Free, Free At Last

eye drops glaucoma
Free, Free At Last, Thank God Almighty

Yesterday, I saw my eye doctor. He told me I can stop using eye drops for glaucoma. The pressure in both eyes are normal  I had two surgeries in the fall to relieve the eye pressure as well as correct a blockage in the right eye.

Surgery is such a loaded word. Laser surgery on the eyes is quick and almost pain-free. The entire process takes less than thirty minutes. I had two procedures, one on each eye in separate visits.

This fall, I felt trapped as I needed to schedule surgeries. My eye pressure was sky-high, I had a blockage in one eye, and the beginning of damage to eyesight in the right eye. It wasn’t a good time to stray far from a good eye doctor.

Now I am free to move about the country or even beyond my country. Currently I have no set job. I am  tutoring students privately. Mostly foreigners seeking to improve their English, or conversely, English speakers seeking to improve their Spanish.

In  January 2018 I will be in one of two places. Will I go to Siguatepeque, Honduras? Or San Jose, Costa Rica? Both offer schools to improve my rudimentary Spanish skills.

Siguatepeque is a charming village in the heart of Honduras, at a comfortable altitude and a comfortable distance from the violence and political unrest of the major cities. The school is not as good as most but I know the people to be good and honest.

The school in San Jose has an old and solid reputation for helping gringos (and gringas) speak the language. The school in Costa Rica needs an answer this week.. They have schedules and rules. And, they want more money than the school in Honduras.

Why do I want to learn more Spanish?  I want to start a new mission somewhere. Probably, it will be in Siguatepeque, Honduras, or Managua, Nicaragua. Wherever I go next, I need to be in a place where I have a sense of community. In a word, friends.

Okay. It’s your turn, you dozen or so readers out there. Comments appreciated on where I should go. After all, I am free, free at last. Thank God Almighty.

Love is Funny, Slick, and Shrewd

 

Love is funny, slick, and shrewd.

robert martinI found this phrase in a document written by my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather, Robert Martin, was a pastor. He founded a Methodist church in the late 1800s in south Louisiana. Preachers aren’t known for writing about romantic love.

Robert wrote up an account of his uncle’s life. The uncle’s life was tragic, full of failed romance, messed-up married life, and not a few illegitimate offspring.

He ends the sad story by stating that one should only marry “for true love.” Somehow it doesn’t fit the image of a circuit-riding Methodist preacher to end a story with that phrase. He doesn’t look the romantic type, either. But, what do I know?

 

It Snowed Last Night

20217 snowIt snowed last night. In southern Louisiana, Snow is A Weather Event. Schools close. Children run outside. It’s strange and wonderful because it only happens every 10 years or so. If you don’t live in lands where snow is common, it’s A Big Deal.

There’s not a lot of snow. Just enough to cover the yard, the roof tops and cars in the neighborhood. I wrote a message on the back of my car this morning.

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A small, humble thing started 2000 years ago. Come, Lord Jesus!

The morning flurries made me think of something else that brings out the inner child. Christmas. I apologize if the sentiment is just too much for you, but I confess I love setting out the Nativity set each year. I like decorating the house and tree, too.

For everyone, there’s a gift. The gift of A Son is Born. I love all of that stuff from Isaiah and Handel:  Unto us a Son is Born . . . I love it!

Yet, at the same time, I’m old enough to know snow melts and turns to mud. The government isn’t on His Shoulders. I don’t care what Isaiah says. The Son doesn’t rule the World yet.

The advent of something wondrous started with the baby in the manger. It also means to look to the next Advent. Soon there will be a Second Advent when Jesus will reign. The government really will be on his shoulders. There will be peace on earth.

Everyone, Christian or agnostic, knows deep inside that something isn’t right. Whether it’s the weird weather, the even weirder politics, or the deep injustice we see, Some Thing Is Not Right. That’s why we hope for the next Advent.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Red, White, and Black

oak tree and houseI have been digging around in the scrubby underbrush of my family tree. I am hoping to squeeze a book about my family out of a few stories I have heard as well as a few details that I can glean from my research. Now, there’s all kinds of things I already know about my ancestors, such as I know there were quite a bit of cousins marrying cousins in the not-so-distance past. I know that my forebears were participants in the Civil War, on the Confederate side. I know some of them were church founders and circuit-riding preachers.

Last week, I  bumped into  something that I had overlooked years ago when I started researching my family tree. The first Matherne in North America in the early 1700s had 3 slaves. From what the slim evidence I can find, it’s possible Johann Matern (spelling changed through the years)  received slaves as a gift from the same company that sponsored his passage to Louisiana from Europe. The negroes may have been just a loan. His trip, you see was financed by a banker who supposedly received early profits rendered by the German pioneers. However the company went bankrupt in a few short years in a rather significant historical and spectacular way.*

I don’t know if Johann’s slaves were his own property, or they were supplied, much like my father had a “company car” in the 1960s.  They may have come with the job. All I know is a census in 1728 said he had 3 slaves and 3 sons, and a few cows and pigs, too.

The next mention of slaves in my family tree was in regard to  Johann’s grandson, Jacques. Jacques bought a Negro boy, aged 11,  named Theodore in 1771. The purchase price was  200 dollars.  That would be about 5,000 dollars in today’s currency. I don’t see any more records of sales or purchases of slaves in my background while poking about the website, Ancestry. However I am impatient. I am not searching slave records myself. I just borrowed from other family’s records about the slaves.

I know that my ancestors, from my dad and mom’s side of the family, fought for the Confederacy. No slave or servants are listed as attendants on either side. Then, after the Civil War, my ancestor Ursin Matherne, told my mother’s family’s people that he was a descendant of a family of hunters. Somewhere along the way,  slaves and farming seemed to have disappeared from the family lineage.

Ursin Napolean Matherne was friendly with the native American population in the South Louisiana.  Friendly is just one way to describe Ursin’s relationships with American Indians.  More on Ursin’s relationships with the natives in another post.

For today, I just want to think about what it meant to own other human beings. My family owned slaves. They fought for the Confederacy. Somehow, I pictured them as pure and poor, and of course, being too morally upright to own slaves.

Until a few years ago, I would have considered these actions as not relevant to me or current events today. Yet, it’s not ancient history. These people, my ancestors, lived only a few hundred years ago. To my dismay, white superiority is an idea that has not been relegated to the dust bin of history as it should be.

Whether it’s marching in Charlottesville or trolls on the internet surmising that our past president, a black man, embodies the spirit of the AntiChrist, my contemporaries are bringing back old stereotypes and myths based on skin color. I am ashamed of that kind of southern culture. It has no place in my heart or in my thinking.

Slavery didn’t help my ancestors in the long run to have better lives. The early experiments with slavery by my family didn’t last. I can’t see how human bondage could lead to happiness or lasting contentment, no matter the short term goal in finances or farming. Nor do I see the value in worthless arguments about skin color today.

*Story of John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

Serene

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Scenic View Near Managua, Nicaragua

My week in Nicaragua was almost surreal. Although I hated the weather (hot), I enjoyed the lush scenes as well as the sense of security. In comparison, Honduras this week is under martial law, along with a night-time curfew. One person died, and many have been injured as heightened tensions over elections persist for several days. Just a few hundred miles away in Nicaragua, things are quite peaceful. Of course, the Sandinistas have a tight rein on the little country of Nicaragua, so peace comes with a price, I suppose.

 Serene

A Good Worker Who Deserves Some Negroes

1728 Johann Adam Matern, of Rosenheim, Upper Alsace. 26 years old. Weaver. A good worker who deserves some negroes. Three pigs.

Thus reads the roll in or around 1728, describing my forebear, the first Matern/Matherne who came to the New World with several hundred Germans as pioneers.

I don’t know why he was considered worthy of owning other human beings. Yet so the record reads.* A few years later, in 1731, Johann has increased his holdings. By then, he acquired 3 sons, 3 negroes and 7 cows.

He got his Negroes. I suppose that’s a sign of success. Just like you and I might be proud to have a new car or a house with no mortgage, Johann was the proud owner of 3 negroes. I hope my readers are not incensed beyond reason. It was a sign of the times.

I am rather proud that he’s described as being a good worker, not so much as a man who owned other people

*THE SETTLEMENT OF THE GERMAN COAST OF LOUISIANA AND THE CREOLES OF GERMAN DESCENT. John Henno Deilor

Traveling i-61

amos place
A Place Called AMOS, a ministry in Managua, Nicaragua.

 

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Managua, Nicaragua. My purpose was to scout out a ministry called i-61. It’s mission statement is from Isaiah 61 in the Bible. More on that in another post.

I was there nine days. It was warm. That’s not true. It was hot.

It’s the cooler season supposedly. Managua has a tropical, humid climate. There are two seasons: winter and summer. I was there in winter, as the rainy season is called winter, the dry, summer. Managua is a humid and hot place, even in winter.

On a more cheerful note, Managua was cleaner and safer at least compared to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, my former home in Central America. I didn’t see litter everywhere or people scavenging out of the garbage bins as was commonplace in Tegus. My North American hosts also lived without multiple layers of security that was a part of my daily life in Honduras. I didn’t see guard dogs, electric wire or armed watchmen.

Nicaragua is poorer than Honduras. It’s poorer than any nation in Central America. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the North America region. Only Haiti beats Nicaragua as more impoverished. There were horse-drawn carts in the capital, and they weren’t for tourists. Everyday people use them for transporting supplies. Honestly, there weren’t loads of horse-drawn cars. More common, cars, buses and taxis filled the streets.

The ministry, i-61, operates a base in Managua that serves as a training center for North Americans who want to learn about missions. They offer a 10-day trip to educate groups on different areas of missions. The objective is that groups can return home and put into practice in their own communities what they learned.

I didn’t feel like I returned home wanting to end world hunger. I don’t feel compelled at this moment to act on the seven areas of mission that the group supports. To find out more about the areas of mission of i-61 follow the link below.*

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Child finishing a meal near the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua

I was impressed by the people I met, gringos and nationals. I didn’t feel pity or a sense of being overwhelmed by the scope of poverty in Managua. I observed and helped those feeding kids whose parents scavenge in the city’s garbage dump. I visited a ministry that serves children with physical and mental disabilities. I visited a church’s outreach that feeds local kids in a town near Managua. I talked to Americans who help kids attend university by providing them with guidance, free room and board, and other help so they can impact Nicaragua as educated, hopeful young men and women.

boa boa!
Home of the Boa Constrictor

One day, we visited a coffee plantation. It wasn’t a tourist site. It was a working farm. The fellow who owns the place is striving to have an eco-friendly finca, one with shade trees and bushes planted strategically to help the coffee ward off most pests naturally and shield the plants from the harmful sun. Supposedly there’s a boa constrictor who lives just yards away from the owner’s home. We discussed the boa’s penchant for household pets at this patio outside the home.

There’s a lot more to unpack from visiting i-61 in Nicaragua. But for now, adios!

 

 

*i-61.org

 

 

 

A Weaver’s Tale

This post is the second in an occasional series about my father’s family. 

Two hundred and ninety-six years ago, Johann Matern, my ancestor, came to Louisiana from Germany. A great number of Germans had come by ship under the direction of John Law, a Scottish speculator and banker. Many died aboard the ship. The survivors realized quickly that John Law’s promises were nearly worthless: no funds, no slaves nor easy living awaiting the pioneers.

The group proposed to farm an area a bit southwest of New Orleans. They provided food for the soldiers and government officials in the city. The pioneers formed small villages in what became known to the French-speaking population of New Orleans as Des Allemands. These sturdy Germans flourished despite the many difficulties of pioneering in a subtropical climate. 

Let’s get back to my 6th great-grandfather, Johann. He was from the upper region of Alsace-Lorraine, a place that over centuries changed from French to German hands over and again. Maybe Johann left to escape the strain of competing powers fighting over his homeland. I don’t know. I do know he was probably bilingual, speaking German and French. map alsace lorraine

Johann was 26 years old when he came to the New World. He had a wife, Regina, an infant son, and Regina’s two sisters listed as members of his household. Johann listed his occupation as a weaver. The little band of Germans had no use for someone to spin thread into cloth. They needed to build houses, grow food and establish a community.

Johann cleared his land to grow rice and corn and raise pigs. If he entertained any images of wealth in the New World, his hopes would were dashed. The man was awarded 8 arpents (6-7 acres) of land. Maybe he entertained his growing family which would reach six children with stories of Rumpelstiltskin, the folktale about an imp who spun gold out of straw. At any rate, Louisiana had no gold. Or silver. Or even pleasant weather.

German Coast
The Matern farm was located within the village of Hoffen. The area is near the present day town of Destrehan on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.

At the age of forty-one, Johann died. What killed him? We don’t know. I do know his house didn’t die with him. He had six children at his death. His name, Matern, later becoming Matherne, has become a well-known surname in South Louisiana. In the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. James, Lafourche and Terrebonne, the name Matherne is part of the landscape.

There are over 3,000 people in the area who share the name, Matherne. In my neck of the woods where I grew up, the Matherne name loomed large. A school and a graveyard bore the name. They were farmers, hunters, and ranchers. Some were angels, starting a new Protestant church, founding members of banks and such. Others were devils, with stories that some would rather not be told.

I will tell some of the stories of the people called Matherne.

Rest A While (Sundays in My City)

rest a while sign

 

Rest A While is a landmark along the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It was a fine hotel in the late 1800s, catering to wealthy New Orleanians escaping the heat and disease that visited New Orleans most summers. Yellow fever, malaria, typhoid and heat stroke were common maladies of Old New Orleans.

In the early 1900s, the place was converted to a home for orphans and other charity cases. As the 20th century wore on, storms and neglect wore away its charm. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 nearly destroyed it.

Rest A While needed a bit of restoration  from years of neglect and storms. It makes me think of our bodies and souls. Do we require rest? How’s my soul today? Have storms or neglect or busyness taken away from me what I need to live a good life?

After all, it’s Sunday in My City.*

Consider Jesus’ words as paraphrased from The Message Bible.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11

*I am reviving Sundays In My City, in which I post photographs of places in and around my hometown. The original Sundays in My City is a feature began by Unknown Mami. 

 

 

Get Smart

While I was away for a short trip abroad, the heating and air-conditioning unit was replaced in my home.  When I got back, I admired the new shiny contraption that sat alongside the house. “Great,” I thought, I hope the new thermostat works.”

Cold-Clipart-21136-800x500_cMy older system had a thermostat that had two settings: very cold or very hot. It didn’t matter that numbers from 50 – 80 degrees  were pictured clearly above the dial. If one wanted air-conditioning, one turned the dial to cool.  No matter where the dial was set, it got very cold, very quickly and stayed that way.  I spent summers in the house in long pants and long-sleeves. In the winter, one used the heat setting, and my little house became a hot-box. Shorts and t-shirts were in order.

I didn’t want to change out the system. It was a cranky old unit,  but I had grown accustomed to its idiosyncrasy.

Now I had to adjust to a smart thermostat that could be programmed for the day, the week or even online. The technician kindly left a small booklet of instructions  filled with tiny words one could barely see with readers. After a vain attempt to locate a magnifying glass worthy of reading the minuscule print, I managed to read a few words with my bifocals.

“How smart can this little box on the wall be?” I thought.

It had become unseasonably cold in south Louisiana. I poked a few times at the new unit’s thermostat box. During the night I woke up sweaty and warm. I looked at the thermostat. It was a roaring 75 degrees, not the 62 I thought I had set.

I reset it, aired myself out a bit on the front porch and climbed back into bed. For a few hours all was fine. Then, the smart HVAC system did it again. It was back to roaring hot when I woke up.

As is often the case at this time of year, the days became warm again. Very warm. I changed the mode to cool. I punched in 75. I left the house. When I came home, the house was cold. Really cold. I knew before I entered the house that something was wrong. The windows were frosted. The doorknob was cold to the touch.

Now, the smart thermostat decided I did indeed want the house to feel like 62. I looked around the house for a quilt, a coat, gloves. I turned on the oven and threw open the doors to the house. The house warmed up, eventually.

I have a smart phone that’s smarter than me. It knows where I want to go and tells me so when I get into my car. I have a TV system that knows my viewing habits very well. In fact it can predict what I want to watch better than I can by browsing. Now, I have a smart thermostat that is smarter than me. It decides the climate of the house, not me.

Until I figure out how to use this new contraption, I am keeping all types of clothing out: shorts, t-shirts, sandals as well as sweaters, heavy socks and boots. I am prepared I suppose no matter the temperature outside or inside.

But this heating/cooling thing has got me thinking. Why don’t we live more in harmony with what Mother Nature is doing outside? When I was a young girl, we had one AC window unit in the house, to be used when mother saw fit. Generally she didn’t see fit. Too much electricity she reasoned when the same affect could be obtained in other ways. We cooled off by sitting in the shade of the two oak tress in the backyard. We ate chilled watermelon on a wooden table under the porch. We drank water from the hose. In fact we often were UNDER the hose too. A good dunk under the hose was a sure-fire way to get cool.

Schools were not air-conditioned until I reached the junior high in town.  We opened windows, operated fans, and learned as best we could when it was hot out. We didn’t need air-conditioning in the old white Buick, either. As mom sped along, we opened the windows and hung our heads out of the window.

Generally, winters in South Louisiana are mild. However, there were occasionally frosty mornings. In those cases, we bundled up. My dad believed in doing the job personally: he buttoned my overcoat to the very top button, wrapped a scarf around my neck, and provided me with matching hat and gloves.

get smart
Maxwell Smart never learned to use the shoe-phone. Getting smart is never easy.

I waited for the school bus like that, perspiring and red-faced,  waddling onto the bus as if I were dressed for a blizzard. I didn’t need a heated bus to get to school. I had layers!

It seems smart  to just go with the seasons. I got on well enough without central air and heat as a young girl. Maybe we should toss out the smart phones, wireless thermostats and central heating and cooling units.

Honestly that’s never going to happen. I am just as spoiled as my fellow southerners.  I want air conditioning and central heat. I just need to get smart and learn how to use the thermostat in my house.