Saturday, June 26, 2010

And Justice For All

Today is a glorious day - a day of celebration, a day of joy, a day of vindication, a day of victory, and a day of justice!

My very dear friend, who I will call Polly (because I know of no one named Polly), just shared the most wonderful news with me. She won! No, she didn’t win the lottery. She didn’t win a door prize. She didn’t win a race. Polly won something much more than that!

A few years back, Polly fell in love with a man she described as handsome, intelligent and righteous, a good man. It was a few months, though, before she told me he was a quadriplegic. This man, who I will call Herman (because I do not know any Hermans), used his good looks, bright wit and money to woo Polly and her three daughters, to romance her. Through their brief courtship, Polly saw only the good qualities she desired in a mate, not the wheelchair.

They married, and Polly, who’d had a very good job with a large firm in Austin, referred her new husband for a lucrative position with the company, which he landed. Then, she quit her job, as the two had agreed, so she could stay at home to care for the family and their home.

The home where Polly and Herman lived was owned by Polly. It was a modest country home on 10+ acres with a barn, pond and pool. Polly had worked hard to provide a loving home while raising her three daughters as a divorced woman, even achieving a master’s degree along the way. Herman had sold his home in Arizona, but brought with him a great deal of debt. With the salary he made of nearly $100k per year, the debt would certainly be paid off eventually.

Caring for the needs of a quadriplegic is no easy task. To lift a man out of a wheelchair, bathe him, clean his bowels and dress him takes great strength. Herman had used the services of home care providers in the past, but wanted his wife to now take over those exhausting duties. In fact, he insisted.

After two years of marriage, total exhaustion and depression set in for Polly. Try as she might to meet the demanding needs of her husband, both his physical care needs and his need to control Polly and her daughters, Polly could do it no longer. She was beat down. Her body, which had always been strong, was now riddled in pain. She asked him to hire a home care worker to help with his care.

When Herman realized he was losing his power to control Polly, he devised a plan, a plan to make her wish she’d never met him. He discovered that Polly had a great deal of equity in her home. Complaining about the problems with their septic system, Herman convinced Polly they should take out a 2nd lien on her home for $12,000. He told her he would take care of everything.

Herman convinced the bank his wife didn’t need to be present to sign the loan papers. The papers could be delivered to her at home. He convinced the loan officer that it was his wife’s wishes to have his name added to the deed, and papers were drawn up as instructed. With my background in banking, I was astonished. What loan officer would act upon the instructions of a person not on the original mortgage or the original deed? Polly explained to me that it was the wheelchair. Herman used his wheelchair as his tool to manipulate and influence people.

The papers were overnighted to Polly and arrived while Herman was at work. He ordered Polly to sign the paperwork immediately and return it, so the loan could get pushed through quickly. Never guessing the deviousness of her husband, Polly signed the documents without reading them, but instead of $12,000, the loan had been executed for $65,000. Herman explained that he could now pay off all his credit card debt. The septic system, however, was never repaired.

Two months later, Herman filed for divorce and moved back to Arizona, securing his old job.

This was no normal divorce. Herman was out for blood. He wanted to crush Polly. Polly, who was no longer employed, had to use money from her 401k to hire an attorney. The proceedings went on for nearly two years. One would think that with no children from the marriage, no consummation of the marriage, no property purchased together, this should’ve been an open and shut annulment. But, Herman’s pride would not allow for that. He lied by saying the couple engaged in sexual relations 3-4 times per week. (I don’t know many married couples in their 40s who have sex that often, especially when one of them is performing grueling physical care of an invalid, and the other one is the invalid.) Polly chose not to press that point, simply wanting an end to her marriage that had now become a nightmare.

The 2nd lien taken against Polly’s property was secured against the house and less than 2 acres of land, but Herman sought for all of the land in his lawsuit. The judge, a woman, saw only a broken man in a wheelchair, and allowed him to retain the right to claim the house and all the acreage, even that which Polly owned free and clear, if she faltered on the note. At this point, Polly had run out of money and was no longer able to pay her attorney, so although an appeal was to be filed, no court date had been set even several months following the judge’s decision.

Meanwhile, Herman filed a complaint with local law enforcement, trying to have Polly arrested for some erroneous, false charge. He made 20 phone calls to the Sheriff’s office, wanting to know why Polly hadn’t been detained. The sheriff, after questioning Polly, discerned the falsehood, and the charges were dropped.

All of Polly’s friends and family felt an enormous injustice had occurred. We all felt so helpless. And, then Polly’s father, her icon of strength, support and love, died. To help with her court costs, Polly’s father had put his own finances at risk. After her husband's death while coping with her grief, Polly’s mother lost her home of over 30 years.

Polly was devastated. Had Heavenly Father abandoned her? Was all this loss, tragedy and despair punishment for choosing to marry a man she believed was good and righteous? Perhaps she, too, had been unable to see past the wheelchair as so many others had done. She pleaded with the Lord to help her understand, and it was revealed to her that this time of tribulation had been a test. Not her test, though. Herman’s test. And, he had failed. However, that knowledge did little to alleviate Polly’s grief over the death of her father and the emotional and physical devastation that had been wrought.

Having looked for work for 1 ½ years after her husband moved out, Polly was finally offered a wonderful job as Director of Training with a state agency. Her friends and family united in prayers of thanksgiving as we watched our beloved Polly regain her equanimity and her joy.

And then, the little man from Arizona, with a heart of stone, filed yet another lawsuit. This time, Herman, who had already racked up attorney’s fees of over $70,000, accused Polly of 21 violations of their divorce decree. He was also demanding that Polly pay his attorney’s fees for the cost of this latest lawsuit in the amount of $5,000.

Served with papers on a Monday, Polly was expected in court on Thursday. She was overwhelmed by disbelief and fear. She couldn’t reach her attorney, who was no longer returning her calls. After much thought, Polly decided to represent herself in court. With no money available to retain a new attorney or pay her existing attorney, Polly felt she had no option.

The day she was served, I invited Polly to my home, wanting to be supportive and motivational, as well as a sounding board for her thoughts and feelings. Also, I had arranged for Polly to receive a blessing.

As a faithful and righteous member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Priesthood holder, who has been endowed with the authority to act on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, may administer a blessing. The Priesthood is a selfless calling, only to be used for the benefit of others. I have received blessings from many faithful members of the Holy Priesthood and testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, to the power and personal messages I have been given by God to endure my trials and physical ailments.

Although Polly had received a blessing a few weeks before, I felt impressed that she needed another blessing before entering the courtroom again. As the Priesthood holder placed his hands upon Polly’s head, the blessing that flowed so easily from his lips, undoubtedly from our Heavenly Father, brought tears to my eyes. And, then he proclaimed that the Lord was on her side. Polly, too, was in tears. It was a few moments before she could speak and acknowledge the wonderful comfort she felt during her blessing. She said that never had she been told the Lord was on her side, and it was a question she had pondered.

As Thursday’s court date approached, my husband and I knelt in prayer, praying that not only would Polly be upheld with strength and comfort, but that the judge would also have the scales removed from her eyes to discern the deceitful, little man behind the wheelchair, and allow justice to be served.

Polly and I spoke after the hearing. Unbelievably, the lawsuit had been assigned to the docket of the same judge that had proceeded in Polly’s divorce. This was not good news. Polly had made note in her legal response document that her attorney was seeking for an appeal of the judge’s decision to allow Polly’s parcel of land and the portion securing the 2nd lien to be considered one parcel, rather than separate parcels, even though the bank only required the house and less than two acres as security. Polly thought her chances at a fair hearing were slim.

But, Heavenly Father was on Polly’s side, just as the blessing had indicated. The judge’s decision, which was swift, stated that Polly was not in contempt of court in any of the 21 frivolous violations cited by her ex-husband. Polly was vindicated. Not only did Polly win this frivolous lawsuit, her faith in the Lord increased and she felt the serenity and power of the Lord in the courtroom as she provided her own legal counsel that day.

I am so proud of my friend, Polly, and her willingness to fight for justice rather than give up. And, I am grateful to my Heavenly Father for my answered prayers for Polly.

“When a man is at his wits' end it is not a cowardly thing to pray, it is the only way he can get in touch with Reality.”--Oswald Chambers

“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The foundation of justice is good faith.” –Marcus Tullius Cicero

Rely On God To Bring You Through It, Y’all!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What is Art?

Creative self-expression in various art forms is quite subjective. Each of us has our own opinion of what we consider “art”. Is it real “art” only if the piece is displayed in a museum or gallery? Is “art” the crayon drawings of our children? Some may say so. I have seen paintings in art museums that I believe a toddler could have created, and I have also seen beautiful colored drawings my young niece, Corinne, has made that I most certainly would consider “art”.

Quilting is my “art”, my creative outlet. Above is a photo of my current work-in-progress, a quilt I’m making for my father. But, art takes many forms – paintings, drawings, pottery, clothing design, iron work, glasswork, landscape design, cake decorating, etc.

What about houses? I think a house can also be considered a work of art. My husband, Gene, and I enjoy driving by old houses and pointing out the features we really like. I’m amazed at the creativity involved in the planning and building of large, old homes. So, while continuing our 1st Anniversary Celebration, Gene and I kicked off our Sunday morning with a tour of San Antonio’s King William Historical District.

Just south of downtown San Antonio, the King William Historical District showcases some of the oldest, most beautiful homes in the city. Many successful German immigrants settled in this district in the mid-1800s, building mansions using various architectural styles, such as Victorian, Italianate and Greek Revival.

Later that day after lunch, we stopped at The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum. When she died, Mrs. Marion McNay left an endowment to transform her beautiful 24-room, Spanish Colonial mansion and the surrounding 23 acres into the first museum of modern art in Texas. She donated her collection of more than 700 works of art to display in this exquisite showplace.

While many of the paintings and works of art were thought-provoking and beautiful, the courtyard and grounds of The McNay Museum are what really captivated us.

The courtyard of The McNay with its colorful tile peacock wall, statuary and lily pond was enchanting and made me feel as though I was in the Mediterranean. The palm trees, in every shape and size, were a brilliant, gorgeous green, and the large magnolia tree provided ample shade.

It was so relaxing just to sit under the trees and take in all the beautiful colors and contrasts, pondering how we might incorporate some of the same ideas into our own backyard oasis.

The water lilies, still and tranquil in the heat of the summer afternoon, captured my imagination and interest as I took a closer look. I can see why Claude Monet, whose famous work, "Waterlillies", is featured at the McNay, felt compelled to paint them over and over.

Gene and I explored the vast grounds of The McNay, discovering a secluded bench amid a shady grove of trees where we could rest a bit and discuss the lovely landscape we wanted to incorporate into our dream yard.

Overall, we shared a spectacular day, appreciating the creativity of so many artists, landscape designers and architects, culminating into such beautiful works of art for us to enjoy.

Create Your Own Work of “Art”, Y’all!

Food, Fun & All That Jazz!

Joining us for our 1st Anniversary festivities was Gene’s oldest daughter, Liz, and her husband, Kalin, who live in San Antonio. The four of us walked a short distance from our hotel to the Riverwalk for dinner at Boudro’s Texas Bistro.

We all started the evening with a glass of fresh-squeezed limeade – very tart, very refreshing. For an appetizer, we shared an order of Boudro’s Famous Guacamole, made tableside while we watched. Our server, Derek, shared the recipe with us as he peeled, seeded and diced the avocados. He added a few tablespoons of a roasted Roma tomato and serrano pepper mixture, as well as a spoonful of chopped purple onion. Then, he tossed in two pinches of chopped cilantro and finished off with the juice of two limes and one orange. Derek mashed up the marvelous medley of enticing ingredients and set the bowl upon our table, along with a basket of fresh tortilla chips. My mouth watered with anticipation as I dipped the first chip into the guacamole. It was fantastic! In fact, I would say that Boudro’s Guacamole is one of the best guacamoles I’ve ever tasted. (Not the same ol’ enchilada!)

For our main courses, we all tried something different. Liz chose the Chicken Breast Chop Pan-Seared with Rosemary. This dish was served with a delicious Guacamole Risotto, which I had the pleasure of tasting.

Kalin ordered the Blackened Prime Rib with rosemary potatoes and roasted vegetables. It was devoured lickety-split!

Gene’s meal was the most exotic. He ordered the Grilled Seafood Platter, which was served with an array of seafood, such as lobster tail with herb butter, grilled fish fillet, crawfish fricassée, seared sea scallops, shrimp plancha, jicama slaw and corn pudding. Gene raved about his shrimp, and the scallop he had me taste was scrumptious!

Having eaten seafood the night before, I was in the mood for steak, and ordered the Center Cut Strip Sirloin, served medium-rare, with roasted vegetables and herb-roasted potatoes. Simply mahhhvelous! (I bet your tummy is grumbling now, eh?)

We couldn’t end our extraordinary dining experience without tasting Boudro’s desserts and decided to share. Gene and I ordered the Double Chocolate Brownie (no surprise to those who know how much we both love chocolate). And, we weren’t disappointed, either. The decadent treat tantalized our tastebuds with delight! This was Gene’s favorite part of our meal.

Kalin and Liz finished off their meal with the Toasted Nut Brittle Ice Cream doused in chocolate sauce. A fitting finale on a hot summer night in San Antonio!

By the time we finished dinner, the sun was setting and the temperature cooled off a bit. The four of us strolled…(does Kalin really “stroll”?? Love you, Kalin!)…along the Riverwalk to The Landing at the Hyatt Regency for some Dixieland Jazz.

The toe-tapping rhythm of The Jim Cullum Jazz Band set the beat for the rest of our enjoyable evening with Liz and Kalin.

Returning to our hotel at the end of the warm, summer evening, I hooked arms with my husband, walking in sync, side-by-side, and marveled at all the blessings of this day. When I married Gene, I didn’t just marry a man, I married into a family of wonderful sons and daughters and grandchildren.

Psalms 23:5 “…my cup runneth over.”

Keep Those Families First, Y’all!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mission Accomplished!

Day Two of our 1st Anniversary Trip to San Antonio, Texas started off with a short drive south of downtown to see two of the four historic San Antonio Missions within the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. All built in the 18th century, several of the missions were originally located in East Texas and later relocated near the San Antonio River. These missions, still rich with clues of an interesting cultural history, were Indian towns, established by the Spaniards with the Catholic Church as the focus.

Spanish explorers, accompanied by Spanish military troops, had discovered the beautiful lands of Mexico and southern Texas in the late 1600s and the King of Spain claimed the land as Spanish territory. The Spaniards, who worried about French encroachment from the direction of Louisiana, relocated many of the native Coahuiltecans (kwa-weel-tay-kans) to sites in East Texas to help build the missions and presidios and work the land and livestock in and around the missions.

Initially, these indigenous tribes came from a number of hunting and gathering bands. In order to establish its domain, Spain needed to place Spanish citizens throughout the land. The quickest way to do this was to teach the native people to become Spanish citizens. But, to be a citizen of Spain, one had to be Catholic. Therefore, the King of Spain sent missionaries to teach the Coahuiltecans and convert them to Catholicism.

Increasing hostility from the indigenous Indians' traditional enemy, the Apache, motivated many of them to forsake their native lands and culture and retreat behind the walls of the missions. And so, the missions flourished between 1745 and the 1780s. The Indians found food and refuge in the missions in exchange for labor and submission to religious conversion. Later, the Apaches were attacked by the fierce Comanche, causing even this warring tribe of Apaches to seek safety within the missions. However, disease brought by the Europeans greatly reduced the native population, accelerating the missions' decline.

Our first stop was Mission Concepción, and like all the missions, Mission Concepción has an active parish. Mission Concepción is the oldest unrestored stone church in America, founded in 1716. The mission was transferred from East Texas to the San Antonio River area in 1731. It took 20 years to complete the structure and was dedicated in 1755. The Coahuiltecans painted colorful geometric designs on the limestone face of the church after completing its construction. These patterns have long since faded, but many of the rooms inside contain frescos that are still visible.

During our visit, families in their Sunday best gathered inside the chapel to celebrate a young girl’s First Communion. The exterior structure was beautiful to behold with simplistic stone archways, old wooden doors and lovely carvings at the entrance.

Next was Mission San José, which is the largest of all the missions (and our personal favorite), was founded in 1720 and completed in 1762. Once built, this mission was a nearly impregnable fortress.

It was easy to see that this mission was not just a church, but a community with the church as its center. The church building was surrounded by a protective limestone wall with the Indian quarters built into it.

Mission San José had the most fascinating architecture. The arched walkways beckoned us to explore more of the mission.

Outside the walls of the mission was a grist mill. San José's grist mill never ground corn, only wheat.

The mill was built late in the mission period; by then the mission Indians had acquired a taste for wheat-based foods.

While we were leaving the grist mill, a man stopped Gene, noticing his hat with the United States Marine Corp insignia.

Howard introduced himself and talked to us at length about his story of joining the Marines before graduating high school in 1953, just after the Korean War. Howard’s best friend, Albert, had been relentlessly pressuring him to sign-up for the Marines together. Howard told his mother he was going to join the Marines, but she didn’t believe him. After getting in a minor scuffle with the Law, Howard finally acquiesced and joined Albert at the USMC Recruiting Office. Although the USMC recruiter had assured Howard and Albert they would be stationed together, they were separated almost immediately. Albert was shipped off to Japan, and Howard was sent to Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada. Howard never again crossed paths with his best friend while in the Service. He always wondered what had happened to him or even whether he was still alive.

Fifty-five years later, while on a visit in Virginia, Howard happened to notice Albert’s last name in the phone book. He quickly searched for Albert, and found a listing. Howard dialed the phone number, and asked to speak with Albert. The young man, who answered the phone, acknowledged that he was Albert and listened as Howard described the best friend he’d joined the Marines with. Young Albert said, “Oh, you want to talk with my grandfather. Just a minute.” Unbelievably, the young man handed the phone to his grandfather, who was there, and for the first time in 55 years, Howard was able to speak with his best friend, Albert.

Howard and Albert and their wives were able to meet and reminisce, filling each other in on the high points of their lives. They hugged and cried. That meeting took place right before Howard and his wife made the drive back home to Texas, stopping off at Mission San José, where we met him. He was still choked up about the meeting and was just so excited to tell his wonderful story. The story touched our hearts, bringing our wonderful trip to the San Antonio missions this Memorial Day Weekend to an end.

We are so grateful to all those who have served and do serve our country, including Gene’s daughter, Liz, who is serving in the United States Air Force, and his son, Jon, serving in the United States Marine Corp, who just returned from a tour in Afghanistan (See picture above). Welcome home, Jon! Mission Accomplished!

Semper Fi, Y’all!!

San Antonio or Bust!

My husband, Gene, and I really milked our first wedding anniversary, which was on June 6th. Gene says since it took him seven years to finally get my attention, we should celebrate for at least 7 days, and that’s exactly what we did. Last weekend, which encompassed the Memorial Day holiday, Gene and I journeyed south to the San Antonio Riverwalk – a favorite destination for both of us, but not one we’d ever experienced together.

We planned our trip well in advance, and I made reservations at The Drury Inn & Suites on the Riverwalk for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights online…I thought. Concerned that I hadn’t received a confirmation the week before our trip, I called The Drury and discovered I had made our reservations for Saturday and Sunday nights, but not Friday, and The Drury had no rooms left. Frantic, I searched a few travel websites and settled on one night at The Westin Hotel on the Riverwalk. Although a bit pricier, I felt a night at The Westin would be a great way to kick off our romantic anniversary trip to San Antonio.

Gene and I arrived at The Westin around noon on Friday. The most impressive aspect of The Westin was the superb customer service. I had heard that Tourism is San Antonio’s #1 industry, but to experience firsthand the genuine friendly smiles and catering to guests, I was quite impressed. After complaining about our mattress at home for the past several months, it was a bodily pleasure to lounge on the luxurious pillow-topped, king-sized mattress, which yielded the perfect amount of firmness. The pillows were so splendid, that I wished I had brought my new pillow from home to swap. The view from our 12th floor bedroom window showcased the San Antonio cityscape, which was all well and good until that night. Around 10:00 p.m. after returning from dinner, we heard a loud car alarm across the street from the hotel that sounded every ten minutes or so until after midnight, which really put a damper on our first evening in town.

Earlier that day after checking in, Gene and I ventured down to the Riverwalk and lunched at the Hard Rock Café. Although it was an interesting atmosphere and good food, I must say that loud music just doesn’t have the same appeal as it did when I was a young woman.

In order to hear each other talk, Gene and I sat on the same side of the table, which turned out to be cozy and gave me lots of opportunities to hug on that wonderful man of mine.

After walking around the Riverwalk shops awhile, the Texas heat, which was in the mid-90s, began to take its toll, so we headed back to The Westin for an air-conditioned siesta.

Rested and showered, it was back to the Riverwalk again that evening for a delicious dinner at Landry’s Seafood Restaurant.

Our waiter, Albert, helped make our dining experience one to remember. He provided outstanding, attentive, professional service as he made meal and beverage recommendations, mixed and served our salad tableside and presented our entrées.

Our glasses were never empty and the good spirit Albert brought to the experience permeated throughout the rest of our evening…at least until the car alarm began to beep.

To be continued…

Hasta La Vista, Y’all!