Wednesday, December 30, 2009

If You're Happy and You Know It . . .

Monday was my 48th birthday. One of my first encounters of the day was with my beloved Offspring No. 2. She met me in the hall and said, "Now you're old. Happy Birthday." I said that I would just add "old" to the list of other descriptors I can use for myself - fat, dumb, happy . . .and now old. Offspring No. 2 said that she would agree with two of those and I could choose which two. Without a doubt, I know that I am happy. Knowing that happy is one of them makes the second one inconsequential. True happiness makes everything else bearable.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Seeing Red

On Christmas Eve day, before the blizzard that gave North Texas its first white Christmas in eighty three years hit, Erin and I were walking through the china department of Dillards department store. Though the store employees were obviously preparing for the after Christmas sales and the decimation of the 2009 Christmas season, the tables in this section of the store were still adorned with red holiday tablecloths, silk flower arrangements embellished with spray painted gold pinecones, and fancy Christmas-patterned china. Erin asked why people spend all that money on dinnerware that can only be used once a year. After internally patting myself on the back for having raised a practical minded child (at least in this instance) I told her that I supposed that it was people who did a great deal of entertaining and who had disposable income that indulged in such things. Needless to say, we don’t have Christmas china. However, we do have festive dishes that can be used on Christmas. I know what you are thinking. No, they are not paper plates with cheerful snowmen. They are real plates; the kind that can be put in the dishwasher without disintegrating. Our “Christmas” plates are white with a simple band of red around the outer edge.

In December, these plates definitely pass as Christmassy, especially if they are accompanied by paper napkins with those cheerful snowmen mentioned earlier. But, red is much more versatile than just as a Christmas color. When used on a table set for two with a vase of red roses in the center and napkins that now sport hearts rather than snowmen, these dishes can be transformed to Valentine’s Day tableware. Remove the hearts and flowers and add a few stars and a little blue to your table and they are perfect for a patriotic 4th of July celebration, or possibly even Flag Day. They can also be used for a family meal on the Day of Pentecost, a day whose liturgical color is red. Others may find the red plates appropriate for use on their wedding anniversary. With a little creativity, the possible uses for red dinnerware are numerous. Does any other color offer such potential?

Orange – Halloween, Thanksgiving, National Orange Juice Day, The Autumnal Equinox,

Yellow – The summer solstice, a gathering of the International Saffron Society, Big Bird’s birthday party

Green – St. Patrick’s Day, Pay Day, Pickle Pride Day, Arbor Day

Purple – The forty days of Lent, Tinky Winky’s birthday

Blue – As far as I am concerned, blue can and should be used every day. For those of you who have no test and prefer another color for your everyday tableware, blue can be used for Hanukah, the winter solstice, Smurf Day

What you eat tells a lot about you. What color dishes you eat from may also reveal more than you think about what is important to you. Are you willing to break out the fine green china to celebrate Green Thumb Day? Or the yellow on School Bus Driver’s Day? Or blue to honor those events that happen only once in a blue moon? If you are looking for an occasion to use your blue dishes, we will experience an actual blue moon on Thursday of this week, the first since June of 2007. (A blue moon is a second full moon to occur in a calendar month.

Perhaps What Color Is Your Plate will be a bestselling sequel to the ever popular book What Color Is Your Parachute?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Family, Traditions, and Christmas

Christmas is all about family and traditions. Though the details of both may change, their importance in our lives does not; we want and need them both.

For us, family has always had a broad definition. Simply stated, to me, family is defined as those people that I love and that love me. As we all know, those lists are subject to change, sometimes without notice. Today we had a wonderful gathering of family – me, Weber, Erin, Edgar (Erin’s boyfriend), Mike, Jason (Mike’s boyfriend), Brooke, and, via the wonders of AT&T and text messaging, Josh (Brooke’s boyfriend), Adidas and Harley. The makeup of our family has changed over the past year. We have welcomed Weber and Jason.

Since we did not go to church last night because of the weather, we all woke up this morning well rested after having had a good night’s sleep. We began our Christmas morning in our traditional way – opening stockings. We all had a part in filling each other’s stockings with goodies that ranged from the serious to the absurd. Before moving on to the gifts under the tree, we took a break for coffee – against Erin’s wishes. Though she had her seventeenth birthday this week, her inner three year old is nurtured by the excitement of Christmas morning. She was ready to move straight from the stockings to the big gifts, no coffee needed. She was overruled!

As has also become tradition at our house, Erin distributes the gifts from beneath the tree. I’m not sure if this is because she is the most agile and can crawl under the tree to retrieve them or if it is because invariably she seems to have the greatest number of presents and therefore it seems only fair that she should do the doling. And in keeping with another family tradition, books and electronics were the most popular items under the tree this year.

One of our favorite family traditions is the collaborative meals on Christmas day. I must say upfront that I use the term meal here with the same level of broadness with which I defined family earlier. There is always an abundance of food on the table, but it does not always constitute “a meal” as prescribed by the current food pyramid. Suffice it to say that no one went hungry!

Brooke started off the day by making the most amazing VEGAN cinnamon rolls! They were awesome, a treat for all the senses.

I must include here her caveat. “I said they were vegan, not healthy!”

Erin will be the first to tell you that she does not cook. Luckily, those of us around her, including Edgar, can and do cook. So, Erin’s role was to figure out what the rest of us were to cook. Weber smoked a brisket and a turkey (not an easy task in our sub freezing temperatures but he was successful). Mike made several loaves of various kinds of bread. I was responsible for bacon at breakfast and mashed potatoes later in the day. Edgar’s job was to tease Erin about the fact that she doesn’t cook – although she did make scrambled eggs (her signature dish) this afternoon when her eating schedule and our cooking schedule were at odds with one another.

The afternoon was spent playing games. We have become fans of Apples to Apples. This was followed by a game of Scrabble in which Jason, who is from South Africa, lamented the fact that our version of Scrabble only has four U’s. This is a problem with honour, and colour, and favourite, and the Q’s.

Weber is not a fan of our game playing tradition so he and Harley continued a tradition that they started last year.

Christmas 2008

Christmas 2009

We had wonderful family holiday filled with all those things that should accompany such a celebration – fun, laughter, good food, and, most importantly, a lot of love.

I hope that you and your family had a blessed and joyful holiday as well.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Wishes

Merry Christmas to all . . .

. . .and to all a goodnight.

White Christmas

Clothes, books, games, music, a lot of love and world peace occupy our Christmas wishes, but I think I can safely say that none of us was wishing for or dreaming of a white Christmas. Though I am proud to say that all of our holiday preparations were done before today, we did have plans for this day before Christmas and they did not include snow. . I had two services to sing for tonight. Erin had dinner plans with her boyfriend and Brooke had hoped that we would all be otherwise engaged so that she would have the house to herself for a few hours.

Somebody's dreams came true . . . North Texas is blanketed in snow. The wind is blowing fiercely and the temperature is in the low twenties with a wind chill of half that. By Texas standards, we are experiencing a blizzard. The weather caused us to completely change our Christmas Eve plans. Everyone is at home.

It feels strange not being at church tonight. I have not missed a Christmas Eve service in twenty six years. Then again, there has not been a white Christmas in the twenty six years that I have lived in Texas. So instead of hearing the story of Christ's birth and singing all the hymns that are only sung at this time of year, I am warm and safe at home eating tamales and surfing the web.

Though it feels odd right now, I suspect that tomorrow after having had a good night's sleep because I did not sing for midnight Mass, I will be thankful for the surprise snow that kept us all home tonight.

Despite the frigid temperature, I did take a quick trip outside for some pictures. The hard falling snow and blowing wind made the images a bit blurry.

It snowed for several hours after these pictures were taken. We probably have two or three inches of accumulation and even a few drifts because of the wind. It was too cold to play outside in the snow but I did get a picture of my favorite snowman.

And so we have the Texas version of a white Christmas and a winter wonderland. . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December Morning

Though we are officially on vacation, our mornings of setting no alarm clock have not started quite yet. We left the house bright and early this morning for church and then a trip to Palestine (TX) to see a family friend.

Despite the brightly shining sun, the air was definitely on the chilly side. I don't know what the official temperature was outside at 7:15 this morning, but it was low enough that the car windshield was covered with a significant layer of ice, one that required several minutes with the defroster on maximum before it melted.

As we were waiting for the heat to do its magic, I turned my head and saw this magnificent image created by this morning's bright sun and the icy layer on the car window. The picture was taken with my iPhone.

This bizarre glimpse of beauty makes me glad that I was up early this morning.

It almost looks like an image that was sent back by the Hubble telescope. Maybe I should send it to NASA.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Brooke got home for the Christmas break last Saturday. She is just now starting to emerge from that end of the semester haze that results from the adrenaline let down of finishing exams and the sobering up from the parties after the adrenaline let down of final exams. Today she was in the kitchen planning her baking attack for the next few weeks and putting the finishing touches on her Christmas gift buying. I was cleaning the kitchen.

As I cleared miscellaneous pieces of mail from the bar, I unearthed a catalog that had come since she was home at Thanksgiving. It was a Fredrick’s of Hollywood catalog. I handed it to her and said that she might want to pick out her Christmas jammies for this year. She passed on the suggestive Santa’s elf outfits (emphasis on OUT) but said that we should order some “cute” underwear. My initial reaction was that “cute”, Frederick’s of Hollywood and me cannot possibly be used in the same sentence. Brooke assured me that ordering underwear would make my day better.

We started thumbing through the pages. It was one of those mother-daughter bonding experiences. We began with a discussion of Do people really wear that? Wouldn’t those straps around your butt just make you look lumpy? That just looks dreadfully uncomfortable. Then there was the Why bother?

The conversation turned to one of those conversations that I never would have had with my mother. So if they are going to cut that part out of the garment, why would you bother to wear anything? Why not just go naked? In a matter of fact way, Brooke informed me that guys would rather girls be naked anyway. I refrained from asking the obvious question . . .How do you know?

As we turned a few more pages, Brooke came across something that she thought I should get – some pretty but unpretentious bras. As it turned out, if you bought two they were relatively inexpensive. In fact, they were quite a bit cheaper than the boring ones I normally buy at the department stores. We decided to each get one. As we began to place our order, Brooke said that she wondered if she was wearing the right size bra. We decided to measure. To insure that we took the proper measurements, we turned to Wikipedia for the most accurate information on bra sizing. Armed with this information and a tape measure, we set about gathering the data. We were the only ones and home and fairly confident that this would remain the case for a while so we shed our shirts and measured. Brooke’s response – “I don’t really wear THAT size! And mine – “Cool! Frederick’s of Hollywood makes stuff in my size!

We both made our selection; we both chose the same bra. Brooke entered our selections in the online order form. For some reason the discount for buying two was not being figured. Brooke thought about calling their customer service number and inquiring as to what the problem might be. We got a little giddy as we played out the possible conversations . . .My mommy and I are trying to buy matching bras for our birthdays and we want the sale price! It was quite funny at the time. I suspect it is one of those “got to be there” things. Brooke decided that if we were ever successful in ordering our matching bras that perhaps we could take a picture and submit it to Awkward Family Photos. It would most surely be a candidate for that!

I am sure glad to have my oldest baby home. Today was like all those days we had when she was little – learning letters and numbers and those unexpected life lessons. It is so rewarding to watch your children grow up!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Time of Waiting

For those of us that live our lives at least somewhat by the liturgical calendar, we are in the second week of the New Year, the second week of Advent. In the Christian tradition, Advent is the time that immediately precedes the celebration of the birth of Christ—Christmas. Thus, it is a season of waiting – waiting for the baby to be born. It should be a time for us to slow down and contemplate all that there is to learn from enduring a period of great anticipation. But, waiting is not something we do well in this day and age. Immediate gratification seems to be considered by many as an inalienable right.

I heard on the radio today that people under twenty one, i.e. those who have grown up in an era in which the Internet has been a part of their everyday life since birth, consider more than ten seconds as too long to wait for a web page to load whereas those of us who are a little older (or a lot older) are perfectly happy waiting as much as two or three minutes. Some people say that our youth are simply impatient and others say that this impatience is a result of children these days being overindulged. They are given cell phones from the time they can string two syllables together. They are banging away on computer keyboards as soon as they can sit up. Their strollers are equipped with iPod speakers. Everything from food to cosmetics, from designer clothing to kid-sized motorized Hummers is available to them. It would appear that they don’t have to wait until adulthood for anything. As children, they can have it all. This may all be true, but with any scenario, there is another side of the story.

Children do have many of the gadgets and material things that in past generations were deemed only for “grown-ups”; but sadly, they also are now facing many of the stresses of life that at one time also were reserved only for adults.

Illness and death were not something that I had much experience with as a child. Sure, I knew of kids who lost their grandparents. That was not a surprise to me as a child because they were “old” and old people die. The most serious encounter that I had with illness was when a classmate had their tonsils out. And as far as I knew, a tonsillectomy was not life threatening. Children didn’t face life-threatening illnesses and only old people died. Looking back, I know that life was not this rosy, but as a child, even a teenager, I never had to face the emotional stresses of such things. This too has changed for children today.

Erin will be seventeen years old in two weeks. Based on the current statistical life expectancy, she is still very young. In those seventeen years, she has experienced firsthand more heartache and pain as the result of illness and death than I had by the time I was forty. When she was seven, Erin and an entire classroom of second and third graders attended the funeral of a beloved teacher. She had cancer and was not old. She was the mother of a little girl who also attended the same school. When I was little, teachers and mothers did not die.

As she was finishing middle school, Erin’s math teacher and the mother of a child a year older than Erin was diagnosed with colon cancer. She is no longer teaching because battling cancer is taking all of her energy. When I was little, teachers and mothers did not get cancer.

Back in the spring, another of her teachers collapsed and died of a heart attack while out jogging on a Saturday morning. Again the funeral service with packed with children, two of whom were his own. He was my age. When I was little, teachers and fathers did not die from heart attacks.

Two weeks ago a friend of Erin’s, a girl with whom she attended school, played volleyball, performed in plays, and had many slumber parties from kindergarten through eighth grade was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer that affects primarily adolescents. A part of Erin’s daily routine now is to check the website that her friend’s family has created to keep friends and family updated on her progress. When I was little, my friends did not get cancer.

It may be true that our children have more things than they need. They most certainly also have more stresses than they need or deserve. When I step back and look at the bigger picture of childhood today, it becomes clear to me why young people need immediate gratification. They are keenly aware that tomorrow is not a guarantee.

What are they waiting for?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Joy In Our World

Over the years that I have kept a journal I have noticed a trend in my writing; when things are bad, I tend not to write. Like many things in my life, that has changed in the last year. My silence here is not because things are bad or I am unhappy but because life is wonderful and I have spent my time doing other things. I have missed writing, but I do not regret taking the time away from it to truly live.

Teaching has been great this year. My students are motivated and are working hard. That encourages me to work equally as hard for them. Erin is in the final stages of completing her college applications. It seems like just yesterday that I was editing Brooke’s admissions essay. Now it is Erin. And, Weber and I have both been fortunate to have the opportunity to reconnect with friends from the past so our social calendar has been full. And, as you might imagine, holiday preparations are occupying our time as well.

Surprisingly, I have completed most of my gift-buying – without stepping foot in a retail establishment over the Thanksgiving weekend! For the first time in a long time I am delighted with my progress so early in December and I am also pleased with the gifts that I have bought. Because I am ahead of the game, we are even ready to put up the Christmas tree – perhaps tomorrow night . . .or not . . .

“What’s this? Flowers? How thoughtful!”
”It’s the new Christmas tree and it comes with instructions, which I have made the mistake of reading.”

How hard can this be? Do we really need instructions to put together an artificial tree? It’s not like they need to tell us how often to water it or to cut an inch or two off of the trunk like is required with a living tree. As Weber read the instructions aloud, it became obvious that they were not to aid in the successful erecting of a Christmas tree, but purely to entertain.

For example:

I wonder what its intended use really is?

Maybe if we shed a little light on it.

Mike and Weber decided that its purpose must be a prop with which to practice toilet papering people’s yards. We had snow yesterday so it is nice for them to hone their skills inside where it is nice and warm – especially since this seasonal product is not intended to be used outdoors.


You guys are going to get in trouble!

Too bad for Adidas. He would like a permanent indoor tree so that he did not have to venture outside on these cold days.

We don’t have to worry about this instruction for a while. For now, we can simply enjoy our seasonal, electric, indoor, non-permanent, non-toy.

Though we did have our share of fun and laughs while putting up the Christmas tree, we are keenly aware of the meaning of Christmas.

Fleece on earth, good wool to all.

Oh sorry! The tree is decorated in all things wool – sheep ornaments, miniature knitted socks, sweaters and hats, and various critters adorned with scarves, mittens and hats.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Head and Shoulder, Keys and So It Goes . . .

Anyone who has raised children knows that parenting is not for the weak hearted. Worrying starts from . . .well, the day of conception. Am I eating right? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I gaining too much weight? Am I gaining enough weight? Should I listen to Bach or Wagner? And so on. Every decision you make now affects someone in addition to yourself. Needless to say, pregnancy is a stressful time. And, it doesn’t get any better once the little darling is born. The worries just change a little. Is he or she eating right? Getting enough sleep? Gaining enough weight? Gaining too little weight? Listening to too much Baby Einstein?

Worrying done in these early months is simply practice for the next eighteen years and beyond. The first time you leave a baby with a babysitter is preparation for the day you send them to kindergarten and leave them in a college dorm. The bumps and bruises earned while negotiating those first steps make the battle scars from falling out of trees and those rough sports games easier to handle. The first broken bone makes the second,, third and fourth seem like a piece of cake. The first few yards on a bike with training wheels foreshadow those first few miles with a learner’s permit. And taking those training wheels off is almost as scary as the day the driver’s license is issued.

For those of us who have been in the parenting game from day one, there has been lots of practice and many trial runs for the teenaged years. I can’t imagine walking into to all of this in the midst of the quest for teenaged independence. That is exactly what Weber did. He has handled it much better than I think that I would have if our roles had been reversed!

Essentially, he came into our lives at the point that Erin got her learner’s permit. So there he is with a child he doesn’t know very well who wants to drive. It is bad enough that he is being asked to risk life and limb with a “green” driver. To top it all off, because I couldn’t drive, he became the responsible parental figure. And did I mention he willingly let her drive his car? He and Erin were fine. (I think.) I was a nervous wreck!

Then there are all the questions. The one that every parent dreads, “Where do babies come from?”, is nothing compared to the ones that Erin comes up with. At least that one has a matter of fact answer. “Why are boys such douche bags?”, “Why are there so many stupid people in the world?”, or “Is it OK if Jesus and I have a trial separation?” require the ability to think quickly and refrain from giving said teenager any satisfaction from shock value.

Then there was the night that she proclaimed at the dinner table that she thought that every male should be kicked in the groin once a month in solidarity with all the women of the world. Hmm . . .not such a bad idea.

Now she is in the midst of applying to college. Erin, Weber and I have been to college nights for the schools that Erin is considering. No matter what they say, the seemingly endless lists of school supplies that I have been buying for the last twelve years or more in no way prepares you for paying for college. They won’t take crayons and Kleenex in lieu of a tuition check.

In many ways Weber is in a difficult place – taking a parental role without overstepping any boundaries. Everyone seems to be handling that well. Life around here is a true testament to what caring and loving relationships are all about. Weber promised Erin that he did not want to get in the way of her relationship with her dad but that he would always be there for her, a shoulder to lean on. And he has kept his promise.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happiness Is ???

Every student of American history, even those who did not pay particularly close attention during class has heard the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These things are the inalienable rights afforded to us by this country’s Declaration of Independence. I am clear on what life is and I am fairly clear on what liberty means. What the heck does “the pursuit of happiness” really mean? If this is a right, guaranteed to all by virtue of being a citizen of the United States, why are there so many unhappy people in this country?

As I sat thinking about this, it suddenly dawned on me that when we think about this phrase, we focus on the wrong word. We tend to think that these words of John Locke entitle us to life, liberty, and happiness. Wrong! We are not guaranteed happiness. We are guaranteed the right to pursue happiness. Herein lays the answer to why there are so many unhappy people around. We know what it means to pursue something, to chase after something until we have caught it. The question in this case is what is “it”? What are we chasing? What is happiness? Most people have no clue; thus we are a nation in utter distress and utter dis-ease.

Yesterday was the first day of school. For both Weber and I the day was not bad – a few of the first day glitches with student schedules and so on but for the most part, it was a good day. We had to stop at Wal-Mart on the way home, along with thousands of other people who were buying last minute ingredients for dinner and baskets full of school supplies, to get dog food and diet coke – basic staples around here. Our fellow shoppers all seemed to be fairly cheerful even though the lines were long and many of us were obviously tired. As we stood in line we talked about things like who had the dog food coupon, how many watermelons did we really think that we could eat, what the rest of the week looked like, and how it was going to take a while to get used to getting up at 5:30 again. The other thing that it is going to take getting used to is being apart all day. Though teaching doesn’t pay as well as other careers, having nearly three months off together over the summer is worth a few zeros on the paycheck. The point here is that at 5:00 yesterday afternoon after having been at school all day, we were glad to be together.

We had been in line about five minutes when the gentleman in front of us turned around and said, “It is so nice to see two people our age (he was fiftyish as well) so happy to be with one another and still in love. Many of us rush through life and miss it.” We quickly admitted that it was “Take Two” for both of us but that yes indeed, we were very happy together.
Once we made our way through the line and were wheeling our groceries to the car, we, almost in unison, asked each other what that man in front of us saw. How could he tell from a conversation about coupons, and course loads, and classrooms with leaky ceilings that we are blissfully happy? I must admit that he is not the first person to make such a comment to us though in most of these other instances our affection for one another was much more obvious. So, what does happiness look like?

I don’t know. I have a better grasp on what it does not look like. It can’t be seen in stuff. If you are unhappy, no thing will ever make you happy. It may temporarily mask the pain of being unhappy, but you will still be unhappy. Power and control will not make you happy. Unless you take control of your own unhappiness, power over and control of others will not do it either.

I think that real happiness is only possible when you truly love yourself. To love yourself you must accept who you are - the good person that you are as well as the imperfect person. It is only when we can love ourselves that we are able to accept the love of another person. It is these two things, love of self and love shared with others, that create happiness. Life is not a solo journey. We are meant to share it with others. Pursuing happiness means surrounding ourselves with people who love themselves, not in an egotistical but a realistic way, and who spread that love beyond themselves.

As I think back to yesterday and our time in line at Wal-Mart, I find myself thinking that the comment made by the man in front of us may be the greatest compliment that a person can give another. To be told that our happiness is obvious means that we have achieved the American dream - something that eludes so many.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bigger Picture

Despite the trials and tribulations of our trip to Delaware that I recounted yesterday, we did have a wonderful trip. Lewes is a quaint town full of friendly people. Everything necessary is within walking distance - except the AT&T store. We walked "uptown" for our morning coffee, strolled the streets visiting the unique shops, and spent the evenings walking to the beach and enjoying the beautiful architecture and gardens that line the streets. Below is a sampling of the sights of Lewes, Delaware.

This is my dad's house. It looks out onto the canal that leads into the Delaware Bay.

The canal . . .

It seemed that every house was surrounded by beautiful English style gardens. The variety of colors and textures was amazing. As we walked along admiring all that there was to see, we were greeted by many of the locals, two-legged and four legged, who enjoyed their evenings on screened front porches. The following picture does not do justice to the beauty of these gardens when viewed as a whole, but it does capture the sense of joy that we experienced as we walked by all the plants and flowers blowing in the ocean breeze.

For obvious reasons I am not a beach person. The thought of sitting on the beach baking in the scorching sun with sand in uncomfortable places and jellyfish swimming beside me is just not appealing. However, there is nothing like walking along the nearly deserted shoreline at either dusk or sunrise. These times of day offer an amazing sense of peace.

St. Peter's Episcopal church.

Another picture of the beach at dusk.

The Overfalls, seen in the background of this picture, is a lightship that has been restored by the Lewes Historical Society. It is a floating lighthouse like was used of the coast of Lewes to safeguard boats as they navigated the breakwaters..

Another view of the canal . . .

Our eight days on the Delaware coast were certainly a nice contrast to the summer days in Texas!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Let's Talk About Stuff

I know it looks like I can't make a plan and stick to it since, despite my promise to write more regularly, it has been so long since I last posted. This time, it really is not my fault. Sometimes the circumstances of life intervene and the plans and ideals that we strive to live by just aren't what is happening. So it has been the last few weeks.

Weber, Erin, And I travelled to the coast of Delaware to visit with my dad (and many, many other friends and relatives - including my 92 year old grandmother.) Lewes, Delaware is a big shift from Dallas or even Sanger, Texas. It is a small beach resort town on the coast of our nation's first state. During the summer months it is overrun by sun worshippers who will inevitably put the next generation of dermatologist's children through post graduate school at the most expensive institutions of higher learning. For now however, they are doing their part to keep the local economy of this small town "green" - economically, not ecologically.

I have been visiting Lewes for my entire life. My grandparents lived there, first in a cottage on the beach and then in a 1760's house that they restored. It is filled with antiques, family photographs, and momentos of stories that span many generations. Until his death in the mid nineties, my grandfather lived here. A few years after that, my parents moved into the "family homestead." With the exception of an addition that Mom and Dad added, nothing much has changed here since my first memories, which date back to the mid sixties. The furniture is the same; the lighting is the same; even the smells (good ones) are the same. Despite all this familiarity, I didn't much like making the obligatory trips to Lewes when I was a teenager. To my adolescent mind, there was nothing to do. Being sympathetic to the adolescent with whom I now live, I had decided that we would make this trek back east while she was otherwise engaged so I could spare her that sense of boredom that I knew she would find within our first 24 hours. Erin is a better person than I was at her age. She insisted on going with us.

Two days into our visit, as we were strolling down the quaint downtown streets headed toward one of the local museums, I got a phone call from Offspring No. 1, who was in Chicago finishing summer school, saying that her apartment had been robbed. Her computer and other electronics were taken as well as similar items belonging to her roommates. Though the computer had to be replaced immediately (because no one can live without a computer these days), the bigger issue was the feeling of being violated. In the long run, the stuff was just stuff, I told her

I was forced to live by my own words the next evening when Offspring No.2, who had borrowed my computer to help alleviate the adolescent boredom that I spoke of earlier, came downstairs and announced, "I broke your computer." "Do you mean it crashed?", I said. "No, I mean I broke it. The screen is cracked." When I asked the obvious next question about how this happened, I got the obvious teen aged answer, "I don't know. I put it down and when I went to use it, it was broken." I deliberated briefly about the best response - anger or tears. Ultimately I decided to take a deep breath, say very little, remember those words "stuff is just stuff", and ask Weber to go upstairs to survey the damage.

Through some frugal web shopping and friends in low places who happen to be handy with screwdrivers, my computer is now fixed and I am back in business. However, it was this little episode that interrupted my promise to make (almost) regular blog posts.

I had just about recovered from all of the bad encounters with electronics of the past few days when Offspring No. 2 tripped and dropped her iPhone shattering its screen and this rendering it useless. Oh yeah. Did I mention she was walking and playing games when this happened? It's just stuff! It is just stuff! It is just stuff! FYI - There is no App to miraculously reconstruct the shattered touch creen of an iPhone. This problem would not have been so urgent if we were all heading back to Dallas together. Unfortunately, we were putting Erin on a plane to Chicago to spend a few days with her sister. The mother in me couldn't let her go by herself with no means of communication. We headed for the AT&T store to replace the phone. This was as much for me as it was for her.

Lesson: Stuff is just stuff.
Corrolary: Stuff costs money. Sometimes it costs lots of money.

During our visit, my dad mentioned that he wasn't sure how much longer he would stay in the house. It is a lot of house and a lot of yard for one person to care for. As I looked around, all I could think was that there is a lot of stuff in this house! Suddenly my mantra of its just stuff came back to haunt me.

When is stuff just stuff and when is it not?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The First Fifty Years

Today was Mike's 50th birthday. One might expect a grand and glorious celebration. Not so much around here today. Actually, he just got back from a vacation in South Africa and decided to wait for Erin to return home from her most recent summer adventure on Saturday before having a "real"birthday celebration. However, we did not want this momentous day to pass with no acknowledgement, so we decided to have a period of reminiscence while we shared a gourmet dinner - taco salad,

We could have talked about all of Mike's accomplishments during the half century that he has been alive, or memories of his siblings, past birthdays, favorite toys, how nerdy we all looked in the 70's, living through the technological advance from 8-track to cassette tapes, the invention of the blow dryer, or TV before there was MTV. The possible topics were endless, and some of them even interesting. However, we focused on TV game shows.

How many of these do you remember?
  • Match Game
  • What's My Line
  • The Newlywed Game
  • Concentration
  • Password
  • The Dating Game
  • High Rollers
  • Hollywood Squares
  • Treasure Hunt
  • Let's Make A Deal
  • I've Got A Secret
  • Truth Or Consequences
  • the 10,000 Pyramid
  • Family Feud
  • Joker's Wild
  • The Gong Show

And if you remember the shows, do you remember who hosted them? Gene Rayburn, Chuck Woolery, Bill Cullem, Monty Hall, Allen Luden, Art Fleming, Peter Marshall, Ray Coombs, Kevin Eubanks, Wink Martindale -

Or, how about

  • Who was the center square on Hollywood Squares?
  • When you had to "shop" on the set with your winnings from Wheel of Fortune
  • When people were ecstatic to win an avocado green refrigerator
  • Jeopardy before Alex Trebek
  • Wheel of Fortune before Pat Sajak
  • Allen Luden's wife

It was a fun trip down memory lane. I'm not sure that current TV will spark such a conversation thirty or forty years from now. Most of what is on television now is not worth remembering tomorrow, forget nearly a half century from now. I may be wrong. Perhaps on Mike's hundredth birthday we will all be sitting around reminiscing about the 2009 American Idol upset and still wondering if Adam Lambert finished in second place because he was gay.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Date Night After Divorce

Lots of things change after divorce. Though life in the grand scheme is better, some things take a little adjustment, especially when one of you is paying alimony and the other is not getting much because, well, you are dating. Such circumstances send one's creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and frugality into overdrive. I have to admit there is a bit of a thrill to the whole thing.

So here it is Friday night. We are the only ones home and have the entire evening to ourselves. All the light bulbs have been changed; we have single-handedly caused the extinction of dust bunnies around here; the refrigerator is free of all scientific experimentation; the dog is tired of playing fetch; and we have used all the words in the magnetic poetry on the fridge. What can we do with a goodly amount of time and little money? I have a solution. No! It is not what you think! That is free. We are willing to spend a few dollars.

Movies are the stereotypical dating adventure. I suppose this is because at some point they were relatively inexpensive. This definitely is not the case these days. Movie tickets are $7 to $10 and drinks and popcorn triple that cost. It all hardly seems worth spending over $30 to me to go see a movie.

So here it is - a great movie date night under $5. Have you seen the Red Box DVD rentals? They are all over the place from discount stores to McDonald's restaurants. One night movie rentals are a dollar! That sure beats $15 - $20 in theater tickets. We found 2 liter bottles of Diet Coke also for $1 and our favorite popcorn, Popcorn Indiana gourmet kettlecorn, for $2.50. There you have it - $4.50 total.

Okay, there are a few stipulations. You need a TV, preferably a big screen to help simulate the movie theater experience. Hopefully at least one of you got the TV in the divorce settlement. One of us did. A comfy place to sit is also an advantage. Again, hopefully someone ended up with a couch. If not, a stack of pillows, a bean bag chair, or old comforters piled high will work in a pinch. Fortunately, we have a comfortable couch; however, enjoying a movie from any of the above accommodations would add to the experience. How is up to you.

The $4.50 date night also has some definite advantages;
  • No crying babies brought by those who could afford the movie but not a babysitter. (In our case there is the occasional barking dog but somehow that seems easier to tolerate than a crying baby.)
  • The freedom to hit pause if you drink too much of the Diet Coke.
  • The ability to hit rewind if you fall asleep or for other reasons miss part of the movie.
  • You can watch the movie in your pajamas, or anything else, or nothing, if you choose.
  • You are spared the embarrassment of all the teenagers behind you saying, "Look at those old people making out! I didn't think people still did that at their age!

See, the $4.50 date night is a great deal!

Oh. I guess there is one other necessity for this to work - a date. Sorry. You are on your own here. I can't help you with this other than to say that the perfect person most often walks into our lives when we least expect it and most need it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

A little time travel . . . back to Italy tomorrow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

And So It Was God's Time

In many ways, living with God is like living with a toddler - you never know what God will do or say or or if you will be prepared to deal with the next unpredictable move.

It was after dinner on our first evening in Assisi before we ventured out by foot into the piazza. The night was cool and clear. As we wound our way among the eight hundred year old buildings, up the stone steps into the town center only yards away from Francis' family home, I was awe struck. At that moment, I was rendered speechless. I stood and stared for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few seconds. We walked the cobblestone paths as did Francis and I was taken back in time only to be jolted back to 2009 by the smell of cappuccino wafting from the bakeries whose windows were piled high with confections.

That night, as I took my first steps through Assisi, I was teetering between a past, the present, and a future. I spent the whole evening on one hand not knowing where I was and on the other feeling like I was at home. Weber must have sensed my weird state of being because that night before we went to bed he took me in his arms and asked, "Now that you are here, are you sure that you don't want to be a nun?" I managed to say, "I don't know." We went to bed with those being the last words we shared that night.

The next morning we got up and had what passed for breakfast in the convent - wafers, which are best described as the Italian version of graham crackers, and cappuccino. We then walked to the Basilica of St. Francis. The Basilica was breath taking on many levels. I will share more about that in a later post.

The six of us travelling together then went to the Portinucula and afterwards shared a fantastic Italian lunch. Because Weber and I arrived a day later than the rest of the group, we missed seeing Santa Chiara, the Church of St. Clare, with them on the previous day. They suggested that we do that during our free time that afternoon.

Santa Chiara is just off the piazza. In a small side chapel, it houses the "original" San Damiano cross, the cross that spoke to the young Francis and told him to "go and rebuild my church." This cross had previously hung in the San Damiano friary. After Francis' death, St. Clare and the sisters moved it to Santa Chiara, where it hangs today.

We walked into this chapel joining twenty to thirty tourists and several nuns who were praying the rosary. We sat down in an empty pew. I looked up at the San Damiano cross and again was filled with awe. I was looking at the very cross that had transformed the young Francis from a partying soldier to a fool for God. God, through his very cross, spoke to Francis, thus changing his life and the lives of many others forever. Realizing this, I knew what I had to do.

With tears streaming down my face, I looked up at this beautifully painted piece of wood and said, "OK. You spoke to Francis and told him what to do. I need you to do that for me. I need to know if you are truly calling me to test my vocation as a nun in the first order?" I'm not sure how long I sat there with tears rolling down my face with no words being spoken - not by me, or Weber, or the cross. I disappeared into the blur of my thoughts and my tear-filled eyes.

Some time later I looked up (I have no idea how long it was) to see a Franciscan friar walking toward us. He looked at Weber and said, 'Deutsche?". To which Weber responded, "No, English." The friar smiled and started to walk on. He abruptly stopped, came back to our pew and first blessed Weber by making the sign of the cross on his forehead and then he did the same to me. He then pulled from somewhere (I guess habits have pockets) a small piece of paper wrapped in cellophane and handed it to Weber saying that it was a gift for us. The friar then turned and left the chapel as gracefully as he had come in As we watched him leave, we realized that with this friar's arrival, the chapel had completely emptied The thirty or so people that were there when we walked in had all left. For that brief moment, it was just me, Weber, the friar, and God in that chapel.

We sat together in silence for a few more minutes before leaving the chapel as Vespers was about to begin. Once outside, Weber turned to me and asked, "What just happened in there? Why were you crying?" I told him of the question that I had posed to God via the cross. We then looked at what we had been given by the friar.

In the cellophane was a small rose colored card of handmade paper. Attached to the front is a dried flower and an antique colored gold heart charm. Inside, on cream colored paper, is a poem entitled, "Per La Via del Cuore", For The Way of the Heart.

We spent several evenings working to translate the rest of the poem. Our Italian vocabulary was OK, but lacking any real knowledge of Italian grammar made this task difficult. Though there is more to it than this, essentially the message we were given is that where your heart is, there too you will find God. I spoke to God through the San Damiano cross and in His time, he spoke to me through the friar. My question was answered.

First and foremost, my heart belongs to God; however, God brought Weber and me together and thus what we share is of God and for God - though not conducive to convent living!

These moments in Santa Chiara forever changed me, my relationship with Weber, and my faith in God.

"Santa Chiara"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Get Thee To A Nunnery . . .For Real???

In my list of reasons as to why I have not been blogging I quipped about personal computers not being allowed in the convent. By “personal computer” I mean a computer belonging solely to one person though there certainly are computers available to those living in community. I know this because I did consider seriously whether or not I was being called to live my life as a member of the First Order, to be a sister. Franciscans do not usually refer to themselves as monks and nuns but rather as brothers and sisters.

For as long as I can remember I felt called to a religious life. As a child being raised in a non-church going family I longed to go to church on Sunday mornings and CCD on Wednesday afternoons like all my friends were doing. Instead, I was home alone on Sunday mornings watching Davey and Goliath in claymation. In these early years I had no sense of different denominations and faith traditions. All I knew was that all the kids in my neighborhood were going to church except for me. The fact that they were all Catholic and I a cradle Episcopalian, though I didn’t really know it at the time, didn’t mean anything to me.

For many years I stumbled around wanting a relationship with God but not knowing how to foster that. Finally when in high school I had another group of friends who were Catholic. I now know that they must have been liberal and progressive Catholics because they took me in like I was the lost sheep. This was during the era of the Folk Mass so I was drawn to them and them to me through music. I attended the Catholic Church throughout high school never being confirmed and taking communion every Sunday.

When I got to college, I began to search again for a place to build on my relationship with God. I went to the Catholic Church for awhile, the Methodist church with my roommate, even sang in a Baptist choir for a year until I finally stumbled upon Canterbury the Episcopal student group. From that point to the present, I have been an active member of the Episcopal Church.

About fifteen years ago, I began to feel a yearning for something more, to be closer to God, to serve in a more profound way. This search led me to the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis, a community of individuals living our lives by a rule of life much like our first order brothers and sisters, but in the secular world. I was life-professed in 2003 after nearly six years in formation. During that time, I finally found the relationship with God that I had been searching for and hoping for for so long.

As I began to grow as a person, as a Christian, and as a Franciscan I started to feel that all too familiar tug pulling me to something deeper. I felt like I was being asked to consider a call to the first Order. It was ridiculous to consider such a radical call. I was married and was raising children, things that were not conducive to the monastic life. I pondered this question for several years.

When it became obvious to me that I needed to file for divorce, my first thought was that this was God opening the door for me to consider seriously this call. I agonized for several months over what to do. Because this whole notion seemed so “out there” I talked to only one person about it. And because God doesn’t want any decision to be made hastily (or easily) this period of discernment soon became complicated because of Weber coming into my life. Why did everything have to be so darn difficult to figure out?

As my marriage dissolved and my relationship with Weber grew, so did my level of confusion. I had no idea what God was calling me to do. I did tell Weber early on that I thought that I might be called to test my vocation in the First Order so I might not be the best person with whom to get involved. “OK”, he said and life went on. Almost daily my question of what I was supposed to be doing came up in my daily prayer and with some regularity it would come up in conversations between the two of us. We both came to the point of saying that we needed to be open to God and the answer would be revealed in God’s way and in God’s time.

We left for Assisi with me still wondering what I was being called to do.

Then, it was God’s time . . .

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Please Don't Ruin My Picture!

Yesterday I said that when travelling it is important to have a sense of the place you are to visit before arriving. With regard to the practical, this is true, but after thinking about my statement, I believe that it needs a few caveats.

I have been reading the writings of St. Francis himself as well as the words that others have written about him for nearly vtwenty years. I have seen many images of this saint in icons, book illustrations, stained glass, various forms of art, even comics. Many descriptions of the sites of Assisi are also present in these readings and artistic representations. From these various portrayals, I had created for myself the St. Francis and the city of Assisi with which I was comfortable and comforted. This somewhat subconscious process is much like what we do when we read a good book; we make the hero or heroine be whom and what we want them to be - what they look like, what they talk like, their gestures, and so on. I must admit that I was a bit reluctant to give up my image of the roads that Francis walked for the real thing. What if I was disappointed? What if the places that were so filled with God's presence in Francis' time were cold and empty? Returning to my book comparison, I didn't want to feel the kind of disappointment I felt when the image that I had of Terabithia from Katherine Patterson't wonderful Newberry award winning children's was completely destroyed by its reality when the book was moved to the big screen. In many ways, this trip was a huge emotional risk - personally and spiritually.

This is my first glimpse of Assisi as we literally stepped off of the train.

I am happy to say that everything about this trip far exceeded my expectations. My imagination and my faith were not capable of expanding big enough to have even foreseen a glimpse of what transpired during that week in March.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Termini, Where Less Is More

When travelling, whether to a neighboring town or a far away land, it is usually a good idea to have some sense of what to expect when you reach your destination. A basic understanding of language, currency, tipping practices, and local customs will alleviating many scary and embarrassing situations. It is no secret that in Europe you must pay to use public restrooms, a practice that has long since disappeared in this country, though I can remember those dime slots in U.S. airports. Knowing this, I made sure to visit the facilities in the Rome airport, where the toilets were free, before we began the two train and several hour journey to Assisi. My beloved travelling companion kindly stood with the bags while I went to restroom, but failed to take advantage of this opportunity himself.

So begins our first tale from our glorious trip to Assisi. The following words are Weber's. Just as he kindly guarded our luggage for me in the airport, I returned the favor in the train station at Termini.

I had the good fortune to go to Assisi with my love and a group of good Franciscans (undoubtedly better than going with bad Franciscans). As I am just beginning the journey with Saint Francis, I consider my self fortunate to have the opportunity to walk in the places where St Francis and St. Clare walked at the very start of my own way; guided by others who have made the Franciscan journey.

Some of my reflections were deeply spiritual, some marvel at the wonder of being a visitor in someone else's home, and others simply convey elements of the practical This will deal with the practical. In fact very practical; as it chronicles my first experience with Italian public toilets.

I will skip the flight stuff and simply say we got to Italy as planned. The train ride from the airport to the city was uneventful and made me jealous of a place with a functional public transportation system. We arrived at Termini only to discover that because it was Sunday there were fewer trains to Assisi and we would have a nearly four hour layover.
I found I needed to heed the call that all must follow and went searching for the facilities. Having been forewarned that Italy has “a pay when you go system” of public hygiene and with a 5 euro bill I headed off in the direction of the “Servizi Ingenico” signs; the ones with the small icons telling the non-Italian speaker what is meant. When I got there I found the entrance to the facility blocked by a toll booth that required €0.80. “Non รจ un problema”; a change machine is conveniently located next to this potty portal. It had a place for coins and bills. You may not know that the Euro comes in 1.00 and 2.00 coins and there are not any bills for those denominations. So the logic, to me, is that the bill slot is meant for the 5.00 euro bill. But it was Sunday, and the machine was evidently, like my bladder, full. So it would only take coins. Exact change is required for the turnstile to relief which takes neither of the larger coins.

So off I went in search of the another facility, which was inconveniently located at the other end of the terminal. This is a considerable, but not impossible walk under normal circumstances. But for he of full bladder, it was the level of Hell Dante overlooked. Having no other options, with knees as close together as could be to allow walking, off I went. And when I arrived what did the change machine say “Monete solo per favore”; “Coins only please.” Torture most polite! So, back down the terminal I went. I asked at three shops for change. No one was giving change was given unless you bought something. (Economic stimulus Italian style.) The thought of buying a Coke in my present state was certainly less than appealing. This strikes me as a type of hard sell tactic bordering on blackmail. On the positive side, I did learn quickly that the ability to absorb an unknown language under duress is amazing.

And the pressure was on - literally and figuratively.

Finally a Panini place, sympathetic to my situation, gave me 5 euro coins for my bill and off I went to the pause that refreshes.

And so it began. Not some mystical experience but a down to earth practical lesson in language, money, another country, and the need to find peace.

This may not be the most inspirational story from our trip, but it was a study in humility. And hey, even the saints had to go.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Top 10 Excuses . . .I mean Reasons


10. The endless opportunities for TV watching on Dish network have consumed all my free time.

9. My computer was overtaken by our Alaskan neighbors and everything appeared in the Cyrillic alphabet.

8. All my fingers were broken while playing in the beach volleyball world championship, thus making it impossible to type.

7. I was on an archaeological dig looking for signs of a lost civilization.

6. I've been busy writing the next great American symphony.
5. Reading every entry in Wikipedia so that I can be the next Ken Jennings has taken longer than I expected.

4. They don’t allow “personal” computers at the convent.

3. The dog ate my computer.

2. I’m just plain lazy.

1 The amusement park caliber roller coaster of emotions over the past six months has been too difficult to articulate well.


10. I have spent all these months searching Dish network for something edifying to watch and have come up empty handed. I suspect that this is because TV is a vast wasteland though I suppose that possibly it is because I have no idea which remote does what around here.

9. Offspring No. 1 has been home for the week, the offspring that is studying Russian. She informed me that no deep dark secrets, other than my waist size and that Cheez Whiz is the secret ingredient in my broccoli and rice casserole, were leaked while my computer was occupied by the northern visitors.

8. My beach volleyball career is over because like with most successes it all comes down to looks. The casts and the bikini just didn’t cut it. And I thought the hot pink casts would be a distraction.

7. Offspring No. 2’s room has been completely excavated. This scientific endeavor was successful: there are now signs of civilized beings, ones that recognize the merits of trash cans, dresser drawers and even hangers.

6. Well, I would like to write the next great American symphony. Instead I helped a student with a composition that did win a National award and I have added personalized ring tones to my iPhone. (Just think of all those doodles on cocktail napkins my now great artists.)

5. I do find Wikipedia to be a fascinating odyssey for the mind but I am taking a break until school starts again. Admitting the problem is the first step.

4. I really did consider a life in the convent. Seriously. I did, for a long time. There will be more on this in a later post.

3. The dog did not eat my computer. She has eaten nearly every pen, pencil and marker I have, but not my computer. The good thing is that I have finally gotten to a point where I no longer hand-write everything I do first.

2. I have been busy. Like I said in an earlier post, my teaching schedule last semester was very heavy. I am now settling into the summer routine, one that does not involve getting up at 5:15 am every day and grading papers well until midnight or later, and have realized that I really do miss blogging regularly. The occasional threats from those of you who actually read what I write and have told me that you miss reading are a great incentive as well.

1. And eventually I wander around to the truth. Life has been a roller coaster of emotions. For the most part they have been good emotions but still hard to get a handle on, especially in a way that I feel confident sharing them with the whole world. Many people have asked about the stories from Assisi that I spoke of in my last point. During the three months that have passed since that trip, I have processed many of the wonderful and mystical experiences and am excited to share them with you.

Talk to you tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easing Into Assisi

All of my posts lately seem to begin with “it has been awhile since I last posted.” Every time I write those words I vow not to have to do it again. So far this year, I have not managed to live up to those promises. Several people have asked me when I am going to post pictures and comments from our trip to Italy. There are several reasons that it has taken me so long to do this.

We arrived home from Italy at 10 pm on Sunday the 22nd of March and had to be back at school and ready to educate the youth of America at 8 am Monday morning. Needless to say, there was a definite change of mindset needed in those ten hours from Sunday night to Monday morning. I had given midterm exams the week before we left and in an effort to pack lightly, did not take them along to grade on the plane. So, I spent the week after we got home playing catch up with four classes of tests that had to be graded. From that point, there were things at home that needed to be taken care of (laundry, bills that needed to be paid, and so on.) And then it was Holy Week – seven services in five days and somewhere in there was a weekend trip to Austin. And, this week I have jury

duty. Though life happening was a big part of my not having posted here, it is probably not the real reason that it has taken me so long to collect my thoughts and render them into words. To say that our trip to Assisi was awesome, that it was amazing, that it was incredible, are all true, but none of this comes close to capturing the experience. In those hills of Umbria, my life was changed, both personally and spiritually, forever.

As we boarded the plane in Dallas, I had no expectations other than to go to Assisi and see what there was to see, to be in the midst of all those places that I have read about and imagined as I have studied the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare. I did not expect to have a “mountaintop experience” or to see visions or to find myself in some other kind of mystical moment; I simply wanted to go to Assisi and be in the presence of the powerful spirit of the beloved saints that remains to this day.

Having too many expectations is the road to disappointment. Having no real expectations paves the way for the Holy Spirit to work wonders. I did have several intimate encounters with the Holy in those seven days in Italy. It has taken me this long to even begin to process these experiences such that I have any hope of writing about them in a way that even begins to convey what really happened. I will do my best to share with you in my next several posts the most amazing seven days of my life.

First, I think it is helpful to share a few general pictures of Assisi. Even if you have no acquaintance with Saint Francis or St. Clare, one cannot help but be taken aback by the absolute beauty of the Italian countryside and the charm of the medieval town itself.
This is one of those obligatory tourist pictures. It does capture the green-ness of this city in the last few days of winter.
This is the sight that you are greeted with as you step off the train in Assisi, the roca maggiore, a fortress that sits high above the city.

On our first morning walking the narrow cobblestone streets, I was fortunate to turn at just the right moment to capture this woman greeting the day. The baskets of flowers framing the entrance to her stone villa was the norm for residences in Assisi.

The cobblestone roads were built for horses, not cars. They are very narrow, accommodating Smart cars at best. For those of us that are used to American highways that are littered with SUV's, the cars in Assisi looked like matchbox cars. Even the police cars were Smart cars.

The old city sits up on a hill. This is a view looking down on the more modern part of Assisi that rest in the valley below.

On first appearance when looking from the train station, the roca maggiore seems way far away. Even when standing in the middle of the city's plaza one still feels like it looms high above. However, with a relatively short walk up a fairly steep road, a sharp left turn, and a lot, but not too many, stone steps, you are standing at the edge of this magnificent structure. I do have close up pictures of the roca maggiore that I will share later. The above image is looking down on Assisi from the roca. The church in the fore front is the Santa Chiara, the church of St. Clare.

These pictures represent the big picture of Assisi. There is more to come depicting the quiet corners found in this place.and the holy moments experiences

Friday, March 13, 2009

Beginning, Middle, End

Here I am at mid-term It seems like only yesterday that I was trying to figure out how I was going to manage teaching five different classes this semester. It has been a challenge, a good challenge, a time consuming challenge. I have spent the last eight weeks preparing a class I have never taught, learning how to teach an online course, helping students prepare for auditions and competitions, and grading papers - lots of papers! I'm not sure how we have gotten to the middle of the semester and spring break so quickly, but here we are. I am happy for the break!

For as long as the girls have been in school, spring break has been sort of a non-entity because the girls and I have had spring break over different weeks. So, though I was off, I still had to get up and do the school routine with them and while they were off, I had to work. Though we all got a break from the school routine, nothing really exciting ever happened. This year, by some bizarre alignment of the stars, Erin and I are off the same week. We have a chance to do something - and we are, just not together.

Erin left this afternoon for Paris, and several other French cities, with her French teacher and a group of students from another school. I leave for Rome and Assisi tomorrow, a trip that I have dreamed about for many years. Since becoming a Franciscan, I have wanted to visit Assisi, to experience the town where Francis lived, to see the cross that spoke to him, to walk the paths that he walked, to pray in the churches where he prayed, to stand on the dirt where he died. I leave tomorrow truly on a pilgrim's journey. I am going with only the expectation of being present to whatever this place has to say to me.

I am blessed to be traveling with my new love, who is beginning his own Franciscan journey, and several of my brothers and sisters from the Heart of Texas Fellowship. On so many levels, this trip is a dream come true.

Here I am in the middle of the semester, beginning a journey that has the potential to be life changing, and bringing to an end a fantasy and making it a reality.

Assuming that Assisi has embraced a small piece of the 21st century (i.e. Wi-Fi) my intent is to blog daily while we are gone. Stay tuned for pictures and stories from the land of St. Francis and St. Clare.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Holiday On Ice

Today was a beautiful day, nearly seventy degrees. It was a vast contrast to the bitter cold days earlier this week that brought with them an ice storm and a day off from school. This past Monday evening, all of the weather forecasters warned us that Tuesday would be a miserably cold day with storms moving in and making travel more and more treacherous as the day progressed. This poor prognosis for the day’s weather caused our local school district to cancel school so Erin went back to sleep, but the rest of us had to get up and brave the weather.

We left the house early expecting the worst only to find this to be one of the easiest commutes in weeks – no ice and no traffic. We even had time to stop for coffee and still get to campus on time. Believing that things would worsen throughout the day, we did take an overnight bag just in case travel home after school was not possible. For me, classes after 3 pm were cancelled. We set out for home about 4, again expecting the worse and meeting no problematic driving conditions. I prepared for my classes on Wednesday and packed lunches assuming that we would all get up and go to school the following day.

At 5:15 am the call came – no school fro any of us. We all crawled back in bed for a few more hours of sleep. The day off was nice – wandering around in PJ’s all day, lots of coffee, and catching up on household chores. Come the day after Easter when the bad weather day has to be made up, we all may have a different attitude about this week’s day off, but for now, we enjoyed it.

Here is a glimpse of the Texas ice.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Integrated Rhyme or Rhymed Integration?

Back in March of 2007 I posted a list of things that suggest that your child might be a nerd. Two years later, there is no question that I have raised not one but two nerds.

Below is confirmation that Offspring No. 2 is definitely a nerd.

Nerdy Friend at 8:20pm January 10
Hahaha...I miss being a nerd.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:21pm January 10
Have you STOPPED being a nerd in the past two hours?

Nerdy Friend at 8:22pm January 10
Yes! I watched TV for the first time in, like, four months.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:23pm January 10
Hon, I don't think that detracts ANY from your nerdiness.

Nerdy Friend at 8:27pm January 10
You know what? Just because I'm watching a video on YouTube called U Can't Graph This doesn't mean I'm a nerd.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:29pm January 10
Right. And just 'cause you spent your entire Saturday giddy about Authors and Literary Terms doesn't mean anything either. You're just an average American teenager.

Nerdy Friend at 8:33pm January 10
Hey. At least I don't do math in my head for fun.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:36pm January 10
At least my math knowledge is useful. How many times do you actually think to yourself, "Wow. I'm really glad I know that Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947"?

Nerdy Friend at 8:38pm January 10
You totally looked that up.
And how many times a day do you integrate?

Offspring No. 2 at 8:56pm January 10
I did. And I am proud to say I didn't know if off the top of my head.
I use integrals every time I'm trying to find area under a curve...or velocity from an acceleration equation. you mean, you don't?

Nerdy Friend at 8:58pm January 10
No. I don't. But, like Kathryn, I order things with masculine rhyme titles.

Offspring No. 2 at 9:00pm January 10
Umm, "Bacon Cheeseburger"? I may not be in lit-crit, but I'm pretty sure that's not masculine rhyme...

Nerdy Friend at 9:01pm January 10
Yeah. You know what? Maybe I wasn't talking about Chili's.

Offspring No. 2 at 9:07pm January 10
Maybe, Miss English girl, you should have phrased your ideas differently, so as to relay the proper message; perhaps, "I notice when I order things with masculine rhyme titles?"

BTW, is it a masculine rhyme title or a masculinely rhythmic title?

Innocent Bystander No. 1 at 10:05pm January 10
that is the best status conversation i have ever read. ever.

Innocent Bystander No. 2at 1:15am January 11
Wow. All this math talk is getting me all hot and... sleepy. ;)

Nerdy Friend at 3:41pm January 11
I think masculinely rhymed title.

Offspring No. 2 at 6:09pm January 12
That, to me, suggests that it was purposefully "rhymed" that way.

Nerdy Friend at 9:54pm January 13
I'm sure someone in Chili's upper management was an English major.