Thursday, June 20, 2013

D.C. Part Uno

by Shannon

"At Washington, D.C., I got to see the White House. 
And I got to see ... I forget."
~ Cruncher

So, we drove to D.C. last week. As you can see, it was a trip that REALLY made an impression on the young mind we're culturing. I'll post the happenings over a few different posts, since we traveled and toured during six days.

Here's how we decided to vacay in D.C.: After Ryan and I settled on St. Francis of Assisi to be our family's 2013 patron, we talked about taking a Franciscan pilgrimage this year. The only Franciscan monastery is in D.C.. However, being the CFO and vice president of worry in our household, I nixed the trip due to expenses. Fast forward a few months to early May. My boss told me I had to go to D.C. for work. There was a conference coming up, and he had other appointments booked, so I needed to go in his place. "Cool. But I guess you want me to fly, right?" He knows I hate flying. "Well, I would fly if I were you, but you can drive if you want. It'll take all day." Then I got excited. I could bring the whole family, stay a couple days after the conference, get reimbursed for milage, AND the guys would have a couple extra days to explore the city while I was busy with work. Perfecto!

We hadn't been on a family trip in, like ... well, ever. There was that Thanksgiving trip to Pine Mountain. And the time we went to Chicago to visit a friend. And a long weekend in Indy and Brown County, Indiana. But never, like, a REAL family vacation. With a ROAD TRIP. Ryan was pretty psyched.

Pine Mountain Resort, Thanksgiving 2010

The planning began. I decided we would start out at the super-fancy conference hotel (on the company's dollar), which was conveniently located blocks from the National Zoo (free admission and fun for the guys while I attended the conference). After the conference ended Tuesday, we would trek to a second hotel for the rest of our D.C. stay. Something cheap and clean. Then on Thursday night, we would drive even further out of town to a hotel in West Virginia, so our drive home Friday could be segmented and leisurely. I researched and researched and researched, as I do, and found the perfect hotels. Aaaand I got around to booking the second hotel in Rockville, Maryland, but procrastinated on the third hotel. It'll work out in the end. Promise.

We also prepped with grocery shopping shelf-stable items. The hope was we would only eat breakfast and "linner" (a late lunch/early dinner) with snacks sprinkled through the day. The HOPE.

And I bought a few special things for the trip: a travel purse or glorified cross-body wallet, so I wouldn't get pick-pocketed: new tennis shoes for Cruncher so his feet wouldn't hurt (riiight); a few summer outfits for Cruncher; some professional clothes for the conference (our office is veeeeery casual); and I think that's it. There were enough plans to make and supplies to buy that the few weeks leading up to the trip went super-fast.

We went to confession and Mass late Saturday afternoon, packed through the evening, and drove off around 8 a.m. Sunday. We grabbed a hearty breakfast in the Wendy's drive thru, and we were off!

Somewhere in central Kentucky.

The drive was supposed to be nine hours. We only stopped for short breaks and to fill up the tank. You wouldn't believe how amazing Cruncher was.

Cruncher with perpetual sidekick Orland.
He came with that goofy name, as Cabbage Patches do.

No whining. I repeat: No whining. He stayed busy with his books and coloring or just playing with some small toys we toted along. Sometimes, he requested I read from Jim Gaffigan's new book, which we all loved (I read the whole thing aloud between the to and fro).

We arrived at the hotel about 6 p.m. It's a beautiful old building in a fancy residential part of the city. Tidbits: The Beatles reserved an entire floor of the hotel for one night back in the '60s, and this is the hotel where President Clinton played his famous inaugural saxophone solo. It was also the only of the three hotels we slept in that has had reported bedbugs (apparently very professionally handled). That might surprise you after you hear about the rest of our trip. Stay tuned!

We checked in, dropped of our stuff, dropped off the car with valet, and walked across the street for dinner at Open City.

Cruncher ordered something he didn't eat (tummy problems, which I diagnosed as Too Much Gummy Bears and Twizzlers Syndrome). Ryan had some sort of veggie sandwich with chili and a local beer. I ordered from the breakfast menu — bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and a caper relish with a latté.

Don't let the latté art fool you. It had NOTHING on our favorite coffee shop on the planet, and 2013 Coffee Fest America's Best Espresso Winner Sunergos.

Five more days to blog about ... no promises.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Walking in Athens

by Ryan

So... how was May? For the average school teacher, it's probably the busiest time of the year. All those evenings of Shannon watching Cruncher while I stay late for this-and-that reason have left precious little time for blogging. And thus — our excuse.

Cruncher finished kindergarten on Wednesday. Even in my position, I am overwhelmed with how much he's learned this year. What an amazing difference nine months make! I hope that every parent feels as optimistic about their child's future as I do now. Now, if he could prepare his own meals...

_ _ _

I joined a gym.

No, really. Stop laughing — it's true!

After my doctor told me that I was 35 pounds overweight, and thinking about the history of heart attacks in my family, I finally decided to get in shape. Going to the gym is at once inspiring and intimidating. I routinely see a man who has obviously lost a great deal of weight; his dedication really rubs off on me. When I feel winded, I often look over at him, and think "if he can do it, so can I!" Then, there's the lady who is about my wife's weight, but can bench twice what I can... inspiring and intimidating!

Unfortunately, the gym isn't all treasure. Three TVs are playing all hours of the day, and while one is tuned to the Weather Channel (really?) and the other ESPN, there is a third that's a real mixed bag. I was "fortunate" enough to catch Entertainment Tonight one evening, and it seemed like every glance toward that TV revealed yet another woman wearing something that only her husband should see in the confines of their bedroom. Then there was the story about the former star reviving her career with a movie where she is a stripper...

Sometimes a trip to the gym feels like a walk in Athens. In Acts 17, Paul is doing just that, or is so implied. He is appalled by the idols that surround him, yet he opens his speech in the Aero'pagus with:
"Men of Athens, wherever I look I find you scrupulously religious." (Acts 17:22)
I love the language of the Knox Bible here; the New American Bible instead renders the end of the verse "very religious." Yet "scrupulous" shows an excessive attention to detail; an intense devotion to a thing or person. Indeed the attention to physical fitness I witness at the gym is good within itself, but to become scrupulous about one's body can lead to a disordered devotion, or even idolatry not dissimilar to what Paul was privy to in Athens.

We can also fall prey to false devotion when we misuse something; our bodies in relation to our sexuality is a perfect example. Neither the male or female body are bad in themselves, but when they become nothing more than a source of physical pleasure or visual amusement, they also become a sort of idol. We take away the healthy partnerships and meaningful intimacy that should exist in these bonds, and instead make people into commodities to be obtained.

Study for Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael, 1515
Man in the middle: "Umm, Paul, may I pick your brain for a minute?"

If Paul walked today through the Athens of our souls, what would our idols be? Would he see devotion to God at the center of our lives, or would he see in His place idols that distract our devotion? Would it be rampant sexuality, or a religious devotion to a sports team? Maybe a scrupulous attention to physical fitness? I wonder if Paul would still find, as he did in Athens, a small shrine "to an unknown God" (Acts 17:23), a God that cries out for our devotion. Yet, would we continue to shuffle by on the way to our more familiar idols, or might we tarry a moment longer, close to the source of all goodness? In matters relating to devotion to God or to the treadmill, one must start small. Most of all, one must start in the first place — let the first place be now.

"Let us begin again, for up until now we have done nothing." 
-St. Francis of Assisi