Sunday, March 28

Shirdi Sai Baba Temple for the Statesman

Continuing in my un-official faith beat, I was sent to the opening of the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple in Cedar Park, Texas.  The temple began in 2008 with a few hundred people and services were held in a temporary building in a shopping center.  Their new facility is a beautiful addition to the skyline.  You can read Joshunda Sanders account here.

Nalini Rao, left, watches a blessing ritual in front of the new Shirdi Sai Baba Temple in Cedar Park, Texas on Friday March, 19, 2010.  Ramish Uppala holds his son Viswaved, 5, during a blessing ceremony.  Several hundred devotees came to Friday's events with up to five thousand expected on Sunday.

Pots, called Kalishes, left, will hold holy water for purification rituals. A statue of Sai Baba of Shiridi, right, is blindfolded before the opening of the new temple in Cedar Park, Texas. The Indian guru was regarded by both Hindu and Muslim followers as a saint.

Raj Gadde, center, a Sai devotee, puts the finishing touches on a ceremonial tent outside the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple of Austin in Cedar Park, Texas. 

A devotee in the new meditation room.

Shriya Raghunadth, 2, peers out from her mother's sari at the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple of Austin in Cedar Park, Texas.

Friday, March 26

Camp Grace for the Statesman

I've worked with Statesman faith reporter Joshunda Sanders a lot in the past few weeks - from Evangelical to Buddhist to Hindu - I've been getting around in Austin.

Camp Grace is a day camp for children with special needs at the First Evangelical Free Church in south Austin.  A few times a year the church opens it's doors, allowing parents and caregivers an afternoon of worry free downtime as their kids are entertained by church volunteers. The church also runs the Pathway's ministry which pairs special needs children with a buddy to encourage families to attend services.  I had a great time following a group of 4-6 year-olds through the camp one afternoon.  You can read Joshunda's article here.

Neil Siedschlag, right, and Jenny Tynes, left, get a laugh from Pearce Smithson, a 4-year-old with cerebral palsy, center, during an activity at Camp Grace.  The new program hosted close to 40 children with special needs and their siblings for an afternoon of games, songs, crafts, and playtime giving their parents and caregivers an afternoon off.

Pearce Smithson, center, laughs as Tammy Argumedo, hand at left, tickles him with a feather while he is embraced by Jenny Tynes, top,  during an activity at Camp Grace.

Judah Siedschlag, 5, sits underneath a parachute in the sensory room at Camp Grace hosted by the First Evangelical Free Church in south Austin.  Siedschlag and his brother Noah, 6, have regressive autism.  Parents Rebecca and Neil Siedschlag moved the family from Iowa to Texas where services for children with autism were more abundant.  Though the family lives in Round Rock, they make the 50-mile drive every weekend for the special needs Pathways ministry that the church offers.  "For us we feel supported," says mother Rebecca Siedschlag.  "We're not excluded because our family is different."

Jack Stratton, 2, is encircled by a hula hoop from Luke Penner, right, during playtime at Camp Grace.  Stratton spent the day at play with volunteers with his older sister Maddie who is recovering from multiple heart and brain surgeries.

Maddie Stratton, 4, right, plays with Tessa Clabby, 15, center, during Camp Grace at the First Evangelical Free Church in south Austin on Saturday, February 28, 2010.  Stratton was born with a hole in her heart and is a camp favorite.  "She's always laughing,"  says Clabby.

Thursday, March 25

House of Songs for KUT

There's a neat musical exchange going on between Austin and Denmark. Musicians from Copenhagen fly in for total immersion in the live music capitol, spending a week or two collaborating with locals, playing gigs, and soaking up the atmosphere in the 78704.

The program is funded by the Songwriter Guild of Denmark and operates other houses in New York and Los Angeles, Spain, Portugal and Greece.  Back in January, I worked on a story with KUT's David Brown. I met some amazing musicians and made a list of people to see the next time I visit my brother in Copenhagen.

Stanley Samuelson, center, a songwriter from the Faroe Islands, plays with Austin artists Danny Schmidt, left, and Carrie Elkin, right, on the back porch of the House of Songs in the Travis Heights neighborhood.

Peter Smith stopped by several south Austin shops, hoping to find a new guitar.

Peter Smith and Austin musician Nathan Felix collaborate on a song in north Austin.

ZAR outside Austin's Broken Spoke.

The House of Songs has weekly showcases of Austin and Denmark musicians at Flipnotics, Momo's, and Threadgill's. Check 'em out. You won't be disappointed.