Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mini-moon: March Madness

Our March mini-moon consisted of heading north - to Cortez, Colorado. Cortez is located in the corner of southwest Colorado, in the "Four Corners" area. What drew us to Cortez in mid-March? Dan was invited to judge the cattle show and youth livestock judging contest at the 'Four States Ag Expo.' Dan invited me to come along, since it was the end of Arizona's spring break.

I spent the beginning of spring break in Iowa (which was wonderful; busy; and too short). Dan had been with his judging team in Houston for a week. He got back to Tucson on Tuesday night; I came back on Wednesday night; we left for Cortez on Thursday afternoon.

Our route there took us through Flagstaff and then through northeastern Arizona....the Grand Canyon to our left and through the Navajo reservation. My first introduction to Arizona came in 1982, when my aunt Barbara moved to Arizona to serve as a nurse in the Navajo reservation. When my brother was born in 1983, she came to stay with us and brought with her a 'Tuba City' shirt for me. It was royal blue, with golden yellow ribbing around the neck and short sleeves. It had a rainbow-line across the chest and the words 'Tuba City.' I LOVED that shirt!, the place of 'Tuba City' has always held a fascination for me (no matter how many people here tell me it's not anywhere near impressive).
Unfortunately, our drive through this new area of Arizona was in the dark. (and our drive home was through a different route - more on that later)

When we arrived in Cortez, I had no idea what there was to do. I don't tend to do a lot of research before going places. So, over my breakfast, I perused the brochures in the lobby. I was delighted to find out that Cortez was once home to the Ancient Puebloan people and not more than ten miles from our hotel were some of their pueblos in Mesa Verde. In 5th grade, I did a report, which included making a diarama, on the Pueblo Indians. Since then, I have had a fascination and respect for them - and have always wanted to visit the ancient pueblos. Needless to say, I was BEYOND excited!

On Saturday, we went to Mesa Verde National Park. In early spring, there is only one area of the ancient pueblos that are open to the public (where you can actually walk onto the area/around the pueblos). It was a beautiful drive. Upon our arrival at this area, I got out the camera and started taking pictures. We hadn't even made it to the up-close-and-personal area of the pueblo and the camera battery died. ...and our phones were in the car. Whomp-whomp.

After leaving Mesa Verde, we headed to Guy Drew Winery. The wine was excellent! AND reasonably priced. The tasting room was just the kitchen of Guy Drew and his wife - creating a very relaxed and comfortable tasting. (Their house was beautiful - and very southwest.) We had a great time talking with "Mrs. Drew" (we never got her name; maybe it was Nancy...). She even had an Iowa connection - and went to college at Cornell! (If you are ever in the 4 corners area - we highly recommend that you stop in for a tasting. You won't regret it!)

Can you see the 'Mesa'?

Showing off my short hair...
While it looks cold, it was a nice 60+ degrees at the time.

Cliff Palace!!!!

Can you tell why it's called Mesa Verde? (Green Table)
During much of the time that the Ancient Puebloans lived here, they lived on the top of the mesa. During their last 100 years there, they started building the pueblo houses/villages in the cliffs.
Look like just a cliff to you? If you had an amazing magnifying scope, you could see that there are actually 2-3 cliff dwellings present.
SO COOL, people!!

After making the loop, we headed up to the highest part of Mesa Verde. Can you see the weather start to change? Not quite so sunny anymore....

Lots of snow! That was fun to see again....

The distant mountain 'range' is called 'The Sleeping Ute.' The highest peak you can see is his elbow, then his torso, things, knees, and you can barely see his 'toes' peaking' up at the far left. It really did look like a sleeping Ute. It's believed that one of the warrior gods was injured and fell here; someday, the Utes hope that he will rise again to defend and protect his people.

Dan does his thing at the cattle show on Sunday. It was FREEZING! (literally) Preciptation started falling as rain, then sleet, then snow...which was cool at first since I hadn't yet seen snow fall this year. Until we heard that northern Arizona had a major snowstorm dumping 14-22" of snow....

Many, mini-moons ago

In January, Dan and I decided that since our honeymoon was more of a honey-ride...and that we are living in a new, exotic land...we should explore this land that we now live in by doing/seeing (at least) one new thing each month...and that we should take some "mini-moons" (mini-honeymoons). When we can, we try to combine our mini-moon with our southwest-exploration.

So, in January, we headed up to Sedona for the weekend. Sedona is located about 3 hours north of Tucson; an hour north of Phoenix and about an hour south of Flagstaff. Sedona is famous for its red rocks, is located in part of the Coconino National Forest, and its vortexes. Hikers come here; spiritualists come here; 'regular' tourists come here.

I had purchased a Groupon for a one-night stay at a hotel that came with a wine-tasting voucher. The hotel was nice; the wine tasting was not.

It just so happened that there were 3 wineries located within a half-mile of each other. We went to the one that was part of the voucher. The wines were bad and overpriced. We went to the second (within walking distance). The wines were just as bad and even MORE overpriced. I was disappointed. I thought that surely there would be one good wine.... Not even the bottle of $45 "beautiful" wine (described by our host) was bearable. I describe this Sedona-area wine was "the wine that was offered to Jesus when he was dying on the cross - and he refused."

We decided to head back to the hotel, and then came upon the third winery - Page Springs. The grounds were beautiful. The tasting room is in an old barn that's been renovated to house several areas - an area to lounge - listen to live music, eat and drink, an area for tasting, and a large porch. Their wine was actually drinkable - mainly because they combine their grapes with grapes from California.

The wine was very acidic, had an undesirable aroma (no fruit, oak, cocoa, vanilla or anything else they usually say you can smell), and was almost on the verge of vinegar. We think that the wine was bad because of the growing conditions of the grapes - poor soil and too much sunshine.  [We have no idea if this is the cause; it is only a hypothesis.]

The landscape was absolutely breath-taking. What is so amazing about Arizona is the diversity in the landscape. As you will see from the pictures, the red rocks cause everything green to 'pop.' (because they are opposites on the color wheel - shout-out to Mrs. Leonard, my art teacher!) We went to the Chapel of the Cross, where we were able to hike for a while.

The weather wasn't great while we were there, so we didn't spend any time (seriously) hiking. It was overcast, rainy and in the low 50s. There was snow on the mountains surrounding Sedona, but we only got to see it from afar. The next time we go, we will definitely spend some time hiking.

We ate dinner at a great restaurant. The food was excellent and ambiance was incredible. I had read a review on TripAdvisor; it was near our hotel - so we went. It was in a strip mall, so it'd easy to write off as "lame." I am so glad we didn't! We both had delicious pasta and enjoyed the live music provided by a blues guitarist. He was incredible. It was very fun.

The next morning, we ate dinner at 'The Coffee Pot,' a restaurant famous for its 101 omelet combinations. It was worth the hype. We spent some time checking out art galleries and shops in Sedona. We found an artisan olive-oil and vinaigrette shop that was incredible. I think there were 25-30 flavors of oil and vinegar. If they weren't $15 a bottle, I would have bought more than just the safe garlic olive oil...which lasted about 2 months in our house.

And now - for the pictures! (There are none from the winery, dinner, breakfast, etc. because our batteries died while at our first 'attraction' - hiking at the Chapel of the Cross.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good Friday

The older I get, the more Good Friday means to me. I can't make it through a service without weeping.

The haunting chorus of "Were You There?"
The image of my Lord willingly handing himself over to be judged and convicted,
The vehement, hateful, blood thirsty cries from the crowd,
Creation recognizing the significance of the hour...

This lenten season hasn't been 'triumphant' for me. I would like to know if there are people who succeed in giving things up, or adding practices in - and the effect that being successful has on their spiritual life. Because, I am awful at it. AWFUL.

In fact, this year I recognized that I'm not really good at giving things up (and couldn't pinpoint any certain "practice" that would, if eliminated, bring me closer to God); so, I decided that I would "add something in." I decided that I would add in the practice of reading/praying/journaling 30 minutes before bed; technically, I would be giving up whatever I normally do in those 30 minutes (TV, facebook, pinterest).

Over the course of the past 40 days, I have been only slightly successful at observing that practice.
Instead what I realized about myself is that I am LAZY. I am unmotivated. I lack self-discipline. AND on top of all of that, most of the time, I'd like to just blame my husband for my lack of success in observing my Lenten practice...because that's how lazy I am. I can't even take the ownership of my own short-comings.

What did that lead to? A lot of guilt. A lot of realizing that something is missing in my heart...a desire that surpasses all others to spend time with my Lord.

So, on Good Friday, I came in with a heart full of guilt, sin, shame, and this recognition of emptiness.

In the first reading from Isaiah, I was reminded that he bore our guilt. Over and over in the passage from Isaiah, the description of the Messiah indicates that he will bear our guilt, sin - all of our iniquities.

During the service, I recognized that the man on the cross was my friend, Jesus. Unlike any other time in my life, I felt like I was observing the death of my friend. My friend, who willingly bore all of my sin; my friend, who exhibited all of the self-discipline in the world; my friend, who loved me enough to take my place. My friend, Jesus, who loves me for me - the lazy, unmotivated, imperfect, sinner - and the one who desires to do good, to inspire, to love to be more - all of me.  My friend, Jesus, died...and I wept.

I don't know what it's like to 'succeed' at your Lenten sacrificing. I do know what it's like to come up short (fail). I do know that on this Good Friday, my friend met me at the cross

I also know that I look forward to reconnecting with this friend....

Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Thursday

The concept of a "Holy Week" is pretty new to this girl, raised Protestant and a new Catholic. Protestants don't make too big of a deal about Good Friday - but certainly do about Easter. So, last week when several of my students informed me that they wouldn't be in class today because it's Good Friday, I wasn't sure how to respond.

Growing up, Good Friday was an optional evening service. Granted, my family almost-always attended and that observance was very special. I can strongly remember Good Friday services, whereas I struggle to remember most others. Growing up, the only time off you needed for the observance was from about 7-8:30 pm. So, as my students requested that day off from class, I wondered, "How is your observance different from mine?"

I admit that even as a Catholic (though, one year in makes me still more familiar with the 'old way' not the 'new'), I didn't quite understand why these students would need to miss my class at 10 am. I read the bulletin; I could see that most of the "festivities" didn't really start until noon. I was skeptical. Were they just trying to skip out? (I should admit, though, these are some of my better students, so I was fairly sure they weren't just trying to skip.)

Enter: Holy Thursday. (aka my Holy Week Epiphany)

Growing up, the Thursday before Easter was just a Thursday. In high school, we had a new pastor who brought us "Maunday Thursday," and we'd have a great big feast at church (with some amazing peanut butter pie) and usually have a re-enactment of 'The Last Supper.' Once at college, the church I belonged to treated the Thursday before like...Thursday.

Even last year as a month-in-Catholic, I didn't attend Holy Thursday service. Why? Because I was swamped? Had things to do? Because my 30-year-engrained Protestant brain didn't recognize the significance? (yeah, that one)

For my non-Catholic friends out there (which are most of you), let me give you a little insight into Maunday Thursday (aka Holy Thursday). The term "maunday" is derived from the "mandate" that Jesus gave to his disciples at the last supper - love one another, as I have loved you; as I have served you, and humbled myself to wash your feet, so you should do the same for others. We also recognize on Holy Thursday the institution of the gift of the Eucharist - the body and blood, broken and shed for us.

As I worshipped, contemplated, and participated in the mass last night, I was struck by the invitation Jesus extends to us to partake of Himself, to become one with Him, to share with Him all things. Our old testament reading was from Exodus describing the time of the passover. The Israelites were to partake, but be ready to be called to go at a moment's notice. I thought, "How prepared am I to go when called? I need to be prepared to listen and go whenever I partake in the eucharist."

As I prepared to receive, I thought of Jesus - prior to being nailed to the cross - his body bleeding, whipped, bruised - broken - for me. His blood was being poured out for me. Now, He has invited me to share in this; in Him; in His act of love.

What does He ask in return?

At the end of service, our choir sang these words, "Remain with me; watch with me; stay with me," over and over again. With each strain, the words seemed to plead stronger, "Watch with me, stay with me." This was Jesus request of His friends. In His final hours, He asked his friends to just be near him; be close; watch; be here; be with me.

Can I be a friend to Jesus? Can I stay near him in his hour of need and suffering?
...or are the cares and duties and responsibilities of my life pulling me away?
For today, can I watch, and pray, and stay?

In that moment, I got it. I understand the desire to use Good Friday as a chance to block out the other distractions and focus on our Lord; to be near Him in His suffering; to watch; to pray.

May God bless you as you ponder His sacrifice of love for you today.