Friday, December 25, 2015

Modern Traditions: on becoming comfortable with uncertainty

Carla’s new pup, Mr Twister,
takes mindful note of Rebekah and Carla’s 
tradition of making Aunt Rachie’s eggnog 
(wherever the 'heart' is) each winter.
This post was conceptualized several days ago under the tagline of non-traditional traditions. On further pondering, I realized that ‘non-traditional’ has always been my ‘new normal’, definitely an inherited trait. For example, I have just concluded my 30th full semester of ‘non-traditional’ teaching which was based on the ‘normal’ way that I earned my doctorate at a distance! 

After being exposed to 18 hours of ‘traditional’ graduate coursework in the Arts & Humanities alongside my doctorate-seeking friend, I am not sure what anything means anymore. (My morning mantra since 2002 remains: I’m sure glad I’ve graduated!) ‘Modernity', as my friend has shared with me, is an interesting quandary and I appreciate those who pontificate on the big questions of philosophy. Their work helps someone like me (brought up with very analytical hands-on scientific methods) to become more aware of and open to other ‘ways’ of thinking.

In a subconscious eureka moment, I realized that I ‘believe’ that natural curiosity and absolute joy of discovery precisely is what drew people – of all ages, walks, and interests – to my mother, Carla. Admittedly, I had to do some homework to figure out where this post might lead. As my Mother's Mother taught me, that starts with an in-depth definition of the terms at hand. During our ‘traditional’ tri-generational evening conversations, it was always my duty to find the keyword in Grammy’s relatively enormous unabridged dictionary on the sacred golden lectern in the library – and then read it aloud so the conversation could continue on the living room sofa. According to Wikipedia:

A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes (like lawyer wigs or military officer spurs), but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years – the word “tradition” itself derives from the Latin tradere or traderer literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether that be political or cultural, over short periods of time. (¶1)

The original recipe for my great
Aunt Rachie’s Eggnog, passed down
through my Mother’s cookbook. 
Hence, the seasonal Rucker-Nix family tradition of sharing a cup (or two or later even three maybe) of eggnog… not just any eggnog; it has to be Aunt Rachie’s unique brew! I can remember the afternoons spent religiously following ‘the recipe’ at my Grandmother’s house on Normandy, then our house on Miramar, and eventually, my house on Lakehurst… No longer allowed on my doctor-driven diet, indeed, the thought alone of making eggnog equates with ‘holding on to a previous time’. Forgivingly, Wikipedia does allow for adapting traditions to suit ‘the needs of the day’:

Tradition changes slowly, with changes from one generation to the next being seen as significant. Thus, those carrying out the traditions will not be consciously aware of the change, and even if a tradition undergoes major changes over many generations, it will be seen as unchanged. (¶5)

I will spare you my humble opinions on how ‘tradition’ might contrast with ‘the goal of modernity’ and move on to the point of this post. After my Mom died, my entire world turned upside-down. Stretching my personal horizons, at the time I happened to be reading Pema Chödrön’s book titled Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. Most certainly, everything was uncomfortable – but instinctively, I held to the yet-undefined solid grounding my Mother and Grandmother ensured was embedded within my philosphophy. It wasn’t a sickening transformation, just a strange one to me.

As Chödrön said in Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, “If your mind is expansive and unfettered, you will find yourself in a more accommodating world, a place that’s endlessly interesting and alive. That quality isn’t inherent in the place but in your state of mind.” That’s how I remember my Mom… and I believe that’s the essence she passed down to me. At least that’s what I choose to cultivate within myself now.

Getting back to the definition of ‘tradition’ per Wikipedia, this is what I learned from my homework:

In artistic contexts, in the performance of traditional genres (such as traditional dance), adherence to traditional guidelines is of greater importance than performer's preferences. It is often the unchanging form of certain arts that leads to their perception as traditional. For artistic endeavors, tradition has been used as a contrast to creativity, with traditional and folk art associated with unoriginal imitation or repetition, in contrast to fine art, which is valued for being original and unique. More recent philosophy of art, however, considers interaction with tradition as integral to the development of new artistic expression. (¶28)

The first exhibits in
Carla's Creations.
In my technology-driven world, creativity seems to be synonymous with innovation. Like IDEO founder and longtime Stanford professor David Kelley, I survived cancer at an early age (25 for me, over half of my lifetime ago). It was, needless to say, life-changing – as were my Mother’s first bouts with cancer. Similar to Kelly’s resulting epiphany, my teaching has always been about “help(ing) as many people as possible regain the creative confidence they lost along their way.” (¶2) I’m presently reading his book, Creative Confidence - while attempting to summarize the results of my ‘non-traditional’ career. Stay tuned!

Whether it’s traditional or modern, I needed (not just wanted) to realize one of my dreams to explore further a glimpse into the legacy of Carla Sue Rucker Nix (7 NOV 1935 – 14 MAY 2009) as shared with me, her daughter. I hope that my Five Years Before project will encompass an evidence-based multimedia visual biography on living and dying with style and grace as she modeled it for friends and family – and those whom she did not have the pleasure of knowing on this Earth.

Adding to the reflections recorded within this blogsite, I invite you to follow my progress in developing the Google Gallery Carla’s Creations that I created as a ‘non-traditional’ gift to myself this holiday season to remember her ‘fine art’ representations of living life to its fullest. 

Look for captions and descriptions – and updates – in exhibits as the journey continues. I have boxes of printed photos and newspaper articles to examine... not to mention several gaps to fill in with notes from her calendars and diaries! Check it out at

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Once in a 'blue moon'... shimmers of brilliance shine through!

In 1898, my mom's Dad was born on July 21, coincidentally the first day of summer and Father's Day this year (2015). I didn't know him all that well because he died when I was just 2 years old, in 1965. Nevertheless, I have always felt close to him... apparently we had some special times of which they were many stories told many times over - and thankfully a few pictures. I'm honored that he got to know me, the first of his 5 grandchildren.

First sunrise of summer 2015 - from Crystal Park
Carl Henry Rucker loved a mountain retreat called Crystal Park as much as I do still today. Being a land dealer, he managed to purchase those pristine 2000 acres of prime undeveloped real estate at the foot of Pikes Peak back in the 1950s. It's hard to believe that I've been enjoying summers (t)here for over 50 years now! The developments brought about by the present day community enable me to write - and post - this snip from nearly 9000' above Colorado Springs.

Again coincidentally, the summer solstice sometimes falls on June 20, the day over 9 years ago now that we made time to 'stand still' to reflect upon and celebrate my Dad's life: May 13, 1929 - June 17, 2006. A simple google search shed more light on the nature of the solstice. "Solstice" is a word that means "sun" and "staying," or the sun standing still. While on other days the sun seems to move in the sky, on the solstice it doesn't. In terms of the planet's revolution, the sun is farthest away from the Earth during the North Hemisphere's summer and closest during its winter. Check out your shadow, around noon on the solstice it will be the smallest it'll get all year. That puts things into perspective, eh?

Prospector Joe!
Joe Carl Nix wore many 'hats' in his day, including that of prospector on sunny summer Crystal Park days. Also known as 'the gem of Pikes Peak' (or even 'of the Rockies' according to some), Crystal Park got its name from the many quartz and gemstone crystals that I find without effort on hikes; their smooth faces glint and glimmer after an afternoon rain. A truly good Texan by choice, Dad brought me - and my 2 brothers as they joined the camp - to Colorado every summer I can remember. Mom got a break and would fly up for a week or so since she had 'done' plenty of summer 'time' on the mountain in her youth. Most anyone can imagine how great it was for us to ride in the '48 Willys-Overland 'Jeep', catch/clean/cook rainbow trout from the lake, and just be kids... We just had to be back at the cabin by dark in those days. It's truly a wonder we - and the Front Range - survived!

My dad and I made some great memories on this mountain. He took a deep interest in each of my interests - which made them all the more interesting to all! While I usually 'remember the moments, not the days', that summer night we stood on the front porch and looked at the moon together could have happened just last night. Yes, that was July 20, 1969. Even though it was a waxing crescent, we were so close that I am convinced we both saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking around up there! Only recently have I begun to realize that adults need summer 'vacations' just as much as their kids do... I've always been connected to this land, but have just now been able to share it with my close friends in meaningful ways. It thrills my soul that they 'get' even a gleam of what it means to me. Being still 'above it all', literally puts life into a personal perspective.

In sorting through some of my Dad's things, I came across one of his many poems. He wrote this one (in a lovely, perfectly cared for, leather journal with gold-edged paper) at the old Rucker-Nix cabin in Crystal Park, overlooking Manitou Springs, CO, circa 1973.

Star tracing by R Nix, at the 'new' cabin in Crystal Park

Stars over Colorado, by Joe C Nix

To catch a glimpse of the stars so bright
From Crystal Park mountain in the night
Makes me realize the source of power and might
The insignificance of Watergate and Presidential power fright.

Look down below to man’s creation,
The twinkling lights and all their revelation
Fills me with pride, awe and adoration.

Look up to the cloudless sky
Unfolded is the majesty of the heavens as they fly
Not concerned with energy, inflation, and problems many
For their lights will shine forth with plenty.

Just to see the majestic sight
Creates in me a renewed delight
To know the winner in this earthly fight
Is he who walks in God’s Holy Light.

Unfortunately, this July 20 the moon will be in its first quarter, just after the new moon. But, perhaps even more fittingly, July 2015 can boast the blue moon! A 'misinterpretation' led to the 'blue moon' being a second full moon in a month of the common calendar. Owing to the rarity of a blue moon, the term 'blue moon' often is used colloquially to mean a rare event, as in the phrase "once in a blue moon"... an appropriate characterization of the lives of both my mom's Dad and my Dad.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Take 10... again: Sweet sunshine on a rainy morning

Memorial Day sunflowers from a friend
I've very much enjoyed a beautiful bouquet of brilliant sunflowers in the center of my breakfast nook these past few days. As the Texas drought finally has been broken (with record-breaking rainfall), they certainly have brightened some gloomy days... Each quick glance given in my comings-and-goings rejuvenates me with a full-body smile as some wonderful memory serendipitously swells to fill the break ~ like making time to smell the roses!

It's fun to see folks 'switching gears' now that school is out for most everyone. Pulling together a few notes on how parents might help reduce the 'summer slide', I took the liberty of 'pushing' a positive side-effect of our technology-obsessed society. The dynamic nature of the web is a good thing when it catalyzes creativity; it can take learners anywhere, anytime. Summer break affords each of us the opportunity to chase our own individual curiosity - and one can't help but learn plenty along the way! Yet it's a virtual tight-rope for me still. Time is always of the essence in my view. As Joanna Macy frames it in Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy, "In agricultural societies, the year’s rhythm is counted in seasons. In the days before clocks, the sun moving across the sky gave shape to the day. Compare these natural cycles with the time intervals of modern technology, now measured in fractions of a microsecond. Life has become a race in a way that is historically unprecedented."

Regarding the distribution of my mother's earthly treasures, the best advice that I (her executrix) can recall consciously taking to heart was to 'take your time'. That's not how I typically attack practical problems once tasked, but 'slo-mo' has been plenty fast enough - and turned out to be the best way for me to 'deal' with so much more than Mom's 'things'. (Fortunately, we had a suitable storage option.) After several 'sales' and various 'settlings' of family and friends, the last lot of estate items has been turned over to the caring and capable hands of the pros. And I have reclaimed my workspace to sort out my own busy-ness of late! A quiet morning of backing-up my laptop - finally - led to a heart-warming break that puts so much into even clearer perspective with hind-sight and the burgeoning beginning of my own next 'chapter'.

After all of the necessary arrangements were handled following my Mom's unexpected - but thankfully brief - illness, I had a lot more time on my hands to do whatever I decided to do next. Oh there's still plenty to tend to, but I am glad I took the time to put together my own personal 'website' to organize the special bits and bytes that I had collected from both my mother's and my father's services. That's the nice surprise I re-discovered one rainy Saturday morning... during a first-ever 'stay-cation' to catch up with dear friends (who automatically took up the slack of my preoccupation with an intense learning curve of family business matters) - and myself. For several reasons, the sentiment of the page (copied below), in particular, seemed as fitting today as it did when read at my Mom's funeral service (18 May 2009) - so I am honored to share it again.

Rebekah and Carla Nix - just chillin' together, again
Today’s tribute to my mom, Carla Sue Rucker Nix ~ by Rebekah K Nix

For the next 10 seconds, please think quietly about how you came to know my best friend, Carla Nix.

<silent pause>

No matter how you came to know her - whether through an indirect benefit of her service, a quick phone call from the engraving studio, a handwritten note on stationery saved for that very special occasion, a token remembrance ‘just because’ it made her think of you, or a mutually-heartfelt hug that spontaneously seemed like the right thing to do - you surely treasure that uniquely personalized connection… A brief ten seconds likely overwhelmed you with thoughts of laughter, enlightenment, and love.

I was blessed beyond belief to have shared some of the very best life has to offer with my mother as my friend. Not discounting her varied artistic abilities, educational insights, musical interests, or social graces, her appreciation for and love of nature is perhaps the greatest gift she gave to me. After supervising my daily discovery as a toddler in New York City parks and, as a youth in Highland Park, teaching me how to plant the oak sapling I grew from an acorn, Mom and I flew over erupting volcanoes in Hawaii and trekked into dormant cones across New Mexico; we snorkeled around islands in the Sea of Cortez and at the tip of the Great Barrier Reef; we marveled at sand dollars on the Gulf shore and collected ammonites in north Texas; we gazed at the stars in the middle of the Australian outback and reached out to touch them in Colorado. Regardless of the marvelous adventure, we genuinely enjoyed life to its fullest by simply and quietly touching the earth, together.

It’s an awe-inspiring task to outline the details of her seemingly complicated life and it would be impossible to draw the infinitely criss-crossing links that made her life so special. But, even after 10 seconds, you probably could grab hold of a sweet motto or short moral that does indeed capture the essence of her rich experience on this earth. Indelibly written on my heart, she surrounded herself with these select truths that sustain me everyday.

On a card in a tramp art frame found along some Texas backroad:
The earth has music for those who listen.

On perforated paper stitched for her mother’s 75th birthday celebration:
Age is mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!

On a stoneware plaque from a local artists’ co-op in Manitou Springs, CO:
In the mountains, we count not the days.

On a favorite piece of antique Torquay pottery from Devon, England:
Never say die; up man and try!

On a needlepoint sampler she designed at home in Dallas just for me:
Love the Lord and choose to be happy.

On a coffee mug in her new Richardson kitchen cupboard:
Life is good.

Carla and Sundance Nix - just enjoying 'the view'
As the ‘glue’ that held a variety of diverse teams together, I know for a fact that my mom’s contagious charisma has changed many other lives for the better too. Technicolor personified, she was the epitome of all that is good and just and right on this planet even with her final breath – ‘inspirational’ as the majority of folks would say. 

In closing, these select statements from friends who helped celebrate Carla’s 70th birthday remind us of just how clearly she could see what really matters in each of her varied areas of interest and the far-reaching effects of the caring ways she invested her energies.

As one of the Future AARPers (aka FAARPs) said:
“She is the songbird of our group; the most tireless; never complains.”

One Second Sunday Socialite put it perfectly:
“Carla is a treasure in my life! She sparkles like a very big diamond – lots of color in a perfect cut. She is always a perfect lady (well, almost always), gracious host, and dear friend.”

A member of The Sewing Club she established noted that:
“Carla always has time for you regardless of her busy schedule – a true friend.”

One of her Yadda Yadda Sisters described their time together as including:
“… deep conversations, great adventures, giggles, hugs, and the promise of the unexpected.”

In Carla’s own words, she offered this prayer to God:
“ ‘Thank you for all your gifts – today and tomorrow. Bless us and keep us. Watch over our children and grandchildren, Joe and me, our family and friends. Amen.’ What more could you want on turning 70!!??”

Lately, when I look at the millions of stars in the familiar night sky, I glimpse rare views of Dad’s enduring wisdom. Now, Mom, each time I see the predictably changing moon, I’ll feel your faith, hope, and love shining onto all ~ especially your amazing friends, your adoring family, and me in these ever-changing times. You will always be the ‘aw-aw-awesome’ one.

There are many ways of expressing and acknowledging such magical moments. I think the point I hope to reiterate with this post is that every minute matters... regardless of whether or not, in the midst of our busy routines, we choose to take pause to empathize with a friend, to admire a beautiful sight, or to simply just be fully present in the moment... so dare to make the most of your time - as you choose fit.
A favorite saying in the sampler Carla designed and stitched for Rebekah:
The Earth has Music for Those who Listen.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Six generations of connection: Kissin’ cousins and families of choice

As summed up on Wikipedia, "Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of 'a friend of a friend' statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 and popularized by a 1990 play written by John Guare." As my NYC cousin-in-law noted in a spontaneous email exchange that included me and other Dallas relations, there were only two degrees of separation among the eclectic group copied – through a 1959 movie production of all things! Information and communication technologies (ICT) sure have changed the way we live, work, play – and, hopefully, still think independently.
Terrell Family Reunion 2015
That asynchronous conversation happened just a few days before six generations met up for an equally spontaneous family reunion that took place in a 1957 barn (updated) in the little Texas town where my Mom and her first cousins 'grew up' essentially. There are many ties to Terrell still, just as most of my grandfather's side of the family has called the Dallas area 'home' for over four generations now. My who-knows-how-many-times-removed cousin (who had retired to a less humid climate) decided to attend a class reunion in Texas so we piggy-backed on that trip to uphold the time-honored tradition of our family reunions. Even with cousins jet-setting down/up/over for the day, time continues to accelerate the 'gaps' between these casual 'at-home' events in this ICT-enabled world. The last such gathering I could recall my parents' hosting was in June 1989 – almost 26 years ago! This 2015 reunion was a first for a couple of generations of cousins who met for the first time as the sun set on a perfect spring day in central east Texas.
Terrell Family Reunion 1989
As 21st century Internet pioneers, of course, we're always 'connected' via social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In fact, using a smartphone, one of the top-level matriarchs pulled together the email addresses used to send out the evite last month! 
Shootin' the breeze before BBQ
I watched their family cabin being built in Colorado using a smartphone at my cabin in Colorado a few summers ago...  and yet – just a few days ago – there was something even more magical about shootin' the breeze there in the breezeway of their barn that evening as the cattle enjoyed the fresh annual greens all around. It's taken me nearly 15 years to figure out how to leverage the advantages of teaching online to balance out the extra toll that a distance role demands. I am happy to let technology do what it can do so that I can do the things that I want to do – like unplugging with friends and family. (Granted it was great that my other cousin piped those iTunes on her smartphone through her daughter's wireless speaker after the sun had gone down!)

A perfect spring evening in Texas
I do wish I'd paid more attention to the stories told at those earlier reunions, but I was just a city kid back then: ecstatically happy to be free in 'the country' and totally overwhelmed with the reality of our instantly expanded clan. Now I find myself helping to identify folks in family photos from all sorts of events... it's a blast from the past no doubt and somehow slows the rapid passage of time as I reflect on those equally good times. Admittedly, it was a startling trauma when I learned that most of the folks I'd grown up calling 'aunt' or 'uncle' were not really related in any way – other than being within six degrees of my parents. Those were the days when kids called their mothers 'Mom' and their fathers 'Dad' – and, out of respect, all other close adults were addressed as 'Aunt so-and-so' or 'Uncle so-and-so' appropriately. They'll always be 'kissing cousins' (a 1964 movie and defined by Webster as "a person and especially a relative who you know well enough to kiss in a formal way when you meet") to us!

I don't even try to figure out cousins... I will continue the tradition of calling them all 'kissing cousins' since I can't sort it out even with my Dad's extensive and well-organized genealogical research at hand. The nice thing about that is that various 'clans' can be easily extended with new members of our own 'families of choice'. Given the ubiquity of ICT and relative ease of travel, I've developed personal 'shared interest' groups – often extensions of familial links – that are enriched with the views of my close friends who are just as eager to merge their histories and traditions with mine. These connections transcend time and space – and in some way offer 'a sense of community' via virtual reunions as project activities progress. Working online affords me the luxury of coordinating my calendar around local events so that the face-to-face bonds continue to strengthen individual relationships. As John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." I like that notion, especially regarding kindred spirits!
Terrell Family Reunion 1920s
As the taglines of the 'family' photos evolve – as a result of good living – I am eager to capture and preserve some of the more memorable views of our shared past, the visual legacy recorded by box cameras, Polaroids, manual SLRs, and yes, even smartphones! The Colorado cabin to which I aspire to retire has more windows than wall space so those miles of photos are being uploaded to the cloud! Since other 'executors' may be in the same state, I’m hoping to use shared albums on Picassa to 'crowdsource' the tagging and descriptions; these can also be stored locally(The originals are going into archival sleeves in notebooks for reference and I'll use the frames for my sampler projects.) The really happy ending of this story is that I and my 'cousins' can enjoy on-demand 'home movies' of the collections – anytime, anywhere – a very good use of today’s new technology I think.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Some things are etched in stone - and/or simply uploaded to 'the cloud'

"Nothing is etched in stone." That's the saying that was probably laser-cut into the granite river rock at the entrance to a friend's home in France. Not what I expected to notice before the standard poodle welcomed me onto their estate! But it sure hit home with me that day for whatever reason. That was in the summer of 2013. I went to see Montagne Sainte-Victoire with my own eyes (thanks to the imagination conjured through Cézanne's paintings), to celebrate a pair of birthdays, to paddle the Dordogne River in La Roque Gageac, and so much more...

In anticipation of that trip to southern France, I had surprisingly recalled a day-trip to Houston, from Dallas, with one of my Mom's club groups. We went for lunch and to see the Cézanne exhibit at the art museum. (Talk about feeling grown up!) It was one of those most memorable events that you're really too young to appreciate the purpose, but never forget the feeling of being so special... Adding to that my background in geology and appreciation of good art (plus good wine as an adult now), I didn't hesitate to accept the kind invitation to explore new territory in southern France with my own circle of friends.

DFW National Cemetery
It seems like most everything has been 'new territory' since we had my Dad's start and end dates etched into his granite marker which stands on the hillside at the Dallas-Ft Worth National Cemetery with hundreds of American flags. While he could remember names and dates all the way back and past the Triggs in Australia (yes, of Trigg Beach in Western Australia somehow), I cannot even draw the local family tree of today correctly...  I try, but I just didn't inherit that bit of his amazing brain. He sure tried to help me follow the genealogical research he painstakingly - and most lovingly - put together as a bookcase of binders with our pedigree and so many wonderful family stories we would never have known. A few 'monumental' dates however, are permanently engraved in my memory; they pull the heartstrings of my internal clock whether or not they are noted on my perpetual eCalendar.

An excerpt from my notes on May 13, 2014:
Eighty-five years ago today was the first day of my dad's life; five years ago today was the last day my mom lived on this earth (in my lifetime at least). Becoming more sweet than bitter each year now, dad died very close to Father's Day and mom just after Mother's Day... On the few occasions I find myself waiting at the print shop or pharmacy around this time of year, I automatically browse the clever, poignant, and simply silly cards that pop into my line of sight which ever way I turn. Discretely 'not' looking and never touching, that (un)familar dissociating wash brings each of my parents back to life. It's a deeply personal and always unique moment in both my heart and my head ~ never-mind that the lady before me has finally decided on a typeface or the old man who was checking his blood pressure in the corner is on his way again...

I thought I was meant to finish my Five Years Before dream this year, five years after five years ago. The way I think 'things' through, the fact that I had simply been thinking about it and hadn't really done anything - as in produced anything to show for all that angst - really started to bother me as the past year ended and a new year inevitably started again. So I parked a domain name for my birthday present to myself. (Hey, it's a start!) I feared that I was starting to forget 'things' that do matter, to me at least... I felt grounded, but the ground was slipping away from the trails I had blazed for myself... The reality is that I was destined to start the project in five years, not end it! Having had to 'let go' of so many things lately, it turns out that this is what I will hold on to forever...

My lifetime challenge and reward is to the foundations and future of these feelings  the justice of persisting 'to infinity and beyond' somehow! That at this point I have absolutely no idea of what it will become is the reward - not the challenge. That different viewpoint is what is now different about me, 'things', life. And I do not ascribe to any sure definition of 'infinity' anymore in this regard... I never dreamed my parents would ever not be there for me, really. While I recognize their influences and sometimes sense their presence in very real ways, it's still hard to believe they are gone from this same realm. It's okay and definitely a part of life, but always strange when 'things' clear my head and still unexpected when they prick my heart.

On the Dordogne River, La Roque Gageac, France
Looking ever forward, moving onward and upward!
And so here we are: online, looking backward to chart the way we'll choose to go forward... It's all so seriously cool! Having sorted through shoebox upon totebox of old photos and letters, I am set up with a snazzy scanner (which thankfully is far smarter than I with regard to capture settings) and various webspaces to explore the saga in my charge that was left here by my parents. The first phase has already been most interesting... crossing my path with a professional inquiry that fittingly lead to a personal, historical connection. 

Over the past winter break, I scanned a box of photos from my Dad's very few things. Having lead the impressive Manhattan Church building project before relocating to Dallas, there was a photographic record of the old brownstone from which so many of the antiques (eg, stained-glass windows, linen-fold paneling, and barley-twist newel posts) in my home today were salvaged. Through an extensive internet search, I discovered the Milliken Special Collections, Center for Restoration Studies, and ACU Archives at the Abilene Christian University Brown Library. On 10 December 2014, the 'Joe C Nix Papers' were opened with a stack of photos and PDF scans of my Dad's sermon/lesson notes, now safely stored and available for research. And that repository can continue to grow as our family can add items at any future time. Turns out that the Associate Dean for Digital Initiatives, Special Collections, and University Archives who facilitated this project grew up in the same Church that we attended ~ so that lead to other conversations that personalized the entire episode in a truly unique and meaningful way.

Both sides of my parents' headstone at DFW National Cemetery
I have to refer back to the images of my parents' marker (shared front/back in military style) often to get their birth years right. I keep them on my iPhone for ready reference... It's always nice to be reminded of my Dad's service and that he is 'at peace' and that my Mom 'chose to be happy'. Those remembrances were well worth etching in stone for posterity! And I look forward to whatever may come of the various artifacts that will persist in the cloud thanks to technological advances that surely would make both of my parents smile. To be continued...

Addendum: Guess it was special for my Mom too... just found the museum brochure and Dallas Morning News article about the exhibit! Cezanne: The Late Work, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Jan 26-Mar 19, 1978) - an exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art, NY and the Reunion des Musees Nationaux, Paris.
Feb 1, 1978 Dallas Morning News article and Museum Brochure

Sunday, March 22, 2015

“Life has no pleasure nobler than friendship” - and other poignant proverbs painted on pottery in Torquay

By Carla Nix’s daughter

Being a geologist by training, were I to travel to Devon, England today, I should bring home a chunk of greywacke rock – for that is the site locale for the Devonian system (aka ‘The Age of Fishes’ in the geologic time scale). And it’s where most of the story regarding The Great Devonian Controversy – the most important theoretical issues ever to be discussed at the Geological Society of London, the leading forum for geological debate in the 1800s – was centered. That historical event “is important today because it was a characteristic piece of scientific debate: in the judgment of the relevant scientists, it resulted in a significant new piece of reliable knowledge about the natural world.” (In case you are wondering, controversies that are not characteristic “have not been resolved and are not consensually regarded as having added to the stock of natural knowledge.”) The next time you’re in Devon, please appreciate that, as noted in a collaboratively written Geological Guide to Devon’s Rocks, “Devon’s geology is one of the most varied in the British Isles and this is reflected in the great variety of its landscapes. The county records around 415 million years of Earth history and is particularly distinguished by being the only one in the British Isles to give its name to an interval of geological time of world-wide recognition - the Devonian."

Selection of 'motto ware' from Torquay, England
Hundreds of Devon tourists had come and gone a couple hundred years before I even had a chance. What they chose to bring home as a memento was often a piece of the popular Torquay ‘motto ware’ (what we now refer to as ‘Torquay pottery’) made from the numerous clay beds in the area. As noted in The Old Torquay Potteries (1978, by D&E Loyd Thomas): “Although the Torquay pottery industry differed from its Staffordshire counterpart in that it was mainly concerned with the manufacture of decorative, rather than utilitarian, wares it would be rash to assert that any firm did not make a particular type of ware or style of decoration. The most that can be said is that certain articles, such as toilet seats, dinner services, and wall tiles are rarely found; probably because they were hardly the kind of thing to be bought by visitors as a memento of a holiday in Devon.” I most certainly agree, thankfully!

To the best of my recollection, the first piece of Torquay pottery that caught my fancy was a sweet sussie – a small, inexpensive gift, chosen specifically because it has relevance to the intended recipient – that my Mom had (yes, by absolute necessity that day in Canton TX, I think) to give my Dad. The handsomely painted little tray had the traditional brown lines, blue dots and country home on a cream-colored background. The quaint saying on this one was: “Who burnt the tablecloth”. My Dad constantly smoked a pipe and was therefore always leaving little pock marks in everything that an ash could possibly burn! From then on, Torquay trinkets became our family ‘fun’ as there was a cleverly pointed quip for everyone… My Mom’s Mom was the classic worrier, so her Torquay mug said: “Don’t worry, it may never happen” and a small bowl saying: “Do not hurry, Do not flurry, Nothing good is got by worry.” Dad was rarely surprised, so he happily received another fine present of pottery decorated with truly sharp-looking rooster that offered: “A match for any man.”

Both my mother and grandmother made good use of their needlework talents, so a few knick-knacks quickly developed into an impressive collection with additions like a small pitcher with flowers noting that “A stitch in time, saves nine.” I tended to get the travel items as I was coming and going from Dallas quite a bit in those days: “No road is long, with good company”; “A rolling stone gathers, no moss”; “Life is a struggle, not a race, A wise man keeps, an even pace.” Work-related anecdotes must have been quite popular for those on vacation: “Be slow to promise, but quick to perform”; “God helps them that help, themselves”; “Little strikes fell great oaks”; “Make hay while, the sun shines”; “He who sows thorns, will never reap grapes”; “Work while you work, play while you play, That is the way to be, cheerful and gay”; “Never say die, up man and try”; and my favorite insight… “Many friends few helpers.” Indeed, the breakfast table must be a universal best-seller as we ended up with several jam jars, tea cups, and sugar bowls to cheer our day: “Fresh from the dairy; take a little jam”; “Enoughs as good as a feast”; “I cum frum Paignton; Du e eave a, cup a tay.”

And the list goes on to delight… The Torquay Pottery Collectors Society maintains an impressive alphabetical list of sayings if you ever need inspiration or an endearing sentiment! Interestingly, from studying the similar list in Loyd’s book, I learned that the Torquay potters (probably the sales managers) were possibly the first folks to crowd-source their work: “… it is believed that many of the mottoes were introduced to the potteries by customers, who were invited to write suitable lines in the visitors’ books in the firms’ showrooms.” Loyd grouped the inscriptions according to subject, with categories like conduct, devotion, dialect (like that last example from our breakfast room), domestic activities, food/drink/tobacco, humour, mealtime, morality, patriotism, precepts/maxims, proverbial, sentiment, and work/play. Something for everyone no doubt!

While the items are uniquely special for infinite reasons, I think the reason my Mom so enjoyed her collections is because each became a ‘community effort’ for friends and family. (It also gives plenty of 'chatting ease' when talking to ‘strangers’ as I have discovered.) Our Five Hearts Farm was decorated with hearts from around the world that were brought as hostess gifts and sent with birthday cards. The same can be said about the oranges at Sunkist Cabin! Aunt Gale could always find some unique piece on her trips to Europe to remind each of us that we mattered and held a place in each other’s thoughts… Powered by the ‘thrill of the hunt’ for ‘missing links’ (chipped china replacements or a single volume of a book series), collecting can become a positive obsession and can be a proactive pathway to learning. To me, pulling back together those scattered pieces to create a bigger picture of a time and/or place is the awesome allure of the great museums – actual and virtual – and the romantic appeal of personal treasures – whatever the topic!

Because we can’t take even the smallest gem with us in the end – remember this wisdom from DARTMOUTH POTTERY DEVON, HANDMADE IN ENGLAND (stamped on the bottom of a Torquay tray that fit three spice shakers): “One today is worth two tomorrow.”

Little Things Make Big Differences – like adding ‘clear blue sky’ to simple redware pottery

By Carla Nix’s daughter...

Like many baby-boomers, there have been many school teachers in my family. While there may not have been many other options for women back in the day, I chose to leave the high-tech entrepreneurial world to make my major mark in higher education. I was too young for it to have been my mid-life crisis and it was not an easy change, so I claim it as a conscious decision. I calculated the risk and have never yet regretted the rewards I continue to reap, even after 20+ years. That's what can happen when a logical, big picture problem-solver – like my Dad – hooks up with a spontaneous, fearlessly creative artist – like my Mom. My varied 'career' path has always been grounded by a deep-seated need/ desire/ talent for making a seemingly little covert, difference that catalyzes significant overt, improvement – I like to think! In that regard, I expect there's an educator or 'Jedi master' within each of us. The people who discover and hone that ability to discern what really does matter in terms of making a difference, early enough in life or just eventually, are the 'giants' I admire and respect – and I am thankful that there are many from all walks... like Lester.

Lester Breininger signing a work
One plain, quiet – and crafty – teacher in Robesonia, Pennsylvania personified the meaningful, seamless merging of the arts and science/technology topics particularly well within this educational backdrop. Nationally known for his craft as a redware potter, Lester Breininger's role in local history was tremendous. He was often referred to as the resident historian of the Friends of the Robesonia Furnace, and many other organizations. A renowned antique collector, teacher and potter, he died in 2011 at age 76, but his legacy continues in Robesonia Redware: "a family tradition for nearly 80 years combined that produces top of the line Pennsylvania German Redware from traditional reproductions to our own designs." As his wife of 54 years rightly told a local reporter, "Lester’s spirit lives on in the things he's preserved and the lives of the people he touched." Many friends have enjoyed the farm scenes on the plates for which Mom's new breakfast nook on Normandy Ave was designed... the rich, warm, deep yellow walls matched the glaze as well as the redware complemented the woodwork. Miniature flower vases, animal-shaped banks, over-sized mugs, baskets, bowls, Easter eggs and Christmas ornaments added to the magic.

This story has to start far earlier though, as my Mom's Mary Baldwin College roommate (Susan Wilson, Mrs Cruser to me) introduced us to the amazing Lester Breininger (of Breininger's Pottery then). My chapter begins in 1976 when my Dad took us on the proverbial family road trip. It was actually pretty neat! That summer, we piled into the red Rambler station wagon in Dallas and set out to explore the country of my history book that year of the American Bicentennial celebration. After marveling at the beautiful Gulf coast (including a daring helicopter ride in Pensacola, FL), we went right up the east coast (lingering a while at Myrtle Beach and taking pictures of the Liberty Bell), all the way to New Hope, PA. That's where we stayed with the Cruser family for a wonder-filled week of new experiences that seemed relatively foreign to us 'Texas kids'. The Crusers took us to meet Mr Breininger one fine day, and, well, the rest now is history!

Some of the fun farm animal plates

Having been an elementary music teacher, my Mom always was taken with 'folk art' – like Pennsylvania Dutch crafts – and immediately connected with other educators – like Lester. I was most impressed with Mr Breininger as the penultimate life-long learner who dared to dive deep into his passion for pottery after a long, productive, life-changing career as a high school Biology teacher. He kindly showed me how he dug the clay and worked it into the 'things' that meant something to him. That was 33 years before Mom and Susan and I last visited with him in his studio as we each continued to add to our unique individual collections. Equally attuned to nature, I loved that he almost always added a personal note to each piece. It was usually a snip about the weather that day he dated the work: April 5, 1983 – dreary day; Feb 25, 1988 – sunny & cold; March 16, 1988 – cold & windy; May 8, 1988 – beautiful day; April 5, 1989 – more rain; March 27, 1991 – rainy day; and so on. As Mr Breininger and his work had become such a special part of our lives, I asked him to sign my last acquisition and I will treasure it always; he had made it on a 'nice' day.

Special pieces and a sample signature
And so many 'nice' memories are captured in the more unique pieces that Susan had commissioned for special occasions – like the anniversary bowl decorated with five hearts or the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial plate that graced our Five Hearts Farm house. I personally chose to keep the 10 x 12", fluted platter with this motto inscribed around the edge: "The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn." He made that on April 25, 1988 – clear blue sky. What I remember most about the exchanges memorialized in each relic is my sense of how exciting it must have been for my Mom to venture off from Texas to Virginia for school, and then how 'fun' it must have been for my parents to 'double-date' with George and Susan in New York City in the early 60s, and now how our meeting up with the Cruser family, whenever/ however/ where ever – like Breininger’s pottery – seems to capture the simple joy of life itself.

You can learn more about Lester's work in Collecting Breininger Pottery from A to Z by Paul G. Locher, available from Breininger Publishing LLC.

THE Texas Centennial Collection: rare glassware and souvenirs reclaimed from everywhere!

By Carla Nix's daughter...

Texas Centennial lapel pin
Most everyone accepts that most everything is 'big' in Texas – and that's especially true when it comes to throwing a party! The Texas Centennial Exposition may be the biggest birthday party ever. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Texas' independence from Mexico in 1836, it was the first world's fair below the Mason-Dixon Line. The Texas legislature and United States Congress each appropriated $3,000,000 for the project. The main event was held at Fair Park, Dallas. A $25 million project that transformed the existing fairgrounds into a masterpiece of art and imagination attracted more than six million people during its six-month run in 1936.

A. Harris & Co. order form
But the parties-before-the-party were well underway in 1935, the year my mother was born a 3rd-generation Dallasite. Because I come from a long line of sentimental collectors, it's really not surprising that my grandparents partly filled their Centennial baby's hope chest with the very 'smart' commemorative glassware. According to an A. Harris & Co. newspaper ad, "... original ideas in gift items especially designed for the Texas Centennial... Texas Centennial glass is in use at the White House at Washington and the Governor's Mansion in Austin. It is something you will cherish and hand down to later generations." And that’s exactly what happened!

J. Bywaters design
My brothers and I shared most of our at-home meals (not on that most special glassware) in the breakfast room of our 1919 Texas prairie house with the collection on display in a stately pine cabinet. Various souvenirs placed in and around the key pieces could have been a 1935 window dressing for Harris' First Floor Centennial Shop downtown… except that the magnificent flag in the corner wouldn't yet have flown over the Exposition. Our uncle Joe joined the staff of the State Fair of Texas in 1951, ultimately becoming General Manager of both the annual fair and the year-round operation of Fair Park. He acquired the flag that also waved over our annual Texas Independence Day parties that brought the glassware – and a whole lot more – out of the cabinet. Several items continued to travel to local classrooms as Mom very much enjoyed teaching Texas history through these one-of-a-kind artifacts.

Texas Centennial Exposition flag
I'd never thought about the significance of her collection until Wally Chariton explained what 'souvenirs' are from an historical point of view… souvenir: a usually small and relatively inexpensive article given, kept, or purchased as a reminder of a place visited, an occasion, etc.; memento. The idea was to get those millions of visitors to take something back to their friends and families, so the Texas Centennial celebration is now spread around the world, literally! Many of the paper items have succumbed to the tests of time, and I'd bet that you've experienced the effects of gravity on glass/pottery items first-hand! So, that Carla's collection not only grew, but remained intact over the years, is phenomenal.

As executrix of our parents' estates, I was quite proud that both of my brothers agreed that we should officially donate the few items Mom had loaned to the Old Red Museum. A ceramic cookie jar, brass/aluminum ash tray, blue glass tumblers, and a clear glass oval platter designed by family friend Jerry Bywaters are part of the permanent 'Big D' exhibit to mark "the highly successful Texas Centennial Exposition (which) brought national headlines to the city", making Dallas County nationally significant. Other collections reside at the Hall of State at Fair Park (Dallas) and the 2nd Floor of the Bullock Texas State History Museum (Austin), which "concludes with Centennial Celebration artifacts and vintage media that tell the stories of the moment when Texas saddled up and rode into the nation's collective imagination – boots, spurs and all."

But wait, there's more! Seriously! Sarah Reveley has put together a terrific Texas Centennial index that will inspire you to explore the entire Great State of Texas with a multi-disciplinary perspective. In addition to the Expositions in Dallas and Fort Worth, "statewide celebrations including construction of 9 memorial museums, 5 community centers, 16 restorations of historical structures, 2 park improvements, 20 statues of important Texans, and over 1,000 historical markers, grave markers, and highway markers." There's plenty to learn about this interesting time and associated people, places, events – and, of course, things!

Having delighted in the collection that surely caused me to appreciate the importance of 7th grade Texas History class.

P.S. It's not too soon to start planning your own Texas-size celebration for our upcoming bicentennial! The state legislature passed H.B. No. 2036: A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT relating to the creation of a commission to prepare for the celebration of the state's bicentennial.

UPDATE: Much of the collection has been donated to a group in Dallas so I hope to continue to work with it in the future. In response to the question about Frankoma pitchers, here is my description of the 3 different pitchers that we had...

Spring has sprung - yet again!

Time just 'flies' - whether I'm working or playing or simply doing nothing... and thankfully it's all 'fun' for me. My mom taught me how to manage that outlook. She personified alacrity: a quick and cheerful readiness to do something. And my close friends continue to help me gain an ever-more-realistic sense of my own timing. You know who you are, so thanks for that my friends.

Me and my Mom
The title of this blog comes from a touching comment that my mother, Carla Sue Rucker Nix, made on accepting the fact that her time on this planet - as we know it - had essentially run out. In my presence, but perhaps not specifically to me, she said something to the effect that she just wished it [the ending] was happening "five years from now." Of course, I thought to myself that I wished it would never happen... yet, there we were, sitting together in that precious present of that now.

And so, 'Five Years Before', in light of that time and place I'd find myself 'five years later', is today. By the calendar, it's been almost 6 years since my sweet mother died on May 14, 2009. It could have been yesterday, except that I am finally ready to launch this channel. It's one of many aspects that I'm exploring to share a glimpse into the legacy mom created through the special time we shared.

Section of the sampler Mom made for one of my birthdays
With the technical side of things set, I was thrilled to get these first thoughts out of my head and onto 'paper' for future reference - and who knows whatever else! I hope you enjoy reading these 'snapshots' as much as I enjoyed writing them... and thinking about them over the past years. They are presented in no particular order, just flowing as my time and attention allows these days. Please feel free to comment as you are likewise compelled.