Friday, January 28, 2011

Cruise to Cozumel Day 1

Brent & Michael at the
cruise terminal in Galveston
Yesterday we boarded the Carnival Ecstasy for our annual cruise to Cozumel.  The Ranchers have been suffering mightily all week for the day to arrive, and left the Ranch in the bus, and on time, ready for the four-hour trip to Galveston.

I rode with Genie, our board president, who picked me up in Austin and we arrived about an hour later than our crew.  Genie dropped me off in front of the cruise terminal to go park while I dealt with our luggage.  I thought our crew was probably already inside the terminal standing in various lines but suddenly I heard an ecstatic, "Look, there's Judy!" and saw a mob running toward me.

Mark, Sterling, Kyle and Kelly rushed up and threw their arms around me, nearly knocking me to the sidewalk.  Bystanders might have thought I was their grandmother who had been held as a prisoner in Siberia for the past ten years, instead of having been with them at the Ranch less than 24 hours before!  (This happens when they spy me shopping in Wal-Mart also.)

Our group consists of 66 souls this year--Ranchers, staff, families, friends of families.  It's a great rollicking bunch.

Once inside the terminal, we stood for the next hour in snaking lines that doubled back and forth, and the Ranchers made great sport of seeing one another, then not, then seeing one another again.  While watching other people shuffle along, seemingly just enduring this part of the journey, I marveled at how much fun we were already having. 

It really is all a matter of attitude.

Finally we made it onto the ship, and lunch on the Lido deck was tops on everyone's agenda.  It was almost two and we were famished.  Despite gentle reminders that we were to eat again in just a few hours, the Ranchers fell upon the pizza counter with undisguised glee and very little restraint.

The seas are calm, the skies are clear, and it grows warmer by the mile.  Tomorrow we'll hit the beach in Cozumel, and I'll tell you all about that.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hot Guts and Warm Hearts

Saturday was a very special day for Down Home Ranch. 

We were awarded the Agriculturalist of the Year at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Lost Pines Resort

The Ranch has won a lot of honors and had a lot of good publicity over the years, but this is the one that means the most, because these are our friends and neighbors.

And if the title of this piece makes no sense to you, that's because you might not be aware that Elgin is the sausage capital of Texas, and it's the motto of our famous Hog Eye Festival held every October.  The Ranchers love Hog Eye because they can usually snare a realistic looking pig snout to wear to work for a week or two afterwards.  They also enjoy the dance, the carnival, the music, and the food. 

Work's more fun while you're wearing a pig snout.

In fact the Ranchers are a major presence in Elgin.  They attend several churches in town, volunteer at the food pantry, go to the library on occasion, and are great fans of the summer park programs. 

We didn't know Elgin 21 years ago when we bought the land that was to be the Ranch.  It was blind luck that brought us close to a town that could be the model of what we envisioned for our community--that old fashioned neighborhood where a helping hand is never far away.

Elgin is a scrappy little town, but it's a place where folks take care of their own.  We've attended numerous fund-raisers for families who have been burned out of their homes, had a child with cancer, or for a family member whose insurance has run out.  Elginites have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Down Home Ranch as well as other local charities. 

Fr. Bob Mahoney, then at Sacred Heart Catholic Church was the first to open us with welcome arms when I went visiting local clergy shortly after Jerry, Kelly, and I moved to the Ranch.  Fr. Bob was so excited that he dashed out to the Ranch the very next day and, having visited with us in our tiny trailer, said he left thinking, "Those people either have more faith than anyone I've ever met or they're dumb as a bag of hammers!"

He never told me which he decided we were, but we listened to many a sermon over the years on Divine Providence, which was the centerpiece of Fr. Bob's faith.  Elgin was not the only town to know and love "Bullet Bob," but nobody loved him better.

It might be that you've blown past Elgin 100 times or more on Hwy 290 and thought that what you saw on the highway was all there is, but, if so, you're sorely mistaken.  We have an historic downtown worthy of being in the movies, which it has been on many occasions.

We've got barbecue joints--Southside Market, Meyer's, and several others--and they're all good, and all cookin' all the time.  We've got the Southwest Stallion Station, where you can get your mare bred, or get your heifer in the family way at Elgin Breeding.

There's Elgin Veterinary Hospital, which attracts horse and cattle owners from around the world. 

One afternoon we found our miniature horse Smokey in terrible distress, heaving for breath with two neat puncture wounds between his nostrils.  We rushed him into Elgin Vet.  They cut down a vein, got an I.V. going, ran tubes down his nostrils so he could breathe, and kept him overnight. 

I had awful nightmares that night. 

Not about the horse, but about the bill.  When the grand total of $118 was quoted to us I almost fainted with gratitude.  I figured that might have covered the cost of supplies.  It was a kindness never forgotten.

But that's what Elgin is like, and we're just happy to have landed here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Don't Let the Dream Die"

Mr. Lobo at haying time
I often say that the greatest thing about Down Home Ranch is to have witnessed so many people bringing the best of who they are and what they have to share with us and our Ranchers.

One such person is Enrique Lobo Guerrero.

Most people call him "Lobo," which, as he will tell you, means "wolf" in Spanish.  I, however, refer to him as "Mr. Lobo."  Simply my preference, mostly because I have such enormous respect for Mr. Lobo.

He came here from Mexico when he was a very small boy with his parents.  He grew up in El Paso and earned his citizenship through service in the U.S. Army, which gave him many things but cost him most of his hearing.

Nearly 50 years ago, he married a beautiful lady named Lucy.  They were neighbors long before Mr. Lobo became an occasional employee of Down Home Ranch some eight years ago. 

Unfortunately, one of he first things he did was fall from a height of 8' while helping install the greenhouses where we now grow our poinsettias.

He was Star-Flighted out by helicopter with a broken back, but made an excellent recovery and as soon as possible he was back at the Ranch.

Mr. Lobo loves the "children," as he calls our Ranchers.  After years of working in maintenance--hard, outside, dirty work--we moved him to programs, working with them.  Mr. Lobo, like us, is getting older and attention must be paid.

He's never been happier.  He loves the Ranchers and they love him.  He is their advocate, their buddy, their teacher.

Years ago Bishop McCarthy visited the Ranch and his eagle eye fixed upon Mr. Lobo.  He talked with him at length about his work and I'm sure Mr. Lobo bent Bishop's ear about the "children" he cared for, and about the Ranch, and about his work.

Bishop was more impressed with Mr. Lobo than with the whole lot of the rest of us. 

Bishop sees things others don't see. 

After the visit he wrote Mr. Lobo a letter thanking him for his work and for sharing his love for the Ranch and our Ranchers.  We were all proud.

This past weekend we had a Strategic Planning Meeting.  It was a BIG hoopdedoodle, and lots of parents, and board members, and staff members, and friends and donors of the Ranch came.

We spent Friday evening and most of Saturday begining to figure out how to ensure that the Ranch will thrive, and with it our Ranchers, over the coming decades.

Of course Mr. Lobo was there.

At one point he said, "Every morning,you know, I wake up and I pray: 'God, don't let the dream die.'"

He's talking about Down Home Ranch, and who knows? 

Mr. Lobo might well be the reason it hasn't.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Epiphany 2010

I wasn't ready for Epiphany to come so soon!  Usually we have ten to 12 days to bask in the light of the Christmas tree, but today in church we celebrated Epiphany.

Fr. Larry talked about how pervasive the images of Epiphany are in our culture--the Kings, the camels, the star, the Holy Family, the King Herod, the gifts, and of course the precious Babe lying in the manger.  Everybody recognizes them, even if they aren't sure what they all mean.

Fr. Larry said that one thing they mean is this: Each of us carries wisdom, a star that we're following, at least a touch of King Herod, and--hopefully--love, within us.  Each of us has gifts to give.  We struggle between what we believe is the security of what we have and accepting the invitation of the One who came into the world with nothing to offer but Himself.

After church, I came home and spent a couple of hours cleaning my car inside and out, mostly to have an excuse to spend the beautiful afternoon outside.  As I was vacuuming away, Fr. Greg arrived with Jim, returning after the holidays. 

After Fr. Greg  got Jim settled into Timothy House and left I called and asked Jim if he wanted to walk down and see if the hens had laid any eggs today.  He did.  We stopped by Barnabas House to drop off a gift from Jim to the guys there, said hi to Mike sitting on the porch of Gabriel House, and walked mostly in silence to the Chicken Hilton.

We found a dozen eggs of different sizes and hues, and then went to the garden to check out the broccoli and cabbages.  I was afraid the recent freezes had damaged the cabbages, but they were fine, so I cut a few small ones for dinner tonight.

On the way back to the Village, I asked Jim if he wanted to eat with Barnabas House tonight or have Jerry's famous fried chicken and potato salad with us.  A little smile crossed his face and he said softly, "Fried chicken with you and Jerry."

That said, we settled on a time and walked to Timothy House.  After I left Jim I saw Kristen doing her walk around the Village Road.  She had her headphones on and was singing away as she walked.  Above us the sky was deep blue and criss-crossed with contrails.

There was no wind, not even a breeze, and the late afternoon light was startlingly clear. 

"Everything is so calm and bright," I thought to myself, and then laughed at my choice of words. 

Anita came by just as I reached Benedict House and swung into the drive.  She confessed that the day had been hard for her.  Anita just moved into Teresa House, leaving her daughter Alaina at Martha House. 

"This is the first Sunday of her life that I haven't taken care of every little detail of her getting ready for church," Anita said.  "I held out as long as I could and then I just had to call Naomi and check on how things were going."

Kristen, Kelly, Ashley, Alaina & Rebekah
When Kelly moved to Martha House five years ago, I felt her absence so strongly it was almost a presence in itself.  The scared old king inside me so wanted things to stay the same, to have her there by me, to get those daily hugs, those dozen "I love yous."

Back then I needed to remind myself that the vision that was given to us of the Ranch came from a wiser place than that, and it was time to let my baby go and spread her wings a bit.  I feel for my friend.  I know how much faith and courage it takes.

Anita, Julia, Terrie, Natalie, & Crystal
It's been a lovely day, unhurried and unharried, finding glory in the ordinary.  A gift indeed.

Wise Men image from