Monthly Archives: May 2013

Trying to Prepare a Wedding Toast, Part I

Prologue: Right before I got married, a lot of people started telling me about how difficult marriage would be. So many, so frequently, that I had a panic attack on the floor of my fiance’s kitchen, two weeks before our wedding.

Ah the carefree days of dating...before the harsh realities of marriage. (Not really...this is still what we look like.)

Ah, the carefree days of dating…

What I thought marriage would look like.

What I thought marriage would look like. (Saturn Devours His Children,by Goya)

Part I: People Say Marriage is Difficult

My friend Liz recently got engaged to her main squeeze of five years, Jason. I am beyond happy for them, and ecstatic to be part of their wedding. I’ve been thinking about how I will toast them.

The happy couple.

The  soon-to-be-married.

It got me thinking about marriage, about falling in love, and about that panic attack.

People really like to tell you what marriage is like. Rarely do they realize that they are universalizing the most personal, intimate, unique experience of a person’s life. But we humans love nothing more than to make manuals for doing things right, except maybe selling those manuals.

Don’t buy anyone’s manual for marriage. Unless you are their clone and you are married to their spouse. (If that’s the case, then you need more help than a manual can give).

“Marriage” the institution has some set rules, sanctioned by God, etc. No cheating. Love them. Serve them. You only get one spouse at a time, preferably for life.

“Marriage” the experience…that’s different for all of us. Manual-makers really want to codify it. Marriage is magic, or marriage is mundane. Romance is necessary, so work to maintain it. Romance completely insubstantial, so don’t worry if its lacking. Things will be difficult, but that there’s a universal prescription for making them wonderful. For each and every one of you. You can’t all wear the same size pants…but one size fits all when it comes to the complex intertwining of adult human lives, histories, families, jobs, and dreams.

Contrary to the manuals, best I can tell, every marriage is very different. We make the same commitments.  We have the same responsibilities…but that’s about the end of the sameness.

Sameness ends here.

Sameness ends here.

People have great advice. Great insight into situations. Heed wisdom, seek counsel, by all means. Be teachable and curious. But if anyone starts telling you how marriage is going to go, and what to do about it, slam the manual shut. They just don’t know. After 50 golden years of their own marriage, they still don’t know yours.

Your marriage is unique, because your life is unique.

The experience of marriage is all about the two people involved and how they relate to one another. It’s a different kind of wonderful for every happy couple (and a different kind of miserable for others). For me, it’s laughing at puns, and dropping off cookies at Lewis’s office. It’s having someone to cry to who thinks that every injury against me is completely unjust (and then helping me see how maybe I’m  making things a bigger deal than they really are…). It’s having someone to go home with on the best nights and the worst nights.

This sums up the general vibe of our marriage.

This about sums us up.

We also have our own peculiar difficulties. For instance, I am intense, and he is sensitive. He is persnickety, and I too am sensitive. Going to IKEA is a guaranteed standoff in the “basic white pendant lamp” department. We are people, sharing a life. And an interior design scheme.

Life-sharing is difficult when life is difficult. I said once, at the outset of a dating relationship, “I know I want to date this guy. But I don’t know who I want to lose a child with. Who to go with me to put my parents in a nursing home. Who to go bankrupt with.”

Life is 100% full of people, who do people-ish things and make human messes. Life has tragedy and stress. But if I summarized my life for you every day by saying, “Life is difficult,” and never spiced it up by saying “Life is rewarding,” what would you call me? A pessimist, you would call me a pessimist.

Life is way to big to be summed up in one word, and so is life-sharing. In an ordinary (the kind you have to stay in; there are other kinds) marriage you will always have ample choice of adjectives. Don’t be afraid to be thankful.

And that’s the closest thing I can think of to a universal antidote for the difficult parts of marriage: be thankful. I would be more doubtful about it, if the Bible hadn’t said it first.

The turning point in most of  Lewis’s and my conflict is when we consider the alternative: What if I didn’t have you? While making the decision about whether or not to spend money on upholstery might be simpler without him/me…who would snuggle with him/me on the reupholstered couch?

Florence and Lewis snuggling on the couch

Florence will snuggle  on the couch…which is why it needs to be reupholstered.

Marriage, the experience, can be the symphonic masterpiece with big bold moments of trust and honesty. Of vulnerability and devastation. But you have to continually maintain that thankfulness that you are on the stage, in the music. Because if you don’t– if you look at the sheet and freak out because you might mess up, or long for that bubbly Top 40 hit–then, yes, you will probably have the kind of marriage that gave me a panic attack.

Dr. Henri Krabandaum, a wise and radical man, once said to me, “I tell every young person, if you love someone so much that you would marry them, your first impulse should be to tell them never to marry you. Because you know the grief you will cause them.”

At four in the morning I storm out of bed, because I’m sleeplessly worried about a client issue, and I snap at Lewis, “Just go back to sleep!” while I slam drawers and doors looking for my bathrobe. On that morning, Dr. K is talking directly to me. I hear his voice booming in my subconscious.

He loves me on these days.

I can be hard to love.

And then, sometime later when I’m feeling ashamed, Lewis tells me, “Life is better now that I have you.”  He says “now that I have you” like we met last month, instead of 3 years ago.

So yeah, marriage is hard. The way sports or music performance is hard. But we’re still the rookies who are just so thankful to be on the stage that we wear every drop of sweat like a diamond. And that is what I want to maintain, the thankfulness.

Advertisements
Tagged

Last-Call Adventure: Canyon Lake Gorge

Our dear friend, Colin, is leaving us in August. He’s going to Boulder, CO (of course).

This is Colin.

This is Colin.

Lewis is sad to loose a kindred spirit. I am sad to lose one of our only friends who doesn’t think that all of my adventure ideas sound ominously fallible. In fact, Colin trumps me in great ideas that are more…grand… than anticipated.

So, in honor of his departure, we’ve begun to execute what I will here dub the Last-Call Adventures.

May 18 was Canyon Lake Gorge

This is Canyon Lake Gorge.

This is Canyon Lake Gorge.

Walking along the Canyon Lake spillway feels like a trek into a wasteland. Concrete severs the limestone in an attempt to solve a different man made problem (erosion of the man-made dam, which was built to make the lake), this scenario tends to proliferate when left unattended. Canyon Lake itself was born for flood and drought control, because German settlers insisted on inhabiting an area that is more flood-prone than anywhere else in the country. Barry Commoner might have had some thoughts on what we were setting ourselves up for here.

Lewis and Colin surveying the landscape.

Lewis and Colin surveying the landscape.

Case in point: A massive flood event in 2002 that crashed over the Canyon Lake spillway flooded homes, washed out roads, and moved enough earth to cover a football field under 30 stories of rock, soil, and flora. The flood carried such force ( 7 feet deep over the spillway at 67,000 cubic feet per second) that it ripped a giant gash in the land, exposing millenia’s worth of fossils, footprints, and geological features.

The laceration is now known as the Canyon Lake Gorge. The only way to gain access is by paying a for a tour from the Gorge Preservation Society (GPS). So that’s what we did.

Our guide was clearly a geology/archaeology enthusiast, and thus we spent the bulk of our time looking at fossils and dinosaur prints. There was also a rather excited 8 year old in our group, so fossils and dinosaurs were winning topics. However, since Colin is an environmental reporter who writes mostly about water and water issues, and Lewis is a spring fanatic, we took issue with our guide’s overall dismissal of the hydrological significance of the area. But we did learn a lot about fault lines and local dinosaurs, so the day was a most definitely a significant net gain, educationally.

The first layer of limestone to tear away under the flood waters revealed several dinosaur tracks. Personally, I buy about 70% of what any given paleontologist says on the matter because in grad school I became sort of a slave to sample sizes. However, these are undeniably footprints in the limestone, put there by the controlled fall of a bipedal creature long before several feet of limestone formed on top of it. Given the rate of limestone production in nature, the size of the print and the length of the stride…I’m convinced, and awed.

This is a very unphotogenic dinosaur footprint.

This is a very unphotogenic dinosaur footprint.

From the mega to the mini, our guide called our attention to the crunching beneath our feet and asked us to find fossils. Lo and behold the very tiny things crunching beneath our feet were, in fact, orbitolina texana. Tiny tiny fossilized forminifera (a one-celled creature with a nucleus and hole in its body).

Orbitum texana

Orbitolina texana

Another tiny fossil.

Another tiny fossil.

IMG_2768[1]

Crunch.

We proceeded deeper through the strata into the gorge. Each limestone shelf gave way to another stunning feature, more forensic evidence for times past and the general behavior of the earth’s crust.

IMG_2773[1] IMG_2784[1] IMG_2779[1] IMG_2790[1] IMG_2778[1] IMG_2782[1]

Limestone is porous, and so for the Edwards Aquifer dependents in the group, witnessing both the porosity and the solubility of the stone was a telling look into how we get our own water. The water in the gorge leaks out of the lake, though the porous ground, as well as underground canals carved out by persistent rivulets over time. Lots and lots of time. A similar process created the Edwards Aquifer.

Our guide lost me a little bit when he snubbed the Edwards Aquifer Authority for placing water restrictions on San Antonio to save the fountain darter, tampering with right of captures laws (I think that differentiating between surface and ground water is absurd as well, but while I’d like to see ground water protected like surface water, he’d seemed to be advocating for the reverse). He also assured us that fracking would not hurt our drinking water and that the aquifer was far deeper than we would ever need it to be. Oh the confidence of those who don’t have to drink other people’s “rights.” Except that he did spend a few minutes ranting about an ex-business partner who poured motor oil into a hole in the ground near enough to effect his private well.

This water does not belong to you.

This water does not belong to you.

We progressed to an examination of the Hidden Valley fault. The dramatic effects on the rocks as they press and jar against each other is magnificent. It looks like wreckage, and yet its presence makes rivers possible, and fills our aquifer. We also learned the term slickenside, referring to the scrape marks caused by the hanging wall (moving plate) moving against the footwall (stationary plate). I think it sounds like something you’d find at Schlitterbahn.

Under the careful explanations and occasional soap-boxing of our guide, our three hour tour matured into 4.5 hours, but even the 8 year old weathered it well. It’s an amazing place, though I am a little leery of industry building around it, even something as noble as the GPS. It just seems like when a human ties their livlihood to the whims of nature,  the battlelines are drawn. Already there are power washers involved.

I highly recommend the trip, if you are heat/sun tolerant, and fond of a good hike. Take a note from Gilligan, and don’t build your plans around a three hour tour. We lost Colin to a work commitment about 3.5 hours in. On the way out I heard the 8-year-old say, “I feel so bad for that man. He had to leave right before we got to all the fossils!” Darling, but untrue. We’d seen 3.5 hours worth of fossils. But I admire his enthusiasm for the final sites.

Fossil

Fossil

Canyon Lake Gorge, as it is now, is the museum that nature made. Her response to Canyon Lake. Her moment to show off what she’s been up to for so long before we were looking.

Tagged , , , ,

Goodnight in Old San Antonio

After six years, I gave up my booth at Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA). This has got to be a record for shortest tenure, seeing as how the woman from whom I inherited the booth had it for something over 30 years.

And actually, I’d been trying to quit for about three years, but kept getting talked out of it. But this year, as I slid into April with my hair on fire, I knew it was the magic year. The year where I finally learned to say: “No.”

Okay…maybe “learned to say no” is a bit of a stretch. But when I do finally scream “nooooo!!!!” in desperation, or cut someone off in traffic accidentally, or put my foot in my mouth I have learned to say: Eh…they’ll get over it.

So I quit NIOSA, a massive fundraiser for a cause that I affirm, the San Antonio Conservation Society. While I believe in their end goal, the event wasn’t something I could throw my whole self into anymore. For more on that, see my article in the Rivard Report.

I have stared out of that booth for 133 hours. Five and one half days. In all of that time, these were the highlights:

1) In the beginning, I was very…VERY into the whole thing. This photo was taken my first year in the booth, when I was 24 and kept company with primarily college students and single people. Back when stumbling home exhausted and sticky and smelling of beer was super cool. Back when I had a job that started at noon.

Liz and Bekah NIOSA

photo credit: Nell Glazener-Cooney

photo credit: Nell Glazener-Cooney

2) Nothing delighted me more than the men who would come by the booth in the drunking hour… not to see me. Dress a man up in a frilly blouse and a corona and you’ll have a line out the door.

Twinsies

3) I had many faithful helpers over the years. Becky Meyers, Justin Clement, the Behams, a whole host of Trinity Students who worked a shift every single year they were in school. But by far, the Volunteer of the Years(s) award goes to these two. I inherited them with the booth. They were the only thing that made it possible the last two years (when I had a job that didn’t observe “NIOSA week” as a holiday).

Rusty and Diana

4) I have a whole philosophy on Big Red, thanks to NIOSA’s contract with the RC Company and their refusal to sell Coca Cola or Pepsi Products. Here were some of the greatest quotes to come out of Cold Drinks #2.

THE “You didn’t do so well on multiple choice tests, did you?” CONVERSATION

Customer: You don’t have Coke?

Me: No. We only have RC products.

Customer: Pepsi?IMG_2491[1]

Me: No. We only have RC Products.

Customer: Dr. Pepper?

Me: No.

Customer: Diet Coke?

Me: No.

Customer: Okay, I’ll take a Big Red.

THE “What the hell is your 7 year old doing here on a school night?” CONVERSATION

Customer at 9:30pm: Do you have anything without caffiene?

Me: 7-Up

Customer’s Kid: I hate 7-UP!

Customer: Okay, he’ll take a Big Red.

THE “This is why America is obese” CONVERSATION

Customer: Do you have water?

Me: No.

Customer: Okay, I’ll take a Big Red.

Me: *blank stare*

I was beginning to believe that people only ordered Big Red as a last resort (which would mean that the four other drinks we served were beyond hope). But then there was this conversation, the year we decided to use the booth as a public health research venue.

Customer: I’ll take a Big Red.

Lewis: Here you go sir. And if you don’t mind my asking,  how often would you say you drink Big Red?

Customer: Most of the time.

Lewis: *blank stare*

5) I am pretty sure that NIOSA is the single most significant thing I have ever done (six times) to/for my immune system.

IMG_2521[1]

6) Lewis coming along was a major change for my relationship with the booth. It was the beginning of a new time…a time when being irrationally tired had relational consequences.

I think the Conservation Society secretly knew this, and thus employed their prerogative as the arbiters of preservation. My maiden name (and the endless volunteer energy that went with it) is apparently one of the many monuments worth saving. 2013, when this picture was taken, was my 3rd NIOSA with the last name “McNeel.”

IMG_2497[1]

7) Whether it was the very earnest cloggers, or the wildly inappropriate “flasher” character that roved the dancefloor, the booth was never lacking in spectacle to observe. Of course, the perennial favorite of drunk festival-goers across the Anglo-German world is the Chicken Dance.

IMG_2524[1]

We kept a yearly tally of how many times the chicken dance was played.

8) The whole event has this sort of mom-n-pop feel to it. No one bothers with new-fangled conveniences like computers or health codes. So you can’t help but wonder how much money it could possibly make.

Millions, or more appropriately, tons.  One trip to the ticket weighing station underneath the booth at Sauerkraut Bend, and you see that these moms and pops are nobody’s fools.

About 5% of the nightly spoils. Each of those tickets is worth 50 cents.

About 3% of the nightly spoils. Each of those tickets is worth 50 cents.

9) Odd as it is, perhaps the thing I’ll miss the most is walk out, after it’s all over. There is no moodier light than the fading of a heat lamp. No more melancholy sound than the last of the revelry 100 feet ahead of you. No more atmospheric icon than the trash and debris of the party covered in confetti. It would have been easy for my last walk out of NIOSA to be a nostalgic, bittersweet moment…but then someone spilled beer on my shoe and nearly poked me in the eye with their sausage skewer…

IMG_2532[1] IMG_2533[1]

We Planted a Tree [Part I]

This is our sapling Taxodium mucronatum:

IMG_2569[1]

Among the many cool CPS Energy programs, the tree giveaway is my favorite. It’s hard to get super jazzed about Energy Star Appliance rebates, and Enegy Saver Home Management, even though we appreciate them. But free trees? Hoo-RAY!

As the sole utilities provider for San Antonio, it’s good to see them give back. I heard someone make an argument for benevolent dictatorships once, and that sort of how I feel about CPS. In theory, I’m a fan of choice. In reality, I like CPS, and would probably choose them anyway. If being a monopoly allows them to give away trees, I’m not so terribly opposed.

I even found myself standing in Woodlawn Lake Park’s Earth Day celebration handing out free CPS trees to Westside residents. At the beginning of the day they could choose between such drought tolerant and attractive Texas natives as Eve’s Necklace, Mexican Buckeye, Redbuds, Possumhaw Holly, and more. As the day wore on, the choices narrowed considerably, until all that was left were Possumhaws and an entire grove of Montezuma Cypress.

Throughout the morning, two master naturalists carried an ongoing discussion as to whether or not Montezuma Cypress trees, which typically grow along rivers banks, were actually drought tolerant. If indeed they are not, then the middle of the bone-dry Westside in the middle of the 3rd worst drought in the city’s history might not bode well for the survival of the Montezumas.

(According to Wikipedia…they are both drought tolerant and usually found in riparian areas.)

At any rate, their audible debate did not bode well for marketing the Montezumas. So at the end of the day, I eyed the remaining saplings, looking like little Charlie Brown Christmas trees, and thought, “Well, kids, one of you has got to survive.”

I happen to have access to a creek on my husband’s family ranch. Gallagher Ranch is a fine specimen of the Edwards recharge zone, and this has just the sort of springs and soils in which cypress trees thrive. Whether or not Montezumas can actually flourish in any Westside back yard may be up for debate, but on the banks of San Geronimo Creek they seem to do quite well.

So on a Friday night Lewis and I headed out to the ranch with out friend Liz and her pack of dogs. We walked the creek bed until we found the perfect place.

IMG_2546[1]

IMG_2558[1]

Lewis dug the hole.

IMG_2570[1]

We set the tree in.

IMG_2572[1]

I covered his roots. (I’m posing here…this is not the posture of someone actually shoveling.)

IMG_2578[1]

Now we will hopefully watch him grow.

IMG_2580[1]

If you’ve never planted a tree, I highly recommend it. I could wax on about the poetry of the experience, but I think that would only muck up it’s utility and grace. There are times where the poetry is in the doing, not the reflecting. Planting trees is one of those things.

I will only say this. Trees are so much simpler than people and politics. They take nutrients and they grow. They give back in predictable ways. They do what they do because of what they are, not how they feel or what they think. I know that it’s our magnificent minds and souls that separate us from the rest of the natural world…but trees have got something going for them. They live by the immortal creed: “It’s not how you look when you’re doin’ what you’re doin’. It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’ what you look like you’re doin’.”

Tagged , ,