Monday, July 30, 2007

Almost August, Vacation Countdown, Better Sleep Perhaps

Not much to report since last week. I'm really suffering with my allergies. I'm taking every bit of my prescribed medication plus trying a bunch of other stuff and am not getting much in the way of relief. For those of you who don't suffer from allergies, a flare-up really makes you feel like you've been run over by a big truck--no energy, crappy sleep, the general blahs. Needless to say, I've been an absolute slug since about the middle of last week. I haven't gotten out much b/c I haven't felt up to it. And this weekend I tried working in the yard b/c the weeds are absolutely taking over, and I paid the price for it the remainder of the weekend. (Sorry, Heather, that's why I didn't make it to DY)

It's hard to believe it's about to be August. The summer is really flying by. And that means that it's just a little over 30 days until our Hawaiian vacation! Whoohoo. I'm getting excited already. We have our tickets, the excursions are booked, I now have all the luggage I'll need, we have some new summer clothes. We're really looking forward to this vacation. We haven't been a big vacation since '05. So it's definitely time for a respite.

And on a related note, Derek was able to book two of his doctors into a Stryker-sponsored course in Napa Valley the first weekend in October. And this is a trip where spouses can tag along. Score! I'm soooo excited. Derek and I think of ourselves as wine nerds, and we'll be right in the heart of wine country. It's a pretty brief trip, but we should be able to do some good touring.

About the only thing we accomplished this weekend was purchasing a new mattress. Derek has been plagued with back problems, and they've really compounded over the last year or so. It's to the point now where he cannot sleep on either mattress in our house. In fact, he's been sleeping on the floor for about a month now b/c it's the only thing that doesn't aggravate his back. Lovely. Anyway, we've done research on mattresses and ultimately decided we would check out the Select Comfort Sleep Number beds. Namely, it solves two issues: 1) I cannot sleep on a hard mattress (sleep number: 30), while Derek cannot sleep on a soft mattress (sleep number: 55) and 2) it's supposed to help people with back problems. We know a few people with this mattress, and they all have spoken highly of it. And you get a 30-day in-home trial. So, we bit the bullet. Our bed will be delivered sometime in the next 10 days. We'll see if the quality of our sleep improves. I can tell you that I did notice a difference between the Sleep Number bed and our mattress in the in-store evaluation. I'll keep you posted on how we like it.

This week will be busy...sort of. Derek has a lot of business dinners to attend. And we're still trying to get our 06 taxes together and to the accountant (sorry, dear, I can't do your stuff for you...all your info is in your phone!). I have to get that yard work done...if it kills me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Norman Bourlag: Agronomist, Activist, World Hero

Being an ag major with a particular fondness for agronomy, I found this CNN reprint very interesting.

He only saved one billion people

July 30, 2007 issue - It's a trifecta much bigger and rarer than an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. Only five people in history have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal: Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel ... and Norman Borlaug.

Norman who? Few news organizations covered last week's Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for Borlaug, which was presided over by President Bush and the leadership of the House and Senate. An elderly agronomist doesn't make news, even when he is widely credited with saving the lives of 1 billion human beings worldwide, more than one in seven people on the planet.

Borlaug's success in feeding the world testifies to the difference a single person can make. But the obscurity of a man of such surpassing accomplishment is a reminder of our culture's surpassing superficiality. Reading Walter Isaacson's terrific biography of Albert Einstein, I was struck by how famous Einstein was, long before his role in the atom bomb. Great scientists and humanitarians were once heroes and cover boys. No more. For Borlaug, still vital at 93, to win more notice, he would have to make his next trip to Africa in the company of Angelina Jolie.

The consequences of obscuring complex issues like agriculture are serious. Take the huge farm bill now nearing passage, a subject Borlaug knows a thing or two about. Because it seems boring and technical and unrelated to our busy urban lives, we aren't focused on how it relates directly to the environment, immigration, global poverty and the budget deficit, not to mention the highly subsidized high-fructose corn syrup we ingest every day. We can blame the mindless media for failing to keep us better informed about how $95 billion a year is hijacked by a few powerful corporate interests. But we can also blame ourselves. It's all there on the Internet (or in books like Daniel Imhoff's breezy "Food Fight"), if we decide to get interested. But will we? Sometimes it seems the more we've got at our fingertips, the less that sticks in our minds.

Born poor in Iowa and turned down at first by the University of Minnesota, Borlaug brought his fingertips and mind together in rural Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s to develop a hybrid called "dwarf wheat" that tripled grain production there. Then, with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, he brought agronomists from around the world to northwest Mexico to learn his planting and soil conservation techniques. "They [academic and U.S. government critics] said I was nutty to think that it would work in different soil," Borlaug told me last week. The resulting "nuttiness" led to what was arguably the greatest humanitarian accomplishment of the 20th century, the so-called Green Revolution. By 1965 he was dodging artillery shells in the Indo-Pakistan War but still managed to increase Indian output sevenfold.

The experts who said peasants would never change their centuries-old ways were wrong. In the mid-1970s, Nobel in hand, Borlaug brought his approach to Communist China, where he arguably had his greatest success. In only a few years, his ideas—which go far beyond seed varieties—had spread around the world and disproved Malthusian doomsday scenarios like Paul Ehrlich's 1968 best seller "The Population Bomb." Now the Gates Foundation is helping extend his innovations to the one continent where famine remains a serious threat—Africa.

Borlaug, who launched the prestigious World Food Prize, has little patience for current agricultural policy in the developed world. "The claims for these subsidies today by the affluent nations are pretty silly," he says. So far, Congress isn't listening. The octopus-like farm bill does little to curb the ridiculous corporate welfare payments to a tiny number of wealthy (and often absentee) "farmers" who get more than $1 million a year each for subsidized commodities that make our children obese. (Did you ever wonder why junk food is cheaper than nutritious food? Because it's taxpayer-funded).

Borlaug scoffs at the mania for organic food, which he proves with calm logic is unsuited to fight global hunger. (Dung, for instance, is an inefficient source of nitrogen.) And while he encourages energy-conscious people to "use all the organic you can, especially on high-end crops like vegetables," he's convinced that paying more for organic is "a lot of nonsense." There's "no evidence the food is any different than that produced by chemical fertilizer."

In 1960 about 60 percent of the world's people experienced some hunger every year. By 2000 that number was 14 percent, a remarkable achievement. But as Borlaug cautioned at the ceremony in his honor, that still leaves 850 million hungry men, women and children. They are waiting for the Norman Borlaugs of the future to make their mark, even if they aren't likely to get famous for it.

By Jonathan Alder
Newsweek
Reprinted on CNN

No Worries

I'm fine. For those of you who have heard about the explosions at Southwest Chemical, which is not very far from my office (just across 35, as a matter of fact), we have not been affected. We have not been evacuated. I can only assume that that is because the building I work in is a designated nuclear fallout shelter. We did feel and hear the explosions that occurred soon after the fire started. We have not heard any further explosions for quite some time. I believe the black smoke is still billowing, though I have not checked a window lately (I'm in an interior office). All of the major news stations are carrying the story, if you're interested. (DallasNews, WFAA, NBC5, etc.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Interesting It Was Indeed

This afternoon's deposition would certainly prove how attorneys, in general, have gotten a bad rap. Attorneys present: two representing our neighbors (A), one representing the contractor (B), one representing the contractor's employee (C), who apparently has been countersued by the contractor for faulty workmanship or some such nonsense. Attorneys not present: attorneys for big telephone company.

We appear in A's office for the deposition. Everyone is on time...surprisingly. Given the fact that I blew the whistle on C to B and ultimately got reimbursement from B and would thus have a greater knowledge of our situation as a whole, I got to go first. Yippee for me.

Naturally, A questioned me first. I laid out the facts about our situation and answered a few other questions. A passes me off to B. B starts off relatively nice but very quickly our little Q&A goes south...very south. I believe I actually screamed my last answer at him, as a matter of fact. He, folks, is the reason attorneys get called pricks...pardon my french. But I handled my own, thank you very much. Attorney B was as nervous as a squirrel on crack right off the bat, and to say that I put him off his rocker is an understatement. He didn't like my answers at all. I had him very rattled, particularly when I quipped back at him in exactly the same tone he bit at me. Take that, evil attorney man! You don't intimidate me. My middle name is intimidation! So there. I won't answer your question the way you want it answered. I will answer with the truth. I am, after all, under friggin' oath!!!! He ultimately gave up on me. And/or he ran out of probative questions germane to the topic at hand.

Attorney C asked just one question and chose to "defer the remainder of my questions to trial." Lovely. Guess I'll be making an appearance at trial in September. I'm super happy. NOT!

Derek was next. Attorney A accosted Attorney B in front of Derek for a number of things, including the way he treated me and told him he'd "better not treat anyone else the way you treated her." Ha, yeah right. He was equally as much a prick to Derek as he was to me. (Sorry, folks, there's just no other way to describe this guy. He lived up to our preconceived notion of his character--slimy, smarmy, and a first-rate pompass ass!) I don't think Derek actually had to scream at him, but he definitely had to raise his voice.

Trial, assuming we're subpoenaed, and there's little doubt we will be, will be even more interesting. Why? The big dogs will be there. I can only imagine what their counsel will be like!

'Twill Be an Interesting Afternoon

So Derek and I get deposed today. Our neighbors filed suit against one of the big telephone companies for damage caused to their home by a contractor installing fiberoptic lines in the neighborhood. It's a long story. The short of it is the contractor "borrowed" water from our neighbors by attaching a high-pressure nozzle to the exterior faucet. Our faucets are not designed for that kind of pressure. And as a result, the pipe in our neighbor's wall ruptured and flooded their house. How are we involved? Well, this contractor also "borrowed" water from us (thankfully without use of the high-pressure whatever). But we actually caught them in the act, called the number on the side of their truck, and got reimbursed for the water usage. This contractor claims this practice never occurs. So there you come to the need for our testimony. Anyway, we hear that the lawyers are all a bunch of knuckleheads, so this ought to be interesting. How much can a girl remember from 2.5 years ago?!

I'll give a report if it's interesting.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Long Weekend Over

Well, my long weekend is coming to an end. And I'm pleased to report that I accomplished a lot...in the craft room. (check out the craft blog for all of our accomplishments) Just a few more layouts of DC and that trip will be finished. And I've put quite a dent in the cruise, though some of those I will likely duplicate in paper format since all of the layouts from this weekend are digital. I have to admit, this weekend seemed a lot longer than three days. I'm not sure if it's b/c mom & I stayed up so late & woke up so early (considering bedtimes anyway). Or maybe it's b/c I've been in my pjs since Thursday evening. No matter, it was nice to be home. Mom & I already decided we'll be doing this again before school starts. It was so much fun to scrap together--bounce ideas off each other, share supplies, etc.

Guess what arrived today care of my DH? Yep, HP! I'm currently rereading the entire series. While some people may read just a book or two before the newest one, I've found that I like having the whole story in sequence. So...it will be a little while before I'm actually ready for 7 (since I'm currently in 2), but it's here when I get to it. SO DON'T TELL ME ANYTHING if you've already read it!

Derek is currently mowing the lawn. And I must say that I'm glad to have him doing it. Man, that's a tough job! He was going to wait until tomorrow, but since neither of us heard the forecast for the week, he decided to get it done while it's (relatively) cool and definitely dry.

I'm now loafing in front of the tv. While my creative juices are still flowing, I'm really tired and plan to get to bed early to face the work week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Friday For Me!

Today is Friday for me. Yippee! I took off tomorrow. Mom's coming over & we're scrapbooking all weekend. Yay! Maybe I can finally catch up on long-neglected projects. I've managed to (mostly) finish the NYC layouts. I still have the Spamalot layout and summary/trip journal layout to do. Otherwise, those are done, done, done. Up next--DC (from 5 yrs ago...ugh). Have some great ideas. We'll see how they come out on paper.

Last weekend I was completely unproductive. Well, that's not entirely true. I did finally finish all the laundry. 10 loads later. Whew. Now it's time to start over, but it won't take long as there's not much to do. Oh, and I also mowed the front yard--Derek wasn't able to do that before he went to Vegas (on business) b/c the yard was too wet. Man, that's a lot harder than I thought it was. I won't bug Derek so much about it anymore. That's hot, sweaty work! Thank goodness we have a self-propelled mower. I'd hate to think how much longer (and harder) the job would have been had the mower be Susan-propelled! Our whole lot is graded. Yuk!

Aside from lots of time in the scrap room, I'm not really sure what's on tap this weekend. I have several friends in musicals which all open this weekend. Some run only this weekend, while others are for the next two weeks. Guess I'll be in the theatre parts of the next two weekends. Fun!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Shameless Plug

I don't know that I've mentioned this before, but I absolutely love my Tide Pen. Before I discovered this wonderful invention, I was a pretty big fan of Shout Wipes. And to be honest, I still carry both in my purse. Let me tell you how I became a fan of these products. Are you a little accident prone like I am? Does that spaghetti sauce always end up on your white pants? Does that oil-based salad dressing always go straight for the silk shirt? Yeah, well, you're in my club. Both products are great at removing tough stains (sometimes even after the stains should have been set by the dryer). Tide has one little advantage over Shout--once the spot dries, it's virtually impossible to tell that you've treated it. Shout tends to leave a ring, even when it's dry. Either way, you're guaranteed to be able to wash or dry clean your item of clothing and have absolutely complete stain removal. I've even used these two products on lipstick on lace with great success! Just wanted to give this shameless plug for this great purse-sized stain removers.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thought

You have the power to make happiness a way of life
instead of an occasional experience.
-From Simple Wisdom
New Season Publications International
(emphasis added)

Having Title Issues?

Have you noticed Blogger being a little hinky lately? Like...it won't let you (at least easily) give your posts a title? Yeah, apparently, you're not alone as I've noticed several other bloggers mentioning it. A few things I've noticed:
  • Let the entire page load before clicking anywhere with the mouse. This seems to let you click directly in the Title Box very easily (at least today).
  • Click multiple times in the Title Box. Eventually, the cursor appears or you'll at least be able to type something there.
  • Click on the word Title. More often than not, this has worked best for me. It puts the little cursor in the entry box.

This may all be moot as it seems to be working much better today than it has for the last week or so. So I'm guessing that someone alerted our good friends at Blogger of the issue and they've since fixed it.

We'll see. Just thought I'd pass along what little I'd figured out in working with the issue.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Texas "Royalty" Dies

The highly-influential and former first lady Lady Bird Johnson passed away yesterday at the age of 94.

Dallas News article
Austin American-Statesman article
CNN article

Appraisal Update, etc.

After much (half-hearted) searching, Derek was unable to find the original spec sheet we picked up from the builder. However, I was able to find our floorplan on the builder's website. Though the graphic was low-resolution and was most illegible when it printed (no matter what I tried), I faxed it off to my friendly appraisal guy. He called back and said that was exactly what he needed. So...we avoid the hearing originally scheduled for tomorrow, and we have $2000 knocked off the appraised value. Success! (Next year, I know what I need to take to my meeting to get even bigger reduction. And I'll have it all in hand.)

Derek is off in Vegas for the next several days. It's Stryker's mid-year sales meeting. He tried to take me along, but ultimately, corporate said no. (Even though they ended up putting him in a single room in the end!) That's okay, Vegas isn't one of those places that I have to see. And besides, Hawaii is around the corner, and I'd rather spend the money there!

Anywho, with Derek out-of-town, I have the house to myself. That means I can hole up in the craft room without anyone saying, "why don't you spend time with me?" That is, unless you count the meowing four-paws who seem to ask that very thing. I simply say, "nothing stops you from laying in the floor in the craft room while I'm in here!" Meeko & Dori certainly enjoy it. The others simply enjoy avoiding Meeko & Dori and letting everyone know about it. Critters, I swear they're 2-year-olds with a lot more hair!

It's been very hot and humid the last several days. My potted plants tell me about it every afternoon as they droop. So now I'm having to water them. The last two days, we've had severe thunderstorms rumbled over. The lightning has been amazing. If I didn't have such a healthy respect for it, I'd try to take pictures b/c it's been quite a light show! Yesterday it rained pretty hard--the day before it was mostly lightning. Have a feeling we'll get those kind of storms every afternoon so long as it's hot & muggy--in the 90s with about 80% humidity. Gross!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mostly a Non-Event

Okay, so I didn't go the appraisal district yesterday as I'd planned. When I got to work, I decided to figure out which building it was in downtown. Ha--if only I'd done that the night before! For some reason, I thought the DCAD had moved from its I35/Inwood location to the part of the Records Building that became vacant once the district courts moved, but I was wrong. So, long story short, I didn't want to figure out how to get there by bus yesterday. Instead, I drove straight there this morning, since they open at 7:30 a.m. I got right in and made it to work by 8:05.

All in all, it was an interesting meeting. The guy I met with was very nice.

Appraisal Guy: You're Susan of (address).
SF: Yes, sir.
AG: Your house has 2240sqft.
SF: Yes.
AG: Two and a half baths.
SF: No, sir. Only two baths.
AG:
SF: But I would love to have that half bath.
AG:
SF:
AG: Your house is valued at ($$$$$$). At first glance, that appears to be a good appraisal. What is it that I can do for you?
SF: Well, I would like to understand how my appraisal could jump more than $13,000 in one year.
AG: More than likely it was undervalued in previous tax years. But let's take a look.

We pulled recent appraisals of comparable houses (comps) in the neighborhood. The comps were all from sales within the last six months. Using three really good comps--I agreed with the guy, the other properties were very comparable to our house--our appraised value only dropped $800.

SF: What happens to the value if we remove the extra half bath that's on the books?
AG: I think it will bring us to this value, but let's see.
SF:
AG:
{bathroom number change & computer calculation}
AG: Wow, that really made a difference. Your value is now down $2,000 from your original.
SF: I'll take that.
AG: Do you have builder's plans with you to show that you do not in fact have a half bath?
SF: No. My builder refused to give me a copy of my blueprints.
AG: Do you have a flyer from the builder showing that your house plan only called for two baths?
SF: Not with me, but I do have one on file at home. I'm more than happy to mail a copy directly to you.
AG: When is your hearing?
SF: Friday.
AG: Do you have access to a fax machine?
SF: Yes, both at home and at work.
AG: If you'll fax that to me, I'll make that change for you. At this point, I can only make a note in the computer. I cannot actually make the change without documentation.
SF: I'll get that to you today.

Whoohoo! Granted, I would love to have dropped the appraised value a lot more than $2,000. But without quotes for some work that needs to be done, I didn't feel like I really had a leg to stand on in a fight for an even lower assessment. I'll take it and worry about those repairs the next go around.

I'm just glad I'm going to avoid the hearing on Friday!!! (Assuming Derek can find the paperwork that I'm thinking of)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cruise

Just like my s-i-l, we are getting pretty excited about our upcoming cruise to Hawaii. It will be here before we know it. I'm amazed how quickly July got here...September is just around the corner! One of my co-workers just got back from a week-long trip to Maui, and she just can't stop talking about how wonderful it was. They're planning to go back in the fall for whale season. "You're going to love it," she says every time I see her. I really think we will!

Some cruise details:

9-2 Honolulu
9-3 Kauai
9-4 Kauai
9-5 Hilo
9-6 Kona
9-7 Maui
9-8 Maui
9-9 Honolulu

Canine Toxicity Warning

This week I had the first case in history of raisin toxicity ever seen at MedVet. My patient was a 56-pound, 5 yr old male neutered lab mix that ate half a canister of raisins sometime between 7:30 AM and 4:30 PM on Tuesday. He started with vomiting, diarrhea, and shaking about 1AM on Wednesday but the owner didn't call my emergency service until 7AM.

I had heard somewhere about raisins AND grapes causing acute renal failure but hadn't seen any formal paper on the subject. We had her bring the dog in immediately. In the meantime, I called the ER service at MedVet, and the doctor there was like me - had heard something about it, but....

Anyway, we contacted the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center and they said to give IV fluids at 1 ½ times maintenance and watch the kidney values for the next 48-72 hours. The dog's BUN (blood urea nitrogen level) was already at 32 (normal less than 27) and creatinine over 5 (1.9 is the high end of normal). Both are monitors of kidney function in the bloodstream.

We placed an IV catheter and started the fluids. Rechecked the renal values at 5 PM and the BUN was over 40 and creatinine over 7 with no urine production after a liter of fluids. At that point, I felt the dog was in acute renal failure and sent him on to MedVet for a urinary catheter to monitor urine output overnight as well as overnight care. He started vomiting again overnight at MedVet and his renal values have continued to increase daily. He produced urine when given lasix as a diuretic. He was on 3 different anti-vomiting medications and they still couldn't control his vomiting. Today his urine output decreased again, his BUN was over 120, his creatinine was at 10, his phosphorus was very elevated and his blood pressure, which had been staying around 150, skyrocketed to 220. He continued to vomit and the owners elected to euthanize.

This is a very sad case - great dog, great owners who had no idea raisins could be a toxin. Please alert everyone you know who has a dog of this very serious risk. Poison control said as few as 7 raisins or grapes could be toxic. Many people I know give their dogs grapes or raisins as treats, including our ex-handlers. Any exposure should give rise to immediate concern.

Laurinda Morris, DVM
Danville Veterinary Clinic
Danville , Ohio

Even if you don't have a dog, you might have friends who do. This is worth passing on to them.

Snopes verified

Monday, July 09, 2007

This Week's Agenda

Well, that was a pretty unproductive weekend--too much singing. I intended to do some scrapping, but that never happened. I did spend a lot of time in the scrap room, though. Working on cleaning off that hard drive since I got the new external one. My computer is already running faster. But somehow, I did manage to screw something up. Go figure! Derek is trying to fix it. Doesn't really affect how it runs, it's just that I can't remove anymore programs. We think I deleted some kind of essential file by mistake. Whoops. So much for efficiency! But I say that I shouldn't have the option to delete important files from the stupid add/remove programs window in XP, what do you think?!

We had a few days of sunshine. Boy, was it HOT! I know, I know. Shouldn't complain. We did see the sun after all. Naturally, it was cloudy and rainy all day yesterday. It came a right turd-floater right as church let out. And there's a chance of scattered, heavy showers all week. On the upside, I haven't had to water the lawn since May...and it's been cooler! So yippee for lower water/electric bills! Last year, those ate our lunch and then some.

Have lots to do this week. I'm not looking forward to my tax appraisal protest. Tonight I have to dig up old photos and take some new ones to show that we've made no improvements in the last year (make that the last four years) and to show that we have some major issues to deal with (drainage & the fence). I already know what they've valued neighboring properties, but I'm interested to see their justification. I mean, seriously, how can they justify a $13K jump in value in just one year????? I'll find out tomorrow when I go for an informal meeting (which I'm hoping helps me avoid the official protest scheduled for Friday). And I'm sure I'll have a story to tell.

Of course, there's the usual house stuff to take care of. I'm still working on the closet full of laundry. Slowly but surely I'm making progress. Then again, I haven't whole-heartedly attempted to get it all done either. I hate laundry! Have some scanning of photos to do for a friend, some cards to make for birthdays & illnesses & just general hellos, need to get the weeds sprayed assuming we aren't one of the places fortunate enough to get those scattered showers, and blah blah blah. Same ol' boring stuff.

The Joys of Pets


Friday, July 06, 2007

What IS That???

Holy Christmas, Batman,
it's the sun!
That's right, folks,
we water-logged North Texans
are finally seeing Mr. Sunshine!
And we saw him the whole day (after it rained).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another Rainy Monday...Thursday

Another 70% chance of rain today. It's rained the last 10 days in a row. In reality, it's been raining since May 1st. Seriously, I can't recall a time when it's rained this much. Feels like Seattle. The city officially lifted drought restrictions yesterday. Assuming this low pressure system remains stalled over Texas, it will be a long time before we face drought restrictions again.

Had a terrific middle-of-the-week holiday. Mom and dad came over yesterday. Mom and I enjoyed scrapbook shopping. We heard rumor that one of our favorite local stores was having a 4th of July sale, so we went to check it out. Sure enough, every item in the store was 60% off yesterday. We spent at least 2 hrs in there. I've never left that store spending less than $25....until yesterday. It was great!

We cooked out too. Hot dogs and apple pie. What could be more American? Then we hoped to catch some fireworks from our back porch. Aside from those being popped in our neighborhood and those adjacent to ours, we weren't able to see the big displays very well. There's a big grove of trees between our house and a high ridge just up the road. We ultimately decided to hop in the truck and go for a drive to see if we could find a better place to watch the area shows. Man, did we get a show! We know where to go next year. We had prime parking and away from all of the traffic. It was great!

Two more days and then the weekend is here. Can't wait to get in the scrap room!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Travel Warning: Jamaica

This message is from Galveston County Sheriff Deputy Kenneth Williams. Please foward this to as many people as possible.

This is our experience in Jamaica and I want to warn anyone who plans on going there. Thanks for your help.

On June 10, 2007, my wife, 12-year old son, 10-year old daughter, and I set sail on the Carnival Conquest from Galveston, Texas. Being that this was our first cruise, we were looking forward to spending some quality time together as a family. The first stop was Jamaica, where my children and wife lost their safety and innocence when we opted for a Carnival excursion, the “Lethe Village Tour.” We selected this tour to show the kids the culture of Jamaican natives. We had no idea how this decision would change our lives forever.

I am a 17-year police veteran. Before my current profession, I proudly served in the U.S. Army. Safety and protection is my number one goal with anyone, especially with my wife and children. With this in mind, I attended the excursion meeting that was held on the ship by the Cruise Director, Mr. Price. During that excursion meeting, the Director's exact words were “in order to see the true Jamaica, you have to take a Carnival Shore Excursion." He added, “the Carnival Shore Excursions are guaranteed safe." He explained that in the port city, we may encounter some undesirables, attempting to sell marijuana or pressuring you to take their cab. He explained that the Red-Tag cabs were the only registered cabs. He continued to persuade us to take a Carnival Excursion. It was definitely a sales pitch for Carnival Shore Excursions, using safety as a very attractive sale point. There were no other warnings spoken of, other than the marijuana and high pressure taxi sell. After the meeting, I was confident in my decision to take the Carnival Excursion because of the “guaranteed” safety.

We arrived in Montego Bay on June 13th, where my family and I boarded the excursion bus along with 13 other passengers. Two of the passengers were my father and step-mother. My father, who is 67 years old, has had two major heart attacks, the last one in July of 2006. This was the perfect relaxing excursion for him. We drove approximately 30-40 minutes into the country of Lethe, Hanover. Along the way, we observed extreme poverty, which made me uncomfortable and feeling as though we were not safe at all. The people looked at us as though they were angry with us for some reason.

We arrived at the plantation and met with a few natives, who explained a few things about bananas and coconuts. Then, we boarded a green and yellow trolley, connected to an old John Deere tractor. The excursion tour guide had turned us over to an elderly Jamaican plantation worker, Dalton, who pulled the trolley further into the plantation surrounded by lush, thick jungle vegetation. I was relaxed and felt secure as my family and I observed the flowers and tropical plants. Dalton had given a presentation on the banana plant and was pulling us through the plantation towards a botanical garden to view some flowers and listen to a kindergarten class sing to us.

As we traveled further through the plantation, we approached a side-road to our right that was also surrounded with vegetation. It was here that our world came crashing down… Two men ambushed our trolley, approaching with guns and a knife. They immediately took control of our lives, pointing a pistol at the driver and ordering him to stop. Visibly shaken, Dalton exited and pleaded for the men not to hurt anyone. The two gunmen began yelling, "f***ing foreigners. Give us your f***ing money, man. Don't f*** with us, man. We're f***ing crazy." They approached on opposite sides and were either madmen or on some form of drug. My two children were sitting behind my wife and me, next to my stepmother and my father. One of the gunmen placed an 8" revolver in my 10-year-old daughter’s face. My daughter was crying and pleading with the gunman not to kill her. I have never felt so helpless in my life! I still get physically sick thinking about this. As visions of my daughter’s life passed before my eyes, all I could think of was how badly I wanted her in my arms. The gunman kept the gun in her face as he stole her disposable camera and all the belongings of the other passengers. These gunmen were jerking passengers around as they removed the valuables. One gunman took his knife and cut a camera from around one of the passengers neck. There was no doubt that these guys were violent and on the verge of hurting one of us. They continuously called us "f***ing foreigners" and it appeared as though they were angry about us being there. Once they had stolen everything, both gunmen disappeared back into the jungle, leaving my family and all the other victims visibly shaken, violated, and terrified.

The driver brought us back to the starting point of the plantation, where we exited the trolley and told other tourists of our nightmare. They all loaded back onto their buses and were taken back to the Carnival Conquest, leaving us at the plantation still in fear and shock. The other plantation workers were upset about us being robbed and grabbed their machetes and some sharpened cane poles. They wanted to go back to the robbery site to search for the gunmen. I had never seen the sharpened cane poles, but later I figured that they knew it was dangerous around there or they never would have had the weapons. As a police officer, it was easy to tell that these guys must have known this area was dangerous and they needed these weapons on hand for protection. Carnival should have known, it was a Carnival Excursion.

Approximately 20 minutes later, the Jamaican police arrived. One officer took short statements from all of us, however, I wrote out a statement for him. He stated that he was new at this and he appeared to be overwhelmed with the number of victims. He kept saying that some more officers were suppose to come and help with statements. They never showed, but I believe all available officers were out searching for the robbers. The officer told me that they were notifying the local villages to look out for the suspects. I did find out that the owner of the Lethe Village Tour Plantation was running for the Ministry of Tourism. I couldn’t help but laugh, knowing that we had just been violently robbed on this person’s plantation. I thought if it could happen here, it can happen anywhere in Jamaica.

After approximately 3 ½ hours, we were transported back to the Carnival Conquest, where some of the crew shuffled us back onto the ship and into a debriefing room. They apologized, stating that they had no idea that something like this could happen to us. After the debriefing, we were released back to the cruise. We began hearing from Carnival employees regarding their knowledge of how dangerous Jamaica can be and their reason for not leaving the ship. Every crewmember to whom I spoke stated that they do not leave the ship because they fear for their safety; yet, Carnival allowed us and other passengers to leave the ship guaranteeing our safety.

The next day, I was told that the two gunmen tried to exit the jungle approximately 2 miles from the plantation around 10:00PM, where they encountered the Jamaican Police and tried to shoot their way out. One gunmen was shot and killed and the second one got away.

Carnival brought a Crisis Intervention Therapist onboard who met with us. She remained on the ship all the way back to Galveston, Texas. At the end of the cruise, she recommended that our family seek further counseling in order to deal with this traumatic event. My wife and I agreed. A letter was also delivered to our cabin from the CEO of Carnival, apologizing for the incident. It also stated that Guest Relation Supervisor, Dorothy Georges, would be standing-by for our phone call on Monday morning, June 18th. When I called on Monday to inquire about the additional counseling, Ms. Georges was not available. I left a message.

When Ms. Georges returned my call, I expressed my concerns and asked how we would go about having Carnival pay for our counseling. She stated that she could not confirm whether or not Carnival would pay for the counseling and would not have an answer on this for a few days. This infuriated me even more, thinking that if it were THEIR 10-year old girl who had a gun shoved in her face and forced to plead for her life, they would have immediately said “Yes” to my counseling request. At this point, Carnival began handling this incident as ‘strictly business.’ There was no compassion whatsoever!

My wife continues to shake at times, so much that she has been unable to return to work. My son claims that he sometimes sees one of the gunmen in our house. My daughter has broken out in hives. I for one get so angry and upset that I physically shake and then cry. I go back and forth. I am nauseated just writing this story. We all have nightmares in relation to this incident.

It is ridiculous and totally neglectful on the part of Carnival that we were not given the true facts and information about Jamaica. I would never have subjected my family to this if I had received this valid information, in advance, and I will now live with that decision forever.

I wish to strongly encourage anyone who is considering traveling to Jamaica to STOP! It is not worth the risk. They prey on the tourists, knowing that they carry money and other valuables. The natives earn approximately $50-$100 dollars a week. The two gunmen, who robbed us, escaped with approximately two to three thousand dollars. This is the equivalent to someone robbing a bank in the USA. This will only continue. They have no choice. The poverty is too bad. Word of this cash crop will spread and there will be more excursion robberies. I am hoping to get this information out to the public and caution all tourists who are contemplating a cruise or trip to Jamaica. It’s not safe! I want to warn you, because Carnival will not.

Link to news story verifying above

Opera World Mourns Death of Diva

World-renowned coloratura soprano (and my idol) Beverly Sills has died at the age of 78.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Nine Words Women Use

1. Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

2. Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if the guy has just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping her around the house.

3. Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with "nothing" usually end in "fine."

4. Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don't do it, idiot!

5. Loud Sigh: This is actually not a word but a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing there arguing with you about "nothing." (Refer back to #3 for the meaning of "nothing.")

6. That's Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. "That's okay" means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

7. Thanks: A woman is thanking you; do not question or faint. Just say "you're welcome."

8. Whatever: Is a women's way of saying F-YOU!

9. Don't worry about it, I've got it : Another dangerous statement meaning she has told a man to do something several times but is now doing it herself b/c she's given up on him ever "getting around to it." This will later result in a man asking "What's wrong?" For the woman's response please refer to #3.

Uneventful, yet busy, Weekend

Theoretically, I was going to end my week-long avoidance of household chores. But...I opted to turn that leaf on Monday. I mean, what fun is it to waste a perfectly good weekend doing chores? Friday night was so uneventful that I can't really remember what I did. I know I made dinner and then watched some tv, but I couldn't begin to tell you what I watched.

Derek picked Meeko up from the vet on Saturday. He's such a lovebug--he was a huge hit with the office staff. Just like when Dori comes for a visit, the vet's office is excited to see Meeko now too. He came through all procedures fine and spent most of the weekend napping. He seems to be in no pain and the laser procedures left no need for stitches. He's already back to normal--scratching things (though now without actually doing damage) and terrorizing the dog.

Saturday I went to a rehearsal, did a little shopping, and generally loafed. Derek and I went to a great restaurant for dinner--a little family-owned Italian joint that actually got its beginnings in my hometown. Wonderful family, fabulous food! If ever you're in Sulphur Springs, visit San Remo or in Rowlett, visit Cosa Nostra. You won't be sorry.

Sunday was a busy day. Two morning church services with a little break for a nap in between them and the evening July 4th celebration.

And that, folks, sums up my entire weekend. BO-RING...but terrific! This week I have to buckle down and do all things domestic...I'm having company!

That's Right....Cower in Fear

You Are Rock

Powerful and overbearing, you intimidate people with your presence.
People know they can't push you around, and they respect that.
Deep down, you are calm, confident, and unmovable.
You take everything pretty seriously, and you think deeply about all aspects of your life.

You tend to feel smothered by paper people.

You don't mind crushing the spirit of a scissors person.

When you fight, you: Use all of your strength

If someone makes you mad: You're likely to throw something at them