A Visit to Tarpon Springs

A Visit to Tarpon Springs

June 3 – Tarpon Springs

When we are out of town and have a bit of time, we like to visit other Orthodox churches. We enjoy that experience of celebrating the Liturgy a little differently and with different people.  Over the years we’ve been to many Orthodox churches in the areas we’ve visited.  In Pinellas County Florida, where my husband’s family has a home, we usually visit St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church.  But, this time we decided to travel up to Tarpon Springs and visit St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.  St. Nicholas is central to a thriving Greek community originating  from Greek sponge divers who settled here around 1900. Today, there are four + generations of Greek families that live and work at the eateries, sponge docks, and shops in this bustling central Florida town.

Now, saying that you are going to visit a church 45 minutes away while on holiday and actually doing it are two different things!   In vacation mode now, I was dreaming of a stiff caffeinated beverage at 7:45 am when my husband said, “We’ll be taking the Eucharist up there.”

Regrettably, I walked over and unplugged the full, steaming pot of coffee my mother-in-love had just brewed.

“I didn’t realize ya’ll weren’t having coffee this morning,” she said.

“Well, we can save this for tomorrow and turn it into a big jug of iced Jo, ” I offered, mustering up some energy and a smile.

By the grace of God, we managed to get everyone, even the surly 18 year old, into the car and we were off, husband at the helm.   A fairly quick drive up the retail corridor of US 19 brought us to downtown Tarpon Springs.  Then we turned the corner and there she was, a beautiful, ochre brick building accented with white marble, and a statue of a Theophany diver near the front.  We really didn’t dally outside as it was already 9:05, and like any good Orthodox Christian, we were running a little late!

Inside the small narthex, families were lighting prayer candles and reverencing the icons.  There was a buzz about this area with many parishioners entering to worship.   As we stepped inside the sanctuary, we were in awe at the beauty of the marble, icons, columns, and generally the vast size of the church.  Women were dressed handsomely and men wore jackets. Settling into our pew, we began to hear chanting that was so beautiful and even though I didn’t understand about 65% of it, it resonated peace and strength and Christ.

The readings were said in both Greek and English as was the homily, which encouraged us to become more saint-like through our participation in the fast.

Apart from the Czechoslovakian chandeliers and the Hagia Sophia inspired dome, the one distinctive thing I noticed was the sheer number of worshipers.  We walked into the sanctuary at 9:10 and it was about 1 / 3 full.  By 9:20 it was 1/2 full and by 9:35 it was at capacity.  At 9:50, the aisles were crowded with parishioners standing, leaning on columns, clutching service books or bowed in prayer.  This is a church that is bursting at the seams, its congregants seemingly alive with a fervor for God.

After communion, we witnessed a memorial service and a recognition of recent graduates and then it was off to a much needed coffee hour.  Thankfully, I slipped out to the St. Nicholas bookstore and met Bill, my new bookstore mentor.  He readily shared his wealth of publication and vendor information with this bookstore newbie.  Then, he sent me out the door laden with a box of goodies and pointed me toward the sponge docks and the Greek eateries.

The streets down at the docks are vibrant with people, shops, food, boats for hire, and entertainment.  We chose Dimitri’s Restaurant, right on the water, where we were greeted by a painting depicting that scene which occurs here every Theophany, January 6, also known as the blessing of the waters.  Here, in the springs, the bishop tosses the holy cross into the wintry waters and a swarm of young men dive down to retrieve it.  As tradition has it, the one who surfaces first with the cross in hand, will have a year of blessings.

An afternoon in Tarpon Springs wouldn’t be complete without a quick visit to the shops and a look at the sponges and the boats.  There were a thousand wonderful photographic moments in this town, but a rain storm popped up and sent us running back to the truck.  Still, this was a Sabbath made memorable by the warmth of our Greek brothers and sisters in the faith.  The delicious food was a bonus as was the salt air and that feeling of being in a coastal village somewhere near Cyprus.  I hope we can do it again next year.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

 

 

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Boyhood

Boyhood

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When you think about it, boyhood is fairly short.  There’s little kid-hood, that time when you are out of diapers and you can feed yourself, but you’re pretty reliant upon your parents.  Then, there’s boyhood, those years when you are mostly independent, but not yet bogged down with academic and social pressures.  It’s a time to create, dream, talk a big game, emulate, and be.  We’ve had three boys accomplish boyhood here.  Now, we are onto the fourth!  This is a powerful, exciting, wonderful time in a kid’s life!  As the observer – mom, I am enjoying all that evolves from these boyhood days.

With this boy, there’s scootering (verb-noun) which involves hours a day grinding a bar and jumping curbs. And, there’s coolness. “Wait Mom!  I have to fix my hair,” is called out each time I try to leave the house. Or, “Where’s my black jeans?” he asks.  “Oh! The same ones you’ve been wearing for 4 straight days?” I retort, knowing he wouldn’t be caught dead in any other pair. So, we wash a lot.

Recently, I was able to spend a day with three boys that are all as I have described above. The day began as an adventure to find an old abandoned warehouse for shredding.  We found the warehouse and an underground pipe… all great photo locations.

There’s nothing like shredding on a bright early spring day, especially at a deserted warehouse with graffiti and weeds and railroad tracks.  An old plywood scrap was found for a ramp and the shredding began.  Graffiti words sprayed on a garage door provided a nice backdrop for a recount of the day’s activities and a moment’s rest.  The tube was a bonus and gave mom a chance to test out the new light sponge lens.  It worked.  These tube photos were taken in pitch black with the only light coming from the sunshine pushing through on either end.

These are lovely times and I’m savoring.  These boys are all growing up and I’m observing and admiring, along for the ride.  It’s really quite a good situation.

 

Cheap Field Trip # 4: The Tugaloo River History Tour

Cheap Field Trip # 4: The Tugaloo River History Tour

For the past ten years, on the last Saturday in May, Kelly  Vickers, a Stephens County historian, has been leading groups on canoes and in kayaks down the Tugaloo River Corridor for fun and learning.  If you haven’t participated in one of these now famous tours, you’ve been missing out.  The Tugaloo Corridor is that stunning stretch of wilderness and river that forms the border between Stephens County, Georgia and Oconee County, South Carolina.  The Corridor, which begins at the base of Yonah Dam, is the historical meeting ground of Cherokee Indians to the north and Creek Indians to the south.  There is a place just below the dam where the river is completely natural: flat, rocky and rapid.  It is just beyond this spot where the tour begins its meanderings and Mr. Vickers begins his oral narrations of the natives, the hunters, the farmers, and the tradesmen who made their mark on these regions many years ago.  He tells secrets about  the ancient geological formations that mark this area as uniquely beautiful.  Best of all, he tells tales about the waters, the bridges, the homes, and the local pioneers that you will never forget.  All of this, for free, while you get a tan and an upper body workout on the Tugaloo River.

Last year, we embarked upon this 5 hour tour on Memorial Saturday.  We had four in our party, but there were 140 river enthusiasts in our midst on 120 vessels.   It took about 30 minutes of gathering equipment and coolers, then brief instructions were given before the launch.  Mr. Vickers, easily identified with flag and pointed hat, led the charge at 8:45 am.

At first the waters moved swiftly and the paddling was easy.  Then, after about a mile in, the river deepened, the currents slowed and the arms came out to work.  It was a glorious day of bright sunshine.  About every mile, Mr. Vickers would paddle to the shore line and give a story.  We heard stories of natives warriors, run-away war-time officers, bridge burnings, Native rock carvings, and more.

We made it to the Prather’s Bridge area around 11 am to cool in the shade.

And the stories continued all the way down to the Long Nose Creek Falls on the South Carolina side.  Long Nose Creek Falls is only accessible by boat and is quite remote and pristine, a must see if you love the wild and scenic offerings of our upstate area.

After leaving the falls, we made our way across the top most portion of Lake Hartwell, where Toccoa Creek  merges with the river and the Tugaloo Mound is  located.  Here we learned about the great native chiefs that led their people in this valley land, the hidden dripping rock and the old Tugaloo Town before pulling our canoes out at a property on the Georgia side.

Thanks to strong sunscreen and lots of water, we made it down the river happy, hydrated and historically enriched.  It was just a great time.  We had two big kids with us, a 20 year old and a 14 year old and they loved it.  The best part, really, is the history.  Kelly Vickers is such a great storyteller.  He is the Registrar at Toccoa Falls College and a board member of the Stephens County Foundation.  He began these trips 11 years ago with a group of college students who were learning history at TFC.  The initial tour was a big hit and, as Mr. Vickers says, “The rest is history.”

If you want to join us in 2018  for this free and wonderful adventure, you are in luck!  The next Tugaloo River History Tour is May 26 and will depart from Walker Creek Boat ramp at 8:30 am.   A shuttle will be provided to transport you back to Walker Creek after the tour.

For more information on the River History Tour, go to the website:  http://www.tugaloocorridor.org/

Hope to see you there.

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Loaves and Backpacks

Loaves and Backpacks

Part 5 in an occasional series about keeping our young people in the church

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD,  and He will repay him for his good deed.     –Proverbs 19:17

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My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

Recently, I had a mom email to say, “My son will not be re-enrolling in your course next year. Thank you very much.”  Now, this was a terse and shocking email to receive from a parent that I had just spoken with a couple of days before.  This mom couldn’t say enough nice things about the writing her child was doing in my class.   After investigating, I discovered that during a peer review session the son had received both positive and negative comments about his fiction writing.

“My child was just so discouraged by the comments he received,” she explained. “I hope you will understand that he cannot continue in your class.”

I did not understand and this was not consistent with what I saw in the classroom that day.  I poured carefully through all the comment papers, looking specifically at the ones directed to this student.  I was expecting to find hate speech toward this child’s work.  Instead, the comments he received looked something like, “you might try adding a comma in the 3rd line” or “this is really good, but could be better with more descriptive adjectives.”

So, here we go…a discrepancy between what actually happened and what the parent perceived as a threat to her child’s ability.  This was a parent that wanted to protect her child from the pain of  negative criticism.  To me, this situation is demonstrative of a larger problem I see happening in our culture: People have it all figured out.  They’ve got paper writing, parenting, relationships, God, their life…. all figured out.  They don’t need any help.  “I’m good,” they will say.  Or, “My child is a fine writer or test taker or history student.”  Suggesting otherwise is an insult to the parent and the family.   “What do you mean my child made a 67 on her paper?  She followed every check point on the rubric.”  My response:  “If you would have looked at your child’s paper, you would have seen 5 misspelled words, 3 grammatical errors, 4 punctuation errors, two formatting errors and one content error.  This child has room for growth!”

What happened to the idea of everyone having “room for improvement”?  Or, what about the idea that mistakes are “opportunities to learn”?  As I was telling my youngest this week, “Did you think  you could just roll out of the crib and write an algebraic expression without any consultation?”  As humanity, most of us were not born with talent chips in our heads.  We must struggle and practice and perfect, even if imperfectly.   How can we grow if we are not willing to admit that we need help?   How can we become more like Christ if we have no hardships to test our character?

The first step, it would seem, is to admit that we don’t have it all figured out.

I struggle with how to gently combat these attitudes around me.  I’ve been reading about growth mindset and how it affects our approach to learning and receiving criticism from others.  The idea of a growth mindset was developed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck has been researching the concepts of  fixed vs. growth mindset.  In a fixed mindset, people believe their talents or intelligence is a fixed trait and that talent alone creates success, without effort.   In contrast, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point.” (edglossary.org)  The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.

As a parent, I must resist the urge to butt in, “My kid needs to make an A on this assignment.”  Rather, I need to promote the notion that “You need to know this material,” and “it will help you to learn this concept.”  Making an A on an assignment is vastly different today than knowing the material.  Really knowing something, internalizing a concept means that you’ve spent time with it; you’ve chewed on it, like the end of a pencil and made it yours.  That kind of knowledge comes with risk taking and set backs.

As a teacher, I must find a way to show students that criticism is just the beginning.  Criticism and feedback force us to grapple with our choices.  Knowing that our work will be challenged, forces us to examine our choices along the way.

When I was in college, I gathered up enough courage to show a piece of writing to one of my professors.  “What do you think about this poem,” I asked?

“It isn’t very good,” he said.

A lump formed in my throat. This was not easy news to hear and at that point, I had to make a decision:  Am I going to throw my hands up in the air and say, “That’s it!  I’m a writing idiot. I quit.” Or am I going to use this as a motivation to work harder?  Thankfully, I chose the latter.  I’m telling my kids the same thing:   Be thankful when you get negative feedback.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Take the opportunity and grow with it.

Romans 5: 3 – 4

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;

 

 

 

 

 

Slice of Life: Day 31

Slice of Life: Day 31

Reflections on Slice of Life:  The Last Day

Many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog these last 31 days!  They don’t call it the Slice of Life Challenge for nothing!  These 31 days have been challenging, but they’ve also been really fun and enlightening.

Here are some thoughts on the last 31 days:

  1. I loved it.  Really!  And, maybe I’m a better observer and writer for the effort.
  2. I noticed this week that I’m better at responding to student papers since I started the challenge.
  3. Since my days were already jam packed, the margin to write came from my sleeping hours.  As much as I didn’t want to, I ended up posting most nights between 10:30 and 11:55 pm, after my youngest went to bed.  Next year, I’m hoping to shift that to mornings.
  4. Everyone in our house went to bed late because mom was up late slicing and not paying attention! After today, its back to a reasonable bedtime for everyone in the family!
  5. There are some very talented writers and teachers in this community and I am grateful to have been able to join this group. I enjoyed the camaraderie and the encouragement.
  6. The good, the bad and the ugly: That’s what my readers saw in my writing this month!
  7. Having a writer’s notebook was super helpful to corral ideas and snippets of writing for Slicing.
  8. It wasn’t hard to come up with a topic each day.   I have a lifetime of topics and observations inside me. The harder task was carving out time to write and post.
  9. I’ve learned that I can be more attentive to my blog, a goal of mine for years.  If I can churn out a post every day for an entire month,  then I should be able to post once a week the rest of the year.
  10. I’m glad everyone around me knew I was slicing.  They kept me going by asking questions like, “Mom, what are you going to slice about today?”  or  “Are you just now slicing? my husband would ask.
  11. My laptop got a real work out and so did my neck and shoulders!  Next year, I’m adding in a little extra yoga to offset the bad slicing posture.

Thank you to the people at twowritingteachers.org for sponsoring this Challenge.  It has been a very positive experience.  Hopefully, I’ll be seeing you all on Tuesdays and again next March.  ‘Til next time!

 

 

Slice of Life: Day 30

Slice of Life: Day 30

Like a pink petal which draws the honey bee to nectar, so the concrete pilings bring the captain to the center of the passage.  We approach simultaneously: train, water, boat and clouds.

Wind, current, double containers.  All come together at this intersection.

We shoot through the narrow way.

The clacking, metal on metal, is overpowered by waves and Evinrude.

On the other side,  spring, sunshine, freedom.