Saturday, July 12, 2014

Running of the Bulls at San Fermin in Nueva Orleans

Well, that title is a mouthful! Today is the annual running of the bulls. Basically a bunch of people (aprox. 17,000 this year) get up and head to the French Quarter at about 7 in the morning. I was up at at the Beinville house by 5:50 this morning. Yup, we began to socialize at 5:50 this morning. After a delicious breakfast we all went down to the French Quarter to get ready for the run.

Now, as for the run, basically all of the local roller derby teams register as the bulls. With all of us lovely spectators in white doing the running. The derby girls carry around plastic bats and swat at people as the skate through the massive crowd. I think it's near impossible to avoid getting swatted at least a couple of times. Thankfully, unless you're really egging them on, none of the bulls hit too hard. The route was about 1.25 miles long. We started as a big group, but all got separated pretty quickly. Basically you just go with the crowd. You can run if you want, or you can be like me and briskly walk with a friend (thanks for stinking with me JP!). 

This is definitely one of the more New Orleans events I have participated in, right behind watching a Saints game at a local bar and Mardi Gras. Not only was there an opportunity for some serious people watching, but so many people were up and running (literally) by 8 AM. In all white outfits with red accents. I love this city.

Heading to Bienville bright and early!

Pre-race meet up, notice all the white and red

Like I said, great people watching. And yes, that is a stuffed raccoon.

Emily is getting her mind (and butt!) ready for what is about to happen

The rolling Elvi

The walking band for the event

Here we are, all pledging allegiance to this saint of Running of the Bulls… or something

Bull horns pt. I

Bull Horns Pt. II

Bull Horn Pt. III

One of those whacks I was talking about

We survived!

Me post event. Still smiling even though I was hot, extremely sweaty and definitely tired

- Alex

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Thin Places (Mo Ranch 2014)

So, I'm sure you're curious about the title of this blog. First, let me tell you about how I learned about thin places. Three summers ago I went to Montreat as the assistant MS bible study leader for the PAM music and worship conference. While I was there I got to meet a plethora of awesome people. One woman, a pastor from Nashville, was telling me how Montreat was a 'thin place' for her. It was a place where she felt particularly close to God. That, when she was a Montreat, she just felt more in-touch with her spirituality. At Montreat she saw God in ways that she didn't see and experience God in her day to day life.

This conversation got me thinking, where is a thin place for me? I know there is a song that always seems to blow me away (It's "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky, just FYI), but what about an actual place? Honestly, I didn't really have to think about it that long. Since the summer after my freshman year of college, Mo Ranch has been my thin place.

Just to give you guys an idea about why Mo Ranch matters so much to me, I attended the Junior High Jubilee conference at Mo Ranch 6th-8th grade. In high school I didn't go to any of Mo Ranch's conferences. It kind of slipped to the back of my mind. By the time summer of 2010 had rolled around I had kind of forgotten what a great place it was. So when my friend, Emily, contacted me about being a small group leader for Junior High Jubilee, I figured it was a great opportunity to get out of lifeguarding for a week (Ugh, seriously, lifeguarding is the most miserably boring job to have for a summer). I kind of went into my week thinking that this was a great way to take advantage of the ranch in a way you can't when you're in middle school. I didn't put much weight into the spiritual/religious side of things. Really, Mo Ranch was an escape.

My freshman year of college was challenging. I was constantly homesick. I tried the whole, date a boy from home while you're away thing and… surprise!, it didn't work. At all. I had spent the year running myself ragged trying to balance school, an incredibly active social life, and a breakup that turned nasty about a month before I was heading to Mo Ranch. I was ready for an escape and Mo seemed like a great way to do that.

That first summer back at Mo was magical. Every night I stayed up late, doing CAT patrol, sitting down by the river and looking up at the stars, spending a couple of late nights at the rapids. I also came to love my small group. Who would have thought a group of turdy little middle schoolers would leave such an impression on me? During our last worship service together, I started leading a prayer and couldn't finish. I was all choked up and one of my sponsors had to jump in and help me finish.

Not only did I make some wonderful friends that week, my calling hit me like a ton of bricks. I got home from Mo Ranch and knew that I was meant to be working with youth. More importantly, I knew that if I wasn't working with youth, I wouldn't be serving God to the best of my abilities and strengths. It was like puzzle pieces all slid together after that first trip back to Mo.

I went back to Mo Ranch in 2012, again as a small group leader for Junior High Jubilee, this time staying for 2 weeks. Even though I was exhausted from traveling the 7 weeks leading up to the conference, I was yet again overwhelmed by God. God was in the stars and the river and the scraggly little trees and the big blue skies, God was in the sponsors and my fellow small group leaders. Most importantly, God was in the middle schoolers I spent my days with.

I just got back from Mo Ranch on Friday. This year I took a nice little contingent from Louisiana, I also served as a small group leader again. I learned a lot this trip about how to navigate and direct a home group. I also learned that multitasking is probably not the best idea. I think next year I'll spend a week as a sponsor, then hang around a second week as a small group leader.

I also learned that vespers has not lost any of its power. Every night, once the sun sets, everyone heads out to the tennis courts to unwind. Our first night there, last Sunday, the sky was a bit overcast. However, as the music leader began to play, the clouds parted directly above us, showing a million twinkling stars.

Mo Ranch is my thin place. Even amidst all the activities and challenges of leading a home group and a small group, I feel recharged. I feel renewed in my calling. I feel ready to take on my job in the fall. I love Mo Ranch. It holds a special place in my heart. I want to share it with all the people I care about, because it has been so formative in my life. You want to know me better, spend some time in the Texas hill country. This is my thin place.

Cross at Chapel on the Hill

Panorama of the property

Holding it down for the juice box gang 2014

The cat walk

The view from the cat walk

View from the cat walk pt. 2

sister selfie

Selfie with Lucy


Some of our youth at the ropes course

Kaylee made it up the Mo pole in next to no time

Jane, up on the Mo Pole

Lauren also made it up the Mo Pole

Some of the PSL youth helping Mikey Fresh with the music "The Crew from the Bayou"

Our conference activity for the week, a week full of kind things to say to one another

Mo Ranch Rd.

Sister, sister

Can't beat a view like that during worship

Blue, blue skies on our way out of Mo.
Pit stop on the drive home.

By Mo Ranch, can't wait to come back!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Community 101

Hope I didn't get ya'lls hopes up too high, this is not a post about the tv show. Granted it's a hilarious show. Maybe one day I will write a blog about it...

Anyway, I'm really going to try and pull out all the stops on this blog for my last 6 weeks as a YAV. So instead of vanilla updates, I'm going to actually have some kind of coherence on here. Hopefully.


Some how, throughout the year, I have managed to accumulate a whole score. A lot of them over lap in different ways. All of them are very unique and all of them have been so influential in my life here in New Orleans.

New Orleans YAVs

So, this one is kind of a given. But I'll give you a quick run down. There are currently 7 other YAVs serving in New Orleans. I make number 8. We all live together. We all participate in house meetings.We all share a food budget. We all do community service together once a month. At this point in the year it's safe to say that we all know everyone's quirks, good and bad, and how to live with each other. None of us knew each other before we moved to New Orleans, and now I probably know them better than just about anyone else in my life. Then again, that's what happens when 4 of your share one bathroom haha
All of us together

Jess and light up Jesus

Colleen, Alyssa and myself

The Pappas Family

This probably goes without saying, but these people have helped me stay sane this year. They have supported and loved me. It's great. I love my family. Not only did they come to me for Thanksgiving, they also came for the YAV silent auction. 

My brother and I really love each other.

Mom, Dad, Me, Lilly and Daniel

Me, Lilly, Daniel and my cousin Matt.

throwing it all the way back to Australia

The Brubakers

So Layne is our site coordinator. She is the leader of a lot of activities that I listed above, but she doesn't live in the house (obviously) so she gets her own little special community slot. Well, both the Brubakers do. I worked with Crawford for the first 2/3 of my YAV year. I've also gotten to take their dog on playdates (seriously, what an awesome dog. I loooooove her the most).Aside from leading our meetings and doing the community activities with us, Layne also sits down for 1-on-1s every month with every YAV in the house. I would argue she actually knows all of us the best. 
Layne eagerly participating in an Anna Leigh sandwich on YAV retreat

Crawford and some youth playing games in the community garden

Justice around Mardi Gras, still in the teething phase

Justice a couple of weeks ago, officially out of the chewing phase and
now into the jumping phase. She's growing up so fast!

Beinville Family

Valentina and Emily are both tied very closely to the Presbyterian church (Valentina was a YAV last year, Emily's parents are Presbyterian pastors and she grew up in a Presbyterian church in Dallas). What can I say? These two love me so much I have the spare key to their house (or maybe it's because they got tired of having to let me in and out...). Valentina and I usually get together on Monday to watch whatever show is in season (Girls, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones was the most recent one). Sometimes we cook. Some Thursdays we go to the gym at the same time (gotta keep each other motivated!) than cook dinner afterwards. Emily is the queen of busy but about half of the time she'll drop in and watch an episode with us (well, actually she watched pretty much all of Game of Thrones) or join in on dinner. In fact, just this past Friday the three of us watched Bridesmaids and ate ice cream together. It was both delicious and hilarious.
Me and Valentina

Selfie with Justice

Emily was also there, we just cut her out of the first selfie. Teeheehee.


Lakeview Church

While I work at Lakeview right now, they are one of my employers, I can say that I have grown to love the Lakeview community so much that I plan to continue attending even as my work there comes to an end. What a great group of people! Not only does my host family attend Lakeview, the pastor and his family are pretty amazing. Lakeview has become a congregation that I am very fond of. The size is just right for me. The people are great. Oh, and the food offered after the service is primo (can you say pigs in a blanket? every Sunday?!).

Barrett, the pastor at Lakeview, and his son Tucker at the crawfish boil

Lakeview people know how to have a good time!

Seriously, all of you should visit for this crawfish boil

Phoebe, one of the girls I work with at Lakeview.
Talk about an adorable nugget!

The Kates

At the beginning of the YAV year we were told we would have host families for the year. I was blessed with this wonderful family, the Kates. Amy and Andy have two kids, Maggie (she's heading into her sophomore year of high school) and Sam (he's heading into 7th grade). I love spending time with them. Amy and I got to know each other at yoga for beginners (me being the beginner, Amy is a pro at that whole yoga thing). I've also attended many meals over at the Kates house. They live walking distance from the YAV house, so it's easy to drop by. They had me over for Easter lunch even though I had a horrible, highly contagious, skin infection. Talk about love.

Sam and his crawfish, Cartman

Me and Amy

I can't tell which cat this is, but she belongs to the Kates!

Another one of me and Amy.

Project Homecoming

Project Homecoming is one of my site placements for the year. What can I say? We work hard so we can play hard too. Most of the Americorps I don't see that often, they are usually on  site doing construction stuff, while I'm at the office. That being said, they are always so welcoming and we do lots of socializing together. Also, I have this great supervisor named Kelly who is not only a supervisor of my job, but also of my life. I can always count of her for support and a listening ear. I can't wait to work with her part time in the fall. We have become a pretty killer team this year.

Americrop service day with Evan, Elise, Jon and Anna Leigh

Never pass up an opportunity to model

BIrthday celebration

I learned how to play stump from Project Homecoming staff, because
 of course construction guys like games where you throw a hammer.

Kelly and her friend the crawfish.

Grace Presbytery

My home presbytery has continually supported me throughout the year. In big and small ways. First, Grace helped covered a part of the expenses for my year. There have also been groups that have come down for mission trips. I've been able to link up with a couple and I'll see a couple more groups before the summer is out. It's always nice to see some familiar faces and gush about this great city I have come to love. My home presbytery has also been so supportive in my life post YAV. Many of them have offered their support and guidance as I begin my year working for the presbytery which is great. I'm feeling the love.

St. Barnabas was in town for a mission trip. I got to meet up with them
for beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde. It's always awesome to see people back from Texas.

I also got to go home and be a small group leader at SHYC.
See small group member, Weave, trash compacting.

Presbyterian love is an everlasting love. Obvi.

Hands in Clay 

Now this community holds a very special place in my heart. I have about 6 years of experience in ceramics, so when I saw flyers for a class I decided to get it a shot. Boy am I glad I have done that. I take a class at Hands-In-Clay on Magazine street. The class is a wonderful rag tag group of people with a million different view and personalities, united by the love of creating things with clay. Just to give you an idea, my first class all of the women who were taking it went around and shared stories about how they gave their kids the sex talk. As I was leaving someone said "Well Jacqi (that's the teacher), I think we may have scared her off." Except not! I have been taking the class since Thanksgiving time and it's the best investment of my time and money. I have gotten to meet some really great people who I would never have crossed paths with under any other circumstance. Even when I'm having a bad class where everything is lumpy and none of the clay will get centered, I still come out of the class feeling better. I knew I was official when I got this fancy name tag…

Aforementioned name tag.

The Kenters

When I moved to New Orleans Alexander told me he had family down here. At the time it seemed like a long shot that I would actually ever meet Julie and Ryan. However, at Alexander's sister's wedding I did get to meet Ryan and Julie. Julie was a swimmer at SMU, many years after my parents, but knew a lot of the people my parents swam with. Most of them were Julie's coaches in some capacity. Also, when I told her about my dad she said, "Oh yeah, he was the lawyer most of the team went to." So Dad, your legacy abides. Way to keep those swimmers out of too much trouble. Anyway, Julie and Ryan have graciously let me into their lives. Not only have I gotten to babysit for them, they've let me house sit and let Alexander stay at their place when he comes to visit (which, let me tell you, is a life saver. The YAV house is crowded and it's hard to fit guests in our little space for anything more than a couple of days). Julie and Ryan have both helped me get to know the city of New Orleans. Whether it's festival suggestions, places to go eat, or the best Mardi Gras parade spot, they are chalk full of suggestions. 
Alexander doing ladder duty with his cousins.

A glimpse into a typical evening with Reese and Caroline.

YAV Alumni

Well I don't actually have a picture with Lauren (boo, we need to fix that). Lauren has also been a great support this year. I've known Lauren since I was in middle school. She served as a YAV in New Orleans, and she understands the highs and lows of being a YAV. It's great to go to her house, hang out with her and the dogs and talk YAV things with someone how really knows how it goes. There are actually a lot of YAVA in the Nola area, but Lauren is the one I talk to the most. And she's the one that convinced me to come to New Orleans. And also the person who convinced me to look into YAV in the first place. So she's been pretty formative in my experience.

The 504

Oh New Orleans, you've got me. I'm sticking around. 

I love New Orleans. It's such a cool city that defies pretty much all the norms of living in a city. Whether it's the open container policy, the way everyone manages to be 15 minutes late, or the way people manage to pull of the best parties at the last minute, this city is awesome. I love all the good and the bad. I look forward to getting to know it even better in the fall when I start my next round of things here in Nola.
Artist market on Frenchmen

Who needs street signs when you can just mark the actual sidewalks?

Marie Leveaux's grave

Again. the sidewalk here is pretty great. 
Spring time showers bring May flowers? The blossoms here are amazing.

Garden district, home to the pretties houses in the world.

A particularly colorful water meter cover.

Mardi Gras swag.
Phew, that was quite a lot. I hope this gives you an idea of all the ways I stay involved in the city of New Orleans. It's actually awesome to have so many different communities and ways to interacts with such a great city. If you ever come visit I'd be more than happy to give you a sneak peek into some of these awesome groups I've become a part of.