So Little Guy needed some new shoes

Like any three-year old, Little Guy seems to either outgrow or wear out shoes within a matter of weeks.  It’s getting to Christmastime, one of those times where the kids get a little spiffier, so he needed some “dress” shoes.  When we were at the mall shopping, we stopped at that essential store for parents with toddlers: Payless.  Lovely Wife was looking around and pulled down a pair of shiny black cowboy boots.  “What about these,” she asked, “they would work, wouldn’t they?”  I got a big grin on my face and nodded my affirmation.  She had Little Guy try them on, and of course he fell in love.  They were right up there with his sneakers that have Spiderman on them and light up.  It was here that I informed Lovely Wife that cowboy boots were one of the coolest things for a little boy to own.

I think she already knew this however, because there was already a little boy in the house who owned a pair of cowboy boots.  One that is 35 years old.

tiag1

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But it’s not just the boots.  Somewhere deep inside of me, I yearn to be a cowboy.  I know, it sounds silly, but hear me out.

Apparently this has been going on for a while.  I was at my mom and dad’s house a while back, and mom had packed up a box of stuff from when I was a tot.  Curious, I flipped open the flaps of the cardboard box, and there was a pair of shiny black cowboy boots.  I didn’t remember those, but I did remember the ones that I owned when I was about 7 or 8.  Gray at the feet with black shafts.  Man, did I love those boots.  I would put them on, along with my jeans and a flannel shirt and my black felt hat that had been misshapen and recreased about a thousand times.  I didn’t have a horse (real or otherwise) but I didn’t need one.  I remember owning two cap guns.  One looked like a typical clip style that you might use if you were a G-man on the trail of John Dillinger.  The other looked like a Colt Peacemaker.  You can guess which one got more use from me.  Back in the days of the early 80s, it looked real, too.  It wasn’t cast in crazy colored plastic.  It was metal.  It did have a plastic grip, but it was meant to look like ivory.  It certainly didn’t have a bright red tip at the end.

Wild Bill Hickok

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Maybe it was in my blood (pretty sure now that’s not the case).  Maybe it’s because I grew up in South Dakota.  After all, at one time or another Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and the James brothers all passed through our great state.  Whatever it was, I wanted to be out there.

Of course as an adult reality has sunk in.   Not just the fact that the days of the Wild West were long over even before I was born.  As far as I can remember I’ve only fired two real guns in my life: my father-in-law’s shotgun (at some clay pigeons–which I was pretty good at hitting) and my brother-in-law’s brother’s AR-15 (which I shot several times at an empty bottle of Crown Royal without a successful hit.)  I have a Mustang, but she has wheels rather than hooves.  I couldn’t even be a modern-day cowboy.  Although I have ridden a horse before, just the thought of being in the saddle all day makes my ass sore.  The closest I have gotten to the cowboy experience is repeated watchings of my favorite movie: Tombstone.

Lovely Wife has helped me indulge my little fantasy since we’ve been married, though.  A few years ago for my birthday she bought me a baseball cap embroidered with “National Day of the American Cowboy July 26, 2008”.  Of course July 26 happens to be my birthday.  The real gift was still to come–later that week she escorted me to RCC Western Store where I got to pick out my own adult sized cowboy boots.  I have several belt buckles.  Never mind that some of them have things like the Batman logo on them.  This summer I purchased a cowboy hat from Cabelas.  A real fur felt job.  I’ll never be a cowboy, but I can put these items on, and strum my guitar while I sing Country music tunes.

I am sure not everyone understands.  Toby Keith does, at least according to his song.  I think Little Guy does too.

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I may have over-promised

I have learned that a crucial element of my depression is my energy level.  The less energy that I have, the more down I get and the more anxiety that I have.  Sometimes I try to combat this with coffee or SodaStream Energy, but ingesting large amounts of caffeine is not so good with somebody with high blood pressure.

Which brought me to Sunday night.  With two little ones and Christmas coming up, our house looks like it has been hit with several tornadoes.  Having a lot of energy, but wanting to just have fun on the weekend, I told Lovely Wife that I would clean the entire house in the next few days.  My exact words, in fact, were “If I’m not done by Wednesday night, you can literally flog me with a wooden spoon.”  She seemed pretty accepting and excited about this.  Whether that was due to a clean house or the anticipation of a flogging, I do not know.

Unfortunately, Sunday night into Monday morning I just could not get to sleep.  It was like my body was playing a cruel trick on me.   I told Lovely Wife as much yesterday morning.  She didn’t seem all that concerned, as I still had two days to make good on my pledge.  I laid low yesterday, my mood wasn’t too shabby.  I went to bed early.

Then I woke up today.  Let me just say that housework is high on my list of Things I Do Not Like To Do.  I honestly don’t mind the cleaning part.  I can spray, scrub, vacuum, whatever.  Even toilets.  But clutter just turns my anxiety knob to 11.  I hate picking things up, because I don’t know what to do with them!  If I didn’t have this problem, there wouldn’t be toys and clothes and papers and all manner of other things strewn about.  And dishes!  Argh!  When I said that I don’t mind cleaning things, I meant I don’t mind cleaning things other than dishes! And this is even despite the fact we have a dishwasher!  ARGH!

Mello, mellow, mellow.

Wooden Spoon 1909, University of Cambridge

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Even with an early bed time last night, I woke up this morning with not a lot of energy.  Mood: down.  Anxiety: up.  So here I am on the Tuesday downhill, and I am still just looking at things and fretting.  I was hoping that blogging my conundrum would help me get motivated.

Please pray for my posterior.  It may have an appointment with a wooden spoon tomorrow.

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An Early Christmas Gift

Surgery
Image by Army Medicine via Flickr

Let me set the scene for you:  Last December I had surgery to repair two hernias.  In June, I had surgery to repair a ruptured disc in my back (according to the surgeon, one of the worst he has ever seen).  This December came, another hernia repair.  Apparently things just come squirting out of all the wrong places all too often on me.  On top of these surgeries, I had visits my general practitioner, gastroenterologist, neurologist, nephrologist, orthopedic doctor, and psychiatrist.  Let’s also not forget the chiropractor, counselor, and group therapy.  Oh yeah–and drugs.  All of this on top of time off of work.  The long and short of it is that even with insurance, we were tapped out.  Bills were getting paid, but we didn’t know where the money was going to come from to pay the next ones.

A few weeks earlier I had applied to have the bill from my back surgery reduced.  It looked like either we would have to set up a payment plan with the hospital or with a collector, either one with a hefty interest rate to be sure.  Then, last week I got an envelope from the hospital.  I opened it, expecting a bill.  Instead there was a letter notifying me that the charity committee had met, and reduced the remaining portion of our bill 100%.  There was a detailed statement attached that confirmed this.  Total remaining owed: $0.

Here was proof in black and white that you don’t get anything if you don’t ask.  But more importantly, after such a stressful year, this was probably the best Christmas present that I could get.

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Faith and Prayer, Part 3

After being away at college for a while, I had settled into a routine.  St. Thomas Aquinas, which had become my “home” church, held a Mass at 7pm on Sundays.  It was a perfect time to wind down from the weekend and prepare myself for the week.  Although I had several friends who attended that service, I liked to make myself scarce ahead of time, because I liked to have the time to worship with the community while at the same time worshiping by myself.

Most of the congregation at this particular mass consisted of students, but there were other members of the Ames community represented as well.  It was here that little old ladies would start the tradition of turning to me as I was getting ready to leave and saying something like “You have such a wonderful voice!”  At first I would respond with a thank you.  Later I would respond that it was God that gave me the wonderful instrument.  Later still, I started to tell them that St. Augustine said that “To sing is to pray twice,” a phrase that I still use.

After the 7pm Mass, the staff would have “Church Chats”, where one of the priests or a lay person would lead a group of parishioners in a discussion about faith, tradition, ethics, etc.  For someone who grew up in an environment where things just “are the way they are” it was refreshing.

English: Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's B...

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The summer before my junior year, I had the great privilege of being able to travel to France and Italy with my family (my dad loves to travel and wanted to take my sister and I while we were still able to travel easily).  In Paris we went to Mass at Notre Dame, officiated on that day by a Cardinal (whose name I do not remember).  Having taken French in High School, (and of course with the conformity of the Latin Rite), I was pretty much able to follow along.  Going to Rome and the Vatican was an even more exciting experience.  Throughout Italy we had seen beautiful churches and works of art (e.g. St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and Michelangelo’s David in Florence) but nothing compared to St. Peter’s Basilica, or the Sistine Chapel.

 

English: Pope John Paul II on 12 August 1993 i...

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But the most exciting event was still to come.  By one of those “know someone who knows someone” connections we were able to get into Mass with a small group of people (about 30 or so) and Pope John Paul II.  Surprisingly to me, the Pope did not officiate the Mass, but rather was part of the congregation.  Looking back, it makes sense to me.  Afterwards, the pontiff greeted us all.  I was worried that I would be nervous and dumbstruck, but he was a very humble, warm, and witty person.  He asked us where we were from, and when we said South Dakota, he said “We don’t get too many from there.  New York, California, but not South Dakota.”  He also gave everyone a rosary.  I have never used a rosary very much, but of course I still have it and will use it on occasion.

My senior year, needing to fill out an elective for my degree, I took a New Testament class.  It was a great class to take, as the critical thinking and historical context added an extra layer of interest for me.  It was taught by Dr. Hector Avalos.  Dr. Avalos let us know early that he had a photographic memory, calling roll the first day without a class list in front of him, and subsequently calling out students that had skipped class, again without referring to any written class list.  He was very brilliant and thorough.  And he is an atheist.  This really troubled some students, and as a Christian, perhaps arguably should have troubled me, but it didn’t.  Taking this one class helped me reassess my own faith.  For a time I had to fall back on my basic articles of faith, and decided that I needed to scrub up a little more on my Christian faith.

After I graduated, I moved to Vermillion, SD to get a Master’s Degree from the University of South Dakota.  Here I was able to reconnect with some of my High School friends.  One late summer night, a few of us were sitting outside, downing some beers and smoking cigarettes (one habit I have thankfully dropped).  Perhaps inexplicably, we started talking about faith, religion, and the nature of God.  When I was walking home that night, I had an amazing experience.  Still ruminating on our discussion, I made a point to myself in my mind.  Today, I can’t even tell you what that point was (unfortunately) but I had an intense yet pleasurable surge of energy course through my body.  Not quite electrical, not quite fire, not quite ice, I don’t know how to explain it.  I do remember that it felt like it was coming from the inside out.  Prior to that time, my view of God was somewhat Deist in nature.  But here I felt as if I was being communicated with directly for the first time.  Or at least for the first time that I was able to recognize and acknowledge it.

Coming in Part 4, Back to Music and my Protestant Wife

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My Top 5 Christmas Songs

Merry Christmas (Bing Crosby album)

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OK, I am sure that every one falls into either one (or both) groups when it comes to Christmas songs:  you either hate Christmas songs or (and?) you have already read about a hundred of these posts.  But for some reason I just cannot help myself.  Typical of a blogger, I guess: “You MUST know all the minutiae of my thoughts!

But I digress.  Before I start, I have to point out that I just cannot get into Christmas music that is just about being in love, or with family, or Santa, or you know–anything that doesn’t have to do with the birth of Christ.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a religious prude or a Scrooge.  Many are even pretty good music, or at least very catchy.  I defy you to hear “Sleigh Ride” or “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and not be humming them for the rest of the day.  It’s just that most of them are extremely heavy on the schmaltz with an extra helping of cheese.  But there is one notable exception for me.  A song that I love so much I will make it my

Honorable Mention

“Blue Christmas”  Elvis wasn’t just the King of Rock and Roll, for me he is the King of Non-Christmas Christmas songs.

With that, on to the list:

5) Joseph’s Song

By Tonic Sof-Fa.  Although there are a few written from Joseph’s perspective (including a different one with the same title) there aren’t many.  Why do I love this song?  Parents, consider this: remember holding your child and having the gut feeling that he or she was going to change your life forever?  Consider holding that child and having the gut feeling that he was going to change history forever.   No video, but give it a click.  You won’t be sorry.

Joseph’s Song

4) Hallelujah

Probably the most famous choral movement of all time, there is just so much that I love about this song.  It is so quintessentially Handel.  I love hearing it performed live, and nearly jumping to my feet at the first couple of notes, as per tradition.  I have performed it so many times with various choirs that I can sing the bass part in my sleep.

3) Silent Night

So simple and elegant.  Wunderschöne, Franz Gruber.  Performed here by Bing Crosby, because you can’t have Christmas songs without Bing in there somewhere.

2) O Come, O Come   Veni Veni Emmanuel

Although I was born post Vatican II and never had to sit through a Latin Mass, none-the-less I have sung in enough Catholic choirs to have become aquainted with the Latin version, and I must say there is just something to it that burrows itself a little deeper into my soul.

1) O Holy Night 

Not much else to say here.

Some others’ (some serious, some humorous) takes on Christmas music:

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Little Guy’s Greatest Hits.

English: Uploaded from : http://upload.wikimed...

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OK, this one just happened today, but it is too good not to share.  We were getting ready to go to our daycare Christmas party.  Little Guy (now 3) and I were in the car waiting for Baby Girl and Lovely Wife.  Little Guy piped up with a question: “Daddy, what do you want for Christmas?”

I thought for a bit.  “Um, Peace on Earth.”

He pondered this for a while before replying, “Oh.  How ’bout a juice box?”

For all of those celebrating the season, I wish you a Merry Christmas.  For all others I truly do wish for Peace on Earth.  Juice boxes for everyone wouldn’t be so bad either.

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Summer Dreams

Aberdeen, South Dakota

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It’s not even officially winter yet, but I have found all these great pictures that had been seemingly misplaced in the digital ether.  I am already ready for summer already.  If you are from South Dakota or the near vicinity, you understand the redundancy of that last sentence.  Winter hits hard around her.  There isn’t always a crazy amount of snow, but typically once it is here, it is here for the long haul.  A few years ago we had our first snow on October 1, and the last one on April 30.  But more than the snow, it is always fairly cold, and verywindy.  If it weren’t for my great love of South Dakota springs and falls, I would have been outta here years ago.

I took this photo at Arnolds Park Amusement Park, Arnolds Park, IA, on 09/06/2009 according to the info on the picture–must have been the last weekend of the park season.  Insects don’t bother me too much (at least not as much as spiders), but I have noticed that the closer you get to them, the more grotesque they seem to become.  Not so with this dragonfly.  I think that all of his (her?) intricacies, colors, and symmetries make it quite beautiful.

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What’s in a Name: Inked Edition

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Window of St. Augustine...

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Earlier this year I waxed somewhat poetically about the names that were given to me by my parents.  Names (not just my own) still are somewhat fascinating to me.  I thought of this the other day when talking to my son.  Before he was born, my wife and I were leaning heavily towards calling him “Gus”.  My grandfather’s nickname was Gus, and it was one that not only we both liked, but would most likely be unique among his peers.   The only issue was that we could not agree on what Gus should be short for.  I wanted Augustine, after St. Augustine, the great theologian, philosopher, and church father.  Lovely Wife leaned toward Gustav because, well, she liked it.  When he was born we settled on a different name, but then it was suggested that we use Gus for a middle name.  The debate was renewed.  Finally, after several minutes of back and forth, Lovely Wife said, “What about just Gus?” So Gus it is.

Well, interestingly enough, often times now Little Guy will seem to ignore you if you use his first name, but pays immediate attention if you call him Gus.  Maybe it was meant to be in the end.  It will be up to him what he goes by as he gets older, but for myself, it turns out that I find myself calling him Gus about half the time.

That got me thinking about my own name.  In the Catholic tradition it is commonplace to give your child at least one saint’s name.  Alas, to this point there is still no St. Ryan.  My middle name is David, and while there are a few St. Davids, none are particularly well-known (King David of the old testament is not a Saint.)  This got me curious about St. Stephen (Stephen being the name given to me at birth).  I knew his story well–he is often known as St. Stephen the Martyr, as he is recorded to be the first martyr as seen in Acts 7:58.  I looked on the list of saints on catholic.org, and learned that St. Stephen’s feast day was December 26.  Most people would think “Oh yeah, good King Wenceslaus looked about, on the feast of Stephen…”, but my first thought was that December 26 was my parents anniversary.  Not only had they adopted a son originally named Stephen, but had also nearly named me Stephen themselves.  One of those odd syncronicities that I have run into quite a bit.  Curious, I looked up who feast day fell on my birthday, and found out that it was Sts. Joachim and Anne.  If you are unfamiliar with them, they are the traditional/legendary parents of Our Lady.  Interestingly enough, from my point of view at least, St. Anne is the patron saint of mothers.

Finally, today, I wanted to share with you my tattoo that I got a few weeks ago.  I wanted something that would be unique to myself, while honoring both my names and families.  With the help of Erin at The Electric Crayon, this is what I was able to come up with:

It is located on my right shoulder.  A couple of quick explanations.  I put it on my arm in tribute to the passage from the Song of Solomon “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave” (8:6).  While the narrator is talking about romantic love, I none the less connected it to love of my family as well.  The author is talking about the “tattoos” of the time, and their permanence, so to set oneself as a seal upon another’s heart was to make them permanently theirs, just as I belong permanently to my families.
Secondly is the letters themselves.  The big initials are the initials of my name, the ones seen everyday, by which I am known.  Inside those are inscribed the initials of the names given to me by my birthmother.  They are somewhat hidden, known to few, but still indelibly part of who I am.

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Found some old pictures and couldn’t resist sharing.

Seems like this is becoming a part time photograpy blog.  Oh well, I guess that is OK with me.  Here is a Canada Goose, Arrowhead Park, Sioux Falls, SD, May 2009

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Faith and Prayer, Part 2

By the end of my Senior year of high school, I started to contemplate whether or not I should pursue a religious vocation, namely, become a Catholic priest.  I don’t remember telling people that I was thinking about this, but apparently others either read it in me or had the same idea for me.  I remember sitting and having a chat with one of the teachers at my high school who happened to be a priest.   He asked me if it was correct that I was thinking of joining the Jesuit order.  How he know that I will never know, particularly since I am not really sure how I came to lean to that particular order in the first place.  The extent of what I knew of the Society of Jesus (more commonly called the Jesuits) was that they were well-known as educators.  Many of the famous Catholic universities are run by Jesuits.  I guess that appealed to me.  Many years later I would find out that their approach to theology and spirituality was close to mine.  Maybe that’s what drew me and that is what Fr. Greg saw in me, I don’t know.

I went off to college and mostly forgot about the priesthood.  My extracurricular time was mostly taken up by my fraternity, Kappa Sigma.  A few things did bolster my faith while I was there, however.  Right away I became a relatively active member in the parish that catered mainly to students, St. Thomas Aquainas.  STA had three amazing priests on staff, Pastor Fr. Ev Hemann, Associate Pastor Fr. John Seda, and Pastor Emeritus Monsignor James “James from Ames” Supple.  Each of these priests had unique qualities that complemented each other.  Fr. Ev was a very humble and spiritual leader.  Even though I haven’t seen him in years, he still continues to teach me.  Fr. John seemed to have a knack for connecting with the students.  Monsignor Supple had an avuncular manner, and was a font of humor and wisdom, which were often times inseparable from each other.

During my Sophomore year, our choir had the privilege of performing Mozart’s Requiem with the Warsaw Philharmonic.  Singing in what I consider a world-class venue (ISU’s C. Y. Stephens Auditorium) with a world-class symphony, what I consider to be perhaps the greatest work of Classical music–well I couldn’t help but be awed by it all.  Perhaps that was why the Rex Tremendae in particular touched me.

My Junior year I was once again feeling the pull towards a possible priestly vocation.  I got in contact via email with one of my old teachers and friends (and my confirmation sponsor, incidentally) from High School, Sr. Maribeth.  She seemed excited about the possibility and gave me a lot of advice, but the most important advice that she gave me was to pray.  And I did.  A lot.

After awhile, I was able to discern that I was not being called to the priesthood.  Perhaps inexplicably, I felt a sense of loss.  The best analogy that I was able to come up with was that it was like breaking up with a girlfriend.

But this was just the beginning of the ups and downs in my faith.

Coming in Part 3: Il Papa, doubt, a divine encounter.

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