Friday, December 25, 2009

In My South

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, I ran across a book titled My South. It is a series of essays on "My South" and originated by an essay written by Robert St. John. I was touched by this book, and the various understandings of My South articulated throughout it.

A few nights ago, my husband came home laughing. He had stopped by a neighbor's house. Big B has stopped, almost daily, to visit our elderly neighbor for the past 4 years. He says our neighbor was giving him a package of home-baked goodies as they were discussing the weather. He mentioned how much he hated snow. She questioned where he had spent much time with snow and he explained that he had grown up in Illinois. Big B said she looked so stunned, saying, "I didn't know you were a Yankee!". She quickly recovered and continued visiting.

This reminded me of a facebook interaction I recently had. I found myself making a quick commentary about a decision I made to some W. Coast friends. I stated simply, "in our Tx. Hill Country community" and explained some issues we had with religious intolerance. I quickly had many people I did and did not know jump on the band-wagon about the hate-groups that congregate in this area, etc. I found myself feeling defensive, although I knew what they said was true. And while reactionary hate are real and true problems of the South, hate is not limited to the South. Nor is it a part of daily life in the South I know.

(Pictured here, the an
nual MLK Peace March in San Antonio, Texas has repeatedly held the largest march in the nation for over a decade.We have attended since the boys were toddlers)

I am a Southerner. I was born in South Texas. My mother's family is from North Carolina. I have like a zillion cousins in North Carolina.

I spent a total of 9 years of my life in other parts of the world. But when push came to shove, I chose to raise my family in the rural South. Sometimes I question this decision. But as I read through this book, I was reminded of the charm of the South. The charm we often take for granted. So I want to share my own version of "My South" . It is the version that I have grown to love.

My South

In my South.. children wear shorts and t-shirts year-round. Flip-flops and boots are optional.

"Dress nice" means dress pants, dress shoes, shirt with a collar (at a minimum) for men. Nice pants outfit or dress/skirt with hose and dress-shoes for women.

In my South.. no-one is better than you, and you are better than no-one.

"Yes ma'am, yes sir, please and thankyou" are the basics of every Southerners vocabulary.. Sir and Ma'am are not a reflection of age but of respect for humans of all ages.

In my South.. (and this is stolen from the book) when your mother says "Don't be ugly" she is not talking about your appearance.

In my South..things are never what they appear.

It is the mainstream churches encouraging equality for people of all sexual orientations.

Generally speaking, Republicans and Democrats agree to disagree...The political divisions here are more about the importance of populists and/or true statesmen.

Most agree that the Border Wall is an abuse of time, money and property of individual matter what your political stance.

In my South, the common thread for everyone is individualism.

In my South, unexpected guests are always welcome. An extra seat and serving (or two) for breakfast, lunch and supper are expected to be prepared. Meals are a social occasion.

Tea, lemonade and some form of booze are always offered.

In my South recreation consists of rivers, pot-lucks ,guitars, late-night barbecues, ghost-stories, 4-wheelers and Gulf-Coast vacations.

In my South, spring is a time for play. Fiesta, Baseball, and Mardi Gras, prevail during this season. Easter and Passover squeeze in.

Soccer games, flashlight tag, quinceaneras (all to the sound of crickets in the distance) are the occasions of summer.

In my South, you must sit still to catch up.

In my South, we are barefoot as we eat tamales and play board-games with family and friends on Christmas Day.

And in my South we say..

Feliz Navidad :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Transitions and the Meme Dare

This is the first year that Brian will not be home for Christmas. We are sad. We will miss him.
Big B and I also realize that this is just part of his growing up. We are pleased to see him spend
time with Angee and her family. We also realize that he is the first of our motley crew to start breaking away to create his own traditions.
We decide to set aside the Sunday before Christmas as a time to celebrate together. So we start our first "early-Christmas" get-together. We decide to keep it fairly simple. Serving soup and sandwiches. We visit. We play games. We exchange gifts because we all agree it is fun to watch each other open. We become v-e-r-y sleepy. It is nice to have this time to enjoy each other's company. While there will still be gifts exchanged between the remaining family members, our focus now shifts. We enjoy the rest of the holiday season with a focus on the gift of Christ in our lives. We keep it simple.

Okay. Now onto the dare. sardinemama over at has created a dare to complete a Christmas meme. Nine (+) Texans has completed the dare. So now (sigh) I feel compelled to play.

The Tree
1. When Do You Put Up the Tree?
First week of December.

2. Real or Fake?
Fake. Kids always got sick when we had real. Seemed to trigger asthma.

3. Lights - What Color?
It's a sparkly tree (fiber optic) the lights change when you plug it in...colors.

4. Garland?

5. Theme or No Theme?
Theme? What's that?

6. What Kind of Topper?
A paper star that Cody made when he was also has a little water-stain from the flood of 2002.

7. What's Your Favorite Ornament?
Cody's star.

8. What does your tree skirt look like?
Red with white trim.

9. Where Do You Put Your Tree?
In front of the living room window, next to the fireplace.

10. Who Decorates the Tree?

11. What's Under the Tree?
We start with gifts for other people, and as we give, personal gifts seem to arrive. Also..the dog. She likes to jingle the ornaments.

12. Do You Put Candy Canes On Your Tree?
Nope. The kids would leave them..but the dog has a sweet tooth.

About the Food:
1. What's Your Favorite Christmas Cookie?
Cracker Jack Cookies.

2. Do You Bake Cookies and Give Them Away?

3. Any Special Foods You Have Only at Christmas?
Nope. We eat anything, anytime.

4. What Do You Eat Christmas Eve?
We go to my parents every year after the evening service. Eggnog, crackers, cheese, oysters, and cookies. The kids always leave a bottle of wine for Santa (along with more crackers and cheese). Now that they are older. They still humor santa.

5. What Do You Eat Christmas Day?
Brian usually fixes a big breakfast. The rest of the day we graze on tamales, chips and cheese and shrimp shishkabob.

6. Do You Like Eggnog?

7. Do You Like Candy Canes?

About The Decorations:
1. Where Do You Hang Your Stockings?
Oops. I keep forgetting the stockings! On the fireplace.

2. Do You Put Lights on Your House?

3. Got Any Outside Lawn Decorations?

4. Do You Put Up a Nativity?
Nativity and Advent candles come out the first Sunday of Advent. Everything else comes later.

5. Do You Hang Mistletoe Over Your Door?

6. Got a Wreath on Your Front Door?

7. How Long Does it Take You to Decorate?
One day to clean(it's an excuse to deep clean) and make room for the advent candles and nativity. Candles on the coffee table and nativity on an end table or mantle. One day to rearrange furniture and set up tree. One evening to decorate the tree. The rest we sort-of piecemeal.

About the Movies/Shows:

1. Favorite Christmas TV Show?
Charlie Brown's Christmas and A Wonderful Life.

2. A Wonderful Life / Miracle on 34th Street / A Christmas Carol
Brian and I always watch A Wonderful Life together after kids are in bed. We used to watch while waiting for Santa. Now we watch out of tradition...and maybe Santa will share his wine.

3. Favorite Christmas Movie?
The Christmas Clause (only the first one)

4. Have you ever seen the Nutcracker Suite Ballet live?
Yup, with the whole family. Beautiful.

5. Ever Been to the Radio City Music Hall Show? No.

6. Ever Gone to the Movies on Christmas Day?
No. We don't leave home Christmas Day.

Other Christmas Things:

1. Favorite Christmas Books?
The Gospel of Luke
The Autobiography of Santa Claus.

2. Do You Stuff Your Stockings With Any Types of Food?
Yes..candy it is.

3. Do You Go to Church on Christmas or Christmas Eve?
Christmas's a family thing. Christmas Day if we are serving.

4. Have You Ever Gone Caroling?
Yes but not for a long, long time.

5. Favorite Christmas Carol?
Winter Wonderland. (Probably because I have been snow deprived most of my life)

6. Do You Believe in Santa? St. Nicholas or Santa Claus?

7. Do You Leave Santa Cookies?
wine, crackers and cheese.

8. What About Rudolph? Occasionally a cookie.

9. What Was Your Best Christmas Gift?
A ring the boys bought for me when they were younger.

10. Worst Gift?
I honestly can't think of one.

11. Do You Go To a "Work" Christmas Party? Yes..sort-of. The Boys and Girls Club throws a party every year..but it is for the kids..not for us.

12. Do You Hate Going?
No. It's crazy and chaotic, but I am always glad we do it.

13. Do You Send Christmas Cards?
I used to? Every year I think, "this is the year" and then the year is gone.

14. Do You Make a List?
No. I tried a few times. I always lost the list.

15. Do You Check it Twice and Thrice?

16. When do You Start Shopping?
I try to start in October.

17. Do You Shop on Black Friday?
I have, but prefer not to.

18. Are You Ready for Christmas?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Baking, Movies, Study and Holiday Magic

In years past, we have used this holiday season as a time to be "keepers of the magic".

We use this time to focus on the people whose lives touch us. Meals are cooked, cookies and breads are baked, gifts are often made and wrapped. Miraculously, secret elves manage to leave treasures to be found in and around the community.

In years past we have taken a break from academics during this time. We see this as a season of service.

This year seems to be a little different. Co-op took a month long break just before Thanksgiving. the kids are continuing to study through the holidays.

Austen is busy (in general) with math, reading, an odyssey of the mind costume and numerous art projects.

Cody has been offered a merit scholarship from Full Sail and is now motivated to bring his writing to another addition to continuing his study of Business, Trig and Chemistry. He also needs to update his knowledge of U.S. History just a tad before the year ends.

Cody hopes to start taking classes in Internet Marketing in the Fall. He will start these classes online so we will call it his senior/freshman year. He is choosing to study online so he can continue playing soccer in S.Texas, try to build his transmission repair business and still be a minor at home:) In order to start classes next Fall, he really does have a lot of studying to do between now August.

So today, we listen to a George Straight C.D. I personally am finishing a couple papers for this pastoral ministry training program and doing some reading from Homer today. Need to plan some spontaneous problems for my Odyssey(no..not Homer's Odyssey) teams this evening.

This morning, Austen and I are reviewing statistics. Cody and I are both reading and responding (writing) to Why War? by Freud. Cody is then leaving to SA for a couple days for soccer games and co-op. He will stay with my parents. He likes being with is quieter.

We planned a movie/baking marathon (lots of those lately) for late morning/early afternoon with the Van Bibber family. We are watching Angels and Demons, Julie and Julia (again) and the second Night at the Museum. Today is breads..lots of breads!

Austen continues on an art project and it's his turn to cook tonight. We switched him to Thursdays because he says he has "more time to cook properly" on Thursdays.

Tonight's menu? Sweet and sour chicken and rice. He is thinking of experimenting with sweet and sour tofu as well.

Guess it's time to get off the computer and enjoy the day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Plot Thickens

I have spent the afternoon reading or re-reading the first 3 books. The Great Conversation and The Great Ideas. (I've never been good at reading one thing at a time). Sardine Mama at sardinesinacan offers to join me. Austen and I discuss theories on what a liberal education is.
I get all excitable and start trying to include the boys..and then catch myself.

I realize when Sardine Mama asks which specific books to read, that I need this thing called a plan.


I plan to read books 1-5 by mid January...focusing most of my time and attention on Book 5 Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. This is simply because I have read 1-4 before. So it's sort-of a cheat..I know. Basically, the first 3 books are an explanation of the "conversation" per se..and then summaries of the ideas. (I know..did not do the books much justice). Book 4 is Homer..the Illiad and the Odyssey..which I know that Sardine Mama and her crew are fairly familiar with. So..I propose to host one "Socratic Saturday" a month. Anyone that has read all or some of these readings are welcome to join. It will be very informal. We will serve tea (hot or cold depending on weather), lemonade and alcohol. We will enjoy some snacks and maybe take a walk, fish, swim or get warm by a fire. (once depending) as we discuss.

February books 6-8: Herodotus/Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle
March books 9-11: more Aristotle, Hippocrates/Galen, and Euclid/Archimedes/Apollonius of Perga/Niomachus
April: books 12-14: Lucretius/Epictetus/M.Aurelius, Virgil and Plutarch

sentially, 3 volumes a month (after the initial cram 5 books in a couple of weeks). This would put us completing the set in June of 2011..which gives us a little "wiggle room" for life..since I am determined to do this by Sept. of 2011.

nd no. The World will not end if this does not happen. I just gotta see if I can do it:)

If someone has to miss a is okay. If someone just wants to listen to the discussion but has not read..that is okay too. Essentially, all are welcome just know we will be discussing these thinkers for the day.

This is a crazy amount of reading..and I know by condensing things I really don't give any of the authors justice.

But that is how it's gonna be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Great Conversation Challenge

It started after watching Julie and Julia on d.v.d. I watched with the boys..and thought. "hey..I want to do that. I want to set a goal for myself, and see if I can meet it." I thought of cooking..but knew that would never happen. How about..well..what do I want to do?" I have spent way too much time on facebook and blogging, lately. I do realize this.

I remember fondly how I used to binge read. I would set a goal to read all the books in certain sections of various libraries..and usually succeed over a summer. I started this nonsense when I was 9. In high school I made a bet with David Cortez that I could read every book in the library before him. We both got half-way through and then realized that the other half we had read before high school. (Except the scary books..I wouldn't read scary books because I was a wimp) I enjoyed the books. I enjoyed the challenge of a self-imposed deadline.

When I graduated from college the first thing I thought was Great. Now no-one can ever tell me what I have to read again...and I meant it. But it wasn't long before I felt the need to work through a list of some-sort.

When I started the pastoral ministry program (which I started for spiritual..not academic reasons) I was surprised when I realized I was really looking forward to reading for a class again. I thought I would be more challenged (academically speaking) in this ministry program..and I have been some semesters. .I have learned much about spirituality in general, church history, visitations, homiletics, etc. and I am grateful for the sense of community and friendships developed. But, I still find a part of me craving the thoughts/ideas running around my brain from others far more intelligent than myself. The thoughts of thinkers both secular and from various faith backgrounds that span the centuries.I miss the pleasure of those "aha" moments. Those moments when you get a glimmer of another understanding of human nature you would never think of on your own.

So I look at my shelves and see The Great Conversation and all the other 53 volumes of the Great Books collection. The entire collection, still sitting. I started this series a couple summers ago. I asked my parents for their set. When my father retired from Trinity, my parents gave me the set that was in his study at home. They needed the shelf-space in order to make room for other books. They gave me the set with the understanding I would share the books with my mom whenever she wanted. I was so excited. I read book 1. I read 1/2 through the designated Year 1 readings in a summer..and then I just stopped.

I become excited at the prospect of reading the entire set..but UGH in 10 years? If I don't do it in less than 2 years..I will probably never do it. My attention span is just not that long. I mention my latest desire and predicament over dinner. Michael says he just started reading them straight through..he ignored the reading list. Now there's a thought!

The boys become curious (very temporarily) as to what we are talking about. We discuss the leaders of Western Thought. We discuss the critiques of limiting this "discussion" to Western Thought by primarily white men.. but remind them that it is still important to know these thinkers...simply not limit oneself to them. There is a lot to be learned from Shakespeare, Dante, Locke, Plato, Socrates, etc...

The boys eyes begin to glaze and they quickly become much more interested in how Big B kept sausage casings warm in a friends garage. (It involved a self-rigged candle-warmer thingy). Michael says he has read books 1-5, so if I will "catch up" with him..we can read and discuss together. Then with a big grin he says, "yes..we can discuss the books over dinner." The boys look panicked for a second and quickly change the subject. They claim they are non-readers and by the way how do you make a chicken coop? Brian and Michael point out the different styles of reading everyone in the house prefer...and then we let it rest. The boys are familiar with more of these thinkers than many of their peers. We don't want to turn my challenge to myself into something they learn to fear. Besides, they have been really cooperative in our new dinner-cooking arrangement.

After dinner I look at the shelves. I have read some of these of most. I decided to take Michael up on his offer. I hope to have the first 5 books read by March(2 of them are pretty much lists of other works)..and all 52 by Sept. 2011.

Anyone want to join me?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Return of the Dinner Table - Again

We are trying again to re-establish a nightly dinner routine.

We have done much better this year with ongoing community dining..but we still manage to scrounge and eat in front of the t.v. on other nights. The boys have begun looking at dinner as a time to either engage in conversation (yeah) ..or grumble and mumble about what others have cooked and state there's nothing to eat around here as they stare at a t.v. and eat. (boo)

We (Big B and I) knew we had to do something..but were too lazy and busy to address this sense of apathy. Our boys used to cook. A lot. Except for Brian who always chose "leftover night" or reheating frozen pizza. Then it happened. It was the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak. In their defense, I must state that Angee, Brian and Uncle Dave had no idea that we were dealing with a hit-or-miss grumbling dinner crew at home.

We talked to Brian-Scott and Angee over Thanksgiving break.

I think the conversation went something like this..

Uncle Dave :So Brian, tell me, do you cook much while your in Austin?.

Brian: (big cheesy grin) Hmmm Angee heats up those frozen things.

Angee: Oh yeah (motioning a frying pan on a skillet) I heat stuff up on that thing. (still motioning). You know..that thing that goes on the stove.

Uncle Dave:..and you? (looking at Brian)

Brian: Well, I can put things in the microwave..but it's better when Angee does it.

Angee:Yeah..with that thing (motioning again)

Me: You mean..the skillet?

Brian and Angee simultaneously: Yeah..that's what it is.

rian: Oh..and I make breakfast tacos almost every morning..I cook for Angee when I'm up before she is gone.

Angee: Which is almost never...

Brian: (still grinning)..and I still make shrimp tacos.

The conversation turned to other things..and then a few nights later Big B calls me at work:

Things need to change. I've been thinking about it. There is no reason that our boys should not still be cooking. Brian cooked when he was younger..and now he knows how to make three types of tacos??..and that's after living on his own for 2 years. We can't have that with the other boys. They'll all be on their own in a few years. They need to know how to cook! There is no reason why everyone can't be responsible for dinner one night a week..and that includes Mason and Michael..they need to learn too.

I was tempted to remind Big B that when the boys took turns cooking before Brian always claimed "leftover night" and simply reheated (in the microwave) the dinner that Austen and Cody had previously cooked...but I refrained:)

..and so we start. The boys protest..Austen reminds us he already cooks a lot. This is true. We tell him then he should be able to cut back, but that he can still help whoever is in the kitchen if he wants. Mason insists he's too busy. Brian reminds him that we all are. Mason grumbles about making toast..but then says he'd rather take a weekend, and asks if he can make steaks. Cody is gone too we give him Sunday.

They(the kiddoes) all grumble that sometimes they are too tired to cook. We remind them that is true for everyone. Our friends who help with community dining agree to grab whichever child has a night to help cook if they happen to be cooking in our kitchen. We cook for a family of 7. There are 6 of us..and three are teenage boys. Meaning..there is probably a friend. Community dining involves planning for anywhere from 10-20 on any given day.

So for the most part our week is like this. This is this week, it is understood that if you know you can't be home on your night, you swap with someone ahead of time.

Mondays-Michael (Pam is going to help him in the kitchen sometimes..but I am pleased to say that Michael is insisting on learning and not handing the task over.)
This week? Chicken pot pie. and boca burgers.
Tuesdays-Big B and sometimes Sandy (sometimes community dining) This week: father like son?
Wed- Austen and Sandy/Devin (community dining) Salmon patties, green beans, potatoes with mushroom and onions, choc. chip cookies
Thursdays-(community dining)..whoever is available. Zuchinni meatloaf, peas..this week Ricci and Devin cooked for us:)
Fridays-me (sometimes community dining..sometimes not) Venison roast, hawaiian rolls, salad, sliced fruit.
Saturday-Mason and Brian or Michael - steak, fries and corn
Sunday-Cody and mom (more community dining) Not sure yet..thinking cheese ravioli's with
french bread and some sort of vegetable dish.

It is true that most of our dinners are carnivorous heavy..except Sundays..but I do make sure that we have veggie breakfasts and it all balances out in the end.

It is also true that no family member is home every evening. We are (ahem..eyes rolling) busy people. Still, there is something comforting in knowing that home or not..there is a family dinner (like at a table with good moods, bad moods, essay panic, fatigue and lots of laughter) every night. What has been unexpected is the extension of this time spontaneous board games while meals are finishing, or in planning to watch a movie together after dinner, etc.

This is starting to happen more often than not.

It is nice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Canaries in A Coal Mine?

There was a time when canaries were used in coal mines to let the miners know that they were in unsafe (I.E. toxic) caves. I often wonder if my boys are the canaries of modern society. Fact is, my family seems to have been poisoned. My children have been touched by epilepsy, autism and kerataconous...and all three have asthma. What do these illnesses all have in common?

It appears that while no one knows the specific causes of epilepsy, autism, keratoaconous or asthma what they all have in common is a mix of genetics and environmental toxins. It is often speculated that it is unknown toxins that can trigger these genetic dispositions. canaries are still singing. They are singing despite the fact that we seem to be moving them from one toxic environment to another. They realize, these canaries of mine, that they have been blessed in relation to other, not so fortunate, canaries.

I wonder. Is it the house we lived in and refinished? Did it have lead paint?How about the playground? Was it filled with unknown metals? Did we worsen things with the manufactured home we bought years later? Was it packed with formaldehyde? Did we allow too many immunizations too close together?Were my children reacting to mercury in our tuna? Was it the massive amounts of power lines by the neighborhood pool? Too much chlorine? This list is endless. We try to keep things fairly safe and sound..but we've never been over vigilant. We obviously have missed on several counts.

But I want to know. I need to know. I'm tired of speculating.I need to know for my children. I need to know for my future grandchildren..(imaginary or not). I need to know for all future generations.

What are my canaries telling us?