Saturday, February 28, 2009

Francais, Anyone?

The seasonal tug-of-war is upon us -- printemps pulling us into mild, muddy days only to have Monsieur Hiver grab the rope and tug us back into frozen tundra and ice covered mornings. But his grip is loosening. How do I know? Let's just say I've seen this a few times before.

Francais is on my mind (pardonne-moi my free use of that language today, but you will see why I'm in a French mood in a moment.)

Yesterday I had the delightful and fascinating pleasure of accompanying a dear friend to a job interview. Here's the twist: the interview took place at Holy Name of Jesus Academy in Massena. They are looking for a piano teacher. Simple, we assumed. And it was. But captivating as well, at least for an active imagination like mine.

This particular Catholic School, run by Dominican sisters, is conservative and highly traditional. Now I don't know much about Catholicism, but I stepped into a world filled with the romanticism of the Madeline book series.

First mission: find the main office. A young girl wearing a white blouse and plaid skirt, sporting dark curls and large warm eyes greeted us. I quickly asked, "Could you show us the main office?" With a wide, friendly smile sparked with a touch of curiousity she relayed the fact that no one was in the office now. "But a mother is just down that hallway. She could help you," came the pleasant advice.

Hmmm. This mother must be picking up a daughter (we had seen one van out front being loaded with a similar girl in white and plaid.) But I was wrong. The mother was Sister So-and-so (I missed the name) dressed in full robes and head piece. She was overseeing a gymnasium full of busy young girls. Faded blue cotton smocks with lace trim on each collar and pocket adorned every one of them. It was easily seen that they had been hastily pulled over the white and plaid, sometimes not even tied in the back (after all, these are merely young girls.)

Sister-So-and-so smiled and questioned our purpose here. "Oh, yes! I heard you were coming. What time were you to be here? Well, this is perfect then. Let's see, Mother Superior would be in Vespers but should soon be finished there." At which point she entertained us for a few minutes with a question and answer time. The students there number 100, grades K-8. "We hope to add a grade each year so that in four years we will include K-12," she announced proudly. "This is our second year here. We had 50 students last year, 100 this year. So we doubled in size already. Our girls come from all over -- Malaysia, Mexico, all over the eastern seaboard. Most of them are consequently boarders; few are day students only. Many of the local students go home on weekends, but most board here during the week."

"Why," I suggested, "do people send their daughters to a small school north of Massena from Syracuse and Mexico?" (The country, not the town.)

"Well, there are hardly any truly traditional schools available. We are the second one of our branch in the States. The first one is in Idaho. We were filled to capacity and decided to start a second US school here, since we knew of interest in this area." She was a woman of great energy and enthusiasm, youthful in spite of the evidence of years now creeping into place around her smiling, eyes and careful brow. She might have been like Maria, I secretly thought.

Interesting. Her plain face, simple shoes, and utilitarian eyeglasses seemed attractive in a noble way. How inexpensive their lives must be.

Soon we were introduced to Sister MaryCatherine. Younger than Sister So-and-so and quieter in nature, she often flashed a smile unaffectedly as she looked down and away from us. Her brunette coloring provided a rich contrast against the white wimple encasing her ivory face. Dark eyes and lashes, alive with innocence, betrayed her pleasure readily. She was pleased to meet us, sincerely happy to show us around. We were given a tour of the classrooms and she filled in a few more missing pieces to what seemed a bit of a puzzle to me. Why do I feel I'm in a French Catholic orphanage from the 40's? continued to play in my mind.

We passed some framed photos of beautiful buildings hanging in the corridor. As we oohed and ahhed at the various architecture displayed, she wheeled around to see what had our attention. "Oh, I should tell you what those are!" (I sensed she now reached her allowed level of exuberance.) "Those are some of our schools in France. And this one here is the mother school." She pointed to an aerial view of a complex surrounding a courtyard. "This building here is where I lived for three years as a novice. Then I moved to this one to do my service. Then they sent me here, two years ago." Now, with her smile slightly turned away and down, she confided that she was happy to go wherever she was sent.

Mother Superior was now available. A plain-faced (it appeared red and perfectly smooth, with no eyelashes, as though freshly scrubbed -- eyelashes and all) and trim woman in her 50's I would guess, she was slightly animated but had learned to be controlled and contained. She stood in the hallway, questioning my friend in a rather chatty way, more quizzical than business-like. My friend's story is an interesting one and Mother Superior found that one question led to another. When asking about me, my friend immediately said, "This is my Christian mother." Mother Superior literally startled at that statement, quickly regained composure, but raised a brow when responding with, "Oh, really. Nice to meet you."

Next stop -- the dorms. Two wings of classrooms had been converted to living quarters. She opened the door to one room and there before me was a bonafide dorm room, right out of the pages of a book. Twelve single cot-size beds were arranged in orderly fashion, with matching coverlets. (Those lucky enough to have their own down comforters had nicely puffed beds.) Rows of matching garments hung from racks at the near end of the room.

How charming! What fun this would be! Imagine the giggles, the whispered story-telling, the shared dreams, the memories...

Fun for a week or two. For more than one girl I am sure, there are lonely bedtimes with moments of longing for a parent to lie down beside them with words of love or a prayer or a bedtime story on their lips. There are times when they have been omitted from the shared secrets, being left alone to shed some tears on those pillows before succumbing to sleep.

Sister MaryCatherine then took us to her simple quarters, one fourth of a classroom that had been partitioned off into four long, narrow chambers; small but neat, clean but cozy, she had transformed her little corner into a bit of "home" rather than institution. But it was so small and relatively empty. Thirty-two years old or so, and this is it -- this is all she has that represents her. Everything else belongs to the cause, is faceless. No clothes, no jewelry, no "stuff" that speaks identity. Interesting -- not bad necessarily, but certainly interesting. My thoughts tumbled quickly as I looked around, taking in these surroundings, trying to imagine where her mind travels as she lies down each night on that bed alone in this tiny space, in this cloistered world.

We bid our adieus, exiting through the front door. As we scooted down the sidewalk full of misty rain, I asserted that both Sister MaryCatherine and Mother Superior would most assuredly be thinking about our visit to their world this day. We certainly didn't look the same as them or the mothers picking up their daughters. Our stories weren't the same, either.

Will they wonder at our presence? Will it stir a longing or will they feel sorry for us? Do they smugly judge us and belittle our choices? Are they drawn to imagine our thoughts as I am drawn to discern theirs? Do they put themselves in my place -- are they even able to? It has been decades for each of them since they have been in "the world".

We climbed into the minivan, my friend closing her door and saying, "I feel like I was just in a movie."

"Yeah, or a time-warp. At least another world. It was fascinating."

"Yeah, it was. And it's always fun to do anything with you, Darlene." Aw, thanks, mon ami.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Joyful Ones!

Life has been sobering as of late. Have you found that as well? It has a way of being that way. Why, He even tried to warn us, to let us in on that secret. He told us that there would be "various trials" and that the enemy would come in like a flood. He even said there would be mourning. In case you didn't think He was serious, let me assure you, He was.

But I will also assure you of this.

When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him!

Various trials will produce faith and strength of character.

Mourning may last for a night, but joy will come in the morning!

"Happy, happy, are the people whose God is the Lord!"

We are the people that know the joyful sound! Let it ring, let it ring, let it ring! The sin-sick world will hunger for such songs, and find solace in our tuneful melodies.

So sing!
Let that joyful sound be heard!

(Is that better Ry?)


Once a week I write a letter to my nephew who is currently imprisoned in the NYS Correctional System. He will be there for the next 15 years.

A single visit opened my eyes to the barrenness of the life set before him. Suddenly the manifold distractions of living in this culture have been stripped away; he spends endless hours on his bunk, reading the few books in his possession.

So I assume a handwritten letter is a treasure, a touch from outside those walls, a glimpse into some aspect of real life, the world left behind. As I write, I include daily happenings, boring to you and me, but painting the details of the picture in his mind. If I were him, I would finger the paper, delighting in knowing that a family member who loves me and prays for me held it in their hand just days ago. I would read and reread each line, slowly considering each implication, imagining each scenario as though I had been there. I would allow myself to be transported beyond the walls into that home where once, in summers gone by, I freely wandered and roamed.

I like writing the letter. As I write I see these happenings as more precious than ever, because I see them as he might. I savor the joy, the emotion, the tenderness. I consider the freedom, the choice, the leisure, the work. These are gifts to enjoy today.

Who knows what will be ours tomorrow? Don't worry about that -- it is in His hand -- just live wisely today.

A weekly letter. Such a small thing to do. Such great blessing it brings, to me and to him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Playday

Sometimes it sneaks up on you when you just don't expect it.

With best of intentions you set about to have a productive day. You scrub that toilet bowl. But not with vim and vigor.

A spelling test is administered. "Great job! Let's do some cursive writing." One line of practicing upward curves and loops and we call it quits. "Good work! Let's be done for today with that. Go do your reading."

Meanwhile, Mom checks out the Scrabble game played online with a buddy. And the Wordtwist Challenge from some unknown contestant. Uh-oh. Getting sucked in.

A game or two later the computer is closed and the documentary on five Hungarian Holocaust survivors is watched. It's very good. The Last Days. I recommend it for your consideration if you are interested in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Very good.

But that was it. The last truly productive moments just happened. Unless you count gathering around the screen in the kitchen to watch mom come up with that perfect word that just might win the Scrabble Beta game as productive. The onlookers shouted, "Try u-r-e-m. That sounds like a word to me." Or "Can't you spell t-h-e-n somewhere? You have those letters." "Sure son, but it won't get many points. You see, this is how it works..."

Finally a choice is made and we push the key for our final selection. My opponent's response is soon revealed on the glowing screen. "Ooooh -- good one. Okay, Mom, you should try..." On it went for sometime. Their enthusiasm at last began to match mine (until then I was continually being chuckled at for this new found addiction.)

So that was it - the deterioration of my day was cast in stone right then and there. We won that game, but it was neck and neck. And it was fun. So, of course a new one just had to be started.

Fortunately for them there was leftover soup in the fridge. Yup, it was going to be one of those days...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Renewer of Hope

News. No good news -- save one Good News. Evil reports abound. Read the newsblogs, editorials, political reviews. Watch News Hour or CBS Evening News or Fox or that perpetual harbinger of delightful stories CNN.

Talk with your neighbor. Get reports from family members. Plenty of bad news is served up.

It's enough to get the most stouthearted down and discouraged.

I read the Bible and see the bad reports.
"And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall; and there was great indignation against Israel."
That, my friends, is not a good report. I wept when reading that the other day. God's heart -- oh, His heart. What have His people done?

Sin -- darkness -- brokenness. All around, everywhere, in every place.

I was ready to throw in the towel, to barely hang on, to say the proverbial "Uncle!" But, God...

God, whose faithfulness extends to the heavens does not let go. Not only does He not let go, He pulls us up out of the miry clay. He places our feet upon a rock.

He reminded me today: He made the world and created mankind, placing him in it. Do you know what He did then? He saw that it was "good" -- His word, not mine; His thought, not mine. Has He changed His mind? No. He has worked with mankind, labored on our behalf, suffered for us, even died for us.

My heart breaks to see, through countless generations, the defiance toward God and His goodness. The choosing of darkness, gross darkness, time and time again leaves me gasping with pain. Divorce and abandonment, wars and brutality, drugs and alcohol, murder and abuse: it is not new to our generation, this gross darkness. Nor is it, honestly, unknown by me.

But He called this world, with us in it, good. I know, I know -- sin had not yet entered. But do you really think He didn't see it coming? And yet He called it good.

He is still Creator. He is still Ruler, Lord of all. He is still God Almighty who reigns on high and hears my prayer and cares for us. The sin breaks my heart. It breaks His more. The darkness repulses my senses. It repulses His more.

But He is not undone. His plan has not failed. He is watching, hearing, answering, moving. He is in control.

I sing the mighty power of God that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at his command, and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord that filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with his word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed where'er I turn my eye:
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky!

There's not a plant or flower below but makes thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from thy throne,
While all that borrows life from thee is ever in thy care,
And everywhere that man can be, Thou, God, art present there.


Isaac Watts

Take heart, O man. Hope again in Him; God reigns yet. Sin may taint this world for a season, but His reign is merciful and just. He is with us still.

And everywhere that man can be, Thou, God, art present there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Morning Help

The dove grey light of cloudy pre-dawn morning reached through the edges of the shaded windows. In the distance a train slugged along the track in that same light.

"What time is it?" I quickly peeked at the clock sitting on the large Mission-style footboard. I knew I didn't want to sleep away this last morning. If I hurried I would catch the sunrise.

I slid out from underneath the warmth of a shared bed, careful not to disturb the one who would prefer to sleep while he has the chance. Drawing on my slippers, donning my sweater, I carefully release the dead bolt on the heavy oak Craftsman door and scoot across the hall. The front bedroom window, I had discovered yesterday, affords a panoramic view of the Eastern sky.

I was rewarded with beauty. In one long continuous thick line, the charcoal grey silhouette of Adirondack foothills was slung across the horizon from edge to edge. The luminous pinks and salmons and peaches glimmered in metallic light reflected from and through mountains of clouds.

In the already busy foreground I viewed Highway 11, daily commuters on their way to a day of work. Did they see what I saw? Or was this view so common that their not quite awake eyes failed to see? Maybe they were already focused on the demands of the day, reviewing the list of things to do. Perhaps a difficult meeting was scheduled, or a child had been left sick in bed and the burden of finding alternate childcare was pressing in.

Then again, someone may have been looking to those same hills, remembering -- "... from whence comes my Help? My Help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." Words of praise were flowing then, requests were made by hearts at rest, filled with the peace that passes all understanding. All was right with their world.

All is right with mine.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I see on the horizon a large winged creature. It's every move creates a stir, a wind. Soon it will descend upon me from its perch, talons extended for the strike. Grasping me in its clutches, I am pulled into a whirlwind of "thoughts turned action turned busyness turned stress turned resist -resist-resist."


Yup. Back at it today. We'll soon discover what I've learned. I'm not feeling so very insightful at the moment. Just a bit hesitant. I've kind of enjoyed the silence in measure.

One thing: days ago I besought my husband to plan for an immediate few days away upon resuming routine discourse. Who would think that one would need a get away to begin a "return"? It's just that it's been so long since we've had spontaneous communication, and plummeting the depths of any given topic via written word presents challenges which I've not thoroughly mastered. Consequently I feel a bit bottled up.

So, I have my list and notebook, and he has his ear tuned. Sunday through Wednesday, off we go! When you think of it, please pray -- for him.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Final Day

Tomorrow ends my 6 week vocal sabbatical. We'll see how happy my family is about that at the close of the day tomorrow!

Looking around the house, I gather up all the spiral notebooks, legal yellow pads, stapled booklets created from scrap paper along with pens and pencils of all shapes and sizes. They are everywhere I may have landed, ready to dialogue or give my input. In spite of the number of such accessories to my recent life, I marvel that most of the time one was never nearby when I needed it!

Here's the script from one random page, copied here before I toss it into the trash. Most conversations are not so readily recalled -- at least not my half of them. But here is one (must have been teaching at the time):
  • Read the comment I made! Even on facebook, I'm not safe.
  • 1st thing - can you please leave more room in between the problems? I get too confused.
  • Call her right back and ask if she needs Dad's cell #.
  • Next time just wait 'til you hear them say good-bye -- before you hang up -- ok?
  • Nanz - could you call Dr. Sullivan and apologize that I haven't gotten there yet. Will tomorrow work?
  • Honey - you need lunch, then do your chore card, then some English. then maybe you can do some outdoor exercise. Then watch. Shovel out your fort. It will be work, not play.
  • How long will you meet and where?
  • gaudy - excessive for the purpose of style, attention-getting

This from a day at an auction:
  • Nothing there worth that much...
  • Goes w/ the couch.
  • The printing wasn't clear, I think
  • You mean the duck isn't part?
  • Which one? You said, "Happy Birthday..."
  • The paint crumbled as I moved them...
  • It's not damaged.
  • Cleaning would brighten it. Probably lots of detail in sky once cleaned.
  • It's old school these days.
  • Pink flowers - perfect for Easter!
  • It's not unique...
  • I love to watch people.
  • For your room? I should go wrap...
And last, but far, far, far from least, my movie watching with Merrick. Can you guess which one it was?
  • I can't see it.
  • menace - a menace is a trouble, a threat.
  • So he doesn't have to share the money.
  • Some rich man took the whole ballet company on his boat.
  • Bruce Wayne took them.
  • That Asian man is in Hong Kong with all the money from those banks. They are going into his building to get it back.
  • This young man works as an accountant for Wayne Company. He manages the money and the banking. He noticed alot of $ being spent by Fox. When he went looking he found these blueprints.
  • Can you imagine how much it must cost to make the clothes and Batmobile? They were trying to keep it secret, but this guy found out the $ were being spent.
  • He's trying to find Joker's apartment.
  • Is that Scarecrow?
  • Batman is quitting so that the Joke won't kill anyone else.
  • I guess he wants Batman to keep trying to help.
  • That guy's the bad cop I bet.
Enough reminiscing. Time to move on. Tomorrow she talks again!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

News, That's All

  • My nephew, Kenny, has been relocated to Great Meadows Correctional in Comstock, NY. It's kind of nowhere -- like Malone -- but this nowhere is not near to me like that nowhere was. Still, we will try to visit somewhat regularly
  • I'm busy dreaming up fun homeschool approaches to literature, writing, history, and current events. Hattie Big Sky, Sweetland (both DVD and book), and The Whistling Season involve the last homestead movement promoted by the US Government. Set in the WWI years, they also touch on the persecution of German immigrants. We will consider parallels in current culture. Presidential reports on W. Wilson will complete that segment. On to WWII with Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler's Shadow (book), Swing Kids (DVD), The Hiding Place (book), Schindler's List (DVD), Diary of Anne Frank (book), with write ups on each (well, at least a couple.) Last but not least we will look at the current issue of global warming with Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth followed by the British Channel 4 television special, The Great Global Warming Swindle. Some additional reading and research culminating in papers with their conclusions well endorsed will finish off our year quite nicely, I hope.
  • Groceries cost a lot these days. But you probably already knew that.
  • Valentine's Day will be fun -- breakfast celebration with family, Merrick's Upward game, Sweetheart's Dinner here.
  • Today is surely an indication that the icy grip of winter is loosening. Just loosening, mind you. But loosening, none the less!

Friday, February 06, 2009

My Newest!

Classy. Dry but fruity. Sparkling but not overly effervescent.

No, I'm not reviewing a new wine -- rather my newest love!

He may not be new to seasoned political enthusiasts, but I only started reading him last fall. I've grown to love his intelligence and style.

If you enjoy being informed via entertaining reporting, you may have a new love, too!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Backseat Conversation En Route to Potsdam

Exuberantly viewing his most recent library book acquisition, The History of the Airplane, Merrick ogled the sketches and fawned over stats. Wing design, machine gun placement, tire attachments -- every detail drew oohs and ahhs.

"Look at this, Camilla!!" he said, practically drooling. "Look at this plane!!"

Her flat, prosaic tones matched her blase' countenance, belying the intent of her words. "Cool, bud. Cool."

Yup. Boys and girls are definitely different. At least mine are.



Years come and go. If you can alter that, let me know.

We age. The result is:

1. You need bifocals.
2. You get wrinkles.
3. Your bifocals allow you to see the wrinkles that were hitherto unnoticed.
4. You get aches in strange places and not so strange places.
5. Your aches and pains slow you down.
6. Slowing down allows weight gain in not such nice places.
7. Exercise will alleviate some of the above.
8. Exercise adds more aches and pains in more unusual places.
9. Some things are just inevitable. Like aging.

I wonder if we really do get wiser? I think I know less than ever, am a bit more stymied most of the time.


They call it waning: decreasing in strength, intensity; drawing to a close.

Aging. Again. Still. Continually.

Care to join me? ;)

Monday, February 02, 2009


Saturday Rick, Daniel (my son-in-law), and I visited with Kenny. We reviewed his dream with him. It was a powerful experience for him, a true God encounter. Rick, using illustrations and examples, explained the gospel clearly, discovering that he grasped the explanation quite well; his need was help in application. He readily agreed to everything he heard. He has absolute belief that Jesus provides forgiveness from sin. As Rick led him in a prayer of acceptance of that forgiveness, Kenny was able to testify that when he was at the lowest of lows, thrown into the box at Wendy, the first prison, he prayed to God in Jesus name to forgive him for what he had done. We assured him that God had honored his prayer.

When it was time to leave, it was a sad departure. This week he will be moved and we don't yet know to where. Visits may be fewer. We held his hands once again. Rick broke and wept, drawing Kenny's hand near, laying his head on it and kissing his fingers. It was such a humble, sincere act of love, breaking barriers and transcending all walls. I was moved. "If anyone wants to know how to visit someone in prison, they should imitate this man. He is so wonderful," I thought to myself. The ingenuous act took Kenny by surprise. Rick cried out, "I wish I could stay in here with you." Kenny exclaimed with tears, "I wish you could, too!"

Tears were brushed aside, promises of cousins visiting the next day brought a smile and a chuckle. "That's true -- it would take lots of visits before I could see all of you!"

True to our word, Jamie and Julia, Rick and Carina trucked on over Sunday afternoon. The visit was brief but poignant. They taught him a scripture to carry in his heart:
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Psalm 32.1

Julia -- "It was weird. It seemed like a movie, but it wasn't. This wasn't really going to end for him."

Rick -- "I didn't want to leave him there. I wanted to be able to walk back with him and whisper scriptures and truth in his ear every time he heard an insult or a threat. But I couldn't."

Carina -- "I still can't quite wrap my head around it. I can't begin to comprehend..."

They laughed with him, cried with him, listened to him, prayed with him. They were glad they went, and I know without a doubt that he was, too.

"Touch him. Hold his hands," we said to them as they prepared to go. "There's a space under the grid for that so take advantage of it. He needs it." He does, they did. It was good.

Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement. God will do great things. He is not undone, His scope of imagination has not been limited by this. The Creator creates beauty from ashes. He will do so again.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Rendez-Vous

So it's 3:14am. Here I sit, doing a quick update. Why in the world at this time of day? There's a simple explanation:

Australian Open Men's Final Live at 3:30am on ESPN

Yup. That's right. I set my alarm to watch tennis. Nadal v. Federer. It doesn't get much better than this!

I tried to tell you that I love tennis. I mean, I really, really enjoy a good game. Got it?