Spaced Out

Aside from plugging away at some wig reviews lately (a few more on the way and several still to edit and upload, BTW) what else have I been up to? Being “self employed,” at this point, means being unemployed, which is my own fault since I’ve been moving slowly at getting my name out there. I want this tutoring thing to build organically, and I don’t want to rush it since I don’t need to, so it’s still going to be awhile until I have clients, I think. School is only in it’s second week down here where I live (in Texas schools always start a week or two before Labor Day) so I’ve only been making very soft inquiries for business so far. I am so used to feeling stressed, desperate, and rushed when it comes to my work life that I have to keep actively reminding myself that part of the reason for going this route is so that I can be the one in control, and that working myself into the ground isn’t the only way to work just because it’s the only way I’ve ever worked. Why go into business for myself just to boss myself around as harshly as others have in the past? It makes no sense, since I am blessed to be in a position financially where I am not desperate to make money out of the endeavor, but it is something I do to myself out of habit and I am really having to unlearn this way of living that I’ve always known.

short1Who, me? Relax? 

One of the ways this is all starting to tie together for me is the way in which I have been missing having a space to call my own. Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have plenty of room in our house and no kids, so I do have space in my casa that belongs to me and me alone, but somehow that is not the same as when I had a classroom (or as a counselor, an office) that was just mine. It’s about identity as much as it is about space; it isn’t so much privacy I am craving as a self that is seperate from the part of me that lives in this house as wife to my husband. I’m not sure that makes sense, but I honestly also believe that even if I lived alone I would be craving some space separate from it that addressed other parts of who I am than the parts that cook dinner, clean out litterboxes, and chat with people on Facebook. When I had an outside job, there were many times I would go to wherever that office was on weekends for an hour or two, to catch up on work, yes, but also to just be totally alone in a way that I am not when I’m at home. As a teacher, even though I was off all summer, I always kept my classroom keys and would drive up to the school once a week to both prepare for the coming school year a little and just chill in a quiet space where no one could find me or bother me. I guess this is why I love going to the Ruah center so much, too – with all the technology at our disposal nowadays it’s pretty much impossible to really disappear, but there’s something about being in a space that is dedicated to disconnecting from it all that makes it easier to do. So I suppose an office or classroom that I can go to at a time when neither office work nor classes are taking place often served the same purpose for me.

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The Oratory at Ruah – still my ideal sacred space

So it may be an odd way to describe a classroom without a class in it, but yeah, it was a sacred space for me when I could use it in that manner, and I’ve been missing it without really understanding what it was that I was missing. One of the things I got quite obsessed about regarding my tutoring business was owning my own office space where I could work. It’s not really common among indepedent tutors, who tend to just drive to people’s houses and do the work there, but there are people who do rent space, and it has benefits for sure – no drive time, first of all, so you can schedule more students since they can show up one after the other. And driving simply isn’t all that fun, so it solves that problem as well. And I admit to being a little uncomfortable with the idea of going into other people’s houses to teach. You’d be surprised at the questions that come up when considering this, like, what if I have to go to the bathroom? Is it OK to ask to  use theirs or should I find somewhere to stop along the way? What if I just ate Chipotle and I like, really have to go (answer: don’t eat Chipolte before tutoring)? Weird stuff like that.

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How you feel when you don’t eat Chipotle before your tutoring session

I actually asked around and discovered that in my part of town, very small office space can be rented for as low as $350 a month, which is REALLY reasonable. My husband was thinking at least $1000, so he was also pleased to hear it could be had so inexpensively – now, we’re  talking  not much more than a teeny room with two chairs and a desk, here, but it’s not like I need anything more than that to do some tutoring. So at first I was very gung ho about this, and ready to get moving hiring enough clients to cover the rental cost ASAP.

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How you feel when you realize you can have Chipotle before a tutoring session because you have your own bathroom

So right away, I’m thinking about how many clients I need to get to not only cover the cost of rent but actually make money, too. And suddenly I’m feeling behind the 8-ball because at that point I hadn’t done anything to get clients and I was realizing it might be months before I had enough to afford my own space, unless I immediately started hitting the pavement and peddling for clients hard. I didn’t really want to do that, but I wanted that damn office space, so SIGH. Hit the pavement it is. Hey, it’s a job after all, and isn’t this how jobs always go? Rat race, stress, pressure, the whole shebang. Yep, summer’s over, and it’s back to the grind – a different grind, to be sure, and at least I’ll be my own boss – but a grind nonetheless. Unless…

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TFW you have the epiphany that you are driving yourself crazy for no good reason

…what if I reject the notion that work must be a grind? What if instead of creating a situation where my job puts pressure on me to perform to a certain level, I instead embrace a reality where I simply do what I am called to do, and let it grow organically if, in fact, growth is what is meant to happen? In other words, the sooner I tie myself to a financial need to pay rent, I tie myself to requiring a certain number of clients, and a certain amount of income each month, when I don’t even know yet that this business is meant to be some huge success. Maybe the right way for me to do this work is to do it simply, and sparingly, and never turn it into some big endeavor that I can go back to my previous job and rub in everyone’s faces who ever insulted me while I was there (which, upon investigation, was at least part of my motivation for wanting some visual representation of my ‘success’). I was committing to this vision in my mind of having a tutoring business that turns into this huge THING without really questioning whether or not I even want that. And when I did start to question it, I realized that maybe I don’t.

We’re not really raised to think this way, but the truth is, when I quit teaching in 2010 to go to grad school for my Master’s in counseling, I really only did it because I desperately wanted a few years ‘off.’ And I didn’t feel comfortable just owning that; I had to tie that time off to something productive, like going back to school, and I figured after I did that I could at least return to my chosen profession without having to go back to the stress of running a classroom; I could work in a counseling office and not have to spend all weekend grading papers as consolation for returning to ‘the grind’.

This is when it hit me – one day a few weeks ago, I was driving around obsessing about how I was going to hurry up and get enough clients to afford office space, and thinking about how I’d just have to take every kid who came along even if they didn’t seem like a good fit for me or want the sort of tutoring I really want to do, and I was feeling really bummed that I didn’t already have some solitary space of my own I could go to and sit by myself and just ponder my thoughts about it all. So I drove to the university library instead, the university that is located near my house and that is, in fact, the university where I got my Master’s degree. There I was, wandering around dreaming of having a little room of my own, preferably on a higher floor, with a window so I could look out over some sort of view and be totally alone and think things through, when I walked up to the librarian’s desk and asked if they had any study rooms available (they have study rooms all the time, but you can’t reserve them and they’re usually full and hard to get) and lo and behold, they had one – they gave me a key and told me where to go, and when I opened the door I about died right there on the spot:

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Yep, a room with a view.

Yep, there it was – the very thing I’d been wishing for so hard and thinking I was so far away from getting, waiting right here in a corner of a library about 15 minutes from my house. And it was free. Not always available, true – but always there, and always free. Poor libraries – they offer us so much, for so little, and we’re always forgetting they exist. Anyway.

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I’m not what I’d call a religious person, but I believe in, and often pray to, God, and I admit that both my time working in a Catholic school and the time I spent at Ruah this summer have opened up that communication a bit more for me, and at that moment I just plopped right down in a chair, stared out the window, and thought, okay God. What is it I’m not getting here? And I was immediately taken back to a time I’d completely forgotten – August of 2012, when I was staring down the barrel of my last semester of grad school, and had just been offered the job at that awful school where I ended up working for the next four years. The job was on the table at that time, but I hadn’t yet taken it, and I did not want it. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to any traditional job, because in the two years I’d been off I’d come to love and value my simple life, and my free time, so much that I was desperate to find any alternative way to move forward. The problem was, I just couldn’t see how it was possible; we’d just spent thousands on a graduate degree that qualified me to be a school counselor, so how could I just decide not to do that at all, and work from home as a tutor or personal trainer (something else I considered at the time) instead?

But the day I discovered this little room, I suddenly remembered how exactly four years ago I’d sat in that very same library with a notebook and pen, brainstorming and jotting down ideas about how I could do something, anything, aside from going back to the rat race of working in a school. I actually jotted down private tutoring, as well as some other things that allowed me to work to my own schedule instead of following someone else’s, something that would have less stress and pressure and allow me to continue my blogging, my wig reviews, and my photography – all hobbies I was able to develop during those two years off. I wrote pages about how I was going to broach the subject to my husband, but in the end, I just didn’t do it. I couldn’t believe in it myself, much less convince anyone else it was the right thing to do. I ended up taking the job, grudgingly, and we all know how that turned out.

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It turned out that the job was a mask, hiding what I really wanted, in case that isn’t clear.

Since I’d completely forgotten about the time I sat in this same library four years ago desperately trying to come up with a way to construct a life for myself that totally and utterly matched the life I was now living, I about fell out of my chair at the realization. And right at the front of my mind was the question: why are you still so upset at losing a job you never even wanted? And why are you so stressed about being given the life you’ve always wanted instead? Everything you need is already in existence, just like this room was already here whether you realized it or not. The life you want already exists. The space you need already exists. You do not need to force anything to happen. Just let it all be. And so, I did.

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It was kind of like a long drink of water from a magical fountain! OK, not really, I just wanted to work this picture in somewhere.

So – Chipolte be damned – driving to people’s houses I go. No need to force myself to make this job a J-O-B. I’m going to let it be a calling instead, and go where I am called. And if I am called to have my own office space, then that will be clear at the time, and it will fall into place.

BUT – that doesn’t change the fact that sacred space is something I still desire, because I realized that a lot of my desire for that office space was really just that – not so much a space to work as just space to go to when I need to feel totally silent and totally alone, and the fact is I still don’t have that, being without a classroom or an office as I am. Ruah is obviously one such space, but I can’t go there every day. The university library is another I’ve discovered recently that can provide me a quiet room, but it isn’t the most reliable since the rooms are first come, first serve, and are often all occupied. But it is nice to know it’s there. Still, I wanted something more constant, so I’ve started seeking out chapels in the area to visit when I want to sit still and listen to whatever the universe has to say. And happily, I’ve already found a few.

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This is the chapel of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is about six miles from my house. It’s open to the public every day (as opposed to the much larger church which is only open for services), and so far each time I’ve been there’s been no one else there (which is how I managed to sneak the picture). It has everything I love about a sacred space – although I’m not Catholic, I am very inspired by and into iconography right now, so I love the stained glass windows and the Stations of the Cross they have on the chapel walls. The school where I taught had a small chapel on the campus that I made sure to visit every day for at least ten minutes, and since leaving I’ve really  missed having that time. I can eke it out at home if I need to, but knowing there are also lovely spaces I can visit is helpful. This is definitely one of them, but I admit the fact that it’s always empty makes me feel conspicious when I go too often. I’m neither Catholic nor a member of this church, after all, so I start to feel a bit obvious if I go too much (even though no one is ever praying in the chapel, there are people working there who often see me).

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The chapel at my former school, where I went and sat for at least ten minutes every day.

The other chapel I’ve found nearby is at St. Bartholomew, about 16 miles from my house, so still not bad. It’s another small chapel that is open all day – in fact, they have perpetual Adoration there so there it’s actually open 24-6 (not 24-7 because it stops at noon on Saturdays) and there’s always at least one person in attendance. This chapel is the opposite of the Sacred Heart one – not only is there always one person there, there are in fact a lot of people coming and going, and the parish itself is so large that I don’t feel conspicious showing up there and getting singled out as someone who isn’t a member (not that it would matter, it’s a chapel after all, so everyone is welcome, but still). I haven’t snapped a picture of that chapel yet, though, because it’s always full of people and I feel it would be rude (although when I went today there was one woman there not only on her phone but also blaring music through her headphones – weird) and I couldn’t find any photos of the chapel online, just the big church.

So one of my new goals is to locate available chapels that I like all over the city, and visit them whenever I can. Hopefully I’ll be able to photograph some of them, too. I’d also like to read up on their history and learn about them. The chapel at the Villa de Matel is probably the most glorious one Houston has, so I’ve already been a little spoiled, but we have some very interesting ones to focus on, like the Rothko chapel and the Byzantine one that’s in the same area.

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I will have time to do all of this, of course, because I am not going to turn myself into the worst boss ever and put ridiculous expectations on my tutoring business simply because I’ve been programmed to do that. So it all works out!

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The chapel at the Villa de Matel – how many times now have I shared this photo? No idea, but it’s still glorious

Now, I’m going to wrap this post up even though I didn’t get to tell you the story about the time I decided to check out another supposedly lovely chapel in my area that I’d never been to before, only to realize when I pulled into the parking lot that this church also had a school on the premises and I’d inadvertently driven myself right into the after-school pick-up lane, with about 20 minutes to go until the bell rang, and how I endured utter hell and humiliation trying to remove myself from this line because apparently when it comes to elementary school pick-up lanes, once you are in there is simply NO getting out of them, no matter what. Suffice it to say I endured much honking of horns and shouting out of rolled-down windows to get myself the eff out of there, so this is NOT a chapel I’ll be returning to at any time in the future. It was in a very hoity-toity rich part of town, anyway, so perhaps I wouldn’t be welcome without putting money in the coffers.

I’ll close this out with a picture of my cats, who are obviously getting along nicely. And if you actually slogged your way through this entire post, I’ve got some more wig reviews coming up soon with which to reward you. 🙂

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The Ruah Center at the Villa de Matel

First of all, WOW. I have way more photos of this place than I can fit into one post, even after editing a ton for this one. I’m going to have to do several posts to get them all in, so here’s hoping I can continue to find things to say about the Villa as I share them. That said, let’s take a look at what I’ve got so far, shall we?

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Entrance to the Villa de Matel

The Villa de Matel is the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word – a Congregation that began in 1866. It sits on about 70 acres off South Wayside and is generally closed to the public except for special events such as holidays (where choral concerts are presented in the chapel) and the occasional funeral. The Ruah center consists of two floors in one wing of the convent, and is available to any group or individuals who wish to spend time there in silent reflection.

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Being a generally secluded spot to the outside world, a retreat here can be magical if you commit yourself to the experience; I have been going to the Villa since the 90s, when a friend suggested it to me as a place to vacation without having to spend a lot of money. The Ruah center asks for donations, requesting that each person who stays there give as much as they are called to give by putting their gift in an envelope and leaving it in a box on their way out. So, when I was in my twenties and broke, I could get away for a few days without going more broke to do it.

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The experience has changed since I first started coming here; I admit that back then it was more for a cheap vacation than any sort of spiritual guidance. And the act of being silent, back in the 90s, was far more radical and difficult than it is now, when I no longer talk to people on the phone (choosing to text instead) and have access to technology, and therefore the outside world, at all times. Retreatants are encouraged not to bring cell phones, but honestly, that’s not practical in today’s world, and while I have on occasion encountered guests who openly break the rule – like this last time I visited, when a woman would go into her dorm room at night, which was right next to mine, and make multiple phone calls, of which I could hear EVERY SINGLE WORD because the dorm walls are thin and small and packed closely together – most people, like myself, have them with them in a silent mode, and keep them tucked away somewhere instead of using them in any way (although I will use it to take occasional photos).

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iPhone shot of the entrance to the convent

Also, when I first starting visiting Ruah, it was not mandatory to meet with a spiritual advisor, but at some point that changed and became a requirement. I can understand that, though; the center has a purpose, which is to assist people in drawing closer to God, and they feel it is their duty to guide and assist their guests in doing so. Plus, it’s basically spiritual counseling that gets added into your stay without any extra fee, so it’s honestly pretty wonderful, unless you are uncomfortable with Catholicism or religion, in which case this probably isn’t a place you want to spend a few days at anyway. And by the way – being Catholic is NOT a requirement; all the literature about Ruah encourages people of all faiths to visit. I am not Catholic myself, and it has never been a problem in any way.

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Even the stairwells are lovely – this one is from the third floor dorms to the second floor retreat area

Usually your meeting with the advisor is scheduled to coincide with your arrival; I have been going here for years and meeting with the same advisor every time, so the last time I went I was allowed to check in a day early (my advisor’s day off) and hold off on meeting with her until the next morning (another cool thing this time was that, for the first two nights, I was the only retreatant and had the entire two floors to myself). On a usual stay, though, you’d meet with your advisor, she would ask what you hope to get out of your stay (and man, did I get mine an earful this time!), then she would provide you with guidance in the form of Bible verses, other books or excerpts as recommended reading, and prayers. I’m often amazed at how much Ruah offers to people while asking for so little in return – just the counseling alone would cost over $100 an hour in the outside world, spiritual or not!

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Once that is done, you are free to walk the entirety of the 70 acres; the center is in an old part of Houston that has huge Magnolia trees (and huge tree roaches, but welcome to Texas) and even a few hills, and over the years they’ve carved out some beautiful walking trails through what would feel, if it weren’t for the rush of very close-by traffic, like the heart of a beautiful old forest. Closer to the buildings the landscaping is meticulously maintained and symmetrical, with invitations everywhere to stop and appreciate the beauty in the form of benches and swings.

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I used my phone to film the scene from this swing – the video is below. You can see what I mean about that traffic; part of what is so interesting about this place is how serene it feels while being smack in the center of an incredibly urban part of town, with a major highway about a mile away – birds, cicadas, and LOTS of traffic! For as long as the Villa has been here, the Sisters have been involved in serving the primarily  Hispanic community that surrounds it, offering everything from spiritual guidance to ESL classes and job training.

Unfortunately, every time I’ve gone to Ruah has been during the summer, when the oppressive heat prevents me from spending much time walking the trails. A random wander around the grounds in the morning or evening is OK, but even then the humidity is stifling, and I like to stay close to the casa so I can get back to air-conditioning ASAP. It is my intention to make a trip back in the fall, so I can experience it at a time I can appreciate the outside spaces more than I’ve been able to in the past.

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These shots are still in the more manicured areas of the grounds; I didn’t take any photos of the nature trails which appear more natural and wild. Maybe next time.

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I’m an indoors sort anyway, and a sucker for a beautiful structure like this one. The areas of the second wing where guests are invited to wander are beautiful even without the care the Sisters put into making them places of silent reflection and worship.

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My favorite room is the Oratory; the light coming through the windows is bright and pleasing, I love stained glass and the shape of those windows (you can see them in the entrance photo at the top of the post), and it’s small enough to feel cozy. I never use the chairs, but pull out some of the floor pillows provided and sit on the floor in front of the altar, propped back against a wall (this space is small and was hard to photograph, even with my wide-angle lens, so apologies for the weird framing and angle here). I bring my iPad full of books to read, a notebook and a pen, and sometimes if I’m alone I just babble to myself or to God or whomever I think might be listening.

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The Oratory – a “happy place” I can picture in my mind if I need to de-stress

Next to the Oratory is an Icon Room, where people go to sit in a chair, light a candle, and reflect upon whichever icon they choose. This is a form of prayer that was foreign to me when I first came here, and I never much used this room until recently. The chapel has always spoken to me, which really isn’t that hard when it’s so beautiful, and eventually I made the connection between my love of staring at those stained-glass windows and the little icons people would stare at while sitting in a chair. Since making that connection, I’ve used it quite a bit and found it healing; however, getting a photo of it was difficult. There were either people in there or nearby (I do not like to take photos of the interiors when others are present; even though it’s not disallowed I feel like it’s a distraction people don’t need) or I couldn’t get a decent angle because each chair is partitioned off from the others, creating all these tiny spaces in an already small room. So this is the best I got:

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Stained-glass window in the chapel

There is a Centering Prayer room next, where the Sisters meet in the evenings to pray. If you are on the second floor at this time, you can hear them chanting and singing, and it’s lovely. Aside from holding this room for centered prayer sessions (something with which I am  still unfamiliar) it acts as another space retreatants can use to sit and reflect – the view out the windows of the front entrance is particularly lovely, and I find this a nice spot to sit at night once it’s dark outside; I switch on one of the little lamps and sit down in a rocking chair and feel completely at home. This could be due in part to the fact that my grandparents and great-grandparents all had homes in this area when I was a kid, and so much of the construction and the grounds reminds me of them (not that their houses had near the level of architecture the Villa has, but still. They all reflect the era in which they were built – and the Magnolia trees in this part of town are always in my memory). For some reason, I bypassed this room on my photography jaunt, but I did take a video out the window with my phone during one of the many rainstorms that popped up while I was there:

At one end of the second wing is the chapel, which we’ve already seen – you can enter at the balcony level and take the stairs down to the first floor. This is a real treat, since the chapel is not open to the public, but as a retreatant you are free to move about or sit and reflect at any time (although it’s pitch-dark and creepy as hell at night, so while the doors are open 24-7, I don’t recommend it). At the other end of the wing are a few more meeting and prayer spaces and a beautiful balcony – another place I haven’t ever been able to use much due to the heat.

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These two rooms are used often for group retreats, meetings, and classes that are held at the convent; I’ve only been here once when these were being used and off-limits to other guests, but I know they use them often. The first one is another cozy spot to sit and read and relax; it’s quite homey and the views are beautiful.The second space is obviously more of a formal meeting area, so to me it’s just a thruway to other parts of the building, but when I first started coming here, it was an art room that guests could use. It had watercolors, pastels, easels, books, and all sorts of crafty and creative stuff lying around; I really enjoyed spending time in the room then, but I suspect it had to be converted to accommodate for an increasing need for group spaces and classes.

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This is another room that was hard to photograph due to the dividers cutting it all up into smaller spaces. Each shuttered-off section has an old, comfy recliner and a boom box sitting next to it, complete with old-school headphones and CDs and even cassette tapes (!) to choose from and listen to, while you kick back and enjoy the views. My first few times I came here, I lived in the relaxation room and even fell asleep one time and stayed most of the night down there instead of in my room – but back then it was in a different location that looked over another of my favorite spots, and it was smaller, darker, and cozier than this one. Ever since it moved I haven’t much felt myself drawn to the space anymore, but each time I visit I am called to certain places over others, so that could change at any time.

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Ah yes, the balcony. This has to be one of the money shots of promoting the Villa – it’s just lovely, and I think it visually sums up the whole space nicely. It’s clear that every single plant is given a lot of attention – this is Houston, in July, and none of them are dead! – and all those randomly-placed chairs almost demand that you sit down, slow down, stop fussing about, and pay attention to the trees and the sky. The rooftop you see in the near distance is another building on the grounds – it is a heritage center that was not here when I first started coming, and that I’ve never been inside. I keep meaning to ask my advisor about it when I come and forgetting to do so, because it doesn’t appear to be open to people on retreat, and I’ve been too timid to pop my head in and see.

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Another favorite spot – the cloister. They actually call this the “Cloister Walk,” which feels odd to me since cloister means walkway already, so isn’t that calling it a walk walk? Anyway, this is another sweet spot in the whole place – tough to enjoy in the summer, but covered enough that it’s tolerable, and I was lucky that every day I stayed the weather did that Houston thing it does so well, which is start out bright and beautiful, then turn into a gray stormy downpour in the span of 20 minutes before brightening back up in the late afternoon so everything’s completely dried out by dinnertime. This is the BEST PLACE EVER to be seated during a rainstorm. Don’t believe me? Watch it in action here (I’m just bummed I couldn’t get any thunderclaps on video – they kept eluding me until i gave up):

Also, some of those windows you see in the photo on the left side used to belong to the old relaxation room, so when you sat in a recliner you looked out at this view instead of the entrance to the convent. Not that there’s anything wrong with the convent’s entrance, as it’s as lovely as the rest of the place, I just preferred this view and, as I said, it was dark and shady whereas the new room is incredibly sunny and bright.

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If you go through those doors at the end of the Cloister Walk, you are back at the chapel, and have come full-circle through Ruah. As a sidenote: I attempted several times to do a video walk-through of the place so you could get a sense of the scale and location of the rooms, but the videos took up too much space on my phone, and I kept hitting record, making the entire walk, and finding out after the fact that it stopped filming after the first room. Then, I deleted enough data to be able to record, and I screwed up and filmed the whole thing without turning my phone the proper direction, so I said to hell with it and decided I’d just bring my real videocamera next time and do it properly.

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You can walk this labyrinth while the bell tower in the chapel (probably not the right term) looks on

I stayed three nights, and with that I got two days of spiritual guidance (an hour each time), free reign of the place for the first two days (it is also a convent, remember, so free reign just means no one else at the retreat center part of the building), and three fairly boring but square meals a day. I don’t want to reveal what I paid, but if you did this yourself you would, before you check out, pay whatever you felt called to pay at the end of your stay, no strings attached. And at least for me, I go away feeling much more centered and at peace.

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Statue guarding the entrance to the Sister’s cemetery

As I said earlier, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the photos I took during my two trips there this summer. I’ll be working on them for quite some time, so more will be forthcoming.

Phoning It In

I took some pictures on Saturday that I want to show you, but first I want to share my dumb mistake with you so you hopefully won’t make it too* (see update at the bottom of this post – I heard from the company and they assisted me with the issue after posting this).

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Earlier today a friend of mine told me about this new service she was trying out called Plate.com (not gonna link to it, sorry). Think of it as Stitch Fix for food. Kind of. You sign up and get an assortment of meals sent to you based on your preferences. I’m summing up here, but my friend is a real foodie so I figured if she was liking the service it was probably legit. I went to their website and found I couldn’t even snoop around a little without giving them my email address and registering – not my favorite practice in the world, but some online stores I like do this, so it’s not totally foreign to me. I give them my email and hit ‘register,’ and the next page that pops up asks immediately for my credit card number – this is still before I can view anything on the site except a brief explanation of how the process works. Knowing that it’s a bad idea, I am curious enough to ignore my instincts, enter the card info anyway, and click the ‘next’ button, where I am asked to check off boxes about what I like to eat (the choices were only poultry, seafood, beef, pork, or vegetarian). I click all the appropriate boxes and then BAM – I’m instantly taken to a shopping cart where three meals have been entered in the basket, with a delivery date and everything.

I didn’t pick these dishes, and one of them in particular didn’t sound like something I’d want to eat. But now I could go to their menu, which was surprisingly small although the meals sound fancy; the cheapest one was $12 a plate. Then I found out I had to order a minimum of 4 plates to place an order, so the total here was pretty high. Compared to Stitch Fix, where I pay $20 a month for the service and even that gets deducted from anything I buy, not to mention that I don’t have to buy anything out a shipment if I don’t like any of it, this was sounding like a very different sort of service indeed. Almost $60 just for one week’s worth of food, that I still have to cook after it comes to the door. No thanks.

Then I finally get to read more of the details, and discover that I’m going to be scheduled for weekly shipments unless I clarify that I want to receive them less, and if I cancel an order once it’s been created I’ll be charged $72 to do so. But wait a minute – hasn’t an order already been created for me? Uh-oh.

As things begin to sound more and more shady, and I realize I don’t even care for much of what they’re offering anyway, i decide to cancel my account and get the hell out of there. In total I was probably on the site less than ten minutes. I got an email that my account was canceled, but was also informed that, since I had already scheduled one order, I would be receiving that shipment and then no more. Seriously? I didn’t even want was in the order in the first place. I clicked back to the site where I tried to cancel the order, and you guessed it, a dialogue box informed me that if I did cancel it I’d be charged $72. To cancel an order I didn’t create and didn’t want. In the span of less than ten minutes I’d managed to get charged by this company basically for the privilege of viewing their site.

Except I was the one feeling stupid, because I should have known better. I started to write up a lengthy email complaining, but then I saw where because it was my first “order” I was given a discount, and the total charge was $24 (which they’d deducted from my bank immediately, of course). Rather than deal with the hassle, I am going to let this one shipment come in and chalk it up to a lesson learned. I went and read a lot of Yelp reviews (after giving them  my card information, yep) and found a lot of stories similar to mine, as well as instances where people canceled their accounts only to mysteriously start getting shipments and charges again months later that they have to deal with all over again, so I’m definitely going to cancel this debit card now and get a new number, so they can’t get shady with me in the future. Sigh. It’s always something. Moving on.

Saturday night our art students opened a show at a gallery owned by St. Thomas University in town, so I ventured down there with my boss to check things out. She is from another state and hasn’t been in Texas too long, so while we were there she wanted to wander around the campus and we took a little tour (I also took photos of the students and their artwork, but I’ll be sharing those on my private blog with friends instead of publicly). I didn’t have my camera with me, so I did the best I could taking shots with my phone. Here’s just a few (many of them didn’t turn out all that great):

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Mandala next to the chapel

I didn’t feel like the color in these looked very good, so most of them I processed in black and white.

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Chapel of St. Basil

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It was a nice day as it’s yet to reach the blistering temperatures we’ll probably be enduring by the end of the month, and it has been a long time since I’ve wandered around this part of town myself, so it was fun to see all the changes that have been made to the place (way back in the day, UST sponsored the Houston Poetry Festival when I used to attend – it has since moved to the UH campus downtown).

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Reflection shot, with some chapel detail in the background

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This was the first time in quite awhile that I stopped and thought about taking pictures while out somewhere; lately it hasn’t even occurred to me to do so. I’ve been pretty busy and my mind has been on other things most of the time, so perhaps the fact I finally thought of it again means things are starting to open up again. There are only about 4 more weeks of school until summer break, so that could be it – but these next 4 weeks are pretty brutal, so this could be just a temporary thing. Once summer’s here for real though, I’ll be ready to take more (and better) shots.

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As far as the campus goes, it’s lovely; I don’t know much about it and am too lazy to look anything up, but it’s in a pretty part of town with old houses converted into school buildings, including one former residence of Howard Hughes, and old trees everywhere. So there you go.

I went shopping with a friend on Sunday and took a few more cool pics (with the phone again), but I ran out of time to process them and will have to share them later. Happy Monday everyone, and try not to get ripped off by any food services this week!

*UPDATE: I don’t know if someone from Plate.com read this post or if they were just responding to the little comment I left them when I canceled my account, but their customer service department emailed me today and said they’d refunded my $24 and would not send me a shipment. They were very polite and reassured me that I would not receive any more charges from them. Just wanted to let you all know!