Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Communing With Nature (Really?)

It’s not clear how our children developed a love for the outdoors: camping, hiking, camp fires, that kind of thing. My wife and I never took them camping and the last time I remember spending the night in a tent, I was a Boy Scout. So, go figure how our daughter decided to spend her fall break from school on the south rim of the Grand Canyon with a group of friends.

This included a 12-mile hike into the canyon, which was apparently arduous. But they were all smiles after spending several nights in a tent.
This week, her older brother is in Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California, which seems to involve a lot of cactus and rocks. In the brief communication we have received, we’ve been advised he and his companions are hurting a little from the hikes and climbs.

We’re grateful, because during a long weekend visit with him, he took us on a 7-mile mountain hike that involved a relatively easy uphill stroll.
It was the first time we had seen him in months. He seems to be settling into his California lifestyle quite nicely. Who can blame him? He’s about an hour and a half from Los Angeles, 45 minutes from San Diego, living in a valley where access to minor mountains is mere moments away. And of course, there’s the beach.
Just a few miles in the opposite direction: vineyards. We saw all these things in just two full days.
So, think about it: Within a couple of hours, he can have just about anything he’d want, with terrific weather to boot. Why would he come back to north Louisiana? Family? Sure, we’re here; but we’re good to visit. He has friends where he is and he seems to be making more all the time.
I have to admit, we had a really nice time on our visit. The change of scenery did us some good. It doesn't look like he’s coming back any time soon, so maybe we’ll rack up some frequent flyer miles to go take another hike.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Down By the River

Half a continent apart, my son and I both spent a day by the water. For me, it was the Red River, where people were paddling for a purpose at the dragon boat races.

The Dragon Boat Festival is a major event presented to the community by The Rotary Club of Shreveport. As a good Rotarian, I do what I can to participate. And since my abilities are so limited, I volunteer to do something I know how to do: talk. Standing around all day making announcements and calling races...that's pretty easy.

It was a family affair, because my ever-the-good-sport wife worked a shift at the registration tent. It was fun, except when one disgruntled paddler, a loud-mouth with crooked teeth and whole lot of tattoos, angrily confronted me for making what he considered to be a misleading announcement. The trouble was, I hadn't done it. I still don't know what happened or what he thinks he heard, but the encounter was unpleasant. I can make my own mistakes; I certainly don't need anyone accusing me of something I didn't do. It didn't ruin my day, but it put a blemish on things.
I bring this up not to diminish the dragon boat festival (with that lone exception, it really was a fun day), but merely to magnify the contrasting waterside experiences in play here. From the banks of the Red River being yelled at by a roid-raged, orthodontically challenged tat freak to the sandy shores of Southern California, where my son was spotted cavorting with his buddies.
Is there anything more to say? I mean, that photo looks like an ad for clothing store in the mall or something. They appear to be very relaxed. I think he won the day.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

We Have To Get Out More

Maybe there’s an end in sight to the summer malaise that has gripped us for weeks. With the exception of a nice weekend at the lake with old friends in early August, we have basically done nothing. You know your life has become boring when the biggest ongoing event is watching a visiting cat acclimate to the house.

Our son’s little buddy has finally emerged from his old room and is slowly socializing with the family. For a long time, she had to carefully observe things from high above while doing her best gargoyle impersonation.

All the while, her owner is kicking up his heels in southern California. We have seen exactly one photo of him, but he seems happy with friends wearing a funny hat in a diner.

He has already moved once since he relocated to the west coast. We have no real inkling if or when he will return. So, we remain on the brink of becoming the crazy cat people, with three felines hissing and scratching their way around the edges of our lives. The visiting cat had never set foot outside of our son’s apartment before she moved in with us. She finally worked up the courage to step outside. Imagine what it must have been like to be four years old and feel the wind for the first time.

Our daughter continues to be perfectly content with her life in Texas. School and work are dominating her, to be sure. She has actually come home since she got back from Europe. She was in town approximately 18 hours, enough time to string up a hammock in the back yard.

Yep, that about sizes things up. Football season is here, which means extra work for me. I’m doing a Friday night scoreboard show on a local radio station. If you add the ages of my broadcast partners, you still don’t quite hit my number…but they’re good kids and the show is fun.

Especially for my wife, who has known from the beginning that she’s on her own on Friday nights in the fall (Don’t think for one second that I don’t realize she actually likes it). I’m also part of the broadcast crew for a local high school, which means frequent absences on Thursdays and Saturdays. Sometimes, my bride comes with me.

Fall also means recreational football trips, and certainly we’re looking forward to a few of those. Although, I don’t think we’ll make as many as we have in the past. Getting older isn’t easy, and we’ve discovered these days that it takes us longer to recover from those weekend road trips. Plus, we have cats to feed.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Are You Ready For Some Theology?

I'm still recovering from the longest live broadcast of my media career. I want to say "we hit the air..." but in the 21st century media world, we actually didn't. It was a live webcast, which felt exactly like an over the air broadcast, but it was internet delivered. So, we hit the net at 9:45 a.m. and signed off at 1:17 p.m.

The venue was not a stadium or ballpark, though. It was a cathedral.

The occasion was the consecration of a new bishop for the Episcopal diocese of Western Louisiana. I was asked to host/ narrate as the service went along. And went long. The procession, er, processions...there were three of them...took a full half-hour. Then, there was a full service including an uplifting and entertaining sermon that lasted about twenty minutes, communion for a full cathedral, and the consecration itself.

Dignitaries came in from all over the state and the country. This required the host to carefully prepare. I approached it just like a ball game...doing pre-event interviews, getting to know the players(?), making extensive notes, creating boards, and spreading them out in the broadcast booth.

It was made easier by the fact that I am acquainted with the new bishop and had stories to tell based on conversations with him over the last four years. I have to admit it was fun to do. But, more than that, it was an honor.

Before the webcast, I was extraordinarily nervous. This brought to mind my late father-in-law, who was an Episcopalian priest. I admitted to him one time that I rarely got butterflies before going on live radio or TV, or before speaking to a crowd. I also confessed that it surprised me a little that every time I have something to do at church, I get sweaty palms. He said "that's because you're doing God's work. If you're not nervous, then something's wrong."
Before the consecration, I actually worked up a little sweat.

And I admit to succumbing to emotion a couple of times during especially poignant parts of the service. My job was to describe to viewers what they were seeing, presuming that some of them didn't understand the meaning of many things happening. I tried to explain things as I understood them; but given the fact we were discussing several holy mysteries, I felt inadequate.

It was about the new bishop, though, not about me. One of the things we discussed in advance was the exact moment that I should stop referring to him as the "bishop elect" and start calling him "Bishop." When it came, that was one time I had to work to hold it together. I can only imagine how he felt.


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Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Tail of the Discontended Kitty

While our son is off finding himself, "manning up" in California, our assignment is to deal with what he has left behind. This means a pile of boxes containing the remnants of his apartment and, more significantly, his cat.

When he first moved out on his own, he wanted a pet. I strongly advised against it, because I knew something like this would happen. He was 19 and his life would take twists and turns he couldn't foresee, like moving far away to an environment inhospitable for a house cat. But he didn't listen to me. How could he when he saw this?

At the time, he got the tabby and his mother grabbed the calico. They're sisters and for a day or two they frolicked together at the family home.

Then, my son took his kitten into the dungeon otherwise identified as his one-bedroom apartment, where she has lived all of her life, apparently contentedly and sometimes cutely.

Now, with her Daddy far away for an extended period, the poor cat is apparently failing to adjust to her new (much better) surroundings. Despite the presence of her sister, for whom she has forgotten all affection, and another older cat, she's quietly keeping to herself. She's surrounded by her stuff: scratching post, blanket, litter box, food, some of our son's clothes; but she's staying in full feline freakout mode. She's staying under his bed at our house, hissing at anyone or anycat who comes near.

There has been the slightest progress. We did a spot check on her, as we do frequently, and found her once ON the bed instead of under it. We are bringing her treats, which she eats (but not while we're watching). We speak to her in soothing tones, say her name a lot and try to pet her. Then, she does this weird semi-meow, semi-growl thing that I've never really heard before.

Maybe she'll come around. There's a lot of fun to be had for a cat at our house. Right now, she's not really easy to love. He says she's nice. She has it inside somewhere. Just look at that cute little thing we met when she was a kitten.

As for our son, I don't think he's worried about it. The first photos I've seen of his new life involved a hot tub and girls in two-piece bathing suits. That's a way to man up.

Oh, well, his cat's not any trouble as long as she stays under the bed. Hopefully, she can adapt to her new surroundings as fast as her owner apparently has.

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Monday, July 02, 2012

The Late But Great Departure

When you have little kids, you realize that there's a really good chance they'll move away some day. Thinking about it prepares you, but when your first-born and only son packs up his car and moves half a continent away, it's not easy.

At 22, our son is long gone...relocated to a place you never heard of somewhere in California about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. We're not sure when or if he will be back. He plans to "explore the west coast," and we fully support the project. If he doesn't break away now, there's a chance he never will. Since he stayed in town for college, this is his first try at separation from home and family. He says he hopes to "man up a little" during his extended absence.

He resigned from his job, didn't renew the lease on his apartment and spent a couple of weeks on a farewell tour. He was feted by friends.

He extended invitations to many to visit him once he gets settled, and just about everyone wants to go to California; so maybe he will have company. He's situated about 45 minutes from the Pacific Coast and living in the valley of some minor mountains. Why wouldn't they come visit?

As his departure neared, there was a great outpouring of affection, declarations of love and plenty of hugs.

All of which made actually leaving a little more difficult, but he did it. While his mother was all smiles at a farewell dinner, her demeanor changed when she saw his tail lights in the distance.

I decided to go paternal and give him a speech that went something like this:

I've worked with a lot of people your age over the years, in health care and broadcasting. Most of them have similar goals. They either want to make it big in a major city or at a network; or if that doesn't work out, they want to get to their home market. At some point, almost everybody wants to go home. There's a reason the majority of people live within a hundred miles of where they were born. You need to do this, and I'm glad you are. You will get homesick. Fight through it the first and second time. But if you find you've overly romanticized all this, coming home is not a failure; it's a success. It means you tested yourself and discovered who you are. If you get there and love it, make a home for yourself and we'll come visit.

When he stuck around after high school, we expressed confidence that he would be okay. More than okay, really. I remember my wife and I saying he's so smart and such a good kid that he will be great, but maybe a little late.

It is a little unusual that even though he's two years older than his sister, we had to adjust to her departure two years before he decided to take off.

I said so long to him with an attitude something like "Here's your sword. Here's your shield. Go forth and conquer." I hope he does.

While all of that was certainly sincere, I'm still walking around with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. Our daughter lives three and a half hours away. This means any given morning, we could wake up and go have lunch with her or hustle to her rescue if she needs us.

There's a desert and a major mountain range between us and our son. Maybe it's what he needs.

Maybe he's not the one who needs to "man up" about it.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Blessing of a Lifetime

"He looked me directly in the eye and gave me a blessing."

Our daughter's day started in a breathtaking way as she snapped the photo above. She was inside St. Peter's Basilica for a Mass celebrated by The Holy Father. And Holy Cow! What a view she had!

To be there for the mass is one thing, to be inside is another. To be that close is almost unthinkable. She said "there were tons of people outside, lots of them monks and nuns. I felt guilty for being inside while they weren't."

I think it was just a little sting of guilt, because she is quite aware of the extraordinary nature of this experience. Besides, many of the nuns had their own close encounters.

This Holy Mass for the solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul was a history-making affair. The Sistine Choir and the Westminster Abbey Choir sang together for the occasion. It's the first time in more than 500 years that the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches had formally worshiped together in any way. By all accounts, it was breathtaking.

And there was my daughter, seated with one of her traveling companions in the transept with an unobstructed view of the Pope himself. The setting was undeniably spectacular.

This was a completely unexpected once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. She and the other TCU students have had a tour guide during their stay in Rome. Less than 24 hours before the Papal Mass, the tour guide said she had two tickets available to it for anyone who wanted them. Our daughter alertly jumped at the chance, but never dreamed it would turn out like this.

Usually eloquent, she was driven to exclamatory language to describe what she was feeling. Here are some choice quotes:

"Holy crap. That was the coolest thing ever."

"Oh yeah. We were freaking out."

And my favorite: "I think you're going to jump off a bridge when you see my pictures."

Let's say I've been excited all day. I've been distracted. I've had chills. I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around her good fortune. Naturally, I've e-mailed a couple of key photos to Catholic friends and relatives; and the replies have featured all kinds of capital letters and exclamation points.

This is something I'll never forget and I wasn't even there. This is likely an experience so profound that she and her friend will not be able to adequately explain it to others. I'm so happy for them.

She says she has been "ridiculously, unreasonably lucky" on this trip, and this is concrete evidence of that.

There's also the remarkably contrasting experiences she had in about an 18-hour period. The evening before, the soccer team from Italy improbably won its way into the Euro Cup final...igniting wild celebrations across the country. Guess who was right in the middle of it....

She said it actually got too crazy and they retreated to the safety of their hotel. Good judgment there.

One of the people who received the photos I sent said "She's living such a blessed life." I think she would agree, especially after the guy in the pointy hat made eye contact with her and made the sign of the cross. After all, as another friend put it so eloquently: "I mean, it's the freaking Pope!!"

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Roman Holiday

The longer our daughter is away in Europe, and the farther away she gets from English-speaking territory, the less frequently we hear from her. We now know she is thriving in Rome, where of course she has already visited The Vatican.

As well as The Colosseum.

Those are "automatics" when you visit Rome and it's good to know she's meeting the requirements for a first-time visitor.

In brief bursts of communication, she has informed us that her trip has definitely exceeded her expectations. If you think about it, that's saying a lot because when you're talking about London, Paris and Rome I would think your hopes would be especially high. I'm sure a lot of her enjoyment has to do with the company she's keeping. By all accounts, people are getting along well.

It's been easy, from what we can tell from the photos, for them to become immersed in history, art and architecture.

But there's also been a different kind of fun. For instance, they took a cooking class during which they produced hand-made pasta...and then they sat down as a group and enjoyed dinner of their own creation, including what appears to be a really rich dessert.

Glancing at her planning document, I see tomorrow is a free day. So, there are not formal plans. This is an opportunity for her to explore on her own. Knowing her, she will make the most of it.

She had indicated that she can't wait to tell me all about it. I can't wait to hear all about it. In the meantime, I pray every day for safe travels and that she will find the proper balance of activity and rest so that she continues to make the most of the opportunity.

Then, in a couple of days, there's a day-long excursion to Pompeii.
BR> Until she's home safely and starts to tell her stories, I have to be content with photos...and they look pretty nice.

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