Monday, July 21, 2014

Time Recaptured

Sometimes my country Southern upbringing wraps around me like a familiar, comfortable sweater. I can feel my Texas twang seep into conversations and especially my exclamations. The interplay of genuine hospitality and a dusty warm afternoon sipping sweet ice tea is like a calming balm.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday brought back a list that neither my children nor I often experience living inside the loop in Dallas:

  • Crossing a rusty cattle guard and opening the gate to a grassy, mesquite tree filled pasture
  • Sitting on a wrap around front porch avoiding the dirt dobbers dashing about our selected spot
  • Feeling the soft breeze off the hills of central Texas while attempting to stay in the shade
  • Walking across uneven cracked, linoleum floors to stand in front of a cool window unit air conditioner
  • Listening to the sounds of dirt bikes and the hoops and hollers of the riders
  • Stepping around cow patties and prickly cactus
  • Watching bursts of color all around us as both the real kids and grown-up kids set off fireworks purchased from a beside-the-road stand 

But the best part is intangible and hard to describe. Growing up with cousins, aunts, uncles and life-long friends in a small town has a cadence. To recapture that rhythm and the associated chaos even for an afternoon is a gift. 

Commuter Husband, Oldest Son and I spent Sunday in Jacksboro, Tx. We were welcomed into our friends' slice of Americana where the relationships are the unrivaled part. While we were technically the outsiders, we were easily embraced by the gathering of kin. Land and a house tie this group's past, present and future together. They are so fortunate.

And for a day, we were fortunate too. The thought of the chirping cicadas as dusk rolled into a night filled with big bright stars brings a smile even as I type these words ...

Commuter Husband sprays the wasp nest as Oldest Son and Friend dash out of range. Supposedly there were 30 wasps targeted!

Teenage boys and dirt bikes ... Enough said.

Front porch swings are timeless.

Placing fireworks - it was a spectacular show!

Just sitt'in on the front porch ...

"The Farm" house with a thousand stories.

A windmill. A sunset. Simple pleasures.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

These Are Children

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.

(Margaret Mead)
Tonight I attended the Immigration Response Meeting: Temple is working with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins' office and Dallas Area Interfaith to address the crisis created by unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Latin America. This is an informational meeting to have a say in Temple's response.

A couple weeks ago, I called my friend and Program Director at Temple Emanu-El to find out if Temple was doing anything to help the children. Her quick response was "Of course" and she proceeded to tell me about the information meeting on July 16th.

We learned the following:
  • 60,000 children have crossed the southern border and 90,000 are expected by year end
  • Most of these kids are in the Valley in detention centers
  • 85% are being placed with family members in the US while awaiting a judicial hearing
  • The remaining 15% need care (the math results in over 10,000 children)
  • 80% are suffering from malnutrition
  • Expect to need foster care families
  • Lawyers are needed to help in immigration court, which will be in city where the child is placed
  • Providing a "Know Your Rights" presentation to these kids but many are too young to understand thus using World Cup analogies to explain the situation to them
  • There was a large Interfaith Coalition meeting at Park Cities Baptist on July 15th
  • Judge Jenkins taking the lead and 2,000 children are expected in Dallas county by the end of July
  • Three Dallas locations were visited by Health and Human Services yesterday and construction is expected to start this weekend to prepare the facilities
  • 400 cases already in Dallas courts last week - immigration courts will be overwhelmed
  • This is a fluid situation and not clear on roles yet
surge 2008-13
READ this article CLICK HERE:
Then Rabbi Asher Knight asked us:
  • What are the moral implications and tensions of this crisis?
  • What would it mean for Temple Emanu-el to be a leader responding to the crisis?
Unfortunately I had to leave before this last part of the meeting played out. However, I can provide a personal answer to the second question. Two weeks ago when I wanted to help, my first thought was to call my Temple. I expect Temple Emanu-el to help when there is a humanitarian crisis. I look to my Temple to help the community and to help congregants like me navigate to a helpful place. Tikkun olam, repairing the world, through social action and social justice is humanity's shared responsibility.

In my mind, there is NO option but to help these displaced children in this moment. I am thinking of the mothers who made an unspeakable choice; or of the abandoned child's anguish I cannot possibly imagine that would send them on this perilous journey. The conditions and situations surfacing about this crisis are beyond my real comprehension.

And I am comforted by these words from a child ...
How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to start to improve the world.
Anne Frank

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Mouse in the House ... Still

The remodel lives on and now it has brought us another friend. Tuesday evening Oldest Son and Youngest Son were waiting for me to join them at the back door to unlock it.

As I was walking up the sidewalk, Youngest Son ran towards me shouting "We have a mouse!"

My mostly tired response was "Are you sure it is a mouse and not a rat?"

The boys had seen it scurrying across our unfinished wood floors and under the plastic covered furniture.

Youngest Son replied emphatically "It is bigger than my dwarf mouse was and smaller than Shakespeare was; it is a mouse." Shakespeare was the 2nd grade class rat we cared for one summer break.

Both boys were hyped and Youngest Son was nervous about the loose rodent. I called Commuter Husband but knew this was my chore. Unfortunately, small furry animal disposal falls into my role if it hits on a weekday. There are many moments when being a Commuter Family is NOT optimal and this certainly was one of them!

Tom Thumb only had poison. I know what happens when mice eat poison and crawl somewhere to die. The smell can be worse than having the live creature about the house. I was off to Home Depot before they closed in 10 minutes. I could not bring myself to buy the sticky paper which seemed cruel even to me. I opted for some fancy plastic contraption and headed home.

Well, while I was away our creative boys were busy.
YOUNGEST SON: Created a trail of feta cheese with a string tied to one piece at the end. I guess the plan was to sit up all night until the mouse was fooled??? And bang it to death???? I kindly told him to sweep it up and that would not really work. The white bits are mostly paint - have I mentioned the remodel? 
OLDEST SON: Created a bowl trap. Hmmmmm. I just said okay. See the small piece of cheese in the middle? I found it interesting that he came up with this approach.
MOMMY WITH COMMUTER HUSBAND: How could this fail? Says "Guaranteed!" right on the package. 
Trap was set with Peanut Butter. Think perhaps that hole in the wall could be part of the problem?%%$#?!!@
NEXT MORNING: Cheese was gone from Oldest Son's trap but alas the mouse was not caught.
5 DAYS LATER: No mouse in my trap either. Huge Sigh.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Embracing My Flatness

I get to wear these cute kinds of shirts now!
I am 17 months beyond my bilateral mastectomy (BMX.) 

I HAD breast cancer:

  • DCIS - Ductal Carcinoma In Sutra
  • Noninvasive
  • Intermediate to High Grade
  • Found in routine mammogram with follow up stereotactic biopsy

My treatment choices meant:

  • No additional types of cancer found in the final pathology report so no oncologist and no chemotherapy
  • No radiation and no tamoxifen (hormone drugs) because I chose a BMX (versus a lumpectomy)
  • No more medical procedures or risk of additional infection because I chose no reconstruction

I am lucky, lucky, lucky for so many reasons.

I do have shoulder issues which I believe to be tied to the breast cancer surgeries. I have an orthopedic appointment this month. Oh well, that is life. It will not kill me.

I have fully and comfortably embraced my flat chest. 

I enjoy the beautiful scarves - most of which were gifts from all the caring people in my life. However, the Texas heat is not always conducive to extra layers and I do not attempt to camouflage what is just not there either. Frankly, no bra totally works for me and I can wear certain shirts now that would have not have worked with my not-so-small breasts before BMX.

I have not completed genetic testing yet. That is hopefully the final chapter ...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Shabbat Filled with New Experiences

Saturday Afternoon - July 5th

Me with a matter of fact voice " ... well it is a different kind of place ..."

Oldest Son with a half smile and air of mischief "That describes most places you take us." 

Previous Friday Evening - July 4th

We chose a unique way to celebrate July 4th this year. Some background is required.

Etgar 36: Here is a description from their website CLICK HERE FOR WEBSITE
Etgar 36 is dedicated to developing the future Jewish political voice by taking Jewish teens on journeys throughout America, developing their identities, and empowering them to get involved politically and socially to change the world.

The Etgar trip is not a religious trip, rather, it is a Jewish identity experience in which the participants will discover how, and on what level, Judaism relates to them as American citizens. They will see America through Jewish eyes.

35 Jewish high schoolers start in Atlanta and travel through the South up through California over to Chicago and down through Washington, DC finishing in Greenville - CLICK HERE FOR CITIES
The itinerary is remarkable CLICK HERE TO VIEW WHAT THEY DO

This journey defines what I love about Judiasm. It is not about telling Jews what to think but instead it teaches how to think and more importantly how to question the status quo.

The Etgar 36 Dallas stop included a JFK exploration at the Sixth Floor Museum and Conspiracy Museum. They also met with a right to life organization and later in another city they will meet with NARAL, a pro-choice organization. These curious teens will experience first hand the rhetoric and be equipped to make up their own minds.

Beth El Binah: Here is a description from their website CLICK HERE FOR WEBSITE
Beth El Binah is a Reform Jewish Congregation welcoming people of all backgrounds. We recognize that all men and women are created in b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. In Hebrew, Beth El Binah means “house of an Understanding God.”

Beth El Binah was founded as a synagogue with an outreach to the GLBT community. We became a congregation in 1989 and joined with the Union of Reform Judaism in 1992. Today we have a very diverse membership which reflects the evolution of our community.

The Etgar 36 group was hosted by Beth El Binah Friday night for Shabbat dinner, service and a spectacularly candid discussion about marriage equality and challenges in the GLBT community. Later in the trip these kids will hear from a group that is against marriage equality - again supporting the notion of educating young minds with all viewpoints to empower them to stand up for their chosen beliefs.

Commuter Husband, Oldest Son, Youngest Son and I Were There Friday Night. We attended with another Temple Emanu-El family whose son is an 11th grader at our kids' same school, who are in our Chavurah group and who know one of the Etgar 36 boys (from NY) participating. I learned about Etgar 36 in a Tablet magazine article and a series of coincidences led us to be together this July 4th.

The group of 50-60 sat in a crooked circle at the Oaklawn community center as we celebrated with a short Shabbat service. Even in this simple setting, the prayers and songs of our Reform Judaism created a comforting connection.  After the service, listening to the vibrant and colorful discussion about GLBT issues of the day was sad, encouraging, infuriating, informative, surprising, racy and often humorous. We were privileged to be part of this learning experience. Open minds create open hearts.

Ark holding the Torah and Ner Tamid (Eternal Light)
Saturday - July 5th

Saturday brought another kind of exceptional adventure. Commuter Husband and I took the boys and 3 of their friends to Burger's Lake in Fort Worth CLICK HERE FOR WEBSITE

Burger's Lake is a spring fed, sandy bottomed swimming hole with diving boards, trapeze swing, slides, picnicking, etc. I went there when I was a kid! It has not changed much. The clientele is not high brow but more of lower to middle class families having simple fun that families have enjoyed for decades.

This was a Saturday that was celebrated the way Shabbat is intended - cease work, enjoy your family and be in nature ...
Youngest Son jumping off the high dive - it is quite high!
Our 5 boys playing tether ball - see the trapeze in background?
Commuter Husband manning the picnic table.
Saturday Afternoon - July 5th

Commuter Husband to Oldest Son " ... that is what I love about your mother she takes me places I would never go ..."

My Experience Junkie alter ego got a HUGE Fix this weekend. I love, love exploring new ideas and places in the world with my family. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Early Adolescence

Yesterday in the car on the way to soccer practice:

Youngest Son asks a question but it was more of a statement "You had a good day?"

I respond with an actual question "Why do you think I had a good day?"

Youngest Son responds "Because you're playing the music loud."

I respond with interest  "So when I play the music loudly that means I had a good day?"

Youngest Son confirms "Yes."

Youngest Son was able to interpret my nonverbal cues showing increased cognitive development around logical inference. Uh Oh.

Tonight as the family arrives home late and prepares for bed:

Oldest Son says to all "Okay everyone get to bed."

Oldest Son reminds me in his deep voice "Hurry up to bed."

I look at him quizzically.

Oldest Sons declares "I want everyone to be in a good mood tomorrow. Everyone needs their nine and a quarter hours of sleep."

I look at him quizzically again.

Oldest Son more emphatically "You get up early and do not get enough sleep. I do not want you to be grumpy tomorrow."

Oldest Son has observed the impact of lack of sleep for me and is attempting to change a result he predicts will occur. Oh my.

I am now parenting boys in early adolescence (ages 12-14.) I am not just Mommy anymore. They are starting to understand things at a more complex level. And that parents have talents and weakness and strengths and oddities and on and on ...

I am scared and amazed at the same time.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

3 for 3

Youngest Son killed tonight. With Oldest Son out for the evening, Commuter Husband, Youngest Son and I hit the game closet.

Game #1: Beat the Parents
Beat the Parents is a question and answer game where you move forward with each question answered correctly. There are different kinds of questions for the kids and the parents, of course. Youngest Son trounced us and indeed Beat the Parents.

Playing Beat the Parents on the bed in our bedroom since all other rooms are out of commission due to remodel - not ideal but comfortable.
Game #2: Stratego
Commuter Husband went one and one with Youngest Son. Once again Youngest Son came up victorious. I asked Youngest Son how he beat Daddy in Stratego and he confidently replied "I'm just better than him." True.
Stratego placed strategically in game closet - ha!
Game #3 Clue
Now this is My Game. I have been playing Clue since I was Youngest Son's age (yes I played 37 years ago!) We carefully gathered our clues. I had it narrowed down to two in each category. I was afraid Youngest Son might have the mystery solved. I took a chance and preempted him by declaring "Mrs. Peacock with the Rope in the Study." Darn it - it was Professor Plum. Within two turns, Youngest Son won. Again.
Youngest Son moving Mr. Green towards the Conservatory. Youngest Son approaches each turn with dramatic flair and an occasional accent as well!
Needless to say, Youngest Son was smiling like a Cheshire cat with his 3 for 3 win record tonight. Note we are way too competitive in this house to throw any games his way thus all his fair and square. Well played.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Camping with the Prius!

It is a significant day for Commuter Family. We are making our first camping trip in the Prius V. We have all four family members and our stuff for two days of Yurt camping at Lake DeGray, Arkansas in the back of the Prius. Last time we did this trip, we had our trusty Ford Expedition packed full! Our new bike rack did not get here in time but not stressing over it.

AND we only left 50 minutes past our desired departure time. AND Commuter Husband and I did not have a major marriage meltdown. AND all that when I have only slept 7 hours in the past 48 hours which typically shortens my fuse.

AND we have 13 fried pies from Baker's Ribs! I am so ready to unplug for a couple of days.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Click, Click, Click

On Monday mornings at around 3am, I am awakened to the sound of hard soled shoes on the wood floor: click, click, click. In my groggy state, it takes me a moment to figure out what is happening. Then I remember, it is Commuter Husband leaving for Houston. He is attempting to arrive in his Houston office by 8am to start his workday. I reach over to the empty side of the bed and confirm he is not there.

I have a series of emotions run through me at that moment. I am grateful that he has stayed a third night and is willing to leave at the ridiculously early hour. I snuggle deeper in my comfortable bed and I am glad to not be up at that moment. I have a tiny wave of sadness jolt through me although it passes as I start to think about the busy day and week ahead of me. I reach over to set the alarm and I go back to sleep for a couple more hours.

Being a Commuter Family is not easy. The trade offs we make require tough, adult choices. We do the best we can with our talents, our baggage, our priorities and our situation.

Click, click, click: the Sound of Commuter Husband's Love for his Family.

Commuter Husband snuggles with Oldest Son and Youngest Son as he has Father's Day breakfast in bed. The leftover lasagna was made by Youngest Son earlier in the week. The cards are hand made and written from the heart by the boys. The magazines cover Commuter Husband's interests: cooking (Cooking Light), beer (D Magazine) and music (Rolling Stone special mag on Bob Marley.) Bob Marley said "Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet." We do try to feel it ...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Glimpse of NOLA

We concluded our vacation with a Saturday night stop in New Orleans. Apparently, Commuter Husband and I have never been there together – really must go back without minors.


Our first stop was Felix’s on Iberville St. Our wait was short even though there was a line already out the door. We went for the obvious food choice: Char-grilled Oysters sitting in a huge pool of butter. Commuter Husband, Oldest Son and Youngest Son gobbled up a dozen and then Oldest Son ordered another dozen for him! We added Turtle Soup, Crawfish Etouffee, Red Beans & Rice and Fried Pickles. And the obvious desert choice was beignets at Café Du Monde. Oldest Son and Youngest Son were impressed with the powered sugar volume!

Across from Acme and so good! 
Three oysters left and some bread to sop up the butter gravy!
Cafe au lait, beignets, hot chocolate, milk and coffee for Commuter Family.

We did brave Bourbon Street with the boys since it was still daylight. I am afraid they received some questionable exposure – perhaps the “banana shaped body part” strapped to the foreheads of two young men was uh, um, hmmm … slightly embarrassing for me and obviously funny to my male companions. We also saw several brass bands leading the way for celebrations, a big ass beer (yes that was what the glass said exactly) and a silver painted man (head to toe) who flipped off a passerbyer.

It was at this point that we quickly turned off Bourbon Street and onto St. Charles to walk through Jackson Square. A full wedding party was coming out of the Saint Louis Cathedral and with another full brass band leading the way. Youngest Son wanted his fortune told but $30 was more than he was willing to spend.

We wrapped up our evening browsing through Peaches Records. Youngest Son wanted the $31 Queen record but settled for the $10 Bon Jovi CD. As we walked to our car, Youngest Son even caught some beads thrown to him from a party bus.

A 40th Birthday party dancing through the French Quarter.
Commuter Husband lived in NOLA as a child. He told us about meeting Al Hurt (middle) and Pete Fountain (right.) These statues are part of Musical Legends Park.
Commuter Husband and Youngest Son among so much vinyl!

This morning we headed west to the Laura Plantation. I highly recommend for anyone in the NOLA area. Our well-spoken tour guide educated us about the history of the Creole sugar cane plantation and owners as well as the slaves who worked it. We toured with a group of eleven Italians which was also interesting. Each member of Commuter Family enjoyed the outing.

The Creole style plantation built in in 1804 on 12,000 acres.
Guillaume Duparc and his wife Nanette started the plantation and its four generations of owners.
Oldest Son and Commuter Husband looking at the family tree inside the house.
Oldest Son looking over the back of the plantation and the original kitchen buildings.
Youngest Son chatting with an Italian who flew into Houston from Italy. They are walking toward the kitchen gardens.
Oldest Son and Commuter Husband reading the Code Noir decree passed by France's King Louis  XIV.  The Code Noir defined slavery conditions in the French Colonial Empire such as all slaves must be baptized as Roman Catholics.
Youngest Son and Oldest Son entering a slave cabin and looking at the sugar cane fields. These slave cabins were inhabited until 1977 by descendants!  
Youngest Son asking tour guide about slavery and trying to understand the concept that many were not really free after Civil War. Sharecroppers made $12 per year thus had no immediate way to escape poverty and the plantation. 
Of course Youngest Son wanted a Creole Cookbook!
Pecan tree between plantation and Mississippi River (levy in background.) Beautiful.