ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Here we go again…

Yep — here we go again… the royal “we”, in this case, picking up pen and paper (keyboard and screen, if you prefer) and giving the brain some space to process whatever clutter is there.

Continue reading “Here we go again…”


Wow. Just wow.

Last year on Memorial Day, I was taking some final pictures of our home in Illinois. Ordinary Spouse and the girls had already moved to Laurelville. I had one more week of work at Argonne before following them. This was the final picture of our house:

Home in PlainfieldTwo weeks ago, we received this news:

House fireThe Plainfield Patch reports that the home was occupied by a family of eight, and that everyone (including the family dog) got out safely, so that is good news. (I don’t have any additional information on the family. We sold the house to a corporation which rented it out.) There are some additional pictures, all taken by contributors to Plainfield Patch.

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Ordinary Spouse and I have some mixed emotions. We really weren’t too upset in general, but we were slightly stunned, saddened by some small things*, and very thankful that we sold the house, rather than becoming landlords.

* We put a fair amount of time into painting the outside, installing hardwood floors in our living room, and tending the flower beds. Those things came to mind when we saw the pictures.

What a difference a year makes, yes?



A high-flying field trip

The National Aviary is America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds. Located in West Park on Pittsburgh’s historic North Side, the National Aviary’s diverse collection comprises more than 600 birds representing more than 200 species from around the world, many of them threatened or endangered in the wild.

When the ordinary family moved from Illinois, we lamented moving away from the Morton Arboretum, especially since we had just renewed our membership for two years. But members enjoy reciprocal privileges from other gardens around the United States – among them, the National Aviary. Yesterday, the Rainbow House of Learning took a field trip to the aviary.

What a wonderful trip for a bunch of bird lovers: five hours of exhibits, shows and bird feedings! I took nearly 250 photos, but you don’t have to see them all…

The greeters

These birds greeted us when we arrived (and sent us on our way at the end of the day).

The wetlands

After the flamingo story time, we visited the wetlands exhibit for the show at feeding time. (We enjoyed the show so much that we went again in the afternoon.) As part of the show, visitors are invited to help feed the birds – a big highlight. Some of the birds of the wetlands…

The rainforest

We had the chance to see another feeding in the rainforest exhibit, although I missed most of it. (More on that later.) But again, beautiful birds were plentiful.

I was especially excited to see the fairy bluebird. Of the non-North American birds, it’s the only one that I’ve seen in its native environment.


The girls looked forward to our visit to the lorikeet exhibit, knowing that they’d have a chance to feed these pretty birds.

I just got distracted by the roll of toilet paper.

Is spring in the air?

In the rainforest and then again in the wetlands, we encountered some birds that were feeling rather… um… “frisky”. First, the male Great Argus wanted to demonstrate to the female just how great he was…

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I took this little video of the ongoing efforts of the male to impress the female. In the process, I missed the feeding of the rest of the rainforest birds (you can hear that in the background).

Toward the end of the video, you can hear a woman say to her daughter…

You know what that bird’s doing? It’s showing off. It’s saying, “Look how beautiful I am. Don’t you want to be my friend?”

I’d have to say that he wants to be “more than friends”.

Later on in the wetlands, the wattled curassow started doing the same thing. We liked the wattled curassow, because he provided some fun pictures.

And then some fun video…

Other notes

The birds gifted me with good luck…

Good luck at the aviary
Good luck at the aviary

I made a new friend. I tried to get his picture while he was on my shoulder, but Ordinary Spouse got a better one…

Of course, when you take 250 photos, you’re going to get some duds. At the aviary, many of them happened when I tried to capture images of feeding birds in flight…

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There was a negative review on Google+ complaining that the aviary was “gross” and had a “predictable smell”, to which I respond, “Get outside much? Ah – no. You have a coat and tie.” My review would be very enthusiastically positive.

This was not our aviary experience.Finally, what makes this the “National” Aviary? It is the largest aviary in the country and was given the “National” designation by congress in 1993. Although the designation doesn’t come with any funding, it does make fund-raising easier. (The effort to become the National Aviary was modeled on Baltimore’s successful campaign to have their aquarium recognized in a similar fashion more than a decade earlier.)

In conclusion…

Birds above:


The practice of getting lost (“An Altar in the World”, chapter 5)

"An Altar in the World" by Barbara Brown TaylorThroughout this year, I’ve been reflecting on how I experience the practices Barbara Brown Taylor outlines in her book, An Altar in the World. Since my family moved to Laurelville in May, this has felt very natural to me. It’s easy to forget that I chose the book for my family’s book club before our new life at Laurelville was even on the radar screen.

In chapter five, Taylor describes the practice of being disoriented or getting lost… or (if one takes the idea to the extreme) failing. She asserts…

Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure.

There were a quite a few points of connection for me in this chapter. I immediately recalled how my father and I enjoy hopping in his truck and trying to get lost. We grab a Gazetteer and set off to explore new roads…

Somewhere in Garrett County

We still tell the story of the wrong turn – the downhill gravel road, that turned to a dirt road, that gradually became too washed out and narrow to continue on. We didn’t have room to turn around, so we had to back up. But in the process, we managed to poke a stick into the side of one of the tires. Luckily, we had a spare. Too bad one of the bolts was rusted tight. Luckily, we were able to shear it off. Too bad we were out of gas. Luckily we could make it to the nearest station on fumes. Too bad the owner only accepted cash. Luckily Dad had $2. We eventually made it home.

Taylor also relates how a medical emergency can be a type of “getting lost” – a time when you have to rely on someone else to provide your care. In that regard, I recall my two DVT hospitalizations. Like Taylor, I always felt safe and loved. Maybe it was divine; maybe it was youthful delusions of invulnerability. Whatever it was, it continues to shape me.

Perhaps the most tangible example of “lost” in my mind now is our move to Laurelville. It is not entirely clear to me: Was I lost in Chicago suburbs, trying to fit into a life that didn’t quite work out for me? Or is this new life in the Laurel Highlands an attempt to get lost, to break out of an area of comfort? I don’t know the answer to this, but I value the sense of being “vulnerable to this moment”, as the book describes it.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in Taylor’s stories that I have trouble explaining the bigger picture. While I might agree that a certain practice is valuable, I’ll have trouble saying why. So I’ve been reflecting a bit on “getting lost”…

I’ve already mentioned the idea of being “vulnerable to [the] moment”. While it isn’t quite the same as valuing the moment, it is a step in that direction. Learning to value time and place is an (the?) underlying theme of the entire book.

“Getting lost” also reminds us that we aren’t in charge here. We aren’t God. A healthy dose of humility is a good thing.

And “getting lost” helps orient us throughout life. Hebrews 11 talks about lost people in this way…

They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

We can (and will) debate what a “heavenly country” might look like, but it is clear that there is searching to be done. The practice of getting lost reminds us of this.

One final thought: “lost” may be a matter of perspective. A recent post by Trevor Scott Barton in the God’s Politics blog touched on this:

Human eccentrics move in a seemingly aimless way… Their movements make them seem like wanderers to other human beings with finite views. They don’t wander aimlessly, though. They revolve around a different center.

And in the Beatitudes, Jesus demonstrates that things in the Kingdom of Heaven are not judged in the usual way:

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Go get yourself lost.

The final shutdown

The last shutdown

Well – here I am about to shut down my work computer for the last time. My last day of employment was Thursday, but I came in to work yesterday and today to finish some things up.

I’ll finish up today with my small group from church and packing my car for the trip east to Laurelville.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

A moment of moving sadness

Moving isn’t easy. I know that. I know that there will be hurdles and sadness and…

Well – you probably know all this, as well.

But today I had a particularly hard moment…

Although we have moved all of our things, I’m still at the old house while I finish up my employment at Argonne. Ordinary Spouse and the girls are busy setting up home at Laurelville.

Late this afternoon, our doorbell rang. It was our young neighbor and his father wondering if Youngest Daughter was here. Could she come out to play?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “She has moved to Pennsylvania.”

“We miss her,” said his father.

In the grand scheme of things, this move has been brewing for a while. I needed to find a career that would be life-giving. This move is the beginning of that transition.

But sometimes, we don’t live in the “grand scheme of things”. Sometimes the view is from the bottom looking up, rather than the top…

I wonder what I’m putting my family through. Do they understand? Can they forgive me for the hard parts?

There are so many dear friends that I’m going to miss here. I really have no way to thank them properly and no good way to say good-bye.

And it doesn’t help that I’m alone in an empty house that’s full of good memories, but also heavy with the pain of a sale that fell apart.

Sometimes I wish I were better at grieving. I’d just sob this all out.

I guess I’ll just blog it out, instead.

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