Waco – A Transforming Experience

A dear friend of mine moved to Waco, Texas, three years ago. I really did not know much about Waco except for a vague recollection that there had been an odd cult there, a factory explosion and perhaps some UFOs. (Wait, maybe that was in New Mexico.)

My interest in Texas increased in February when my son moved to Dallas to begin a new career. While looking for ways to learn more about Texas, I came across the HDTV show Fixer Upper. In the show, Chip and Joanna Gains help people choose a house, and then they help them fix it up into a lovely, welcoming home. In addition to home design, they have opened a community gathering spot in downtown Waco that includes a store, bakery and gourmet food trucks. They have created a historic Bed and Breakfast and have a restaurant opening soon.

I visited Waco last month, and the “Can Do” mentality of the people there surprised me. I live in California where the prevalent culture is that everyone is entitled to more and more from the government, schools and community. But here, I witnessed individuals counting on themselves to make the difference.

Walking along the river that runs through town one sunny morning, I discovered that it used to be a place filled with crime and drug deals, but through a concerted effort of the community to clean up the area, along with the partnership of the local law enforcement, the river trail is now full of walking mothers, biking teens and jogging athletes enjoying the shady paths. As we took our walk, we came across a Waco police officer – on horseback! He greeted us with his slow, Texas drawl, spoke with us a moment and then plodded along to make sure all was well and safe.

I visited Antioch Church while in Waco and discovered that members of the church go out into the schools each week to read with the students. This has caused a significant improvement in testing scores in the Waco schools while providing the students with friendship and mentorship too.

We went to breakfast in the worst part of town one morning and ate at Lula Jane’s. The bakery is owned and operated by Nancy Grayson, whom I had the delightful opportunity to meet. She excitedly told us that she was building small, ecologically sound homes in the depressed neighborhood surrounding the bakery and selling them for what they cost her so that she can take the money and build more, providing improved housing in the neighborhood which encourages others to fix up the area too. While she is not busy cooking, baking and building homes, she works with the students Rapoport Academy Charter School which she founded.

My friend told me that a longtime Waco resident she knows has observed the positive influence of a community coming together to transform Texas into a better place, and she said, “I can finally say I am proud to be from Waco.”

My son wants us to move to Texas. With two daughters and many friends still in California, I am not sure I am ready to consider that possibility yet. However, it was exciting to visit a community that believes that the Waco citizens have the power and resources to transform their own community for the better.

Community Connections

I am currently reading The Benedict Option by Rod Drecher, a book given to me by my daughter for Mother’s Day. One of the chapters in the book discusses the importance of building community ties to stand against the tide of modernity.

For hundreds of years of history, one of the ways people celebrated the joy of being part of a community was through dance.

Today, many people are lonely. They think they have “friends” because they have received a lot of “likes” on Facebook, but what they are missing through social media is the ability to work together with others to create something of great beauty and lasting memories.
Creating large group dance patterns with other people of various ages and backgrounds seems impossible. But it is not when you have a dance caller who teaches each dance before the music begins and then calls out the steps as the dance progresses.

I have been a Victorian Era dance caller for eleven years, and last weekend I asked the families at the San Luis Obispo History Day how many of them had been part of a social dance before. Only a couple of people raised their hands. And yet, 300 people stood up to give it a try and were delightfully successful in making new connections and happy memories with old and new friends.

For Information on how you can host a community building event like this, go to www.HeritageDanceEvents.com!


What is it like to turn seventy-nine years old? I do not know for sure, because I am not there yet, but here are few things I observed this month when my siblings and I gathered from around the country to celebrate my dad’s seventy-ninth birthday.

Me and my Dad
1. You are a little more tired.  Every day, my dad “reads” the newspaper while lying on the couch. He often reads it for an entire half an hour with his eyes completely closed, snoring softly. Resting is important, and when you are older, you allow yourself that luxury.

2. But you still want adventures: My dad announced on his birthday that he wants all of us – his kids and their spouses, to take a trip to Alaska next year. There are always new horizons to explore, if perhaps a little more slowly than before.

My Dad and my sister
3. You continue to like the same things you liked when you were younger. My Dad has always loved cars. My mother tells the story of when she was in the hospital to deliver me, my father stepped out for a bit to attend a classic car show. (This is before fathers were required to help their wives breath during labor.) I remember being the only kid in the neighborhood who drove around in a big, black 1930’s Packard because my dad loved restoring old cars, and he will still discuss cars with anyone who will listen.
My Dad and my brother

4. Childhood memories are important. My father had a ceramic farmer doll dressed in overalls when he was a very little boy. My grandmother, before she died, restored the doll and then gave it to me. I had the doll for years, but this year it occurred to me that perhaps my father would like to have it again.  I carefully wrapped it in layers of tissue paper, and when my dad opened the package, tears streamed down his cheeks as memories from his happy childhood were relived.

5. You never cease to enjoy the company of family, no matter what your age. There is no one else who remembers singing those silly songs on a family vacation to Montana back in the 70’s. Only family know how irritating you can be, but loves you all the same. Whether you are nine or seventy-nine, there is joy in being a family.