Saturday, January 31, 2009

Building Blocks

Camps Hope
St Bernard Parish, LA
January 2007

(In Louisiana, counties are called parishes)

The month I spent in New Orleans during my senior year of college, I realized one thing: every teeny bit counts, both in making improvements and in understanding a thing, a place, or a person.

Watching and Waiting

I admit: something about the tenor of this article puts the teeniest grain of hope in me, but my inner skeptic is still unmoved. I hope, and have hoped from the time it became clear he would be president, that I am really wrong about him. It's that hope, along with my continued creeped-out-ness* about the worshipful mass hysteria surrounding the man (and he IS just a man, folks) that makes me ultra skeptical about anything Obama does. It looks good. It's very possibly just for show. If nothing else, Obama knows how to work a crowd.

My seddling hope is somewhat stiffled by the end of the article:

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, said she ran into a GOP colleague who had just come out of the meeting with Obama.

"He said, 'He's just so impressive,' " Tauscher said. "I said, 'He's the real deal, isn't he?' But will he vote with us tomorrow? Probably not."

She blasted Boehner and Cantor for urging their members to vote against the package before even listening to what Obama had to say.

"Are you really going to listen to the people who lost the House for you?" Tauscher commented. "At some point, you have to vote your conscience."

First of all, I've yet to read anything that suggests the Dems are seriously questioning anything their Lord and Master has put before them. That's the same irrational, unthinking bias she's accusing the Reps of. Secondly, "vote your conscience"? Tauscher would probably argue she means, "Look at the bill objectively and do what you think is right." What she's really promulgating is, "Lord Obma said this. It has been handed down from on high. You fools, only through obstinate disbelief could you disagree."

But, I'm going to try and be hopeful and fair about our president. You're going to have to give me more time to get to that point with the rest of the politicians in the country.

*Yeah, you read that right. I said creeped-out-ness. If anyone has the authority to make up words, it's an English teacher.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Warren Eston High School
New Orleans, LA
January 2007

One Thing I Love About the Valley

The Rio Grande Valley is a thriving region, full of life and culture, and a hot-bed of political and social activity. On this side of the river, there's the economy, the border wall, and assorted other craziness. On the other side of the Rio Grande, there are constant struggles between the Federales and the drug cartels, a lot of which directly affects the people of the Valley because they either have immediate family over the border or cross daily or weekly themselves.

And yet, what's the top story on my Brownsville news feed?

Suspect Caught with Stolen Saw.

Wasn't doing anything nefarious. Just stole it.

Oh, Brownsville.

Kermit the Frog:Christian Bale::Clark Kent:Superman

I'm just sayin'. So is the person who created this website. Hat tip to The Year in Pictures.

*This is 95% kid friendly, but I'd look before I let my kids see it. If you want your kids to know you're looking at pictures of Kermit Bale, that is.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ginger Mint Julips

French Quarter
New Orleans, LA
January 2007

I'm Off!

Our school is closed today and tomorrow because the entire faculty (well, nine of the twelve of us) is going to a conference in New Orleans. Our school is part of the NativityMiguel Network, which is a very particular model of school. This serves as your notice of not only what I'm up to, but how un-secretly excited I am to be both out of school and in New Orleans. Yee. Haw.

I've cued up a few posts to magically appear while I'm away, including the picture of the day. They'll all be of my last trip to New Orleans in 2007 as an insignificant speck on a research team with a professor and some peers. This will ironically make my posting while away more regular and predictable than my posting when I'm home.

Back Saturday night. Please pray for my co-workers and me, and all those attending this conference.


C'mon. Tell me this isn't kind of amazing.

Hit tip to Fallen Sparrow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I don't think anything else in our nation is going to function as it ought or could until we, collectively, get our heads right about abortion and the value of the individual human life.

This ad aired on BET. It's especially pointed since the vast majority of babies killed by abortions are African American (Margret Sanger, founder of what is now Planned Parenthood, was buddy buddy with high Ku Klux Klan big wigs, and is on record saying abortion is a great tool for reducing minority populations. Tell me that's not seriously %*^&@$ up).

My Best Friend is Amazing

I need to brag a little bit.

My best friend, Becca, is in L.A. this year working at a Christo Rey school with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She's far and away the most genuine, sincere, loving person I've ever met who wasn't already a nun or still a small child. I often wish I could be a tenth as earnest as she is.

She's got a bunch of her kids runing the L.A. marathon (yes, she's also insane). The local NBC affiliate did a story on her and her runners. Not gonna lie, I cried a little.

Everyone should comment on how awesome Becca is. Aaand, GO!

Kickin' It Old School

I realized I have about 7,500 pictures on my computer.

Holy. Heck.

Well, they have to go somewhere, and what else is a blog for if not a little intellectual self-indulgence?

So, I'm going to attempt to bring back the quasi-daily photo. We all know I haven't been terribly consistent lately, but I think I can handle a picture and a caption. If I miss a couple days, may my detractors enjoy puffing up with satisfaction.

Let's start at the very beginning of the addiction I've prattled on about at length this week. Below is a scan of one of the very first pictures I ever took and thought, "Hey, that's kinda cool". My brother Alex, sitting on a fence at a rest stop somewhere in... well, I'm not sure where. Probably Washington, since I know we were with our mom. This would be... 2000-ish. Yeah.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Catholic Schools Matter, Folks

I don't believe I ever set foot in a Catholic school before I arrived at Saint John Bosco in August 2008 to teach there, but I very quickly realized that it was a very different environment from anything I had experienced before. ACE's very existence is predicated on the idea that Catholic schools are vital to the welfare of the country, never mind the well-fare of Catholic children. It was often said that our objective was not to take over public schools, but to fill a need public schools could not -- we aren't necessarily better, we're different.

Deacon Greg posted snippet of a New York Times article taking a look at the current crisis Catholic schools are facing and the measures being taken to stem this particular tide. Not surprisingly, Notre Dame's expansive work in this field came up, as did ACE's legendary founder, mentioned here before, Fr. Scully.

The Archdiocese of Washington was so desperate to save seven struggling parochial schools last year that it opted for a solution that shook Catholic educators to the core. It took down the crucifixes, hauled away the statues of the Virgin Mary, and — in its own word — “converted” the schools in the nation’s capital into city charter schools.

The Washington choice seemed to limn in its most extreme form the predicament facing Catholic education: How to maintain a Catholic school tradition of no-frills educational rigor, religious teaching and character-building — a system that has helped shape generations of America’s striving classes since the turn of the last century — when Catholics are no longer signing up their children.

“It was taken for granted for a long time that Catholic schools would always be there,” said Dr. Karen M. Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, a lobbying group. “People are beginning to realize that this is a false assumption.”

The Rev. Timothy R. Scully, who led the Notre Dame task force study widely credited with igniting the current self-examination, was more blunt.

“There is a window open, and we may have a chance to reverse the trend of decline,” he said. “But I’m not sure how long it will remain open.”

The rest.

My New Baby!!

Alright, so I mentioned I finally got that digital SLR I've been pining for since... well, a long time. Here's the abbreviated, heart-wrenching story:

My sophomore year of high school, I signed up for a photography elective, kind of on a whim. I'd always liked taking pictures, so I figured it'd be fun but there wasn't much more to it than that.

Little did I know those old hunks of metal would become my first experience of falling head over heels in love. I was utterly intoxicated by the magic of photography, of freezing light, of taking a person or a moment and holding it forever. I could wax poetic about photography for a long time, but I'll spare you. Suffice it to say, I was hooked. Photography is lighting in a bottle, and I wanted more.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had managed to collect three high-quality film SLRs (Moses, Jezabel, and Elijah, Canons all), and my hands were chronically chapped from all the darkroom chemicals. The frustration and triumph of exposing, developing, and drying the same frame six different times just to see what an extra two seconds in the developer would do was addiciting.

I started college as a photojournalism major. By the end of my first semester, I realized two things: that I was simply not naturally talented enough to get into the tiers of photography I would have to be in to satisfy my mania, and that I was not willing to do what it would take to get there anyway -- all my information told me being the kind of photographer I wanted to be was hell on your personal life. So I switched to education. At the same time, I became quite poor (yay, college!) and could no longer afford to support my habit (buying and processing film is expensive). Photography dropped out of my life for a while, until I got my first digital point-and-shoot (and the second, both of which I have literally used to death, both also Canons).

I resisted digital for a long time, both because the quality was not remotely comprable to film until very recently, and because I thought it was cheating -- honestly, I still think taking the darkroom out of the process kills half the fun, but I've accepted it's just a different kind of hobby. Finally, after months and months of saving and a very generous Christmas, I was able to get this Canon Rebel XSi. Her name is Guadalupe Luz, or Lupita.

In case anyone was unclear: I am a little excited about this aquisition.

Below are a self-portrait of my girl and a few choice frames from our first shoot, followed by a slide show of some others. On a side note, that shrine is our backyard here in Brownsville (I love the randomness of my life. I really do). Lupita and I are getting used to each other. I've had four other SLRs and two other digitals, but she's my first digital SLR. It's like learning to drive a new sports car when you've only had SUVs and towncars.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Has anyone else noticed the concurrence of big things happening this week?
  • Monday, January 19 - Martin Luther King, Jr., Day
  • Tuesday, January 20 - Inauguration of Barak Obama
  • Thursday, January 22 - Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Two things:

Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated not quite 41 years ago. That's not that long, y'all. My heart expands and my eyes well a little thinking that in just four decades, following centuries of slavery, prejudice, and injustice, our nation is now a place where a black man can be elected president. The fact that Obama-mania gives me epic heebee-jeebees doesn't change that; that it was even possible for any non-WASP guy to be elected is something to be profoundly grateful for, and I am. I like that his inauguration will be the day after MLK Day.

Second, on the flip side and back to those heebee-jeebees: Obama has set himself up to be the most radically pro-abortion president ever. All of my prayers for our soon-to-be president have zeroed in on this, and I hope to God he doesn't do the things he has promised to do where the unborn are concerned. At the same time, if we're going to see an end to abortion in this county, it's going to have to come from the "bottom up". Hence, I find it exceedingly convenient that the March for Life will be on the second full day of President Obama's term. It's a reminder to him and to the rest of the country that there are a lot of people here who are not okay with killing babies.

Who said, "May you live in interesting times"? Isn't that supposed to be like a dual blessing and curse? Well, we certainly live in interesting times.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The 500th Post, or "On the Gifts of (the) Spirit"

(I wrote this Thursday, January 15th, but am only just posting it now.)

It's 7:30 a.m. I just got to school, and I have already been to Mexico (yes, the country) and Wal-Mart today.

When I got to school, I took a moment and glanced at my blog feeds, discovering this really wonderful video Paul posted.

And, because I am not quite mentally... normal, to me these things fit together.

Fret not, I'm going to attempt to explain. First, I need to back up.

I finally ordered a digital SLR last week. The days following saw me obsessively watching UPS's tracking site. The UPS man didn't show until Wednesday night about 6:30, when we were at dinner. When the doorbell rang, I quite literally leapt up, threw my chair back and ran to the door faster than I've run in at least six months. I came back with my package and the jitters, and one of my housemates said, "I would never have expected that from you."

"Well," I said, "I've wanted this for years." I looked down at the beautiful brown box and shrugged. "I love taking pictures."

Despite my overwhelming glee, I went to bed early. Two of my housemates are going on a ten-day mission to Mexico in April as chaperons for their students. This weekend was a pre-mission retreat, and they loaded the buses in Mexico at 6 a.m., so I volunteered to take them over the border. In the midst of my anxiety over getting my Volvo back into the United States, I could not help but smile and be stirred: it was an hours before daylight, but there was so much life, energy, and enthusiasm on and around those buses.

This brings us to the part where I’m thinking about Beethoven (watch the video) and sitting back in my teacher chair, suddenly struck by the power of passion.

I strung these events together in my head, and 1 Corinthians 12 leapt to mind: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit”. Generally, that’s applied to purely spiritual gifts. In that moment, though, I pondered that those gifts extend far beyond the invisible, mystical spirit. No, perhaps I should rephrase that -- the invisible, mystical spirit extends way beyond what we think it does.

You look at Beethoven and what he did, and you see extraordinary brilliance driven by other-worldly passion. You look at my housemates the other adults on that trip, and my coworkers, and you see depths of dedication fed by unearthly patience. You look at a dork like me and you see school-girl giddiness inspired by an unending wonder of everything around her.

We’re not a body with a spirit, or a spirit with a body; we’re both at the same time. That’s why we take certain physical postures to pray, and why a song that stirs your soul gives you goose bumps. It seems to me that saying “the physical world” and “the spiritual world” isn’t really accurate. They’re aspects of the same world, like the up-and-down and side-to-side threads of a loom. You’re not living a full life without something that drives you. I know it’s a cliché, but clichés exist because they are often true.

God gives us gifts in the form of abilities and talents, of course. What good would those gifts be, though, without one other: simply giving a damn about something. Anything. Maybe it’s a Mother Theresa like drive to serve, or maybe it’s a love of marine life. Maybe it’s your friends or your children. Hopefully, it’s a couple things. Isn’t having the drive more important than having the talent? What has ever been accomplished without passion?

Beethoven had passion. Anyone who teaches, or works with kids at all, better have passion for it, even if it’s often shrouded under exhaustion and frustration, or get out of it. Parents are passionate about their children. Heck, even the relatively meaningless hobbies we have – taking pictures, knitting, doodling on napkins -- serve the purpose of giving us meaning. All of it puts a ribbon of significance into everything we do.

Which is kind of the point of this little nook of cyberspace. There’s a lot of theophany going on, both as vast, encompassing, and stunning, and as frequently unnoticed as the sky. I suppose I’m a cloud watcher. Sometimes things take forms and shapes that force me to take a moment and sit back in my chair, and just take it in.

Oddly enough, this time coincided with my 500th post here. Funny, eh?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere, Kids.

Not even this display of adulation can melt my icy teacher heart.
Me: ...Alright, you know what to do, so get to it.
(A few moments of actual, quiet, on task work)
Boy Student: Ma'am, did you go out a lot when you were young?
Me: (Ignoring the implication that I am no longer young) One, that's not exactly a polite question. Two, even if it was, not is not the time to be asking me personal questions. Get to work.
(Boy student and girl student exchange mischievous glances; I realize I'm in for it.)
Girl Student: Ma'am, I really like your hair today.
Me: Thanks. Oddly, my hair is not even close to your work, so I'm not sure why you were looking at it. Get to work.
Boy: Ma'am, I like your earrings.
Girl: Ooh, yeah, me too!
Me: Work.
Boy: Ma'am you're beautiful.
Me: W-o-r-k.
(Five minutes later, as I'm circulating checking on the kids. Boy student raises his hand and looks like he has a question.)
Me: Yes?
Boy: Ma'am, I love that shirt.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another Day

I love that my road home every day takes me right into the sunset.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

True Tales of Classroom Triumph and Terror

Two stories from two of my roommates. The first was related by an 8th grade language arts teacher.

Teacher: (aloud, at the end of her rope) Lord, please give me patience!
Student: (raises hand)
Teacher: (hopeful) Yes?
Student: Ma'am, did you know when you pray for something like patience, God doesn't give you patience, He gives you an opportunity to be patient. So right now, He's answering your prayer.
Teacher: (flabbergasted)

And tonight, as she grades geography quizzes, my 3rd grade roommate cried out, both incredulously and triumphantly:

"They DO know where the equator is!"

There's no job quite like teaching.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lindsay did it...

...and I'm a sheep, so I am, too.

Last week, fellow ACEr Lindsay posted some Picasa fun on her blog. Coincidentally, I had spent some time earlier that very day doing similar projects, which I now present below.

If you're out for a simple photo managing and/or editing software, I'd strongly recommend Picasa. It's easy to use, pretty versatile, and free!

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Wanderlust, I am slowly realizing, is going to rule my life. Wanderlust, and a love of photography, too.

I think most of you, Dear Readers, know my dad was in the Air Force for my whole childhood (coincidentally, until the day I got to Notre Dame this past summer). We moved around a fair bit. College was the longest I'd ever been at one school. And as a kid, I pretty well hated it. I wanted nothing more than to just stay in one place, to be at a school for more than a year -- to feel normal. To have roots. Such was not my fate however, and I bemoaned that loud and clear (my parents will tell you). As a kid, my plan was to nail myself to the ground and stay somewhere as soon as I could.

In high school (all three of them), I got into photography. I was -- and am -- enchanted by the play of light in all things and deeply touched by photography's power to impact individuals, communicate ideas and information, and make things happen. For a while, I was pretty bent on doing it as a career. The idea of traveling all over for a job and doing something important at the same time was hugely appealing. Before the end of my freshman year of college, however, I realized that I lacked two things necessary to do that for a living: the raw talent, and the drive that would make me willing to put my job before everything else, including family. You can only learn and practice so much, and you can only give up so much in favor of something else.

Funny enough, at the same time and I think in part because of my fascination with photojournalism, I began to realize that despite nearly two decades spent digging my claws into every place we lived and throwing a fit every time we moved, as a quasi grown up I had no desire at all to settle anywhere, doing anything.Instead, I felt compelled to reach both as far and as deep as I could. Every time I picked up an issue of National Geographic, I felt antsy. Those images are compelling, and they are compelling because they are of real places and things. Looking at them, there was a palpable sense of wanting to go... elsewhere. Everywhere.

This is how I ended up moving to Texas and living with nuns. My first choice was something more conventionally missionary -- orphanages in Africa and the like -- but I felt staying close to my teeny little siblings was more important. Thank God, too, because that year was far and away the best collective experience of my life thus far, and it in turn led me to ACE, which I am also loving. An it's how I ended up with roughly 9,000 pictures in my "My Pictures" folder in the year and a half since I got a digital camera.


I still want to go to all these places and see these things myself. I really, really, want to. And I'm looking at ways to do it.

Of course, I have almost two years left before I'm done with my current wacky life adventure (living, in an only half joking sense, in Mexico), and who knows what will come down the pike for me between now and then. The Spirit has had a clear hand in all the shenanigans I've gotten into thus far. I trust he's just cackling with delight at what's to come -- and where's to go.

I'm also hell bent on buying this, ASAP.

(All photographs from the National Geographic Society's Photo of the Day, a daily staple in my life.)