Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A New Website!

My personal blog is moving!  In fact, it has already moved...

Head on over to to get the scoop on all the new changes.

There are some exciting announcements over there that you won't want to miss.

See you on the new website...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Scenes from the Weekend

A family reunion in Fredericksburg, hiking Enchanted Rock, my birthday celebration in downtown Austin...what a weekend!

 i love seeing the cool buildings my husband has designed as a structural engineer.

at my birthday dinner at mandola's

 seriously?  a guy taking the stairs on all 4's in the background.  typical austin.

the black "clouds" in the distance are bats!

a highlight of the trip was seeing the bats fly out from under the congress st. bridge in austin.

 this photo cracks me up every time i see it.  every.  time.  

my "heads-in-the-clouds" crew and their more grounded cousins.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Restaurant Week!

I'm the one who always forgets about Restaurant Week until it's too late then kicks myself later.

Don't let that happen to you!  I got my extra course coupons at Central Market today.  If you don't know what Restaurant Week is (again, that was me...totally clueless...a few years ago) then check it out here.

First Cantaloupe

We planted cantaloupe many years ago.  We've never planted it again, but it always springs up on its own in our garden.  It's not really a good thing because the vine spreads like crazy causing problems for the other plants and we usually only get about 2 good cantaloupes out of the entire season.

But for some reason (laziness?  optimism?) I let it grow every year.

And this week we enjoyed the first ripe cantaloupe.  It's odd shape lent itself to decoration with a sharpie.

It was sweet, better than the ones I've bought at the store so far, but probably not worth the fact that our garden has been taken over.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Whenever I've been away from reading Nouwen for a while then pick one of his books up again it's like being drastically, yet gently, reoriented.

I've never experienced anything like it before with any other author.  Nouwen is truly my spiritual mentor, though our conversations take place through books instead of over coffee.

I just finished the book Compassion, which is actually authored by Nouwen and two others.  I wasn't sure what I'd get out of it, but it became clear there was a lot I needed to hear from this short book.  One theme that resonated with me was the difference between competition and compassion.  I've come a long way, but I still struggle with competition.  It's how I've lived and strived for value for 30+ years, so I guess it figures it won't go away overnight.  Competition seeks to set apart in order to feel affirmed.  Compassion eliminates differences, bringing all to the basic level of humanity, so that we can enter into solidarity with others.

A compassionate person creates space for sharing joy, sorrow, pain.  Compassion gives, instead of taking.  "When we have discovered that our sense of self does not depend on our differences and that our self-esteem is based on a love much deeper than the praise that can be acquired by unusual performances, we can see our unique talents as gifts for others."

There were also a few words on prayer I needed to hear again.  I've lived most of my life with a totally false idea of what prayer is.  I viewed it as a 5 minute activity during which I needed to throw some praise God's way then list all my desires and hope I could talk him into doing things my way.  Here's what Nouwen says about prayer:

"Prayer, as a discipline that strengthens and deepens discipleship, is the effort to remove everything that might prevent the Spirit of God, given to us by Jesus, from speaking freely to us and in us."

"Prayer requires that we stand in God's presence with open hands, naked and vulnerable, proclaiming to ourselves and others that without God we can do nothing.  This is difficult in a climate where the predominant counsel is Do your best and God will do the rest.  When life is divided into our best and God's rest we have turned prayer into a last resort to be used only when all our own resources are depleted."

"Prayer is not what is done by us, but rather what is done by the Holy Spirit in us...This indicates that that prayer as a discipline of patience is the human effort to allow the Holy Spirit to do re-creating work in us...But above all, it involves the decision to set aside time every day to be alone with God and listen to the Spirit."

Nouwen's short little books are always packed with deep truths.  They challenge and encourage me at the same time.  I'm always reminded of how passionately God loves me- just the way I am.  But I don't feel content with staying just as I am.  I want to grow and blossom into a more loving person.  The temptation at that point is to follow steps, or take action to produce that growth within me.  As if I could create it for myself, or turn myself into something new.  When in reality, it requires surrendering to God's work within me.  Nouwen even addresses this in Compassion:

"Compassion is a divine gift, not a result of systematic study or effort.  Discipline in the Christian life does indeed require effort, but it is an effort to reveal rather than to conquer.  God always calls.  To hear God's call and allow that call to guide our actions requires discipline in order to prevent ourselves from becoming or remaining spiritually deaf.  There are so many voices calling for our attention, and so many activities distracting us that a serious effort is necessary if we are to become and remain sensitive to the divine presence in our lives."

Nouwen continues to turn the religious training of my youth on its head.  I wish I had been exposed to this kind of intimacy with God earlier.  I wish I had known God wasn't a list of rules and procedures, but a powerful force of Love at the center of my being calling me to soak up all his goodness and then pour out Love to all around me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Big Opportunity!!!

Today and today only there is a huge opportunity for your generous gift to His Chase to be maximized in a big way.

Let me back up just a bit.

This is Gasaza, and I love him.  I feel like he's my child even though I didn't birth him and he lives 10,000 miles away.  I met him in March on a trip to Rwanda with His Chase.

Gasaza isn't alone, though.  He and hundreds of fellow orphans are forming a relationship with His Chase and learning that someone does care about them and their future.  Mark and Chelsea Jacobs didn't know what they were getting into, I bet, when they started this organization.  It has grown and blessed the lives of so many children in powerful ways.

It's really quite simple.  American sponsors pay for top-notch boarding school educations and help cover the basic needs of the least of the least in an impoverished country that has been healing from enormous emotional and physical genocide wounds.  These kids form relationships with their sponsors who encourage them and demonstrate God's love for them in real, physical ways.  For the first time, they have hope.

Most of the children are sponsored (there are a few spots still open...) but there are still tremendous financial needs.  It will cost $100 above and beyond the financial commitment sponsors have made per each child in order to send them to a Bible/English camp during a break in boarding school.  Some kids have medical needs.  There are a few older kids who excelled at school and are ready to enter University with honors!  Several thousand dollars are needed to give them that opportunity to study a career and take their place as leaders in their country.

Every penny donated goes directly to helping kids...there are no overhead costs for the His Chase organization because their board of directors covers those.

And today, only today, every penny donated to His Chase will be matched by an anonymous donor.
Your gift will be doubled!

It's a worthy cause that I believe in whole-heartedly.  Please consider donating any amount...even a dollar.

Donate here.  Select "Orphan Education Fund" from the list of choices, although if you accidentally donate to a different category (as I did, oops.) it will still count.

Survival French

So, you're going to France, but you don't speak French.  I found myself in that situation a few weeks ago, and I am willing to pass along my hard-earned wisdom.

Don't assume most people will speak English.  It just isn't so.  And it's my opinion that when one visits foreign soil, it's really on their shoulders to learn a few phrases in order to communicate, not the other way around!

With that in are some phrases that will really come in handy.

Bonjour  (bahn-zhoohr)  Hello
It's very important to greet people in shops and restaurants.  It's a non-American thing.  We are used to walking into places and minding our own business, but it's not done that way in France.  If you don't greet appear very rude.  Don't add fuel to the "Rude American" perception.  Say it to the shopkeeper upon entering a store.

Je ne parle pah fran├žais  (zhuh nuh pahr-luh pah frahn-say)  I don't speak French.
I started off with this phrase countless times.  It was almost always used immediately following Bonjour.  I just wanted people to know what they were dealing with, and I think they appreciated it.

Parle-vous anglais?  (pahr-luh voo ahn-glay) Do you speak English?
This was the next phrase after the above two, and was almost always met with...No.

L'addition, s'il vous plait.  (lah dee see ohn, seel voo play)  The check, please.
If you ever want to leave a restaurant in France, you'll need this.  You'll be dining out constantly at fabulous restaurants and enjoying 3 hour meals of three or four courses.  But the server is not going to bring you the check until you ask for it, people, because that's just how it's done in France.  In America, the bill is on your table 30 minutes into the meal before you've even had a chance to warm the seat with your body heat.  "Turn the table" is our motto.  Not so in France!

Oui (wee) Yes

Non (nohn) No  The last "n" sound is just a nasally hint of sound.  I'm not sure how to put that phonetically.

Merci (mehr-see) Thank you

There's probably a lot more I could share, but I relied on these phrases quite a bit.  I fell in love with the French language during my week there.  By the end of my visit, I felt like I was finally grasping the sounds and cadence.  In fact, I was so fascinated by French that I have hired a tutor that comes weekly to give Ava and me a French language lesson.  We are having so much fun tackling this language together.  Having someone to practice with is helpful, and it's a fun mother-daughter activity.  We can say "I have (OR I see) (insert number 1-10) (insert noun like horses, sandals, cats) (insert color)."  Oh yes, we are pros at building a sentence using that structure.  We know several verbs and how to use them with different pronouns.  We are well on our way to fluency.

By the time I take my next vacation to France, I'll be way beyond survival French, and verbally pointing out cats and sandals by the dozen.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Time Travel Books

As I closed the cover after finishing a book yesterday afternoon, I realized I have read two time travel books in a row this week.  I can't believe I didn't recognize the coincidence sooner.

There are tons of books out there whose plots involve time travel.  Classics like The Time Machine, blockbusters like The Time Traveler's Wife.  It wouldn't be impossible to pick up two in a row, though I do find it odd.

I heard about To Say Nothing of the Dog long ago, and finally picked it up at the library.  It's from 1997, though it feels a decade or two older.  Connie Willis packs comedy, mystery, romance, history, and the science of time travel into an intriguing story.  The characters are highly like-able even though the story moves a tad too slow in some places.  Ned Henry, working with a team of time travel experts in 2057, is researching historical details in order to rebuild a cathedral that was destroyed in WWII.  In the meantime, a lovely researcher of 19th Century England causes a potential crisis by bringing a cat back through the time travel net with her.  Ned and the lady must go to Victorian England to try and repair the incongruities they think she has caused before history is rewritten with dire consequences.

The comedy comes in as Ned blunders around in the highly mannered Victorian era.  The romance is, of course, between the two time-traveling researchers, but also between couples that they are either trying to put together or keep apart in order to save history.  The history is sprinkled throughout...I learned quite a bit here.  And the mystery involves the "Bishop's bird stump" which Ned has been trying to locate for a long time but has seemingly vanished without a trace.

I liked this book, but my favorite was definitely the second time travel book.  I read it in a single afternoon.  It's a new release called The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.  This book was expertly woven together.  I am highly impressed by Andrew Sean Greer's ability to interrelate the three story lines.  It's the mid 1980's and Greta Wells has become chronically depressed following the death of her twin brother and the end of a 10 year relationship with her boyfriend.  As a last ditch effort she agrees to electroshock therapy.  With each treatment, she awakens in a different era.  She is herself in each era, and surrounded by the same or similar people she knows, but the situations are all unique to 1918, 1941, and 1985.  The novel explores the courses of our lives, the patterns, the tragedies and joys, the decisions, the relationships.  It really makes a person think.  The tension builds as the treatments near their end and Greta must decide in which time period she will remain.

It sounds like an unlikely story that would be impossible to make work...but it does work!  I was enthralled with it.  I had doubts, but I am so glad I picked up this book.

Friday, July 12, 2013

France Part 13: The End

How fitting to end on the 13th post.  Thankfully, I'm not superstitious.

Our anniversary is June's a good number.  And it's because of that date that we even went on this trip in the first place!

We reversed our steps and flew from Toulouse to Madrid which is a brief trip with barely enough time to run a drink service through the cabin.  This time we had a shorter layover in Madrid, which was nice.  Just long enough to see the cool airport architecture and eat a croissant we had packed away earlier.

the last croissant.  so sad.

Then we hopped on our jet for the 10 hour flight home.  I'm getting better at 10 hour flights.  I had a lot of practice in March when I flew to Africa and back.  Though I must say American Airlines needs better in-flight entertainment.  They only had a few movies to choose from and none looked appealing except the one I had already watched on the trip to France called An Innocent Abroad.  It's a BBC television movie about P.G.Wodehouse.  It was really interesting!

I love taking pictures out the window of the plane.  There's Madrid below.  We even saw what appeared to be a bull-fighting arena on the flight into Madrid.

We came home so eager to see the kids.  Getting the bags and going through customs seemed to take an eternity.  I knew the kids were close, just a few hundred yards away, yet it took forever to get to them.  I could barely stand still.

When they saw us, they ran to us and hugged us tight.  It was a giant group hug.  Ava started crying.  It was so sweet to hold them all again, and they all looked taller than when we had left.  How do they do that?

It was great to be home again and together as a family.  The kids enjoyed their souvenirs, as you can see.

And just this week I received my photo book in the mail.  Whenever we take a long trip I try to create a photo book online.  We have a book sitting out in the living room about our 2 week drive to Montana last summer.  It's great to be able to just grab it and flip through alone, or while cuddling with a kid, and remember that special trip.

This time I used Mixbook to make a cute little 8 by 8 inch hardback book about the trip to France.  I love how it turned out.  Mixbook allows a ton of personalized customization.  They have lots of cool graphics, too.

And that's the end!  I have loved writing about the's a great way to jot down some of the details that I might forget one day otherwise.  Thanks for reading along and stay tuned for the 20th anniversary trip in 5 years.  Haha...who knows what's in store then?  We really don't know, do we?  There could be another great trip in the future, or there could be difficult times we can't even imagine right now.

It's just a reminder to myself to enjoy each day as it comes...whether it's in France eating the most fabulous meal, or sitting on the couch in my pjs reading to my 6 year old.