The Treasure Hunt

July 4, 2011 § 5 Comments

Although this post is not directly related to July 4th celebrations sprouting up all over the country, it is a celebration of sorts.

Happy 4th of July!

Over the last two days, I’ve been on a treasure hunt! This hunt has taken me many places: file drawers of old photographs – I’m talking ancient here; a briefcase full of family information; and an on-line ancestry search-engine-and-family-tree-making website. Let me tell you … I have a LOT of ancestors, and they all came to this country for the free stuff – free land, free religion, free thinking! This is what America is all about. So now, I invite you to celebrate with me … on a treasure hunt!

Doing the ancestor search/family tree thing isn’t new with me. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time. Moreover, I wouldn’t have to be starting from scratch. Mother began this project long ago – I have her briefcase to prove it! I dreaded the work it would involve, however. I didn’t have the time! But, a visit to a friend in Texas last August convinced me that with the ‘cloud’ out there, storing all sorts of ‘minutiae-ted’ information, creating a family tree would be easy! Ha! But I’m doing it anyway!

While on that trip to Texas, and still inspired by my friend’s encouragement, Tom and I visited and photographed the grave markers of my immediate relatives – parents in Waco; grandparents Hilger in Farmersville; great-grandparents Hayes in Farmersville; grandparents Summers in Allen … along with other markers for assorted aunts and uncles.

Then in March of this year, I actually sat down at my computer and began my family tree. I uploaded the gravesite photos to the appropriate relatives with the information I had. While doing this, gave me a little leaf (a hint about more available information) and I found a photo on another family tree of my great-great-grandfather Erasmus D. Pitman and his
wife, one Temperance Looney Pitman.

Erasmus D. Pitman and wife - but which one?

Fast forward to Friday, July 1. I opened an email from a guy also hunting on-line ancestral connections. He had seen the photo of Erasmus D. and wife Tempy on my family tree and determined that it couldn’t be of Temperance Looney Pitman (his g-g-grandmother) because the woman looked too old. Could this mystery woman be one of the other wives? I would check, I emailed back, and the hunt was on!

He was right, of course. I knew that Erasmus D. had two wives, but now discovered a third, which added another dimension to the question of which wife was in the photo.

First Wife: Temperance (Tempy) Looney Pitman gave him two daughters then died early in 1854 at 27. Ergo, the photo couldn’t be of her, as he suspected!

Second wife: Mary E. Todd gave him two more daughters (my great-grandmother was her second) and died in 1861. Therefore, she was also not the wife in the photo!

Third Wife: Nancy Elizabeth Mathis Pitman gave him two sons. Erasmus died in 1870, she in 1924. My conclusion – the wife in the photo with Erasmus must be Nancy Elizabeth. She was the only one who lived long enough to grow ‘older’ with him.

But am I correct in my assumptions? Just to be sure, I began to delve deeper into my mother’s old filing cabinet, which now sits in my husband’s office. That ‘treasure chest’ contains the family history in photos. Could there perhaps be one or two of Erasmus and wives? All I had to do was open the drawers and look closely enough.

Saturday I began, spending an entire morning sneezing through old folders and albums, and squinting at fading photographs. And there I found the treasures … two 1×2” tintypes – one of a younger Erasmus and a young bride … but which one?

As soon as the neighborhood golf-scramble/hot dog feast ended, I hurried back to my computer. I knew that to discover which wife was depicted in the tintype, I must first research tintype history.

Erasmus D. Pitman, c. 1858

Voilá! In a back issue of’s newsletter, I discovered that the American process known as tintype (cheaper than its European daguerreotype forbearer) was patented in 1856, sending a multitude of photographers out to county and state fairs across the land, producing untold thousands of the hearty little pictures. I say hearty because according to the article they  exist in shoeboxes, waiting patiently for discovery by just such progeny as I.

So … who is the mystery tintype bride?

Mystery Bride

Not Temperance, as she died before the hoard of photographers could get their equipment to the wilds of northern Arkansas.

Not a younger Nancy Elizabeth, third and most enduring wife. The woman in this tintype looks nothing like the older wife in the other photo.

Ergo – this must be my great-great-grandmother, Mary E. Todd Pitman and taken during her short marriage to Erasmus D., 1854-1861. The fact that she favors all the other women on the maternal side of my family is also a clue. Just compare the tintype to these photos.

Hayes (Hays) Family - John Pruitt Hayes, Martha Vanettie Pitman Hayes & oldest four

FYI, Mary E. Todd Pitman is the mother of Martha Vanettie Pitman Hayes,

Rev. .R. Hilger (Age 17) & Mary Ollie Pitman Hayes Hilder (18), c. Sept 1900. Possible wedding portrait

who is the mother of Mary Ollie Hayes Hilger,

Jester Buena Hilger Summers, c. 1940

who is the mother  of Jester Buena Hilger Summers – who is my mother!

I just love a mystery!

I happily photographed the tintypes, opened the Summers/Hilger  Family Tree on, and uploaded the photos to the appropriate files.

Now fully engaged with the treasure hunt, I didn’t stop with the tintypes. Long into the nights of both Saturday and Sunday, I photographed other photos, doing the Photoshop thing – lightening the dark images, ‘contrasting’ the too-faded ones. I met ancestors I had only heard of in my youth. I read their stories, briefly scrawled on the backs of the photos in various handwritings and colors.

I found Mom’s glam shot – her high school graduation photo – and others, giving me a timeline of her image I had not experienced before. I found Dad’s high school photo, and then others of him with me as a toddler and my big brother David – pre little sister Sarah! Why had I never seen these before?

Ray with David (3) & MLS

Wow! What a great way to spend a holiday weekend! And these were just the loose photos in shoeboxes! Next – the ALBUMS! I can’t wait! As soon as I get the cramp out of my ‘mouse’ hand, I’ll be at it again!


I Want to be Alone – Sometimes!

June 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

Many writers talk about the loneliness of the creative process. They seek out other writers who talk the talk and walk the walk, and that’s a good thing. However, for me writing is an alone-time business, not a lonely one.

Peace Through Technology!

I enjoy fellowship with others but sometimes I almost resent these intrusions. Sometimes I want to skip the critique group just for a while so that I can turn myself loose to write! That’s what I relish – just me, the computer, a CD playing in the background, my mind churning with ideas.

I’m not really sure when this need for alone-time actually began. In the womb? I certainly had plenty of time in there to entertain myself. But no, I believe it crept up on me, like an inherited gene one discovers later in life, then realizes it was there all the time.

If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you will know that in 1954, our family set out for Europe aboard the Queen Mary for a 9-month stay. That first day, along with the other 1200+ passengers and crew, we waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty, donned life-vests for Life Boat Drill, and ate dinner with a long table full of traveling folk. By the time we returned to our cramped cabin, I think I’d had about as much company as I could stand.

While Mom and Sarah walked down the hall to take baths, David went out to brush his teeth in the men’s WC. By myself for the first time that day, I climbed into the porthole “hole” and closed the curtain – a just-right fit for a 10-year-old. Alone at last, I looked out on the Atlantic and its January moon-sparkled waves and felt the tension release.

When Mom et al returned, they busied themselves with bedtime prep and didn’t notice my absence for a while. Then Mom panicked and with a sigh, I knew I had to reveal my hiding place.

I’ve been looking for “hiding places” ever since – a long drive in the country to watch a sunset; a corner table in a restaurant with a fried shrimp dinner and a good book; an afternoon at the Mall’s game room playing Pac Man or Galaga; the bathroom (Mom called this my reading room!)

Much to my surprise, I’ve discovered I possess a rare gift. I can block out any noise or activity around me and focus. In my mind, I become invisible to everyone around me, as if I am hidden by a curtain. As the world passes by, I can observe it. I can interact with it. Or, if I choose to do so, I can ignore it.


This week, Tom and I are in Tampa for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Annual Assembly, a meeting of probably 3-4K like-minded Baptists from around the nation and Puerto Rico. Included in the gathering will be missionaries, lay people, and pastors – both male and female.

Attending a meeting of any Baptist group is a tale of the feast. In my lifetime as a Baptist one truth has remained constant – if there is a meal, they will come.

At each mealtime this week, we will gather with old and new friends. The menu will vary little – chicken and rice or potatoes or polenta, a few barely cooked veggies (they call them steamed), and the inevitable cheesecake for desert, or perhaps key-lime pie, this is Florida after all.

Umm Umm Good!

The first such meal is tonight’s CBF 20th Anniversary Dinner. We will join many friends there we have not seen for a year. We will exchange news, opinions and concerns. We will pray together and celebrate the accomplishments of the past 20 years.

I will enjoy it all – and be glad to leave as soon as it’s over! (Tom will probably stay longer as he is much more the social being than I. Once I’ve had my alone time I will be ready to review the day with him when he gets in.)

Tomorrow begins early, with the CBF Advocates Breakfast; continues with the Baptist Center for Ethics Luncheon; and ends with the Truett Seminary Alumni Reception (Truett is part of the Baylor family). Between these will be meetings and worship hours, and the commissioning of 14 new missionaries.

Friday starts with the Heritage Society Breakfast, proceeds to the Religious Liberty Lunch, the Associated Baptist Press Dinner and then the final worship gathering with Communion – Observance of the Lord’s Supper. (Tom and I have decided we’ll probably gain between 5-10 lbs by Saturday!)

I look forward to the CBF meeting every year … writers conferences, too. But I know me! I can take just so much togetherness and then I have to find alone-time. That’s when I’ll heed the siren call of the latest downloaded book on my Kindle. Or perhaps I will scurry back to my computer, open up the file of my novel and shut the world out while I agonize over how to get my main character out of the crisis I’ve gotten him into.

 In either case, I will be free to relax and refresh – and get ready for the next frantic round of activity!

On a Rainy Afternoon

June 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

With temperatures soaring into the high 90s, warring bi-coastal
invaders rush to combat over central Florida.

Clouds descend; skies darken; thunder rolls; and lightning streaks from earth to sky. Raindrops roll down hot windows, along steamy concrete paths, soaking the parched earth.

From Earth to Sky!

The thermometer drops … 98 … 95 … 89 … 83 … 78 ….

Perhaps this is only a scout storm sent to find high-ground and hold it for the larger forces of nature that follow. Or perhaps the herald has spoken, and the longed-for season of summer storms has finally arrived. No matter … we welcome her.

Soon clouds lift, exposing a bit of blue sky on the horizon.
The sun casts beams through small breaks in the lingering gray.
A rainbow appears, bringing smiles to faces only recently hidden beneath umbrellas and  the covers of naptime beds.

How quiet the world becomes. How clean and invigorating the cooler air that rushes in to lift the heat skyward and refresh the land.

I love a rainy day.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, polio ran rampant through the cities of North Texas. For this reason, when not traveling with our parents, we spent most of every summer with one set of grandparents or the other.

At the Summers’ farm on Cottonwood Creek near Allen, Texas we milked cows, waded in the creek, churned butter, ate biscuits and gravy for breakfast.

At the Hilger place on the outskirts of Greenville, we gathered eggs from overprotective hens, snapped green beans, played hide-and-seek in the storm cellar, hunted for treasure in the attic. And on those rare rainy afternoons, made bedspread tents from which to safely watch a storm pass in review.

Storm Warning!

But beware the brooding, churning mass of green-cast clouds with the anvil look.

“That’s how you know,” Granddaddy Hilger told me as we watched monstrous storm clouds dashing toward us. “Mark my words. Those are hail producers at the least, tornado-spawners at the worst.”

When the storm passed and all became calm once more, off came our shoes and out of the house we’d run, dancing and splashing our way through puddles, flipping the old Native-American grinding stone, spilling the water held there. For as every child of Texas knows, mosquitoes love small containers of water in which to hatch their young.

Today’s storm has passed, the evening is cooler, and my memories retreat to little cubbyholes in my mind. Tomorrow, if we are lucky, the cycle will begin again and sometime in the late afternoon, when the thunder rolls and lightning flashes, rain will fall, feed the earth, and refresh my spirits.

I love a rainy day!

Texas, My Texas – Oh, See What You’ve Done!

June 7, 2011 § 3 Comments

Call this the “I’m on my high horse today” blog post!

In May 2010, a controversy brewed in Texas, or I should say in one conference room in the Texas state capital, Austin. In that little room, 15 men and women [5 Dems/10 Reps] grappled with a political issue that should never have been political in the first place, i.e.,  what is taught in social studies and history in the public schools of America. Yes, AMERICA!

What the majority of the Texas Board of Education decided as “correct and appropriate”, now dictates how the next generation of history and social studies textbooks are being written. As a result, their majority-rule has determined what will be taught in our schools for the next 10 years. An entire generation of students will be taught that:

Thomas Jefferson

“Country music is an important modern cultural movement; hip-hop isn’t. Thomas Jefferson deserves to be erased from a list of “great Americans”, but Ronald Reagan doesn’t. And we should re-evaluate Senator Joe McCarthy: he was almost certainly a national hero.” [‘Texas schoolbook massacre’ Rewrites American history. Guy Adams in Los Angeles, for The Independent, March 2010 – search “Texas Schoolbook Controversy” to read the entire article and many others!]

Why does the decision of the Texas BoE affect ALL schools in the US? Economics! (I’m beginning to hate the “E” word!) There are 4.5 million school children in Texas, and the state provides the textbooks for each child (no parent has to pay for them!). That’s BIG BUSINESS!

Because of this, publishers are writing the new textbooks to please the Texas Board of Education (shame on them!). Because Texas will order so many of them, these new textbooks will be cheaper than any other. Because they will be cheaper, school boards across the country will buy them. Economics!

This burns me up! I don’t understand it? How can anyone rewrite history?!? Perhaps I’m using the wrong verb. Perhaps I should say “revise” history, for that is what they are doing.

Now, I don’t write textbooks, so how does this affect me as a writer?

Simple (or maybe not!). I write historical fiction for middle grades and young adults, and I try to be so careful to get all the facts straight! I people my novels with historical figures about whom children in our schools study. I strive to give them an experience in the time-period, customs, and historical events of our past. The object of my books, besides as good and fun reads, is to be a companion to their curriculum.

So how do I as a writer respond to this new twisted look at our history? I can tell you now that I will NOT rewrite history by word or implication. I stand firm. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was a man of letters and deep philosophical thought. Yes, he held slaves, but so did Washington. Are we going to write him off, too?

And yes, Jefferson believed in the Separation of Church and State (the given reason for his being diminished in importance in the curriculum), and so do I! One branch of my mother’s family immigrated to this country to find religious freedom. How can we maintain that freedom if we allow government interference? How can we maintain that freedom unless future generations understand what it means?

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights

Okay. Rant over! However, I have just ONE thing more to say. I stand with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which seeks to preserve for us, and forever, the birthplace of our republic’s fundamental concepts: responsible leadership, a sense of public service, self-government, and individual liberty. These were nurtured under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Peyton Randolph of Virginia, as well as other founding fathers. The legacies of are ALL of these men are worth fighting for!

Can we fight this? Yes! At the ballot box every chance we get! At school board meetings, wherever you live.

Up the Republic! Down with Dictatorship!


Writer’s Bloque

May 28, 2011 § 6 Comments

I haven’t posted to this blog in over 10 days. I hope you missed me! But I’m not experiencing ‘writer’s block ’- at least not in the conventional sense – hence the odd spelling.

MLS un-bloqued

This phonetic thing is an old habit gained while living in Brazil! When an American word had no translation, a new Brazilian version sprang up – phonetically spelled or at least Portuguesed in pronunciation. Example: During my language-school year the power grid shut down, plunging most of the southern states into darkness. The headlines in the first newspapers to make it back into print screamed BLEQAUT – meaning, of course, BLACKOUT.

“Replay” has no one-word translation in Portuguese, thus, in a televised soccer game, when a goal is shown over and over again, the announcers say “he-play” – the “r” in Brazil having an “h” sound in most instances!

So today, I choose to say bloque because as a writer I’m not blocked from lack of ideas to write about, I’ve just had too many bloques to my schedule to sit down and write!

My fault.

I’m the culprit who took two large editing jobs back-to-back (one down, one lurking!).

I’m the one who belongs to three active writing critique groups – two of which I attended this week.

I’m the one who agreed to be faculty chair for the Florida Writers Association 10th Anniversary Writers Conference next October, and therefore, had to drive to Orlando for a meeting with FWA and hotel events people on Tuesday.

Oh, and I’m the one who wore herself out playing three rounds of 18 holes in the burgeoning heat of Central Florida this week. (My golf buddy heads back to Wisconsin next Thursday – for the summer – and we’re getting in as much play as possible before she leaves!)

I know better! I swear I do!

Jane Yolen

Some years ago, I attended the Highlights for Children Foundation Children’s Writers Workshop ( at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. The first-night keynote speaker was prolific children’s writer, Jane Yolen ( I remember her opening words – can even hear her voice.

“The key to writing success…”

She paused.

We all sat forward to listen intently.

“… is BIC … B-I-C … Butt In Chair!”

Profound! Words to live by!

Therefore, I AM resolved to DO better!

I WILL get the Creative Writer’s Notebook June issue ready for the printer by Tuesday!

I WILL finish the lurking novel and do that conference call with the author!

I WILL write the next chapter in my middle-grade historical novel!

I WILL do ALL of these … just as soon as I’ve had my nails done today – both hands and toes; played one more round of golf with Pat on Monday morning; and “Kung-fu Panda II” is on at the movies – in 3D!

My Desk - Really!

Oh, and I really should clean my desk off so I can think more clearly …

The Flowering Land

May 16, 2011 § 5 Comments

The best part of living in Florida is summer-fall-winter-spring – no, not the “Indian” princess on the Howdy Doody TV Show! I’m talking seasons here!

The one constant in Florida is flora – hence the name given to it by Ponce de León!

Baby Carnations & Pinks

Poinsettias and pansies in the winter; azaleas in the spring; day lilies and plumbago and hydrangeas and every other flower and flowering bush you can imagine in the summer; and so many others in the fall – too many to mention here. In spite of my stuffy nose, I love all that color and perfume!

No wonder, then, that each spring we Summers and Sanders make the long trek from The Villages to Walt Disney World’s EPCOT for the annual International Flower and Garden Festival – okay, so it’s only 60 miles, but it’s a world away from the daily grind of retirement fun and frolic!

Flower Tower

Floating islands of impatiens; intriguing topiaries; patchwork “quilts” of rainbows and ‘hidden Mickeys’; a butterfly house and a pixie garden; whimsical towers of flowers.

Master Gardener talks from HGTV and the University of Florida’s horticultural department; the latest in ‘green’ sprinkler systems and outdoor living; and every day a sumptuous dinner in a different country followed by a Celebration of the Earth – the lazar and fireworks spectacular in the World Showcase Lagoon.

Who said Disney is just for kids!?

Crazy Quilt - Find the 'Hidden Mickey'

But as I marvel at the color and the artistry, I also wonder how long we will maintain these seasons of plenty. We hear much these days about the greenhouse effect and global warming. Politicians and TV pundits argue back and forth as to the reality of these two … what shall I call them, theories or facts? I guess it would depend on which speaker is the one I believe to be more knowledgeable about the subjects.

Some things I do know.

There is just so much water on our planet and each year more and more of that water becomes less and less potable.

Weather patterns seem to be shifting. Are we now reaping the harvest of the air and water pollutions of the Industrial age?

Storms spawn giant tornado systems. Have we always had these, just didn’t know so much about them because TV and meteorology only wed in recent years? Or is there another piece to the puzzle of our changing environment?

Flooding seems more prevalent and damaging. Have we cut down too many forests? Have we built too many of our houses on the sands of deltas and not on the rocks of the true riverbanks?

Other questions abound, but the hardest of all are these:

 – Can we do anything to stop and reverse the damage?

– Are we listening to what the earth is telling us?

– Does anyone hear what I hear?

Nothing will matter for our future generations if we cut all the taxes and minimize the national debt – and lose our world!

Blue Marble - Our Earth - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor, Mutual of Omaha!

May 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

Remember Marlin Perkins? His Zoo Parade (’52-’57) and Wild Kingdom (’62-’88) TV shows invited us into his domain at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and introduced us to a plethora of animals, birds, and reptiles from around the world.

Marlin Perkins and Friend

We learned about lions and tigers and bears! (Oh my!). We’d oo and ah at the sight of each baby gorilla, or llama, or macaw, as we learned about habitats, eating habits, and preservation.

Through the years, as we camped in state and national parks, we looked for the birds and animals the rangers said we might see – we never missed the “ranger-talk-around-the-campfire-evenings wherever we camped.

In 1959 we Summers moved from Fort Worth, TX to Louisville, KY and switched our allegiance from the Rockies back to the Smoky Mountains – site of our first foray into the world of cross-country road trips (see post: “A Song for the Open Road”). We did see American Black Bear on that trip, though not many, and we didn’t camp, just took picnics along the babbling brooks filled with the coldest water we’d ever stuck toes into.

The first summer we ventured forth to camp in those venerable mountains, we chose the Chimneys Campground (now a picnic-only area), and found a great spot near the mountain side (and not far from the bathhouse!). After unloading the cooking paraphernalia, David  and Dad put up the tent, Sarah and I helped unload the bedrolls (not cots!) and Mom got started putting out the picnic spread for lunch.


What was that?

Black Bear

We looked up the side of the mountain to see a Black Bear walking toward us. David and Dad gave him a wide path, which he took with ease as he headed straight for the food.

Mom and Sarah ran for the car, but I sat on the table – I wasn’t about to let this intruder eat our lunch! Besides, all the rangers said not to feed the bears! I just knew that bologna and potato chips would not be good for him!

He sniffed and I said “shoo”, or some other inane thing, and then – miracle of miracles – he walked past the table and down to the road, making his way to the large trashcans standing on the other side.

“One Black Bear,” I said, writing the ‘find’ down in our “Animals seen” list.

The following summer we again pitched our canvas and tarps at the Chimneys Campground. But this time we had a camping spot nearer to the Little Pigeon River. There’s really nothing quite like bedding down inside a tent in a warm sleeping bag (a new purchase) and falling asleep with the sound of roiling river rapids just beyond the boulders.

Dad’s job first thing in the morning was to get the fire started and make the coffee. Then he called Mom, who by that time would be dressed (and I mean a dress, hose and medium-heeled shoes – Mother didn’t wear slacks or shorts). She would then immerge from the tent to finish our traditional campout breakfast – scrambled eggs and bacon (Thank you Coleman for the two-burner stove!), with toast or biscuits (we had a camping “reflector oven” next to the campfire that did a nice job!). Some mornings we even had pancakes. We were old hands by this time.

One morning, I left the tent in my sleeping attire – jeans and hooded sweatshirt – donned my tube socks and tennies, and sat in the car to put on my make-up and comb my hair – I never went anywhere in those days without makeup, even mountain climbing!

I looked up just in time to see Dad turning from the stove to call Mom for her duty and startle a Black Bear as he trekked through camp – between the stove and the tent door. Dad nearly toppled the stove, I yelled “Watch out!” That bear, who had nearly turned into the tent in fright, got another scare when Mom yelled, too, and quickly scampered out of there.

By the next season the rangers had installed bear-proof trashcan lids and fun-with-bears was no more. We did spot them occasionally, but we understood. A bologna-and-potato-chip diet wasn’t good for bears – I’d known that all along!

Grand Teton National Park

Skip forward now to 1977. Sarah and I drove up to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks – my last American vacation for some time as I was soon heading for Brazil – and spent two weeks spotting birds and mammals in the wilds – and not a few tourists, too, I might add.

By the time we checked into the Old Faithful Lodge (no camping that trip) we had checked off moose, beaver, big horn sheep, coyote and countless elk. We’d even seen a young Black Bear running for his life with about fifty tourist and cameras following close behind! But we had yet to see buffalo.

Then, we spotted them – three, no four buffalo grazing in Haden Valley, just where the ranger had said they would be.

Buffalo in Yellowstone

I knew that even with a telephoto lens I couldn’t get a good picture – and I wanted a good picture! So off we went, across the field. I led the way, keeping an eye on the buffalo and looking around for any others that might be lurking. As we walked in single file through the tall grass, we talked to each other in hushed voices. Then for a while we were quiet. All I could hear were chirping birds and a light wind in the grasses.

And then Sarah’s voice came softly to my ears – “And now a word from our sponsor, Mutual of Omaha.” Marlin Perkins had taught us well!

Note: These are not my photos, unfortunately. My thanks to the National Parks’ web sites for so many wonderful photos from which to choose!

The Birds!

April 30, 2011 § 5 Comments

The first time I visited  Florida, I stopped along the way for fish dinners and look-ins at all the tourist shops with the oranges and the sand art stuff. But what I remember  most were the birds.

Great Blue Heron

While keeping on the lookout for alligators in every pond we passed, I began to see birds – Great Blue Herons, Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons – I’d never seen these birds as they seldom frequent urban central Texas or western Tennessee college towns. I also saw my first Bald Eagle in the wild on that trip and Sand Hill Cranes – wonderful. These birds, up-close and personal, were fascinating!

Now, both Mom and Dad were birdwatchers. Not the “get thee to the thicket” kind, but still, they knew their birds. I learned early to identify a Mockingbird by its song and a Red-Winged Black Bird by its trill-chirp. I knew the habitat of Cardinals and Purple Finches and could spot a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird on the wing. Even today I delight in soaring hawks, eagles, Eastern Bluebirds, Indigo Buntings.

Is it any wonder that Tom and I moved to Florida for retirement instead of returning to Texas – our natural habitat? Though not the only reason, the birds held a great draw for me.

All of this being said, I don’t believe in feeding wild birds. Left to their own habitat, these birds know how to find food that’s good for them. What makes me think I could do better? Just because I want to see them up close and personal? Just because I want them to hang around so I can look at them without trekking through the glades and glens? Is that fair? I think not!

When we lived in New Jersey I fed the birds, but only after the snows were too high for them to find their natural foods. Then they needed my help. But here in Florida we have no excuse. If they begin to rely on humans as their primary food source, when we’re on vacation or  “snow bird” it back north for the summer, what will these dependent birds do?

No! I say, lay off the birdfeeders. If you want to listen for birds and see them flitting about, go where they are, take a picnic and plenty of water, sit down, listen and watch.

Our Pond

Or move to Florida and live on a pond like I do!


April 26, 2011 § 4 Comments

Saudades is português for a longing or a deep feeling for that special place or time or person remembered. I saw the movie “Rio” last week, and me deu saudades! – it gave me such homesickness!

Rio - the Movie

In early February 1978, I entered Brazil through São Paulo – an industrial city of almost 15 million. I possessed only a 3-month tourist visa that could be renewed for another 3-month stay. The government had put a moratorium on permanent visas for missionaries and this  was the best the mission board could do at the time.

When I walked through immigration, the official looked at my passport with its 3-month tourist stamp, stamped it with his stamp, and waved me through to baggage claim. There, I gathered my bags on a cart and stood in line. When my turn came, I hoisted my five bags onto the low table and the customs guy looked askance at the suitcases and then at me. He spoke a bit of English and asked, “You are a tourist, yes?”

I nodded and smiled. “Yes, for six months, I hope,” I replied. “I’m going to study Portuguese.”

“Ah,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He made a checkmark on each bag with a piece of white chalk, and then said, “Welcome, and I hope you will enjoy your stay.”

“Thank you! I know I will.”

Thus began my Brazilian adventure. I had six months during which I would –

– live in a borrowed apartment with borrowed furniture and drive a borrowed car;

– immerse myself in the study of the language and try it out every chance I got;

– wonder if I would be granted a permanent visa or have to return home for good.

But on that first day I did not worry. I was too engrossed in the sights and sounds and smells of this new exotic land.


The first thing I noticed was the heat. February in Brazil is high summer. São Paulo is an inland city, industrial, full of smog and sweltering. But once on the super-highway to Campinas – home of the school where I would learn the language – it cooled a little.

A missionary couple had met me just outside the customs doors. We loaded their car with my bags – interesting that their askance glances looked like the customs guy’s. Once in the car they began a running dialogue – about the country, the city, and Campinas. All missionaries learned Portuguese there, and loved it.

To Campinas

Soon I began to ooh and ahh at tall flat top-pines, purple flowered Passion trees, and tall Bougainville bushes decorating colorfully painted stucco houses surrounded with banana groves and chickens.

After a while we pulled into a truck stop for gas and I was treated to my first Guanará and a cochinha (Brazil’s national soft drink and a chicken croquette on a stick). Ummm – love at first taste!

By the time we reached Campinas I was sufficiently excited and wide awake. I was also on sensory overload!

By day two I had moved into my borrowed apartment and attended my first day of classes – I was already a week behind because of my late arrival. Nevertheless, I was picking up the language pretty well. I could say “Quanto é?” – “How much is it?” and I had a good ear for Portuguese pronunciation, at least that’s what my teachers told me.

On Day three another missionary and her six-year-old daughter took me to my first “feira” – street market. To my amazement, this market was set up in a neighborhood street – four whole blocks of it. Along the street vendors sold everything from children’s toys to live chickens.

“You’ll need to buy a “feira” bag,” my new friend told me and pointed to a stall on the right. “I’ll be at this vegetable stall.” With that, she turned me loose, with only her daughter as my guide.

When I got to the stall, I saw the large plastic-mesh bags and point to a green and red one.

“Quanto é?” I asked and the vendor responded with something that sounded like “4 or 14 or 40 (quatro, quatorze or quarenta) Cruzeiros.” (Brazilian currency of that time). I knew how to ask the question but not how to listen for the answer! Yikes!

“He says quarenta Cruzeiros, Aunt Mary Lois, that’s 40,” Valerie said.

I paid the man for the feira-bag and as we walked away from the stall, said, “Stick close, Valerie. You are now my official translator!”

She laughed, but stuck with me and together we bought bananas (three varieties – I like bananas), apples, eggs, green beans, tomatoes, and a variety of other fresh food. I also bought a jug of Clorox, which I needed to wash all those fresh veggies and fruit! (I learned to live with the slightly off taste – health, don’t you know!)

Valerie was good. I later discovered her family had been in country for six months and she knew more Portuguese that her own parents! (Children learn languages faster than adults do!) Later that evening she and her mom took me with them to the supermarket where I bought the rest of the goods I needed to set up housekeeping –

     and some Guanará!

I was learning the value of the money quickly, too. One US dollar equaled 16 Cruzeiros. Calculating how much it would cost to buy a small TV, by the Fourth day I was ready to go shopping! If I were ever to learn to listen to the language and hear it for understanding, I needed help and the TV was the best!

I began to learn the culture and the language and the music of my new country. Guaraná, Samba, and food! – I adapted quite well, actually.

So when I saw the color of the film, “Rio”, and heard the music, my mouth began to water and my eyes to tear up. Tenho saudades! (I have homesickness!) I think it’s time to drive up to Ocala to the Ipanema Churrascaria (churrasco is Brazilian pit bar-b-que – all kinds of meats). There I shall eat my fill of black beans and rice, fried bananas, and Brazilian steak – I can smell it now!

Just say Handel’s “Messiah” and I’m Ready to Sing!

April 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

In an early post – “From Classical to Country – My Life’s Soundtrack” – I mentioned that I attended my first opera – “Carmen” – at the ripe old age of five. The following spring – I  was six by then – I attended “Faust”. In the fall of my First Grade year, Mother took me to a Margo Jones Theatre-in-the-round production of Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice” (I got out of school early for that one).

You see, our parents didn’t take their friends to these performances, they took us. Often we were the only children in the audience. We got used to the reactions of horror from the  adults sitting around us, but once they realized we knew how to behave – and probably as much about the composer and his music as they did – they got used to us.

Messiah by G.F. Handel

I only mention this as an introduction to the “why” of our parents taking us to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Church Music annual performance of Messiah by Handel – all 3.5 hours of it! As when we took our long summer trips and Mother sat in the back seat reading to us from the guidebooks about the history of the places we visited, before we attended any performance, we read about it. We were always prepared, hence, for
Messiah we even had our own score.

Let us pause for a little history. When Handel arrived in England with the first Hanoverian king, George I, he was already famous for his music, including his Italian operas. Handel enjoyed some success with these stage productions in London – which used male sopranos and contraltos (castrati) in all the female parts. However, he soon discovered that English audiences possessed a great love of choral singing. The English choral societies also wanted great works to perform – in English, please – and Handel knew a good thing when he saw it. He became the oratorio king with his first production.

George Frideric Handel

Therefore, it is not surprising that a choral society in Dublin, Ireland would wish to commission a work by the greatest composer of his generation. What a wonderful opportunity to compose a new oratorio on a theme suggested by his friend and collaborator, Charles Jennens. In the summer of 1741, Handel began setting Jennens’ Biblical libretto  of the life and work of Christ to music. Within 24 days – August 22 to September 14 – he finished Messiah.

Inspired? Definitely! A miracle? Hmmm! Handel often borrowed from his own earlier operas and oratorios when composing new works and Messiah was no exception. In this way,  Handel had a completed first draft quickly. Even after Messiah premiered on 13 April 1742 at the Music Hall in Dublin, however, Handel continued to tinker with and rewrite many of the choruses and solos, as well as the orchestra score. Although some say that it would be hard to find one completely “original” score, there are scores in Handel’s own script, showing his changes and corrections.

In Handel's Own Hand

There are many traditions surrounding Messiah; one of the most enduring is associated  with the “Halleluiah Chorus”. This tradition holds that when Queen Victoria first heard the “Halleluiah Chorus” she was so moved that she stood – and, of course, when the Queen stood, everyone stood! Probably not true, but even without the tradition that one chorus is so exhilarating that anyone listening just wants to stand!

This weekend, Tom and I sang two performances of the Easter & Second Coming portions of Messiah with the North Lake Presbyterian Church Concert Chorale. No, we’re still Baptists, but the Music Director at North Lake put out the siren call – “Messiah” – and we had to be there! Between this weekend and the Christmas portion of Messiah, performed by our Villages Philharmonic Chorale last December, Tom and I have had our yearly dose – and loved it!

While we performed yesterday, I didn’t need to follow along with the soloists. I know them all. I’ve performed the soprano solos many times over the years in concerts and recitals. As a voice teacher, I have taught all of the solos to my students. But I love the choruses best – “Since by Man Came Death (By Man Came Also the Resurrection of the Dead)”. What a wonderful testimony. What a thought-provoking way to celebrate Holy Week.

Yesterday, when we sang Messiah, I again worshiped and remembered those early days when I first experienced the wonder that is Messiah. For me, I am still experiencing  it!