Behind the walls of history

Walter O. Walker, WWI

Walter O. Walker, WWI

I felt like royalty that day. My group showed up in the lobby of the History Museum of Mobile, Ala. on a cool and windy day over spring break. We weren’t there for the standard visitor tour, but to see something special.

The curator, Holly Jansen, greeted us warmly and led us through several doors and passageways, up a story in a giant freight-like elevator, through her offices, and into the vast storerooms of the museum.

When we arrived in a staging area, she pointed to one of two long tables. There, my grandfather’s World War I photograph and documentation that my mother had donated to the museum sat, waiting. She had great news to share with us, she said. A new portrait gallery, Faces of Mobile, was being created in the museum (opens April 2014), and of the hundreds of paintings and photographs of the city’s famous and historic faces, my grandfather – a soldier, farmer, shopkeeper and father of 11 — would be there. What an honor.

Our eyes soon wandered to other intriguing items in the room – mini-sized Mardi Gras floats from days gone by, a wicker baby carriage, military uniforms and ball gowns. Holly graciously offered to show us around and led us into a heavily secured, expansive warehouse.

There, we got up close and personal with Abraham Lincoln’s signature on a commissioning document, vintage Mardi Gras regalia, tiaras and crowns, cigarette-dispensing “penny pack” slot machines, Civil War-era cannons and cannon balls, and many more portraits, busts and masterpieces. It was fascinating, and Holly spent more than an hour with us, happily rolling back the doors of time to let us ooh and aah over all the treasures.

With the recent announcement that San Antonio and Central Catholic High School being chosen to host The Wall That Heals, April 10-13, 2014, I feel like I hit the history jackpot once again.

The Wall That Heals is an exhibition created by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to travel to communities across the U.S. Featuring a half-scale, 250-foot replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C., it is also accompanied by a mobile museum that tells the story of the Vietnam War era and The Wall.

It just so happens that a proud Central alum, Paul Venzer ’04, works for the memorial in D.C. He had simply contacted Central to update his address. But someone cared enough to ask him about his job, and one thing led to another. Now, an institution with a long history of preparing young men to serve their country will, with pride and dignity, welcome a memorial that means so much to Military City USA.

I have great pride for the men and women in my family who have served throughout history. And I have true admiration and gratitude for people like Holly and places like Central that work to honor their contributions and sacrifices every single day.

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Cardboard Kids


These are just a few of the cute little cardboard children that I was introduced to this morning at ChildSafe San Antonio.

They will soon make their public debut and begin appearing all over San Antonio starting April 3.

They have been created by individuals and groups who care about the children in our community.

They represent the 5,846 children here who were abused here last year, the 1 in 10 who actually reported the abuse.

Like them, each one of these cardboard children tells a different story of abuse — and survival.

By sharing their stories, we come together as a community to prevent and heal from child abuse. If you see one, please share it with your Facebook friends, send a tweet, take a selfie, just keep the discussion going.

Contact ChildSafe to learn more, make a donation and find out how you can help today.

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No good deed

No good deed goes unpunished. Clare Booth Luce

You never fail until you stop trying. Albert Einstein

These words are not only the bookends of my experience as a CASA volunteer this week, but also what has kept me going.

You’ve all heard the system is broken. In more ways than I can list.

Most importantly, so are the children, and the moms and dads. Broken by their own losses and unable or unwilling to climb out of a system ill-equipped to handle the burden.

For the CASA volunteer, it’s an adversarial world, a constant uphill battle to advocate for the best interest of the innocent children, to speak up for the ones who have the most at stake.

The system, for better or worse, is designed to protect children by following a cookie-cutter set of codes. So when advocates seek something more for the children in their cases, there are wins and there are setbacks, and both rarely happen without some kind of conflict. Yes, it seems, no good deed goes unpunished.

Confrontation is not my favorite thing. I suppose it would be easier to disengage oneself from all the tension, from all this brokenness, and quit trying. But then I’d have to find a way to simply stop caring.

I’m no Einstein but I think that would be the worst failure of all. Not for me. But for the children and for our future.

(Along with never giving up, completing this blog post and getting back to posting regularly is one of my 2014 resolutions. Losing weight is always on the list, of course. What’s new on your list in this New Year?






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Santa suits

stockvault-santa137679In the drive-through lane at the dry cleaners yesterday, I could see through the glass doors no less than three Santa suits cleaned and bagged and ready for the big guy to claim.

It made me wonder, if my children were still little enough to be strapped into car seats in the back, what they would think. How would I answer their questions and keep sacred the secret of Santa?

No, instead, in the back of my SUV were bags bursting at the seams with new clothing, shoes, dolls, gift cards, books and games – all the things six other young children hoped Santa would deliver this Christmas.

Every year my family requests from a local shelter the names and wishes of six people who need Christmas more than we do. Rather than give one another gifts, we set aside the traditional “Secret Santa” drawing-names approach to gift-giving long ago and now choose to give in this way – the greatest gift of all, giving and sharing our blessings with others.

I don’t have the oversized red suit, trimmed in white fur. But I think I know the real secret of Christmas.

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The Tail of Two Lobsters (or, What We Would #cookforjulia)

French chef and kitchen celebrity Julia Child would have been 100 today. If you would like to mark the occasion by preparing her recipe for Lobster Thermidor, which calls for a seven-step ingredient preparation list and a 32-step assembly, be my guest.

(I’ll come with a nice pinot grigio.)

Instead, I’m bringing back this Christmas Lobster post.


Dear PBS and KLRN, this is what we would #CookForJulia.


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What I did on my summer vacation

ImageGetting ready to go back to school next week — yes, Catholic schools start early! – I’m looking back on our summer and see that it was time well spent.

We tried to broaden every one’s horizons with a trip to the Big Apple and the wilds of Maine, with a few college tours in between. And it may not be as glamorous as a mini-mester in London, Madrid or Rome, nor a Third-World mission trip, but we had one child visit Americana at its best during the College World Series in Omaha, another made her first solo road trip to All-Things-Aggie Land, while the third is pondering her many good options – Ivy and otherwise — for going away to college next year.

Besides hitting the books for “summer homework” and get-ahead summer school classes, plus a little volunteer work, they managed to accomplish some life-enriching things that will make them bigger, better and more ready for school than any required-reading list ever could.

For instance. Oldest Child cheerfully checked groceries by day several days a week, and pulled a graveyard shift in the meat department.

While Middle Child was busy saving others both at her poolside lifeguard job and serving in “God’s Army,” pink hair and all, as a faith retreat leader.

Our youngest put a summer’s worth of gym-based strength training to the test rebuilding a local school track — a day’s worth of very real manual labor that stacked a cool $90 in his bank account during the hottest part of summer.

Now I hear the “Rocky” theme drifting from the upstairs TV room. Yea, I think they are ready for whatever school, and life, throws their way.

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Lucky future

If the superstition surrounding Friday the 13th came about because Friday was once considered the most unlucky day of the week – Helloooo! TGIF is a good thing – and 13 the most unlucky number – though we can all admit how perfect 12 can be (why, just look at a baker’s dozen for proof) – then I’m not worried.

And I’ll tell you why.

I consider myself and my family blessed beyond measure. (As a matter of fact, today, July 12, 2012 is the day Marty McFly visited in the future, which was actually a first-date movie with the man I married.) But this entire Summer of 2012 has brought the full force of unlucky upon us. In the form of illness, rejection, sad farewells and general bad news.

All we’re missing is a locust invasion of Biblical proportion. Yet perhaps after yesterday’s deluge, the flying insects aren’t far behind.

So, like the good and faithful Catholics we are, the prayer texting chains have been going night and day. Tomorrow, however, we’ll light a candle rather than curse the darkness.

We will cash our paychecks and declare Friday, July 13 as a turning point for wellness, acceptance, and a Back to the Future feel-good ending.


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