a sense of accomplishment, and even contributes to the development of leadership, communication and problem solving skills.

Do you think you are creative? How do you feel we can embrace our creativity?

Julie Blanco is an intern for Patricia Gras at Houston PBS. She is a University Studies junior at Texas A&M University.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this blog entry are not necessarily the views and opinions of Houston PBS.


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