American Patriots

My sister Stacey has had a interest in our family’s genealogy for some time.  She was fortunate to have spent some time with my grandfather looking over the materials that he and my grandmother had pulled together over the years.

She recently obtained some information that links us to John Barlow of Kent, Connecticut, a private soldier who served in the Connecticut Militia during the American Revolution.

We don’t know too much about John, other than this regarding his service:

JOHN BARLOW, of Kent, Connecticut, enlisted on May 7, 1777, as a Private in Captain Albert Chapman’s Company of Colonel Heman Swift’s 7th Regiment of Connecticut Militia.

He was subsequently in Captain Comstock Albert Chapman’s Company of Colonel Heman Swift’s 7th Regiment of Connecticut Militia. He was subsequently in Captain Comstock’s Company of Colonel Swift’s 2nd Connecticut Regiment, Captain Cogswell’s Company of Colonel Moseley’s Connecticut Regiment, Captain Chamberlain’s Company of Colonel Swift’s 2nd Regiment, Captain Manning’s Company of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, and in Colonel Hinman’s 4th Connecticut Regiment.

Washington rallying the troops at the Battle of Monmouth

He was in the Battles of Germantown and Monmouth, served in one campaign in 1775 and all of 1776.  

He applied for a pension, application no. S37732, on April 22, 1818, in Litchfield County, Connecticut. 

John Barlow was born on March 5, 1748, at Kent and was the son of Joseph and Phebe Barlow.   He married first Anna Caswell on May 27, 1770, second Temperance Branch on January 25, 1773, and third Lucy Hatch. He had eleven children.  He died on September 19, 1833, at Kent and was buried there in the Kent Hollow Cemetery.         

Yes, he had three wives over the years, which probably wasn’t all that uncommon in those days.

With no depiction of John Barlow available from internet searches, I was able to find a picture of the cemetery in which he is buried and his headstone.

Perhaps someday I’ll be able to visit there and see it for myself.

According to my grandfather, we’re also related to William Alexander, who styled himself Lord Stirling, before joining the cause of the American Revolution.  He served as a brigadier general directly under General George Washington’s command.

Much more is known about General Alexander, which you can read about in this Wikipedia article.

He is thought to have been present at the Battles of Long Island, Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth.

Thus both of these American patriots in my family would have served together.  One the lowly private and the other the privileged officer and gentleman.  I wonder if they knew each other.




Fortnight for Freedom: Day 14 – Independence Day

There’s not much more to say about the Fortnight for Freedom, so in honor of Independence Day, here are a few reminders from the greatest orator of my time.

Regardless of what you think of President Ronald Reagan, his politics, or his place in history, I hope you will admit that he certainly knew how to make you feel good about our nation and help you appreciate what just how special our freedoms are.


And just for fun …

If you are old enough to remember Liberty Weekend, 1986 – the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty, than you know what a special time that was.  Here’s a little reminder:


9/11 Boatlift Video

I just ran across this video about the incredible boat lift of people out of Manhattan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.   If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth the 11 minutes of your time.


Guatemala in the Springtime

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The Call of Atitlan

I’ve heard it said that if you practice a virtue long enough, it becomes a habit; and, if you practice a vice, it becomes an addition.  I think this is a bit of both.

This time each year, unbidden, I feel a longing to visit the Lake Atitlan region in the western highlands of Guatemala.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is caused by the many trips I took there during my time as campus minister at the St. Philip Neri Newman Center at the University of Tulsa.

Each March for 9 years, I spent a week there with a group of college students.  No wonder that I feel the pull to go there even now.

This tweet came across my screen this morning and it got me thinking about Guatemala all over again.  I jumped into my iPhoto library and rather willy-nilly started selecting photos for this post.

And I couldn’t stop until I reached nearly 250 shots, some from each of the trips I took with students.   (My apologies for attaching them all to this post and for the time it took to load on your screen!)

Unless you went on one of these trips, these photos won’t mean much to you.  Not knowing the context or the people in them won’t help either.  However, every time I look at them, I am struck over and over at how life changing these experiences were for me and for those I traveled with .  This was truly the best thing we did while I was campus minister.



The first six years, I think were the best.  We stayed in Santiago Atitlan, at the south end of Lake Atitlan, home of Micatokla (Mision Catholica de Oklahoma), the Oklahoma Catholic Mission that had reopened the parish there at the end of the 1950’s.  It had been abandoned for almost 150 years before that.

The dioceses of Oklahoma had strong ties to this mission and it was important for us to build on that connection.

We stayed in the guest rooms of the mission rectory, cooked our own food in the kitchens, prayed in the chapel and church, visited the schools, but most importantly, we assisted in the construction of stone homes in the Canton of Panabaj.

Panabaj is an outlying community south of Santiago Atitlan.  The parish owned land there and for several years, various parishes in Oklahoma funded the construction of homes (casa familiares) in that neighborhood.   The Newman Center was one of the few groups that actually went there, assisted in the construction of the homes,  learned about the mission and the community, and experienced a certain solidarity with the people who would live in those homes.


Luz Alta

Year after year, we would build homes next to, or nearby, the homes of the previous years. We made friends with the families, mostly the kids, and saw them growing up.   We were certainly not tourists and the people there didn’t see us that way either.

I enjoyed walking in that neighborhood, playing with the kids, greeting families of previously built homes and watching the interactions the students were having.

We always “sold” the trip to the students as a “house building trip.”  Serving the poor through their hard labor over spring break.

If you look at the photos, you’ll see many with the students up to their waists in trenches, pushing wheelbarrow, or hauling dirt and rocks.

And then, a few days into the trip, you would see the relationships take hold and the realization would dawn on the student that these trips were much more than just “house building trips.”    It was about learning, sharing, putting their own lives in context, and dealing with the idea that they were taking away more from the experience than they were giving.

I find it hard sometimes to keep my emotions in check when I think about these experiences and the wonderful students that went on them.  I think they were changed as much as I was.


Luz Differentes

The trip in 2006 was a major turning point in our program.  In October of 2005, a hurricane crossed Central America, causing terrible flooding in many parts.

Santiago Atitlan, and especially Panabaj, experienced terrible mudslides.  The areas, a tenth of a mile in any direction, around the neighborhood of our homes was devastated.  More than 750 people died in one night.

Our little neighborhood, now with about 30 houses, was miraculously spared any significant damage though I think a few of the inhabitants were killed or injured.

When we returned to Panabaj the following March, much had changed.  The visibile reminders of the mudslide were everywhere.  The neighborhood school, just up the road was battered and covered with 5 feet of dirt, rock and debris.

Our little neighborhood and all the homes that we had built was mostly abandoned, inhabited by squatters who snuck in after the government closed it.  It was deemed a high risk area of future mudslides and not suited for habitation.  It was a ghost town.

It was heart wrenching to go there, especially for any of us who had been there before and seen the life of that community.  Many of us cried when we visited the refugee camp where our friends had been forced to move and see the struggles they were once again facing without homes of their own.

From that point on, we started building homes closer to Santiago Atitlan, and eventually moved our location to the mission of San Lucas Toliman (operated by the Diocese of New Ulm in Minnesota) about 20 miles up the lake road.

Mision de San Lucas Toliman

San Lucas is a much bigger operation than the Oklahoma Mission (which had been returned to the local diocese a few years earlier). The experience for the students visiting this mission was still very good, but much different.

The students still worked on mission projects, visited its clinic, toured its coffee collective, forestry project, etc., but never really recaptured the same sense of camaraderie that we had with the people of Panabaj.

The mission in San Lucas is terrific and gave us new opportunities to share the life of the community, but I missed Santiago.

Perhaps fittingly, my last trip with students was during Holy Week of 2008.  We helped the parish prepare for Good Friday and Easter by mixing colored sawdust for their street decoration, and preparing flowers for the church.  We were very fortunate to take part in the town wide processions on Good Friday and the Living Passion liturgy in the church.

I guess if my time taking students to Guatemala had to end, that was a good time to do it.  As memorable a trip as any of them had been.

Four years have now passed since the last time I traveled there with students, and my thoughts still turn there every spring.   I hope I never forget all that we experienced.  The joy of the people, working side-by-side with them, making friends with the children, the amazing beauty of Lake Atitlan and its surrounding volcanoes.  I also want to remember the occasional food poisoning, amoebas, cold showers, harrowing highway journeys, tuk tuk rides, threats of bandits, long dusty hikes and the culture shock of returning home.

Some day I hope I can return there with another group of people, former students of one of the trips perhaps.  My pastor, Fr. Jack recently told me that I have “a heart for missions.”

I think he’s right.  I’m ready to go again.


Obsolete Skills

My brother Kevin and his wife Maureen were in town last weekend for my birthday.  We had a great time.

Whenever we get together, it seems like there are always occasions when I am reminded of the vast amount of trivia that seems to be stuck in my head.  I don’t know why I remember so many seemingly useless things, but I do.

For example, we bought some bananas at the local super market.  Unfortunately, the ones for sale were all very green.  Into my head popped the method I learned from somewhere about quickly ripening bananas by sealing them in a paper bag.  I haven’t the faintest idea where I learned this trick, but it was in my head.  And it works!

Then it occurred to me that over the years, I’ve learned some pretty specific skills, many that are pretty obsolete and not likely to be used much in the future.   I don’t know how I should feel about this.  Archaic?  Well-educated? Road-weary?

Anyway, here are a few of my well-honed skills that have entered the realm of obsolescence, at least in the context of my life.  I dare say this is not an exhaustive list.

Rotary Phone Dialing

I grew up with telephones just like the one.  I image someone who’s never used one like this might have to pause for a moment the first time.  There’s a certain panache needed to dial a number and not look like a total doofus.

Did you use one of these?  Do you remember how to call for help before 911 service was started?  How to tell your loved ones that you reached your destination without actually paying for a long distance call?  What the sound of an actually ringing phone is?

Church Keys & Pull Ring Cans

I betcha that there are kids in America today, that have one of these in a kitchen drawer and don’t have the faintest idea for what it is used:


This is what my dad would call a “church key”, although I’m sure that anything that is made to open one of these could also be called that:



Although pull ring cans were pretty common when I was a boy, there were still plenty of cans around that used church keys.  Motor oil cans come to mind as one example.

I think these are really pretty efficient and don’t cause all that unsightly littering that other pull top and pop top cans caused.

One of my first physics lessons came from using cans like these.   Two holes on opposite sides of the can, of course, made drinking and pouring so much easier!


Drive-in Movie Projectionist

My first real paying job came during high school.  Yes, my social security records will show that I began my work life as a movie theater nerd.  Ever see Fast Times at Ridgemont High?  Yep, I was just like the repressed teenaged geek in that film.  I worked at all three of the movie theaters in Hobbs, New Mexico, including the Flamingo Drive-in.

I felt pretty lucky when I graduated from ticket seller and concessionist to running the awesome projectors at the Flamingo.   That baby, similar to the one above, used carbon arc welding rods to produce the light.  It was like watching a small nuclear reaction.  That was great fun and, boy, did I learn a lot at the drive-in!  Here’s a Youtube video that does a pretty good job illustrating what I used to do:




Oilfield Roustabout

During my undergraduate college years, I spent my summer working as an oilfield roustabout.  Not to be confused with a roughneck.  Roustabouts do repair work on oilfield production equipment, such as pumpjacks, tank batteries, heater-treaters, separators, etc.  Roughnecks are the workers who work on oil drilling equipment – much harder and more dangerous work.

I learned quite a bit about the various types of oilfield equipment.  Not much call to use it now, but I still know my way around an oilfield.  I do still use some of the skills I learned with the various types of tools we used – mostly different kinds of wrenches.  Pretty handy fixing that old kitchen sink.

That summer I spent changing mufflers on a fleet of pickup trucks?  Yeah, not so handy now.

Other Stuff

There are loads of other things I could write about, but here what comes to mind:

  • how to write a computer program using punch cards
  • how to fix typewriter ribbons
  • how to clean a four-barrel carburetor
  • that awkward bamboo dance I learned in elementary school gym class
  • MS DOS commands / BASIC
  • the chemical formulas for ferrous and ferric oxides
  • how to bake an apple in a campfire

Cool, huh?  I think I’m tending toward the archaic. Time to learn some new things.

What skill do you have that are mostly useless these days?


previously esteban

Yup. I got distracted by a few things and haven’t posted anything here in awhile.  We all go through things like this.

So, I’m going to do what others have done and gather up some of what’s happened in the last 6 weeks, wrap a big bow around it and offer it up to you in a neat package.   People like lots of photos, so hopefully it won’t be too boring or self serving.

The Cabin

As the summer started winding down, I began a project to paint the outside of my family’s lake cabin.  As you can see from the photo, it’s not a particularly big cabin, only about 4 rooms.

It’s a great place, full of so many memories.  It’s been in our family for over 60 years and includes 14 acres of lake front.  I have memories of being in the lake even before I learned how to swim.  It’s the one place left in our family that ties us all together.

Anyway, the cabin is overdue for a new paint job.  The early 80’s mauve has long since faded and needs to be updated.  I chose a sea foam (ish) green color in a moment of nostalgia.  It was originally painted a really minty green color (ala 1950).  I couldn’t quite go there.  The new color is really not as green as the photo portrays it.

As it stands, I’m only about 50% done.  I’m hoping to recruit some help to finish it before it gets too cold.  Wanna help?

Kansas City

I made two trips to Kansas City in the last month.  The first was an overnight trip to check on preparations for the Catholic New Media Conference which I helped organize for SQPN, and the second was a full week for the CNMC itself.

What a great time!  I love the time that I get to spend with the SQPN folk and all those involved in Catholic new media.  It is such a passionate and lively group.

Take a minute and have a looks at these photos:

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There’s a lot in those pictures.  A trip to see the Kansas City Royals with my friend Dr. Paul Camarata, several photos of my new friend Ian Maxfield (an English podcaster, now living in Scotland) and his adventures at Waffle House, California Pizza Kitchen and Latte Land, and many shots of the CNMC and the good folks in attendance.

 Football Season

It’s college football season now and I have had a great time following both of my favorite schools, the Oklahoma State University Cowboys and the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane.    I’ve been able to attend a game at each school, so here are some photos, which include my sister Stacey and my friend Jim, the one burying his face in a funnel cake.

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I don’t have any photos to show it, but I was also enthralled in the baseball World Series during this lapse of blogging.  If you follow baseball, you’ll understand why.  No one will ever forget Game 6 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers.

There’s more to catchup, but I think I’ll save those for other posts.



Move, Eat, Learn

The three videos below have really captivated my imagination.  If you haven’t seen them yet, you’re in for a treat.

It’s not so much the actual content of the videos that grabs my attention, so much as the idea behind them.  The joie de vivre, in other words.

As some of you may know, I work from home.  For me, it’s a real challenge.  Apparently, I’m more extroverted that I thought and there are days when I want to run around the house yelling and banging my head into the walls for lack of real human interaction.

These videos, and in a similar essence, this recent post by Matthew Warner, have me considering new possibilities, new and daring challenges.

Perhaps I should have entitled this entry “Faith, Hope, Courage.”





Padre A’plas – Servant of God

Fr. Stanley Francis Rother

July 28, 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Oklahoma priest Fr. Stanley Francis Rother.

A missionary priest, Fr. Rother was the pastor of the Parroquia de Santiago, in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala when he was killed by men thought to be paramilitary hit-men of the government.

Below are links to where you can find the whole story, so I won’t recount it here.

I first learned about Fr. Rother in March 2000 when I accompanied a group of Newman Center students from the University of Tulsa on a spring break trip to Santiago Atitlan.

The Dioceses of Oklahoma operated  the parish in Santiago Atitlan as “Micatokla,” the Mision Catolica de Oklahoma, so it was a natural place for us to visit.  Through that visit and a dozen more, I came to admire Fr. Rother greatly and to feel a personal connection to him as a missionary.

The room where Fr. Rother was murdered, at one time a bedroom in the rectory, has been converted into a chapel and a memorial for him.   Through the years, the students and I have prayed there, attended Mass, and used it for quiet meditation, mere inches from the blood-stained walls and bullet-ridden floor.

That probably sounds a bit macabre, but it really isn’t. Because of Fr. Rother’s example of serving the people and defending them from the dangers of the time, the Church has deemed it worthy to open a cause for sainthood for Fr. Rother.  Someday I hope to hear that he has been declared Venerable or even Blessed.

Honestly, despite the tragedy that occurred in this room, it is one of the most peaceful and prayerful places in parish complex.

My good friend Mark Steichen and I, along with a contingent of other Oklahomans, attended the 25th anniversary observances in 2006.  It was an incredible experience, and proved to us the love and respect the people there have for Fr. Rother.

We were staying at a small office building 2 blocks from the parish, sleeping on the floor and cooking our own meals in a small kitchen.  At midnight on July 28th, we could hear singing coming from the church and from the rooftop of our building we saw that the church was open.

Late a night, dozens of people where in the church praying before the memorial to Fr. Rother built near the main entrance.  Catechists had gathered young and old around them and were teaching them the story of Fr. Rother, about his work with the people and his work for justice.

There is no doubt in the minds of the people there that Fr. Rother is a saint.

I understand that a large contingent from Oklahoma, as well as several bishops, are in Guatemala this week for this anniversary.  My heart is with them.  I would have loved to be there.

Note:  The people of Santiago Atitlan are members of the T’zutujil Maya and speak their own distinct dialect.  There is no equivalent name for Stanley, so they called him Padre Francisco (in Spanish) or Padre A’plas (the T’zutujil equivalent).

Here are a few links.  Spend a few moments learning about this faithful priest, loyal Oklahoman, and Servant of God.

There are better videos around, but this is the only one I could find online.

My Close Encounter: STS-1

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I’m feeling a bit melancholy about the end of the US Space Shuttle Program.  Today, via the wonders of the internet, I witnessed the 135th and final launch of these awesome machines.

As I write this, Shuttle Atlantis is in orbit over the Earth, making its way to a docking with the International Space Station.

The photos you see above were taken by me on April 27, 1981,  just a few weeks after the completion of the first Shuttle mission, STS-1, by Shuttle Columbia.   It had landed at Edwards AFB in California and was being transferred back to Florida piggybacked on a NASA 747.

My college roommate at the time, Michael Ryan, and I had heard that the shuttle was going to make a stop at Tinker AFB just outside of Oklahoma City.  When we heard that it was going to be open to the public, we couldn’t resist seeing it.

We made a mad dash from Stillwater, OK, driving the 70 miles to Tinker, arriving just in time to see the shuttle/747 descending over the highway towards the runway.  Traffic for miles around came to a standstill and people got out of their cars to watch.

Eventually making it onto the Air Force base, we were allowed to view the shuttle from less than 100 yards away. I can’t imagine being allowed to do that today.

I have been captivated by the manned space program my whole life.  In the ’60s and 70’s, I was mesmerized by the Apollo program and vividly remember watching Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, during Apollo 11.

For 30 years, the Shuttle program has waxed and waned in my attention, but I remember, almost painfully, where I was when I learned of the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

And so, yes, there’s melancholy to see this program end and I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see America continue its manned exploration of space.

Americans have always been curious explorers of the frontier.  It’s part of our definition and our genetics.  I worry about the cohesion of our national identity when we set this aside.

Oh, how I pray we remember to be pioneers.  I take hope from Commander Christopher Ferguson, who before the flight,  saluted all those who contributed over the years to the shuttle program.

“The shuttle is always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through,” he said. “We’re not ending the journey today … we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end.”


Independence Day

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I had a very enjoyable Independence Day weekend and I thought I would share it with you.  The photos above should give you a good idea of my time, but here’s the “rest of the story.”

Helen’s Baptism

My very good friends, Jim & Kerry, asked me to be the godfather for their youngest daughter Helen.  Her baptism was held at Tulsa’s Christ the King Church on Saturday afternoon.

I’ve known Jim and Kerry for almost 8 years now, beginning when both were students at TU.  Both were very active leaders at the Newman Center and I counted on them many time.  Kerry was my designated Spanish speaker on several trips to Guatemala – which always put my mind at ease.  Jim organized many activities and sports teams, traveled on most Newman Center trips and was one of my companions on the great trek across Spain on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Following Helen’s baptism, Jim and Kerry hosted a day-long reception at their house. It was great fun, with lawn games, good food and drink, and rousing games of ping-pong.  I was quite literally there for 7 hours!   I’m sure they are still recovering!

It’s a great honor to be their daughter’s godfather.  Helen joins Sophie, my other goddaughter, the oldest child of my great friends John and Nadine.    I have likewise shared many experiences and have traveled the world with them.  I’m looking forward to seeing them in October.

My life would be so much poorer without these friends and their extended families.

Grand Lake

I spent Sunday afternoon at our cabin on Grand Lake.  We have a quaint cinder block cabin on 14 shoreline acres.  The place has so many family memories and I love spending time there.

There was some sadness being there this year.  Several of the lake communities have been suffering because of the weather this year.  Last winter, a great deal of damage was caused by massive snowfalls.  Many boat docks and boats were sunk due to the weight of snow on their roofs.   This spring other communities suffered from tornado damage.

These communities rely on big holiday weekends for much of their revenue.  Unfortunately, there is currently an outbreak of blue-green algae kept many people way this weekend.  The algae is dangerous stuff.  It releases a neuro-toxin that can make people and animals quite ill.  The lake authorities warned people not to make contact with the water.  Naturally, this kept many people away and the lake communities suffered yet again.

I was determined to spend time at the cabin anyway and to do some upkeep on the place.  It was a relaxing time, but I would have preferred to have friends with me.

Tulsa Drillers Baseball

I didn’t really have any firm plans for the 4th of July itself, so on a whim I purchased one of the last tickets available for the Tulsa Drillers baseball game.  I like to attend baseball games but I hadn’t had a chance to go to one at their new downtown stadium.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity since I knew they were going to follow the game with fireworks.

A bit warm, it was a very pleasant evening.  The Drillers led most of the game but were defeated when the San Antonio Missions took the lead in the 8th inning.  Nonetheless, it was a very American way to spend Independence Day.

As promised, the Drillers offered up their own fireworks show following the game.  This was an experience!  The fireworks were of the low-altitude variety, shot off from the field itself.  The video that follows was shot on my iPhone from less than 100 yards away.

It was loud, exciting, patriotic and smelled of gun powder!  Nothing like blowing things up on the 4th of July!
I’d say that was a very successful holiday.  Now, I need to rest up!


Fireworks at Oneok Field from Steve Nelson on Vimeo.

Once Upon Our Lives (1967-1969)

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It’s time for another installment of family photos from my childhood.  There are probably too many in this batch but this pretty much wraps up our journey through the 50’s and 60’s.

I like these photos because they are a good look at the special occasions in our lives.  Birthdays, patio parties, little league, etc.  Nothing but the good times, the happy times.

I’ve added some captions which I hope are helpful.  If you watch the slideshow, they should be self-explanatory.    Times gone by.

I’m mourning a bit to reach this end point of dad’s collection of photos.  There are only a few left, and then we entered the age of Instamatic cameras and flashcubes.  (They haven’t aged well).

As the 7o’s hit, things started to change, in our family, in our society, and much more.  If you lived through the early 70’s you know what I mean.  We’ll see if I’m brave enough to find, scan and post those pictures.

In the meantime, enjoy this little look back at our family as we wrap up our time in Midland Texas and begin the next move that will take us to Tulsa, in 1970.

A Silent Vigil


Friday evening, after dinner with my friend Msgr. Mueggenborg, who works at the Pontifical North American College here in Rome, I had some time to kill before meeting up with Fr. Roderick.

I made my way back over to St. Peter’s Square and enjoyed some quiet time strolling on the piazza.  A large video screen at the entrance to the square has been displaying commemorative videos about Pope John Paul II’s pontificate and they were still showing although it was now almost 10 pm.

It’s a mesmerizing video, projected without sound, which recounts JPII’s important history of traveling the world.  Although I had seen parts of the video earlier, this night it drew me in and I was captivated by the memories that it brought back.

Slowly, as the video played, more and more people in the piazza were also drawn in and a crowd gathered in complete silence, a vigil of remembrance for Pope John Paul II.

As each year of his pontificate passed in turn, we saw the joy of the people he visited and remembered the messages that he delivered in all parts of the world.  In a short time, we also saw him age and the heartbreaking advance of his illness and infirmities.

The video ends with his death and funeral.  With a few tears and a collective sigh from our little group gathered in vigil, a quiet applause came as the crowd dispersed, deep in thought.

This was one of those unplanned moments, a shared experience among strangers.  But also one that those present will not soon forget.

Once Upon Our Lives (1961-1966)

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In this latest installment of “Once Upon Our Lives,” we’ve finally reached 1961, the year yours truly makes his appearance.  Eighteen months later my little sister Stacey was born and our quintet of compadres was complete.

These were good years. Happy years.

Our family was prosperous and our summers were filled with trips to Six Flags, Grand Lake in Oklahoma, Big Bend National ParkMonahans Sand Dunes and visits to our family in Tulsa.

We also indulged my mother’s love of animals.  It seems like we were always playing with one sort of animal or another.  Dogs, llamas, horses, donkeys, chickens, lambs, … it really didn’t seem to matter!

We made our home in Monument, New Mexico, just outside of Hobbs where I was born, but soon moved to Midland, Texas where we lived for the next 8 years.

Some of these photos bring back very good memories.  I particularly like my Batman-themed 5th birthday!

These were freer times too.  Honestly, who these days lets a 7-year old drive their boat with an outboard motor?

Links to previous “Once Upon Our Lives” posts:

Once Upon Our Lives (1955-1960)

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I’ve had a chance to delve further into my dad’s box of slides.  It is such a treat to transport myself back into time and see my family when we were all young.

The set of photos shown above are some of the better or more meaningful shots taken between 1955 and 1960.    During these years, my brothers Mark and Kevin are born and begin growing up with our eldest sister Christine.

I especially appreciate the shots with my grandfathers.  I never met my mother’s father, he passed away in 1959, I believe, not too long after the photo of him sitting in a lawn chair with Christine.

My other grandfather, my dad’s father, we called Pappy.  I got to know him very well and I miss him every day.   You’ll see him with glasses and a big smile.  He had a great way of interacting with everyone and treated even the smallest kids with personal attention, never dismissive.  I count him as one of the most influential people in my life and a great mentor.

Enjoy these shots, taken in Midland,Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Monument, New Mexico.

Have a look at the previous post in this series:
One Upon Our Lives (1951-1954)

I Miss … Mixtapes

I miss the old-style cassette mixtapes of the 80’s.  Seriously!

There’s a great description of mixtapes on wikipedia:

A mixtape, which usually reflects the musical tastes of its compiler, can range from a casually selected list of favorite songs, to a conceptual mix of songs linked by a theme or mood, to a highly personal statement tailored to the tape’s intended recipient. Essayist Geoffrey O’Brien has called the personal mixtape “the most widely practiced American art form”, and many mixtape enthusiasts believe that by carefully selecting and ordering the tracks in a mix, an artistic statement can be created that is greater than the sum of its individual songs, much as an album of pop music in the post-Beatles era can be considered as something more than a collection of singles.

The mixtapes that I had were like old friends.  On long cross country drives, there were only certain tapes that would do, tapes that would allow your mind to free itself and remind you of long lost friends and experiences.

Mixtapes were also a very personal way to express yourself to another person.  How many of us put together mixes for a loved family member or boyfriend/girlfriend?

The process of putting together a mix was almost as important as the finished tape itself.  Songs were played, chosen, rejected, and reordered to set just the right mood or sentiment.  Recording to tape required time and effort because you had to manually create the tape, one song at a time.

Burned CDs and iPod playlists are just not the same.  It’s too easy!  Dragging and dropping files just doesn’t have the same sense of thought and commitment.  They are too easily changed and replaced.

My favorite mixtapes took on their own unique character over time.  Imperfections in the tape, little mistakes in the recording process, the unavoidable and crushing damage caused by heat and time.

Mixtapes also had a lifespan.  We all knew that sooner or later our tape deck would eat our favorite tape and our friend would be gone, to be replaced by some other.

I guess there’s a life lesson in mixtapes.  To everything there is a season.  Things too easily replaced lack an honest and redeeming value.

(check out the “I Miss …” page for other stuff I miss, if you wanna)

Once Upon Our Lives (1951-1954)


I recently found a box with about 2500 slides that my dad shot in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. I am quite sure that I have never seen most of these before so it has been a real pleasure to delve back in time to the early history of my family.

Both of my parents are gone now.  Mom was the victim of a long battle with cancer, passing away at the age of 49, when I was 16.  Dad succumbed to the ravages of 30 years of diabetes at age 62, when I was 27.

Seeing these slides has let me see them again as they were as young adults, recently married and just starting our family.

The carousel at the top of this post contains some of the better photos – the more picturesque ones, some that are just interesting to me, and in a couple of cases remind me of others in the family who are also gone. My dad was on active duty with the US Navy in 1951-1952 during the Korean conflict.  Some of these slides were taken on an around-the-world cruise that his ship took to Hawai’i, Japan, Singapore, India, and Italy.

Of course, there are many more than these few and I spent an entire weekend living “in” them as they were scanned.  I poured over small details, remembering furniture, dishes, clothes, clocks and “things” that I grew up with.

These long lost photos are a treasure to me and bring my family back alive in my memories.    Seeing my parents before the tragedies of their illnesses encourages me to remember how precious the gift of life is and compels me to try and live it more fully.

I hope you enjoy these photos.  There are more to come!  Watch for subsequent posts with more.

Home for the Holidays

I haven’t blogged for a bit and this particular post has been rattling around in my head, so it’s time that I have it out.  I don’t know if you, dear reader, will find anything particularly profound in this account, but there is a deep and abiding profundity for me.


The year 2010 was a difficult year for me, as have been the last few years.  I don’t wish to delve into those difficulties but it is important to know that, in December, it brought a certain reluctance for the coming holiday season.  I didn’t foresee any turmoil, more a sense of certain disappointment.

I had no big plans for Christmas or New Years, just a familiar gathering of my family, which while always nice, didn’t portend anything really memorable.  What few friends I have close-by had plans to be elsewhere with their own families.

So, I didn’t have any real expectations for anything other than the status quo ante of 2010.


So now, I look back on the period from December 8, 2010 to January 8, 2011 as one of merciful consolation, with a certain amount of redemption, and a heaping bowl of gratitude.

I received many unlooked for gifts during this time.  The best kind of gifts, to be sure.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

This tale begins on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  One of my parishes, St. Mary’s, was hosting 40 Hours of Devotion – round the clock Eucharistic Adoration – beginning on Wednesday, December 8th and running until Friday, December 10th.   I’m a big fan of adoration, but haven’t done it regularly for awhile.  I decided to pick up an hour each day at 11:30am.

I began with Mass on the 8th, which also happens to be my mother’s birthday, and the anniversary of my First Communion.  So, it’s always a special day for me.

After Mass and for an hour on the next 2 days, I spent time in St. Mary’s chapel, alone with the Lord.  It was a great time to pray and enjoy the silence. (Of course, anyone familiar with Adoration knows that it’s really a deafening silence.)

Prior to this, I had been lamenting the fact that I hadn’t really embraced the Season of Advent, so this was a very good way to address that as well.

Those few hours really benefited me and centered me in a way that I hadn’t felt in some time.

Christmas Tree

On the 10th of December, my friend Whitney, who works for the Tulsa Housing Authority, called me and volunteered to help me decorate my house for Christmas.  She had just done the same at her office and was in the mood to share the Christmas spirit.

I haven’t decorated my house at Christmas for a couple of year because I rarely have any guests or visitors, but I acquiesced.

I am so grateful for this!  Following on the heels of my time in Adoration, I thoroughly enjoyed our little tree decorating event, along with a dinner of broiled fish and mashed potatoes.  Yes, I know, not really holiday food, but at least it was edible.  I give full credit to Whitney for kicking me out of my doldrums and setting the mood for the rest of the Christmas season.

Whitney has been a true friend since our days at the TU Newman Center.  I could always count on her to liven things up and make them so less serious than they might have otherwise been.   She’s the original “Cookie Girl” and often appeared on my “OntheU” podcast.

Aaron & Jordan Get Married, Patrick Comes to Visit

Aaron & Jordan Guernsey

A week later, on the weekend of the 17th-19th, my friends Aaron and Jordan were married.  They too were regular members of the OntheU crew and their wedding was a joyous occasion and gave me a good reason for me to be around the old Newman Center gang.

Pat Padley drove down for the wedding and stayed at my house for the weekend.  We’ve been friends for 6 years now and he too was one of the original OntheU co-hosts, from the very first episode.

Although this day was for Aaron and Jordan, it brought back together at least 30 Newman Center students and alumni, and for me, it was a wonderful homecoming.

Patrick Padley

The wedding Mass was celebrated by my favorite priest, Fr. Jack.  The Newman Choir, with both past and present members, sang many of the old songs and Mass parts, and it was such a benison to me, soothing away many of the pains that time and distance have inflicted.

A White Christmas

The next weekend, although completely different, was just as awesome and special.

John & Sophie

My good friends, John & Nadine White, had plans to drive from Omaha to Dallas, to spend Christmas with their family.  Since they currently have two small kids, Sophie (3 yrs) and Dominick (10 months), they asked if they could stay at my house one night, and break up their trip.

I was thrilled!  Sophie is my goddaughter and I hadn’t seen her for several months, and I always like spending time with John and Nadine.

John and I have a history that goes back to my earliest days at the Newman Center.  John was one of the first students that I really got to know.  He is from Odessa, Texas, not too far from my old hometown of Hobbs, New Mexico.   He and I have done some serious traveling together, back in the day.

John was part of the first trip I made to Guatemala.  He was part of a pilgrimage group that I helped lead to Rome the spring after he graduated, and along with some of his closest friends, we backpacked through Europe.  We also traveled through Greece and Turkey as part of another pilgrimage.  Later, while he was serving as a Christian Brothers volunteer in Peru, I was lucky to visit him and see the sites, including Machu Picchu.

Dominick & Nadine

It’s a great honor to be Sophie’s godfather, so having them stay with me was a real treat.   I enjoy seeing them in their early adulthood and building their family together.

It also made Christmas that much more special to have Sophie and Dominick at my house.  How can you not have the Christmas spirit with kids around?

Christmas Chili

If there was one sour spot to the whole Christmas season it was unfortunately Christmas Eve Mass.

My aunt likes to go to Christmas Eve Mass at our local Augustinian Prep School – Cascia Hall.  It’s a great school, but I despise going to Mass there.  It’s an awful thing to say, I know, but I always leave there very disappointed.

The Mass was completely packed  with the upper crust of Cascia society – students, parents and alumni, but there was little participation in the Mass.  No singing, no recitation of prayers, and much gazing about to see who else was there.

But go, we did nonetheless.

Christmas Day was a much better experience.  My aunt, my sister, a family friend and my brother-in-law gathered for our traditional Christmas chili, blueberry pie, and ice cream.

I know that chili probably doesn’t sound very traditional to most folks, but we grew up with it, and it was a way to lessen the burden on my parents when we were kids.

Besides, I make a mean pot of chili.  You can get the recipe in this post.

A Return Visit

So what happens after Christmas?  People go home, which means that I had a return visit from the Whites as they made their way back to Omaha.  It was a short visit, but still very enjoyable.  They were a little worse for wear, being on the rode with two small kids for over a week, but they were surviving.

Tanner & Marissa Get Married!

The first week of January was probably the most special part of this whole period.   Two more Newman Center alumni, Tanner & Marissa, were getting married on the 8th of January at Christ the King Church.

Christ the King, Tulsa

CTK is a very beautiful church, built in an art deco style and full of stained glass and mosaics.  It also happens to be the church where my parents were married, my sister Christine was married, and where my brother Kevin was married.

Tanner had asked me some days before if he could stay at my house the week before the wedding, to have some space to himself in the midst of all the final preparations.

So once again, my spare room came into service.

I loved having Tanner at my house and I was also happy to do some little tasks to help out with the wedding preparations.  During the week, I helped him finish the wedding program, had copies made and gave myself blisters as I folded and stapled them.  It was a lot more work than it needed to be, but in the end, they looked really nice.

The couple had asked me to be a reader during their wedding Mass, so I was pleased to

Cheesecake Tarts!

attend their rehearsal and dinner on Friday night, the 7th.

I really like how they did this.

I’ve been to some very formal and some very informal rehearsal dinners.  Tanner and Marissa, in order to be able to spend time with more of their friends, just had pizza brought into the parish hall, had some wonderful desserts, and had a slideshow of photos to entertain folks.   Perfectly acceptable and perfectly enjoyable!

Wedding & Reception

Fr. Matt, Tanner, Marissa, Fr. Brian

Tanner and Marissa’s wedding was fantastic and very much the Newman Center reunion that Aaron and Jordan’s had been.

The celebrants were Fr. Brian O’Brien, president of Bishop Kelley High School, and Fr. Matt Gerlach, chaplain of the Newman Center.

The place was packed with family and friends, the Newman Choir sang, and it was a very special time.  I am very humbled to have been a part and so glad that I could attend.

Wedding Reception @ John Rucker Warehouse

The reception was incredible!  It was basically held in a car garage, an old building in downtown Tulsa that holds a collection of antique cars.  Decorated with lights, tables, chairs, and a live band, and voila!

It took me a whole day to recover!  I arrived after the wedding at 3:30pm and didn’t leave until after 10pm.  More than 6 hours and I’m sure I have some permanent hearing damage!

Nonetheless, it was a terrific time and a perfect way to end a stellar month of celebration.


A Treasured Gift!

There is more that I could add to this long list of events, but I think I will end it here with some reflection.

The Christmas season was a blessing to me and having the chance to reconnect with so many of my “Newman” family couldn’t have come at a better time.

I’ve been rejuvenated in a new way and it has given me strength for the upcoming year.

I’ll close with a photo of the gift that Tanner and Marissa gave me for participating in their wedding.  I’ve only had it a short while now, but I already treasure it.

I’m sure that Tanner picked this out because he understands what a struggle these past couple of years have been.  Loss of a mission, loss of a job, difficult decisions and uncertain futures.  New missions, new job, new futures and new milestones.

The sentiment on the cross proves to me that he gets it.  And that is the healing that comes with the joy of all the opportunities I had to be “home” for the holidays.

Strength lies in submission which permits one to dedicate his life through devotion, to something beyond himself. – Henry Miller


My friend Fr. Jay Finelli asked me to send him some audio about my Christmas traditions and favorite memories.

This little task caused me to remember when I got my very first bicycle, a coveted Schwinn Sting-Ray.  I remember getting this bike about 1967 when we were living in Midland, TX.

It was just like the one shown at the far right of the photo, except that mine was “Campus Green.”  I vividly remember getting this bike because I taught myself how to ride a bike that warm Christmas Day.

My brother Kevin had tried to teach me how to ride a bike before that, but nothing but disaster ensued.  I don’t blame him, but for some reason I just didn’t get it.

We had this old bike from the ’50s with large balloon tires on it.  It had been re-painted and passed down through all the kids.  Kevin would launch me down the sidewalk on this thing and I would invariably crash into a neighbor’s car, or my mom’s rose bushes.  Neither was the preferred outcome.

But on this glorious Christmas Day, when it was about 70 degrees outside, I took my new Sting-Ray out to the street, kicked up the kickstand, climbed aboard, and gave the pedal a mighty push.  I was off down the street like I had known how to ride all my life.

I rode up and down the street a few times, more than a little excited.  I managed to get back to the house, ran inside and made my dad come out and watch, proof that I had finally managed the intricacies of bike riding.

I’ve never looked back.  I love to ride bikes and enjoy the sense of freedom it gives.  I’ve had my share of mishaps, crashes, skinned knees and head cracks since that Christmas, but I wouldn’t trade them.

I kinda wish I had that old Sting-Ray now.  I have no idea what happened to it.    If you happen to see a lonely green Sting-Ray in a pawn shop or garage sale somewhere, let me know…


I think I make a pretty good pot of chili.  Others seem to like it too, so I thought this was as good a place as any to post my recipe.
So for you, dear reader, and posterity, here it is.

Get this stuff:

  • 2 lbs of lean, ground beef
  • 2 can of Ranch Style beans (un-drained)
  • 1 can of black beans (drained)
  • 1 can of pinto beans (drained)
  • 1 can of Rotel tomatoes with green chilies
  • 2 cans of tomato soup (concentrate)
  • 1/2 cup of diced green pepper (red or yellow peppers are good too)
  • 1/2 cup of diced onion
  • 4 tbls of chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp of red pepper powder
  • 1/4 tsp of cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • Worcestershire sauce

Do this:

1.  Brown the beef in a skillet.  Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, to taste.  Drain the meat well and add to a large pot.

2. Add all the other ingredients, draining all the beans except the Ranch Style beans.

3.  Mix well and simmer over medium heat.  Do not overcook!

I prefer to use a pot on the stove top rather than a crock pot.  I prefer my chili with less liquid in it.
I also like to prepare it a day or two in advance to let the flavor of the spices permeate.

For a little more of a kick, add more red pepper.  I often add some garlic powder as well.

Chili Out!

So, go forth and chili out.  If you try this recipe, let me know what you think.