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Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Strolling Down Memory Lane –

-- we may find a few ruts.  
A "Grand Tour" means a voyage of discovery and maturing, soaking in the culture and history of more refined parts of the world – usually Europe. And for some crazy reason, I feel like I am a kind of adventure that goes beyond the standard definitions of “trip” – not that we are sightseeing or attending lectures or camping out in the area’s museums.  

Is it the ambience of a town with so many 18th and 19th century mansions, or presence of two old schools that make me feel like I am on a “Grand Tour?” It might be the water views from so many vantage points -- or the Christmas lights -- or companionship of so many dear souls, all with time enough to think and reflect -- and remember.  Whatever it is, this time our visit has the feel of a tour rather than just a trip.

I see Spa Creek from our grand windows, and remember our first apartment, also overlooking this body – and one of homes, a duplex, that had a boat slip on this creek, just at the edge of small two-tiered garden.  And I recall that Doug’s father also lived in a condominium looking out on the same water.

When walk through downtown Annapolis, and I remember how often I led tours up and down these streets, and in and out of several Georgian mansions, St. John’s College, and the Naval Academy, happily divulging facts that return to mind.  I remember so many strolls over to the State House grounds with our kids, to ward off the crabby “children’s hour.”  And I recall my parents who spent their last years in this town.     

What is good about this trip, and like an attribute of a grand tour, is the time we’ve had to reflect and remember.  What we take away may not be as useful or creative as those who actually made the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries.  (The Greater Journey is an excellent primer on such tours!) But, our adventure is filling us with reminders of some lessons learned.  Sadly, we’ve learned that some sweet folks with whom we shared so much happiness have themselves hit rough patches – and some are dead.    

Truth be told, the jewels of architecture and learning, that are distinct hallmarks of Annapolis, are surrounded by developers’ obnoxious buildings; they are as breathtakingly ugly, as the old properties are lovely -- just as the happy, blessed memories of so many wonderful times are jewels, but within some painful settings.  

·      Even our misfortunes are a part of our belongings.  ~Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, Night Flight, 1931, translated from French by Stuart Gilbert

·      Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.  ~African Proverb

·      We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to learn that it is God who is shaking them.  ~Charles C. West

Happy New Year, gentle reader – and here’s a bit of Hope for 2014:

“ . . . Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
   it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior . . .”  Isaiah 43

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hacked!


It happened again – someone commandeered my credit card and made three 4-figure charges. And because of their felony, our use of the card was suspended for the time it took to receive new cards.  This hardly seemed fair . . . but “fair” is not what Jimmy Carter said to expect in this world. (The context of this quote is worth reading! )
A Target customer at a store in Miami on Dec. 19. The company previously announced that about 40 million credit and debit card accounts of customers had been stolen.
 Source*
It was an experience somewhat akin to our losing electrical power in the recent ice storm.  We got by – but the consequence of having lost our capacity to buy was as unsettling as no heat or light.  However, being slowed down by circumstances beyond our control – and resting this time from shopping – was not all bad.  The awareness, of how quickly I can lose the creature comforts and financial security I take for granted, neatly dovetailed with the mixed messages of the season.

The news says there is no peace on earth – the holiday says, Ho-Ho-Ho. And, our holidays seem more connected to presents than the presence of God.

I say I believe in a power greater than myself. When I see how cold and dark our home can get, however, or how limited I am without that 3”x2” plastic card, God reminds me my words have meaning, and consequences.

Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13-12  ~ The Message)

It’s one thing to urge people to turn to God – especially during Christmas; it’s another thing though to live each day believing it.

·      To perceive Christmas through it`s wrapping becomes more difficult every year. ~ E. B. White (The second tree from the corner)

·      We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. ~ Dietrich Bonheoffer

·      Selfishness makes Christmas a burden, love makes it a delight. (Author unknown)

The trick is loving and living wisely after Santa’s come and gone. (John 13:34-35)



Photo Source: Nightmare

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Past is Too Soon Here

This year’s celebration felt like being inside our production of “The Nutcracker”—lots of lovely encounters with wonderful people, all ages and stages. (Doug and I being the oldest) To have been part of our kids’ Christmas celebrations remains the greatest gift! All the little and big joys of Christmas Day 2013 – they were no dream! Yep – we feel like we’ve been crowned king and queen of the land of sweets!

Color me satiated . . . and not just because of all the yummy food, that was the day’s fare. I can’t say I ate too much . . . But I sampled all the fare — and smaller portions of luscious food can fill a girl up right well!

However, enjoying all those dishes with family and good friends was the true gift that keeps on giving. To quote a Facebook post: “I think the older you get . . . the things you really want can’t be bought.” (Although, every present we received was exactly what we needed)

Reflecting on this year’s celebration, I didn't know I still had that much party in me.  And maybe that was a good present, too.  


More light than we can learn,
More wealth than we can treasure,
More love than we can earn,
More peace than we can measure,
Because one Child is born. (Source)

Christmas lights still twinkle, but the continual caroling through the auspices and generosity of public broadcasting and those who support it is over.  Hearing the sublimity of the hope that God intersected human history was been quite a tonic, for this hope does not disappoint, especially as   news of power outages, and shipping woes – and bombings, and blustering crowds out the jewel of joy that was mine yesterday,

Gentle reader, as we get back to the business of living in and through uncertain times. May that hope be yours in abundance!   

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and  we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5)

A related and worthwhile link before packing away this year’s memories:  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice


The shortest day of the year – allegedly-- has dawned the brightest since our arrival in Annapolis, and the warmest.  It’s now warmer here than in Dallas, with temperatures tomorrow topping 70. Go figure.

Outdoor Christmas lights, while not at the insane levels that illumine the Park Cities, are more abundant than I remember. Once upon a time, I thought displaying too many Christmas lights was tacky – what was preferable I thought were decorations reminiscent of colonial Williamsburg. I still remember the first – and only – garden club meeting I attended; they taught us how to make “natural” boxwood wreaths. I never drew upon that wealth of information again – I never had access to boxwood was my excuse of choice.

But having a “fresh” door decoration was as important to me as having a live tree was to Doug and the kids.  Some years, it was almost the last minute until I got a wreath up . . . and it dawned on me when assessing them, that “tacky” was an adjective with broader boundaries than over-the-top outdoor displays.

An unexpected and fulfilling delight remains the 24/7 Christmas music available on the public radio station, WETA : many familiar carols—but oh so many more pieces and artists that I had never known.  So rich are all the words, so delightful the music – as a rich a fare for my heart, as the lights are for my eyes!

 God, keep me from just humming along, and ignoring this freely available supply to all who will listen fresh spring of hope and help!

Americans who do not believe in the birth of Christ, much less His life and death, still enjoy the trimmings of the celebration the church observes. So, Christians here can freely listen and sing our faith we who walked in the dark have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2) But plenty of Christians cannot – especially the “long-suffering, war-torn, not going anywhere Christians of Syria.”

[Associate Professor at the Lebanese-American University Habib] Malik admits of the three monotheistic religions in the region, “Christianity is most beleaguered.” Muslims have captured territory and control political power. Jews have found sanctuary in the modern state of Israel. “But native Christians in the region have none of this. They tend to be weak and scattered communitiesrepeatedly subjected to pressure from oppressive regimes and Islamist groups.” (Syrian Bishop Antoine Audo)

Therefore, as we party this holiday, enjoying all the American church proclaims and our nation permits  – remember those who suffer. Pray for them, and their oppressors. God help us all to believe the Christ in Christmas!  
AP Photo: Targeting Children

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Decking the Hall


All around me – lights beaming, gaily decorating trees and buildings; familiar carols resounding on the public radio station; reconnecting with family and friends – the Winter Solstice soon upon us never fails to rev me up. 

Fast away the old year passes . . .”

We attended a pageant celebrating Christmas, hosted by the tutorial overseeing our grandchildren’s schooling. Children’s sweet faces and voices, their earnest performances – expressing the hope and joy of the season: God so loved us He gave us His Son.   

But, like so many Christmases past, the brilliance of the season, both secular and sacred, contrasts with the dark reality of disease, despair and depravity. MS and cancer haven’t taken the holiday off – nor has the anger and dysfunction, disrupting too many families disappeared just because it’s Christmas. 

Life hurts!

And if the pain of living were not enough, a few people have figured out how to silence those who object to their conduct, which defies God. Folks, all for whom that Baby came, whose political correctness reacts and punishes a Christian’s comment on the obvious, do nothing when their government rewards itself at the expense of those who fought to protect its citizens. (Are We That Cruel?) All the lights of the season do not seem to illuminate our minds to see how dark the darkness is. (The Culture of Death, continued)

Bah-Hug!  

Making sense of suffering, I can’t, apart from the hope that an infinite personal God chose to involve Himself in the world and lives of all He created.

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed, that it will make it not only  possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened. (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, chapter 34. Cited by Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, page 154.) 

Morning Has Broken

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas in Annapolis




We don’t have a live tree this year – or even an artificial one; nor do we have any decorations in the little apartment we have rented for the Holidays. But its location fills our hearts and minds with memories far brighter and more reflective than lights and ornaments could prompt.

We are in the top floor of what was once a carriage house for a Georgian mansion, Acton. It is within hailing distance of the homes in which we raised our kids, on Conduit Street and Southgate Avenue.  How many times did we hurry through these streets, taking too much for granted the ambience and wonder that bolls over the many tourists crowding its narrow streets. 

Wonderful as Dallas is – its Mac-mansions, placed side-by-side with Annapolis’ bevy of Georgian beauties, don’t take my breath away the way the Hammond Harwood House or the Paca House and Garden does.  Nor can any of the astoundingly lavish Christmas lights for which Park Cities’ residents are famous outshine the memories of the annual Christmas parties at the Chase Lloyd house, or the candlelight tours of the Hammond Harwood House, in which I was also a docent, before the most wonderful kids ever changed forever how Doug and I “did” Christmas! 

No – our abodes were not like these mansions – but living in their proximity, and being a tour guide in the early days of Three Centuries Tours sure gave me a sense of “ownership.”  Distance and time have not dissipated that sense, nor the gratitude I have for all that God enabled when I remember. And no decorations could make this Christmas merrier! 

So, what fills me up right now are all those memories of preparing for and enjoying so many Annapolis (and Severna Park) Christmases, especially with our kids, and now with their spouses and kids. It doesn’t get more splendidly festive than this!  

·      One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day.  Don't clean it up too quickly.  ~Andy Rooney

·      Christmas is a necessity.  There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves.  ~Eric Sevareid

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reviewing My "Gift" List

The sun is doing its thing this morning – toasting up the frigid air, even making ice-dead fall leaves sparkle.  It’s as if Friday’s icy storm plastered all the leaves in place, defying them to fall. Tree limbs, however, crashed down – all sizes and shape-- their ugly debris so stark in the warming morning light. I avert my eyes, and stare at the wordless evangelist across the street, bathing my heart in the familiar strains of Christmas carols . . . anticipating delights too soon over. Thankfully, the garbage men pull up, and carry off the debris – reminding me the hope of this season is Christ can and will make something of ice and storm damaged relationships and circumstances, but He expects me to get off my high horse before I fall!  

The Wordless Evangelist 
Wishing not to be overly metaphorical – but unable to resist, the morning’s message makes me think about family, friends – even acquaintances -- with whom connections are frozen, or broken. Some, I know I could [help] repair; some, it will require a power much greater than myself to warm things up. And too many are gone because death snapped the relationships as decisively as the weight of ice overwhelms the trees’ branches.

Life’s too short, a wise person, or two, observed, to put up with brokenness, especially if I can do something about it. If there is a grudge I can let go of, let me put it down. If there is a grievance – let me screw up the courage to go to that soul who unwittingly, or wittingly, upset me. 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
 but dwelling on it separates close friends.
A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding
    than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool.
(Proverbs 17:9-10)

And may I have the grace and good sense to hear a rebuke that must needs come my way! When I am wrong, being prompt to admit it, is a segue to sanity. 

 Anyone who loves to quarrel loves sin;
 anyone who trusts in high walls invites disaster
. (Proverbs17: 19)

So, I rereading Proverbs 17 as an early Christmas present to myself, and those I love. Maybe it could bless you, too, Gentle Reader?

·      Never miss an opportunity to make others happy, even if you have to leave them alone in order to do it. ~Author Unknown

·      A relationship becomes easier when you realize that you don't have to be the one at fault to be the one who's sorry.  ~ Robert Brault

·      A stiff apology is a second insult.... The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.  ~G.K. Chesterton


Saturday, December 7, 2013

ICE Storm – Dallas December 6, 2013




When I finished the painting --  my  first “commission” --  I wondered if  its subject matter might be prescient, given the weather forecasts. For, Dallas forecasts are not always reliable.  This time, though, the weather forecast was right!  Sleet and rain started falling early Thursday evening – resembling my modest painting. 

First Commission
So began another Texas weather adventure, from which I enjoy a reprieve as I write.

A chilly damp night seemed a perfect time to sample the chicken tomatillo tamales, and Whole Foods’ chili that I bought in anticipation of the possible coming cold weather. When its vestiges awoke me about 3:30 AM -- it was just in time to hear a piercing short “beep” erupt from the kitchen.

What in the world . . . oh no! The carbon monoxide alert! Quickly checking the gas connector to the fireplace, and then the stove – before it started shouting -- we then remembered it had a battery back up, and changed out the battery, amidst its yelps.  Could a power outage have drained it of life?

As we crawled back to bed, the lights went out, along with the furnace; finding flashlights took just enough time for the lights to recycle on and off – on, and once again all was dark, except for a weird green light we saw from the kitchen window that flashed across the sky—an exploding transformer. Quickly we headed to bed, adding a wool blanket for good measure – this could be a bummer!

Then, suddenly, Doug popped up from bed, suited up in hat, gloves, leather coat and shoes to venture out and turn off the automatic sprinkler, which was set to water next morning. Since, they predicted an accumulation of ice approximately .1 inches, we didn’t need to add to that!

We finally settled own, hoping with the morning sun, we might enjoy a reprieve.

Friday morning – no reprieve.

The cars were caked in ice, and our cedar tree was bent low, and rested on Doug’s car, limiting any chance of a quick getaway – as if driving any where would have been smart, given the thick ice coating on all the roads! 

The blessing of natural gas – a stove top and gas logs – kept us steady:  We boiled water for coffee; filing our thermos with life supporting caffeine, we assessed our options before a cheery fire. The well-charged smart phones filed in details the lifeless TV and radio could not. So, too, did the old transistor radio, I brought from Maryland. It might be a long day – and driving conditions meant having to decline kind invitations from family to bunk with them!

Reluctant to let food in the refrigerator go bad, I cooked up a few meals on our stove's gas burners, storing them in the back of my frozen car.  I just kept telling myself – keep cooking and don’t turn on the burners until you light that match!

I found several fat candles; their cheery light would seem brighter if the lights weren’t on by nightfall. And they did, because come nightfall the only lights were the neighbors’ across the street!    Odd, how power grids work . . .  

As the temperature outside the house fell from 30 to 18, the temperature inside fell too. We added more layers of clothing.  We ate dinner by the fire, eating fast, as the chilly air dissipated the stew’s warmth.  I have not done dishes as fast as I did that night, since I was kid! We played Scrabble by candlelight. That wasn’t as much fun as it sounds. (I won by five points, though.) 

By nine, there was not much else to do but hunker down in front of the fire, sleep and hope the power grid would operate soon. The power returned about 1:00 AM.  When the light and heat waked us, it surprised me – I didn’t know just how cold we had been!    

We are still in a deep freeze and housebound for the time being,but happy and warm. The prospect of more days of freezing weather has one bright spot, hopefully: those deadly West Nile mosquitoes that flourished in several recent mild winters will be gone. This adventure also is a prod, silencing any grumbling.  Some folks here may not get power on until Monday!

Get ready if you are in the path of this wintry blast!

And please remember: Some people have no home; much less, the hope of heat and light and extra layers of socks and sweaters – they and the people who serve them need our help.  

The best way to do ourselves good is to be doing good to others; the best way to gather is to scatter. ~ Thomas Brooks

 Dear brothers,  . . .
If you have a friend who is in need of food and clothing,  and you say to him, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat hearty,” and then don’t give him clothes or food, what good does that do?  . . . ~ James 2:14-26 (TLB)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Marking the Advent of Advent


Less than 25 days until Christmas, and I felt convicted how far I’ve wandered from disciplined study of Scripture. It’s so pleasant sipping the first cup of coffee and meandering through email, Facebook, and of, course reading a few devotional that land in the in-box.  By the time I do that – it’s time for breakfast, and then the day begins, and off I go on another day’s adventure.

But this morning, I clicked on a favorite blog, “Living with Flair,” and was reminded that disciplined devotions need not be onerous. (Simple Bible Reading Plan ) I followed her suggestions – and refreshed -- then picked up A Book of Days for Christians. Richardson Wright, its author, began his devotional with December 1 – this year the first Sunday in Advent. He directed me to Deuteronomy 34 – 12 poignant verses describing what Moses saw at the end of his life, “gazing out over the Promised Land which because of grievous sin, he could not enter. (Numbers 20)

What did he do? He didn’t trust in God enough to honor Him as holy in the sight of the Israelites – a bunch of people who whined, complained, rebelled and were all-round stinkers.

So, I guess this is the take-away for me today:

“We too stand on a Mount Pisgah, today looking over the plains and peaks of another Christian year, on which we are living.” (Wright, page 13)

Given my foray into Psalms and Proverbs, I gleaned again simple instructions:

·      Stay out of dangerous places – not just literal, but emotional and spiritual places, too. (Psalm 1:1)
·      Depend on God to enable the strength and ability to do whatever is necessary to keep me safe. (Psalm 5)
·      Gain understanding and wisdom; this is a life long privilege – duty – and adventure. (Proverbs 1)

And for heaven’s sake, don’t let my frustration with other people’s conduct or conversations become an excuse for losing my temper!