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.