Continuing the joy of backyard bird watching – through a window – with little red house finches.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To all the father’s out there – have a very Happy Day! And may God bless you and your families.
Recently, several members of our family took a day trip to Palo Duro Canyon just outside of Amarillo and Canyon, Texas. We hiked and played and had the best time despite high heat and several mishaps along the way. Since childhood, this has been one of my favorite places to visit.
Part of the plan for the day was to see the musical production of TEXAS. The Pioneer Amphitheater, nestled in the heart of the park, is a family favorite and a visit to Palo Duro Canyon is always more complete when we eat barbecue and see the show.
As we enjoyed our meal a few clouds along with some nice breezes moved in and felt great. After an afternoon of hiking and playing the adults were happy to sit and enjoy a cold beverage while the kids continued to climb the hills.
As it always is, the show was terrific. The lone cowboy riding across the top of the canyon with the Texas flag was poignant. The music, dancing, and singing were superb. The fabricated lightning and gunshots made us all jump – even though we knew they were coming – and the finale with the dancing water and lights was amazing. After the show ended the actors were gracious and patient while they chatted with the audience and posed for many pictures. Eight-year-old Claire was excited to get a photo with some of the main characters, especially Calvin Armstrong and Elsie McClean who were two of the leads.
After we loaded up the cars and began the drive out of the canyon I exclaimed, “This was a great day!” Hubby Ronald, looking in the rearview mirror, mentioned that our son-in-law, Leslie, kept turning his headlights off – presumably to try and see the stars. As we neared the top, and a good cell signal, his phone began to ring and our daughter, Krista, told us their car was acting up and they were losing power.
Limping they made it to the entrance where we were all able to pull over without blocking all the traffic behind us. Popping the hood it looked like it was either the battery or alternator. Hubby Ronald is always super prepared, the handiest person I know and incredible to have around in an emergency like this. We would be back on the road in no time….no problem! Except this time, with all the tools somehow the jumper cables were missed.
The traffic coming out of the canyon had slowed to a trickle but we began to wave our arms in hopes someone would take pity. Several people offered to stop but no one had the jumper cables we needed until a young man came along. He rolled down his window and told us he could definitely help.
As Ronald and Leslie got busy we began to chat with this nice young man.
“Did you see the show?”
“Um, actually I’m in the show”
“Oh, really? Do you have a part or do you work behind the scenes?”
“Oh, I have a part. I play Cal – Calvin Armstrong”
Remember Cal? One of the leads?
Mouth opened and foot inserted.
The good news – he had taken so many pictures with fans that he didn’t recognize us, either.
The car started and, giving Sean (that’s his real name :)) many thanks before saying our goodbyes we finally made it back to the house around 12:30 in the morning. Pretty much dropping dead-weight and deeply-asleep kids into their beds the logical thing would have been for the rest of us to follow. Instead, we ended up in the kitchen where we laughed until we cried and rehashed the events of a spectacular family day.
Car trouble resulted in us being saved by the star of the show.
p.s. – it was the alternator but a couple of hours under the hood and Ronald and Leslie got it all fixed. And, in the end, it was….no problem.
Well, maybe I should say…it wasn’t a big problem.
Coming up next – a day of hiking, hot temps, and more mishaps.
Maybe it is the time change, but my 14-year-old Westie, Lucy, woke up this afternoon and was feeling feisty. Lucy, who is mostly deaf and partly blind and spends most of her days sleeping wanted to play so – taking advantage of a pretty afternoon and the extended daylight – we went for a walk.
Cool temperatures, budding trees, blooming grape hyacinths, and one of those amazing sunsets turned a quick walk into an opportunity to meander.
These moments are always good. And appreciated.
In Texas, winter weather is short-lived and very temporary. Snow, ice, and messy roads don’t (usually) last very long before temperatures rebound back into the 50’s and 60’s.
I love Texas winters!
An urban amble on the Katy Trail in Dallas, Texas was an outing I immensely enjoyed. A 3.5 mile trek stretching from SMU at the north end to the American Airlines Center on the south end the trail offered an abundance of opportunities to enjoy nature and city at the same time.
We saw planes, trains and automobiles amidst very tall skyscrapers and yet, plenty of trees offered lots of shade. Several private apartment/townhome patios – that backed up to the trail -had water features or fountains and the gentle sound of trickling water helped us forget we were in the middle of Big D. Runners, rollerbladers, dogs, birds, squirrels and (bike)riders were too numerous to count. A patio restaurant known as the Katy Trail Ice House offered a scenic caboose and a refreshing variety of 50+ beers on tap.
It made for a good day.