The Test

56750d678ee6c-imageFridays in the fall always meant one thing to me. There would be a test in on of my classes and a test of our school’s football team on the gridiron later that night. I was always feeling exhausted after a long week of assignments and high expectations from my teachers. Even though I was a Hermione of sorts when it came to academics I just wanted to get through the educational part of the day as quickly as possible and move on to the possibilities of the weekend, a time for taking a deep breath and avoiding the stress of study if only for a moment.

My school didn’t have a band but we did have an all girls drill team with a drum and bugle corps. It was considered a big thing to belong, a way of forming endearing friendships and being part of something revered by the student body. Surprisingly I wasn’t a member of the group. My decision was a huge disappointment to my mother.

My mom had spent money that she didn’t have to provide me with baton twirling lessons from the time that I was in the third grade. In my middle school years I had performed as a twirler in the drill squad and had eventually risen to the rank of Captain. Mama had assumed that I would continue the quest to become the drum major in high school but in an uncharacteristic fit of rebellion I had refused to try out for one of the coveted twirling positions and had instead chosen to become a lowly marcher on the team. Due to my then diminutive size I was in the very last row of performers, a kind of afterthought.

My downfall from the glory of leading the group as a twirler was more than my dear mother could handle and she announced that if I wanted to be on the team I would have to find a way to pay the fees and attend the practices on my own. Since I barely had enough money saved to purchase the many school supplies that I needed it became quickly apparent that I would have to drop out of the coveted drill team group and become a nameless member of the horde of students that freely trolled the stands under the Friday night lights. I chose the unconventional road and it ended up being not so bad after all.

I never had a car or a driver’s license. Such luxuries were not included in our very tight family budget. I bummed rides to the football games with anyone that I could find and thoroughly enjoyed our free and easy excursions. We had no uniform code or rules. We were just out and about for the evening. We’d crank up the volume on the radio which was always tuned to the popular stations of the time and rock to the songs of The Beach Boys and The Animals. We’d laugh and sing and swear that on this night our team was going to topple the opponents. We’d whisper our hopes of encountering  certain male someones from our classes and scoring romantic conquests of our own. It was all so glorious and magical.

Our football team always tried but never ranked with the greats around our state of Texas. I went to a Catholic school that was rather small by public school standards. Our arch rival was St. Thomas High School, an all boys institution that prided itself in both academics and a championship athletic program. During my high school years they dominated football, winning the state title several times. Still with the optimism that was mine in my innocence I always dreamed that my team would one day be David to the St. Thomas Goliath. It never happened but it was fun to keep the faith and cheer for our guys even in the face of defeat.

I was an enthusiastic supporter of my classmates who braved the gridiron. I saw them as superheroes, young lions strutting their physical acumen. I yelled so long and hard at those games that I often returned home with a voice so weak that I was barely able to relate my adventures to my mom. I never scored with any of the guys with whom I self consciously flirted even though I often tried. I should have been disappointed by so many of those Friday nights but instead I remember them as being the highlight of my week. Win or lose it was glorious to shed the stresses of studying and taking tests and just hang out with friends. Screaming for my team and laughing at the antics of my fellow students freed the pent up frustrations and emotions associated with my attempts to successfully meet the sometimes daunting demands of my teachers.

Our football team’s most successful year came when I was a senior. For a brief moment I imagined that we might actually topple the might St. Thomas Eagles but that was not going to happen. Back then I had no idea that I would one day meet a young man from St. Thomas who would steal my heart and teach me how to love my one time foes. We would become parents and then grandparents cheering new teams and still enjoying those Friday night challenges that light up entire towns across Texas on cool fall evenings.

Tonight we’ll be at the Pearland Oil Rig stadium to watch the clash between Dawson High School and George Ranch. We will be torn in our allegiance because the kids in our neighborhood attend Dawson. In fact the young lady next door is one of the cheerleaders. On the other hand our grandchildren attend George Ranch.  We’ll wear the George Ranch colors and sit on their side of the field but in the end we really can’t lose because we have grown to love all of the young people who live around us who catch the bus for Dawson each morning right in front of our home. It’s a win win situation all around.

I rarely have any kind of tests these days other than those to explain my medical ailments. I have left the stress of long academic weeks behind. I am retired so even work is no longer a worry. I have new concerns over which I have little control. I fret about friends who are sick and suffering. I tutor my grandchildren and students at local high schools and middle schools and often think of them taking a critical exam. I feel a bit nervous for them when I look at the clock and realize that they are in the midst of taking a test for which I helped them study. I pray that they will remain calm and remember the ideas that we discussed. I mentally root for them as much as I did for the athletes who represented me and my school so long ago.

Life is the ultimate test of our wisdom, courage and endurance. As I attempt to make the very best of what will inevitably be the final phase of my life I at long last understand that it is okay to be unsure of all the answers and to lose from time to time. We gain as much from defeats as from victories, from mistakes as from success. In the end we are tested not so much on our abilities as in how we have lived and treated those who have walked along beside us. I’d like to believe that most of us have passed with flying colors.

The Ascent of Humankind

ad220478590first-lady-miche-e1474795934923I have always been a creature of habit. When I was still working I had to keep to a hard and fast routine or I would end up feeling overwhelmed. I told myself that when I finally retired I would become more easy going but found it almost impossible to live without daily parameters. I still generally follow a pattern of living not unlike the one that guided me for most of my adult life. I find myself measuring the quality of my day by the number of tasks that I accomplish. I follow the same steps both when I awake and during the waning hours before I retire for the night. There is comfort in the sameness at the beginning and end of each cycle of the sun. The things that I repeat over and over again provide me with a feeling of stability in a world that of late seems to have gone somewhat mad.

One of my morning quirks is to read the news while I eat my breakfast. I want to know what has happened in the world while I was slumbering. I know all too well what might take place in the dark of night. I have lived the nightmare of arising to learn that a loved one has died while I was blissfully dreaming. Waking to very bad news has happened to me and to my friends many times over. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that I have evolved into a restless sleeper, always on alert. I am thankful for each morning that I see the sun but also leery that I might learn of yet another tragic event.

Today I awoke to find that a shooter was firing at passersby at a strip center in my city. I am quite familiar with the area where the incident unfolded even though it is somewhat far from where I actually live. I have shopped and dined there. For many years I dreamed of living in the neighborhood near there. It is an upscale part of town, somewhere that always seemed safe and devoid of the problems that plague much of Houston.

The updates that kept pinging on my phone indicated that six people were transported to the hospital which luckily is only minutes away in one of the best medical centers in the world. The shooter was “neutralized.” The always very busy road where all of this played out was closed and there was a shelter in place for residents of an apartment complex located near the tragedy. In real time I learned all about an event about which I might have been ignorant in times past and I find myself wondering if all of this news to which we are privy is helping or hurting us. Do we actually have better lives because we are now able to be “eyewitnesses” to war and murder or is the continuous barrage of carnage somehow damaging our collective psyche? Are we becoming immune to the violence or is it frightening and inciting us? Is there a connection between the twenty four hour news cycle and the questionable character of the two people that we have nominated as the potential leaders of our nation? Are we indeed backed onto a dangerous precipice or is the continuous reality show to which the newscasters subject us merely hyperbole designed to keep our attention? How much do we really need to know and how much should we simply ignore?

I am as uncertain about such things as most people are these days. I take comfort in knowing that while we do indeed live in a brave new world that is fraught with uniquely modern day problems, mankind’s journey has wound its way through centuries and somehow we have managed time and again to continue moving slowly but surely forward. Time stretches so far back that it is unimaginable. Our history as people is recorded from thousands of years ago. Whether we take the Old Testament of the Bible for granted or view it as a kind of folktale we understand that murder, war and mistreatment have been a part of our natures for as long as we have walked on this earth but hope and promise of a better world have time and again guided us to the realization of our better natures.

I began watching a series on the history of India last night. It told of ancient Greek navigators who risked monsoons to sail to India in search of enchanting spices like pepper and cardamon. The narrator told of the development of the silk road from China and the earliest kingdoms that dominated what we now call the Middle East, Pakistan and India itself. Many of the places that became centers of invention, trade and religious pilgrimages still exist today much as they did thousands of years ago. Most of the progress and learning that prompted such adventures took place during long stretches of peace. When there was no war humans turned their talents and their interests to creativity and inventiveness. Sadly jealousies and hunger for power all too often overtook mankind’s better natures and brought violence that destroyed entire dynasties. Our collective story demonstrates a human pattern of renaissance and destruction that asserts itself over and over again.

We never seem to completely solve all of our problems even with our best intentions to do so. Sometimes events overwhelm us and we become swept up in realities that most of us would rather avoid. We become part of the cycles of both everyday living and history. Our hope is that somehow we will manage not just to survive the difficult times but also to become stronger and better because of our experiences. Our goal is to learn and improve and move forward, a dream that is at times easier to imagine that to execute. It requires the capacity and willingness to accept one another just as we are.

In a world that can seem cruel and unfeeling a breathtaking thing happened this past weekend at the opening of the new Smithsonian museum for African American history. A photographer captured a touching moment when First Lady Michelle Obama gave a big hug to a smiling former President George W. Bush. The photo shows a millisecond of unplanned, unrehearsed innocence and genuine friendship between two people who have often been scorned by the public at large. In that brief encounter lay the seeds of a better future, a time when we might become more capable of seeing each other not as philosophies or religions or nations but simply as the wonderfully beautiful human beings that we are. It is only when we can look past the slogans and posturing and opinion mongering that continually invade our space that we truly harness the potential for greatness that lies in each and every one of us. It is during the times that we grow weary of fighting and instead live and let live that our humanity most shines forth. That is when our most awe inspiring spirits have the room to soar and ascend.

I don’t know where we are in the unfolding our human history. I have seen both good and bad times in my almost seventy decades. In the grand scheme of things I am but an infant and yet I know enough about our human routines to believe like King Lear that we always circle back to peace and goodness even when we appear to be at our worst. No matter how bad things may look, we need to keep the faith. A new day will come. The sun will shine. A Leonardo da Vinci or an Albert Einstein will be born. The future lies somewhere in our midst, somewhere in each one of us, and it is good. 

An Awakening

deadbigfootwoundedkneeThe ultimate beauty of being retired is that life is no longer ruled by a calendar. Week days are generally no different than weekends. Responsibilities are minor. It is acceptable to run away on a whim. Thus it was on that summer day as we left Drake, Colorado intending to return home. Having no pressing obligations, at the junction that would have led us south we instead chose to head north in search of Mount Rushmore, a national treasure that we had never before seen. It was only three hundred miles out of our way, a mere five hour journey.

We drove quickly across the northern planes and into the wide open spaces of South Dakota. Our plan was to visit the monument in the afternoon, catch the nighttime presentation there, sleep in a local hotel and then make the return trip home. Of course as is often the case our best laid plans indeed went awry. A sudden storm brought a driving rain, hail, and threats of tornadoes, dashing our hopes of a quick side trip. Instead we decided to spend two nights and another day in the area, learning about a part of our country that we had never before explored.

The imprint of the native Americans who once roamed freely across the land is everywhere in South Dakota. It takes little imagination to visualize the great Sioux tribes following the buffalo and taming the wild expanses in the ways of their ancestors. The geography seems ill suited for modernity. It is wild and unpredictable, best left to those who understand its whimsy. It is also strangely beautiful and even spiritual. With the very small footprint that I left I at times felt like a trespasser. It somehow didn’t seem right to be gawking at the places that were once ruled by great chiefs like Sitting Bull.

We visited a refuge for the animals that had been the mainstay of life for the people who lived in South Dakota long before settlers came in search of new homes. We enjoyed viewing the Sitting Bull monument that is still a work in progress. Our time at Mount Rushmore was more breathtaking than I had imagined. Still something about our presence seemed wrong and I understood my nagging feelings when we drove through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and found ourselves at the site of Wounded Knee.

Following the American Civil War there was a great push to move the nation ever westward. Our military became engaged in what would eventually become known as the Indian Wars. Soldiers were sent to outposts far from Washington D.C. to insure that the ever growing numbers of citizens and immigrants moving west would be protected from tribes of native peoples who became increasingly concerned about the encroachment on land that had once been theirs to roam freely. The influx of people and the tragic encounters led to horrific misunderstandings and battles, particularly in places like South Dakota.

After the Battle of Little Big Horn efforts were made to broker peace with the native people. They were promised a huge reservation in South Dakota in exchange for acceptance of certain conditions. Many of the leaders were weary of the fighting and agreed to the terms but Sitting Bull refused to abide and instead moved further north with his people. Sadly when gold was discovered in the Black Hills the American government reneged on the contract, drastically reducing the available land for the tribes.

After a difficult winter in which his people suffered the ravages of hunger and disease Sitting Bull was forced to return to the land that had been his home and submit to the terms of the Americans. He was informed that he must accept a Biblical name, learn English, wear westernized clothing and farm the land on which he lived. The agents and teachers who worked in the area sincerely believed that it was only in assimilating to modern ways that the native Americans would ultimately be successful in transitioning to a new kind of life. It was a demeaning defeat for a once great warrior.

There was great tension in the area as Congress attempted to strike a final deal with the members of the tribes. They offered each man one hundred sixty acres of land and a paltry sum of money for the area around the Black Hills that had been so egregiously taken away. Sitting Bull wisely noted that as families grew the amount of land would not be enough to sustain life and refused to sign the agreement.

In the meantime a shaman had a vision that the Sioux tribes would rise to power once again. He told the people that if they performed the ghost dance in their traditional regalia their ancestors would make them immune to the bullets of the white men. Feeling desperate and with nothing to lose they began the rituals which frightened and angered one of the Indian agents who called for military reinforcements in the region. When the same man decided to arrest Sitting Bull for inciting insurrection one of the great tragedies of our nation ensued.

The inexperienced and frightened soldiers tasked with procuring Sitting Bull shot and killed the great chief and members of his families. When word spread many of the already angry members of the tribe rebelled and the troops reacted with heavy fire. Even women and children fleeing from the melee were mowed down as they attempted to escape by crossing the Wounded Knee River. The encounter marked the end of the Indian Wars and served as a black stain on American history as both sides argued as to whether it had been a battle or a massacre. Much later the United States Supreme Court would rule that the entire affair was one of the most horrific examples of greed and outright theft in the history of our nation.

I was stunned when I saw the simple painted wooden sign marking the site of Wounded Knee. Somehow I had thought that it would have had a beautiful monument designating the site of such an important moment of history. Perhaps the lack of pretense in marking this place was intentional because it struck me far more deeply in its humble reality. The land was as wild as it had been over a hundred years ago. It was rocky and dry, hardly the kind of place amenable to growing enough crops to keep a family alive. It exuded a poverty of spirit. I understood as I looked at that bleak area just how our government had murdered a whole way of life.

I was overwhelmed with sadness and a sense of guilt after visiting Wounded Knee in the Pine Ridge Reservation. The area was dotted with alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers. The signs of poverty were unmistakable. I wondered at what our ancestors had done.

We stopped for gasoline before beginning our journey back home. I stood in line to purchase a few snacks for the road. The mostly native American people who surrounded me were affable but there seemed to be so many who were not working on a day when they should have had jobs. They wore defeated expressions as they languished at tables attempting to fill the hours. I wanted to announce my apologies but knew that I would seem crazy in doing so. I simply paid for my wares and drove away forever touched by the knowledge of the unfairness with which their ancestors had been treated. I left a piece of my own heart at Wounded Knee.   

An Anniversary

Ellen and DanielFive years ago my retirement and my mother’s death coincided. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way but life always seems to be full of surprises. Just when I thought that I would be free to give my mom more of my company and attention she left this earth. It was a shocking turn of events and it took me a great deal of time and reflection to finally accept that the timing had been just as it was meant to be. Hers was a faith-filled ending to a life well lived. She fully understood what was happening and was expectantly ready to meet her God.

I suspect that she was tired and worn out from shouldering so much responsibility for so long. At a very young age she had become both mother and father to me and my brothers. She taught me how to cook and sew and played catch with the boys. She had to be our nurse, our disciplinarian, our source of comfort and security. Somehow she found ways to stretch a budget that was so thin that most women would have felt defeated. Instead she teased that she had a secret money tree and we need not ever worry. She bragged that we never missed a meal and that was quite true, but we often ate beans for dinner and learned to enjoy them as much as a juicy steak. She worked during the day and went to college at night, often staying up so late that she existed on very little sleep.

Just when her world appeared to be settling into a normal routine she was stricken with the symptoms of bipolar disorder that would stalk her for the rest of her life. There were times when her illness made it impossible for her to even leave her home. Her emotional pain created physical illnesses that were as real as if she had come down with a disease. Somehow she always fought her way back and began anew. There was never anything easy about her existence and yet she never complained. Instead she counted her blessings with a kind of radiant joy and often spoke of how good God had always been to her. That optimism was with her on the day of her death. She seemed more concerned with comforting her family than dwelling on the end that she knew was certain to come. She pointed to heaven and smiled. She knew that she was going home.

I felt a void in my life for many months after her death. I suspect that I was no more ready to end my career as an educator than I was to accept that she was really gone. I needed something to do each day and I was unable to find anything satisfying. While I fought hard to entertain myself I actually found that having those quiet hours in my home were just the therapy that I needed. I was able to look back on my time with my mother and forgive myself for the things that I should have done for her but never did. I was able to reconcile my thoughts and begin to focus on the positive aspects of my relationship with her. With the help of friends and family I slowly began to heal and adjust to my new life. I found a rhythm that felt comfortable and thoughts of my mother became joyful rather than sad.

Eventually I began to do the things that made me happiest. I went camping with Mike, tutored students who were experiencing difficulties with mathematics and best of all I began to write. I found great solace in my new hobbies, particularly in the exercise of writing the story that my mother and brothers and I had shared. I realized that my mother never truly left us. Her spirit is present in us and our children and grandchildren. I see snatches of her in each person, even those who never got to meet her. I revel in the love that she created and nurtured for all of her life. I feel certain that she is still with us when we party and celebrate. I will always be convinced that she sent my sister-in-law Allison to us, and most especially to my brother Pat. I think of how excited she would have been to know that five more great grandchildren have been born since she left. She so adored babies and would have been delighted beyond measure to see those little tots. I think that she would celebrate in knowing that her grandson Daniel has found a loving partner with whom to spend the rest of his life.

I wonder sometimes if she ever realized how much people loved her. We humans have a bad habit of hiding our emotions when we should share them. It would be so grand if we were to let people know how much they mean to us. The accolades heaped upon her since her death five years ago are too numerous to list. I hope that she is hearing them from her heavenly perch.

My mother is greatly responsible for the person that I have become. She demonstrated how to live by example. She taught me what is most important in this world and it has never been money or power or privilege. People and God were always at the center of her universe and she treasured them every day of her life. If there really is such a thing as saints then my mom most assuredly is among their ranks.

I’m still unable to spend a day accomplishing nothing without feeling strong pangs of guilt. I believe that I should serve a higher purpose at least until my body or mind sideline me. Writing is my favorite pastime but whenever I have the opportunity to help a child with mathematics or any other aspect of academics I feel especially elated. I suspect that I was always meant to be a teacher. My mother was the first to show me how to touch hearts and minds. The natural abilities that I seem to possess came directly from her. Those talents have been the most rewarding gift that I might have ever received.

Time flies when I’m having fun but I suppose that I will never forget that day of five years ago when it became apparent that my mother was going to die. I have played her last hours inside my brain over and over again. With time and distance I have been able to exalt in the glory of her passing. Everyone should be as blessed as she and our family were on that day and every day since.

I expect to spend this day quietly. I’ve got a date to take my eldest grandson out to lunch and I’ll be preparing for an upcoming trip to Boston. Life goes on just as it did after my father died. We grieve and then adjust and learn how to carry on. It is the way of the world. My mother showed me how to walk through the world with grace and optimism. I still miss her from time to time but I feel her spirit in everything that I do.

(Note that the photo included with this essay was taken only one month before my mother died from lung cancer. She always loved to dance. She told me that she felt very dizzy when she danced with her grandson Daniel but he kept her steady and she was quite happy and proud that she had that final spin around the dance floor with him.)

Life Is Good

blanco_spillwayI’m a died in the wool Houstonian and can’t think of any reason why I would ever want to leave the city where I was born, but as I sit in a wonderful campground in Blanco, Texas I do have to admit that there is something seriously tempting about staying in the Hill Country forever. The wildflowers are glorious this time of year. The fields are filled with daisies and poppies. They would bring a smile to Lady Bird Johnson’s face. We are only about twenty or so miles from her ranch on the Pedernales River and it feels as though I have stumbled upon a bit of heaven. It’s easy to understand why she and her husband, the President, so loved coming here to escape from the stresses of Washington D.C. Somehow this place feels thousands of miles removed from anything remotely associated with reality.

The Blanco River that runs through the state park where we are camping is full right now and there are already intrepid souls braving the cold waters to take a spring time dip. The river appears to be quite calm today but the siren at the ranger station and the flood gauges along the roads tell a story of potential danger. If heavy rains come too quickly anyone nearby will need to head to higher ground. The bridge leading into the campgrounds is level with the water and will be impassible rather quickly if it rains. In fact it was still drying out from the storms of last week when we first arrived. There is an alternative exit in the back of the park that leads to the main highway for use on occasions when a quick departure is required. The atmosphere is so serene now that it’s easy to forget that nature can be harsh around here.

Lately there has been a long drought in this area of Texas with some cities and towns enforcing strict water rationing, but at the start of last summer there were suddenly dangerous floods reminding everyone to exercise caution in settling here. It’s beautiful country but not for those who lack respect for the land or who are faint of heart. Just as the earliest settlers had to be tough to withstand the vagaries of nature in this rugged and rocky country, so too must those who think themselves up to the task of taming the land today.

Within easy driving distance from Blanco are a number of wonderful places to visit. San Antonio is just down the road. New Braunfels is only about forty five minutes away. Austin can be reached with a leisurely fifty mile drive. Towns like Kerrville, Fredericksburg and Boerne beckon with their quaint shops and unique dining experiences. The Texas wine country is rooted here. There are beautiful vineyards stretching all the way to Llano and Inks Lake. This is a veritable paradise for those who love to just kick back and explore the local sights.

Texas may have won its independence down my way at San Jacinto but somehow this is where the heart of the state beats. We visited the James Avery factory yesterday and I was drawn to a silver charm in the image of Texas that seemed the perfect memento for our trip. The headquarters of the famed jewelry maker sit on a sloping hill in a setting as lovely as the stunning pieces that the artisans create. It was fun learning the history of that iconic company. Mr. Avery began his work in the 1950s in a single car garage and drove around the countryside with samples of his creations neatly stored in a wooden case inside the trunk of his car. By the end of his first year in business he had sold over five thousand dollars worth of jewelry which was rather remarkable for the times. Now James Avery jewelry is treasured by generations of women and each piece becomes a beloved heirloom.

It’s difficult to decide which of the many vineyards to visit when on a quest to sample the wares. I have to admit that my two favorite wineries are Becker’s and Perissos. They have wonderful products and the ambience in both places is enchanting. Unfortunately I am not supposed to consume any alcohol until I finish taking the injections for my osteoporosis, which means that I will be a tee totaler for the next one and a half years. Nonetheless I snuck in a few sips yesterday and learned rather quickly why I am supposed to abstain. For whatever reason the wine went directly to my head without even taking time to course through my digestive system. It didn’t really matter because the scenery was so wonderful that I already had a buzz from sheer delight.

I find myself feeling a bit jealous of my youngest daughter who lives just a short hop down the highway in San Antonio. There are so many incredible places not far from her doorstep. I sometimes wish that I had purchased the house next door to her when it came up for sale just as she urged me to do, but I suspect that the siren call of Houston would always lure me back home. Soon enough the Hill Country lifestyle would become routine and I would find myself longing for the flatlands of Houston once again.

It’s difficult to explain why I love my hometown so much. It has no scenery even close to what the Hill Country has to offer. It’s hot and humid and too often filled with pesky mosquitoes. I suppose that it’s charm has to do with the people there. It’s where I get to see my friends and relations. It’s where people will give you the shirt off of their backs if needed. It’s close to the ocean and it is the repository of my history. I know its streets and its stories. I have watched it grow and change from the sleepy parochial city that I knew as a child. Somehow I love it in spite of its potholes and flaws. I will always defend it when the naysayers attempt to bring it down. They only exhibit their ignorance of the secret essence of the place.

Houston is a friendly city. People who live there are mostly good. We tend to be independent and nonjudgemental and we always take care of each other. There is no better representative of Houstonians than J.J. Watt. He might just as well have grown up in one of the city’s neighborhoods. He has the natural Houston vibe. I guess that’s what makes him such a celebrity in our town. We like our heroes to be honest and kind. We don’t have much patience with flashy shows of materialism. Houston is real.

I love that I now have the time and the means to travel. I enjoy leaving my nest once in a while as long as I always get to return home. The real beauty of the Hill Country is that it is only a few hours away from my driveway, making it a destination that I plan to repeat again and again. Have trailer, will travel.

Each afternoon when the sun sets in our campsite the ancient oak tree outside our window casts a long shadow over the warm fire around which we encircle our chairs for the night. We spend an evening gazing at the magnificent Texas sky, laughing and telling stories until the logs become embers. Then we retire to our cozy quarters where I never fail to sleep like a contented baby. I don’t have bouts of insomnia in a place as peaceful and lovely as this. Instead I say prayers of blissful thanksgiving and dream of the fields of flowers and newly shorn sheep that I saw as we enjoyed a day of adventure. Life is good and nobody can steal my joy.