Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Standing Naked

Today is my birthday. I thought about all of the things that I could write about to commemorate this occasion and then I thought again. I'm not really in the mood for one of those sappy romps through the past nor am I in the mood for a prophetic foray into the future. My solution, which may or may not be a good one, is to share a poem that I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

I don't often share my own poems here but, for whatever reason, this is how I am acknowledging my birthday.


I sat clothed in a wardrobe of the past.
Layers of tightly woven fabric keeping the cold in
and the warmth out.
Hiding a body and spirit that had dared to live
nearly half a century.

You pleaded with me to shed my hat,
unbutton my coat, kick off my shoes.
To let you remove gently these makeshift bandages
allowing the wounds beneath
the healing breath of fresh air.
You bid me to stand naked,
to hide nothing from you and nothing from myself.

As my last garment fell to the floor,
I saw, as if magnified tenfold, the scars of life given
and life lost.
I felt fresh pain, inside and out, from punches
taken by hand and by word.

As I reached desperately for the security of my old clothes,
My flesh and soul instead were enveloped by the cloak of your words –
“You’re beautiful.”


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas 2010

t is December 26th and I have emerged from beneath the Christmas rubble into the after-Christmas haze. The empty boxes, shreds of wrapping paper and abandoned bows have all made their way to the trash, most of the gifts are resting comfortably in their new homes, and the holiday leftovers have been tucked away in the refrigerator. We tried to keep things simple and low-key, but that is not the way things looked around here yesterday. When you have seven people each giving one another just one gift you end up with 49 gifts. That’s a lot of stuff!

Those of us that did not already have iPads got them for Christmas. I wasn’t sure that I really wanted one, but it sure is a lot of fun. It may even prove to be useful and make me more productive – or at least make me appear to be doing something useful and productive. The iPads themselves were a gateway gift to many other gifts – speakers, headphones, cases, and even a few iTunes gift cards. One of the funniest iPad accessory gifts that I saw, though none of us actually received this, was the book The iPad for Dummies – The Kindle Edition. We have all managed to download Apps, books, and music just fine. I am thinking that first of all if you actually need this book and secondly if you are reading it on your Kindle, perhaps the iPad is not for you.

Though no one received The iPad for Dummies book, there were many other books, real paper ones with actual pages, that emerged from under the tree – cookbooks covering everything from good old southern cooking to vegan Italian, The Cat in the Hat in Russian, graphic novels, daily mediations, and tales of an American naturalist in Italy. Despite that fact that we all have access to ebooks, none of us has been able to give up real books.completely.

Handmade gifts were also in abundance. Erin is our queen of scrapbooking and master of Photoshop. She put her talents to use making each of us something to preserve memories from 2010. Brooke created a recipe collection especially for her sister. These two have taste buds that reside on opposite ends of the culinary spectrum so this was truly a gift of love. The recipes included ingredients such as cheese, eggs, bacon, and butter – things that Brooke does not herself cook with or eat. She did manage to sneak in one recipe that called for swiss chard or some other leafy green vegetable such as spinach – ingredients that Erin does not cook with or eat.

I did get some knitting done for this Christmas, not as much as I had hoped but more than I have managed in a long while. I made Erin an afghan for her dorm room and a pair of socks for Jason. Ok, I started the socks last year with the intention that they would be a gift for Christmas 2009. Now I realize that I had really just gotten a head start on my knitting for 2010. Despite this head start, I did fall short with what I hoped to accomplish for this year.
My goal was to knit hats for Erin, Brooke, Mike and Weber. I fell about 33% short of this. I finished the hats for Mike and Erin in plenty of time to actually wrap them and put them under the tree.

Brooke’s was under the tree; it just happened to be in the form of two unknit balls of yarn and an IOU. Weber’s was about half done and I didn’t even bother with trying to make it look gift-like. I humbly admitted that it was not done and promised that I would finish it as soon as I could. Unfortunately, the temperature is in the 20’s in Dallas right now. He could be wearing the hat if I had finished it. I figure I will have it done in a few days – when it is supposed to be 70 degrees here. This should come as no surprise to him since I finished his last pair of (wool) socks for his birthday – in June!

All in all, Weber is a good sport with regard to my poor timing with knitting projects though he did point out that he thought it was a little ironic that the bald guy got a hair (and beard) trimmer for Christmas but the hat to keep the bald head warm had no crown.
What can I say . . .

Don't tell him that using his reading glasses as a magnifying glass (like we used to do as kids to burn a whole in paper) probably won't work to keep his head warm.

Though we all had a great time giving and receiving gifts, by far the best part of Christmas was all being together laughing, doing crossword puzzles, playing with Squirmles, and eating Brooke’s homemade cinnamon rolls.

I wish you and your loved ones a blessed twelve days of Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top Secret Mission

So why was I at the mall again this weekend? I was on a top secret mission. No, I was not looking for a Christmas gift. And no, I have not finished Christmas shopping, but yesterday was not the day for that. Despite what you may be thinking, I was not checking up on Santa to make sure he was doing what he is supposed to be doing at this time of year. My assignment was to be in the shoe department of Nordstrom Department Store at 2:15 pm. Look around. See the latest styles in boots, heels, and flats. Bask in the Christmas cheer – the lights, the decorations, and the flurry of shoppers. But remember, I’m not shopping; it just looks like I am. I’m just waiting for my cue to spring into action.

At about 2:28, the store pianist ended his rendition of “Jingle Bells” with a coda that rivaled that of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. That was my cue, and the cue for 460 others who had been perusing the various departments of Nordstrom, to stand ready. Our mission was about to begin. We all abandoned our interest in the lovely shoes, clothing and jewelry that we had been admiring intently for the last ten minutes and readied ourselves. Then came our official call to action – the opening bars of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” leaped from the piano. After four measures of introduction, the entire store was filled with the sounds of 460 people singing this wonderful piece of music. Hallelujiahs high and low and everything in between resounded around two floors of the store and I suspect the enormous sound of our combined effort even reached beyond that. The faces of the singers lit up with joy as we sang together – never having rehearsed together or met one another, in many cases, before. The faces of the unsuspecting shoppers in the store did not evidence that same look of joy. Some look stunned. Others amazed. And some looked a little pissed off that our top secret mission of the day was impeding their progress with regard to their top mission of the day - serious, really serious, shopping. Oh well . . .as they say, life is what happens while you are making plans.

What I have just described to you is a Flash Mob. And, it was the best five minutes that I have spent in a long time.

Here is a link to some rough video (taken with someone’s phone) that has been posted to YouTube. Sadly, the quality of the audio leaves a lot to be desired, but you can get the gist of what was going on.


The Dallas Morning News also carried an article this morning.


“Beware of large crowds of like-minded people!”


That's Better, Santa!

For reason I will explain in my next post, I found myself yesterday afternoon at the same mall where I spent last Saturday afternoon. What are the chances? I have lived in Dallas for twenty-seven years. In the past eight days, I have doubled the number of times I have set foot in this particular mall.

I was glad to see that with only a week until Christmas, Santa is beginning to get serious about his job. He is no longer putting off the inevitable by moonlighting as an exterior lighting designer.

(For further explanation, see the previous post.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sights and Sounds of Christmas

The semester is over! At exactly 4:14 Thursday afternoon I turned in my grades. What have I been doing since then? I’m not really sure. All I know is that we have made three trips to the airport in the last twenty four hours; everyone is coming home for the Christmas break and I have done very little, well actually, I have done nothing to get ready for the holidays.

In an effort to remedy that sad situation, we went to one of the big malls in Dallas yesterday. It was full of people, mostly happy people. There were a few kids who, by their wailing, made it clear that they had had enough shopping, but for the most part everyone was enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday hustle and bustle. The entire mall was beautifully decorated. Greenery, lights, bows, and shiny Christmas balls were everywhere. On every wing a different group sang familiar Christmas carols, instrumentalists gave their own renditions of these same tunes, and ballerinas twirled to the sounds of The Nutcracker. Despite the fact that I am in a mild state of panic due to my lack of preparation for Christmas, I could not help but to be happy too. I was even happier when I left the mall because we actually bought a few gifts.

Amidst all of this, we did see a couple of puzzling Christmas sights.

1. As we approached the busy intersection where the mall is situated, there stood Santa on the corner – wearing sunglasses and holding a placard advertising that he installed home Christmas decorations. Does he really have time to do that right now? Shouldn’t he be making his list and checking it twice? Shouldn’t he be making sure that the elves aren’t spending their working hours on Facebook, Twitter, or Match.com? Shouldn’t he be negotiating a bulk discount with Apple for all of the iTouches, iPhones, and iPads that are on everyone’s Christmas lists? Surely he should not be trimming the columns on people’s porches to look like peppermint sticks or draping strings of lights around animated reindeer. What is he thinking?

2. Then there was the U-Haul truck parked in two parking spaces. Except for the fact that we couldn’t find one parking space, I don’t have a problem with taking two parking spaces, I have a problem with driving a U-Haul truck to the mall. Who has that much shopping to do? I want to meet the person who buys that many gifts. Maybe they were planning to shoplift the $14,000 model train that is on display.

3. There was also a school bus parked out front. I’m sure it was an economics class from a local high school working on an end of the semester project - If you max out mom and dad’s credit card, and pay them back by making the minimum monthly payment, can you pay off the debt before you reach social security age? Or maybe it was a statistics class trying to determine what percentage of the stuff in all of those stores is actually needed by any of us. Or perhaps a physical fitness class was building endurance by walking round and round the mall until they found the exact thing they were looking for for just the right price. Score!!

After our day at the mall, I have purchased a few gifts. I have not put up the tree or cleaned where the tree will eventually go. I have not figured out exactly what I am giving some people on my list. I have not finished my Christmas cards. But, I am in the Christmas spirit. My feelings of holiday cheer do stem from my adventure at the mall and the fact that I don’t have to go to school tomorrow!!!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I Wonder

I wonder if we are born knowing to wonder or wanting to wonder,
If wonder is a gift or a curse.

I wonder why I am different or if I am different,
Why I care or why you do.

I wonder if we all see the same colors,
Is my blue also your blue, my red your red?

I wonder if we see the same good and the same evil,
Know the same despair and the same hope.

I wonder why some of us crave chocolate
And others alcohol, pills, or sex.

I wonder how words mean one thing to me and another to you,
And how the obvious escapes so many.

I wonder why anyone would choose raisins over chocolate chips in their cookies,
Why corn dogs taste so good.

I wonder why I like the mountains better than the ocean
And cold rather than heat.

I wonder why Bach moves me at the depths of my soul and Wagner doesn't,
And why I would rather read poetry than fiction.

I wonder why God is always close whether I want Him to be or not,
And why the most gentle messages are delivered in the midst of chaos.

I wonder who discovered that bread needs yeast to rise and biscuits need baking soda,
Why our body temperature should be 98.6 rather than 98.5 or 98.7.

I wonder how people fall in love and how they fall out of love,
How the same emotion can be the most beautiful and the ugliest life force.

I wonder why I don't like peas or mushrooms or olives,
But love brussel sprouts, squash and cucumbers.

I wonder who decided that teachers should be better at answers than questions,
That knowing the right answer is better than knowing the right question.

I wonder why so many people have such a narrow definition of family,
Why we even need the word "normal" in our vocabulary.

I wonder if life is over when I run out of questions,
I wonder . . . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tryptophan, Trees, and Thankfulness

I must begin by confessing that Thanksgiving is one of my least favorite holidays - not because of its intention, but because of the way we go about "celebrating."

Most of us run ourselves ragged preparing a meal that amounts to enough food for a week or two but is consumed in one afternoon in a time span that is probably equal to one tenth of the time it takes to make it all. We tried to keep it simple this year. Our gathering was small, only five of us and everyone made their own favorite dish. Weber smoked the turkey and made bread, Mike made sweet potatoes and pies, Erin made the green beans and gravy, and I was left with mashed potatoes and dressing. The traditional Thanksgiving meal is definitely not vegan friendly so Brooke sautéed some spinach, had mashed potatoes that I had made with soy milk. We all had plenty to eat and plenty of leftovers for the days to come.

As I was waiting for various things to make their way in and out of the oven, I took a moment to look out the window. All of the sudden, it looked like fall. The grass is brown; many of the trees are bare and the ones that have not lost their leaves don vibrant shades of orange and red. I must say, I was a little startled by this observation. The day before Thanksgiving it had been 80 degrees. In fact, Brooke got off the plane from Chicago and the first words out of her mouth were, "Why is it so F@#$ hot here?" By the time we awoke Thursday morning, the temperature had dropped by more than half of its previous day's reading. It truly felt like we had skipped fall and moved directly to winter. Add to that all of the Christmas ads in the newspaper and the carols on all the TV commercials and you have all the makings of the early stages of a winter wonderland.

In a lull between culinary responsibilities, I took a walk around the yard looking at the trees.

These images don't compare to the majesty of snow capped mountains or seagulls soaring over ocean waves or forests that have been around for generations.; they are snapshots of the everyday, the simple beauty that resides literally in our own backyard. They remind me of how quickly things change. They are also evidence that things must change to continue to grow. And, that there is beauty and something for which to be thankful at every stage during the process of change.

No matter how bare things may seem, a glimpse of beauty is always possible.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Baby Picture

It has been awhile since I posted a picture of the newest member of our family. Here is the latest picture of Frankie. She moves quickly, as kittens do, so I never hae time to get my "real" camera out. Usually the best I can do is to snatch my phone from my pocket, which is the case here.
Don't mind the fact that she has made herself comfortable in the middle of the coffee table. This is an improvement over the kitchen table or counter that are also favorite lounging spots.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday 11/20/2010

There are lots of things that I could have, and maybe even should have done today.
  • Make a shopping list of all the necessary items for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal.
  • Go grocery shopping so that I can purchese all the necessary items and get a head start on the preparations for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal.
  • Dig out and then iron the table linens so that I have a worthy place to serve a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal.
  • Find a loving new home for the two dogs and two cats that have turned nocturnal. FYI, we have not joined them in this new lifestyle.
  • Fluffed the girls’ beds and swept their rooms so that, when they come home this week, home will have that special kind of feeling.
  • Cleaned the rest of the house to insure that home would indeed have that special kind of feeling.
  • Started writing my final exams so that I can spend next weekend Christmas shopping with everyone else on the face of the earth.
  • Made a Christmas gift list so that if I had written my final exams and was going shopping next weekend I would know what gifts I was going to buy.
  • Slept all day because I was awake most of the night as a result of the newly nocturnal animals that did not find a new home today and that did not sleep last night.

I didn’t do any of these things. Today was the first day in many days, weeks, maybe even months that we have not had something that we had to do. It was a strange feeling not to have to set the alarm at all. It was odd to read the paper over morning coffee rather than evening tea.

While reading the paper, I saw an ad for something called ICE at the Gaylord Texan Resort. ICE is a display of carved ice sculptures that, this year, depicts scenes from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Going to see that sounded like fun. We logged on to the website and sorted out details like times, admission cost, etc. Decision made. That’s what we were going to do today. In fact, we decided to have an entire “date day.”

Before beginning our day of frivolous teen-aged behavior, we did accomplish one thing on the To-Do List; we went to Lowes and bought bathroom faucets and transition pieces to compliment the eighty boxes of hardwood flooring that are sitting in the middle of the den floor acclimating to their new environment before being laid in their permanent position. After that brief moment of responsible adult behavior, we were off for a day of fun.

We had lunch at our favorite pizza place – chicken and spinach pizza with bacon, tomatoes, and lots of cheese. I suspect that this may be the absolute best pizza on the planet! Once we devoured almost the entire pizza, we headed to the Gaylord Texan Resort to see ICE.

We purchased our tickets. (Here the cashier asked us politely if we were eligible for the senior discount. We gave an honest response of “not quite yet, but thanks for asking.” The show begins with a short video explaining the process of creating all of these scenes from ice. It included statistics such as how many tons of ice, what temperatures are necessary, how much refrigeration and how many people it takes to create and maintain these amazing ice sculptures. The whole concept of ICE was inspired by huge ice sculptures that are created each winter in the northern part of China. In fact, it is the skills of a group of Chinese artists that are flown to Texas and spend many hours carving these magnificent ice sculptures of Charles Schultz’s iconic characters.

After the video, everyone is given a parka to wear into the 12 degree area where the Peanuts Gang is waiting. The sights were pretty amazing!

The Peanuts Gang

A familiar image of poor Charlie Brown

And the classic image of Lucy.


Pigpen singing his heart out.


Linus and his blanket

The beloved beagle Snoopy and a happy ending
Not quite ready for our date to be over, we decided to stop for dessert and coffee. To double the pleasure, we opted to have this nightcap at Barnes and Noble. Caffeine, sweets, and books! Life doesn’t get much better than when these three elements converge.

And what better way to bring a wonderful date day to close than by . . . .writing a blog post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Late Night Dilemma

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t like to eat out at restaurants unless it is for a specific occasion or because my taste buds yearn for something whose preparatory process exceeds my culinary skills. I really hate the notion of “having” to eat out because there is not enough time to prepare a meal at home. Most food in restaurants these days seems to be primarily variations on a fried theme; little variety exists from one place to the next except in details like whether their fried pickles are chips or spears.

The other thing I loathe about eating out is the dreaded, “So where do you want to eat?” Does it really matter? Everything tastes the same anyway. Sometimes the answer to this question is based on whether the restaurant serves Pepsi or Coke. Often the choice is made depending on where we have coupons. Other times where we eat is simply determined by opting to take the path of least resistance – what is closest? In cases of eating out due to necessity rather than desire, rarely is the restaurant chosen based on wanting something specific to eat.

The other night after the Resounding Harmony concert we were starved and it was late, at least it was late by U.S. weeknight dinnertime standards; it was about 10:30. By this time at night, the already slim food selections become even slimmer because many eating establishments have already closed for the day. We began the dreaded conversation about where to eat. Much to my surprise, when I asked Weber what he wanted he did not respond with the typical, “I don’t care;” he said that he wanted chicken tenders. From this point a conversation about where one could get chicken tenders at 10:30 on a Wednesday night ensued.

Most fast food drive-thru windows were still open, but McNuggets don’t really count as chicken tenders. They barely count as chicken. We entertained the idea of Dairy Queen, but I really didn’t want an entirely fried meal. After running through the gamut of possibilities, we finally settled on IHOP. They are open 24 hours. They were on the way home. They have chicken tenders. You can have something that resembles real vegetables with your chicken tenders. And, they have Diet Coke and bottomless pots of coffee. We were set.

In case you are wondering, IHOP has really good chicken tenders. They are served with mashed potatoes (made from real potatoes not some tasteless white flakes from a box) and steamed broccoli. We ended up eating a rather tasty meal served on a breakable plate and eaten with real utensils instead of what we thought we would be eating - fried something wrapped in paper and eaten with our hands.

When Weber picked up our check he got this funny look on his face though he didn’t say anything. I knew how much our meals were so it shouldn’t have been “sticker shock.” Our server didn’t look like the type who would sign the check with a personal message claiming “for a good time call . . .” Finally I inquired as to what the cause for Weber’s strange facial expression. He said that the total bill was way less than it should have been. We looked at it carefully. At the bottom it said BOGO SD. BOGO, buy one get one, we understood. But SD? We looked around and finally saw a large sign in the window advertising the buy one get one senior discount – SD. In small print it said that this discount was “for our guests 55 and older.” Neither of us is 55. One of us is closer then the other. Nonetheless, we were not deserving of the discount.

Here began our dilemma.

Weber’s first instinct was that we should tell the server that we were not eligible for this discount and ask him to re-calculate our bill and charge us for both meals. My reaction was that we can’t do that because it would embarrass the young server. As we contemplated what the right thing to do was, I realized that part of our difference in opinion over how to handle this situation was due to conflicting views on the whole concept of aging.

My thinking that correcting the server would embarrass him is rooted in the idea that in our culture aging is viewed as a negative process. To assume someone to be older than they actually are is considered an insult. I didn’t want the server to think that he had insulted us and therefore we were upset. From that regard, it didn’t bother me at all that he thought one or both of us was over 55.

In other cultures, with age comes wisdom and with that wisdom comes respect. One earns that position of respect in society by reaching a certain age. Another way to look at our late night dilemma is that we have not yet reached that age of wisdom and were therefore not worthy of the respect shown to us in the gift of the senior discount.

Despite our somewhat lengthy conversation on the morally and ethically correct thing to do in this situation, we decided not to embarrass the server and kept quiet as to our actual ages. The money that we saved on this meal went to feed those who otherwise may have gone hungry.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Chills

This first Saturday in November was a day, for me, that was marked by chills, all kinds of chills.

The chills began at 7:30 am this morning when the alarm went off the first time. I was huddled under the covers, but I could feel the chill in the morning air. Harley and the kitten were strategically positioned under the covers as well. Harley was pushed up against me and the kitten found a warm spot between me and Weber. We were all warm and comfy. I thought to myself how nice it would be to stay in this position for a few more days, or at least a few more hours, or even just a few more minutes.

Wasn't happening. We had to get going because we needed to be in downtown Dallas for a rehearsal at 10:15. We all reluctantly rolled ourselves out of bed and quickly made the bed so that none of us would be the least bit tempted to crawl back under those covers where at this point it was still quite toasty.

I opened the door to let the dogs out and the two acres beyond our backdoor were covered by a thin layer of frost that glistened in the morning sunlight. Looking back on this first glimpse of today's morn, I can say that it really was beautiful but at that very moment, I was overcome by the 33 degree blast of air rushing through the door rather than this vision of nature's beauty. So, no picture. Sorry!

We dressed and had a warm breakfast and a few cups of coffee before heading out. I am singing with Resounding Harmony, a philanthropic chorus, in Dallas. This year's fall concert is Wednesday at the Meyerson Symphony Center, the home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I am almost embarrassed to admit that this was my first visit to the Meyerson; as one who proclaims to be a musician, I should have been to many symphony concerts, but I haven't. After many years of spending my evenings at volleyball, basketball, and soccer games, which by the way I don't regret at all, I now have the opportunity to spend my evenings at the symphony if I choose. But, my first experience at the Meyerson will be from the stage rather than the audience. But first . . .

This was the first thing that caught my attention after parking downtown.
I was OK until I saw that there was a human being up in the cage of this massive construction crane.
Here marks today's second experience of chills, chills that were very different from the first. I am scared of heights. As I stood in the crisp morning air, I thought to myself, I am so glad that it is not me up there. I may not be warm in my bed, but I am not hundreds of feet up in the air looking down on the Dallas' Arts District. Perspective is everything!
I'm not sure whether these three members of the construction crew are, like me, counting their blessings because their feet are firmly planted on the ground or if they are envious of their co-worker who is sky high - literally.

Once the heart palpitations stopped and my legs felt more like human legs than Jell-O, we headed across the street to the Meyerson, an architectural piece of art. The angular lines of this building create fascinating structural illusions.

After checking in with security, we made our way through the belly of this hall eventually being spit out backstage after passing the mailboxes and lockers of the great musicians who make up the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In some ways, being backstage was kind of magical and in other ways it was confirmation that at our root, we are all the same. Some of the orchestra members' lockers were covered with drawings obviously given to them by special children in their lives; some had newspaper reviews; still others had cartoons and stickers. - these momentos were much like those things we all have on our desks and/or refrigerators.
Here are a few images from backstage.
This is a sound proof practice room for musicians to warm up. Presumably it is reserved for soloists. This little cubicle would be a wonderful candidate for "If These Walls Could Talk."

Scattered behind the stage are cases containing . . .I'm not sure what. Large instrument of some kind, probably.
This is the green room, the place where performers come to relax before making their way on stage.
Resounding Harmony did a complete technical run-through of our upcoming performance. Being in the hall was amazing. Listening in the hall was breath taking. Singing in the hall brought head-to-toe chills - third time for chills today. And again, very different from the first two instances.
Our concert is to benefit the North Texas Food Bank. All of the pieces on the concert are emotionally charged works whose lyrics address the many aspects of food in our lives. These passionate words and the hall's acoustic majesty combine to bring chills that result from both physical and emotional stimuli.
Here is a view of the house taken from my vantage point on stage. (I snapped all of these pictures on the sly with my phone so please don't judge their photographic merit.)
I can only imagine that the goose bumps I experienced today while singing to an empty house will be magnified ten-fold when it is faces rather than rows of empty chairs staring back at us.

After rehearsal, we had a nice lunch with a fellow singer and student of mine before returning to the tasks of everyday life, grocery shopping and laundry. As we were making our way through the last few aisles of the grocery store, I suddenly realized that I didn't feel very well. I was tired, my body ached, and I was freezing. These are not good signs.
By the time we got home, I was trembling with chills, the kind of chills that only accompany a fever. The thermometer confirmed that I do indeed have an elevated temperature. These chills are my least favorite of the day. So, I am going to end this here and get some rest so that I am feeling well for Wednesday's concert.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time Change

I am getting to that age where I find myself saying, “Times sure have changed!” I am learning to live happily with some of these changes.

Like .. .

  • Grocery sacks that have moved from paper to plastic to reusable
  • Paying all my bills without licking a single stamp or envelope
  • The ability to carry every music recording I own with me at all times thanks to my iPod
  • Pets can be micro chipped so that should they get lost, they can be reunited with their rightful owner
  • Google, Amazon, and Restaurant.com
  • Blogs
  • Debit cards
  • Post-it notes
  • K-cups

Then there are those things that I really don’t like . . .

  • Pre-packaged food
  • The fact that it is nearly impossible to reach a human being when telephoning a business
  • Email and texting as a primary means of communication
  • Online textbooks and college classes that are 100% online
  • The opinion that making things yourself is an anomaly
  • The notion that bigger is always better
  • Multitasking
  • Web-cams
  • Junk mail

As we would expect, many of these “advancements” have caused changes in our educational process. Kids just don’t need to be taught the same things that we were taught “back in the olden days.” Girls don’t need to take home economics anymore because they don’t need to know how to sew or cook. As far as they are concerned, cakes come from boxes and bread comes from a plastic sack. Fried chicken comes from KFC and vegetables are transported frozen from the North Pole by the Jolly Green Giant.

And make clothing? That requires knowing things like the difference between lycra and linen, what is fusible interfacing, and the meaning of bias. It also means accepting the fact that the tape measure never lies. Why spend time teaching these things when some form of clothing is available almost everywhere you go and for much less money than it would cost to make it from scratch.

Schools don’t teach typing anymore; they teach keyboarding, a skill that is a little different. Typing on the computer, or keyboarding, doesn’t carry with it a love-hate relationship with carbon paper and correction tape or the hard fact that some mistakes can’t be corrected and you may just have to start over.

And then there’s penmanship . . .Does anyone learn penmanship anymore? Based on what I have seen from my own students, I don’t think so. Children no longer learn how to form all those perfectly proportioned loops and lines that result in cursive handwriting. No more do they have to work to perfect their writing skills to achieve the honor of being allowed to write with an ink pen in class. These days we are lucky if students come to class with any kind of writing utensil.

The prevailing wisdom is that students don’t need to worry about legible handwriting because everything is now typed – or is that keyboarded? Very rarely do people send handwritten notes or letters or even invitations. With texting, email and Evites at our fingertips, why waste time and energy to write a letter and then have to wait for it to be delivered via snail mail? In an era where our motto is “time is money,” such a means of communication is obviously inefficient and old fashioned.

I wonder what the study of historical documents will look like two hundred years from now. Will the rare book rooms in libraries just be walls of encased hard drives that can’t be accessed because their technology is antiquated? For that matter, will libraries as we know them even exist? Research skills that require using a card catalog and actually putting your hands on a real book are another thing that is disappearing from the educational process thanks to the Internet. The Internet is a primary source, right?

And here’s another question. Is it really necessary for children to learn how to read a clock, one with hands and a face? Aren’t most of our time telling devices now digital – our microwaves, DVD players, computers, cell phones, cars, oven timers, and alarm clocks? Every now and then you will see an “old-time” (no pun intended) clock in a public place, but how many people really look at them? We are all looking at our cell phones and iPads, which, in this digital age, will supply us with the time – digitally.

The ability to tell time by reading the hands on a clock used to be an integral part of our human knowledge. I can remember all through elementary school doing worksheets to hone this essential skill. Such is not the case any longer. Many children view hands on a clock in the same light in which they view a dial on a telephone – “What in the world are you talking about?”

Recently I was talking with a friend whose mother is in her seventies and is experiencing problems with memory loss. He took her to the doctor to be evaluated to see if she is entering the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. One of the tasks that the doctor asked her to perform in this evaluation was to draw the numbers on a clock, presumably because this is a deeply ingrained skill. There is perhaps only one or two more generations for whom this is truly the case. What will Alzheimer’s tests look like for the children of today?

When today's youth has become senior citizens and are being tested for memory issues will they be asked to draw the layout of a TV remote? Respond to questions using only text speak? Give instructions for how to use the microwave to make popcorn? Recite their credit card number – including the 3-digit security code? Articulate how to order properly a medium café mocha with an extra shot, skim milk, and no whipped cream at Starbuck’s?

There are some scary times ahead!

Right now, I have until the big hand is on the three and the little hand is on the four to use my favorite fountain pen to write a heartfelt letter to the one I love while sitting in the library amidst shelves of books. I am going to take advantage of this situation before it is too late!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Score is Tied

After our second night in the old/new house, the battle between its two male occupants is tied.

Male Parental Unit:1 Adidas:1

See below for highlights from this week's match up.
"The Point Earning Move"
For details of the first match between these two slumber seeking boys, please see this blog's previous post. Stay tuned to see who wins the tie-breaking match. The winner will snooze away on his very own blow up air mattress. (Bed linens are not included in the prize package.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

First Night

We spent our first night in our “new” house this week. Well, it’s not really new, but it feels new. You may remember that back in the spring we began renovations on Weber’s house in Dallas. We had hoped to move before school started in August; for many reasons this did not happen. These are not necessarily bad reasons, they are just reasons. And for these same reasons, despite the fact that we spent the night in the house, the renovations are still not complete. That being said, progress is being made.

We have Saltillo tile floors in half the house. The other half is concrete slab awaiting hardwood flooring. We have some painted walls, some base boards, and some crown molding. Throughout the house are forty five can lights. The guys at Home Depot who had to climb to the very top shelf to get the four dozen light bulbs that we needed for these forty five lights love us. They love us because they had to work over the weekend instead of going to the Texas State Fair. Riding the lift to those tip-top shelves is almost like experiencing the Midway at the fair.

We have three new functional toilets. (This is a really good thing to have when considering overnight accommodations!) We have running water in one shower and one sink. And another perk – the hot water heaters are hooked up! We even have a towel warmer, which is great on cold winter mornings. Unfortunately it is still hot here so this luxury went unappreciated on our first night’s stay except as a plain old towel bar. The problem with this whole scenario – the shower, the sink and the towel warmer are each in a different bathroom. So, we had progressive bedtime and morning rituals. Brush your teeth in one bathroom. Move to the next to take a shower; then to the last to hang the damp towels. This all sounds a little convoluted, but it worked.

Did I mention that we have no kitchen? Let me rephrase that. We have a place for a kitchen; it just has nothing in it except a refrigerator. Well, that is not exactly true either. It does have an oven and dishwasher too; they just happen to be sitting in the middle of the floor still packaged and not connected to any power source. The kitchen walls do have pencil lines showing where the eventual cabinets, appliances and sink will go. But right now, the kitchen exists only in our very vivid imaginations. We did manage a cold breakfast of fruit and yogurt and a bedtime snack of popcorn (store-bought) and diet coke. Meal preparation beyond that level was impossible. As with the bathroom situation, this worked for the short term as well.

The only furniture in the house right now to speak of is a recliner and a straight back chair. Neither is conducive to a good night’s sleep. We have taken a few naps together in the recliner but this manner of sleep has about a thirty minute limit. Beyond that, the only things that go to sleep are arms and legs whose circulation has been cut off. We solved this dilemma by taking an air mattress with us. Oh, and we also had to take the dogs with us.

The dogs have been going with us on days when I have late night rehearsals. Our contractor, Paul, and the dogs have become big buddies. They all seem to enjoy each other’s company. How many people get a contractor and dog sitter all in one?

On the days when we have left the dogs at the house, we have been spreading a flannel sheet on the floor for them – the same flannel sheet that we now needed to put on the air mattress. Though we had taken the mattress for us to sleep on, we had neglected to take any dog beds. Not a problem; we could run to Target and get a dog bed. Did you know that dog beds at Target are $40! You can buy a brand new comforter or a twin air bed for less than a dog bed. We decided that the dogs could just sleep on the old towels that were already at the house.

We aired up the mattress and I put the sheets on it. We then began the pilgrimage from bathroom to bathroom and readied ourselves for bed. We returned to our bed to discover that the dog bed dilemma had been resolved. Adidas was curled up on his male parental unit’s side of the bed. He looked quite comfy and not the least bit upset with us for not spending $40 on a bed for him. I laughed. The above mentioned male parental unit was not so amused. In fact, he was so unamused that I didn’t have time to take a picture of our precious black lab all tucked in for the night. In an instant, Adidas was back on his pile of towels and we humans had claimed our spots on the air mattress. Harley managed to wiggle her way under the covers next to me. Why should this first night in the new house be any different from any other night?

Many would see this whole experience as “roughing it.” To me, it had the feeling of perfect simplicity. We had no television, internet or kitchen sink, but we had hot and cold running water, a warm place to sleep, a fridge with diet coke, and each other. What more do we really need? Truthfully? Not much.

The reason that we had this little slumber party is because we had several nights in a row of late meetings and rehearsal on top of our usual early morning departures for school. Staying this one night saved about a hundred miles and two and half to three hours of driving. This in itself was worth the trade of no internet or kitchen sink! It gave us a taste of what life will be like once we finally move.

I have to say, I am looking forward to that time. So are the dogs. After a good night’s rest, Adidas assumes the role of site foreman in an effort to keep things on track so that we can move as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Last One Standing

Yesterday I walked into the office at school and our beloved administrative assistant was filling a bowl with this year’s first round of Halloween candy. Today as I passed by this same bowl, this is what I saw.
What is it about the last piece of any kind of food? I see similar images when I walk by the doughnut table at church on Sunday mornings. By the time the late service begins, one lonely doughnut sits on a platter that it once shared with four or five dozen friends. And sometimes, there sits only half of a doughnut. Someone really wanted that last one, but couldn't bear, for whatever reason, to take the whole last morsel of this sacred Sunday confection.

We have all been to parties where trays of hors d’oeuvres linger on the table waiting for someone to swallow their pride and eat the last one. Why is there this hesitation? Why won’t we just snatch that last bite with the same vigor that we do the first? Or the middle? Is something wrong with it? Is it the one that every other guest has had their fingers on? Is it the one that everyone but you saw as having a fly garnish only moments ago? Is it the one that someone carried around on their plate and then returned to the platter because they didn’t like it? Surely not. Or, maybe so.

Maybe this poor lonely piece of candy pictured above that has found its place as the jack-o-lantern’s nose is like that last kid who gets picked for the basketball team at recess. Nobody wants him on their team because he’s too slow, too short, doesn’t have the right shoes, or would really rather play hopscotch with the girls. Are any of these good reasons for exclusion?

Is this a case of “saving the best for last?” For instance, as the Christmas parade, passes by, anxious children wait while floats carrying paper mache snowmen and red and green clad elves roll by followed by marching bands playing renditions of those nostalgic tunes that we all recognize as heralding the holidays. Fire trucks cruise by. Horses prance past. Every now and then there is even an ambling elephant. But all most of these excited children really want to see is the last unit of the parade – Santa Claus. Nobody thinks of watching nearly the entire parade and then leaving before the final participant has made his appearance. In this case, the last is the best, at least in the eyes of all those children who are pretty sure that they have been nice all year long.

Last is a hard place to get a grip on. Sometimes being last is a good thing and at other times it is definitely not so good. And sometimes it is hard to know the difference – like in the case of having the last word.

And then we can wrestle with the idea that “the last shall be first.”

I think I will go have a piece of candy and ponder this one a little more.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Random Thoughts

Here is a list of random thoughts in need of context. Feel free to insert them into a place that works for you.
  • I wrote it down. Therefore, it is written down.
  • Those who are voted most likely to succeed may fail. The converse is also true.
  • Sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow.
  • If it is good for you it might actually taste good too.
  • Wisdom often comes in tattered packages.
  • If I have it all then I have nothing to do.
  • A grown-ass woman does not need to say vajayjay.
  • If you're happy and you know it say "Amen."
  • A symphony is written one note at a time.
  • Bananas come in different shapes and some of them are not good.
  • Now I know how the moon feels.
  • Make sure that the writing on the wall is legible.
  • Without fear there can be no war.
  • There is nothing between the lines. Really.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Laughs

Sometimes you have to wonder whether people do these things on purpose or if they are unfortunate coincidences. Or, maybe I am the only one who sees anything funny in these pictures. Actually I know that is not the case because Offspring No. 1 sent me the second picture.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Questioning Questions

Questions are an integral part of my life both personal and professionally. Speaking on a personal level, the ability to inquire, to ponder, to cogitate has been the primary vehicle for growth and transformation throughout my life. I am not fond of asking “why?” For me intrigue lies in asking “what if?”

As a teacher, questions consume a good bit of my working hours – this may be in the form of students seeking answers to their burning questions or it may be me using questions to guide my students in making a discovery about a piece of music that we are analyzing in class. Then there are those dreaded test questions. I work very hard as a teacher not to ask test questions that require my students simply to regurgitate factual material. Let’s face it, in the digital age, facts rest literally at our fingertips 24/7. We just need to know how to access the pieces of information that we need. As an educator, my role is to model for students how to use these facts, how to learn, and how to think about and articulate intelligently what they have learned. As all of my students have seen, these skills are not always honed in the subject area of music theory or even music. I will embrace any opportunity to stretch the minds of those in my classes. Often this occurs on my infamous “question #10.”

“Question 10” on all of my tests is one of “those” questions - a question with no right or wrong answer, a question that demands that the students think, a questions that forces them to reveal something of themselves, a question that requires that they write a well-formed essay. I ultimately care much less about what they say than I do how they say it.

Last week was test week in all of my classes. “Question 10” on one class’s test was, “Often the question is much more important than the answer. What one question would you like to ask and why?” The class who was given this question is a first semester class; so unless an “upper classman” warned them about my fondness for these seemingly arbitrary questions, they came to class with only information like how many keys are on a piano and the half step – whole step pattern of a harmonic minor scale on their minds. I like to catch them off guard. I know that I have succeeded in so doing when I hear from the back of the class, “I hate questions like this.” I consider such statements as affirmation that my work here is done – at least for now.

As I was grading these tests this afternoon, I received the following email from a former student, a composer who is hoping to perform one of his own compositions on his voice recital. He is speaking here of a conversation with his voice teacher.

[She} asked me on Tuesday to describe the piece to her (when I only had those few measures completed) and I have to tell you I have to thank you for all those damned essay questions. Those exams (that I really whined about) really did prepare me.

I smiled. It is all worthwhile if you profoundly touch the mind of at least one.

Ironically, questions are also this week’s theme in a group that I belong to that right now is studying spiritual journaling. We are asked to consider:

What were your favorite questions when you were a child?
What would I be willing to give up to save the world?
What is the balance between taking action and following guidance?
What do I assume?
If you had your life to live over, what would you do differently? Anything?

I should probably be responding to some of these questions rather than writing a blog post questioning questions. But why?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Morning Prayer

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with morning. I love the way the sky looks as the new day’s first light appears. I love the smell of the dew-laden ground. I love to hear the revelries of the early rising songbirds. I love the moment when the earth bids good-bye to last night’s setting moon and good morning to today’s rising sun.

I hate the fact that morning comes so early!

Our alarm goes off at 5am. That is the official alarm clock, the one that plugs into the wall and knows what the exact time is at any moment. It knows exactly when we need to be waked up and it wakes us up – no earlier than expected and no later. We also have four other alarm clocks, with four feet each and that are not nearly as reliable. Though we attempt to set these “alarm clocks” not to go off before our desired rising time, many nights something causes them to summon us to wake up at unpredictable times. No matter how many times we attempt to push their snooze button, they continue to sound. On the mornings when they have sounded all night, I REALLY don’t like the morning. When the buzzer on the real and reliable alarm sounds, it often takes a round or two of hitting the snooze button before we can begin to face the day. It should be noted here that usually by this time, the four-legged alarm clocks have settled in “for the night.”

We are usually out of bed by 5:20. The dogs and cats have been fished from beneath the covers and the bed is made. By six, we are showered and dressed, the first cups of coffee have been made, and the four-legged alarm clocks have been fed. Last year, at this point in our morning routine, Weber and I would have had thirty minutes to sit down together, eat breakfast and even skim the headlines of the morning paper. Things have changed this school year.

Traffic in our area is terrible - even at 6:30 in the morning! In the past, we left the house at 6:30 to make the forty five mile commute to school with the goal of both of us being at school by 8:00. Last year that worked. This year is doesn’t. In the first week of school, Weber was late twice. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were going to have to adjust our morning schedule somehow.

Please God, don’t make me have to get up any earlier!

My prayer was answered. We decided that we would get up at the same time, but would leave the house at 6 rather than 6:30.

Please God, don’t make me skip breakfast! It is my favorite meal. And, I am really grumpy if I don’t eat breakfast.

This prayer too was answered. Now we leave at 6am every morning with computers, book bags, lunch boxes, another bag with breakfast, and coffee cups in our clenched hands. Neither of us likes to eat in the car so we wait until we get to my school to actually eat; this is by 7:00 most mornings. There is no line for the microwave in the teacher’s lounge at this time so we prepare our breakfast and have thirty to forty minutes to sit calmly and enjoy each other’s company. Lately we have been eating outside under the trees – and under the squirrels who toss nuts from the trees. Most mornings we are on “our” bench before the sun officially rises. This is a beautiful way to start the day.

There is less traffic on the road with us when we leave at 6:00 making for a less stressful morning commute. So, we have started listening to Daily Morning Prayer via a free podcast. This Office of the Episcopal Church is read by the Reverend Dr. Chip Lee, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Maryland. This has become a meaningful way to begin our day as well as spend our commuting time. It also provides us the context for a few pertinent prayers o our own.

Dear God, please help all those on the road to drive patiently and safely.

Each day, the Morning Office begins with the words.
“Lord, open our lips and our mouths shall proclaim your praise.”

Offering these words with sincerity and truth is the perfect prayer to begin each new day.

There are still days when I wish that morning came a little later, but for the most part I am settling in happily to our new morning routine.

Monday, September 20, 2010

If I Were A Rich Man

Yesterday a man said to a rather large assembly of people of which I was a part, “I am not a rich man.” As this statement was made, the man stood well dressed and apparently well nourished. He spoke these words freely in his capacity as someone who is gainfully employed full time. These words echoed through his workspace, a place that has walls and a roof, temperature controls to shield him from the deadly heat of the Texas summer, the drenching rains of the frequent gulf storms and the cold chill of those frigid winter days, and it has running water and indoor plumbing. He arrives at this place each day in an equally well appointed luxury car. But, he says that he is not a rich man.

It was all I could do to keep from laughing aloud at this ridiculous utterance. I then thought that perhaps I should ask, “Well then, are you a poor man?” Had I been bold enough to make this inquiry, I suspect that it would have been perceived as a sarcastic remark. Admittedly, I am capable of sarcasm at the drop of the hat, but that is really not what I was thinking. I honestly wonder if there is anything between rich and poor. To me, it is like being pregnant – either you are or you're not. Nothing exists between the two.

I realize that this is a rather black and white picture of the issue. In an effort to not be so quick to jump to conclusions, I did some research on the state of being rich and being poor..

In the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, a rich man does not have to work hard all day. He lives in a big tall house with rooms by the dozen right in the middle of town.This house has a fine tin roof with real wooden floors below. His house has one long staircase just going up and one even longer coming down, and one more leading nowhere, just for show. The yard is filled with animals whose squeals announce to the neighbors that this is indeed the home of a wealthy man. This man has a wife who sports a double chin, the mark of a wealthy man’s wife, and who struts around like a peacock while screaming at the servants day and night.

According to Tevye, to a rich man would come the most important men in town seeking advice. One with wealth is revered like Solomon the Wise. And so says Tevye, it doesn’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong. When you're rich, they think you really know!A rich man also has time to sit in the synagogue and pray. And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall. He has time to discuss the holy books with the learned men several hours every day.

The dictionary says that a rich man has wealth or great possessions; he is abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds. That is perhaps the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Tevye’s description.

To most, the familiar understanding of “poor” is having very little money, goods, or means of support. It also means faulty, inferior, or lacking. “Poor” may be understood as deficient, inadequate, or lacking in moral excellence.

Though the “not rich” man mentioned above does not have a double-chinned wife running screaming at servants or a yard full of noise making animals, neither is he lacking in money, goods, or a means of support. He lives much closer to the description of rich than he does poor. He may only be living in the first trimester of richness, but by all accounts, he is rich. To claim otherwise is an outright lie. To claim otherwise is to show a lack of understanding as to what rich and poor really are. To claim otherwise is to proclaim oneself as ignorant to the plight of those way too many in this world are truly poor.

Perhaps what he meant to say is that he is not rich in understanding, or compassion, or truth.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In ??? We Trust.

Who do you trust? Who don’t you trust? What is trust, anyway?

I read an article in Friday’s paper that reported on the findings of an Associated Press National Constitution Center poll that looked at American’s attitudes with regard to trust and confidence in major “fixtures” of our society. These included the military, religion, banks, business, science, and the government, to name a few.. The poll revealed that overwhelmingly Americans trust . . .nobody. Maybe it is not that dire. Or is it?

43% of us trust our military. That was the highest level of confidence shown toward any of the entities that the poll addressed. Small businesses trailed the military by 13%. At the bottom of the list of those who are trustworthy, garnering nearly no confidence at all from us, are Congress, banks, and blogs. Why don’t we trust anyone or anything?

It is my opinion (and remember no one trusts blogs) that our lack of confidence in the world around us is rooted in fear, fear that organizations whose stated purpose is to look out for each person’s well being have other motivations, many of them related to personal power and personal gain rather than care and concern for all of humankind. In a society where greed, self indulgence, injustice, and a lack of integrity prevail, it is not surprising to me that Americans don’t trust government, corporate America, and religious institutions.

As far as I am concerned, a more important question is do we trust each other? Do we trust people? I am not talking about the people who are the faces of the institutions that we appear to resoundingly distrust, but the people who are part of our everyday lives.

Do you trust your spouse? Your children? Your partner? Your auto mechanic? Your financial advisor? Your doctor? Your parents? Your boss?

Do you trust your neighbor? Your friend? Your housekeeper? Your postman?

Do you trust the barista at Starbucks? The stranger beside you on the sidewalk? The man who asks to borrow a dollar for bus fare? The young mother who pleads with you to give her a few dollars to by baby formula?

Who do you trust? Who don’t you trust? Do you trust yourself?

Do you trust yourself enough that you can, with confidence, assess the trustworthiness of others?

Perhaps the most important question here really is do I trust myself? Without trust in ourselves, it is impossible to trust anyone or anything else. That seems to be where many Americans find themselves right now.

How sad.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Looking Back

On this day, September 11, 2010, nine years after the attack on this country that forever changed the lives of all of us, I feel like I should have something profound to say, something that adequately reflects what that day in history means to this nation and the world or what we have done as a nation and a world to heal the deep wounds inflicted on September 11, 2001. Or I should be able to offer some words of hope to those for whom the images of that terrifying day are as vivid as if they were yesterday as well as to those who know only stories passed on to them. I can't do any of these things.

The images and emotions of that day are still fresh in my mind and in my soul. I have done much to process for myself what I saw and what I felt, but still there is a part of me that will always remain unsettled with regard to the events of September 11, 2001.

Despite all of the pain and ugliness that still plagues our nation, I have to remember that there too is much beauty, much that is good, much that can comfort us if we allow ourselves to be comforted. I came to this this evening as I was looking back through the pictures I took while we were in Vermont.

.It is hard to believe that this landscape is only hours away from New York City. On the day that that city was mayhem, I suspect that the serene beauty of Vermont looked much like it does here. For me, that is both scary and reassuring.

Even amidst the serenity of the green mountains, the fragile nature of our world, as is stated on the sign in the picture below, is never far from our conscience. All can be destroyed in one step.

Any life lost and the hands of a human being who is acting out of indifference, neglect or hate, whether that life is plant, animal, or human, is unacceptable.

The pictures below are post card images of a church steeple rising above the green life below toward the majestic mountains. These churches are supposed to be a place where love and forgiveness reside. It pains me to know that much of the discord in the world is in the name of religion.

It doesn't get much more peaceful and serene than this.

Great beauty comes in small packages as well.

I just had to throw this one in. We all need to smile.
May hope and beauty never elude you no matter how desperate and ugly things may be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Going to the Chapel . . .Finally

About the time you think that nobody ever reads these silly blog posts, someone chimes in and says, "About a month or so ago you said something about telling us about a dog chapel. Are you ever going to do that?"

I love you guys who humor me by reading what I write. I love your comments; I love your encouragement: I love the accountability that the comes from having readers like you.

Okay, I am not so keen on the accountability; I hate the feelings of guilt that overcome me when I fail to follow through on something that I said I would do. So, here is the story of the Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain, Vermont.

Most hotels, even small inns like the one we stayed in in Stowe, Vermont, have those racks near their entrance that contain an abundance of information about all of the local attractions. In a corner of said rack, was a small advertisement for "The Dog Chapel." Weber picked it up and asked if I knew anything about it. Strangely, I had a faint memory of having read something about it several years ago in the magazine Spirituality and Health.

The Dog Chapel is the work of artist Stephen Huneck. Huneck, whose medium is primarily wood, suffered a bout of Adult Respiratory Distress, which left him in a coma for two months, back in 1994. Though the doctors were not optimistic, Stephen made a full recovery thanks to the loving support of his wife Gwen and his three dogs, black labs Artie and Sally and golden retriever Molly.

As a tribute to those canine companions, Stephen Huneck vowed to build a dog chapel where all were welcome to come to honor and give thanks for the spiritual bond that grows between humankind and our dogs.

These brief details do not begin to do justice to the life of the man whose vision built Dog Mountain or the art that grew from his heart and hands. To read more about this man and see his beautiful works of art, visit the Dog Mountain website at http://www.dogmt.com/. Sadly, Stephen Huneck took his own life in January of this year. He is greatly missed, but his spirit lives on thanks to his wife who is continuing the mission of Dog Mountain - to be a place where all creeds and all breeds are welcome.

The statue below alerts visitors to the turn-off onto the small country road that winds its way through the Vermont countryside for a few miles eventually coming to the Dog Chapel. For those who are not familiar with the wood carvings of Stephen Huneck, this is their first glimpse of his amazing work.

The chapel itself rests at the top of a rise which also houses the Dog Mountain gallery, and the Huneck's home and workshop.

As you enter the chapel, you see the carving that has become the icon of Dog Mountain. In the background, are messages written to honor and remember Stephen.

The chapel proper is filled with wood carved dogs. The ends of the pews are dogs. Free standing dog statues sit throughout. And for those who prefer feline companionship, there are a few of those too. The back wall that almost looks like stained glass is actually covered with stories, prayers, and pictures that have been left by those wishing to pay tribute to their beloved pets.

For animal lovers, this is truly a sacred place. Even if you are not an animal lover, you will be wowed by the workmanship of artist Stephen Huneck.
I have to share a story from our visit.

All those involved didn't think I saw any of this, but they were wrong!

Beware of the person with the camera.
So I was wandering around the gallery looking at all of the wonderful pieces of art.
This is what I saw . . .
. . .and heard.
"I can't do this. I'm a married man. You need to stop coming on to me like this before my wife sees!"

"Aw, c'mon big boy. You know that ever since that wedding thing and the priest said no tongue on that part about kissing the bride that all you have wanted is a slobbery tongue kiss. Just relax and let it happen."
"I can't. I can't!
"Oh, WOW! Bring it on!"
"Oh dog crap, there's your owner. I mean there's the person who feeds and waters you. I mean, there's your wife."
"I'm sure she didn't see anything. Just be cool."

"We're just sittin' here getting to know one another. Nothing going on except a benign discussion about Science Diet verses Iams and latex verses vinyl with regard to durability.. That's all. Really, a little bow wow pow wow."
"I think she bought it. I would hate for him to have to spend the rest of his honeymoon in the dog house."
Perhaps they all should have been discussing Kennel Ration verses home cooking and Tempurpedic verses a foam mat on the floor. And maybe I should have titled this post Going to the Dogs. :-)

Here is the steeple from Dog Chapel. As you look at it, say a prayer for all of those four-legged friends who have blessed your life.