Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Debut as a Museum Docent

Maybe the first sign that everything was not going to go perfectly was that the secretary at the school  I visited told me that my name tag was upside down!

After ten months of training as a docent  at the Snite Museum at Notre Dame and the South Bend Museum of Art, I met my first group in their third-grade classroom yesterday. My assignment was to do a presentation on sculpture as an introduction to their museum visit a few days later.  Everything I needed was in a kit that the museum provides.

But the powerpoint didn't work so I asked for an overhead projector which also was not available.  Flexibility?  Improvisation?  Of course!  I held up the overhead slides with a white sheet of paper behind them and we made do!

Today I did my second two presentations at another elementary school in town.  This time we were able to use overheads and after a few tries, I managed to get the slides right side up.  We'll see how much the students remember about geometric and organic sculpture, the additive and subtractive processes in creating sculpture, and the various media used when they visit the Snite.  I, at least, have learned a lot!

It was interesting and educational to do the same presentation three times.  The teacher at the first school was so much warmer and involved than the other two.  She assigned a student to walk me back to the office and asked him to be sure to converse with me.  She was proud of the behavior of the students and subsequently told them she felt better about their taking a field trip.

But today one of the teachers left me on my own while a PE teacher to whom I was not introduced walked in and out.  That presentation was interrupted by a long intercom announcement awarding  special pumpkins to one person in each class.  Not surprisingly, that class was the most restless of the three.

I learned to manage the objects for touching much better by my third attempt.  Otherwise there was too much of "I didn't get to touch the heart, the dog, the marble, etc." or "She/he won't pass it on to anyone else."

We are "contracted" to do ten of these visits each academic year.  I have now done two and next week I'll meet my third obligation by taking four classes in a row through the museum itself to look at these sculptures.  I have loved learning about the art in the last ten months;  and this is the requirement for doing so.  It is a challenge;  it will probably get easier as I develop some experience.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Happy to be Home Again

We returned home last night after a six night road trip.  We flew to Memphis, drove to Little Rock where Jim gave a Hesburgh lecture to a ND alumni club at the University of Arkansas, and then headed to Vicksburg, Natchez, and Baton Rouge.  Our goal was to follow the Great River Road along the Mississippi.  Jim remembered crossing the big river many times as a boy and wanted to follow it south.

It turned out it was harder than we realized to follow the Mississippi River.  Levees blocked our view, marshes stretched for miles, and diversions in the river changed its path from the towns where it flowed during the Civil War era.   We were, however, able to walk along the river in Natchez, watch barges from a casino parking lot in Vicksburg, and see the mighty river spectacularly from the 27th floor of the capitol building in Baton Rouge.  We know now that almost the only lodgings along the river are casino hotels.  We were happy to stay in historic B and Bs instead.

I posted blogs with photos almost every day mostly as a record for ourselves.

The weather was perfect.  Jim's eye issue and RA issues never flared up at all.  He drove and I navigated and we did very well.  We learned a lot about Civil War (the War between the States), plantation life and the life on a tugboat thanks to Jim's conversation with a disabled boatman in that casino parking lot.  We visited the Clinton Library and saw Central High School in Little Rock. We ate catfish and BBQ ribs and lots of grits.

But we are glad to be home.  The colors here in Indiana are spectacular.  I enjoyed my strong morning coffee with my newspapers today.  I chatted with two friends on my grocery shopping trip.  The library had a requested book waiting for me.  Travel is great in its anticipation and its memories.  Home is good too!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On the Road with Jim (IV)


I needed a footstool to get into bed
The Stockade Bed and Breakfast was a pretty upscale place.  Our spacious room was full of original art work.  The upstairs rooms centered around a large open parlor--although that seems like the wrong word for its southwestern feel.  A very high bed miade me feel uneasy but it was the best night of sleep I've had in a long time.

We chatted with a couple from Winston-Salem during breakfast.  He was a former FBI agent who set up RJ Reynolds security before he retired.  She was a master gardener who curates the herb garden in the Moravian Community of old Salem.  They were interested in Jim's work and the Dead Sea Scrolls and were very jolly breakfast companions.  That can be a bonus of B and Bs; it can also be a liability.
Looking up at 27th floor deck

Another view of Jim viewing the river
After breakfast, we drove through the LSU campus and then on to the Shaw Center for the Arts where we viewed the river from the 4th floor terrace.  We walked along the levee for a bit and then drove to the State Capitol Building which seemed to feature Huey Long's assassination more than anything else.  It took two elevator rides, the second one in a small elevator (capacity 6 persons), to get to the 27th observation deck.  The view of the city, the refineries, and the river was wonderful but I am uneasy in open, high places like that.  We didn't stay long!

We arrived at a very new Holiday Inn Express in Jackson, Mississippi around 4:30.  Supper was pizzas at Manship in the middle of a large Baptist Health Center.  An artichoke and chicken pizza was interesting, but the fire roasted carrots were great--we did need a veggie after all!

Jim watched Monday Night Football and I got annoyed with the noise.  Eventually, he muted it, and then later I watched it too.  There is a need for compromising while travelling!


I'm writing from the Memphis Airport where we just returned our cute red Ford Focus to the Alamo Dealer.  We put on 994 miles in seven days.

We're very ready to be home but also grateful for safe and healthy travel.  And we are planning our next Mississippi River road trip--maybe the area around St. Louis and Hannibal during fall break, October 2015.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

On the Road with Jim (III)


We enjoyed another great Southern breakfast, Jim read his modern Hebrew with good vision, we packed up  and left Vicksburg, stopping again  for another look at the barges on the river before we headed south on US61.

We didn't stop in Port Gibson but did note the Presbyterian Church with the golden hand pointing up to heaven--one couldn't miss it!

We traveled down the Natchez Trace Parkway from Port Gibson almost to Natchez stopping to see Mt. Locust Inn, the only inn remaining along that early route, and then Emerald Mound, the large 8 acre earthworks used by the Indians for ceremonies as far back as the 1400s.

In Natchez we walked along the river--a rare situation where the city went right up to the edge of the river itself.  We walked to Natchez Under-the-Hill, a place of much sordidness 150 years ago, but now restored; however, it is still home to several bars and one noisy casino and not much else.  We stopped briefly at Stanton Hall, a lovely home dating from the 1850s, and enjoyed the grounds.

Our next stop was St. Francisville where we were able to get right up to the river only after wandering down some country roads.  I could have put my foot or hand in it, but it looked filthy.

The last stop on our road trip for the day was Rosedown Plantation where we toured the grounds, especially enjoying the enormous live oaks covered with spanish moss.

Our home for the night was the Stockade Bed and Breakfast in Baton Rouge, a rather elegant dwelling with six rooms open for guests.  We ate across the street at Sammy's Bar and Grill where I ordered Acadian Catfish and enjoyed it as an eating adventure.  I came close to finishing it!

We tried to drive down to the river to see the sunset but all we could see were levees.  We are learning that a road trip along the river means that sightings are rare.    If we wanted to stay in a place with a river view, we should have stayed in a casino hotel.

On the Road with Jim (Part II)


Our server at breakfast told us to be sure to try the cheese grits because they were delicious.  Little did she know how familiar we Yankees were with grits after all those years in North Carolina.  They were delicious and so was the egg casserole and fruit and biscuit and bacon.

 During breakfast we were entertained with a video of Anchuca Inn narrated by a former resident with a wonderful Southern accent.  After breakfast we toured the inn on our own, noticing in particular the Civil War memorabilia and the contemporary paintings by William Tolliver.  We stood on the balcony where Jefferson Davis spoke after his release from federal prison.

  Seeing the river and the boats on it was Jim's intention for this trip.  We should have realized that it is not that easy to view the river from roads with marshes in the way.  Even Vicksburg is not on the big Mississippi but on the Yazoo River, a tributary.  We learned later that it was originally on the Mississippi but the river diverted itself in the 1870s cutting off a large bend.

We drove a few miles to a casino parking lot on Mississippi and had a great place to view the activity.  We even had a guide--a gentleman who asked us where we were from and proceeded to tell us that he had worked on the tugboats for years until he was injured and went on disability.  He was delighted to chat and Jim was delighted to ask questions.  An hour later, we knew a lot more about the currents, the speed of travel upstream and downstream. and life on a boat (three meals a day and a bed and no place to spend money for two and a half weeks).  He missed that life so much that he just parked in the lot and watched.

Our next stop was the Vicksburg National Park where we watched a 20 minute video about the siege of Vicksburg and the eventual surrender of General Pemberton to General Grant on July 4, 1863.  We drove part of the 16 mile road through the park and stopped a few times at monuments and then for a longer time at the ironclad ship Cairo which was brought up from the Yazoo River where it had lain for over 100 years.

Supper was at the Cafe again where we enjoyed a chicken breast with a brandy-apple sauce, a potato casserole, and veggies.

Jim could not bear to watch the ND-FSU game so he went to the library to read.  He had to return for the second half when the library closed for the evening.  It was a great, hard-fought game but ND lost when its last touchdown was called back due to a penalty.

Friday, October 17, 2014

On the Road with Jim

Again,  these road trips postings are mostly for me--as a way of remembering our journey.

Up to Tuesday afternoon, we were not absolutely certain we could make this trip due to the flare up of Jim's eye infection.  But the doctor said things looked better and Jim knew he was seeing better.  He packed all his pills and eye drops and we hoped for the best.

Our flight was delayed for almost an hour in South Bend on Wednesday afternoon, putting us at risk for getting out of Detroit and into Memphis before dark--which was important for both of our driving skills.  The autumn colors from a plane's vantage point were beautiful both in South Bend and Detroit.  With a quick walk through the airport and fairly close gates, we made it in time. When we arrived,  Memphis was decidedly green but was lovely and warm.  The Alamo clerk tried to sell us a yellow convertible or a Cadillac but we were happy with our bright red Ford Focus.

The Doubtree Hotel downtown was free thanks to many groceries paid for with a Visa Hilton card.  We decided to forego TGIF in the hotel for something more local and we definitely found it--Rendezvous--on a side alley where Jim had ribs and I had a pork shoulder sandwich--sides of beans and slaw--and served within minutes.   Mine was pretty spicy and those endorphins kicked in along with my draft beer and I was feeling happy!

We walked along Beale Street which reminded us of Bourbon Street in New Orleans--noisy and crowded with open bars on the street.


We got off to a slow start and drove about 130 miles down I 40 to LIttle Rock.   We found the Clinton Presidential Library easily and enjoyed the 12 minute video hosted by President Clinton after which we perused the 2nd floor displays.  Many memories came back to us of those years--not only of the events in the White House but also events in the nation and world during those years.  We were interested in how the Lewinsky episode would be handled and, of course, much blame was put on partisan politics and the witch-hunting Ken Starr.  There were apologies for conduct however.

We took a break for lunch in the library's dining room where it took forever for our simple meal to come.  Eventually we were told it would be free because of the delay!

We went back to the third floor of the museum with its replica of the Oval Office and the memorabilia of Bill's boyhood and then walked around the grounds a bit.

We relaxed in the Wingate Hotel on the Riverfront until Jim Metzger, the Notre Dame Alumni Club host,  picked us up at 6 pm.  He and his wife Debra Baldwin, a dean at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock,  gave us a bit of a tour of the town--past Central High School and the State Capitol and on to the university where JIm gave his speech on the Dead Sea Scrolls to a full house.  It went well and he handled all the questions beautifully as always--including one about bowel movements on the Sabbath and Jewish expectations for a Messiah.

It was a late meal at the Old Capitol Hotel with Debra and Jim and Clea Hupp, a professor at U of A and a candidate for state legislator,  and back to the hotel by 10:30--11:30 Indiana time!


We arrived in Vicksburg around 2:45 after several hours of pretty boring travel. The roads were straight, the land was flat, and really the only thing of interest was seeing cotton in the fields and bound up in large bales.

Both of us had prepared to visit Vicksburg by reading "Under Siege,"  a young adult account of three children who were present during those 47 days in 1863.  The book was based on original sources including articles written years later by the children for Harper's Magazine.

Our destination, Anchuca Mansion and Inn, was built in 1830 and used as a hospital during the siege of Vicksburg.    Our room was in a row of rooms in the carriage house.  We walked around the town a bit looking first for Christ Church, where Rev. Lord preached daily during the siege.   One of the children in the book was Willie Lord, his son.

We were impressed by a large, attractive red building which seemed to have bars on the windows.  As we walked past the door the County Building next to it,  a sheriff getting out of his car greeted us--as almost all the passer-bys did.  I asked him what that building was and he replied, "You don't want to go there.  It's the jail."  He went on to tell us about the hanging tower at the top of 13 steps with a trap-door that let the unfortunate person drop several floors to the cart to carry him off.  He said that if the hanging didn't get him, the fall would.  I told him I had certainly asked the right person!  What a great story I got out of it.  Although maybe he was telling his fellow deputies that you wouldn't believe the story those Yankee tourists fell for!

We had supper at the inn's cafe and enjoyed shrimp and champagne caper sauce Tuscan grits with roasted vegetables.  It was delicious and we made a reservation for tomorrow night as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Forever Learning....about Football?

"A Ladies Guide to Football" was my third attempt at a class at Forever Learning, an educational venture for senior citizens in our community.  Last fall while I was still working, I signed up for a weekly ballet class.  The instructor was wonderful and called us her divas.  I found it very difficult to follow instructions and really did not enjoy the slow pace of the exercise.  I skipped the last few classes.

Last spring I tried Zumba thinking it would be faster paced.  So it was and again the instructor was great but I got bored and did not last to the end of the term.  I have concluded I am too rebelliious for group exercise and following instructions.

This fall I signed up for "A Ladies Guide to Football" and I made it to the end of the six week session.  Does this say that I am a couch potato at heart?  To be fair to myself, I did do at least six weeks of the other classes--but I would have gone to more of this one if it had more sessions.

Do you know what a nickel back is?  What the spread offense is?  Why the holder is sometimes the second string quarterback?  Maybe you do, but I didn't.  I am amazed at the complexity of football strategy and rules.  I learned a lot and have a lot left to learn!

There is much I don't respect about college and professional football.  When I see a large photo and article of a high school recruit on the front page--above the fold as our daughter would say--of the South Bend Tribune sports section, I can understand that these young men begin to feel entitled to break rules in academics and in life--even at Notre Dame where over 95% of the college players graduate.

But if football is going to be on TV at our house, and it is fairly often, I like being able to understand a bit more of what is going on.

Thanks to a great instructor, Nan Tulchinski, who even provided us with a tailgate party for our last session!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Bucket List

Last night a young friend said that she and her parents were traveling to Italy during the Notre Dame fall break and would see Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre.  I've been to Rome and Florence, but Cinque Terre--I've seen photos many times and I'd love to spend time there.  But it really is no longer on my "bucket list."   Why not?  It's a long overseas trip and it just may not be worth the effort to me.

I do, however, have a local "bucket list" and yesterday checked one more place off it.  Maggie, Chantal and I drove to Galien River County Park as part of our apple picking outing.   We walked along a boardwalk through a marsh.  We heard a very noisy frog calling out to us.  We climbed a breath-taking flight of stairs and walked down an elevated platform high over the trees to a lookout over the river.  It was so high that I experienced some vertigo and "faced my fear" as Chantal said by walking between the two of them.  The view was beautiful.  One had to appreciate the community efforts put into preserving the marsh and giving opportunities to see it from a great vantage point.

We capped it off with lunch at Luisa's Swedish Cafe (established in 1912) in Harbert and left with bread and pastries from the bakery there.

We travelled about 60 miles and spent four hours on the road and had a great experience close to home.

That said, I do have a deposit on a trip with a St. John's Abbey group in September 2015 traveling to Istanbul, Ephesus, Patmos, and Athens.  I'd go alone and pay a single supplement.  My passport is being renewed. I can cancel up to 90 days before the trip.  We shall see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Compassion directed towards oneself is true humility."

I found this quote from Simone Weil in a circuitous way.  Last Friday I attended a very well-thought out lecture by the novelist Ron Hansen at Notre Dame.  The lecture was entitled "Seeing into the Middle of Things: On Being a Catholic Writer. " Hansen quoted Weil to say that attention taken to its highest degree is prayer.  I found that a strange saying and wanted to try to understand it.

So, of course, I googled it and found a similar quote: "Absolute unmixed attention is prayer."  I don't have a feel for what that means either but another quote popped out at me and is worth my thinking about.

"Compassion directed towards oneself is true humility."  I wish I knew where in Weil's writings this comes from.    I have started Weil's "Waiting for God" and put it down.  Maybe if I try it again, I will find it.

In any case, I need compassion directed towards myself.  Sunday night was a night of insomnia.  Why?  Sometimes I know why; sometimes I really didn't.  I was sad about Jim's mother's condition when we saw her on Saturday.  I was concerned about the doctors' visits for Jim on Monday.  But mostly, I was upset with myself for my inability to just fall asleep.  There is no way to say it doesn't matter because a sleepless night causes a difficult day.  But trying to fall asleep does no good at all!

I know I need to accept this problem and be understanding and compassionate towards myself.  I can't always have the energy to travel and plan and scheme and go here and there.  I am humbled by my need for a quiet day after a needy night.

Friday, October 3, 2014

In a Peaceful Place

I can hear the wind and the waves.  There are still dark skies but the sun has come out and is shining on the whitecaps.  It is a pretty wild scene, not a peaceful scene but I am in a peaceful place anyway.

It has been an especially rough week after a summer of concern.  Jim has a persistent viral infection in his "good eye" and he has had unexplained severe pain and swelling in his hands and foot.  We may, or may not, get a diagnosis on Monday when he sees both the eye doctor and the rheumatologist again.

But today he has been able to see well  enough and feel well enough to drive to a golf course and play nine holes. He just texted me briefly:  "On six.  Fun."  I don't know when I have been so happy to know that he was able to golf!  And that he didn't need me to go along to spot the balls.  Or if he did need me, it was okay that I stayed back at the cottage anyway!

I feel the peace of being able to live in the present moment.  The eyes may be worse tomorrow, the hand may swell up and be painful again soon, or who knows what could happen to our 68-year old bodies next?  But today is a good day and one for thanksgiving!

Singing Mendelssohn

Last week Carmen worked with the student conductors only, preparing them to conduct various numbers from The Elijah.  The Notre Dame Repertory Choir had a week off.  One student I saw said, "You'll get a free afternoon."  I'm sure that was a bonus in her busy life, but I missed our two sessions.

Tuesday was an unexpected challenge.  I thought Mendelssohn would be easy to sing after the Victoria motets we had been doing.  It was a different kind of challenge.  One number had just two of us on the Alto II part; fortunately the other person, a young man, has a very strong voice!

On Thursday, after a rather poor night of sleep, I was so tempted to stay home and nap.  I had already made two trips to Notre Dame chauffeuring Jim and observing a group at the Snite Museum.  Parking is always a challenge and it is quite a walk from the B1 lot to the music building. But I convinced myself to go and I was so glad I did.

The words "Cast your burden upon the Lord" and "He that endureth to the end shall be saved" just found their way into my soul.  We sang them over and over again while Carmen encouraged the student conductors to watch their stances, their cut-offs,  and their eye contact but also to be aware of the beauty of the music and relate that to us.

It is 75 minutes of absolute concentration for me.  Sight-reading the notes, following the conductor and the markings in the music, matching my vowels with others, and ending my consonants with them--there is much to think about.  The sounds we make are beautiful.  It is a joy to blend my voice with these very good, young musicians.

I am fascinated by the process of Carmen's teaching these students conducting technique but also musicianship.  She is demanding but also affirming.  I feel for them as they try to respond to her suggestions on the spot with all of us watching and learning from their interactions with her.

I continue to feel a bit sheepish to be the only "adult" let alone "senior citizen" but I try to do my part and I do this for me!  Maybe one of these days, I'll act the role of the mother (or grandmother!) and make chocolate chip cookies for them.

When I got home again, and could rest a bit, it was impossible.  The music in my head would not stop!