Friday, October 17, 2008

Family Bonding With Catalogs

In this world where we seem to be going paperless - email instead of handwritten notes, online bank and credit card statements, even virtual checks - why do we all still get so much junk mail? Most of the cleaning I do when I attempt to straighten things up around here is the removal of junk mail from every horizontal surface in the house. There is a lot of it. I often wonder what the success rate for junk mail is. What percentage of responders is necessary to make it worth while for the retailers to bombard our mailboxes with advertisements that clutter our minds and tables?

Unsolicited catalogs are a different story. I love to look through catalogs - Levenger, Yarn Barn, L. L. Bean, Acacia - it doesn't matter which one. Perusing catalogs provides the thrill of the chase without any real temptation to buy. Sometimes looking through catalogs allows me to come face to face with the absurd. I often find myself asking questions like "Do people really buy these things?", "Does anyone really need that?", or "Who do they think can wear that other than that model in the picture?"

That last question struck me as I sat looking at the Victoria's Secret catalog while eating a piece of fudge left from last weekend's trip to the State Fair and having just had a plate of nachos for dinner. Obviously it is not me who is going to be wearing that thong I saw in the catalog! If the truth must be known, I'll take fudge over a thong (or a thong figure) any day!

It was not so much the contents of the Victoria's Secret catalog that caught my attention, but the way it came addressed - to the Elliott Family. I am all for encouraging family values, but I don't think sitting around the dinner table and discussing the merits of the push up bra verses the full coverage bra is the best means to family bonding, though around here some interesting conversation may ensue. In a household of open minded and open mouthed girls, the potential conversation starters sparked by the catalog are endless.
  • Hey Dad, would guys rather see the wild side of a girl in a leopard print bra or the soft side in pastels?
  • It sucks that none of the cute bras come in my size! Could I have a breast reduction as a graduation present? A girl on the soccer team got one.
  • Do you think polka dots will make my rear look big?
  • Why do they call those boy shorts. I hope I never see a boy wearing them!
  • Why would any bra that comes in that size need to be padded!
  • How do I know whether I should buy the push up bra or the bra with subtle lift?
  • Do you think the lace ensemble with the garter would look funny under my rugby uniform?

Obviously all of those Republicans who advocate more family time around the dinner table do not get the Victoria's Secret catalog. Or, they don't share it with the rest of their family.

I sure do miss the Sears Christmas Wish Book!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Getting To Know One Another

I am part of a women's group at church that has been meeting since early in the summer to study Christian formation. During our four months together, those of us in the group have gotten to know each other and ourselves a little better. The course consists of a six book series. We began the second book today. Someone (none of us currently in the group) decided that it would be a good idea to bring in a new person to facilitate the group. In my opinion, which no one asked for, this was a poor decision. Because if this, much of our time today was spent "getting to know one another". With the exception of one person, our new leader, we all know each other well enough to continue comfortably in the group. Nonetheless, we were asked to pair off and learn something about our partner that no one knows and then share that with the others.

I hate this kind of thing! I hate party games too. Unfortunately my partner could not use either of these things as something no one knows about me because I am such an introvert that if she had tried to pass them off as a surprising fact she would have been laughed at hysterically.

So what did she say about me? She asked about my life as a musician - a teacher and composer - as well as as a writer. She then inquired as to which was more fulfilling to me, writing music or writing words. I think that she was surprised when I responded that at this point in my life, writing words is more fulfilling. In the last several years I have not written any music that I am willing to let anyone hear. Although, in the last two weeks, I have begun work on something new. It is only about sixteen measures long right now and in its embryonic stage, but it is more than I have composed in a long time. Perhaps this is the beginning of a phase of music over words. Or, maybe I should write a song so that I can work with both. Something to think about . . .

Despie my dislike for group sharing of this nature, I thought I would be a good sport and share a few things about me that you don't know and probably really don't care about.
  • Though I was a Navy brat and always lived near water, I don't like seafood. For many people a dislike of fish has to do with never having eaten fresh seafood. Even when it is fresh I don't like it. Occasionally I will eat tuna salad but I'm not sure that really counts as seafood.
  • I am seriously claustrophobic. There better not be too many people in the elevator with me, my clothes can't be the least bit tight, and CAT scans of my head require lots of good drugs! Oh, and no middle seats on the plane.
  • I have a sock obsession, particularly funky striped hand knit socks. And, I don't much care if the funky stripes on each sock match.
  • I like to do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day even if the Friday puzzle makes me think I am a candidate for remedial education rather than MENSA.
  • I do spell fairly well. Spelling errors on the page are the result of feline assistance. The cat does not spell well; she just likes to randomly type. In fact, she bites my hand when I try correct her spelling mistakes.
  • It is fairly difficult to embarrass me. I have embarrassed myself so many times that there is little that anyone else can to make me turn those multiple shades of red.
  • I don't like nuts in my ice cream, brownies or circle of friends.
  • My idea of sexy lingerie is pajama bottoms with duckies on them and a T-shirt. (Like my socks, they don't match either.)
  • I have more crayons than my kids do and I am not afraid to use them. I have signed birthday cards, graded tests and written notes to my kids' teachers with crayons. I do use the grown up colors like robin's egg blue, chestnut, and apricot. For the most important documents I resort to the more mature colors, the now retired ones, like blizzard blue, maize, or magic mint.
  • Diet Coke is my drug of choice.

That may be more than you ever wanted to know about me.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thank Yous

Tonight I went to Target to get a few necessities like toothpaste and deodorant. I was with BK who was looking for bulk birthday cards to send to the 100+ people in our parish who celebrate October birthdays. As we approached the stationary aisle, I saw a wash of red clearance tags. This is our lucky day, I thought to myself.

Have you ever really thought about how ridiculously expensive cards are? The average Hallmark greeting card costs between $2.50 and $3.50, and we complain about gas that is selling for $3.50 a gallon. (Actually, we filled up for $3.18 a gallon tonight. Gas was on sale too!) Whay are we willing to pay so much money for something that is more than likely going to be thrown away in 24 hours or less? At least with the $3.50 spent for a gallon of gas you can travel a few miles. Even a $3.00 cup of coffee at Starbucks seems like money that is better spent. This is all a whole other issue. Back to the birthday cards . . .

So we got close to the wall of cards and the massive number of red clearance tags and began looking for the best deal on birthday cards by the gross. OK, they didn't come by the gross. They came 8, 10, 20, even 40 to a package. As I surveyed the bargain cards, I realized that none were birthday cards; they were all "thank you" cards. What's up with that? I was suddenly struck with the realization that most people don't send thank you cards or notes anymore. If you are lucky, you will receive "a short email to say thanks for . . .", but most of the time, it seems like thank yous are forgotten. This is a sad deteroration of society today.

I can remember as a child having to sit down on Christmas afternoon to write thank you notes for my Christmas gifts. I never questioned the fact that I was being asked to do this. To this day, I still feel the need to convey thank yous, but I must admit that I am guilty of sending the quick email more often than not. I'm sure this is why there were so many thank you cards on clearance; nobody uses them anymore.

Several of you have commented on my absence from blogging in the last month. It is confession time. I have been a journaler for a long time. Prior to becoming a blogger, I handwrote, not typed, all of my journal entries. What I noticed about my own journaling practice was that when the going got tough, I stopped writing; I stopped writing at precisely the time that I probably needed to be writing most. Seemingly, that habit has carried over into my blogging as well. Life is a little screwy for me right now and I have backed away from writing, something I really don't like having done. I need to be writing and I want to be writing. I must say that what may follow in the posts of the next few months may not be the most insightful or profound material that has appeared here, but I will try to be consistent, or at least inconsistently consistent, with posting.

I owe thank yous to those of you who have taken the time to ask if I am OK and to tell me that you miss the regular posts. I probably should have invested in some of those clearnace thank you cards and hand written each of you a personal note. I didn't. However, please accept my heartfelt thank you here. Your care and concern mean a lot to me.

I also owe thank yous to many friends, both close and not so close, who have offered me care and support. "Thank you" seems like so little to give them in return, though these words always seem to evoke a sincere smile or a "your very welcome".

I am reminded on a daily basis how important it is to acknowledge the things in our lives for which we are thankful. Perhaps if we had to sit down and offer thanksgiving by sending a handwritten personal card for all in our lives that we are thankful for, even the gloomy and seemingly empty days would not seem so bad. Every day brings with it something to be thankful for, even if it is just waking up in the morning. Think about what things today deserve a thank you note from you.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Later

It is September 11th, again. Seven years after the attack on America, we as a nation are still attempting to heal from the deep wounds inflicted in each of us on that day. Talking heads around the country have expounded on how we should acknowledge this day each year, what the permanent memorial should and shouldn't be, and how best to go forward as a nation. All of this chatter comes from raw emotions still unresolved seven years after that horrible day.

Today marks a first on this blog, a guest blogger. One of my most faithful readers and the subject of many posts here is Offspring #2, my fifteen year old daughter, Erin. And today she will be the first guest to share this space with me.

She was eight years old and in the fourth grade on this day back in 2001. Here are her thoughts on September 11, 2001, seven years later.

"Some people hijacked planes this morning; I heard it on the radio."

I didn't even flinch when my best friend walked into our classroom and spouted off her new information on the day in America. Why should I? At eight-years-old, I had no idea what "a hijacking" was. Even two hours later when my small, five person, 4th grade class was huddled around the radio, I didn't understand the severity of the situation. We were the only students in the school that knew what was going on; the principal had ordered the teachers not to tell their classes anything, but Mr. Medina and his five rebels, isolated in the only second story classroom on the entire private school campus, dared not heed this instruction and miss out on the important events of that chaotic day. My innocence didn't even suggest that I might worry about my Dad who was on a flight that morning. I had no idea at the time that my sister, one hallway away with the other middle schoolers, would be oblivious until we got into the car together that afternoon. I had no idea then that I would be writing about it today.

Looking back, I guess we all try to focus on the silver linings: we came together as a nation, we brought out true American heroes, and we proved our strength in the face of a tragedy. But, when I think about it, a lot of that has worn off. It's election year- we are definitely a divided nation. Those American heroes that stepped up? Many of them are injured; I can imagine that all of them are haunted by the reality of the images that live in their minds from this day. And why does it take a tragedy to show our strength? Now, it's just our generation's historical day of magnitude. For our parents it was Challenger. Our grandparents had JFK's assassination. D-Day. Pearl Harbor. Everyone has their own story of that day. Everyone has their own fear from that day. Everyone will always have that day. Own it. It's ours. What more can we say? What more should we say?

Out of the mouth of babes . . .
Thank you Erin!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Making and Breaking Habits

"They" (whoever they are) say that it takes twenty eight days for a behavior to become a habit. I have never heard a statistic on how many days it takes to break a habit, but I fear that it is much fewer than twenty eight. Since school started only two and half weeks ago, I have broken many of the good habits that I established over the summer. I have surprised myself with the things that I have let slip by since the 25th of August, the first day of this academic year. If you are reading this, you have probably noticed that one thing that I have neglected is regular posts here. I can't even give you a good reason for it. I'd like to say that I haven't had time to write because I am getting ten hours of sleep every night, all my papers are graded, I have lesson plans for the entire semester, and my house is spotless. No such luck. None of these things is true. I have no good reason for allowing my habit of blogging to be broken.

The sad thing is that blogging is not the only thing that I have neglected. Over the summer I was diligent about making my bed every morning. Admittedly part of the reason that I established this habit in the first place was to keep the dog and cat hair, deposited by critters who spend more time in my bed than I do, from accumulating on my sheets and pillow. It was so nice to crawl in bed every night between sheets that contained not a trace of animal hair. Those days are gone. I can't tell you the last time I actually made my bed first crack out of the barrel upon rising. It just isn't happening. "Why?", you ask. Sadly, I don't know. Yes I get up earlier during the school year and my morning has more of a routine, but why is making the bed not a part of that routine? Again, I have no answer.

Another thing that I have let slip is knitting. Today was the first day I have knit in several weeks and the only reason I did today was because BK had a ball of sock yarn in the car. I did not have any knitting in any bag that I had with me. That just isn't normal for me. Because of Spirit of Knitting, BK, Alissa, and I have had very little time to knit things for our own families and ourselves. We have recently decided to cease publication, partially because we are all busy with other things and partially since we began publication five years ago, the market has been saturated with knitting magazines whose advertising budget and manpower we can't compete with. Considering that we made the decision to quit so that we would have more knitting time, I can't figure out why I have knit nary a stitch . . .and I have ungraded papers and a dirty house.

I have never been a big fan of TV, but I do like to watch the Tonight Show and the news regularly. I can't tell you the last time I've seen either. We're on hurricane Ike? How did we get to "I" already? Don't they start with "A" at the beginning of every season? I can't believe I have missed eight storms. And what is all this talk about bulldogs, pigs, and lipstick? I feel so out of touch with the world!

A fairly new habit that I began over the summer was journaling with mandalas. Prior to blogging, I was an avid journaler. I never intended for this blog to replace my paper and pencil accounts, but it has. I am still using the same spiral notebook for handwritten journal entries that I was using at this time last year. That is unheard of for me. So, I decided to try a new approach, drawing mandalas each night rather than writing. I was quite diligent from early in July until the start of school. Though I have not completely neglected my morning and evening routines, making the bed and knitting, I have not drawn every night like I did during my summer break.

What is really going on here? My teaching load is double what it normally is but my schedule is certainly manageable. The extra classroom time that I have does change the flow of my week but it really is not an excuse for breaking all my good habits of self discipline. The fact that I have no logical explanation for permitting myself to stray away from these good disciplines is inexcusable. These things have been the mainstay of my sanity in the past. And, I still need them for that.

Now that the weekly routines of this academic year have been established, it is time for me to figure out how to work these things that I need and enjoy back into my daily schedule. This just should not be problematic. I have no good reasons here for my neglect other than inattention and laziness.

For my own well-being, I need to dedicate 28 days to making my bed first thing in the morning, and promise myself some knitting time every day, perhaps while I am watching the news or the Tonight Show. Drawing mandalas could happen in place of housekeeping or grading papers. Surely that wouldn't be a problem. Or would it? I'll let you know how long it takes me to reestablish my old habits, but only the good ones! For now, I am going to go draw a mandala and then crawl into my slightly hair enriched bed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Year

It is hard to believe that summer has passed and another school year has begun. Back in May, I had all these plans for the three months of summer break. I was going to clean out my closet, weed out things in the kitchen cabinets, garden, and read the books that I collected in a mountainous stack during school last year.

My closet is still a mess. No, in all fairness, it has been upgraded to a disaster. This is because one of the cats thinks that the closet is his primary residence. He is quite happy to nap on the extra blankets that are stored on the upper shelves. The problem comes when the dog, upon seeing the cat's return "home" after a visit to the food bowl or the litter box decides to follow, or chase, him to the closet. This results in a scramble of fur that sends shoes flying and clothes falling from their hangers as the animals navigate through my shirts as if they were an obstacle course.

And then there are the kitchen cabinets . . .has anyone seen the sifter? The lemon zester? The metric measuring cups? I had hoped that Brooke might take part in restoring a sense of order to the cabinets. She uses the kitchen and all that it has to offer more than any of us. * NOTE: The dishwasher maintains itself as too technologically advanced for anyone here. I had hoped that the working conditions around here might be deemed unacceptable and that Brooke might take it upon herself to better the situation. No such luck. I also thought that she might like the perks from this job because she is moving into an apartment this year at school, an apartment that she chose based purely on the kitchen and its amenities. I guess that isn't such a bad criterion to use. She could have chosen her place of habitation based on its proximity to a tattoo parlor or boys' dorm. Brooke does nor leave for another month. If she wants to equip her new kitchen, it may be in her best interest to organize the cabinets here so that she can abscond with all the cool gadgets that I have forgotten I have.

I did garden . . .once, maybe twice . . .this summer. I planted the front flower bed back in May. I watered it . . .once, maybe twice. I thought about dumping the four bags of mulch that are sitting in the driveway . . .once, maybe twice. Both the plants and the weeds are doing well in this flower bed.

I did read some, mostly poetry and not nearly everything that accumulated on the "to read" shelf. In fact, for every book that I pulled out and read, two more made their way to the already overcrowded living conditions found on my personal bookshelves. There is always Christmas break . . .

Despite the fact that I feel like I have wasted my summer, because I can't tell you anything that I accomplished during the months of May. June, July, or August, I am glad to return to the grind of my school schedule. This year it is a little different. All of my three regular classes are at capacity. And this year I have been given an extra class to teach. Preparing for this extra class is no big deal, but teaching it does involve and extra trip to Dallas every week.

The biggest change for me now that school is back in session is the necessity to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Over the summer, 3:oo am is a reasonable hour because the next afternoon always holds the possibility of a nap. A 3:00 am bedtime is a huge mistake when the alarm goes off at 6:00 am on school days. I will miss my middle of the night ruminations on the poetry I am reading, or the daily meditation from my favorite book , or drawing, or writing into the wee hours of the morning. My creative side works on a totally different clock than does the rational thinker in me who knows she needs more than three hours of sleep each night.

So, the new academic year is in full swing. The theory is that when the economy is bad, students flock to the colleges and universities for a place of respite as well as for an opportunity to hone their current skills or acquire new ones in order to be employable during these bad economic times.

To all of you who are involved in education as either a teacher or student, may the joy of learning never escape you. For the rest of you, remember those school zones - tickets for going over 20 mph and more for talking on your cell phone while travelling through a school zone.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Little Things In Life

It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the big things that happen in life. Sometimes though it is the smallest of things that gives us the ability to look at life from a slightly different perspective and maybe even cause us to pause and smile.

Such was the case this morning. This flower poked its head up from amidst the gravel along the driveway. It was all alone but seemed perfectly happy to stand tall and greet the new day. Perhaps this little flower has something to teach us all.

Stand tall, smile, and greet each new day with joy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

One Little Question

It is show time again. Quite a bit goes on in the arts community in Denton. For the performing groups, this means being creative when it comes to finding adequate rehearsal space. Several local venues have been gracious in allowing us to use their facilities. Tonight we were in a new place, our local senior citizens' center.

When we moved to Denton back in the eighties, all of the Chamber of Commerce information about Denton touted it as a great place for both young people, because of our two local universities, and older people, because of available services to seniors, to live. Back then, as a young graduate student, I didn't pay much attention to what our city had to offer for its older citizens. Now that information seems a little more relevant.

Rehearsal began at 7 pm. As I entered the building, there were twelve or fifteen senior citizens gathered in a sitting area chatting and watching TV. They all seemed to be enjoying the company of one another. I made my way to the multi-purpose room to set our makeshift stage. It is a wonderful room with lots of space to work. While the costumer measured some of the actors, I wandered around the building just to see what was there. I must say that I was impressed.

There was a room with two pool tables, a library that works on the honor system, a gym area with treadmills and exercise bikes, and a cafeteria that serves lunch daily. I also looked at the bulletin board listing all of the upcoming events. Trips are being offered to local baseball games, to Southfork Ranch, to the Texas State Fair, to the casino just across the Oklahoma border, and to some local museums. These are some busy people! And if travelling about is not your thing, the center offers many classes right there on the premises - conversational Spanish, computer literacy, tap dancing, self defense, and belly dancing. They seem to try and find something for everyone.

The physical building is also well laid out for people who may be using walkers or in wheel chairs. Much of the space is open and the rooms that do have doors have extra wide ones. All of the hallways are lined with railings much like those that are found in hospitals, thus making it easy for those who may be a little unsteady on their feet to make their way through the building.

It is not surprising to me that every stall in the ladies' room was a handicapped friendly stall. There was one thing, however, about the restroom that was a bit puzzling to me. Why did they have sanitary napkin and tampon dispensers on the wall? Surely there must be some justice in the world. When I am old enough to enjoy all the benefits that our senior citizens' center has to offer, I better not need to be carrying a quarter for one of those machines "just in case"!

Other than that, the golden years in Denton aren't looking half bad.

Friday, August 8, 2008

God or Coincidence?

Life is full of those weird moments when you wonder what the heck is going on - like when a friend calls on the phone at just the moment you were thinking about them, or you find $20 in the washing machine as you are whining about no money for that cafe mocha from Starbucks, or the perfect song plays while your ipod is on shuffle, or there is a snow day at school on the only day that you have not finished your homework. I think you get the picture. The question is, are these occurrences happenstance or are they the work of the Divine hand? I suspect that at one time or another, everyone has entertained this question. What do you think?

The youth minister at our church has been called to another position so as the kids begin the new year, they are without a youth minister. In the interim, four of the teenagers will unite to lead the group until the position is filled permanently. One of the things that the youth group does when they gather on Wednesday evenings is direct theological questions to the youth minister. He answers and then entertains discussion in the group. He is now trying to prepare the four youth leaders to respond to such questions from their peers.

Erin is one of the youth leaders and her question this week dealt exactly with the question at hand - is it coincidence or is it God? She responded by saying that if you are always looking for God then you will always find him/her. If you're not looking then you won't. Does that then make it coincidence? If you believe in the power of God can anything be coincidence?

Coincidence is defined by as two or more events occurring at the same time presumably by mere chance. Presumably? That does not help us here. Why is that word "presumably" even in the definition? Presumably means that I have to presume that things happened due to mere chance. Presume based on what? Based on the fact that God is too busy to worry about manipulating the shuffle on my ipod, too busy to make sure my kids leave their money in the pocket of their jeans rather than in the wallets, or too busy to keep track of my neediness factor so that He can nudge a friend to call at just the right time? What if I don't presume anything?

To presume means to take for granted or assume without any warrantable evidence. What am I taking for granted if I assume that something is purely coincidental? There is a God? There is no God? This definition of coincidence conjures up more questions than answers.

The academic in me loves wallowing in the questions, but the realist wants some answers, some good answers. What information do I need to determine if something is God or coincidence? As I sit here thinking about this, I realize that there is no information, or studying, or innate knowledge that will help me make sense of this question. Proof, one way or the other, does not exist.

In the absence of concrete data, I have to turn to faith, faith in a divine being, faith in God. Once I rely on my faith, the answer seems so simple. Nothing happens without God's hand setting it in motion. Therefore, unless God is out sourcing and the right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing, for me, there is no such thing as coincidence. These strange occurrences now become not coincidences but signs from God. Perhaps they are like those orange road signs that say Caution. Work Zone.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Life With A Math Nerd

Every parent has experienced at least one of those moments when their child says something that makes you think what the heck is wrong with that kid. Did I do something to damage this kid's psyche so badly that she feels that these things are normal? The bizarreness of such things is multiplied logarithmically when the kid is a math nerd masquerading as a drama queen. Or is it a drama queen masquerading as a math nerd? Honestly, this really doesn't matter. The upshot is still one peculiar teenager.

Here's the proof.

Me: You need to reset your alarm clock. It is not correct, probably because of the pwer outages last night due to the storm.
Nerd: There's nothing wrong with my clock.
Me: Yes there is. It is two hours and fifteen minutes ahead.
Nerd: I set it that way.
Me: Why?
Nerd: Because I like to do the mental math to figure out what time it really is when I wake up in the morning.

Nerd: Will you turn the radio up?
Me: Can you really not hear it?
Nerd: Yes, I can hear it, but it is set on "4".
Me: And . . .
Nerd: It bothers me when the volume is not set to multiples of five.

Nerd: Can I order two pancakes?
Server: They come in orders of three or five.
Nerd: But I only want two.
Me: Well then just eat two.
Nerd: I like my food to be served in twos.
Me: Like Noah's ark?
Nerd: Exactly. Forget the pancakes. How many tacos come in an order?
Server: Three.
Nerd: Can I have a turkey sandwich cut in half?
Server: Mayo or mustard?
Me: Or both?

Around here we have five animals, two kids, and a DVD player that constantly blinks 12:00. Does any of this make me responsible for the idiosyncracies of my little math nerd? I'm proud to claim her and all her weird numeric eccentricities.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is It Real Or Is It A Bad Dream?

Sometimes the stars in the heavens align and there are strange intersections of thoughts and images. So was the case this morning.

Here is the background. My younger child has been in Cozumel, Mexico for nearly a week on a mission trip with our church's youth group. Most such trips are geared towards humanitarian aid. This one, however, is focused on environmental issues. They have cleaned up beaches, helped build for the local SPCA and, the highlight of the trip, rescued sea turtles. (I hope to post some pictures from her trip when she gets home tomorrow.) The kids have been sharing their adventures through daily blog posts. I, like most of the parents, have been reading faithfully and turtles are on my mind.

Here is another piece of necessary information. Contrary to what my pantry fridge looks like, we are not big drinkers around here. Because my house is often the locus for informal gatherings to which people bring their favorite spirits and neglect to take them home with them, there is no shortage of alcohol around here. Rarely do I indulge, but last night I did. Because I don't drink very often, it doesn't take much to do me in. Suffice it to say that I had several cans of beer and I was not anxious to get up this morning.

The important information here is turtles in Mexico and not being terribly coherent early this morning.

The dogs wanted to go out a little before 8:00. I figured they would run around for a while and then scratch to come in. That always wakes me up so I went back to bed once I had let them out. But, it was not the dogs wanting in that woke me up. I had this sense that someone was looking at me. I rolled over and sure enough looming over me was my older daughter, who appeared to have a turtle in her hands. For a brief moment, I thought I was dreaming until she said, "Mama, I rescued a turtle!" Sure enough, the rescued turtle was now looking me in my bleary eyes. Once i realized that this was not a dream, I became fully engaged in this turtle's plight.

Seemingly, Brooke heard a funny noise outside. It turned out to be the dogs, two of ours and the neighbor dog who thinks he lives here, playing Keep Away or some other canine playground game with a turtle. It is not uncommon for the dogs to fetch empty turtle shells from the pond, so Brooke assumed that this too was an uninhabited shell. When she removed it from the dog's mouth, she saw moving legs and turtle eyes, which I must say were much more alert than mine. For some reason, she left the dogs outside and brought the turtle inside to consult with me about what to do with him . . .or possible her. (I'm not sure how to tell with a turtle.) All three dogs were waiting on the deck for Brooke to return to them their morning catch. That was not going to happen.

I let the dogs in one door and she and the turtle went out another, headed for a place of turtle respite, the pond. In the time that Brooke was gone, the dogs settled down and went back to sleep as did I. I'm not sure how long I had been asleep when Brooke again waked me to tell of all her experiences while shepherding the turtle to safety.

She told me about the sounds of many unhappy cows. The cow noises were accompanied by howling so I suspect a pack of coyotes was looking for a Big Mac for breakfast. She also found a partially gnawed on femur, which she assumed was from a previous cow. Then there was the tree frog that hopped across her path. I guess that while living in the big city of Chicago she had forgotten all the wonders of country life. This morning was a reminder. The ironic thing here is that it is usually me who is up early and her that doesn't realize that the morning has hours that are followed by "AM".

All in all, this was a strange picture of happenstance.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I went to Austin Friday afternoon for a meeting that started this morning. Austin has some wonderful restaurants and bookstores so a little extra time in our capital city is aways enjoyable. Austin is also known for having the largest urban bat colony. At dusk, millions of bats emerge from under the bridge in the middle of the city creating a black cloud on the skyline.

I have seen the bats fly several times before so I decided that this weekend I was going to go to the lake Friday night and take pictures. By 8:30 I was among many others with cameras waiting to photograph this amazing sight. As dusk approached, I could hear parents telling their fidgety children to keep watching. The bats would fly any minute now. At the far side of dusk, we began to see a few bats move from under the bridge. With that, cries of "their starting" came. The entire crowd watched and waited, and waited, and waited. The sun had completely set and dusk had officially turned to night. No bats. No pictures.

I really was not in the mood to be disappointed, but that is exactly where I found myself. I took a lone stroll along the edge of the lake and stared across at the Austin skyline. It really was beautiful, but I wanted to see the bats. That was not going to happen.

Before I gave up, I took this picture.

I wonder, was he as disappointed by the absent bats as I was?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Not long ago I was knitting with a relatively new friend (we have known each other since January) and I made some comment about my house being covered in dog and cat hair. She stiffened her back and said, "I didn't know that you have a cat. All you ever talk about is the dogs." The truth is that I have three cats (only two dogs) and the dogs do get more air time. This speaks well for the cats. The dogs usually get more air time because they always doing something bad.

Whatever the reason, I am going to try and give the cats their due time. Like I said, I have three - a female that we got from an adoption event and two male litter mates that Brooke found as tiny kittens abandoned on a soccer field.

This is Blair, one of the boys. He is shy but affectionate. Blair spends most of his time in my closet nestled in the sweaters. He greets me every morning in the bathroom while I get dressed and again at night when I get ready for bed. He is definitely a hider. Every now and then he ventures into my office where all the other animals hang out. Even then, as you will notice in these pictures, he still doesn't want to be seen.

Cambridge is the one female. She is almost too affectionate, always wanting to be in your lap or on your shoulder or in your face, especially when you are trying to sleep. Any time I am at my desk she is right there overseeing everything that I write.
She is also the one who is responsible for all typos and extraneous characters in any of my blog posts. She likes to have control of the track ball. You should try working while the cat is moving the cursor and stepping on the buttons. There are days when what I write looks like some language that has yet to be discovered. Maybe that's it. Cambridge has the next great novel inside and is looking for help to get it on paper.
Spencer is Blair's litter mate. Like my kids, they are like night and day. Spencer is without question an "E" on the Meyers-Briggs. He has to be in the middle of everything - the table, the kitchen counter, the dogs, knitting. He loves hand knit things. When we are sitting at the table with a project spread out, he pulls a little corner for himself to lay on. Wool is his favorite, but in a in a pinch any fiber will do. He loves to play with the dogs. It works OK because if the going gets tough he can always retreat to higher ground. I think that he may have been a dog in a former life because he has more dog traits than cat.
Spencer has a beautiful face. He does not like full body shots because he had an unfortunate encounter last year when he, an inside cat with no front claws, decided to try his luck in the outdoor world. That didn't work so well for him. Spencer found himself about 15 feet up in a Mesquite tree but not before a dog had stripped about a third of his tail. He
ended up with half of a tail. Fortunately he has suffered no self esteem problems.
So, that is the feline family. Equality has been restored.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Writing On The . . .Collar

After the surgery on my arm last week, I was sent home with a list of instructions, some of which pertained to the day of the surgery and others were more long term. Some of their suggestions were:
  • Rest as much as possible in the first 24 hours
  • Don't make any important decisions in the first 24 hours after having anaesthesia
  • Don't get the wound wet for 10 days
  • Don't lift anything over ten pounds for ten days (until the stitches have disolved and the steri-strips are removed
  • Stay out of the sun

Some around me may try to convince you that I am not a very good patient, that I don't follow directions, and that I am stubborn. I don't know how I gave anyone these impressions. I did my best to follow all of the doctor's orders. Really. I did.

When we got home from the hospital I settled myself in the recliner with the hope of watching a little TV. (Obviously I don't watch daytime TV enough or I would have known that this was an ill-fated plan; there was absolutely nothing worth watching.) After Jeopardy, it was downhill. By the time the final jeopardy question had been answered everyone at my house but me was asleep. I did what anyone would do in such a situation. I turned to the Internet for a little retail therapy. I did this in an effort to follow doctor's orders. Let me explain.

The surgeon basically said that any direct exposure to sunlight was too much for me. So I decided that I needed some long sleeved shirts that did not make me look like I was "climate challenged". I am particularly fond of a specific brand of linen clothing. I have bought a few of their pieces in local retail shops, but I wanted to see the whole line. We all know that the Internet doesn't disappoint. I found a great website with exactly what I what I was lokking for. So far I have not violated any rules given to me by any member of the medical establishment. Using the computer requires no lifting. SInce the surgery was on my left arm and I am right handed, the arm in question was able to rest comfortably on a pillow with its form-fitting velcro ice pack attached.

In placing my order, I did not force myself to make any important decisions. Instead of troubling myself with choosing between two colors of shirts, I just ordered two. Decision making process averted!

The shipment came at the end of last week, and weighed less than ten pounds, so again I was well within the established guidelines when I carried it from the front porch to the table to open it. When I pulled the shirts from the box, I instinctively looked at the tags in the collar to make sure that they had sent the correct size, which they had. I noticed that in addition to the label that had the brand name, fiber content, size, and laundering instructions, there was a second tag. It read, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams." This is one of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau. I was pleasnatly surprised to find these words of wisdom bound in the neckband of my shirt, but I did wonder when this company started doing this. None of their other pieces that are hanging in my closet have such tags. Or do they? I headed for my closet just to see. (Note: This is seven days after my surgery so rest is no longer being perscribed.) I was wrong, They all had one. Little did I know that each time I have worn these things, I have carried with me a few gems of wisdom. The sayings include:

  • "Simple is superb."
  • "I am not stuck with anything unless I stick with it."
  • "I am legendary."
  • "Love prevails."

Now I notice these tags as I am getting dressed. As I make my way through the day, stopping to breath and reflect on the words in the day's collar helps me to refocus in moments where my mind is wandering. On laundry day, while folding and hanging, I have another chance to savor these thoughts.

Most of us were taught of the necessity to read the care labels on our clothing when we left home. Instructions such as DRY CLEAN ONLY, wash with similar colors, lay flat to dry, wrinkles are a natural element of this fabric, are essential to the proper care and feeding of your wardrobe. With my new favorite clothing manufacturer, reading the labels is also essential to the proper care and feeding of the soul and spirit.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An Amazing Poem

This poem is also from Jeff Rockwell's book
Making Friends With The Dust.

One thing at a time

Our progress will never make it possible
for us to fly with our arms open
flapping in the air.
What it can do, however,
is inspire us to do
at a time.

Nothing more needs to be said here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Clouds, Rainbows, and Stick Figures

When adult life seems confusing and overwhelming, sometimes it is helpful to step back in time and remember what our world looked like when we were six or so. Life was simple. We trusted most people. We believed we were loved unconditionally. Everyone around us was concerned with our happiness and well being. And, crayons and creativity were a part of every day.

Our simplistic perception of life was reflected in all those crayon renderings of the world around us that were displayed in that place of honor – the refrigerator door. People in our pictures were stick figures. They may be black or green or red or blue. It really didn't matter. Most of them did not have clothes, probably because how people dressed was not a big deal to six-year olds. Our people maybe had fingers and/or toes – somewhere between two and seven on each appendage. Or, maybe they didn't. That didn't matter either. Trees full of ripe apples were often in our drawings. Rainbows, with or without rain, were also common because when drawing a rainbow we could use six of the eight crayons in the box. Oh, there were the kids who had black and brown in their rainbows and that was OK too. If the rainbow was accompanied by rain, the picture had black scalloped-edged clouds with black sheets of rain. Or, rain was also drawn without the clouds. Most often it was then represented by big blue drops that fell on brightly colored flowers that smiled up at them from lush green grass. You may remember that in these drawings, the sun was always smiling and the moon was often sleeping. Most of the time, we only drew half of the moon because if we drew a full moon, it would look like the sun. Did we know about the phases of the moon at six?

After dinner this evening, I was struck by a seemingly sudden change of light. Just as I was about to comment, Erin came in to the room and announced that we were about to have storms. She had gotten a text message from a friend who lives a little southeast of us where it was already raining. I picked up my camera and went outside. (There is no logical explanation as to why this was my response.)

As I looked around, the world looked like it did forty some years ago when I was six but instead of preserving the images I see with crayons and paper, I am now using my camera. In reality, the final product is not much different. Though intellectually I know that nothing is really simple, for a few moments tonight I felt like storm clouds are pretty and frilly, every picture should have a rainbow, and the sun is always smiling.

Though it is hard to see in this picture, I know that the sun that is slipping down on the horizon is smiling.

The rain falls as dark sheets.

Storm clouds are pretty and scalloped.

And, the moon is not round like the sun.

In the midst of mid-life, it is hard to remember this long ago simple world, a life before we had experienced any real hurt or heartache. I am still overwhelmed by the questions that I mentioned in my last post. My search for answers consumes my thoughts, but I do not really feel burdened by the questions themselves. I am trying to be present in each moment. I have faith that in this, the answers will be revealed.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Walking With Questions

Today the Labyrinth Ministry of our church, of which I am a part, had its regular monthly meeting. Up until recently, we have neglected walking the labyrinth as a part of these meetings in favor of having more time for "business". The majority of the group agreed that not walking together was a mistake in that our work together was not firmly grounded in the labyrinth itself.

For nearly ten years, the labyrinth has been an integral part of my spiritual journey. I first walked on a paper labyrinth at our church. Since then I have had the opportunity to walk at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, outdoor labyrinths in Chicago, our own canvas labyrinth in places from Dallas to California, and I was blessed to spend a week on the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France.

Just as every stroll we take down our own neighborhood street or walk we take through the aisles of the grocery store is different, so is every labyrinth walk. The experience can range from "so what" to "Wow!" It can spark fear or laughter. It may call forth tears of sorrow or tears of joy. A walk may leave you with answers or questions. The latter was the case with my walk today. I had so many questions that I had a hard time focusing or even articulating them. When I find myself in such a place, I turn to the words of others to help me make sense of my thoughts and feelings.

It is the poetry of Jeff Rockwell in his book Making Friends With The Dust where I find comfort tonight.

A body of questions

Are all rivers flowing in time?
Are all songs a cry for more?
Are all canyons made of slow-moving gold?

Do all bananas dream of sex?
Do all embraces stretch from head to toe?
Do all highways follow the signs?

Are all stoplights a reminder to breathe, and
should we say, "thank you?"
Are all pretensions as obvious as they mean to be?
Are all dyed-hairs where they belong?

Do all homes approve of their owners?
Do all fears have a purpose in life?
Do all beds drive lovers crazy?

Are all hearts underrated?
Are all missionaries and preachers living their own lives?
Are all mystics out of a job?

Do all footsteps know where they are going?
Do all restaurants in America serve passion?
Do all moments count if no one is counting?

I still have lots of questions and no answers, but I take solace in the fact that I am not the only one who walks around with a head full of unanswered, possibly ridiculous, questions. Perhaps my next walk will be a journey of answers.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July

The Week In Review

Okay, I have not done any better writing this week than I did last week, but this week I can account for where the days have gone.

Monday was spent getting my life back in order after having been gone all weekend. I came back from my silent retreat rested and relaxed and those who spent the weekend at my house (some kind of REALLY messy house guests I think or was it my family??) had their own kind of retreat - a retreat from washing any dishes or clothes, putting anything in the trash can, which negated the need to take any trash to the dumpster, or from putting any of the 6, 347 DVD's (by actual count) that they watched during these brief three days back in their sleeves. I think that maybe they had more of a retreat than I did. I at least made my bed every day and washed my own iced tea glass! So there went Monday. Oh, I think there was a trip to the grocery store in there as well.

Tuesday morning we went out for breakfast and selfishly took a few minutes to sit and do the crossword puzzles before going over to help a friend. She was getting a new puppy from a local rescue agency and wanted some help wrangling her other three dogs while the woman from the agency, who was probably more picky about this dog's new home than CPS is about most foster homes, scoped out the situation. All went well and "Peanut" who is now being called "Petey" has a new home.

Wednesday morning began bright and early. I had to be at the hospital at 6:30 am for outpatient surgery to remove skin cancer from my arm. The procedure went well; all of the cancer is gone and I am left with about a 5 inch incision. I was really hoping for a smiley face scar but because the did not have to do a skin graft I have only a boring wavy line. I think I look like an idiot who did not know how to slit his own wrist. Brooke says it is more like a wound from a defensive move from a knife fight. The bottom line, all is well. I am stitched and taped back together.

I did learn that most hospital staff does not have a sense of humor. First of all, a nurse asked me if I had had a hysterectomy. I responded with a "no". She then told me that she needed a urine sample. I said to her, "You are not seriously going to do a pregnancy test are you?" She said that they have to do one on every woman under fifty who has not had a hysterectomy. Has the medical profession not heard of tubal ligation? Celibacy? Boredom? There are lots of ways not to be pregnant. I did tell her that if I was pregnant that we would all be rich and that if she would smile I might share with her. She didn't smile. And, I am not pregnant. When I got home I had a little Internet retail therapy and played many computer games.

I taught my class on Thursday morning. I managed to play some dictation examples on the piano with my minorly swollen fingers. The one difficulty of the surgery is that I can't get my arm wet for ten days. That makes washing my hair a little challenging. I think that saran wrap, which I loathe as something to use in the kitchen, may become my best friend. I'll have to warp my arm with it to take a shower for the next couple of weeks. If I don't make friends with it, I will smell too bad for any of my human friends to want to get close to me! fortunately, my dogs don't care what I smell like. My knitting buddies did come over last night for a little fun. It had only been a little more than a day since I showered so it was OK. Today may be a different story.

You all know that I like to post pictures here. I do have some options. I could post pictures of my arm with its varying colors, steri-strips (the real stitches are on the inside), and the doctor's marks that say "slice here." However, I think you would rather see this: This is "Petey". He is a four month old terrier mix. This little guy, though he is very young, has had a rough life. He was rescued from someone that was using him as bait to train pit bulls to fight. Despite that, he is the happiest and friendliest little guy and has no problems getting along with other dogs. He was marked as "unadoptable" by a city shelter because of the puncture wounds that he had. A woman from a private rescue agency went and got him on the day he was to be euthanized. She nursed his wounds and then placed him up for adoption. He now has a wonderful human mom that loves him and three canine brothers and sisters that are taking good care of him.

All and all, this has been a good week!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where Has The Week Gone?

I can't believe that it has been more than a week since I last posted. I wish I could say that I have been feeding the multitudes of hungry people, or battling forest fires, or discovering the cure for AIDS, or travelling the world, but I can't. Sadly, I can't tell you anything significant that I have done in the last week except for the last three days.

I was on a silent retreat this weekend with my Franciscan fellowship. Though we did have meals together and said the Daily Offices as a group, we were in total silence for 24 hours. It was awesome! The freedom not to have to say anything to another person was such a gift. It really was not as selfish as it sounds but 24 hours of silence was an amazing gift.

Before I left, I thought about how I could spend my quiet time productively. I thought about reading a book (something spiritual of course), or writing, or sleeping, but none of these felt right. I finally decided that I would spend the time with my camera. I have many things to learn about it and I seem not to have any uninterrupted stretches of time at home. So I took my camera, a full battery, an empty card, the manual and another book on photography.

After breakfast, I sat down with the book. I read a few pages, checked my camera's manual for specifics, found the appropriate buttons on the camera, read a few more pages and repeated the entire process. As is often the case, the more I read, the more I realized that I did not know. After this "classroom" session, I set out on the retreat center grounds to take some pictures.

Texas in June is monochromatic - brown with a slight hint of green. I had a hard time finding a shot that jumped out and said "take me". Truthfully, I was not really looking for a "good picture", I was hoping to play with some different settings on my camera. This I did accomplish.

We our group gathered to come out of silence together, everyone was sharing the fruits of their quiet time. Some people read from their journals; others read poems they has written; still others read passages from Scripture that spoke to their day; some remained in silence; and I confessed that I had spent the day with my camera. Several people asked to see the pictures, but I had intentionally not taken my computer so I really had no way to share. I'm sure they all thought I had wasted the day sleeping!

When I got home, I put the card in my computer and looked at the images. Though there are no outstanding artsy pictures, I did accomplish my goal for the weekend. I can see in the shots I took those things that I read about. I fell good about what I accomplished though I don't have much to outwardly show for it. Several people asked if I would email pictures once I had had the opportunity to look at them. I offer this one.

This was the one burst of color that I found. I don't mean to imply that the retreat center where we were was not pretty because it was. There were many tall trees and bark covered paths that wound through the wooded areas. There just was not much color variation. I found this flower on a bush outside the house where we stayed.

I still don't know where the other four days of the past week went. I hope that I can make a better accounting of the coming week!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sausage, Silliness, and Solstice

We often say that "today was the longest day" when referring to a day that was not so good having gone on way longer than we wish it had. As we celebrate the summer solstice, today really was the longest day. I had a great day so for me I mean this only in the most literal sense.

Like most Saturday's, there were chores to be done, but a few days ago a few of my friends and I made plans to enjoy all of today's sunlight at the lake. We live only about a mile from the lake so you would think that we would make frequent visits. We used to, but in the last few years we have not been at all. In fact, none of us could remember when we were last there. (I must clarify one thing. Texas has only one natural lake and ours ain't it. Lake Ray Roberts was built by the Corps of Engineers in the mid eighties.)

Eight of us had a general discussion of food and who would bring what, we agreed on a time to meet and that was all the planning we did. As is often the case with such events, everything was terrific. We had a nice meal with chicken, sausage, steak, grilled corn, several salads, and awesome banana bread. We also managed to make it out there with charcoal, cooking and serving utensils, paper goods (down to our own roll of toilet paper, which I am happy to report was not necessary), and plastic wear. The only thing that we forgot was a trash bag. We managed.

We really did nothing but talk, eat, and be silly. How fun is that? I think that if we all had more evenings like the eight of us had tonight, a much happier society would emerge.

This is the summer solstice sunset on Lake Ray Roberts

In the midst of all of the fun and food, I did not check my camera settings before I took the first picture. I share with you a serious photographic error but a kind of cool picture. This is straight out of the camera and I have no idea what a did.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


My camera and I were not exactly one with each other as I took these pictures, but we had fun. This is one of those instances where a little more time with the manual would have been beneficial. Oh well . . .maybe next time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

First Kiss

Rendez-vousing in the parking lot of the mall after all the stores are closed can only lead to illicit behavior - sex, drugs, and/or rock and roll. This was confirmed for me tonight when my best friend, someone I respected and thought I could trust answered a phone call from "a friend" asking her to meet in the parking lot of a bookstore of all places.

I have often been accused of being a suspicious person so tonight I decided to earn that reputation fair and square. I followed along with my camera so that I could record the dirty deed. I was not disappointed. My friend drove to the designated spot, parked the car, and leaped out. I barely had time to focus the camera and they were already in each other's arms, kisses flying. I was shocked. Here is the proof caught on film, well digital media. I swear that there was no digital enhancement or manipulation used on this picture. Prepare yourself . . .

That fuzzy little fur ball was so proud of herself. You can see it in her eyes. She is thinking that this was sooo easy. I have faith in my friend. She may have a weak moment every now and then but she will come to her senses before this goes too far. I will stay here with my camera so that I can record the farewell.

Okay everyone, say goodbye. What! No goodbye? They are getting in the car together. The engine is started and they are leaving the parking lot . . . TOGETHER! How can she be so stupid? Didn't her mother warn her about stranger danger? I was just hoping for one of those National Inquirer photos that would make me rich. Instead, I am on a full-fledged mission. I followed closely, but inconspicuously, behind. We went several miles and they turned off the main road. They were heading for her house. What are they going to do? What if, what if, what if she decides to sleep with this fuzzy little fur ball tonight? I'm just telling you that if she does, all that stuff I said about respect and trust, I didn't mean any of it.
They pulled up in her drive way. She lives in the country and there was no light so I lost my photo op. (A flash would have given me away.)

In the morning I will sneak down and see if the fur ball is in the yard and maybe I will sneak in and see if the sheets have white fuzz on them.

What is this world coming to when sleeping together happens after only knowing each other a few hours?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Revolving Door

The comings and goings around here this weekend have made this place feel more like a hotel with a revolving door that is in constant motion than like a country home in the midst of the lazy days of summer.

I left Friday afternoon to spend the weekend in Austin. Though the weekend's agenda went through many scenarios before all was said and done, it was a great weekend that involved discovering a new knit shop, buying a few books, a glass of wine and two nights where I did not have to get up and let dogs in or out even once. The latter in and of itself justifies the entire trip. It was a most enjoyable and much needed few days away from home.

While I was enjoying my time away, Offspring No. 1 was packing up her room in Chicago and heading home for a summer with her beloved family and a job wrangling four and five year-olds. (And she thought Russian and Calculus were a challenge!) By putting some of her stuff in storage, mailing several boxes home, buying an extra suitcase, and paying $50 dollars for the suitcase that weighed 69 pounds, she managed to get herself and all her things home for the summer. She and her daddy flew home Saturday evening. Fortunately, because he is exempt from the second bag fees that American Airlines now charges (because he has flown so many miles in his capacity as a commercial airline test dummy, just kidding) it did not cost a fortune to get it all here.

I am so happy to have my precious firstborn home again. As you can tell from the expression on her face, she is also happy to be sharing the summer with her loving family.

Note: I, as the photographer, will take responsibility for the fuzziness of the above picture, but I must inform you that the hair color is not the result of poor photography, lighting, or an unfortunate encounter with Photoshop. I would like to say that it is the result of bad water in Chicago, or city smog, or poor nutrition that was caused by being forced to eat dorm food, but I must be honest. This lovely color can be traced back entirely to personal taste.

Because she will be the responsible adult in a classroom of young children for the summer, and because she will be working in a reputable preschool that fashions itself as having capable, competent, and respected teachers, and because it is hard to maintain such a reputation if the children go home and tell their parents that their teacher is Ronald McDonald, the hair will go through a color transformation before next Monday when she begins working.

Offspring No. 2 was home all weekend though she maintained a full social calendar. She leaves in the morning on a mission trip to Abbyville, LA. The group of kids will help with the rebuilding process that is still going on nearly three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Two summers ago, she went to New Orleans on a mission trip. On that trip, the kids helped families clean out their houses so that they could then be demolished. Though the work on this year's trip will be equally challenging, perhaps it will be a little more uplifting because they are helping to rebuild.

She spent her time at home this weekend trying to figure out how to look good in work clothes and packing the necessary goods.

The male parental unit came home last night and was here to celebrate Father's Day. Like Offspring No. 2, he leaves in the morning. This week it will just be me and the vegan at home. Our first bonding experience of the summer involves a trip to the grocery store to stock up on all the vegetables the No. 2 will not eat.
This revolving door keeps me on my toes. Every morning I wake up and wonder do I fix tofu or hamburgers for dinner. And do I serve chips or sauteed kale with it? An error here could have very bad results!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Sound of Silence

I have spent the last two evenings making a recording with our church choir. Early in May, we did a pretty hefty concert, sixteen pieces ranging from Latin motets of the Renaissance to pieces written within the last year. It was a fun concert to perform and was well received by those in the audience. In fact, the response was so overwhelming, that that was the impetus for the recording. That and the fact that we are trying to raise zippty million dollars to pay for our new organ (in the process of being built and scheduled for delivery in January) and all of the renovations to the current choir gallery that are necessary to accommodate this new organ.

We did the recording in the sanctuary, the same place where the concert was originally performed, and the place where we sing together every Sunday morning. It is a familiar environment for all of us yet when faced with using this place as a "recording studio", it takes on a whole new persona.

Anyone who has sat through a Sunday service knows that a child's voice echoes throughout the entire sanctuary. In moments like this, especially if it is your kid offering unsolicited commentary on the priest's sermon, we all wonder why the acoustic properties of the building allow for so much reverberation. You would think that such properties would be a blessing for us as we recorded this week. Yes, our space is capable of rendering beautiful choral sounds, but like most things, there is also a down side.

Prior to gathering for our first recording session on Wednesday night, we were all advised not to wear "squeaky" shoes. You know the sound of rubber-soled shoes moving on marble? That is what we were trying to avoid. And as any musician who has done any kind of recording knows, it is important to turn pages quietly. This sounds like a simple thing to ask, however forty people turning pages at exactly the same time without it being audible is quite a laudable fete. For the most part, we were able to follow these two sets of instructions with no major infractions. Having accomplished these things, I was amazed at all the sounds that are present in a "quiet" space.

Just as forty people turning pages at the same time has the potential to make a clearly audible, and potentially disruptive, sound, so does the sound of forty people breathing simultaneously.

Then there is the hum of the lights. I am not talking about that obnoxious high pitched hum that all fluorescent lights make. I am talking about a faint sound that goes completely unnoticed unless the sanctuary is "perfectly quiet". Then the constant drone of "F" becomes as distracting as the baby crying during Sunday Mass. This is especially true when trying to sing an a capella pieces in a key other than F.

Beware of the subtle movement of someone's bracelet.

We had to record a few extra takes because of airplanes flying overhead and sirens screaming down the road outside.

After singing for two and a half hours, coughing amongst the choir became an issue. (Who am I kidding, coughing was an issue from the very beginning. As soon as we were given the "Get Ready" sign, there was a unison cough that was as precise as the attack of any piece's opening chord.)

There was also the sound of the organ stops being pulled and the clang of the director's baton hitting his stand accidentally.

A few words not in the text of any of our pieces were uttered in places where notes or chords also not in the pieces were interjected.

I am happy to report that we were never interrupted by someone's cell phone ringing or by some unsuspecting soul who did not bother to read all of the "Do Not Enter" signs situated at every entrance to the church. Considering the fact that we were doing this recording in what is essentially a public place not normally used for this purpose, things went quite well. At this point, the assumption is that any extraneous sounds are insignificant and can be removed during the editing process.

This whole experience gave me a new appreciation for the sound of silence. This is not a new discovery. John Cage, in his piece 4'33" invited us all to experience the sounds of silence. Cage's composition is scored for a performer and a piano. The performer walks on stage, sits at the piano, and does nothing more for four minutes and thirty three seconds. The music, which is defined as organized sound and silence, is created by the sounds that each person in the audience hears. As you might imagine, no two performances are the same. In fact, every person, even if they hear the same performance, hears a different composition. 4'33" is an artistic representation of the Buddhist principle of being fully awake to the present moment. Though I have experienced several performances of Cage's piece, I don't think I really understood or appreciated it fully until these last two evenings.

Silence is something that we all seek at one time or another. The next time you think that you have found it, open your mind to the present and experience the music of silence. It is different from that of Palestrina or Bach or Mozart, but is equally beautiful and equally moving - even if it's climax is a talking baby or noisy piece of paper.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Swimming Hole

When we built our house seven years ago, we contemplated building a pool. The kids were at the age where a pool would be a nice place to hang out with friends; we have plenty of room; and isn't that what you're supposed to do when you build your dream house - have a pool? We tossed around the pros and cons..

Living in the country, cons exist that aren't as significant as when you live in a nice suburban neighborhood. I feared that every time I went to the pool, before I could swim, I would have to remove some critter that had wandered up and decided to either belly up to the bar or take a swim without the proper floatation devices. The idea of being faced with water logged mice, field rats, squirrels, raccoons, snakes, and so on, did not warm my heart. Even aided by a ten foot pole, I did not want to commune with nature this way.

The bottom line, we have no pool. Truth to tell, I'm glad. We do however have a nice view of the pond next door. The pond is inhabited by several bullfrogs whom we hear each night, turtles, probably a few snakes, and the occasional duck. I love to sit on the deck and listen to the frogs sing and watch the rippled reflection of the clear blue country sky.

At the time that we were making these decisions about a pool, we did not have Adidas, the black lab. Little did we know, he is an avid swimmer and would have made sure that we got our money's worth from a pool. Due to the poor planning on our part, he is forced to swim in the pond. And had I known his penchant for fishing rodents and amphibians from the murky aquatic depths (as is evidenced by the many turtle remains that he has collected on the porch), we could have worked a deal on the pool cleaning chore. Oh well, timing is everything and Adidas entered the picture too late.

He does love his daily swim in the pond.

And most of the time, he is considerate enough to shake the pond scum off before he comes back inside.

Like I said, I do not regret our decision not to build a pool. A pond scum covered lab, even one with a turtle or parts there of in his mouth, is a prettier sight than me in a swim suit!