Nothing is ever as easy as I hope


I can honestly say I am glad that this morning’s adventures are not a daily occurrence for me.

My oldest daughter, Caitlin, is heading for Japan in January with the Digital Media Animation department from Huntington University. So, we need to procure a passport.

Step one: Call Clymer, NY, post office for the low-down on what documents are needed to get said passport. The Clymer office does everything including take the photo.

The woman there, Jennifer, was extremely helpful in giving me the list of things necessary for Caitlin to prove she indeed is who she says she is.

Documents needed: Birth Certificate and valid driver’s license or state-issued photo ID.

We have the birth certificate, but because of Caitlin’s lack of desire to learn to drive, she has no driver’s license. Until now, there was no need for a state-issued photo ID, so we never tried to get one. Her college photo ID is, unfortunately, not acceptable.

Step two: Go online and find out how to get a photo ID.

Documents needed: Birth Certificate (check), current W-2 (check), and social security card (check, or so I thought).

After an exhaustive search of our safe and filing cabinet, Caitlin’s social security card is nowhere to be found.

Step three: Go online and find out how to get a replacement social security card. Sounds easy, right? The online form itself was easy. Fill out the form, click to pay the $48 service fees, and I’m done, right?

Nope.

The website then asked me to print the form and either mail certified copies of the required identification documents along with the form, or visit my local social security office, which happens to be in Meadville, PA.

What are the required documents, you ask? A valid driver’s license or state-issued photo ID.

At this point I was ready to bang my head on my laptop.

original

Step four: Call Meadville social security office and explain my predicament. Megan, from the Meadville office, was aghast that I paid $48 online for a service that they offer absolutely free.

Head-banging was now imminent.

She did, however, offer a solution to the problem. I could go to Caitlin’s doctor and get a letter from him stating her name, date of birth, and that she is a current patient. The letter had to be hand-signed in ink by the doctor. Caitlin could then bring this document with her and apply in person for a replacement card.

Step five: Drive to doctor’s office and ask for said letter. Office personnel chuckled and shook their heads, but said they’d get the letter to me within the week.

Step six: Return home and pour an enormous cup of coffee, take a few deep breaths, and laugh at the whole situation.

I am happy to report that each government employee I spoke with was kind and courteous, as well as very helpful. Of course, I was polite first (albeit exasperated), and I doubt everyone with whom they have daily dealings is quite as affable.

So, for anyone out there contemplating getting a passport or replacement documents of any kind, take a lesson from my experience. Don’t pay online until you’ve spoken to the local office to find out if you can get the service for free, and don’t expect any quick or easy solutions. And, of course, have a sense of humor before you even start.

Does this red tape make my butt look big?

Does this red tape make my butt look big?

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Joyful Moment #21: Mozart und Beethoven klang nie so gut!


 

As I set foot on stage, an involuntary shiver of excitement ran up my spine. I had just descended six flights of stairs backstage along with over 200 other vocalists from around the world. We walked in our lines with purpose, stopping exactly on our marks. Four months of solitary preparation and three-and-a-half days of intense rehearsals had come down to 2:00pm, March 9, in Stern Auditorium of the world-renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City.

When the opportunity to be a part of the National Sacred Honor Choir (NSHC) first presented itself in October, I wondered if it would even be a possibility for me. How could I find the time to learn Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (in German) and Mozart’s Requiem (in Latin)? Would my husband, Bruce, be able to schedule vacation time for the performance? Would my daughters’ sports schedules allow them to attend?

I shared my excitement with only family and a few close friends at first.  After all, with so many puzzle pieces that would have to fall into perfect place, there was no guarantee I’d be able to participate in the inaugural concert of this newly-formed choir.

A series of fortuitous events rapidly unfolded.  In the first week of November, Bruce and I found ourselves with more free time. He was able to spend more evenings with our girls so I could take time to rehearse, and I was actually free in the evenings as well.  The concert date fell in between winter and spring sports. Vacation time was approved. Friends offered a place to stay just outside of the city.  Snap, snap, snap–the pieces of the puzzle all popped into place.

During college, I was a member of the Houghton College Choir.  We performed many pieces in Latin, so the pronunciation, as well as the translation, came back to me quickly. Couple that with my love of anything composed by Mozart, and the Requiem ran through my head continually.  

German was a completely different animal. Even though I lived in Germany for four years when my dad was attached to the American Embassy in Bonn, I was only six years old when we returned to the USA. The most I could remember were a few polite phrases and counting from 1 to 20. German pronunciation guides became my best friends as I learned the Choral Fantasy.  

For those unfamiliar with this music, you should know that the Requiem takes just under an hour to sing, whereas the Choral Fantasy consists of 15 minutes of piano and orchestra, concluding with five minutes of rapidly sung choral music. I was relieved to find the bulk of the singing would be done in Latin.

Four days before the concert I departed for Houghton College (the official sponsor of the NSHC); once at Houghton, I boarded a coach bus which carried other vocalists.  When we arrived at the rehearsal location on March 6, we had fifteen minutes to register and find a place to sit before the first group rehearsal began.  

Dr. Brandon Johnson, the director, walked out on stage and simply said, “Welcome. Let’s begin with the ‘Kyrie’.” The orchestra swelled, and we were off and singing. When we finished, he thanked us for being so well-prepared, but told us there was still much room for improvement.

Over the next three days we worked in sections as well as a group.  We perfected phrasing and timing as well as each note and syllable. We learned the emotive meaning of every phrase.  We sang side-by-side and in the round. Three hundred people (vocalists and orchestra combined) became one. We unified and we were thrilled.

The night before the performance we were treated to the Oscar-winning movie, “Amadeus.” While the movie is somewhat far-fetched, it does contain quite a bit of the Requiem. Imagine a movie theater full of vocalists singing along in Latin! It was a well-needed respite from the intensity of rehearsals.

When Sunday morning dawned, I didn’t notice the missing hour of sleep. Adrenaline provided all the energy I needed. Dr. Johnson had one final piece of advice.  He said, “For some of you, this will be your first time singing in Carnegie Hall. For most of you, this will be your only time singing in Carnegie Hall. All of you–cherish it.” 

I cherished every single moment of my once-in-a-lifetime experience. And to my husband, family, and friends who cheered me on in this endeavor, my heartfelt gratitude is yours forever. Gratias tibi Domine!

~This post was published in the March 22 edition of the Corry Journal http://www.thecorryjournal.com/ ~

 

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside!


It’s that time of year when we all suffer from a fever.  One would think, for those of us who have lived south of Lake Erie for most of our lives, we would know how to avoid this particular fever, yet it comes upon us like a grey fog every winter.  We moan about the cold and snow.  Our kids complain “I’m bored!”  The dog even refuses to go outside.  That’s when the insidious malady strikes: Cabin Fever.

However, there are ways to send Cabin Fever packing.  I’ve come up with a list of 15 sure-fire ways to beat it.  There is something on this list for everyone, regardless of age.  You might even find more than one that suits you. So, are you ready?

1. Try a new recipe.  Grab a cookbook and, without looking, open it and put your finger on a page.  Don’t blame me if you end up making haggis.

2. Build weird snow sculptures. Forget the snowmen, it’s time to try building giant snow turtles, huge geometric shapes, or even a snow table and chairs.  One year, my husband built all four Teletubbies out of snow, then spray-painted them by mixing warm water with food coloring in a spray bottle.  The possibilities are unlimited.

3. Make something useful out of Duck Tape.  A quick internet search reveals a multitude of crafts made of “duct” tape. However, the “Duck Tape” brand actually gives a college scholarship each year to a person who creates the nicest prom gown out of the sticky stuff.  I kid you not.

Duck Tape  never looked so good.

Duck Tape never looked so good.

4. Go to the YMCA.  You’re tired of the cold, so grab your swimsuit and head for the Y’s pool!  You (and the kids) can get a little exercise and have fun at the same time, without having to wear five layers of clothing. You can even soak those achy winter muscles in the hot tub.

5. Go to the library. Don’t go looking for something in particular.  Rather, slowly wander the stacks looking at titles.  I guarantee it won’t take you long to locate something that piques your interest. Or take out a cookbook and go back to #1.

6. Visit a local business that you haven’t ever been to before.  You think you’re stuck in the winter doldrums? Try being a small-business owner in January.  Even if you don’t buy something, at least look around.  You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

7. Host a movie night with friends. Sure you’re not “getting out” to see a movie, but you’re having friends over!  In today’s economy, renting a movie, making your own nachos and popcorn, and buying 2-liter bottles of pop is a whole lot easier on the wallet than driving 45 minutes and shelling out the bucks at the theater.

8. Host a board game day with other families.  Have everyone bring a game and a snack to share, and be sure to let the little ones win a few.

9. Troll your friends’ facebook pages and “like” photos from four years ago. This is always good for a laugh.

10. Organize the junk drawer.  Admit it, you have one, and it’s a mess.

11. Start spring cleaning.  Why wait?  You already did the junk drawer, right?

12. Draw crayon pictures with your kids.  Don’t have kids?  Draw crayon pictures anyway.

13. Plan a trip. Get out the map.  Trust me, it’s more fun to use a map than to rely on Siri. Pick a destination and look at all of the places you could visit on the way or in the same vicinity.  Go online and search more about those places.  Even if you can’t actually take the trip, you’ve spent some time there in your imagination.

14. Bundle up and go outside with a camera.  Winter scenery lends itself to some of the best photos.  Try taking photos from different angles: lie on the ground looking up at a snow-covered tree or go up to a high point and look down at snow-coated rooftops.

15. Write a letter to a friend.  Yes, a real letter, remember those? With a real envelope and stamp? In the early 1990s I was excited when I received an e-mail.  Now, I relish finding a real letter delivered by my friendly postman.

These are only my ideas, and I’ll bet everyone who reads this can think of at least one more.  Just imagine if we put all of those thousands of ideas in a book!  Hey, that’s another one right there.

16. Start writing a book.

~This blog was published in the January 25, 2014 edition of the Corry Journal~

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Moment of Joy #20: Tackling a Big Reading Project


It wasn’t something I was expecting to do, but the words of a friend on facebook challenged me.  He wrote, “If you read just four chapters a day six days every week, you can read through both the Old and New Testaments in less than one year. If you have never read through the Bible before, I challenge you to make 2014 the year.”

I can say I’ve read the Bible, just never in order and never in less than a year.  It’s a daunting undertaking, to read thousands of pages penned by at least 39 authors over a period of over 1,500 years.  It contains some of the oldest and most reliable records of civilization anywhere.  As a piece of literature, it is a masterpiece.  As the very Word of God, it is an unrivaled source of enlightenment and influence.

For the publishing world, Bibles are big business.  In just the last forty years more than 100 million copies of the Bible in its ten most popular translations have been purchased. Those versions are: the New International Version (NIV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The Living Bible (TLB), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New Living Translation (NLT), The English Standard Version (ESV), the Good News Translation (GNT), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), and a New Testament paraphrase called “The Message” (MSG).  Ranging in price from a $1 New Testament paperback to an over $100 leather-bound, gold-leaf-edged chain reference text, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time.

And herein lies the paradox.  What other best-selling book do you know of that just sits on a shelf or coffee table, rarely opened, and is hardly ever read cover to cover? Sir Frederic Kenyon (1863-1952) once remarked: “Bible reading has been a notable characteristic of the English-speaking peoples from the Reformation to the end of the Victorian Age”, and the decline in Bible reading has undoubtedly been “a serious loss to the moral and cultural equipment of the nation today.” His observation was written a century ago, yet it holds true today.

The middle of January finds me in the middle of Exodus.  I’ve already read the history of creation, the flood, the genesis of the nation of Israel, how Joseph saved that nation from starvation, their slavery, their exodus from Egypt, and the Ten Commandments.  I’m always amazed at the contents of the first two books of the biblical canon–the intrigue, deception, murder, love, hate, faith, faithlessness, anger, forgiveness, and even sex scandals.  And I still have 64 books to go!

Perhaps as I travel this journey, you will join me.  It’s not too late to get started!  You might find, as I did, that the book of Genesis reads like a novel that is hard to put down.  Catching up will be easy.  Don’t be afraid to make notes on what you’ve read–write down your insights and questions–and share with family, friends, or a pastor.  I’d love to hear from you, too!

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Moment of Joy #19: The Scrooby Connection


Most lasting changes in human history began with an idea, which turns into a motivation, resulting in words, followed by action.

Follow me on a trip to Badworth, England, specifically, the Badworth All Saints Church.

Before “The Pilgrims” became pilgrims, someone had to give them a motivation to go: Parson Richard Clifton, spiritual forefather of the Separatist movement.  He was friends with both William Brewster and William Bradford.  His sermons sowed the seeds of Separatism.  Those who took his words to heart became the hearty band of Pilgrims on the Mayflower.

The pilgrims were Separatists, meaning, they wished to separate themselves from the Church of England.  Richard Clifton found himself at odds with the idea that the King of England was the head of the church (only 40 years earlier, the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church, and King Henry VIII set himself up as the church head).

Because of his dissention with the Church, Richard Clifton was relieved of his duties as parson of the Badworth All Saints Church, but he continued to preach at the home of William Brewster, in nearby Scrooby.  He and his congregation sought to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.  There was just one problem: meeting to worship this way was illegal–imagine being a lawbreaker just by going to church.

In 1606, the Separatist Church of Scrooby was formed, led by William Brewster, and held in his home.  When an orphan from a nearby town visited the Scrooby home church at the tender age of twelve, he witnessed an unusual service.  He was astonished by the fellowship of believers, but more so by the lack of ritual.  Time and again, this orphan named William Bradford, returned, drawn by the spiritual fervor of the congregation, never once suspecting that he would one day be their leader on another continent.

When the Scrooby congregation learned that King James intended to “harry them from the land,” they fled to Holland.  On a side note, if you’ve ever read the King James Bible, it is named for King James I, under whose authority it was translated, the same man who intended to do away with the Separatists.

Their first attempt to flee failed as they had not secured permission to leave.  A year later, they were allowed to sail for Amsterdam, Holland.  The bustling trade city was somewhat overwhelming for the English country-folk and farmers.  While there, they attended an English-speaking church which was built in 1392 and given to an English-speaking Presbyterian congregation in 1607.  An international Christian community continues to worship there to this day.

Still, the Separatists were not comfortable in the big city, so they moved on to Leiden, Holland.  Conditions were not much better in Holland than in England for the Pilgrims, and things soon became unbearable.  While some were able to find work, most did not, due to the language barrier.  Because they were not Dutch citizens, their civil rights were few.  But of more concern was the effect that permissive Dutch values were having on the Pilgrim children.  The congregation realized they would not be able to worship or live as they pleased in England or Holland, so they voted to make their way toward the New World.

Two Pilgrims were sent back to England to secure a land patent  which would give them the legal right to travel to the New World and begin a settlement.  In June of 1619, they had their patent.  They hired two ships to take them to America: the Speedwell and the Mayflower.  In July of 1620, both ships departed, loaded with Pilgrims, some fortune-seekers, and cargo.

The congregation fell to their knees on the deck of the Speedwell and it was recorded that, “With watery cheeks commended them most fervent prayers to the Lord and His blessing.”

Soon after departure, the Speedwell began taking on water.  Both ships had to return to port where the Speedwell was repaired.  Both ships again departed, but once more, the Speedwell began taking on water.  The ships returned to Plymouth, England, and the Speedwell was deemed unreliable for the voyage.  Suddenly, not everyone who wanted to go to the new world, could.

According to diaries and a ship’s log, the trip was fraught with danger.  During a storm, a main mast was split and had to be repaired by using some of the house-building materials the Pilgrims had brought along.  A passenger named John Howland was washed overboard during another storm, yet was able to grab a rope and was rescued.  Howland would go on to have ten children in the New World.  In fact, he is an ancestor of First Lady Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and the George H.W. Bush family.  Before they reached land, a crew member and another passenger died, and a baby was born.  The baby boy was named Oceanus, and lived for seven years before dying of illness in America.

When the Pilgrims reached land, they were far north of their intended destination of Virginia.  This posed a couple of problems: the land patent was for Virginia, and they arrived in December–not the most hospitable time of year for weather in New England.

Before disembarking, the Pilgrims signed The Mayflower Compact.  They knew other settlements had failed due to lack of an established set of rules and government.  The Mayflower Compact was a social contract in the form of a sacred covenant, sworn before

Original Mayflower Compact

Original Mayflower Compact

God, for the sake of their survival.  This short contract is often referred to as the template for the Constitution of the United States, and the cornerstone of American government.  Modern textbooks have stripped out the sacred language in the Mayflower Compact in order to be politically correct.  I urge you to find an unadulterated copy and read it in full.

In all of this, the important thing to remember is that the Pilgrims, although weary, sick, and running low on food and water, courageously chose to settle.  In that first winter, 2 to 3 people died every day.  In 3 months half of the passengers and crew were dead.

With the arrival of spring came renewed health and spirits.  The Pilgrims wished to build a peaceful relationship with the local native tribes.  With the help of Squanto, an English-speaking native, the Pilgrims reached an agreement with Wampanoag Chief Massasoit.  This agreement was honored by both the Pilgrims and the Indians for the next 60 years.

As spring gave way to summer, the Pilgrims busied themselves with building homes.  Under the direction of their Indian friends, they began planting crops and were shown plentiful hunting and fishing grounds.  The first autumn yielded an abundance of every kind of food.  So what did they do?  They celebrated!

They organized what we like to now call the first Thanksgiving.  The idea of Thanksgiving–giving thanks to God–has a rich history.  Begun by the Pilgrims in 1621, we still celebrate Thanksgiving today.  But like so many things in the past, there are now disputes over the exact origin of the celebration.  Was it a time of giving thanks to God and their native friends or just a fall harvest festival?  That is up to you to decide for yourself.

But for further edification, there are two written accounts of that famous first Thanksgiving.  The first is by William Bradford who gives no details about the “why.”

The second is by Edward Winslow.  He describes how the governor sent four men out fowling (turkey hunting).  The Pilgrims, along with 90 Wampanoag warriors and Chief Massasoit, feasted for days.  In a letter, Winslow wrote, “And although it be not always so plentiful, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

William Bradford, the orphan member of the Scrooby congregation, became governor of the Plymouth Colony in 1621.  He served in that position for eleven years, and served in other ways until he passed away in 1657.

Today, millions of people in the United States can trace their ancestry to the original settlers from Scrooby.  Most notable descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims include seven American Presidents:  John Adams, John Q. Adams,Taylor, Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush,George W. Bush.

In their lifetime, the Scrooby settlers lived as they believed; but their descendants lost the zeal for their faith and for peace between the settlers and the Indians.  They took the words of Romans 12:8 seriously: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  The pilgrims from Scrooby remain a shining city on a hill in the annals of American history.

 

A condensed version of this blog is published in The Corry Journal, November 30, 2013.

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Moment of Joy #18: I Got A Rock


Unless you grew up in a cave, you’ve seen the Charlie Brown Halloween special on television.  You might even own a copy on DVD, but just in case you did grow up in a cave, let me recap the story for you.

Poor Charlie Brown would love to be a popular kid, but he isn’t.  He receives an invitation to a Halloween party (by mistake) and while there, the other kids use the back of his bald head as a canvas on which to draw a proper design for pumpkin carving.  A ghost is his trick-or-treat costume choice, yet the costume consists of an old bed sheet with too many eye-holes.  “I had a little trouble with the scissors,” he laments.  When the kids head out to ring doorbells, his companions all receive candy.  At every stop, without fail, Charlie is given a rock.  The boy gets no respect.

Or does he?

Just a few weeks ago I took one of my daughters on a field trip to the Buffalo Museum of Science.  While there, we enjoyed many interactive exhibits, but one that we found most fascinating was the gemstone, geode, and crystal exhibit.  We learned that much effort is exerted in order to unearth expensive and precious gems like rubies and diamonds.  Yet surprisingly, some very pretty (albeit less expensive) minerals, rocks, and gemstones are found just below the earth’s surface all over the globe.  The most popular of these are quartz crystals, found in geodes.

What, exactly, is a geode?  Well, it’s a rock.  The word geode comes from the Greek word geoides meaning “earthlike.” A geode is a sphere-shaped rock containing a hollow cavity which is lined with crystals. Usually geodes contain small compact crystals of quartz on the outside edge of the cavity with agate or chalcedony layers underneath.  On the outside, it’s just a plain, brown rock.

In the museum gift shop we found geodes for sale.  I thought to myself, “Four dollars for a rock?  Really?” and then promptly bought two.

Once home, my husband brought out the hammer and chisel.  The exterior of the rocks belied none of what was contained within.  Gentle tapping on the geode gave way to vigorous pounding until the rocks finally split to reveal beautiful crystal formations.

I hear you asking, “What’s your point, Carol?”

My point is this: What if all of those cartoon adults saw something special in Charlie Brown?  What if they saw past his bland exterior?  What if they were the only ones aware of the true beauty within the little bald kid with the yellow and black shirt?  What if most of us are only interested in eye candy?  What if we, as human beings, are so concerned with the outside appearance that we miss the true beauty that lies hidden until we put forth an effort to bring it to light?

Am I reading too much into a Charles Schultz comic strip?  Absolutely.  But it serves my purpose for this article, so I’m going to run with it.

Which would you choose?

Which would you choose?

Last week I ordered a few bags of geodes (and realized that $4 each at the museum was highway robbery).  I decided to give a choice to the Halloween trick-or-treaters at my door.  They could choose a piece of candy or a rock.  Perplexed adults looked at me skeptically, the question left unspoken, but readable in their eyes:  “Who is this crazy woman and why is she offering my kid a rock?”  Most chose the brightly packaged candy over the baggie with a brown rock and instructions.  When a few parents and kids actually asked me about the rock, I told them it was special, and they had to look past the boring exterior to reveal inner beauty.  One teenager said, “I know what it is!  Can I have two?”

Did Charlie Brown take that bag of rocks home and break them into pieces?  I’d like to think so, but the world will never know.

Published in The Corry Journal, Saturday, November 9, 2013

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