Friday, December 31, 2010

Of Grace, Gifts, and Gratitude


Christmas was wonderful. 

All the kids and all the grandkids except Caitlin, who could not get away from work and studies to travel to Texas, were here. 

We had an early holiday with the Welches, who needed to be back in Kansas for the actual day, and then the two Austin families came out for Christmas dinner.

Three Sons-in-Law and One Hopeful
Four Daughters
I could tell you all about each of them, but I won't.  If you care, ask me. 

Suffice it to say they are all incredibly handsome, beautiful, intelligent, witty, erudite, and accomplished.

Plus they're good people, which is way more important than all the above anyway.  Needless to say, having them gathered around the table puts every other endeavor we have undertaken into perspective. 

Five Sixths of the Grandkids

The gift-giving season poses a few challenges, now that money is not so much a factor as it was for a very long time, for us when the Ranch was young and for the kids when the grandkids were young.  Now if we want something, we pretty much have the means to acquire it. 

Me in Great Wooly Coat
 Still, though, we struggled through!  The girls and I went shopping on South Congress in Austin, and I fell in love with a humongous wool greatcoat I found in the St. Vinnie's thrift shop.  It weighs eight pounds.  It was last in style either in the 80s or 40s, judging from the shoulder pads.  In it, I  imagine I resemble Mrs. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

One of the daughters clearly thought that I was out of my mind and the granddaughters generally agreed.  But I had to have it.

Daughter #2, Martha, sprang for it.

I have no explanation other than to say that to see it hanging there in my closet delights me.

Allied Forces in South Pacific WW II
Jerry gave me Unbroken, the new book by Laura Hillenbrand about Louis Zamperini's WWII experiences and life story.  For hours of each day this past week I have been living through hell with Louie, who spent 47 days adrift in a rubber raft with two fellow airmen in the South Pacific, only to be captured by the Japanese and held for two and a half years as POWs under barely survivable circumstances.

My dad was in the Navy in the South Pac during the war, as was Jerry's brother Herbie.  My Uncle Charles flew as a tail gunner in Europe.  Each crew member had 30 mission to fly.  Half of them made it.  Uncle Charles was sent from Europe, where he had completed his missions, to Indo-China, to fly the hump, where he flew 30 more.


We so took them for granted growing up, these men who were ripped out of their lives and sent off to do unimaginable things against unimaginable odds.  It broke a lot of them, as it continues to do today.  Our neighbor when I was a kid spent hours walking in circles every day in his front yard, as his wife struggled to bring up their son and care for her husband, who--we were told--was "shell-shocked."

To us kids he was just a harmless oddity, part of the landscape. 

Oh, God. 

I now know that he was a walking, living, tragedy.  Once he must have been young, handsome, in love, hopeful.  I have no idea what happened to turn him into what he became. 

Wow.  This piece has taken a turn I didn't expect.  All I can think of now are those men--and women-- still laying their lives and their loves, their peace of mind, their hopes and dreams aside to serve our country in places near and far away.

Let's all make a resolution right here and now.  Let's make sure they get everything they need to put their lives back together when they come home, if they come home.

If Christmas in America teaches me anything at all, it's that we have plenty disposable income to see that those who go off to war on our behalf get everything they need to become whole again.

Let's all give one more gift before the year is over.  The Wounded Warrior is one worthy group, but you may know others.   Send gifts to:

Family pictures by Jerry Horton
Me in Great Wooly Coat by Phil Haas
Allied Forces picture courtesy Google Images

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dear Friends,

It's late on Christmas Day at Down Home Ranch. 

Everyone is gone except Kelly, Jerry, and me, something that has not happened in a decade or more.

Our family has come and gone.  I played old videos of Kelly and the grandkids during Christmases past, and we howled with laughter. 

How amazing to look back over almost 20 years at the Ranch and see us crammed into a 700 square foot trailer so small the sons-in-law had to sleep on army cots on the front porch!

Anyway, I hope your Christmas was as wonderful and full of love and laughter as ours was. 

Following is a meditation on Christmas that I wrote as a Reflection in 1998.  I was reminded of it because tomorrow is the Feast Day of the Holy Family,  which falls the first Sunday after Christmas.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you and those you love!

                  Tidings of Comfort and Joy

From my earliest memory, Christmas was a day on which even the air we breathed seemed different in an indefinable way. It was a consecrated day—set apart, special.

My family never attended church. I had received no religious instruction beyond a few visits to Hebrew schule with neighbors’ children, where I got to be a Hanukkah candle in a pageant. It was not church or Sunday School associations which produced in me this frame of mind.

Each year, however, I was able to hear the story of the birth of the Christ child read over the PA system at school.

Sitting in the third-grade classroom in my large brick school, with wintry drafts seeping through the windows even as the steam radiators pumped off clouds of heat, I listened as the principal began to read the ancient words of Luke, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”

At home, a tree was procured and set up in a corner of the living room. Our preparations were erratic and not altogether happy. My father was an alcoholic—unpredictable and edgy—and family outings had a way of going awry. Once the tree was home, the search for the Christmas tree stand became a cause for further anxiety, although for the life of me I can’t now imagine how it got lost in our tiny house.

Eventually, however, the stand was found, and the tree erected more or less upright, with the lights strung according to my father’s standards, after which we kids were free to decorate at will. A half hour later the tree shone in glory.

Lights blazed, colorful chipped globes hung hither and yon, and great globs of tinsel clung to the tips of the branches. Mother mixed Ivory laundry soap with water to make a thick paste, and we slathered it on the windows of the living room to mimic snow. Through the panes, the bleak landscape of the West Texas winter did little to sustain the illusion. When all had been accomplished, and night had come, my mother turned out all the lights except for the tree, and we trooped outside to behold the annual marvel.

As Christmas approached, the few packages under the tree were daily inspected, counted, and apportioned by my brother and me. On Christmas Eve I went to bed early, but got to sleep late. I imagined I heard reindeer hooves and jingle bells. I thought about the baby being born in a stable. I couldn’t figure out the connection between the infant Jesus and the jolly old saint in the red suit, but I didn’t worry about it, figuring (rightly) that was one of those things that would come clear in time.

On Christmas morning my brother and I arose long before daylight to light the gas heater in the living room. I looked under the tree to see if Santa had added something during the night. Brother rolled his eyes and went off to the kitchen to make coffee for our parents who, feigning, stumbled into the living room with exaggerated yawns, rubbing their eyes.

We were allowed to tear into our packages without ceremony, and did so in a frenzy, even though we knew we would find mostly underwear, socks, and toothbrushes, for which we were obliged to act grateful. There was a nice toy for each of us, however—skates for me and a b-b gun for Brother.

The rest of the day then loomed an eternity.

We were shooed out of the house after breakfast. I took a few tries and falls on the new skates, and then settled down to visit with the family dog while Brother ran off to find his neighborhood buddies.

As the day grew long, I sat on the porch and pondered, amazed, the fact that all the stores were closed, and all the daddies off work. If you needed gasoline, you were just plumb out of luck. All the stations were shut up tight.

And all because of the baby Jesus, who wasn’t even really born that day, but was just having his birthday remembered hundreds and hundreds of years after it happened.

If Christmas that year was like every other holiday, my father most surely was drunk by mid-day, but I don’t remember that. All I recall are the tree, the presents, the food, and the lustrous and inexplicable quality of Christmas hanging over the entire day. Somehow, Christmas was bigger than the sadness and poverty of our lives. Christmas was worth all the 364 other days we would have to wait before it graced us again.

And Brother and I needed that day of grace, because our handsome young father, hopeless and bitter, took his own life before the New Year was half over.

His death hit us especially hard because early in the year Daddy had caught hope like a fever. Fiercely intellectual, he had met his match in a young minister new to town. Daddy liked and respected him, and began to take the family to church and Sunday school. He stayed with it long enough to get himself and Mother baptized, and I remember sitting on a pew with my aunt and Brother as first Daddy, and then Mother, were immersed, their billowing robes floating on the water as they were brought forth into the possibility of new life.

Only eight years old, I was shaken to witness this event, and began shuddering so violently in my seat that Brother reached over across our Aunt Maxine and whacked me.

For a brief time, life changed at our house. Nobody drank, and Daddy looked for work. Mom kept the house up and tended to us kids. For our part, Brother and I were suspicious and a little alarmed at all the sudden supervision, but also heartened to be joining what we supposed was the normal life of our friends and neighbors.

All too quickly it was over.

Daddy began to drink again, and with the loss of sobriety came the final loss of hope for life ever getting and staying better. One beautiful spring day the suicide came which branded and changed us forever.

For years I raged against my awful childhood, and blamed all manner of ills, real and imagined, on it and on my parents, even as I struggled to regain that sense of hope and promise we had briefly shared as a family. Much later, I sought comfort in a church community, and found it. Some years after that, I began to understand a few things.

First, I found I was right about Christmas. Christmas is bigger than anything. The special air we feel on Christmas Day is hope being born anew into the world, and if we will, we drink it into our souls like wine for the journey.

Next, my Daddy not only made sure there was something under the tree for me on Christmas, but when I saw him sink into the baptismal waters, he gave me a far greater gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit.

He introduced me—shaking in my pew—to the Companion, who banished a lifetime of loneliness.

Last, the Spirit brought me to the Father, and I was able to claim every good thing which fatherhood has to offer. Those things I longed for in my earthly father—love, understanding, guidance, justice, and truth—are there for the asking from my heavenly Father.
Amazingly, the few things Daddy managed to bequeath to me in his short, unhappy life were taken by God and made sufficient, even though Daddy died in despair, certain of having failed in everything he touched.

I came to know this in my heart a few years ago one Sunday on the Feast Day of the Holy Family.

As I knelt, silently repeating the prayers spoken by the priest, I suddenly felt as though my father were beside me, pleading that I take communion not only for myself, but for him as well. In a flash, I felt the despair that had driven my father to his death, and comprehended for the first time his tragic loss. I didn’t know what I should do, but I stumbled into the aisle sobbing, startling the priest. Right or wrong, I extended my hand for the Host—for me and for Daddy, too.

Only much later did I realize that this had happened on Daddy’s birthday.

Forty-eight years have come and gone since I sat on the porch and pondered Christmas. My own husband now strings the lights just so and then abandons the decorating to our daughters and grandchildren. Then we turn off all the lights and troop outside to behold the wonder.

On Christmas morning our daughter Kelly and the grandkids make terrible coffee, wake us up too early, and giggle as we lumber into the living room. They receive too many presents (none of them underwear or toothbrushes) and all too soon the day stretches out before us.

I go to the kitchen to put on the turkey. Then we get ready for Mass.

Throughout the day, Christmas hangs over the Ranch, numinous and heavy, and the world is quiet. The kids leap among the rafters in the hay barn. We hike in the winter woods, play with the donkeys, and come back to the house for our holy day feast. It is a day like no other in the year.

We are not perfect. Like everyone else we have our problems, but we are a family, bound in love to do the best we can. When our best is not good enough, we still have hope.

It is a hope born every year on Christmas day in little homes and mansions, huts and palaces, all over the world—the greatest gift a loving Father ever gave his children, and the reason why Christmas is bigger than anything.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mess to Messiah

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
Yesterday the gospel reading centered upon Joseph's dilemma, to wit: he had found that his young betrothed was with child, and in this confusing mess there was only one thing of which he could be certain, and that was that he's had nothing at all to do with it.

Scripture says Joseph was an honorable man, and so decided to divorce Mary quietly.  In other words, he would not publically denounce her and perhaps force her family into killing her or worse.

For women, yes, there is worse.

But then the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him with whom Mary was pregnant, and the role this baby was to play in human events.  The angel assured Joseph that indeed, Mary had commited no betrayal, but in fact that  she had acceded to the audacious request of the Most High.

Beyond that the details were probably  pretty fuzzy.

So Joseph went to bed with a dilemma, and woke up to a miraculous mess, as Fr. Larry characterized it.  How many men would pop out of bed like Joseph, look themselves in the mirror, and say, "Whoa! This is going to be an interesting ride!"?

Most would just see their world and plans crumbling about them.  But Joseph seems to have been a peculiarly unflappable man,  who was from the House of David, late of the shoot of Jesse.  He was familiar with the passage in which all this was foretold.

And I guess if an angel takes the trouble to visit you, it's hard not to pay attention to what he says.

Fr. Larry says Joseph is a prime example of what to do when you find yourself in a mess: invite God to join you in it.

Fr. Larry's right.  When our Kelly was born a baby was the last thing we needed in our lives.  We were struggling, trying to finish Jerry's degree, caring for our two fragile aging mothers and struggling with college bills.  Life was good, but it was full to overflowing, and when I found out I was pregnant things went way over the top.

When Kelly was born with Down syndrome, we felt as though our world had completely collapsed. 

When the hospital told us it looked like she had neonatal leukemia we realized the thing we wanted most in the world was for her to live.

In those dark days before her blood chemistry began to resolve, we invited God in to be a part of our mess.  With that Guidestar before us, things began to sort themselves out.  I prayed the Lord's prayer 50 times a day some days.

We'd felt like we were in one of those kids' games of long ago--the little picture disc with holes for the 5 BBs that you have to tilt and tap to get each BB in a hole.  At first all the BBs whirled wildly around the inside of the disc, but first one, and then another, settled into its hole, and before long we settled back into being a family. 

Same sick moms, same college bills, same demanding jobs, plus a fat baby girl with the world's best smile, who needed therapy three days a week.

But that was OK. 

Jerry had said the night Kelly was born, "Well, now we find out who we are as a family."

And so we had.

photo courtesy:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bowling Alone...NOT!

Julia rags Jerry before bowling
Last Friday the Ranchers went to Bastrop for their regular bowling practice at the Chestnut Square Family Entertainment Center.  Special Olympics competitions are coming up and we do love Special Olympics bowling events!

They were in their usual high spirits, glad to be at the end of a workweek, excited about plans for the weekend.  There were several lanes going, lots of joshing trash talk, and body language verging on the eloquent.

We are not inconscpicous in such a situation.  In fact, we epitomize what many politically correct folks who work with people with intellectual disabilities really, really dislike, to wit:

1.  We go bowling as a group--all 22 of us plus staff.  (Nobody's required to, by the way; they could stay home if they wanted to.)

2.  We are pretty identifiable as a group containing people with intellectual disabilities
(since most of us have Down syndrome, we haven't figured out a way around this.)

Way back when, Jerry had a colleague who got very heated up whenever she beheld such egregiously unacceptable scenes as people with IDs bowling with their peers. 

"It's my goal in life to rid the world of 'retarded bowling!'" she would say.

Her ideal world was one in which a person with an ID, living alone in an apartment, would be invited by his University of Texas student neighbor to go bowling one fine evening.

Hey, it's a heck of a vision!  I wish it would happen.

And it does, once in a blue moon.  Not to anybody I ever knew, but I've heard about it, though when it does, it's generally part of a bigger plan to get the regular students involved with the "special needs" ones. 

In other words: it's a project, paid or volunteer.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.  It means caring people wanted to reach out and make someone's life better, and devoted time and resources to doing so.  Nothing wrong with that.

But...who's your real buddy?  Who can you stay up late with, laughing and giggling and dreaming of the future?  Who struggles with the same issues you do, which might include lots of things regular folks never give a thought to?  Who shares your dreams of greater independence, maybe marriage or travel?

Who can you relax with and just be yourself?  Ah...the usual suspects: family and friends.

God gave you your family, and thank God He did.  Your brother might get you out of bed by leaning against the wall, placing his feet on your back, and jettisoning you across the room, with the full consent of your parents.  If anybody else did that it would constitute abuse. 

But to your brother you're just a pesky sister your parents told you to wake up, not a person in official need of protection.  Thank God.

Friends, that's a stickier issue.

You're part of a select group, only about 2% of the population.  Finding and keeping friends is a challenge.  The regular kids, however kind (which sometimes they are not) won't be your friends.  The special ed classes will have an assortment of people with wildly different levels of functioning.  If you're really lucky you might find one or two compatible kids during school to do things with.

But when you get out of school, you generally don't even have that. 

That's the reality.

Down Home Ranch was once scorned by a member of the politically correct crowd as a "fake community."  We don't know what the person who called us that had in mind for a real community, but I do know this.

We have one heck of a good time bowling!

Life is Complicated

Back in November Jerry and I promised Michael a date with Natalie for his birthday: a movie and dinner.  They wanted Kelly and Sterling to join them so off we went Tuesday afternoon and had a wonderful time.

Then driving back home in the dark Michael began imitating "the GPS lady" as we approached the Ranch.

Michael's an incredible mimic with superb comic timing and had us in stitches as we passed the Ranch.

The GPS lady became indignant: "You did NOT stop at your destination!  I TOLD you you were at your destination! You have PASSED your destination!  And what's that smell!?"

We dropped Sterling off and backtracked to the Ranch.  First we had to stop by the Chicken Hilton for Natalie to check the chicks, turn on the heat lamp and bar the doors. 

Then I made the rounds of the Village dropping off Kelly at Martha House, Michael at Barnabas, and Natalie at Teresa.

Then it was back to the barn to fix bottles for the Dude and close up his stall, since it was forecast to freeze.

Finally, back at Benedict House, Jerry was awake but already turned in, so I said goodnight and settled in to watch the "Good Wife" on TV and decompress a little from my busy day.

Twenty minutes in, the screen went black and a gigantic hissing sound began emanating from the set.  Not a good sign.  After fiddling with the controls I gave up and went to bed.

Next morning I was up at 5:30 AM to drive into Austin and meet the cable guy to hook up the new TV at the condo.  Which he did, and it worked fine. 

While he was here. 

Early Thursday when I discovered it would not turn on, I resolved to call the cable company later in the day.  My immediate plans included checking out furniture at Lack's for the new houses and buying breakfast items at Costco and then heading back to the Ranch.

Alas, the best laid plans...

I started the dishwasher going and as I put the detergent back under the sink I noticed water pooling on the the floor of the cabinet.  Further investigation revealed that the whole undersink plumbing assembly was on the verge of collapse.

I quickly turned off the dishwasher, sopped up the water, and called Fox, who promised to send someone over that afternoon.

It was only about 9:30, so I drove to Lack's.  Alas, as I entered the parking lot, the Granny Charger began to cough and sputter.  I went inside, took pictures and noted prices, then drove straight to a local car repair to see what was going on.  I left the car and walked back to the condo.

About 1:00 the plumber arrived and worked for a few hours redoing the whole installation under the sink.  Then the shop called.  They couldn't diagnose anything with the car and suggested I take it somewhere else.  I walked to the shop, got the car, and lurching and coughing made my way up Burnet to Gordon Automotive.  They couldn't promise to get to it today, so I called a friend and asked him to pick me up.

Since Gordon's isn't very visible from the road, I went next door to the Waterloo Ice House, where I was held hostage and forced to consume coffee and a piece of apple pie a la mode while waiting for Greg.

Greg arrived and brought me back to the condo.  Fortunately, it would be easy to live totally without a car in our condo neighborhood.  Everything one could ever conceivably need is within a one-mile radius of the Tiffany Condominiums: movies, grocery and department stores, parks, gyms, yoga parlors, craft shops, bus lines, candy stores, coffee shops, a gazillion eateries, and our church, St. Louis Catholic.

Jerry and I bought the condo a few years ago as we became increasingly reluctant to come into Austin in the evenings for concerts, church activities, or to visit family.  That drive back at 11:00 PM is no fun for the old folks.

It's a nice contrast to Ranch life, where our motto is: "If they don't have it at HEB, Wal-Mart, or the feed store, you probably don't need it.")
There was one surprise however when we bought the condo.  We expected a lot more noise--sirens and car noises and alarms and such.  After all, we're just off Mo-Pac and Anderson, with the train tracks a block away. 

But at the Ranch, the coyotes start choir practice at dusk and the donkeys and roosters fire up their serenade at dawn.   All we hear at the condo most of the time is the gentle trickle of Shoal Creek, if that.

Anyway, it's been a puzzling and frustrating couple of days this week, what with my infrastructure crumbling about me, but I don't suppose it has any greater significance than coincidence.  Everything will be fixed, we will be a little poorer, and our local commercial establishments will be a little better off.

And life will go on.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Death Comes for Grandpa

I received an email a few days ago from the mom of one of our Ranchers. She wanted us to know that her son's grandfather had unexpectedly died the night before.  She needed help putting together a plan so that her son would have support close at hand when she broke the news to him that night.

We've noticed over the years that for many, if not most, of our Ranchers the insult of death seems to remain forever fresh in their minds and hearts. They will suddenly burst out crying for a grandparent who died many years ago, the grief as raw as the day it happened.

We wonder: What's going on? Is it really the memory of Opa? Is Opa's death substituting for a current anguish that can't be named? Or could it be--in part at least--a ploy to garner a little TLC at the end of a long and tiring day?

I believe the grief really is attached to the loss, and for them the memory brings back that jolt we all feel when someone close dies--that gut-wrenching sense of loss, anger, and helplessness.

On the other hand, those of us without disabilities tend to live our lives compartmentalized neatly into past, present, and future.

I think of my mother, who died in '89, with no particular sadness. I've sorted out my feelings and packed away my memories. For me she will forever exist between the parameters of 1917 and 1989. For good or for ill, it's over.

But many of our residents, particularly those with Down syndrome, live life rooted firmly in the here and now, with a vulnerability hard for us even to imagine. They go through life with their hearts unguarded, gloriously open to the moment, but then boom! Out the sad memory pops, and the heart breaks anew.

This mom was wise to cushion the blow as best she could.

I told her I would let all appropriate staff, including Calvin, her son’s RA, know what was happening. Calvin would be near when she called that evening with the news, and his best buddy would be there, too.

At 5:30 the call was made. She said her son was initially very upset and crying but as they spoke he calmed down. After he hung up his housemates comforted him.

After supper her son asked Calvin if he could go over to Martha House and ask Anita and the ladies to pray with him for Grandpa Vic. Calvin said sure, so off he went with one of his house buddies. (The Martha House ladies are famously gifted in prayer.)

After visiting Martha House, he returned home, went about his routine, and went to bed.  The next day he was eager to share the news with me.  We talked a bit more about losing loved ones and it was clear he would need time to continue processing what had happened, but that he was well begun and feeling pretty secure in the world that remained.

It all made me think about the sad rainy night my mother died. I was all alone at the nursing home with her. Jerry was home with little Kelly.

There was nothing more to be done. Mom was scared and I was scared.  We didn't have a playbook for what was happening to us.

We sure could have used a Martha House that night.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Catching up at the Ranch has been wild since we got back from our trip a few weeks ago.
Rebekah and the Dude

First of all, the Dude.  He finally seems to be feeling pretty good.  He's filled out and is eating well.  Rebekah and I fuss over him and the bottle duties. 

Marci arranged for members of her church community to come over last Thursday to stuff stockings for the Food Pantry Christmas stockings.  I'd forgotten they were coming when Jerry came over to tell me that mayhem had broken out in the Pavilion.  He tried to describe the scene but I had to see for myself, so over I went.
Michael and John zap each other with the zapping hands
This was about 8:30 in the evening.  Ranchers were running around zapping one another with little rubberized hands that snapped like rubber bands, but they didn't hurt.  The stockings were already stuffed, and it was cut-loose time.  Several hands wound up stuck to the ceiling way high up in the dining room.  Hopefully they'll dry out and fall off. 

Last Friday morning at the staff meeting Jerry started off, as he usually does, with some lamer-than-usual jokes.  I mean,  really lame jokes.  After appropriate groans we got on with the business at hand.

Now Jerry has a lot of trouble ending things on time and he won't wear a watch or even look at the clocks on the wall there for all to see. So he has deputized Casey as the sergeant-at-arms  of staff meetings.  It's her job to give the five-minute warning.  A finger slicing sideways across the neck is the signal that the five minutes is up (I think we got that out of some management book...)

This day, however, before Casey could give the signal, we noticed Christopher peering in through the little window in the door.  He indicated that he wanted to come in and Casey waved at him to come on.  Once in the room, he settled down next to Jerry, who turned to him and asked, "What's happening, Chris?"

"Daughter," Chris said, frowning and pointing out toward the hallway at our daughter Kelly, his best friend and buddy.

"What about Daughter?" asked Jerry.

"Bad jokes!" exclaimed Chris.  I lay my head on the table and moaned, "Oh no, it's genetic!"

Saturday Fr. John brought 20 or so parishioners over from St. Francis Episcopal in College Station for a tour of the Ranch.  Jerry took them on a wandering hay ride to see the sights and we all had barbecue with the Ranchers in the Pavilion.

Later that day, Jim's friends Judy and her granddaughter Natalie arrived and we all decorated Timothy House, where Jim now lives, for the holidays.  Jim's our newest Rancher and he's loving his new life at the Ranch.  I wanted Judy and Natalie to meet the guys of Barnabas House, where Jim hangs out a lot.

I  don't know what happened, but I stumbled on the sidewalk and in trying to regain my footing launched myself through the air, landing across the curb between the sidewalk and the porch.  I am now decorated in blacks and blues  from chest to toe, and given the violence of the impact, count myself lucky that the only thing broken was my camera.

Fr. John after services last Sunday

A few Tylenols later, we all left--as in all of us--to all have dinner in Elgin at the City Cafe, watch the Christmas parade and attend a reception at the home of Forest and Cheryll Dennis, yard-decorators extraordinaire, who were hosting a reception for nationally-recognized singer Judy Pancoast, composer of The House on Christmas Street.

Sunday morning I didn't even try to sing with the choir, since it hurt to breathe.  We came back to the Ranch after church and I spent the afternoon cleaning out my office.

When I checked my email there was one from Fr. John titled "TWO exciting days!"  It had an attached photo labled simply "41 Barb and John."   I opened it, and there was Fr. John with President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush.

I asked Fr. John if he'd had any advance notice they were coming and he said the first he knew was when the Secret Service showed up at 9:15.  The Bushes spend a fair amount of time in College Station because the Bush Sr. Presidential Library is there. 
Travis and I taking Sally out for a spin last summer
I do hope things slow down a bit.  I bought a few books on driving a cart and horse, and am itching to get old Sally hitched up for a ride, if and when I can find time.  It's my Christmas project.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

HE-HAW, Con't.

Kelly tours around the Village Loop
Well, we're in our sixth month of Weight Watchers.

Each week we have cheers and moans at weigh-in, but we've learned that if you make a decent effort overall, you lose weight over time.  At Jim's memorial on Tuesday a weekend staffer we haven't seen in a few months was here and asked me, "What's going on?  Everybody looks so skinny!"

Well, skinny might be a stretch, but at least is shows we're trying.

And imagine my amazement to discover at our WW meeting today that I'd lost over a pound despite a 7-day cruise and Thanksgiving coming between me and my last WW meeting!

Earlier today I'd had a late lunch and came out of Benedict House just as the exercisers were getting underway.  Each day after lunch the Ranchers head outside for some physical exercise.

About half the Ranchers were doing laps around the Village loop.  Six laps around is two miles.  I first encountered Kelly pedaling along singing at the top of her lungs while listening to her MP3 player.  She was dressed in every article of purple clothing she owns. 

Kyle and his Aggie-decor bike
As we chatted for a few minutes Kyle came tearing around the corner on his bike like the proverbial bat out of hell.  I slowed him down enough to compliment him on the handsome TAMU flag he was sporting.

Natalie moseys along while engaged in a book
Natalie has mastered the trick of reading as she walks.  There's a girl after my own heart!

Crystal and Alan on their walk
Alan and Crystal enjoyed each other's company on their walk.

Mike stopped by to say hello.

Jim after making a great catch
Jim, Mark, Andrew, Calvin, and Lori opted to toss the football around for a while.

All in all, a beautiful sight to see.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Remembering Jim

Kara & Jim at Lunch in the Pavilion
Yesterday we had our memorial service for Jim, who died two weeks ago today.
Jerry and I didn't get back until after the funeral, and the staff wisely decided against encouraging all the Ranchers to go, since we would  likely have overwhelmed the proceedings.

We have had losses before.  Two of our first clients, Lynne and Lynda, who worked at the Ranch two days a week before there were any buildings or anything to do (but work, that is) both died early in the new decade.

Then K.J., on of the original ladies of Martha House, died a few years ago after leaving the Ranch to reside with her parents, and just a few weeks ago Beth, a young woman who had served in many staff capacities at the Ranch, died at her parents' home.

But Jim they'd seen just the day before, when he came to fix their bikes.  Jim would probably have been the new RA for Barnabas House.  That was a shock and a sorrow.

Sterling places soil in tree
 So we decided to have our own memorial service to remember our good friend and buddy Jim.  His daughter and granddaughters came out, and Fr. John came to preside over the service.  Jerry bought a chinquipin oak to plant--"Jim's Tree".  Marci blew up 40 balloons for a release after the service and the tree planting.

I talked beforehand to some of the Ranchers, who were still weepy and will be for some time.  I said that death is part of life.  Mark folded his arms and slumped down in his chair and said, "Don't say that!  I don't like to hear that!"

He's not alone in that.

Jerry did a reading, I gave a short eulogy and Kelly gave one on behalf of the Ranchers.  We sang Amazing Grace, Testify to Love, and the Goodbye Song.  Fr. John talked about how our service would focus on the joy of the resurrection, and how Jim was one of our "good shepherds."  He said that we would find our comfort and our strength in our community, in each other.

Then we went outside.  The wind was whipping up and it was cold but clear, and the sun was just setting.  Jerry and Keith wrestled the oak into the hole in the ground, and everyone who wanted to was invited to toss a handfull of soil into it and then release their balloon.

As the balloons were let go the Ranchers cried, "We love you, Jim!"  They watched until the balloons turned to the tiniest specks in the sky.  Andrew asked me, "How many feet to they go before they pop, Judy?"

I told him I didn't know, but I thought it was a lot.

Mark didn't want to let his balloon go, so he tied it to the tree.

We placed the tree overlooking both the Village, where the Ranchers live, and the Pavilion area, where they gather and work, for Jim first and foremost was their defender and protecter.   We envision that oak growing tall and sturdy, watching over the Ranchers Jim loved.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coming Home

Jerry and I went on a cruise in mid-November.  We had a good time, but were stunned and heartbroken by the news of our colleague Jim's death.  I knew this would hit the Ranchers like a ton of bricks and longed to be with them at such a sad time.  However, Phil assured me I could trust our staff, and what's more, I could trust the Ranchers to see one another through it. He said that in effect, Jerry and I were there because of the community we had helped create.

And so it was.  As things turned out, I was the one sobbing all alone at an internet terminal on a huge ship in the middle of the ocean.  Fellow passengers brought me tissues and someone patted my shoulder warmly in passing, which was much appreciated, but how I could have used some of those Rancher hugs at a time like that.

We are having our own service Tuesday afternoon to honor this good, much-loved man.  Rebekah's dad Fr. John Williams will lead the service.

And needless to say we were quickly swept back up into Ranch life.  Two new calves were born on Monday and are doing fine.  Our little Dude, born three weeks too early and still being bottle fed in the barn, got sick and Jerry, Crystal and I loaded him into an old delivery van and drove him to Taylor to see Dr. Graef.

The Dude felt awful, and I thought it was his ear.  My grandmother always told us kids when we were trying hard to look pitiful, "You look like a dying calf in a hail storm!"  I finally got the picture, too, as the Dude lay sprawled over Crystal and me, twisting his neck around to gaze at us with his huge, inky-black eyes.

Shortly before reaching Taylor, he scrambled up to his feet and promptly peed all over me.  Oh well, just another adventure along the road...

Actually, it was a good sign, or so said the doc.

After the Dude was shot up with painkillers and antibiotics (indeed it was an ear infection), we headed home, where he downed a half gallon of milk and skipped about feeling no pain, at least for a while.

Though bigger than his little cousins, he is at about the same stage of development.  We will put him out with them in a few more weeks, though we'll need to continue to bottle feed for another few months.

Then it was Tuesday, and we had our community Thanksgiving.  It was fun (and delicious), and the Ranchers began heading for home right away.

On Thanksgiving Day, the weather was warm and humid.  About 1:00 PM I stood in front of the house with Jerry and was complaining about the sticky weather when woosh! Out of the north came a mighty wind, cold and dry, blasting the oak leaves off the trees and picking up the fallen leaves from the ground, swooping them up high in the sky 30 or 40 feet, spiraling all around us. The thermometer dived from 80 to 45 over the next few hours.

Julia, Terry, and Natalie were still at home with Sandy on Thanksgiving Day, and of course Kelly is with Jerry and me, so we all had a fine time at Benedict House.  I put on the full feast of turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, Challah bread, chocolate pie, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, cranberry sauce.  Jerry made the deep-dish enchilada, the stuffed celery, and the deviled eggs.

Weight Watchers, where art thou?

Anyway, we don't have to cook for a while.  After dinner we settled in to watch the Aggies and the Longhorns go at it.  Jerry grumped off to be when it was clear the Ags would win, but Kelly and I stayed til the satisfying end.

I'd have been an Aggie myself, but I was gender-challenged for that particular assignment in those ancient times.  I plan to ask Gov. Perry to do something about this situation.

Today the Ranchers are trickling back in.  Kelly will soon load up her bike and head up to Martha House.  In the weeks ahead we'll be packing poinsettias like crazy, going on deliveries, getting into the Christmas spirit.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Memory of Jim

Jerry and I just learned of the death of Jim Hooyboer, who has worked at the Ranch for the past few years.

Jim was an esteemed and valued colleague and friend.  More important, he was, at all times and in all circumstances, a true friend to each and every one of our Ranchers.  They and their welfare were top priority to Jim.  He was unfailingly kind and fair, and he taught them to do their work well and take pride in it.

We are truly heartbroken, and wish more than anything that we could be at the Ranch with our community at this time.

We send our condolences to Jim's family, of whom he was so proud, and whom he loved so much.  Indeed, our hearts are joined with theirs in deepest sorrow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Dude, Bambi, and Things You Might Not Know About

Travis and Kyle walk the Dude back to the barn
The Dude continues to do well.  On Monday he was standing up when I came into the barn and voluntarily nursed from the bottle for the first time.  Once he figured that out he began to gain strength quickly and Tuesday took a walk with me to see the office staff across the parking lot. 

CJ, Annette, Kristin, and Sharon all came running out.  We'd figured he had less than a 50-50 chance of making it, and here he was toddling about, clumsy as all get out trying to figure out what to do with those four long knobby legs.

He's probably added eight pounds of body weight in the past three days and is noticeably stronger every day.  Watching him this morning  I got to thinking of all the Disney movies depicting young animals trying to get their land legs--Bambi and lambs came to mind most immediately.

These days of course they just film live creatures with sensors attached all over them and the animation is done via computers.  But way back when the Disney artists were drawing those frames one by one. 

I grew up in town and seldom saw baby farm animals.  I learned what they look like and how they act just after being born from Disney movies, and I can only imagine how many hours of footage of baby animals those artists watched before they set to work.

They did in their brains and with their hands what we now do with technology, and they nailed it dead on.  I see that in all the Dude's little awkward stumbles and falls, the way he lowers his neck and angles his head up and pitifully cries "Moo!" when he's hungry.

Jennifer and I were laughing yesterday about the "letdown bump," which our male Ranchers quickly learned to watch out for.  While feeding, calves periodically whack their mother's milk bag with a fast, strong upward bump of the nose to cause more milk to let down into the udders. 

This reflex continues when they're hungry even when they're bottle-fed.  Since the action takes place pretty close to an adult person's--shall we say--"nether regions" a guy in particular can get a rather painful surprise! Now the guys' hands immediately fly to protect themselves whenever the Dude approaches them. 

My guess is that in each case it was one-trial learning!

Bambi image from

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mildred Sheldon, a Friend Remembered

About 20 years ago  I attended a women's retreat at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest

We had just bought the land that would become Down Home Ranch.  I was understandably nervous about our impending move and all that implied--moving away from our daughters in Austin, selling our home, quitting our jobs, and setting out on an adventure that some gave a snowball's chance in hell of success.

I was not the only person in transition there.   Mildred Sheldon had recently moved from Copperas Cove to Rockdale with her husband the Rev. Joseph Sheldon, newly assigned Vicar of St. Thomas Episcopal Church there.

It's no exaggeration to say that Mildred was in a grieving stage.  She and Joe were a team, and they loved building a congregation from among the young, working-class military families in Copperas Cove that were their parishioners during Operation Desert Storm.  They felt desperately needed as their families confronted separation, danger, lonliness, and financial insecurity. 

Mildred had been in Rockdale for about a month, and anger was giving way--on some days anyway--to acceptance.  During a sharing meeting she told how she had been standing at the ironing board one day scorching not only the clothes but God's ears as she railed against their new assignment. 

"Then God broke through to me," she said with a wry smile.  "He said, 'Mildred! You left Copperas Cove.  I didn't!"

A few months later Jerry, Kelly and I moved out onto the Ranch, moving into a tiny mobile home and sharing our yard with about 30 cows finishing off the last of their owners' grazing lease for 1991.  It was one of the rainiest years on record, and after Jerry left for work in Austin and I took Kelly to school each day I returned to the trailer to sit at our little Apple Mac and ponder our circumstances, while it poured rain outside hour, after hour, after hour.

One day I dropped Kelly off in Thrall and thought, I cannot go back to the land!  I just can't!

I recalled the priest's wife from the conference and decided to keep on heading east on Hwy 79 to Rockdale to see if I could find her. 

Finding the church was no problem, but nobody was there.  I asked around and was sent to the vicarage, but nobody was home.  I returned sadly home through the driving rain and called the Diocese offices in Houston.  They gave me Joe and Mildred's number.  She answered, remembered me well, and invited us over the next evening for dessert and coffee.

Thus was born a relationship that ended only with Joe's death several years ago and with Mildred's a few weeks ago.

Mildred and Joe became members of our fledgling board, and brought two lifetimes of wisdom to the job.  In early '95 during a board meeting Joe declared, "We've got to get some programs going on out here!"  So then and there we resolved to start Ranch Camp, which blossomed from a few dozen folks in tents to a full-fledged camping program attended by hundreds each summer.

St. Thomas parishioners became involved, too, helping out with camp and special events, serving on the board, guiding us along the way.

But however important Mildred was to the Ranch, it was her ministry to me in those early days that are the enduring legacy as far as I'm concerned.  I don't know if I would have made it if not for her friendship.  

She and Joe joined us for Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings with our family.  We laughed at our spiritual foibles and shared our struggles as women who had come of age in a challenging time, when roles were changing and one's duty nearest to hand was not so clear as it once had been.  Mildred had an early, failed marriage with children, as did I.  We both married exceptional men who accepted our children as their own.  We shared so much and so delighted in one another's company.

After Mildred and Joe retired, eventually moving to San Angelo, we seldom saw each other, but she and I talked frequently on the phone.  In one of our last conversations before Joe died, she said, "Judy, this is truly the happiest time of my life.  Joe and I have so much fun.  I think people walking by us must think we're lunatics."

And that's how I remember of Mildred, and her Joe, now joined with all the company of heaven.

Happy Birthday Dude, One Week Old!

Dude is acting like a regular calf!
Hurray!  Came in the barn this morning and the Dude is standing up.

Mornin', little Dude," I said.

"Mooooo," said the Dude.

He's up and acting like a calf!  Bumping, and following, and happily taking the bottle instead of having to have it forced down him.  He's getting this walking thing down pretty good and knows that we two-legged critters are where the food comes from.

He's a happy little Dude.

Dude's hungry!  Here he's sucking on Kyle's pants
Travis and Kyle love the Dude

Rebekah prepares a bottle

Aaah...lunch at last!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cool Friday

Dell Volunteer Mary Berg Gets Acquainted with the Dude
This morning it was cold--about 34 degrees.  I was snuggled under the warm down comforter and vaguely aware that Jerry was getting up and dressing to go to the gym and work out.  I can't  claim to have given that noble plan any thought whatever.  I quickly dived back under the covers and went back to sleep.

Woke up ten minutes before staff meeting was to start at 8:00,  took the world's fastest shower and got there at 5 after.  Biggest news on the agenda was the impending opening of our first off-campus house in Taylor and the arrival this weekend of a new resident at the Ranch.

Mary puts up trellis for snow peas in the garden
It was a short meeting because we were anticipating 120 or so Dell volunteers this morning and  had to get to our stations to be ready for this huge pool of labor for the time they'd be here.  This is how big things get done at Down Home Ranch.

Sandit Works Priming Joseph House
On today's plan were painting an office, priming the walls of Joseph House, excavating collapsed culvert, constructing beds and prepping the community garden, general brush clearing and removal, and the really big project: moving several hundred ceramic molds and two kilns from the warehouse to the Spur barn, where we will set up our ceramics workshop. 

Cataloging and moving ceramic molds
Not to mention feeding our 5-day old preemie calf, Dude.

Restoring a Culvert
We love Dell volunteers because they come out in teams, and they're used to working together as a team.  They're smart and motivated, and they enjoy the chance to do something physical.

Dell also donated a new server to us, which we just got installed, joining up with Mr. PC of Austin to handle the switch, and my, what a difference.  We've about got the bugs out and are just now understanding what a huge difference this will make.

I overheard Michael and Alan talking as they cleaned the barn hallway just outside my office.  Alan asked Michael if "all those people" were getting paid.  Michael said no, they just came to help out.

"We might get in trouble," Alan said.  "You can't make people work and not pay them."

"It's different for them," said Michael.  "They don't have to do it so we don't have to pay them to do it."

I was amazed that Michael and Alan knew this much about labor law!  And even more that they were concerned about its implications for the Ranch's use of volunteer labor.

But most of all, I loved hearing that "we." 

Michael and Alan have taken full ownership of their Ranch.

Bully Boy, aka "The Dude"

Our little guy is doing better, walking around some and getting stronger.  He's willingly taking the bottle, and what with all the attention he's getting should soon turn into quite a spoiled brat.  We're hoping anyway.

So far so good.

Here's Rebekah and the Dude yesterday.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bully Boy Update Nov. 2 11:35 AM

Jennifer talked with Elgin Vet's bovine head.  He said at this point we'd probably just go ahead and bring the calf over to the main barn and work on him here.

Mama is perturbed but gets confused when she approaches the calf because he isn't able to do his part.  He still can't stand on his own for more than a few seconds.

Jennifer says she hears gut rumbles after feeding, though, and she thinks that's a good sign.

If we can pull him through, we will.  We've done it before.

Pulling for Bully Boy

Last evening I was just leaving my office when Mr. Pat drove by.

"Bad news. Calf born, maybe last night," he yelled.  "Not doing so good, can't stand up.  Jennifer's gone to town for supplies."
Jennifer holds Bully Boy's head up

Bad news indeed.

We've been anxiously monitoring our four bred Angus, due to calve between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  They've looked the picture of health--black, fat, glossy, and clear-eyed, bred to a black Japanese Wagyu.

But first birth for any new mother can be risky.  We hurried over to the pasture where our little guy lay in the straw as Mama looked on worriedly.

He was clean as a whistle, which means she'd tended him, so it wasn't a case of maternal neglect.  But he just had no vigor.  Jennifer thought he might be about a month early.

He was beautiful.

We got him to stand and Mama tried to get close to him.  We took that as a good sign and backed off. 

He collapsed.

Jennifer got back with the milk, bottles, and colostrum paste.  When Jer came back to the house he said she'd managed to get about a third of a bottle into him, but that he wouldn't latch on and suck properly.  She thought he was just too weak.

Jennifer had to head home to get her own baby and everyone decided just to let the calf rest for a while.  He looked plumb tuckered out, and as I reminded everyone, he was a newborn, even if he did weigh 45 pounds, and needed his rest.

After supper Jerry hurried down to check on him.  Sterling went out to help, and they tried to feed some more.  The calf still couldn't suck, though he did seem somewhat interested.

Finally Jerry called me to find Jennifer and get her back.

She'd just picked up the baby, so I said, "That one I know what to do with. I'll take care of Kenya."  Jennifer headed back to the Ranch.

By now lightning was dancing on the horizon with thunderstorms predicted by midnight.  I groped my way in the dark to where Jerry and Sterling continued to work to get some milk into the calf.

I helped until Jennifer showed up, and then went to take baby Kenya from her.  An hour later she'd managed to get another half bottle and the colostrum into him, and they'd settled him into a stall.  He looked a little better.

This morning I checked on him and Sam the mule and a little sidekick were in the stall with the baby.  Jennifer showed up with the office staff.  Mama decided the hubub was too much and came to investigate, running CJ out the other side of the stall.   We made ourselves scarce.

"What's his name?" someone asked.

"No name!" I said, quoting the party line.

"Breakfast, some day," Jennifer said.  Then we both leaned low and whispered in his ear, "Only kidding, Bully Boy."

Stay tuned, and say a little prayer, if you would.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Servant Hearts

Kelly, Kyle, and Sandy figuring out the baking thing
 Yesterday students from St. Mary's Catholic Student Center at Texas A and M came out, a whole slew of them!  They'd wanted to do a service project, and we said, "Hey, why don't you do a Halloween thing with our residents?  They'd love that."

Everyone was game, so we worked a bit from both ends to set up and afternoon of fun and fellowship, and it was a doozie!

Kyle rides his broom like the cowboy he is
The thing is, there's just something special about Aggies.  We do have a few straggling Longhorns at the Ranch (and one real one), but the Aggies far outnumber them.  One reason is that we've had a close relationship with St. Mary's since the late 90s, so much so that many of our campers and Ranchers either come from that area or have very close ties to the University.

Not Quiddich--it's just a broom race
 I guess it figures that Aggies would be attracted to Ranch life.  Whatever the reason, by now the ties are so strong that the Ranch can deck itself out in maroon for any occasion.

The day began with everyone getting to know one another, moved on to cookie-backing, continued with the great scarecrow-stuffing-broomstick-racing-pumpkin-rolling event, and ended up by carving faces on the surviving pumpkins.  In the middle of all that were hamburgers for lunch.
The St. Mary's students were easy and natural with the residents, and asked over and over how they could get more involved.

Alan gets down and dirty with his pumpkin carving
 I told them that kids and adults with intellectual disabilities spend a whole lot of time with people who are paid to be with them and precious little with anybody (excluding family) who just wants to be around them because they like them. 

Therefore the St. Mary's visit was pure gold for us.  Just give our people a chance and they'll steal your heart.

Soon they'll be on Facebook tagging their new friends, enjoying the chance to be like everyone else.  The students will become hooked on the fascinating news from Down Home Ranch as disseminated by the Ranchers themselves. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Coram Deo

During staff meeting Friday Jerry said we'd cut it short because of a multitude of volunteers expected to arrive at any minute.
He asked Mr. Pat to tell the rest of the staff about the 85 or so fifth-graders we expected from Regent School of Austin. 

To my surprise, Pat lit up like a Christmas tree.

"Oh!," he said, "this is about the fifth year in a row they've come out.  I thought we'd wind up babysitting the first year, but those kids can work!  We love it when they come out."

Everyone dispersed to their sites to welcome the volunteers and get them going.  Soon there were groups working everywhere--around the foundation of Joseph House, behind Benedict, in the woods surrounding the camp grounds, and in the community garden  helping to prepare the ground for the next garden beds.

I looked out my office window and thought: That's a passle of 10-year olds! 

I grabbed my camera and went to the garden to investigate.  Moms, Dads, and teachers were all working with the kids, along with Michael, Matt, and their team leader Naomi, raking, busting clods, asking what we planned to plant when it was ready.

From there I went to the Village.  The children were levelling a huge pile of dirt left from the excavation for the foundation for the new Joseph House and carrying it by the shovel  full to pack it in around the slab.

But there was a problem: dozens of frogs and toads had buried themselves in the soft dirt and the kids didn't know what to do with them.  I suggested a relocation shelter near the Benedict garden and hoped the transition wouldn't prove too hard on our amphibious friends.

Wherever I went kids were working amazingly hard, amid scratchy vines, lifting heavy loads, dragging tree limbs long distances.  No whining, no grumping, no sass, no attitude but curious and respectful at all times. 

A few hours later everyone had lunch and Jerry gave them a talk about Down Home Ranch.  After that they piled into vans and headed back to school.

When Jerry came home that evening he said in wonder, "I couldn't believe the questions those kids asked me after my talk.  They were amazing.  They really listened to what I said. 

"I asked if anybody knew how many chromosomes we have in our bodies.  A mom said 23 and a student corrected her by saying it was 23 pair.  Then one asked me why the doctors couldn't somehow take out the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome.

"I said I didn't know, but that they were working on figuring out what to do and that I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't one of them that did it someday.  And I wouldn't."

Later, intrigued, I went on the school's web site and learned that Regent School was begun with 17 students in 1992, the same year Down Home Ranch was starting to get underway.  Today there are over 800 students K-12. 

The school's motto is Coram Deo, which translates roughly as "in the presence of God,"  a reminder that wherever we go, whatever we do, whenever it is, we do well to remember that there is a Witness.

And I have a suspicion that Witness is well pleased with Regent School.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Monica and David...

Sterling, Kelly, Kyle & Alaina after screening of Monica & David
...and Kyle and Alaina and Kelly and Sterling and Kara and Clyde and...

Thursday was the debut of the HBO documentary telling the story of two young adults who fell in love and got married. 

What's the big deal?  Happens every day, doesn't it?

Not when the bride and groom both have Down syndrome. 

So our living room was packed with Ranchers wanting to see Monica and David the moment it came on the air.  Their interest ranged from simple curiosity to a desperate desire to do the same.

Though still rare, marriage between people with intellectual disabilities is becoming more common.  Parents and professionals are realizing the unfairness of standing in the way of people who may be handicapped in many ways, but not when it comes to forging bonds of love.

Some might even say that's a specialty of people with Down syndrome.

And what better qualification is there?  I once heard a good marriage defined as being "a union of two good forgivers." It reminded me that when our priest was preaching on the need to forgive 70 times seven, Jerry and I agreed that Kelly was the only person in our family capable of doing that.

We focus on the peripheral stuff: Can they cook? Can they keep a clean house? Can they manage their money?

Could you when you first got married?  I could barely boil water.

The central issue has got to be this: Can they love over the long haul?

From where I sit, I'd have to give that one an unequivocal yes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Unless the Lord build the house...

The "New" Joseph House
 As one of the top builders in the world, Habitat for Humanity knows a thing or two about building houses--the most important being that if the people who are going to live in it help build it they will live in it with greater dignity and appreciation.

Why should people with intellectual disabilities be any different?  Well, they aren't, as these pictures show.

Kyle & Sterling insulating their new home
Kyle and Sterling are just two of a number of Ranchers who've signed up to help finish out Joseph House, where Kyle, Sterling, Travis, and John will move as soon as it's ready. 

Sterling learns to do the job right
Joseph House, like all the houses in the Village at the Ranch, has been built thus far through the goodness and generosity of other people--people who donate a little bit each month, people who created humongous foundations to benefit others, a family with no relation to the Ranch who decided to donate enough money to finance the entire outer construction.  Plus of course the army of volunteers who help just out of the goodness of their hearts.

A few years ago Jerry and I read a book called God Is the Good We Do, by UT professor of architecture Michael Benedikt.  The book is long and learned (and in very small type) but the gist is this: wherever there are people doing good, there is God.

I interpret this theory by imagining the written score of a symphony.  Is that the symphony?  How could it be?

No, the symphony exists only while the orchestra is playing it. 

Maybe it's the same with God.  God is good and good is God. 

People with good hearts didn't just give money to build a house.  They also gave money to provide an opportunity for Sterling and Kyle to learn important skills and help build their own home.

And we are thankful indeed.