The East and West MacDonnell Ranges stretch out for hundreds of kilometres on both sides of Alice Springs. The traditional owners of the Alice Springs area, the Arrernte people, believe giant caterpillars called the Yeperenye became the Ranges – they entered this world through one of the dramatic gaps in the escarpments of the area.

While in Alice Springs we stumbled our way around these giant caterpillars, spending a lot of time in Simpsons Gap. We found it fascinating how we could walk for hours and always end up in what seemed like the same place. To the untrained eye it can be overwhelmingly disorienting with the extreme heat, blurred vision and an eerie stillness in the air.

However, the day we arrived everything was in full bloom and fresh cool water was in the rock pool. Some of the dead tree trunks showed the remnants of fire, presumably from a sacred ceremony.  I though about the stories I had heard about the ancient Aboriginal songlines, also called dreaming tracks.

From what I had learned, these (paths) songlines are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance, and paintings. By singing the songs in the appropriate sequence, indigenous people can navigate vast distances, citing landmarks, waterholes, and other natural phenomena. However, songlines are more than just a pre-goggle maps way of navigating the aired land. The songlines also carry the history of the land and of their people in harmony with the land. They believe the footprints of their Creation Ancestors are on the rocks and learn from their elders the sacred sites, the stories, song, dance and with them the Tjukurpa (the Dreaming Law). Thus, the songlines are acts of remembrance, involving mind and body. Through the songlines the Aboriginal people continually recreate the Tjukurpa connecting them to past, present and future.

I could feel the history of these ancient people under my feet and respectfully I treaded lightly. I felt welcomed though, welcome to take time to reflect on my own history and faith. As I sat under a giant old gum tree, precious memories of my own Grandma Grace’s songlines came to mind.

I meditated on all the ways that she passed on tradition and story, of self and of God, singing in her beautiful angelic voice, sweet old hymns about the paths set ahead and those who have gone before us. She sang of a Creator God who longs to walk with us, to talk with us and to tell us we are not alone. Oh! To know we are not alone!

I remembered her voice in the stillness. As tears rolled down my cheeks, a song began to flow off of my lips and I joined her in harmony singing.

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.


Beyond Thunderdome

img_2714Upon first appearances, Coober Pedy, South Australia, feels like a post-apocalyptic scene out of a Mad Max* movie. And, rightly so, it was the backdrop for the film, Beyond Thunderdome. It’s eery and vast with mounds of sand and rock piles as far at the eye can see. Coober Pedy is one of the most unusual places in Australia and perhaps the world. It’s also one of the hottest places in Australia, with summer temperatures often reaching 45°C, and ground temperatures reaching as high as 65°C.

Before white fella came into the territory, Aboriginal nomadic hunters and gatherers travelled the rugged terrain constantly in search of food and water supplies as well as to attend traditional ceremonies. In fact, the name “Coober Pedy” comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means “boys’ waterhole.”

img_2703The first European explorer to pass near the site of Coober Pedy was Scottish-born John McDouall Stuart in 1858, but the town was not established until after 1915, when the first opal was discovered by Wille Hutchison. Miners followed in 1916 and by 1999, there were more than 250,000 mine shaft entrances in the area. With laws in place discouraging large-scale mining  any novice with equipment and fortitude can test their luck mining for an opals. Once a license is acquired, each prospector has 165-square-foot to claim their lot.


img_2708Coober Pedy has a modest local population of about 3,500 and attracts folks from over 45 different countries. Most of them come to Coober Pedy for one thing; Opals.

Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground residences, called “dugouts”, which are basically mine shafts, built into homes. Some of them with elaborate interiors, large ballrooms and underground pools.

One of our favorite dugouts was the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian’s came in droves to Coober Pedy to try their hand at Opal mining in the early 90’s and the church was built-in 1993. It is the town’s largest and most impressive underground church, with intricate rock-wall carvings and a gorgeous vaulted ceiling. The stained glass window provide a celestial atmosphere in the standing room only sanctuary.


img_2952Another interesting area in Coober Pedy is “the Breakaways.” The Breakaway Reserve gets its name from the massive rocks and plateaus that from a distance look like they have “broken away” from the main range.

Our favorite was the formation known by non-aboriginal people as “salt and pepper” or the “castle”. To the Aboriginal people, they are known as the “Two Dogs (Pupa)” sitting down, one yellow dog and one white dog. To the south-west of Two Dogs is a peaked hill, known as Man (Wati) who is the owner of the dogs.

Practically speaking, the town had all the amenities that one might need when traveling through. There is a local grocery store with a decent organic section, a backpackers, camping, plenty of Air BnB’s and a few nice hotels (most of which are underground), gas to refuel, and one of the best Pizza joints in South Australia, John’s Pizza. There is even a golf course, which you have to play at night with glow in the dark golf balls. And, of course there are Opals.

Whether you are heading north to Alice Springs or south to Adelaide, Coober Pedy is the place to stop.

*Other major movies, filmed here on location include, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Ground Zero, and Pitch Black.

When Worlds Collide

The plan had been in place for months. Craig Greenfield and his Alongsiders in Phnom Penh, Cambodia had been in conversation with a group from Singapore about hosting a round table discussion about the heart of God for justice and how that translates to our worship. It would be a sort of meeting of minds, an opportunity to gain perspective, learn and have eyes opened and hearts reshaped. At the same time, we wrote Craig about a potential visit to Cambodia. We met Craig two years prior at a social justice conference in Australia called Surrender. We were taken by his story and stayed in touch with him. When our vision shifted from bus life to backpacks, South East Asia came on our radar and we reached out to Craig. He responded to our request stating that our dates lined up with the gathering he would be hosting and invited us to participate. He asked us to put together a few ideas for workshops and began preparations around the subject at hand. He painted a picture of what to expect when we arrived explaining that we, along with a handful of kinfolk from Singapore, would be staying in Phnom Penh for a few nights and then taking a van south to a small village for a weekend homestay, learning about local life and faith. It would be during this time that we would be sharing our workshops with the local villagers. He explained it all, however no words could have really prepared our hearts for what we would experience. We had no idea that we were about to experience the ministry of reconciliation.

imageWe arrived on a Sunday evening and were welcomed by one of the Alongsiders staff, Darath. It was late and dark, our least favorite time to arrive in a new land. But Darath was very helpful in getting us acclimated to our new surroundings. The next morning we rose and met the Alongsiders staff, as well as, the Singapore team (KCC) at the office for our first of many Khmer meals. The meeting was surreal. It was pure joy to be in the same room with so many saints from this side of the globe.

Over the next two days we would all ride tuk tuk’s (local form of taxis) to the Killing Fields and to S-21 Prison where we would take a tour and learn about the recent Cambodian history and genocide. Our first stop was the Killing Fields  and the mood was sober as we all donned the headsets and began our way through the horrifically descriptive and heartbreaking tour. The emotion felt after learning about the Khmer Rouge left us all dumbfounded, angry and sad.

imageFor those who haven’t learned about the Cambodian Genocide in school, the basic gist (and, this is very basic, and in no way is meant to minimize or justify, it’s juswhat we gleaned from our visit. So please investigate more if you feel led) as I was saying, the basic gist involves a rebel party of farmers and men from the countryside who felt city folks were exploiting them and had esteemed goals of transforming their country under a communist ideology. They fought the existing Government for five years, simultaneously during the Vietnam war. In 1973 the Vietcong tried coming down through Cambodia to attack South Vietnam and to stop them the US launched bombs on Cambodian soil, killing thousands of Cambodians. This strengthened and fueled the rebels as they believed the US was in bed with their oppressive government. In 1975, the US pulled out of Vietnam and subsequently out of Cambodia, leaving a hole in the armor and the Capitol city for Slaughter. At that point, one of the rebel leaders, Saloth Sar emerged as sole leader (killing off some of his inner circle), renamed himself Pol Pot and declared himself Prime Minister and leader of newly named Democratic Kampuchea. He renamed his rebel forces Khmer Rouge and set out to systemically purge his country of anyone he felt opposed his views, really anyone he felt like killing. Most of those murdered by Pol Pots Khmer Rouge were educated city dwellers but many country folk were killed as well. Over time, the KR soldiers began to doubt the sanity of their leader as they saw their own family members, who were meant to be protected, murdered. And in 1979, the Vietnamese had had enough of the Khmer Rouge threatening their borders and in the name of liberating the Cambodians they initiated an assault and swiftly defeated the Khmer Rouge. They were ruthless in their “liberation” and for a period conditions did not improve but eventually, the Cambodian people pulled themselves up out of the ashes and began a slow, even to this day, rebuild. In the end, the Khmer Rouge murdered 2.2 million of its own citizens. Pol Pot was never brought to justice, in fact from 1979 till his death in 1998 he and a remnant of the old Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia and Thailand, where they clung to power, with nominal United Nations recognition as the rightful government of Cambodia.

Sounds like a nightmare right?! Like something from another dimension, another time. But it was only 40 years ago. Only 40. And, although we were horrified to see the evil man can fabricate, it is really nothing new. It happened to the Jews and many more in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Guatemala, East Timor, in the US and Australia to its First Nation peoples, and even today in places like Tibet, Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia.

It’s more than heartbreaking, it’s paralyzingly. It’s one thing to engage and learn, but something wholly other to awaken awareness and empathy for those oppressed. So, what do we do with the emotions evoked by such evil? For starters, our family, had to sit down over dinner and talk about the feelings we had. They ranged the gamut from sadness, fright, paralysis and when we heard that no justice had come for Pol Pot we had to admit feelings of rage and thoughts of murder in our own hearts, our own depravity staring us in the face. Which then, forced us to remember the aged old story since the fall of man and seek something more, something beyond ourselves. We turned our focus to Love and read the ancient text that promises justice, promises that death will be swallowed forever. We read texts that declare that God is Sovereign and will wipe away the tears from all faces and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. And then, we had to dig deeper and find more of the story.

It’s one thing to look at the history, read and visit museums but to meet those who have lived through the travesty and find out from them how God was proving faithful is an important part of the process. So when we met Rev Chea, who pastors a little church in the slums of Phnom Penh, and heard his story of losing his family and fleeing the Khmer Rouge, then life as a refugee. To hear the story of a victim finally finding grace and forgiveness was a significant piece of the puzzle.

imageThen we met Pastor Kong, we actually stayed in his home in the little village south of Phnom Penh. He and his family welcomed us to their home, village, and parish for three nights. It was here that we were meant to lead our creative workshops, which we did gladly. But something else was going on in our hearts and souls during our time in the village, specially after hearing Pastors story. This time we heard from a man who was once a soldier with the Khmer Rouge. We heard how he was seduced by the ideology of a better life for he and his family. We heard about his disillusionment after finding the leadership riddled with lies and corruption. We heard about his families decision to flee and life as a refuge in Thailand. We heard about his families decision to return to their village to reestablish a broken but new life. He told us about a man, who was also a refugee and sent to Canada. It was there this man was introduced to Jesus and the redemption story. The man spent the next years in seminary and finally in 1990 this man came back to Cambodia to tell his people about the God of all gods. In fact, during this time thousands of refugees who had had encounters with God in their host countries, returned to Cambodia to testify of Gods grace. And so it was with the man who walked into Pastors village and shared this good news. Pastor, his wife and six children were one of three families that turned their hearts toward God. They experienced forgiveness and mercy for the first time in theirs lives and made radical decisions to become beacons of light in their village.

We were absolutely wrapped in his story but honestly really had to grapple with the fact that he was originally the enemy, yet standing before us was a man genuinely transformed. Pastor Kong was once lost but now found. The words of Jesus rang in our ears, “love your enemies.” And, here standing with pastor, hearing his story, it all made sense. Love your enemies for they may one day become your brother! We glimpsed another piece of the puzzle. It’s true, we can’t see the whole puzzle yet, emotions are still high but we do know God is faithful, even during the darkest hours.

I don’t think either pastor would wish to go back to those dark days of genocide again but I do know that through it all they both found God and in finding God, they found each other, and in finding each other they found us. And, we are one. And, that is a miracle!

Boston Pops And The Fourth of July

IMG_3632We did it! We made our way down to the Esplanade in Boston, MA with about 300,000 other kinfolk to watch the infamous Boston Pops perform a free concert for the 4th of July.

The Fourth of July on the Esplanade began in 1929 by Arthur Fiedler, who believed that great symphonic music should be accessible to the masses and though his vision this event has become one of the United States most beloved celebrations.

We asked a few locals about the logistics of going to such a grand event and most said that they had been in the past but after the Boston marathon bomber, they didn’t bother anymore. They weren’t interested in having to barrack for a position on the green so early in the morning and felt the increased security and hassle with crowds was too much, so we looked for resources and suggestions on-line. We found some good suggestions at wikihow and made a few notes.

IMG_3594With great anticipation, we packed our blanket, picnic basket, books and rain gear (just in case) and left the house at about 9am. We drove our van to the Brookline Hill subway station, parked for free and bought a $2.50 one way ticket to the Park Street Station near the Esplanade. We walk about a half of a mile to the grounds, passed through security (who were actually in pretty good spirits) and made our way towards the band shell. We staked claim to a spot about half way back on the Esplanade lawn and set up our little area. We watched as the grass quickly disappeared beneath blankets, chairs, picnic baskets, and outstretched bodies and our excitement grew. The Charles River Basin was crammed with all manner of boats and floats and the atmosphere was one of communal good cheer. Folks seemed genuinely happy to be there, together.

To pass the time, we enjoyed our meal, read books, took turns walking around, talked to folks, and took a few cat naps. It rained for about an hour but we were prepared and stuffed everything in a plastic bag and put on our rain coats to wait it out. Once the rain dissipated and the sun came out we found that the ground dried up quickly and were able to settle back in for the evening.

As the sun set, the anticipation rose and in one magical moment the conductor, Keith Lockhart, who was celebrating his 20th anniversary as conductor, mounted the podium and the music began. We enjoyed a fun-filled program with a varied line-up of performers, including Broadway performer Michael Cavanaugh who did a hardy rendition of Billy Joel’s Piano Man,  American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle; Boston-based quartet, the  Sons of Serendip; the Boston Crusaders drum and bugle corps; gospel singer and The Voice contestant Michelle Brooks-Thompson, and the USO Show Troupe. The finale included Tchaikovsky’s monumental 1812 Overture (complete with cannons and church bells) and the enduring Stars and Stripes Forever as the encore which included the ceremonial American flag drop and confetti shot.

After the concert, we packed up our blanket and picnic stuff and made our way to the Charles River Basin to enjoy the fireworks orchestrated by the Grucci’s, family owned and operated since 1850. The crowd was dense and the sky was cloudy making for a loud smokey experience. So, after a few pops and bangs we decided to beat the crowds and make our way back to the Park Street Station. The fare back to the Brookline Hill station was free and the trains were just starting to pack ’em in. We all managed to squeeze on and made our way home safe and sound.

If we had to do it again, we would! It was a pretty amazing thing to be there, enjoying the moment and spending the day as a family.


Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is one of our favorite places to visit. It is a city filled with history, creativity and wonder. It is the capital of the of New Mexico and was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages with founding dates between 1050 to 1150. One of the earliest known settlements in what today is downtown Santa Fe came sometime after 900. Later, Don Juan de Onate led the first effort to colonize the region in 1598, establishing Santa Fé de Nuevo México as a province of New Spain.

Santa Fe, previously known as the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi, is at least the third oldest surviving American city founded by European colonists, behind the oldest St. Augustine, Florida (1565). The Adobe architecture is striking and we were impressed with the city’s efforts to maintain the heritage of this building style. 

We spent most of our time visiting the historical churches in Santa Fe.

Said to be the oldest standing church structure in the US. The adobe walls were constructed around A.D. 1610
San Miguel Mission, Said to be the oldest standing church structure in the US. The adobe walls were constructed around A.D. 1610
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral. It is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral. It is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The cathedral was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886 on the site of an older adobe church, La Parroquia (built in 1714–1717).
At the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail stands the Loretto Chapel, home of the Miraculous Spiral Staircase.  It has been the subject of legend and rumor, and the circumstances surrounding its construction and its builder are consideredmiraculous by the Sisters of Loretto and many visitors.
At the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail stands the Loretto Chapel, home of the Miraculous Spiral Staircase. It has been the subject of legend and rumor, and the circumstances surrounding its construction and its builder are consideredmiraculous by the Sisters of Loretto and many visitors.

20130225-132843.jpgThe Sisters of Loretto relate the story as follows:

Needing a way to get up to the choir loft the nuns prayed for St. Joseph’s  intercession for nine straight days. On the day after their novena ended a shabby looking stranger appeared at their door. He told the nuns he would build them a staircase but that he needed total privacy and locked himself in the chapel for three months. He used a small number of primitive tools including a square, a saw and some warm water and constructed a spiral staircase entirely of non-native wood. The identity of the carpenter is not known for as soon as the staircase was finally finished he was gone. Many witnesses, upon seeing the staircase, feel it was constructed by St. Joseph himself, as a miraculous occurrence. The resulting staircase is an impressive work of carpentry. It ascends twenty feet, making two complete revolutions up to the choir loft without the use of nails or apparent center support. It has been surmised that the central spiral of the staircase is narrow enough to serve as a central beam. Nonetheless there was no attachment unto any wall or pole in the original stairway, although in 1887 — 10 years after it was built — a railing was added and the outer spiral was fastened to an adjacent pillar. Instead of metal nails, the staircase was constructed using dowels or wooden pegs.

After our tours of the churches we went to the art district and enjoyed many of the galleries on Canyon Road. We ended our tour at Kakawa Chocolate House. The following quote is from the 1928 Santa Fe Fiesta Program and describes the flamboyant vibe in Santa Fe.  “This year we are making a studied conscious effort not to be studied or conscious. Santa Fe is now one of the most interesting art centers in the world and you, O Dude of the East, are privileged to behold the most sophisticated group in the country gamboling freely… And Santa Fe, making you welcome, will enjoy itself hugely watching the Dude as he gazes. Be sure as you stroll along looking for the quaint and picturesque that you are supplying your share of those very qualities to Santa Fe, the City Incongruous… Be yourself, even if it includes synthetic cowboy clothes, motor goggles and a camera.”

Later we explored the Santa Fe Rail Yard park It’s a 10 acre park designed to show off Santa Fe’s creativity while maintaining the rich rail yard history. We had a lovely time exploring the park and taking photographs.

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We look forward to visiting this fun city again down the line and highly recommend it as a vacation destination.

Coffeyville and Australian Folklore

Over the past week we have lectured on Australian Folklore about 16 times, in a variety of settings including nursing homes, a mental health facility, Alzheimer unit, retirement communities, a high school and a community college. The range of settings offered some challenges but with a back ground in music therapy we were able to shift into more song than story when needed.

The humanities course is grant funded program, through the Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kansas. They have weekly lectures on history, folklore, story and song in all facets of life, depending on the lecturer. In a rural, southeast corner of Kansas, Caney High school and the surrounding nursing facilities all benefit from this program.

Craig was the primary teacher for our program on Australian Folklore. It was a joy to be able to watch him research and prepare a lesson that emphasized so much of his history. Starting with Aboriginal “Dream time” stories and an a-cappella song we learned from an Aboriginal/Australian group called ‘Tiddas” to the first convict ships from England and then finally stories of the bush life as documented by Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. We sang Bound for Botany Bay, My Bonnie, Waltzing Matilda, our own Immigrant song and Old Man’s Town.

The kids joined us for the Community college and High School sessions, which totaled seven sessions in all. They were a great accompaniment, adding wonderful harmonies and a steady beat on the cajon’. Our son even read a few of the poems for the high school classes.

At one of the nursing home facilities I had an intense and profound moment as I  listened to a woman in her forties share her story of regret. She was a jolly woman and was singing along with gusto, so impressed with us she asked for our autograph. I said sure, if we could have her’s in return. She was excited and said she’d be happy to give her autograph to us but she was legally blind. However, she wasn’t always legally blind, only for the past 12 years. I responded with an “I’m sorry” and an affirmation of hope and planned to continue on in song. She interjected with a mumbling of a woman who beat her nearly to death and tried to gouged her eyes out. She said the woman only got 12-15, should have gotten life, but only 12-15 and then she got out after 6 on good behavior. I was shocked and caught off guard. I touched her arm and then she began to crying, “I made a big mistake misses, a big mistake. Have you ever made a big mistake, only to regret it the rest of your life?” I had made plenty of big mistakes but none that left me with blindness, mental delay and a huge scar on my chest.  I answered, “yes” and stuttered another “I’m so sorry.” She continued, “I had an affair misses, it was the worst mistake I ever made. I miss my husband, and my kids. I want my old life back. I want to see my kids. I want my old life back.” I really don’t remember how I responded but it was something in reference to having her old life back, something along the lines however painful, trying to embrace her new life, trusting there was a purpose for her pain and to begin to look for joy in it. I don’t know, everything coming out of my mouth all sounded so ridiculous, so inadequate. But she was gracious with me and after we spoke she smiled really big and said she felt inspired and encouraged. She was thankful for my listening ear. I thanked her for sharing and we continued in song, with “In the garden” followed by a string of old timey songs about “flying away.” Later, we exchanged autographs. Her’s said her name and “Blessing to you.”


On friday we explored a little bit of Coffeyville’s folklore and visited the Dalton Museum. We learned about the history of this area and the resilience of the towns people in bringing down the notorious Dalton gang. It was fascinating to learn about the Dalton brothers pre-out law jobs in legislation and as a sheriff, the shift in their thinking and the final plunge into criminal life. It was their last hit before they were going to head to Mexico and retire. How ironic. They went in to the town of Coffeyville with an air of superiority and found out the hard way that “Pride comes before the fall.” All were gunned down except the youngest Dalton, who was imprisoned for 18 or so years and went on to  later wrote a book about the out-law days.

All in all, the week was pretty quiet, peaceful and we were able to catch up on some much-needed rest with early nights in the RV park. It was a balmy 68-80 degrees all week and for our past time we went pecan hunting and foraged a nice little stash that will hopefully turn into pecan pie.