Monday, December 31, 2007

The Gardens of the Dead

by William Brodrick

Started: 23 November 2007
Finished: 27 November 2007

I’ve read mysteries and I’ve read mysteries. If it were only for the fact that I almost never solve the crime before the end of the book, I might still find the genre mildly palatable. Okay, they usually read like a roller coaster ride—wild, crazy twists, ever-increasing speed and mounting build-ups followed by gut-wrenching drop-offs. But so long as I know I’m really physically in my own chair, I can do the occasional mental ‘wild ride’ . . . if that’s all I had to deal with.

However, most mysteries I’ve read recently also feel the need to add in that little something extra—alphabetical or numerical themes, excessive violence and sexual perversion, or some other ‘cute little gimmick’, which – to this booklady – only clutters up an otherwise good story.

Not so The Gardens of the Dead. It is what I would call an intelligent person’s mystery. Some might call it a boring person’s mystery. It isn’t “exciting” in the sense currently in vogue among mystery stories. I would think its appeal would be to thinkers and/or to our higher selves. The author quotes Kierkegaard and Thomas รก Kempis. The characters reflect on the possibility of undoing evil, about ‘the forgiveness of the victim’ being more ‘deadly than vengeance’ because ‘it goes right to the heart’. (p103)

And I learned about something very interesting called Locard’s Principle. ‘The idea is that if you touch an object, you leave behind something that wasn’t there in the first place—a little of yourself. By the same token, you take away something that wasn’t on you when you came—part of the object. It’s an alarming fact. We can’t do anything without this interchange occurring.’ (p113)

But what about the story? If Gardens were only a collection of philosophical reflections, it wouldn’t be a mystery, much less a mystery worth reading and recommending.

As it is, the story is excellent! It unfolds slowly, almost stumblingly. The ‘sleuth’, a former lawyer who has become a cloistered monk, Father Anselm is drug–reluctantly–into the case by the written request of a deceased colleague.

Anselm continues to be led to relevant information of the case—sometimes by the deliberate instructions and information of the dead woman, Elizabeth, but more often by circumstances, other people and the unraveling of time. I think I liked The Gardens of the Dead so much because it seemed so realistic to me—something most mystery books don’t.

If you’re looking for excitement and entertainment—both with capital “E”s, this may not be the book for you. But if you want a story you can sink your teeth into, with believable characters you might even want to know, then pick up this book by William Brodrick. Or maybe, you might want to check out the first Father Anselm mystery, The Sixth Lamentation. I usually like to read the first book in a series first. This time I happened to pick up the second book on sale, which is the only reason I read it first.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons

by Lorna Landvik

Started: 17 December 2007

Finished: 30 December 2007

It’s not a book I’d choose from the title, but titles can be deceptive. It’s the name of a book club, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. However, even that is somewhat misleading. Or do I mean a misnomer? But although the book purports to be about a group of ladies who meet monthly to discuss books, very little actual book discussion happens in this book.

This is a book about something much more important. It’s about five extraordinary women: Audrey, Faith, Kari, Merit and Slip. It tells the story of their intertwining lives, families, loves, pains, joys and discoveries spanning a period of thirty years. They are neighbors, friends, mentors, sisters and soul mates to each other.

The book opens with the knowledge that one of these five friends is in the hospital and her fellow Angry Housewives have gathered round in support. Their free and easy camaraderie as they banter back and forth sets the stage for the rest of the book—the birth and unfolding of their friendship. As the years go by, the books come and go and so do children, husbands, food, vacations, bad habits and many memories, but the friends stay true to each other through all their many varied experiences.

What I enjoyed most about the book was identifying with the different ladies at various times in their lives. My favorite of the five was Faith. She was the most developed character; the rest seemed one-dimensional—which is still quite an accomplishment given the time span and what the author was trying to accomplish. What can I say? I like my characters to have depth, be multi-faceted and to have to struggle with and within themselves.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t more about the books the ladies read. And I did find it highly unlikely many of those books actually were read given the usual level of conversations in the book. Face it—those were some tough books. Also, little to nothing was said about the dynamics of the how, when, and where of reading, finishing and comprehending in the days of pre-Internet. These ladies weren’t unintelligent, but I still have trouble visualizing them persisting with the books listed. So please forgive the booklady her technical observations; those minor criticisms aside, I loved Angry Housewives—the book, the club and especially the friends.

I do enjoy books—there is no denying it. Some people might think I even love books. But that would be a mistake. I love people and I like things. Even the booklady knows that one person –whoever it might be—is a million times more precious than all the books in the world.

And some people are very special. The person who recommended and loaned this book to me is one of those dear friends! Thanks for the tip, for the enjoyment of this book and the even greater blessing of knowing you!


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Merry Christmas THANK YOU!

Dear Family,

Here are some pictures from our holiday recent gatherings! We were in Indiana visiting XOBar's side of the family from the 23rd of December through the 26th when we left for St. Louis to visit the booklady's family from the 26th until today. Unfortunately the evening when my whole family was there, we failed once again (!) to take a family photo. We are notorious for not taking group photo's . . . sad to say.

Fortunately, the next day, when my dear Uncle and Aunt visited, we did bring out the old camera.

Our warmest thanks to those who put us up—Mom and Dad L. and dear Sis and BiL! The hospitality, accommodations, food, and drink were outstanding! Michelle says she gained 4 pounds and the rest of us won't admit how much we ate . . . or gained!

It was great seeing everyone. Thanks to those who traveled and/or took time out of their busy holiday schedule(s) to see us while we were in town! We have the best families anywhere! We love you and we wish you Peace, Joy and Prosperity!

God bless you now and in the coming year! (That cute little guy is my nephew and godson, Luke!)

All Our Love,

XOBar, , Meg and Michelle

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Man's Search For Meaning

by Viktor E. Frankl

Started: 27 November 2007
Finished: 10 December 2007

Throughout history humanity has always been in search of purpose and meaning to our existence on this earth. One of the oldest jokes in the world is the young person asking the ancient one, “What is the meaning of life?” and receiving some sort of reply like, “If you find out, you let me know, okay?!”

Viktor Frankl’s classic work was originally written in 1945 and published in 1959. I own a 1984 paperback edition of the book which had already been through seventy-three editions in English alone, not to mention nineteen other languages. I mention this because all other facts I quote will come from my copy of the book, unless stated otherwise; for more recent information, the reader is encouraged to look up Dr. Frankl and this seminal work in psychiatry on-line and see all the further developments which have occurred in subsequent years. It is truly staggering the influence this book has had.

The first half of the book is devoted to the good doctor’s life-transforming experiences as a ‘guest’ in a Nazi concentration camp. Perhaps I should not jest—even lightly—about such a serious matter and yet I suspect our author would not mind. He was a man of incredible insight and wisdom. Humor was a resource he well-appreciated; encouraging his patients to use it as a part of therapy.

Prior to this I had never read past the first half of the book; I was only interested in the autobiographical portion of the book. As I have mentioned in previous posts, a surfeit of psychology books in college, both undergraduate and graduate level, left me with no taste for further reading on the subject. More is the pity because Dr. Frankl’s book is as much philosophy and religion as it is dry scientific studies and theories on human behavior patterns. His extraordinary experiences coupled with a brilliant mind would not allow his thinking to be pigeon-holed as many contemporary books on the subject seem to be.

Without further rhetoric on my part, here are some of my favorite parts and quotes from Man’s Search For Meaning:

‘I think it was Lessing who once said, “There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.” An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.’ (p32)

‘Strangely enough, a blow which does not even find its mark can, under certain circumstances, hurt more than one that finds its mark.’ (p36)

‘Some men lost all hope, but it was the incorrigible optimists who were the most irritating companions.’ (p46)

‘In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in the concentration camp, it was possible for a rich spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a more robust nature.’ (p47)

‘I understood how a man who has nothing left in the world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position a man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.’ (p49)

(Dr. Frankl lost his entire family to the gas chambers. In the above quote, he is describing how he used the image of his wife—already dead, although he did not know it—to inspire, uplift and keep him alive through the long days of his captivity.)

‘To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas . . . Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of the human suffering is absolutely relative.’ (p55)

‘Does this not bring to mind the story of Death in Teheran? A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death who threatened him. He begged his master to give him the fastest horse so he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.’

‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’ (p75)

‘If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.’¹ (p76)

‘(What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.) Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.’ (p90)

‘A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. (His) suffering may well be a human achievement, especially if the suffering grows out of existential frustration. . . . Logotherapy regards its assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life.’ (p108)

One of the most interesting treatment techniques which Dr. Frankl offers his patients is something he calls “paradoxical intention” based on, ‘the twofold fact that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes.’ (p126) He goes on to describe a man he cured of profuse sweating by instructing the man to imagine increasing his output of sweat under stressful situations.

While our author believes in responsibility for one’s actions (he advocates a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast) he also believes in every person’s free will to determine their own future at all times. He cites a case of a well-known Nazi mass-murderer who made a stunning turn-around later in life; he has no sympathy for pre-determinism. ‘How can we dare to predict the behavior of man?’ (p134)

Whether we are aware of it or not and regardless of our willingness to admit to it, we all have agendas in our reading. For myself, in the past I was often unaware and/or dishonest about my own reasons for selecting this or that book. However, what I find most enlightening now is when I begin a book for one purpose and finish it for quite another.

In the case of Man’s Search For Meaning I began the book in search of arguments to refute George Orwell’s conclusion of the novel 1984 and finished this present work in total fascination with Logotherapy and its associated theories and treatments.

¹This would seem to directly contradict what Ms. Byron Katie Reid contends in her body of literature. She asserts that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Always Remember . . .

On Life's Darkest Days, it helps to have a Light source to go to. Here is one place I have found.

Give this a minute of your life; you will be blessed at the reminder.

A beautiful priest I know says that sin is moving away from the Light of Christ. May He draw all of us closer to Him.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Beauty and the Devastation

ICE STORM 2007 ~~ MIDWEST CITY, OKLAHOMA ~~ December 9th-11th (so far)

We've lost a good portion of every one of our trees . . . and we're the lucky ones.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Something Michelle says she has always wanted to do . . .

Well everyone has to have their life's dreams, right? Yes, she fits! And no—tempting though it was—we didn't leave her there.

My sister says, "Climb in the cedar chest??? Tell my goddaughter that she needs to set her ambitions a wee bit higher!"

Advent Blessings

As I looked out my window this morning at the iron-gray sky and our trees bent over with frozen branches, I thanked God that we went to Mass last night. Then I remembered a friend who used to list all her blessings as a way to create or increase happiness through awareness of all that God had given her. Today I honor my friend's idea, but even more, I give thanks to God for all that He has given me--He has been most generous with our family. Below are listed just some of the many things for which we are grateful today.

'This is the day which the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice!' (Psalm 118:24)

  • Being iced in our warm home with my favorite people

  • Eating homemade cookies for breakfast

  • Day dreaming . . . about the day

  • No where we have to go; nothing we have to do!

  • Debating fun things like the propulsion methods of fleas and cockroaches

  • Watching the snow/sleet/rain from my front window

  • Appreciating how much better the holidays are when you truly simplify

  • Envisioning tentacled aqua humanoids

  • Watching the cat's reaction to the cold when I open the door for him

  • Remembering other recent winter ice and snow storms

  • Lighting up dark places with candles

  • My dear husband breaking up the frozen bird seed for the little junkos

  • Practicing the Latin names – real and made up – for animals and other ‘creatures’

  • Listening to Christmas music played by my daughters

  • Letting the cold cat back in and having him warm himself on me in gratitude

  • Deciding which delicious book will 'get' me today

  • Feeling cozy, warm, loved and safe in a comfortable messy room

  • Mentally rewriting a famous speech in modern terms

  • Watching the snow/sleet/rain from my front window

  • The rich scent of French Vanilla coffee with cream

  • My 15 year-old daughter's squeals of delight at the dry sound of the falling frozen . . . stuff

  • Thinking about everything and nothing

  • Having the cat come back, nudge me and want to crawl in my lap

  • Rubbing him as he curls up; listening to his deep, gentle purr

  • Being happy, truly and supremely happy and knowing it is a choice

  • Reading my daughters' school writing assignments

  • Enjoying the annual tradition of unpacking the family Nativity set

  • Laughing at my teens bundled up against the cold, 'playing' outside

  • Writing friends and practicing new computer skills

  • All of us in the front room together, each doing his/her own thing, just because it's cozy

  • Having my daughter read funny T-shirt sayings (from a catalog) to me

  • Imagining a whole day of this, and maybe even another

  • Checking out our names @

  • Putting up our tree while we listen to Christmas music

  • Hoping school will be cancelled tomorrow

  • Planning to watch It's a Wonderful Life tonight and drink German Gluvine

  • Taking pictures of our winter wonderland outside

  • Finding out our Grinch names @

  • Humbly realizing and being grateful for all I have learned this year

  • Listening to thunder in the middle of an ice-storm

  • Smelling the delicious dinner (paella) my husband is cooking for us

  • Thinking of more and more and MORE things to be grateful for as the day unfolds!!!

  • Praying for all those I love . . . that they are also safe, warm, and happy

    Blessings on this winter day in Advent!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Gratitude Campaign

A Really Good Idea!

Don't be shy...tell them THANKS...from the heart!!!!

Real Prayer

"Heavenly Father, we come before you to ask your forgiveness.

We seek your direction and your guidance. We know your word says, "Woe to those who call evil good." But that's what we've done. We've lost our spiritual equilibrium. We have inverted our values. We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of moral pluralism.

We have worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle. We've exploited the poor and called it a lottery. We've neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

In the name of choice, we have killed our unborn. In the name of right to life, we have killed abortionists. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it taxes. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, oh, God, and know our hearts today. Try us. Show us any wickedness within us. Cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of the State of Kansas, and that they have been ordained by you to govern this great state. Grant them your wisdom to rule. May their decisions direct us to the center of your will. And, as we continue our prayer and as we come in out of the fog, give us clear minds to accomplish our goals as we begin this Legislature. For we pray in Jesus' name, Amen."

On this, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I wanted to republish this prayer, a personal favorite of mine. For the most part this beautiful but tragic prayer, written by Reverend Joe Wright and delivered to the Kansas State Legislature eleven years ago and just a scant two hours drive north of us, may be prayed as is by anyone living in this great land of America.

Sadly, it applies as much today as it did then--if not more. God help us!

P.S. One Minute Each Night during WWII, there was an advisor to Churchill who organized a group of people who dropped what they were doing every night at a prescribed hour for one minute to collectively pray for the safety of England, its people and peace. This had an amazing effect as bombing stopped. There is now a group of people organizing the same thing here in America. If you and your family would like to participate: Each evening at 9:00 PM Eastern, 8:00 PM Central, 7:00 PM Mountain, 6:00 PM Pacific stop whatever you are doing and spend one minute praying for the safety of the United States, our troops, our citizens and for peace in the world. If you know anyone who would like to participate, please pass this along. It has been said that if people really understood the full extent of the power we have available through prayer, we might be speechless. Our prayers are the most powerful asset we have. Thank you. If you are so moved, pass this on to anyone who you think will follow through.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's All About Forgiveness

Last post I was talking about daily meditations. A free on-line service I subscribe to is called Women of Grace. Each day I receive an e-mail like the one in green below. It consists, as you can see, of a quote and a few sentences to assist with reflection—both of which fall within a monthly theme. The theme for December, appropriately enough, is forgiveness.

December 5, 2007


"Our friends, then, are all those who unjustly afflict us with trials and ordeals, shame and injustice, sorrows and torments, martyrdom and death; we must love them greatly for we all possess eternal life because of them."~~St. Francis of Assisi

For Reflection:What a counter-cultural way of looking at the sufferings imposed upon us by others! How have those who have burdened me with pain and suffering become conduits leading me to eternal life? Can I, then, refuse, to forgive them?

LHLA and Women of Grace 800-558-5452 · ·

Forgiveness. This seems the perfect thing to reflect on as we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of Christ’s birth. After all, that is why He was born into our world, to save us from our sinful selves. We are a forgiven people. . .

. . . a forgiven people who are in turn expected to share that same gift of forgiveness with everyone around us. One of the first things I figured out about Jesus—when I was just a little girl attending Mass and listening to the Gospel Sunday after Sunday—was that whatever He does for us, He expects us to pass on to our brothers and sisters.

Recently my youngest daughter entertained us with a bit of family history which was unknown to all except her, and which, I hope, pertains to this topic. Here is the story she related. One evening, quite a few years ago, when she was at the tender age of six or seven, she snuck down the hall after her bedtime and eavesdropped on my husband and I discussing her behavior that day. In particular, she heard me comparing her to the young man in the parable who initially says, “no” to his father, but then has a change of heart and eventually does his father’s command. (See Matthew 21:28-32, sometimes referred to as The Parable of the Two Sons.) In other words, I was making the wry observation that although my daughter may have been disobedient verbally, her actions belied her true nature, which was good. Perhaps she didn’t hear all of the conversation, or couldn’t understand the loftiness of the Gospel story comparison, but in any event, she thought she was being criticized, rather than praised. In her juvenile mind, life in our home was terribly unfair and she needed to run away . . . that night.

She gathered up her treasured possessions (a stuffed rabbit, a blanket and some toys—all the essentials) and went to sit by our garage door hoping (or so she says) that “someone would find her and ask her to come back.” She laughed at herself when she told this part of the story saying, “Isn’t that silly?”

My husband disagreed. “Not at all. It’s a perfectly natural human longing. We all want someone to go after us and to call us back.” Silently I mused, that is the universal appeal of The Parable of the Lost Sheep—that someone would love us enough to go after us. (Luke 15:3-7) I remember someone coming after me once and I remember how 'loved' I felt.

My dear spouse went on to tell a similar story of almost running away as a boy. Only in his case, his mother helped him pack! We all laughed again—although we’d heard this story many times.

Later my daughter said something which I think was highest compliment she could have ever paid our family.

“You know what I love most about this family? I know that here I will always be forgiven.”

Yes. Me too. That is the best part about our family. It’s the best part about any relationship—the sure knowledge that no matter what foolish things you do, how dirty and destitute you become, how abominably you speak, you will always be taken in, washed up, fed and loved again—warts and all. A rare and precious thing indeed.

All of my favorite parables are about forgiveness. Besides the one above about the Two Sons, I also love the one about The Sinful Woman in The Gospel of Luke. ‘Therefore, I tell you, her sins which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ (Luke 7:47)

And then, of course, there is my all time favorite, The Parable of the Prodigal Son, or as Father Henri Nouwen likes to call it, The Parable of the Loving Father. Very soon I must reread his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, for the fourth or fifth time. It is awesome.

When I was younger, my empathy used to be for the Prodigal. He traveled to a distant country, used up all of his Father’s money and fell into a state of terrible degradation. I have suffered his shame many times over—the humiliation, the awakening, and finally the long road home to beg forgiveness. Other times in my life—when I’ve been in more self-righteous modes—I’ve had greater compassion for the Elder Son. I mean after all, he does have a point. Why be good and follow the rules, if Little Brother is going to break them all, come crawling back and get off scot free? What is the motivation for being good? Might as well join him in the cesspool, right?

But lately, my whole heart belongs to the Loving Father in the story. When we sin, we leave God (as the Prodigal Son did) or we ask God to leave (as the Elder Son did). Either way, we are saying, "I don’t need you anymore God".

Have you ever been told to leave? Dumped? Told you were extraneous to someone’s existence? Probably there isn’t a person over the age of five who hasn’t experienced this heart-rending and life-changing phenomenon at least once. It can be devastating. Depending on how much you love the person in question, you will know the depth of God’s pain when we do the same thing to Him.

Can God suffer? Do we?

If you have ever received a ‘Dear John’ or ‘Dear Jane’ letter, you know that you have no choice; you have to go. You may not want to, but you have to go. You cannot stay where you are not welcome. So you leave. Then all you can do is wait . . . and hope.

When I got married, my Mom wrote and gave me a letter which I still have. In the letter, she told me that Forgiveness would be essential to my marriage. While I still had St. Paul’s elevated and poetic words of 1 Corinthians 13:4, ‘Love is patient; Love is kind,’ echoing in my ears and newlywed bliss blinding me to all else, my Mother, much wiser, knew the score. She also knew me. At the time, I thought she was being overly pessimistic. Forgiveness? Of course we'll forgive each other . . . when we need to; but we're going to have such a wonderful marriage, so loving, so patient, so perfect. Yes, well, what hopeful new bride doesn't have such fantasies?

God bless St. Paul and all the other ambitious idealists out there. Don’t get me wrong. We need flawless concepts and high-minded values like, 'Patience' and 'Kindness' to aim for—just like old-time sailors needed the stars to steer by. But if abstractions are the night lights, then Forgiveness is the Ship we humans sail in. We wouldn’t last a day in the marital waters – or anywhere else for that matter – without it.

Because we so often fall short of the 'Patience' and 'Kindness' St. Paul set us up to expect from loving relationships, we need Forgiveness all the more. Who in their right mind – even at his best – can get through an hour, even with the most perfect person and still manage to meet all the criteria set out in those four power-packed verses of that loaded Epistle? (And on that score, let me just add that living with a so-called 'perfect person' - according to an extremely reliable, but for obvious reasons unnamed, source – has its own unique crosses.)

It’s as clear to me now, as it was to my Mom twenty-three years ago, that St. Paul was never married. He did, however, have some rather notorious run-ins with people himself. So the author, of ‘All Things Ideal in Love’ didn’t manage to live up to his own sky-high standards either. Thank Heavens!

But then I think St. Paul was describing God’s Love for us—the kind of Love that goes searching for us when we are lost. The kind of Love that won’t let go; which cleans us up when we are dirty; feeds when we are hungry; comforts us when we are sad; forgives us when we don’t deserve it and takes us back again and again and again. I want that kind of Love. I want to emulate that kind of Love. I want to learn how to give that kind of Love.

Am I there yet? No. Not even close.

The other night my daughters had another group piano lesson. They came out from their lesson and I asked them how it went? “Oh about like the recital last year—a public humiliation,” sighed one.

“I do so well at home. I practice and practice and I know the pieces, but then I get out in front of everyone and I mess up. Why is that?” my other daughter asked. Maybe because at home is where you feel safest, I pondered silently to myself. We always do and give our best where we sense the greatest security.

“I don’t know, except that I do it too," I answered aloud, "I know what I should do, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t do it either.”

Wait a minute, I thought to myself! St. Paul said the exact same thing! ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . . For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing . . .waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.’ (Romans 7:14-15, 19, 23)

Sorry St. Paul! I guess I was harsh and hasty in judging you—two more of my faults—where is that list of my sins so I can write these down as well?

“All I know,” I went on, “Is that I’m glad God is more forgiving than most people, because I sure need it.”

After some more silence, another thought came to me. “I think the real value in failure is that it teaches compassion. If all you ever do is succeed - like those who play the piano perfectly - you don’t understand how it feels to mess up. But since you have experienced public failure, now you can be more understanding and loving and sympathetic to other people when you see them have a bad day or a lousy recital or even . . . something much bigger. There are plenty of times when things like that got me down and no one understood how I felt—which only made me feel worse.”

“And when we do finally get it right, they are going to be so surprised, aren’t they?!” said one of my daughters.

We all laughed. “You’ll amaze and impress them all!” I agreed.

“It’s a little bit like Life. You certainly don’t set out to make mistakes or to be ‘bad’, but sometimes we all fail. I know I have. I can never hope to be a Saint or even a saint—some days I’m just happy to get through. Maybe the best I can hope for is, ‘Most Improved Player’. I pray that when I finally get up there and face God, He’ll lean His head to one side, raise an eyebrow and say, ‘Well you had me going there for awhile. The first seventy years or so were really rocky, but you turned things around after that.”

With His Grace, maybe I won’t even have to wait for twenty more years.

‘A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not; but later he repented and went.’ (Matt 21:28-29)

If you have the time, read this blog writer; he says what I was trying to say--twice as well and in a third as many words.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Promise of a New Day

by Karen Casey and Martha Vanceburg

Change is as inevitable as the promise of a new day. So what if you know you don't 'do change' well? And what if you have 'one of those years'? One of those years when you have more changes than one person -- even one who is flexible, young and springs back easily -- can absorb readily? (And what if you know you may be . . . ahem . . . a little less than flexible, young and springy?)

Hopefully you have a book like, The Promise of a New Day.

I know that people face far worse every day than I do. Lately I collect hard luck stories--not to bring me down--but to remind me how good I have it. My dear husband and daughters tell me real tales every night of abusive marriages, long-term illness, apathetic teens, drug addiction, financial ruin, parents who buy and sell their children's affection, families spread from coast to coast, and lives of unspeakable suffering, which they encounter every day at work and school. Just to help me put things in perspective. And they do help. They really do! I have seen in the last few months--as I never realized before--just how sheltered from the big wide world our little oasis of family heaven has been.

But I've also got to use my own life and my own past as somewhat of a measuring stick and -- for me -- this has been a roller coaster of a year. Still in spite of everything, when I look at where I was at the beginning of the year, I can say that I have learned every lesson set before me--although usually only after and because of my mistakes and sins. (sigh) Whoever said, "We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes," must have had me in mind.

Even so, I still struggle to stay in the present, to concentrate on the lesson at hand. In the past, one way I've stayed anchored in each day's learning process was through a book of daily meditations. Two of my favorites have been, God Calling, given to me by my own dear mother when I was a teen and, Simple Abundance, given to me by my second mother, my mother-in-law. Both are excellent daily books of meditation. A few years back I even bought a copy of God Calling that had a journal with it and disciplined myself to write a prayer every day to accompany the mediation. Such practices are so good for me--the more discipline I have in my life, the better I do.

This year, however, my 'spiritual mother' provided the book for me and the book is called, The Promise of a New Day. It was originally published in 1983 and I have a paperback edition--not the same picture shown above. Usually I like to find the picture which matches the edition I have, but in this case, I looked and I can't find mine so you'll just have to settle for this one. Or rather I will, because it probably won't matter as much to anyone else as it does to me.

Each page consists of an opening quote (and they are usually wonderful!) several paragraphs developing the theme of the day and then a positive affirmation at the bottom. I keep my copy of Promise on the kitchen table and read it every day. I can't tell you how many times it has helped me this year--how many times it has been spot on so far as pertaining to what I needed to know, hear, read that day. Very often the words contained in that book were quite literally the 'Voice of God' for me.

Usually I don't write up books until I have finished reading them. However, since I won't complete this book until the last day of this calendar year by then it will be too late--you will have already finished your holiday shopping. If you are looking for the perfect book for a very special lady -- mother, daughter, sister or friend -- in your life, I can't recommend this book too highly. It's sublime!

Karen Casey and Martha Vanceburg have compiled a charming book of daily reflections, which also happens to be a quarter of a century old next year. Get it as a gift. Or treat yourself to a copy. Or both! God willing, it will brighten your next year of promising new days.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Flying Pilgrim

"When we are no longer children, we are already dead." ~~Konstantin Brancusi

The marvelous thing about being a child is that we are free to question, or at least we should be. Children have such a delightfully unaffected openness to everything; they naturally wonder about all they encounter. But somewhere along the line, they -- we -- come to believe that instead of being here in this life to learn, we're here to know and to have all the answers already. What a shame! With that kind of outlook, we have already set ourselves up to preclude further learning.

That, I discovered, is the purpose of pilgrimage. It is an opportunity to step back into the Great Metaphor of Life. Life itself is Pilgrimage. We truly are here on a journey. It is a voyage of constant discovery, of pitfalls, mistakes, corrections, adjustments and moving on--or it should be. We aren't here to be perfect already--although we are meant to be headed in that direction--but to be ourselves.

We are here to learn how to let go of fear and embrace Love. To turn away from hatred and turn towards Forgiveness. To abandon despair and take up Faith and Hope. To say 'no' to animosity and 'yes' to Peace. To stop looking down and start looking up--to learn how to fly.

It was a lifelong time dream of mine to visit Santiago de Compostela. 'Santiago' is Spanish for Saint James (the Great) and refers to the apostle who came to this part of Spain to preach and convert. He was eventually martyred in Jerusalem, but his body was brought back to the city for burial. It was this fact which led to the city's designation as one of the three holy cities* during the Middle Ages. The two other Christian Holy Cities are Rome and Jerusalem. (I had been under the impression that Canterbury in England was at one time considered a Christian Holy City but have not been able to confirm that to date.)

Santiago lies in the far northwestern corner of the Spanish Iberian peninsula very near the Atlantic Ocean. Travel to Santiago was extremely long, harsh and dangerous for traditional pilgrims which is precisely why they went. Peregrinos is the Spanish word for pilgrims and in both languages it means the same thing, 'one who travels to a foreign land, a shrine or a holy place as an act of devotion'.

Why do it? Why put yourself through something like it? Speaking from personal experience, pilgrimages are not "fun". Although my own journey was a thousand times easier than what medieval wayfarers encountered, still it was no picnic. We were up before six most mornings and slept in a different bed almost every night. I probably had second degree sunburn most of the trip, was constantly constipated, had huge bruises from slamming my suitcases into myself, got by on five or six hours of sleep a night, had breakfast at six or seven, often little-to-no lunch and dinner at eight or nine in the evening. We waited in long lines everywhere we went, and were constantly shoved and pushed by our fellow travelers who were trying to get to the same places as we were--all of us competing for limited resources and running on fatigue. Bathrooms were disgustingly dirty after long frustrating waits and often had no locks. Water had to be purchased. Fresh fruit was of poor quality, expensive or non-existent. Not knowing the language, customs, often where we were, missing our families, showers that didn't work and/or flooded bathrooms--not life-threatening certainly, but it begins to wear after two weeks.

Still, since I have returned, I have been reading what those who have walked El Camino de Santiago or 'The Way of St. James' had to deal with and I know I had it easy. Very easy! I was blessed. In fact, at times I was even a little (although not much) envious of those who did walk the Camino.

But as my dear husband likes to say, 'God doesn't call us all to be Mother Teresa'. For some of us, it is challenge enough to be ourselves. Indeed!

To be a 'flying pilgrim' is still to be a sojourner, to be a seeker after God's Truth. On my trip to Santiago, I found this little gem of a children's book, by Lawrence Schimel, The Flying Pilgrim. It is a sweet little book which tells the story about El Camino de Santiago from the perspective of a little swallow who sees the pilgrims arriving to his city and wonders what all the fuss is about. He flies backwards from Santiago east to the beginning of the way, learning as he goes, what the journey of pilgrimage is all about.

I don't know why I bought the book; I don't really have anyone to give it to right now. But everyone on my tour certainly enjoyed passing it around and reading it. So I suppose we are all still children at heart. I guess I'll just hold on to the book for now. We were only allowed fifty pounds of luggage on our pilgrimage so I didn't buy hardly anything on my trip--just rosaries and holy cards for friends which I have mostly given away. And this book, for the child in me.

The good thing I suppose is that it shows I am still a child and therefore not dead...yet--but still searching and trying to discover what purpose God has for me in this life. I did not walk the Way of St. James, but I suppose I could call myself a 'Flying Pilgrim'.

*Pope Alexander III declared Santiago a 'Holy City' and war against the Moor a crusade which would reward the fallen with a 'martyr's crown.'

Saturday, December 1, 2007

2 Originals Better Than a Remake

When is the last time you had a night of pure movie watching enjoyment?

For our family I can say, "last night!" When my dad suggested we check out Ocean's 11 I thought it sounded vaguely familiar, but I definitely made note of it on the handy pad of post-its © we keep near the phone. Dear old dad doesn't often recommend movies--better make a record of this. Then he happened to mention that it featured the old Rat Pack and I knew I had to show it to my dear daughters as a part of their movie-watching education. I have very fond memories of watching old movies that my dad called 'classics' and the rest of the family called 'old war movies'. Bridge on the River Kwai and The Great Escape come immediately to mind. But whatever you call them, there are certain people in your life, who -- when they suggest you see or do something -- you just sit up and take notice. My dad is one of those people and this was one of those times! KWIM?

But I digress! Ocean's 11 was all I hoped it would be--a great period piece featuring fabulous shots of old Vegas, Frank and Dean and those extravagant cars from days gone by. If you want a trip down 'strip nostalgia', you have found it. I might have felt 'old' when my daughters asked what those were, indicating old-fashioned room keys, but it was fun sharing what I remembered with them and realizing that my life was part of their 'history'.

Yes, the dialog is hokey, the one-liners definitely dated, but it's unadulterated late 50's on the cusp of the 60's entertainment. The WWII vets had reached their zenith and were just on the verge of decline, but they didn't know it yet. The seeds were sown for all the revolution that was to come in the next decade. They were still talking about why we hadn't walked on the moon yet and it was just nine short years away. Talk about a bit of Americana. Nothing highly intellectual here, just eleven guys after the perfect heist. You have to see it. (Thanks Dad!)

And then, when we thought we'd seen it all -- had our fill of Hollywood heaven -- we moved on to Fred and Ginger, dancing perfection! I don't know about you, but I've seen a few of the dazzling duo swirling around the dance floor and thought to myself (although never quite had the nerve to voice it aloud) 'What's the big deal?' Well, the 'Big Deal' is -- I have found out -- that I had not yet seen them at their finest!

Whether you are from the disco era or hip hop or you prefer Irish dance, you haven't seen Dancing, with a capital "D", until you have seen Astaire and Rogers, the true originals! Just last week we introduced our daughters to Saturday Night Fever and they wanted to know about the 'gay guys' singing all the songs. (I think they meant the Bee Gees, but I won't tell if you don't!) So it was way past time to introduce them to George and Ira Gershwin who did the music for Shall We Dance.

Remember or recognize They Can't Take That Away from Me? It has a whole new meaning when you see Fred singing it to Ginger leaning over her shoulder after they've secretly wed in New Jersey and are ferry-bound back to the Big Apple. And how about Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, the 'potato/po-tah-to' song? Does that bring back memories? I can't even remember the first time I heard those songs--so long ago it doesn't matter. It was wonderful to hear them again!

Once again, it was interesting to compare experiences and teach the kids about old-fashioned 'record' albums, something I grew up with and took for granted.

There's nothing like the oldies to remind you that . . . there is nothing like them.

It calls to mind the saying, "Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery." I guess that's why both movies have been 'remade'.

We haven't seen the remakes . . . yet. But I'll just bet that, '2 Originals are Better Than Any Remake!' Enjoy!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Practice of the Presence of God (RR)

by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection

Started and Finished: 15 November 2007

"How can you read stuff like this?" asked my youngest daughter as she handed me the copy of Practice she'd found for me. I didn't reply. Nor did I bother reminding her she'd only just finished her own epic two year sojourn with the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. I knew she was only teasing me.

The Practice of the Presence of God is a book you have to be open to. Without the requisite receptivity, its pearls of wisdom would be wasted. But with the right frame of mind and heart, it is the perfect book.

Perfect in that while it can be read in one hour; mastery of its central concept requires a lifetime. Well, at least for this soul. And a very long lifetime at that. And I write that without the least trace of humility, remorse or even chagrin--as a simple statement of fact. Indeed, growth in virtue does require total commitment and extended preparation time.

Our humble author, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, assures us that his own journey along this path toward 'practicing the presence of God' took him many years as well. So, despair should not deter one's efforts.

I like that the word 'practice' is used in the title, and indeed throughout the book, because it recognizes the fallibility in human nature. We will have to creep, crawl, stumble and fall many times in this effort before we will ever be able to actually walk in God's presence. That is Brother Lawrence's goal -- and presumably the goal of any self-professed Christian: to actually walk hand-in-hand with Our LORD. In the meantime, He carries us.

Brother Lawrence and his solitary legacy bear much in common with Father De Caussade and his work, discussed in an earlier post.

Both men were post-Reformation, French religious, from rather obscure backgrounds, who left us one primary work of spiritual insight comprised of meditations and letters collected postmortem. Few hard facts can be substantiated about either man -- even such basic information as definitive dates of birth and death, although we do know approximate dates. Both were extremely humble men who -- given their own preference -- would have lived quiet lives far away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of society; but they were not given that chance. God had need of their services and so He called these two holy men out from their peaceful solitude to minister to their neighbors.

Brother Lawrence lived and worked most of his life at the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites on the rue de Vaugirard in Paris, where he spent many years working in the kitchen. He died in 1691 at around 80 years of age. A year later his Abbot collected what could be found from Brother Lawrence's letters, spiritual writings and recorded conversations, put them together and this comprises what we know today as The Practice of the Presence of God.

Unfortunately, upon publication, Practice became associated with the controversy of the day, the heresy then causing so much bitter debate, Quietism. Although it is beyond the scope of this article and the abilities of this writer to discuss the theological aspects of Quietism, it is important to understand that one tenet of this heresy bore a similarity to Brother Lawrence's principle theses, complete abandonment to the will of God, and therefore was used by advocates of the Quietist heresy to justify their position. As it would be some years before this struggle could be resolved, especially in France, Practice suffered the taint of guilt by association -- albeit a slim association at best -- and fell into disfavor in the country of its birth. Fortunately for us, our book was picked up by other Christian denominations and carried to other countries where it has spread around the world. Since its initial printing, Practice has been always been available in one form or another and now can even be found in many versions on-line.

The first section of the book consists of four dated conversations where Brother Lawrence describes what it is that led him to the realization that pursuing the 'Practice of the Presence of God' was the best way, indeed the only way, to follow Christ. These are not conversations as most Americans today would categorize conversations, but more like a Shakespearean soliloquy, with the little monk giving his thoughts on how he came to know that putting God first, last, and always, was the only way to live. And really that is Practice in a nutshell. I could stop writing here and you would have the book. Except that as simple as it is write -- or say -- such words, anyone who has really tried to live them knows, it is not that easy.

In the next section of the book, we are given sixteen of Brother Lawrence's letters--mostly written to a nun, but also one to a priest and several to a lay woman. All of these further elucidate how one is to advance along the path toward our ultimate goal, full and total communion with God. The book concludes with a group of Brother Lawrence's maxims.

What Brother Lawrence teaches through Practice is that no matter where we are, or what we are doing, we can and should be in God's presence at all times. But how to achieve this state, you may well ask? Although he answers this question in many different ways throughout the book, probably the most clear-cut answer lies here:

"Having found different methods of going to God and different practices to attain the spiritual life in several books, I decided that they would serve more to hinder than to facilitate me in what I was seeking--which was nothing other than a means to be wholly God's. This made me decide to give all to gain all; so after having given all to God in satisfaction for my sins, I began to live as if there were no one in the world but Him and me." (p73)

On the surface, such an approach sounds very simplistic, or even selfish. However, the same day I read those words of Brother Lawrence, I read almost the exact same idea expressed by another Carmelite from 200 years earlier. In describing the transforming union that a soul undergoes when it finally achieves oneness with God, St. John of the Cross writes, "And here lies the remarkable delight of this awakening: the soul knows creatures through God and not God through creatures." (p189, Fire Within, Thomas Dubay, S.M.)

Indeed the life of Brother Lawrence is testimony to his writings; his single-minded concern for God, far from leading him away from love of people, brought him closer to them. Only through a greater love of God, can we ever hope for a fuller love of all of His creation.

My first recorded acquaintance with Practice was May of 2004--at least according to the little bookmark card maintained inside the front cover of my ragged paperback copy. Recently I read and listened to the book again. I wish I could say that reading Practice was enough, or even writing about it. But they aren't. It takes much more than that. Nevertheless, I shall continue to do both, because I see great wisdom in this little book and at least reading it keeps the idea foremost in my mind.

'I must know, love and serve God in this world that I may gain the happiness of heaven.' (Baltimore Catechism)

But even more than that, to be happy in this life, Brother Lawrence tells us is only possible with God as our one and only purpose, end and goal.


"That all things are possible to him who believes, more so to him who hopes [still more to him who loves], and most of all to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues. That the end we ought to propose for ourselves in this life is to become the most perfect adorers of God we possibly can, as we hope to be His perfect adorers through all eternity."

~~Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection from "The Practice of the Presence of God"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hotel Rwanda

Started: 6 November 2007
Finished: 12 November 2007

What were you doing between April and July 1994? Do you remember that almost one million Rwandans were murdered in just about 100 days during that time period in history?

I'm ashamed to say that when I started to read Hotel Rwanda I had only the vaguest memories of this African tragedy. I knew it occurred when my children were small and my political attentions at an all-time low, but still . . . Then I thought back and recalled that 1993-1994 was also the year we lived in a rented house while we were building our so-called 'dream' house. And in June of '94, the house was finished and we moved in. Yes, the world situation was the last thing on my mind at that time.

Not that I could have done much about the tragedy unfolding in Rwanda had I been paying attention. But I can't help wondering, what was Bill Clinton's excuse? He certainly knew what was going on and he was in a position to have mitigated the worst impact of the genocide.

However, Hotel Rwanda isn't about all the people and countries who did not respond to the plight of the Tutsis, but about one man who did--the 'Oscar Schindler of Africa' some people have called him. That man was Paul Rusesabagina and this is his story.

In 1994, Paul was the hotel manager of the Belgian-owned luxury hotel, the Mille Collines in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Through his courage and cunning he was able to save 1,268 people from almost certain death.

This book is not a narrative of the tragedy--there are a number listed in an appendix--nor a biography about Paul, but the official companion book to the movie made and directed by Terry George. It includes essays on the history of the genocide, the complete screenplay and many photographs from the movie of the same name.

In 1994, Rwanda was the most densely populated African country on the continent--and 51% of the population had the HIV virus; life expectancy was only 39 years. But to really understand what happened during those three and a half terrible months of 1994, we have to go farther back in Rwanda's complex and largely unrecorded history.

Prior to the late 1800s Rwanda didn't even exist as a political entity per se, but was just the land inhabited by two different ethnic groups: the wealthy land and livestock owning Tutsis and the more numerous, Hutus.

With the German defeat in World War I, the Belgians took over Rwanda and began to use the existing Tutsi monarchy to control the population and exploit the institutional differences between the two native groups--granting favored status to the Tutsis and relegating the Hutus to a subservient place within society.

When this situation led to huge tensions and inefficiency, the Belgians tried to rectify the problem with reforms but the Tutsis resisted. So the Belgians turned on their former allies and encouraged a Hutu rebellion which succeeded in 1959. The Belgians themselves were ousted when the Hutu majority declared independence in 1962.

But getting rid of the Belgians didn't resolve conflicts between the two groups of Rwandans; over the ensuing years, rampant corruption, a military coup in '73 and the dictatorship of Major General Habyarimana only further inflamed existing animosities.

On the way home from peace talks which marked the end of a four year civil war and solidified the Arusha Accords promising democratic reforms, General Habyarimana and the President of Burundi were assassinated in a plane crash by members of their own parties. Their deaths were subsequently blamed on the Tutsis and that same night a pre-planned systematic execution of all high-ranking Tutsis and moderate Hutus began.

From there the insanity spread like wildfire, primarily led by roaming groups of highly organized military Hutus known as the Interahamwe. As I mentioned initially, almost a million people were killed in a little over three months and most were killed with machete. Three million fled the country causing the world's greatest refugee crisis and leading to wars in neighboring countries, further bloodshed and the eventual re-migration of most of the original emigres.

And what did the United Nations do during those critical three months? Reduce its peace-keeping presence from 2,500 to 270. Wait a minute. Did I read that right? Was that a reduction in peace-keeping troops? Huh?!

While Tutsi men, women and children begged to be shot rather than left to the not-so-tender mercies of their Hutu, machete-wielding, fellow countrymen, the UN soldiers and remaining Westerners boarded all available aircraft and 'got out of Dodge', so to speak. In all fairness, there were many individual acts of protest, tears, and disbelief on the part of the departing Europeans and other UN representatives who were not all eager and willing to just abandon the poor victims to their fate. However, with the exception of Paul and the mini-fortress he created at Mille Collines, few acts of heroism had any substantive effect in terms of actual lives saved.

So what made Paul Rusesabagina so special? Nothing outwardly, that is for sure. He knew the value of fine wines, good cigars and even better connections. He was a hard worker. He was a husband and a father. Perhaps therein was the secret. His wife was Tutsi; he was Hutu--by Rwandan standards, a mixed marriage.

But whatever motivated Paul, he was willing to trade every favor, commodity and scrap of money he could lay his hands on for a human life. And he did. By the end of the three months, his hotel residents were reduced to drinking swimming pool water--but they were alive.

I have requested the OKC Metropolitan Library System purchase this film. Although I was mistaken on an earlier post as to the availabilty of an item, this time I am quite sure that we do not have this movie on hand, either in DVD or VHS format. Given the magnitude of the travesty, the failure of nations to respond and the heroism demonstrated by one courageous soul, this is a story which needs to be told . . . and seen . . . and spread . . . and shared . . . as often and as widely as possible.

One doesn't encounter men of character like Paul Ruseabagina very often. May God bless him for his fortitude, his persistence in the face of great adversity and most of all for his love. I take my hat off to him.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I made it to Arlington

A long-time military friend who lost his wife to cancer several years back always has a hard time with Veterans Day* because it's her birthday.

Sadly, many American adults today don't know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

I wish I'd had this short film (below) to watch and song to listen to on Veterans Day--even if it is more appropriate to Memorial Day.

Actually it's good any day . . . because we're free Americans every day of the year thanks to the men and women resting here. Rest in peace you heroes and heroines! I am very thankful for your sacrifice! As a former service member myself, I often wondered if I'd be called upon to give what you did. You have not only my undying gratitude, but also my most heartfelt admiration and respect. I remember walking among the crosses, stars and stones on my family's trip to Washington a few years back. We sat on the steps and watched the complete changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier several times through even though my children were still quite young. We were all fascinated and inspired.

On this day in 1863, President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Arlington Cemetery lies on land which used to belong to General Robert E. Lee. November is a month which Americans dedicate to giving thanks and Catholics commit to remembering those who have gone on to the next life.

God bless all of you and God bless America!

* Veterans Day is an American holiday honoring military veterans. Both a federal holiday and a state holiday in all states, it is celebrated on the same day as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, falling on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy 100th Birthday Oklahoma, The Sooner State!

Although I'd like to take credit for having written the following, I did not and therefore, I will not. However, I do like all the interesting information presented herein about our great state and I reprint it here with my heartiest best wishes for a very Happy Birthday to our Great State on its 100th birthday!

'If someone mentions California, what do you think of? Hollywood, L.A., crowded freeways, beaches and Arnold Schwarzenneger? California, of course, is so much more than that. How about Maine? I think of cold weather, people with funny accents and lobsters. What if someone brings up Idaho. Does it bring to mind potatoes?

When people hear the name of our state, it seems the first thing that comes to mind is not Oklahoma, but "Oklahoma!" The 1943 musical, the first for Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, is the first thing most people in America think of when they hear about the Sooner State. Having people associate our state with a beloved musical is certainly better than some alternatives, like rednecks and tornadoes, but it certainly isn't representative of today's Oklahoma.

"Oklahoma!" is a delight. The story of cowboys and farmers finding love in Oklahoma territory features classic music and ground-breaking choreography, including the dream ballet illustrating Laurey's difficulty in choosing a suitor between cowboy Curley and farmhand Jud Fry. It also gave us our state song, which never fails to bring Oklahomans to their feet, which can prove a bit unnerving for performers in touring versions of the show who, during stops in Oklahoma, must deal with a standing ovation before the final curtain comes down.

"Oklahoma!" is a classic of American musical theater and deserves its place in the pantheon of enduring entertainment treasures. It is not, however, an accurate indication of where our state has been, is today and is going.

Oklahoma is not only the home of Ado Annie and Aunt Eller but of the aerosol can. That wonder of the age was invented in Bartlesville. Oklahoma City is the home of the parking meter, while the shopping cart was born in Ardmore. The electric guitar also was invented in Oklahoma, by a Beggs' musician named Bob Dunn. The first "Yield" sign was installed in Tulsa.

The state has more man-made lakes than any other state, which give us more than a million surface-acres of water and 2,000 more miles of shoreline than the Atlantic and Gulf coasts combined. The Sooner State has produced more astronauts than any other state in the union. Owen Garriott is a hometown Enid boy, of course, while Tom Stafford is from Weatherford, Shannon Lucid from Oklahoma City, William Pogue from Okemah and the late Gordon Cooper from Shawnee. Oklahoma is home to Amateur Softball Association, Sonic restaurants and more F4 and F5 tornadoes than any other state.

Oklahoma is the third-largest gas-producing state in the nation and ranks fourth in the production of wheat, cattle and calves, fifth in the production of pecans, sixth in peanuts and eighth in peaches. The state's colors are neither the crimson and cream of the University of Oklahoma nor the orange and black of Oklahoma State but green and white. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes Oklahoma as having the most diverse terrain of any state in the nation. The state, according to EPA, boasts 11 distinct ecoregions, one of only four states to have more than 10.
Oklahomans practice 73 major religions. The largest is the Southern Baptist Convention, with nearly 1,600 church and more than 960,000 members. Oklahoma gave birth to Dick Tracy (cartoonist Chester Gould is a native of Pawnee) and Donald Duck (Clarence "Ducky" Nash, the original voice of Walt Disney's Donald, grew up in Watonga).

Oklahomans have survived the Dust Bowl, any number of killer tornadoes, the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and various oil booms and busts. Oklahoma is populated by people who are caring, giving, hard-working, patriotic and fiercely independent. Oklahoma is a good place to live, work and play. The challenge in this, our centennial year, is to make the rest of America aware of what Oklahoma has to offer.'

Happy 100th Birthday Oklahoma! God bless you and God bless America!