Backyard Birds – Red House Finch

Continuing the joy of backyard bird watching – through a window – with little red house finches.

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Montserrat Love

Living in this crazy, instantaneous, social-media-driven, can’t-live-without-a-phone world these days can be distracting, to say the very least.  It can also be wild and wonderful, but let’s talk about that another day.  Taking time to disconnect for a few days – usually in the spring – has become an annual tradition of mine.  It’s both important to me and for me to do this.  The place I’ve headed to nine times now is Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas.

 

A place that is peaceful, tranquil, reflective, joyful, beautiful, and quiet.  It allows me to rest and just be, even if I’m ‘busy’ exploring the grounds, reading, journaling or walking up and down the 1/2 mile long drive.

On the days leading up to this time, the anticipation is always welcome and when I turn onto that long driveway and pass through the gate I can feel the tension beginning to ebb away and almost hear the naps and relaxation calling my name.

 

The retreat leader encourages all of us attending to let go of our expectations and agendas and to just enjoy the time.  Allowing God to lead us where we need to go while resting in his presence is freeing and takes the pressure off of finding the answer to whatever it is on my mind.

This ‘letting go’ has resulted in retreats where I did nothing but rest and other retreats have resulted in realizing things God was trying to tell me but which I couldn’t hear.  You know, because of how often I  allow myself to get caught up in the busyness of life. Either way, I’m enjoying the surrounding landscape beauty – both inside and outside.

My time at Montserrat has allowed me to experience thunderstorms rolling in across the lake as well as basking in the warmth of the sun while gently swinging in a hammock or a porch swing.  I’ve listened to the rain from a rocker on the covered lake-front porch and from an open window in my room as I lay resting while also being treated to an abundance of stunning sunrises in the quiet of a mesmerizing morning. I’ve sat in the dining room and spread notes and books out on the table in front of me while appreciating the view and writing in my journal. I’ve relished the many different varieties of birds as they’ve played, dive-bombed for fish, pecked at the ground and sang from the trees or birdhouses.  I’ve knelt in the chapel and prayed when it was so quiet the stillness was almost heavy. One of my favorites is sitting next to the fountain with the gentle trickle of water that is so soothing you can’t help but relax.  I’ve walked and prayed on the rosary path and sat in front of a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with his arms open. I’ve walked and/or run the driveway and circumference of the property countless times while marveling at the abundance of wildflowers and wildlife.  All of this leads to a reverence for the beauty of creation and appreciation of all that our Creator has given to us.

The retreat sessions or prayer conferences, as they are called, are enlightening and thought-provoking.  Each retreat leader brings a different personality and the ability to help us work through the Spiritual Exercises in a variety of ways.

So many opportunities to pray, reflect, read, write and be still.

It sounds great, doesn’t it?

Trust me, it is.

Full disclosure means I also have to share that this retreat is silent.  While I know that one element is a deal-breaker for most I would love it if more of us could find the time and, I don’t know…courage(?) to experience it.  In all fairness, too, silence doesn’t mean I don’t open my mouth for 3 days – there are opportunities to speak like offering the sign of peace during Mass or signing up to speak with one of the priests or spiritual directors.  I can also speak out loud at any time to God in my prayers – just not where I would be a distraction to those around me.

Montserrat has become an important part of my faith life.  I look forward to more wonderful, soul-refreshing experiences there.

If you would like more information about the facility or making a retreat here see their website Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House

Birds in the Backyard – Woodpeckers

Last week I shared some wintery pictures of cardinals.

Today, I bring you red-bellied woodpeckers.  I think.  I do not have extensive knowledge of birds and this is the best guess after – you know it – googling images.  As I said before, the pictures are taken through a window so sometimes they seem a little muted. At any rate, the fascination continues showcasing these birds with the orange heads and black and white backs.

Sunrise Surprise

There are weeks when it feels like the world is a little too heavy and the news a little too sad.  Last week was like that. The one year anniversary of Guy’s death and reminders that it’s been 10 months since the loss of Maggie (10 years old) and 7 months since Fr. Tim died along with the news of 5 additional deaths – 3 unexpected, 1 expected, 1 suicide – these made my heart hurt in a big way.

Luckily, I had already planned a retreat which offered me focused time to lift up the repose of all these souls and pray for those left behind who are grieving each of these losses.

How I wish I could take their pain away.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough to pray and yet, my faith tells me it is a great starting point.

Prayer – it’s such a powerful tool and being able to spend time with the Lord – disconnected from the pull of a million things that each day brings – praying for those souls and their loved ones, those who are hurting, those who are sick, those who gave me specific intentions and those I love and just want to lift up was a gift.  A gift to myself, to make that connection with Christ and, I hope, a gift to those I prayed for.

This morning I got up to see the sunrise but my phone said it was ‘mostly cloudy’ so I thought there wouldn’t be much to enjoy.  I decided to go down to the lake anyway just to enjoy the quiet of an early morning.

To my surprise, there was color in the sky.  It was like a little hole was opened in the clouds and I was amazed at how pretty it was.

Then, just like that, the colors exploded and became more brilliant and the oranges and golds turned to pinks and purples.

It was a spectacular display of color and beauty.  I believe it was a gift from God saying – I hear your prayers and I’ve got them. (all those I prayed for by name)

A little bit later the clouds, the wind, and the gray settled in and took over the day.

Thank you, Lord, for your gift.

 

 

Takeaways from a Parish Mission

Our church – St. Jude – concluded a 3 evening Parish Mission on Tuesday night and it was a great way to begin Lent.

Fr. Ron Hoye is an amazing presenter and his joy and passion for life and our faith is contagious. His reminders of what our faith should look like were an inspiration to the packed church he spoke to each night.

A few reminders (in no particular order and not complete)

  1. To be a disciple of Christ I should serve God with joy AND enthusiasm
  2. God wants my heart and my hunger for him
  3. God wants me to be happy!
  4. You’ll never find in the Bible verses that say, “I came so you could barely get by”.
  5. Why did Jesus come? John 10:10 says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
  6. Is what I’m doing putting a smile of the face of Jesus?  Even if I’m not doing it ‘perfectly’?
  7. Gratitude – for 25 days take a moment to write down 3 things and tape them to my bathroom mirror. As the sticky notes increase, marvel at all for which there is to be thankful. (no repeats)
  8. Sunflowers follow the sun throughout the day – always turning towards the light.  Jesus is the sun – keep turning my face towards him.
  9. The longer meat marinates the more flavor it takes on.  It becomes more tender.  Spending more time with Jesus helps to soften me and make me more like Him.
  10. God Moment App – random reminders throughout the day to stop and say, “Thank you, Jesus.”

www.parishmissions.org – serious, funny, inspiring, thought-provoking Vincentian Priests spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to all ages.

Mother Teresa

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

Birds In the Backyard – Cardinals In Winter

I didn’t know how much I would enjoy the variety of birds that would come to visit my yard when one day I decided to hang a birdfeeder.  I’ve been treated to robins, blue jays, woodpeckers, finches, sparrows, doves, and cardinals.

Every bird has been fun to watch and I’ve probably taken a thousand pictures, and I’ve decided it’s time to share some of them here.

Today, I bring you a few cardinals.  The males with their bright red and the females with more subtle color along with all of them having those little tufts on their heads.

All of my pictures are taken from inside the house looking through a window so sometimes they look a little diluted.

Roku Surprise

Surprise joy came in the form of a Roku TV stick.

Shortly after plugging(?) it in I was walking through the living room and an aquarium filled with beautifully colored fish and coral filled the tv screen.

What was this? Where did it come from? How do I get it anytime I want?

It was so vibrant and colorful and clear – it seemed as if I was looking at a real-life aquarium sitting in my house.

Was this live or was it perhaps Memorex?? (Anyone get the throwback to the iconic 1970’s commercial?)

I guess in today’s world I should say, “is it live or is it a CGI?

Whatever it is I am totally captivated and absolutely mesmerized. I can sit for quite a bit of time watching the fish. And, apparently, it has become a source of amusement to my family that I am so fascinated by the fish tank.

Just in case you are wondering – it’s a screensaver and it slowly scrolls back and forth. It takes about 6 minutes – of course, I timed it! – to go a full length. Not only is it wondrous but it’s the easiest aquarium ever!  I get to enjoy all the benefits without having to worry about the water temp, ph balance or what fish exists good with what fish.  It’s the perfect set-up, very peaceful and relaxing.

I love this thing!

Surprise!  My TV has given me the best of all fish worlds!

Nana and Donny Go to School

Visiting my grandbabies in Japan allowed me to spend a morning at nursery school with my grandson, Donny.  Mama Emma arranged it so I could see what his day was like.

Here in Texas, we have tornado drills but in Japan, they do earthquake drills.  It was impressive to watch these teachers grab a go-to bag with little helmets and packs.  After putting the helmets on everyone each teacher then strapped a carrier to her back and placed a child in it.  Then they held another child in front as they huddled on the floor.  All of this took just a few moments to complete – it was a marvel to witness.

Outdoor time was a walk through town to a park nearby.  Again, it was remarkable to watch the teachers maneuver the children and keep them safe.  Each child had an orange cap placed on their head for easy identification and for the ‘walk’ they rode in what looked like a big laundry basket on wheels.

Playtime at the park was pure joy and filled with laughter, squeals, sand, bugs, and a snack. Although, not necessarily in that order.

When it was time for lunch I was invited to sit with Donny and share a taste of each dish the children were also having. Everything from the salmon to the soup and the green tea was delicious.

A delightful day getting to share ‘school’ with my grandson.  It was a great bonding experience and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how the local Japanese did things their way.

Visiting the Tokyo Tots

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to join the grandparents club knows the amazing joy of loving (and spoiling) the offspring of our offspring.

I’m so lucky that 7 of my 9 grandchildren live 2 miles away. I get to see them regularly and I’m very thankful for that.

My other 2 grandchildren live 6,469 miles away in Tokyo, Japan.   I don’t get to see them as often. However, I’m very thankful for the technology that allows me to video chat with them regularly.

I’m also thankful I’ve gotten to see them twice in the last 6 months.

In December, our son, Joshua, brought his expectant wife, Emma, his son, Donny and Emma’s parents, Takei and Kazue, to Texas for a visit.

We enjoyed their visit so much and had tons of fun spending Christmas with them and showing off some of the wonders of the Lone Star State.

When Joshua and Emma’s new son arrived in April we knew we wanted to meet Baby Alan sooner rather than later so my husband, Ronald, and I made the trek across the Pacific to spend time with them.

Alan is so adorable and that furrowed brow?  I’m totally owning it as he definitely gets that from me, his Nana.

Big brother, Donny, is just as handsome and at an ideal age for discovering new things every day.

For this trip my main objective was to give – and get – as many cuddles and kisses as two little boys would allow.  Luckily, they are still very young and weren’t opposed to Nana constantly loving on them.

It.Was.Wonderful

Snuggles, hugs, first baby coos, new baby giggles, toddler babbling and a lot of laughter from everyone made for a great vacation and visit.  It’s not easy being far away – I love them and miss them so much – but the life they have created is sweet and I cannot deny they are where they should be.

Matthew 19:5 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’

 

 

A Day In Palo Duro Canyon

If I told you our recent outing to Palo Duro Canyon resulted in scraped knees, a sprained ankle, an attack of wind and sand, car trouble and temps in the 100’s you might be left with the impression it wasn’t a very good day.  But, take my word for it, it was.  Surrounding those mishaps was time spent together hiking, exploring, eating,  watching wildlife and a great musical.

When we arrived, our first stop, before going down into the canyon, was at the scenic overlook.  Rugged, simple, beautiful – that seems an apt description of the view.  Everyone enjoyed the scenery, the visitor center/gift shop and even took this first opportunity to meander down some paths and explore some old ruins.

Top of the Canyon looking down
Old dwelling just waiting to be explored
Leslie and Ben hiking

The sun was hot but soon, cloud cover moved in and provided a welcome respite.   With the clouds came a few rumbles of thunder and we searched the sky to see which way things were moving but, weren’t overly concerned since it seemed to be moving away from us.  We had been there for 15-20 minutes when I took the grandbaby, Colette, and stood on the path to admire the view.  Suddenly and without warning,  a gust of wind whipped the hat right off of her head.  It landed just over the side and got caught on a small branch but, between juggling her and the ‘big’ camera I wasn’t sure how to retrieve it.  That predicament was short-lived and ended up being the least of my problems because just a few seconds later the wind became ferocious and big, fat drops of rain began to pelt us.  Trying to run – into the wind – we were assaulted with grains of sand while getting drenched.  Trying to shield the baby and the camera from the rain and sand I finally made it back to the car where, luckily, the door was unlocked. Meanwhile, in haste to seek shelter five-year-old Gianna fell and skinned up both of her knees. Two minutes and two band-aids later all was calm again, and the brief storm both Mother Nature and Gianna unleashed had passed. The camera and Colette – baffled by the commotion and Nana’s antics – were fine.

As the saying goes here in the Lone Star State, “If you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes and it will change.”

Just like that, the sun came back out and we decided it was time to move on.   We gave the teenagers, Patrick and Ben, a moment to alert their peeps that, once in the canyon, there would be little to no cell service.  The anticipation anxiety of being cut off from social media required some deep breathing on their part but after a moment they too recovered and we began to make our way down.

At the bottom, it was HOT – about 111 degrees  – with very little shade.  Meandering the two-lane road we kept the a/c in the car on full blast while we took in all of the rugged beauty. Undaunted by the heat, we got out and braved the high temperatures to hike, play and explore.  And, drink lots of water.

Our first stop was to look at some rustic cabins that we hadn’t seen on previous trips.  We marveled at the Cow Camp Cabins and the man who, in the distance and in the oppressive heat, sat with his easel painting.

Rustic cabins with bunk-beds, a/c, and a fireplace but no running water.
Can you see the speck sitting on top of the hill?

Unfortunately, Ben stepped off the side of the asphalt wrong and twisted his foot. Immediately, it swelled up but since we had coolers filled with ice and drinks we were able to get a nice cold-pack on it quickly.  It was sore and swollen for the rest of that afternoon and evening, but the park hosts provided us with an ace bandage and that, along with ibuprofen and ice, kept the discomfort to a minimum.

Moving on we discovered a cave in the side of the hill so all of us (except Ben and Granny) jumped out to explore it.  The pictures tell the story better than I can.

Let’s check out that cave!
Grandpa helping Therese
Almost there
Success
What a view

Following that fun, albeit hot and steamy hike we stumbled across a surprise snow-cone stand.  Without a second thought, we overpaid for the luxury of cold, refreshing flavored ice and enjoyed it in the only spot of shade around.

Days like this make me feel like I’m the luckiest person on earth and I’m very thankful to God for the opportunity to have these adventures. I love my family and I love spending time with them.  Even though we were missing several members we had fun with those who could be there.  $$-wise we didn’t spend a whole lot of money but the memories we made – priceless.

I hope this summer you find fun, too.  Even when things don’t go absolutely perfectly.

Carpe Diem!

To all the father’s out there – have a very Happy Day!  And may God bless you and your families.