Archive for August, 2007

Culture Clash
August 31, 2007

Made in America… 

We spent last weekend up in New York, not in the city, but rather up the Hudson River Valley in Rhinebeck and environs. It was a trip to celebrate our anniversary by visiting Shannon, who is mutually our favorite person in the whole world to spend time with!

I was recounting our trip to my mother, and it was amusing to me to juxtapose our delightfully elegant dinner at the Culinary Institute of America with our hot dog lunch the next day (at the Dutchess County Fair).  

The fair was your typical one, with aisles and aisles of vendors selling everything under the sun (and it WAS a sunny, warm day, unusually hot for NY). The food selections were mostly fried this or that, but if you looked closely, you could find something a wee bit healthful. But what the heck, I ate a hot dog. 

It was fun looking at the livestock, although after having had several very personable rabbits in my life, it was sad to see the rows of rabbits labeled ‘roasters’ or ‘meat’. We enjoyed watching the ‘air dog’ competition from a shady spot, and wandered in the crafts building to see the arts and crafts on display. There were a great deal of kitschy creations, but some had promise. I especially like looking at the kids’ art, just knowing how proud they must be to see it exhibited prominently like that.  

After that, we did a cultural 180 and visited Olana, the historic home of Frederic Edwin Church, the 19th century Hudson River School painter. We went from fine dining to hot dogs to kitsch to glorious art all in the span of 24 hours! 

All I can say about Olana is WOW. It is a Moorish fantasy building, designed by Church himself, inspired by his trips to the near East. Olana perches on the top of a hill overlooking the Hudson with stunning views of the Catskills to the west. Its interior is preserved the way it was in Church’s time, thanks to the care taken of it by his son and daughter in law. What you see is how it was, not some reproduction or representation of what it might have been.  

The dramatic interiors are filled with art treasures by Church, his mentor Thomas Cole and other contemporaries. It truly is a treasure, and not to be missed if you are ever over in that area.   

Only in America can one have such an interesting day of extremes. Thanks go to Shannon for making our visit such an interesting and fascinating all-American experience!


The Roller Coaster Ride
August 24, 2007

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain!

– The Itsy Bitsy Spider  

For a mother, there are few things worse than a frantic phone call from a child, especially when far away. The heart begins to pound, and the adrenaline rushes in. Feelings of helplessness overcome all reason. Returning from the store today (after I’d left my cell phone home to charge the battery), I had four phone messages, each one successively more urgent. “Mom, are you there?” “Mom, where ARE you?” “Mom, I REALLY NEED you…” “Mom, PLEASE CALL ME!!” 

It’s happened before. The end of the world is nigh! The power is out, my project is due tomorrow and I’ve got a three-hour choir rehearsal! What to DO? I am sick, tired, and I hit a turtle on the road! (note: she thought she’d damaged her car… but was actually more upset about the turtle’s suffering than her car). 

This time, her friend rear-ended someone while driving her car. Luckily, no one was hurt, and the damage isn’t too bad, but she just didn’t know what to do, and was upset at the prospect of not having a car to drive. I think she was a little worried that we’d be mad, too.  

We were at a recent Bible study gathering when one of our friends mentioned that her son had also had an awful, really bad, no good, terrible day. Liz said that he philosophized that things could only get better for him! I like that kid’s attitude. 

I hope my calm reaction to this latest crisis soothed Shannon’s distress. The fact that we are heading her way for a visit tomorrow made things better, too. It will all work out fine. I can remember times in my younger years that I worried about many things, but I guess I am old enough now to realize that counting blessings and focusing on what’s most important beats dwelling on what’s wrong any day.   

Life is like a roller coaster, going up to the hills and down into the valleys as we experience success or struggles. It’s in the way that we deal with our valleys that makes all the difference in achieving inner peace. An honest and direct conversation in prayer with God will help you to sort things out. Cast your burdens upon Him, and He will see you through whatever challenge is before you. And then when you look back on those dark days from the pinnacle, you can celebrate with prayers of appreciation and praises that you have made it back to the top of the hill (or the water spout if you’re a spider!).

Hardships and setbacks happen to every single person on this earth eventually.  But the sun is shining out there above the clouds, and it will eventually break through to shine on our Shannon again. I am certain of it, and I thank God for it. I am looking forward to holding my precious daughter in my arms tomorrow and reminding her in person: We are so blessed!

The Anniversary Waltz
August 18, 2007

To have and to hold from this day forward…

-Book of Common Prayer 

Today is our 28th anniversary, falling on a Saturday, just like the big day did back then. I was over at church this morning to take care of a few details, and my mind went back to August 18, 1979, another hot August day with scattered showers forecast, just like today. 

Hoping that the ceremony and reception all went smoothly was cause enough for anxiety, but worrying about the weather added an extra level of it, since our reception was at my parents’ home, and we were counting on being outdoors for some activities.

The tent was raised, the bar was set up, and the piano got moved outdoors. Dad was touching up paint inside well into the afternoon, causing a slight panic on my part. He actually had the nerve to ask THE BRIDE to go get gas for the car that day, a task that she gave up on after failing to find any nearby (thus wasting more gas); this was during one of the gas shortages during that decade. I think I was just a TOUCH skittish that day, to say the least! 

Weddings nowadays can be amazingly over-the-top affairs, but back then, things were much simpler, at least at our house. We had reserved the church, and Mom ordered a simple cake and flowers, booked a photographer, caterer, bartender and a trio to play music. The only thing I remember is sitting down with the organist at our church to discuss music (I just went with his suggestions), and expressing a desire for a crown of fresh flowers with ribbons cascading down my back rather than a long veil. I think I got the invitations printed at an office supply store, and Mom made not only MY dress from a sketch I drew, but all the bridesmaids’ dresses, too!  

Joel and I lived in Dallas at the time, and we drove down a few days prior to the wedding. Since I was working, I couldn’t take off for long, and since we were going to be gone a week for our honeymoon, we waited until just about the last day to head down to Houston. Our friends from out of town came in, and we had some fun parties (bachelor/bachelorette, rehearsal dinner) to kick off the weekend.  

There was a brunch at my aunt’s that Saturday morning, and then in the afternoon, I attempted to relax by taking a nap (after I returned from my unsuccessful trip to get gas). Later, we girls rolled up our hair, gathered our dresses and went over to the church a few hours prior to the ceremony (which was at 8 p.m.). No limo for us.

I can’t even remember who drove us over there, but I do know that my little brother was charged with driving us back to the house for the reception in our own car (a red 1975 Ford Granada). I say ‘our own car’; it was Joel’s car, not mine. I never had a car of my own before I married! John was also charged with fooling everyone and trading our car out for a rental car that we escaped in afterwards, unscathed by decorations.  

Back at the church, the first thing we girls in our hair rollers did was peek into the Sanctuary. I thought that the candelabras would look better if they were a little closer to the aisle, so we tried moving them, and I almost fell into the organ pit. We then realized that the reason they had been placed where they were was so that the organist could see the back of the church in his rear view mirror, and by moving them, we blocked his view. So back they went.  

My Aunt Mary says that we were officially married at 8:08 p.m. We stuck around for the requisite photos, and then headed for the reception. I recall that the Houston Oilers football team was playing the Dallas Cowboys in an exhibition game that night, and John had the game on the radio. As we arrived, the Oilers were about to score, so Joel wanted to sit in the car awhile to hear what happened! I think I made him get out…

The reception was a whirl of going here and there, doing what the photographer said to do and barely getting anything to eat or drink. We changed clothes upstairs in my parents’ bedroom and then escaped in our rent car to the Warwick Hotel (not far from the house, and now called the Hotel Zaza). The next morning, we headed to Manzanillo, Mexico for a week at Las Hadas, which was a perfect place to go for a honeymoon (we enjoyed it so much that we went back and enjoyed it all over again for our 20th anniversary!).  

Fast forward to the present. So there I was at our church this morning, 28 years later. The time has flown by, and yet that day seems so long ago. I looked around the familiar setting and smiled as I reflected on my good fortune to have married such a loving, committed and supportive husband. Mostly it’s been smooth sailing, but even when trials, sadness and pitfalls have challenged us, we have learned from them, and all has turned out well for us.  

Tonight? We’re going back to my parents’ old house, which belongs to my sister now. Another sister is visiting from out of town, so we’re having a family reunion. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate an anniversary than among loved ones who were there to launch us way back when!  

No wait. I CAN think of a better way to celebrate! Next weekend, we are going to New York to ‘officially’ celebrate with a visit to Shannon, who of course, was NOT there as we launched our lives together. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful husband and a delightful daughter, and I am so grateful that the choice Joel and I made all those years ago was a good one. Happy Anniversary to us!

The Ozymandias Syndrome
August 5, 2007

… And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away. 

-Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) 

In the above poem, the poet tells of meeting a traveler from an ‘antique’ land who had encountered the ruins of a sculpture of an ancient king named Ozymandias. As you might gather by the words inscribed on the pedestal, old Ozymandias was quite full of himself.

To me, this poem is a good illustration of the futility of self-importance. Here I have to confess that there have been times when I have taken on major responsibilities, and felt that if I had not been there to oversee them, things would have fallen apart. There have been times that I felt like no one could do something as well as I could. And there have been times that I have been sad about yielding to someone else’s care a job that I loved very much. But have I ever been guilty of being full of myself? Yikes! 

Self-importance is ugly. More than just about anything, I hope that I have never been guilty of this haughty and negative trait. Whenever I see it manifested in someone, I have an immediate aversion, and find it difficult to have any respect for that person as a result.   

As time marches on, I have come to see that the world will not end if I am not ‘in charge’. It’s hard to admit, but sometimes things even turn out to be better than before when I was! This is humbling to experience, it has taught me how to let go and move forward, 

Summer is a quiet time in the Fine Arts business at our church. But as fall draws near, plans crank up for starting the new choir year, and it begins with a grand ‘Fine Arts Fair’ that is an open house for our church members to come meet our musicians and find a place to plug into this ministry. This is the 8th year we’ve done this, and it all began with me to make the first one happen. Eight years later, I’m still making it happen. ‘In Charge’, so to speak.

This year, in addition to this big Sunday morning event, our youth choir is also presenting a summer musical and having a reunion/birthday party for all our kids to gather together after being off all summer. I’ve always planned this party, as well, so the prospects of a long weekend at church loomed. But I was ready to roll, busily gathering necessary planning forms, making flyers, writing releases, posting website articles and unpacking display items, etc.  

And then Joel told me to save that weekend for a surprise anniversary trip (our 28th). I protested, “Oh no! I can’t do it that weekend! I’ve got so much to do! I’ll be at church the whole time! It’s the big Fine Arts Fair and the choir reunion, blah blah blah!” He was a bit taken aback, and said, “But I’ve already bought the tickets and arranged for a dog sitter!” And then he told me that he and Shannon had cooked up the idea for us to fly up to visit her in NY for the weekend.   

Well! All of a sudden, my gears shifted. I gave it a LOT of thought, and I figured if I did much of the prep work beforehand, perhaps other people could take it and run. I broached the possibility to the new chairman of the FA committee and the director, and both gave me their blessing to be away.  

Suddenly I don’t feel the urgency to be there anymore. I will do what I can to help get things started, and then other people will make it happen. Other people will make it great! Other people may make it the best one ever! And you know what? That’s ok. This is not all about me. It’s about promoting the ministry to the world. It’s about spreading the good news. It’s ultimately about glorifying God (and NOT Carol!).

What a liberation this has been! All my anxieties have fallen away, and I am at peace. Who needs to be the  ‘king of kings’? (Or the ‘queen of queens’ in my case?) While it is nice to feel needed, I think I’d rather just be appreciated for being one of many who contributes to the cause and helps to pull the wagon in the right direction.  

And boy, I’m going to have fun in New York! 

(Note to readers: pewperson will be taking a week off, so look for her next posting on August 18.)