True Confession. I am an old fuddy duddy. We don’t do a lot of celebrating in our family. I have a few ideas how we got to that point, but I’m at the point where I don’t look forward to birthdays. When family asked why, I told them that the reason is that I reflect on all that I’ve accomplished in life and realize how far it is from what I’ve planned to have accomplished. My sibings have taken me to the woodshed for this comment, as has my wife. As I thought more about it, I realized that another reasons birthdays are not high on my list is that there’s not a lot special because we don’t really do anything special on birthdays. We go out to eat. We go out to eat at other times, so that isn’t a big deal anymore. It’s anti-climactic and disappointing.

I’m one of those people that thought graduating from Kindergarten was no big deal. I’d roll my eyes when people talked about their child graduating from Kinder. Big deal, right? Today, I attended the Kinder graduation of a student I mentor. I have seen the light. This celebration opened my eyes because I saw how excited the kids were as they talked about getting ready for first grade. They were excited about what they’d accomplished and were excited about going to first grade. When you think about where kids start in Kinder and how much they grow and learn in the first year of school, it’s an amazing accomplishment! I realized then that we need to do more celebrating of education rather than less. Based on our school set up, we ought to celebrate PK, K, 5, 8, and 12th grade gaduations. Each of them is an important milestone and passage. Maybe if we celebrated those more, we’d see more kids staying excited about their education.

The graduating Kinder class of 2019.

As I’m writing this, another celebration is in planning: my 40th anniversary and my wife’s doctoral graduation. I’ll be posting this after the celebration because, as far as I know, this is going to be a surprise for my wife. What’s even more interesting is that, being used to people not showing up to parties or things like that when we tried to hold them in the past, people are wanting to show up and seem to be excited about this celebration. We won’t have a lot of entertainment. My son in law and daughter will be helping to do a few fun things. We’ll have food – although I’ll tell that story later. The most important thing for us is being with friends. We’re looking forward to a good time. At least I am. I hope my wife will enjoy this. I hope she’ll stay with me for another year after this.

UPDATE: I thought it only fair to tell you that I lied to and deceived my wife. She thought she was going to one of my former student’s graduation parties. I panicked when I saw that we were parking next to a familiar truck. She didn’t notice. I heard someone say “they’re coming” as we walked past the windows. We opened the door and Lucy was fully, totally, and completely surprised! We had a lot of fun as we shared anecdotes from other weddings, talked about favorite teachers, and offered advice for newlyweds – or relayed advice we found helpful. Most interesting wedding story: the lady whose hair caught on fire! The usher noticed it so quickly, and put it out so fast that even she didn’t know it had happened. (Back in a ‘big hair’ era.) I don’t know if it was the best advice, but the most interesting advice came from a 12 year old girl: “Stay single.”

As to the food story, my daughter almost used this same place to cater her wedding. We had friends who were vegetarians, though, and she thought that a taco bar might be a bit better since you could do a lot with a vegetarian taco. She told me this would be a good place for a party to celebrate her mom’s doctorate. So, we ended up at the Bottomless Pit BBQ place. The food was good an it was a good place to be.

Daily Work

Looking Back – The Painted Churches

So, it began with a dress for my wife. She wanted something special as the mother of the bride. The problem is that after her double-mastectomy, she doesn’t have the normal feminine figure. After looking around, she got discouraged because there isn’t a big market for dresses for her figure. I suggested that we work with a friend, Lindsay, who owns a company called “Frippery: Custom Costumes and Whimsical Designs.” (Facebook link) She is the wife of the man who used to be our youth minister. The key phrase here is “used to be.” He’s now the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Halletsville, about a two hour drive from us. (Spoiler alert here: it was worth it.)

Because we knew her work and we trusted her, we made the drive about three times: first for measurements, second for a preliminary fitting, and third for the final fitting and touchups. If you read any of my posts on Facebook about our travels to Houston during Lucy’s cancer treatments, you’ll know that we enjoy the time driving and talking together, so it was a great time together. On the second trip, Lindsay told us about the painted churches in Schulenberg. She suggested that we find a way to check them out. On the third trip, Lucy had her final fitting and Lindsay needed a couple of hours to put the finishing touches on her work. The painted churches were about half an hour away, so we drove up to Schulenbert and looked at as many as we could. The article I linked explains the origins of these churches better than I could, so let me refer you to the article for an explanation. The TL/DR version is that German and Czech immigrants built these churches in the styles they were accustomed to.

While we didn’t get to all seven in the area, we saw enough to know that we’d love to go back sometime to get a full tour. My pictures weren’t all good, but you can get idea of the beauty of the churches from a few of the pictures. The second picture is an extension of the first if you look to the right. The fourth picture is an extension of the third if you look to the right.











The pictures of the stained glass suffered from my eternal problem with the camera: tilt. I don’t know why, but I seem to make my shots tilt, even when I think I’m getting them straight. Here’s an example. When I try to account for that, my impression is that I’m pushing down too far the other way. I need to find a way to put a level in my viewfinder. I try to line things up with the dots, but I’m not very good, I guess. If you have any suggestions on how I can stop doing that, please let me know!










While we still don’t have the official pictures from the wedding, I do have this picture of the dress as Lucy tried it on. That was in Lindsay’s work area. We were happy with the work. Our only concern was that she didn’t charge us enough. We were going to be sneaky and add a tip to our bill, but PayPal didn’t have that option for this.










So, that’s a short look at one of the things we did while I was avoiding blogging at all. When I downloaded these pics, they were 2.5 months old. I only had one other set in between this set and the woodpecker pics from yesterday. It’s time to get back into my photography!

Bird Brain Chronicles, Bird pics and story, books, Daily Work

Coming Back

Hey there! Remember me? I haven’t done my daily posts for a while. I think that the major reason is that I’ve been dealing with my mother’s death. Part of the way I dealt with her death was an attitude of “I don’t care” about a lot of things. I’m in a writing challenge and I’ve been struggling to meet my simple goal. As I struggle with doing any writing, I tend to be highly critical of what I’m doing – and part of that is because I don’t really have a plan for my writing and so I keep criticizing everything I write. I’ve given myself a sabbatical from writing my devotionals, but I finally began doing a little work on promoting the book series today. I should point out that if you’d like a free copy of my July – August devotionals, I now have a book funnel account so that I can give it to you freely. If anyone wants to help me out by going through the process of downloading it and making sure that everything works ok, I’d sure appreciate it. The bookfunnel link is here: If you’d like to leave an Amazon review, that would be cool too, but I’m not expecting you to do so. You are welcome to share that link if you find the book helpful to you.

Another part of my problem has to do with the animal kingdom: we now have a dog. We thought she was a year old when we got her, but the vet said she was about 6 months old. She’s been a hand full! She’s as sweet as can be, but she’s also annoying. This week has had some extra challenges because my daughter is taking her delayed honeymoon and we’re watching her dog. The dog that used to live with us when she did – which is why we wanted a dog. So now we have a 14 year old grumpy lady chihuahua and an 8 month old baby girl chihuahua. Only, the baby gets distracted when we take her outside. Then she comes in and wets the carpet. Or worse. Today’s been extremely tough on that front, with me needing to clean up between five and ten messes.

Perhaps I should mention all that’s gone on since I stopped posting regularly. I stopped after my mom died. Then we had her memorial service. After that, my daughter got married on March 16. Then, we traveled to Florida to celebate my wife’s graduation ceremony as she finished her requirements for an EdD. degree. She now lets me call her “Dr. Wife.” And finally, my wife and I just observed our 40th anniversary. So, I’ve been busy. And I haven’t been writing a lot. But it’s time to get back to the work of writing and photography.

I realized the photography angle today when I had the dogs outside. I heard the familiar thump of a woodpecker. She was on the utility pole thumping away. I ran inside and got my camera so I could take a few pictures. I couldn’t choose which of these two to use, so you got both. This is a golden fronted woodpecker and she’s been in the area for a while. My plan is to get back to more photography in days to come. I’ve missed doing that. I’ve missed sharing my pictures with y’all. So, maybe I’ll take a day or two each week, make some egg salad sandwiches, and spend some time taking pictures and sharing my adventures with you. Tomorrow, I’ll probably share some pictures of the Painted Churches of Schulenberg that we saw while we waited for the final alterations on the dress my wife wore as the mother of the bride. Anything you want to know about South Texas (that I can photograph) just ask in the comments.


Daily Work

Grammy’s Chair

The day had come. Most of the other possessions from my mom’s estate had been distributed. The last item, saved to the end because of its special nature, was Grammy’s Chair. We came to an interesting conclusion on how to share this amazing piece of family history. This is still a rough draft, but it’s a beginning on sharing the story of our family. There are some references that will only apply to family, so if something doesn’t make sense, just call it a family inside joke. The memory is the thing.

Instructions: Preferably, this story should be read out loud while sitting in “Grammy’s Chair” with children and grandchildren gathered around. When finished, you should spend time talking about the furniture that you inherited.

The most valuable, the most precious currency recognized by the James-Hemingway family is memory. There are many pieces of furniture around the house that are part of the memories we hold so dear. The monetary value of the furniture will rise and fall, but the memories will only continue to appreciate. And thus it is with this chair: Grammy’s chair. You can buy a chair like this on eBay, probably in better physical condition, for somewhere between $150 and $200. But this chair is so much more valuable than anything you could buy on eBay or at Amazon because it’s the Fort Knox of family memories.

Every summer, our family made a pilgrimage to Indian Neck, Branford, Connecticut – the Shore – to see Grammy. We loaded up the Studebaker and left early in the morning. We always left early. I believe part of the reason is that our journey took us across Chicago traffic on the “Damn Ryan” expressway – known during rush hour as the parking lot of the damned. Our early departure allowed us to miss that traffic. We’d watch the sunrise as we headed toward the toll bridge into Indiana. Then the long trek would really begin as we drove across Indiana and Ohio. We occupied our time playing the license plate game – trying to spot license plates from all fifty states, or the alphabet sign game.

We’d make our way across those states, celebrating each time we passed a state line, and then, we got to Pennsylvania. Oh, how we loved the Pennsylvania Turnpike with the seven tunnels. Each tunnel we drove through was evidence that we were getting closer to Grammy’s house. If we were lucky, we’d stop along the way at a Howard Johnson’s and get a treat there. We’d leave Pennsylvania and hit New Jersey or New York until we finally got to Connecticut. The anticipation would grow as we passed the cities that led the way. We may not have known the cities in those other states, but we knew those cities in Connecticut that showed how much closer we were to Grammy’s house.

When we got to New Haven, we were finally able to begin smelling the salt air of the shore. Then, we’d take the exit to Branford and squeal as we passed familiar landmarks reminding us that we were closer to Grammy’s house. Then, Bud’s Bait Shop, where we bought lobster for that one night of magical eating each year, and the fork in the road loomed. We veered right and drove along the coast, windows open, smelling the fresh salt air. Finally, we arrived at Grammy’s house. She greeted us with her amazing smile and open arms of love. We were at one of our favorite places in the world.

Grammy sat in her chair on her screened in porch. We spent the nights there, talking, laughing, and making memories. Grammy held court as the family gathered together on the porch and caught up on the previous year. We’d talk late into the night. Well, the adults would because the kids would be banished to bed. We’d stay awake though, talking quietly and listening to the joy and laughter as the adults carried on the conversation late into the night.

It was from her chair that Grammy pulled my dad’s leg better than anyone else had. Dad had said something about naming Don after her husband, whom we never knew, and Grammy looked at him and said that she was sure that Don had been named after Donald Robinson – our cousin. Dad smiled and said again that Don had been named after the wonderful man she had married, and Grammy once again said that she was sure that he had been named after Donald Robinson. After a few more instances of give and take, Grammy looked at Dad and said, “Why Bob, Donald Robinson is a few years older than your Don, so he was named before your Don. That means your Don was named after Donald Robinson. Dad, who could pull a good joke on others, appreciated the humor. The grandkids had the opportunity to see that Grammy had a sense of mischief that we didn’t know about.

Maybe the chair inspired my dad’s sense of mischief, also. Dad was sitting in Grammy’s chair when the ladies were doing something else one night on the summer after Tim was born. I was showing him some of the pictures we had of Tim – it appears I may have been a bit of a proud father. Dad reached into his wallet and said, “And what about this one?” I looked at the picture and my jaw dropped. I looked back at the picture he showed me; I looked at the pictures I had of Tim; I looked at Tim; and I looked back at dad’s picture again. I shook my head in disbelief before I finally asked, “How did you get a picture of Tim in a dress?” He laughed and said that he had shown me a baby picture of Martha. Perhaps there was something in the chair that inspired such mischief

After Grammy Hemingway died, the chair became Grammy James’s chair. Until she was bedridden, it became the chair she sat in to eat, to greet visitors (and offer them an egg salad sandwich), to read, and to watch golf, tennis, the Black Hawks, the Bears, and, most of all, the Cubs. From that chair, Grammy’s chair, she welcomed her grandchildren into her home and told them the stories and passed on the memories of the Hemingways and the Jameses.

The story of Grammy’s chair is the story of our family and so, when Grammy James died none of us could bear the thought that the other siblings might not have this connection to the family. Its value is beyond measure because in this chair is enshrined the memories of the shore and the family. We will have this chair in our family for one year and then we’ll pass it on to one of the other James siblings. We’ll make our own memories as a family and add them to our part of the story of the chair and then allow other family members to add to their story. While each piece of furniture passed down as a sacred trust has its own story, nothing compares to the memories we all have with Grammy’s chair.

At this point in time, stories of the furniture inherited might be shared as well as family stories. In addition, I would expect each family member could add a story they remember about the chair – either privately with their family or for all of us. We would make sure that if we told stories added by others, we’d reference them so that we could reinforce the joy and the importance of family.



Daily Work

Betraying Jesus

Tonight was the final night of our drama at church. I didn’t have to make egg salad because others were bringing food, but I still had to show up. I played a part in the drama. It was an important part. My character name started with “J” and ended with “S.” Don’t tell me – you guessed Judas too. Almost everyone I know guessed that I played Judas when I put it that way. Since I played Judas a few years ago in a drama at church, my pastor said that I was now typecast for life.

I had the opportunity to betray some great Jesuses the last two nights. Because of the nature of the drama we had four Jesuses in the drama and each one of them brought something different to the role that made their interpretation unique and inspiring. We had another Judas who played the role differently than I did, based on what I heard. Each of us brought our own identity into the role not for our own ego’s sake, but to draw people into the emotional experience of the betrayal of Jesus.

While we may never know what motivated Jesus to betray Jesus, my belief is that Judas thought Jesus was going to be the military Messiah that everyone expected to overthrow Roman rule in Israel. Since Jesus didn’t seem to be making His move, Judas was acting on the belief that turning Jesus over to the authorities would force Him to start the Revolution. Only, at the last supper, Jesus talked about a broken body, a covenant in His blood, and a time of suffering. Then, when Jesus talked about betrayal, Judas was dumbfounded because he didn’t see himself as betraying Jesus as much as he thought he was forcing Jesus’s hand. Then came the time in the garden. Jesus was praying, and Judas tried one last time to kickstart the revolution, coming with Roman soldiers to arrest Him. I can only imagine the shock and anguish Judas felt when he saw Jesus give up without a fight and let the Roman soldiers drag Him away.

As I said, we don’t know what was going on in Judas’s head, too many of us have this idea that Judas was somehow “weird” (to quote our youth minister’s son) or hideously evil. It’s comforting to put Judas in that kind of category that none of us will ever fit into. Seeing Judas as just an everyday person who wanted to see God work in a specific way so much that they’d go against their principles to seek to force God to act is scary. Because. Because it’s such an easy thing to do. After all, the results would be fantastic if God would do things the way I want Him to. When we act like that, we betray Jesus just like Judas did. Our betrayal may be worse than his because we should have known better.