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!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Silver Anniversary

Today was our 25th wedding anniversary. It was "celebrated" with no pomp and circumstance, just the way I like it. At church last Sunday, the priests offered a blessing to all those who were celebrating birthdays and anniversaries during the month of June. Someone asked me afterwards how long we had been married. I said that we were celebrating our 25th anniversary, but Mike had actually only been home for ten of those years. I should have known when we got married that this is the way it would be. We got married on a Sunday afternoon in North Carolina. That evening we drove to northern Virginia with the dog, spent the night at his mother's house (she was not there), and then Monday morning he got up and flew to Dallas for a job interview. It has been this way ever since - me and the dogs.

Actually Mike was in town today, not because it was our anniversary, but because he did not feel well. He did ask if I wanted to go out for dinner, but truthfully, I was just as happy to fix something at home. We had a good but unimpressive meal at home a few cosmopolitans, and a glass of wine. Simple. That is the way I like it. After our good but unimpressive meal Erin said that was an awesome dinner. Everyone was happy. What more can you ask for?

The other problem we had with going out was that I had an appointment with the dermatologist late in the afternoon. It seems that doctors really do control our lives. I called several weeks ago and this was the first appointment that I could get. So, I took it. When I walked into the waiting room at 4:00 for a 4:10 appointment, it became obvious that my late afternoon appointment was going to be much later than I thought. The waiting room, at that point, was SRO. I finally got in to see the doctor at a little before five.

She was going to cut a small growth off of my arm so she had to ask all of the obligatory questions. Are you taking any blood thinners? Are you allergic to any medications? Do you have any problems with numbing agents? Are you pregnant? With the last one I must have given her more of a look than I really meant to.
She said to me, "I had to ask. I never know."
Me: "I'll tell you what, if I am we'll share the settlement. Today is my 25th anniversary. I can't think of any worse way to spend it that being pregnant!" (I did spend number 6 and number 9 that way. let me tell you, neither was any fun.)
She: "Well, I had a woman in here a few weeks ago who was in her fifties and was pregnant . . .and wanted to be."
Me: "I think that she needs a psychiatrist, not a dermatologist."

Really it was a good day. I don't like big deals made about "special occasions." Every day is a blessing and a gift and they should all be treated as such.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Five Easy Questions

I was reading a friend's blog post in which she was sent the following five questions to answer. My understanding is that she was to then forward them to someone else. In an effort not to make another feel uncomfortable if they were not interested in answering, she left it as an open invitation for those willing to share. So, here are my answers to the "five easy questions".

1. What was I doing ten years ago?

As I think about this question, I realize that not much has changed in the last ten years. Ten years ago my girls were five and eight and required a little more entertainment and supervision from me, but I am still rearing kids. I am teaching the same classes at the same school. No, I am not one of those teachers that did a lesson plan the first time I taught the course and have not changed it since. Things change on a semester to semester basis.

BK and I had just published Holding Your Prayers and it is still selling quite well today. Our spiritual director told us back then that things like this usually run their course rather quickly. He was wrong, but that is OK; he was right on about many other things.

None of the pets that we have now did we have ten years ago - definitely no donkeys, or llama or even cats back then - and we live in a different house. Ten years ago we were just beginning the process of selling one house and designing and building another. We are now at the point of having to start those repairs on the then new house that are needed due to the effects of time.

2. What are five things on my to-do list today?

  • Rewash the load of clothes that I put in the washer Saturday and make sure I get it in the dryer this time.

  • spend some time cleaning my office

  • ask Bk to help me fix the mistake I have in my lace shawl (which she did . . .several times:))

  • respond to my sister-in-law's email about a good time for her to come visit this month. This is a tough one. Brooke does not come home for a few more weeks. Erin is going on a mission trip. I am going on a retreat. And, the window of opportunity for when there is no dog hair on the floor and no cat hair on the bed in the guest room is very small.

3. Snacks I enjoy

I enjoy almost any kind of snack. In fact I am willing to, and did tonight, make a meal of snack food. Tonight for dinner I had chips and pico de (or is it da? I only eat it. I usually don'thave to spell it too!) gallo, sliced Edam cheese and whole wheat everything crackers, and fruit salad. I like pretzels, hummus and celery, apples and peanut butter, almonds, and I am also a sucker for chocolate chip cookies.

4. Places I have lived.

Because I am a Navy brat, I have lived on both coasts and in Hawaii. The various states include: Florida, South Carolina, California, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Virginia, and briefly Delaware with my grandparents while my dad was stationed overseas. I have lived in Texas 25 years, more than half my life though I really don't have an answer to the question, "Where are you from?" My people, at least by genetic association, are from Delaware but I really only lived there for six weeks. I graduated from high school in Virginia Beach, Va, but I am not from there. I have not been there since I graduated. We moved right after graduation and I broke up with my high school boy friend so I had no reason to go back. And even though I have lived in Texas for a quarter of a century, my friends who are native Texans make it clear to me that I am a transplant and am not from Texas.

Where would I like to live.

Because I moved so much as a child, I learned to adapt to new places rather easily. I honestly believe that I can be happy any place that I live as long as there is a book store, a knit shop, and a few good people around. I do love the mountains, though I have never spent an entire winter in a mountainous region. That may change my mind. Really, I am perfectly happy right where I am - out in the country with cows, horses, bullfrogs, and coyotes but close enough to Dallas to enjoy the advantages that a big city has to offer. I must say that if given a choice, I would not live in Dallas or any of its suburbs.

5. Things I'd do if I were a billionaire.

I am bad at money questions. There is really nothing that I need or, right now, really want. I suppose I would have the house painted and maybe have a real concrete driveway poured - not because I want a concrete driveway, but because I would not have to pull the weeds out of the gravel driveway. Maybe I could just hire a yard/driveway man.

Truthfully, I would probably buy things for other people. That is a lot of money and no one person needs that much. If I had it, I would buy each of you something you want. I would give more of it away to charity - Doctors Without Borders, Franciscans International, agencies that do research on cancer, multiple sclerosis, and lupus.

Oh, I would buy Erin her own Wii because Brooke is taking hers (the only one we have right now) back to school in the fall. Erin and I don't want to hear the "sad music" for not having exercised every day.

There you have it, simple answers to five easy questions.